"Then why did you come after her?" again asked Mr. Docimer.
At this moment Imogene herself joined them on the terrace. "Mary," she said to her sister-in-law, "I hope you are not carrying on this battle with Mr. Houston. I have said what there was to be said."
"You should have held your tongue and said nothing," growled her brother.
"Be that as it may I have said it, and he quite understands what I think about it. Let us eat our dinner in peace and quietness, and then let him go on his travels. He has the world free before him, which he no doubt will open like an oyster, though he does not carry a sword." Soon after this they did dine, and contented themselves with abusing the meat and the wine, and finding fault with Tyrolese cookery, just as though they had no deeper cares near their hearts. Precisely at six the heavy diligence stopped before the hotel door, and Houston, who was then smoking with Docimer on the terrace, got up to bid them adieu. Mrs. Docimer was kind and almost affectionate, with a tear in her eye. "Well, old fellow," said Docimer, "take care of yourself. Perhaps everything will turn up right some of these days." "Good-bye, Mr. Houston," said Imogene, just giving him her hand to touch in the lightest manner possible. "God bless you, Imogene," said he. And there was a tear also in his eye. But there was none in hers, as she stood looking at him while he prepared himself for his departure; nor did she say another word to him as he went. "And now," said she, when the three of them were left upon the terrace, "I will ask a great favour of you both. I will beg you not to let there be another word about Mr. Houston among us." After that she rambled out by herself, and was not seen again by either of them that evening.
When she was alone she too shed her tears, though she felt impatient and vexed with herself as they came into her eyes. It was not perhaps only for her lost love that she wept. Had no one known that her love had been given and then lost she might have borne it without weeping. But now, in carrying on this vain affair of hers, in devoting herself to a lover who had, with her own consent, passed away from her, she had spent the sweet fresh years of her youth, and all those who knew her would know that it had been so. He had told her that it would be her fate to purchase for herself a husband with her beauty. It might be so. At any rate she did not doubt her own beauty. But, if it were to be so, then the romance and the charm of her life were gone. She had quite agreed that six hundred a year, and lodgings in Marylebone, would be quite unendurable; but what was there left for her that would be endurable? He could be happy with the prospect of Gertrude Tringle's money. She could not be happy, looking forward to that unloved husband who was to be purchased by her beauty.
Sir Thomas took the real holiday of the year at Glenbogie, – where he was too far removed from Lombard Street to be drawn daily into the vortex of his millions.
In this autumn he went up to London long before his family, and then found them at Merle Park on the Saturday after their arrival there. They had gone down on the previous Wednesday. On the Saturday, when he entered the house, the first thing he saw was Mr. Traffick's hat in the hall. This was Saturday, 23rd November, and there would be three months before Parliament would meet! A curse was not muttered, but just formed between his teeth, as he saw the hat. Sir Thomas, in his angriest mood, never went so far as quite to mutter his curses. Will one have to expiate the anathemas which are well kept within the barrier of the teeth, or only those which have achieved some amount of utterance? Sir Thomas went on, with a servant at his heels, chucking about the doors rather violently, till he found Mr. Traffick alone in the drawing-room. Mr. Traffick had had a glass of sherry and bitters brought in for his refreshment, and Sir Thomas saw the glass on the mantelpiece. He never took sherry and bitters himself. One glass of wine, with his two o'clock mutton chop, sufficed him till dinner. It was all very well to be a Member of Parliament, but, after all, Members of Parliament never do anything. Men who work don't take sherry and bitters! Men who work don't put their hats in other people's halls without leave from the master of the house! "Where's your mistress?" said Sir Thomas, to the man, without taking any notice of his son-in-law. The ladies had only just come in from driving, were very cold, and had gone up to dress. Sir Thomas went out of the room, again banging the door, and again taking no notice of Mr. Traffick. Mr. Traffick put his hand up to the mantelpiece, and finished his sherry and bitters.
"My dear," said Mr. Traffick to his wife, up in her bed-room, "your father has come down in one of his tantrums."
"I knew he would," said Augusta.
"But it does not signify the least. Give him a kiss when you see him, and don't seem to notice it. There is not a man in the world has a higher regard for me than your father, but if any one were to see him in one of his tantrums they would suppose he meant to be uncivil."
"I hope he won't be downright unkind, Septimus," said his wife.
"Never fear! The kindest-hearted man in the world is your father."
"So he's here!" That was the first word of greeting which Sir Thomas addressed to his wife in her bed-room.
"Yes, Tom; – they're here."
"When did they come?"
"Well; – to tell the truth, we found them here."
"The – !" But Sir Thomas restrained the word on the right, or inside, of the teeth.
"They thought we were to be here a day sooner, and so they came on the Wednesday morning. They were to come, you know."
"I wish I knew when they were to go."
"You don't want to turn your own daughter out of your own house?"
"Why doesn't he get a house of his own for her? For her sake why doesn't he do it? He has the spending of ?6,000 a year of my money, and yet I am to keep him! No; – I don't want to turn my daughter out of my house; but it'll end in my turning him out."
When a week had passed by Mr. Traffick had not been as yet turned out. Sir Thomas, when he came back to Merle Park on the following Friday, condescended to speak to his son-in-law, and to say something to him as to the news of the day; but this he did in an evident spirit of preconceived hostility. "Everything is down again," he said.
"Fluctuations are always common at this time of the year," said Traffick; "but I observe that trade always becomes brisk a little before Christmas."
"To a man with a fixed income, like you, it doesn't much matter," said Sir Thomas.
"I was looking at it in a public light."
"Exactly. A man who has an income, and never spends it, need not trouble himself with private views as to the money market." Mr. Traffick rubbed his hands, and asked whether the new buildings at the back of the Lombard Street premises were nearly finished.
Mr. Traffick's economy had a deleterious effect upon Gertrude, which she, poor girl, did not deserve. Sir Thomas, deeply resolving in his mind that he would, at some not very distant date, find means by which he would rid himself of Mr. Traffick, declared to himself that he would not, at any rate, burden himself with another son-in-law of the same kind. Frank Houston was, to his thinking, of the same kind, and therefore he hardened his heart against Frank Houston. Now Frank Houston, could he have got his wife with ?6,000 a year, – as Mr. Traffick had done, – would certainly not have troubled the Tringle mansions with too much of his presence. It would have been his object to remove himself as far as possible from the Tringles, and to have enjoyed his life luxuriously with the proceeds of his wife's fortune. But his hopes in this respect were unjustly impeded by Mr. Traffick's parsimony. Soon after leaving the hotel in the Tyrol at which we lately saw him, Frank Houston wrote to his lady-love, declaring the impatience of his ardour, and suggesting that it would be convenient if everything could be settled before Christmas. In his letter he declared to Gertrude how very uncomfortable it was to him to have to discuss money matters with her father. It was so disagreeable that he did not think that he could bring himself to do it again. But, if she would only be urgent with her father, she would of course prevail. Acting upon this Gertrude determined to be urgent with her father on his second coming to Merle Park, when, as has been explained, Sir Thomas was in a frame of mind very much opposed to impecunious sons-in-law. Previous to attacking her father Gertrude had tried her hand again upon her mother, but Lady Tringle had declined. "If anything is to be done you must do it yourself," Lady Tringle had said.
"Papa," said Gertrude, having followed him into a little sitting-room where he digested and arranged his telegrams when at Merle Park, "I wish something could be settled about Mr. Houston."
Sir Thomas at this moment was very angry. Mr. Traffick had not only asked for the loan of a carriage to take him into Hastings, but had expressed a wish that there might be a peculiar kind of claret served at dinner with which he was conversant and to which he was much attached. "Then," said he, "you may as well have it all settled at once."
"You may understand for good and all that I will have nothing to do with Mr. Houston."
"Papa, that would be very cruel."
"My dear, if you call me cruel I will not allow you to come and talk to me at all. Cruel indeed! What is your idea of cruelty?"
"Everybody knows that we are attached to each other."
"Everybody knows nothing of the kind. I know nothing of the kind. And you are only making a fool of yourself. Mr. Houston is a penniless adventurer and is only attached to my money. He shall never see a penny of it."
"He is not an adventurer, papa. He is much less like an adventurer than Mr. Traffick. He has an income of his own, only it is not much."
"About as much as would pay his bill at the club for cigars and champagne. You may make your mind at rest, for I will not give Mr. Houston a shilling. Why should a man expect to live out of my earnings who never did a day's work in his life?"
Gertrude left the room despondently, as there was nothing more to be done on the occasion. But it seemed to her as though she were being used with the utmost cruelty. Augusta had been allowed to marry her man without a shilling, and had been enriched with ?120,000. Why should she be treated worse than Augusta? She was very strongly of opinion that Frank Houston was very much better than Septimus Traffick. Mr. Traffick's aptitude for saving his money was already known to the whole household. Frank would never wish to save. Frank would spend her income for her like a gentleman. Frank would not hang about Glenbogie or Merle Park till he should be turned out. Everybody was fond of Frank. But she, Gertrude, had already learnt to despise Mr. Traffick, Member of Parliament though he was. She had already begun to think that having been chosen by Frank Houston, who was decidedly a man of fashion, she had proved herself to be of higher calibre than her sister Augusta. But her father's refusal to her had been not only very rough but very decided. She would not abandon her Frank. Such an idea never for a moment crossed her mind. But what step should she next take? Thinking over it during the whole of the day she did at last form a plan. But she greatly feared that the plan would not recommend itself to Mr. Frank Houston. She was not timid, but he might be so. In spite of her father's anger and roughness she would not doubt his ultimate generosity; but Frank might doubt it. If Frank could be induced to come and carry her off from Merle Park and marry her in some manner approved for such occasions, she would stand the risk of getting the money afterwards. But she was greatly afraid that the risk would be too much for Frank. She did not, however, see any other scheme before her. As to waiting patiently till her father's obdurate heart should be softened by the greater obduracy of her own love, there was a tedium and a prolonged dulness in such a prospect which were anything but attractive to her. Had it been possible she would have made a bargain with her father. "If you won't give us ?120,000 let us begin with ?60,000." But even this she feared would not altogether be agreeable to Frank. Let her think of it how she would, that plan of being run away with seemed alone to be feasible – and not altogether disagreeable.
It was necessary that she should answer her lover's letter. No embargo had as yet been put upon her correspondence, and therefore she could send her reply without external difficulty.
"Dear Frank," she said,
I quite agree with you about Christmas. It ought to be settled. But I have very bad news to send to you. I have been to papa as you told me, but he was very unkind. Nothing could be worse. He said that you ought to earn your bread, which is, of course, all humbug. He didn't understand that there ought to be some gentlemen who never earn their bread. I am sure, if you had been earning your bread by going to Lombard Street every day, I shouldn't have ever cared for you.
He says that he will not give a single shilling. I think he is angry because Augusta's husband will come and live here always. That is disgusting, of course. But it isn't my fault. It is either that, or else some money has gone wrong; – or perhaps he had a very bad fit of indigestion. He was, however, so savage, that I really do not know how to go to him again. Mamma is quite afraid of him, and does not dare say a word, because it was she who managed about Mr. Traffick.
What ought to be done? Of course, I don't like to think that you should be kept waiting. I am not sure that I quite like it myself. I will do anything you propose, and am not afraid of running a little risk. If we could get married without his knowing anything about it, I am sure he would give the money afterwards, – because he is always so good-natured in the long run, and so generous. He can be very savage, but he would be sure to forgive.
How would it be if I were to go away? I am of age, and I believe that no one could stop me. If you could manage that we should get married in that way, I would do my best. I know people can get themselves married at Ostend. I do not see what else is to be done. You can write to me at present here, and nothing wrong will come of it. But Augusta says that if papa were to begin to suspect anything about my going away he would stop my letters. – Dear Frank, I am yours always, and always most lovingly,Gertrude.
You needn't be a bit afraid but that I should be quite up to going off if you could arrange it.
"I believe, papa," said Mrs. Traffick, on the afternoon of the day on which this was written, "that Gertrude is thinking of doing something wrong, and therefore I feel it to be my duty to bring you this letter." Augusta had not been enabled to read the letter, but had discussed with her sister the propriety of eloping. "I won't advise it," she had said, "but, if you do, Mr. Houston should arrange to be married at Ostend. I know that can be done." Some second thought had perhaps told her that any such arrangement would be injurious to the noble blood of the Traffick family, and she had therefore "felt it to be her duty" to extract the letter from the family letter-box, and to give it to her father. A daughter who could so excellently do her duty would surely not be turned out before Parliament met.
Sir Thomas took the letter and said not a word to his elder child. When he was alone he doubted. He was half-minded to send the letter on. What harm could the two fools do by writing to each other? While he held the strings of the purse there could be no marriage. Then he bethought himself of his paternal authority, of the right he had to know all that his daughter did, – and he opened the letter. "There ought to be gentlemen who don't earn their bread!" "Ought there?" said he to himself. If so these gentlemen ought not to come to him for bread. He was already supporting one such, and that was quite enough. "Mamma is quite afraid of him, and doesn't dare say a word." That he rather liked. "I am sure he would give the money afterwards." "I am sure he would do no such thing," he said to himself, and he reflected that in such a condition he should rather be delighted than otherwise in watching the impecunious importunities of his baffled son-in-law. The next sentence reconciled his girl to him almost entirely. "He is always so good-natured in the long run, and so generous!" For "good-natured" he did not care much, but he liked to be thought generous. Then he calmly tore the letter in little bits, and threw them into the waste-paper basket.
He sat for ten minutes thinking what he had better do, finding the task thus imposed upon him to be much more difficult than the distribution of a loan. At last he determined that, if he did nothing, things would probably settle themselves. Mr. Houston, when he received no reply from his lady-love, would certainly be quiescent, and Gertrude, without any assent from her lover, could hardly arrange her journey to Ostend. Perhaps it might be well that he should say a word of caution to his wife; but as to that he did not at present quite make up his mind, as he was grievously disturbed while he was considering the subject.
"If you please, Sir Thomas," said the coachman, hurrying into the room almost without the ceremony of knocking, – "if you please, Ph?be mare has been brought home with both her knees cut down to the bone."
"What!" exclaimed Sir Thomas, who indulged himself in a taste for horseflesh, and pretended to know one animal from another.
"Yes, indeed, Sir Thomas, down to the bone," said the coachman, who entertained all that animosity against Mr. Traffick which domestics feel for habitual guests who omit the ceremony of tipping. "Mr. Traffick brought her down on Windover Hill, Sir Thomas, and she'll never be worth a feed of oats again. I didn't think a man was born who could throw that mare off her feet, Sir Thomas." Now Mr. Traffick, when he had borrowed the phaeton and pair of horses that morning to go into Hastings, had dispensed with the services of a coachman, and had insisted on driving himself.