“Did you hear that young Eames is staying at Guestwick Manor?”
As these were the first words which the squire spoke to Mrs Dale as they walked together up to the Great House, after church, on Christmas Day, it was clear enough that the tidings of Johnny’s visit, when told to him, had made some impression.
“At Guestwick Manor!” said Mrs Dale.
“Dear me! Do you hear that, Bell? There’s promotion for Master Johnny!”
“Don’t you remember, mamma,” said Bell, “that he helped his lordship in his trouble with the bull?”
Lily, who remembered accurately all the passages of her last interview with John Eames, said nothing, but felt, in some sort, sore at the idea that he should be so near her at such a time.
In some unconscious way she had liked him for coming to her and saying all that he did say. She, valued him more highly after that scene than she did before. But now, she would feel herself injured and hurt if he ever made his way into her presence under circumstances as they existed.
“I should not have thought that Lord de Guest was the man to show so much gratitude for so slight a favour,” said the squire.
“However, I’m going to dine there tomorrow.”
“To meet young Eames?” said Mrs Dale.
“Yes — especially to meet young Eames. At least, I’ve been very specially asked to come, and I’ve been told that he is to be there.”
“And is Bernard going?”
“Indeed I’m not,” said Bernard, “I shall come over and dine with you.”
A half-formed idea flitted across Lily’s mind, teaching her to imagine for a moment that she might possibly be concerned in this arrangement. But the thought vanished as quickly as it came, merely leaving some soreness behind it. There are certain maladies which make the whole body sore. The patient, let him be touched on any point — let him even be nearly touched — will roar with agony as though his whole body had been bruised. So it is also with maladies of he mind. Sorrows such as that of poor Lily leave the heart sore at every point, and compel the sufferer to be ever in fear of new wounds. Lily bore her cross bravely and well; but not the less did it weigh heavily upon her at every turn because she had the strength to walk as though she did not bear it. Nothing happened to her, or in her presence, that did not in some way connect itself with her misery. Her uncle was going over to meet John Eames at Lord de Guest’s. Of course the men there would talk about her, and all such talking was an injury to her.
The afternoon of that day did not pass away brightly. As long as the servants were in the room the dinner went on much as other dinners. At such times a certain amount of hypocrisy must always be practised in closely domestic circles. At mixed dinner-parties people can talk before Richard and William the same words that they would use if Richard and William were not there. People so mixed do not talk together their inward home thoughts. But when close friends are together, a little conscious reticence is practised till the door is tiled. At such a meeting as this that conscious reticence was of service, and created an effect which was salutary. When the door was tiled, and when the servants were gone, how could they be merry together? By what mirth should the beards be made to wag on that Christmas Day?
“My father has been up in town,” said Bernard.
“He was with Lord de Guest at Pawkins’s.”
“Why didn’t you go and see him?” asked Mrs Dale.
“Well, I don’t know. He did not seem to wish it. I shall go down to Torquay in February. I must be up in London you know, in a fortnight, for good.” Then they were all silent again for a few minutes. If Bernard could have owned the truth, he would have acknowledged that he had not gone up to London, because he did not yet know how to treat Crosbie when he should meet him. His thoughts on this matter threw some sort of shadow across poor Lily’s mind, making her feel that her wound was again opened.
“I want him to give up his profession altogether,” said the squire, speaking firmly and slowly. “It would be better, I think, for both of us that he should do so.”
“Would it be wise at his time of life,” said Mrs Dale, “and when he has been doing so well?”
“I think it would be wise. If he were my son it would be thought better that he should live here upon the property, among the people who are to become his tenants, than remain up in London, or perhaps be sent to India. He has one profession as the heir of this place, and that, I think, should he enough.”
“I should have but an idle life of it down here,” said Bernard.
“That would be your own fault. But if you did as I would have you, your life would not be idle.” In this he was alluding to Bernard’s proposed marriage, but as to that nothing further could be said in Bell’s presence. Bell understood it all, and sat quite silent, with demure countenance — perhaps even with something of sternness in her face.
“But the fact is,” said Mrs Dale, speaking in a low tone, and having well considered what she was about to say, “that Bernard is not exactly the same as your son.”
“Why not?” said the squire. “I have even offered to settle the property on him if he will leave the service.”
“You do not owe him so much as you would owe your son — and, therefore, he does not owe you as much as he would owe his father.”
“If you mean that I cannot constrain him, I know that well enough. As regards money, I have offered to do for him quite as much as any father would feel called upon to do for an only son.”
“I hope you don’t think me ungrateful,” said Bernard.
“No, I do not; but I think you unmindful. I have nothing more to say about it, however — not about that. If you should marry —“And then he stopped himself, feeling that he could not go on in Bell’s presence.
“If he should marry,” said Mrs Dale, “it may well be that his wife would like a house of her own.”
“Wouldn’t she have this house?” said the squire, angrily. “Isn’t it big enough? I only want one room for myself, and I’d give up that if it were necessary.”
“That’s nonsense,” said Mrs Dale.
“It isn’t nonsense,” said the squire.
“You’ll be squire of Allington for the next twenty years,” said Mrs Dale. “And as long as you are the squire, you’ll be master of this house; at least, I hope so. I don’t approve of monarchs abdicating in favour of young people.”
“I don’t think Uncle Christopher would look at all well like Charles the Fifth,” said Lily.
“I would always keep a cell for you, my darling, if I did,” said the squire, regarding her with that painful, special tenderness. Lily, who was sitting next to Mrs Dale, put her hand out secretly and got hold of her mother’s, thereby indicating that she did not intend to occupy the cell offered to her by her uncle; or to look to him as the companion of her monastic seclusion. After that there was nothing more then said as to Bernard’s prospects.
“Mrs Hearn is dining at the vicarage, I suppose?” asked the squire.
“Yes; she went in after church,” said Bell.
“I saw her go with Mrs Boyce.”
“She told me she never would dine with them again after dark in winter,” said Mrs Dale.
“The last time she was there, the boy let the lamp blow out as she was going home, and she lost her way. The truth was, she was angry because Mr Boyce didn’t go with her.”
“She’s always angry,” said the squire.
“She hardly speaks to me now. When she paid her rent the other day to Jolliffe, she said she hoped it would do me much good; as though she thought me a brute for taking it.”
“So she does,” said Bernard.
“She’s very old, you know,” said Bell.
“I’d give her the house for nothing, if I were you, uncle,” said Lily.
“No, my dear; if you were me you would not. I should be very wrong to do so. Why should Mrs Hearn have her house for nothing, any more than her meat or her clothes? It would be much more reasonable were I to give her so much money into her hand yearly; but it would be wrong in me to do so, seeing that she is not an object of charity — and it would be wrong in her to take it.”
“And she wouldn’t take it,” said Mrs Dale.
“I don’t think she would. But if she did, I’m sure she would grumble because it wasn’t double the amount. And if Mr Boyce had gone home with her, she would have grumbled because he walked too fast.”
“She is very old,” said Bell, again.
“But, nevertheless, she ought to know better than to speak disparagingly of me to my servants. She should have more respect for herself.” And the squire showed by the tone of his voice that he thought very much about it.
It was very long and very dull that Christmas evening, making Bernard feel strongly that he would be very foolish to give up his profession, and tie himself down to a life at Allington. Women are more accustomed than men to long, dull, unemployed hours; and, therefore, Mrs Dale and her daughters bore the tedium courageously. While he yawned, stretched himself, and went in and out of the room, they sat demurely, listening as the squire laid down the law on small matters, and contradicting him occasionally when the spirit of either of them prompted her specially to do so.
“Of course you know much better than I do,” he would say.
“Not at all,” Mrs Dale would answer.
“I don’t pretend to know anything about it. But —“So the evening wore itself away; and when the squire was left alone at half-past nine, he did not feel that the day had passed badly with him. That was his style of life, and he expected no more from it than he got. He did not look to find things very pleasant, and, if not happy, he was, at any rate, contented.
“Only think of Johnny Eames being at Guestwick Manor!” said Bell, as they were going home.
“I don’t see why he shouldn’t be there,” said Lily.
“I would rather it should be he than I, because Lady Julia is so grumpy.”
“But asking your Uncle Christopher especially to meet him!” said Mrs Dale.
“There must be some reason for it.” Then Lily felt the soreness come upon her again, and spoke no further upon the subject.
We all know that there was a special reason, and that Lily’s soreness was not false in its mysterious forebodings. Eames, on the evening after his dinner at Pawkins’s, had seen the earl, and explained to him that he could not leave town till the Saturday evening; but that he could remain over the Tuesday. He must be at his office by twelve on Wednesday, and could manage to do that by an early train, from Guestwick.
“Very well, Johnny,” said the earl, talking to his young friend with the bedroom candle in his hand, as he was going up to dress.
“Then I’ll tell you what; I’ve been thinking of it. I’ll ask Dale to come over to dinner on Tuesday; and if he’ll come, I’ll explain the whole matter to him myself. He’s a man of business, and he’ll understand. If he won’t come, why then you must go over to Allington, and find him, if you can, on the Tuesday morning; or I’ll go to him myself, which will be better. You mustn’t keep me now, as I am ever so much too late.”
Eames did not attempt to keep him, but went away feeling that the whole matter was being arranged for him in a very wonderful way. And when he got to Allington he found that the squire had accepted the earl’s invitation. Then he declared to himself that there was no longer any possibility of retractation for him. Of course he did not wish to retract. The one great longing of his life was to call Lily Dale his own. But he felt afraid of the squire — that the squire would despise him and snub him, and that the earl would perceive that he had made a mistake when he saw how his client was scorned and snubbed. It was arranged that the earl was to take the squire into his own room for a few minutes before dinner, and Johnny felt that he would be hardly able to stand his ground in the drawing-room when the two old men should make their appearance together.
He got on very well with Lady Julia, who gave herself no airs, and made herself very civil. Her brother had told her the whole story, and she felt as anxious as he did to provide Lily with another husband in place of that horrible man Crosbie.
“She has been very fortunate in her escape,” she said to her brother; “very fortunate.” The earl agreed with this, saying that in his opinion his own favourite Johnny would make much the nicer lover of the two. But Lady Julia had her doubts as to Lily’s acquiescence.
“But, Theodore, he must not speak to Miss Lilian Dale herself about it yet a while.”
“No,” said the earl, “not for a month or so.”
“He will have a better chance if he can remain silent for six months,” said Lady Julia.
“Bless my soul! somebody else will have picked her up before that,” said the earl.
In answer to this Lady Julia merely shook her head.
Johnny went over to his mother on Christmas Day after church, and was received by her and by his sister with great honour. And she gave him many injunctions as to his behaviour at the earl’s table, even descending to small details about his boots and linen. But Johnny had already begun to feel at the Manor that, after all, people are not so very different in their ways of life as they are supposed to be. Lady Julia’s manners were certainly not quite those of Mrs Roper; but she made the tea very much in the way in which it was made at Burton Crescent, and Eames found that he could eat his egg, at any rate on the second morning, without any tremor in his hand, in spite of the coronet on the silver egg-cup. He did feel himself to be rather out of his place in the Manor pew on the Sunday, conceiving that all the congregation was looking at him; but he got over this on Christmas Day, and sat quite comfortably in his soft corner during the sermon, almost going to sleep. And when he walked with the earl after church to the gate over which the noble peer had climbed in his agony, and inspected the hedge through which he had thrown himself, he was quite at home with his little jokes, bantering his august companion as to the mode of his somersault. But be it always remembered that there are two modes in which a young man may he free and easy with his elder and superior — the mode pleasant and the mode offensive. Had it been in Johnny’s nature to try the latter, the earl’s back would soon have been up, and the play would have been over. But it was not in Johnny’s nature to do so, and therefore it was that the earl liked him.
At last came the hour of dinner on Tuesday, or at least the hour at which the squire had been asked to show himself at the Manor House. Eames, as by agreement with his patron, did not come down so as to show himself till after the interview. Lady Julia, who had been present at their discussions, had agreed to receive the squire; and then a servant was to ask him to step into the earl’s own room. It was pretty to see the way in which the three conspired together, planning and plotting with an eagerness that was beautifully green and fresh.
“He can be as cross as an old stick when he likes it,” said the earl, speaking of the squire, “and we must take care not to rub him the wrong way.”
“I shan’t know what to say to him when I come down,” said Johnny.
“Just shake hands with him and don’t say anything,” said Lady Julia.
“I’ll give him some port wine that ought to soften his heart,” said the earl, “and then we’ll see how he is in the evening.”
Eames heard the wheels of the squire’s little open carriage and trembled. The squire, unconscious of all schemes, soon found himself with Lady Julia, and within two minutes of his entrance was walked off to the earl’s private room.
“Certainly,” he said, “certainly”; and followed the man-servant. The earl, as he entered, was standing in the middle of the room, and his round rosy face was a picture of good humour.
“I’m very glad you’ve come, Dale,” said he.
“I’ve something I want to say to you.”
Mr Dale, who neither in heart nor in manner was so light a man as the earl, took the proffered hand of his host, and bowed his head slightly, signifying that he was willing to listen to anything.
“I think I told you,” continued the earl, “that young John Eames is down here; but he goes back tomorrow, as they can’t spare him at his office. He’s a very good fellow — as far as I am able to judge, an uncommonly good young man. I’ve taken a great fancy to him myself.” In answer to this Mr Dale did not say much. He sat down, and in some general terms expressed his good-will towards all the Eames family.
“As you know, Dale, I’m a very bad hand at talking, and therefore I won’t beat about the bush in what I’ve got to say at present. Of course we’ve all heard of that scoundrel Crosbie, and the way he has treated your niece Lilian.”
“He is a scoundrel — an unmixed scoundrel. But the less we say about that the better. It is ill mentioning a girl’s name in such a matter as that.”
“But, my dear Dale, I must mention it at the present moment. Dear young child, I would do anything to comfort her! And I hope that something may be done to comfort her. ‘Do you know that that young man was in love with her long before Crosbie ever saw her?”
“What — John Eames!”
“Yes, John Eames. And I wish heartily for his sake that he had won her regard before she had met that rascal whom you had to stay down at your house.”
“A man cannot help these things, De Guest,” said the squire.
“No, no, no! There are such men about the world, and it is impossible to know them at a glance. He was my nephew’s friend, and I am not going to say that my nephew was in fault. But I wish — I only say that I wish — she had first known what are this young man’s feelings towards her.”
“But she might not have thought of him as you do.”
“He is an uncommonly good-looking young fellow; straight made, broad in the chest, with a good, honest eye, and a young man’s proper courage. He has never been taught to give himself airs like a dancing monkey; but I think he’s all the better for that.”
“But it’s too late now, De Guest.”
“No, no; that’s just where it is. It mustn’t be too late! That child is not to lose her whole life because a villain has played her false. Of course she’ll suffer. Just at present it wouldn’t do, I suppose, to talk to her about a new sweetheart. But, Dale, the time will come; the time will come — the time always does come.”
“It has never come to you and me,” said the squire, with the slightest possible smile on his dry cheeks. The story of their lives had been so far the same; each had loved, and each had been disappointed, and then each had remained single through life.
“Yes, it has,” said the earl, with no slight touch of feeling and even of romance in what he said.
“We have retricked our beams in our own ways, and our lives have not been desolate. But for her — you and her mother will look forward to see her married some day.”
“I have not thought about it.”
“But I want you to think about it. I want to interest you in this fellow’s favour; and in doing so, I mean to be very open with you. I suppose you’ll give her something?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure,” said the squire almost offended at an inquiry of such a nature.
“Well, then, whether you do or not, I’ll give him something,” said the earl.
“I shouldn’t have ventured to meddle in the matter had I not intended to put myself in such a position with reference to him as would justify me in asking the question.” And the peer as he spoke drew himself up to his full height.
“If such a match can be made, it shall not be a bad marriage for your niece in a pecuniary point of view. I shall have pleasure in giving to him; but I shall have more pleasure if she can share what I give.”
“She ought to be very much obliged to you,” said the squire.
“I think she would be if she knew young Eames. I hope the day may come when she will be so. I hope that you and I may see them happy together, and that you too may thank me for having assisted in making them so. Shall we go in to Lady Julia now?” The earl had felt that he had not quite succeeded; that his offer had been accepted somewhat coldly, and had not much hope that further good could be done on that day, even with the help of his best port wine.
“Half a moment,” said the squire.
“There are matters as to which I never find myself able to speak quickly, and this certainly seems to be one of them. If you will allow me I will think over what you have said, and then see you again.”
“But for your own part in the matter, for your great generosity and kind heart, I beg to offer you my warmest thanks.” Then the squire bowed low, and preceded the earl out of the room.
Lord de Guest still felt that he had not succeeded. We may probably say, looking at the squire’s character and peculiarities, that no marked success was probable at the first opening — out of such a subject. He had said of himself that he was never able to speak quickly in matters of moment; but he would more correctly have described his own character had he declared that he could not think of them quickly. As it was, the earl was disappointed; but had he been able to read the squire’s mind, his disappointment would have been less strong. Mr Dale knew well enough that he was being treated well, and that the effort being made was intended with kindness to those belonging to him; but it was not in his nature to be demonstrative and quick at expressions of gratitude. So he entered the drawing-room with a cold, placid face, leading Eames, and Lady Julia also, to suppose that no good had been done.
“How do you do, sir?” said Johnny, walking up to him in a wild sort of manner — going through a premeditated lesson, but doing it without any presence of mind.
“How do you do, Eames?” said the squire, speaking with a very cold voice. And then there was nothing further said till the dinner was announced.
“Dale, I know you drink port,” said the earl when Lady Julia left them.
“If you say you don’t like that, I shall say you know nothing about it.”
“Ah! that’s the ‘20,” said the squire, tasting it.
“I should rather think it is,” said the earl. I was lucky enough to get it early, and it hasn’t been moved for thirty years. I like to give it to a man who knows it, as you do, at the first glance. Now there’s my friend Johnny there; it’s thrown away upon him.”
“No, my lord, it is not. I think it’s uncommonly nice.”
“Uncommonly nice! So is champagne, or ginger-beer, or lollipops — for those who like them. Do you mean to tell me you can taste wine with half a pickled orange in your mouth?”
“It’ll come to him soon enough,” said the squire.
“Twenty port won’t come to him when he is as old as we are,” said the earl, forgetting that by that time sixty port will be as wonderful to the then living seniors of the age as was his own pet vintage to him.
The good wine did in some sort soften the squire; but, as a matter of course, nothing further was said as to the new matrimonial scheme. The earl did observe, however, that Mr Dale was civil, and even kind, to his own young friend, asking a question here and there as to his life in London, and saying something about the work at the Income-tax Office.
“It is hard work,” said Eames.
“If you’re under the line, they make a great row about it, send for you, and look at you as though you’d been robbing the bank; but they think nothing of keeping you till five.”
“But how long do you have for lunch and reading the papers?” said the earl.
“Not ten minutes. We take a paper among twenty of us for half the day. That’s exactly nine minutes to each; and as for lunch, we only have a biscuit dipped in ink.”
“Dipped in ink!” said the squire.
“It comes to that, for you have to be writing while you munch it.”
“I hear all about you,” said the earl;
“Sir Raffle Buffle is an old crony of mine.”
“I don’t suppose he ever heard my name as yet” said Johnny.
“But do you really know him well, Lord de Guest?”
“Haven’t seen him these thirty years; but I did know him.”
“We call him old Huffle Scuffle.”
“Huffle Scuffle! Ha, ha, ha! He always was Huffle Scuffle; a noisy, pretentious, empty-headed fellow. But I oughtn’t to say so before you, young man. Come, we’ll go into the drawing-room.”
“And what did he say?” asked Lady Julia, as soon as the squire was gone.
There was no attempt at concealment, and the question was asked in Johnny’s presence.
“Well, he did not say much. And coming from him, that ought to be taken as a good sign. He is to think of it, and let me see him again. You hold your head up, Johnny, and remember that you shan’t want a friend on your side. Faint heart never won fair lady.”
At seven o’clock on the following morning Eames started on his return journey, and was at his desk at twelve o’clock — as per agreement with his taskmaster at the Income-tax Office.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14