Sybil/Book 2/Chapter 6

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Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
Book 2/Chapter 6


"I understand, then," said Lord Marney to his brother, as on the evening of the same day they were seated together in the drawing-room, in close converse "I understand then, that you have in fact paid nothing, and that my mother will give you a thousand pounds. That won't go very far."

"It will hardly pay for the chairing," said Egremont; "the restoration of the family influence was celebrated on so great a scale."

"The family influence must be supported," said Lord Marney, "and my mother will give you a thousand pounds; as I said, that will not do much for you, but I like her spirit. Contests are very expensive things, yet I quite approve of what you have done, especially as you won. It is a great thing in these ten pound days to win your first contest, and shows powers of calculation which I respect. Everything in this world is calculation; there is no such thing as luck, depend upon it; and if you go on calculating with equal exactness, you must succeed in life. Now the question is, what is to be done with your election bills?"

"Exactly."

"You want to know what I will do for you, or rather what I can do for you; that is the point. My inclination of course is to do everything for you; but when I calculate my resources, I may find that they are not equal to my inclination."

"I am sure, George, you will do everything, and more than everything you ought."

"I am extremely pleased about this thousand pounds of my mother, Charles."

"Most admirable of her! But she always is so generous!"

"Her jointure has been most regularly paid," continued Lord Marney. "Always be exact in your payments, Charles. There is no end to the good it produces. Now if I had not been so regular in paying my mother her jointure, she would not in all probability have been able to have given you this thousand pounds; and, therefore, to a certain extent, you are indebted for this thousand pounds to me."

Egremont drew up a little, but said nothing.

"I am obliged to pay my mother her jointure, whether ricks are burnt or not," said Lord Marney. "It's very hard, don't you think so?"

"But these ricks were Bingley's?"

"But he was not insured, and he will want some reduction in his rent, and if I do not see fit to allow it him, which I probably shall not, for he ought to have calculated on these things, I have ricks of my own, and they may be burnt any night."

"But you, of course, are insured?"

"No, I am not; I calculate 'tis better to run the risk."

"I wonder why ricks are burnt now, and were not in old days," said Egremont.

"Because there is a surplus population in the kingdom," said Lord Marney, "and no rural police in the county."

"You were speaking of the election, George," said Egremont, not without reluctance, yet anxious, as the ice had been broken, to bring the matter to a result. Lord Marney, before the election, had written, in reply to his mother consulting him on the step a letter with which she was delighted, but which Egremont at the time could have wished to have been more explicit. However in the excitement attendant on a first contest, and influenced by the person whose judgment always swayed, and, in the present case, was peculiarly entitled to sway him, he stifled his scruples, and persuaded himself that he was a candidate not only with the sanction, but at the instance, of his brother. "You were speaking of the election, George," said Egremont.

"About the election, Charles. Well, the long and short of it is this: that I wish to see you comfortable. To be harassed about money is one of the most disagreeable incidents of life. It ruffles the temper, lowers the spirits, disturbs the rest, and finally breaks up one's health. Always, if you possibly can, keep square. And if by any chance you do find yourself in a scrape, come to me. There is nothing under those circumstances like the advice of a cool-headed friend."

"As valuable as the assistance of a cold-hearted one," thought Egremont, who did not fancy too much the tone of this conversation.

"But there is one thing of which you must particularly beware," continued Lord Marney, "there is one thing worse even than getting into difficulties—patching them up. The patching-up system is fatal; it is sure to break down; you never get clear. Now, what I want to do for you, Charles, is to put you right altogether. I want to see you square and more than square, in a position which will for ever guarantee you from any annoyance of this kind."

"He is a good fellow after all," thought Egremont.

"That thousand pounds of my mother was very … propos," said Lord Marney; "I suppose it was a sop that will keep them all right till we have made our arrangements."

"Oh! there is no pressure of that kind," said Egremont; "if I see my way, and write to them, of course they will be quite satisfied."

"Excellent," said Lord Marney; "and nothing could be more convenient to me, for, between ourselves, my balances are very low at this moment. The awful expenditure of keeping up this place! And then such terrible incumbrances as I came to!"

"Incumbrances, George! Why, I thought you had not any. There was not a single mortgage."

"No mortgages; they are nothing; you find them, you get used to them, and you calculate accordingly. You quite forget the portions for younger children."

"Yes; but you had plenty of ready money for them."

"I had to pay them though," said Lord Marney. "Had I not, I might have bought Grimblethorpe with the money; such an opportunity will never occur again."

"But you talked of incumbrances," said Egremont.

"Ah! my dear fellow," said Lord Marney, " you don't know what it is to have to keep up an estate like this; and very lucky for you. It is not the easy life you dream of. There's buildings—I am ruined in buildings—our poor dear father thought he left me Marney without an incumbrance; why, there was not a barn on the whole estate that was weather-proof; not a farm-house that was not half in ruins. What I have spent in buildings! And draining! Though I make my own tiles, draining, my dear fellow, is a something of which you have not the least idea!"

"Well," said Egremont, anxious to bring his brother back to the point, "you think, then, I had better write to them and say—"

"Ah! now for your business," said Lord Marney. "Now, I will tell you what I can do for you. I was speaking to Arabella about it last night; she quite approves my idea. You remember the De Mowbrays? Well, we are going to stay at Mowbray Castle, and you are to go with us. It is the first time they have received company since their great loss. Ah! you were abroad at the time, and so you are behind hand. Lord Mowbray's only son, Fitz-Warene, you remember him, a deuced clever fellow, he died about a year ago, in Greece, of a fever. Never was such a blow! His two sisters, Lady Joan and Lady Maud, are looked upon as the greatest heiresses in the kingdom; but I know Mowbray well; he will make an eldest son of his eldest daughter. She will have it all; she is one of Arabella's dearest friends; and you are to marry her."

Egremont stared at his brother, who patted him on the back with an expression of unusual kindness, and adding, "You have no idea what a load this has taken off my mind, my dear Charles; so great has my anxiety always been about you, particularly of late. To see you lord of Mowbray Castle will realize my fondest hopes. That is a position fit for a man, and I know none more worthy of it than yourself, though I am your brother who say so. Now let us come and speak to Arabella about it."

So saying, Lord Marney, followed somewhat reluctantly by his brother, advanced to the other end of the drawing-room, where his wife was employed with her embroidery-frame, and seated next to her young friend, Miss Poinsett, who was playing chess with Captain Grouse, a member of the chess club, and one of the most capital performers extant.

"Well, Arabella," said Lord Marney, "it is all settled; Charles agrees with me about going to Mowbray Castle, and I think the sooner we go the better. What do you think of the day after to-morrow? That will suit me exactly, and therefore I think we had better fix on it. We will consider it settled."

Lady Marney looked embarrassed, and a little distressed. Nothing could be more unexpected by her than this proposition; nothing more inconvenient than the arrangement. It was very true that Lady Joan Fitz-Warene had invited them to Mowbray, and she had some vague intention, some day or other, of deliberating whether they should avail themselves of this kindness; but to decide upon going, and upon going instantly, without the least consultation, the least inquiry as to the suitableness of the arrangement, the visit of Miss Poinsett abruptly and ungraciously terminated, for example—all this was vexatious, distressing: a mode of management which out of the simplest incidents of domestic life contrived to extract some degree of perplexity and annoyance.

"Do not you think, George," said Lady Marney, "that we had better talk it over a little?"

"Not at all," said Lord Marney: "Charles will go, and it quite suits me, and therefore what necessity for any consultation?"

"Oh! if you and Charles like to go, certainly." said Lady Marney in a hesitating tone; "only I shall be very sorry to lose your society."

"How do you mean lose our society Arabella? Of course you must go with us. I particularly want you to go. You are Lady Joan's most intimate friend; I believe there is no one she likes so much."

"I cannot go the day after to-morrow," said Lady Marney, speaking in a whisper, and looking volumes of deprecation.

"I cannot help it," said Lord Marney; "you should have told me this before. I wrote to Mowbray to-day, that we should be with him the day after to-morrow, and stay a week."

"But you never mentioned it to me," said Lady Marney, slightly blushing and speaking in a tone of gentle reproach.

"I should like to know when I am to find time to mention the contents of every letter I write," said Lord Marney; "particularly with all the vexatious business I have had on my hands to-day. But so it is; the more one tries to save you trouble, the more discontented you get."

"No, not discontented, George."

"I do not know what you call discontented; but when a man has made every possible arrangement to please you and every body, and all his plans are to be set aside merely because the day he has fixed on does not exactly suit your fancy, if that be not discontent, I should like very much to know what is, Arabella."

Lady Marney did not reply. Always sacrificed, always yielding, the moment she attempted to express an opinion, she ever seemed to assume the position not of the injured but the injurer.

Arabella was a woman of abilities, which she had cultivated. She had excellent sense, and possessed many admirable qualities; she was far from being devoid of sensibility; but her sweet temper shrank from controversy, and Nature had not endowed her with a spirit which could direct and control. She yielded without a struggle to the arbitrary will and unreasonable caprice of a husband, who was scarcely her equal in intellect, and far her inferior in all the genial qualities of our nature, but who governed her by his iron selfishness.

Lady Marney absolutely had no will of her own. A hard, exact, literal, bustling, acute being environed her existence; directed, planned, settled everything. Her life was a series of petty sacrifices and baulked enjoyments. If her carriage were at the door, she was never certain that she would not have to send it away; if she had asked some friends to her house, the chances were she would have to put them off; if she were reading a novel, Lord Marney asked her to copy a letter; if she were going to the opera, she found that Lord Marney had got seats for her and some friend in the House of Lords, and seemed expecting the strongest expressions of delight and gratitude from her for his unasked and inconvenient kindness. Lady Marney had struggled against this tyranny in the earlier days of their union. Innocent, inexperienced Lady Marney! As if it were possible for a wife to contend against a selfish husband, at once sharp-witted and blunt-hearted! She had appealed to him, she had even reproached him; she had wept, once she had knelt. But Lord Marney looked upon these demonstrations as the disordered sensibility of a girl unused to the marriage state, and ignorant of the wise authority of husbands, of which he deemed himself a model. And so, after a due course of initiation, Lady Marney invisible for days, plunged in remorseful reveries in the mysteries of her boudoir, and her lord dining at his club and going to the minor theatres; the countess was broken in, and became the perfect wife of a perfect husband.

Lord Marney, who was fond of chess, turned out Captain Grouse, and very gallantly proposed to finish his game with Miss Poinsett, which Miss Poinsett, who understood Lord Marney as well as he understood chess, took care speedily to lose, so that his lordship might encounter a champion worthy of him. Egremont seated by his sister-in-law, and anxious by kind words to soothe the irritation which he had observed with pain his brother create, entered into easy talk, and after some time, said, "I find you have been good enough to mould my destiny."

Lady Marney looked a little surprised, and then said, "How so?"

"You have decided on I hear the most important step of my life."

"Indeed you perplex me."

"Lady Joan Fitz-Warene, your friend—"

The countess blushed; the name was a clue which she could follow, but Egremont nevertheless suspected that the idea had never previously occurred to her. Lady Joan she described as not beautiful; certainly not beautiful; nobody would consider her beautiful, many would indeed think her quite the reverse; and yet she had a look, one particular look when according to Lady Marney, she was more than beautiful. But she was very clever, very indeed, something quite extraordinary.

"Accomplished?"

"Oh! far beyond that; I have heard even men say that no one knew so much."

"A regular blue?"

"Oh! no; not at all a blue; not that kind of knowledge. But languages and learned books; Arabic, and Hebrew, and old manuscripts. And then she has an observatory, and was the first person who discovered the comet. Dr Buckland swears by her; and she corresponds with Arago."

"And her sister, is she the same?"

"Lady Maud: she is very religious. I do not know her so well."

"Is she pretty?"

"Some people admire her very much."

"I never was at Mowbray. What sort of a place is it?"

"Oh! it is very grand," said Lady Marney; "but like all places in the manufacturing districts, very disagreeable. You never have a clear sky. Your toilette table is covered with blacks; the deer in the park seem as if they had bathed in a lake of Indian ink; and as for the sheep, you expect to see chimney-sweeps for the shepherds."

"And do you really mean to go on Thursday?" said Egremont: "I think we had better put it off."

"We must go," said Lady Marney, with a sort of sigh, and shaking her head.

"Let me speak to Marney."

"Oh! no. We must go. I am annoyed about this dear little Poinsett: she has been to stay with me so very often, and she has only been here three days. When she comes in again, I wish you would ask her to sing, Charles."

Soon the dear little Poinsett was singing, much gratified by being invited to the instrument by Mr Egremont, who for a few minutes hung over her, and then evidently under the influence of her tones, walked up and down the room, and only speaking to beg that she would continue her charming performances. Lady Marney was engrossed with her embroidery; her lord and the captain with their game.

And what was Egremont thinking of? Of Mowbray be you sure. And of Lady Joan or Lady Maud? Not exactly. Mowbray was the name of the town to which the strangers he had met with in the Abbey were bound. It was the only piece of information that he had been able to obtain of them; and that casually.

When the fair vision of the starlit arch, about to descend to her two companions, perceived that they were in conversation with a stranger, she hesitated, and in a moment withdrew. Then the elder of the travellers, exchanging a glance with his friend, bid good even to Egremont.

"Our way perhaps lies the same," said Egremont.

"I should deem not," said the stranger, "nor are we alone."

"And we must be stirring, for we have far to go," said he who was dressed in black.

"My journey is very brief," said Egremont, making a desperate effort to invite communication; "and I am on horseback!"

"And we on foot," said the elder; "nor shall we stop till we reach Mowbray;" and with a slight salute, they left Egremont alone. There was something in the manner of the elder stranger which repressed the possibility of Egremont following him. Leaving then the cloister garden in another direction, he speculated on meeting them outside the abbey. He passed through the Lady's chapel. The beautiful Religious was not there. He gained the west front; no one was visible. He took a rapid survey of each side of the abbey; not a being to be recognized. He fancied they must have advanced towards the Abbey Farm; yet they might have proceeded further on in the dale. Perplexed, he lost time. Finally he proceeded towards the farm, but did not overtake them; reached it, but learned nothing of them; and arrived at his brother's full of a strange yet sweet perplexity.