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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 49. Mary Lowther's Doom
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 49. Mary Lowther's Doom Post by :robbud Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :3084

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 49. Mary Lowther's Doom

CHAPTER XLIX. MARY LOWTHER'S DOOM

The police were so very tedious in managing their business, and the whole affair of the second magisterial investigation was so protracted, that people in the neighbourhood became almost tired of it, in spite of that appetite for excitement which the ordinary quiet life of a rural district produces. On the first Tuesday in June Sam had surrendered himself at Heytesbury, and on the second Tuesday it was understood that the production of the prisoners was only formal. The final examination, and committal, if the evidence should be sufficient, was to take place on the third Tuesday in the month. Against this Mr. Jones had remonstrated very loudly on Sam's behalf, protesting that the magistrates were going beyond their power in locking up a man against whom there was no more evidence now than there had been when before they had found themselves compelled to release him on bail. But this was of no avail. Sam had been released before because the men who were supposed to have been his accomplices were not in custody; and now that they were in custody the police declared it to be out of the question that he should be left at large. The magistrates of course agreed with the police, in spite of the indignation of Mr. Jones. In the meantime a subpoena was served upon Carry Brattle to appear on that final Tuesday,--Tuesday the nineteenth of June. The policeman, when he served her with the paper, told her that on the morning in question he would come and fetch her. The poor girl said not a word as she took into her hand the dreadful document. Mrs. Stiggs asked a question or two of the man, but got from him no information. But it was well known in Trotter's Buildings, and round about the Three Honest Men, that Sam Brattle was to be tried for the murder of Mr. Trumbull, and public opinion in that part of Salisbury was adverse to Sam. Public opinion was averse, also, to poor Carry; and Mrs. Stiggs was becoming almost tired of her lodger, although the payment made for her was not ungenerous and was as punctual as the sun. In truth, the tongue of the landlady of the Three Honest Men was potential in those parts, and was very bitter against Sam and his sister.

In the meantime there was a matter of interest which, to our friends at Bullhampton, exceeded even that of the Heytesbury examinations. Mr. Gilmore was now daily at the vicarage on some new or old lover's pretence. It might be that he stood but for a minute or two on the terrace outside the drawing-room windows, or that he would sit with the ladies during half the afternoon, or that he would come down to dinner,--some excuse having arisen for an invitation to that effect during the morning. Very little was said on the subject between Mrs. Fenwick and Mary Lowther, and not a word between the Vicar and his guest; but between Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick many words were spoken, and before the first week was over they were sure that she would yield.

"I think she will," said Mrs. Fenwick;--"but she will do it in agony."

"Then if I were Harry I would leave her alone," said the Vicar.

"But you are not Harry; and if you were, you would be wrong. She will not be happy when she accepts him; but by the time the day fixed for the wedding comes round, she will have reconciled herself to it, and then she will be as loving a wife as ever a man had." But the Vicar shook his head and said that, so far as he was concerned, love of that sort would not have sufficed for him.

"Of course," said his wife, "it is very pleasant for a man to be told that the woman he loves is dying for him; but men can't always have everything that they want."

Mary Lowther at this time became subject to a feeling of shame which almost overwhelmed her. There grew upon her a consciousness that she had allowed herself to come to Bullhampton on purpose that she might receive a renewed offer of marriage from her old lover, and that she had done so because her new and favoured lover had left her. Of course she must accept Mr. Gilmore. Of that she had now become quite sure. She had come to Bullhampton,--so she now told herself,--because she had been taught to believe that it would not be right for her to abandon herself to a mode of life which was not to her taste. All the friends in whose judgment she could confide expressed to her in every possible way their desire that she should marry this man; and now she had made this journey with the view of following their counsel. So she thought of herself and her doings; but such was not in truth the case. When she first determined to visit Bullhampton, she was very far from thinking that she would accept the man. Mrs. Fenwick's argument that she should not be kept away from Bullhampton by fear of Mr. Gilmore, had prevailed with her,--and she had come. And now that she was there, and that this man was daily with her, it was no longer possible that she should refuse him. And, after all, what did it matter? She was becoming sick of the importance which she imputed to herself in thinking of herself. If she could make the man happy why should she not do so? The romance of her life had become to her a rhodomontade of which she was ashamed. What was her love, that she should think so much about it? What did it mean? Could she not do her duty in the position in life in which her friends wished to place her, without hankering after a something which was not to be bestowed on her? After all, what did it all matter? She would tell the man the exact truth as well as she knew how to tell it, and then let him take her or leave her as he listed.

And she did tell him the truth, after the following fashion. It came to pass at last that a day and an hour was fixed in which Mr. Gilmore might come to the vicarage and find Mary alone. There were no absolute words arranging this to which she was a party, but it was understood. She did not even pretend an unwillingness to receive him, and had assented by silence when Mrs. Fenwick had said that the man should be put out of his suspense. Mary, when she was silent, knew well that it was no longer within her power to refuse him.

He came and found her alone. He knew, too, or fancied that he knew, what would be the result of the interview. She would accept him, without protestations of violent love for himself, acknowledging what had passed between her and her cousin, and proffering to him the offer of future affection. He had pictured it all to himself, and knew that he intended to accept what would be tendered. There were drawbacks in the happiness which was in store for him, but still he would take what he could get. As each so nearly understood the purpose of the other it was almost a pity that the arrangement could not be made without any words between them,--words which could hardly be pleasant either in the speaking or in the hearing.

He had determined that he would disembarrass himself of all preliminary flourishes in addressing her, and had his speech ready as he took her by the hand. "Mary," he said, "you know why I am here." Of course she made no reply. "I told you when I first saw you again that I was unchanged." Then he paused, as though he expected that she would answer him, but still she said nothing. "Indeed I am unchanged. When you were here before I told you that I could look forward to no happiness unless you would consent to be my wife. That was nearly a year ago, and I have come again now to tell you the same thing. I do not think but what you will believe me to be in earnest."

"I know that you are in earnest," she said.

"No man was ever more so. My constancy has been tried during the time that you have been away. I do not say so as a reproach to you. Of course there can be no reproach. I have nothing to complain of in your conduct to me. But I think I may say that if my regard for you has outlived the pain of those months there is some evidence that it is sincere."

"I have never doubted your sincerity."

"Nor can you doubt my constancy."

"Except in this, that it is so often that we want that which we have not, and find it so little worthy of having when we get it."

"You do not say that from your heart, Mary. If you mean to refuse me again, it is not because you doubt the reality of my love."

"I do not mean to refuse you again, Mr. Gilmore." Then he attempted to put his arm round her waist, but she recoiled from him, not in anger, but very quietly, and with a womanly grace that was perfect. "But you must hear me first, before I can allow you to take me in the only way in which I can bestow myself. I have been steeling myself to this, and I must tell you all that has occurred since we were last together."

"I know it all," said he, anxious that she should be spared;--anxious also that he himself should be spared the pain of hearing that which she was about to say to him.

But it was necessary for her that she should say it. She would not go to him as his accepted mistress upon other terms than those she had already proposed to herself. "Though you know it, I must speak of it," she said. "I should not, otherwise, be dealing honestly either with you or with myself. Since I saw you last, I have met my cousin, Captain Marrable. I became attached to him with a quickness which I cannot even myself understand. I loved him dearly, and we were engaged to be married."

"You wrote to me, Mary, and told me all that." This he said, striving to hide the impatience which he felt; but striving in vain.

"I did so, and now I have to tell you that that engagement is at an end. Circumstances occurred,--a sad loss of income that he had expected,--which made it imperative on him, and also on me in his behalf, that we should abandon our hopes. He would have been ruined by such a marriage,--and it is all over." Then she paused, and he thought that she had done; but there was more to be said, words heavier to be borne than any which she had yet uttered. "And I love him still. I should lie if I said that it was not so. If he were free to marry me this moment I should go to him." As she said this, there came a black cloud across his brow; but he stood silent to hear it all to the last. "My respect and esteem for you are boundless," she continued,--"but he has my heart. It is only because I know that I cannot be his wife that I have allowed myself to think whether it is my duty to become the wife of another man. After what I now say to you, I do not expect that you will persevere. Should you do so, you must give me time." Then she paused, as though it were now his turn to speak; but there was something further that she felt herself bound to say, and, as he was still silent, she continued. "My friends,--those whom I most trust in the world, my aunt and Janet Fenwick, all tell me that it will be best for me to accept your offer. I have made no promise to either of them. I would tell my mind to no one till I told it to you. I believe I owe as much to you,--almost as much as a woman can owe to a man; but still, were my cousin so placed that he could afford to marry a poor wife, I should leave you and go to him at once. I have told you everything now; and if, after this, you can think me worth having, I can only promise that I will endeavour, at some future time, to do my duty to you as your wife." Then she had finished, and she stood before him--waiting her doom.

His brow had become black and still blacker as she continued her speech. He had kept his eyes upon her without quailing for a moment, and had hoped for some moment of tenderness, some sparkle of feeling, at seeing which he might have taken her in his arms and have stopped the sternness of her speech. But she had been at least as strong as he was, and had not allowed herself to show the slightest sign of weakness.

"You do not love me, then?" he said.

"I esteem you as we esteem our dearest friends."

"And you will never love me?"

"How shall I answer you? I do love you,--but not as I love him. I shall never again have that feeling."

"Except for him?"

"Except for him. If it is to be conquered, I will conquer it. I know, Mr. Gilmore, that what I have told you will drive you from me. It ought to do so."

"It is for me to judge of that," he said, turning upon her quickly.

"In judging for myself I have thought it right to tell you the exact truth, and to let you know what it is that you would possess if you should choose to take me." Then again she was silent, and waited for her doom.

There was a pause of, perhaps, a couple of minutes, during which he made no reply. He walked the length of the room twice, slowly, before he uttered a word, and during that time he did not look at her. Had he chosen to take an hour, she would not have interrupted him again. She had told him everything, and it was for him now to decide. After what she had said he could not but recall his offer. How was it possible that he should desire to make a woman his wife after such a declaration as that which she had made to him?

"And now," he said, "it is for me to decide."

"Yes, Mr. Gilmore, it is for you to decide."

"Then," said he, coming up to her and putting out his hand, "you are my betrothed. May God in his mercy soften your heart to me, and enable you to give me some return for all the love that I bear you." She took his hand and raised it to her lips and kissed it, and then had left the room before he was able to stop her.

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