"Perhaps you are Sir Thomas Tringle," said Hamel.
"That is my name."
"Then I have to ask your pardon for my mode of ingress. I am going up to the house; but having crossed the lake from Callerfoot I did not know my way on this side, and so I have clambered up the ravine." Sir Thomas bowed, and then waited for further tidings. "I believe Miss Dormer is at the house?"
"My niece is there."
"My name is Hamel, – Isadore Hamel. I am a sculptor, and used to be acquainted with her father. I have had great kindness from the whole family, and so I was going to call upon her. If you do not object, I will go on to the house."
Sir Thomas sat upon his horse speechless for a minute. He had to consider whether he did not object or not. He was well aware that his wife objected, – aware also that he had declined to coincide with his wife's objection when it had been pressed upon him. Why should not his niece have the advantage of a lover, if a proper sort of a lover came in her way? As to the father's morals or the son's birth, those matters to Sir Thomas were nothing. The young man, he was told, was good at making busts. Would any one buy the busts when they were made? That was the question. His wife would certainly be prejudiced, – would think it necessary to reject for Lucy any suitor she would reject for her own girls. And then, as Sir Thomas felt, she had not shown great judgment in selecting suitors for her own girls. "Oh, Mr. Hamel, are you?" he said at last.
"You called at Queen's Gate once, not long ago?"
"I did," said Hamel; "but saw no one."
"No, you didn't; I heard that. Well, you can go on to the house if you like, but you had better ask for Lady Tringle. After coming over from Callerfoot you'll want some lunch. Stop a moment. I don't mind if I ride back with you." And so the two started towards the house, and Hamel listened whilst Sir Thomas expatiated on the beauties of Glenbogie.
They had passed through one gate and were approaching another, when, away among the trees, there was a young lady seen walking alone. "There is Miss Dormer," said Hamel; "I suppose I may join her?" Sir Thomas could not quite make up his mind whether the meeting was to be allowed or not, but he could not bring himself at the spur of the moment to refuse his sanction. So Hamel made his way across to Lucy, while Sir Thomas rode on alone to the house.
Lucy had seen her uncle on the cob, and, being accustomed to see him on the cob, knew of course who he was. She had also seen another man with him, but not in the least expecting that Hamel was in those parts, had never dreamt that he was her uncle's companion. It was not till Hamel was near to her that she understood that the man was coming to join herself; and then, when she did recognise the man, she was lost in amazement. "You hardly expected to see me here?" said he.
"Nor did I expect that I should find you in this way."
"My uncle knows it is you?" asked Lucy.
"Oh, no; not persecuting!" Lucy when she heard the sound of what she herself had said, was angry with herself, feeling that she had almost declared him guilty of some wrong in having come thither. "Of course I am glad to see you," she added, "for papa's sake, but I'm afraid – "
"Afraid of what, Miss Dormer?"
She looked him full in the face as she answered him, collecting her courage to make the declaration which seemed to be necessary. "My Aunt Emmeline does not want you to come."
"Why should she not want me?"
"That I cannot tell. Perhaps if I did know I should not tell. But it is so. You called at Queen's Gate, and I know that you were not admitted, though I was at home. Of course, Aunt Emmeline has a right to choose who shall come. It is not as though I had a house of my own."
"But Sir Thomas asked me in."
"Then you had better go in. After what Aunt Emmeline said, I do not think that you ought to remain with me."
"Your uncle knows I am with you," said Hamel. Then they walked on towards the house together in silence for a while. "Do you mean to say," he continued, "that because your aunt objects you are never to see me again?"
"I hope I shall see you again. You were papa's friend, and I should be so very sorry not to see you again."
"I suppose," he said, slowly, "I can never be more than your papa's friend."
"You are mine also."
"I would be more than that." Then he paused as if waiting for a reply, but she of course had none to make. "I would be so much more than that, Lucy." Still she had no answer to give him. But there comes a time when no answer is as excellent eloquence as any words that can be spoken. Hamel, who had probably not thought much of this, was nevertheless at once informed by his instincts that it was so. "Oh, Lucy," he said, "if you can love me say so."
"Mr. Hamel," she whispered.
"Mr. Hamel, I told you about Aunt Emmeline. She will not allow it. I ought not to have let you speak to me like this, while I am staying here."
"But your uncle knows I am with you."
"My aunt does not know. We must go to the house. She expressly desired that I would not speak to you."
"And you will obey her – always?"
"No; not always. I did not say that I should obey her always. Some day, perhaps, I shall do as I think fit myself."
"And then you will speak to me?"
"Then I will speak to you," she said.
"And love me?"
"And love you," she answered, again looking him full in the face. "But now pray, pray let us go on." For he had stopped her awhile amidst the trees, and had put out his hand as though to take hers, and had opened his arms as though he would embrace her. But she passed on quickly, and hardly answered his further questions till they found themselves together in the hall of the house.
Then they met Lady Tringle, who was just passing into the room where the lunch was laid, and following her were Augusta, Gertrude, and the Honourable Septimus Traffick. For, though Frank Houston had found himself compelled to go at the day named, the Honourable Septimus had contrived to squeeze out another week. Augusta was indeed still not without hope that the paternal hospitality of Glenbogie might be prolonged till dear Merle Park should once again open her portals. Sir Thomas had already passed into the dining-room, having in gruff voice informed his wife that he had invited Mr. Hamel to come in to lunch. "Mr. Hamel!" she had exclaimed. "Yes, Mr. Hamel. I could not see the man starving when he had come all this way. I don't know anything against him." Then he had turned away, and had gone into the dining-room, and was now standing with his back to the empty fire-place, determined to take Mr. Hamel's part if any want of courtesy were shown to him.
It certainly was hard upon Lady Tringle. She frowned and was going to walk on without any acknowledgment, when Lucy timidly went through a form of introduction. "Aunt Emmeline, this is Mr. Hamel. Uncle Tom met him somewhere in the grounds and has asked him to come to luncheon." Then Lady Tringle curtseyed and made a bow. The curtsey and the bow together were sufficient to have crushed the heart of any young man who had not been comforted and exalted by such words as Isadore had heard from Lucy's lips not five minutes since. "And love you," she had said. After that Lady Tringle might curtsey and bow as she would, and he could still live uncrushed. After the curtsey and the bow Lady Tringle passed on. Lucy fell into the rank behind Gertrude; and then Hamel afterwards took his place behind the Honourable Septimus. "If you will sit there, Mr. Hamel," said Lady Tringle, pointing to a chair, across the table, obliquely, at the greatest possible distance from that occupied by Lucy. There he was stationed between Mr. Traffick and Sir Thomas. But now, in his present frame of mind, his position at the table made very little difference to him.
The lunch was eaten in grim silence. Sir Thomas was not a man profuse with conversation at his meals, and at this moment was ill-inclined for any words except what he might use in scolding his wife for being uncivil to his guest. Lady Tringle sat with her head erect, hardly opening her mouth sufficiently to allow the food to enter it. It was her purpose to show her displeasure at Mr. Hamel, and she showed it. Augusta took her mother's part, thoroughly despising the two Dormer girls and any lover that they might have. Poor Gertrude had on that morning been violently persecuted by a lecture as to Frank Houston's impecuniosity. Lucy of course would not speak. The Honourable Septimus was anxious chiefly about his lunch, – somewhat anxious also to offend neither the master nor the mistress of Merle Park. Hamel made one or two little efforts to extract answers from Sir Thomas, but soon found that Sir Thomas would prefer to be left in silence. What did it signify to him? He had done all that he wanted, and much more than he had expected.
The rising and getting away from luncheon is always a difficulty, – so great a difficulty when there are guests that lunch should never be much a company festival. There is no provision for leaving the table as there is at dinner. But on this occasion Lady Tringle extemporised provision the first moment in which they had all ceased to eat. "Mr. Hamel," she said very loudly, "would you like some cheese?" Mr. Hamel, with a little start, declared that he wanted no cheese. "Then, my dears, I think we will go into my room. Lucy, will you come with me?" Upon this the four ladies all went out in procession, but her ladyship was careful that Lucy should go first so that there might be no possibility of escape. Augusta and Gertrude followed her. The minds of all the four were somewhat perturbed; but among the four Lucy's heart was by far the lightest.
"Are you staying over with Stubbs at that cottage?" asked the Honourable Septimus. "A very queer fellow is Stubbs."
"A very good fellow," said Hamel.
"I dare say. He hasn't got any shooting?"
"I think not."
"Not a head. Glentower wouldn't let an acre of shooting over there for any money." This was the Earl of Glentower, to whom belonged an enormous tract of country on the other side of the lake. "What on earth does he do with himself stuck up on the top of those rocks?"
"He does shoot sometimes, I believe, when Lord Glentower is there."
"That's a poor kind of fun, waiting to be asked for a day," said the Honourable Septimus, who rarely waited for anything till he was asked. "Does he get any fishing?"
"He catches a few trout sometimes in the tarns above. But I fancy that Stubbs isn't much devoted to shooting and fishing."
"Then what the d – does he do with himself in such a country as this?" Hamel shrugged his shoulders, not caring to say that what with walking, what with reading and writing, his friend could be as happy as the day was long in such a place as Drumcaller.
"Is he a Liberal?"
"A what?" asked Hamel. "Oh, a Liberal? Upon my word I don't know what he is. He is chiefly given to poetry, tobacco, and military matters." Then the Honourable Septimus turned up his nose in disgust, and ceased his cross-examination as to the character and pursuits of Colonel Jonathan Stubbs.
"Sir Thomas, I am very much obliged to you for your kindness," said Hamel, getting up suddenly. "As it is a long way over to Drumcaller I think I will make a start. I know my way down the Glen and should be sure to miss it by any other route. Perhaps you'll let me go back as I came." Sir Thomas offered him the loan of a horse, but this was refused, and Hamel started on his return journey across the lake.
When he had gone a few steps from the portal he turned to look at the house which contained one whom he now regarded as belonging exclusively to himself; perhaps he thought that he might catch some final view of Lucy; or, not quite thinking it, fancied that some such chance might at least be possible; but he saw nothing but the uninteresting facade of the grand mansion. Lucy was employed quite otherwise. She was listening to a lecture in which her aunt was describing to her how very badly Mr. Hamel had behaved in obtruding himself on the shades of Glenbogie. The lecture was somewhat long, as Aunt Emmeline found it necessary to repeat all the arguments which she had before used as to the miscreant's birth, as to his want of adequate means, and as to the general iniquities of the miscreant's father. All this she repeated more than once with an energy that was quite unusual to her. The flood of her eloquence was so great that Lucy found no moment for an interposing word till all these evils had been denunciated twice and thrice. But then she spoke. "Aunt Emmeline," she said, "I am engaged to Mr. Hamel now."
"He has asked me to be his wife and I have promised."
"And that after all that I had said to you!"
"Aunt Emmeline, I told you that I should not drop him. I did not bid him come here. Uncle Tom brought him. When I saw him I would have avoided him if I could. I told him he ought not to be here because you did not wish it; and then he answered that my uncle knew that he was with me. Of course when he told me that he – loved me, I could not make him any other answer." Then Aunt Emmeline expressed the magnitude of her indignation simply by silence, and Lucy was left to think of her lover in solitude.
"And how have you fared on your day's journey?" said the Colonel, when Hamel found him still seated on the platform with a book in his hand.
"Much better than I thought. Sir Thomas gave me luncheon."
"And the young lady?"
"The young lady was gracious also; but I am afraid that I cannot carry my praises of the family at Glenbogie any further. The three Tringle ladies looked at me as I was sitting at table as though I certainly had no business in their august society."
Before that evening was over, – or in the course of the night, it might be better said, as the two men sat up late with their pipes, – Hamel told his friend the Colonel exactly what had taken place that morning over at Glenbogie. "You went for the purpose, of course?" asked the Colonel.
"For an off chance?"
"I know that well enough. I never heard of a man's walking twelve miles to call upon a young lady merely because he knew her father; and when there was to be a second call within a few weeks, the first having not been taken in very good part by the young lady's friends, my inquiring mind told me that there was something more than old family friendship."
"Your inquiring mind saw into the truth."
"And now looks forward to further events. Can she bake and can she brew?"
"I do not doubt that she could if she tried."
"And can she wash a shirt for a man? Don't suppose, my dear fellow, that I intend to say that your wife will have to wash yours. Washing a shirt, as read in the poem from which I am quoting, is presumed to be simply emblematic of household duties in general."
"I take all you say in good part, – as coming from a friend."
"I regard matrimony," said the Colonel, "as being altogether the happiest state of life for a man, – unless to be engaged to some lovely creature, in whom one can have perfect confidence, may be a thought happier. One can enjoy all the ecstatic mental reflection, all the delights of conceit which come from being loved, that feeling of superiority to all the world around which illumines the bosom of the favoured lover, without having to put one's hand into one's pocket, or having one's pipe put out either morally or physically. The next to this is matrimony itself, which is the only remedy for that consciousness of disreputable debauchery, a savour of which always clings, more or less strongly, to unmarried men in our rank of life. The chimes must be heard at midnight, let a young man be ever so well given to the proprieties, and he must have just a touch of the swingebuckler about him, or he will seem to himself to be deficient in virility. There is no getting out of it until a man marry. But then – "
"Do you know the man whose long-preserved hat is always brushed carefully, whose coat is the pattern of neatness, but still a little threadbare when you look at it, – in the colour of whose cheek there is still some touch of juvenility, but whose step is ever heavy and whose brow is always sad? The seriousness of life has pressed the smiles out of him. He has learned hardly to want anything for himself but outward decency and the common necessaries of life. Such little personal indulgences as are common to you and to me are as strange to him as ortolans or diamonds."
"I do not think I do know him."
"I do; – well. I have seen him in the regiment, I have met him on the steps of a public office, I have watched him as he entered his parsonage house. You shall find him coming out of a lawyer's office, where he has sat for the last nine hours, having supported nature with two penny biscuits. He has always those few thin hairs over his forehead, he has always that well-brushed hat, he has always that load of care on his brow. He is generally thinking whether he shall endeavour to extend his credit with the butcher, or resolve that the supply of meat may be again curtailed without injury to the health of his five daughters."
"That is an ugly picture."
"But is it true?"
"In some cases, of course, it is."
"And yet not ugly all round," said the meditative Colonel, who had just replenished his pipe. "There are, on the other side, the five daughters, and the partner of this load of cares. He knows it is well to have the five daughters, rather than to live with plenty of beef and mutton, – even with the ortolans if you will, – and with no one to care whether his body may be racked in this world or his spirit in the next. I do not say whether the balance of good or evil be on one side or the other; but when a man is going to do a thing he should know what it is he is going to do."
"The reading of all this," said Hamel, "is, that if I succeed in marrying Miss Dormer I must have thin locks, and a bad hat, and a butcher's bill."
"Other men do."
"Some, instead, have balances at their bankers, and die worth thirty, forty, or fifty thousand pounds, to the great consolation of the five daughters."
"Or a hundred thousand pounds! There is, of course, no end to the amount of thousands which a successful professional man may accumulate. You may be the man; but the question is, whether you should not have reasonable ground to suppose yourself the man, before you encumber yourself with the five daughters."
"It seems to me," said Hamel, "that the need of such assurance is cowardly."
"That is just the question which I am always debating with myself. I also want to rid myself of that swingebuckler flavour. I feel that for me, like Adam, it is not good that I should be alone. I would fain ask the first girl, that I could love well enough to wish to make myself one with her, to be my wife, regardless of hats, butchers, and daughters. It is a plucky and a fine thing for a man to feel that he can make his back broad enough for all burdens. But yet what is the good of thinking that you can carry a sack of wheat when you are sure that you have not, in truth, strength to raise it from the ground?"
"Strength will come," said Hamel.
"Yes, and the bad hat. And, worse than the bad hat, the soiled gown; and perhaps with the soiled gown the altered heart; – and perhaps with the altered heart an absence of all that tenderness which it is a woman's special right to expect from a man."
"I should have thought you would have been the last to be so self-diffident."
"To be so thoughtful, you mean," said the Colonel. "I am unattached now, and having had no special duty for the last three months I have given myself over to thinking in a nasty morbid manner. It comes, I daresay, partly from tobacco. But there is comfort in this, – that no such reflections falling out of one man's mouth ever had the slightest effect in influencing another man's conduct."
Hamel had told his friend with great triumph of his engagement with Lucy Dormer, but the friend did not return the confidence by informing the sculptor that during the whole of this conversation, and for many days previous to it, his mind had been concerned with the image of Lucy's sister. He was aware that Ayala had been, as it were, turned out from her rich uncle's house, and given over to the comparative poverty of Kingsbury Crescent. He himself, at the present moment, was possessed of what might be considered a comfortable income for a bachelor. He had been accustomed to live almost more than comfortably; but, having so lived, was aware of himself that he had not adapted himself for straitened circumstances. In spite of that advice of his as to the brewing, baking, and washing capabilities of a female candidate for marriage, he knew himself well enough to be aware that a wife red with a face from a kitchen fire would be distasteful to him. He had often told himself that to look for a woman with money would be still more distasteful. Therefore he had thought that for the present, at least, it would be well for him to remain as he was. But now he had come across Ayala, and though in the pursuance of his philosophy he had assured himself that Ayala should be nothing to him, still he found himself so often reverting to this resolution that Ayala, instead of being nothing, was very much indeed to him.