The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIV

Valentine’s Day at Allington

Lily had exacted a promise from her mother before her illness, and during the period of her convalescence often referred to it, reminding her mother that that promise had been made, and must be kept. Lily was to be told the day on which Crosbie was to be married. It had come to the knowledge of them all that the marriage was to take place in February. But this was not sufficient for Lily. She must know the day.

And as the time drew nearer — Lily becoming stronger the while, and less subject to medical authority — the marriage of Crosbie and Alexandrina was spoken of much more frequently at the Small House. It was not a subject which Mrs Dale or Bell would have chosen for conversation; but Lily would refer to it. She would begin by doing so almost in a drolling strain, alluding to herself as a forlorn damsel in a play-book; and then she would go on to speak of his interests as a matter which was still of great moment to her. But in the course of such talking she would too often break down, showing by some sad word or melancholy tone how great was the burden on her heart. Mrs Dale and Bell would willingly have avoided the subject, but Lily would not have it avoided. For them it was a very difficult matter on which to speak in her hearing. It was not permitted to them to say a word of abuse against Crosbie, as to whom they thought that no word of condemnation could be sufficiently severe; and they were forced to listen to such excuses for his conduct as Lily chose to manufacture, never daring to point out how vain those excuses were.

Indeed, in those days Lily reigned as a queen at the Small House. ill-usage and illness together falling into her hands had given her such power, that none of the other women were able to withstand it. Nothing was said about it; but it was understood by them all, Jane and the cook included, that Lily was for the time paramount. She was a dear, gracious, loving, brave queen, and no one was anxious to rebel — only that those praises of Crosbie were so very bitter in the ears of her subjects. The day was named soon enough, and the tidings came down to Allington. On the fourteenth of February, Crosbie was to be made a happy man. This was not known to the Dales till the twelfth, and they would willingly have spared the knowledge then, had it been possible to spare it. But it was not so, and on that evening Lily was told.

During these days, Bell used to see her uncle daily. Her visits were made with the pretence of taking to him information as to Lily’s health; but there was perhaps at the bottom of them a feeling that, as the family intended to leave the Small House at the end of March, it would he well to let the squire know that there was no enmity in their hearts against him. Nothing more had been said about their moving — nothing, that is, from them to him. But the matter was going on, and he knew it. Dr Crofts was already in treaty on their behalf for a small furnished house at Guestwick. The squire was very sad about it — very sad indeed. When Hopkins spoke to him on the subject, he sharply desired that faithful gardener to hold his tongue, giving it to be understood that such things were not to be made matter of talk by the Allington dependants till they had been officially announced. With Bell during these visits he never alluded to the matter. She was the chief sinner, in that she had refused to marry her cousin, and had declined even to listen to rational counsel upon the matter. But the squire felt that he could not discuss the subject with her, seeing that he had been specially informed by Mrs Dale that his interference would not be permitted; and then he was perhaps aware that if he did discuss the subject with Bell, he would not gain much by such discussion. Their conversation, therefore, generally fell upon Crosbie, and the tone in which he was mentioned in the Great House was very different from that assumed in Lily’s presence.

“He’ll be a wretched man,” said the squire, when he told Bell of the day that had been fixed.

“I don’t want him to be wretched,” said Bell. “But I can hardly think that he can act as he has done without being punished.”

“He will be a wretched man. He gets no fortune with her, and she will expect everything that fortune can give. I believe, too, that she is older than he is. I cannot understand it. Upon my word, I cannot understand how a man can be such a knave and such a fool. Give my love to Lily. I’ll see her tomorrow or the next day. She’s well rid of him; I’m sure of that — though I suppose it would not do to tell her so.”

The morning of the fourteenth came upon them at the Small House, as comes the morning of those special days which have been long considered, and which are to be long remembered. It brought with it a hard, bitter frost — a black, biting frost — such a frost as breaks the water-pipes, and binds the ground to the hardness of granite. Lily, queen as she was, had not yet been allowed to go back to her own chamber, but occupied the larger bed in her mother’s room, her mother sleeping on a smaller one.

“Mamma,” she said, “how cold they’ll be!” Her mother had announced to her the fact of the black frost, and these were the first words she spoke.

“I fear their hearts will be cold also,” said Mrs Dale. She ought not to have said so. She was transgressing the acknowledged rule of the house in saying any word that could be construed as being inimical to Crosbie or his bride. But her feeling on the matter was too strong, and she could not restrain herself.

“Why should their hearts be cold? Oh, mamma, that is a terrible thing to say. Why should their hearts be cold?”

“I hope it may not be so.”

“Of course you do; of course we all hope it. He was not cold-hearted, at any rate. A man is not cold-hearted, because he does not know himself. Mamma, I want you to wish for their happiness.”

Mrs Dale was silent for a minute or two before she answered this, but then she did answer it. “I think I do,” said she. “I think I do wish for it.”

“I am very sure that I do,” said Lily.

At this time Lily had her breakfast upstairs, but went down into the drawing-room in the course of the morning.

“You must be very careful in wrapping yourself as you go downstairs,” said Bell, who stood by the tray on which she had brought up the toast and tea. “The cold is what you would call awful.”

“I should call it jolly,” said Lily, “if I could get up and go out. Do you remember lecturing me about talking slang the day that he first came?

“Did I, my pet?

“Don’t you remember, when I called him a swell? Ah, dear! so he was. That was the mistake, and it was all my own fault, as I had seen it from the first.”

Bell for a moment turned her face away, and beat with her foot against the ground. Her anger was more difficult of restraint than was even her mother’s — and now, not restraining it, but wishing to hide it, she gave it vent in this way.

“I understand, Bell. I know what your foot means when it goes in that way; and you shan’t do it. Come here, Bell, and let me teach you Christianity. I’m a fine sort of teacher, am I not? And I did not quite mean that.”

“I wish I could learn it from some one,” said Bell. “There are circumstances in which what we call Christianity seems to me to be hardly possible.”

“When your foot goes in that way it is a very unchristian foot, and you ought to keep it still. It means anger against him, because he discovered before it was too late that he would not be happy — that is, that he and I would not be happy together if we were married.”

“Don’t scrutinise my foot too closely, Lily.”

“But your foot must bear scrutiny, and your eyes, and your voice. He was very foolish to fall in love with me. And so was I very foolish to let him love me, at a moment’s notice — without a thought as it were. I was so proud of having him, that I gave myself up to him all at once, without giving him a chance of thinking of it. In a week or two it was done. Who could expect that such an engagement should be lasting?”

“And why not? That is nonsense, Lily. But we will not talk about it.”

“Ah, but I want to talk about it. It was as I have said, and if so, you shouldn’t hate him because he did the only thing which he honestly could do when he found out his mistake.”

“What; become engaged again within a week!”

“There had been a very old friendship, Bell; you must remember that. But I was speaking of his conduct to me, and not of his conduct to —” And then she remembered that that other lady might at this very moment possess the name which she had once been so proud to think that she would bear herself. “Bell,” she said, stopping her other speech suddenly, “at what o’clock do people get married in London?”

“Oh, at all manner of hours — any time before twelve. They will be fashionable, and will be married late.”

“You don’t think she’s Mrs Crosbie yet, then?

“Lady Alexandrina Crosbie,” said Bell, shuddering. “Yes, of course; I forgot. I should so like to see her. I feel such an interest about her. I wonder what coloured hair she has. I suppose she is a sort of Juno of a woman — very tall and handsome. I’m sure she has not got a pug-nose like me. Do you know what I should really like, only of course it’s not possible — to be godmother to his first child.”

“Oh, Lily!”

“I should. Don’t you hear me say that I know it’s not possible? I’m not going up to London to ask her. She’ll have all manner of grandees for her godfathers and godmothers. I wonder what those grand people are really like.”

“I don’t think there’s any difference. Look at Lady Julia.”

“Oh, she’s not a grand person. It isn’t merely having a title. Don’t you remember that he told us that Mr Palliser is about the grandest grandee of them all. I suppose people do learn to like them. He always used to say that he had been so long among people of that sort, that it would be very difficult for him to divide himself off from them. I should never have done for that kind of thing; should I?”

“There is nothing I despise so much as what you call that kind of thing.”

“Do you? I don’t. After all, think how much work they do. He used to tell me of that. They have all the governing in their hands, and get very little money for doing it.”

“Worse luck for the country.”

“The country seems to do pretty well. But you’re a radical, Bell. My belief is, you wouldn’t be a lady if you could help it.”

“I’d sooner be an honest woman.”

“And so you are — my own dear, dearest, honest Bell — and the fairest lady that I know. If I were a man, Bell, you are just the girl that I should worship.”

“But you are not a man; so it’s no good.”

“But you mustn’t let your foot go astray in that way; you mustn’t, indeed. Somebody said, that whatever is, is right, and I declare I believe it.”

“I’m sometimes inclined to think, that whatever is, is wrong.”

“That’s because you’re a radical. I think I’ll get up now, Bell; only it’s so frightfully cold that I’m afraid.”

“There’s a beautiful fire,” said Bell.

“Yes; I see. But the fire won’t go all around me, like the bed does. I wish I could know the very moment when they’re at the altar. It’s only half-past ten yet.”

“I shouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s over.” “Over! What a word that is! A thing like that is over, and then all the world cannot put it back again. What if he should be unhappy after all?”

“He must take his chance,” said Bell, thinking within her own mind that that chance would be a very bad one.

“Of course he must take his chance. well-I’ll get up now.” And then she took her first step out into the cold world beyond her bed. “We must all take our chance. I have made up my mind that it will be at half-past eleven.”

When half-past eleven came, she was seated in a large easy chair over the drawing-room fire, with a little table by her side, on which a novel was lying. She had not opened her book that morning, and had been sitting for some time perfectly silent, with her eyes closed, and her watch in her hand.

“Mamma,” she said at last, “it is over now, I’m sure.”

“What is over, my dear?

“He has made that lady his wife. I hope God will bless them, and I pray that they may be happy.” As she spoke these words, there was an unwonted solemnity in her tone which startled Mrs Dale and Bell.

“I also will hope so,” said Mrs Dale. “And now, Lily, will it not be well that you should turn your mind away from the subject, and endeavour to think of other things?”

“But I can’t, mamma. It is so easy to say that; but people can’t choose their own thoughts.”

“They can usually direct them as they will, if they make the effort.”

“But I can’t make the effort. Indeed, I don’t know why I should. It seems natural to me to think about him, and I don’t suppose it can be very wrong. When you have had so deep an interest in a person, you can’t drop him all of a sudden.” Then there was again silence, and after a while Lily took up her novel. She made that effort of which her mother had spoken, but she made it altogether in vain. “I declare, Bell,” she said, “it’s the greatest rubbish I ever attempted to read.” This was specially ungrateful, because Bell had recommended the book. “All the books have got to be so stupid! I think I’ll read Pilgrim’s Progress again.”

“What do you say to Robinson Crusoe?” said Bell.

“Or Paul and Virginia?” said Lily. “But I believe I’ll have Pilgrim’s Progress. I never can understand it, but I rather think that makes it nicer.”

“I hate books I can’t understand,” said Bell. “I like a book to be clear as running water, so that the whole meaning may be seen at once.”

“The quick seeing of the meaning must depend a little on the reader, must it not? “said Mrs Dale.

“The reader mustn’t be a fool, of course,” said Bell. “But then so many readers are fools,” said Lily. “And yet they get something out of their reading. Mrs Crump is always poring over the Revelations, and nearly knows them by heart. I don’t think she could interpret a single image, but she has a hazy, misty idea of the truth. That’s why she likes it — because it’s too beautiful to be understood; and that’s why I like Pilgrim’s Progress.” After which Bell offered to get the book in question.

“No, not now,” said Lily. “I’ll go on with this, as you say it’s so grand. The personages are always in their tantrums and go on as though they were mad. Mamma, do you know where they’re going for the honeymoon?”

“No, my dear.”

“He used to talk to me about going to the lakes.” And then there was another pause, during which Bell observed that her mother’s face became clouded with anxiety. “But I won’t think of it any more,” continued Lily; “I will fix my mind to something.” And then she got up from her chair. “I don’t think it would have been so difficult if I had not been ill?”

“Of course it would not, my darling.”

“And I’m going to be well again now, immediately. Let me see: I was told to read Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution, and I think I’ll begin now.” It was Crosbie who had told her to read the book, as both Bell and Mrs Dale were well aware. “But I must put it off till I can get it down from the other house.”

“Jane shall fetch it, if you really want it,” said Mrs Dale.

“Bell shall get it, when she goes up in the afternoon; will you, Bell? And I’ll try to get on with this stuff in the meantime.” Then again she sat with her eyes fixed upon the pages of the book. “I’ll tell you what, mamma — you may have some comfort in this: that when today’s gone by, I shan’t make a fuss about any other day.”

“Nobody thinks that you are making a fuss, Lily.”

“Yes, but I am. Isn’t it odd, Bell, that it should take place on Valentine’s day? I wonder whether it was so settled on purpose, because of the day. Oh, dear, I used to think so often of the letter that I should get from him on this day, when he would tell me that I was his valentine. Well; he’s got another-valen-tine-now.” So much she said with articulate voice, and then she broke down, bursting out into convulsive sobs, and crying in her mother’s arms as though she would break her heart. And yet her heart was not broken, and she was still strong in that resolve which she had made, that her grief should not overpower her. As she had herself said, the thing would not have been so difficult, had she not been weakened by illness.

“Lily, my darling; my poor, ill-used darling.”

“No, mamma, I won’t be that.” And she struggled grievously to get the better of the hysterical attack which had overpowered her. “I won’t be regarded as ill-used; not as specially ill-used. But I am your darling, your own darling. Only I wish you’d beat me and thump me when I’m such a fool, instead of pitying me. It’s a great mistake being soft to people when they make fools of themselves. There, Bell; there’s your stupid book, and I won’t have any more of it. I believe it was that that did it.” And she pushed the book away from her.

After this little scene she said no further word about Crosbie and his bride on that day, but turned the conversation towards the prospect of their new house at Guestwick.

“It will be a great comfort to be nearer Dr Crofts; won’t it, Bell?”

“I don’t know,” said Bell.

“Because if we are ill, he won’t have such a terrible distance to come?”

“That will be a comfort for him, I should think,” said Bell, very demurely.

In the evening the first volume of the French Revolution had been procured, and Lily stuck to her reading with laudable perseverance; till at eight her mother insisted on her going to bed, queen as she was.

“I don’t believe a bit, you know, that the king was such a bad man as that,” she said.

“I do,” said Bell.

“Ah, that’s because you’re a radical. I never will believe that kings are so much worse than other people. As for Charles the First, he was about the best man in history.”

This was an old subject of dispute; but Lily on the present occasion was allowed her own way — as being an invalid.

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