The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XCV

The Longestaffe Marriages

In another part of Suffolk, not very far from Bungay, there was a lady whose friends had not managed her affairs as well as Ruby’s friends had done for Ruby. Miss Georgiana Longestaffe in the early days of August was in a very miserable plight. Her sister’s marriage with Mr George Whitstable was fixed for the first of September, a day which in Suffolk is of all days the most sacred; and the combined energies of the houses of Caversham and Toodlam were being devoted to that happy event. Poor Georgey’s position was in every respect wretched, but its misery was infinitely increased by the triumph of those hymeneals. It was but the other day that she had looked down from a very great height on her elder sister, and had utterly despised the squire of Toodlam. And at that time, still so recent, this contempt from her had been accepted as being almost reasonable. Sophia had hardly ventured to rebel against it, and Mr Whitstable himself had been always afraid to encounter the shafts of irony with which his fashionable future sister-in-law attacked him. But all that was now changed. Sophia in her pride of place had become a tyrant, and George Whitstable, petted in the house with those sweetmeats which are always showered on embryo bridegrooms, absolutely gave himself airs. At this time Mr Longestaffe was never at home. Having assured himself that there was no longer any danger of the Brehgert alliance he had remained in London, thinking his presence to be necessary for the winding up of Melmotte’s affairs, and leaving poor Lady Pomona to bear her daughter’s ill humour. The family at Caversham consisted therefore of the three ladies, and was enlivened by daily visits from Toodlam. It will be owned that in this state of things there was very little consolation for Georgiana.

It was not long before she quarrelled altogether with her sister — to the point of absolutely refusing to act as bridesmaid. The reader may remember that there had been a watch and chain, and that two of the ladies of the family had expressed an opinion that these trinkets should be returned to Mr Brehgert who had bestowed them. But Georgiana had not sent them back when a week had elapsed since the receipt of Mr Brehgert’s last letter. The matter had perhaps escaped Lady Pomona’s memory, but Sophia was happily alive to the honour of her family. ‘Georgey,’ she said one morning in their mother’s presence, ‘don’t you think Mr Brehgert’s watch ought to go back to him without any more delay?’

‘What have you got to do with anybody’s watch? The watch wasn’t given to you.’

‘I think it ought to go back. When papa finds that it has been kept I’m sure he’ll be very angry.’

‘It’s no business of yours whether he’s angry or not.’

‘If it isn’t sent, George will tell Dolly. You know what would happen then.’

This was unbearable! That George Whitstable should interfere in her affairs — that he should talk about her watch and chain. ‘I never will speak to George Whitstable again the longest day that ever I live,’ she said, getting up from her chair.

‘My dear, don’t say anything so horrible as that,’ exclaimed the unhappy mother.

‘I do say it. What has George Whitstable to do with me? A miserably stupid fellow! Because you’ve landed him, you think he’s to ride over the whole family.’

‘I think Mr Brehgert ought to have his watch and chain back,’ said Sophia.

‘Certainly he ought,’ said Lady Pomona. ‘Georgiana, it must be sent back. It really must — or I shall tell your papa.’

Subsequently, on the same day, Georgiana brought the watch and chain to her mother, protesting that she had never thought of keeping them, and explaining that she had intended to hand them over to her papa as soon as he should have returned to Caversham. Lady Pomona was now empowered to return them, and they were absolutely confided to the hands of the odious George Whitstable, who about this time made a journey to London in reference to certain garments which he required. But Georgiana, though she was so far beaten, kept up her quarrel with her sister. She would not be bridesmaid. She would never speak to George Whitstable. And she would shut herself up on the day of the marriage.

She did think herself to be very hardly used. What was there left in the world that she could do in furtherance of her future cause? And what did her father and mother expect would become of her? Marriage had ever been so clearly placed before her eyes as a condition of things to be achieved by her own efforts, that she could not endure the idea of remaining tranquil in her father’s house and waiting till some fitting suitor might find her out. She had struggled and struggled, struggling still in vain — till every effort of her mind, every thought of her daily life, was pervaded by a conviction that as she grew older from year to year, the struggle should be more intense. The swimmer when first he finds himself in the water, conscious of his skill and confident in his strength, can make his way through the water with the full command of all his powers. But when he begins to feel that the shore is receding from him, that his strength is going, that the footing for which he pants is still far beneath his feet — that there is peril where before he had contemplated no danger — then he begins to beat the water with strokes rapid but impotent, and to waste in anxious gaspings the breath on which his very life must depend. So it was with poor Georgey Longestaffe. Something must be done at once, or it would be of no avail. Twelve years had been passed by her since first she plunged into the stream — the twelve years of her youth — and she was as far as ever from the bank; nay, farther, if she believed her eyes. She too must strike out with rapid efforts, unless, indeed, she would abandon herself and let the waters close over her head. But immersed as she was here at Caversham, how could she strike at all? Even now the waters were closing upon her. The sound of them was in her ears. The ripple of the wave was already round her lips; robbing her of breath. Ah! — might not there be some last great convulsive effort which might dash her on shore, even if it were upon a rock!

That ultimate failure in her matrimonial projects would be the same as drowning she never for a moment doubted. It had never occurred to her to consider with equanimity the prospect of living as an old maid. It was beyond the scope of her mind to contemplate the chances of a life in which marriage might be well if it came, but in which unmarried tranquillity might also be well should that be her lot. Nor could she understand that others should contemplate it for her. No doubt the battle had been carried on for many years so much under the auspices of her father and mother as to justify her in thinking that their theory of life was the same as her own. Lady Pomona had been very open in her teaching, and Mr Longestaffe had always given a silent adherence to the idea that the house in London was to be kept open in order that husbands might be caught. And now when they deserted her in her real difficulty — when they first told her to live at Caversham all the summer, and then sent her up to the Melmottes, and after that forbade her marriage with Mr Brehgert — it seemed to her that they were unnatural parents who gave her a stone when she wanted bread, a serpent when she asked for a fish. She had no friend left. There was no one living who seemed to care whether she had a husband or not. She took to walking in solitude about the park, and thought of many things with a grim earnestness which had not hitherto belonged to her character.

‘Mamma,’ she said one morning when all the care of the household was being devoted to the future comforts — chiefly in regard to linen — of Mrs George Whitstable, ‘I wonder whether papa has any intention at all about me.’

‘In what sort of way, my dear?’

‘In any way. Does he mean me to live here for ever and ever?’

‘I don’t think he intends to have a house in town again.’

‘And what am I to do?’

‘I suppose we shall stay here at Caversham.’

‘And I’m to be buried just like a nun in a convent — only that the nun does it by her own consent and I don’t! Mamma, I won’t stand it. I won’t indeed.’

‘I think, my dear, that that is nonsense. You see company here, just as other people do in the country; — and as for not standing it, I don’t know what you mean. As long as you are one of your papa’s family of course you must live where he lives.’

‘Oh, mamma, to hear you talk like that! — It is horrible — horrible! As if you didn’t know! As if you couldn’t understand! Sometimes I almost doubt whether papa does know, and then I think that if he did he would not be so cruel. But you understand it all as well as I do myself. What is to become of me? Is it not enough to drive me mad to be going about here by myself, without any prospect of anything? Should you have liked at my age to have felt that you had no chance of having a house of your own to live in? Why didn’t you, among you, let me marry Mr Breghert?’ As she said this she was almost eloquent with passion.

‘You know, my dear,’ said Lady Pomona, ‘that your papa wouldn’t hear of it.’

‘I know that if you would have helped me I would have done it in spite of papa. What right has he to domineer over me in that way? Why shouldn’t I have married the man if I chose? I am old enough to know surely. You talk now of shutting up girls in convents as being a thing quite impossible. This is much worse. Papa won’t do anything to help me. Why shouldn’t he let me do something for myself?’

‘You can’t regret Mr Brehgert!’

‘Why can’t I regret him? I do regret him. I’d have him to-morrow if he came. Bad as it might be, it couldn’t be so bad as Caversham.’

‘You couldn’t have loved him, Georgiana.’

‘Loved him! Who thinks about love nowadays? I don’t know any one who loves any one else. You won’t tell me that Sophy is going to marry that idiot because she loves him. Did Julia Triplex love that man with the large fortune? When you wanted Dolly to marry Marie Melmotte you never thought of his loving her. I had got the better of all that kind of thing before I was twenty.’

‘I think a young woman should love her husband.’

‘It makes me sick, mamma, to hear you talk in that way. It does indeed. When one has been going on for a dozen years trying to do something — and I have never had any secrets from you — then that you should turn round upon me and talk about love! Mamma, if you would help me I think I could still manage with Mr Brehgert.’ Lady Pomona shuddered. ‘You have not got to marry him.’

‘It is too horrid.’

‘Who would have to put up with it? Not you, or papa, or Dolly. I should have a house of my own at least, and I should know what I had to expect for the rest of my life. If I stay here I shall go mad or die.’

‘It is impossible.’

‘If you will stand to me, mamma, I am sure it may be done. I would write to him, and say that you would see him.’

‘Georgiana, I will never see him.’

‘Why not?’

‘He is a Jew!’

‘What abominable prejudice — what wicked prejudice! As if you didn’t know that all that is changed now! What possible difference can it make about a man’s religion? Of course I know that he is vulgar, and old, and has a lot of children. But if I can put up with that, I don’t think that you and papa have a right to interfere. As to his religion it cannot signify.’

‘Georgiana, you make me very unhappy. I am wretched to see you so discontented. If I could do anything for you, I would. But I will not meddle about Mr Brehgert. I shouldn’t dare to do so. I don’t think you know how angry your papa can be.’

‘I’m not going to let papa be a bugbear to frighten me. What can he do? I don’t suppose he’ll beat me. And I’d rather he would than shut me up here. As for you, mamma, I don’t think you care for me a bit. Because Sophy is going to be married to that oaf, you are become so proud of her that you haven’t half a thought for anybody else.’

‘That’s very unjust, Georgiana.’

‘I know what’s unjust — and I know who’s ill-treated. I tell you fairly, mamma, that I shall write to Mr Brehgert and tell him that I am quite ready to marry him. I don’t know why he should be afraid of papa. I don’t mean to be afraid of him any more, and you may tell him just what I say.’

All this made Lady Pomona very miserable. She did not communicate her daughter’s threat to Mr Longestaffe, but she did discuss it with Sophia. Sophia was of opinion that Georgiana did not mean it, and gave two or three reasons for thinking so. In the first place had she intended it she would have written her letter without saying a word about it to Lady Pomona. And she certainly would not have declared her purpose of writing such letter after Lady Pomona had refused her assistance. And moreover — Lady Pomona had received no former hint of the information which was now conveyed to her — Georgiana was in the habit of meeting the curate of the next parish almost every day in the park.

‘Mr Batherbolt!’ exclaimed Lady Pomona.

‘She is walking with Mr Batherbolt almost every day.’

‘But he is so very strict.’

‘It is true, mamma.’

‘And he’s five years younger than she! And he’s got nothing but his curacy! And he’s a celibate! I heard the bishop laughing at him because he called himself a celibate.’

‘It doesn’t signify, mamma. I know she is with him constantly. Wilson has seen them — and I know it. Perhaps papa could get him a living. Dolly has a living of his own that came to him with his property.’

‘Dolly would be sure to sell the presentation,’ said Lady Pomona.

‘Perhaps the bishop would do something,’ said the anxious sister, ‘when he found that the man wasn’t a celibate. Anything, mamma, would be better than the Jew.’ To this latter proposition Lady Pomona gave a cordial assent. ‘Of course it is a come-down to marry a curate — but a clergyman is always considered to be decent.’

The preparations for the Whitstable marriage went on without any apparent attention to the intimacy which was growing up between Mr Batherbolt and Georgiana. There was no room to apprehend anything wrong on that side. Mr Batherbolt was so excellent a young man, and so exclusively given to religion, that, even should Sophy’s suspicion be correct, he might be trusted to walk about the park with Georgiana. Should he at any time come forward and ask to be allowed to make the lady his wife, there would be no disgrace in the matter. He was a clergyman and a gentleman — and the poverty would be Georgiana’s own affair.

Mr Longestaffe returned home only on the eve of his eldest daughter’s marriage, and with him came Dolly. Great trouble had been taken to teach him that duty absolutely required his presence at his sister’s marriage, and he had at last consented to be there. It is not generally considered a hardship by a young man that he should have to go into a good partridge country on the 1st of September, and Dolly was an acknowledged sportsman. Nevertheless, he considered that he had made a great sacrifice to his family, and he was received by Lady Pomona as though he were a bright example to other sons. He found the house not in a very comfortable position, for Georgiana still persisted in her refusal either to be a bridesmaid or to speak to Mr Whitstable; but still his presence, which was very rare at Caversham, gave some assistance: and, as at this moment his money affairs had been comfortably arranged, he was not called upon to squabble with his father. It was a great thing that one of the girls should be married, and Dolly had brought down an enormous china dog, about five feet high, as a wedding present, which added materially to the happiness of the meeting. Lady Pomona had determined that she would tell her husband of those walks in the park, and of other signs of growing intimacy which had reached her ears; — but this she would postpone until after the Whitstable marriage.

But at nine o’clock on the morning set apart for that marriage, they were all astounded by the news that Georgiana had run away with Mr Batherbolt. She had been up before six. He had met her at the park gate, and had driven her over to catch the early train at Stowmarket. Then it appeared, too, that, by degrees, various articles of her property had been conveyed to Mr Batherbolt’s lodgings in the adjacent village, so that Lady Pomona’s fear that Georgiana would not have a thing to wear was needless. When the fact was first known it was almost felt, in the consternation of the moment, that the Whitstable marriage must be postponed. But Sophia had a word to say to her mother on that head, and she said it. The marriage was not postponed. At first Dolly talked of going after his younger sister, and the father did dispatch various telegrams. But the fugitives could not be brought back, and with some little delay — which made the marriage perhaps uncanonical but not illegal — Mr George Whitstable was made a happy man.

It need only he added that in about a month’s time Georgiana returned to Caversham as Mrs Batherbolt, and that she resided there with her husband in much connubial bliss for the next six months. At the end of that time they removed to a small living, for the purchase of which Mr Longestaffe had managed to raise the necessary money.

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