The Private Life, Lord Beaupré, The Visits/Lord Beaupré/Chapter 4
Bolton-Brown did something that evening towards disseminating the news; he told it to the first people he met socially after leaving Chester Street; and this although he had to do himself a certain violence in speaking. He would have preferred to hold his peace; therefore if he resisted his inclination it was for an urgent purpose. This purpose was to prove to himself that he didn't mind. A perfect indifference could be for him the only result of any understanding Mary Gosselin might arrive at with any one, and he wanted to be more and more conscious of his indifference. He was aware, indeed, that it required demonstration, and this was why he was almost feverishly active. He could mentally concede at least that he had been surprised, for he had suspected nothing at Bosco. When a fellow was attentive in America every one knew it, and judged by this standard Lord Beaupré made no show; how otherwise should he have achieved that sweet accompanied ramble? Everything, at any rate, was lucid now, except, perhaps, a certain ambiguity in Hugh Gosselin, who, on coming into the drawing-room with his mother, had looked flushed and grave, and had stayed only long enough to kiss Mary and go out again. There had been nothing effusive in the scene; but then there was nothing effusive in any English scene. This helped to explain why Miss Gosselin had been so blank during the minutes she spent with him before her mother came back. He himself wanted to cultivate tranquillity, and he felt that he did so the next day in not going again to Chester Street. He went instead to the British Museum, where he sat quite like an elderly gentleman, with his hands crossed on the top of his stick and his eyes fixed on an Assyrian bull. When he came away, however, it was with the resolution to move briskly; so that he walked westward the whole length of Oxford Street and arrived at the Marble Arch. He stared for some minutes at this monument, as in the national collection he had stared at even less intelligible ones; then brushing away the apprehension that he should meet two persons riding together, he passed into the park. He didn't care a straw whom he met. He got upon the grass and made his way to the southern expanse, and when he reached the Row he dropped into a chair, rather tired, to watch the capering procession of riders. He watched it with a lustreless eye, for what he seemed mainly to extract from it was a vivification of his disappointment. He had had a hope that he should not be forced to leave London without inducing Mary Gosselin to ride with him; but that prospect failed, for what he had accomplished in the British Museum was the determination to go to Paris. He tried to think of the attractions supposed to be evoked by that name, and while he was so engaged he recognized that a gentleman on horseback, close to the barrier of the Row, was making a sign to him. The gentleman was Lord Beaupré, who had pulled up his horse, and whose sign the young American lost no time in obeying. He went forward to speak to his late host, but during the instant of the transit he was able both to observe that Mary Gosselin was not in sight and to ask himself why she was not. She rode with her brother; why then didn't she ride with her future husband? It was singular at such a moment to see her future husband disporting himself alone. This personage conversed a few moments with Bolton-Brown, said it was too hot to ride, but that he ought to be mounted (he would give him a mount, if he liked), and was on the point of turning away when his interlocutor succumbed to the temptation to put his modesty to the test.
"Good-bye, but let me congratulate you first," said Bolton-Brown.
"Congratulate me? On what?" His look, his tone were very much what Mary Gosselin's had been.
"Why, on your engagement. Haven't you heard of it?"
Lord Beaupré stared a moment while his horse shifted uneasily. Then he laughed and said: "Which of them do you mean?"
"There's only one I know anything about. To Miss Gosselin," Brown added, after a puzzled pause.
"Oh yes, I see—thanks so much!" With this, letting his horse go, Lord Beaupré broke off, while Bolton-Brown stood looking after him and saying to himself that perhaps he didn't know! The chapter of English oddities was long.
But on the morrow the announcement was in The Morning Post, and that surely made it authentic. It was doubtless only superficially singular that Guy Firminger should have found himself unable to achieve a call in Chester Street until this journal had been for several hours in circulation. He appeared there just before luncheon, and the first person who received him was Mrs. Gosselin. He had always liked her, finding her infallible on the question of behavior; but he was on this occasion more than ever struck with her ripe astuteness, her independent wisdom.
"I knew what you wanted, I knew what you needed, I knew the subject on which you had pressed her," the good lady said; "and after Sunday I found myself really haunted with your dangers. There was danger in the air at Bosco, in your own defended house; it seemed to me too monstrous. I said to myself, 'We can help him, poor dear, and we must. It's the least one can do for so old and so good a friend.' I decided what to do: I simply put this other story about. In London that always answers. I knew that Mary pitied you really as much as I do, and that what she saw at Bosco had been a revelation—had at any rate brought your situation home to her. Yet, of course, she would be shy about saying out, for herself, 'Here I am—I'll do what you want.' The thing was for me to say it for her; so I said it first to that chattering American. He repeated it to several others, and there you are! I just forced her hand a little, but it's all right. All she has to do is not to contradict it. It won't be any trouble, and you'll be comfortable. That will be our reward!" smiled Mrs. Gosselin.
"Yes, all she has to do is not to contradict it," Lord Beaupré replied, musing a moment. "It won't be any trouble," he added, "and I hope I shall be comfortable." He thanked Mrs. Gosselin formally and liberally, and expressed all his impatience to assure Mary herself of his deep obligation to her; upon which his hostess promised to send her daughter to him on the instant: she would go and call her, so that they might be alone. Before Mrs. Gosselin left him, however, she touched on one or two points that had their little importance. Guy Firminger had asked for Hugh, but Hugh had gone to the City, and his mother mentioned candidly that he didn't take part in the game. She even disclosed his reason: he thought there was a want of dignity in it. Lord Beaupré stared at this, and after a moment exclaimed: "Dignity? Dignity be hanged! One must save one's life!"
"Yes, but the point poor Hugh makes is that one must save it by the use of one's own wits, or one's own arms and legs. But do you know what I said to him?" Mrs. Gosselin continued.
"Something very clever, I dare say."
"That if we were drowning, you'd be the very first to jump in. And we may fall overboard yet!" Fidgeting there, with his hands in his pockets, Lord Beaupré gave a laugh at this, but assured her that there was nothing in the world for which they mightn't count upon him. None the less she just permitted herself another warning, a warning, it is true, that was in his own interest, a reminder of a peril that he ought beforehand to look in the face. Wasn't there always the chance—just the bare chance—that a girl in Mary's position would, in the event, decline to let him off, decline to release him even on the day he should wish to marry? She wasn't speaking of Mary, but there were, of course, girls who would play him that trick. Guy Firminger considered this contingency; then he declared that it wasn't a question of "girls," it was simply a question of dear old Mary! If she should wish to hold him, so much the better; he would do anything in the world that she wanted. "Don't let us dwell on such vulgarities; but I had it on my conscience!" Mrs. Gosselin wound up.
She left him, but at the end of three minutes Mary came in, and the first thing she said was: "Before you speak a word, please understand this, that it's wholly mamma's doing. I hadn't dreamed of it, but she suddenly began to tell people."
"It was charming of her, and it's charming of you!" the visitor cried.
"It's not charming of any one, I think," said Mary Gosselin, looking at the carpet. "It's simply idiotic."
"Don't be nasty about it. It will be tremendous fun."
"I've only consented because mamma says we owe it to you," the girl went on.
"Never mind your reason—the end justifies the means. I can never thank you enough, nor tell you what a weight it lifts off my shoulders. Do you know I feel the difference already?—a peace that passeth understanding!" Mary replied that this was childish; how could such a feeble fiction last? At the very best it could live but an hour, and then he would be no better off than before. It would bristle, moreover, with difficulties and absurdities; it would be so much more trouble than it was worth. She reminded him that so ridiculous a service had never been asked of any girl, and at this he seemed a little struck; he said: "Ah, well, if it's positively disagreeable to you, we'll instantly drop the idea. But I—I thought you really liked me enough—" She turned away impatiently, and he went on to argue imperturbably that she had always treated him in the kindest way in the world. He added that the worst was over—the start—they were off; the thing would be in all the evening papers. Wasn't it much simpler to accept it? That was all they would have to do; and all she would have to do would be not to gainsay it, and to smile and thank people when she was congratulated. She would have to act a little, but that would just be part of the fun. Oh, he hadn't the shadow of a scruple about taking the world in; the world deserved it richly, and she couldn't deny that this was what she had felt for him, that she had really been moved to compassion. He grew eloquent and charged her with having recognized in his predicament a genuine motive for charity. Their little plot would last what it could—it would be a part of their amusement to make it last. Even if it should be but a thing of a day, there would have been always so much gained. But they would be ingenious, they would find ways, they would have no end of sport.
"You must be ingenious; I can't," said Mary. "If people scarcely ever see us together, they'll guess we're trying to humbug them."
"But they will see us together. We are together. We've been together—I mean we've seen a lot of each other—all our lives."
"Ah, not that way!"
"Oh, trust me to work it right!" cried the young man, whose imagination had now evidently begun to glow in the air of their pious fraud.
"You'll find it a dreadful bore," said Mary Gosselin.
"Then I'll drop it, don't you see? And you'll drop it, of course, the moment you've had enough," Lord Beaupré punctually added. "But as soon as you begin to realize what a lot of good you do me you won't want to drop it. That is, if you're what I take you for!" laughed his lordship.
If a third person had been present at this conversation—and there was nothing in it surely that might not have been spoken before a trusty listener—that person would perhaps have thought, from the immediate expression of Mary Gosselin's face, that she was on the point of exclaiming, "You take me for too big a fool!" No such ungracious words in fact, however, passed her lips; she only said, after an instant, "What reason do you propose to give, on the day you need one, for our rupture?"
Her interlocutor stared. "To you, do you mean?"
"I sha'n't ask you for one. I mean to other people."
"Oh, I'll tell them you're sick of me. I'll put everything on you, and you'll put everything on me."
"You have worked it out!" Mary exclaimed.
"Oh, I shall be intensely considerate."
"Do you call that being considerate—publicly accusing me?"
Guy Firminger stared again. "Why, isn't that the reason you'll give?"
She looked at him an instant. "I won't tell you the reason I shall give."
"Oh, I shall learn it from others."
"I hope you'll like it when you do!" said Mary, with sudden gayety; and she added frankly though kindly, the hope that he might soon light upon some young person who would really meet his requirements. He replied that he shouldn't be in a hurry—that was now just the comfort; and she, as if thinking over to the end the list of arguments against his clumsy contrivance, broke out, "And of course you mustn't dream of giving me anything—any tokens or presents."
"Then it won't look natural."
"That's exactly what I say. You can't make it deceive anybody."
"I must give you something—something that people can see. There must be some evidence! You can simply put my offerings away after a little and give them back." But about this Mary was visibly serious; she declared that she wouldn't touch anything that came from his hand, and she spoke in such a tone that he colored a little and hastened to say, "Oh, all right, I shall be thoroughly careful!" This appeared to complete their understanding; so that after it was settled that for the deluded world they were engaged, there was obviously nothing for him to do but to go. He therefore shook hands with her very gratefully and departed.