Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 69

From Baden to Lucerne

The second week in July saw Mr Palliser’s party, carriage and all, established at Lucerne, in Switzerland, safe beyond the reach of the German gambling-tables. Alice Vavasor was still with them; and the reader will therefore understand that that quarrel about Lady Glencora’s wickedness had been settled without any rupture. It had been settled amicably, and by the time that they had reached Lucerne, Alice was inclined to acknowledge that the whole thing was not worth notice; but for many days her anger against Mr Palliser had not been removed, and her intimacy with him had been much checked. It was now a month since the occurrence of that little scene in the salon at Baden, which was described in the last chapter — since Mr Palliser had marched off with his wife, leaving Alice to follow as she best could by herself. After that, as the reader may remember, he had almost told her that she was to be blamed because of his wife’s indiscretion; and when she had declared her intention of leaving him, and making her way home to England by herself, he had answered her not at all, and had allowed her to go off to her own room under the full ban of his displeasure. Since that he had made no apology to her; he had not, in so many words, acknowledged that he had wronged her; but Alice had become aware that he intended to apologise by his conduct, and she had been content so far to indulge his obstinacy as to accept this conduct on his part in lieu of any outspoken petition for pardon. The acknowledgment of a mistake and the asking for grace is almost too much for any woman to expect from such a man as Mr Palliser.

Early on the morning after the scene in question, Lady Glencora had gone into Alice’s bedroom, and had found her cousin in her dressing-gown, packing up her things, or looking as though she intended to do so. “You are not such a fool,” she said, “as to think anything of what occurred yesterday?” Alice assured her that, whether fool or not, she did think a great deal of it. “In point of fact,” said Alice, “I can’t stand it. He expects me to take care of you, and chooses to show himself offended if you don’t do just what he thinks proper; whereas, as you know well enough, I have not the slightest influence over you.” All these positions Lady Glencora contradicted vigorously. Of course, Mr Palliser had been wrong in walking out of the Assembly Rooms as he had done, leaving Alice behind him. So much Lady Glencora admitted. But this had come of his intense anxiety. “And you know what a man he is,” said his wife — “how stiff and hard, and unpleasant he can be without meaning it.” — “There is no reason why I should bear his unpleasantness,” said Alice. “Yes, there is — great reason. You are to do it for the sake of friendship. And as for my not doing what you tell me, you know that’s not true.”

“Did I not beg you to keep away from the table?”

“Of course you did, and of course I was naughty; but that was only once. Alice, I want you more than I ever wanted you before. I cannot tell you more now, but you must stay with me.”

Alice consented to come down to breakfast without any immediate continuance of her active preparations for going, and at last, of course, she stayed. When she entered the breakfast room Mr Palliser came up to her, and offered her his hand. She had no alternative but to take it, and then seated herself. That there was an intended apology in the manner in which he offered her toast and butter, she was convinced; and the special courtesy with which he handed her to the carriage, when she and Lady Glencora went out for their drive, after dinner, was almost as good as a petition for pardon. So the thing went on, and by degrees Mr Palliser and Miss Vavasor were again friends.

But Alice never knew in what way the matter was settled between Mr Palliser and his wife, or whether there was any such settling. Probably there was none. “Of course, he understands that it didn’t mean anything,” Lady Glencora had said. “He knows that I don’t want to gamble.” But let that be as it might, their sojourn at Baden was curtailed, and none of the party went up again to the Assembly Rooms before their departure.

Before establishing themselves at Lucerne they made a little tour round by the Falls of the Rhine and Zurich. In their preparations for this journey, Alice made a struggle, but a struggle in vain, to avoid a passage through Basle. It was only too clear to her that Mr Palliser was determined to go by Basle. She could not bring herself to say that she had recollections connected with that place which would make a return to it unpleasant to her. If she could have said as much, even to Glencora, Mr Palliser would no doubt have gone round — round by any more distant route that might have been necessary to avoid that eternal gateway into Switzerland. But she could not say it. She was very averse to talking about herself and her own affairs, even with her cousin. Of course Lady Glencora knew the whole story of Mr John Grey and his rejection — and knew much also of that other story of Mr George Vavasor. And, of course, like all Alice’s friends, she hated George Vavasor, and was prepared to receive Mr John Grey with open arms, if there were any possibility that her cousin would open her arms to him also. But Alice was so stubborn about her own affairs that her friend found it almost impossible to speak of them. “It is not that you trouble me,” Alice once said, “but that you trouble yourself about that which is of no use. It is all done and over; and though I know that I have behaved badly — very badly — yet I believe that everything has been done for the best. I am inclined to think that I can live alone, or perhaps with my cousin Kate, more happily than I could with any husband.”

“That is such nonsense.”

“Perhaps so; but, at any rate, I mean to try. We Vavasors don’t seem to be good at marrying.”

“You want someone to break your heart for you; that’s what you want,” said Lady Glencora. In saying this she knew but little of the state of her friend’s head, and perhaps was hardly capable of understanding it. With all the fuss that Lady Glencora made to herself — with all the tears that she had shed about her lost lover, and was so often shedding — with all her continual thinking of the matter, she had never loved Burgo Fitzgerald as Alice Vavasor had loved Mr Grey. But her nature was altogether different to that of Alice. Love with her had in it a gleam of poetry, a spice of fun, a touch of self-devotion, something even of hero-worship; but with it all there was a dash of devilry, and an aptitude almost for wickedness. She knew Burgo Fitzgerald to be a scapegrace, and she liked him the better on that account. She despised her husband because he had no vices. She would have given everything she had to Burgo — pouring her wealth upon him with a total disregard of herself, had she been allowed to do so. She would have forgiven him sin after sin, and might perhaps have brought him round, at last, to some life not absolutely reckless and wretched. But in all that she might have done, there would have been no thoughtfulness — no true care either for him or for herself. And now that she was married there was no thoughtfulness, or care either for herself or for her husband. She was ready to sacrifice herself for him, if any sacrifice might be required of her. She believed herself to be unfit for him, and would have submitted to be divorced — or smothered out of the way, for the matter of that — if the laws of the land would have permitted it. But she had never for a moment given to herself the task of thinking what conduct on her part might be the best for his welfare.

But Alice’s love had been altogether of another kind — and I am by no means sure that it was better suited for the work of this work a day world than that of her cousin. It was too thoughtful. I will not say that there was no poetry in it, but I will say that it lacked romance. Its poetry was too hard for romance. There was certainly in it neither fun nor wickedness; nor was there, I fear, so large a proportion of hero-worship as there always should be in a girl’s heart when she gives it away. But there was in it an amount of self-devotion which none of those near to her had hitherto understood — unless it were that one to whom the understanding of it was of the most importance. In all the troubles of her love, of her engagements, and her broken promises, she had thought more of others than of herself — and, indeed, those troubles had chiefly come from that self-devotion. She had left John Grey because she feared that she would do him no good as his wife — that she would not make him happy; and she had afterwards betrothed herself for a second time to her cousin, because she believed that she could serve him by marrying him. Of course she had been wrong. She had been very wrong to give up the man she did love, and more wrong again in suggesting to herself the possibility of marrying the man she did not love. She knew that she had been wrong in both, and was undergoing repentance with very bitter inward sackcloth. But she said little of all this even to her cousin.

They went to Lucerne by Basle, and put up at the big hotel with the balcony over the Rhine, which Alice remembered so well. On the first evening of her arrival she found herself again looking down upon the river, as though it might have been from the same spot which she had occupied together with George and Kate. But, in truth, that house is very large, and has many bedrooms over the water. Who has ever been through Basle, and not stood in one of them, looking down upon the father of waters? Here, on this very spot, in one of these balconies, was brought to her a letter from her cousin Kate, which was filled with tidings respecting her cousin George. Mr Palliser brought it to her with his own hands, and she had no other alternative but to read it in his presence. “George has lost his election,” the letter began. For one moment Alice thought of her money, and the vain struggle in which it had been wasted. For one moment, something like regret for the futility of the effort she had made came upon her. But it passed away at once. “It was worth our while to try it,” she said to herself, and then went on with her letter.

“I and Aunt Greenow are up in London” [the letter went on to say] “and have just heard the news. Though I have been here for three days, and have twice sent word to him to say so, he has not been near me. Perhaps it is best that he should stay away, as I do not know how any words could pass between us that would be pleasant. The poll was finished this afternoon, and he lost his election by a large majority. There were five candidates altogether for the two seats — three Liberals, and two Conservatives. The other two Liberals were seated, and he was the last of the five. I continue to hear tidings about him from day to day — or rather, my aunt hears them and tells them to me — which fill me full of fears as to his future career. I believe that he has abandoned his business, and that he has now no source of income. I would willingly share what I have with him; or I would do more than that. After keeping back enough to repay you gradually what he owes you, I would give him all my share of the income out of the estate. But I cannot do this while we are presumed to be enemies. I am up here to see a lawyer as to some steps which he is taking to upset Grandpapa’s will. The lawyer says that it is all nonsense, and that George’s lawyer is not really in earnest; but I cannot do anything till the matter is settled. Dear Alice, though so much of your money is for a time gone, I am bound to congratulate you on your safety — on what I may more truly call your escape. You will understand what my own feelings must be in writing this, after all that I did to bring you and him together — after all my hopes and ambition respecting him. As for the money, it shall be repaid. I do not think I shall ever dare to indulge in any strong desire again. I think you will forgive me the injury I have done you — and I know that you will pity me.

“I am here to see the London lawyer — but not only for that. Aunt Greenow is buying her wedding clothes, and Captain Bellfield is in lodgings near to us, also buying his trousseau; or, as I should more properly say, having it bought for him. I am hardly in a mood for much mirth, but it is impossible not to laugh inwardly when she discusses before me the state of his wardrobe, and proposes economical arrangements — greatly to his disgust. At present, she holds him very tightly in hand, and makes him account for all his hours as well as all his money. ‘Of course, he’ll run wild directly he’s married,’ she said to me, yesterday; ‘and, of course, there’ll always be a fight about it; but the more I do to tame him now, the less wild he’ll be by and by. And though I dare say, I shall scold him sometimes, I shall never quarrel with him.’ I have no doubt all that is true; but what a fool she is to trouble herself with such a man. She says she does it for an occupation. I took courage to tell her once that a caged tiger would give her as much to do, and be less dangerous. She was angry at this, and answered me very sharply. I had tried my hand on a tiger, she said, and had felt his claws. She chose to sacrifice herself — if a sacrifice it were to be — when some good result might be possible. I had nothing further to say; and from that time to this we have been on the pleasantest terms possible as to the Captain. They have settled with your father to take Vavasor Hall for three years, and I suppose I shall stay with them till your return. What I may do then will depend entirely upon your doings. I feel myself to be a desolate, solitary being, without any tie to any person, or to any place. I never thought that I should feel the death of my grandfather to be such a loss to me as it has been. Except you, I have nothing left to me; and, as regards you, I have the pleasant feeling that I have for years been endeavouring to do you the worst possible injury, and that you must regard me as an enemy from whom you have escaped indeed, but not without terrible wounds.”

Alice was always angered by any assumption that her conduct to Mr Grey had been affected by the advice or influence of her cousin Kate. But this very feeling seemed to preserve Kate from the worse anger, which might have been aroused against her, had Alice acknowledged the injury which her cousin had in truth done to her. It was undoubtedly true that had Alice neither seen nor heard from Kate during the progress of John Grey’s courtship, John Grey would not have lost his wife. But against this truth Alice was always protesting within her own breast. She had been weak, foolish, irresolute — and had finally acted with false judgment. So much she now admitted to herself. But she would not admit that any other woman had persuaded her to such weakness. “She mistakes me,” Alice thought, as she put up her letter. “She is not the enemy who has wounded me.”

Mr Palliser, who had brought her the letter, was seated in the same balcony, and while Alice had been reading, had almost buried himself in newspapers which conveyed intelligence as to the general elections then in progress. He was now seated with a sheet of The Times in his hand, opened to its full extent — for he had been too impatient to cut the paper — and as he held it up in his hands before his eyes, was completely hidden beneath it. Five or six other open papers were around him, and he had not spoken a word since he had commenced his present occupation. Lady Glencora was standing on the other side of him, and she also had received letters. “Iphy tells me that you are returned for Silverbridge,” she said at last.

“Who? I! yes; I’m returned,” said Mr Palliser, speaking with something like disdain in his voice as to the possibility of anybody having stood with a chance of success against him in his own family borough. For a full appreciation of the advantages of a private seat in the House of Commons let us always go to those great Whig families who were mainly instrumental in carrying the Reform Bill. The house of Omnium had been very great on that occasion. It had given up much, and had retained for family use simply the single seat at Silverbridge. But that that seat should be seriously disputed hardly suggested itself as possible to the mind of any Palliser. The Pallisers and the other great Whig families have been right in this. They have kept in their hands, as rewards for their own services to the country, no more than the country is manifestly willing to give them. “Yes; I have been returned,” said Mr Palliser. “I’m sorry to see, Miss Vavasor, that your cousin has not been so fortunate.”

“So I find,” said Alice. “It will be a great misfortune to him.”

“Ah! I suppose so. Those Metropolitan elections cost so much trouble and so much money, and under the most favourable circumstances, are so doubtful. A man is never sure there till he has fought for his seat three or four times.”

“This has been the third time with him,” said Alice, “and he is a poor man.”

“Dear, dear,” said Mr Palliser, who himself knew nothing of such misfortunes. “I have always thought that those seats should be left to rich commercial men who can afford to spend money upon them. Instead of that, they are generally contested by men of moderate means. Another of my friends in the House has been thrown out.”

“Who is that unfortunate?” asked Lady Glencora.

“Mr Bott,” said the unthinking husband.

“Mr Bott out!” exclaimed Lady Glencora. “Mr Bott thrown out! I am so glad. Alice, are you not glad? The red-haired man, that used to stand about, you know, at Matching — he has lost his seat in Parliament. I suppose he’ll go and stand about somewhere in Lancashire, now.”

A very indiscreet woman was poor Lady Glencora. Mr Palliser’s face became black beneath The Times newspaper. “I did not know,” said he, “that my friend Mr Bott and Miss Vavasor were enemies.”

“Enemies! I don’t suppose they were enemies,” said Glencora. “But he was a man whom no one could help observing — and disliking.”

“He was a man I specially disliked,” said Alice, with great courage. “He may be very well in Parliament; but I never met a man who could make himself so disagreeable in society, I really did feel myself constrained to be his enemy.”

“Bravo, Alice!” said Lady Glencora.

“I hope he did nothing at Matching, to — to — to — ” began Mr Palliser, apologetically.

“Nothing especially to offend me, Mr Palliser — except that he had a way that I especially dislike of trying to make little secret confidences.”

“And then he was so ugly,” said Lady Glencora.

“I felt certain that he endeavoured to do mischief,” said Alice.

“Of course he did,” said Lady Glencora; “and he had a habit of rubbing his head against the papers in the rooms, and leaving a mark behind him that was quite unpardonable.”

Mr Palliser was effectually talked down, and felt himself constrained to abandon his political ally. Perhaps he did this the easier as the loss which Mr Bott had just suffered would materially interfere with his political utility. “I suppose he will remain now among his own people,” said Mr Palliser.

“Let us hope he will,” said Lady Glencora “— and that his own people will appreciate the advantage of his presence.” Then there was nothing more said about Mr Bott.

It was evening, and while they were still sitting among their letters and newspapers, there came a shout along the water, and the noise of many voices from the bridge. Suddenly, there shot down before them in the swift running stream the heads of many swimmers in the river, and with the swimmers came boats carrying their clothes. They went by almost like a glance of light upon the waters, so rapid was the course of the current. There was the shout of the voices — the quick passage of the boats — the uprising, some half a dozen times, of the men’s hands above the surface; and then they were gone down the river, out of sight — like morsels of wood thrown into a cataract, which are borne away instantly.

“Oh, how I wish I could do that!” said Lady Glencora.

“It seems to be very dangerous,” said Mr Palliser. “I don’t know how they can stop themselves.”

“Why should they want to stop themselves?” said Lady Glencora. “Think how cool the water must be; and how beautiful to be carried along so quickly; and to go on, and on, and on! I suppose we couldn’t try it?”

As no encouragement was given to this proposition, Lady Glencora did not repeat it; but stood leaning on the rail of the balcony, and looking enviously down upon the water. Alice was, of course, thinking of that other evening, when perhaps the same swimmers had come down under the bridge and before the balcony, and when George Vavasor was sitting in her presence. It was, I think, on that evening, that she made up her mind to separate herself from Mr Grey.

On the day after that, Mr Palliser and his party went on to Lucerne, making that journey, as I have said, by slow stages; taking Schaffhausen and Zurich in their way. At Lucerne, they established themselves for some time, occupying nearly a dozen rooms in the great hotel which overlooks the lake. Here there came to them a visitor, of whose arrival I will speak in the next chapter.

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