Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 56

Another Walk on the Fells

George, when he left the room in which he had insulted the lawyer, went immediately across to the parlour in which his aunt and sister were sitting. “Kate,” said he, “put on your hat and come and walk with me. That business is over.” Kate’s hat and shawl were in the room, and they were out of the house together within a minute.

They walked down the carriage-road, through the desolate, untended grounds, to the gate, before either of them spoke a word. Kate was waiting for George to tell her of the will, but did not dare to ask any question. George intended to tell her of the will, but was not disposed to do so without some preparation. It was a thing not to be spoken of open-mouthed, as a piece of ordinary news. “Which way shall we go?” said Kate, as soon as they had passed through the old rickety gate, which swang at the entrance of the place. “Up across the fell,” said George; “the day is fine, and I want to get away from my uncle for a time.” She turned round, therefore, outside the hill of firs, and led the way back to the beacon wood through which she and Alice had walked across to Hawes Water upon a memorable occasion. They had reached the top of the beacon hill, and were out upon the Fell, before George had begun his story. Kate was half beside herself with curiosity, but still she was afraid to ask. “Well,” said George, when they paused a moment as they stepped over a plank that crossed the boundary ditch of the wood; “don’t you want to know what that dear old man has done for you?” Then he looked into her face very steadfastly. “But perhaps you know already,” he added. He had come out determined not to quarrel with his sister. He had resolved, in that moment of thought which had been allowed to him, that his best hope for the present required that he should keep himself on good terms with her, at any rate till he had settled what line of conduct he would pursue. But he was, in truth, so sore with anger and disappointment — he had become so nearly mad with that continued, unappeased wrath in which he now indulged against all the world, that he could not refrain himself from bitter words. He was as one driven by the Furies, and was no longer able to control them in their driving of him.

“I know nothing of it,” said Kate. “Had I known I should have told you. Your question is unjust to me.”

“I am beginning to doubt,” said he, “whether a man can be safe in trusting any one. My grandfather has done his best to rob me of the property altogether.”

“I told you that I feared he would do so.”

“And he has made you his heir.”

“Me?”

“Yes; you.”

“He told me distinctly that he would not do that.”

“But he has, I tell you.”

“Then, George, I shall do that which I told him I should do in the event of his making such a will; for he asked me the question. I told him I should restore the estate to you, and upon that he swore that he would not leave it to me.”

“And what a fool you were,” said he, stopping her in the pathway. “What an ass! Why did you tell him that? You knew that he would not, on that account, do justice to me.”

“He asked me, George.”

“Psha! now you have ruined me, and you might have saved me.”

“But I will save you still, if he has left the estate to me. I do not desire to take it from you. As God in heaven sees me, I have never ceased to endeavour to protect your interests here at Vavasor. I will sign anything necessary to make over my right in the property to you.” Then they walked on over the Fell for some minutes without speaking. They were still on the same path — that path which Kate and Alice had taken in the winter — and now poor Kate could not but think of all that she had said that day on George’s behalf — how had she mingled truth and falsehood in her efforts to raise her brother’s character in her cousin’s eyes! It had all been done in vain. At this very moment of her own trouble Kate thought of John Grey, and repented of what she had done. Her hopes in that direction were altogether blasted. She knew that her brother had ill-treated Alice, and that she must tell him so if Alice’s name were mentioned between them. She could no longer worship her brother, and hold herself at his command in all things. But, as regarded the property to which he was naturally the heir, if any act of hers could give it to him, that act would be done. “If the will is as you say, George, I will make over my right to you.”

“You can make over nothing,” he answered. “The old robber has been too cunning for that; he has left it all in the hands of my uncle John. D— him. D— them both.”

“George! George! He is dead now.”

“Dead; of course he is dead. What of that? I wish he had been dead ten years ago — or twenty. Do you suppose I am to forgive him because he is dead? I’ll heap his grave with curses, if that can be of avail to punish him.”

“You can only punish the living that way.”

“And I will punish them — but not by cursing them. My uncle John shall have such a life of it for the next year or two that he shall bitterly regret the hour in which he has stepped between me and my rights.”

“I do not believe that he has done so.”

“Not done so! What was he down here for at Christmas? Do you pretend to think that that make-believe will was concocted without his knowledge?”

“I’m sure that he knew nothing of it. I don’t think my grandfather’s mind was made up a week before he died.”

“You’ll have to swear that, remember, in a court. I’m not going to let the matter rest, I can tell you. You’ll have to prove that. How long is it since he asked you what you would do with the estate if he left it to you?”

Kate thought for a moment before she answered. “It was only two days before he died, if I remember rightly.”

“But you must remember rightly. You’ll have to swear to it. And now tell me this honestly; do you believe, in your heart, that he was in a condition fit for making a will?”

“I advised him not to make it.”

“Why? Why? What reason did you give?”

“I told him that I thought no man should alter family arrangements when he was so ill.”

“Exactly. You told him that. And what did he say?”

“He was very angry, and made me send for Mr Gogram.”

“Now, Kate, think a little before you answer me again. If ever you are to do me a good turn, you must do it now. And, remember this, I don’t at all want to take anything away from you. Whatever you think is fair you shall have.”

He was a fool not to have known her better than that.

“I want nothing,” she said, stopping and stamping with her foot upon the crushed heather. “George, you don’t understand what it is to be honest.”

He smiled — with a slight provoking smile that passed very rapidly from his face. The meaning of the smile was to be read, had Kate been calm enough to read it. “I can’t say that I do.” That was the meaning of the smile. “Well, never mind about that,” said he; “you advised my grandfather not to make his will — thinking, no doubt, that his mind was not clear enough?”

She paused a moment again before she answered him. “His mind was clear,” she said; “but I thought that he should not trust his judgment while he was so weak.”

“Look here, Kate; I do believe that you at any rate have no mind to assist in this robbery. That it is a robbery you can’t have any doubt. I said he had left the estate to you. That is not what he has done. He has left the estate to my uncle John.”

“Why tell me, then, what was untrue?”

“Are you disappointed?”

“Of course I am; Uncle John won’t give it you. George, I don’t understand you; I don’t, indeed.”

“Never mind about that, but listen to me. The estate is left in the hands of John Vavasor; but he has left you five hundred a year out of it till somebody is twenty-five years old who is not yet born, and probably never will be born. The will itself shows the old fool to have been mad.”

“He was no more mad than you are, George.”

“Listen to me, I tell you. I don’t mean that he was a raging maniac. Now, you had advised him not to make any new will because you thought he was not in a fit condition?”

“Yes; I did.”

“You can swear to that?”

“I hope I may not be called on to do so. I hope there may be no swearing about it. But if I am asked the question I must swear it.”

“Exactly. Now listen till you understand what it is I mean. That will, if it stands, gives all the power over the estate to John Vavasor. It renders you quite powerless as regards any help or assistance that you might be disposed to give me. But, nevertheless, your interest under the will is greater than his — or than that of any one else — for your son would inherit if I have none. Do you understand?”

“Yes; I think so.”

“And your testimony as to the invalidity of the will would be conclusive against all the world.”

“I would say in a court what I have told you, if that will do any good.”

“It will not be enough. Look here, Kate; you must be steadfast here; everything depends on you. How often have you told me that you will stick to me throughout life? Now you will be tried.”

Kate felt that her repugnance towards him — towards all that he was doing and wished her to do — was growing stronger within her at every word he spoke. She was becoming gradually aware that he desired from her something which she could not and would not do, and she was aware also that in refusing him she would have to encounter him in all his wrath. She set her teeth firmly together, and clenched her little fist. If a fight was necessary, she would fight with him. As he looked at her closely with his sinister eyes, her love towards him was almost turned to hatred.

“Now you will be tried,” he said again. “You advised him not to make the will because you thought his intellect was impaired!”

“No; not so.”

“Stop, Kate, stop. If you will think of it, it was so. What is the meaning of his judgment being weak?”

“I didn’t say his judgment was weak.”

“But that was what you meant when you advised him not to trust it!”

“Look here, George; I think I know now what you mean. If anybody asks me if his mind was gone, or his intellect deranged, I cannot say that there was anything of the kind.”

“You will not?”

“Certainly not. It would be untrue.”

“Then you are determined to throw me over and claim the property for yourself.” Again he turned towards and looked at her as though he were resolved to frighten her. “And I am to count you also among my enemies? You had better take care, Kate.”

They were now upon the Fell side, more than three miles away from the Hall; and Kate, as she looked round, saw that they were all alone. Not a cottage — not a sign of humanity was within sight. Kate saw that it was so, and was aware that the fact pressed itself upon her as being of importance. Then she thought again of her resolution to fight with him, if any fight were necessary; to tell him, in so many words, that she would separate herself from him and defy him. She would not fear him, let his words and face be ever so terrible! Surely her own brother would do her no bodily harm. And even though he should do so — though he should take her roughly by the arm as he had done to Alice — though he should do worse than that, still she would fight him. Her blood was the same as his, and he should know that her courage was, at any rate, as high.

And, indeed, when she looked at him, she had cause to fear. He intended that she should fear. He intended that she should dread what he might do to her at that moment. As to what he would do he had no resolve made. Neither had he resolved on anything when he had gone to Alice and had shaken her rudely as she sat beside him. He had been guided by no fixed intent when he had attacked John Grey, nor when he insulted the attorney; but a Fury was driving him, and he was conscious of being so driven. He almost wished to be driven to some act of frenzy. Everything in the world had gone against him, and he desired to expend his rage on someone.

“Kate,” said he, stopping her, “we will have this out here, if you please. So much, at any rate, shall be settled today. You have made many promises to me, and I have believed them. You can now keep them all, by simply saying what you know to be the truth — that that old man was a drivelling idiot when he made this will. Are you prepared to do me that justice? Think before you answer me, for, by G — if I cannot have justice among you, I will have revenge.” And he put his hand upon her breast up near to her throat.

“Take your hand down, George,” said she. “I’m not such a fool that you can frighten me in that way.”

“Answer me!” he said, and shook her, having some part of her raiment within his clutch.

“Oh, George, that I should live to be so ashamed of my brother!”

“Answer me,” he said again; and again he shook her.

“I have answered you. I will say nothing of the kind that you want me to say. My grandfather, up to the latest moment that I saw him, knew what he was about. He was not an idiot. He was, I believe, only carrying out a purpose fixed long before. You will not make me change what I say by looking at me like that, nor yet by shaking me. You don’t know me, George, if you think you can frighten me like a child.”

He heard her to the last word, still keeping his hand upon her, and holding her by the cloak she wore; but the violence of his grasp had relaxed itself, and he let her finish her words, as though his object had simply been to make her speak out to him what she had to say. “Oh,” said he, when she had done, “That’s to be it; is it? That’s your idea of honesty. The very name of the money being your own has been too much for you. I wonder whether you and my uncle had contrived it all between you beforehand?”

“You will not dare to ask him, because he is a man,” said Kate, her eyes brimming with tears, not through fear, but in very vexation at the nature of the charge he had brought against her.

“Shall I not? You will see what I dare do. As for you, with all your promises —. Kate, you know that I keep my word. Say that you will do as I desire you, or I will be the death of you.”

“Do you mean that you will murder me?” said she.

“Murder you! Yes; why not? Treated as I have been among you, do you suppose that I shall stick at anything? Why should I not murder you — you and Alice, too, seeing how you have betrayed me?”

“Poor Alice!” as she spoke the words she looked straight into his eyes, as though defying him, as far as she herself were concerned.

“Poor Alice, indeed! D— hypocrite! There’s a pair of you; cursed, whining, false, intriguing hypocrites. There; go down and tell your uncle and that old woman there that I threatened to murder you. Tell the judge so, when you’re brought into court to swear me out of my property. You false liar!” Then he pushed her from him with great violence, so that she fell heavily upon the stony ground.

He did not stop to help her up, or even to look at her as she lay, but walked away across the heath, neither taking the track on towards Hawes Water, nor returning by the path which had brought them? thither. He went away morthwards across the wild fell; and Kate, having risen up and seated herself on a small cairn of stones which stood there, watched him as he descended the slope of the hill till he was out of sight. He did not run, but he seemed to move rapidly, and he never once turned round to look at her. He went away, down the hill northwards, and presently the curving of the ground hid him from her view.

When she first seated herself her thoughts had been altogether of him. She had feared no personal injury, even when she had asked him whether he would murder her. Her blood had been hot within her veins, and her heart had been full of defiance. Even yet she feared nothing, but continued to think of him and his misery, and his disgrace. That he was gone for ever, utterly and irretrievably ruined, thrown out, as it were, beyond the pale of men, was now certain to her. And this was the brother in whom she had believed; for whom she had not only been willing to sacrifice herself, but for whose purposes she had striven to sacrifice her cousin! What would he do now? As he passed from out of her sight down the hill, it seemed to her as though he were rushing straight into some hell from which there could be no escape.

She knew that her arm had been hurt in the fall, but for a while she would not move it or feel it, being resolved to take no account of what might have happened to herself. But when he had been gone some ten minutes, she rose to her feet, and finding that the movement pained her greatly, and that her right arm was powerless, she put up her left hand and became aware that the bone of her arm was broken below the elbow. Her first thought was given to the telling him of this, or the not telling, when she should meet him below at the house. How should she mention the accident to him? Should she lie, and say that she had fallen as she came down the hill alone? Of course he would not believe her, but still some such excuse as that might make the matter easier for them all. It did not occur to her that she might not see him again at all that day; and that, as far as he was concerned, there might be need for no lie.

She started off to walk down home, holding her right arm steadily against her body with her left hand. Of course she must give some account of herself when she got to the house; but it was of the account to be given to him that she thought. As to the others she cared little for them. “Here I am; my arm is broken; and you had better send for a doctor.” That would be sufficient for them.

When she got into the wood the path was very dark. The heavens were overcast with clouds, and a few drops began to fall. Then the rain fell faster and faster, and before she had gone a quarter of a mile down the beacon hill, the clouds had opened themselves, and the shower had become a storm of water. Suffering as she was she stood up for a few moments under a large tree, taking the excuse of the rain for some minutes of delay, that she might make up her mind as to what she would say. Then it occurred to her that she might possibly meet him again before she reached the house; and, as she thought of it, she began for the first time to fear him. Would he come out upon her from the trees and really kill her? Had he made his way round, when he got out of her sight, that he might fall upon her suddenly and do as he had threatened? As the idea came upon her, she made a little attempt to run, but she found that running was impracticable from the pain the movement caused her. Then she walked on through the hard rain, steadily holding her arm against her side, but still looking every moment through the trees on the side from which George might be expected to reach her. But no one came near her on her way homewards. Had she been calm enough to think of the nature of the ground, she might have known that he could not have returned upon her so quickly. He must have come back up the steep hillside which she had seen him descend. No — he had gone away altogether, across the fells towards Bampton, and was at this moment vainly buttoning his coat across his breast, in his unconscious attempt to keep out the wet. The Fury was driving him on, and he himself was not aware whither he was driven.

Dinner at the Hall had been ordered at five, the old hour; or rather that had been assumed to be the hour for dinner without any ordering. It was just five when Kate reached the front door. This she opened with her left hand, and turning at once into the dining-room, found her uncle and her aunt standing before the fire.

“Dinner is ready,” said John Vavasor; “where is George?”

“You are wet, Kate,” said aunt Greenow.

“Yes, I am very wet,” said Kate. “I must go upstairs. Perhaps you’ll come with me, aunt?”

“Come with you — of course I will.” Aunt Greenow had seen at once that something was amiss.

“Where’s George?” said John Vavasor. “Has he come back with you, or are we to wait for him?”

Kate seated herself in her chair. “I don’t quite know where he is,” she said. In the meantime her aunt had hastened up to her side just in time to catch her as she was falling from her chair. “My arm,” said Kate, very gently; my arm! Then she slipped down against her aunt, and had fainted.

“He has done her a mischief,” said Mrs Greenow, looking up at her brother. “This is his doing.”

John Vavasor stood confounded, wishing himself back in Queen Anne Street.

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