Part 13 out of 18
presence of other jewels enormously expensive, and as an addition
to orders of which the amount had not been exactly calculated,
thirty pounds for ornaments so exquisitely suited to Rosamond's
neck and arms could hardly appear excessive when there was no ready
cash for it to exceed. But at this crisis Lydgate's imagination
could not help dwelling on the possibility of letting the amethysts
take their place again among Mr. Dover's stock, though he shrank
from the idea of proposing this to Rosamond. Having been roused to
discern consequences which he had never been in the habit of tracing,
he was preparing to act on this discernment with some of the rigor
(by no means all) that he would have applied in pursuing experiment.
He was nerving himself to this rigor as he rode from Brassing,
and meditated on the representations he must make to Rosamond.
It was evening when he got home. He was intensely miserable,
this strong man of nine-and-twenty and of many gifts. He was not
saying angrily within himself that he had made a profound mistake;
but the mistake was at work in him like a recognized chronic disease,
mingling its uneasy importunities with every prospect, and enfeebling
every thought. As he went along the passage to the drawing-room,
he heard the piano and singing. Of course, Ladislaw was there.
It was some weeks since Will had parted from Dorothea, yet he was
still at the old post in Middlemarch. Lydgate had no objection
in general to Ladislaw's coming, but just now he was annoyed that he
could not find his hearth free. When he opened the door the two
singers went on towards the key-note, raising their eyes and looking
at him indeed, but not regarding his entrance as an interruption.
To a man galled with his harness as poor Lydgate was, it is not
soothing to see two people warbling at him, as he comes in with the
sense that the painful day has still pains in store. His face,
already paler than usual, took on a scowl as he walked across the room
and flung himself into a chair.
The singers feeling themselves excused by the fact that they had
only three bars to sing, now turned round.
"How are you, Lydgate?" said Will, coming forward to shake hands.
Lydgate took his hand, but did not think it necessary to speak.
"Have you dined, Tertius? I expected you much earlier," said Rosamond,
who had already seen that her husband was in a "horrible humor."
She seated herself in her usual place as she spoke.
"I have dined. I should like some tea, please," said Lydgate,
curtly, still scowling and looking markedly at his legs stretched
out before him.
Will was too quick to need more. "I shall be off," he said,
reaching his hat.
"Tea is coming," said Rosamond; "pray don't go."
"Yes, Lydgate is bored," said Will, who had more comprehension
of Lydgate than Rosamond had, and was not offended by his manner,
easily imagining outdoor causes of annoyance.
"There is the more need for you to stay," said Rosamond, playfully,
and in her lightest accent; "he will not speak to me all the evening."
"Yes, Rosamond, I shall," said Lydgate, in his strong baritone.
"I have some serious business to speak to you about."
No introduction of the business could have been less like that
which Lydgate had intended; but her indifferent manner had been
"There! you see," said Will. "I'm going to the meeting about
the Mechanics' Institute. Good-by;" and he went quickly out of the room.
Rosamond did not look at her husband, but presently rose and took
her place before the tea-tray. She was thinking that she had never
seen him so disagreeable. Lydgate turned his dark eyes on her
and watched her as she delicately handled the tea-service with her
taper fingers, and looked at the objects immediately before her
with no curve in her face disturbed, and yet with an ineffable
protest in her air against all people with unpleasant manners.
For the moment he lost the sense of his wound in a sudden speculation
about this new form of feminine impassibility revealing itself
in the sylph-like frame which he had once interpreted as the sign
of a ready intelligent sensitiveness. His mind glancing back to Laure
while he looked at Rosamond, he said inwardly, "Would _she_ kill me
because I wearied her?" and then, "It is the way with all women."
But this power of generalizing which gives men so much the superiority
in mistake over the dumb animals, was immediately thwarted by Lydgate's
memory of wondering impressions from the behavior of another woman--
from Dorothea's looks and tones of emotion about her husband
when Lydgate began to attend him--from her passionate cry to be
taught what would best comfort that man for whose sake it seemed
as if she must quell every impulse in her except the yearnings
of faithfulness and compassion. These revived impressions succeeded
each other quickly and dreamily in Lydgate's mind while the tea
was being brewed. He had shut his eyes in the last instant of
reverie while he heard Dorothea saying, "Advise me--think what I
can do--he has been all his life laboring and looking forward.
He minds about nothing else--and I mind about nothing else."
That voice of deep-souled womanhood had remained within him as the
enkindling conceptions of dead and sceptred genius had remained
within him (is there not a genius for feeling nobly which also
reigns over human spirits and their conclusions?); the tones were
a music from which he was falling away--he had really fallen into
a momentary doze, when Rosamond said in her silvery neutral way,
"Here is your tea, Tertius," setting it on the small table by
his side, and then moved back to her place without looking at him.
Lydgate was too hasty in attributing insensibility to her; after her
own fashion, she was sensitive enough, and took lasting impressions.
Her impression now was one of offence and repulsion. But then,
Rosamond had no scowls and had never raised her voice: she was
quite sure that no one could justly find fault with her.
Perhaps Lydgate and she had never felt so far off each other before;
but there were strong reasons for not deferring his revelation,
even if he had not already begun it by that abrupt announcement;
indeed some of the angry desire to rouse her into more sensibility
on his account which had prompted him to speak prematurely,
still mingled with his pain in the prospect of her pain.
But he waited till the tray was gone, the candles were lit,
and the evening quiet might be counted on: the interval had left
time for repelled tenderness to return into the old course.
He spoke kindly.
"Dear Rosy, lay down your work and come to sit by me," he said,
gently, pushing away the table, and stretching out his arm to draw
a chair near his own.
Rosamond obeyed. As she came towards him in her drapery of
transparent faintly tinted muslin, her slim yet round figure never
looked more graceful; as she sat down by him and laid one hand
on the elbow of his chair, at last looking at him and meeting
his eyes, her delicate neck and cheek and purely cut lips never had
more of that untarnished beauty which touches as in spring-time
and infancy and all sweet freshness. It touched Lydgate now,
and mingled the early moments of his love for her with all the
other memories which were stirred in this crisis of deep trouble.
He laid his ample hand softly on hers, saying--
"Dear!" with the lingering utterance which affection gives to
the word. Rosamond too was still under the power of that same past,
and her husband was still in part the Lydgate whose approval had
stirred delight. She put his hair lightly away from his forehead,
then laid her other hand on his, and was conscious of forgiving him.
"I am obliged to tell you what will hurt you, Rosy. But there
are things which husband and wife must think of together. I dare
say it has occurred to you already that I am short of money."
Lydgate paused; but Rosamond turned her neck and looked at a vase
on the mantel-piece.
"I was not able to pay for all the things we had to get before we
were married, and there have been expenses since which I have
been obliged to meet. The consequence is, there is a large debt
at Brassing--three hundred and eighty pounds--which has been pressing
on me a good while, and in fact we are getting deeper every day,
for people don't pay me the faster because others want the money.
I took pains to keep it from you while you were not well; but now we
must think together about it, and you must help me."
"What can--I--do, Tertius?" said Rosamond, turning her eyes on him again.
That little speech of four words, like so many others in all languages,
is capable by varied vocal inflections of expressing all states of mind
from helpless dimness to exhaustive argumentative perception, from the
completest self-devoting fellowship to the most neutral aloofness.
Rosamond's thin utterance threw into the words "What can--I--do!"
as much neutrality as they could hold. They fell like a mortal chill
on Lydgate's roused tenderness. He did not storm in indignation--
he felt too sad a sinking of the heart. And when he spoke again
it was more in the tone of a man who forces himself to fulfil a task.
"It is necessary for you to know, because I have to give security
for a time, and a man must come to make an inventory of the furniture."
Rosamond colored deeply. "Have you not asked papa for money?"
she said, as soon as she could speak.
"Then I must ask him!" she said, releasing her hands from Lydgate's,
and rising to stand at two yards' distance from him.
"No, Rosy," said Lydgate, decisively. "It is too late to do that.
The inventory will be begun to-morrow. Remember it is a mere security:
it will make no difference: it is a temporary affair. I insist upon
it that your father shall not know, unless I choose to tell him,"
added Lydgate, with a more peremptory emphasis.
This certainly was unkind, but Rosamond had thrown him back
on evil expectation as to what she would do in the way of quiet
steady disobedience. The unkindness seemed unpardonable to her:
she was not given to weeping and disliked it, but now her chin and
lips began to tremble and the tears welled up. Perhaps it was not
possible for Lydgate, under the double stress of outward material
difficulty and of his own proud resistance to humiliating consequences,
to imagine fully what this sudden trial was to a young creature
who had known nothing but indulgence, and whose dreams had all been
of new indulgence, more exactly to her taste. But he did wish to
spare her as much as he could, and her tears cut him to the heart.
He could not speak again immediately; but Rosamond did not go
on sobbing: she tried to conquer her agitation and wiped away
her tears, continuing to look before her at the mantel-piece.
"Try not to grieve, darling," said Lydgate, turning his eyes up
towards her. That she had chosen to move away from him in this
moment of her trouble made everything harder to say, but he must
absolutely go on. "We must brace ourselves to do what is necessary.
It is I who have been in fault: I ought to have seen that I
could not afford-to live in this way. But many things have told
against me in my practice, and it really just now has ebbed
to a low point. I may recover it, but in the mean time we must
pull up--we must change our way of living. We shall weather it.
When I have given this security I shall have time to look about me;
and you are so clever that if you turn your mind to managing you
will school me into carefulness. I have been a thoughtless rascal
about squaring prices--but come, dear, sit down and forgive me."
Lydgate was bowing his neck under the yoke like a creature
who had talons, but who had Reason too, which often reduces us
to meekness. When he had spoken the last words in an imploring tone,
Rosamond returned to the chair by his side. His self-blame gave
her some hope that he would attend to her opinion, and she said--
"Why can you not put off having the inventory made? You can send
the men away to-morrow when they come."
"I shall not send them away," said Lydgate, the peremptoriness
rising again. Was it of any use to explain?
"If we left Middlemarch? there would of course be a sale,
and that would do as well."
"But we are not going to leave Middlemarch."
"I am sure, Tertius, it would be much better to do so. Why can we
not go to London? Or near Durham, where your family is known?"
"We can go nowhere without money, Rosamond."
"Your friends would not wish you to be without money. And surely
these odious tradesmen might be made to understand that, and to wait,
if you would make proper representations to them."
"This is idle Rosamond," said Lydgate, angrily. "You must
learn to take my judgment on questions you don't understand.
I have made necessary arrangements, and they must be carried out.
As to friends, I have no expectations whatever from them, and shall
not ask them for anything."
Rosamond sat perfectly still. The thought in her mind was that if she
had known how Lydgate would behave, she would never have married him.
"We have no time to waste now on unnecessary words, dear,"
said Lydgate, trying to be gentle again. "There are some details
that I want to consider with you. Dover says he will take a good
deal of the plate back again, and any of the jewellery we like.
He really behaves very well."
"Are we to go without spoons and forks then?" said Rosamond, whose very
lips seemed to get thinner with the thinness of her utterance.
She was determined to make no further resistance or suggestions.
"Oh no, dear!" said Lydgate. "But look here," he continued,
drawing a paper from his pocket and opening it; "here is
Dover's account. See, I have marked a number of articles,
which if we returned them would reduce the amount by thirty pounds.
and more. I have not marked any of the jewellery." Lydgate had
really felt this point of the jewellery very bitter to himself;
but he had overcome the feeling by severe argument. He could not
propose to Rosamond that she should return any particular present
of his, but he had told himself that he was bound to put Dover's
offer before her, and her inward prompting might make the affair easy.
"It is useless for me to look, Tertius," said Rosamond, calmly;
"you will return what you please." She would not turn her eyes
on the paper, and Lydgate, flushing up to the roots of his hair,
drew it back and let it fall on his knee. Meanwhile Rosamond quietly
went out of the room, leaving Lydgate helpless and wondering.
Was she not coming back? It seemed that she had no more identified
herself with him than if they had been creatures of different species
and opposing interests. He tossed his head and thrust his hands deep
into his pockets with a sort of vengeance. There was still science--
there were still good objects to work for. He must give a tug still--
all the stronger because other satisfactions were going.
But the door opened and Rosamond re-entered. She carried the
leather box containing the amethysts, and a tiny ornamental basket
which contained other boxes, and laying them on the chair where
she had been sitting, she said, with perfect propriety in her air--
"This is all the jewellery you ever gave me. You can return what
you like of it, and of the plate also. You will not, of course,
expect me to stay at home to-morrow. I shall go to papa's."
To many women the look Lydgate cast at her would have been more
terrible than one of anger: it had in it a despairing acceptance
of the distance she was placing between them.
"And when shall you come back again?" he said, with a bitter edge
on his accent.
"Oh, in the evening. Of course I shall not mention the subject
to mamma." Rosamond was convinced that no woman could behave
more irreproachably than she was behaving; and she went to sit
down at her work-table. Lydgate sat meditating a minute or two,
and the result was that he said, with some of the old emotion
in his tone--
"Now we have been united, Rosy, you should not leave me to myself
in the first trouble that has come."
"Certainly not," said Rosamond; "I shall do everything it becomes
me to do."
"It is not right that the thing should be left to servants, or that I
should have to speak to them about it. And I shall be obliged
to go out--I don't know how early. I understand your shrinking
from the humiliation of these money affairs. But, my dear Rosamond,
as a question of pride, which I feel just as much as you can, it is
surely better to manage the thing ourselves, and let the servants
see as little of it as possible; and since you are my wife, there is
no hindering your share in my disgraces--if there were disgraces."
Rosamond did not answer immediately, but at last she said, "Very well,
I will stay at home."
"I shall not touch these jewels, Rosy. Take them away again.
But I will write out a list of plate that we may return, and that can
be packed up and sent at once."
"The servants will know _that_," said Rosamond, with the slightest
touch of sarcasm.
"Well, we must meet some disagreeables as necessities. Where is
the ink, I wonder?" said Lydgate, rising, and throwing the account
on the larger table where he meant to write.
Rosamond went to reach the inkstand, and after setting it on the table
was going to turn away, when Lydgate, who was standing close by,
put his arm round her and drew her towards him, saying--
"Come, darling, let us make the best of things. It will only be
for a time, I hope, that we shall have to be stingy and particular.
His native warm-heartedness took a great deal of quenching,
and it is a part of manliness for a husband to feel keenly the fact
that an inexperienced girl has got into trouble by marrying him.
She received his kiss and returned it faintly, and in this way
an appearance of accord was recovered for the time. But Lydgate
could not help looking forward with dread to the inevitable future
discussions about expenditure and the necessity for a complete change
in their way of living.
They said of old the Soul had human shape,
But smaller, subtler than the fleshly self,
So wandered forth for airing when it pleased.
And see! beside her cherub-face there floats
A pale-lipped form aerial whispering
Its promptings in that little shell her ear."
News is often dispersed as thoughtlessly and effectively as that
pollen which the bees carry off (having no idea how powdery they are)
when they are buzzing in search of their particular nectar.
This fine comparison has reference to Fred Vincy, who on that evening
at Lowick Parsonage heard a lively discussion among the ladies on
the news which their old servant had got from Tantripp concerning
Mr. Casaubon's strange mention of Mr. Ladislaw in a codicil to his will
made not long before his death. Miss Winifred was astounded to find
that her brother had known the fact before, and observed that Camden
was the most wonderful man for knowing things and not telling them;
whereupon Mary Garth said that the codicil had perhaps got mixed
up with the habits of spiders, which Miss Winifred never would
listen to. Mrs. Farebrother considered that the news had something
to do with their having only once seen Mr. Ladislaw at Lowick,
and Miss Noble made many small compassionate mewings.
Fred knew little and cared less about Ladislaw and the Casaubons,
and his mind never recurred to that discussion till one day calling
on Rosamond at his mother's request to deliver a message as he passed,
he happened to see Ladislaw going away. Fred and Rosamond had little
to say to each other now that marriage had removed her from collision
with the unpleasantness of brothers, and especially now that he had
taken what she held the stupid and even reprehensible step of giving
up the Church to take to such a business as Mr. Garth's. Hence
Fred talked by preference of what he considered indifferent news,
and "a propos of that young Ladislaw" mentioned what he had
heard at Lowick Parsonage.
Now Lydgate, like Mr. Farebrother, knew a great deal more than
he told, and when he had once been set thinking about the relation
between Will and Dorothea his conjectures had gone beyond the fact.
He imagined that there was a passionate attachment on both sides,
and this struck him as much too serious to gossip about.
He remembered Will's irritability when he had mentioned Mrs. Casaubon,
and was the more circumspect. On the whole his surmises, in addition
to what he knew of the fact, increased his friendliness and tolerance
towards Ladislaw, and made him understand the vacillation which kept
him at Middlemarch after he had said that he should go away.
It was significant of the separateness between Lydgate's mind and
Rosamond's that he had no impulse to speak to her on the subject;
indeed, he did not quite trust her reticence towards Will.
And he was right there; though he had no vision of the way
in which her mind would act in urging her to speak.
When she repeated Fred's news to Lydgate, he said, "Take care you
don't drop the faintest hint to Ladislaw, Rosy. He is likely to fly
out as if you insulted him. Of course it is a painful affair."
Rosamond turned her neck and patted her hair, looking the image
of placid indifference. But the next time Will came when Lydgate
was away, she spoke archly about his not going to London as he
"I know all about it. I have a confidential little bird," said she,
showing very pretty airs of her head over the bit of work held
high between her active fingers. "There is a powerful magnet
in this neighborhood."
"To be sure there is. Nobody knows that better than you," said Will,
with light gallantry, but inwardly prepared to be angry.
"It is really the most charming romance: Mr. Casaubon jealous,
and foreseeing that there was no one else whom Mrs. Casaubon would
so much like to marry, and no one who would so much like to marry
her as a certain gentleman; and then laying a plan to spoil all
by making her forfeit her property if she did marry that gentleman--
and then--and then--and then--oh, I have no doubt the end will be
"Great God! what do you mean?" said Will, flushing over face and ears,
his features seeming to change as if he had had a violent shake.
"Don't joke; tell me what you mean."
"You don't really know?" said Rosamond, no longer playful, and desiring
nothing better than to tell in order that she might evoke effects.
"No!" he returned, impatiently.
"Don't know that Mr. Casaubon has left it in his will that
if Mrs. Casaubon marries you she is to forfeit all her property?"
"How do you know that it is true?" said Will, eagerly.
"My brother Fred heard it from the Farebrothers." Will started up
from his chair and reached his hat.
"I dare say she likes you better than the property," said Rosamond,
looking at him from a distance.
"Pray don't say any more about it," said Will, in a hoarse undertone
extremely unlike his usual light voice. "It is a foul insult
to her and to me." Then he sat down absently, looking before him,
but seeing nothing.
"Now you are angry with _me_," said Rosamond. "It is too bad
to bear _me_ malice. You ought to be obliged to me for telling you."
"So I am," said Will, abruptly, speaking with that kind of double
soul which belongs to dreamers who answer questions.
"I expect to hear of the marriage," said Rosamond, playfully.
"Never! You will never hear of the marriage!"
With those words uttered impetuously, Will rose, put out his hand
to Rosamond, still with the air of a somnambulist, and went away.
When he was gone, Rosamond left her chair and walked to the other end
of the room, leaning when she got there against a chiffonniere,
and looking out of the window wearily. She was oppressed by ennui,
and by that dissatisfaction which in women's minds is continually
turning into a trivial jealousy, referring to no real claims,
springing from no deeper passion than the vague exactingness
of egoism, and yet capable of impelling action as well as speech.
"There really is nothing to care for much," said poor Rosamond inwardly,
thinking of the family at Quallingham, who did not write to her;
and that perhaps Tertius when he came home would tease her
about expenses. She had already secretly disobeyed him by asking
her father to help them, and he had ended decisively by saying,
"I am more likely to want help myself."
Good phrases are surely, and ever were, very commendable.
A few days afterwards--it was already the end of August--there was an
occasion which caused some excitement in Middlemarch: the public, if
it chose, was to have the advantage of buying, under the distinguished
auspices of Mr. Borthrop Trumbull, the furniture, books, and pictures
which anybody might see by the handbills to be the best in every kind,
belonging to Edwin Larcher, Esq. This was not one of the sales indicating
the depression of trade; on the contrary, it was due to Mr. Larcher's
great success in the carrying business, which warranted his purchase of a
mansion near Riverston already furnished in high style by an illustrious
Spa physician--furnished indeed with such large framefuls of expensive
flesh-painting in the dining-room, that Mrs. Larcher was nervous until
reassured by finding the subjects to be Scriptural. Hence the fine
opportunity to purchasers which was well pointed out in the handbills
of Mr. Borthrop Trumbull, whose acquaintance with the history of art
enabled him to state that the hall furniture, to be sold without reserve,
comprised a piece of carving by a contemporary of Gibbons.
At Middlemarch in those times a large sale was regarded as a kind
of festival. There was a table spread with the best cold eatables,
as at a superior funeral; and facilities were offered for that
generous-drinking of cheerful glasses which might lead to generous
and cheerful bidding for undesirable articles. Mr. Larcher's sale
was the more attractive in the fine weather because the house stood
just at the end of the town, with a garden and stables attached,
in that pleasant issue from Middlemarch called the London Road,
which was also the road to the New Hospital and to Mr. Bulstrode's
retired residence, known as the Shrubs. In short, the auction was
as good as a fair, and drew all classes with leisure at command:
to some, who risked making bids in order simply to raise prices,
it was almost equal to betting at the races. The second day,
when the best furniture was to be sold, "everybody" was there;
even Mr. Thesiger, the rector of St. Peter's, had looked in for a
short time, wishing to buy the carved table, and had rubbed elbows
with Mr. Bambridge and Mr. Horrock. There was a wreath of Middlemarch
ladies accommodated with seats round the large table in the dining-room,
where Mr. Borthrop Trumbull was mounted with desk and hammer;
but the rows chiefly of masculine faces behind were often varied
by incomings and outgoings both from the door and the large bow-window
opening on to the lawn.
"Everybody" that day did not include Mr. Bulstrode, whose health
could not well endure crowds and draughts. But Mrs. Bulstrode had
particularly wished to have a certain picture--a "Supper at Emmaus,"
attributed in the catalogue to Guido; and at the last moment
before the day of the sale Mr. Bulstrode had called at the office
of the "Pioneer," of which he was now one of the proprietors,
to beg of Mr. Ladislaw as a great favor that he would obligingly use
his remarkable knowledge of pictures on behalf of Mrs. Bulstrode,
and judge of the value of this particular painting--"if," added
the scrupulously polite banker, "attendance at the sale would not
interfere with the arrangements for your departure, which I know
This proviso might have sounded rather satirically in Will's ear
if he had been in a mood to care about such satire. It referred
to an understanding entered into many weeks before with the
proprietors of the paper, that he should be at liberty any day
he pleased to hand over the management to the subeditor whom he
had been training; since he wished finally to quit Middlemarch.
But indefinite visions of ambition are weak against the ease of
doing what is habitual or beguilingly agreeable; and we all know
the difficulty of carrying out a resolve when we secretly long
that it may turn out to be unnecessary. In such states of mind
the most incredulous person has a private leaning towards miracle:
impossible to conceive how our wish could be fulfilled, still--
very wonderful things have happened! Will did not confess this
weakness to himself, but he lingered. What was the use of going
to London at that time of the year? The Rugby men who would remember
him were not there; and so far as political writing was concerned,
he would rather for a few weeks go on with the "Pioneer." At the
present moment, however, when Mr. Bulstrode was speaking to him,
he had both a strengthened resolve to go and an equally strong
resolve not to go till he had once more seen Dorothea. Hence he
replied that he had reasons for deferring his departure a little,
and would be happy to go to the sale.
Will was in a defiant mood, his consciousness being deeply stung
with the thought that the people who looked at him probably knew
a fact tantamount to an accusation against him as a fellow with low
designs which were to be frustrated by a disposal of property.
Like most people who assert their freedom with regard to conventional
distinction, he was prepared to be sudden and quick at quarrel with any
one who might hint that he had personal reasons for that assertion--
that there was anything in his blood, his bearing, or his character
to which he gave the mask of an opinion. When he was under an
irritating impression of this kind he would go about for days with a
defiant look, the color changing in his transparent skin as if he were
on the qui vive, watching for something which he had to dart upon.
This expression was peculiarly noticeable in him at the sale,
and those who had only seen him in his moods of gentle oddity
or of bright enjoyment would have been struck with a contrast.
He was not sorry to have this occasion for appearing in public
before the Middlemarch tribes of Toller, Hackbutt, and the rest,
who looked down on him as an adventurer, and were in a state
of brutal ignorance about Dante--who sneered at his Polish blood,
and were themselves of a breed very much in need of crossing.
He stood in a conspicuous place not far from the auctioneer,
with a fore-finger in each side-pocket and his head thrown backward,
not caring to speak to anybody, though he had been cordially welcomed
as a connoiss_ure_ by Mr. Trumbull, who was enjoying the utmost
activity of his great faculties.
And surely among all men whose vocation requires them to exhibit
their powers of speech, the happiest is a prosperous provincial
auctioneer keenly alive to his own jokes and sensible of his
encyclopedic knowledge. Some saturnine, sour-blooded persons
might object to be constantly insisting on the merits of all
articles from boot-jacks to "Berghems;" but Mr. Borthrop Trumbull
had a kindly liquid in his veins; he was an admirer by nature,
and would have liked to have the universe under his hammer,
feeling that it would go at a higher figure for his recommendation.
Meanwhile Mrs. Larcher's drawing-room furniture was enough for him.
When Will Ladislaw had come in, a second fender, said to have been
forgotten in its right place, suddenly claimed the auctioneer's
enthusiasm, which he distributed on the equitable principle of praising
those things most which were most in need of praise. The fender
was of polished steel, with much lancet-shaped open-work and a sharp
"Now, ladies," said he, "I shall appeal to you. Here is a fender
which at any other sale would hardly be offered with out reserve,
being, as I may say, for quality of steel and quaintness of design,
a kind of thing"--here Mr. Trumbull dropped his voice and became
slightly nasal, trimming his outlines with his left finger--
"that might not fall in with ordinary tastes. Allow me to tell
you that by-and-by this style of workmanship will be the only
one in vogue--half-a-crown, you said? thank you--going at
half-a-crown, this characteristic fender; and I have particular
information that the antique style is very much sought after
in high quarters. Three shillings--three-and-sixpence--hold it
well up, Joseph! Look, ladies, at the chastity of the design--
I have no doubt myself that it was turned out in the last century!
Four shillings, Mr. Mawmsey?--four shillings."
"It's not a thing I would put in _my_ drawing-room,"
said Mrs. Mawmsey, audibly, for the warning of the rash husband.
"I wonder _at_ Mrs. Larcher. Every blessed child's head
that fell against it would be cut in two. The edge is like a knife."
"Quite true," rejoined Mr. Trumbull, quickly, "and most uncommonly
useful to have a fender at hand that will cut, if you have a leather
shoe-tie or a bit of string that wants cutting and no knife at hand:
many a man has been left hanging because there was no knife to cut
him down. Gentlemen, here's a fender that if you had the misfortune
to hang yourselves would cut you down in no time--with astonishing
thing for a spare bedroom where there was a four-poster and a guest
a little out of his mind--six shillings--thank you, Mr. Clintup--
going at six shillings--going--gone!" The auctioneer's glance,
which had been searching round him with a preternatural susceptibility
to all signs of bidding, here dropped on the paper before him,
and his voice too dropped into a tone of indifferent despatch
as he said, "Mr. Clintup. Be handy, Joseph."
"It was worth six shillings to have a fender you could always tell
that joke on," said Mr. Clintup, laughing low and apologetically to his
next neighbor. He was a diffident though distinguished nurseryman,
and feared that the audience might regard his bid as a foolish one.
Meanwhile Joseph had brought a trayful of small articles.
"Now, ladies," said Mr. Trumbull, taking up one of the articles,
"this tray contains a very recherchy lot--a collection of trifles
for the drawing-room table--and trifles make the sum _of_
human things--nothing more important than trifles--(yes, Mr. Ladislaw,
yes, by-and-by)--but pass the tray round, Joseph--these bijoux must
be examined, ladies. This I have in my hand is an ingenious contrivance--
a sort of practical rebus, I may call it: here, you see, it looks like
an elegant heart-shaped box, portable--for the pocket; there, again,
it becomes like a splendid double flower--an ornament for the table;
and now"--Mr. Trumbull allowed the flower to fall alarmingly into
strings of heart-shaped leaves--"a book of riddles! No less than
five hundred printed in a beautiful red. Gentlemen, if I had less
of a conscience, I should not wish you to bid high for this lot--
I have a longing for it myself. What can promote innocent mirth,
and I may say virtue, more than a good riddle?--it hinders profane
language, and attaches a man to the society of refined females.
This ingenious article itself, without the elegant domino-box,
card-basket, &c., ought alone to give a high price to the lot.
Carried in the pocket it might make an individual welcome in
any society. Four shillings, sir?--four shillings for this remarkable
collection of riddles with the et caeteras. Here is a sample:
`How must you spell honey to make it catch lady-birds? Answer--
money.' You hear?--lady-birds--honey money. This is an amusement
to sharpen the intellect; it has a sting--it has what we call
satire, and wit without indecency. Four-and-sixpence--five shillings."
The bidding ran on with warming rivalry. Mr. Bowyer was a bidder,
and this was too exasperating. Bowyer couldn't afford it,
and only wanted to hinder every other man from making a figure.
The current carried even Mr. Horrock with it, but this committal
of himself to an opinion fell from him with so little sacrifice
of his neutral expression, that the bid might not have been detected
as his but for the friendly oaths of Mr. Bambridge, who wanted to know
what Horrock would do with blasted stuff only fit for haberdashers
given over to that state of perdition which the horse-dealer
so cordially recognized in the majority of earthly existences.
The lot was finally knocked down at a guinea to Mr. Spilkins, a young
Slender of the neighborhood, who was reckless with his pocket-money
and felt his want of memory for riddles.
"Come, Trumbull, this is too bad--you've been putting some old
maid's rubbish into the sale," murmured Mr. Toller, getting close
to the auctioneer. "I want to see how the prints go, and I must
be off soon."
"_Im_mediately, Mr. Toller. It was only an act of benevolence
which your noble heart would approve. Joseph! quick with the prints--
Lot 235. Now, gentlemen, you who are connoiss_ures_, you
are going to have a treat. Here is an engraving of the Duke
of Wellington surrounded by his staff on the Field of Waterloo;
and notwithstanding recent events which have, as it were,
enveloped our great Hero in a cloud, I will be bold to say--
for a man in my line must not be blown about by political winds--
that a finer subject--of the modern order, belonging to our own
time and epoch--the understanding of man could hardly conceive:
angels might, perhaps, but not men, sirs, not men."
"Who painted it?" said Mr. Powderell, much impressed.
"It is a proof before the letter, Mr. Powderell--the painter is
not known," answered Trumbull, with a certain gaspingness in his
last words, after which he pursed up his lips and stared round him.
"I'll bid a pound!" said Mr. Powderell, in a tone of resolved emotion,
as of a man ready to put himself in the breach. Whether from awe
or pity, nobody raised the price on him.
Next came two Dutch prints which Mr. Toller had been eager for,
and after he had secured them he went away. Other prints, and afterwards
some paintings, were sold to leading Middlemarchers who had come
with a special desire for them, and there was a more active movement
of the audience in and out; some, who had bought what they wanted,
going away, others coming in either quite newly or from a temporary
visit to the refreshments which were spread under the marquee on
the lawn. It was this marquee that Mr. Bambridge was bent on buying,
and he appeared to like looking inside it frequently, as a foretaste
of its possession. On the last occasion of his return from it
he was observed to bring with him a new companion, a stranger to
Mr. Trumbull and every one else, whose appearance, however, led to
the supposition that he might be a relative of the horse-dealer's--
also "given to indulgence." His large whiskers, imposing swagger,
and swing of the leg, made him a striking figure; but his suit
of black, rather shabby at the edges, caused the prejudicial inference
that he was not able to afford himself as much indulgence as he liked.
"Who is it you've picked up, Bam?" said Mr. Horrock, aside.
"Ask him yourself," returned Mr. Bambridge. "He said he'd just
turned in from the road."
Mr. Horrock eyed the stranger, who was leaning back against his
stick with one hand, using his toothpick with the other, and looking
about him with a certain restlessness apparently under the silence
imposed on him by circumstances.
At length the "Supper at Emmaus" was brought forward, to Wills
immense relief, for he was getting so tired of the proceedings that he
had drawn back a little and leaned his shoulder against the wall
just behind the auctioneer. He now came forward again, and his
eye caught the conspicuous stranger, who, rather to his surprise,
was staring at him markedly. But Will was immediately appealed
to by Mr. Trumbull.
"Yes, Mr. Ladislaw, yes; this interests you as a connoiss_ure_,
I think. It is some pleasure," the auctioneer went on with a
rising fervor, "to have a picture like this to show to a company
of ladies and gentlemen--a picture worth any sum to an individual
whose means were on a level with his judgment. It is a painting
of the Italian school--by the celebrated Guydo, the greatest
painter in the world, the chief of the Old Masters, as they are called--
I take it, because they were up to a thing or two beyond most of us--
in possession of secrets now lost to the bulk of mankind.
Let me tell you, gentlemen, I have seen a great many pictures
by the Old Masters, and they are not all up to this mark--some of
them are darker than you might like and not family subjects.
But here is a Guydo--the frame alone is worth pounds--which any
lady might be proud to hang up--a suitable thing for what we call
a refectory in a charitable institution, if any gentleman of the
Corporation wished to show his munifi_cence_. Turn it a little,
sir? yes. Joseph, turn it a little towards Mr. Ladislaw--Mr. Ladislaw,
having been abroad, understands the merit of these things,
All eyes were for a moment turned towards Will, who said, coolly,
"Five pounds." The auctioneer burst out in deep remonstrance.
"Ah! Mr. Ladislaw! the frame alone is worth that. Ladies and gentlemen,
for the credit of the town! Suppose it should be discovered
hereafter that a gem of art has been amongst us in this town,
and nobody in Middlemarch awake to it. Five guineas--five seven-six--
five ten. Still, ladies, still! It is a gem, and `Full many a gem,'
as the poet says, has been allowed to go at a nominal price because
the public knew no better, because it was offered in circles where
there was--I was going to say a low feeling, but no!--Six pounds--
six guineas--a Guydo of the first order going at six guineas--
it is an insult to religion, ladies; it touches us all as Christians,
gentlemen, that a subject like this should go at such a low figure--
six pounds ten--seven--"
The bidding was brisk, and Will continued to share in it,
remembering that Mrs. Bulstrode had a strong wish for the picture,
and thinking that he might stretch the price to twelve pounds.
But it was knocked down to him at ten guineas, whereupon he pushed
his way towards the bow-window and went out. He chose to go
under the marquee to get a glass of water, being hot and thirsty:
it was empty of other visitors, and he asked the woman in attendance
to fetch him some fresh water; but before she was well gone he was
annoyed to see entering the florid stranger who had stared at him.
It struck Will at this moment that the man might be one of those political
parasitic insects of the bloated kind who had once or twice claimed
acquaintance with him as having heard him speak on the Reform question,
and who might think of getting a shilling by news. In this light
his person, already rather heating to behold on a summer's day,
appeared the more disagreeable; and Will, half-seated on the elbow
of a garden-chair, turned his eyes carefully away from the comer.
But this signified little to our acquaintance Mr. Raffles, who never
hesitated to thrust himself on unwilling observation, if it suited
his purpose to do so. He moved a step or two till he was in front
of Will, and said with full-mouthed haste, "Excuse me, Mr. Ladislaw--
was your mother's name Sarah Dunkirk?"
Will, starting to his feet, moved backward a step, frowning, and saying
with some fierceness, "Yes, sir, it was. And what is that to you?"
It was in Will's nature that the first spark it threw out was a
direct answer of the question and a challenge of the consequences.
To have said, "What is that to you?" in the first instance,
would have seemed like shuffling--as if he minded who knew anything
about his origin!
Raffles on his side had not the same eagerness for a collision
which was implied in Ladislaw's threatening air. The slim young
fellow with his girl's complexion looked like a tiger-cat ready
to spring on him. Under such circumstances Mr. Raffles's pleasure
in annoying his company was kept in abeyance.
"No offence, my good sir, no offence! I only remember your mother--
knew her when she was a girl. But it is your father that
you feature, sir. I had the pleasure of seeing your father too.
Parents alive, Mr. Ladislaw?"
"No!" thundered Will, in the same attitude as before.
"Should be glad to do you a service, Mr. Ladislaw--by Jove, I should!
Hope to meet again."
Hereupon Raffles, who had lifted his hat with the last words,
turned himself round with a swing of his leg and walked away.
Will looked after him a moment, and could see that he did not re-enter
the auction-room, but appeared to be walking towards the road.
For an instant he thought that he had been foolish not to let the man
go on talking;--but no! on the whole he preferred doing without
knowledge from that source.
Later in the evening, however, Raffles overtook him in the street,
and appearing either to have forgotten the roughness of his former
reception or to intend avenging it by a forgiving familiarity,
greeted him jovially and walked by his side, remarking at first
on the pleasantness of the town and neighborhood. Will suspected
that the man had been drinking and was considering how to shake him
off when Raffles said--
"I've been abroad myself, Mr. Ladislaw--I've seen the world--
used to parley-vous a little. It was at Boulogne I saw your father--
a most uncommon likeness you are of him, by Jove! mouth--nose--eyes--
hair turned off your brow just like his--a little in the foreign style.
John Bull doesn't do much of that. But your father was very ill
when I saw him. Lord, lord! hands you might see through.
You were a small youngster then. Did he get well?"
"No," said Will, curtly.
"Ah! Well! I've often wondered what became of your mother.
She ran away from her friends when she was a young lass--
a proud-spirited lass, and pretty, by Jove! I knew the reason why
she ran away," said Raffles, winking slowly as he looked sideways
"You know nothing dishonorable of her, sir," said Will, turning on
him rather savagely. But Mr. Raffles just now was not sensitive
to shades of manner.
"Not a bit!" said he, tossing his head decisively "She was a little
too honorable to like her friends--that was it!" Here Raffles
again winked slowly. "Lord bless you, I knew all about 'em--
a little in what you may call the respectable thieving line--
the high style of receiving-house--none of your holes and corners--
first-rate. Slap-up shop, high profits and no mistake. But Lord!
Sarah would have known nothing about it--a dashing young lady she was--
fine boarding-school--fit for a lord's wife--only Archie Duncan
threw it at her out of spite, because she would have nothing
to do with him. And so she ran away from the whole concern.
I travelled for 'em, sir, in a gentlemanly way--at a high salary.
They didn't mind her running away at first--godly folks, sir,
very godly--and she was for the stage. The son was alive then,
and the daughter was at a discount. Hallo! here we are at the
Blue Bull. What do you say, Mr. Ladislaw?--shall we turn in and have
"No, I must say good evening," said Will, dashing up a passage which
led into Lowick Gate, and almost running to get out of Raffles's reach.
He walked a long while on the Lowick road away from the town,
glad of the starlit darkness when it came. He felt as if he
had had dirt cast on him amidst shouts of scorn. There was this
to confirm the fellow's statement--that his mother never would
tell him the reason why she had run away from her family.
Well! what was he, Will Ladislaw, the worse, supposing the truth
about that family to be the ugliest? His mother had braved
hardship in order to separate herself from it. But if Dorothea's
friends had known this story--if the Chettams had known it--
they would have had a fine color to give their suspicions a welcome
ground for thinking him unfit to come near her. However, let them
suspect what they pleased, they would find themselves in the wrong.
They would find out that the blood in his veins was as free from
the taint of meanness as theirs.
"Inconsistencies," answered Imlac, "cannot both be right,
but imputed to man they may both be true."--Rasselas.
The same night, when Mr. Bulstrode returned from a journey to
Brassing on business, his good wife met him in the entrance-hall
and drew him into his private sitting-room.
"Nicholas," she said, fixing her honest eyes upon him anxiously,
"there has been such a disagreeable man here asking for you--it has
made me quite uncomfortable."
"What kind of man, my dear," said Mr. Bulstrode, dreadfully certain
of the answer.
"A red-faced man with large whiskers, and most impudent in his manner.
He declared he was an old friend of yours, and said you would be
sorry not to see him. He wanted to wait for you here, but I told
him he could see you at the Bank to-morrow morning. Most impudent
he was!--stared at me, and said his friend Nick had luck in wives.
I don't believe he would have gone away, if Blucher had not
happened to break his chain and come running round on the gravel--
for I was in the garden; so I said, `You'd better go away--the dog
is very fierce, and I can't hold him.' Do you really know anything
of such a man?"
"I believe I know who he is, my dear," said Mr. Bulstrode,
in his usual subdued voice, "an unfortunate dissolute wretch,
whom I helped too much in days gone by. However, I presume you will
not be troubled by him again. He will probably come to the Bank--
to beg, doubtless."
No more was said on the subject until the next day, when Mr. Bulstrode
had returned from the town and was dressing for dinner. His wife,
not sure that he was come home, looked into his dressing-room
and saw him with his coat and cravat off, leaning one arm
on a chest of drawers and staring absently at the ground.
He started nervously and looked up as she entered.
"You look very ill, Nicholas. Is there anything the matter?"
"I have a good deal of pain in my head," said Mr. Bulstrode,
who was so frequently ailing that his wife was always ready
to believe in this cause of depression.
"Sit down and let me sponge it with vinegar."
Physically Mr. Bulstrode did not want the vinegar, but morally
the affectionate attention soothed him. Though always polite,
it was his habit to receive such services with marital coolness,
as his wife's duty. But to-day, while she was bending over him,
he said, "You are very good, Harriet," in a tone which had something
new in it to her ear; she did not know exactly what the novelty was,
but her woman's solicitude shaped itself into a darting thought that he
might be going to have an illness.
"Has anything worried you?" she said. "Did that man come to you
at the Bank?"
"Yes; it was as I had supposed. He is a man who at one time might
have done better. But he has sunk into a drunken debauched creature."
"Is he quite gone away?" said Mrs. Bulstrode, anxiously but for
certain reasons she refrained from adding, "It was very disagreeable
to hear him calling himself a friend of yours." At that moment she
would not have liked to say anything which implied her habitual
consciousness that her husband's earlier connections were not quite
on a level with her own. Not that she knew much about them.
That her husband had at first been employed in a bank, that he
had afterwards entered into what he called city business and gained
a fortune before he was three-and-thirty, that he had married
a widow who was much older than himself--a Dissenter, and in other
ways probably of that disadvantageous quality usually perceptible
in a first wife if inquired into with the dispassionate judgment
of a second--was almost as much as she had cared to learn beyond
the glimpses which Mr. Bulstrode's narrative occasionally gave of
his early bent towards religion, his inclination to be a preacher,
and his association with missionary and philanthropic efforts.
She believed in him as an excellent man whose piety carried
a peculiar eminence in belonging to a layman, whose influence
had turned her own mind toward seriousness, and whose share of
perishable good had been the means of raising her own position.
But she also liked to think that it was well in every sense
for Mr. Bulstrode to have won the hand of Harriet Vincy;
whose family was undeniable in a Middlemarch light--a better light
surely than any thrown in London thoroughfares or dissenting
chapel-yards. The unreformed provincial mind distrusted London;
and while true religion was everywhere saving, honest Mrs. Bulstrode
was convinced that to be saved in the Church was more respectable.
She so much wished to ignore towards others that her husband
had ever been a London Dissenter, that she liked to keep it out
of sight even in talking to him. He was quite aware of this;
indeed in some respects he was rather afraid of this ingenuous wife,
whose imitative piety and native worldliness were equally sincere,
who had nothing to be ashamed of, and whom he had married out of
a thorough inclination still subsisting. But his fears were such
as belong to a man who cares to maintain his recognized supremacy:
the loss of high consideration from his wife, as from every one
else who did not clearly hate him out of enmity to the truth,
would be as the beginning of death to him. When she said--
"Is he quite gone away?"
"Oh, I trust so," he answered, with an effort to throw as much
sober unconcern into his tone as possible!
But in truth Mr. Bulstrode was very far from a state of quiet trust.
In the interview at the Bank, Raffles had made it evident that his
eagerness to torment was almost as strong in him as any other greed.
He had frankly said that he had turned out of the way to come
to Middlemarch, just to look about him and see whether the neighborhood
would suit him to live in. He had certainly had a few debts to pay
more than he expected, but the two hundred pounds were not gone yet:
a cool five-and-twenty would suffice him to go away with for the present.
What he had wanted chiefly was to see his friend Nick and family,
and know all about the prosperity of a man to whom he was so
much attached. By-and-by he might come back for a longer stay.
This time Raffles declined to be "seen off the premises," as he
expressed it--declined to quit Middlemarch under Bulstrode's eyes.
He meant to go by coach the next day--if he chose.
Bulstrode felt himself helpless. Neither threats nor coaxing
could avail: he could not count on any persistent fear nor on
any promise. On the contrary, he felt a cold certainty at his
heart that Raffles--unless providence sent death to hinder him--
would come back to Middlemarch before long. And that certainty
was a terror.
It was not that he was in danger of legal punishment or of beggary:
he was in danger only of seeing disclosed to the judgment of his
neighbors and the mournful perception of his wife certain facts of his
past life which would render him an object of scorn and an opprobrium
of the religion with which he had diligently associated himself.
The terror of being judged sharpens the memory: it sends an inevitable
glare over that long-unvisited past which has been habitually
recalled only in general phrases. Even without memory, the life
is bound into one by a zone of dependence in growth and decay;
but intense memory forces a man to own his blameworthy past.
With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man's past is
not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present:
it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still
quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and
the tinglings of a merited shame.
Into this second life Bulstrode's past had now risen, only the
pleasures of it seeming to have lost their quality. Night and day,
without interruption save of brief sleep which only wove retrospect
and fear into a fantastic present, he felt the scenes of his earlier
life coming between him and everything else, as obstinately as when we
look through the window from a lighted room, the objects we turn
our backs on are still before us, instead of the grass and the trees
The successive events inward and outward were there in one view:
though each might be dwelt on in turn, the rest still kept their
hold in the consciousness.
Once more he saw himself the young banker's clerk, with an
agreeable person, as clever in figures as he was fluent in speech
and fond of theological definition: an eminent though young member
of a Calvinistic dissenting church at Highbury, having had striking
experience in conviction of sin and sense of pardon. Again he
heard himself called for as Brother Bulstrode in prayer meetings,
speaking on religious platforms, preaching in private houses.
Again he felt himself thinking of the ministry as possibly his vocation,
and inclined towards missionary labor. That was the happiest time
of his life: that was the spot he would have chosen now to awake
in and find the rest a dream. The people among whom Brother
Bulstrode was distinguished were very few, but they were very near
to him, and stirred his satisfaction the more; his power stretched
through a narrow space, but he felt its effect the more intensely.
He believed without effort in the peculiar work of grace within him,
and in the signs that God intended him for special instrumentality.
Then came the moment of transition; it was with the sense of promotion
he had when he, an orphan educated at a commercial charity-school,
was invited to a fine villa belonging to Mr. Dunkirk, the richest man
in the congregation. Soon he became an intimate there, honored for
his piety by the wife, marked out for his ability by the husband,
whose wealth was due to a flourishing city and west-end trade.
That was the setting-in of a new current for his ambition,
directing his prospects of "instrumentality" towards the uniting
of distinguished religious gifts with successful business.
By-and-by came a decided external leading: a confidential subordinate
partner died, and nobody seemed to the principal so well fitted
to fill the severely felt vacancy as his young friend Bulstrode,
if he would become confidential accountant. The offer was accepted.
The business was a pawnbroker's, of the most magnificent sort both
in extent and profits; and on a short acquaintance with it Bulstrode
became aware that one source of magnificent profit was the easy
reception of any goods offered, without strict inquiry as to where
they came from. But there was a branch house at the west end,
and no pettiness or dinginess to give suggestions of shame.
He remembered his first moments of shrinking. They were private,
and were filled with arguments; some of these taking the form
of prayer. The business was established and had old roots;
is it not one thing to set up a new gin-palace and another to accept
an investment in an old one? The profits made out of lost souls--
where can the line be drawn at which they begin in human transactions?
Was it not even God's way of saving His chosen? "Thou knowest,"--
the young Bulstrode had said then, as the older Bulstrode was saying now--
"Thou knowest how loose my soul sits from these things--how I view
them all as implements for tilling Thy garden rescued here and there
from the wilderness."
Metaphors and precedents were not wanting; peculiar spiritual
experiences were not wanting which at last made the retention
of his position seem a service demanded of him: the vista of
a fortune had already opened itself, and Bulstrode's shrinking
remained private. Mr. Dunkirk had never expected that there
would be any shrinking at all: he had never conceived that trade
had anything to do with the scheme of salvation. And it was true
that Bulstrode found himself carrying on two distinct lives;
his religious activity could not be incompatible with his business
as soon as he had argued himself into not feeling it incompatible.
Mentally surrounded with that past again, Bulstrode had the
same pleas--indeed, the years had been perpetually spinning them
into intricate thickness, like masses of spider-web, padding
the moral sensibility; nay, as age made egoism more eager but
less enjoying, his soul had become more saturated with the belief
that he did everything for God's sake, being indifferent to it
for his own. And yet--if he could be back in that far-off spot
with his youthful poverty--why, then he would choose to be a missionary.
But the train of causes in which he had locked himself went on.
There was trouble in the fine villa at Highbury. Years before,
the only daughter had run away, defied her parents, and gone on the stage;
and now the only boy died, and after a short time Mr. Dunkirk died also.
The wife, a simple pious woman, left with all the wealth in and out
of the magnificent trade, of which she never knew the precise nature,
had come to believe in Bulstrode, and innocently adore him as women
often adore their priest or "man-made" minister. It was natural
that after a time marriage should have been thought of between them.
But Mrs. Dunkirk had qualms and yearnings about her daughter,
who had long been regarded as lost both to God and her parents.
It was known that the daughter had married, but she was utterly
gone out of sight. The mother, having lost her boy, imagined
a grandson, and wished in a double sense to reclaim her daughter.
If she were found, there would be a channel for property--
perhaps a wide one--in the provision for several grandchildren.
Efforts to find her must be made before Mrs. Dunkirk would marry again.
Bulstrode concurred; but after advertisement as well as other modes
of inquiry had been tried, the mother believed that her daughter
was not to be found, and consented to marry without reservation
The daughter had been found; but only one man besides Bulstrode knew it,
and he was paid for keeping silence and carrying himself away.
That was the bare fact which Bulstrode was now forced to see in
the rigid outline with which acts present themselves onlookers.
But for himself at that distant time, and even now in burning memory,
the fact was broken into little sequences, each justified as it came
by reasonings which seemed to prove it righteous. Bulstrode's course up
to that time had, he thought, been sanctioned by remarkable providences,
appearing to point the way for him to be the agent in making the
best use of a large property and withdrawing it from perversion.
Death and other striking dispositions, such as feminine trustfulness,
had come; and Bulstrode would have adopted Cromwell's words--
"Do you call these bare events? The Lord pity you!" The events
were comparatively small, but the essential condition was there--
namely, that they were in favor of his own ends. It was easy
for him to settle what was due from him to others by inquiring
what were God's intentions with regard to himself. Could it be
for God's service that this fortune should in any considerable
proportion go to a young woman and her husband who were given up
to the lightest pursuits, and might scatter it abroad in triviality--
people who seemed to lie outside the path of remarkable providences?
Bulstrode had never said to himself beforehand, "The daughter
shall not be found"--nevertheless when the moment came he kept
her existence hidden; and when other moments followed, he soothed
the mother with consolation in the probability that the unhappy
young woman might be no more.
There were hours in which Bulstrode felt that his action
was unrighteous; but how could he go back? He had mental exercises,
called himself nought laid hold on redemption, and went on in his
course of instrumentality. And after five years Death again came
to widen his path, by taking away his wife. He did gradually
withdraw his capital, but he did not make the sacrifices requisite
to put an end to the business, which was carried on for thirteen
years afterwards before it finally collapsed. Meanwhile Nicholas
Bulstrode had used his hundred thousand discreetly, and was
become provincially, solidly important--a banker, a Churchman,
a public benefactor; also a sleeping partner in trading concerns,
in which his ability was directed to economy in the raw material,
as in the case of the dyes which rotted Mr. Vincy's silk. And now,
when this respectability had lasted undisturbed for nearly thirty years--
when all that preceded it had long lain benumbed in the consciousness--
that past had risen and immersed his thought as if with the terrible
irruption of a new sense overburthening the feeble being.
Meanwhile, in his conversation with Raffles, he had learned
something momentous, something which entered actively into
the struggle of his longings and terrors. There, he thought,
lay an opening towards spiritual, perhaps towards material rescue.
The spiritual kind of rescue was a genuine need with him. There may
be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions
for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them.
He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his
theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratification
of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs.
If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally
in us all, to whatever confession we belong, and whether we
believe in the future perfection of our race or in the nearest
date fixed for the end of the world; whether we regard the earth
as a putrefying nidus for a saved remnant, including ourselves,
or have a passionate belief in the solidarity of mankind.
The service he could do to the cause of religion had been through
life the ground he alleged to himself for his choice of action:
it had been the motive which he had poured out in his prayers.
Who would use money and position better than he meant to use them?
Who could surpass him in self-abhorrence and exaltation of God's cause?
And to Mr. Bulstrode God's cause was something distinct from his own
rectitude of conduct: it enforced a discrimination of God's enemies,
who were to be used merely as instruments, and whom it would be
as well if possible to keep out of money and consequent influence.
Also, profitable investments in trades where the power of the prince
of this world showed its most active devices, became sanctified by a
right application of the profits in the hands of God's servant.
This implicit reasoning is essentially no more peculiar to evangelical
belief than the use of wide phrases for narrow motives is peculiar
to Englishmen. There is no general doctrine which is not capable
of eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit
of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men.
But a man who believes in something else than his own greed,
has necessarily a conscience or standard to which he more or less
adapts himself. Bulstrode's standard had been his serviceableness
to God's cause: "I am sinful and nought--a vessel to be consecrated
by use--but use me!"--had been the mould into which he had constrained
his immense need of being something important and predominating.
And now had come a moment in which that mould seemed in danger
of being broken and utterly cast away.
What if the acts he had reconciled himself to because they made
him a stronger instrument of the divine glory, were to become
the pretext of the scoffer, and a darkening of that glory?
If this were to be the ruling of Providence, he was cast out from
the temple as one who had brought unclean offerings.
He had long poured out utterances of repentance. But today a
repentance had come which was of a bitterer flavor, and a threatening
Providence urged him to a kind of propitiation which was not simply
a doctrinal transaction. The divine tribunal had changed its
aspect for him; self-prostration was no longer enough, and he must
bring restitution in his hand. It was really before his God that
Bulstrode was about to attempt such restitution as seemed possible:
a great dread had seized his susceptible frame, and the scorching
approach of shame wrought in him a new spiritual need. Night and day,
while the resurgent threatening past was making a conscience within him,
he was thinking by what means he could recover peace and trust--
by what sacrifice he could stay the rod. His belief in these
moments of dread was, that if he spontaneously did something right,
God would save him from the consequences of wrong-doing. For religion
can only change when the emotions which fill it are changed; and the
religion of personal fear remains nearly at the level of the savage.
He had seen Raffles actually going away on the Brassing coach,
and this was a temporary relief; it removed the pressure of an
immediate dread, but did not put an end to the spiritual conflict and
the need to win protection. At last he came to a difficult resolve,
and wrote a letter to Will Ladislaw, begging him to be at the
Shrubs that evening for a private interview at nine o'clock. Will
had felt no particular surprise at the request, and connected it
with some new notions about the "Pioneer;" but when he was shown
into Mr. Bulstrode's private room, he was struck with the painfully
worn look on the banker's face, and was going to say, "Are you ill?"
when, checking himself in that abruptness, he only inquired after
Mrs. Bulstrode, and her satisfaction with the picture bought for her.
"Thank you, she is quite satisfied; she has gone out with her daughters
this evening. I begged you to come, Mr. Ladislaw, because I have
a communication of a very private--indeed, I will say, of a sacredly
confidential nature, which I desire to make to you. Nothing, I dare say,
has been farther from your thoughts than that there had been
important ties in the past which could connect your history with mine."
Will felt something like an electric shock. He was already in a state
of keen sensitiveness and hardly allayed agitation on the subject
of ties in the past, and his presentiments were not agreeable.
It seemed like the fluctuations of a dream--as if the action begun
by that loud bloated stranger were being carried on by this pale-eyed
sickly looking piece of respectability, whose subdued tone and glib
formality of speech were at this moment almost as repulsive to him
as their remembered contrast. He answered, with a marked change
"No, indeed, nothing."
"You see before you, Mr. Ladislaw, a man who is deeply stricken.
But for the urgency of conscience and the knowledge that I am
before the bar of One who seeth not as man seeth, I should be under
no compulsion to make the disclosure which has been my object
in asking you to come here to-night. So far as human laws go,
you have no claim on me whatever."
Will was even more uncomfortable than wondering. Mr. Bulstrode
had paused, leaning his head on his hand, and looking at the floor.
But he now fixed his examining glance on Will and said--
"I am told that your mother's name was Sarah Dunkirk, and that she
ran away from her friends to go on the stage. Also, that your
father was at one time much emaciated by illness. May I ask
if you can confirm these statements?"
"Yes, they are all true," said Will, struck with the order in which
an inquiry had come, that might have been expected to be preliminary
to the banker's previous hints. But Mr. Bulstrode had to-night followed
the order of his emotions; he entertained no doubt that the opportunity
for restitution had come, and he had an overpowering impulse towards
the penitential expression by which he was deprecating chastisement.
"Do you know any particulars of your mother's family?" he continued.
"No; she never liked to speak of them. She was a very generous,
honorable woman," said Will, almost angrily.
"I do not wish to allege anything against her. Did she never mention
her mother to you at all?"
"I have heard her say that she thought her mother did not know the
reason of her running away. She said `poor mother' in a pitying tone."
"That mother became my wife," said Bulstrode, and then paused a
moment before he added, "you have a claim on me, Mr. Ladislaw: as I
said before, not a legal claim, but one which my conscience recognizes.
I was enriched by that marriage--a result which would probably
not have taken place--certainly not to the same extent--if your
grandmother could have discovered her daughter. That daughter,
I gather, is no longer living!"
"No," said Will, feeling suspicion and repugnance rising so strongly
within him, that without quite knowing what he did, he took his hat
from the floor and stood up. The impulse within him was to reject
the disclosed connection.
"Pray be seated, Mr. Ladislaw," said Bulstrode, anxiously.
"Doubtless you are startled by the suddenness of this discovery.
But I entreat your patience with one who is already bowed down
by inward trial."
Will reseated himself, feeling some pity which was half contempt
for this voluntary self-abasement of an elderly man.
"It is my wish, Mr. Ladislaw, to make amends for the deprivation
which befell your mother. I know that you are without fortune,
and I wish to supply you adequately from a store which would have
probably already been yours had your grandmother been certain
of your mother's existence and been able to find her."
Mr. Bulstrode paused. He felt that he was performing a striking piece
of scrupulosity in the judgment of his auditor, and a penitential
act in the eyes of God. He had no clew to the state of Will
Ladislaw's mind, smarting as it was from the clear hints of Raffles,
and with its natural quickness in construction stimulated by the
expectation of discoveries which he would have been glad to conjure
back into darkness. Will made no answer for several moments,
till Mr. Bulstrode, who at the end of his speech had cast his
eyes on the floor, now raised them with an examining glance,
which Will met fully, saying--
"I suppose you did know of my mother's existence, and knew where she
might have been found."
Bulstrode shrank--there was a visible quivering in his face and hands.
He was totally unprepared to have his advances met in this way,
or to find himself urged into more revelation than he had beforehand
set down as needful. But at that moment he dared not tell a lie,
and he felt suddenly uncertain of his ground which he had trodden
with some confidence before.
"I will not deny that you conjecture rightly," he answered,
with a faltering in his tone. "And I wish to make atonement to you
as the one still remaining who has suffered a loss through me.
You enter, I trust, into my purpose, Mr. Ladislaw, which has a reference
to higher than merely human claims, and as I have already said,
is entirely independent of any legal compulsion. I am ready to
narrow my own resources and the prospects of my family by binding
myself to allow you five hundred pounds yearly during my life,
and to leave you a proportional capital at my death--nay, to do
still more, if more should be definitely necessary to any laudable
project on your part." Mr. Bulstrode had gone on to particulars
in the expectation that these would work strongly on Ladislaw,
and merge other feelings in grateful acceptance.
But Will was looking as stubborn as possible, with his lip pouting
and his fingers in his side-pockets. He was not in the least touched,
and said firmly,--
"Before I make any reply to your proposition, Mr. Bulstrode, I must
beg you to answer a question or two. Were you connected with the
business by which that fortune you speak of was originally made?"
Mr. Bulstrode's thought was, "Raffles has told him." How could he
refuse to answer when he had volunteered what drew forth the question?
He answered, "Yes."
"And was that business--or was it not--a thoroughly dishonorable one--
nay, one that, if its nature had been made public, might have
ranked those concerned in it with thieves and convicts?"
Will's tone had a cutting bitterness: he was moved to put his
question as nakedly as he could.
Bulstrode reddened with irrepressible anger. He had been prepared
for a scene of self-abasement, but his intense pride and his habit
of supremacy overpowered penitence, and even dread, when this young man,
whom he had meant to benefit, turned on him with the air of a judge.
"The business was established before I became connected with it,
sir; nor is it for you to institute an inquiry of that kind,"
he answered, not raising his voice, but speaking with quick defiantness.
"Yes, it is," said Will, starting up again with his hat in his hand.
"It is eminently mine to ask such questions, when I have to decide
whether I will have transactions with you and accept your money.
My unblemished honor is important to me. It is important to me
to have no stain on my birth and connections. And now I find there
is a stain which I can't help. My mother felt it, and tried
to keep as clear of it as she could, and so will I. You shall keep
your ill-gotten money. If I had any fortune of my own, I would
willingly pay it to any one who could disprove what you have told me.
What I have to thank you for is that you kept the money till now,
when I can refuse it. It ought to lie with a man's self that he is
a gentleman. Good-night, sir."
Bulstrode was going to speak, but Will, with determined quickness,
was out of the room in an instant, and in another the hall-door had
closed behind him. He was too strongly possessed with passionate
rebellion against this inherited blot which had been thrust on his
knowledge to reflect at present whether he had not been too hard
on Bulstrode--too arrogantly merciless towards a man of sixty,
who was making efforts at retrieval when time had rendered them vain.
No third person listening could have thoroughly understood the
impetuosity of Will's repulse or the bitterness of his words.
No one but himself then knew how everything connected with the
sentiment of his own dignity had an immediate bearing for him on
his relation to Dorothea and to Mr. Casaubon's treatment of him.
And in the rush of impulses by which he flung back that offer
of Bulstrode's there was mingled the sense that it would have been
impossible for him ever to tell Dorothea that he had accepted it.
As for Bulstrode--when Will was gone he suffered a violent reaction,
and wept like a woman. It was the first time he had encountered
an open expression of scorn from any man higher than Raffles;
and with that scorn hurrying like venom through his system,
there was no sensibility left to consolations. Rut the relief
of weeping had to be checked. His wife and daughters soon came
home from hearing the address of an Oriental missionary, and were
full of regret that papa had not heard, in the first instance,
the interesting things which they tried to repeat to him.
Perhaps, through all other hidden thoughts, the one that breathed
most comfort was, that Will Ladislaw at least was not likely
to publish what had taken place that evening.
"He was a squyer of lowe degre,
That loved the king's daughter of Hungrie.
Will Ladislaw's mind was now wholly bent on seeing Dorothea again,
and forthwith quitting Middlemarch. The morning after his agitating
scene with Bulstrode he wrote a brief letter to her, saying that
various causes had detained him in the neighborhood longer than he
had expected, and asking her permission to call again at Lowick
at some hour which she would mention on the earliest possible day,
he being anxious to depart, but unwilling to do so until she
had granted him an interview. He left the letter at the office,
ordering the messenger to carry it to Lowick Manor, and wait for
Ladislaw felt the awkwardness of asking for more last words.
His former farewell had been made in the hearing of Sir James Chettam,
and had been announced as final even to the butler. It is certainly
trying to a man's dignity to reappear when he is not expected to do so:
a first farewell has pathos in it, but to come back for a second
lends an opening to comedy, and it was possible even that there
might be bitter sneers afloat about Will's motives for lingering.
Still it was on the whole more satisfactory to his feeling to take
the directest means of seeing Dorothea, than to use any device
which might give an air of chance to a meeting of which he
wished her to understand that it was what he earnestly sought.
When he had parted from her before, he had been in ignorance
of facts which gave a new aspect to the relation between them,
and made a more absolute severance than he had then believed in.
He knew nothing of Dorothea's private fortune, and being
little used to reflect on such matters, took it for granted
that according to Mr. Casaubon's arrangement marriage to him,
Will Ladislaw, would mean that she consented to be penniless.
That was not what he could wish for even in his secret heart,
or even if she had been ready to meet such hard contrast for his sake.
And then, too, there was the fresh smart of that disclosure about
his mother's family, which if known would be an added reason why
Dorothea's friends should look down upon him as utterly below her.
The secret hope that after some years he might come back with the
sense that he had at least a personal value equal to her wealth,
seemed now the dreamy continuation of a dream. This change would surely
justify him in asking Dorothea to receive him once more.
But Dorothea on that morning was not at home to receive Will's note.
In consequence of a letter from her uncle announcing his intention
to be at home in a week, she had driven first to Freshitt to carry
the news, meaning to go on to the Grange to deliver some orders
with which her uncle had intrusted her--thinking, as he said,
"a little mental occupation of this sort good for a widow."
If Will Ladislaw could have overheard some of the talk at Freshitt
that morning, he would have felt all his suppositions confirmed
as to the readiness of certain people to sneer at his lingering
in the neighborhood. Sir James, indeed, though much relieved
concerning Dorothea, had been on the watch to learn Ladislaw's movements,
and had an instructed informant in Mr. Standish, who was necessarily
in his confidence on this matter. That Ladislaw had stayed in
Middlemarch nearly two months after he had declared that he was
going immediately, was a fact to embitter Sir James's suspicions,
or at least to justify his aversion to a "young fellow" whom he
represented to himself as slight, volatile, and likely enough to show
such recklessness as naturally went along with a position unriveted
by family ties or a strict profession. But he had just heard something
from Standish which, while it justified these surmises about Will,
offered a means of nullifying all danger with regard to Dorothea.
Unwonted circumstances may make us all rather unlike ourselves:
there are conditions under which the most majestic person is obliged
to sneeze, and our emotions are liable to be acted on in the same
incongruous manner. Good Sir James was this morning so far unlike
himself that he was irritably anxious to say something to Dorothea
on a subject which he usually avoided as if it had been a matter
of shame to them both. He could not use Celia as a medium,
because he did not choose that she should know the kind of gossip
he had in his mind; and before Dorothea happened to arrive he had
been trying to imagine how, with his shyness and unready tongue,
he could ever manage to introduce his communication. Her unexpected
presence brought him to utter hopelessness in his own power of
saying anything unpleasant; but desperation suggested a resource;
he sent the groom on an unsaddled horse across the park with a
pencilled note to Mrs. Cadwallader, who already knew the gossip,
and would think it no compromise of herself to repeat it as often
Dorothea was detained on the good pretext that Mr. Garth,
whom she wanted to see, was expected at the hall within the hour,
and she was still talking to Caleb on the gravel when Sir James,
on the watch for the rector's wife, saw her coming and met her
with the needful hints.
"Enough! I understand,"--said Mrs. Cadwallader. "You shall
be innocent. I am such a blackamoor that I cannot smirch myself."
"I don't mean that it's of any consequence," said Sir James,
disliking that Mrs. Cadwallader should understand too much.
"Only it is desirable that Dorothea should know there are reasons why
she should not receive him again; and I really can't say so to her.
It will come lightly from you."
It came very lightly indeed. When Dorothea quitted Caleb and
turned to meet them, it appeared that Mrs. Cadwallader had stepped
across the park by the merest chance in the world, just to chat
with Celia in a matronly way about the baby. And so Mr. Brooke
was coming back? Delightful!--coming back, it was to be hoped,
quite cured of Parliamentary fever and pioneering. Apropos
of the "Pioneer"--somebody had prophesied that it would soon
be like a dying dolphin, and turn all colors for want of knowing
how to help itself, because Mr. Brooke's protege, the brilliant
young Ladislaw, was gone or going. Had Sir James heard that?
The three were walking along the gravel slowly, and Sir James,
turning aside to whip a shrub, said he had heard something of that sort.
"All false!" said Mrs. Cadwallader. "He is not gone, or going,
apparently; the `Pioneer' keeps its color, and Mr. Orlando Ladislaw
is making a sad dark-blue scandal by warbling continually with your
Mr. Lydgate's wife, who they tell me is as pretty as pretty can be.
It seems nobody ever goes into the house without finding this
young gentleman lying on the rug or warbling at the piano.
But the people in manufacturing towns are always disreputable."
"You began by saying that one report was false, Mrs. Cadwallader,
and I believe this is false too," said Dorothea, with indignant energy;
"at least, I feel sure it is a misrepresentation. I will not hear
any evil spoken of Mr. Ladislaw; he has already suffered too
Dorothea when thoroughly moved cared little what any one thought
of her feelings; and even if she had been able to reflect, she would
have held it petty to keep silence at injurious words about Will
from fear of being herself misunderstood. Her face was flushed
and her lip trembled.
Sir James, glancing at her, repented of his stratagem;
but Mrs. Cadwallader, equal to all occasions, spread the palms
of her hands outward and said--"Heaven grant it, my dear!--I mean
that all bad tales about anybody may be false. But it is a pity that
young Lydgate should have married one of these Middlemarch girls.
Considering he's a son of somebody, he might have got a woman
with good blood in her veins, and not too young, who would have put
up with his profession. There's Clara Harfager, for instance,
whose friends don't know what to do with her; and she has a portion.
Then we might have had her among us. However!--it's no use
being wise for other people. Where is Celia? Pray let us go in."
"I am going on immediately to Tipton," said Dorothea, rather haughtily.
Sir James could say nothing as he accompanied her to the carriage.
He was altogether discontented with the result of a contrivance
which had cost him some secret humiliation beforehand.
Dorothea drove along between the berried hedgerows and the shorn
corn-fields, not seeing or hearing anything around. The tears
came and rolled down her cheeks, but she did not know it.
The world, it seemed, was turning ugly and hateful, and there was
no place for her trustfulness. "It is not true--it is not true!"
was the voice within her that she listened to; but all the while
a remembrance to which there had always clung a vague uneasiness
would thrust itself on her attention--the remembrance of that day
when she had found Will Ladislaw with Mrs. Lydgate, and had heard
his voice accompanied by the piano.
"He said he would never do anything that I disapproved--I wish I
could have told him that I disapproved of that," said poor Dorothea,
inwardly, feeling a strange alternation between anger with Will
and the passionate defence of him. "They all try to blacken him
before me; but I will care for no pain, if he is not to blame.
I always believed he was good."--These were her last thoughts
before she felt that the carriage was passing under the archway
of the lodge-gate at the Grange, when she hurriedly pressed
her handkerchief to her face and began to think of her errands.
The coachman begged leave to take out the horses for half an hour
as there was something wrong with a shoe; and Dorothea, having the
sense that she was going to rest, took off her gloves and bonnet,
while she was leaning against a statue in the entrance-hall,
and talking to the housekeeper. At last she said--
"I must stay here a little, Mrs. Kell. I will go into the library
and write you some memoranda from my uncle's letter, if you will
open the shutters for me."
"The shutters are open, madam," said Mrs. Kell, following Dorothea,
who had walked along as she spoke. "Mr. Ladislaw is there,
looking for something."
(Will had come to fetch a portfolio of his own sketches which he
had missed in the act of packing his movables, and did not choose
to leave behind.)
Dorothea's heart seemed to turn over as if it had had a blow,
but she was not perceptibly checked: in truth, the sense that Will
was there was for the moment all-satisfying to her, like the sight
of something precious that one has lost. When she reached the door
she said to Mrs. Kell--
"Go in first, and tell him that I am here."
Will had found his portfolio, and had laid it on the table at the
far end of the room, to turn over the sketches and please himself
by looking at the memorable piece of art which had a relation
to nature too mysterious for Dorothea. He was smiling at it still,
and shaking the sketches into order with the thought that he might
find a letter from her awaiting him at Middlemarch, when Mrs. Kell
close to his elbow said--
"Mrs. Casaubon is coming in, sir."
Will turned round quickly, and the next moment Dorothea was entering.
As Mrs. Kell closed the door behind her they met: each was looking
at the other, and consciousness was overflowed by something that
suppressed utterance. It was not confusion that kept them silent,
for they both felt that parting was near, and there is no shamefacedness
in a sad parting.
She moved automatically towards her uncle's chair against the
writing-table, and Will, after drawing it out a little for her,
went a few paces off and stood opposite to her.
"Pray sit down," said Dorothea, crossing her hands on her lap;
"I am very glad you were here." Will thought that her face looked
just as it did when she first shook hands with him in Rome;
for her widow's cap, fixed in her bonnet, had gone off with it,
and he could see that she had lately been shedding tears. But the
mixture of anger in her agitation had vanished at the sight of him;
she had been used, when they were face to face, always to feel
confidence and the happy freedom which comes with mutual understanding,
and how could other people's words hinder that effect on a sudden?
Let the music which can take possession of our frame and fill the air
with joy for us, sound once more--what does it signify that we heard it
found fault with in its absence?
"I have sent a letter to Lowick Manor to-day, asking leave to
see you," said Will, seating himself opposite to her. "I am going
away immediately, and I could not go without speaking to you again."
"I thought we had parted when you came to Lowick many weeks ago--
you thought you were going then," said Dorothea, her voice trembling
"Yes; but I was in ignorance then of things which I know now--
things which have altered my feelings about the future. When I
saw you before, I was dreaming that I might come back some day.
I don't think I ever shall--now." Will paused here.
"You wished me to know the reasons?" said Dorothea, timidly.
"Yes," said Will, impetuously, shaking his head backward, and looking
away from her with irritation in his face. "Of course I must wish it.
I have been grossly insulted in your eyes and in the eyes of others.
There has been a mean implication against my character. I wish you
to know that under no circumstances would I have lowered myself by--
under no circumstances would I have given men the chance of saying
that I sought money under the pretext of seeking--something else.
There was no need of other safeguard against me--the safeguard of wealth
Will rose from his chair with the last word and went--he hardly
knew where; but it was to the projecting window nearest him,
which had been open as now about the same season a year ago, when he
and Dorothea had stood within it and talked together. Her whole heart
was going out at this moment in sympathy with Will's indignation:
she only wanted to convince him that she had never done him injustice,
and he seemed to have turned away from her as if she too had been
part of the unfriendly world.
"It would be very unkind of you to suppose that I ever attributed
any meanness to you," she began. Then in her ardent way,
wanting to plead with him, she moved from her chair and went
in front of him to her old place in the window, saying, "Do you
suppose that I ever disbelieved in you?"
When Will saw her there, he gave a start and moved backward out
of the window, without meeting her glance. Dorothea was hurt
by this movement following up the previous anger of his tone.
She was ready to say that it was as hard on her as on him,
and that she was helpless; but those strange particulars of their
relation which neither of them could explicitly mention kept
her always in dread of saying too much. At this moment she had
no belief that Will would in any case have wanted to marry her,
and she feared using words which might imply such a belief.
She only said earnestly, recurring to his last word--
"I am sure no safeguard was ever needed against you."
Will did not answer. In the stormy fluctuation of his feelings these
words of hers seemed to him cruelly neutral, and he looked pale and
miserable after his angry outburst. He went to the table and fastened
up his portfolio, while Dorothea looked at him from the distance.
They were wasting these last moments together in wretched silence.
What could he say, since what had got obstinately uppermost in his
mind was the passionate love for her which he forbade himself
to utter? What could she say, since she might offer him no help--
since she was forced to keep the money that ought to have been his?--
since to-day he seemed not to respond as he used to do to her thorough
trust and liking?
But Will at last turned away from his portfolio and approached
the window again.
"I must go," he said, with that peculiar look of the eyes which
sometimes accompanies bitter feeling, as if they had been tired
and burned with gazing too close at a light.
"What shall you do in life?" said Dorothea, timidly. "Have your
intentions remained just the same as when we said good-by before?"
"Yes," said Will, in a tone that seemed to waive the subject
as uninteresting. "I shall work away at the first thing that offers.
I suppose one gets a habit of doing without happiness or hope."
"Oh, what sad words!" said Dorothea, with a dangerous tendency to sob.
Then trying to smile, she added, "We used to agree that we were
alike in speaking too strongly."
"I have not spoken too strongly now," said Will, leaning back against
the angle of the wall. "There are certain things which a man can
only go through once in his life; and he must know some time or other
that the best is over with him. This experience has happened to me
while I am very young--that is all. What I care more for than I
can ever care for anything else is absolutely forbidden to me--
I don't mean merely by being out of my reach, but forbidden me,
even if it were within my reach, by my own pride and honor--
by everything I respect myself for. Of course I shall go on living
as a man might do who had seen heaven in a trance."
Will paused, imagining that it would be impossible for Dorothea
to misunderstand this; indeed he felt that he was contradicting
himself and offending against his self-approval in speaking
to her so plainly; but still--it could not be fairly called
wooing a woman to tell her that he would never woo her.
It must be admitted to be a ghostly kind of wooing.
But Dorothea's mind was rapidly going over the past with quite another
vision than his. The thought that she herself might be what Will
most cared for did throb through her an instant, but then came doubt:
the memory of the little they had lived through together turned pale
and shrank before the memory which suggested how much fuller might
have been the intercourse between Will and some one else with whom
he had had constant companionship. Everything he had said might
refer to that other relation, and whatever had passed between him
and herself was thoroughly explained by what she had always regarded
as their simple friendship and the cruel obstruction thrust upon it
by her husband's injurious act. Dorothea stood silent, with her
eyes cast down dreamily, while images crowded upon her which left
the sickening certainty that Will was referring to Mrs. Lydgate.
But why sickening? He wanted her to know that here too his conduct
should be above suspicion.
Will was not surprised at her silence. His mind also was tumultuously
busy while he watched her, and he was feeling rather wildly that something
must happen to hinder their parting--some miracle, clearly nothing
in their own deliberate speech. Yet, after all, had she any love
for him?--he could not pretend to himself that he would rather believe
her to be without that pain. He could not deny that a secret longing
for the assurance that she loved him was at the root of all his words.
Neither of them knew how long they stood in that way. Dorothea was
raising her eyes, and was about to speak, when the door opened
and her footman came to say--
"The horses are ready, madam, whenever you like to start."
"Presently," said Dorothea. Then turning to Will, she said,
"I have some memoranda to write for the housekeeper."
"I must go," said Will, when the door had closed again--advancing
towards her. "The day after to-morrow I shall leave Middlemarch."
"You have acted in every way rightly," said Dorothea, in a low tone,
feeling a pressure at her heart which made it difficult to speak.
She put out her hand, and Will took it for an instant with.
out speaking, for her words had seemed to him cruelly cold and
unlike herself. Their eyes met, but there was discontent in his,
and in hers there was only sadness. He turned away and took his
portfolio under his arm.
"I have never done you injustice. Please remember me," said Dorothea,
repressing a rising sob.
"Why should you say that?" said Will, with irritation. "As if I
were not in danger of forgetting everything else."
He had really a movement of anger against her at that moment, and it
impelled him to go away without pause. It was all one flash to Dorothea--
his last words--his distant bow to her as he reached the door--
the sense that he was no longer there. She sank into the chair,
and for a few moments sat like a statue, while images and emotions
were hurrying upon her. Joy came first, in spite of the threatening
train behind it--joy in the impression that it was really herself
whom Will loved and was renouncing, that there was really no other
love less permissible, more blameworthy, which honor was hurrying
him away from. They were parted all the same, but--Dorothea drew
a deep breath and felt her strength return--she could think of
him unrestrainedly. At that moment the parting was easy to bear:
the first sense of loving and being loved excluded sorrow. It was as
if some hard icy pressure had melted, and her consciousness had room
to expand: her past was come back to her with larger interpretation.
The joy was not the less--perhaps it was the more complete just then--
because of the irrevocable parting; for there was no reproach,
no contemptuous wonder to imagine in any eye or from any lips.
He had acted so as to defy reproach, and make wonder respectful.
Any one watching her might have seen that there was a fortifying
thought within her. Just as when inventive power is working
with glad ease some small claim on the attention is fully met
as if it were only a cranny opened to the sunlight, it was easy
now for Dorothea to write her memoranda. She spoke her last words
to the housekeeper in cheerful tones, and when she seated herself
in the carriage her eyes were bright and her cheeks blooming
under the dismal bonnet. She threw back the heavy "weepers,"
and looked before her, wondering which road Will had taken.
It was in her nature to be proud that he was blameless, and through
all her feelings there ran this vein--"I was right to defend him."
The coachman was used to drive his grays at a good pace, Mr. Casaubon
being unenjoying and impatient in everything away from his desk,
and wanting to get to the end of all journeys; and Dorothea
was now bowled along quickly. Driving was pleasant, for rain
in the night had laid the dust, and the blue sky looked far off,
away from the region of the great clouds that sailed in masses.
The earth looked like a happy place under the vast heavens,
and Dorothea was wishing that she might overtake Will and see him
After a turn of the road, there he was with the portfolio under his arm;
but the next moment she was passing him while he raised his hat,
and she felt a pang at being seated there in a sort of exaltation,
leaving him behind. She could not look back at him. It was
as if a crowd of indifferent objects had thrust them asunder,
and forced them along different paths, taking them farther and
farther away from each other, and making it useless to look back.
She could no more make any sign that would seem to say, "Need we part?"
than she could stop the carriage to wait for him. Nay, what a world
of reasons crowded upon her against any movement of her thought
towards a future that might reverse the decision of this day!
"I only wish I had known before--I wish he knew--then we could be
quite happy in thinking of each other, though we are forever parted.
And if I could but have given him the money, and made things easier
for him!"--were the longings that came back the most persistently.
And yet, so heavily did the world weigh on her in spite of her
independent energy, that with this idea of Will as in need of such help
and at a disadvantage with the world, there came always the vision
of that unfittingness of any closer relation between them which lay
in the opinion of every one connected with her. She felt to the full
all the imperativeness of the motives which urged Will's conduct.
How could he dream of her defying the barrier that her husband had
placed between them?--how could she ever say to herself that she
would defy it?
Will's certainty as the carriage grew smaller in the distance,
had much more bitterness in it. Very slight matters were enough
to gall him in his sensitive mood, and the sight of Dorothea
driving past him while he felt himself plodding along as a poor
devil seeking a position in a world which in his present temper
offered him little that he coveted, made his conduct seem a mere
matter of necessity, and took away the sustainment of resolve.
After all, he had no assurance that she loved him: could any man
pretend that he was simply glad in such a case to have the suffering
all on his own side?
That evening Will spent with the Lydgates; the next evening he
These little things are great to little man.--GOLDSMITH.
"Have you seen much of your scientific phoenix, Lydgate, lately?"
said Mr. Toller at one of his Christmas dinner-parties, speaking
to Mr. Farebrother on his right hand.
"Not much, I am sorry to say," answered the Vicar, accustomed to parry
Mr. Toller's banter about his belief in the new medical light.
"I am out of the way and he is too busy."
"Is he? I am glad to hear it," said Dr. Minchin, with mingled
suavity and surprise.
"He gives a great deal of time to the New Hospital," said Mr. Farebrother,
who had his reasons for continuing the subject: "I hear of that from
my neighbor, Mrs. Casaubon, who goes there often. She says Lydgate
is indefatigable, and is making a fine thing of Bulstrode's institution.
He is preparing a new ward in case of the cholera coming to us."
"And preparing theories of treatment to try on the patients,
I suppose," said Mr. Toller.
"Come, Toller, be candid," said Mr. Farebrother. "You are too clever
not to see the good of a bold fresh mind in medicine, as well as in
everything else; and as to cholera, I fancy, none of you are very
sure what you ought to do. If a man goes a little too far along
a new road, it is usually himself that he harms more than any one else."
"I am sure you and Wrench ought to be obliged to him," said Dr. Minchin,
looking towards Toller, "for he has sent you the cream of Peacock's
Back to Full Books