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- He Knew He Was Right - 140/179 -
'I hope I shall find you so always. And, of course, she is ridiculous in your eyes. I have learned to see it, and to regret it; but I shall never cease to love her.'
'I have not the slightest objection. Her lessons will come from over the water, and mine will come from where shall I say? over the table. If I can't talk her down with so much advantage on my side, I ought to be made a woman's-right man myself.'
Poor Lady Rowley had watched Miss Petrie and Mr Glascock during those moments that they had been together, and had half believed the rumour, and had half doubted, thinking in the moments of her belief that Mr Glascock must be mad, and in the moments of unbelief that the rumours had been set afloat by the English Minister's wife with the express intention of turning Mr Glascock into ridicule. It had never occurred to her to doubt that Wallachia was the eldest of that family of nieces. Could it be possible that a man who had known her Nora, who had undoubtedly loved her Nora, who had travelled all the way from London to Nuncombe Putney to ask Nora to be his wife, should within twelve months of that time have resolved to marry a woman whom he must have selected simply as being the most opposite to Nora of any female human being that he could find? It was not credible to her; and if it were not true, there might still be a hope. Nora had met him, and had spoken to him, and it had seemed that for a moment or two they had spoken as friends. Lady Rowley, when talking to Mrs Spalding, had watched them closely; and she had seen that Nora's eyes had been bright, and that there had been something between them which was pleasant. Suddenly she found herself close to Wallachia, and thought that she would trust herself to a word.
'Have you been long in Florence?' asked Lady Rowley in her softest voice.
'A pretty considerable time, ma'am, that is, since the fall began.'
What a voice; what an accent; and what words! Was there a man living with sufficient courage to take this woman to England, and shew her to the world as Lady Peterborough?
'Are you going to remain in Italy for the summer?' continued Lady Rowley.
'I guess I shall or, perhaps, locate myself in the purer atmosphere of the Swiss mountains.'
'Switzerland in summer must certainly be much pleasanter.'
'I was thinking at the moment of the political atmosphere,' said Miss Petrie; 'for although, certainly, much has been done in this country in the way of striking off shackles and treading sceptres under foot, still, Lady Rowley, there remains here that pernicious thing--a king. The feeling of the dominion of a single man and that of a single woman is, for aught I know, worse with me, so clouds the air, that the breath I breathe fails to fill my lungs.' Wallachia, as she said this, put forth her hand, and raised her chin, and extended her arm. She paused, feeling that justice demanded that Lady Rowley should have a right of reply. But Lady Rowley had not a word to say, and Wallachia Petrie went on. 'I cannot adapt my body to the sweet savours and the soft luxuries of the outer world with any comfort to my inner self, while the circumstances of the society around me are oppressive to my spirit. When our war was raging all around me I was light-spirited as the lark that mounts through the morning sky.'
'I should have thought it was very dreadful,' said Lady Rowley.
'Full of dread, of awe, and of horror, were those fiery days of indiscriminate slaughter; but they were not days of desolation, because hope was always there by our side. There was a hope in which the soul could trust, and the trusting soul is ever light and buoyant.'
'I dare say it is,' said Lady Rowley.
'But apathy, and serfdom, and kinghood, and dominion, drain the fountain of its living springs, and the soul becomes like the plummet of lead, whose only tendency is to hide itself in subaqueous mud and unsavoury slush.'
Subaqueous mud and unsavoury slush! Lady Rowley repeated the words to herself as she made good her escape, and again expressed to herself her conviction that it could not possibly be so. The 'subaqueous mud and unsavoury slush,' with all that had gone before it about the soul, was altogether unintelligible to her; but she knew that it was American buncom of a high order of eloquence, and she told herself again and again that it could not be so. She continued to keep her eyes upon Mr Glascock, and soon saw him again talking to Nora. It was hardly possible, she thought, that Nora should speak to him with so much animation, or he to her, unless there was some feeling between them which, if properly handled, might lead to a renewal of the old tenderness. She went up to Nora, having collected the other girls, and said that the carriage was then waiting for them. Mr Glascock immediately offered Lady Rowley his arm, and took her down to the hall. Could it be that she was leaning upon a future son-in-law? There was something in the thought which made her lay her weight upon him with a freedom which she would not otherwise have used. Oh! that her Nora should live to be Lady Peterborough! We are apt to abuse mothers for wanting high husbands for their daughters but can there be any point in which the true maternal instinct can shew itself with more affectionate enthusiasm? This poor mother wanted nothing for herself from Mr Glascock. She knew very well that it was her fate to go back to the Mandarins, and probably to die there. She knew also that such men as Mr Glascock, when they marry beneath themselves in rank and fortune, will not ordinarily trouble themselves much with their mothers-in-law. There was nothing desired for herself. Were such a match accomplished, she might, perhaps, indulge herself in talking among the planters' wives of her daughter's coronet; but at the present moment there was no idea even of this in her mind. It was of Nora herself, and of Nora's sisters, that she was thinking, for them that she was plotting that the one might be rich and splendid, and the others have some path opened for them to riches and splendour. Husband-hunting mothers may be injudicious; but surely they are maternal and unselfish. Mr Glascock put her into the carriage, and squeezed her hand and then he squeezed Nora's hand. She saw it, and was sure of it. 'I am so glad you are going to be happy,' Nora had said to him before this. 'As far as I have seen her, I like her so much.' 'If you do not come and visit her in her own house, I shall think you have no spirit of friendship,' he said. 'I will,' Nora had replied 'I will.' This had been said just as Lady Rowley was coming to them, and on this understanding, on this footing, Mr Glascock had pressed her hand.
As she went home, Lady Rowley's mind was full of doubt as to the course which it was best that she should follow with her daughter. She was not unaware how great was the difficulty before her. Hugh Stanbury's name had not been mentioned since they left London, but at that time Nora was obstinately bent on throwing herself away upon the 'penny-a-liner.' She had never been brought to acknowledge that such a marriage would be even inappropriate, and had withstood gallantly the expression of her father's displeasure. But with such a spirit as Nora's, it might be easier to prevail by silence than by many words. Lady Rowley was quite sure of this: that it would be far better to say nothing further of Hugh Stanbury. Let the cure come, if it might be possible, from absence and from her daughter's good sense. The only question was whether it would be wise to say any word about Mr Glascock. In the carriage she was not only forbearing but flattering in her manner to Nora. She caressed her girl's hand and spoke to her as mothers know how to speak when they want to make much of their girls, and to have it understood that those girls are behaving as girls should behave. There was to be nobody to meet them tonight, as it had been arranged that Sir Marmaduke and Mrs Trevelyan should sleep at Siena. Hardly a word had been spoken in the carriage; but upstairs, in their drawing-room, there came a moment in which Lucy and Sophie had left them, and Nora was alone with her mother. Lady Rowley almost knew that it would be most prudent to be silent; but a word spoken in season, how good it is! And the thing was so near to her that she could not hold her peace. 'I must say, Nora,' she began, 'that I do like your Mr Glascock.'
'He is not my Mr Glascock, mamma,' said Nora, smiling.
'You know what I mean, dear.' Lady Rowley had not intended to utter a word that should appear like pressure on her daughter at this moment. She had felt how imprudent it would be to do so. But now Nora seemed to be leading the way herself to such discourse. 'Of course, he is not your Mr Glascock. You cannot eat your cake and have it, nor can you throw it away and have it.'
'I have thrown my cake away altogether, and certainly I cannot have it.' She was still smiling as she spoke, and seemed to be quite merry at the idea of regarding Mr Glascock as the cake which she had declined to eat.
'I can see one thing quite plainly, dear.'
'What is that, mamma?'
'That in spite of what you have done, you can still have your cake whenever you choose to take it.'
'Why, mamma, he is engaged to be married!'
'Yes, Mr Glascock. It's quite settled. Is it not sad?'
'To whom is he engaged?' Lady Rowley's solemnity as she asked this question was piteous to behold.
'To Miss Spalding Caroline Spalding.'
'The eldest of those nieces?'
'Yes the eldest.'
'I cannot believe it.'
'Mamma, they both told me so. I have sworn an eternal friendship with her already.'
'I did not see you speaking to her.'
'But I did talk to her a great deal.'
'And he is really going to marry that dreadful woman?'
'Perfectly awful! She talked to me in a way that I have read about in books, but which I did not before believe to be possible. Do you mean that he is going to be married to that hideous old maid, that bell-clapper?'
'Oh, mamma, what slander! I think her so pretty.'
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