The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXVII

The Shattered Tree

When Mrs Arabin saw Johnny in the middle of the day, she could hardly give him much encouragement. And yet she felt by no means sure that he might not succeed even yet. Lily had been very positive in her answers, and yet there had been something either in her words or in the tone of her voice, which had made Mrs Arabin feel that even Lily was not quite sure of herself. There was still room for relenting. Nothing, however, had been said which could justify her in bidding John Eames simply to ‘go and win’. ‘I think he is light of heart,’ Lily had said. Those were the words which, of all that had been spoken, most impressed themselves on Mrs Arabin’s memory. She would not repeat them to her friend, but she would graft upon them such advice as she had to give him.

And this she did, telling him that she thought perhaps Lily doubted his actual earnestness. ‘I would marry her this moment,’ said Johnny. But that was not enough, as Mrs Arabin knew, to prove his earnestness. Many men, fickle as weathercocks, are ready to marry at the moment — are ready to marry at the moment, because they are fickle, and think so little about it. ‘But she hears, perhaps, of your liking other people,’ said Mrs Arabin. ‘I don’t care a straw for any other person,’ said Johnny. ‘I wonder whether if I was to shut myself up in a cage for six months, it would do any good?’ ‘If she had the keeping of the cage, perhaps it might,’ said Mrs Arabin. She had nothing more to say on that subject, but to tell him that Miss Dale would expect him that afternoon at half-past five. ‘I told her that you would come to wish her good-bye, and she promised to see you.’

‘I wish she’d say she wouldn’t see me. Then there would be some chance.’

Between him and Mrs Arabin, the parting was very affectionate. She told him how thankful she was for the kindness in coming to her, and how grateful she would ever be — and the dean also — for his attention to her. ‘Remember, Mr Eames, that you will always be most welcome at the Deanery of Barchester. And I do hope that before long you may be there with your wife.’ And so they parted.

He left her at about two, and went to Mr Toogood’s office in Bedford Row. He found his uncle, and the two went out to lunch together in Holborn. Between them there was no word said about Lily Dale, and John was glad to have some other subject in his mind for half an hour. Toogood was full of his triumph about Mr Crawley and of his successes in Barsetshire. He gave John a long account of his visit to Plumstead, and expressed his opinion that if all clergymen were like the archdeacon there would not be much room for Dissenters. ‘I’ve seen a good many parsons in my time,’ said Toogood; ‘but I don’t think I ever saw such a one as him. You know he is a clergyman somehow, and he never lets you forget it; but that’s about all. Most of ’em are never contented without choking you with their white cravats all the time you’re with ’em. As for Crawley himself,’ Mr Toogood continued, ‘he’s not like anybody that ever was born, saint or sinner, parson or layman. I never heard of such a man in all my experience. Though he knew where he got the cheque as well I know it now, he wouldn’t say so, because the dean had said it wasn’t so. Somebody ought to write a book about it — indeed they ought.’ Then he told the whole story of Dan Stringer, and how he had found Dan out, looking at the tope of Dan’s hat through the little aperture in the wall of the inn parlour. ‘When I saw the twitch in his hand, John, I knew he had handled the cheque himself. I don’t mean to say that I’m sharper than another man, and I don’t think so; but I do mean to say that when you are in any difficulty of that sort, you ought to go to a lawyer. It’s his business, and a man does what is his business with patience and perseverance. It’s a pity, though, that the scoundrel should get off.’ Then Eames gave his uncle an account of his Italian trip, to and fro, and was congratulated also upon his success. John’s great triumph lay in the fact that he had been only two nights in bed, and that he would not have so far condescended on those occasions but for the feminine weakness of his fellow-traveller. ‘We shan’t forget it all in a hurry — shall we, John?’ said Mr Toogood, in a pleasant voice, as they parted at the door of the luncheon-house in Holborn. Toogood was returning to his office, and John Eames was to prepare himself for his last attempt.

He went back to his lodgings, intending at first to change his dress to make himself smarter for the work before him — but after standing for a moment or two leaning on the chest of drawers in his bedroom, he gave up this idea. ‘After all that’s come and gone,’ he said to himself, ‘if I cannot win her as I am now, I cannot win her at all.’ And then he swore to himself a solemn oath, resolving that he would repeat the purport of it to Lily herself — that this should be the last attempt. ‘What’s the use of it? Everybody ridicules me. And I am ridiculous. I am an ass. It’s all very well wanting to be the prime minister; but if you can’t be prime minister, you must do without being prime minister.’ Then he attempted to sing the old song —‘Shall I, sighing in despair, die because a woman’s fair? If she be not fair to me, what care I how fair she be?’ But he did care, and he told himself that the song did him no good. As it was not time for him as yet to go to Lily, he threw himself on the sofa, and strove to read a book. Then all the weary nights of his journey prevailed over him, and he fell asleep.

When he woke it wanted quarter to six. He sprang up, and rushing out, jumped into a cab. ‘Berkeley Square — as hard as you can go,’ he said. ‘Number —.’ He thought of Rosalind, and her counsels to lovers as to the keeping of time, and reflected that in such an emergency as this, he might really have ruined himself by that unfortunate slumber. When he got to Mrs Thorne’s door he knocked hurriedly, and bustled up to the drawing-room as though everything depended on his saving a minute. ‘I’m afraid I’m ever so much behind my time,’ he said.

‘It does not matter in the least,’ said Lily. ‘As Mrs Arabin said that perhaps you might call, I would not be out of the way. I suppose that Sir Raffle was keeping you and that you wouldn’t come.’

‘Sir Raffle was not keeping me. I fell asleep. That’s the truth of it.’

‘I am so sorry that you should have been disturbed!’

‘Do not laugh at me, Lily — today. I had been travelling a good deal, and I suppose I was tired.’

‘I won’t laugh at you,’ she said, and her eyes became full of tears — she did not know why. But there they were, and she was ashamed to put up her handkerchief, and she could not bring herself to turn away her face, and she had no resource but that he should see them.

‘Lily!’ he said.

‘What a paladin you have been, John, rushing all about Europe on your friend’s behalf!’

‘Don’t talk about that.’

‘And such a successful paladin too! Why am I not to talk about it? I am going home tomorrow, and I mean to talk about nothing else for a week. I am so very, very, glad that you have saved your cousin.’ Then she did put up her handkerchief, making believe that her tears had been due to Mr Crawley. But John Eames knew better than that.

‘Lily,’ he said, ‘I’ve come for the last time. It sounds as though I meant to threaten you; but you won’t take it in that way. I think you will know what I mean. I have come for the last time — to ask you to be my wife.’ She got up to greet him when he entered, and they were both still standing. She did not answer him at once, but turning away from him walked towards the window. ‘You knew why I was coming today, Lily?’

‘Mrs Arabin told me. I could not be away when you were coming, but perhaps it would have been better.’

‘It is so? Must it be so? Must you say that to me, Lily? Think of it for a moment, dear.’

‘I have thought about it.’

‘One word from you, yes or no, spoken is to be everything to me for always. Lily, cannot you say yes?’ She did not answer him, but walked further away from him to another window. ‘Try to say yes. Look round at me with one look that may only half mean it; that may tell me that it shall not positively be no for ever.’ I think that she almost tried to turn her face to him; but be that as it may, she kept her eyes steadily fixed upon the window-pane. ‘Lily,’ he said, ‘it is not that you are hard-hearted — perhaps not altogether that you do not like me. I think that you believe things against me that are not true.’ As she said this she moved her foot angrily upon the carpet. She had almost forgotten M D, but now he had reminded her of the note. She assured herself that she had never believed anything against him except on evidence that was incontrovertible. But she was not going to speak to him on such a matter as that! It would not become her to accuse him. ‘Mrs Arabin tells me that you doubt whether I am earnest,’ he said.

Upon hearing this she flashed round upon him almost angrily. ‘I never said that.’

‘If you will ask me for any token of earnestness, I will give it to you.’

‘I want no token.’

‘The best sign of earnestness a man can give generally in such a matter, is to show how ready he is to be married.’

‘I never said anything about earnestness.’

‘At the risk of making you angry I will go on, Lily. Of course when you tell me that you will have nothing to say to me, I try to amuse myself’—‘Yes; by writing love-letters to M D,’ Lily said to herself —‘What is a poor fellow to do? I tell you fairly that when I leave you I swear to myself that I make love to the first girl I can see who will listen to me — to twenty, if twenty will let me. I feel I have failed, and it is so I punish myself for my failure.’ There was something in this which softened her brow, though she did not intend that it should be so; and she turned away again, that he might not see that her brow was softened. ‘But, Lily, the hope ever comes back again, and then neither the one nor the twenty are of avail — even to punish me. When I look forward and see what it might be if you were with me, how green it all looks and how lovely, in spite of all the vows I have made, I cannot help coming back again.’ She was now again near the window, and he had not followed her. As she neither turned towards him nor answered him, he moved from the table near which he was standing on to the rug before the fire, and leaned with both his elbows on the mantelpiece. He could still watch her in the mirror above the fireplace, and could see that she was still seeming to gaze out upon the street. And had he not moved her? I think he had so far moved her now, that she had ceased to think of the woman who had written to her — that she had ceased to reject him in her heart on the score of such levities as that! If there were M Ds, like sunken rocks, in his course, whose fault was it? He was ready enough to steer his bark into the tranquil blue waters if only she would aid him. I think that all his sins on this score were at this moment forgiven him. He had told her now what to him would be green and beautiful, and she did not find herself able to disbelieve him. She had banished M D out of her mind, but in doing so she admitted other reminiscences into it. And then — was she in a moment to be talked out of the resolution of years; and was she to give up herself, not because she loved, but because the man who talked to her talked so well that he deserved a reward? Was she now to be as light, as foolish, as easy, as in those former days from which she had learned her wisdom? A picture of green lovely things could be delicious to her eyes as to his; but even for such a picture as that the price might be too dear! Of all living men — of all men living in their present lives — she loved best this man who was now waiting for some word of answer to his words, and she did love him dearly; she would have tended him if sick, have supplied him if in want; have mourned for him if dead, with the bitter grief of true affection; — but she could not say to herself that he should be her lord and master, the head of her house, the owner of herself, the ruler of her life. The shipwreck to which she had once come, and the fierce regrets which had thence arisen, had forced her to think too much of these things. ‘Lily,’ he said, still facing towards the mirror, ‘will you not come to me and speak to me?’ She turned round, and stood a moment looking at him, and then, having again resolved that it could not be as he wished, she drew near to him. ‘Certainly I will speak to you, John. Here I am.’ And she came close to him.

He took both her hands, and looked into her eyes. ‘Lily, will you be mine?’

‘No; dear; it cannot be so.’

‘Why not, Lily?’

‘Because of that other man.’

‘And is that to be a bar for ever?’

‘Yes; for ever.’

‘Do you still love him?’

‘No; no, no!’

‘Then why should this be so?’

‘I cannot tell, dear. It is so. If you take a young tree and split it, it still lives, perhaps. But it isn’t a tree. It is only a fragment.’

‘Then be my fragment.’

‘So I will, if I can serve you to give standing ground to such a fragment in some corner of your garden. But I will not have myself planted out in the middle, for people to look at. What there is left would die soon.’ He still held her hands, and she did not attempt to draw them away. ‘John,’ she said, ‘next to mamma, I love you better than all the world. Indeed I do. I can’t be your wife, but you need never be afraid that I shall be more to another than I am to you.’

‘That will not serve me,’ he said, grasping both her hands till he almost hurt them, but not knowing that he did so. ‘That is no good.’

‘It is all the good that I can do you. Indeed I can do you — can do no one any good. The trees that the storms have splintered are never of use.’

‘And is this to be the end of it, Lily?’

‘Not of our loving friendship.’

‘Friendship! I hate the word. I hear someone’s step, and I had better leave you. Good-bye.’

‘Good-bye, John. Be kinder than that to me as you are going.’ He turned back for a moment, took her hand, and held it tight against his heart, and then he left her. In the hall he met Mrs Thorne, but, as she said afterwards, he had been too much knocked about to be able to throw a word to a dog.

To Mrs Thorne Lily said hardly a word about John Eames, and when her cousin Bernard questioned her about him she was dumb. And in these days she could assume a manner, and express herself with her eyes as well as with her voice, after a fashion, which was apt to silence unwelcome questions, even though they were intimate with her as was her cousin Bernard. She had described her feelings more plainly to her lover than she had ever done to anyone — even to her mother; and having done so she meant to be silent on that subject for evermore. But of her settled purpose, she did say some word to Emily Dunstable that night. ‘I do feel,’ she said, ‘that I have got the thing settled at last.’

‘And have you settled it, as you call it, in opposition to the wishes of all your friends?’

‘That is true; and yet I have settled it rightly, and I would not for worlds have it unsettled again. There are matters on which friends should not have wishes, or at any rate should not express them.’

‘Is that meant to be severe to me?’

‘No; not to you. I was thinking about mamma, and Bell, and my uncle, and Bernard, who all seem to think that I am to be looked upon as a regular castaway because I am not likely to have a husband of my own. Of course you, in your position, must think a girl a castaway who isn’t going to be married?’

‘I think that a girl who is going to be married has the best of it.’

‘And I think a girl who isn’t going to be married has the best of it; — that’s all. But I feel that the thing is done now, and I am contented. For the last six or eight months there has come up, I know not how, a state of doubt which as made me so wretched that I have done literally nothing. I haven’t been able to finish old Mrs Heard’s tippet, literally because people would talk to me about that dearest of all dear fellows, John Eames. And yet all along I have known how it would be — as well as I do now.’

‘I cannot understand you, Lily; I can’t indeed.’

‘I can understand myself. I love him so well — with that intimate, close, familiar affection — that I could wash his clothes for him tomorrow, out of pure personal regard, and think it no shame. He could not ask me to do a single thing for him — except one thing — that I would refuse. And I’ll go further. I would sooner marry him than any other man I ever saw, or, as I believe, that I ever shall see. And yet I am glad that it is settled.’

On the next day Lily Dale went down to the Small House of Allington, and so she passes out of sight. I can only ask the reader to believe that she was in earnest, and express my opinion, in this last word, that I shall ever write respecting her, that she will live and die as Lily Dale.

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