“But Mr Crosbie is only a mere clerk.” This sarcastic condemnation was spoken by Miss Lilian Dale to her sister Isabella, and referred to a gentleman with whom we shall have much concern in these pages. I do not say that Mr Crosbie will be our hero, seeing that that part in the drama will be cut up, as it were, into fragments. Whatever of the magnificent may be produced will be diluted and apportioned out in very moderate quantities among two or more, probably among three or four, young gentlemen — to none of whom will be vouchsafed the privilege of much heroic action.
“I don’t know what you call a mere clerk, Lily. Mr Fanfaron is a mere barrister, and Mr Boyce is a mere clergyman.” Mr Boyce was the vicar of Allington, and Mr Fanfaron was a lawyer who had made his way over to Allington during the last assizes. “You might as well say that Lord de Guest is a mere earl.”
“So he is — only a mere earl. Had he ever done anything except have fat oxen, one wouldn’t say so. You know what I mean by a mere clerk? It isn’t much in a man to be in a public office, and yet Mr Crosbie gives himself airs.”
“You don’t suppose that Mr Crosbie is the same as John Eames,” said Bell, who, by her tone of voice, did not seem inclined to undervalue the qualifications of Mr Crosbie. Now John Eames was a young man from Guestwick, who had been appointed to a clerkship in the Income-tax Office, with eighty pounds a year, two years ago.
“Then Johnny Eames is a mere clerk,” said Lily; “and Mr Crosbie is — After all, Bell, what is Mr Crosbie, if he is not a mere clerk? Of course, he is older than John Eames; and, as he has been longer at it, I suppose he has more than eighty pounds a year.”
“I am not in Mr Crosbie’s confidence. He is in the General Committee Office, I know; and, I believe, has pretty nearly the management of the whole of it. I have heard Bernard say that he has six or seven young men under him, and that — but, of course, I don’t know what he does at his office.”
“I’ll tell you what he is, Bell; Mr Crosbie is a swell.” And Lilian Dale was right; Mr Crosbie was a swell.
And here I may perhaps best explain who Bernard was, and who was Mr Crosbie. Captain Bernard Dale was an officer in the corps of Engineers, was the first cousin of the two girls who have been speaking, and was nephew and heir presumptive to the squire. His father, Colonel Dale, and his mother, Lady Fanny Dale, were still living at Torquay — an effete, invalid, listless couple, pretty well dead to all the world beyond the region of the Torquay card-tables. He it was who had made for himself quite a career in the Nineteenth Dragoons. This he did by eloping with the penniless daughter of that impoverished earl, the Lord de Guest. After the conclusion of that event circumstances had not afforded him the opportunity of making himself conspicuous; and he had gone on declining gradually in the world’s esteem — for the world had esteemed him when he first made good his running with the Lady Fanny — till now, in his slippered years, he and his Lady Fanny were unknown except among those Torquay Bath chairs and card-tables. His elder brother was still a hearty man, walking in thick shoes, and constant in his saddle; but the colonel, with nothing beyond his wife’s title to keep his body awake, had fallen asleep somewhat prematurely among his slippers. Of him and of Lady Fanny, Bernard Dale was the only son. Daughters they had had; some were dead, some married, and one living with them among the card-tables. Of his parents Bernard had latterly not seen much; not more, that is, than duty and a due attention to the fifth commandment required of him. He also was making a career for himself, having obtained a commission in the Engineers, and being known to all his compeers as the nephew of an earl, and as the heir to a property of three thousand a year. And when I say that Bernard Dale was not inclined to throw away any of these advantages, I by no means intend to speak in his dispraise. The advantage of being heir to a good property is so manifest — the advantages over and beyond those which are merely fiscal — that no man thinks of throwing them away, or expects another man to do so. Moneys in possession or in expectation do give a set to the head, and a confidence to the voice, and an assurance to the man, which will help him much in his walk in life — if the owner of them will simply use them, and not abuse them. And for Bernard Dale I will say that he did not often talk of his uncle the earl. He was conscious that his uncle was an earl, and that other men knew the fact. He knew that he would not otherwise have been elected at the Beaufort, or at that most aristocratic of little clubs called Sebright’s. When noble blood was called in question he never alluded specially to his own, but he knew how to speak as one of whom all the world was aware on which side he had been placed by the circumstances of his birth. Thus he used his advantage, and did not abuse it. And in his profession he had been equally fortunate. By industry, by a small but wakeful intelligence, and by some aid from patronage, he had got on till he had almost achieved the reputation of talent. His name had become known among scientific experimentalists, not as that of one who had himself invented a cannon or an antidote to a cannon, but as of a man understanding in cannons and well fitted to look at those invented by others; who would honestly test this or that antidote; or, if not honestly, seeing that such thin-minded men can hardly go to the proof of any matter without some pre-judgment in their minds, at any rate with such appearance of honesty that the world might be satisfied. And in this way Captain Dale was employed much at home, about London; and was not called on to build barracks in Nova Scotia, or to make roads in the Punjaub.
He was a small slight man, smaller than his uncle, but in face very like him. He had the same eyes, and nose, and chin, and the same mouth; but his forehead was better — less high and pointed, and better formed about the brows. And then he wore moustaches, which somewhat hid the thinness of his mouth.
On the whole, he was not ill-looking; and, as I have said before, he carried with him an air of self-assurance and a confident balance, which in itself gives a grace to a young man.
He was staying at the present time in his uncle’s house, during the delicious warmth of the summer — for, as yet, the month of July was not all past; and his intimate friend, Adolphus Crosbie, who was or was not a mere clerk as my readers may choose to form their own opinions on that matter, was a guest in the house with him. I am inclined to say that Adolphus Crosbie was not a mere clerk; and I do not think that he would have been so called, even by Lily Dale, had he not given signs to her that he was a “swell.” Now a man in becoming a swell — a swell of such an order as could possibly be known to Lily Dale — must have ceased to be a mere clerk in that very process. And, moreover, Captain Dale would not have been Damon to any Pythias, of whom it might fairly be said that he was a mere clerk. Nor could any mere clerk have got himself in either at the Beaufort or at Sebright’s. The evidence against that former assertion made by Lily Dale is very strong; but then the evidence as to her latter assertion is as strong, Mr Crosbie certainly was a swell. It is true that he was a clerk in the General Committee Office. But then, in the first place, the General Committee Office is situated in Whitehall; whereas poor John Eames was forced to travel daily from his lodgings in Burton Crescent, ever so far beyond Russell Square, to his dingy room in Somerset House. And Adolphus Crosbie, when very young, had been a private secretary, and had afterwards mounted up in his office to some quasi authority and senior-clerkship, bringing him in seven hundred a year, and giving him a status among assistant secretaries and the like, which even in an official point of view was something. But the triumphs of Adolphus Crosbie had been other than these. Not because he had been intimate with assistant secretaries, and was allowed in Whitehall a room to himself with an arm-chair, would he have been entitled to stand upon the rug at Sebright’s and speak while rich men listened — rich men, and men also who had handles to their names! Adolphus Crosbie had done more than make minutes with discretion on the papers of the General Committee Office. He had set himself down before the gates of the city of fashion, and had taken them by storm; or, perhaps, to speak with more propriety, he had picked the locks and let himself in. In his walks of life he was somebody in London. A man at the West End who did not know who was Adolphus Crosbie knew nothing. I do not say that he was the intimate friend of many great men; but even great men acknowledged the acquaintance of Adolphus Crosbie, and he was to be seen in the drawing-rooms, or at any rate on the staircases, of Cabinet Ministers.
Lilian Dale, dear Lily Dale — for my reader must know that she is to be very dear, and that my story will be nothing to him if he do not love Lily Dale — Lilian Dale had discovered that Mr Crosbie was a swell. But I am bound to say that Mr Crosbie did not habitually proclaim the fact in any offensive manner; nor in becoming a swell had he become altogether a bad fellow. It was not to be expected that a man who was petted at Sebright’s should carry himself in the Allington drawing-room as would Johnny Eames, who had never been petted by any one but his mother. And this fraction of a hero of ours had other advantages to back him, over and beyond those which fashion had given him. He was a tall, well-looking man, with pleasant eyes and an expressive mouth — a man whom you would probably observe in whatever room you might meet him. And he knew how to talk, and had in him something which justified talking. He was no butterfly or dandy, who flew about in the world’s sun, warmed into prettiness by a sunbeam. Crosbie had his opinion on things — on politics, on religion, on the philanthropic tendencies of the age, and had read something here and there as he formed his opinion. Perhaps he might have done better in the world had he not been placed so early in life in that Whitehall public office. There was that in him which might have earned better bread for him in an open profession.
But in that matter of his bread the fate of Adolphus Crosbie had by this time been decided for him, and he had reconciled himself to fate that was now inexorable. Some very slight patrimony, a hundred a year or so, had fallen to his share. Beyond that he had his salary from his office, and nothing else; and on his income, thus made up, he had lived as a bachelor in London, enjoying all that London could give him as a man in moderately easy circumstances, and looking forward to no costly luxuries — such as a wife, a house of his own, or a stable full of horses. Those which he did enjoy of the good things of the world would, if known to John Eames, have made him appear fabulously rich in the eyes of that brother clerk. His lodgings in Mount Street were elegant in their belongings. During three months of the season in London he called himself the master of a very neat hack. He was always well dressed, though never over-dressed. At his clubs he could live on equal terms with men having ten times his income. He was not married. He had acknowledged to himself that he could not marry without money; and he would not marry for money. He had put aside from him, as not within his reach, the comforts of marriage. But — We will not, however, at the present moment inquire more curiously into the private life and circumstances of our new friend Adolphus Crosbie.
After the sentence pronounced against him by Lilian, the two girls remained silent for awhile. Bell was, perhaps, a little angry with her sister. It was not often that she allowed herself to say much in praise of any gentleman; and, now that she had spoken a word or two in favour of Mr Crosbie, she felt herself to be rebuked by her sister for this unwonted enthusiasm. Lily was at work on a drawing, and in a minute or two had forgotten all about Mr Crosbie; but the injury remained on Bell’s mind and prompted her to go back to the subject.” I don’t like those slang words, Lily.”
“What slang words?”
“You know what you called Bernard’s friend.”
“Oh; a swell. I fancy I do like slang. I think it’s awfully jolly to talk about things being jolly. Only that I was afraid of your nerves I should have called him stunning. It’s so slow, you know, to use nothing but words out of a dictionary.”
“I don’t think it’s nice in talking of gentlemen.”
“Isn’t it? Well, I’d like to be nice — if I knew how.” If she knew how! There is no knowing how, for a girl, in that matter. If nature and her mother have not done it for her, there is no hope for her on that head. I think I may say that nature and her mother had been sufficiently efficacious for Lilian Dale in this respect.
“Mr Crosbie is, at any rate, a gentleman, and knows how to make himself pleasant. That was all that I meant. Mamma said a great deal more about him than I did.”
“Mr Crosbie is an Apollo; and I always look upon Apollo as the greatest — you know what — that ever lived. I mustn’t say the word, because Apollo was a gentleman.” At this moment, while the name of the god was still on her lips, the high open window of the drawing-room was darkened, and Bernard entered, followed by Mr Crosbie.
“Who is talking about Apollo?” said Captain Dale.
The girls were both stricken dumb. How would it be with them if Mr Crosbie had heard himself spoken of in those last words of poor Lily’s? This was the rashness of which Bell was ever accusing her sister, and here was the result! But, in truth, Bernard had heard nothing more than the name, and Mr Crosbie, who had been behind him, had heard nothing.
“As sweet and musical as bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair,” said Mr Crosbie, not meaning much by the quotation, but perceiving that the two girls had been in some way put out and silenced.
“What very bad music it must have made,” said Lily; “unless, indeed, his hair was very different from ours.”
“It was all sunbeams,” suggested Bernard. But by that time Apollo had served his turn, and the ladies welcomed their guests in the proper form.
“Mamma is in the garden,” said Bell, with that hypocritical pretence so common with young ladies when young gentlemen call; as though they were aware that mamma was the object specially sought.
“Picking peas, with a sun bonnet on,” said Lily.
“Let us by all means go and help her,” said Mr Crosbie; and then they issued out into the garden.
The gardens of the Great House of Allington and those of the Small House open on to each other. A proper boundary of thick laurel hedge, and wide ditch, and of iron spikes guarding the ditch, there is between them; but over the wide ditch there is a foot-bridge, and at the bridge there is a gate which has no key; and for all purposes of enjoyment the gardens of each house are open to the other. And the gardens of the Small House are very pretty. The Small House itself is so near the road that there is nothing between the dining-room windows and the iron rail but a narrow edge rather than border, and a little path made with round fixed cobble stones, not above two feet broad, into which no one but the gardener ever makes his way. The distance from the road to the house is not above five or six feet, and the entrance from the gate is shut in by a covered way. But the garden behind the house, on to which the windows from the drawing-room open, is to all the senses as private as though there were no village of Allington, and no road up to the church within a hundred yards of the lawn. The steeple of the church, indeed, can be seen from the lawn, peering, as it were, between the yew-trees which stand in the corner of the churchyard adjoining to Mrs Dale’s wall. But none of the Dale family have any objection to the sight of that steeple. The glory of the Small House at Allington certainly consists in its lawn, which is as smooth, as level, and as much like velvet as grass has ever yet been made to look. Lily Dale, taking pride in her own lawn, has declared often that it is no good attempting to play croquet up at the Great House. The grass, she says, grows in tufts, and nothing that Hopkins, the gardener, can or will do has any effect upon the tufts. But there are no tufts at the Small House. As the squire himself has never been very enthusiastic about croquet, the croquet implements have been moved permanently down to the Small House, and croquet there has become quite an institution.
And while I am on the subject of the garden I may also mention Mrs Dale’s conservatory, as to which Bell was strenuously of opinion that the Great House had nothing to offer equal to it —“For flowers, of course, I mean,” she would say, correcting herself; for at the Great House there was a grapery very celebrated. On this matter the squire would be less tolerant than as regarded the croquet, and would tell his niece that she knew nothing about flowers. “Perhaps not, Uncle Christopher,” she would say. “All the same, I like our geraniums best”; for there was a spice of obstinacy about Miss Dale — as, indeed, there was in all the Dales, male and female, young and old.
It may be as well to explain that the care of this lawn and of this conservatory, and, indeed, of the entire garden belonging to the Small House, was in the hands of Hopkins, the head gardener at the Great House; and it was so simply for this reason, that Mrs Dale could not afford to keep a gardener herself. A working lad, at ten shillings a week, who cleaned the knives and shoes, and dug the ground, was the only male attendant on the three ladies. But Hopkins, the head gardener of Allington, who had men under him, was as widely awake to the lawn and the conservatory of the humbler establishment as he was to the grapery, peach-walls, and terraces of the grander one. In his eyes it was all one place. The Small House belonged to his master, as indeed did the very furniture within it; and it was lent, not let, to Mrs Dale. Hopkins, perhaps, did not love Mrs Dale, seeing that he owed her no duty as one born a Dale. The two young ladies he did love, and also snubbed in a very peremptory way sometimes. To Mrs Dale he was coldly civil, always referring to the squire if any direction worthy of special notice as concerning the garden was given to him.
All this will serve to explain the terms on which Mrs Dale was living at the Small House — a matter needful of explanation sooner or later. Her husband had been the youngest of three brothers, and in many respects the brightest. Early in life he had gone up to London, and there had done well as a land surveyor. He had done so well that Government had employed him, and for some three or four years he had enjoyed a large income, but death had come suddenly on him, while he was only yet ascending the ladder; and, when he died, he had hardly begun to realise the golden prospects which he had seen before him. This had happened some fifteen years before our story commenced, so that the two girls hardly retained any memory of their father. For the first five years of her widowhood, Mrs Dale, who had never been a favourite of the squire’s, lived with her two little girls in such modest way as her very limited means allowed. Old Mrs Dale, the squire’s mother, then occupied the Small House. But when old Mrs Dale died, the squire offered the place rent-free to his sister-in-law, intimating to her that her daughters would obtain considerable social advantages by living at Allington. She had accepted the offer, and the social advantages had certainly followed. Mrs Dale was poor, her whole income not exceeding three hundred a year, and therefore her own style of living was of necessity very unassuming; but she saw her girls becoming popular in the county, much liked by the families around them, and enjoying nearly all the advantages which would have accrued to them had they been the daughters of Squire Dale of Allington. Under such circumstances it was little to her whether or no she were loved by her brother-in-law, or respected by Hopkins. Her own girls loved her, and respected her, and that was pretty much all that she demanded of the world on her own behalf.
And Uncle Christopher had been very good to the girls in his own obstinate and somewhat ungracious manner. There were two ponies in the stables of the Great House, which they were allowed to ride, and which, unless on occasions, nobody else did ride. I think he might have given the ponies to the girls, but he thought differently. And he contributed to their dresses, sending them home now and again things which he thought necessary, not in the pleasantest way in the world. Money he never gave them, nor did he make them any promises. But they were Dales, and he loved them; and with Christopher Dale to love once was to love always. Bell was his chief favourite, sharing with his nephew Bernard the best warmth of his heart. About these two he had his projects, intending that Bell should be the future mistress of the Great House of Allington; as to which project, however, Miss Dale was as yet in very absolute ignorance.
We may now, I think, go back to our four friends, as they walked out upon the lawn. They were understood to be on a mission to assist Mrs Dale in the picking of the peas; but pleasure intervened in the way of business, and the young people, forgetting the labours of their elder, allowed themselves to be carried away by the fascinations of croquet. The iron hoops and the sticks were fixed. The mallets and the balls were lying about; and then the party was so nicely made up! “I haven’t had a game of croquet yet,” said Mr Crosbie. It cannot be said that he had lost much time, seeing that he had only arrived before dinner on the preceding day. And then the mallets were in their hands in a moment.
“We’ll play sides, of course,” said Lily. “Bernard and I’ll play together.” But this was not allowed. Lily was well known to be the queen of the croquet ground; and as Bernard was supposed to be more efficient than his friend, Lily had to take Mr Crosbie as her partner. “Apollo can’t get through the hoops,” Lily said afterwards to her sister; “but then how gracefully he fails to do it!” Lily, however, had been beaten, and may therefore be excused for a little spite against her partner. But it so turned out that before Mr Crosbie took his final departure from Allington he could get through the hoops; and Lily, though she was still queen of the croquet ground, had to acknowledge a male sovereign in that dominion.
“That’s not the way we played at —” said Crosbie, at one point of the game, and then stopped himself.
“Where was that?” said Bernard.
“A place I was at last summer — in Shropshire,”
“Then they don’t play the game, Mr Crosbie, at the place you were at last summer — in Shropshire,” said Lily.
“You mean Lady Hartletop’s,” said Bernard. Now, the Marchioness of Hartletop was a very great person indeed, and a leader in the fashionable world.
“Oh! Lady Hartletop’s!” said Lily. “Then I suppose we must give in;” which little bit of sarcasm was not lost upon Mr Crosbie, and was put down by him in the tablets of his mind as quite undeserved. He had endeavoured to avoid any mention of Lady Hartletop and her croquet ground, and her ladyship’s name had been forced upon him. Nevertheless, he liked Lily Dale through it all. But he thought that he liked Bell the best, though she said little; for Bell was the beauty of the family.
During the game Bernard remembered that they had especially come over to bid the three ladies to dinner at the house on that day. They had all dined there on the day before, and the girls’ uncle had now sent directions to them to come again.” I’ll go and ask mamma about it,” said Bell, who was out first. And then she returned, saying, that she and her sister would obey their uncle’s behest; but that her mother would prefer to remain at home. “There are the peas to be eaten, you know,” said Lily.
“Send them up to the Great House,” said Bernard.
“Hopkins would not allow it,” said Lily. “He calls that a mixing of things. Hopkins doesn’t like mixings.” And then when the game was over, they sauntered about, out of the small garden into the larger one, and through the shrubberies, and out upon the fields, where they found the still lingering remnants of the haymaking. And Lily took a rake, and raked for two minutes; and Mr Crosbie, making an attempt to pitch the hay into the cart, had to pay half-a-crown for his footing to the hay-makers; and Bell sat quiet under a tree, mindful of her complexion; whereupon Mr Crosbie, finding the hay-pitching not much to his taste, threw himself under the same tree also, quite after the manner of Apollo, as Lily said to her mother late in the evening. Then Bernard covered Lily with hay, which was a great feat in the jocose way for him; and Lily in returning the compliment, almost smothered Mr Crosbie — by accident.
“Oh, Lily,” said Bell.
“I’m sure I beg your pardon, Mr Crosbie. It was Bernard’s fault. Bernard, I never will come into a hayfield with you again.” And so they all became very intimate; while Bell sat quietly under the tree, listening to a word or two now and then as Mr Crosbie chose to speak them. There is a kind of enjoyment to be had in society, in which very few words are necessary. Bell was less vivacious than her sister Lily; and when, an hour after this, she was dressing herself for dinner, she acknowledged that she had passed a pleasant afternoon, though Mr Crosbie had not said very much.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01