by Henry James
Some reference had been made to Northerley, which was within an
easy drive, and Firminger described how he had dined there the night
before and had found a lot of people. Mrs Ashbury, one of the two
visitors, inquired who these people might be, and he mentioned
half-a-dozen names, among which was that of young Raddle, which had
been a good deal on people's lips, and even in the newspapers, on the
occasion, still recent, of his stepping into the fortune,
exceptionally vast even as the product of a patent-glue, left him by a
father whose ugly name on all the vacant spaces of the world had
exasperated generations of men.
"Oh, is he there?" asked Mrs Ashbury, in a tone which might have
been taken as a vocal rendering of the act of pricking up one's ears.
She didn't hand on the information to her daughter, who was talking —
if a beauty of so few phrases could have been said to talk — with
Mary Gosselin, but in the course of a few moments she put down her
teacup with a failure of suavity and, getting up, gave the girl a poke
with her parasol. "Come, Maud, we must be stirring."
"You pay us a very short visit," said Mrs Gosselin, intensely
demure over the fine web of her knitting. Mrs Ashbury looked hard for
an instant into her bland eyes, then she gave poor Maud another poke.
She alluded to a reason and expressed regrets; but she got her
daughter into motion, and Guy Firminger passed through the garden with
the two ladies to put them into their carriage. Mrs Ashbury protested
particularly against any further escort. While he was absent the other
parent and child, sitting together on their pretty lawn in the yellow
light of the August afternoon, talked of the frightful way Maud
Ashbury had 'gone off', and of something else as to which there was
more to say when their third visitor came back.
"Don't think me grossly inquisitive if I ask you where they told
the coachman to drive," said Mary Gosselin as the young man dropped,
near her, into a low wicker chair, stretching his long legs as if he
had been one of the family.
Firminger stared. "Upon my word I didn't particularly notice, but
I think the old lady said 'Home'."
"There, mamma dear!" the girl exclaimed triumphantly.
But Mrs Gosselin only knitted on, persisting in profundity. She
replied that 'Home' was a feint, that Mrs Ashbury would already have
given another order, and that it was her wish to hurry off to
Northerley that had made her keep them from going with her to the
carriage, in which they would have seen her take a suspected
direction. Mary explained to Guy Firminger that her mother had
perceived poor Mrs Ashbury to be frantic to reach the house at which
she had heard that Mr Raddle was staying. The young man stared again
and wanted to know what she desired to do with Mr Raddle. Mary replied
that her mother would tell him what Mrs Ashbury desired to do with
"What all Christian mothers desire," said Mrs Gosselin. "Only she
doesn't know how."
"To marry the dear child to Mr Raddle," Mary added, smiling.
Firminger's vagueness expanded with the subject. "Do you mean you
want to marry your dear child to that little cad?" he asked of
the elder lady.
"I speak of the general duty — not of the particular case," said
does know how," Mary went on.
"Then why ain't you married?"
"Because we're not acting, like the Ashburys, with injudicious
precipitation. Is that correct?" the girl demanded, laughing, of her
"Laugh at me, my dear, as much as you like — it's very lucky
you've got me," Mrs Gosselin declared.
"She means I can't manage for myself," said Mary to the visitor.
"What nonsense you talk!" Mrs Gosselin murmured, counting stitches.
"I can't, mamma, I can't; I admit it," Mary continued.
"But injudicious precipitation and — what's the other thing? —
creeping prudence, seem to come out in very much the same place," the
young man objected.
"Do you mean since I too wither on the tree?"
"It only comes back to saying how hard it is nowadays to marry
one's daughters," said the lucid Mrs Gosselin, saving Firminger,
however, the trouble of an ingenious answer. "I don't contend that, at
the best, it's easy."
But Guy Firminger would not have struck you as capable of much
conversational effort as he lounged there in the summer softness, with
ironic familiarities, like one of the old friends who rarely deviate
into sincerity. He was a robust but loose-limbed young man, with a
well-shaped head and a face smooth, fair and kind. He was in
knickerbockers, and his clothes, which had seen service, were composed
of articles that didn't match. His laced boots were dusty — he had
evidently walked a certain distance; an indication confirmed by the
lingering, sociable way in which, in his basket-seat, he tilted
himself towards Mary Gosselin. It pointed to a pleasant reason for a
long walk. This young lady, of five-and-twenty, had black hair and
blue eyes; a combination often associated with the effect of beauty.
The beauty in this case, however, was dim and latent, not vulgarly
obvious; and if her height and slenderness gave that impression of
length of line which, as we know, is the fashion, Mary Gosselin had on
the other hand too much expression to be generally admired. Every one
thought her intellectual; a few of the most simple-minded even thought
her plain. What Guy Firminger thought — or rather what he took for
granted, for he was not built up on depths of reflection — will
probably appear from this narrative.
"Yes indeed; things have come to a pass that's awful for
," the girl announced.
"For us, you mean," said Firminger. "We're hunted like the
ostrich; we're trapped and stalked and run to earth. We go in fear —
I assure you we do."
"Are you hunted, Guy?" Mrs Gosselin asked with an
inflection of her own.
"Yes, Mrs Gosselin, even
moi qui vous parle, the ordinary
male of commerce, inconceivable as it may appear. I know something
"And of whom do you go in fear?" Mary Gosselin took up an uncut
book and a paper-knife which she had laid down on the advent of the
"My dear child, of Diana and her nymphs, of the spinster at
large. She's always out with her rifle. And it isn't only that; you
know there's always a second gun, a walking arsenal, at her heels. I
forget, for the moment, who Diana's mother was, and the genealogy of
the nymphs; but not only do the old ladies know the younger ones are
out, they distinctly go with them."
"Who was Diana's mother, my dear?" Mrs Gosselin inquired of her
"She was a beautiful old lady with pink ribbons in her cap and a
genius for knitting," the girl replied, cutting her book.
"Oh, I'm not speaking of you two dears; you're not like anyone
else; you're an immense comfort," said Guy Firminger. "But they've
reduced it to a science, and I assure you that if one were any one in
particular, if one were not protected by one's obscurity, one's life
would be a burden. Upon my honour one wouldn't escape. I've seen it,
I've watched them. Look at poor Beaupré — look at little Raddle over
there. I object to him, but I bleed for him."
"Lord Beaupré won't marry again," said Mrs Gosselin with an air of
"So much the worse for him!"
"Come — that's a concession to our charms!" Mary laughed.
But the ruthless young man explained away his concession. "I mean
that to be married's the only protection — or else to be engaged."
"To be permanently engaged, — wouldn't that do?" Mary Gosselin
"Beautifully — I would try it if I were a
"And how's the little boy?" Mrs Gosselin presently inquired.
"What little boy?"
"Your little cousin — Lord Beaupré's child: isn't it a boy?"
"Oh, poor little beggar, he isn't up to much. He was awfully cut
up by scarlet fever."
"You're not the rose indeed, but you're tolerably near it," the
elder lady presently continued.
"What do you call near it? Not even in the same garden — not in
any garden at all, alas!"
"There are three lives — but after all!"
"Dear lady, don't be homicidal!"
"What do you call the 'rose'?" Mary asked of her mother.
"The title," said Mrs Gosselin, promptly but softly.
Something in her tone made Firminger laugh aloud. "You don't
mention the property."
"Oh, I mean the whole thing."
"Is the property very large?" said Mary Gosselin.
"Fifty thousand a year," her mother responded; at which the young
man laughed out again.
"Take care, mamma, or we shall be thought to be out with our
guns!" the girl interposed; a recommendation that drew from Guy
Firminger the just remark that there would be time enough for this when
his prospects should be worth speaking of. He leaned over to pick up
his hat and stick, as if it were his time to go, but he didn't go for
another quarter of an hour, and during these minutes his prospects
received some frank consideration. He was Lord Beaupré's first cousin,
and the three intervening lives were his lordship's own, that of his
little sickly son, and that of his uncle the Major, who was also Guy's
uncle and with whom the young man was at present staying. It was from
homely Trist, the Major's house, that he had walked over to
Mrs Gosselin's. Frank Firminger, who had married in youth a woman with
something of her own and eventually left the army, had nothing but
girls, but he was only of middle age and might possibly still have a
son. At any rate his life was a very good one. Beaupré might marry
again, and, marry or not, he was barely thirty-three and might live to
a great age. The child moreover, poor little devil, would doubtless,
with the growing consciousness of an incentive (there was none like
feeling you were in people's way), develop a capacity for duration; so
that altogether Guy professed himself, with the best will in the
world, unable to take a rosy view of the disappearance of obstacles.
He treated the subject with a jocularity that, in view of the
remoteness of his chance, was not wholly tasteless, and the
discussion, between old friends and in the light of this extravagance,
was less crude than perhaps it sounds. The young man quite declined to
see any latent brilliancy in his future. They had all been lashing him
up, his poor dear mother, his uncle Frank, and Beaupré as well, to
make that future political; but even if he should get in (he was
nursing — oh, so languidly! — a possible opening), it would only be
into the shallow edge of the stream. He would stand there like a tall
idiot with the water up to his ankles. He didn't know how to swim —
in that element; he didn't know how to do anything.
"I think you're very perverse, my dear," said Mrs Gosselin. "I'm
sure you have great dispositions."
"For what — except for sitting here and talking with you and
Mary? I revel in this sort of thing, but I scarcely like anything
"You'd do very well if you weren't so lazy," Mary said. "I believe
you're the very laziest person in the world."
"So do I — the very laziest in the world," the young man
contentedly replied. "But how can I regret it, when it keeps me so
quiet, when (I might even say) it makes me so amiable?"
"You'll have, one of these days, to get over your quietness, and
perhaps even a little over your amiability," Mrs Gosselin sagaciously
"I devoutly hope not."
"You'll have to perform the duties of your position."
"Do you mean keep my stump of a broom in order and my crossing
"You may say what you like; you will be a
Mrs Gosselin continued.
"Well, then, if the worst comes to the worst I shall do what I
said just now: I shall get some good plausible girl to see me through."
"The proper way to 'get' her will be to marry her. After you're
married you won't be a parti."
"Dear mamma, he'll think you're already levelling your rifle!" Mary
Gosselin laughingly wailed.
Guy Firminger looked at her a moment. "I say, Mary, wouldn't
"For the good plausible girl? Should I be plausible enough?"
"Surely — what could be more natural? Everything would seem to
contribute to the suitability of our alliance. I should be known to
have known you for years — from childhood's sunny hour; I should be
known to have bullied you, and even to have been bullied by
you, in the period of pinafores. My relations from a tender age with
your brother, which led to our schoolroom romps in holidays and to the
happy footing on which your mother has always been so good as to
receive me here, would add to all the presumptions of intimacy. People
would accept such a conclusion as inevitable."
"Among all your reasons you don't mention the young lady's
attractions," said Mary Gosselin.
Firminger stared a moment, his clear eye lighted by his happy
thought. "I don't mention the young man's. They would be so obvious,
on one side and the other, as to be taken for granted."
"And is it your idea that one should pretend to be engaged to you
all one's life?"
"Oh no, simply till I should have had time to look round. I'm
determined not to be hustled and bewildered into matrimony — to be
dragged to the shambles before I know where I am. With such an
arrangement as the one I speak of I should be able to take my time, to
keep my head, to make my choice."
"And how would the young lady make hers?"
"How do you mean, hers?"
"The selfishness of men is something exquisite. Suppose the young
lady — if it's conceivable that you should find one idiotic enough to
be a party to such a transaction — suppose the poor girl herself
should happen to wish to be really engaged?"
Guy Firminger thought a moment, with his slow but not stupid
smile. "Do you mean to me?"
"To you — or to some one else."
"Oh, if she'd give me notice I'd let her off."
"Let her off till you could find a substitute?"
"Yes — but I confess it would be a great inconvenience. People
wouldn't take the second one so seriously."
"She would have to make a sacrifice; she would have to wait till
you should know where you were," Mrs Gosselin suggested.
"Yes, but where would
her advantage come in?" Mary
"Only in the pleasure of charity; the moral satisfaction of doing
a fellow a good turn," said Firminger.
"You must think people are keen to oblige you!"
"Ah, but surely I could count on
you, couldn't I?" the
young man asked.
Mary had finished cutting her book; she got up and flung it down
on the tea-table. "What a preposterous conversation!" she exclaimed
with force, tossing the words from her as she tossed her book; and,
looking round her vaguely a moment, without meeting Guy Firminger's
eye, she walked away to the house.
Firminger sat watching her; then he said serenely to her mother:
"Why has our Mary left us?"
"She has gone to get something, I suppose."
"What has she gone to get?"
"A little stick to beat you perhaps."
"You don't mean I've been objectionable?"
"Dear, no — I'm joking. One thing is very certain," pursued
Mrs Gosselin; "that you ought to work — to try to get on exactly as
if nothing could ever happen. Oughtn't you?" She threw off the
question mechanically as her visitor continued silent.
"I'm sure she doesn't like it!" he exclaimed, without heeding her
"Doesn't like what?"
"My free play of mind. It's perhaps too much in the key of our old
"You're very clever; she always likes
Mrs Gosselin. "You ought to go in for something serious, for something
honourable," she continued, "just as much as if you had nothing at all
to look to."
"Words of wisdom, dear Mrs Gosselin," Firminger replied, rising
slowly from his relaxed attitude. "But what have I to look to?"
She raised her mild, deep eyes to him as he stood before her —
she might have been a fairy godmother. "Everything!"
"But you know I can't poison them!"
"That won't be necessary."
He looked at her an instant; then with a laugh: "One might think
you would undertake it!"
"I almost would — for
"Take care, — if they
should be carried off!" But
Mrs Gosselin only repeated her good-bye, and the young man departed
before Mary had come back.
Nearly two years after Guy Firminger had spent that friendly hour
in Mrs Gosselin's little garden in Hampshire this far-seeing woman was
enabled (by the return of her son, who at New York, in an English
bank, occupied a position they all rejoiced over — to such great
things might it duly lead), to resume possession, for the season, of
the little London house which her husband had left her to inhabit, but
which her native thrift, in determining her to let it for a term, had
converted into a source of income. Hugh Gosselin, who was thirty years
old and at twenty-three, before his father's death, had been
dispatched to America to exert himself, was understood to be doing
very well — so well that his devotion to the interests of his
employers had been rewarded, for the first time, with a real holiday.
He was to remain in England from May to August, undertaking, as he
said, to make it all right if during this time his mother should
occupy (to contribute to his entertainment) the habitation in Chester
Street. He was a small, preoccupied young man, with a sharpness as
acquired as a new hat; he struck his mother and sister as intensely
American. For the first few days after his arrival they were startled
by his intonations, though they admitted that they had had an escape
when he reminded them that he might have brought with him an accent
embodied in a wife.
"When you do take one," said Mrs Gosselin, who regarded such an
accident, over there, as inevitable, "you must charge her high for it."
It was not with this question, however, that the little family in
Chester Street was mainly engaged, but with the last incident in the
extraordinary succession of events which, like a chapter of romance,
had in the course of a few months converted their vague and
impecunious friend into a personage envied and honoured. It was as if
a blight had been cast on all Guy Firminger's hindrances. On the day
Hugh Gosselin sailed from New York the delicate little boy at Bosco
had succumbed to an attack of diphtheria. His father had died of
typhoid the previous winter at Naples; his uncle, a few weeks later,
had had a fatal accident in the hunting-field. So strangely, so
rapidly had the situation cleared up, had his fate and theirs worked
for him. Guy had opened his eyes one morning to an earldom which
carried with it a fortune not alone nominally but really great.
Mrs Gosselin and Mary had not written to him, but they knew he was at
Bosco; he had remained there after the funeral of the late little
lord. Mrs Gosselin, who heard everything, had heard somehow that he
was behaving with the greatest consideration, giving the guardians,
the trustees, whatever they were called, plenty of time to do
everything. Everything was comparatively simple; in the absence of
collaterals there were so few other people concerned. The principal
relatives were poor Frank Firminger's widow and her girls, who had
seen themselves so near to new honours and comforts. Probably the
girls would expect their cousin Guy to marry one of them, and think it
the least he could decently do; a view the young man himself (if he
were very magnanimous) might possibly embrace. The question would be
whether he would be very magnanimous. These young ladies exhausted in
their three persons the numerous varieties of plainness. On the other
hand Guy Firminger — or Lord Beaupré, as one would have to begin to
call him now — was unmistakably kind. Mrs Gosselin appealed to her
son as to whether their noble friend were not unmistakably kind.
"Of course I've known him always, and that time he came out to
America — when was it? four years ago — I saw him every day. I like
him awfully and all that, but since you push me, you know," said Hugh
Gosselin, "I'm bound to say that the first thing to mention in any
description of him would be — if you wanted to be quite correct —
that he's unmistakably selfish."
"I see — I see," Mrs Gosselin unblushingly replied. "Of course I
know what you mean," she added in a moment. "But is he any more so
than any one else? Every one's unmistakably selfish."
"Every one but you and Mary," said the young man.
"And you, dear!" his mother smiled. "But a person may be
kind, you know — mayn't he? — at the same time that he is
selfish. There are different sorts."
"Different sorts of kindness?" Hugh Gosselin asked with a laugh;
and the inquiry undertaken by his mother occupied them for the moment,
demanding a subtlety of treatment from which they were not conscious
of shrinking, of which rather they had an idea that they were perhaps
exceptionally capable. They came back to the temperate view that Guy
would never put himself out, would probably never do anything great,
but might show himself all the same a delightful member of society.
Yes, he was probably selfish, like other people; but unlike most of
them he was, somehow, amiably, attachingly, sociably, almost lovably
selfish. Without doing anything great he would yet be a great success
— a big, pleasant, gossiping, lounging and, in its way doubtless very
splendid, presence. He would have no ambition, and it was ambition
that made selfishness ugly. Hugh and his mother were sure of this last
point until Mary, before whom the discussion, when it reached this
stage, happened to be carried on, checked them by asking whether that,
on the contrary, were not just what was supposed to make it fine.
"Oh, he only wants to be comfortable," said her brother; "but he
does want it!"
"There'll be a tremendous rush for him," Mrs Gosselin prophesied
to her son.
"Oh, he'll never marry. It will be too much trouble."
"It's done here without any trouble — for the men. One sees how
long you've been out of the country."
"There was a girl in New York whom he might have married — he
really liked her. But he wouldn't turn round for her."
"Perhaps she wouldn't turn round for
him," said Mary.
"I daresay she'll turn round
now," Mrs Gosselin rejoined;
on which Hugh mentioned that there was nothing to be feared from her,
all her revolutions had been accomplished. He added that nothing would
make any difference — so intimate was his conviction that Beaupré
would preserve his independence.
"Then I think he's not so selfish as you say," Mary declared; "or
at any rate one will never know whether he is. Isn't married life the
great chance to show it?"
"Your father never showed it," said Mrs Gosselin; and as her
children were silent in presence of this tribute to the departed she
added, smiling: "Perhaps you think that I did!" They embraced
her, to indicate what they thought, and the conversation ended, when
she had remarked that Lord Beaupré was a man who would be perfectly
easy to manage after marriage, with Hugh's exclaiming that this
was doubtless exactly why he wished to keep out of it.
Such was evidently his wish, as they were able to judge in Chester
Street when he came up to town. He appeared there oftener than was to
have been expected, not taking himself in his new character at all too
seriously to find stray half-hours for old friends. It was plain that
he was going to do just as he liked, that he was not a bit excited or
uplifted by his change of fortune. Mary Gosselin observed that he had
no imagination — she even reproached him with the deficiency to his
face; an incident which showed indeed how little seriously she
took him. He had no idea of playing a part, and yet he would have
been clever enough. He wasn't even systematic about being simple; his
simplicity was a series of accidents and indifferences. Never was a
man more conscientiously superficial. There were matters on which he
valued Mrs Gosselin's judgment and asked her advice — without, as
usually appeared later, ever taking it; such questions, mainly, as the
claims of a predecessor's servants, and those, in respect to social
intercourse, of the clergyman's family. He didn't like his parson —
what was a fellow to do when he didn't like his parson? What he did
like was to talk with Hugh about American investments, and it was
amusing to Hugh, though he tried not to show his amusement, to find
himself looking at Guy Firminger in the light of capital. To Mary he
addressed from the first the oddest snatches of confidential
discourse, rendered in fact, however, by the levity of his tone,
considerably less confidential than in intention. He had something to
tell her that he joked about, yet without admitting that it was any
less important for being laughable. It was neither more nor less than
that Charlotte Firminger, the eldest of his late uncle's four girls,
had designated to him in the clearest manner the person she considered
he ought to marry. She appealed to his sense of justice, she spoke and
wrote, or at any rate she looked and moved, she sighed and sang, in
the name of common honesty. He had had four letters from her that week,
and to his knowledge there were a series of people in London, people
she could bully, whom she had got to promise to take her in for the
season. She was going to be on the spot, she was going to follow him
up. He took his stand on common honesty, but he had a mortal horror of
Charlotte. At the same time, when a girl had a jaw like that and had
marked you — really marked you, mind, you felt your safety
oozing away. He had given them during the past three months, all those
terrible girls, every sort of present that Bond Street could supply:
but these demonstrations had only been held to constitute another
pledge. Therefore what was a fellow to do? Besides, there were other
portents; the air was thick with them, as the sky over battlefields
was darkened by the flight of vultures. They were flocking, the birds
of prey, from every quarter, and every girl in England, by Jove! was
going to be thrown at his head. What had he done to deserve such a
fate? He wanted to stop in England and see all sorts of things
through; but how could he stand there and face such a charge? Yet what
good would it do to bolt? Wherever he should go there would be fifty
of them there first. On his honour he could say that he didn't deserve
it; he had never, to his own sense, been a flirt, such a flirt at
least as to have given anyone a handle. He appealed candidly to Mary
Gosselin to know whether his past conduct justified such penalties. "
Have I been a flirt? — have I given anyone a handle?" he inquired
with pathetic intensity.
She met his appeal by declaring that he had been awful, committing
himself right and left; and this manner of treating his affliction
contributed to the sarcastic publicity (as regarded the little house
in Chester Street) which presently became its natural element. Lord
Beaupré's comical and yet thoroughly grounded view of his danger was
soon a frequent theme among the Gosselins, who however had their own
reasons for not communicating the alarm. They had no motive for
concealing their interest in their old friend, but their allusions to
him among their other friends may be said on the whole to have been
studied. His state of mind recalled of course to Mary and her mother
the queer talk about his prospects that they had had, in the country,
that afternoon on which Mrs Gosselin had been so strangely prophetic
(she confessed that she had had a flash of divination: the future had
been mysteriously revealed to her), and poor Guy too had seen himself
quite as he was to be. He had seen his nervousness, under inevitable
pressure, deepen to a panic, and he now, in intimate hours, made no
attempt to disguise that a panic had become his portion. It was a
fixed idea with him that he should fall a victim to woven toils, be
caught in a trap constructed with superior science. The science
evolved in an enterprising age by this branch of industry, the
manufacture of the trap matrimonial, he had terrible anecdotes to
illustrate; and what had he on his lips but a scientific term when he
declared, as he perpetually did, that it was his fate to be hypnotised?
Mary Gosselin reminded him, they each in turn reminded him that
his safeguard was to fall in love: were he once to put himself under
that protection all the mothers and maids in Mayfair would not prevail
against him. He replied that this was just the impossibility; it took
leisure and calmness and opportunity and a free mind to fall in love,
and never was a man less open to such experiences. He was literally
fighting his way. He reminded the girl of his old fancy for pretending
already to have disposed of his hand if he could put that hand on a
young person who should like him well enough to be willing to
participate in the fraud. She would have to place herself in rather a
false position of course — have to take a certain amount of trouble;
but there would after all be a good deal of fun in it (there was
always fun in duping the world) between the pair themselves, the two
"Why should they both be happy?" Mary Gosselin asked. "I
understand why you should; but, frankly, I don't quite grasp the
reason of her pleasure."
Lord Beaupré, with his sunny human eyes, thought a moment. "Why,
for the lark, as they say, and that sort of thing. I should be awfully
nice to her."
"She would require indeed to be in want of recreation!"
"Ah, but I should want a good sort — a quiet, reasonable one, you
know!" he somewhat eagerly interposed.
"You're too delightful!" Mary Gosselin exclaimed, continuing to
laugh. He thanked her for this appreciation, and she returned to her
point — that she didn't really see the advantage his accomplice could
hope to enjoy as her compensation for extreme disturbance.
Guy Firminger stared. "But what extreme disturbance?"
"Why, it would take a lot of time; it might become intolerable."
"You mean I ought to pay her — to hire her for the season?"
Mary Gosselin considered him a moment. "Wouldn't marriage come
cheaper at once?" she asked with a quieter smile.
"You are chaffing me!" he sighed forgivingly. "Of course she
would have to be good-natured enough to pity me."
"Pity's akin to love. If she were good-natured enough to want so
to help you she'd be good-natured enough to want to marry you. That
would be her idea of help."
"Would it be
yours?" Lord Beaupré asked rather eagerly.
"You're too absurd! You must sail your own boat!" the girl
answered, turning away.
That evening at dinner she stated to her companions that she had
never seen a fatuity so dense, so serene, so preposterous as his
"Fatuity, my dear! what do you mean?" her mother inquired.
"Oh, mamma, you know perfectly." Mary Gosselin spoke with a
"If you mean he's conceited I'm bound to say I don't agree with
you," her brother observed. "He's too indifferent to everyone's
opinion for that."
"He's not vain, he's not proud, he's not pompous," said
Mary was silent a moment. "He takes more things for granted than
anyone I ever saw."
"What sort of things?"
"Well, one's interest in his affairs."
"With old friends surely a gentleman may."
"Of course," said Hugh Gosselin, "old friends have in turn the
right to take for granted a corresponding interest on his part."
"Well, who could be nicer to us than he is or come to see us
oftener?" his mother asked.
"He comes exactly for the purpose I speak of — to talk about
himself," said Mary.
"There are thousands of girls who would be delighted with his
talk," Mrs Gosselin returned.
"We agreed long ago that he's intensely selfish," the girl went
on; "and if I speak of it to-day it's not because that in itself is
anything of a novelty. What I'm freshly struck with is simply that he
more shamelessly shows it."
"He shows it, exactly," said Hugh; "he shows all there is. There
it is, on the surface; there are not depths of it underneath."
"He's not hard," Mrs Gosselin contended; "he's not impervious."
"Do you mean he's soft?" Mary asked.
"I mean he's yielding." And Mrs Gosselin, with considerable
expression, looked across at her daughter. She added, before they rose
from dinner, that poor Beaupré had plenty of difficulties and that she
thought, for her part, they ought in common loyalty to do what they
could to assist him.
For a week nothing more passed between the two ladies on the
subject of their noble friend, and in the course of this week they had
the amusement of receiving in Chester Street a member of Hugh's
American circle, Mr Bolton-Brown, a young man from New York. He was a
person engaged in large affairs, for whom Hugh Gosselin professed the
highest regard, from whom in New York he had received much
hospitality, and for whose advent he had from the first prepared his
companions. Mrs Gosselin begged the amiable stranger to stay with
them, and if she failed to overcome his hesitation it was because his
hotel was near at hand and he should be able to see them often. It
became evident that he would do so, and, to the two ladies, as the
days went by, equally evident that no objection to such a relation was
likely to arise. Mr Bolton-Brown was delightfully fresh; the most
usual expressions acquired on his lips a wellnigh comical novelty, the
most superficial sentiments, in the look with which he accompanied
them, a really touching sincerity. He was unmarried and good-looking,
clever and natural, and if he was not very rich was at least very
free-handed. He literally strewed the path of the ladies in Chester
Street with flowers, he choked them with French confectionery. Hugh,
however, who was often rather mysterious on monetary questions, placed
in a light sufficiently clear the fact that his friend had in Wall
Street (they knew all about Wall Street), improved each shining hour.
They introduced him to Lord Beaupré, who thought him 'tremendous fun',
as Hugh said, and who immediately declared that the four must spend a
Sunday at Bosco a week or two later. The date of this visit was fixed
— Mrs Gosselin had uttered a comprehensive acceptance; but after Guy
Firminger had taken leave of them (this had been his first appearance
since the odd conversation with Mary), our young lady confided to her
mother that she should not be able to join the little party. She
expressed the conviction that it would be all that was essential if
Mrs Gosselin should go with the two others. On being pressed to
communicate the reason of this aloofness Mary was able to give no
better one than that she never had cared for Bosco.
"What makes you hate him so?" her mother presently broke out in a
tone which brought the red to the girl's cheek. Mary denied that she
entertained for Lord Beaupré any sentiment so intense; to which
Mrs Gosselin rejoined with some sternness and, no doubt, considerable
wisdom: "Look out what you do then, or you'll be thought by everyone
to be in love with him!"
I know not whether it was this danger — that of appearing to be
moved to extremes — that weighed with Mary Gosselin; at any rate when
the day arrived she had decided to be perfectly colourless and take
her share of Lord Beaupré's hospitality. On perceiving that the house,
when with her companions she reached it, was full of visitors, she
consoled herself with the sense that such a share would be of the
smallest. She even wondered whether its smallness might not be caused
in some degree by the sufficiently startling presence, in this
stronghold of the single life, of Maud Ashbury and her mother. It was
true that during the Saturday evening she never saw their host address
an observation to them; but she was struck, as she had been struck
before, with the girl's cold and magnificent beauty. It was very well
to say she had 'gone off'; she was still handsomer than anyone else.
She had failed in everything she had tried; the campaign undertaken
with so much energy against young Raddle had been conspicuously
disastrous. Young Raddle had married his grandmother, or a person who
might have filled such an office, and Maud was a year older, a year
more disappointed and a year more ridiculous. Nevertheless one could
scarcely believe that a creature with such advantages would always
fail, though indeed the poor girl was stupid enough to be a warning.
Perhaps it would be at Bosco, or with the master of Bosco, that fate
had appointed her to succeed. Except Mary herself she was the only
young unmarried woman on the scene, and Mary glowed with the generous
sense of not being a competitor. She felt as much out of the question
as the blooming wives, the heavy matrons, who formed the rest of the
female contingent. Before the evening closed, however, her host, who,
she saw, was delightful in his own house, mentioned to her that he had
a couple of guests who had not been invited.
"They drove up to my door as they might have done to an inn. They
asked for rooms and complained of those that were given them. Don't
pretend not to know who they are."
"Do you mean the Ashburys? How amusing!"
"Don't laugh; it freezes my blood."
"Do you really mean you're afraid of them?"
"I tremble like a leaf. Some monstrous ineluctable fate seems to
look at me out of their eyes."
"That's because you secretly admire Maud. How can you help it?
She's extremely good-looking, and if you get rid of her mother she'll
become a very nice girl."
"It's an odious thing, no doubt, to say about a young person under
one's own roof, but I don't think I ever saw any one who happened to
be less to my taste," said Guy Firminger. "I don't know why I don't
turn them out even now."
Mary persisted in sarcasm. "Perhaps you can make her have a worse
time by letting her stay."
"Please don't laugh," her interlocutor repeated. "Such a
fact as I have mentioned to you seems to me to speak volumes — to
show you what my life is."
"Oh, your life, your life!" Mary Gosselin murmured, with her
"Don't you agree that at such a rate it may easily become
"Many people would change with you. I don't see what there is for
you to do but to bear your cross!"
"That's easy talk!" Lord Beaupré sighed.
"Especially from me, do you mean? How do you know I don't bear
"Yours?" he asked vaguely.
"How do you know that
I'm not persecuted, that
footsteps are not dogged, that my life isn't a burden?"
They were walking in the old gardens, the proprietor of which, at
this, stopped short. "Do you mean by fellows who want to marry you?"
His tone produced on his companion's part an irrepressible peal of
hilarity; but she walked on as she exclaimed: "You speak as if there
couldn't be such madmen!"
"Of course such a charming girl must be made up to," Guy Firminger
conceded as he overtook her.
"I don't speak of it; I keep quiet about it."
"You realise then, at any rate, that it's all horrid when you
don't care for them."
"I suffer in silence, because I know there are worse tribulations.
It seems to me you ought to remember that," Mary continued. "Your
cross is small compared with your crown. You've everything in the
world that most people most desire, and I'm bound to say I think your
life is made very comfortable for you. If you're oppressed by the
quantity of interest and affection you inspire you ought simply to
make up your mind to bear up and be cheerful under it."
Lord Beaupré received this admonition with perfect good humour; he
professed himself able to do it full justice. He remarked that he
would gladly give up some of his material advantages to be a little
less badgered, and that he had been quite content with his former
insignificance. No doubt, however, such annoyances were the essential
drawbacks of ponderous promotions; one had to pay for everything. Mary
was quite right to rebuke him; her own attitude, as a young woman much
admired, was a lesson to his irritability. She cut this appreciation
short, speaking of something else; but a few minutes later he broke
out irrelevantly: "Why, if you are hunted as well as I, that dodge I
proposed to you would be just the thing for us both!" He had
evidently been reasoning it out.
Mary Gosselin was silent at first; she only paused gradually in
their walk at a point where four long alleys met. In the centre of the
circle, on a massive pedestal, rose in Italian bronze a florid,
complicated image, so that the place made a charming old-world
picture. The grounds of Bosco were stately without stiffness and full
of marble terraces and misty avenues. The fountains in particular were
royal. The girl had told her mother in London that she disliked this
fine residence, but she now looked round her with a vague pleased
sigh, holding up her glass (she had been condemned to wear one, with a
long handle, since she was fifteen), to consider the weather-stained
garden group. "What a perfect place of its kind!" she musingly
"Wouldn't it really be just the thing?" Lord Beaupré went on, with
the eagerness of his idea.
"Wouldn't what be just the thing?"
"Why, the defensive alliance we've already talked of. You wanted
to know the good it would do you. Now you see the good it would
"I don't like practical jokes," said Mary. "The remedy's worse
than the disease," she added; and she began to follow one of the paths
that took the direction of the house.
Poor Lord Beaupré was absurdly in love with his invention; he had
all an inventor's importunity. He kept up his attempt to place his
'dodge' in a favourable light, in spite of a further objection from
his companion, who assured him that it was one of those contrivances
which break down in practice in just the proportion in which they make
a figure in theory. At last she said: "I was not sincere just now when
I told you I'm worried. I'm not worried!"
"They don't buzz about you?" Guy Firminger asked.
She hesitated an instant. "They buzz about me; but at bottom it's
flattering and I don't mind it. Now please drop the subject."
He dropped the subject, though not without congratulating her on
the fact that, unlike his infirm self, she could keep her head and her
temper. His infirmity found a trap laid for it before they had
proceeded twenty yards, as was proved by his sudden exclamation of
horror. "Good Heavens — if there isn't Lottie!"
Mary perceived, in effect, in the distance a female figure coming
towards them over a stretch of lawn, and she simultaneously saw, as a
gentleman passed from behind a clump of shrubbery, that it was not
unattended. She recognized Charlotte Firminger, and she also
distinguished the gentleman. She was moved to larger mirth at the
dismay expressed by poor Firminger, but she was able to articulate:
"Walking with Mr Brown."
Lord Beaupré stopped again before they were joined by the pair.
"Does he buzz about you?"
"Mercy, what questions you ask!" his companion exclaimed.
"Does he —
please?" the young man repeated with odd
Mary looked at him an instant; she was puzzled by the deep
annoyance that had flushed through the essential good-humour of his
face. Then she saw that this annoyance had exclusive reference to poor
Charlotte; so that it left her free to reply, with another laugh:
"Well, yes — he does. But you know I like it!"
"I don't, then!" Before she could have asked him, even had she
wished to, in what manner such a circumstance concerned him, he added
with his droll agitation: "I never invited her, either! Don't
let her get at me!"
"What can I do?" Mary demanded as the others advanced.
"Please take her away; keep her yourself! I'll take the American,
I'll keep him," he murmured, inconsequently, as a bribe.
"But I don't object to him."
"Do you like him so much?"
"Very much indeed," the girl replied.
The reply was perhaps lost upon her interlocutor, whose eye now
fixed itself gloomily on the dauntless Charlotte. As Miss Firminger
came nearer he exclaimed almost loud enough for her to hear: "I think
I shall murder her some day!"
Mary Gosselin's first impression had been that, in his panic,
under the empire of that fixed idea to which he confessed himself
subject, he attributed to his kinswoman machinations and aggressions
of which she was incapable; an impression that might have been
confirmed by this young lady's decorous placidity, her passionless
eyes, her expressionless cheeks and colourless tones. She was ugly,
yet she was orthodox; she was not what writers of books called
intense. But after Mary, to oblige their host, had tried, successfully
enough, to be crafty, had drawn her on to stroll a little in advance
of the two gentlemen, she became promptly aware, by the mystical
influence of propinquity, that Miss Firminger was indeed full of
views, of a purpose single, simple and strong, which gave her the
effect of a person carrying with a stiff, steady hand, with eyes fixed
and lips compressed, a cup charged to the brim. She had driven over to
lunch, driven from somewhere in the neighbourhood; she had picked up
some weak woman as an escort. Mary, though she knew the neighbourhood,
failed to recognize her base of operations, and, as Charlotte was not
specific, ended by suspecting that, far from being entertained by
friends, she had put up at an inn and hired a fly. This suspicion
startled her; it gave her for the first time something of the measure
of the passions engaged, and she wondered to what the insecurity
complained of by Guy might lead. Charlotte, on arriving, had gone
through a part of the house in quest of its master (the servants being
unable to tell her where he was), and she had finally come upon
Mr Bolton-Brown, who was looking at old books in the library. He had
placed himself at her service, as if he had been trained immediately
to recognize in such a case his duty, and informing her that he
believed Lord Beaupré to be in the grounds, had come out with her to
help to find him. Lottie Firminger questioned her companion about this
accommodating person; she intimated that he was rather odd but rather
nice. Mary mentioned to her that Lord Beaupré thought highly of him;
she believed they were going somewhere together. At this Miss
Firminger turned round to look for them, but they had already
disappeared, and the girl became ominously dumb.
Mary wondered afterwards what profit she could hope to derive from
such proceedings; they struck her own sense, naturally, as
disreputable and desperate. She was equally unable to discover the
compensation they offered, in another variety, to poor Maud Ashbury,
whom Lord Beaupré, the greater part of the day, neglected as
conscientiously as he neglected his cousin. She asked herself if he
should be blamed, and replied that the others should be blamed first.
He got rid of Charlotte somehow after tea; she had to fall back to her
mysterious lines. Mary knew this method would have been detestable to
him — he hated to force his friendly nature; she was sorry for him
and wished to lose sight of him. She wished not to be mixed up even
indirectly with his tribulations, and the fevered faces of the
Ashburys were particularly dreadful to her. She spent as much of the
long summer afternoon as possible out of the house, which indeed on
such an occasion emptied itself of most of its inmates. Mary Gosselin
asked her brother to join her in a devious ramble; she might have had
other society, but she was in a mood to prefer his. These two were
'great chums', and they had been separated so long that they had
arrears of talk to make up. They had been at Bosco more than once, and
though Hugh Gosselin said that the land of the free (which he had
assured his sister was even more enslaved than dear old England) made
one forget there were such spots on earth, they both remembered, a
couple of miles away, a little ancient church to which the walk across
the fields would be the right thing. They talked of other things as
they went, and among them they talked of Mr Bolton-Brown, in regard to
whom Hugh, as scantily addicted to enthusiasm as to bursts of song (he
was determined not to be taken in), became, in commendation, almost
lyrical. Mary asked what he had done with his paragon, and he replied
that he believed him to have gone out stealthily to sketch: they might
come across him. He was extraordinarily clever at water-colours, but
haunted with the fear that the public practice of such an art on
Sunday was viewed with disfavour in England. Mary exclaimed that this
was the respectable fact, and when her brother ridiculed the idea she
told him she had already noticed he had lost all sense of things at
home, so that Mr Bolton-Brown was apparently a better Englishman than
he. "He is indeed — he's awfully artificial!" Hugh returned; but it
must be added that in spite of this rigour their American friend, when
they reached the goal of their walk, was to be perceived in an
irregular attitude in the very churchyard. He was perched on an old
flat tomb, with a box of colours beside him and a sketch half
completed. Hugh asserted that this exercise was the only thing that
Mr Bolton-Brown really cared for, but the young man protested against
the imputation in the face of an achievement so modest. He showed his
sketch to Mary however, and it consoled her for not having kept up her
own experiments; she never could make her trees so leafy. He had found
a lovely bit on the other side of the hill, a bit he should like to
come back to, and he offered to show it to his friends. They were on
the point of starting with him to look at it when Hugh Gosselin,
taking out his watch, remembered the hour at which he had promised to
be at the house again to give his mother, who wanted a little mild
exercise, his arm. His sister, at this, said she would go back with
him; but Bolton-Brown interposed an earnest inquiry. Mightn't she let
Hugh keep his appointment and let him take her over the hill
and bring her home?
"Happy thought —
do that!" said Hugh, with a crudity that
showed the girl how completely he had lost his English sense. He
perceived however in an instant that she was embarrassed, whereupon he
went on: "My dear child, I've walked with girls so often in America
that we really ought to let poor Brown walk with one in England." I
know not if it was the effect of this plea or that of some further
eloquence of their friend; at any rate Mary Gosselin in the course of
another minute had accepted the accident of Hugh's secession, had seen
him depart with an injunction to her to render it clear to poor Brown
that he had made quite a monstrous request. As she went over the hill
with her companion she reflected that since she had granted the
request it was not in her interest to pretend she had gone out of her
way. She wondered moreover whether her brother had wished to throw
them together: it suddenly occurred to her that the whole incident
might have been prearranged. The idea made her a little angry with
Hugh; it led her however to entertain no resentment against the other
party (if party Mr Brown had been) to the transaction. He told her all
the delight that certain sweet old corners of rural England excited in
his mind, and she liked him for hovering near some of her own secrets.
Hugh Gosselin meanwhile, at Bosco, strolling on the terrace with
his mother, who preferred walks that were as slow as conspiracies and
had had much to say to him about his extraordinary indiscretion,
repeated over and over (it ended by irritating her), that as he
himself had been out for hours with American girls it was only fair to
let their friend have a turn with an English one.
"Pay as much as you like, but don't pay with your sister!"
Mrs Gosselin replied; while Hugh submitted that it was just his sister
who was required to make the payment his. She turned his logic
to easy scorn and she waited on the terrace till she had seen the two
explorers reappear. When the ladies went to dress for dinner she
expressed to her daughter her extreme disapproval of such conduct, and
Mary did nothing more to justify herself than to exclaim at first
"Poor dear man!" and then to say "I was afraid you wouldn't like it."
There were reservations in her silence that made Mrs Gosselin uneasy,
and she was glad that at dinner Mr Bolton-Brown had to take in
Mrs Ashbury: it served him so right. This arrangement had in
Mrs Gosselin's eyes the added merit of serving Mrs Ashbury right. She
was more uneasy than ever when after dinner, in the drawing-room, she
saw Mary sit for a period on the same small sofa with the culpable
American. This young couple leaned back together familiarly, and their
conversation had the air of being desultory without being in the least
difficult. At last she quitted her place and went over to them,
remarking to Mr Bolton-Brown that she wanted him to come and talk a
bit to her. She conducted him to another part of the room,
which was vast and animated by scattered groups, and held him there
very persuasively, quite maternally, till the approach of the hour at
which the ladies would exchange looks and murmur good-nights. She made
him talk about America, though he wanted to talk about England, and
she judged that she gave him an impression of the kindest attention,
though she was really thinking, in alternation, of three important
things. One of these was a circumstance of which she had become
conscious only just after sitting down with him — the prolonged
absence of Lord Beaupré from the drawing-room; the second was the
absence, equally marked (to her imagination) of Maud Ashbury; the
third was a matter different altogether. "England gives one such a
sense of immemorial continuity, something that drops like a
plummet-line into the past," said the young American, ingeniously
exerting himself while Mrs Gosselin, rigidly contemporaneous, strayed
into deserts of conjecture. Had the fact that their host was out of
the room any connection with the fact that the most beautiful, even
though the most suicidal, of his satellites had quitted it? Yet if
poor Guy was taking a turn by starlight on the terrace with the
misguided girl, what had he done with his resentment at her invasion
and by what inspiration of despair had Maud achieved such a triumph?
The good lady studied Mrs Ashbury's face across the room; she decided
that triumph, accompanied perhaps with a shade of nervousness, looked
out of her insincere eyes. An intelligent consciousness of ridicule
was at any rate less present in them than ever. While Mrs Gosselin had
her infallible finger on the pulse of the occasion one of the doors
opened to readmit Lord Beaupré, who struck her as pale and who
immediately approached Mrs Ashbury with a remark evidently intended
for herself alone. It led this lady to rise with a movement of dismay
and, after a question or two, leave the room. Lord Beaupré left it
again in her company. Mr Bolton-Brown had also noticed the incident;
his conversation languished and he asked Mrs Gosselin if she supposed
anything had happened. She turned it over a moment and then she said:
"Yes, something will have happened to Miss Ashbury."
"What do you suppose? Is she ill?"
"I don't know; we shall see. They're capable of anything."
"Capable of anything?"
"I've guessed it, — she wants to have a grievance."
"A grievance?" Mr Bolton-Brown was mystified.
"Of course you don't understand; how should you? Moreover it
doesn't signify. But I'm so vexed with them (he's a very old friend of
ours) that really, though I dare say I'm indiscreet, I can't speak
civilly of them."
"Miss Ashbury's a wonderful type," said the young American.
This remark appeared to irritate his companion. "I see perfectly
what has happened; she has made a scene."
"A scene?" Mr Bolton-Brown was terribly out of it.
"She has tried to be injured — to provoke him, I mean, to some
act of impatience, to some failure of temper, of courtesy. She has
asked him if he wishes her to leave the house at midnight, and he may
have answered— But no, he wouldn't!" Mrs Gosselin suppressed the wild
"How you read it! She looks so quiet."
"Her mother has coached her, and (I won't pretend to say
what has happened) they've done, somehow, what they wanted; they've
got him to do something to them that he'll have to make up for."
"What an evolution of ingenuity!" the young man laughed.
"It often answers."
"Will it in this case?"
Mrs Gosselin was silent a moment. "It
"Really, you think?"
"I mean it might if it weren't for something else."
"I'm too judicious to ask what that is."
"I'll tell you when we're back in town," said Mrs Gosselin,
Lord Beaupré was restored to them, and the ladies prepared to
withdraw. Before she went to bed Mrs Gosselin asked him if there had
been anything the matter with Maud; to which he replied with abysmal
blankness (she had never seen him wear just that face) that he was
afraid Miss Ashbury was ill. She proved in fact in the morning too
unwell to return to London: a piece of news communicated to
Mrs Gosselin at breakfast.
"She'll have to stay; I can't turn her out of the house," said Guy
"Very well; let her stay her fill!"
"I wish you would stay too," the young man went on.
"Do you mean to nurse her?"
"No, her mother must do that. I mean to keep me company."
"You? You're not going up?"
"I think I had better wait over to-day, or long enough to see
what's the matter."
know what's the matter?"
He was silent a moment. "I may have been nasty last night."
"You have compunctions? You're too good-natured."
"I dare say I hit rather wild. It will look better for me to stop
over twenty-four hours."
Mrs Gosselin fixed her eyes on a distant object. "Let no one ever
say you're selfish!"
"Does anyone ever say it?"
"You're too generous, you're too soft, you're too foolish. But if
it will give you any pleasure Mary and I will wait till to-morrow."
"And Hugh, too, won't he, and Bolton-Brown?"
"Hugh will do as he pleases. But don't keep the American."
"Why not? He's all right."
"That's why I want him to go," said Mrs Gosselin, who could treat
a matter with candour, just as she could treat it with humour, at the
The party at Bosco broke up and there was a general retreat to
town. Hugh Gosselin pleaded pressing business, he accompanied the
young American to London. His mother and sister came back on the
morrow, and Bolton-Brown went in to see them, as he often did, at
tea-time. He found Mrs Gosselin alone in the drawing-room, and she
took such a convenient occasion to mention to him, what she had
withheld on the eve of their departure from Bosco, the reason why poor
Maud Ashbury's frantic assault on the master of that property would be
vain. He was greatly surprised, the more so that Hugh hadn't told him.
Mrs Gosselin replied that Hugh didn't know: she had not seen him all
day and it had only just come out. Hugh's friend at any rate was
deeply interested, and his interest took for several minutes the form
of throbbing silence. At last Mrs Gosselin heard a sound below, on
which she said quickly: "That's Hugh — I'll tell him now!" She left
the room with the request that their visitor would wait for Mary, who
would be down in a moment. During the instants that he spent alone the
visitor lurched, as if he had been on a deck in a blow, to the window,
and stood there with his hands in his pockets, staring vacantly into
Chester Street; then, turning away, he gave himself, with an odd
ejaculation, an impatient shake which had the effect of enabling him
to meet Mary Gosselin composedly enough when she came in. It took her
mother apparently some time to communicate the news to Hugh, so that
Bolton-Brown had a considerable margin for nervousness and hesitation
before he could say to the girl, abruptly, but with an attempt at a
voice properly gay: "You must let me very heartily congratulate you!"
Mary stared. "On what?"
"On your engagement."
"To Lord Beaupré."
Mary Gosselin looked strange; she coloured. "Who told you I'm
"Your mother — just now."
"Oh!" the girl exclaimed, turning away. She went and rang the bell
for fresh tea, rang it with noticeable force. But she said "Thank you
very much!" before the servant came.
Bolton-Brown did something that evening toward disseminating the
news: he told it to the first people he met socially after leaving
Chester Street; and this although he had to do himself a certain
violence in speaking. He would have preferred to hold his peace;
therefore if he resisted his inclination it was for an urgent
purpose. This purpose was to prove to himself that he didn't mind. A
perfect indifference could be for him the only result of any
understanding Mary Gosselin might arrive at with anyone, and he wanted
to be more and more conscious of his indifference. He was aware indeed
that it required demonstration, and this was why he was almost
feverishly active. He could mentally concede at least that he had been
surprised, for he had suspected nothing at Bosco. When a fellow was
attentive in America everyone knew it, and judged by this standard
Lord Beaupré made no show: how otherwise should he have
achieved that sweet accompanied ramble? Everything at any rate was
lucid now, except perhaps a certain ambiguity in Hugh Gosselin, who on
coming into the drawing-room with his mother had looked flushed and
grave and had stayed only long enough to kiss Mary and go out again.
There had been nothing effusive in the scene; but then there was
nothing effusive in any English scene. This helped to explain why Miss
Gosselin had been so blank during the minutes she spent with him
before her mother came back.
He himself wanted to cultivate tranquillity, and he felt that he
did so the next day in not going again to Chester Street. He went
instead to the British Museum, where he sat quite like an elderly
gentleman, with his hands crossed on the top of his stick and his eyes
fixed on an Assyrian bull. When he came away, however, it was with
the resolution to move briskly; so that he walked westward the whole
length of Oxford Street and arrived at the Marble Arch. He stared for
some minutes at this monument, as in the national collection he had
stared at even less intelligible ones; then brushing away the
apprehension that he should meet two persons riding together, he passed
into the park. He didn't care a straw whom he met. He got upon the
grass and made his way to the southern expanse, and when he reached
the Row he dropped into a chair, rather tired, to watch the capering
procession of riders. He watched it with a lustreless eye, for what he
seemed mainly to extract from it was a vivification of his
disappointment. He had had a hope that he should not be forced to
leave London without inducing Mary Gosselin to ride with him; but that
prospect failed, for what he had accomplished in the British Museum
was the determination to go to Paris. He tried to think of the
attractions supposed to be evoked by that name, and while he was so
engaged he recognised that a gentleman on horseback, close to the
barrier of the Row, was making a sign to him. The gentleman was Lord
Beaupré, who had pulled up his horse and whose sign the young American
lost no time in obeying. He went forward to speak to his late host,
but during the instant of the transit he was able both to observe that
Mary Gosselin was not in sight and to ask himself why she was not.
She rode with her brother; why then didn't she ride with her future
husband? It was singular at such a moment to see her future husband
disporting himself alone. This personage conversed a few moments with
Bolton-Brown, said it was too hot to ride, but that he ought to be
mounted (he would give him a mount if he liked) and was on the
point of turning away when his interlocutor succumbed to the
temptation to put his modesty to the test.
"Good-bye, but let me congratulate you first," said Bolton-Brown.
"Congratulate me? On what?" His look, his tone were very much what
Mary Gosselin's had been.
"Why, on your engagement. Haven't you heard of it?"
Lord Beaupré stared a moment while his horse shifted uneasily.
Then he laughed and said: "Which of them do you mean?"
"There's only one I know anything about. To Miss Gosselin," Brown
added, after a puzzled pause.
"Oh yes, I see — thanks so much!" With this, letting his horse
go, Lord Beaupré broke off, while Bolton-Brown stood looking after him
and saying to himself that perhaps he didn't know! The chapter
of English oddities was long.
But on the morrow the announcement was in
The Morning Post,
and that surely made it authentic. It was doubtless only superficially
singular that Guy Firminger should have found himself unable to
achieve a call in Chester Street until this journal had been for
several hours in circulation. He appeared there just before luncheon,
and the first person who received him was Mrs Gosselin. He had always
liked her, finding her infallible on the question of behaviour; but he
was on this occasion more than ever struck with her ripe astuteness,
her independent wisdom.
"I knew what you wanted, I knew what you needed, I knew the
subject on which you had pressed her," the good lady said; "and after
Sunday I found myself really haunted with your dangers. There was
danger in the air at Bosco, in your own defended house; it seemed to
me too monstrous. I said to myself 'We can help him, poor dear,
and we must. It's the least one can do for so old and so good a
friend.' I decided what to do: I simply put this other story about. In
London that always answers. I knew that Mary pitied you really as much
as I do, and that what she saw at Bosco had been a revelation — had
at any rate brought your situation home to her. Yet of course she would
be shy about saying out for herself: 'Here I am — I'll do what you
want.' The thing was for me to say it for her; so I said it
first to that chattering American. He repeated it to several others,
and there you are! I just forced her hand a little, but it's all
right. All she has to do is not to contradict it. It won't be any
trouble and you'll be comfortable. That will be our reward!" smiled
"Yes, all she has to do is not to contradict it," Lord Beaupré
replied, musing a moment. "It won't be any trouble," he added,
"and I hope I shall be comfortable." He thanked Mrs Gosselin
formally and liberally, and expressed all his impatience to assure
Mary herself of his deep obligation to her; upon which his hostess
promised to send her daughter to him on the instant: she would go and
call her, so that they might be alone. Before Mrs Gosselin left him
however she touched on one or two points that had their little
importance. Guy Firminger had asked for Hugh, but Hugh had gone to the
City, and his mother mentioned candidly that he didn't take part in
the game. She even disclosed his reason: he thought there was a want
of dignity in it. Lord Beaupré stared at this and after a moment
exclaimed: "Dignity? Dignity be hanged! One must save one's life!"
"Yes, but the point poor Hugh makes is that one must save it by
the use of one's own wits, or one's own arms and legs.
But do you know what I said to him?" Mrs Gosselin continued.
"Something very clever, I daresay."
we were drowning you'd be the very first to jump
in. And we may fall overboard yet!" Fidgeting there with his hands in
his pockets Lord Beaupré gave a laugh at this, but assured her that
there was nothing in the world for which they mightn't count upon him.
None the less she just permitted herself another warning, a warning,
it is true, that was in his own interest, a reminder of a peril that
he ought beforehand to look in the face. Wasn't there always the
chance — just the bare chance — that a girl in Mary's position
would, in the event, decline to let him off, decline to release him
even on the day he should wish to marry? She wasn't speaking of Mary,
but there were of course girls who would play him that trick. Guy
Firminger considered this contingency; then he declared that it wasn't
a question of 'girls', it was simply a question of dear old Mary! If she should wish to hold him, so much the better: he would do
anything in the world that she wanted. "Don't let us dwell on such
vulgarities; but I had it on my conscience!" Mrs Gosselin wound up.
She left him, but at the end of three minutes Mary came in, and
the first thing she said was: "Before you speak a word, please
understand this, that it's wholly mamma's doing. I hadn't dreamed of
it, but she suddenly began to tell people."
"It was charming of her, and it's charming of you!" the visitor
"It's not charming of any one, I think," said Mary Gosselin,
looking at the carpet. "It's simply idiotic."
"Don't be nasty about it. It will be tremendous fun."
"I've only consented because mamma says we owe it to you," the
girl went on.
"Never mind your reason — the end justifies the means. I can
never thank you enough nor tell you what a weight it lifts off my
shoulders. Do you know I feel the difference already? — a peace that
passeth understanding!" Mary replied that this was childish; how
could such a feeble fiction last? At the very best it could live but
an hour, and then he would be no better off than before. It would
bristle moreover with difficulties and absurdities; it would be so
much more trouble than it was worth. She reminded him that so
ridiculous a service had never been asked of any girl, and at this he
seemed a little struck; he said: "Ah, well, if it's positively
disagreeable to you we'll instantly drop the idea. But I — I thought
you really liked me enough—!" She turned away impatiently, and he
went on to argue imperturbably that she had always treated him in the
kindest way in the world. He added that the worst was over, the start,
they were off: the thing would be in all the evening papers. Wasn't it
much simpler to accept it? That was all they would have to do; and all she would have to do would be not to gainsay it and to smile and
thank people when she was congratulated. She would have to act
a little, but that would just be part of the fun. Oh, he hadn't the
shadow of a scruple about taking the world in; the world deserved it
richly, and she couldn't deny that this was what she had felt for him,
that she had really been moved to compassion. He grew eloquent and
charged her with having recognised in his predicament a genuine motive
for charity. Their little plot would last what it could — it would be
a part of their amusement to make it last. Even if it should be
but a thing of a day there would have been always so much gained. But
they would be ingenious, they would find ways, they would have no end
"You must be ingenious; I can't," said Mary. "If people
scarcely ever see us together they'll guess we're trying to humbug
will see us together. We
We've been together — I mean we've seen a lot of each other — all
"Oh, trust me to work it right!" cried the young man, whose
imagination had now evidently begun to glow in the air of their pious
"You'll find it a dreadful bore," said Mary Gosselin.
"Then I'll drop it, don't you see? And
you'll drop it, of
course, the moment you've had enough," Lord Beaupré punctually
added. "But as soon as you begin to realise what a lot of good you do
me you won't want to drop it. That is if you're what I take you
for!" laughed his lordship.
If a third person had been present at this conversation — and
there was nothing in it surely that might not have been spoken before
a trusty listener — that person would perhaps have thought, from the
immediate expression of Mary Gosselin's face, that she was on the
point of exclaiming 'You take me for too big a fool!' No such
ungracious words in fact however passed her lips; she only said after
an instant: "What reason do you propose to give, on the day you need
one, for our rupture?"
Her interlocutor stared. "To you, do you mean?"
"I sha'n't ask you for one. I mean to other people."
"Oh, I'll tell them you're sick of me. I'll put everything on you,
and you'll put everything on me."
"You have worked it out!" Mary exclaimed.
"Oh, I shall be intensely considerate."
"Do you call that being considerate — publicly accusing me?"
Guy Firminger stared again. "Why, isn't that the reason
She looked at him an instant. "I won't tell you the reason I shall
"Oh, I shall learn it from others."
"I hope you'll like it when you do!" said Mary, with sudden
gaiety; and she added frankly though kindly the hope that he might
soon light upon some young person who would really meet his
requirements. He replied that he shouldn't be in a hurry — that was
now just the comfort; and she, as if thinking over to the end the list
of arguments against his clumsy contrivance, broke out: "And of course
you mustn't dream of giving me anything — any tokens or presents."
"Then it won't look natural."
"That's exactly what I say. You can't make it deceive anybody."
"I must give you something — something that people can
see. There must be some evidence! You can simply put my offerings away
after a little and give them back." But about this Mary was visibly
serious; she declared that she wouldn't touch anything that came from
his hand, and she spoke in such a tone that he coloured a little and
hastened to say: "Oh, all right, I shall be thoroughly careful!" This
appeared to complete their understanding; so that after it was settled
that for the deluded world they were engaged, there was
obviously nothing for him to do but to go. He therefore shook hands
with her very gratefully and departed.
He was able promptly to assure his accomplice that their little
plot was working to a charm; it already made such a difference for the
better. Only a week had elapsed, but he felt quite another man; his
life was no longer spent in springing to arms and he had ceased to
sleep in his boots. The ghost of his great fear was laid, he could
follow out his inclinations and attend to his neglected affairs. The
news had been a bomb in the enemy's camp, and there were plenty of
blank faces to testify to the confusion it had wrought. Every one was
'sold' and every one made haste to clap him on the back. Lottie
Firminger only had written in terms of which no notice could be taken,
though of course he expected, every time he came in, to find her
waiting in his hall. Her mother was coming up to town and he should
have the family at his ears; but, taking them as a single body, he
could manage them, and that was a detail. The Ashburys had remained at
Bosco till that establishment was favoured with the tidings that so
nearly concerned it (they were communicated to Maud's mother by the
housekeeper), and then the beautiful sufferer had found in her defeat
strength to seek another asylum. The two ladies had departed for a
destination unknown; he didn't think they had turned up in London. Guy
Firminger averred that there were precious portable objects which he
was sure he should miss on returning to his country home.
He came every day to Chester Street, and was evidently much less
bored than Mary had prefigured by this regular tribute to
verisimilitude. It was amusement enough to see the progress of their
comedy and to invent new touches for some of its scenes. The girl
herself was amused; it was an opportunity like another for cleverness
such as hers and had much in common with private theatricals,
especially with the rehearsals, the most amusing part. Moreover she
was good-natured enough to be really pleased at the service it was
impossible for her not to acknowledge that she had rendered. Each of
the parties to this queer contract had anecdotes and suggestions for
the other, and each reminded the other duly that they must at every
step keep their story straight. Except for the exercise of this care
Mary Gosselin found her duties less onerous than she had feared and
her part in general much more passive than active. It consisted indeed
largely of murmuring thanks and smiling and looking happy and
handsome; as well as perhaps also in saying in answer to many
questions that nothing as yet was fixed and of trying to remain humble
when people expressed without ceremony that such a match was a wonder
for such a girl. Her mother on the other hand was devotedly active.
She treated the situation with private humour but with public zeal
and, making it both real and ideal, told so many fibs about it that
there were none left for Mary. The girl had failed to understand
Mrs Gosselin's interest in this elaborate pleasantry; the good lady
had seen in it from the first more than she herself had been able to
see. Mary performed her task mechanically, sceptically, but
Mrs Gosselin attacked hers with conviction and had really the air at
moments of thinking that their fable had crystallised into fact. Mary
allowed her as little of this attitude as possible and was ironical
about her duplicity; warnings which the elder lady received with
gaiety until one day when repetition had made them act on her nerves.
Then she begged her daughter, with sudden asperity, not to talk to her
as if she were a fool. She had already had words with Hugh about some
aspects of the affair — so much as this was evident in Chester
Street; a smothered discussion which at the moment had determined the
poor boy to go to Paris with Bolton-Brown. The young men came back
together after Mary had been 'engaged' three weeks, but she remained
in ignorance of what passed between Hugh and his mother the night of
his return. She had gone to the opera with Lady Whiteroy, after one of
her invariable comments on Mrs Gosselin's invariable remark that of
course Guy Firminger would spend his evening in their box. The remedy
for his trouble, Lord Beaupré's prospective bride had said, was surely
worse than the disease; she was in perfect good faith when she
wondered that his lordship's sacrifices, his laborious cultivation of
appearances should 'pay'.
Hugh Gosselin dined with his mother and at dinner talked of Paris
and of what he had seen and done there; he kept the conversation
superficial and after he had heard how his sister, at the moment, was
occupied, asked no question that might have seemed to denote an
interest in the success of the experiment for which in going abroad he
had declined responsibility. His mother could not help observing that
he never mentioned Guy Firminger by either of his names, and it struck
her as a part of the same detachment that later, up stairs (she sat
with him while he smoked), he should suddenly say as he finished a
"I return to New York next week."
"Before your time? What for?" Mrs Gosselin was horrified.
"Oh, mamma, you know what for!"
"Because you still resent poor Mary's good-nature?"
"I don't understand it, and I don't like things I don't understand;
therefore I'd rather not be here to see it. Besides I really can't
tell a pack of lies."
Mrs Gosselin exclaimed and protested; she had arguments to prove
that there was no call at present for the least deflection from the
truth; all that any one had to reply to any question (and there could
be none that was embarrassing save the ostensible determination of the
date of the marriage) was that nothing was settled as yet — a form of
words in which for the life of her she couldn't see any perjury. "Why,
then, go in for anything in such bad taste, to culminate only in
something so absurd?" Hugh demanded. "If the essential part of the
matter can't be spoken of as fixed nothing is fixed, the deception
becomes transparent and they give the whole idea away. It's child's
"That's why it's so innocent. All I can tell you is that
practically their attitude answers; he's delighted with its success.
Those dreadful women have given him up; they've already found some
"And how is it all to end, please?"
Mrs Gosselin was silent a moment. "Perhaps it won't end."
"Do you mean that the engagement will become real?"
Again the good lady said nothing until she broke out: "My dear
boy, can't you trust your poor old mummy?"
"Is that your speculation? Is that Mary's? I never heard
of anything so odious!" Hugh Gosselin cried. But she defended his
sister with eagerness, with a gloss of coaxing, maternal indignation,
declaring that Mary's disinterestedness was complete — she had the
perfect proof of it. Hugh was conscious as he lighted another cigar
that the conversation was more fundamental than any that he had ever
had with his mother, who however hung fire but for an instant when he
asked her what this 'perfect proof' might be. He didn't doubt of his
sister, he admitted that; but the perfect proof would make the whole
thing more luminous. It took finally the form of a confession from
Mrs Gosselin that the girl evidently liked — well, greatly liked —
Mr Bolton-Brown. Yes, the good lady had seen for herself at Bosco that
the smooth young American was making up to her and that, time and
opportunity aiding, something might very well happen which could not
be regarded as satisfactory. She had been very frank with Mary, had
besought her not to commit herself to a suitor who in the very nature
of the case couldn't meet the most legitimate of their views. Mary,
who pretended not to know what their 'views' were, had denied that she
was in danger; but Mrs Gosselin had assured her that she had all the
air of it and had said triumphantly: "Agree to what Lord Beaupré asks
of you, and I'll believe you." Mary had wished to be believed
— so she had agreed. That was all the witchcraft any one had used.
Mrs Gosselin out-talked her son, but there were two or three plain
questions that he came back to; and the first of these bore upon the
ground of her aversion to poor Bolton-Brown. He told her again, as he
had told her before, that his friend was that rare bird a maker of
money who was also a man of culture. He was a gentleman to his
finger-tips, accomplished, capable, kind, with a charming mother and
two lovely sisters (she should see them!); the sort of fellow in short
whom it was stupid not to appreciate.
"I believe it all, and if I had three daughters he should be very
welcome to one of them."
"You might easily have had three daughters who wouldn't attract
him at all! You've had the good fortune to have one who does, and I
think you do wrong to interfere with it."
"My eggs are in one basket then, and that's a reason the more for
preferring Lord Beaupré," said Mrs Gosselin.
is your calculation—?" stammered Hugh in dismay;
on which she coloured and requested that he would be a little less
rough with his mother. She would rather part with him immediately, sad
as that would be, than that he should attempt to undo what she had
done. When Hugh replied that it was not to Mary but to Beaupré himself
that he judged it important he should speak, she informed him that a
rash remonstrance might do his sister a cruel wrong. Dear Guy was most attentive.
"If you mean that he really cares for her there's the less excuse
for his taking such a liberty with her. He's either in love with her
or he isn't. If he is, let him make her a serious offer; if he isn't,
let him leave her alone."
Mrs Gosselin looked at her son with a kind of patient joy. "He's
in love with her, but he doesn't know it."
"He ought to know it, and if he's so idiotic I don't see that we
ought to consider him."
"Don't worry — he
shall know it!" Mrs Gosselin cried; and,
continuing to struggle with Hugh, she insisted on the delicacy of the
situation. She made a certain impression on him, though on confused
grounds; she spoke at one moment as if he was to forbear because the
matter was a make-believe that happened to contain a convenience for a
distressed friend, and at another as if one ought to strain a point
because there were great possibilities at stake. She was most lucid
when she pictured the social position and other advantages of a peer
of the realm. What had those of an American stockbroker, however
amiable and with whatever shrill belongings in the background, to
compare with them? She was inconsistent, but she was diplomatic, and
the result of the discussion was that Hugh Gosselin became conscious
of a dread of 'injuring' his sister. He became conscious at the same
time of a still greater apprehension, that of seeing her arrive at the
agreeable in a tortuous, a second-rate manner. He might keep the peace
to please his mother, but he couldn't enjoy it, and he actually took
his departure, travelling in company with Bolton-Brown, who of course
before going waited on the ladies in Chester Street to thank them for
the kindness they had shown him. It couldn't be kept from Guy
Firminger that Hugh was not happy, though when they met, which was
only once or twice before he quitted London, Mary Gosselin's brother
flattered himself that he was too proud to show it. He had always
liked old loafing Guy and it was disagreeable to him not to like him
now; but he was aware that he must either quarrel with him definitely
or not at all and that he had passed his word to his mother. Therefore
his attitude was strictly negative; he took with the parties to it no
notice whatever of the 'engagement', and he couldn't help it if to
other people he had the air of not being initiated. They doubtless
thought him strangely fastidious. Perhaps he was; the tone of London
struck him in some respects as very horrid; he had grown in a manner
away from it. Mary was impenetrable; tender, gay, charming, but with
no patience, as she said, for his premature flight. Except when Lord
Beaupré was present you would not have dreamed that he existed for
her. In his company — he had to be present more or less of course —
she was simply like any other English girl who disliked effusiveness.
They had each the same manner, that of persons of rather a shy
tradition who were on their guard against public 'spooning'. They
practised their fraud with good taste, a good taste mystifying to
Bolton-Brown, who thought their precautions excessive. When he took
leave of Mary Gosselin her eyes consented for a moment to look deep
down into his. He had been from the first of the opinion that they
were beautiful, and he was more mystified than ever.
If Guy Firminger had failed to ask Hugh Gosselin whether he had a
fault to find with what they were doing, this was, in spite of old
friendship, simply because he was too happy now to care much whom he
didn't please, to care at any rate for criticism. He had ceased to be
critical himself, and his high prosperity could take his blamelessness
for granted. His happiness would have been offensive if people
generally hadn't liked him, for it consisted of a kind of monstrous
candid comfort. To take all sorts of things for granted was still his
great, his delightful characteristic; but it didn't prevent his
showing imagination and tact and taste in particular circumstances. He
made, in their little comedy, all the right jokes and none of the
wrong ones: the girl had an acute sense that there were some jokes
that would have been detestable. She gathered that it was universally
supposed she was having an unprecedented season, and something of the
glory of an enviable future seemed indeed to hang about her. People no
doubt thought it odd that she didn't go about more with her future
husband; but those who knew anything about her knew that she had never
done exactly as other girls did. She had her own ways, her own
freedoms and her own scruples. Certainly he made the London weeks
much richer than they had ever been for a subordinate young person; he
put more things into them, so that they grew dense and complicated.
This frightened her at moments, especially when she thought with
compunction that she was deceiving her very friends. She didn't mind
taking the vulgar world in, but there were people she hated not to
enlighten, to reassure. She could undeceive no one now, and indeed she
would have been ashamed. There were hours when she wanted to stop —
she had such a dread of doing too much; hours when she thought with
dismay that the fiction of the rupture was still to come, with its
horrid train of new untrue things. She spoke of it repeatedly to her
confederate, who only postponed and postponed, told her she would
never dream of forsaking him if she measured the good she was doing
him. She did measure it however when she met him in the great world;
she was of course always meeting him: that was the only way
appearances were kept up. There was a certain attitude she could allow
him to take on these occasions; it covered and carried off their
subterfuge. He could talk to her unmolested; for herself she never
spoke of anything but the charming girls, everywhere present, among
whom he could freely choose. He didn't protest, because to choose
freely was what he wanted, and they discussed these young ladies one
by one. Some she recommended, some she disparaged, but it was almost
the only subject she tolerated. It was her system in short, and she
wondered he didn't get tired of it; she was so tired of it herself.
She tried other things that she thought he might find wearisome,
but his good-humour was magnificent. He was now really for the first
time enjoying his promotion, his wealth, his insight into the terms on
which the world offered itself to the happy few, and these terms made
a mixture healing to irritation. Once, at some glittering ball, he
asked her if she should be jealous if he were to dance again with Lady
Whiteroy, with whom he had danced already, and this was the only
occasion on which he had come near making a joke of the wrong sort.
She showed him what she thought of it and made him feel that the way
to be forgiven was to spend the rest of the evening with that lovely
creature. Now that the phalanx of the pressingly nubile was held in
check there was accordingly nothing to prevent his passing his time
pleasantly. Before he had taken this effective way the diplomatic
mother, when she spied him flirting with a married woman, felt that in
urging a virgin daughter's superior claims she worked for
righteousness as well as for the poor girl. But Mary Gosselin
protected these scandals practically by the still greater scandal of
her indifference; so that he was in the odd position of having waited
to be confined to know what it was to be at large. He had in other
words the maximum of security with the minimum of privation. The
lovely creatures of Lady Whiteroy's order thought Mary Gosselin
charming, but they were the first to see through her falsity.
All this carried our precious pair to the middle of July; but
nearly a month before that, one night under the summer stars, on the
deck of the steamer that was to reach New York on the morrow, something
had passed between Hugh Gosselin and his brooding American friend. The
night was warm and splendid; these were their last hours at sea, and
Hugh, who had been playing whist in the cabin, came up very late to
take an observation before turning in. It was in this way that he
chanced on his companion, who was leaning over the stern of the ship
and gazing off, beyond its phosphorescent track, at the muffled,
moaning ocean, the backward darkness, everything he had relinquished.
Hugh stood by him for a moment and then asked him what he was thinking
about. Bolton-Brown gave at first no answer; after which he turned
round and, with his back against the guard of the deck, looked up at
the multiplied stars. 'He has it badly,' Hugh Gosselin mentally
commented. At last his friend replied: "About something you said
"I forget what I said yesterday."
"You spoke of your sister's intended marriage; it was the only
time you had spoken of it. You seemed to intimate that it might not
after all take place."
Hugh hesitated a little. "Well, it
won't take place.
They're not engaged, not really. This is a secret, a preposterous
secret. I wouldn't tell any one else, but I'm willing to tell you
. It may make a difference to you."
Bolton-Brown turned his head; he looked at Hugh a minute through
the fresh darkness. "It does make a difference to me. But I don't
understand," he added.
"Neither do I. I don't like it. It's a pretence, a temporary
make-believe, to help Beaupré through."
"He's so run after."
The young American stared, ejaculated, mused. "Oh, yes — your
mother told me."
"It's a sort of invention of my mother's and a notion of his own
(very absurd, I think) till he can see his way. Mary serves as a kind
of escort for these first exposed months. It's ridiculous, but I don't
know that it hurts her."
"Oh!" said Bolton-Brown.
"I don't know either that it does her any good."
"No!" said Bolton-Brown. Then he added: "It's certainly very kind
"It's a case of old friends," Hugh explained, inadequately as he
felt. "He has always been in and out of our house."
"But how will it end?"
"I haven't the least idea."
Bolton-Brown was silent; he faced about to the stern again and
stared at the rush of the ship. Then shifting his position once more:
"Won't the engagement, before they've done, develop into the regular
Hugh felt as if his mother were listening. "I daresay not. If there
were even a remote chance of that, Mary wouldn't have consented."
he easily find that — charming as she is —
he's in love with her?"
"He's too much taken up with himself."
"That's just a reason," said Bolton-Brown. "Love is selfish." He
considered a moment longer, then he went on: "And mayn't she
"Find what?" said Hugh, as he hesitated.
"Why, that she likes him."
"She likes him of course, else she wouldn't have come to his
assistance. But her certainty about herself must have been just what
made her not object to lending herself to the arrangement. She could
do it decently because she doesn't seriously care for him. If she
did—!" Hugh suddenly stopped.
"If she did?" his friend repeated.
"It would have been odious."
"I see," said Bolton-Brown gently. "But how will they break off?"
"It will be Mary who'll break off."
"Perhaps she'll find it difficult."
"She'll require a pretext."
"I see," mused Bolton-Brown, shifting his position again.
"She'll find one," Hugh declared.
"I hope so," his companion responded.
For some minutes neither of them spoke; then Hugh asked: "Are you
in love with her?"
"Oh, my dear fellow!" Bolton-Brown wailed. He instantly added:
"Will it be any use for me to go back?"
Again Hugh felt as if his mother were listening. But he answered: "
Do go back."
"It's awfully strange," said Bolton-Brown. "I'll go back."
"You had better wait a couple of months, you know."
"Mayn't I lose her then?"
"No — they'll drop it all."
"I'll go back!" the American repeated, as if he hadn't heard. He
was restless, agitated; he had evidently been much affected. He
fidgeted away dimly, moved up the level length of the deck. Hugh
Gosselin lingered longer at the stern; he fell into the attitude in
which he had found the other, leaning over it and looking back at the
great vague distance they had come. He thought of his mother.
To remind her fond parent of the vanity of certain expectations
which she more than suspected her of entertaining, Mary Gosselin,
while she felt herself intensely watched (it had all brought about a
horrid new situation at home) produced every day some fresh
illustration of the fact that people were no longer imposed upon.
Moreover these illustrations were not invented; the girl believed in
them, and when once she had begun to note them she saw them multiply
fast. Lady Whiteroy, for one, was distinctly suspicious; she had taken
the liberty more than once of asking the future Lady Beaupré what in
the world was the matter with her. Brilliant figure as she was and
occupied with her own pleasures, which were of a very independent
nature, she had nevertheless constituted herself Miss Gosselin's
social sponsor: she took a particular interest in her marriage, an
interest all the greater as it rested not only on a freely-professed
regard for her, but on a keen sympathy with the other party to the
transaction. Lady Whiteroy, who was very pretty and very clever and
whom Mary secretly but profoundly mistrusted, delighted in them both
in short; so much so that Mary judged herself happy to be in a false
position, so certain should she have been to be jealous had she been
in a true one. This charming woman threw out inquiries that made the
girl not care to meet her eyes; and Mary ended by forming a theory of
the sort of marriage for Lord Beaupré that Lady Whiteroy really would
have appreciated. It would have been a marriage to a fool, a marriage
to Maud Ashbury or to Charlotte Firminger. She would have her reasons
for preferring that; and, as regarded the actual prospect, she had
only discovered that Mary was even more astute than herself.
It will be understood how much our young lady was on the crest of
the wave when I mention that in spite of this complicated
consciousness she was one of the ornaments (Guy Firminger was of
course another) of the party entertained by her zealous friend and
Lord Whiteroy during the Goodwood week. She came back to town with
the firm intention of putting an end to a comedy which had more than
ever become odious to her; in consequence of which she had on this
subject with her fellow-comedian a scene — the scene she had dreaded
— half-pathetic, half-ridiculous. He appealed to her, wrestled with
her, took his usual ground that she was saving his life without really
lifting a finger. He denied that the public was not satisfied with
their pretexts for postponement, their explanations of delay; what
else was expected of a man who would wish to celebrate his nuptials on
a suitable scale, but who had the misfortune to have had, one after
another, three grievous bereavements? He promised not to molest her
for the next three months, to go away till his 'mourning' was over, to
go abroad, to let her do as she liked. He wouldn't come near her, he
wouldn't even write (no one would know it), if she would let him keep
up the mere form of their fiction; and he would let her off the very
first instant he definitely perceived that this expedient had ceased
to be effective. She couldn't judge of that — she must let him
judge; and it was a matter in which she could surely trust to his
Mary Gosselin trusted to it, but she insisted on his going away.
When he took such a tone as that she couldn't help being moved; he
breathed with such frank, generous lips on the irritation she had
stored up against him. Guy Firminger went to Homburg, and if his
confederate consented not to clip the slender thread by which this
particular engagement still hung, she made very short work with every
other. A dozen invitations, for Cowes, for the country, for
Scotland, shimmered there before her, made a pathway of flowers, but
she sent barbarous excuses. When her mother, aghast, said to her "What
then will you do?" she replied in a very conclusive manner "I'll go
home!" Mrs Gosselin was wise enough not to struggle; she saw that the
thread was delicate, that it must dangle in quiet air. She therefore
travelled back with her daughter to homely Hampshire, feeling that
they were people of less importance than they had been for many a
week. On the August afternoons they sat again on the little lawn on
which Guy Firminger had found them the day he first became eloquent
about the perils of the desirable young bachelor; and it was on this
very spot that, toward the end of the month, and with some surprise,
they beheld Mr Bolton-Brown once more approach. He had come back from
America; he had arrived but a few days before; he was staying, of all
places in the world, at the inn in the village.
His explanation of this caprice was of all explanations the
oddest: he had come three thousand miles for the love of water-colour.
There was nothing more sketchable than the sketchability of Hampshire
— wasn't it celebrated, classic? and he was so good as to include
Mrs Gosselin's charming premises, and even their charming occupants,
in his view of the field. He fell to work with speed, with a sort of
feverish eagerness; he seemed possessed indeed by the frenzy of the
brush. He sketched everything on the place, and when he had
represented an object once he went straight at it again. His advent
was soothing to Mary Gosselin, in spite of his nervous activity; it
must be admitted indeed that at the moment he arrived she had already
felt herself in quieter waters. The August afternoons, the
relinquishment of London, the simplified life, had rendered her a
service which, if she had freely qualified it, she would have
described as a restoration of her self-respect. If poor Guy found any
profit in such conditions as these there was no great reason to
repudiate him. She had so completely shaken off responsibility that
she took scarcely more than a languid interest in the fact,
communicated to her by Lady Whiteroy, that Charlotte Firminger had
also, as the newspapers said, 'proceeded' to Homburg. Lady Whiteroy
knew, for Lady Whiteroy had 'proceeded' as well; her physician had
discovered in her constitution a pressing need for the comfort imbibed
in dripping matutinal tumblers. She chronicled Charlotte's presence,
and even to some extent her behaviour, among the haunters of the
spring, but it was not till some time afterwards that Mary learned how
Miss Firminger's pilgrimage had been made under her ladyship's
protection. This was a further sign that, like Mrs Gosselin, Lady
Whiteroy had ceased to struggle; she had, in town, only shrugged her
shoulders ambiguously on being informed that Lord Beaupré's intended
was going down to her stupid home.
The fulness of Mrs Gosselin's renunciation was apparent during the
stay of the young American in the neighbourhood of that retreat. She
occupied herself with her knitting, her garden and the cares of a
punctilious hospitality, but she had no appearance of any other
occupation. When people came to tea Bolton-Brown was always there, and
she had the self-control to attempt to say nothing that could assuage
their natural surprise. Mrs Ashbury came one day with poor Maud, and
the two elder ladies, as they had done more than once before, looked
for some moments into each other's eyes. This time it was not a look
of defiance, it was rather — or it would have been for an observer
completely in the secret — a look of reciprocity, of fraternity, a
look of arrangement. There was however no one completely in the secret
save perhaps Mary, and Mary didn't heed. The arrangement at any rate
was ineffectual; Mrs Gosselin might mutely say, over the young
American's eager, talkative shoulders, 'Yes, you may have him if you
can get him:' the most rudimentary experiments demonstrated that he
was not to be got. Nothing passed on this subject between Mary and her
mother, whom the girl none the less knew to be holding her breath and
continuing to watch. She counted it more and more as one unpleasant
result of her conspiracy with Guy Firminger that it almost poisoned a
relation that had always been sweet. It was to show that she was
independent of it that she did as she liked now, which was almost
always as Bolton-Brown liked. When in the first days of September —
it was in the warm, clear twilight, and they happened, amid the scent
of fresh hay, to be leaning side by side on a stile — he gave her a
view of the fundamental and esoteric, as distinguished from the
convenient and superficial motive of his having come back to England,
she of course made no allusion to a prior tie. On the other hand she
insisted on his going up to London by the first train the next day. He
was to wait — that was distinctly understood — for his satisfaction.
She desired meanwhile to write immediately to Guy Firminger, but
as he had kept his promise of not complicating their contract with
letters she was uncertain as to his actual whereabouts: she was only
sure he would have left Homburg. Lady Whiteroy had become silent, so
there were no more sidelights, and she was on the point of
telegraphing to London for an address when she received a telegram
from Bosco. The proprietor of that seat had arrived there the day
before, and he found he could make trains fit if she would on the
morrow allow him to come over and see her for a day or two. He had
returned sooner than their agreement allowed, but she answered 'Come'
and she showed his missive to her mother, who at the sight of it wept
with strange passion. Mary said to her "For heaven's sake, don't let
him see you!" She lost no time; she told him on the morrow as soon as
he entered the house that she couldn't keep it up another hour.
"All right — it
is no use," he conceded; "they're at it
"You see you've gained nothing!" she replied triumphantly. She had
instantly recognised that he was different, how much had happened.
"I've gained some of the happiest days of my life."
"Oh, that was not what you tried for!"
"Indeed it was, and I got exactly what I wanted," said Guy
Firminger. They were in the cool little drawing-room where the morning
light was dim. Guy Firminger had a sunburnt appearance, as in England
people returning from other countries are apt to have, and Mary
thought he had never looked so well. It was odd, but it was
noticeable, that he had grown much handsomer since he had become a
personage. He paused a moment, smiling at her while her mysterious
eyes rested on him, and then he added: "Nothing ever worked better.
It's no use now — people see. But I've got a start. I wanted to turn
round and look about, and I have turned round and looked about.
There are things I've escaped. I'm afraid you'll never understand how
deeply I'm indebted to you."
"Oh, it's all right!" said Mary Gosselin.
There was another short silence, after which he went on: "I've
come back sooner than I promised, but only to be strictly fair. I
began to see that we couldn't hold out and that it was my duty to let
you off. From that moment I was bound to put an end to your situation.
I might have done so by letter, but that seemed scarcely decent. It's
all I came back for, you know, and it's why I wired to you yesterday."
Mary hesitated an instant, she reflected intensely. What had
happened, what would happen, was that if she didn't take care the
signal for the end of their little arrangement would not have appeared
to come from herself. She particularly wished it not to come from
anyone else, she had even a horror of that; so that after an instant
she hastened to say: "I was on the very point of wiring to you
— I was only waiting for your address."
"Wiring to me?" He seemed rather blank.
"To tell you that our absurd affair really, this time, can't go on
another day — to put a complete stop to it."
"Oh!" said Guy Firminger.
"So it's all right."
"You've always hated it!" Guy laughed; and his laugh sounded
slightly foolish to the girl.
"I found yesterday that I hated it more than ever."
Lord Beaupré showed a quickened attention. "For what reason —
"I would rather not tell you, please. Perhaps some time you'll
find it out."
He continued to look at her brightly and fixedly with his confused
cheerfulness. Then he said with a vague, courteous alacrity: "I see, I
see!" She had an impression that he didn't see; but it didn't matter,
she was nervous and quite preferred that he shouldn't. They both got
up, and in a moment he exclaimed: "Well, I'm intensely sorry it's
over! It has been so charming."
"You've been very good about it; I mean very reasonable," Mary
said, to say something. Then she felt in her nervousness that this was
just what she ought not to have said: it sounded ironical and
provoking, whereas she had meant it as pure good-nature. "Of course
you'll stay to luncheon?" she continued. She was bound in common
hospitality to speak of that, and he answered that it would give him
the greatest pleasure. After this her apprehension increased, and it
was confirmed in particular by the manner in which he suddenly asked:
"By the way, what reason shall we give?"
"For our rupture. Don't let us seem to have quarrelled."
"We can't help that," said Mary. "Nothing else will account for
"Well, I sha'n't say anything about
"Do you mean you'll let people think it was yourself who were
tired of it?"
"I mean I sha'n't
"You ought to behave as if you cared!" said Mary.
Guy Firminger laughed, but he looked worried and he evidently was
puzzled. "You must act as if you had jilted me."
"You're not the sort of person unfortunately that people jilt."
Lord Beaupré appeared to accept this statement as incontestable;
not with elation however, but with candid regret, the slightly
embarrassed recognition of a fundamental obstacle. "Well, it's no
one's business, at any rate, is it?"
"No one's, and that's what I shall say if people question me.
Besides," Mary added, "they'll see for themselves."
"What will they see?"
"I mean they'll understand. And now we had better join mamma."
It was his evident inclination to linger in the room after he had
said this that gave her complete alarm. Mrs Gosselin was in another
room, in which she sat in the morning, and Mary moved in that
direction, pausing only in the hall for him to accompany her. She
wished to get him into the presence of a third person. In the hall he
joined her, and in doing so laid his hand gently on her arm. Then
looking into her eyes with all the pleasantness of his honesty, he
said: "It will be very easy for me to appear to care — for I shall
care. I shall care immensely!" Lord Beaupré added smiling.
Anything, it struck her, was better than that — than that he
should say: 'We'll keep on, if you like (I should!) only this
time it will be serious. Hold me to it — do; don't let me go; lead me
on to the altar — really!' Some such words as these, she believed,
were rising to his lips, and she had an insurmountable horror of
hearing them. It was as if, well enough meant on his part, they
would do her a sort of dishonour, so that all her impulse was quickly
to avert them. That was not the way she wanted to be asked in
marriage. "Thank you very much," she said, "but it doesn't in the
least matter. You will seem to have been jilted — so it's all right!"
"All right! You mean—?" He hesitated, he had coloured a little:
his eyes questioned her.
"I'm engaged to be married — in earnest."
"Oh!" said Lord Beaupré.
"You asked me just now if I had a special reason for having been
on the point of telegraphing to you, and I said I had. That was my
"I see!" said Lord Beaupré. He looked grave for a few seconds,
then he gave an awkward smile. But he behaved with perfect tact and
discretion, didn't even ask her who the gentleman in the case might
be. He congratulated her in the dark, as it were, and if the effect of
this was indeed a little odd she liked him for his quick perception of
the fine fitness of pulling up short. Besides, he extracted the name
of the gentleman soon enough from her mother, in whose company they
now immediately found themselves. Mary left Guy Firminger with the
good lady for half an hour before luncheon; and when the girl came
back it was to observe that she had been crying again. It was dreadful
— what she might have been saying. Their guest, however, at luncheon
was not lachrymose; he was natural, but he was talkative and gay.
Mary liked the way he now behaved, and more particularly the way he
departed immediately after the meal. As soon as he was gone
Mrs Gosselin broke out suppliantly: "Mary!" But her daughter replied:
"I know, mamma, perfectly what you're going to say, and if you
attempt to say it I shall leave the room." With this threat (day after
day, for the following time) she kept the terrible appeal unuttered
until it was too late for an appeal to be of use. That afternoon she
wrote to Bolton-Brown that she accepted his offer of marriage.
Guy Firminger departed altogether; he went abroad again and to far
countries. He was therefore not able to be present at the nuptials of
Miss Gosselin and the young American whom he had entertained at Bosco,
which took place in the middle of November. Had he been in England
however he probably would have felt impelled by a due regard for past
verisimilitude to abstain from giving his countenance to such an
occasion. His absence from the country contributed to the needed even
if astonishing effect of his having been jilted; so, likewise, did the
reputed vastness of Bolton-Brown's young income, which in London was
grossly exaggerated. Hugh Gosselin had perhaps a little to do with
this; as he had sacrificed a part of his summer holiday, he got
another month and came out to his sister's wedding. He took public
comfort in his brother-in-law; nevertheless he listened with attention
to a curious communication made him by his mother after the young
couple had started for Italy; even to the point of bringing out the
inquiry (in answer to her assertion that poor Guy had been ready to
place everything he had at Mary's feet): "Then why the devil didn't he
"From simple delicacy! He didn't want to make her feel as if she
had lent herself to an artifice only on purpose to get hold of him —
to treat her as if she too had been at bottom one of the very harpies
she helped him to elude."
Hugh thought a moment. "That
"He's the dearest creature in the world. He's on his guard, he's
prudent, he tested himself by separation. Then he came back to England
in love with her. She might have had it all!"
"I'm glad she didn't get it
"She had only to wait — to put an end to their artifice, harmless
as it was, for the present, but still wait. She might have broken off
in away that would have made it come on again better."
"That's exactly what she didn't want."
"I mean as a quite separate incident," said Mrs Gosselin.
"I loathed their artifice, harmless as it was!" her son
Mrs Gosselin for a moment made no answer; then she turned away
from the fire into which she had been pensively gazing with the
ejaculation "Poor dear Guy!"
"I can't for the life of me see that he's to be pitied."
"He'll marry Charlotte Firminger."
"If he's such an ass as that it's his own affair."
"Bessie Whiteroy will bring it about."
she to do with it?"
"She wants to get hold of him."
"Then why will she marry him to another woman?"
"Because in that way she can select the other — a woman he won't
care for. It will keep him from taking some one that's nicer."
Hugh Gosselin stared — he laughed aloud. "Lord, mamma, you're
"Indeed I am, I see much more."
"What do you see?"
"Mary won't in the least care for America. Don't tell me she
will," Mrs Gosselin added, "for you know perfectly you don't believe
"She'll care for her husband, she'll care for everything that
"He's very nice, in his little way he's delightful. But as an
alternative to Lord Beaupré he's ridiculous!"
"Mary's in a position in which she has nothing to do with
"For the present, yes, but not for ever. She'll have enough of
your New York; they'll come back here. I see the future dark,"
Mrs Gosselin pursued, inexorably musing.
"Tell me then all you see."
"She'll find poor Guy wretchedly married, and she'll be very sorry
"Do you mean that he'll make love to her? You give a queer account
of your paragon."
"He'll value her sympathy. I see life as it is."
"You give a queer account of your daughter."
"I don't give
any account. She'll behave perfectly,"
Mrs Gosselin somewhat inconsequently subjoined.
"Then what are you afraid of?"
"She'll be sorry for him, and it will be all a worry."
"A worry to whom?"
The good lady was silent a moment. "To me," she replied. "And to
you as well."
"Then they mustn't come back."
"That will be a greater worry still."
"Surely not a greater — a smaller. We'll put up with the lesser
"Nothing will prevent her coming to a sense, eventually, of what
might have been. And when they
both recognize it—"
"It will be very dreadful!" Hugh exclaimed, completing gaily his
mother's phrase. "I don't see, however," he added, "what in all this
you do with Bessie Whiteroy."
"Oh, he'll be tired of her; she's hard, she'll have become
despotic. I see life as it is," the good lady repeated.
"Then all I can say is that it's not very nice! But they sha'n't
come back: I'll attend to that!" said Hugh Gosselin, who has
attended to it up to this time successfully, though the rest of his
mother's prophecy is so far accomplished (it was her second hit) as
that Charlotte Firminger is now, strange as it may seem, Lady Beaupré.