The writer, in giving a correct chronicle of the doings of the Tringle family at this time, has to acknowledge that Gertrude, during the prolonged absence of Captain Batsby at Brussels — an absence that was cruelly prolonged for more than a week — did make another little effort in another direction. Her father, in his rough way, had expressed an opinion that she had changed very much for the worse in transferring her affections from Mr Houston to Captain Batsby, and had almost gone so far as to declare that had she been persistent with her Houston the money difficulty might have been overcome. This was imprudent — unless, indeed, he was desirous of bringing back Mr Houston into the bosom of the Tringles. It instigated Gertrude to another attempt — which, however, she did not make till Captain Batsby had been away from her for at least four days without writing a letter. Then it occurred to her that if she had a preference it certainly was for Frank Houston. No doubt the general desirability of marriage was her chief actuating motive. Will the world of British young ladies be much scandalised if I say that such is often an actuating motive? They would be justly scandalised if I pretended that many of its members were capable of the speedy transitions which Miss Tringle was strong enough to endure; but transitions do take place, and I claim, on behalf of my young lady, that she should be regarded as more strong-minded and more determined than the general crowd of young ladies. She had thought herself to be off with the old love before she was on with the new. Then the “new” had gone away to Brussels — or heaven only knows where — and there seemed to be an opportunity of renewing matters with the “old”. Having perceived the desirability of matrimony, she simply carried out her purpose with a determined will. It was with a determined will, but perhaps with deficient judgment, that she had written as follows:
“Papa has altered his mind altogether. He speaks of you in the highest terms, and says that had you persevered he would have yielded about the money. Do try him again. When hearts have been united it is terrible that they should be dragged asunder.” Mr Traffick had been quite right in telling his father-in-law that “the thing had been talked about everywhere.” The thing talked about had been Gertrude’s elopement. The daughter of a baronet and a millionaire cannot go off with the half-brother of another baronet and escape that penalty. The journey to Ostend was in everybody’s mouth, and had surprised Frank Houston the more because of the recent termination of his own little affair with the lady. That he should already have re-accommodated himself with Imogene was intelligible to him, and seemed to admit of valid excuse before any jury of matrons. It was an old affair, and the love — real, true love — was already existing. He, at any rate, was going back to the better course — as the jury of matrons would have admitted. But Gertrude’s new affair had had to be arranged from the beginning, and shocked him by its celerity. “Already!” he had said to himself — “gone off with another man already?” He felt himself to have been wounded in a tender part, and was conscious of a feeling that he should like to injure the successful lover — blackball him at a club, or do him some other mortal mischief. When, therefore, he received from the young lady the little billet above given, he was much surprised. Could it be a hoax? It was certainly the young lady’s handwriting. Was he to be enticed once again into Lombard Street, in order that the clerks might set upon him in a body and maltreat him? Was he to be decoyed into Queen’s Gate, and made a sacrifice of by the united force of the housemaids? Not understanding the celerity of the young lady, he could hardly believe the billet.
When he received the note of which we have here spoken two months had elapsed since he had seen Imogene and had declared to her his intention of facing the difficulties of matrimony in conjunction with herself as soon as she would be ready to undergo the ceremony with him. The reader will remember that her brother, Mudbury Docimer, had written to him with great severity, abusing both him and Imogene for the folly of their intention. And Houston, as he thought of their intention, thought to himself that perhaps they were foolish. The poverty, and the cradles, and the cabbages, were in themselves evils.
But still he encouraged himself to think that there might be an evil worse even than folly. After that scene with Imogene, in which she had offered to sacrifice herself altogether, and to be bound to him, even though they should never be married, on condition that he should take to himself no other wife, he had quite resolved that it behoved him not to be exceeded by her in generosity. He had stoutly repudiated her offer, which he had called a damnable compact. And then there had been a delightful scene between them, in which it had been agreed that they should face the cradles and the cabbages with bold faces. Since that he had never allowed himself to fluctuate in his purpose. Had Sir Thomas come to him with Gertrude in one hand and the much-desired £120,000 in the other, he would have repudiated the lot of them. He declared to himself with stern resolution that he had altogether washed his hands from dirt of that kind. Cabbages and cradles for ever was the unpronounced cry of triumph with which he buoyed up his courage. He set himself to work earnestly, if not altogether steadfastly, to alter the whole tenor of his life. The champagne and the woodcocks — or whatever might be the special delicacies of the season — he did avoid. For some few days he absolutely dined upon a cut of mutton at an eating-house, and as he came forth from the unsavoury doors of the establishment regarded himself as a hero. Cabbages and cradles for ever! he would say to himself, as he went away to drink a cup of tea with an old maiden aunt, who was no less surprised than gratified by his new virtue. Therefore, when it had at last absolutely come home to him that the last little note had in truth been written by Gertrude with no object of revenge, but with the intention of once more alluring him into the wealth of Lombard Street, he simply put it into his breastcoat-pocket, and left it there unanswered.
Mudbury Docimer did not satisfy himself with writing the very uncourteous letter which the reader has seen, but proceeded to do his utmost to prevent the threatened marriage. “She is old enough to look after herself,” he had said, as though all her future actions must be governed by her own will. But within ten days of the writing of that letter he had found it expedient to go down into the country, and to take his sister with him. As the head of the Docimer family he possessed a small country house almost in the extremity of Cornwall; and thither he went. It was a fraternal effort made altogether on his sister’s behalf, and was so far successful that Imogene was obliged to accompany him. It was all very well for her to feel that as she was of age she could do as she pleased. But a young lady is constrained by the exigencies of society to live with somebody. She cannot take a lodging by herself, as her brother may do. Therefore, when Mudbury Docimer went down to Cornwall, Imogene was obliged to accompany him.
“Is this intended for banishment?” she said to him when they had been about a week in the country.
“What do you call banishment? You used to like the country in the spring.” It was now the middle of April.
“So I do, and in summer also. But I like nothing under constraint.”
“I am sorry that circumstances should make it imperative upon me to remain here just at present.”
“Why cannot you tell the truth, Mudbury?”
“Have I told you any falsehood?”
“Why do you not say outright that I have been brought down here to be out of Frank Houston’s way?”
“Because Frank Houston is a name which I do not wish to mention to you again — at any rate for some time.”
“What would you do it he were to show himself here?” she asked.
“Tell him at once that he was not welcome. In other words, I would not have him here. It is very improbable I should think that he would come without a direct invitation from me. That invitation he will never have until I feel satisfied that you and he have changed your mind again, and that you mean to stick to it.”
“I do not think we shall do that.”
“Then he shall not come down here; nor, as far as I am able to arrange it, shall you go up to London.”
“Then I am a prisoner?”
“You may put it as you please,” said her brother. I have no power of detaining you. Whatever influence I have I think it right to use. I am altogether opposed to this marriage, believing it to be an absurd infatuation. I think that he is of the same opinion.”
“No!” said she, indignantly.
“That I believe to be his feeling,” he continued, taking no notice of her assertion. “He is as perfectly aware as I am that you two are not adapted to live happily together on an income of a few hundreds a year. Some time ago it was agreed between you that it was so. You both were quite of one mind, and I was given to understand that the engagement was at an end. It was so much at an end that he made an arrangement for marrying another woman. But your feelings are stronger than his, and you allowed them to get the better of you. Then you enticed him back from the purpose on which you had both decided.”
“Enticed!” said she. I did nothing of the kind!
“Would he have changed his mind if you had not enticed him?”
“I did nothing of the kind. I offered to remain just as we are.”
“That is all very well. Of course he could not accept such an offer. Thinking as I do, it is my duty to keep you apart as long as I can. If you contrive to marry him in opposition to my efforts, the misery of both of you must be on your head. I tell you fairly that I do not believe he wishes anything of the kind.”
“I am quite sure he does,” said Imogene.
“Very well. Do you leave him alone; stay down here, and see what will come of it. I quite agree that such a banishment, as you call it, is not a happy prospect for you — but it is happier than that of a marriage with Frank Houston. Give that up, and then you can go back to London and begin the world again.”
Begin the world again! She knew what that meant. She was to throw herself into the market, and look for such other husband as Providence might send her. She had tried that before, and had convinced herself that Providence could never send her any that could be acceptable. The one man had taken possession of her, and there never could be a second. She had not known her own strength — or her own weakness as the case might be — when she had agreed to surrender the man she loved because there had been an alteration in their prospects of an income. She had struggled with herself, had attempted to amuse herself with the world, had told herself that somebody would come who would banish that image from her thoughts and heart. She had bade herself to submit to the separation for his welfare. Then she had endeavoured to quiet herself by declaring to herself that the man was no hero — was unworthy of so much thinking. But it had all been of no avail. Gertrude Tringle had been a festering sore to her. Frank, whether a hero or only a commonplace man, was — as she owned to herself — hero enough for her. Then came the opening for a renewal of the engagement. Frank had been candid with her, and had told her everything. The Tringle money would not be forthcoming on his behalf. Then — not resolving to entice him back again — she had done so. The word was odious to her, and was rejected with disdain when used against her by her brother — but, when alone, she acknowledged to herself that it was true. She had enticed her lover back again — to his great detriment. Yes; she certainly had enticed him back. She certainly was about to sacrifice him because of her love. “If I could only die, and there be an end of it!” she exclaimed to herself.
Though Tregothnan Hall, as the Docimers’ house was called, was not open to Frank Houston, there was the post running always. He had written to her half a dozen times since she had been in Cornwall, and had always spoken of their engagement as an affair at last irrevocably fixed. She, too, had written little notes, tender and loving, but still tinged by that tone of despondency which had become common to her. “As for naming a day,” she said once, suppose we fix the first of January, ten years hence. Mudbury’s opposition will be worn out by old age, and you will have become thoroughly sick of the pleasures of London.” But joined to this there would be a few jokes and then some little word of warmest, most enduring, most trusting love. “Don’t believe me if I say that I am not happy in knowing that I am altogether your own.” Then there would come a simple “I” as a signature, and after that some further badinage respecting her “Cerberus”, as she called her brother.
But after that word, that odious word, “enticed,” there went another letter up to London of altogether another nature.
I have changed my mind again [she said] and have become aware that, though I should die in doing it — though we should both die if it were possible — there should be an end of everything between you and me. Yes, Frank; there! I send you back your troth, and demand my own in return. After all why should not one die — hang oneself if it be necessary? To be self-denying is all that is necessary — at any rate to a woman. Hanging or lying down and dying, or lingering on and saying one’s prayers and knitting stockings, is altogether immaterial. I have sometimes thought Mudbury to be brutal to me, but I have never known him to be untrue — or even, as I believe, mistaken. He sees clearly and knows what will happen. He tells me that I have enticed you back. I am not true as he is. So I threw him back the word in his teeth — though its truth at the moment was going like a dagger through my heart. I know myself to have been selfish, unfeeling, unfeminine, when I induced you to surrender yourself to a mode of life which will make you miserable. I have sometimes been proud of myself because I have loved you so truly; but now I hate myself and despise myself because I have been incapable of the first effort which love should make. Love should at any rate be unselfish.
He tells me that you will be miserable and that the misery will be on my head — and I believe him. There shall be an end of it. I want no promise from you. There may, perhaps, be a time in which Imogene Docimer as a sturdy old maid shall be respected and serene of mind. As a wife who had enticed her husband to his misery she would be respected neither by him nor by herself — and as for serenity it would be quite out of the question. I have been unfortunate. That is all — but not half so unfortunate as others that I see around me.
Pray, pray, PRAY, take this as final, and thus save me from renewed trouble and renewed agony.
Now I am yours truly, never again will I be affectionate to anyone with true feminine love, IMOGENE DOCIMER
Houston when he received the above letter of course had no alternative but to declare that it could not possibly be regarded as having any avail. And indeed he had heart enough in his bosom to be warmed to something like true heat by such words as these. The cabbages and cradles ran up in his estimation. The small house at Pau, which in some of his more despondent moments had assumed an unqualified appearance of domestic discomfort, was now ornamented and accoutred till it seemed to be a little paradise. The very cabbages blossomed into roses, and the little babies in the cradles produced a throb of paternal triumph in his heart. If she were woman enough to propose to herself such an agony of devotion, could he not be man enough to demand from her a devotion of a different kind? As to Mudbury Docimer’s truth, he believed in it not at all, but was quite convinced of the man’s brutality. Yes; she should hang herself — but it should be round his neck. The serenity should be displayed by her not as an aunt but as a wife and mother. As for enticing, did he not now — just in this moment of his manly triumph — acknowledge to himself that she had enticed him to his happiness, to his glory, to his welfare? In this frame of mind he wrote his answer as follows:
You have no power of changing your mind again. There must be some limit to vacillations, and that has been reached. Something must be fixed at last. Something has been fixed at last, and I most certainly shall not consent to any further unfixing. What right has Mudbury to pretend to know my feelings? or, for the matter of that, what right have you to accept his description of them? I tell you now that I place my entire happiness in the hope of making you my wife. I call upon you to ignore all the selfish declarations as to my own ideas which I have made in times past. The only right which you could now possibly have to separate yourself from me would come from your having ceased to love me. You do not pretend to say that such is the case; and therefore, with considerable indignation, but still very civilly, I desire that Mudbury with his hardhearted counsels may go to the —
Enticed! Of course you have enticed me. I suppose that women do as a rule entice men, either to their advantage or disadvantage. I will leave it to you to say whether you believe that such enticement, if it be allowed its full scope, will lead to one or the other as far as I am concerned. I never was so happy as when I felt that you had enticed me back to the hopes of former days.
Now I am yours, as always, and most affectionately, FRANK HOUSTON
“I shall expect the same word back from you by return of post scored under as eagerly as those futile “prays”.”
Imogene when she received this was greatly disturbed — not knowing how to carry herself in her great resolve — or whether indeed that resolve must not be again abandoned. She had determined, should her lover’s answer be as she had certainly intended it to be when she wrote her letter, to go at once to her brother and to declare to him that the danger was at an end, and that he might return to London without any fear of a relapse on her part. But she could not do so with such a reply as that she now held in her pocket. If that reply could, in very truth, be true, then there must be another revulsion, another change of purpose, another yielding to absolute joy. If it could be the case that Frank Houston no longer feared the dangers that he had feared before, if he had in truth reconciled himself to a state of things which he had once described as simple poverty, if he really placed his happiness on the continuation of his love, then — then, why should she make the sacrifice? Why should she place such implicit confidence in her brother’s infallibility against error, seeing that by doing so she would certainly shipwreck her own happiness — and his too, if his words were to be trusted?
He called upon her to write to him again by return of post. She was to write to him and unsay those prayers, and comfort him with a repetition of that dear word which she had declared that she would never use again with all its true meaning. That was his express order to her. Should she obey it, or should she not obey it? Should she vacillate again, or should she leave his last letter unanswered with stern obduracy? She acknowledged to herself that it was a dear letter, deserving the best treatment at her hands, giving her lover credit, probably, for more true honesty than he deserved. What was the best treatment? Her brother had plainly shown his conviction that the best treatment would be to leave him without meddling with him any further. Her sister-in-law, though milder in her language, was, she feared, of the same opinion. Would it not be better for him not to be meddled with? Ought not that to be her judgment, looking at the matter all round?
She did not at any rate obey him at all points, for she left his letter in her pocket for three or four days, while she considered the matter backwards and forwards.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55