In this emergency she induced him to accede to a proposition, by which one of her miseries would be brought to an end and another might perhaps be remedied. A second exchange should be made. Lucy should be sent back to Kingsbury Crescent, and Ayala should once more be brought into favour at Merle Park, Queen's Gate, and Glenbogie. "Your brother will never put up with it," said Sir Thomas. Lady Tringle was not afraid of her brother, and thought that by soft words she might even talk over her sister-in-law. Ayala, she knew, had been troublesome in Kingsbury Crescent. She was sure, she said, Ayala's whims would of their nature be more troublesome to such a woman as Mrs. Dosett than Lucy's obstinacy. Ayala had no doubt been pert and disobedient at Glenbogie and at Rome, but there had been an unbending obduracy about Lucy which had been more distasteful to Aunt Emmeline than even Ayala's pert disobedience. "It will be the only way," she had said to Sir Thomas, "to put Tom on his legs again. If the girl comes back here she will be sure to have him at last." There was much in this which to Sir Thomas was weak and absurd. That prolonged journey round by San Francisco, Japan, and Pekin, was the remedy which recommended itself to him. But he was less able to despatch Tom at once to Japan than the elder Faddle had been to send off the younger Faddle to the stern realities of life in Aberdeen. He was quite willing that Tom should marry Ayala if it could be arranged, and therefore he gave his consent.
So armed, Lady Tringle had come up to Kingsbury Crescent, and was now about to undertake a task, which she acknowledged to herself to be difficult. She, in the first place, had had her choice and had selected a niece. Then she had quarrelled with her own selection, and had changed nieces. This had been done to accommodate her own fancy; and now she wanted to change the nieces back again! She felt aware that her request was unreasonable, and came, therefore, determined to wrap it up in her blandest smiles.
When Ayala had left the room Mrs. Dosett sat mute in attention. She was quite aware that something very much out of the ordinary way was to be asked of her. In her ordinary way Lady Tringle never did smile when she came to Kingsbury Crescent. She would be profuse in finery, and would seem to throw off sparks of wealth at every word she spoke. Now even her dress had been toned down to her humbler manner, and there was no touch of her husband's purse in her gait. "Margaret," she said, "I have a proposition of great importance to make to you." Mrs. Dosett opened her eyes wider and sat still mute. "That poor girl is not, – is not, – is not doing perhaps the very best for herself here at Kingsbury Crescent."
"Why is she not doing the best for herself?" asked Mrs. Dosett, angrily.
"Do not for a moment suppose that I am finding fault either with you or my brother."
"You'd be very wrong if you did."
"No doubt; – but I am not finding fault.
"What is it you want us to do now, Emmeline?"
"Well; – I was going to explain. I do think it a great pity that Tom and Ayala should not become man and wife. If ever any young man ever did love a girl I believe that he loves her."
"I think he does."
"It is dreadful. I never saw anything like it. He is just for all the world like those young men we read of who do all manner of horrible things for love, – smothering themselves and their young women with charcoal, or throwing them into the Regent's Canal. I am constantly afraid of something happening. It was all because of Ayala that he got into that terrible row at the police court, – and then we were afraid he was going to take to drink. He has given all that up now."
"I am very glad he has given drink up. That wouldn't do him any good."
"He is quite different now. The poor fellow hardly takes anything. He will sit all the afternoon smoking cigarettes and sipping tea. It is quite sad to see him. Then he comes and talks to me, and is always asking me to make Ayala have him."
"I don't think that anybody can ever make Ayala do anything."
"Not quite by talking to her. I dare say not. I did not mean to say a word to her about it just now."
"We can do nothing, I fear," said Mrs. Dosett.
"I was going to suggest something. But I wanted first to say a word or two about poor Lucy." They were just at present all "poor" to Lady Tringle, – Ayala, Lucy, Tom, and Gertrude. Even Augusta was poor because she was to be turned out of her bedroom.
"Is she in trouble?"
"Oh, dear, yes. But," she added, thinking well to correct herself, so that Mrs. Dosett might not imagine that she would have to look forward to troubles with Lucy, "she could arrange her affairs, no doubt, if she were not with us. She is engaged to that Mr. Isadore Hamel, the sculptor."
"So I have heard."
"He does not earn very much just at present, I fear. Sir Thomas did offer to help him, but he was perhaps a little hoity-toity, giving himself airs. That, however, did not come off, and there they are, waiting. I don't mean to say a word against poor Lucy. I think it a pity, you know; but perhaps it was natural enough. He isn't what I should have liked for a niece who was living with me just as though she was my daughter; but I couldn't help that."
"But what are we to do, Emmeline?"
"Let them just change places again."
"Change again! Ayala go to you and Lucy come back here!"
"Just that. If Ayala were with us she would be sure to get used to Tom at last. And then Lucy could manage her affairs with Mr. Hamel so much better if she were with you."
"Why should she manage her affairs better if she were with us?"
Lady Tringle was aware that this was the weak part of her case. On the poor Ayala and poor Tom side of the question there was a good deal which might be said. Then, though she might not convince, she might be eloquent. But, touching Lucy, she could say nothing which did not simply signify that she wanted to get rid of the girl. Now, Mrs. Dosett had also wanted to get rid of Lucy when the former exchange had been made. "What I mean is, that, if she were away, Sir Thomas would be more likely to do something for her." This was an invention at the spur of the moment.
"Do you not feel that the girls should not be chucked about like balls from a battledore?" asked Mrs. Dosett.
"For their own good, Margaret. I only propose it for their own good. You can't but think it would be a good thing for Ayala to be married to our Tom."
"If she liked him."
"Why shouldn't she like him? You know what that means. Poor Ayala is young, and a little romantic. She would be a great deal happier if all that could be knocked out of her. She has to marry somebody, and the sooner she settles down the better. Sir Thomas will do anything for them; – a horse and carriage, and anything she could set her heart upon! There is nothing Sir Thomas would not do for Tom so as to get him put upon his legs again."
"I don't think Ayala would go."
"She must, you know," whispered Lady Tringle, "if we both tell her."
"She must too," again whispered Lady Tringle. "If they are told they are to go, what else can they do? Why shouldn't Ayala wish to come?"
"There were quarrels before."
"Yes; – because of Augusta. Augusta is married now." Lady Tringle could not quite say that Augusta was gone.
"Will you speak to Ayala?"
"Perhaps it would come better from you, Margaret, if you agree with me."
"I am not sure that I do. I am quite sure that your brother would not force her to go, whether she wished it or not. No doubt we should be glad if the marriage could be arranged. But we cannot force a girl to marry, and her aversion in this case is so strong – "
"Aversion to being married, I mean. It is so strong that I do not think she will go of her own accord to any house where she is likely to meet her cousin. I dare say she may be a fool. I say nothing about that. Of course, she shall be asked; and, if she wishes to go, then Lucy can be asked too. But of course it must all depend upon what your brother says."
Then Lady Tringle took her leave without again seeing Ayala herself, and as she went declared her intention of calling at Somerset House. She would not think it right, she said, in a matter of such importance, to leave London without consulting her brother. It might be possible, she thought, that she would be able to talk her brother over; whereas his wife, if she had the first word, might turn him the other way.
"Is Aunt Emmeline gone?" asked Ayala, when she came down. "I am glad she has gone, because I never know how to look when she calls me dear. I know she hates me."
"I hope not, Ayala."
"I am sure she does, because I hated Augusta. I do hate Augusta, and my aunt hates me. The only one of the lot I like is Uncle Tom."
Then the proposition was made, Ayala sitting with her mouth wide open as the details, one after another, were opened out to her. Her aunt did it with exquisite fairness, abstaining from opening out some of the details which might be clear enough to Ayala without any explanation. Her Aunt Emmeline was very anxious to have her back again, – the only reason for her former expulsion having been the enmity of Augusta. Her Uncle Tom and her aunt, and, no doubt, Gertrude, would be very glad to receive her. Not a word was said about Tom. Then something was urged as to the material comforts of the Tringle establishments, and of the necessary poverty of Kingsbury Crescent.
"And Lucy is to have the poverty?" said Ayala, indignantly.
"I think it probable, my dear, that before long Lucy will become the wife of Mr. Hamel."
"And you want to get rid of me?" demanded Ayala.
"No, my dear; not so. You must not think that for a moment. The proposition has not originated with me at all. I am endeavouring to do my duty by explaining to you the advantages which you would enjoy by going to your Aunt Emmeline, and which you certainly cannot have if you remain here. And I must tell you, that, if you return to Sir Thomas, he will probably provide for you. You know what I mean by providing for you?"
"No, I don't," said Ayala, who had in her mind some dim idea that her cousin Tom was supposed to be a provision. She was quite aware that her Aunt Margaret, in her explanation as hitherto given, had not mentioned Tom's name, and was sure that it had not been omitted without reason.
"By providing, I mean that if you are living in his house he will leave you something in his will; – as would be natural that he should do for a child belonging to him. Your Uncle Reginald" – this she said in a low and very serious tone – "will, I fear, have nothing to leave to you." Then there was silence for some minutes, after which Mrs. Dosett asked the important question, "Well, Ayala, what do you think about it?"
"Must I go?" said Ayala. "May I stay?"
"Yes, my dear; you may certainly stay if you wish it."
"Then I will stay," said Ayala, jumping up on to her feet. "You do not want to turn me out, Aunt Margaret?" Then she went down on her knees, and, leaning on her aunt's lap, looked up into her face. "If you will keep me I will try to be good."
"My dear, you are good. I have nothing to complain of. Of course we will keep you. Nobody has thought for a moment of bidding you go. But you should understand that when your aunt made the proposition I was bound to tell it you." Then there was great embracing and kissing, and Ayala felt that she was relieved from a terrible danger. She had often declared that no one could make her marry her cousin Tom; but it had seemed to her for a moment that if she were given up bodily to the Tringles no mode of escape would be open to her short of suicide. There had been a moment almost of regret that she had never brought herself to regard Jonathan Stubbs as an Angel of Light.
At Somerset House Lady Tringle made her suggestion to her brother with even more flowery assurance of general happiness than she had used in endeavouring to persuade his wife. Ayala would, of course, be married to Tom in the course of the next six months, and during the same period Lucy, no doubt, would be married to that very enterprising but somewhat obstinate young man, Mr. Hamel. Thus there would be an end to all the Dormer troubles; "and you, Reginald," she said, "will be relieved from a burden which never ought to have been laid upon your shoulder."
"We will think of it," he said very gravely, over and over again. Beyond that "we will think of it" he could not be induced to utter a word.
Three days were allowed to Frank Houston to consider within his own mind what he would say for himself and what he would propose finally to do when he should see Miss Docimer on the appointed Sunday. He was called upon to decide whether, after so many resolutions made to the contrary, he would now at last bring himself to encounter poverty and a family, – genteel poverty with about seven hundred and fifty pounds a-year between himself and his wife. He had hitherto been very staunch on the subject, and had unfortunately thought that Imogene Docimer had been as firmly fixed in her determination. His theory had in itself been good. If two people marry they are likely, according to the laws of nature, to have very soon more than two. In the process of a dozen years they may not improbably become ever so many more than two. Funds which were barely enough, if enough, for two, would certainly fail to be enough for half-a-dozen. His means were certainly not enough for himself, as he had hitherto found them. Imogene's means were less even than his own. Therefore, it was clear that he and Imogene ought not to marry and encounter the danger of all those embryo mouths. There was a logic about it which had seemed to him to be unanswerable. It was a logic which applied to his case above all others. The man who had a hope of earning money need not be absolutely bound by it. To him the money might come as quickly as the mouths. With the cradles would arrive the means of buying the cradles. And to the man who had much more than enough for himself, – to such a man as he had expected to be while he was looking forward to the coffin of that iniquitous uncle, – the logic did not apply at all. In defending himself, both to himself and to Imogene, he was very strong upon that point. A man who had plenty and would not divide his plenty with another might with truth be called selfish. Rich old bachelors might with propriety be called curmudgeons. But was it right that a man should be abused, – even by a young lady to whom, under more propitious circumstances, he had offered his heart, – when he declared himself unwilling to multiply suffering by assisting to bring into the world human beings whom he would be unable to support? He had felt himself to be very strong in his logic, and had unfortunately made the mistake of supposing that it was as clear to Imogene as to himself.
Then he had determined to rectify the inconvenience of his position. It had become manifest to him whilst he was waiting for his uncle's money that not only were his own means insufficient for married life but even for single comfort. It would always come to pass that when he had resolved on two mutton chops and half-a-pint of sherry the humble little meal would spread itself into woodcock and champagne. He regarded it as an unkindness in Providence that he should not have been gifted with economy. Therefore, he had to look about him for a remedy; and, as Imogene was out of the question, he found a remedy in Gertrude Tringle. He had then believed that everything was settled for him, – not, indeed, in a manner very pleasant, but after a fashion that would make life possible to him. Sir Thomas had given one of his daughters, with a large sum of money, to such a man as Septimus Traffick, – a man more impecunious than himself, one whom Frank did not hesitate to pronounce to be much less of a gentleman. That seat in the House of Commons was to him nothing. There were many men in the House of Commons to whom he would hardly condescend to speak. To be the younger son of a latter-day peer was to him nothing. He considered himself in all respects to be a more eligible husband than Septimus Traffick. Therefore he had entertained but little doubt when he found himself accepted by Gertrude herself and her mother. Then by degrees he had learnt to know something of the young lady to whom he intended to devote himself; and it had come to pass that the better he had known the less he had liked her. Nevertheless he had persevered, groaning in spirit as he thought of the burden with which he was about to inflict himself. Then had come the release. Sir Thomas had explained to him that no money would be forthcoming; and the young lady had made to him a foolish proposition, which, as he thought, fully justified him in regarding the match as at an end.
And then he had three days in which to make up his mind. It may be a question whether three days are ever much better than three minutes for such a purpose. A man's mind will very generally refuse to make itself up until it be driven and compelled by emergency. The three days are passed not in forming but in postponing judgment. In nothing is procrastination so tempting as in thought. So it came to pass, that through the Thursday, the Friday, and the Saturday, Frank Houston came to no conclusion, though he believed that every hour of the time was devoted to forming one. Then, as he ate his dinner on Saturday night at his club, a letter was brought to him, the handwriting of which was familiar to him. This letter assisted him little in thinking.
The letter was from Gertrude Tringle, and need not be given in its entirety. There was a good deal of reproach, in that he had been so fickle as to propose to abandon her at the first touch of adversity. Then she had gone on to say, that, knowing her father a great deal better than he could do, she was quite satisfied that the money would be all right. But the last paragraph of the letter shall be given. "Papa has almost yielded already. I have been very ill;" – here the extent of her malady was shown by the strength of the underscoring with which the words were made significant; – "very ill indeed," she went on to say, "as you will understand if you have ever really loved me. I have kept my bed almost ever since I got your cruel letter." Bed and cruel were again strenuously underscored. "It has made papa very unhappy, and, though he has said nothing to myself, he has told mamma that if I am really in earnest he will do something for us." The letter was long, but this is all the reader need see of it. But it must be explained that the young lady had greatly exaggerated her mother's words, and that her mother had exaggerated those which Sir Thomas had spoken. "She is a stupid idiot," Sir Thomas had said to his wife. "If she is obedient, and does her duty, of course I shall do something for her some day." This had been stretched to that promise of concession which Gertrude communicated to her lover.
This was the assistance which Frank Houston received in making up his mind on Saturday night. If what the girl said was true, there was still open to him the manner of life which he had prepared for himself; and he did believe the announcement to be true. Though Sir Thomas had been so persistent in his refusals, his experience in life had taught him to believe that a parent's sternness is never a match for a daughter's obstinacy. Had there been a touch of tenderness in his heart to the young lady herself he would not have abandoned her so easily. But he had found his consolation when giving up his hope of Sir Thomas's money. Now, should he again take to the girl, and find his consolation in accepting the money? Should he resolve upon doing so, this would materially affect any communication which he might make to Imogene on the following day.
While thus in doubt he went into the smoking-room and there he found any thinking to be out of the question. A great question was being debated as to club law. One man had made an assertion. He had declared that another man had been seen playing cards in a third man's company. A fourth man had, thereupon, put his hat on his head, and had declared contumaciously that the "assertion was not true." Having so declared he had contumaciously stalked out of the room, and had banged the door after him, – very contumaciously indeed. The question was whether the contumacious gentleman had misbehaved himself in accordance with the rules of the club, and, if so, what should be done to him. Not true is as bad as "false." "False," applied to a gentleman in a club, must be matter either of an apology or expulsion. The objectionable word had, no doubt, been said in defence of an absent man, and need not, perhaps, have been taken up had the speaker not at once put on his hat and stalked out of the room, and banged the door. It was asserted that a lie may be given by the way in which a door is banged. And yet no club punishes the putting on of hats, or stalking off, or the banging of doors. It was a difficult question, and occupied Frank Houston till two o'clock in the morning, to the exclusion of Gertrude Tringle and Imogene Docimer.