The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER LX.


Illustration here was to be one more sitting for the picture, as the reader will remember, and the day for that sitting had arrived. Conway Dalrymple had in the meantime called at Mrs. Van Siever’s house, hoping that he might be able to see Clara, and make his offer to her there. But he had failed in his attempt to reach her. He had found it impossible to say all that he had to say in the painting-room, during the very short intervals which Mrs. Broughton left to him. A man should be allowed to be alone more than fifteen minutes with a young lady on the occasion in which he offers to her his hand and his heart; but hitherto he had never had more than fifteen minutes at his command; and then there had been the turban! He had also in the meantime called on Mrs. Broughton, with the intention of explaining to her that if she really intended to favour his views in respect to Miss Van Siever, she ought to give him a little more liberty for expressing himself. On this occasion he had seen his friend, but had not been able to go as minutely as he had wished into the matter that was so important to himself. Mrs. Broughton had found it necessary during this meeting to talk almost exclusively about herself and her own affairs. “Conway,” she had said, directly she saw him, “I am so glad you have come. I think I should have gone mad if I had not seen some one who cares for me.” This was early in the morning, not much after eleven, and Mrs. Broughton, hearing first his knock at the door, and then his voice, had met him in the hall and taken him into the dining-room.

“Is anything the matter?” he asked.

“Oh, Conway!”

“What is it? Has anything gone wrong with Dobbs?”

“Everything has gone wrong with him. He is ruined.”

“Heaven and earth! What do you mean?”

“Simply what I say. But you must not speak a word of it. I do not know it from himself.”

“How do you know it?”

“Wait a moment. Sit down there, will you?—and I will sit by you. No, Conway; do not take my hand. It is not right. There;—so. Yesterday Mrs. Van Siever was here. I need not tell you all that she said to me, even if I could. She was very harsh and cruel, saying all manner of things about Dobbs. How can I help it, if he drinks? I have not encouraged him. And as for expensive living, I have been as ignorant as a child. I have never asked for anything. When we were married somebody told me how much we should have to spend. It was either two thousand, or three thousand, or four thousand, or something like that. You know, Conway, how ignorant I am about money;—that I am like a child. Is it not true?” She waited for an answer and Dalrymple was obliged to acknowledge that it was true. And yet he had known the times in which his dear friend had been very sharp in her memory with reference to a few pounds. “And now she says that Dobbs owes her money which he cannot pay her, and that everything must be sold. She says that Musselboro must have the business, and that Dobbs must shift for himself elsewhere.”

“Do you believe that she has the power to decide that things shall go this way or that,—as she pleases?”

“How am I to know? She says so, and she says it is because he drinks. He does drink. That at least is true; but how can I help it? Oh, Conway, what am I to do? Dobbs did not come home at all last night, but sent for his things,—saying that he must stay in the City. What am I to do if they come and take the house, and sell the furniture, and turn me out into the street?” Then the poor creature began to cry in earnest, and Dalrymple had to console her as best he might. “How I wish I had known you first,” she said. To this Dalrymple was able to make no direct answer. He was wise enough to know that a direct answer might possibly lead him into terrible trouble. He was by no means anxious to find himself “protecting” Mrs. Dobbs Broughton from the ruin which her husband had brought upon her.

Before he left her she had told him a long story, partly of matters of which he had known something before, and partly made up of that which she had heard from the old woman. It was settled, Mrs. Broughton said, that Mr. Musselboro was to marry Clara Van Siever. But it appeared, as far as Dalrymple could learn, that this was a settlement made simply between Mrs. Van Siever and Musselboro. Clara, as he thought, was not a girl likely to fall into such a settlement without having an opinion of her own. Musselboro was to have the business, and Dobbs Broughton was to be “sold up,” and then look for employment in the City. From her husband the wife had not heard a word on this matter, and the above story was simply what had been told to Mrs. Broughton by Mrs. Van Siever. “For myself it seems that there can be but one fate,” said Mrs. Broughton. Dalrymple, in his tenderest voice, asked what that one fate must be. “Never mind,” said Mrs. Broughton. “There are some things which one cannot tell even to such a friend as you.” He was sitting near her and had all but got his arm behind her waist. He was, however, able to be prudent. “Maria,” he said, getting up on his feet, “if it should really come about that you should want anything, you will send to me. You will promise me that, at any rate?” She rubbed a tear from her eye and said that she did not know. “There are moments in which a man must speak plainly,” said Conway Dalrymple;—”in which it would be unmanly not to do so, however prosaic it may seem. I need hardly tell you that my purse shall be yours if you want it.” But just at that moment she did not want his purse, nor must it be supposed that she wanted to run away with him and to leave her husband to fight the battle alone with Mrs. Van Siever. The truth was that she did not know what she wanted, over and beyond an assurance from Conway Dalrymple that she was the most ill-used, the most interesting, and the most beautiful woman ever heard of, either in history or romance. Had he proposed to her to pack up a bundle and go off with him in a cab to the London, Chatham, and Dover railway station, en route for Boulogne, I do not for a moment think that she would have packed up her bundle. She would have received intense gratification from the offer,—so much so that she would have been almost consoled for her husband’s ruin; but she would have scolded her lover, and would have explained to him the great iniquity of which he was guilty.

It was clear to him that at this present time he could not make any special terms with her as to Clara Van Siever. At such a moment as this he could hardly ask her to keep out of the way, in order that he might have his opportunity. But when he suggested that probably it might be better, in the present emergency, to give up the idea of any further sitting in her room, and proposed to send for his canvas, colour-box, and easel, she told him that, as far as she was concerned, he was welcome to have that one other sitting for which they had all bargained. “You had better come to-morrow, as we had agreed,” she said; “and unless I shall have been turned out into the street by the creditors, you may have the room as you did before. And you must remember, Conway, that though Mrs. Van says that Musselboro is to have Clara, it doesn’t follow that Clara should give way.” When we consider everything, we must acknowledge that this was, at any rate, good-natured. Then there was a tender parting, with many tears, and Conway Dalrymple escaped from the house.

He did not for a moment doubt the truth of the story which Mrs. Broughton had told, as far, at least, as it referred to the ruin of Dobbs Broughton. He had heard something of this before, and for some weeks had expected that a crash was coming. Broughton’s rise had been very sudden, and Dalrymple had never regarded his friend as firmly placed in the commercial world. Dobbs was one of those men who seem born to surprise the world by a spurt of prosperity, and might, perhaps, have had a second spurt, or even a third, could he have kept himself from drinking in the morning. But Dalrymple, though he was hardly astonished by the story, as it regarded Broughton, was put out by that part of it which had reference to Musselboro. He had known that Musselboro had been introduced to Broughton by Mrs. Van Siever, but, nevertheless, he had regarded the man as being no more than Broughton’s clerk. And now he was told that Musselboro was to marry Clara Van Siever, and have all Mrs. Van Siever’s money. He resolved, at last, that he would run his risk about the money, and take Clara either with or without it, if she would have him. And as for that difficulty in asking her, if Mrs. Broughton would give him no opportunity of putting the question behind her back, he would put it before her face. He had not much leisure for consideration on these points, as the next day was the day for the last sitting.

On the following morning he found Miss Van Siever already seated in Mrs. Broughton’s room when he reached it. And at the moment Mrs. Broughton was not there. As he took Clara’s hand, he could not prevent himself from asking her whether she had heard anything? “Heard what?” said Clara. “Then you have not,” said he. “Never mind now, as Mrs. Broughton is here.” Then Mrs. Broughton had entered the room. She seemed to be quite cheerful, but Dalrymple perfectly understood, from a special glance which she gave to him, that he was to perceive that her cheerfulness was assumed for Clara’s benefit. Mrs. Broughton was showing how great a heroine she could be on behalf of her friends. “Now, my dear,” she said, “do remember that this is the last day. It may be all very well, Conway, and, of course, you know best; but as far as I can see, you have not made half as much progress as you ought to have done.” “We shall do excellently well,” said Dalrymple. “So much the better,” said Mrs. Broughton; “and now, Clara, I’ll place you.” And so Clara was placed on her knees, with the turban on her head.

Dalrymple began his work assiduously, knowing that Mrs. Broughton would not leave the room for some minutes. It was certain that she would remain for a quarter of an hour, and it might be as well that he should really use that time on his picture. The peculiar position in which he was placed probably made his work difficult to him. There was something perplexing in the necessity which bound him to look upon the young lady before him both as Jael and as the future Mrs. Conway Dalrymple, knowing as he did that she was at present simply Clara Van Siever. A double personification was not difficult to him. He had encountered it with every model that had sat to him, and with every young lady he had attempted to win,—if he had ever made such an attempt with one before. But the triple character, joined to the necessity of the double work, was distressing to him. “The hand a little further back, if you don’t mind,” he said, “and the wrist more turned towards me. That is just it. Lean a little more over him. There—that will do exactly.” If Mrs. Broughton did not go very quickly, he must begin to address his model on a totally different subject, even while she was in the act of slaying Sisera.

“Have you made up your mind who is to be Sisera?” asked Mrs. Broughton.

“I think I shall put in my own face,” said Dalrymple; “if Miss Van Siever does not object.”

“Not in the least,” said Clara, speaking without moving her face—almost without moving her lips.

“That will be excellent,” said Mrs. Broughton. She was still quite cheerful, and really laughed as she spoke. “Shall you like the idea, Clara, of striking the nail right through his head?”

“Oh, yes; as well his head as another’s. I shall seem to be having my revenge for all the trouble he has given me.”

There was a slight pause, and then Dalrymple spoke. “You have had that already, in striking me right through the heart.”

“What a very pretty speech! Was it not, my dear?” said Mrs. Broughton. And then Mrs. Broughton laughed. There was something slightly hysterical in her laugh which grated on Dalrymple’s ears,—something which seemed to tell him that at the present moment his dear friend was not going to assist him honestly in his effort.

“Only that I should put him out, I would get up and make a curtsey,” said Clara. No young lady could ever talk of making a curtsey for such a speech if she supposed it to have been made in earnestness. And Clara, no doubt, understood that a man might make a hundred such speeches in the presence of a third person without any danger that they would be taken as meaning anything. All this Dalrymple knew, and began to think that he had better put down his palette and brush, and do the work which he had before him in the most prosaic language that he could use. He could, at any rate, succeed in making Clara acknowledge his intention in this way. He waited still for a minute or two, and it seemed to him that Mrs. Broughton had no intention of piling her fagots on the present occasion. It might be that the remembrance of her husband’s ruin prevented her from sacrificing herself in the other direction also.

“I am not very good at pretty speeches, but I am good at telling the truth,” said Dalrymple.

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Mrs. Broughton, still with a touch of hysterical action in her throat. “Upon my word, Conway, you know how to praise yourself.”

“He dispraises himself most unnecessarily in denying the prettiness of his language,” said Clara. As she spoke she hardly moved her lips, and Dalrymple went on painting from the model. It was clear that Miss Van Siever understood that the painting, and not the pretty speeches, was the important business on hand.

Mrs. Broughton had now tucked her feet up on the sofa, and was gazing at the artist as he stood at his work. Dalrymple, remembering how he had offered her his purse,—an offer which, in the existing crisis of her affairs, might mean a great deal,—felt that she was ill-natured. Had she intended to do him a good turn, she would have gone now; but there she lay, with her feet tucked up, clearly purposing to be present through the whole of that morning’s sitting. His anger against her added something to his spirit, and made him determine that he would carry out his purpose. Suddenly, therefore, he prepared himself for action.

He was in the habit of working with a Turkish cap on his head, and with a short apron tied round him. There was something picturesque about the cap, which might not have been incongruous with love-making. It is easy to suppose that Juan wore a Turkish cap when he sat with Haidee in Lambro’s island. But we may be quite sure that he did not wear an apron. Now Dalrymple had thought of all this, and had made up his mind to work to-day without his apron; but when arranging his easel and his brushes, he had put it on from force of habit, and was now disgusted with himself as he remembered it. He put down his brush, divested his thumb of his palette, then took off his cap, and after that untied the apron.

“Conway, what are you going to do?” said Mrs. Broughton.

“I am going to ask Clara Van Siever to be my wife,” said Dalrymple. At that moment the door was opened, and Mrs. Van Siever entered the room.

Clara had not risen from her kneeling posture when Dalrymple began to put off his trappings. She had not seen what he was doing as plainly as Mrs. Broughton had done, having her attention naturally drawn towards her Sisera; and, besides this, she understood that she was to remain as she was placed till orders to move were given to her. Dalrymple would occasionally step aside from his easel to look at her in some altered light, and on such occasions she would simply hold her hammer somewhat more tightly than before. When, therefore, Mrs. Van Siever entered the room Clara was still slaying Sisera, in spite of the artist’s speech. The speech, indeed, and her mother both seemed to come to her at the same time. The old woman stood for a moment holding the open door in her hand. “You fool!” she said, “what are you doing there, dressed up in that way like a guy?” Then Clara got up from her feet and stood before her mother in Jael’s dress and Jael’s turban. Dalrymple thought that the dress and turban did not become her badly. Mrs. Van Siever apparently thought otherwise. “Will you have the goodness to tell me, miss, why you are dressed up after that Mad Bess of Bedlam fashion?”

The reader will no doubt bear in mind that Clara had other words of which to think besides those which were addressed to her by her mother. Dalrymple had asked her to be his wife in the plainest possible language, and she thought that the very plainness of the language became him well. The very taking off of his apron, almost as he said the words, though to himself the action had been so distressing as almost to overcome his purpose, had in it something to her of direct simple determination which pleased her. When he had spoken of having had a nail driven by her right through his heart, she had not been in the least gratified; but the taking off of the apron, and the putting down of the palette, and the downright way in which he had called her Clara Van Siever,—attempting to be neither sentimental with Clara, nor polite with Miss Van Siever,—did please her. She had often said to herself that she would never give a plain answer to a man who did not ask her a plain question;—to a man who, in asking this question, did not say plainly to her, “Clara Van Siever, will you become Mrs. Jones?”—or Mrs. Smith, or Mrs. Tomkins, as the case might be. Now Conway Dalrymple had asked her to become Mrs. Dalrymple very much after this fashion. In spite of the apparition of her mother, all this had passed through her mind. Not the less, however, was she obliged to answer her mother, before she could give any reply to the other questioner. In the meantime Mrs. Dobbs Broughton had untucked her feet.

“Mamma,” said Clara, “who ever expected to see you here?”

“I daresay nobody did,” said Mrs. Van Siever; “but here I am, nevertheless.”

“Madam,” said Mrs. Dobbs Broughton, “you might at any rate have gone through the ceremony of having yourself announced by the servant.”

“Madam,” said the old woman, attempting to mimic the tone of the other, “I thought that on such a very particular occasion as this I might be allowed to announce myself. You tomfool, you, why don’t you take that turban off?” Then Clara, with slow and graceful motion, unwound the turban. If Dalrymple really meant what he had said, and would stick to it, she need not mind being called a tomfool by her mother.

“Conway, I am afraid that our last sitting is disturbed,” said Mrs. Broughton, with her little laugh.

“Conway’s last sitting certainly is disturbed,” said Mrs. Van Siever, and then she mimicked the laugh. “And you’ll all be disturbed,—I can tell you that. What an ass you must be to go on with this kind of thing, after what I said to you yesterday! Do you know that he got beastly drunk in the City last night, and that he is drunk now, while you are going on with your tomfooleries?” Upon hearing this, Mrs. Dobbs Broughton fainted into Dalrymple’s arms.

Hitherto the artist had not said a word, and had hardly known what part it would best become him now to play. If he intended to marry Clara,—and he certainly did intend to marry her if she would have him,—it might be as well not to quarrel with Mrs. Van Siever. At any rate there was nothing in Mrs. Van Siever’s intrusion, disagreeable as it was, which need make him take up his sword to do battle with her. But now, as he held Mrs. Broughton in his arms, and as the horrid words which the old woman had spoken rung in his ears, he could not refrain himself from uttering reproach. “You ought not to have told her in this way, before other people, even if it be true,” said Conway.

“Leave me to be my own judge of what I ought to do, if you please, sir. If she had any feeling at all, what I told her yesterday would have kept her from all this. But some people have no feeling, and will go on being tomfools though the house is on fire.” As these words were spoken, Mrs. Broughton fainted more persistently than ever,—so that Dalrymple was convinced that whether she felt or not, at any rate she heard. He had now dragged her across the room, and laid her upon the sofa, and Clara had come to her assistance. “I daresay you think me very hard because I speak plainly, but there are things much harder than plain speaking. How much do you expect to be paid, sir, for this picture of my girl?”

“I do not expect to be paid for it at all,” said Dalrymple.

“And who is it to belong to?”

“It belongs to me at present.”

“Then, sir, it mustn’t belong to you any longer. It won’t do for you to have a picture of my girl to hang up in your painting-room for all your friends to come and make their jokes about, nor yet to make a show of it in any of your exhibitions. My daughter has been a fool, and I can’t help it. If you’ll tell me what’s the cost, I’ll pay you; then I’ll have the picture home, and I’ll treat it as it deserves.”

Dalrymple thought for a moment about his picture and about Mrs. Van Siever. What had he better do? He wanted to behave well, and he felt that the old woman had something of justice on her side. “Madam,” he said, “I will not sell this picture; but it shall be destroyed, if you wish it.”

“I certainly do wish it, but I won’t trust to you. If it’s not sent to my house at once you’ll hear from me through my lawyers.”

Then Dalrymple deliberately opened his penknife and slit the canvas across, through the middle of the picture each way. Clara, as she saw him do it, felt that in truth she loved him. “There, Mrs. Van Siever,” he said; “now you can take the bits home with you in your basket if you wish it.” At this moment, as the rent canvas fell and fluttered upon the stretcher, there came a loud voice of lamentation from the sofa, a groan of despair and a shriek of wrath. “Very fine indeed,” said Mrs. Van Siever. “When ladies faint they always ought to have their eyes about them. I see that Mrs. Broughton understands that.”

“Take her away, Conway—for God’s sake take her away,” said Mrs. Broughton.

“I shall take myself away very shortly,” said Mrs. Van Siever, “so you needn’t trouble Mr. Conway about that. Not but what I thought the gentleman’s name was Mr. something else.”

“My name is Conway Dalrymple,” said the artist.

“Then I suppose you must be her brother, or her cousin, or something of that sort?” said Mrs. Van Siever.

“Take her away,” screamed Mrs. Dobbs Broughton.

“Wait a moment, madam. As you’ve chopped up your handiwork there, Mr. Conway Dalrymple, and as I suppose my daughter has been more to blame than anybody else—”

“She has not been to blame at all,” said Dalrymple.

“That’s my affair, and not yours,” said Mrs. Van Siever, very sharply. “But as you’ve been at all this trouble, and have now chopped it up, I don’t mind paying you for your time and paints; only I shall be glad to know how much it will come to?”

“There will be nothing to pay, Mrs. Van Siever.”

“How long has he been at it, Clara?”

“Mamma, indeed you had better not say anything about paying him.”

“I shall say whatever I please, miss. Will ten pounds do it, sir?”

“If you choose to buy the picture, the price will be seven hundred and fifty,” said Dalrymple, with a smile, pointing to the fragments.

“Seven hundred and fifty pounds?” said the old woman.

“But I strongly advise you not to make the purchase,” said Dalrymple.

“Seven hundred and fifty pounds! I certainly shall not give you seven hundred and fifty pounds, sir.”

“I certainly think you could invest your money better, Mrs. Van Siever. But if the thing is to be sold at all, that is my price. I’ve thought that there was some justice in your demand that it should be destroyed,—and therefore I have destroyed it.”

Mrs. Van Siever had been standing on the same spot ever since she had entered the room, and now she turned round to leave the room.

“If you have any demand to make, I beg that you will send in your account for work done to Mr. Musselboro. He is my man of business. Clara, are you ready to come home? The cab is waiting at the door,—at sixpence the quarter of an hour, if you will be pleased to remember.”

“Mrs. Broughton,” said Clara, thoughtful of her raiment, and remembering that it might not be well that she should return home, even in a cab, dressed as Jael; “if you will allow me, I will go into your room for a minute or two.”

“Certainly, Clara,” said Mrs. Broughton, preparing to accompany her.

“But before you go, Mrs. Broughton,” said Mrs. Van Siever, “it may be as well that I should tell you that my daughter is going to become the wife of Mr. Musselboro. It may simplify matters that you should know this.” And Mrs. Van Siever, as she spoke, looked hard at Conway Dalrymple.

“Mamma!” exclaimed Clara.

“My dear,” said Mrs. Van Siever, “you had better change your dress and come away with me.”

“Not till I have protested against what you have said, mamma.”

“You had better leave your protesting alone, I can tell you.”

“Mrs. Broughton,” continued Clara, “I must beg you to understand that mamma has not the slightest right in the world to tell you what she just now said about me. Nothing on earth would induce me to become the wife of Mr. Broughton’s partner.”

There was something which made Clara unwilling even to name the man whom her mother had publicly proposed as her future husband.

“He isn’t Mr. Broughton’s partner,” said Mrs. Van Siever. “Mr. Broughton has not got a partner. Mr. Musselboro is the head of the firm. And as to your marrying him, of course, I can’t make you.”

“No, mamma; you cannot.”

“Mrs. Broughton understands that, no doubt;—and so, probably, does Mr. Dalrymple. I only tell them what are my ideas. If you choose to marry the sweep at the crossing, I can’t help it. Only I don’t see what good you would do the sweep, when he would have to sweep for himself and you too. At any rate, I suppose you mean to go home with me now?” Then Mrs. Broughton and Clara left the room, and Mrs. Van Siever was left with Conway Dalrymple. “Mr. Dalrymple,” said Mrs. Van Siever, “do not deceive yourself. What I told you just now will certainly come to pass.”

“It seems to me that that must depend on the young lady,” said Dalrymple.

“I’ll tell you what certainly will not depend on the young lady,” said Mrs. Van Siever, “and that is whether the man who marries her will have more with her than the clothes she stands up in. You will understand that argument, I suppose?”

“I’m not quite sure that I do,” said Dalrymple.

“Then you’d better try to understand it. Good-morning, sir. I’m sorry you’ve had to slit your picture.” Then she curtseyed low, and walked out on to the landing-place. “Clara,” she cried, “I’m waiting for you—sixpence a quarter of an hour,—remember that.” In a minute or two Clara came out to her, and then Mrs. Van Siever and Miss Van Siever took their departure.

“Oh, Conway, what am I to do? what am I to do?” said Mrs. Dobbs Broughton. Dalrymple stood perplexed for a few minutes, and could not tell her what she was to do. She was in such a position that it was very hard to tell her what to do. “Do you believe, Conway, that he is really ruined?”

“What am I to say? How am I to know?”

“I see that you believe it,” said the wretched woman.

“I cannot but believe that there is something of truth in what this woman says. Why else should she come here with such a story?” Then there was a pause, during which Mrs. Broughton was burying her face on the arm of the sofa. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” continued he. “I’ll go into the City, and make inquiry. It can hardly be but what I shall learn the truth there.”

Then there was another pause, at the end of which Mrs. Broughton got up from the sofa.

“Tell me,” said she;—”what do you mean to do about that girl?”

“You heard me ask her to be my wife?”

“I did. I did!”

“Is it not what you intended?”

“Do not ask me. My mind is bewildered. My brain is on fire! Oh, Conway!”

“Shall I go into the City as I proposed?” said Dalrymple, who felt that he might at any rate improve the position of circumstances by leaving the house.

“Yes;—yes; go into the City! Go anywhere. Go. But stay! Oh, Conway!” There was a sudden change in her voice as she spoke. “Hark,—there he is, as sure as life.” Then Conway listened, and heard a footstep on the stairs, as to which he had then but little doubt that it was the footstep of Dobbs Broughton. “O heavens! he is tipsy!” exclaimed Mrs. Broughton; “and what shall we do?” Then Dalrymple took her hand and pressed it, and left the room, so that he might meet the husband on the stairs. In the one moment that he had for reflection he thought it was better that there should be no concealment.