The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXVIII

Jael

On the first of March, Conway Dalrymple’s easel was put up in Mrs Dobbs Broughton’s boudoir upstairs, the canvas was placed upon it on which the outlines of Jael and Sisera had been already drawn, and Mrs Broughton and Clara Van Siever and Conway Dalrymple were assembled with the view of steady art-work. But before we see how they began their work together, we will go back for a moment to John Eames on his return to his London lodgings. The first thing every man does when he returns home after an absence, is to look for his letters, and John Eames looked at his. There were not very many. There was a note marked immediate from Sir Raffle Buffle, in which Sir R had scrawled in four lines a notification that he should be driven to an extremity of inconvenience if Eames were not at his post at half-past nine on the following morning. ‘I think I see myself there at that hour,’ said John. There was a notification of a house dinner, which he was asked to join, at his club, and a card for an evening gathering at Lady Glencora Palliser’s — procured for him by his friend Conway — and an invitation for dinner at the house of his uncle Mr Toogood; and there was a scented note in the handwriting of a lady, which he did not recognise. ‘My dearest, dearest friend, M D M,’ he said, as he opened the note and looked at the signature. Then he read the letter from Miss Demolines.

‘MY DEAR MR EAMES, ‘Pray come to me at once. I know that you are to be back tomorrow. Do not lose an hour if you can help it. I shall be at home at half-past five. I fear what you know of has begun. But it certainly shall not go on. In one way or another it must be prevented. I won’t say another word till I see you, but pray come at once — Yours always,

‘Thursday.’ M D M’

‘Poor mother isn’t very well, so you had better ask for me.’

‘Beautiful!’ said Johnny, as he read the note. ‘There’s nothing I like so much as a mystery — especially if it’s about nothing. I wonder why she is so desperately anxious that the picture should not be painted. I’d ask Dalrymple, only I should spoil the mystery.’ Then he sat himself down, and began to think of Lily. There could be no treason to Lily in his amusing himself with the freaks of such a woman as Miss Demolines.

At eleven o’clock on the morning of the first of March — the day following that on which Miss Demolines had written her note — the easel was put up and the canvas was placed on it in Mrs Broughton’s room. Mrs Broughton and Clara were both there, and when they had seen the outlines as far as it had been drawn, they proceeded to make arrangements for their future operations. The period of work was to begin always at eleven, and was to be continued for an hour and a half or for two hours on the days on which they met. I fear that there was a little improper scheming in this against the two persons whom the ladies were bound to obey. Mr Dobbs Broughton invariably left his house after ten in the morning. It would sometimes happen, though not frequently, that he returned home early in the day — at four perhaps, or even before that; and should he chance to do so while the picture was going on, he would catch them at their work if the work were postponed till after luncheon. And then again Mrs Van Siever would often go out in the morning, and when she did so, would always go without her daughter. On such occasion she went into the City, or to other resorts of business, at which, in some manner quite unintelligible to her daughter, she looked after her money. But when she did not go out in the morning, she did go out in the afternoon, and she would then require her daughter’s company. There was some place to which she always went of a Friday morning, and at which she stayed for two or three hours. Friday therefore was a fitting day on which to begin the work at Mrs Broughton’s house. All this was explained between the three conspirators. Mrs Dobbs Broughton declared that if she entertained the slightest idea that her husband would object to the painting of the picture in her room, nothing on earth would induce her to lend her countenance to it; but yet it might be well not to tell him just at first, perhaps not till the sittings were over — perhaps not till the picture was finished; as otherwise, tidings of the picture might get round to ears which were not intended to hear it. ‘Poor dear Dobbs is so careless with a secret.’ Miss Van Siever explained her motives in a different way. ‘I know mamma would not let me do it if she knew it; and therefore I shall not tell her.’ ‘My dear Clara,’ said Mrs Broughton with a smile ‘you are so outspoken!’ ‘And why not?’ said Miss Van Siever. ‘I am old enough to judge for myself. If mamma does not want me to be deceived, she ought not to treat me as a child. Of course she’ll find it out sooner or later; but I don’t care about that.’ Conway Dalrymple said nothing as the two ladies were thus excusing themselves. ‘How delightful it must be not to have a master,’ said Mrs Broughton, addressing him. ‘But then a man has to work for his own bread,’ said he. ‘I suppose it comes about equal in the long run.’

Very little drawing or painting was done on that day. In the first place it was necessary that the question of costume should be settled, and both Mrs Broughton and the artist had much to say on that subject. It was considered proper that Jael should be dressed as a Jewess, and there came to be much question how Jewesses dressed themselves in those very early days. Mrs Broughton had prepared her jewels and raiment of many colours, but the painter declared that the wife of Heber the Kenite would have no jewels. But when Mrs Broughton discovered from her Bible that Heber had been connected by family ties with Moses, she was more than ever sure that Heber’s wife would have much in her tent of the spoilings of the Egyptians. And when Clara Van Siever suggested that at any rate she would not have worn them in a time of confusion when soldiers were loose, flying about the country, Mrs Broughton was quite confident that she would have put them on before she invited the captain of the enemy’s host into her tent. The artist at last took the matter into his own hand, by declaring that Miss Van Siever would sit the subject much better without jewels, and therefore all Mrs Broughton’s gewgaws were put back into their boxes. And then on four different times the two ladies had to retire into Mrs Broughton’s room in order that Jael might be arrayed in various costumes — and in each costume she had to kneel down, taking the hammer in her hand, and holding the pointed stick which had been prepared to do duty as the nail, upon the forehead of the dummy Sisera. At last it was decided that her raiment should be altogether white, and that she should wear, twisted round her head and falling over her shoulder, a Roman silk scarf of various colours. ‘Where Jael could have gotten it I don’t know,’ said Clara. ‘You may be sure that there were lots of such things among the Egyptians,’ said Mrs Broughton, ‘and that Moses brought away all the best for his own family.’

‘And who is to be Sisera?’ asked Mrs Broughton in one of the pauses in their work.’

‘I’m thinking of asking my friend John Eames to sit.’

‘Of course we cannot sit together,’ said Miss Van Siever.

‘There’s no reason why you should,’ said Dalrymple. ‘I can do the second figure in my own room.’ Then there was a bargain made that Sisera should not be a portrait. ‘It would never do,’ said Mrs Broughton, shaking her head very gravely.

Though there was really very little done to the picture on that day, the work was commenced; and Mrs Broughton, who had at first objected strongly to the idea, and who had said twenty times that it was quite out of the question that it should be done her house, became very eager in her delight about it. Nobody should know anything of the picture till it should be exhibited. That would be best. And it should be the picture of the year! She was a little heart-broken when Dalrymple assured her that it could not possible be finished for exhibition in that May; but she came to again when he declared that he meant to put out all his strength upon it. ‘There will be five or six months’ work in it,’ he said. ‘Will there, indeed? And how much work was there in “The Graces”?’ ‘The Graces’, as will perhaps be remembered, was the triple portrait of Mrs Dobbs Broughton herself. This question the artist did not answer with absolute accuracy, but contented himself with declaring that with such a model as Mrs Broughton the picture had been comparatively easy,

Mrs Broughton, having no doubt that ultimate object of which she had spoken to her friend Conway steadily in view, took occasion before the sitting was over to leave the room, so that the artist might have an opportunity of speaking a word in private to his model — if he had any such word to speak. And Mrs Broughton, as she did this, felt that she was doing her duty as a wife, a friend, and a Christian. She was doing her duty as a wife, because she was giving the clearest proof in the world — the clearest at any rate to herself — that the intimacy between herself and her friend Conway had in it nothing that was improper. And she was doing her duty as a friend, because Clara Van Siever, with her large expectations, would be an eligible wife. And she was doing her duty as a Christian, because the whole thing was intended to be moral. Miss Demolines had declared that her friend Maria Clutterbuck — as Miss Demolines delighted to call Mrs Broughton, in memory of dear old innocent days — had high principles; and the reader will see that she was justified in her declaration. ‘It will be better so,’ said Mrs Broughton, as she sat upon her bed and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. ‘Yes; it will be better so. There is a pang. Of course there’s a pang. But it will be better so.’ Acting upon this high principle, she allowed Conway Dalrymple five minutes to say what he had to say to Clara Van Siever. Then she allowed herself to indulge in some very savage feelings in reference to her husband — accusing her husband in her thoughts of great cruelty — nay, of brutality, because of certain sharp words that he had said as to Conway Dalrymple. ‘But of course he can’t understand,’ said Mrs Broughton to herself. ‘How is it to be expected that he should understand?’

But she allowed her friend on this occasion only five minutes, thinking probably that so much time might suffice. A woman, when she is jealous, is apt to attribute to other woman with whom her jealousy is concerned, both weakness and timidity, and to the man both audacity and strength. A woman who has herself taken perhaps twelve months in the winning, will think that another woman is to be won in five minutes. It is not to be supposed that Mrs Dobbs Broughton had ever been won by anyone except Mr Dobbs Broughton. At least, let it not be supposed that she had ever acknowledged a spark of love for Conway Dalymple. But nevertheless there was enough of jealousy in her present mood to make her think poorly of Miss Van Siever’s capacity for standing a siege against the artist’s eloquence. Otherwise, having left the two together with the object which she had acknowledged to herself, she would hardly have returned to them after so short an interval.

‘I hope you won’t dislike the trouble of all this?’ said Dalrymple to his model, as soon as Mrs Broughton was gone.

‘I cannot say that I like it very much,’ said Miss Van Siever.

‘I’m afraid it will be a bore; — but I hope you’ll go through with it.’

‘I shall if I am not prevented,’ said Miss Van Siever. ‘When I’ve said that I’ll do a thing, I like to do it.’

There was a pause in the conversation which took up a considerable portion of the five minutes. Miss Van Siever was not holding her nail during those moments, but was sitting in a commonplace way on her chair, while Dalrymple was scraping his palette. ‘I wonder what it was that first induced you to sit?’ said he.

‘Oh, I don’t know. I took a fancy for it.’

‘I’m very glad you did take the fancy. You’ll make an excellent model. If you won’t mind posing again for a few minutes — I will not weary you today. Your right arm a little more forward.’

‘But I should tumble down.’

‘Not if you lean well on the nail.’

‘But that would have woken Sisera before she had struck a blow.’

‘Never mind. Let us try it.’ Then Mrs Broughton returned, with that pleasant feeling in her bosom of having done her duty as a wife, friend, and a Christian. ‘Mrs Broughton,’ continued the painter, ‘just steady Miss Van Siever’s shoulder with your hand; and now bring the arm and the elbow a little more forward.’

‘But Jael did not have a friend to help her in that way,’ said Miss Van Siever.

At the end of an hour and a half the two ladies retired, and Jael disrobed herself, and Miss Van Siever put on her customary raiment. It was agreed among them that they had commenced their work auspiciously, and that they would meet again on the following Monday. The artist begged to be allowed an hour to go on with his work in Mrs Broughton’s room, and thus the hour was conceded to him. It was understood that he could not take the canvas backwards and forwards with him to his own house, and he pointed out that no progress whatever could be made, unless he were occasionally allowed some such grace as this. Mrs Broughton doubted and hesitated, made difficulties, and lifted up her hands in despair. ‘It is easy for you to say, Why not? but I know very well why not?’ But at last she gave way. ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense,’ she said; ‘that must be my protection.’ So she followed Miss Van Siever downstairs, leaving Mr Dalrymple in possession of her boudoir. ‘I shall give you just one hour,’ she said, ‘and then I shall come and turn you out.’ So she went down, and, as Miss Van Siever would not stay to lunch with her, she ate her lunch by herself, sending a glass of sherry and a biscuit up to the poor painter at his work.

Exactly at the end of the hour she returned to him. ‘Now, Conway, you must go,’ she said.

‘But why in such a hurry?’

‘Because I say that it must be so. When I say so, pray let that be sufficient.’ But still Dalrymple went on painting.

‘Conway,’ she said, ‘how can you treat me with such disdain?’

‘Disdain, Mrs Broughton!’

‘Yes, disdain. Have I not begged you to understand that I cannot allow you to remain here, and yet you pay no attention to my wishes.’

‘I have done now’; and he began to put his brushes and paints together. ‘I suppose all these things may remain here?’

‘Yes; they may remain. They must do so, of course. There; if you will put the easel in the corner, with the canvas behind it, they will not be seen if he should chance to come into the room.’

‘He would not be angry, I suppose, if he should see them?’

‘There is no knowing. Men are so unreasonable. All men are, I think. All those are whom I have had the fortune to know. Women generally say that men are selfish. I do not complain so much that they are selfish as that they are thoughtless. They are headstrong and do not look forward to results. Now you — I do not think you would willingly do me an injury?’

‘I do not think I would.’

‘I am sure you would not; — but yet you would forget to save me from one.’

‘What injury?’

‘Oh, never mind. I am not thinking of anything in particular. From myself, for instance. But we will not talk about that. That way madness lies. Tell me, Conway; — what do you think of Clara Van Siever?’

‘She is very handsome, certainly.’

‘And clever?’

‘Decidedly clever. I should think she has a temper of her own.’

‘What woman is there worth a straw that has not? If Clara Van Siever were ill-used, she would resent it. I do not doubt that for a moment. I should not like to be the man who would do it.’

‘Nor I, either,’ said Conway.

‘But there is plenty of feminine softness in that character, if she were treated with love and kindness. Conway, if you will take my advice you will ask Clara Van Siever to be your wife. But perhaps you have already.’

‘Who; I?’

‘Yes; you.’

‘I have not done it yet, certainly, Mrs Broughton.’

‘And why should you not do it?’

‘There are two or three reasons; — but perhaps none of any great importance. Do you know of none, Mrs Broughton?’

‘I know of none,’ said Mrs Broughton in a very serious — in almost a tragic tone; —‘of none that should weigh for a moment. As far as I am concerned, nothing would give me more pleasure.’

‘That is so kind of you!’

‘I mean to be kind. I do, indeed, Conway. I know it will be better for you that you should be settled — very much better. And it will be better for me. I do not mind admitting that; — though in saying so I trust greatly to your generosity to interpret my words properly.’

‘I shall not flatter myself, if you mean that.’

‘There is no question of flattery, Conway. The question is simply of truth and prudence. Do you not know that it would be better for yourself that you should be married?’

‘Not unless a certain gentleman were to die first,’ said Conway Dalrymple, as he deposited the last of his painting paraphernalia in the recess which had been prepared for them by Mrs Broughton.

‘Conway, how can you speak in that wicked, wicked way?’

‘I can assure that I do not wish the gentleman in question the slightest harm in the world. If his welfare depended on me, he should be safe as the Bank of England.’

‘And you will not take my advice?’

‘What advice?’

‘About Clara?’

‘Mrs Broughton, matrimony is a very important thing.’

‘Indeed, it is; — oh, who can say how important! There was a time, Conway, when I thought that you had given your heart to Madelina Demolines.’

‘Heaven forbid!’

‘And I grieved, because I thought that she was not worthy of you.’

‘There was never anything in that, Mrs Broughton.’

‘She thought that there was. At any rate, she said so. I know that for certain. She told me so herself. But let that pass. Clara Van Siever is in every respect very different from Madalina. Clara, I think, is worthy of you. And Conway — of course it is not for me to dictate to you; but this I must tell you —’

‘What must you tell me?’

‘I will tell you nothing more. If you cannot understand what I have said, you must be more dull of comprehension than I believe you to be. Now go. Why are you not gone this half-hour?’

‘How could I go while you were giving me all this good advice?’

‘I have not asked you to stay. Go now, at any rate. And, remember, Conway, if this picture is to go on, I will not have you remaining here after the work is done. Will you remember that?’ And she held him by the hand while he declared that he would remember it.

Mrs Dobbs Broughton was no more in love with Conway Dalrymple than she was in love with King Charles on horseback at Charing Cross. And, over and beyond the protection which came to her in the course of nature from impassioned feelings in this special phase of her life — and indeed, if I may say, in every phase of her life — it must be acknowledged on her behalf that she did enjoy that protection which comes from what we call principle — though the principle was not perhaps very high of its kind. Madalina Demolines had been right when she talked of her friend Maria’s principles. Dobbs Broughton had been so far lucky in that jump in the dark which he had made in taking a wife to himself, that he had not fallen upon a really vicious woman, or upon a woman of strong feeling. It had come to be the lot of Mrs Dobbs Broughton to have six hours’ work every day of her life, I think that the work would have been done badly, but that it would have kept her free from all danger. As it was she had nothing to do. She had no child. She was not given to much reading. She could not sit with a needle in her hand all day. She had no aptitude for May meetings, or the excitement of charitable good works. Life with her was very dull, and she found no amusement within her reach so easy and so pleasant as the amusement of pretending to be in love. If all that she did and all that she said could only have been taken for its worth and for nothing more, by the different persons concerned, there was very little in it to flatter Mr Dalrymple or to give cause for tribulation to Mr Broughton. She probably cared but little for either of them. She was one of those women to whom it is not given by nature to care very much for anybody. But, of the two, she certainly cared the most for Mr Dobbs Broughton — because Mr Dobbs Broughton belonged to her. As to leaving Mr Dobbs Broughton’s house, and putting herself into the hands of another man — no Imogen of a wife was ever less likely to take step so wicked, so dangerous, and so generally disagreeable to all the parties concerned.

But Conway Dalrymple — though now and again he had got a side glance at her true character with a clear-seeing eye — did allow himself to be flattered and deceived. He knew that she was foolish and ignorant, and that she often talked wonderful nonsense. He knew also that she was continually contradicting herself — as when she would strenuously beg him to leave her, while she would continue to talk to him in a strain that prevented the possibility of his going. But, nevertheless, he was flattered, and he did believe that she loved him. As to his love for her — he knew very well that it amounted to nothing. Now and again, perhaps, twice a week, if he saw her as often, he would say something which would imply a declaration of affection. He felt that as much as that was expected from him, and that he ought not to hope to get off cheaper. And now that this little play was going on about Miss Van Siever, he did think that Mrs Dobbs Broughton was doing her very best to overcome an unfortunate attachment. It is so gratifying to a young man’s feelings to suppose that another man’s wife has conceived an unfortunate attachment for him! Conway Dalrymple ought not to have been fooled by such a woman; but I fear that he was fooled by her.

As he returned home today from Mrs Broughton’s house to his own lodgings he rambled out for a while into Kensington Gardens, and thought of his position seriously. ‘I don’t see why I should not marry her,’ he said to himself, thinking of course of Miss Van Siever. ‘If Maria is not in earnest it is not my fault. And it would be my wish that she should be in earnest. If I suppose her to be so, and take her at her word, she can have no right to quarrel with me. Poor Maria! At any rate it will be better for her, for no good can come of this kind of thing. And, by heavens, with a woman like that, of strong feelings, one never knows what may happen.’ And then he thought of the condition he would be in, if he were to find her some fine day in his own rooms, and if she were to tell him that she could not go home again, and that she meant to remain with him!

In the meantime Mrs Dobbs Broughton has gone down into her own drawing-room, had tucked herself up on the sofa, and had fallen fast asleep.

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