Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 65

The First Kiss

“Hush!” said the widow, “there’s a carriage coming on the road — close to us.” Mrs Greenow, as she spoke these words, drew back from the Captain’s arms before the first kiss of permitted ante-nuptial love had been exchanged. The scene was on the high road from Shap to Vavasor, and as she was still dressed in all the sombre habiliments of early widowhood, and as neither he nor his sweetheart were under forty, perhaps it was as well that they were not caught toying together in so very public a place. But they were only just in time to escape the vigilant eyes of a new visitor. Round the corner of the road, at a sharp trot, came the Shap post-horse, with the Shap gig behind him — the same gig which had brought Bellfield to Vavasor on the previous day — and seated in the gig, looming large, with his eyes wide awake to everything round him, was —— Mr Cheesacre.

It was a sight terrible to the eyes of Captain Bellfield, and by no means welcome to those of Mrs Greenow. As regarded her, her annoyance had chiefly reference to her two nieces, and especially to Alice. How was she to account for this second lover? Kate, of course, knew all about it; but how could Alice be made to understand that she, Mrs Greenow, was not to blame — that she had, in sober truth, told this ardent gentleman that there was no hope for him? And even as to Kate, Kate, whom her aunt had absurdly chosen to regard as the object of Mr Cheesacre’s pursuit — what sort of a welcome would she extend to the owner of Oileymead? Before the wheels had stopped, Mrs Greenow had begun to reflect whether it might be possible that she should send Mr Cheesacre back without letting him go on to the Hall; but if Mrs Greenow was dismayed, what were the feelings of the Captain? For he was aware that Cheesacre knew that of him which he had not told. How ardently did he now wish that he had sailed nearer to the truth in giving in the schedule of his debts to Mrs Greenow.

“That man’s wanted by the police,” said Cheesacre, speaking while the gig was still in motion. “He’s wanted by the police, Mrs Greenow,” and in his ardour he stood up in the gig and pointed at Bellfield. Then the gig stopped suddenly, and he fell back into his seat in his effort to prevent his falling forward. “He’s wanted by the police,” he shouted out again, as soon as he was able to recover his voice.

Mrs Greenow turned pale beneath the widow’s veil which she had dropped. What might not her Captain have done? He might have procured things, to be sent to him, out of shops on false pretences; or, urged on by want and famine, he might have committed — forgery. “Oh, my!” she said, and dropped her hand from his arm, which she had taken.

“It’s false,” said Bellfield.

“It’s true,” said Cheesacre.

“I’ll indict you for slander, my friend,” said Bellfield.

“Pay me the money you owe me,” said Cheesacre. “You’re a swindler!”

Mrs Greenow cared little as to her lover being a swindler in Mr Cheesacre’s estimation. Such accusations from him she had heard before. But she did care very much as to this mission of the police against her Captain. If that were true, the Captain could be her Captain no longer. “What is this I hear, Captain Bellfield?” she said.

“It’s a lie and a slander. He merely wants to make a quarrel between us. What police are after me, Mr Cheesacre?”

“It’s the police, or the sheriff’s officer, or something of the kind,” said Cheesacre.

“Oh, the sheriff’s officers!” exclaimed Mrs Greenow, in a tone of voice which showed how great had been her relief.

“Mr Cheesacre, you shouldn’t come and say such things — you shouldn’t, indeed. Sheriff’s officers can be paid, and there’s an end of them.”

“I’ll indict him for the libel — I will, as sure as I’m alive,” said Bellfield.

“Nonsense,” said the widow. “Don’t you make a fool of yourself. When men can’t pay their way they must put up with having things like that said of them. Mr Cheesacre, where were you going?”

“I was going to Vavasor Hall, on purpose to caution you.”

“It’s too late,” said Mrs Greenow, sinking behind her veil.

“Why, you haven’t been and married him since yesterday? He only had twenty-four hours’ start of me, I know. Or, perhaps you had it done clandestine in Norwich? Oh, Mrs Greenow!”

He got out of the gig, and the three walked back towards the Hall together, while the boy drove on with Mr Cheesacre’s carpet-bag. “I hardly know,” said Mrs Greenow, “whether we can welcome you. There are other visitors, and the house is full.”

“I’m not one to intrude where I’m not wanted. You may be sure of that. If I can’t get my supper for love, I can get it for money. That’s more than some people can say. I wonder when you’re going to pay me what you owe me, Lieutenant Bellfield?”

Nevertheless the widow had contrived to reconcile the two men before she reached the Hall. They had actually shaken hands, and the lamb Cheesacre had agreed to lie down with the wolf Bellfield. Cheesacre, moreover, had contrived to whisper into the widow’s ears the true extent of his errand into Westmoreland. This, however, he did not do altogether in Bellfield’s hearing. When Mrs Greenow ascertained that there was something to be said, she made no scruple in sending her betrothed away from her. “You won’t throw a fellow over, will you, now?” whispered Bellfield into her ear as he went. She merely frowned at him, and bade him begone; so that the walk which Mrs Greenow began with one lover she ended in company with the other.

Bellfield, who was sent on to the house, found Alice and Kate surveying the newly-arrived carpet-bag. “He knows ’un,” said the boy who had driven the gig, pointing to the Captain.

“It belongs to your old friend, Mr Cheesacre,” said Bellfield to Kate.

“And has he come too?” said Kate.

The Captain shrugged his shoulders, and admitted that it was hard. “And it’s not of the slightest use,” said he; “not the least in the world. He never had a chance in that quarter.”

“Not enough of the rocks and valleys about him, was there, Captain Bellfield?” said Kate. But Captain Bellfield understood nothing about the rocks and valleys, though he was regarded by certain eyes as being both a rock and a valley himself.

In the meantime Cheesacre was telling his story. He first asked, in a melancholy tone, whether it was really necessary that he must abandon all his hopes. “He wasn’t going to say anything against the Captain,” he said, “if things were really fixed. He never begrudged any man his chance.”

“Things are really fixed,” said Mrs Greenow.

He could, however, not keep himself from hinting that Oileymead was a substantial home, and that Bellfield had not as much as a straw mattress to lie upon. In answer to this Mrs Greenow told him that there was so much more reason why someone should provide the poor man with a mattress. “If you look at it in that light, of course it’s true,” said Cheesacre, Mrs Greenow told him that she did look at it in that light. “Then I’ve done about that,” said Cheesacre; “and as to the little bit of money he owes me, I must give him his time about it, I suppose.” Mrs Greenow assured him that it should be paid as soon as possible after the nuptial benediction had been said over them. She offered, indeed, to pay it at once if he was in distress for it, but he answered contemptuously that he never was in distress for money. He liked to have his own, that was all.

After this he did not get away to his next subject quite so easily as he wished; and it must be admitted that there was a difficulty. As he could not have Mrs Greenow he would be content to put up with Kate for his wife. That was his next subject. Rumours as to the old Squire’s will had no doubt reached him, and he was now willing to take advantage of that assistance which Mrs Greenow had before offered him in this matter. The time had come in which he ought to marry; of that he was aware. He had told many of his friends in Norfolk that Kate Vavasor had thrown herself at his head, and very probably he had thought it true. In answer to all his love speeches to herself, the aunt had always told him what an excellent wife her niece would make him. So now he had come to Westmoreland with this second string to his bow. “You know you put it into my head your own self,” pleaded Mr Cheesacre. “Didn’t you, now?”

“But things are so different since that,” said the widow.

“How different? I ain’t different. There’s Oileymead just where it always was, and the owner of it don’t owe a shilling to any man. How are things different?”

“My niece has inherited property.”

“And is that to make a change? Oh! Mrs Greenow, who would have thought to find you mercenary like that? Inherited property! Is she going to fling a man over because of that?”

Mrs Greenow endeavoured to explain to him that her niece could hardly be said to have flung him over, and at last pretended to become angry when he attempted to assert his position. “Why, Mr Cheesacre, I am quite sure she never gave you a word of encouragement in her life.”

“But you always told me I might have her for the asking.”

“And now I tell you that you mayn’t. It’s of no use your going on there to ask her, for she will only send you away with an answer you won’t like. Look here, Mr Cheesacre; you want to get married, and it’s quite time you should. There’s my dear friend Charlie Fairstairs. How could you get a better wife than Charlie?”

“Charlie Fairstairs!” said Cheesacre, turning up his nose in disgust. “She hasn’t got a penny, nor any one belonging to her. The man who marries her will have to find the money for the smock she stands up in.”

“Who’s mercenary now, Mr Cheesacre? Do you go home and think of it; and if you’ll marry Charlie, I’ll go to your wedding. You shan’t be ashamed of her clothing. I’ll see to that.”

They were now close to the gate, and Cheesacre paused before he entered. “Do you think there’s no chance at all for me, then?” said he.

“I know there’s none. I’ve heard her speak about it.”

“Somebody else, perhaps, is the happy man?”

“I can’t say anything about that, but I know that she wouldn’t take you. I like farming, you know, but she doesn’t.”

“I might give that up,” said Cheesacre readily — “at any rate, for a time.”

“No, no, no; it would do no good. Believe me, my friend, that it is of no use.”

He still paused at the gate. “I don’t see what’s the use of my going in,” said he. To this she made him no answer. “There’s a pride about me,” he continued, “that I don’t choose to go where I’m not wanted.”

“I can’t tell you, Mr Cheesacre, that you are wanted in that light, certainly.”

“Then I’ll go. Perhaps you’ll be so good as to tell the boy with the gig to come after me? That’s six pound ten it will have cost me to come here and go back. Bellfield did it cheaper, of course; he travelled second class. I heard of him as I came along.”

“The expense does not matter to you, Mr Cheesacre.”

To this he assented, and then took his leave, at first offering his hand to Mrs Greenow with an air of offended dignity, but falling back almost into humility during the performance of his adieu. Before he was gone he had invited her to bring the Captain to Oileymead when she was married, and had begged her to tell Miss Vavasor how happy he should be to receive her. “And, Mr Cheesacre,” said the widow, as he walked back along the road, “don’t forget dear Charlie Fairstairs.”

They were all standing at the front door of the house when Mrs Greenow re-appeared — Alice, Kate, Captain Bellfield, the Shap boy, and the Shap horse and gig. “Where is he?” Kate asked in a low voice, and everyone there felt how important was the question. “He has gone,” said the widow. Bellfield was so relieved that he could not restrain his joy, but took off his little straw hat and threw it up into the air. Kate’s satisfaction was almost as intense. “I am so glad,” said she. “What on earth should we have done with him?” “I never was so disappointed in my life,” said Alice. “I have heard so much of Mr Cheesacre, but have never seen him.” Kate suggested that she should get into the gig and drive after him. “He ain’t a been and took hisself off?” suggested the boy, whose face became very dismal as the terrible idea struck him. But, with juvenile craft, he put his hand on the carpet-bag, and finding that it did not contain stones, was comforted. “You drive after him, young gentleman, and you’ll find him on the road to Shap,” said Mrs Greenow. “Mind you give him my love,” said the Captain in his glee, “and say I hope he’ll get his turnips in well.”

This little episode went far to break the day, and did more than anything else could have done to put Captain Bellfield at his ease. It created a little joint-stock fund of merriment between the whole party, which was very much needed. The absence of such joint-stock fund is always felt when a small party is thrown together without such assistance. Some bond is necessary on these occasions, and no other bond is so easy or so pleasant. Now, when the Captain found himself alone for a quarter of an hour with Alice, he had plenty of subjects for small-talk. “Yes, indeed. Old Cheesacre, in spite of his absurdities, is not a bad sort of fellow at bottom — awfully fond of his money, you know, Miss Vavasor, and always boasting about it.” “That’s not pleasant, said Alice. No; the most unpleasant thing in the world. There’s nothing I hate so much, Miss Vavasor, as that kind of talking. My idea is this — when a man has lots of money, let him make the best use he can of it, and say nothing about it. Nobody ever heard me talking about my money.” He knew that Alice knew that he was a pauper; but, nevertheless, he had the satisfaction of speaking of himself as though he were not a pauper.

In this way the afternoon went very pleasantly. For an hour before dinner Captain Bellfield was had into the drawing-room, and was talked to by his widow on matters of business; but he had of course known that this was necessary. She scolded him soundly about those sheriff’s officers. Why had he not told her? “As long as there’s anything kept back, I won’t have you,” said she. “I won’t become your wife till I’m quite sure there’s not a penny owing that is not shown in the list.” Then I think he did tell her all — or nearly all. When all was counted it was not so very much. Three or four hundred pounds would make him a new man, and what was such a sum as that to his wealthy widow! Indeed, for a woman wanting a husband of that sort, Captain Bellfield was a safer venture than would be a man of a higher standing among his creditors. It is true Bellfield might have been a forger, or a thief, or a returned convict — but then his debts could not be large. Let him have done his best, he could not have obtained credit for a thousand pounds; whereas, no one could tell the liabilities of a gentleman of high standing. Burgo Fitzgerald was a gentleman of high standing, and his creditors would have swallowed up every shilling that Mrs Greenow possessed; but with Captain Bellfield she was comparatively safe.

Upon the whole I think that she was lucky in her choice; or, perhaps, I might more truly say, that she had chosen with prudence. He was no forger, or thief — in the ordinary sense of the word; nor was he a returned convict. He was simply an idle scamp, who had hung about the world for forty years, doing nothing, without principle, shameless, accustomed to eat dirty puddings, and to be kicked — morally kicked — by such men as Cheesacre. But he was moderate in his greediness, and possessed of a certain appreciation of the comfort of a daily dinner, which might possibly suffice to keep him from straying very wide as long as his intended wife should be able to keep the purse-strings altogether in her own hands. Therefore, I say that Mrs Greenow had been lucky in her choice, and not altogether without prudence.

“I think of taking this house,” said she, “and of living here.”

“What, in Westmoreland!” said the Captain, with something of dismay in his tone. What on earth would he do with himself all his life in that gloomy place!

“Yes, in Westmoreland. Why not in Westmoreland as well as anywhere else? If you don’t like Westmoreland, it’s not too late yet, you know.” In answer to this the poor Captain was obliged to declare that he had no objection whatever to Westmoreland.

“I’ve been talking to my niece about it,” continued Mrs Greenow, “and I find that such an arrangement can be made very conveniently. The property is left between her and her uncle — the father of my other niece, and neither of them want to live here.”

“But won’t you be rather dull, my dear?”

“We could go to Yarmouth, you know, in the autumn.” Then the Captain’s visage became somewhat bright again. “And, perhaps, if you are not extravagant, we could manage a month or so in London during the winter, just to see the plays and do a little shopping.” Then the Captain’s face became very bright. “That will be delightful,” said he. “And as for being dull,” said the widow, “when people grow old they must be dull. Dancing can’t go on for ever.” In answer to this the widow’s Captain assured the widow that she was not at all old; and now, on this occasion, that ceremony came off successfully which had been interrupted on the Shap road by the noise of Mr Cheesacre’s wheels. “There goes my cap,” said she. “What a goose you are! What will Jeannette say?”

“Bother Jeannette,” said the Captain in his bliss. “She can do another cap, and many more won’t be wanted,” Then I think the ceremony was repeated.

Upon the whole the Captain’s visit was satisfactory — at any rate to the Captain. Everything was settled. He was to go away on Saturday morning, and remain in lodgings at Penrith till the wedding, which they agreed to have celebrated at Vavasor Church. Kate promised to be the solitary bridesmaid. There was some talk of sending for Charlie Fairstairs, but the idea was abandoned. “We’ll have her afterwards,” said the widow to Kate, “when you are gone, and we shall want her more. And I’ll get Cheesacre here, and make him marry her. There’s no good in paying for two journeys.” The Captain was to be allowed to come over from Penrith twice a week previous to his marriage; or perhaps, I might more fairly say, that he was commanded to do so. I wonder how he felt when Mrs Greenow gave him his first five-pound note, and told him that he must make it do for a fortnight? — whether it was all joy, or whether there was about his heart any touch of manly regret?

“Captain Bellfield, of Vavasor Hall, Westmoreland. It don’t sound badly,” he said to himself, as he travelled away on his first journey to Penrith.

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