The Small House at Allington/Chapter 58
THE FATE OF THE SMALL HOUSE.
There was something in the tone of Mrs. Dale's voice, as she desired her daughter to come up to the house, and declared that her budget of news should be opened there, which at once silenced Lily's assumed pleasantry. Her mother had been away fully two hours, during which Lily had still continued her walk round the garden, till at last she had become impatient for her mother's footstep. Something serious must have been said between her uncle and her mother during those long two hours. The interviews to which Mrs. Dale was occasionally summoned at the Great House did not usually exceed twenty minutes, and the upshot would be communicated to the girls in a turn or two round the garden; but in the present instance Mrs. Dale positively declined to speak till she was seated within the house.
"Did he come over on purpose to see you, mamma?"
"Yes, my dear, I believe so. He wished to see you, too; but I asked his permission to postpone that till after I had talked to you."
"To see me, mamma? About what?"
"To kiss you, and bid you love him; solely for that. He has not a word to say to you that will vex you."
"Then I will kiss him, and love him, too."
"Yes, you will when I have told you all. I have promised him solemnly to give up all idea of going to Guestwick. So that is over."
"Oh, oh! And we may begin to unpack at once? What an episode in one's life!"
"We may certainly unpack, for I have pledged myself to him; and he is to go into Guestwick himself and arrange about the lodgings.
"Does Hopkins know it?"
"I should think not yet."
"Nor Mrs. Boyce! Mamma, I don't believe I shall be able to survive this next week. We shall look such fools! I'll tell you what we'll do;—it will be the only comfort I can have;—we'll go to work and get everything back into its place before Bell comes home, so as to surprise her."
"What! in two days?"
"Why not? I'll make Hopkins come and help, and then he'll not be so bad. I'll begin at once and go to the blankets and beds, because I can undo them myself."
"But I haven't half told you all; and, indeed, I don't know how to make you understand what passed between us. He is very unhappy about Bernard; Bernard has determined to go abroad, and may be away for years."
"One can hardly blame a man for following up his profession."
"There was no blaming. He only said that it was very sad for him that, in his old age, he should be left alone. This was before there was any talk about our remaining. Indeed he seemed determined not to ask that again as a favour. I could see that in his eye, and I understood it from his tone. He went on to speak of you and Bell, saying how well he loved you both; but that, unfortunately, his hopes regarding you had not been fulfilled."
"Ah, but he shouldn't have had hopes of that sort."
"Listen, my dear, and I think that you will not feel angry with him. He said that he felt his house had never been pleasant to you. Then there followed words which I could not repeat, even if I could remember them. He said much about myself, regretting that the feeling between us had not been more kindly. 'But my heart,' he said, 'has ever been kinder than my words.' Then I got up from where I was seated, and going over to him, I told him that we would remain here."
"And what did he say?"
"I don't know what he said. I know that I was crying, and that he kissed me. It was the first time in his life. I know that he was pleased,—beyond measure pleased. After a while he became animated, and talked of doing ever so many things. He promised that very painting of which you spoke."
"Ah, yes, I knew it; and Hopkins will be here with the peas before dinner-time to-morrow, and Dingles with his shoulders smothered with rabbits. And then Mrs. Boyce! Mamma, he didn't think of Mrs. Boyce; or, in very charity of heart, he would still have maintained his sadness."
"Then he did not think of her; for when I left him he was not at all sad. But I haven't told you half yet."
"Dear me, mamma; was there more than that?"
"And I've told it all wrong; for what I've got to tell now was said before a word was spoken about the house. He brought it in just after what he said about Bernard. He said that Bernard would, of course, be his heir."
"Of course he will."
"And that he should think it wrong to encumber the property with any charges for you girls."
"Mamma, did any one ever——"
"Stop, Lily, stop; and make your heart kinder towards him if you can."
"It is kind; only I hate to be told that I'm not to have a lot of money, as though I had ever shown a desire for it. I have never envied Bernard his man-servant, or his maid-servant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is his. To tell the truth I didn't even wish it to be Bell's, because I knew well that there was somebody she would like a great deal better than ever she could like Bernard."
"I shall never get to the end of my story."
"Yes, you will, mamma, if you persevere."
"The long and the short of it is this, that he has given Bell three thousand pounds, and has given you three thousand also."
"But why me, mamma?" said Lily, and the colour of her cheeks became red as she spoke. There should if possible be nothing more said about John Eames; but whatever might or might not be the necessity of speaking, at any rate, let there be no mistake. "But why me, mamma?"
"Because, as he explained to me, he thinks it right to do the same by each of you. The money is yours at this moment,—to buy hair-pins with, if you please. I had no idea that he could command so large a sum."
"Three thousand pounds! The last money he gave me was half-a-crown, and I thought that he was so stingy! I particularly wanted ten shillings. I should have liked it so much better now if he had given me a nice new five-pound note."
"You'd better tell him so."
"No; because then he'd give me that too. But with five pounds I should have the feeling that I might do what I liked with it;—buy a dressing-case, and a thing for a squirrel to run round in. But nobody ever gives girls money like that, so that they can enjoy it."
"Oh, Lily; you ungrateful child!"
"No, I deny it. I'm not ungrateful. I'm very grateful, because his heart was softened—and because he cried and kissed you. I'll be ever so good to him! But how I'm to thank him for giving me three thousand pounds, I cannot think. It's a sort of thing altogether beyond my line of life. It sounds like something that's to come to me in another world, but which I don't want quite yet. I am grateful, but with a misty, mazy sort of gratitude. Can you tell me how soon I shall have a new pair of Balmoral boots because of this money? If that were brought home to me I think it would enliven my gratitude."
The squire, as he rode back to Guestwick, fell again from that animation, which Mrs. Dale had described, into his natural sombre mood. He thought much of his past life, declaring to himself the truth of those words in which he had told his sister-in-law that his heart had ever been kinder than his words. But the world, and all those nearest to him in the world, had judged him always by his words rather than by his heart. They had taken the appearance, which he could not command or alter, rather than the facts, of which he had been the master. Had he not been good to all his relations?—and yet was there one among them that cared for him? "I'm almost sorry that they are going to stay," he said to himself;—"I know that I shall disappoint them." Yet when he met Bell at the Manor House he accosted her cheerily, telling her with much appearance of satisfaction that that flitting into Guestwick was not to be accomplished.
"I am so glad," said she. "It is long since I wished it."
"And I do not think your mother wishes it now."
"I am sure she does not. It was all a misunderstanding from the first. When some of us could not do all that you wished, we thought it better——" Then Bell paused, finding that she would get herself into a mess if she persevered.
"We will not say any more about it," said the squire. "The thing is over, and I am very glad that it should be so pleasantly settled. I was talking to Dr. Crofts yesterday."
"Were you, uncle?"
"Yes; and he is to come and stay with me the day before he is married. We have arranged it all. And we'll have the breakfast up at the Great House. Only you must fix the day. I should say some time in March. And, my dear, you'll want to make yourself fine; here's a little money for you. You are to spend that before your marriage, you know." Then he shambled away, and as soon as he was alone, again became sad and despondent. He was a man for whom we may predicate some gentle sadness and continued despondency to the end of his life's chapter.
We left John Eames in the custody of Lady Julia, who had overtaken him in the act of erasing Lily's name from the railing which ran across the brook. He had been premeditating an escape home to his mother's house in Guestwick, and thence back to London, without making any further appearance at the Manor House. But as soon as he heard Lady Julia's step, and saw her figure close upon him, he knew that his retreat was cut off from him. So he allowed himself to be led away quietly up to the house. With Lady Julia herself he openly discussed the whole matter,—telling her that his hopes were over, his happiness gone, and his heart half-broken. Though he would perhaps have cared but little for her congratulations in success, he could make himself more amenable to consolation and sympathy from her than from any other inmate in the earl's house. "I don't know what I shall say to your brother," he whispered to her, as they approached the side door at which she intended to enter.
"Will you let me break it to him? After that he will say a few words to you of course, but you need not be afraid of him."
"And Mr. Dale?" said Johnny. "Everybody has heard about it. Everybody will know what a fool I have made myself." She suggested that the earl should speak to the squire, assured him that nobody would think him at all foolish, and then left him to make his way up to his own bedroom. When there he found a letter from Cradell, which had been delivered in his absence; but the contents of that letter may best be deferred to the next chapter. They were not of a nature to give him comfort or to add to his sorrow.
About an hour before dinner there was a knock at his door, and the earl himself, when summoned, made his appearance in the room. He was dressed in his usual farming attire, having been caught by Lady Julia on his first approach to the house, and had come away direct to his young friend, after having been duly trained in what he ought to say by his kind-hearted sister. I am not, however, prepared to declare that he strictly followed his sister's teaching in all that he said upon the occasion.
"Well, my boy," he began, "so the young lady has been perverse."
"Yes, my lord. That is, I don't know about being perverse. It is all over."
"That's as may be, Johnny. As far as I know, not half of them accept their lovers the first time of asking."
"I shall not ask her again."
"Oh, yes, you will. You don't mean to say you are angry with her for refusing you."
"Not in the least. I have no right to be angry. I am only angry with myself for being such a fool, Lord De Guest. I wish I had been dead before I came down here on this errand. Now I think of it, I know there are so many things which ought to have made me sure how it would be."
"I don't see that at all. You come down again,—let me see,—it's May now. Say you come when the shooting begins in September. If we can't get you leave of absence in any other way, we'll make old Buffle come too. Only, by George, I believe he'd shoot us all. But never mind; we'll manage that. You keep up your spirits till September, and then we'll fight the battle another way. The squire shall get up a little party for the bride, and my lady Lily must go then. You shall meet her so; and then we'll shoot over the squire's land. We'll bring you together so; you see if we don't. Lord bless me! Refused once! My belief is, that in these days a girl thinks nothing of a man till she has refused him half-a-dozen times."
"I don't think Lily is at all like that."
"Look here, Johnny. I have not a word to say against Miss Lily. I like her very much, and think her one of the nicest girls I know. When she's your wife, I'll love her dearly, if she'll let me. But she's made of the same stuff as other girls, and will act in the same way. Things have gone a little astray among you, and they won't right themselves all in a minute. She knows now what your feelings are, and she'll go on thinking of it, till at last you'll be in her thoughts more than that other fellow. Don't tell me about her becoming an old maid, because at her time of life she has been so unfortunate as to come across a false-hearted man like that. It may take a little time; but if you'll carry on and not be down-hearted, you'll find it will all come right in the end. Everybody doesn't get all that they want in a minute. How I shall quiz you about all this when you have been two or three years married!"
"I don't think I shall ever be able to ask her again; and I feel sure, if I do, that her answer will be the same. She told me in so many words——; but never mind, I cannot repeat her words."
"I don't want you to repeat them; nor yet to heed them beyond their worth. Lily Dale is a very pretty girl; clever, too, I believe, and good, I'm sure; but her words are not more sacred than those of other men or women. What she has said to you now, she means, no doubt; but the minds of men and women are prone to change, especially when such changes are conducive to their own happiness."
"At any rate I'll never forget your kindness, Lord De Guest."
"And there is one other thing I want to say to you, Johnny. A man should never allow himself to be cast down by anything,—not outwardly, to the eyes of other men."
"But how is he to help it?"
"His pluck should prevent him. You were not afraid of a roaring bull, nor yet of that man when you thrashed him at the railway station. You've pluck enough of that kind. You must now show that you've that other kind of pluck. You know the story of the boy who would not cry though the wolf was gnawing him underneath his frock. Most of us have some wolf to gnaw us somewhere; but we are generally gnawed beneath our clothes, so that the world doesn't see; and it behoves us so to bear it that the world shall not suspect. The man who goes about declaring himself to be miserable will be not only miserable, but contemptible as well."
"But the wolf hasn't gnawed me beneath my clothes; everybody knows it."
"Then let those who do know it learn that you are able to bear such wounds without outward complaint. I tell you fairly that I cannot sympathize with a lackadaisical lover."
"I know that I have made myself ridiculous to everybody. I wish I had never come here. I wish you had never seen me."
"Don't say that, my dear boy; but take my advice for what it is worth. And remember what it is that I say; with your grief I do sympathize, but not with any outward expression of it;—not with melancholy looks, and a sad voice, and an unhappy gait. A man should always be able to drink his wine and seem to enjoy it. If he can't, he is so much less of a man than he would be otherwise,—not so much more, as some people seem to think. Now get yourself dressed, my dear fellow, and come down to dinner as though nothing had happened to you."
As soon as the earl was gone John looked at his watch and saw that it still wanted some forty minutes to dinner. Fifteen minutes would suffice for him to dress, and therefore there was time sufficient for him to seat himself in his arm-chair and think over it all. He had for a moment been very angry when his friend had told him that he could not sympathize with a lackadaisical lover. It was an ill-natured word. He felt it to be so when he heard it, and so he continued to think during the whole of the half-hour that he sat in that chair. But it probably did him more good than any word that the earl had ever spoken to him,—or any other word that he could have used. "Lackadaisical! I'm not lackadaisical," he said to himself, jumping up from his chair, and instantly sitting down again. "I didn't say anything to him. I didn't tell him. Why did he come to me?" And yet, though he endeavoured to abuse Lord De Guest in his thoughts, he knew that Lord De Guest was right, and that he was wrong. He knew that he had been lackadaisical, and was ashamed of himself; and at once resolved that he would henceforth demean himself as though no calamity had happened to him. "I've a good mind to take him at his word, and drink wine till I'm drunk." Then he strove to get up his courage by a song.
If she be not fair for me,
What care I how——
"But I do care. What stuff it is a man writing poetry and putting into it such lies as that! Everybody knows that he did care,—that is, if he wasn't a heartless beast."
But nevertheless, when the time came for him to go down into the drawing-room he did make the effort which his friend had counselled, and walked into the room with less of that hang-dog look than the earl and Lady Julia had expected. They were both there, as was also the squire, and Bell followed him in less than a minute.
"You haven't seen Crofts to-day, John, have you?" said the earl.
"No; I haven't been anywhere his way!"
"His way! His ways are every way, I take it. I wanted him to come and dine, but he seemed to think it improper to eat two dinners in the same house two days running. Isn't that his theory, Miss Dale?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Lord De Guest. At any rate, it isn't mine."
So they went to their feast, and before his last chance was over John Eames found himself able to go through the pretence of enjoying his roast mutton.
There can, I think, be no doubt that in all such calamities as that which he was now suffering, the agony of the misfortune is much increased by the conviction that the facts of the case are known to those round about the sufferer. A most warm-hearted and intensely-feeling young gentleman might, no doubt, eat an excellent dinner after being refused by the girl of his devotions, provided that he had reason to believe that none of those in whose company he ate it knew anything of his rejection. But the same warm-hearted and intensely-feeling young gentleman would find it very difficult to go through the ceremony with any appearance of true appetite or gastronomic enjoyment, if he were aware that all his convives knew all the facts of his little misfortune. Generally, we may suppose, a man in such condition goes to his club for his dinner, or seeks consolation in the shades of some adjacent Richmond or Hampton Court. There he meditates on his condition in silence, and does ultimately enjoy his little plate of whitebait, his cutlet and his moderate pint of sherry. He probably goes alone to the theatre, and, in his stall, speculates with a somewhat bitter sarcasm on the vanity of the world. Then he returns home, sad indeed, but with a moderated sadness, and as he puffs out the smoke of his cigar at the open window,—with perhaps the comfort of a little brandy-and-water at his elbow,—swears to himself that, "By Jove, he'll have another try for it." Alone, a man may console himself, or among a crowd of unconscious mortals; but it must be admitted that the position of John Eames was severe. He had been invited down there to woo Lily Dale, and the squire and Bell had been asked to be present at the wooing. Had it all gone well, nothing could have been nicer. He would have been the hero of the hour, and everybody would have sung for him his song of triumph. But everything had not gone well, and he found it very difficult to carry himself otherwise than lackadaisically. On the whole, however, his effort was such that the earl gave him credit for his demeanour, and told him when parting with him for the night that he was a fine fellow, and that everything should go right with him yet.
"And you mustn't be angry with me for speaking harshly to you," he said.
"I wasn't a bit angry."
"Yes, you were; and I rather meant that you should be. But you mustn't go away in dudgeon."
He stayed at the Manor House one day longer, and then he returned to his room at the Income-tax Office, to the disagreeable sound of Sir Raffle's little bell, and the much more disagreeable sound of Sir Raffle's big voice.