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"I don't think I could go as soon as that, Sir," replied Tom, whining.
"Why not? There are more than three weeks yet, and your mother will have everything ready for you. What on earth is there to hinder you?"
"I don't think I could go – not on the nineteenth of April."
"Well then, you must. I have taken your place, and Firkin expects you at New York. They'll do everything for you there, and you'll find quite a new life. I should have thought you'd have been delighted to get away from your wretched condition here."
"It is wretched," said Tom; "but I'd rather not go quite so soon."
"Well, then – "
"What is it, Tom? It makes me unhappy when I see you such a fool."
"I am a fool! I know I am a fool!"
"Then make a new start of it. Cut and run, and begin the world again. You're young enough to forget all this."
"So I would, only – "
"I suppose she is engaged to that man Stubbs! If I knew it for certain then I would go. If I went before, I should only come back as soon as I got to New York. If they were once married and it were all done with I think I could make a new start."
In answer to this his father told him that he must go on the nineteenth of April, whether Ayala were engaged or disengaged, married or unmarried; – that his outfit would be bought, his cabin would be ready, circular notes for his use would be prepared, and everything would be arranged to make his prolonged tour as comfortable as possible; but that if he did not start on that day all the Tringle houses would be closed against him, and he would be turned penniless out into the world. "You'll have to learn that I'm in earnest," said Sir Thomas, as he turned his back and walked away. Tom took himself off to reflect whether it would not be a grand thing to be turned penniless out into the world, – and all for love!
By the early train on Monday Sir Thomas returned to London, having taken little or no heed of Captain Batsby during his late visit to the country. Even at Merle Park Captain Batsby's presence was less important than it would otherwise have been to Lady Tringle and Mrs. Traffick, because of the serious nature of Sir Thomas's decision as to his son. Lady Tringle perhaps suspected something. Mrs. Traffick, no doubt, had her own ideas as to her sister's position; but nothing was said and nothing was done. Both on the Wednesday and on the Thursday Lady Tringle went up to town to give the required orders on Tom's behalf. On the Thursday her elder daughter accompanied her, and returned with her in the evening. On their arrival they learnt that neither Captain Batsby nor Miss Gertrude had been seen since ten o'clock; that almost immediately after Lady Tringle's departure in the morning Captain Batsby had caused all his luggage to be sent into Hastings; and that it had since appeared that a considerable number of Miss Gertrude's things were missing. There could be no doubt that she had caused them to be packed up with the Captain's luggage."They have gone to Ostend, mamma," said Augusta. "I was sure of it, because I've heard Gertrude say that people can always get themselves married at Ostend. There is a clergyman there on purpose to do it."
It was at this time past seven o'clock, and Lady Tringle when she heard the news was so astounded that she did not at first know how to act. It was not possible for her to reach Dover that night before the night-boat for Ostend should have started, – even could she have done any good by going there. Tom was in such a condition that she hardly dared to trust him; but it was settled at last that she should telegraph at once to Sir Thomas, in Lombard Street, and that Tom should travel up to London by the night train.
On the following morning Lady Tringle received a letter from Gertrude, posted by that young lady at Dover as she passed through on her road to Ostend. It was as follows; —
Sir Thomas did not receive the telegram till eleven o'clock, when he returned from dinner, and could do nothing that night. On the next morning he was disturbed soon after five o'clock by Tom, who had come on the same errand. "Idiots!" exclaimed Sir Thomas, "What on earth can they have gone to Ostend for? And what can you do by coming up?"
"My mother thought that I might follow them to Ostend."
"They wouldn't care for you. No one will care for you until you have got rid of all this folly. I must go. Idiots! Who is to marry them at Ostend? If they are fools enough to want to be married, why shouldn't they get married in England?"
"I suppose they thought you wouldn't consent."
"Of course I shan't consent. But why should I consent a bit more because they have gone to Ostend? I don't suppose anybody ever had such a set of fools about him as I have." This would have been hard upon Tom had it not been that he had got beyond the feeling of any hardness from contempt or contumely. As he once said of himself, all sense of other injury had been washed out of him by Ayala's unkindness.
On that very day Sir Thomas started for Ostend, and reached the place about two o'clock. Captain Batsby and Gertrude had arrived only during the previous night, and Gertrude, as she had been very sick, was still in bed. Captain Batsby was not in bed. Captain Batsby had been engaged since an early hour in the morning looking for that respectable clergyman of the Church of England of whose immediate services he stood in need. By the time that Sir Thomas had reached Ostend he had found that no such clergyman was known in the place. There was a regular English clergyman who would be very happy to marry him, – and to accept the usual fees, – after the due performance of certain preliminaries as ordained by the law, and as usual at Ostend. The lady, no doubt, could be married at Ostend, after such preliminaries, – as she might have been married also in England. All this was communicated by the Captain to Gertrude, – who was still very unwell, – at her bedroom door. Her conduct during this trying time was quite beyond reproach, – and also his, – as Captain Batsby afterwards took an opportunity of assuring her father.
"What on earth, Sir, is the meaning of all this?" said Sir Thomas, encountering the man who was not his son-in-law in the sitting-room of the hotel.
"I have just run away with your daughter, Sir Thomas. That is the simple truth."
"And I have got the trouble of taking her back again."
"I have behaved like a gentleman through it all, Sir Thomas," said the Captain, thus defending his own character and the lady's.
"You have behaved like a fool. What on earth am I to think of it, Sir? You were asked down to my house because you gave me to understand that you proposed to ask my niece, Miss Dormer, to be your wife; and now you have run away with my daughter. Is that behaviour like a gentleman?"
"I must explain myself?"
"Well, Sir?" Captain Batsby found the explanation very difficult; and hummed and hawed a great deal. "Do you mean to say that it was a lie from beginning to end about Miss Dormer?" Great liberties of speech are allowed to gentlemen whose daughters have been run away with, and whose hospitality has been outraged.
"Oh dear no. What I said then was quite true. It was my intention. But – but – ." The perspiration broke out upon the unhappy man's brow as the great immediate trouble of his situation became clear to him. "There was no lie, – no lie at all. I beg to assure you, Sir Thomas, that I am not a man to tell a lie."
"How has it all been, then?"
"When I found how very superior a person your daughter was!"
"It isn't a month since she was engaged to somebody else," said the angry father, forgetting all propriety in his indignation.
"Gertrude?" demanded Captain Batsby.
"You are two fools. So you gave up my niece?"
"Oh dear yes, altogether. She didn't come to Merle Park, you know. How was I to say anything to her when you didn't have her there?"
"Why didn't you go away then, instead of remaining under a false pretence? Or why, at any rate, didn't you tell me the truth?"
"And what would you have me to do now?" asked Captain Batsby.
"Go to the d – ," said Sir Thomas, as he left the room, and went to his daughter's chamber.
Gertrude had heard that her father was in the house, and endeavoured to hurry herself into her clothes while the interview was going on between him and her father. But she was not yet perfectly arrayed when her father burst into her room. "Oh, papa," she said, going down on her knees, "you do mean to forgive us?"
"I mean to do nothing of the kind. I mean to carry you home and have you locked up."
"But we may be married!"
"Not with my leave. Why didn't you come and ask if you wanted to get yourselves married? Why didn't you tell me?"
"We were ashamed."
"What has become of Mr. Houston, whom you loved so dearly?"
"And the Captain was so much attached to Ayala!"
"Get up, you stupid girl. Why is it that my children are so much more foolish than other people's? I don't suppose you care for the man in the least."
"I do, I do. I love him with all my heart."
"And as for him, – how can he care for you when it is but the other day he was in love with your cousin?"
"What he wants is my money, of course."
"He has got plenty of money, papa."
"I can understand him, fool as he is. There is something for him to get. He won't get it, but he might think it possible. As for you, I cannot understand you at all. What do you expect? It can't be for love of a hatchet-faced fellow like that, whom you had never seen a fortnight ago."
"It is more than a month ago, papa."
"Frank Houston was, at any rate, a manly-looking fellow."
"He was a scoundrel," said Gertrude, now standing up for the first time.
"A good-looking fellow was Frank Houston; that at least may be said for him," continued the father, determined to exasperate his daughter to the utmost. "I had half a mind to give way about him, because he was a manly, outspoken fellow, though he was such an idle dog. If you'd gone off with him, I could have understood it; – and perhaps forgiven it," he added.
"He was a scoundrel!" screamed Gertrude, remembering her ineffectual attempts to make her former lover perform this same journey.
"But this fellow! I cannot bring myself to believe that you really care for him."
"He has a good income of his own, while Houston was little better than a beggar."
"I'm glad of that," said Sir Thomas, "because there will be something for you to live upon. I can assure you that Captain Batsby will never get a shilling of my money. Now, you had better finish dressing yourself, and come down and eat your dinner with me if you've got any appetite. You will have to go back to Dover by the boat to-night."
"May Ben dine with us?" asked Gertrude, timidly.
"Ben may go to the d – . At any rate he had better not show himself to me again," said Sir Thomas.
The lovers, however, did get an opportunity of exchanging a few words, during which it was settled between them that as the young lady must undoubtedly obey her father's behests, and return to Dover that night, it would be well for Captain Batsby to remain behind at Ostend. Indeed, he spoke of making a little tour as far as Brussels, in order that he might throw off the melancholy feelings which had been engendered. "You will come to me again, Ben," she said. Upon this he looked very grave. "You do not mean to say that after all this you will desert me?"
"He has insulted me so horribly!"
"What does that signify? Of course he is angry. If you could only hear how he has insulted me."
"He says that you were in love with somebody else not a month since."
"So were you, Ben, for the matter of that." He did, however, before they parted, make her a solemn promise that their engagement should remain an established fact, in spite both of father and mother.
Gertrude, who had now recovered the effects of her sea-sickness, – which, however, she would have to encounter again so very quickly, – contrived to eat a hearty dinner with her father. There, however, arose a little trouble. How should she contrive to pack up the clothes which she had brought with her, and which had till lately been mixed with the Captain's garments. She did, however, at last succeed in persuading the chamber-maid to furnish her with a carpet-bag, with which in her custody she arrived safely on the following day at Merle Park.