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


Mrs. Wilkinson did not leave her home for her long and tedious journey without considerable parade.  Her best new black silk dress was packed up in order that due honour might be done to Lord Stapledean’s hospitality, and so large a box was needed that Dumpling and the four-wheeled carriage were hardly able to take her to the railway-station.  Then there arose the question who should drive her.  Arthur offered to do so; but she was going on a journey of decided hostility as regarded him, and under such circumstances she could not bring herself to use his services even over a portion of the road.  So the stable-boy was her charioteer.

She talked about Lord Stapledean the whole evening before she went.  Arthur would have explained to her something of that nobleman’s character if she would have permitted it.  But she would not.  When he hinted that she would find Lord Stapledean austere in his manner, she answered that his lordship no doubt had had his reasons for being austere with so very young a man as Arthur had been.  When he told her about the Bowes hotel, she merely shook her head significantly.  A nobleman who had been so generous to her and hers as Lord Stapledean would hardly allow her to remain at the inn.

“I am very sorry that the journey is forced upon me,” she said to Arthur, as she sat with her bonnet on, waiting for the vehicle.

“I am sorry that you are going, mother, certainly,” he had answered; “because I know that it will lead to disappointment.”

“But I have no other course left open to me,” she continued.  “I cannot see my poor girls turned out houseless on the world.”  And then, refusing even to lean on her son’s arm, she stepped up heavily into the carriage, and seated herself beside the boy.

“When shall we expect you, mamma?” said Sophia.

“It will be impossible for me to say; but I shall be sure to write as soon as I have seen his lordship.  Good-bye to you, girls.”  And then she was driven away.

“It is a very foolish journey,” said Arthur.

“Mamma feels that she is driven to it,” said Sophia.

Mrs. Wilkinson had written to Lord Stapledean two days before she started, informing his lordship that it had become very necessary that she should wait upon him on business connected with the living, and therefore she was aware that her coming would not be wholly unexpected.  In due process of time she arrived at Bowes, very tired and not a little disgusted at the great expense of her journey.  She had travelled but little alone, and knew nothing as to the cost of hotels, and not a great deal as to that of railways, coaches, and post-chaises.  But at last she found herself in the same little inn which had previously received Arthur when he made the same journey.

“The lady can have a post-chaise, of course,” said the landlady, speaking from the bar.  “Oh, yes, Lord Stapledean is at home, safe enough.  He’s never very far away from it to the best of my belief.”

“It’s only a mile or so, is it?” said Mrs. Wilkinson.

“Seven long miles, ma’am,” said the landlady.

“Seven miles! dear, dear.  I declare I never was so tired in my life.  You can put the box somewhere behind in the post-chaise, can’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am; we can do that.  Be you a-going to stay at his lordship’s, then?”

To this question Mrs. Wilkinson made an ambiguous answer.  Her confidence was waning, now that she drew near to the centre of her aspirations.  But at last she did exactly as her son had done before her.  She said she would take her box; but that it was possible she might want a bed that evening.  “Very possible,” the landlady said to herself.

“And you’ll take a bite of something before you start, ma’am,” she said, out loud.  But, no; it was only now twelve o’clock, and she would be at Bowes Lodge a very little after one.  She had still sufficient confidence in Lord Stapledean to feel sure of her lunch.  When people reached Hurst Staple Vicarage about that hour, there was always something for them to eat.  And so she started.

It was April now; but even in April that bleak northern fell was very cold.  Nothing more inhospitable than that road could be seen.  It was unsheltered, swept by every blast, very steep, and mercilessly oppressed by turnpikes.  Twice in those seven miles one-and-sixpence was inexorably demanded from her.

“But I know one gate always clears the other, when they are so near,” she argued.

“Noa, they doant,” was all the answer she received from the turnpike woman, who held a baby under each arm.

“I am sure the woman is robbing me,” said poor Mrs. Wilkinson.

“No, she beant,” said the post-boy.  They are good hearty people in that part of the world; but they do not brook suspicion, and the courtesies of life are somewhat neglected.  And then she arrived at Lord Stapledean’s gate.

“Be you she what sent the letter?” said the woman at the lodge, holding it only half open.

“Yes, my good woman; yes,” said Mrs. Wilkinson, thinking that her troubles were now nearly over.  “I am the lady; I am Mrs. Wilkinson.”

“Then my lord says as how you’re to send up word what you’ve got to say.”  And the woman still stood in the gateway.

“Send up word!” said Mrs. Wilkinson.

“Yees.  Just send up word.  Here’s Jock can rin up.”

“But Jock can’t tell his lordship what I have to say to him.  I have to see his lordship on most important business,” said she, in her dismay.

“I’m telling you no more that what my lord said his ain sell.  He just crawled down here his ain sell.  ‘If a woman comes,’ said he, ’don’t let her through the gate till she sends up word what she’s got to say to me.’” And the portress looked as though she were resolved to obey her master’s orders.

“Good heavens!  There must be some mistake in this, I’m sure.  I am the clergyman of Staplehurst ­I mean his widow.  Staplehurst, you know; his lordship’s property.”

“I didna know nothing aboot it.”

“Oh, drive on, post-boy.  There must be some mistake.  The woman must be making some dreadful mistake.”

At last the courage of the lodge-keeper gave way before the importance of the post-chaise, and she did permit Mrs. Wilkinson to proceed.

“Mither,” said the woman’s eldest hope, “you’ll cotch it noo.”

“Eh, lad; weel.  He’ll no hang me.”  And so the woman consoled herself.

The house called Bowes Lodge looked damper and greener, more dull, silent, and melancholy, even than it had done when Arthur made his visit.  The gravel sweep before the door was covered by weeds, and the shrubs looked as though they had known no gardener’s care for years.  The door itself did not even appear to be for purposes of ingress and egress, and the post-boy had to search among the boughs and foliage with which the place was overgrown before he could find the bell.  When found, it sounded with a hoarse, rusty, jangling noise, as though angry at being disturbed in so unusual a manner.

But, rusty and angry as it was, it did evoke a servant ­though not without considerable delay.  A cross old man did come at last, and the door was slowly opened.  “Yes,” said the man.  “The marquis was at home, no doubt.  He was in the study.  But that was no rule why he should see folk.”  And then he looked very suspiciously at the big trunk, and muttered something to the post-boy, which Mrs. Wilkinson could not hear.

“Will you oblige me by giving my card to his lordship ­Mrs. Wilkinson?  I want to see him on very particular business.  I wrote to his lordship to say that I should be here.”

“Wrote to his lordship, did you?  Then it’s my opinion he won’t see you at all.”

“Yes, he will.  If you’ll take him my card, I know he’ll see me.  Will you oblige me, sir, by taking it into his lordship?” And she put on her most imperious look.

The man went, and Mrs. Wilkinson sat silent in the post-chaise for a quarter of an hour.  Then the servant returned, informing her that she was to send in her message.  His lordship had given directions at the lodge that she was not to come up, and could not understand how it had come to pass that the lady had forced her way to the hall-door.  At any rate, he would not see her till he knew what it was about.

Now it was impossible for Mrs. Wilkinson to explain the exact nature of her very intricate case to Lord Stapledean’s butler, and yet she could not bring herself to give up the battle without making some further effort.  “It is about the vicarage at Hurst Staple,” said she; “the vicarage at Hurst Staple,” she repeated, impressing the words on the man’s memory.  “Don’t forget, now.”  The man gave a look of ineffable scorn, and then walked away, leaving Mrs. Wilkinson still in the post-chaise.

And now came on an April shower, such as April showers are on the borders of Westmoreland.  It rained and blew; and after a while the rain turned to sleet.  The post-boy buttoned up his coat, and got under the shelter of the portico; the horses drooped their heads, and shivered.  Mrs. Wilkinson wished herself back at Hurst Staple ­or even comfortably settled at Littlebath, as her son had once suggested.

“His lordship don’t know nothing about the vicarage,” bellowed out the butler, opening the hall-door only half way, so that his face just appeared above the lock.

“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” said Mrs. Wilkinson.  “Just let me down into the hall, and then I will explain it to you.”

“Them ’orses ’ll be foundered as sure as heggs,” said the post-boy.

Mrs. Wilkinson at last succeeded in making her way into the hall, and the horses were allowed to go round to the yard.  And then at last, after half a dozen more messages to and fro, she was informed that Lord Stapledean would see her.  So dreadful had been the contest hitherto, that this amount of success was very grateful.  Her feeling latterly had been one of intense hostility to the butler rather than to her son.  Now that she had conquered that most savage Cerberus, all would be pleasant with her.  But, alas! she soon found that in passing Cerberus she had made good her footing in a region as little desirable as might be.

She was ushered into the same book-room in which Arthur had been received, and soon found herself seated in the same chair, and on the same spot.  Lord Stapledean was thinner now, even than he had been then; he had a stoop in his shoulders, and his face and hair were more gray.  His eyes seemed to his visitor to be as sharp and almost as red as those of ferrets.  As she entered, he just rose from his seat and pointed to the chair on which she was to sit.

“Well, ma’am,” said he; “what’s all this about the clergyman’s house at Hurst Staple?  I don’t understand it at all.”

“No, my lord; I’m sure your lordship can’t understand.  That’s why I have thought it my duty to come all this way to explain it.”

“All what way?”

“All the way from Hurst Staple, in Hampshire, my lord.  When your lordship was so considerate as to settle what my position in the parish was to be ­”

“Settle your position in the parish!”

“Yes, my lord ­as to my having the income and the house.”

“What does the woman mean?” said he, looking down towards the rug beneath his feet, but speaking quite out loud.  “Settle her position in the parish!  Why, ma’am, I don’t know who you are, and what your position is, or anything about you.”

“I am the widow of the late vicar, Lord Stapledean; and when he died ­”

“I was fool enough to give the living to his son.  I remember all about it.  He was an imprudent man, and lived beyond his means, and there was nothing left for any of you ­wasn’t that it?”

“Yes, my lord,” said Mrs. Wilkinson, who was so troubled in spirit that she hardly knew what to say.  “That is, we never lived beyond our means at all, my lord.  There were seven children; and they were all educated most respectably.  The only boy was sent to college; and I don’t think there was any imprudence ­indeed I don’t, my lord.  And there was something saved; and the insurance was always regularly paid; and ­”

The marquis absolutely glared at her, as she went on with her domestic defence.  The household at Hurst Staple had been creditably managed, considering the income; and it was natural that she should wish to set her patron right.  But every word that she said carried her further away from her present object.

“And what on earth have you come to me for?” said Lord Stapledean.

“I’ll tell your lordship, if you’ll only allow me five minutes.  Your lordship remembers when poor Mr. Wilkinson died?”

“I don’t remember anything about it.”

“Your lordship was good enough to send for Arthur.”


“Yes, my lord.”

“Who’s Arthur?”

“My boy, my lord.  Don’t you remember?  He was just in orders then, and so you were good enough to put him into the living ­that is to say, not exactly into the living; but to make him curate, as it were; and you allocated the income to me; and ­”

“Allocated the income!” said Lord Stapledean, putting up his hands in token of unlimited surprise.

“Yes, my lord.  Your lordship saw just how it was; and, as I could not exactly hold the living myself ­”

“Hold the living yourself!  Why, are you not a woman, ma’am?”

“Yes, my lord, of course; that was the reason.  So you put Arthur into the living, and you allocated the income to me.  That is all settled.  But now the question is about the house.”

“The woman’s mad,” said Lord Stapledean, looking again to the carpet, but speaking quite out loud.  “Stark mad.  I think you’d better go home, ma’am; a great deal better.”

“My lord, if you’d only give yourself the trouble to understand me ­”

“I don’t understand a word you say.  I have nothing to do with the income, or the house, or with you, or with your son.”

“Oh, yes, my lord, indeed you have.”

“I tell you I haven’t, ma’am; and what’s more, I won’t.”

“He’s going to marry, my lord,” continued Mrs. Wilkinson, beginning to whimper; “and we are to be turned out of the house, unless you will interfere to prevent it.  And he wants me to go and live at Littlebath.  And I’m sure your lordship meant me to have the house when you allocated the income.”

“And you’ve come all the way to Bowes, have you, because your son wants to enjoy his own income?”

“No, my lord; he doesn’t interfere about that.  He knows he can’t touch that, because your lordship allocated it to me ­and, to do him justice, I don’t think he would if he could.  And he’s not a bad boy, my lord; only mistaken about this.”

“Oh, he wants his own house, does he?”

“But it isn’t his own house, you know.  It has been my house ever since his father died.  And if your lordship will remember ­”

“I tell you what, Mrs. Wilkinson; it seems to me that your son should not let you come out so far by yourself ­”

“My lord!”

“And if you’ll take my advice, you’ll go home as fast as you can, and live wherever he bids you.”

“But, my lord ­”

“At any rate, I must beg you not to trouble me any more about the matter.  When I was a young man your husband read with me for a few months; and I really think that two presentations to the living have been a sufficient payment for that.  I know nothing about your son, and I don’t want to know anything.  I dare say he’s as good as most other clergymen ­”

“Oh, yes; he is, my lord.”

“But I don’t care a straw who lives in the house.”

“Don’t you, my lord?” said Mrs. Wilkinson, very despondently.

“Not one straw.  I never heard such a proposition from a woman in my life ­never.  And now, if you’ll allow me, I’ll wish you good-morning, ma’am.  Good-morning to you.”  And the marquis made a slight feint, as though to raise himself from his chair.

Mrs. Wilkinson got up, and stood upright before him, with her handkerchief to her eyes.  It was very grievous to her to have failed so utterly.  She still felt sure that if Lord Stapledean would only be made to understand the facts of the case, he would even yet take her part.  She had come so far to fight her battle, that she could not bring herself to leave the ground as long as a chance of victory remained to her.  How could she put the matter in the fewest words, so as to make the marquis understand the very ­very truth?

“If your lordship would only allow me to recall to your memory the circumstances of the case, ­how you, yourself, allocated ­”

Lord Stapledean turned suddenly at the bell-rope, and gave it a tremendous pull ­then another ­and then a third, harder than the others.  Down came the rope about his ears, and the peal was heard ringing through the house.

“Thompson,” he said to the man, as he entered, “show that lady the door.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Show her the door immediately.”

“Yes, my lord,” said Thompson, standing irresolute.  “Now, ma’am; the post-chaise is waiting.”

Mrs. Wilkinson had still strength enough to prevent collapse, and to gather herself together with some little feminine dignity.  “I think I have been very badly treated,” she said, as she prepared to move.

“Thompson,” shrieked the marquis, in his passion; “show that lady the door.”

“Yes, my lord;” and Thompson gracefully waved his hand, pointing down the passage.  It was the only way in which he could show Mrs. Wilkinson the way out.

And then, obedient to necessity, she walked forth.  Never had she held her head so high, or tossed her bonnet with so proud a shake, as she did in getting into that post-chaise.  Thompson held the handle of the carriage-door:  he also offered her his arm, but she despised any such aid.  She climbed in unassisted; the post-boy mounted his jade; and so she was driven forth, not without titters from the woman at the lodge-gate.  With heavy heart she reached the inn, and sat herself down to weep alone in her bedroom.

“So, you’ve come back?” said the landlady.

“Ugh!” exclaimed Mrs. Wilkinson.

We will not dwell long on her painful journey back to Hurst Staple; nor on the wretched reflections with which her mind was laden.  She sent on a line by post to her eldest daughter, so that she was expected; and Dumpling and the phaeton and the stable-boy were there to meet her.  She had feared that Arthur would come:  but Arthur had dreaded the meeting also; and, having talked the matter over with his sisters, had remained at home.  He was in the book-room, and hearing the wheels, as the carriage drew up to the door, he went out to greet his mother on the steps.

At the first moment of meeting there was nothing said, but she warmly pressed the hand which he held out to her.

“What sort of a journey have you had?” said Sophia.

“Oh, it is a dreadful place!” said Mrs. Wilkinson.

“It is not a nice country,” said Arthur.

By this time they were in the drawing-room, and the mother was seated on a sofa, with one of her girls on each side of her.

“Sophy,” she said, “get up for a moment; I want Arthur to come here.”  So Sophy did get up, and her son immediately taking her place, put his arm round his mother’s waist.

“Arthur,” she whispered to him, “I fear I have been foolish about this.”

That was all that was ever said to him about the journey to Bowes.  He was not the man to triumph over his mother’s failure.  He merely kissed her when her little confession was made, and pressed her slightly with his arm.  From that time it was understood that Adela was to be brought thither, as soon as might be, to reign the mistress of the vicarage; and that then, what further arrangements might be necessary, were to be made by them all at their perfect leisure.  That question of the nursery might, at any rate, remain in abeyance for twelve months.

Soon after that, it was decided in full conclave, that if Adela would consent, the marriage should take place in the summer.  Very frequent letters passed between Hurst Staple and Littlebath, and Mrs. Wilkinson no longer alluded to them with severity, or even with dislike.  Lord Stapledean had, at any rate, thoroughly convinced her that the vicarage-house belonged to the vicar ­to the vicar male, and not to the vicar female; and now that her eyes had been opened on this point, she found herself obliged to confess that Adela Gauntlet would not make a bad wife.

“Of course we shall be poor, mother; but we expect that.”

“I hope you will, at least, be happy,” said Mrs. Wilkinson, not liking at present to dwell on the subject of their poverty, as her conscience began to admonish her with reference to the three hundred and fifty pounds per annum.

“I should think I might be able to get pupils,” continued Arthur.  “If I had two at one hundred and fifty pounds each, we might be comfortable enough.”

“Perhaps Adela would not like to have lads in the house.”

“Ah, mother, you don’t know Adela.  She will not object to anything because she does not herself like it.”  And in this manner that affair was so far settled.

And then Adela was invited to Hurst Staple, and she accepted the invitation.  She was not coy in declaring the pleasure with which she did so, nor was she bashful or shamefaced in the matter.  She loved the man that she was to marry ­had long loved him; and now it was permitted to her to declare her love.  Now it was her duty to declare it, and to assure him, with all the pretty protestations in her power, that her best efforts should be given to sweeten his cup, and smooth his path.  Her duty now was to seek his happiness, to share his troubles, to be one with him.  In her mind it was not less her duty now than it would be when, by God’s ordinance, they should be one bone and one flesh.

While their mother had held her seat on her high horse, with reference to that question of the house, Sophia and Mary had almost professed hostility to Adela.  They had given in no cordial adherence to their brother’s marriage; but now they were able to talk of their coming sister with interest and affection.  “I know that Adela would like this, Arthur;” and “I’m sure that Adela would prefer that;” and “when we’re gone, you know, Adela will do so and so.”  Arthur received all this with brotherly love and the kindest smiles, and thanked God in his heart that his mother had taken that blessed journey to Bowes Lodge.

“Adela,” he once said to her, as they were walking together, one lonely spring evening, along the reedy bank of that river, “Adela, had I had your courage, all this would have been settled long since.”

“I don’t know,” she said; “but I am sure of this, that it is much better as it is.  Now we may fairly trust that we do know our own minds.  Love should be tried, perhaps, before it is trusted.”

“I should have trusted yours at the first word you could have spoken, the first look you would have given me.”

“And I should have done so too; and then we might have been wrong.  Is it not well as it is, Arthur?”

And then he declared that it was very well; very well, indeed.  Ah, yes! how could it have been better with him?  He thought too of his past sorrows, his deep woes, his great disappointments; of that bitter day at Oxford when the lists came down; of the half-broken heart with which he had returned from Bowes; of the wretchedness of that visit to West Putford.  He thought of the sad hours he had passed, seated idle and melancholy in the vicarage book-room, meditating on his forlorn condition.  He had so often wailed over his own lot, droning out a dirge, a melancholy vae victis for himself!  And now, for the first time, he could change the note.  Now, his song was Io triumphe, as he walked along.  He shouted out a joyful pæan with the voice of his heart.  Had he taken the most double of all firsts, what more could fate have given to him? or, at any rate, what better could fate have done for him?

And to speak sooth, fate had certainly given to him quite as much as he had deserved.

And then it was settled that they should be married early in the ensuing June.  “On the first,” said Arthur.  “No; the thirtieth,” said Adela, laughing.  And then, as women always give more than they claim, it was settled that they should be married on the eleventh.  Let us trust that the day may always be regarded as propitious.