The Small House at Allington/Chapter 54
THE SECOND VISIT TO THE GUESTWICK BRIDGE.
Bell had declared that her sister would be very happy to see John Eames if he would go over to Allington, and he had replied that of course he would go there. So much having been, as it were, settled, he was able to speak of his visit as a matter of course at the breakfast table, on the morning after the earl's dinner-party. "I must get you to come round with me, Dale, and see what I am doing to the land," the earl said. And then he proposed to order saddle-horses. But the squire preferred walking, and in this way they were disposed of soon after breakfast.
John had it in his mind to get Bell to himself for half an hour, and hold a conference with her; but it either happened that Lady Julia was too keen in her duties as a hostess, or else, as was more possible, Bell avoided the meeting. No opportunity for such an interview offered itself, though he hung about the drawing-room all the morning. "You had better wait for luncheon, now," Lady Julia said to him about twelve. But this he declined; and taking himself away hid himself about the place for the next hour and a half. During this time he considered much whether it would be better for him to ride or walk. If she should give him any hope, he could ride back triumphant as a field-marshal. Then the horse would be delightful to him. But if she should give him no hope,—if it should be his destiny to be rejected utterly on that morning,—then the horse would be terribly in the way of his sorrow. Under such circumstances what could he do but roam wide about across the fields, resting when he might choose to rest, and running when it might suit him to run. "And she is not like other girls," he thought to himself. "She won't care for my boots being dirty." So at last he elected to walk.
"Stand up to her boldly, man," the earl had said to him. "By George, what is there to be afraid of? It's my belief they'll give most to those who ask for most. There's nothing sets 'em against a man like being sheepish." How the earl knew so much, seeing that he had not himself given signs of any success in that walk of life, I am not prepared to say. But Eames took his advice as being in itself good, and resolved to act upon it. "Not that any resolution will be of any use," he said to himself, as he walked along. "When the moment comes I know that I shall tremble before her, and I know that she'll see it; but I don't think it will make any difference in her."
He had last seen her on the lawn behind the Small House, just at that time when her passion for Crosbie was at the strongest. Eames had gone thither impelled by a foolish desire to declare to her his hopeless love, and she had answered him by telling him that she loved Mr. Crosbie better than all the world besides. Of course she had done so, at that time; but, nevertheless, her manner of telling him had seemed to him to be cruel. And he had also been cruel. He had told her that he hated Crosbie,—calling him "that man," and assuring her that no earthly consideration should induce him to go into "that man's house." Then he had walked away moodily wishing him all manner of evil. Was it not singular that all the evil things which he, in his mind, had meditated for the man, had fallen upon him. Crosbie had lost his love! He had so proved himself to be a villain that his name might not be so much as mentioned! He had been ignominiously thrashed! But what good would all this be if his image were still dear to Lily's heart. "I told her that I loved her then," he said to himself, "though I had no right to do so. At any rate I have a right to tell her now."
When he reached Allington he did not go in through the village and up to the front of the Small House by the cross street, but turned by the church gate and passed over the squire's terrace, and by the end of the Great House through the garden. Here he encountered Hopkins. "Why, if that b'aint Mr. Eames!" said the gardener. "Mr. John, may I make so bold!" and Hopkins held out a very dirty hand, which Eames of course took, unconscious of the cause of this new affection.
"I'm just going to call at the Small House, and I thought I'd come this way."
"To be sure; this way, or that way, or any way, who's so welcome, Mr. John? I envies you; I envies you more than I envies any man. If I could a got him by the scuff of the neck, I'd a treated him jist like any wermin;—I would, indeed! He was wermin! I ollays said it. I hated him ollays; I did indeed, Mr. John, from the first moment when he used to be nigging away at them foutry balls, knocking them in among the rhododendrons, as though there weren't no flower blossoms for next year. He never looked at one as though one were a Christian; did he, Mr. John?"
"I wasn't very fond of him myself, Hopkins."
"Of course you weren't very fond of him. Who was?—only she, poor young lady. She'll be better now, Mr. John, a deal better. He wasn't a wholesome lover,—not like you are. Tell me, Mr. John, did you give it him well when you got him? I heard you did;—two black eyes, and all his face one mash of gore!" And Hopkins, who was by no means a young man, stiffly put himself into a fighting attitude.
Eames passed on over the little bridge, which seemed to be in a state of fast decay, unattended to by any friendly carpenter, now that the days of its use were so nearly at an end; and on into the garden, lingering on the spot where he had last said farewell to Lily. He looked about as though he expected still to find her there; but there was no one to be seen in the garden, and no sound to be heard. As every step brought him nearer to her whom he was seeking, he became more and more conscious of the hopelessness of his errand. Him she had never loved, and why should he venture to hope that she would love him now? He would have turned back had he not been aware that his promise to others required that he should persevere. He had said that he would do this thing, and he would be as good as his word. But he hardly ventured to hope that he might be successful. In this frame of mind he slowly made his way up across the lawn.
"My dear, there is John Eames," said Mrs. Dale, who had first seen him from the parlour window.
"Don't go, mamma."
"I don't know; perhaps it will be better that I should."
"No, mamma, no; what good can it do? It can do no good. I like him as well as I can like any one. I love him dearly. But it can do no good. Let him come in here, and be very kind to him; but do not go away and leave us. Of course I knew he would come, and I shall be very glad to see him."
Then Mrs. Dale went round to the other room, and admitted her visitor through the window of the drawing-room. "We are in terrible confusion, John, are we not?"
"And so you are really going to live in Guestwick?"
"Well, it looks like it, does it not? But, to tell you a secret,—only it must be a secret; you must not mention it at Guestwick Manor; even Bell does not know;—we have half made up our minds to unpack all our things and stay where we are."
Eames was so intent on his own purpose, and so fully occupied with the difficulty of the task before him, that he could hardly receive Mrs. Dale's tidings with all the interest which they deserved. "Unpack them all again," he said. "That will be very troublesome. Is Lily with you, Mrs. Dale?"
"Yes, she is in the parlour. Come and see her." So he followed Mrs. Dale through the hall, and found himself in the presence of his love.
"How do you do, John?" "How do you do, Lily?" We all know the way in which such meetings are commenced. Each longed to be tender and affectionate to the other,—each in a different way; but neither knew how to throw any tenderness into this first greeting. "So you're staying at the Manor House," said Lily.
"Yes; I'm staying there. Your uncle and Bell came yesterday afternoon."
"Have you heard about Bell?" said Mrs. Dale.
"Oh, yes; Mary told me. I'm so glad of it. I always liked Dr. Crofts very much. I have not congratulated her, because I didn't know whether it was a secret. But Crofts was there last night, and if it is a secret he didn't seem to be very careful about keeping it."
"It is no secret," said Mrs. Dale. "I don't know that I am fond of such secrets." But as she said this, she thought of Crosbie's engagement, which had been told to every one, and of its consequences.
"Is it to be soon?" he asked.
"Well, yes; we think so. Of course nothing is settled."
"It was such fun," said Lily. "James, who took, at any rate, a year or two to make his proposal, wanted to be married the next day afterwards."
"No, Lily; not quite that."
"Well, mamma, it was very nearly that. He thought it could all be done this week. It has made us so happy, John! I don't know anybody I should so much like for a brother. I'm very glad you like him;—very glad. I hope you'll be friends always." There was some little tenderness in this,—as John acknowledged to himself.
"I'm sure we shall,—if he likes it. That is, if I ever happen to see him. I'll do anything for him I can if he ever comes up to London. Wouldn't it be a good thing, Mrs. Dale, if he settled himself in London?"
"No, John; it would be a very bad thing. Why should he wish to rob me of my daughter?"
Mrs. Dale was speaking of her eldest daughter; but the very allusion to any such robbery covered John Eames's face with a blush, made him hot up to the roots of his hair, and for the moment silenced him.
"You think he would have a better career in London?" said Lily, speaking under the influence of her superior presence of mind.
She had certainly shown defective judgment in desiring her mother not to leave them alone; and of this Mrs. Dale soon felt herself aware. The thing had to be done, and no little precautionary measure, such as this of Mrs. Dale's enforced presence, would prevent it. Of this Mrs. Dale was well aware; and she felt, moreover, that John was entitled to an opportunity of pleading his own cause. It might be that such opportunity would avail him nothing, but not the less should he have it of right, seeing that he desired it. But yet Mrs. Dale did not dare to get up and leave the room. Lily had asked her not to do so, and at the present period of their lives all Lily's requests were sacred. They continued for some time to talk of Crofts and his marriage; and when that subject was finished, they discussed their own probable,—or, as it seemed now, improbable,—removal to Guestwick. "It's going too far, mamma," said Lily, "to say that you think we shall not go. It was only last night that you suggested it. The truth is, John, that Hopkins came in and discoursed with the most wonderful eloquence. Nobody dared to oppose Hopkins. He made us almost cry; he was so pathetic."
"He has just been talking to me, too," said John, "as I came through the squire's garden."
"And what has he been saying to you?" said Mrs. Dale.
"Oh, I don't know; not much." John, however, remembered well, at this moment, all that the gardener had said to him. Did she know of that encounter between him and Crosbie? and if she did know of it, in what light did she regard it?
They had sat thus for an hour together, and Eames was not as yet an inch nearer to his object. He had sworn to himself that he would not leave the Small House without asking Lily to be his wife. It seemed to him as though he would be guilty of falsehood towards the earl if he did so. Lord De Guest had opened his house to him, and had asked all the Dales there, and had offered himself up as a sacrifice at the cruel shrine of a serious dinner-party, to say nothing of that easier and lighter sacrifice which he had made in a pecuniary point of view, in order that this thing might be done. Under such circumstances Eames was too honest a man not to do it, let the difficulties in his way be what they might.
He had sat there for an hour, and Mrs. Dale still remained with her daughter. Should he get up boldly and ask Lily to put on her bonnet and come out into the garden? As the thought struck him, he rose and grasped at his hat. "I am going to walk back to Guestwick," said he.
"It was very good of you to come so far to see us."
"I was always fond of walking," he said. "The earl wanted me to ride, but I prefer being on foot when I know the country, as I do here."
"Have a glass of wine before you go."
"Oh, dear, no. I think I'll go back through the squire's fields, and out on the road at the white gate. The path is quite dry now."
"I dare say it is," said Mrs. Dale.
"Lily, I wonder whether you would come as far as that with me." As the request was made Mrs. Dale looked at her daughter almost beseechingly. "Do, pray do," said he; "it is a beautiful day for walking."
The path proposed lay right across the field into which Lily had taken Crosbie when she made her offer to let him off from his engagement. Could it be possible that she should ever walk there again with another lover? "No, John," she said; "not to-day, I think. I am almost tired, and I had rather not go out."
"It would do you good," said Mrs. Dale.
"I don't want to be done good to, mamma. Besides, I should have to come back by myself."
"I'll come back with you," said Johnny.
"Oh, yes; and then I should have to go again with you. But, John, really I don't wish to walk to-day." Whereupon John Eames again put down his hat.
"Lily," said he; and then he stopped. Mrs. Dale walked away to the window, turning her back upon her daughter and visitor. "Lily, I have come over here on purpose to speak to you. Indeed, I have come down from London only that I might see you."
"Have you, John?"
"Yes, I have. You know well all that I have got to tell you. I loved you before he ever saw you; and now that he has gone, I love you better than I ever did. Dear Lily!" and he put out his hand to her.
"No, John; no," she answered.
"Must it be always no?"
"Always no to that. How can it be otherwise? You would not have me marry you while I love another!"
"But he is gone. He has taken another wife."
"I cannot change myself because he is changed. If you are kind to me you will let that be enough."
"But you are so unkind to me!"
"No, no; oh, I would wish to be so kind to you! John, here; take my hand. It is the hand of a friend who loves you, and will always love you. Dear John, I will do anything,—everything for you but that."
"There is only one thing," said he, still holding her by the hand, but with his face turned from her.
"Nay; do not say so. Are you worse off than I am? I could not have that one thing, and I was nearer to my heart's longings than you have ever been. I cannot have that one thing; but I know that there are other things, and I will not allow myself to be broken-hearted."
"You are stronger than I am," he said.
"Not stronger, but more certain. Make yourself as sure as I am, and you, too, will be strong. Is it not so, mamma?"
"I wish it could be otherwise;—I wish it could be otherwise! If you can give him any hope——"
"Tell me that I may come again,—in a year," he pleaded.
"I cannot tell you so. You may not come again,—not in this way. Do you remember what I told you before, in the garden; that I loved him better than all the world besides? It is still the same. I still love him better than all the world. How, then, can I give you any hope?"
"But it will not be so for ever, Lily."
"For ever! Why should he not be mine as well as hers when that for ever comes? John, if you understand what it is to love, you will say nothing more of it. I have spoken to you more openly about this than I have ever done to anybody, even to mamma, because I have wished to make you understand my feelings. I should be disgraced in my own eyes if I admitted the love of another man, after—after——. It is to me almost as though I had married him. I am not blaming him, remember. These things are different with a man."
She had not dropped his hand, and as she made her last speech was sitting in her old chair with her eyes fixed upon the ground. She spoke in a low voice, slowly, almost with difficulty; but still the words came very clearly, with a clear, distinct voice which caused them to be remembered with accuracy, both by Eames and Mrs. Dale. To him it seemed to be impossible that he should continue his suit after such a declaration. To Mrs. Dale they were terrible words, speaking of a perpetual widowhood, and telling of an amount of suffering greater even than that which she had anticipated. It was true that Lily had never said so much to her as she had now said to John Eames, or had attempted to make so clear an exposition of her own feelings. "I should be disgraced in my own eyes if I admitted the love of another man!" They were terrible words, but very easy to be understood. Mrs. Dale had felt, from the first, that Eames was coming too soon, that the earl and the squire together were making an effort to cure the wound too quickly after its infliction; that time should have been given to her girl to recover. But now the attempt had been made, and words had been forced from Lily's lips, the speaking of which would never be forgotten by herself.
"I knew that it would be so," said John.
"Ah, yes; you know it, because your heart understands my heart. And you will not be angry with me, and say naughty, cruel words, as you did once before. We will think of each other, John, and pray for each other; and will always love one another. When we do meet let us be glad to see each other. No other friend shall ever be dearer to me than you are. You are so true and honest! When you marry I will tell your wife what an infinite blessing God has given her."
"You shall never do that."
"Yes, I will. I understand what you mean; but yet I will."
"Good-by, Mrs. Dale," he said.
"Good-by, John. If it could have been otherwise with her, you should have had all my best wishes in the matter. I would have loved you dearly as my son; and I will love you now." Then she put up her lips and kissed his face.
"And so will I love you," said Lily, giving him her hand again. He looked longingly into her face as though he had thought it possible that she also might kiss him: then he pressed her hand to his lips, and without speaking any further farewell, took up his hat and left the room.
"Poor fellow!" said Mrs. Dale.
"They should not have let him come," said Lily. "But they don't understand. They think that I have lost a toy, and they mean to be good-natured, and to give me another." Very shortly after that Lily went away by herself, and sat alone for hours; and when she joined her mother again at tea-time, nothing further was said of John Eames's visit.
He made his way out by the front door, and through the churchyard, and in this way on to the field through which he had asked Lily to walk with him. He hardly began to think of what had passed till he had left the squire's house behind him. As he made his way through the tombstones he paused and read one, as though it interested him. He stood a moment under the tower looking up at the clock, and then pulled out his own watch, as though to verify the one by the other. He made, unconsciously, a struggle to drive away from his thoughts the facts of the late scene, and for some five or ten minutes he succeeded. He said to himself a word or two about Sir Raffle and his letters, and laughed inwardly as he remembered the figure of Rafferty bringing in the knight's shoes. He had gone some half mile upon his way before he ventured to stand still and tell himself that he had failed in the great object of his life.
Yes; he had failed: and he acknowledged to himself, with bitter reproaches, that he had failed, now and for ever. He told himself that he had obtruded upon her in her sorrow with an unmannerly love, and rebuked himself as having been not only foolish but ungenerous. His friend the earl had been wont, in his waggish way, to call him the conquering hero, and had so talked him out of his common sense as to have made him almost think that he would be successful in his suit. Now, as he told himself that any such success must have been impossible, he almost hated the earl for having brought him to this condition. A conquering hero, indeed! How should he manage to sneak back among them all at the Manor House, crestfallen and abject in his misery? Everybody knew the errand on which he had gone, and everybody must know of his failure. How could he have been such a fool as to undertake such a task under the eyes of so many lookers-on? Was it not the case that he had so fondly expected success, as to think only of his triumph in returning, and not of his more probable disgrace? He had allowed others to make a fool of him, and had so made a fool of himself that now all hope and happiness were over for him. How could he escape at once out of the country,—back to London? How could he get away without saying a word further to any one? That was the thought that at first occupied his mind.
He crossed the road at the end of the squire's property, where the parish of Allington divides itself from that of Abbot's Guest in which the earl's house stands, and made his way back along the copse which skirted the field in which they had encountered the bull, into the high woods which were at the back of the park. Ah, yes; it had been well for him that he had not come out on horseback. That ride home along the high road and up to the Manor House stables would, under his present circumstances, have been almost impossible to him. As it was, he did not think it possible that he should return to his place in the earl's house. How could he pretend to maintain his ordinary demeanour under the eyes of those two old men? It would be better for him to get home to his mother,—to send a message from thence to the Manor, and then to escape back to London. So thinking, but with no resolution made, he went on through the woods, and down from the hill back towards the town till he again came to the little bridge over the brook. There he stopped and stood a while with his broad hand spread over the letters which he had cut in those early days, so as to hide them from his sight. "What an ass I have been,—always and ever!" he said to himself.It was not only of his late disappointment that he was thinking, but of his whole past life. He was conscious of his hobbledehoyhood,—of that backwardness on his part in assuming manhood which had rendered him incapable of making himself acceptable to Lily before she had fallen into the clutches of Crosbie. As he thought of this he
"She has refused me, and it is all over."
He had hardly finished, and was still looking at the chips as they were being carried away by the stream, when a gentle step came close up to him, and turning round, he saw that Lady Julia was on the bridge. She was close to him, and had already seen his handiwork. "Has she offended you, John?" she said.
"Oh, Lady Julia!"
"Has she offended you?"
"She has refused me, and it is all over."
"It may be that she has refused you, and that yet it need not be all over. I am sorry that you have cut out the name, John. Do you mean to cut it out from your heart?"
"Never. I would if I could, but I never shall."
"Keep to it as to a great treasure. It will be a joy to you in after years, and not a sorrow. To have loved truly, even though you shall have loved in vain, will be a consolation when you are as old as I am. It is something to have had a heart."
"I don't know. I wish that I had none."
"And, John;—I can understand her feeling now; and, indeed, I thought all through that you were asking her too soon; but the time may yet come when she will think better of your wishes."
"No, no; never. I begin to know her now."
"If you can be constant in your love you may win her yet. Remember how young she is; and how young you both are. Come again in two years' time, and then, when you have won her, you shall tell me that I have been a good old woman to you both."
"I shall never win her, Lady Julia." As he spoke these last words the tears were running down his cheeks, and he was weeping openly in the presence of his companion. It was well for him that she had come upon him in his sorrow. When he once knew that she had seen his tears, he could pour out to her the whole story of his grief; and as he did so she led him back quietly to the house.