Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 19

Tribute from Oileymead

Kate Vavasor, in writing to her cousin Alice, felt some little difficulty in excusing herself for remaining in Norfolk with Mrs Greenow. She had laughed at Mrs Greenow before she went to Yarmouth, and had laughed at herself for going there. And in all her letters since, she had spoken of her aunt as a silly, vain, worldly woman, weeping crocodile tears for an old husband whose death had released her from the tedium of his company, and spreading lures to catch new lovers. But yet she agreed to stay with her aunt, and remain with her in lodgings at Norwich for a month.

But Mrs Greenow had about her something more than Kate had acknowledged when she first attempted to read her aunt’s character. She was clever, and in her own way persuasive. She was very generous, and possessed a certain power of making herself pleasant to those around her. In asking Kate to stay with her she had so asked as to make it appear that Kate was to confer the favour. She had told her niece that she was all alone in the world. “I have money,” she had said, with more appearance of true feeling than Kate had observed before. “I have money, but I have nothing else in the world. I have no home. Why should I not remain here in Norfolk, where I know a few people? If you’ll say that you’ll go anywhere else with me, I’ll go to any place you’ll name.” Kate had believed this to be hardly true. She had felt sure that her aunt wished to remain in the neighbourhood of her seaside admirers; but, nevertheless, she had yielded, and at the end of October the two ladies, with Jeannette, settled themselves in comfortable lodgings within the precincts of the Close at Norwich.

Mr Greenow at this time had been dead very nearly six months, but his widow made some mistake in her dates and appeared to think that the interval had been longer. On the day of their arrival at Norwich it was evident that this error had confirmed itself in her mind. “Only think,” she said, as she unpacked a little miniature of the departed one, and sat with it for a moment in her hands, as she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, “only think, that it is barely nine months since he was with me?”

“Six, you mean, aunt,” said Kate, unadvisedly.

“Only nine months!” repeated Mrs Greenow, as though she had not heard her niece. “Only nine months!” After that Kate attempted to correct no more such errors. “It happened in May, Miss,” Jeannette said afterwards to Miss Vavasor, “and that, as we reckons, will be just a twelvemonth come Christmas.” But Kate paid no attention to this.

And Jeannette was very ungrateful, and certainly should have indulged herself in no such sarcasms. When Mrs Greenow made a slight change in her mourning, which she did on her arrival at Norwich, using a little lace among her crapes, Jeannette reaped a rich harvest in gifts of clothes. Mrs Greenow knew well enough that she expected more from a servant than mere service — that she wanted loyalty, discretion, and perhaps sometimes a little secrecy — and as she paid for these things, she should have had them.

Kate undertook to stay a month with her aunt at Norwich and Mrs Greenow undertook that Mr Cheesacre should declare himself as Kate’s lover, before the expiration of the month. It was in vain that Kate protested that she wanted no such lover, and that she would certainly reject him if he came. “That’s all very well, my dear,” Aunt Greenow would say. “A girl must settle herself some day, you know — and you’d have it all your own way at Oileymead.”

But the offer certainly showed much generosity on the part of Aunt Greenow, inasmuch as Mr Cheesacre’s attentions were apparently paid to herself rather than to her niece. Mr Cheesacre was very attentive. He had taken the lodgings in the Close, and had sent over fowls and cream from Oileymead, and had called on the morning after their arrival; but in all his attentions he distinguished the aunt more particularly than the niece. “I am all for Mr Cheesacre, Miss,” said Jeannette once. “The Captain is perhaps the nicerer-looking gentleman, and he ain’t so podgy like; but what’s good looks if a gentleman hasn’t got nothing? I can’t abide anything that’s poor; neither can’t Missus.” From which it was evident that Jeannette gave Miss Vavasor no credit in having Mr Cheesacre in her train.

Captain Bellfield was also at Norwich, having obtained some quasi-military employment there in the matter of drilling volunteers. Certain capacities in that line it may be supposed that he possessed, and, as his friend Cheesacre said of him, he was going to earn an honest penny once in his life. The Captain and Mr Cheesacre had made up any little differences that had existed between them at Yarmouth, and were close allies again when they left that place. Some little compact on matters of business must have been arranged between them — for the Captain was in funds again. He was in funds again through the liberality of his friend — and no payment of former loans had been made, nor had there been any speech of such. Mr Cheesacre had drawn his purse-strings liberally, and had declared that if all went well the hospitality of Oileymead should not be wanting during the winter. Captain Bellfield had nodded his head and declared that all should go well.

“You won’t see much of the Captain, I suppose,” said Mr Cheesacre to Mrs Greenow on the morning of the day after her arrival at Norwich. He had come across the whole way from Oileymead to ask her if she found herself comfortable, and perhaps with an eye to the Norwich markets at the same time. He now wore a pair of black riding boots over his trousers, and a round topped hat, and looked much more at home than he had done by the seaside.

“Not much, I dare say,” said the widow. “He tells me that he must be on duty ten or twelve hours a day. Poor fellow!”

“It’s a deuced good thing for him, and he ought to be very much obliged to me for putting him in the way of getting it. But he told me to tell you that if he didn’t call, you were not to be angry with him.”

“Oh, no — I shall remember, of course.”

“You see, if he don’t work now he must come to grief. He hasn’t got a shilling that he can call his own.”

“Hasn’t he really?”

“Not a shilling, Mrs Greenow — and then he’s awfully in debt. He isn’t a bad fellow, you know, only there’s no trusting him for anything.” Then after a few further inquiries that were almost tender, and a promise of further supplies from the dairy, Mr Cheesacre took his leave, almost forgetting to ask after Miss Vavasor.

But as he left the house he had a word to say to Jeannette. “He hasn’t been here, has he, Jenny?” “We haven’t seen a sight of him yet, sir — and I have thought it a little odd.” Then Mr Cheesacre gave the girl half-a-crown, and went his way. Jeannette, I think, must have forgotten that the Captain had looked in after leaving his military duties on the preceding evening.

The Captain’s ten or twelve hours of daily work was performed, no doubt, at irregular intervals — some days late and some days early — for he might be seen about Norwich almost at all times, during the early part of that November — and he might be very often seen going into the Close. In Norwich there are two weekly market days, but on those days the Captain was no doubt kept more entirely to his military employment, for at such times he never was seen near the Close. Now Mr Cheesacre’s visits to the town were generally made on market days, and so it happened that they did not meet. On such occasions Mr Cheesacre always was driven to Mrs Greenow’s door in a cab — for he would come into town by railway — and he would deposit a basket bearing the rich produce of his dairy. It was in vain that Mrs Greenow protested against these gifts — for she did protest and declared that if they were continued, they would be sent back. They were, however, continued, and Mrs Greenow was at her wits’ end about them. Cheesacre would not come up with them; but leaving them, would go about his business, and would return to see the ladies. On such occasions he would be very particular in getting his basket from Jeannette. As he did so he would generally ask some question about the Captain, and Jeannette would give him answers confidentially — so that there was a strong friendship between these two.

“What am I to do about it?” said Mrs Greenow, as Kate came into the sitting-room one morning, and saw on the table a small hamper lined with a clean cloth, “It’s as much as Jeannette has been able to carry.”

“So it is, ma’am — quite; and I’m strong in the arm, too, ma’am.”

“What am I to do, Kate? He is such a good creature.”

“And he do admire you both so much,” said Jeannette.

“Of course I don’t want to offend him for many reasons,” said the aunt, looking knowingly at her niece.

“I don’t know anything about your reasons, aunt, but if I were you, I should leave the basket just as it is till he comes in the afternoon.”

“Would you mind seeing him yourself, Kate, and explaining to him that it won’t do to go on in this way. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling him that if he’ll promise not to bring any more, you won’t object to take this one.”

“Indeed, aunt, I can’t do that. They’re not brought to me.”

“Oh, Kate!”

“Nonsense, aunt — I won’t have you say so: before Jeannette, too.”

“I think it’s for both, ma’am; I do indeed. And there certainly ain’t any cream to be bought like it in Norwich — nor yet eggs.”

“I wonder what there is in the basket.” And the widow lifted up the corner of the cloth. “I declare if there isn’t a turkey poult already.”

“My!” said Jeannette. “A turkey poult! Why, that’s worth ten and sixpence in the market if it’s worth a penny.”

“It’s out of the question that I should take upon myself to say anything to him about it,” said Kate.

“Upon my word I don’t see why you shouldn’t, as well as I,” said Mrs Greenow.

“I’ll tell you what, ma’am,” said Jeannette: “let me just ask him who they’re for — he’ll tell me anything.”

“Don’t do anything of the kind, Jeannette,” said Kate. “Of course, aunt, they’re brought for you. There’s no doubt about that. A gentleman doesn’t bring cream and turkeys to — I never heard of such a thing!”

“I don’t see why a gentleman shouldn’t bring cream and turkeys to you just as well as to me. Indeed, he told me once as much himself.”

“Then, if they’re for me, I’ll leave them down outside the front door, and he may find his provisions there.” And Kate proceeded to lift the basket off the table.

“Leave it alone, Kate,” said Mrs Greenow, with a voice that was rather solemn; and which had, too, something of sadness in its tone. “Leave it alone. I’ll see Mr Cheesacre myself.”

“And I do hope you won’t mention my name. It’s the most absurd thing in the world. The man never spoke two dozen words to me in his life.”

“He speaks to me, though,” said Mrs Greenow,

“I dare say he does,” said Kate.

“And about you, too, my dear.”

“He doesn’t come here with those big flowers in his buttonhole for nothing,” said Jeannette — “not if I knows what a gentleman means.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” said Mrs Greenow.

“If you don’t object, aunt,” said Kate, “I will write to grandpapa and tell him that I will return home at once.”

“What! — because of Mr Cheesacre?” said Mrs Greenow. “I don’t think you’ll be so silly as that, my dear.”

On the present occasion Mrs Greenow undertook that she would see the generous gentleman, and endeavour to stop the supplies from his farmyard. It was well understood that he would call about four o’clock, when his business in the town would be over; and that he would bring with him a little boy, who would carry away the basket. At that hour Kate of course was absent, and the widow received Mr Cheesacre alone. The basket and cloth were there, in the sitting-room, and on the table were laid out the rich things which it had contained; the turkey poult first, on a dish provided in the lodging-house, then a dozen fresh eggs in a soup-plate, then the cream in a little tin can, which, for the last fortnight, had passed regularly between Oileymead and the house in the Close, and as to which Mr Cheesacre was very pointed in his inquiries with Jeannette. Then behind the cream there were two or three heads of brocoli, and a stick of celery as thick as a man’s wrist. Altogether the tribute was a very comfortable assistance to the housekeeping of a lady living in a small way in lodgings.

Mr Cheesacre, when he saw the array on the long sofa-table, knew that he was to prepare himself for some resistance; but that resistance would give him, he thought, an opportunity of saying a few words that he was desirous of speaking, and he did not altogether regret it. “I just called in,” he said, “to see how you were.”

“We are not likely to starve,” said Mrs Greenow, pointing to the delicacies from Oileymead.

“Just a few trifles that my old woman asked me to bring in,” said Cheesacre. “She insisted on putting them up.”

“But your old woman is by far too magnificent,” said Mrs Greenow. “She really frightens Kate and me out of our wits.”

Mr Cheesacre had no wish that Miss Vavasor’s name should be brought into play upon the occasion. “Dear Mrs Greenow,” said he, “there is no cause for you to be alarmed, I can assure you. Mere trifles — light as air, you know. I don’t think anything of such things as these.”

“But I and Kate think a great deal of them — a very great deal, I can assure you. Do you know, we had a long debate this morning whether or no we would return them to Oileymead?”

“Return them, Mrs Greenow!”

“Yes, indeed: what are women, situated as we are, to do under such circumstances? When gentlemen will be too liberal, their liberality must be repressed.”

“And have I been too liberal, Mrs Greenow? What is a young turkey and a stick of celery when a man is willing to give everything that he has in the world?”

“You’ve got a great deal more in the world, Mr Cheesacre, than you’d like to part with. But we won’t talk of that, now.”

“When shall we talk of it?”

“If you really have anything to say, you had by far better speak to Kate herself.”

“Mrs Greenow, you mistake me. Indeed you mistake me.”

Just at this moment, as he was drawing close to the widow, she heard, or fancied that she heard, Jeannette’s step, and, going to the sitting-room door, called to her maid. Jeannette did not hear her, but the bell was rung, and then Jeannette came. “You may take these things down, Jeannette,” she said. “Mr Cheesacre has promised that no more shall come.”

“But I haven’t promised,” said Mr Cheesacre.

“You will oblige me and Kate, I know — and, Jeanette, tell Miss Vavasor that I am ready to walk with her.”

Then Mr Cheesacre knew that he could not say those few words on that occasion; and as the hour of his train was near, he took his departure, and went out of the Close, followed by the little boy, carrying the basket, the cloth, and the tin can.

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