Then Frank had his story to tell and his new proposition to make. Aunt Rosina had offered to join her means with his. The house in Green Street, no doubt, was small, but room it was thought could be made, at any rate till the necessity had come for various cribs and various cradles. "I cannot imagine that you will endure to live with Aunt Rosina," said the brother.
"Why on earth should I object to Aunt Rosina?" said Imogene. "She and I have always been friends." In her present mood she would hardly have objected to live with any old woman, however objectionable. "And we shall be able to have a small cottage somewhere," said Frank. "She will keep the house in London, and we shall keep the cottage."
"And what on earth will you do with yourself?"
"I have thought of that too," said Frank. "I shall take to painting pictures in earnest; – portraits probably. I don't see why I shouldn't do as well as anybody else."
"That head of yours of old Mrs. Jones," said Imogene, "was a great deal better than dozens of things one sees every year in the Academy."
"Bother!" exclaimed Docimer.
"I don't see why he should not succeed, if he really will work hard," said Mrs. Docimer.
"Why should it be bother?" said Frank, put upon his mettle. "Ever so many fellows have begun and have got on, older than I am. And, even if I don't earn anything, I've got an employment."
"And is the painting-room to be in Green Street also?" asked Docimer.
"Just at present I shall begin by copying things at the National Gallery," explained Houston, who was not as yet prepared with his answer to that difficulty as to a studio in the little house in Green Street.
When the matter had been carried as far as this it was manifest enough that anything like opposition to Imogene's marriage was to be withdrawn. Houston remained at Tregothnan for a couple of days and then returned to London. A week afterwards the Docimers followed him, and early in the following June the two lovers, after all their troubles and many vacillations, were made one at St. George's church, to the great delight of Aunt Rosina. It cannot be said that the affair gave equal satisfaction to all the bridegroom's friends, as may be learnt from the following narration of two conversations which took place in London very shortly after the wedding.
"Fancy after all that fellow Houston going and marrying such a girl as Imogene Docimer, without a single blessed shilling to keep themselves alive." This was said in the smoking-room of Houston's club by Lord John Battledore to Tom Shuttlecock; but it was said quite aloud, so that Houston's various acquaintances might be enabled to offer their remarks on so interesting a subject; and to express their pity for the poor object of their commiseration.
"It's the most infernal piece of folly I ever heard in my life," said Shuttlecock. "There was that Tringle girl with two hundred thousand pounds to be had just for the taking; – Traffick's wife's sister, you know."
"There was something wrong about that," said another.
"Not a bit of it," said Battledore. "Tringle had quarrelled with Houston before that. Batsby did go with her, but the governor wouldn't come down with the money. Then the girl was brought back and there was no marriage." Upon that the condition of poor Gertrude in reference to her lovers and her fortune was discussed by those present with great warmth; but they all agreed that Houston had proved himself to be a bigger fool than any of them had expected.
"By George, he's going to set up for painting portraits," said Lord John, with great disgust.
In Queen's Gate the matter was discussed by the ladies there very much in the same spirit. At this time Gertrude was engaged to Captain Batsby, if not with the full approbation at any rate with the consent both of her father and mother, and therefore she could speak of Frank Houston and his bride, if with disdain, still without wounded feelings. "Here it is in the papers, Francis Houston and Imogene Docimer," said Mrs. Traffick.
"So she has really caught him at last!" said Gertrude.
"There was not much to catch," rejoined Mrs. Traffick. "I doubt whether they have got ?500 a year between them."
"It does seem so very sudden," said Lady Tringle.
"Sudden!" said Gertrude. "They have been about it for the last five years. Of course he has tried to wriggle out of it all through. I am glad that she has succeeded at last, if only because he deserves it."
"I wonder where they'll find a place to live in," said Augusta. This took place in the bedroom which Mrs. Traffick still occupied in Queen's Gate, when she had been just a month a mother.
Thus, with the kind assistance of Aunt Rosina, Frank Houston and Imogene Docimer were married at last, and the chronicler hereby expresses a hope that it may not be long before Frank may see a picture of his own hanging on the walls of the Academy, and that he may live to be afraid of the coming of no baby.
We must again go back and pick up our threads to April, having rushed forward to be present at the wedding of Frank Houston and Imogene Docimer, which did not take place till near Midsummer. This we must do at once in regard to Tom Tringle, who, if the matter be looked at aright, should be regarded as the hero of this little history. Ayala indeed, who is no doubt the real heroine among so many young ladies who have been more or less heroic, did not find in him the angel of whom she had dreamed, and whose personal appearance on earth was necessary to her happiness. But he had been able very clearly to pick out an angel for himself, and, though he had failed in his attempts to take the angel home with him, had been constant in his endeavours as long as there remained to him a chance of success. He had shown himself to be foolish, vulgar, and ignorant. He had given way to Bolivian champagne and Faddle intimacies. He had been silly enough to think that he could bribe his Ayala with diamonds for herself, and charm her with cheaper jewelry on his own person. He had thought to soar high by challenging his rival to a duel, and had then been tempted by pot courage to strike him in the streets. A very vulgar and foolish young man! But a young man capable of a persistent passion! Young men not foolish and not vulgar are, perhaps, common enough. But the young men of constant heart and capable of such persistency as Tom's are not to be found every day walking about the streets of the metropolis. Jonathan Stubbs was constant, too; but it may be doubted whether the Colonel ever really despaired. The merit is to despair and yet to be constant. When a man has reason to be assured that a young lady is very fond of him, he may always hope that love will follow, – unless indeed the love which he seeks has been already given away elsewhere. Moreover, Stubbs had many substantial supports at his back; the relationship of the Marchesa, the friendship of Lady Albury, the comforts of Stalham, – and not least, if last, the capabilities and prowess of Croppy. Then, too, he was neither vulgar nor foolish nor ignorant. Tom Tringle had everything against him, – everything that would weigh with Ayala; and yet he fought his battle out to the last gasp. Therefore, I desire my hearers to regard Tom Tringle as the hero of the transactions with which they have been concerned, and to throw their old shoes after him as he starts away upon his grand tour.
"Tom, my boy, you have to go, you know, in four days," said his father to him. At this time Tom had as yet given no positive consent as to his departure. He had sunk into a low state of moaning and groaning, in which he refused even to accede to the doctrine of the expediency of a manly bearing. "What's the good of telling a lie about it?" he would say to his mother. "What's the good of manliness when a fellow would rather be drowned?" He had left his bed indeed, and had once or twice sauntered out of the house. He had been instigated by his sister to go down to his club, under the idea that by such an effort he would shake off the despondency which overwhelmed him. But he had failed in the attempts, and had walked by the doors of the Mountaineers, finding himself unable to face the hall-porter. But still the preparations for his departure were going on. It was presumed that he was to leave London for Liverpool on the Friday, and his father had now visited him in his own room on the Tuesday evening with the intention of extorting from him his final consent. Sir Thomas had on that morning expressed himself very freely to his son-in-law Mr. Traffick, and on returning home had been glad to find that his words had been of avail, at any rate as regarded the dinner-hour. He was tender-hearted towards his son, and disposed to tempt him rather than threaten him into obedience.
"I haven't ever said I would go," replied Tom.
"But you must, you know. Everything has been packed up, and I want to make arrangements with you about money. I have got a cabin for you to yourself, and Captain Merry says that you will have a very pleasant passage. The equinoxes are over."
"I don't care about the equinoxes," said Tom. "I should like bad weather if I am to go."
"Perhaps you may have a touch of that, too."
"If the ship could be dashed against a rock I should prefer it!" exclaimed Tom.
"That's nonsense. The Cunard ships never are dashed against rocks. By the time you've been three days at sea you'll be as hungry as a hunter. Now, Tom, how about money?"
"I don't care about money," said Tom.
"Don't you? Then you're very unlike anybody else that I meet. I think I had better give you power to draw at New York, San Francisco, Yokohama, Pekin, and Calcutta."
"Am I to go to Pekin?" asked Tom, with renewed melancholy.
"Well, yes; – I think so. You had better see what the various houses are doing in China. And then from Calcutta you can go up the country. By that time I dare say we shall have possession of Cabul. With such a government as we have now, thank God! the Russians will have been turned pretty nearly out of Asia by this time next year."*
[*It has to be stated that this story was written in 1878.]
"Am I to be away more than a year?"
"If I were you," said the father, glad to catch the glimmer of assent which was hereby implied, – "if I were you I would do it thoroughly whilst I was about it. Had I seen so much when I was young I should have been a better man of business."
"It's all the same to me," said Tom. "Say ten years, if you like it! Say twenty! I shan't ever want to come back again. Where am I to go after Cabul?"
"I didn't exactly fix it that you should go to Cabul. Of course you will write home and give me your own opinion as you travel on. You will stay two or three months probably in the States."
"Am I to go to Niagara?" he asked.
"Of course you will, if you wish it. The Falls of Niagara, I am told, are very wonderful."
"If a man is to drown himself," said Tom, "it's the sort of place to do it effectually."
"Oh, Tom!" exclaimed his father. "Do you speak to me in that way when I am doing everything in my power to help you in your trouble?"
"You cannot help me," said Tom.
"Circumstances will. Time will do it. Employment will do it. A sense of your dignity as a man will do it, when you find yourself amongst others who know nothing of what you have suffered. You revel in your grief now because those around you know that you have failed. All that will be changed when you are with strangers. You should not talk to your father of drowning yourself!"
"That was wrong. I know it was wrong," said Tom, humbly. "I won't do it if I can help it, – but perhaps I had better not go there. And how long ought I to stay at Yokohama? Perhaps you had better put it all down on a bit of paper." Then Sir Thomas endeavoured to explain to him that all that he said now was in the way of advice. That it would be in truth left to himself to go almost where he liked, and to stay at each place almost as long as he liked; – that he would be his own master, and that within some broad and undefined limits he would have as much money as he pleased to spend. Surely no preparations for a young man's tour were ever made with more alluring circumstances! But Tom could not be tempted into any expression of satisfaction.
This, however, Sir Thomas did gain, – that before he left his son's room it was definitely settled, – that Tom should take his departure on the Friday, going down to Liverpool by an afternoon train on that day. "I tell you what," said Sir Thomas; "I'll go down with you, see you on board the ship, and introduce you to Captain Merry. I shall be glad of an opportunity of paying a visit to Liverpool." And so the question of Tom's departure was settled.
On the Wednesday and Thursday he seemed to take some interest in his bags and portmanteaus, and began himself to look after those assuagements of the toils of travel which are generally dear to young men. He interested himself in a fur coat, in a well-arranged despatch box, and in a very neat leathern case which was intended to hold two brandy flasks. He consented to be told of the number of his shirts, and absolutely expressed an opinion that he should want another pair of dress-boots. When this occurred every female bosom in the house, from Lady Tringle's down to the kitchenmaid's, rejoiced at the signs of recovery which evinced themselves. But neither Lady Tringle nor the kitchenmaid, nor did any of the intermediate female bosoms, know how he employed himself when he left the house on that Thursday afternoon. He walked across the Park, and, calling at Kingsbury Crescent, left a note addressed to his aunt. It was as follows: – "I start to-morrow afternoon, – I hardly know whither. It may be for years or it may be for ever. I should wish to say a word to Ayala before I go. Will she see me if I come at twelve o'clock exactly to-morrow morning? I will call for an answer in half-an-hour. T. T., junior. Of course I am aware that Ayala is to become the bride of Colonel Jonathan Stubbs." In half-an-hour he returned, and got his answer. "Ayala will be glad to have an opportunity of saying good-bye to you to-morrow morning."
From this it will be seen that Ayala had at that time returned from Stalham to Kingsbury Crescent. She had come back joyful in heart, thoroughly triumphant as to her angel, with everything in the world sweet and happy before her, – desirous if possible to work her fingers off in mending the family linen, if only she could do something for somebody in return for all the joy that the world was giving her. When she was told that Tom wished to see her for the last time, – for the last time at any rate before her marriage, – she assented at once. "I think you should see him as he asks it," said her aunt.
"Poor Tom! Of course I will see him." And so the note was written which Tom received when he called the second time at the door.
At half-past eleven he skulked out of the house in Queen's Gate, anxious to avoid his mother and sisters, who were on their side anxious to devote every remaining minute of the time to his comfort and welfare. I am afraid it must be acknowledged that he went with all his jewelry. It could do no good. At last he was aware of that. But still he thought that she would like him better with his jewelry than without it. Stubbs wore no gems, not even a ring, and Ayala when she saw her cousin enter the room could only assure herself that the male angels certainly were never be-jewelled. She was alone in the drawing-room, Mrs. Dosett having arranged that at the expiration of ten minutes, which were to be allowed to Tom for his private adieux, she would come down to say good-bye to her nephew. "Ayala!" said Tom.
"So you are going away, – for a very long journey, Tom."
"Yes, Ayala; for a very long journey; to Pekin and Cabul, if I live through, to get to those sort of places."
"I hope you will live through, Tom."
"Thank you, Ayala. Thank you. I daresay I shall. They tell me I shall get over it. I don't feel like getting over it now."
"You'll find some beautiful young lady at Pekin, perhaps."
"Beauty will never have any effect upon me again, Ayala. Beauty indeed! Think what I have suffered from beauty! From the first moment in which you came down to Glenbogie I have been a victim to it. It has destroyed me, – destroyed me!"
"I am sure you will come back quite well," said Ayala, hardly knowing how to answer the last appeal.
"Perhaps I may. If I can only get my heart to turn to stone, then I shall. I don't know why I should have been made to care so much about it. Other people don't."
"And now we must say, Good-bye, I suppose."
"Oh, yes; – good-bye! I did want to say one or two words if you ain't in a hurry. Of course you'll be his bride now."
"I hope so," said Ayala.
"I take that for granted. Of course I hate him."
"Oh, Tom; you shan't say that."
"It's human nature! I can tell a lie if you want it. I'd do anything for you. But you may tell him this: I'm very sorry I struck him."
"He knows that, Tom. He has said so to me."
"He behaved well to me, – very well, – as he always does to everybody."
"Now, Tom, that is good of you. I do like you so much for saying that."
"But I hate him!"
"The evil spirits always hate the good ones. I am conscious of an evil spirit within my bosom. It is because my spirit is evil that you would not love me. He is good, and you love him."
"Yes; I do," said Ayala.
"And now we will change the conversation. Ayala, I have got a little present which you must take from me."
"Oh, no!" said Ayala, thinking of the diamond necklace.
"It's only a little thing, – and I hope you will." Then he brought out from his pocket a small brooch which he had selected from his own stock of jewelry for the occasion. "We are cousins, you know."
"Yes, we are cousins," said Ayala, accepting the brooch, but still accepting it unwillingly.
"He must be very disdainful if he would object to such a little thing as this," said Tom, referring to the Colonel.
"He is not at all disdainful. He will not object in the least. I am sure of that, Tom. I will take it then, and I will wear it sometimes as a memento that we have parted like friends, – as cousins should do."
"Yes, as friends," said Tom, who thought that even that word was softer to his ear than cousins. Then he took her by the hand and looked into her face wistfully, thinking what might be the effect if for the last and for the first time he should snatch a kiss. Had he done so I think she would have let it pass without rebuke under the guise of cousinship. It would have been very disagreeable; – but then he was going away for so long a time, for so many miles! But at the moment Mrs. Dosett came in, and Ayala was saved. "Good-bye," he said; "good-bye," and without waiting to take the hand which his aunt offered him he hurried out of the room, out of the house, and back across the Gardens to Queen's Gate.
At Queen's Gate there was an early dinner, at three o'clock, at which Sir Thomas did not appear, as he had arranged to come out of the city and meet his son at the railway station. There were, therefore, sitting at the board for the last time the mother and the two sisters with the intending traveller. "Oh, Tom," said Lady Tringle, as soon as the servant had left them together, "I do so hope you will recover."
"Of course he will recover," said Augusta.
"Why shouldn't he recover?" asked Gertrude. "It's all in a person's mind. If he'd only make up his mind not to think about her the thing would be done, and there would be nothing the matter with him."
"There are twenty others, ever so much better than Ayala, would have him to-morrow," said his mother.
"And be glad to catch him," said Gertrude. "He's not like one of those who haven't got anything to make a wife comfortable with."
"As for Ayala," said Augusta, "she didn't deserve such good luck. I am told that that Colonel Stubbs can't afford to keep any kind of carriage for her. But then, to be sure, she has never been used to a carriage."
"Oh, Tom, do look up," said his mother, "and say that you will try to be happy."
"He'll be all right in New York," said Gertrude. "There's no place in the world, they say, where the girls put themselves forward so much, and make things so pleasant for the young men."
"He will soon find some one there," said Augusta, "with a deal more to say for herself than Ayala, and a great deal better-looking."
"I hope he will find some one who will really love him," said his mother.
Tom sat silent while he listened to all this encouragement, turning his face from one speaker to the other. It was continued, with many other similar promises of coming happiness, and assurances that he had been a gainer in losing all that he lost, when he suddenly turned sharply upon them, and strongly expressed his feelings to his sisters. "I don't believe that either of you know anything about it," he said.