Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 25

In which much of the History of the Pallisers is told

At the end of ten days Alice found herself quite comfortable till the second week of December, at which time she was to go to Vavasor Hall — there to meet her father and Kate. The Pallisers were to pass their Christmas with the Duke of Omnium in Barsetshire. “We always are to do that,” said Glencora. “It is the state occasion at Gatherum Castle, but it only lasts for one week. Then we go somewhere else. Oh dear!”

“Why do you say ‘oh dear’?”

“Because — I don’t think I mean to tell you.”

“Then I’m sure I won’t ask.”

“That’s so like you, Alice. But I can be as firm as you, and I’m sure I won’t tell you unless you do ask.” But Alice did not ask, and it was not long before Lady Glencora’s firmness gave way.

But, as I have said, Alice had become quite comfortable at Matching Priory. Perhaps she was already growing upwards towards the light. At any rate she could listen with pleasure to the few words the Duke would say to her. She could even chat a little to the Duchess — so that Her Grace had observed to Lady Glencora that “her cousin was a very nice person — a very nice person indeed. What a pity it was that she had been so ill-treated by that gentleman in Oxfordshire?” Lady Glencora had to explain that the gentleman lived in Cambridgeshire, and that he, at any rate, had not treated anybody ill. “Do you mean that she — jilted him?” said the Duchess, almost whistling, and opening her eyes very wide. “Dear me, I’m sorry for that. I shouldn’t have thought it.” And when she next spoke to Alice she assumed rather a severe tone of emphasis — but this was soon abandoned when Alice listened to her with complacency.

Alice also had learned to ride, or rather had resumed her riding, which for years had been abandoned. Jeffrey Palliser had been her squire, and she had become intimate with him so as to learn to quarrel with him and to like him — to such an extent that Lady Glencora had laughingly told her that she was going to do more.

“I rather think not,” said Alice.

“But what has thinking to do with it? Who ever thinks about it?”

“I don’t just at present — at any rate.”

“Upon my word it would be very nice — and then perhaps some day you’d be the Duchess.”

“Glencora, don’t talk such nonsense.”

“Those are the speculations which people make. Only I should spite you by killing myself, so that he might marry again.”

“How can you say such horrid things?”

“I think I shall — some day. What right have I to stand in his way? He spoke to me the other day about Jeffrey’s altered position, and I knew what he meant — or rather what he didn’t mean to say, but what he thought. But I shan’t kill myself.”

“I should think not.”

“I only know one other way,” said Lady Glencora.

“You are thinking of things which should never be in your thoughts,” said Alice vehemently. “Have you no trust in God’s providence? Cannot you accept what has been done for you?”

Mr Bott had gone away, much to Lady Glencora’s delight, but had unfortunately come back again. On his return Alice heard more of the feud between the Duchess and Mrs Conway Sparkes. “I did not tell you,” said Lady Glencora to her friend — “I did not tell you before he went that I was right about his tale-bearing.”

“And did he bear tales?”

“Yes; I did get the scolding, and I know very well that it came through him, though Mr Palliser did not say so. But he told me that the Duchess had felt herself hurt by that other woman’s way of talking.”

“But it was not your fault.”

“No; that’s what I said. It was he who desired me to ask Mrs Conway Sparkes to come here. I didn’t want her. She goes everywhere, and it is thought a catch to get her; but if she had been drowned in the Red Sea I shouldn’t have minded. When I told him that, he said it was nonsense — which of course it was; and then he said I ought to make her hold her tongue. Of course I said I couldn’t. Mrs Conway Sparkes wouldn’t care for me. If she quizzed me, myself, I told him that I could take care of myself, though she were ten times Mrs Conway Sparkes, and had written finer poetry than Tennyson.”

“It is fine — some of it,” said Alice.

“Oh, I dare say! I know a great deal of it by heart, only I wouldn’t give her the pleasure of supposing that I have ever thought so much about her poetry. And then I told him that I couldn’t take care of the Duchess — and he told me that I was a child.”

“He only meant that in love.”

“I am a child; I know that. Why didn’t he marry some strong-minded, ferocious woman that could keep his house in order, and frown Mrs Sparkes out of her impudence? It wasn’t my fault.”

“You didn’t tell him that.”

“But I did. Then he kissed me, and said it was all right, and told me that I should grow older. ‘And Mrs Sparkes will grow more impudent’, I said, ‘and the Duchess more silly.’ And after that I went away. Now this horrid Mr Bott has come back again, and only that it would be mean in me to condescend so far, I would punish him. He grins and smiles at me, and rubs his big hands more than ever, because he feels that he has behaved badly. Is it not horrid to have to live in the house with such people?”

“I don’t think you need mind him much.”

“Yes; but I am the mistress here, and am told that I am to entertain the people. Fancy entertaining the Duchess of St Bungay and Mr Bott!”

Alice had now become so intimate with Lady Glencora that she did not scruple to read her wise lectures — telling her that she allowed herself to think too much of little things — and too much also of some big things. “As regards Mr Bott,” said Alice, “I think you should bear it as though there were no such person.”

“But that would be pretence — especially to you.”

“No; it would not be pretence; it would be the reticence which all women should practise — and you, in your position, more almost than any other woman.” Then Lady Glencora pouted, told Alice that it was a pity she had not married Mr Palliser, and left her.

That evening — the evening of Mr Bott’s return to Matching, that gentleman found a place near to Alice in the drawing-room. He had often come up to her, rubbing his hands together, and saying little words, as though there was some reason from their positions that they two should be friends. Alice had perceived this, and had endeavoured with all her force to shake him off; but he was a man, who if he understood a hint, never took it. A cold shoulder was nothing to him, if he wanted to gain the person who showed it him. His code of perseverance taught him that it was a virtue to overcome cold shoulders. The man or woman who received his first overtures with grace would probably be one on whom it would be better that he should look down and waste no further time; whereas he or she who could afford to treat him with disdain would no doubt be worth gaining. Such men as Mr Bott are ever gracious to cold shoulders. The colder the shoulders, the more gracious are the Mr Botts.

“What a delightful person is our dear friend, Lady Glencora!” said Mr Bott, having caught Alice in a position from which she could not readily escape.

Alice had half a mind to differ, or to make any remark that might rid her from Mr Bott. But she did not dare to say a word that might seem to have been said playfully. “Yes, indeed,” she replied. “How very cold it is tonight!” She was angry with herself for her own stupidity as soon as the phrase was out of her mouth, and then she almost laughed as she thought of the Duchess and the hot-water pipes at Longroyston.

“Yes, it is cold. You and her ladyship are great friends, I believe, Miss Vavasor.”

“She is my cousin,” said Alice.

“Ah! yes; that is so pleasant. I have reason to know that Mr Palliser is very much gratified that you should be so much with her.”

This was unbearable. Alice could not quite assume sufficient courage to get up from her chair and walk away from him, and yet she felt that she must escape further conversation. “I don’t know that I am very much with her, and if I were I can’t think it would make any difference to Mr Palliser.”

But Mr Bott was not a man to be put down when he had a purpose in hand. “I can assure you that those are his sentiments. Of course we all know that dear Lady Glencora is young. She is very young.”

“Mr Bott, I really would rather not talk about my cousin.”

“But, dear Miss Vavasor — when we both have her welfare in view —?”

“I haven’t her welfare in view, Mr Bott; not in the least. There is no reason why I should. You must excuse me if I say I cannot talk about her welfare with a perfect stranger.” Then she did get up, and went away from the Member of Parliament, leaving him rather astonished at her audacity. But he was a constant man, and his inner resolve was simply to the effect that he would try it again.

I wonder whether Jeffrey Palliser did think much of the difference between his present position and that which would have been his had Lady Glencora been the happy possessor of a cradle upstairs with a boy in it. I suppose he must have done so. It is hardly possible that any man should not be alive to the importance of such a chance. His own present position was one of the most unfortunate which can fall to the lot of a man. His father, the Duke’s youngest brother, had left him about six hundred a year, and had left him also a taste for living with people of six thousand. The propriety of earning his bread had never been put before him. His father had been in Parliament, and had been the most favoured son of the old Duke, who for some years before his death had never spoken to him who now reigned over the house of the Pallisers. Jeffrey’s father had been brought up at Matching Priory as scions of ducal houses are brought up, and on the old man’s death had been possessed of means sufficient to go on in the same path, though with difficulty. His brother had done something for him, and at various times he had held some place near the throne. But on his death, when the property left behind him was divided between his son and three daughters, Jeffrey Palliser became possessed of the income above stated. Of course he could live on it — and as during the winter months of the year a home was found for him free of cost, he could keep hunters, and live as rich men live. But he was a poor, embarrassed man, without prospects — until this fine ducal prospect became opened to him by the want of that cradle at Matching Priory.

But the prospect was no doubt very distant. Lady Glencora might yet have as many sons as Hecuba. Or she might die, and some other more fortunate lady might become the mother of his cousin’s heir. Or the Duke might marry and have a son. And, moreover, his cousin was only one year older than himself, and the great prize, if it came his way, might not come for forty years as yet. Nevertheless his hand might now be acceptable in quarters where it would certainly be rejected had Lady Glencora possessed that cradle upstairs. We cannot but suppose that he must have made some calculations of this nature.

“It is a pity you should do nothing all your life,” his cousin Plantagenet said to him one morning just at this time. Jeffrey had sought the interview in his cousin’s room, and I fear had done so with some slight request for ready money.

“What am I to do?” said Jeffrey.

“At any rate you might marry.”

“Oh, yes — I could marry. There’s no man so poor but what he can do that. The question would be how I might like the subsequent starvation.”

“I don’t see that you need starve. Though your own fortune is small, it is something — and many girls have fortunes of their own.”

Jeffrey thought of Lady Glencora, but he made no allusion to her in speech. “I don’t think I’m very good at that kind of thing,” he said, “When the father and mother came to ask of my house and my home I should break down. I don’t say it as praising myself — indeed, quite the reverse; but I fear I have not a mercenary tendency.”

“That’s nonsense.”

“Oh, yes; quite so. I admit that.”

“Men must have mercenary tendencies or they would not have bread. The man who ploughs that he may live does so because he, luckily, has a mercenary tendency.”

“Just so. But you see I am less lucky than the ploughman.”

“There is no vulgar error so vulgar — that is to say, common or erroneous — as that by which men have been taught to say that mercenary tendencies are bad. A desire for wealth is the source of all progress. Civilization comes from what men call greed. Let your mercenary tendencies be combined with honesty and they cannot take you astray.” This the future Chancellor of the Exchequer said with much of that air and tone of wisdom which a Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to possess. “But I haven’t got any such tendencies,” said Jeffrey.

“Would you like to occupy a farm in Scotland?” said Plantagenet Palliser.

“And pay rent?”

“You would have to pay rent of course.”

“Thank you, no. It would be dishonest, as I know I should never pay it.”

“You are too old, I fear, for the public service.”

“You mean a desk in the Treasury — with a hundred a year. Yes; I think I am too old.”

“But have you no plan of your own?”

“Not much of one. Sometimes I have thought I would go to New Zealand.”

“You would have to be a farmer there.”

“No — I shouldn’t do that. I should get up an opposition to the Government and that sort of thing, and then they would buy me off and give me a place.”

“That does very well here, Jeffrey, if a man can get into Parliament and has capital enough to wait; but I don’t think it would do out there. Would you like to go into Parliament?”

“What; here? Of course I should. Only I should be sure to get terribly into debt. I don’t owe very much, now — not to speak of — except what I owe you.”

“You owe nothing to me,” said Plantagenet, with some little touch of magniloquence in his tone. “No; don’t speak of it. I have no brother, and between you and me it means nothing. You see, Jeffrey, it may be that I shall have to look to you as my — my — my heir, in short.” Hereupon Jeffrey muttered something as to the small probability of such necessity, and as to the great remoteness of any result even if it were so.

“That’s all true,” said the elder heir of the Pallisers, “but still —. In short, I wish you would do something. Do think about it; and then some day speak to me again.” Jeffrey, as he left his cousin with a cheque for £500 in his waistcoat pocket, thought that the interview which had at one time taken important dimensions, had not been concluded altogether satisfactorily. A seat in Parliament! Yes, indeed! If his cousin would so far use his political, monetary, or ducal interest as to do that for him — as to give him something of the status properly belonging to the younger son of the House, then indeed life would have some charms for him! But as for the farm in Scotland, or a desk at an office in London — his own New Zealand plan would be better than those. And then as he went along of course he bethought himself that it might be his lot yet to die, and at least to be buried, in the purple, as a Duke of Omnium. If so, certainly it would be his duty to prepare another heir, and leave a duke behind him — if it were possible.

“Are you going to ride with us after lunch?” said Lady Glencora to him as he strolled into the drawing-room.

“No,” said Jeffrey; I’m going to study.

“To do what?” said Lady Glencora.

“To study — or rather I shall spend today in sitting down and considering what I will study. My cousin has just been telling me that I ought to do something.”

“So you ought,” said Iphigenia energetically from her writing-desk.

“But he didn’t seem to have any clear opinion what it ought to be. You see there can’t be two Chancellors of the Exchequer at the same time. Mrs Sparkes, what ought a young man like me to set about doing?”

“Go into Parliament, I should say,” said Mrs Sparkes.

“Ah, yes; exactly. He had some notion of that kind, too, but he didn’t name any particular place. I think I’ll try the City of London. They’ve four there, and of course the chance of getting in would thereby be doubled.”

“I thought that commercial men were generally preferred in the City,” said the Duchess, taking a strong and good-natured interest in the matter.

“Mr Palliser means to make a fortune in trade as a preliminary,” said Mrs Sparkes.

“I don’t think he meant anything of the kind,” said the Duchess.

“At any rate I have got to do something, so I can’t go and ride,” said Jeffrey.

“And you ought to do something,” said Iphigenia from her desk.

Twice during this little conversation Lady Glencora had looked up, catching Alice’s eye, and Alice had well known what she had meant. “You see,” the glance had said, “Plantagenet is beginning to take an interest in his cousin, and you know why. The man who is to be the father of the future dukes must not be allowed to fritter away his time in obscurity. Had I that cradle upstairs Jeffrey might be as idle as he pleased.” Alice understood it well.

Of course Jeffrey did join the riding party. “What is a man like to me to do who wants to do something?” he said to Alice. Alice was quite aware that Lady Glencora had contrived some little scheme that Mr Palliser should be riding next to her. She liked Mr Palliser, and therefore had no objection; but she declared to herself that her cousin was a goose for her pains.

“Mrs Sparkes says you ought to go into Parliament.”

“Yes — and the dear Duchess would perhaps suggest a house in Belgrave Square. I want to hear your advice now.”

“I can only say ditto to Miss Palliser.”

“What! Iphy? About procrastination? But you see the more of my time he steals the better it is for me.”

“That’s the evil you have got to cure.”

“My cousin Plantagenet suggested — marriage.”

“A very good thing too, I’m sure,” said Alice; “only it depends something on the sort of wife you get.”

“You mean, of course, how much money she has.”

“Not altogether.”

“Looking at it from my cousin’s point of view, I suppose that it is the only important point. Who are there coming up this year — in the way of heiresses?”

“Upon my word I don’t know. In the first place, how much money makes an heiress?”

“For such a fellow as me, I suppose ten thousand pounds ought to do.”

“That’s not much,” said Alice, who had exactly that amount of her own.

“No —; perhaps that’s too moderate. But the lower one went in the money speculation, the greater would be the number to choose from, and the better the chance of getting something decent in the woman herself. I have something of my own — not much you know; so with the lady’s ten thousand pounds we might be able to live — in some second-rate French town perhaps.”

“But I don’t see what you would gain by that.”

“My people here would have got rid of me. That seems to be the great thing. If you hear of any girl with about that sum, moderately good-looking, not too young so that she might know something of the world, decently born, and able to read and write, perhaps you will bear me in mind.”

“Yes, I will,” said Alice, who was quite aware that he had made an accurate picture of her own position. “When I meet such a one, I will send for you at once.”

“You know no such person now?”

“Well, no; not just at present.”

“I declare I don’t think he could do anything better,” her cousin said to her that night. Lady Glencora was now in the habit of having Alice with her in what she called her dressing-room every evening, and then they would sit till the small hours came upon them. Mr Palliser always burnt the midnight oil and came to bed with the owls. They would often talk of him and his prospects till Alice had perhaps inspired his wife with more of interest in him and them than she had before felt. And Alice had managed generally to drive her friend away from those topics which were so dangerous — those allusions to her childlessness, and those hints that Burgo Fitzgerald was still in her thoughts. And sometimes, of course, they had spoken of Alice’s own prospects, till she got into a way of telling her cousin freely all that she felt. On such occasions Lady Glencora would always tell her that she had been right — if she did not love the man. “Though your finger were put out for the ring,” said Lady Glencora on one such occasion, “you should go back, if you did not love him.”

“But I did love him,” said Alice.

“Then I don’t understand it,” said Lady Glencora; and, in truth, close as was their intimacy, they did not perfectly understand each other.

But on this occasion they were speaking of Jeffrey Palliser.

“I declare I don’t think he could do any better,” said Lady Glencora.

“If you talk such nonsense, I will not stay,” said Alice,

“But why should it be nonsense? You would be very comfortable with your joint incomes. He is one of the best fellows in the world. It is clear that he likes you; and then we should be so near to each other. I am sure Mr Palliser would do something for him if he married — and especially if I asked him.”

“I only know of two things against it.”

“And what are they?”

“That he would not take me for his wife, and that I would not take him for my husband.”

“Why not? What do you dislike in him?”

“I don’t dislike him at all. I like him very much indeed. But one can’t marry all the people one likes.”

“But what reason is there why you shouldn’t marry him?”

“This chiefly,” said Alice, after a pause; “that I have just separated myself from a man whom I certainly did love truly, and that I cannot transfer my affections quite so quickly as that.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew that they should not have been spoken. It was exactly what Glencora had done. She had loved a man and had separated herself from him and had married another, all within a month or two. Lady Glencora first became red as fire over her whole face and shoulders, and Alice afterwards did the same as she looked up, as though searching in her cousin’s eyes for pardon.

“It is an unmaidenly thing to do, certainly,” said Lady Glencora very slowly, and in her lowest voice. “Nay, it is unwomanly; but one may be driven. One may be so driven that all gentleness of womanhood is driven out of one.”

“Oh, Glencora!”

“I did not propose that you should do it as a sudden thing.”


“I did do it suddenly. I know it. I did it like a beast that is driven as its owner chooses. I know it. I was a beast. Oh, Alice, if you knew how I hate myself!”

“But I love you with all my heart,” said Alice. “Glencora, I have learned to love you so dearly!”

“Then you are the only being that does. He can’t love me. How is it possible? You — and perhaps another.”

“There are many who love you. He loves you. Mr Palliser loves you.”

“It is impossible. I have never said a word to him that could make him love me. I have never done a thing for him that can make him love me. The mother of his child he might have loved, because of that. Why should he love me? We were told to marry each other and did it. When could he have learned to love me? But, Alice, he requires no loving, either to take it or to give it. I wish it were so with me.”

Alice said what she could to comfort her, but her words were but of little avail as regarded those marriage sorrows.

“Forgive you!” at last Glencora said. “What have I to forgive? You don’t suppose I do not know it all, and think of it all without the chance of some stray word like that! Forgive you! I am so grateful that you love me! Some one’s love I must have found — or I could not have remained here.”

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