The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIX

The Squire Makes a Visit to the Small House

Mrs Dale acknowledged to herself that she had not much ground for hoping that she should ever find in Crosbie’s house much personal happiness for her future life. She did not dislike Mr Crosbie, nor in any great degree mistrust him; but she had seen enough of him to make her certain that Lily’s future home in London could not be a home for her. He was worldly, or, at least, a man of the world. He would be anxious to make the most of his income, and his life would be one long struggle, not perhaps for money, but for those things which money only can give. There are men to whom eight hundred a year is great wealth, and houses to which it brings all the comforts that life requires. But Crosbie was not such a man, nor would his house be such a house. Mrs Dale hoped that Lily would be happy with him, and satisfied with his modes of life, and she strove to believe that such would be the case; but as regarded herself she was forced to confess that in such a marriage her child would be much divided from her. That pleasant abode to which she had long looked forward that she might have a welcome there in coming years should be among fields and trees, not in some narrow London street. Lily must now become a city lady; but Bell would still be left to her, and it might still be hoped that Bell would find for herself some country home.

Since the day on which Lily had first told her mother of her engagement, Mrs Dale had found herself talking much more fully and more frequently with Bell than with her younger daughter. As long as Crosbie was at Allington this was natural enough. He and Lily were of course together, while Bell remained with her mother. But the same state of things continued even after Crosbie was gone. It was not that there was any coolness or want of affection between the mother and daughter, but that Lily’s heart was full of her lover, and that Mrs Dale, though she had given her cordial consent to the marriage, felt that she had but few points of sympathy with her future son-in-law. She had never said, even to herself, that she disliked him; nay, she had sometimes declared to herself that she was fond of him. But, in truth, he was not a man after her own heart. He was not one who could ever be to her as her own son and her own child.

But she and Bell would pass hours together talking of Lily’s prospects.” It seems strange to me,” said Mrs Dale,” that she of all girls should have been fancied by such a man as Mr Crosbie, or that she should have liked him. I cannot imagine Lily living in London.”

“If he is good and affectionate to her she will be happy wherever he is,” said Bell.

“I hope so — I’m sure I hope so. But it seems as though she will be so far separated from us. It is not the distance, but the manner of life which makes the separation. I hope you’ll never be taken so far from me.”

“I don’t think I shall allow myself to be taken up to London,” said Bell, laughing. “But one can never tell. If I do you must follow us, mamma.”

“I do not want another Mr Crosbie for you, dear.”

“But perhaps I may want one for myself. You need not tremble quite yet, however. Apollos do not come this road every day.”

“Poor Lily! Do you remember when she first called him Apollo? I do, well. I remember his corning here the day after Bernard brought him down, and how you were playing on the lawn, while I was in the other garden. I little thought then what it would come to.”

“But, mamma, you don’t regret it?”

“Not if it’s to make her happy. If she can be happy with him, of course I shall not regret it; not though he were to take her to the world’s end away from us. What else have I to look for but that she and you should both be happy?”

“Men in London are happy with their wives as well as men in the country.”

“Oh, yes; of all women I should be the first to acknowledge that.”

“And as to Adolphus himself, I do not know why we should distrust him.”

“No, my dear; there is no reason. If I did distrust him I should not have given so ready an assent to the marriage. But, nevertheless —”

“The truth is, you don’t like him, mamma.”

“Not so cordially as I hope I may like any man whom you may choose for your husband.”

And Lily, though she said nothing on the subject to Mrs Dale, felt that her mother was in some degree estranged from her. Crosbie’s name was frequently mentioned between them, but in the tone of Mrs Dale’s voice, and in her manner when she spoke of him, there was lacking that enthusiasm and heartiness which real sympathy would have produced. Lily did not analyse her own feelings, or closely make inquiry as to those of her mother, but she perceived that it was not all as she would have wished it to have been. “I know mamma does not love him,” she said to Bell on the evening of the day on which she received Crosbie’s first letter.

“Not as you do, Lily; but she does love him.”

“Not as I do! To say that is nonsense, Bell; of course she does not love him as I do. But the truth is she does not love him at all. Do you think I cannot see it?”

“I’m afraid that you see too much.”

“She never says a word against him; but if she really liked him she would sometimes say a word in his favour. I do not think she would ever mention his name unless you or I spoke to him before her. If she did not approve of him, why did she not say so sooner?

“That’s hardly fair upon mamma,” said Bell, with some earnestness. “She does not disapprove of him, and she never did. You know mamma well enough to be sure that she would not interfere with us in such a matter without very strong reason. As regards Mr Crosbie, she gave her consent without a moment’s hesitation.”

“Yes, she did.”

“How can you say, then, that she disapproves of him?” “I didn’t mean to find fault with mamma. Perhaps it will come all right.”

“It will come all, right.” But Bell, though she made this very satisfactory promise, was as well aware as either of the others that the family would be divided when Crosbie should have married Lily and taken her off to London.

On the following morning Mrs Dale and Bell were sitting together. Lily was above in her own room, either writing to her lover, or reading his letter, or thinking of him, or working for him. In some way she was employed on his behalf, and with this object she was alone. It was now the middle of October, and the fire was lit in Mrs Dale’s drawing-room. The window which opened upon the lawn was closed, the heavy curtains had been put back in their places, and it had been acknowledged as an unwelcome fact that the last of the summer was over. This was always a sorrow to Mrs Dale; but it is one of those sorrows which hardly admit of open expression.

“Bell,” she said, looking up suddenly; “there’s your uncle at the window. Let him in.” For now, since the putting up of the curtains, the window had been bolted as well as closed. So Bell got up, and opened a passage for the squire’s entrance. It was not often that he came down in this way, and when he did do so it was generally for some purpose which had been expressed before.

“What! fires already?” said he. “I never have fires at the other house in the morning till the first of November. I like to see a spark in the grate after dinner.”

“I like a fire when I’m cold,” said Mrs Dale. But this was a subject on which the squire and his sister-in-law had differed before, and as Mr Dale had some business in hand, he did not now choose to waste his energy in supporting his own views on the question of fires.

“Bell, my dear,” said he, “I want to speak to your mother for a minute or two on a matter of business. You wouldn’t mind leaving us for a little while, would you?” Whereupon Bell collected up her work and went upstairs to her sister. “Uncle Christopher is below with mamma,” said she, “talking about business. I suppose it is something to do with your marriage.” But Bell was wrong. The squire’s visit had no reference to Lily’s marriage.

Mrs Dale did not move or speak a word when Bell was gone, though it was evident that the squire paused in order that she might ask some question of him. “Mary,” said he, at last, “I’ll tell you what it is that I have come to say to you.” Whereupon she put the piece of needlework which was in her hands down upon the work-basket before her, and settled herself to listen to him.

“I wish to speak to you about Bell.”

“About Bell?” said Mrs Dale, as though much surprised that he should have anything to say to her respecting her eldest daughter.

“Yes, about Bell. Here’s Lily going to be married, and it will be well that Bell should be married too.”

“I don’t see that at all,” said Mrs Dale. “I am by no means in a hurry to be rid of her.”

“No, I dare say not. But, of course, you only regard her welfare, and I can truly say that I do the same. There would be no necessity for hurry as to a marriage for her under ordinary circumstances, but there may be circumstances to make such a thing desirable, and I think that there are.” It was evident from the squire’s tone and manner that he was very much in earnest; but it was also evident that he found some difficulty in opening out the budget with which he had prepared himself. He hesitated a little in his voice, and seemed to be almost nervous. Mrs Dale, with some little spice of ill-nature, altogether abstained from assisting him. She was jealous of interference from him about her girls, and though she was of course bound to listen to him, she did so with a prejudice against and almost with a resolve to oppose anything that he might say. When he had finished his little speech about circumstances, the squire paused again; but Mrs Dale still sat silent, with her eyes fixed upon his face.

“I love your children very dearly;’ said he, “though I believe you hardly give me credit for doing so.”

“I am sure you do,” said Mrs Dale, “and they are both well aware of it.”

“And I am very anxious that they should be comfortably established in life. I have no children of my own, and those of my two brothers are everything to me.”

Mrs Dale had always considered it as a matter of course that Bernard should be the squire’s heir, and had never felt that her daughters had any claim on that score. It was a well-understood thing in the family that the senior male Dale should have all the Dale property and all the Dale money. She fully recognised even the propriety of such an arrangement. But it seemed to her that the squire was almost guilty of hypocrisy in naming his nephew and his two nieces together, as though they were the joint heirs of his love. Bernard was his adopted son, and no one had begrudged to the uncle the right of making such adoption. Bernard was everything to him, and as being his heir was bound to obey him in many things. But her daughters were no more to him than any nieces might be to any uncle. He had nothing to do with their disposal in marriage; and the mother’s spirit was already up in arms and prepared to do battle for her own independence, and for that of her children. “If Bernard would marry well,” said she, “I have no doubt it would be a comfort to you,”— meaning to imply thereby that the squire had no right to trouble himself about any other marriage.

“That’s just it,” said the squire. “It would be a great comfort to me. And if he and Bell could make up their minds together, it would, I should think, be a great comfort to you also.”

“Bernard and Bell!” exclaimed Mrs Dale. No idea of such a union had ever yet come upon her, and now in her surprise she sat silent. She had always liked Bernard Dale, having felt for him more family affection than for any other of the Dale family beyond her own hearth. He had been very intimate in her house, having made himself almost as a brother to her girls. But she had never thought of him as a husband for either of them.

“Then Bell has not spoken to you about it,” said the squire.

“Never a word.”

“And you had never thought about it?”

“Certainly not.”

“I have thought about it a great deal. For some years I have always been thinking of it. I have set my heart upon it, and shall be very unhappy if it cannot be brought about. They are both very dear to me — dearer than anybody else. If I could see them man and wife, I should not much care then how soon I left the old place to them.”

There was a purer touch of feeling in this than the squire had ever before shown in his sister-in-law’s presence, and more heartiness than she had given him the credit of possessing. And she could not but acknowledge to herself that her own child was included in this unexpected warmth of love, and that she was bound at any rate to entertain some gratitude for such kindness.

“It is good of you to think of her,” said the mother;” very good.”

“I think a great deal about her,” said the squire.” But that does not much matter now. The fact is, that she has declined Bernard’s offer.”

“Has Bernard offered to her?”

“So he tells me; and she has refused him. It may perhaps be natural that she should do so, never having taught herself to look at him in the light of a lover. I don’t blame her at all. I am not angry with her.”

“Angry with her! No. You can hardly be angry with her for not being in love with her cousin.”

“I say that I am not angry with her. But I think she might undertake to consider the question. You would like such a match, would you not?”

Mrs Dale did not at first make any answer, but began to revolve the thing in her mind, and to look at it in various points of view. There was a great deal in such an arrangement which at the first sight recommended it to her very strongly. All the local circumstances were in its favour. As regarded herself it would promise to her all that she had ever desired. It would give her a prospect of seeing very much of Lily; for if Bell were settled at the old family house, Crosbie would naturally be much with his friend. She liked Bernard also; and for a moment or two fancied, as she turned it all over in her mind, that, even yet, if such a marriage were to take place, there might grow up something like true regard between her and the old squire. How happy would be her old age in that Small House, if Bell with her children were living so close to her!

“Well?” said the squire, who was looking very intently into her face.

“I was thinking,” said Mrs Dale. “Do you say that she has already refused him?”

“I am afraid she has; but then you know —”

“It must of course be left for her to judge.”

“If you mean that she cannot be made to marry her cousin, of course we all know she can’t.”

“I mean rather more than that.”

“What do you mean, then?

“That the matter must be left altogether to her own decision; that no persuasion must be used by you or me. If he can persuade her, indeed —” “Yes, exactly. He must persuade her. I quite agree with you that he should have liberty to plead his own cause. But look you here, Mary — she has always been a very good child to you —”

“Indeed she has.”

“And a word from you would go a long way with her — as it ought. If she knows that you would like her to marry her cousin, it will make her think it her duty —”

“Ah I but that is just what I cannot try to make her think.”

“Will you let me speak, Mary? You take me up and scold me before the words are half out of my mouth. Of course I know that in these days a young lady is not to be compelled into marrying anybody — not but that, as far as I can see, they did better than they do now when they had not quite so much of their own way.”

“I never would take upon myself to ask a child to marry any man.”

“But you may explain to her that it is her duty to give such a proposal much thought before it is absolutely refused. A girl either is in love or she is not. If she is, she is ready to jump down a man’s throat; and that was the case with Lily.”

“She never thought of the man till he had proposed to her fully.”

“Well, never mind now. But if a girl is not in love, she thinks she is bound to swear and declare that she never will be so.”

“I don’t think Bell ever declared anything of the kind.”

“Yes, she did. She told Bernard that she didn’t love him and couldn’t love him — and, in fact, that she wouldn’t think anything more about it. Now, Mary, that’s what I call being headstrong and positive. I don’t want to drive her, and I don’t want you to drive her. But here is an arrangement which for her will be a very good one; you must admit that. We all know that she is on excellent terms with Bernard. It isn’t as though they had been falling out and hating each other all their lives. She told him that she was very fond of him, and talked nonsense about being his sister, and all that.”

“I don’t see that it was nonsense at all.”

“Yes, it was nonsense — on such an occasion. If a man asks a girl to marry him, he doesn’t want her to talk to him about being his sister. I think it is nonsense. If she would only consider about it properly she would soon learn to love him.”

“That lesson, if it be learned at all, must be learned without any tutor.”

“You won’t do anything to help me then?”

“I will, at any rate, do nothing to mar you. And, to tell the truth, I must think over the matter fully before I can decide what I had better say to Bell about it. From her not speaking to me —”

“I think she ought to have told you.” “No, Mr Dale. Had she accepted him, of course she would have told me. Had she thought of doing so she might probably have consulted me. But if she made up her mind that she must reject him —”

“She oughtn’t to have made up her mind.”

“But if she did, it seems natural to me that she should speak of it to no one. She might probably think that. Bernard would be as well pleased that it should not be known.”

“Psha — known! — of course it will be known. As you want time to consider of it, I will say nothing more now. If she were my daughter, I should have no hesitation in telling her what I thought best for her welfare.”

“I have none; though I may have some in making up my mind as to what is best for her welfare. But, Mr Dale, you may be sure of this; I will speak to her very earnestly of your kindness and love for her. And I wish you would believe that I feel your regard for her very strongly.”

In answer to this he merely shook his head, and hummed and hawed. “You would be glad to see them married, as regards yourself?” he asked.

“Certainly I would,” said Mrs Dale. “I have always liked Bernard, and I believe my girl would be safe with him. But then, you see, it’s a question on which my own likings or dislikings should not have any bearing.”

And so they parted, the squire making his way back again through the drawing-room window. He was not above half pleased with his interview; but then he was a man for whom half-pleasure almost sufficed. He rarely indulged any expectation that people would make themselves agreeable to him. Mrs Dale, since she had come to the Small House, had never been a source of satisfaction to him, but he did not on that account regret that he had brought her there. He was a constant man; urgent in carrying out his own plans, but not sanguine in doing so, and by no means apt to expect that all things would go smooth with him. He had made up his mind that his nephew and his niece should be married, and should he ultimately fail in this, such failure would probably embitter his future life — but it was not in the nature of the man to be angry in the meantime, or to fume and scold because he met with opposition. He had told Mrs Dale that he loved Bell dearly. So he did, though he seldom spoke to her with much show of special regard, and never was soft and tender with her. But, on the other hand, he did not now love her the less because she opposed his wishes. He was a constant, undemonstrative man, given rather to brooding than to thinking; harder in his words than in his thoughts, with more of heart than others believed, or than he himself knew; but, above all, he was a man who having once desired a thing would desire it always.

Mrs Dale, when she was left alone, began to turn over the question in her mind in a much fuller manner than the squire’s presence had as yet made possible for her. Would not such a marriage as this be for them all, the happiest domestic arrangement which circumstances could afford? Her daughter would have no fortune, but here would be prepared for her all the comforts which fortune can give. She would be received into her uncle’s house, not as some penniless, portionless bride whom Bernard might have married and brought home, but as the wife whom of all others Bernard’s friends had thought desirable for him. And then, as regarded Mrs Dale herself, there would be nothing in such a marriage which would not be delightful to her. It would give a realisation to all her dreams of future happiness.

But, as she said to herself over and over again, all that must go for nothing. It must be for Bell, and for her only, to answer Bernard’s question. In her mind there was something sacred in that idea of love. She would regard her daughter almost as a castaway if she were to marry any man without absolutely loving him — loving him as Lily loved her lover, with all her heart and all her strength.

With such a conviction as this strong upon her, she felt that she could not say much to Bell that would be of any service.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01