The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XXXI.



Grace, when she was left alone, threw herself upon the sofa, and hid her face in her hands. She was weeping almost hysterically, and had been utterly dismayed and frightened by her lover’s impetuosity. Things had gone after a fashion which her imagination had not painted to her as possible. Surely she had the power to refuse the man if she pleased. And yet she felt as she lay there weeping that she did in truth belong to him as part of his goods, and that her generosity had been foiled. She had especially resolved that she would not confess to any love for him. She had made no such confession. She had guarded herself against doing so with all the care which she knew how to use. But he had assumed the fact, and she had been unable to deny it. Could she have lied to him, and have sworn that she did not love him? Could she have so perjured herself, even in support of her generosity? Yes, she would have done so,—so she told herself,—if a moment had been given to her for thought. She ought to have done so, and she blamed herself for being so little prepared for the occasion. The lie would be useless now. Indeed, she would have no opportunity for telling it; for of course she would not answer,—would not even read his letter. Though he might know that she loved him, yet she would not be his wife. He had forced her secret from her, but he could not force her to marry him. She did love him, but he should never be disgraced by her love.

After a while she was able to think of his conduct, and she believed that she ought to be very angry with him. He had taken her roughly in his arms, and had insulted her. He had forced a kiss from her. She had felt his arms warm and close and strong about her, and had not known whether she was in paradise or in purgatory. She was very angry with him. She would send back his letter to him without reading it,—without opening it, if that might be possible. He had done that to her which nothing could justify. But yet,—yet,—yet how dearly she loved him! Was he not a prince of men? He had behaved badly, of course; but had any man ever behaved so badly before in so divine a way? Was it not a thousand pities that she should be driven to deny anything to a lover who so richly deserved everything that could be given to him? He had kissed her hand as he let her go, and now, not knowing what she did, she kissed the spot on which she had felt his lips. His arm had been round her waist, and the old frock which she wore should be kept by her for ever, because it had been so graced.

What was she now to say to Lily and to Lily’s mother? Of one thing there was no doubt. She would never tell them of her lover’s wicked audacity. That was a secret never to be imparted to any ears. She would keep her resentment to herself, and not ask the protection of any vicarious wrath. He could never so sin again, that was certain; and she would keep all knowledge and memory of the sin for her own purposes. But how could it be that such a man as that, one so good though so sinful, so glorious though so great a trespasser, should have come to such a girl as her and have asked for her love? Then she thought of her father’s poverty and the misery of her own condition, and declared to herself that it was very wonderful.

Lily was the first to enter the room, and she, before she did so, learned from the servant that Major Grantly had left the house. “I heard the door, miss, and then I saw the top of his hat out of the pantry window.” Armed with this certain information Lily entered the drawing-room, and found Grace in the act of rising from the sofa.

“Am I disturbing you?” said Lily.

“No; not at all. I am glad you have come. Kiss me, and be good to me.” And she twined her arms about Lily and embraced her.

“Am I not always good to you, you simpleton? Has he been good?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“And have you been good to him?”

“As good as I knew how, Lily.”

“And where is he?”

“He has gone away. I shall never see him any more, Lily.”

Then she hid her face upon her friend’s shoulder and broke forth again into hysterical tears.

“But tell me, Grace, what he said;—that is, if you mean to tell me!”

“I will tell you everything;—that is, everything I can.” And Grace blushed as she thought of the one secret which she certainly would not tell.

“Has he,—has he done what I said he would do? Come, speak out boldly. Has he asked you to be his wife?”

“Yes,” said Grace, barely whispering the word.

“And you have accepted him?”

“No, Lily, I have not. Indeed, I have not. I did not know how to speak, because I was surprised;—and he, of course, could say what he liked. But I told him as well as I could, that I would not marry him.”

“And why;—did you tell him why?”

“Yes; because of papa!”

“Then, if he is the man I take him to be, that answer will go for nothing. Of course he knew all that before he came here. He did not think you were an heiress with forty thousand pounds. If he is in earnest, that will go for nothing. And I think he is in earnest.”

“And so was I in earnest.”

“Well, Grace;—we shall see.”

“I suppose I may have a will of my own, Lily.”

“Do not be so sure of that. Women are not allowed to have wills of their own on all occasions. Some man comes in a girl’s way, and she gets to be fond of him, just because he does come in her way. Well; when that has taken place, she has no alternative but to be taken if he chooses to take her; or to be left, if he chooses to leave her.”

“Lily, don’t say that.”

“But I do say it. A man may assure himself that he will find for himself a wife who shall be learned, or beautiful, or six feet high, if he wishes it, or who has red hair, or red eyes, or red cheeks,—just what he pleases; and he may go about till he finds it, as you can go about and match your worsteds. You are a fool if you buy a colour you don’t want. But we can never match our worsteds for that other piece of work, but are obliged to take any colour that comes,—and, therefore, it is that we make such a jumble of it! Here’s mamma. We must not be philosophical before her. Mamma, Major Grantly has—skedaddled.”

“Oh, Lily, what a word!”

“But, oh, mamma, what a thing! Fancy his going away and not saying a word to anybody!”

“If he had anything to say to Grace, I suppose he said it.”

“He asked her to marry him, of course. We none of us had any doubt about that. He swore to her that she and none but she should be his wife,—and all that kind of thing. But he seems to have done it in the most prosaic way;—and now he has gone away without saying a word to any of us. I shall never speak to him again,—unless Grace asks me.”

“Grace, my dear, may I congratulate you?” said Mrs. Dale.

Grace did not answer, as Lily was too quick for her. “Oh, she has refused him, of course. But Major Grantly is a man of too much sense to expect that he should succeed the first time. Let me see; this is the fourteenth. These clocks run fourteen days, and, therefore, you may expect him again about the twenty-eighth. For myself, I think you are giving him an immense deal of unnecessary trouble, and that if he left you in the lurch it would only serve you right; but you have the world with you, I’m told. A girl is supposed to tell a man two fibs before she may tell him one truth.”

“I told him no fib, Lily. I told him that I would not marry him, and I will not.”

“But why not, dear Grace?” said Mrs. Dale.

“Because the people say that papa is a thief!” Having said this, Grace walked slowly out of the room, and neither Mrs. Dale nor Lily attempted to follow her.

“She’s as good as gold,” said Lily, when the door was closed.

“And he;—what of him?”

“I think he is good, too; but she has told me nothing yet of what he has said to her. He must be good, or he would not have come down here after her. But I don’t wonder at his coming, because she is so beautiful! Once or twice as we were walking back to-day, I thought her face was the most lovely that I had ever seen. And did you see her just now, as she spoke of her father?”

“Oh, yes;—I saw her.”

“Think what she will be in two or three years’ time, when she becomes a woman. She talks French, and Italian, and Hebrew for anything that I know; and she is perfectly beautiful. I never saw a more lovely figure;—and she has spirit enough for a goddess. I don’t think that Major Grantly is such a fool after all.”

“I never took him for a fool.”

“I have no doubt all his own people do;—or they will, when they hear of it. But, mamma, she will grow to be big enough to walk atop of all the Lady Hartletops in England. It will all come right at last.”

“You think it will?”

“Oh, yes. Why should it not? If he is worth having, it will;—and I think he is worth having. He must wait till this horrid trial is over. It is clear to me that Grace thinks that her father will be convicted.”

“But he cannot have taken the money.”

“I think he took it, and I think it wasn’t his. But I don’t think he stole it. I don’t know whether you can understand the difference.”

“I am afraid a jury won’t understand it.”

“A jury of men will not. I wish they could put you and me on it, mamma. I would take my best boots and eat them down to the heels, for Grace’s sake, and for Major Grantly’s. What a good-looking man he is!”

“Yes, he is.”

“And so like a gentleman! I’ll tell you what, mamma; we won’t say anything to her about him for the present. Her heart will be so full she will be driven to talk, and we can comfort her better in that way.” The mother and daughter agreed to act upon these tactics, and nothing more was said to Grace about her lover on that evening.

Major Grantly walked from Mrs. Dale’s house to the inn and ordered his gig, and drove himself out of Allington, almost without remembering where he was or whither he was going. He was thinking solely of what had just occurred, and of what, on his part, should follow as the result of that meeting. Half at least of the noble deeds done in this world are due to emulation, rather than to the native nobility of the actors. A young man leads a forlorn hope because another young man has offered to do so. Jones in the hunting-field rides at an impracticable fence because he is told that Smith took it three years ago. And Walker puts his name down for ten guineas at a charitable dinner, when he hears Thompson’s read out for five. And in this case the generosity and self-denial shown by Grace warmed and cherished similar virtues within her lover’s breast. Some few weeks ago Major Grantly had been in doubt as to what his duty required of him in reference to Grace Crawley; but he had no doubt whatsoever now. In the fervour of his admiration he would have gone straight to the archdeacon, had it been possible, and have told him what he had done and what he intended to do. Nothing now should stop him;—no consideration, that is, either as regarded money or position. He had pledged himself solemnly, and he was very glad that he had pledged himself. He would write to Grace and explain to her that he trusted altogether in her father’s honour and innocence, but that no consideration as to that ought to influence either him or her in any way. If, independently of her father, she could bring herself to come to him and be his wife, she was bound to do so now, let the position of her father be what it might. And thus, as he drove his gig back towards Guestwick, he composed a very pretty letter to the lady of his love.

And as he went, at the corner of the lane which led from the main road up to Guestwick cottage, he again came upon John Eames, who was also returning to Guestwick. There had been a few words spoken between Lady Julia and Johnny respecting Major Grantly after the girls had left the cottage, and Johnny had been persuaded that the strange visitor to Allington could have no connection with his arch-enemy. “And why has he gone to Allington?” John demanded, somewhat sternly, of his hostess.

“Well; if you ask me, I think he has gone there to see your cousin, Grace Crawley.”

“He told me that he knew Grace,” said John, looking as though he were conscious of his own ingenuity in putting two and two together very cleverly.

“Your cousin Grace is a very pretty girl,” said Lady Julia.

“It’s a long time since I’ve seen her,” said Johnny.

“Why, you saw her just this minute,” said Lady Julia.

“I didn’t look at her,” said Johnny. Therefore, when he again met Major Grantly, having continued to put two and two together with great ingenuity, he felt quite sure that the man had nothing to do with the arch-enemy, and he determined to be gracious. “Did you find them at home at Allington?” he said, raising his hat.

“How do you do again?” said the major. “Yes, I found your friend Mrs. Dale at home.”

“But not her daughter, or my cousin? They were up there;—where I’ve come from. But, perhaps, they had got back before you left.”

“I saw them both. They found me on the road with Mr. Dale.”

“What,—the squire? Then you have seen everybody?”

“Everybody I wished to see at Allington.”

“But you wouldn’t stay at the ’Red Lion?’”

“Well, no. I remembered that I wanted to get back to London; and as I had seen my friends, I thought I might as well hurry away.”

“You knew Mrs. Dale before, then?”

“No, I didn’t. I never saw her in my life before. But I knew the old squire when I was a boy. However, I should have said friend. I went to see one friend, and I saw her.”

John Eames perceived that his companion put a strong emphasis on the word “her,” as though he were determined to declare boldly that he had gone to Allington solely to see Grace Crawley. He had not the slightest objection to recognizing in Major Grantly a suitor for his cousin’s hand. He could only reflect what an unusually fortunate girl Grace must be if such a thing could be true. Of those poor Crawleys he had only heard from time to time that their misfortunes were as numerous as the sands on the sea-shore, and as unsusceptible of any fixed and permanent arrangement. But, as regarded Grace, here would be a very permanent arrangement. Tidings had reached him that Grace was a great scholar, but he had never heard much of her beauty. It must probably be the case that Major Grantly was fond of Greek. There was, he reminded himself, no accounting for tastes; but as nothing could be more respectable than such an alliance, he thought that it would become him to be civil to the major.

“I hope you found her quite well. I had barely time to speak to her myself.”

“Yes, she was very well. This is a sad thing about her father.”

“Very sad,” said Johnny. Perhaps the major had heard about the accusation for the first time to-day, and was going to find an escape on that plea. If such was the case, it would not be so well to be particularly civil.

“I believe Mr. Crawley is a cousin of yours?” said the major.

“His wife is my mother’s first-cousin. Their mothers were sisters.”

“She is an excellent woman.”

“I believe so. I don’t know much about them myself,—that is, personally. Of course I have heard of this charge that has been made against him. It seems to me to be a great shame.”

“Well, I can’t exactly say that it is a shame. I do not know that there has been anything done with a feeling of persecution or of cruelty. It is a great mystery, and we must have it cleared up if we can.”

“I don’t suppose he can have been guilty,” said Johnny.

“Certainly not in the ordinary sense of the word. I heard all the evidence against him.”

“Oh, you did?”

“Yes,” said the major. “I live near them in Barsetshire, and I am one of his bailsmen.”

“Then you are an old friend, I suppose?”

“Not exactly that; but circumstances make me very much interested about them. I fancy that the cheque was left in his house by accident, and that it got into his hands he didn’t know how, and that when he used it he thought it was his.”

“That’s queer,” said Johnny.

“He is very odd, you know.”

“But it’s a kind of oddity that they don’t like at the assizes.”

“The great cruelty is,” said the major, “that whatever may be the result, the punishment will fall so heavily upon his wife and daughters. I think the whole county ought to come forward and take them by the hand. Well, good-by. I’ll drive on, as I’m a little in a hurry.”

“Good-by,” said Johnny. “I’m very glad to have had the pleasure of meeting you.” “He’s a good sort of a fellow after all,” he said to himself when the gig had passed on. “He wouldn’t have talked in that way if he had meant to hang back.”