“Now, I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended their talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough, that was in the midst of the plain; and they, being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond.”—BUNYAN.
When Rosamond was quiet, and Lydgate had left her, hoping that she might soon sleep under the effect of an anodyne, he went into the drawing-room to fetch a book which he had left there, meaning to spend the evening in his work-room, and he saw on the table Dorothea’s letter addressed to him. He had not ventured to ask Rosamond if Mrs. Casaubon had called, but the reading of this letter assured him of the fact, for Dorothea mentioned that it was to be carried by herself.
When Will Ladislaw came in a little later Lydgate met him with a surprise which made it clear that he had not been told of the earlier visit, and Will could not say, “Did not Mrs. Lydgate tell you that I came this morning?”
“Poor Rosamond is ill,” Lydgate added immediately on his greeting.
“Not seriously, I hope,” said Will.
“No—only a slight nervous shock—the effect of some agitation. She has been overwrought lately. The truth is, Ladislaw, I am an unlucky devil. We have gone through several rounds of purgatory since you left, and I have lately got on to a worse ledge of it than ever. I suppose you are only just come down—you look rather battered—you have not been long enough in the town to hear anything?”
“I travelled all night and got to the White Hart at eight o’clock this morning. I have been shutting myself up and resting,” said Will, feeling himself a sneak, but seeing no alternative to this evasion.
And then he heard Lydgate’s account of the troubles which Rosamond had already depicted to him in her way. She had not mentioned the fact of Will’s name being connected with the public story—this detail not immediately affecting her—and he now heard it for the first time.
“I thought it better to tell you that your name is mixed up with the disclosures,” said Lydgate, who could understand better than most men how Ladislaw might be stung by the revelation. “You will be sure to hear it as soon as you turn out into the town. I suppose it is true that Raffles spoke to you.”
“Yes,” said Will, sardonically. “I shall be fortunate if gossip does not make me the most disreputable person in the whole affair. I should think the latest version must be, that I plotted with Raffles to murder Bulstrode, and ran away from Middlemarch for the purpose.”
He was thinking “Here is a new ring in the sound of my name to recommend it in her hearing; however—what does it signify now?”
But he said nothing of Bulstrode’s offer to him. Will was very open and careless about his personal affairs, but it was among the more exquisite touches in nature’s modelling of him that he had a delicate generosity which warned him into reticence here. He shrank from saying that he had rejected Bulstrode’s money, in the moment when he was learning that it was Lydgate’s misfortune to have accepted it.
Lydgate too was reticent in the midst of his confidence. He made no allusion to Rosamond’s feeling under their trouble, and of Dorothea he only said, “Mrs. Casaubon has been the one person to come forward and say that she had no belief in any of the suspicions against me.” Observing a change in Will’s face, he avoided any further mention of her, feeling himself too ignorant of their relation to each other not to fear that his words might have some hidden painful bearing on it. And it occurred to him that Dorothea was the real cause of the present visit to Middlemarch.
The two men were pitying each other, but it was only Will who guessed the extent of his companion’s trouble. When Lydgate spoke with desperate resignation of going to settle in London, and said with a faint smile, “We shall have you again, old fellow,” Will felt inexpressibly mournful, and said nothing. Rosamond had that morning entreated him to urge this step on Lydgate; and it seemed to him as if he were beholding in a magic panorama a future where he himself was sliding into that pleasureless yielding to the small solicitations of circumstance, which is a commoner history of perdition than any single momentous bargain.
We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. Poor Lydgate was inwardly groaning on that margin, and Will was arriving at it. It seemed to him this evening as if the cruelty of his outburst to Rosamond had made an obligation for him, and he dreaded the obligation: he dreaded Lydgate’s unsuspecting good-will: he dreaded his own distaste for his spoiled life, which would leave him in motiveless levity.