Patricia spoke the truth. By supper-time Lichfield had so industriously embroidered the Stapylton dinner and the ensuing marriage with hypotheses and explanations and unparented rumors that none of the participants in the affair but could advantageously have exchanged reputations with Benedict Arnold or Lucretia Borgia, had Lichfield believed a tithe of what Lichfield was repeating.
A duel was of course anticipated between Mr. Parkinson and Colonel Musgrave, and the colonel indeed offered, through Major Wadleigh, any satisfaction which Mr. Parkinson might desire.
The engineer, with garnishments of profanity, considered dueling to be a painstakingly-described absurdity and wished “the old popinjay” joy of his bargain.
Lichfield felt that only showed what came of treating poor-white trash as your equals, and gloried in the salutary moral.
Meanwhile the two originators of so much Lichfieldian diversion were not unhappy.
But indeed it were irreverent even to try to express the happiness of their earlier married life ...
They were an ill-matched couple in so many ways that no long-headed person could conceivably have anticipated—in the outcome—more than decorous tolerance of each other. For apart from the disparity in age and tastes and rearing, there was always the fact to be weighed that in marrying the only child of a wealthy man Rudolph Musgrave was making what Lichfield called “an eminently sensible match”—than which, as Lichfield knew, there is no more infallible recipe for discord.
In this case the axiom seemed, after the manner of all general rules, to bulwark itself with an exception. Colonel Musgrave continued to emanate an air of contentment which fell perilously short of fatuity; and that Patricia was honestly fond of him was evident to the most impecunious of Lichfield’s bachelors.
True, curtains had been lifted, a little by a little. Patricia could hardly have told you at what exact moment it was that she discovered Miss Agatha—who continued of course to live with them—was a dipsomaniac. Very certainly Rudolph Musgrave was not Patricia’s informant; it is doubtful if the colonel ever conceded his sister’s infirmity in his most private meditations; so that Patricia found the cause of Miss Agatha’s “attacks” to be an open secret of which everyone in the house seemed aware and of which by tacit agreement nobody ever spoke. It bewildered Patricia, at first, to find that as concerned Lichfield at large any over-indulgence in alcohol by a member of the Musgrave family was satisfactorily accounted for by the matter-of-course statement that the Musgraves usually “drank,”—just as the Allardyces notoriously perpetuated the taint of insanity, and the Townsends were proverbially unable “to let women alone,” and the Vartreys were deplorably prone to dabble in literature. These things had been for a long while just as they were to-day; and therefore (Lichfield estimated) they must be reasonable.