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

SIR LIONEL GOES TO HIS WOOING.

Yes, they were off.  All the joys of that honeymoon shall be left to the imagination of the reader.  Their first conversation, as it took place in the carriage which bore them from Mr. Bertram’s door, has been given.  Those which followed were probably more or less of the same nature.  Sir Henry, no doubt, did strive to give some touch of romance to the occasion; but in no such attempt would his wife assist him.  To every material proposition that he made, she gave a ready assent; in everything she acceded to his views; she would dine at two, or at eight, as he pleased; she was ready to stay two weeks, or only two days in Paris, as best suited him; she would adapt herself to pictures, or to architecture, or to theatres, or to society, or to going on and seeing nothing, exactly as he adapted himself.  She never frowned, or looked black, or had headaches, or couldn’t go on, or wouldn’t stay still, or turned herself into a Niobean deluge, as some ladies, and very nice ladies too, will sometimes do on their travels.  But she would not talk of love, or hold his hand, or turn her cheek to his.  She had made her bargain, and would keep to it.  Of that which she had promised him, she would give him full measure; of that which she had not promised him ­of which she had explained to him that she had nothing to give ­of that she would make no attempt to give anything.

So they spent their Christmas and opened the new year at Nice, and made an excursion along the Cornice road to Genoa, during which Lady Harcourt learned for the first time that the people of Italy are not so free from cold winds as is generally imagined; and then, early in February, they returned to their house in Eaton Square.  How she soon became immersed in society, and he in Parliament and the County Courts, we may also leave to the imagination of the reader.  In a month or two from that time, when the rigours of a London May shall have commenced, we will return to them again.  In the meantime, we must go back to Hadley ­the two old Bertrams, and dear Miss Baker.

The marriage-feast, prepared by Miss Baker for the wedding guests, did not occupy very long; nor was there any great inducement for those assembled to remain with Mr. Bertram.  He and Miss Baker soon found themselves again alone; and were no sooner alone than the business of life recommenced.

“It’s a very splendid match for her,” said Mr. Bertram.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” said Miss Baker.  Miss Baker in her heart of hearts had never quite approved of the marriage.

“And now, Mary, what do you mean to do?”

“Oh, I’ll see and get these things taken away,” said she.

“Yes, yes; stop a minute; that’s of course.  But what I mean is, what do you mean to do with yourself? you can’t go back and live at Littlebath all alone?”

If I were to use the word “flabbergasted” as expressing Miss Baker’s immediate state of mind, I should draw down on myself the just anger of the critics, in that I had condescended to the use of slang; but what other word will so well express what is meant?  She had fully intended to go back to Littlebath, and had intended to do so at the earliest moment that would be possible.  Was not Sir Lionel still at Littlebath?  And, moreover, she fully intended to live there.  That she would have some little difficulty in the matter, she had anticipated.  Her own income ­that which was indefeasibly her own ­was very small; by far too small to admit of her permanently keeping on those rooms in Montpellier Terrace.  Hitherto their income, her own and Caroline’s put together, had been very comfortable; for Mr. Bertram had annually paid to her a sum which of itself would have been sufficient for her own living.  But she had not known what difference Caroline’s marriage might make in this allowance.  It had been given to herself without any specification that it had been so given for any purpose; but yet it had been an understood thing that Caroline was to live with her and be supported.  And though Caroline’s income had also been used, it had gone rather in luxurious enjoyments than in necessary expenses; in the keep of a horse, for instance, in a journey to Jerusalem, in a new grand piano, and such like.  Now there might naturally be a doubt whether under altered circumstances this allowance from Mr. Bertram would remain unaltered.

But it had never occurred to her that she would be asked to live at Hadley.  That idea did now occur to her, and therefore she stood before her uncle hesitating in her answer, and ­may my inability to select any better word be taken in excuse? ­“flabbergasted” in her mind and feelings.

But her doom followed quickly on her hesitation.  “Because,” said Mr. Bertram, “there is plenty of room here.  There can be no need of two houses and two establishments now; you had better send for your things and fix yourself here at once.”

“But I couldn’t leave the rooms at Littlebath without a quarter’s notice;” ­the coward’s plea; a long day, my lord, a long day ­“that was particularly understood when I got them so cheap.”

“There will be no difficulty in reletting them at this time of the year,” growled Mr. Bertram.

“Oh, no, I suppose not; one would have to pay something, of course.  But, dear me! one can hardly leave the place where one has lived so long all of a moment.”

“Why not?” demanded the tyrant.

“Well, I don’t know.  I can hardly say why not; but one has so many people to see, and so many things to do, and so much to pack up.”

It may be easily conceived that in such an encounter Miss Baker would not achieve victory.  She had neither spirit for the fight, nor power to use it even had the spirit been there; but she effected a compromise by the very dint of her own weakness.  “Yes, certainly,” she said.  “As Mr. Bertram thought it best, she would be very happy to live with him at Hadley ­most happy, of course; but mightn’t she go down and pack up her things, and settle with everybody, and say good-bye to her friends?” Oh, those friends! that horrible Miss Todd!

And thus she got a month of grace.  She was to go down immediately after Christmas-day, and be up again at Hadley, and fixed there permanently, before the end of January.

She wrote to Caroline on the subject, rather plaintively; but owning that it was of course her duty to stay by her uncle now that he was so infirm.  It would be very dull, of course, she said; but any place would be dull now that she, Caroline, was gone.  And it would be sad giving up her old friends.  She named one or two, and among them Sir Lionel.  “It would be a great pleasure to me,” she went on to say, “if I could be the means of reconciling the two brothers ­not but what Sir Henry Harcourt will always be Mr. Bertram’s favourite; I am sure of that.  I don’t think I shall mind leaving Miss Todd, though she does pretend to be so friendly; I was never quite sure she was sincere; and then she does talk so very loud; and, in spite of all she says, I am not sure she’s not looking out for a husband.”

And then she went back to Littlebath, intent on enjoying her short reprieve.  Something might happen; she did not ask herself what.  The old gentleman might not last long; but she certainly did not speculate on his death.  Or; ­she had a sort of an idea that there might be an “or,” though she never allowed herself to dwell on it as a reality.  But on one point she did make up her mind, that if it should be her destiny to keep house for either of those two gentlemen, she would much rather keep house for Sir Lionel than for his brother.

Her absolute money-dealings had always been with Mr. Pritchett; and as she passed through town, Mr. Pritchett came to her and made her the usual quarterly payment.

“But, Mr. Pritchett,” said she, “I am going to live with Mr. Bertram after another month or so.”

“Oh, ma’am; yes, ma’am; that will be very proper, ma’am.  I always supposed it would be so when Miss Caroline was gone,” said Pritchett, in a melancholy tone.

“But will it be proper for me to have this money now?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am.  It wouldn’t be my duty to stop any payments till I get orders.  Mr. Bertram never forgets anything, ma’am.  If he’d meant me to stop it, he wouldn’t have forgot to say so.”

“Oh, very well, Mr. Pritchett;” and Miss Baker was going away.

“But, one word, if you please, ma’am.  I don’t detain you, ma’am, do I?” and you might have guessed by Pritchett’s voice that he was quite willing to let her go if she wished, even though his own death on the spot might be the instant result.

“Oh dear, no, Mr. Pritchett,” said Miss Baker.

“We all see how things have gone, ma’am, now; ­about Miss Caroline, I mean.”

“Yes, she is Lady Harcourt now.”

“Oh, yes, I know that, ma’am,” and Mr. Pritchett here sank to the lowest bathos of misery.  “I know she’s Lady Harcourt very well.  I didn’t mean her ladyship any disrespect.”

“Oh dear, no, of course not, Mr. Pritchett.  Who would think such a thing of you, who’s known her from a baby?”

“Yes, I have know’d her from a babby, ma’am.  That’s just it; and I’ve know’d you from amost a babby too, ma’am.”

“That was a very long time ago, Mr. Pritchett.”

“Yes, it is some years now, certainly, Miss Baker.  I’m not so young as I was; I know that.”  Mr. Pritchett’s voice at this juncture would have softened the heart of any stone that had one.  “But this is what it is, ma’am; you’re going to live with the old gentleman now.”

“Yes, I believe I am.”

“Well, now; about Mr. George, ma’am.”

“Mr. George!”

“Yes, Mr. George, Miss Baker.  It ain’t of course for me to say anything of what goes on between young ladies and young gentlemen.  I don’t know anything about it, and never did; and I don’t suppose I never shall now.  But they two was to have been one, and now they’re two.”  Mr. Pritchett could not get on any further without pausing for breath.

“The match was broken off, you know.”

“It was broke off.  I say nothing about that, nor about them who did it.  I know nothing, and therefore I say nothing; but this I do say:  that it will be very hard ­very hard, and very cruel if so that the old gentleman is set against Mr. George because Sir Henry Harcourt has got a handle to his name for himself.”

The conference ended in a promise on Miss Baker’s part that she, at least, would say nothing against Mr. George; but with an assurance, also, that it was impossible for her to say anything in his favour.

“You may be sure of this, Mr. Pritchett, that my uncle will never consult me about his money.”

“He’ll never consult any human being, ma’am.  He wouldn’t consult Solomon if Solomon were to go to Hadley o’ purpose.  But you might slip in a word that Mr. George was not in fault; mightn’t you, ma’am?”

Miss Baker reiterated her promise that she would not at any rate say anything evil of George Bertram.

“He is such a foolish young man, ma’am; so like a baby about money.  It’s that’s why I feel for him, because he is so foolish.”

And then Miss Baker prosecuted her journey, and reached Littlebath in safety.

She had not been long there before Sir Lionel had heard all the news.  Miss Baker, without knowing that a process of pumping had been applied to her, soon made him understand that for the present Sir Harcourt had certainly not been received into the place of heir.  It was clear that but a very moderate amount of the old gentleman’s wealth ­he was usually now called the old gentleman by them all; Sir Lionel, Miss Baker, Mr. Pritchett, and others ­had been bestowed on the rising lawyer; and that, as far as that point was concerned, the game was still open.  But then, if it was open to him, Sir Lionel, through Miss Baker, it was also open to his son George.  And it appeared from Miss Baker’s testimony that, during the whole period of these wedding doings, no word had escaped the mouth of the old gentleman in vituperation or anger against George.  Perhaps George after all might be the best card.  Oh, what an excellent card might he be if he would only consent to guide himself by the commonest rules of decent prudence!  But then, as Mr. Pritchett had truly observed, Mr. George was so foolish!  Moreover, Sir Lionel was not blind to the reflection that the old gentleman would never countenance his marriage with Miss Baker.  Whatever Mr. Bertram’s good intentions Miss Baker-wards might be, they would undoubtedly be frustrated by such a marriage.  If Sir Lionel decided on Miss Baker, things must be so arranged that the marriage should be postponed till that tedious old gentleman should move himself off the scene; and the tedious old gentleman, moreover, must not be allowed to know anything about it.

But with Miss Todd there need be no secrecy, no drawback, no delay ­no drawback but that of doubtful reception; and after reception, of doubtful masterdom.

On thorough review of all the circumstances, much balancing them in his high mind, Sir Lionel at last thus resolved.  He would throw himself, his heart, and his fortune at the feet of Miss Todd.  If there accepted, he would struggle with every muscle of the manhood which was yet within him for that supremacy in purse and power which of law and of right belongs to the man.  He thought he knew himself, and that it would not be easy for a woman to get the better of him.  But if there rejected ­and he could not confess but what there was a doubt ­he would immediately fall back upon Miss Baker.  Whatever he did must be done immediately, for in less than a month’s time, Miss Baker would be out of his reach altogether.  As to seeking Miss Baker at Hadley, that would be above even his courage.  All must be done within the next month.  If on Miss Baker was to fall the honour of being Lady Bertram, she must not only receive him within the month, but, having done so, must also agree to wear her vestal zone yet a little longer, till that troublesome old gentleman should have departed.

Such being his month’s work ­he had not quite four weeks left when he came to this resolution ­he wisely resolved to commence it at once.

So on one Monday morning he sallied out to the Paragon about two o’clock.  At that hour he knew Miss Todd would be surely at home; for at half-past one she ate her lunch.  In the regularity of her eatings and her drinkings, Miss Todd might have been taken as an example by all the ladies of Littlebath.  Sir Lionel’s personal appearance has been already described.  Considering his age, he was very well preserved.  He was still straight; did not fumble much in his walk; and had that decent look of military decorum which, since the days of Cæsar and the duke, has been always held to accompany a hook-nose.  He had considered much about his toilet; indeed, he did that habitually; but on this occasion he had come to the conclusion that he had better make no unusual sacrifice to the Graces.  A touch of the curling-iron to his whiskers, or a surtout that should be absolutely fresh from the tailor’s hands, might have an effect with Miss Baker; but if any impression was to be made on Miss Todd, it would not be done by curled whiskers or a new coat.  She must be won, if won at all, by the unsophisticated man.

So the unsophisticated man knocked at the door in the Paragon.  Yes; Miss Todd was at home.  Up he went, and found not only Miss Todd, but also with Miss Todd the venerable Mrs. Shortpointz, settling all the details for a coming rubber of whist for that evening.

“Ah, Sir Lionel; how do?  Sit down.  Very well, my dear,” ­Miss Todd called everybody my dear, even Sir Lionel himself sometimes; but on the present occasion she was addressing Mrs. Shortpointz ­“I’ll be there at eight; but mind this, I won’t sit down with Lady Ruth, nor yet with Miss Ruff.”  So spoke Miss Todd, who, by dint of her suppers and voice, was becoming rather autocratic at Littlebath.

“You shan’t, Miss Todd.  Lady Ruth ­”

“Very well; that’s all I bargain for.  And now here’s Sir Lionel; how lucky!  Sir Lionel, you can be so civil, and so useful.  Do give Mrs. Shortpointz your arm home.  Her niece was to call; but there’s been some mistake.  And Mrs. Shortpointz does not like walking alone.  Come, Sir Lionel.”

Sir Lionel strove against the order; but it was in vain.  He had to yield; and walked away with old Mrs. Shortpointz on his arm.  It was hard, we must acknowledge, that a man of Sir Lionel’s age and standing should be so employed at such a moment, because that flirt, Maria Shortpointz, had gone out to see young Mr. Garded ride by in his pink coat and spattered boots.  He would have let her fall and break her leg, only that by doing so he would have prolonged the time of his own attendance on her.  She lived half across Littlebath; and her step, ordinarily slow, was slower then usual now that she was leaning on a knight’s arm.  At last she was deposited at home; and the gallant colonel, having scornfully repudiated her offer of cake and sherry, flew back to the Paragon on the wings of love ­in a street cab, for which he had to pay eighteenpence.

But he was all too late.  Miss Todd had gone out in her fly just three minutes since; and thus a whole day was lost.

On the Tuesday, in proper course, he was due at Miss Baker’s.  But for this turn, Miss Baker must be neglected.  At the same hour he again knocked at the door of the Paragon, and was again admitted, and now Miss Todd was all alone.  She was rarely left so very long, and the precious moments must be seized at once.  Sir Lionel, with that military genius which was so peculiarly his own, determined to use his yesterday’s defeat in aid of to-day’s victory.  He would make even Mrs. Shortpointz serviceable.

When gentlemen past sixty make love to ladies past forty, it may be supposed that they are not so dilatory in their proceedings as younger swains and younger maidens.  Time is then behind them, not before them; and urges them on to quick decisions.  It may be presumed, moreover, that this pair knew their own minds.

“How cruel you were to me yesterday!” said Sir Lionel, seating himself not very close to her ­nor yet very far from her.

“What! about poor Mrs. Shortpointz?  Ha! ha! ha!  Poor old lady; she didn’t think so, I am sure.  One ought to be of use sometimes, you know, Sir Lionel.”

“True, true, Miss Todd; quite true.  But I was particularly unfortunate yesterday.  I wished that Mrs. Shortpointz was hanging ­anywhere except on my arm.  I did, indeed.”

“Ha! ha! ha!  Poor Mrs. Shortpointz!  And she was so full of you last night.  The beau ideal of manly beauty! that was what she called you.  She did indeed.  Ha! ha! ha!”

“She was very kind.”

“And then we all quizzed her about you; and Miss Finesse called her Lady Bertram.  You can’t think how funny we old women are when we get together.  There wasn’t a gentleman in the room ­except Mr. Fuzzybell; and he never seems to make any difference.  But I tell you what, Sir Lionel; a certain friend of yours didn’t seem to like it when we called Mrs. Shortpointz Lady Bertram.”

“And were you that friend, Miss Todd?”

“I!  Ha! ha! ha!  No; not I, but Miss Baker.  And I’ll tell you what, Sir Lionel,” said Miss Todd, intending to do a kinder act for Miss Baker than Miss Baker would have done for her.  “And I’ll tell you what; Miss Baker is the nicest-looking woman of her time of life in Littlebath.  I don’t care who the other is.  I never saw her look better than she did last night; never.”  This was good-natured on the part of Miss Todd; but it sounded in Sir Lionel’s ears as though it did not augur well for his hopes.

“Yes; she’s very nice; very nice indeed.  But I know one, Miss Todd, that’s much nicer.”  And Sir Lionel drew his chair a little nearer.

“What, Mrs. Shortpointz, I suppose.  Ha! ha! ha!  Well, every man to his taste.”

“I wonder whether I may speak to you seriously, Miss Todd, for five minutes?”

“Oh laws, yes; why not?  But don’t tell me any secrets, Sir Lionel; for I shan’t keep them.”

“I hope what I may say need not be kept a secret long.  You joke with me about Miss Baker; but you cannot really believe that my affections are placed there?  You must, I think, have guessed by this time ­”

“I am the worst hand in the world at guessing anything.”

“I am not a young man, Miss Todd ­”

“No; and she isn’t a young woman.  She’s fifty.  It would all be very proper in that respect.”

“I’m not thinking of Miss Baker, Miss Todd.”

“Dear! well now, I really thought you were thinking of her.  And I’ll tell you this, Sir Lionel; if you want a wife to look after you, you couldn’t do better than think of her ­a nice, good-tempered, cheerful, easy, good-looking woman; with none of the Littlebath nastiness about her; ­and a little money too, I’ve no doubt.  How could you do better than think of her?” Would it not have softened Miss Baker’s heart towards her friend if she could have heard all this?

“Ah; you say this to try me.  I know you do.”

“Try you! no; but I want you to try Miss Baker.”

“Well; I am going to make an attempt of that kind, certainly; certainly I am.  But it is not with Miss Baker, as I cannot but think you know;” and then he paused to collect his ideas, and take in at a coup d’oeil the weak point to which his attack should be turned.  Meanwhile, Miss Todd sat silent.  She knew by this time what was coming; and knew also, that in courtesy the gentleman should be allowed to have his say.  Sir Lionel drew his chair again nearer ­it was now very near ­and thus began: ­

“Dear Sarah! ­” How he had found out that Miss Todd’s name was Sarah it might be difficult to say.  Her signature was S. Todd; and Sir Lionel had certainly never heard her called by her Christian name.  But facts were with him.  She undoubtedly had been christened Sarah.

“Dear Sarah! ­”

“Ha! ha! ha!  Ha! ha! ha!” laughed Miss Todd, with terrible loudness, with a shaking of her sides, throwing herself backwards and forwards in the corner of her sofa.  It was not civil, and so Sir Lionel felt.  When you first call your lady-love by her Christian name, you do not like to have the little liberty made a subject of ridicule ­you feel it by far less if the matter be taken up seriously against you as a crime on your part.

“Ha! ha! ha!” continued Miss Todd, roaring in her laughter louder than ever; “I don’t think, Sir Lionel, I was ever called Sarah before since the day I was born; and it does sound so funny.  Sarah!  Ha! ha! ha!”

Sir Lionel was struck dumb.  What could he say when his little tenderness was met in such a manner?

“Call me Sally, if you like, Sir Lionel.  My brothers and sisters, and uncles and aunts, and all those sort of people, always called me Sally.  But, Sarah!  Ha! ha! ha!  Suppose you call me Sally, Sir Lionel.”

Sir Lionel tried, but he could not call her Sally; his lips at that moment would not form the sound.

But the subject had now been introduced.  If he should ever be able to claim her as his own, he might then call her Sarah, or Sally, or use any other term of endearment which the tenderness of the moment might suggest.  When that day should come, perhaps he might have his own little joke; but, in the meantime, the plunge had been taken, and he could now swim on.

“Miss Todd, you now know what my feelings are, and I hope that you will at any rate not disapprove of them.  We have known each other for some time, and have, I hope, enjoyed and valued each other’s society.”  Miss Todd here made a little bow, but she said nothing.  She had a just perception that Sir Lionel should be permitted to have his say, and that, as matters had become serious, it would be well for her to wait till he had done, and then she might have her say.  So she merely bowed, by way of giving a civil acquiescence in Sir Lionel’s last little suggestion.

“I have hoped so, dear Miss Todd” ­he had taken a moment to consider, and thought that he had better drop the Sarah altogether for the present.  “In myself, I can safely say that it has been so.  With you, I feel that I am happy, and at my ease.  Your modes of thought and way of life are all such as I admire and approve,” ­Miss Todd again bowed ­“and ­and ­what I mean is, that I think we both live very much after the same fashion.”

Miss Todd, who knew everything that went on in Littlebath, and was au fait at every bit of scandal and tittle-tattle in the place, had probably heard more of the fashion of Sir Lionel’s life than he was aware.  In places such as Littlebath, ladies such as Miss Todd do have sources of information which are almost miraculous.  But still she said nothing.  She merely thought that Sir Lionel was a good deal mistaken in the opinion which he had last expressed.

“I am not a young man,” continued Sir Lionel.  “My brother, you know, is a very old man, and there are but fifteen years’ difference between us.”  This was a mistake of Sir Lionel’s; the real difference being ten years.  “And you, I know, are hardly yet past your youth.”

“I was forty-five last Guy Fawkes’ day,” said Miss Todd.

“Then there are fifteen years difference between us.”  The reader will please to read “twenty.”  “Can you look over that difference, and take me, old as I am, for your companion for life?  Shall we not both be happier if we have such a companion?  As to money ­”

“Oh, Sir Lionel, don’t trouble about that; nor yet about your age.  If I wanted to marry, I’d as lief have an old man as a young one; perhaps liefer:  and as to money, I’ve got enough for myself, and I have no doubt you have too” ­nevertheless, Miss Todd did know of that heavy over-due bill at the livery stables, and had heard that the very natty groom who never left Sir Lionel’s phaeton for a moment was a sworn bailiff; sworn to bring the carriage and horses back to the livery-stable yard ­“but the fact is, I don’t want to marry.”

“Do you mean, Miss Todd, that you will prefer to live in solitude for ever?”

“Oh, as for solitude, I’m not much of a Robinson Crusoe, nor yet an Alexander Selkirk.  I never found any of its charms.  But, Lord bless you, Sir Lionel, people never leave me in solitude.  I’m never alone.  My sister Patty has fifteen children.  I could have half of them to live with me if I liked it.”  This view of the case did throw some cold water on Sir Lionel’s ardour.

“And you are quite resolved on this?” he said, with a dash of expiring sentiment in his tone.

“What! to have Patty’s children?  No, I find it more convenient to pay for their schooling.”

“But you are quite resolved to ­to ­to give me no other, no more favourable answer?”

“Oh! about marrying.  On that subject, Sir Lionel, my mind is altogether made up.  Miss Todd I am, and Miss Todd I mean to remain.  To tell the truth plainly, I like to be number one in my own house.  Lady Bertram, I am quite sure, will be a fortunate and happy woman; but then, she’ll be number two, I take it.  Eh, Sir Lionel?”

Sir Lionel smiled and laughed, and looked at the ground, and then looked up again; but he did not deny the imputation.  “Well,” said he, “I trust we shall still remain friends.”

“Oh, certainly; why not?” replied Miss Todd.

And so they parted.  Sir Lionel took his hat and stick, and went his way.