The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER LXXV.


John Eames, as soon as he had left Mrs. Arabin at the hotel and had taken his travelling-bag to his own lodgings, started off for his uncle Toogood’s house. There he found Mrs. Toogood, not in the most serene state of mind as to her husband’s absence. Mr. Toogood had now been at Barchester for the best part of a week,—spending a good deal of money at the inn. Mrs. Toogood was quite sure that he must be doing that. Indeed, how could he help himself? Johnny remarked that he did not see how in such circumstances his uncle was to help himself. And then Mr. Toogood had only written one short scrap of a letter,—just three words, and they were written in triumph. “Crawley is all right, and I think I’ve got the real Simon Pure by the heels.” “It’s all very well, John,” Mrs. Toogood said; “and of course it would be a terrible thing to the family if anybody connected with it were made out to be a thief.” “It would be quite dreadful,” said Johnny. “Not that I ever looked upon the Crawleys as connections of ours. But, however, let that pass. I’m sure I’m very glad that your uncle should have been able to be of service to them. But there’s reason in the roasting of eggs, and I can tell you that money is not so plenty in this house, that your uncle can afford to throw it into the Barchester gutters. Think what twelve children are, John. It might be all very well if Toogood were a bachelor, and if some lord had left him a fortune.” John Eames did not stay very long in Tavistock Square. His cousins Polly and Lucy were gone to the play with Mr. Summerkin, and his aunt was not in one of her best humours. He took his uncle’s part as well as he could, and then left Mrs. Toogood. The little allusion to Lord De Guest’s generosity had not been pleasant to him. It seemed to rob him of all his own merit. He had been rather proud of his journey to Italy, having contrived to spend nearly forty pounds in ten days. He had done everything in the most expensive way, feeling that every napoleon wasted had been laid out on behalf of Mr. Crawley. But, as Mrs. Toogood had just told him, all this was nothing to what Toogood was doing. Toogood with twelve children was living at his own charges at Barchester, and was neglecting his business besides. “There’s Mr. Crump,” said Mrs. Toogood. “Of course he doesn’t like it, and what can I say to him when he comes to me?” This was not quite fair on the part of Mrs. Toogood, as Mr. Crump had not troubled her even once as yet since her husband’s departure.

What was Johnny to do, when he left Tavistock Square? His club was open to him. Should he go to his club, play a game of billiards, and have some supper? When he asked himself the question he knew that he would not go to his club, and yet he pretended to doubt about it, as he made his way to a cabstand in Tottenham Court Road. It would be slow, he told himself, to go to his club. He would have gone to see Lily Dale, only that his intimacy with Mrs. Thorne was not sufficient to justify his calling at her house between nine and ten o’clock at night. But, as he must go somewhere,—and as his intimacy with Lady Demolines was, he thought, sufficient to justify almost anything,—he would go to Bayswater. I regret to say that he had written a mysterious note from Paris to Madalina Demolines, saying that he should be in London on this very night, and that it was just on the cards that he might make his way up to Porchester Terrace before he went to bed. The note was mysterious, because it had neither beginning nor ending. It did not contain even initials. It was written like a telegraph message, and was about as long. It was the kind of thing Miss Demolines liked, Johnny thought; and there could be no reason why he should not gratify her. It was her favourite game. Some people like whist, some like croquet, and some like intrigue. Madalina would probably have called it romance,—because by nature she was romantic. John, who was made of sterner stuff, laughed at this. He knew that there was no romance in it. He knew that he was only amusing himself, and gratifying her at the same time, by a little innocent pretence. He told himself that it was his nature to prefer the society of women to that of men. He would have liked the society of Lily Dale, no doubt, much better than that of Miss Demolines; but as the society of Lily Dale was not to be had at that moment, the society of Miss Demolines was the best substitute within his reach. So he got into a cab and had himself driven to Porchester Terrace. “Is Lady Demolines at home?” he said to the servant. He always asked for Lady Demolines. But the page who was accustomed to open the door for him was less false, being young, and would now tell him, without any further fiction, that Miss Madalina was in the drawing-room. Such was the answer he got from the page on this evening. What Madalina did with her mother on these occasions he had never yet discovered. There used to be some little excuses given about Lady Demolines’ state of health, but latterly Madalina had discontinued her references to her mother’s headaches. She was standing in the centre of the drawing-room when he entered it, with both her hands raised, and an almost terrible expression of mystery in her face. Her hair, however, had been very carefully arranged so as to fall with copious carelessness down her shoulders, and altogether she was looking her best. “Oh, John,” she said. She called him John by accident in the tumult of the moment. “Have you heard what has happened? But of course you have heard it.”

“Heard what? I have heard nothing,” said Johnny, arrested almost in the doorway by the nature of the question,—and partly also, no doubt, by the tumult of the moment. He had no idea how terrible a tragedy was in truth in store for him; but he perceived that the moment was to be tumultuous, and that he must carry himself accordingly.

“Come in, and close the door,” she said. He came in and closed the door. “Do you mean to say that you haven’t heard what has happened in Hook Court?”

“No;—what has happened in Hook Court?” Miss Demolines threw herself back into an arm-chair, closed her eyes, and clasped both her hands upon her forehead. “What has happened in Hook Court?” said Johnny, walking up to her.

“I do not think I can bring myself to tell you,” she answered.

Then he took one of her hands down from her forehead and held it in his,—which she allowed passively. She was thinking, no doubt, of something far different from that.

“I never saw you looking better in my life,” said Johnny.

“Don’t,” said she. “How can you talk in that way, when my heart is bleeding,—bleeding.” Then she pulled away her hand, and again clasped it with the other upon her forehead.

“But why is your heart bleeding? What has happened in Hook Court?” Still she answered nothing, but she sobbed violently and the heaving of her bosom showed how tumultuous was the tumult within it. “You don’t mean to say that Dobbs Broughton has come to grief;—that he’s to be sold out?”

“Man,” said Madalina, jumping from her chair, standing at her full height, and stretching out both her arms, “he has destroyed himself!” The revelation was at last made with so much tragic propriety, in so excellent a tone, and with such an absence of all the customary redundances of commonplace relation, that I think that she must have rehearsed the scene,—either with her mother or with the page. Then there was a minute’s silence, during which she did not move even an eyelid. She held her outstretched hands without dropping a finger half an inch. Her face was thrust forward, her chin projecting, with tragic horror; but there was no vacillation even in her chin. She did not wink an eye, or alter to the breadth of a hair the aperture of her lips. Surely she was a great genius if she did it all without previous rehearsal. Then, before he had thought of words in which to answer her, she let her hands fall by her side, she closed her eyes, and shook her head, and fell back again into her chair. “It is too horrible to be spoken of,—to be thought about,” she said. “I could not have brought myself to tell the tale to a living being,—except to you.”

This would naturally have been flattering to Johnny had it not been that he was in truth absorbed by the story which he had heard.

“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that Broughton has—committed suicide?” She could not speak of it again, but nodded her head at him thrice, while her eyes were still closed. “And how was the manner of it?” said he, asking the question in a low voice. He could not even as yet quite bring himself to believe it. Madalina was so fond of a little playful intrigue, that even this story might have something in it of the nature of fiction. He was not quite sure of the facts, and yet he was shocked by what he had heard.

“Would you have me repeat to you all the bloody details of that terrible scene?” she said. “It is impossible. Go to your friend Dalrymple. He will tell you. He knows it all. He has been with Maria all through. I wish,—I wish it had not been so.” But nevertheless she did bring herself to narrate all the details with something more of circumstance than Eames desired. She soon succeeded in making him understand that the tragedy of Hook Court was a reality, and that poor Dobbs Broughton had brought his career to an untimely end. She had heard everything,—having indeed gone to Musselboro in the City, and having penetrated even to the sanctum of Mr. Bangles. To Mr. Bangles she had explained that she was bosom-friend of the widow of the unfortunate man, and that it was her miserable duty to make herself the mistress of all the circumstances. Mr. Bangles,—the reader may remember him, Burton and Bangles, who kept the stores for Himalaya wines at 22s. 6d. the dozen, in Hook Court,—was a bachelor, and rather liked the visit, and told Miss Demolines very freely all he had seen. And when she suggested that it might be expedient for the sake of the family that she should come back to Mr. Bangles for further information at a subsequent period, he very politely assured her that she would “do him proud,” whenever she might please to call in Hook Court. And then he saw her into Lombard Street, and put her into an omnibus. She was therefore well qualified to tell Johnny all the particulars of the tragedy,—and she did so far overcome her horror as to tell them all. She told her tale somewhat after the manner of ├ćneas, not forgetting the “quorum pars magna fui.” “I feel that it almost makes an old woman of me,” said she, when she had finished.

“No,” said Johnny, remonstrating;—”not that.”

“But it does. To have been concerned in so terrible a tragedy takes more of life out of one than years of tranquil existence.” As she had told him nothing of her intercourse with Bangles,—with Bangles who had literally picked the poor wretch up,—he did not see how she herself had been concerned in the matter; but he said nothing about that, knowing the character of his Madalina. “I shall see—that—body, floating before my eyes while I live,” she said, “and the gory wound, and,—and—” “Don’t,” said Johnny, recoiling in truth from the picture, by which he was revolted. “Never again,” she said; “never again! But you forced it from me, and now I shall not close my eyes for a week.”

She then became very comfortably confidential, and discussed the affairs of poor Mrs. Dobbs Broughton with a great deal of satisfaction. “I went to see her, of course, but she sent me down word to say that the shock would be too much for her. I do not wonder that she should not see me. Poor Maria! She came to me for advice, you know, when Dobbs Broughton first proposed to her; and I was obliged to tell her what I really thought. I knew her character so well! ’Dear Maria,’ I said, ’if you think that you can love him, take him!’ ’I think I can,’ she replied. ’But,’ said I, ’make yourself quite sure about the business.’ And how has it turned out? She never loved him. What heart she has she has given to that wretched Dalrymple.”

“I don’t see that he is particularly wretched,” said Johnny, pleading for his friend.

“He is wretched, and so you’ll find. She gave him her heart after giving her hand to poor Dobbs; and as for the business, there isn’t as much left as will pay for her mourning. I don’t wonder that she could not bring herself to see me.”

“And what has become of the business?”

“It belongs to Mrs. Van Siever,—to her and Musselboro. Poor Broughton had some little money, and it has gone among them. Musselboro, who never had a penny, will be a rich man. Of course you know that he is going to marry Clara?”


“I always told you that it would be so. And now you may perhaps acknowledge that Conway Dalrymple’s prospects are not very brilliant. I hope he likes being cut out by Mr. Musselboro! Of course he will have to marry Maria. I do not see how he can escape. Indeed, she is too good for him;—only after such a marriage as that, there would be an end to all his prospects as an artist. The best thing for them would be to go to New Zealand.”

John Eames certainly liked these evenings with Miss Demolines. He sat at his ease in a comfortable chair, and amused himself by watching her different little plots. And then she had bright eyes, and she flattered him, and allowed him to scold her occasionally. And now and again there might be some more potent attraction, when she would admit him to take her hand,—or the like. It was better than to sit smoking with men at the club. But he could not sit all night even with Madalina Demolines, and at eleven he got up to take his leave. “When shall you see Miss Dale?” she asked him suddenly.

“I do not know,” he answered, frowning at her. He always frowned at her when she spoke to him of Miss Dale.

“I do not in the least care for your frowns,” she said playfully, putting up her hands to smooth his brows. “I think I know you intimately enough to name your goddess to you.”

“She isn’t my goddess.”

“A very cold goddess, I should think, from what I hear. I wish to ask you for a promise respecting her.”

“What promise?”

“Will you grant it me?”

“How can I tell till I hear?”

“You must promise me not to speak of me to her when you see her.”

“But why must I promise that?”

“Promise me.”

“Not unless you tell me why.” Johnny had already assured himself that nothing could be more improbable than that he should mention the name of Miss Demolines to Lily Dale.

“Very well, sir. Then you may go. And I must say that unless you can comply with so slight a request as that, I shall not care to see you here again. Mr. Eames, why should you want to speak evil of me to Miss Dale?”

“I do not want to speak evil of you.”

“I know that you could not speak of me to her without at least ridicule. Come, promise me. You shall come here on Thursday evening, and I will tell you why I have asked you.”

“Tell me now.”

She hesitated a moment, and then shook her head. “No. I cannot tell you now. My heart is still bleeding with the memory of that poor man’s fate. I will not tell you now. And yet it is now that you must give me the promise. Will you not trust me so far as that?”

“I will not speak of you to Miss Dale.”

“There is my own friend! And now, John, mind you are here at half-past eight on Thursday. Punctually at half-past eight. There is a thing I have to tell you, which I will tell you then if you will come. I had thought to have told you to-day.”

“And why not now?”

“I cannot. My feelings are too many for me. I should never go through with it after all that has passed between us about poor Broughton. I should break down; indeed I should. Go now, for I am tired.” Then, having probably taken a momentary advantage of that more potent attraction to which we have before alluded, he left the room very suddenly.

He left the room very suddenly because Madalina’s movements had been so sudden, and her words so full of impulse. He had become aware that in this little game which he was playing in Porchester Terrace everything ought to be done after some unaccustomed and special fashion. So,—having clasped Madalina for one moment in his arms,—he made a rush at the room door, and was out on the landing in a second. He was a little too quick for old Lady Demolines, the skirt of whose night-dress,—as it seemed to Johnny,—he saw whisking away, in at another door. It was nothing, however, to him if old Lady Demolines, who was always too ill to be seen, chose to roam about her own house in her night-dress.

When he found himself alone in the street, his mind reverted to Dobbs Broughton and the fate of the wretched man, and he sauntered slowly down Palace Gardens, that he might look at the house in which he had dined with a man who had destroyed himself by his own hands. He stood for a moment looking up at the windows, in which there was now no light, thinking of the poor woman whom he had seen in the midst of luxury, and who was now left a widow in such miserable circumstances! As for the suggestion that his friend Conway would marry her, he did not believe it for a moment. He knew too well what the suggestions of his Madalina were worth, and the motives from which they sprung. But he thought it might be true that Mrs. Van Siever had absorbed all there was of property, and possibly, also, that Musselboro was to marry her daughter. At any rate, he would go to Dalrymple’s rooms, and if he could find him, would learn the truth. He knew enough of Dalrymple’s ways of life, and of the ways of his friend’s chambers and studio, to care nothing for the lateness of the hour, and in a very few minutes he was sitting in Dalrymple’s arm-chair. He found Siph Dunn there, smoking in unperturbed tranquillity, and as long as that lasted he could ask no questions about Mrs. Broughton. He told them, therefore, of his adventures abroad, and of Crawley’s escape. But at last, having finished his third pipe, Siph Dunn took his leave.

“Tell me,” said John, as soon as Dunn had closed the door, “what is this I hear about Dobbs Broughton?”

“He has blown his brains out. That is all.”

“How terribly shocking!”

“Yes; it shocked us all at first. We are used to it now.”

“And the business?”

“That had gone to the dogs. They say at least that his share of it had done so.”

“And he was ruined?”

“They say so. That is, Musselboro says so, and Mrs. Van Siever.”

“And what do you say, Conway?”

“The less I say the better. I have my hopes,—only you’re such a talkative fellow, one can’t trust you.”

“I never told any secret of yours, old fellow.”

“Well;—the fact is, I have an idea that something may be saved for the poor woman. I think that they are wronging her. Of course all I can do is to put the matter into a lawyer’s hands, and pay the lawyer’s bill. So I went to your cousin, and he has taken the case up. I hope he won’t ruin me.”

“Then I suppose you are quarrelling with Mrs. Van?”

“That doesn’t matter. She has quarrelled with me.”

“And what about Jael, Conway? They tell me that Jael is going to become Mrs. Musselboro.”

“Who has told you that?”

“A bird.”

“Yes; I know who the bird is. I don’t think that Jael will become Mrs. Musselboro. I don’t think that Jael would become Mrs. Musselboro, if Jael were the only woman, and Musselboro the only man in London. To tell you a little bit of secret, Johnny, I think that Jael will become the wife of one Conway Dalrymple. That is my opinion; and as far as I can judge, it is the opinion of Jael also.”

“But not the opinion of Mrs. Van. The bird told me another thing, Conway.”

“What was the other thing?”

“The bird hinted that all this would end in your marrying the widow of that poor wretch who destroyed himself.”

“Johnny, my boy,” said the artist, after a moment’s silence, “if I give you a bit of advice, will you profit by it?”

“I’ll try, if it’s not disagreeable.”

“Whether you profit by it, or whether you do not, keep it to yourself. I know the bird better than you do, and I strongly caution you to beware of the bird. The bird is a bird of prey, and altogether an unclean bird. The bird wants a mate and doesn’t much care how she finds one. And the bird wants money, and doesn’t much care how she gets it. The bird is a decidedly bad bird, and not at all fit to take the place of domestic hen in a decent farmyard. In plain English, Johnny, you’ll find some day, if you go over too often to Porchester Terrace, either that you are going to marry the bird, or else that you are employing your cousin Toogood for your defence in an action for breach of promise, brought against you by that venerable old bird, the bird’s mamma.”

“If it’s to be either, it will be the latter,” said Johnny as he took up his hat to go away.