Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 28

Alice leaves the Priory

As they came in at the billiard-room door, Mr Palliser was there to meet them. “You must be very cold,” he said to Glencora, who entered first. “No, indeed,” said Glencora — but her teeth were chattering, and her whole appearance gave the lie to her words. “Jeffrey,” said Mr Palliser, turning to his cousin, “I am angry with you. You, at least, should have known better than to have allowed her to remain so long.” Then Mr Palliser turned away, and walked his wife off, taking no notice whatsoever of Miss Vavasor.

Alice felt the slight, and understood it all. He had told her plainly enough, though not in words, that he had trusted his wife with her, and that she had betrayed the trust. She might have brought Glencora in within five or six minutes, instead of allowing her to remain out there in the freezing night air for nearly three-quarters of an hour. That was the accusation which Mr Palliser made against her, and he made it with the utmost severity. He asked no question of her whether she were cold. He spoke no word to her, nor did he even look at her. She might get herself away to her bedroom as she pleased. Alice understood all this completely, and though she knew that she had not deserved such severity, she was not inclined to resent it. There was so much in Mr Palliser’s position that was to be pitied, that Alice could not find it in her heart to be angry with him.

“He is provoked with us, now,” said Jeffrey Palliser, standing with her for a moment in the billiard-room, as he handed her a candle.

“He is afraid that she will have caught cold.”

“Yes; and he thinks it wrong that she should remain out at night so long. You can easily understand, Miss Vavasor, that he has not much sympathy for romance.”

“I dare say he is right,” said Alice, not exactly knowing what to say, and not being able to forget what had been said about herself and Jeffrey Palliser when they first left the house.“Romance usually means nonsense, I believe.”

“That is not Glencora’s doctrine.”

“No; but she is younger than I am. My feet are very cold, Mr Palliser, and I think I will go up to my room.”

“Good night,” said Jeffrey, offering her his hand. “I think it so hard that you should have incurred his displeasure.”

“It will not hurt me,” said Alice, smiling,

“No — but he does not forget.”

“Even that will not hurt me. Good night, Mr Palliser.”

“As it is the last night, may I say ‘goodnight, Alice’? I shall be away tomorrow before you are up.”

He still held her hand; but it had not been in his for half a minute, and she had thought nothing of that, nor did she draw it away even now suddenly. “No,” said she, “Glencora was very wrong there — doing an injury without meaning it to both of us. There can be no possible reason why you should call me otherwise than is customary.”

“Can there never be a reason?”

“No, Mr Palliser. Good night — and if I am not to see you tomorrow morning, goodbye.”

“You will certainly not see me tomorrow morning.”

“Good-bye. Had it not been for this folly of Glencora’s, our acquaintance would have been very pleasant.”

“To me it has been very pleasant. Good night.” Then she left him, and went up alone to her own room. Whether or no other guests were still left in the drawing-room she did not know; but she had seen that Mr Palliser took his wife up stairs, and therefore she considered herself right in presuming that the party was broken up for the night. Mr Palliser — Plantagenet Palliser, according to all rules of courtesy should have said a word to her as he went; but, as I have said before, Alice was disposed to overlook his want of civility on this occasion. So she went up alone to her room, and was very glad to find herself able to get close to a good fire. She was, in truth, very cold — cold to her bones, in spite of what Lady Glencora had said on behalf of the moonlight. They two had been standing all but still during the greater part of the time that they had been talking, and Alice, as she sat herself down, found that her feet were numbed with the damp that had penetrated through her boots. Certainly Mr Palliser had reason to be angry that his wife should have remained out in the night air so long — though perhaps not with Alice.

And then she began to think of what had been told her, and to try to think of what, under such circumstances, it behoved her to do. She could not doubt that Lady Glencora had intended to declare that, if opportunity offered itself, she would leave her husband, and put herself under the protection of Mr Fitzgerald; and Alice, moreover, had become painfully conscious that the poor deluded unreasoning creature had taught herself to think that she might excuse herself for this sin to her own conscience by the fact that she was childless, and that she might thus give to the man who had married her an opportunity of seeking another wife who might give him an heir. Alice well knew how insufficient such an excuse would be even to the wretched woman who had framed it for herself. But still it would operate — manifestly had already operated, on her mind, teaching her to hope that good might come out of evil. Alice, who was perfectly clear-sighted as regarded her cousin, however much impaired her vision might have been with reference to herself, saw nothing but absolute ruin, ruin of the worst and most intolerable description, in the plan which Lady Glencora seemed to have formed. To her it was black as the depths of hell; and she knew that to Glencora also it was black. “I loathe myself,” Glencora had said, “and the thing that I am thinking of.”

What was Alice to do under these circumstances? Mr Palliser, she was aware, had quarrelled with her: for in his silent way he had first shown that he had trusted her as his wife’s friend; and then, on this evening, he had shown that he had ceased to trust her. But she cared little for this. If she told him that she wished to speak to him, he would listen, let his opinion of her be what it might; and having listened he would surely act in some way that would serve to save his wife. What Mr Palliser might think of herself, Alice cared but little.

But then there came to her an idea — an idea that was in every respect feminine — that in such a matter she had no right to betray her friend. When one woman tells the story of her love to another woman, the confidant always feels that she will be a traitor if she reveals the secret. Had Lady Glencora made Alice believe that she meditated murder, or robbery, Alice would have had no difficulty in telling the tale, and thus preventing the crime. But now she hesitated, feeling that she would disgrace herself by betraying her friend. And, after all, was it not more than probable that Glencora had no intention of carrying out a threat the very thought of which must be terrible to herself?

As she was thinking of all this, sitting in her dressing-gown close over the fire, there came a loud knock at the door, which, as she had turned the key, she was forced to answer in person. She opened the door, and there was Iphigenia Palliser, Jeffrey’s cousin, and Mr Palliser’s cousin. “Miss Vavasor,” she said, “I know that I am taking a great liberty, but may I come into your room for a few minutes? I so much wish to speak to you!” Alice of course bade her enter, and placed a chair for her by the fire.

Alice Vavasor had made very little intimacy with either of the two Miss Pallisers. It had seemed to herself as though there had been two parties in the house, and that she had belonged to the one which was headed by the wife, whereas the Miss Pallisers had been naturally attached to that of the husband. These ladies, as she had already seen, almost idolized their cousin; and though Plantagenet Palliser had till lately treated Alice with the greatest personal courtesy, there had been no intimacy of friendship between them, and consequently none between her and his special adherents. Nor was either of these ladies prone to sudden friendship with such a one as Alice Vavasor. A sudden friendship with a snuffy president of a foreign learned society, with some personally unknown lady employed on female emigration, was very much in their way. But Alice had not shown herself to be useful or learned, and her special intimacy with Lady Glencora had marked her out as in some sort separated from them and their ways.

“I know that I am intruding,” said Miss Palliser, as though she were almost afraid of Alice.

“Oh dear, no,” said Alice. “If I can do anything for you I shall be very happy.”

“You are going tomorrow, and if I did not speak to you now I should have no other opportunity. Glencora seems to be very much attached to you, and we all thought it so good a thing that she should have such a friend.”

“I hope you have not all changed your minds,” said Alice, with a faint smile, thinking as she spoke that the “all” must have been specially intended to include the master of the house.

“Oh, no — by no means. I did not mean that. My cousin, Mr Palliser, I mean, liked you so much when you came.”

“And he does not like me quite so much now, because I went out in the moonlight with his wife. Isn’t that it?”

“Well — no, Miss Vavasor. I had not intended to mention that at all. I had not indeed. I have seen him certainly since you came in — just for a minute, and he is vexed. But it is not about that that I would speak to you.”

“I saw plainly enough that he was angry with me.”

“He thought you would have brought her in earlier.”

“And why should he think that I can manage his wife? She was the mistress out there as she is in here. Mr Palliser has been unreasonable. Not that it signifies.”

“I don’t think he has been unreasonable; I don’t, indeed, Miss Vavasor. He has certainly been vexed. Sometimes he has much to vex him. You see, Glencora is very young.” Mr Bott also had declared that Lady Glencora was very young. It was probable, therefore, that that special phrase had been used in some discussion among Mr Palliser’s party as to Glencora’s foibles. So thought Alice as the remembrance of the word came upon her.

“She is not younger than when Mr Palliser married her,” Alice said.

“You mean that if a man marries a young wife he must put up with the trouble. That is a matter of course. But their ages, in truth, are very suitable. My cousin himself is not yet thirty. When I say that Glencora is young — ”

“You mean that she is younger in spirit, and perhaps in conduct, than he had expected to find her.”

“But you are not to suppose that he complains, Miss Vavasor. He is much too proud for that.”

“I should hope so,” said Alice, thinking of Mr Bott.

“I hardly know how to explain to you what I wish to say, or how far I may be justified in supposing that you will believe me to be acting solely on Glencora’s behalf. I think you have some influence with her — and I know no one else that has any.”

“My friendship with her is not of very long date, Miss Palliser.”

“I know it, but still there is the fact. Am I not right in supposing — ”

“In supposing what?”

“In supposing that you had heard the name of Mr Fitzgerald as connected with Glencora’s before her marriage with my cousin?”

Alice paused a moment before she answered.

“Yes, I had,” she then said.

“And I think you were agreed, with her other relations, that such a marriage would have been very dreadful.”

“I never spoke of the matter in the presence of any relatives of Glencora’s. You must understand, Miss Palliser, that though I am her far-away cousin, I do not even know her nearest connections. I never saw Lady Midlothian till she came here the other day.”

“But you advised her to abandon Mr Fitzgerald.”

“Never!”

“I know she was much with you, just at that time.”

“I used to see her, certainly.”

Then there was a pause, and Miss Palliser, in truth, scarcely knew how to go on. There had been a hardness about Alice which her visitor had not expected — an unwillingness to speak or even to listen, which made Miss Palliser almost wish that she were out of the room. She had, however, mentioned Burgo Fitzgerald’s name, and out of the room now she could not go without explaining why she had done so. But at this point Alice came suddenly to her assistance.

“Just then she was often with me,” said Alice, continuing her reply; “and there was much talk between us about Mr Fitzgerald. What was my advice then can be of little matter; but in this we shall be both agreed, Miss Palliser, that Glencora now should certainly not be called upon to be in his company.”

“She has told you, then?”

“Yes — she has told me.”

“That he is to be at Lady Monk’s?”

“She has told me that Mr Palliser expects her to meet him at the place to which they are going when they leave the Duke’s, and that she thinks it hard that she should be subjected to such a trial.”

“It should be no trial, Miss Vavasor.”

“How can it be otherwise? Come, Miss Palliser; if you are her friend, be fair to her.”

“I am her friend — but I am, above everything, my cousin’s friend. He has told me that she has complained of having to meet this man. He declares that it should be nothing to her, and that the fear is an idle folly. It should be nothing to her, but still the fear may not be idle. Is there any reason — any real reason — why she should not go? Miss Vavasor, I conjure you to tell me — even though in doing so you must cast so deep reproach upon her name! Anything will be better than utter disgrace and sin!”

“I conceive that I cast no reproach upon her in saying that there is great reason why she should not go to Monkshade.”

“You think there is absolute ground for interference? I must tell him, you know, openly what he would have to fear.”

“I think — nay, Miss Palliser, I know — that there is ample reason why you should save her from being taken to Monkshade, if you have the power to do so.”

“I can only do it, or attempt to do it, by telling him just what you tell me.”

“Then tell him. You must have thought of that, I suppose, before you came to me.”

“Yes — yes, Miss Vavasor. I had thought of it. No doubt I had thought of it. But I had believed all through that you would assure me that there was no danger. I believed that you would have said that she was innocent.”

“And she is innocent,” said Alice, rising from her chair, as though she might thus give emphasis to words which she hardly dared to speak above a whisper. “She is innocent. Who accuses her of guilt? You ask me a question on his behalf — ”

“On hers — and on his, Miss Vavasor.”

“A question which I feel myself bound to answer truly — to answer with reference to the welfare of them both; but I will not have it said that I accuse her. She had been attached to Mr Fitzgerald when your cousin married her. He knew that this had been the case. She told him the whole truth. In a worldly point of view her marriage with Mr Fitzgerald would probably have been very imprudent.”

“It would have been utterly ruinous.”

“Perhaps so; I say nothing about that. But as it turned out, she gave up her own wishes and married your cousin.”

“I don’t know about her own wishes, Miss Vavasor.”

“It is what she did. She would have married Mr Fitzgerald, had she not been hindered by the advice of those around her. It cannot be supposed that she has forgotten him in so short a time. There can be no guilt in her remembrance.”

“There is guilt in loving any other than her husband.”

“Then, Miss Palliser, it was her marriage that was guilty, and not her love. But all that is done and past. It should be your cousin’s object to teach her to forget Mr Fitzgerald, and he will not do that by taking her to a house where that gentleman is staying.”

“She has said so much to you herself?”

“I do not know that I need declare to you what she has said herself. You have asked me a question, and I have answered it, and I am thankful to you for having asked it. What object can either of us have but to assist her in her position?”

“And to save him from dishonour. I had so hoped that this was simply a childish dread on her part.”

“It is not so. It is no childish dread. If you have the power to prevent her going to Lady Monk’s, I implore you to use it. Indeed, I will ask you to promise me that you will do so.”

“After what you have said, I have no alternative.”

“Exactly. There is no alternative. Either for his sake or for hers, there is none.”

Thereupon Miss Palliser got up, and wishing her companion goodnight, took her departure. Throughout the interview there had been no cordiality of feeling between them. There was no pretence of friendship, even as they were parting. They acknowledged that their objects were different. That of Alice was to save Lady Glencora from ruin. That of Miss Palliser was to save her cousin from disgrace — with perhaps some further honest desire to prevent sorrow and sin. One loved Lady Glencora, and the other clearly did not love her. But, nevertheless, Alice felt that Miss Palliser, in coming to her, had acted well, and that to herself this coming had afforded immense relief. Some step would now be taken to prevent that meeting which she had so deprecated, and it would be taken without any great violation of confidence on her part. She had said nothing as to which Lady Glencora could feel herself aggrieved.

On the next morning she was down in the breakfast-room soon after nine, and had not been in the room many minutes before Mr Palliser entered. “The carriage is ordered for you at a quarter before ten,” he said, “and I have come down to give you your breakfast.” There was a smile on his face as he spoke, and Alice could see that he intended to make himself pleasant.

“Will you allow me to give you yours instead?” said she.

But as it happened, no giving on either side was needed, as Alice’s breakfast was brought to her separately.

“Glencora bids me say that she will be down immediately,” said Mr Palliser.

Alice then made some inquiry with reference to the effects of last night’s imprudence, which received only a half-pronounced reply. Mr Palliser was willing to be gracious, but did not intend to be understood as having forgiven the offence. The Miss Pallisers then came in together, and after them Mr Bott, closely followed by Mrs Marsham, and all of them made inquiries after Lady Glencora, as though it was to be supposed that she might probably be in a perilous state after what she had undergone on the previous evening. Mr Bott was particularly anxious. “The frost was so uncommonly severe,” said he, “that any delicate person like Lady Glencowrer must have suffered in remaining out so long.”

The insinuation that Alice was not a delicate person, and that, as regarded her, the severity of the frost was of no moment, was very open, and was duly appreciated. Mr Bott was aware that his great patron had in some sort changed his opinion about Miss Vavasor, and he was of course disposed to change his own. A fortnight since Alice might have been as delicate as she pleased in Mr Bott’s estimation.

“I hope you do not consider Lady Glencora delicate,” said Alice to Mr Palliser.

“She is not robust,” said the husband.

“By no means,” said Mrs Marsham.

“Indeed, no,” said Mr Bott.

Alice knew that she was being accused of being robust herself; but she bore it in silence. Ploughboys and milkmaids are robust, and the accusation was a heavy one. Alice, however, thought that she would not have minded it, if she could have allowed herself to reply; but this at the moment of her going away she could not do.

“I think she is as strong as the rest of us,” said Iphigenia Palliser, who felt that after last night she owed something to Miss Vavasor.

“As some of us,” said Mr Bott, determined to persevere in his accusation.

At this moment Lady Glencora entered, and encountered the eager inquiries of her two duennas. These, however, she quickly put aside, and made her way up to Alice. “The last morning has come, then,” she said.

“Yes, indeed,” said Alice. “Mr Palliser must have thought that I was never going.”

“On the other hand,” said he, “I have felt much obliged to you for staying.” But he said it coldly; and Alice began to wish that she had never seen Matching Priory.

“Obliged!” exclaimed Lady Glencora. “I can’t tell you how much obliged I am. Oh, Alice, I wish you were going to stay with us!”

“We are leaving this in a week’s time,” said Mr Palliser.

“Of course we are,” said Lady Glencora, “With all my heart I wish we were not. Dear Alice! I suppose we shall not meet till we are all in town.”

“You will let me know when you come up,” said Alice.

“I will send to you instantly; and, Alice, I will write to you from Gatherum — or from Monkshade.”

Alice could not help looking round and catching Miss Palliser’s eye. Miss Palliser was standing with her foot on the fender, but was so placed that she could see Alice. She made a slight sign with her head, as much as to say that Lady Glencora must have no opportunity of writing from that latter place; but she said nothing.

Then the carriage was announced, and Mr Palliser took Alice out on his arm. “Don’t come to the door, Glencora,” he said. “I especially wish you not to do so.” The two cousins then kissed each other, and Alice went away to the carriage.

“Good-bye, Miss Vavasor,” said Mr Palliser; but he expressed no wish that he might see her again as his guest at Matching Priory.

Alice, as she was driven in solitary grandeur to the railway station, could not but wish that she had never gone there.

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