The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLV

Valentine’s Day in London

The fourteenth of February in London was quite as black, and cold, and as wintersome as it was at Allington, and was, perhaps, somewhat more melancholy in its coldness. Nevertheless Lady Alexandrina de Courcy looked as bright as bridal finery could make her, when she got out of her carriage and walked into St. James’s church at eleven o’clock on that morning.

It had been finally arranged that the marriage should take place in London. There were certainly many reasons which would have made a marriage from Courcy Castle more convenient. The De Courcy family were all assembled at their country family residence, and could therefore have been present at the ceremony without cost or trouble. The castle too was warm with the warmth of life, and the pleasantness of home would have lent a grace to the departure of one of the daughters of the house. The retainers and servants were there, and something of the rich mellowness of a noble alliance might have been felt, at any rate by Crosbie, at a marriage so celebrated.

And it must have been acknowledged, even by Lady de Courcy, that the house in Portman Square was very cold — that a marriage from thence would be cold — that there could be no hope of attaching to it any honour and glory, or of making it resound with fashionable clat in the columns of the Morning Post. But then, had they been married in the country, the earl would have been there; whereas there was no probability of his travelling up to London for the purpose of being present on such an occasion.

The earl was very terrible in these days, and Alexandrina, as she became confidential in her communications with her future husband, spoke of him as of an ogre, who could not by any means be avoided in all the concerns of life, but whom one might shun now and again by some subtle device and careful arrangement of favourable circumstances. Crosbie had more than once taken upon himself to hint that he did not specially regard the ogre, seeing that for the future he could keep himself altogether apart from the malicious monster’s dominions.

“He will not come to me in our new home,” he had said to his love, with some little touch of affection. But to this view of the case Lady Alexandrina had demurred. The ogre in question was not only her parent, but was also a noble peer, and she could not agree to any arrangement by which their future connection with the earl, and with nobility in general, might be endangered. Her parent, doubtless, was an ogre, and in his ogreship could make himself very terrible to those near him; but then might it not be better for them to be near to an earl who was an ogre, than not to be near to any earl at all? She had therefore signified to Crosbie that the ogre must be endured.

But, nevertheless, it was a great thing to be rid of him on that happy occasion. He would have said very dreadful things — things so dreadful that there might have been a question whether the bridegroom could have borne them. Since he had heard of Crosbie’s accident at the railway station, he had constantly talked with fiendish glee of the beating which had been administered to his son-in-law. Lady de Courcy in taking Crosbie’s part, and maintaining that the match was fitting for her daughter, had ventured to declare before her husband that Crosbie was a man of fashion, and the earl would now ask, with a loathsome grin, whether the bridegroom’s fashion had been improved by his little adventure at Paddington. Crosbie, to whom all this was not repeated, would have preferred a wedding in the country. But the countess and Lady Alexandrina knew better.

The earl had strictly interdicted any expenditure, and the countess had of necessity construed this as forbidding any unnecessary expense. “To marry a girl without any immediate cost was a thing which nobody could understand,” as the countess remarked to her eldest daughter.

“I would really spend as little as possible,” Lady Amelia had answered. “You see, mamma, there are circumstances about it which one doesn’t wish to have talked about just at present. There’s the story of that girl — and then that fracas at the station. I really think it ought to be as quiet as possible.” The good sense of Lady Amelia was not to be disputed, as her mother acknowledged. But then if the marriage were managed in any notoriously quiet way, the very notoriety of that quiet would be as dangerous as an attempt at loud glory. “But it won’t cost as much,” said Amelia. And thus it had been resolved that the wedding should be very quiet.

To this Crosbie had assented very willingly, though he had not relished the manner in which the countess had explained to him her views.

“I need not tell you, Adolphus,” she had said, “how thoroughly satisfied I am with this marriage. My dear girl feels that she can be happy as your wife, and what more can I want? I declared to her and to Amelia that I was not ambitious, for their sakes, and have allowed them both to please themselves.”

“I hope they have pleased themselves,” said Crosbie.

“I trust so; but nevertheless — I don’t know whether I make myself understood?

“Quite so, Lady de Courcy. If Alexandrina were going to marry the eldest son of a marquis, you would have a longer procession to church than will be necessary when she marries me.”

“You put it in such an odd way, Adolphus.”

“It’s all right so long as we understand each other. I can assure you I don’t want any procession at all. I should be quite contented to go down with Alexandrina, arm in arm, like Darby and Joan, and let the clerk give her away.”

We may say that he would have been much better contented could he have been allowed to go down the street without any encumbrance on his arm. But there was no possibility now for such deliverance as that.

Both Lady Amelia and Mr Gazebee had long since discovered the bitterness of his heart and the fact of his repentance, and Gazebee had ventured to suggest to his wife that his noble sister-in-law was preparing for herself a life of misery.

“He’ll become quiet and happy when he’s used to it,” Lady Amelia had replied, thinking, perhaps, of her own experiences.

“I don’t know, my dear; he’s not a quiet man. There’s something in his eye which tells me that he could be very hard to a woman.”

“It has gone too far now for any change,” Lady Amelia had answered.

“Well; perhaps it has.”

“And I know my sister so well; she would not hear of it. I really think they will do very well when they become used to each other.”

Mr Gazebee, who also had had his own experiences, hardly dared to hope so much. His home had been satisfactory to him, because he had been a calculating man, and having made his calculation correctly was willing to take the net result. He had done so all his life with success. In his house his wife was paramount — as he very well knew. But no effort on his wife’s part, had she wished to make such effort, could have forced him to spend more than two-thirds of his income. Of this she also was aware, and had trimmed her sails accordingly, likening herself to him in this respect. But of such wisdom, and such trimmings, and such adaptability, what likelihood was there with Mr Crosbie and Lady Alexandrina?

“At any rate, it is too late now,” said Lady Amelia, thus concluding the conversation.

But nevertheless, when the last moment came, there was some little attempt at glory. Who does not know the way in which a lately married couple’s little dinner-party stretches itself out from the pure simplicity of a fried sole and a leg of mutton to the attempt at clear soup, the unfortunately cold dish of round balls which is handed about after the sole, and the brightly red jelly, and beautifully pink cream, which are ordered, in the last agony of ambition, from the next pastry-cook’s shop?

“We cannot give a dinner, my dear, with only cook and Sarah.”

It has thus begun, and the husband has declared that he has no such idea. “If Phipps and Dowdney can come here and eat a bit of mutton, they are very welcome; if not, let them stay away. And you might as well ask Phipps’s sister; just to have some one to go with you into the drawing-room.”

“I’d much rather go alone — because then I can read,”— or sleep, we may say.

But her husband has explained that she would look friendless, in this solitary state, and therefore Phipps’s sister has been asked. Then the dinner has progressed down to those costly jellies which have been ordered in a last agony. There has been a conviction on the minds of both of them that the simple leg of mutton would have been more jolly for them all. Had those round balls not been carried about by a hired man; had simple mutton with hot potatoes been handed to Miss Phipps by Sarah, Miss Phipps would not have simpered with such ‘unmeaning stiffness when young Dowdney spoke to her. They would have been much more jolly. “Have a bit more mutton, Phipps; and where do you like it?” How pleasant it sounds! But we all know that it is impossible. My young friend had intended this, but his dinner had run itself away to cold round balls and coloured forms from the pastrycook. And so it was with the Crosbie marriage.

The bride must leave the church in a properly appointed carriage, and the postboys must have wedding favours. So the thing grew; not into noble proportions, not into proportions of true glory, justifying the attempt and making good the gala. A well-cooked rissole, brought pleasantly to you, is good eating. A gala marriage, when everything is in keeping, is excellent sport. Heaven forbid that we should have no gala marriages. But the small spasmodic attempt, made in opposition to manifest propriety, made with an inner conviction of failure — that surely should be avoided in marriages, in dinners, and in all affairs of life.

There were bridesmaids and there was a breakfast. Both Margaretta and Rosina came up to London for the occasion, as did also a first cousin of theirs, one Miss Gresham, a lady whose father lived in the same county. Mr Gresham had married a sister of Lord de Courcy’s, and his services were also called into requisition. He was brought up to give, away the bride, because the earl — as the paragraph in the newspaper declared — was confined at Courcy Castle by his old hereditary enemy, the gout. A fourth bridesmaid also was procured, and thus there was a bevy, though not so large a bevy as is now generally thought to be desirable. There were only three or four carriages at the church, but even three or four were something. The weather was so frightfully cold that the light-coloured silks of the ladies carried with them a show of discomfort. Girls should be very young to look nice in light dresses on a frosty morning, and the bridesmaids at Lady Alexandrina’s wedding were not very young. Lady Rosina’s nose was decidedly red. Lady Margaretta was very wintry, and apparently very cross. Miss Gresham was dull, tame, and insipid; and the Honourable Miss O’Flaherty, who filled the fourth place, was sulky at finding that she had been invited to take a share in so very lame a performance.

But the marriage was made good, and Crosbie bore up against his misfortunes like a man. Montgomerie Dobbs and Fowler Pratt both stood by him, giving him, let us hope, some assurance that he was not absolutely deserted by all the world — that he had not given himself up, bound hand and foot, to the De Courcys, to be dealt with in all matters as they might please. It was that feeling which had been so grievous to him — and that other feeling, cognate to it, that if he should ultimately succeed in rebelling against the De Courcys, he would find himself a solitary man.

“Yes; I shall go,” Fowler Pratt had said to Montgomerie Dobbs. “I always stick to a fellow if I can. Crosbie has behaved like a blackguard, and like a fool also; and he knows that I think so. But I don’t see why I should drop him on that account. I shall go as he has asked me.”

“So shall I,” said Montgomerie Dobbs, who considered that he would be safe in doing whatever Fowler Pratt did, and who remarked to himself that after all Crosbie was marrying the daughter of an earl.

Then, after the marriage, came the breakfast, at which the countess presided with much noble magnificence. She had not gone to church, thinking, no doubt, that she would be better able to maintain her good humour at the feast, if she did not subject herself to the chance of lumbago in the church. At the foot of the table sat Mr Gresham, her brother-in-law, who had undertaken to give the necessary toast and make the necessary speech. The Honourable John was there, saying all manner of ill-natured things about his sister and new brother-in-law, because he had been excluded from his proper position at the foot of the table. But Alexandrina had declared that she would not have the matter entrusted to her brother. The Honourable George would not come, because the countess had not asked his wife.

“Maria may be slow, and all that sort of thing,” George had said; “but she is my wife. And she had got what they haven’t. Love me, love my dog, you know.” So he had stayed down at Courcy — very properly as I think.

Alexandrina had wished to go away before breakfast, and Crosbie would not have cared how early an escape had been provided for him; but the countess had told her daughter that if she would not wait for the breakfast, there should be no breakfast at all, and in fact no wedding; nothing but a simple marriage. Had there been a grand party, that going away of the bride, and bridegroom might be very well; but the countess felt that on such an occasion as this nothing but the presence of the body of the sacrifice could give any reality to the festivity. So Crosbie and Lady Alexandrina Crosbie heard Mr Gresham’s speech, in which he prophesied for the young couple an amount of happiness and prosperity almost greater than is compatible with the circumstances of humanity. His young friend Crosbie, whose acquaintance he had been delighted to make, was well known as one of the rising pillars of the State. Whether his future career might be parliamentary, or devoted to the permanent Civil Service of the country, it would be alike great, noble, and prosperous. As to his dear niece, who was now filling that position in life which was most beautiful and glorious for a young woman — she could not have done better. She had preferred genius to wealth — so said Mr Gresham — and she would find her fitting reward. As to her finding her fitting reward, whatever her preferences may have been, there Mr Gresham was no doubt quite right. On that head I myself have no doubt whatever. After that Crosbie returned thanks, making a much better speech than nine men do out of ten on such occasions, and then the thing was over. No other speaking was allowed, and within half an hour from that time, he and his bride were in the post-chaise, being carried away to the Folkestone railway station; for that place had been chosen as the scene of their honeymoon. It had been at one time intended that the journey to Folkestone should be made simply as the first stage to Paris, but Paris and all foreign travelling had been given up by degrees.

“I don’t care a bit about France — we have been there so often,” Alexandrina said.

She had wished to be taken to Naples, but Crosbie had made her understand at the first whispering of the word, that Naples was quite out of the question. He must look now in all things to money. From the very first outset of his career he must save a shilling wherever a shilling could be saved. To this view of life no opposition was made by the De Courcy interest. Lady Amelia had explained to her sister that they ought so to do their honeymooning that it should not cost more than if they began keeping house at once. Certain things must be done which, no doubt, were costly in their nature. The bride must take with her a well-dressed lady’s-maid. The rooms at the Folkestone hotel must be large, and on the first floor. A carriage must be hired for her use while she remained; but every shilling must be saved the spending of which would not make itself apparent to the outer world. Oh, deliver us from the poverty of those who, with small means, affect a show of wealth! There is no whitening equal to that of sepulchres whited as they are whited!

By the proper administration of a slight bribe Crosbie secured for himself and his wife a compartment in the railway carriage to themselves. And as he seated himself opposite to Alexandrina, having properly tucked her up with all her bright-coloured trappings, he remembered that he had never in truth been alone with her before. He had danced with her frequently, and been left with her for a few minutes between the figures. He had flirted with her in crowded drawing-rooms, and had once found a moment at Courcy Castle to tell her that he was willing to marry her in spite of his engagement with Lilian Dale. But he had never walked with her for hours together as he had walked with Lily. He had never talked to her about government, and politics, and books, nor had she talked to him of poetry, of religion, and of the little duties and comforts of life. He had known the Lady Alexandrina for the last six or seven years; but he had never known her — perhaps never would know her — as he had learned to know Lily Dale within the space of two months.

And now that she was his wife, what was he to say to her? They two had commenced a partnership which was to make of them for the remaining term of their lives one body and one flesh. They were to be all-in-all to each other. But how was he to begin this all-in-all partnership? Had the priest, with his blessing, done it so sufficiently that no other doing on Crosbie’s own part was necessary? There she was, opposite to him, his very actual wife — bone of his bone; and what was he to, say to her? As he settled himself on his seat, taking over his own knees a part of a fine fur rug trimmed with scarlet, with which he had covered her other mufflings, he bethought himself how much easier it would have been to talk to Lily. And Lily would have been ready with all her ears, and all her mind, and all her wit, to enter quickly upon whatever thoughts had occurred to him. In that respect Lily would have been a wife indeed — a wife that would have transferred herself with quick mental activity into her husbands mental sphere. Had he begun about his office Lily would have been ready for him, but Alexandrina had never yet asked him a single question about his official life. Had he been prepared with a plan for to-morrows happiness Lily would have taken it up eagerly, but Alexandrina never cared for such trifles.

“Are you quite comfortable?” he said, at last.

“Oh, yes, quite, thank you. By-the-by, what did you do with my dressing-case?”

And that question she did ask with some energy.

“It is under you. You can have it as foot-stool if you like it.”

“Oh, no; I should scratch it. I was afraid that if Hannah had it, it might be lost.” Then again there was silence, and Crosbie again considered as to what he would next say to his wife.

We all know the advice given us of old as to what we should do under such circumstances; and who can be so thoroughly justified in following that advice as a newly-married husband? So he put out his hand for hers and drew her closer to him.

“Take care of my bonnet,” she said, as she felt the motion of the railway carriage when he kissed her. I don’t think he kissed her again till he had landed her and her bonnet safely at Folkestone. How often would he have kissed Lily, and how pretty would her bonnet have been when she reached the end of her journey, and how delightfully happy would she have looked when she scolded him for bending it! But Alexandrina was quite in earnest about her bonnet; by far too much in earnest for any appearance of happiness.

So he sat without speaking, till the train came to the tunnel.

“I do so hate tunnels,” said Alexandrina.

He had half intended to put out his hand again, under some mistaken idea that the tunnel afforded him an opportunity. The whole journey was one long opportunity, had he desired it; but his wife hated tunnels, and so he drew his hand back again. Lily’s little fingers would have been ready for his touch. He thought of this, and could not help thinking of it.

He had The Times newspaper in his dressing-bag. She also had a novel with her. Would she be offended if he took out the paper and read it? The miles seemed to pass by very slowly; and there was still another hour down to Folkestone. He longed for his Times, but resolved at last, that he would not read unless she read first. She also had remembered her novel; but by nature she was more patient than he, and she thought that on such a journey any reading might perhaps be almost improper. So she sat tranquilly, with her eyes fixed on the netting over her husband’s head.

At last he could stand it no longer, and he dashed off into a conversation, intended to be most affectionate and serious.

“Alexandrina,” he said, and his voice was well-tuned for the tender serious manner, had her ears been alive to such tuning. “Alexandrina, this is a very important step that you and I have taken today.”

“Yes; it is, indeed,” said she.

“I trust we shall succeed in making each other happy.”

“Yes; I hope we shall.”

“If we both think seriously of it, and remember that that is our chief duty, we shall do so.”

“Yes, I suppose we shall. I only hope we shan’t find the house very cold. It is so new, and I am so subject to colds in my head. Amelia says we shall find it very cold; but then she was always against our going there.”

“The house will do very well,” said Crosbie. And Alexandrina could perceive that there was something of the master in his tone as he spoke.

“I am only telling you what Amelia said,” she replied.

Had Lily been his bride, and had he spoken to her of their future life and mutual duties, how she would have kindled to the theme! She would have knelt at his feet on the floor of the carriage, and, looking up into his face, would have promised him to do her best — her best — her very best. And with what an eagerness of inward resolution would she have determined to keep her promise. He thought of all this now, but he knew that he ought not to think of it. Then, for some quarter of an hour, he did take out his newspaper, and she, when she saw him do so, did take out her novel.

He took out his newspaper, but he could not fix his mind upon the politics of the day. Had he not made a terrible mistake? Of what use to him in life would be that thing of a woman that sat opposite to him? Had not a great punishment come upon him, and had he not deserved the punishment? In truth, a great punishment had come upon him. It was not only that he had married a woman incapable of understanding the higher duties of married life, but that he himself would have been capable of appreciating the value of a woman who did understand them. He would have been happy with Lily Dale; and therefore we may surmise that his unhappiness with Lady Alexandrina would be the greater. There are men who, in marrying such as Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, would get the article best suited to them, as Mortimer Gazebee had done in marrying her sister. Miss Griselda Grantly, who had become Lady Dumbello, though somewhat colder and somewhat cleverer than Lady Alexandrina, had been of the same sort. But in marrying her Lord Dumbello had got the article best suited to him — if only the ill-natured world would allow him to keep the article. It was in this that Crosbie’s failure had been so grievous — that he had seen and approved the better course, but had chosen for himself to walk in that which was worse. During that week at Courcy Castle — the week which he passed there immediately after his second visit to Allington — he had deliberately made up his mind that he was more fit for the bad course than for the good one. The course was now before him, and he had no choice but to walk in it.

It was very cold when they got to Folkestone, and Lady Alexandrina shivered as she stepped into the private-looking carriage which had been sent to the station for her use.

“We shall find a good fire in the parlour at the hotel,” said Crosbie.

“Oh, I hope so,” said Alexandrina, “and in the bedroom too.”

The young husband felt himself to be offended, but he hardly knew why. He felt himself to be offended, and with difficulty induced himself to go through all those little ceremonies the absence of which would have been remarked by everybody. He did his work, however, seeing to all her shawls and wrappings, speaking with good-nature to Hannah, and paying special attention to the dressing-case.

“What time would you like to dine?” he asked, as he prepared to leave her alone with Hannah in the bedroom.

“Whenever you please; only I should like some tea and bread-and-butter presently.”

Crosbie went into the sitting-room, ordered the tea and bread-and-butter, ordered also the dinner, and then stood himself up with his back to the fire, in order that he might think a little of his future career.

He was a man who had long since resolved that his life should be a success. It would seem that all men would so resolve, if the matter were simply one of resolution. But the majority of men, as I take it, make no such resolution, and very many men resolve that they will be unsuccessful. Crosbie, however, had resolved on success, and had done much towards carrying out his purpose. He had made a name for himself, and had acquired a certain fame. That, however, was, as he acknowledged to himself, departing from him. He looked the matter straight in the face, and told himself that his fashion must be abandoned; but the office remained to him. He might still rule over Mr Optimist, and make a subservient slave of Butterwell. That must be his line in life now, and to that, line he would endeavour to be true. As to his wife and his home — he would look to them for his breakfast, and perhaps his dinner. He would have, a comfortable arm-chair, and if Alexandrina should become a mother he would endeavour to love his children; but above all things he would never think of Lily. After that he stood and thought of her for half an hour.

“If you please, sir, my lady wants to know at what time you have ordered dinner.”

“At seven, Hannah.”

“My lady says she is very tired, and will lie down till dinnertime.”

“Very well, Hannah. I will go into her room when it is time to dress. I hope they are making you comfortable downstairs?”

Then Crosbie strolled out on the pier in the dusk of the cold winter evening.

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