He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LVI

Withered Grass

When Caroline Spalding perceived how direct an attempt had been made by her sister to take the poetess away, in order that she might thus be left alone with Mr Glascock, her spirit revolted against the manoeuvre, and she took herself away amidst the crowd. If Mr Glascock should wish to find her again he could do so. And there came across her mind something of a half-formed idea that, perhaps after all her friend Wallachia was right. Were this man ready to take her and she ready to be taken, would such an arrangement be a happy one for both of them? His high-born, wealthy friends might very probably despise her, and it was quite possible that she also might despise them. To be Lady Peterborough, and have the spending of a large fortune, would not suffice for her happiness. She was sure of that. It would be a leap in the dark’ and all such leaps must needs be dangerous, and therefore should be avoided. But she did like the man. Her friend was untrue to her and cruel in those allusions to tinkling cymbals. It might be well for her to get over her liking, and to think no more of one who was to her a foreigner and a stranger, of whose ways of living in his own home she knew so little, whose people might be antipathetic to her, enemies instead of friends, among whom her life would be one long misery; but it was not on that ground that Miss Petrie had recommended her to start for Rome as soon as Mr Glascock had reached Florence. ‘There is no reason,’ she said to herself, ‘why I should not marry a man if I like him, even though he be a lord. And of him I should not be the least afraid. It’s the women that I fear.’ And then she called to mind all that she had ever heard of English countesses and duchesses. She thought that she knew that they were generally cold and proud, and very little given to receive outsiders graciously within their ranks. Mr Glascock had an aunt who was a Duchess, and a sister who would be a Countess. Caroline Spalding felt how her back would rise against these new relations, if it should come to pass that they should look unkindly upon her when she was taken to her own home; how she would fight with them, giving them scorn for scorn; how unutterably miserable she would be; how she would long to be back among her own equals, in spite even of her love for her husband. ‘How grand a thing it is,’ she said, ‘to be equal with those whom you love!’ And yet she was to some extent allured by the social position of the man. She could perceive that he had a charm of manner which her countrymen lacked. He had read, perhaps, less than her uncle knew, perhaps, less than most of those men with whom she had been wont to associate in her own city life at home, was not braver, or more virtuous, or more self-denying than they; but there was a softness and an ease in his manner which was palatable to her, and an absence of that too visible effort of the intellect which is so apt to mark and mar the conversation of Americans. She almost wished that she had been English, in order that the man’s home and friends might have suited her. She was thinking of all this as she stood pretending to talk to an American lady, who was very eloquent on the delights of Florence.

In the meantime Olivia and Mr Glascock had moved away together, and Miss Petrie was left alone. This was no injury to Miss Petrie, as her mind at once set itself to work on a sonnet touching the frivolity of modern social gatherings; and when she complained afterwards to Caroline that it was the curse of their mode of life that no moment could be allowed for thought, in which she referred specially to a few words that Mr Gore had addressed to her at this moment of her meditations, she was not wilfully a hypocrite. She was painfully turning her second set of rhymes, and really believed that she had been subjected to a hardship. In the meantime Olivia and Mr Glascock were discussing her at a distance.

‘You were being put through your facings, Mr Glascock,’ Olivia had said.

‘Well; yes; and your dear friend, Miss Petrie, is rather a stern examiner.’

‘She is Carry’s ally, not mine,’ said Olivia. Then she remembered that by saying this she might be doing her sister an injury. Mr Glascock might object to such a bosom friend for his wife. ‘That is to say, of course we are all intimate with her? but just at this moment Carry is most in favour.’

‘She is very clever, I am quite sure,’ said he.

‘Oh yes she’s a genius. You must not doubt that on the peril of making every American in Italy your enemy.’

‘She is a poet is she not?’

‘Mr Glascock!’

‘Have I said anything wrong?’ he asked.

‘Do you mean to look me in the face and tell me that you are not acquainted with her works, that you don’t know pages of them by heart, that you don’t sleep with them under your pillow, don’t travel about with them in your dressing-bag? I’m afraid we have mistaken you, Mr Glascock.’

‘Is it so great a sin?’

‘If you’ll own up honestly, I’ll tell you something in a whisper. You have not read a word of her poems?’

‘Not a word.’

‘Neither have I. Isn’t it horrible? But, perhaps, if I heard Tennyson talking every day, I shouldn’t read Tennyson. Familiarity does breed contempt, doesn’t it? And then poor dear Wallachia is such a bore. I sometimes wonder, when English people are listening to her, whether they think that American girls generally talk like that.’

‘Not all, perhaps, with that perfected eloquence.’

‘I dare say you do,’ continued Olivia, craftily. ‘That is just the way in which people form their opinions about foreigners. Some specially self-asserting American speaks his mind louder than other people, and then you say that all Americans are self-asserting.’

‘But you are a little that way given, Miss Spalding.’

‘Because we are always called upon to answer accusations against us, expressed or unexpressed. We don’t think ourselves a bit better than you; or, if the truth were known, half as good. We are always struggling to be as polished and easy as the French, or as sensible and dignified as the English; but when our defects are thrown in our teeth —’

‘Who throws them in your teeth, Miss Spalding?’

‘You look it, all of you, if you do not speak it out. You do assume a superiority, Mr Glascock; and that we cannot endure.’

‘I do not feel that I assume anything,’ said Mr Glascock, meekly.

‘If three gentlemen be together, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and an American, is not the American obliged to be on his mettle to prove that he is somebody among the three? I admit that he is always claiming to be the first; but he does so only that he may not be too evidently the last. If you knew us, Mr Glascock, you would find us to be very mild, and humble, and nice, and good, and clever, and kind, and charitable, and beautiful — in short, the finest people that have as yet been created on the broad face of God’s smiling earth.’ These last words she pronounced with a nasal twang, and in a tone of voice which almost seemed to him to be a direct mimicry of the American Minister. The upshot of the conversation, however, was that the disgust against Americans which, to a certain degree, had been excited in Mr Glascock’s mind by the united efforts of Mr Spalding and the poetess, had been almost entirely dispelled. From all of which the reader ought to understand that Miss Olivia Spalding was a very clever young woman.

But nevertheless Mr Glascock had not quite made up his mind to ask the elder sister to be his wife. He was one of those men to whom love-making does not come very easy, although he was never so much at his ease as when he was in company with ladies. He was sorely in want of a wife, but he was aware that at different periods during the last fifteen years he had been angled for as a fish. Mothers in England had tried to catch him, and of such mothers he had come to have the strongest possible detestation. He had seen the hooks or perhaps had fancied that he saw them when they were not there. Lady Janes and Lady Sarahs had been hard upon him, till he learned to buckle himself into triple armour when he went amongst them, and yet he wanted a wife; no man more sorely wanted one. The reader will perhaps remember how he went down to Nuncombe Putney in quest of a wife, but all in vain. The lady in that case had been so explicit with him that he could not hope for a more favourable answer; and, indeed, he would not have cared to marry a girl who had told him that she preferred another man to himself, even if it had been possible for him to do so. Now he had met a lady very different from those with whom he had hitherto associated but not the less manifestly a lady. Caroline Spalding was bright, pleasant, attractive, very easy to talk to, and yet quite able to hold her own. But the American Minister was a bore; and Miss Petrie was unbearable. He had often told himself that in this matter of marrying a wife he would please himself altogether, that he would allow himself to be tied down by no consideration of family pride, that he would consult nothing but his own heart and feelings.

As for rank, he could give that to his wife. As for money, he had plenty of that also. He wanted a woman that was not blasee with the world, that was not a fool, and who would respect him. The more he thought of it, the more sure he was that he had seen none who pleased him so well as Caroline Spalding; and yet he was a little afraid of taking a step that would be irrevocable. Perhaps the American Minister might express a wish to end his days at Monkhams, and might think it desirable to have Miss Petrie always with him as a private secretary in poetry!

‘Between you and us, Mr Glascock, the spark of sympathy does not pass with a strong flash,’ said a voice in his ear. As he turned round rapidly to face his foe, he was quite sure, for the moment, that under no possible circumstances would he ever take an American woman to his bosom as his wife.

‘No,’ said he; ‘no, no. I rather think that I agree with you.’

‘The antipathy is one,’ continued Miss Petrie, ‘which has been common on the face of the earth since the clown first trod upon the courtier’s heels. It is the instinct of fallen man to hate equality, to desire ascendancy, to crush, to oppress, to tyrannise, to enslave. Then, when the slave is at last free, and in his freedom demands equality, man is not great enough to take his enfranchised brother to his bosom.’

‘You mean negroes,’ said Mr Glascock, looking round and planning for himself a mode of escape.

‘Not negroes only, not the enslaved blacks, who are now enslaved no more, but the rising nations of white men wherever they are to be seen. You English have no sympathy with a people who claim to be at least your equals. The clown has trod upon the courtier’s heels till the clown is clown no longer, and the courtier has hardly a court in which he may dangle his sword-knot.’

‘If so the clown might as well spare the courtier,’ not meaning the rebuke which his words implied.

‘Ah h but the clown will not spare the courtier, Mr Glascock. I understand the gibe, and I tell you that the courtier shall be spared no longer because he is useless. He shall be cut down together with the withered grasses and thrown into the oven, and there shall be an end of him.’ Then she turned round to appeal to an American gentleman who had joined them, and Mr Glascock made his escape. ‘I hold it to be the holiest duty which I owe to my country never to spare one of them when I meet him.’

‘They are all very well in their way,’ said the American gentleman.

‘Down with them, down with them!’ exclaimed the poetess, with a beautiful enthusiasm. In the meantime Mr Glascock had made up his mind that he could not dare to ask Caroline Spalding to be his wife. There were certain forms of the American female so dreadful that no wise man would wilfully come in contact with them. Miss Petrie’s ferocity was distressing to him, but her eloquence and enthusiasm were worse even than her ferocity. The personal incivility of which she had been guilty in calling him a withered grass was distasteful to him, as being opposed to his ideas of the customs of society; but what would be his fate if his wife’s chosen friend should be for ever dinning her denunciation of withered grasses into his ear?

He was still thinking of all this when he was accosted by Mrs Spalding. ‘Are you going to dear Lady Banbury’s tomorrow?’ she asked. Lady Banbury was the wife of the English Minister.

‘I suppose I shall be there in the course of the evening.’

‘How very nice she is; is she not? I do like Lady Banbury — so soft, and gentle, and kind.’

‘One of the pleasantest old ladies I know,’ said Mr Glascock.

‘It does not strike you so much as it does me,’ said Mrs Spalding, with one of her sweetest smiles. ‘The truth is, we all value what we have not got. There are no Lady Banburys in our country, and therefore we think the more of them when we meet them here. She is talking of going to Rome for the Carnival, and has asked Caroline to go with her. I am so pleased to find that my dear girl is such a favourite.’

Mr Glascock immediately told himself that he saw the hook. If he were to be fished for by this American aunt as he had been fished for by English mothers, all his pleasure in the society of Caroline Spalding would be at once over. It would be too much, indeed, if in this American household he were to find the old vices of an aristocracy superadded to young republican sins! Nevertheless Lady Banbury was, as he knew well, a person whose opinion about young people was supposed to be very good. She noticed those only who were worthy of notice; and to have been taken by the hand by Lady Banbury was acknowledged to be a passport into good society. If Caroline Spalding was in truth going to Rome with Lady Banbury, that fact was in itself a great confirmation of Mr Glascock’s good opinion of her. Mrs Spalding had perhaps understood this; but had not understood that having just hinted that it was so, she should have abstained from saying a word more about her dear girl. Clever and well-practised must, indeed, be the hand of the fisherwoman in matrimonial waters who is able to throw her fly without showing any glimpse of the hook to the fish for whom she angles. Poor Mrs Spalding, though with kindly instincts towards her niece she did on this occasion make some slight attempt at angling, was innocent of any concerted plan. It seemed to her to be so natural to say a good word in praise of her niece to the man whom she believed to be in love with her niece.

Caroline and Mr Glascock did not meet each other again till late in the evening, and just as he was about to take his leave. As they came together each of them involuntarily looked round to see whether Miss Petrie was near. Had she been there nothing would have been said beyond the shortest farewell greeting. But Miss Petrie was afar off, electrifying some Italian by the vehemence of her sentiments, and the audacious volubility of a language in which all arbitrary restrictions were ignored. ‘Are you going?’ she asked.

‘Well I believe I am. Since I saw you last I’ve encountered Miss Petrie again, and I’m rather depressed.’

‘Ah you don’t know her. If you did you wouldn’t laugh at her.’

‘Laugh at her! Indeed I do not do that; but when I’m told that I’m to be thrown into the oven and burned because I’m such a worn-out old institution —’

‘You don’t mean to say that you mind that!’

‘Not much, when it comes up in the ordinary course of conversation; but it palls upon one when it is asserted for the fourth or fifth time in an evening.’

‘Alas, alas!’ exclaimed Miss. Spalding, with mock energy.

‘And why, alas?’

‘Because it is so impossible to make the oil and vinegar of the old world and of the new mix together and suit each other.’

‘You think it is impossible, Miss Spalding?’

‘I fear so. We are so terribly tender, and you are always pinching us on our most tender spot. And we never meet you without treading on your gouty toes.’

‘I don’t think my toes are gouty,’ said he.

‘I apologise to your own, individually, Mr Glascock; but I must assert that nationally you are subject to the gout.’

‘That is, when I’m told over and over again that I’m to be cut down and thrown into the oven —’

‘Never mind the oven now, Mr Glascock. If my friend has been over-zealous I will beg pardon for her. But it does seem to me, indeed it does, with all the reverence and partiality I have for everything European,’ the word European was an offence to him, and he shewed that it was so by his countenance ‘that the idiosyncrasies of you and of us are so radically different, that we cannot be made to amalgamate and sympathise with each other thoroughly.’

He paused for some seconds before he answered her, but it was so evident by his manner that he was going to speak, that she could neither leave him nor interrupt him. ‘I had thought that it might have been otherwise,’ he said at last, and the tone of his voice was so changed as to make her know that he was in earnest.

But she did not change her voice by a single note. ‘I’m afraid it cannot be so,’ she said, speaking after her old fashion half in earnest, half in banter. ‘We may make up our minds to be very civil to each other when we meet. The threats of the oven may no doubt be dropped on our side, and you may abstain from expressing in words your sense of our inferiority.’

‘I never expressed anything of the kind,’ he said, quite in anger.

‘I am taking you simply as the sample Englishman, not as Mr Glascock, who helped me and my sister over the mountains. Such of us as have to meet in society may agree to be very courteous; but courtesy and cordiality are not only not the same, but they are incompatible.’

‘Why so?’

‘Courtesy is an effort, and cordiality is free. I must be allowed to contradict the friend that I love; but I assent too often falsely to what is said to me by a passing acquaintance. In spite of what the Scripture says, I think it is one of the greatest privileges of a brother that he may call his brother a fool.’

‘Shall you desire to call your husband a fool?’

‘My husband!’

‘He will, I suppose, be at least as dear to you as a brother?’

‘I never had a brother.’

‘Your sister, then! It is the same, I suppose?’

‘If I were to have a husband, I hope he would be the dearest to me of all. Unless he were so, he certainly would not be my husband. But between a man and his wife there does not spring up that playful, violent intimacy admitting of all liberties, which comes from early nursery associations; and, then, there is the difference of sex.’

‘I should not like my wife to call me a fool,’ he said.

‘I hope she may never have occasion to do so, Mr Glascock. Marry an English wife in your own class as, of course, you will and then you will be safe.’

‘But I have set my heart fast on marrying an American wife,’ he said.

‘Then I can’t tell what may befall you. It’s like enough, if you do that, that you may be called by some name you will think hard to bear. But you’ll think better of it. Like should pair with like, Mr Glascock. If you were to marry one of our young women, you would lose in dignity as much as she would lose in comfort.’ Then they parted, and she went off to say farewell to other guests. The manner in which she had answered what he had said to her had certainly been of a nature to stop any further speech of the same kind. Had she been gentle with him, then he would certainly have told her that she was the American woman whom he desired to take with him to his home in England.

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