The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XXIX.


Lady Julia De Guest always lunched at one exactly, and it was not much past twelve when John Eames made his appearance at the cottage. He was of course told to stay, and of course said that he would stay. It had been his purpose to lunch with Lady Julia; but then he had not expected to find Lily Dale at the cottage. Lily herself would have been quite at her ease, protected by Lady Julia, and somewhat protected also by her own powers of fence, had it not been that Grace was there also. But Grace Crawley, from the moment that she had heard the description of the gentleman who looked out of the window with his glass in his eye, had by no means been at her ease. Lily saw at once that she could not be brought to join in any conversation, and both John and Lady Julia, in their ignorance of the matter in hand, made matters worse.

“So that was Major Grantly?” said John. “I have heard of him before, I think. He is a son of the old archdeacon, is he not?”

“I don’t know about old archdeacon,” said Lady Julia. “The archdeacon is the son of the old bishop, whom I remember very well. And it is not so very long since the bishop died, either.”

“I wonder what he’s doing at Allington?” said Johnny.

“I think he knows my uncle,” said Lily.

“But he’s going to call on your mother,” he said. Then Johnny remembered that the major had said something as to knowing Miss Crawley, and for the moment he was silent.

“I remember when they talked of making the son a bishop also,” said Lady Julia.

“What;—this same man who is now a major?” said Johnny.

“No, you goose. He is not the son; he is the grandson. They were going to make the archdeacon a bishop, and I remember hearing that he was terribly disappointed. He is getting to be an old man now, I suppose; and yet, dear me, how well I remember his father.”

“He didn’t look like a bishop’s son,” said Johnny.

“How does a bishop’s son look?” Lily asked.

“I suppose he ought to have some sort of clerical tinge about him; but this fellow had nothing of that kind.”

“But then this fellow, as you call him,” said Lily, “is only the son of an archdeacon.”

“That accounts for it, I suppose,” said Johnny.

But during all this time Grace did not say a word, and Lily perceived it. Then she bethought herself as to what she had better do. Grace, she knew, could not be comfortable where she was. Nor, indeed, was it probable that Grace would be very comfortable in returning home. There could not be much ease for Grace till the coming meeting between her and Major Grantly should be over. But it would be better that Grace should go back to Allington at once; and better also, perhaps, for Major Grantly that it should be so. “Lady Julia,” she said, “I don’t think we’ll mind stopping for lunch to-day.”

“Nonsense, my dear; you promised.”

“I think we must break our promise; I do indeed. You mustn’t be angry with us.” And Lily looked at Lady Julia, as though there were something which Lady Julia ought to understand, which she, Lily, could not quite explain. I fear that Lily was false, and intended her old friend to believe that she was running away because John Eames had come there.

“But you will be famished,” said Lady Julia.

“We shall live through it,” said Lily.

“It is out of the question that I should let you walk all the way here from Allington and all the way back without taking something.”

“We shall just be home in time for lunch if we go now,” said Lily. “Will not that be best, Grace?”

Grace hardly knew what would be best. She only knew that Major Grantly was at Allington, and that he had come thither to see her. The idea of hurrying back after him was unpleasant to her, and yet she was so flurried that she felt thankful to Lily for taking her away from the cottage. The matter was compromised at last. They remained for half an hour, and ate some biscuits and pretended to drink a glass of wine, and then they started. John Eames, who in truth believed that Lily Dale was running away from him, was by no means well pleased, and when the girls were gone, did not make himself so agreeable to his old friend as he should have done. “What a fool I am to come here at all,” he said, throwing himself into an arm-chair as soon as the front door was closed.

“That’s very civil to me, John!”

“You know what I mean, Lady Julia. I am a fool to come near her, until I can do so without thinking more of her than I do of any other girl in the county.”

“I don’t think you have anything to complain of as yet,” said Lady Julia, who had in some sort perceived that Lily’s retreat had been on Grace’s account, and not on her own. “It seems to me that Lily was very glad to see you, and when I told her that you were coming to stay here, and would be near them for some days, she seemed to be quite pleased;—she did indeed.”

“Then why did she run away the moment I came in?” said Johnny.

“I think it was something you said about that man who has gone to Allington.”

“What difference can the man make to her? The truth is, I despise myself;—I do indeed, Lady Julia. Only think of my meeting Crosbie at dinner the other day, and his having the impertinence to come up and shake hands with me.”

“I suppose he didn’t say anything about what happened at the Paddington Station?”

“No; he didn’t speak about that. I wish I knew whether she cares for him still. If I thought she did, I would never speak another word to her,—I mean about myself. Of course I am not going to quarrel with them. I am not such a fool as that.” Then Lady Julia tried to comfort him, and succeeded so far that he was induced to eat the mince veal that had been intended for the comfort and support of the two young ladies who had run away.

“Do you think it is he?” were the first words which Grace said when they were fairly on their way back together.

“I should think it must be. What other man can there be, of that sort, who would be likely to come to Allington to see you?”

“His coming is not likely. I cannot understand that he should come. He let me leave Silverbridge without seeing me,—and I thought that he was quite right.”

“And I think he is quite right to come here. I am very glad he has come. It shows that he has really something like a heart inside him. Had he not come, or sent, or written, or taken some step before the trial comes on, to make you know that he was thinking of you, I should have said that he was as hard,—as hard as any other man that I ever heard of. Men are so hard! But I don’t think he is, now. I am beginning to regard him as the one chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, and to fancy that you ought to go down on your knees before him, and kiss his highness’s shoebuckle. In judging of men one’s mind vacillates so quickly between the scorn which is due to a false man and the worship which is due to a true man.” Then she was silent for a moment, but Grace said nothing, and Lily continued, “I tell you fairly, Grace, that I shall expect very much from you now.”

“Much in what way, Lily?”

“In the way of worship. I shall not be content that you should merely love him. If he has come here, as he must have done, to say that the moment of the world’s reproach is the moment he has chosen to ask you to be his wife, I think that you will owe him more than love.”

“I shall owe him more than love, and I will pay him more than love,” said Grace. There was something in the tone of her voice as she spoke which made Lily stop her and look up into her face. There was a smile there which Lily had never seen before, and which gave a beauty to her which was wonderful to Lily’s eyes. Surely this lover of Grace’s must have seen her smile like that, and therefore had loved her and was giving such wonderful proof of his love. “Yes,” continued Grace, standing and looking at her friend, “you may stare at me, Lily, but you may be sure that I will do for Major Grantly all the good that I can do for him.”

“What do you mean, Grace?”

“Never mind what I mean. You are very imperious in managing your own affairs, and you must let me be so equally in mine.”

“But I tell you everything.”

“Do you suppose that if—if—if in real truth it can possibly be the case that Major Grantly shall have come here to offer me his hand when we are all ground down into the dust, as we are, do you think that I will let him sacrifice himself? Would you?”

“Certainly. Why not? There will be no sacrifice. He will be asking for that which he wishes to get; and you will be bound to give it to him.”

“If he wants it, where is his nobility? If it be as you say, he will have shown himself noble, and his nobility will have consisted in this, that he has been willing to take that which he does not want, in order that he may succour one whom he loves. I also will succour one whom I love, as best I know how.” Then she walked on quickly before her friend, and Lily stood for a moment thinking before she followed her. They were now on a field-path, by which they were enabled to escape the road back to Allington for the greater part of the distance, and Grace had reached a stile, and had clambered over it before Lily had caught her.

“You must not go away by yourself,” said Lily.

“I don’t wish to go away by myself.”

“I want you to stop a moment and listen to me. I am sure you are wrong in this,—wrong for both your sakes. You believe that he loves you?”

“I thought he did once; and if he has come here to see me, I suppose he does still.”

“If that be the case, and if you also love him—”

“I do. I make no mystery about that to you. I do love him with all my heart. I love him to-day, now that I believe him to be here, and that I suppose I shall see him, perhaps this very afternoon. And I loved him yesterday, when I thought that I should never see him again. I do love him. I do. I love him so well that I will never do him an injury.”

“That being so, if he makes you an offer you are bound to accept it. I do not think that you have an alternative.”

“I have an alternative, and I shall use it. Why don’t you take my cousin John?”

“Because I like somebody else better. If you have got as good a reason I won’t say another word to you.”

“And why don’t you take that other person?”

“Because I cannot trust his love; that is why. It is not very kind of you, opening my sores afresh, when I am trying to heal yours.”

“Oh, Lily, am I unkind,—unkind to you, who have been so generous to me?”

“I’ll forgive you all that and a deal more if you will only listen to me and try to take my advice. Because this major of yours does a generous thing, which is for the good of you both,—the infinite good of both of you,—you are to emulate his generosity by doing a thing which will be for the good of neither of you. That is about it. Yes, it is, Grace. You cannot doubt that he has been meaning this for some time past; and of course, if he looks upon you as his own,—and I daresay, if the whole truth is to be told, he does—”

“But I am not his own.”

“Yes, you are, in one sense; you have just said so with a great deal of energy. And if it is so,—let me see, where was I?”

“Oh, Lily, you need not mind where you were.”

“But I do mind, and I hate to be interrupted in my arguments. Yes, just that. If he saw his cow sick, he’d try to doctor the cow in her sickness. He sees that you are sick, and of course he comes to your relief.”

“I am not Major Grantly’s cow.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Nor his dog, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his, except—except, Lily, the dearest friend that he has on the face of the earth. He cannot have a friend that will go further for him than I will. He will never know how far I will go to serve him. You don’t know his people. Nor do I know them. But I know what they are. His sister is married to a marquis.”

“What has that to do with it?” said Lily, sharply. “If she were married to an archduke, what difference would that make?”

“And they are proud people—all of them—and rich; and they live with high persons in the world.”

“I didn’t care though they lived with the royal family, and had the Prince of Wales for their bosom friend. It only shows how much better he is than they are.”

“But think what my family is,—how we are situated. When my father was simply poor I did not care about it, because he has been born and bred a gentleman. But now he is disgraced. Yes, Lily, he is. I am bound to say so, at any rate to myself, when I am thinking of Major Grantly; and I will not carry that disgrace into a family which would feel it so keenly as they would do.” Lily, however, went on with her arguments, and was still arguing when they turned the corner of the lane, and came upon Lily’s uncle and the major himself.