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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bertrams - Volume 3 - Chapter 2. He Tries His Hand Again
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The Bertrams - Volume 3 - Chapter 2. He Tries His Hand Again Post by :go4dollars Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1256

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The Bertrams - Volume 3 - Chapter 2. He Tries His Hand Again

VOLUME III CHAPTER II. HE TRIES HIS HAND AGAIN

Miss Todd shook hands with him as he went, and then, putting on her bonnet and cloak, got into her fly.

She felt some little triumph at her heart in thinking that Sir Lionel had wished to marry her. Had she not, she would hardly have been a woman. But by far her strongest feeling was one of dislike to him for not having wished to marry Miss Baker. She had watched the gallant soldier closely for the last year, and well knew how tenderly he had been used to squeeze Miss Baker's hand. He had squeezed her own hand too; but what was that? She made others the subject of jokes, and was prepared to be joked upon herself. Whatever Oliver Sir Lionel, or other person, might give her, she would give back to him or to her--always excepting Mrs. Leake--a Rowland that should be quite as good. But Miss Baker was no subject for a joke, and Sir Lionel was in duty bound to have proposed to her.

It is perhaps almost true that no one can touch pitch and not be defiled. Miss Todd had been touching pitch for many years past, and was undoubtedly defiled to a certain extent. But the grime with her had never gone deep; it was not ingrained; it had not become an ineradicable stain; it was dirt on which soap-and-water might yet operate. May we not say that her truth and good-nature, and love of her fellow-creatures, would furnish her at last with the means whereby she might be cleansed?

She was of the world, worldly. It in no way disgusted her that Sir Lionel was an old rip, and that she knew him to be so. There were a great many old male rips at Littlebath and elsewhere. Miss Todd's path in life had brought her across more than one or two such. She encountered them without horror, welcomed them without shame, and spoke of them with a laugh rather than a shudder. Her idea was, that such a rip as Sir Lionel would best mend his manners by marriage; by marriage, but not with her. She knew better than trust herself to any Sir Lionel.

And she had encountered old female rips; that is, if dishonesty in money-dealings, selfishness, coarseness, vanity, absence of religion, and false pretences, when joined to age, may be held as constituting an old female rip. Many such had been around her frequently. She would laugh with them, feed them, call on them, lose her money to them, and feel herself no whit degraded. Such company brought on her no conviction of shame. But yet she was not of them. Coarse she was; but neither dishonest, nor selfish, nor vain, nor irreligious, nor false.

Such being the nature of the woman, she had not found it necessary to display any indignation when Sir Lionel made his offer; but she did feel angry with him on Miss Baker's behalf. Why had he deceived that woman, and made an ass of himself? Had he had any wit, any knowledge of character, he would have known what sort of an answer he was likely to get if he brought his vows and offers to the Paragon. There he had been received with no special favour. No lures had been there displayed to catch him. He had not been turned out of the house when he came there, and that was all. So now, as she put on her bonnet, she determined to punish Sir Lionel.

But in accusing her suitor of want of judgment, she was quite in the dark as to his real course of action. She little knew with how profound a judgment he was managing his affairs. Had she known, she would hardly have interfered as she now did. As she put her foot on the step of the fly she desired her servant to drive to Montpellier Terrace.

She was shown into the drawing-room, and there she found Miss Baker and Miss Gauntlet; not our friend Adela, but Miss Penelope Gauntlet, who was now again settled in Littlebath.

"Well, ladies," said Miss Todd, walking up the room with well-assured foot and full comfortable presence, "I've news to tell you."

They both of them saw at a glance that she had news. Between Miss P. Gauntlet and Miss Todd there had never been cordiality. Miss Todd was, as we have said, of the world, worldly; whereas Miss Gauntlet was of Dr. Snort, godly. She belonged plainly to the third set of which we have spoken; Miss Todd was an amalgamation of the two first. Miss Baker, however, was a point of union, a connecting rod. There was about her a savouring of the fragrance of Ebenezer, but accompanied, it must be owned, by a whiff of brimstone. Thus these three ladies were brought together; and as it was manifest that Miss Todd had news to tell, the other two were prepared to listen.

"What do you think, ladies?" and she sat herself down, filling an arm-chair with her goodly person. "What do you think has happened to me to-day?"

"Perhaps the doctor has been with you," said Miss P. Gauntlet, not alluding to the Littlebath Galen, but meaning to insinuate that Miss Todd might have come thither to tell them of her conversion from the world.

"Better than ten doctors, my dear"--Miss Penelope drew herself up very stiffly--"or twenty! I've had an offer of marriage. What do you think of that?"

Miss P. Gauntlet looked as though she thought a great deal of it. She certainly did think that had such an accident happened to her, she would not have spoken of it with such a voice, or before such an audience. But now her face, which was always long and thin, became longer and thinner, and she sat with her mouth open, expecting further news.

Miss Baker became rather red, then rather pale, and then red again. She put out her hand, and took hold of the side of the chair in which she sat; but she said nothing. Her heart told her that that offer had been made by Sir Lionel.

"You don't wish me joy, ladies," said Miss Todd.

"But you have not told us whether you accepted it," said Miss Penelope.

"Ha! ha! ha! No, that's the worst of it. No, I didn't accept it. But, upon my word, it was made."

Then it was not Sir Lionel, thought Miss Baker, releasing her hold of the chair, and feeling that the blood about her heart was again circulating.

"And is that all that we are to know?" asked Miss Penelope.

"Oh, my dears, you shall know it all. I told my lover that I should keep no secrets. But, come, you shall guess. Who was it, Miss Baker?"

"I couldn't say at all," said Miss Baker, in a faint voice.

"Perhaps Mr. O'Callaghan," suggested Miss Penelope, conscious, probably, that an ardent young evangelical clergyman is generally in want of an income.

"Mr. O'Callaghan!" shouted Miss Todd, throwing up her head with scorn. "Pho! The gentleman I speak of would have made me a lady. Lady--! Now who do you think it was, Miss Baker?"

"Oh, I couldn't guess at all," said poor Miss Baker. But she now knew that it was Sir Lionel. It might have been worse, however, and that she felt--much worse!

"Was it Sir Lionel Bertram?" asked the other.

"Ah! Miss Gauntlet, you know all about the gentlemen of Littlebath. I can see that. It was Sir Lionel. Wasn't that a triumph?"

"And you refused him?" asked Miss Penelope.

"Of course I did. You don't mean to say that you think I would have accepted him?"

To this Miss Penelope made no answer. Her opinions were of a mixed sort. She partly misbelieved Miss Todd--partly wondered at her. Unmarried ladies of a certain age, whatever may be their own feelings in regard to matrimony on their own behalf, seem always impressed with a conviction that other ladies in the same condition would certainly marry if they got an opportunity. Miss Penelope could not believe that Miss Todd had rejected Sir Lionel; but at the same time she could not but be startled also by the great fact of such a rejection. At any rate her course of duty was open. Littlebath should be enlightened on the subject before the drawing-room candles were lit that evening; or at any rate that set in Littlebath to which she belonged. So she rose from her chair, and, declaring that she had sat an unconscionable time with Miss Baker, departed, diligent, about her work.

"Well, what do you think of that, my dear?" said Miss Todd, as soon as the two of them were left alone.

It was strange that Miss Todd, who was ordinarily so good-natured, who was so especially intent on being good-natured to Miss Baker, should have thus roughly communicated to her friend tidings which were sure to wound. But she had omitted to look at it in this light. Her intention had been to punish Sir Lionel for having been so grossly false and grossly foolish. She had seen through him--at least, hardly through him; had seen at least that he must have been doubting between the two ladies, and that he had given up the one whom he believed to be the poorer. She did not imagine it possible that, after having offered to her, he should then go with a similar offer to Miss Baker. Had such an idea arisen in her mind, she would certainly have allowed Miss Baker to take her chance of promotion unmolested.

Miss Baker gave a long sigh. Now that Miss Gauntlet was gone she felt herself better able to speak; but, nevertheless, any speech on the subject was difficult to her. Her kind heart at once forgave Miss Todd. There could now be no marriage between that false one and her friend; and therefore, if the ice would only get itself broken, she would not be unwilling to converse upon the subject. But how to break the ice!

"I always thought he would," at last she said.

"Did you?" said Miss Todd. "Well, he certainly used to come there, but I never knew why. Sometimes I thought it was to talk about you."

"Oh, no!" said Miss Baker, plaintively.

"I gave him no encouragement--none whatever;--used to send him here and there--anything to get rid of him. Sometimes I thought--" and then Miss Todd hesitated.

"Thought what?" asked Miss Baker.

"Well, I don't want to be ill-natured; but sometimes I thought that he wanted to borrow money, and didn't exactly know how to begin."

"To borrow money!" He had once borrowed money from Miss Baker.

"Well, I don't know; I only say I thought so. He never did."

Miss Baker sighed again, and then there was a slight pause in the conversation.

"But, Miss Todd--"

"Well, my dear!"

"Do you think that--"

"Think what? Speak out, my dear; you may before me. If you've got any secret, I'll keep it."

"Oh! I've got no secret; only this. Do you think that Sir Lionel is--is poor--that he should want to borrow money?"

"Well; poor! I hardly know what you call poor. But we all know that he is a distressed man. I suppose he has a good income, and a little ready money would, perhaps, set him up; but there's no doubt about his being over head and ears in debt, I suppose."

This seemed to throw a new and unexpected light on Miss Baker's mind. "I thought he was always so very respectable," said she.

"Hum-m-m!" said Miss Todd, who knew the world.

"Eh?" said Miss Baker, who did not.

"It depends on what one means by respectable," said Miss Todd.

"I really thought he was so very--"

"Hum-m-m-m," repeated Miss Todd, shaking her head.

And then there was a little conversation carried on between these ladies so entirely _sotto voce that the reporter of this scene was unable to hear a word of it. But this he could see, that Miss Todd bore by far the greater part in it.

At the end of it, Miss Baker gave another, and a longer, and a deeper sigh. "But you know, my dear," said Miss Todd, in her most consolatory voice, and these words were distinctly audible, "nothing does a man of that sort so much good as marrying."

"Does it?" asked Miss Baker.

"Certainly; if his wife knows how to manage him."

And then Miss Todd departed, leaving Miss Baker with much work for her thoughts. Her female friend Miss Baker had quite forgiven; but she felt that she could never quite forgive him. "To have deceived me so!" she said to herself, recurring to her old idea of his great respectability. But, nevertheless, it was probably his other sin that rankled deepest in her mind.

Of Miss Baker it may be said that she had hardly touched the pitch; at any rate, that it had not defiled her.

Sir Lionel was somewhat ill at ease as he walked from the Paragon to his livery stables. He had certainly looked upon success with Miss Todd as by no means sure; but, nevertheless, he was disappointed. Let any of us, in any attempt that we may make, convince ourselves with ever so much firmness that we shall fail, yet we are hardly the less down-hearted when the failure comes. We assure ourselves that we are not sanguine, but we assure ourselves falsely. It is man's nature to be sanguine; his nature, and perhaps his greatest privilege.

And Sir Lionel, as he walked along, began to fear that his own scruples would now stand in the way of that other marriage--of that second string to his bow. When, in making his little private arrangements within his own mind, he had decided that if Miss Todd rejected him he would forthwith walk off to Miss Baker, it never occurred to him that his own feelings would militate against such a proceeding. But such was now absolutely the fact. Having talked about "dear Sarah," he found that even he would have a difficulty in bringing himself to the utterance of "dear Mary."

He went to bed, however, that night with the comfortable reflection that any such nonsense would be dissipated by the morning. But when the morning came--his morning, one P.M.--his feeling he found was the same. He could not see Miss Baker that day.

He was disgusted and disappointed with himself. He had flattered himself that he was gifted with greater firmness; and now that he found himself so wanting in strength of character, he fretted and fumed, as men will do, even at their own faults. He swore to himself that he would go to-morrow, and that evening went to bed early, trying to persuade himself that indigestion had weakened him. He did great injustice, however, to as fine a set of internal organs as ever blessed a man of sixty.

At two o'clock next day he dressed himself for the campaign in Montpellier Terrace; but when dressed he was again disorganised. He found that he could not do it. He told himself over and over again that with Miss Baker there need be no doubt; she, at least, would accept him. He had only to smile there, and she would smile again. He had only to say "dear Mary," and those soft eyes would be turned to the ground and the battle would be won.

But still he could not do it. He was sick; he was ill; he could not eat his breakfast. He looked in the glass, and found himself to be yellow, and wrinkled, and wizened. He was not half himself. There were yet three weeks before Miss Baker would leave Littlebath. It was on the whole better that his little arrangement should be made immediately previous to her departure. He would leave Littlebath for ten days, and return a new man. So he went up to London, and bestowed his time upon his son.

At the end of the ten days much of his repugnance had worn off. But still the sound of that word "Sarah," and the peal of laughter which followed, rang in his ears. That utterance of the verbiage of love is a disagreeable task for a gentleman of his years. He had tried it, and found it very disagreeable. He would save himself a repetition of the nuisance and write to her.

He did so. His letter was not very long. He said nothing about "Mary" in it, but contented himself with calling her his dearest friend. A few words were sufficient to make her understand what he meant, and those few words were there. He merely added a caution, that for both their sakes, the matter had better not at present be mentioned to anybody.

Miss Baker, when she received this letter, had almost recovered her equanimity. Hers had been a soft and gentle sorrow. She had had no fits of bursting grief; her wailings had been neither loud nor hysterical. A gentle, soft, faint tinge of melancholy had come upon her; so that she had sighed much as she sat at her solitary tea, and had allowed her novel to fall uncared for to the ground. "Would it not be well for her," she said to herself more than once, "to go to Hadley? Would not any change be well for her?" She felt now that Caroline's absence was a heavy blow to her, and that it would be well that she should leave Littlebath. It was astonishing how this affair of Miss Todd's reconciled her to her future home.

And then, when she was thus tranquil, thus resigned, thus all but happy, came this tremendous letter, upsetting her peace of mind, and throwing her into a new maze of difficulties.

She had never said to herself at any time that if Sir Lionel did propose she would accept him. She had never questioned herself as to the probability of such an event. That she would have accepted him a fortnight ago, there can be no doubt; but what was she to do now?

It was not only that Sir Lionel had made another tender of his hand to another lady ten or twelve days since, but to this must be added the fact that all Littlebath knew that he had done so. Miss Todd, after the first ebullition of her comic spleen, had not said much about it; but Miss P. Gauntlet's tongue had not been idle. She, perhaps, had told it only to the godly; but the godly, let them be ever so exclusive, must have some intercourse with the wicked world; and thus every lady in Littlebath now knew all about it. And then there were other difficulties. That whispered conversation still rang in her ears. She was not quite sure how far it might be her mission to reclaim such a man as Sir Lionel--this new Sir Lionel whom Miss Todd had described. And then, too, he was in want of money. Why, she was in want of money herself!

But was there not something also to be said on the other side? It is reported that unmarried ladies such as Miss Baker generally regret the forlornness of their own condition. If so, the fault is not their own, but must be attributed to the social system to which they belong. The English world is pleased to say that an unmarried lady past forty has missed her hit in life--has omitted to take her tide at the ebb; and what can unmarried ladies do but yield to the world's dictum? That the English world may become better informed, and learn as speedily as may be to speak with more sense on the subject, let us all pray.

But, in the meantime, the world's dictum was strong at Littlebath, and did influence this dear lady. She would prefer the name of Lady Bertram to that of Miss Baker for the remainder of the term of years allotted to her. It would please her to walk into a room as a married woman, and to quit herself of that disgrace, which injustice and prejudice, and the folly of her own sex rather than of the other, had so cruelly attached to her present position. And then, to be _Lady Bertram! There were but few angels at this time in Littlebath, and Miss Baker was not one of them: she had a taint of vanity in her composition; but we doubt if such female vanity could exist in any human breast in a more pardonable form than it did in hers.

And then, perhaps, this plan of marrying might have the wished-for effect on Sir Lionel's way of living;--and how desirable was this! Would it not be a splendid work for her to reclaim a lost colonel? Might it not be her duty to marry him with this special object?

There certainly did appear to be some difficulty as to money. If, as Miss Todd assured her, Sir Lionel were really in difficulties, her own present annuity--all that she could absolutely call her own--her one hundred and eighty-nine pounds, seventeen shillings and threepence per annum--would not help them much. Sir Lionel was at any rate disinterested in his offer; that at least was clear to her.

And then a sudden light broke in upon her meditations. Sir Lionel and the old gentleman were at variance. We allude to the old gentleman at Hadley: with the other old gentleman, of whom we wot, it may be presumed that Sir Lionel was on tolerably favourable terms. Might not she be the means of bringing the two brothers together? If she were Lady Bertram, would not the old gentleman receive Sir Lionel back to his bosom for her sake--to his bosom, and also to his purse? But before she took any step in the dark, she resolved to ask the old gentleman the question.

It is true that Sir Lionel had desired her to speak to no person on the subject; but that injunction of course referred to strangers. It could not but be expected that on such a matter she should consult her best friends. Sir Lionel had also enjoined a speedy answer; and in order that she might not disappoint him in this matter, she resolved to put the question at once to Mr. Bertram. Great measures require great means. She would herself go to Hadley on the morrow--and so she wrote a letter that night, to beg that her uncle would expect her.

"So; you got tired of Littlebath before the month was out?" said he.

"Oh! but I am going back again."

"Going back again! Then why the d---- have you come up now?" Alas! it was too clear that the old gentleman was not in one of his more pacific moods.

As these words were spoken, Miss Baker was still standing in the passage, that she might see her box brought in from the fly. She of course had on her bonnet, and thickest shawl, and cloak. She had thick boots on also, and an umbrella in her hand. The maid was in the passage, and so was the man who had driven her. She was very cold, and her nose was blue, and her teeth chattered. She could not tell her tale of love in such guise, or to such audience.

"What the d---- has brought you up?" repeated the old gentleman, standing with his two sticks at the sitting-room door. He did not care who heard him, or how cold it was, or of what nature might be her present mission. He knew that an extra journey from Littlebath to London and back, flys and porters included, would cost two pounds ten shillings. He knew, or thought that he knew, that this might have been avoided. He also knew that his rheumatism plagued him, that his old bones were sore, that he could not sleep at night, that he could not get into the city to see how things went, and that the game was coming to an end with him, and that the grave was claiming him. It was not surprising that the old gentleman should be cross.

"I'll tell you if you'll let me come into the room," said Miss Baker. "Take the box upstairs, Mary. Half a crown! oh no, two shillings will be quite enough." This economy was assumed to pacify the old gentleman; but it did not have the desired effect. "One and sixpence," he holloed out from his crutches. "Don't give him a halfpenny more."

"Please, sir, the luggage, sir," said the fly driver.

"Luggage!" shouted the old man. His limbs were impotent, but his voice was not; and the fly-driver shook in his shoes.

"There," said Miss Baker, insidiously giving the man two and threepence. "I shall not give you a farthing more." It is to be feared that she intended her uncle to think that his limit had not been exceeded.

And then she was alone with Mr. Bertram. Her nose was still blue, and her toes still cold; but at any rate she was alone with him. It was hard for her to tell her tale; and she thoroughly wished herself back at Littlebath; but, nevertheless, she did tell it. The courage of women in some conditions of life surpasses anything that man can do.

"I want to consult you about that," said she, producing Sir Lionel's letter.

The old gentleman took it, and looked at it, and turned it. "What! it's from that swindler, is it?" said he.

"It's from Sir Lionel," said Miss Baker, trembling. There were as yet no promising auspices for the fraternal reconciliation.

"Yes; I see who it's from--and what is it all about? I shan't read it. You can tell me, I suppose, what's in it."

"I had hoped that perhaps, sir, you and he might--"

"Might what?"

"Be brought together as brothers and friends."

"Brothers and friends! One can't choose one's brother; but who would choose to be the friend of a swindler? Is that what the letter is about?"

"Not exactly that, Mr. Bertram."

"Then what the d---- is it?"

"Sir Lionel, sir, has made me--"

"Made you what? Put your name to a bill, I suppose."

"No; indeed he has not. Nothing of that kind."

"Then what has he made you do?"

"He has not made me do anything; but he has sent me--an--an offer of marriage." And poor Miss Baker, with her blue nose, looked up so innocently, so imploringly, so trustingly, that any one but Mr. Bertram would have comforted her.

"An offer of marriage from Sir Lionel!" said he.

"Yes," said Miss Baker, timidly. "Here it is; and I have come up to consult you about the answer." Mr. Bertram now did take the letter, and did read it through.

"Well!" he said, closing his eyes and shaking his head gently. "Well!"

"I thought it better to do nothing without seeing you. And that is what has brought me to Hadley in such a hurry."

"The audacious, impudent scoundrel!"

"You think, then, that I should refuse him?"

"You are a fool, an ass! a downright old soft-headed fool!" Such was the old gentleman's answer to her question.

"But I didn't know what to say without consulting you," said Miss Baker, with her handkerchief to her face.

"Not know! Don't you know that he's a swindler, a reprobate, a penniless adventurer? Good heavens! And you are such a fool as that! It's well that you are not to be left at Littlebath by yourself."

Miss Baker made no attempt to defend herself, but, bursting into tears, assured her uncle that she would be guided by him. Under his absolute dictation she wrote the enclosed short answer to Sir Lionel.


Hadley, January --, 184--.

Dear Sir,

Mr. Bertram says that it will be sufficient to let you
know that he would not give me a penny during his life,
or leave me a penny at his death if I were to become your
wife.

Yours truly,

MARY BAKER.


That was all that the old gentleman would allow; but as she folded the letter, she surreptitiously added the slightest imaginable postscript to explain the matter--such words as occurred to her at the spur of the moment.

"He is so angry about it all!"

After that Miss Baker was not allowed back to Littlebath, even to pack up or pay her bills, or say good-bye to those she left behind. The servant had to do it all. Reflecting on the danger which had been surmounted, Mr. Bertram determined that she should not again be put in the way of temptation.

And this was the end of Sir Lionel's wooing.

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