The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXV

Miss Van Siever Makes Her Choice

Clara Van Siever did stay all night with Mrs Broughton. In the course of the evening she received a note from her mother, in which she was told to come home to breakfast. ‘You can go back to her afterwards,’ said Mrs Van Siever; ‘and I will see her myself in the course of the day, if she will let me.’ The note was written on a scrap of paper, and had neither beginning nor end; but this was after the manner of Mrs Van Siever, and Clara was not in the least hurt or surprised. ‘My mother will come to see you after breakfast,’ said Clara, as she was taking her leave.

‘Oh, goodness! And what shall I say to her?’

‘You will have to say very little. She will speak to you.’

‘I suppose everything belongs to her now,’ said Mrs Broughton.

‘I know nothing about that. I never do know anything of mamma’s money matters.’

‘Of course she’ll turn me out. I do not mind a bit about that — only I hope she’ll let me have some mourning.’ Then she made Clara promise that she would return as soon as possible, having in Clara’s presence overcome all that feeling of dislike which she had expressed to Conway Dalrymple. Mrs Broughton was generally affectionate to those who were near her. Had Musselboro forced himself into her presence, she would have become quite confidential with him before he left her.

‘Mr Musselboro will be here directly,’ said Mrs Van Siever, as she was starting for Mrs Broughton’s house. ‘You had better tell him to come to me up here; or, stop — perhaps you had better keep him here till I come back. Tell him to be sure and wait for me.’

‘Very well, mamma. I suppose he can wait below?’

‘Why should he wait below?,’ said Mrs Van Siever, very angrily.

Clara had made the uncourteous proposition to her mother with the express intention of making it understood that she would have nothing to say to him. ‘He can come upstairs if he likes,’ said Clara; ‘and I will go up to my room.’

‘If you fight shy of him, miss, you may remember this — that you will fight shy of me at the same time.’

‘I am sorry for that, mamma, for I shall certainly fight shy of Mr Musselboro.’

‘You can do as you please. I can’t force you, and I shan’t try. But I can make your life a burden to you — and I will. What’s the matter with the man that he isn’t good enough for you? He’s as good as any of your own people ever was. I hate your new-fangled airs — with pictures painted on the sly, and all the rest of it. I hate such ways. See what they have brought that wretched man to, and the poor fool his wife. If you go and marry that painter, some of these days you’ll be very much like what she is. Only I doubt whether he has got the courage enough to blow his brains out.’ With these comfortable words, the old woman took herself off, leaving Clara to entertain her lover as best she might choose.

Mr Musselboro was not long in coming, and, in accordance with Mrs Van Siever’s implied directions to her daughter, was shown up into the drawing-room. Clara gave him her mother’s message in a very few words. ‘I was expressly told, sir, to ask you to stop, if it is not inconvenient, as she very much wants to see you.’ Mr Musselboro declared that of course he would stop. He was only too happy to have the opportunity of remaining in such delightful society. As Clara answered nothing to this, he went on to say that he hoped that the melancholy occasion of Mrs Van Siever’s visit to Mrs Broughton might make a long absence necessary — he did not, indeed, care how long it might be. He had recovered now from that paleness, and that want of gloves and jewellery which had befallen him on the previous day immediately after the sight he had seen in the City. Clara made no answer to the last speech, but, putting some things together in her work-basket, prepared to leave the room. ‘I hope you are not going to leave me?’ he said, in a voice that was intended to convey much of love, and something of melancholy.

‘I am so shocked by what has happened, Mr Musselboro, that I am altogether unfit for conversation. I was with poor Mrs Broughton last night, and I shall return to her when mamma comes home.’

‘It is sad, certainly; but what was there to be expected? If you’d only seen how he used to go on.’ To this Clara made no answer. ‘Don’t go yet,’ said he; ‘there is something that I want to say to you. There is, indeed.’

Clara Van Siever was a young person whose presence of mind rarely deserted her. It occurred to her now that she must undergo on some occasion the nuisance of a direct offer from him, and that she could have no better opportunity of answering him after her own fashion than the present. Her mother was absent, and the field was her own. And, moreover, it was a point in her favour that the tragedy which had so lately occurred, and to which she had just now alluded, would give her a fair excuse for additional severity. At such a moment no man could, she told herself, be justified in making an offer of his love, and therefore she might rebuke him with the less remorse. I wonder whether the last words which Conway Dalrymple had spoken to her stung her conscience as she thought of this! She had now reached the door, and was standing close to it. As Mr Musselboro did not at once, begin, she encouraged him. ‘If you have anything special to tell me, I will hear you,’ she said.

‘Miss Clara,’ he began, rising from his chair, and coming into the middle of the room. ‘I think you know what my wishes are.’ Then he put his hand upon his heart. ‘And your respected mother is the same way of thinking. It’s that that emboldens me to be so sudden. Not but what my heart has been yours and yours only all along, before the old lady so much as mentioned it.’ Clara would give him no assistance, not even the aid of a negative, but stood there quite passive, with her hand on the door. ‘Since I first had the pleasure of seeing you I have always said to myself, “Augustus Musselboro, that is the woman for you, if you can only win her.” But there was so much against me — wasn’t there?’ She would not even take advantage of this by assuring him that there certainly always had been much against him, but allowed him to go on till he should run out all the length of his tether. ‘I mean, of course, in the way of money,’ he continued. ‘I hadn’t much that I could call my own when your respected mother first allowed me to become acquainted with you. But it’s different now; and I think I may say that I’m all right in that respect. Poor Broughton’s going this way will make it a deal smoother to me; and I may say that I and your mamma will be all in all to each other now about money.’ Then he stopped.

‘I don’t quite understand what you mean by all this,’ said Clara.

‘I mean that there isn’t a more devoted fellow in all London than what I am to you.’ Then he was about to go down on one knee, but it occurred to him that it would not be convenient to kneel to a lady who would stand quite close to the door. ‘One and one, if they’re put together well, will often make more than two. And so they shall with us,’ said Musselboro, who began to feel that it might be expedient to throw a little spirit into his words.

‘If you have done,’ said Clara, ‘you may as well hear from me for a minute. And I hope you will have the sense to understand that I really mean what I say.’

‘I hope you will remember what are your mamma’s wishes.’

‘Mamma’s wishes have no influence whatsoever with me in such matters as this. Mamma’s arrangements with you are for her own convenience, and I am not party to them. I do not know anything about mamma’s money, and I do not want to know. But under no possible circumstances will I consent to become your wife. Nothing that mamma could say or do would induce me even to think of it. I hope you will be man enough to take this for an answer, and say nothing more about it.’

‘But, Miss Clara —’

‘It’s no good your Miss Claraing me, sir. What I have said to you may be sure I mean. Good-morning, sir.’ Then she opened the door, and left him.

‘By Jove, she is a Tartar,’ said Musselboro to himself, when he was alone. ‘They’re both Tartars, but the younger is the worse.’ Then he began to speculate whether Fortune was not doing the best for him in so arranging that he might have use of the Tartar-mother’s money without binding himself to endure for life the Tartar qualities of the daughter.

It had been understood that Clara was to wait at home till her mother should return before she again went to Mrs Broughton. At about eleven Mrs Van Siever came in, and her daughter intercepted her at the dining-room door before she made her way upstairs to Mr Musselboro. ‘How is she, mamma?’ said Clara with something of hypocrisy in her assumed interest for Mrs Broughton.

‘She is an idiot!’ said Mrs Van Siever.

‘She has had a terrible misfortune!’

‘That is no reason why she should be an idiot; and she is heartless too. She never cared a bit for him — not a bit.’

‘He was a man whom it was impossible to care for much. I will go to her now, mamma.’

‘Where is Musselboro?’

‘He is upstairs.’

‘Well?’

‘Mamma, that is quite out of the question. Quite. I would not marry him to save myself from starving.’

‘You do not know what starving is yet, my dear. Tell me the truth at once. Are you engaged to that painter?’ Clara paused a moment before she answered, not hesitating as to the expediency of telling her mother any truth on the matter in question, but doubting what the truth might really be. Could she say that she was engaged to Mr Dalrymple, or could she say that she was not? ‘If you tell me a lie, miss, I’ll have you put out at once.’

‘I certainly shall not tell you a lie. Mr Dalrymple has asked me to be his wife, and I have made him no answer. If he asks me again I shall accept him.’

‘Then I order you not to leave this house,’ said Mrs Van Siever.

‘Surely I may go to Mrs Broughton?’

‘I order you not to leave this house,’ said Mrs Van Siever again — and thereupon she stalked out of the dining-room and went upstairs. Clara had been standing with her bonnet on, ready dressed to go out, and the mother made no attempt to send the daughter up to her room. That she did not expect to be obeyed in her order may be inferred from the first words which she spoke to Mr Musselboro. ‘She has gone off to that man now. You are not good, Musselboro, at this kind of work.’

‘You see, Mrs Van, he had the start of me so much. And then being at the West End, and all that, gives a man such a standing with a girl.’

‘Bother!’ said Mrs Van Siever, as he quick ear caught the sound of the closing hall-door. Clara had stood a minute or two to consider, and then had resolved that she would disobey her mother. She tried to excuse her own conduct to her own satisfaction as she went. ‘There are some things,’ she said, ‘which even a daughter cannot hear from her mother. If she chooses to close the door against me, she must do so.’

She found Mrs Broughton still in bed, and could not but agree with her mother that the woman was both silly and heartless.

‘Your mother says that everything must be sold up,’ said Mrs Broughton.

‘At any rate you would hardly choose to remain here,’ said Clara.

‘But I hope she will let me have my own things. A great many of them are altogether my own. I know there’s a law that a woman may have her own things, even though her husband has — done what poor Dobbs did. And I think she was hard upon me about the mourning. They never do mind giving credit for such things as that, and though there is a bill due to Mrs Morell now, she has had a deal of Dobbs’s money.’ Clara promised her that she would have mourning to her heart’s content. ‘I will see to that myself,’ she said.

Presently there was a knock at the door, and the discreet head-servant beckoned Clara out of the room. ‘You are not going away,’ said Mrs Broughton. Clara promised her that she would not go without coming back again. ‘He will be here soon, I suppose, and perhaps you had better see him; though, for the matter of that, perhaps you had better not, because he is so much cut up about poor Dobbs.’ The servant had come to tell Clara that the ‘he’ in question was at the present moment waiting for her below stairs.

The first words which passed between Dalrymple and Clara had reference to the widow. He told her what he had learned in the City — that Broughton’s property had never been great, and that his personal liabilities at the time of his death were supposed to be small. But he had fallen lately altogether into the hands of Musselboro, who, though penniless himself in the way of capital, was backed by the money of Mrs Van Siever. There was not doubt that Broughton had destroyed himself in the manner told by Musselboro, but the opinion in the City was that he had done so rather through the effects of drink than because of his losses. As to the widow, Dalrymple thought that Mrs Van Siever, or nominally, perhaps, Musselboro, might be induced to settle an annuity on her, or she would give up everything quietly. ‘Doubt whether your mother is not responsible for everything that Broughton owed when he died — for everything, that is, in the way of business; and if so, Mrs Broughton will certainly have a claim on the estate.’ It occurred to Dalrymple once or twice that he was talking to Clara about Mrs Van Siever as though he and Clara were more closely bound together than were Clara and her mother; but Clara seemed to take this in good part, and was as solicitous as was he himself in the manner of Mrs Broughton’s interest.

Then the discreet head-servant knocked and told them that Mrs Broughton was very anxious to see Mr Dalrymple, but that Miss Van Siever was on no account to go away. She was up, and in her dressing-gown, and had gone into the sitting-room. ‘I will come directly,’ said Dalrymple, and the discreet head-servant retired.

‘Clara,’ said Conway, ‘I do not know when I may have another chance of asking for an answer to my question. You heard my question?’

‘Yes, I heard it.’

‘And will you answer it?’

‘If you wish it, I will.’

‘Of course I wish it. You understand what I said upon the door-step yesterday?’

‘I don’t think much of that; men say those things so often. What you said before was serious, I suppose?’

‘Serious! Heavens! Do you think that I am joking?’

‘Mamma wants me to marry Mr Musselboro.’

‘He is a vulgar brute. It would be impossible.’

‘It is impossible; but mamma is very obstinate. I have no fortune of my own — not a shilling. She told me today that she would turn me out into the street. She forbade me to come here, thinking I should meet you; but I came, because I had promised Mrs Broughton. I am sure that she will never give me one shilling.’

Dalrymple paused for a moment. It was certainly true that he had regarded Clara Van Siever as an heiress, and had at first been attracted to her because he thought it expedient to marry an heiress. But there had since come something beyond that, and there was perhaps less of regret than most men would have felt as he gave up his golden hopes. He took her into his arms and kissed her, and called her his own. ‘Now we understand each other,’ he said.

‘If you wish it to be so.’

‘I do wish it.’

‘And I shall tell my mother today that I am engaged to you — unless she refuses to see me. Go to Mrs Broughton now. I feel that we are almost cruel to be thinking of ourselves in this house at such a time.’ Upon this Dalrymple went, and Clara Van Siever was left to her reflections. She had never before had a lover. She had never had even a friend whom she loved and trusted. Her life had been passed at school till she was nearly twenty, and since then had been vainly endeavouring to accommodate herself into the absolute power of a man who was nearly a strange to her! But she did love him, as she had never loved anyone else; — and then, on the other side, there was Mr Musselboro!

Dalrymple went upstairs for an hour, and Clara did not see him again before he left the house. It was clear to her, from Mrs Broughton’s first words, that Conway had told her what had passed. ‘Of course I shall never seen anything more of either of you now?’ said Mrs Broughton.

‘I should say that probably you will see a great deal of us both.’

‘There are some people,’ said Mrs Broughton, ‘who can do well for their friends, but can never do well for themselves. I am one of them. I saw at once how great a thing it would be for both of you to bring you two together — especially for you, Clara; and therefore I did it. I may say that I never had it out of my mind for months past. Poor Dobbs misunderstood what I was doing. God knows how far that may have brought about what has happened.’

‘Oh, Mrs Broughton!’

‘Of course he could not be blind to one thing; — nor was I. I mention it now because it is right, but I shall never, never allude to again. Of course he saw, and I saw, that Conway — was attached to me. Poor Conway meant no harm. I was aware of that. But there was the terrible fact. I knew at once that the only cure for him was a marriage with some girl he could respect. Admiring you as I do, I immediately resolved on bringing you to together. My dear, I have been successful, and I heartily trust that you may be happier than Maria Broughton.’

Miss Van Siever knew the woman, understood all the facts, and pitying the condition of the wretched creature, bore all this without a word of rebuke. She scorned to put out her strength against one who was in truth so weak.

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