The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXI

The Wounded Fawn

Nearly two months passed away, and it was now Christmas time at Allington. It may be presumed that there was no intention at either house that the mirth should be very loud. Such a wound as that received by Lily Dale was one from which recovery could not be quick, and it was felt by all the family that a weight was upon them which made gaiety impracticable. As for Lily herself it may be said that she bore her misfortune with all a woman’s courage. For the first week she stood up as a tree that stands against the wind, which is soon to be shivered to pieces because it will not bend. During that week her mother and sister were frightened by her calmness and endurance. She would perform her daily task. She would go out through the village, and appear at her place in church on the first Sunday. She would sit over her book of an evening, keeping back her tears; and would chide her mother and sister when she found that they were regarding her with earnest anxiety.

“Mamma, let it all be as though it had never been,” she said.

“Ah, dear! if that were but possible!”

“God forbid that it should be possible inwardly,” Lily replied.

“But it is possible outwardly. I feel that you are more tender to me than you used to be, and that upsets me. If you would only scold me because I am idle, I should soon be better.” But her mother could not speak to her as she perhaps might have spoken had no grief fallen upon her pet. She could not cease from those anxious tender glances which made Lily know that she was looked on as a fawn wounded almost to death.

At the end of the first week she gave way.

“I won’t get up, Bell,” she said one morning, almost petulantly.

“I am ill — I had better lie here out of the way. Don’t make a fuss about it. I’m stupid and foolish, and that makes me ill.”

Thereupon Mrs Dale and Bell were frightened, and looked into each other’s blank faces, remembering stories of poor broken-hearted girls who had died because their loves had been unfortunate — as small wax tapers whose lights are quenched if a breath of wind blows upon then too strongly. But then Lily was in truth no such slight taper as that. Nor was she the stem that must be broken because it will not bend. She bent herself to the blast during that week of illness, and then arose with her form still straight and graceful, and with her bright light unquenched.

After that she would talk more openly to her mother about her loss — openly and with a true appreciation of the misfortune which had befallen her; but with an assurance of strength which seemed to ridicule the idea of a broken heart.

“I know that I can bear it,” she said, “and that I can bear it without lasting unhappiness. Of course I shall always love him, and must feel almost as you felt when you lost my father.” In answer to this Mrs Dale could say nothing. She could not speak out her thoughts about Crosbie, and explain to Lily that he was unworthy of her love. Love does not follow worth, and is not given to excellence — nor is it destroyed by ill-usage, nor killed by blows and mutilation. When Lily declared that she still loved the man who had so ill-used her, Mrs Dale would he silent. Each perfectly understood the other, but on that matter even they could not interchange their thoughts with freedom.

“You must promise never to be tired of me, mamma,” said Lily.

“Mothers do not often get tired of their children, whatever the children may do of their mothers.”

“I’m not so sure of that when the children turn out old maids. And I mean to have a will of my own, too, mamma; and a way also, if it be possible. When Bell is married I shall consider it a partnership, and I shan’t do what I’m told any longer.”

“Forewarned will be forearmed.”

“Exactly — and I don’t want to take you by surprise. For a year or two longer, till Bell is gone, I mean to be dutiful; but it would be very stupid for a person to be dutiful all their lives.”

All of which Mrs Dale understood thoroughly. It amounted to an assertion on Lily’s part that she had loved once and could never love again; that she had played her game, hoping, as other girls hope, that she might win the prize of a husband; but that, having lost, she could never play the game again. It was that inward conviction on Lily’s part which made her say such words to her mother. But Mrs Dale would by no means allow herself to share this conviction. She declared to herself that time would cure Lily’s wound, and that her child might yet be crowned by the bliss of a happy marriage. She would not in her heart consent to that plan in accordance with which Lily’s destiny in life was to be regarded as already fixed. She had never really liked Crosbie as a suitor, and would herself have preferred John Eames, with all the faults of his hobbledehoyhood on his head. It might yet come to pass that John Eames’ love might be made happy.

But in the meantime Lily, as I have said, had become strong in her courage, and recommenced the work of living with no lackadaisical self-assurance that because she had been made more unhappy than others, therefore she should allow herself to be more idle. Morning and night she prayed for him, and daily, almost hour by hour, she assured herself that it was still her duty to love him. It was hard, this duty of loving, without any power of expressing such love. But still she would do her duty.

“Tell me at once, mamma,” she said one morning, “when you hear that the day is fixed for his marriage. Pray don’t keep me in the dark.”

“It is to be in February,” said Mrs Dale.

“But let me know the day. It must not be to me like ordinary days. But do not look unhappy, mamma; I am not going to make a fool of myself. I shan’t steal off and appear in the church like a ghost.” And then, having uttered her little joke, a sob came, and she hid her face on her mother’s bosom. In a moment she raised it again.

“Believe me, mamma, that I am not unhappy,” she said.

After the expiration of that second week Mrs Dale did write a letter to Crosbie:

I suppose (she said) it is right that I should acknowledge the receipt of your letter. I do not know that I have aught else to say to you. It would not become me as a woman to say what I think of your conduct, but I believe that your conscience will tell you the same things. If it do not, you must, indeed, be hardened. I have promised my child that I will send to you a message from her. She bids me tell you that she has forgiven you, and that she does not hate you. May God also forgive you, and may you recover his love.

MARY DALE.

I beg that no rejoinder may be made to this letter, either to myself or to any of my family.

The squire wrote no answer to the letter which he had received, nor did he take any steps towards the immediate punishment of Crosbie. Indeed he had declared that no such steps could be taken, explaining to his nephew that such a man could be served only as one serves a rat.

“I shall never see him,” he said once again; “if I did, I should not scruple to hit him on the head with my stick; but I should think ill of myself to go after him with such an object.”

And yet it was a terrible sorrow to the old man that the scoundrel who had so injured him and his should escape scot-free. He had not forgiven Crosbie. No idea of forgiveness had ever crossed his mind. He would have hated himself had he thought it possible that he could be — induced to forgive such an injury.

“There is an amount of rascality in it — of low meanness, which I do not understand,” he would say over and over again to his nephew. And then as he would walk alone on the terrace he would speculate within his own mind whether Bernard would take any steps towards avenging; his cousin’s injury. “He is right,” he would say to himself; “Bernard is quite right. But when I was young I could not have stood it. In those days a gentleman might have a fellow out who had treated him as he has treated us. A man was satisfied in feeling that he had done something. I suppose the world is different nowadays.” The world is different; but the squire by no means acknowledged in his heart that there had been any improvement.

Bernard also was greatly troubled in his mind. He would have had no objection to fight a duel with Crosbie, had duels in these days been possible. But he believed them to be no longer possible at any rate without ridicule. And if he could not fight the man, in what other way was he to punish him? Was it not the fact that for such a fault the world afforded no punishment? Was it not in the power of a man like Crosbie to amuse himself for a week or two at the expense of a girl’s happiness for life, and then to escape absolutely without any ill effects to himself?

“I shall be barred out of my club lest. I should meet him,” Bernard said to himself, “but he will not be barred out.” Moreover, there was a feeling within him that the matter would be one of triumph to Crosbie rather than otherwise. In having secured for himself the pleasure of his courtship with such a girl as Lily Dale, without encountering the penalty usually consequent upon such amusement, he would be held by many as having merited much admiration. He had sinned against all the Dales, and yet the suffering arising from his sin was to fall upon the Dales exclusively. Such was Bernard’s reasoning, as he speculated on the whole affair; sadly enough — wishing to be avenged, but not knowing where to look for vengeance. For myself I believe him to have been altogether wrong as to the light in which he supposed that Crosbie’s falsehood would be regarded by Crosbie’s friends. Men will still talk of such things lightly, professing that all is fair in love as it is in war, and speaking almost with envy of the good fortunes of a practised deceiver. But I have never come across the man who thought in this way with reference to an individual case. Crosbie’s own judgment as to the consequences to himself of what he had done was more correct than that formed by Bernard Dale. He had regarded the act as venial as long as it was still to do while it was still within his power to leave it undone; but from the moment of its accomplishment it had forced itself upon his own view in its proper light. He knew that he had been a scoundrel, and he knew that other men would so think of him. His friend Fowler Pratt, who had the reputation of looking at women simply as toys, had so regarded him. Instead of boasting of what he had done, he was as afraid of alluding to any matter connected with his marriage as a man is of talking of the articles which he has stolen. He had already felt that men at his club looked askance at him; and, though he was no coward as regarded his own skin and bones, he had an undefined fear lest some day he might encounter Bernard Dale purposely armed with a stick. The squire and his nephew were wrong in supposing that Crosbie was unpunished.

And as the winter came on he felt that he was closely watched by the noble family of De Courcy. Some of that noble family he had already learned to hate cordially. The Honourable John came up to town in November, and persecuted him vilely: insisted on having dinners given to him at Sebright’s, of smoking throughout the whole afternoon in his future brother-in-law’s rooms, and on borrowing his future brother-in-law’s possessions; till at last Crosbie determined that it would be wise to quarrel with the Honourable John — and he quarrelled with him accordingly, turning him out of his rooms, and telling him in so many words that he would have no more to do with him.

“You’ll have to do it, as I did,” Mortimer Gazebee had said to him; “I didn’t like it because of the family, but Lady Amelia told me that it must be so.” Whereupon Crosbie took the advice of Mortimer Gazebee.

But the hospitality of the Gazebees was perhaps more distressing to him than even the importunities of the Honourable John. It seemed as though his future sister-in-law was determined not to leave him alone. Mortimer was sent to fetch him up for the Sunday afternoons, and he found that he was constrained to go to the villa in St. John’s Wood, even in opposition to his own most strenuous will. He could not quite analyse the circumstances of his own position, but he felt as though he were a cock with his spurs cut off — as a dog with his teeth drawn. He found himself becoming humble and meek. He had to acknowledge to himself that he was afraid of Lady Amelia, and almost even afraid of Mortimer Gazebee. He was aware that they watched him, and knew all his goings out and comings in. They called him Adolphus, and made him tame. That coming evil day in February was dinned into his ears. Lady Amelia would go and look at furniture for him, and talked by the hour about bedding and sheets.

“You had better get your kitchen things at Tomkins’. They’re all good, and he’ll give you ten per cent. off if you pay him ready money — which, of course, you will, you know!” Was it for this that he had sacrificed Lily Dale? — for this that he had allied himself with the noble house of De Courcy?

Mortimer had been at him about the settlements from the very first moment of his return to London, and had already bound him up hand and foot. His life was insured, and the policy was in Mortimer’s hands. His own little bit of money had been already handed over to be tied up with Lady Alexandrina’s little bit. It seemed to him that in all the arrangements made the intention was that he should die off speedily, and that Lady Alexandrina should be provided with a decent little income, sufficient for St. John’s Wood. Things were to be so settled that he could not even spend the proceeds of his own money, or of hers. They were to go, under the fostering hands of Mortimer Gazebee in paying insurances. If he would only die the day after his marriage, there would really be a very nice sum of money for Alexandrina, almost worthy of the acceptance of an earl’s daughter. Six months ago he would have considered himself able to turn Mortimer Gazebee round his finger on any subject that could be introduced between them. When they chanced to meet Gazebee had been quite humble to him, treating him almost as a superior being. He had looked down on Gazebee from a very great height. But now it seemed as though he were powerless in this man’s hands.

But perhaps the countess had become this greatest aversion. She was perpetually writing to him little notes in which she gave him multitudes of commissions, sending him about as though he had been her servant. And she pestered him with advice which was even worse than her commissions, telling him of the style of life in which Alexandrina would expect to live, and warning him very frequently that such an one as he could not expect to be admitted within the bosom of so noble a family without paying very dearly for that inestimable privilege. Her letters had become odious to him, and he would chuck them on one side, leaving them for the whole day unopened. He had already made up his mind that he would quarrel with the countess also, very shortly after his marriage; indeed, that he would separate himself from the whole family if it were possible. And yet he had entered into this engagement mainly with the view of reaping those advantages which would accrue to him from being allied to the De Courcys! The squire and his nephew were wretched in thinking that this man was escaping without punishment, but they might have spared themselves that misery.

It had been understood from the first that he was to spend his Christmas at Courcy Castle. From this undertaking it was quite out of his power to enfranchise himself: but he resolved that his visit should be as short as possible. Christmas Day unfortunately came on a Monday, and it was known to the De Courcy world that Saturday was almost a dies non at the General Committee Office. As to those three days there was no escape for him; but he made Alexandrina understand that the three Commissioners were men of iron as to any extension of those three days.

“I must be absent again in February, of course,” he said, almost making his wail audible in the words he used, “and therefore it is quite impossible that I should stay now beyond the Monday.” Had there been attractions for him at Courcy Castle I think he might have arranged with Mr Optimist for a week or ten days.

“We shall be all alone,” the countess wrote to him, “and I hope you will have an opportunity of learning more of our ways than you have ever really been able to do as yet.” This was bitter as gall to him. But in this world all valuable commodities have their price; and when men such as Crosbie aspire to obtain for themselves an alliance with noble families, they must pay the market price for the article which they purchase.

“You’ll all come up and dine with us on Monday,” the squire said to Mrs Dale, about the middle of the previous week.

“Well, I think not,” said Mrs Dale, “we are better, perhaps, as we are.”

At this moment the squire and his sister-in-law were on much more friendly terms than had been usual with them, and he took her reply in good part, understanding her feeling. Therefore, he pressed his request, and succeeded.

“I think you’re wrong,” he said, “I don’t suppose that we shall have a very merry Christmas. You and the girls will hardly have that whether you eat your pudding here or at the Great House. But it will be better for us all to make the attempt. It’s the right thing to do. That’s the way I look at it.”

“I’ll ask Lily,” said Mrs Dale.

“Do, do. Give her my love, and tell her from me that, in spite of all that has come and gone, Christmas Day should still be to her a day of rejoicing. We’ll dine about three, so that the servants can have the afternoon.”

“Of course we’ll go,” said Lily; “why not? We always do. And we’ll have blind-man’s-buff with all the Boyces, as we had last year, if uncle will ask them up.” But the Boyces were not asked up for that occasion.

But Lily, though she put on it all so brave a face, had much to suffer, and did in truth suffer greatly. If you, my reader, ever chanced to slip into the gutter on a wet day, did you not find that the sympathy of the bystanders was by far the severest part of your misfortune? Did you not declare to yourself that all might yet be well, if the people would only walk on and not look at you? And yet you cannot blame those who stood and pitied you; or, perhaps, essayed to rub you down, and assist you in the recovery of your bedaubed hat. You, yourself, if you see a man fall, cannot walk by as though nothing uncommon had happened to him. It was so with Lily. The people of Allington could not regard her with their ordinary eyes. They would look at her tenderly, knowing that she was a wounded fawn, and thus they aggravated the soreness of her wound. Old Mrs Hearn condoled with her, telling her that very likely she would be better off as she was. Lily would not lie about it in any way.

“Mrs Hearn,” she said, “the subject is painful to me.” Mrs Hearn said no more about it, but on every meeting between them she looked the things she did not say.

“Miss Lily!” said Hopkins, one day, “Miss Lily!”— and as he looked up into her face a tear had almost formed itself in his old eye “I knew what he was from the first. Oh, dear! oh, dear! if I could have had him killed!”

“Hopkins, how dare you?” said Lily. “If you speak to me again in such a way, I will tell my uncle.” She turned away from him but immediately turned back again, and put out her little hand to him.

“I beg your pardon,” she said. “I know how kind you are, and I love you for it.” And then she went away.

“I’ll go after him yet, and break the dirty neck of him,” said Hopkins to himself, as he walked down the path.

Shortly before Christmas Day she called with her sister at the vicarage. Bell, in the course of the visit, left the room with one of the Boyce girls, to look at the last chrysanthemums of the year. Then Mrs Boyce took advantage of the occasion to make her little speech.

“My dear Lily,” she said, “you will think me cold if I do not say one word to you.”

“No, I shall not,” said Lily, almost sharply, shrinking from the finger that threatened to touch her sore. “There are things which should never be talked about.”

“Well, well; perhaps so,” said Mrs Boyce. But for a minute or two she was unable to fall back upon any other topic, and sat looking at Lily with, painful tenderness. I need hardly say what were Lily’s sufferings under such a gaze; but she bore it, acknowledging to herself in her misery that the fault did not lie with Mrs Boyce. How could Mrs Boyce have looked at her otherwise than tenderly?

It was settled, then, that Lily was to dine up at the Great House on Christmas Day, and thus show to the Allington world that she was not to be regarded as a person shut out from the world by the depth of her misfortune. That she was right there can, I think, be no doubt; but as she walked across the little bridge, with her mother and sister, after returning from church she would have given much to be able to have turned round, and have gone to bed instead of to her uncle’s dinner.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43