Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 41

A Noble Lord Dies

George Vavasor remained about four days beneath his grandfather’s roof; but he was not happy there himself, nor did he contribute to the happiness of any one else. He remained there in great discomfort so long, being unwilling to leave till an answer had been received to the request made to Aunt Greenow, in order that he might insist on Kate’s performance of her promise with reference to Alice, if that answer should be unfavourable. During these five days Kate did all in her power to induce her brother to be, at any rate, kind in his manner towards his grandfather, but it was in vain. The Squire would not be the first to be gracious; and George, quite as obstinate as the old man, would take no steps in that direction till encouraged to do so by graciousness from the other side. Poor Kate entreated each of them to begin, but her entreaties were of no avail. “He is an ill-mannered cub”, the old main said, “and I was a fool to let him into the house. Don’t mention his name to me again.” George argued the matter more at length. Kate spoke to him of his own interest in the matter, urging upon him that he might, by such conduct, drive the Squire to exclude him altogether from the property.

“He must do as he likes,” George said, sulkily.

“But for Alice’s sake!” Kate answered.

“Alice would be the last to expect me to submit to unreasonable ill-usage for the sake of money. As regards myself, I confess that I’m very fond of money and am not particularly squeamish. I would do anything that a man can do to secure it. But this I can’t do. I never injured him, and I never asked him to injure himself. I never attempted to borrow money from him. I have never cost him a shilling. When I was in the wine business he might have enabled me to make a large fortune simply by settling on me then the reversion of property which, when he dies, ought to be my own. He was so perversely ignorant that he would make no inquiry, but chose to think that I was ruining myself, at the only time of my life when I was really doing well.”

“But he had a right to act as he pleased,” urged Kate.

“Certainly he had. But he had no right to resent my asking such a favour at his hands. He was an ignorant old fool not to do it; but I should never have quarrelled with him on that account. Nature made him a fool, and it wasn’t his fault. But I can’t bring myself to kneel in the dirt before him simply because I asked for what was reasonable.”

The two men said very little to each other. They were never alone together except during that half-hour after dinner in which they were supposed to drink their wine. The old Squire always took three glasses of port during this period, and expected that his grandson would take three with him. But George would drink none at all. “I have given up drinking wine after dinner,” said he, when his grandfather pushed the bottle over to him. “I suppose you mean that you drink nothing but claret,” said the Squire, in a tone of voice that was certainly not conciliatory. “I mean simply what I say,” said George — “that I have given up drinking wine after dinner.” The old man could not openly quarrel with his heir on such a point as that. Even Mr Vavasor could not tell his grandson that he was going to the dogs because he had become temperate. But, nevertheless, there was offence in it; and when George sat perfectly silent, looking at the fire, evidently determined to make no attempt at conversation, the offence grew, and became strong. “What the devil’s the use of your sitting there if you neither drink nor talk?” said the old man, “No use in the world, that I can see,” said George; “if, however, I were to leave you, you would abuse me for it.”

“I don’t care how soon you leave me,” said the Squire. From all which it may be seen that George Vavasor’s visit to the hall of his ancestors was not satisfactory.

On the fourth day, about noon, came Aunt Greenow’s reply.

“Dearest Kate,” she said, “I am not going to do what you ask me,” — thus rushing instantly into the middle of her subject. “You see, I don’t know my nephew, and have no reason for being specially anxious that he should be in Parliament. I don’t care two straws about the glory of the Vavasor family. If I had never done anything for myself, the Vavasors would have done very little for me. I don’t care much about what you call ‘blood.’ I like those who like me, and whom I know, I am very fond of you, and because you have been good to me I would give you a thousand pounds if you wanted it for yourself; but I don’t see why I am to give my money to those I don’t know. If it is necessary to tell my nephew of this, pray tell him that I mean no offence.

“Your friend C. is still waiting — waiting — waiting, patiently; but his patience may be exhausted.

“Your affectionate aunt, ARABELLA GREENOW.”

“Of course she won’t,” said George, as he threw back the letter to his sister. “Why should she?”

“I had hoped she would,” said Kate,

“Why should she? What did I ever do for her? She is a sensible woman. Who is your friend C., and why is he waiting patiently?”

“He is a man who would be glad to marry her for her money, if she would take him.”

“Then what does she mean by his patience being exhausted?”

“It is her folly. She chooses to pretend to think that the man is a lover of mine.”

“Has he got any money?”

“Yes; lots of money — or money’s worth.”

“And what is his name?”

“His name is Cheesacre. But pray don’t trouble yourself to talk about him.”

“If he wants to marry you, and has plenty of money, why shouldn’t you take him?”

“Good heavens, George! In the first place he does not want to marry me. In the next place all his heart is in his farmyard.”

“And a very good place to have it,” said George.

“Undoubtedly. But, really, you must not trouble yourself to talk about him.”

“Only this — that I should be very glad to see you well married.”

“Should you?” said she, thinking of her close attachment to himself.

“And, now, about the money,” said George. “You must write to Alice at once.” — “Oh, George!”

“Of course you must; you have promised. Indeed, it would have been much wiser if you had taken me at my word, and done it at once.” — “I cannot do it.”

Then the scar on his face opened itself, and his sister stood before him in fear and trembling. “Do you mean to tell me,” said he, “that you will go back from your word, and deceive me — that after having kept me here by this promise, you will not do what you have said you would do?”

“Take my money now, and pay me out of hers as soon as you are married. I will be the first to claim it from her — and from you.”

“That is nonsense.”

“Why should it be nonsense? Surely you need have no scruple with me. I should have none with you if I wanted assistance.”

“Look here, Kate; I won’t have it, and there’s an end of it. All that you have in the world would not pull me through this election, and therefore such a loan would be worse than useless.”

“And am I to ask her for more than two thousand pounds?”

“You are to ask her simply for one thousand. That is what I want, and must have, at present. And she knows that I want it, and that she is to supply it; only she does not know that my need is so immediate. That you must explain to her.”

“I would sooner burn my hand, George!”

“But burning your hand, unfortunately, won’t do any good. Look here, Kate; I insist upon your doing this for me. If you do not, I shall do it, of course, myself; but I shall regard your refusal as an unjustifiable falsehood on your part, and shall certainly not see you afterwards. I do not wish, for reasons which you may well understand, to write to Alice myself on any subject at present. I now claim your promise to do so; and if you refuse, I shall know very well what to do.”

Of course she did not persist in her refusal. With a sorrowful heart, and with fingers that could hardly form the needful letters, she did write a letter to her cousin, which explained the fact — that George Vavasor immediately wanted a thousand pounds for his electioneering purposes. It was a stiff, uncomfortable letter, unnatural in its phraseology, telling its own tale of grief and shame. Alice understood very plainly all the circumstances under which it was written, but she sent back word to Kate at once, undertaking that the money should be forthcoming; and she wrote again before the end of January, saying that the sum named had been paid to George’s credit at his own bankers.

Kate had taken immense pride in the renewal of the match between her brother and her cousin, and had rejoiced in it greatly as being her own work. But all that pride and joy were now over. She could no longer write triumphant notes to Alice, speaking always of George as one who was to be their joint hero, foretelling great things of his career in Parliament, and saying little soft things of his enduring love. It was no longer possible to her now to write of George at all, and it was equally impossible to Alice. Indeed, no letters passed between them, when that monetary correspondence was over, up to the end of the winter. Kate remained down in Westmoreland, wretched and ill at ease, listening to hard words spoken by her grandfather against her brother, and feeling herself unable to take her brother’s part as she had been wont to do in other times. George returned to town at the end of those four days, and found that the thousand pounds was duly placed to his credit before the end of the month. It is hardly necessary to tell the reader that this money had come from the stores of Mr Tombe, and that Mr Tombe duly debited Mr Grey with the amount. Alice, in accordance with her promise, had told her father that the money was needed, and her father, in accordance with his promise, had procured it without a word of remonstrance. “Surely I must sign some paper,” Alice had said.

But she had been contented when her father told her that the lawyers would manage all that.

It was nearly the end of February when George Vavasor made his first payment to Mr Scruby on behalf of the coming election; and when he called at Mr Scruby’s office with this object, he received some intelligence which surprised him not a little. “You haven’t heard the news,” said Scruby. “What news?” said George.

“The Marquis is as nearly off the hooks as a man can be.” Mr Scruby, as he communicated the tidings, showed clearly by his face and voice that they were supposed to be of very great importance; but Vavasor did not at first seem to be as much interested in the fate of “the Marquis” as Scruby had intended.

“I’m very sorry for him,” said George. “Who is the Marquis? There’ll be sure to come another, so it don’t much signify.”

“There will come another, and that’s just it. It’s the Marquis of Bunratty; and if he drops, our young Member will go into the Upper House.”

“What, immediately; before the end of the Session?” George, of course, knew well enough that such would be the case, but the effect which this event would have upon himself now struck him suddenly.

“To be sure,” said Scruby. “The writ would be out immediately. I should be glad enough of it, only that I know that Travers’s people have heard of it before us, and that they are ready to be up with their posters directly the breath is out of the Marquis’s body. We must go to work immediately; that’s all.”

“It will only be for part of a Session,” said George. “Just so,” said Mr Scruby.

“And then there’ll be the cost of another election.”

“That’s true,” said Mr Scruby; “but in such cases we do manage to make it come a little cheaper. If you lick Travers now, it may be that you’ll have a walk over for the next.”

“Have you seen Grimes?” asked George.

“Yes, I have; the blackguard! He is going to open his house on Travers’s side. He came to me as bold as brass, and told me so, saying that he never liked gentlemen who kept him waiting for his odd money. What angers me is that he ever got it.”

“We have not managed it very well, certainly,” said Vavasor, looking nastily at the attorney.

“We can’t help those little accidents, Mr Vavasor. There are worse accidents than that turn up almost daily in my business. You may think yourself almost lucky that I haven’t gone over to Travers myself. He is a Liberal, you know; and it hasn’t been for want of an offer, I can tell you.”

Vavasor was inclined to doubt the extent of his luck in this respect, and was almost disposed to repent of his Parliamentary ambition. He would now be called upon to spend certainly not less than three thousand pounds of his cousin’s money on the chance of being able to sit in Parliament for a few months. And then, after what a fashion would he be compelled to negotiate that loan! He might, to be sure, allow the remainder of this Session to run, and stand, as he had intended, at the general election; but he knew that if he now allowed a Liberal to win the seat, the holder of the seat would be almost sure of subsequent success. He must either fight now, or give up the fight altogether; and he was a man who did not love to abandon any contest in which he had been engaged.

“Well, Squire,” said Scruby, “how is it to be?” And Vavasor felt that he detected in the man’s voice some diminution of that respect with which he had hitherto been treated as a paying candidate for a metropolitan borough,

“This lord is not dead yet,” said Vavasor.

“No; he’s not dead yet, that we have heard; but it won’t do for us to wait. We want every minute of time that we can get. There isn’t any hope for him, I’m told. It’s gout in the stomach, or dropsy at the heart, or some of those things that make a fellow safe to go.”

“It won’t do to wait for the next election?”

“If you ask me, I should say certainly not. Indeed, I shouldn’t wish to have to conduct it under such circumstances. I hate a fight when there’s no chance of success. I grudge spending a man’s money in such a case; I do indeed, Mr Vavasor.”

“I suppose Grimes’s going over won’t make much difference?”

“The blackguard! He’ll take a hundred and fifty votes, I suppose; perhaps more. But that is not much in such a constituency as the Chelsea districts. You see, Travers played mean at the last election, and that will be against him.”

“But the Conservatives will have a candidate.”

“There’s no knowing; but I don’t think they will. They’ll try one at the general, no doubt; but if the two sitting Members can pull together, they won’t have much of a chance.” Vavasor found himself compelled to say that he would stand; and Scruby undertook to give the initiatory orders at once, not waiting even till the Marquis should be dead. “We should have our houses open as soon as theirs,” said he. “There’s a deal in that.” So George Vavasor gave his orders. “If the worst comes to the worst,” he said to himself, “I can always cut my throat.”

As he walked from the attorney’s office to his club he bethought himself that that might not unprobably be the necessary termination of his career. Everything was going wrong with him. His grandfather, who was eighty years of age, would not die — appeared to have no symptoms of dying — whereas this Marquis, who was not yet much over fifty, was rushing headlong out of the world, simply because he was the one man whose continued life at the present moment would be serviceable to George Vavasor. As he thought of his grandfather he almost broke his umbrella by the vehemence with which he struck it against the pavement. What right could an ignorant old fool like that have to live for ever, keeping possession of a property which he could not use, and ruining those who were to come after him? If now, at this moment, that wretched place down in Westmoreland could become his, he might yet ride triumphantly over his difficulties, and refrain from sullying his hands with more of his cousin’s money till she should become his wife.

Even that thousand pounds had not passed through his hands without giving him much bitter suffering. As is always the case in such matters, the thing done was worse than the doing of it. He had taught himself to look at it lightly whilst it was yet unaccomplished; but he could not think of it lightly now. Kate had been right. It would have been better for him to take her money. Any money would have been better than that upon which he had laid his sacrilegious hands. If he could have cut a purse, after the old fashion, the stain of the deed would hardly have been so deep. In these days — for more than a month, indeed, after his return from Westmorelard — he did not go near Queen Anne Street, trying to persuade himself that he stayed away because of her coldness to him. But, in truth, he was afraid of seeing her without speaking of her money, and afraid to see her if he were to speak of it.

“You have seen the Globe’?” someone said to him as he entered the club,

“No, indeed; I have seen nothing.”

“Bunratty died in Ireland this morning. I suppose you’ll be up for the Chelsea districts?”

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