The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LV

Not Very Fie Fie After All

It will perhaps be remembered that terrible things had been foretold as about to happen between the Hartletop and Omnium families. Lady Dumbello had smiled whenever Mr Plantagenet Palliser had spoken to her. Mr Palliser had confessed to himself that politics were not enough for him, and that Love was necessary to make up the full complement of his happiness. Lord Dumbello had frowned latterly when his eyes fell on the tall figure of the duke’s heir; and the duke himself — that potentate, generally so mighty in his silence — the duke himself had spoken. Lady de Courcy and Lady Clandidlem were, both of them, absolutely certain that the thing had been fully arranged. I am, therefore, perfectly justified in stating that the world was talking about the loves — the illicit loves — of Mr Palliser and Lady Dumbello.

And the talking of the world found its way down to that respectable country parsonage in which Lady Dumbello had been born, and from which she had been taken away to those noble halls which she now graced by her presence. The talking of the world was heard at Plumstead Episcopi, where still lived Archdeacon Grantly, the lady’s father; and was heard also at the deanery of Barchester, where lived the lady’s aunt and grandfather. By whose ill-mannered tongue the rumour was spread in these ecclesiastical regions it boots not now to tell. But it may be remembered that Courcy Castle was riot far from Barchester, and that Lady de Courcy was not given to hide her lights under a bushel.

It was a terrible rumour. To what mother must not such a rumour respecting her daughter be very terrible? In no mother’s ears could it have sounded more frightfully than it did in those of Mrs Grantly. Lady Dumbello, the daughter, might be altogether worldly; but Mrs Grantly had never been more than half worldly. In one moiety of her character, her habits, and her desires, she had been wedded to things good in themselves — to religion, to charity, and to honest-hearted uprightness. It is true that the circumstances of her life had induced her to serve both God and Mammon, and that, therefore, she had gloried greatly in the marriage of her daughter with the heir of a marquis. She had revelled in the aristocratic elevation of her child, though she continued to dispense books and catechisms with her own hands to the children of the labourers of Plumstead Episcopi. When Griselda first became Lady Dumbello the mother feared somewhat lest her child should find herself unequal to the exigencies of her new position. But the child had proved herself more than equal to them, and had mounted up to a dizzy height of success, which brought to the mother great glory and great fear also. She delighted to think that her Griselda was great even among the daughters of marquises; but she trembled as she reflected how deadly would be the fall from such a height — should there ever be a fall!

But she had never dreamed of such, a fall as this! She would have said — indeed, she often had said — to the archdeacon that Griselda’s religious principles were too firmly fixed to be moved by outward worldly matters; signifying, it may be, her conviction that that teaching of Plumstead Episcopi had so fastened her daughter into a groove, that all the future teaching of Hartlebury would not suffice to undo the fastenings. When she had thus boasted no such idea as that of her daughter running from her husband’s house had ever come upon her; but she had alluded to vices of a nature kindred to that vice — to vices into which other aristocratic ladies sometimes fell, who had been less firmly grooved; and her boastings had amounted to this — that she herself had so successfully served God and Mammon together, that her child might go forth and enjoy all worldly things without risk of damage to things heavenly. Then came upon her this rumour. The archdeacon told her in a hoarse whisper that he had been recommended to look to it, that it was current through the world that Griselda was about to leave her husband.

“Nothing on earth shall make me believe it,” said Mrs Grantly. But she sat alone in her drawing-room afterwards and trembled. Then came her sister, Mrs Arabin, the dean’s wife, over to the parsonage, and in half-hidden words told the same story. She had heard it from Mrs Proudie, the bishop’s wife. “That woman is as false as the father of falsehoods,” said Mrs Grantly. But she trembled the more; and as she prepared her parish work, could think of nothing but her child. What would be all her life to come, what would have been all that was past of her life, if this thing should happen to her? She would not believe it; but yet she trembled the more as she thought of her daughter’s exaltation, and remembered that such things had been done in that world to which Griselda now belonged. Ah! would it not have been better for them if they had not raised their heads so high! And she walked, out alone among the tombs of the neighbouring churchyard, and stood over the grave in which had been laid the body of her other daughter. Could be it that the fate of that one had been the happier.

Very few words were spoken on the subject between her and the archdeacon, and yet it seemed agreed among them that something should be done. He went up to London, and saw his daughter — not daring, however, to mention such a subject. Lord Dumbello was cross with him, and very uncommunicative. Indeed both the archdeacon and Mrs Grantly had found that their daughter’s house was not comfortable to them, and as they were sufficiently proud among their own class they had not cared to press themselves on the hospitality of their son-in-law. But he had been able to perceive that all was not right in the house in Carlton Gardens. Lord Dumbello was not gracious with his wife, and there was something in the silence, rather than in the speech, of men, which seemed to justify the report which had reached him.

“He is there oftener than he should be,” said the archdeacon. “And I am sure of this, at least, that Dumbello does not like it.”

“I will write to her,” said Mrs Grantly at last. “I am still her mother — I will write to her. It may be that she does not know what people say of her.”

And Mrs Grantly did write.

PLUMSTEAD, April, 186-.

DEAREST GRISELDA— It seems sometimes that you have been moved so far away from me that I have hardly a right to concern myself more in the affairs of your daily life, and I know that it is impossible that, you should refer to me for advice or sympathy, as you would have done had you married some gentleman of our own standing. But I am quite sure that my child does not forget her mother, or fail to look back upon her mother’s love; and that she will allow me to speak to her if she be in trouble, as I would to any other child whom I had loved and cherished. I pray God that I may be wrong in supposing that such trouble is near you. If I am so you will forgive me my solicitude.

Rumours have reached us from more than one quarter that — Oh! Griselda, I hardly know in what words to conceal and yet to declare that which I have to write. They say that you are intimate with Mr Palliser, the nephew of the duke, and that your husband is much offended. Perhaps I had better tell you all, openly, cautioning you not to suppose that I have believed it. They say that it is thought that you are going to put yourself under Mr Palliser’s protection. My dearest child, I think you can imagine with what agony I write these words — with what terrible grief I must have been oppressed before I could, have allowed myself to entertain the thoughts which have produced them. Such things are said openly in Barchester, and your father, who has been in town and has seen you, feels himself unable to tell me that my mind may be at rest.

I will not say to you a word as to the injury in a worldly point of view which would come to you from any rupture with your husband. I believe that you can see what would be the effect of so terrible a step quite as plainly as I can show it you. You would break the heart of your father and send your mother to her grave — but it is not even on that that I may most insist. It is this — that you would offend your God by the worst sin that a woman can commit, and cast yourself into a depth of infamy in which repentance before God is almost impossible, and from which escape before man is not permitted.

I do not believe it, my dearest, dearest child — my only living daughter; I do not believe what they have said to me. But as a mother I have not dared to leave the slander unnoticed. If you will write to me and say that it is not so, you will make me happy again, even though you should rebuke me for my suspicion.

Believe that at all times, and under all circumstances, I am still your loving mother, as I was in other days.

SUSAN GRANTLY.

We will now go back to Mr Palliser as he sat in his chambers at the Albany, thinking of his love. The duke had cautioned him, and the duke’s agent had cautioned him; and he, in spite of his high feeling of independence, had almost been made to tremble. All his thousands a year were in the balance, and perhaps everything on which depended his position before the world. But, nevertheless, though he did tremble, he resolved to persevere. Statistics were becoming dry to him, and love, was very sweet. Statistics, he thought, might be made as enchanting as ever, if only they could be mingled with, love. The mere idea of loving Lady Dumbello had seemed to give a salt to his life of which he did not now know how to rob himself. It is true that he had not as yet enjoyed many of the absolute blessings of love, seeing that his conversations with Lady Dumbello had never been warmer than those which have been repeated in these pages; but his imagination had been at work; and now that Lady Dumbello was fully established at her house in Carlton Gardens, he was determined to declare his passion on the first convenient opportunity. It was sufficiently manifest to him that the world expected him to do so, and that the world was already a little disposed to find fault with the slowness of his proceedings.

He had been once at Carlton Gardens since the season had commenced, and the lady had favoured him with her sweetest smile. But he had only been half a minute alone with her, and during that half-minute had only time to remark that he supposed she would now remain in London for the season.

“Oh, yes,” she had answered, “we shall not leave till July.” Nor could he leave till July, because of the exigencies of his statistics. He therefore had before him two, if not three, clear months in which to manoeuvre, to declare his purposes, and prepare for the future events of his life. As he resolved on a certain morning that he would say his first tender word to Lady Dumbello that very night, in the drawing-room of Lady de Courcy, where he knew that he should meet her, a letter came to him by the post. He well knew the hand and the intimation which it would contain. It was from the duke’s agent, Mr Fothergill, and informed him that a certain sum of money had been placed to his credit at his banker’s. But the letter went further, and informed him also that the duke had given his agent to understand that special instructions would be necessary before the next quarterly payment could be made. Mr Fothergill said nothing further, but Mr Palliser understood it all. He felt his blood run cold round his heart; but, nevertheless, he determined that he would not break his word to Lady de Courcy that night.

And Lady Dumbello received her letter, also on the same morning. She was being dressed as she read it, and the maidens who attended her found no cause to suspect that anything in the letter had excited her ladyship. Her ladyship was not often excited, though she was vigilant in exacting from them their utmost cares. She read her letter, however, very carefully, and as she sat beneath the toilet implements of her maidens thought deeply of the tidings which had been brought to her. She was angry with no one — she was thankful to no one. She felt no special love for any person concerned in the matter. Her heart did not say, “Oh, my lord and husband!” or “Oh, my lover!” or “Oh, my mother, the friend of my childhood!” But she became aware that matter for thought had been brought before her, and she did think. “Send my love to Lord Dumbello,” she said, when the operations were nearly completed, “and tell him that I shall be so glad to see him if he will come to me while I am at breakfast.”

“Yes, my lady.” And then the message came back: “His lordship would be with her ladyship certainly.”

“Gustavus,” she said, as soon as she had seated herself discreetly in her chair, “I have had a letter from my mother, which you had better read;” and she handed to him the document. “I do not know what I have done to deserve such suspicions from her; but she lives in the country, and has probably been deceived by ill-natured people. At any rate you must read it, and tell me what I should do.”

We may predicate from this that Mr Palliser’s chance of being able to shipwreck himself upon that rock was but small, and that he would, in spite of himself, be saved from his uncle’s anger. Lord Dumbello took the letter and read it very slowly, standing, as he did so, with his back to the fire. He read it very slowly, and his wife, though she never turned her face directly upon his, could perceive that he became very red, that he was fluttered and put beyond himself, and that his answer was not ready. She was well aware that his conduct to her during the last three months had been much altered from his former usages; that he had been rougher with her in his speech when alone, and less courteous in his attention when in society; but she had made no complaint or spoken a word to show him that she had marked the change. She had known, moreover, the cause of his altered manner, and having considered much, had resolved that she would live it down. She had declared to herself that she had done no deed and spoken no word that justified suspicion, and therefore she would make no change in her ways, or show herself to be conscious that she was suspected. But now — having her mother’s letter in her hand — she could bring him to an explanation without making him aware that she had ever thought that he had been jealous of her. To her, her mother’s letter was a great assistance. It justified a scene like this, and enabled her to fight her battle after her own fashion. As for eloping with any Mr Palliser, and giving up the position which she had won — no, indeed! She had been fastened in her grooves too well for that! Her mother, in entertaining any fear on such a subject, had shown herself to be ignorant of the solidity of her daughter’s character.

“Well, Gustavus,” she said at last. “You must say what answer I shall make, or whether I shall make any answer..” But he was not even yet ready to instruct her. So he unfolded the letter and read it again, and she poured out for herself a cup of tea.

“It’s a very serious matter,” said he.

“Yes, it is serious; I could not but think such a letter from my mother to be serious. Had it come from any one else I doubt whether I should have troubled you; unless, indeed, it and been from any as near to you as she is to me. As it is, you cannot but feel that I am right”

“Right! Oh, yes, you are right — quite right to tell me; you should tell me everything. D—— them!” But whom he meant to condemn he did not explain.

“I am above all things averse to cause you trouble,” ‘she said. “I have seen some little things of late —”

“Has he ever said anything to you?”

“Who — Mr Palliser? Never a word.”

“He has hinted at nothing of this kind?”

“Never a word. Had he done so. I must have made you understand that he could not have been allowed again into my drawing-room.” Then again he read the letter, or pretended to do so.

“Your mother means well,” he said.

“Oh, yes, she means well. She has been foolish to believe the tittle-tattle that has reached her — very foolish to oblige me to give you this annoyance.”

“Oh, as for that, I’m not annoyed. By Jove, no. Come, Griselda, let us have it all out; other people have said this, and I have been unhappy. Now, you know it all.”

“Have I made you unhappy?”

“Well, no; not you.. Don’t be hard upon me when I tell you the whole truth. Fools and brutes have whispered things that have vexed me. They may whisper till the devil fetches them, but they shan’t annoy me again. Give me a kiss, my girl.” And he absolutely put out his arms and embraced her. “Write a good-natured letter to your mother, and ask her to come up for a week in May. That’ll be the best thing; and then she’ll understand; By Jove, it’s twelve o’clock. Goodbye.”

Lady Dumbello was well aware that she had triumphed, and that her mother’s letter had been invaluable to her. But it had been used, and therefore she did not read it again. She ate her breakfast in quiet comfort, looking over a milliner’s French circular as she did so; and then, when the time for such an operation had fully come, she got to her writing-table and answered her mother’s letter.

DEAR MAMMA (she said)— I thought it best to show your letter at once to Lord Dumbello. He said that people would be ill-natured, and seemed to think that the telling of such stories could not be helped. As regards you, he was not a bit angry, but said that you and papa had better come to us for a week about the end of next month. Do come. We are to have rather a large dinner-party on the 23rd. His Royal Highness is coming, and I think papa would like to meet him. Have you observed that those very high bonnets have all gone out: I never, liked them; and as I had got a hint from Paris, I have been doing my best to put them down. I do hope nothing will prevent your coming.

Your affectionate daughter

CARLTON GARDENS, Wednesday.

G. DUMBELLO

Mrs Grantly was aware, from the moment in which she received the letter, that she had wronged her daughter by her suspicions. It did not occur to her to disbelieve a word that was said in the letter, or an inference that was implied. She had been wrong, and rejoiced that it was so. But nevertheless there was that in the letter which annoyed and irritated her, though she could not explain to herself the cause of her annoyance. She had thrown all her heart into that which she had written, but in the words which her child had written not a vestige of heart was to be found. In that reconciling of God and Mammon which Mrs Grantly had carried on so successfully in the education of her daughter, the organ had not been required, and had become withered, if not defunct, through want of use.

“We will not go there, I think” said Mrs Grantly, speaking to her husband.

“Oh dear, no; certainly not. If you want to go to town at all, I will take rooms for you. And as for his Royal Highness I have a great respect for his Royal Highness, but I do not in the least desire to meet him at Dumbello’s table.”

And so that matter was settled, as regarded the inhabitants of Plumstead Episcopi.

And whither did Lord Dumbello betake himself when he left his wife’s room in so great a hurry at twelve o’clock? Not to the Park, nor to Tattersall’s, nor to a Committee-room of the House of Commons, nor yet to the bow-window of his club. But he went straight to a great jeweller’s in Ludgate Hill, and there purchased a wonderful green necklace, very rare and curious, heavy with green sparkling drops, with three row’s of shining green stones embedded in chaste gold — a necklace amounting almost to a jewelled cuirass in weight and extent. It had been in all the exhibitions, and was very costly and magnificent. While Lady Dumbello was still dressing in the evening this was brought to her with her lord’s love, as his token of renewed confidence; and Lady Dumbello, as she counted the sparkles, triumphed inwardly, telling herself that she had played her cards well.

But while she counted the sparkles produced by her full reconciliation with her lord, poor Plantagenet Palliser was still trembling in his ignorance. If only he could have been allowed to see Mrs Grantly’s letter, and the lady’s answer, and the lord’s present! But no such seeing was vouchsafed to him, and he was carried off in his brougham to Lady de Courcy’s house, twittering with expectant love, and trembling with expectant ruin. To this conclusion he had come at any rate, that if anything was to be done, it should be done now. He would speak a word of love, and prepare his future in accordance with the acceptance it might receive.

Lady de Courcy’s rooms were very crowded when he arrived there. It was the first great crushing party of the season, and all the world had been collected into Portman Square. Lady de Courcy was smiling as though her lord had no teeth, as though her eldest son’s condition was quite happy, and all things were going well with the De Courcy interests. Lady Margaretta was there behind her, bland without and bitter within; and Lady Rosina also, at some further distance, reconciled to this world’s vanity and finery because there was to be no dancing. And the married daughters of the house were there also, striving to maintain their positions on the strength of their undoubted birth, but subjected to some snubbing by the lowness of their absolute circumstances. Gazebee was there, happy in the absolute fact of his connection with an earl, and blessed with the consideration that was extended to him as an earl’s son-in-law. And Crosbie, also, was in the rooms — was present there, though he had sworn to himself that he would no longer dance attendance on the countess, and that he would sever himself away from the wretchedness of the family. But if he gave up them and their ways, what else would then be left to him? He had come, therefore, and now stood alone, sullen in a corner, telling himself that all was vanity. Yes; to the vain all will be vanity; and to the poor of heart all will be poor.

Lady Dumbello was there in a small inner room, seated on a couch to which she had been brought on her first arrival at the house, and on which she would remain till she departed. From time to time some very noble or very elevated personage would come before her and say a word, and she would answer that elevated personage with another word; but nobody had attempted with her the task of conversation. It was understood that Lady Dumbello did not converse — unless it were occasionally with Mr Palliser.

She knew well that Mr Palliser was to meet her there. He had told her expressly that he should do so, having inquired, with much solicitude, whether she intended to obey the invitation of the countess. “I shall probably be there,” she had said, and now had determined that her mother’s letter and her husband’s conduct to her should not cause her to break her word. Should Mr Palliser “forget” himself, she would know how to say a word to him as she had known how to say a word to her husband. Forget himself! She was very sure that Mr Palliser had been making up his mind to forget himself for some months past.

He did come to her, and stood over her, looking unutterable things. His unutterable things, however, were so looked, that they did not absolutely demand notice from the lady. He did not sigh like a furnace, nor open his eyes upon her as though there were two suns in the firmament above her head, nor did he beat his breast or tear his hair. Mr Palliser had been brought up in a school which delights in tranquillity, and never allows its pupils to commit themselves either to the sublime or to the ridiculous. He did look an unutterable thing or two; but he did it with so decorous an eye, that the lady, who was measuring it all with great accuracy, could not, as yet, declare that Mr Palliser had “forgotten himself.”

There was room by her on the couch, and once or twice, at Hartlebury, he had ventured so to seat himself. On the present occasion, however, he could not do so without placing himself manifestly on her dress. She would have known how to fill a larger couch even than that — as she would have known, also, how to make room — had it been her mind to do so. So he stood still over her, and she smiled at him. Such a smile! It was cold as death, flattering no one, saying nothing, hideous in its unmeaning, unreal grace. Ah! how I hate the smile of a woman who smiles by rote! It made Mr Palliser feel very uncomfortable — but he did not analyse it, and persevered.

“Lady Dumbello,” he said, and his voice was very low, “I have been looking forward to meeting you here.”

“Have you, Mr Palliser? Yes; I remember that you asked me whether I was coming.”

“I did. Hm — Lady Dumbello!” and he almost trenched upon the outside verge of that schooling which had taught him to avoid both the sublime and the ridiculous. But he had not forgotten himself as yet, and so she smiled again.

“Lady Dumbello, in this world in which we live, it is so hard to get a moment in which we can speak.” He had thought that she would move her dress, but she did not.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said; “one doesn’t often want to say very much, I think.”

“Ah, no; not often, perhaps. But when one does want! How I do hate these crowded rooms!” Yet, when he had been at Hartlebury he had resolved that the only ground for him would be the crowded drawing-room of some large London house. “I wonder whether you ever desire anything beyond them?”

“Oh, yes,” said she; “but I confess that I am fond of parties.”

Mr Palliser looked round and thought that he saw that he was unobserved. He had made up his mind as to what he would do, and he was determined to do it. He had in him none of that readiness which enables some men to make love and carry off their Dulcineas at a moment’s notice, but he had that pluck which would have made himself disgraceful in his own eyes if he omitted to do that as to the doing of which he had made a solemn resolution. He would have preferred to do it sitting, but, faute de mieux, seeing that a seat was denied to him, he would do it standing.

“Griselda,” he said — and it must be admitted that his tone was not bad. The word sank softly into her ear, like small rain upon moss, and it sank into no other ear. “Griselda!”

“Mr Palliser!” said she — and though she made no scene, though she merely glanced upon him once, he could see that he was wrong.

“May I not call you so?”

“Certainly not. Shall I ask you to see if my people are there?” He stood a moment before her hesitating. “My carriage, I mean.” As she gave the command she glanced at him again, and then he obeyed her orders.

When he returned she had left her seat; but he heard her name announced on the stairs, and caught a glance of the back of her head as she made her way gracefully down through the crowd. He never attempted to make love to her again, utterly disappointing the hopes of Lady de Courcy, Mrs Proudie, and Lady Clandidlem.

As I would wish those who are interested in Mr Palliser’s fortunes to know the ultimate result of this adventure, and as we shall not have space to return to his affairs in this little history, I may, perhaps, be allowed to press somewhat forward, and tell what Fortune did for him before the close of that London season. Everybody knows that in that spring Lady Glencora MacCluskie was brought out before the world, and it is equally well known that she, as the only child of the late Lord of the Isles, was the great heiress of the day. It is true that the hereditary possession of Skye, Staffa, Mull, Arran, and Bute went, with the title, to the Marquis of Auldreekie, together with the counties of Caithness and Ross-shire. But the property in Fife, Aberdeen, Perth, and Kincardineshire, comprising the greater part of those counties, and the coal-mines in Lanark, as well as the enormous estate within the city of Glasgow, were unentailed, and went to the Lady Glencora. She was a fair girl, with bright blue eyes and short wavy flaxen hair, very soft to the eye. The Lady Glencora was small in stature, and her happy round face lacked, perhaps, the highest grace of female beauty. But there was ever a smile upon it, at which it was very pleasant to look; and the intense interest with which she would dance, and talk, and follow up every amusement that was offered her, was very charming. The horse she rode was the dearest love — oh! she loved him so dearly! And she had a little dog that was almost as dear as the horse. The friend of her youth, Sabrina Scott, was — oh, such a girl! And her cousin, the little Lord of the Isles, the heir of the marquis, was so gracious and beautiful that she was always covering him with kisses. Unfortunately he was only six, so that there was hardly a possibility that the properties should be brought together.

But Lady Glencora, though she was so charming, had even in this, her first outset upon the world, given great uneasiness to her friends, and caused the Marquis of Auldreekie to be almost wild with dismay. There was a terribly handsome man about town, who had spent every shilling that anybody would give him, who was very fond of brandy, who was known, but not trusted, at Newmarket, who was said to be deep in every vice, whose father would not speak to him — and with him the Lady Glencora was never tired of dancing. One morning she had told her cousin the marquis, with a flashing eye — for the round blue eye could flash — that Burgo Fitzgerald was more sinned against than sinning. Ah me! what was a guardian marquis, anxious for the fate of the family property, to do under such circumstances as that?

But before the end of the season the marquis and the duke were both happy men, and we will hope that the Lady Glencora also was satisfied. Mr Plantagenet Palliser had danced with her twice, and had spoken his mind. He had an interview with the marquis, which was preeminently satisfactory, and everything was settled. Glencora no doubt told him how she had accepted that plain gold ring from Burgo Fitzgerald, and how she had restored it; but I doubt whether she ever told him of that wavy lock of golden hair which Burgo still keeps in his receptacle for such treasures.

“Plantagenet,” said the duke, with quite unaccustomed warmth, “in this, as in all things, you have shown yourself to be everything that I could desire. I have told the marquis that Matching Priory, with the whole estate, should be given over to you at once. It is the most comfortable country-house I know. Glencora shall have The Horns as her wedding present.”

But the genial, frank delight of Mr Fothergill pleased Mr Palliser the most. The heir of the Pallisers had done his duty, and Mr Fothergill was unfeignedly a happy man.

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