Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 79

Diamonds are Diamonds

Kate and Alice, as they drew near to their journey’s end, were both a little flurried, and I cannot but own that there was cause for nervousness. Kate Vavasor was to meet Mr Grey for the first time. Mr Grey was now staying at Matching and was to remain there until a week of his marriage. He was then to return to Cambridgeshire for a day or two, and after that was to become a guest at the rector’s house at Matching the evening before the ceremony. “Why not let him come here at once?” Lady Glencora had said to her husband. “It is such nonsense, you know.” But Mr Palliser would not hear of it. Mr Palliser, though a Radical in public life, would not for worlds transgress the social laws of his ancestors; and so the matter was settled. Kate on this very day of her arrival at Matching would thus see Mr Grey for the first time, and she could not but feel that she had been the means of doing Mr Grey much injury. She had moreover something — not much indeed, but still something — of that feeling which made the Pallisers terrible to the imagination, because of their rank and wealth. She was a little afraid of the Pallisers, but of Mr Grey she was very much afraid. And Alice also was not at her ease. She would fain have prevented so very quick a marriage had she not felt that now — after all the trouble that she had caused — there was nothing left for her but to do as others wished. When a day had been named she had hardly dared to demur, and had allowed Lady Glencora to settle everything as she had wished. But it was not only the suddenness of her marriage which dismayed her. Its nature and attributes were terrible to her. Both Lady Midlothian and the Marchioness of Auld Reekie were coming. When this was told to her by letter she had no means of escape. “Lady Macleod is right in nearly all that she says,” Lady Glencora had written to her. “At any rate, you needn’t be such a fool as to run away from your cousins, simply because they have handles to their names. You must take the thing as it comes.” Lady Glencora, moreover, had settled for her the list of bridesmaids. Alice had made a petition that she might be allowed to go through the ceremony with only one — with none but Kate to back her. But she ought to have known that when she consented to be married at Matching — and indeed she had had very little power of resisting that proposition — all such questions would be decided for her. Two daughters therefore of Lady Midlothian were to act, Lady Jane and Lady Mary, and the one daughter of the Marchioness, who was also a Lady Jane, and there were to be two Miss Howards down from London — girls who were known both to Alice and to Lady Glencora, and who were in some distant way connected with them both. A great attempt was made to induce the two Miss Pallisers to join the bevy, but they had frankly pleaded their age. “No woman should stand up as a bridesmaid,” said the strong-minded Iphy, “who doesn’t mean to get married if she can. Now I don’t mean to get married, and I won’t put myself among the young people.” Lady Glencora was therefore obliged to submit to do the work with only six. But she swore that they should be very smart. She was to give all the dresses, and Mr Palliser was to give a brooch and an armlet to each. “She is the only person in the world I want to pet, except yourself,” Lady Glencora had said to her husband, and he had answered by giving her carte blanche as regards expense.

All this was very terrible to Kate, who had not much feminine taste for finery. Of the dress she had heard — of the dress which was waiting at Matching to be made up after her arrival — though as yet she knew nothing of the trinkets. There are many girls who could submit themselves at a moment to the kindness of such a woman as Lady Glencora. Perhaps most girls would do so, for of all such women in the world, Lady Glencora was the least inclined to patronise or to be condescending in her kindnesses. But Kate Vavasor was one to whom such submission would not come easily.

“I wish I was out of this boat,” she said to Alice in the train.

“So that I might be shipwrecked alone!”

“No; there can be no shipwreck to you. When the day of action comes you will be taken away, up to heaven, upon the clouds. But what am I to do with all these Lady Janes and Lady Marys? Or what are they to do with me?”

“You’ll find that Glencora will not desert you. You can’t conceive what taste she has.”

“I’d sooner be bridesmaid to Charlie Fairstairs. I would indeed. My place in the world is not among Cabinet Ministers and old countesses.”

“Nor mine.”

“Yes; it seems that yours is to be there. They are your cousins, and you have made at any rate one great friend among them, one who is to be the biggest of them all.”

“And you are going to throw me over, Kate?”

“To tell the truth, Alice, I sometimes think you had better throw me over. I know it would be sad — sad for both, but perhaps it would be better. I have done you much harm and no good; and now where I am going I shall disgrace you.” She talked even of getting out at some station and returning, and would have done so had not Alice made it impossible. As it was, the evening found her and Alice together entering the park-gate at Matching, in Lady Glencora’s carriage. Lady Glencora had sent a note to the station. “She could not come herself,” she said, “because Mr Palliser was a little fussy. You’ll understand, dear, but don’t say a word.” Alice didn’t say a word, having been very anxious not to lower Mr Palliser in her cousin’s respect.

None of the Lady Janes and Lady Marys were at Matching when they arrived. Indeed, there was no guest there but Mr Grey, for which Kate felt herself to be extremely grateful. Mr Grey came into the hall, standing behind Mr Palliser, who stood behind his wife. Alice passed by them both, and was at once in her lover’s arms. “Then I must introduce myself,” said Lady Glencora to Kate, “and my husband also.” This she did, and no woman in England could have excelled her in the manner of doing it. “I have heard so much about you,” said she, still keeping Kate’s hand, “and I know how good you’ve been — and how wicked you have been,” she added in a whisper. Then Mr Grey was brought up to her, and they were introduced. It was not till some days had passed over them that she felt herself at all at her ease with Mr Grey, and I doubt whether she ever reached that point with Mr Palliser; but Lady Glencora she knew, and liked, and almost loved, from the first moment of their meeting.

“Have you heard the news?” said Lady Glencora to Alice, the first minute that they were alone. Alice, of course, had not heard the news. “Mr Bott is going to marry Mrs Marsham. There is such a row about it. Plantagenet is nearly mad. I never knew him so disgusted in my life. Of course I don’t dare to tell him so, but I am so heartily rejoiced. You know how I love them both, and I could not possibly wish any better reward for either.” Alice, who had personally known more of Mr Bott than of Mrs Marsham, said that she couldn’t but be sorry for the lady. “She’s old enough to be his mother,” said Lady Glencora, “otherwise I really don’t know any people better suited to each other. The best is, that Mr Bott is doing it to regain his footing with Mr Palliser! I am sure of that — and Plantagenet will never speak to him again. But, Alice, there is other news.”

“What other news?”

“It is hardly news yet, and of course I am very wicked to tell you. But I feel sure Mr Grey knows all about it, and if I didn’t tell, he would.”

“He hasn’t told me anything yet.”

“He hasn’t had time; and when he does, you mustn’t pretend to know. I believe Mr Palliser will certainly be Chancellor of the Exchequer before next month, and, if so, he’ll never come in for Silverbridge again.”

“But he’ll be in Parliament; will he not?”

“Oh, yes; he’ll be in Parliament. I don’t understand all about it. There is a man going out for the county — for Barsetshire — some man whom the Duke used to favour, and he wants Plantagenet to come in for that. I can’t understand what difference it makes.”

“But he will be in the Cabinet?”

“Oh, yes. But who do you suppose is to be the new Member for Silverbridge?”

“I can’t guess,” said Alice. Though, of course, she did guess.

“Mind, I don’t know it. He has never told me. But he told me that he had been with the Duke, and asked the Duke to let Jeffrey have the seat. The Duke became as black as thunder, and said that Jeffrey had no fortune. In short, he wouldn’t hear of it. Poor Jeffrey! we must try to do something for him, but I really don’t know how. Then the Duke said that Plantagenet should put in for Silverbridge some friend who would support himself; and I fancy — mind it’s only fancy — but I fancy that Plantagenet mentioned to his Grace — one Mr Grey.”

“Oh, Glencora!”

“They’ve been talking together till sometimes I think Mr Grey is worse than Plantagenet. When Mr Grey began to say something the other night in the drawing-room about sugar, I knew it was all up with you. He’ll be a financial Secretary; you see if he isn’t; or a lord of something, or an under-somebody of State; and then some day he’ll go mad, either because he does or because he doesn’t get into the Cabinet.” Lady Glencora, as she said all this, knew well that the news she was giving would please her cousin better than any other tidings that could be told.

By degrees the guests came. The two Miss Howards were the first, and they expressed themselves as delighted with Lady Glencora’s taste and with Mr Palliser’s munificence — for at that time the brooches and armlets had been produced. Kate had said very little about these matters, but the Miss Howards were loud in their thanks. But they were good-humoured, merry girls, and the house was pleasanter after their arrival than it had been before. Then came the dreaded personage — the guest — Lady Midlothian! On the subject of Lady Midlothian Kate had really become curious. She had a real desire to see the face and gait of the woman, and to hear her voice. Lady Midlothian came, and with her came Lady Jane and Lady Mary. I am by no means sure that Lady Jane and Lady Mary were not nearly as old as the two Miss Pallisers; but they were not probably so fully resolved as to the condition of their future modes of living as were those two ladies, and if so, they were not wrong to shine as bridesmaids. With them Alice had made some slight acquaintance during the last spring in London, and as they were now to attend upon her as the bride they were sufficiently gracious. To Kate, too, they were civil enough, and things, in public, went on very pleasantly at Matching.

A scene there was, of course, between Alice and Lady Midlothian — a scene in private. “You must go through it,” Lady Glencora had said, with jocose mournfulness; “and why should you not let her jump upon you a little? It can’t hurt you now.”

“But I don’t like people to jump upon me,” Alice said.

“And why are you to have everything just as you like it? You are so unreasonable. Think how I’ve been jumped on! Think what I have borne from them! If you knew the things she used to say to me, you would not be such a coward. I was sent down to her for a week, and had no power of helping myself. And the Marchioness used to be sent for to look at me, for she never talks. She used to look at me, and groan, and hold up her hands till I hated her the worst of the two. Think what they did to me, and yet they are my dear friends now. Why should you escape altogether?”

Alice could not escape altogether, and therefore was closeted with Lady Midlothian for the best part of an hour. “Did Lady Macleod read to you what I wrote?” the Countess asked,

“Yes — that is, she gave me the letter to read.”

“And I hope you understand me, Alice?”

“Oh, yes, I suppose so.”

“You suppose so, my dear! If you only suppose so I shall not be contented. I want you to appreciate my feelings towards you thoroughly. I want you to know that I am most anxious as to your future life, and that I am thoroughly satisfied with the step you are now taking.” The Countess paused, but Alice said nothing. Her tongue was itching to tell the old woman that she cared nothing for this expression of satisfaction; but she was aware that she had done much that was deserving of punishment, and resolved to take this as part of her penance. She was being jumped upon, and it was unpleasant; but, after all that had happened, it was only fitting that she should undergo much unpleasantness. “Thoroughly satisfied,” continued the Countess; “and now, I only wish to refer, in the slightest manner possible, to what took place between us when we were both of us under this roof last winter.”

“Why refer to it at all, Lady Midlothian?”

“Because I think it may do good, and because I cannot make you understand that I have thoroughly forgiven everything, unless I tell you that I have forgiven that also. On that occasion I had come all the way from Scotland on purpose to say a few words to you.”

“I am so sorry that you should have had the trouble.”

“I do not regret it, Alice. I never do regret doing anything which I believe to have been my duty. There is no knowing how far what I said then may have operated for good.” Alice thought that she knew very well, but she said nothing. “I must confess that what I then understood to be your obstinacy — and I must say also, if I tell the truth, your indifference to — to — to all prudential considerations whatever, not to talk of appearances and decorum, and I might say, anything like a high line of duty or moral conduct — shocked me very much. It did, indeed, my dear. Taking it altogether, I don’t know that I was ever more shocked in my life. The thing was so inscrutable!” Here Lady Midlothian held up one hand in a manner that was truly imposing; “so inscrutable! But that is all over now. What was personally offensive to myself I could easily forgive, and I do forgive it. I shall never think of it any more.” Here Lady Midlothian put up both her hands gently, as though wafting the injury away into the air. “But what I wish specially to say to you is this; your own conduct is forgiven also!” Here she paused again, and Alice winced. Who was this dreadful old Countess — what was the Countess to her, that she should be thus tormented with the old woman’s forgiveness? John Grey had forgiven her, and of external forgiveness that was enough. She had not forgiven herself — would never forgive herself altogether; and the pardon of no old woman in England could assist her in doing so. She had sinned, but she had not sinned against Lady Midlothian. “Let her jump upon you, and have done with it,” Lady Glencora had said. She had resolved that it should be so, but it was very hard to keep her resolution.

“The Marchioness and I have talked it over,” continued Lady Midlothian, “and she has asked me to speak for both her and myself.” There is comfort at any rate in that, thought Alice, who had never yet seen the Marchioness. “We have resolved that all those little mistakes should be as though they had never been committed. We shall both be most happy to receive you and your husband, who is, I must say, one of the most gentlemanlike looking men I ever saw. It seems that he and Mr Palliser are on most friendly — I may say, most confidential terms, and that must be quite a pleasure to you.”

“It’s a pleasure to him, which is more to the purpose,” said Alice.

“Exactly so. And now, my dear, everything is forgiven and shall be forgotten. Come and give me a kiss, and let me wish you joy.” Alice did as she was bidden, and accepted the kiss and the congratulations, and a little box of jewellery which Lady Midlothian produced from out of her pocket. “The diamonds are from the Marchioness, my dear, whose means, as you doubtless are aware, greatly exceed my own. The garnets are from me. I hope they may both be worn long and happily.”

I hardly know which was the worst, the lecture, the kiss, or the present. The latter she would have declined, had it been possible; but it was not possible. When she had agreed to be married at Matching she had not calculated the amount of punishment which would thereby be inflicted on her. But I think that, though she bore it impatiently, she was aware that she had deserved it. Although she fretted herself greatly under the infliction of Lady Midlothian, she acknowledged to herself even at the time, that she deserved all the lashes she received. She had made a fool of herself in her vain attempt to be greater and grander than other girls, and it was only fair that her folly should be in some sort punished before it was fully pardoned. John Grey punished it after one fashion; by declining to allude to it, or to think of it, or to take an account of it. And now Lady Midlothian had punished it after another fashion, and Alice went out of the Countess’s presence with sundry inward exclamations of “mea culpa,” and with many unseen beatings of the breast.

Two days before the ceremony came the Marchioness and her august daughter. Her Lady Jane was much more august than the other Lady Jane — very much more august indeed. She had very long flaxen hair, and very light blue eyes, which she did not move frequently, and she spoke very little — one may almost say not at all, and she never seemed to do anything. But she was very august, and was, as all the world knew, engaged to marry the Duke of Dumfriesshire, who, though twice her own age, was as yet childless, as soon as he should have completed his mourning for his first wife. Kate told her cousin that she did not at all know how she should ever stand up as one in a group with so august a person as this Lady Jane, and Alice herself felt that such an attendant would quite obliterate her. But Lady Jane and her mother were both harmless. The Marchioness never spoke to Kate and hardly spoke to Alice, and the Marchioness’s Lady Jane was quite as silent as her mother.

On the morning of this day — the day on which these very august people came — a telegram arrived at the Priory calling for Mr Palliser’s immediate presence in London. He came to Alice full of regret, and behaved himself very nicely. Alice now regarded him quite as a friend. “Of course I understand,” she said, “and I know that the business which takes you up to London pleases you.” “Well; yes — it does please me. I am glad — I don’t mind saying so to you. But it does not please me to think that I shall be away at your marriage. Pray make your father understand that it was absolutely unavoidable. But I shall see him, of course, when I come back. And I shall see you too before very long.”

“Shall you?”

“Oh yes.”

“And why so?”

“Because Mr Grey must be at Silverbridge for his election — But perhaps I ought not tell you his secrets.” Then he took her into the breakfast parlour and showed her his present. It was a service of Sèvres china — very precious and beautiful. “I got you these things because Grey likes china.”

“So do I like china,” said she, with her face brighter than he had ever yet seen it.

“I thought you would like them best,” said he. Alice looking up at him with her eyes full of tears told him that she did like them best; and then, as he wished her all happiness, and as he was stooping over her to kiss her, Lady Glencora came in.

“I beg pardon,” said she, “I was just one minute too soon; was I not?”

“She would have them sent here and unpacked,” said Mr Palliser, “though I told her it was foolish.”

“Of course I would,” said Lady Glencora. “Everything shall be unpacked and shown. It’s easy to get somebody to pack them again.”

Much of the wedding tribute had already been deposited with the china, and among other things there were the jewels that Lady Midlothian had brought,

“Upon my word, her ladyship’s diamonds are not to be sneezed at,” said Lady Glencora.

“I don’t care for diamonds,” said Alice.

Then Lady Glencora took up the Countess’s trinkets, and shook her head and turned up her nose. There was a wonderfully comic expression on her face as she did so,

“To me they are just as good as the others,” said Alice.

“To me they are not, then,” said Lady Glencora. “Diamonds are diamonds, and garnets are garnets; and I am not so romantic but what I know the difference.”

On the evening before the marriage Alice and Lady Glencora walked for the last time through the Priory ruins. It was now September, and the evenings were still long, so that the ladies could get out upon the lawn after dinner. Whether Lady Glencora would have been allowed to walk through the ruins so late as half past eight in the evening if her husband had been there may be doubtful, but her husband was away and she took this advantage of his absence.

“Do you remember that night we were here?” said Lady Glencora.

“When shall I forget it; or how is it possible that such a night should ever be forgotten?”

“No; I shall never forget it. Oh dear, what wonderful things have happened since that! Do you ever think of Jeffrey?”

“Yes — of course I think of him. I did like him so much. I hope I shall see him some day.”

“And he liked you too, young woman; and, what was more, young woman, I thought at one time that, perhaps, you were going to like him in earnest.”

“Not in that way, certainly.”

“You’ve done much better, of course; especially as poor Jeffrey’s chance of promotion doesn’t look so good now. If I have a boy, I wonder whether he’ll hate me?”

“Why should he hate you?”

“I can’t help it, you know, if he does. Only think what it is to Plantagenet. Have you seen the difference it makes in him already?”

“Of course it makes a difference — the greatest difference in the world.”

“And think what it will be to me, Alice. I used to lie in bed and wish myself dead, and make up my mind to drown myself — if I could only dare. I shan’t think any more of that poor fellow now.” Then she told Alice what had been done for Burgo; how his uncle had paid his bills once again, and had agreed to give him a small income. “Poor fellow!” said Lady Glencora, “it won’t do more than buy him gloves, you know.”

The marriage was magnificent, greatly to the dismay of Alice and to the discomfort of Mr Vavasor, who came down on the eve of the ceremony — arriving while his daughter and Lady Glencora were in the ruins. Mr Grey seemed to take it all very easily, and, as Lady Glencora said, played his part exactly as though he were in the habit of being married, at any rate, once a year. “Nothing on earth will ever put him out, so you need not try, my dear,” she said, as Alice stood with her a moment alone in the dressing-room upstairs before her departure.

“I know that,” said Alice, “and therefore I shall never try.”

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