Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Chapter 83

“And now good-morrow to our waking souls
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room, an everywhere.”
— DR. DONNE.

On the second morning after Dorothea’s visit to Rosamond, she had had two nights of sound sleep, and had not only lost all traces of fatigue, but felt as if she had a great deal of superfluous strength — that is to say, more strength than she could manage to concentrate on any occupation. The day before, she had taken long walks outside the grounds, and had paid two visits to the Parsonage; but she never in her life told any one the reason why she spent her time in that fruitless manner, and this morning she was rather angry with herself for her childish restlessness. To-day was to be spent quite differently. What was there to be done in the village? Oh dear! nothing. Everybody was well and had flannel; nobody’s pig had died; and it was Saturday morning, when there was a general scrubbing of doors and door-stones, and when it was useless to go into the school. But there were various subjects that Dorothea was trying to get clear upon, and she resolved to throw herself energetically into the gravest of all. She sat down in the library before her particular little heap of books on political economy and kindred matters, out of which she was trying to get light as to the best way of spending money so as not to injure one’s neighbors, or — what comes to the same thing — so as to do them the most good. Here was a weighty subject which, if she could but lay hold of it, would certainly keep her mind steady. Unhappily her mind slipped off it for a whole hour; and at the end she found herself reading sentences twice over with an intense consciousness of many things, but not of any one thing contained in the text. This was hopeless. Should she order the carriage and drive to Tipton? No; for some reason or other she preferred staying at Lowick. But her vagrant mind must be reduced to order: there was an art in self-discipline; and she walked round and round the brown library considering by what sort of manoeuvre she could arrest her wandering thoughts. Perhaps a mere task was the best means — something to which she must go doggedly. Was there not the geography of Asia Minor, in which her slackness had often been rebuked by Mr. Casaubon? She went to the cabinet of maps and unrolled one: this morning she might make herself finally sure that Paphlagonia was not on the Levantine coast, and fix her total darkness about the Chalybes firmly on the shores of the Euxine. A map was a fine thing to study when you were disposed to think of something else, being made up of names that would turn into a chime if you went back upon them. Dorothea set earnestly to work, bending close to her map, and uttering the names in an audible, subdued tone, which often got into a chime. She looked amusingly girlish after all her deep experience — nodding her head and marking the names off on her fingers, with a little pursing of her lip, and now and then breaking off to put her hands on each side of her face and say, “Oh dear! oh dear!”

There was no reason why this should end any more than a merry-go-round; but it was at last interrupted by the opening of the door and the announcement of Miss Noble.

The little old lady, whose bonnet hardly reached Dorothea’s shoulder, was warmly welcomed, but while her hand was being pressed she made many of her beaver-like noises, as if she had something difficult to say.

“Do sit down,” said Dorothea, rolling a chair forward. “Am I wanted for anything? I shall be so glad if I can do anything.”

“I will not stay,” said Miss Noble, putting her hand into her small basket, and holding some article inside it nervously; “I have left a friend in the churchyard.” She lapsed into her inarticulate sounds, and unconsciously drew forth the article which she was fingering. It was the tortoise-shell lozenge-box, and Dorothea felt the color mounting to her cheeks.

“Mr. Ladislaw,” continued the timid little woman. “He fears he has offended you, and has begged me to ask if you will see him for a few minutes.”

Dorothea did not answer on the instant: it was crossing her mind that she could not receive him in this library, where her husband’s prohibition seemed to dwell. She looked towards the window. Could she go out and meet him in the grounds? The sky was heavy, and the trees had begun to shiver as at a coming storm. Besides, she shrank from going out to him.

“Do see him, Mrs. Casaubon,” said Miss Noble, pathetically; “else I must go back and say No, and that will hurt him.”

“Yes, I will see him,” said Dorothea. “Pray tell him to come.”

What else was there to be done? There was nothing that she longed for at that moment except to see Will: the possibility of seeing him had thrust itself insistently between her and every other object; and yet she had a throbbing excitement like an alarm upon her — a sense that she was doing something daringly defiant for his sake.

When the little lady had trotted away on her mission, Dorothea stood in the middle of the library with her hands falling clasped before her, making no attempt to compose herself in an attitude of dignified unconsciousness. What she was least conscious of just then was her own body: she was thinking of what was likely to be in Will’s mind, and of the hard feelings that others had had about him. How could any duty bind her to hardness? Resistance to unjust dispraise had mingled with her feeling for him from the very first, and now in the rebound of her heart after her anguish the resistance was stronger than ever. “If I love him too much it is because he has been used so ill:”— there was a voice within her saying this to some imagined audience in the library, when the door was opened, and she saw Will before her.

She did not move, and he came towards her with more doubt and timidity in his face than she had ever seen before. He was in a state of uncertainty which made him afraid lest some look or word of his should condemn him to a new distance from her; and Dorothea was afraid of her OWN emotion. She looked as if there were a spell upon her, keeping her motionless and hindering her from unclasping her hands, while some intense, grave yearning was imprisoned within her eyes. Seeing that she did not put out her hand as usual, Will paused a yard from her and said with embarrassment, “I am so grateful to you for seeing me.”

“I wanted to see you,” said Dorothea, having no other words at command. It did not occur to her to sit down, and Will did not give a cheerful interpretation to this queenly way of receiving him; but he went on to say what he had made up his mind to say.

“I fear you think me foolish and perhaps wrong for coming back so soon. I have been punished for my impatience. You know — every one knows now —-a painful story about my parentage. I knew of it before I went away, and I always meant to tell you of it if — if we ever met again.”

There was a slight movement in Dorothea, and she unclasped her hands, but immediately folded them over each other.

“But the affair is matter of gossip now,” Will continued. “I wished you to know that something connected with it — something which happened before I went away, helped to bring me down here again. At least I thought it excused my coming. It was the idea of getting Bulstrode to apply some money to a public purpose — some money which he had thought of giving me. Perhaps it is rather to Bulstrode’s credit that he privately offered me compensation for an old injury: he offered to give me a good income to make amends; but I suppose you know the disagreeable story?”

Will looked doubtfully at Dorothea, but his manner was gathering some of the defiant courage with which he always thought of this fact in his destiny. He added, “You know that it must be altogether painful to me.”

“Yes — yes — I know,” said Dorothea, hastily.

“I did not choose to accept an income from such a source. I was sure that you would not think well of me if I did so,” said Will. Why should he mind saying anything of that sort to her now? She knew that he had avowed his love for her. “I felt that”— he broke off, nevertheless.

“You acted as I should have expected you to act,” said Dorothea, her face brightening and her head becoming a little more erect on its beautiful stem.

“I did not believe that you would let any circumstance of my birth create a prejudice in you against me, though it was sure to do so in others,” said Will, shaking his head backward in his old way, and looking with a grave appeal into her eyes.

“If it were a new hardship it would be a new reason for me to cling to you,” said Dorothea, fervidly. “Nothing could have changed me but —”her heart was swelling, and it was difficult to go on; she made a great effort over herself to say in a low tremulous voice, “but thinking that you were different — not so good as I had believed you to be.”

“You are sure to believe me better than I am in everything but one,” said Will, giving way to his own feeling in the evidence of hers. “I mean, in my truth to you. When I thought you doubted of that, I didn’t care about anything that was left. I thought it was all over with me, and there was nothing to try for — only things to endure.”

“I don’t doubt you any longer,” said Dorothea, putting out her hand; a vague fear for him impelling her unutterable affection.

He took her hand and raised it to his lips with something like a sob. But he stood with his hat and gloves in the other hand, and might have done for the portrait of a Royalist. Still it was difficult to loose the hand, and Dorothea, withdrawing it in a confusion that distressed her, looked and moved away.

“See how dark the clouds have become, and how the trees are tossed,” she said, walking towards the window, yet speaking and moving with only a dim sense of what she was doing.

Will followed her at a little distance, and leaned against the tall back of a leather chair, on which he ventured now to lay his hat and gloves, and free himself from the intolerable durance of formality to which he had been for the first time condemned in Dorothea’s presence. It must be confessed that he felt very happy at that moment leaning on the chair. He was not much afraid of anything that she might feel now.

They stood silent, not looking at each other, but looking at the evergreens which were being tossed, and were showing the pale underside of their leaves against the blackening sky. Will never enjoyed the prospect of a storm so much: it delivered him from the necessity of going away. Leaves and little branches were hurled about, and the thunder was getting nearer. The light was more and more sombre, but there came a flash of lightning which made them start and look at each other, and then smile. Dorothea began to say what she had been thinking of.

“That was a wrong thing for you to say, that you would have had nothing to try for. If we had lost our own chief good, other people’s good would remain, and that is worth trying for. Some can be happy. I seemed to see that more clearly than ever, when I was the most wretched. I can hardly think how I could have borne the trouble, if that feeling had not come to me to make strength.”

“You have never felt the sort of misery I felt,” said Will; “the misery of knowing that you must despise me.”

“But I have felt worse — it was worse to think ill —” Dorothea had begun impetuously, but broke off.

Will colored. He had the sense that whatever she said was uttered in the vision of a fatality that kept them apart. He was silent a moment, and then said passionately —

“We may at least have the comfort of speaking to each other without disguise. Since I must go away — since we must always be divided — you may think of me as one on the brink of the grave.”

While he was speaking there came a vivid flash of lightning which lit each of them up for the other — and the light seemed to be the terror of a hopeless love. Dorothea darted instantaneously from the window; Will followed her, seizing her hand with a spasmodic movement; and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm, while the thunder gave a tremendous crack and roll above them, and the rain began to pour down. Then they turned their faces towards each other, with the memory of his last words in them, and they did not loose each other’s hands.

“There is no hope for me,” said Will. “Even if you loved me as well as I love you — even if I were everything to you — I shall most likely always be very poor: on a sober calculation, one can count on nothing but a creeping lot. It is impossible for us ever to belong to each other. It is perhaps base of me to have asked for a word from you. I meant to go away into silence, but I have not been able to do what I meant.”

“Don’t be sorry,” said Dorothea, in her clear tender tones. “I would rather share all the trouble of our parting.”

Her lips trembled, and so did his. It was never known which lips were the first to move towards the other lips; but they kissed tremblingly, and then they moved apart.

The rain was dashing against the window-panes as if an angry spirit were within it, and behind it was the great swoop of the wind; it was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe.

Dorothea sat down on the seat nearest to her, a long low ottoman in the middle of the room, and with her hands folded over each other on her lap, looked at the drear outer world. Will stood still an instant looking at her, then seated himself beside her, and laid his hand on hers, which turned itself upward to be clasped. They sat in that way without looking at each other, until the rain abated and began to fall in stillness. Each had been full of thoughts which neither of them could begin to utter.

But when the rain was quiet, Dorothea turned to look at Will. With passionate exclamation, as if some torture screw were threatening him, he started up and said, “It is impossible!”

He went and leaned on the back of the chair again, and seemed to be battling with his own anger, while she looked towards him sadly.

“It is as fatal as a murder or any other horror that divides people,” he burst out again; “it is more intolerable — to have our life maimed by petty accidents.”

“No — don’t say that — your life need not be maimed,” said Dorothea, gently.

“Yes, it must,” said Will, angrily. “It is cruel of you to speak in that way — as if there were any comfort. You may see beyond the misery of it, but I don’t. It is unkind — it is throwing back my love for you as if it were a trifle, to speak in that way in the face of the fact. We can never be married.”

“Some time — we might,” said Dorothea, in a trembling voice.

“When?” said Will, bitterly. “What is the use of counting on any success of mine? It is a mere toss up whether I shall ever do more than keep myself decently, unless I choose to sell myself as a mere pen and a mouthpiece. I can see that clearly enough. I could not offer myself to any woman, even if she had no luxuries to renounce.”

There was silence. Dorothea’s heart was full of something that she wanted to say, and yet the words were too difficult. She was wholly possessed by them: at that moment debate was mute within her. And it was very hard that she could not say what she wanted to say. Will was looking out of the window angrily. If he would have looked at her and not gone away from her side, she thought everything would have been easier. At last he turned, still resting against the chair, and stretching his hand automatically towards his hat, said with a sort of exasperation, “Good-by.”

“Oh, I cannot bear it — my heart will break,” said Dorothea, starting from her seat, the flood of her young passion bearing down all the obstructions which had kept her silent — the great tears rising and falling in an instant:”I don’t mind about poverty — I hate my wealth.”

In an instant Will was close to her and had his arms round her, but she drew her head back and held his away gently that she might go on speaking, her large tear-filled eyes looking at his very simply, while she said in a sobbing childlike way, “We could live quite well on my own fortune — it is too much — seven hundred a-year — I want so little — no new clothes — and I will learn what everything costs.”

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:42