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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 61. Mary Lowther's Treachery
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 61. Mary Lowther's Treachery Post by :Ahmad Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1240

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 61. Mary Lowther's Treachery


While the Vicar was listening to the eloquence of Mr. Puddleham in the chapel, and was being cozened out of his just indignation by Lord St. George, a terrible scene was going on in the drawing-room of the vicarage. Mary Lowther, as the reader knows, had declared that she would wear mourning for her distant cousin, and had declined to appear at lunch before Lord St. George. Mrs. Fenwick, putting these things together, knew that much was the matter, but she did not know how much. She did not as yet anticipate the terrible state of things which was to be made known to her that afternoon.

Mary was quite aware that the thing must be settled. In the first place she must answer Captain Marrable's letter. And then it was her bounden duty to let Mr. Gilmore know her mind as soon as she knew it herself. It might be easy enough for her to write to Walter Marrable. That which she had to say to him would be pleasant enough in the saying. But that could not be said till the other thing should be unsaid. And how was that unsaying to be accomplished? Nothing could be done without the aid of Mrs. Fenwick; and now she was afraid of Mrs. Fenwick,--as the guilty are always afraid of those who will have to judge their guilt. While the children were at dinner, and while the lord was sitting at lunch, she remained up in her own room. From her window she could see the two men walking across the vicarage grounds towards the chapel, and she knew that her friend would be alone. Her story must be told to Mrs. Fenwick, and to Mrs. Fenwick only. It would be impossible for her to speak of her determination before the Vicar till he should have received a first notice of it from his wife. And there certainly must be no delay. The men were hardly out of sight before she had resolved to go down at once. She looked at herself in the glass, and spunged the mark of tears from her eyes, and smoothed her hair, and then descended. She never before had felt so much in fear of her friend; and yet it was her friend who was mainly the cause of this mischief which surrounded her, and who had persuaded her to evil. At Janet Fenwick's instance she had undertaken to marry a man whom she did not love; and yet she feared to go to Janet Fenwick with the story of her repentance. Why not indignantly demand of her friend assistance in extricating herself from the injury which that friend had brought upon her?

She found Mrs. Fenwick with the children in the little breakfast parlour to which they had been banished by the coming of Lord St. George. "Janet," she said, "come and take a turn with me in the garden." It was now the middle of August, and life at the vicarage was spent almost as much out of doors as within. The ladies went about with parasols, and would carry their hats hanging in their hands. There was no delay therefore, and the two were on the gravel-path almost as soon as Mary's request was made. "I did not show you my letter from Dunripple," she said, putting her hand into her pocket; "but I might as well do so now. You will have to read it."

She took out the document, but did not at once hand it to her companion. "Is there anything wrong, Mary?" said Mrs. Fenwick.

"Wrong. Yes;--very, very wrong. Janet, it is no use your talking to me. I have quite made up my mind. I cannot and I will not marry Mr. Gilmore."

"Mary, this is insanity."

"You may say what you please, but I am determined. I cannot and I will not. Will you help me out of my difficulty?"

"Certainly not in the way you mean;--certainly not. It cannot be either for your good or for his. After what has passed, how on earth could you bring yourself to make such a proposition to him?"

"I do not know; that is what I feel the most. I do not know how I shall tell him. But he must be told. I thought that perhaps Mr. Fenwick would do it."

"I am quite sure he will do nothing of the kind. Think of it, Mary. How can you bring yourself to be so false to a man?"

"I have not been false to him. I have been false to myself, but never to him. I told him how it was. When you drove me on--"

"Drove you on, Mary?"

"I do not mean to be ungrateful, or to say hard things; but when you made me feel that if he were satisfied I also might put up with it, I told him that I could never love him. I told him that I did love, and ever should love, Walter Marrable. I told him that I had nothing--nothing--nothing to give him. But he would take no answer but the one; and I did--I did give it him. I know I did; and I have never had a moment of happiness since. And now has come this letter. Janet, do not be cruel to me. Do not speak to me as though everything must be stern and hard and cruel." Then she handed up the letter, and Mrs. Fenwick read it as they walked.

"And is he to be made a tool, because the other man has changed his mind?" said Mrs. Fenwick.

"Walter has never changed his mind."

"His plans, then. It comes to the same thing. Do you know that you will have to answer for his life, or for his reason? Have you not learned yet to understand the constancy of his nature?"

"Is it my fault that he should be constant? I told him when he offered to me that if Walter were to come back to me and ask me again, I should go to him in spite of any promise that I had made. I said so as plain as I am saying this to you."

"I am quite sure that he did not understand it so."

"Janet, indeed he did."

"No man would have submitted himself to an engagement with such a condition. It is quite impossible. What! Mr. Gilmore knew when you took him that if this gentleman should choose to change his mind at any moment before you were actually married, you would walk off and go back to him!"

"I told him so, Janet. He will not deny that I told him so. When I told him so, I was sure that he would have declined such an engagement. But he did not, and I had no way of escape. Janet, if you could know what I have been suffering, you would not be cruel to me. Think what it would have been to you to have to marry a man you did not love, and to break the heart of one you did love. Of course Mr. Gilmore is your friend."

"He is our friend!"

"And, of course, you do not care for Captain Marrable?"

"I never even saw him."

"But you might put yourself in my place, and judge fairly between us. There has not been a thought or a feeling in my heart concealed from you since first all this began. You have known that I have never loved your friend."

"I know that, after full consideration, you have accepted him; and I know also, that he is a man who will devote his whole life to make you happy."

"It can never be. You may as well believe me. If you will not help me, nor Mr. Fenwick, I must tell him myself;--or I must write to him and leave the place suddenly. I know that I have behaved badly. I have tried to do right, but I have done wrong. When I came here I was very unhappy. How could I help being unhappy when I had lost all that I cared for in the world? Then you told me that I might at any rate be of some use to some one, by marrying your friend. You do not know how I strove to make myself fond of him! And then, at last, when the time came that I had to answer him, I thought that I would tell him everything. I thought that if I told him the truth he would see that we had better be apart. But when I told him, leaving him, as I imagined, no choice but to reject me,--he chose to take me. Well, Janet; at any rate, then, as I was taught to believe, there was no one to be ruined by this,--no one to be broken on the wheel,--but myself: and I thought that if I struggled, I might so do my duty that he might be satisfied. I see that I was wrong, but you should not rebuke me for it. I had tried to do as you bade me. But I did tell him that if ever this thing happened I should leave him. It has happened, and I must leave him." Mrs. Fenwick had let her speak on without interrupting her, intending when she had finished, to say definitely, that they at the vicarage could not make themselves parties to any treason towards Mr. Gilmore; but when Mary had come to the end of her story her friend's heart was softened towards her. She walked silently along the path, refraining at any rate from those bitter arguments with which she had at first thought to confound Mary in her treachery. "I do think you love me," said Mary.

"Indeed I love you."

"Then help me; do help me. I will go on my knees to him to beg his pardon."

"I do not know what to say to it. Begging his pardon will be of no avail. As for myself, I should not dare to tell him. We used to think, when he was hopeless before, that dwelling on it all would drive him to some absolute madness. And it will be worse now. Of course it will be worse."

"What am I to do?" Mary paused a moment, and then added, sharply,--"There is one thing I will not do; I will not go to the altar and become his wife."

"I suppose I had better tell Frank," said Mrs. Fenwick, after another pause.

This was, of course, what Mary Lowther desired, but she begged for and obtained permission not to see the Vicar herself that evening. She would keep her own room that night, and meet him the next morning before prayers as best she might.

When the Vicar came back to the house, his mind was so full of the chapel, and Lord St. George, and the admirable manner in which he had been cajoled out of his wrath without the slightest admission on the part of the lord that his father had ever been wrong,--his thoughts were so occupied with all this, and with Mr. Puddleham's oratory, that he did not at first give his wife an opportunity of telling Mary Lowther's story.

"We shall all of us have to go over to Turnover next week," he said.

"You may go. I won't."

"And I shouldn't wonder if the Marquis were to offer me a better living, so that I might be close to him. We are to be the lamb and the wolf sitting down together."

"And which is to be the lamb?"

"That does not matter. But the worst of it is, Puddleham won't come and be a lamb too. Here am I, who have suffered pretty nearly as much as St. Paul, have forgiven all my enemies all round, and shaken hands with the Marquis by proxy, while Puddleham has been man enough to maintain the dignity of his indignation. The truth is, that the possession of a grievance is the one state of human blessedness. As long as the chapel was there, malgre moi, I could revel in my wrong. It turns out now that I can send poor Puddleham adrift to-morrow, and he immediately becomes the hero of the hour. I wish your brother-in-law had not been so officious in finding it all out."

Mrs. Fenwick postponed her story till the evening.

"Where is Mary?" Fenwick asked, when dinner was announced.

"She is not quite well, and will not come down. Wait awhile, and you shall be told." He did wait; but the moment that they were alone again he asked his question. Then Mrs. Fenwick told the whole story, hardly expressing an opinion herself as she told it. "I don't think she is to be shaken," she said at last.

"She is behaving very badly,--very badly,--very badly."

"I am not quite sure, Frank, whether we have behaved wisely," said his wife.

"If it must be told him, it will drive him mad," said Fenwick.

"I think it must be told."

"And I am to tell it?"

"That is what she asks."

"I can't say that I have made up my mind; but, as far as I can see at present, I will do nothing of the kind. She has no right to expect it."

Before they went to bed, however, he also had been somewhat softened. When his wife declared, with tears in her eyes, that she would never interfere at match-making again, he began to perceive that he also had endeavoured to be a match-maker and had failed.

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