The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XXV.


Illustration don’t think you care two straws about her,” Conway Dalrymple said to his friend John Eames, two days after the dinner-party at Mrs. Dobbs Broughton’s. The painter was at work in his studio, and the private secretary from the Income-tax Office, who was no doubt engaged on some special mission to the West End on the part of Sir Raffle Buffle, was sitting in a lounging-chair and smoking a cigar.

“Because I don’t go about with my stockings cross-gartered, and do that kind of business?”

“Well, yes; because you don’t do that kind of business, more or less.”

“It isn’t in my line, my dear fellow. I know what you mean, very well. I daresay, artistically speaking,—”

“Don’t be an ass, Johnny.”

“Well then, poetically, or romantically, if you like that better,— I daresay that poetically or romantically I am deficient. I eat my dinner very well, and I don’t suppose I ought to do that; and, if you’ll believe me, I find myself laughing sometimes.”

“I never knew a man who laughed so much. You’re always laughing.”

“And that, you think, is a bad sign?”

“I don’t believe you really care about her. I think you are aware that you have got a love-affair on hand, and that you hang on to it rather persistently, having in some way come to a resolution that you would be persistent. But there isn’t much heart in it. I daresay there was once.”

“And that is your opinion?”

“You are just like some of those men who for years past have been going to write a book on some new subject. The intention has been sincere at first, and it never altogether dies away. But the would-be author, though he still talks of his work, knows that it will never be executed, and is very patient under the disappointment. All enthusiasm about the thing is gone, but he is still known as the man who is going to do it some day. You are the man who means to marry Miss Dale in five, ten, or twenty years’ time.”

“Now, Conway, all that is thoroughly unfair. The would-be author talks of his would-be book to everybody. I have never talked of Miss Dale to any one but you, and one or two very old family friends. And from year to year, and from month to month, I have done all that has been in my power to win her. I don’t think I shall ever succeed, and yet I am as determined about it as I was when I first began it,—or rather much more so. If I do not marry Lily, I shall never marry at all, and if anybody were to tell me to-morrow that she had made up her mind to have me, I should well nigh go mad for joy. But I am not going to give up all my life for love. Indeed the less I can bring myself to give up for it, the better I shall think of myself. Now I’ll go away and call on old lady Demolines.”

“And flirt with her daughter.”

“Yes;—flirt with her daughter, if I get the opportunity. Why shouldn’t I flirt with her daughter?”

“Why not, if you like it?”

“I don’t like it,—not particularly, that is; because the young lady is not very pretty, nor yet very graceful, nor yet very wise.”

“She is pretty after a fashion,” said the artist, “and if not wise, she is at any rate clever.”

“Nevertheless, I do not like her,” said John Eames.

“Then why do you go there?”

“One has to be civil to people though they are neither pretty nor wise. I don’t mean to insinuate that Miss Demolines is particularly bad, or indeed that she is worse than young ladies in general. I only abused her because there was an insinuation in what you said, that I was going to amuse myself with Miss Demolines in the absence of Miss Dale. The one thing has nothing to do with the other thing. Nothing that I shall say to Miss Demolines will at all militate against my loyalty to Lily.”

“All right, old fellow;—I didn’t mean to put you on your purgation. I want you to look at that sketch. Do you know for whom it is intended?” Johnny took up a scrap of paper, and having scrutinized it for a minute or two declared that he had not the slightest idea who was represented. “You know the subject,—the story that is intended to be told?” said Dalrymple.

“Upon my word I don’t. There’s some old fellow seems to be catching it over the head; but it’s all so confused I can’t make much of it. The woman seems to be uncommon angry.”

“Do you ever read your Bible?”

“Ah, dear! not as often as I ought to do. Ah, I see; it’s Sisera. I never could quite believe that story. Jael might have killed Captain Sisera in his sleep,—for which, by-the-by, she ought to have been hung, and she might possibly have done it with a hammer and a nail. But she could not have driven it through, and staked him to the ground.”

“I’ve warrant enough for putting it into a picture, at any rate. My Jael there is intended for Miss Van Siever.”

“Miss Van Siever! Well, it is like her. Has she sat for it?”

“O dear, no; not yet. I mean to get her to do so. There’s a strength about her, which would make her sit the part admirably. And I fancy she would like to be driving a nail into a fellow’s head. I think I shall take Musselboro for a Sisera.”

“You’re not in earnest?”

“He would just do for it. But of course I shan’t ask him to sit, as my Jael would not like it. She would not consent to operate on so base a subject. So you really are going down to Guestwick?”

“Yes; I start to-morrow. Good-by, old fellow. I’ll come and sit for Sisera if you’ll let me;—only Miss Van Jael shall have a blunted nail, if you please.”

Then Johnny left the artist’s room and walked across from Kensington to Lady Demolines’ house. As he went he partly accused himself, and partly excused himself in that matter of his love for Lily Dale. There were moments of his life in which he felt that he would willingly die for her,—that life was not worth having without her,—in which he went about inwardly reproaching fortune for having treated him so cruelly. Why should she not be his? He half believed that she loved him. She had almost told him so. She could not surely still love that other man who had treated her with such vile falsehood? As he considered the question in all its bearings he assured himself over and over again that there would be now no fear of that rival;—and yet he had such fears, and hated Crosbie almost as much as ever. It was a thousand pities, certainly, that the man should have been made free by the death of his wife. But it could hardly be that he should seek Lily again, or that Lily, if so sought, should even listen to him. But yet there he was, free once more,—an odious being, whom Johnny was determined to sacrifice to his vengeance, if cause for such sacrifice should occur. And thus thinking of the real truth of his love, he endeavoured to excuse himself to himself from that charge of vagueness and laxness which his friend Conway Dalrymple had brought against him. And then again he accused himself of the same sin. If he had been positively in earnest, with downright manly earnestness, would he have allowed the thing to drag itself on with a weak uncertain life, as it had done for the last two or three years? Lily Dale had been a dream to him in his boyhood; and he had made a reality of his dream as soon as he had become a man. But before he had been able, as a man, to tell his love to the girl whom he had loved as a child, another man had intervened, and his prize had been taken from him. Then the wretched victor had thrown his treasure away, and he, John Eames, had been content to stoop to pick it up,—was content to do so now. But there was something which he felt to be unmanly in the constant stooping. Dalrymple had told him that he was like a man who is ever writing a book and yet never writes it. He would make another attempt to get his book written,—an attempt into which he would throw all his strength and all his heart. He would do his very best to make Lily his own. But if he failed now, he would have done with it. It seemed to him to be below his dignity as a man to be always coveting a thing which he could not obtain.

Johnny was informed by the boy in buttons, who opened the door for him at Lady Demolines’, that the ladies were at home, and he was shown up into the drawing-room. Here he was allowed full ten minutes to explore the knicknacks on the table, and open the photograph book, and examine the furniture, before Miss Demolines made her appearance. When she did come, her hair was tangled more marvellously even than when he saw her at the dinner-party, and her eyes were darker, and her cheeks thinner. “I’m afraid mamma won’t be able to come down,” said Miss Demolines. “She will be so sorry; but she is not quite well to-day. The wind is in the east, she says, and when she says the wind is in the east she always refuses to be well.”

“Then I should tell her it was in the west.”

“But it is in the east.”

“Ah, there I can’t help you, Miss Demolines. I never know which is east, and which west; and if I did, I shouldn’t know from which point the wind blew.”

“At any rate mamma can’t come downstairs, and you must excuse her. What a very nice woman Mrs. Dobbs Broughton is.” Johnny acknowledged that Mrs. Dobbs Broughton was charming. “And Mr. Broughton is so good-natured!” Johnny again assented. “I like him of all things,” said Miss Demolines. “So do I,” said Johnny;—”I never liked anybody so much in my life. I suppose one is bound to say that kind of thing.” “Oh, you ill-natured man,” said Miss Demolines. “I suppose you think that poor Mr. Broughton is a little—just a little,—you know what I mean.”

“Not exactly,” said Johnny.

“Yes, you do; you know very well what I mean. And of course he is. How can he help it?”

“Poor fellow,—no. I don’t suppose he can help it, or he would;—wouldn’t he?”

“Of course Mr. Broughton had not the advantage of birth or much early education. All his friends know that, and make allowance accordingly. When she married him, she was aware of his deficiency, and made up her mind to put up with it.”

“It was very kind of her; don’t you think so?”

“I knew Maria Clutterbuck for years before she was married. Of course she was very much my senior, but, nevertheless, we were friends. I think I was hardly more than twelve years old when I first began to correspond with Maria. She was then past twenty. So you see, Mr. Eames, I make no secret of my age.”

“Why should you?”

“But never mind that. Everybody knows that Maria Clutterbuck was very much admired. Of course I’m not going to tell you or any other gentleman all her history.”

“I was in hopes you were.”

“Then certainly your hopes will be frustrated, Mr. Eames. But undoubtedly when she told us that she was going to take Dobbs Broughton, we were a little disappointed. Maria Clutterbuck had been used to a better kind of life. You understand what I mean, Mr. Eames?”

“Oh, exactly;—and yet it’s not a bad kind of life, either.”

“No, no; that is true. It has its attractions. She keeps her carriage, sees a good deal of company, has an excellent house, and goes abroad for six weeks every year. But you know, Mr. Eames, there is, perhaps, a little uncertainty about it.”

“Life is always uncertain, Miss Demolines.”

“You’re quizzing now, I know. But don’t you feel now, really, that City money is always very chancy? It comes and goes so quick.”

“As regards the going, I think that’s the same with all money,” said Johnny.

“Not with land, or the funds. Mamma has every shilling laid out in a first-class mortgage on land at four per cent. That does make one feel so secure! The land can’t run away.”

“But you think poor Broughton’s money may?”

“It’s all speculation, you know. I don’t believe she minds it; I don’t, indeed. She lives that kind of fevered life now that she likes excitement. Of course we all know that Mr. Dobbs Broughton is not what we can call an educated gentleman. His manners are against him, and he is very ignorant. Even dear Maria would admit that.”

“One would perhaps let that pass without asking her opinion at all.”

“She has acknowledged it to me, twenty times. But he is very good-natured, and lets her do pretty nearly anything that she likes. I only hope she won’t trespass on his good-nature. I do, indeed.”

“You mean, spend too much money?”

“No; I didn’t mean that exactly. Of course she ought to be moderate, and I hope she is. To that kind of fevered existence profuse expenditure is perhaps necessary. But I was thinking of something else. I fear she is a little giddy.”

“Dear me! I should have thought she was too—too—too—”

“You mean too old for anything of that kind. Maria Broughton must be thirty-three if she’s a day.”

“That would make you just twenty-five,” said Johnny, feeling perfectly sure as he said so that the lady whom he was addressing was at any rate past thirty!

“Never mind my age, Mr. Eames; whether I am twenty-five, or a hundred-and-five, has nothing to do with poor Maria Clutterbuck. But now I’ll tell you why I mention all this to you. You must have seen how foolish she is about your friend Mr. Dalrymple?”

“Upon my word, I haven’t.”

“Nonsense, Mr. Eames; you have. If she were your wife, would you like her to call a man Conway? Of course you would not. I don’t mean to say that there’s anything in it. I know Maria’s principles too well to suspect that. It’s merely because she’s flighty and fevered.”

“That fevered existence accounts for it all,” said Johnny.

“No doubt it does,” said Miss Demolines, with a nod of her head, which was intended to show that she was willing to give her friend the full benefit of any excuse which could be offered for her. “But don’t you think you could do something, Mr. Eames?”

“I do something?”

“Yes, you. You and Mr. Dalrymple are such friends! If you were just to point out to him you know—”

“Point out what? Tell him that he oughtn’t to be called Conway? Because, after all, I suppose that’s the worst of it. If you mean to say that Dalrymple is in love with Mrs. Broughton, you never made a greater mistake in your life.”

“Oh, no; not in love. That would be terrible, you know.” And Miss Demolines shook her head sadly. “But there may be so much mischief done without anything of that kind! Thoughtlessness, you know, Mr. Eames,—pure thoughtlessness! Think of what I have said, and if you can speak a word to your friend, do. And now I want to ask you something else. I’m so glad you are come, because circumstances have seemed to make it necessary that you and I should know each other. We may be of so much use if we put our heads together.” Johnny bowed when he heard this, but made no immediate reply. “Have you heard anything about a certain picture that is being planned?” Johnny did not wish to answer this question, but Miss Demolines paused so long, and looked so earnestly into his face, that he found himself forced to say something.

“What picture?”

“A certain picture that is—, or, perhaps, that is not to be, painted by Mr. Dalrymple?”

“I hear so much about Dalrymple’s pictures! You don’t mean the portrait of Lady Glencora Palliser? That is nearly finished, and will be in the Exhibition this year.”

“I don’t mean that at all. I mean a picture that has not yet been begun.”

“A portrait, I suppose?”

“As to that I cannot quite say. It is at any rate to be a likeness. I am sure you have heard of it. Come, Mr. Eames; it would be better that we should be candid with each other. You remember Miss Van Siever, of course?”

“I remember that she dined at the Broughtons’.”

“And you have heard of Jael, I suppose, and Sisera?”

“Yes; in a general way,—in the Bible.”

“And now will you tell me whether you have not heard the names of Jael and Miss Van Siever coupled together? I see you know all about it.”

“I have heard of it, certainly.”

“Of course you have. So have I, as you perceive. Now, Mr. Eames,”—and Miss Demolines’ voice became tremulously eager as she addressed him,—”it is your duty, and it is my duty, to take care that that picture shall never be painted.”

“But why should it not be painted?”

“You don’t know Miss Van Siever, yet.”

“Not in the least.”

“Nor Mrs. Van Siever.”

“I never spoke a word to her.”

“I do. I know them both,—well.” There was something almost grandly tragic in Miss Demolines’ voice as she thus spoke. “Yes, Mr. Eames, I know them well. If that scheme be continued, it will work terrible mischief. You and I must prevent it.”

“But I don’t see what harm it will do.”

“Think of Conway Dalrymple passing so many hours in Maria’s sitting-room upstairs! The picture is to be painted there, you know.”

“But Miss Van Siever will be present. Won’t that make it all right? What is there wrong about Miss Van Siever?”

“I won’t deny that Clara Van Siever has a certain beauty of her own. To me she is certainly the most unattractive woman that I ever came near. She is simply repulsive!” Hereupon Miss Demolines held up her hand as though she were banishing Miss Van Siever for ever from her sight, and shuddered slightly. “Men think her handsome, and she is handsome. But she is false, covetous, malicious, cruel, and dishonest.”

“What a fiend in petticoats!”

“You may say that, Mr. Eames. And then her mother! Her mother is not so bad. Her mother is very different. But the mother is an odious woman, too. It was an evil day for Maria Clutterbuck when she first saw either the mother or the daughter. I tell you that in confidence.”

“But what can I do?” said Johnny, who began to be startled and almost interested by the eagerness of the woman.

“I’ll tell you what you can do. Don’t let your friend go to Mr. Broughton’s house to paint the picture. If he does do it, there will mischief come of it. Of course you can prevent him.”

“I should not think of trying to prevent him unless I knew why.”

“She’s a nasty proud minx, and it would set her up ever so high,—to think that she was being painted by Mr. Dalrymple! But that isn’t the reason. Maria would get into terrible trouble about it, and there would be no end of mischief. I must not tell you more now, and if you do not believe me, I cannot help it. Surely, Mr. Eames, my word may be taken as going for something? And when I ask you to help me in this, I do expect that you will not refuse me.” By this time Miss Demolines was sitting close to him, and had more than once put her hand upon his arm in the energy of her eloquence. Then as he remembered that he had never seen Miss Demolines till the other day, or Miss Van Siever, or even Mrs. Dobbs Broughton, he bethought himself that it was all very droll. Nevertheless he had no objection to Miss Demolines putting her hand upon his arm.

“I never like to interfere in anything that does not seem to be my own business,” said Johnny.

“Is not your friend’s business your own business? What does friendship mean if it is not so? And when I tell you that it is my business, mine of right, does that go for nothing with you? I thought I might depend upon you, Mr. Eames; I did indeed.” Then again she put her hand upon his arm, and as he looked into her eyes he began to think that after all she was good-looking in a certain way. At any rate she had fine eyes, and there was something picturesque about the entanglement of her hair. “Think of it, and then come back and talk to me again,” said Miss Demolines.

“But I am going out of town to-morrow.”

“For how long?”

“For ten days.”

“Nothing can be done during that time. Clara Van Siever is going away in a day, and will not be back for three weeks. I happen to know that; so we have plenty of time for working. It would be very desirable that she should never even hear of it; but that cannot be hoped, as Maria has such a tongue! Couldn’t you see Mr. Dalrymple to-night?”

“Well, no; I don’t think I could.”

“Mind, at least, that you come to me as soon as ever you return.”

Before he got out of the house, which he did after a most affectionate farewell, Johnny felt himself compelled to promise that he would come to Miss Demolines again as soon as he got back to town; and as the door was closed behind him by the boy in buttons, he made up his mind that he certainly would call as soon as he returned to London. “It’s as good as a play,” he said to himself. Not that he cared in the least for Miss Demolines, or that he would take any steps with the intention of preventing the painting of the picture. Miss Demolines had some battle to fight, and he would leave her to fight it with her own weapons. If his friend chose to paint a picture of Jael, and take Miss Van Siever as a model, it was no business of his. Nevertheless he would certainly go and see Miss Demolines again, because, as he said, she was as good as a play.