The Small House at Allington/Chapter 7

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Lily, as she parted with her lover in the garden, had required of him to attend upon her the next morning as he went to his shooting, and in obedience to this command he appeared on Mrs. Dale's lawn after breakfast, accompanied by Bernard and two dogs. The men had guns in their hands, and were got up with all proper sporting appurtenances, but it so turned out that they did not reach the stubble-fields on the farther side of the road until after luncheon. And may it not be fairly doubted whether croquet is not as good as shooting when a man is in love?

It will be said that Bernard Dale was not in love; but they who bring such accusation against him, will bring it falsely. He was in love with his cousin Bell according to his manner and fashion. It was not his nature to love Bell as John Eames loved Lily; but then neither would his nature bring him into such a trouble as that which the charms of Amelia Roper had brought upon the poor clerk from the Income-tax Office. Johnny was susceptible, as the word goes; whereas Captain Dale was a man who had his feelings well under control. He was not one to make a fool of himself about a girl, or to die of a broken heart; but, nevertheless, he would probably love his wife when he got a wife, and would be a careful father to his children.

They were very intimate with each other now,—these four. It was Bernard and Adolphus, or sometimes Apollo, and Bell and Lily among them; and Crosbie found it to be pleasant enough. A new position of life had come upon him, and one exceeding pleasant; but, nevertheless, there were moments in which cold fits of a melancholy nature came upon him. He was doing the very thing which throughout all the years of his manhood he had declared to himself that he would not do. According to his plan of life he was to have eschewed marriage, and to have allowed himself to regard it as a possible event only under the circumstances of wealth, rank, and beauty all coming in his way together. As he had expected no such glorious prize, he had regarded himself as a man who would reign at the Beaufort and be potent at Sebright's to the end of his chapter. But now——

It was the fact that he had fallen from his settled position, vanquished by a silver voice, a pretty wit, and a pair of moderately bright eyes. He was very fond of Lily, having in truth a stronger capability for falling in love than his friend Captain Dale; but was the sacrifice worth his while? This was the question which he asked himself in those melancholy moments; while he was lying in bed, for instance, awake in the morning, when he was shaving himself, and sometimes also when the squire was prosy after dinner. At such times as these, while he would be listening to Mr. Dale, his self-reproaches would sometimes be very bitter. Why should he undergo this, he, Crosbie of Sebright's, Crosbie of the General Committee Office, Crosbie who would allow no one to bore him between Charing Cross and the far end of Bayswater,—why should he listen to the long-winded stories of such a one as Squire Dale? If, indeed, the squire intended to be liberal to his niece, then it might be very well. But as yet the squire had given no sign of such intention, and Crosbie was angry with himself in that he had not had the courage to ask a question on that subject.

And thus the course of love was not all smooth to our Apollo. It was still pleasant for him when he was there on the croquet ground, or sitting in Mrs. Dale's drawing-room with all the privileges of an accepted lover. It was pleasant to him also as he sipped the squire's claret, knowing that his coffee would soon be handed to him by a sweet girl who would have tripped across the two gardens on purpose to perform for him this service. There is nothing pleasanter than all this, although a man when so treated does feel himself to look like a calf at the altar, ready for the knife, with blue ribbons round his horns and neck. Crosbie felt that he was such a calf,—and the more calf-like, in that he had not as yet dared to ask a question about his wife's fortune. "I will have it out of the old fellow this evening," he said to himself, as he buttoned on his dandy shooting gaiters that morning.

"How nice he looks in them," Lily said to her sister afterwards, knowing nothing of the thoughts which had troubled her lover's mind while he was adorning his legs.

"I suppose we shall come back this way," Crosbie said, as they prepared to move away on their proper business when lunch was over.

"Well, not exactly!" said Bernard. "We shall make our way round by Darvell's farm, and so back by Gruddock's. Are the girls going to dine up at the Great House to-day?"

The girls declared that they were not going to dine up at the Great House,—that they did not intend going to the Great House at all that evening.

"Then, as you won't have to dress, you might as well meet us at Gruddock's gate, at the back of the farmyard. We'll be there exactly at half-past five."

"That is to say, we're to be there at half-past five, and you'll keep us waiting for three-quarters of an hour," said Lily. Nevertheless the arrangement as proposed was made, and the two ladies were not at all unwilling to make it. It is thus that the game is carried on among unsophisticated people who really live in the country. The farmyard gate at Farmer Gruddock's has not a fitting sound as a trysting-place in romance, but for people who are in earnest it does as well as any oak in the middle glade of a forest. Lily Dale was quite in earnest—and so indeed was Adolphus Crosbie,—only with him the earnest was beginning to take that shade of brown which most earnest things have to wear in this vale of tears. With Lily it was as yet all rose-coloured. And Bernard Dale was also in earnest. Throughout this morning he had stood very near to Bell on the lawn, and had thought that his cousin did not receive his little whisperings with any aversion. Why should she? Lucky girl that she was, thus to have eight hundred a year pinned to her skirt!

"I say, Dale," Crosbie said, as in the course of their day's work they had come round upon Gruddock's ground, and were preparing to finish off his turnips before they reached the farmyard gate. And now, as Crosbie spoke, they stood leaning on the gate, looking at the turnips while the two dogs squatted on their haunches. Crosbie had been very silent for the last mile or two, and had been making up his mind for this conversation. "I say, Dale,—your uncle has never said a word to me yet as to Lily's fortune."

"As to Lily's fortune! The question is whether Lily has got a fortune."

"He can hardly expect that I am to take her without something. Your uncle is a man of the world and he knows——"

"Whether or no my uncle is a man of the world, I will not say; but you are, Crosbie, whether he is or not. Lily, as you have always known, has nothing of her own."

"I am not talking of Lily's own. I'm speaking of her uncle. I have been straightforward with him; and when I became attached to your cousin I declared what I meant at once."

"You should have asked him the question, if you thought there was any room for such a question."

"Thought there was any room! Upon my word, you are a cool fellow."

"Now look here, Crosbie; you may say what you like about my uncle, but you must not say a word against Lily."

"Who is going to say a word against her? You can little understand me if you don't know that the protection of her name against evil words is already more my care than it is yours. I regard Lily as my own."

"I only meant to say, that any discontent you may feel as to her money, or want of money, you must refer to my uncle, and not to the family at the Small House."

"I am quite well aware of that."

"And though you are quite at liberty to say what you like to me about my uncle, I cannot say that I can see that he has been to blame."

"He should have told me what her prospects are."

"But if she have got no prospects! It cannot be an uncle's duty to tell everybody that he does not mean to give his niece a fortune. In point of fact, why should you suppose that he has such an intention?"

"Do you know that he has not? because you once led me to believe that he would give his niece money."

"Now, Crosbie, it is necessary that you and I should understand each other in this matter——"

"But did you not?"

"Listen to me for a moment. I never said a word to you about my uncle's intentions in any way, until after you had become fully engaged to Lily with the knowledge of us all. Then, when my belief on the subject could make no possible difference in your conduct, I told you that I thought my uncle would do something for her. I told you so because I did think so;—and as your friend, I should have told you what I thought in any matter that concerned your interest."

"And now you have changed your opinion?"

"I have changed my opinion; but very probably without sufficient ground."

"That's hard upon me."

"It may be hard to hear disappointment; but you cannot say that anybody has ill-used you."

"And you don't think he will give her anything?"

"Nothing that will be of much moment to you."

"And I'm not to say that that's hard? I think it confounded hard. Of course I must put off my marriage."

"Why do you not speak to my uncle?"

"I shall do so. To tell the truth, I think it would have come better from him; but that is a matter of opinion. I shall tell him very plainly what I think about it; and if he is angry, why, I suppose I must leave his house; that will be all."

"Look, here, Crosbie; do not begin your conversation with the purpose of angering him. He is not a bad-hearted man, but is very obstinate."

"I can be quite as obstinate as he is." And, then, without further parley, they went in among the turnips, and each swore against his luck as he missed his birds. There are certain phases of mind in which a man can neither ride nor shoot, nor play a stroke at billiards, nor remember a card at whist,—and to such a phase of mind had come both Crosbie and Dale after their conversation over the gate.

They were not above fifteen minutes late at the trysting-place, but nevertheless, punctual though they had been, the girls were there before them. Of course the first inquiries were made about the game, and of course the gentlemen declared that the birds were scarcer than they had ever been before, that the dogs were wilder, and their luck more excruciatingly bad,—to all which apologies very little attention was paid. Lily and Bell had not come there to inquire after partridges, and would have forgiven the sportsmen even though no single bird had been killed. But they could not forgive the want of good spirits which was apparent.

"I declare I don't know what's the matter with you," Lily said to her lover.

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"It's all the fault of the naughty Birds."

"We have been over fifteen miles of ground, and——"

"I never knew anything so lackadaisical as you gentlemen from London. Been over fifteen miles of ground! Why, uncle Christopher would think nothing of that."

"Uncle Christopher is made of sterner stuff than we are," said Crosbie. "They used to be born so sixty or seventy years ago." And then they walked on through Gruddock's fields, and the home paddocks, back to the Great House, where they found the squire standing in the front of the porch.

The walk had not been so pleasant as they had all intended that it should be when they made their arrangements for it. Crosbie had endeavoured to recover his happy state of mind, but had been unsuccessful; and Lily, fancying that her lover was not all that he should be, had become reserved and silent. Bernard and Bell had not shared this discomfiture, but then Bernard and Bell were, as a rule, much more given to silence than the other two.

"Uncle," said Lily, "these men have shot nothing, and you cannot conceive how unhappy they are in consequence. It's all the fault of the naughty partridges."

"There are plenty of partridges if they knew how to get them," said the squire.

"The dogs are uncommonly wild," said Crosbie.

"They are not wild with me," said the squire; "nor yet with Dingles." Dingles was the squire's gamekeeper. "The fact is, you young men, now-a-days, expect to have dogs trained to do all the work for you. It's too much labour for you to walk up to your game. You'll be late for dinner, girls, if you don't look sharp."

"We're not coming up this evening, sir," said Bell.

"And why not?"

"We're going to stay with mamma."

"And why will not your mother come with you? I'll be whipped if I can understand it. One would have thought that under the present circumstances she would have been glad to see you all as much together as possible."

"We're together quite enough," said Lily. "And as for mamma, I suppose she thinks——" And then she stopped herself, catching the glance of Bell's imploring eye. She was going to make some indignant excuse for her mother,—some excuse which would be calculated to make her uncle angry. It was her practice to say such sharp words to him, and consequently he did not regard her as warmly as her more silent and more prudent sister. At the present moment he turned quickly round and went into the house; and then, with a very few words of farewell, the two young men followed him. The girls went back over the little bridge by themselves, feeling that the afternoon had not gone off altogether well.

"You shouldn't provoke him, Lily," said Bell.

"And he shouldn't say those things about mamma. It seems to me that you don't mind what he says."

"Oh, Lily."

"No more you do. He makes me so angry that I cannot hold my tongue. He thinks that because all the place is his, he is to say just what he likes. Why should mamma go up there to please his humours?"

"You may be sure that mamma will do what she thinks best. She is stronger-minded than uncle Christopher, and does not want any one to help her. But, Lily, you shouldn't speak as though I were careless about mamma. You didn't mean that, I know."

"Of course I didn't." Then the two girls joined their mother in their own little domain; but we will return to the men at the Great House.

Crosbie, when he went up to dress for dinner, fell into one of those melancholy fits of which I have spoken. Was he absolutely about to destroy all the good that he had done for himself throughout the past years of his hitherto successful life? or rather, as he at last put the question to himself more strongly,—was it not the case that he had already destroyed all that success? His marriage with Lily, whether it was to be for good or bad, was now a settled thing, and was not regarded as a matter admitting of any doubt. To do the man justice, I must declare that in all these moments of misery he still did the best he could to think of Lily herself as of a great treasure which he had won,—as of a treasure which should, and perhaps would, compensate him for his misery. But there was the misery very plain. He must give up his clubs, and his fashion, and all that he had hitherto gained, and be content to live a plain, humdrum, domestic life, with eight hundred a year, and a small house, full of babies. It was not the kind of Elysium for which he had tutored himself. Lily was very nice, very nice indeed. She was, as he said to himself, "by odds, the nicest girl that he had ever seen." Whatever might now turn up, her happiness should be his first care. But as for his own,—he began to fear that the compensation would hardly be perfect. "It is my own doing," he said to himself, intending to be rather noble in the purport of his soliloquy, "I have trained myself for other things,—very foolishly. Of course I must suffer,—suffer damnably. But she shall never know it. Dear, sweet, innocent, pretty little thing!" And then he went on about the squire, as to whom he felt himself entitled to be indignant by his own disinterested and manly line of conduct towards the niece. "But I will let him know what I think about it," he said. "It's all very well for Dale to say that I have been treated fairly. It isn't fair for a man to put forward his niece under false pretences. Of course I thought that he intended to provide for her." And then, having made up his mind in a very manly way that he would not desert Lily altogether after having promised to marry her, he endeavoured to find consolation in the reflection that he might, at any rate, allow himself two years' more run as a bachelor in London. Girls who have to get themselves married without fortunes always know that they will have to wait. Indeed, Lily had already told him, that as far as she was concerned, she was in no hurry. He need not, therefore, at once withdraw his name from Sebright's. Thus he endeavoured to console himself, still, however, resolving that he would have a little serious conversation with the squire that very evening as to Lily's fortune.

And what was the state of Lily's mind at the same moment, while she, also, was performing some slight toilet changes preparatory to their simple dinner at the Small House?

"I didn't behave well to him," she said to herself; "I never do. I forget how much he is giving up for me; and then, when anything annoys him, I make it worse instead of comforting him." And upon that she made accusation against herself that she did not love him half enough,—that she did not let him see how thoroughly and perfectly she loved him. She had an idea of her own, that as a girl should never show any preference for a man till circumstances should have fully entitled him to such manifestation, so also should she make no drawback on her love, but pour it forth for his benefit with all her strength, when such circumstances had come to exist. But she was ever feeling that she was not acting up to her theory, now that the time for such practice had come. She would unwittingly assume little reserves, and make small pretences of indifference in spite of her own judgment. She had done so on this afternoon, and had left him without giving him her hand to press, without looking up into his face with an assurance of love, and therefore she was angry with herself. "I know I shall teach him to hate me," she said out loud to Bell.

"That would be very sad," said Bell; "but I don't see it."

"If you were engaged to a man you would be much better to him. You would not say so much, but what you did say would be all affection. I am always making horrid little speeches, for which I should like to cut out my tongue afterwards."

"Whatever sort of speeches they are, I think that he likes them."

"Does he? I'm not all so sure of that, Bell. Of course I don't expect that he is to scold me,—not yet, that is. But I know by his eye when he is pleased and when he is displeased."

And then they went down to their dinner.

Up at the Great House the three gentlemen met together in apparent good humour. Bernard Dale was a man of an equal temperament, who rarely allowed any feeling, or even any annoyance, to interfere with his usual manner,—a man who could always come to table with a smile, and meet either his friend or his enemy with a properly civil greeting. Not that he was especially a false man. There was nothing of deceit in his placidity of demeanour. It arose from true equanimity; but it was the equanimity of a cold disposition rather than of one well ordered by discipline. The squire was aware that he had been unreasonably petulant before dinner, and having taken himself to task in his own way, now entered the dining-room with the courteous greeting of a host. "I find that your bag was not so bad after all," he said, "and I hope that your appetite is at least as good as your bag."

Crosbie smiled, and made himself pleasant, and said a few flattering words. A man who intends to take some very decided step in an hour or two generally contrives to bear himself in the meantime as though the trifles of the world were quite sufficient for him. So he praised the squire's game; said a good-natured word as to Dingles, and bantered himself as to his own want of skill. Then all went merry,—not quite as a marriage bell; but still merry enough for a party of three gentlemen.

But Crosbie's resolution was fixed; and as soon, therefore, as the old butler was permanently gone, and the wine steadily in transit upon the table, he began his task, not without some apparent abruptness. Having fully considered the matter, he had determined that he would not wait for Bernard Dale's absence. He thought it possible that he might be able to fight his battle better in Bernard's presence than he could do behind his back.

"Squire," he began. They all called him squire when they were on good terms together, and Crosbie thought it well to begin as though there was nothing amiss between them. "Squire, of course I am thinking a good deal at the present moment as to my intended marriage."

"That's natural enough," said the squire.

"Yes, by George! sir, a man doesn't make a change like that without finding that he has got something to think of."

"I suppose not," said the squire. "I never was in the way of getting married myself, but I can easily understand that."

"I've been the luckiest fellow in the world in finding such a girl as your niece——" Whereupon the squire bowed, intending to make a little courteous declaration that the luck in the matter was on the side of the Dales. "I know that," continued Crosbie. "She is exactly everything that a girl ought to be."

"She is a good girl," said Bernard.

"Yes; I think she is," said the squire.

"But it seems to me," said Crosbie, finding that it was necessary to dash at once headlong into the water, "that something ought to be said as to my means of supporting her properly."

Then he paused for a moment, expecting that the squire would speak. But the squire sat perfectly still, looking intently at the empty fireplace and saying nothing. "Of supporting her," continued Crosbie, "with all those comforts to which she has been accustomed."

"She has never been used to expense," said the squire. "Her mother, as you doubtless know, is not a rich woman."

"But living here, Lily has had great advantages,—a horse to ride, and all that sort of thing."

"I don't suppose she expects a horse in the park," said the squire, with a very perceptible touch of sarcasm in his voice.

"I hope not," said Crosbie.

"I believe she has had the use of one of the ponies here sometimes, but I hope that has not made her extravagant in her ideas. I did not think that there was anything of that nonsense about either of them."

"Nor is there,—as far as I know."

"Nothing of the sort," said Bernard.

"But the long and the short of it is this, sir!" and Crosbie, as he spoke, endeavoured to maintain his ordinary voice and usual coolness, but his heightened colour betrayed that he was nervous. "Am I to expect any accession of income with my wife?"

"I have not spoken to my sister-in-law on the subject," said the squire; "but I should fear that she cannot do much."

"As a matter of course, I would not take a shilling from her," said Crosbie.

"Then that settles it," said the squire.

Crosbie paused a moment, during which his colour became very red. He unconsciously took up an apricot and eat it, and then he spoke out. "Of course I was not alluding to Mrs. Dale's income; I would not, on any account, disturb her arrangements. But I wished to learn, sir, whether you intend to do anything for your niece."

"In the way of giving her a fortune? Nothing at all. I intend to do nothing at all."

"Then I suppose we understand each other,—at last," said Crosbie.

"I should have thought that we might have understood each other at first," said the squire. "Did I ever make you any promise, or give you any hint that I intended to provide for my niece? Have I ever held out to you any such hope? I don't know what you mean by that word 'at last'—unless it be to give offence."

"I meant the truth, sir;—I meant this—that seeing the manner in which your nieces lived with you, I thought it probable that you would treat them both as though they were your daughters. Now I find out my mistake;—that is all!"

"You have been mistaken,—and without a shadow of excuse for your mistake."

"Others have been mistaken with me," said Crosbie, forgetting, on the spur of the moment, that he had no right to drag the opinion of any other person into the question.

"What others?" said the squire, with anger; and his mind immediately betook itself to his sister-in-law.

"I do not want to make any mischief," said Crosbie.

"If anybody connected with my family has presumed to tell you that I intended to do more for my niece Lilian than I have already done, such person has not only been false, but ungrateful. I have given to no one any authority to make any promise on behalf of my niece."

"No such promise has been made. It was only a suggestion," said Crosbie.

He was not in the least aware to whom the squire was alluding in his anger; but he perceived that his host was angry, and having already reflected that he should not have alluded to the words which Bernard Dale had spoken in his friendship, he resolved to name no one. Bernard, as he sat by listening, knew exactly how the matter stood; but, as he thought, there could be no reason why he should subject himself to his uncle's ill-will, seeing that he had committed no sin.

"No such suggestion should have been made," said the squire. "No one has had a right to make such a suggestion. No one has been placed by me in a position to make such a suggestion to you without manifest impropriety. I will ask no further questions about it; but it is quite as well that you should understand at once that I do not consider it to be my duty to give my niece Lilian a fortune on her marriage. I trust that your offer to her was not made under any such delusion."

"No, sir; it was not," said Crosbie.

"Then I suppose that no great harm has been done. I am sorry if false hopes have been given to you; but I am sure you will acknowledge that they were not given to you by me."

"I think you have misunderstood me, sir. My hopes were never very high; but I thought it right to ascertain your intentions."

"Now you know them. I trust, for the girl's sake, that it will make no difference to her. I can hardly believe that she has been to blame in the matter."

Crosbie hastened at once to exculpate Lily; and then, with more awkward blunders than a man should have made who was so well acquainted with fashionable life as the Apollo of the Beaufort, he proceeded to explain that, as Lily was to have nothing, his own pecuniary arrangements would necessitate some little delay in their marriage.

"As far as I myself am concerned," said the squire, "I do not like long engagements. But I am quite aware that in this matter I have no right to interfere, unless, indeed——" and then he stopped himself.

"I suppose it will be well to fix some day; eh, Crosbie?" said Bernard.

"I will discuss that matter with Mrs. Dale," said Crosbie.

"If you and she understand each other," said the squire, "that will be sufficient. Shall we go into the drawing-room now, or out upon the lawn?"

That evening, as Crosbie went to bed, he felt that he had not gained the victory in his encounter with the squire.