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

DOES HE KNOW IT YET?

Almost immediately after this George Bertram did go to Paris; but before he went he received a letter from Arthur Wilkinson, begging him to go down to Hurst Staple.  This was Arthur’s answer to the letter in which Bertram had communicated the last news from Littlebath.  There were not as many words in the letter as there had been in that from Adela to Caroline; but they were much to the same effect.  “This is an important step, old fellow; very:  pray ­pray be careful; for your own sake and hers.  I am not good at letter-writing, as you know; but come down here and talk it over.  I have other things of my own I want to talk about.  The spare bedroom is empty.”  That was nearly the whole of it.  In answer to this, Bertram had declared his intention of going to Paris, but had promised to go down to Hurst Staple as soon as he returned home.

At this time the popularity of Louis Philippe was on the wane.  The grocers of Paris were becoming sick of their paternal citizen king, who, in spite of his quiet family costume and citizen umbrella, seemed to think as much as some other kings of crowds of soldiers, of fortifications, and war taxes; who seemed to think also that free-spoken deputies might be judiciously controlled, that a paternally-royal family might be judiciously enriched, and that a good many of the old crown tenets and maxims might again be judiciously brought to bear upon the commonwealth.  Poor grocers! too much prosperity had made them over-nice.  When Mr. Smith had been about six months gone from them, how gladly would they have had him back again!

But they are again satisfied.  The grocer interest, which on the whole may perhaps be looked on as predominant in Paris, is once more swathed in rose-leaves.  The swathings certainly are somewhat tight; and rose-leaves may be twisted till there is no breaking them.  But there will still remain the fragrance, the pot-pourri odour which is so delectable to ancient housewives, the oily savour of plenteousness.  If a king can so devise that chocolate shall be sold ­and paid for ­what more can a grocer interest need?  What more than this, that having sold its daily quantum of chocolate, it shall have a theatre to go to, a spectacle to look at, ices, coffee, and eau sucree! Since the world began to open its young eyes and look about it with any understanding, what else has been desirable?  What does a man and a grocer want? Panem et circenses; soup that shall not be too maigre; and a seat at the Porte St. Martin that shall not be too dear.  Is it not all written in that?

England a nation of shopkeepers!  No, let us hope not; not as yet, at any rate.  There have been nations to whom the buying and selling of bread and honey ­especially of honey ­has been everything; lost nations ­people deadened, whose souls were ever sleeping, whose mouths only and gastric organs attested that life was in them.  There were such people in the latter days of ancient Rome; there were such also in that of Eastern Rome upon the Bosphorus; rich and thriving people, with large mouths and copious bellies, wanting merely the salt of life.  But let us hope that no English people will be such as long as the roads are open to Australia, to Canada, and New Zealand.

A young man whose life was to be spent in writing politico-religious pamphlets had much to learn in Paris in those days.  Indeed, Paris has ever been a school for such writers since men began to find that something was wrong, even under the reign of the great Dubarry.  Since those days it has been the laboratory of the political alchemist, in which everything hitherto held precious has been reduced to a residuum, in order that from the ashes might be created that great arcanum, a fitting constitution under which thinking men may live contented.  The secret had been hardly solved in those latter days of poor Louis Philippe.  Much had certainly been done when a citizen king was thought of and set agoing; but even a citizen king required to be wound up, and the alchemist was still at his crucibles.

Now, indeed, the work has been finished.  The laboratory is closed.  The philosopher, his task all done, has retired to his needed rest.  Thinking men, even thinking Frenchmen, can live contented.  Chocolate is sold ­and paid for.  And a score and a half of daily theatres are open at the most moderate of prices.

Intent on such things, and on his coming volume, our young broken-hearted philosopher stayed out three months at Paris.  We need not follow him very closely in his doings there.  His name was already sufficiently known to secure his admittance amongst those learned men who, if they had hitherto established little, had at any rate achieved the doubting of much.  While he was here the British Ministry went out of office.  Sir Robert, having repealed the corn laws, fell to the ground between two stools, and the number of the “Daily Jupiter” which gave the first authentic list of the members of the new government, contained, among the few new names that were mentioned, that of Sir Henry Harcourt as Her Majesty’s solicitor-general.

At the end of the three months Bertram returned to England, enriched by many new ideas as to the government of mankind in general.  His volume was not yet finished.  So he packed up his papers in his portmanteau and took them down with him to Hurst Staple.  He saw no one as he passed through London.  The season was then over, and his friend Sir Henry was refreshing himself with ten days’ grouse-shooting after the successful campaign of the last session.  But had he been in London, Bertram would not have seen him, for he saw no one.  He asked no questions about Caroline, nor any about his uncle.  He did not even call on his sincere friend Pritchett.  Had he done so, he would have learned that Miss Baker and her niece were both staying at Hadley.  He might also have learned other news, which, however, was not long in following him.

He went down to Hurst Staple, merely writing a line the day before he started, to prepare his friend for his advent.  But when he reached the vicarage, Arthur Wilkinson was not there.  He was at Oxford; but had left word that he was to be summoned home as soon as Bertram arrived.  The ladies, however, expected him, and there would have been nothing for him to remark in the state of the quiet household had there not been another visitor in the house.  Adela Gauntlet was staying there, and she was dressed in the deepest mourning.

The story was soon told to him.  Mr. Gauntlet had one morning been found dead in his dressing-room.  The good old man had been full of years, and there was nothing frightful in his death but its suddenness.  But sudden death is always frightful.  Overnight he had been talking to his daughter with his usual quiet, very quiet, mirth; and in the morning she was woke with the news that his spirit had fled.  His mirth for this world was over.  His worldly duties were done.  He had received his daughter’s last kiss, had closed for the last time the book which had been his life’s guide, had whispered to heaven his last prayer, and his soul was now at rest.

There was nothing in this that the world need regard as mournful.  There was no pain, no mental pangs, no dire remorse.  But for Adela the suddenness had been very dreadful.

Among her other miseries had been the great misery of having to seek a home.  An Englishman’s house is his castle.  And a rector’s parsonage is as much the rector’s castle, his own freehold castle, as is the earl’s family mansion that of the earl.  But it is so with this drawback, that the moment the rector’s breath is out of his body, all right and claim to the castle as regards his estate and family cease instantly.  If the widow and children remain there one night, they remain there on sufferance.

Adela’s future home would now necessarily be with her aunt, Miss Penelope Gauntlet; but it happened most unfortunately that at the moment of her brother’s death, Miss Gauntlet was absent with other relatives in Italy.  Nor was her address accurately known.  Her party had been at Rome; but it was supposed that they had left the holy city before the end of May:  and now, at the end of August, when her presence in England was so necessary, Adela had no more than a faint belief that her aunt was at the baths of Lucca.  In the meantime it was absolutely necessary that she should somewhere find a resting-place for herself.

Both Caroline Waddington and Miss Baker wrote to her at once.  Unfortunately they were at Hadley; but if Adela would come to them, they would return to Littlebath.  They, or at any rate, one of them would do so.  There was much that was really generous in this offer, as will be seen when we come in the next page or two to narrate what had lately occurred at Hadley.  But Adela already knew what had occurred; and much as she then longed for a home, she knew that she could not allow either of them to go to Littlebath.

Immediately that Mr. Gauntlet’s death was known at Hurst Staple ­and it was known there two hours after Adela knew it herself ­Mrs. Wilkinson went over to bring her to the vicarage.  The reader will know that there were reasons why Adela should be most unwilling to choose that house as her temporary residence.  She was most unwilling; and for a day or two, much to Mrs. Wilkinson’s surprise, she refused to leave West Putford.  But it was necessary that she should leave it.  She could not remain alone in the house on the day that her father’s body was carried to his grave; and so at last she submitted, and allowed herself to be taken over to Hurst Staple.

“It is provoking, dear,” said Mrs. Wilkinson to her, “and I am sure you will think it very uncivil, but Arthur went off to Oxford yesterday.  And it was uncivil.  I am sure he needs not have gone at this very moment.”

Then Adela felt very grateful to her neighbour, and acknowledged in her heart that he had been kind to her.

“But he must be back on Saturday,” continued the widow, “for he could get no clergyman to take his duty.  Indeed, he has to take the evening service at West Putford as well.”

On the day following this, George Bertram arrived at the vicarage.

His first evening in the house was not very bright.  Mrs. Wilkinson had never been a bright woman.  She had certain motherly good qualities, which had been exerted in George’s favour in his earliest years; and on this account she was still able to speak to him in a motherly way.  She could talk to him about his breakfasts and dinners, and ask after his buttons and linen, and allude to his bachelor habits.  And in such conversation the first evening was chiefly passed.  Adela said almost nothing.  The Wilkinson girls, who were generally cheerful themselves, were depressed by Adela’s sorrow ­and depressed also somewhat by what they knew of Bertram’s affairs.  On this matter Mrs. Wilkinson was burning to speak; but she had made up her mind to leave it in silence for one evening.  She confined herself, therefore, to the button question, and to certain allusions to her own griefs.  It appeared that she was not quite so happy with reference to Arthur as one would have wished her to be.  She did not absolutely speak against him; but she said little snubbing things of him, and seemed to think him by no means sufficiently grateful for all the care she took of him.

That night, in the privacy of Adela’s own room, something was said about George Bertram.  “I am sure he does not know it yet,” said Sophia.

“Caroline told me she would write to him,” said Adela:  “she would be very wrong not to do so ­very wrong.”

“You may be sure he has not heard it,” repeated the other.  “Did you not observe the way he spoke of Mr. Harcourt?”

“Sir Henry Harcourt,” said Mary.

“I did not hear it,” said Adela.

“Oh, he did speak of him.  He said something about his great good fortune.  He never would have spoken in that way had he known it.”

“Do you know,” said Mary, “I do not think he would have come down here had he heard it ­not yet, at least.”

The next morning two letters were laid before George Bertram as they were sitting at breakfast.  Then he did know it; then he did learn it, and not till then.  It was now the end of August, and in the coming month of November ­about the end of November ­Sir Henry Harcourt, Her Majesty’s solicitor-general, and member for the Battersea Hamlets, was to lead to the hymeneal altar Miss Caroline Waddington, the granddaughter and presumed heiress of the great millionaire, Mr. Bertram.  Who so high now on the ladder of fortune as the fortunate Sir Henry Harcourt?  In love and politics and the realms of Plutus, he carried all before him.  Yes, Sir Henry Harcourt was the coming man.  Quidnuncs at the clubs began to say that he would give up the legal side of politics and devote himself to statesmanship.  He would be the very man for a home secretary.  Old Bertram, they observed, was known to be dying.  Old Bertram, they also observed, had made a distinct promise to Sir Henry and his granddaughter.  The marriage was to take place at Hadley, from the old man’s house; the old man was delighted with the match, &c., &c., &c.; who so happy, who so great, who so fortunate as Sir Henry Harcourt?

That habit of bringing in letters at the breakfast-table has its good points, certainly.  It is well that one should have one’s letters before the work or pleasure of the day commences:  it is well to be able to discuss the different little subjects of mutual interest as they are mentioned.  “Eliza’s baby has got her first tooth:  it’s all right.  There’s nothing like Daffy’s Elixir after all.”  “My dear, the guano will be here to-day; so the horses will be wanted all the week ­remember that.”  “What a bore, papa; for here’s a letter to say that Kate Carnabie’s coming; and we must go over to the Poldoodles.  Frank Poldoodle is quite smitten with Kate.”  This is all very convenient; but the plan has its drawbacks.  Some letters will be in their nature black and brow-compelling.  Tidings will come from time to time at which men cannot smile.  There will be news that ruffles the sweetest temper, and at receipt of which clouds will darken the most kindly face.  One would fain receive such letters in private.

Two such letters Bertram received that morning, and read while the eyes of the parsonage breakfast-table were ­not fixed on him, but which under such circumstances is much worse ­were purposely turned away.  He knew well the handwriting of each, and would fain have escaped with them from the room.  But this he felt to be cowardly; and so he read them both, sitting there in the family circle.  They were from Caroline and Sir Henry.  We will give precedence to the lady; but Bertram did not so read them.  The lady’s letter was the most trying to his nerves, and was therefore taken the last.  It can hardly be said that their contents surprised him.  When they both came into his hands together, he seemed to feel by intuition what was the news which they contained.  That from Caroline was very fairly written.  But how many times had it been rewritten before that fair copy was prepared?

   Hadley, August, 184 .

   My dear Mr. Bertram,

I do not know whether I am right in thinking that I ought myself to tell you of the step which I am going to take.  If it is unnecessary, I know you will forgive me, and will be certain that I have intended to do what is right.  Sir Henry Harcourt has proposed to me, and I have accepted him.  I believe we shall be married some time before Christmas.

We are staying here with grandpapa.  I think he approves of what I am doing; but you know that he is not very communicative.  At any rate, I shall be married from this house, and I think that he likes Sir Henry.  Aunt Mary is reconciled to all this now.

I do not know that I need say any more, excepting that I shall always ­always hope for your welfare; and be so happy if I can hear of your happiness.  I pray you also to forgive me what injuries I may have done you.

It may be that at some future time we shall meet as friends in London.  I hope we may.  It is a comfort to me that Sir Henry Harcourt knows exactly all that there has been between us.

   Believe me to be,
   Yours most sincerely,

   CAROLINE WADDINGTON.

Harcourt’s letter was written in faster style, and a more running hand.  Solicitors-general have hardly time to stop and pick their words.  But though the manner of it was free and easy, it seemed to Bertram that the freedom and easiness were but affected.

   My dear Bertram,

I hope and trust that the news I have to tell you will be no interruption to our friendship.  I am sure that it should not be, seeing that I am doing you no injury.  Caroline Waddington and I have agreed to put our fortunes into the same boat.  We shall feel much more comfortable on the seas if you will be gracious enough to say, “God save the bark.”

Caroline has of course told me all that has occurred; as, indeed, you had done previously.  As far as I am concerned, I must say she has behaved gloriously.  I always admired her greatly, as you know; though of course till lately I never thought it possible I should possess what I so much admired.

Speaking plainly, I think that she will be happier with me than she would have been with you; and that I shall be happier with her than you would have been.  We are better adapted to each other.  There is a dash of worldliness about us both from which your more ethereal composition is happily free.

   God bless you, old fellow.  Pray write a line in answer,
   saying as much to me.  Of course, you will let us see you
   in London.  Caroline wishes it particularly; and so do I.

I believe I shall be turned off in December.  Such a mill-horse as I am cannot choose my time.  I am going to Scotland for ten days, and shall then be hard at work till our marriage.  I must of course be back when the session commences.  We talk of going to Nice, and thence to Genoa.

   The old gentleman is very civil; but there has been no
   word of money, nor will there be a word.  However, thank
   God, I don’t want it.

   Always your sincerest friend,

   HENRY HARCOURT.

   Reform Club ­August, 184 .

These letters did not take long in the reading.  Within five minutes Bertram was spreading the butter on his toast; and within two minutes more he was asking what news there was from Arthur ­when would he be home?  He had received a great blow, a stunning blow; but he was able to postpone the faintness which would follow it till he should be where no eye could see him.

The breakfast passed away very silently.  They all knew what those two letters contained.  One of the girls had had them in her hand, and had known the handwriting of one and guessed that of the other.  But even without this they would have known.  Are not most of our innermost secrets known to all the world?

And then Bertram skulked off ­or endeavoured rather to do so; for Mrs. Wilkinson detected him in the act, and stopped him.  She had said nothing hitherto about his matrimonial or non-matrimonial affairs.  She had abstained with wonderful discretion; and she now intended that her discretion should be rewarded.

“George, George,” she said, as he turned from the breakfast-parlour door to the rack in the hall on which his hat was hanging, “I want you just for a minute.”  So George returned into the parlour as the girls passed across the hall into the drawing-room.

“I’m afraid you’ll think me unkind because I’ve said nothing about this sad affair of yours.”

“Not at all, aunt,” he said:  though she was no aunt of his, he had always called her so when he had been at Hurst Staple as a child.  “There are some things which had, perhaps, better not be talked about.”  Mrs. Wilkinson, however, was not the woman to be deterred by such a faint repulse as this.

“Exactly so; except among intimate family friends.  But I was very sorry to hear about your breaking off the affair with Caroline Waddington.  I was, indeed; very.  It would have been so suitable as regards the old gentleman ­I know all about that you know ­” and the lady nodded her head, as ladies will do sometimes when they flatter themselves that they know more about such things than their neighbours.

“It was necessary,” said Bertram.

“Necessary ­ah, yes:  I dare say.  I don’t in the least mean to blame you, George.  I am sure you would not behave badly to any girl ­and, from what I have heard, I am quite sure ­quite sure it was not your fault.  Indeed, I know very well ­” and in lieu of finishing her speech, Mrs. Wilkinson again nodded her head.

“Nobody was to blame, aunt; nobody, and it is much better to say nothing about it.”

“That is very good of you, George; very.  But I always shall say ­”

“Dear aunt, pray say nothing.  We had thought when we knew little of each other that it would suit us to live together.  As we learnt each other’s characters more thoroughly, we found that we had been wrong.  It was better for us, therefore, to part; and we did part.”

“And so now she is going to be Lady Harcourt?”

“Yes; it seems so.”

“Well, at any rate, we must all say this:  she hasn’t lost any time.  I don’t know what Sir Henry may think of it; but it certainly does seem to me ­”

“Dear aunt, pray do not talk to me about this.  I think Miss Waddington quite right to accept Sir Henry Harcourt.  That is, I think her right under the circumstances.  He is a rising man, and she will grace any station in which he can place her.  I do not at all blame her, not in the least; it would be monstrous if I did.”

“Oh, of course ­we all know that it was you broke off the other match; all the world knows that.  But what I want to speak about is this.  The old gentleman’s money, George!  Now Sir Henry of course is looking to that.”

“He has my permission.”

“And of course he will get some of it.  That’s to be expected ­she’s his grandchild ­of course I know that,” and Mrs. Wilkinson again nodded her head.  “But, George, you must look very close after the old gentleman.  It won’t at all do to let Harcourt cut you out altogether.  I do hope you mean to be a good deal down at Hadley.  It won’t last for long, you know.”

Bertram would not condescend to explain to Mrs. Wilkinson that he had no intention of going near his uncle again, and that he was sick of the very name of the old man’s money.  So he hummed and hawed, and changed the conversation by saying that he should be so glad to see Arthur on his return.

“Yes, I am sure you will.  But you’ll find Arthur much changed ­very much.”  And it was clear from the tone of Mrs. Wilkinson’s voice that she did not think that this change in her son was for the better.

“He is growing older, I suppose; like the rest of us,” said Bertram, attempting to laugh.

“Oh, yes; he’s growing older, of course.  But people should grow better, George, and more contented; particularly when they have everything about them that they can possibly want.”

“Is not Arthur contented?  He should get married then.  Look at Adela Gauntlet there!”

“Nonsense, George; pray don’t put that into his head.  What has he to marry on?  And as for Adela, if she has fifteen hundred pounds it will be every farthing.  And what’s that for a family?”

“But Arthur has a living.”

“Now, George, don’t you be talking in that way to him.  In one sense he has a living; for, situated as things at present are, of course I cannot hold it in my own hands.  But in real truth he has not a living ­not of his own.  Lord Stapledean, whom I shall always regard as the very first nobleman in the land, and a credit to the whole peerage, expressly gave the living to me.”

“To you, aunt?”

“Yes, expressly to me.  And now I fear Arthur is discontented because he knows that I choose to remain mistress of my own house.  I have done everything I can to make the house pleasant to him.  He has the same study his dear father always had; and he has his own separate horse in the stable, which is more than his father had.”

“But Arthur has his fellowship.”

“And where would his fellowship be if he married Adela Gauntlet?  I do hope you’ll say something to him to make him more contented.  I say nothing about his conduct to me.  I don’t suppose he means to be undutiful.”

And then Bertram did manage to escape; and taking his hat he walked away along that same river-path which led to West Putford ­that same path which Arthur Wilkinson had used to take when he went fishing in those happy early days before promotion had come to him, and the glories of manhood.

But George was not thinking now of Arthur or of Adela.  He had enough of sorrow in his own breast to make his mind selfish for the present ­Caroline Waddington was to be married! to be married so soon after getting quit of her former bondage; to be married to Henry Harcourt.  There was no chance left now, no hope, no possibility that he might regain the rich prize which he had flung away.

And did he wish to regain it?  Was it not now clear enough that she had never loved him?  In May, while the fruits were filling, they had separated; and now before they were well ripe she had given herself to another!  Love him! no, indeed.  Was it possible that she should love any man? ­that she, who could so redeem herself and so bestow herself, should have any heart, any true feeling of what love is?

And yet this was not the worst of it.  Such love as she had to give, had she not given it to this Harcourt even before she had rescued herself from her former lover?  Had she not given this man her preference, such preference as she had to give, then, then when she was discussing with him how best to delay her nuptials with her acknowledged suitor?  This successful, noisy, pushing, worldly man had won her by his success and his worldliness.  The glitter of the gold had caught her; and so she had been unhappy, and had pined, and worn herself with grief till she could break away from her honest troth, and bind herself to the horn of the golden calf.

’Twas thus that he now thought of her, thus that he spoke of her to himself out loud, now that he could wander alone, with no eye to watch him, no ear to hear him.  And yet he loved her with a strong love, with a mad passion such as he had never felt before.  Much as he blamed her, thoroughly as he despised her for being so venal; yet he blamed, nay, scorned, himself more vehemently in that he had let this plausible knave with his silken words rob from him the only treasure worth his having.  Why had he not toiled?  Why had he not made a name for himself?  Why had he not built a throne on which his lady-love might sit and shine before the world?