"I don't think it is wicked. People would do best if they were made to go along on what they've got of their own." This seemed to Augusta to be a direct blow at Septimus and herself. "Of course I know what you mean, mamma."
"I didn't mean anything."
"But, if people can't stay for a few weeks in their own parents' houses, I don't know where they are to stay."
"It isn't weeks, Augusta; it's months. And as to parents, Lord Boardotrade is Mr. Traffick's parent. Why doesn't he go and stay with Lord Boardotrade?" Then Augusta got up and marched with stately step out of the room. After this it was not possible that Lucy would find much immediate grace in her aunt's eyes.
From the moment that Lucy had received her letter there came upon her the great burden of answering it. She was very anxious to do exactly as Hamel had counselled her. She was quite alive to the fact that Hamel had been imprudent in Lombard Street; but not the less was she desirous to do as he bade her, – thinking it right that a woman should obey some one, and that her obedience could be due only to him. But in order to obey him she must consult her aunt. "Aunt Emmeline," she said that afternoon, "I want to ask you something?"
"What is it now?" said Aunt Emmeline, crossly.
"About Mr. Hamel."
"I don't want to hear any more about Mr. Hamel. I have heard quite enough of Mr. Hamel."
"Of course I am engaged to him, Aunt Emmeline."
"So I hear you say. I do not think it very dutiful of you to come and talk to me about him, knowing as you do what I think about him."
"What I want to ask is this. Ought I to stay here or ought I to go away?"
"I never heard such a girl! Where are you to go to? What makes you ask the question?"
"Because you said that I ought to go if I did not give him up."
"You ought to give him up."
"I cannot do that, aunt."
"Then you had better hold your tongue and say nothing further about it. I don't believe he earns enough to give you bread to eat and decent clothes to wear. What would you do if children were to come year after year? If you really love him I wonder how you can think of being such a millstone round a man's neck!"
This was very hard to bear. It was so different from the delicious comfort of his letter. "I do not for a moment believe that we should want." "I have never for one moment doubted my own ultimate success." But after all was there not more of truth in her aunt's words, hard and cruel as they were? And on these words, such as they were, she must found her answer to her lover; for he had bade her ask her aunt what she was to do as to staying or preparing herself for an immediate marriage. Then, before the afternoon was over, she wrote to Hamel as follows; —
I have got ever so much to say, but I shall begin by doing as you told me in your postscript. I won't quite scold you, but I do think you might have been a little gentler with poor Uncle Tom.I do not say this because I at all regret anything which perhaps he might have done for us. If you do not want assistance from him certainly I do not. But I do think that he meant to be kind; and, though he may not be quite what you call a gentleman of fine feeling, yet he has taken me into his house when I had no other to go to, and in many respects has been generous to me. When he said that you were to go to him in Lombard Street, I am sure that he meant to be generous. And, though it has not ended well, yet he meant to be kind to both of us.
There is what you will call my scolding; though, indeed, dearest, I do not intend to scold at all. Nor am I in the least disappointed except in regard to you. This morning I have been to Aunt Emmeline, as you desired, and I must say that she was very cross. Of course I know that it is because she is my own aunt that Uncle Tom has me here at all; and I feel that I ought to be very grateful to her. But, in spite of all that you say, laughing at Uncle Tom because he wants you to sell your grand work by auction, he is much more good-natured than Aunt Emmeline. I am quite sure my aunt never liked me, and that she will not be comfortable till I am gone. But when I asked her whether I ought to stay, or to go, she told me to hold my tongue, and say nothing further about it. Of course, by this, she meant that I was to remain, at any rate for the present.
My own dearest, I do think this will be best, though I need not tell you how I look forward to leaving this, and being always with you. For myself I am not a bit afraid, though Aunt Emmeline said dreadful things about food and clothes, and all the rest of it. But I believe much more in what you say, that success will be sure to come. But still will it not be wise to wait a little longer? Whatever I may have to bear here, I shall think that I am bearing it for your dear sake; and then I shall be happy.Believe me to be always and always your ownLucy.
This was written and sent on a Wednesday, and nothing further was said either by Lucy herself, or by her aunt, as to the lover, till Sir Thomas came down to Merle Park on the Saturday evening. On his arrival he seemed inclined to be gracious to the whole household, even including Mr. Traffick, who received any attention of that kind exactly as though the most amicable arrangements were always existing between him and his father-in-law. Aunt Emmeline, when it seemed that she was to encounter no further anger on account of the revelation which Hamel had made in Lombard Street, also recovered her temper, and the evening was spent as though there were no causes for serious family discord. In this spirit, on the following morning, they all went to church, and it was delightful to hear the flattering words with which Mr. Traffick praised Merle Park, and everything belonging to it, during the hour of lunch. He went so far as to make some delicately laudatory hints in praise of hospitality in general, and especially as to that so nobly exercised by London merchant-princes. Sir Thomas smiled as he heard him, and, as he smiled, he resolved that, as soon as the Christmas festivities should be over, the Honourable Septimus Traffick should certainly be turned out of that house.
After lunch there came a message to Lucy by a page-boy, who was supposed to attend generally to the personal wants of Aunt Emmeline, saying that her uncle would be glad of her attendance for a walk. "My dear," said he, "have you got your thick boots on? Then go and put 'em on. We will go down to the Lodge, and then come home round by Windover Hill." She did as she was bade, and then they started. "I want to tell you," said he, "that this Mr. Hamel of yours came to me in Lombard Street."
"I know that, Uncle Tom."
"He has written to you, then, and told you all about it?"
"He has written to me, certainly, and I have answered him."
"No doubt. Well, Lucy, I had intended to be kind to your Mr. Hamel, but, as you are probably aware, I was not enabled to carry out my intentions. He seems to be a very independent sort of young man."
"He is independent, I think."
"I have not a word to say against it. If a man can be independent it is so much the better. If a man can do everything for himself, so as to require neither to beg nor to borrow, it will be much better for him. But, my dear, you must understand that a man cannot be independent with one hand, and accept assistance with the other, at one and the same time."
"That is not his character, I am sure," said Lucy, striving to hide her indignation while she defended her lover's character.
"I do not think it is. Therefore he must remain independent, and I can do nothing for him."
"He knows that, Uncle Tom."
"Very well. Then there's an end of it. I only want to make you understand that I was willing to assist him, but that he was unwilling to be assisted. I like him all the better for it, but there must be an end of it."
"I quite understand, Uncle Tom."
"Then there's one other thing I've got to say. He accused me of having threatened to turn you out of my house. Now, my dear – " Hereupon Lucy struggled to say a word, hardly knowing what word she ought to say, but he interrupted her, – "Just hear me out till I've done, and then there need not be another word about it. I never threatened to turn you out."
"Not you, Uncle Tom," she said, endeavouring to press his arm with her hand.
"If your aunt said a word in her anger you should not have made enough of it to write and tell him."
"I thought she meant me to go, and then I didn't know whom else to ask."
"Neither I nor she, nor anybody else, ever intended to turn you out. I have meant to be kind to you both, – to you and Ayala; and if things have gone wrong I cannot say that it has been my fault. Now, you had better stay here, and not say a word more about it till he is ready to take you. That can't be yet for a long time. He is making, at present, not more than two hundred a year. And I am sure it must be quite as much as he can do to keep a coat on his back with such an income as that. You must make up your mind to wait, – probably for some years. As I told you before, if a man chooses to have the glory of independence he must also bear the inconvenience. Now, my dear, let there be an end of this, and never say again that I want to turn you out of my house."
The next six weeks went on tranquilly at Merle Park without a word spoken about Hamel. Sir Thomas, who was in the country as little as possible, showed his scorn to his son-in-law simply by the paucity of his words, speaking to him, when he did speak to him, with a deliberate courtesy which Mr. Traffick perfectly understood. It was that dangerous serenity which so often presages a storm. "There is something going to be up with your father," he said to Augusta. Augusta replied that she had never seen her father so civil before. "It would be a great convenience," continued the Member of Parliament, "if he could be made to hold his tongue till Parliament meets; but I'm afraid that's too good to expect." In other respects things were comfortable at Merle Park, though they were not always comfortable up in London. Tom, as the reader knows, was misbehaving himself sadly at the Mountaineers. This was the period of unlimited champagne, and of almost total absence from Lombard Street. It was seldom that Sir Thomas could get hold of his son, and when he did that broken-hearted youth would reply to his expostulations simply by asserting that if his father would induce Ayala to marry him everything should go straight in Lombard Street. Then came the final blow. Tom was of course expected at Merle Park on Christmas Eve, but did not make his appearance either then or on Christmas Day. Christmas fell on a Wednesday, and it was intended that the family should remain in the country till the following Monday. On the Thursday Sir Thomas went up to town to make inquiries respecting his heir, as to whom Lady Tringle had then become absolutely unhappy. In London he heard the disastrous truth. Tom, in his sportive mood, had caused serious inconvenience to a most respectable policeman, and was destined to remain another week in the hands of the Philistines. Then, for a time, all the other Tringle troubles were buried and forgotten in this great trouble respecting Tom. Lady Tringle was unable to leave her room during the period of incarceration. Mr. Traffick promised to have the victim liberated by the direct interference of the Secretary of State, but failed to get anything of the kind accomplished. The girls were completely cowed by the enormity of the misfortune; so that Tom's name was hardly mentioned except in sad and confidential whispers. But of all the sufferers Sir Thomas suffered the most. To him it was a positive disgrace, weighing down every moment of his life. At Travers and Treason he could not hold up his head boldly and open his mouth loudly as had always been his wont. At Travers and Treason there was not a clerk who did not know that "the governor" was an altered man since this misfortune had happened to the hope of the firm. What passed between Sir Thomas and his son on the occasion has already been told in a previous chapter. That Sir Thomas, on the whole, behaved with indulgence must be acknowledged; but he felt that his son must in truth absent himself from Lombard Street for a time.
Tom had been advised by his father to go forth and see the world. A prolonged tour had been proposed to him which to most young men might seem to have great attraction. To him it would have had attraction enough, had it not been for Ayala. There would have been hardly any limit to the allowance made to him, and he would have gone forth armed with introductions, which would have made every port a happy home to him. But as soon as the tour was suggested he resolved at once that he could not move himself to a distance from Ayala. What he expected, – what he even hoped, – he could not tell himself. But while Ayala was in London, and Ayala was unmarried, he could not be made to take himself far away.
He was thoroughly ashamed of himself. He was not at all the man who could bear a week of imprisonment and not think himself disgraced. For a day or two he shut himself up altogether in his lodgings, and never once showed himself at the Mountaineers. Faddle came to him, but he snubbed Faddle at first, remembering all the severe things his father had said about the Faddles in general. But he soon allowed that feeling to die away when the choice seemed to be between Faddle and solitude. Then he crept out in the dark and ate his dinners with Faddle at some tavern, generally paying the bill for both of them. After dinner he would play half-a-dozen games of billiards with his friend at some unknown billiard-room, and then creep home to his lodgings, – a blighted human being!
At last, about the end of the first week in January, he was induced to go down to Merle Park. There Mr. and Mrs. Traffick were still sojourning, the real grief which had afflicted Sir Thomas having caused him to postpone his intention in regard to his son-in-law. At Merle Park Tom was cosseted and spoilt by the women very injudiciously. It was not perhaps the fact that they regarded him as a hero simply because he had punched a policeman in the stomach and then been locked up in vindication of the injured laws of his country; but that incident in combination with his unhappy love did seem to make him heroic. Even Lucy regarded him with favour because of his constancy to her sister; whereas the other ladies measured their admiration for his persistency by the warmth of their anger against the silly girl who was causing so much trouble. His mother told him over and over again that his cousin was not worth his regard; but then, when he would throw himself on the sofa in an agony of despair, – weakened perhaps as much by the course of champagne as by the course of his love, – then she, too, would bid him hope, and at last promised that she herself would endeavour to persuade Ayala to look at the matter in a more favourable light. "It would all be right if it were not for that accursed Stubbs," poor Tom would say to his mother. "The man whom I called my friend! The man I lent a horse to when he couldn't get one anywhere else! The man to whom I confided everything, even about the necklace! If it hadn't been for Stubbs I never should have hurt that policeman! When I was striking him I thought that it was Stubbs!" Then the mother would heap feminine maledictions on the poor Colonel's head, and so together they would weep and think of revenge.
From the moment Tom had heard Colonel Stubbs's name mentioned as that of his rival he had meditated revenge. It was quite true when he said that he had been thinking of Stubbs when he struck the policeman. He had consumed the period of his confinement in gnashing his teeth, all in regard to our poor friend Jonathan. He told his father that he could not go upon his long tour because of Ayala. But in truth his love was now so mixed up with ideas of vengeance that he did not himself know which prevailed. If he could first have slaughtered Stubbs then perhaps he might have started! But how was he to slaughter Stubbs? Various ideas occurred to his mind. At first he thought that he would go down to Aldershot with the biggest cutting-whip he could find in any shop in Piccadilly; but then it occurred to him that at Aldershot he would have all the British army against him, and that the British army might do something to him worse even than the London magistrate. Then he would wait till the Colonel could be met elsewhere. He ascertained that the Colonel was still at Stalham, where he had passed the Christmas, and he thought how it might be if he were to attack the Colonel in the presence of his friends, the Alburys. He assured himself that, as far as personal injury went, he feared nothing. He had no disinclination to be hit over the head himself, if he could be sure of hitting the Colonel over the head. If it could be managed that they two should fly at each other with their fists, and be allowed to do the worst they could to each other for an hour, without interference, he would be quite satisfied. But down at Stalham that would not be allowed. All the world would be against him, and nobody there to see that he got fair play. If he could encounter the man in the streets of London it would be better; but were he to seek the man down at Stalham he would probably find himself in the County Lunatic Asylum. What must he do for his revenge? He was surely entitled to it. By all the laws of chivalry, as to which he had his own ideas, he had a right to inflict an injury upon a successful – even upon an unsuccessful – rival. Was it not a shame that so excellent an institution as duelling should have been stamped out? Wandering about the lawns and shrubberies at Merle Park he thought of all this, and at last he came to a resolution.
The institution had been stamped out, as far as Great Britain was concerned. He was aware of that. But it seemed to him that it had not been stamped out in other more generous countries. He had happened to notice that a certain enthusiastic politician in France had enjoyed many duels, and had never been severely repressed by the laws of his country. Newspaper writers were always fighting in France, and were never guillotined. The idea of being hanged was horrible to him, – so distasteful that he saw at a glance that a duel in England was out of the question. But to have his head cut off, even if it should come to that, would be a much less affair. But in Belgium, in Italy, in Germany, they never did cut off the heads of the very numerous gentlemen who fought duels. And there were the Southern States of the American Union, where he fancied that men might fight duels just as they pleased. He would be ready to go even to New Orleans at a day's notice if only he could induce Colonel Stubbs to meet him there. And he thought that, if Colonel Stubbs really possessed half the spirit which seemed to be attributed to him by the British army generally, he would come, if properly invoked, and fight such a duel as this, whether at New Orleans or at some other well-chosen blood-allowing spot on the world's surface. Tom was prepared to go anywhere for blood.
But the invocation must be properly made. When he had wanted another letter of another kind to be written for him, the Colonel himself was the man to whom he had gone for assistance. And, had his present enemy been any other than the Colonel himself, he would have gone to the Colonel in preference to any one else for aid in this matter. There was no one, in truth, in whom he believed so thoroughly as in the Colonel. But that was out of the question. Then he reflected what friend might now stand him in stead. He would have gone to Houston, who wanted to marry his sister; but Houston seemed to have disappeared, and he did not know where he might be found. There was his brother-in-law, Traffick, – but he feared lest Traffick might give him over once more into the hands of the police. He thought of Hamel, as being in a way connected with the family; but he had seen so little of Hamel, and had so much disliked what he had seen, that he was obliged to let that hope go by. There was no one left but Faddle whom he could trust. Faddle would do anything he was told to do. Faddle would carry the letter, no doubt, or allow himself to be named as a proposed second. But Faddle could not write the letter. He felt that he could write the letter himself better than Faddle.
He went up to town, having sent a mysterious letter to Faddle, bidding his friend attend him in his lodgings. He did not yet dare to go to the Mountaineers, where Faddle would have been found. But Faddle came, true to the appointment. "What is it, now?" said the faithful friend. "I hope you are going back to Travers and Treason's. That is what I should do, and walk in just as though nothing had happened."
"Not if you were me, you wouldn't."