The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IV

Mrs Roper’s Boarding-House

I have said that John Eames had been petted by none but his mother, but I would not have it supposed, on this account, that John Eames had no friends. There is a class of young men who never get petted, though they may not be the less esteemed, or perhaps loved. They do not come forth to the world as Apollos, nor shine at all, keeping what light they may have for inward purposes. Such young men are often awkward, ungainly, and not yet formed in their gait; they straggle with their limbs, and are shy; words do not come to them with ease, when words are required, among any but their accustomed associates. Social meetings are periods of penance to them, and any appearance in public will unnerve them. They go much about alone, and blush when women speak to them. In truth, they are not as yet men, whatever the number may be of their years; and, as they are no longer boys, the world has found for them the ungraceful name of hobbledehoy.

Such observations, however, as I have been enabled to make in this matter have led me to believe that the hobbledehoy is by no means the least valuable species of the human race. When I compare the hobbledehoy of one or two and twenty to some finished Apollo of the same age, I regard the former as unripe fruit, and the latter as fruit that is ripe. Then comes the question as to the two fruits. Which is the better fruit, that which ripens early — which is, perhaps, favoured with some little forcing apparatus, or which, at least, is backed by the warmth of a southern wall; or that fruit of slower growth, as to which nature works without assistance, on which the sun operates in its own time — or perhaps never operates if some ungenial shade has been allowed to interpose itself? The world, no doubt, is in favour of the forcing apparatus or of the southern wall. The fruit comes certainly, and at an assured period. It is spotless, speck-less, and of a certain quality by no means despicable. The owner has it when he wants it, and it serves its turn. But, nevertheless, according to my thinking, the fullest flavour of the sun is given to that other fruit — is given in the sun’s own good time, if so be that no ungenial shade has interposed itself. I like the smack of the natural growth, and like it, perhaps, the better because that which has been obtained has been obtained without favour.

But the hobbledehoy, though he blushes when women address him, and is uneasy even when he is near them, though he is not master of his limbs in a ball-room, and is hardly master of his tongue at any time, is the most eloquent of beings, and especially eloquent among beautiful women. He enjoys all the triumphs of a Don Juan, without any of Don Juan’s heartlessness, and is able to conquer in all encounters, through the force of his wit and the sweetness of his voice. But this eloquence is heard only by his own inner ears, and these triumphs are the triumphs of his imagination.

The true hobbledehoy is much alone, not being greatly given to social intercourse even with other hohbledehoys — a trait in his character which I think has hardly been sufficiently observed by the world at large. He has probably become a hobbledehoy instead of an Apollo, because circumstances have not afforded him much social intercourse; and, therefore, he wanders about in solitude, taking long walks, in which he dreams of those successes which are so far removed from his powers of achievement. Out in the fields, with his stick in his hand, he is very eloquent, cutting off the heads of the springing summer weeds, as he practises his oratory with energy. And thus he feeds an imagination for which those who know him give him but scanty credit, and unconsciously prepares himself for that latter ripening, if only the ungenial shade will some day cease to interpose itself.

Such hobbledehoys receive but little petting, unless it be from a mother; and such a hobbledehoy was John Eames when he was sent away from Guestwick to begin his life in the big room of a public office in London. We may say that there was nothing of the young Apollo about him. But yet he was not without friends — friends who wished him well, and thought much of his welfare. And he had a younger sister who loved him dearly, who had no idea that he was a hobbledehoy, being somewhat of a hobbledehoy herself. Mrs Eames, their mother, was a widow, living in a small house in Guestwick, whose husband had been throughout his whole life an intimate friend of our squire. He had been a man of many misfortunes, having begun the world almost with affluence, and having ended it in poverty. He had lived all his days in Guestwick, having at one time occupied a large tract of land, and lost much money in experimental farming; and late in life he had taken a small house on the outskirts of the town, and there had died, some two years previously to the commencement of this story. With no other man had Mr Dale lived on terms so intimate; and when Mr Eames died Mr Dale acted as executor under his will, and as guardian to his children. He had, moreover, obtained for John Eames that situation under the Crown which he now held.

And Mrs Eames had been and still was on very friendly terms with Mrs Dale. The squire had never taken quite kindly to Mrs Eames, whom her husband had not met till he was already past forty years of age. But Mrs Dale had made up by her kindness to the poor forlorn woman for any lack of that cordiality which might have been shown to her from the Great House. Mrs Eames was a poor forlorn woman — forlorn even during the time of her husband’s life, but very woebegone now in her widowhood. In matters of importance the squire had been kind to her; arranging for her little money affairs, advising her about her house and income, also getting for her that appointment for her son. But he snubbed her when he met her, and poor Mrs Eames held him in great awe. Mrs Dale held her brother-in-law in no awe, and sometimes gave to the widow from Guestwick advice quite at variance to that given by the squire. In this way there had grown up an intimacy between Bell and Lily and the young Eames, and either of the girls was prepared to declare that Johnny Eames was her own and well-loved friend. Nevertheless, they spoke of him occasionally with some little dash of merriment — as is not unusual with pretty girls who have hobbledehoys among their intimate friends, and who are not themselves unaccustomed to the grace of an Apollo.

I may as well announce at once that John Eames, when he went up to London, was absolutely and irretrievably in love with Lily Dale. He had declared his passion in the most moving language a hundred times; but he had declared it only to himself. He had written much poetry about Lily, but he kept his lines safe under double lock and key. When he gave the reins to his imagination, he flattered himself that he might win not only her but the world at large also by his verses; but he would have perished rather than exhibit them to human eye. During the last ten weeks of his life at Guestwick, while he was preparing for his career in London, he hung about Allington, walking over frequently and then walking back again; but all in vain. During these visits he would sit in Mrs Dale’s drawing-room, speaking but little, and addressing himself usually to the mother; but on each occasion, as he started on his long, hot walk, he resolved that he would say something by which Lily might know of his love. When he left for London that something had not been said.

He had not dreamed of asking her to be his wife. John Eames was about to begin the world with eighty pounds a year, and an allowance of twenty more from his mother’s purse. He was well aware that with such an income he could not establish himself as a married man in London, and he also felt that the man who might be fortunate enough to win Lily for his wife should be prepared to give her every soft luxury that the world could afford. He knew well that he ought not to expect any assurance of Lily’s love; but, nevertheless, he thought it possible that he might give her an assurance of his love. It would probably be in vain. He had no real hope, unless when he was in one of those poetic moods. He had acknowledged to himself, in some indistinct way, that he was no more than a hobbledehoy, awkward, silent, ungainly, with a face unfinished, as it were, or unripe. All this he knew, and knew also that there were Apollos in the world who would be only too ready to carry off Lily in their splendid cars. But not the less did he make up his mind that having loved her once, it behoved him, as a true man, to love her on to the end.

One little word he had said to her when they parted, but it had been a word of friendship rather than of love. He had strayed out after her on to the lawn, leaving Bell alone in the drawing-room. Perhaps Lily had understood something of the boy’s feelings, and had wished to speak kindly to him at parting, or almost more than kindly. There is a silent love which women recognise, and which in some silent way they acknowledge — giving gracious but silent thanks for the respect which accompanies it.” I have come to say good-bye, Lily,” said Johnny Eames, following the girl down one of the paths.

“Good-bye, John,” said she, turning round. “You know how sorry we are to lose you. But it’s a great thing for you to be going up to London.”

“Well, yes. I suppose it is. I’d sooner remain here, though.”

“What! stay here, doing nothing! I am sure you would not.”

“Of course, I should like to do something. I mean —”

“You mean that it is painful to part with old friends; and I’m sure that we all feel that at parting with you. But you’ll have a holiday sometimes, and then we shall see you.”

“Yes; of course, I shall see you then. I think, Lily, I shall care more about seeing you than anybody.”

“Oh, no, John. There’ll be your own mother and sister.”

“Yes; there’ll be mother and Mary, of course. But I will come, over here the very first day — that is, if you’ll care to see me?”

“We shall care to see you very much. You know that. And — dear John, I do hope you’ll be happy.” There was a tone in her voice as she spoke which almost upset him; or, I should rather say, which almost put him up upon his legs and made him speak; but its ultimate effect was less powerful.

“Do you?” said he, as he held her hand for a few happy seconds. “And I’m sure I hope you’ll always be happy. Good-bye, Lily.” Then he left her, returning to the house, and she continued her walk, wandering down among the trees in the shrubbery, and not showing herself for the next half hour. How many girls have some such lover as that — a lover who says no more to them than Johnny Eames then said to Lily Dale, who never says more than that? And yet when, in after years, they count over the names of all who have loved them, the name of that awkward youth is never forgotten.

That farewell had been spoken nearly two years since, and Lily Dale was then seventeen. Since that time, John Eames had been home once, and during his month’s holidays had often visited Allington. But he had never improved upon that occasion of which I have told. It had seemed to him that Lily was colder to him than in old days, and he had become, if anything, more shy in his ways with her. He was to return to Guestwick again during this autumn; but, to tell honestly the truth in the matter, Lily Dale did not think or care very much for his coming. Girls of nineteen do not care for lovers of one-and-twenty, unless it be when the fruit has had the advantage of some forcing apparatus or southern wall.

John Eames’s love was still as hot as ever, having been sustained on poetry, and kept alive, perhaps, by some close confidence in the ears of a brother clerk; but it is not to be supposed that during these two years he had been a melancholy lover. It might, perhaps, have been better for him had his disposition led him to that line of life. Such, however, had not been the case. He had already abandoned the flute on which he had learned to sound three sad notes before he left Guestwick, and, after the fifth or sixth Sunday, he had relinquished his solitary walks along the towing-path of the Regent’s Park Canal. To think of one’s absent love is very sweet; but it becomes monotonous after a mile or two of a towing-path, and the mind will turn away to Aunt Sally, the Cremorne Gardens, and financial questions. I doubt whether any girl would be satisfied with her lover’s mind if she knew the whole of it.

“I say, Caudle, I wonder whether a fellow could get into a club?” This proposition was made, on one of those Sunday walks, by John Eames to the friend of his bosom, a brother clerk, whose legitimate name was Cradell, and who was therefore called Caudle by his friends.

“Get into a club? Fisher in our room belongs to a club.”

“That’s only a chess-club. I mean a regular club.”

“One of the swell ones at the West End?” said Cradell, almost lost in admiration at the ambition of his friend.

“I shouldn’t want it to be particularly swell. If a man isn’t a swell, I don’t see what he gets by going among those who are. But it is so uncommon slow at Mother Roper’s.” Now Mrs Roper was a respectable lady, who kept a boarding-house in Burton Crescent, and to whom Mrs Eames had been strongly recommended when she was desirous of finding a specially safe domicile for her son. For the first year of his life in London John Eames had lived alone in lodgings; but that had resulted in discomfort, solitude, and, alas! in some amount of debt, which had come heavily on the poor widow. Now, for the second year, some safer mode of life was necessary. She had learned that Mrs Cradell, the widow of a barrister, who had also succeeded in getting her son into the Income-tax Office, had placed him in charge of Mrs Roper; and she, with many injunctions to that motherly woman, submitted her own boy to the same custody.

“And about going to church?” Mrs Eames had said to Mrs Roper.

“I don’t suppose I can look after that, ma’am,” Mrs Roper had answered, conscientiously. “Young gentlemen choose mostly their own churches.”

“But they do go?” asked the mother, very anxious in her heart as to this new life in which her boy was to be left to follow in so many things the guidance of his own lights.

“They who have been brought up steady do so, mostly.”

“He has been brought up steady, Mrs Roper. He has, indeed.”

“And you won’t give him a latch-key?”

“Well, they always do ask for it.”

“But he won’t insist, if you tell him that I had rather that he shouldn’t have one.” Mrs Roper promised accordingly, and Johnny Eames was left under her charge. He did ask for the latch-key, and Mrs Roper answered as she was bidden. But he asked again, having been sophisticated by the philosophy of Cradell, and then Mrs Roper handed him the key. She was a woman who plumed herself on being as good as her word, not understanding that any one could justly demand from her more than that. She gave Johnny Eames the key, as doubtless she had intended to do; for Mrs Roper knew the world, and understood that young men without latch-keys would not remain with her.

“I thought you didn’t seem to find it so dull since Amelia came home,” said Cradell.

“Amelia! What’s Amelia to me? I have told you everything, Cradell, and yet you can talk to me about Amelia Roper!”

“Come now, Johnny —”

He had always been called Johnny, and the name had gone with him to his office. Even Amelia Roper had called him Johnny on more than one occasion before this.

“You were as sweet to her the other night as though there were no such person as L. D. in existence.” John Eames turned away and shook his head. Nevertheless, the words of his friend were grateful to him. The character of a Don Juan was not unpleasant to his imagination, and he liked to think that he might amuse Amelia Roper with a passing word, though his heart was true to Lilian Dale. In truth, however, many more of the passing words had been spoken by the fair Amelia than by him.

Mrs Roper had been quite as good as her word when she told Mrs Eames that her household was composed of herself, of a son who was in an attorney’s office, of an ancient maiden cousin, named Miss Spruce, who lodged with her, and of Mr Cradell. The divine Amelia had not then been living with her, and the nature of the statement which she was making by no means compelled her to inform Mrs Eames that the young lady would probably return home in the following winter. A Mr and Mrs Lupex had also joined the family lately, and Mrs Roper’s house was now supposed to be full.

And it must be acknowledged that Johnny Eames had, in certain unguarded moments, confided to Cradell the secret of a second weaker passion for Amelia. “She is a fine girl — a deuced fine girl!” Johnny Eames had said, using a style of language which he had learned since he left Guestwick and Allington. Mr Cradell, also, was an admirer of the fair sex; and, alas! that I should say so, Mrs Lupex, at the present moment, was the object of his admiration. Not that he entertained the slightest idea of wronging Mr Lupex — a man who was a scene-painter, and knew the world. Mr Cradell admired Mrs Lupex as a connoisseur, not simply as a man. “By heavens! Johnny, what a figure that woman has!” he said, one morning, as they were walking to their office.

“Yes; she stands well on her pins.”

“I should think she did. If I understand anything of form,” said Cadell, “that woman is nearly perfect. What a torso she has?” From which expression, and from the fact that Mrs Lupex depended greatly upon her stays and crinoline for such figure as she succeeded in displaying, it may, perhaps, be understood that Mr Cradell did not understand much about form.

“It seems to me that her nose isn’t quite straight,” said Johnny Eames. Now, it undoubtedly was the fact that the nose on Mrs Lupex’s face was a little awry. It was a long, thin nose, which, as it progressed forward into the air, certainly had a preponderating bias towards the left side.

“I care more for figure than face,” said Cradell. “But Mrs Lupex has fine eyes — very fine eyes.”

“And knows how to use them, too,” said Johnny.

“Why shouldn’t she? And then she has lovely hair.”

“Only she never brushes it in the morning.”

“Do you know, I like that kind of deshabille,” said Cadell. “Too much care always betrays itself.”

“But a woman should be tidy.”

“What a word to apply to such a creature as Mrs Lupex! I call her a splendid woman. And how well she was got up last night. Do you know, I’ve an idea that Lupex treats her very badly. She said a word or two to me yesterday that — ” and then he paused. There are some confidences which a man does not share even with his dearest friend.

“I rather fancy it’s quite the other way,” said Eames.

“How the other way?”

“That Lupex has quite as much as he likes of Mrs L. The sound of her voice sometimes makes me shake in my shoes, I know.”

“I like a woman with spirit,” said Cradell.

“Oh, so do I. But one may have too much of a good thing. Amelia did tell me — only you won’t mention it.”

“Of course, I won’t.”

“She told me that Lupex sometimes was obliged to run away from her. He goes down to the theatre, and remains there two or three days at a time. Then she goes to fetch him, and there is no end of a row in the house.”

“The fact is, he drinks,” said Cadell. “By George, I pity a woman whose husband drinks — and such a woman as that, too!”

“Take care, old fellow, or you’ll find yourself in a scrape.”

“I know what I’m at. Lord bless you, I’m not going to lose my head because I see a fine woman.”

“Or your heart either?”

“Oh, heart! There’s nothing of that kind of thing about me. I regard a woman as a picture or a statue. I dare say I shall marry some day, because men do; but I’ve no idea of losing myself about a woman.”

“I’d lose myself ten times over for —”

“L. D.,” said Cradell.

“That I would. And yet I know I shall never have her. I’m a jolly, laughing sort of fellow; and yet, do you know, Caudle, when that girl marries, it will be all up with me. It will, indeed.”

“Do you mean that you’ll cut your throat?”

“No; I shan’t do that. I shan’t do anything of that sort; and yet it will be all up with me.”

“You are going down there in October — why don’t you ask her to have you?”

“With ninety pounds a year!” His grateful country had twice increased his salary at the rate of five pounds each year. “With ninety pounds a year, and twenty allowed me by my mother!”

“She could wait, I suppose. I should ask her, and no mistake. If one is to love a girl, it’s no good one going on in that way!”

“It isn’t much good, certainly,” said Johnny Eames. And then they reached the door of the Income-tax Office, and each went away to his own desk.

From this little dialogue, it may be imagined that though Mrs Roper was as good as her word, she was not exactly the woman whom Mrs Eames would have wished to select as a protecting angel for her son. But the truth I take to be this, that protecting angels for widows’ sons, at forty-eight pounds a year, paid quarterly, are not to be found very readily in London. Mrs Roper was not worse than others of her class. She would much have preferred lodgers who were respectable to those who were not so — if she could only have found respectable lodgers as she wanted them. Mr and Mrs Lupex hardly came under that denomination; and when she gave them up her big front bedroom at a hundred a year, she knew she was doing wrong. And she was troubled, too, about her own daughter Amelia, who was already over thirty years of age. Amelia was a very clever young woman, who had been, if the truth must be told, first young lady at a millinery establishment in Manchester. Mrs Roper knew that Mrs Eames and Mrs, Cradell would not wish their sons to associate with her daughter. But what could she do? She could not refuse the shelter of her own house to her own child, and yet her heart misgave her when she saw Amelia flirting with young Eames.

“I wish, Amelia, you wouldn’t have so much to say to that young man.”

“Laws, mother.”

“So I do. If you go on like that, you’ll put me out of both my lodgers.”

“Go on like what, mother? If a gentleman speaks to me, I suppose I’m to answer him? I know how to behave myself, I believe.” And then she gave her head a toss. Whereupon her mother was silent; for her mother was afraid of her.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01