The Small House at Allington/Chapter 59

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Eames, when he was half way up to London in the railway carriage took out from his pocket a letter and read it. During the former portion of his journey he had been thinking of other things; but gradually he had resolved that it would be better for him not to think more of those other things for the present, and therefore he had recourse to his letter by way of dissipating his thoughts. It was from Cradell, and ran as follows:—

Income-Tax Office, May,— 186—.

My dear John,—I hope the tidings which I have to give you will not make you angry, and that you will not think I am untrue to the great friendship which I have for you because of that which I am now going to tell you. There is no man—[and the word man was underscored] there is no man whose regard I value so highly as I do yours; and though I feel that you can have no just ground to be displeased with me after all that I have heard you say on many occasions, nevertheless, in matters of the heart it is very hard for one person to understand the sentiments of another, and when the affections of a lady are concerned, I know what quarrels will sometimes arise.

Eames, when he had got so far as this, on the first perusal of the letter, knew well what was to follow. "Poor Caudle!" he said to himself; "he's hooked, and he'll never get himself off the hook again."

But let that be as it may, the matter has now gone too far for any alteration to be made by me; nor would any mere earthly inducement suffice to change me. The claims of friendship are very strong, but those of love are paramount. Of course I know all that has passed between you and Amelia Roper. Much of this I had heard from you before, but the rest she has now told me with that pure-minded honesty which is the most remarkable feature in her character. She has confessed that at one time she felt attached to you, and that she was induced by your perseverance to allow you to regard her as your fiancy. [Fancy-girl he probably conceived to be the vulgar English for the elegant term which he used.] But all that must be over between you now. Amelia has promised to be mine—[this also was underscored]—and mine I intend that she shall be. That you may find in the kind smiles of L. D. consolation for any disappointment which this may occasion you, is the ardent wish of your true friend,

Joseph Cradell.

P.S—Perhaps I had better tell you the whole. Mrs. Roper has been in some trouble about her house. She is a little in arrears with her rent, and some bills have not been paid. As she explained that she has been brought into this by those dreadful Lupexes I have consented to take the house into my own hands, and have given bills to one or two tradesmen for small amounts. Of course she will take them up, but it was the credit that was wanting. She will carry on the house, but I shall, in fact, be the proprietor. I suppose it will not suit you now to remain here, but don't you think I might make it comfortable enough for some of our fellows; say half-a-dozen, or so? That is Mrs. Roper's idea, and I certainly think it is not a bad one. Our first efforts must be to get rid of the Lupexes. Miss Spruce goes next week. In the meantime we are all taking our meals up in our own rooms, so that there is nothing for the Lupexes to eat. But they don't seem to mind that, and still keep the sitting-room and best bedroom. We mean to lock them out after Tuesday, and send all their boxes to the public-house.

Poor Cradell! Eames, as he threw himself back upon his seat and contemplated the depth of misfortune into which his friend had fallen, began to be almost in love with his own position. He himself was, no doubt, a very miserable fellow. There was only one thing in life worth living for, and that he could not get. He had been thinking for the last three days of throwing himself before a locomotive steam-engine, and was not quite sure that he would not do it yet; but, nevertheless, his place was a place among the gods as compared to that which poor Cradell had selected for himself. To be not only the husband of Amelia Roper, but to have been driven to take upon himself as his bride's fortune the whole of his future mother-in-law's debts! To find himself the owner of a very indifferent lodging-house;—the owner as regarded all responsibility, though not the owner as regarded any possible profit! And then, above and almost worse than all the rest, to find himself saddled with the Lupexes in the beginning of his career! Poor Cradell indeed!

Eames had not taken his things away from the lodging-house before he left London, and therefore determined to drive to Burton Crescent immediately on his arrival, not with the intention of remaining there, even for a night, but that he might bid them farewell, speak his congratulations to Amelia, and arrange for his final settlement with Mrs. Roper. It should have been explained in the last chapter that the earl had told him before parting with him that his want of success with Lily would make no difference as regarded money. John had, of course, expostulated, saying that he did not want anything, and would not, under his existing circumstances, accept anything; but the earl was a man who knew how to have his own way, and in this matter did have it. Our friend, therefore, was a man of wealth when he returned to London, and could tell Mrs. Roper that he would send her a cheque for her little balance as soon as he reached his office.

He arrived in the middle of the day,—not timing his return at all after the usual manner of Government clerks, who generally manage to reach the metropolis not more than half an hour before the moment at which they are bound to show themselves in their seats. But he had come back two days before he was due, and had run away from the country as though London in May to him were much pleasanter than the woods and fields. But neither had London nor the woods and fields any influence on his return. He had gone down that he might throw himself at the feet of Lily Dale,—gone down, as he now confessed to himself, with hopes almost triumphant, and he had returned because Lily Dale would not have him at her feet. "I loved him,—him, Crosbie,—better than all the world besides. It is still the same. I still love him better than all the world." Those were the words which had driven him back to London; and having been sent away with such words as those, it was little matter to him whether he reached his office a day or two sooner or later. The little room in the city, even with the accompaniment of Sir Raffle's bell and Sir Raffle's voice, would be now more congenial to him than Lady Julia's drawing-room. He would therefore present himself to Sir Raffle on that very afternoon, and expel some interloper from his seat. But he would first call in Burton Crescent and say farewell to the Ropers.

The door was opened for him by the faithful Jemima. "Mr. Heames, Mr. Heames! ho dear, ho dear!" and the poor girl, who had always taken his side in the adventures of the lodging-house, raised her hands on high and lamented the fate which had separated her favourite from its fortunes. "I suppose you knows it all, Mister Johnny?" Mister Johnny said that he believed he did know it all, and asked for the mistress of the house. "Yes, sure enough, she's at home. She don't dare stir out much, 'cause of them Lupexes. Ain't this a pretty game? No dinner and no nothink! Them boxes is Miss Spruce's. She's agoing now, this minute. You'll find 'em all upstairs in the drawen-room." So upstairs into the drawing-room he went, and there he found the mother and daughter, and with them Miss Spruce, tightly packed up in her bonnet and shawl. "Don't, mother," Amelia was saying; "what's the good of going on in that way? If she chooses to go, let her go."

"But she's been with me now so many years," said Mrs. Roper, sobbing; "and I've always done everything for her! Haven't I, now, Sally Spruce?" It struck Eames immediately that, though he had been an inmate in the house for two years, he had never before heard that maiden lady's Christian name. Miss Spruce was the first to see Eames as he entered the room. It is probable that Mrs. Roper's pathos might have produced some answering pathos on her part had she remained unobserved, but the sight of a young man brought her back to her usual state of quiescence. "I am only an old woman," said she; "and here's Mr. Eames come back again."

"How d'ye do, Mrs. Roper? how d'ye do,——Amelia? how d'ye do, Miss Spruce?" and he shook hands with them all.

"Oh, laws," said Mrs. Roper, "you have given me such a start!"

"Dear me, Mr. Eames; only think of your coming back in that way," said Amelia.

"Well, what way should I come back? You didn't hear me knock at the door, that's all. So Miss Spruce is really going to leave you?"

"Isn't it dreadful, Mr. Eames? Nineteen years we've been together;—taking both houses together, Miss Spruce, we have, indeed." Miss Spruce, at this point, struggled very hard to convince John Eames that the period in question had in truth extended over only eighteen years, but Mrs. Roper was authoritative, and would not permit it. "It's nineteen years if it's a day. No one ought to know dates if I don't, and there isn't one in the world understands her ways unless it's me. Haven't I been up to your bedroom every night, and with my own hand given you——" But she stopped herself, and was too good a woman to declare before a young man what had been the nature of her nightly ministrations to her guest.

"I don't think you'll be so comfortable anywhere else, Miss Spruce," said Eames.

"Comfortable! of course she won't," said Amelia. "But if I was mother I wouldn't have any more words about it."

"It isn't the money I'm thinking of, but the feeling of it," said Mrs. Roper. "The house will be so lonely like. I shan't know myself; that I shan't. And now that things are all settled so pleasantly, and that the Lupexes must go on Tuesday—— I'll tell you what, Sally; I'll pay for the cab myself, and I'll start off to Dulwich by the omnibus to-morrow, and settle it all out of my own pocket. I will indeed. Come; there's the cab. Let me go down, and send him away."

"I'll do that," said Eames. "It's only sixpence, off the stand," Mrs. Roper called to him as he left the room. But the cabman got a shilling, and John, as he returned, found Jemima in the act of carrying Miss Spruce's boxes back to her room. "So much the better for poor Caudle," said he to himself. "As he has gone into the trade it's well that he should have somebody that will pay him."

Mrs. Roper followed Miss Spruce up the stairs and Johnny was left with Amelia. "He's written to you, I know," said she, with her face turned a little away from him. She was certainly very handsome, but there was a hard, cross, almost sullen look about her, which robbed her countenance of all its pleasantness. And yet she had no intention of being sullen with him.

"Yes," said John. "He has told me how it's all going to be."

"Well?" she said.

"Well?" said he.

"Is that all you've got to say?"

"I'll congratulate you, if you'll let me."

"Psha;—congratulations! I hate such humbug. If you've no feelings about it, I'm sure that I've none. Indeed I don't know what's the good of feelings. They never did me any good. Are you engaged to marry L. D.?"

"No, I am not."

"And you've nothing else to say to me?"

"Nothing,—except my hopes for your happiness. What else can I say? You are engaged to marry my friend Cradell, and I think it will be a happy match."

She turned away her face further from him, and the look of it became even more sullen. Could it be possible that at such a moment she still had a hope that he might come back to her?

"Good-by, Amelia," he said, putting out his hand to her.

"And this is to be the last of you in this house!"

"Well, I don't know about that. I'll come and call upon you, if you'll let me, when you're married."

"Yes," she said, "that there may be rows in the house, and noise, and jealousy,—as there have been with that wicked woman upstairs. Not if I know it, you won't! John Eames, I wish I'd never seen you. I wish we might have both fallen dead when we first met. I didn't think ever to have cared for a man as I have cared for you. It's all trash and nonsense and foolery; I know that. It's all very well for young ladies as can sit in drawing-rooms all their lives, but when a woman has her way to make in the world it's all foolery. And such a hard way too to make as mine is!"

"But it won't be hard now."

"Won't it? But I think it will. I wish you would try it. Not that I'm going to complain. I never minded work, and as for company, I can put up with anybody. The world's not to be all dancing and fiddling for the likes of me. I know that well enough. But——," and then she paused.

"What's the 'but' about, Amelia?"

"It's like you to ask me; isn't it?" To tell the truth he should not have asked her. "Never mind. I'm not going to have any words with you. If you've been a knave I've been a fool, and that's worse."

"But I don't think I have been a knave."

"I've been both," said the girl; "and both for nothing. After that you may go. I've told you what I am, and I'll leave you to name yourself. I didn't think it was in me to have been such a fool. It's that that frets me. Never mind, sir; it's all over now, and I wish you good-by."

I do not think that there was the slightest reason why John should have again kissed her at parting, but he did so. She bore it, not struggling with him; but she took his caress with sullen endurance. "It'll be the last," she said. "Good-by, John Eames."

"Good-by, Amelia. Try to make him a good wife and then you'll be happy." She turned up her nose at this, assuming a look of unutterable scorn. But she said nothing further, and then he left the room. At the parlour door he met Mrs. Roper, and had his parting words with her.

"I am so glad you came," said she. "It was just that word you said that made Miss Spruce stay. Her money is so ready, you know! And so you've had it all out with her about Cradell. She'll make him a good wife, she will indeed;—much better than you've been giving her credit for."

"I don't doubt she'll be a very good wife."

"You see, Mr. Eames, it's all over now, and we understand each other; don't we? It made me very unhappy when she was setting her cap at you; it did indeed. She is my own daughter, and I couldn't go against her;—could I? But I knew it wasn't in any way suiting. Laws, I know the difference. She's good enough for him any day of the week, Mr. Eames."

"That she is,—Saturdays or Sundays," said Johnny, not knowing exactly what he ought to say.

"So she is; and if he does his duty by her she won't go astray in hers by him. And as for you, Mr. Eames, I am sure I've always felt it an honour and a pleasure to have you in the house; and if ever you could use a good word in sending to me any of your young men, I'd do by them as a mother should; I would indeed. I know I've been to blame about those Lupexes, but haven't I suffered for it, Mr. Eames? And it was difficult to know at first; wasn't it? And as to you and Amelia, if you would send any of your young men to try, there couldn't be anything more of that kind, could there? I know it hasn't all been just as it should have been;—that is as regards you; but I should like to hear you say that you've found me honest before you went. I have tried to be honest, I have indeed."

Eames assured her that he was convinced of her honesty, and that he had never thought of impugning her character either in regard to those unfortunate people, the Lupexes, or in reference to other matters. "He did not think," he said, "that any young men would consult him as to their lodgings; but if he could be of any service to her, he would." Then he bade her good-by, and having bestowed half-a-sovereign on the faithful Jemima, he took a long farewell of Burton Crescent. Amelia had told him not to come and see her when she should be married, and he had resolved that he would take her at her word. So he walked off from the Crescent, not exactly shaking the dust from his feet, but resolving that he would know no more either of its dust or of its dirt. Dirt enough he had encountered there certainly, and he was now old enough to feel that the inmates of Mrs. Roper's house had not been those among whom a resting-place for his early years should judiciously have been sought. But he had come out of the fire comparatively unharmed, and I regret to say that he felt but little for the terrible scorchings to which his friend had been subjected and was about to subject himself. He was quite content to look at the matter exactly as it was looked at by Mrs. Roper. Amelia was good enough for Joseph Cradell—any day of the week. Poor Cradell, of whom in these pages after this notice no more will be heard! I cannot but think that a hard measure of justice was meted out to him, in proportion to the extent of his sins. More weak and foolish than our friend and hero he had been, but not to my knowledge more wicked. But it is to the vain and foolish that the punishments fall;—and to them they fall so thickly and constantly that the thinker is driven to think that vanity and folly are of all sins those which may be the least forgiven. As for Cradell I may declare that he did marry Amelia, that he did, with some pride, take the place of master of the house at the bottom of Mrs. Roper's table, and that he did make himself responsible for all Mrs. Roper's debts. Of his future fortunes there is not space to speak in these pages.

Going away from the Crescent Eames had himself driven to his office, which he reached just as the men were leaving it, at four o'clock. Cradell was gone, so that he did not see him on that afternoon; but he had an opportunity of shaking hands with Mr. Love, who treated him with all the smiling courtesy due to an official big-wig,—for a private secretary, if not absolutely a big-wig, is semi-big, and entitled to a certain amount of reverence;—and he passed Mr. Kissing in the passage, hurrying along as usual with a huge book under his arm. Mr. Kissing, hurried as he was, stopped his shuffling feet; but Eames only looked at him, hardly honouring him with the acknowledgment of a nod of his head. Mr. Kissing, however, was not offended; he knew that the private secretary of the First Commissioner had been the guest of an earl; and what more than a nod could be expected from him? After that John made his way into the august presence of Sir Raffle, and found that great man putting on his shoes in the presence of FitzHoward. FitzHoward blushed; but the shoes had not been touched by him, as he took occasion afterwards to inform John Eames.

Sir Raffle was all smiles and civility. "Delighted to see you back, Eames: am, upon my word; though I and FitzHoward have got on capitally in your absence; haven't we, FitzHoward?"

"Oh, yes," drawled FitzHoward. "I haven't minded it for a time, just while Eames has been away."

"You're much too idle to keep at it, I know; but your bread will be buttered for you elsewhere, so it doesn't signify. My compliments to the duchess when you see her." Then FitzHoward went. "And how's my dear old friend?" asked Sir Raffle, as though of all men living Lord De Guest were the one for whom he had the strongest and the oldest love. And yet he must have known that John Eames knew as much about it as he did himself. But there are men who have the most lively gratification in calling lords and marquises their friends, though they know that nobody believes a word of what they say,—even though they know how great is the odium they incur, and how lasting is the ridicule which their vanity produces. It is a gentle insanity which prevails in the outer courts of every aristocracy; and as it brings with itself considerable annoyance and but a lukewarm pleasure, it should not be treated with too keen a severity.

"And how's my dear old friend?" Eames assured him that his dear old friend was all right, that Lady Julia was all right, that the dear old place was all right. Sir Raffle now spoke as though the "dear old place" were quite well known to him. "Was the game doing pretty well? Was there a promise of birds?" Sir Raffle's anxiety was quite intense, and expressed with almost familiar affection. "And, by-the-by, Eames, where are you living at present?"

"Well, I'm not settled. I'm at the Great Western Railway Hotel at this moment."

"Capital house, very; only it's expensive if you stay there the whole season." Johnny had no idea of remaining there beyond one night, but he said nothing as to this. "By-the-by, you might as well come and dine with us to-morrow. Lady Buffle is most anxious to know you. There'll be one or two with us. I did ask my friend Dumbello, but there's some nonsense going on in the House, and he thinks that he can't get away." Johnny was more gracious than Lord Dumbello, and accepted the invitation. "I wonder what Lady Buffle will be like?" he said to himself, as he walked away from the office.

He had turned into the Great Western Hotel, not as yet knowing where to look for a home; and there we will leave him, eating his solitary mutton-chop at one of those tables which are so comfortable to the eye, but which are so comfortless in reality. I speak not now with reference to the excellent establishment which has been named, but to the nature of such tables in general. A solitary mutton-chop in an hotel coffee-room is not a banquet to be envied by any god; and if the mutton-chop be converted into soup, fish, little dishes, big dishes, and the rest, the matter becomes worse and not better. What comfort are you to have, seated alone on that horsehair chair, staring into the room and watching the waiters as they whisk about their towels? No one but an Englishman has ever yet thought of subjecting himself to such a position as that! But here we will leave John Eames, and in doing so I must be allowed to declare that only now, at this moment, has he entered on his manhood. Hitherto he has been a hobbledehoy,—a calf, as it were, who had carried his calfishness later into life than is common with calves; but who did not, perhaps, on that account, give promise of making a worse ox than the rest of them. His life hitherto, as recorded in these pages, had afforded him no brilliant success, had hardly qualified him for the rôle of hero which he has been made to play. I feel that I have been in fault in giving such prominence to a hobbledehoy, and that I should have told my story better had I brought Mr. Crosbie more conspicuously forward on my canvas. He at any rate has gotten to himself a wife,—as a hero always should do; whereas I must leave my poor friend Johnny without any matrimonial prospects.

It was thus that he thought of himself as he sat moping over his solitary table in the hotel coffee-room. He acknowledged to himself that he had not hitherto been a man; but at the same time he made some resolution which, I trust, may assist him in commencing his manhood from this date.