"That does make a difference, of course."
"There is something else to be done before I can again darken the doors of Travers and Treason, – if I should ever do so!"
"Something very particular. Faddle, I do think you are a true friend."
"You may say that. I have stuck to you always, – though you don't know the kind of things my people say to me about it. They say I am going to ruin myself because of you. The governor threatened to put me out of the business altogether. But I'm a man who will be true to my friend, whatever happens. I think you have been a little cool to me, lately; but even that don't matter."
"Cool! If you knew the state that I'm in you wouldn't talk of a fellow being cool! I'm so knocked about it all that I don't know what I'm doing."
"I do take that into consideration."
"Now, I'll tell you what I am going to do." Then he stood still, and looked Faddle full in the face. Faddle, sitting awe-struck on his chair, returned the gaze. He knew that a moment of supreme importance was at hand. "Faddle, I'll shoot that fellow down like a dog."
"Will you, indeed?"
"Like a dog; – if I can get at him. I should have no more compunction in taking his life than a mere worm. Why should I, when I know that he has sapped the very juice of my existence?"
"Do you mean, – do you mean, – that you would – murder him?"
"It would not be murder. Of course it might be that he would shoot me instead. Upon the whole, I think I should like that best."
"Oh; a duel!" said Faddle.
"That's what I mean. Murder him! Certainly not. Though I should like nothing half so well as to thrash him within an inch of his life. I would not murder him. My plan is this, – I shall write to him a letter inviting him to meet me in any corner of the globe that he may select. Torrid zone or Arctic circle will be all the same to me. You will have to accompany me as my second." Faddle shivered with excitement and dread of coming events. Among other ideas there came the thought that it might be difficult to get back from the Arctic circle without money if his friend Tom should happen to be shot dead in that locality. "But first of all," continued Tom, "you will have to carry a letter."
"To the Colonel?" suggested Faddle.
"Of course. The man is now staying with friends of his named Albury at a place called Stalham. From what I hear they are howling swells. Sir Harry Albury is Master of the Hounds, and Lady Albury when she is up in London has all the Royal Family constantly at her parties. Stubbs is a cousin of his; but you must go right away up to him among 'em all, and deliver the letter into his hands without minding 'em a bit."
"Couldn't it go by post?"
"No; this kind of letter musn't go by post. You have to be able to swear that you delivered it yourself into his own hands. And then you must wait for an answer. Even though he should want a day to think of it, you must wait."
"Where am I to stay, Tom?"
"Well; it may be they'll ask you to the house, because, though you carry the letter for me, you are not supposed to be his enemy.
"Shall I go to-day?" asked Faddle.
"I've got to write the letter first. It'll take a little time, so that you'd better put it off till to-morrow. If you will leave me now I'll write it, and if you will come back at six we'll go and have a bit of dinner at Bolivia's." This was an eating-house in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, to which the friends had become partial during this troubled period of their existence.
"Why not come to the Mountaineers, old boy?" Tom shook his head, showing that he was not yet up to such festivity as that; and then Faddle took his departure.
Tom at once got out his pen and paper, and began to write his letter. It may be imagined that it was not written off-hand, or without many struggles. When it was written it ran as follows; —
You will not, I think, be surprised to hear from me in anything but a friendly spirit. I went down to you at Aldershot as to a friend whom I could trust with my bosom's dearest secret, and you have betrayed me. I told you of my love, a love which has long burned in my heart, and you received my confidence with a smile, knowing all the time that you were my rival. I leave it to you to say what reply you can make as to conduct so damning, so unmanly, so dastardly, – and so very unlike a friend as this!
However, there is no place here for words. You have offered me the greatest insult and the greatest injury which one man can inflict upon another! There is no possibility of an apology, unless you are inclined to say that you will renounce for ever your claim upon the hand of Miss Ayala Dormer. This I do not expect, and, therefore, I call upon you to give me that satisfaction which is all that one gentleman can offer to another. After the injury you have done me I think it quite impossible that you should refuse.
Of course, I know that duels cannot be fought in England because of the law. I am sorry that the law should have been altered, because it allows so many cowards to escape the punishment they deserve.
Tom, as he wrote this, was very proud of the keenness of the allusion. "I am quite sure, however, that a man who bears the colours of a colonel in the British army will not try to get off by such a pretext." He was proud, too, about the colours.
France, Belgium, Italy, the United States, and all the world, are open! I will meet you wherever you may choose to arrange a meeting. I presume that you will prefer pistols.
I send this by the hands of my friend, Mr. Faddle, who will be prepared to make arrangements with you, or with any friend on your behalf. He will bring back your reply, which no doubt will be satisfactory. – I am, Sir, your most obedient servant,Thomas Tringle, junior.
When, after making various copies, Tom at last read the letter as finally prepared, he was much pleased with it, doubting whether the Colonel himself could have written it better, had the task been confided to his hands. When Faddle came, he read it to him with much pride, and then committed it to his custody. After that they went out and ate their dinner at Bolivia's with much satisfaction, but still with a bearing of deep melancholy, as was proper on such an occasion.
Faddle as he went down into the country made up his mind that the law which required such letters to be delivered by hand was an absurd law. The post would have done just as well, and would have saved a great deal of trouble. These gloomy thoughts were occasioned by a conviction that he could not carry himself easily or make himself happy among such "howling swells" as these Alburys. If they should invite him to the house the matter would be worse that way than the other. He had no confidence in his dress coat, which he was aware had been damaged by nocturnal orgies. It is all very well to tell a fellow to be as "big a swell" as anybody else, as Tom had told him. But Faddle acknowledged to himself the difficulty of acting up to such advice. Even the eyes of Colonel Stubbs turned upon him after receipt of the letter would oppress him.
Nevertheless he must do his best, and he took a gig at the station nearest to Albury. He was careful to carry his bag with him, but still he lived in hope that he would be able to return to London the same day. When he found himself within the lodges of Stalham Park he could hardly keep himself from shivering, and, when he asked the footman at the door whether Colonel Stubbs were there, he longed to be told that Colonel Stubbs had gone away on the previous day to some – he did not care what – distant part of the globe. But Colonel Stubbs had not gone away. Colonel Stubbs was in the house.
Our friend the Colonel had not suffered as Tom had suffered since his rejection; – but nevertheless he had been much concerned. He had set his heart upon Ayala before he had asked her, and could not bring himself to change his heart because she had refused him. He had gone down to Aldershot and had performed his duties, abstaining for the present from repeating his offer. The offer of course must be repeated, but as to the when, the where, and the how, he had not as yet made up his mind. Then Tom Tringle had come to him at Aldershot communicating to him the fact that he had a rival; – and also the other fact that the other rival like himself had hitherto been unsuccessful. It seemed improbable to him that such a girl as Ayala should attach herself to such a man as her cousin Tom. But nevertheless he was uneasy. He regarded Tom Tringle as a miracle of wealth, and felt certain that the united efforts of the whole family would be used to arrange the match. Ayala had refused him also, and therefore, up to the present moment, the chances of the other man were no better than his own. When Tom left him at Aldershot he hardly remembered that Tom knew nothing of his secret, whereas Tom had communicated to him his own. It never for a moment occurred to him that Tom would quarrel with him; although he had seen that the poor fellow had been disgusted because he had refused to write the letter.
On Christmas Eve he had gone down to Stalham, and there he had remained discussing the matter of his love with Lady Albury. To no one else in the house had the affair been mentioned, and by Sir Harry he was supposed to remain there only for the sake of the hunting. With Sir Harry he was of all guests the most popular, and thus it came to pass that his prolonged presence at Stalham was not matter of special remark. Much of his time he did devote to hunting, but there were half hours devoted in company with Lady Albury to Ayala's perfection and Ayala's obstinacy.
Lady Albury was almost inclined to think that Ayala should be given up. Married ladies seldom estimate even the girls they like best at their full value. It seems to such a one as Lady Albury almost a pity that such a one as Colonel Stubbs should waste his energy upon anything so insignificant as Ayala Dormer. The speciality of the attraction is of course absent to the woman, and unless she has considered the matter so far as to be able to clothe her thoughts in male vestments, as some women do, she cannot understand the longing that is felt for so small a treasure. Lady Albury thought that young ladies were very well, and that Ayala was very well among young ladies; but Ayala in getting Colonel Stubbs for a husband would, as Lady Albury thought, have received so much more than her desert that she was now almost inclined to be angry with the Colonel. "My dear friend," he said to her one day, "you might as well take it for granted. I shall go after my princess with all the energy which a princess merits."
"The question is whether she be a princess," said Lady Albury.
"Allow me to say that that is a point on which I cannot admit a doubt. She is a princess to me, and just at present I must be regarded as the only judge in the matter."
"She shall be a goddess, if you please," said Lady Albury.
"Goddess, princess, pink, or pearl; – any name you please supposed to convey perfection shall be the same to me. It may be that she is in truth no better, or more lovely, or divine, than many another young lady who is at the present moment exercising the heart of many another gentleman. You know enough of the world to be aware that every Jack has his Gill. She is my Gill, and that's an end of it."
"I hope then that she may be your Gill."
"And, in order that she may, you must have her here again. I should absolutely not know how to go to work were I to find myself in the presence of Aunt Dosett in Kingsbury Crescent." In answer to this Lady Albury assured him that she would be quite willing to have the girl again at Stalham if it could be managed. She was reminding him, however, how difficult it had been on a previous occasion to overcome the scruples of Mrs. Dosett, when a servant brought in word to Colonel Stubbs that there was a man in the hall desirous of seeing him immediately on particular business. Then the servant presented our friend Faddle's card.
"Yes, Sir;" said the servant. "He says he has a letter which he must put into your own particular hands."
"That looks like a bailiff," said Lady Albury, laughing. Colonel Stubbs, declaring that he had no special reason to be afraid of any bailiff, left the room and went down into the hall.
At Stalham the real hall of the house was used as a billiard-room, and here, leaning against the billiard table, the Colonel found poor Faddle. When a man is compelled by some chance circumstance to address another man whom he does not know, and whom by inspection he feels he shall never wish to know, he always hardens his face, and sometimes also his voice. So it was with the Colonel when he looked at Faddle. A word he did say, not in words absolutely uncivil, as to the nature of the business in hand. Then Faddle, showing his emotion by a quaver in his voice, suggested that as the matter was one of extreme delicacy some more private apartment might be provided. Upon this Stubbs led the way into a little room which was for the most part filled with hunting-gear, and offered the stranger one of the three chairs which it contained. Faddle sat down, finding himself so compelled, though the Colonel still remained standing, and then extracted the fatal epistle from his pocket. "Colonel Stubbs," said he, handing up the missive, "I am directed by my friend, Mr. Thomas Tringle, junior, to put this letter into your own hand. When you have read it I shall be ready to consult with you as to its contents." These few words he had learnt by heart on his journey down, having practised them continually.
The Colonel took the letter, and turning to the window read it with his back to the visitor. He read it twice from beginning to end in order that he might have time to resolve whether he would laugh aloud at both Faddle and Tringle, or whether it might not be better to endeavour to soften the anger of poor Tom by a message which should be at any rate kindly worded. "This is from my friend, Tom Tringle," he said.
"From Mr. Thomas Tringle, junior," said Faddle, proudly.
"So I perceive. I am sorry to think that he should be in so much trouble. He is one of the best fellows I know, and I am really grieved that he should be unhappy. This, you know, is all nonsense."
"It is not nonsense at all, Colonel Stubbs."
"You must allow me to be the judge of that, Mr. Faddle. It is at any rate nonsense to me. He wants me to go somewhere and fight a duel, – which I should not do with any man under any circumstances. Here there is no possible ground for any quarrel whatsoever, – as I will endeavour to explain, myself, to my friend, Mr. Tringle. I shall be sure to write to him at once, – and so I will bid you good afternoon."
But this did not at all suit poor Faddle after so long a journey. "I thought it probable that you would write, Colonel Stubbs, and therefore I am prepared to wait. If I cannot be accommodated here I will wait, – will wait elsewhere."
"That will not be at all necessary. We have a post to London twice a day."
"You must be aware, Colonel Stubbs, that letters of this sort should not be sent by post."
"The kind of letter I shall write may be sent by post very well. It will not be bellicose, and therefore there can be no objection."
"I really think, Colonel Stubbs, that you are making very little of a very serious matter."
"Mr. Faddle, I really must manage my own affairs after my own way. Would you like a glass of sherry? If not, I need hardly ask you to stay here any longer." Upon that he went out into the billiard-room and rang the bell. Poor Faddle would have liked the glass of sherry, but he felt that it would be incompatible with the angry dignity which he assumed, and he left the house without another word or even a gesture of courtesy. Then he returned to London, having taken his bag and dress coat all the way to Stalham for nothing.
Tom's letter was almost too good to be lost, but there was no one to whom the joke could be made known except Lady Albury. She, he was sure, would keep poor Tom's secret as well as his own, and to her he showed the letter. "I pity him from the bottom of my heart," he said. Lady Albury declared that the writer of such a letter was too absurd for pity. "Not at all. Unless he really loved her he wouldn't have been so enraged. I suppose he does think that I injured him. He did tell me his story, and I didn't tell him mine. I can understand it all, though I didn't imagine he was such a fool as to invite me to travel all round the world because of the harsh laws of Great Britain. Nevertheless, I shall write to him quite an affectionate letter, remembering that, should I succeed myself, he will be my first cousin by marriage."
Before he went to bed that night he wrote his letter, and the reader may as well see the whole correspondence; —
My dear Tringle,
If you will think of it all round you will see that you have got no cause of quarrel with me any more than I have with you. If it be the case that we are both attached to your cousin, we must abide her decision whether it be in favour of either of us, or, as may be too probably the case, equally adverse to both of us. If I understand your letter rightly, you think that I behaved unfairly when I did not tell you of my own affairs upon hearing yours from your own lips. Why should I? Why should I have been held to be constrained to tell my secret because you, for your own sake, had told me yours? Had I been engaged to your cousin, – which I regret to say is very far from the case, – I should have told you, naturally. I should have regarded the matter as settled, and should have acquainted you with a fact which would have concerned you. But as such was not a fact, I was by no means bound to tell you how my affairs stood. This ought to be clear to you, and I hope will be when you have read what I say.
I may as well go on to declare that under no circumstances should I fight a duel with you. If I thought I had done wrong in the matter I would beg your pardon. I can't do that as it is, – though I am most anxious to appease you, – because I have done you no wrong.
Pray forget your animosity, – which is in truth unfounded, – and let us be friends as we were before.Yours very sincerely,Jonathan Stubbs.
Faddle reached London the evening before the Colonel's letter, and again dined with his friend at Bolivia's. At first they were both extremely angry, acerbating each other's wrath. Now that he was safe back in London Faddle thought that he would have enjoyed an evening among the "swells" of Stalham, and felt himself to be injured by the inhospitable treatment he had received – "after going all the way down there, hardly to be asked to sit down!"
"Not asked to sit down!"
"Well, yes, I was; – on a miserable cane-bottomed chair in a sort of cupboard. And he didn't sit down. You may call them swells, but I think your Colonel Stubbs is a very vulgar sort of fellow. When I told him the post isn't the proper thing for such a letter, he only laughed. I suppose he doesn't know what is the kind of thing among gentlemen."
"I should think he does know," said Tom.
"Then why doesn't he act accordingly? Would you believe it; he never so much as asked me whether I had a mouth on. It was just luncheon time, too."
"I suppose they lunch late."
"They might have asked me. I shouldn't have taken it. He did say something about a glass of sherry, but it was in that sort of tone which tells a fellow that he is expected not to take it. And then he pretended to laugh. I could see that he was shaking in his shoes at the idea of having to fight. He go to the torrid zone! He would much rather go to a police office if he thought that there was any fighting on hand. I should dust his jacket with a stick if I were you."
Later on in the evening Tom declared that this was what he would do, but, before he came to that, a third bottle of Signor Bolivia's champagne had been made to appear. The evening passed between them not without much enjoyment. On the opening of that third cork the wine was declared to be less excellent than what had gone before, and Signor Bolivia was evoked in person. A gentleman named Walker, who looked after the establishment, made his appearance, and with many smiles, having been induced to swallow a bumper of the compound himself, declared, with a knowing shake of the head and an astute twinkle of the eye, that the wine was not equal to the last. He took a great deal of trouble, he assured them, to import an article which could not be surpassed, if it could be equalled, in London, always visiting Epernay himself once a-year for the purpose of going through the wine-vaults. Let him do what he would an inferior bottle, – or, rather, a bottle somewhat inferior, – would sometimes make its way into his cellar. Would Mr. Tringle let him have the honour of drawing another cork, so that the exact amount of difference might be ascertained? Tom gave his sanction; the fourth cork was drawn; and Mr. Walker, sitting down and consuming the wine with his customers, was enabled to point out to a hair's breadth the nature and the extent of the variation. Tringle still thought that the difference was considerable. Faddle was, on the whole, inclined to agree with Signor Bolivia. It need hardly be said that the four bottles were paid for, – or rather scored against Tringle, who at the present time had a little account at the establishment.