Read CHAPTER VIII. of The Bertrams Volume II, free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

THREE LETTERS.

George Bertram, as we have seen, returned to town after his interview with Miss Waddington without seeing his father.  Neither to his mind nor to hers was any comfort brought by that grammatical rule in which Miss Baker had found so much consolation.  For both of them the separation was now a thing completed.  Each knew enough of the other to feel that that other’s pride was too high to admit of his or her making any first fresh advancement.

George endeavoured to persuade himself that he was glad of what he had done; but he failed utterly.  He had loved her, did love her dearly, and found that he never valued her as he did now.  She had behaved shamefully to him.  He said that to himself over and over again.  But what had that to do with love?  He did not love her the less because she had made public his letter, the secrets of his heart, that which should have been as private as the passion of her own bosom.  He could not love her less because she talked over these with another man, however much he might feel himself bound to cast her off for doing so.  So he shut himself up in his chambers; wrote pages for his new book that were moody, misanthropical, and unbelieving; and on the whole was very unhappy.

Nor was Caroline much better able to bear the shock; though with her there was more propriety of demeanour under the blow, and a better mental control.  That was of course, for she was a woman ­and being a woman, she had to take care that the world knew nothing of what was going on within her heart.

For two days she remained perfectly calm.  She allowed herself no vent whatever for her feelings.  She made the breakfast; sat close at her tambour frame, or more frequently close at her book; read aloud to her aunt; went out and made calls; and attended minutely to all the ordinary occupations of her life.  Her aunt never once caught her with a tear in her eye, never saw her sitting thoughtful, unoccupied, with her head leaning on her arm.  Had she done so, she would have spoken to her about George.  As it was, she did not dare to do so.  There was during these days, and indeed outwardly for many days afterwards, an iron stubbornness about Caroline which frightened Miss Baker and altogether prevented her from alluding to the possibility of a reconciliation.  Nothing could be more gentle, nay, more obedient, than Caroline’s manner and way with her aunt at this time:  she yielded to her in everything; but her aunt perceived that all utterance as to the one subject which was nearest to both their hearts was effectually forbidden.

Caroline allowed two whole days to pass before she would allow herself to think of what had taken place.  She read through half the nights, so as to secure sleep for herself when she lay down.  But on the third morning she opened her desk in her own room, and sat down and wrote to Adela Gauntlet.

   Littlebath, Friday.

   Dearest Adela,

An occurrence has taken place of which I have not yet allowed myself to think, and which I shall first realize and bring home to myself in writing to you; and yet before it happened I had thought of it very often ­even talked of it with aunt Mary; and sometimes thought of it and talked of it as though it were almost desirable.  I wish I may teach myself so to think of it now.

All is over between me and Mr. Bertram.  He came down here on Tuesday and told me so.  I do not blame him.  Nor can I blame him; not at least for what he has done, though his manner in doing it was very harsh.

I would tell you all if I could, but it is so hard in a letter.  I wish you were here.  But no; you would drive me mad by advice which I could not, would not take.  Last summer, when I was so unhappy in London, aunt and I had some conversation about our affairs with a person there.  Mr. Bertram heard of this while he was in Paris.  He did not approve of it; and he wrote me, oh! such a letter.  I should have thought it impossible for him to have written such words to me.  I was mad with grief, and I showed this letter to the same person.  There, Adela, I must tell you all.  It was Mr. Harcourt, George’s intimate friend.  George particularly begged me in that letter not to talk to him any more; and yet I did this.  But I was half frenzied with grief; and why was I to obey one who had no right to command me, and who made his commands so harsh?  His request would have been a law to me.

But I know I was wrong, Adela.  I have known it every minute since I showed the letter.  I was sure I was wrong, because I could not tell him that I had done so.  It made me afraid of him, and I never before was afraid of any one.  Well; I did not tell him, and now he has found it out.  I would not condescend to ask him how; but I think I know.  This at least I know, that he did so in no ignoble way, by no mean little suspicions.  He did not seek to discover it.  It had come upon him like a great blow, and he came at once to me to learn the truth.  I told him the truth, and this has been the end of it.

Now you know it all; all except his look, his tone, his manner.  These I cannot tell you ­cannot describe.  I seem now to know him better, understand him more thoroughly than ever I did.  He is a man for a tender-hearted woman to love to madness.  And I ­ Ah! never mind, dearest; I think ­nay, I am sure I can get over it.  You never could.  Yes; he is a man for a woman to worship; but yet he is so rough, so stern, so harsh in his anger.  He does not measure his words at all.  I don’t think he knows the kind of things he says.  And yet the while his heart is so tender, so soft; I could see it all.  But he gives one no time to acknowledge it ­at least, he gave me none.  Were you ever scolded, upbraided, scorned by a man you loved? and did you ever feel that you loved him the better for all his scorn?  I felt so.  I could so feel, though it was impossible to confess it.  But he was wrong there.  He should not have upbraided me unless he intended to forgive.  I think I have read that it is not kingly for a king to receive a suppliant for pardon unless he intends to forgive.  I can understand that.  If his mind was made up to condemn me altogether, he should have written and so have convicted me.  But in such matters he considers nothing.  He acts altogether from the heart.

I am, however, sure of this, dear Adela, that it is all better as it is.  There; with you, I will scorn all falsehood.  For once, and, if possible, only for once, the truth shall stand out plainly.  I love him as I never, never can love another man.  I love him as I never thought to love any man.  I feel at this moment as though I could be content to serve him as his menial.  For she who is his wife must so serve him ­and how long should I be content to do so?

But yet I wrong him in this.  He is most imperious, absolutely imperious ­must be altogether master in all things; that is what I mean.  But to one who loved him well, and would permit this, he would be the tenderest, gentlest, most loving of masters.  He would not permit the wind to blow too harshly on his slave.  I have loved him well, but I could not permit this.  I could not permit it for a whole lifetime; and therefore it is well that we have parted.

You will hardly believe this of him, for he seems in general company to be so good-humoured.  With people that are indifferent to him, no man is less exacting; but with those near to him in life he never bends, not an inch.  It is this that has estranged his uncle from him.  But yet how noble, how grand a man he is!  To all pecuniary considerations he is absolutely indifferent.  A falsehood, even a concealment, is impossible with him.  Who that either of us knows is equal to or approaches him in talent?  He is brave, generous, simple-hearted beyond all that I have ever known.  Who is like him?  And yet .  To you, once for all, I say all this.  But, Adela, do not take advantage of me.  You ought to know that were it not all over, I should not say it.

I wish that you had been betrothed to him.  Oh, how I wish it!  You are not worldly, as I am; not stubborn, nor proud of heart.  Not that you have not pride, a truer, better pride.  You could have brought yourself to submit, to be guided, to be a secondary portion of himself ­and then how he would have loved you!

I have often wondered that he should have thought of me.  No two persons were ever less suited for each other.  I knew that when I accepted him, foolishly accepted him because I liked him, and now I am rightly punished.  But, ah! that he should be punished too! for he is punished.  I know he loves me; though I know nothing would now induce him to take me.  And I know this also, that nothing ­nothing ­nothing would induce me to be so taken.  Not if he were begging ­as he never will beg to any woman.  I would be too true to him, too true to what I now know to be his happiness.

As for me, I dare say I shall marry yet.  I have some little money, and that sort of manner which many men think most becoming for the top of their tables and the management of their drawing-rooms.  If I do, there shall be no deceit.  I certainly shall not marry for love.  Indeed, from early years I never thought it possible that I should do so.  I have floundered unawares into the pitfall, and now I must flounder out.  I have always thought that there was much in the world well worth the living for besides love.  Ambition needs not be a closed book for women, unless they choose to close it.  I do not see but that a statesman’s wife may stand nearly as high in the world as the statesman stands himself.  Money, position, rank are worth the having ­at any rate, the world thinks so, or why else do they so scramble for them?  I will not scramble for them; but if they come in my way, why, I may probably pick them up.

This will be odious to you.  I know it will.  A potato-paring and a true heart are your beau-ideal for this world.  I am made of viler stuff.  I have had the true heart, and see what I have made of it!

You will answer me, of course.  I could find it in my heart to beg you not to do so, only now I could not afford to think that you were cold to me.  I know you will write to me; but, pray, pray do not advise me to submit myself to him under the idea that a reconciliation is possible.  A reconciliation is not possible, and I will not submit myself to him.  I know I speak the truth when I say that our marriage is not to be desired.  I acknowledge his merits; I confess his superiority:  but these very merits, this great superiority, make it impossible that I should suit him as a wife.

On that matter I have made up my mind.  I will never marry him.  I only say this to deter you from wasting your energy in endeavouring to bring us again together.  I know very well that I shall not be asked ­that his mind is equally firm.

And now, good-bye.  You know all my heart, and, as far as I can tell them, all my feelings.  A long letter from you will give me much delight if you will comply with my earnest request.

   This letter has been a very selfish one, for it is all
   about myself.  But you will forgive that now.  God bless
   you.

   Your affectionate friend,

   CAROLINE.

   P.S.  I have said nothing to aunt Mary, except to tell
   her that the match is broken off; and she has kindly ­so
   kindly, abstained from any questions.

Adela Gauntlet was all alone when she received this letter at West Putford.  In these days she generally was all alone.  That she should answer it, answer it at once, was of course certain.  But how should she answer it?  Her mind was soon made up, with many tears, partly for her friend and partly for herself.  Caroline’s happiness had been, nay, probably still was, in her own hands, and she was going to throw it away.  For herself, happiness had never been within her own reach.  “Be his menial servant!” she repeated to herself, as she read and re-read the letter.  “Yes; of course she should if he required it.  It would be for her to make him know that she could be something better to him!”

Her judgment was soon formed.  She condemned Caroline altogether on Caroline’s own showing.  In such matters one woman almost always condemns another.  She took no notice of the allusion to Bertram’s harshness; she almost overlooked the generosity with which her friend had written of the lover who had rejected her.  She only saw Caroline’s great fault.  How could she have brought herself to talk with Mr. Harcourt ­with a young unmarried man ­on such a subject?  And, oh! how was it possible that she could have brought herself to show him such a letter?  She wrote her answer that same night, as follows: ­

   West Putford, Saturday night.

   Dearest Caroline,

Your letter has made me most unhappy.  I almost think that I have suffered more in reading it than you did in writing it.  You have made a request to me with which I cannot, will not comply.  I can only write to you the truth, as I think it.  What else can I write?  How can I frame my letter in any other way?

But I will acknowledge this, that it is useless for me to suggest anything to you as to your own happiness.  But there is more than that to be thought of.  There is that which you are bound to think of before that.  Whether you have broken with Mr. Bertram or not, there has been that between you which makes it your duty in this matter to regard his happiness as your first consideration.

Dearest, dearest Caroline, I fear that you have been wrong throughout in this affair.  I do not dread your being angry with me for saying so.  In spite of what you say, I know your heart is so warm that you would be angry with me if I blamed him.  You were wrong in talking to Mr. Harcourt; doubly wrong in showing to him that letter.  If so, is it not your business to put that wrong right? to remedy if you can the evil that has come of it?

I feel quite sure that Mr. Bertram loves you with all his heart, and that he is one who will be wretched to his heart’s core at losing what he loves.  It is nothing to say that it is he who has rejected you.  You understand his moods; even I understand them well enough to know in what temper that last visit was made.  Answer this to yourself.  Had you then asked his pardon, do you not know that he would have given it you with a rapture of joy?  Do you not feel that he was then at that moment only too anxious to forgive?  And are you, you who have sinned against him, are you to let him break his heart against a rock, because you are too proud to own to him the fault which you acknowledge to yourself?  Is that your return for the love which he has borne you?

You wish that he had loved me, you say.  Do not wish away the sweetest gift which God can give to a woman in this world.  It was not possible that I should have loved him.  It is quite impossible now that you should not do so.

Try to think in this affair with severity towards yourself, and ask yourself what justice requires of you.  My advice to you is to write to him.  Tell him, with frank humility and frank affection, that you ask his pardon for the injury that you had done him.  Say no more than that.  If it shall still please him to consider that the engagement between you is at an end, such an acknowledgment from you will in no way constrain him to violate that resolve.  But if he relent ­and I know that this other “if” will be the true one ­the first train that runs will bring him back to you; and he, who I am sure is now wretched, will again be happy; ah! happier than he has been for so long.

I implore you to do this, not for your own sake, but for his.  You have done wrong, and it is he that should be considered.  You will think what will be your sufferings if he does not notice your letter; should he not be softened by your humility.  But you have no right to think of that.  You have done him wrong, and you owe him reparation.  You cannot expect that you should do wrong and not suffer.

I fear I have written savagely.  Dear, dear Caroline, come to me here, and I will not talk savagely.  I too am not happy.  I have not my happiness so much in my own hands as you have.  Do come to me.  Papa will be delighted to see you.  I am sure Miss Baker could spare you for a fortnight.  Do, do come to

   Your true friend,

   ADELA.

There was much of craft in Adela Gauntlet’s letter; but if craft could ever be pardonable, then was hers pardonable in this case.  She had written as though her sole thought was for Mr. Bertram.  She had felt that in this way only could she move her friend.  In her mind ­Adela’s mind ­it was a settled conviction, firm as rocks, that as Caroline and Mr. Bertram loved each other, neither of them could be happy unless they were brought together.  How could she best aid in doing this?  That had been her main thought, and so thinking, she had written this letter, filled to overflowing with womanly craft.

And her craft was nearly successful; but only nearly; that was all.  Caroline sat in her solitude and cried over this letter till her eyes were weary with tears.  She strove, strove valiantly to take her friend’s advice; strove to do so in spite of all her former protestations.  She got pen and ink and sat herself down to write the letter of humiliation; but the letter would not be written; it was impossible to her; the words would not form themselves:  for two days she strove, and then she abandoned the task as for ever hopeless.  And thus this third short epistle must be laid before the reader.

“I cannot do it, Adela.  It is not in my nature.  You could do it, because you are good, and high, and pure.  Do not judge others by yourself.  I cannot do it, and will not madden myself by thinking of it again.  Good-bye; God bless you.  If I could cure your grief I would come to you; but I am not fit.  God in his own time will cure yours, because you are so pure.  I could not help you, nor you me; I had better, therefore, remain where I am.  A thousand thousand kisses.  I love you so now, because you and you only know my secret.  Oh, if you should not keep it!  But I know you will; you are so true.”

This was all.  There was no more; no signature.  “May God help them both!” said Adela as she read it.