Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?: Vol. 1, Ch. 39

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Chapter XXXIX: Mr Cheesacre's Hospitality 

As the winter wore itself away, Mr Cheesacre, happy as he was amidst the sports of Norfolk, and prosperous as he might be with the augean spoils of Oileymead, fretted himself with an intense anxiety to bring to a close that affair which he had on his hands with the widow Greenow. There were two special dangers which disturbed him. She would give herself and all her money to that adventurer, Bellfield; or else she would spend her own money so fast before he got hold upon it, that the prize would be greatly damaged. "I'm –––– if she hasn't been and set up a carriage!" he said to himself one day, as standing on the pavement of Tombland, in Norwich, he saw Mrs Greenow issue forth from the Close in a private brougham, accompanied by one of the Fairstairs girls. "She's been and set up her carriage as sure as my name's Cheesacre!"

Whatever reason he might have to fear the former danger, we may declare that he had none whatever as to the latter. Mrs Greenow knew what she was doing with her money as well as any lady in England. The private carriage was only a hired brougham taken by the month, and as to that boy in buttons whom she had lately established, why should she not keep a young servant, and call him a page, if it gave her any comfort to do so? If Mr Cheesacre had also known that she had lent the Fairstairs family fifty pounds to help them through with some difficulty which Joe had encountered with the Norwich tradespeople, he would have been beside himself with dismay. He desired to obtain the prize unmutilated,—in all its fair proportions. Any such clippings he regarded as robberies against himself.

But he feared Bellfield more than he feared the brougham. That all is fair in love and war was no doubt, at this period, Captain Bellfield's maxim, and we can only trust that he found in it some consolation, or ease to his conscience, in regard to the monstrous lies which he told his friend. In war, no doubt, all stratagems are fair. The one general is quite justified in making the other believe that he is far to the right, when in truth he is turning his enemy's left flank. If successful, he will be put upon a pedestal for his clever deceit, and crowned with laurels because of his lie. If Bellfield could only be successful, and achieve for himself the mastery over those forty thousand pounds, the world would forgive him and place, on his brow also, some not uncomfortable crown. In the mean time, his stratagems were as deep and his lies as profound as those of any general.

It must not be supposed that Cheesacre ever believed him. In the first place, he knew that Bellfield was not a man to be believed in any way. Had he not been living on lies for the last ten years? But then a man may lie in such a way as to deceive, though no one believe him. Mr Cheesacre was kept in an agony of doubt while Captain Bellfield occupied his lodgings in Norwich. He fee'd Jeannette liberally. He even fee'd Charlie Fairstairs,—Miss Fairstairs I mean,—with gloves, and chickens from Oileymead, so that he might know whether that kite fluttered about his dovecoat, and of what nature were the flutterings. He went even further than this, and fee'd the Captain himself,—binding him down not to flutter as value given in return for such fees. He attempted even to fee the widow,—cautioning her against the fluttering, as he tendered to her, on his knees, a brooch as big as a breast-plate. She waved aside the breast-plate, declaring that the mourning ring which contained poor Greenow's final grey lock of hair, was the last article from a jeweller's shop which should ever find a place about her person. At the same time she declared that Captain Bellfield was nothing to her; Mr Cheesacre need have no fears in that quarter. But then, she added, neither was he to have any hope. Her affections were all buried under the cold sod. This was harassing. Nevertheless, though no absolute satisfaction was to be attained in the wooing of Mrs Greenow, there was a pleasantness in the occupation which ought to have reconciled her suitors to their destiny. With most ladies, when a gentleman has been on his knees before one of them in the morning, with outspoken protestations of love, with clearly defined proffers of marriage, with a minute inventory of the offerer's worldly wealth,—down even to the "mahogany-furnitured" bed-chambers, as was the case with Mr Cheesacre, and when all these overtures have been peremptorily declined,—a gentleman in such a case, I say, would generally feel some awkwardness in sitting down to tea with the lady at the close of such a performance. But with Mrs Greenow there was no such awkwardness. After an hour's work of the nature above described she would play the hostess with a genial hospitality, that eased off all the annoyance of disappointment; and then at the end of the evening, she would accept a squeeze of the hand, a good, palpable, long-protracted squeeze, with that sort of "don't;—have done now," by which Irish young ladies allure their lovers. Mr Cheesacre, on such occasions, would leave the Close, swearing that she should be his on the next market-day,—or at any rate, on the next Saturday. Then, on the Monday, tidings would reach him that Bellfield had passed all Sunday afternoon with his lady-love,—Bellfield, to whom he had lent five pounds on purpose that he might be enabled to spend that very Sunday with some officers of the Suffolk volunteers at Ipswich. And hearing this, he would walk out among those rich heaps, at the back of his farmyard, uttering deep curses against the falsehood of men and the fickleness of women.