"I can't do it. It would be false. It is better that I should go away. I cannot pretend to agree with him, when I know that his mind is working altogether under a delusion." When the hour for her departure came, and Hugh was waiting for her, she thought that it would be better that she should go, without seeing Trevelyan. "There will only be more anger," she pleaded. But her sister would not be contented that she should leave the house in this fashion, and urged at last, with tears running down her cheeks, that this might possibly be the last interview between them.
"Say a word to him in kindness before you leave us," said Mrs. Trevelyan. Then Nora went up to her brother-in-law's bed-side, and told him that she was going, and expressed a hope that he might be stronger when she returned. And as she did so she put her hand upon the bed-side, intending to press his in token of affection. But his face was turned from her, and he seemed to take no notice of her. "Louis," said his wife, "Nora is going to Monkhams. You will say good-bye to her before she goes?"
"If she be not my enemy, I will," said he.
"I have never been your enemy, Louis," said Nora, "and certainly I am not now."
"She had better go," he said. "It is very little more that I expect of any one in this world;—but I will recognise no one as my friend who will not acknowledge that I have been sinned against during the last two years;—sinned against cruelly and utterly." Emily, who was standing at the bed-head, shuddered as she heard this, but made no reply. Nor did Nora speak again, but crept silently out of the room;—and in half a minute her sister followed her.
"I feared how it would be," said Nora.
"We can only do our best. God knows that I try to do mine."
"I do not think you will ever see him again," said Hugh to her in the train.
"Would you have had me act otherwise? It is not that it would have been a lie. I would not have minded that to ease the shattered feelings of one so infirm and suffering as he. In dealing with mad people I suppose one must be false. But I should have been accusing her; and it may be that he will get well, and it might be that he would then remember what I had said."
At the station near Monkhams she was met by Lady Peterborough in the carriage. A tall footman in livery came on to the platform to shew her the way and to look after her luggage, and she could not fail to remember that the man might have been her own servant, instead of being the servant of her who now sat in Lord Peterborough's carriage. And when she saw the carriage, and her ladyship's great bay horses, and the glittering harness, and the respectably responsible coachman, and the arms on the panel, she smiled to herself at the sight of these first outward manifestations of the rank and wealth of the man who had once been her lover. There are men who look as though they were the owners of bay horses and responsible coachmen and family blazons,—from whose outward personal appearance, demeanour, and tone of voice, one would expect a following of liveries and a magnificence of belongings; but Mr. Glascock had by no means been such a man. It had suited his taste to keep these things in abeyance, and to place his pride in the oaks and elms of his park rather than in any of those appanages of grandeur which a man may carry about with him. He could talk of his breed of sheep on an occasion, but he never talked of his horses; and though he knew his position and all its glories as well as any nobleman in England, he was ever inclined to hang back a little in going out of a room, and to bear himself as though he were a small personage in the world. Some perception of all this came across Nora's mind as she saw the equipage, and tried to reflect, at a moment's notice, whether the case might have been different with her, had Mr. Glascock worn a little of his tinsel outside when she first met him. Of course she told herself that had he worn it all on the outside, and carried it ever so gracefully, it could have made no difference.
It was very plain, however, that, though Mr. Glascock did not like bright feathers for himself, he chose that his wife should wear them. Nothing could be prettier than the way in which Caroline Spalding, whom we first saw as she was about to be stuck into the interior of the diligence, at St. Michel, now filled her carriage as Lady Peterborough. The greeting between them was very affectionate, and there was a kiss in the carriage, even though the two pretty hats, perhaps, suffered something. "We are so glad to have you at last," said Lady Peterborough. "Of course we are very quiet; but you won't mind that." Nora declared that no house could be too quiet for her, and then said something of the melancholy scene which she had just left. "And no time is fixed for your own marriage? But of course it has not been possible. And why should you be in a hurry? We quite understand that this is to be your home till everything has arranged itself." There was a drive of four or five miles before they reached the park gates, and nothing could be kinder or more friendly than was the new peeress; but Nora told herself that there was no forgetting that her friend was a peeress. She would not be so ill-conditioned as to suggest to herself that her friend patronised her;—and, indeed, had she done so, the suggestion would have been false;—but she could not rid herself of a certain sensation of external inferiority, and of a feeling that the superiority ought to be on her side, as all this might have been hers,—only that she had not thought it worth her while to accept it. As these ideas came into her mind, she hated herself for entertaining them; and yet, come they would. While she was talking about her emblematic beef-steak with Hugh, she had no regret, no uneasiness, no conception that any state of life could be better for her than that state in which an emblematic beef-steak was of vital importance; but she could not bring her mind to the same condition of unalloyed purity while sitting with Lady Peterborough in Lord Peterborough's carriage. And for her default in this respect she hated herself.
"This is the beginning of the park," said her friend.
"And where is the house?"
"You can't see the house for ever so far yet; it is two miles off. There is about a mile before you come to the gates, and over a mile afterwards. One has a sort of feeling when one is in that one can't get out,—it is so big." In so speaking, it was Lady Peterborough's special endeavour to state without a boast facts which were indifferent, but which must be stated.
"It is very magnificent," said Nora. There was in her voice the slightest touch of sarcasm, which she would have given the world not to have uttered; but it had been irrepressible.
Lady Peterborough understood it instantly, and forgave it, not attributing to it more than its true meaning, acknowledging to herself that it was natural. "Dear Nora," she said,—not knowing what to say, blushing as she spoke,—"the magnificence is nothing; but the man's love is everything."
Nora shook herself, and determined that she would behave well. The effort should be made, and the required result should be produced by it. "The magnificence, as an adjunct, is a great deal," she said; "and for his sake, I hope that you enjoy it."
"Of course I enjoy it."
"Wallachia's teachings and preachings have all been thrown to the wind, I hope."
"Not quite all. Poor dear Wally! I got a letter from her the other day, which she began by saying that she would attune her correspondence to my changed condition in life. I understood the reproach so thoroughly! And, when she told me little details of individual men and women, and of things she had seen, and said not a word about the rights of women, or even of politics generally, I felt that I was a degraded creature in her sight. But, though you laugh at her, she did me good,—and will do good to others. Here we are inside Monkhams, and now you must look at the avenue."
Nora was now rather proud of herself. She had made the effort, and it had been successful; and she felt that she could speak naturally, and express her thoughts honestly. "I remember his telling me about the avenue the first time I ever saw him;—and here it is. I did not think then that I should ever live to see the glories of Monkhams. Does it go all the way like this to the house?"
"Not quite;—where you see the light at the end the road turns to the right, and the house is just before you. There are great iron gates, and terraces, and wondrous paraphernalia before you get up to the door. I can tell you Monkhams is quite a wonder. I have to shut myself up every Wednesday morning, and hand the house over to Mrs. Crutch, the housekeeper, who comes out in a miraculous brown silk gown, to shew it to visitors. On other days, you'll find Mrs. Crutch quite civil and useful;—but on Wednesdays, she is majestic. Charles always goes off among his sheep on that day, and I shut myself up with a pile of books in a little room. You will have to be imprisoned with me. I do so long to peep at the visitors."
"And I dare say they want to peep at you."
"I proposed at first to shew them round myself;—but Charles wouldn't let me."
"It would have broken Mrs. Crutch's heart."
"That's what Charles said. He thinks that Mrs. Crutch tells them that I'm locked up somewhere, and that that gives a zest to the search. Some people from Nottingham once did break into old Lady Peterborough's room, and the shew was stopped for a year. There was such a row about it! It prevented Charles coming up for the county. But he wouldn't have got in; and therefore it was lucky, and saved money."
By this time Nora was quite at her ease; but still there was before her the other difficulty, of meeting Lord Peterborough. They were driven out of the avenue, and round to the right, and through the iron gate, and up to the huge front door. There, upon the top step, was standing Lord Peterborough, with a billycock hat and a very old shooting coat, and nankeen trousers, which were considerably too short for him. It was one of the happinesses of his life to dress just as he pleased as he went about his own place; and it certainly was his pleasure to wear older clothes than any one else in his establishment. "Miss Rowley," he said, coming forward to give her a hand out of the carriage, "I am delighted that you should see Monkhams at last."
"You see I have kept you to your promise. Caroline has been telling me everything about it; but she is not quite a complete guide as yet. She does not know where the seven oaks are. Do you remember telling me of the seven oaks?"
"Of course I do. They are five miles off;—at Clatton farm, Carry. I don't think you have been near Clatton yet. We will ride there to-morrow." And thus Nora Rowley was made at home at Monkhams.
She was made at home, and after a week or two she was very happy. She soon perceived that her host was a perfect gentleman, and as such, a man to be much loved. She had probably never questioned the fact, whether Mr. Glascock was a gentleman or not, and now she did not analyse it. It probably never occurred to her, even at the present time, to say to herself that he was certainly that thing, so impossible of definition, and so capable of recognition; but she knew that she had to do with one whose presence was always pleasant to her, whose words and acts towards her extorted her approbation, whose thoughts seemed to her to be always good and manly. Of course she had not loved him, because she had previously known Hugh Stanbury. There could be no comparison between the two men. There was a brightness about Hugh which Lord Peterborough could not rival. Otherwise,—except for this reason,—it seemed to her to be impossible that any young woman should fail to love Lord Peterborough when asked to do so.
About the middle of September there came a very happy time for her, when Hugh was asked down to shoot partridges,—in the doing of which, however, all his brightness did not bring him near in excellence to his host. Lord Peterborough had been shooting partridges all his life, and shot them with a precision which excited Hugh's envy. To own the truth, Stanbury did not shoot well, and was treated rather with scorn by the gamekeeper; but in other respects he spent three or four of the happiest days of his life. He had his work to do, and after the second day over the stubbles, declared that the exigencies of the D. R. were too severe to enable him to go out with his gun again; but those rambles about the park with Nora, for which, among the exigencies of the D. R., he did find opportunity, were never to be forgotten.
"Of course I remember that it might have been mine," she said, sitting with him under an old, hollow, withered sloping stump of an oak, which still, however, had sufficient of a head growing from one edge of the trunk to give them the shade they wanted; "and if you wish me to own to regrets,—I will."
"It would kill me, I think, if you did; and yet I cannot get it out of my head that if it had not been for me your rank and position in life might have been so—so suitable to you."
"No, Hugh; there you're wrong. I have thought about it a good deal, too; and I know very well that the cold beef-steak in the cupboard is the thing for me. Caroline will do very well here. She looks like a peeress, and bears her honours grandly; but they will never harden her. I, too, could have been magnificent with fine feathers. Most birds are equal to so much as that. I fancy that I could have looked the part of the fine English lady, and could have patronised clergymen's wives in the country, could have held my own among my peers in London, and could have kept Mrs. Crutch in order; but it would have hardened me, and I should have learned to think that to be a lady of fashion was everything."
"I do not believe a bit of it."
"It is better as it is, Hugh;—for me at least. I had always a sort of conviction that it would be better, though I had a longing to play the other part. Then you came, and you have saved me. Nevertheless, it is very nice, Hugh, to have the oaks to sit under." Stanbury declared that it was very nice.
But still nothing was settled about the wedding. Trevelyan's condition was so uncertain that it was very difficult to settle anything. Though nothing was said on the subject between Stanbury and Mrs. Trevelyan, and nothing written between Nora and her sister, it could not but be remembered that should Trevelyan die, his widow would require a home with them. They were deterred from choosing a house by this reflection, and were deterred from naming a day also by the consideration that were they to do so, Trevelyan's state might still probably prevent it. But this was arranged, that if Trevelyan lived through the winter, or even if he should not live, their marriage should not be postponed beyond the end of March. Till that time Lord Peterborough would remain at Monkhams, and it was understood that Nora's invitation extended to that period.
"If my wife does not get tired of you, I shall not," Lord Peterborough said to Nora. "The thing is that when you do go we shall miss you so terribly." In September, too, there happened another event which took Stanbury to Exeter, and all needful particulars as to that event shall be narrated in the next chapter.