Ayala's Angel, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 41

“A Cold Prospect!”

Three days were allowed to Frank Houston to consider within his own mind what he would say for himself and what he would propose finally to do when he should see Miss Docimer on the appointed Sunday. He was called upon to decide whether, after so many resolutions made to the contrary, he would now at last bring himself to encounter poverty and a family — genteel poverty with about seven hundred and fifty pounds a year between himself and his wife. He had hitherto been very staunch on the subject, and had unfortunately thought that Imogene Docimer had been as firmly fixed in her determination. His theory had in itself been good. If two people marry they are likely, according to the laws of nature, to have very soon more than two. In the process of a dozen years they may not improbably become ever so many more than two. Funds which were barely enough, if enough, for two, would certainly fail to be enough for half a dozen. His means were certainly not enough for himself, as he had hitherto found them. Imogene’s means were less even than his own. Therefore, it was clear that he and Imogene ought not to marry and encounter the danger of all those embryo mouths. There was a logic about it which had seemed to him to be unanswerable. It was a logic which applied to his case above all others. The man who had a hope of earning money need not be absolutely bound by it. To him the money might come as quickly as the mouths. With the cradles would arrive the means of buying the cradles. And to the man who had much more than enough for himself — to such a man as he had expected to be while he was looking forward to the coffin of that iniquitous uncle — the logic did not apply at all. In defending himself, both to himself and to Imogene, he was very strong upon that point. A man who had plenty and would not divide his plenty with another might with truth be called selfish. Rich old bachelors might with propriety be called curmudgeons. But was it right that a man should be abused — even by a young lady to whom, under more propitious circumstances, he had offered his heart — when he declared himself unwilling to multiply suffering by assisting to bring into the world human beings whom he would be unable to support? He had felt himself to be very strong in his logic, and had unfortunately made the mistake of supposing that it was as clear to Imogene as to himself.

Then he had determined to rectify the inconvenience of his position. It had become manifest to him whilst he was waiting for his uncle’s money that not only were his own means insufficient for married life but even for single comfort. It would always come to pass that when he had resolved on two mutton chops and half a pint of sherry the humble little meal would spread itself into woodcock and champagne. He regarded it as an unkindness in Providence that he should not have been gifted with economy. Therefore, he had to look about him for a remedy; and, as Imogene was out of the question, he found a remedy in Gertrude Tringle. He had then believed that everything was settled for him — not, indeed, in a manner very pleasant, but after a fashion that would make life possible to him. Sir Thomas had given one of his daughters, with a large sum of money, to such a man as Septimus Traffick — a man more impecunious than himself, one whom Frank did not hesitate to pronounce to be much less of a gentleman. That seat in the House of Commons was to him nothing. There were many men in the House of Commons to whom he would hardly condescend to speak. To be the younger son of a latter-day peer was to him nothing. He considered himself in all respects to be a more eligible husband than Septimus Traffick. Therefore he had entertained but little doubt when he found himself accepted by Gertrude herself and her mother. Then by degrees he had learned to know something of the young lady to whom he intended to devote himself; and it had come to pass that the better he had known the less he had liked her. Nevertheless he had persevered, groaning in spirit as he thought of the burden with which he was about to inflict himself. Then had come the release. Sir Thomas had explained to him that no money would be forthcoming; and the young lady had made to him a foolish proposition, which, as he thought, fully justified him in regarding the match as at an end.

And then he had three days in which to make up his mind. It may be a question whether three days are ever much better than three minutes for such a purpose. A man’s mind will very generally refuse to make itself up until it be driven and compelled by emergency. The three days are passed not in forming but in postponing judgment. In nothing is procrastination so tempting as in thought. So it came to pass, that through the Thursday, the Friday, and the Saturday, Frank Houston came to no conclusion, though he believed that every hour of the time was devoted to forming one. Then, as he ate his dinner on Saturday night at his club, a letter was brought to him, the handwriting of which was familiar to him. This letter assisted him little in thinking.

The letter was from Gertrude Tringle, and need not be given in its entirety. There was a good deal of reproach, in that he had been so fickle as to propose to abandon her at the first touch of adversity. Then she had gone on to say, that, knowing her father a great deal better than he could do, she was quite satisfied that the money would be all right. But the last paragraph of the letter shall be given. “Papa has almost yielded already. I have been very ill’ — here the extent of her malady was shown by the strength of the underscoring with which the words were made significant — “very ill indeed,” she went on to say, “as you will understand if you have ever really loved me. I have kept my bed almost ever since I got your cruel letter.” Bed and cruel were again strenuously underscored. “It has made papa very unhappy, and, though he has said nothing to myself, he has told mamma that if I am really in earnest he will do something for us.” The letter was long, but this is all the reader need see of it. But it must be explained that the young lady had greatly exaggerated her mother’s words, and that her mother had exaggerated those which Sir Thomas had spoken. “She is a stupid idiot,” Sir Thomas had said to his wife. “If she is obedient, and does her duty, of course I shall do something for her some day.” This had been stretched to that promise of concession which Gertrude communicated to her lover.

This was the assistance which Frank Houston received in making up his mind on Saturday night. If what the girl said was true, there was still open to him the manner of life which he had prepared for himself; and he did believe the announcement to be true. Though Sir Thomas had been so persistent in his refusals, his experience in life had taught him to believe that a parent’s sternness is never a match for a daughter’s obstinacy. Had there been a touch of tenderness in his heart to the young lady herself he would not have abandoned her so easily. But he had found his consolation when giving up his hope of Sir Thomas’s money. Now, should he again take to the girl, and find his consolation in accepting the money? Should he resolve upon doing so, this would materially affect any communication which he might make to Imogene on the following day.

While thus in doubt he went into the smoking-room and there he found any thinking to be out of the question. A great question was being debated as to club law. One man had made an assertion. He had declared that another man had been seen playing cards in a third man’s company. A fourth man had, thereupon, put his hat on his head, and had declared contumaciously that the “assertion was not true”. Having so declared he had contumaciously stalked out of the room, and had banged the door after him — very contumaciously indeed. The question was whether the contumacious gentleman had misbehaved himself in accordance with the rules of the club, and, if so, what should be done to him. Not true is as bad as “false”, False. applied to a gentleman in a club, must be matter either of an apology or expulsion. The objectionable word had, no doubt, been said in defence of an absent man, and need not, perhaps, have been taken up had the speaker not at once put on his hat and stalked out of the room, and banged the door. It was asserted that a lie may be given by the way in which a door is banged. And yet no club punishes the putting on of hats, or stalking off, or the banging of doors. It was a difficult question, and occupied Frank Houston till two o’clock in the morning, to the exclusion of Gertrude Tringle and Imogene Docimer.

On the Sunday morning he was not up early, nor did he go to church. The contumacious gentleman was a friend of his, whom he knew that no arguments would induce to apologise. He believed also that gentleman No. 3 might have been seen playing cards with gentleman No. 2 — so that there was no valid excuse for the banging of the door. He was much exercised by the points to be decided, so that when he got into a cab to be taken to Mrs Docimer’s house he had hardly come to any other conclusion than that one which had arisen to him from a comparison between the two young ladies. Imogene was nearly perfect, and Gertrude was as nearly the reverse as a young lady could be with the proper number of eyes in her head and a nose between them. The style of her letter was abominable to him. “Very ill indeed — as you will understand, if you ever really loved me!” There was a mawkish clap-trap about it which thoroughly disgusted him. Everything from Imogene was straightforward and downright whether it were love or whether it were anger. But then to be settled with an income of £3,000 a year would relieve him from such a load of care!

“And so Tringle père does not see the advantage of such a son-in-law,” said Imogene, after the first greetings were over between them. The greetings had been very simple — just a touch of the hand, just a civil word — civil, but not in the least tender, just an inclination of the head, and then two seats occupied with all the rug between them.

“Yes, indeed!” said Frank. The man is a fool, because he will probably get somebody who will behave less well to his daughter, and make a worse use of his money.

“Just so. One can only be astonished at his folly. Is there no hope left?”

“A glimmer there is.”

“Oh, indeed!”

“I got a letter last night from my lady-love, in which she tells me that she is very ill, and that her sickness is working upon her father’s bowels.”

“Frank!”

“It is the proper language — working upon her father’s bowels of compassion. Fathers always have bowels of compassion at last.”

“You will return then, of course?”

“What do you say?”

“As for myself — or as for you?”

“As a discreet and trusty counsellor. To me you have always been a trusty counsellor.”

“Then I should put a few things into a bag, go down to Merle Park, and declare that, in spite of all the edicts that ever came from a father’s mouth, you cannot absent yourself while you know that your Gertrude is ill.”

“And so prepare a new cousin for you to press to your bosom.”

“If you can endure her for always, why should not I for an hour or two, now and again?”

“Why not, indeed? In fact, Imogene, this enduring, and not enduring — even this living, and not living — is, after all, but an affair of the imagination. Who can tell but that, as years roll on, she may be better looking even than you?”

“Certainly.”

“And have as much to say for herself?”

“A great deal more that is worth hearing.”

“And behave herself as a mother of a family with quite as much propriety?”

“In all that I do not doubt that she would be my superior.”

“More obedient I am sure she would be.”

“Or she would be very disobedient.”

“And then she can provide me and my children with ample comforts.”

“Which I take it is the real purpose for which a wife should be married.”

“Therefore,” said he — and then he stopped.

“And therefore there should be no doubt.”

“Though I hate her”, he said, clenching his fist with violence as he spoke, “with every fibre of my heart — still you think there should be no doubt?”

“That, Frank, is violent language — and foolish.”

“And though I love you so intensely that whenever I see her the memory of you becomes an agony to me.”

“Such language is only more violent and more foolish.”

“Surely not, if I have made up my mind at last, that I never will willingly see Miss Tringle again. Here he got up, and walking across the rug, stood over her, and waited as though expecting some word from her. But she, putting her two hands up to her head, and brushing her hair away from her forehead, looked up to him for what further words might come to him. “Surely not,” he continued, “if I have made up my mind at last, that nothing shall ever again serve to rob me of your love — if I may still hope to possess it.”

“Oh, Frank!‘she said, how mean I am to be a creature obedient to the whistle of such a master as you!”

“But are you obedient?”

“You know that well enough. I have had no Gertrude with whom I have vacillated, whether for the sake of love or lucre. Whatever you may be — whether mean or noble — you are the only man with whom I can endure to live, for whom I would endure to die. Of course I had not expected that your love should be like mine. How should it be so, seeing that you are a man and that I am but a woman.” Here he attempted to seat himself by her on the sofa, which she occupied, but she gently repulsed him, motioning him towards the chair which he had occupied. “Sit there, Frank,” she said, so that we may look into each other’s faces and talk seriously. Is it to come to this then, that I am to ruin you at last?”

“There will be no ruin.”

“But there will, if we are married now. Shall I tell you the kind of life which would satisfy me?”

“Some little place abroad?” he asked.

“Oh, dear, no! No place to which you would be confined at all. If I may remain as I am, knowing that you intend to marry no one else, feeling confident that there is a bond binding us together even though we should never become man and wife, I should be, if not happy, at least contented.”

“That is a cold prospect.”

“Cold — but not ice-cold, as would have been the other. Cold, but not wretchedly cold, as would be the idea always present to me that I had reduced you to poverty. Frank, I am so far selfish that I cannot bear to abandon the idea of your love. But I am not so far selfish as to wish to possess it at the expense of your comfort. Shall it be so?”

“Be how?” said he, speaking almost in anger.

“Let us remain just as we are. Only you will promise me, that as I cannot be your wife there shall be no other. I need hardly promise you that there will be no other husband.” Now he sat frowning at her, while she, still pressing back her hair with her hands, looked eagerly into his face. “If this will be enough for you,” she said, “it shall be enough for me.

“No, by G— d!”

“Frank!”

“It will certainly not be enough for me. I will have nothing to do with so damnable a compact.”

“Damnable!”

“Yes; that is what I call it. That is what any man would call it — and any woman too, who would speak her mind.”

“Then, Sir, perhaps you will be kind enough to make your proposition. I have made mine, such as it is, and am sorry that it should not have been received at any rate with courtesy.” But as she said this there was a gleam of a bright spirit in her eyes, such as he had not seen since first the name of Gertrude had been mentioned to her.

“Yes,” said he. You have made your proposition, and now it is only fair that I should make mine. Indeed, I made it already when I suggested that little place abroad. Let it be abroad or at home, or of what nature it may — so that you shall be there, and I with you, it shall be enough for me. That is my proposition; and, if it be not accepted, then I shall return to Miss Tringle and all the glories of Lombard Street.”

“Frank — “ she said. Then, before she could speak another word, he had risen from his seat, and she was in his arms. “Frank,” she continued, pushing back his kisses, “how impossible it is that I should not be obedient to you in all things! I know — I know that I am agreeing to that which will cause you some day to repent.”

“By heavens, no!” said he. I am changed in all that.”

“A man cannot change at once. Your heart is soft, but your nature remains the same. Frank, I could be so happy at this moment if I could forget the picture which my imagination points to me of your future life. Your love, and your generous words, and the look out of your dear eyes, are sweet to me now, as when I was a child, whom you first made so proud by telling her that she owned your heart. If I could only revel in the return of your affections — ”

“It is no return,” said he. There has never been a moment in which my affections have not been the same.”

“Well, then — in these permitted signs of your affection — if it were not that I cannot shut out the future! Do not press me to name any early day, because no period of my future life will be so happy to me as this.”

“Is there any reason why I should not intrude?” said Mrs Docimer, opening the door when the above conversation had been extended for perhaps another hour.

“Not in the least, as far as I’m concerned,” said Frank. “A few words have been spoken between us, all of which may be repeated to you if Imogene can remember them.”

“Every one of them,” said Imogene; but I hardly think that I shall repeat them.”

“I suppose they have been very much a matter of course,” said Mrs Docimer — “the old story repeated between you two for the fourth or fifth time. Considering all things, do you think that I should congratulate you?”

“I ask for no congratulation,” said Imogene.

“You may certainly congratulate me,” said Frank. After that the conversation became tame, and the happy lover soon escaped from the house into the street. When there he found very much to occupy his mind. He had certainly made his resolution at last, and had done so in a manner which would now leave him no power of retrogression. The whole theory of his life had — with a vengeance — been thrown to the winds. “The little place abroad,” — or elsewhere — was now a settled certainty. He had nearly got the better of her. He had all but succeeded in putting down his own love and hers by a little gentle ridicule, and by a few half-wise phrases which she at the moment had been unable to answer; but she now had in truth vanquished him by the absolute sincerity of her love.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43