The Small House at Allington/Chapter 32

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The show of fat beasts in London took place this year on the twentieth day of December, and I have always understood that a certain bullock exhibited by Lord De Guest was declared by the metropolitan butchers to have realized all the possible excellences of breeding, feeding, and condition. No doubt the butchers of the next half-century will have learned much better, and the Guestwick beast, could it be embalmed and then produced, would excite only ridicule at the agricultural ignorance of the present age; but Lord De Guest took the praise that was offered to him, and found himself in a seventh heaven of delight. He was never so happy as when surrounded by butchers, graziers, and salesmen who were able to appreciate the work of his life, and who regarded him as a model nobleman. "Look at that fellow," he said to Eames, pointing to the prize bullock. Eames had joined his patron at the show after his office hours, looking on upon the living beef by gaslight. "Isn't he like his sire? He was got by Lambkin, you know."

"Lambkin," said Johnny, who had not as yet been able to learn much about the Guestwick stock.

"Yes, Lambkin. The bull that we had the trouble with. He has just got his sire's back and fore-quarters. Don't you see?"

"I daresay," said Johnny, who looked very hard, but could not see.

"It's very odd," exclaimed the earl, "but do you know, that bull has been as quiet since that day,—as quiet as—as anything. I think it must have been my pocket-handkerchief."

"I daresay it was," said Johnny;—"or perhaps the flies."

"Flies!" said the earl, angrily. "Do you suppose he isn't used to flies? Come away. I ordered dinner at seven, and it's past six now. My brother-in-law, Colonel Dale, is up in town, and he dines with us." So he took Johnny's arm, and led him off through the show, calling his attention as he went to several beasts which were inferior to his own.

And then they walked down through Portman Square and Grosvenor Square, and across Piccadilly to Jermyn Street. John Eames acknowledged to himself that it was odd that he should have an earl leaning on his arm as he passed along through the streets. At home, in his own life, his daily companions were Cradell and Amelia Roper, Mrs. Lupex and Mrs. Roper. The difference was very great, and yet he found it quite as easy to talk to the earl as to Mrs. Lupex.

"You know the Dales down at Allington, of course," said the earl.

"Oh, yes, I know them."

"But, perhaps, you never met the colonel."

"I don't think I ever did."

"He's a queer sort of fellow;—very well in his way, but he never does anything. He and my sister live at Torquay, and as far as I can find out, they neither of them have any occupation of any sort. He's come up to town now because we both had to meet our family lawyers and sign some papers, but he looks on the journey as a great hardship. As for me, I'm a year older than he is, but I wouldn't mind going up and down from Guestwick every day."

"It's looking after the bull that does it," said Eames.

"By George! you're right, Master Johnny. My sister and Crofts may tell me what they like, but when a man's out in the open air for eight or nine hours every day, it doesn't much matter where he goes to sleep after that. This is Pawkins's,—capital good house, but not so good as it used to be while old Pawkins was alive. Show Mr. Eames up into a bedroom to wash his hands."

Colonel Dale was much like his brother in face, but was taller, even thinner, and apparently older. When Eames went into the sitting-room, the colonel was there alone, and had to take upon himself the trouble of introducing himself. He did not get up from his arm-chair, but nodded gently at the young man. "Mr. Eames, I believe? I knew your father at Guestwick, a great many years ago;" then he turned his face back towards the fire and sighed.

"It's got very cold this afternoon," said Johnny, trying to make conversation.

"It's always cold in London," said the colonel.

"If you had to be here in August you wouldn't say so."

"God forbid," said the colonel, and he sighed again, with his eyes fixed upon the fire. Eames had heard of the very gallant way in which Orlando Dale had persisted in running away with Lord De Guest's sister, in opposition to very terrible obstacles, and as he now looked at the intrepid lover, he thought that there must have been a great change since those days. After that nothing more was said till the earl came down.

Pawkins's house was thoroughly old-fashioned in all things, and the Pawkins of that day himself stood behind the earl's elbow when the dinner began, and himself removed the cover from the soup tureen. Lord De Guest did not require much personal attention, but he would have felt annoyed if this hadn't been done. As it was he had a civil word to say to Pawkins about the fat cattle, thereby showing that he did not mistake Pawkins for one of the waiters. Pawkins then took his lordship's orders about the wine and retired.

"He keeps up the old house pretty well," said the earl to his brother-in-law. "It isn't like what it was thirty years ago, but then everything of that sort has got worse and worse."

"I suppose it has," said the colonel.

"I remember when old Pawkins had as good a glass of port as I've got at home,—or nearly. They can't get it now, you know."

"I never drink port," said the colonel. "I seldom take anything after dinner, except a little negus."

His brother-in-law said nothing, but made a most eloquent grimace as he turned his face towards his soup-plate. Eames saw it, and could hardly refrain from laughing. When, at half-past nine o'clock, the colonel retired from the room, the earl, as the door was closed, threw up his hands, and uttered the one word "negus!" Then Eames took heart of grace and had his laughter out.

The dinner was very dull, and before the colonel went to bed Johnny regretted that he had been induced to dine at Pawkins's. It might be a very fine thing to be asked to dinner with an earl, and John Eames had perhaps received at his office some little accession of dignity from the circumstance, of which he had been not unpleasantly aware; but, as he sat at the table, on which there were four or five apples and a plate of dried nuts, looking at the earl, as he endeavoured to keep his eyes open, and at the colonel, to whom it seemed absolutely a matter of indifference whether his companions were asleep or awake, he confessed to himself that
Allington vol 2 p024.jpg

Won't you take some more Wine?"

the price he was paying was almost too dear. Mrs. Roper's tea-table was not pleasant to him, but even that would have been preferable to the black dinginess of Pawkins's mahogany, with the company of two tired old men, with whom he seemed to have no mutual subject of conversation. Once or twice he tried a word with the colonel, for the colonel sat with his eyes open looking at the fire. But he was answered with monosyllables, and it was evident to him that the colonel did not wish to talk. To sit still, with his hands closed over each other on his lap, was work enough for Colonel Dale during his after-dinner hours.

But the earl knew what was going on. During that terrible conflict between him and his slumber, in which the drowsy god fairly vanquished him for some twenty minutes, his conscience was always accusing him of treating his guests badly. He was very angry with himself, and tried to arouse himself and talk. But his brother-in-law would not help him in his efforts; and even Eames was not bright in rendering him assistance. Then for twenty minutes he slept soundly, and at the end of that he woke himself with one of his own snorts. "By George!" he said, jumping up and standing on the rug, "we'll have some coffee;" and after that he did not sleep any more.

"Dale," said he, "won't you take some more wine?"

"Nothing more," said the colonel, still looking at the fire, and shaking his head very slowly.

"Come, Johnny, fill your glass." He had already got into the way of calling his young friend Johnny, having found that Mrs. Eames generally spoke of her son by that name.

"I have been filling my glass all the time," said Eames, taking the decanter again in his hand as he spoke.

"I'm glad you've found something to amuse you, for it has seemed to me that you and Dale haven't had much to say to each other. I've been listening all the time."

"You've been asleep," said the colonel.

"Then there's been some excuse for my holding my tongue," said the earl. "By-the-by, Dale, what do you think of that fellow Crosbie?"

Eames' ears were instantly on the alert, and the spirit of dulness vanished from him.

"Think of him?" said the colonel.

"He ought to have every bone in his skin broken," said the earl.

"So he ought," said Eames, getting up from his chair in his eagerness, and speaking in a tone somewhat louder than was perhaps becoming in the presence of his seniors. "So he ought, my lord. He is the most abominable rascal that ever I met in my life. I wish I was Lily Dale's brother." Then he sat down again, remembering that he was speaking in the presence of Lily's uncle, and of the father of Bernard Dale, who might be supposed to occupy the place of Lily's brother.

The colonel turned his head round, and looked at the young man with surprise. "I beg your pardon, sir," said Eames, "but I have known Mrs. Dale and your nieces all my life."

"Oh, have you?" said the colonel. "Nevertheless it is, perhaps, as well not to make too free with a young lady's name. Not that I blame you in the least, Mr. Eames."

"I should think not," said the earl. "I honour him for his feeling. Johnny, my boy, if ever I am unfortunate enough to meet that man, I shall tell him my mind, and I believe you will do the same." On hearing this John Eames winked at the earl, and made a motion with his head towards the colonel, whose back was turned to him. And then the earl winked back at Eames.

"De Guest," said the colonel, "I think I'll go upstairs; I always have a little arrowroot in my own room."

"I'll ring the bell for a candle," said the host. Then the colonel went, and as the door was closed behind him, the earl raised his two hands and uttered that single word, "negus!" Whereupon Johnny burst out laughing, and coming round to the fire, sat himself down in the arm-chair which the colonel had left.

"I've no doubt it's all right," said the earl; "but I shouldn't like to drink negus myself, nor yet to have arrowroot up in my bedroom."

"I don't suppose there's any harm in it."

"Oh dear, no; I wonder what Pawkins says about him. But I suppose they have them of all sorts in an hotel."

"The waiter didn't seem to think much of it when he brought it."

"No, no. If he'd asked for senna and salts, the waiter wouldn't have showed any surprise. By-the-by, you touched him up about that poor girl."

"Did I, my lord? I didn't mean it."

"You see he's Bernard Dale's father, and the question is, whether Bernard shouldn't punish the fellow for what he has done. Somebody ought to do it. It isn't right that he should escape. Somebody ought to let Mr. Crosbie know what a scoundrel he has made himself."

"I'd do it to-morrow, only I'm afraid——"

"No, no, no," said the earl; "you are not the right person at all. What have you got to do with it? You've merely known them as family friends, but that's not enough."

"No, I suppose not," said Eames, sadly.

"Perhaps it's best as it is," said the earl. "I don't know that any good would be got by knocking him over the head. And if we are to be Christians, I suppose we ought to be Christians."

"What sort of a Christian has he been?"

"That's true enough; and if I was Bernard, I should be very apt to forget my Bible lessons about meekness."

"Do you know, my lord, I should think it the most Christian thing in the world to pitch into him; I should, indeed. There are some things for which a man ought to be beaten black and blue."

"So that he shouldn't do them again?"

"Exactly. You might say it isn't Christian to hang a man."

"I'd always hang a murderer. It wasn't right to hang men for stealing sheep."

"Much better hang such a fellow as Crosbie," said Eames.

"Well, I believe so. If any fellow wanted now to curry favour with the young lady, what an opportunity he'd have."

Johnny remained silent for a moment or two before he answered. "I'm not so sure of that," he said, mournfully, as though grieving at the thought that there was no chance of currying favour with Lily by thrashing her late lover.

"I don't pretend to know much about girls," said Lord De Guest; "but I should think it would be so. I should fancy that nothing would please her so much as hearing that he had caught it, and that all the world knew that he'd caught it." The earl had declared that he didn't know much about girls, and in so saying, he was no doubt right.

"If I thought so," said Eames, "I'd find him out to-morrow."

"Why so? what difference does it make to you?" Then there was another pause, during which Johnny looked very sheepish. "You don't mean to say that you're in love with Miss Lily Dale?"

"I don't know much about being in love with her," said Johnny, turning very red as he spoke. And then he made up his mind, in a wild sort of way, to tell all the truth to his friend. Pawkins's port wine may, perhaps, have had something to do with the resolution. "But I'd go through fire and water for her, my lord. I knew her years before he had ever seen her, and have loved her a great deal better than he will ever love any one. When I heard that she had accepted him, I had half a mind to cut my own throat,—or else his."

"Highty tighty," said the earl.

"It's very ridiculous, I know," said Johnny, "and of course she would never have accepted me."

"I don't see that at all."

"I haven't a shilling in the world."

"Girls don't care much for that."

"And then a clerk in the Income-tax Office! It's such a poor thing."

"The other fellow was only a clerk in another office."

The earl living down at Guestwick did not understand that the Income-tax Office in the city, and the General Committee Office at Whitehall, were as far apart as Dives and Lazarus, and separated by as impassable a gulf.

"Oh, yes," said Johnny; "but his office is another kind of thing, and then he was a swell himself."

"By George, I don't see it," said the earl.

"I don't wonder a bit at her accepting a fellow like that. I hated him the first moment I saw him; but that's no reason she should hate him. He had that sort of manner, you know. He was a swell, and girls like that kind of thing. I never felt angry with her, but I could have eaten him." As he spoke he looked as though he would have made some such attempt had Crosbie been present.

"Did you ever ask her to have you?" said the earl.

"No; how could I ask her, when I hadn't bread to give her?"

"And you never told her——that you were in love with her, I mean, and all that kind of thing."

"She knows it now," said Johnny; "I went to say good-by to her the other day,—when I thought she was going to be married. I could not help telling her then."

"But it seems to me, my dear fellow, that you ought to be very much obliged to Crosbie;—that is to say, if you've a mind to——"

"I know what you mean, my lord. I am not a bit obliged to him. It's my belief that all this will about kill her. As to myself, if I thought she'd ever have me——"

Then he was again silent, and the earl could see that the tears were in his eyes.

"I think I begin to understand it," said the earl, "and I'll give you a bit of advice. You come down and spend your Christmas with me at Guestwick."

"Oh, my lord!"

"Never mind my-lording me, but do as I tell you. Lady Julia sent you a message, though I forgot all about it till now. She wants to thank you herself for what you did in the field."

"That's all nonsense, my lord."

"Very well; you can tell her so. You may take my word for this, too,—my sister hates Crosbie quite as much as you do. I think she'd 'pitch into him,' as you call it, herself, if she knew how. You come down to Guestwick for the Christmas, and then go over to Allington and tell them all plainly what you mean."

"I couldn't say a word to her now."

"Say it to the squire, then. Go to him, and tell him what you mean,—holding your head up like a man. Don't talk to me about swells. The man who means honestly is the best swell I know. He's the only swell I recognize. Go to old Dale, and say you come from me,—from Guestwick Manor. Tell him that if he'll put a little stick under the pot to make it boil, I'll put a bigger one. He'll understand what that means."

"Oh, no, my lord."

"But I say, oh, yes;" and the earl, who was now standing on the rug before the fire, dug his hands deep down into his trousers' pockets. "I'm very fond of that girl, and would do much for her. You ask Lady Julia if I didn't say so to her before I ever knew of your casting a sheep's-eye that way. And I've a sneaking kindness for you too, Master Johnny. Lord bless you, I knew your father as well as I ever knew any man; and to tell the truth, I believe I helped to ruin him. He held land of me, you know, and there can't be any doubt that he did ruin himself. He knew no more about a beast when he'd done, than—than—than that waiter. If he'd gone on to this day he wouldn't have been any wiser."

Johnny sat silent, with his eyes full of tears. What was he to say to his friend?

"You come down with me," continued the earl, "and you'll find we'll make it all straight. I daresay you're right about not speaking to the girl just at present. But tell everything to the uncle, and then to the mother. And, above all things, never think that you're not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning. If you are made of dirt, like that fellow Crosbie, you'll be found out at last, no doubt. But then I don't think you are made of dirt."

"I hope not."

"And so do I. You can come down, I suppose, with me the day after to-morrow?"

"I'm afraid not. I have had all my leave."

"Shall I write to old Buffle, and ask it as a favour."

"No," said Johnny; "I shouldn't like that. But I'll see to-morrow, and then I'll let you know. I can go down by the mail-train on Saturday, at any rate."

"That won't be comfortable. See and come with me if you can. Now, good-night, my dear fellow, and remember this,—when I say a thing I mean it. I think I may boast that I never yet went back from my word."

The earl as he spoke gave his left hand to his guest, and looking somewhat grandly up over the young man's head, he tapped his own breast thrice with his right hand. As he went through the little scene, John Eames felt that he was every inch an earl.

"I don't know what to say to you, my lord."

"Say nothing,—not a word more to me. But say to yourself that faint heart never won fair lady. Good-night, my dear boy, good-night. I dine out to-morrow, but you can call and let me know at about six."

Eames then left the room without another wood, and walked out into the cold air of Jermyn Street. The moon was clear and bright, and the pavement in the shining light seemed to be as clean as a lady's hand. All the world was altered to him since he had entered Pawkins's Hotel. Was it then possible that Lily Dale might even yet become his wife? Could it be true that he, even now, was in a position to go boldly to the Squire of Allington, and tell him what were his views with reference to Lily? And how far would he be justified in taking the earl at his word? Some incredible amount of wealth would be required before he could marry Lily Dale. Two or three hundred pounds a year at the very least! The earl could not mean him to understand that any such sum as that would be made up with such an object! Nevertheless he resolved as he walked home to Burton Crescent that he would go down to Guestwick, and that he would obey the earl's behest. As regarded Lily herself he felt that nothing could be said to her for many a long day as yet.

"Oh, John, how late you are!" said Amelia, slipping out from the back parlour as he let himself in with his latch key.

"Yes, I am;—very late," said John, taking his candle, and passing her by on the stairs without another word.