As the party from Allington rode up the narrow High Street of Guestwick, and across the market square towards the small, respectable, but very dull row of new houses in which Mrs Eames lived, the people of Guestwick were all aware that Miss Lily Dale was escorted by her future husband. The opinion that she had been a very fortunate girl was certainly general among the Guestwickians, though it was not always expressed in open or generous terms. “It was a great match for her,” some said, but shook their heads at the same time, hinting that Mr Crosbie’s life in London was not all that it should be, and suggesting that she might have been more safe had she been content to bestow herself upon some country neighbour of less dangerous pretensions. Others declared that it was no such great match after all. They knew his income to a penny, and believed that the young people would find it very difficult to keep a house in London unless the old squire intended to assist them. But, nevertheless, Lily was envied as she rode through the town with her handsome lover by her side.
And she was very happy. I will not deny that she had some feeling of triumphant satisfaction in the knowledge that she was envied. Such a feeling on her part was natural, and is natural to all men and women who are conscious that they have done well in the adjustment of their own affairs. As she herself had said, he was her bird, the spoil of her own gun, the product of such capacity as she had in her, on which she was to live, and, if possible, to thrive during the remainder of her life. Lily fully recognised the importance of the thing she was doing, and, in soberest guise, had thought much of this matter of marriage. But the more she thought of it the more satisfied she was that she was doing well. And yet she knew that there was a risk. He who was now everything to her might die; nay, it was possible that he might be other than she thought him to be; that he might neglect her, desert her, or misuse her. But she had resolved to trust in everything, and, having so trusted, she would not provide for herself any possibility of retreat. Her ship should go out into the middle ocean, beyond all ken of the secure port from which it had sailed; her army should fight its battle with no hope of other safety than that which victory gives. All the world might know that she loved him if all the world chose to inquire about the matter. She triumphed in her lover, and did not deny even to herself that she was triumphant.
Mrs Eames was delighted to see them. It was so good in Mr Crosbie to come over and call upon such a poor, forlorn woman as her, and so good in Captain Dale; so good also in the dear girls, who, at the present moment, had so much to make them happy at home at Allington! Little things, accounted as bare civilities by others, were esteemed as great favours by Mrs Eames.
“And dear Mrs Dale? I hope she was not fatigued when we kept her up the other night so unconscionably late?” Bell and Lily both assured her that their mother was none the worse for what she had gone through; and then Mrs Eames got up and left the room, with the declared purpose of looking for John and Mary, but bent, in truth, on the production of some cake and sweet wine which she kept under lock and key in the little parlour.
“Don’t let’s stay here very long,” whispered Crosbie.
“No, not very long,” said Lily. “But when you come to see my friends you mustn’t be in a hurry, Mr Crosbie.”
“He had his turn with Lady Julia,” said Bell “and we must have ours now.”
“At any rate, Mrs Eames won’t tell us to do our duty and to beware of being too beautiful,” said Lily.
Mary and John came into the room before their mother returned; then came Mrs Eames, and a few minutes afterwards the cake and wine arrived. It certainly was rather dull, as none of the party seemed to be at their ease. The grandeur of Mr Crosbie was too great for Mrs Eames and her daughter, and John was almost silenced by the misery of his position. He had not yet answered Miss Roper’s letter, nor had he even made up his mind whether he would answer it or no. And then the sight of Lily’s happiness did not fill him with all that friendly joy which he should perhaps have felt as the friend of her childhood. To tell the truth, he hated Crosbie, and so he had told himself; and had so told his sister also very frequently since the day of the party.
“I tell you what it is, Molly,” he had said, “if there was any way of doing it, I’d fight that man.”
“What; and make Lily wretched?”
“She’ll never be happy with him. I’m sure she won’t. I don’t want to do her any harm, but yet I’d like to fight that man — if I only knew how to manage it.”
And then he bethought himself that if they could both be slaughtered in such an encounter it would be the only fitting termination to the present state of things. In that way, too, there would be an escape from Amelia, and, at the present moment, he saw none other.
When he entered the room he shook hands with all the party from Allington, but, as he told his sister afterwards, his flesh crept when he touched Crosbie. Crosbie, as he contemplated the Eames family sitting stiff and ill at ease in their own drawing-room chairs, made up his mind that it would be well that his wife should see as little of John Eames as might be when she came to London — not that he was in any way jealous of her lover. He had learned everything from Lily — all, at least, that Lily knew — and regarded the matter rather as a good joke.
“Don’t see him too often,” he had said to her, “for fear he should make an ass of himself.” Lily had told him everything — all that she could tell; but yet he did not in the least comprehend that Lily had, in truth, a warm affection for the young man whom he despised.
“Thank you, no,” said Crosbie.” I never do take wine in the middle of the day.”
“But a bit of cake?” And Mrs Eames by her look implored him to do her so much honour. She implored Captain Dale, also, but they were both inexorable. I do not know that the two girls were at all more inclined to eat and drink than the two men; but they understood that Mrs Eames would be brokenhearted if no one partook of her delicacies. The little sacrifices of society are all made by women, as are also the great sacrifices of life. A man who is good for anything is always ready for his duty, and so is a good woman always ready for a sacrifice.
“We really must go now,” said Bell, “because of the horses.” And under this excuse they got away.
“You will come over before you go back to London, John?” said Lily, as he came out with the intention of helping her mount, from which purpose, however, he was forced to recede by the iron will of Mr Crosbie.
“Yes, I’ll come over again — before I go. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye, John,” said Bell. “Good-bye, Eames,” said Captain Dale. Crosbie, as he seated himself in the saddle, made the very slightest sign of recognition, to which his rival would not condescend to pay any attention. “I’ll manage to have a fight with him in some way,” said Eames to himself as he walked back through the passage of his mother’s house. And Crosbie, as he settled his feet in the stirrups, felt that he disliked the young man more and more. It would be monstrous to suppose that there could be aught of jealousy in the feeling; and yet he did dislike him very strongly, and felt almost angry with Lily for asking him to come again to Allington. “I must put an end to all that,” he said to himself as he rode silently out of town.
“You must not snub my friends, sir,” said Lily, smiling as she spoke, but yet with something of earnestness in her voice. They were out of the town by this time, and Crosbie had hardly uttered a word since they had left Mrs Eames’s door. They were now on the high road, and Bell and Bernard Dale were somewhat in advance of them.
“I never snub anybody,” said Crosbie, petulantly; “that is unless they have absolutely deserved snubbing.”
“And have I deserved it? Because I seem to have got it,” said Lily.
“Nonsense, Lily. I never snubbed you yet, and I don’t think it likely that I shall begin. But you ought not to accuse me of not being civil to your friends. In the first place I am as civil to them as my nature will allow me to be. And, in the second place —”
“Well; in the second place —?
“I am not quite sure that you are very wise to encourage that young man’s friendship just at present.”
“That means, I suppose, that I am very wrong to do so?”
“No, dearest, it does not mean that. If I meant so I would tell you so honestly. I mean just what I say. There can, I suppose, be no doubt that he has filled himself with some kind of romantic attachment for you — a foolish kind of love which I don’t suppose he ever expected to gratify, but the idea of which lends a sort of grace to his life. When he meets some young woman fit to be his wife he will forget all about it, but till then he will go about fancying himself a despairing lover. And then such a young man as John Eames is very apt to talk of his fancies.”
“I don’t believe for a moment that he would mention my name to any one.”
“But, Lily, perhaps I may know more of young men than you do.”
“Yes, of course you do.”
“And I can assure you that they are generally too well inclined to make free with the names of girls whom they think that they like. You must not be surprised if I am unwilling that any man should make free with your name.”
After this Lily was silent for a minute or two. She felt that an injustice was being done to her and she was not inclined to put up with it, but she could not quite see where the injustice lay. A great deal was owing from her to Crosbie. In very much she was bound to yield to him, and she was anxious to do on his behalf even more than her duty. But yet she had a strong conviction that it would not be well that she should give way to him in everything. She wished to think as he thought as far as possible, but she could not say that she agreed with him when she knew that she differed from him. John Eames was an old friend whom she could not abandon, and so much at the present time she felt herself obliged to say.
“But, Adolphus —”
“You would not wish me to be unkind to so very old a friend as John Eames? I have known him all my life, and we have all of us had a very great regard for the whole family. His father was my uncle’s most particular friend.”
“I think, Lily, you must understand what I mean. I don’t want you to quarrel with any of them, or to be what you call unkind. But you need not give special and pressing invitations to this young man to come and see you before he goes back to London, and then to come and see you directly you get to London. You tell me that he had some kind of romantic idea of being in love with you — of being in despair because you are not in love with him. It’s all great nonsense, no doubt, but it seems to me that under such circumstances you’d better — just leave him alone.”
Again Lily was silent. These were her three last days, in which it was her intention to be especially happy, but above all things to make him especially happy. On no account would she say to him sharp words, or encourage in her own heart a feeling of animosity against him, and yet she believed him to be wrong; and so believing could hardly bring herself to bear the injury. Such was her nature, as a Dale. And let it be remembered that very many who can devote themselves for great sacrifices, cannot bring themselves to the endurance of little injuries. Lily could have given up any gratification for her lover, but she could not allow herself to have been in the wrong, believing herself to have been in the right.
“I have asked him now, and he must come,” she said.
“But do not press him to come any more.”
“Certainly not, after what you have said, Adolphus. If he comes over to Allington, he will see me in mamma’s house, to which he has always been made welcome by her. Of course I understand perfectly —”
“You understand what, Lily?”
But she had stopped herself, fearing that she might say that which would be offensive to him if she continued.
“What is it you understand, Lily?”
“Do not press me to go on, Adolphus. As far as I can, I will do all that you want me to do.”
“You meant to say that when you find yourself an inmate of my house, as a matter of course you could not ask your own friends to come and see you. Was that gracious?”
“Whatever I may have meant to say, I did not say that. Nor in truth did I mean it. Pray don’t go on about it now. These are to be our last days, you know, and we shouldn’t waste them by talking of things that are unpleasant. After all poor Johnny Eames is nothing to me; nothing, nothing. How can any one be anything to me when I think of you?”
But even this did not bring Crosbie back at once into a pleasant humour. Had Lily yielded to him and confessed that he was right, he would have made himself at once as pleasant as the sun in May. But this she had not done. She had simply abstained from her argument because she did not choose to be vexed, and had declared her continued purpose of seeing Eames on his promised visit. Crosbie would have had her acknowledge herself wrong, and would have delighted in the privilege of forgiving her. But Lily Dale was one who did not greatly relish forgiveness, or any necessity of being forgiven. So they rode on, if not in silence, without much joy in their conversation. It was now late on the Monday afternoon, and Crosbie was to go early on the Wednesday morning. What if these three last days should come to be marred with such terrible drawbacks as these!
Bernard Dale had not spoken a word to his cousin of his suit, since they had been interrupted by Crosbie and Lily as they were lying on the bank by the ha-ha. He had danced with her again and again at Mrs Dale’s party, and had seemed to revert to his old modes of conversation without difficulty. Bell, therefore, had believed the matter to be over, and was thankful to her cousin, declaring within her own bosom that the whole matter should be treated by her as though it had never happened. To no one — not even to her mother, would she tell it. To such reticence she bound herself for his sake, feeling that he would be best pleased that it should be so. But now as they rode on together, far in advance of the other couple, he again returned to the subject.
“Bell,” said he,” am I to have any hope?
“Any hope as to what, Bernard?
“I hardly know whether a man is bound to take a single answer on such a subject. But this I know, that if a man’s heart is concerned, he is not very willing to do so.”
“When that answer has been given honestly and truly —”
“Oh, no doubt. I don’t at all suppose that you were dishonest or false when you refused to allow me to speak to you.”
“But, Bernard, I did not refuse to allow you to speak to me.”
“Something very like it. But, however, I have no doubt you were true enough. But, Bell, why should it be so? If you were in love with any one else I could understand it.”
“I am not in love with any one else.”
“Exactly. And there are so many reasons why you, and I should join our fortunes together.”
“It cannot be a question of fortune, Bernard.”
“Do listen to me. Do let me speak, at any rate. I presume I may at least suppose that you do not dislike me.”
“And though you might not be willing to accept any man’s hand merely on a question of fortune, surely the fact that our marriage would be in every way suitable as regards money should not set you against it. Of my own love for you I will not speak further, as I do not doubt that you believe what I say; but should you not question your own feelings very closely before you determine to oppose the wishes of all those who are nearest to you?”
“Do you mean mamma, Bernard?”
“Not her especially, though I cannot but think she would like a marriage that would keep all the family together, and would give you an equal claim to the property to that which I have.”
“That would not have a feather’s-weight with mamma.”
“Have you asked her?”
“No, I have mentioned the matter to no one.”
“Then you cannot know. And as to my uncle, I have the means of knowing that it is the great desire of his life. I must say that I think some consideration for him should induce you to pause before you give a final answer, even though no consideration for me should have any weight with you.”
“I would do more for you than for him — much more.”
“Then do this for me, Allow me to think that I have not yet had an answer to my proposal; give me to this day month, to Christmas; till any time that you like to name, so that I may think that it is not yet settled, and may tell Uncle Christopher that such is the case.”
“Bernard, it would he useless.”
“It would at any rate show him that you are willing to think of it.”
“But I am not willing to think of it — not in that way. I do know my own mind thoroughly, and I should be very wrong if I were to deceive you.”
“And you wish me to give that as your only answer to my uncle?”
“To tell the truth, Bernard, I do not much care what you may say to my uncle in this matter. He can have no right to interfere in the disposal of my hand, and therefore I need not regard his wishes on the subject. I will explain to you in one word what my feelings are about it. I would accept no man in opposition to mamma’s wishes; but not even for her could I accept any man in opposition to my own. But as concerns my uncle, I do not feel myself called on to consult him in any way on such a matter.”
“And yet he is the head of our family.”
“I don’t care anything about the family. — not in that way.”
“And he has been very generous to you all.”
“That I deny. He has not been generous to mamma. He is very hard and ungenerous to mamma. He lets her have that house because he is anxious that the Dales should seem to be respectable before the world; and she lives in it, because she thinks it better for us that she should do so. If I had my way, she should leave it tomorrow — or, at any rate, as soon as Lily is married. I would much sooner go into Guestwick, and live as the Eames do.”
“I think you are ungrateful, Bell.”
“No; I am not ungrateful. And as to consulting; Bernard — I should be much more inclined to consult you than him about my marriage. If you would let me look on you altogether as a brother, I should think little of promising to marry no one whom you did not approve.”
But such an agreement between them would by no means have suited Bernard’s views. He had thought, some four or five weeks back, that he was not personally very anxious for this match. He had declared to himself that he liked his cousin well enough; that it would be a good thing for him to settle himself; that his uncle was reasonable in his wishes and sufficiently liberal in his offers; and that, therefore, he would marry. It had hardly occurred to him as probable that his cousin would reject so eligible an offer, and had certainly never occurred to him that he would have to suffer anything from such rejection. He had entertained none of that feeling of which lovers speak when they declare that they are staking their all upon the hazard of a die, It had not seemed to him that he was staking anything, as he gently told his tale of languid love, lying on the turf by the ha-ha. He had not regarded the possibility of disappointment, of sorrow, and of a deeply-vexed mind. He would have felt but little triumph if accepted, and had not thought that he could be humiliated by any rejection. In this frame of mind he had gone to his work; but now he found, to his own surprise, that this girl’s answer had made him absolutely unhappy. Having expressed a wish for this thing, the very expression of the wish made him long to possess it. He found, as he rode along silently by her side, that he was capable of more earnestness of desire than he had known himself to possess. He was at this moment unhappy, disappointed, anxious, distrustful of the future, and more intent on one special toy than he had ever been before, even as a boy. He was vexed, and felt himself to be sore at heart. He looked round at her, as she sat silent, quiet, and somewhat sad upon her pony, and declared to himself that she was very beautiful — that she was a thing to be gained if still there might he the possibility of gaining her. He felt that he really loved her, and yet he was almost angry with himself for so feeling. Why had he subjected himself to this numbing weakness? His love had never given him any pleasure. Indeed he had never hitherto acknowledged it; but now he was driven to do so on finding it to be the source of trouble and pain. I think it is open to us to doubt whether, even yet, Bernard Dale was in love with his cousin; whether he was not rather in love with his own desire. But against himself he found a verdict that he was in love, and was angry with himself and with all the world.
“Ah, Bell,” he said, coming close up to her, “I wish you could understand how I love you.” And, as he spoke, his cousin unconsciously recognised more of affection in his tone, and less of that spirit of bargaining which had seemed to pervade all his former pleas, than she had ever found before.
“And do I not love you? Have I not offered to be to you in all respects as a sister?”
“That is nothing. Such an offer to me now is simply laughing at me. Bell, I tell you what — I will not give you up. The fact is, you do not know me yet — not know me as you must know any man before you choose him for your husband. You and Lily are not alike in this. You are cautious, doubtful of yourself, and perhaps, also, somewhat doubtful of others. My heart is set upon this, and I shall still try to succeed.”
“Ah, Bernard, do not say that! Believe me, when I tell you that it can never be.”
“No; I will not believe you. I will not allow myself to be made utterly wretched. I tell you fairly that I will not believe you. I may surely hope if I choose to hope. No, Bell, I will never give you up — unless, indeed, I should see you become another man’s wife.”
As he said this, they all turned in through the squire’s gate, and rode up to the yard in which it was their habit to dismount from their horses.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55