Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21

Alice is taught to grow Upwards, towards the Light

Before the day came on which Alice was to go to Matching Priory, she had often regretted that she had been induced to make the promise, and yet she had as often resolved that there was no possible reason why she should not go to Matching Priory. But she feared this commencement of a closer connexion with her great relations. She had told herself so often that she was quite separated from them, that the slight accident of blood in no way tied her to them or them to her — this lesson had been so thoroughly taught to her by the injudicious attempts of Lady Macleod to teach an opposite lesson, that she did not like the idea of putting aside the effect of that teaching. And perhaps she was a little afraid of the great folk whom she might probably meet at her cousin’s house. Lady Glencora herself she had liked — and had loved too with that momentary love which certain circumstances of our life will sometimes produce, a love which is strong while it lasts, but which can be laid down when the need of it is passed. She had liked and loved Lady Glencora, and had in no degree been afraid of her during those strange visitings in Queen Anne Street — but she was by no means sure that she should like Lady Glencora in the midst of her grandeur and surrounded by the pomp of her rank. She would have no other friend or acquaintance in that house, and feared that she might find herself desolate, cold, and wounded in her pride. She had been tricked into the visit, too, or rather had tricked herself into it, She had been sure that there had been a joint scheme between her cousin and Lady Midlothian, and could not resist the temptation of repudiating it in her letter to Lady Glencora. But there had been no such scheme; she had wronged Lady Glencora, and had therefore been unable to resist her second request. But she felt unhappy, fearing that she would be out of her element, and more than once half made up her mind to excuse herself.

Her aunt had, from the first, thought well of her going, believing that it might probably be the means of reconciling her to Mr Grey. Moreover, it was a step altogether in the right direction. Lady Glencora would, if she lived, become a Duchess, and as she was decidedly Alice’s cousin, of course Alice should go to her house when invited. It must be acknowledged that Lady Macleod was not selfish in her worship of rank. She had played out her game in life, and there was no probability that she would live to be called cousin by a Duchess of Omnium. She bade Alice go to Matching Priory, simply because she loved her niece, and therefore wished her to live in the best and most eligible way within her reach. “I think you owe it as a duty to your family to go,” said Lady Macleod.

What further correspondence about her affairs had passed between Lady Macleod and Lady Midlothian Alice never knew. She steadily refused all entreaty made that she would answer the Countess’s letter, and at last threatened her aunt that if the request were further urged she would answer it — telling Lady Midlothian that she had been very impertinent.

“I am becoming a very old woman, Alice,” the poor lady said, piteously, “and I suppose I had better not interfere any further. Whatever I have said I have always meant to be for your good.” Then Alice got up, and kissing her aunt, tried to explain to her that she resented no interference from her, and felt grateful for all that she both said and did; but that she could not endure meddling from people whom she did not know, and who thought themselves entitled to meddle by their rank.

“And because they are cousins as well,” said Lady Macleod, in a softly sad, apologetic voice.

Alice left Cheltenham about the middle of November on her road to Matching Priory. She was to sleep in London one night, and go down to Matching in Yorkshire with her maid on the following day. Her father undertook to meet her at the Great Western Station, and to take her on the following morning to the Great Northern. He said nothing in his letter about dining with her, but when he met her, muttered something about a engagement, and taking her home graciously promised that he would breakfast with her on the following morning.

“I’m very glad you are going, Alice,” he said when they were in the cab together.

“Why, papa?”

“Why? — because I think it’s the proper thing to do. You know I’ve never said much to you about these people. They’re not connected with me, and I know that they hate the name of Vavasor — not but what the name is a deal older than any of theirs, and the family too.”

“And therefore I don’t understand why you think I’m specially right. If you were to say I was specially wrong, I should be less surprised, and of course I shouldn’t go.”

“You should go by all means. Rank and wealth are advantages, let anybody say what they will to the contrary. Why else does everybody want to get them?”

“But I shan’t get them by going to Matching Priory.”

“You’ll get part of their value. Take them as a whole, the nobility of England are pleasant acquaintances to have. I haven’t run after them very much myself, though I married, as I may say, among them. That very thing rather stood in my way than otherwise. But you may be sure of this, that men and women ought to grow, like plants, upwards. Everybody should endeavour to stand as well as he can in the world, and if I had a choice of acquaintance between a sugar-baker and a peer, I should prefer the peer — unless, indeed, the sugar-baker had something very strong on his side to offer. I don’t call that tuft-hunting, and it does not necessitate toadying. It’s simply growing up, towards the light, as the trees do.”

Alice listened to her father’s worldly wisdom with a smile, but she did not attempt to answer him. It was very seldom, indeed, that he took upon himself the labour of lecturing her, or that he gave her even as much counsel as he had given now. “Well, papa, I hope I shall find myself growing towards the light,” she said as she got out of the cab. Then he had not entered the house, but had taken the cab on with him to his club.

On her table Alice found a note from her cousin George. “I hear you are going down to the Pallisers at Matching Priory tomorrow, and as I shall be glad to say one word to you before you go, will you let me see you this evening — say at nine? — G. V.” She felt immediately that she could not help seeing him, but she greatly regretted the necessity. She wished that she had gone directly from Cheltenham to the North — regardless even of those changes of wardrobe which her purposed visit required. Then she set herself to considering. How had George heard of her visit to the Priory, and how had he learned the precise evening which she would pass in London? Why should he be so intent on watching all her movements as it seemed that he was? As to seeing him she had no alternative, so she completed her arrangements for her journey before nine, and then awaited him in the drawing-room.

“I’m so glad you’re going to Matching Priory,” were the first words he said. He, too, might have taught her to grow towards the light, if she had asked him for his reasons — but this she did not do just then.

“How did you learn that I was going?” she said.

“I heard it from a friend of mine. Well — from Burgo Fitzgerald, if you must know.”

“From Mr Fitzgerald?” said Alice, in profound astonishment. “How could Mr Fitzgerald have heard of it?”

“That’s more than I know, Alice. Not directly from Lady Glencora, I should say.”

“That would be impossible.”

“Yes; quite so, no doubt. I think she keeps up her intimacy with Burgo’s sister, and perhaps it got round to him in that way.”

“And did he tell you also that I was going tomorrow? He must have known all about it very accurately.”

“No; then I asked Kate, and Kate told me when you were going. Yes; I know. Kate has been wrong, hasn’t she? Kate was cautioned, no doubt, to say nothing about your comings and goings to so inconsiderable a person as myself. But you must not be down upon Kate. She never mentioned it till I showed by my question to her that I knew all about your journey to Matching. I own I do not understand why it should be necessary to keep me so much in the dark.”

Alice felt that she was blushing. The caution had been given to Kate because Kate still transgressed in her letters, by saying little words about her brother. And Alice did not even now believe Kate to have been false to her; but she saw that she herself had been imprudent.

“I cannot understand it,” continued George, speaking without looking at her. “It was but the other day that we were such dear friends! Do you remember the balcony at Basle? and now it seems that we are quite estranged — nay, worse than estranged; that I am, as it were, under some ban. Have I done anything to offend you, Alice? If so, speak out, like a woman of spirit as you are.”

“Nothing,” said Alice.

“Then why am I tabooed? Why was I told the other day that I might not congratulate you on your happy emancipation? I say boldly, that had you resolved on that while we were together in Switzerland, you would have permitted me, as a friend, almost as a brother, to discuss it with you.”

“I think not, George.”

“I am sure you would. And why has Kate been warned not to tell me of this visit to the Pallisers? I know she has been warned though she has not confessed it.”

Alice sat silent, not knowing what to say in answer to this charge brought against her — thinking, perhaps, that the questioner would allow his question to pass without an answer. But Vavasor was not so complaisant. “If there be any reason, Alice, I think that I have a right to ask it.”

For a few seconds she did not speak a word, but sat considering. He also remained silent with his eyes fixed upon her. She looked at him and saw nothing but his scar — nothing but his scar and the brightness of his eyes, which was almost fierce. She knew that he was in earnest, and therefore resolved that she would be in earnest also. “I think that you have such a right,” she said at last.

“Then let me exercise it.”

“I think that you have such a right, but I think also that you are ungenerous to exercise it.”

“I cannot understand that. By heavens, Alice, I cannot be left in this suspense! If I have done anything to offend you, perhaps I can remove the offence by apology.”

“You have done nothing to offend me.”

“Or if there be any cause why our friendship should be dropped — why we should be on a different footing to each other in London than we were in Switzerland, I may acknowledge it, if it be explained to me. But I cannot put up with the doubt, when I am told that I have a right to demand its solution.”

“Then I will be frank with you, George, though my being so will, as you may guess, be very painful.” She paused again, looking at him to see if yet he would spare her; but he was all scar and eyes as before, and there was no mercy in his face.

“Your sister, George, has thought that my parting with Mr Grey might lead to a renewal of a purpose of marriage between you and me. You know her eagerness, and will understand that it may have been necessary that I should require silence from her on that head. You ought now to understand it all.”

“I then am being punished for her sins,” he said; and suddenly the scar on his face was healed up again, and there was something of the old pleasantness in his eyes.

“I have said nothing about any sins, George, but I have found it necessary to be on my guard.”

“Well,” he said, after a short pause, “you are an honest woman, Alice — the honestest I ever knew. I will bring Kate to order — and, now, we may be friends again; may we not?” And he extended his hand to her across the table.

“Yes,” she said, “certainly; if you wish it.” She spoke doubtingly, with indecision in her voice, as though remembering at the moment that he had given her no pledge. “I certainly do wish it very much,” said he; and then she gave him her hand.

“And I may now talk about your new freedom?”

“No,” said she; “no. Do not speak of that. A woman does not do what I have done in that affair without great suffering. I have to think of it daily; but do not make me speak of it.”

“But this other subject, this visit to Matching; surely I may speak of that?” There was something now in his voice so bright, that she felt the influence of it, and answered him cheerfully,

“I don’t see what you can have to say about it.”

“But I have a great deal. I am so glad you are going. Mind you cement a close intimacy with Mr Palliser.”

“With Mr Palliser?”

“Yes; with Mr Palliser. You must read all the blue books about finance. I’ll send them to you if you like it.”

“Oh, George!”

“I’m quite in earnest. That is, not in earnest about the blue books, as you would not have time; but about Mr Palliser. He will be the new Chancellor of the Exchequer without a doubt.”

“Will he indeed? But why should I make a bosom friend of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I don’t want any public money.”

“But I do, my girl. Don’t you see?”

“No; I don’t.”

“I think I shall get returned at this next election.”

“I’m sure I hope you will.”

“And if I do, of course it will be my game to support the ministry — or rather the new ministry; for of course there will be changes.”

“I hope they will be on the right side.”

“Not a doubt of that, Alice.”

“I wish they might be changed altogether.”

“Ah! that’s impossible. It’s very well as a dream; but there are no such men as you want to see — men really from the people — strong enough to take high office. A man can’t drive four horses because he’s a philanthropist — or rather a philhorseophist, and is desirous that the team should be driven without any hurt to them. A man can’t govern well, simply because he is genuinely anxious that men should be well governed.”

“And will there never be any such men?”

“I won’t say that. I don’t mind confessing to you that it is my ambition to be such a one myself. But a child must crawl before he can walk. Such a one as I, hoping to do something in politics, must spare no chance. It would be something to me that Mr Palliser should become the friend of any dear friend of mine — especially of a dear friend bearing the same name.”

“I’m afraid, George, you’ll find me a bad hand at making any such friendship.”

“They say he is led immensely by his wife, and that she is very clever. But I mean this chiefly, Alice, that I do hope I shall have all your sympathy in any political career that I may make, and all your assistance also.”

“My sympathy I think I can promise you. My assistance, I fear, would be worthless.”

“By no means worthless, Alice; not if I see you take that place in the world which I hope to see you fill. Do you think women nowadays have no bearing upon the politics of the times? Almost as much as men have.” In answer to which Alice shook her head; but, nevertheless, she felt in some way pleased and flattered.

George left her without saying a word more about her marriage prospects past or future, and Alice as she went to bed felt glad that this explanation between them had been made.

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