The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XV.


Illustration ome kind and attentive reader may perhaps remember that Miss Grace Crawley, in a letter written by her to her friend Miss Lily Dale, said a word or two of a certain John. “If it can only be as John wishes it!” And the same reader, if there be one so kind and attentive, may also remember that Miss Lily Dale had declared, in reply, that “about that other subject she would rather say nothing,”—and then she had added, “When one thinks of going beyond friendship,—even if one tries to do so,—there are so many barriers!” From which words the kind and attentive reader, if such reader be in such matters intelligent as well as kind and attentive, may have learned a great deal with reference to Miss Lily Dale.

We will now pay a visit to the John in question,—a certain Mr. John Eames, living in London, a bachelor, as the intelligent reader will certainly have discovered, and cousin to Miss Grace Crawley. Mr. John Eames at the time of our story was a young man, some seven or eight and twenty years of age, living in London, where he was supposed by his friends in the country to have made his mark, and to be something a little out of the common way. But I do not know that he was very much out of the common way, except in the fact that he had had some few thousand pounds left him by an old nobleman, who had been in no way related to him, but who had regarded him with great affection, and who had died some two years since. Before this, John Eames had not been a very poor man, as he filled the comfortable official position of private secretary to the Chief Commissioner of the Income-tax Board, and drew a salary of three hundred and fifty pounds a year from the resources of his country; but when, in addition to this source of official wealth, he became known as the undoubted possessor of a hundred and twenty-eight shares in one of the most prosperous joint-stock banks in the metropolis, which property had been left to him free of legacy duty by the lamented nobleman above named, then Mr. John Eames rose very high indeed as a young man in the estimation of those who knew him, and was supposed to be something a good deal out of the common way. His mother, who lived in the country, was obedient to his slightest word, never venturing to impose upon him any sign of parental authority; and to his sister, Mary Eames, who lived with her mother, he was almost a god upon earth. To sisters who have nothing of their own,—not even some special god for their own individual worship,—generous, affectionate, unmarried brothers, with sufficient incomes, are gods upon earth.

And even up in London Mr. John Eames was somebody. He was so especially at his office; although, indeed, it was remembered by many a man how raw a lad he had been when he first came there, not so very many years ago; and how they had laughed at him and played him tricks; and how he had customarily been known to be without a shilling for the last week before pay-day, during which period he would borrow sixpence here and a shilling there with great energy, from men who now felt themselves to be honoured when he smiled upon them. Little stories of his former days would often be told of him behind his back; but they were not told with ill-nature, because he was very constant in referring to the same matters himself. And it was acknowledged by every one at the office, that neither the friendship of the nobleman, nor the fact of the private secretaryship, nor the acquisition of his wealth, had made him proud to his old companions or forgetful of old friendships. To the young men, lads who had lately been appointed, he was perhaps a little cold; but then it was only reasonable to conceive that such a one as Mr. John Eames was now could not be expected to make an intimate acquaintance with every new clerk that might be brought into the office. Since competitive examinations had come into vogue, there was no knowing who might be introduced; and it was understood generally through the establishment,—and I may almost say by the civil service at large, so wide was his fame,—that Mr. Eames was very averse to the whole theory of competition. The “Devil take the hindmost” scheme, he called it; and would then go on to explain that hindmost candidates were often the best gentlemen, and that, in this way, the Devil got the pick of the flock. And he was respected the more for this opinion because it was known that on this subject he had fought some hard battles with the chief commissioner. The chief commissioner was a great believer in competition, wrote papers about it, which he read aloud to various bodies of the civil service,—not at all to their delight,—which he got to be printed here and there, and which he sent by post all over the kingdom. More than once this chief commissioner had told his private secretary that they must part company, unless the private secretary could see fit to alter his view, or could, at least, keep his views to himself. But the private secretary would do neither; and, nevertheless, there he was, still private secretary. “It’s because Johnny has got money,” said one of the young clerks, who was discussing this singular state of things with his brethren at the office. “When a chap has got money, he may do what he likes. Johnny has got lots of money, you know.” The young clerk in question was by no means on intimate terms with Mr. Eames, but there had grown up in the office a way of calling him Johnny behind his back, which had probably come down from the early days of his scrapes and his poverty.

Now the entire life of Mr. John Eames was pervaded by a great secret; and although he never, in those days, alluded to the subject in conversation with any man belonging to the office, yet the secret was known to them all. It had been historical for the last four or five years, and was now regarded as a thing of course. Mr. John Eames was in love, and his love was not happy. He was in love, and had long been in love, and the lady of his love was not kind to him. The little history had grown to be very touching and pathetic, having received, no doubt, some embellishments from the imaginations of the gentlemen of the Income-tax Office. It was said of him that he had been in love from his early boyhood, that at sixteen he had been engaged, under the sanction of the nobleman now deceased and of the young lady’s parents, that contracts of betrothals had been drawn up, and things done very unusual in private families in these days, and that then there had come a stranger into the neighbourhood just as the young lady was beginning to reflect whether she had a heart of her own or not, and that she had thrown her parents, and the noble lord, and the contract, and poor Johnny Eames to the winds, and had— Here the story took different directions, as told by different men. Some said the lady had gone off with the stranger, and that there had been a clandestine marriage, which afterwards turned out to be no marriage at all; others, that the stranger suddenly took himself off, and was no more seen by the young lady; others that he owned at last to having another wife,—and so on. The stranger was very well known to be one Mr. Crosbie, belonging to another public office; and there were circumstances in his life, only half known, which gave rise to these various rumours. But there was one thing certain, one point as to which no clerk in the Income-tax Office had a doubt, one fact which had conduced much to the high position which Mr. John Eames now held in the estimation of his brother clerks,—he had given this Mr. Crosbie such a thrashing that no man had ever received such treatment before and had lived through it. Wonderful stories were told about that thrashing, so that it was believed, even by the least enthusiastic in such matters, that the poor victim had only dragged on a crippled existence since the encounter. “For nine weeks he never said a word or eat a mouthful,” said one young clerk to a younger clerk who was just entering the office; “and even now he can’t speak above a whisper, and has to take all his food in pap.” It will be seen, therefore, that Mr. John Eames had about him much of the heroic.

That he was still in love, and in love with the same lady, was known to every one in the office. When it was declared of him that in the way of amatory expressions he had never in his life opened his mouth to another woman, there were those in the office who knew that this was an exaggeration. Mr. Cradell, for instance, who in his early years had been very intimate with John Eames, and who still kept up the old friendship,—although, being a domestic man, with a wife and six young children, and living on a small income, he did not go much out among his friends,—could have told a very different story; for Mrs. Cradell herself had, in days before Cradell had made good his claim upon her, been not unadmired by Cradell’s fellow-clerk. But the constancy of Mr. Eames’s present love was doubted by none who knew him. It was not that he went about with his stockings ungartered, or any of the old acknowledged signs of unrequited affection. In his manner he was rather jovial than otherwise, and seemed to live a happy, somewhat luxurious life, well contented with himself and the world around him. But still he had this passion within his bosom, and I am inclined to think that he was a little proud of his own constancy.

It might be presumed that when Miss Dale wrote to her friend Grace Crawley about going beyond friendship, pleading that there were so many “barriers,” she had probably seen her way over most of them. But this was not so; nor did John Eames himself at all believe that the barriers were in a way to be overcome. I will not say that he had given the whole thing up as a bad job, because it was the law of his life that the thing never should be abandoned as long as hope was possible. Unless Miss Dale should become the wife of somebody else, he would always regard himself as affianced to her. He had so declared to Miss Dale herself and to Miss Dale’s mother, and to all the Dale people who had ever been interested in the matter. And there was an old lady living in Miss Dale’s neighbourhood, the sister of the lord who had left Johnny Eames the bank shares, who always fought his battles for him, and kept a close look-out, fully resolved that John Eames should be rewarded at last. This old lady was connected with the Dales by family ties, and therefore had means of close observation. She was in constant correspondence with John Eames, and never failed to acquaint him when any of the barriers were, in her judgment, giving way. The nature of some of the barriers may possibly be made intelligible to my readers by the following letter from Lady Julia De Guest to her young friend.

Guestwick Cottage, –– December, 186––.

My dear John,

I am much obliged to you for going to Jones’s. I send stamps for two shillings and fourpence, which is what I owe you. It used only to be two shillings and twopence, but they say everything has got to be dearer now, and I suppose pills as well as other things. Only think of Pritchard coming to me, and saying she wanted her wages raised, after living with me for twenty years! I was very angry, and scolded her roundly; but as she acknowledged she had been wrong, and cried and begged my pardon, I did give her two guineas a year more.

I saw dear Lily just for a moment on Sunday, and upon my word I think she grows prettier every year. She had a young friend with her,—a Miss Crawley,—who, I believe, is the cousin I have heard you speak of. What is this sad story about her father, the clergyman? Mind you tell me all about it.

It is quite true what I told you about the De Courcys. Old Lady De Courcy is in London, and Mr. Crosbie is going to law with her about his wife’s money. He has been at it in one way or the other ever since poor Lady Alexandrina died. I wish she had lived, with all my heart. For though I feel sure that our Lily will never willingly see him again, yet the tidings of her death disturbed her, and set her thinking of things that were fading from her mind. I rated her soundly, not mentioning your name, however; but she only kissed me, and told me in her quiet drolling way that I didn’t mean a word of what I said.

You can come here whenever you please after the tenth of January. But if you come early in January you must go to your mother first, and come to me for the last week of your holiday. Go to Blackie’s in Regent Street, and bring me down all the colours in wool that I ordered. I said you would call. And tell them at Dolland’s the last spectacles don’t suit at all, and I won’t keep them. They had better send me down, by you, one or two more pairs to try. And you had better see Smithers and Smith, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, No. 57—but you have been there before,—and beg them to let me know how my poor dear brother’s matters are to be settled at last. As far as I can see I shall be dead before I shall know what income I have got to spend. As to my cousins at the manor, I never see them; and as to talking to them about business, I should not dream of it. She hasn’t come to me since she first called, and she may be quite sure I shan’t go to her till she does. Indeed I think we shall like each other apart quite as much as we should together. So let me know when you’re coming, and pray don’t forget to call at Blackie’s; nor yet at Dolland’s, which is much more important than the wool, because of my eyes getting so weak. But what I want you specially to remember is about Smithers and Smith. How is a woman to live if she doesn’t know how much she has got to spend?

Believe me to be, my dear John,

Your most sincere friend,

Julia De Guest.

Lady Julia always directed her letters for her young friend to his office, and there he received the one now given to the reader. When he had read it he made a memorandum as to the commissions, and then threw himself back in his arm-chair to think over the tidings communicated to him. All the facts stated he had known before; that Lady De Courcy was in London, and that her son-in-law, Mr. Crosbie, whose wife,—Lady Alexandrina,—had died some twelve months since at Baden Baden, was at variance with her respecting money which he supposed to be due to him. But there was that in Lady Julia’s letter which was wormwood to him. Lily Dale was again thinking of this man, whom she had loved in old days, and who had treated her with monstrous perfidy! It was all very well for Lady Julia to be sure that Lily Dale would never desire to see Mr. Crosbie again; but John Eames was by no means equally certain that it would be so. “The tidings of her death disturbed her!” said Johnny, repeating to himself certain words out of the old lady’s letter. “I know they disturbed me. I wish she could have lived for ever. If he ever ventures to show himself within ten miles of Allington, I’ll see if I cannot do better than I did the last time I met him!” Then there came a knock at the door, and the private secretary, finding himself to be somewhat annoyed by the disturbance at such a moment, bade the intruder enter in angry voice. “Oh, it’s you, Cradell, is it? What can I do for you?” Mr. Cradell, who now entered, and who, as before said, was an old ally of John Eames, was a clerk of longer standing in the department than his friend. In age he looked to be much older, and he had left with him none of that appearance of the gloss of youth which will stick for many years to men who are fortunate in their worldly affairs. Indeed it may be said that Mr. Cradell was almost shabby in his outward appearance, and his brow seemed to be laden with care, and his eyes were dull and heavy.

“I thought I’d just come in and ask you how you are,” said Cradell.

“I’m pretty well, thank you; and how are you?”

“Oh, I’m pretty well,—in health, that is. You see one has so many things to think of when one has a large family. Upon my word, Johnny, I think you’ve been lucky to keep out of it.”

“I have kept out of it, at any rate; haven’t I?”

“Of course; living with you as much as I used to do, I know the whole story of what has kept you single.”

“Don’t mind about that, Cradell; what is it you want?”

“I mustn’t let you suppose, Johnny, that I’m grumbling about my lot. Nobody knows better than you what a trump I got in my wife.”

“Of course you did;—an excellent woman.”

“And if I cut you out a little there, I’m sure you never felt malice against me for that.”

“Never for a moment, old fellow.”

“We all have our luck, you know.”

“Your luck has been a wife and family. My luck has been to be a bachelor.”

“You may say a family,” said Cradell. “I’m sure that Amelia does the best she can; but we are desperately pushed some times,—desperately pushed. I never was so bad, Johnny, as I am now.”

“So you said the last time.”

“Did I? I don’t remember it. I didn’t think I was so bad then. But, Johnny, if you can let me have one more fiver now I have made arrangements with Amelia how I’m to pay you off by thirty shillings a month,—as I get my salary. Indeed I have. Ask her else.”

“I’ll be shot if I do.”

“Don’t say that, Johnny.”

“It’s no good your Johnnying me, for I won’t be Johnnyed out of another shilling. It comes too often, and there’s no reason why I should do it. And what’s more, I can’t afford it. I’ve people of my own to help.”

“But oh, Johnny, we all know how comfortable you are. And I’m sure no one rejoiced as I did when the money was left to you. If it had been myself I could hardly have thought more of it. Upon my solemn word and honour if you’ll let me have it this time, it shall be the last.”

“Upon my word and honour then, I won’t. There must be an end to everything.”

Although Mr. Cradell would probably, if pressed, have admitted the truth of this last assertion, he did not seem to think that the end had as yet come to his friend’s benevolence. It certainly had not come to his own importunity. “Don’t say that, Johnny; pray don’t.”

“But I do say it.”

“When I told Amelia yesterday evening that I didn’t like to go to you again, because of course a man has feelings, she told me to mention her name. ’I’m sure he’d do it for my sake,’ she said.”

“I don’t believe she said anything of the kind.”

“Upon my word she did. You ask her.”

“And if she did, she oughtn’t to have said it.”

“Oh, Johnny, don’t speak in that way of her. She’s my wife, and you know what your own feelings were once. But look here,—we are in that state at home at this moment, that I must get money somewhere before I go home. I must, indeed. If you’ll let me have three pounds this once, I’ll never ask you again. I’ll give you a written promise if you like, and I’ll pledge myself to pay it back by thirty shillings a time out of the two next months’ salary. I will, indeed.” And then Mr. Cradell began to cry. But when Johnny at last took out his cheque-book and wrote a cheque for three pounds, Mr. Cradell’s eyes glistened with joy. “Upon my word I am so much obliged to you! You are the best fellow that ever lived. And Amelia will say the same when she hears of it.”

“I don’t believe she’ll say anything of the kind, Cradell. If I remember anything of her, she has a stouter heart than that.” Cradell admitted that his wife had a stouter heart than himself, and then made his way back to his own part of the office.

This little interruption to the current of Mr. Eames’s thoughts was, I think, for the good of the service, as, immediately on his friend’s departure, he went to his work; whereas, had not he been thus called away from his reflections about Miss Dale, he would have sat thinking about her affairs probably for the rest of the morning. As it was, he really did write a dozen notes in answer to as many private letters addressed to his chief, Sir Raffle Buffle, in all of which he made excellently-worded false excuses for the non-performance of various requests made to Sir Raffle by the writers. “He’s about the best hand at it that I know,” said Sir Raffle, one day, to the secretary; “otherwise you may be sure I shouldn’t keep him there.” “I will allow that he is clever,” said the secretary. “It isn’t cleverness, so much as tact. It’s what I call tact. I hadn’t been long in the service before I mastered it myself; and now that I’ve been at the trouble to teach him I don’t want to have the trouble to teach another. But upon my word he must mind his p’s and q’s; upon my word he must; and you had better tell him so.” “The fact is, Mr. Kissing,” said the private secretary the next day to the secretary,—Mr. Kissing was at that time secretary to the board of commissioners for the receipt of income tax—”The fact is, Mr. Kissing, Sir Raffle should never attempt to write a letter himself. He doesn’t know how to do it. He always says twice too much, and yet not half enough. I wish you’d tell him so. He won’t believe me.” From which it will be seen Mr. Eames was proud of his special accomplishment, but did not feel any gratitude to the master who assumed to himself the glory of having taught him. On the present occasion John Eames wrote all his letters before he thought again of Lily Dale, and was able to write them without interruption, as the chairman was absent for the day at the Treasury,—or perhaps at his club. Then, when he had finished, he rang his bell, and ordered some sherry and soda-water, and stretched himself before the fire,—as though his exertions in the public service had been very great,—and seated himself comfortably in his arm-chair, and lit a cigar, and again took out Lady Julia’s letter.

As regarded the cigar, it may be said that both Sir Raffle and Mr. Kissing had given orders that on no account should cigars be lit within the precincts of the Income-tax Office. Mr. Eames had taken upon himself to understand that such orders did not apply to a private secretary, and was well aware that Sir Raffle knew his habit. To Mr. Kissing, I regret to say, he put himself in opposition whenever and wherever opposition was possible; so that men in the office said that one of the two must go at last. “But Johnny can do anything, you know, because he has got money.” That was too frequently the opinion finally expressed among the men.

So John Eames sat down, and drank his soda-water, and smoked his cigar, and read his letter; or rather, simply that paragraph of the letter which referred to Miss Dale. “The tidings of her death have disturbed her, and set her thinking again of things that were fading from her mind.” He understood it all. And yet how could it possibly be so? How could it be that she should not despise a man,—despise him if she did not hate him,—who had behaved as this man had behaved to her? It was now four years since this Crosbie had been engaged to Miss Dale, and had jilted her so heartlessly as to incur the disgust of every man in London who had heard the story. He had married an earl’s daughter, who had left him within a few months of their marriage, and now Mr. Crosbie’s noble wife was dead. The wife was dead, and simply because the man was free again, he, John Eames, was to be told that Miss Dale’s mind was “disturbed,” and that her thoughts were going back to things which had faded from her memory, and which should have been long since banished altogether from such holy ground.

If Lily Dale were now to marry Mr. Crosbie, anything so perversely cruel as the fate of John Eames would never yet have been told in romance. That was his own idea on the matter as he sat smoking his cigar. I have said that he was proud of his constancy, and yet, in some sort, he was also ashamed of it. He acknowledged the fact of his love, and believed himself to have out-Jacobed Jacob; but he felt that it was hard for a man who had risen in the world as he had done to be made a plaything of by a foolish passion. It was now four years ago,—that affair of Crosbie,—and Miss Dale should have accepted him long since. Half-a-dozen times he had made up his mind to be very stern to her; and he had written somewhat sternly,—but the first moment that he saw her he was conquered again. “And now that brute will reappear, and everything will be wrong again,” he said to himself. If the brute did reappear, something should happen of which the world should hear the tidings. So he lit another cigar, and began to think what that something should be.

As he did so he heard a loud noise, as of harsh, rattling winds in the next room, and he knew that Sir Raffle had come back from the Treasury. There was a creaking of boots, and a knocking of chairs, and a ringing of bells, and then a loud angry voice,—a voice that was very harsh, and on this occasion very angry. Why had not his twelve-o’clock letters been sent up to him to the West End? Why not? Mr. Eames knew all about it. Why did Mr. Eames know all about it? Why had not Mr. Eames sent them up? Where was Mr. Eames? Let Mr. Eames be sent to him. All which Mr. Eames heard standing with the cigar in his mouth and his back to the fire. “Somebody has been bullying old Buffle, I suppose. After all he has been at the Treasury to-day,” said Eames to himself. But he did not stir till the messenger had been to him, nor even then, at once. “All right, Rafferty,” he said; “I’ll go in just now.” Then he took half-a-dozen more whiffs from the cigar, threw the remainder into the fire, and opened the door which communicated between his room and Sir Raffle’s.

The great man was standing with two unopened epistles in his hand. “Eames,” said he, “here are letters—” Then he stopped himself, and began upon another subject. “Did I not give express orders that I would have no smoking in the office?”

“I think Mr. Kissing said something about it, sir.”

“Mr. Kissing! It was not Mr. Kissing at all. It was I. I gave the order myself.”

“You’ll find it began with Mr. Kissing.”

“It did not begin with Mr. Kissing; it began and ended with me. What are you going to do, sir?” John Eames had stepped towards the bell, and his hand was already on the bell-pull.

“I was going to ring for the papers, sir.”

“And who told you to ring for the papers? I don’t want the papers. The papers won’t show anything. I suppose my word may be taken without the papers. Since you’re so fond of Mr. Kissing—”

“I’m not fond of Mr. Kissing at all.”

“You’ll have to go back to him, and let somebody come here who will not be too independent to obey my orders. Here are two most important letters have been lying here all day, instead of being sent up to me at the Treasury.”

“Of course they have been lying there. I thought you were at the club.”

“I told you I should go to the Treasury. I have been there all the morning with the chancellor,”—when Sir Raffle spoke officially of the chancellor he was not supposed to mean the Lord Chancellor—”and here I find letters which I particularly wanted lying upon my desk now. I must put an end to this kind of thing. I must, indeed. If you like the outer office better say so at once, and you can go.”

“I’ll think about it, Sir Raffle.”

“Think about it! What do you mean by thinking about it? But I can’t talk about that now. I’m very busy, and shall be here till past seven. I suppose you can stay?”

“All night, if you wish it, sir.”

“Very well. That will do for the present.—I wouldn’t have had these letters delayed for twenty pounds.”

“I don’t suppose it would have mattered one straw if both of them remained unopened till next week.” This last little speech, however, was not made aloud to Sir Raffle, but by Johnny to himself in the solitude of his own room.

Very soon after that he went away, Sir Raffle having discovered that one of the letters in question required his immediate return to the West End. “I’ve changed my mind about staying. I shan’t stay now. I should have done if these letters had reached me as they ought.”

“Then I suppose I can go?”

“You can do as you like about that,” said Sir Raffle.

Eames did do as he liked, and went home, or to his club; and as he went he resolved that he would put an end, and at once, to the present trouble of his life. Lily Dale should accept him or reject him; and, taking either the one or the other alternative, she should hear a bit of his mind plainly spoken.