"It is that girl," said Tom.
"Does that seem to you to be right? Can you do yourself any good by that? Will she be more likely to listen to you when she hears that you have got drunk, and have assaulted me in the street? Have I done you any harm?"
"She says that you are better than me," replied Tom.
"If she does, is that my doing? Come, old fellow, try to be a man. Try to think of this thing rightly. If you can win the girl you love, win her; but, if you cannot, do not be such an ass as to suppose that she is to love no one because she will not love you. It is a thing which a man must bear if it comes in his way. As far as Miss Dormer is concerned, I am in the same condition as you. But do you think that I should attack you in the street if she began to favour you to-morrow?"
"I wish she would; and then I shouldn't care what you did."
"I should think you a happy fellow, certainly; and for a time I might avoid you, because your happiness would remind me of my own disappointment; but I should not come behind your back and strike you! Now, tell me where you live, and I will see you home." Then Tom told him where he lived, and in a few minutes the Colonel had left him within his own hall door.
The little accident which was recorded at the close of the last chapter occurred on a Tuesday night. On the following afternoon Tom Tringle, again very much out of spirits, returned to Merle Park. There was now nothing further for him to do in London. He had had his last chance with Ayala, and the last chance had certainly done him no good. Fortune, whether kindly or unkindly, had given him an opportunity of revenging himself upon the Colonel; he had taken advantage of the opportunity, but did not find himself much relieved by what he had done. His rival's conduct had caused him to be thoroughly ashamed of himself. It had at any rate taken from him all further hope of revenge. So that now there was nothing for him but to take himself back to Merle Park. On the Wednesday he heard nothing further of the matter; but on the Thursday Sir Thomas came down from London, and, showing to poor Tom a paragraph in one of the morning papers, asked whether he knew anything of the circumstance to which reference was made. The paragraph was as follows: —
That very bellicose young City knight who at Christmas time got into trouble by thrashing a policeman within an inch of his life in the streets, and who was then incarcerated on account of his performance, again exhibited his prowess on Tuesday night by attacking Colonel – , an officer than whom none in the army is more popular, – under the portico of the Haymarket theatre. We abstain from mentioning the officer's name, – which is, however, known to us. The City knight again fell into the hands of the police and was taken to the watch-house. But Colonel – , who knew something of his family, accompanied him, and begged his assailant off.The officer on duty was most unwilling to let the culprit go; but the Colonel used all his influence and was successful. This may be all very well between the generous Colonel and the valiant knight. But if the young man has any friends they had better look to him. A gentleman with such a desire for the glories of battle must be restrained if he cannot control his propensities when wandering about the streets of the metropolis.
"Yes," said Tom, – who scorned to tell a lie in any matter concerning Ayala. "It was me. I struck Colonel Stubbs, and he got me off at the police office."
"And you're proud of what you've done?"
"No, Sir, I'm not. I'm not proud of anything. Whatever I do or whatever I say seems to go against me."
"He didn't go against you as you call it."
"I wish he had with all my heart. I didn't ask him to get me off. I struck him because I hated him; and whatever might have happened I would sooner have borne it than be like this."
"You would sooner have been locked up again in prison?"
"I would sooner anything than be as I am."
"I tell you what it is, Tom," said the father. "If you remain here any longer with this bee in your bonnet you will be locked up in a lunatic asylum, and I shall not be able to get you out again. You must go abroad." To this Tom made no immediate answer. Lamentable as was his position, he still was unwilling to leave London while Ayala was living there. Were he to consent to go away for any lengthened period, by doing so he would seem to abandon his own claim. Hope he knew there was none; but yet, even yet, he regarded himself as one of Ayala's suitors. "Do you think it well," continued the father, "that you should remain in London while such paragraphs as these are being written about you?"
"I am not in London now," said Tom.
"No, you are not in London while you are at Merle Park, – of course. And you will not go up to London without my leave. Do you understand that?" Here Tom again was silent. "If you do," continued his father, "you shall not be received down here again, nor at Queen's Gate, nor will the cheques for your allowance be honoured any longer at the bank. In fact if you do not obey me I will throw you off altogether. This absurdity about your love has been carried on long enough." And so it came to be understood in the family that Tom was to be kept in mild durance at Merle Park till everything should have been arranged for his extended tour about the world. To this Tom himself gave no positive assent, but it was understood that when the time came he would yield to his father's commands.
It had thus come to pass that the affray at the door of the Haymarket became known to so much of the world at large as interested itself in the affairs either of Colonel Stubbs or of the Tringles. Other paragraphs were written in which the two heroes of the evening were designated as Colonel J – S – and as T – T – , junior, of the firm of T – and T – , in the City. All who pleased could read these initials, and thus the world was aware that our Colonel had received a blow, and had resented the affront only by rescuing his assailant from the hands of the police. A word was said at first which seemed to imply that the Colonel had not exhibited all the spirit which might have been expected from him. Having been struck should he not have thrashed the man who struck him; – or at any rate have left the ruffian in the hands of the policemen for proper punishment? But many days had not passed over before the Colonel's conduct had been viewed in a different light, and men and women were declaring that he had done a manly and a gallant thing. The affair had in this way become sufficiently well known to justify the allusion made to it in the following letter from Lady Albury to Ayala; —
Stalham, Tuesday, 11th February, 18 – .
My dear Ayala,
It is quite indispensable for the happiness of everybody, particularly that of myself and Sir Harry, that you should come down here on the twentieth. Nina will be here on her farewell visit before her return to her mother. Of course you have heard that it is all arranged between her and Lord George Bideford, and this will be the last opportunity which any of us will have of seeing her once again before her martyrdom. The world is to be told that he is to follow her to Rome, where they are to be married, – no doubt by the Pope himself under the dome of St. Peter's. But my belief is that Lord George is going to travel with her all the way. If he is the man I take him to be he will do so, but of course it would be very improper.
You, however, must of course come and say pretty things to your friend; and, as you cannot go to Rome to see her married, you must throw your old shoe after her when she takes her departure from Stalham. I have written a line to your aunt to press my request for this visit. This she will no doubt show to you, and you, if you please, can show her mine in return.
And now, my dear, I must explain to you one or two other arrangements. A certain gentleman will certainly not be here. It was not my fault that a certain gentleman went to Kingsbury Crescent. The certain gentleman is, as you are aware, a great friend of ours, and was entitled to explain himself if it so seemed good to him; but the certain gentleman was not favoured in that enterprise by the Stalham interest. At any rate, the certain gentleman will not be at Stalham on this occasion. So much for the certain gentleman.
Colonel Stubbs will be here, and, as he will be coming down on the twentieth, would be glad to travel by the same train, so that he may look after your ticket and your luggage, and be your slave for the occasion. He will leave the Paddington Station by the 4 p. m. train if that will suit you.
We all think that he behaved beautifully in that little affair at the Haymarket theatre. I should not mention it only that everybody has heard of it. Almost any other man would have struck the poor fellow again; but he is one of the very few who always know what to do at the moment without taking time to think of it.
Mind you come like a good girl. – Your affectionate friend,Rosaline Albury.
It was in this way that Ayala heard what had taken place between her cousin Tom and Colonel Stubbs. Some hint of a fracas between the two men had reached her ears; but now she asked various questions of her aunt, and at last elicited the truth. Tom had attacked her other lover in the street, – had attacked Colonel Stubbs because of his injured love, and had grossly misbehaved himself. As a consequence he would have been locked up by the police had not the Colonel himself interfered on his behalf. This to Ayala seemed to be conduct worthy almost of an Angel of Light.
Then the question of the proposed visit was discussed, – first with her aunt, and then with herself. Mrs. Dosett was quite willing that her niece should go to Stalham. To Mrs. Dosett's thinking, a further journey to Stalham would mean an engagement with Colonel Stubbs. When she had read Lady Albury's letter she was quite sure that that had been Lady Albury's meaning. Captain Batsby was not to receive the Stalham interest; – but that interest was to be used on the part of Colonel Stubbs. She had not the slightest objection. It was clear to her that Ayala would have to be married before long. It was out of the question that one man after another should fall in love with her violently, and that nothing should come of it. Mrs. Dosett had become quite despondent about Tom. There was an amount of dislike which it would be impossible to overcome. And as for Captain Batsby there could be no chance for a man whom the young lady could not be induced even to see. But the other lover, whom the lady would not admit that she loved, – as to whom she had declared that she could never love him, – was held in very high favour. "I do think it was so noble not to hit Tom again," she had said. Therefore, as Colonel Stubbs had a sufficient income, there could be no reason why Ayala should not go again to Stalham. So it was that Mrs. Dosett argued with herself, and such was the judgment which she expressed to Ayala.
But there were difficulties. Ayala's little stock of cash was all gone. She could not go to Stalham without money, and that money must come out of her Uncle Reginald's pocket. She could not go to Stalham without some expenditure, which, as she well knew, it would be hard for him to bear. And then there was that terrible question of her clothes! When that suggestion had been made of a further transfer of the nieces a cheque had come from Sir Thomas. "If Ayala comes to us she will want a few things," Sir Thomas had said in a note to Mrs. Dosett. But Mr. Dosett had chosen that the cheque should be sent back when it was decided that the further transfer should not take place. The cheque had been sent back, and there had been an end of it. There must be a morning dress, and there must be another hat, and there must be boots. So much Mrs. Dosett acknowledged. Let them do what they might with the old things, Mrs. Dosett acknowledged that so much as that would at least be necessary. "We will both go to work," Mrs. Dosett said, "and we will ask your uncle what he can do for us." I think she felt that she had received some recompense when Ayala kissed her.
It was after this that Ayala discussed the matter with herself. She had longed to go once again to Stalham, – "dear Stalham," as she called it to herself. And as she thought of the place she told herself that she loved it because Lady Albury had been so kind to her, and because of Nina, and because of the hunting, and because of the general pleasantness and luxury of the big comfortable house. And yes; there was something to be said, too, of the pleasantness of Colonel Stubbs. Till he had made love to her he had been, perhaps, of all these fine new friends the pleasantest. How joyous his voice had sounded to her! How fraught with gratification to her had been his bright ugly face! How well he had known how to talk to her, and to make her talk, so that everything had been easy with her! How thoroughly she remembered all his drollery on that first night at the party in London, – and all his keen sayings at the theatre; – and the way he had insisted that she should hunt! She thought of little confidences she had had with him, almost as though he had been her brother! And then he had destroyed it all by becoming her lover!
Was he to be her lover still; and if so would it be right that she should go again to Stalham, knowing that she would meet him there? Would it be right that she should consent to travel with him, – under his special escort? Were she to do so would she not be forced to do more, – if he should again ask her? It was so probable that he would not ask her again! It was so strange that such a one should have asked her!
But if he did ask her? Certainly he was not like that Angel of Light whom she had never seen, but of whom the picture in her imagination was as clearly drawn as though she were in his presence daily. No; – there was a wave of hair and a shape of brow, and a peculiarity of the eye, with a nose and mouth cut as sharp as chisel could cut them out of marble, all of which graced the Angel but none of which belonged to the Colonel. Nor were these the chief of the graces which made the Angel so glorious to her. There was a depth of poetry about him, deep and clear, pellucid as a lake among grassy banks, which make all things of the world mean when compared to it. The Angel of Light lived on the essence of all that was beautiful, altogether unalloyed by the grossness of the earth. That such a one should come in her way! Oh, no; she did not look for it! But, having formed such an image of an angel for herself, would it be possible that she should have anything less divine, less beautiful, less angelic?
Yes; there was something of the Angel about him; even about him, Colonel Jonathan Stubbs. But he was so clearly an Angel of the earth, whereas the other one, though living upon the earth, would be of the air, and of the sky, of the clouds, and of the heaven, celestial. Such a one she knew she had never seen. She partly dreamed that she was dreaming. But if so had not her dream spoilt her for all else? Oh, yes; indeed he was good, this red-haired ugly Stubbs. How well had he behaved to Tom! How kind he had been to herself! How thoughtful of her he was! If it were not a question of downright love, – of giving herself up to him, body and soul, as it were, – how pleasant would it be to dwell with him! For herself she would confess that she loved earthly things, – such as jumping over the brook with Larry Twentyman before her to show her the way. But for her love, it was necessary that there should be an Angel of Light. Had she not read that angels had come from heaven and taken in marriage the daughters of men?
But was it right that she should go to Stalham, seeing that there were two such strong reasons against it? She could not go without costing her uncle money, which he could ill afford; and if she did go would she – would she not confess that she had abandoned her objection to the Colonel's suit. She, too, understood something of that which had made itself so plain to her aunt. "Your uncle thinks it is right that you should go," her aunt said to her in the drawing-room that evening; "and we will set to work to-morrow and do the best that we can to make you smart."
Her uncle was sitting in the room at the time, and Ayala felt herself compelled to go to him and kiss him, and thank him for all his kindness. "I am so sorry to cost you so much money, Uncle Reginald," she said.
"It will not be very much, my dear," he answered. "It is hard that young people should not have some amusement. I only hope they will make you happy at Stalham."
"They always make people happy at Stalham," said Ayala, energetically.
"And now, Ayala," said her aunt, "you can write your letter to Lady Albury before we go out to-morrow. Give her my compliments, and tell her that as you are writing I need not trouble her."
Ayala, when she was alone in her bedroom, felt almost horrified as she reflected that in this manner the question had been settled for her. It had been impossible for her to reject her uncle's liberal offer when it had been made. She could not find the courage at that moment to say that she had thought better of it all, and would decline the visit. Before she was well aware of what she was doing she had assented, and had thus, as it were, thrown over all the creations of her dream. And yet, as she declared herself, not even Lady Albury could make her marry this man, merely because she was at her house. She thought that, if she could only avoid that first journey with Colonel Stubbs in the railway, still she might hold her own. But, were she to travel with him of her own accord, would it not be felt that she would be wilfully throwing herself in his way? Then she made a little plan for herself, which she attempted to carry out when writing her letter to Lady Albury on the following morning. What was the nature of her plan, and how she effected it, will be seen in the letter which she wrote; —
Kingsbury Crescent, Thursday.
Dear Lady Albury,
It is so very good of you to ask me again, and I shall be so happy to visit Stalham once more! I should have been very sorry not to see dear Nina before her return to Italy. I have written to congratulate her of course, and have told her what a happy girl I think she is. Though I have not seen Lord George I take all that from her description. As she is going to be his wife immediately, I don't at all see why he should not go back with her to Rome. As for being married by the Pope, I don't think he ever does anything so useful as that. I believe he sits all day and has his toe kissed. That is what they told me at Rome.
I am very glad of what you tell me about the certain gentleman, because I don't think I could have been happy at Stalham if he had been there. It surprised me so much that I could not think that he meant it in earnest. We never hardly spoke to each other when we were in the house together.
Perhaps, if you don't mind, and I shan't be in the way,
– here she began to display the little plan which she had made for her own protection, —
I will come down by an earlier train than you mention. There is one at 2.15, and then I need not be in the dark all the way. You need not say anything about this to Colonel Stubbs, because I do not at all mind travelling by myself. – Yours affectionately,Ayala.
This was her little plan. But she was very innocent when she thought that Lady Albury would be blind to such a scheme as that. She got three words from Lady Albury, saying that the 2.15 train would do very well, and that the carriage would be at the station to meet her. Lady Albury did not also say in her note that she had communicated with Colonel Stubbs on the subject, and informed him that he must come up from Aldershot earlier than he intended in order that he might adapt himself to Ayala's whims. "Foolish little child," said Lady Albury to herself! "As if that would make any difference!" It was clear to Lady Albury that Ayala must surrender now that she was coming to Stalham a second time, knowing that the Colonel would be there.