Part 16 out of 18
And yet how was he to set about vindicating himself?
For that scene at the meeting, which he had just witnessed,
although it had told him no particulars, had been enough to make
his own situation thoroughly clear to him. Bulstrode had been
in dread of scandalous disclosures on the part of Raffles.
Lydgate could now construct all the probabilities of the case.
"He was afraid of some betrayal in my hearing: all he wanted was
to bind me to him by a strong obligation: that was why he passed
on a sudden from hardness to liberality. And he may have tampered
with the patient--he may have disobeyed my orders. I fear he did.
But whether he did or not, the world believes that he somehow or other
poisoned the man and that I winked at the crime, if I didn't help
in it. And yet--and yet he may not be guilty of the last offence;
and it is just possible that the change towards me may have been a
genuine relenting--the effect of second thoughts such as he alleged.
What we call the `just possible' is sometimes true and the thing we
find it easier to believe is grossly false. In his last dealings
with this man Bulstrode may have kept his hands pure, in spite of my
suspicion to the contrary."
There was a benumbing cruelty in his position. Even if he renounced
every other consideration than that of justifying himself--
if he met shrugs, cold glances, and avoidance as an accusation,
and made a public statement of all the facts as he knew them,
who would be convinced? It would be playing the part of a fool
to offer his own testimony on behalf of himself, and say, "I did
not take the money as a bribe." The circumstances would always
be stronger than his assertion. And besides, to come forward
and tell everything about himself must include declarations about
Bulstrode which would darken the suspicions of others against him.
He must tell that he had not known of Raffles's existence when he
first mentioned his pressing need of money to Bulstrode, and that
he took the money innocently as a result of that communication,
not knowing that a new motive for the loan might have arisen on
his being called in to this man. And after all, the suspicion
of Bulstrode's motives might be unjust.
But then came the question whether he should have acted in precisely
the same way if he had not taken the money? Certainly, if Raffles had
continued alive and susceptible of further treatment when he arrived,
and he had then imagined any disobedience to his orders on the part
of Bulstrode, he would have made a strict inquiry, and if his conjecture
had been verified he would have thrown up the case, in spite of his
recent heavy obligation. But if he had not received any money--
if Bulstrode had never revoked his cold recommendation of bankruptcy--
would he, Lydgate, have abstained from all inquiry even on finding
the man dead?--would the shrinking from an insult to Bulstrode--
would the dubiousness of all medical treatment and the argument
that his own treatment would pass for the wrong with most members
of his profession--have had just the same force or significance
That was the uneasy corner of Lydgate's consciousness while he
was reviewing the facts and resisting all reproach. If he
had been independent, this matter of a patient's treatment
and the distinct rule that he must do or see done that which he
believed best for the life committed to him, would have been
the point on which he would have been the sturdiest. As it was,
he had rested in the consideration that disobedience to his orders,
however it might have arisen, could not be considered a crime,
that in the dominant opinion obedience to his orders was just as
likely to be fatal, and that the affair was simply one of etiquette.
Whereas, again and again, in his time of freedom, he had denounced
the perversion of pathological doubt into moral doubt and had said--
"the purest experiment in treatment may still be conscientious:
my business is to take care of life, and to do the best I can
think of for it. Science is properly more scrupulous than dogma.
Dogma gives a charter to mistake, but the very breath of science
is a contest with mistake, and must keep the conscience alive."
Alas! the scientific conscience had got into the debasing company of
money obligation and selfish respects.
"Is there a medical man of them all in Middlemarch who would question
himself as I do?" said poor Lydgate, with a renewed outburst of
rebellion against the oppression of his lot. "And yet they will all
feel warranted in making a wide space between me and them, as if I
were a leper! My practice and my reputation are utterly damned--
I can see that. Even if I could be cleared by valid evidence,
it would make little difference to the blessed world here.
I have been set down as tainted and should be cheapened to them
all the same."
Already there had been abundant signs which had hitherto puzzled him,
that just when he had been paying off his debts and getting cheerfully
on his feet, the townsmen were avoiding him or looking strangely.
at him, and in two instances it came to his knowledge that patients
of his had called in another practitioner. The reasons were too
plain now. The general black-balling had begun.
No wonder that in Lydgate's energetic nature the sense of a
hopeless misconstruction easily turned into a dogged resistance.
The scowl which occasionally showed itself on his square brow was not
a meaningless accident. Already when he was re-entering the town
after that ride taken in the first hours of stinging pain, he was
setting his mind on remaining in Middlemarch in spite of the worst
that could be done against him. He would not retreat before calumny,
as if he submitted to it. He would face it to the utmost, and no act
of his should show that he was afraid. It belonged to the generosity
as well as defiant force of his nature that he resolved not to shrink
from showing to the full his sense of obligation to Bulstrode.
It was true that the association with this man had been fatal to him--
true that if he had had the thousand pounds still in his hands with
all his debts unpaid he would have returned the money to Bulstrode,
and taken beggary rather than the rescue which had been sullied with
the suspicion of a bribe (for, remember, he was one of the proudest
among the sons of men)--nevertheless, he would not turn away from
this crushed fellow-mortal whose aid he had used, and make a pitiful
effort to get acquittal for himself by howling against another.
"I shall do as I think right, and explain to nobody. They will try
to starve me out, but--" he was going on with an obstinate resolve,
but he was getting near home, and the thought of Rosamond urged
itself again into that chief place from which it had been thrust
by the agonized struggles of wounded honor and pride.
How would Rosamond take it all? Here was another weight of chain to drag,
and poor Lydgate was in a bad mood for bearing her dumb mastery.
He had no impulse to tell her the trouble which must soon be common
to them both. He preferred waiting for the incidental disclosure
which events must soon bring about.
"Mercifully grant that we may grow aged together."
--BOOK OF TOBIT: Marriage Prayer.
In Middlemarch a wife could not long remain ignorant that the town
held a bad opinion of her husband. No feminine intimate might carry
her friendship so far as to make a plain statement to the wife of the
unpleasant fact known or believed about her husband; but when a woman
with her thoughts much at leisure got them suddenly employed on
something grievously disadvantageous to her neighbors, various moral
impulses were called into play which tended to stimulate utterance.
Candor was one. To be candid, in Middlemarch phraseology, meant,
to use an early opportunity of letting your friends know that you
did not take a cheerful view of their capacity, their conduct,
or their position; and a robust candor never waited to be asked for
its opinion. Then, again, there was the love of truth--a wide phrase,
but meaning in this relation, a lively objection to seeing a wife
look happier than her husband's character warranted, or manifest
too much satisfaction in her lot--the poor thing should have some hint
given her that if she knew the truth she would have less complacency
in her bonnet, and in light dishes for a supper-party. Stronger
than all, there was the regard for a friend's moral improvement,
sometimes called her soul, which was likely to be benefited by remarks
tending to gloom, uttered with the accompaniment of pensive staring
at the furniture and a manner implying that the speaker would not tell
what was on her mind, from regard to the feelings of her hearer.
On the whole, one might say that an ardent charity was at work
setting the virtuous mind to make a neighbor unhappy for her good.
There were hardly any wives in Middlemarch whose matrimonial misfortunes
would in different ways be likely to call forth more of this moral
activity than Rosamond and her aunt Bulstrode. Mrs. Bulstrode
was not an object of dislike, and had never consciously injured any
human being. Men had always thought her a handsome comfortable woman,
and had reckoned it among the signs of Bulstrode's hypocrisy that he
had chosen a red-blooded Vincy, instead of a ghastly and melancholy
person suited to his low esteem for earthly pleasure. When the scandal
about her husband was disclosed they remarked of her--"Ah, poor woman!
She's as honest as the day--_she_ never suspected anything wrong
in him, you may depend on it." Women, who were intimate with her,
talked together much of "poor Harriet," imagined what her feelings
must be when she came to know everything, and conjectured how much
she had already come to know. There was no spiteful disposition
towards her; rather, there was a busy benevolence anxious to ascertain
what it would be well for her to feel and do under the circumstances,
which of course kept the imagination occupied with her character
and history from the times when she was Harriet Vincy till now.
With the review of Mrs. Bulstrode and her position it was inevitable
to associate Rosamond, whose prospects were under the same blight
with her aunt's. Rosamond was more severely criticised and less pitied,
though she too, as one of the good old Vincy family who had always
been known in Middlemarch, was regarded as a victim to marriage
with an interloper. The Vincys had their weaknesses, but then they
lay on the surface: there was never anything bad to be "found out"
concerning them. Mrs. Bulstrode was vindicated from any resemblance
to her husband. Harriet's faults were her own.
"She has always been showy," said Mrs. Hackbutt, making tea for
a small party, "though she has got into the way of putting her
religion forward, to conform to her husband; she has tried to hold
her head up above Middlemarch by making it known that she invites
clergymen and heaven-knows-who from Riverston and those places."
"We can hardly blame her for that," said Mrs. Sprague; "because few
of the best people in the town cared to associate with Balstrode,
and she must have somebody to sit down at her table."
"Mr. Thesiger has always countenanced him," said Mrs. Hackbutt.
"I think he must be sorry now."
"But he was never fond of him in his heart--that every one knows,"
said Mrs. Tom Toller. "Mr. Thesiger never goes into extremes.
He keeps to the truth in what is evangelical. It is only clergymen
like Mr. Tyke, who want to use Dissenting hymn-books and that low kind
of religion, who ever found Bulstrode to their taste."
"I understand, Mr. Tyke is in great distress about him,"
said Mrs. Hackbutt. "And well he may be: they say the Bulstrodes
have half kept the Tyke family."
"And of coarse it is a discredit to his doctrines," said Mrs. Sprague,
who was elderly, and old-fashioned in her opinions.
"People will not make a boast of being methodistical in Middlemarch
for a good while to come."
"I think we must not set down people's bad actions to their religion,"
said falcon-faced Mrs. Plymdale, who had been listening hitherto.
"Oh, my dear, we are forgetting," said Mrs. Sprague. "We ought
not to be talking of this before you."
"I am sure I have no reason to be partial," said Mrs. Plymdale,
coloring. "It's true Mr. Plymdale has always been on good terms
with Mr. Bulstrode, and Harriet Vincy was my friend long before
she married him. But I have always kept my own opinions and told
her where she was wrong, poor thing. Still, in point of religion,
I must say, Mr. Bulstrode might have done what he has, and worse,
and yet have been a man of no religion. I don't say that there
has not been a little too much of that--I like moderation myself.
But truth is truth. The men tried at the assizes are not all
over-religious, I suppose."
"Well," said Mrs. Hackbutt, wheeling adroitly, "all I can say is,
that I think she ought to separate from him."
"I can't say that," said Mrs. Sprague. "She took him for better
or worse, you know."
"But `worse' can never mean finding out that your husband is fit
for Newgate," said Mrs. Hackbutt. "Fancy living with such a man!
I should expect to be poisoned."
"Yes, I think myself it is an encouragement to crime if such men are
to be taken care of and waited on by good wives," said Mrs. Tom Toller.
"And a good wife poor Harriet has been," said Mrs. Plymdale.
"She thinks her husband the first of men. It's true he has never
denied her anything."
"Well, we shall see what she will do," said Mrs. Hackbutt.
"I suppose she knows nothing yet, poor creature. I do hope and trust
I shall not see her, for I should be frightened to death lest I
should say anything about her husband. Do you think any hint has
"I should hardly think so," said Mrs. Tom Toller. "We hear that he
is ill, and has never stirred out of the house since the meeting
on Thursday; but she was with her girls at church yesterday,
and they had new Tuscan bonnets. Her own had a feather in it.
I have never seen that her religion made any difference in her dress."
"She wears very neat patterns always," said Mrs. Plymdale,
a little stung. "And that feather I know she got dyed a pale
lavender on purpose to be consistent. I must say it of Harriet
that she wishes to do right."
"As to her knowing what has happened, it can't be kept from her long,"
said Mrs. Hackbutt. "The Vincys know, for Mr. Vincy was at the meeting.
It will he a great blow to him. There is his daughter as well
as his sister."
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Sprague. "Nobody supposes that Mr. Lydgate
can go on holding up his head in Middlemarch, things look so black
about the thousand pounds he took just at that man's death.
It really makes one shudder."
"Pride must have a fall," said Mrs. Hackbutt.
"I am not so sorry for Rosamond Vincy that was as I am for her aunt,"
said Mrs. Plymdale. "She needed a lesson."
"I suppose the Bulstrodes will go and live abroad somewhere,"
said Mrs. Sprague. "That is what is generally done when there is
anything disgraceful in a family."
"And a most deadly blow it will be to Harriet," said Mrs. Plymdale.
"If ever a woman was crushed, she will be. I pity her from my heart.
And with all her faults, few women are better. From a girl she had
the neatest ways, and was always good-hearted, and as open as the day.
You might look into her drawers when you would--always the same.
And so she has brought up Kate and Ellen. You may think how hard it
will be for her to go among foreigners."
"The doctor says that is what he should recommend the Lydgates to do,"
said Mrs. Sprague. "He says Lydgate ought to have kept among
"That would suit _her_ well enough, I dare say," said Mrs. Plymdale;
"there is that kind of lightness about her. But she got that from
her mother; she never got it from her aunt Bulstrode, who always
gave her good advice, and to my knowledge would rather have had
her marry elsewhere."
Mrs. Plymdale was in a situation which caused her some complication
of feeling. There had been not only her intimacy with Mrs. Bulstrode,
but also a profitable business relation of the great Plymdale dyeing
house with Mr. Bulstrode, which on the one hand would have inclined
her to desire that the mildest view of his character should be
the true one, but on the other, made her the more afraid of seeming
to palliate his culpability. Again, the late alliance of her family
with the Tollers had brought her in connection with the best circle,
which gratified her in every direction except in the inclination to
those serious views which she believed to be the best in another sense.
The sharp little woman's conscience was somewhat troubled in
the adjustment of these opposing "bests," and of her griefs and
satisfactions under late events, which were likely to humble those
who needed humbling, but also to fall heavily on her old friend whose
faults she would have preferred seeing on a background of prosperity.
Poor Mrs. Bulstrode, meanwhile, had been no further shaken by the
oncoming tread of calamity than in the busier stirring of that secret
uneasiness which had always been present in her since the last
visit of Raffles to The Shrubs. That the hateful man had come ill
to Stone Court, and that her husband had chosen to remain there
and watch over him, she allowed to be explained by the fact that
Raffles had been employed and aided in earlier-days, and that this
made a tie of benevolence towards him in his degraded helplessness;
and she had been since then innocently cheered by her husband's
more hopeful speech about his own health and ability to continue
his attention to business. The calm was disturbed when Lydgate had
brought him home ill from the meeting, and in spite of comforting
assurances during the next few days, she cried in private from
the conviction that her husband was not suffering from bodily
illness merely, but from something that afflicted his mind.
He would not allow her to read to him, and scarcely to sit with him,
alleging nervous susceptibility to sounds and movements; yet she
suspected that in shutting himself up in his private room he wanted
to be busy with his papers. Something, she felt sure, had happened.
Perhaps it was some great loss of money; and she was kept in the dark.
Not daring to question her husband, she said to Lydgate, on the fifth
day after the meeting, when she had not left home except to go to church--
"Mr. Lydgate, pray be open with me: I like to know the truth.
Has anything happened to Mr. Bulstrode?"
"Some little nervous shock," said Lydgate, evasively. He felt
that it was not for him to make the painful revelation.
"But what brought it on?" said Mrs. Bulstrode, looking directly
at him with her large dark eyes.
"There is often something poisonous in the air of public rooms,"
said Lydgate. "Strong men can stand it, but it tells on people
in proportion to the delicacy of their systems. It is often
impossible to account for the precise moment of an attack--or rather,
to say why the strength gives way at a particular moment."
Mrs. Bulstrode was not satisfied with this answer. There remained
in her the belief that some calamity had befallen her husband,
of which she was to be kept in ignorance; and it was in her nature
strongly to object to such concealment. She begged leave for her
daughters to sit with their father, and drove into the town to pay
some visits, conjecturing that if anything were known to have gone
wrong in Mr. Bulstrode's affairs, she should see or hear some sign
She called on Mrs. Thesiger, who was not at home, and then
drove to Mrs. Hackbutt's on the other side of the churchyard.
Mrs. Hackbutt saw her coming from an up-stairs window, and remembering
her former alarm lest she should meet Mrs. Bulstrode, felt almost
bound in consistency to send word that she was not at home;
but against that, there was a sudden strong desire within her for
the excitement of an interview in which she was quite determined
not to make the slightest allusion to what was in her mind.
Hence Mrs. Bulstrode was shown into the drawing-room, and Mrs. Hackbutt
went to her, with more tightness of lip and rubbing of her hands than
was usually observable in her, these being precautions adopted against
freedom of speech. She was resolved not to ask how Mr. Bulstrode was.
"I have not been anywhere except to church for nearly a week,"
said Mrs. Bulstrode, after a few introductory remarks.
"But Mr. Bulstrode was taken so ill at the meeting on Thursday
that I have not liked to leave the house."
Mrs. Hackbutt rubbed the back of one hand with the palm of the other
held against her chest, and let her eyes ramble over the pattern
on the rug.
"Was Mr. Hackbutt at the meeting?" persevered Mrs. Bulstrode.
"Yes, he was," said Mrs. Hackbutt, with the same attitude.
"The land is to be bought by subscription, I believe."
"Let us hope that there will be no more cases of cholera to be
buried in it," said Mrs. Bulstrode. "It is an awful visitation.
But I always think Middlemarch a very healthy spot. I suppose it
is being used to it from a child; but I never saw the town I should
like to live at better, and especially our end."
"I am sure I should be glad that you always should live at Middlemarch,
Mrs. Bulstrode," said Mrs. Hackbutt, with a slight sigh. "Still, we
must learn to resign ourselves, wherever our lot may be cast.
Though I am sure there will always be people in this town who will
wish you well."
Mrs. Hackbutt longed to say, "if you take my advice you will part
from your husband," but it seemed clear to her that the poor
woman knew nothing of the thunder ready to bolt on her head,
and she herself could do no more than prepare her a little.
Mrs. Bulstrode felt suddenly rather chill and trembling: there was
evidently something unusual behind this speech of Mrs. Hackbutt's;
but though she had set out with the desire to be fully informed,
she found herself unable now to pursue her brave purpose, and turning
the conversation by an inquiry about the young Hackbutts, she soon
took her leave saying that she was going to see Mrs. Plymdale.
On her way thither she tried to imagine that there might have been
some unusually warm sparring at the meeting between Mr. Bulstrode and
some of his frequent opponents--perhaps Mr. Hackbutt might have been
one of them. That would account for everything.
But when she was in conversation with Mrs. Plymdale that comforting
explanation seemed no longer tenable. "Selina" received her with a
pathetic affectionateness and a disposition to give edifying answers on
the commonest topics, which could hardly have reference to an ordinary
quarrel of which the most important consequence was a perturbation
of Mr. Bulstrode's health. Beforehand Mrs. Bulstrode had thought
that she would sooner question Mrs. Plymdale than any one else;
but she found to her surprise that an old friend is not always
the person whom it is easiest to make a confidant of: there was
the barrier of remembered communication under other circumstances--
there was the dislike of being pitied and informed by one who had been
long wont to allow her the superiority. For certain words of mysterious
appropriateness that Mrs. Plymdale let fall about her resolution
never to turn her back on her friends, convinced Mrs. Bulstrode
that what had happened must be some kind of misfortune, and instead
of being able to say with her native directness, "What is it that you
have in your mind?" she found herself anxious to get away before she
had heard anything more explicit. She began to have an agitating
certainty that the misfortune was something more than the mere
loss of money, being keenly sensitive to the fact that Selina now,
just as Mrs. Hackbutt had done before, avoided noticing what she said
about her husband, as they would have avoided noticing a personal blemish.
She said good-by with nervous haste, and told the coachman to drive
to Mr. Vincy's warehouse. In that short drive her dread gathered
so much force from the sense of darkness, that when she entered
the private counting-house where her brother sat at his desk,
her knees trembled and her usually florid face was deathly pale.
Something of the same effect was produced in him by the sight of her:
he rose from his seat to meet her, took her by the hand, and said,
with his impulsive rashness--
"God help you, Harriet! you know all."
That moment was perhaps worse than any which came after. It contained
that concentrated experience which in great crises of emotion
reveals the bias of a nature, and is prophetic of the ultimate
act which will end an intermediate struggle. Without that memory
of Raffles she might still have thought only of monetary ruin,
but now along with her brother's look and words there darted into
her mind the idea of some guilt in her husband--then, under the
working of terror came the image of her husband exposed to disgrace--
and then, after an instant of scorching shame in which she felt
only the eyes of the world, with one leap of her heart she was
at his side in mournful but unreproaching fellowship with shame
and isolation. All this went on within her in a mere flash of time--
while she sank into the chair, and raised her eyes to her brother,
who stood over her. "I know nothing, Walter. What is it?"
she said, faintly.
He told her everything, very inartificially, in slow fragments,
making her aware that the scandal went much beyond proof,
especially as to the end of Raffles.
"People will talk," he said. "Even if a man has been acquitted by
a jury, they'll talk, and nod and wink--and as far as the world goes,
a man might often as well be guilty as not. It's a breakdown blow,
and it damages Lydgate as much as Bulstrode. I don't pretend to say
what is the truth. I only wish we had never heard the name of either
Bulstrode or Lydgate. You'd better have been a Vincy all your life,
and so had Rosamond." Mrs. Bulstrode made no reply.
"But you must bear up as well as you can, Harriet. People don't blame
_you_. And I'll stand by you whatever you make up your mind to do,"
said the brother, with rough but well-meaning affectionateness.
"Give me your arm to the carriage, Walter," said Mrs. Bulstrode.
"I feel very weak."
And when she got home she was obliged to say to her daughter, "I am
not well, my dear; I must go and lie down. Attend to your papa.
Leave me in quiet. I shall take no dinner."
She locked herself in her room. She needed time to get used to her
maimed consciousness, her poor lopped life, before she could walk
steadily to the place allotted her. A new searching light had fallen
on her husband's character, and she could not judge him leniently:
the twenty years in which she had believed in him and venerated
him by virtue of his concealments came back with particulars
that made them seem an odious deceit. He had married her with
that bad past life hidden behind him, and she had no faith left
to protest his innocence of the worst that was imputed to him.
Her honest ostentatious nature made the sharing of a merited
dishonor as bitter as it could be to any mortal.
But this imperfectly taught woman, whose phrases and habits were
an odd patchwork, had a loyal spirit within her. The man whose
prosperity she had shared through nearly half a life, and who
had unvaryingly cherished her--now that punishment had befallen
him it was not possible to her in any sense to forsake him.
There is a forsaking which still sits at the same board and lies
on the same couch with the forsaken soul, withering it the more by
unloving proximity. She knew, when she locked her door, that she
should unlock it ready to go down to her unhappy husband and espouse
his sorrow, and say of his guilt, I will mourn and not reproach.
But she needed time to gather up her strength; she needed to sob
out her farewell to all the gladness and pride of her life.
When she had resolved to go down, she prepared herself by some
little acts which might seem mere folly to a hard onlooker;
they were her way of expressing to all spectators visible or invisible
that she had begun a new life in which she embraced humiliation.
She took off all her ornaments and put on a plain black gown,
and instead of wearing her much-adorned cap and large bows of hair,
she brushed her hair down and put on a plain bonnet-cap, which made
her look suddenly like an early Methodist.
Bulstrode, who knew that his wife had been out and had come in
saying that she was not well, had spent the time in an agitation
equal to hers. He had looked forward to her learning the truth
from others, and had acquiesced in that probability, as something
easier to him than any confession. But now that he imagined the
moment of her knowledge come, he awaited the result in anguish.
His daughters had been obliged to consent to leave him, and though he
had allowed some food to be brought to him, he had not touched it.
He felt himself perishing slowly in unpitied misery. Perhaps he
should never see his wife's face with affection in it again.
And if he turned to God there seemed to be no answer but the pressure
It was eight o'clock in the evening before the door opened and his
wife entered. He dared not look up at her. He sat with his eyes
bent down, and as she went towards him she thought he looked smaller--
he seemed so withered and shrunken. A movement of new compassion
and old tenderness went through her like a great wave, and putting
one hand on his which rested on the arm of the chair, and the other
on his shoulder, she said, solemnly but kindly--
"Look up, Nicholas."
He raised his eyes with a little start and looked at her half
amazed for a moment: her pale face, her changed, mourning dress,
the trembling about her mouth, all said, "I know;" and her hands
and eyes rested gently on him. He burst out crying and they
cried together, she sitting at his side. They could not yet speak
to each other of the shame which she was bearing with him, or of the
acts which had brought it down on them. His confession was silent,
and her promise of faithfulness was silent. Open-minded as she was,
she nevertheless shrank from the words which would have expressed their
mutual consciousness, as she would have shrunk from flakes of fire.
She could not say, "How much is only slander and false suspicion?"
and he did not say, "I am innocent."
"Le sentiment de la fausseté des plaisirs présents, et
l'ignorance de la vanité des plaisirs absents causent
Rosamond had a gleam of returning cheerfulness when the house was freed
from the threatening figure, and when all the disagreeable creditors
were paid. But she was not joyous: her married life had fulfilled
none of her hopes, and had been quite spoiled for her imagination.
In this brief interval of calm, Lydgate, remembering that he had
often been stormy in his hours of perturbation, and mindful of the
pain Rosamond had had to bear, was carefully gentle towards her;
but he, too, had lost some of his old spirit, and he still felt it
necessary to refer to an economical change in their way of living
as a matter of course, trying to reconcile her to it gradually,
and repressing his anger when she answered by wishing that he
would go to live in London. When she did not make this answer,
she listened languidly, and wondered what she had that was worth
living for. The hard and contemptuous words which had fallen from
her husband in his anger had deeply offended that vanity which he
had at first called into active enjoyment; and what she regarded
as his perverse way of looking at things, kept up a secret repulsion,
which made her receive all his tenderness as a poor substitute
for the happiness he had failed to give her. They were at a
disadvantage with their neighbors, and there was no longer any
outlook towards Quallingham--there was no outlook anywhere except
in an occasional letter from Will Ladislaw. She had felt stung and
disappointed by Will's resolution to quit Middlemarch, for in spite
of what she knew and guessed about his admiration for Dorothea,
she secretly cherished the belief that he had, or would necessarily
come to have, much more admiration for herself; Rosamond being one
of those women who live much in the idea that each man they meet
would have preferred them if the preference had not been hopeless.
Mrs. Casaubon was all very well; but Will's interest in her dated before
he knew Mrs. Lydgate. Rosamond took his way of talking to herself,
which was a mixture of playful fault-finding and hyperbolical gallantry,
as the disguise of a deeper feeling; and in his presence she felt
that agreeable titillation of vanity and sense of romantic drama
which Lydgate's presence had no longer the magic to create.
She even fancied--what will not men and women fancy in these matters?--
that Will exaggerated his admiration for Mrs. Casaubon in order
to pique herself. In this way poor Rosamond's brain had been
busy before Will's departure. He would have made, she thought,
a much more suitable husband for her than she had found in Lydgate.
No notion could have been falser than this, for Rosamond's discontent
in her marriage was due to the conditions of marriage itself,
to its demand for self-suppression and tolerance, and not to the
nature of her husband; but the easy conception of an unreal Better
had a sentimental charm which diverted her ennui. She constructed
a little romance which was to vary the flatness of her life:
Will Ladislaw was always to be a bachelor and live near her,
always to be at her command, and have an understood though never
fully expressed passion for her, which would be sending out lambent
flames every now and then in interesting scenes. His departure
had been a proportionate disappointment, and had sadly increased
her weariness of Middlemarch; but at first she had the alternative
dream of pleasures in store from her intercourse with the family
at Quallingham. Since then the troubles of her married life
had deepened, and the absence of other relief encouraged her regretful
rumination over that thin romance which she had once fed on.
Men and women make sad mistakes about their own symptoms, taking their
vague uneasy longings, sometimes for genius, sometimes for religion,
and oftener still for a mighty love. Will Ladislaw had written
chatty letters, half to her and half to Lydgate, and she had replied:
their separation, she felt, was not likely to be final, and the change
she now most longed for was that Lydgate should go to live in London;
everything would be agreeable in London; and she had set to work
with quiet determination to win this result, when there came a sudden,
delightful promise which inspirited her.
It came shortly before the memorable meeting at the town-hall,
and was nothing less than a letter from Will Ladislaw to Lydgate,
which turned indeed chiefly on his new interest in plans of colonization,
but mentioned incidentally, that he might find it necessary to pay
a visit to Middlemarch within the next few weeks--a very pleasant
necessity, he said, almost as good as holidays to a schoolboy.
He hoped there was his old place on the rug, and a great deal of
music in store for him. But he was quite uncertain as to the time.
While Lydgate was reading the letter to Rosamond, her face looked
like a reviving flower--it grew prettier and more blooming.
There was nothing unendurable now: the debts were paid, Mr. Ladislaw
was coming, and Lydgate would be persuaded to leave Middlemarch
and settle in London, which was "so different from a provincial town."
That was a bright bit of morning. But soon the sky became black
over poor Rosamond. The presence of a new gloom in her husband,
about which he was entirely reserved towards her--for he dreaded
to expose his lacerated feeling to her neutrality and misconception--
soon received a painfully strange explanation, alien to all her
previous notions of what could affect her happiness. In the new
gayety of her spirits, thinking that Lydgate had merely a worse fit
of moodiness than usual, causing him to leave her remarks unanswered,
and evidently to keep out of her way as much as possible, she chose,
a few days after the meeting, and without speaking to him on
the subject, to send out notes of invitation for a small evening party,
feeling convinced that this was a judicious step, since people seemed
to have been keeping aloof from them, and wanted restoring to the
old habit of intercourse. When the invitations had been accepted,
she would tell Lydgate, and give him a wise admonition as to how
a medical man should behave to his neighbors; for Rosamond had
the gravest little airs possible about other people's duties.
But all the invitations were declined, and the last answer came
into Lydgate's hands.
"This is Chichely's scratch. What is he writing to you about?"
said Lydgate, wonderingly, as he handed the note to her.
She was obliged to let him see it, and, looking at her severely,
"Why on earth have you been sending out invitations without
telling me, Rosamond? I beg, I insist that you will not invite
any one to this house. I suppose you have been inviting others,
and they have refused too." She said nothing.
"Do you hear me?" thundered Lydgate.
"Yes, certainly I hear you," said Rosamond, turning her head aside
with the movement of a graceful long-necked bird.
Lydgate tossed his head without any grace and walked out of the room,
feeling himself dangerous. Rosamond's thought was, that he
was getting more and more unbearable--not that there was any new
special reason for this peremptoriness. His indisposition to tell
her anything in which he was sure beforehand that she would not be
interested was growing into an unreflecting habit, and she was in
ignorance of everything connected with the thousand pounds except
that the loan had come from her uncle Bulstrode. Lydgate's odious
humors and their neighbors' apparent avoidance of them had an
unaccountable date for her in their relief from money difficulties.
If the invitations had been accepted she would have gone to invite
her mamma and the rest, whom she had seen nothing of for several days;
and she now put on her bonnet to go and inquire what had become
of them all, suddenly feeling as if there were a conspiracy to leave
her in isolation with a husband disposed to offend everybody.
It was after the dinner hour, and she found her father and mother
seated together alone in the drawing-room. They greeted her with
sad looks, saying "Well, my dear!" and no more. She had never seen
her father look so downcast; and seating herself near him she said--
"Is there anything the matter, papa?"
He did not answer, but Mrs. Vincy said, "Oh, my dear, have you
heard nothing? It won't be long before it reaches you."
"Is it anything about Tertius?" said Rosamond, turning pale.
The idea of trouble immediately connected itself with what had been
unaccountable to her in him.
"Oh, my dear, yes. To think of your marrying into this trouble.
Debt was bad enough, but this will be worse."
"Stay, stay, Lucy," said Mr. Vincy. "Have you heard nothing about
your uncle Bulstrode, Rosamond?"
"No, papa," said the poor thing, feeling as if trouble were not
anything she had before experienced, but some invisible power
with an iron grasp that made her soul faint within her.
Her father told her everything, saying at the end, "It's better
for you to know, my dear. I think Lydgate must leave the town.
Things have gone against him. I dare say he couldn't help it.
I don't accuse him of any harm," said Mr. Vincy. He had always before
been disposed to find the utmost fault with Lydgate.
The shock to Rosamond was terrible. It seemed to her that no lot
could be so cruelly hard as hers to have married a man who had
become the centre of infamous suspicions. In many cases it is
inevitable that the shame is felt to be the worst part of crime;
and it would have required a great deal of disentangling reflection,
such as had never entered into Rosamond's life, for her in these
moments to feel that her trouble was less than if her husband
had been certainly known to have done something criminal.
All the shame seemed to be there. And she had innocently married
this man with the belief that he and his family were a glory to her!
She showed her usual reticence to her parents, and only said,
that if Lydgate had done as she wished he would have left Middlemarch
"She bears it beyond anything," said her mother when she was gone.
"Ah, thank God!" said Mr. Vincy, who was much broken down.
But Rosamond went home with a sense of justified repugnance towards
her husband. What had he really done--how had he really acted?
She did not know. Why had he not told her everything? He did not
speak to her on the subject, and of course she could not speak to him.
It came into her mind once that she would ask her father to let
her go home again; but dwelling on that prospect made it seem utter
dreariness to her: a married woman gone back to live with her parents--
life seemed to have no meaning for her in such a position:
she could not contemplate herself in it.
The next two days Lydgate observed a change in her, and believed that she
had heard the bad news. Would she speak to him about it, or would she
go on forever in the silence which seemed to imply that she believed
him guilty? We must remember that he was in a morbid state of mind,
in which almost all contact was pain. Certainly Rosamond in this
case had equal reason to complain of reserve and want of confidence
on his part; but in the bitterness of his soul he excused himself;--
was he not justified in shrinking from the task of telling her,
since now she knew the truth she had no impulse to speak to him?
But a deeper-lying consciousness that he was in fault made
him restless, and the silence between them became intolerable to him;
it was as if they were both adrift on one piece of wreck and looked
away from each other.
He thought, "I am a fool. Haven't I given up expecting anything?
I have married care, not help." And that evening he said--
"Rosamond, have you heard anything that distresses you?"
"Yes," she answered, laying down her work, which she had been carrying
on with a languid semi-consciousness, most unlike her usual self.
"What have you heard?"
"Everything, I suppose. Papa told me."
"That people think me disgraced?"
"Yes," said Rosamond, faintly, beginning to sew again automatically.
There was silence. Lydgate thought, "If she has any trust in me--
any notion of what I am, she ought to speak now and say that she does
not believe I have deserved disgrace."
But Rosamond on her side went on moving her fingers languidly.
Whatever was to be said on the subject she expected to come from Tertius.
What did she know? And if he were innocent of any wrong, why did
he not do something to clear himself?
This silence of hers brought a new rush of gall to that bitter mood
in which Lydgate had been saying to himself that nobody believed
in him--even Farebrother had not come forward. He had begun to
question her with the intent that their conversation should disperse
the chill fog which had gathered between them, but he felt his
resolution checked by despairing resentment. Even this trouble,
like the rest, she seemed to regard as if it were hers alone.
He was always to her a being apart, doing what she objected to.
He started from his chair with an angry impulse, and thrusting his hands
in his pockets, walked up and down the room. There was an underlying
consciousness all the while that he should have to master this anger,
and tell her everything, and convince her of the facts. For he had
almost learned the lesson that he must bend himself to her nature,
and that because she came short in her sympathy, he must give the more.
Soon he recurred to his intention of opening himself: the occasion
must not be lost. If he could bring her to feel with some solemnity
that here was a slander which must be met and not run away from,
and that the whole trouble had come out of his desperate want of money,
it would be a moment for urging powerfully on her that they should be
one in the resolve to do with as little money as possible, so that
they might weather the bad time and keep themselves independent.
He would mention the definite measures which he desired to take,
and win her to a willing spirit. He was bound to try this--and what
else was there for him to do?
He did not know how long he had been walking uneasily backwards
and forwards, but Rosamond felt that it was long, and wished that he
would sit down. She too had begun to think this an opportunity for
urging on Tertius what he ought to do. Whatever might be the truth
about all this misery, there was one dread which asserted itself.
Lydgate at last seated himself, not in his usual chair,
but in one nearer to Rosamond, leaning aside in it towards her,
and looking at her gravely before he reopened the sad subject.
He had conquered himself so far, and was about to speak with a sense
of solemnity, as on an occasion which was not to be repeated.
He had even opened his lips, when Rosamond, letting her hands fall,
looked at him and said--
"Surely now at last you have given up the idea of staying in Middlemarch.
I cannot go on living here. Let us go to London. Papa, and every
one else, says you had better go. Whatever misery I have to put
up with, it will be easier away from here."
Lydgate felt miserably jarred. Instead of that critical outpouring
for which he had prepared himself with effort, here was the old
round to be gone through again. He could not bear it. With a quick
change of countenance he rose and went out of the room.
Perhaps if he had been strong enough to persist in his determination
to be the more because she was less, that evening might have had
a better issue. If his energy could have borne down that check,
he might still have wrought on Rosamond's vision and will.
We cannot be sure that any natures, however inflexible or peculiar,
will resist this effect from a more massive being than their own.
They may be taken by storm and for the moment converted, becoming part
of the soul which enwraps them in the ardor of its movement.
But poor Lydgate had a throbbing pain within him, and his energy
had fallen short of its task.
The beginning of mutual understanding and resolve seemed as far off
as ever; nay, it seemed blocked out by the sense of unsuccessful effort.
They lived on from day to day with their thoughts still apart,
Lydgate going about what work he had in a mood of despair,
and Rosamond feeling, with some justification, that he was
behaving cruelly. It was of no use to say anything to Tertius;
but when Will Ladislaw came, she was determined to tell him everything.
In spite of her general reticence, she needed some one who would
recognize her wrongs.
"To mercy, pity, peace, and love
All pray in their distress,
And to these virtues of delight,
Return their thankfulness.
. . . . . .
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face;
And Love, the human form divine;
And Peace, the human dress.
--WILLIAM BLAKE: Songs of Innocence.
Some days later, Lydgate was riding to Lowick Manor, in consequence
of a summons from Dorothea. The summons had not been unexpected,
since it had followed a letter from Mr. Bulstrode, in which he stated
that he had resumed his arrangements for quitting Middlemarch, and must
remind Lydgate of his previous communications about the Hospital,
to the purport of which he still adhered. It had been his duty,
before taking further steps, to reopen the subject with Mrs. Casaubon,
who now wished, as before, to discuss the question with Lydgate.
"Your views may possibly have undergone some change," wrote Mr. Bulstrode;
"but, in that case also, it is desirable that you should lay them
Dorothea awaited his arrival with eager interest. Though, in
deference to her masculine advisers, she had refrained from what
Sir James had called "interfering in this Bulstrode business,"
the hardship of Lydgate's position was continually in her mind,
and when Bulstrode applied to her again about the hospital,
she felt that the opportunity was come to her which she had been
hindered from hastening. In her luxurious home, wandering under
the boughs of her own great trees, her thought was going out over
the lot of others, and her emotions were imprisoned. The idea
of some active good within her reach, "haunted her like a passion,"
and another's need having once come to her as a distinct image,
preoccupied her desire with the yearning to give relief, and made
her own ease tasteless. She was full of confident hope about
this interview with Lydgate, never heeding what was said of his
personal reserve; never heeding that she was a very young woman.
Nothing could have seemed more irrelevant to Dorothea than insistence
on her youth and sex when she was moved to show her human fellowship.
As she sat waiting in the library, she could do nothing but live through
again all the past scenes which had brought Lydgate into her memories.
They all owed their significance to her marriage and its troubles--
but no; there were two occasions in which the image of Lydgate
had come painfully in connection with his wife and some one else.
The pain had been allayed for Dorothea, but it had left in her an
awakened conjecture as to what Lydgate's marriage might be to him,
a susceptibility to the slightest hint about Mrs. Lydgate.
These thoughts were like a drama to her, and made her eyes bright,
and gave an attitude of suspense to her whole frame, though she was
only looking out from the brown library on to the turf and the bright
green buds which stood in relief against the dark evergreens.
When Lydgate came in, she was almost shocked at the change in his face,
which was strikingly perceptible to her who had not seen him for
two months. It was not the change of emaciation, but that effect
which even young faces will very soon show from the persistent presence
of resentment and despondency. Her cordial look, when she put
out her hand to him, softened his expression, but only with melancholy.
"I have wished very much to see you for a long while, Mr. Lydgate,"
said Dorothea when they were seated opposite each other; "but I put
off asking you to come until Mr. Bulstrode applied to me again about
the Hospital. I know that the advantage of keeping the management
of it separate from that of the Infirmary depends on you, or, at least,
on the good which you are encouraged to hope for from having it
under your control. And I am sure you will not refuse to tell me
exactly what you think."
"You want to decide whether you should give a generous support
to the Hospital," said Lydgate. "I cannot conscientiously
advise you to do it in dependence on any activity of mine.
I may be obliged to leave the town."
He spoke curtly, feeling the ache of despair as to his being able
to carry out any purpose that Rosamond had set her mind against.
"Not because there is no one to believe in you?" said Dorothea,
pouring out her words in clearness from a full heart. "I know
the unhappy mistakes about you. I knew them from the first moment
to be mistakes. You have never done anything vile. You would not
do anything dishonorable."
It was the first assurance of belief in him that had fallen on
Lydgate's ears. He drew a deep breath, and said, "Thank you."
He could say no more: it was something very new and strange in his
life that these few words of trust from a woman should be so much
"I beseech you to tell me how everything was," said Dorothea,
fearlessly. "I am sure that the truth would clear you."
Lydgate started up from his chair and went towards the window,
forgetting where he was. He had so often gone over in his mind
the possibility of explaining everything without aggravating
appearances that would tell, perhaps unfairly, against Bulstrode,
and had so often decided against it--he had so often said to
himself that his assertions would not change people's impressions--
that Dorothea's words sounded like a temptation to do something
which in his soberness he had pronounced to be unreasonable.
"Tell me, pray," said Dorothea, with simple earnestness;
"then we can consult together. It is wicked to let people think
evil of any one falsely, when it can be hindered."
Lydgate turned, remembering where he was, and saw Dorothea's face
looking up at him with a sweet trustful gravity. The presence
of a noble nature, generous in its wishes, ardent in its charity,
changes the lights for us: we begin to see things again in their larger,
quieter masses, and to believe that we too can be seen and judged
in the wholeness of our character. That influence was beginning
to act on Lydgate, who had for many days been seeing all life as one
who is dragged and struggling amid the throng. He sat down again,
and felt that he was recovering his old self in the consciousness
that he was with one who believed in it.
"I don't want," he said, "to bear hard on Bulstrode, who has lent
me money of which I was in need--though I would rather have gone
without it now. He is hunted down and miserable, and has only a poor
thread of life in him. But I should like to tell you everything.
It will be a comfort to me to speak where belief has gone beforehand,
and where I shall not seem to be offering assertions of my own honesty.
You will feel what is fair to another, as you feel what is fair
"Do trust me," said Dorothea; "I will not repeat anything without
your leave. But at the very least, I could say that you have made
all the circumstances clear to me, and that I know you are not in
any way guilty. Mr. Farebrother would believe me, and my uncle,
and Sir James Chettam. Nay, there are persons in Middlemarch to
whom I could go; although they don't know much of me, they would
believe me. They would know that I could have no other motive
than truth and justice. I would take any pains to clear you.
I have very little to do. There is nothing better that I can do
in the world."
Dorothea's voice, as she made this childlike picture of what she
would do, might have been almost taken as a proof that she could
do it effectively. The searching tenderness of her woman's tones
seemed made for a defence against ready accusers. Lydgate did
not stay to think that she was Quixotic: he gave himself up,
for the first time in his life, to the exquisite sense of leaning
entirely on a generous sympathy, without any check of proud reserve.
And he told her everything, from the time when, under the pressure
of his difficulties, he unwillingly made his first application
to Bulstrode; gradually, in the relief of speaking, getting into
a more thorough utterance of what had gone on in his mind--
entering fully into the fact that his treatment of the patient
was opposed to the dominant practice, into his doubts at the last,
his ideal of medical duty, and his uneasy consciousness that the
acceptance of the money had made some difference in his private
inclination and professional behavior, though not in his fulfilment
of any publicly recognized obligation.
"It has come to my knowledge since," he added, "that Hawley sent
some one to examine the housekeeper at Stone Court, and she said
that she gave the patient all the opium in the phial I left,
as well as a good deal of brandy. But that would not have been
opposed to ordinary prescriptions, even of first-rate men.
The suspicions against me had no hold there: they are grounded
on the knowledge that I took money, that Bulstrode had strong
motives for wishing the man to die, and that he gave me the money
as a bribe to concur in some malpractices or other against
the patient--that in any case I accepted a bribe to hold my tongue.
They are just the suspicions that cling the most obstinately,
because they lie in people's inclination and can never be disproved.
How my orders came to be disobeyed is a question to which I don't
know the answer. It is still possible that Bulstrode was innocent
of any criminal intention--even possible that he had nothing to do
with the disobedience, and merely abstained from mentioning it.
But all that has nothing to do with the public belief. It is one of
those cases on which a man is condemned on the ground of his character--
it is believed that he has committed a crime in some undefined way,
because he had the motive for doing it; and Bulstrode's character
has enveloped me, because I took his money. I am simply blighted--
like a damaged ear of corn--the business is done and can't
"Oh, it is hard!" said Dorothea. "I understand the difficulty there
is in your vindicating yourself. And that all this should have come
to you who had meant to lead a higher life than the common, and to find
out better ways--I cannot bear to rest in this as unchangeable.
I know you meant that. I remember what you said to me when you first
spoke to me about the hospital. There is no sorrow I have thought
more about than that--to love what is great, and try to reach it,
and yet to fail."
"Yes," said Lydgate, feeling that here he had found room for the full
meaning of his grief. "I had some ambition. I meant everything to be
different with me. I thought I had more strength and mastery. But
the most terrible obstacles are such as nobody can see except oneself."
"Suppose," said Dorothea, meditatively,--"suppose we kept on the
Hospital according to the present plan, and you stayed here though
only with the friendship and support of a few, the evil feeling
towards you would gradually die out; there would come opportunities
in which people would be forced to acknowledge that they had been
unjust to you, because they would see that your purposes were pure.
You may still win a great fame like the Louis and Laennec I have
heard you speak of, and we shall all be proud of you," she ended,
with a smile.
"That might do if I had my old trust in myself," said Lydgate,
mournfully. "Nothing galls me more than the notion of turning round
and running away before this slander, leaving it unchecked behind me.
Still, I can't ask any one to put a great deal of money into a plan
which depends on me."
"It would be quite worth my while," said Dorothea, simply. "Only think.
I am very uncomfortable with my money, because they tell me I have too
little for any great scheme of the sort I like best, and yet I have
too much. I don't know what to do. I have seven hundred a-year of my
own fortune, and nineteen hundred a-year that Mr. Casaubon left me,
and between three and four thousand of ready money in the bank.
I wished to raise money and pay it off gradually out of my income
which I don't want, to buy land with and found a village which should
be a school of industry; but Sir James and my uncle have convinced
me that the risk would be too great. So you see that what I should
most rejoice at would be to have something good to do with my money:
I should like it to make other people's lives better to them.
It makes me very uneasy--coming all to me who don't want it."
A smile broke through the gloom of Lydgate's face. The childlike
grave-eyed earnestness with which Dorothea said all this
was irresistible--blent into an adorable whole with her ready
understanding of high experience. (Of lower experience such as
plays a great part in the world, poor Mrs. Casaubon had a very
blurred shortsighted knowledge, little helped by her imagination.)
But she took the smile as encouragement of her plan.
"I think you see now that you spoke too scrupulously," she said,
in a tone of persuasion. "The hospital would be one good; and making
your life quite whole and well again would be another."
Lydgate's smile had died away. "You have the goodness as well
as the money to do all that; if it could be done," he said.
He hesitated a little while, looking vaguely towards the window;
and she sat in silent expectation. At last he turned towards her and
"Why should I not tell you?--you know what sort of bond marriage is.
You will understand everything."
Dorothea felt her heart beginning to beat faster. Had he that
sorrow too? But she feared to say any word, and he went on immediately.
"It is impossible for me now to do anything--to take any step
without considering my wife's happiness. The thing that I might
like to do if I were alone, is become impossible to me. I can't see
her miserable. She married me without knowing what she was going into,
and it might have been better for her if she had not married me."
"I know, I know--you could not give her pain, if you were not obliged
to do it," said Dorothea, with keen memory of her own life.
"And she has set her mind against staying. She wishes to go.
The troubles she has had here have wearied her," said Lydgate,
breaking off again, lest he should say too much.
"But when she saw the good that might come of staying--" said
Dorothea, remonstrantly, looking at Lydgate as if he had forgotten
the reasons which had just been considered. He did not speak immediately.
"She would not see it," he said at last, curtly, feeling at first
that this statement must do without explanation. "And, indeed,
I have lost all spirit about carrying on my life here." He paused
a moment and then, following the impulse to let Dorothea see deeper
into the difficulty of his life, he said, "The fact is, this trouble
has come upon her confusedly. We have not been able to speak to
each other about it. I am not sure what is in her mind about it:
she may fear that I have really done something base. It is my fault;
I ought to be more open. But I have been suffering cruelly."
"May I go and see her?" said Dorothea, eagerly. "Would she accept
my sympathy? I would tell her that you have not been blamable
before any one's judgment but your own. I would tell her that you
shall be cleared in every fair mind. I would cheer her heart.
Will you ask her if I may go to see her? I did see her once."
"I am sure you may," said Lydgate, seizing the proposition with
some hope. "She would feel honored--cheered, I think, by the proof
that you at least have some respect for me. I will not speak to her
about your coming--that she may not connect it with my wishes at all.
I know very well that I ought not to have left anything to be told
her by others, but--"
He broke off, and there was a moment's silence. Dorothea refrained
from saying what was in her mind--how well she knew that there
might be invisible barriers to speech between husband and wife.
This was a point on which even sympathy might make a wound.
She returned to the more outward aspect of Lydgate's position,
"And if Mrs. Lydgate knew that there were friends who would believe
in you and support you, she might then be glad that you should stay
in your place and recover your hopes--and do what you meant to do.
Perhaps then you would see that it was right to agree with what I
proposed about your continuing at the Hospital. Surely you would,
if you still have faith in it as a means of making your knowledge useful?"
Lydgate did not answer, and she saw that he was debating with himself.
"You need not decide immediately," she said, gently. "A few days hence
it will be early enough for me to send my answer to Mr. Bulstrode."
Lydgate still waited, but at last turned to speak in his most
"No; I prefer that there should be no interval left for wavering.
I am no longer sure enough of myself--I mean of what it would be
possible for me to do under the changed circumstances of my life.
It would be dishonorable to let others engage themselves to anything
serious in dependence on me. I might be obliged to go away after all;
I see little chance of anything else. The whole thing is too problematic;
I cannot consent to be the cause of your goodness being wasted.
No--let the new Hospital be joined with the old Infirmary,
and everything go on as it might have done if I had never come.
I have kept a valuable register since I have been there; I shall
send it to a man who will make use of it," he ended bitterly.
"I can think of nothing for a long while but getting an income."
"It hurts me very much to hear you speak so hopelessly," said Dorothea.
"It would be a happiness to your friends, who believe in your future,
in your power to do great things, if you would let them save you
from that. Think how much money I have; it would be like taking
a burthen from me if you took some of it every year till you got
free from this fettering want of income. Why should not people
do these things? It is so difficult to make shares at all even.
This is one way."
"God bless you, Mrs. Casaubon!" said Lydgate, rising as if with the
same impulse that made his words energetic, and resting his arm
on the back of the great leather chair he had been sitting in.
"It is good that you should have such feelings. But I am not the man
who ought to allow himself to benefit by them. I have not given
guarantees enough. I must not at least sink into the degradation
of being pensioned for work that I never achieved. It is very clear
to me that I must not count on anything else than getting away
from Middlemarch as soon as I can manage it. I should not be able
for a long while, at the very best, to get an income here, and--
and it is easier to make necessary changes in a new place.
I must do as other men do, and think what will please the world
and bring in money; look for a little opening in the London crowd,
and push myself; set up in a watering-place, or go to some southern
town where there are plenty of idle English, and get myself puffed,--
that is the sort of shell I must creep into and try to keep my soul
"Now that is not brave," said Dorothea,--"to give up the fight."
"No, it is not brave," said Lydgate, "but if a man is afraid
of creeping paralysis?" Then, in another tone, "Yet you have made
a great difference in my courage by believing in me. Everything seems
more bearable since I have talked to you; and if you can clear
me in a few other minds, especially in Farebrother's, I shall be
deeply grateful. The point I wish you not to mention is the fact
of disobedience to my orders. That would soon get distorted.
After all, there is no evidence for me but people's opinion
of me beforehand. You can only repeat my own report of myself."
"Mr. Farebrother will believe--others will believe," said Dorothea.
"I can say of you what will make it stupidity to suppose that you
would be bribed to do a wickedness."
"I don't know," said Lydgate, with something like a groan
in his voice. "I have not taken a bribe yet. But there is
a pale shade of bribery which is sometimes called prosperity.
You will do me another great kindness, then, and come to see my wife?"
"Yes, I will. I remember how pretty she is," said Dorothea,
into whose mind every impression about Rosamond had cut deep.
"I hope she will like me."
As Lydgate rode away, he thought, "This young creature has a heart
large enough for the Virgin Mary. She evidently thinks nothing
of her own future, and would pledge away half her income at once,
as if she wanted nothing for herself but a chair to sit in from which
she can look down with those clear eyes at the poor mortals who pray
to her. She seems to have what I never saw in any woman before--
a fountain of friendship towards men--a man can make a friend of her.
Casaubon must have raised some heroic hallucination in her.
I wonder if she could have any other sort of passion for a man?
Ladislaw?--there was certainly an unusual feeling between them.
And Casaubon must have had a notion of it. Well--her love might help
a man more than her money."
Dorothea on her side had immediately formed a plan of relieving
Lydgate from his obligation to Bulstrode, which she felt sure
was a part, though small, of the galling pressure he had to bear.
She sat down at once under the inspiration of their interview,
and wrote a brief note, in which she pleaded that she had more claim
than Mr. Bulstrode had to the satisfaction of providing the money which
had been serviceable to Lydgate--that it would be unkind in Lydgate
not to grant her the position of being his helper in this small matter,
the favor being entirely to her who had so little that was plainly
marked out for her to do with her superfluous money. He might call
her a creditor or by any other name if it did but imply that he
granted her request. She enclosed a check for a thousand pounds,
and determined to take the letter with her the next day when she
went to see Rosamond.
"And thus thy fall hath left a kind of blot,
To mark the full-fraught man and best indued
With some suspicion."
The next day Lydgate had to go to Brassing, and told Rosamond
that he should be away until the evening. Of late she had
never gone beyond her own house and garden, except to church,
and once to see her papa, to whom she said, "If Tertius goes away,
you will help us to move, will you not, papa? I suppose we shall
have very little money. I am sure I hope some one will help us."
And Mr. Vincy had said, "Yes, child, I don't mind a hundred or two.
I can see the end of that." With these exceptions she had sat
at home in languid melancholy and suspense, fixing her mind on
Will Ladislaw's coming as the one point of hope and interest,
and associating this with some new urgency on Lydgate to make immediate
arrangements for leaving Middlemarch and going to London, till she
felt assured that the coming would be a potent cause of the going,
without at all seeing how. This way of establishing sequences is
too common to be fairly regarded as a peculiar folly in Rosamond.
And it is precisely this sort of sequence which causes the greatest
shock when it is sundered: for to see how an effect may be produced
is often to see possible missings and checks; but to see nothing
except the desirable cause, and close upon it the desirable effect,
rids us of doubt and makes our minds strongly intuitive. That was
the process going on in poor Rosamond, while she arranged all objects
around her with the same nicety as ever, only with more slowness--
or sat down to the piano, meaning to play, and then desisting,
yet lingering on the music stool with her white fingers suspended
on the wooden front, and looking before her in dreamy ennui.
Her melancholy had become so marked that Lydgate felt a strange
timidity before it, as a perpetual silent reproach, and the strong man,
mastered by his keen sensibilities towards this fair fragile creature
whose life he seemed somehow to have bruised, shrank from her look,
and sometimes started at her approach, fear of her and fear for her
rushing in only the more forcibly after it had been momentarily expelled
But this morning Rosamond descended from her room upstairs--
where she sometimes sat the whole day when Lydgate was out--
equipped for a walk in the town. She had a letter to post--a letter
addressed to Mr. Ladislaw and written with charming discretion,
but intended to hasten his arrival by a hint of trouble.
The servant-maid, their sole house-servant now, noticed her coming
down-stairs in her walking dress, and thought "there never did
anybody look so pretty in a bonnet poor thing."
Meanwhile Dorothea's mind was filled with her project of going
to Rosamond, and with the many thoughts, both of the past and the
probable future, which gathered round the idea of that visit.
Until yesterday when Lydgate had opened to her a glimpse
of some trouble in his married life, the image of Mrs. Lydgate
had always been associated for her with that of Will Ladislaw.
Even in her most uneasy moments--even when she had been agitated
by Mrs. Cadwallader's painfully graphic report of gossip--
her effort, nay, her strongest impulsive prompting, had been towards
the vindication of Will from any sullying surmises; and when,
in her meeting with him afterwards, she had at first interpreted
his words as a probable allusion to a feeling towards Mrs. Lydgate
which he was determined to cut himself off from indulging, she had
had a quick, sad, excusing vision of the charm there might be in his
constant opportunities of companionship with that fair creature,
who most likely shared his other tastes as she evidently did
his delight in music. But there had followed his parting words--
the few passionate words in which he had implied that she herself
was the object of whom his love held him in dread, that it was his
love for her only which he was resolved not to declare but to carry
away into banishment. From the time of that parting, Dorothea,
believing in Will's love for her, believing with a proud delight in
his delicate sense of honor and his determination that no one should
impeach him justly, felt her heart quite at rest as to the regard he
might have for Mrs. Lydgate. She was sure that the regard was blameless.
There are natures in which, if they love us, we are conscious
of having a sort of baptism and consecration: they bind us
over to rectitude and purity by their pure belief about us;
and our sins become that worst kind of sacrilege which tears down
the invisible altar of trust. "If you are not good, none is good"--
those little words may give a terrific meaning to responsibility,
may hold a vitriolic intensity for remorse.
Dorothea's nature was of that kind: her own passionate faults lay
along the easily counted open channels of her ardent character;
and while she was full of pity for the visible mistakes of others,
she had not yet any material within her experience for subtle
constructions and suspicions of hidden wrong. But that simplicity
of hers, holding up an ideal for others in her believing conception
of them, was one of the great powers of her womanhood. And it
had from the first acted strongly on Will Ladislaw. He felt,
when he parted from her, that the brief words by which he had tried
to convey to her his feeling about herself and the division which
her fortune made between them, would only profit by their brevity
when Dorothea had to interpret them: he felt that in her mind he
had found his highest estimate.
And he was right there. In the months since their parting Dorothea
had felt a delicious though sad repose in their relation to each other,
as one which was inwardly whole and without blemish. She had an
active force of antagonism within her, when the antagonism turned
on the defence either of plans or persons that she believed in;
and the wrongs which she felt that Will had received from her husband,
and the external conditions which to others were grounds for
slighting him, only gave the more tenacity to her affection
and admiring judgment. And now with the disclosures about
Bulstrode had come another fact affecting Will's social position,
which roused afresh Dorothea's inward resistance to what was
said about him in that part of her world which lay within park palings.
"Young Ladislaw the grandson of a thieving Jew pawnbroker"
was a phrase which had entered emphatically into the dialogues
about the Bulstrode business, at Lowick, Tipton, and Freshitt,
and was a worse kind of placard on poor Will's back than the "Italian
with white mice." Upright Sir James Chettam was convinced that his
own satisfaction was righteous when he thought with some complacency
that here was an added league to that mountainous distance between
Ladislaw and Dorothea, which enabled him to dismiss any anxiety
in that direction as too absurd. And perhaps there had been
some pleasure in pointing Mr. Brooke's attention to this ugly bit
of Ladislaw's genealogy, as a fresh candle for him to see his own
folly by. Dorothea had observed the animus with which Will's part
in the painful story had been recalled more than once; but she had
uttered no word, being checked now, as she had not been formerly
in speaking of Will, by the consciousness of a deeper relation
between them which must always remain in consecrated secrecy.
But her silence shrouded her resistant emotion into a more
thorough glow; and this misfortune in Will's lot which, it seemed,
others were wishing to fling at his back as an opprobrium,
only gave something more of enthusiasm to her clinging thought.
She entertained no visions of their ever coming into nearer union,
and yet she had taken no posture of renunciation. She had accepted
her whole relation to Will very simply as part of her marriage sorrows,
and would have thought it very sinful in her to keep up an inward
wail because she was not completely happy, being rather disposed
to dwell on the superfluities of her lot. She could bear that the
chief pleasures of her tenderness should lie in memory, and the idea
of marriage came to her solely as a repulsive proposition from
some suitor of whom she at present knew nothing, but whose merits,
as seen by her friends, would be a source of torment to her:--
"somebody who will manage your property for you, my dear,"
was Mr. Brooke's attractive suggestion of suitable characteristics.
"I should like to manage it myself, if I knew what to do with it,"
said Dorothea. No--she adhered to her declaration that she would
never be married again, and in the long valley of her life which
looked so flat and empty of waymarks, guidance would come as she
walked along the road, and saw her fellow-passengers by the way.
This habitual state of feeling about Will Ladislaw had been strong.
in all her waking hours since she had proposed to pay a visit
to Mrs. Lydgate, making a sort of background against which she
saw Rosamond's figure presented to her without hindrances to her
interest and compassion. There was evidently some mental separation,
some barrier to complete confidence which had arisen between this
wife and the husband who had yet made her happiness a law to him.
That was a trouble which no third person must directly touch.
But Dorothea thought with deep pity of the loneliness which must
have come upon Rosamond from the suspicions cast on her husband;
and there would surely be help in the manifestation of respect for
Lydgate and sympathy with her.
"I shall talk to her about her husband," thought Dorothea, as she
was being driven towards the town. The clear spring morning,
the scent of the moist earth, the fresh leaves just showing their
creased-up wealth of greenery from out their half-opened sheaths,
seemed part of the cheerfulness she was feeling from a long conversation
with Mr. Farebrother, who had joyfully accepted the justifying
explanation of Lydgate's conduct. "I shall take Mrs. Lydgate good news,
and perhaps she will like to talk to me and make a friend of me."
Dorothea had another errand in Lowick Gate: it was about a new
fine-toned bell for the school-house, and as she had to get out
of her carriage very near to Lydgate's, she walked thither across
the street, having told the coachman to wait for some packages.
The street door was open, and the servant was taking the opportunity
of looking out at the carriage which was pausing within sight
when it became apparent to her that the lady who "belonged to it"
was coming towards her.
"Is Mrs. Lydgate at home?" said Dorothea.
"I'm not sure, my lady; I'll see, if you'll please to walk in,"
said Martha, a little confused on the score of her kitchen apron,
but collected enough to be sure that "mum" was not the right title
for this queenly young widow with a carriage and pair. "Will you
please to walk in, and I'll go and see."
"Say that I am Mrs. Casaubon," said Dorothea, as Martha moved
forward intending to show her into the drawing-room and then to go
up-stairs to see if Rosamond had returned from her walk.
They crossed the broader part of the entrance-hall, and turned
up the passage which led to the garden. The drawing-room door
was unlatched, and Martha, pushing it without looking into the room,
waited for Mrs. Casaubon to enter and then turned away, the door
having swung open and swung back again without noise.
Dorothea had less of outward vision than usual this morning,
being filled with images of things as they had been and were going
to be. She found herself on the other side of the door without
seeing anything remarkable, but immediately she heard a voice
speaking in low tones which startled her as with a sense of dreaming
in daylight, and advancing unconsciously a step or two beyond the
projecting slab of a bookcase, she saw, in the terrible illumination
of a certainty which filled up all outlines, something which made
her pause, motionless, without self-possession enough to speak.
Seated with his back towards her on a sofa which stood against
the wall on a line with the door by which she had entered, she saw
Will Ladislaw: close by him and turned towards him with a flushed
tearfulness which gave a new brilliancy to her face sat Rosamond,
her bonnet hanging back, while Will leaning towards her clasped
both her upraised hands in his and spoke with low-toned fervor.
Rosamond in her agitated absorption had not noticed the silently
advancing figure; but when Dorothea, after the first immeasurable
instant of this vision, moved confusedly backward and found herself
impeded by some piece of furniture, Rosamond was suddenly aware
of her presence, and with a spasmodic movement snatched away her
hands and rose, looking at Dorothea who was necessarily arrested.
Will Ladislaw, starting up, looked round also, and meeting Dorothea's
eyes with a new lightning in them, seemed changing to marble:
But she immediately turned them away from him to Rosamond and said
in a firm voice--
"Excuse me, Mrs. Lydgate, the servant did not know that you were here.
I called to deliver an important letter for Mr. Lydgate, which I
wished to put into your own hands."
She laid down the letter on the small table which had checked
her retreat, and then including Rosamond and Will in one distant
glance and bow, she went quickly out of the room, meeting in the
passage the surprised Martha, who said she was sorry the mistress
was not at home, and then showed the strange lady out with an inward
reflection that grand people were probably more impatient than others.
Dorothea walked across the street with her most elastic step
and was quickly in her carriage again.
"Drive on to Freshitt Hall," she said to the coachman, and any one looking
at her might have thought that though she was paler than usual she was
never animated by a more self-possessed energy. And that was really
her experience. It was as if she had drunk a great draught of scorn
that stimulated her beyond the susceptibility to other feelings.
She had seen something so far below her belief, that her emotions
rushed back from it and made an excited throng without an object.
She needed something active to turn her excitement out upon.
She felt power to walk and work for a day, without meat or drink.
And she would carry out the purpose with which she had started
in the morning, of going to Freshitt and Tipton to tell Sir James
and her uncle all that she wished them to know about Lydgate,
whose married loneliness under his trial now presented itself to her
with new significance, and made her more ardent in readiness to be
his champion. She had never felt anything like this triumphant power
of indignation in the struggle of her married life, in which there
had always been a quickly subduing pang; and she took it as a sign
of new strength.
"Dodo, how very bright your eyes are!" said Celia, when Sir James
was gone out of the room. "And you don't see anything you look at,
Arthur or anything. You are going to do something uncomfortable,
I know. Is it all about Mr. Lydgate, or has something else happened?"
Celia had been used to watch her sister with expectation.
"Yes, dear, a great many things have happened," said Dodo,
in her full tones.
"I wonder what," said Celia, folding her arms cozily and leaning
forward upon them.
"Oh, all the troubles of all people on the face of the earth,"
said Dorothea, lifting her arms to the back of her head.
"Dear me, Dodo, are you going to have a scheme for them?" said Celia,
a little uneasy at this Hamlet-like raving.
But Sir James came in again, ready to accompany Dorothea to the Grange,
and she finished her expedition well, not swerving in her resolution
until she descended at her own door.
"Would it were yesterday and I i' the grave,
With her sweet faith above for monument"
Rosamond and Will stood motionless--they did not know how long--
he looking towards the spot where Dorothea had stood, and she looking
towards him with doubt. It seemed an endless time to Rosamond,
in whose inmost soul there was hardly so much annoyance as
gratification from what had just happened. Shallow natures dream
of an easy sway over the emotions of others, trusting implicitly
in their own petty magic to turn the deepest streams, and confident,
by pretty gestures and remarks, of making the thing that is not
as though it were. She knew that Will had received a severe blow,
but she had been little used to imagining other people's states
of mind except as a material cut into shape by her own wishes;
and she believed in her own power to soothe or subdue. Even Tertius,
that most perverse of men, was always subdued in the long-run:
events had been obstinate, but still Rosamond would have said now,
as she did before her marriage, that she never gave up what she had set
her mind on.
She put out her arm and laid the tips of her fingers on Will's
"Don't touch me!" he said, with an utterance like the cut of a lash,
darting from her, and changing from pink to white and back again,
as if his whole frame were tingling with the pain of the sting.
He wheeled round to the other side of the room and stood opposite to her,
with the tips of his fingers in his pockets and his head thrown back,
looking fiercely not at Rosamond but at a point a few inches away
She was keenly offended, but the Signs she made of this were such
as only Lydgate was used to interpret. She became suddenly quiet
and seated herself, untying her hanging bonnet and laying it down with
her shawl. Her little hands which she folded before her were very cold.
It would have been safer for Will in the first instance to have taken
up his hat and gone away; but he had felt no impulse to do this;
on the contrary, he had a horrible inclination to stay and shatter
Rosamond with his anger. It seemed as impossible to bear the fatality
she had drawn down on him without venting his fury as it would be
to a panther to bear the javelin-wound without springing and biting.
And yet--how could he tell a woman that he was ready to curse her?
He was fuming under a repressive law which he was forced to acknowledge:
he was dangerously poised, and Rosamond's voice now brought the
decisive vibration. In flute-like tones of sarcasm she said--
"You can easily go after Mrs. Casaubon and explain your preference."
"Go after her!" he burst out, with a sharp edge in his voice.
"Do you think she would turn to look at me, or value any word I ever
uttered to her again at more than a dirty feather?--Explain! How can
a man explain at the expense of a woman?"
"You can tell her what you please," said Rosamond with more tremor.
"Do you suppose she would like me better for sacrificing you?
She is not a woman to be flattered because I made myself despicable--
to believe that I must be true to her because I was a dastard
He began to move about with the restlessness of a wild animal
that sees prey but cannot reach it. Presently he burst out again--
"I had no hope before--not much--of anything better to come.
But I had one certainty--that she believed in me. Whatever people
had said or done about me, she believed in me.--That's gone!
She'll never again think me anything but a paltry pretence--
too nice to take heaven except upon flattering conditions, and yet
selling myself for any devil's change by the sly. She'll think
of me as an incarnate insult to her, from the first moment we--"
Will stopped as if he had found himself grasping something that must
not be thrown and shattered. He found another vent for his rage
by snatching up Rosamond's words again, as if they were reptiles
to be throttled and flung off.
"Explain! Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell!
Explain my preference! I never had a _preference_ for her,
any more than I have a preference for breathing. No other woman exists
by the side of her. I would rather touch her hand if it were dead,
than I would touch any other woman's living."
Rosamond, while these poisoned weapons were being hurled at her,
was almost losing the sense of her identity, and seemed to be
waking into some new terrible existence. She had no sense
of chill resolute repulsion, of reticent self-justification
such as she had known under Lydgate's most stormy displeasure:
all her sensibility was turned into a bewildering novelty of pain;
she felt a new terrified recoil under a lash never experienced before.
What another nature felt in opposition to her own was being burnt
and bitten into her consciousness. When Will had ceased to speak
she had become an image of sickened misery: her lips were pale,
and her eyes had a tearless dismay in them. If it had been Tertius
who stood opposite to her, that look of misery would have been
a pang to him, and he would have sunk by her side to comfort her,
with that strong-armed comfort which, she had often held very cheap.
Let it be forgiven to Will that he had no such movement of pity.
He had felt no bond beforehand to this woman who had spoiled
the ideal treasure of his life, and he held himself blameless.
He knew that he was cruel, but he had no relenting in him yet.
After he had done speaking, he still moved about, half in absence
of mind, and Rosamond sat perfectly still. At length Will, seeming to
bethink himself, took up his hat, yet stood some moments irresolute.
He had spoken to her in a way that made a phrase of common politeness
difficult to utter; and yet, now that he had come to the point
of going away from her without further speech, he shrank from it
as a brutality; he felt checked and stultified in his anger.
He walked towards the mantel-piece and leaned his arm on it,
and waited in silence for--he hardly knew what. The vindictive fire
was still burning in him, and he could utter no word of retractation;
but it was nevertheless in his mind that having come back to this
hearth where he had enjoyed a caressing friendship he had found.
calamity seated there--he had had suddenly revealed to him a trouble
that lay outside the home as well as within it. And what seemed
a foreboding was pressing upon him as with slow pincers:--that his
life might come to be enslaved by this helpless woman who had thrown
herself upon him in the dreary sadness of her heart. But he was
in gloomy rebellion against the fact that his quick apprehensiveness
foreshadowed to him, and when his eyes fell on Rosamond's blighted
face it seemed to him that he was the more pitiable of the two;
for pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can
turn into compassion.
And so they remained for many minutes, opposite each other,
far apart, in silence; Will's face still possessed by a mute rage,
and Rosamond's by a mute misery. The poor thing had no force to fling
out any passion in return; the terrible collapse of the illusion
towards which all her hope had been strained was a stroke which had
too thoroughly shaken her: her little world was in ruins, and she
felt herself tottering in the midst as a lonely bewildered consciousness.
Will wished that she would speak and bring some mitigating shadow
across his own cruel speech, which seemed to stand staring at them
both in mockery of any attempt at revived fellowship. But she
said nothing, and at last with a desperate effort over himself,
he asked, "Shall I come in and see Lydgate this evening?"
"If you like," Rosamond answered, just audibly.
And then Will went out of the house, Martha never knowing that he
had been in.
After he was gone, Rosamond tried to get up from her seat, but fell
back fainting. When she came to herself again, she felt too ill
to make the exertion of rising to ring the bell, and she remained
helpless until the girl, surprised at her long absence, thought for
the first time of looking for her in all the down-stairs rooms.
Rosamond said that she had felt suddenly sick and faint, and wanted
to be helped up-stairs. When there she threw herself on the bed
with her clothes on, and lay in apparent torpor, as she had done
once before on a memorable day of grief.
Lydgate came home earlier than he had expected, about half-past five,
and found her there. The perception that she was ill threw every
other thought into the background. When he felt her pulse,
her eyes rested on him with more persistence than they had done
for a long while, as if she felt some content that he was there.
He perceived the difference in a moment, and seating himself
by her put his arm gently under her, and bending over her said,
"My poor Rosamond! has something agitated you?" Clinging to him
she fell into hysterical sobbings and cries, and for the next hour
he did nothing but soothe and tend her. He imagined that Dorothea
had been to see her, and that all this effect on her nervous system,
which evidently involved some new turning towards himself,
was due to the excitement of the new impressions which that visit
"Now, I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended their
talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough, that was in the
midst of the plain; and they, being heedless, did both fall
suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was
When Rosamond was quiet, and Lydgate had left her, hoping that she
might soon sleep under the effect of an anodyne, he went into the
drawing-room to fetch a book which he had left there, meaning to spend
the evening in his work-room, and he saw on the table Dorothea's
letter addressed to him. He had not ventured to ask Rosamond if
Mrs. Casaubon had called, but the reading of this letter assured him
of the fact, for Dorothea mentioned that it was to be carried by herself.
When Will Ladislaw came in a little later Lydgate met him with
a surprise which made it clear that he had not been told of the
earlier visit, and Will could not say, "Did not Mrs. Lydgate
tell you that I came this morning?"
"Poor Rosamond is ill," Lydgate added immediately on his greeting.
"Not seriously, I hope," said Will.
"No--only a slight nervous shock--the effect of some agitation.
She has been overwrought lately. The truth is, Ladislaw, I am an
unlucky devil. We have gone through several rounds of purgatory since
you left, and I have lately got on to a worse ledge of it than ever.
I suppose you are only just come down--you look rather battered--
you have not been long enough in the town to hear anything?"
"I travelled all night and got to the White Hart at eight o'clock
this morning. I have been shutting myself up and resting," said Will,
feeling himself a sneak, but seeing no alternative to this evasion.
And then he heard Lydgate's account of the troubles which Rosamond
had already depicted to him in her way. She had not mentioned
the fact of Will's name being connected with the public story--
this detail not immediately affecting her--and he now heard it
for the first time.
"I thought it better to tell you that your name is mixed up
with the disclosures," said Lydgate, who could understand better
than most men how Ladislaw might be stung by the revelation.
"You will be sure to hear it as soon as you turn out into the town.
I suppose it is true that Raffles spoke to you."
"Yes," said Will, sardonically. "I shall be fortunate if gossip
does not make me the most disreputable person in the whole affair.
I should think the latest version must be, that I plotted with Raffles
to murder Bulstrode, and ran away from Middlemarch for the purpose."
He was thinking "Here is a new ring in the sound of my name to
recommend it in her hearing; however--what does it signify now?"
But he said nothing of Bulstrode's offer to him. Will was very
open and careless about his personal affairs, but it was among
the more exquisite touches in nature's modelling of him that he
had a delicate generosity which warned him into reticence here.
He shrank from saying that he had rejected Bulstrode's money,
in the moment when he was learning that it was Lydgate's misfortune
to have accepted it.
Lydgate too was reticent in the midst of his confidence. He made no
allusion to Rosamond's feeling under their trouble, and of Dorothea
he only said, "Mrs. Casaubon has been the one person to come forward
and say that she had no belief in any of the suspicions against me."
Observing a change in Will's face, he avoided any further mention
of her, feeling himself too ignorant of their relation to each
other not to fear that his words might have some hidden painful
bearing on it. And it occurred to him that Dorothea was the real
cause of the present visit to Middlemarch.
The two men were pitying each other, but it was only Will who
guessed the extent of his companion's trouble. When Lydgate
spoke with desperate resignation of going to settle in London,
and said with a faint smile, "We shall have you again, old fellow."
Will felt inexpressibly mournful, and said nothing. Rosamond had
that morning entreated him to urge this step on Lydgate; and it
seemed to him as if he were beholding in a magic panorama a future
where he himself was sliding into that pleasureless yielding
to the small solicitations of circumstance, which is a commoner
history of perdition than any single momentous bargain.
We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our
future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into
insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. Poor Lydgate was inwardly
groaning on that margin, and Will was arriving at it. It seemed
to him this evening as if the cruelty of his outburst to Rosamond
had made an obligation for him, and he dreaded the obligation:
he dreaded Lydgate's unsuspecting good-will: he dreaded his own distaste
for his spoiled life, which would leave him in motiveless levity.
"Stern lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face;
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong;
And the most ancient Heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.
--WORDSWORTH: Ode to Duty.
When Dorothea had seen Mr. Farebrother in the morning, she had
promised to go and dine at the parsonage on her return from Freshitt.
There was a frequent interchange of visits between her and the
Farebrother family, which enabled her to say that she was not at
all lonely at the Manor, and to resist for the present the severe
prescription of a lady companion. When she reached home and remembered
her engagement, she was glad of it; and finding that she had still
an hour before she could dress for dinner, she walked straight
to the schoolhouse and entered into a conversation with the master
and mistress about the new bell, giving eager attention to their small
details and repetitions, and getting up a dramatic sense that her life
was very busy. She paused on her way back to talk to old Master
Bunney who was putting in some garden-seeds, and discoursed wisely
with that rural sage about the crops that would make the most return
on a perch of ground, and the result of sixty years' experience as
to soils--namely, that if your soil was pretty mellow it would do,
but if there came wet, wet, wet to make it all of a mummy, why then--
Finding that the social spirit had beguiled her into being rather late,
she dressed hastily and went over to the parsonage rather earlier
than was necessary. That house was never dull, Mr. Farebrother,
like another White of Selborne, having continually something new
to tell of his inarticulate guests and proteges, whom he was
teaching the boys not to torment; and he had just set up a pair
of beautiful goats to be pets of the village in general, and to
walk at large as sacred animals. The evening went by cheerfully
till after tea, Dorothea talking more than usual and dilating
with Mr. Farebrother on the possible histories of creatures that
converse compendiously with their antennae, and for aught we know
may hold reformed parliaments; when suddenly some inarticulate
little sounds were heard which called everybody's attention.
"Henrietta Noble," said Mrs. Farebrother, seeing her small sister
moving about the furniture-legs distressfully, "what is the matter?"
"I have lost my tortoise-shell lozenge-box. I fear the kitten has
rolled it away," said the tiny old lady, involuntarily continuing
her beaver-like notes.
"Is it a great treasure, aunt?" said Mr. Farebrother, putting up
his glasses and looking at the carpet.
"Mr. Ladislaw gave it me," said Miss Noble. "A German box--
very pretty, but if it falls it always spins away as far as it can."
"Oh, if it is Ladislaw's present," said Mr. Farebrother,
in a deep tone of comprehension, getting up and hunting.
The box was found at last under a chiffonier, and Miss Noble
grasped it with delight, saying, "it was under a fender the last time."
"That is an affair of the heart with my aunt," said Mr. Farebrother,
smiling at Dorothea, as he reseated himself.
"If Henrietta Noble forms an attachment to any one, Mrs. Casaubon,"
said his mother, emphatically,--"she is like a dog--she would take
their shoes for a pillow and sleep the better."
"Mr. Ladislaw's shoes, I would," said Henrietta Noble.
Dorothea made an attempt at smiling in return. She was surprised
and annoyed to find that her heart was palpitating violently,
and that it was quite useless to try after a recovery of her
former animation. Alarmed at herself--fearing some further betrayal
of a change so marked in its occasion, she rose and said in a low
voice with undisguised anxiety, "I must go; I have overtired myself."
Mr. Farebrother, quick in perception, rose and said, "It is true;
you must have half-exhausted yourself in talking about Lydgate.
That sort of work tells upon one after the excitement is over."
He gave her his arm back to the Manor, but Dorothea did not attempt
to speak, even when he said good-night.
The limit of resistance was reached, and she had sunk back helpless within
the clutch of inescapable anguish. Dismissing Tantripp with a few faint
words, she locked her door, and turning away from it towards the vacant
room she pressed her hands hard on the top of her head, and moaned out--
"Oh, I did love him!"
Then came the hour in which the waves of suffering shook her too
thoroughly to leave any power of thought. She could only cry
in loud whispers, between her sobs, after her lost belief which she
had planted and kept alive from a very little seed since the days
in Rome--after her lost joy of clinging with silent love and faith
to one who, misprized by others, was worthy in her thought--
after her lost woman's pride of reigning in his memory--after her sweet
dim perspective of hope, that along some pathway they should meet
with unchanged recognition and take up the backward years as a yesterday.
In that hour she repeated what the merciful eyes of solitude
have looked on for ages in the spiritual struggles of man--
she besought hardness and coldness and aching weariness to bring
her relief from the mysterious incorporeal might of her anguish:
she lay on the bare floor and let the night grow cold around her;
while her grand woman's frame was shaken by sobs as if she had been
a despairing child.
There were two images--two living forms that tore her heart in two,
as if it had been the heart of a mother who seems to see her child
divided by the sword, and presses one bleeding half to her breast
while her gaze goes forth in agony towards the half which is carried
away by the lying woman that has never known the mother's pang.
Here, with the nearness of an answering smile, here within the
vibrating bond of mutual speech, was the bright creature whom she
had trusted--who had come to her like the spirit of morning visiting
the dim vault where she sat as the bride of a worn-out life;
and now, with a full consciousness which had never awakened before,
she stretched out her arms towards him and cried with bitter
cries that their nearness was a parting vision: she discovered
her passion to herself in the unshrinking utterance of despair.
And there, aloof, yet persistently with her, moving wherever
she moved, was the Will Ladislaw' who was a changed belief
exhausted of hope, a detected illusion--no, a living man towards
whom there could not yet struggle any wail of regretful pity,
from the midst of scorn and indignation and jealous offended pride.
The fire of Dorothea's anger was not easily spent, and it flamed
out in fitful returns of spurning reproach. Why had he come
obtruding his life into hers, hers that might have been whole
enough without him? Why had he brought his cheap regard and his
lip-born words to her who had nothing paltry to give in exchange?
He knew that he was deluding her--wished, in the very moment
of farewell, to make her believe that he gave her the whole
price of her heart, and knew that he had spent it half before.
Why had he not stayed among the crowd of whom she asked nothing--
but only prayed that they might be less contemptible?
But she lost energy at last even for her loud-whispered cries
and moans: she subsided into helpless sobs, and on the cold floor
she sobbed herself to sleep.
In the chill hours of the morning twilight, when all was dim around her,
she awoke--not with any amazed wondering where she was or what had
happened, but with the clearest consciousness that she was looking into
the eyes of sorrow. She rose, and wrapped warm things around her, and
seated herself in a great chair where she had often watched before. She
was vigorous enough to have borne that hard night without feeling ill in
body, beyond some aching and fatigue; but she had waked to a new
condition: she felt as if her soul had been liberated from its terrible
conflict; she was no longer wrestling with her grief, but could sit down
with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. For
now the thoughts came thickly. It was not in Dorothea's nature, for
longer than the duration of a paroxysm, to sit in the narrow cell of her
calamity, in the besotted misery of a consciousness that only sees
another's lot as an accident of its own.
She began now to live through that yesterday morning deliberately again,
forcing herself to dwell on every detail and its possible meaning.
Was she alone in that scene? Was it her event only? She forced
herself to think of it as bound up with another woman's life--a woman
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