The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER LIII.


Illustration ily had heard nothing as to the difficulty about her horse, and could therefore enjoy her exercise without the drawback of feeling that her uncle was subjected to an annoyance. She was in the habit of going out every day with Bernard and Emily Dunstable, and their party was generally joined by others who would meet them at Mrs. Thorne’s house. For Mrs. Thorne was a very hospitable woman, and there were many who liked well enough to go to her house. Late in the afternoon there would be a great congregation of horses before the door,—sometimes as many as a dozen; and then the cavalcade would go off into the Park, and there it would become scattered. As neither Bernard nor Miss Dunstable were unconscionable lovers, Lily in these scatterings did not often find herself neglected or lost. Her cousin would generally remain with her, and as in those days she had no “it” of her own she was well pleased that he should do so.

But it so happened that on a certain afternoon she found herself riding in Rotten Row alone with a certain stout gentleman whom she constantly met at Mrs. Thorne’s house. His name was Onesiphorus Dunn, and he was usually called Siph by his intimate friends. It had seemed to Lily that everybody was an intimate friend of Mr. Dunn’s, and she was in daily fear lest she should make a mistake and call him Siph herself. Had she done so it would not have mattered in the least. Mr. Dunn, had he observed it at all, would neither have been flattered nor angry. A great many young ladies about London did call him Siph, and to him it was quite natural that they should do so. He was an Irishman, living on the best of everything in the world, with apparently no fortune of his own, and certainly never earning anything. Everybody liked him, and it was admitted on all sides that there was no safer friend in the world, either for young ladies or young men, than Mr. Onesiphorus Dunn. He did not borrow money, and he did not encroach. He did like being asked out to dinner, and he did think that they to whom he gave the light of his countenance in town owed him the return of a week’s run in the country. He neither shot, nor hunted nor fished, nor read, and yet he was never in the way in any house. He did play billiards, and whist, and croquet—very badly. He was a good judge of wine, and would occasionally condescend to look after the bottling of it on behalf of some very intimate friend. He was a great friend of Mrs. Thorne’s, with whom he always spent ten days in the autumn at Chaldicotes.

Bernard and Emily were not insatiable lovers, but, nevertheless, Mrs. Thorne had thought it proper to provide a fourth in the riding-parties, and had put Mr. Dunn upon this duty. “Don’t bother yourself about it, Siph,” she had said; “only if those lovers should go off philandering out of sight, our little country lassie might find herself to be nowhere in the Park.” Siph had promised to make himself useful, and had done so. There had generally been so large a number in their party that the work imposed on Mr. Dunn had been very light. Lily had never found out that he had been especially consigned to her as her own cavalier, but had seen quite enough of him to be aware that he was a pleasant companion. To her, thinking, as she ever was thinking, about Johnny Eames, Siph was much more agreeable than might have been a younger man who would have endeavoured to make her think about himself.

Thus when she found herself riding alone in Rotten Row with Siph Dunn, she was neither disconcerted nor displeased. He had been talking to her about Lord De Guest, whom he had known,—for Siph knew everybody,—and Lily had begun to wonder whether he knew John Eames. She would have liked to hear the opinion of such a man about John Eames. She was making up her mind that she would say something about the Crawley matter,—not intending of course to mention John Eames’s name,—when suddenly her tongue was paralyzed and she could not speak. At that moment they were standing near a corner, where a turning path made an angle in the iron rails, Mr. Dunn having proposed that they should wait there for a few minutes before they returned home, as it was probable that Bernard and Miss Dunstable might come up. They had been there for some five or ten minutes, and Lily had asked her first question about the Crawleys,—inquiring of Mr. Dunn whether he had heard of a terrible accusation which had been made against a clergyman in Barsetshire,—when on a sudden her tongue was paralyzed. As they were standing, Lily’s horse was turned towards the diverging path, whereas Mr. Dunn was looking the other way, towards Achilles and Apsley house. Mr. Dunn was nearer to the railings, but though they were thus looking different ways they were so placed that each could see the face of the other. Then, on a sudden, coming slowly towards her along the diverging path and leaning on the arm of another man, she saw,—Adolphus Crosbie.

She had never seen him since a day on which she had parted from him with many kisses,—with warm, pressing, eager kisses,—of which she had been nowhat ashamed. He had then been to her almost as her husband. She had trusted him entirely, and had thrown herself into his arms with a full reliance. There is often much of reticence on the part of a woman towards a man to whom she is engaged, something also of shamefacedness occasionally. There exists a shadow of doubt, at least of that hesitation which shows that in spite of vows the woman knows that a change may come, and that provision for such possible steps backward should always be within her reach. But Lily had cast all such caution to the winds. She had given herself to the man entirely, and had determined that she would sink or swim, stand or fall, live or die, by him and by his truth. He had been as false as hell. She had been in his arms, clinging to him, kissing him, swearing that her only pleasure in the world was to be with him,—with him her treasure, her promised husband; and within a month, a week, he had been false to her. There had come upon her crushing tidings, and she had for days wondered at herself that they had not killed her. But she had lived, and had forgiven him. She had still loved him, and had received new offers from him, which had been answered as the reader knows. But she had never seen him since the day on which she had parted from him at Allington, without a doubt as to his faith. Now he was before her, walking on the footpath, almost within reach of her whip.

He did not recognize her, but as he passed on he did recognize Mr. Onesiphorus Dunn, and stopped to speak to him. Or it might have been that Crosbie’s friend Fowler Pratt stopped with this special object,—for Siph Dunn was an intimate friend of Fowler Pratt’s. Crosbie and Siph were also acquainted, but in those days Crosbie did not care much for stopping his friends in the Park or elsewhere. He had become moody and discontented, and was generally seen going about the world alone. On this special occasion he was having a little special conversation about money with his very old friend Fowler Pratt.

“What, Siph, is this you? You’re always on horseback now,” said Fowler Pratt.

“Well, yes; I have gone in a good deal for cavalry work this last month. I’ve been lucky enough to have a young lady to ride with me.” This he said in a whisper, which the distance of Lily justified. “How d’ye do, Crosbie? One doesn’t often see you on horseback, or on foot either.”

“I’ve something to do besides going to look or to be looked at,” said Crosbie. Then he raised his eyes and saw Lily’s side-face, and recognized her. Had he seen her before he had been stopped on his way I think he would have passed on, endeavouring to escape observation. But as it was, his feet had been arrested before he knew of her close vicinity, and now it would seem that he was afraid of her, and was flying from her, were he at once to walk off, leaving his friend behind him. And he knew that she had seen him, and had recognized him, and was now suffering from his presence. He could not but perceive that it was so from the fixedness of her face, and from the constrained manner in which she gazed before her. His friend Fowler Pratt had never seen Miss Dale, though he knew very much of her history. Siph Dunn knew nothing of the history of Crosbie and his love, and was unaware that he and Lily had ever seen each other. There was thus no help near her to extricate her from her difficulty.

“When a man has any work to do in the world,” said Siph, “he always boasts of it to his acquaintance, and curses his luck to himself. I have nothing to do and can go about to see and to be seen;—and I must own that I like it.”

“Especially the being seen,—eh, Siph?” said Fowler Pratt. “I also have nothing on earth to do, and I come here every day because it is as easy to do that as to go anywhere else.”

Crosbie was still looking at Lily. He could not help himself. He could not take his eyes from off her. He could see that she was as pretty as ever, that she was but very little altered. She was, in truth, somewhat stouter than in the old days, but of that he took no special notice. Should he speak to her? Should he try to catch her eye, and then raise his hat? Should he go up to her horse’s head boldly, and ask her to let bygones be bygones? He had an idea that of all courses which he could pursue that was the one which she would approve the best,—which would be most efficacious for him, if with her anything from him might have any efficacy. But he could not do it. He did not know what words he might best use. Would it become him humbly to sue to her for pardon? Or should he strive to express his unaltered love by some tone of his voice? Or should he simply ask her after her health? He made one step towards her, and he saw that the face became more rigid and more fixed than before, and then he desisted. He told himself that he was simply hateful to her. He thought that he could perceive that there was no tenderness mixed with her unabated anger.

At this moment Bernard Dale and Emily came close upon him, and Bernard saw him at once. It was through Bernard that Lily and Crosbie had come to know each other. He and Bernard Dale had been fast friends in old times, and had, of course, been bitter enemies since the day of Crosbie’s treachery. They had never spoken since, though they had often seen each other, and Dale was not at all disposed to speak to him now. The moment that he recognized Crosbie he looked across to his cousin. For an instant, an idea had flashed across him that he was there by her permission,—with her assent; but it required no second glance to show him that this was not the case. “Dunn,” he said, “I think we will ride on,” and he put his horse into a trot. Siph, whose ear was very accurate, and who knew at once that something was wrong, trotted on with him, and Lily, of course, was not left behind. “Is there anything the matter?” said Emily to her lover.

“Nothing specially the matter,” he replied; “but you were standing in company with the greatest blackguard that ever lived, and I thought we had better change our ground.”

“Bernard!” said Lily, flashing on him with all the fire which her eyes could command. Then she remembered that she could not reprimand him for the offence of such abuse in such a company; so she reined in her horse and fell a-weeping.

Siph Dunn, with his wicked cleverness, knew the whole story at once, remembering that he had once heard something of Crosbie having behaved very ill to some one before he married Lady Alexandrina De Courcy. He stopped his horse also, falling a little behind Lily, so that he might not be supposed to have seen her tears, and began to hum a tune. Emily also, though not wickedly clever, understood something of it. “If Bernard says anything to make you angry, I will scold him,” she said. Then the two girls rode on together in front, while Bernard fell back with Siph Dunn.

“Pratt,” said Crosbie, putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder as soon as the party had ridden out of hearing, “do you see that girl there in the dark blue habit?”

“What, the one nearest to the path?”

“Yes; the one nearest to the path. That is Lily Dale.”

“Lily Dale!” said Fowler Pratt.

“Yes; that is Lily Dale.”

“Did you speak to her?” Pratt asked.

“No; she gave me no chance. She was there but a moment. But it was herself. It seems so odd to me that I should have been thus so near her again.” If there was any man to whom Crosbie could have spoken freely about Lily Dale it was this man, Fowler Pratt. Pratt was the oldest friend he had in the world, and it had happened that when he first woke to the misery that he had prepared for himself in throwing over Lily and betrothing himself to his late wife, Pratt had been the first person to whom he had communicated his sorrow. Not that he had ever been really open in his communications. It is not given to such men as Crosbie to speak openly of themselves to their friends. Nor, indeed, was Fowler Pratt one who was fond of listening to such tales. He had no such tales to tell of himself, and he thought that men and women should go through the world quietly, not subjecting themselves or their acquaintances to anxieties and emotions from peculiar conduct. But he was conscientious, and courageous also as well as prudent, and he had dared to tell Crosbie that he was behaving very badly. He had spoken his mind plainly, and had then given all the assistance in his power.

He paused a moment before he replied, weighing, like a prudent man, the force of the words he was about to utter. “It is much better as it is,” he said. “It is much better that you should be as strangers for the future.”

“I do not see that at all,” said Crosbie. They were both leaning on the rails, and so they remained for the next twenty minutes. “I do not see that at all.”

“I feel sure of it. What could come of any renewed intercourse,—even if she would allow it?”

“I might make her my wife.”

“And do you think that you would be happy with her, or she with you, after what has passed?”

“I do think so.”

“I do not. It might be possible that she should bring herself to marry you. Women delight to forgive injuries. They like the excitement of generosity. But she could never forget that you had had a former wife, or the circumstances under which you were married. And as for yourself, you would regret it after the first month. How could you ever speak to her of your love without speaking also of your shame? If a man does marry he should at least be able to hold up his head before his wife.”

This was very severe, but Crosbie showed no anger. “I think I should do so,” he said,—”after a while.”

“And then, about money? Of course you would have to tell her everything.”

“Everything—of course.”

“It is like enough that she might not regard that,—except that she would feel that if you could not afford to marry her when you were unembarrassed, you can hardly afford to do so when you are over head and ears in debt.”

“She has money now.”

“After all that has come and gone you would hardly seek Lily Dale because you want to marry a fortune.”

“You are too hard on me, Pratt. You know that my only reason for seeking her is that I love her.”

“I do not mean to be hard. But I have a very strong opinion that the quarrels of lovers, when they are of so very serious a nature, are a bad basis for the renewal of love. Come, let us go and dress for dinner. I am going to dine with Mrs. Thorne, the millionaire, who married a country doctor, and who used to be called Miss Dunstable.”

“I never dine out anywhere now,” said Crosbie. And then they walked out of the Park together. Neither of them, of course, knew that Lily Dale was staying at the house at which Fowler Pratt was going to dine.

Lily, as she rode home, did not speak a word. She would have given worlds to be able to talk, but she could not even make a beginning. She heard Bernard and Siph Dunn chatting behind her, and hoped that they would continue to do so till she was safe within the house. They all used her well, for no one tried to draw her into conversation. Once Emily said to her, “Shall we trot a little, Lily?” And then they had moved on quickly, and the misery was soon over. As soon as she was upstairs in the house, she got Emily by herself, and explained all the mystery in a word or two. “I fear I have made a fool of myself. That was the man to whom I was once engaged.” “What, Mr. Crosbie?” said Emily, who had heard the whole story from Bernard. “Yes, Mr. Crosbie; pray, do not say a word of it to anybody,—not even to your aunt. I am better now, but I was such a fool. No, dear; I won’t go into the drawing-room. I’ll go upstairs, and come down ready for dinner.”

When she was alone she sat down in her habit, and declared to herself that she certainly would never become the wife of Mr. Crosbie. I do not know why she should make such a declaration. She had promised her mother and John Eames that she would not do so, and that promise would certainly have bound her without any further resolutions on her own part. But, to tell the truth, the vision of the man had disenchanted her. When last she had seen him he had been as it were a god to her; and though, since that day, his conduct to her had been as ungodlike as it well might be, still the memory of the outward signs of his divinity had remained with her. It is difficult to explain how it had come to pass that the glimpse which she had had of him should have altered so much within her mind;—why she should so suddenly have come to regard him in an altered light. It was not simply that he looked to be older, and because his face was careworn. It was not only that he had lost that look of an Apollo which Lily had once in her mirth attributed to him. I think it was chiefly that she herself was older, and could no longer see a god in such a man. She had never regarded John Eames as being gifted with divinity, and had therefore always been making comparisons to his discredit. Any such comparison now would tend quite the other way. Nevertheless she would adhere to the two letters in her book. Since she had seen Mr. Crosbie she was altogether out of love with the prospect of matrimony.

She was in the room when Mr. Pratt was announced, and she at once recognized him as the man who had been with Crosbie. And when, some minutes afterwards, Siph Dunn came into the room, she could see that in their greeting allusion was made to the scene in the Park. But still it was probable that this man would not recognize her, and, if he did so, what would it matter? There were twenty people to sit down to dinner, and the chances were that she would not be called upon to exchange a word with Mr. Pratt. She had now recovered herself, and could speak freely to her friend Siph, and when Siph came and stood near her she thanked him graciously for his escort in the Park. “If it wasn’t for you, Mr. Dunn, I really think I should not get any riding at all. Bernard and Miss Dunstable have only one thing to think about, and certainly I am not that one thing.” She thought it probable that if she could keep Siph close to her, Mrs. Thorne, who always managed those things herself, might apportion her out to be led to dinner by her good-natured friend. But the fates were averse. The time had now come, and Lily was waiting her turn. “Mr. Fowler Pratt, let me introduce you to Miss Lily Dale,” said Mrs. Thorne. Lily could perceive that Mr. Pratt was startled. The sign he gave was the least possible sign in the world; but still it sufficed for Lily to perceive it. She put her hand upon his arm, and walked down with him to the dining-room without giving him the slightest cause to suppose that she knew who he was.

“I think I saw you in the Park riding?” he said.

“Yes, I was there; we go nearly every day.”

“I never ride; I was walking.”

“It seems to me that the people don’t go there to walk, but to stand still,” said Lily. “I cannot understand how so many people can bear to loiter about in that way—leaning on the rails and doing nothing.”

“It is about as good as the riding, and costs less money. That is all that can be said for it. Do you live chiefly in town?”

“O dear, no; I live altogether in the country. I’m only up here because a cousin is going to be married.”

“Captain Dale you mean—to Miss Dunstable?” said Fowler Pratt.

“When they have been joined together in holy matrimony, I shall go down to the country, and never, I suppose, come up to London again.”

“You do not like London?”

“Not as a residence, I think,” said Lily. “But of course one’s likings and dislikings on such a matter depend on circumstances. I live with my mother, and all my relatives live near us. Of course I like the country best, because they are there.”

“Young ladies so often have a different way of looking at this subject. I shouldn’t wonder if Miss Dunstable’s views about it were altogether of another sort. Young ladies generally expect to be taken away from their fathers and mothers, and uncles and aunts.”

“But you see I expect to be left with mine,” said Lily. After that she turned as much away from Mr. Fowler Pratt as she could, having taken an aversion to him. What business had he to talk to her about being taken away from her uncles and aunts? She had seen him with Mr. Crosbie, and it might be possible that they were intimate friends. It might be that Mr. Pratt was asking questions in Mr. Crosbie’s interest. Let that be as it might, she would answer no more questions from him further than ordinary good breeding should require of her.

“She is a nice girl, certainly,” said Fowler Pratt to himself, as he walked home, “and I have no doubt would make a good, ordinary, everyday wife. But she is not such a paragon that a man should condescend to grovel in the dirt for her.”

That night Lily told Emily Dunstable the whole of Mr. Crosbie’s history as far as she knew it, and also explained her new aversion to Mr. Fowler Pratt. “They are very great friends,” said Emily. “Bernard has told me so; and you may be sure that Mr. Pratt knew the whole history before he came here. I am so sorry that my aunt asked him.”

“It does not signify in the least,” said Lily. “Even if I were to meet Mr. Crosbie I don’t think I should make such a fool of myself again. As it is, I can only hope he did not see it.”

“I am sure he did not.”

Then there was a pause, during which Lily sat with her face resting on both her hands. “It is wonderful how much he is altered,” she said at last.

“Think how much he has suffered.”

“I suppose I am altered as much, only I do not see it in myself.”

“I don’t know what you were, but I don’t think you can have changed much. You no doubt have suffered too, but not as he has done.”

“Oh, as for that, I have done very well. I think I’ll go to bed now. The riding makes me so sleepy.”