Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 64

The Rocks and Valleys

During these days Mrs Greenow was mistress of the old Hall down in Westmoreland, and was nursing Kate assiduously through the calamity of her broken arm. There had come to be a considerable amount of confidence between the aunt and the niece. Kate had acknowledged to her aunt that her brother had behaved badly — very badly; and the aunt had confessed to the niece that she regarded Captain Bellfield as a fit subject for compassion.

“And he was violent to you, and broke your arm? I always knew it was so,” Mrs Greenow had said, speaking with reference to her nephew. But this Kate had denied. “No,” said she; “that was an accident. When he went away and left me, he knew nothing about it. And if he had broken both my arms I should not have cared much. I could have forgiven him that.” But that which Kate could not forgive him was the fault which she had herself committed. For his sake she had done her best to separate Alice and John Grey, and George had shown himself to be unworthy of the kindness of her treachery. “I would give all I have in the world to bring them together again,” Kate said. “They’ll come together fast enough if they like each other,” said Mrs Greenow. “Alice is young still, and they tell me she’s as good-looking as ever. A girl with her money won’t have far to seek for a husband, even if this paragon from Cambridgeshire should not turn up again.”

“You don’t know Alice, aunt.”

“No, I don’t. But I know what young women are, and I know what young men are. All this nonsense about her cousin George — what difference will it make? A man like Mr Grey won’t care about that — especially not if she tells him all about it. My belief is that a girl can have anything forgiven her, if she’ll only tell it herself.”

But Kate preferred the other subject, and so, I think, did Mrs Greenow herself. “Of course, my dear,” she would say, “marriage with me, if I should marry again, would be a very different thing to your marriage, or that of any other young person. As for love, that has been all over for me since poor Greenow died. I have known nothing of the softness of affection since I laid him in his cold grave, and never can again. ‘Captain Bellfield,’ I said to him, ‘if you were to kneel at my feet for years, it would not make me care for you in the way of love.’”

“And what did he say to that?”

“How am I to tell you what he said? He talked nonsense about my beauty, as all the men do. If a woman were hump-backed, and had only one eye, they wouldn’t be ashamed to tell her she was a Venus.”

“But, aunt, you are a handsome woman, you know.”

“Laws, my dear, as if I didn’t understand all about it; as if I didn’t know what makes a woman run after! It isn’t beauty — and it isn’t money altogether. I’ve seen women who had plenty of both, and not a man would come nigh them. They didn’t dare. There are some of them, a man would as soon think of putting his arm round a poplar tree, they are so hard and so stiff. You know you’re a little that way yourself, Kate, and I’ve always told you it won’t do.”

“I’m afraid I’m too old to mend, aunt.”

“Not at all, if you’ll only set your wits to work and try. You’ve plenty of money now, and you’re good-looking enough, too, when you take the trouble to get yourself up. But, as I said before, it isn’t that that’s wanted. There’s a stand-off about some women — what the men call a ‘nollimy tangere’, that a man must be quite a furious Orlando to attempt to get the better of it. They look as though matrimony itself were improper, and as if they believed the little babies were found about in the hedges and ditches. They talk of women being forward! There are some of them a deal too backward, according to my way of thinking.”

“Yours is a comfortable doctrine, aunt.”

“That’s just what I want it to be. I want things to be comfortable. Why shouldn’t things be nice about one when’s got the means? Nobody can say it’s a pleasant thing to live alone. I always thought that man in the song hit it off properly. You remember what he says? ‘The poker and tongs to each other belongs.’ So they do, and that should be the way with men and women.”

“But the poker and tongs have but a bad life of it sometimes.”

“Not so often as the people say, my dear. Men and women ain’t like lumps of sugar. They don’t melt because the water is sometimes warm. Now, if I do take Bellfield — and I really think I shall; but if I do, he’ll give me a deal of trouble. I know he will. He’ll always be wanting my money, and, of course, he’ll get more than he ought. I’m not a Solomon, nor yet a Queen of Sheba, no more than anybody else. And he’ll smoke too many cigars, and perhaps drink more brandy and water than he ought. And he’ll be making eyes, too, at some of the girls who’ll be fools enough to let him.”

“Dear me, aunt, if I thought all that ill of him, I’m sure I wouldn’t marry him — especially as you say you don’t love him.”

“As for love, my dear, that’s gone — clear gone!” Whereupon Mrs Greenow put up her handkerchief to her eyes. “Some women can love twice, but I am not one of them. I wish I could — I wish I could!” These last words were spoken in a tone of solemn regret, which, however, she contrived to change as quickly as she had adopted it. “But, my dear, marriage is a comfortable thing. And then, though the Captain may be a little free, I don’t doubt but what I shall get the upper hand with him at last. I shan’t stop his cigars and brandy and water, you know. Why shouldn’t a man smoke and have a glass, if he don’t make a beast of himself? I like to see a man enjoy himself. And then,” she added, speaking tenderly of her absent lover, “I do think he’s fond of me — I do, indeed.”

“So is Mr Cheesacre, for the matter of that.”

“Poor Cheesy! I believe he was, though he did talk so much about money. I always like to believe the best I can of them. But then there was no poetry about Cheesy. I don’t care about saying it now, as you’ve quite made up your mind not to have him.”

“Quite, aunt.”

“Your grandfather’s will does make a difference, you know. But, as I was saying, I do like a little romance about them — just a sniff, as I call it, of the rocks and valleys. One knows that it doesn’t mean much; but it’s like artificial flowers — it gives a little colour, and takes off the dowdiness. Of course, bread and cheese is the real thing. The rocks and valleys are no good at all, if you haven’t got that. But enough is as good as a feast. Thanks to dear Greenow,” — here the handkerchief was again used — “Thanks to dear Greenow, I shall never want. Of course I shan’t let any of the money go into his hands — the Captain’s, I mean. I know a trick worth two of that, my dear. But, lord love you! I’ve enough for him and me. What’s the good of a woman’s wanting to keep it all to herself?”

“And you think you’ll really take him, aunt, and pay his washerwoman’s bills for him? You remember what you told me when I first saw him?”

“Oh, yes; I remember. And if he can’t pay his own washerwoman, isn’t that so much more of a reason that I should do it for him? Well; yes; I think I will take him. That is, if he lets me take him just as I choose. Beggars mustn’t be choosers, my dear.”

In this way the aunt and niece became very confidential, and Mrs Greenow whispered into Kate’s ears her belief that Captain Bellfield might possibly make his way across the country to Westmoreland. “There would be no harm in offering him a bed, would there?” Mrs Greenow asked. “You see the inn at Shap is a long way off for morning calls.” Kate could not take upon herself to say that there would be any harm, but she did not like the idea of having Captain Bellfield as a visitor. “After all, perhaps he mayn’t come,” said the widow. “I don’t see where he is to raise the money for such a journey, now that he has quarrelled with Mr Cheesacre.”

“If Captain Bellfield must come to Vavasor Hall, at any rate let him not come till Alice’s visit had been completed.” That was Kate’s present wish, and so much she ventured to confide to her aunt. But there seemed to be no way of stopping him. “I don’t in the least know where he is, my dear; and as for writing to him, I never did such a thing in my life, and I shouldn’t know how to begin.” Mrs Greenow declared that she had not positively invited the Captain; but on this point Kate hardly gave full credit to her aunt’s statement.

Alice arrived, and, for a day or two, the three ladies lived very pleasantly together. Kate still wore her arm in a sling; but she was able to walk out, and would take long walks in spite of the doctor’s prohibition. Of course, they went up on the mountains. Indeed, all the walks from Vavasor Hall led to the mountains, unless one chose to take the road to Shap. But they went up, across the beacon hill, as though by mutual consent. There were no questions asked between them as to the route to be taken; and though they did not reach the stone on which they had once sat looking over upon Hawes Water, they did reach the spot upon which Kate had encountered her accident. “It was here I fell,” she said; “and the last I saw of him was his back, as he made his way down into the valley, there. When I got upon my legs I could still see him. It was one of those evenings when the clouds are dark, but you can see all objects with a peculiar clearness through the air. I stood here ever so long, holding my arm, and watching him; but he never once turned to look back at me. Do you know, Alice, I fancy that I shall never see him again.”

“Do you suppose that he means to quarrel with you altogether?”

“I can hardly tell you what I mean! He seemed to me to be going away from me, as though he went into another world. His figure against the light was quite clear, and he walked quickly, and on he went, till the slope of the hill hid him from me. Of course, I thought that he would return to the Hall. At one time I almost feared that he would come upon me through the woods, as I went back myself. But yet, I had a feeling — what people call a presentiment — that I should never see him again.”

“He has never written?”

“No; not a word. You must remember that he did not know that I had hurt myself. I am sure he will not write, and I am sure, also, that I shall not. If he wanted money I would send it to him, but I would not write to him.”

“I fear he will always want money, Kate.”

“I fear he will. If you could know what I suffered when he made me write that letter to you! But, of course, I was a beast. Of course, I ought not to have written it.”

“I thought it a very proper letter.”

“It was a mean letter. The whole thing was mean! He should have starved in the street before he had taken your money. He should have given up Parliament, and everything else! I had doubted much about him before, but it was that which first turned my heart against him. I had begun to fear that he was not such a man as I had always thought him — as I had spoken of him to you.”

“I had judged of him for myself,” said Alice.

“Of course you did. But I had endeavoured to make you judge kindly. Alice, dear! We have both suffered for him; you more than I, perhaps; but I, too, have given up everything for him. My whole life has been at his service. I have been his creature, to do his bidding, just as he might tell me. He made me do things that I knew to be wrong — things that were foreign to my own nature; and yet I almost worshipped him. Even now, if he were to come back, I believe that I should forgive him everything.”

“I should forgive him, but I could never do more.”

“But he will never come back. He will never ask us to forgive him, or even wish it. He has no heart.”

“He has longed for money till the Devil has hardened his heart,” said Alice.

“And yet how tender he could be in his manner when he chose it — how soft he could make his words and his looks! Do you remember how he behaved to us in Switzerland? Do you remember that balcony at Basle, and the night we sat there, when the boys were swimming down the river?”

“Yes — I remember.”

“So do I! So do I! Alice, I would give all I have in the world, if I could recall that journey to Switzerland.”

“If you mean for my sake, Kate — ”

“I do mean for your sake. It made no difference to me. Whether I stayed in Westmoreland or went abroad, I must have found out that my god was made of bricks and clay instead of gold. But there was no need for you to be crushed in the ruins.”

“I am not crushed, Kate!”

“Of course, you are too proud to own it?”

“If you mean about Mr Grey, that would have happened just the same, whether I had gone abroad or remained at home.”

“Would it, dear?”

“Just the same.”

There was nothing more than this said between them about Mr Grey. Even to her cousin, Alice could not bring herself to talk freely on that subject. She would never allow herself to think, for a moment, that she had been persuaded by others to treat him as she had treated him. She was sure that she had acted on her own convictions of what was right and wrong; and now, though she had begun to feel that she had been wrong, she would hardly confess as much even to herself.

They walked back, down the hill, to the Hall in silence for the greater part of the way. Once or twice Kate repeated her conviction that she should never again see her brother. “I do not know what may happen to him,” she said in answer to her cousin’s questions; “but when he was passing out of my sight, into the valley, I felt that I was looking at him for the last time.”

“That is simply what people call a presentiment,” Alice replied.

“Exactly so; and presentiments, of course, mean nothing,” said Kate.

Then they walked on towards the house without further speech; but when they reached the end of the little path which led out of the wood, on to the gravelled sweep before the front door, they were both arrested by a sight that met their eyes. There was a man standing, with a cigar in his mouth, before them, swinging a little cane, and looking about him up at the wood. He had on his head a jaunty little straw hat, and he wore a jacket with brass buttons, and white trousers. It was now nearly the middle of May, but the summer does not come to Westmoreland so early as that, and the man, as he stood there looking about him, seemed to be cold and almost uncomfortable. He had not as yet seen the two girls, who stood at the end of the walk, arrested by the sight of him. “Who is it?” asked Alice, in a whisper.

“Captain Bellfield,” said Kate, speaking with something very like dismay in her voice.

“What! Aunt Greenow’s Captain?”

“Yes; Aunt Greenow’s Captain. I have been fearing this, and now, what on earth are we to do with him? Look at him. That’s what Aunt Greenow calls a sniff of the rocks and valleys.”

The Captain began to move, just to move, as though it were necessary to do something to keep the life in his limbs. He had finished his cigar, and looked at the end of it with manifest regret. As he threw it away among a tuft of shrubs his eye fell upon the two ladies, and he uttered a little exclamation. Then he came forward, waving his little straw hat in his hand, and made his salutation. “Miss Vavasor, I am delighted,” he said. “Miss Alice Vavasor, if I am not mistaken? I have been commissioned by my dear friend Mrs Greenow to go out and seek you, but, upon my word, the woods looked so black that I did not dare to venture — and then, of course, I shouldn’t have found you.”

Kate put out her left hand, and then introduced her cousin to the Captain. Again he waved his little straw hat, and strove to bear himself as though he were at home and comfortable. But he failed, and it was manifest that he failed. He was not the Bellfield who had conquered Mr Cheesacre on the sands at Yarmouth, though he wore the same jacket and waistcoat, and must now have enjoyed the internal satisfaction of feeling that his future maintenance in life was assured to him. But he was not at his ease. His courage had sufficed to enable him to follow his quarry into Westmoreland, but it did not suffice to make him comfortable while he was there. Kate instantly perceived his condition, and wickedly resolved that she would make no effort to assist him. She went through some ceremony of introduction, and then expressed her surprise at seeing him so far north.

“Well,” said he; I am a little surprised myself — I am, indeed! But I had nothing to do in Norwich — literally nothing; and your aunt had so often talked to me of the beauties of this place,’ — and he waved his hand round at the old house and the dark trees — “that I thought I’d take the liberty of paying you a flying visit. I didn’t mean to intrude in the way of sleeping; I didn’t indeed, Miss Vavasor; only Mrs Greenow has been so kind as to say — ”

“We are so very far out of the world, Captain Bellfield, that we always give our visitors beds.”

“I didn’t intend it; I didn’t indeed, miss!” Poor Captain Bellfield was becoming very uneasy in his agitation. “I did just put my bag, with a change of things, into the gig, which brought me over, not knowing quite where I might go on to.”

“We won’t send you any further today, at any rate,” said Kate.

“Mrs Greenow has been very kind — very kind, indeed. She has asked me to stay till — Saturday!”

Kate bit her lips in a momentary fit of anger. The house was her house, and not her aunt’s. But she remembered that her aunt had been kind to her at Norwich and at Yarmouth, and she allowed this feeling to die away. “We shall be very glad to see you,” she said. “We are three women together here, and I’m afraid you will find us rather dull.”

“Oh dear, no — dull with you! That would be impossible!”

“And how have you left your friend, Mr Cheesacre?”

“Quite well — very well, thank you. That is to say, I haven’t seen him much lately. He and I did have a bit of a breeze, you know.”

“I can’t say that I did know, Captain Bellfield.”

“I thought, perhaps, you had heard. He seemed to think that I was too particular in a certain quarter! Ha — ha — ha! That’s only my joke, you know, ladies.”

They then went into the house, and the Captain straggled in after them. Mrs Greenow was in neither of the two sitting-rooms which they usually occupied. She, too, had been driven somewhat out of the ordinary composure of her manner by the arrival of her lover — even though she had expected it, and had retired to her room, thinking that she had better see Kate in private before they met in the presence of the Captain. “I suppose you have seen my aunt since you have been here?” said Kate.

“Oh dear, yes. I saw her, and she suggested that I had better walk out and find you. I did find you, you know, though I didn’t walk very far.”

“And have you seen your room?”

“Yes — yes. She was kind enough to show me my room. Very nice indeed, thank you — looking out into the front, and all that kind of thing.” The poor fellow was no doubt thinking how much better was his lot at Vavasor Hall than it had been at Oileymead. “I shan’t stay long, Miss Vavasor — only just a night or so; but I did want to see your aunt again — and you, too, upon my word.”

“My aunt is the attraction, Captain Bellfield. We all know that.”

He actually simpered — simpered like a young girl who is half elated and half ashamed when her lover is thrown in her teeth. He fidgeted with the things on the table, and moved himself about uneasily from one leg to the other. Perhaps he was remembering that though he had contrived to bring himself to Vavasor Hall he had not money enough left to take him back to Norwich. — The two girls left him and went to their rooms. “I will go to my aunt at once,” said Kate, “and find out what is to be done.”

“I suppose she means to marry him?”

“Oh, yes; she means to marry him, and the sooner the better now. I knew this was coming, but I did so hope it would not be while you were here. It makes me feel so ashamed of myself that you should see it.”

Kate boldly knocked at her aunt’s door, and her aunt received her with a conscious smile. “I was waiting for you to come,” said Mrs Greenow.

“Here I am, aunt; and, what is more to the purpose, there is Captain Bellfield in the drawing-room.”

“Stupid man! I told him to take himself away about the place till dinner-time. I’ve half a mind to send him back to Shap at once — upon my word I have.”

“Don’t do that, aunt; it would be inhospitable.”

“But he is such an oaf. I hope you understand, my dear, that I couldn’t help it?”

“But you do mean to — to marry him, aunt; don’t you?”

“Well, Kate, I really think I do. Why shouldn’t I? It’s a lonely sort of life being by myself; and, upon my word, I don’t think there’s very much harm in him.”

“I am not saying anything against him; only in that case you can’t very well turn him out of the house.”

“Could not I, though? I could in a minute; and, if you wish it, you shall see if I can’t do it.”

“The rocks and valleys would not allow that, aunt.”

“It’s all very well for you to laugh, my dear. If laughing would break my bones I shouldn’t be as whole as I am now. I might have had Cheesacre if I liked, who is a substantial man, and could have kept a carriage for me; but it was the rocks and valleys that prevented that — and perhaps a little feeling that I might do some good to a poor fellow who has nobody in the world to look after him.” Mrs Greenow, as she said this, put her handkerchief up to her eyes, and wiped away the springing moisture. Tears were always easy with her, but on this occasion Kate almost respected her tears. “I’m sure I hope you’ll be happy, aunt.”

“If he makes me unhappy he shall pay for it;” and Mrs Greenow, having done with her tears, shook her head, as though upon this occasion she quite meant all that she said.

At dinner they were not very comfortable. Either the gloomy air of the place and the neighbourhood of the black pines had depressed the Captain, or else the glorious richness of the prospects before him had made him thoughtful. He had laid aside the jacket with the brass buttons, and had dressed himself for dinner very soberly. And he behaved himself at dinner and after dinner with a wonderful sobriety, being very unlike the Captain who had sat at the head of the table at Mrs Greenow’s picnic. When left to himself after dinner he barely swallowed two glasses of the old Squire’s port wine before he sauntered out into the garden to join the ladies, whom he had seen there; and when pressed by Kate to light a cigar he positively declined.

On the following morning Mrs Greenow had recovered her composure, but Captain Bellfield was still in a rather disturbed state of mind. He knew that his efforts were to be crowned with success, and that he was sure of his wife; but he did not know how the preliminary difficulties were to be overcome, and he did not know what to do with himself at the Hall. After breakfast he fidgeted about in the parlour, being unable to contrive for himself a mode of escape, and was absolutely thrown upon his beam-ends when the widow asked him what he meant to do with himself between that and dinner.

“I suppose I’d better take a walk,” he said; “and perhaps the young ladies — ”

“If you mean my two nieces,” said Mrs Greenow, “I’m afraid you’ll find they are engaged. But if I’m not too old to walk with — ” The Captain assured her that she was just of the proper age for a walking companion, as far as his taste went, and then attempted some apology for the awkwardness of his expression, at which the three women laughed heartily. “Never mind, Captain,” said Mrs Greenow. “We’ll have our walk all the same, and won’t mind those young girls. Come along.” Then they started, not up towards the mountains, as Kate always did when she walked in Westmoreland, but mildly — and at a gentle place, as beseemed their years, along the road towards Shap. The Captain politely opened the old gate for the widow, and then carefully closed it again — not allowing it to swing, as he would have done at Yarmouth. Then he tripped up to his place beside her, suggested his arm, which she declined, and walked on for some paces in silence. What on earth was he to say to her? He had done his love-making successfully, and what was he to do next?

“Well, Captain Bellfield,” said she. They were walking very slowly, and he was cutting the weeds by the roadside with his cane. He knew by her voice that something special was coming so he left the weeds and ranged himself close up alongside of her. “Well, Captain Bellfield — so I suppose I’m to be good-natured; am I?”

“Arabella, you’ll make me the happiest man in the world.”

“That’s all fudge.” She would have said “all rocks and valleys,” only he would not have understood her.

“Upon my word, you will.”

“I hope I shall make you respectable?”

“Oh, yes; certainly. I quite intend that.”

“It is the great thing that you should intend. Of course I am going to make a fool of myself.”

“No, no; don’t say that.”

“If I don’t say it, all my friends will say it for me. It’s lucky for you that I don’t much care what people say.”

“It is lucky — I know that I’m lucky. The very first day I saw you I thought what a happy fellow I was to meet you. Then, of course, I was only thinking of your beauty.”

“Get along with you!”

“Upon my word, yes. Come, Arabella, as we are to be man and wife, you might as well.” At this moment he had got very close to her, and had recovered something of his usual elasticity; but she would not allow him even to put his arm round her waist. “Out in the high road!” she said. “How can you be so impertinent — and so foolish?”

“You might as well, you know — just once.”

“Captain Bellfield, I brought you out here not for such fooling as that, but in order that we might have a little chat about business. If we are to be man and wife, as you say, we ought to understand on what footing we are to begin together. I’m afraid your own private means are not considerable?”

“Well, no; they are not, Mrs Greenow.”

“Have you anything?” The Captain hesitated, and poked the ground with his cane. “Come, Captain Bellfield, let us have the truth at once, and then we shall understand each other.” The Captain still hesitated, and said nothing. “You must have had something to live upon, I suppose?” suggested the widow. Then the Captain, by degrees, told his story. He had a married sister by whom a guinea a week was allowed to him. That was all. He had been obliged to sell out of the army, because he was unable to live on his pay as a lieutenant. The price of his commission had gone to pay his debts, and now — yes, it was too true — now he was in debt again. He owed £90 to Cheesacre, £32 10/-to a tailor at Yarmouth, over £17 at his lodgings in Norwich. At the present moment he had something under 30/-in his pocket. The tailor at Yarmouth had lent him £3 in order that he might make his journey into Westmoreland, and perhaps be enabled to pay his debts by getting a rich wife. In the course of the cross-examination Mrs Greenow got much information out of him; and then, when she was satisfied that she had learned, not exactly all the truth, but certain indications of the truth, she forgave him all his offences.

“And now you will give a fellow a kiss, just one kiss,” said the ecstatic Captain, in the height of his bliss.

“Hush!” said the widow, “there’s a carriage coming on the road — close to us.”

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