The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XXXIX.


Illustration ohn Eames sat at his office on the day after his return to London, and answered the various letters which he had found waiting for him at his lodgings on the previous evening. To Miss Demolines he had already written from his club,—a single line, which he considered to be appropriate to the mysterious necessities of the occasion. “I will be with you at a quarter to six to-morrow.—J. E. Just returned.” There was not another word; and as he scrawled it at one of the club tables while two or three men were talking to him, he felt rather proud of his correspondence. “It was capital fun,” he said; “and after all,”—the “all” on this occasion being Lily Dale, and the sadness of his disappointment at Allington,—”after all, let a fellow be ever so down in the mouth, a little amusement should do him good.” And he reflected further that the more a fellow be “down in the mouth,” the more good the amusement would do him. He sent off his note, therefore, with some little inward rejoicing,—and a word or two also of spoken rejoicing. “What fun women are sometimes,” he said to one of his friends,—a friend with whom he was very intimate, calling him always Fred, and slapping his back, but whom he never by any chance saw out of his club.

“What’s up now, Johnny? Some good fortune?”

“Good fortune; no. I never have good fortunes of that kind. But I’ve got hold of a young woman,—or rather a young woman has got hold of me, who insists on having a mystery with me. In the mystery itself there is not the slightest interest. But the mysteriousness of it is charming. I have just written to her three words to settle an appointment for to-morrow. We don’t sign our names lest the Postmaster-General should find out all about it.”

“Is she pretty?”

“Well;—she isn’t ugly. She has just enough of good looks to make the sort of thing pass off pleasantly. A mystery with a downright ugly young woman would be unpleasant.”

After this fashion the note from Miss Demolines had been received, and answered at once, but the other letters remained in his pocket till he reached his office on the following morning. Sir Raffle had begged him to be there at half-past nine. This he had sworn he would not do; but he did seat himself in his room at ten minutes before ten, finding of course the whole building untenanted at that early hour,—that unearthly hour, as Johnny called it himself. “I shouldn’t wonder if he really is here this morning,” Johnny said, as he entered the building, “just that he may have an opportunity of jumping on me.” But Sir Raffle was not there, and then Johnny began to abuse Sir Raffle. “If ever I come here early to meet him again, because he says he means to be here himself, I hope I may be —— blessed.” On that especial morning it was twelve before Sir Raffle made his appearance, and Johnny avenged himself,—I regret to have to tell it,—by a fib. That Sir Raffle fibbed first, was no valid excuse whatever for Eames.

“I’ve been at it ever since six o’clock,” said Sir Raffle.

“At what?” said Johnny.

“Work, to be sure;—and very hard work too. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that he can call upon me to any extent that he pleases;—just any extent that he pleases. He doesn’t give me credit for a desire to have a single hour to myself.”

“What would he do, Sir Raffle, if you were to get ill, or wear yourself out?”

“He knows I’m not one of the wearing-out sort. You got my note last night?”

“Yes; I got your note.”

“I’m sorry that I troubled you; but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t expect to get a box full of papers at eleven o’clock last night.”

“You didn’t put me out, Sir Raffle; I happened to have business of my own which prevented the possibility of my being here early.”

This was the way in which John Eames avenged himself. Sir Raffle turned his face upon his private secretary, and his face was very black. Johnny bore the gaze without dropping an eyelid. “I’m not going to stand it, and he may as well know that at once,” Johnny said to one of his friends in the office afterwards. “If he ever wants any thing really done, I’ll do it;—though it should take me twelve hours at a stretch. But I’m not going to pretend to believe all the lies he tells me about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If that is to be part of the private secretary’s business, he had better get somebody else.” But now Sir Raffle was very angry, and his countenance was full of wrath as he looked down upon his subordinate minister. “If I had come here, Mr. Eames, and had found you absent, I should have been very much annoyed, very much annoyed indeed, after having written as I did.”

“You would have found me absent at the hour you named. As I wasn’t here then, I think it’s only fair to say so.”

“I’m afraid you begrudge your time to the service, Mr. Eames.”

“I do begrudge it when the service doesn’t want it.”

“At your age, Mr. Eames, that’s not for you to judge. If I had acted in that way when I was young I should never have filled the position I now hold. I always remembered in those days that as I was the hand and not the head, I was bound to hold myself in readiness whether work might be required from me or not.”

“If I’m wanted as hand now, Sir Raffle, I’m ready.”

“That’s all very well;—but why were you not here at the hour I named?”

“Well, Sir Raffle, I cannot say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer detained me;—but there was business. As I’ve been here for the last two hours, I am happy to think that in this instance the public service will not have suffered from my disobedience.”

Sir Raffle was still standing with his hat on, and with his back to the fire, and his countenance was full of wrath. It was on his tongue to tell Johnny that he had better return to his former work in the outer office. He greatly wanted the comfort of a private secretary who would believe in him—or at least pretend to believe in him. There are men who, though they have not sense enough to be true, have nevertheless sense enough to know that they cannot expect to be really believed in by those who are near enough to them to know them. Sir Raffle Buffle was such a one. He would have greatly delighted in the services of some one who would trust him implicitly,—of some young man who would really believe all that he said of himself and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he was wise enough to perceive that no such young man was to be had; or that any such young man,—could such a one be found,—would be absolutely useless for any purposes of work. He knew himself to be a liar whom nobody trusted. And he knew himself also to be a bully,—though he could not think so low of himself as to believe that he was a bully whom nobody feared. A private secretary was at the least bound to pretend to believe in him. There is a decency in such things, and that decency John Eames did not observe. He thought that he must get rid of John Eames, in spite of certain attractions which belonged to Johnny’s appearance and general manners, and social standing, and reputed wealth. But it would not be wise to punish a man on the spot for breaking an appointment which he himself had not kept, and therefore he would wait for another opportunity. “You had better go to your own room now,” he said. “I am engaged on a matter connected with the Treasury, in which I will not ask for your assistance.” He knew that Eames would not believe a word as to what he said about the Treasury,—not even some very trifling base of truth which did exist; but the boast gave him an opportunity of putting an end to the interview after his own fashion. Then John Eames went to his own room and answered the letters which he had in his pocket.

To the club dinner he would not go. “What’s the use of paying two guineas for a dinner with fellows you see every day of your life?” he said. To Lady Glencora’s he would go, and he wrote a line to his friend Dalrymple proposing that they should go together. And he would dine with his cousin Toogood in Tavistock Square. “One meets the queerest people in the world there,” he said; “but Tommy Toogood is such a good fellow himself!” After that he had his lunch. Then he read the paper, and before he went away he wrote a dozen or two of private notes, presenting Sir Raffle’s compliments right and left, and giving in no one note a single word of information that could be of any use to any person. Having thus earned his salary by half-past four o’clock he got into a hansom cab and had himself driven to Porchester Terrace. Miss Demolines was at home, of course, and he soon found himself closeted with that interesting young woman.

“I thought you never would have come.” These were the first words she spoke.

“My dear Miss Demolines, you must not forget that I have my bread to earn.”

“Fiddlestick—bread! As if I didn’t know that you can get away from your office when you choose.”

“But, indeed, I cannot.”

“What is there to prevent you, Mr. Eames?”

“I’m not tied up like a dog, certainly; but who do you suppose will do my work if I do not do it myself? It is a fact, though the world does not believe it, that men in public offices have got something to do.”

“Now you are laughing at me, I know; but you are welcome, if you like it. It’s the way of the world just at present that ladies should submit to that sort of thing from gentlemen.”

“What sort of thing, Miss Demolines?”

“Chaff,—as you call it. Courtesy is out of fashion, and gallantry has come to signify quite a different kind of thing from what it used to do.”

“The Sir Charles Grandison business is done and gone. That’s what you mean, I suppose? Don’t you think we should find it very heavy if we tried to get it back again?”

“I’m not going to ask you to be a Sir Charles Grandison, Mr. Eames. But never mind all that now. Do you know that that girl has absolutely had her first sitting for the picture?”

“Has she, indeed?”

“She has. You may take my word for it. I know it as a fact. What a fool that young man is!”

“Which young man?”

“Which young man! Conway Dalrymple to be sure. Artists are always weak. Of all men in the world they are the most subject to flattery from women; and we all know that Conway Dalrymple is very vain.”

“Upon my word I didn’t know it,” said Johnny.

“Yes, you do. You must know it. When a man goes about in a purple velvet coat of course he is vain.”

“I certainly cannot defend a purple velvet coat.”

“That is what he wore when this girl sat to him this morning.”

“This morning was it?”

“Yes; this morning. They little think that they can do nothing without my knowing it. He was there for nearly four hours, and she was dressed up in a white robe as Jael, with a turban on her head. Jael, indeed! I call it very improper, and I am quite astonished that Maria Clutterbuck should have lent herself to such a piece of work. That Maria was never very wise, of course we all know; but I thought that she had principle enough to have kept her from this kind of thing.”

“It’s her fevered existence,” said Johnny.

“That is just it. She must have excitement. It is like dram-drinking. And then, you know, they are always living in the crater of a volcano.”

“Who are living in the crater of a volcano?”

“The Dobbs Broughtons are. Of course they are. There is no saying what day a smash may come. These City people get so used to it that they enjoy it. The risk is every thing to them.”

“They like to have a little certainty behind the risk, I fancy.”

“I’m afraid there is very little that’s certain with Dobbs Broughton. But about this picture, Mr. Eames. I look to you to assist me there. It must be put a stop to. As to that I am determined. It must be—put a—stop to.” And as Miss Demolines repeated these last words with tremendous emphasis she leant with both her elbows on a little table that stood between her and her visitor, and looked with all her eyes into his face. “I do hope that you agree with me in that,” said she.

“Upon my word I do not see the harm of the picture,” said he.

“You do not?”

“Indeed, no. Why should not Dalrymple paint Miss Van Siever as well as any other lady? It is his special business to paint ladies.”

“Look here, Mr. Eames.—” And now Miss Demolines, as she spoke, drew her own seat closer to that of her companion and pushed away the little table. “Do you suppose that Conway Dalrymple, in the usual way of his business, paints pictures of young ladies, of which their mothers know nothing? Do you suppose that he paints them in ladies’ rooms without their husbands’ knowledge? And in the common way of his business does he not expect to be paid for his pictures?”

“But what is all that to you and me, Miss Demolines?”

“Is the welfare of your friend nothing to you? Would you like to see him become the victim of the artifice of such a girl as Clara Van Siever?”

“Upon my word I think he is very well able to take care of himself.”

“And would you wish to see that poor creature’s domestic hearth ruined and broken up?”

“Which poor creature?”

“Dobbs Broughton, to be sure.”

“I can’t pretend that I care very much for Dobbs Broughton,” said John Eames; “and you see I know so little about his domestic hearth.”

“Oh, Mr. Eames!”

“Besides, her principles will pull her through. You told me yourself that Mrs. Broughton has high principles.”

“God forbid that I should say a word against Maria Clutterbuck,” said Miss Demolines, fervently. “Maria Clutterbuck was my early friend, and though words have been spoken which never should have been spoken, and though things have been done which never should have been even dreamed of, still I will not desert Maria Clutterbuck in her hour of need. No, never!”

“I’m sure you’re what one may call a trump to your friends, Miss Demolines.”

“I have always endeavoured to be so, and always shall. You will find me so;—that is if you and I ever become intimate enough to feel that sort of friendship.”

“There’s nothing on earth I should like better,” said Johnny. As soon as the words were out of his mouth he felt ashamed of himself. He knew that he did not in truth desire the friendship of Miss Demolines, and that any friendship with such a one would mean something different from friendship,—something that would be an injury to Lily Dale. A week had hardly passed since he had sworn a life’s constancy to Lily Dale,—had sworn it, not to her only, but to himself; and now he was giving way to a flirtation with this woman, not because he liked it himself, but because he was too weak to keep out of it.

“If that is true—,” said Miss Demolines.

“Oh, yes; it’s quite true,” said Johnny.

“Then you must earn my friendship by doing what I ask of you. That picture must not be painted. You must tell Conway Dalrymple as his friend that he must cease to carry on such an intrigue in another man’s house.”

“You would hardly call painting a picture an intrigue; would you?”

“Certainly I would when it’s kept a secret from the husband by the wife,—and from the mother by the daughter. If it cannot be stopped in any other way, I must tell Mrs. Van Siever;—I must, indeed. I have such an abhorrence of the old woman, that I could not bring myself to speak to her,—but I should write to her. That’s what I should do.”

“But what’s the reason? You might as well tell me the real reason.” Had Miss Demolines been christened Mary, or Fanny, or Jane, I think that John Eames would now have called her by either of those names; but Madalina was such a mouthful that he could not bring himself to use it at once. He had heard that among her intimates she was called Maddy. He had an idea that he had heard Dalrymple in old times talk of her as Maddy Mullins, and just at this moment the idea was not pleasant to him; at any rate he could not call her Maddy as yet. “How am I to help you,” he said, “unless I know all about it?”

“I hate that girl like poison!” said Miss Demolines, confidentially, drawing herself very near to Johnny as she spoke.

“But what has she done?”

“What has she done? I can’t tell you what she has done. I could not demean myself by repeating it. Of course we all know what she wants. She wants to catch Conway Dalrymple. That’s as plain as anything can be. Not that I care about that.”

“Of course not,” said Johnny.

“Not in the least. It’s nothing to me. I have known Mr. Dalrymple, no doubt, for a year or two, and I should be sorry to see a young man who has his good points sacrificed in that sort of way. But it is mere acquaintance between Mr. Dalrymple and me, and of course I cannot interfere.”

“She’ll have a lot of money, you know.”

“He thinks so; does he? I suppose that is what Maria has told him. Oh, Mr. Eames, you don’t know the meanness of women; you don’t, indeed. Men are so much more noble.”

“Are they, do you think?”

“Than some women. I see women doing things that really disgust me; I do, indeed;—things that I wouldn’t do myself, were it ever so;—striving to catch men in every possible way, and for such purposes! I wouldn’t have believed it of Maria Clutterbuck. I wouldn’t indeed. However, I will never say a word against her, because she has been my friend. Nothing shall ever induce me.”

John Eames before he left Porchester Terrace, had at last succeeded in calling his fair friend Madalina, and had promised that he would endeavour to open the artist’s eyes to the folly of painting his picture in Broughton’s house without Broughton’s knowledge.