Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 37

Mr Tombe’s Advice

Alice sat alone for an hour without moving when John Grey had left her, and the last words which he had uttered were sounding in her ears all the time, “My heart is still yours, as it has been since I knew you.” There had been something in his words which had soothed her spirits, and had, for the moment, almost comforted her. At any rate, he did not despise her. He could not have spoken such words as these to her had he not still held her high in his esteem. Nay — had he not even declared that he would yet take her as his own if she would come to him? “I cannot tell you with how much joy I would take you back to my bosom!” Ah! That might never be. But yet the assurance had been sweet to her — dangerously sweet, as she soon told herself. She knew that she had lost her Eden, but it was something to her that the master of the garden had not himself driven her forth. She sat there, thinking of her fate, as though it belonged to some other one — not to herself; as though it were a tale that she had read. Herself she had shipwrecked altogether; but though she might sink, she had not been thrust from the ship by hands which she loved.

But would it not have been better that he should have scorned her and reviled her? Had he been able to do so, he at least would have escaped the grief of disappointed love. Had he learned to despise her, he would have ceased to regret her. She had no right to feel consolation in the fact that his sufferings were equal to her own. But when she thought of this, she told herself that it could not be that it was so. He was a man, she said, not passionate by nature. Alas! It was the mistake she had ever made when summing up the items of his character! He might be persistent, she thought, in still striving to do that upon which he had once resolved. He had said so, and that which he said was always true to the letter. But, nevertheless, when this thing which he still chose to pursue should have been put absolutely beyond his reach, he would not allow his calm bosom to be harassed by a vain regret. He was a man too whole at every point — so Alice told herself — to allow his happiness to be marred by such an accident.

But must the accident occur? Was there no chance that he might be saved, even from such trouble as might follow upon such a loss? Could it not be possible that he might be gratified — since it would gratify him — and that she might be saved! Over and over again she considered this — but always as though it were another woman whom she would fain save, and not herself.

But she knew that her own fate was fixed. She had been mad when she had done the thing, but the thing was not on that account the less done. She had been mad when she had trusted herself abroad with two persons, both of whom, as she had well known, were intent on wrenching her happiness from out of her grasp. She had been mad when she had told herself, whilst walking over the Westmoreland fells, that after all she might as well marry her cousin, since that other marriage was then beyond her reach! Her two cousins had succeeded in blighting all the hopes of her life — but what could she now think of herself in that she had been so weak as to submit to such usage from their hands? Alas! — she told herself, admitting in her misery all her weakness — alas, she had had no mother. She had gloried in her independence, and this had come of it! She had scorned the prudence of Lady Macleod, and her scorn had brought her to this pass!

Was she to give herself bodily — body and soul, as she said aloud in her solitary agony — to a man whom she did not love? Must she submit to his caresses — lie on his bosom — turn herself warmly to his kisses? “No,” she said, no,’ — speaking audibly, as she walked about the room; “no — it was not in my bargain; I never meant it.” But if so what had she meant; what had been her dream? Of what marriage had she thought, when she was writing that letter back to George Vavasor? How am I to analyse her mind, and make her thoughts and feelings intelligible to those who may care to trouble themselves with the study? Any sacrifice she would make for her cousin which one friend could make for another. She would fight his battles with her money, with her words, with her sympathy. She would sit with him if he needed it, and speak comfort to him by the hour. His disgrace should be her disgrace — his glory her glory — his pursuits her pursuits. Was not that the marriage to which she had consented? But he had come to her and asked her for a kiss, and she had shuddered before him, when he made the demand. Then that other one had come and had touched her hand, and the fibres of her body had seemed to melt within her at the touch, so that she could have fallen at his feet.

She had done very wrong. She knew that she had done wrong. She knew that she had sinned with that sin which specially disgraces a woman. She had said that she would become the wife of a man to whom she could not cleave with a wife’s love; and, mad with a vile ambition, she had given up the man for whose modest love her heart was longing. She had thrown off from her that wondrous aroma of precious delicacy, which is the greatest treasure of womanhood. She had sinned against her sex; and, in an agony of despair, as she crouched down upon the floor with her head against her chair, she told herself that there was no pardon for her. She understood it now, and knew that she could not forgive herself.

But can you forgive her, delicate reader? Or am I asking the question too early in my story? For myself, I have forgiven her. The story of the struggle has been present to my mind for many years — and I have learned to think that even this offence against womanhood may, with deep repentance, be forgiven. And you also must forgive her before we close the book, or else my story will have been told amiss.

But let us own that she had sinned — almost damnably, almost past forgiveness. What — think that she knew what love meant, and not know which of two she loved! What — doubt, of two men for whose arms she longed; of which the kisses would be sweet to bear; on which side lay the modesty of her maiden love! Faugh! She had submitted to pollution of head and feeling before she had brought herself to such a pass as this. Come — let us see if it be possible that she may be cleansed by the fire of her sorrow.

“What am I to do?” She passed that whole day in asking herself that question. She was herself astounded at the rapidity with which the conviction had forced itself upon her that a marriage with her cousin would be to her almost impossible; and could she permit it to be said of her that she had thrice in her career jilted a promised suitor — that three times she would go back from her word because her fancy had changed? Where could she find the courage to tell her father, to tell Kate, to tell even George himself, that her purpose was again altered? But she had a year at her disposal. If only during that year he would take her money and squander it, and then require nothing further of her hands, might she not thus escape the doom before her? Might it not be possible that the refusal should this time come from him? But she succeeded in making one resolve. She thought at least that she succeeded. Come what come might, she would never stand with him at the altar. While there was a cliff from which she might fall, water that would cover her, a death-dealing grain that might be mixed in her cup, she could not submit herself to be George Vavasor’s wife. To no ear could she tell of this resolve. To no friend could she hint her purpose. She owed her money to the man after what had passed between them. It was his right to count upon such assistance as that would give him, and he should have it. Only as his betrothed she could give it him, for she understood well that if there were any breach between them, his accepting of such aid would be impossible. He should have her money, and then, when the day came, some escape should be found.

In the afternoon her father came to her, and it may be as well to explain that Mr Grey had seen him again that day, Mr Grey, when he left Queen Anne Street, had gone to his lawyer, and from thence had made his way to Mr Vavasor. It was between five and six when Mr Vavasor came back to his house, and he then found his daughter sitting over the drawing-room fire, without lights, in the gloom of the evening, Mr Vavasor had returned with Grey to the lawyer’s chambers, and had from thence come direct to his own house. He had been startled at the precision with which all the circumstances of his daughter’s position had been explained to a mild-eyed old gentleman, with a bald head, who carried on his business in a narrow, dark, clean street, behind Doctors’ Commons. Mr Tombe was his name. “No;” Mr Grey had said, when Mr Vavasor had asked as to the peculiar nature of Mr Tombe’s business; “he is not specially an ecclesiastical lawyer. He had a partner at Ely, and was always employed by my father, and by most of the clergy there.” Mr Tombe had evinced no surprise, no dismay, and certainly no mock delicacy, when the whole affair was under discussion. George Vavasor was to get present moneys, but — if it could be so arranged — from John Grey’s stores rather than from those belonging to Alice. Mr Tombe could probably arrange that with Mr Vavasor’s lawyer, who would no doubt be able to make difficulty as to raising ready money. Mr Tombe would be able to raise ready money without difficulty. And then, at last, George Vavasor was to be made to surrender his bride, taking or having taken the price of his bargain. John Vavasor sat by in silence as the arrangement was being made, not knowing how to speak. He had no money with which to give assistance. “I wish you to understand from the lady’s father,” Grey said to the lawyer, “that the marriage would be regarded by him with as much dismay as by myself.”

“Certainly — it would be ruinous,” Mr Vavasor had answered.

“And you see, Mr Tombe,” Mr Grey went on, “we only wish to try the man. If he be not such as we believe him to be, he can prove it by his conduct. If he is worthy of her, he can then take her.”

“You merely wish to open her eyes, Mr Grey,” said the mild-eyed lawyer. “I wish that he should have what money he wants, and then we shall find what it is he really wishes.”

“Yes; we shall know our man,” said the lawyer. “He shall have the money, Mr Grey,” and so the interview had been ended. Mr Vavasor, when he entered the drawing-room, addressed his daughter in a cheery voice. “What; all in the dark?”

“Yes, papa. Why should I have candles when I am doing nothing? I did not expect you.”

“No; I suppose not. I came here because I want to say a few words to you about business.”

“What business, papa?” Alice well understood the tone of her father’s voice. He was desirous of propitiating her; but was at the same time desirous of carrying some point in which he thought it probable that she would oppose him.

“Well; my love, if I understood you rightly, your cousin George wants some money.”

“I did not say that he wants it now; but I think he will want it before the time for the election comes.”

“If so, he will want it at once. He has not asked you for it yet?”

“No; he has merely said that should he be in need he would take me at my word.”

“I think there is no doubt that he wants it. Indeed, I believe that he is almost entirely without present means of his own.”

“I can hardly think so; but I have no knowledge about it. I can only say that he has not asked me yet, and that I should wish to oblige him whenever he may do so.”

“To what extent, Alice?”

“I don’t know what I have. I get about four hundred a year, but I do not know what it is worth, or how far it can all be turned into money. I should wish to keep a hundred a year, and let him have the rest.”

“What; eight thousand pounds!” said the father, who in spite of his wish not to oppose her, could not but express his dismay.

“I do not imagine that he will want so much; but if he should, I wish that he should have it.”

“Heaven and earth!” said John Vavasor. “Of course we should have to give up the house.” He could not suppress his trouble, or refrain from bursting out in agony at the prospect of such a loss.

“But he has asked me for nothing yet, papa.”

“No, exactly; and perhaps he may not; but I wish to know what to do when the demand is made. I am not going to oppose you now; your money is your own, and you have a right to do with it as you please — but would you gratify me in one thing?”

“What is it, papa?”

“When he does apply, let the amount be raised through me?”

“How through you?”

“Come to me; I mean, so that I may see the lawyer, and have the arrangements made.” Then he explained to her that in dealing with large sums of money, it could not be right that she should do so without his knowledge, even though the property was her own. “I will promise you that I will not oppose your wishes,” he said. Then Alice undertook that when such case should arise the money should be raised through his means.

The day but one following this she received a letter from Lady Glencora, who was still at Matching Priory. It was a light-spirited, chatty, amusing letter, intended to be happy in its tone — intended to have a flavour of happiness, but just failing through the too apparent meaning of a word here and there. “You will see that I am at Matching,” the letter said, “whereas you will remember that I was to have been at Monkshade. I escaped at last by a violent effort, and am now passing my time innocently — I fear not so profitably as she would induce me to do — with Iphy Palliser. You remember Iphy. She is a good creature, and would fain turn even me to profit, if it were possible. I own that I am thinking of them all at Monkshade, and am in truth delighted that I am not there. My absence is entirely laid upon your shoulders. That wicked evening amidst the ruins! Poor ruins. I go there alone sometimes and fancy that I hear such voices from the walls, and see such faces through the broken windows! All the old Pallisers come and frown at me, and tell me that I am not good enough to belong to them. There is a particular window to which Sir Guy comes and makes faces at me. I told Iphy the other day, and she answered me very gravely, that I might, if I chose, make myself good enough for the Pallisers. Even for the Pallisers! Isn’t that beautiful?”

Then Lady Glencora went on to say, that her husband intended to come up to London early in the session, and that she would accompany him. “That is,” added Lady Glencora, “if I am still good enough for the Pallisers at that time.”

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