Lily thought that her lover’s letter was all that it should be. She was not quite aware what might be the course of post between Courcy and Allington, and had not, therefore, felt very grievously disappointed when the letter did not come on the very first day. She had, however, in the course of the morning walked down to the post-office, in order that she might be sure that it was not remaining there.
“Why, miss, they all be delivered; you know that,” said Mrs Crump, the post-mistress.
“But one might be left behind, I thought.”
“John Postman went up to the house this very day, with a newspaper for your mamma. I can’t make letters for people if folks don’t write them.”
“But they are left behind sometimes, Mrs Crump. He wouldn’t come up with one letter if he’d got nothing else for anybody in the street.”
“Indeed but he would then. I wouldn’t let him leave a letter here no how, nor yet a paper. It’s no good you’re coming down here for letters, Miss Lily. If he don’t write to you, I can’t make him do it.” And so poor Lily went home discomforted.
But the letter came on the next morning, and all was right. According to her judgment it lacked nothing, either in fulness or in affection. When he told her how he had planned his early departure in order that he might avoid the pain of parting with her on the last moment, she smiled and pressed the paper, and rejoiced inwardly that she had got the better of him as to that manoeuvre. And then she kissed the words which told her that he had been glad to have her with him at the last moment. When he declared that he had been happier at Allington than he was at Courcy, she believed him thoroughly, and rejoiced that it should be so. And when he accused himself of being worldly, she excused him, persuading herself that he was nearly perfect in this respect as in others. Of course a man living in London, and having to earn his bread out in the world, must be more worldly than a country girl; but the fact of his being able to love such a girl, to choose such a one for his wife — was not that alone sufficient proof that the world had not enslaved him?
“My heart is on the Allington lawns,” he said; and then, as she read the words, she kissed the paper again.
In her eyes, and to her ears, and to her heart, the letter was a beautiful letter. I believe there is no bliss greater than that which a thorough love-letter gives to a girl who knows that in receiving it she commits no fault — who can open it before her father and mother with nothing more than the slight blush which the consciousness of her position gives her. And of all love-letters the first must be the sweetest! What a value there is in every word! How each expression is scanned and turned to the best account! With what importance are all those little phrases invested, which too soon become mere phrases, used as a matter of course. Crosbie had finished his letter by bidding God bless her; “and you too,” said Lily, pressing the letter to her bosom.
“Does he say anything particular?” asked Mrs Dale.
“Yes, mamma; it’s all very particular.”
“But there’s nothing for the public ear.”
“He sends his love to you and Bell.”
“We are very much obliged to him.”
“So you ought to be. And he says that he went to church going through Barchester, and that the clergyman was the grandfather of that Lady Dumbello. When he got to Courcy Castle Lady Dumbello was there.”
“What a singular coincidence!” said Mrs Dale.
“I won’t tell you a word more about his letter,” said Lily. So she folded it up, and put it in her pocket. But as soon as she found herself alone in her own room, she had it out again, and read it over some half-a-dozen times.
That was the occupation of her morning — that, and the manufacture of some very intricate piece of work which was intended for the adornment of Mr Crosbie’s person. Her hands, however, were very full of work — or, rather, she intended that they should be full. She would take with her to her new home, when she was married, all manner of household gear, the produce of her own industry and economy. She had declared that she wanted to do something for her future husband, and she would begin that something at once. And in this matter she did not belie her promises to herself, or allow her good intentions to evaporate unaccomplished. She soon surrounded herself with harder tasks than those embroidered slippers with which she indulged herself immediately after his departure. And Mrs Dale and Bell — though in their gentle way they laughed at her — nevertheless they worked with her, sitting sternly to their long tasks, in order that Crosbie’s house might not be empty when their darling should go to take her place there as his wife.
But it was absolutely necessary that the letter should be answered. It would in her eyes have been a great sin to have let that day’s post go without carrying a letter from her to Courcy Castle — a sin of which she felt no temptation to be guilty. It was an exquisite pleasure to her to seat herself at her little table, with her neat desk and small appurtenances for epistle-craft, and to feel that she had a letter to write in which she had truly much to say. Hitherto her correspondence had been uninteresting and almost weak in its nature. From her mother and sister she had hardly been yet parted; and though she had other friends, she had seldom found herself with very much to tell them by post. What could she communicate to Mary Eames at Guestwick, which should be in itself exciting as she wrote it? When she wrote to John Eames, and told “Dear John” that mamma hoped to have the pleasure of seeing him to tea at such an hour, the work of writing was of little moment to her, though the note when written became one of the choicest treasures of him to whom it was addressed.
But now the matter was very different. When she saw the words “Dearest Adolphus” on the paper before her, she was startled with their significance.
“And four months ago I had never even heard of him,” she said to herself, almost with awe. And now he was more to her, and nearer to her, than even was her sister or her mother! She recollected how she had laughed at him behind his back, and called him a swell on the first day of his coming to the Small House, and how, also, she had striven, in her innocent way, to look her best when called upon to go out and walk with the stranger from London. He was no longer a stranger now, but her own dearest friend.
She had put down her pen that she might think of all this — by no means for the first time — and then resumed it with a sudden start as though fearing that the postman might be in the village before her letter was finished.
“Dearest Adolphus, I need not tell you how delighted I was when your letter was brought to me this morning.” But I will not repeat the whole of her letter here. She had no incident to relate, none even so interesting as that of Mr Crosbie’s encounter with Mr Harding at Barchester. She had met no Lady Dumbello, and had no counterpart to Lady Alexandrina, of whom, as a friend, she could say a word in praise. John Eames’s name she did not mention, knowing that John Eames was not a favourite with Mr Crosbie; nor had she anything to say of John Eames, that had not been already said. He had, indeed, promised to come over to Allington; but this visit had not been made when Lily wrote her first letter to Crosbie. It was a sweet, good, honest love-letter, full of assurances of unalterable affection and unlimited confidence, indulging in a little quiet fun as to the grandees of Courcy Castle, and ending with a promise that she would be happy and contented if she might receive his letters constantly, and live with the hope of seeing him at Christmas.
“I am in time, Mrs Crump, am I not?” she said, as she walked into the post-office.
“Of course you be — for the next half-hour. T’ postman — he bain’t stirred from t’ ale’us yet. Just put it into t’ box wull ye?”
“But you won’t leave it there?”
“Leave it there! Did you ever hear the like of that? If you’re afeared to put it in, you can take it away; that’s all about it, Miss Lily.” And then Mrs Crump turned away to her avocations at the washing-tub. Mrs Crump had a bad temper, but perhaps she had some excuse. A separate call was made upon her time with reference to almost every letter brought to her office, and for all this, as she often told her friends in profound disgust, she received as salary no more than “tuppence farden a day. It don’t find me in shoe-leather; no more it don’t.” As Mrs Crump was never seen out of her own house, unless it was in church once a month, this latter assertion about her shoe-leather could hardly have been true.
Lily had received another letter, and had answered it before Eames made his promised visit to Allington. He, as will be remembered, had also had a correspondence. He had answered Miss Roper’s letter, and had since that been living in fear of two things; in a lesser fear of some terrible rejoinder from Amelia, and in a greater fear of a more terrible visit from his lady-love. Were she to swoop down in very truth upon his Guestwick home, and declare herself to his mother and sister as his affianced bride, what mode of escape would then be left for him? But this she had not yet done, nor had she even answered his cruel missive.
“What an ass I am to be afraid of her!” he said to himself as he walked along under the elms of Guestwick manor, which overspread the road to Allington. When he first went over to Allington after his return home, he had mounted himself on horseback, and had gone forth brilliant with spurs, and trusting somewhat to the glories of his dress and gloves. But he had then known nothing of Lily’s engagement. Now he was contented to walk; and as he had taken up his slouched hat and stick in the passage of his mother’s house, he had been very indifferent as to his appearance. He walked quickly along the road, taking for the first three miles the shade of the Guestwick elms, and keeping his feet on the broad greensward which skirts the outside of the earl’s palings.
“What an ass I am to be afraid of her!” And as he swung his big stick in his hand, striking a tree here and there, and knocking the stones from his path, he began to question himself in earnest, and to be ashamed of his position in the world.
“Nothing on earth shall make me marry her,” he said; “not if they bring a dozen actions against me. She knows as well as I do, that I have never intended to marry her. It’s a cheat from beginning to end. If she comes down here, I’ll tell her so before my mother.” But as the vision of her sudden arrival came before his eyes, he acknowledged to himself that he still held her in great fear. He had told her that he loved her. He had written as much as that. If taxed with so much, he must confess his sin.
Then, by degrees, his mind turned away from Amelia Roper to Lily Dale, not giving him a prospect much more replete with enjoyment than that other one. He had said that he would call at Allington before he returned to town, and he was now redeeming his promise. But he did not know why he should go there. He felt that he should sit silent and abashed in Mrs Dale’s drawing-room, confessing by his demeanour that secret which it behoved him now to hide from every one. He could not talk easily before Lily, nor could he speak to her of the only subject which would occupy his thoughts when in her presence. If indeed, he might find her alone But, perhaps that might be worse for him than any other condition.
When he was shown into the drawing-room there was nobody there.
“They were here a minute ago, all three,” said the servant girl. “If you’ll walk down the garden, Mr John, you’ll be sure to find some of ’em.” So John Eames, with a little hesitation, walked down the garden.
First of all he went the whole way round the walks, meeting nobody. Then he crossed the lawn, returning again to the farther end; and there, emerging from the little path which led from the Great House, he encountered Lily alone.
“Oh, John,” she said, how d’ye do? I’m afraid you did not find anybody in the house. Mamma and Bell are with Hopkins, away in the large kitchen-garden.”
“I’ve just come over,” said Eames, “because I promised. I said I’d come before I went back to London.”
“And they’ll be very glad to see you, and so am I. Shall we go after them into the other grounds? But perhaps you walked over and are tired.”
“I did walk,” said Eames; “not that I am very tired.” But in truth he did not wish to go after Mrs Dale, though he was altogether at a loss as to what he would say to Lily while remaining with her. He had fancied that he would like to have some opportunity of speaking to her alone before he went away — of making some special use of the last interview which he should have with her before she became a married woman. But now the opportunity was there, and he hardly dared to avail himself of it.
“You’ll stay and dine with us,” said Lily.
“No, I’ll not do that, for I especially told my mother that I would be back.”
“I’m sure it was very good of you to walk so far to see us. If you really are not tired, I think we will go to mamma, as she would be very sorry to miss you.”
This she said, remembering at the moment what had been Crosbie’s injunctions to her about John Eames. But John had resolved that he would say those words which he had come to speak, and that, as Lily was there with him, he would avail himself of the chance which fortune had given him.
“I don’t think I’ll go into the squire’s garden,” he said.
“Uncle Christopher is not there. He is about the farm somewhere.”
“If you don’t mind, Lily, I think I’ll stay here. I suppose they’ll be back soon. Of course I should like to see them before I go away to London. But, Lily, I came over now chiefly to see you. It was you who asked me to promise.”
Had Crosbie been right in those remarks of his? Had she been imprudent in her little endeavour to be cordially kind to her old friend?
“Shall we go into the drawing-room?” she said, feeling that she would be in some degree safer there than out among the shrubs and paths of the garden. And I think she was right in this. A man will talk of love out among the lilacs and roses, who would be stricken dumb by the demure propriety of the four walls of a drawing-room. John Eames also had some feeling of this kind, for he determined to remain out in the garden, if he could so manage it.
“I don’t want to go in unless you wish it,” he said.
“Indeed, I’d rather stay here. So, Lily, you’re going to be married?” And thus he rushed at once into the middle of his discourse.
“Yes,” said she, “I believe I am.”
“I have not told you yet that I congratulated you.”
“I have known very well that you did so in your heart. I have always been sure that you wished me well.”
“Indeed I have. And if congratulating a person is hoping that she may always be happy, I do congratulate you. But, Lily —“And then he paused, abashed by the beauty, purity, and woman’s grace which had forced him to love her.
“I think I understand all that you would say. I do not want ordinary words to tell me that I am to count you among my best friends.”
“No, Lily; you don’t understand all that I would say. You have never known how often and how much I have thought of you; how dearly I have loved you.”
“John, you must not talk of that now.”
“I cannot go without telling you. When I came over here, and Mrs Dale told me that you were to be married to that man —”
“You must not speak of Mr Crosbie in that way,” she said, turning upon him almost fiercely.
“I did not mean to say anything disrespectful of him to you. I should hate myself if I were to do so. Of course you like him better than anybody else?”
“I love him better than all the world besides.”
“And so do I love you better than all the world besides.” And as he spoke he got up from his seat and stood before her.
“I know how poor I am, and unworthy of you; and only that you are engaged to him, I don’t suppose that I should now tell you. Of course you couldn’t accept such a one as me. But I have loved you ever since you remember; and now that you are going to be his wife, I cannot but tell you that it is so. You will go and live in London; but as to my seeing you there, it will be impossible. I could not go into that man’s house.”
“No, never; not if you became his wife. I have loved you as well as he does. When Mrs Dale told me of it, I thought I should have fallen. I went away without seeing you because I was unable to speak to you. I made a fool of myself, and have been a fool all along. I am foolish now to tell you this, but I cannot help it.”
“You will forget it all when you meet some girl that you can really love.”
“And have I not really loved you? Well, never mind. I have said what I came to say, and I will now go. If it ever happens that we are down in the country together, perhaps I may see you again; but never in London. Good-bye, Lily.” And he put out his hand to her.
“And won’t you stay for mamma?” she said.
“No. Give her my love, and to Bell. They understand all about it. They will know why I have gone. If ever you should want anybody to do anything for you, remember that I will do it, whatever it is.” And as he paced away from her across the lawn, the special deed in her favour to which his mind was turned — that one thing which he most longed to do on her behalf-was an act of corporal chastisement upon Crosbie. If Crosbie would but ill-treat her — ill-treat her with some anti-nuptial barbarity — and if only he could be called in to avenge her wrongs! And as he made his way back along the road towards Guestwick, he built up within his own bosom a castle in the air, for her part in which Lily Dale would by no means have thanked him.
Lily when she was left alone burst into tears. She had certainly said very little to encourage her forlorn suitor, and had so borne herself during the interview that even Crosbie could hardly have been dissatisfied; but now that Eames was gone her heart became very tender towards him. She felt that she did love him also — not at all as she loved Crosbie, but still with a love that was tender, soft, and true. If Crosbie could have known all her thoughts at that moment, I doubt whether he would have liked them. She burst into tears, and then hurried away into some nook where she could not be seen by her mother and Bell on their return.
Eames went on his way, walking very quietly, swinging his stick and kicking through the dust, with his heart full of the scene which had just passed. He was angry with himself, thinking that he had played his part badly, accusing himself in that he had been rough to her, and selfish in the expression of his love; and he was angry with her because she had declared to him that she loved Crosbie better than all the world besides. He knew that of course she must do so — that at any rate it was to be expected that such was the case. Yet, he thought, she might have refrained from saying so to him.
“She chooses to scorn me now,” he said to himself; “but the time may come when she will wish that she had scorned him.” That Crosbie was wicked, bad, and selfish, he believed most fully. He felt sure that the man would ill-use her and make her wretched. He had some slight doubt whether he would marry her, and from this doubt he endeavoured to draw a scrap of comfort. If Crosbie would desert her, and if to him might be accorded the privilege of beating the man to death with his fists because of this desertion, then the world would not be quite blank for him. In all this he was no doubt very cruel to Lily — but then had not Lily been very cruel to him?
He was still thinking of these things when he came to the first of the Guestwick pastures. The boundary of the earl’s property was very plainly marked, for with it commenced also the shady elms along the roadside, and the broad green margin of turf, grateful equally to those who walked and to those who rode. Eames had got himself on to the grass, but, in the fulness of his thoughts, was unconscious of the change in his path, when he was startled by a voice in the next field and the loud bellowing of a bull. Lord de Guest’s choice cattle he knew were there, and there was one special bull which was esteemed by his lordship as of great value, and regarded as a high favourite. The people about the place declared that the beast was vicious, but Lord de Guest had often been heard to boast that it was never vicious with him.
“The boys tease him, and the men are almost worse than the boys,” said the earl; “but he’ll never hurt any one that has not hurt him.” Guided by faith in his own teaching the earl had taught himself to look upon his bull as a large, horned, innocent lamb of the flock.
As Eames paused on the road, he fancied that he recognised the earl’s voice, and it was the voice of one in distress. Then the bull’s roar sounded very plain in his ear, and almost close — upon hearing which he rushed on to the gate, and, without much thinking what he was doing, vaulted over it, and advanced a few steps into the field.
“Halloo!” shouted the earl. “There’s a man. Come on.” And then his continued shoutings hardly formed themselves into intelligible words; but Eames plainly understood that he was invoking assistance under great pressure and stress of circumstances. The bull was making short runs at his owner, as though determined in each run to have a toss at his lordship; and at each run the earl would retreat quickly for a few paces, but he retreated always facing his enemy, and as the animal got near to him, would make digs at his face with the long spud which he carried in his hand. But in thus making good his retreat he had been unable to keep in a direct line to the gate, and there seemed to be great danger lest the bull should succeed in pressing him up against the hedge.
“Come on!” shouted the earl, who was fighting his battle manfully, but was by no means anxious to carry off all the laurels of the victory himself.
“Come on, I say!” Then he stopped in his path, shouted into the bull’s face, brandished his spud, and threw about his arms, thinking that he might best dismay the beast by the display of these warlike gestures.
Johnny Eames ran on gallantly to the peer’s assistance, as he would have run to that of any peasant in the land. He was one to whom I should be perhaps wrong to attribute at this period of his life the gift of very high courage. He feared many things which no man should fear; but he did not fear personal mishap or injury to his own skin and bones. When Cradell escaped out of the house in Burton Crescent, making his way through the passage into the outer air, he did so because he feared that Lupex would beat him or kick him, or otherwise ill-use him. John Eames would also have desired to escape under similar circumstances; but he would have so desired because he could not endure to be looked upon in his difficulties by the people of the house, and because his imagination would have painted the horrors of a policeman dragging him off with a black eye and a torn coat. There was no one to see him now, and no policeman to take offence. Therefore he rushed to the earl’s assistance, brandishing his stick, and roaring in emulation of the bull.
When the animal saw with what unfairness he was treated, and that the number of his foes was doubled, while no assistance had lent itself on his side, he stood for a while, disgusted by the injustice of humanity. He stopped, and throwing his head up to the heavens, bellowed out his complaint.
“Don’t come close!” said the earl, who was almost out of breath.
“Keep a little apart. Ugh! ugh! whoop, whoop!” And he threw up his arms manfully, jobbing about with his spud, ever and anon rubbing the perspiration from off his eyebrows with the back of his hand.
As the bull stood pausing, meditating whether under such circumstances flight would not be preferable to gratified passion, Eames made a rush in at him, attempting to hit him on the head.
The earl, seeing this, advanced a step also, and got his spud almost up to the animal’s eye. But these indignities the beast could not stand. He made a charge, bending his head first towards John Eames, and then, with that weak vacillation which is as disgraceful in a bull as in a general, he changed his purpose, and turned his horns upon his other enemy. The consequence was that his steps carried him in between the two, and that the earl and Eames found themselves for a while behind his tail.
“Now for the gate,” said the earl.
“Slowly does it; slowly does it; don’t run!” said Johnny, assuming in the heat of the moment a tone of counsel which would have been very foreign to him under other circumstances.
The earl was not a whit offended. “All right,” said he, taking with a backward motion the direction of the gate. Then as the bull again faced towards him, he jumped from the ground, labouring painfully with arms and legs, and ever keeping his spud well advanced against the foe. Eames, holding his position a little apart from his friend, stooped low and beat the ground with his stick, and as though defying the creature. The bull felt himself defied, stood still and roared, and then made another vacillating attack.
“Hold on till we reach the gate,” said Eames.
“Ugh! ugh! Whoop! whoop!” shouted the earl. And so gradually they made good their ground.
“Now get over,” said Eames, when they had both reached the corner of the field in which the gate stood.
“And what’ll you do?” said the earl.
“I’ll go at the hedge to the right.” And Johnny as he spoke dashed his stick about, so as to monopolise, for a moment, the attention of the brute. The earl made a spring at the gate, and got well on to the upper rung. The bull seeing that his prey was going, made a final rush upon the earl and struck the timber furiously with his head, knocking his lordship down on the other side. Lord de Guest was already over, but not off the rail; and thus, though he fell, he fell in safety on the sward beyond the gate. He fell in safety, but utterly exhausted. Eames, as he had purposed, made a leap almost sideways at a thick hedge which divided the field from one of the Guestwick copses. There was a fairly broad ditch, and on the other side a quickset hedge, which had, however, been weakened and injured by trespassers at this corner, close to the gate. Eames was young and active and jumped well. He jumped so well that he carried his body full into the middle of the quickset, and then scrambled through to the other side, not without much injury to his clothes, and some damage also to his hands and face.
The beast, recovering from his shock against the wooden bars, looked wistfully at his last retreating enemy, as he still struggled amidst the bushes. He looked at the ditch and at the broken hedge, but he did not understand how weak were the impediments in his way. He had knocked his head against the stout timber, which was strong enough to oppose him, but was dismayed by the brambles which he might have trodden under foot without an effort How many of us are like the bull, turning away conquered by opposition which should be as nothing to us, and breaking our feet, and worse still, our hearts, against rocks of adamant. The bull at last made up his mind that he did not dare to face the hedge; so he gave one final roar, and then turning himself round, walked placidly back amidst the herd.
Johnny made his way on to the road by a stile that led out of the copse, and was soon standing over the earl, while the blood ran down his cheeks from the scratches. One of the legs of his trousers had been caught by a stake, and was torn from the hip downward, and his hat was left in the field, the only trophy for the bull.
“I hope you’re not hurt, my lord,” he said.
“Oh dear, no; but I’m terribly out of breath. Why, you’re bleeding all over. He didn’t get at you, did he?”
“It’s only the thorns in the hedge,” said Johnny, passing his hand over his face.
“But I’ve lost my hat.”
“There are plenty more hats,” said the earl.
“I think I’ll have a try for it,” said Johnny, with whom the means of getting hats had not been so plentiful as with the earl.
“He looks quiet now.” And he moved towards the gate.
But Lord de Guest jumped upon his feet, and seized the young man by the collar of his coat.
“Go after your hat!” said he.
“You must be a fool to think of it. If you’re afraid of catching cold, you shall have mine.”
“I’m not the least afraid of catching cold,” said Johnny.
“Is he often like that, my lord?” And he made a motion with his head towards the bull.
“The gentlest creature alive; he’s like a lamb generally — just like a lamb. Perhaps he saw my red pocket-handkerchief.” And Lord de Guest showed his friend that he carried such an article.
“But where should I have been if you hadn’t come up?”
“You’d have got to the gate, my lord.”
“Yes; with my feet foremost, and four men carrying me. I’m very thirsty. You don’t happen to carry a flask, do you?”
“No, my lord, I don’t.”
“Then we’ll make the best of our way home, and have a glass of wine there.” And on this occasion his lordship intended that his offer should be accepted.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55