John Eames and Crosbie returned to town on the same day. It will be remembered how Eames had assisted Lord de Guest in the matter of the bull, and how great had been the earl’s gratitude on the occasion. The memory of this, and the strong encouragement which he received from his mother and sister for having made such a friend by his gallantry, lent some slight satisfaction to his last hours at home. But his two misfortunes were too serious to allow of anything like real happiness. He was leaving Lily behind him, engaged to be married to a man whom he hated, and he was returning to Burton Crescent, where he would have to face Amelia Roper — Amelia either in her rage or in her love. The prospect of Amelia in her rage was very terrible to him; but his greatest fear was of Amelia in her love. He had in his letter declined matrimony; but what if she talked down all his objections, and carried him off to church in spite of himself!
When he reached London and got into a cab with his portmanteau, he could hardly fetch up courage to bid the man drive him to Burton Crescent.
“I might as well go to an hotel for the night,” he said to himself, “and then I can learn how things are going on from Cradell at the office.” Nevertheless, he did give the direction to Burton Crescent, and when it was once given felt ashamed to change it. But, as he was driven up to the wellknown door, his heart was so low within him that he might almost be said to have lost it. When the cabman demanded whether he should knock, he could not answer; and when the maid-servant at the door greeted him, he almost ran away.
“Who’s at home?” said he, asking the question in a very low voice.
“There’s missus,” said the girl, “and Miss Spruce, and Mrs Lupex. He’s away somewhere, in his tantrums again; and there’s Mr —”
“Is Miss Roper here?” he said, still whispering.
“Oh, yes! Miss Mealyer’s here,” said the girl, speaking in a cruelly loud voice. “She was in the dining-room just now, putting out the table. Miss Mealyer!” And the girl, as she called out the name, opened the dining-room door. Johnny Eames felt that his knees were too weak to support him.
But Miss Mealyer was not in the dining-room. She had perceived the advancing cab of her sworn adorer, and had thought it expedient to retreat from her domestic duties, and fortify herself among her brushes and ribbons. Had it been possible that she should know how very weak and cowardly was the enemy against whom she was called upon to put herself in action, she might probably have fought her battle somewhat differently, and have achieved a speedy victory, at the cost of an energetic shot or two. But she did not know. She thought it probable that she might obtain power over him and manage him; but it did not occur to her that his legs were so weak beneath him that she might almost blow him over with a breath. None but the worst and most heartless of women know the extent of their own power over men — as none but the worst and most heartless of men know the extent of their power over women. Amelia Roper was not a good specimen of the female sex, but there were worse women than her.
“She ain’t there, Mr Eames; but you’ll see her in the drawenroom,” said the girl.
“And it’s she’ll be glad to see you back again, Mr Eames.” But he scrupulously passed the door of the upstairs sitting-room, not even looking within it, and contrived to get himself into his own chamber without having encountered anybody.
“Here’s yer ‘ot water, Mr Eames,” said the girl, coming up to him after an interval of half-an-hour, “and dinner’ll be on the table in ten minutes. Mr Cradell is come in, and so is missus’s son.”
It was still open to him to go out and dine at some eating-house in the Strand. He could start out, leaving word that he was engaged, and so postpone the evil hour. He had almost made up his mind to do so, and certainly would have done it, had not the sitting-room door opened as he was on the landing-place. The door opened, and he found himself confronting the assembled company. First came Cradell, and leaning on his arm, I regret to say, was Mrs Lupex — Egyptia conjux! Then there came Miss Spruce with young Roper; Amelia and her mother brought up the rear together. There was no longer question of flight now; and poor Eames, before he knew what he was doing, was carried down into the dining-room with the rest of the company. They were all glad to see him, and welcomed him back warmly, but he was so much beside himself that he could not ascertain whether Amelia’s voice was joined with the others. He was already seated at table, and had before him a plate of soup, before he recognised the fact that he was sitting between Mrs Roper and Mrs Lupex. The latter lady had separated herself from Mr Cradell as she entered the room.
“Under all the circumstances perhaps it will be better for us to be apart,” she said. “A lady can’t make herself too safe; can she, Mrs Roper? There’s no danger between you and me, is there, Mr Eames — specially when Miss Amelia is opposite?” The last words, however, were intended to be whispered into his ear.
But Johnny made no answer to her; contenting himself for the moment with wiping the perspiration from his brow. There was Amelia opposite to him, looking at him — the very Amelia to whom he had written, declining the honour of marrying her. Of what her mood towards him might be, he could form no judgment from her looks. Her face was simply stern and impassive, and she seemed inclined to eat her dinner in silence. A slight smile of derision had passed across her face as she heard Mrs Lupex whisper, and it might have been discerned that her nose, at the same time, became somewhat elevated; but she said not a word.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, Mr Eames, among the vernal beauties of the country,” said Mrs Lupex.
“Very much, thank you,” he replied.
“There’s nothing like the country at this autumnal season of the year. As for myself, I’ve never been accustomed to remain in London after the breaking up of the beau monde. We’ve usually been to Broadstairs, which is a very charming place, with most elegant society, but now —“and she shook her head, by which all the company knew that she intended to allude to the sins of Mr Lupex.
“I’d never wish to sleep out of London for my part,” said Mrs Roper.
“When a woman’s got a house over her head, I don’t think her mind’s ever easy out of it.”
She had not intended any reflection on Mrs Lupex for not having a house of her own, but that lady immediately bristled up.
“That’s just what the snails say, Mrs Roper. And as for having a house of one’s own, it’s a very good thing, no doubt, sometimes; but that’s according to circumstances. It has suited me lately to live in lodgings, but there’s no knowing whether I mayn’t fall lower than that yet, and have —” but here she stopped herself, and looking over at Mr Cradell nodded her head.
“And have to let them,” said Mrs Roper.
“I hope you’ll be more lucky with your lodgers than I have been with some of mine. Jemima, hand the potatoes to Miss Spruce. Miss Spruce, do let me send you a little more gravy? There’s plenty here, really.” Mrs Roper was probably thinking of Mr Todgers.
“I hope I shall,” said Mrs Lupex.
“But, as I was saying, Broadstairs is delightful. Were you ever at Broadstairs, Mr Cradell?”
“Never, Mrs Lupex. I generally go abroad in my leave. One sees more of the world, you know. I was at Dieppe last June, and found that very delightful — though rather lonely. I shall go to Ostend this year; only December is so late for Ostend. It was a deuced shame my getting December, wasn’t it, Johnny?”
“Yes, it was,” said Eames.
“I managed better.”
“And what have you been doing, Mr Eames?” said Mrs Lupex, with one of her sweetest smiles.
“Whatever it may have been, you’ve not been false to the cause of beauty, I’m sure.” And she looked over to Amelia with a knowing smile. But Amelia was engaged upon her plate, and went on with her dinner without turning her eyes either on Mrs Lupex or on John Eames.
“I haven’t done anything particular,” said Eames.
“I’ve just been staying with my mother.”
“We’ve been very social here, haven’t we, Miss Amelia?” continued Mrs Lupex.
“Only now and then a cloud comes across the heavens, and the lights at the banquet are darkened.” Then she put her handkerchief up to her eyes, sobbing deeply, and they all knew that she was again alluding to the sins of her husband.
As soon as dinner was over the ladies with young Mr Roper retired, and Eames and Cradell were left to take their wine over the dining-room fire — or their glass of gin and water, as it might be.
“Well, Caudle, old fellow,” said one.
“Well, Johnny, my boy,” said the other.
“What’s the news at the office?” said Eames.
“Muggeridge has been playing the very mischief.” Muggeridge was the second clerk in Cradell’s room.
“We’re going to put him into Coventry and not speak to him except officially. But to tell you the truth, my hands have been so full here at home, that I haven’t thought much about the office. What am I to do about that woman?
“Do about her? How do about her?”
“Yes; what am I to do about her? How am I to manage with her? There’s Lupex off again in one of his fits of jealousy.”
“But it’s not your fault, I suppose?”
“Well; I can’t just say. I am fond of her, and that’s the long and the short of it; deuced fond of her.”
“But, my dear Caudle, you know she’s that man’s wife.”
“Oh, yes, I know all about it. I’m not going to defend myself. It’s wrong, I know — pleasant, but wrong. But what’s a fellow to do? I suppose in strict morality I ought to leave the lodgings. But, by George, I don’t see why a man’s to be turned out in that way. And then I couldn’t make a clean score with old mother Roper. But I say, old fellow, who gave you the gold chain?”
“Well; it was an old family friend at Guestwick; or rather, I should say, a man who said he knew my father.”
“And he gave you that because he knew your governor! Is there a watch to it?
“Yes, there’s a watch. It wasn’t exactly that. There was some trouble about a bull. To tell the truth, it was Lord de Guest; the queerest fellow, Caudle, you ever met in your life; but such a trump. I’ve got to go and dine with him at Christmas.” And then the old story of the bull was told.
“I wish I could find a lord in a field with a bull,” said Cradell. We may, however, be permitted to doubt whether Mr Cradell would have earned a watch even if he had had his wish.
“You see,” continued Cradell, reverting, to the subject on which he most delighted to talk,
“I’m not responsible for that man’s ill-conduct.”
“Does anybody say you are?
“No; nobody says so. But people seem to think so. When he is by I hardly speak to her. She is thoughtless and giddy as women are, and takes my arm, and that kind of thing, you know. It makes him mad with rage, but upon my honour I don’t think she means any harm.” “I don’t suppose she does,” said Eames.
“Well; she may or she mayn’t. I hope with all my heart she doesn’t.”
“And where is he now?”
“This is between ourselves, you know; but she went to find him this afternoon. Unless he gives her money she can’t stay here, nor, for the matter of that, will she be able to go away. If I mention something to you, you won’t tell any one?”
“Of course I won’t.”
“I wouldn’t have it known to any one for the world. I’ve lent her seven pounds ten. It’s that which makes me so short with mother Roper.”
“Then I think you’re a fool for your pains.”
“Ah, that’s so like you. I always said you’d no feeling of real romance. If I cared for a woman I’d give her the coat off my back.”
“I’d do better than that,” said Johnny.
“I’d give her the heart out of my body. I’d be chopped up alive for a girl I loved; but it shouldn’t be for another man’s wife.”
“That’s a matter of taste. But she’s been to Lupex today at that house he goes to in Drury Lane. She had a terrible scene there. He was going to commit suicide in the middle of the street, and she declares that it all comes from jealousy. Think what a time I have of it — standing always, as one may say, on gunpowder. He may turn up here any moment, you know. But, upon my word, for the life of me I cannot desert her. If I were to turn my back on her she wouldn’t have a friend in the world. And how’s L. D.? I’ll tell you what it is — you’ll have some trouble with the divine Amelia.”
“By Jove, you will. But how’s L. D. all this time?”
“L. D. is engaged to be married to a man named Adolphus Crosbie,” said poor Johnny, slowly.
“If you please, we will not say any more about her.”
“Whew-w-w! That’s what makes you so down in the mouth! L. D. going to marry Crosbie! Why, that’s the man who is to be the new secretary at the General Committee Office. Old Huffle Scuffle, who was their chair, has come to us, you know. There’s been a general move at the GC, and this Crosbie has got to be secretary. He’s a lucky chap, isn’t he?”
“I don’t know anything about his luck. He’s one of those fellows that make me hate them the first time I look at them. I’ve a sort of a feeling that I shall live to kick him some day.”
“That’s the time, is it? Then I suppose Amelia will have it all her own way now.”
“I’ll tell you what, Caudle. I’d sooner get up through the trap-door, and throw myself off the roof into the area, than marry Amelia Roper.”
“Have you and she had any conversation since you came back?”
“Not a word.”
“Then I tell you fairly you’ve got trouble before you. Amelia and Maria — Mrs Lupex, I mean — are as thick as thieves just at present, and they have been talking you over. Maria — that is, Mrs Lupex — lets it all out to me. You’ll have to mind where you are, old fellow.”
Eames was not inclined to discuss the matter any further, so he finished his toddy in silence. Cradell, however, who felt that there was something in his affairs of which he had reason to be proud, soon returned to the story of his own very extraordinary position.
“By Jove, I don’t know that a man was ever so circumstanced,” he said.
“She looks to me to protect her, and yet what can I do?”
At last Cradell got up, and declared that he must go to the ladies. “She’s so nervous, that unless she has some one to countenance her she becomes unwell.”
Eames declared his purpose of going to the divan, or to the theatre, or to take a walk in the streets. The smiles of beauty had no longer charms for him in Burton Crescent.
“They’ll expect you to take a cup of tea the first night,” said Cradell; but Eames declared that they might expect it.
“I’m in no humour for it,” said he. “I’ll tell you what, Cradell, I shall leave this place, and take rooms for myself somewhere. I’ll never go into a lodging-house again.”
As he so spoke, he was standing at the dining-room door; but he was not allowed to escape in this easy way. Jemima, as he went out into the passage, was there with a three-cornered note in her hand.
“From Miss Mealyer,” she said. “Miss Mealyer is in the back parlour all by herself.”
Poor Johnny took the note, and read it by the lamp over the front door.
“Are you not going to speak to me on the day of your return? It cannot be that you will leave the house without seeing me for a moment. I am in the back parlour.”
When he had read these words, he paused in the passage, with his hat on. Jemima, who could not understand why any young man should hesitate as to seeing his lady-love in the back parlour alone, whispered to him again, in her audible way,
“Miss Mealyer is there, sir; and all the rest on ’em’s upstairs!” So compelled, Eames put down his hat, and walked with slow steps into the back parlour.
How was it to be with the enemy? Was he to encounter Amelia in anger, or Amelia in love? She had seemed to be stern and defiant when he had ventured to steal a look at her across the dining-table, and now he expected that she would turn upon him with loud threatenings and protestations as to her wrongs. But it was not so. When he entered the-room she was standing with her back to him, leaning on the mantel-piece, and at the first moment she did not essay to peak. He walked into the middle of the room and stood there, waiting for her to begin.
“Shut the door!” she said, looking over her shoulder. “I suppose you don’t want the girl to hear all you’ve got to say to me!”
Then he shut the door; but still Amelia stood with her back to him, leaning upon the mantelpiece.
It did not seem that he had much to say, for he remained perfectly silent.
“Well!” said Amelia, after a long pause, and she then again looked over her shoulder. “Well, Mr Eames!”
“Jemima gave me your note, and so I’ve come,” said he.
“And is this the way we meet!” she exclaimed, turning suddenly upon him, and throwing her long black hair back over her shoulders. There certainly was some beauty about her. Her eyes were large and bright, and her shoulders were well turned. She might have done as an artist’s model for a Judith, but I doubt whether any man, looking well into her face, could think that she would do well as a wife.
“Oh, John, is it to be thus, after love such as ours?” And she clasped her hands together, and stood before him.
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Eames.
“If you are engaged to marry L. D., tell me so at once. Be a man, and speak out, sir.”
“No,” said Eames; “I am not engaged to marry the lady to whom you allude.”
“On your honour?”
“I won’t have her spoken about. I’m not going to marry her, and that’s enough.”
“Do you think that I wish to speak of her? What can L. D. be to me as long as she is nothing to you? Oh, Johnny, why did you write me that heartless letter?” Then she leaned upon his shoulder — or attempted to do so.
I cannot say that Eames shook her off, seeing that he lacked the courage to do so; but he shuffled his shoulder about so that the support was uneasy to her, and she was driven to stand erect again.
“Why did you write that cruel letter?” she said again.
“Because I thought it best, Amelia. What’s a man to do with ninety pound a year, you know?”
“But your mother allows you twenty.” “And what’s a man to do with a hundred and ten?”
“Rising five pounds every year,” said the well-informed Amelia. “Of course we should live here, with mamma, and you would just go on paying her as you do now. If your heart was right, Johnny, you wouldn’t think so much about money. If you loved me — as you said you did —” Then a little sob came, and the words were stopped. The words were stopped, but she was again upon his shoulder. What was he to do? In truth, his only wish was to escape, and yet his arm, quite in opposition to his own desires, found its way round her waist. In such a combat a woman has so many points in her favour!
“Oh, Johnny,” she said again, as soon as she felt the pressure of his arm.
“Gracious, what a beautiful watch you’ve got,” and she took the trinket out of his pocket.
“Did you buy that?”
“No; it was given to me.”
“John Eames, did L. D. give it you?”
“No, no, no,” he shouted, stamping on the floor as he spoke.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Amelia, quelled for the moment by his energy.
“Perhaps it was your mother.”
“No; it was a man. Never mind about the watch now.”
“I wouldn’t mind anything, Johnny, if you would tell me that you loved me again. Perhaps I oughtn’t to ask you, and it isn’t becoming in a lady; but how can I help it, when you know you’ve got my heart. Come upstairs and have tea with us now, won’t you?”
What was he to do? He said that he would go up and have tea; and as he led her to the door he put down his face and kissed her. Oh, Johnny Eames! But then a woman in such a contest has so many points in her favour.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55