Read CHAPTER V. of An Old Man's Love , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

“I suppose it was A dream.”

It seemed to her, as she sat there at the window, that she ought to tell Mrs Baggett what had occurred.  There had been that between them which, as she thought, made it incumbent on her to let Mrs Baggett know the result of her interview with Mr Whittlestaff.  So she went down-stairs, and found that invaluable old domestic interfering materially with the comfort of the two younger maidens.  She was determined to let them “know what was what,” as she expressed it.

“You oughtn’t to be angry with me, because I’ve done nothing,” said Jane the housemaid, sobbing.

“That’s just about it,” said Mrs Baggett.  “And why haven’t you done nothing?  Do you suppose you come here to do nothing?  Was it doing nothing when Eliza tied down them strawberries without putting in e’er a drop of brandy?  It drives me mortial mad to think what you young folks are coming to.”

“I ain’t a-going anywhere, Mrs Baggett, because of them strawberries being tied down which, if you untie them, as I always intended, will have the sperrits put on them as well now as ever.  And as for your going mad, Mrs Baggett, I hope it won’t be along of me.”

“Drat your imperence.”

“I ain’t imperence at all.  Here’s Miss Lawrie, and she shall say whether I’m imperence.”

“Mrs Baggett, I want to speak to you, if you’ll come into the other room,” said Mary.

“You are imperent, both of you.  I can’t say a word but I’m taken up that short that .  They’ve been and tied all the jam down, so that it’ll all go that mouldy that nobody can touch it.  And then, when I says a word, they turns upon me.”  Then Mrs Baggett walked out of the kitchen into her own small parlour, which opened upon the passage just opposite the kitchen door.  “They was a-going to be opened this very afternoon,” said Eliza, firing a parting shot after the departing enemy.

“Mrs Baggett, I’ve got to tell you,” Mary began.

“Well!”

“He came to me for an answer, as he said he would.”

“Well!”

“And I told him it should be as he would have it.”

“Of course you would.  I knew that.”

“You told me that it was your duty and mine to give him whatever he wanted.”

“I didn’t say nothing of the kind, Miss.”

“Oh, Mrs Baggett!”

“I didn’t.  I said, if he wanted your head, you was to let him take it.  But if he wanted mine, you wasn’t to give it to him.”

“He asked me to be his wife, and I said I would.”

“Then I may as well pack up and be off for Portsmouth.”

“No; not so.  I have obeyed you, and I think that in these matters you should obey him too.”

“I daresay; but at my age I ain’t so well able to obey.  I daresay as them girls knew all about it, or they wouldn’t have turned round upon me like that.  It’s just like the likes of them.  When is it to be, Miss Lawrie? ­because I won’t stop in the house after you be the missus of it.  That’s flat.  If you were to talk till you’re deaf and dumb, I wouldn’t do it.  Oh, it don’t matter what’s to become of me!  I know that.”

“But it will matter very much.”

“Not a ha’porth.”

“You ask him, Mrs Baggett.”

“He’s got his plaything.  That’s all he cares about.  I’ve been with him and his family almost from a baby, and have grown old a-serving him, and it don’t matter to him whether I goes into the hedges and ditches, or where I goes.  They say that service is no heritance, and they says true.  I’m to go to ­ But don’t mind me.  He won’t, and why should you?  Do you think you’ll ever do half as much for him as I’ve done?  He’s got his troubles before him now; ­that’s the worst of it.”

This was very bad.  Mrs Baggett had been loud in laying down for her the line of duty which she should follow, and she, to the best of her ability, had done as Mrs Baggett had told her.  It was the case that Mrs Baggett had prevailed with her, and now the woman turned against her!  Was it true that he had “his troubles before him,” because of her acceptance of his offer?  If so, might it not yet be mended?  Was it too late?  Of what comfort could she be to him, seeing that she had been unable to give him her heart?  Why should she interfere with the woman’s happiness?  In a spirit of true humility she endeavoured to think how she might endeavour to do the best.  Of one thing she was quite, quite sure, ­that all the longings of her very soul were fixed upon that other man.  He was away; ­perhaps he had forgotten her; perhaps he was married.  Not a word had been spoken to her on which she could found a fair hope.  But she had never been so certain of her love, ­of her love as a true, undoubted, and undoubtable fact ­of an unchangeable fact, ­as she was now.  And why should this poor old woman, with her many years of service, be disturbed?  She went again up to her bedroom, and sitting at her open window and looking out, saw him still pacing slowly up and down the long walk.  As she looked at him, he seemed to be older than before.  His hands were still clasped behind his back.  There was no look about him as that of a thriving lover.  Care seemed to be on his face, ­nay, even present, almost visibly, on his very shoulders.  She would go to him and plead for Mrs Baggett.

But in that case what should become of herself?  She was aware that she could no longer stay in his house as his adopted daughter.  But she could go forth, ­and starve if there was nothing better for her.  But as she thought of starvation, she stamped with one foot against the other, as though to punish herself for her own falsehood.  He would not let her starve.  He would get some place for her as a governess.  And she was not in the least afraid of starvation.  It would be sweeter for her to work with any kind of hardship around her, and to be allowed to think of John Gordon with her heart free, than to become the comfortable mistress of his house.  She would not admit the plea of starvation even to herself.  She wanted to be free of him, and she would tell him so, and would tell him also of the ruin he was about to bring on his old servant.

She watched him as he came back into the house, and then she rose from her chair.  “But I shall never see him again,” she said, as she paused before she left the room.

But what did that matter?  Her not seeing him again ought to make, should make, no difference with her.  It was not that she might see him, but that she might think of him with unsullied thoughts.  That should be her object, ­that and the duty that she owed to Mrs Baggett.  Why was not Mrs Baggett entitled to as much consideration as was she herself, ­or even he?  She turned to the glass, and wiped her eyes with the sponge, and brushed her hair, and then she went across the passage to Mr Whittlestaff’s library.

She knocked at the door, ­which she had not been accustomed to do, ­and then at his bidding entered the room.  “Oh, Mary,” he said laughing, “is that the way you begin, by knocking at the door?”

“I think one knocks when one wants a moment of reprieve.”

“You mean to say that you are bashful in assuming your new privileges.  Then you had better go back to your old habits, because you always used to come where I was.  You must come and go now like my very second self.”  Then he came forward from the desk at which he was wont to stand and write, and essayed to put his arm round her waist.  She drew back, but still he was not startled.  “It was but a cold kiss I gave you down below.  You must kiss me now, you, as a wife kisses her husband.”

“Never.”

“What!” Now he was startled.

“Mr Whittlestaff, pray ­pray do not be angry with me.”

“What is the meaning of it?”

Then she bethought herself, ­how she might best explain the meaning.  It was hard upon her, this having to explain it, and she told herself, very foolishly, that it would be better for her to begin with the story of Mrs Baggett.  She could more easily speak of Mrs Baggett than of John Gordon.  But it must be remembered, on her behalf, that she had but a second to think how she might best begin her story.  “I have spoken to Mrs Baggett about your wishes.”

“Well!”

“She has lived with you and your family from before you were born.”

“She is an old fool.  Who is going to hurt her?  And if it did hurt her, are you and I to be put out of our course because of her?  She can remain here as long as she obeys you as her mistress.”

“She says that after so many years she cannot do that.”

“She shall leave the house this very night, if she disturbs your happiness and mine.  What! is an old woman like that to tell her master when he may and when he may not marry?  I did not think you had been so soft.”

She could not explain it all to him, ­all that she thought upon the subject.  She could not say that the interference of any domestic between such a one as John Gordon and his love, ­between him and her if she were happy enough to be his love, ­would be an absurdity too foolish to be considered.  They, that happy two, would be following the bent of human nature, and would speak no more than a soft word to the old woman, if a soft word might avail anything.  Their love, their happy love, would be a thing too sacred to admit of any question from any servant, almost from any parent.  But why, in this matter, was not Mrs Baggett’s happiness to be of as much consequence as Mr Whittlestaff’s; ­especially when her own peace of mind lay in the same direction as Mrs Baggett’s?  “She says that you are only laying up trouble for yourself in this, and I think that it is true.”

Then he rose up in his wrath and spoke his mind freely, and showed her at once that John Gordon had not dwelt much on his mind.  He had bade her not to speak of him, and then he had been contented to look upon him as one whom he would not be compelled to trouble himself with any further.  “I think, Mary, that you are making too little of me, and of yourself, to talk to me, or even to consider, in such a matter, what a servant says to you.  As you have given me your affection, you should now allow nothing that any one can say to you to make you even think of changing your purpose.”  How grossly must he be mistaken, when he could imagine that she had given him her heart!  Had she not expressly told him that her love had been set upon another person?  “To me you are everything.  I have been thinking as I walked up and down the path there, of all that I could do to make you happy.  And I was so happy myself in feeling that I had your happiness to look after.  How should I not let the wind blow too coldly on you?  How should I be watchful to see that nothing should ruffle your spirits?  What duties, what pleasures, what society should I provide for you?  How should I change my habits, so as to make my advanced years fit for your younger life?  And I was teaching myself to hope that I was not yet too old to make this altogether impossible.  Then you come to me, and tell me that you must destroy all my dreams, dash all my hopes to the ground, ­because an old woman has shown her temper and her jealousy!”

This was true, ­according to the light in which he saw her position.  Had there been nothing between them two but a mutual desire to be married, the reason given by her for changing it all would be absurd.  As he had continued to speak, slowly adding on one argument to another, with a certain amount of true eloquence, she felt that unless she could go back to John Gordon she must yield.  But it was very hard for her to go back to John Gordon.  In the first place, she must acknowledge, in doing so, that she had only put forward Mrs Baggett as a false plea.  And then she must insist on her love for a man who had never spoken to her of love!  It was so hard that she could not do it openly.  “I had thought so little of the value I could be to you.”

“Your value to me is infinite.  I think, Mary, that there has come upon you a certain melancholy which is depressing you.  Your regard to me is worth now more than any other possession or gift that the world can bestow.  And I had taken pride to myself in saying that it had been given.”  Yes; ­her regard!  She could not contradict him as to that.  “And have you thought of your own position?  After all that has passed between us, you can hardly go on living here as you have done.”

“I know that.”

“Then, what would become of you if you were to break away from me?”

“I thought you would get a place for me as a governess, ­or a companion to some lady.”

“Would that satisfy your ambition?  I have got a place for you; ­but it is here.”  As he spoke, he laid his hand upon his heart.  “Not as a companion to a lady are you required to fulfil your duties here on earth.  It is a fuller task of work that you must do.  I trust, ­I trust that it may not be more tedious.”  She looked at him again, and he did not now appear so old.  There was a power of speech about the man, and a dignity which made her feel that she could in truth have loved him, ­had it not been for John Gordon.  “Unfortunately, I am older than you, ­very much older.  But to you there may be this advantage, that you can listen to what I may say with something of confidence in my knowledge of the world.  As my wife, you will fill a position more honourable, and more suitable to your gifts, than could belong to you as a governess or a companion.  You will have much more to do, and will be able to go nightly to your rest with a consciousness that you have done more as the mistress of our house than you could have done in that tamer capacity.  You will have cares, ­and even those will ennoble the world to you, and you to the world.  That other life is a poor shrunken death, ­rather than life.  It is a way of passing her days, which must fall to the lot of many a female who does not achieve the other; and it is well that they to whom it falls should be able to accommodate themselves to it with contentment and self-respect.  I think that I may say of myself that, even as my wife, you will stand higher than you would do as a companion.”

“I am sure of it.”

“Not on that account should you accept any man that you cannot love.”  Had she not told him that she did not love him; ­even that she loved another?  And yet he spoke to her in this way!  “You had better tell Mrs Baggett to come to me.”

“There is the memory of that other man,” she murmured very gently.

Then the scowl came back upon his face; ­or not a scowl, but a look rather of cold displeasure.  “If I understand you rightly, the gentleman never addressed you as a lover.”

“Never!”

“I see it all, Mary.  Mrs Baggett has been violent and selfish, and has made you think thoughts which should not have been put in your head to disturb you.  You have dreamed a dream in your early life, ­as girls do dream, I suppose, ­and it has now to be forgotten.  Is it not so?”

“I suppose it was a dream.”

“He has passed away, and he has left you to become the happiness of my life.  Send Mrs Baggett to me, and I will speak to her.”  Then he came up to her, ­for they had been standing about a yard apart, ­and pressed his lips to hers.  How was it possible that she should prevent him?

She turned round, and slowly left the room, feeling, as she did so, that she was again engaged to him for ever and ever.  She hated herself because she had been so fickle.  But how could she have done otherwise?  She asked herself, as she went back to her room, at what period during the interview, which was now over, she could have declared to him the real state of her mind.  He had, as it were, taken complete possession of her, by right of the deed of gift which she had made of herself that morning.  She had endeavoured to resume the gift, but had altogether failed.  She declared to herself that she was weak, impotent, purposeless; but she admitted, on the other hand, that he had displayed more of power than she had ever guessed at his possessing.  A woman always loves this display of power in a man, and she felt that she could have loved him had it not been for John Gordon.

But there was one comfort for her.  None knew of her weakness.  Her mind had vacillated like a shuttlecock, but no one had seen the vacillation.  She was in his hands, and she must simply do as he bade her.  Then she went down to Mrs Baggett’s room, and told the old lady to go up-stairs at her master’s behest.  “I’m a-going,” said Mrs Baggett.  “I’m a-going.  I hope he’ll find every one else as good at doing what he tells ’em.  But I ain’t a-going to be a-doing for him or for any one much longer.”