A Gouty Courtship, Part 2
Introductory Note: “A Gouty Courtship” details the romance of Miss Maud Somerville and Mr. Percy Goring through a series of extracts from their diaries. Published in Punch, a magazine known for its satiric political humor, the story takes a lighthearted foray into the realm of thwarted love.
Advisory: This story contains ableist slurs.
This entry was published as the second of two parts:
July 16th.—Oh Joy! Joy!! Joy!!! Dear, darling diary, we have been introduced! Sweet Mrs. DENTON, whose visit hung over me like a nightmare, was the officiating angel. She knows him very well; she says he is of very good family, tolerably well off, rather a malade imaginaire she fancied, and he has no parents.1“Malade imaginaire” means imagined invalid or hypochondriac. What could be nicer? He certainly improves even in appearance when you talk to him. His features light up, and his sad eyes almost sparkled once or twice. I am afraid he is not very truthful. He told me that he had had an accident to his knee, and the caissière of the hotel distinctly told Mamma that he was following the treatment for gout.2“Caissière” means cashier. But he does not like to talk about himself. He asked me so many questions about the things I liked and the sort of life I led, and it is extraordinary that we agreed on every subject. We have exactly the same tastes. He does not care much about society, and not at all for dancing—no more do I. He likes golf and all out-door sports. So do I. Oh! I wish it was to-morrow!
July 17th.—A terrible thing has happened. They are going away very shortly. Some idiotic doctor has decided that Mr. SOMERVILLE has had sufficient baths, and they have decided to leave on the 22nd. I shall decide for myself when I have had sufficient baths. It will probably be not later than the 23rd. I am certainly better. Royat is a wonderful place. The air is perfectly delicious, and the Park so green and smiling with its perennial orchestra. How could one be dull here? I sat with her twice yesterday—she can tell fortunes by palmistry. I begged her to tell mine. At first she objected, and asked me if my fortune was not already told; but as I persisted she took the tips of my fingers in hers and read some really wonderful truths. It was an ecstatic moment. First of all, she said I had “a very good heart”—(Quite true); that I had more heart than “head”—(I am not quite sure of this); I had natural gifts for the Arts—(I suppose this is true also); I had a good temper—(this I know to be an absolute fact); I was perhaps not always quite truthful—(Who can be in a world full of shams and deceit?). Finally, I should live to a good old age, and she added, rather maliciously, I thought, “notwithstanding the accident to your knee.” I couldn’t help asking her, in rather a shaky voice, “Shall I ever marry?” She looked very steadily at the lines of my hand, and then said, “I hope so. People are happier married, are they not?” I felt almost like making her a declaration on the spot, but the band was playing a particularly loud selection from Lohengrin, and the moment was not propitious.3A romantic opera written by Richard Wagner. I should like to have asked some more questions; but her father came back from the fountain, where the waters had evidently not improved his temper. “Do leave off that tomfoolery, MAUD,” he said. “A hundred years ago you would have been burnt as a witch.” “It is a very harmless kind of witchcraft,” I said apologetically. “I don’t choose my daughter to do it, Sir,” he said with a gouty glare.
Naturally, we both collapsed.
In the evening I managed to say: “Will you complete my fortune to-morrow?” “I don’t think I have anything to do with your fortune,” she answered simply. “You might have, if you liked—if you would condescend,” I said very humbly, and then of course there came the usual interruption in the shape of her mother. I am thinking of nice things to say to-morrow. Usually, I don’t find it difficult to talk, but when I am with her I find myself tongue-tied or making inexpressibly idiotic remarks.
July 17th.—I have only four more days to spend here. A week ago I should be delighted at the prospect of leaving, but now I am almost miserable. I suppose we shall meet again, but everything is so uncertain in this life. I told his fortune by palmistry yesterday. He has nothing but good lines in his hand. I was sure of it before I looked. His “heart” is immense, and he is affectionate and true in love; but I couldn’t tell him all that. I went very far as it was! He talks brilliantly, and at the same time very sensibly. I could listen to him all day. There is just a little sadness in some of the things he said, but I don’t know if that is caused by the past or the present. I rather fancy it is the latter. Mamma likes him, but Papa says there must be something radically wrong with a man who has gout at his age. “God knows what he has been up to!” he said. I turned crimson, and said: “Were you very wicked, Papa, that you are being punished by gout?” I was very near the door when I made the remark, and I didn’t wait for the reply.
July 18th.—Things are reaching a crisis. I can’t sleep now. All night long I tossed about thinking of brilliant things to say to her, and the more I strived after epigrams which should have a slight tinge of sadness in them, the more my mind became a blank, and I could only repeat, “She goes in three days! What will become of me?” Of course, I am in love—more so than I have ever been—and, mingled with gout, it is a terrible disease. And she is in love too. Why does her hand tremble when it touches mine? Why does the colour mount to her face whenever we meet? Why do we both prefer to be silent when we are together? Because we cannot talk of the things which are in our minds, and so we prefer to think. The idea of ever gaining her father’s consent seems to me preposterous at the present moment. If I could only save her life, or her mother’s—not his—something that would entitle me to his gratitude. But people never are grateful. It would probably make him hate me more than he already does if I rendered him a service. I must think of something else. But what? In vain I beat my brain to think of something that will show me in a favourable light to him. It is no use sitting here writing—I must go to bed—back to the hot pillows which I turn again and again, till, in desperation, I throw them on to the floor and lie flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling in blank despair.
July 18th.—Papa dislikes him more and more, and I am sure his affection for me increases in proportion. What is to be done? I have started a cough—a little hacking cough; and if they are very unkind to me I mean to develop consumption. Papa is already irritated by my cough. He said, “You have caught cold, MAUD. How the devil did you manage to do that?” I said, “I don’t know. I daresay it’s nothing—only—I always feel tired now.” Mamma was really uneasy, and said I must see a doctor. If the doctor would only recommend me the waters to gargle and inhale, I shouldn’t mind. It would keep us here till the end of his “cure.” What will he do without me! He told me yesterday that his movements were uncertain, that he should probably not stay after the 23rd, and he threw such meaning and sadness into the date. It would be terrible if I were the cause of shortening his treatment and preventing his restoration to health. I should never forgive myself. How I wish I had gout, then Papa couldn’t say anything. I might imitate the faces Papa makes when he gets a twinge, but nothing would induce me to imitate his language. Only three days more, unless a miracle takes place.
July 19th.—Only two days more, and she is ill. How inhuman of them to take her away. She coughs, and has a drooping appearance. Can it be grief? We never have a moment alone! She told me yesterday that she had never been so sorry to leave any place. I managed to whisper that I liked it at present, but after she had gone it would seem like—I stopped for want of a proper simile. “I know the place you mean,” she said, “Papa often mentions it.”
I think I will write to her to-morrow. It may be dishonourable to do so without her parents’ knowledge, but with such inhospitable parents one must deal differently. They are going to Paris for a few days, and from there home to their place in Sussex. It is all hopeless; I shall never see her again. I am decidedly better, but what does it matter how I am if I lose her?
July 19th.—There is not the slightest sign of a miracle, and I shall never see him after the 22nd of this month. I coughed till I really made myself hoarse, and then Papa and Mamma both decided that I wanted change of air. I have never coughed since, still they say that it is a warning that I have exhausted this air. What rubbish people talk about health! I almost feel as if I must confide in Mamma; I should like to throw myself at her feet and tell her that I love him, and that as she was young herself once, and, I supposed, loved Papa at that period, she must have pity on me. She is very good and sweet, I think she would understand me; but Papa would be driven clean out of his mind, and probably have a very bad relapse. Besides, I don’t know that he loves me. I think he thinks I am rather nice, and he certainly prefers to talk to me to anyone. He knows people here, and he has refused all their invitations; but is that sufficient to implore Mamma to stay another week? I can write no more—my brain is wandering.
July 20th.—It is done. I have written to her! Without vanity, I think I may say I composed a beautiful letter. It was simple, manly and straightforward. I told her frankly that I loved her, that I had never loved anyone until I met her, and then I gave some necessary details of my position and past life, and, finally, begged for a few words of hope. I have just given the letter, together with a louis, to the chambermaid of her floor, and to-morrow morning I shall know the worst. Of course, sleep is out of the question; I don’t even like going to bed. I have only been here sixteen days, and what a change has been effected in my life! How blindly one looks at the future. I came here thinking only of my gout and the wretched three weeks I should have to spend here, and now all is changed. I think only of her, night and day.
July 20th.—He has written to me! How imprudent of him, but how delightful to read his fervent, truthful words, and know that he really cares for no one in the world but me! He asks me to marry him, to be only his, to drag his soul from the slough of despair in which it is at present plunged. Nothing could be more beautiful or clever than his choice of words, and his handwriting is exquisite—firm and legible. What was I to do? I read his eight pages over and over again, and then I decided to seek Mamma’s assistance, so I tapped gently at her door, and begged her to come and talk to me in my room. It was very difficult, and poor Mamma was quite unprepared for my news. She said she was just saying her prayers, and thought she had finished with one day’s miseries at any rate. But I explained to her that this was not sorrow; it was joy—unspeakable joy, for me. She seemed to think it very extraordinary that I should care for a man of whom I knew so little, but I told her that there was no reason in love; if people reasoned it wouldn’t be love, it would be calculation. This argument seemed to strike her, and then, with many blushes, I showed her his letter. Of course, she couldn’t help admiring his many beautiful phrases—although she didn’t acknowledge it; but she shook her head, and said Papa would never consent to my marrying a gouty man. “Then I shall die!” I exclaimed. “And the sooner the better. You know I am ill, and I believe you want to kill me on purpose.” Then Mamma cried, and I cried too, and finally I got her to consent to my going over to the DENTONS to-morrow; and he may come too, if he likes (by another train); and if we really seem to care for each other when we are without the restraint of third people I am to write, and then she will see what can be done with Papa. “It is better that you should not be there when the news is broken to him,” she said, in her dear old complaining voice. “He might throw something at you.” So then I hugged her for ever so long, and I sat down and wrote a very guarded, modest letter to PERCY—I shall certainly call him PERCY in my diary. I have looked out the trains; I leave at 10.0 and there is a train for him about 12.3. I shan’t sleep to-night.
Vichy, July 21st.—We are both here—she is staying with the DENTONS, I at another hotel. She has consented, conditionally on her father’s approval. Too excited and bewildered to write.
Vichy, July 22nd.—We are so happy; but all depends on Mamma’s letter to-morrow. Vichy is such a pretty place, and the air perfectly delightful. As for the DENTONS, no words can express their kindness. I can’t write, I have so much to think of.
July 23rd.—A very sweet letter from Mamma. She says the worst is over. She let Papa work off the superfluous language for at least half-an-hour before she interrupted him, and then she gradually explained to him that I was really in love with PERCY, and making myself quite ill at the thoughts of a separation—also that I must marry some day, and that Mr. GORING my own darling PERCY—was certainly a desirable parti, and a lot of other very clever arguments, and finally, towards the evening, Papa consented to interviewing PERCY, and if he can give satisfactory reasons for his gout he will perhaps consider an engagement. 4Parti is French for “option, choice, or remainder.” I can’t expect more—I scarcely expected so much. PERCY is in the seventh heaven. I told him I kept a diary, and one day when we are properly engaged I would show it to him and he would see my first impressions of him; and, oddly enough, he keeps one too, and he said he would show it to me—and then he pulled himself up, and said he couldn’t. I told him I should insist, and asked him why he could not? The reason was very simple. He took my face in his hands, and kissed it laughingly, and said, “Because I began by calling you the girl with red hair!”
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How To Cite (MLA Format)
F.C.PH.. “A Gouty Courtship, Part 2.” Punch, vol. 121, 1901, pp. 52-4. Edited by Ashton Carrington. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 29 November 2023, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/a-gouty-courtship-part-2/.
25 January 2021
25 November 2023