One morning while Lily Dale was staying with Mrs Thorne in London, there was brought up to her room, as she was dressing for dinner, a letter which the postman had just left for her. The address was written in a feminine hand, and Lily was at once aware that she did not know the writing. The angles were very acute, and the lines were very straight, and the vowels looked to be cruel and false, with their sharp points and their open eyes. Lily at once knew that it was the performance of a woman who had been taught to write at school, and not at home, and she became prejudiced against the writer before she opened the letter. When she had opened the letter and read it, her feelings towards the writer were not of a kindly nature. It was as follows:-
‘A lady presents her compliments to Miss L D and earnestly implores Miss L D to give her answer to the following question: Is Miss L D engaged to marry Mr J E? The lady in question pledges herself not to interfere with Miss L D in any way, should the answer be in the affirmative. The lady earnestly requests that a reply to this question may be sent to M D Post-office 455 Edgware Road. In order that L D may not doubt that M D had an interest in J E, M D encloses the last note she received from him before he started for the Continent.’ Then there was a scrap, which Lily well knew to be in the handwriting of John Eames, and the scrap was as follows:—‘Dearest M— punctually at 8.30. Ever and always your unalterable J E. Lily, as she read this, did not comprehend that John’s note to M D had been in itself a joke.
Lily Dale had heard of anonymous letters before, but had never received one, or even received one. Now that she had one in her hand, it seemed to her that there could be nothing more abominable than the writing of such a letter. She let it drop from her as though the receiving, and opening, and reading it had been a stain to her. As it lay on the ground at her feet, she trod upon it. Of what sort could a woman be who wrote such a letter as that? Answer it! Of course she would not answer it. It never occurred to her for a moment that it could become her to answer it. Had she been at home with her mother, she would have called her mother to her, and Mrs Dale would have taken it from the ground, and have read it, and then destroyed it. As it was, she must pick it up herself. She did so, and declared to herself that there should be an end to it. It might be right that somebody should see it, and therefore she would show it to Emily Dunstable; after that it should be destroyed.
Of course the letter could have no effect upon her. So she told herself. But it did have a very strong effect, and probably the exact effect which the writer had intended that it should have. J E was, of course, John Eames. There was no doubt about that. What a fool the writer must have been to talk of L D in the letter, when the outside cover was plainly addressed to Lily Dale! But there are some people for whom the pretended mystery of initial letters has a charm, and who love the darkness of anonymous letters. As Lily thought of this, she stamped on the letter again. Who was the M D to whom she was required to send an answer — with whom John Eames corresponded in the most affectionate terms? She had resolved not even to ask a question about M D, and yet she could not divert her mind from the inquiry. It was, at any rate, a fact that there must be some woman designated by the letters — some woman who had, at any rate, chosen to call herself M D. and John Eames had called her M. There must, at any rate, be such a woman. This female, be she who she might, had thought it worth her while to make this inquiry about John Eames, and had manifestly learned something of Lily’s own history. And the woman had pledged herself not to interfere with John Eames, if L D would only condescend to say that she was engaged to him! As Lily thought of the proposition, she trod upon the letter for the third time. Then she picked it up, and having no place of custody under lock and key ready to her hand she put it in her pocket.
At night, before she went to bed, she showed the letter to Emily Dunstable. ‘Is it not surprising that any woman could bring herself to write such a letter?’ said Lily.
But Miss Dunstable hardly saw it in the same light. ‘If anybody were to write me such a letter about Bernard,’ said she, ‘I should show to him as a good joke.’
‘That would be very different. You and Bernard, of course, understand each other.’
‘And so will you and Mr Eames — some day, I hope.’
‘Never more than we do now, dear. The thing that annoys me is that such a woman as that should have even heard my name at all.’
‘As long as people have got ears and tongues, people will hear other people’s names.’
Lily paused a moment, and then spoke again, asking another question. ‘I suppose this woman does know him? She must know him, because he has written to her.’
‘She knows something about him, no doubt, and has some reasons for wishing that you will quarrel with him. If I were you, I should take care not to gratify her. As for Mr Eames’s note, it is a joke.’
‘It is nothing to me,’ said Lily.
‘I suppose,’ continued Emily, ‘that most gentlemen become acquainted with some people that they would not wish all their friends to know that they knew. They go about so much more than we do, and meet people of all sorts.’
‘No gentleman should become intimately acquainted with a woman who could write such a letter as that,’ said Lily. And as she spoke she remembered a certain episode in John Eames’s early life, which had reached her from a source which she had not doubted, and which had given her pain and offended her. She had believed that John Eames had in that case behaved very cruelly to a young woman, and had thought that her offence had come simply from that feeling. ‘But of course it is nothing to me,’ she said. ‘Mr Eames can choose his friends as he likes. I only wish that my name might not be mentioned to them.’
‘It is not from him that she has heard it.’
‘Perhaps not. As I said before, of course, it does not signify; only there is something very disagreeable about the whole thing. The idea is so hateful! Of course this woman means me to understand that she considers herself to have a claim upon Mr Eames, and that I stand in her way.’
‘And why should you not stand in her way?’
‘I will stand in nobody’s way. Mr Eames has a right to give his hand to anyone that he pleases. I, at any rate, can have no cause of offence against him. The only thing is that I do wish that my name could be left alone.’ Lily, when she was in her own room again, did destroy the letter; but before she did so she read it again, and it became so indelibly impressed on her memory that she could not forget even the words of it. The lady who wrote had pledged herself, under certain conditions, ‘not to interfere with Miss L D.’ ‘Interfere with me!’ Lily said to herself; ‘nobody has power to do so.’ As she turned it over in her mind, her heart became hard against John Eames. No woman would have troubled herself to write such a letter without some cause for the writing. That the writer was vulgar, false, unfeminine, Lily thought that she could perceive from the letter itself; but no doubt the woman knew John Eames had some interest in the question of his marriage, and was entitled to some answer to her question — only was not entitled to such answer from Lily Dale.
For some weeks past now, up to the hour at which the anonymous letter had reached her hands, Lily’s heart had been growing soft and still softer towards John Eames; and now again it had become hardened. I think that the appearance of Adolphus Crosbie in the Park, that momentary vision of the real man by which the divinity of the imaginary Apollo had been dashed to the ground, had done a service to the cause of her other lover; of the lover who had never been a god, but who of late years had at any rate grown into the full dimension of a man. Unfortunately for the latter, he had commenced his love-making when he was but little more than a boy. Lily, as she had thought of the two together, in the days of her solitude, after she had been deserted by Crosbie, had ever pictured to herself the lover whom she had preferred as having something godlike in his favour, as being far the superior in wit, in manner, in acquirement, and in personal advantage. There had been good-nature and true hearty love on the side of the other man; but circumstances had seemed to show that his good-nature was equal to all, and that he was able to share even his hearty love among two or three. A man of such a character, known by a girl from his boyhood as John Eames had been known by Lily Dale, was likely to find more favour as a friend than as a lover. So it had been between John Eames and Lily. While the untrue memory of what Crosbie was, or ever had been, was present to her, she could hardly bring herself to accept in her mind the idea of a lover who was less noble in his manhood than the false picture which that untrue memory was ever painting for her. Then had come before her eyes the actual man; and though he had been seen but for a moment, the false image had been broken into shivers. Lily had discovered that she had been deceived, and that her forgiveness had been asked, not by a god, but by an ordinary human being. As regarded the ungodlike man himself, this could make no difference. Having thought upon the matter deeply, she had resolved that she would not marry Mr Crosbie, and had pledged herself to that effect to friends who never could have brought themselves to feel affection for him, even had she married him. But the shattering of the false image might have done John Eames a good turn. Lily knew that she had at any rate full permission from all her friends to throw in her lot with his — if she could persuade herself to do so. Mother, uncle, sister, brother-in-law, cousin — and now this new cousin’s bride that was to be — together with Lady Julia and a whole crowd of Allington and Guestwick friends, were in favour of such a marriage. There had been nothing against it but the fact that the other man had been dearer to her; and that other fact that poor Johnny lacked something — something of earnestness, something of manliness, something of that Phoebus divinity with which Crosbie had contrived to invest his own image. But, as I have said above, John had gradually grown, if not into divinity, at least into manliness; and the shattering of the false image had done him yeoman’s service. Now had come this accursed letter, and Lily, despite herself, despite her better judgment, could not sweep it away from her mind and make the letter as nothing to her. M D had promised not to interfere with her! There was no room for such interference, no possibility that such interference should take place. She hoped earnestly — so she told herself — that her old friend John Eames might have nothing to do with a woman so impudent and vulgar as must be this M D; but except as regarded old friendship, M D and John Eames, apart or together, could be as nothing to her. Therefore, I say that the letter had had the effect which the writer of it had desired.
All London was new to Lily Dale, and Mrs Thorne was very anxious to show her everything that could be seen. She was to return to Allington before the flowers of May would have come, and the crowd and the glare and the fashion and the art of the Academy’s great exhibition must therefore remain unknown to her; but she was taken to see many pictures, and among others she was taken to see the pictures belonging to a certain nobleman who, with that munificence which is so amply enjoyed and so little recognised in England, keeps open house for the world to see the treasures which the wealth of his family had collected. The necessary order was procured, and on a certain brilliant April afternoon, Mrs Thorne and her party found themselves in this nobleman’s drawing-room. Lily was with her, of course, and Emily Dunstable was there, and Bernard Dale, and Mrs Thorne’s dear friend Mrs Harold Smith, and Mrs Thorne’s constant and useful attendant, Siph Dunn. They had nearly completed their delightful but wearying task of gazing at pictures, and Mrs Harold Smith had declared that she would not look at another painting till the exhibition was open; three of the ladies were seated in the drawing-room, and Siph Dunn was standing before them, lecturing about art as though he had been brought up on the ancient masters; Emily and Bernard were lingering behind, and the others were simply delaying their departure till the truant lovers should have caught them. At this moment two gentlemen entered the room from the gallery, and the two gentlemen were Fowler Pratt and Adolphus Crosbie.
All the party except Mrs Thorne knew Crosbie personally, and all of them except Mrs Harold Smith knew something of the story of what had occurred between Crosbie and Lily. Siph Dunn had learned it all since the meeting in the park, having nearly learned it all from what he had seen with there with his eyes. But Mrs Thorne, who knew Lily’s story, did not know Crosbie’s appearance. But there was his friend Fowler Pratt, who, as will be remembered, had dined with her but the other day; and she, with that outspoken and somewhat loud impulse which was natural to her, addressed him at once across the room, calling him by name. Had she not done so, the two men might probably have escaped through the room, in which case they would have met Bernard Dale and Emily Dunstable in the doorway. Fowler Pratt would have endeavoured so to escape, and to carry Crosbie with him, as he was quite alive to the experience of saving Lily from such a meeting. But, as things turned out, escape from Mrs Thorne was impossible.
‘There’s Fowler Pratt,’ she had said when they first entered, quite loud enough for Fowler Pratt to hear her. ‘Mr Pratt, come here. How d’ye do? You dined with me last Tuesday, and you’ve never been to call.’
‘I never recognise that obligation till after the middle of May,’ said Mr Pratt, shaking hands with Mrs Thorne and Mrs Smith, and bowing to Miss Dale.
‘I don’t see the justice of that at all,’ said Mrs Thorne. ‘It seems to me that a good dinner is much entitled to a morsel of pasteboard in April as at any other time. You won’t have another till you have called — unless you’re specially wanted.’
Crosbie would have gone on, but that in his attempt to do so he passed close by the chair on which Mrs Harold Smith was sitting, and that he was accosted by her. ‘Mr Crosbie,’ she said, ‘I haven’t seen you for an age. Has it come to pass that you have buried yourself entirely?’ He did not know how to extricate himself so as to move on at once. He paused, and hesitated, and then stopped, and made an attempt to talk to Mrs Smith as though he were at his ease. The attempt was anything but successful; but having once stopped, he did not know how to put himself in motion again, so that he might escape. At this moment Bernard Dale and Emily Dunstable came up and joined the group; but neither of them had discovered who Crosbie was till they were close upon him.
Lily was seated between Mrs Thorne and Mrs Smith, and Siph Dunn had been standing immediately opposite to them. Fowler Pratt, who had been drawn into the circle against his will, was now standing close to Dunn, almost between him and Lily — and Crosbie was standing within two yards of Lily, on the other side of Dunn. Emily and Bernard had gone behind Pratt and Crosbie to Mrs Thorne’s side before they had recognised the two men; — and in this way Lily was completely surrounded. Mrs Thorne, who in spite of her eager, impetuous ways, was as thoughtful of others as any woman could be, as soon as she heard Crosbie’s name understood it all, and knew that it would be well that she should withdraw Lily from her plight. Crosbie, in his attempt to talk to Mrs Smith, had smiled and simpered, and had then felt that to smile and simper before Lily Dale, with a pretended indifference to her presence, was false on his part, and would seem to be mean. He would have avoided Lily for both their sakes, had it been possible; but it was no longer possible, and he could not keep his eyes from her face. Hardly knowing what he did, he bowed to her, lifted his hat, and uttered some word of greeting.
Lily, from the moment that she had perceived his presence, had looked straight before her, with something of fierceness in her eyes. Both Pratt and Siph Dunn had observed her narrowly. It had seemed as though Crosbie had been altogether outside the ken of her eyes, or the notice of her ears, and yet she had seen every motion of his body, and had heard every word which had fallen from his lips. Now, when he saluted her, she turned her face full upon him, and bowed to him. Then she rose from her seat, and made her way, between Siph Dunn and Pratt, out of the circle. The blood had mounted to her face and suffused it all, and her whole manner was such that it could escape the observation of none who stood there. Even Mrs Harold Smith had seen it, and had read the story. As soon as she was on her feet, Bernard had dropped Emily’s hand, and offered his arm to his cousin. ‘Lily,’ he had said out loud, ‘you had better let me take you away. It is a misfortune that you have been subjected to the insult of such a greeting.’ Bernard and Crosbie had been early friends, and Bernard had been the unfortunate means of bringing Crosbie and Lily together. Up to this day, Bernard had never had his revenge for the ill-treatment which his cousin had received. Some morsel of that revenge came to him now. Lily almost hated her cousin for what he said; but she took his arm, and walked with him from the room. It must be acknowledged in excuse for Bernard Dale, and as an apology for the apparent indiscretion of his words, that all the circumstances of the meeting had become apparent to everyone there. The misfortune of the encounter had become too plain to admit of its being hidden under any of the ordinary veils of society. Crosbie’s salutation had been made before the eyes of them all, and in the midst of absolute silence, and Lily had risen with so queen-like a demeanour, and had moved with so stately a step, that it was impossible that anyone concerned should pretend to ignore the facts of the scene that had occurred. Crosbie was still standing close to Mrs Harold Smith, Mrs Thorne had risen from her seat, and the words which Bernard Dale had uttered were still sounding in the ears of them all. ‘Shall I see after the carriage?’ said Siph Dunn. ‘Do,’ said Mrs Thorne; ‘or, stay a moment; the carriage will of course be there, and we will go together. Good-morning, Mr Pratt. I expect that, at any rate, you will send me your card by post.’ Then they all passed on, and Crosbie and Fowler Pratt were left among the pictures.
‘I think you will agree with me now that you had better give her up,’ said Fowler Pratt.
‘I will never give her up,’ said Crosbie, ‘till I hear that she has married someone else.’
‘You may take my word for it, that she will never marry you after what has just occurred.’
‘Very likely not; but still the attempt, even the idea of the attempt will be a comfort to me. I shall be endeavouring to do that which I ought to have done.’
‘What you have got to think of, I should suppose, is her comfort — not your own.’
Crosbie stood for a while silent, looking at a portrait which was hung just within the doorway of a smaller room into which they had passed, as though his attention were entirely rivetted by the picture. But he was thinking of the picture not at all, and did not even know what kind of painting was on the canvas before him.
‘Pratt,’ he said at last, ‘you are always hard to me.’
‘I will say nothing more to you on the subject, if you wish me to be silent.’
‘I do wish you to be silent about that.’
‘That shall be enough,’ said Pratt.
‘You do not quite understand me. You do not know how thoroughly I have repented of the evil that I have done, or how far I would go to make retribution, if retribution were possible.’
Fowler Pratt having been told to hold his tongue as regarded that subject, made no reply to this, and began to talk about the pictures.
Lily, leaning on her cousin’s arm, was out in the courtyard in front of the house before Mrs Thorne and Siph Dunn. It was but for a minute, but still there was a minute in which Bernard felt that he ought to say a word to her.
‘I hope you are not angry with me, Lily, for having spoken.’
‘I wish, of course, that you had not spoken; but I am not angry. I have no right to be angry. I made the misfortune for myself. Do not say anything more about it, dear Bernard; — that is all.’
They had walked to the picture-gallery; but, by agreement, two carriages had come to take them away — Mrs Thorne’s and Mrs Harold Smith’s. Mrs Thorne easily managed to send Emily Dunstable and Bernard away with her friend, and to tell Siph Dunn that he must manage for himself. In this way it was contrived that no one but Mrs Thorne should be with Lily Dale.
‘My dear,’ said Mrs Thorne, ‘it seemed to me that you were a little put out, and so I thought it best to send them all away.’
‘It was very kind.’
‘He ought to have passed on and not to have stood an instant when he saw you,’ said Mrs Thorne, with indignation. ‘There are moments when it is a man’s duty simply to vanish, to melt into the air, or to sink into the ground — in which he is bound to overcome the difficulties of such sudden self-removal, or must ever after be accounted poor and mean.’
‘I did not want him to vanish; — if only he had not spoken to me.’
‘He should have vanished. A man is sometimes bound in honour to do so, even when he himself has done nothing wrong; — when the sin has been all with the woman. Her femininity has still a right to expect that so much shall be done in its behalf. But when the sin has been all his own, as it was in this case — and such damning sin too —’
‘Pray do not go on, Mrs Thorne.’
‘He ought to go out and hang himself simply for having allowed himself to be seen. I thought Bernard behaved very well, and I shall tell him so.’
‘I wish you could manage to forget it all, and say no word more about it.’
‘I won’t trouble you with it, my dear; I will promise you that. But, Lily, I can hardly understand you. This man who must have been and must ever be a brute —’
‘Mrs Thorne, you promised me this instant that you would not talk of him.’
‘After this I will not; but you must let me have my way now for one moment. I have so often longed to speak to you, but have not done so from fear of offending you. Now the matter has come up by chance, and it was impossible that what has occurred should pass by without a word. I cannot conceive why the memory of that bad man should be allowed to destroy your whole life.’
‘My life is not destroyed. My life is anything but destroyed. It is a very happy life.’
‘But, my dear, if all that I hear is true, there is a most estimable young man whom everybody likes, and particularly all your own family, and whom you like very much yourself; and you will have nothing to say to him, though his constancy is like the constancy of an old Paladin — and all because of this wretch who just now came in your way.’
‘Mrs Thorne, it is impossible to explain it all.’
‘I do not want you to explain it all. Of course I would not ask any young woman to marry any man whom she did not love. Such marriages are abominable to me. But I think that a young woman ought to get married if the thing fairly comes in her way, and if her friends approve, and if she is fond of the man who is fond of her. It may be that some memory of what has gone before is allowed to stand in your way, and that it should not be so allowed. It sometimes happens that a horrid morbid sentiment will destroy a life. Excuse me, then, Lily, if I say too much to you in my hope that you may not suffer after this fashion.’
‘I know how kind you are, Mrs Thorne.’
‘Here we are at home, and perhaps you would like to go in. I have some calls which I must make.’ Then the conversation was ended, and Lily was alone.
As if she had not thought of it all before! As if here was anything new in this counsel which Mrs Thorne had given her! She had received the same advice from her mother, from her sister, from her uncle, and from Lady Julia, till she was sick of it. How had it come to pass that matters which with others are so private, should with her have become the public property of so large a circle? Any other girl would receive advice on such a subject from her mother alone, and there the secret would rest. But her secret had been published, as it were, by the town-crier in the High Street! Everybody knew that she had been jilted by Adolphus Crosbie, and that it was intended that she should be consoled by John Eames. And people seemed to think that they had a right to rebuke her if she expressed an unwillingness to carry out this intention which the public had so kindly arranged for her.
Morbid sentiment! Why should she be accused of morbid sentiment because she was unable to transfer her affections to a man who had been fixed on as her future husband by the large circle of acquaintances who had interested themselves in her affairs? There was nothing morbid in either her desires or her regrets. So she assured herself, with something very like anger at the accusation made against her. She had been contented, and was contented, to live at home as her mother had lived, asking for no excitement beyond that given by the daily routine of her duties. There could be nothing morbid in that. She would go back to Allington as soon as might be, and have done with this London life, which only made her wretched. This seeing of Crosbie had been terrible to her. She did not tell herself that his image had been shattered. Her idea was that all her misery had come from the untowardness of the meeting. But there was the fact that she had seen the man and heard his voice, and that the seeing him and hearing him had made her miserable. She certainly desired that it might never be her lot either to see him or to hear him again.
And as for John Eames — in those bitter moments of her reflection she almost wished the same in regard to him. If he would only cease to be her lover, he might be very well; but he was not very well to her as long as his pretensions were dinned into her ear by everybody who knew her. And then she told herself that John would have a better chance if he had been content to plead for himself. In this, I think, she was hard upon her lover. He had pleaded for himself as well as he knew how, and as often as the occasion had been given to him. It had hardly been his fault that his case had been taken in hand by other advocates. He had given no commission to Mrs Thorne to plead for him.
Poor Johnny. He had stood in much better favour before that lady had presented her compliments to Miss L D. It was that odious letter, and the thoughts which it had forced upon Lily’s mind, which were now most inimical to his interests. Whether Lily loved him or not, she did not love him well enough to be jealous of him. Had nay such letter reached her respecting Crosbie in the happy days of her young love, she would have simply have laughed at it. It would have been nothing to her. But now she was sore and unhappy, and any trifle was powerful enough to irritate her. ‘Is Miss L D engaged to marry Mr J E?’ ‘No,’ said Lily, out loud. ‘Lily Dale is not engaged to marry John Eames, and never will be so engaged.’ She was almost tempted to sit down and write the required answer to Miss M D. Though the letter had been destroyed, she well remembered the number of the post-office in the Edgware Road. Poor John Eames.
That evening she told Emily Dunstable that she thought she would like to return to Allington before the day that had been appointed for her. ‘But why,’ said Emily, ‘should you be worse than your word?’
‘I daresay it will seem silly, but the fact is I am homesick. I’m not accustomed to be away from mama for so long.’
‘I hope it is not what occurred today at the picture-gallery.’
‘I won’t deny that it is that in part.’
‘That was a strange accident, you know, that might never occur again.’
‘It has occurred twice already, Emily.’
‘I don’t call the affair in the park anything. Anybody may see anybody else in the Park, of course. He was not brought near you that he could annoy you there. You ought certainly to wait till Mr Eames has come back from Italy.’
Then Lily decided that she must and would go back to Allington on the next Monday, and she actually did write a letter to her mother that night to say that such was her intention. But on the morrow her heart was less sore, and the letter was not sent.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14