The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XXVIII.


Illustration ajor Grantly drove his gig into the yard of the “Red Lion” at Allington, and from thence walked away at once to Mrs. Dale’s house. When he reached the village he had hardly made up his mind as to the way in which he would begin his attack; but now, as he went down the street, he resolved that he would first ask for Mrs. Dale. Most probably he would find himself in the presence of Mrs. Dale and her daughter, and of Grace also, at his first entrance; and if so, his position would be awkward enough. He almost regretted now that he had not written to Mrs. Dale, and asked for an interview. His task would be very difficult if he should find all the ladies together. But he was strong in the feeling that when his purpose was told it would meet the approval at any rate of Mrs. Dale; and he walked boldly on, and bravely knocked at the door of the Small House, as he had already learned that Mrs. Dale’s residence was called by all the neighbourhood. Nobody was at home, the servant said; and then, when the visitor began to make further inquiry, the girl explained that the two young ladies had walked as far as Guestwick Cottage, and that Mrs. Dale was at this moment at the Great House with the squire. She had gone across soon after the young ladies had started. The maid, however, was interrupted before she had finished telling all this to the major, by finding her mistress behind her in the passage. Mrs. Dale had returned, and had entered the house from the lawn.

“I am here now, Jane,” said Mrs. Dale, “if the gentleman wishes to see me.”

Then the major announced himself. “My name is Major Grantly,” said he; and he was blundering on with some words about his own intrusion, when Mrs. Dale begged him to follow her into the drawing-room. He had muttered something to the effect that Mrs. Dale would not know who he was; but Mrs. Dale knew all about him, and had heard the whole of Grace’s story from Lily. She and Lily had often discussed the question whether, under existing circumstances, Major Grantly should feel himself bound to offer his hand to Grace, and the mother and daughter had differed somewhat on the matter. Mrs. Dale had held that he was not so bound, urging that the unfortunate position in which Mr. Crawley was placed was so calamitous to all connected with him, as to justify any man, not absolutely engaged, in abandoning the thoughts of such a marriage. Mrs. Dale had spoken of Major Grantly’s father and mother and brother and sister, and had declared her opinion that they were entitled to consideration. But Lily had opposed this idea very stoutly, asserting that in an affair of love a man should think neither of father or brother or mother or sister. “If he is worth anything,” Lily had said, “he will come to her now,—now in her trouble; and will tell her that she at least has got a friend who will be true to her. If he does that, then I shall think that there is something of the poetry and nobleness of love left.” In answer to this Mrs. Dale had replied that women had no right to expect from men such self-denying nobility as that. “I don’t expect it, mamma,” said Lily. “And I am sure that Grace does not. Indeed I am quite sure that Grace does not expect even to see him ever again. She never says so, but I know that she has made up her mind about it. Still I think he ought to come.” “It can hardly be that a man is bound to do a thing, the doing of which, as you confess, would be almost more than noble,” said Mrs. Dale. And so the matter had been discussed between them. But now, as it seemed to Mrs. Dale, the man had come to do this noble thing. At any rate he was there in her drawing-room, and before either of them had sat down he had contrived to mention Grace. “You may not probably have heard my name,” he said, “but I am acquainted with your friend, Miss Crawley.”

“I know your name very well, Major Grantly. My brother-in-law who lives over yonder, Mr. Dale, knows your father very well,—or he did some years ago. And I have heard him say that he remembers you.”

“I recollect. He used to be staying at Ullathorne. But that is a long time ago. Is he at home now?”

“Mr. Dale is almost always at home. He very rarely goes away, and I am sure would be glad to see you.”

Then there was a little pause in the conversation. They had managed to seat themselves, and Mrs. Dale had said enough to put her visitor fairly at his ease. If he had anything special to say to her, he must say it,—any request or proposition to make as to Grace Crawley, he must make it. And he did make it at once. “My object in coming to Allington,” he said, “was to see Miss Crawley.”

“She and my daughter have taken a long walk to call on a friend, and I am afraid they will stay for lunch; but they will certainly be home between three and four, if that is not too long for you to remain at Allington.”

“O dear, no,” said he. “It will not hurt me to wait.”

“It certainly will not hurt me, Major Grantly. Perhaps you will lunch with me?”

“I’ll tell you what, Mrs. Dale; if you’ll permit me, I’ll explain to you why I have come here. Indeed, I have intended to do so all through, and I can only ask you to keep my secret, if after all it should require to be kept.”

“I will certainly keep any secret that you may ask me to keep,” said Mrs. Dale, taking off her bonnet.

“I hope there may be no need of one,” said Major Grantly. “The truth is, Mrs. Dale, that I have known Miss Crawley for some time,—nearly for two years now, and—I may as well speak it out at once,—I have made up my mind to ask her to be my wife. That is why I am here.” Considering the nature of the statement, which must have been embarrassing, I think that it was made with fluency and simplicity.

“Of course, Major Grantly, you know that I have no authority with our young friend,” said Mrs. Dale. “I mean that she is not connected with us by family ties. She has a father and mother, living, as I believe, in the same county with yourself.”

“I know that, Mrs. Dale.”

“And you may, perhaps, understand that, as Miss Crawley is now staying with me, I owe it in a measure to her friends to ask you whether they are aware of your intention.”

“They are not aware of it.”

“I know that at the present moment they are in great trouble.”

Mrs. Dale was going on, but she was interrupted by Major Grantly. “That is just it,” he said. “There are circumstances at present which make it almost impossible that I should go to Mr. Crawley and ask his permission to address his daughter. I do not know whether you have heard the whole story?”

“As much, I believe, as Grace could tell me.”

“He is, I believe, in such a state of mental distress as to be hardly capable of giving me a considerate answer. And I should not know how to speak to him, or how not to speak to him, about this unfortunate affair. But, Mrs. Dale, you will, I think, perceive that the same circumstances make it imperative upon me to be explicit to Miss Crawley. I think I am the last man to boast of a woman’s regard, but I had learned to think that I was not indifferent to Grace. If that be so, what must she think of me if I stay away from her now?”

“She understands too well the weight of the misfortune which has fallen upon her father, to suppose that any one not connected with her can be bound to share it.”

“That is just it. She will think that I am silent for that reason. I have determined that that shall not keep me silent, and, therefore, I have come here. I may, perhaps, be able to bring comfort to her in her trouble. As regards my worldly position,—though, indeed, it will not be very good,—as hers is not good either, you will not think yourself bound to forbid me to see her on that head.”

“Certainly not. I need hardly say that I fully understand that, as regards money, you are offering everything where you can get nothing.”

“And you understand my feeling?”

“Indeed, I do,—and appreciate the great nobility of your love for Grace. You shall see her here, if you wish it,—and to-day, if you choose to wait.” Major Grantly said that he would wait and would see Grace on that afternoon. Mrs. Dale again suggested that he should lunch with her, but this he declined. She then proposed that he should go across and call upon the squire, and thus consume his time. But to this he also objected. He was not exactly in the humour, he said, to renew so old and so slight an acquaintance at that time. Mr. Dale would probably have forgotten him, and would be sure to ask what had brought him to Allington. He would go and take a walk, he said, and come again exactly at half-past three. Mrs. Dale again expressed her certainty that the young ladies would be back by that time, and Major Grantly left the house.

Mrs. Dale when she was left alone could not but compare the good fortune which was awaiting Grace, with the evil fortune which had fallen on her own child. Here was a man who was at all points a gentleman. Such, at least, was the character which Mrs. Dale at once conceded to him. And Grace had chanced to come across this man, and to please his eye, and satisfy his taste, and be loved by him. And the result of that chance would be that Grace would have everything given to her that the world has to give worth acceptance. She would have a companion for her life whom she could trust, admire, love, and of whom she could be infinitely proud. Mrs. Dale was not at all aware whether Major Grantly might have five hundred a year to spend, or five thousand,—or what sum intermediate between the two,—nor did she give much of her thoughts at the moment to that side of the subject. She knew without thinking of it,—or fancied that she knew, that there were means sufficient for comfortable living. It was solely the nature and character of the man that was in her mind, and the sufficiency that was to be found in them for a wife’s happiness. But her daughter, her Lily, had come across a man who was a scoundrel, and, as the consequence of that meeting, all her life was marred! Could any credit be given to Grace for her success, or any blame attached to Lily for her failure? Surely not the latter! How was her girl to have guarded herself from a love so unfortunate, or have avoided the rock on which her vessel had been shipwrecked? Then many bitter thoughts passed through Mrs. Dale’s mind, and she almost envied Grace Crawley her lover. Lily was contented to remain as she was, but Lily’s mother could not bring herself to be satisfied that her child should fill a lower place in the world than other girls. It had ever been her idea,—an idea probably never absolutely uttered even to herself, but not the less practically conceived,—that it is the business of a woman to be married. That her Lily should have been won and not worn, had been, and would be, a trouble to her for ever.

Major Grantly went back to the inn and saw his horse fed, and smoked a cigar, and then, finding that it was still only just one o’clock, he started for a walk. He was careful not to go out of Allington by the road he had entered it, as he had no wish to encounter Grace and her friend on their return into the village; so he crossed a little brook which runs at the bottom of the hill on which the chief street of Allington is built, and turned into a field-path to the left as soon as he had got beyond the houses. Not knowing the geography of the place he did not understand that by taking that path he was making his way back to the squire’s house; but it was so; and after sauntering on for about a mile and crossing back again over the stream, of which he took no notice, he found himself leaning across a gate, and looking into a paddock on the other side of which was the high wall of a gentleman’s garden. To avoid this he went on a little further and found himself on a farm road, and before he could retrace his steps so as not to be seen, he met a gentleman whom he presumed to be the owner of the house. It was the squire surveying his home farm, as was his daily custom; but Major Grantly had not perceived that the house must of necessity be Allington House, having been aware that he had passed the entrance to the place, as he entered the village on the other side. “I’m afraid I’m intruding,” he said, lifting his hat. “I came up the path yonder, not knowing that it would lead me so close to a gentleman’s house.”

“There is a right of way through the fields on to the Guestwick road,” said the squire, “and therefore you are not trespassing in any sense; but we are not particular about such things down here, and you would be very welcome if there were no right of way. If you are a stranger, perhaps you would like to see the outside of the old house. People think it picturesque.”

Then Major Grantly became aware that this must be the squire, and he was annoyed with himself for his own awkwardness in having thus come upon the house. He would have wished to keep himself altogether unseen if it had been possible,—and especially unseen by this old gentleman, to whom, now that he had met him, he was almost bound to introduce himself. But he was not absolutely bound to do so, and he determined that he would still keep his peace. Even if the squire should afterwards hear of his having been there, what would it matter? But to proclaim himself at the present moment would be disagreeable to him. He permitted the squire, however, to lead him to the front of the house, and in a few moments was standing on the terrace hearing an account of the architecture of the mansion.

Squire Dale and Major Grantly.

“You can see the date still in the brickwork of one of the chimneys,—that is, if your eyes are very good you can see it,—1617. It was completed in that year, and very little has been done to it since. We think the chimneys are pretty.”

“They are very pretty,” said the major. “Indeed, the house altogether is as graceful as it can be.”

“Those trees are old, too,” said the squire, pointing to two cedars which stood at the side of the house. “They say they are older than the house but I don’t feel sure of it. There was a mansion here before, very nearly, though not quite, on the same spot.”

“Your own ancestors were living here before that, I suppose?” said Grantly, meaning to be civil.

“Well, yes; two or three hundred years before it, I suppose. If you don’t mind coming down to the churchyard, you’ll get an excellent view of the house;—by far the best that there is. By-the-by, would you like to step in and take a glass of wine?”

“I’m very much obliged,” said the major, “but indeed I’d rather not.” Then he followed the squire down to the churchyard, and was shown the church as well as the view of the house, and the vicarage, and a view over to Allington woods from the vicarage gate, of which the squire was very fond, and in this way he was taken back on to the Guestwick side of the village, and even down on to the road by which he had entered it, without in the least knowing where he was. He looked at his watch and saw that it was past two. “I’m very much obliged to you, sir,” he said, again taking off his hat to the squire, “and if I shall not be intruding I’ll make my way back to the village.”

“What village?” said the squire.

“To Allington,” said Grantly.

“This is Allington,” said the squire; and as he spoke, Lily Dale and Grace Crawley turned a corner from the Guestwick road and came close upon them. “Well, girls, I did not expect to see you,” said the squire; “your mamma told me you wouldn’t be back till it was nearly dark, Lily.”

“We have come back earlier than we intended,” said Lily. She of course had seen the stranger with her uncle, and knowing the ways of the squire in such matters had expected to be introduced to him. But the reader will be aware that no introduction was possible. It never occurred to Lily that this man could be the Major Grantly of whom she and Grace had been talking during the whole length of the walk home. But Grace and her lover had of course known each other at once, and Grantly, though he was abashed and almost dismayed by the meeting, of course came forward and gave his hand to his friend. Grace in taking it did not utter a word.

“Perhaps I ought to have introduced myself to you as Major Grantly?” said he, turning to the squire.

“Major Grantly! Dear me! I had no idea that you were expected in these parts.”

“I have come without being expected.”

“You are very welcome, I’m sure. I hope your father is well? I used to know him some years ago, and I daresay he has not forgotten me.” Then, while the girls stood by in silence, and while Grantly was endeavouring to escape, the squire invited him very warmly to send his portmanteau up to the house. “We’ll have the ladies up from the house below, and make it as little dull for you as possible.” But this would not have suited Grantly,—at any rate would not suit him till he should know what answer he was to have. He excused himself therefore, pleading a positive necessity to be at Guestwick that evening, and then, explaining that he had already seen Mrs. Dale, he expressed his intention of going back to the Small House in company with the ladies, if they would allow him. The squire, who did not as yet quite understand it all, bade him a formal adieu, and Lily led the way home down behind the churchyard wall and through the bottom of the gardens belonging to the Great House. She of course knew now who the stranger was, and did all in her power to relieve Grace of her embarrassment. Grace had hitherto not spoken a single word since she had seen her lover, nor did she say a word to him in their walk to the house. And, in truth, he was not much more communicative than Grace. Lily did all the talking, and with wonderful female skill contrived to have some words ready for use till they all found themselves together in Mrs. Dale’s drawing-room. “I have caught a major, mamma, and landed him,” said Lily laughing, “but I’m afraid, from what I hear, that you had caught him first.”