Before that evening was over — or in the course of the night, it might be better said, as the two men sat up late with their pipes — Hamel told his friend the Colonel exactly what had taken place that morning over at Glenbogie. “You went for the purpose, of course?” asked the Colonel.
“For an off chance.”
“I know that well enough. I never heard of a man’s walking twelve miles to call upon a young lady merely because he knew her father; and when there was to be a second call within a few weeks, the first having not been taken in very good part by the young lady’s friends, my inquiring mind told me that there was something more than old family friendship.”
“Your inquiring mind saw into the truth.”
“And now looks forward to further events. Can she bake and can she brew?”
“I do not doubt that she could if she tried.”
“And can she wash a shirt for a man? Don’t suppose, my dear fellow, that I intend to say that your wife will have to wash yours. Washing a shirt, as read in the poem from which I am quoting, is presumed to be simply emblematic of household duties in general.”
“I take all you say in good part — as coming from a friend.”
“I regard matrimony”, said the Colonel, as being altogether the happiest state of life for a man — unless to be engaged to some lovely creature, in whom one can have perfect confidence, may be a thought happier. One can enjoy all the ecstatic mental reflection, all the delights of conceit which come from being loved, that feeling of superiority to all the world around which illumines the bosom of the favoured lover, without having to put one’s hand into one’s pocket, or having one’s pipe put out either morally or physically. The next to this is matrimony itself, which is the only remedy for that consciousness of disreputable debauchery, a savour of which always clings, more or less strongly, to unmarried men in our rank of life. The chimes must be heard at midnight, let a young man be ever so well given to the proprieties, and he must have just a touch of the swingebuckler about him, or he will seem to himself to be deficient in virility. There is no getting out of it until a man marry. But then — “
“Do you know the man whose long-preserved hat is always brushed carefully, whose coat is the pattern of neatness, but still a little threadbare when you look at it — in the colour of whose cheek there is still some touch of juvenility, but whose step is ever heavy and whose brow is always sad? The seriousness of life has pressed the smiles out of him. He has learned hardly to want anything for himself but outward decency and the common necessaries of life. Such little personal indulgences as are common to you and to me are as strange to him as ortolans or diamonds.”
“I do not think I do know him.”
“I do — well. I have seen him in the regiment, I have met him on the steps of a public office, I have watched him as he entered his parsonage house. You shall find him coming out of a lawyer’s office, where he has sat for the last nine hours, having supported nature with two penny biscuits. He has always those few thin hairs over his forehead, he has always that well-brushed hat, he has always that load of care on his brow. He is generally thinking whether he shall endeavour to extend his credit with the butcher, or resolve that the supply of meat may be again curtailed without injury to the health of his five daughters.”
“That is an ugly picture.”
“But is it true?”
“In some cases, of course, it is.”
“And yet not ugly all round,” said the meditative Colonel, who had just replenished his pipe. “There are, on the other side, the five daughters, and the partner of this load of cares. He knows it is well to have the five daughters, rather than to live with plenty of beef and mutton — even with the ortolans if you will — and with no one to care whether his body may be racked in this world or his spirit in the next. I do not say whether the balance of good or evil be on one side or the other; but when a man is going to do a thing he should know what it is he is going to do.”
“The reading of all this,” said Hamel, is, that if I succeed in marrying Miss Dormer I must have thin locks, and a bad hat, and a butcher’s bill.”
“Other men do.”
“Some, instead, have balances at their bankers, and die worth thirty, forty, or fifty thousand pounds, to the great consolation of the five daughters.”
“Or a hundred thousand pounds! There is, of course, no end to the amount of thousands which a successful professional man may accumulate. You may be the man; but the question is, whether you should not have reasonable ground to suppose yourself the man, before you encumber yourself with the five daughters.”
“It seems to me,” said Hamel, that the need of such assurance is cowardly.”
“That is just the question which I am always debating with myself. I also want to rid myself of that swingebuckler flavour. I feel that for me, like Adam, it is not good that I should be alone. I would fain ask the first girl, that I could love well enough to wish to make myself one with her, to be my wife, regardless of hats, butchers, and daughters. It is a plucky and a fine thing for a man to feel that he can make his back broad enough for all burdens. But yet what is the good of thinking that you can carry a sack of wheat when you are sure that you have not, in truth, strength to raise it from the ground?”
“Strength will come,” said Hamel.
“Yes, and the bad hat. And, worse than the bad hat, the soiled gown; and perhaps with the soiled gown the altered heart — and perhaps with the altered heart an absence of all that tenderness which it is a woman’s special right to expect from a man.”
“I should have thought you would have been the last to be so self-diffident.”
“To be so thoughtful, you mean,” said the Colonel. I am unattached now, and having had no special duty for the last three months I have given myself over to thinking in a nasty morbid manner. It comes, I daresay, partly from tobacco. But there is comfort in this — that no such reflections falling out of one man’s mouth ever had the slightest effect in influencing another man’s conduct.”
Hamel had told his friend with great triumph of his engagement with Lucy Dormer, but the friend did not return the confidence by informing the sculptor that during the whole of this conversation, and for many days previous to it, his mind had been concerned with the image of Lucy’s sister. He was aware that Ayala had been, as it were, turned out from her rich uncle’s house, and given over to the comparative poverty of Kingsbury Crescent. He himself, at the present moment, was possessed of what might be considered a comfortable income for a bachelor. He had been accustomed to live almost more than comfortably; but, having so lived, was aware of himself that he had not adapted himself for straitened circumstances. In spite of that advice of his as to the brewing, baking, and washing capabilities of a female candidate for marriage, he knew himself well enough to be aware that a wife red with a face from a kitchen fire would be distasteful to him. He had often told himself that to look for a woman with money would be still more distasteful. Therefore he had thought that for the present, at least, it would be well for him to remain as he was. But now he had come across Ayala, and though in the pursuance of his philosophy he had assured himself that Ayala should be nothing to him, still he found himself so often reverting to this resolution that Ayala, instead of being nothing, was very much indeed to him.
Three days after this Hamel was preparing himself for his departure immediately after breakfast. “What a beast you are to go”, said the Colonel, “when there can be no possible reason for your going.”
“The five daughters and the bad hat make it necessary that a fellow should do a little work sometimes.”
“Why can’t you make your images down here?”
“With you for a model, and mud out of the Caller for clay.”
“I shouldn’t have the slightest objection. In your art you cannot perpetuate the atrocity of my colour, as the fellow did who painted my portrait last winter. If you will go, go, and make busts at unheard-of prices, so that the five daughters may live for ever on the fat of the land. Can I do any good for you by going over to Glenbogie?”
“If you could snub that Mr Traffick, who is of all men the most atrocious.”
“The power doesn’t exist,” said the Colonel, which could snub the Honourable Septimus. That man is possessed of a strength which I thoroughly envy — which is perhaps more enviable than any other gift the gods can give. Words cannot penetrate that skin of his. Satire flows off him like water from a duck. Ridicule does not touch him. The fellest abuse does not succeed in inflicting the slightest wound. He has learnt the great secret that a man cannot be cut who will not be cut. As it is worth no man’s while to protract an enmity with such a one as he, he suffers from no prolonged enmities. He walks unassailable by any darts, and is, I should say, the happiest man in London.”
“Then I fear you can do nothing for me at Glenbogie. To mollify Aunt Emmeline would, I fear, be beyond your power. Sir Thomas, as far as I can see, does not require much mollifying.”
“Sir Thomas might give the young woman a thousand or two.”
“That is not the way in which I desire to keep a good hat on my head,” said Hamel, as he seated himself in the little carriage which was to take him down to Callerfoot.
The Colonel remained at Drumcaller till the end of September, when his presence was required at Aldershot, during which time he shot a good deal, in obedience to the good-natured behests of Lord Glentower, and in spite of the up-turned nose of Mr Traffick. He read much, and smoked much, so that as to the passing of his time there was not need to pity him, and he consumed a portion of his spare hours in a correspondence with his aunt, the Marchesa, and with his cousin Nina. One of his letters from each shall be given, and also one of the letters written to each in reply.
Nina to her cousin the Colonel MY DEAR JONATHAN,
Lady Albury says that you ought to be here, and so you ought. It is ever so nice. There is a Mr Ponsonby here, and he and I can beat any other couple at lawn tennis. There is an awning over the ground which is such a lounge. Playing lawn tennis with a parasol as those Melcombe girls did is stupid. They were here, but have gone. One I am quite sure was over head and ears in love with Mr Ponsonby. These sort of things are always all on one side, you know. He isn’t very much of a man, but he does play lawn tennis divinely. Take it altogether, I don’t think there is anything out to beat lawn tennis. I don’t know about hunting — and I don’t suppose I ever shall.
We tried to have Ayala here, but I fear it will not come off. Lady Albury was good-natured, but at last she did not quite like writing to Mrs Dosett. So mamma wrote but the lady’s answer was very stiff. She thought it better for Ayala to remain among her own friends. Poor Ayala! It is clear that a knight will be wanted to go in armour, and get her out of prison. I will leave it to you to say who must be the knight.
I hope you will come for a day or two before you go to Aldershot. We stay till the 1st of October. You will be a beast if you don’t. Lady Albury says she never means to ask you again. “Oh, Stubbs!” said Sir Harry; “Stubbs is one of those fellows who never come if they’re asked.” Of course we all sat upon him. Then he declared that you were the dearest friend he had in the world, but that he never dared to dream that you would ever come to Stalham again. Perhaps if we can hit it off at last with Ayala, then you would come. Mamma means to try again.
Your affectionate cousin, NINA
The Marchesa Baldoni to her nephew, Colonel Stubbs MY DEAR JONATHAN,
I did my best for my protégée, but I am afraid it will not succeed. Her aunt Mrs Dosett seems to think that, as Ayala is fated to live with her, Ayala had better take her fate as she finds it. The meaning of that is, that if a girl is doomed to have a dull life she had better not begin it with a little pleasure. There is a good deal to be said for the argument, but if I were the girl I should like to begin with the pleasure and take my chance for the reaction. I should perhaps be vain enough to think that during the preliminary course I might solve all the difficulty by my beaux yeux. I saw Mrs Dosett once, and now I have had a letter from her. Upon the whole, I am inclined to pity poor Ayala.
We are very happy here. The Marchese has gone to Como to look after some property he has there. Do not be ill-natured enough to say that the two things go together — but in truth he is never comfortable out of Italy. He had a slice of red meat put before him the other day, and that decided him to start at once.
On the first of October we go back to London, and shall remain till the end of November. They have asked Nina to come again in November in order that she may see a hunt. I know that means that she will try to jump over something, and have her leg broken. You must be here and not allow it. If she does come here I shall perhaps go down to Brighton for a fortnight.
Yes — I do think Ayala Dormer is a very pretty girl, and I do think, also, that she is clever. I quite agree that she is ladylike. But I do not therefore think that she is just such a girl as such a man as Colonel Jonathan Stubbs ought to marry. She is one of those human beings who seem to have been removed out of this world and brought up in another. Though she knows ever so much that nobody else knows, she is ignorant of ever so much that everybody ought to know. Wandering through a grove, or seated by a brook, or shivering with you on the top of a mountain, she would be charming. I doubt whether she would be equally good at the top of your table, or looking after your children, or keeping the week’s accounts. She would tease you with poetry, and not even pretend to be instructed when you told her how an army ought to be moved. I say nothing as to the fact that she hasn’t got a penny, though you are just in that position which makes it necessary for a man to get some money with his wife. I therefore am altogether indisposed to any matrimonial outlook in that direction.
Your affectionate aunt, BEATRICE BALDONI
Colonel Stubbs to his cousin Nina DEAR NINA,
Lady Albury is wrong; I ought not to be at Stalham. What should I do at Stalham at this time of year, who never shoot partridges, and what would be the use of attempting lawn tennis when I know I should be cut out by Mr Ponsonby? If that day in November is to come off then I’ll come and coach you across the country. You tell Sir Harry that I say so, and that I will bring three horses for one week. I think it very hard about poor Ayala Dormer, but what can any knight do in such a case? When a young lady is handed over to the custody of an uncle or an aunt, she becomes that uncle’s and aunt’s individual property. Mrs Dosett may be the most noxious dragon that ever was created for the mortification and general misery of an imprisoned damsel, but still she is omnipotent. The only knight who can be of any service is one who will go with a ring in his hand, and absolutely carry the prisoner away by force of the marriage service. Your unfortunate cousin is so exclusively devoted to the duty of fighting his country’s battles that he has not even time to think of a step so momentous as that.
Poor Ayala! Do not be stupid enough to accuse me of pitying her because I cannot be the knight to release her; but I cannot but think how happy she would be at Stalham, struggling to beat you, and Mr Ponsonby at lawn tennis, and then risking a cropper when the happy days of November should come round.
Your loving cousin, J. S.
Colonel Stubbs to the Marchesa Baldoni MY DEAR AUNT,
Your letter is worthy of the Queen of Sheba, if, as was no doubt the case, she corresponded with King Solomon. As for Ayala’s fate, if it be her fate to live with Mrs Dosett, she can only submit to it. You cannot carry her over to Italy, nor would the Marchese allow her to divide his Italian good things with Nina. Poor little bird! She had her chance of living amidst diamonds and bank-notes, with the Tringle millionaires, but threw it away after some fashion that I do not understand. No doubt she was a fool, but I cannot but like her the better for it. I hardly think that a fortnight at Stalham, with all Sir Harry’s luxuries around her, would do her much service.
As for myself and the top of my table, and the future companion who is to be doomed to listen to my military lucubrations, I am altogether inclined to agree with you, seeing that you write in a pure spirit of worldly good sense. No doubt the Queen of Sheba gave advice of the same sort to King Solomon. I never knew a woman to speak confidentially of matrimony otherwise than as a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence. In counsels so given, no word of love has ever been known to creep in. Why should it, seeing that love cannot put a leg of mutton into the pot? Don’t imagine that I say this in a spirit either of censure or satire. Your ideas are my own, and should I ever marry I shall do so in strict accordance with your tenets, thinking altogether of the weekly accounts, and determined to eschew any sitting by the sides of brooks.
I have told Nina about my plans. I will be at Stalham in November to see that she does not break her neck.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14