Three days after this Hamel was preparing himself for his departure immediately after breakfast. "What a beast you are to go," said the Colonel, "when there can be no possible reason for your going."
"The five daughters and the bad hat make it necessary that a fellow should do a little work sometimes."
"Why can't you make your images down here?"
"With you for a model, and mud out of the Caller for clay."
"I shouldn't have the slightest objection. In your art you cannot perpetuate the atrocity of my colour, as the fellow did who painted my portrait last winter. If you will go, go, and make busts at unheard-of prices, so that the five daughters may live for ever on the fat of the land. Can I do any good for you by going over to Glenbogie?"
"If you could snub that Mr. Traffick, who is of all men the most atrocious."
"The power doesn't exist," said the Colonel, "which could snub the Honourable Septimus. That man is possessed of a strength which I thoroughly envy, – which is perhaps more enviable than any other gift the gods can give. Words cannot penetrate that skin of his. Satire flows off him like water from a duck. Ridicule does not touch him. The fellest abuse does not succeed in inflicting the slightest wound. He has learnt the great secret that a man cannot be cut who will not be cut. As it is worth no man's while to protract an enmity with such a one as he, he suffers from no prolonged enmities. He walks unassailable by any darts, and is, I should say, the happiest man in London."
"Then I fear you can do nothing for me at Glenbogie. To mollify Aunt Emmeline would, I fear, be beyond your power. Sir Thomas, as far as I can see, does not require much mollifying."
"Sir Thomas might give the young woman a thousand or two."
"That is not the way in which I desire to keep a good hat on my head," said Hamel, as he seated himself in the little carriage which was to take him down to Callerfoot.
The Colonel remained at Drumcaller till the end of September, when his presence was required at Aldershot, – during which time he shot a good deal, in obedience to the good-natured behests of Lord Glentower, and in spite of the up-turned nose of Mr. Traffick. He read much, and smoked much, – so that as to the passing of his time there was not need to pity him, and he consumed a portion of his spare hours in a correspondence with his aunt, the Marchesa, and with his cousin Nina. One of his letters from each shall be given, – and also one of the letters written to each in reply.
My dear Jonathan,
Lady Albury says that you ought to be here, and so you ought. It is ever so nice. There is a Mr. Ponsonby here, and he and I can beat any other couple at lawn tennis. There is an awning over the ground, which is such a lounge. Playing lawn tennis with a parasol as those Melcombe girls did is stupid. They were here, but have gone.One I am quite sure was over head and ears in love with Mr. Ponsonby. These sort of things are always all on one side, you know. He isn't very much of a man, but he does play lawn tennis divinely. Take it altogether, I don't think there is anything out to beat lawn tennis. I don't know about hunting, – and I don't suppose I ever shall.
We tried to have Ayala here, but I fear it will not come off. Lady Albury was good-natured, but at last she did not quite like writing to Mrs. Dosett. So mamma wrote, but the lady's answer was very stiff. She thought it better for Ayala to remain among her own friends. Poor Ayala! It is clear that a knight will be wanted to go in armour, and get her out of prison. I will leave it to you to say who must be the knight.
I hope you will come for a day or two before you go to Aldershot. We stay till the 1st of October. You will be a beast if you don't. Lady Albury says she never means to ask you again. "Oh, Stubbs!" said Sir Harry; "Stubbs is one of those fellows who never come if they're asked." Of course we all sat upon him. Then he declared that you were the dearest friend he had in the world, but that he never dared to dream that you would ever come to Stalham again. Perhaps if we can hit it off at last with Ayala, then you would come. Mamma means to try again. – Your affectionate cousin,Nina.
My dear Jonathan,
I did my best for my prot?g?, but I am afraid it will not succeed. Her aunt Mrs. Dosett seems to think that, as Ayala is fated to live with her, Ayala had better take her fate as she finds it. The meaning of that is, that if a girl is doomed to have a dull life she had better not begin it with a little pleasure. There is a good deal to be said for the argument, but if I were the girl I should like to begin with the pleasure and take my chance for the reaction. I should perhaps be vain enough to think that during the preliminary course I might solve all the difficulty by my beaux yeux. I saw Mrs. Dosett once, and now I have had a letter from her. Upon the whole, I am inclined to pity poor Ayala.
We are very happy here. The Marchese has gone to Como to look after some property he has there. Do not be ill-natured enough to say that the two things go together; – but in truth he is never comfortable out of Italy. He had a slice of red meat put before him the other day, and that decided him to start at once.
On the first of October we go back to London, and shall remain till the end of November. They have asked Nina to come again in November in order that she may see a hunt. I know that means that she will try to jump over something, and have her leg broken. You must be here and not allow it. If she does come here I shall perhaps go down to Brighton for a fortnight.
Yes; – I do think Ayala Dormer is a very pretty girl, and I do think, also, that she is clever. I quite agree that she is ladylike. But I do not therefore think that she is just such a girl as such a man as Colonel Jonathan Stubbs ought to marry. She is one of those human beings who seem to have been removed out of this world and brought up in another. Though she knows ever so much that nobody else knows, she is ignorant of ever so much that everybody ought to know. Wandering through a grove, or seated by a brook, or shivering with you on the top of a mountain, she would be charming. I doubt whether she would be equally good at the top of your table, or looking after your children, or keeping the week's accounts. She would tease you with poetry, and not even pretend to be instructed when you told her how an army ought to be moved. I say nothing as to the fact that she hasn't got a penny, though you are just in that position which makes it necessary for a man to get some money with his wife. I therefore am altogether indisposed to any matrimonial outlook in that direction. – Your affectionate aunt,Beatrice Baldoni.
Lady Albury is wrong; I ought not to be at Stalham. What should I do at Stalham at this time of year, who never shoot partridges, and what would be the use of attempting lawn tennis when I know I should be cut out by Mr. Ponsonby? If that day in November is to come off then I'll come and coach you across the country. You tell Sir Harry that I say so, and that I will bring three horses for one week. I think it very hard about poor Ayala Dormer, but what can any knight do in such a case? When a young lady is handed over to the custody of an uncle or an aunt, she becomes that uncle's and aunt's individual property. Mrs. Dosett may be the most noxious dragon that ever was created for the mortification and general misery of an imprisoned damsel, but still she is omnipotent. The only knight who can be of any service is one who will go with a ring in his hand, and absolutely carry the prisoner away by force of the marriage service. Your unfortunate cousin is so exclusively devoted to the duty of fighting his country's battles that he has not even time to think of a step so momentous as that.
Poor Ayala! Do not be stupid enough to accuse me of pitying her because I cannot be the knight to release her; but I cannot but think how happy she would be at Stalham, struggling to beat you and Mr. Ponsonby at lawn tennis, and then risking a cropper when the happy days of November should come round. – Your loving cousin,J. S.
My dear Aunt,
Your letter is worthy of the Queen of Sheba, if, as was no doubt the case, she corresponded with King Solomon. As for Ayala's fate, if it be her fate to live with Mrs. Dosett, she can only submit to it. You cannot carry her over to Italy, nor would the Marchese allow her to divide his Italian good things with Nina. Poor little bird! She had her chance of living amidst diamonds and bank-notes, with the Tringle millionaires, but threw it away after some fashion that I do not understand. No doubt she was a fool, but I cannot but like her the better for it. I hardly think that a fortnight at Stalham, with all Sir Harry's luxuries around her, would do her much service.
As for myself and the top of my table, and the future companion who is to be doomed to listen to my military lucubrations, I am altogether inclined to agree with you, seeing that you write in a pure spirit of worldly good sense. No doubt the Queen of Sheba gave advice of the same sort to King Solomon. I never knew a woman to speak confidentially of matrimony otherwise than as a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence. In counsels so given, no word of love has ever been known to creep in. Why should it, seeing that love cannot put a leg of mutton into the pot? Don't imagine that I say this in a spirit either of censure or satire. Your ideas are my own, and should I ever marry I shall do so in strict accordance with your tenets, thinking altogether of the weekly accounts, and determined to eschew any sitting by the sides of brooks.
I have told Nina about my plans. I will be at Stalham in November to see that she does not break her neck. – Yours always,J. S.
Perhaps Mrs. Dosett had some just cause for refusing her sanction for the proposed visit to Albury. If Fate did require that Ayala should live permanently in Kingsbury Crescent, the gaiety of a very gay house, and the wealth of a very wealthy house, would hardly be good preparation for such a life. Up to the time of her going to the Marchesa in Brook Street, Ayala had certainly done her best to suit herself to her aunt's manners, – though she had done it with pain and suffering. She had hemmed the towels and mended the sheets, and had made the rounds to the shops. She had endeavoured to attend to the pounds of meat and to sympathise with her aunt in the interest taken in the relics of the joints as they escaped from the hungry treatment of the two maidens in the kitchen. Ayala had been clever enough to understand that her aunt had been wounded by Lucy's indifference, not so much because she had desired to avail herself of Lucy's labours as from a feeling that that indifference had seemed to declare that her own pursuits were mean and vulgar. Understanding this she had struggled to make those pursuits her own, – and had in part succeeded. Her aunt could talk to her about the butter and the washing, matters as to which her lips had been closed in any conversation with Lucy. That Ayala was struggling Mrs. Dosett had been aware; – but she had thought that such struggles were good and had not been hopeless. Then came the visit to Brook Street, and Ayala returned quite an altered young woman. It seemed as though she neither could nor would struggle any longer. "I hate mutton-bones," she said to her aunt one morning soon after her return.
"No doubt we would all like meat joints the best," said her aunt, frowning.
"I hate joints too."
"You have, I dare say, been cockered up at the Marchesa's with made dishes."
"I hate dishes," said Ayala, petulantly.
"You don't hate eating?"
"Yes, I do. It is ignoble. Nature should have managed it differently. We ought to have sucked it in from the atmosphere through our fingers and hairs, as the trees do by their leaves. There should have been no butchers, and no grease, and no nasty smells from the kitchen, – and no gin."
This was worse than all, – this allusion to the mild but unfashionable stimulant to which Mr. Dosett had been reduced by his good nature. "You are flying in the face of the Creator, Miss," said Aunt Margaret, in her most angry voice, – "in the face of the Creator who made everything, and ordained what his creatures should eat and drink by His infinite wisdom."
"Nevertheless," said Ayala, "I think we might have done without boiled mutton." Then she turned to some articles of domestic needlework which were in her lap so as to show that in spite of the wickedness of her opinions she did not mean to be idle. But Mrs. Dosett, in her wrath, snatched the work from her niece's hands and carried it out of the room, thus declaring that not even a pillow-case in her house should owe a stitch to the hands of a girl so ungrateful and so blasphemous.
The wrath wore off soon. Ayala, though not contrite was meek, and walked home with her aunt on the following morning, patiently carrying a pound of butter, six eggs, and a small lump of bacon in a basket. After that the pillow-case was recommitted to her. But there still was left evidence enough that the girl's mind had been upset by the luxuries of Brook Street, – evidence to which Aunt Margaret paid very much attention, insisting upon it in her colloquies with her husband. "I think that a little amusement is good for young people," said Uncle Reginald, weakly.
"And for old people too. No doubt about it, if they can get it so as not to do them any harm at the same time. Nothing can be good for a young woman which unfits her for that state of life to which it has pleased God to call her. Ayala has to live with us. No doubt there was a struggle when she first came from your sister, Lady Tringle, but she made it gallantly, and I gave her great credit. She was just falling into a quiet mode of life when there came this invitation from the Marchesa Baldoni. Now she has come back quite an altered person, and the struggle has to be made all over again." Uncle Reginald again expressed his opinion that young people ought to have a little amusement, but he was not strong enough to insist very much upon his theory. It certainly, however, was true that Ayala, though she still struggled, had been very much disturbed by the visit.
Then came the invitation to Stalham. There was a very pretty note from Lady Albury to Ayala herself, saying how much pleasure she would have in seeing Miss Dormer at her house, where Ayala's old friends the Marchesa and Nina were then staying. This was accompanied by a long letter from Nina herself, in which all the charms of Stalham, including Mr. Ponsonby and lawn tennis, were set forth at full length. Ayala had already heard much about Stalham and the Alburys from her friend Nina, who had hinted in a whisper that such an invitation as this might perhaps be forthcoming. She was ready enough for the visit, having looked through her wardrobe, and resolved that things which had been good enough for Brook Street would still be good enough for Stalham. But the same post had brought a letter for Mrs. Dosett, and Ayala could see, that, as the letter was read, a frown came upon her aunt's brow, and that the look on her aunt's face was decidedly averse to Stalham. This took place soon after breakfast, when Uncle Reginald had just started for his office, and neither of them for awhile said a word to the other of the letter that had been received. It was not till after lunch that Ayala spoke. "Aunt," she said, "you have had a letter from Lady Albury?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Dosett, grimly, "I have had a letter from Lady Albury."
Then there was another silence, till Ayala, whose mind was full of promised delights, could not refrain herself longer. "Aunt Margaret," she said, "I hope you mean to let me go." For a minute or two there was no reply, and Ayala again pressed her question. "Lady Albury wants me to go to Stalham."
"She has written to me to say that she would receive you."
"And I may go?"
"I am strongly of opinion that you had better not," said Mrs. Dosett, confirming her decree by a nod which might have suited Jupiter.
"Oh, Aunt Margaret, why not?"
"I think it would be most prudent to decline."
"But why, – why, – why, Aunt Margaret?"
"There must be expense."
"I have money enough for the journey left of my own from what Uncle Tom gave me," said Ayala, pleading her cause with all her eloquence.
"It is not only the money. There are other reasons, – very strong reasons."
"What reasons, Aunt Margaret?"
"My dear, it is your lot to have to live with us, and not with such people as the Marchesa Baldoni and Lady Albury."
"I am sure I do not complain."
"But you would complain after having for a time been used to the luxuries of Albury Park. I do not say that as finding fault, Ayala. It is human nature that it should be so."
"But I won't complain. Have I ever complained?"
"Yes, my dear. You told me the other day that you did not like bones of mutton, and you were disgusted because things were greasy. I do not say this by way of scolding you, Ayala, but only that you may understand what must be the effect of your going from such a house as this to such a house as Stalham, and then returning back from Stalham to such a house as this. You had better be contented with your position."
"I am contented with my position," sobbed Ayala.
"And allow me to write to Lady Albury refusing the invitation."
But Ayala could not be brought to look at the matter with her aunt's eyes. When her aunt pressed her for an answer which should convey her consent she would give none, and at last left the room bitterly sobbing. Turning the matter over in her own bosom upstairs she determined to be mutinous. No doubt she owed a certain amount of obedience to her aunt; but had she not been obedient, had she not worked hard and lugged about that basket of provisions, and endeavoured to take an interest in all her aunt's concerns? Was she so absolutely the property of her aunt that she was bound to do everything her aunt desired to the utter annihilation of all her hopes, to the extermination of her promised joys? She felt that she had succeeded in Brook Street. She had met no Angel of Light, but she was associated with people whom she had liked, and had been talked to by those to whom it had been a pleasure to listen. That colonel with the quaint name and the ugly face was still present to her memory as he had leaned over her shoulder at the theatre, making her now laugh by his drollery, and now filling her mind with interest by his description of the scenes which she was seeing. She was sure that all this, or something of the same nature, would be renewed for her delight at Stalham. And was she to be robbed of this, – the only pleasure which seemed to remain to her in this world, – merely because her aunt chose to entertain severe notions as to duty and pleasure? Other girls went out when they were asked. At Rome, when that question of the dance at the Marchesa's had been discussed, she had had her own way in opposition to her Aunt Emmeline and her cousin Augusta. No doubt she had, in consequence partly of her conduct on that occasion, been turned out of her Uncle Tom's house; but of that she did not think at the present moment. She would be mutinous, and would appeal to her Uncle Reginald for assistance.
But the letter which contained the real invitation had been addressed to her aunt, and her aunt could in truth answer it as she pleased. The answer might at this moment be in the act of being written, and should it be averse Ayala knew very well that she could not go in opposition to it. And yet her aunt came to her in the afternoon consulting her again, quite unconquered as to her own opinion, but still evidently unwilling to write the fatal letter without Ayala's permission. Then Ayala assured herself that she had rights of her own, which her aunt did not care to contravene. "I think I ought to be allowed to go," she said, when her aunt came to her during the afternoon.
"When I think it will be bad for you?"
"It won't be bad. They are very good people. I think that I ought to be allowed to go."
"Have you no reliance on those who are your natural guardians?"
"Uncle Reginald is my natural guardian," said Ayala, through her tears.
"Very well! If you refuse to be guided by me as though I were not your aunt, and as you will pay no attention to what I tell you is proper for you and best, the question must be left till your uncle comes home. I cannot but be very much hurt that you should think so little of me. I have always endeavoured to do the best I could for you, just as though I were your mother."
"I think that I ought to be allowed to go," repeated Ayala.
As the first consequence of this, the replies to all the three letters were delayed for the next day's post. Ayala had considered much with what pretty words she might best answer Lady Albury's kind note, and she had settled upon a form of words which she had felt to be very pretty. Unless her uncle would support her, that would be of no avail, and another form must be chosen. To Nina she would tell the whole truth, either how full of joy she was, – or else how cruelly used and how thoroughly broken-hearted. But she could not think that her uncle would be unkind to her. Her uncle had been uniformly gentle. Her uncle, when he should know how much her heart was set upon it, would surely let her go.