Then there were written the following letters, which were sent and received before Sir Thomas went to Merle Park, and therefore, also, before he again saw Lucy:
DEAREST, DEAREST LOVE,
I have been, as desired, to Lombard Street, but I fear that my embassy has not led to any good. I know myself to be about as bad an ambassador as anyone can send. An ambassador should be soft and gentle — willing to make the best of everything, and never prone to take offence, nor should he be addicted specially to independence. I am ungentle, and apt to be suspicious — especially if anything be said derogatory to my art. I am proud of being an artist, but I am often ashamed of myself because I exhibit my pride. I may say the same of my spirit of independence. I am determined to be independent if I live — but I find my independence sometimes kicking up its heels, till I hate it myself.
From this you will perceive that I have not had a success in Lombard Street. I was quite willing to answer your uncle any questions he could ask about money. Indeed, I had no secret from him on any subject. But when he subjected me to cross-examination, forcing me into a bathos of poverty, as he thought, I broke down. “Not five hundred a year!” “Not four!! Not three!!!” “Oh, heavens! and you propose to take a wife!” You will understand how I writhed and wriggled under the scorn.
And then there came something worse than this — or rather, if I remember rightly, the worst thing came first. You were over in my studio, and will remember, perhaps, some of my own abortive treasures, those melancholy but soul-inspiring creations of which I have thought so much, and others have thought so little? That no one else should value them is natural, but to me it seems unnatural, almost cruel, that anyone should tell me to my face that they were valueless. Your uncle, of course, had never seen them, but he knew that sculptors are generally burdened with these “wares,” as he called them; and he suggested that I should sell them by auction for what they might fetch — in order that the corners which they occupy might be vacant. He thought that, perhaps, they might do for country gentlemen to stick about among their shrubs. You, knowing my foolish soreness on the subject, will understand how well I must have been prepared by this to endure your uncle’s cross-examination.
Then he asked me as to my ideas — not art ideas, but ideas as to bread and cheese for the future. I told him as exactly as I could. I explained to him that if you were left in possession of a comfortable home, such as would have been that of your father, I should think it best for your sake to delay our marriage till I should be prepared to do something better for you than I can at present; but that I hold myself ready to give you all that I have to give at a moment’s notice, should you be required to leave his house. And, Lucy, speaking in your name, I said something further, and declared my belief that you, for my sake, would bear the inconveniences of so poor a home without complaining.
Then there arose anger both on his side and on mine; and I must say, insult on his. He told me that I had no business to suggest that you would be expelled from his house. I replied that the threat had come, if not from him, then from Lady Tringle. Upon this he accused me of positive falsehood, asserting that your aunt had said nothing of the kind. I then referred him to Lady Tringle herself, but refused to stay any longer in the room with him, because he had insulted me.
So you will see that I did less than nothing by my embassy. I told myself that it would be so as I descended into the underground cavern at the Gloucester Road Station. You are not to suppose that I blame him more, or, indeed, so much as I do myself. It was not to be expected that he should behave as a gentleman of fine feeling. But, perhaps, it ought to have been expected that I should behave like a man of common sense. I ought to have taken his advice about the auction, apparently, in good part. I ought not to have writhed when he scorned my poor earnings. When he asked as to my ideas, I should not have alluded to your aunt’s threat as to turning you out. I should have been placid and humble; and then his want of generous feeling would have mattered nothing. But spilt milk and broken eggs are past saving. Whatever good things may have come from your uncle’s generosity had I brushed his hair for him aright, are now clean gone, seeing that I scrubbed him altogether the wrong way.
For myself, I do not know that I should regret it very much. I have an idea that no money should be sweet to a man except that which he earns. And I have enough belief in myself to be confident that sooner or later I shall earn a sufficiency. But, dearest, I own that I feel disgusted with myself when I think that I have diminished your present comfort, or perhaps lessened for the future resources which would have been yours rather than mine. But the milk has been spilt, and now we must only think what we can best do without it. It seems to me that only two homes are possible for you — one with Sir Thomas as his niece, and the other with me as my wife. I am conceited enough to think that you will prefer the latter even with many inconveniences. Neither can your uncle or your aunt prevent you from marrying at a very early day, should you choose to do so. There would be some preliminary ceremony, of the nature of which I am thoroughly ignorant, but which could, I suppose, be achieved in a month. I would advise you to ask your aunt boldly whether she wishes you to go or to stay with her, explaining, of course, that you intend to hold to your engagement, and explaining at the same time that you are quite ready to be married at once if she is anxious to be quit of you. That is my advice.
And now, dear, one word of something softer! For did any lover ever write to the lady of his heart so long a letter so abominably stuffed with matters of business? How shall I best tell you how dearly I love you? Perhaps I may do it by showing you that as far as I myself am concerned I long to hear that your Aunt Emmeline and your Uncle Tom are more hardhearted and obdurate than were ever uncle and aunt before them. I long to hear that you have been turned out into the cold, because I know that then you must come to me, though it be even less than three hundred a year. I wish you could have seen your uncle’s face as those terribly mean figures reached his ears. I do not for a moment fear that we should want. Orders come slow enough, but they come a little quicker than they did. I have never for a moment doubted my own ultimate success, and if you were with me I should be more confident than ever. Nevertheless, should your aunt bid you to stay, and should you think it right to comply with her desire, I will not complain.
Adieu! This comes from one who is altogether happy in his confidence that at any rate before long you will have become his wife.
“I quite expect to be scolded for my awkwardness. Indeed I shall be disappointed if I am not.”
The same post which brought Hamel’s long letter to Lucy brought also a short but very angry scrawl from Sir Thomas to his wife. No eyes but those of Lady Tringle saw this epistle, and no other eyes shall see it. But the few words which it contained were full of marital wrath. Why had she threatened to turn her own niece out of his doors? Why had she subjected him to the necessity of defending her by a false assertion? Those Dormer nieces of hers were giving him an amount of trouble and annoyance which he certainly had not deserved. Lucy, though not a word was said to her of this angry letter, was conscious that something had been added to her aunt’s acerbity. Indeed for the last day or two her aunt’s acerbity towards her had been much diminished. Lady Tringle had known that her husband intended to do something by which the Hamel marriage would be rendered possible; and she, though she altogether disapproved of the Hamel marriage, would be obliged to accede to it if Sir Thomas acceded to it and encouraged it by his money. Let them be married, and then, as far as the Tringles were concerned, let there be an end of these Dormer troubles for ever. To that idea Lady Tringle had reconciled herself as soon as Sir Thomas had declared his purpose, but now — as she declared to herself — “all the fat was again in the fire”. She received Lucy’s salutations on that morning with a very bad grace.
But she had been desired to give no message, and therefore she was silent on the subject to Lucy. To the Honourable Mrs Traffick she said a few words. “After all Ayala was not half as bad as Lucy,” said Lady Tringle.
“There, mamma, I think you are wrong,” said the Honourable Mrs Traffick. “Of all the upsetting things I ever knew Ayala was the worst. Think of her conduct with Septimus.” Lady Tringle made a little grimace, which, however, her daughter did not see. “And then with that Marchesa!”
“That was the Marchesa’s fault.”
“And with Tom!”
“I don’t think she was so much to blame with Tom. If she were, why doesn’t she take him now she can have him? He is just as foolish about her as ever. Upon my word I think Tom will make himself ill about it.”
“You haven’t heard it all, mamma.”
“What haven’t I heard?”
“Ayala has been down with the Alburys at Stalham.”
“I did hear that.”
“And another man has turned up. What on earth they see in her is what I can’t understand.”
“Another man has offered to her! Who is he?”
“There was a Colonel Stubbs down there. Septimus heard it all from young Batsby at the club. She got this man to ride about the country with her everywhere, going to the meets with him and coming home. And in this way she got him to propose to her. I don’t suppose he means anything; but that is why she won’t have anything to do with Tom now. Do you mean to say she didn’t do all she could to catch Tom down at Glenbogie, and then at Rome? Everybody saw it. I don’t think Lucy has ever been so bad as that.”
“It’s quite different, my dear.”
“She has come from a low father,” said the Honourable Mrs Traffick, proudly, “and therefore she has naturally attached herself to a low young man. There is nothing to be wondered at in that. I suppose they are fond of each other, and the sooner they are married the better.”
“But he can’t marry her because he has got nothing.”
“Papa will do something.”
“That’s just what your papa won’t. The man has been to your father in the City and there has been ever such a row. He spoke ill of me because I endeavoured to do my duty by the ungrateful girl. I am sure I have got a lesson as to taking up other people’s children. I endeavoured to do an act of charity, and see what has come of it. I don’t believe in charity.”
“That is wicked, mamma. Faith, Hope, and Charity! But you’ve got to be charitable before you begin the others.”
“I don’t think it is wicked. People would do best if they were made to go along on what they’ve got of their own.” This seemed to Augusta to be a direct blow at Septimus and herself. “Of course I know what you mean, mamma.”
“I didn’t mean anything.”
“But, if people can’t stay for a few weeks in their own parents’ houses, I don’t know where they are to stay.”
“It isn’t weeks, Augusta; it’s months. And as to parents, Lord Boardotrade is Mr Traffick’s parent. Why doesn’t he go and stay with Lord Boardotrade?” Then Augusta got up and marched with stately step out of the room. After this it was not possible that Lucy would find much immediate grace in her aunt’s eyes.
From the moment that Lucy had received her letter there came upon her the great burden of answering it. She was very anxious to do exactly as Hamel had counselled her. She was quite alive to the fact that Hamel had been imprudent in Lombard Street; but not the less was she desirous to do as he bade her — thinking it right that a woman should obey someone, and that her obedience could be due only to him. But in order to obey him she must consult her aunt. “Aunt Emmeline,” she said that afternoon, “I want to ask you something.”
“What is it now?” said Aunt Emmeline, crossly.
“About Mr Hamel.”
“I don’t want to hear any more about Mr Hamel. I have heard quite enough of Mr Hamel.”
“Of course I am engaged to him, Aunt Emmeline.”
“So I hear you say. I do not think it very dutiful of you to come and talk to me about him, knowing as you do what I think about him.”
“What I want to ask is this. Ought I to stay here or ought I to go away?”
“I never heard such a girl! Where are you to go to? What makes you ask the question?”
“Because you said that I ought to go if I did not give him up.”
“You ought to give him up.”
“I cannot do that, aunt.”
“Then you had better hold your tongue and say nothing further about it. I don’t believe he earns enough to give you bread to eat and decent clothes to wear. What would you do if children were to come year after year? If you really love him I wonder how you can think of being such a millstone round a man’s neck!”
This was very hard to bear. It was so different from the delicious comfort of his letter. “I do not for a moment believe that we should want.” “I have never for one moment doubted my own ultimate success.” But after all was there not more of truth in her aunt’s words, hard and cruel as they were? And on these words, such as they were, she must found her answer to her lover; for he had bade her ask her aunt what she was to do as to staying or preparing herself for an immediate marriage. Then, before the afternoon was over, she wrote to Hamel as follows:
I have got ever so much to say, but I shall begin by doing as you told me in your postscript. I won’t quite scold you, but I do think you might have been a little gentler with poor Uncle Tom. I do not say this because I at all regret anything which perhaps he might have done for us. If you do not want assistance from him certainly I do not. But I do think that he meant to be kind; and, though he may not be quite what you call a gentleman of fine feeling, yet he has taken me into his house when I had no other to go to, and in many respects has been generous to me. When he said that you were to go to him in Lombard Street, I am sure that he meant to be generous. And, though it has not ended well, yet he meant to be kind to both of us.
There is what you will call my scolding; though, indeed, dearest, I do not intend to scold at all. Nor am I in the least disappointed except in regard to you. This morning I have been to Aunt Emmeline, as you desired, and I must say that she was very cross. Of course I know that it is because she is my own aunt that Uncle Tom has me here at all; and I feel that I ought to be very grateful to her. But, in spite of all that you say, laughing at Uncle Tom because he wants you to sell your grand work by auction, he is much more good-natured than Aunt Emmeline. I am quite sure my aunt never liked me, and that she will not be comfortable till I am gone. But when I asked her whether I ought to stay, or to go, she told me to hold my tongue, and say nothing further about it. Of course, by this, she meant that I was to remain, at any rate for the present.
My own dearest, I do think this will be best, though I need not tell you how I look forward to leaving this, and being always with you. For myself I am not a bit afraid, though Aunt Emmeline said dreadful things about food and clothes, and all the rest of it. But I believe much more in what you say, that success will be sure to come. But still will it not be wise to wait a little longer? Whatever I may have to bear here, I shall think that I am bearing it for your dear sake; and then I shall be happy.
Believe me to be always and always your own LUCY
This was written and sent on a Wednesday, and nothing further was said either by Lucy herself, or by her aunt, as to the lover, till Sir Thomas came down to Merle Park on the Saturday evening. On his arrival he seemed inclined to be gracious to the whole household, even including Mr Traffick, who received any attention of that kind exactly as though the most amicable arrangements were always existing between him and his father-in-law. Aunt Emmeline, when it seemed that she was to encounter no further anger on account of the revelation which Hamel had made in Lombard Street, also recovered her temper, and the evening was spent as though there were no causes for serious family discord. In this spirit, on the following morning, they all went to church, and it was delightful to hear the flattering words with which Mr Traffick praised Merle Park, and everything belonging to it, during the hour of lunch. He went so far as to make some delicately laudatory hints in praise of hospitality in general, and especially as to that so nobly exercised by London merchant princes. Sir Thomas smiled as he heard him, and, as he smiled, he resolved that, as soon as the Christmas festivities should be over, the Honourable Septimus Traffick should certainly be turned out of that house.
After lunch there came a message to Lucy by a page-boy, who was supposed to attend generally to the personal wants of Aunt Emmeline, saying that her uncle would be glad of her attendance for a walk.
“My dear,” said he, have you got your thick boots on? Then go and put ’em on. We will go down to the Lodge, and then come home round by Windover Hill.” She did as she was bade, and then they started. “I want to tell you”, said he, that this Mr Hamel of yours came to me in Lombard Street.”
“I know that, Uncle Tom.”
“He has written to you, then, and told you all about it?”
“He has written to me, certainly, and I have answered him.”
“No doubt. Well, Lucy, I had intended to be kind to your Mr Hamel, but, as you are probably aware, I was not enabled to carry out my intentions. He seems to be a very independent sort of young man.”
“He is independent, I think.”
“I have not a word to say against it. If a man can be independent it is so much the better. If a man can do everything for himself, so as to require neither to beg nor to borrow, it will be much better for him. But, my dear, you must understand that a man cannot be independent with one hand, and accept assistance with the other, at one and the same time.”
“That is not his character, I am sure,” said Lucy, striving to hide her indignation while she defended her lover’s character.
“I do not think it is. Therefore he must remain independent, and I can do nothing for him.”
“He knows that, Uncle Tom.”
“Very well. Then there’s an end of it. I only want to make you understand that I was willing to assist him, but that he was unwilling to be assisted. I like him all the better for it, but there must be an end of it.”
“I quite understand, Uncle Tom.”
“Then there’s one other thing I’ve got to say. He accused me of having threatened to turn you out of my house. Now, my dear — “ Hereupon Lucy struggled to say a word, hardly knowing what word she ought to say, but he interrupted her — “Just hear me out till I’ve done, and then there need not be another word about it. I never threatened to turn you out.”
“Not you, Uncle Tom,” she said, endeavouring to press his arm with her hand.
“If your aunt said a word in her anger you should not have made enough of it to write and tell him.”
“I thought she meant me to go, and then I didn’t know whom else to ask.”
“Neither I nor she, nor anybody else, ever intended bo turn you out. I have meant to be kind to you both — to you and Ayala; and if things have gone wrong I cannot say that it has been my fault. Now, you had better stay here, and not say a word more about it till he is ready to take you. That can’t be yet for a long time. He is making, at present, not more than two hundred a year. And I am sure it must be quite as much as he can do to keep a coat on his back with such an income as that. You must make up your mind to wait — probably for some years. As I told you before, if a man chooses to have the glory of independence he must also bear the inconvenience. Now, my dear, let there be an end of this, and never say again that I want to turn you out of my house.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01