The Diary of a Disappointed Young Man, Part 2
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: “A Disappointed Young Man” tells the story of a young man disappointed in love. In an attempt to move on in life, he vows he will never marry. In the beginning, you can see his anger at all women and his somewhat derogatory comments of women. However, he will learn to love again. The story is an interesting commentary on how marriage was viewed in the 19th Century.
Advisory: This story depicts slavery and contains an ableist slur.
This entry was published as the second of three parts:
SEPT. 1st, 18—.—Letter from the Pater this morning, reminding me that the partridges are ready to be fired at, and begging me to run down to N—shire by an early train. He adds, in a postscript, that the Marchmounts are gone abroad for the autumn. Sorry to disappoint the paternal hopes, but I am not inclined to wear the willow in my native county, and the scenes amongst which a false-hearted woman befooled and deceived me are not exactly attractive to me at this time. And for the partridges, let them go. I fancy my time is better occupied, just now, taking into consideration my future profession of barrister—in collecting data for professional experience by the study of human nature, as exemplified in the Travers family.
Sept. 5th.—There is a flutter in the dove-cote this morning. A letter has been received from a certain old uncle at York, who proposes that two of the girls shall be sent to him, “to be properly introduced into society.” I have heard the letter read. The old gentleman offers some very gratuitous observations on the “unfortunate folly” of his brother, which is ruining his family, he says, and shutting them out of their proper position; in fact, as he proposes to do them a service, he evidently considers—as most of these charitable people do—that he has purchased the right to lecture them at the same time (I am not sure that he is wrong). At all events, his offer is a handsome one. “If you like to send me two of the girls,” he says, “I will introduce them—that is, my wife will—and provide for them for three years. If at the end of that time they are not married, they shall go back to you, and I will take two more on the same terms.”
The four eldest girls have talked it over in the family council-chamber—i.e., the bench under my window—Bessie and Jannette, and Die and Eve. The younger ones were so tumultuous at the first broaching of the proposition that they had to be disposed of at a safe distance, and then the serious business of the consultation began. They have decided, as I expected, that the offer must be accepted; but, at the same time, they heartily wish it had never been made. They feel—poor dears!—that for “papa’s sake,” and for the sake of the boys who want education, it ought to be done; but it is a sore struggle to break up the home band. The two who are to go are looked upon as a sort of Roman sacrifice. And the great question, which two are to go? remains undecided yet. Upon my word, it was pretty and touching to hear the loving contention that went on. Die offered herself first: poor Die, with her little bruised heart, which wants the loving tendance of home so much; but this was instantly and peremptorily put down.
“Die to go away to a strange place! Die, who is hardly out of a sick-room! Die, who is mamma’s counsellor and chief dependence! No, indeed!”
Bessie, Jannette, and Eve, all in one voice, offered themselves in Die’s stead.
“I always get on so well with strangers, and Uncle and Aunt are strangers, you know,” was Bessie’s argument, with a quiver in her voice which belied the courageous assertion of the words.
Jannette had no particular reason to give for her sacrifice, excepting that she was next eldest, after Die, and Uncle evidently meant to take them according to their ages. But Jannette was so indispensable at home, the rest declared: what was to become of the bonnets and hats, and the family wardrobe generally, without Jannette?
Jannette combatted this objection, rather weakly and faintly, I thought, by maintaining that Die could “cut out” and manage better than she could, and Eve had so much taste that she only wanted a little practice to make bonnets even better than she did.
But Eve, not to be outdone in magnanimity, protested that Bessie and she, being the twins (there is another pair in the family), should go together. And then, at this stage, the consultation suddenly broke up by a burst of tears all round. I don’t know exactly who gave way first. I think it was Eve herself, for I have observed that, although Eve and Bessie are twins, there is an especially tender friendship between Eve and Die, and they are oftenest to be seen tête-à-tête of any of the family. At all events, there was a hushed sound of weeping in the garden, like the soft patter of a summer shower amongst the leaves and flowers. And then the hobbledehoy came forth from the house, with a vociferous summons to papa, and the little band dried their eyes, and went slowly in.
I haven’t had such a lump in my throat since I was a little boy. What can it mean? I must have taken cold last night, in the moonlight, down by the beach. Pooh, pooh! taken cold! A six-footer, of herculean dimensions, with lungs like a Stentor’s, and limbs like an athlete, taking cold on a summer’s night like a puny baby!1Stentor is the name of one of the warriors of the Trojan War who was known for his exceptionally powerful voice. What a joke! But I’ll swear my eyes did water, and my throat was “all stopped up,” as little nephew Willie says, and I am curiously restless and unsettled besides—feverish, I should say—and Blackstone lies on the window-sill, unopened, and I tramp up and down the room, to the destruction of Mrs. Merton’s new carpet of many colours.
I wonder which of those girls will go? Scissors!2Scissors was used as an exasperated exclamation. what a scene it was. Would the Amy Marchmounts of the world believe in it? Would I—who, a month ago, believed that the world was made up of Amy Marchmounts—have ever been undeceived if my good luck had not brought me to St. Sebastian’s, and introduced me to the Travers family? I wonder which of them will go to York? Hang it! I can’t settle to anything till I know.
Die is too delicate; surely the mother and father will see that. She is a poor little sensitive plant, and wants the tenderest sheltering. It would be folly, it would be cruelty, to send her, and yet she is the eldest, and the old uncle would naturally expect the two eldest now, and three years hence, if they don’t marry. Confound it! I suppose they would be sure to marry. The old man writes like an autocrat. I can see he is a fellow of consequence up there, and he has no children, it seems, and could portion the girls off handsomely. And Die has been growing very lovely of late, since she recovered from her illness—lovelier every day. I suppose this is how she looked before—before she was disappointed. The recusant lover must have had very bad taste to have given her up—that’s all. But then, in these cases it is very often a matter of bad taste. For instance, Amy Marchmount, who . . . . .
Sept. 2nd.—Die is not to go—Die is not to go! They decided it on the lawn last evening by drawing lots, and promising beforehand to abide by the decision, whatever it might be. I saw the lots drawn. I wonder if any of the drawers felt more anxious than I did about the result?
Bessie and Eve drew the fatal numbers, and so Die was safe. Yes, and Jannette too. Poor little Jannette! She hardly seemed to know whether to be glad or sorry. I fancy this is the prevailing feeling of the family.
This morning they are all as busy as bees. “Uncle John” has done the thing handsomely. He has desired his brother to draw on his banker for whatever is needed to fit out his nieces, and wonderful preparations are going on.
Sept. 6th.—The lawn is still the rallying-point of the family, and a great part of the preparations are carried on there. Milliner’s boxes are opened out, and new hats are tried on, and admired. It is so private and exclusive they think, poor little souls, and they have no suspicion of my closely-drawn blinds. I like to see how the natural feminine exultation over new finery asserts itself for a while, and is presently quenched in a burst of tears, and how the finery is then huddled back again into its box, and somebody is sure to exclaim, “After all, it isn’t half as nice as what we used to make ourselves.”
“Now, honestly,” said Die, once, “I think it is a great deal nicer in itself; but then there is not the same feeling about it. What we have had trouble with we enjoy most, and perhaps that is why two of us are to go to York, just to make us value each other and home more through the trouble of parting.”
“I’m sure,” says Eve, tearfully, “we all love and value our home now.”
“Perhaps not enough,” gently suggests Die. “You will see how it will be that glorious day when you come back again.” That day, under various forms, is the stay and support of the sisters.
Sept. 8th.—A difficulty has arisen. Uncle John has written to appoint Monday, the 15th, as the day for Bessie and Eve to go to York, and the new difficulty is an escort. Papa is just on the eve of completing a grand discovery; mamma never leaves papa; papa would collapse if she did; the hobbledehoy might do, for lack of a better, but he knows that he is only proposed at third hand, and as Hobson’s choice, and he stands upon his dignity, and won’t go. The whole family are sadly perplexed and worried, and they agree to leave the matter for the present, in the hope that something may “turn up” before the last moment.
Sept. 9th.—Something has turned up. I have turned up. I am going to take charge of the young ladies. A run down to York will be an agreeable variety enough, and this will happily solve all the difficulties over which the poor little girls are agonising. Not that they know it, but I know it, and the knowledge tranquillizes me, and sets the thing right, at all events. They will be taken care of, whether they are conscious of the care or not.
Sept. 14th.—Bessie and Eve have been paying their small round of farewell visits. Mrs. Merton was included in it. They were shut up in her “parlour” below for at least twenty minutes; but the doors being shut, I had no share in the interview, which I felt to be hard, considering that my valise is ready packed for to-morrow’s journey, and that I am, after all, a much more confidential friend of the family than my land-lady. That worthy personage “showed them out” through the little garden door, and although I was too honourable to listen, yet I heard her say, in that particularly hilarious treble of hers, and as she passed my door:
“He’s so much better—quite a different creature. I’m sure he’d something on his mind when he first came, and that made him so snappy. I could see it in a moment. Why, miss, I’m a mother myself! ”
London, Sept. 15th, 10 P.M.—So much of the journey happily accomplished. We came up by the 3 P.M. train from St. Sebastian, and we are to stay the night here—that is, Bessie and Eve at the house of an old friend of their mother’s, who met them at the station, and I at the Great Northern Hotel, to be ready for the early express train in the morning. I believe I acquitted myself most honourably of my charge to-day. I supplied the young ladies with Punch and the Illustrated London News. I shifted the windows up and down, as seemed most agreeable to them, and I handed them out, took charge of their bouquet and other small parcels, all without presuming upon my little services sufficiently to enter into conversation. They fluttered and bowed very modestly and prettily as I took off my hat to them when their friend’s carriage rolled off.
Sept. 17th.—My task is happily accomplished. I have delivered my charge into the hands of Uncle John, a pompous old personage in a wig and frilled shirt-front. A kind old fogey, I believe, though, from the hearty reception he gave the poor, half-frightened girls. Their spirits had gradually been sinking all the way from London; probably fatigue had something to do with it. I carefully abstained from getting into the same carriage with them at the station. The mother’s friend saw them off, and it might have raised very unfounded but uncomfortable doubts in her mind if she had seen the same man who travelled with them from St. Sebastian waiting for them at the commencement of the next stage. So I ensconced myself in the next compartment, heard her give very particular injunctions to the guard, saw her enforce the injunctions with a very tangible reminder, and chuckled to myself at the supererogatory nature of the transaction. Then, at the first stoppage, I joined the young ladies. I saw them colour and brighten up when I appeared, and they whispered something to each other about “St. Sebastian.” Poor little dears! The sight of a face ever so remotely connected with the place they had left seemed to bring a home feeling. And the journey being long, we did manage to get up a little conversation, chiefly about St. Sebastian.
“Have you been staying there long?” Bessie asked.
“About five weeks.”
“In what part of the town?”
“Up on the hill, behind the Parade.”
“Oh!” with a great expression of interest, and glancing at one another. “Which side of the hill? What was the name of the street?’
“You will think me very stupid,” I replied, smiling, “but I never asked the name.” And then, anxious to turn the conversation away from this dangerous point, “I like St. Sebastian amazingly.”
“Oh, yes,” sighs Eve, “so do we. It’s a dear little place!”
And then a shadow falls on both the pretty young faces, and they sit looking out of the window, that I may not see the tears which fill their eyes.
I am such a coward, I that am reading for the bar, that I dared not bring the conversation any nearer to their home circle. There is a pretty reticence about them which gives a dignity to their simplicity, and which I respect, although it is inconvenient, and I do believe that I have won their gratitude and their kindly remembrance by the little services I have been so sedulously rendering them during these two days’ journey. They smiled, and blushed, and thanked me in the prettiest manner when we parted, and they must have said something to their uncle, for the old fellow came toddling back along the platform to make me a Sir Charles Grandison bow, and to offer me the tips of three fingers to shake.
“Ha, sir! Beg to thank you, sir, for your attention to the young ladies. Going to make any stay in the neighbourhood?” (glancing at the card on the small portmanteau in my hand) “Happy to see you at Stoneleigh Hall. Sir Walter Travers. My card, sir” (which I perfectly understood to mean a demand for mine, and responded to accordingly). “Evening, sir.” And off he toddled again. Jolly old fluke!
I flatter myself that card will satisfy the aristocratic scruples which couldn’t help showing themselves through the “fine old English gentleman’s” courtesy and sense of obligation.
We Netherclifts can hold up our heads with a Travers any day. Is it worth while, I wonder, to stay up here a day or two, and improve this branch of the acquaintance? Well, hardly, I think. My task is accomplished. I feel like a knight-errant of old. The young ladies are safe, and now the less prosperous section of the family demands my attention. How does Die,—I mean how do they all bear the parting? I must put up at the hotel here for to-night, and to-morrow I shall get back, and see how she—how they all are.
Sept. 19th.—St. Sebastian again. —Die is disconsolate. She was in the garden, sewing away as usual, when I came back to my rooms to-day, but her poor eyes were red with crying, and she looked forlorn. She misses Eve—affectionate little thing! hard lines for her to lose her lover and her favourite sister both in one summer.
Sept. 20th.—Mrs. Merton came in last night to receive her week’s rent. She was loquacious as usual, so I took advantage of the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity on one or two points connected with the Travers family. Die and that—that—brute were engaged six months; he was an officer, and she met him at her first ball—for she is only just twenty, and looks eighteen—and I suppose he took her little inexperience fancy by his confounded military airs. Girls, even the best of them, are taken with red cloth. Then they were engaged, and I dare say he was very glad to boast at mess of his engagement to the prettiest girl in St. Sebastian. But his regiment was ordered out to India, and the brute found that Papa Travers had melted down the girls’ dowries in his search after his particular edition of the philosopher’s stone, and he didn’t feel inclined to marry without some help from that quarter, and so it was given up. “Poor Miss Die! she was so fond of him,” added Mrs. Merton; “but, you see, sir, an officer’s life isn’t much without money, and I think it was best for them both. Only I wonder he liked to give her up.”
So do I. Hang him! Not that I believe she was “so fond” of him. An ignorant, talkative woman like Mrs. Merton would be sure to think that a girl must be violently in love with any fool who wore a red coat and moustache. And little, affectionate, tender creatures like Die have a way with them that looks like a vast amount of affection—a clinging, confiding way, which, after all, doesn’t mean half as much as it looks like. And yet I fancy that Die can love well where it is worth while.
Bessie and Eve have written home for the first time, and the letter has been the occasion of a family jubilee. Die read it out to Fairy and the boys, and I heard it. Why should not I? Am I not the confidential friend of the family, entrusted with their escort, taking their troubles to heart as much as any one of them?
“First of all,” writes Bessie, “you will be delighted to hear that uncle and aunt are as kind as kind can be. Uncle is a dear old thing, and he seems fond of us already, and aunt is very nice. At first she seems stiff and cold, and she rustles about in the most splendid shining silks and moirés, and is altogether very imposing.3Moire is a type of cloth that is treated to it has a rippled, watery look. Eve and I were quite frightened when we were ushered into the big drawing-room, to this splendid figure, but we soon got over it when we found how kind she was. She took us up to our rooms herself, and made us lie down and rest until the dressing bell rang for dinner. Such a lovely bed-room and dressing-room, all hung with pink and white, and with books and all sorts of pretty things about, like a fairy place. And uncle says that dear aunt has been busy for a fortnight, making it pretty and nice for us. And she came in and kissed us after we were in bed at night, and told us we were to look upon her as our second mother, and to love her as she already loved us. I think, you know, that it has been a great disappointment to uncle and aunt, not having any children of their own, and that they quite enjoy having us. And Eve and I have made up our minds not to fret about you all, because it would grieve them so much, but to look upon it as our duty to be kind and loving to them, as if we were their own children. And it will not be difficult, for they are so kind. I only hope we shall not be utterly spoilt. But I have been rambling on, and telling you things just as they came, without beginning at the beginning—our journey. You heard of us from London. Mrs. Metcalfe was to write as soon as she had seen us safely off. But you have not heard that we had quite an adventure. A gentleman travelled with us from St. Sebastian, and was very kind and polite, giving us newspapers to read, and handing out our parcels, &c. Well, soon after we had started from London, next day, who should come into our carriage but this very same gentleman. He was very kind again; got us refreshments, and troubled himself a great deal with Eve’s flowers and my bird, when we had to change carriages and wait at the different stations, and think how it made our hearts beat when he told us he had been staying for some weeks at dear St. Sebastian. It was so nice; we felt quite a home-feeling towards him. And wasn’t it odd? He came all the way with us. I wonder we never noticed him about at St. Sebastian. But, then, we went out so little, and there are such heaps of strangers always in the season. But I think if I had ever seen him—in church or anywhere—I should have remembered him. He is tall, and very handsome, I think, although Eve thinks it is more a clever face, and he has that sort of finished, London look, you know. And his manner is so respectful and thoughtful that one does not seem a bit afraid of taking any little attention from him, or even of talking to him. I think a true gentleman always has that sort of manner with ladies. If you remember, we always noticed that papa had when he would see people, which he won’t now. Uncle has something of it, but in a bluffer way, if you understand. It is such a different thing to the rude, staring manner of the officers, which always made us quite afraid to go on the Parade. But I am rambling again; you know it always was my way. Perhaps this being away from you will do me good by teaching me how to write a proper letter. When we arrived at the Burington Station, uncle was there to meet us, and we told him how kind the gentleman had been to us, so he went back and thanked him, and gave him his card, and invited him to call at Stoneleigh, if he proposed making any stay in the neighbourhood. I was glad uncle did that, for he really was so kind, and it was rather awkward for young girls like Eve and me to thank him properly, although we did say something to him. He gave uncle his card, but said he was returning almost immediately. I wonder if he is going back to St. Sebastian! His name is Netherclift—Harry Netherclift, of Gray’s Inn. Uncle says it is a very good name, and that he is evidently a gentleman, as Eve and I thought. But I have said so much about him that I must leave Eve to describe the house and the place generally to you, and go down to be ready to read the newspaper to uncle, as he likes me to do every evening, when he wakes up from his after-dinner nap.”
What an artless, innocent way that girl has of writing! They are a nice-minded family. Upon my word, I should like to make the acquaintance of—of other members of the family. Those two girls were interesting creatures, and I like the look of the others. But how is it to be compassed? Can’t I waylay the young prig somewhere, and offer him a cigar? (he doesn’t smoke, I know, for I heard Fairy say it made him sick, but he would appreciate the compliment all the more.) I’ll try, at all events. It would be getting the thin edge of the wedge in.
Sept. 25th.—I have tried everything, and failed. The young prig took the cigar, and, in a spirit of foolhardiness, I suppose, smoked it, and was ill before my eyes! Since which he has slunk away ignominiously whenever I appeared in sight, and so his deuced conceit and vanity put a stopper on my advances from that quarter. Then I bethought me that the garden, being as free to me, in my quality of Mrs. Merton’s lodger, as to the Travers’ family, I might, perhaps, make something out of that. Accordingly I carried my book out very early one morning, and ensconced myself in a quiet corner, on a seat, shaded from the observation of the Travers’ mansion. Presently out trooped the younger branches of the family. “Halloa!” shouted Knickerbocker No. 1, turning a corner suddenly, and coming upon me. And then they all stared at me, as if I had been an intruder on their privileged ground, and finally turned on their heel, and retreated as far as possible from my neighbourhood. Five minutes later, Die, Jannette, and a half-grown child-woman, whom they call Grace—the link between the elders and Fairy—came down the path, work-baskets in hand, and made for their usual place, beneath my windows. Thither trooped the small fry in an instant, chattering, gesticulating pointing even towards me, where I sat, pretending to be completely absorbed in my studies, and watching proceedings out of the corner of my eye. The girls fluttered uneasily, but took up their work all the same. I was careful not to startle them. I kept my place and my position, and never stirred (although I cricked my neck most unmercifully) until the Travers’ dinner-bell rang, and they all retired indoors, when I got up, stretched my legs, and reflected that I had not gained much. However, that will come, as the French say. I believe I am on the right tack. Let them get accustomed to my lay figure, and by-and-bye I can venture to move, and walk about, and then, who knows what may follow?
Sept. 27th.—This is what has followed. The girls have fled like a covey of frightened birds, and I am left alone on the lawn! Walking about, it is true, and monarch of all I survey, but alone! I see a face peeping out of a window sometimes, to see if I am gone, I suppose; but evidently I am regarded as some wild beast prowling about the garden, and making it unsafe for habitation. I feel this very keenly. But I have yet another card to play. Little Fairy crept back, after all the others had gone, for her doll. I saw a move just in time, and pocketed the plaything, taking care to let about three inches of its pink frock show. Then I seated myself on the bench just vacated by the young ladies. Fairy came timidly along the path, looking askance at the pink remnant, evidently regarding me in the light of a formidable giant-ogre, but inclined to dare much on account of the precious Tom Thumb I had pocketed. I feigned to be quite unconscious of her advance, and read on in deep abstraction, only folding my arms closely about Miss Dolly to guard against any sudden raid.
“Please give me my doll.”
“Eh, what, your doll, little girl?” very gently, my object being propitiation; “and where is your doll?”
“In your pocket,” pointing to the protruding pink.
“Dear me! so it is! I must have mistaken it for my pocket-handkerchief.” This as I drew forth the interesting little stranger, legs foremost.
Fairy flushed indignant, and I saw that I had committed myself in a way which no subsequent raptures of admiration over Dolly’s pink cheeks and flaxen curls could cover. She waited, with her hand outstretched, in manifest impatience, until I could no longer make any excuse for withholding her treasure from her, and then she grasped it eagerly, with a short “Thank you,” and sped away back to the house, as if she dreaded pursuit and re-capture of her prize at my hands. And so I have played my last card, and lost the game!
This story is continued in The Diary of a Disappointed Young Man, Part 3.
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