Faddle as he went down into the country made up his mind that the law which required such letters to be delivered by hand was an absurd law. The post would have done just as well, and would have saved a great deal of trouble. These gloomy thoughts were occasioned by a conviction that he could not carry himself easily or make himself happy among such “howling swells” as these Alburys. If they should invite him to the house the matter would be worse that way than the other. He had no confidence in his dress coat, which he was aware had been damaged by nocturnal orgies. It is all very well to tell a fellow to be as “big a swell” as anybody else, as Tom had told him. But Faddle acknowledged to himself the difficulty of acting up to such advice. Even the eyes of Colonel Stubbs turned upon him after receipt of the letter would oppress him.
Nevertheless he must do his best, and he took a gig at the station nearest to Albury. He was careful to carry his bag with him, but still he lived in hope that he would be able to return to London the same day. When he found himself within the lodges of Stalham Park he could hardly keep himself from shivering and, when he asked the footman at the door whether Colonel Stubbs was there, he longed to be told that Colonel Stubbs had gone away on the previous day to some — he did not care what — distant part of the globe. But Colonel Stubbs had not gone away. Colonel Stubbs was in the house.
Our friend the Colonel had not suffered as Tom had suffered since his rejection — but nevertheless he had been much concerned. He had set his heart upon Ayala before he had asked her, and could not bring himself to change his heart because she had refused him. He had gone down to Aldershot and had performed his duties, abstaining for the present from repeating his offer. The offer of course must be repeated, but as to the when, the where, and the how, he had not as yet made up his mind. Then Tom Tringle had come to him at Aldershot communicating to him the fact that he had a rival — and also the other fact that the other rival like himself had hitherto been unsuccessful. It seemed improbable to him that such a girl as Ayala should attach herself to such a man as her cousin Tom. But nevertheless he was uneasy. He regarded Tom Tringle as a miracle of wealth, and felt certain that the united efforts of the whole family would be used to arrange the match. Ayala had refused him also, and therefore, up to the present moment, the chances of the other man were no better than his own. When Tom left him at Aldershot he hardly remembered that Tom knew nothing of his secret, whereas Tom had communicated to him his own. It never for a moment occurred to him that Tom would quarrel with him; although he had seen that the poor fellow had been disgusted because he had refused to write the letter.
On Christmas Eve he had gone down to Stalham, and there he had remained discussing the matter of his love with Lady Albury. To no one else in the house had the affair been mentioned, and by Sir Harry he was supposed to remain there only for the sake of the hunting. With Sir Harry he was of all guests the most popular, and thus it came to pass that his prolonged presence at Stalham was not matter of special remark. Much of his time he did devote to hunting, but there were half hours devoted in company with Lady Albury to Ayala’s perfection and Ayala’s obstinacy.
Lady Albury was almost inclined to think that Ayala should be given up. Married ladies seldom estimate even the girls they like best at their full value. It seems to such a one as Lady Albury almost a pity that such a one as Colonel Stubbs should waste his energy upon anything so insignificant as Ayala Dormer. The speciality of the attraction is of course absent to the woman, and unless she has considered the matter so far as to be able to clothe her thoughts in male vestments, as some women do, she cannot understand the longing that is felt for so small a treasure. Lady Albury thought that young ladies were very well, and that Ayala was very well among young ladies; but Ayala in getting Colonel Stubbs for a husband would, as Lady Albury thought, have received so much more than her desert that she was now almost inclined to be angry with the Colonel. “My dear friend,” he said to her one day, “you might as well take it for granted. I shall go after my princess with all the energy which a princess merits.”
“The question is whether she be a princess,” said Lady Albury.
“Allow me to say that that is a point on which I cannot admit a doubt. She is a princess to me, and just at present I must be regarded as the only judge in the matter.”
“She shall be a goddess, if you please,” said Lady Albury.
“Goddess, princess, pink, or pearl — any name you please supposed to convey perfection shall be the same to me. It may be that she is in truth no better, or more lovely, or divine, than many another young lady who is at the present moment exercising the heart of many another gentleman. You know enough of the world to be aware that every Jack has his Gill. She is my Gill, and that’s an end of it.”
“I hope then that she may be your Gill.”
“And, in order that she may, you must have her here again. I should absolutely not know how to go to work were I to find myself in the presence of Aunt Dosett in Kingsbury Crescent.” In answer to this Lady Albury assured him that she would be quite willing to have the girl again at Stalham if it could be managed. She was reminding him, however, how difficult it had been on a previous occasion to overcome the scruples of Mrs Dosett, when a servant brought in word to Colonel Stubbs that there was a man in the hall desirous of seeing him immediately on particular business. Then the servant presented our friend Faddle’s card. MR SAMUEL FADDLE, 1, Badminton Gardens.
“Yes, Sir;” said the servant. He says he has a letter which he must put into your own particular hands.”
“That looks like a bailiff,” said Lady Albury, laughing. Colonel Stubbs, declaring that he had no special reason to be afraid of any bailiff, left the room and went down into the hall.
At Stalham the real hall of the house was used as a billiard-room, and here, leaning against the billiard table, the Colonel found poor Faddle. When a man is compelled by some chance circumstance to address another man whom he does not know, and whom by inspection he feels he shall never wish to know, he always hardens his face, and sometimes also his voice. So it was with the Colonel when he looked at Faddle. A word he did say, not in words absolutely uncivil, as to the nature of the business in hand. Then Faddle, showing his emotion by a quaver in his voice, suggested that as the matter was one of extreme delicacy some more private apartment might be provided. Upon this Stubbs led the way into a little room which was for the most part filled with hunting gear, and offered the stranger one of the three chairs which it contained. Faddle sat down, finding himself so compelled, though the Colonel still remained standing, and then extracted the fatal epistle from his pocket. “Colonel Stubbs,” said he, handing up the missive, “I am directed by my friend, Mr Thomas Tringle, junior, to put this letter into your own hand. When you have read it I shall be ready to consult with you as to its contents.” These few words he had learnt by heart on his journey down, having practised them continually.
The Colonel took the letter, and turning to the window read it with his back to the visitor. He read it twice from beginning to end in order that he might have time to resolve whether he would laugh aloud at both Faddle and Tringle, or whether it might not be better to endeavour to soften the anger of poor Tom by a message which should be at any rate kindly worded. “This is from my friend, Tom Tringle,” he said.
“From Mr Thomas Tringle, junior,” said Faddle, proudly.
“So I perceive. I am sorry to think that he should be in so much trouble. He is one of the best fellows I know, and I am really grieved that he should be unhappy. This, you know, is all nonsense.”
“It is not nonsense at all, Colonel Stubbs.”
“You must allow me to be the judge of that, Mr Faddle. It is at any rate nonsense to me. He wants me to go somewhere and fight a duel — which I should not do with any man under any circumstances. Here there is no possible ground for any quarrel whatsoever — as I will endeavour to explain, myself, to my friend, Mr Tringle. I shall be sure to write to him at once — and so I will bid you good afternoon.”
But this did not at all suit poor Faddle after so long a journey. “I thought it probable that you would write, Colonel Stubbs, and therefore I am prepared to wait. If I cannot be accommodated here I will wait — will wait elsewhere.”
“That will not be at all necessary. We have a post to London twice a day.”
“You must be aware, Colonel Stubbs, that letters of this sort should not be sent by post.”
“The kind of letter I shall write may be sent by post very well. It will not be bellicose, and therefore there can be no objection.”
“I really think, Colonel Stubbs, that you are making very little of a very serious matter.”
“Mr Faddle, I really must manage my own affairs after my own way. Would you like a glass of sherry? If not, I need hardly ask you to stay here any longer.” Upon that he went out into the billiard-room and rang the bell. Poor Faddle would have liked the glass of sherry, but he felt that it would be incompatible with the angry dignity which he assumed, and he left the house without another word or even a gesture of courtesy. Then he returned to London, having taken his bag and dress coat all the way to Stalham for nothing.
Tom’s letter was almost too good to be lost, but there was no one to whom the joke could be made known except Lady Albury. She, he was sure, would keep poor Tom’s secret as well as his own, and to her he showed the letter. “I pity him from the bottom of my heart,” he said. Lady Albury declared that the writer of such a letter was too absurd for pity. “Not at all. Unless he really loved her he wouldn’t have been so enraged. I suppose he does think that I injured him. He did tell me his story, and I didn’t tell him mine. I can understand it all, though I didn’t imagine he was such a fool as to invite me to travel all round the world because of the harsh laws of Great Britain. Nevertheless, I shall write to him quite an affectionate letter, remembering that, should I succeed myself, he will be my first cousin by marriage.”
Before he went to bed that night he wrote his letter, and the reader may as well see the whole correspondence:
MY DEAR TRINGLE,
If you will think of it all round you will see that you have got no cause of quarrel with me any more than I have with you. If it be the case that we are both attached to your cousin, we must abide her decision whether it be in favour of either of us, or, as may be too probably the case, equally adverse to both of us. If I understand your letter rightly, you think that I behaved unfairly when I did not tell you of my own affairs upon hearing yours from your own lips. Why should I? Why should I have been held to be constrained to tell my secret because you, for your own sake, had told me yours? Had I been engaged to your cousin — which I regret to say is very far from the case — I should have told you, naturally. I should have regarded the matter as settled, and should have acquainted you with a fact which would have concerned you. But as such was not a fact, I was by no means bound to tell you how my affairs stood. This ought to be clear to you, and I hope will be when you have read what I say.
I may as well go on to declare that under no circumstances should I fight a duel with you. If I thought I had done wrong in the matter I would beg your pardon. I can’t do that as it is — though I am most anxious to appease you — because I have done you no wrong.
Pray forget your animosity — which is in truth unfounded — and let us be friends as we were before.
Yours very sincerely,
Faddle reached London the evening before the Colonel’s letter, and again dined with his friend at Bolivia’s. At first they were both extremely angry, acerbating each other’s wrath. Now that he was safe back in London Faddle thought that he would have enjoyed an evening among the “swells” of Stalham, and felt himself to be injured by the inhospitable treatment he had received — “after going all the way down there, hardly to be asked to sit down.”
“Not asked to sit down!”
“Well, yes, I was — on a miserable cane-bottomed chair in a sort of cupboard. And he didn’t sit down. You may call them swells, but I think your Colonel Stubbs is a very vulgar sort of fellow. When I told him the post isn’t the proper thing for such a letter, he only laughed. I suppose he doesn’t know what is the kind of thing among gentlemen.”
“I should think he does know,” said Tom.
“Then why doesn’t he act accordingly? Would you believe it; he never so much as asked me whether I had a mouth on. It was just luncheon time, too.”
“I suppose they lunch late.”
“They might have asked me. I shouldn’t have taken it. He did say something about a glass of sherry, but it was in that sort of tone which tells a fellow that he is expected not to take it. And then he pretended to laugh. I could see that he was shaking in his shoes at the idea of having to fight. He go to the torrid zone! He would much rather go to a police office if he thought that there was any fighting on hand. I should dust his jacket with a stick if I were you.”
Later on in the evening Tom declared that this was what he would do, but, before he came to that, a third bottle of Signor Bolivia’s champagne had been made to appear. The evening passed between them not without much enjoyment. On the opening of that third cork the wine was declared to be less excellent than what had gone before, and Signor Bolivia was evoked in person. A gentleman named Walker, who looked after the establishment, made his appearance, and with many smiles, having been induced to swallow a bumper of the compound himself, declared, with a knowing shake of the head and an astute twinkle of the eye, that the wine was not equal to the last. He took a great deal of trouble, he assured them, to import an article which could not be surpassed, if it could be equalled, in London, always visiting Epernay himself once a year for the purpose of going through the wine-vaults. Let him do what he would an inferior bottle — or, rather, a bottle somewhat inferior — would sometimes make its way into his cellar. Would Mr Tringle let him have the honour of drawing another cork, so that the exact amount of difference might be ascertained? Tom gave his sanction; the fourth cork was drawn; and Mr Walker, sitting down and consuming the wine with his customers, was enabled to point out to a hair’s breadth the nature and the extent of the variation. Tringle still thought that the difference was considerable. Faddle was, on the whole, inclined to agree with Signor Bolivia. It need hardly be said that the four bottles were paid for — or rather scored against Tringle, who at the present time had a little account at the establishment.
“Show a fellar fellar’s letters morrer.” Such or something like it was Faddle’s last request to his friend as they bade each other farewell for the night in Pall Mall. But Faddle was never destined to see the Colonel’s epistle. On his attempting to let himself in at Badminton Gardens, he was kidnapped by his father in his night-shirt and dressing-gown; and was sent out of London on the following morning by long sea down to Aberdeen, whither he was intrusted to the charge of a stern uncle. Our friend Tom saw nothing more of his faithful friend till years had rolled over both their heads.
By the morning post, while Tom was still lying sick with headache — for even with Signor Bolivia’s wine the pulling of many corks is apt to be dangerous — there came the letter from the Colonel. Bad as Tom was, he felt himself constrained to read it at once, and learned that neither the torrid zone or Arctic circle would require his immediate attendance. He was very sick, and perhaps, therefore, less high in courage than on the few previous days. Partly, perhaps, from that cause, but partly, also, from the Colonel’s logic, he did find that his wrath was somewhat abated. Not but what it was still present to his mind that if two men loved the same girl as ardently, as desperately, as eternally as he loved Ayala, the best thing for them would be to be put together like the Kilkenny cats, till whatever remnant should be left of one might have its chance with the young lady. He still thought that it would be well that they should fight to the death, but a glimmering of light fell upon his mind as to the Colonel’s abnegation of all treason in the matter. “I suppose it wasn’t to be expected that he should tell,” he said to himself. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have told in the same place. But as to forgetting animosity that is out of the question! How is a man to forget his animosity when two men want to marry the same girl?”
About three o’clock on that day he dressed himself, and sat waiting for Faddle to come to him. He knew how anxious his friend would be to see the Colonel’s letter. But Faddle by this time had passed the Nore, and had added seasickness to his other maladies. Faddle came to him no more, and the tedious hours of the afternoon wore themselves away in his lodgings till he found his solitude to be almost more unbearable than his previous misfortunes. At last came the time when he must go out for his dinner. He did not dare to attempt the Mountaineers. And as for Bolivia, Bolivia with his corks, and his eating-house, and his vintages, was abominable to him. About eight o’clock he slunk into a quiet little house on the north side of Oxford Street, and there had two mutton chops, some buttered toast, and some tea. As he drank his tea he told himself that on the morrow he would go back to his mother at Merle Park, and get from her such consolation as might be possible.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14