Frances Eleanor Trollope.

That Unfortunate Marriage, Vol. 3 online

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The following morning Mrs. Dormer-Smith was in a flutter of excitement.
She left her bedroom fully an hour earlier than was her wont. But before
she did so she sent a message begging May not to absent herself from the
house. For even in this wintry season May was in the habit of walking
out every morning with the children whenever there came a gleam of good
weather. Smithson, Mrs. Dormer-Smith's maid, who was charged with the
message, volunteered to add, with a glance at May's plain morning
frock -

"Mr. Bragg is expected, I believe, Miss."

"Very well, Smithson. Tell my aunt I will not go out without her

Smithson still lingered. "Shall I - would you like me to lay out your
grey merino, Miss?" she asked.

"Oh no, thank you!" answered May, opening her eyes in surprise. "If I do
go out, it will only be to take a turn in the square with the children.
This frock will do quite well."

Smithson retired. And then Harold, who was engaged in a somewhat languid
struggle with a French verb, looked up savagely, and said -

"I hate Mr. Bragg."

Wilfred, seated at the table with a big book before him, which was
supposed to convey useful knowledge by means of coloured illustrations,
immediately echoed -

"I hate Mr. Bragg."

"Hush, hush! That will never do!" said May. "Little boys musn't hate
anybody. Besides, Mr. Bragg is a very good, kind man. Why should you
dislike him?"

"Because he's going to take you away," answered Harold slowly.

"Nonsense! I dare say Mr. Bragg will not ask to see me at all. And if he
does, I shall not be away above a few minutes."

"Shan't you?" asked Harold doubtfully.

"Of course not! What have you got into your head?"

"Yesterday, when they didn't think I was listening, I heard Smithson say
to Cécile - - "

May stopped the child decisively. "Hush, Harold! You know I never allow
you to repeat the tittle-tattle of the nursery. And I am shocked to hear
that you listened to what was not intended for your ears. That is not
like a gentleman. You know we agreed that you are to be a real gentleman
when you grow up - that is, a man of honour."

"_I_ didn't listen!" cried Wilfred eagerly.

"I am glad you did not."

"No, _I_ didn't listen, Cousin May. I was in Cyril's room. Cyril gave me
a long, long piece of string; - ever so long!"

May laughed. "Your virtue is not of a difficult kind, Master Willy! You
never do any mischief that is quite out of your reach." Then, seeing
that Harold looked still crest-fallen, she kissed his forehead, and said
kindly, "And Harold will not listen again. He did not remember that it
is dishonourable."

The child was silent, with his eyes cast down on his lesson-book, for a
while. Then he raised them, and looking searchingly at May, said, "I
say, Cousin May, I mean to marry you when I grow up."

"And so do I!" said Wilfred, determined not to be outdone.

"Very well. But I couldn't think of marrying any one who did not know
his French verbs. So you had better learn that one at once."

Harold's naturally rather dull and heavy face grew suddenly bright; and
he settled himself to his lesson with a little shrug, and a shake like a
puppy. "No; you wouldn't marry any one who didn't know French, would
you?" said he emphatically.

"And _I_ know F'ench!" pleaded Wilfred.

"There now, be quiet, both of you, and let me finish my letter," said
May. And there was nearly unbroken silence among them.

Meantime Mr. Bragg was having an interview with Mrs. Dormer-Smith. He
had gradually made up his mind to put the same question to her that he
had put to Mrs. Dobbs: namely, whether May were free to receive his
proposals. He could not help being uneasy about young Bransby's
relations with May. Mrs. Dobbs, it was true, had denied that her
granddaughter thought of him at all; and Mr. Bragg did not doubt Mrs.
Dobbs's veracity. But he underrated her sagacity; or, rather, her
opportunities for knowing the truth. She lived very much outside of
May's world. She might divine the state of May's feelings, and yet be
mistaken as to their object. The story he had heard of young Bransby's
having been rejected by Miss Cheffington could not be true; for was not
young Bransby a constant visitor at her aunt's house - frequenting it on
a footing of familiarity - talking to May herself with a certain air of
confidential understanding? He had observed this particularly during
last night's dinner.

But if, on the other hand, the possibility of Mrs. Dobbs being mistaken
on this question were once admitted, all sorts of other possibilities
poured in after it as by a sluice-gate, and lifted Mr. Bragg's hopes to
a higher level. At any rate, he resolved to take some decisive step.
Time had been lost already. He had told Mrs. Dobbs that he was too old
to trust to the day after to-morrow; and that was now three months ago!
Hence his visit to Mrs. Dormer-Smith by appointment - an appointment made
verbally the preceding evening, with the request that she would mention
it to no one; least of all to Miss Cheffington.

Aunt Pauline was, of course, quite sure beforehand what was to be the
subject of their conversation; and was not in the least surprised
(although inwardly much elated) when Mr. Bragg broached it.

"Understand me, ma'am," said Mr. Bragg. "I only wish you to tell me
truly whether, according to the best of your belief, Miss C.'s
affections are engaged. I ask no questions beyond that. I don't want to

"Engaged! Oh dear, no; I assure you - - "

"Excuse me, ma'am. But I mean a little more than that," said Mr. Bragg,
slightly hastening the steady stride of his speech, lest she should
interrupt him again. "Of course, I don't expect you to be inside of your
niece's heart. A deal of uncertainty must prevail in what you may call
assaying any human being's feelings. You may use the wrong test for one
thing. But ladies are keen observers; specially where they like - or, for
the matter of that, dislike - any one very much. And what I want to know
is this: Have you any reason to think Miss C. is in love with any one?"

Mrs. Dormer-Smith, who was listening with a bland smile, almost started
at this crude inquiry. She felt the need of all her self-command to
preserve that repose of manner which she considered essential to
good-breeding. But she answered gently, though firmly -

"My dear Mr. Bragg, that is out of the question. My niece is entirely
disengaged. A girl of her birth and breeding is not likely to entertain
any vulgar kind of romance in secret!"

"Thank you, ma'am," said Mr. Bragg. Then he added ponderingly, "It might
not be vulgar, though!"

Mrs. Dormer-Smith privately thought Mr. Bragg no competent judge of what
might, or might not, be vulgar in a Cheffington. She merely replied,
with a certain suave dignity, referring to a former speech of his -

"Do I understand rightly that you desire to speak with Miss Cheffington

"If you please, ma'am. Yes; I think I should like to go through with

"I will send for her to come here, Mr. Bragg."

She rang the bell and gave her orders; and during the pause which
ensued, neither she nor Mr. Bragg spoke a word. He was absorbed in his
own thoughts, and by no means as fully master of himself as usual. She
was plaintively regretting that May had refused to change her morning
frock for something more becoming. "Not that it can be of vital
importance _now_," thought Mrs. Dormer-Smith, faintly smiling to
herself, with half-closed eyes.

Presently the door opened, and May stood on the threshold.

"Come in, darling," said her aunt. "Mr. Bragg wishes to speak with you.
And I will only assure you that he does so with my and your uncle's full
knowledge and approbation." With that, Aunt Pauline glided into the back
drawing-room, and withdrew by a door opening on to the staircase, which
she shut behind her, immensely to May's surprise.

All at once a nameless dread came over the girl, chilling her like a
cold wind. They had some bad news to give her of Owen! She turned
suddenly so deadly pale as to startle Mr. Bragg; and looking up at him
with piteous, frightened eyes, stammered faintly, "What is the matter?"

"Nothing at all! Nothing is the matter that need frighten you, my dear
young lady. Lord bless me, you look quite scared!"

His genuine tone reassured her. And the colour began to return to lips
and cheeks. But the wilful blood now rushed too hotly into her face. Her
second thought was, "They have found out my engagement to Owen!" And
although this contingency could be confronted with a very different
feeling, and with sufficient courage, yet she could not control the
tell-tale blush.

"Just you sit down there, and don't worrit yourself, Miss Cheffington,"
said Mr. Bragg. In his earnestness he reverted to the phraseology of his
early days. "There's no hurry in the world. If you was startled, just
you take your own time to come round."

"Thank you," answered May, dropping into the armchair he pushed forward.

"I am very sorry to have alarmed you," she said. "I'm afraid I must be
growing nervous! I never thought I should be able to lay claim to that
interesting malady."

Although she smiled, and tried to speak playfully, she had really been
shaken, and she profited by the advice, which Mr. Bragg repeated, to
"sit still, and take her own time about coming round."

By-and-by she said, almost in her usual voice, "Will you not sit down,
Mr. Bragg? I am quite ready to listen to you."

Mr. Bragg hesitated a moment. He would have preferred to stand. He would
have felt more at his ease, so. But, looking down on the slight young
figure before him, it occurred to him that it would be - in some
vaguely-felt way - taking an unfair advantage of the girl to dominate her
by his tall stature. So he brought himself nearer to her level by
sitting down on an ottoman opposite, and not very near to her.

"I suppose," said he, after a little silence, during which he looked
down with an intent and anxious frown at the floor, "I suppose you can't
give a guess at what I'm going to say?"

May believed she had guessed it already. But she answered, "I would
rather not guess, please. I would rather that you told me."

"Well, perhaps it may simplify matters if I mention that I have had some
conversation on the subject with Mrs. Dobbs."

"With Granny?" exclaimed May, looking full at him in profound

"Yes; it's some little while ago, now. Mrs. Dobbs spoke very
straightforward, and very kind, too; but I'm bound to say she did _not_
give me any encouragement."

May stared at him in a kind of fascination. She could not remove her
eyes from his face. And she began to perceive a dreadful
clear-sightedness dawning above the confusion of her thoughts.

Mr. Bragg was not looking at her. He was leaning a little forward, with
his arms resting on his knees, and his hands loosely clasped together.
He went on speaking in a ruminating way; sometimes emphasizing his
phrase by a slight movement from the wrist of his clasped hands, and as
if he were, with some difficulty, reading off the words he was uttering
from the Oriental rug at his feet.

"You see, Miss Cheffington, of course I'm aware there's a great
difference in years. But that's not the biggest difference in reality. I
don't believe myself that I'm so very much older in some ways than I was
at five-and-twenty. I was always a steady kind of a chap, and I never
had much to say for myself - never was what you might call lively, you

May sat spell-bound; looking at him fixedly, and with that dawn of
clear-sightedness rapidly illumining many things, to her unspeakable

"No; it isn't the years that make the biggest difference. I'm below you
in education, of course, Miss Cheffington, and in a deal besides, no
doubt. But I can be trusted to mean all I say - though I'm not able to
say all I mean, by a long chalk."

As he said this he raised his eyes for the first time, and looked at
her. She was still regarding him with the same fascinated, almost
helpless, gaze. But when she met his clear, honest, grey eyes, with a
wistful expression in them which was pathetically contrasted with the
massive strength of his head and face, she was suddenly inspired to
say -

"Please, Mr. Bragg, will you hear me? I want to tell you something
before you - before you say any more. I think you are my friend, and if
you don't mind, I should like to tell you a secret. May I?"

He nodded, keeping his eyes on her now steadily.

"Well, I - I hope you will forgive me for troubling you with my
confidence. I _know_ you will respect it. If I had not such a high
esteem and regard for you I - I _could_ not say it." She stopped an
instant, there was a choking feeling in her throat. She paused, mastered
it, and went on. "I have promised to marry some one whom I love very
much, and no one knows about it but Granny."

When she had spoken, she hid her hot face in her hands, and cried

There was absolute stillness in the room for some minutes. At length she
looked up and saw Mr. Bragg still sitting as before, with loosely
clasped hands and downcast eyes. May rose to her feet, and said timidly,
"I hope you are not angry with me for - for telling you?"

Mr. Bragg stood up also, and placing one broad, powerful hand on her
head, as a father might have done, looked down gravely at her upturned

"Angry! Lord bless you, my child, what must I be made of to be angry
with _you_?"

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Bragg! And will you promise - but I know you
will - not to betray me?"

He did not notice this question. His mind was working uneasily. He
thrust his hands into his pockets, and walked to the other side of the
room and back, before saying -

"This person that you've promised to marry, is he one that your people
here" - he jerked his head over his shoulder in the direction in which
Mrs. Dormer-Smith had disappeared - "would approve of?"

"Oh, yes!" answered May. Then she added, not quite so confidently, "I
think so. At any rate, I am very proud to be loved by him."

"And Mrs. Dobbs - "

"Oh, of course, dear Granny thinks no one could be too good for me,"
said May apologetically. "But she knows his worth."

"Will you please tell me how long Mrs. Dobbs has known of this?" asked
Mr. Bragg, with a touch of sternness.

"Known? She knew, of course, as soon as I knew myself - on the
twenty-seventh of last September," answered poor May, with damask-rose

Mr. Bragg made a mental calculation of dates. His face relaxed; and he
now replied to May's previous question.

"Yes, of course, I'll promise not to say a word till you give me leave.
Especially since Mrs. Dobbs knows all about it. Otherwise, you're young
to guide yourself entirely in a matter so serious as this is."

She thanked him again, and dried some stray tear-drops that hung on her
pretty eyelashes.

He stood for a moment looking at her intently. But there was nothing in
his gaze to startle her maiden innocence, or make her shrink from him;
it was an honest, earnest, kindly, though melancholy look.

"Well," said he at last, "you're not so curious as some young ladies.
You haven't asked me what it was I was going to say to you."

"I dare say it was nothing serious," she answered quickly. "In any case
I am quite sure you will say, and leave unsaid, all that is right."

"That's a - what you might call a pretty large order, Miss Cheffington.
I'm an awkward brute sometimes, I dare say, but I'll tell you this much:
If I don't say what I was going to say, it isn't from pride. I _have_
had that feeling, but I haven't it now, in talking to you. No, it isn't
from pride, but because I want you and me to be friends - downright good
friends, you know. And, perhaps, it would be more agreeable for you not
to have anything concerning me in your memory that you'd wish to be what
you might call sponged out of the record. I appreciate your behaviour,
Miss Cheffington. You acted generous, and like the noble-hearted young
lady I've always thought you, when you told me that secret of yours. Why
now - - Come, come, don't you fret yourself!" he exclaimed softly, for
the tears were again trickling down her cheeks.

"You are so - so very kind and good to me!" she said brokenly.

"Lord bless me, what else could I be? There, there, don't you vex
yourself by fancying me cast down or disappointed about - anything in
particular. A man doesn't come to my age without getting used to
disappointments, big and little."

He took up his hat and stopped her by a gesture as she moved towards the

"No; don't ring, please! I've got an appointment in the City, and not
much time to spare if I walk it. So I'll just let myself out quietly,
without disturbing anybody. You can mention to your aunt that I shall
have the honour of calling on her again very soon. Good-bye, Miss

May held out her hand. He touched it very lightly with his fingers, and
then relinquished it silently.

"You are sure," she said pleadingly, "you are quite sure you are not
angry with me?"

"There ain't a many things I'm so sure of as I am of that," answered Mr.
Bragg, in his ordinary quiet tones. And then he opened the door and was

He went down the stairs, and through the hall, and into the street
without being challenged. He shut the street door softly behind him,
with a kind of instinct of escape; and marched away rather quickly, but
square and steady as ever.

After a while he looked at his watch, hesitated, and finally hailed a
hansom cab.

"Poultry! You can take it easy. I'm not in a hurry," he said to the
driver, as he got into the vehicle.

Then Mr. Bragg leaned back, and began to think. He had a habit of
frequently closing his eyes when meditating, and this habit it was which
had impelled him to get into a cab, since a pedestrian in the streets of
London could only indulge in it at the risk of his life; and Mr. Bragg
had no - not even the most passing - temptation to suicide. He shut his
eyes tight now, tilted his hat backward from his forehead, and reviewed
the situation.

He had behaved very well to May, and was conscious of having behaved
well to her; she deserved the best and most considerate treatment; but
Mr. Bragg was no angel, and he was extremely angry with Mrs.
Dormer-Smith. He felt some irritation - very unreasonably, as he would
by-and-by acknowledge - against Mrs. Dobbs - she had been rather
exasperatingly in the right. But Mrs. Dormer-Smith had been most
exasperatingly in the wrong, and he was very angry with her. Why had she
not confessed that she knew nothing at all about her niece's feelings?
It was clear she was quite ignorant of them. She had only to say that
she could not undertake to answer for May; that would at least have been

"I dare say I might have spoken, all the same," Mr. Bragg admitted to
himself. "I think p'r'aps I should. I'd got to that point where a man
_must_ know for himself what the answer is to that question, and when
'likely' or 'unlikely' won't serve his turn. But I could ha' managed
different. I needn't have looked like a Tomnoddy. Trotted out
there - making a reg'lar show of a man; not a doubt but what that flunkey
knew all about it. Woman's a fool!"

Mr. Bragg's indignation rolled off like thunder in these broken
growlings. And beneath it all - deeper than all - there lay an aching
sorrow. It would not break his heart, as he knew; it might not even
spoil his dinner; but it was a real sorrow, nevertheless. In the moment
of assuring him that he must not hope to win her, May had seemed to him
better worth winning than ever; her soft touch had opened a long
sealed-up spring of tenderness. There was some rough poetry within him,
none the less pathetic because he knew thoroughly, sensitively, how
unable he was to give it expression, and how ridiculous the mere
suggestion of his trying to do so would seem to most people. He
resolutely refrained as much as possible from letting his mind busy
itself with these hidden feelings; his very thoughts seemed to hurt them
at that moment.

He preferred to nurse his wrath against Mrs. Dormer-Smith, and to resent
her having betrayed him into an undignified position. Mr. Bragg had been
prosperous and powerful for many years, and the sense of being balked
was very irksome to him; more irksome than in the days of his poverty,
when youth and hope were elastic, and battle seemed a not unwelcome
condition of existence.

But before he reached the end of his eastward journey Mr. Bragg began to
speculate about the man whom May loved. In spite of Mrs. Dobbs's
emphatic denial, he could not dismiss the idea that Theodore Bransby was
the man. He had gathered the impression that Mrs. Dobbs did not like
Theodore, and he remembered May's deprecating words, "Granny would not
think any one too good for me!" which seemed to indicate that Mrs. Dobbs
had not hailed the engagement with rapture. Thinking over the dates, he
concluded - quite correctly - that May's lover, whoever he might be, had
declared himself not long after his (Bragg's) interview with Mrs. Dobbs.
Now, Theodore Bransby had been in Oldchester at that time, as he well

Why Theodore, if it were he, should keep his engagement secret from the
Dormer-Smiths, was not easily explicable. But Mr. Bragg knew the young
man's political projects; and it might be that Theodore would wish to
approach May's family armed with all the importance which a successful
electoral campaign would give him. One thing Mr. Bragg felt tolerably
sure of - that Aunt Pauline would regret acutely the declension from a
nephew-in-law with fifty thousand a year, to one whose income did not
count as many hundreds! It was, perhaps, rather agreeable to Mr. Bragg
to think of this. It was certainly a comfort to him to be able to
dislike May's lover on independent grounds. He had always entertained an
antipathy towards the young man; and, however sincere and tender his
interest in May Cheffington might be, it did not modify, by a hair's
breadth, his opinion of young Bransby.

"And, after all, it may not be him!" said Mr. Bragg, reflectively and
ungrammatically. "But if it isn't him, it can't be anybody I know."

The person he had appointed to meet in the City was an Oldchester man;
and when the business part of their interview was concluded, he said to
Mr. Bragg -

"There's bad news from Combe Park. Haven't you heard? Oh! why they say
Mr. Lucius Cheffington can't live many days. So that scamp,
What's-his-name, the nephew, will come in for it all. The old lord's
awfully savage, I'm told. Shouldn't wonder if it balks young Bransby's
hopes of getting his seat. Old Castlecombe won't like paying election
expenses for him _now_. Great pity! He's a very rising young man, and a
credit to Oldchester."


When Mr. Bragg was gone, May felt a cowardly temptation to run away to
her own room, and there recover her composure in solitude. But she
reflected that that would be scarcely fair to her aunt, who, no doubt,
was waiting with some impatience to hear the result of the interview. So
she dried her eyes, and resolutely ascended the stairs to her aunt's

The gentle, refined voice which had once so charmed her (but which, as
she had long since learned, could utter sentiments singularly at
variance with its own sweetness) answered her tap at the door by saying,
"Is that dear May? Come in." May entered, and saw her aunt reclining in
a lounging chair by the fireside. A book lay open beside her; but she
evidently had not been reading recently. She looked up at May's flushed
face and tear-swollen eyes, and these traces of emotion seemed to her
satisfactory indications of what had passed. "He has spoken! It's all
right!" she said to herself. Then aloud, with a tender smile, holding
out both her hands, "Well, darling?"

The softness of her tone had a perversely hardening effect on May. If
her aunt had expected her to accept Mr. Bragg - and May was not dull
enough to doubt this, now that her eyes were illumined by that dawn of
clear-sightedness which had been so amazing to her - the least she could

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Online LibraryFrances Eleanor TrollopeThat Unfortunate Marriage, Vol. 3 → online text (page 1 of 14)