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- The American Senator - 80/115 -
to his discard were aware that the motion was tantamount to a very strong expression of disgust. He did not, however, argue the matter any further, but allowed himself to be led away slowly by the same solemn servant. Lord Rufford had taken up his hat preparatory to his departure when Lord Augustus was announced just five minutes after the half hour.
When the elder man entered the room the younger one put down his hat and bowed. Lord Augustus also bowed and then stood for a few moments silent with his fat hands extended on the round table in the middle of the room. "This is a very disagreeable kind of thing, my Lord," he said.
"Very disagreeable, and one that I lament above all things," answered Lord Rufford:
"That's all very well;--very well indeed;--but, damme, what's the meaning of it all? That's what I want to ask. What's the meaning of it all?" Then he paused as though he had completed the first part of his business,--and might now wait awhile till the necessary explanation had been given. But Lord Rufford did not seem disposed to give any immediate answer. He shrugged his shoulders, and, taking up his hat, passed his hand once or twice round the nap. Lord Augustus opened his eyes very wide as he waited and looked at the other man; but it seemed that the other man had nothing to say for himself. "You don't mean to tell me, I suppose, that what my daughter says isn't true."
"Some unfortunate mistake, Lord Augustus;--most unfortunate."
"Mistake be--." He stopped himself before the sentence was completed, remembering that such an interview should be conducted on the part of him, as father, with something of dignity. "I don't understand anything about mistakes. Ladies don't make mistakes of that kind. I won't hear of mistakes." Lord Rufford again shrugged his shoulders. "You have engaged my daughter's affections."
"I have the greatest regard for Miss Trefoil."
"Regard be--." Then again he remembered himself. "Lord Rufford, you've got to marry her. That's the long and the short of it"
"I'm sure I ought to be proud."
"So you ought"
"I don't know the meaning of but, my Lord. I want to know what you mean to do."
"Marriage isn't in my line at all"
"Then what the d-- business have you to go about and talk to a girl like that? Marriage not in your line? Who cares for your line? I never heard such impudence in all my life. You get yourself engaged to a young lady of high rank and position and then you say that-- marriage isn't in your line." Upon that he opened his eyes still wider, and glared upon the offender wrathfully.
"I can't admit that I was ever engaged to Miss Trefoil."
"Didn't you make love to her?"
The poor victim paused a moment before he answered this question, thereby confessing his guilt before he denied it. "No, my Lord; I don't think I ever did."
"You don't think! You don't know whether you asked my daughter to marry you or not! You don't think you made love to her!"
"I am sure I didn't ask her to marry me."
"I am sure you did. And now what have you got to say?" Here there was another shrug of the shoulders. "I suppose you think because you are a rich man that you may do whatever you please. But you'll have to learn the difference. You must be exposed, Sir."
"I hope for the lady's sake that as little as possible may be said of it."
"D-- the--!" Lord Augustus in his assumed wrath was about to be very severe on his daughter, but he checked himself again. "I'm not going to stop here talking all day," he said. "I want to hear your explanation and then I shall know how to act." Up to this time he had been standing, which was unusual with him. Now he flung himself into an armchair.
"Really, Lord Augustus, I don't know what I've got to say. I admire your daughter exceedingly. I was very much honoured when she and her mother came to my house at Rufford. I was delighted to be able to show her a little sport. It gave me the greatest satisfaction when I met her again at your brother's house. Coming home from hunting we happened to be thrown together. It's a kind of thing that will occur, you know. The Duchess seemed to think a great deal of it; but what can one do? We could have had two post chaises, of course,--only one doesn't generally send a young lady alone. She was very tired and fainted with the fatigue. That I think is about all."
"But,--damme, Sir, what did you say to her?" Lord Rufford again rubbed the nap of his hat. "What did you say to her first of all, at your own house?"
"A poor fellow was killed out hunting and everybody was talking about that. Your daughter saw it herself."
"Excuse me, Lord Rufford, if I say that that's what we used to call shuffling, at school. Because a man broke his neck out hunting--"
"It was a kick on the head, Lord Augustus."
"I don't care where he was kicked. What has that to do with your asking my daughter to be your wife?"
"But I didn't"
"I say you did,--over and over again." Here Lord Augustus got out of his chair, and made a little attempt to reach the recreant lover;--but he failed and fell back again into his armchair. "It was first at Rufford, and then you made an appointment to meet her at Mistletoe. How do you explain that?"
"Miss Trefoil is very fond of hunting."
"I don't believe she ever went out hunting in her life before she saw you. You mounted her,--and gave her a horse,--and took her out,--and brought her home. Everybody at Mistletoe knew all about it. My brother and the Duchess were told of it. It was one of those things that are plain to everybody as the nose on your face. What did you say to her when you were coming home in that post chaise?"
"She was fainting."
"What has that to do with it? I don't care whether she fainted or not. I don't believe she fainted at all. When she got into that carriage she was engaged to you, and when she got out of it she was engaged ever so much more. The Duchess knew all about it. Now what have you got to say?" Lord Rufford felt that he had nothing to say. "I insist upon having an answer."
"It's one of the most unfortunate mistakes that ever were made."
"By G--!" exclaimed Lord Augustus, turning his eyes up against the wall, and appealing to some dark ancestor who hung there. "I never heard of such a thing in all my life; never!"
"I suppose I might as well go now," said Lord Rufford after a pause.
"You may go to the D--, Sir,--for the present" Then Lord Rufford took his departure leaving the injured parent panting with his exertions. As Lord Rufford went away he felt that that difficulty had been overcome with much more ease than he had expected. He hardly knew what it was that he had dreaded, but he had feared something much worse than that. Had an appeal been made to his affections he would hardly have known how to answer. He remembered well that he had assured the lady that he loved her, and had a direct question been asked him on that subject he would not have lied. He must have confessed that such a declaration had been made by him. But he had escaped that. He was quite sure that he had never uttered a hint in regard to marriage, and he came away from the Duke's house almost with an assurance that he had done nothing that was worthy of much blame.
Lord Augustus looked at his watch, rang the bell, and ordered a cab. He must now go and see his daughter, and then he would have done with the matter--for ever. But as he was passing through the hall his nephew caught hold of him and took him back into the room. "What does he say for himself?" asked Lord Mistletoe.
"I don't know what he says. Of course he swears that he never spoke a word to her."
"My mother saw him paying her the closest attention."
"How can I help that? What can I do? Why didn't your mother pin him then and there? Women can always do that kind of thing if they choose."
"It is all over, then?"
"I can't make a man marry if he won't. He ought to be thrashed within an inch of his life. But if one does that kind of thing the police are down upon one. All the same, I think the Duchess might have managed it if she had chosen." After that he went to the lodgings in Orchard Street, and there repeated his story. "I have done all I can," he said, "and I don't mean to interfere any further. Arabella should know how to manage her own affairs."
"And you don't mean to punish him?" asked the mother.
"Punish him! How am I to punish him? If I were to throw a decanter at his head, what good would that do?"
"And you mean to say that she must put up with it?" Arabella was sitting by as these questions were asked.
"He says that he never said a word to her. Whom am I to believe?"
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