The Small House at Allington/Chapter 47
THE NEW PRIVATE SECRETARY.
Income-tax Office, April 8, 18—
My dear Lord De Guest,
I hardly know how to answer your letter, it is so very kind—more than kind. And about not writing before,—I must explain that I have not liked to trouble you with letters. I should have seemed to be encroaching if I had written much. Indeed it didn't come from not thinking about you. And first of all, about the money,—as to your offer, I mean. I really feel that I do not know what I ought to say to you about it, without appearing to be a simpleton. The truth is, I don't know what I ought to do, and can only trust to you not to put me wrong. I have an idea that a man ought not to accept a present of money, unless from his father, or somebody like that. And the sum you mention is so very large that it makes me wish you had not named it. If you choose to be so generous, would it not be better that you should leave it me in your will?
"So that he might always want me to be dying," said Lord De Guest, as he read the letter out loud to his sister.
"I'm sure he wouldn't want that," said Lady Julia. "But you may live for twenty-five years, you know."
"Say fifty," said the earl. And then he continued the reading of his letter.
But all that depends so much upon another person, that it is hardly worth while talking about it. Of course I am very much obliged to Mr. Dale,—very much indeed,—and I think that he is behaving very handsomely to his niece. But whether it will do me any good, that is quite another thing. However, I shall certainly accept your kind invitation for Easter, and find out whether I have a chance or not. I must tell you that Sir Raffle Buffle has made me his private secretary, by which I get a hundred a year. He says he was a great crony of yours many years ago, and seems to like talking about you very much. You will understand what all that means. He has sent you ever so many messages, but I don't suppose you will care to get them. I am to go to him to-morrow, and from all I hear I shall have a hard time of it.
"By George, he will," said the earl. "Poor fellow!"
"But I thought a private secretary never had anything to do," said Lady Julia.
"I shouldn't like to be private secretary to Sir Raffle, myself. But he's young, and a hundred a year is a great thing. How we all of us used to hate that man. His voice sounded like a bell with a crack in it. We always used to be asking for some one to muffle the Buffle. They call him Huffle Scuffle at his office. Poor Johnny!" Then he finished the letter:—
I told him that I must have leave of absence at Easter, and he at first declared that it was impossible. But I shall carry my point about that. I would not stay away to be made private secretary to the Prime Minister; and yet I almost feel that I might as well stay away for any good that I shall do.
Give my kind regards to Lady Julia, and tell her how very much obliged to her I am. I cannot express the gratitude which I owe to you. But pray believe me, my dear Lord De Guest, always very faithfully yours,
It was late before Eames had finished his letter. He had been making himself ready for his exodus from the big room, and preparing his desk and papers for his successor. About half-past five Cradell came up to him, and suggested that they should walk home together.
"What! you here still?" said Eames. "I thought you always went at four." Cradell had remained, hanging about the office, in order that he might walk home with the new private secretary. But Eames did not desire this. He had much of which he desired to think alone, and would fain have been allowed to walk by himself.
"Yes; I had things to do. I say, Johnny, I congratulate you most heartily; I do, indeed."
"Thank you, old fellow!"
"It is such a grand thing, you know. A hundred a year all at once! And then such a snug room to yourself,—and that fellow, Kissing, never can come near you. He has been making himself such a beast all day. But, Johnny, I always knew you'd come to something more than common. I always said so."
"There's nothing uncommon about this; except that Fitz says that old Huffle Scuffle makes himself uncommon nasty."
"Never mind what Fitz says. It's all jealousy. You'll have it all your own way, if you look sharp. I think you always do have it all your own way. Are you nearly ready?"
"Well,—not quite. Don't wait for me, Caudle."
"Oh, I'll wait. I don't mind waiting. They'll keep dinner for us if we both stay. Besides, what matters? I'd do more than that for you."
"I have some idea of working on till eight, and having a chop sent in," said Johnny. "Besides—I've got somewhere to call, by myself."
Then Cradell almost cried. He remained silent for two or three minutes, striving to master his emotion; and at last, when he did speak, had hardly succeeded in doing so. "Oh, Johnny," he said, "I know what that means. You are going to throw me over because you are getting up in the world. I have always stuck to you, through everything; haven't I?"
"Don't make yourself a fool, Caudle."
"Well; so I have. And if they had made me private secretary, I should have been just the same to you as ever. You'd have found no change in me."
"What a goose you are. Do you say I'm changed, because I want to dine in the city?"
"It's all because you don't want to walk home with me, as we used to do. I'm not such a goose but what I can see. But, Johnny—— I suppose I mustn't call you Johnny, now."
"Don't be such a—con-founded——" Then Eames got up, and walked about the room. "Come along," said he, "I don't care about staying, and don't mind where I dine." And he bustled away with his hat and gloves, hardly giving Cradell time to catch him before he got out into the streets. "I tell you what it is, Caudle," said he, "all that kind of thing is disgusting."
"But how would you feel," whimpered Cradell, who had never succeeded in putting himself quite on a par with his friend, even in his own estimation, since that glorious victory at the railway station. If he could only have thrashed Lupex as Johnny had thrashed Crosbie; then indeed they might have been equal,—a pair of heroes. But he had not done so. He had never told himself that he was a coward, but he considered that circumstances had been specially unkind to him. "But how would you feel," he whimpered, "if the friend whom you liked better than anybody else in the world, turned his back upon you?"
"I haven't turned my back upon you; except that I can't get you to walk fast enough. Come along, old fellow, and don't talk confounded nonsense. I hate all that kind of thing. You never ought to suppose that a man will give himself airs, but wait till he does. I don't believe I shall remain with old Scuffles above a month or two. From all that I can hear that's as much as any one can bear."
Then Cradell by degrees became happy and cordial, and during the whole walk flattered Eames with all the flattery of which he was master. And Johnny, though he did profess himself to be averse to "all that kind of thing," was nevertheless open to flattery. When Cradell told him that though FitzHoward could not manage the Tartar knight, he might probably do so; he was inclined to believe what Cradell said. "And as to getting him his shoes," said Cradell, "I don't suppose he'd ever think of asking you to do such a thing, unless he was in a very great hurry, or something of that kind."
"Look here, Johnny," said Cradell, as they got into one of the streets bordering on Burton Crescent, "you know the last thing in the world I should like to do would be to offend you."
"All right, Caudle," said Eames, going on, whereas his companion had shown a tendency towards stopping.
"Look here, now; if I have vexed you about Amelia Roper, I'll make you a promise never to speak to her again."
"D—— Amelia Roper," said Eames, suddenly stopping himself and stopping Cradell as well. The exclamation was made in a deep angry voice which attracted the notice of one or two who were passing. Johnny was very wrong,—wrong to utter any curse;—very wrong to ejaculate that curse against a human being; and especially wrong to fulminate it against a woman—a woman whom he had professed to love! But he did do so, and I cannot tell my story thoroughly without repeating the wicked word.
Cradell looked up at him and stared. "I only meant to say," said Cradell, "I'll do anything you like in the matter."
"Then never mention her name to me again. And as to talking to her, you may talk to her till you're both blue in the face, if you please."
"Oh;—I didn't know. You didn't seem to like it the other day."
"I was a fool the other day,—a confounded fool. And so I have been all my life. Amelia Roper! Look here, Caudle; if she makes up to you this evening, as I've no doubt she will, for she seems to be playing that game constantly now, just let her have her fling. Never mind me; I'll amuse myself with Mrs. Lupex, or Miss Spruce."
"But there'll be the deuce to pay with Mrs. Lupex. She's as cross as possible already whenever Amelia speaks to me. You don't know what a jealous woman is, Johnny." Cradell had got upon what he considered to be his high ground. And on that he felt himself equal to any man. It was no doubt true that Eames had thrashed a man, and that he had not; it was true also that Eames had risen to very high place in the social world, having become a private secretary; but for a dangerous, mysterious, overwhelming, life-enveloping intrigue;—was not he the acknowledged hero of such an affair? He had paid very dearly, both in pocket and in comfort, for the blessing of Mrs. Lupex's society; but he hardly considered that he had paid too dearly. There are certain luxuries which a man will find to be expensive; but, for all that, they may be worth their price. Nevertheless as he went up the steps of Mrs. Roper's house he made up his mind that he would oblige his friend. The intrigue might in that way become more mysterious, and more life-enveloping; whereas it would not become more dangerous, seeing that Mr. Lupex could hardly find himself to be aggrieved by such a proceeding.
The whole number of Mrs. Roper's boarders were assembled at dinner that day. Mr. Lupex seldom joined that festive board, but on this occasion he was present, appearing from his voice and manner to be in high good-humour. Cradell had communicated to the company in the drawing-room the great good fortune which had fallen upon his friend, and Johnny had thereby become the mark of a certain amount of hero-worship.
"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Roper. "An 'appy woman your mother will be when she hears it. But I always said you'd come down right side uppermost."
"Handsome is as handsome does," said Miss Spruce.
"Oh, Mr. Eames!" exclaimed Mrs. Lupex, with graceful enthusiasm, "I wish you joy from the very depth of my heart. It is such an elegant appointment."
"Accept the hand of a true and disinterested friend," said Lupex. And Johnny did accept the hand, though it was very dirty and stained all over with paint.
Amelia stood apart and conveyed her congratulations by a glance,—or, I might better say, by a series of glances. "And now,—now will you not be mine," the glances said; "now that you are rolling in wealth and prosperity?" And then before they went downstairs she did whisper one word to him. "Oh, I am so happy, John;—so very happy."
"Bother!" said Johnny, in a tone quite loud enough to reach the lady's ear. Then making his way round the room, he gave his arm to Miss Spruce. Amelia, as she walked downstairs alone, declared to herself that she would wring his heart. She had been employed in wringing it for some days past, and had been astonished at her own success. It had been clear enough to her that Eames had been piqued by her overtures to Cradell, and she resolved therefore to play out that game.
"Oh, Mr. Cradell," she said, as she took her seat next to him. "The friends I like are the friends that remain always the same. I hate your sudden rises. They do so often make a man upsetting."
"I should like to try, myself, all the same," said Cradell.
"Well, I don't think it would make any difference in you; I don't indeed. And of course your time will come too. It's that earl as has done it,—he that was worried by the bull. Since we have known an earl we have been so mighty fine." And Amelia gave her head a little toss, and then smiled archly, in a manner which, to Cradell's eyes, was really very becoming. But he saw that Mrs. Lupex was looking at him from the other side of the table, and he could not quite enjoy the goods which the gods had provided for him.
When the ladies left the dining-room Lupex and the two young men drew their chairs near the fire, and each prepared for himself a moderate potation. Eames made a little attempt at leaving the room, but he was implored by Lupex with such earnest protestations of friendship to remain, and was so weakly fearful of being charged with giving himself airs, that he did as he was desired.
"And here, Mr. Eames, is to your very good health," said Lupex, raising to his mouth a steaming goblet of gin-and-water, "and wishing you many years to enjoy your official prosperity."
"Thank ye," said Eames. "I don't know much about the prosperity, but I'm just as much obliged."
"Yes, sir; when I see a young man of your age beginning to rise in the world, I know he'll go on. Now look at me, Mr. Eames. Mr. Cradell, here's your very good health, and may all unkindness be drowned in the flowing bowl—— Look at me, Mr. Eames. I've never risen in the world; I've never done any good in the world, and never shall."
"Oh, Mr. Lupex, don't say that."
"Ah, but I do say it. I've always been pulling the devil by the tail, and never yet got as much as a good hold on to that. And I'll tell you why; I never got a chance when I was young. If I could have got any big fellow, a star, you know, to let me paint his portrait when I was your age,—such a one, let us say, as your friend Sir Raffle——"
"What a star!" said Cradell.
"Well, I suppose he's pretty much known in the world, isn't he? Or Lord Derby, or Mr. Spurgeon. You know what I mean. If I'd got such a chance as that when I was young, I should never have been doing jobs of scene-painting at the minor theatres at so much a square yard. You've got the chance now, but I never had it." Whereupon Mr. Lupex finished his first measure of gin-and-water.
"It's a very queer thing,—life is," continued Lupex; and, though he did not at once go to work boldly at the mixing of another glass of toddy, he began gradually, and as if by instinct, to finger the things which would be necessary for that operation. "A very queer thing. Now, remember, young gentlemen, I'm not denying that success in life will depend upon good conduct;—of course it does; but, then, how often good conduct comes from success! Should I have been what I am now, do you suppose, if some big fellow had taken me by the hand when I was struggling to make an artist of myself? I could have drunk claret and champagne just as well as gin-and-water, and worn ruffles to my shirt as gracefully as many a fellow who used to be very fond of me, and now won't speak to me if he meets me in the streets. I never got a chance,—never."
"But it's not too late yet, Mr. Lupex," said Eames.
"Yes, it is, Eames,—yes, it is." And now Mr. Lupex had grasped the gin-bottle. "It's too late now. The game's over, and the match is lost. The talent is here. I'm as sure of that now as ever I was. I've never doubted my own ability,—never for a moment. There are men this very day making a thousand a year off their easels who haven't so good and true an eye in drawing as I have, or so good a feeling in colours. I could name them; only I won't."
"And why shouldn't you try again?" said Eames.
"If I were to paint the finest piece that ever delighted the eye of man, who would come and look at it? Who would have enough belief in me to come as far as this place and see if it were true? No, Eames; I know my own position and my own ways, and I know my own weakness. I couldn't do a day's work now, unless I were certain of getting a certain number of shillings at the end of it. That's what a man comes to when things have gone against him."
"But I thought men got lots of money by scene-painting?"
"I don' know what you may call lots, Mr. Cradell; I don't call it lots. But I'm not complaining. I know who I have to thank; and if ever I blow my own brains out I shan't be putting the blame on the wrong shoulders. If you'll take my advice,"—and now he turned round to Eames,—"you'll beware of marrying too soon in life."
"I think a man should marry early, if he marries well," said Eames.
"Don't misunderstand me," continued Lupex. "It isn't about Mrs. L. I'm speaking. I've always regarded my wife as a very fascinating woman."
"Hear, hear, hear!" said Cradell, thumping the table.
"Indeed she is," said Eames.
"And when I caution you against marrying, don't you misunderstand me. I've never said a word against her to any man, and never will. If a man don't stand by his wife, who will he stand by? I blame no one but myself. But I do say this; I never had a chance;—I never had a chance;—never had a chance." And as he repeated the words for the third time, his lips were already fixed to the rim of his tumbler.
At this moment the door of the dining-room was opened, and Mrs. Lupex put in her head.
"Lupex," she said, "what are you doing?"
"Yes, my dear. I can't say I'm doing anything at the present moment. I was giving a little advice to these young gentlemen."
"Mr. Cradell, I wonder at you. And, Mr. Eames, I wonder at you, too,—in your position! Lupex, come upstairs at once." She then stepped into the room and secured the gin-bottle.
"Oh, Mr. Cradell, do come here," said Amelia, in her liveliest tone, as soon as the men made their appearance above. "I've been waiting for you this half-hour. I've got such a puzzle for you." And she made way for him to a chair which was between herself and the wall. Cradell looked half afraid of his fortunes as he took the proffered seat; but he did take it, and was soon secured from any positive physical attack by the strength and breadth of Miss Roper's crinoline.
"Dear me! Here's a change," said Mrs. Lupex, out loud.
Johnny Eames was standing close, and whispered into her ear, "Changes are so pleasant sometimes! Don't you think so? I do."