Read CHAPTER LIV of Orley Farm , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

TELLING ALL THAT HAPPENED BENEATH THE LAMP-POST

When Felix Graham left Noningsby and made his way up to London, he came at least to one resolution which he intended to be an abiding one.  That idea of a marriage with a moulded wife should at any rate be abandoned.  Whether it might be his great destiny to be the husband of Madeline Staveley, or whether he might fail in achieving this purpose, he declared to himself that it would be impossible that he should ever now become the husband of Mary Snow.  And the ease with which his conscience settled itself on this matter as soon as he had received from the judge that gleam of hope astonished even himself.  He immediately declared to himself that he could not marry Mary Snow without perjury!  How could he stand with her before the altar and swear that he would love her, seeing that he did not love her at all, ­seeing that he altogether loved some one else?  He acknowledged that he had made an ass of himself in this affair of Mary Snow.  This moulding of a wife had failed with him, he said, as it always must fail with every man.  But he would not carry his folly further.  He would go to Mary Snow, tell her the truth, and then bear whatever injury her angry father might be able to inflict on him.  Independently of that angry father he would of course do for Mary Snow all that his circumstances would admit.

Perhaps the gentleman of a poetic turn of mind whom Mary had consented to meet beneath the lamp-post might assist him in his views; but whether this might be so or not, he would not throw that meeting ungenerously in her teeth.  He would not have allowed that offence to turn him from his proposed marriage had there been nothing else to turn him, and therefore he would not plead that offence as the excuse for his broken troth.  That the breaking of that troth would not deeply wound poor Mary’s heart ­so much he did permit himself to believe on the evidence of that lamp-post.

He had written to Mrs. Thomas telling her when he would be at Peckham, but in his letter he had not said a word as to those terrible tidings which she had communicated to him.  He had written also to Mary, assuring her that he accused her of no injury against him, and almost promising her forgiveness; but this letter Mary had not shown to Mrs. Thomas.  In these days Mary’s anger against Mrs. Thomas was very strong.  That Mrs. Thomas should have used all her vigilance to detect such goings on as those of the lamp-post was only natural.  What woman in Mrs. Thomas’s position, ­or in any other position, ­would not have done so?  Mary Snow knew that had she herself been the duenna she would have left no corner of a box unturned but she would have found those letters.  And having found them she would have used her power over the poor girl.  She knew that.  But she would not have betrayed her to the man.  Truth between woman and woman should have prevented that.  Were not the stockings which she had darned for Mrs. Thomas legion in number?  Had she not consented to eat the veriest scraps of food in order that those three brats might be fed into sleekness to satisfy their mother’s eyes?  Had she not reported well of Mrs. Thomas to her lord, though that house of Peckham was nauseous to her?  Had she ever told to Mr. Graham any one of those little tricks which were carried on to allure him into a belief that things at Peckham were prosperous?  Had she ever exposed the borrowing of those teacups when he came, and the fact that those knobs of white sugar were kept expressly on his behoof?  No; she would have scorned to betray any woman; and that woman whom she had not betrayed should have shown the same feeling towards her.  Therefore there was enmity at Peckham, and the stockings of those infants lay unmended in the basket.

“Mary, I have done it all for the best,” said Mrs. Thomas, driven to defend herself by the obdurate silence of her pupil.

“No, Mrs. Thomas, you didn’t.  You did it for the worst,” said Mary.  And then there was again silence between them.

It was on the morning following this that Felix Graham was driven to the door in a cab.  He still carried his arm in a sling, and was obliged to be somewhat slow in his movements, but otherwise he was again well.  His accident however was so far a godsend to both the women at Peckham that it gave them a subject on which they were called upon to speak, before that other subject was introduced.  Mary was very tender in her inquiries, ­but tender in a bashful retiring way.  To look at her one would have said that she was afraid to touch the wounded man lest he should be again broken.

“Oh, I’m all right,” said he, trying to assume a look of good-humour.  “I sha’n’t go hunting again in a hurry; you may be sure of that.”

“We have all great reason to be thankful that Providence interposed to save you,” said Mrs. Thomas, in her most serious tone.  Had Providence interposed to break Mrs. Thomas’s collar-bone, or at least to do her some serious outward injury, what a comfort it would be, thought Mary Snow.

“Have you seen your father lately?” asked Graham.

“Not since I wrote to you about the money that he ­borrowed,” said Mary.

“I told her that she should not have given it to him,” said Mrs. Thomas.

“She was quite right,” said Graham.  “Who could refuse assistance to a father in distress?” Whereupon Mary put her handkerchief up to her eyes and began to cry.

“That’s true of course,” said Mrs. Thomas; “but it would never do that he should be a drain in that way.  He should feel that if he had any feeling.”

“So he has,” said Mary.  “And you are driven close enough yourself sometimes, Mrs. Thomas.  There’s days when you’d like to borrow nineteen and sixpence if anybody would lend it you.”

“Very well,” said Mrs. Thomas, crossing her hands over each other in her lap and assuming a look of resignation; “I suppose all this will be changed now.  I have endeavoured to do my duty, and very hard it has been.”

Felix felt that the sooner he rushed into the middle of the subject which brought him there, the better it would be for all parties.  That the two ladies were not very happy together was evident, and then he made a little comparison between Madeline and Mary.  Was it really the case that for the last three years he had contemplated making that poor child his wife?  Would it not be better for him to tie a millstone round his neck and cast himself into the sea?  That was now his thought respecting Mary Snow.

“Mrs. Thomas,” he said, “I should like to speak to Mary alone for a few minutes if you could allow it.”

“Oh certainly; by all means.  It will be quite proper.”  And gathering up a bundle of the unfortunate stockings she took herself out of the room.

Mary, as soon as Graham had spoken, became almost pale, and sat perfectly still with her eyes fixed on her betrothed husband.  While Mrs. Thomas was there she was prepared for war and her spirit was hot within her, but all that heat fled in a moment when she found herself alone with the man to whom it belonged to speak her doom.  He had almost said that he would forgive her, but yet she had a feeling that that had been done which could not altogether be forgiven.  If he asked her whether she loved the hero of the lamp-post what would she say?  Had he asked her whether she loved him, Felix Graham, she would have sworn that she did, and have thought that she was swearing truly; but in answer to that other question if it were asked, she felt that her answer must be false.  She had no idea of giving up Felix of her own accord, if he were still willing to take her.  She did not even wish that he would not take her.  It had been the lesson of her life that she was to be his wife, and, by becoming so, provide for herself and for her wretched father.  Nevertheless a dream of something different from that had come across her young heart, and the dream had been so pleasant!  How painfully, but yet with what a rapture, had her heart palpitated as she stood for those ten wicked minutes beneath the lamp-post!

“Mary,” said Felix, as soon as they were alone, ­and as he spoke he came up to her and took her hand, “I trust that I may never be the cause to you of any unhappiness; ­that I may never be the means of making you sad.”

“Oh, Mr. Graham, I am sure that you never will.  It is I that have been bad to you.”

“No, Mary, I do not think you have been bad at all.  I should have been sorry that that had happened, and that I should not have known it.”

“I suppose she was right to tell, only ­” In truth Mary did not at all understand what might be the nature of Graham’s thoughts and feelings on such a subject.  She had a strong woman’s idea that the man whom she ought to love would not be gratified by her meeting another man at a private assignation, especially when that other man had written to her a love-letter; but she did not at all know how far such a sin might be regarded as pardonable according to the rules of the world recognised on such subjects.  At first, when the letters were discovered and the copies of them sent off to Noningsby, she thought that all was over.  According to her ideas, as existing at that moment, the crime was conceived to be one admitting of no pardon; and in the hours spent under that conviction all her consolation came from the feeling that there was still one who regarded her as an angel of light.  But then she had received Graham’s letter, and as she began to understand that pardon was possible, that other consolation waxed feeble and dim.  If Felix Graham chose to take her, of course she was there for him to take.  It never for a moment occurred to her that she could rebel against such taking, even though she did shine as an angel of light to one dear pair of eyes.

“I suppose she was right to tell you, only ­”

“Do not think, Mary, that I am going to scold you, or even that I am angry with you.”

“Oh, but I know you must be angry.”

“Indeed I am not.  If I pledge myself to tell you the truth in everything, will you be equally frank with me?”

“Yes,” said Mary.  But it was much easier for Felix to tell the truth than for Mary to be frank.  I believe that schoolmasters often tell fibs to schoolboys, although it would be so easy for them to tell the truth.  But how difficult it is for the schoolboy always to tell the truth to his master!  Mary Snow was now as a schoolboy before her tutor, and it may almost be said that the telling of the truth was to her impossible.  But of course she made the promise.  Who ever said that she would not tell the truth when so asked?

“Have you ever thought, Mary, that you and I would not make each other happy if we were married?”

“No; I have never thought that,” said Mary innocently.  She meant to say exactly that which she thought Graham would wish her to say, but she was slow in following his lead.

“It has never occurred to you that though we might love each other very warmly as friends ­and so I am sure we always shall ­yet we might not suit each other in all respects as man and wife?”

“I mean to do the very best I can; that is, if ­if ­if you are not too much offended with me now.”

“But, Mary, it should not be a question of doing the best you can.  Between man and wife there should be no need of such effort.  It should be a labour of love.”

“So it will; ­and I’m sure I’ll labour as hard as I can.”

Felix began to perceive that the line he had taken would not answer the required purpose, and that he must be somewhat more abrupt with her, ­perhaps a little less delicate, in coming to the desired point.  “Mary,” he said, “what is the name of that gentleman whom ­whom you met out of doors you know?”

“Albert Fitzallen,” said Mary, hesitating very much as she pronounced the name, but nevertheless rather proud of the sound.

“And you are ­fond of him?” asked Graham.

Poor girl!  What was she to say?  “No; I’m not very fond of him.”

“Are you not?  Then why did you consent to that secret meeting?”

“Oh, Mr. Graham ­I didn’t mean it; indeed I didn’t.  And I didn’t tell him to write to me, nor yet to come looking after me.  Upon my word I didn’t.  But then I thought when he sent me that letter that he didn’t know; ­about you I mean; and so I thought I’d better tell him; and that’s why I went.  Indeed that was the reason.”

“Mrs. Thomas could have told him that.”

“But I don’t like Mrs. Thomas, and I wouldn’t for worlds that she should have had anything to do with it.  I think Mrs. Thomas has behaved very bad to me; so I do.  And you don’t half know her; ­that you don’t.”

“I will ask you one more question, Mary, and before answering it I want to make you believe that my only object in asking it is to ascertain how I may make you happy.  When you did meet Mr. ­this gentleman ­”

“Albert Fitzallen.”

“When you did meet Mr. Fitzallen, did you tell him nothing else except that you were engaged to me?  Did you say nothing to him as to your feelings towards himself?”

“I told him it was very wrong of him to write me that letter.”

“And what more did you tell him?”

“Oh, Mr. Graham, I won’t see him any more; indeed I won’t.  I give you my most solemn promise.  Indeed I won’t.  And I will never write a line to him, ­or look at him.  And if he sends anything I’ll send it to you.  Indeed I will.  There was never anything of the kind before; upon my word there wasn’t.  I did let him take my hand, but I didn’t know how to help it when I was there.  And he kissed me ­only once.  There; I’ve told it all now, as though you were looking at me.  And I ain’t a bad girl, whatever she may say of me.  Indeed I ain’t.”  And then poor Mary Snow burst out into an agony of tears.

Felix began to perceive that he had been too hard upon her.  He had wished that the first overtures of a separation should come from her, and in wishing this he had been unreasonable.  He walked for a while about the room, and then going up to her he stood close by her and took her hand.  “Mary,” he said, “I’m sure you’re not a bad girl.”

“No;” she said, “no, I ain’t;” still sobbing convulsively.  “I didn’t mean anything wrong, and I couldn’t help it.”

“I am sure you did not, and nobody has said you did.”

“Yes, they have.  She has said so.  She said that I was a bad girl.  She told me so, up to my face.”

“She was very wrong if she said so.”

“She did then, and I couldn’t bear it.”

“I have not said so, and I don’t think so.  Indeed in all this matter I believe that I have been more to blame than you.”

“No; ­I know I was wrong.  I know I shouldn’t have gone to see him.”

“I won’t even say as much as that, Mary.  What you should have done; ­only the task would have been too hard for any young girl ­was to have told me openly that you ­liked this young gentleman.”

“But I don’t want ever to see him again.”

“Look here, Mary,” he said.  But now he had dropped her hand and taken a chair opposite to her.  He had begun to find that the task which he had proposed to himself was not so easy even for him.  “Look here, Mary.  I take it that you do like this young gentleman.  Don’t answer me till I have finished what I am going to say.  I suppose you do like him, ­and if so it would be very wicked in you to marry me.”

“Oh, Mr. Graham ­”

“Wait a moment, Mary.  But there is nothing wicked in your liking him.”  It may be presumed that Mr. Graham would hold such an opinion as this, seeing that he had allowed himself the same latitude of liking.  “It was perhaps only natural that you should learn to do so.  You have been taught to regard me rather as a master than as a lover.”

“Oh, Mr. Graham, I’m sure I’ve loved you.  I have indeed.  And I will.  I won’t even think of Al ­”

“But I want you to think of him, ­that is if he be worth thinking of.”

“He’s a very good young man, and always lives with his mother.”

“It shall be my business to find out that.  And now Mary, tell me truly.  If he be a good young man, and if he loves you well enough to marry you, would you not be happier as his wife than you would as mine?”

There!  The question that he wished to ask her had got itself asked at last.  But if the asking had been difficult, how much more difficult must have been the answer!  He had been thinking over all this for the last fortnight, and had hardly known how to come to a resolution.  Now he put the matter before her without a moment’s notice and expected an instant decision.  “Speak the truth, Mary; ­what you think about it; ­without minding what anybody may say of you.”  But Mary could not say anything, so she again burst into tears.

“Surely you know the state of your own heart, Mary?”

“I don’t know,” she answered.

“My only object is to secure your happiness; ­the happiness of both of us, that is.”

“I’ll do anything you please,” said Mary.

“Well then, I’ll tell you what I think.  I fear that a marriage between us would not make either of us contented with our lives.  I’m too old and too grave for you.”  Yet Mary Snow was not younger than Madeline Staveley.  “You have been told to love me; and you think that you do love me because you wish to do what you think to be your duty.  But I believe that people can never really love each other merely because they are told to do so.  Of course I cannot say what sort of a young man Mr. Fitzallen may be; but if I find that he is fit to take care of you, and that he has means to support you, ­with such little help as I can give, ­I shall be very happy to promote such an arrangement.”

Everybody will of course say that Felix Graham was base in not telling her that all this arose, not from her love affair with Albert Fitzallen, but from his own love affair with Madeline Staveley.  But I am inclined to think that everybody will be wrong.  Had he told her openly that he did not care for her, but did care for some one else, he would have left her no alternative.  As it was, he did not mean that she should have any alternative.  But he probably consulted her feelings best in allowing her to think that she had a choice.  And then, though he owed much to her, he owed nothing to her father; and had he openly declared his intention of breaking off the match because he had attached himself to some one else, he would have put himself terribly into her father’s power.  He was willing to submit to such pecuniary burden in the matter as his conscience told him that he ought to bear; but Mr. Snow’s ideas on the subject of recompense night be extravagant; and therefore, ­as regarded Snow the father, ­he thought that he might make some slight and delicate use of the meeting under the lamp-post.  In doing so he would be very careful to guard Mary from her father’s anger.  Indeed Mary would be surrendered, out of his own care, not to that of her father, but to the fostering love of the gentleman in the medical line of life.

“I’ll do anything that you please,” said Mary, upon whose mind and heart all these changes had come with a suddenness which prevented her from thinking, ­much less speaking her thoughts.

“Perhaps you had better mention it to Mrs. Thomas.”

“Oh, Mr. Graham, I’d rather not talk to her.  I don’t love her a bit.”

“Well, I will not press it on you if you do not wish it.  And have I your permission to speak to Mr. Fitzallen; ­and if he approves to speak to his mother?”

“I’ll do anything you think best, Mr. Graham,” said poor Mary.  She was poor Mary; for though she had consented to meet a lover beneath the lamp-post, she had not been without ambition, and had looked forward to the glory of being wife to such a man as Felix Graham.  She did not however, for one moment, entertain any idea of resistance to his will.

And then Felix left her, having of course an interview with Mrs. Thomas before he quitted the house.  To her, however, he said nothing.  “When anything is settled, Mrs. Thomas, I will let you know.”  The words were so lacking in confidence that Mrs. Thomas when she heard them knew that the verdict had gone against her.

Felix for many months had been accustomed to take leave of Mary Snow with a kiss.  But on this day he omitted to kiss her, and then Mary knew that it was all over with her ambition.  But love still remained to her.  “There is some one else who will be proud to kiss me,” she said to herself, as she stood alone in the room when he closed the door behind him.