Has any irascible reader, – any reader who thoroughly enjoys the pleasure of being in a rage, – encountered suddenly some grievance which, heavy as it may be, has been more than compensated by the privilege it has afforded of blowing-up the offender? Such was the feeling of Sir Thomas as he quickly followed his coachman out of the room. He had been very proud of his Ph?be mare, who could trot with him from the station to the house at the rate of twelve miles an hour. But in his present frame of mind he had liked the mare less than he disliked his son-in-law. Mr. Traffick had done him this injury, and he now had Mr. Traffick on the hip. There are some injuries for which a host cannot abuse his guest. If your best Venetian decanter be broken at table you are bound to look as though you liked it. But if a horse be damaged a similar amount of courtesy is hardly required. The well-nurtured gentleman, even in that case, will only look unhappy and say not a word. Sir Thomas was hardly to be called a well nurtured gentleman; and then it must be remembered that the offender was his son-in-law. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed, hurrying into the yard. "What is this?"
The mare was standing out on the pavement with three men around her, of whom one was holding her head, another was down on his knees washing her wounds, and the third was describing the fatal nature of the wounds which she had received. Traffick was standing at a little distance, listening in silence to the implied rebukes of the groom. "Good heavens, what is this?" repeated Sir Thomas, as he joined the conclave.
"There are a lot of loose stones on that hill," said Traffick, "and she tripped on one and came down, all in a lump, before you could look at her. I'm awfully sorry, but it might have happened to any one."
Sir Thomas knew how to fix his darts better than by throwing them direct at his enemy. "She has utterly destroyed herself," said he, addressing himself to the head-groom, who was busily employed with the sponge in his hand.
"I'm afraid she has, Sir Thomas. The joint-oil will be sure to run on both knees; the gashes is so mortal deep."
"I've driven that mare hundreds of times down that hill," said Sir Thomas, "and I never knew her to trip before."
"Never, Sir Thomas," said the groom.
"She'd have come down with you to-day," said Mr. Traffick, defending himself.
"It was my own fault, Bunsum. That's all that can be said about it." Bunsum the groom, kneeling as he was, expressed, by his grimaces, his complete agreement with this last opinion of his master. "Of course I ought to have known that he couldn't drive," said Sir Thomas.
"A horse may fall down with anybody," said Mr. Traffick.
"You'd better take her and shoot her," said Sir Thomas, still addressing the groom. "She was the best thing we had in the stable, but now she is done for." With that he turned away from the yard without having as yet addressed a word to his son-in-law.
This was so intolerable that even Mr.
"Nothing, – unless it be not to borrow a horse again."
"You may be sure I will never do that."
"I'm not sure of it at all. If you wanted another to-morrow you'd ask for him if you thought you could get him."
"I call that very uncivil, Sir Thomas, – and very unkind."
"Bother!" said Sir Thomas. "It is no good in being kind to a fellow like you. Did you ever hear what the cabman did who had a sovereign given to him for driving a mile. He asked the fool who gave it him to make it a guinea. I am the fool, and, by George, you are the cabman!" With this Sir Thomas turned into the house by a small door, leaving his son-in-law to wander round to the front by himself.
"Your father has insulted me horribly," he said to his wife, whom he found up in her bed-room.
"What is the matter now, Septimus?"
"That little mare of his, which I have no doubt has come down half a score of times before, fell with me and cut her knees."
"That's Ph?be," said Augusta. "She was his favourite."
"It's a kind of thing that might happen to anyone, and no gentleman thinks of mentioning it. He said such things to me that upon my word I don't think I can stop in the house any longer."
"Oh, yes, you will," said the wife.
"Of course, it is a difference coming from one's father-in-law. It's almost the same as from one's father."
"He didn't mean it, Septimus."
"I suppose not. If he had, I really couldn't have borne it. He does become very rough sometimes, but I know that at bottom he has a thorough respect for me. It is only that induces me to bear it." Then it was settled between husband and wife that they should remain in their present quarters, and that not a word further should be said at any rate by them about the Ph?be mare. Nor did Sir Thomas say another word about the mare, but he added a note to those already written in the tablets of his memory as to his son-in-law, and the note declared that no hint, let it be ever so broad, would be effectual with Mr. Traffick.
The next day was a Sunday, and then another trouble awaited Sir Thomas. At this time it was not customary with Tom to come often to Merle Park. He had his own lodgings in London and his own club, and did not care much for the rural charms of Merle Park. But on this occasion he had condescended to appear, and on the Sunday afternoon informed his father that there was a matter which he desired to discuss with him. "Father," said he, "I am getting confoundedly sick of all this."
"Confounded," said Sir Thomas, "is a stupid foolish word, and it means nothing."
"There is a sort of comfort in it, Sir," said Tom; "but if it's objectionable I'll drop it."
"It is objectionable."
"I'll drop it, Sir. But nevertheless I am very sick of it."
"What are you sick of, Tom?"
"All this affair with my cousin."
"Then, if you take my advice, you'll drop that too."
"I couldn't do that, father. A word is all very well. A man can drop a word; but a girl is a different sort of thing. One can't drop a girl, even if one tries."
"Have you tried, Tom?"
"Yes, I have. I've done my best to try. I put it out of my mind for a fortnight and wouldn't think of her. I had a bottle of champagne every day at dinner and then went to the theatre. But it was all of no use. I have set my heart on it and I can't give her up. I'll tell you what I'd like to do. I'd like to give her a diamond necklace."
"It wouldn't be the slightest use," said Sir Thomas, shaking his head.
"Why not? It's what other men do. I mean it to be something handsome; – about three hundred pounds."
"That's a large sum of money for a necklace."
"Some of them cost a deal more than that."
"And you'd only throw away your money."
"If she took it, she'd take me too. If she didn't, – why I should still have the diamonds. I mean to try any way."
"Then it's of no use your coming to me."
"I thought you'd let me have the money. It's no good running into debt for them. And then if you'd add something of your own, – a locket, or something of that kind, – I think it would have an effect. I have seen a necklace at Ricolay's, and if I could pay ready money for it I could have 20 per cent. off it. The price named is three hundred guineas. That would make it ?254 5s. ?250 would buy it if the cheque was offered."
There was a spirit about the son which was not displeasing to the father. That idea that the gift, if accepted, would be efficacious, or if not that it would be rejected, – so that Tom would not lose his hopes and his diamonds together, – seemed to be sound. Sir Thomas, therefore, promised the money, with the distinct understanding that if the gift were not accepted by Ayala it should be consigned to his own hands. But as for any present from himself, he felt that this would not be the time for it. He had called upon his niece and solicited her himself, and she had been deaf to his words. After that he could not condescend to send her gifts. "Should she become my promised daughter-in-law then I would send her presents," said Sir Thomas.
The poor man certainly received less pleasure from his wealth than was credited to him by those who knew his circumstances. Yet he endeavoured to be good to those around him, and especially good to his children. There had been present to him ever since the beginning of his successes, – ever since his marriage, – a fixed resolution that he would not be a curmudgeon with his money, that he would endeavour to make those happy who depended on him, and that he would be liberal in such settlements for his children as might be conducive to their happiness and fortunes in life. In this way he had been very generous to Mr. Traffick. The man was a Member of Parliament, the son of a peer, and laborious. Why should he expect more? Money was wanting, but he could supply the money. So he had supplied it, and had been content to think that a good man should be propped up in the world by his means. What that had come to the reader knows. He thoroughly detested his son-in-law, and would have given much to have had his money back again, – so that Mr. Traffick should have had no share in it.
Then there was his second daughter! What should be done with Gertrude? The money should be forthcoming for her too if the fitting man could be found. But he would have nothing further to do with a penniless lover, let his position in the world of fashion, or even in the world of politics, be what it might. The man should either have wealth of his own, or should be satisfied to work for it. Houston had been unfortunate in the moment of his approaches. Sir Thomas had been driven by his angry feelings to use hard, sharp words, and now was forced to act up to his words. He declared roughly that Mr. Houston should not have a shilling of his money, – as he had certainly been justified for doing; and his daughter, who had always been indulged in every kind of luxury, had at once concocted a plot for running away from her home! As he thought of the plot it seemed to be wonderful to him that she should be willing to incur such a danger, – to be ready without a penny to marry a penniless man, – till he confessed to himself that, were she to do so, she would certainly have the money sooner or later. He was capable of passion, capable of flying out and saying a very severe thing to Septimus Traffick or another when his temper was hot; but he was incapable of sustained wrath. He was already aware that if Mr. Traffick chose to stay he would stay; – that if Mr. Houston were brave enough to be persistent he might have both the money and the girl. As he thought of it all he was angry with himself, wishing that he were less generous, less soft, less forgiving.
And now here was Tom, – whom at the present moment he liked the best of all his children, who of the three was the least inclined to run counter to him, – ready to break his heart, because he could not get a little chit of a girl of whom he would probably be tired in twelve months after he possessed her! Remembering what Tom had been, he was at a loss to understand how such a lad should be so thoroughly in love. At the present moment, had Ayala been purchaseable, he would have been willing to buy her at a great price, because he would fain have pleased Tom had it been possible. But Ayala, who had not a penny in the world, – who never would have a penny unless he should give it her, – would not be purchased, and would have nothing to do with Tom! The world was running counter to him, so that he had no pleasure in his home, no pleasure in his money, no pleasure in his children. The little back-parlour in Lombard Street was sweeter to him than Merle Park, with all its charms. His daughter Gertrude wanted to run away from him, while by no inducement could he get Mr. Traffick to leave the house.
While he was in this humour he met his niece Lucy roaming about the garden. He knew the whole story of Lucy's love, and had been induced by his wife to acknowledge that her marriage with the sculptor was not to be sanctioned. He had merely expressed his scorn when the unfortunate circumstances of Hamel's birth had been explained to him again and again. He had ridiculed the horror felt by his wife at the equally ill-born brothers and sisters in Rome. He had merely shaken his head when he was told that Hamel's father never went inside of any place of worship. But when it was explained to him that the young man had, so to say, no income at all, then he was forced to acknowledge that the young man ought not to be allowed to marry his niece.
To Lucy herself he had as yet said nothing on the subject since he had asked the lover in to lunch at Glenbogie. He heard bad accounts of her. He had been told by his wife, on different occasions, – not in the mere way of conversation, but with a premeditated energy of fault-finding, – that Lucy was a disobedient girl. She was worse than Ayala. She persisted in saying that she would marry the penniless artist as soon as he should profess himself to be ready. It had been different, she had tried to explain to her aunt, before she had been engaged to him. Now she considered herself to be altogether at his disposal. This had been her plea, but her plea had been altogether unacceptable to Aunt Emmeline. "She can do as she pleases, of course," Sir Thomas had said. That might be all very well; but Aunt Emmeline was strongly of opinion that an adopted daughter of Queen's Gate, of Glenbogie, and Merle Park, ought not to be allowed to do as she pleased with herself. A girl ought not to be allowed to have the luxuries of palatial residences, and the luxuries of free liberty of choice at the same time. More than once it had occurred to Sir Thomas that he would put an end to all these miseries by a mere scratch of his pen. It need not be ?120,000, or ?100,000, as with a daughter. A few modest thousands would do it. And then this man Hamel, though the circumstances of his birth had been unfortunate, was not an idler like Frank Houston. As far as Sir Thomas could learn, the man did work, and was willing to work. The present small income earned would gradually become more. He had a kindly feeling towards Lucy, although he had been inclined to own that her marriage with Hamel was out of the question. "My dear," he said to her, "why are you walking about alone?" She did not like to say that she was walking alone because she had no one to walk with her, – no such companion as Isadore would be if Isadore were allowed to come to Merle Park; so she simply smiled, and went on by her uncle's side. "Do you like this place as well as Glenbogie?" he asked.
"Perhaps you will be glad to get back to London again?"
"Which do you like best, then?"
"They are all so nice, if – "
"If what, Lucy?"
"C?lum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt," Lucy might have said, had she known the passage. As it was she put the same feeling into simpler words, "I should like one as well as the other, Uncle Tom, if things went comfortably."
"There's a great deal in that," he said. "I suppose the meaning is, that you do not get on well with your aunt?"
"I am afraid she is angry with me, Uncle Tom."
"Why do you make her angry, Lucy? When she tells you what is your duty, why do you not endeavour to do it?"
"I cannot do what she tells me," said Lucy; "and, as I cannot, I think I ought not to be here."
"Have you anywhere else to go to?" To this she made no reply, but walked on in silence. "When you say you ought not to be here, what idea have you formed in your own mind as to the future?"
"That I shall marry Mr. Hamel, some day."
"Do you think it would be well to marry any man without an income to live upon? Would it be a comfort to him seeing that he had just enough to maintain himself, and no more?" These were terrible questions to her, – questions which she could not answer, but yet as to which her mind entertained an easy answer. A little help from him, who was willing to indulge her with so many luxuries while she was under his roof, would enable her to be an assistance rather than a burden to her lover. But of this she could not utter a word. "Love is all very well," continued Sir Thomas, in his gruffest voice; "but love should be regulated by good sense. It is a crime when two beggars think of marrying each other, – two beggars who are not prepared to live as beggars do."
"He is not a beggar," said Lucy, indignantly. "He has begged nothing; nor have I."
"Pshaw!" said Sir Thomas; "I was laying down a general rule. I did not mean to call anybody a beggar. You shouldn't take me up like that."
"I beg your pardon, Uncle Tom," she said piteously.
"Very well; very well; that will do." But still he went on walking with her, and she felt she could not leave him till he gave her some signal that she was to go. They continued in this way till they had come nearly round the large garden; when he stopped, as he was walking, and addressed her again. "I suppose you write to him sometimes."
"Yes," said Lucy, boldly.
"Write to him at once, and tell him to come and see me in Lombard Street on Tuesday, at two o'clock. Give me the letter, and I will take care it is sent to him directly I get to town. Now you had better go in, for it is getting very cold."
Tom went up to London intent upon his diamonds. To tell the truth he had already made the purchase subject to some question of ready money. He now paid for it after considerable chaffering as to the odd pounds, which he succeeded in bringing to a successful termination. Then he carried the necklace away with him, revolving in his mind the different means of presentation. He thought that a letter might be best if only he was master of the language in which such a letter should properly be written. But he entirely doubted his own powers of composition. He was so modest in this respect that he would not even make an attempt. He knew himself well enough to be aware that he was in many respects ignorant. He would have endeavoured to take the bracelet personally to Ayala had he not been conscious that he could not recommend his present with such romantic phrases and touches of poetry as would be gratifying to her fine sense. Were he to find himself in her presence with the necklace he must depend on himself for his words; but a letter might be sent in his own handwriting, the poetry and romance of which might be supplied by another.
Now it had happened that Tom had formed a marvellous friendship in Rome with Colonel Stubbs. They had been hunting together in the Campagna, and Tom had been enabled to accommodate the Colonel with the loan of a horse when his own had been injured. They had since met in London, and Stubbs had declared to more than one of his friends that Tom, in spite of his rings and his jewelry, was a very good fellow at bottom. Tom had been greatly flattered by the intimacy, and had lately been gratified by an invitation to Aldershot in order that the military glories of the camp might be shown to him. He had accepted the invitation, and a day in the present week had been fixed. Then it occurred to him suddenly that he knew no one so fitted to write such a letter as that demanded as his friend Colonel Jonathan Stubbs. He had an idea that the Colonel, in spite of his red hair and in spite of a certain aptitude for drollery which pervaded him, had a romantic side to his character; and he felt confident that, as to the use of language, the Colonel was very great indeed. He therefore, when he went to Aldershot, carefully put the bracelet in his breast-pocket and determined to reveal his secret and to ask for aid.
The day of his arrival was devoted to the ordinary pursuits of Aldershot and the evening to festivities, which were prolonged too late into the night to enable him to carry out his purpose before he went to bed. He arranged to leave on the next morning by a train between ten and eleven, and was told that three or four men would come in to breakfast at half-past nine. His project then seemed to be all but hopeless. But at last with great courage he made an effort. "Colonel," said he, just as they were going to bed, "I wonder if you could give me half-an-hour before breakfast. It is a matter of great importance." Tom, as he said this, assumed a most solemn face.
"An hour if you like, my dear boy. I am generally up soon after six, and am always out on horseback before breakfast as soon as the light serves."
"Then if you'll have me called at half-past seven I shall be ever so much obliged to you."
The next morning at eight the two were closeted together, and Tom immediately extracted the parcel from his pocket and opened the diamonds to view. "Upon my word that is a pretty little trinket," said the Colonel, taking the necklace in his hand.
"Three hundred guineas!" said Tom, opening his eyes very wide.
"That is, it would have been three hundred guineas unless I had come down with the ready. I made the fellow give me twenty per cent. off. You should always remember this when you are buying jewelry."