The Irrational Knot/Chapter VI
Three days later Lord Carbury came to luncheon with a letter in his hand. Marian had not yet come in; and the Rev. George was absent, his place being filled by Marmaduke.
"Good news for you and Constance, mother."
"Indeed?" said the Countess, smiling.
"Yes. Conolly is coming down this afternoon to collect his traps and leave you forever."
"Really, Jasper, you exaggerate Mr. Conolly's importance. Intelligence of his movements can hardly be news—good or bad—either to me or to Constance."
"I am glad he is going," said Constance, "for Jasper's sake."
"Thank you," replied Jasper. "I thought you would be. He will be a great loss to me."
"Nonsense!" said the Countess. "If another workman is needed, another can easily be had."
"If I can be of any assistance to you, old man," said Marmaduke, "make what use of me you like. I picked up something about the business yesterday."
"Yes," said Elinor. "While you were away, Jasper, he went to the laboratory with Constance, and fired off a brass cannon with your new pile until he had used up all the gunpowder and spoiled the panels of the door. That is what he calls picking up something about the business."
"Nothing like experiment for convincing you of the power of electricity," said Marmaduke. "Is there, Conny?"
"It's very wonderful; but I hate shots."
"Where is Marian?" said Lady Carbury.
"I left her in the summer-house in the fruit garden," said Elinor. "She was reading."
"She must have forgotten the hour," said the Countess. "She has been moping, I think, for the last few days. I hope she is not unwell. But she would never stay away from luncheon intentionally. I shall send for her."
"I'll go," said Marmaduke, eagerly.
"No, no, Duke. You must not leave the table. I will send a servant."
"I will fetch her here in half the time that any servant will. Poor Marian, why shouldnt she have her lunch? I shall be back in a jiffy."
"What a restless, extraordinary creature he is!" said Lady Carbury, displeased, as Marmaduke hastily left the room. "The idea of a man leaving the table in that way!"
"I suspect he has his reasons," said Elinor.
"I think it is a perfectly natural thing for him to do," said Constance, pettishly. "I see nothing extraordinary in it."
Marmaduke found Marian reading in the summer-house in the fruit garden. She looked at him in lazy surprise as he seated himself opposite to her at the table.
"This is the first chance I've had of talking to you privately since I came down," he said. "I believe you have been keeping out of my way on purpose."
"Well, I concluded that you wanted as many chances as possible of talking to some one else in private; so I gave you as many as I could."
"Yes, you and the rest have been uncommonly considerate in that respect: thank you all awfully. But I mean to have it out with you, Miss Marian, now that I have caught you alone."
"With me! Oh, dear! What have I done?"
"What have you done? I'll tell you what youve done. Why did you send Conolly, of all men in the world, to tell me that I was in disgrace here?"
"There was no one else, Marmaduke."
"Well, suppose there wasn't! Suppose there had been no one else alive on the earth except you, and I, and he, and Constance, and Su—and Constance! how could you have offered him such a job?"
"Why not? Was there any special reason—"
"Any special reason! Didnt your common sense tell you that a meeting between him and me must be particularly awkward for both of us?"
"No. At least I—. Marmaduke: I think you must fancy that I told him more than I did. I did not know where you were; and as he was going to London, and I thought you knew him well, and I had no other means of warning you, I had to make use of him. Jasper will tell you how thoroughly trustworthy he is. But all I said—and I really could not say less—was that I was afraid you were in bad company, or under bad influence, or something like that; and that I only wanted you to come down here at once."
"Oh! Indeed! That was all, was it? Merely that I was in bad company."
"I think I said under bad influence. I was told so; and I believed it at the time. I hope it's not true, Marmaduke. If it is not, I beg your pardon with all my heart."
Marmaduke stared very hard at her for a while, and then said, with the emphasis of a man baffled by utter unreason: "Well, I am damned!" at which breach of good manners she winced. "Hang me if I understand you, Marian," he continued, more mildly. "Of course it's not true. Bad influence is all bosh. But it was a queer thing to say to his face. He knew very well you meant his sister. Hallo! what's the matter? Are you going to faint?"
"No, I—Never mind me."
"Never mind you!" said Marmaduke. "What are you looking like that for?"
"Because—it is nothing: I only blushed. Dont be stupid, Duke."
"Blushed! Why dont you blush red, like other people, and not green? Shall I get you something?"
"No, no. Oh, Duke, why did you not tell me? How could you be so heartless as to leave us all in the dark when we were talking about you before him every day! Oh, are you in earnest, Duke? Pray dont jest about it. What do you mean by his sister? I never knew he had one. Who is she? What happened? I mean when you saw him?"
"Nothing happened. I was mowing in the garden. He just walked in; bade me good morning; admired the place; and told me he came with a message from you that things were getting hot here. Then he went off, as cool as you please. He didnt seem to mind."
"And he warned you, in spite of all."
"More for your sake than for mine, I suspect. He's rather sweet on you, isnt he?"
"Oh, Duke, Duke, are you not ashamed of yourself?"
"Deuce a bit. But I'm in trouble; and I want you to stand by me. Look here, Marian, you have no nonsense about you, I know. I may tell you frankly how I am situated, maynt I?"
Marian looked at him apprehensively, and said nothing.
"You see you will only mix up matters worse than before unless you know the truth. Besides, I offered to marry her: upon my soul I did; but she refused. Her real name is Susanna Conolly: his sister, worse luck."
"Dont tell me any more of this, Duke. It is not right."
"I suppose it's not right, as you say. But what am I to do? I must tell you; or you will go on making mischief with Constance."
"As if I would tell her! I promise that she shall never know from me. Is that enough?"
"No: its too much. The plain truth is that I dont care whether she finds me out or not. I want her to understand thoroughly, once and for ever, that I wont marry her."
"Not if I were fifty Marmadukes!"
"Then you will break her heart."
"Never fear! Her heart is pretty tough, if she has one. Whether or no, I am not going to have her forced on me by the Countess or any one else. The truth is, Marian, they have all tried to bully me into this match. Constance can't complain."
"No, not aloud."
"Neither aloud or alow. I never proposed to her."
"Very well, Marmaduke: there is no use now in blaming Auntie or excusing yourself. If you have made up your mind, there is an end."
"But you cant make out that I am acting meanly, Marian. Why, I have everything to lose by giving her up. There is her money, and I suppose I must prepare for a row with the family; unless the match could be dropped quietly. Eh?"
"And is that what you want me to manage for you?"
"Well—. Come, Marian! dont be savage. I have been badly used in this affair. They forced it on me. I did all I could to keep out of it. She was thrown at my head. Besides, I once really used to think I could settle down with her comfortably some day. I only found out what an insipid little fool she was when I had a woman of sense to compare her with."
"Dont say hard things about her. I think you might have a little forbearance towards her under the circumstances."
"Hm! I dont feel very forbearing. She has been sticking to me for the last few days like a barnacle. Our respectable young ladies think a lot of themselves, but—except you and Nelly—I dont know a woman in society who has as much brains in her whole body as Susanna Conolly has in her little finger nail. I cant imagine how the deuce you all have the cheek to expect men to talk to you, much less marry you."
"Perhaps there is something that honest men value more than brains."
"I should like to know what it is. If it is something that ladies have and Susanna hasnt, it is not either good looks or good sense. If it's respectability, that depends on what you consider respectable. If Conny's respectable and Susanna isnt, then I prefer disrepu—"
"Hush, Duke, you know you have no right to speak to me like this. Let us think of poor Constance. How is she to be told the truth?"
"Let her find it out. I shall go back to London as soon as I can; and the affair will drop somehow or another. She will forget all about me."
"Happy-go-lucky Marmaduke. I think if neglect and absence could make her forget you, you would have been forgotten before this."
"Yes. You see you must admit that I gave her no reason to suppose I meant anything."
"I am afraid you have consulted your own humor both in your neglect and your attentions, Duke. The more you try to excuse yourself, the more inexcusable your conduct appears. I do not know how to advise you. If Constance is told, you may some day forget all about your present infatuation; and then a mass of mischief and misery will have been made for nothing. If she is not told, you will be keeping up a cruel deception and wasting her chances of—but she will never care for anybody else."
"Better do as I say. Leave matters alone for the present. But mind! no speculating on my changing my intentions. I wont marry her."
"I wish you hadnt told me about it."
"Well, Marian, I couldnt help it. I know, of course, that you only wanted to make us all happy; but you nursed this match and kept it in Constance's mind as much as you could. Besides—though it was not your fault—that mistake about Conolly was too serious not to explain. Dont be downcast: I am not blaming you a bit."
"It seems to me that the worst view of things is always the true one in this world. Nelly and Jasper were right about you."
"Aha! So they saw what I felt. You cant say I did not make my intentions plain enough to every unbiassed person. The Countess was determined to get Constance off her hands; Constance was determined to have me; and you were determined to stick up for your own notions of love and honeysuckles."
"I was determined to stick up for you, Marmaduke."
"Dont be indignant: I knew you would stick up for me in your own way. But what I want to shew is, that only three people believed that I was in earnest; and those three were prejudiced."
"I wish you had enlightened Constance, and deceived all the rest of the world, instead. No doubt I was wrong, very wrong. I am very sorry."
"Pshaw! It doesnt matter. It will all blow over some day. Hush, I hear the garden gate opening. It is Constance, come to spy what I am doing here with you. She is as jealous as a crocodile—very nearly made a scene yesterday because I played with Nelly against her at tennis. I have to drive her to Bushy Copse this afternoon, confound it!"
"And will you, after what you have just confessed?"
"I must. Besides, Jasper says that Conolly is coming this evening to pack up his traps and go; and I want to be out of the way when he is about."
"Yes. Between ourselves, Marian, Susanna and I were so put out by the cool way he carried on when he called, that we had a regular quarrel after he went; and we haven't made it up yet."
"Pray dont talk about it to me, Duke. Here is Constance."
"So you are here," said Constance, gaily, but with a quick glance at them. "That is a pretty way to bring your cousin in to luncheon, sir."
"We got chatting about you, my ownest," said Marmaduke; "and the subject was so sweet, and the moments were so fleet, that we talked for quite an hour on the strict q.t. Eh, Marian?"
"As a punishment, you shall have no lunch. Mamma is very angry with you both."
"Always ready to make allowances for her, provided she sends you to lecture me, Conny. Why dont you wear your hat properly?" He arranged her hat as he spoke. Constance laughed and blushed. Marian shuddered. "Now youre all that fancy painted you: youre lovely, youre divine. Are you ready for Bushy Copse?"
Constance replied by singing:
"Oh yes, if you please, kind sir, she said; sir, she said; sir, she said;
Oh! yes if you ple—ease, kind sir, she said."
"Then come along. After your ladyship," he said, taking her elbows as if they were the handles of a wheelbarrow, and pushing her out before him through the narrow entrance to the summer-house. On the threshold he turned for a moment; met Marian's reproachful eyes with a wink; grinned; and disappeared.
For half an hour afterward Marian sat alone in the summer-house, thinking of the mistake she had made. Then she returned to the Cottage, where she found Miss McQuinch writing in the library, and related to her all that had passed in the summer-house. Elinor listened, seated in a rocking-chair, restlessly clapping her protended ankles together. When she heard of Conolly's relationship to Susanna, she kept still for a few moments, looking with widely opened eyes at Marian. Then, with a sharp laugh, she said:
"Well, I beg his pardon. I thought he was another of that woman's retainers. I never dreamt of his being her brother."
Marian was horror stricken. "You thought—! Oh, Nelly, what puts such things into your head?"
"So would you have thought it if you had the least gumption about people. However, I was wrong; and I'm glad of it. However, I was right about Marmaduke. I told you so, over and over and over again."
"I know you did; but I didnt think you were in earnest."
"No, you never can conceive my being in earnest when I differ from you, until the event proves me to be right."
"I am afraid it will kill Constance."
"Dont, Marian!" cried Elinor, giving her chair a violent swing.
"I am quite serious. You know how delicate she is."
"Well, if she dies of any sentiment, it will be wounded vanity. Serve her right for allowing a man to be forced into marrying her. I believe she knows in her soul that he does not care about her. Why else should she be jealous of me, of you, and of everybody?"
"It seems to me that instead of sympathizing with the unfortunate girl, both you and Marmaduke exult in her disappointment."
"I pity her, poor little wretch. But I dont sympathize with her. I dont pity Marmaduke one bit: if the whole family cuts him he will deserve it richly, but I do sympathize with him. Can you wonder at his preference? When we went to see that woman last June I envied her. There she was, clever, independent, successful, holding her own in the world, earning her living, fascinating a crowd of people, whilst we poor respectable nonentities sat pretending to despise her—as if we were not waiting until some man in want of a female slave should offer us our board and lodging and the privilege of his lordly name with 'Missis' before it for our lifelong services. You may make up as many little bread-and-butter romances as you please, Marian; but I defy you to give me any sensible reason why Marmaduke should chain himself for ever to a little inane thing like Constance, when he can enjoy the society of a capable woman like that without binding himself at all."
"Nonsense, Nelly! Really, you oughtnt to say such things."
"No. I ought to keep both eyes tight shut so that I may be contented in that station to which it has pleased God to call me."
"Imagine his proposing to marry her, Nell! I am just as wicked as you; for I am very glad she refused; though I cant conceive why she did it."
"Perhaps," said Miss McQuinch, becoming excited, "she refused because she had too much good sense: aye, and too much common decency to accept. It is all very well for us fortunate good-for-nothings to resort to prostitution—"
"—I say, to prostitution, to secure ourselves a home and an income. Somebody said openly in Parliament the other day that marriage was the true profession of women. So it is a profession; and except that it is a harder bargain for both parties, and that society countenances it, I dont see how it differs from what we—bless our virtuous indignation!—stigmatize as prostitution. I dont mean ever to be married, I can tell you, Marian. I would rather die than sell myself forever to a man, and stand in a church before a lot of people whilst George or somebody read out that cynically plain-spoken marriage service over me."
"Stop Nelly! Pray stop! If you thought for a moment you would never say such awful things."
"I thought we had agreed long ago that marriage is a mistake."
"Yes; but that is very different to what you are saying now."
"I cannot see—"
"Pray stop, Nelly. Dont go on in that strain. It does no good; and it makes me very uncomfortable."
"I'll take it out in work," said Nelly calmly, returning to her manuscript. "I can see that, as you say, talking does no good. All the more reason why I should have another try at earning my own living. When I become a great novelist I shall say what I like and do what I please. For the present I am your obedient, humble servant."
At any other time Marian would have protested, and explained, and soothed. Now she was too heavily preoccupied by her guilty conscience. She strolled disconsolately to the window, and presently, seeing that Miss McQuinch was at work in earnest and had better not be disturbed, went off for a lonely walk. It was a glorious afternoon; and nature heaped its peculiar consolations on her; so that she never thought of returning until the sun was close to the horizon. As she came, tired, through the plantation, with the evening glow and the light wind, in which the branches were rustling and the leaves dropping, lulling her luxuriously, she heard some one striding swiftly along the path behind. She looked back; but there was a curve in the way; and she could not see who was coming. Then it occurred to her that it might be Conolly. Dreading to face him after what had happened, she stole aside among the trees a little way, and sat down on a stone, hoping that he might pass by without seeing her. The next moment he came round the curve, looking so resolute and vigorous that her heart became fainter as she watched him. Just opposite where she sat, he stopped, having a clear view of the path ahead for some distance, and appeared puzzled. Marian held her breath. He looked to the left through the trees, then to the right, where she was.
"Good-evening, Miss Lind," he said respectfully, raising his hat.
"Good-evening," said she, trembling.
"You are not looking quite well."
"I have walked too much; and I feel a little tired. That is why I had to sit down. I shall be rested presently."
Conolly sat down on a felled trunk opposite Marian. "This is my last visit to Carbury Towers," he said. "No doubt you know that I am going for good."
"Yes," said Marian. "I—I am greatly obliged to you for all the pains you have taken with me in the laboratory. You have been very patient. I suppose I have often wasted your time unreasonably."
"No," said Conolly, unceremoniously, "you have not wasted my time: I never let anybody do that. My time belonged to Lord Carbury, not to myself. However, that is neither here nor there. I enjoyed giving you lessons. Unless you enjoyed taking them, the whole obligation rests on me."
"They were very pleasant."
He shifted himself into an easier position, looking well pleased. Then he said, carelessly, "Has Mr. Marmaduke Lind come down?"
Marian reddened and felt giddy.
"I want to avoid meeting him," continued Conolly; "and I thought perhaps you might know enough of his movements this evening to help me to do so. It does not matter much; but I have a reason."
Marian felt the hysteric globe at her throat as she tried to speak; but she repressed it, and said:
"Mr. Conolly: I know the reason. I did not know before: I am sure you did not think I did. I made a dreadful mistake."
"Why!" said Conolly, with some indignation, "who has told you since?"
"Marmaduke," said Marian, roused to reply quickly by the energy of the questioner. "He did not mean to be indiscreet: he thought I knew."
"Thought! He never thought in his life, Miss Lind. However, he was right enough to tell you; and I am glad you know the truth, because it explains my behavior the last time we met. It took me aback a bit for the moment."
"You were very forbearing. I hope you will not think me intrusive if I tell you how sincerely sorry I am for the misfortune which has come to you."
Marian lost confidence again, and looked at him in silent distress.
"To be sure," he interposed, quickly. "I know; but you had put it all out of my head. I am much obliged to you. Not that I am much concerned about it. You will perhaps think it an instance of the depravity of my order, Miss Lind; but I am not one of those people who think it pious to consider their near relatives as if they were outside the natural course of things. I never was a good son or a good brother or a good patriot in the sense of thinking that my mother and my sister and my native country were better than other people's because I happened to belong to them. I knew what would happen some day, though, as usual, my foreknowledge did not save me from a little emotion when the event came to pass. Besides, to tell you the truth, I dont feel it as a misfortune. You know what my sister's profession is. You told me how you felt when you saw her act. Now, tell me fairly, and without stopping to think of whether your answer will hurt me, would you consent to know her in private even if you had heard nothing to her disadvantage? Would you invite her to your house, or go to a party at which all the other women were like her? Would you introduce young ladies to her, as you would introduce them to Miss McQuinch? Dont stop to imagine exceptional circumstances which might justify you in doing these things; but tell me yes or no, would you?"
"You see, Mr. Conolly, I should really never have an opportunity of doing them."
"By your leave, Miss Lind, that means No. Honestly, then, what has Susanna to lose by disregarding your rules of behavior? Even if, by marrying, she conciliated the notions of your class, she would only give some man the right to ill-treat her and spend her earnings, without getting anything in return—and remember there is a special danger of that on the stage, for several reasons. She would not really conciliate you by marrying, for you wouldnt associate with her a bit the more because of her marriage certificate. Of course I am putting her self-respect out of the question, that being a matter between herself and her conscience, with which we have no concern. Believe me, neither actresses nor any other class will trouble themselves about the opinion of a society in which they are allowed to have neither part nor lot. Perhaps I am wrong to talk about such matters to you; but you are trained to feel all the worst that can be felt for my sister; and I feel bound to let you know that there is something to be said in her defence. I have no right to blame her, as she has done me no harm. The only way in which her conduct can influence my prospects will be through her being an undesirable sister-in-law in case I should want to marry."
"If the person you choose hesitates on that account, you can let her go without regret," said Marian. "She will not be worthy of your regard."
"I am not so sure of that," said Conolly, laughing. "You see, Miss Lind, if that invention of mine succeeds, I may become a noted man; and it is fashionable nowadays for society to patronize geniuses who hit on a new illustration of what people call the marvels of science. I am ambitious. As a celebrity, I might win the affections of a duchess. Who knows?"
"I should not advise you to marry a duchess. I do not know many of them, as I am a comparatively humble person; but I am sure you would not like them."
"Aye. And possibly a lady of gentle nurture would not like me."
"On the contrary, clever people are so rare in society that I think you would have a better chance than most men."
"Do you think my manners would pass? I learnt to dance and bow before I was twelve years old from the most experienced master in Europe; and I used to mix with all the counts, dukes, and queens in my father's opera company, not to mention the fashionable people I have read about in novels."
"You are jesting, Mr. Conolly. I do not believe that your manners give you the least real concern."
"And you think that I may aspire in time—if I am successful in public—to the hand of a lady?"
"Surely you know as much of the world as I. Why should you not marry a lady, if you wish to?"
"I am afraid class prejudice would be too strong for me, after all."
"I dont think so. What hour is it now, Mr. Conolly?"
"It wants ten minutes of seven."
"Oh!" cried Marian, rising. "Miss McQuinch is probably wondering whether I am drowned or lost. I must get back to the Hall as fast as I can. They have returned from Bushy Copse before this; and I am sure they are asking about me."
Conolly rose silently and walked with her as far as the path from the cottage to the laboratory.
"This is my way, Miss Lind," said he. "I am going to the laboratory. Will you be so kind as to give my respects to Miss McQuinch. I shall not see her again, as I must return to town by the last train to-night."
"And are you not coming back—not at all, I mean?"
"Not at all."
"Oh!" said Marian slowly.
"Good bye, Miss Lind."
He was about to raise his hat as usual; but Marian, with a smile, put out her hand. He took it for the first time; looked at her for a moment gravely; and left her.
Lest they should surprise one another in the act, neither of them looked back at the other as they went their several ways.