"Of course what?" asked Augusta.
"It was because I loved her."
"I knew that he loved me," sobbed Gertrude.
"And you are here, because you intend to make her your wife in presence of all men?" asked Augusta.
"Then I suppose that it will be all right," said Lady Tringle.
"It will be all right," said Augusta. "And now, mamma, I think that we may leave them alone together." But to this Lady Tringle would not give her assent. She had not had confided to her the depth of Mr. Traffick's wisdom, and declared herself opposed to any absolute overt love-making until Sir Thomas should have given his positive consent.
"It is all the same thing, Benjamin, is it not?" said Augusta, assuming already the familiarity of a sister in-law.
"Oh quite," said the Captain.
But Gertrude looked as though she did not think it to be exactly the same. Such deficiency as that, however, she had to endure; and she received from her sister after the Captain's departure full congratulations as to her lover's return. "To tell you the truth," said Augusta, "I didn't think that you would ever see him again. After what papa said to him in the City he might have got off and nobody could have said a word to him. Now he's fixed."
Captain Batsby effected his escape as quickly as he could, and went home a melancholy man. He, too, was aware that he was fixed; and, as he thought of this, a dreadful idea fell upon him that the Honourable Mr. Traffick had perhaps played him false.
In the meantime Mr. Traffick was true to his word and went into the City. In the early days of his married life his journeys to Lombard Street were frequent. The management and investing of his wife's money had been to him a matter of much interest, and he had felt a gratification in discussing any money matter with the man who handled millions. In this way he had become intimate with the ways of the house, though latterly his presence there had not been encouraged. "I suppose I can go in to Sir Thomas," he said, laying his hand upon a leaf in the counter, which he had been accustomed to raise for the purpose of his own entrance. But here he was stopped. His name should be taken in and Sir Thomas duly apprised. In the meantime he was relegated to a dingy little waiting-room, which was odious to him, and there he was kept waiting for half-an-hour. This made him angry, and he called to one of the clerks. "Will you tell Sir Thomas that I must be down at the House almost immediately, and that I am particularly anxious to see him on business of importance?" For another ten minutes he was still kept, and then he was shown into his father-in law's presence. "I am very sorry, Traffick," said Sir Thomas, "but I really can't turn two Directors of the Bank of England out of my room, even for you."
"I only thought I would just let you know that I am in a hurry."
"So am I, for the matter of that. Have you gone to your father's house to-day, so that you would not be able to see me in Queen's Gate?"
This was intended to be very severe, but Mr.
"Let us hear what it is."
"Captain Batsby has been with me."
"Oh, he has, has he?"
"I've known him ever so long. He's a foolish fellow."
"So he seems."
"But a gentleman."
"Perhaps I am not so good a judge of that. His folly I did perceive."
"Oh yes; he's a gentleman. You may take my word for that. And he has means."
"That's an advantage."
"While that fellow Houston is hardly more than a beggar. And Batsby is quite in earnest about Gertrude."
"If the two of them wish it he can have her to-morrow. She has made herself a conspicuous ass by running away with him, and perhaps it's the best thing she can do."
"That's just it. Augusta sees it quite in the same light."
"Augusta was never tempted. You wouldn't have run away."
"It wasn't necessary, Sir Thomas, was it? There he is, – ready to marry her to-morrow. But, of course, he is a little anxious about the money."
"I dare say he is."
"I've been talking to him, – and the upshot is, that I have promised to speak to you. He isn't at all a bad fellow."
"He'd keep a house over his wife's head, you think?" Sir Thomas had been particularly irate that morning, and before the arrival of his son-in-law had sworn to himself that Traffick should go. Augusta might remain, if she pleased, for the occurrence; but the Honourable Septimus should no longer eat and drink as an inhabitant of his house.
"He'd do his duty by her as a man should do," said Traffick, determined to ignore the disagreeable subject.
"Very well. There she is."
"But of course he would like to hear something about money."
"That's only natural."
"You found it so, – did you not? What's the good of giving a girl money when her husband won't spend it. Perhaps this Captain Batsby would expect to live at Queen's Gate or Merle Park."
It was impossible to go on enduring this without notice. Mr. Traffick, however, only frowned and shook his head. It was clear at last that Sir Thomas intended to be more than rough, and it was almost imperative upon Mr. Traffick to be rough in return. "I am endeavouring to do my duty by the family," he said.
"Gertrude has eloped with this man, and the thing is talked about everywhere. Augusta feels it very much."
"She does, does she?"
"And I have thought it right to ask his intentions."
"He didn't knock you down, or anything of that sort?"
"Knock me down?"
"For interfering. But he hasn't pluck for that. Houston would have done it immediately. And I should have said he was right. But if you have got anything to say, you had better say it. When you have done, then I shall have something to say."
"I've told him that he couldn't expect as much as you would have given her but for this running away."
"You told him that?"
"Yes; I told him that. Then some sum had to be mentioned. He suggested a hundred thousand pounds."
"How very modest. Why should he have put up with less than you, seeing that he has got something of his own?"
"He hasn't my position, Sir. You know that well enough. Now to make a long and short of it, I suggested sixty."
"Out of your own pocket?"
"But out of mine?"
"You're her father, and I suppose you intend to provide for her."
"And you have come here to dictate to me the provision which I am to make for my own child! That is an amount of impudence which I did not expect even from you. But suppose that I agree to the terms. Will he, do you think, consent to have a clause put into the settlement?"
"Something that shall bind him to keep a house for his own wife's use, so that he should not take my money and then come and live upon me afterwards."
"Sir Thomas," said the Member of Parliament, "that is a mode of expression so uncourteous that I cannot bear it even from you."
"Is there any mode of expression that you cannot bear?"
"If you want me to leave your house, say it at once."
"Why I have been saying it for the last six months! I have been saying it almost daily since you were married."
"If so you should have spoken more clearly, for I have not understood you."
"Heavens and earth," ejaculated Sir Thomas.
"Am I to understand that you wish your child to leave your roof during this inclement weather in her present delicate condition?"
"Are you in a delicate condition?" asked Sir Thomas. To this Mr. Traffick could condescend to make no reply. "Because, if not, you, at any rate, had better go, – unless you find the weather too inclement."
"Of course I shall go," said Mr. Traffick. "No consideration on earth shall induce me to eat another meal under your roof until you shall have thought good to have expressed regret for what you have said."
"Then it is very long before I shall have to give you another meal."
"And now what shall I say to Captain Batsby?"
"Tell him from me," said Sir Thomas, "that he cannot possibly set about his work more injudiciously than by making you his ambassador." Then Mr. Traffick took his departure.
It may be as well to state here that Mr. Traffick kept his threat religiously, – at any rate, to the end of the Session. He did not eat another meal during that period under his father-in-law's roof. But he slept there for the next two or three days until he had suited himself with lodgings in the neighbourhood of the House. In doing this, however, he contrived to get in and out without encountering Sir Thomas. His wife in her delicate condition, – and because of the inclemency of the weather, – awaited the occurrence at Queen's Gate.
The writer, in giving a correct chronicle of the doings of the Tringle family at this time, has to acknowledge that Gertrude, during the prolonged absence of Captain Batsby at Brussels, – an absence that was cruelly prolonged for more than a week, – did make another little effort in another direction. Her father, in his rough way, had expressed an opinion that she had changed very much for the worse in transferring her affections from Mr. Houston to Captain Batsby, and had almost gone so far as to declare that had she been persistent with her Houston the money difficulty might have been overcome. This was imprudent, – unless, indeed, he was desirous of bringing back Mr. Houston into the bosom of the Tringles. It instigated Gertrude to another attempt, – which, however, she did not make till Captain Batsby had been away from her for at least four days without writing a letter. Then it occurred to her that if she had a preference it certainly was for Frank Houston. No doubt the general desirability of marriage was her chief actuating motive. Will the world of British young ladies be much scandalised if I say that such is often an actuating motive? They would be justly scandalised if I pretended that many of its members were capable of the speedy transitions which Miss Tringle was strong enough to endure; but transitions do take place, and I claim, on behalf of my young lady, that she should be regarded as more strong-minded and more determined than the general crowd of young ladies. She had thought herself to be off with the old love before she was on with the new. Then the "new" had gone away to Brussels, – or heaven only knows where, – and there seemed to be an opportunity of renewing matters with the "old." Having perceived the desirability of matrimony, she simply carried out her purpose with a determined will. It was with a determined will, but perhaps with deficient judgment, that she had written as follows:
"Papa has altered his mind altogether. He speaks of you in the highest terms, and says that had you persevered he would have yielded about the money. Do try him again. When hearts have been united it is terrible that they should be dragged asunder." Mr. Traffick had been quite right in telling his father-in-law that "the thing had been talked about everywhere." The thing talked about had been Gertrude's elopement. The daughter of a baronet and a millionaire cannot go off with the half-brother of another baronet and escape that penalty. The journey to Ostend was in everybody's mouth, and had surprised Frank Houston the more because of the recent termination of his own little affair with the lady. That he should already have re-accommodated himself with Imogene was intelligible to him, and seemed to admit of valid excuse before any jury of matrons. It was an old affair, and the love, – real, true love, – was already existing. He, at any rate, was going back to the better course, – as the jury of matrons would have admitted. But Gertrude's new affair had had to be arranged from the beginning, and shocked him by its celerity. "Already!" he had said to himself, – "gone off with another man already?" He felt himself to have been wounded in a tender part, and was conscious of a feeling that he should like to injure the successful lover, – blackball him at a club, or do him some other mortal mischief. When, therefore, he received from the young lady the little billet above given, he was much surprised. Could it be a hoax? It was certainly the young lady's handwriting. Was he to be enticed once again into Lombard Street, in order that the clerks might set upon him in a body and maltreat him? Was he to be decoyed into Queen's Gate, and made a sacrifice of by the united force of the housemaids? Not understanding the celerity of the young lady, he could hardly believe the billet.
When he received the note of which we have here spoken two months had elapsed since he had seen Imogene and had declared to her his intention of facing the difficulties of matrimony in conjunction with herself as soon as she would be ready to undergo the ceremony with him. The reader will remember that her brother, Mudbury Docimer, had written to him with great severity, abusing both him and Imogene for the folly of their intention. And Houston, as he thought of their intention, thought to himself that perhaps they were foolish. The poverty, and the cradles, and the cabbages, were in themselves evils. But still he encouraged himself to think that there might be an evil worse even than folly. After that scene with Imogene, in which she had offered to sacrifice herself altogether, and to be bound to him, even though they should never be married, on condition that he should take to himself no other wife, he had quite resolved that it behoved him not to be exceeded by her in generosity. He had stoutly repudiated her offer, which he had called a damnable compact. And then there had been a delightful scene between them, in which it had been agreed that they should face the cradles and the cabbages with bold faces. Since that he had never allowed himself to fluctuate in his purpose. Had Sir Thomas come to him with Gertrude in one hand and the much-desired ?120,000 in the other, he would have repudiated the lot of them. He declared to himself with stern resolution that he had altogether washed his hands from dirt of that kind. Cabbages and cradles for ever was the unpronounced cry of triumph with which he buoyed up his courage. He set himself to work earnestly, if not altogether steadfastly, to alter the whole tenor of his life. The champagne and the woodcocks, – or whatever might be the special delicacies of the season, – he did avoid. For some few days he absolutely dined upon a cut of mutton at an eating-house, and as he came forth from the unsavoury doors of the establishment regarded himself as a hero. Cabbages and cradles for ever! he would say to himself, as he went away to drink a cup of tea with an old maiden aunt, who was no less surprised than gratified by his new virtue. Therefore, when it had at last absolutely come home to him that the last little note had in truth been written by Gertrude with no object of revenge, but with the intention of once more alluring him into the wealth of Lombard Street, he simply put it into his breastcoat-pocket, and left it there unanswered.
Mudbury Docimer did not satisfy himself with writing the very uncourteous letter which the reader has seen, but proceeded to do his utmost to prevent the threatened marriage. "She is old enough to look after herself," he had said, as though all her future actions must be governed by her own will. But within ten days of the writing of that letter he had found it expedient to go down into the country, and to take his sister with him. As the head of the Docimer family he possessed a small country-house almost in the extremity of Cornwall; and thither he went. It was a fraternal effort made altogether on his sister's behalf, and was so far successful that Imogene was obliged to accompany him. It was all very well for her to feel that as she was of age she could do as she pleased. But a young lady is constrained by the exigencies of society to live with somebody. She cannot take a lodging by herself, as her brother may do. Therefore, when Mudbury Docimer went down to Cornwall, Imogene was obliged to accompany him.
"Is this intended for banishment?" she said to him, when they had been about a week in the country.
"What do you call banishment? You used to like the country in the spring." It was now the middle of April.
"So I do, and in summer also. But I like nothing under constraint."
"I am sorry that circumstances should make it imperative upon me to remain here just at present."
"Why cannot you tell the truth, Mudbury?"
"Have I told you any falsehood?"
"Why do you not say outright that I have been brought down here to be out of Frank Houston's way?"
"Because Frank Houston is a name which I do not wish to mention to you again, – at any rate for some time."
"What would you do if he were to show himself here?" she asked.
"Tell him at once that he was not welcome. In other words, I would not have him here. It is very improbable I should think that he would come without a direct invitation from me. That invitation he will never have until I feel satisfied that you and he have changed your mind again, and that you mean to stick to it."
"I do not think we shall do that."
"Then he shall not come down here; nor, as far as I am able to arrange it, shall you go up to London."
"Then I am a prisoner?"
"You may put it as you please," said her brother. "I have no power of detaining you. Whatever influence I have I think it right to use. I am altogether opposed to this marriage, believing it to be an absurd infatuation. I think that he is of the same opinion."
"No!" said she, indignantly.
"That I believe to be his feeling," he continued, taking no notice of her assertion. "He is as perfectly aware as I am that you two are not adapted to live happily together on an income of a few hundreds a year. Some time ago it was agreed between you that it was so. You both were quite of one mind, and I was given to understand that the engagement was at an end. It was so much at an end that he made an arrangement for marrying another woman. But your feelings are stronger than his, and you allowed them to get the better of you. Then you enticed him back from the purpose on which you had both decided."
"Enticed!" said she. "I did nothing of the kind!"
"Would he have changed his mind if you had not enticed him?"
"I did nothing of the kind. I offered to remain just as we are."
"That is all very well. Of course he could not accept such an offer. Thinking as I do, it is my duty to keep you apart as long as I can. If you contrive to marry him in opposition to my efforts, the misery of both of you must be on your head. I tell you fairly that I do not believe he wishes anything of the kind."
"I am quite sure he does," said Imogene.
"Very well. Do you leave him alone; stay down here, and see what will come of it. I quite agree that such a banishment, as you call it, is not a happy prospect for you; – but it is happier than that of a marriage with Frank Houston. Give that up, and then you can go back to London and begin the world again."
Begin the world again! She knew what that meant. She was to throw herself into the market, and look for such other husband as Providence might send her. She had tried that before, and had convinced herself that Providence could never send her any that could be acceptable. The one man had taken possession of her, and there never could be a second. She had not known her own strength, – or her own weakness as the case might be, – when she had agreed to surrender the man she loved because there had been an alteration in their prospects of an income. She had struggled with herself, had attempted to amuse herself with the world, had told herself that somebody would come who would banish that image from her thoughts and heart. She had bade herself to submit to the separation for his welfare. Then she had endeavoured to quiet herself by declaring to herself that the man was no hero, – was unworthy of so much thinking. But it had all been of no avail. Gertrude Tringle had been a festering sore to her. Frank, whether a hero or only a commonplace man, was, – as she owned to herself, – hero enough for her. Then came the opening for a renewal of the engagement. Frank had been candid with her, and had told her everything. The Tringle money would not be forthcoming on his behalf. Then, – not resolving to entice him back again, – she had done so. The word was odious to her, and was rejected with disdain when used against her by her brother; – but, when alone, she acknowledged to herself that it was true. She had enticed her lover back again, – to his great detriment. Yes; she certainly had enticed him back. She certainly was about to sacrifice him because of her love. "If I could only die, and there be an end of it!" she exclaimed to herself.
Though Tregothnan Hall, as the Docimers' house was called, was not open to Frank Houston, there was the post running always. He had written to her half-a-dozen times since she had been in Cornwall, and had always spoken of their engagement as an affair at last irrevocably fixed. She, too, had written little notes, tender and loving, but still tinged by that tone of despondency which had become common to her. "As for naming a day," she said once, "suppose we fix the first of January, ten years hence. Mudbury's opposition will be worn out by old age, and you will have become thoroughly sick of the pleasures of London." But joined to this there would be a few jokes, and then some little word of warmest, most enduring, most trusting love. "Don't believe me if I say that I am not happy in knowing that I am altogether your own." Then there would come a simple "I" as a signature, and after that some further badinage respecting her "Cerberus," as she called her brother.