Read CHAPTER III. of Ralph the Heir , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

What happened on the lawn at Popham villa.

Sir Thomas started for Southampton on a Friday, having understood that the steamer from St. Thomas would reach the harbour on Saturday morning.  He would then immediately bring Mary Bonner up to London and down to Fulham; ­and there certainly had come to be a tacit understanding that he would stay at home on the following Sunday.  On the Friday evening the girls were alone at the villa; but there was nothing in this, as it was the life to which they were accustomed.  They habitually dined at two, calling the meal lunch, ­then had a five or six o’clock tea, ­and omitted altogether the ceremony of dinner.  They had local acquaintances, with whom occasionally they would spend their evenings; and now and then an old maid or two, ­now and then also a young maid or two would drop in on them.  But it was their habit to be alone.  During these days of which we are speaking Clarissa would take her “Faery Queen,” and would work hard perhaps for half an hour.  Then the “Faery Queen” would be changed for a novel, and she would look up from her book to see whether Patience had turned upon her any glance of reprobation.  Patience, in the meantime, would sit with unsullied conscience at her work.  And so the evenings would glide by; and in these soft summer days the girls would sit out upon the lawn, and would watch the boats of London watermen as they passed up and down below the bridge.  On this very evening, the last on which they were to be together before the arrival of their cousin, ­Patience came out upon the lawn with her hat and gloves.  “I am going across to Miss Spooner’s,” she said; “will you come?” But Clarissa was idle, and making some little joke, not very much to the honour of Miss Spooner, declared that she was hot and tired, and had a headache, and would stay at home.  “Don’t be long, Patty,” she said; “it is such a bore to be alone.”  Patience promised a speedy return, and, making her way to the gate, crossed the road to Miss Spooner’s abode.  She was hardly out of sight when the nose of a wager boat was driven up against the bank, and there was Ralph Newton, sitting in a blue Jersey shirt, with a straw hat and the perspiration running from his handsome brow.  Clarissa did not see him till he whistled to her, and then she started, and laughed, and ran down to the boat, and hardly remembered that she was quite alone till she had taken his hand.  “I don’t think I’ll come out, but you must get me some soda-water and brandy,” said Ralph.  “Where’s Patience?”

“Patience has gone out to see an old maid; and we haven’t got any brandy.”

“I am so hot,” said Ralph, carefully extricating himself from the boat.  “You have got sherry?”

“Yes, we’ve got sherry, and port wine, and Gladstone;” and away she went to get him such refreshment as the villa possessed.

He drank his sherry and soda-water, and lit his pipe, and lay there on the lawn, as though he were quite at home; and Clarissa ministered to him, ­unconscious of any evil.  He had been brought up with them on terms of such close intimacy that she was entitled to regard him as a brother, ­almost as a brother, ­if only she were able so to regard him.  It was her practice to call him Ralph, and her own name was as common to him as though she were in truth his sister.  “And what do you think of this new cousin?” he asked.

“I can think nothing as yet; ­but I mean to like her.”

“I mean to hate her furiously,” said Ralph.

“That is nonsense.  She will be nothing to you.  You needn’t even see her unless you please.  But, Ralph, do put your jacket on.  I’m sure you’ll catch cold.”  And she went down, and hooked his jacket for him out of the boat, and put it over his shoulders.  “I won’t have you throw it off,” she said; “if you come here you must do as you’re told.”

“You needn’t have knocked the pipe out of my mouth all the same.  What is she like, I wonder?”

“Very, ­very beautiful, I’m told.”

“A kind of tropical Venus, ­all eyes, and dark skin, and black hair, and strong passions, and apt to murder people; ­but at the same time so lazy that she is never to do anything either for herself or anybody else; ­wouldn’t fetch a fellow’s jacket for him, let him be catching cold ever so fast.”

“She wouldn’t fetch yours, I dare say.”

“And why shouldn’t she?”

“Because she doesn’t know you.”

“They soon get to know one, ­girls of that sort.  I’m told that in the West Indies you become as thick as thieves in half a morning’s flirtation, and are expected to propose at the second meeting.”

“That is not to be your way with our cousin, I can assure you.”

“But these proposals out there never mean much.  You may be engaged to half a dozen girls at the same time, and be sure that each of them will be engaged to half-a-dozen men.  There’s some comfort in that, you know.”

“Oh, Ralph!”

“That’s what they tell me.  I haven’t been there.  I shall come and look at her, you know.”

“Of course you will.”

“And if she is very lovely ­”

“What then?”

“I do like pretty girls, you know.”

“I don’t know anything about it.”

“I wonder what uncle Gregory would say if I were to marry a West Indian!  He wouldn’t say much to me, because we never speak, but he’d lead poor Greg a horrid life.  He’d be sure to think she was a nigger, or at least a Creole.  But I shan’t do that.”

“You might do worse, Ralph.”

“But I might do much better.”  As he said this, he looked up into her face, with all the power of his eyes, and poor Clarissa could only blush.  She knew what he meant, and knew that she was showing him that she was conscious.  She would have given much not to blush, and not to have been so manifestly conscious, but she had no power to control herself.  “I might do much better,” he said.  “Don’t you think so?”

As far as she could judge of her own feelings at this moment, in the absolute absence of any previous accurate thought on the subject, she fancied that a real, undoubted, undoubting, trustworthy engagement with Ralph Newton would make her the happiest girl in England.  She had never told herself that she was in love with him; she had never flattered herself that he was in love with her; ­she had never balanced the matter in her mind as a contingency likely to occur; but now, at this moment, as he lay there smoking his pipe and looking full into her blushing face, she did think that to have him for her own lover would be joy enough for her whole life.  She knew that he was idle, extravagant, fond of pleasure, and, ­unsteady, as she in her vocabulary would be disposed to describe the character which she believed to be his.  But in her heart of hearts she liked unsteadiness in men, if it were not carried too far.  Ralph’s brother, the parson, as to whom she was informed that he possessed every virtue incident to humanity, and who was quite as good-looking as his brother, had utterly failed to touch her heart.  A black coat and a white cravat were antipathetic to her.  Ralph, as he lay on the green sward, hot, with linen trousers and a coloured flannel shirt, with a small straw hat stuck on the edge of his head, with nothing round his throat, and his jacket over his shoulder, with a pipe in his mouth and an empty glass beside him, was to her, in externals, the beau-ideal of a young man.  And then, though he was unsteady, extravagant, and idle, his sins were not so deep as to exclude him from her father’s and her sister’s favour.  He was there, on the villa lawn, not as an interloper, but by implied permission.  Though she made for herself no argument on the matter, ­not having much time just now for arguing, ­she felt that it was her undoubted privilege to be made love to by Ralph Newton, if he and she pleased so to amuse themselves.  She had never been told not to be made love to by him.  Of course she would not engage herself without her father’s permission.  Of course she would tell Patience if Ralph should say anything very special to her.  But she had a right to be made love to if she liked it; ­and in this case she would like it.  But when Ralph looked at her, and asked her whether he might not do better than marry her West Indian cousin, she had not a word with which to answer him.  He smoked on for some seconds in silence still looking at her, while she stood over him blushing.  Then he spoke again.  “I think I might do a great deal better.”  But still she had not a word for him.

“Ah; ­I suppose I must be off,” he said, jumping up on his legs, and flinging his jacket over his arm.  “Patience will be in soon.”

“I expect her every minute.”

“If I were to say, ­something uncivil about Patience, I suppose you wouldn’t like it?”

“Certainly, I shouldn’t like it.”

“Only just to wish she were at, ­Jericho?”

“Nonsense, Ralph.”

“Yes; that would be nonsense.  And the chances are, you know, that you would be at Jericho with her.  Dear, dear Clary, ­you know I love you.”  Then he put his right arm round her waist, pipe and all, and kissed her.

She certainly had expected no such assault, ­had not only not thought of it, but had not known it to be among the possibilities that might occur to her.  She had never been so treated before.  One other lover she had had, ­as we know; but by him she had been treated with the deference due by an inferior to a superior being.  It would have been very nice if Ralph would have told her that he loved her, ­but this was not nice.  That had been done which she would not dare to tell to Patience, ­which she could not have endured that Patience should have seen.  She was bound to resent it; ­but how?  She stood silent for a moment, and then burst into tears.  “You are not angry with me, Clary?” he said.

“I am angry; ­very angry.  Go away.  I will never speak to you again.”

“You know how dearly I love you.”

“I don’t love you at all.  You have insulted me, and I will never forgive you.  Go away.”  At this moment the step of Patience coming up from the gate was heard upon the gravel.  Clarissa’s first thought when she heard it was to hide her tears.  Though the man had injured her, ­insulted her, ­her very last resource would be to complain to others of the injury or the insult.  It must be hidden in her own breast, ­but remembered always.  Forgotten it could not be, ­nor, as she thought at the moment, forgiven.  But, above all, it must not be repeated.  As to any show of anger against the sinner, that was impossible to her, ­because it was so necessary that the sin should be hidden.

“What; ­Ralph?  Have you been here long?” asked Patience, looking with somewhat suspicious eyes at Clarissa’s back, which was turned to her.

“About half an hour, ­waiting for you, and smoking and drinking soda-water.  I have a boat here, and I must be off now.”

“You’ll have the tide with you,” said Clarissa, with an effort.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,” said Ralph, with a forced laugh.  “My affairs shall at once take advantage of this tide.  I’ll come again very soon to see the new cousin.  Good-bye, girls.”  Then he inserted himself into his boat, and took himself off, without bestowing even anything of a special glance upon Clarissa.

“Is there anything the matter?” Patience asked.

“No; ­only why did you stay all the evening with that stupid old woman, when you promised me that you would be back in ten minutes?”

“I said nothing about ten minutes, Clary; and, after all, I haven’t been an hour gone.  Miss Spooner is in trouble about her tenant, who won’t pay the rent, and she had to tell me all about it.”

“Stupid old woman!”

“Have you and Ralph been quarrelling, Clary?”

“No; ­why should we quarrel?”

“There seems to have been something wrong.”

“It’s so stupid being found all alone here.  It makes one feel that one is so desolate.  I do wish papa would live with us like other girls’ fathers.  As he won’t, it would be much better not to let people come at all.”

Patience was sure that something had happened, ­and that that something must have reference to the guise of lover either assumed or not assumed by Ralph Newton.  She accused her sister of no hypocrisy, but she was aware that Clarissa’s words were wild, not expressing the girl’s thoughts, and spoken almost at random.  Something must be said, and therefore these complaints had been made.  “Clary, dear; don’t you like Ralph?” she asked.

“No.  That is; ­oh yes, I like him, of course.  My head aches and I’ll go to bed.”

“Wait a few minutes, Clary.  Something has disturbed you.  Has it not?”

“Everything disturbs me.”

“But if there is anything special, won’t you tell me?” There had been something very special, which Clarissa certainly would not tell.  “What has he said to you?  I don’t think he would be simply cross to you.”

“He has not been cross at all.”

“What is it then?  Well; ­if you won’t tell me, I think that you are afraid of me.  We never yet have been afraid of each other.”  Then there was a pause.  “Clary, has he said that, ­he loves you?” There was another pause.  Clarissa thought it all over, and for a moment was not quite certain whether any such sweet assurance had or had not been given to her.  Then she remembered his words; ­“You know how dearly I love you.”  But ought they to be sweet to her now?  Had he not so offended her that there could never be forgiveness?  And if no forgiveness, how then could his love be sweet to her?  Patience waited, and then repeated her question.  “Tell me, Clary; what has he said to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you love him, Clary?”

“No.  I hate him.”

“Hate him, Clary?  You did not use to hate him.  You did not hate him yesterday?  You would not hate him without a cause.  My darling, tell me what it means!  If you and I do not trust each other what will the world be to us?  There is no one else to whom we can tell our troubles.”  Nevertheless Clarissa would not tell this trouble.  “Why do you say that you hate him?”

“I don’t know why.  Oh, dear Patty, why do you go on so?  Yes; he did say that he loved me; ­there.”

“And did that make you unhappy?  It need not make you unhappy, though you should refuse him.  When his brother asked you to marry him, that did not make you unhappy.”

“Yes it did; ­very.”

“And is this the same?”

“No; ­it is quite different.”

“I am afraid, Clary, that Ralph Newton would not make a good husband.  He is extravagant and in debt, and papa would not like it.”

“Then papa should not let him come here just as he pleases and whenever he likes.  It is papa’s fault; ­that is to say it would be if there were anything in it.”

“Is there nothing in it, Clary?  What answer did you make when he told you that he loved you?”

“You came, and I made no answer.  I do so wish that you had come before.”  She wanted to tell her sister everything but the one thing, but was unable to do so because the one thing affected the other things so vitally.  As it was, Patience, finding that she could press her questions no further, was altogether in the dark.  That Ralph had made a declaration of love to her sister she did know; but in what manner Clarissa had received it she could not guess.  She had hitherto feared that Clary was too fond of the young man, but Clary would now only say that she hated him.  But the matter would soon be set at rest.  Ralph Newton would now, no doubt, go to their father.  If Sir Thomas would permit it, this new-fangled hatred of Clary’s would, Patience thought, soon be overcome.  If, however, ­as was more probable, ­Sir Thomas should violently disapprove, then there would be no more visits from Ralph Newton to the villa.  As there had been a declaration of love, of course their father would be informed of it at once.  Patience, having so resolved, allowed her sister to go to her bed without further questioning.

In Clarissa’s own bosom the great offence had been forgiven, ­or rather condoned before the morning.  Her lover had been very cruel to her, very wicked, and most unkind; ­especially unkind in this, that he had turned to absolute pain a moment of life which might have been of all moments the fullest of joy; and especially cruel in this, that he had so treated her that she could not look forward to future joy without alloy.  She could forgive him; ­yes.  But she could not endure that he should think that she would forgive him.  She was willing to blot out the offence, as a thing by itself, in an island of her life, ­of which no one should ever think again.  Was she to lose her lover for ever because she did not forgive him!  If they could only come to some agreement that the offence should be acknowledged to be heinous, unpardonable, but committed in temporary madness, and that henceforward it should be buried in oblivion!  Such agreement, however, was impossible.  There could be no speech about the matter.  Was she or was she not to lose her lover for ever because he had done this wicked thing?  During the night she made up her mind that she could not afford to pay such a price for the sake of avenging virtue.  For the future she would be on her guard!  Wicked and heartless man, who had robbed her of so much!  And yet how charming he had been to her as he looked into her eyes, and told her that he could do very much better than fall in love with her West Indian cousin.  Then she thought of the offence again.  Ah, if only a time might come in which they should be engaged together as man and wife with the consent of everybody!  Then there would be no more offences.