Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 32

Containing an Answer to the Love-letter

Alice had had a week allowed to write her answer; but she sent it off before the full week was past. “Why should I keep him in suspense?” she said. “If it is to be so, there can be no good in not saying so at once.” Then she thought, also, that if this were to be her destiny it might be well for Mr Grey that all his doubts on the matter should be dispelled. She had treated him badly — very badly. She had so injured him that the remembrance of the injury must always be a source of misery to her; but she owed to him above everything to let him know what were her intentions as soon as they were settled. She tried to console herself by thinking that the wound to him would be easy of cure. “He also is not passionate,” she said. But in so saying she deceived herself. He was a man in whom Love could be very passionate — and was, moreover, one in whom Love could hardly be renewed.

Each morning Kate asked her whether her answer was written; and on the third day after Christmas, just before dinner, Alice said that she had written it, and that it was gone.

“But it isn’t post-day,” said Kate — for the post illuminated Vavasor but three days a week.

“I have given a boy sixpence to take it to Shap,” said Alice blushing.

“And what have you said?” asked Kate, taking hold of the other’s arm.

“I have kept my promise,” said Alice; “and do you keep yours by asking no further questions.”

“My sister — my own sister,” said Kate. And then, as Alice met her embrace, there was no longer any doubt as to the nature of the reply.

After this there was of course much close discussion between them as to what other steps should now be taken. Kate wanted her cousin to write immediately to Mr Grey, and was somewhat frightened when Alice declined to do so till she had received a further letter from George. “You have not proposed any horrid stipulations to him?” exclaimed Kate. “I don’t know what you may call horrid stipulations,” said Alice, gravely. “My conditions have not been very hard, and I do not think you would have disapproved them.”

“But he! — He is so impetuous! Will he disapprove them?”

“I have told him. — But, Kate, this is just what I did not mean to tell you.”

“Why should there be secrets between us?” said Kate.

“There shall be none, then. I have told him that I cannot bring myself to marry him instantly — that he must allow me twelve months to wear off if I can in that time, much of sadness and of self-reproach which has fallen to my lot.”

“Twelve months, Alice?”

“Listen to me. I have said so. But I have told him also that if he wishes it still, I will at once tell papa and grandpapa that I hold myself as engaged to him, so that he may know that I bind myself to him as far as it is possible that I should do so. And I have added something else, Kate,” she continued to say after a slight pause — “something else which I can tell you, though I could tell it to no other person. I can tell you because you would do, and will do the same. I have told him that any portion of my money is at his service which may be needed for his purposes before that twelve months is over.”

“Oh, Alice! No — no. You shall not do that. It is too generous.” And Kate perhaps felt at the moment that her brother was a man to whom such an offer could hardly be made with safety.

“But I have done it. Mercury, with sixpence in his pocket, is already posting my generosity at Shap. And, to tell the truth, Kate, it is no more than fair. He has honestly told me that while the old Squire lives he will want my money to assist him in a career of which I do much more than approve. It has been my earnest wish to see him in Parliament. It will now be the most earnest desire of my heart — the one thing as to which I shall feel an intense anxiety. How then can I have the face to bid him wait twelve months for that which is specially needed in six months’ time? It would be like the workhouses which are so long in giving bread, that in the mean time the wretches starve.”

“But the wretch shan’t starve,” said Kate. “My money, small as it is, will carry him over this bout. I have told him that he shall have it, and that I expect him to spend it. Moreover, I have no doubt that Aunt Greenow would lend me what he wants.”

“But I should not wish him to borrow from Aunt Greenow. She would advance him the money, as you say, upon stamped paper, and then talk of it.”

“He shall have mine,” said Kate.

“And who are you?” said Alice, laughing. “You are not going to be his wife?”

“He shall not touch your money till you are his wife,” said Kate, very seriously. “I wish you would consent to change your mind about this stupid tedious year, and then you might do as you pleased. I have no doubt such a settlement might be made as to the property here, when my grandfather hears of it, as would make you ultimately safe.”

“And do you think I care to be ultimately safe, as you call it? Kate, my dear, you do not understand me.”

“I suppose not. And yet I thought that I had known something about you.”

“It is because I do not care for the safety of which you speak that I am now going to become your brother’s wife. Do you suppose that I do not see that I must run much risk?”

“You prefer the excitement of London to the tranquility, may I say, of Cambridgeshire.”

“Exactly — and therefore I have told George that he shall have my money whenever he wants it.”

Kate was very persistent in her objection to this scheme till George’s answer came. His answer to Alice was accompanied by a letter to his sister, and after that Kate said nothing more about the money question. She said no more then; but it must not therefore be supposed that she was less determined than she had been that no part of Alice’s fortune should be sacrificed to her brother’s wants — at any rate before Alice should become her brother’s wife. But her brother’s letter for the moment stopped her mouth. It would be necessary that she should speak to him before she again spoke to Alice.

In what words Alice had written her assent it will be necessary that the reader should know, in order that something may be understood of the struggle which she made upon the occasion; but they shall be given presently, when I come to speak of George Vavasor’s position as he received them. George’s reply was very short and apparently very frank. He deprecated the delay of twelve months, and still hoped to be able to induce her to be more lenient to him. He advised her to write to Mr Grey at once — and as regarded the Squire he gave her carte blanche to act as she pleased. If the Squire required any kind of apology, expression of sorrow — any asking for pardon, or such like, he, George, would, under the circumstances as they now existed, comply with the requisition most willingly. He would regard it as a simple form, made necessary by his coming marriage. As to Alice’s money, he thanked her heartily for her confidence. If the nature of his coming contest at Chelsea should make it necessary, he would use her offer as frankly as it had been made. Such was his letter to Alice. What was contained in his letter to Kate, Alice never knew.

Then came the business of telling this new love tale — the third which poor Alice had been forced to tell her father and grandfather — and a grievous task it was. In this matter she feared her father much more than her grandfather, and therefore she resolved to tell her grandfather first — or, rather, she determined that she would tell the Squire, and that in the mean time Kate should talk to her father.

“Grandpapa,” she said to him the morning after she had received her cousin’s second letter. — The old man was in the habit of breakfasting alone in a closet of his own, which was called his dressing-room, but in which he kept no appurtenances for dressing, but in lieu of them a large collection of old spuds and sticks and horse’s-bits. There was a broken spade here, and a hoe or two; and a small table in the corner was covered with the debris of tradesmen’s bills from Penrith, and dirty scraps which he was wont to call his farm accounts — “Grandpapa,” said Alice, rushing away at once into the middle of her subject, “you told me the other day that you thought I ought to be — married.”

“Did I, my dear? Well, yes; so I did. And so you ought — I mean to that Mr Grey.”

“That is impossible, sir.”

“Then what’s the use of your coming and talking to me about it?”

This made Alice’s task not very easy; but, nevertheless, she persevered. “I am come, grandpapa, to tell you of another engagement.”

“Another!” said he. And by the tone of his voice he accused his granddaughter of having a larger number of favoured suitors than ought to fall to the lot of any young lady. It was very hard upon her, but still she went on.

“You know,” said she, “that some years ago I was to have been married to my cousin George;” — and then she paused.

“Well,” said the old man.

“And I remember you told me then that you were much pleased.”

“So I was. George was doing well then; or — which is more likely — had made us believe that he was doing well. Have you made it up with him again?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And that’s the meaning of your jilting Mr Grey, is it?”

Poor Alice! It is hard to explain how heavy a blow fell upon her from the open utterance of that word! Of all words in the language it was the one which she now most dreaded. She had called herself a jilt, with that inaudible voice which one uses in making self-accusations — but hitherto no lips had pronounced the odious word to her ears. Poor Alice! She was a jilt; and perhaps it may have been well that the old man should tell her so.

“Grandpapa!” she said; and there was that in the tone of her voice which somewhat softened the Squire’s heart.

“Well, my dear, I don’t want to be ill-natured. So you are going at last to marry George, are you? I hope he’ll treat you well; that’s all. Does your father approve of it?”

“I have told you first, sir — because I wish to obtain your consent to seeing George again here as your grandson.”

“Never,” said the old man, snarling — “never!”

“If he has been wrong, he will beg your pardon.”

“If he has been wrong! Didn’t he want to squander every shilling of the property — property which has never belonged to him — property which I could give to Tom, Dick, or Harry tomorrow, if I liked? — If he has been wrong!”

“I am not defending him, sir — but I thought that, perhaps, on such an occasion as this — ”

“A Tom Fool’s occasion! You’ve got money of your own. He’ll spend all that now.”

“He will be less likely to do so if you will recognize him as your heir. Pray believe, sir, that he is not the sort of man that he was.”

“He must be a very clever sort of a man, I think, when he has talked you out of such a husband as John Grey. It’s astounding to me — with that ugly mug of his! Well, my dear, if your father approves of it, and if George will ask my pardon — but I don’t think he ever will — ”

“He will, sir. I am his messenger for as much as that.”

“Oh, you are, are you? Then you may also be my messenger to him, and tell him that, for your sake, I will let him come back here. I know he’ll insult me the first day; but I’ll try and put up with it — for your sake, my dear. Of course I must know what your father thinks about it.”

It may be imagined that Kate’s success was even less than that which Alice achieved. “I knew it would be so,” said John Vavasor, when his niece first told him — and as he spoke he struck his hand upon the table. “I knew all along how it would be.”

“And why should it not be so, Uncle John?”

“He is your brother, and I will not tell you why.”

“You think that he is a spendthrift?”

“I think that he is as unsafe a man as ever I knew to be intrusted with the happiness of any young woman. That is all.”

“You are hard upon him, uncle.”

“Perhaps so. Tell Alice this from me — that as I have never yet been able to get her to think anything of my opinion, I do not at all expect that I shall be able to induce her to do so now. I will not even make the attempt. As my son-in-law I will not receive George Vavasor. Tell Alice that.”

Alice was told her father’s message; but Kate in telling it felt no deep regret. She well knew that Alice would not be turned back from her present intention by her father’s wishes. Nor would it have been very reasonable that she should. Her father had for many years relieved himself from the burden of a father’s cares, and now had hardly the right to claim a father’s privileges.

We will now go once again to George Vavasor’s room in Cecil Street, in which he received Alice’s letter. He was dressing when it was first brought to him; and when he recognized the handwriting he put it down on his toilet table unopened. He put it down, and went on brushing his hair, as though he were determined to prove to himself that he was indifferent as to the tidings which it might contain. He went on brushing his hair, and cleaning his teeth, and tying his cravat carefully over his turned-down collar, while the unopened letter lay close to his hand. Of course he was thinking of it — of course he was anxious — of course his eye went to it from moment to moment. But he carried it with him into the sitting-room still unopened, and so it remained until after the girl had brought him his tea and his toast. “And now,” said he, as he threw himself into his armchair, “let us see what the girl of my heart says to me.” The girl of his heart said to him as follows:

“MY DEAR GEORGE,

“I feel great difficulty in answering your letter. Could I have my own way, I should make no answer to it at present, but leave it for the next six months, so that then such answer might hereafter be made as circumstances should seem to require. This will be little flattering to you, but it is less flattering to myself. Whatever answer I may make, how can anything in this affair be flattering either to you or to me? We have been like children who have quarrelled over our game of play, till now, at the close of our little day of pleasure, we are fain to meet each other in tears, and acknowledge that we have looked for delights where no delights were to be found.

“Kate, who is here, talks to me of passionate love. There is no such passion left to me — nor, as I think, to you either. It would not now be possible that you and I should come together on such terms as that. We could not stand up together as man and wife with any hope of a happy marriage, unless we had both agreed that such happiness might be had without passionate love.

“You will see from all this that I do not refuse your offer. Without passion, I have for you a warm affection, which enables me to take a livelier interest in your career than in any other of the matters which are around me. Of course, if I become your wife that interest will be still closer and dearer, and I do feel that I can take in it that concern which a wife should have in her husband’s affairs.

“If it suits you, I will become your wife — but it cannot be quite at once. I have suffered much from the past conflicts of my life, and there has been very much with which I must reproach myself. I know that I have behaved badly. Sometimes I have to undergo the doubly bitter self-accusation of having behaved in a manner which the world will call unfeminine. You must understand that I have not passed through this unscathed, and I must beg you to allow me some time for a cure. A perfect cure I may never expect, but I think that in twelve months from this time I may so far have recovered my usual spirit and ease of mind as to enable me to devote myself to your happiness. Dear George, if you will accept me under such circumstances, I will be your wife, and will endeavour to do my duty by you faithfully.

“I have said that even now, as your cousin, I take a lively interest in your career — of course I mean your career as a politician — and especially in your hopes of entering Parliament. I understand, accurately as I think, what you have said about my fortune, and I perfectly appreciate your truth and frankness. If I had nothing of my own you, in your circumstances, could not possibly take me as your wife. I know, moreover, that your need of assistance from my means is immediate rather than prospective. My money may be absolutely necessary to you within this year, during which, as I tell you most truly, I cannot bring myself to become a married woman. But my money shall be less cross-grained than myself. You will take it as frankly as I mean it when I say, that whatever you want for your political purposes shall be forthcoming at your slightest wish. Dear George, let me have the honour and glory of marrying a man who has gained a seat in the Parliament of Great Britain! Of all positions which a man may attain that, to me, is the grandest.

“I shall wait for a further letter from you before I speak either to my father or to my grandfather. If you can tell me that you accede to my views, I will at once try to bring about a reconciliation between you and the Squire. I think that that will be almost easier than inducing my father to look with favour upon our marriage. But I need hardly say that should either one or the other oppose it — or should both do so — that would not turn me from my purpose.

“I also wait for your answer to write a last line to Mr Grey.

“Your affectionate cousin, ALICE VAVSOR.”

George Vavasor when he had read the letter threw it carelessly from him on to the breakfast table, and began to munch his toast. He threw it carelessly from him, as though taking a certain pride in his carelessness. “Very well,” said he; “so be it. It is probably the best thing that I could do, whatever the effect may be on her.” Then he took up his newspaper. But before the day was over he had made many plans — plans made almost unconsciously — as to the benefit which might accrue to him from the offer which she had made of her money. And before night he had written that reply to her of which we have heard the contents; and had written also to his sister Kate a letter, of which Kate had kept the contents to herself.

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