It was very hot, and they were sitting with the shutters nearly closed, having resolved not to go out, in order that they might be ready for the theatre – when the door was opened and Tom Tringle was announced. Tom Tringle had come to call on his cousin.
"Lady Baldoni," he said, "I hope you won't think me intrusive, but I thought I'd come and see my cousin once whilst she is staying here." The Marchesa bowed, and assured him that he was very welcome. "It's tremendously hot," said Tom.
"Very hot, indeed," said the Marchesa.
"I don't think it's ever so hot as this in Rome," said Nina, fanning herself.
"I find it quite impossible to walk a yard," said Tom, "and therefore I've hired a Hansom cab all to myself. The man goes home and changes his horse regularly when I go to dinner; then he comes for me at ten, and sticks to me till I go to bed. I call that a very good plan." Nina asked him why he didn't drive the cab himself. "That would be a grind," said he, "because it would be so hot all day, and there might be rain at night. Have you read what my brother-in-law, Traffick, said in the House last night, my Lady?"
"I'm afraid I passed it over," said the Marchesa. "Indeed, I am not very good at the debates."
"They are dull," said Tom, "but when it's one's brother-in-law, one does like to look at it. I thought he made that very clear about the malt tax." The Marchesa smiled and bowed.
"What is – malt tax?" asked Nina.
"Well, it means beer," said Tom. "The question is whether the poor man pays it who drinks the beer, or the farmer who grows the malt. It is very interesting when you come to think of it."
"But I fear I never have come to think of it," said the Marchesa.
During all this time Ayala never said a word, but sat looking at her cousin, and remembering how much better Colonel Jonathan Stubbs would have talked if he had been there. Then, after a pause, Tom got up, and took his leave, having to content himself with simply squeezing his cousin's hand as he left the room.
"He is a lout," said Ayala, as soon as she knew that the door was closed behind him.
"I don't see anything loutish at all," said the Marchesa.
"He's just like most other young men," said Nina.
"He's not at all like Colonel Stubbs," said Ayala.
Then the Marchesa preached a little sermon. "Colonel Stubbs, my dear," she said, "happens to have been thrown a good deal about the world, and has thus been able to pick up that easy mode of talking which young ladies like, perhaps because it means nothing. Your cousin is a man of business, and will probably have amassed a large fortune when my poor nephew will be a do-nothing old general on half-pay. His chatter will not then have availed him quite so much as your cousin's habits of business."
"Mamma," said Nina, "Jonathan will have money of his own."
"Never mind, my dear. I do not like to hear a young man called a lout because he's more like a man of business than a man of pleasure." Ayala felt herself to be snubbed, but was not a whit the less sure that Tom was a lout, and the Colonel an agreeable partner to dance with.
When they were dressed, and just going to dinner, the ugly man with the red head was announced, and declared his purpose of going with them to the theatre. "I've been to the office," said he, "and got a stall next to yours, and have managed it all. It now only remains that you should give me some dinner and a seat in the carriage." Of course he was told that there was no dinner sufficient for a man to eat; but he put up with a feminine repast, and spent the whole of the evening sitting next to his aunt, on a back tier, while the two girls were placed in front. In this way, leaning forward, with his ugly head between them, he acted as a running chorus to the play during the whole performance. Ayala thoroughly enjoyed herself, and thought that in all her experience no play she'd seen had ever been so delightful. On their return home the two girls were both told to go to bed in the Marchesa's good-natured authoritative tone; but, nevertheless, Ayala did manage to say a word before she finally adjusted herself on her pillow. "It is all very well, Nina, for your mamma to say that a young man of business is the best; but I do know a lout when I see him; and I am quite sure that my cousin Tom is a lout, and that Colonel Jonathan is not."
"I believe you are falling in love with Colonel Jonathan," said Nina.
"I should as soon think of falling in love with a wild bear; – but he's not a lout, and therefore I like him."
It was just before the Tringles had returned from Rome, during the winter, that Lucy Dormer had met Mr. Hamel in Kensington Gardens for the second time, had walked there with him perhaps for half-an-hour, and had then returned home with a conviction that she had done a wicked thing. But she had other convictions also, which were perhaps stronger. "Now that we have met, am I to lose you again?" he had said. What could he mean by losing, except that she was the one thing which he desired to find? But she had not seen him since, or heard a word of his whereabouts, although, as she so well remembered, she had given him an address at her Aunt Emmeline's, – not knowing then that it would be her fate to become a resident in her Aunt Emmeline's house. She had told him that Ayala would live there, and that perhaps she might sometimes be found visiting Ayala. Now, she was herself filling Ayala's place, and might so easily have been found. But she knew nothing of the man who had once asked whether he was "to lose her again."
Her own feelings about Isadore Hamel were clear enough to herself now. Ayala in her hot humour had asked her whether she could give her hand and her heart to such a one as their cousin Tom, and she had found herself constrained to say that she could not do so, because she was not free, – not quite free, – to do as she pleased with her hand and her heart. She had striven hard not to acknowledge anything, even to Ayala, – even to herself. But the words had been forced from her, and now she was conscious, terribly conscious, that the words were true. There could be no one else now, whether Tom or another, – whether such as Tom or such as any other. It was just that little word that had won her. "Am I to lose you again?" A girl loves most often because she is loved, – not from choice on her part. She is won by the flattery of the man's desire. "Am I to lose you again?" He had seemed to throw all his soul into his voice and into his eyes as he had asked the question. A sudden thrill had filled her, and, for his sake, – for his sake, – she had hoped that she might not be lost to him. Now she began to fear that he was lost to her.
Something has been told of the relations between Isadore Hamel and his father. They were both sculptors, the father having become a successful artist. The father was liberal, but he was essentially autocratic. If he supplied to his son the means of living, – and he was willing to supply the means of very comfortable life, – he expected that his son should live to some extent in accordance with his fancies. The father wished his son to live in Rome, and to live after the manner of Romans. Isadore would prefer to live in London, and after the manner of Londoners. For a time he had been allowed to do so, and had achieved a moderate success. But a young artist may achieve a moderate success with a pecuniary result that shall be almost less than moderate. After a while the sculptor in Rome had told his son that if he intended to remain in London he ought to do so on the independent proceeds of his own profession. Isadore, if he would return to Rome, would be made welcome to join his affairs to those of his father. In other words, he was to be turned adrift if he remained in London, and petted with every luxury if he would consent to follow his art in Italy. But in Rome the father lived after a fashion which was distasteful to the son. Old Mr. Hamel had repudiated all conventions. Conventions are apt to go very quickly, one after another, when the first has been thrown aside. The man who ceases to dress for dinner soon finds it to be a trouble to wash his hands. A house is a bore. Calling is a bore. Church is a great bore. A family is a bore. A wife is an unendurable bore. All laws are bores, except those by which inferiors can be constrained to do their work. Mr. Hamel had got rid of a great many bores, and had a strong opinion that bores prevailed more mightily in London than in Rome. Isadore was not a bore to him. He was always willing to have Isadore near to him. But if Isadore chose to enter the conventional mode of life he must do it at his own expense. It may be said at once that Isadore's present view of life was very much influenced by Lucy Dormer, and by a feeling that she certainly was conventional. A small house, very prettily furnished, somewhat near the Fulham Road, or perhaps verging a little towards South Kensington, with two maids, and perhaps an additional one as nurse in the process of some months, with a pleasant English breakfast and a pleasant English teapot in the evening, afforded certainly a very conventional aspect of life. But, at the present moment, it was his aspect, and therefore he could not go upon all fours with his father. In this state of things there had, during the last twelvemonth, been more than one journey made to Rome and back. Ayala had seen him at Rome, and Lady Tringle, remembering that the man had been intimate with her brother, was afraid of him. They had made inquiry about him, and had fully resolved that he should not be allowed into the house if he came after Ayala. He had no mother, – to speak of; and he had little brothers and sisters, who also had no mother, – to speak of. Mr. Hamel, the father, entertained friends on Sunday, with the express object of playing cards. That a Papist should do so was to be borne; – but Mr. Hamel was not a Papist, and, therefore, would certainly be – . All this and much more had been learned at Rome, and therefore Lucy, though she herself never mentioned Mr. Hamel's name in Queen's Gate, heard evil things said of the man who was so dear to her.
It was the custom of her life to be driven out every day with her aunt and Gertrude. Not to be taken two or three times round the park would be to Lady Tringle to rob her of the best appreciated of all those gifts of fortune which had come to her by reason of the banker's wealth. It was a stern law; – and as stern a law that Lucy should accompany her. Gertrude, as being an absolute daughter of the house, and as having an almost acknowledged lover of her own, was allowed some choice. But for Lucy there was no alternative. Why should she not go and be driven? Two days before they left town she was being driven, while her aunt was sitting almost in a slumber beside her, when suddenly a young man, leaning over the railings, took off his hat so close to Lucy that she could almost have put out her hand to him. He was standing there all alone, and seemed simply to be watching the carriages as they passed. She felt that she blushed as she bowed to him, and saw also that the colour had risen to his face. Then she turned gently round to her aunt, whom she hoped to find still sleeping; but Aunt Emmeline could slumber with one eye open. "Who was that young man, my dear?" said Aunt Emmeline.
"It was Mr. Hamel."
"Mr. Isadore Hamel!" said Aunt Emmeline, horrified. "Is that the young man at Rome who has got the horrible father?"
"I do not know his father," said Lucy; "but he does live at Rome."
"Of course, it's the Mr. Hamel I mean. He scraped some acquaintance with Ayala, but I would not have it for a moment. He is not at all the sort of person any young girl ought to know. His father is a horrible man. I hope he is no friend of yours, Lucy!"
"He is a friend of mine." Lucy said this in a tone of voice which was very seldom heard from her, but which, when heard, was evidence that beneath the softness of her general manner there lay a will of her own.
"Then, my dear, I hope that such friendship may be discontinued as long as you remain with us."
"He was a friend of papa's," said Lucy.
"That's all very well. I suppose artists must know artists, even though they are disreputable."
"Mr. Hamel is not disreputable."
Aunt Emmeline, as she heard this, could almost fancy that she was renewing one of her difficulties with Ayala. "My dear," she said, – and she intended to be very impressive as she spoke, – "in a matter such as this I must beg you to be guided by me. You must acknowledge that I know the world better than you do. Mr. Hamel is not a fit person to be acquainted with a young lady who occupies the place of my daughter. I am sure that will be sufficient." Then she leant back in the carriage, and seemed again to slumber; but she still had one eye open, so that if Mr. Hamel should appear again at any corner and venture to raise his hand she might be aware of the impropriety. But on that day Mr. Hamel did not appear again.
Lucy did not speak another word during the drive, and on reaching the house went at once to her bed-room. While she had been out with her aunt close to her, and while it had been possible that the man she loved should appear again, she had been unable to collect her thoughts or to make up her mind what she would do or say. One thing simply was certain to her, that if Mr. Hamel should present himself again to her she would not desert him. All that her aunt had said to her as to improprieties and the like had no effect at all upon her. The man had been welcomed at her father's house, had been allowed there to be intimate with her, and was now, as she was well aware, much dearer to her than any other human being. Not for all the Aunt Emmelines in the world would she regard him otherwise than as her dearest friend.
When she was alone she discussed the matter with herself. It was repugnant to her that there should be any secret on the subject between herself and her aunt after what had been said, – much more that there should be any deceit. "Mr. Hamel is not fit to be acquainted with a lady who occupies the position of my daughter." It was thus that her aunt had spoken. To this the proper answer seemed to be, – seemed at least to Lucy, – "In that case, my dear aunt, I cannot for a moment longer occupy the position of your daughter, as I certainly am acquainted and shall remain acquainted with Mr. Hamel." But to such speech as this on her own part there were two impediments. In the first place it would imply that Mr. Hamel was her lover, – for implying which Mr. Hamel had given her no authority; and then what should she immediately do when she had thus obstinately declared herself to be unfit for that daughter's position which she was supposed now to occupy? With all her firmness of determination she could not bring herself to tell her aunt that Mr. Hamel was her lover. Not because it was not as yet true. She would have been quite willing that her aunt should know the exact truth, if the exact truth could be explained. But how could she convey to such a one as Aunt Emmeline the meaning of those words, – "Am I to lose you again?" How could she make her aunt understand that she held herself to be absolutely bound, as by a marriage vow, by such words as those, – words in which there was no promise, even had they come from some fitting suitor, but which would be regarded by Aunt Emmeline as being simply impertinent coming as they did from such a one as Isadore Hamel. It was quite out of the question to tell all that to Aunt Emmeline, but yet it was necessary that something should be told. She had been ordered to drop her acquaintance with Isadore, and it was essential that she should declare that she would do nothing of the kind. She would not recognise such obedience as a duty on her part. The friendship had been created by her father, to whom her earlier obedience had been due. It might be that, refusing to render such obedience, her aunt and her uncle might tell her that there could be no longer shelter for her in that house. They could not cherish and foster a disobedient child. If it must be so, it must. Though there should be no home left to her in all the wide world she would not accept an order which should separate her from the man she loved. She must simply tell her aunt that she could not drop Mr. Hamel's acquaintance, – because Mr. Hamel was a friend.
Early on the next morning she did so. "Are you aware," said Aunt Emmeline, with a severe face, "that he is – illegitimate." Lucy blushed, but made no answer. "Is he – is he – engaged to you?"
"No," said Lucy, sharply.
"Has he asked you to marry him?"
"No," said Lucy.
"Then what is it?" asked Lady Tringle, in a tone which was intended to signify that as nothing of that kind had taken place such a friendship could be a matter of no consequence.
"He was papa's friend."
"My dear, what can that matter? Your poor papa has gone, and you are in my charge and your uncle's. Surely you cannot object to choose your friends as we should wish. Mr. Hamel is a gentleman of whom we do not approve. You cannot have seen very much of him, and it would be very easy for you, should he bow to you again in the park, to let him see that you do not like it."
"But I do like it," said Lucy, with energy.
"I do like to see Mr. Hamel, and I feel almost sure that he will come and call here now that he has seen me. Last winter he asked me my address, and I gave him this house."
"When you were living with your Aunt Dosett?"
"Yes, I did, Aunt Emmeline. I thought Aunt Margaret would not like him to come to Kingsbury Crescent, and, as Ayala was to be here, I told him he might call at Queen's Gate."
Then Lady Tringle was really angry. It was not only that her house should have been selected for so improper a use but that Lucy should have shown a fear and a respect for Mrs. Dosett which had not been accorded to herself. It was shocking to her pride that that should have appeared to be easy of achievement at Queen's Gate which was too wicked to be attempted at Kingsbury Crescent. And then the thing which had been done seemed in itself to her to be so horrible! This girl, when living under the care of her aunt, had made an appointment with an improper young man at the house of another aunt! Any appointment made by a young lady with a young man must, as she thought, be wrong. She began to be aghast at the very nature of the girl who could do such a thing, and on reflecting that that girl was at present under her charge as an adopted daughter. "Lucy," she said, very impressively, "there must be an end of this."
"There cannot be an end of it," said Lucy.
"Do you mean to say that he is to come here to this house whether I and your uncle like it or not?"
"He will come," said Lucy; "I am sure he will come. Now he has seen me he will come at once."
"Why should he do that if he is not your lover?"
"Because," said Lucy, – and then she paused; "because – . It is very hard to tell you, Aunt Emmeline."
"Why should he come so quickly?" demanded Aunt Emmeline again.
"Because – . Though he has said nothing to me such as that you mean," stammered out Lucy, determined to tell the whole truth, "I believe that he will."
"If he did I should accept him."
"Has he any means?"
"I do not know."
"Have you any?"
"And you would consent to be his wife after what I've told you?"
"Yes," said Lucy, "I should."
"Then it must not be in this house. That is all. I will not have him here on any pretence whatsoever."
"I thought not, Aunt Emmeline, and therefore I have told you."
"Do you mean that you will make an appointment with him elsewhere?"
"Certainly not. I have not in fact ever made an appointment with him. I do not know his address. Till yesterday I thought that he was in Rome. I never had a line from him in my life, and of course have never written to him." Upon hearing all this Lady Tringle sat in silence, not quite knowing how to carry on the conversation. The condition of Lucy's mind was so strange to her, that she felt herself to be incompetent to dictate. She could only resolve that under no circumstances should the objectionable man be allowed into her house. "Now, Aunt Emmeline," said Lucy, "I have told you everything. Of course you have a right to order, but I also have some right. You told me I was to drop Mr. Hamel, but I cannot drop him. If he comes in my way I certainly shall not drop him. If he comes here I shall see him if I can. If you and Uncle Tom choose to turn me out of course you can do so."
"I shall tell your uncle all about it," said Aunt Emmeline, angrily, "and then you will hear what he says." And so the conversation was ended.
At that moment Sir Thomas was, of course, in the City managing his millions, and as Lucy herself had suggested that Mr. Hamel might not improbably call on that very day, and as she was quite determined that Mr. Hamel should not enter the doors of the house in Queen's Gate, it was necessary that steps should be taken at once. Some hours afterwards Mr. Hamel did call and asked for Miss Dormer. The door was opened by a well-appointed footman, who, with lugubrious face, – with a face which spoke much more eloquently than his words, – declared that Miss Dormer was not at home. In answer to further inquiries he went on to express an opinion that Miss Dormer never would be at home; – from all which it may be seen that Aunt Emmeline had taken strong measures to carry out her purpose. Hamel, when he heard his fate thus plainly spoken from the man's mouth, turned away, not doubting its meaning. He had seen Lucy's face in the park, and had seen also Lady Tringle's gesture after his greeting. That Lady Tringle should not be disposed to receive him at her house was not matter of surprise to him.