The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVII

A Hero at Home

On the morning after his visit to Miss Demolines, John Eames found himself at the Paddington Station asking for a ticket for Guestwick, and as he picked up his change another gentleman also demanded a ticket for the same place. Had Guestwick been as Liverpool or Manchester, Eames would have thought nothing about it. It is a matter of course that men should always be going from London to Liverpool and Manchester; but it seemed odd to him that two men should want first-class tickets for so small a place as Guestwick at the same moment. And when, afterwards, he was placed by the guard in the same carriage with this other traveller, he could not but feel some little curiosity. The man was four or five years Johnny’s senior, a good-looking fellow, with a pleasant face, and the outward appurtenances of a gentleman. The intelligent reader will no doubt be aware that the stranger was Major Grantly; but the intelligent reader has in this respect had much advantage over John Eames, who up to this time had never even heard of his cousin Grace Crawley’s lover. ‘I think you were asking for a ticket to Guestwick,’ said Johnny; — whereupon the major owned that such was the case. ‘I lived in Guestwick for the greater part of my life,’ said Johnny, ‘and it’s the dullest, dearest little town in all England.’ ‘I never was there before,’ said the major, ‘and indeed I can hardly say I am going there now. I shall only pass through it.’ Then he got out his newspaper, and Johnny also got his out, and for a time there was no conversation between them. John remembered how holy was the errand upon which he was intent, and gathered his thoughts together, resolving that having so great a matter on his mind he would think about nothing else and speak about nothing at all. He was going down to Allington to ask Lily Dale for the last time whether she would be his wife; to ascertain whether he was to be successful or unsuccessful in the one great wish of his life; and, as such was the case with him — as he had in hand a thing so vital, it could be nothing to him whether the chance companion of his voyage was an agreeable or disagreeable person. He himself, in any of the ordinary circumstances of life, was prone enough to talk with anyone he might meet. He could have travelled for twelve hours together with an old lady, and could listen to her or make her listen to him without half-an-hour’s interruption. But this journey was made on no ordinary occasion, and it behoved him to think of Lily. Therefore, after the first little almost necessary effort at civility, he fell back into gloomy silence. He was going to do his best to win Lily Dale, and this doing of his best would require all his thoughts and all his energy.

And probably Major Grantly’s mind was bent in the same direction. He, too, had this work before him, and could not look upon his work as a thing that which he was intent upon obtaining. He knew — he almost knew — that he had won the heart of the girl whom he was seeking. There had been that between him and her which justified him in supposing that he was dear to her, although no expression of affection had ever passed from her lips to his ears. Men may know all that they require to know on that subject without any plainly spoken words. Grace Crawley had spoken no word, and yet he had known — at any rate had not doubted, that he could have the place in her heart of which he desired to be the master. She would never surrender herself altogether till she had taught herself to be sure of him to whom she gave herself. But she had listened to him with silence that had not rebuked him, and he had told himself that he might venture, without fear of that rebuke as to which the minds of some men are sensitive to a degree which other men cannot even understand. But for all this Major Grantly could not be altogether happy as to his mission; he would ask Grace Crawley to be his wife; but he would be ruined by his own success. And the remembrance that he would be severed from his own family by the thing that he was doing, was very bitter to him. In generosity he might be silent about this to Grace, but who can endure to be silent on such a subject to the woman who is to be his wife? And then it would not be possible for him to abstain from some explanation. He was now following her down to Allington, a step which he certainly would not have taken but the misfortune which had befallen her father, and he must explain to her in some sort of way why he did so. He must say to her — if not in so many words, still almost as plainly as words could speak — I am here now to ask you to be my wife, because you specially require the protection and countenance of the man who loves you, in the present circumstances of your father’s affairs. He knew that he was doing right; — perhaps had some idea that he was doing nobly; but this very appreciation of his own good qualities made the task before the more difficult.

Major Grantly had The Times, and John Eames had The Daily News, and they exchanged papers. One had the last Saturday, and the other the last Spectator, and they exchanged these also. Both had The Pall Mall Gazette, of which enterprising periodical they gradually came to discuss the merits and demerits, thus falling into conversation at last, in spite of the weight of the mission on which each of them was intent. Then, at last, when they were within half-an-hour of the end of their journey, Major Grantly asked his companion what was the best inn at Guestwick. He had at first been minded to go on to Allington at once — to go on to Allington and get his work done, and then return home or remain there, or find the nearest inn with a decent bed, as circumstances might direct him. But on reconsideration, as he drew nearer to the scene of his future operations, he thought that it might be well for him to remain that night at Guestwick. He did not quite know how far Allington was from Guestwick, but he did know that it was still mid-winter, and that the days were short. ‘The Magpie’ was the best inn, Johnny said. Having lived at Guestwick all his life, and having a mother living there now, he had never himself put up at ‘The Magpie’ but he believed it to a good country inn. They kept post-horses there, he knew. He did not tell the stranger that his late old friend Lord De Guest, and his present old friend Lady Julia, always hired post-horses from ‘The Magpie’, but he grounded his ready assertion on the remembrance of that fact. ‘I think I shall stay there tonight,’ said the major. ‘You’ll find it pretty comfortable, I don’t doubt,’ said Johnny. ‘Though, indeed, it always seems to me that a man alone at an inn has a very bad time of it. Reading is all very well, but one gets tired of it at last. And then I hate horse-hair chairs.’ ‘It isn’t very delightful,’ said the major, ‘but beggars mustn’t be choosers.’ Then there was a pause, after which the major spoke again. ‘You don’t happen to know which way Allington lies?’

‘Allington!’ said Johnny.

‘Yes, Allington. Is there not a village called Allington?’

‘There is a village called Allington, certainly. It lies over there.’ And Johnny pointed with his finger through the window. ‘As you do not know the country you can see nothing, but I can see the Allington trees at this moment.’

‘I suppose there is no inn at Allington?’

‘There’s a public-house, with a very nice bedroom. It is called the “Red Lion”. Mrs Forrard keeps it. I would quite as soon stay there as at “The Magpie”. Only if they don’t expect you, they wouldn’t have much for dinner.’

‘Then you know the village of Allington?’

‘Yes, I know the village of Allington very well. I have friends living there. Indeed, I may say I know everybody living in Allington.’

‘Do you know Mrs Dale?’

‘Mrs Dale,’ said Johnny. ‘Yes, I know Mrs Dale. I have known Mrs Dale pretty nearly all my life.’ Who could this man be who was gong down to see Mrs Dale — Mrs Dale, and consequently, Lily Dale? He thought that he knew Mrs Dale so well, that she could have no visitor of whom he would not be entitled to have some knowledge. But Major Grantly had nothing more to say at the moment about Mrs Dale. He had never seen Mrs Dale in his life, and was now going to her house, not to see her, but a friend of hers. He found that he could not very well explain this to a stranger, and therefore at the moment he said nothing further. But Johnny would not allow the subject to be dropped. ‘Have you known Mrs Dale long?’ he asked.

‘I have not the pleasure of knowing her at all,’ said the major.

‘I thought, perhaps, by your asking after her —’

‘I intend to call upon her, that is all. I suppose they will have an omnibus here from “The Magpie”?’ Eames said that there no doubt would be an omnibus from ‘The Magpie’, and then they were at their journey’s end.

For the present we will follow John Eames, who went at once to his mother’s house. It was his intention to remain there for two or three days, and then go over to the house, or rather to the cottage, of his great ally Lady Julia, which lay just beyond Guestwick Manor, and somewhat nearer to Allington than to the town of Guestwick. He had made up his mind that he would not himself go over to Allington till he could do so from Guestwick Cottage, as it was called, feeling that, under certain untoward circumstances — should untoward circumstances arise — Lady Julia’s sympathy might be more endurable than that of his mother. But he would take care that it should be known at Allington that he was in the neighbourhood. He understood the necessary strategy of his campaign too well to suppose that he could startle Lily into acceptance.

With his own mother and sister, John Eames was in these days quite a hero. He was a hero with them now, because in his early boyish days there had been so little about him that was heroic. Then there had been a doubt whether he would ever earn his daily bread, and he had been a very heavy burden on the slight family resources in the matter of jackets and trousers. The pride taken in Johnny had not been great, though the love felt for him had been warm. But gradually things had changed, and John Eames had become hero in his mother’s eyes. A chance circumstance had endeared him to Earl De Guest, and from that moment things had gone well with him. The earl had given him a watch and had left him a fortune, and Sir Raffle Buffle had made him his private secretary. In the old days, when Johnny’s love for Lily Dale was first discussed by his mother and sister, they had thought it impossible that Lily should ever bring herself to regard with affection so humble a suitor; — for the Dales have ever held their heads up in the world. But now there is no misgiving on that score with Mrs Eames and her daughter. Their wonder that Lily Dale should be such a fool as to decline the love of such a man. So Johnny was received with respect due to a hero, as well as with the affection belonging to a son; — by which I mean it to be inferred that Mrs Eames had got a little bit of fish for dinner as well as a leg of mutton.

‘A man came down in the train with me who says he is going over to Allington,’ said Johnny. ‘I wonder who he can be. He is staying at “The Magpie”.’

‘A friend of Captain Dale’s probably,’ said Mary. Captain Dale was the squire’s nephew and his heir.

‘But this man was not going to the squire’s. He was going to the Small House.’

‘Is he going to stay there?’

‘I suppose not, as he asked about the inn.’ Then, Johnny reflected that he might possibly be a friend of Crosbie’s, and became melancholy in consequence. Crosbie might have thought it expedient to send an ambassador down to prepare the ground for him before he should venture again upon the scene himself. If it were so, would it not be well that he, John Eames, should get over to Lily as soon as possible, and not wait till he should be staying with Lady Julia?

It was at any rate incumbent upon him to call upon Lady Julia the next morning, because of his commission. The Berlin wool might remain in his portmanteau till his portmanteau should go with him to the cottage; but he would take the spectacles at once, and he must explain to Lady Julia what the lawyers had told him about the income. So he hired a saddle-horse from ‘The Magpie’ and started after breakfast on the morning after his arrival. In his unheroic days he would have walked — as he had done, scores of times, over the whole distance from Guestwick to Allington. But now, in these grander days, he thought about his boots and the mud, and the formal appearance of the thing. ‘Ah dear,’ he said to himself, as the nag walked slowly out of the town, ‘it used to be better with the old days. I hardly hoped that she would ever accept me, but at least she had never refused me. And then that brute had not as yet made his way down to Allington!’

He did not go very fast. After leaving the town he trotted on for a mile or so. But when he got to the palings of Guestwick Manor he let the animal walk again, and his mind ran back over the incidents of his life which were connected with the place. He remembered a certain long ramble which he had taken in those days woods after Lily had refused him. That had been subsequent to the Crosbie episode in his life, and Johnny had been led to hope by certain of his friends — especially by Lord De Guest and his sister — that he might then be successful. But he had been unsuccessful, and had passed the bitterest hour of his life wandering about in those woods. Since that he had been unsuccessful again and again; but the bitterness of failure had not been so strong with him as on that first occasion. He would try again now, and if he failed, he would fail for the last time. As he was thinking of all this, a gig overtook him on the road, and on looking round he saw that the occupant of the gig was the man who had travelled with him on the previous day in the train. Major Grantly was alone in the gig, and as he recognised John Eames he stopped his horse. ‘Are you going to Allington?’ he asked. John Eames, with something of scorn in his voice, replied that he had no intention of going to Allington on that day. He still thought that this man might be an emissary from Crosbie, and therefore resolved that but scant courtesy was due to him. ‘I am on my way there now,’ said Grantly, ‘and am going to the house of your friend. May I tell her that I travelled with you yesterday?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Johnny. ‘You may tell her that you came down with John Eames.’

‘And are you John Eames?’ asked the major.

‘If you have no objection,’ said Johnny. ‘But I can hardly suppose that you have heard of my name before?’

‘It is familiar to me because I have the pleasure of knowing a cousin of yours, Grace Crawley.’

‘My cousin is at present staying at Allington with Mrs Dale,’ said Johnny.

‘Just so,’ said the major, who now began to reflect that he had been indiscreet in mentioning Grace Crawley’s name. No doubt everyone connected with the family, all the Crawleys, all the Dales, and all the Eames’s, would soon know the business which had brought him down to Allngton; but he need not have taken the trouble of beginning the story himself. John Eames, in truth, had never heard of Major Grantly’s name, and was quite unaware of the fortune which awaited his cousin. Even after what he had now been told, he still suspected the stranger of being an emissary from his enemy; but the major, not giving him credit for his ignorance, was annoyed with himself for having told so much of his own history. ‘I will tell the ladies that I had the pleasure of meeting you,’ he said; ‘that is, if I am lucky enough to see them.’ And then he drove on.

‘I know I should hate that fellow if I were to meet him anywhere again,’ said Johnny to himself as he rode on. ‘When I take an aversion to a fellow at first sight, I always stick to it. It’s instinct, I suppose.’ And he was still giving himself credit for the strength of his instincts when he reached Lady Julia’s cottage. He rode at once into the stable-yard, with the privilege of an accustomed friend of the house, and having given up his horse, entered the cottage by the back door. ‘Is my lady at home, Jemima?’ he said to the maid.

‘Yes, Mr John; she is in the drawing-room, and friends of yours are with her.’ Then he was announced, and found himself in the presence of Lady Julia, Lily Dale, and Grace Crawley.

He was very warmly received. Lady Julia really loved him dearly, and would have done anything in her power to bring about a match between him and Lily. Grace was his cousin, and though she had not seen him often, she was prepared to love him dearly as Lily’s lover. And Lily — Lily loved him dearly too — if only she could have brought herself to love him as he wished to be loved! To all of them Johnny Eames was something of a hero. At any rate in the eyes of all of them he possessed those virtues which seemed to them to justify them in petting him and making much of him.

‘I am so glad you’ve come — that is, if you’ve brought my spectacles,’ said Lady Julia.

‘My pockets are crammed with spectacles,’ said Johnny.

‘And when are you coming to me?’

‘I was thinking of Tuesday.’

‘No; don’t come till Wednesday. But I mean Monday. No; Monday won’t do. Come on Tuesday — early, and drive me out. And now tell us the news.’

Johnny swore that there was no news. He made a brave attempt to be gay and easy before Lily; but he failed, and he knew that he failed — and he knew that she knew that he failed. ‘Mamma will be so glad to see you,’ said Lily. ‘I suppose you haven’t seen Bell yet?’

‘I only got to Guestwick yesterday afternoon,’ said he.

‘And it will be so nice our having Grace at the Small House; — won’t it? Uncle Christopher has quite taken a passion for Grace — so that I am hardly anybody now in the Allington world.’

‘By-the-by,’ said Johnny, ‘I came down here with a friend of yours, Grace.’

‘A friend of mine?’ said Grace.

‘So he says, and he is at Allington at this moment. He passed me in the gig down here.’

‘And what was his name?’ Lily asked.

‘I have not the remotest idea,’ said Johnny. ‘He is a man about my own age, very good-looking, and apparently very well able to take care of himself. He is short-sighted, and holds a glass in one eye when he looks out of a carriage window. That’s all I know about him.

Grace Crawley’s face had become suffused with blushes at the first mention of the friend and the gig; but then Grace blushed very easily. Lily knew all about it at once; — at once divined who must be the friend in the gig, and was almost beside herself with joy. Lady Julia, who had heard no more of the major than had Johnny, was still clever enough to perceive that the friend must be a particular friend — for she had noticed Miss Crawley’s blushes. And Grace herself had no doubt as to the man. The picture of her lover, with the glass in his eye as he looked out of the window, had been too perfect to admit of a doubt. In her distress she put out her hand and took hold of Lily’s dress.

‘And you say he is at Allington now?’ said Lily.

‘I have no doubt he is at the Small House at this moment,’ said Johnny.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43