Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 70

At Lucerne

I am inclined to think that Mr Palliser did not much enjoy this part of his tour abroad. When he first reached Lucerne there was no one there with whom he could associate pleasantly, nor had he any occupation capable of making his time run easily. He did not care for scenery. Close at his elbow was the finest to be had in Europe; but it was nothing to him. Had he been simply journeying through Lucerne at the proper time of the year for such a journey, when the business of the Session was over, and a little change of air needed, he could have enjoyed the thing in a moderate way, looking about him, passing on, and knowing that it was good for him to be there at that moment. But he had none of that passion for mountains and lakes, none of that positive joy in the heather, which would have compensated many another man for the loss of all that Mr Palliser was losing. His mind was ever at home in the House of Commons, or in that august assembly which men call the Cabinet, and of the meetings of which he read from week to week the simple records. Therein were mentioned the names of those heroes to whom Fortune had been so much kinder than she had been to him; and he envied them. He took short, solitary walks, about the town, over the bridges, and along the rivers, making to himself the speeches which he would have made to full houses, had not his wife brought ruin upon all his hopes. And as he pictured to himself the glorious successes which probably never would have been his had he remained in London, so did he prophesy to himself an absolute and irremediable downfall from all political power as the result of his absence — having, in truth, no sufficient cause for such despair. As yet, he was barely thirty, and had he been able to judge his own case as keenly as he could have judged the case of another, he would have known that a short absence might probably raise his value in the estimation of others rather than lower it. But his personal annoyance was too great to allow of his making such calculations aright. So he became fretful and unhappy; and though he spoke no word of rebuke to his wife, though he never hinted that she had robbed him of his glories, he made her conscious by his manner that she had brought him to this miserable condition.

Lady Glencora herself had a love for the mountains and lakes, but it was a love of that kind which requires to be stimulated by society, and which is keenest among cold chickens, picnic pies, and the flying of champagne corks. When they first entered Switzerland she was very enthusiastic, and declared her intention of climbing up all the mountains, and going through all the passes. She endeavoured to induce her husband to promise that she should be taken up Mont Blanc. And I think she would have carried this on, and would have been taken up Mont Blanc, had Mr Palliser’s aspirations been congenial. But they were not congenial, and Lady Glencora soon lost all her enthusiasm. By the time that they were settled at Lucerne she had voted the mountains to be bores, and had almost learned to hate the lake, which she declared always made her wet through when she got into a small boat, and seasick when she put her foot in a large one. At Lucerne they made no acquaintances, Mr Palliser being a man not apt to new friendships. They did not even dine at the public table, though Lady Glencora had expressed a wish to do so. Mr Palliser did not like it, and of course Lady Glencora gave way. There were, moreover, some marital passages which were not pleasant to a third person. They did not scold each other; but Lady Glencora would make little speeches of which her husband disapproved. She would purposely irritate him by continuing her tone of badinage, and then Mr Palliser would become fretful, and would look as though the cares of the world were too many for him. I cannot, therefore, say that Alice had much to make the first period of her sojourn at Lucerne a period of enjoyment.

But when they had been there about a fortnight, a stranger arrived, whose coming at any rate lent the grace of some excitement to their lives. Their custom was to breakfast at nine — or as near nine as Lady Glencora could be induced to appear — and then Mr Palliser would read till three. At that hour he would walk forth by himself, after having handed the two ladies into their carriage, and they would be driven about for two hours. “How I do hate this carriage,” Lady Glencora said one day. “I do so wish it would come to grief, and be broken to pieces. I wonder whether the Swiss people think that we are going to be driven about here for ever.” There were moments, however, which seemed to indicate that Lady Glencora had something to tell her cousin, which, if told, would alter the monotony of their lives. Alice, however, would not press her for her secret.

“If you have anything to tell, why don’t you tell it?” Alice once said.

“You are so hard,” said Lady Glencora.

“So you tell me very often,” Alice replied; “and it is not complimentary. But hard or soft, I won’t make a petition for your confidence.” Then Lady Glencora said something savage, and the subject was dropped for a while.

But we must go back to the stranger. Mr Palliser had put the ladies into their carriage, and was standing between the front door of the hotel and the lake on a certain day, doubting whether he would walk up the hill to the left or turn into the town on the right, when he was accosted by an English gentleman, who, raising his hat, said that he believed that he spoke to Mr Palliser.

“I am Mr Palliser,” said our friend, very courteously, returning the salute, and smiling as he spoke. But though he smiled, and though he was courteous, and though he raised his hat, there was something in his look and voice which would not have encouraged any ordinary stranger to persevere. Mr Palliser was not a man with whom it was easy to open an acquaintance.

“My name is John Grey,” said the stranger.

Then the smile was dropped, the look of extreme courtesy disappeared, the tone of Mr Palliser’s voice was altered, and he put out his hand. He knew enough of Mr John Grey’s history to be aware that Mr John Grey was a man with whom he might permit himself to become acquainted. After the interchange of a very few words, the two men started off for a walk together.

“Perhaps you don’t wish to meet the carriage?” said Mr Palliser. “If so, we had better go through the town and up the river.”

They went through the town, and up the river, and when Mr Palliser, on his return, was seen by Alice and Lady Glencora, he was alone. They dined together, and nothing was said. Together they sauntered out in the evening, and together came in and drank their tea; but still nothing was said. At last, Alice and her cousin took their candles from Mr Palliser’s hands and left the sitting-room for the night.

“Alice,” said Lady Glencora, as soon as they were in the passage together, “I have been dying for this time to come. I could not speak before, or I should have made blunders, and so would you. Let us go into your room at once. Who do you think is here, at Lucerne, in this house, at this very moment?”

Alice knew at once who it was. She knew, immediately, that Mr Grey had followed her, though no word had been written to her or spoken to her on the subject since that day on which he himself had told her that they would meet abroad. But though she was quite sure, she did not mention his name. “Who is it, Glencora?” she asked, very calmly.

“Whom in all the world would you best like to see?” said Glencora.

“My cousin Kate, certainly,” said Alice.

“Then it is not your cousin Kate. And I don’t believe you — or else you’re a fool.”

Alice was accustomed to Lady Glencora’s mode of talking, and therefore did not think much of this. “Perhaps I am a fool,” she said.

“Only I know you are not. But I am not at all so sure as to your being no hypocrite. The person I mean is a gentleman, of course. Why don’t you show a little excitement, at any rate? When Plantagenet told me, just before dinner, I almost jumped out of my shoes. He was going to tell you himself after dinner, in the politest way in the world, no doubt, and just as the servants were carrying away the apples. I thought it best to save you from that; but, I declare, I believe I might have left him to do it; it would have had no effect upon you. Who is it that has come, do you suppose?”

“Of course I know now,” said Alice, very calmly, “that Mr John Grey has come.”

“Yes, Mr John Grey has come. He is here in this house at this minute — or, more probably, waiting outside by the lake till he shall see a light in your bedroom.” Then Lady Glencora paused for a moment, waiting that Alice might say something. But Alice said nothing. “Well?” said Lady Glencora, rising up from her chair. “Well?”

“Well?” said Alice.

“Have you nothing to say? Is it the same to you as though Mr Smith had come?”

“No; not exactly the same. I am quite alive to the importance of Mr Grey’s arrival, and shall probably lie awake all night thinking about it — if it will do you any good to know that; but I don’t feel that I have much to say about it.”

“I wish I had let Mr Palliser tell you, in an ordinary way, before all the servants. I do indeed.”

“It would not have made much difference.”

“Not the least, I believe. I wonder whether you ever did care for anybody in your life — for him, or for that other one, or for anybody. For nobody, I believe — except your cousin Kate. Still waters, they say, run deep; and sometimes I think your waters run too deep for me to fathom. I suppose I may go now, if you have got nothing more to say?”

“What do you want me to say? Of course I know why he has come here. He told me he should come.”

“And you have never said a word about it.”

“He told me he should come, and I thought it better not to say a word about it. He might change his mind, or anything might happen. I told him not to come; and it would have been much better that he should have remained away.”

“Why — why — why would it be better?”

“Because his being here will do no good to any one.”

“No good! It seems to me impossible but that it should do all the good in the world. Look here, Alice. If you do not altogether make it up with him before tomorrow evening, I shall believe you to be utterly heartless. Had I been you I should have been in his arms before this. I’ll go now, and leave you to lie awake, as you say you will.” Then she left the room, but returned in a moment to ask another question. “What is Plantagenet to say to him about seeing you tomorrow? Of course he has asked permission to come and call?”

“He may come if he pleases. You don’t think I have quarrelled with him, or would refuse to see him!”

“And may we ask him to dine with us?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And make up a picnic, and all the rest of it. In fact, he is to be regarded as only an ordinary person. Well — goodnight. I don’t understand you, that’s all.”

It may be doubted whether Alice understood herself. As soon as her friend was gone, she put out her candle and seated herself at the open window of her room, looking out upon the moonlight as it played upon the lake. Would he be there, thinking of her, looking up, perhaps, as Glencora had hinted, to see if he could distinguish her light among the hundred that would be flickering across the long front of the house? If it were so, at any rate he should not see her; so she drew the curtain, and sat there watching the lake. It was a pity that he should have come, and yet she loved him dearly for coming. It was a pity that he should have come, as his coming could lead to no good result. Of this she assured herself over and over again, and yet she hardly knew why she was so sure of it. Glencora had called her hard; but her conviction on that matter had not come from hardness. Now that she was alone, her head was full of love, of the soft romance of love towards this man; and yet she felt that she ought not to marry him, even though he might still be willing to take her. That he was still willing to take her, that he desired to have her for his wife in spite of all the injury she had done him, there could be no doubt. Why else had he followed her to Switzerland? And she remembered, now at this moment, how he had told her at Cheltenham that he would never consider her to be lost to him, unless she should, in truth, become the wife of another man. Why, then, should it not be as he wished it?

She asked herself the question, and did not answer it; but still she felt that it might not be so. She had no right to such happiness after the evil that she had done. She had been driven by a frenzy to do that which she herself could not pardon; and having done it, she could not bring herself to accept the position which should have been the reward of good conduct. She could not analyse the causes which made her feel that she must still refuse the love that was proffered to her; she could not clearly read her own thoughts; but the causes were as I have said, and such was the true reading of her thoughts. Had she simply refused his hand after she had once accepted it — had she refused it, and then again changed her mind, she could have brought herself to ask him to forgive her. But she had done so much more than this, and so much worse! She had affianced herself to another man since she had belonged to him — since she had been his, as his future wife. What must he not think of her, and what not suspect? Then she remembered those interviews which she had had with her cousin since she had written to him, accepting his offer. When he had been with her in Queen Anne Street she had shrunk from all outward signs of a love which she did not feel. There had been no caress between them. She had not allowed him to touch her with his lips. But it was impossible that the nature of that mad engagement between her and her cousin George should ever be made known to Mr Grey. She sat there wiping the tears from her eyes as she looked for his figure among the figures by the lakeside; but, as she sat there, she promised herself no happiness from his coming. Oh! reader, can you forgive her in that she had sinned against the softness of her feminine nature? I think that she may be forgiven, in that she had never brought herself to think lightly of her own fault.

If he were there, by the lakeside, she did not see him. — I think we may say that John Grey was not a man to console himself in his love by looking up at his lady’s candle. He was one who was capable of doing as much as most men in the pursuit of his love — as he proved to be the case when he followed Alice to Cheltenham, and again to London, and now again to Lucerne; but I doubt whether a glimmer from her bedroom window, had it been unmistakably her own glimmer, and not that of some ugly old French woman who might chance to sleep next to her, would have done him much good. He had come to Lucerne with a purpose, which purpose, if it might be possible, he meant to carry out; but I think he was already in bed, being tired with long travel, before Lady Glencora had left Alice’s room.

At breakfast the next morning nothing was said for awhile about the new arrival. At last Mr Palliser ventured to speak. “Glencora has told you, I think, that Mr Grey is here? Mr Grey is an old friend of yours, I believe?”

Alice, keeping her countenance as well as she was able, said Mr Grey had been, and, indeed, was, a very dear friend of hers. Mr Palliser knew the whole story, and what was the use of any little attempt at dissimulation? “I shall be glad to see him — if you will allow me?” she went on to say.

“Glencora suggests that we should ask him to dinner,” said Mr Palliser; and then that matter was settled.

But Mr Grey did not wait till dinner-time to see Alice. Early in the morning his card was brought up, and Lady Glencora, as soon as she saw the name, immediately ran away,

“Indeed you need not go,” said Alice.

“Indeed I shall go,” said her ladyship. “I know what’s proper on these occasions, if you don’t.”

So she went, whisking herself along the passages with a little run; and Mr Grey, as he was shown into her ladyship’s usual sitting-room, saw the skirt of her ladyship’s dress as she whisked herself off towards her husband.

“I told you I should come,” he said, with his ordinary sweet smile. “I told you that I should follow you, and here I am.”

He took her hand, and held it, pressing it warmly. She hardly knew with what words first to address him, or how to get her hand back from him.

“I am very glad to see you — as an old friend,” she said; “but I hope — ”

“Well — you hope what?”

“I hope you have had some better cause for travelling than a desire to see me?”

“No, dearest; no. I have had no better cause, and, indeed, none other. I have come on purpose to see you; and had Mr Palliser taken you off to Asia or Africa, I think I should have felt myself compelled to follow him. You know why I follow you?”

“Hardly,” said she — not finding at the moment any other word that she could say.

“Because I love you. You see what a plain-spoken John Bull I am, and how I come to the point at once. I want you to be my wife; and they say that perseverance is the best way when a man has such a want as that.”

“You ought not to want it,” she said, whispering the words as though she were unable to speak them out loud.

“But I do, you see. And why should I not want it?”

“I am not fit to be your wife.”

“I am the best judge of that, Alice. You have to make up your mind whether I am fit to be your husband.”

“You would be disgraced if you were to take me, after all that has passed — after what I have done. What would other men say of you when they knew the story?”

“Other men, I hope, would be just enough to say, that when I had made up my mind, I was tolerably constant in keeping to it. I do not think they could say much worse of me than that.”

“They would say that you had been jilted, and had forgiven the jilt.”

“As far as the forgiveness goes, they would tell the truth. But, indeed, Alice, I don’t very much care what men do say of me.”

“But I care, Mr Grey — and though you may forgive me, I cannot forgive myself. Indeed I know now, as I have known all along, that I am not fit to be your wife. I am not good enough. And I have done that which makes me feel that I have no right to marry any one.” These words she said, jerking out the different sentences almost in convulsions; and when she had come to the end of them, the tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I have thought about it, and I will not. I will not. After what has passed, I know that it will be better — more seemly, that I should remain as I am.”

Soon after that she left him, not, however, till she had told him that she would meet him again at dinner, and had begged him to treat her simply as a friend. “In spite of everything, I hope that we may always be friends — dear friends,” she said.

“I hope we may,” he answered “— the very dearest.” And then he left her.

In the afternoon he again encountered Mr Palliser, and having thought over the matter since his interview with Alice, he resolved to tell his whole story to his new acquaintance — not in order that he might ask for counsel from him, for in this matter he wanted no man’s advice — but that he might get some assistance. So the two men walked off together, up the banks of the clear-flowing Reuss, and Mr Palliser felt the comfort of having a companion.

“I have always liked her,” said Mr Palliser, “though, to tell the truth, I have twice been very angry with her.”

“I have never been angry with her,” said the lover.

“And my anger was in both instances unjust. You may imagine how great is my confidence in her, when I have thought she was the best companion my wife could have for a long journey, taken under circumstances that were — that were —; but I need not trouble you with that.”

So great had been the desolation of Mr Palliser’s life since his banishment from London that he almost felt tempted to tell the story of his troubles to this absolute stranger. But he bethought himself of the blood of the Pallisers, and refrained. There are comforts which royalty may never enjoy, and luxuries in which such men as Plantagenet Palliser may not permit themselves to indulge.

“About her and her character I have no doubt in the world,” said Grey. “In all that she has done I think that I have seen her motives; and though I have not approved of them, I have always known them to be pure and unselfish. She has done nothing that I did not forgive as soon as it was done. Had she married that man, I should have forgiven her even that — though I should have known that all her future life was destroyed, and much of mine also. I think I can make her happy if she will marry me, but she must first be taught to forgive herself. Living as she is with you, and with your wife, she may, perhaps, just now be more under your influence and your wife’s than she can possibly be under mine.” Whereupon, Mr Palliser promised that he would do what he could. “I think she loves me,” said Mr Grey.

Mr Palliser said that he was sure she did, though what ground he had for such assurance I am quite unable to surmise. He was probably desirous of saying the most civil thing which occurred to him.

The little dinner-party that evening was pleasant enough, and nothing more was said about love. Lady Glencora talked nonsense to Mr Grey, and Mr Palliser contradicted all the nonsense which his wife talked. But this was all done in such a way that the evening passed away pleasantly. It was tacitly admitted among them that Mr Grey was to be allowed to come among them as a friend, and Lady Glencora managed to say one word to him aside, in which she promised to give him her most cordial co-operation.

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