But, in the meantime, Gertrude's second letter had gone up to Frank, and also a very heartrending epistle from Lady Tringle to her husband. "Poor Gertrude is in a very bad state. If ever there was a girl really broken-hearted on account of love, she is one. I did not think she would ever set her heart upon a man with such violent affection. I do think you might give way when it becomes a question of life and death. There isn't anything really against Mr Houston." Sir Thomas, as he read this, was a little shaken. He had hitherto been inclined to agree with Rosalind, "That men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love." But now he did not know what to think about it. There was Tom undoubtedly in a bad way, and here was Gertrude brought to such a condition, simply by her love, that she refused to take her meals regularly! Was the world come to such a pass that a father was compelled to give his daughter with a large fortune to an idle adventurer, or else to be responsible for his daughter's life? Would Augusta have pined away and died had she not been allowed to marry her Traffick? Would Lucy pine and die unless money were given to her sculptor? Upon the whole, Sir Thomas thought that the cares of his family were harder to bear than those of his millions. In regard to Gertrude, he almost thought that he would give way, if only that he might be rid of that trouble.
It must be acknowledged that Frank Houston, when he received the young lady's letter, was less soft-hearted than her father. The letter was, or should have been, heart-rending:
You must have received my former letter, and though I told you that I was ill and almost dying you have not heeded it! Three posts have come, and I have not had a line from you. In your last you were weak enough to say that you were going to give it all up because you could not make papa do just what you wanted all at once. Do you know what it is to have taken possession of a young lady's heart; or is it true, as Augusta says of you, that you care for nothing but the money? If it is so, say it at once and let me die. As it is I am so very ill that I cannot eat a mouthful of anything, and have hardly strength left to me to write this letter.
But I cannot really believe what Augusta says, though I daresay it may have been so with Mr Traffick. Perhaps you have not been to your club, and so you have not got my former letter. Or it may be that you are ill yourself. If so, I do wish that I could come and nurse you, though indeed I am so ill that I am quite unable to leave my bed.
At any rate, pray write immediately -- and do come! Mamma seems to think that papa will give way because I am so ill. If so, I shall think my illness the luckiest thing in the world.
You must believe, dearest Frank, that I am now, as ever, yours most affectionately,
Frank Houston was less credulous than Sir Thomas, and did not believe much in the young lady's sickness. It was evident that the young lady was quite up to the work of deceiving her father and mother, and would no doubt be willing to deceive himself if anything could be got by it. But, whether she were ill or whether she were well, he could offer her no comfort. Nevertheless, he was bound to send her some answer, and with a troubled spirit he wrote as follows:
It is to me a matter of inexpressible grief that I should have to explain again that I am unable to persist in seeking the honour of your hand in opposition to the absolute and repeated refusals which I have received from your father. It is so evident that we could not marry without his consent that I need not now go into that matter. But I think myself bound to say that, considering the matter in all its bearing, I must regard our engagement as finally at an end. Were I to hesitate in saying this very plainly I think I should be doing you an injury.