Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?: Vol. 2, Ch. 10

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Chapter L: How Lady Glencora Came Back from Lady Monk's Party 

Burgo Fitzgerald remained for a minute or two leaning where we last saw him,—against the dining-room wall at the bottom of the staircase; and as he did so some thoughts that were almost solemn passed across his mind, This thing that he was about to do, or to attempt,—was it in itself a good thing, and would it be good for her whom he pretended to love? What would be her future if she consented now to go with him, and to divide herself from her husband? Of his own future he thought not at all. He had never done so. Even when he had first found himself attracted by the reputation of her wealth, he cannot be said to have looked forward in any prudential way to coming years. His desire to put himself in possession of so magnificent a fortune had simply prompted him, as he might have been prompted to play for a high stake at a gaming-table. But now, during these moments, he did think a little of her. Would she be happy, simply because he loved her, when all women should cease to acknowledge her; when men would regard her as one degraded and dishonoured; when society should be closed against her; when she would be driven to live loudly because the softness and graces of quiet life would be denied to her? Burgo knew well what must be the nature of such a woman's life in such circumstances. Would Glencora be happy with him while living such a life simply because he loved her? And, under such circumstances, was it likely that he would continue to love her? Did he not know himself to be the most inconstant of men, and the least trustworthy? Leaning thus against the wall at the bottom of the stairs he did ask himself all these questions with something of true feeling about his heart, and almost persuaded himself that he had better take his hat and wander forth anywhere into the streets. It mattered little what might become of himself. If he could drink himself out of the world, it might be an end of things that would be not altogether undesirable.

But then the remembrance of his aunt's two hundred pounds came upon him, which money he even now had about him on his person, and a certain idea of honour told him that he was bound to do that for which the money had been given to him. As to telling his aunt that he had changed his mind, and, therefore, refunding the money—no such thought as that was possible to him! To give back two hundred pounds entire,—two hundred pounds which were already within his clutches, was not within the compass of Burgo's generosity. Remembering the cash, he told himself that hesitation was no longer possible to him. So he gathered himself up, stretched his hands over his head, uttered a sigh that was audible to all around him, and took himself up-stairs.

He looked in at his aunt's room, and then he saw her and was seen by her. "Well, Burgo," she said, with her sweetest smile, "have you been dancing?" He turned away from her without answering her, muttering something between his teeth about a cold-blooded Jezebel,—which, if she had heard it, would have made her think him the most ungrateful of men. But she did not hear him, and smiled still as he went away, saying something to Mrs Conway Sparkes as to the great change for the better which had taken place in her nephew's conduct.

"There's no knowing who may not reform," said Mrs Sparkes, with an emphasis which seemed to Lady Monk to be almost uncourteous.

Burgo made his way first into the front room and then into the larger room where the dancing was in progress, and there he saw Lady Glencora standing up in a quadrille with the Marquis of Hartletop. Lord Hartletop was a man not much more given to conversation than his wife, and Lady Glencora seemed to go through her work with very little gratification either in the dancing or in the society of her partner. She was simply standing up to dance, because, as she had told Mr Palliser, ladies of her age generally do stand up on such occasions. Burgo watched her as she crossed and re-crossed the room, and at last she was aware of his presence. It made no change in her, except that she became even somewhat less animated than she had been before. She would not seem to see him, nor would she allow herself to be driven into a pretence of a conversation with her partner because he was there. "I will go up to her at once, and ask her to waltz," Burgo said to himself, as soon as the last figure of the quadrille was in action. "Why should I not ask her as well as any other woman?" Then the music ceased, and after a minute's interval Lord Hartletop took away his partner on his arm into another room. Burgo, who had been standing near the door, followed them at once. The crowd was great, so that he could not get near them or even keep them in sight, but he was aware of the way in which they were going.