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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOld Man's Love - Volume 2 - Chapter 20. Mr Whittlestaff Takes His Journey
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Old Man's Love - Volume 2 - Chapter 20. Mr Whittlestaff Takes His Journey Post by :Infobiz Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1896

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Old Man's Love - Volume 2 - Chapter 20. Mr Whittlestaff Takes His Journey

CHAPTER XX. MR WHITTLESTAFF TAKES HIS JOURNEY

Mr Whittlestaff did at last get into the train and have himself carried up to London. And he ate his sandwiches and drank his sherry with an air of supreme satisfaction,--as though he had carried his point. And so he had. He had made up his mind on a certain matter; and, with the object of doing a certain piece of work, he had escaped from the two dominant women of his household, who had done their best to intercept him. So far his triumph was complete. But as he sat silent in the corner of the carriage, his mind reverted to the purpose of his journey, and he cannot be said to have been triumphant. He knew it all as well as did Mrs Baggett. And he knew too that, except Mrs Baggett and the girl herself, all the world was against him. That ass Montagu Blake every time he opened his mouth as to his own bride let out the idea that John Gordon should have his bride because John Gordon was young and lusty, and because he, Whittlestaff, might be regarded as an old man. The Miss Halls were altogether of the same opinion, and were not slow to express it. All Alresford would know it, and would sympathise with John Gordon. And as it came to be known that he himself had given up the girl whom he loved, he could read the ridicule which would be conveyed by the smiles of his neighbours.

To tell the truth of Mr Whittlestaff, he was a man very open to such shafts of ridicule. The "_robur et aes triplex_" which fortified his heart went only to the doing of a good and unselfish action, and did not extend to providing him with that adamantine shield which virtue should of itself supply. He was as pervious to these stings as a man might be who had not strength to act in opposition to them. He could screw himself up to the doing of a great deed for the benefit of another, and could as he was doing so deplore with inward tears the punishment which the world would accord to him for the deed. As he sat there in the corner of his carriage, he was thinking of the punishment rather than of the glory. And the punishment must certainly come now. It would be a punishment lasting for the remainder of his life, and so bitter in its kind as to make any further living almost impossible to him. It was not that he would kill himself. He did not meditate any such step as that. He was a man who considered that by doing an outrage to God's work an offence would be committed against God which admitted of no repentance. He must live through it to the last. But he must live as a man who was degraded. He had made his effort, but his effort would be known to all Alresford. Mr Montagu Blake would take care of that.

The evil done to him would be one which would admit of no complaint from his own mouth. He would be left alone, living with Mrs Baggett,--who of course knew all the facts. The idea of Mrs Baggett going away with her husband was of course not to be thought of. That was another nuisance, a small evil in comparison with the great misfortune of his life.

He had brought this girl home to his house to be the companion of his days, and she had come to have in his mouth a flavour, as it were, and sweetness beyond all other sweetnesses. She had lent a grace to his days of which for many years he had not believed them to be capable. He was a man who had thought much of love, reading about it in all the poets with whose lines he was conversant. He was one who, in all that he read, would take the gist of it home to himself, and ask himself how it was with him in that matter. His favourite Horace had had a fresh love for every day; but he had told himself that Horace knew nothing of love. Of Petrarch and Laura he had thought; but even to Petrarch Laura had been a subject for expression rather than for passion. Prince Arthur, in his love for Guinevere, went nearer to the mark which he had fancied for himself. Imogen, in her love for Posthumus, gave to him a picture of all that love should be. It was thus that he had thought of himself in all his readings; and as years had gone by, he had told himself that for him there was to be nothing better than reading. But yet his mind had been full, and he had still thought to himself that, in spite of his mistake in reference to Catherine Bailey, there was still room for a strong passion.

Then Mary Lawrie had come upon him, and the sun seemed to shine nowhere but in her eyes and in the expression of her face. He had told himself distinctly that he was now in love, and that his life had not gone so far forward as to leave him stranded on the dry sandhills. She was there living in his house, subject to his orders, affectionate and docile; but, as far as he could judge, a perfect woman. And, as far as he could judge, there was no other man whom she loved. Then, with many doubtings, he asked her the question, and he soon learned the truth,--but not the whole truth.

There had been a man, but he was one who seemed to have passed by and left his mark, and then to have gone on altogether out of sight. She had told him that she could not but think of John Gordon, but that that was all. She would, if he asked it, plight her troth to him and become his wife, although she must think of John Gordon. This thinking would last but for a while, he told himself; and he at his age--what right had he to expect aught better than that? She was of such a nature that, when she had given herself up in marriage, she would surely learn to love her husband. So he had accepted her promise, and allowed himself for one hour to be a happy man.

Then John Gordon had come to his house, falling upon it like the blast of a storm. He had come at once--instantly--as though fate had intended to punish him, Whittlestaff, utterly and instantly. Mary had told him that she could not promise not to think of him who had once loved her, when, lo and behold! the man himself was there. Who ever suffered a blow so severe as this? He had left them together. He had felt himself compelled to do so by the exigencies of the moment. It was impossible that he should give either one or the other to understand that they would not be allowed to meet in his house. They had met, and Mary had been very firm. For a few hours there had existed in his bosom the feeling that even yet he might be preferred.

But gradually that feeling had disappeared, and the truth had come home to him. She was as much in love with John Gordon as could any girl be with the man whom she adored. And the other rock on which he had depended was gradually shivered beneath his feet. He had fancied at first that the man had come back, as do so many adventurers, without the means of making a woman happy. It was not for John Gordon that he was solicitous, but for Mary Lawrie. If John Gordon were a pauper, or so nearly so as to be able to offer Mary no home, then it would clearly be his duty not to allow the marriage. In such case the result to him would be, if not heavenly, sweet enough at any rate to satisfy his longings. She would come to him, and John Gordon would depart to London, and to the world beyond, and there would be an end of him. But it became palpable to his senses generally that the man's fortunes had not been such as this. And then there came home to him a feeling that were they so, it would be his duty to make up for Mary's sake what was wanting,--since he had discovered of what calibre was the man himself.

It was at Mr Hall's house that the idea had first presented itself to him with all the firmness of a settled project. It would be, he had said to himself, a great thing for a man to do. What, after all, is the meaning of love, but that a man should do his best to serve the woman he loves? "Who cares a straw for him?" he said to himself, as though to exempt himself from any idea of general charity, and to prove that all the good which he intended to do was to be done for love alone. "Not a straw; whether he shall stay at home here and have all that is sweetest in the world, or be sent out alone to find fresh diamonds amidst the dirt and misery of that horrid place, is as nothing, as far as he is concerned. I am, at any rate, more to myself than John Gordon. I do not believe in doing a kindness of such a nature as that to such a one. But for her--! And I could not hold her to my bosom, knowing that she would so much rather be in the arms of another man." All this he said to himself; but he said it in words fully formed, and with the thoughts, on which the words were based, clearly established.

When he came to the end of his journey, he had himself driven to the hotel, and ordered his dinner, and ate it in solitude, still supported by the ecstasy of his thoughts. He knew that there was before him a sharp cruel punishment, and then a weary lonely life. There could be no happiness, no satisfaction, in store for him. He was aware that it must be so; but still for the present there was a joy to him in thinking that he would make her happy, and in that he was determined to take what immediate delight it would give him. He asked himself how long that delight could last; and he told himself that when John Gordon should have once taken her by the hand and claimed her as his own, the time of his misery would have come.

There had hung about him a dream, clinging to him up to the moment of his hotel dinner, by which he had thought it possible that he might yet escape from the misery of Pandemonium and be carried into the light and joy of Paradise. But as he sat with his beef-steak before him, and ate his accustomed potato, with apparently as good a gusto as any of his neighbours, the dream departed. He told himself that under no circumstances should the dream be allowed to become a reality. The dream had been of this wise. With all the best intentions in his power he would offer the girl to John Gordon, and then, not doubting Gordon's acceptance of her, would make the same offer to the girl herself. But what if the girl refused to accept the offer? What if the girl should stubbornly adhere to her original promise? Was he to refuse to marry her when she should insist that such was her right? Was he to decline to enter in upon the joys of Paradise when Paradise should be thus opened to him? He would do his best, loyally and sincerely, with his whole heart. But he could not force her to make him a wretch, miserable for the rest of his life!

In fact it was she who might choose to make the sacrifice, and thus save him from the unhappiness in store for him. Such had been the nature of his dream. As he was eating his beef-steak and potatoes, he told himself that it could not be so, and that the dream must be flung to the winds. A certain amount of strength was now demanded of him, and he thought that he would be able to use it. "No, my dear, not me; it may not be that you should become my wife, though all the promises under heaven had been given. Though you say that you wish it, it is a lie which may not be ratified. Though you implore it of me, it cannot be granted. It is he that is your love, and it is he that must have you. I love you too, God in his wisdom knows, but it cannot be so. Go and be his wife, for mine you shall never become. I have meant well, but have been unfortunate. Now you know the state of my mind, than which nothing is more fixed on this earth." It was thus that he would speak to her, and then he would turn away; and the term of his misery would have commenced.

On the next morning he got up and prepared for his interview with John Gordon. He walked up and down the sward of the Green Park, thinking to himself of the language which he would use. If he could only tell the man that he hated him while he surrendered to him the girl whom he loved so dearly, it would be well. For in truth there was nothing of Christian charity in his heart towards John Gordon. But he thought at last that it would be better that he should announce his purpose in the simplest language. He could hate the man in his own heart as thoroughly as he desired. But it would not be becoming in him, were he on such an occasion to attempt to rise to the romance of tragedy. "It will be all the same a thousand years hence," he said to himself as he walked in at the club door.

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