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"And what is to be done with this pretty thing? I suppose it is intended for some fair lady's neck."
"Oh, of course."
"And why has it been brought down to Aldershot? There are plenty of fellows about this place who will get their hands into your pocket if they know that you have such a trinket as that about you."
"I will tell you why I brought it," said Tom, very gravely. "It is, as you say, for a young lady. I intend to make that young lady my wife. Of course this is a secret, you know."
"It shall be sacred as the Pope's toe," said Stubbs.
"Don't joke about it, Colonel, if you please. It's life and death to me."
"I'll keep your secret and will not joke. Now what can I do for you."
"I must send this as a present with a letter. I must first tell you that she has, – well, refused me."
"That never means much the first time, old boy."
"She has refused me half-a-dozen times, but I mean to go on with it. If she refuses me two dozen times I'll try her a third dozen."
"Then you are quite in earnest?"
"I am. It's a kind of thing I know that men laugh about, but I don't mind telling you that I am downright in love with her. The governor approves of it."
"She has got money, probably?"
"Not a shilling; – not as much as would buy a pair of gloves. But I don't love her a bit the less for that. As to income, the governor will stump up like a brick. Now I want you to write the letter."
"It's a kind of thing a third person can't do," said the Colonel, when he had considered the request for a moment.
"Why not? Yes, you can."
"Do it yourself, and say just the simplest words as they come up. They are sure to go further with any girl than what another man may write. It is impossible that another man should be natural on such a task as that."
"Natural! I don't know about natural," said Tom, who was anxious now to explain the character of the lady in question. "I don't know that a letter that was particularly natural would please her. A touch of poetry and romance would go further than anything natural."
"Who is the lady?" asked the Colonel, who certainly was by this time entitled to be so far inquisitive.
"She is my cousin, – Ayala Dormer."
"Ayala Dormer; – my cousin. She was at Rome, but I do not think you ever saw her there."
"I have seen her since," said the Colonel.
"Have you? I didn't know."
"She was with my aunt, the Marchesa Baldoni."
"Dear me! So she was. I never put the two things together. Don't you admire her?"
"Certainly I do. My dear fellow, I can't write this letter for you." Then he put down the pen which he had taken up as though he had intended to comply with his friend's request. "You may take it as settled that I cannot write it."
"Impossible. One man should never write such a letter for another man. You had better give the thing in person, – that is, if you mean to go on with the matter."
"I shall certainly go on with it," said Tom, stoutly.
"After a certain time, you know, reiterated offers do, you know, – do, – do, – partake of the nature of persecution."
"Reiterated refusals are the sort of persecution I don't like."
"It seems to me that Ayala, – Miss Dormer.I mean, – should be protected by a sort of feeling, – feeling of – of what I may perhaps call her dependent position. She is peculiarly, – peculiarly situated."
"If she married me she would be much better situated. I could give her everything she wants."
"It isn't an affair of money, Mr. Tringle."
Tom felt, from the use of the word Mister, that he was in some way giving offence; but felt also that there was no true cause for offence. "When a man offers everything," he said, "and asks for nothing, I don't think he should be said to persecute."
"After a time it becomes persecution. I am sure Ayala would feel it so."
"My cousin can't suppose that I am ill-using her," said Tom, who disliked the "Ayala" quite as much as he did the "Mister."
"Miss Dormer, I meant. I can have nothing further to say about it. I can't write the letter, and I should not imagine that Ayala, – Miss Dormer, – would be moved in the least by any present that could possibly be made to her. I must go out now, if you don't mind, for half-an-hour; but I shall be back in time for breakfast."
Then Tom was left alone with the necklace lying on the table before him. He knew that something was wrong with the Colonel, but could not in the least guess what it might be. He was quite aware that early in the interview the Colonel had encouraged him to persevere with the lady, and had then, suddenly, not only advised him to desist, but had told him in so many words that he was bound to desist out of consideration for the lady. And the Colonel had spoken of his cousin in a manner that was distasteful to him. He could not analyse his feelings. He did not exactly know why he was displeased, but he was displeased. The Colonel, when asked for his assistance, was, of course, bound to talk about the lady, – would be compelled, by the nature of the confidence, to mention the lady's name; – would even have been called on to write her Christian name. But this he should have done with a delicacy; – almost with a blush. Instead of that Ayala's name had been common on his tongue. Tom felt himself to be offended, but hardly knew why. And then, why had he been called Mister Tringle? The breakfast, which was eaten shortly afterwards in the company of three or four other men, was not eaten in comfort; – and then Tom hurried back to London and to Lombard Street.
After this failure Tom felt it to be impossible to go to another friend for assistance. There had been annoyance in describing his love to Colonel Stubbs, and pain in the treatment he had received. Even had there been another friend to whom he could have confided the task, he could not have brought himself to encounter the repetition of such treatment. He was as firmly fixed as ever in his conviction that he could not write the letter himself. And, as he thought of the words with which he should accompany a personal presentation of the necklace, he reflected that in all probability he might not be able to force his way into Ayala's presence. Then a happy thought struck him. Mrs. Dosett was altogether on his side. Everybody was on his side except Ayala herself, and that pigheaded Colonel. Would it not be an excellent thing to entrust the necklace to the hands of his Aunt Dosett, in order that she might give it over to Ayala with all the eloquence in her power. Satisfied with this project he at once wrote a note to Mrs. Dosett.
On the following morning he apparelled himself with all his rings. He was a good-hearted, well-intentioned young man, with excellent qualities; but he must have been slow of intellect when he had not as yet learnt the deleterious effect of all those rings. On this occasion he put on his rings, his chains, and his bright waistcoat, and made himself a thing disgusting to be looked at by any well-trained female. As far as his aunt was concerned he would have been altogether indifferent as to his appearance, but there was present to his mind some small hope that he might be allowed to see Ayala, as the immediate result of the necklace. Should he see Ayala, then how unfortunate it would be that he should present himself before the eyes of his mistress without those adornments which he did not doubt would be grateful to her. He had heard from Ayala's own lips that all things ought to be pretty. Therefore he endeavoured to make himself pretty. Of course he failed, – as do all men who endeavour to make themselves pretty, – but it was out of the question that he should understand the cause of his failure.
"Aunt Dosett, I want you to do me a very great favour," he began, with a solemn voice.
"Are you going to a party, Tom," she said.
"A party! No, – who gives a party in London at this time of the day? Oh, you mean because I have just got a few things on. When I call anywhere I always do. I have got another lady to see, a lady of rank, and so I just made a change." But this was a fib.
"What can I do for you, Tom?"
"I want you to look at that." Then he brought out the necklace, and, taking it out of the case, displayed the gems tastefully upon the table.
"I do believe they are diamonds," said Mrs. Dosett.
"Yes; they are diamonds. I am not the sort of fellow to get anything sham. What do you think that little thing cost, Aunt Dosett?"
"I haven't an idea. Sixty pounds, perhaps!"
"Sixty pounds! Do you go into a jeweller's shop and see what you could do among diamonds with sixty pounds!"
"I never do go into jewellers' shops, Tom."
"Nor I, very often. It's a sort of place where a fellow can drop a lot of money. But I did go into one after this. It don't look much, does it?"
"It is very pretty."
"I think it is pretty. Well, Aunt Dosett, the price for that little trifle was three – hundred – guineas!" As he said this he looked into his aunt's face for increased admiration.
"You gave three hundred guineas for it!"
"I went with ready money in my hand, when I tempted the man with a cheque to let me have it for two hundred and fifty pounds. In buying jewelry you should always do that."
"I never buy jewelry," said Mrs. Dosett, crossly.
"If you should, I mean. Now, I'll tell you what I want you to do. This is for Ayala."
"Yes, indeed. I am not the fellow to stick at a trifle when I want to carry my purpose. I bought this the other day and gave ready money for it, – two hundred and fifty pounds, – on purpose to give it to Ayala. In naming the value, – of course you'll do that when you give it her, – you might as well say three hundred guineas. That was the price on the ticket. I saw it myself, – so there won't be any untruth you know."
"Am I to give it her?"
"That's just what I want. When I talk to her she flares up, and, as likely as not, she'd fling the necklace at my head."
"She wouldn't do that, I hope."
"It would depend upon how the thing went. When I do talk to her it always seems that nothing I say can be right. Now, if you will give it her you can put in all manner of pretty things."
"This itself will be the prettiest thing," said Mrs. Dosett.
"That's just what I was thinking. Everybody agrees that diamonds will go further with a girl than anything else. When I told the governor he quite jumped at the idea."
"Sir Thomas knows you are giving it?"
"Oh, dear, yes. I had to get the rhino from him. I don't go about with two hundred and fifty pounds always in my own pocket."
"If he had sent the money to Ayala how much better it would have been," said poor Mrs. Dosett.
"I don't think that at all. Who ever heard of making a present to a young lady in money. Ayala is romantic, and that would have been the most unromantic thing out. That would not have done me the least good in the world. It would simply have gone to buy boots and petticoats and such like. A girl would never be brought to think of her lover merely by putting on a pair of boots. When she fastens such a necklace as this round her throat he ought to have a chance. Don't you think so, Aunt Dosett?"
"Tom, shall I tell you something?" said the aunt.
"What is it, Aunt Dosett?"
"I don't believe that you have a chance."
"Do you mean that?" he asked, sorrowfully.
"You think that the necklace will do no good?"
"Not the least. Of course I will offer it to her if you wish it, because her uncle and I quite approve of you as a husband for Ayala. But I am bound to tell you the truth. I do not think the necklace will do you any good." Then he sat silent for a time, meditating upon his condition. It might be imprudent; – it might be a wrong done to his father to jeopardise the necklace. How could it be if Ayala were to take the necklace and not to take him? "Am I to give it?" she asked.
"Yes," said he, bravely, but with a sigh; "give it her all the same."
"From you or from Sir Thomas?"
"Oh, from me; – from me. If she were told it came from the governor she'd keep it whether or no. I am sure I hope she will keep it," he said, trying to remove the bad impression which his former words might perhaps have left.
"You may be sure she will not keep it," said Mrs. Dosett, "unless she should intend to accept your hand. Of that I can hold out no hope to you. There is a matter, Tom, which I think I should tell you as you are so straightforward in your offer. Another gentleman has asked her to marry him."
"She has accepted him!" exclaimed Tom.
"No, she has not accepted him. She has refused him."
"Then I'm just where I was," said Tom.
"She has refused him, but I think that she is in a sort of way attached to him; and though he too has been refused I imagine that his chance is better than yours."
"And who the d – is he?" said Tom, jumping up from his seat in great excitement.
"Tom!" exclaimed Mrs. Dosett.
"I beg your pardon; but you see this is very important. Who is the fellow?"
"He is one Colonel Jonathan Stubbs."
"Colonel Jonathan Stubbs."
"Impossible! It can't be Colonel Stubbs. I know Colonel Stubbs."
"I can assure you it is true, Tom. I have had a letter from a lady, – a relative of Colonel Stubbs, – telling me the whole story."
"Colonel Stubbs!" he said. "That passes anything I ever heard. She has refused him?"
"Yes, she has refused him."
"And has not accepted him since?"
"She certainly has not accepted him yet."
"You may give her the bracelet all the same," said Tom, hurrying out of the room. That Colonel Stubbs should have made an offer to Ayala, and yet have accepted his, Tom Tringle's, confidence!