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

A broken heart.

It was very bad with Clarissa when Ralph Newton was closeted with Mary at Popham Villa.  She had suspected what was about to take place, when Sir Thomas and Ralph went together into the room; but at that moment she said nothing.  She endeavoured to seem to be cheerful, and attempted to joke with Mary.  The three girls were sitting at the table on which lunch was spread, ­a meal which no one was destined to eat at Popham Villa on that day, ­and thus they remained till Sir Thomas joined them.  “Mary,” he had said, “Ralph Newton wishes to speak to you.  You had better go to him.”

“To me, uncle?”

“Yes, to you.  You had better go to him.”

“But I had rather not.”

“Of course you must do as you please, but I would advise you to go to him.”  Then she had risen very slowly and had gone.

All of them had understood what it meant.  To Clarissa the thing was as certain as though she already heard the words spoken.  With Patience even there was no doubt.  Sir Thomas, though he had told nothing, did not pretend that the truth was to be hidden.  He looked at his younger daughter sorrowfully, and laid his hand upon her head caressingly.  With her there was no longer the possibility of retaining any secret, hardly the remembrance that there was a secret to retain.  “Oh, papa,” she said; ­“oh, papa!” and burst into tears.

“My dear,” he said, “believe me that it is best that it should be so.  He is unworthy.”  Patience said not a word, but was now holding Clarissa close to her bosom.  “Tell Mary,” continued Sir Thomas, “that I will see her when she is at liberty.  Patience, you can ask Ralph whether it will suit him to stay for dinner.  I am tired and will go up-stairs myself.”  And so the two girls were left together.

“Patty, take me away,” said Clarissa.  “I must never see him again, ­never! ­nor her.”

“She will not accept him, Clary.”

“Yes, she will.  I know she will.  She is a sly, artful creature.  And I have been so good to her.”

“No, Clary; ­I think not; ­but what does it matter?  He is unworthy.  He can be nothing to you now.  Papa was right.  He is unworthy.”

“I care nothing for that.  I only care for him.  Oh, Patty, take me away.  I could not bear to see them when they come out.”

Then Patience took her sister up to their joint room, and laid the poor sufferer on the bed, and throwing herself on her knees beside the bed, wept over her sister and caressed her.  That argument of Ralph’s unworthiness was nothing to Clarissa.  She did not consider herself to be so worthy but what she might forgive any sin, if only the chance of forgiving such sin were given to her.  At this moment in her heart of hearts her anger was more against her rival than against the man.  She had not yet taught herself to think of all his baseness to her, ­had only as yet had time to think that that evil had come upon her which she had feared from the first moment of her cousin’s arrival.

Presently Patience heard the door opened of the room down-stairs and heard Mary’s slow step as she crossed the hall.  She understood well that some one should be below, and with another single word of affection to her sister, she went down-stairs.  “Well, Mary,” she said, looking into her cousin’s face.

“There is nothing particular to tell,” said Mary, with a gentle smile.

“Of course we all knew what he wanted.”

“Then of course you all knew what I should say to him.”

“I knew,” said Patience.

“I am sure that Clary knew,” said Mary.  “But he is all alone there, and will not know what to do with himself.  Won’t you go to him?”

“You will go up to Clary?” Mary nodded her head, and then Patience crossed the hall to liberate the rejected suitor.  Mary stood for awhile thinking.  She already knew from what Patience had said, that Clarissa had suspected her, and she felt that there should have been no such suspicion.  Clarissa had not understood, but ought to have understood.  For a moment she was angry, and was disposed to go to her own room.  Then she remembered all her cousin’s misery, and crept up-stairs to the door.  She had come so softly, that though the door was hardly closed, nothing had been heard of her approach.  “May I come in, dear?” she said very gently.

“Well, Mary; tell me all,” said Clarissa.

“There is nothing to tell, Clary; ­only this, that I fear Mr. Newton is not worthy of your love.”

“He asked you to take him?”

“Never mind, dearest.  We will not talk of that.  Dear, dearest Clary, if I only could make you happy.”

“But you have refused him?”

“Don’t you know me better than to ask me?  Don’t you know where my heart is?  We will carry our burdens together, dearest, and then they will be lighter.”

“But he will come to you again; ­that other one.”

“Clary, dear; we will not think about it.  There are things which should not be thought of.  We will not talk of it, but we will love each other so dearly.”  Clarissa, now that she was assured that her evil fortune was not to be aggravated by any injury done to her by her cousin, allowed herself to be tranquillised if not comforted.  There was indeed something in her position that did not admit of comfort.  All the family knew the story of her unrequited love, and treated her with a compassion which, while its tenderness was pleasant to her, was still in itself an injury.  A vain attachment in a woman’s heart must ever be a weary load, because she can take no step of her own towards that consummation by which the burden may be converted into a joy.  A man may be active, may press his suit even a tenth time, may do something towards achieving success.  A woman can only be still and endure.  But Clarissa had so managed her affairs that even that privilege of being still was hardly left to her.  Her trouble was known to them all.  She doubted whether even the servants in the house did not know the cause of her woe.  How all this had come to pass she could not now remember.  She had told Patience, ­as though in compliance with some compact that each should ever tell the other all things.  And then circumstances had arisen which made it so natural that she should be open and candid with Mary.  The two Ralphs were to be their two lovers.  That to her had been a delightful dream during the last few months.  He, whose inheritance at that moment was supposed to have been gone, had, as Clarissa thought, in plainest language told his love to her.  “Dear, dear Clary, you know I love you.”  The words to her sense had been so all-important, had meant so much, had seemed to be so final, that they hardly wanted further corroboration.  Then, indeed, had come the great fault, ­the fault which she had doubted whether she could ever pardon; and she, because of the heinousness of that offence, had been unable to answer the question that had been asked.  But the offence, such as it was, had not lightened the solemnity of her assurance, as far as love went, that Ralph ought to be her own after the speaking of such words as he had spoken.  There were those troubles about money, but yet she was entitled to regard him as her own.  Then had come the written offer from the other Ralph to Mary, ­the offer written in the moment of his believed prosperity; and it had been so natural that Clarissa should tell her cousin that as regarded the splendour of position there should be no jealousy between them.  Clarissa did not herself think much of a lover who wrote letters instead of coming and speaking, ­had perhaps an idea that open speech, even though offence might follow, was better than formal letters; but all that was Mary’s affair.  This very respectful Ralph was Mary’s lover, and if Mary were satisfied, she would not quarrel with the well-behaved young man.  She would not even quarrel with him because he was taking from her own Ralph the inheritance which for so many years had been believed to be his own.  Thus in the plenitude of her affection and in the serenity of her heart she had told everything to her cousin.  And now also her father knew it all.  How this had come to pass she did not think to inquire.  She suspected no harm from Patience.  The thing had been so clear, that all the world might see it.  Ralph, that false one, knew it also.  Who could know it so well as he did?  Had not those very words been spoken by him, ­been repeated by him?  Now she was as one stricken, where wounds could not be hidden.

On that day Ralph was driven back to town in his cab, in a rather disheartened condition, and no more was seen or heard of him for the present at Popham Villa.  His late guardian had behaved very ill to him in telling Mary Bonner the story of Polly Neefit.  That was his impression, ­feeling sure that Mary had alluded to the unfortunate affair with the breeches-maker’s daughter, of which she could have heard tidings only from Sir Thomas.  As to Clarissa, he had not exactly forgotten the little affair on the lawn; but to his eyes that affair had been so small as to be almost overlooked amidst larger matters.  Mary, he thought, had never looked so beautiful as she had done while refusing him.  He did not mean to give her up.  Her heart, she had told him, was not her own.  He thought he had read of young ladies in similar conditions, of young ladies who had bestowed their hearts and had afterwards got them back again for the sake of making second bestowals.  He was not sure but that such an object would lend a zest to life.  There was his brother Gregory in love with Clarissa, and still true to her.  He would be true to Mary, and would see whether, in spite of that far-away lover, he might not be more successful than his brother.  At any rate he would not give her up, ­and before he had gone to bed that night he had already concocted a letter to her in his brain, explaining the whole of that Neefit affair, and asking her whether a man should be condemned to misery for life because he had been led by misfortune into such a mistake as that.  He dined very well at his club, and on the following morning went down to the Moonbeam by an early train, for that day’s hunting.  Thence he returned to Newton Priory in time for Christmas, and as he was driven up to his own house, through his own park, meeting one or two of his own tenants, and encountering now and then his own obsequious labourers, he was not an unhappy man in spite of Mary Bonner’s cruel answer.  It may be doubted whether his greatest trouble at this moment did not arise from his dread of Neefit.  He had managed to stay long enough in London to give orders that Neefit’s money should be immediately paid.  He knew that Neefit could not harm him at law; but it would not be agreeable if the old man were to go about the country telling everyone that he, Ralph Newton of Newton, had twice offered to marry Polly.  For the present we will leave him, although he is our hero, and will return to the girls at Popham Villa.

“It is all very well talking, Patience, but I don’t mean to try to change,” Clarissa said.  This was after that visit of the Percycross deputation to Sir Thomas, and after Christmas.  More than a week had now passed by since Ralph had rushed down to Fulham with his offer, and the new year had commenced.  Sir Thomas had been at home for Christmas, ­for the one day, ­and had then returned to London.  He had seen his attorney respecting the petition, who was again to see Mr. Griffenbottom’s London attorney and Mr. Trigger.  In the meantime Sir Thomas was to remain quiet for a few days.  The petition was not to be tried till the end of February, and there was still time for deliberation.  Sir Thomas just now very often took out that great heap of Baconian papers, but still not a word of the biography was written.  He was, alas! still very far from writing the first word.  “It is all very well, Patience, but I do not mean to try to change,” said Clarissa.

Poor Patience could make no answer, dreadful as was to her such an assertion from a young woman.  “There is a man who clearly does not want to marry you, who has declared in the plainest way that he does want to marry some one else, who has grossly deceived you, and who never means to think of you again; and yet you say that you will wilfully adhere to your regard for him!” Such would have been the speech which Patience would have made, had she openly expressed her thoughts.  But Clarissa was ill, and weak, and wretched; and Patience could not bring herself to say a word that should distress her sister.

“If he came to me to-morrow, of course I should forgive him,” Clarissa said again.  These conversations were never commenced by Patience, who would rather have omitted any mention of that base young man.  “Of course I should.  Men do do those things.  Men are not like women.  They do all manner of things and everybody forgives them.  I don’t say anything about hoping.  I don’t hope for anything.  I am not happy enough to hope.  I shouldn’t care if I knew I were going to die to-morrow.  But there can be no change.  If you want me to be a hypocrite, Patience, I will; but what will be the use?  The truth will be the same.”

The two girls let her have her way, never contradicted her, coaxed her, and tried to comfort her; ­but it was in vain.  At first she would not go out of the house, not even to church, and then she took to lying in bed.  This lasted into the middle of January, and still Sir Thomas did not come home.  He wrote frequently, short notes to Patience, sending money, making excuses, making promises, always expressing some word of hatred or disgust as to Percycross; but still he did not come.  At last, when Clarissa declared that she preferred lying in bed to getting up, Patience went up to London and fetched her father home.  It had gone so far with Sir Thomas now that he was unable even to attempt to defend himself.  He humbly said that he was sorry that he had been away so long, and returned with Patience to the villa.

“My dear,” said Sir Thomas, seating himself by Clarissa’s bedside, “this is very bad.”

“If I had known you were coming, papa, I would have got up.”

“If you are not well, perhaps you are better here, dear.”

“I don’t think I am quite well, papa.”

“What is it, my love?” Clarissa looked at him out of her large tear-laden eyes, but said nothing.  “Patience says that you are not happy.”

“I don’t know that anybody is happy, papa.”

“I wish that you were with all my heart, my child.  Can your father do anything that will make you happy?”

“No, papa.”

“Tell me, Clary.  You do not mind my asking you questions?”

“No, papa.”

“Patience tells me that you are still thinking of Ralph Newton.”

“Of course I think of him.”

“I think of him too; ­but there are different ways of thinking.  We have known him, all of us, a long time.”

“Yes, papa.”

“I wish with all my heart that we had never seen him.  He is not worthy of our solicitude.”

“You always liked him.  I have heard you say you loved him dearly.”

“I have said so, and I did love him.  In a certain way I love him still.”

“So do I, papa.”

“But I know him to be unworthy.  Even if he had come here to offer you his hand I doubt whether I could have permitted an engagement.  Do you know that within the last two months he has twice offered to marry another young woman, and I doubt whether he is not at this moment engaged to her?”

“Another?” said poor Clarissa.

“Yes, and that without a pretence of affection on his part, simply because he wanted to get money from her father.”

“Are you sure, papa?” asked Clarissa, who was not prepared to believe, and did not believe this enormity on the part of the man she loved.

“I am quite sure.  The father came to me to complain of him, and I had the confession from Ralph’s own lips, the very day that he came here with his insulting offer to Mary Bonner.”

“Did you tell Mary?”

“No.  I knew that it was unnecessary.  There was no danger as to Mary.  And who do you think this girl was?  The daughter of a tailor, who had made some money.  It was not that he cared for her, Clary; ­no more than I do!  Whether he meant to marry her or not I do not know.”

“I’m sure he didn’t, papa,” said Clarissa, getting up in bed.

“And will that make it better?  All that he wanted was the tradesman’s money, and to get that he was willing either to deceive the girl, or to sell himself to her.  I don’t know which would have been the baser mode of traffic.  Is that the conduct of a gentleman, Clary?”

Poor Clarissa was in terrible trouble.  She hardly believed the story, which seemed to tell her of a degree of villany greater than ever her imagination had depicted to her; ­and yet, if it were true, she would be driven to look for means of excusing it.  The story as told was indeed hardly just to Ralph, who in the course of his transactions with Mr. Neefit had almost taught himself to believe that he could love Polly very well; but it was not in this direction that Clarissa looked for an apology for such conduct.  “They say that men do all manner of things,” she said, at last.

“I can only tell you this,” said Sir Thomas very gravely, “what men may do I will not say, but no gentleman can ever have acted after this fashion.  He has shown himself to be a scoundrel.”

“Papa, papa; don’t say that!” screamed Clarissa.

“My child, I can only tell you the truth.  I know it is hard to bear.  I would save you if I could; but it is better that you should know.”

“Will he always be bad, papa?”

“Who can say, my dear?  God forbid that I should be too severe upon him.  But he has been so bad now that I am bound to tell you that you should drive him from your thoughts.  When he told me, all smiling, that he had come down here to ask your cousin Mary to be his wife, I was almost minded to spurn him from the door.  He can have no feeling himself of true attachment, and cannot know what it means in others.  He is heartless, ­and unprincipled.”

“Oh, papa, spare him.  It is done now.”

“And you will forget him, dearest?”

“I will try, papa.  But I think that I shall die.  I would rather die.  What is the good of living when nobody is to care for anybody, and people are so bad as that?”

“My Clarissa must not say that nobody cares for her.  Has any person ever been false to you but he?  Is not your sister true to you?”

“Yes, papa.”

“And Mary?”

“Yes, papa.”  He was afraid to ask her whether he also had not been true to her?  Even in that moment there arose in his mind a doubt, whether all this evil might not have been avoided, had he contented himself to live beneath the same roof with his children.  He said nothing of himself, but she supplied the want.  “I know you love me, papa, and have always been good to me.  I did not mean that.  But I never cared for any one but him, ­in that way.”

Sir Thomas, in dealing with the character of his late ward, had been somewhat too severe.  It is difficult, perhaps, to say what amount of misconduct does constitute a scoundrel, or justifies the critic in saying that this or that man is not a gentleman.  There be those who affirm that he who owes a debt for goods which he cannot pay is no gentleman, and tradesmen when they cannot get their money are no doubt sometimes inclined to hold that opinion.  But the opinion is changed when the money comes at last, ­especially if it comes with interest.  Ralph had never owed a shilling which he did not intend to pay, and had not property to cover.  That borrowing of money from Mr. Neefit was doubtless bad.  No one would like to know that his son had borrowed money from his tailor.  But it is the borrowing of the money that is bad, rather than the special dealing with the tradesman.  And as to that affair with Polly, some excuse may be made.  He had meant to be honest to Neefit, and he had meant to be true to Neefit’s daughter.  Even Sir Thomas, high-minded as he was, would hardly have passed so severe a sentence, had not the great sufferer in the matter been his own daughter.

But the words that he spoke were doubtless salutary to poor Clarissa.  She never again said to Patience that she would not try to make a change, nor did she ever again declare that if Ralph came back again she would forgive him.  On the day after the scene with her father she was up again, and she made an effort to employ herself about the house.  On the next Sunday she went to church, and then they all knew that she was making the necessary struggle.  Ralph’s name was never mentioned, nor for a time was any allusion made to the family of the Newtons.  “The worst of it, I think, is over,” said Patience one day to Mary.

“The worst of it is over,” said Mary; “but it is not all over.  It is hard to forget when one has loved.”