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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOld Man's Love - Volume 2 - Chapter 14. Mr Whittlestaff Is Going Out To Dinner
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Old Man's Love - Volume 2 - Chapter 14. Mr Whittlestaff Is Going Out To Dinner Post by :Infobiz Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :2403

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Old Man's Love - Volume 2 - Chapter 14. Mr Whittlestaff Is Going Out To Dinner


"There's an invitation come, asking us to dine at Little Alresford to-day." This was said, soon after breakfast, by Mr Whittlestaff to Mary Lawrie, on the day after Mr Gordon's coming. "I think we'll go."

"Could you not leave me behind?"

"By no means. I want you to become intimate with the girls, who are good girls."

"But Mr Gordon is there."

"Exactly. That is just what I want. It will be better that you and he should meet each other, without the necessity of making a scene." From this it may be understood that Mr Whittlestaff had explained to Mary as much as he had thought necessary of what had occurred between him and John Gordon, and that Mary's answers had been satisfactory to his feelings. Mary had told him that she was contented with her lot in life, as Mr Whittlestaff had proposed it for her. She had not been enthusiastic; but then he had not expected it. She had not assured him that she would forget John Gordon. He had not asked her. She had simply said that if he were satisfied,--so was she. "I think that with me, dearest, at any rate, you will be safe." "I am quite sure that I shall be safe," she had answered. And that had been sufficient.

But the reader will also understand from this that he had sought for no answer to those burning questions which John Gordon had put to him. Had she loved John Gordon the longest? Did she love him the best? There was no doubt a certain cautious selfishness in the way in which he had gone to work. And yet of general selfishness it was impossible to accuse him. He was willing to give her everything,--to do all for her. And he had first asked her to be his wife, with every observance. And then he could always protect himself on the plea that he was doing the best he could for her. His property was assured,--in the three per cents, as Mrs Baggett had suggested; whereas John Gordon's was all in diamonds. How frequently do diamonds melt and come to nothing? They are things which a man can carry in his pocket, and lose or give away. They cannot,--so thought Mr Whittlestaff,--be settled in the hands of trustees, or left to the charge of an executor. They cannot be substantiated. Who can say that, when looking to a lady's interest, this bit of glass may not come up instead of that precious stone? "John Gordon might be a very steady fellow; but we have only his own word for that,"--as Mr Whittlestaff observed to himself. There could not be a doubt but that Mr Whittlestaff himself was the safer staff of the two on which a young lady might lean. He did make all these excuses for himself, and determined that they were of such a nature that he might rely upon them with safety. But still there was a pang in his bosom--a silent secret--which kept on whispering to him that he was not the best beloved. He had, however, resolved steadfastly that he would not put that question to Mary. If she did not wish to declare her love, neither did he. It was a pity, a thousand pities, that it should be so. A change in her heart might, however, take place. It would come to pass that she would learn that he was the superior staff on which to lean. John Gordon might disappear among the diamond-fields, and no more be heard of. He, at any rate, would do his best for her, so that she should not repent her bargain. But he was determined that the bargain, as it had been struck, should be carried out. Therefore, in communicating to Mary the invitation which he had received from Little Alresford, he did not find it necessary to make any special speech in answer to her inquiry about John Gordon.

She understood it all, and could not in her very heart pronounce a judgment against him. She knew that he was doing that which he believed would be the best for her welfare. She, overwhelmed by the debt of her gratitude, had acceded to his request, and had been unable afterwards to depart from her word. She had said that it should be so, and she could not then turn upon him and declare that when she had given him her hand, she had been unaware of the presence of her other lover. There was an injustice, an unkindness, an ingratitude, a selfishness in this, which forbade her to think of it as being done by herself. It was better for her that she should suffer, though the suffering should be through her whole life, than that he should be disappointed. No doubt the man would suffer too,--her hero, her lover,--he with whom she would so willingly have risked everything, either with or without the diamonds. She could not, however, bear to think that Mr Whittlestaff should be so very prudent and so very wise solely on her behalf. She would go to him, but for other reasons than that. As she walked about the place half the day, up and down the long walk, she told herself that it was useless to contend with her love. She did love John Gordon; she knew that she loved him with her whole heart; she knew that she must be true to him;--but still she would marry Mr Whittlestaff, and do her duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call her. There would be a sacrifice--a sacrifice of two--but still it was justice.

Had she not consented to take everything from Mr Whittlestaff; her bread, her meat, her raiment, the shelter under which she lived, and the position in the world which she now enjoyed? Had the man come but a day earlier, it would all have been well. She would have told her love before Mr Whittlestaff had spoken of his wants. Circumstances had been arranged differently, and she must bear it. But she knew that it would be better for her that she should see John Gordon no more. Had he started at once to London and gone thence to the diamond-fields without seeing her again there would be a feeling that she had become the creature of stern necessity; there would have been no hope for her,--as also no fear. Had he started a second time for South Africa, she would have looked upon his further return with any reference to her own wants as a thing impossible. But now how would it be with her? Mr Whittlestaff had told her with a stern indifference that she must again meet this man, sit at the table with him as an old friend, and be again subject to his influence. "It will be better that you and he should meet," he had said, "without the necessity of making a scene." How could she assure him that there would be no scene?

Then she thought that she would have recourse to that ordinary feminine excuse, a headache; but were she to do so she would own the whole truth to her master; she would have declared that she so loved the man that she could not endure to be in his presence. She must now let the matter pass as he had intended. She must go to Mr Hall's house, and there encounter him she loved with what show of coldness she might be able to assume.

But the worst of it all lay in this,--that she could not but think that he had been induced to remain in the neighbourhood in order that he might again try to gain his point. She had told herself again and again that it was impossible, that she must decide as she had decided, and that Mr Whittlestaff had decided so also. He had used what eloquence was within his reach, and it had been all in vain. He could now appeal only to herself, and to such appeal there could be but one answer. And how was such appeal to be made in Mr Hall's drawing-room? Surely John Gordon had been foolish in remaining in the neighbourhood. Nothing but trouble could come of it.

"So you are going to see this young man again!" This came from Mrs Baggett, who had been in great perturbation all the morning. The Sergeant had slept in the stables through the night, and had had his breakfast brought to him, warm, by his own wife; but he had sat up among the straw, and had winked at her, and had asked her to give him threepence of gin with the cat-lap. To this she had acceded, thinking probably that she could not altogether deprive him of the food to which he was accustomed without injury. Then, under the influence of the gin and the promise of a ticket to Portsmouth, which she undertook to get for him at the station, he was induced to go down with her, and was absolutely despatched. Her own box was still locked up, and she had slept with one of the two maids. All this had not happened without great disturbance in the household. She herself was very angry with her master because of the box; she was very angry with Mary, because Mary was, she thought, averse to her old lover; she was very angry with Mr Gordon, because she well understood that Mr Gordon was anxious to disturb the arrangement which had been made for the family. She was very angry with her husband, not because he was generally a drunken old reprobate, but because he had especially disgraced her on the present occasion by the noise which he had made in the road. No doubt she had been treated unfairly in the matter of the box, and could have succeeded in getting the law of her master. But she could not turn against her master in that way. She could give him a bit of her own mind, and that she did very freely; but she could not bring herself to break the lock of his door. And then, as things went now, she did think it well that she should remain a few days longer at Croker's Hall. The occasion of her master's marriage was to be the cause of her going away. She could not endure not to be foremost among all the women at Croker's Hall. But it was intolerable to her feelings that any one should interfere with her master; and she thought that, if need were, she could assist him by her tongue. Therefore she was disposed to remain yet a few days in her old place, and had come, after she had got the ticket for her husband,--which had been done before Mr Whittlestaff's breakfast,--to inform her master of her determination. "Don't be a fool," Mr Whittlestaff had said.

"I'm always a fool, whether I go or stay, so that don't much matter." This had been her answer, and then she had gone in to scold the maids.

As soon as she had heard of the intended dinner-party, she attacked Mary Lawrie. "So you're going to see this young man again?"

"Mr Whittlestaff is going to dine at Little Alresford, and intends to take me with him."

"Oh yes; that's all very well. He'd have left you behind if he'd been of my way of thinking. Mr Gordon here, and Mr Gordon there! I wonder what's Mr Gordon! He ain't no better than an ordinary miner. Coals and diamonds is all one to me;--I'd rather have the coals for choice." But Mary was not in a humour to contest the matter with Mrs Baggett, and left the old woman the mistress of the field.

When the time arrived for going to the dinner, Mr Whittlestaff took Mary in the pony carriage with him. "There is always a groom about there," he said, "so we need not take the boy." His object was, as Mary in part understood, that he should be able to speak what last words he might have to utter without having other ears than hers to listen to them.

Mary would have been surprised had she known how much painful thought Mr Whittlestaff gave to the matter. To her it seemed as though he had made up his mind without any effort, and was determined to abide by it. He had thought it well to marry her; and having asked her, and having obtained her consent, he intended to take advantage of her promise. That was her idea of Mr Whittlestaff, as to which she did not at all blame him. But he was, in truth, changing his purpose every quarter of an hour;--or not changing it, but thinking again and again throughout the entire day whether he would not abandon himself and all his happiness to the romantic idea of making this girl supremely happy. Were he to do so, he must give up everything. The world would have nothing left for him as to which he could feel the slightest interest. There came upon him at such moments insane ideas as to the amount of sacrifice which would be demanded of him. She should have everything--his house, his fortune; and he, John Gordon, as being a part of her, should have them also. He, Whittlestaff, would abolish himself as far as such abolition might be possible. The idea of suicide was abominable to him--was wicked, cowardly, and inhuman. But if this were to take place he could wish to cease to live. Then he would comfort himself by assuring himself again and again that of the two he would certainly make the better husband. He was older. Yes; it was a pity that he should be so much the elder. And he knew that he was old of his age,--such a one as a girl like Mary Lawrie could hardly be brought to love passionately. He brought up against himself all the hard facts as sternly as could any younger rival. He looked at himself in the glass over and over again, and always gave the verdict against his own appearance. There was nothing to recommend him. So he told himself,--judging of himself most unfairly. He set against himself as evils little points by which Mary's mind and Mary's judgment would never be affected. But in truth throughout it all he thought only of her welfare. But there came upon him constantly an idea that he hardly knew how to be as good to her as he would have been had it not been for Catherine Bailey. To have attempted twice, and twice to have failed so disastrously! He was a man to whom to have failed once in such a matter was almost death. How should he bear it twice and still live? Nevertheless he did endeavour to think only of her welfare. "You won't find it cold, my dear?" he said.

"Cold! Why, Mr Whittlestaff, it's quite hot."

"I meant hot. I did mean to say hot."

"I've got my parasol."

"Oh!--ah!--yes; so I perceive. Go on, Tommy. That foolish old woman will settle down at last, I think." To this Mary could make no answer, because, according to her ideas, Mrs Baggett's settling down must depend on her master's marriage. "I think it very civil of Mr Hall asking us in this way."

"I suppose it is."

"Because you may be sure he had heard of your former acquaintance with him."

"Do you think so?"

"Not a doubt about it. He said as much to me in his note. That young clergyman of his will have told him everything. 'Percontatorem fugito nam garrulus idem est.' I've taught you Latin enough to understand that. But, Mary, if you wish to change your mind, this will be your last opportunity." His heart at that moment had been very tender towards her, and she had resolved that hers should be very firm to him.

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