The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XLVIII.


We have seen that John Eames was prepared to start on his journey in search of the Arabins, and have seen him after he had taken farewell of his office and of his master there, previous to his departure; but that matter of his departure had not been arranged altogether with comfort as far as his official interests were concerned. He had been perhaps a little abrupt in his mode of informing Sir Raffle Buffle that there was a pressing cause for his official absence, and Sir Raffle had replied to him that no private pressure could be allowed to interfere with his public duties. “I must go, Sir Raffle, at any rate,” Johnny had said; “it is a matter affecting my family, and must not be neglected.” “If you intend to go without leave,” said Sir Raffle, “I presume you will first put your resignation into the hands of Mr. Kissing.” Now, Mr. Kissing was the secretary to the Board. This had been serious undoubtedly. John Eames was not specially anxious to keep his present position as private secretary to Sir Raffle, but he certainly had no desire to give up his profession altogether. He said nothing more to the great man on that occasion, but before he left the office he wrote a private note to the chairman expressing the extreme importance of his business, and begging that he might have leave of absence. On the next morning he received it back with a very few words written across it. “It can’t be done,” were the very few words which Sir Raffle Buffle had written across the note from his private secretary. Here was a difficulty which Johnny had not anticipated, and which seemed to be insuperable. Sir Raffle would not have answered him in that strain if he had not been very much in earnest.

“I should send him a medical certificate,” said Cradell, his friend of old.

“Nonsense,” said Eames.

“I don’t see that it’s nonsense at all. They can’t get over a medical certificate from a respectable man; and everybody has got something the matter with him of some kind.”

“I should go and let him do his worst,” said Fisher, who was another clerk. “It wouldn’t be more than putting you down a place or two. As to losing your present berth you don’t mind that, and they would never think of dismissing you.”

“But I do mind being put down a place or two,” said Johnny, who could not forget that were he so put down his friend Fisher would gain the step which he would lose.

“I should give him a barrel of oysters, and talk to him about the Chancellor of the Exchequer,” said FitzHoward, who had been private secretary to Sir Raffle before Eames, and might therefore be supposed to know the man.

“That might have done very well if I had not asked him and been refused first,” said John Eames. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll write a long letter on a sheet of foolscap paper, with a regular margin, so that it must come before the Board, and perhaps that will frighten him.”

When he mentioned his difficulty on that evening to Mr. Toogood, the lawyer begged him to give up the journey. “It will only be sending a clerk, and it won’t cost so very much after all,” said Toogood. But Johnny’s pride could not allow him to give way. “I’m not going to be done about it,” said he. “I’m not going to resign, but I will go even though they may dismiss me. I don’t think it will come to that, but if it does it must.” His uncle begged of him not to think of such an alternative; but this discussion took place after dinner, and away from the office, and Eames would not submit to bow his neck to authority. “If it comes to that,” said he, “a fellow might as well be a slave at once. And what is the use of a fellow having a little money if it does not make him independent? You may be sure of one thing, I shall go; and that on the day fixed.”

On the next morning John Eames was very silent when he went into Sir Raffle’s room at the office. There was now only this day and another before that fixed for his departure, and it was of course very necessary that matters should be arranged. But he said nothing to Sir Raffle during the morning. The great man himself was condescending and endeavoured to be kind. He knew that his stern refusal had greatly irritated his private secretary, and was anxious to show that, though in the cause of public duty he was obliged to be stern, he was quite willing to forget his sternness when the necessity for it had passed away. On this morning, therefore, he was very cheery. But to all his cheery good-humour John Eames would make no response. Late in the afternoon, when most of the men had left the office, Johnny appeared before the chairman for the last time that day with a very long face. He was dressed in black, and had changed his ordinary morning coat for a frock, which gave him an appearance altogether unlike that which was customary to him. And he spoke almost in a whisper, very slowly; and when Sir Raffle joked,—and Sir Raffle often would joke,—he not only did not laugh, but he absolutely sighed. “Is there anything the matter with you, Eames?” asked Sir Raffle.

“I am in great trouble,” said John Eames.

“And what is your trouble?”

“It is essential for the honour of one of my family that I should be at Florence by this day week. I cannot make up my mind what I ought to do. I do not wish to lose my position in the public service, to which, as you know, I am warmly attached; but I cannot submit to see the honour of my family sacrificed!”

“Eames,” said Sir Raffle, “that must be nonsense;—that must be nonsense. There can be no reason why you should always expect to have your own way in everything.”

“Of course if I go without leave I shall be dismissed.”

“Of course you will. It is out of the question that a young man should take the bit between his teeth in that way.”

“As for taking the bit between his teeth, Sir Raffle, I do not think that any man was ever more obedient, perhaps I should say more submissive, than I have been. But there must be a limit to everything.”

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Eames?” said Sir Raffle, turning in anger upon his private secretary. But Johnny disregarded his anger. Johnny, indeed, had made up his mind that Sir Raffle should be very angry. “What do you mean, Mr. Eames, by saying that there must be a limit? I know nothing about limits. One would suppose that you intended to make an accusation against me.”

“So I do. I think, Sir Raffle, that you are treating me with great cruelty. I have explained to you that family circumstances—”

“You have explained nothing, Mr. Eames.”

“Yes, I have, Sir Raffle. I have explained to you that matters relating to my family, which materially affect the honour of a certain one of its members, demand that I should go at once to Florence. You tell me that if I go I shall be dismissed.”

“Of course you must not go without leave. I never heard of such a thing in all my life.” And Sir Raffle lifted up his hands towards heaven, almost in dismay.

“So I have drawn up a short statement of the circumstances, which I hope may be read at the Board when the question of my dismissal comes before it.”

“You mean to go, then?”

“Yes, Sir Raffle; I must go. The honour of a certain branch of my family demands that I should do so. As I have for some time been so especially under you, I thought it would be proper to show you what I have said before I send my letter in, and therefore I have brought it with me. Here it is.” And Johnny handed to Sir Raffle an official document of large dimensions.

Sir Raffle began to be uncomfortable. He had acquired a character for tyranny in the public service of which he was aware, though he thought that he knew well that he had never deserved it. Some official big-wig,—perhaps that Chancellor of the Exchequer of whom he was so fond,—had on one occasion hinted to him that a little softness of usage would be compatible with the prejudices of the age. Softness was impossible to Sir Raffle; but his temper was sufficiently under his control to enable him to encounter the rebuke, and to pull himself up from time to time when he found himself tempted to speak loud and to take things with a high hand. He knew that a clerk should not be dismissed for leaving his office, who could show that his absence had been caused by some matter really affecting the interest of his family; and that were he to drive Eames to go on this occasion without leave, Eames would be simply called in to state what was this matter of moment which had taken him away. Probably he had stated that matter of moment in this very document which Sir Raffle was holding in his hand. But Sir Raffle was not willing to be conquered by the document. If it was necessary that he should give way, he would much prefer to give way,—out of his own good-nature, let us say,—without looking at the document at all. “I must, under the circumstances, decline to read this,” said he, “unless it should come before me officially,” and he handed back the paper.

“I thought it best to let you see it if you pleased,” said John Eames. Then he turned round as though he were going to leave the room; but suddenly he turned back again. “I don’t like to leave you, Sir Raffle, without saying good-by. I do not suppose we shall meet again. Of course you must do your duty, and I do not wish you to think that I have any personal ill-will against you.” So saying, he put out his hand to Sir Raffle as though to take a final farewell. Sir Raffle looked at him in amazement. He was dressed, as has been said, in black, and did not look like the John Eames of every day to whom Sir Raffle was accustomed.

“I don’t understand this at all,” said Sir Raffle.

“I was afraid that it was only too plain,” said John Eames.

“And you must go?”

“Oh, yes;—that’s certain. I have pledged myself to go.”

“Of course I don’t know anything of this matter that is so important to your family.”

“No; you do not,” said Johnny.

“Can’t you explain it to me, then? so that I may have some reason,—if there is any reason.”

Then John told the story of Mr. Crawley,—a considerable portion of the story; and in his telling of it, I think it probable that he put more weight upon the necessity of his mission to Italy than it could have fairly been made to bear. In the course of the narration Sir Raffle did once contrive to suggest that a lawyer by going to Florence might do the business at any rate as well as John Eames. But Johnny denied this. “No, Sir Raffle, it is impossible; quite impossible,” he said. “If you saw the lawyer who is acting in the matter, Mr. Toogood, who is also my uncle, he would tell you the same.” Sir Raffle had already heard something of the story of Mr. Crawley, and was now willing to accept the sad tragedy of that case as an excuse for his private secretary’s somewhat insubordinate conduct. “Under the circumstances, Eames, I suppose you must go; but I think you should have told me all about it before.”

“I did not like to trouble you, Sir Raffle, with private business.”

“It is always best to tell the whole of a story,” said Sir Raffle. Johnny being quite content with the upshot of the negotiations accepted this gentle rebuke in silence, and withdrew. On the next day he appeared again at the office in his ordinary costume, and an idea crossed Sir Raffle’s brain that he had been partly “done” by the affectation of a costume. “I’ll be even with him some day yet,” said Sir Raffle to himself.

“I’ve got my leave, boys,” said Eames when he went out into the room in which his three friends sat.

“No!” said Cradell.

“But I have,” said Johnny.

“You don’t mean that old Huffle Scuffle has given it out of his own head?” said Fisher.

“Indeed he has,” said Johnny; “and bade God bless me into the bargain.”

“And you didn’t give him the oysters?” said FitzHoward.

“Not a shell,” said Johnny.

“I’m blessed if you don’t beat cock-fighting,” said Cradell, lost in admiration at his friend’s adroitness.

We know how John passed his evening after that. He went first to see Lily Dale at her uncle’s lodgings in Sackville Street, from thence he was taken to the presence of the charming Madalina in Porchester Terrace, and then wound up the night with his friend Conway Dalrymple. When he got to his bed he felt himself to have been triumphant, but in spite of his triumph he was ashamed of himself. Why had he left Lily to go to Madalina? As he thought of this he quoted to himself against himself Hamlet’s often-quoted appeal to the two portraits. How could he not despise himself in that he could find any pleasure with Madalina, having a Lily Dale to fill his thoughts? “But she is not fair for me,” he said to himself,—thinking thus to comfort himself. But he did not comfort himself.

On the next morning early his uncle, Mr. Toogood, met him at the Dover Railway Station. “Upon my word, Johnny, you’re a clever fellow,” said he. “I never thought that you’d make it all right with Sir Raffle.”

“As right as a trivet, uncle. There are some people, if you can only get to learn the length of their feet, you can always fit them with shoes afterwards.”

“As right as a trivet, Uncle.”

“You’ll go on direct to Florence, Johnny?”

“Yes; I think so. From what we have heard, Mrs. Arabin must be either there or at Venice, and I don’t suppose I could learn from any one at Paris at which town she is staying at this moment.”

“Her address is Florence;—poste restante, Florence. You will be sure to find out at any of the hotels where she is staying, or where she has been staying.”

“But when I have found her, I don’t suppose she can tell me anything,” said Johnny.

“Who can tell? She may or she may not. My belief is that the money was her present altogether, and not his. It seems that they don’t mix their moneys. He has always had some scruple about it because of her son by a former marriage, and they always have different accounts at their bankers’. I found that out when I was at Barchester.”

“But Crawley was his friend.”

“Yes, Crawley was his friend; but I don’t know that fifty-pound notes have always been so very plentiful with him. Deans’ incomes ain’t what they were, you know.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Johnny.

“Well; they are not. And he has nothing of his own, as far as I can learn. It would be just the thing for her to do,—to give the money to his friend. At any rate she will tell you whether it was so or not.”

“And then I will go on to Jerusalem, after him.”

“Should you find it necessary. He will probably be on his way back, and she will know where you can hit him on the road. You must make him understand that it is essential that he should be here some little time before the trial. You can understand, Johnny,”—and as he spoke Mr. Toogood lowered his voice to a whisper, though they were walking together on the platform of the railway station, and could not possibly have been overheard by any one. “You can understand that it may be necessary to prove that he is not exactly compos mentis, and if so it will be essential that he should have some influential friend near him. Otherwise that bishop will trample him into dust.” If Mr. Toogood could have seen the bishop at this time and have read the troubles of the poor man’s heart, he would hardly have spoken of him as being so terrible a tyrant.

“I understand all that,” said Johnny.

“So that, in fact, I shall expect to see you both together,” said Toogood.

“I hope the dean is a good fellow.”

“They tell me he is a very good fellow.”

“I never did see much of bishops or deans as yet,” said Johnny, “and I should feel rather awe-struck travelling with one.”

“I should fancy that a dean is very much like anybody else.”

“But the man’s hat would cow me.”

“I daresay you’ll find him walking about Jerusalem with a wide-awake on, and a big stick in his hand, probably smoking a cigar. Deans contrive to get out of their armour sometimes, as the knights of old used to do. Bishops, I fancy, find it more difficult. Well;—good-by, old fellow. I’m very much obliged to you for going,—I am, indeed. I don’t doubt but what we shall pull through, somehow.”

Then Mr. Toogood went home to breakfast, and from his own house he proceeded to his office. When he had been there an hour or two, there came to him a messenger from the Income-tax Office, with an official note addressed to himself by Sir Raffle Buffle,—a note which looked to be very official. Sir Raffle Buffle presented his compliments to Mr. Toogood, and could Mr. Toogood favour Sir R. B. with the present address of Mr. John Eames. “Old fox,” said Mr. Toogood;—”but then such a stupid old fox! As if it was likely that I should have peached on Johnny if anything was wrong.” So Mr. Toogood sent his compliments to Sir Raffle Buffle, and begged to inform Sir R. B. that Mr. John Eames was away on very particular family business, which would take him in the first instance to Florence;—but that from Florence he would probably have to go on to Jerusalem without the loss of an hour. “Stupid old fool!” said Mr. Toogood, as he sent off his reply by the messenger.