During this period of heroism it had been necessary to Houston to have some confidential friend to whom from time to time he could speak of his purpose. He could not go on eating slices of boiled mutton at eating-houses, and drinking driblets of bad wine out of little decanters no bigger than the bottles in a cruet stand, without having someone to encourage him in his efforts. It was a hard apprenticeship, and, coming as it did rather late in life for such a beginning, and after much luxurious indulgence, required some sympathy and consolation. There were Tom Shuttlecock and Lord John Battledore at the club. Lord John was the man as to whose expulsion because of his contumacious language so much had been said, but who lived through that and various other dangers. These had been his special friends, and to them he had confided everything in regard to the Tringle marriage.
Shuttlecock had ridiculed the very idea of love, and had told him that everything else was to be thrown to the dogs in pursuit of a good income. Battledore had reminded him that there was “a deuced deal of cut-and-come-again in a hundred and twenty thousand pounds.” They had been friends, not always altogether after his own heart, but friends who had served his purpose when he was making his raid upon Lombard Street. But they were not men to whom he could descant on the wholesomeness of cabbages as an article of daily food, or who would sympathise with the struggling joys of an embryo father. To their thinking, women were occasionally very convenient as being the depositaries of some of the accruing wealth of the world. Frank had been quite worthy of their friendship as having “spotted” and nearly “run down” for himself a well-laden city heiress. But now Tom Shuttlecock and Lord John Battledore were distasteful to him — as would he be to them. But he found the confidential friend in his maiden aunt.
Miss Houston was an old lady — older than her time, as are some people — who lived alone in a small house in Green Street. She was particular in calling it Green Street, Hyde Park. She was very anxious to have it known that she never occupied it during the months of August, September, and October — though it was often the case with her that she did not in truth expatriate herself for more than six weeks. She was careful to have a fashionable seat in a fashionable church. She dearly loved to see her name in the papers when she was happy enough to be invited to a house whose entertainments were chronicled. There were a thousand little tricks — I will not be harsh enough to call them unworthy — by which she served Mammon. But she did not limit her service to the evil spirit. When in her place in church she sincerely said her prayers. When in London, or out of it, she gave a modicum of her slender income to the poor. And, though she liked to see her name in the papers as one of the fashionable world, she was a great deal too proud of the blood of the Houstons to toady anyone or to ask for any favour. She was a neat, clean, nice-looking old lady, who understood that if economies were to be made in eating and drinking they should be effected at her own table and not at that of the servants who waited upon her. This was the confidential friend whom Frank trusted in his new career.
It must be explained that Aunt Rosina, as Miss Houston was called, had been well acquainted with her nephew’s earlier engagement, and had approved of Imogene as his future wife. Then had come the unexpected collapse in the uncle’s affairs, by which Aunt Rosina as well as others in the family had suffered — and Frank, much to his aunt’s displeasure, had allowed himself to be separated from the lady of his love on account of his comparative poverty. She had heard of Gertrude Tringle and all her money, but from a high standing of birth and social belongings had despised all the Tringles and all their money. To her, as a maiden lady, truth in love was everything. To her, as a well-born lady, good blood was everything. Therefore, though there had been no quarrel between her and Frank, there had been a cessation of sympathetic interest, and he had been thrown into the hands of the Battledores and Shuttlecocks. Now again the old sympathies were revived, and Frank found it convenient to drink tea with his aunt when other engagements allowed it.
“I call that an infernal interference,” he said to his aunt, showing her Imogene’s letters.
“My dear Frank, you need not curse and swear,” said the old lady.
“Infernal is not cursing nor yet swearing.” Then Miss Houston, having liberated her mind by her remonstrance, proceeded to read the letter. “I call that abominable,” said Frank, alluding of course to the allusions made in the letter to Mudbury Docimer.
“It is a beautiful letter — just what I should have expected from Imogene. My dear, I will tell you what I propose. Remain as you are both of you for five years.”
“Five years. That’s sheer nonsense.”
“Five years, my dear, will run by like a dream. Five years to look back upon is as nothing.”
“But these five years are five years to be looked forward to. It is out of the question.”
“But you say that you could not live as a married man.”
“Live! I suppose we could live.” Then he thought of the cabbages and the cottage at Pau. “There would be seven hundred a year, I suppose.”
“Couldn’t you do something, Frank?”
“What, to earn money? No; I don’t think I could. If I attempted to break stones I shouldn’t break enough to pay for the hammers.”
“Couldn’t you write a book?”
“That would be worse than the stones. I sometimes thought I could paint a picture — but, if I did, nobody would buy it. As to making money that is hopeless. I could save some, by leaving off gloves and allowing myself only three clean shirts a-week.”
“That would be dreadful, Frank.”
“It would be dreadful, but it is quite clear that I must do something. An effort has to be made.” This he said with a voice the tone of which was almost heroic. Then they discussed the matter at great length, in doing which Aunt Rosina thoroughly encouraged him in his heroism. That idea of remaining unmarried for another short period of five years was allowed to go by the board, and when they parted on that night it was understood that steps were to be taken to bring about a marriage as speedily as possible.
“Perhaps I can do a little to help,” said Aunt Bosina, in a faint whisper as Frank left the room.
Frank Houston, when he showed Imogene’s letter to his aunt, had already answered it. Then he waited a day or two, not very patiently, for a further rejoinder from Imogene — in which she of course was to unsay all that she had said before. But when, after four or five days, no rejoinder had come, and his fervour had been increased by his expectation, then he told his aunt that he should immediately take some serious step. The more ardent he was the better his aunt loved him. Could he have gone down and carried off his bride, and married her at once, in total disregard of the usual wedding cake and St George’s, Hanover Square ceremonies to which the Houston family had always been accustomed, she could have found it in her heart to forgive him. “Do not be rash, Frank,” she said. He merely shook his head, and as he again left her declared that he was not going to be driven this way or that by such a fellow as Mudbury Docimer.
“As I live, there’s Frank coming through the gate.” This was said by Imogene to her sister-in-law, as they were walking up and down the road which led from the lodge to the Tregothnan house. The two ladies were at that moment discussing Imogene’s affairs. No rejoinder had as yet been made to Frank’s last letter, which, to Imogene’s feeling, was the most charming epistle which had ever come from the hands of a true lover. There had been passion and sincerity in every word of it — even when he had been a little too strong in his language as he denounced the hardhearted counsels of her brother. But yet she had not responded to all this sincerity, nor had she as yet withdrawn the resolution which she had herself declared. Mrs Docimer was of opinion that that resolution should not be withdrawn, and had striven to explain that the circumstances were now the same as when, after full consideration, they had determined that the engagement should come to an end. At this very moment she was speaking words of wisdom to this effect and as she did so Frank appeared, walking up from the gate.
“What will Mudbury say?” was Mrs Docimer’s first ejaculation. But Imogene, before she had considered how this danger might be encountered, rushed forward and gave herself up — I fear we must confess — into the arms of her lover. After that it was felt at once that she had withdrawn all her last resolution and had vacillated again. There was no ground left even for an argument now that she had submitted herself to be embraced. Frank’s words of affection need not here be repeated, but they were of a nature to leave no doubt on the minds of either of the ladies.
Mudbury had declared that he would not receive Houston in his house as his sister’s lover, and had expressed his opinion that even Houston would not have the face to show his face there. But Houston had come, and something must be done with him. It was soon ascertained that he had walked over from Penzance, which was but two miles off, and had left his portmanteau behind him. “I wouldn’t bring anything,” said he. “Mudbury would find it easier to maltreat my things than myself. It would look so foolish to tell the man with a fly to carry them back at once. Is he in the house?”
“He is about the place,” said Mrs Docimer, almost trembling.
“Is he very fierce against me?”
“He thinks it had better be all over.”
“I am of a different way of thinking, you see. I cannot acknowledge that he has any right to dictate to Imogene.”
“Nor can I,” said Imogene.
“Of course he can turn me out.”
“If he does I shall go with you,” said Imogene.
“We have made up our minds to it,” said Frank, and he had better let us do as we please. He can make himself disagreeable, of course; but he has got no power to prevent us.” Now they had reached the house, and Frank was of course allowed to enter. Had he not entered neither would Imogene, who was so much taken by this further instance of her lover’s ardour that she was determined now to be led by him in everything. His explanation of that word “enticed” had been so thoroughly satisfactory to her that she was no longer in the least angry with herself because she had enticed him. She had quite come to see that it is the duty of a young woman to entice a young man.
Frank and Imogene were soon left alone, not from any kindness of feeling on the part of Mrs Docimer, but because the wife felt it necessary to find her husband. “Oh, Mudbury, who do you think has come? He is here!”
“Yes; Frank Houston!,
“In the house?”
“He is in the house. But he hasn’t brought anything. He doesn’t mean to stay.”
“What does that matter? He shall not be asked even to dine here.”
“If he is turned out she will go with him! If she says so she will do it. You cannot prevent her. That’s what would come of it if she were to insist on going up to London with him.”
“He is a scoundrel!”
“No, Mudbury — not a scoundrel. You cannot call him a scoundrel. There is something firm about him isn’t there?”
“To come to my house when I told him not?”
“But he does really love her.”
“At any rate there they are in the breakfast-parlour, and something must be done. I couldn’t tell him not to come in. And she wouldn’t have come without him. There will be enough for them to live upon. Don’t you think you’d better?” Docimer, as he returned to the house, declared that he “did not think he’d better”. But he had to confess to himself that, whether it were better or whether it were worse, he could do very little to prevent it.
The greeting of the two men was anything but pleasant. “What I have got to say I would rather say outside,” said Docimer.
“Certainly,” said Frank. I suppose I’m to be allowed to return?”
“If he does not,” — said Imogene, who at her brother’s request had left the room, but still stood at the open door — “if he does not I shall go to him in Penzance. You will hardly attempt to keep me a prisoner.”
“Who says that he is not to return? I think that you are two idiots, but I am quite aware that I cannot prevent you from being married if you are both determined.” Then he led the way out through the hall, and Frank followed him. “I cannot understand that any man should be so fickle,” he said, when they were both out on the walk together.
“Constant, I should suppose you mean.”
“I said fickle, and I meant it. It was at your own suggestion that you and Imogene were to be separated.”
“No doubt; it was at my suggestion, and with her consent. But you see that we have changed our minds.”
“And will change them again.”
“We are steady enough in our purpose now, at any rate. You hear what she says. If I came down here to persuade her to alter her purpose — to talk her into doing something of which you disapproved, and as to which she agreed with you — then you might do something by quarrelling with me. But what’s the use of it, when she and I are of one mind? You know that you cannot talk her over.”
“Where do you mean to live?”
“I’ll tell you all about that if you’ll allow me to send into Penzance for my things. I cannot discuss matters with you if you proclaim yourself to be my enemy. You say we are both idiots.”
“Very well. Then you had better put up with two idiots. You can’t cure their idiocy. Nor have you any authority to prevent them from exhibiting it.” The argument was efficacious though the idiocy was acknowledged. The portmanteau was sent for, and before the evening was over Frank had again been received at Tregothnan as Imogene’s accepted lover.
Then Frank had his story to tell and his new proposition to make. Aunt Rosina had offered to join her means with his. The house in Green Street, no doubt, was small, but room it was thought could be made, at any rate till the necessity had come for various cribs and various cradles. “I cannot imagine that you will endure to live with Aunt Rosina,” said the brother.
“Why on earth should I object to Aunt Rosina?” said Imogene. “She and I have always been friends.” In her present mood she would hardly have objected to live with any old woman, however objectionable. “And we shall be able to have a small cottage somewhere,” said Frank. “She will keep the house in London, and we shall keep the cottage.”
“And what on earth will you do with yourself?”
“I have thought of that too,” said Frank. I shall take to painting pictures in earnest — portraits probably. I don’t see why I shouldn’t do as well as anybody else.”
“That head of yours of old Mrs Jones”, said Imogene “was a great deal better than dozens of things one sees every year in the Academy.”
“Bother!” exclaimed Docimer.
“I don’t see why he should not succeed, if he really will work hard,” said Mrs Docimer.
“Why should it be bother?” said Frank, put upon his mettle. “Ever so many fellows have begun and have got on, older than I am. And, even if I don’t earn anything, I’ve got an employment.”
“And is the painting-room to be in Green Street also?” asked Docimer.
“Just at present I shall begin by copying things at the National Gallery,” explained Houston, who was not as yet prepared with his answer to that difficulty as to a studio in the little house in Green Street.
When the matter had been carried as far as this it was manifest enough that anything like opposition to Imogene’s marriage was to be withdrawn. Houston remained at Tregothnan for a couple of days and then returned to London. A week afterwards the Docimers followed him, and early in the following June the two lovers, after all their troubles and many vacillations, were made one at St George’s church, to the great delight of Aunt Rosina. It cannot be said that the affair gave equal satisfaction to all the bridegroom’s friends, as may be learnt from the following narration of two conversations which took place in London very shortly after the wedding.
“Fancy after all that fellow Houston going and marrying such a girl as Imogene Docimer, without a single blessed shilling to keep themselves alive.” This was said in the smoking-room of Houston’s club by Lord John Battledore to Tom Shuttlecock; but it was said quite aloud, so that Houston’s various acquaintances might be enabled to offer their remarks on so interesting a subject; and to express their pity for the poor object of their commiseration.
“It’s the most infernal piece of folly I ever heard in my life,” said Shuttlecock. “There was that Tringle girl with £200,000 to be had just for the taking — Traffick’s wife’s sister, you know.”
“There was something wrong about that,” said another. “Benjamin Batsby, that stupid fellow who used to be in the twentieth, ran off with her just when everything had been settled between Houston and old Tringle.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Battledore. Tringle had quarrelled with Houston before that. Batsby did go with her, but the governor wouldn’t come down with the money. Then the girl was brought back and there was no marriage.” Upon that the condition of poor Gertrude in reference to her lovers and her fortune was discussed by those present with great warmth; but they all agreed that Houston had proved himself to be a bigger fool than any of them had expected.
“By George, he’s going to set up for painting portraits,” said Lord John, with great disgust.
In Queen’s Gate the matter was discussed by the ladies there very much in the same spirit. At this time Gertrude was engaged to Captain Batsby, if not with the full approbation at any rate with the consent both of her father and mother, and therefore she could speak of Frank Houston and his bride, if with disdain, still without wounded feelings. “Here it is in the papers, Francis Houston and Imogene Docimer,” said Mrs Traffick.
“So she has really caught him at last!” said Gertrude.
“There was not much to catch,” rejoined Mrs Traffick. “I doubt whether they have got £500 a year between them.”
“It does seem so very sudden,” said Lady Tringle.
“Sudden!” said Gertrude. They have been about it for the last five years. Of course he has tried to wriggle out of it all through. I am glad that she has succeeded at last, if only because he deserves it.”
“I wonder where they’ll find a place to live in,” said Augusta. This took place in the bedroom which Mrs Traffick still occupied in Queen’s Gate, when she had been just a month a mother.
Thus, with the kind assistance of Aunt Rosina, Frank Houston and Imogene Docimer were married at last, and the chronicler hereby expresses a hope that it may not be long before Frank may see a picture of his own hanging on the walls of the Academy, and that he may live to be afraid of the coming of no baby.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01