Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 73

In which come Tidings of Great Moment to all the Pallisers

It was not till they had been for a day or two together at Lucerne that Mr Grey told Mr Palliser the story of George Vavasor’s visit to him in Suffolk Street. Having begun the history of his connection with Alice, he found himself obliged to go with it to the end, and as he described the way in which the man had vanished from the sight of all who had known him, that he had in truth gone, so as no longer to be a cause of dread, he could not without dissimulation keep back the story of that last scene. “And he tried to murder you!” said Mr Palliser. “He should be caught and — and — ” Mr Palliser hesitated, not liking to say boldly that the first cousin of the lady who was now living with him ought to be hung.

“It is better as it is,” said Grey,

“He actually walked into your rooms in the day time, and fired a pistol at you as you were sitting at your breakfast! He did that in London, and then walked off and went abroad, as though he had nothing to fear!”

“That was just it,” said Grey.

Mr Palliser began to think that something ought to be done to make life more secure in the metropolis of the world. Had he not known Mr Grey, or been accustomed to see the other man in Parliament, he would not have thought so much about it. But it was almost too much for him when he reflected that one man whom he now called his friend had been nearly murdered in daylight, in the heart of his own part of London, by another man whom he had reckoned among his Parliamentary supporters. “And he has got your money too!” said Palliser, putting all the circumstances of the case together. In answer to this Mr Grey said that he hoped the loss might eventually be his own; but that he was bound to regard the money which had been taken as part of Miss Vavasor’s fortune. “He is simply the greatest miscreant of whom I ever heard in my life,” said Mr Palliser. “The wonder is that Miss Vavasor should ever have brought herself to — to like him.” Then Mr Grey apologised for Alice, explaining that her love for her cousin had come from her early years; that the man himself was clever and capable of assuming pleasant ways, and that he had not been wholly bad till ruin had come upon him. “He attempted public life and made himself miserable by failing, as most men do who make that attempt,” said Grey. This was a statement which Mr Palliser could not allow to pass without notice. Whereupon the two men got away from George Vavasor and their own individual interests, and went on seriously discussing the merits and demerits of public life. “The end of it all is,” said Grey at last, “that public men in England should be rich like you, and not poor like that miserable wretch, who has now lost everything that the Fates had given him.”

They continued to live at Lucerne in this way for a fortnight. Mr Grey, though he was not infrequently alone with Alice, did not plead his suit in direct words; but continued to live with her on terms of close and easy friendship. He had told her that her cousin had left England — that he had gone to America immediately after his disappointment in regard to the seat in Parliament, and that he would probably not return. “Poor George!” Alice had said; “he is a man very much to be pitied.”

“He is a man very much to be pitied,” Grey had replied. After that, nothing more was said between them about George Vavasor. From Lady Glencora, Alice did hear something; but Lady Glencora herself had not heard the whole story. “I believe he misbehaved himself, my dear,” Lady Glencora said; “but then, you know, he always does that. I believe that he saw Mr Grey and insulted him. Perhaps you had better not ask anything about it till by and by. You’ll be able to get anything out of him then.” In answer to this Alice made her usual protest, and Lady Glencora, as was customary, told her that she was a fool.

I am inclined to think that Mr Grey knew what he was about. Lady Glencora once scolded him very vehemently for not bringing the affair to an end. “We shall be going on to Italy before it’s settled,” she said; “and I don’t suppose you can go with us, unless it is settled.” Mr Grey protested that he had no intention of going to Italy in either case.

“Then it will be put off for another year or two, and you are both of you as old as Adam and Eve already.”

“We ancient people are never impatient” said Grey, laughing.

“If I were you I would go to her and tell her, roundly, that she should marry me, and then I would shake her. If you were to scold her, till she did not know whether she stood on her head or her heels, she would come to reason.”

“Suppose you try that, Lady Glencora!”

“I can’t. It’s she that always scolds me — as you will her, when she’s your wife. You and Mr Palliser are very much alike. You’re both of you so very virtuous that no woman would have a chance of picking a hole in your coats.”

But Lady Glencora was wrong. Alice would, no doubt, have submitted herself patiently to her lover’s rebukes, and would have confessed her own sins towards him with any amount of self-accusation that he might have required; but she would not, on that account, have been more willing to obey him in that one point, as to which he now required present obedience. He understood that she must be taught to forgive herself for the evil she had done — to forgive herself, at any rate in part — before she could be induced to return to her old allegiance to him. Thus they went on together at Lucerne, passing quiet, idle days — with some pretence of reading, with a considerable amount of letter-writing, with boat excursions and pony excursions — till the pony excursions came to a sudden end by means of a violent edict, as to which, and the cause of it, a word or two must be said just now. During these days of the boats and the ponies, the carriage which Lady Glencora hated so vehemently was shut up in limbo, and things went very pleasantly with her. Mr Palliser received political letters from England, which made his mouth water sadly, and was often very fidgety. Parliament was not now sitting, and the Government would, of course, remain intact till next February. Might it not be possible that when the rent came in the Cabinet, he might yet be present at the darning? He was a constant man, and had once declared his intention of being absent for a year. He continued to speak to Grey of his coming travels, as though it was impossible that they should be over until after the next Easter. But he was sighing for Westminster, and regretting the blue books which were accumulating themselves at Matching — till on a sudden, there came to him tidings which upset all his plans which routed the ponies, which made everything impossible, which made the Alps impassable and the railways dangerous, which drove Burgo Fitzgerald out of Mr Palliser’s head, and so confused him that he could no longer calculate the blunders of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. All the Palliser world was about to be moved from its lowest depths, to the summits of its highest mountains, Lady Glencora had whispered into her husband’s ear that she thought it probable —; she wasn’t sure — she didn’t know. And then she burst out into tears on his bosom as he sat by her on her bedside.

He was beside himself when he left her, which he did with the primary intention of telegraphing to London for half a dozen leading physicians. He went out by the lakeside, and walked there alone for ten minutes in a state of almost unconscious exaltation. He did not quite remember where he was, or what he was doing. The one thing in the world which he had lacked; the one joy which he had wanted so much, and which is so common among men, was coming to him also. In a few minutes it was to him as though each hand already rested on the fair head of a little male Palliser, of whom one should rule in the halls at Gatherum, and the other be eloquent among the Commons of England. Hitherto — for the last eight or nine months, since his first hopes had begun to fade — he had been a man degraded in his own sight amidst all his honours. What good was all the world to him if he had nothing of his own to come after him? We must give him his due, too, when we speak of this. He had not had wit enough to hide his grief from his wife; his knowledge of women and of men in social life had not been sufficient to teach him how this should be done; but he had wished to do it. He had never willingly rebuked her for his disappointment, either by a glance of his eye, or a tone of his voice; and now he had already forgiven everything. Burgo Fitzgerald was a myth. Mrs Marsham should never again come near her. Mr Bott was, of course, a thing abolished — he had not even had the sense to keep his seat in Parliament. Dandy and Flirt should feed on gilded corn, and there should be an artificial moon always ready in the ruins. If only those d — able saddle-ponies of Lucerne had not come across his wife’s path! He went at once into the yard and ordered that the ponies should be abolished — sent away, one and all, to the furthest confines of the canton; and then he himself inspected the cushions of the carriage. Were they dry? As it was August in those days, and August at Lucerne is a warm month, it may be presumed that they were dry.

He then remembered that he had promised to send Alice up to his wife, and he hurried back into the house. She was alone in the breakfast-room, waiting for him and for his wife. In these days, Mr Grey would usually join them at dinner; but he seldom saw them before eleven or twelve o’clock in the day. Then he would saunter in and join Mr Palliser, and they would all be together till the evening. When the expectant father of embryo dukes entered the room, Alice perceived at once that some matter was astir. His manner was altogether changed, and he showed by his eye that he was eager and moved beyond his wont. “Alice,” he said, “would you mind going up to Glencora’s room? She wishes to speak to you.” He had never called her Alice before, and as soon as the word was spoken, he remembered himself and blushed,

“She isn’t ill, I hope?” said Alice.

“No — she isn’t ill. At least I think she had better not get up quite yet. Don’t let her excite herself, if you can help it.”

“I’ll go to her at once,” said Alice rising.

“I’m so much obliged to you — but, Miss Vavasor — ”

“You called me Alice just now, Mr Palliser, and I took it as a great compliment.”

He blushed again. “Did I? Very well. Then I’ll do it again if you’ll let me. But, if you please, do be as calm with her as you can. She is so easily excited, you know. Of course, if there’s anything she fancies, we’ll take care to get it for her; but she must be kept quiet.” Upon this Alice left him, having had no moment of time to guess what had happened, or was about to happen; and he was again alone, contemplating the future glories of his house. Had he a thought for his poor cousin Jeffrey, whose nose was now so terribly out of joint? No, indeed. His thoughts were all of himself, and the good things that were coming to him — of the new world of interest that was being opened for him. It would be better to him, this, than being Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would rather have it in store for him to be father of the next Duke of Omnium, than make half a dozen consecutive annual speeches in Parliament as to the ways and means, and expenditure of the British nation! Could it be possible that this foreign tour had produced for him this good fortune? If so, how luckily had things turned out! He would remember even that ball at Lady Monk’s with gratitude. Perhaps a residence abroad would be best for Lady Glencora at this particular period of her life. If so, abroad she should certainly live. Before resolving, however, on anything permanently on this head, he thought that he might judiciously consult those six first-rate London physicians, whom, in the first moment of his excitement, he had been desirous of summoning to Lucerne.

In the meantime Alice had gone up to the bedroom of the lady who was now to be the subject of so much anxious thought. When she entered the room, her friend was up and in her dressing-gown, lying on a sofa which stood at the foot of the bed. “Oh, Alice, I’m so glad you’ve come,” said Lady Glencora. “I do so want to hear your voice.” Then Alice knelt beside her, and asked her if she were ill.

“He hasn’t told you? But of course he wouldn’t. How could he? But, Alice, how did he look? Did you observe anything about him? Was he pleased?”

“I did observe something, and I think he was pleased. But what is it? He called me Alice. And seemed to be quite unlike himself. But what is it? He told me that I was to come to you instantly.”

“Oh, Alice, can’t you guess?” Then suddenly Alice did guess the secret, and whispered her guess into Lady Glencora’s ear. “I suppose it is so,” said Lady Glencora. “I know what they’ll do. They’ll kill me by fussing over me. If I could go about my work like a washerwoman, I should be all right.”

“I am so happy,” she said, some two or three hours afterwards. “I won’t deny that I am very happy. It seemed as though I were destined to bring nothing but misery to everybody, and I used to wish myself dead so often. I shan’t wish myself dead now.”

“We shall all have to go home, I suppose?” said Alice.

“He says so — but he seems to think that I oughtn’t to travel above a mile and a half a day. When I talked of going down the Rhine in one of the steamers, I thought he would have gone into a fit. When I asked him why, he gave me such a look. I know he’ll make a goose of himself — and he’ll make geese of us, too; which is worse.”

On that afternoon, as they were walking together, Mr Palliser told the important secret to his new friend, Mr Grey. He could not deny himself the pleasure of talking about this great event. “It is a matter, you see, of such immense importance to me,” Mr Palliser said.

“Indeed, it is,” said Grey. “Every man feels that when a child is about to be born to him.” But this did not at all satisfy Mr Palliser.

“Yes,” said he. “That’s of course. It is an important thing to everybody — very important, no doubt. But, when a man —. You see, Grey, I don’t think a man is a bit better because he is rich, or because he has a title; nor do I think he is likely to be in any degree the happier. I am quite sure that he has no right to be in the slightest degree proud of that which he has had no hand in doing for himself.”

“Men usually are very proud of such advantages,” said Grey.

“I don’t think that I am; I don’t, indeed. I am proud of some things. Whenever I can manage to carry a point in the House, I feel very proud of it. I don’t think I ever knocked under to any one, and I am proud of that.” Perhaps, Mr Palliser was thinking of a certain time when his uncle the Duke had threatened him, and he had not given way to the Duke’s threats. “But I don’t think I’m proud because chance has made me my uncle’s heir.”

“Not in the least, I should say.”

“But I do feel that a son to me is of more importance than it is to most men. A strong anxiety on the subject, is, I think, more excusable in me than it might be in another. I don’t know whether I quite make myself understood?”

“Oh, yes! When there’s a dukedom and heaven knows how many thousands a year to be disposed of, the question of their future ownership does become important.”

“This property is so much more interesting to one, if one feels that all one does to it is done for one’s own son.”

“And yet,” said Grey, “of all the great plunderers of property throughout Europe, the Popes have been the most greedy.”

“Perhaps it’s different, when a man can’t have a wife — ” said Mr Palliser.

From all this it may be seen that Mr Palliser and Mr Grey had become very intimate. Had chance brought them together in London they might have met a score of times before Mr Palliser would have thought of doing more than bowing to such an acquaintance. Mr Grey might have spent weeks at Matching, without having achieved anything like intimacy with its noble owner. But things of that kind progress more quickly abroad than they do at home. The deck of an ocean steamer, is perhaps the most prolific hotbed for the growth of sudden friendships; but an hotel by the side of a Swiss lake does almost as well.

For some time after this Lady Glencora’s conduct was frequently so indiscreet as to drive her husband almost to frenzy. On the very day after the news had been communicated to him, she proposed a picnic, and made the proposition not only in the presence of Alice, but in that of Mr Grey also! Mr Palliser, on such an occasion, could not express all that he thought; but he looked it.

“What is the matter, now, Plantagenet?” said his wife.

“Nothing,” said he — nothing. Never mind.

“And shall we make this party up to the chapel?”

The chapel in question was Tell’s chapel, — ever so far up the lake. A journey in a steamboat would have been necessary.

“No!” said he, shouting out his refusal at her. “We will not.”

“You needn’t be angry about it,” said she — as though he could have failed to be stirred by such a proposition at such a time. On another occasion she returned from an evening walk, showing on her face some sign of the exercise she had taken.

“Good G—! Glencora,” said he, “do you mean to kill yourself?” He wanted her to eat six or seven times a day; and always told her that she was eating too much, remembering some ancient proverb about little and often. He watched her now as closely as Mrs Marsham and Mr Bott had watched her before; and she always knew that he was doing so. She made the matter worse by continually proposing to do things which she knew he would not permit, in order that she might enjoy the fun of seeing his agony and amazement. But this, though it was fun to her at the moment, produced anything but fun, as its general result.

“Upon my word, Alice, I think this will kill me,” she said. “I am not to stir out of the house now, unless I go in the carriage, or he is with me.”

“It won’t last long.”

“I don’t know what you call long. As for walking with him, it’s out of the question. He goes about a mile an hour. And then he makes me look so much like a fool. I had no idea that he would be such an old coddle.”

“The coddling will all be given to someone else, very soon.”

“No baby could possibly live through it, if you mean that. If there is a baby — ”

“I suppose there will be one, by and by,” said Alice.

“Don’t be a fool! But if there is, I shall take that matter into my own hands. He can do what he pleases with me, and I can’t help myself; but I shan’t let him or anybody do what they please with my baby. I know what I’m about in such matters a great deal better than he does. I’ve no doubt he’s a very clever man in Parliament; but he doesn’t seem to me to understand anything else.”

Alice was making some very wise speech in answer to this, when Lady Glencora interrupted her.

“Mr Grey wouldn’t make himself so troublesome, I’m quite sure.” Then Alice held her tongue.

When the first consternation arising from the news had somewhat subsided — say in a fortnight from the day in which Mr Palliser was made so triumphant — and when tidings had been duly sent to the Duke, and an answer from his Grace had come, arrangements were made for the return of the party to England. The Duke’s reply was very short —

“MY DEAR PLANTAGENET, —

“Give my kind love to Glencora. If it’s a boy, of course I will be one of the godfathers. The Prince, who is very kind, will perhaps oblige me by being the other. I should advise you to return as soon as convenient.

“Your affectionate uncle, OMNIUM.”

That was the letter; and short as it was, it was probably the longest that Mr Palliser had ever received from the Duke.

There was great trouble about the mode of their return.

“Oh, what nonsense,” said Glencora. “Let us get into an express train, and go right through to London.” Mr Palliser looked at her with a countenance full of rebuke and sorrow. He was always so looking at her now. “If you mean, Plantagenet, that we are to be dragged all across the Continent in that horrible carriage, and be a thousand days on the road, I for one won’t submit to it.”

“I wish I had never told him a word about it,” she said afterwards to Alice. “He would never have found it out himself, till this thing was all over.”

Mr Palliser did at last consent to take the joint opinion of a Swiss doctor and an English one who was settled at Berne; and who, on the occasion, was summoned to Lucerne. They suggested the railway; and as letters arrived for Mr Palliser — medical letters — in which the same opinion was broached, it was agreed, at last, that they should return by railway; but they were to make various halts on the road, stopping at each halting-place for a day. The first was, of course, Basle, and from Basle they were to go on to Baden.

“I particularly want to see Baden again,” Lady Glencora said; “and perhaps I may be able to get back my napoleon.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/canyou/chapter73.html

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