Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 62

Going Abroad

One morning, early in May, a full week before Alice’s visit to the bankers’ at Charing Cross, a servant in grand livery, six feet high, got out of a cab at the door in Queen Anne Street, and sent up a note for Miss Vavasor, declaring that he would wait in the cab for her answer. He had come from Lady Glencora, and had been specially ordered to go in a cab and come back in a cab, and make himself as like a Mercury, with wings to his feet, as may be possible to a London footman. Mr Palliser had arranged his plans with his wife that morning — or, I should more correctly say, had given her his orders, and she, in consequence, had sent away her Mercury in hot pressing haste to Queen Anne Street. “Do come — instantly if you can,” the note said. “I have so much to tell you, and so much to ask of you. If you can’t come, when shall I find you, and where?” Alice sent back a note, saying that she would be in Park Lane as soon as she could put on her bonnet and walk down; and then the Mercury went home in his cab.

Alice found her friend in the small breakfast-room upstairs, sitting close by the window. They had not as yet met since the evening of Lady Monk’s party, nor had Lady Glencora seen Alice in the mourning which she now wore for her grandfather. “Oh dear, what a change it makes in you,” she said. “I never thought of your being in black.”

“I don’t know what it is you want, but shan’t I do in mourning as well as I would in colours?”

“You’ll do in anything, dear. But I have so much to tell you, and I don’t know how to begin. And I’ve so much to ask of you, and I’m so afraid you won’t do it.”

“You generally find me very complaisant.”

“No, I don’t, dear. It is very seldom you will do anything for me. But I must tell you everything first. Do take your bonnet off, for I shall be hours in doing it.”

“Hours in telling me!”

“Yes; and in getting your consent to what I want you to do. But I think I’ll tell you that first. I’m to be taken abroad immediately.”

“Who is to take you?”

“Ah, you may well ask that. If you could know what questions I have asked myself on that head! I sometimes say things to myself as though they were the most proper and reasonable things in the world, and then within an hour or two I hate myself for having thought of them.”

“But why don’t you answer me? Who is going abroad with you?”

“Well; you are to be one of the party.”

“I!”

“Yes; you. When I have named so very respectable a chaperon for my youth, of course you will understand that my husband is to take us.”

“But Mr Palliser can’t leave London at this time of the year?”

“That’s just it. He is to leave London at this time of the year. Don’t look in that way, for it’s all settled. Whether you go with me or not, I’ve got to go. Today is Tuesday. We are to be off next Tuesday night, if you can make yourself ready. We shall breakfast in Paris on Wednesday morning, and then it will be to us all just as if we were in a new world. Mr Palliser will walk up and down the new court of the Louvre, and you will be on his left arm, and I shall be on his right — just like English people — and it will be the most proper thing that ever was seen in life. Then we shall go on to Basle” — Alice shuddered as Basle was mentioned, thinking of the balcony over the river — “and so to Lucerne —. But no; that was the first plan, and Mr Palliser altered it. He spent a whole day up here with maps and Bradshaws and Murray’s guidebooks, and he scolded me so because I didn’t care whether we went first to Baden or to some other place. How could I care? told me I was heartless — and I acknowledged that I was heartless. ‘I am heart-less,’ I said. ‘Tell me something I don’t know.’”

“Oh, Cora, why did you say that?”

“I didn’t choose to contradict my husband. Besides, it’s true. Then he threw the Bradshaw away, and all the maps flew about. So I picked them up again, and said we’d go to Switzerland first. I knew that would settle it, and of course he decided on stopping at Baden. If he had said Jericho, it would have been the same thing to me. Wouldn’t you like to go to Jericho?”

“I should have no special objection to Jericho.”

“But you are to go to Baden instead.”

“I’ve said nothing about that yet. But you have not told me half your story. Why is Mr Palliser going abroad in the middle of Parliament in this way?”

“Ah; now I must go back to the beginning. And indeed, Alice, I hardly know how to tell you; not that I mind you knowing it, only there are some things that won’t get themselves told. You can hardly guess what it is that he is giving up. You must swear that you won’t repeat what I’m going to tell you now?”

“I’m not a person apt to tell secrets, but I shan’t swear anything.”

“What a woman you are for discretion! It is you that ought to be Chancellor of the Exchequer; you are so wise. Only you haven’t brought your own pigs to the best market, after all.”

“Never mind my own pigs now, Cora.”

“I do mind them, very much. But the secret is this. They have asked Mr Palliser to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he has — refused. Think of that!”

“But why?”

“Because of me — of me, and my folly, and wickedness, and abominations. Because he has been fool enough to plague himself with a wife — he who of all men ought to have kept himself free from such troubles. Oh, he has been so good! It is almost impossible to make any one understand it. If you could know how he has longed for this office — how he has worked for it day and night, wearing his eyes out with figures when everybody else has been asleep, shutting himself up with such creatures as Mr Bott when other men have been shooting and hunting and flirting and spending their money. He has been a slave to it for years — all his life I believe — in order that he might sit in the Cabinet, and be a minister and a Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has hoped and feared, and has been, I believe, sometimes half-mad with expectation. This has been his excitement — what racing and gambling are to other men. At last, the place was there ready for him, and they offered it to him. They begged him to take it, almost on their knees. The Duke of St Bungay was here all one morning about it; but Mr Palliser sent him away, and refused the place. It’s all over now, and the other man, whom they all hate so much, is to remain in.”

“But why did he refuse it?”

“I keep on telling you — because of me. He found that I wanted looking after, and that Mrs Marsham and Mr Bott between them couldn’t do it.”

“Oh, Cora! how can you talk in that way?”

“If you knew all, you might well ask how I could. You remember about Lady Monk’s ball, that you would not go to — as you ought to have done. If you had gone, Mr Palliser would have been Chancellor of the Exchequer at this minute; he would, indeed. Only think of that! But though you did not go, other people did who ought to have remained at home. I went for one — and you know who was there for another.”

“What difference could that make to you?” said Alice, angrily.

“It might have made a great deal of difference. And, for the matter of that, so it did. Mr Palliser was there too, but, of course, he went away immediately. I can’t tell you all the trouble there had been about Mrs Marsham — whether I was to take her with me or not. However, I wouldn’t take her, and didn’t take her. The carriage went for her first, and there she was when we got there; and Mr Bott was there too. I wonder whether I shall ever make you understand it all.”

“There are some things I don’t want to understand.”

“There they both were, watching me — looking at me the whole evening; and, of course, I resolved that I would not be put down by them.”

“I think, if I had been you, I would not have allowed their presence to make any difference to me.”

“That is very easily said, my dear, but by no means so easily done. You can’t make yourself unconscious of eyes that are always looking at you. I dared them, at any rate, to do their worst, for I stood up to dance with Burgo Fitzgerald.”

“Oh, Cora!”

“Why shouldn’t I? At any rate I did; and I waltzed with him for half an hour. Alice, I never will waltz again — never. I have done with dancing now. I don’t think, even in my maddest days, I ever kept it up so long as I did then. And I knew that everybody was looking at me. It was not only Mrs Marsham and Mr Bott, but everybody there. I felt myself to be desperate — mad, like a wild woman. There I was, going round and round and round with the only man for whom I ever cared two straws. It seemed as though everything had been a dream since the old days. Ah! how well I remember the first time I danced with him — at his aunt’s house in Cavendish Square. They had only just brought me out in London then, and I thought that he was a god.”

“Cora! I cannot bear to hear you talk like that.”

“I know well enough that he is no god now; some people say that he is a devil, but he was like Apollo to me then. Did you ever see any one so beautiful as he is?”

“I never saw him at all.”

“I wish you could have seen him; but you will some day. I don’t know whether you care for men being handsome.” Alice thought of John Grey, who was the handsomest man that she knew, but she made no answer. “I do; or, rather, I used to do,” continued Lady Glencora. “I don’t think I care much about anything now; but I don’t see why handsome men should not be run after as much as handsome women.”

“But you wouldn’t have a girl run after any man, would you; whether handsome or ugly?”

“But they do, you know, When I saw him the other night he was just as handsome as ever — the same look, half wild and half tame, like an animal you cannot catch, but which you think would love you so if you could catch him. In a little while it was just like the old time, and I had made up my mind to care nothing for the people looking at me.”

“And you think that was right?”

“No, I don’t. Yes, I do; that is, it wasn’t right to care about dancing with him, but it was right to disregard all the people gaping round. What was it to them? Why should they care who I danced with?”

“That is nonsense, dear, and you must know that it is so. If you were to see a woman misbehaving herself in public, would not you look on and make your comments? Could you help doing so if you were to try?”

“You are very severe, Alice. Misbehaving in public!”

“Yes, Cora. I am only taking your own story. According to that, you were misbehaving in public.”

Lady Glencora got up from her chair near the window, on which she had been crouching close to Alice’s knees, and walked away towards the fireplace. “What am I to say to you, or how am I to talk to you?” said Alice. “You would not have me tell you a lie?”

“Of all things in the world, I hate a prude the most,” said Lady Glencora.

“Cora, look here. If you consider it prudery on my part to disapprove of your waltzing with Mr Fitzgerald in the manner you have described — or, indeed, in any other manner — you and I must differ so totally about the meaning of words and the nature of things that we had better part.”

“Alice, you are the unkindest creature that ever lived. You are as cold as stone. I sometimes think that you can have no heart.”

“I don’t mind your saying that. Whether I have a heart or not I will leave you to find out for yourself; but I won’t be called a prude by you. You know you were wrong to dance with that man. What has come of it? What have you told me yourself this morning? In order to preserve you from misery and destruction, Mr Palliser has given up all his dearest hopes. He has had to sacrifice himself that he might save you. That, I take it, is about the truth of it — and yet you tell me that you have done no wrong.”

“I never said so.” Now she had come back to her chair by the window, and was again sitting in that crouching form. “I never said that I was not wrong. Of course I was wrong. I have been so wrong throughout that I have never been right yet. Let me tell it on to the end, and then you can go away if you like, and tell me that I am too wicked for your friendship.”

“Have I ever said anything like that, Cora?”

“But you will, I dare say, when I have done. Well; what do you think my senior duenna did — the female one, I mean? She took my own carriage, and posted off after Mr Palliser as hard as ever she could, leaving the male duenna on the watch. I was dancing as hard as I could, but I knew what was going on all the time as well as though I had heard them talking. Of course Mr Palliser came after me. I don’t know what else he could do, unless, indeed, he had left me to my fate. He came there, and behaved so well — so much like a perfect gentleman. Of course I went home, and I was prepared to tell him everything, if he spoke a word to me — that I intended to leave him, and that cart-ropes should not hold me!”

“To leave him, Cora!”

“Yes, and go with that other man whose name you won’t let me mention. I had a letter from him in my pocket asking me to go. He asked me a dozen times that night. I cannot think how it was that I did not consent.”

“That you did not consent to your own ruin and disgrace?”

“That I did not consent to go off with him — anywhere. Of course it would have been my own destruction. I’m not such a fool as not to know that. Do you suppose I have never thought of it — what it would be to be a man’s mistress instead of his wife? If I had not I should be a thing to be hated and despised, When once I had done it I should hate and despise myself. I should feel myself to be loathsome, and, as it were, a beast among women. But why did they not let me marry him, instead of driving me to this? And though I might have destroyed myself, I should have saved the man who is still my husband. Do you know, I told him all that — told him that if I had gone away with Burgo Fitzgerald he would have another wife, and would have children, and would —?”

“You told your husband that you had thought of leaving him?”

“Yes; I told him everything. I told him that I dearly loved that poor fellow, for whom, as I believe, nobody else on earth cares a single straw.”

“And what did he say?”

“I cannot tell you what he said, only that we are all to go to Baden together, and then to Italy. But he did not seem a bit angry; he very seldom is angry, unless at some trumpery thing, as when he threw the book away. And when I told him that he might have another wife and a child, he put his arm round me and whispered to me that he did not care so much about it as I had imagined. I felt more like loving him at that moment than I had ever done before.”

“He must be fit to be an angel.”

“He’s fit to be a cabinet minister, which, I’m quite sure, he’d like much better. And now you know everything; but no — there is one thing you don’t know yet. When I tell you that, you’ll want to make him an archangel or a prime minister.”

“‘We’ll go abroad,’ he said — and remember, this was his own proposition, made long before I was able to speak a word; ‘We’ll go abroad, and you shall get your cousin Alice to go with us.’ That touched me more than anything. Only think if he had proposed Mrs Marsham!”

“But yet he does not like me.”

“You’re wrong there, Alice. There has been no question of liking or of disliking. He thought you would be a kind of Mrs Marsham, and when you were not, but went out flirting among the ruins with Jeffrey Palliser, instead — ”

“I never went out flirting with Jeffrey Palliser.”

“He did with you, which is all the same thing. And when Plantagenet knew of that — for, of course, Mr Bott told him — ”

“Mr Bott can’t see everything.”

“Those men do. The worst is, they see more than everything. But, at any rate, Mr Palliser has got over all that now. Come, Alice; the fact of the offer having come from himself should disarm you of any such objection as that. As he has held out his hand to you, you have no alternative but to take it.”

“I will take his hand willingly.”

“And for my sake you will go with us? He understands himself that I am not fit to be his companion, and to have no companion but him. Now there is a spirit of wisdom about you that will do for him, and a spirit of folly that will suit me. I can manage to put myself on a par with a girl who has played such a wild game with her lovers as you have done.”

Alice would give no promise then. Her first objection was that she had undertaken to go down to Westmoreland and comfort Kate in the affliction of her broken arm. “And I must go,” said Alice, remembering how necessary it was that she should plead her own cause with George Vavasor’s sister. But she acknowledged that she had not intended to stay long in Westmoreland, probably nor more than a week, and it was at last decided that the Pallisers should postpone their journey for four or five days, and that Alice should go with them immediately upon her return from Vavasor Hall.

“I have no objection,” said her father, speaking with that voice of resignation which men use when they are resolved to consider themselves injured whatever may be done. “I can get along in lodgings. I suppose we had better leave the house, as you have given away so much of your own fortune?” Alice did not think it worth her while to point out to him, in answer to this, that her contribution to their joint housekeeping should still remain the same as ever. Such, however, she knew would be the fact, and she knew also that she would find her father in the old house when she returned from her travels. To her, in her own great troubles, the absence from London would be as serviceable as it could be to Lady Glencora. Indeed, she had already begun to feel the impossibility of staying quietly at home. She could lecture her cousin, whose faults were open, easy to be defined, and almost loud in their nature; but she was not on that account the less aware of her own. She knew that she too had cause to be ashamed of herself. She was half afraid to show her face among her friends, and wept grievously over her own follies. Those cruel words of her father rang in her ears constantly — “Things of that sort are so often over with you.” The reproach, though cruel, was true, and what reproach more galling could be uttered to an unmarried girl such as was Alice Vavasor? She had felt from the first moment in which the proposition was made to her, that it would be well that she should for a while leave her home, and especially that drawing-room in Queen Anne Street, which told her so many tales that she would fain forget, if it were possible.

Mr Palliser would not allow his wife to remain in London for the ten or twelve days which must yet elapse before they started, nor would he send her into the country alone. He took her down to Matching Park, having obtained leave to be absent from the House for the remainder of the Session, and remained with her there till within two days of their departure. That week down at Matching, as she afterwards told Alice, was very terrible. He never spoke a word to rebuke her. He never hinted that there had been aught in her conduct of which he had cause to complain. He treated her with a respect that was perfect, and indeed with more outward signs of affection than had ever been customary with him. “But,” as Lady Glencora afterwards expressed it, “he was always looking after me. I believe he thought that Burgo Fitzgerald had hidden himself among the ruins,” she said once to Alice, “He never suspected me, I am sure of that; but he thought that he ought to look after me.” And Lady Glencora in this had very nearly hit the truth. Mr Palliser had resolved, from that hour in which he had walked out among the elms in Kensington Gardens, that he would neither suspect his wife, nor treat her as though he suspected her. The blame had been his, perhaps, more than it had been hers. So much he had acknowledged to himself, thinking of the confession she had made to him before their marriage. But it was manifestly his imperative duty — his duty of duties — to save her from that pitfall into which, as she herself had told him, she had been so ready to fall. For her sake and for his this must be done. It was a duty so imperative, that in its performance he had found himself forced to abandon his ambition. To have his wife taken from him would be terrible, but the having it said all over the world that such a misfortune had come upon him would be almost more terrible even than that.

So he went with his wife hither and thither, down at Matching, allowing himself to be driven about behind Dandy and Flirt. He himself proposed these little excursions. They were tedious to him, but doubly tedious to his wife, who now found it more difficult than ever to talk to him. She snuggled to talk, and he struggled to talk, but the very struggles themselves made the thing impossible. He sat with her in the mornings, and he sat with her in the evenings; he breakfasted with her, lunched with her, and dined with her. He went to bed early, having no figures which now claimed his attention. And so the week at last wore itself away. “I saw him yawning sometimes,” Lady Glencora said afterwards, “as though he would fall in pieces.”

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