John Eames had reached his office precisely at twelve o’clock, but when he did so he hardly knew whether he was standing on his heels or his head. The whole morning had been to him one of intense excitement, and latterly, to a certain extent, one of triumph. But he did not at all know what might be the results. Would he be taken before a magistrate and locked up? Would there be a row at the office? Would Crosbie call him out, and, if so, would it be incumbent on him to fight a duel with pistols? What would Lord de Guest say — Lord de Guest, who had specially warned him not to take upon himself the duty of avenging Lily’s wrongs? What would all the Dale family say of his conduct? And, above all, what would Lily say and think? Nevertheless, the feeling of triumph was predominant; and now, at this interval of time, he was beginning to remember with pleasure the sensation of his fist as it went into Crosbie’s eye.
During his first day at the office he heard nothing about the affair, nor did he say a word of it to any one. It was known in his room that he had gone down to spend his Christmas holiday with Lord de Guest, and he was treated with some increased consideration accordingly. And, moreover, I must explain, in order that I may give Johnny Eames his due, he was gradually acquiring for himself a good footing among the income-tax officials. He knew his work, and did it with some manly confidence in his own powers, and also with some manly indifference to the occasional frowns of the mighty men of the department. He was, moreover, popular — being somewhat of a radical in his official demeanour, and holding by his own rights, even though mighty men should frown In truth, he was emerging from his hobbledehoyhood and entering upon his young manhood, having probably to go through much folly and some false sentiment in that period of his existence, but still with fair promise of true manliness beyond to those who were able to read the signs of his character.
Many questions on that first day were asked him about the glories of his Christmas, but he had very little to say on the subject. Indeed nothing could have been much more commonplace than his Christmas visit it not been for the one great object which had taken him down to that part of the country, and for the circumstance with which his holiday had been ended. On neither of these subjects was he disposed to speak openly; but as he walked home to Burton Crescent with Cradell, he did tell him of the affair with Crosbie.
“And you went in at him on the station?” asked Cradell, with admiring doubt.
“Yes I did. If I didn’t do it there, where was I to do it? I’d said I would and therefore when I saw him I did it.” Then the whole affair was told as to the black eye, the police, and the superintendent.
“And what’s to come next?” asked our hero.
“Well, he’ll put it in the hands of a friend, of course; as I did with Fisher in that affair with Lupex. And, upon my word, Johnny, I shall have to do something of the kind again. His conduct last night was outrageous; would you believe —”
“Oh, he’s a fool.”
“He’s a fool you wouldn’t like to meet when he’s in one of his mad fits, I can tell you that. I absolutely had to sit up in my own bedroom all last night. Mother Roper told me that if I remained in the drawing-room she would feel herself obliged to have a policeman in the house. What could I do, you know? I made her have a fire for me of course.”
“And then you went to bed.”
“I waited ever so long, because I thought that Maria would want to see me. At last she sent me a note. Maria is so imprudent, you know. If he had found anything in her writing, it would have been terrible, you know — quite terrible. And who can say whether Jemima mayn’t tell?
“And what did she say?”
“Come; that’s tellings, Master Johnny. I took very good care to take it with me to the office this morning, for fear of accidents.”
But Eames was not so widely awake to the importance of his friend’s adventures as he might have been had he not been weighted with adventures of his own.
“I shouldn’t care so much,” said he, “about that fellow Crosbie, going to a friend, as I should about his going to a police magistrate.”
“He’ll put it in a friend’s hands, of course,” said Cradell with the air of a man who from experience was well up in such matters.
“And I suppose you’ll naturally come to me. It’s a deuced bore to a man in a public office, and all that kind of thing, of course. But I’m not the man to desert my friend. I’ll stand by you, Johnny, my boy.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Eames, “I don’t think that I shall want that.”
“You must be ready with a friend, you know.”
“I should write down to a man I know in the country, and ask his advice, said Eames; “an older sort of friend, you know.”
“By Jove, old fellow, take care what you are about. Don’t let them say of you that you show the white feather. Upon my honour, I’d sooner have an thing said of me than that. I would, indeed — anything.”
“I’m not afraid of that,” said Eames, with a touch of scorn in his voice.
“There isn’t much thought about white feathers nowadays — not in the way of fighting duels.”
After that, Cradell managed to carry back the conversation to Mrs Lupex and his own peculiar position, and as Eames did not care to ask from his companion further advice in his own matters, he listened nearly in silence till they reached Burton Crescent.
“I hope you found the noble earl well,” said Mrs Roper to him, as soon as they were all seated at dinner.”
“I found the noble earl pretty well, thank you,” said Johnny.
It had become plainly understood by all the Roperites that Eames’s position was quite altered since he had been honoured with the friendship of Lord de Guest. Mrs Lupex, next to whom he always sat at dinner, with a view to protecting her as it were from the dangerous neighbourhood of Cradell, treated him with a marked courtesy. Miss Spruce always called him “sir.” Mrs Roper helped him the first of the gentlemen, and was mindful about his fat and gravy, and Amelia felt less able than she was before to insist upon the possession of his heart and affections. It must not be supposed that Amelia intended to abandon the fight, and allow the enemy to walk off with his forces; but she felt herself constrained to treat him with a, deference that was hardly compatible with the perfect equality, which should attend any union of hearts.
“It is such a privilege to be on visiting terms with the nobility,” said Mrs Lupex. When I was a girl, I used to be very intimate —”
“You ain’t a girl any longer, and so you’d better not talk about it,” said Lupex. Mr Lupex had been at that little shop in Drury Lane after he came down from his scene-painting.
“My dear, you needn’t be a brute to me before all Mrs Roper’s company. If, led away by feelings which I will not now describe, I left my proper circles in marrying you, you need not before all the world teach me how much I have to regret.” And Mrs Lupex, putting down her knife and fork, applied her handkerchief to her eyes.
“That’s pleasant for a man over his meal, isn’t it? said Lupex, appealing to Miss Spruce. I have plenty of that kind of thing and you can’t think how I like it.”
“Them whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder,” said Miss Spruce.
“As for me myself, I’m only an old woman.”
This little ebullition threw a gloom over the dinner-table, and nothing more was said on the occasion as to the glories of Eames’s career. But, in the course of the evening, Amelia heard of the encounter which had taken place at the railway station, and at once perceived that she might use the occasion for her own purposes.
“John,” she whispered to her victim, finding an opportunity for coming upon him when almost alone, “what is this I hear? I insist upon knowing. Are you going to fight a duel?”
“Nonsense,” said Johnny.
“But it is not nonsense. You don’t know what my feelings will be, if I think that such a thing is going to happen. But then you are so hardhearted!”
“I ain’t hardhearted a bit, and I’m not going to fight a duel.”
“But is it true that you beat Mr Crosbie at the station?”
“It is true. I did beat him.”
“Oh, John! not that I mean to say you were wrong, and indeed I honour you for the feeling. There can be nothing so dreadful as a young man’s deceiving a young woman; and leaving her after he has won her heart — particularly when she has had promise in plain words, or, perhaps, even in, black and white.” John thought of that horrid, foolish, wretched note which he had written.
“And a poor girl, if she can’t right herself by a breach of promise, doesn’t know what to do, Does she, John?”
“A girl who’d right herself that way wouldn’t be worth having.”
“I don’t know about that. When a poor girl is in such a position she has to be said by her friends. I suppose, then, Miss Lily Dale won’t bring a breach of promise against him.”
This mention of Lily’s name in such a place was sacrilege in the ears of poor Eames.
“I cannot tell,” said he, “what may be the intention of the lady of whom you speak. But from what I know of her friends, I should not think that she will be disgraced by such a proceeding.”
“That may be all very well for Miss Lily Dale —” Amelia said, and then she hesitated. It would not be well, she thought, absolutely to threaten him as yet — not as long as there was any possibility that he might be won without a threat.
“Of course I know all about it,” she continued. She was your L. D., you know. Not that I was ever jealous of her. To you she was no more than one of childhood’s friends. Was she, Johnny?”
He stamped his foot upon the floor, and then jumped up from his seat. “I hate all that sort of twaddle about childhood’s friends, and you know I do. You’ll make me swear that I’ll never come into this room again.”
“So I will. The whole thing makes me sick. And as for that Mrs Lupex —”
“If this is what you learn, John, by going to a lord’s house, I think you had better stay at home with your own friends.”
“Of course I had much better stay at home with my own friends. Here’s Mrs Lupex, and at any rate I can’t stand her.” So he went off, and walked round the Crescent, and down to the New Road and almost into the Regent’s Park, thinking of Lily Dale and of his own cowardice with Amelia Roper.
On the following morning he received a message, at about one o’clock by the mouth of the Board-room messenger informing him that his presence was required in the Board-room.
“Sir Raffle Buffle has desired your presence, Mr Eames.”
“My presence, Tupper! what for?” said Johnny, turning upon the messenger, almost with dismay.
“Indeed I can’t say, Mr Eames; but Sir Raffle Buffle has desired your presence in the Board-room.”
Such a message as that in official life always strikes awe into the heart of a young man. And yet, young men generally come forth from such interviews without having received any serious damage and generally talk about the old gentlemen whom they have encountered with a good deal of light-spirited sarcasm — or chaff as it is called in the slang phraseology of the day. It is that same “majesty which doth hedge a king” that does it. The turkey-cock in his own farmyard is master of the occasion and the thought of him creates fear. A bishop in his lawn, a judge on the bench, a chairman in the big room at the end of a long table, or a policeman with his bull’s-eye lamp upon his beat, can all make themselves terrible by means of those appanages of majesty which have been vouchsafed to them. But how mean is the policeman in his own home, and how few thought much of Sir Raffle Buffle as he sat asleep after dinner in his old slippers. How well can I remember the terror created within me by the air of outraged dignity with which a certain fine old gentleman, now long since gone, could rub his hands slowly, one on the other, and look up to the ceiling, slightly shaking his head, as though lost in the contemplation of my iniquities! I would become sick in my stomach, and feel as though my ankles had been broken. That upward turn of the eye unmanned me, so completely that I was speechless as regarded any defence. I think that that old man could hardly have known the extent of his own power.
Once upon a time a careless lad, having the charge of a bundle of letters addressed to the King — petitions, and such like, which in the course of business would not get beyond the hands of some Lord-in-waiting’s deputy assistant — sent the bag which contained them to the wrong place; to Windsor perhaps, if the Court were, in London; or to St. James’s, if it were at Windsor. He was summoned; and the great man of the occasion contented himself with holding his hands up to the heavens as he stood up from his chair, and, exclaiming twice, “Mis-sent the Monarch’s pouch! Mis-sent the Monarch’s pouch!” That young man never knew how he escaped from the Board-room; but for a time he was deprived of all power of exertion, and could not resume his work till he had had six months’ leave of absence, and been brought round upon rum and asses’ milk. In that instance the peculiar use of the word Monarch had a power which the official magnate had never contemplated. The story, is traditional; but I believe that the circumstance happened as lately as in the days of George the Third.
John Eames could laugh at the present chairman of the Income-tax Office with great freedom, and call him old Ruffle Scuffle and the like; but now that he was sent for, he also, in spite of his radical propensities, felt a little weak about his ankle joints. He knew, from the first hearing of the message, that he was wanted with reference to that affair at the railway station. Perhaps there might be a rule, that any clerk should be dismissed who used his fists in any public place; there were many rules entailing the punishment of dismissal for many offences — and he began to think that he did remember something of such a regulation. However he got up, looked once round him upon his friends, and then followed Tupper into the Board-room.
“There’s Johnny been sent for by old Scuffles,” said one clerk.
“That’s about his row with Crosbie,” said another. The Board can’t do anything to him for that.”
“Can’t it?” said the first. “Didn’t young Outonites have to resign because of that row at the Cider Cellars though his cousin, Sir Constant Outonites, did all that he could for him?”
“But he was regularly up the spout with accommodation bills.” “I tell you that I wouldn’t be in Eames’s shoes for a trifle. Crosbie is secretary at the Committee Office, where Scuffles was chairman before he came here; and of course they’re as thick as thieves. I shouldn’t wonder if they didn’t make him go down and apologise.”
“Johnny won’t do that,” said the other. In the meantime John Eames was standing in the August presence. Sir Raffle Buffle was throned in his great oak armchair at the head of a long table in a very large room; and by him, at the corner of the table, was seated one of the assistant secretaries of the office. Another member of the Board was also at work upon the long table; but he was reading and signing papers at some distance from Sir Raffle, and paid no heed whatever to the scene. The assistant secretary, looking on, could see that Sir Raffle was annoyed by this want of attention on the part of his colleague, but all this was lost upon Eames.
“Mr Eames?” said Sir Raffle speaking with a peculiarly harsh voice, and looking at the culprit through a pair of goldrimmed glasses, which he perched for the occasion upon his big nose.
“Isn’t that Mr Eames?”
“Yes,” said the assistant secretary, “this is Eames.”
“Ah!”— and then there was a pause.
“Come a little nearer, Mr Eames, will you?” and Johnny drew nearer advancing noiselessly over the Turkey carpet. “Let me see; in the second class, isn’t, he? Ah! Do you know, Mr Eames, that I have received a letter from the secretary to the Directors of the Great Western Railway Company, detailing circumstances which — if truly stated in that letter — redound very much to your discredit?”
“I did get into a row there yesterday, sir.”
“Got into a row! It seems to me that you have got into a very serious row and that I must tell the Directors of the Great Western Railway Company that the law must be allowed to take its course.”
“I shan’t mind that, sir, in the least,” said Eames, brightening up a little under this view of the case.
“Not mind that, sir!” said Sir Raffle — or rather, he shouted out the words at the offender before him. I think that he overdid it, missing the effect which a milder tone might have attained. Perhaps there was lacking, to him some of that majesty of demeanour and dramatic propriety — of voice which had been so efficacious in the little story as to the King’s bag of letters. As it was Johnny gave a slight jump, but after his jump he felt better than he had been before.
“‘Not mind, sir, being dragged before the criminal tribunals of your country, and being punished as a felon — or rather as a misdemeanour — for an outrage committed on a public platform! Not mind it! What do you mean, sir?”
“I mean, that I don’t think the magistrate would say very much about it, sir. And I don’t think Mr Crosbie would come forward.”
“But Mr Crosbie must come forward, young man. Do you suppose that an outrage against the peace of the Metropolis is to go unpunished because he may not wish to pursue the matter? I’m afraid you must be very ignorant, young man.”
“Perhaps I am,” said Johnny.
“Very ignorant indeed — very ignorant indeed. And are you aware, sir, that it would become a question, with the Commissioners of this Board whether you could be retained in the service of this department if you were publicly punished by a police magistrate for such a disgraceful outrage as that?”
Johnny looked round at the other Commissioner, but that gentleman did not raise his face from his papers.
“Mr Eames is a very good clerk,” whispered the assistant secretary, but in a voice which made his words audible to Eames “one of the best young men we have” he added in a voice which was not audible.
“Oh — ah; very well. Now, I’ll tell you what, Mr Eames. I hope this will be a lesson to you — a very serious lesson”.
The assistant secretary, leaning in his chair so as to be a little behind the head of Sir Raffle, did manage to catch the eye of the other Commissioner. The other Commissioner, barely looking round, smiled a little and then the assistant secretary smiled also. Eames saw this, and he smiled too.
“Whether any ulterior consequences may still await the breach of the peace of which you have been guilty, I am not yet prepared to say,” continued Sir Raffle. “You may go now.” And Johnny returned to his own place, with no increased reverence for the dignity of the chairman.
On the following morning one of his colleagues showed him with great glee the passage in the newspaper which informed the world that he had been so desperately beaten by Crosbie that he was obliged to keep his bed at this present time in consequence of the flogging that he had received. Then his anger was aroused, and he bounced about the big room of the Income-tax Office regardless of assistant secretaries, head-clerks and all other official grandees whatsoever, denouncing the iniquities of the public press, and declaring his opinion that it would be better to live in Russia than in a country which allowed such audacious falsehoods to be propagated.
“He never touched me, Fisher; I don’t think he ever tried; but, upon my honour, he never touched me.”
“But, Johnny, it was bold in you to make up to Lord de Courcy’s daughter,” said Fisher.
“I never saw one of them in my life.”
“He’s going it altogether among the aristocracy now, said another; I suppose you wouldn’t look at anybody under a viscount?”
“Can I help what that thief of an editor puts into his paper? Flogged! Huffle Scuffle told me I was a felon, but that wasn’t half so bad as this fellow;” and Johnny kicked the newspaper across the room.
“Indict him for a libel,” said Fisher.
“Particularly for saying you wanted to marry a countess’s daughter,” said another clerk.
“I never heard such a scandal in my life,” declared a third; “and then to say that the girl wouldn’t look at you.”
But not the less was it felt by all in the office that Johnny Eames was becoming a leading man among them, and that he was one with whom each of them would be pleased to be intimate.
And even among the grandees this affair of the railway station did him no real harm. It was known that Crosbie had deserved to be thrashed and known that Eames had thrashed him. It was all very well for Sir Raffle Buffle to talk of police magistrates and misdemeanours, but all the world at the Income Tax Office knew very well that Eames had come out from that affair with his head upright and his right foot foremost.
“Never mind about the newspaper,” a thoughtful old senior clerk said to him. “As he did get the licking and you didn’t, you can afford to laugh at the newspaper.”
“And you wouldn’t write to the editor?”
“No, no; certainly not. No, one thinks of defending himself to a newspaper except an ass — unless it be some fellow who wants to have his name puffed. You may write what’s as true as the gospel, but they’ll know how to make fun of it.”
Johnny, therefore, gave up his idea of an indignant letter to the editor but he felt that he was bound to give some explanation of the whole matter to Lord de Guest. The affair had happened as he was coming from the earl’s house, and all his own concerns had now been made so much a matter of interest to his kind friend, that he thought that he could not with propriety leave the earl to learn from the newspapers either the facts or the falsehoods. And, therefore, before he left his office he wrote the following letter:—
INCOME-tax OFFICE, December 29, 186-.
He thought a good deal about the style in which he ought to address the peer, never having hitherto written to him. He began,
“My dear Lord,” on one sheet of paper, and then put it aside, thinking that it looked over-bold.
MY LORD— As you have been so very kind to me, I feel that I ought to tell you what happened the other morning at the railway station, as I was coming back from Guestwick. That scoundrel Crosbie got into the same carriage with me at the Barchester Junction, and sat opposite to me all the way up to London. I did not speak a word to him, or he to me; but when he got out at the Paddington Station, I thought I ought not to let him go away, so I— I can’t say that I thrashed him as I wished to do but I made an attempt, and I did give him a black eye. A whole quantity of policemen got round us, and I hadn’t a fair chance. I know you will think that I was wrong, and perhaps I was; but what could I do when he sat opposite to me there for two hours, looking as though he thought himself the finest fellow in all London?
They’ve put a horrible paragraph into one of the newspapers saying that I got so “flogged” that I haven’t been able to stir since. It is an atrocious falsehood, as is all the rest of the newspaper account. I was not touched. He was not nearly so bad a customer as the bull and seemed to take it all very quietly. I must acknowledge, though, that he didn’t get such a beating as he deserved.
Your friend Sir R. B. sent for me this morning, and told me I was a felon. I didn’t seem to care much for that, for he might as well have called me a murderer or a burglar, but I shall care very much indeed if I have made you angry with me. But what I most fear is the anger of some one else — at Allington.
Believe me to be, my Lord,
Yours very much obliged and most sincerely,
“I knew he’d do it if ever he got the opportunity,” said the earl when he had read his letter; and he walked about his room striking his hands together, and then thrusting his thumbs into his waistcoat-pockets. “I knew he was made of the right stuff” and the earl rejoiced greatly in the prowess of his favourite. “I’d have done it myself if I’d seen him. I do believe I would.” Then he went back to the breakfast-room and told Lady Julia.
“What do you think?” said he; “Johnny Eames has come across Crosbie, and given him a desperate beating.”
“No!” said Lady Julia, putting down newspaper and spectacles, and expressing by the light of her eyes anything but Christian horror at the wickedness of the deed.
“‘But he has though. I knew he would if he saw him.”
“Beaten him! Actually beaten him!”
“Sent him home to Lady Alexandrina with two black eyes.”
“Two black eyes! What a young pickle! But did he get hurt himself?”
“Not a scratch he says.”
“And what’ll they do to him?”
“Nothing. Crosbie won’t be fool enough to do anything. A man becomes an outlaw when he plays such a game as he has played. Anybody’s hand may be raised against him with impunity. He can’t show his face, you know. He can’t come forward and answer questions as to what he has done. There are offences which the law can’t touch but which outrage public feeling so strongly that any one may take upon himself the duty of punishing them. He has been thrashed, and that will stick to him till he dies.”
“Do tell Johnny from me that I hope he didn’t get hurt,” said Lady Julia. The old lady could not absolutely congratulate him on his feat of arms, but she did the next thing to it.
But the earl did congratulate him with a full open assurance of his approval.
“I hope,” he said “I should have done the same at your age, under similar circumstances, and I’m very glad that he proved less difficult than the bull. I’m quite sure you didn’t want any one to help you with Master Crosbie. As for that other person at Allington, if I understand such matters at all, I think she will forgive you.” It may, however, be a question whether the earl did understand such matters at all. And then he added in a postscript:
“When you write to me again — and don’t be long first, begin your letter ‘My dear Lord De Guest’— that is the proper way.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01