"I have never said a word, Tom, but that I could not love you."
"But I am true, – true as the sun. Would I come again after all if it were not that I cannot help coming? You have heard that I have been, – been misbehaving myself?"
"I have not thought about that."
"It has been so because I have been so wretched. Ayala, you have made me so unhappy. Ayala, you can make me the happiest man there is in London this day. I seem to want nothing else. As for drink, or clubs, or billiards, and all that, they are nothing to me, – unless when I try to forget that you are so – so unkind to me!"
"It is not unkind, not to do as you ask me."
"To do as I ask you, – that would be kind. Oh, Ayala, cannot you be kind to me?" She shook her head, still standing in the place which she had occupied from the beginning. "May I come again? Will you give me three months, and then think of it? If you would only say that, I would go back to my work and never leave it." But she still shook her head. "Must I never hope?"
"Not for that, Tom. How can I help it?"
"Not help it."
"No. How can I help it? One does not fall in love by trying, – nor by trying prevent it."
"By degrees you might love me, – a little." She had said all that she knew how to say, and again shook her head. "It is that accursed Colonel," he exclaimed, forgetting himself as he thought of his rival.
"He is not accursed," said Ayala, angrily.
"Then you love him?"
"No! But you should not ask. You have no right to ask. It is not proper."
"You are not engaged to him?"
"No; I am not engaged to him. I do not love him. As you will ask, I tell you. But you should not ask; and he is not accursed. He is better than you, – though I do not love him. You should not have driven me to say this. I do not ask you questions."
"There is none that I would not answer. Stay, Ayala," for now she was going to leave the room. "Stay yet a moment. Do you know that you are tearing my heart in pieces? Why is it that you should make me so wretched? Dear Ayala; – dearest Ayala; – stay yet a moment."
"Tom, there is nothing more that I can say. I am very, very sorry if you are unhappy. I do think that you are good and true; and if you will shake hands with me, there is my hand. But I cannot say what you want me to say." Tom took her by the hand and tried to hold her, without, however, speaking to her again. But she slid away from him and left the room, not having for a moment sat down in his presence.
When the door was closed he stood awhile looking round him, trying to resolve what he might do or what he might say next. He was now at any rate in the house with her, and did not know whether such an opportunity as that might ever occur to him again. He felt that there were words within his bosom which, if he could only bring them up to his mouth, would melt the heart of a stone. There was his ineffable love, his whole happiness at stake, his purpose, – his holy purpose, – to devote himself, and all that he had, to her well-being.
But there he was standing alone in Mrs. Dosett's drawing-room, and it was necessary that he should carry himself off. As for dining in that house, sitting down to eat and drink in Ayala's presence after such a conversation as that which was past, that he felt to be quite out of the question. He crammed his hat upon his head, left the room, and hurried down the stairs towards the door.
In the passage he was met by his uncle, coming out of the dining-room. "Tom," he said, "you'll stay and eat your dinner?"
"No, indeed," said Tom, angrily.
"You shouldn't let yourself be disturbed by little trifles such as these," said his uncle, trying to put a good face upon the matter.
"Trifles!" said Tom Tringle. "Trifles!" And he banged the door after him as he left the house.
It was now the beginning of February. As Tom and his uncle had walked from Somerset House the streets were dry and the weather fine; but, as Mr. Dosett had remarked, the wind was changing a little out of the east and threatened rain. When Tom left the house it was already falling. It was then past six, and the night was very dark. He had walked there with a top coat and umbrella, but he had forgotten both as he banged the door after him in his passion; and, though he remembered them as he hurried down the steps, he would not turn and knock at the door and ask for them. He was in that humour which converts outward bodily sufferings almost into a relief. When a man has been thoroughly illused in greater matters it is almost a consolation to him to feel that he has been turned out into the street to get wet through without his dinner, – even though he may have turned himself out.
He walked on foot, and as he walked became damp and dirty, till he was soon wet through. As soon as he reached Lancaster Gate he went into the park, and under the doubtful glimmer of the lamps trudged on through the mud and slush, not regarding his path, hardly thinking of the present moment in the full appreciation of his real misery. What should he do with himself? What else was there now left to him? He had tried everything and had failed. As he endeavoured to count himself up, as it were, and tell himself whether he were worthy of a happier fate than had been awarded to him, he was very humble, – humble, though so indignant! He knew himself to be a poor creature in comparison with Jonathan Stubbs. Though he could not have been Stubbs had he given his heart for it, though it was absolutely beyond him to assume one of those tricks of bearing, one of those manly, winning ways, which in his eyes was so excellent in the other man, still he saw them and acknowledged them, and told himself that they would be all powerful with such a girl as Ayala. Though he trusted to his charms and his rings, he knew that his charms and his rings were abominable, as compared with that outside look and natural garniture which belonged to Stubbs, as though of right, – as though it had been born with him. Not exactly in those words, but with a full inward sense of the words, he told himself that Colonel Stubbs was a gentleman, – whereas he acknowledged himself to be a cad. How could he have hoped that Ayala should accept such a one, merely because he would have a good house of his own and a carriage? As he thought of all this, he hardly knew which he hated most, – himself or Jonathan Stubbs.
He went down to the family house in Queen's Gate, which was closed and dark, – having come there with no special purpose, but having found himself there, as though by accident, in the neighbourhood. Then he knocked at the door, which, after a great undoing of chains, was opened by an old woman, who with her son had the custody of the house when the family were out of town. Sir Thomas in these days had rooms of his own in Lombard Street in which he loved to dwell, and would dine at a city club, never leaving the precincts of the city throughout the week. The old woman was an old servant, and her son was a porter at the office. "Mr. Tom! Be that you? Why you are as wet as a mop!" He was wet as any mop, and much dirtier than a mop should be. There was no fire except in the kitchen, and there he was taken. He asked for a great coat, but there was no such thing in the house, as the young man had not yet come home. Nor was there any food that could be offered him, or anything to drink; as the cellar was locked up, and the old woman was on board wages. But he sat crouching over the fire, watching the steam as it came up from his damp boots and trousers. "And ain't you had no dinner, Mr. Tom?" said the old woman. Tom only shook his head. "And ain't you going to have none?" The poor wretch again shook his head. "That's bad, Mr. Tom." Then she looked up into his face. "There is something wrong I know, Mr. Tom. I hears that from Jem. Of course he hears what they do be saying in Lombard Street."
"What is it they say, Mrs. Tapp?"
"Well; – that you ain't there as you used to be. Things is awk'ard, and Sir Thomas, they say, isn't best pleased. But of course it isn't no affair of mine, Mr. Tom."
"Do they know why?" he asked.
"They do say it's some'at about a young lady."
"Yes; by heavens!" said Tom, jumping up out of his chair. "Oh, Mrs. Tapp, you can't tell the condition I'm in. A young lady indeed! D – the fellow!"
"Don't 'ee now, Mr. Tom."
"D – the fellow! But there's no good in my standing here cursing. I'll go off again. You needn't say that I've been here, Mrs. Tapp?"
"But you won't go out into the rain, Mr. Tom?"
"Rain, – what matters the rain?" Then he started again, disregarding all her prayers, and went off eastward on foot, disdaining the use of a cab because he had settled in his mind on no place to which he would go.
Yes; they knew all about it, down to the very porters at the office. Everyone had heard of his love for Ayala; and everyone had heard also that Ayala had scorned him. Not a man or woman connected by ever so slight a tie to the establishment was unaware that he had been sent away from his seat because of Ayala! All this might have been borne easily had there been any hope; but now he was forced to tell himself that there was none. He saw no end to his misery, – no possibility of escape. Where was he to go in this moment of his misery for any shred of comfort? The solitude of his lodgings was dreadful to him; nor had he heart enough left to him to seek companionship at his club.
At about ten o'clock he found himself, as it were, by accident, close to Mr. Bolivia's establishment. He was thoroughly wet through, jaded, wretched, and in want of sustenance. He turned in, and found the place deserted. The diners had gone away, and the hour had not come at which men in quest of later refreshment were wont to make their appearance. But there were still one or two gas-lights burning; and he threw himself wearily into a little box or partition nearest to the fire. Here Signor Bolivia himself came to him, asking in commiserating accents what had brought him thither in so wretched a plight. "I have left my coat and umbrella behind," said Tom, trying to pluck up a little spirit, – "and my dinner too."
"No dinner, Mr. Tringle; and you wet through like that! What shall I get you, Mr. Tringle?" But Tom declared that he would have no dinner. He was off his appetite altogether, he said. He would have a bottle of champagne and a devilled biscuit. Mr. Walker, who, as we are aware, put himself forward to the world generally as Signor Bolivia, felt for the moment a throb of pity, which overcame in his heart the innkeeper's natural desire to make the most he could of his customer. "Better have a mutton chop and a little drop of brandy-and-water hot."
"I ain't up to it, Bolivia," said the young man. "I couldn't swallow it if I had it. Give us the bottle of champagne and the devilled biscuit." Then Mr. Walker, – for Bolivia was in truth Walker, – fetched the wine and ordered the biscuit; and poor Tom was again brought back to the miserable remedy to which he had before applied himself in his misfortune. There he remained for about an hour, during a part of which he slept; but before he left the house he finished the wine. As he got up to take his departure Mr. Walker scanned his gait and bearing, having a friendly feeling for the young man, and not wishing him to fall again into the hands of the police. But Tom walked forth apparently as sober as a judge, and as melancholy as a hangman. As far as Mr. Walker could see the liquor had made no impression on him. "If I were you, Mr. Tringle," said the keeper of the eating-house, "I'd go home at once, because you are so mortal wet."
"All right," said Tom, going out into the pouring rain.
It was then something after eleven, and Tom instead of taking the friendly advice which had been offered to him, walked, as fast as he could, round Leicester Square; and as he walked the fumes of the wine mounted into his head. But he was not drunk, – not as yet so drunk as to misbehave himself openly. He did not make his way round the square without being addressed, but he simply shook off from him those who spoke to him. His mind was still intent upon Ayala. But now he was revengeful rather than despondent. The liquor had filled him once again with a desire to do something. If he could destroy himself and the Colonel by one and the same blow, how fitting a punishment would that be for Ayala! But how was he to do it? He would throw himself down from the top of the Duke of York's column, but that would be nothing unless he could force the Colonel to take the jump with him! He had called the man out and he wouldn't come! Now, with the alcohol in his brain, he again thought that the man was a coward for not coming. Had not such a meeting been from time immemorial the resource of gentlemen injured as he now was injured? The Colonel would not come when called, – but could he not get at him so as to strike him? If he could do the man a real injury he would not care what amount of punishment he might be called upon to bear.
He hurried at last out of the square into Coventry Street and down the Haymarket. His lodgings were in Duke Street, turning out of Piccadilly, – but he could not bring himself to go home to his bed. He was unutterably wretched, but yet he kept himself going with some idea of doing something, or of fixing some purpose. He certainly was tipsy now, but not so drunk as to be unable to keep himself on his legs. He gloried in the wet, shouting inwardly to himself that he in his misery was superior to all accidents of the weather. Then he stood for awhile watching the people as they came out of the Haymarket Theatre. He was at this time a sorry sight to be seen. His hat was jammed on to his head and had been almost smashed in the jamming. His coat reeking wet through was fastened by one button across his chest. His two hands were thrust into his pockets, and the bottle of champagne was visible in his face. He was such a one, – to look at, – that no woman would have liked to touch or any man to address. In this guise he stood there amidst the crowd, foremost among those who were watching the ladies as they got into their vehicles. "And she might be as good as the best of them, and I might be here to hand her into her own carriage," – said he to himself, – "if it were not for that intruder!"
At that moment the intruder was there before him, and on his arm was a lady whom he was taking across to a carriage, at the door of which a servant in livery was standing. They were followed closely by a pretty young girl who was picking her steps after them alone. These were Lady Albury and Nina, whom Colonel Stubbs had escorted to the play.
"You will be down by the twentieth?" said the elder lady.
"Punctual as the day comes," said the Colonel.
"And mind you have Ayala with you," said the younger.
"If Lady Albury can manage it with her aunt of course I will wait upon her," said the Colonel. Then the door of the carriage was shut, and the Colonel was left to look for a cab. He had on an overcoat and an opera hat, but otherwise was dressed as for dinner. On one side a link-boy was offering him assistance, and on another a policeman tendering him some service. He was one of those who by their outward appearance always extort respect from those around them.
As long as the ladies had been there, – during the two minutes which had been occupied while they got into the carriage, – Tom had been restrained by their presence. He had been restrained by their presence even though he had heard Ayala's name and had understood the commission given to the man whom he hated. Had Colonel Stubbs luckily followed the ladies into the carriage Tom, in his fury, would have taken himself off to his bed. But now, – there was his enemy within a yard of him! Here was the opportunity the lack of which seemed, a few moments since, to be so grievous to him! He took two steps out from the row in which he stood and struck his rival high on his breast with his fist. He had aimed at the Colonel's face but in his eagerness had missed his mark. "There," said he, "there! You would not fight me, and now you have got it." Stubbs staggered, and would have fallen but for the policeman. Tom, though no hero, was a strong young man, and had contrived to give his blow with all his force. The Colonel did not at first see from whom the outrage had come, but at once claimed the policeman's help.
"We've got him, Sir; – we've got him," said the policeman.
"You've got me," said Tom, "but I've had my revenge." Then, though two policemen and one waterman were now holding him, he stretched himself up to his full height and glared at his enemy in the face.
"It's the chap who gave that hawful blow to Thompson in the bow'ls!" said one of the policemen, who by this time had both Tom's arms locked behind his own.
Then the Colonel knew who had struck him. "I know him," said the Colonel to the policeman. "It is a matter of no consequence."
"So do we, Sir. He's Thomas Tringle, junior."
"He's a friend of mine," said the Colonel. "You must let him come with me."
"A friend, is he?" said an amateur attendant. The policeman, who had remembered the cruel onslaught made on his comrade, looked very grave, and still held Tom tight by the arms. "A very hugly sort of friend," said the amateur. Tom only stretched himself still higher, but remained speechless.
"Tringle," said the Colonel, "this was very foolish, you know, – a most absurd thing to do! Come with me, and we will talk it all over."
"He must come along with us to the watch-house just at present," said the policeman. "And you, Sir, if you can, had better please to come with us. It ain't far across to Vine Street, but of course you can have a cab if you like it." This was ended by two policemen walking off with Tom between them, and by the Colonel following in a cab, after having administered divers shillings to the amateur attendants. Though the journey in the cab did not occupy above five minutes, it sufficed to enable him to determine what step he should take when he found himself before the night officers of the watch.
When he found himself in the presence of the night officer he had considerable difficulty in carrying out his purpose. That Tom should be locked up for the night, and be brought before the police magistrate next morning to answer for the outrage he had committed, seemed to the officers to be a matter of course. It was long before the Colonel could persuade the officer that this little matter between him and Mr. Tringle was a private affair, of which he at least wished to take no further notice. "No doubt," he said, "he had received a blow on his chest, but it had not hurt him in the least."
"'E 'it the gen'leman with all his might and main," said the policeman.
"It is quite a private affair," said the Colonel. "My name is Colonel Stubbs; here is my card. Sir – is a particular friend of mine." Here he named a pundit of the peace, very high in the estimation of all policemen. "If you will let the gentleman come away with me I will be responsible for him to-morrow, if it should be necessary to take any further step in the matter." This he said very eagerly, and with all the authority which he knew how to use. Tom, in the meantime, stood perfectly motionless, with his arms folded akimbo on his breast, wet through, muddy, still tipsy, a sight miserable to behold.
The card and the Colonel's own name, and the name of the pundit of the peace together, had their effect, and after a while Tom was dismissed in the Colonel's care. The conclusion of the evening's affair was, for the moment, one which Tom found very hard to bear. It would have been better for him to have been dragged off to a cell, and there to have been left to his miserable solitude. But as he went down through the narrow ways leading from the police-office out into the main street he felt that he was altogether debarred from making any further attack upon his protector. He could not strike him again, as he might have done had he escaped from the police by his own resources. His own enemy had saved him from durance, and he could not, therefore, turn again upon his enemy.
"In heaven's name, my dear fellow," said the Colonel, "what good do you expect to get by that? You have hit me a blow when you knew that I was unprepared, and, therefore, unarmed. Was that manly?" To this Tom made no reply. "I suppose you have been drinking?" And Stubbs, as he asked this question, looked into his companion's face. "I see you have been drinking. What a fool you are making of yourself!"