The Private Life, Lord Beaupré, The Visits/Lord Beaupré/Chapter 6
To remind her fond parent of the vanity of certain expectations which she more than suspected her of entertaining, Mary Gosselin, while she felt herself intensely watched (it had all brought about a horrid new situation at home), produced every day some fresh illustration of the fact that people were no longer imposed upon. Moreover, these illustrations were not invented; the girl believed in them, and when once she had begun to note them she saw them multiply fast. Lady Whiteroy, for one, was distinctly suspicious; she had taken the liberty more than once of asking the future Lady Beaupré what in the world was the matter with her. Brilliant figure as she was, and occupied with her own pleasures, which were of a very independent nature, she had, nevertheless, constituted herself Miss Gosselin's social sponsor: she took a particular interest in her marriage—an interest all the greater as it rested not only on a freely-professed regard for her, but on a keen sympathy with the other party to the transaction. Lady Whiteroy, who was very pretty and very clever, and whom Mary secretly but profoundly mistrusted, delighted in them both, in short; so much so, that Mary judged herself happy to be in a false position, so certain should she have been to be jealous had she been in a true one. This charming woman threw out inquiries that made the girl not care to meet her eyes; and Mary ended by forming a theory of the sort of marriage for Lord Beaupré that Lady Whiteroy really would have appreciated. It would have been a marriage to a fool, a marriage to Maud Ashbury or to Charlotte Firminger. She would have her reasons for preferring that; and as regarded the actual prospect, she had only discovered that Mary was even more astute than herself.
It will be understood how much our young lady was on the crest of the wave, when I mention that in spite of this complicated consciousness she was one of the ornaments (Guy Firminger was of course another) of the party entertained by her zealous friend and Lord Whiteroy during the Goodwood week. She came back to town with the firm intention of putting an end to a comedy which had more than ever become odious to her; in consequence of which she had on this subject with her fellow-comedian a scene—the scene she had dreaded—half pathetic half ridiculous. He appealed to her, wrestled with her, took his usual ground that she was saving his life without really lifting a finger. He denied that the public was not satisfied with their pretexts for postponement, their explanations of delay; what else was expected of a man who would wish to celebrate his nuptials on a suitable scale, but who had the misfortune to have had, one after another, three grievous bereavements? He promised not to molest her for the next three months, to go away till his "mourning" was over, to go abroad, to let her do as she liked. He wouldn't come near her, he wouldn't even write (no one would know it), if she would let him keep up the mere form of their fiction; and he would let her off the very first instant he definitely perceived that this expedient had ceased to be effective. She couldn't judge of that—she must let him judge; and it was a matter in which she could surely trust to his honor.
Mary Gosselin trusted to it, but she insisted on his going away. When he took such a tone as that she couldn't help being moved; he breathed with such frank, generous lips on the irritation she had stored up against him. Guy Firminger went to Homburg; and if his confederate consented not to clip the slender thread by which this particular engagement still hung, she made very short work with every other. A dozen invitations, for Cowes, for the country, for Scotland, shimmered there before her, made a pathway of flowers, but she sent barbarous excuses. When her mother, aghast, said to her, "What, then, will you do?" she replied, in a very conclusive manner, "I'll go home!" Mrs. Gosselin was wise enough not to struggle; she saw that the thread was delicate, that it must dangle in quiet air. She therefore travelled back with her daughter to homely Hampshire, feeling that they were people of less importance than they had been for many a week. On the August afternoons they sat again on the little lawn on which Guy Firminger had found them the day he first became eloquent about the perils of the desirable young bachelor; and it was on this very spot that, towards the end of the month, and with some surprise, they beheld Mr. Bolton-Brown once more approach. He had come back from America; he had arrived but a few days before; he was staying, of all places in the world, at the inn in the village.
His explanation of this caprice was of all explanations the oddest: he had come three thousand miles for the love of water-colors. There was nothing more sketchable than the sketchability of Hampshire—wasn't it celebrated, classic? and he was so good as to include Mrs. Gosselin's charming premises, and even their charming occupants, in his view of the field. He fell to work with speed, with a sort of feverish eagerness; he seemed possessed, indeed, by the frenzy of the brush. He sketched everything on the place, and when he had represented an object once he went straight at it again. His advent was soothing to Mary Gosselin, in spite of his nervous activity; it must be admitted, indeed, that at the moment he arrived she had already felt herself in quieter waters. The August afternoons, the relinquishment of London, the simplified life, had rendered her a service which, if she had freely qualified it, she would have described as a restoration of her self-respect. If poor Guy found any profit in such conditions as these, there was no great reason to repudiate him. She had so completely shaken off responsibility that she took scarcely more than a languid interest in the fact, communicated to her by Lady Whiteroy, that Charlotte Firminger had also, as the newspapers said, "proceeded" to Homburg. Lady Whiteroy knew, for Lady Whiteroy had "proceeded" as well; her physician had discovered in her constitution a pressing need for the comfort imbibed in dripping matutinal tumblers. She chronicled Charlotte's presence, and even to some extent her behavior, among the haunters of the spring, but it was not till some time afterwards that Mary learned how Miss Firminger's pilgrimage had been made under her ladyship's protection. This was a further sign that, like Mrs. Gosselin, Lady Whiteroy had ceased to struggle; she had, in town, only shrugged her shoulders ambiguously on being informed that Lord Beaupré's intended was going down to her stupid home.
The fulness of Mrs. Gosselin's renunciation was apparent during the stay of the young American in the neighborhood of that retreat. She occupied herself with her knitting, her garden, and the cares of a punctilious hospitality, but she had no appearance of any other occupation. When people came to tea Bolton-Brown was always there, and she had the self-control to attempt to say nothing that could assuage their natural surprise. Mrs. Ashbury came one day with poor Maud, and the two elder ladies, as they had done more than once before, looked for some moments into each other's eyes. This time it was not a look of defiance; it was rather—or it would have been for an observer completely in the secret—a look of reciprocity, of fraternity, a look of arrangement. There was, however, no one completely in the secret save perhaps Mary, and Mary didn't heed. The arrangement, at any rate, was ineffectual; Mrs. Gosselin might mutely say, over the young American's eager, talkative shoulders, "Yes, you may have him if you can get him:" the most rudimentary experiments demonstrated that he was not to be got. Nothing passed on this subject between Mary and her mother, whom the girl none the less knew to be holding her breath and continuing to watch. She counted it more and more as one unpleasant result of her conspiracy with Guy Firminger, that it almost poisoned a relation that had always been sweet. It was to show that she was independent of it that she did as she liked now, which was almost always as Bolton-Brown liked. When in the first days of September—it was in the warm, clear twilight, and they happened, amid the scent of fresh hay, to be leaning side by side on a stile—he gave her a view of the fundamental and esoteric, as distinguished from the convenient and superficial motive of his having come back to England, she of course made no allusion to a prior tie. On the other hand, she insisted on his going up to London by the first train the next day. He was to wait—that was distinctly understood—for his satisfaction.
She desired, meanwhile, to write immediately to Guy Firminger, but as he had kept his promise of not complicating their contract with letters she was uncertain as to his actual whereabouts; she was only sure he would have left Homburg. Lady Whiteroy had become silent, so there were no more side-lights, and she was on the point of telegraphing to London for an address when she received a telegram from Bosco. The proprietor of that seat had arrived there the day before, and he found he could make trains fit if she would on the morrow allow him to come over and see her for a day or two. He had returned sooner than their agreement allowed, but she answered, "Come," and she showed his missive to her mother, who at the sight of it wept with strange passion. Mary said to her, "For Heaven's sake, don't let him see you!" She lost no time: she told him on the morrow, as soon as he entered the house, that she couldn't keep it up another hour.
"All right—it is no use," he conceded; "they're at it again!"
"You see you've gained nothing," she replied, triumphantly. She had instantly recognized that he was different, how much had happened.
"I've gained some of the happiest days of my life."
"Oh, that was not what you tried for!"
"Indeed it was, and I got exactly what I wanted," said Guy Firminger. They were in the cool little drawing-room where the morning light was dim. Guy Firminger had a sunburnt appearance, as in England people returning from other countries are apt to have, and Mary thought he had never looked so well. It was odd, but it was noticeable, that he had grown much handsomer since he had become a personage. He paused a moment, smiling at her while her mysterious eyes rested on him, and then he added: "Nothing ever worked better. It's no use now—people see. But I've got a start. I wanted to turn round and look about, and I have turned round and looked about. There are things I've escaped. I'm afraid you'll never understand how deeply I'm indebted to you."
"Oh, it's all right," said Mary Gosselin.
There was another short silence, after which he went on: "I've come back sooner than I promised, but only to be strictly fair. I began to see that we couldn't hold out, and that it was my duty to let you off. From that moment I was bound to put an end to your situation. I might have done so by letter, but that seemed scarcely decent. It's all I came back for, you know, and it's why I wired to you yesterday."
Mary hesitated an instant; she reflected intensely. What had happened, what would happen, was that if she didn't take care the signal for the end of their little arrangement would not have appeared to come from herself. She particularly wished it not to come from any one else, she had even a horror of that; so that after an instant she hastened to say, "I was on the very point of wiring to you—I was only waiting for your address."
"Wiring to me?" He seemed rather blank.
"To tell you that our absurd affair really, this time, can't go on another day—to put a complete stop to it."
"Oh!" said Guy Firminger.
"So it's all right."
"You've always hated it!" Guy laughed; and his laugh sounded slightly foolish to the girl.
"I found yesterday that I hated it more than ever."
Lord Beaupré showed a quickened attention. "For what reason—yesterday?"
"I would rather not tell you, please. Perhaps some time you'll find it out."
He continued to look at her brightly and fixedly, with his confused cheerfulness. Then he said, with a vague, courteous alacrity, "I see, I see!" She had an impression that he didn't see; but it didn't matter, she was nervous and quite preferred that he shouldn't. They both got up, and in a moment he exclaimed: "Well, I'm intensely sorry it's over! It has been so charming."
"YouVe been very good about it; I mean very reasonable," Mary said, to say something. Then she felt in her nervousness that this was just what she ought not to have said; it sounded ironical and provoking, whereas she had meant it as pure good-nature. "Of course you'll stay to luncheon?" she continued. She was bound in common hospitality to speak of that, and he answered that it would give him the greatest pleasure. After this her apprehension increased, and it was confirmed in particular by the manner in which he suddenly asked:
"By-the-way, what reason shall we give?"
"For our rupture. Don't let us seem to have quarrelled."
"We can't help that," said Mary. "Nothing else will account for our behavior."
"Well, I sha'n't say anything about you."
"Do you mean you'll let people think it was yourself who were tired of it?"
"I mean I sha'n't blame you."
"You ought to behave as if you cared!" said Mary.
Guy Firminger laughed, but he looked worried, and he evidently was puzzled. "You must act as if you had jilted me."
"You're not the sort of person, unfortunately, that people jilt."
Lord Beaupré appeared to accept this statement as incontestable; not with elation, however, but with candid regret, the slightly embarrassed recognition of a fundamental obstacle. "Well, it's no one's business, at any rate, is it?"
"No one's, and that's what I shall say if people question me. Besides," Mary added, "they'll see for themselves."
"What will they see?"
"I mean they'll understand. And now we had better join mamma."
It was his evident inclination to linger in the room after he had said this that gave her complete alarm. Mrs. Gosselin was in another room, in which she sat in the morning, and Mary moved in that direction, pausing only in the hall for him to accompany her. She wished to get him into the presence of a third person. In the hall he joined her, and in doing so laid his hand gently on her arm. Then looking into her eyes with all the pleasantness of his honesty, he said: "It will be very easy for me to appear to care—for I shall care. I shall care immensely!" Lord Beaupré added, smiling.
Anything, it struck her, was better than that than that he should say: "We'll keep on, if you like, (I should!) only this time it will be serious. Hold me to it—do; don't let me go; lead me on to the altar, really!" Some such words as these, she believed, were rising to his lips, and she had an insurmountable horror of hearing them. It was as if, well enough meant on his part, they would do her a sort of dishonor, so that all her impulse was quickly to avert them. That was not the way she wanted to be asked in marriage. "Thank you very much," she said, "but it doesn't in the least matter. You will seem to have been jilted—so it's all right!"
"All right! You mean—" He hesitated, he had colored a little; his eyes questioned her.
"I'm engaged to be married—in earnest."
"Oh!" said Lord Beaupré.
"You asked me just now if I had a special reason for having been on the point of telegraphing to you, and I said I had. That was my special reason."
"I see!" said Lord Beaupré. He looked grave for a few seconds, then he gave an awkward smile. But he behaved with perfect tact and discretion, didn't even ask her who the gentleman in the case might be. He congratulated her in the dark, as it were, and if the effect of this was indeed a little odd, she liked him for his quick perception of the fine fitness of pulling up short. Besides, he extracted the name of the gentleman soon enough from her mother, in whose company they now immediately found themselves. Mary left Guy Firminger with the good lady for half an hour before luncheon; and when the girl came back it was to observe that she had been crying again. It was dreadful—what she might have been saying. Their guest, however, at luncheon was not lachrymose; he was natural, but he was talkative and gay. Mary liked the way he now behaved, and more particularly the way he departed immediately after the meal. As soon as he was gone Mrs. Gosselin broke out, suppliantly: "Mary!" But her daughter replied:
"I know, mamma, perfectly what you're going to say, and if you attempt to say it I shall leave the room." With this threat (day after day, for the following time) she kept the terrible appeal unuttered until it was too late for an appeal to be of use. That afternoon she wrote to Bolton-Brown that she accepted his offer of marriage.
Guy Firminger departed altogether; he went abroad again, and to far countries. He was therefore not able to be present at the nuptials of Miss Gosselin and the young American whom he had entertained at Bosco, which took place in the middle of November. Had he been in England, however, he probably would have felt impelled by a due regard for past verisimilitude to abstain from giving his countenance to such an occasion. His absence from the country contributed to the needed, even if astonishing, effect of his having been jilted; so, likewise, did the reputed vastness of Bolton-Brown's young income, which in London was grossly exaggerated. Hugh Gosselin had perhaps a little to do with this; as he had sacrificed a part of his summer holiday, he got another month and came out to his sister's wedding. He took public comfort in his brother-in-law; nevertheless he listened with attention to a curious communication made him by his mother after the young couple had started for Italy; even to the point of bringing out the inquiry (in answer to her assertion that poor Guy had been ready to place everything he had at Mary's feet): "Then why the devil didn't he do it?"
"From simple delicacy! He didn't want to make her feel as if she had lent herself to an artifice only on purpose to get hold of him—to treat her as if she, too, had been at bottom one of the very harpies she helped him to elude."
Hugh thought a moment. "That was delicate."
"He's the dearest creature in the world. He's on his guard, he's prudent, he tested himself by separation. Then he came back to England in love with her. She might have had it all!"
"I'm glad she didn't get it that way."
"She had only to wait—to put an end to their artifice, harmless as it was, for the present, but still wait. She might have broken off in a way that would have made it come on again better."
"That's exactly what she didn't want."
"I mean as a quite separate incident," said Mrs. Gosselin.
"I loathed their artifice, harmless as it was!" her son observed.
Mrs. Gosselin for a moment made no answer; then she turned away from the fire, into which she had been pensively gazing, with the ejaculation, "Poor dear Guy!"
"I can't for the life of me see that he's to be pitied."
"He'll marry Charlotte Firminger."
"If he's such an ass as that, it's his own affair."
"Bessie Whiteroy will bring it about."
"What has she to do with it?"
"She wants to get hold of him."
"Then why will she marry him to another woman?"
"Because in that way she can select the other—a woman he won't care for. It will keep him from taking some one that's nicer."
Hugh Gosselin stared—he laughed aloud. "Lord, mamma, you're deep!"
"Indeed I am. I see much more."
"What do you see?"
"Mary won't in the least care for America. Don't tell me she will," Mrs. Gosselin added, "for you know perfectly you don't believe it."
"She'll care for her husband, she'll care for everything that concerns him."
"He's very nice; in his little way he's delightful. But as an alternative to Lord Beaupré, he's ridiculous!"
"Mary's in a position in which she has nothing to do with alternatives."
"For the present, yes, but not forever. She'll have enough of your New York; they'll come back here. I see the future dark," Mrs. Gosselin pursued, inexorably musing.
"Tell me, then, all you see."
"She'll find poor Guy wretchedly married, and she'll be very sorry for him."
"Do you mean that he'll make love to her? You give a queer account of your paragon."
"He'll value her sympathy. I see life as it is."
"You give a queer account of your daughter."
"I don't give any account. She'll behave perfectly," Mrs. Gosselin somewhat inconsequently subjoined.
"Then what are you afraid of?"
"She'll be sorry for him, and it will be all a worry."
"A worry to whom?"
The good lady was silent a moment. "To me," she replied. "And to you as well."
"Then they mustn't come back."
"That will be a greater worry still."
"Surely not a greater—a smaller. We'll put up with the lesser evil."
"Nothing will prevent her coming to a sense, eventually, of what might have been. And when they both recognize it—"
"It will be very dreadful!" Hugh exclaimed, completing gayly his mother's phrase. "I don't see, however," he added, "what in all this you do with Bessie Whiteroy."
"Oh, he'll be tired of her; she's hard, she'll have become despotic. I see life as it is," the good lady repeated.
"Then all I can say is that it's not very nice! But they sha'n't come back; I'll attend to that!" said Hugh Gosselin, who has attended to it up to this time successfully, though the rest of his mother's prophecy is so far accomplished (it was her second hit) as that Charlotte Firminger is now, strange as it may seem, Lady Beaupré.