“I tell you fairly that I think you altogether wrong — that it is cowardly, unmanly, and disgraceful. I don’t mean, you see, to put what you call a fine point upon it.”
“No, you don’t.”
“It is one of those matters on which a person must speak the truth or not speak at all. I should not have spoken unless you forced it upon me. You don’t care for her in the least.”
“That’s true. I do not know that I am especially quick at what you call caring for young ladies. If I care for anybody it is for you.”
“I suppose so; but that may as well be dropped for the present. You mean to marry this girl simply because she has got a lot of money?”
“Exactly that — as you before long will marry some gentleman only because he has got money.”
“You have no right to say so because I am engaged to no man. But if I were so it is quite different. Unless I marry I can be nobody. I can have no existence that I can call my own. I have no other way of pushing myself into the world’s notice. You are a man.”
“You mean to say that I could become a merchant or a lawyer — be a Lord Chancellor in time, or perhaps an Archbishop of Canterbury.”
“You can live and eat and drink and go where you wish without being dependent on anyone. If I had your freedom and your means do you think that I would marry for money?”
In this dialogue the main part was taken by Mr Frank Houston, whose ambition it was to marry Miss Gertrude Tringle, and the lady’s part by his cousin and intimate friend, Miss Imogene Docimer. The scene was a walk through a pine forest on the southern slopes of the Tyrolean Alps, and the occasion had been made a little more exhilarating than usual by the fact that Imogene had been strongly advised both by her brother, Mr Mudbury Docimer, and by her sister-in law, Mrs Mudbury Docimer, not to take any more distant rambles with her far-away cousin Frank Houston. In the teeth of that advice this walk was taken, and the conversation in the pine wood had at the present moment arrived at the point above given.
“I do not know that any two persons were ever further asunder in an argument than you and I in this,” said Frank, not in the least disconcerted by the severe epithets which had been applied to him. “I conceive that you are led away by a desire to deceive yourself, whereas hypocrisy should only be used with the object of deceiving others.”
“How do I deceive myself?”
“In making believe that men are generally different from what they are — in trying to suppose that I ought to be, if I am not, a hero. You shall not find a man whose main object is not that of securing an income. The clergyman who preaches against gold licks the ground beneath the minister’s feet in order that he may become a bishop. The barrister cares not with what case he may foul his hands so long as he may become rich. The man in trade is so aware of his own daily dishonesty that he makes two separate existences for himself, and endeavours to atone for his rascality in the City by his performance of all duties at the West End. I regard myself to be so infinitely cleaner in my conscience than other men that I could not bring myself to be a bishop, an attorney-general, or a great merchant. Of all the ways open to me this seems to me to be the least sordid. I give her the only two things which she desires — myself and a position. She will give me the only thing I desire, which is some money. When you marry you’ll make an equally fine bargain — only your wares will be your beauty.”
“You will not give her yourself — not your heart.”
“Yes, I shall. I shall make the most of her, and shall do so by becoming as fond of her as I can. Of course I like breeding. Of course I like beauty. Of course I like that aroma of feminine charm which can only be produced by a mixture of intellect, loveliness, taste, and early association. I don’t pretend to say that my future would not be much sweeter before me with you as my wife — if only either of us had a sufficiency of income. I acknowledge that. But then I acknowledge also that I prefer Miss Tringle, with £100,000, to you with nothing; and I do not think that I ought to be called unmanly, disgraceful, and a coward, because I have courage enough to speak the truth openly to a friend whom I trust. My theory of life shocks you, not because it is uncommon, but because it is not commonly declared.”
They were silent for a while as they went on through the path, and then Miss Docimer spoke to him in an altered voice. “I must ask you not to speak to me again as one who by any possibility could have been your wife.”
“Very well. You will not wish me to abandon the privilege of thinking of past possibilities?”
“I would — if it were possible.”
“Quite impossible! One’s thoughts, I imagine, are always supposed to be one’s own.”
“You know what I mean. A gentleman will always spare a woman if he can do so; and there are cases such as have been ours, in which it is a most imperative duty to do so. You should not have followed us when you had made up your mind about this young lady.”
“I took care to let you know, beforehand, that I intended it.”
“You should not have thrown the weight upon me. You should not even have written to me.”
“I wonder what you would have said then — how loudly you would have abused me — had I not written! Would you not have told me then that I had not the courage to be open with you?” He paused for an answer, but she made none. “But I do recognize the necessity of my becoming subject to abuse in this state of affairs. I have been in no respect false, nor in any way wanting in affection. When I suggested to you that 600 pounds a year between us, with an increasing family, and lodgings in Marylebone, would be uncomfortable, you shuddered at the prospect. When I explained to you that you would have the worst of it because my club would be open to me, you were almost angry with me because I seemed to imply that there could be any other than one decision.”
“There could only be one decision — unless you were man enough to earn your bread.”
“But I wasn’t. But I ain’t. You might as well let that accident pass, sans dire. Was there ever a moment in which you thought that I should earn my bread?”
“Never for a moment did I endow you with the power of doing anything so manly.”
“Then why throw it in my teeth now? That is not fair. However, I do own that I have to be abused. I don’t see any way in which you and I are to part without it. But you need not descend to Billingsgate.”
“I have not descended to Billingsgate, Mr Houston.”
“Upper-world Billingsgate! Cowardice, as an accusation from a woman to a man, is upper-world Billingsgate. But it doesn’t matter. Of course I know what it means. Do you think your brother wants me to go away at once?”
“At once,” she said.
“That would be disagreeable and absurd. You mean to sit to me for that head?”
“I cannot in the least understand why not. What has a question of art to do with marriage or giving in marriage? And why should Mrs Docimer be so angry with me, when she has known the truth all along?”
“There are questions which it is of no avail to answer. I have come out with you now because I thought it well that we should have a final opportunity of understanding each other. You understand me at any rate.”
“Perfectly,” he said. You have taken especial care on this occasion to make yourself intelligible.”
“So I intended. And as you do understand me, and know how far I am from approving your philosophy, you can hardly wish to remain with us longer.” Then they walked on together in absolute silence for above a mile. They had come out of the wood, and were descending, by a steep and narrow path, to the village in which stood the hotel at which the party was staying. Another ten minutes would take them down to the high road. The path here ran by the side of a rivulet, the course of which was so steep that the waters made their way down in a succession of little cataracts. From the other side of the path was a fence, so close to it, that on this particular spot there was room only for one to walk. Here Frank Houston stepped in front of his companion, so as to stop her. “Imogene,” he said, if it is intended that I am to start by the diligence for Innsbruck this evening, you had better bid me farewell at once.”
“I have bidden you farewell,” she said.
“Then you have done it in so bitter a mood that you had better try your hand at it again. Heaven only knows in what manner you or I may meet again.”
“What does it matter?” she asked.
“I have always felt that the hearts of men are softer than the hearts of women. A woman’s hand is soft, but she can steel her heart when she thinks it necessary, as no man can do. Does it occur to you at this moment that there has been some true affection between you and me in former days?”
“I wish it did not.”
“It may be so that I wish it also but there is the fact. No wishing will enable me to get rid of it. No wishing will save me from the memory of early dreams and sweet longings and vain triumphs. There is the remembrance of bright glory made very sad to me by the meanness of the existing truth. I do not say but that I would obliterate it if I could; but it is not to be obliterated; the past will not be made more pleasant to me by any pretence of present indignation. I should have thought that it would have been the same with you.”
“There has been no glory,” she said, though I quite acknowledge the meanness.”
“There has been at any rate some love.”
“Misplaced. You had better let me pass on. I have, as you say, steeled myself. I will not condescend to any tenderness. In my brother’s presence and my sister’s I will wish you goodbye and express a hope that you may be successful in your enterprises. Here, by the brook-side, out upon the mountain path, where there is no one to hear us but our two selves, I will bid you no farewell softer than that already spoken. Go and do as you propose. You have my leave. When it shall have been done there shall never be a word spoken by me against it. But, when you ask me whether you are right, I will only say that I think you to be wrong. It may be that you owe nothing to me; but you owe something to her, and something also to yourself. Now, Mr Houston, I shall be glad to pass on.”
He shrugged his shoulders and then stepped out of the path, thinking as he did so how ignorant he had been, after all that had passed, of much of the character of Imogene Docimer. It could not be, he had thought, but that she would melt into softness at last. “I will not condescend to any tenderness,” she had said, and it seemed that she would be as good as her word. He then walked down before her in silence, and in silence they reached the inn.
“Mr Houston,” said Mrs Docimer, before they sat down to dinner together, “I thought it was understood that you and Imogene should not go out alone together again.”
“I have taken my place to Innsbruck by the diligence this evening,” he answered.
“Perhaps it will be better so, though both Mudbury and I will be sorry to lose your company.”
“Yes, Mrs Docimer, I have taken my place. Your sister seemed to think that there would be great danger if I waited till tomorrow morning when I could have got a pleasant lift in a return carriage. I hate travelling at night and I hate diligences. I was quite prepared to post all the way, though it would have ruined me — only for this accursed diligence.”
“I am sorry you should be inconvenienced.”
“It does not signify. What a man without a wife may suffer in that way never does signify. It’s just fourteen hours. You wouldn’t like Docimer to come with me.”
“That’s nonsense. You needn’t go the whole way unless you like. You could sleep at Brunecken.”
“Brunecken is only twelve miles, and it might be dangerous.”
“Of course you choose to turn everything into ridicule.”
“Better that than tears, Mrs Docimer. What’s the good of crying? I can’t make myself an elder son. I can’t endow Imogene with a hundred thousand pounds. She told me just now that I might earn my bread, but she knows that I can’t. It’s very sad. But what can be got by being melancholy?”
“At any rate you had better be away from her.”
“I am going — this evening. Shall I walk on, half a stage, at once, without any dinner? I wish you had heard the kind of things she said to me. You would not have thought that I had gone to walk with her for my own pleasure.”
“Have you not deserved them?”
“I think not — but nevertheless I bore them. A woman, of course, can say what she pleases. There’s Docimer — I hope he won’t call me a coward.”
Mr Docimer came out on the terrace, on which the two were standing, looking as sour as death. “He is going by the diligence to Innsbruck this afternoon,” said Mrs Docimer.
“Why did he come? A man with a grain of feeling would have remained away.”
“Now, Docimer,” said Frank, pray do not make yourself unpleasant. Your sister has been abusing me all the morning like a pickpocket, and your wife looks at me as though she would say just as much if she dared. After all, what is it I have done that you think so wicked?”
“What will everybody think at home”, said Mrs Docimer, “when they know that you’re with us again? What chance is she to have if you follow her about in this way?”
“I shall not follow her very long,” said Frank. My wings will soon be cut, and then I shall never fly again.” They were at this time walking up and down the terrace together, and it seemed for a while that neither of them had another word to say in the matter of the dispute between them. Then Houston went on again in his own defence. “Of course it is all bad,” he said. Of course we have all been fools. You knew it, and allowed it; and have no right to say a word to me.”
“We thought that when your uncle died there would have been money,” said Docimer, with a subdued growl.
“Exactly; and so did I. You do not mean to say that I deceived either you or her?”
“There should have been an end of it when that hope was over.”
“Of course there should. There should never have been a dream that she or I could marry on six hundred a year. Had not all of us been fools, we should have taken our hats off and bade each other farewell for ever when the state of the old man’s affairs was known. We were fools; but we were fools together; and none of us have a right to abuse the others. When I became acquainted with this young lady at Rome, it had been settled among us that Imogene and I must seek our fortunes apart.”
“Then why did you come after her?” again asked Mr Docimer.
At this moment Imogene herself joined them on the terrace. “Mary,” she said to her sister-in-law, I hope you are not carrying on this battle with Mr Houston. I have said what there was to be said.”
“You should have held your tongue and said nothing,” growled her brother.
“Be that as it may I have said it, and he quite understands what I think about it. Let us eat our dinner in peace and quietness, and then let him go on his travels. He has the world free before him, which he no doubt will open like an oyster, though he does not carry a sword.” Soon after this they did dine, and contented themselves with abusing the meat and the wine, and finding fault with Tyrolese cookery, just as though they had no deeper cares near their hearts. Precisely at six the heavy diligence stopped before the hotel door, and Houston, who was then smoking with Docimer on the terrace, got up to bid them adieu. Mrs Docimer was kind and almost affectionate, with a tear in her eye. “Well old fellow,” said Docimer, take care of yourself. Perhaps everything will turn up right some of these days.” “Goodbye, Mr Houston, said Imogene, just giving him her hand to touch in the lightest manner possible. “God bless you, Imogene,” said he. And there was a tear also in his eye. But there was none in hers, as she stood looking at him while he prepared himself for his departure; nor did she say another word to him as he went. “And now”, said she, when the three of them were left upon the terrace, “I will ask a great favour of you both. I will beg you not to let there be another word about Mr Houston among us.” After that she rambled out by herself, and was not seen again by either of them that evening.
When she was alone she too shed her tears, though she felt impatient and vexed with herself as they came into her eyes. It was not perhaps only for her lost love that she wept. Had no one known that her love had been given and then lost she might have borne it without weeping. But now, in carrying on this vain affair of hers, in devoting herself to a lover who had, with her own consent, passed away from her, she had spent the sweet fresh years of her youth, and all those who knew her would know that it had been so. He had told her that it would be her fate to purchase for herself a husband with her beauty. It might be so. At any rate she did not doubt her own beauty. But, if it were to be so, then the romance and the charm of her life were gone. She had quite agreed that six hundred a year, and lodgings in Marylebone, would be quite unendurable; but what was there left for her that would be endurable? He could be happy with the prospect of Gertrude Tringle’s money. She could not be happy, looking forward to that unloved husband who was to be purchased by her beauty.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14