Then there entered to him one of the junior clerks with a card announcing the name of Captain Batsby. He looked at it for some seconds before he gave any notification of his intention, and then desired the young man to tell the gentleman that he would not see him. The message had been delivered, and Captain Batsby with a frown of anger on his brow was about to shake the dust off from his feet on the uncourteous threshold when there came another message saying that Captain Batsby could go in and see Sir Thomas if he wished it. Upon this he turned round and was shown into the little sitting-room. "Well, Captain Batsby," said Sir Thomas; "what can I do for you now? I am glad to see that you have come back safely from foreign parts."
"I have called," said the Captain, "to say something about your daughter."
"What more can you have to say about her?"
At this the Captain was considerably puzzled. Of course Sir Thomas must know what he had to say. "The way in which we were separated at Ostend was very distressing to my feelings."
"And also I should think to Miss Tringle's."
"Not improbably. I have always observed that when people are interrupted in the performance of some egregious stupidity their feelings are hurt. As I said before, what can I do for you now?"
"I am very anxious to complete the alliance which I have done myself the honour to propose to you."
"I did not know that you had proposed anything. You came down to my house under a false pretence; and then you persuaded my daughter, – or else she persuaded you, – to go off together to Ostend. Is that what you call an alliance?"
"That, as far as it went was, – was an elopement."
"Am I to understand that you now want to arrange another elopement, and that you have come to ask my consent?"
"Oh dear no."
"Then what do you mean by completing an alliance?"
"I want to make," said the Captain, "an offer for the young lady's hand in a proper form. I consider myself to be in a position which justifies me in doing so. I am possessed of the young lady's affections, and have means of my own equal to those which I presume you will be disposed to give her."
"Very much better means I hope, Captain Batsby. Otherwise I do not see what you and your wife would have to live upon. I will tell you exactly what my feelings are in this matter. My daughter has gone off with you, forgetting all the duty that she owed to me and to her mother, and throwing aside all ideas of propriety. After that I will not say that you shall not marry her if both of you think fit. I do not doubt your means, and I have no reason for supposing that you would be cruel to her. You are two fools, but after all fools must live in the world. What I do say is, that I will not give a sixpence towards supporting you in your folly. Now, Captain Batsby, you can complete the alliance or not as you please."
Captain Batsby had been called a fool also at Ostend, and there, amidst the distressing circumstances of his position, had been constrained to bear the opprobious name, little customary as it is for one gentleman to allow himself to be called a fool by another; but now he had collected his thoughts, had reminded himself of his position in the world, and had told himself that it did not become him to be too humble before this City man of business.
"If you do not present yourself to me here, Captain Batsby, or at my own house, – or, perhaps I may say, at Ostend, – I will use no such terms to you."
"I suppose you will acknowledge that I am entitled to ask for your daughter's hand."
"I suppose you will acknowledge that when a man runs away with my daughter I am entitled to express my opinion of his conduct."
"That is all over now, Sir Thomas. What I did I did for love. There is no good in crying over spilt milk. The question is as to the future happiness of the young lady."
"That is the only wise word I have heard you say, Captain Batsby. There is no good in crying after spilt milk. Our journey to Ostend is done and gone. It was not very agreeable, but we have lived through it. I quite think that you show a good judgment in not intending to go there again in quest of a clergyman. If you want to be married there are plenty of them in London. I will not oppose your marriage, but I will not give you a shilling. No man ever had a better opportunity of showing the disinterestedness of his affection. Now, good morning."
"But, Sir Thomas – "
"Captain Batsby, my time is precious. I have told you all that there is to tell." Then he stood up, and the Captain with a stern demeanour and angry brow left the room and took himself in silence away from Lombard Street.
"Do you want to marry Captain Batsby?" Sir Thomas said to his daughter that evening, having invited her to come apart with him after dinner.
"Yes, I do."
"You think that you prefer him on the whole to Mr. Houston?"
"Mr. Houston is a scoundrel. I wish that you would not talk about him, papa."
"I like him so much the best of the two," said Sir Thomas. "But of course it is for you to judge. I could have brought myself to give something to Houston. Luckily, however, Captain Batsby has got an income of his own."
"He has, papa."
"And you are sure that you would like to take him as your husband?"
"Very well. He has been with me to-day."
"Is he in London?"
"I tell you that he has been with me to-day in Lombard Street."
"What did he say? Did he say anything about me?"
"Yes, my dear. He came to ask me for your hand."
"I told him that I should make no objection, – that I should leave it altogether to you. I only interfered with one small detail as to my own wishes. I assured him that I should never give him or you a single shilling. I don't suppose it will matter much to him, as he has, you know, means of his own." It was thus that Sir Thomas punished his daughter for her misconduct.
Captain Batsby and the Trafficks were acquainted with each other. The Member of Parliament had, of course, heard of the journey to Ostend from his wife, and had been instigated by her to express an opinion that the young people ought to be married. "It is such a very serious thing," said Augusta to her husband, "to be four hours on the sea together! And then you know – !" Mr. Traffick acknowledged that it was serious, and was reminded by his wife that he, in the capacity of brother, was bound to interfere on his sister's behalf. "Papa, you know, understands nothing about these kind of things. You, with your family interest, and your seat in Parliament, ought to be able to arrange it." Mr. Traffick probably knew how far his family interest and his seat in Parliament would avail. They had, at any rate, got him a wife with a large fortune. They were promising for him, still further, certain domiciliary advantages. He doubted whether he could do much for Batsby; but still he promised to try. If he could arrange these matters it might be that he would curry fresh favour with Sir Thomas by doing so. He therefore made it his business to encounter Captain Batsby on the Sunday afternoon at a club to which they both belonged. "So you have come back from your little trip?" said the Member of Parliament.
The Captain was not unwilling to discuss the question of their family relations with Mr. Traffick. If anybody would have influence with Sir Thomas it might probably be Mr. Traffick. "Yes; I have come back."
"Without your bride."
"Without my bride, – as yet. That is a kind of undertaking in which a man is apt to run many dangers before he can carry it through."
"I dare say. I never did anything of the kind myself. Of course you know that I am the young lady's brother-in-law."
"And therefore you won't mind me speaking. Don't you think you ought to do something further?"
"Something further! By George, I should think so," said the Captain, exultingly. "I mean to do a great many things further. You don't suppose I am going to give it up?"
"You oughtn't, you know. When a man has taken a girl off with him in that way, he should go on with it. It's a deuced serious thing, you know."
"It was his fault in coming after us."
"That was a matter of course. If he hadn't done it, I must. I have made the family my own, and, of course, must look after its honour." The noble scion of the house of Traffick, as he said this, showed by his countenance that he perfectly understood the duty which circumstances had imposed upon him.
"He made himself very rough, you know," said the Captain.
"I dare say he would."
"And said things, – well, – things which he ought not to have said."
"In such a case as that a father may say pretty nearly what comes uppermost."
"That was just it. He did say what came uppermost, – and very rough it was."
"What does it matter?"
"Not much if he'd do as he ought to do now. As you are her brother-in-law, I'll tell you just how it stands. I have been to him and made a regular proposal."
"Since you have been back?"
"Yes; the day before yesterday. And what do you think he says?"
"What does he say?"
"He gives his consent; only – "
"He won't give her a shilling! Such an idea, you know! As though she were to be punished after marriage for running away with the man she did marry."
"Take your chance, Batsby," said the Member of Parliament.
"Take your chance of the money. I'd have done it; only, of course, it was different with me. He was glad to catch me, and therefore the money was settled."
"I've got a tidy income of my own, you know," said the Captain, thinking that he was entitled to be made more welcome as a son-in-law than the younger son of a peer who had no income.
"Take your chance," continued Traffick. "What on earth can a man like Tringle do with his money except give it to his children? He is rough, as you say, but he is not hard-hearted, nor yet stubborn. I can do pretty nearly what I like with him."
"Can you, though?"
"Yes; by smoothing him down the right way. You run your chance, and we'll get it all put right for you." The Captain hesitated, rubbing his head carefully to encourage the thoughts which were springing up within his bosom. The Honourable Mr. Traffick might perhaps succeed in getting the affair put right, as he called it, in the interest rather of the elder than of the second daughter. "I don't see how you can hesitate now, as you have been off with the girl," said Mr. Traffick.
"I don't know about that. I should like to see the money settled."
"There would have been nothing settled if you had married her at Ostend."
"But I didn't," said the Captain. "I tell you what you might do. You might talk him over and make him a little more reasonable. I should be ready to-morrow if he'd come forward."
"What's the sum you want?"
"The same as yours, I suppose."
"That's out of the question," said Mr. Traffick, shaking his head. "Suppose we say sixty thousand pounds." Then after some chaffering on the subject it was decided between them that Mr. Traffick should use his powerful influence with his father-in-law to give his daughter on her marriage, – say a hundred thousand pounds if it were possible, or sixty thousand pounds at the least.
Mr. Traffick entertained some grand ideas as to the house of Travers and Treason. Why should not he become a member, and ultimately the leading member, of that firm? Sir Thomas was not a young man, though he was strong and hearty. Tom had hitherto succeeded only in making an ass of himself. As far as transacting the affairs of the firm, Tom, – so thought Mr. Traffick, – was altogether out of the question. He might perish in those extensive travels which he was about to take. Mr. Traffick did not desire any such catastrophe; – but the young man might perish. There was a great opening. Mr. Traffick, with his thorough knowledge of business, could not but see that there was a great opening. Besides Tom, there were but two daughters, one of whom was his own wife. Augusta, his wife, was, he thought, certainly the favourite at the present moment. Sir Thomas could, indeed, say rough things even to her; but then Sir Thomas was of his nature rough. Now, at this time, the rough things said to Gertrude were very much the rougher. In all these circumstances the wisdom of interfering in Gertrude's little affairs was very clear to Mr. Traffick. Gertrude would, of course, get herself married sooner or later, and almost any other husband would obtain a larger portion than that which would satisfy Batsby. Sir Thomas was now constantly saying good things about Mr. Houston. Mr. Houston would be much more objectionable than Captain Batsby, – much more likely to interfere. He would require more money at once, and might possibly come forward himself in the guise of a partner. Mr. Traffick saw his way clearly. It was incumbent upon him to see that Gertrude should become Mrs. Batsby with as little delay as possible.
But one thing he did not see. One thing he had failed to see since his first introduction to the Tringle family. He had not seen the peculiar nature of his father-in-law's foibles. He did not understand either the weakness or the strength of Sir Thomas, – either the softness or the hardness. Mr. Traffick himself was blessed with a very hard skin. In the carrying out of a purpose there was nothing which his skin was not sufficiently serviceable to endure. But Sir Thomas, rough as he was, had but a thin skin; – a thin skin and a soft heart. Had Houston and Gertrude persevered he would certainly have given way. For Tom, in his misfortune, he would have made any sacrifice. Though he had given the broadest hints which he had been able to devise he had never as yet brought himself absolutely to turn Traffick out of his house. When Ayala was sent away he still kept her name in his will, and added also that of Lucy as soon as Lucy had been entrusted to him. Had things gone a little more smoothly between him and Hamel when they met, – had he not unluckily advised that all the sculptor's grand designs should be sold by auction for what they would fetch, – he would have put Hamel and Lucy upon their legs. He was a soft-hearted man; – but there never was one less willing to endure interference in his own affairs.
At the present moment he was very sore as to the presence of Traffick in Queen's Gate. The Easter parliamentary holidays were just at hand, and there was no sign of any going. Augusta had whispered to her mother that the poky little house in Mayfair would be very uncomfortable for the coming event, – and Lady Tringle, though she had not dared to say even as much as that in plain terms to her husband, had endeavoured to introduce the subject by little hints, – which Sir Thomas had clearly understood. He was hardly the man to turn a daughter and an expected grandchild into the streets; but he was, in his present mood, a father-in-law who would not unwillingly have learned that his son-in-law was without a shelter except that afforded by the House of Commons. Why on earth should he have given up one hundred and twenty thousand pounds, – ?6,000 a-year as it was under his fostering care, – to a man who could not even keep a house over his wife's head? This was the humour of Sir Thomas when Mr. Traffick undertook to prevail with him to give an adequate fortune to his youngest daughter on her marriage with Captain Batsby.
The conversation between Traffick and Batsby took place on a Sunday. On the following day the Captain went down to the House and saw the Member. "No; I have not spoken to him yet."
"I was with him on Friday, you know," said Batsby. "I can't well go and call on the ladies in Queen's Gate till I hear that he has changed his mind."
"I should. I don't see what difference it would make."
Then Captain Batsby was again very thoughtful. "It would make a difference, you know. If I were to say a word to Gertrude now, – as to being married or anything of that kind, – it would seem that I meant to go on whether I got anything or not."
"And you should seem to want to go on," said Traffick, with all that authority which the very surroundings of the House of Commons always give to the words and gait of a Member.
"But then I might find myself dropped in a hole at last."
"My dear Batsby, you made that hole for yourself when you ran off with the young lady."
"We settled all that before."
"Not quite. What we did settle was that we'd do our best to fill the hole up. Of course you ought to go and see them. You went off with the young lady, – and since that have been accepted as her suitor by her father. You are bound to go and see her."
"Do you think so?"
"Certainly! Certainly! It never does to talk to Tringle about business at his own house. I'll make an hour to see him in the City to-morrow. I'm so pressed by business that I can hardly get away from the House after twelve; – but, I'll do it. But, while I'm in Lombard Street, do you go to Queen's Gate." The Captain after further consideration said that he would go to Queen's Gate.
At three o'clock on the next day he did go to Queen's Gate. He had many misgivings, feeling that by such a step he would be committing himself to matrimony with or without the money. No doubt he could so offer himself, even to Lady Tringle, as a son-in-law, that it should be supposed that the offer would depend upon the father-in-law's goodwill. But then the father-in-law had told him that he would be welcome to the young lady, – without a farthing. Should he go on with his matrimonial purpose, towards which this visit would be an important step, he did not see the moment in which he could stop the proceedings by a demand for money. Nevertheless he went, not being strong enough to oppose Mr. Traffick.
Yes; – the ladies were at home, and he found himself at once in Lady Tringle's presence. There was at the time no one with her, and the Captain acknowledged to himself that a trying moment had come to him. "Dear me! Captain Batsby!" said her ladyship, who had not seen him since he and Gertrude had gone off together.
"Yes, Lady Tringle. As I have come back from abroad I thought that I might as well come and call. I did see Sir Thomas in the City."
"Was not that a very foolish thing you did?"
"Perhaps it was, Lady Tringle. Perhaps it would have been better to ask permission to address your daughter in the regular course of things. There was, perhaps, – perhaps a little romance in going off in that way."
"It gave Sir Thomas a deal of trouble."
"Well, yes; he was so quick upon us you know. May I be allowed to see Gertrude now?"
"Upon my word I hardly know," said Lady Tringle, hesitating.
"I did see Sir Thomas in the City."
"But did he say you were to come and call?"
"He gave his consent to the marriage."
"But I am afraid there was to be no money," whispered Lady Tringle. "If money is no matter I suppose you may see her." But before the Captain had resolved how he might best answer this difficult suggestion the door opened, and the young lady herself entered the room, together with her sister.
"Benjamin," said Gertrude, "is this really you?" And then she flew into his arms.
"My dear," said Augusta, "do control your emotions."
"Yes, indeed, Gertrude," said the mother. "As the things are at present you should control yourself. Nobody as yet knows what may come of it."
"Oh, Benjamin!" again exclaimed Gertrude, tearing herself from his arms, throwing herself on the sofa, and covering her face with both her hands. "Oh, Benjamin, – so you have come at last."
"I am afraid he has come too soon," said Augusta, who however had received her lesson from her husband, and had communicated some portion of her husband's tidings to her sister.
"Why too soon?" exclaimed Gertrude. "It can never be too soon. Oh, mamma, tell him that you make him welcome to your bosom as your second son-in-law."
"Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, without consulting your father."
"But papa has consented," said Gertrude.
"But only if – "
"Oh, mamma," said Mrs. Traffick, "do not talk about matters of business on such an occasion as this. All that must be managed between the gentlemen. If he is here as Gertrude's acknowledged lover, and if papa has told him that he shall be accepted as such, I don't think that we ought to say a word about money. I do hate money. It does make things so disagreeable."
"Nobody can be more noble in everything of that kind than Benjamin," said Gertrude. "It is only because he loves me with all his heart that he is here. Why else was it that he took me off to Ostend?"
Captain Batsby as he listened to all this felt that he ought to say something. And yet how dangerous might a word be! It was apparent to him, even in his perturbation, that the ladies were in fact asking him to renew his offer, and to declare that he renewed it altogether independently of any money consideration. He could not bring himself quite to agree with that noble sentiment in expressing which Mrs. Traffick had declared her hatred of money. In becoming the son-in-law of a millionaire he would receive the honest congratulations of all his friends, – on condition that he received some comfortable fraction out of the millions, but he knew well that he would subject himself to their ridicule were he to take the girl and lose the plunder. If he were to answer them now as they would have him answer he would commit himself to the girl without any bargain as to the plunder. And yet what else was there for him to do? He must be a brave man who can stand up before a girl and declare that he will love her for ever, – on condition that she shall have so many thousand pounds; but he must be more than brave, he will be heroic, who can do so in the presence not only of the girl but of the girl's mother and married sister as well. Captain Batsby was no such hero. "Of course," he said at last.