The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 31

Freshwater Gate

Count Pateroff, Sophie’s brother, was a man who, when he had taken a thing in hand, generally liked to carry it through. It may perhaps be said that most men are of this turn of mind; but the count was, I think, especially eager in this respect. And as he was not one who had many irons in the fire, who made either many little efforts, or any great efforts after things altogether beyond his reach, he was justified in expecting success. As to Archie’s courtship, any one who really knew the man and the woman, and who knew anything of the nature of women in general, would have predicted failure for him. Even with Doodle’s aid he could not have a chance in the race. But when Count Pateroff entered himself for the same prize, those who knew him would not speak of his failure as a thing certain.

The prize was too great not to be attempted by so very prudent a gentleman. He was less impulsive in his nature than his sister, and did not open his eyes and talk with watering mouth of the seven thousands of pounds a year; but in his quiet way he had weighed and calculated all the advantages to be gained, had even ascertained at what rate he could insure the lady’s life, and had made himself certain that nothing in the deed of Lord Ongar’s marriage-settlement entailed any pecuniary penalty on his widow’s second marriage. Then he had gone down, as we know, to Ongar Park, and as he had walked from the lodge to the house and back again, he had looked around him complacently, and told himself that the place would do very well. For the English character, in spite of the pigheadedness of many Englishmen, he had — as he would have said himself — much admiration, and he thought that the life of a country gentleman, with a nice place of his own — with such a very nice place of his own as was Ongar Park — and so very nice an income, would suit him well in his declining years.

And he had certain advantages, certain aids toward his object, which had come to him from circumstances; as, indeed, he had also certain disadvantages. He knew the lady, which was in itself much. He knew much of the lady’s history, and had that cognizance of the saddest circumstances of her life, which in itself creates an intimacy. It is not necessary now to go back to those scenes which had disfigured the last months of Lord Ongar’s life, but the reader will understand that what had then occurred gave the count a possible footing as a suitor. And the reader will also understand the disadvantages which had at this time already shown themselves in the lady’s refusal to see the count.

It may be thought that Sophie’s standing with Lady Ongar would be a great advantage to her brother; but I doubt whether the brother trusted either the honesty or the discretion of his sister. He would have been willing to purchase such assistance as she might give — not in Archie’s pleasant way, with bank-notes hidden under his glove — but by acknowledgments for services to be turned into solid remuneration when the marriage should have taken place, had he not feared that Sophie might communicate the fact of such acknowledgments to the other lady — making her own bargain in doing so. He had calculated all this, and had come to the conclusion that he had better make no direct proposal to Sophie; and when Sophie made a direct proposal to him, pointing out to him in glowing language all the fine things which such a marriage would give him, he had hardly vouchsafed to her a word of answer. “Very well,” said Sophie to herself; “very well. Then we both know what we are about.”

Sophie herself would have kept Lady Ongar from marrying any one had she been able. Not even a brother’s gratitude would be so serviceable to her as the generous kindness of a devoted friend. That she might be able both to sell her services to a lover, and also to keep Julie from marrying, was a lucky combination of circumstances which did not occur to her till Archie came to her with the money in his glove. That complicated game she was now playing, and was aware that Harry Clavering was the great stumbling-block in her way. A woman even less clever than Sophie would have perceived that Lady Ongar was violently attached to Harry; and Sophie, when she did see it, thought that there was nothing left for her but to make her hay while the sun was yet shining. Then she heard the story of Florence Burton; and again she thought that Fortune was on her side. She told the story of Florence Burton — with what result we know; and was quite sharp enough to perceive afterward that the tale had had its intended effect — even though her Julie had resolutely declined to speak either of Harry Clavering or of Florence Burton.

Count Pateroff had again called in Bolton Street, and had again been refused admittance. It was plain to him to see by the servant’s manner that it was intended that he should understand that he was not to be admitted. Under such circumstances, it was necessary that he must either abandon his pursuit, or that he must operate upon Lady Ongar through some other feeling than her personal regard for himself. He might, perhaps, have trusted much to his own eloquence if he could have seen her; but how is a man to be eloquent in his wooing if he cannot see the lady whom he covets? There is, indeed, the penny post, but in these days of legal restraints, there is no other method of approaching an unwilling beauty. Forcible abduction is put an end to as regards Great Britain and Ireland. So the count had resort to the post.

His letter was very long, and shall not, therefore, be given to the reader. He began by telling Lady Ongar that she owed it to him for the good services he had done her, to read what he might say, and to answer him. He then gave her various reasons why she should see him, pleading, among other things, in language which she could understand, though the words were purposely as ambiguous as they could be made, that he had possessed and did possess the power of doing her a grievous injury, and that he had abstained, and — hoped that he might be able to abstain for the future. She knew that the words contained no threat — that taken literally they were the reverse of a threat, and amounted to a promise — but she understood also that he had intended to imply. Long as his own letter was, he said nothing in it as to his suit, confining himself to a request that she should see him. But with his letter he sent her an enclosure longer than the letter itself in which his wishes were clearly explained.

This enclosure purported to be an expression of Lord Ongar’s wishes on many subjects, as they had been communicated to Count Pateroff in the latter days of the lord’s life; but as the manuscript was altogether in the count’s writing, and did not even pretend to have been subjected to Lord Ongar’s eye, it simply amounted to the count’s own story of their alleged conversations. There might have been no such conversations, or their tenor might have been very different from that which the count represented, or the statements and opinions, if expressed at all by Lord Ongar, might have been expressed at times when no statements or opinions coming from him could be of any value. But as to these conversations, if they could have been verified as having come from Lord Ongar’s mouth when he was in full possession of such faculties as he possessed — all that would have amounted to nothing with Lady Ongar. To Lord Ongar alive she had owed obedience, and had been obedient. To Lord Ongar dead she owed no obedience, and would not be obedient.

Such would have been her feelings as to any document which could have reached her, purporting to contain Lord Ongar’s wishes; but this document was of a nature which made her specially antagonistic to the exercise of any such marital authority from the grave. It was very long, and went into small details — details which were very small; but the upshot of it all was a tendering of great thanks to Count Paterofi; and the expression of a strong wish that the count should marry his widow. “O. said that this would be the only thing for J.’s name.” “0. said that this would be the safest course for his own honor.” “0. said, as he took my hand, that in promising to take this step I gave him great comfort.” “0. commissioned me to speak to J. in his name to this effect.” The 0. was, of course, Lord Ongar, and the J. was, of course, Julia. It was all in French, and went on in the same strain for many pages. Lady Ongar answered the letter as follows:

Lady Ongar presents her compliments to Count Pateroff, and begs to return the enclosed manuscript, which is, to her, perfectly valueless. Lady Ongar must still decline, and now more strongly than before, to receive Count Pateroff.

BOLTON STREET, May, 186 —

She was quite firm as she did this. She had no doubt at all on the matter. She did not feel that she wanted to ask for any advice. But she did feel that this count might still work her additional woe, that her cup of sorrow might not even yet be full, and that she was sadly — sadly in want of love and protection. For aught she knew, the count might publish the whole statement, and people might believe that those words came from her husband, and that her husband had understood what would be best for her fame and for his honor. The whole thing was a threat, and not to save herself from any misery, would she have succumbed to a menace; but still it was possible that the threat might be carried out.

She was sorely in want of love and protection. At this time, when the count’s letter reached her, Harry had been with her; and we know what had passed between them. She had bid him go to Florence, and love Florence, and marry Florence, and leave her in her desolation. That had been her last command to him. But we all know what such commands mean. She had not been false in giving him these orders. She had intended it at the moment. The glow of self-sacrifice had been warm in her bosom, and she had resolved to do without that which she wanted, in order that another might have it. But when she thought of it afterward in her lonelines, she told herself that Florence Burton could not want Harry’s love as she wanted it. There could not be such need to this girl, who possessed father and mother, and brothers, and youth, as there was to her, who had no other arm on which she could lean, beside that of the one man for whom she had acknowledged her love, and who had also declared his passion for her. She made no scheme to deprive Florence of her lover. In the long hours of her. own solitude she never revoked, even within her own bosom, the last words she had said to Harry Clavering. But not the less did she hope that he might come to her again, and that she might learn from him that he had freed himself from that unfortunate engagement into which her falseness to him had driven him.

It was after she had answered Count Pateroff’s letter that she resolved to go out of town for three or four days. For some short time she had been minded to go away altogether, and not to return till after the Autumn; but this scheme gradually diminished itself and fell away, till she determined that she would come back after three or four days. Then came to her Sophie — her devoted Sophie — Sophie whom she despised and hated; Sophie of whom she was so anxious to rid herself that in all her plans there was some little under-plot to that effect; Sophie whom she knew to be dishonest to her in any way that might make dishonesty profitable; and before Sophie had left her, Sophie had engaged herself to go with her dear friend to the Isle of Wight! As a matter of course, Sophie was to be franked on this expedition. On such expeditions Sophies are always franked, as a matter of course. And Sophie would travel with all imaginable luxury — a matter to which Sophie was by no means indifferent, though her own private life was conducted with an economy that was not luxurious. But, although all these good things came in Sophie’s way, she contrived to make it appear that she was devoting herself in a manner that was almost sacrificial to the friend of her bosom. At the same time Lady Ongar sent a few words, as a message, to the count by his sister. Lady Ongar, having told to Madam Gordeloup the story of the document which had reached her, and having described her own answer, was much commended by her friend.

“You are quite right, dear, quite. Of course I am fond of my brother. Edouard and I have always been the best of friends. But that does not make me think you ought to give yourself to him. Bah! Why should a woman give away everything? Edouard is a fine fellow. But what is that? Fine fellows like to have all the money themselves.”

“Will you tell him — from me,” said Lady Ongar, “that I will take it as a kindness on his part if he will abstain from coming to my house. I certainly shall not see him with my own consent.”

Sophie promised, and probably gave the message; but when she also informed Edouard of Lady Ongar’s intended visit to the Isle of Wight, telling him the day on which they were going and the precise spot, with the name of the hotel at which they were to stay, she went a little beyond the commission which her dearest friend had given her.

At the western end of the Isle of Wight, and on the further shore, about three miles from the point of the island which we call the Needles, there is a little break in the chiff known to all the stay-at-home English travellers as Freshwater Gate. Here there is a cluster of cottages and two inns, and a few bathing-boxes, and ready access by easy ascents to the breezy downs on either side, over which the sea air blows with all its salt and wholesome sweetness. At one of these two inns Lady Ongar located herself and Sophie; and all Freshwater, and all Yarmouth, and all that end of the Island were alive to the fact that the rich widowed countess respecting whom such strange tales were told, had come on a visit to these parts. Innkeepers like such visitors. The more venomous are the stories told against them, the more money are they apt to spend, and the less likely are they to examine their hills. A rich woman altogether without a character is a mine of wealth to an innkeeper. In the present case no such godsend had come in the way — but there was supposed to be a something a little odd, and the visitor was on that account the more welcome.

Sophie was not the most delightful companion in the world for such a place. London was her sphere, as she herself had understood when declaiming against those husbands who keep their wives in the country. And she had no love for the sea specially, regarding all winds as nuisances excepting such as had been raised by her own efforts, and thinking that salt from a saltcellar was more convenient than that brought to her on the breezes. It was now near the end of May, but she had not been half an hour at the inn before she was loud in demanding a fire — and when the fire came she was unwilling to leave it. Her gesture was magnificent when Lady Ongar proposed to her that she should bathe. What — put her own dear little dry body, by her own will, into the cold sea! She shrugged herself, and shook herself, and without speaking a word declined with so much eloquence that it was impossible not to admire her. Nor would she walk. On the first day, during the warmest part of the day, she allowed herself to be taken out in a carriage belonging to the inn; but after her drive she clung to the fire, and consumed her time with a French novel.

Nor was Lady Ongar much more comfortable in the Isle of Wight than she had been in London. The old poet told us how Black Care sits behind the horseman, and some modern poet will some day describe to us that terrible goddess as she takes her place with the stoker close to the fire of the locomotive engine. Sitting with Sophie opposite to her, Lady Ongar was not happy, even though her eye rested on the lines of that magnificent coast. Once indeed, on the evening of their first day, Sophie left her, and she was alone for nearly an hour. Ah, how happy could she have been if Harry Clavering might have been there with her. Perhaps a day might come in which Harry might bring her there. In such a case Atra Cura would be left behind, and then she might be altogether happy. She sat dreaming of this for above an hour, and Sophie was still away. When Sophie returned, which she did all too soon, she explained that she had been in her bedroom. She had been very busy, and now had come down to make herself comfortable.

On the next evening Lady Ongar declared her intention of going up on the downs by herself. They had dined at five, so that she might have a long evening, and soon after six she started. “If I do not break down I will get as far as the Needles,” she said. Sophie, who had heard that the distance was three miles, lifted up her hands in despair. “If you are not back before nine I shall send the people after you.” Consenting to this with a laugh, Lady Ongar made her way up to the downs, and walked steadily on toward the extreme point of the island. To the Needles themselves she did not make her way. These rocks are now approached, as all the stay-at-home travellers know, through a fort, and down to the fort she did not go. But turning a little from the highest point of the hill toward the cliffs on her left hand, she descended till she reached a spot from which she could look down on the pebbly beach lying some three hundred feet below her, and on the soft shining ripple of the quiet waters as they moved themselves with a pleasant sound on the long strand which lay stretched in a line from the spot beneath her out to the point of the island. The evening was warm, and almost transparent in its clearness, and very quiet. There was no sound even of a breeze. When she seated herself close upon the margin of the cliff, she heard the small waves moving the stones which they washed, and the sound was as the sound of little children’s voices, very distant. Looking down, she could see through the wonderful transparency of the water, and the pebbles below it were bright as diamonds, and the sands were burnished like gold. And each tiny silent wavelet as it moved up toward the shore and lost itself at last in its own effort, stretched itself the whole length of the strand. Such brightness on the seashore she had never seen before, nor had she ever listened as now she listened to that infantine babble of the baby waves, She sat there close upon the margin, on a seat of chalk which the winds had made, looking, listening, and forgetting for a while that she was Lady Ongar whom people did not know, who lived alone in the world with Sophie Gordeloup for her friend — and whose lover was betrothed to another woman. She had been there perhaps half an hour, and had learned to be at home on her perch, sitting there in comfort, with no desire to move, when a voice which she well knew at the first sound startled her, and she rose quickly to her feet. “Lady Ongar,” said the voice, “are you not rather near the edge?” As she turned round there was Count Pateroff with his hand already upon her dress, so that no danger might be produced by the suddenness of his speech.

“There is nothing to fear,” she said, stepping back from her seat. As she did so, he dropped his hand from her dress, and, raising it to his head, lifted his hat from his forehead. “You will excuse me, I hope, Lady Ongar,” he said, “for having taken this mode of speaking to you.”

“I certainly shall not excuse you; nor, further than I can help it, shall I listen to you.”

“There are a few words which I must say.”

“Count Pateroff, I beg that you will leave me. This is treacherous and unmanly — and can do you no good. By what right do you follow me here?”

“I follow you for your own good, Lady Ongar; I do it that you may hear me say a few words that are necessary for you to hear.”

“I will hear no words from you — that is, none willingly. By this time you ought to know me and to understand me.” She had begun to walk up the hill very rapidly, and for a moment or two he had thought that she would escape him; but her breath had soon failed her, and she found herself compelled to stand while he regained his place beside her. This he had not done without an effort, and for some minutes they were both silent. “it is very beautiful,” at last he said, pointing away over the sea.

“Yes; it is very beautiful,” she answered. “Why did you disturb me when I was so happy?” But the count was still recovering his breath and made no answer to this question. When, however, she attempted to move on again, still breasting the hill, he put his hand upon her arm very gently.

“Lady Ongar,” he said, “you must listen to me for a moment. Why not do it without a quarrel?”

“If you mean that I cannot escape from you, it is true enough.”

“Why should you want to escape? Did I ever hurt you? Before this have I not protected you from injury?”

“No — never. You protect me!”

“Yes — I; from your husband, from yourself, and from the world. You do not know — not yet, all that I have done for you. Did you read what Lord Ongar had said?”

“I read what it pleased you to write.”

“What it pleased me! Do you pretend to think that Lord Ongar did not speak as he speaks there? Do you not know that those were his own words? Do you not recognize them? Ah, yes, Lady Ongar; you know them to be true.”

“Their truth or falsehood is nothing to me. They are altogether indifferent to me either way.”

“That would be very well if it were possible; but it is not. There; now we are at the top, and it will be easier. Will you let me have the honor to offer you my arm? No! Be it so; but I think you would walk the easier. It would not be for the first time.”

“That is a falsehood.” As she spoke sbe stepped before him, and looked into his face with eyes full of passion. “That is a positive falsehood. I never walked with a hand resting on your arm.”

There came over his face the pleasantest smile as he answered her. “You forget everything,” he said —“everything. But it does not matter. Other people will not forget. Julie, you had better take me for your husband. You will be better as my wife, and happier, than you can be otherwise.”

“Look down there, Count Pateroff — down to the edge. If my misery is too great to be borne, I can escape from it there on better terms than you propose to me.”

“Ah! That is what we call poetry. Poetry is very pretty, and in saying this as you do, you make yourself divine. But to be dashed over the cliffs and broken on the rocks — in prose is not so well.”

“Sir, will you allow me to pass on while you remain; or will you let me rest here, while you return alone?”

“No, Julie; not so. I have found you with too much difficulty. In London, you see, I could not find you. Here, for a minute, you must listen to me. Do you not know, Julie, that your character is in my hands?”

“In your hands? No — never; thank God, never. But what if it were?”

“Only this — that I am forced to play the only game that you leave open to me. Chance brought you and me together in such a way that nothing but marriage can be beneficial to either of us — and I swore to Lord Ongar that it should be so. I mean that it shall be so — or that you shall be punished for your misconduct to him and to me.”

“You are both insolent and false. But listen to me, since you are here and I cannot avoid you. I know what your threats mean.”

“I have never threatened you. I have promised you my aid, but have used no threats.”

“Not when you tell me that I shall be punished? But to avoid no punishment, if any be in your power, will I ever willingly place myself in your company. You may write of me what papers you please, and repeat of me whatever stories you may choose to fabricate, but you will not frighten me into compliance by doing so. I have; at any rate, spirit enough to resist such attempts as that.”

“As you are living at present, you are alone in the world!”

“And I am content to remain alone.”

“You are thinking, then, of no second marriage?”

“If I were, does that concern you? But I will speak no further word to you. If you follow me into the inn, or persecute me further by forcing yourself upon me, I will put myself under the protection of the police.”

Having said this, she walked on as quickly as her strength would permit, while he walked by her side, urging upon her his old arguments as to Lord Ongar’s expressed wishes, as to his own efforts on her behalf — and at last as to the strong affection with which he regarded her. But she kept her promise, and said not a word in answer to it all. For more than an hour they walked side by side, and during the greater part of that time not a syllable escaped from her. From moment to moment she kept her eye warily on him, fearing that he might take her by the arm, or attempt some violence with her. But he was too wise for this, and too fully conscious that no such proceeding on his part could be of any service to him. He continued, however, to speak to her words which she could not avoid hearing — hoping rather than thinking that he might at last frighten her by a description of all the evil which it was within his power to do her. But in acting thus he showed that he knew nothing of her character. She was not a woman whom any prospect of evil could possibly frighten into a distasteful marriage.

Within a few hundred yards of the hotel there is another fort, and at this point the path taken by Lady Ongar led into the private grounds of the inn at which she was staying. Here the count left her, raising his hat as he did so, and saying that he hoped to see her again before she left the island.

“If you do so,” said she, “it shall be in presence of those who can protect me.” And so they parted.

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