The next six weeks went on tranquilly at Merle Park without a word spoken about Hamel. Sir Thomas, who was in the country as little as possible, showed his scorn to his son-in-law simply by the paucity of his words, speaking to him, when he did speak to him, with a deliberate courtesy which Mr Traffick perfectly understood. It was that dangerous serenity which so often presages a storm. “There is something going to be up with your father,” he said to Augusta. Augusta replied that she had never seen her father so civil before. “It would be a great convenience”, continued the Member of Parliament, “if he could be made to hold his tongue till Parliament meets; but I’m afraid that’s too good to expect.” In other respects things were comfortable at Merle Park, though they were not always comfortable up in London. Tom, as the reader knows, was misbehaving himself sadly at the Mountaineers. This was the period of unlimited champagne, and of almost total absence from Lombard Street. It was seldom that Sir Thomas could get hold of his son, and when he did that broken-hearted youth would reply to his expostulations simply by asserting that if his father would induce Ayala to marry him everything should go straight in Lombard Street. Then came the final blow. Tom was of course expected at Merle Park on Christmas Eve, but did not make his appearance either then or on Christmas Day. Christmas fell on a Wednesday, and it was intended that the family should remain in the country till the following Monday. On the Thursday Sir Thomas went up to town to make inquiries respecting his heir, as to whom Lady Tringle had then become absolutely unhappy. In London he heard the disastrous truth. Tom, in his sportive mood, had caused serious inconvenience to a most respectable policeman, and was destined to remain another week in the hands of the Philistines. Then, for a time, all the other Tringle troubles were buried and forgotten in this great trouble respecting Tom. Lady Tringle was unable to leave her room during the period of incarceration. Mr Traffick promised to have the victim liberated by the direct interference of the Secretary of State, but failed to get anything of the kind accomplished. The girls were completely cowed by the enormity of the misfortune; so that Tom’s name was hardly mentioned except in sad and confidential whispers. But of all the sufferers Sir Thomas suffered the most. To him it was a positive disgrace, weighing down every moment of his life. At Travers and Treason he could not hold up his head boldly and open his mouth loudly as had always been his wont. At Travers and Treason there was not a clerk who did not know that “the governor” was an altered man since this misfortune had happened to the hope of the firm. What passed between Sir Thomas and his son on the occasion has already been told in a previous chapter. That Sir Thomas, on the whole, behaved with indulgence must be acknowledged; but he felt that his son must in truth absent himself from Lombard Street for a time.
Tom had been advised by his father to go forth and see the world. A prolonged tour had been proposed to him which to most young men might seem to have great attraction. To him it would have had attraction enough, had it not been for Ayala. There would have been hardly any limit to the allowance made to him, and he would have gone forth armed with introductions, which would have made every port a happy home to him. But as soon as the tour was suggested he resolved at once that he could not move himself to a distance from Ayala. What he expected — what he even hoped — he could not tell himself. But while Ayala was in London, and Ayala was unmarried, he could not be made to take himself far away.
He was thoroughly ashamed of himself. He was not at all the man who could bear a week of imprisonment and not think himself disgraced. For a day or two he shut himself up altogether in his lodgings, and never once showed himself at the Mountaineers. Faddle came to him, but he snubbed Faddle at first, remembering all the severe things his father had said about the Faddles in general. But he soon allowed that feeling to die away when the choice seemed to be between Faddle and solitude. Then he crept out in the dark and ate his dinners with Faddle at some tavern, generally paying the bill for both of them. After dinner he would play half a dozen games of billiards with his friend at some unknown billiard-room, and then creep home to his lodgings — a blighted human being!
At last, about the end of the first week in January, he was induced to go down to Merle Park. There Mr and Mrs Traffick were still sojourning, the real grief which had afflicted Sir Thomas having caused him to postpone his intention in regard to his son-in-law. At Merle Park Tom was cosseted and spoilt by the women very injudiciously. It was not perhaps the fact that they regarded him as a hero simply because he had punched a policeman in the stomach and then been locked up in vindication of the injured laws of his country; but that incident in combination with his unhappy love did seem to make him heroic. Even Lucy regarded him with favour because of his constancy to her sister; whereas the other ladies measured their admiration for his persistency by the warmth of their anger against the silly girl who was causing so much trouble. His mother told him over and over again that his cousin was not worth his regard; but then, when he would throw himself on the sofa in an agony of despair — weakened perhaps as much by the course of champagne as by the course of his love — then she, too, would bid him hope, and at last promised that she herself would endeavour to persuade Ayala to look at the matter in a more favourable light. “It would all be right if it were not for that accursed Stubbs,” poor Tom would say to his mother. “The man whom I called my friend! The man I lent a horse to when he couldn’t get one anywhere else! The man to whom I confided everything, even about the necklace! If it hadn’t been for Stubbs I never should have hurt that policeman! When I was striking him I thought that it was Stubbs!” Then the mother would heap feminine maledictions on the poor Colonel’s head, and so together they would weep and think of revenge.
From the moment Tom had heard Colonel Stubbs’s name mentioned as that of his rival he had meditated revenge. It was quite true when he said that he had been thinking of Stubbs when he struck the policeman. He had consumed the period of his confinement in gnashing his teeth, all in regard to our poor friend Jonathan. He told his father that he could not go upon his long tour because of Ayala. But in truth his love was now so mixed up with ideas of vengeance that he did not himself know which prevailed. If he could first have slaughtered Stubbs then perhaps he might have started! But how was he to slaughter Stubbs? Various ideas occurred to his mind. At first he thought that he would go down to Aldershot with the biggest cutting-whip he could find in any shop in Piccadilly; but then it occurred to him that at Aldershot he would have all the British army against him, and that the British army might do something to him worse even than the London magistrate. Then he would wait till the Colonel could be met elsewhere. He ascertained that the Colonel was still at Stalham, where he had passed the Christmas, and he thought how it might be if he were to attack the Colonel in the presence of his friends, the Alburys. He assured himself that, as far as personal injury went, he feared nothing. He had no disinclination to be hit over the head himself, if he could be sure of hitting the Colonel over the head. If it could be managed that they two should fly at each other with their fists, and be allowed to do the worst they could to each other for an hour, without interference, he would be quite satisfied. But down at Stalham that would not be allowed. All the world would be against him, and nobody there to see that he got fair play. If he could encounter the man in the streets of London it would be better; but were he to seek the man down at Stalham he would probably find himself in the County Lunatic Asylum. What must he do for his revenge? He was surely entitled to it. By all the laws of chivalry, as to which he had his own ideas, he had a right to inflict an injury upon a successful — even upon an unsuccessful — rival. Was it not a shame that so excellent an institution as duelling should have been stamped out? Wandering about the lawns and shrubberies at Merle Park he thought of all this, and at last he came to a resolution.
The institution had been stamped out, as far as Great Britain was concerned. He was aware of that. But it seemed to him that it had not been stamped out in other more generous countries. He had happened to notice that a certain enthusiastic politician in France had enjoyed many duels, and had never been severely repressed by the laws of his country. Newspaper writers were always fighting in France, and were never guillotined. The idea of being hanged was horrible to him — so distasteful that he saw at a glance that a duel in England was out of the question. But to have his head cut off, even if it should come to that, would be a much less affair. But in Belgium, in Italy, in Germany, they never did cut off the heads of the very numerous gentlemen who fought duels. And there were the Southern States of the American Union, where he fancied that men might fight duels as they pleased. He would be ready to go even to New Orleans at a day’s notice if only he could induce Colonel Stubbs to meet him there. And he thought that, if Colonel Stubbs really possessed half the spirit which seemed to be attributed to him by the British army generally, he would come, if properly invoked, and fight such a duel as this, whether at New Orleans or at some other well-chosen blood-allowing spot on the world’s surface. Tom was prepared to go anywhere for blood.
But the invocation must be properly made. When he had wanted another letter of another kind to be written for him, the Colonel himself was the man to whom he had gone for assistance. And, had his present enemy been any other than the Colonel himself, he would have gone to the Colonel in preference to anyone else for aid in this matter. There was no one, in truth, in whom he believed so thoroughly as in the Colonel. But that was out of the question. Then he reflected what friend might now stand him in stead. He would have gone to Houston, who wanted to marry his sister; but Houston seemed to have disappeared, and he did not know where he might be found. There was his brother-in-law, Traffick — but he feared lest Traffick might give him over once more into the hands of the police. He thought of Hamel, as being in a way connected with the family; but he had seen so little of Hamel, and had so much disliked what he had seen, that he was obliged to let that hope go by. There was no one left but Faddle whom he could trust. Faddle would do anything he was told to do. Faddle would carry the letter, no doubt, or allow himself to be named as a proposed second. But Faddle could not write the letter. He felt that he could write the letter himself better than Faddle.
He went up to town, having sent a mysterious letter to Faddle, bidding his friend attend him in his lodgings. He did not yet dare to go to the Mountaineers, where Faddle would have been found. But Faddle came, true to the appointment. “What is it, now?” said the faithful friend. “I hope you are going back to Travers and Treasons’. That is what I should do, and walk in just as though nothing had happened.”
“Not if you were me, you wouldn’t.”
“That makes a difference, of course.”
“There is something else to be done before I can again darken the doors of Travers and Treason — if I should ever do so!”
“Something very particular. Faddle, I do think you are a true friend.”
“You may say that. I have stuck to you always — though you don’t know the kind of things my people say to me about it. They say I am going to ruin myself because of you. The governor threatened to put me out of the business altogether. But I’m a man who will be true to my friend, whatever happens. I think you have been a little cool to me, lately; but even that don’t matter.”
“Cool! If you knew the state that I’m in you wouldn’t talk of a fellow being cool! I’m so knocked about it all that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I do take that into consideration.”
“Now, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.” Then he stood still, and looked Faddle full in the face. Faddle, sitting awe-struck on his chair, returned the gaze. He knew that a moment of supreme importance was at hand. “Faddle, I’ll shoot that fellow down like a dog.”
“Will you, indeed?”
“Like a dog — if I can get at him. I should have no more compunction in taking his life than a mere worm. Why should I, when I know that he has sapped the very juice of my existence?”
“Do you mean — do you mean — that you would — murder him?”
“It would not be murder. Of course it might be that he would shoot me instead. Upon the whole, I think I should like that best.”
“Oh; a duel!” said Faddle.
“That’s what I mean. Murder him! Certainly not. Though I should like nothing half so well as to thrash him within an inch of his life. I would not murder him. My plan is this — I shall write to him a letter inviting him to meet me in any corner of the globe that he may select. Torrid zone or Arctic circle will be all the same to me. You will have to accompany me as my second.” Faddle shivered with excitement and dread of coming events. Among other ideas there came the thought that it might be difficult to get back from the Arctic circle without money if his friend Tom should happen to be shot dead in that locality. “But first of all”, continued Tom, you will have to carry a letter.”
“To the Colonel?” suggested Faddle.
“Of course. The man is now staying with friends of his named Albury at a place called Stalham. From what I hear they are howling swells. Sir Harry Albury is Master of the Hounds, and Lady Albury when she is up in London has all the Royal Family constantly at her parties. Stubbs is a cousin of his; but you must go right away up to him among ’em all, and deliver the letter into his hands without minding ’em a bit.
“Couldn’t it go by post?”
“No; this kind of letter mustn’t go by post. You have to be able to swear that you delivered it yourself into his own hands. And then you must wait for an answer. Even though he should want a day to think of it, you must wait.”
“Where am I to stay, Tom?”
“Well; it may be they’ll ask you to the house, because, though you carry the letter for me, you are not supposed to be his enemy. If so, put a jolly face on it, and enjoy yourself as well as you can. You must seem, you know, to be just as big a swell as anybody there. But if they don’t ask you, you must go to the nearest inn. I’ll pay the bill.”
“Shall I go today?” asked Faddle.
“I’ve got to write the letter first. It’ll take a little time, so that you’d better put it off till tomorrow. If you will leave me now I’ll write it, and if you will come back at six we’ll go and have a bit of dinner at Bolivia’s.” This was an eating-house in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, to which the friends had become partial during this troubled period of their existence.
“Why not come to the Mountaineers, old boy?” Tom shook his head, showing that he was not yet up to such festivity as that; and then Faddle took his departure.
Tom at once got out his pen and paper, and began to write his letter. It may be imagined that it was not written off-hand, or without many struggles. When it was written it ran as follows:
You will not, I think, be surprised to hear from me in anything but a friendly spirit. I went down to you at Aldershot as to a friend whom I could trust with my bosom’s dearest secret, and you have betrayed me. I told you of my love, a love which has long burned in my heart, and you received my confidence with a smile, knowing all the time that you were my rival. I leave it to you to say what reply you can make as to conduct so damning, so unmanly, so dastardly — and so very unlike a friend as this!
However, there is no place here for words. You have offered me the greatest insult and the greatest injury which one man can inflict upon another! There is no possibility of an apology, unless you are inclined to say that you will renounce for ever your claim upon the hand of Miss Ayala Dormer. This I do not expect, and, therefore, I call upon you to give me that satisfaction which is all that one gentleman can offer to another. After the injury you have done me I think it quite impossible that you should refuse.
Of course, I know that duels cannot be fought in England because of the law. I am sorry that the law should have been altered, because it allows so many cowards to escape the punishment they deserve. [Tom, as he wrote this, was very proud of the keenness of the allusion.] I am quite sure, however, that a man who bears the colours of a colonel in the British army will not try to get off by such a pretext. [He was proud, too, about the colours.] France, Belgium, Italy, the United States, and all the world, are open! I will meet you wherever you may choose to arrange a meeting. I presume that you will prefer pistols.
I send this by the hands of my friend, Mr Faddle, who will be prepared to make arrangements with you or with any friend on your behalf. He will bring back your reply, which no doubt will be satisfactory.
I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, THOMAS TRINGLE, junior
When, after making various copies, Tom at last read the letter as finally prepared, he was much pleased with it, doubting whether the Colonel himself could have written it better, had the task been confided to his hands. When Faddle came, he read it to him with much pride, and then committed it to his custody. After that they went out and ate their dinner at Bolivia’s with much satisfaction, but still with a bearing of deep melancholy, as was proper on such an occasion.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14