The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XLVI.


Eames had by no means done his work for that evening when he left Mr. Dale and Lily at their lodgings. He had other business on hand to which he had promised to give attention, and another person to see who would welcome his coming quite as warmly, though by no means as pleasantly, as Lily Dale. It was then just nine o’clock, and as he had told Miss Demolines,—Madalina we may as well call her now,—that he would be in Porchester Terrace by nine at the latest, it was incumbent on him to make haste. He got into a cab, and bid the cabman drive hard, and lighting a cigar, began to inquire of himself whether it was well for him to hurry away from the presence of Lily Dale to that of Madalina Demolines. He felt that he was half-ashamed of what he was doing. Though he declared to himself over and over again that he never had said a word, and never intended to say a word, to Madalina, which all the world might not hear, yet he knew that he was doing amiss. He was doing amiss, and half repented it, and yet he was half proud of it. He was most anxious to be able to give himself credit for his constancy to Lily Dale; to be able to feel that he was steadfast in his passion; and yet he liked the idea of amusing himself with his Bayswater romance, as he would call it, and was not without something of conceit as he thought of the progress he had made in it. “Love is one thing and amusement is another,” he said to himself as he puffed the cigar-smoke out of his mouth; and in his heart he was proud of his own capacity for enjoyment. He thought it a fine thing, although at the same moment he knew it to be an evil thing—this hurrying away from the young lady whom he really loved to another as to whom he thought it very likely that he should be called upon to pretend to love her. And he sang a little song as he went, “If she be not fair for me, what care I how fair she be.” That was intended to apply to Lily, and was used as an excuse for his fickleness in going to Miss Demolines. And he was, perhaps, too, a little conceited as to his mission to the Continent. Lily had told him that she was very glad that he was going; that she thought him very right to go. The words had been pleasant to his ears, and Lily had never looked prettier in his eyes than when she had spoken them. Johnny, therefore, was rather proud of himself as he sat in the cab smoking his cigar. He had, moreover, beaten his old enemy Sir Raffle Buffle in another contest, and he felt that the world was smiling on him;—that the world was smiling on him in spite of his cruel fate in the matter of his real lovesuit.

There was a mystery about the Bayswater romance which was not without its allurement, and a portion of the mystery was connected with Madalina’s mother. Lady Demolines was very rarely seen, and John Eames could not quite understand what was the manner of life of that unfortunate lady. Her daughter usually spoke of her with affectionate regret as being unable to appear on that particular occasion on account of some passing malady. She was suffering from a nervous headache, or was afflicted with bronchitis, or had been touched with rheumatism, so that she was seldom on the scene when Johnny was passing his time at Porchester Terrace. And yet he heard of her dining out, and going to plays and operas; and when he did chance to see her, he found that she was a sprightly old woman enough. I will not venture to say that he much regretted the absence of Lady Demolines, or that he was keenly alive to the impropriety of being left alone with the gentle Madalina; but the customary absence of the elder lady was an incident in the romance which did not fail to strike him.

Madalina was alone when he was shown up into the drawing-room on the evening of which we are speaking.

“Mr. Eames,” she said, “will you kindly look at that watch which is lying on the table.” She looked full at him with her great eyes wide open, and the tone of her voice was intended to show him that she was aggrieved.

“Yes, I see it,” said John, looking down on Miss Demolines’ little gold Geneva watch, with which he had already made sufficient acquaintance to know that it was worth nothing. “Shall I give it you?”

“No, Mr. Eames; let it remain there, that it may remind me, if it does not remind you, by how long a time you have broken your word.”

“Upon my word I couldn’t help it;—upon my honour I couldn’t.”

“Upon your honour, Mr. Eames!”

“I was obliged to go and see a friend who has just come to town from my part of the country.”

“That is the friend, I suppose, of whom I have heard from Maria.” It is to be feared that Conway Dalrymple had not been so guarded as he should have been in some of his conversations with Mrs. Dobbs Broughton, and that a word or two had escaped from him as to the love of John Eames for Lily Dale.

“I don’t know what you may have heard,” said Johnny, “but I was obliged to see these people before I left town. There is going to be a marriage and all that sort of thing.”

“Who is going to be married?”

“One Captain Dale is going to be married to one Miss Dunstable.”

“Oh! And as to one Miss Lily Dale,—is she to be married to anybody?”

“Not that I have heard of,” said Johnny.

“She is not going to become the wife of one Mr. John Eames?”

He did not wish to talk to Miss Demolines about Lily Dale. He did not choose to disown the imputation, or to acknowledge its truth.

“Silence gives consent,” she said. “If it be so, I congratulate you. I have no doubt she is a most charming young woman. It is about seven years, I believe, since that little affair with Mr. Crosbie, and therefore that, I suppose, may be considered as forgotten.”

“It is only three years,” said Johnny, angrily. “Besides, I don’t know what that has to do with it.”

“You need not be ashamed,” said Madalina. “I have heard how well you behaved on that occasion. You were quite the preux chevalier; and if any gentleman ever deserved well of a lady you deserved well of her. I wonder how Mr. Crosbie felt when he met you the other day at Maria’s. I had not heard anything about it then, or I should have been much more interested in watching your meeting.”

“I really can’t say how he felt.”

“I daresay not; but I saw him shake hands with you. And so Lily Dale has come to town?”

“Yes,—Miss Dale is here with her uncle.”

“And you are going away to-morrow?”

“Yes,—and I am going away to-morrow.”

After that there was a pause in the conversation. Eames was sick of it, and was very anxious to change the conversation. Miss Demolines was sitting in the shadow, away from the light, with her face half hidden by her hands. At last she jumped up, and came round and stood opposite to him. “I charge you to tell me truly, John Eames,” she said, “whether Miss Lilian Dale is engaged to you as your future wife?” He looked up into her face, but made no immediate answer. Then she repeated her demand. “I ask you whether you are engaged to marry Miss Lilian Dale, and I expect a reply.”

“What makes you ask me such a question as that?”

“What makes me ask you? Do you deny my right to feel so much interest in you as to desire to know whether you are about to be married? Of course you can decline to tell me if you choose.”

“And if I were to decline?”

“I should know then that it was true, and I should think that you were a coward.”

“I don’t see any cowardice in the matter. One does not talk about that kind of thing to everybody.”

“Upon my word, Mr. Eames, you are complimentary;—indeed you are. To everybody! I am everybody,—am I? That is your idea of—friendship! You may be sure that after that I shall ask no further questions.”

“I didn’t mean it in the way you’ve taken it, Madalina.”

“In what way did you mean it, sir? Everybody! Mr. Eames, you must excuse me if I say that I am not well enough this evening to bear the company of—everybody. I think you had better leave me. I think that you had better go.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“Yes, I am,—very angry. Because I have condescended to feel an interest in your welfare, and have asked you a question which I thought that our intimacy justified, you tell me that that is a kind of thing that you will not talk about to—everybody. I beg you to understand that I will not be your everybody. Mr. Eames, there is the door.”

Things had now become very serious. Hitherto Johnny had been seated comfortably in the corner of a sofa, and had not found himself bound to move, though Miss Demolines was standing before him. But now it was absolutely necessary that he should do something. He must either go, or else he must make entreaty to be allowed to remain. Would it not be expedient that he should take the lady at her word and escape? She was still pointing to the door, and the way was open to him. If he were to walk out now of course he would never return, and there would be the end of the Bayswater romance. If he remained it might be that the romance would become troublesome. He got up from his seat, and had almost resolved that he would go. Had she not somewhat relaxed the majesty of her anger as he rose, had the fire of her eye not been somewhat quenched and the lines of her mouth softened, I think that he would have gone. The romance would have been over, and he would have felt that it had come to an inglorious end; but it would have been well for him that he should have gone. Though the fire was somewhat quenched and the lines were somewhat softened, she was still pointing to the door. “Do you mean it?” he said.

“I do mean it,—certainly.”

“And this is to be the end of everything?”

“I do not know what you mean by everything. It is a very little everything to you, I should say. I do not quite understand your everything and your everybody.”

“I will go, if you wish me to go, of course.”

“I do wish it.”

“But before I go, you must permit me to excuse myself. I did not intend to offend you. I merely meant—”

“You merely meant! Give me an honest answer to a downright question. Are you engaged to Miss Lilian Dale?”

“No;—I am not.”

“Upon your honour?”

“Do you think that I would tell you a falsehood about it? What I meant was that it is a kind of thing one doesn’t like talking about, merely because stories are bandied about. People are so fond of saying that this man is engaged to that woman, and of making up tales; and it seems to be so foolish to contradict such things.”

“But you know that you used to be very fond of her?”

He had taken up his hat when he had risen from the sofa, and was still standing with it ready in his hand. He was even now half-minded to escape; and the name of Lily Dale in Miss Demolines’ mouth was so distasteful to him that he would have done so,—he would have gone in sheer disgust, had she not stood in his way, so that he could not escape without moving her, or going round behind the sofa. She did not stir to make way for him, and it may be that she understood that he was her prisoner, in spite of her late command to him to go. It may be, also, that she understood his vexation and the cause of it, and that she saw the expediency of leaving Lily Dale alone for the present. At any rate, she pressed him no more upon the matter. “Are we to be friends again?” she said.

“I hope so,” replied Johnny.

“There is my hand, then.” So Johnny took her hand and pressed it, and held it a little while,—just long enough to seem to give a meaning to the action. “You will get to understand me some day,” she said, “and will learn that I do not like to be reckoned among the everybodies by those for whom I really—really—really have a regard. When I am angry, I am angry.”

“You were very angry just now, when you showed me the way to the door.”

“And I meant it too,—for the minute. Only think,—supposing you had gone! We should never have seen each other again;—never, never! What a change one word may make!”

“One word often does make a change.”

“Does it not? Just a little ’yes,’ or ’no.’ A ’no’ is said when a ’yes’ is meant, and then there comes no second chance, and what a change that may be from bright hopes to desolation! Or, worse again, a ’yes’ is said when a ’no’ should be said,—when the speaker knows that it should be ’no.’ What a difference that ’no’ makes! When one thinks of it, one wonders that a woman should ever say anything but ’no.’”

“They never did say anything else to me,” said Johnny.

“I don’t believe it. I daresay the truth is, you never asked anybody.”

“Did anybody ever ask you?”

“What would you give to know? But I will tell you frankly;—yes. And once,—once I thought that my answer would not have been a ’no.’”

“But you changed your mind?”

“When the moment came I could not bring myself to say the word that should rob me of my liberty for ever. I had said ’no’ to him often enough before,—poor fellow; and on this occasion he told me that he asked for the last time. ’I shall not give myself another chance,’ he said, ’for I shall be on board ship within a week.’ I merely bade him good-by. It was the only answer I gave him. He understood me, and since that day his foot has never pressed his native soil.”

“And was it all because you are so fond of your liberty?” said Johnny.

“Perhaps,—I did not—love him,” said Miss Demolines, thoughtfully. She was now again seated in her chair, and John Eames had gone back to his corner of the sofa. “If I had really loved him I suppose it would have been otherwise. He was a gallant fellow, and had two thousand a year of his own, in India stock and other securities.”

“Dear me! And he has not married yet?”

“He wrote me word to say that he would never marry till I was married,—but that on the day that he should hear of my wedding, he would go to the first single woman near him and propose. It was a droll thing to say; was it not?”

“The single woman ought to feel herself flattered.”

“He would find plenty to accept him. Besides being so well off he was a very handsome fellow, and is connected with people of title. He had everything to recommend him.”

“And yet you refused him so often?”

“Yes. You think I was foolish;—do you not?”

“I don’t think you were at all foolish if you didn’t care for him.”

“It was my destiny, I suppose; I daresay I was wrong. Other girls marry without violent love, and do very well afterwards. Look at Maria Clutterbuck.”

The name of Maria Clutterbuck had become odious to John Eames. As long as Miss Demolines would continue to talk about herself he could listen with some amount of gratification. Conversation on that subject was the natural progress of the Bayswater romance. And if Madalina would only call her friend by her present name, he had no strong objection to an occasional mention of the lady; but the combined names of Maria Clutterbuck had come to be absolutely distasteful to him. He did not believe in the Maria Clutterbuck friendship,—either in its past or present existence, as described by Madalina. Indeed, he did not put strong faith in anything that Madalina said to him. In the handsome gentleman with two thousand a year, he did not believe at all. But the handsome gentleman had only been mentioned once in the course of his acquaintance with Miss Demolines, whereas Maria Clutterbuck had come up so often! “Upon my word I must wish you good-by,” he said. “It is going on for eleven o’clock, and I have to start to-morrow at seven.”

“What difference does that make?”

“A fellow wants to get a little sleep, you know.”

“Go then;—go and get your sleep. What a sleepy-headed generation it is.” Johnny longed to ask her whether the last generation was less sleepy-headed, and whether the gentleman with two thousand a year had sat up talking all night before he pressed his foot for the last time on his native soil; but he did not dare. As he said to himself afterwards, “It would not do to bring the Bayswater romance too suddenly to its termination!” “But before you go,” she continued, “I must say the word to you about that picture. Did you speak to Mr. Dalrymple?”

“I did not. I have been so busy with different things that I have not seen him.”

“And now you are going?”

“Well,—to tell the truth, I think I shall see him to-night, in spite of my being so sleepy-headed. I wrote him a line that I would look in and smoke a cigar with him if he chanced to be at home!”

“And that is why you want to go. A gentleman cannot live without his cigar now.”

“It is especially at your bidding that I am going to see him.”

“Go, then,—and make your friend understand that if he continues this picture of his, he will bring himself to great trouble, and will probably ruin the woman for whom he professes, I presume, to feel something like friendship. You may tell him that Mrs. Van Siever has already heard of it.”

“Who told her?” demanded Johnny.

“Never mind. You need not look at me like that. It was not I. Do you suppose that secrets can be kept when so many people know them? Every servant in Maria’s house knows all about it.”

“As for that, I don’t suppose Mrs. Broughton makes any great secret of it.”

“Do you think she has told Mr. Broughton? I am sure she has not. I may say I know she has not. Maria Clutterbuck is infatuated. There is no other excuse to be made for her.”

“Good-by,” said Johnny, hurriedly.

“And you really are going?”

“Well,—yes. I suppose so.”

“Go then. I have nothing more to say to you.”

“I shall come and call directly I return,” said Johnny.

“You may do as you please about that, sir.”

“Do you mean that you won’t be glad to see me again?”

“I am not going to flatter you, Mr. Eames. Mamma will be well by that time, I hope, and I do not mind telling you that you are a favourite with her.” Johnny thought that this was particularly kind, as he had seen so very little of the old lady. “If you choose to call upon her,” said Madalina, “of course she will be glad to see you.”

“But I was speaking of yourself, you know?” and Johnny permitted himself for a moment to look tenderly at her.

“Then from myself pray understand that I will say nothing to flatter your self-love.”

“I thought you would be kinder just when I was going away.”

“I think I have been quite kind enough. As you observed yourself just now, it is nearly eleven o’clock, and I must ask you to go away. Bon voyage, and a happy return to you.”

“And you will be glad to see me when I am back? Tell me that you will be glad to see me.”

“I will tell you nothing of the kind. Mr. Eames, if you do, I will be very angry with you.” And then he went.

On his way back to his own lodgings he did call on Conway Dalrymple, and in spite of his need for early rising, sat smoking with the artist for an hour. “If you don’t take care, young man,” said his friend, “you will find yourself in a scrape with your Madalina.”

“What sort of a scrape?”

“As you walk away from Porchester Terrace some fine day, you will have to congratulate yourself on having made a successful overture towards matrimony.”

“You don’t think I am such a fool as that comes to?”

“Other men as wise as you have done the same sort of thing. Miss Demolines is very clever, and I daresay you find it amusing.”

“It isn’t so much that she’s clever, and I can hardly say that it is amusing. One gets awfully tired of it, you know. But a fellow must have something to do, and that is as good as anything else.”

“I suppose you have not heard that one young man levanted last year to save himself from a breach of promise case?”

“I wonder whether he had any money in Indian securities?”

“What makes you ask that?”

“Nothing particular.”

“Whatever little he had he chose to save, and I think I heard that he went to Canada. His name was Shorter; and they say that, on the eve of his going, Madalina sent him word that she had no objection to the colonies, and that, under the pressing emergency of his expatriation, she was willing to become Mrs. Shorter with more expedition than usually attends fashionable weddings. Shorter, however, escaped, and has never been seen back again.”

Eames declared that he did not believe a word of it. Nevertheless, as he walked home he came to the conclusion that Mr. Shorter must have been the handsome gentleman with Indian securities, to whom “no” had been said once too often.

While sitting with Conway Dalrymple, he had forgotten to say a word about Jael and Sisera.