The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXVI

I Think he is Light of Heart

Mrs Arabin remained one day in town. Mr Toogood in spite of his asseveration that he would not budge from Barchester till he had seen Mr Crawley through all his troubles, did run up to London as soon as the news reached him that John Eames had returned. He came up and took Mrs Arabin’s deposition, which he sent down to Mr Walker. It might still be necessary, Mrs Arabin was told, that she should go into court, and there state on oath that she had given the cheque to Mr Crawley; but Mr Walker was of the opinion that the circumstances would enable the judge to call upon the grand jury not to find a true bill against Mr Crawley, and that the whole affair, as far as Mr Crawley was concerned, would thus be brought to an end. Toogood was still very anxious to place Dan Stringer in the dock, but Mr Walker declared that they would fail if they made the attempt. Dan had been examined before the magistrates at Barchester, and having persisted in his statement that he had heard nothing about Mr Crawley and the cheque. This he said in the teeth of the words which had fallen from him unawares in the presence of Mr Toogood. But they could not punish him for a lie — not even for such a lie as that! He was not upon oath, and they could not make him responsible to the law because he had held his tongue upon a matter as to which it was manifest to them all that he had known the whole history during the entire period of Mr Crawley’s persecution. They could only call upon him to account for his possession of the cheque, and this he did by saying that it had been paid to him by Jem Scuttle, who received all moneys appertaining to the hotel stables, and accounted for them once a week. Jem Scuttle had simply told him that he had taken the cheque from Mr Soames, and Jem had since gone to New Zealand. It was quite true that Jem’s departure had followed suspiciously close upon the payment of the rent to Mrs Arabin, and that Jem had been in close amity with Dan Stringer up to the moment of his departure. That Dan Stringer had not become honestly possessed of the cheque, everybody knew; but, nevertheless, the magistrates were of the opinion, Mr Walker coinciding with them, that there was no evidence against him sufficient to secure a conviction. The story, however, of Mr Crawley’s injuries was so well known in Barchester, and the feeling against the man who had permitted him to be thus injured was so strong, that Dan Stringer did not altogether escape without punishment. Some rough spirits in Barchester called one night at ‘The Dragon of Wantly’ and begged Mr Dan Stringer would be kind enough to come and take a walk with them that evening; and when it was intimated to them that Dan Stringer had not just then any desire for exercise, they requested to be allowed to go into the back parlour and make an evening with Dan Stringer in that recess. There was a terrible row at ‘The Dragon of Wantly’ that night, and Dan with difficulty was rescued by the police. On the following morning he was smuggled out of Barchester by an early train, and has never more been seen in that city. Rumours of him, however, were soon heard, from which it appeared that he had made himself acquainted with the casual ward of more than one workhouse in London. His cousin John left the inn almost immediately — as, indeed, he must have done had there been no question of Mr Soames’s cheque — and then there was nothing more heard of the Stringers in Barchester.

Mrs Arabin remained in town one day, and would have remained longer, waiting for her husband, had not a letter from her sister impressed upon her that it might be well that she should be with her father as soon as possible. ‘I don’t mean to make you think that there is any immediate danger,’ Mrs Grantly said, ‘and, indeed, we cannot say that he is ill; but it seems that the extremity of old age has come upon him almost suddenly, and that he is as weak as a child. His only delight is with children, especially with Posy, whose gravity in her management of him is wonderful. He has not left his room now for more than a week, and he eats very little. It may be that he will live for years; but I should be deceiving you if I did not let you know that both the archdeacon and I think that the time of his departure from us is near at hand.’ After reading this letter, Mrs Arabin could not wait in town for her husband, even though he was expected in two days and though she had been told that her presence in Barchester was not immediately required on behalf of Mr Crawley.

But during that one day she kept her promise to John Eames by going to Lily Dale. Mrs Arabin had become very fond of Johnny, and felt that he deserved the prize which he had been so long trying to win. The reader, perhaps, may not agree with Mrs Arabin. The reader, who may have caught a closer insight into Johnny’s character than Mrs Arabin had obtained, may, perhaps, think that a young man who could amuse himself with Miss Demolines was unworthy of Lily Dale. If so, I may declare for myself that I and the reader are in accord about John Eames. It is hard to measure worth and worthlessness in such matters, as there is no standard for such measurement. My old friend John as certainly no hero — was very unheroic in many phases of his life; but then, if all the girls are to wait for heroes, I fear that the difficulties in the way of matrimonial arrangements, great as they are at present, will be very seriously enhanced. Johnny was not ecstatic, nor heroic, nor transcendental, nor very beautiful in his manliness; he was not a man to break his heart for love or to have his story written in epic; but he was an affectionate, kindly, honest young man; and I think most girls might have done worse than take him. Whether he was wise to ask assistance in his love-making so often as he had done, that may be another question.

Mrs Arabin was intimately acquainted with Mrs Thorne, and therefore there was nothing odd in her going to Mrs Thorne’s house. Mrs Thorne was very glad to see her, and told her all the Barsetshire news — much more than Mrs Arabin would have learned in a week at the deanery; for Mrs Thorne had a marvellous gift of picking up news. She had already heard the whole story of Mr Soames’s cheque, and expressed her conviction that the least that could be done in amends to Mr Crawley was to make him a bishop. ‘And you see the palace is vacant,’ said Mrs Thorne.

‘The palace vacant!’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘It is just as good. Now that Mrs Proudie has gone, I don’t suppose the bishop will account for much. I can assure you, Mrs Arabin, I felt that poor woman’s death so much! She used to regard me as one of the staunchest of the Proudieites! She once whispered to me such a delightfully wicked story about the dean and the archdeacon. When I told her that they were my particular friends, she put on a look of horror. But I don’t think she believed me.’ Then Emily Dunstable entered the room, and with her came Lily Dale. Mrs Arabin had never before seen Lily, and course they were introduced. ‘I am sorry to say that Miss Dale is going home to Allington tomorrow,’ said Emily. ‘But she is coming to Chaldicotes in May,’ said Mrs Thorne. ‘Of course, Mrs Arabin, you know what gala doings we are going to have in May?’ Then there were various civil little speeches made on each side, and Mrs Arabin expressed a wish that she might meet Miss Dale in Barsetshire. But all this did not bring her nearer to her object.

‘I particularly wish to say a word to Miss Dale — here today, if she will allow me,’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘I’m sure she will — twenty words; won’t you, Lily?’ said Mrs Thorne, preparing to leave the room. Then Mrs Arabin apologised, and Mrs Thorne, bustling up, said that it did not signify, and Lily, remaining quite still on the sofa, wondered what it was all about — and in two minutes Lily and Mrs Arabin were alone together. Lily had just time to surmised that Mrs Arabin’s visit must have some reference to Mr Crosbie — remembering that Crosbie had married his wife out of Barsetshire, and forgetting altogether that Mrs Arabin had been just brought home from Italy by John Eames.

‘I am afraid, Miss Dale, you will think me very impertinent,’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘I am sure I shall not think that,’ said Lily.

‘I believe you knew, before Mr Eames started, that he was going to Italy to find me and my husband?’ said Mrs Arabin. Then Lily put Mr Crosbie altogether out of her head, and became aware that he was not to be the subject of the coming conversation. She was almost sorry that it was not so. There was no doubt in her mind as to what she would have said to anyone who might have taken up Crosbie’s cause. On that matter she could now have given a very decisive answer in a few words. But on that other matter she was much more in doubt. She remembered, however, every word of the note she had received from M D. She remembered also the words of John’s note to that young woman. And her heart was still hard against him. ‘Yes,’ she said; ‘Mr Eames came here one night and told us why he was going. I was very glad that he was going, because I thought it was right.’

‘You know, of course, how successful he has been? It was I who gave the cheque to Mr Crawley.’

‘So Mrs Thorne has heard. Dr Thorne has written to tell her the whole story.’

‘And now I have come to look for Mr Eames’s reward.’

‘His reward, Mrs Arabin?’

‘Yes; or rather to plead for him. You will not, I hope, be angry with him because he has told me much of his life story while we were travelling home together.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Lily, smiling. ‘How could he have chosen a better friend in whom to trust?’

‘He could certainly have chosen none who would take his part more sincerely. He is so good and amiable! He is so pleasant in his ways, and so fitted to make a woman happy! And then, Miss Dale, he is also so devoted!’

‘He is an old friend, Mrs Arabin.’

‘So he has told me.’

‘And we all of us love him dearly. Mamma is very much attached to him.’

‘Unless he flatters himself, there is no one belonging to you who would not wish that he should be nearer and dearer still.’

‘It may be so. I do not say that it is not so. Mamma and my uncle are both fond of him.’

‘And does that not go a long way?’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘It ought not to do so,’ said Lily. ‘It ought not to go any way at all.’

‘Ought it not? It seems to me that I could never have brought myself to marry anyone whom my friends had not liked.’

‘Ah! that is another thing.’

‘But is it not a recommendation to a man that has been so successful with your friends as to make them all feel that you might trust yourself to him with perfect safety?’ To this Lily made no answer, and Mrs Arabin went on to plead her friend’s cause with all the eloquence she could use, insisting on all his virtues, his good temper, his kindness, his constancy — and not forgetting the fact that the world was inclined to use him very well. Still Lily made no answer. She had promised Mrs Arabin that she would not regard her interference as impertinent, and therefore she refrained from any word that might seem to show offence. Nor did she feel offence. It was something gained by John Eames in Lily’s estimation that he should have such a friend as Mrs Arabin to take an interest in his welfare. But there was a self-dependence, perhaps one may call it an obstinacy about Lily Dale, which made her determined that she would not be driven hither or thither by any pressure from without. Why had John Eames, at the very moment when he should have been doing his best to drive from her breast the memory of past follies — when he would have striven to do so had he really been earnest in his suit — why at such a moment had he allowed himself to correspond in terms of affection with such a woman as M D? While Mrs Arabin was pleading for John Eames, Lily was repeating to herself certain words which John had written to that woman —‘Ever and always yours unalterably’. Such were not the exact words, but such was the form in which Lily, dishonestly, chose to repeat them to herself. And why was it so with her? In the old days she would have forgiven Crosbie any offence at a word or a look — any possible letter to any M D, let her have been ever so abominable! Nay — had she not even forgiven him the offence of deserting herself altogether on behalf of a woman as detestable as could be any M D of Johnny’s choosing — a woman whose only recommendation had been her title? And yet she would not forgive John Eames, though the evidence against him was of so flimsy a nature — but rather strove to turn the flimsiness of that evidence into strength! Why was it so? Unheroic as he might be, John Eames was surely a better man and a bigger man that Adolphus Crosbie. It was simply this: she had fallen in love with the one, and had never fallen in love with the other! She had fallen in love with the one man, though in her simple way she had made a struggle against such feeling; and she had not come to love the other man, though she had told herself that it would be well that she should do so if it were possible. Again and again she had half declared to herself that she would take him as her husband and leave the love to come afterwards; but when the moment came for doing so, she could not do it.

‘May I not say a word of comfort to him?’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘He will be very comfortable without any such word,’ said Lily, laughing.

‘But he is not comfortable; of that you may be very sure.’

‘Yours ever and unalterably, J E,’ said Lily to herself. ‘You do not doubt his affection?’ continued Mrs Arabin.

‘I neither doubt it nor credit it.’

‘Then I think you wrong him. And the reason why I have ventured to come to you is that you may know the impression which he has made upon one who was but the other day a stranger to him. I am sure that he loves you.’

‘I think he is light of heart.’

‘Oh, no, Miss Dale.’

‘And how am I to become his wife unless I love him well enough myself? Mrs Arabin, I have made up my mind about it. I shall never become any man’s wife. Mamma and I are all in all together, and we shall remain together.’ And as soon as these words were out of her mouth, she hated herself for having spoken them. There was a maudlin, missish, namby-pamby sentimentality about them which disgusted her. She specially desired to be straightforward, resolute of purpose, honest-spoken, and free from all touch of affectation. And yet she had excused herself from marrying John Eames after the fashion of a sick schoolgirl. ‘It is not good talking about it any more,’ she said, getting up from her chair quickly.

‘You are not angry with me; — or at any rate you will forgive me?’

‘I’m quite sure you have meant to be very good, and I am not a bit angry.’

‘And you will see him before you go?’

‘Oh, yes; that is if he likes to come today, or early tomorrow. I go home tomorrow. I cannot refuse him, because he is such an old friend — almost like a brother. But it is of no use, Mrs Arabin.’ Then Mrs Arabin kissed her and left her, telling her that Mr Eames would come to her that afternoon at half-past five. Lily promised that she would be at home to receive him.

‘Won’t you ride with us for the last time?’ said Emily Dunstable when Lily gave notice that she would not want the horse on that afternoon.

‘No; not today.’

‘You’ll never have another opportunity of riding with Emily Dunstable,’ said the bride elect; ‘at least I hope not.’

‘Even under those circumstances I must refuse, though I would give a guinea to be with you. John Eames is coming here to say good-bye.’

‘Oh; then indeed you must not come with us. Lily, what will you say to him?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Oh, Lily, think of it.’

‘I have thought of it. I have thought of nothing else. I am tired of thinking of it. It is no good to think of anything so much. What does it matter?’

‘It is very good to have someone to love better than all the world besides.’

‘I have someone,’ said Lily, thinking of her mother, but not caring to descend to the mawkish weakness of talking about her.

‘Yes; but someone who will always be with you, to do everything for you; to be your very own.’

‘It is all very well for you,’ said Lily, ‘and I think that Bernard is the luckiest fellow in the world; but it will not do for me. I know in what college I’ll take my degree, and I wish they’d let me write the letters after my name as the men do.’

‘What letters, Lily?’

‘O M, for Old Maid. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be as good as BA for Bachelor of Arts. It would mean a great deal more.’

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