The Small House at Allington/Chapter 46
JOHN EAMES AT HIS OFFICE.
Mr. Crosbie and his wife went upon their honeymoon tour to Folkestone in the middle of February, and returned to London about the end of March. Nothing of special moment to the interests of our story occurred during those six weeks, unless the proceedings of the young married couple by the sea-side may be thought to have any special interest. With regard to those proceedings I can only say that Crosbie was very glad when they were brought to a close. All holiday-making is hard work, but holiday-making with nothing to do is the hardest work of all. At the end of March they went into their new house, and we will hope that Lady Alexandrina did not find it very cold.
During this time Lily's recovery from her illness was being completed. She had no relapse, nor did anything occur to create a new fear on her account. But, nevertheless, Dr. Crofts gave it as his opinion that it would be inexpedient to move her into a fresh house at Lady-day. March is not a kindly month for invalids; and therefore with some regret on the part of Mrs. Dale, with much impatience on that of Bell, and with considerable outspoken remonstrance from Lily herself, the squire was requested to let them remain through the month of April. How the squire received this request, and in what way he assented to the doctor's reasoning, will be told in the course of a chapter or two.
In the meantime John Eames had continued his career in London without much immediate satisfaction to himself, or to the lady who boasted to be his heart's chosen queen. Miss Amelia Roper, indeed, was becoming very cross, and in her ill temper was playing a game that was tending to create a frightful amount of hot water in Burton Crescent. She was devoting herself to a flirtation with Mr. Cradell, not only under the immediate eyes of Johnny Eames, but also under those of Mrs. Lupex. John Eames, the blockhead, did not like it. He was above all things anxious to get rid of Amelia and her claims; so anxious, that on certain moody occasions he would threaten himself with diverse tragical terminations to his career in London. He would enlist. He would go to Australia. He would blow out his brains. He would have "an explanation" with Amelia, tell her that she was a vixen, and proclaim his hatred. He would rush down to Allington and throw himself in despair at Lily's feet. Amelia was the bugbear of his life. Nevertheless, when she flirted with Cradell, he did not like it, and was ass enough to speak to Cradell about it.
"Of course I don't care," he said, "only it seems to me that you are making a fool of yourself."
"I thought you wanted to get rid of her."
"She's nothing on earth to me; only it does, you know——"
"Does do what?" asked Cradell.
"Why, if I was to be fal-lalling with that married woman, you wouldn't like it. That's all about it. Do you mean to marry her?"
"Not if I know it."
"Then if I were you I would leave her alone. She's only making a fool of you."
Eames' advice may have been good, and the view taken by him of Amelia's proceedings may have been correct; but as regarded his own part in the affair, he was not wise. Miss Roper, no doubt, wished to make him jealous; and she succeeded in the teeth of his aversion to her and of his love elsewhere. He had no desire to say soft things to Miss Roper. Miss Roper, with all her skill, could not extract a word pleasantly soft from him once a week. But, nevertheless, soft words to her and from her in another quarter made him uneasy. Such being the case, must we not acknowledge that John Eames was still floundering in the ignorance of his hobbledehoyhood?
The Lupexes at this time still held their ground in the Crescent, although repeated warnings to go had been given them. Mrs. Roper, though she constantly spoke of sacrificing all that they owed her, still hankered, with a natural hankering, after her money. And as each warning was accompanied by a demand for payment, and usually, produced some slight subsidy on account, the thing went on from week to week; and at the beginning of April Mr. and Mrs. Lupex were still boarders at Mrs. Roper's house.
Eames had heard nothing from Allington since the time of his Christmas visit, and his subsequent correspondence with Lord De Guest. In his letters from his mother he was told that game came frequently from Guestwick Manor, and in this way he knew that he was not forgotten by the earl. But of Lily he had heard not a word,—except, indeed, the rumour, which had now become general, that the Dales from the Small House were about to move themselves into Guestwick. When first he learned this he construed the tidings as favourable to himself, thinking that Lily, removed from the grandeur of Allington, might possibly be more easily within his reach; but, latterly, he had given up any such hope as that, and was telling himself that his friend at the Manor had abandoned all idea of making up the marriage. Three months had already elapsed since his visit. Five months had passed since Crosbie had surrendered his claim. Surely such a knave as Crosbie might be forgotten in five months! If any steps could have been taken through the squire, surely three months would have sufficed for them! It was very manifest to him that there was no ground of hope for him at Allington, and it would certainly be well for him to go off to Australia. He would go to Australia, but he would thrash Cradell first for having dared to interfere with Amelia Roper. That, generally, was the state of his mind during the first week in April.
Then there came to him a letter from the earl which instantly effected a great change in all his feelings; which taught him to regard Australia as a dream, and almost put him into a good humour with Cradell. The earl had by no means lost sight of his friend's interests at Allington; and, moreover, those interests were now backed by an ally who in this matter must be regarded as much more powerful than the earl. The squire had given in his consent to the Eames alliance.
The earl's letter was as follows:—
My dear John,Guestwick Manor, April 7, 18—
I told you to write to me again, and you haven't done it. I saw your mother the other day, or else you might have been dead for anything I knew. A young man always ought to write letters when he is told to do so. [Eames, when he had got so far, felt himself rather aggrieved by this rebuke, knowing that he had abstained from writing to his patron simply from an unwillingness to intrude upon him with his letters. "By Jove, I'll write to him every week of his life, till he's sick of me," Johnny said to himself when he found himself thus instructed as to a young man's duties.]
And now I have got to tell you a long story, and I should like it much better if you were down here, so that I might save myself the trouble; but you would think me ill-natured if I were to keep you waiting. I happened to meet Mr. Dale the other day, and he said that he should be very glad if a certain young lady would make up her mind to listen to a certain young friend of mine. So I asked him what he meant to do about the young lady's fortune, and he declared himself willing to give her a hundred a year during his life, and to settle four thousand pounds upon her after his death. I said that I would do as much on my part by the young man; but as two hundred a year, with your salary, would hardly give you enough to begin with, I'll make mine a hundred and fifty. You'll be getting up in your office soon, and with five hundred a year you ought to be able to get along; especially as you need not insure your life. I should live somewhere near Bloomsbury Square at first, because I'm told you can get a house for nothing. After all, what's fashion worth? You can bring your wife down here in the autumn, and have some shooting. She won't let you go to sleep under the trees, I'll be bound.
But you must look after the young lady. You will understand that no one has said a word to her about it; or, if they have, I don't know it. You'll find the squire on your side, that's all. Couldn't you manage to come down this Easter? Tell old Buffle, with my compliments, that I want you. I'll write to him if you like it. I did know him at one time, though I can't say I was ever very fond of him. It stands to reason that you can't get on with Miss Lily without seeing her; unless, indeed, you like better to write to her, which always seems to me to be very poor sort of fun. You'd much better come down, and go a-wooing in the regular old-fashioned way. I need not tell you that Lady Julia will be delighted to see you. You are a prime favourite with her since that affair at the railway station. She thinks a great deal more about that than she does about the bull.
Now, my dear fellow, you know all about it, and I shall take it very much amiss of you if you don't answer my letter soon.
Your very sincere friend,
When Eames had finished this letter, sitting at his office-desk, his surprise and elation were so great that he hardly knew where he was or what he ought to do. Could it be the truth that Lily's uncle had not only consented that the match should be made, but that he had also promised to give his niece a considerable fortune? For a few minutes it seemed to Johnny as though all obstacles to his happiness were removed, and that there was no impediment between him and an amount of bliss of which he had hitherto hardly dared to dream. Then, when he considered the earl's munificence, he almost cried. He found that he could not compose his mind to think, or even his hand to write. He did not know whether it would be right in him to accept such pecuniary liberality from any living man, and almost thought that he should feel himself bound to reject the earl's offer. As to the squire's money, that he knew he might accept. All that comes in the shape of a young woman's fortune may be taken by any man.
He would certainly answer the earl's letter, and that at once. He would not leave the office till he had done so. His friend should have cause to bring no further charge against him of that kind. And then again he reverted to the injustice which had been done to him in the matter of letter-writing,—as if that consideration were of moment in such a state of circumstances as was now existing. But at last his thoughts brought themselves to the real question at issue. Would Lily Dale accept him? After all, the realization of his good fortune depended altogether upon her feelings; and, as he remembered this, his mind misgave him sorely. It was filled not only with a young lover's ordinary doubts,—with the fear and trembling incidental to the bashfulness of hobbledehoyhood,—but with an idea that that affair with Crosbie would still stand in his way. He did not, perhaps, rightly understand all that Lily had suffered, but he conceived it to be probable that there had been wounds which even the last five months might not yet have cured. Could it be that she would allow him to cure these wounds? As he thought of this he felt almost crushed to the earth by an indomitable bashfulness and conviction of his own unworthiness. What had he to offer worthy of the acceptance of such a girl as Lilian Dale?
I fear that the Crown did not get out of John Eames an adequate return for his salary on that day. So adequate, however, had been the return given by him for some time past, that promotion was supposed throughout the Income-tax Office to be coming in his way, much to the jealousy of Cradell, Fisher, and others, his immediate compeers and cronies. And the place assigned to him by rumour was one which was generally regarded as a perfect Elysium upon earth in the Civil Service world. He was, so rumour said, to become private secretary to the First Commissioner. He would be removed by such a change as this from the large uncarpeted room in which he at present sat; occupying the same desk with another man to whom he had felt himself to be ignominiously bound, as dogs must feel when they are coupled. This room had been the bear-garden of the office. Twelve or fourteen men sat in it. Large pewter pots were brought into it daily at one o'clock, giving it an air that was not aristocratic. The senior of the room, one Mr. Love, who was presumed to have it under his immediate dominion, was a clerk of the ancient stamp, dull, heavy, unambitious, living out on the farther side of Islington, and unknown beyond the limits of his office to any of his younger brethren. He was generally regarded as having given a bad tone to the room. And then the clerks in this room would not unfrequently be blown up,—with very palpable blowings up,—by an official swell, a certain chief clerk, named Kissing, much higher in standing though younger in age than the gentleman of whom we have before spoken. He would hurry in, out of his own neighbouring chamber, with quick step and nose in the air, shuffling in his office slippers, looking on each occasion as though there were some cause to fear that the whole Civil Service were coming to an abrupt termination, and would lay about him with hard words, which some of those in the big room did not find it very easy to bear. His hair was always brushed straight up, his eyes were always very wide open,—and he usually carried a big letter-book with him, keeping in it a certain place with his finger. This book was almost too much for his strength, and he would flop it down, now on this man's desk and now on that man's, and in a long career of such floppings had made himself to be very much hated. On the score of some old grudge he and Mr. Love did not speak to each other; and for this reason, on all occasions of fault-finding, the blown-up young man would refer Mr. Kissing to his enemy.
"I know nothing about it," Mr. Love would say, not lifting his face from his desk for a moment.
"I shall certainly lay the matter before the Board," Mr. Kissing would reply, and would then shuffle out of the room with the big book.
Sometimes Mr. Kissing would lay the matter before the Board, and then he, and Mr. Love, and two or three delinquent clerks would be summoned thither. It seldom led to much. The delinquent clerks would be cautioned. One Commissioner would say a word in private to Mr. Love, and another a word in private to Mr. Kissing. Then, when left alone, the Commissioners would have their little jokes, saying that Kissing, they feared, went by favour; and that Love should still be lord of all. But these things were done in the mild days, before Sir Raffle Buffle came to the Board.
There had been some fun in this at first; but of late John Eames had become tired of it. He disliked Mr. Kissing, and the big book out of which Mr. Kissing was always endeavouring to convict him of some official sin, and had got tired of that joke of setting Kissing and Love by the ears together. When the Assistant Secretary first suggested to him that Sir Raffle had an idea of selecting him as private secretary, and when he remembered the cosy little room, all carpeted, with a leathern arm-chair and a separate washing-stand, which in such case would be devoted to his use, and remembered also that he would be put into receipt of an additional hundred a year, and would stand in the way of still better promotion, he was overjoyed. But there were certain drawbacks. The present private secretary,—who had been private secretary also to the late First Commissioner,—was giving up his Elysium because he could not endure the tones of Sir Raffle's voice. It was understood that Sir Raffle required rather more of a private secretary, in the way of obsequious attendance, than was desirable, and Eames almost doubted his own fitness for the place.
"And why should he choose me?" he had asked the Assistant Secretary.
"Well, we have talked it over together, and I think that he prefers you to any other that has been named."
"But he was so very hard upon me about the affair at the railway station."
"I think he has heard more about that since; I think that some message has reached him from your friend, Earl De Guest."
"Oh, indeed!" said Johnny, beginning to comprehend what it was to have an earl for his friend. Since his acquaintance with the nobleman had commenced, he had studiously avoided all mention of the earl's name at his office; and yet he received almost daily intimation that the fact was well known there, and not a little considered.
"But he is so very rough," said Johnny.
"You can put up with that," said his friend the Assistant Secretary. "His bark is worse than his bite, as you know; and then a hundred a year is worth having." Eames was at that moment inclined to take a gloomy view of life in general, and was disposed to refuse the place, should it be offered to him. He had not then received the earl's letter; but now, as he sat with that letter open before him, lying in the drawer beneath his desk so that he could still read it as he leaned back in his chair, he was enabled to look at things in general through a different atmosphere. In the first place, Lilian Dale's husband ought to have a room to himself, with a carpet and an arm-chair; and then that additional hundred a year would raise his income at once to the sum as to which the earl had made some sort of stipulation. But could he get that leave of absence at Easter? If he consented to be Sir Raffle's private secretary, he would make that a part of the bargain.
At this moment the door of the big room was opened, and Mr. Kissing shuffled in with very quick little steps. He shuffled in, and coming direct up to John's desk, flopped his ledger down upon it before its owner had had time to close the drawer which contained the precious letter.
"What have you got in that drawer, Mr. Eames?"
"A private letter, Mr. Kissing."
"Oh;—a private letter!" said Mr. Kissing, feeling strongly convinced there was a novel hidden there, but not daring to express his belief. "I have been half the morning, Mr. Eames, looking for this letter to the Admiralty, and you've put it under S!" A bystander listening to Mr. Kissing's tone would have been led to believe that the whole Income-tax Office was jeopardized by the terrible iniquity thus disclosed.
"Somerset House," pleaded Johnny.
"Psha;—Somerset House! Half the offices in London——"
"You'd better ask Mr. Love," said Eames. "It's all done under his special instructions." Mr. Kissing looked at Mr. Love, and Mr. Love looked steadfastly at his desk. "Mr. Love knows all about the indexing," continued Johnny. "He's index master general to the department."
"No, I'm not, Mr. Eames," said Mr. Love, who rather liked John Eames, and hated Mr. Kissing with his whole heart. "But I believe the indexes, on the whole, are very well done in this room. Some people don't know how to find letters."
"Mr. Eames," began Mr. Kissing, still pointing with a finger of bitter reproach to the misused S, and beginning an oration which was intended for the benefit of the whole room, and for the annihilation of old Mr. Love, "if you have yet to learn that the word Admiralty begins with A and not with S, you have much to learn which should have been acquired before you first came into this office. Somerset House is not a department." Then he turned round to the room at large, and repeated the last words, as though they might become very useful if taken well to heart——"Is not a department. The Treasury is a department; the Home Office is a department; the India Board is a department—"
"No, Mr. Kissing, it isn't," said a young clerk from the other end of the room.
"You know very well what I mean, sir. The India Office is a department."
"There's no Board, sir."
"Never mind; but how any gentleman who has been in the service three months,—not to say three years,—can suppose Somerset House to be a department, is beyond my comprehension. If you have been improperly instructed——"
"We shall know all about it another time," said Eames. "Mr. Love will make a memorandum of it."
"I shan't do anything of the kind," said Mr. Love.
"If you have been wrongly instructed,—" Mr. Kissing began again, stealing a glance at Mr. Love as he did so; but at this moment the door was again opened, and a messenger summoned Johnny to the presence of the really great man. "Mr. Eames, to wait upon Sir Raffle." Upon hearing this Johnny immediately started, and left Mr. Kissing and the big book in possession of his desk. How the battle was waged, and how it raged in the large room, we cannot stop to hear, as it is necessary that we should follow our hero into the presence of Sir Raffle Buffle.
"Ah, Eames,—yes," said Sir Raffle, looking up from his desk when the young man entered; "just wait half a minute, will you?" And the knight went to work at his papers, as though fearing that any delay in what he was doing might be very prejudicial to the nation at large. "Ah, Eames,—well,—yes," he said again, as he pushed away from him, almost with a jerk, the papers on which he had been writing. "They tell me that you know the business of this office pretty well."
"Some of it, sir," said Eames.
"Well, yes; some of it. But you'll have to understand the whole of it if you come to me. And you must be very sharp about it too. You know that FitzHoward is leaving me?"
"I have heard of it, sir."
"A very excellent young man, though perhaps not—— But we won't mind that. The work is a little too much for him, and he's going back into the office. I believe Lord De Guest is a friend of yours; isn't he?"
"Yes; he is a friend of mine, certainly. He's been very kind to me."
"Ah, well. I've known the earl for many years,—for very many years; and intimately at one time. Perhaps you may have heard him mention my name?"
"Yes, I have, Sir Raffle."
"We were intimate once, but those things go off, you know. He's been the country mouse and I've been the town mouse. Ha, ha, ha! You may tell him that I say so. He won't mind that coming from me."
"Oh, no; not at all," said Eames.
"Mind you tell him when you see him. The earl is a man for whom I've always had a great respect,—a very great respect,—I may say regard. And now, Eames, what do you say to taking FitzHoward's place? The work is hard. It is fair that I should tell you that. The work will, no doubt, be very hard. I take a greater share of what's going than my predecessors have done; and I don't mind telling you that I have been sent here, because a man was wanted who would do that." The voice of Sir Raffle, as he continued, became more and more harsh, and Eames began to think how wise FitzHoward had been. "I mean to do my duty, and I shall expect that my private secretary will do his. But, Mr. Eames, I never forget a man. Whether he be good or bad, I never forget a man. You don't dislike late hours, I suppose."
"Coming late to the office, you mean? Oh, no, not in the least."
"Staying late,—staying late. Six or seven o'clock if necessary,—putting your shoulder to the wheel when the coach gets into the mud. That's what I've been doing all my life. They've known what I am very well. They've always kept me for the heavy roads. If they paid, in the Civil Service, by the hour, I believe I should have drawn a larger income than any man in it. If you take the vacant chair in the next room you'll find it's no joke. It's only fair that I should tell you that."
"I can work as hard as any man," said Eames.
"That's right. That's right. Stick to that and I'll stick to you. It will be a great gratification to me to have by me a friend of my old friend De Guest. Tell him I say so. And now you may as well get into harness at once. FitzHoward is there. You can go in to him, and at half-past four exactly I'll see you both. I'm very exact, mind,—very;—and therefore you must be exact." Then Sir Raffle looked as though he desired to be left alone.
"Sir Raffle, there's one favour I want to ask of you," said Johnny.
"And what's that?"
"I am most anxious to be absent for a fortnight or three weeks, just at Easter. I shall want to go in about ten days."
"Absent for three weeks at Easter, when the parliamentary work is beginning! That won't do for a private secretary."
"But it's very important, Sir Raffle."
"Out of the question, Eames; quite out of the question."
"It's almost life and death to me."
"Almost life and death. Why, what are you going to do?" With all his grandeur and national importance, Sir Raffle would be very curious as to little people.
"Well, I can't exactly tell you, and I'm not quite sure myself."
"Then don't talk nonsense. It's impossible that I should spare my private secretary just at that time of the year. I couldn't do it. The service won't admit of it. You're not entitled to leave at that season. Private secretaries always take their leave in the autumn."
"I should like to be absent in the autumn too, but——"
"It's out of the question, Mr. Eames."
Then John Eames reflected that it behoved him in such an emergency to fire off his big gun. He had a great dislike to firing this big gun, but, as he said to himself, there are occasions which make a big gun very necessary. "I got a letter from Lord De Guest this morning, pressing me very much to go to him at Easter. It's about business," added Johnny. "If there was any difficulty, he said, he should write to you."
"Write to me," said Sir Raffle, who did not like to be approached too familiarly in his office, even by an earl.
"Of course I shouldn't tell him to do that. But, Sir Raffle, if I remained out there, in the office," and Johnny pointed towards the big room with his head, "I could choose April for my month. And as the matter is so important to me, and to the earl—"
"What can it be?" said Sir Raffle.
"It's quite private," said John Eames.
Hereupon Sir Raffle became very petulant, feeling that a bargain was being made with him. This young man would only consent to become his private secretary upon certain terms! "Well; go in to FitzHoward now. I can't lose all my day in this way."
"But I shall be able to get away at Easter?"
"I don't know. We shall see about it. But don't stand talking there now." Then John Eames went into FitzHoward's room and received that gentleman's congratulations on his appointment. "I hope you like being rung for, like a servant, every minute, for he's always ringing that bell. And he'll roar at you till you're deaf. You must give up all dinner engagements, for though there is not much to do, he'll never let you go. I don't think anybody ever asks him out to dinner, for he likes being here till seven. And you'll have to write all manner of lies about big people. And, sometimes, when he has sent Rafferty out about his private business, he'll ask you to bring him his shoes." Now Rafferty was the First Commissioner's messenger.
It must be remembered, however, that this little account was given by an outgoing and discomfited private secretary. "A man is not asked to bring another man his shoes," said Eames to himself, "until he shows himself fit for that sort of business." Then he made within his own breast a little resolution about Sir Raffle's shoes.