"I don't think I could go as soon as that, Sir," replied Tom, whining.
"Why not? There are more than three weeks yet, and your mother will have everything ready for you. What on earth is there to hinder you?"
"I don't think I could go – not on the nineteenth of April."
"Well then, you must. I have taken your place, and Firkin expects you at New York. They'll do everything for you there, and you'll find quite a new life. I should have thought you'd have been delighted to get away from your wretched condition here."
"It is wretched," said Tom; "but I'd rather not go quite so soon."
"Well, then – "
"What is it, Tom? It makes me unhappy when I see you such a fool."
"I am a fool! I know I am a fool!"
"Then make a new start of it. Cut and run, and begin the world again. You're young enough to forget all this."
"So I would, only – "
"I suppose she is engaged to that man Stubbs! If I knew it for certain then I would go. If I went before, I should only come back as soon as I got to New York. If they were once married and it were all done with I think I could make a new start."
In answer to this his father told him that he must go on the nineteenth of April, whether Ayala were engaged or disengaged, married or unmarried; – that his outfit would be bought, his cabin would be ready, circular notes for his use would be prepared, and everything would be arranged to make his prolonged tour as comfortable as possible; but that if he did not start on that day all the Tringle houses would be closed against him, and he would be turned penniless out into the world. "You'll have to learn that I'm in earnest," said Sir Thomas, as he turned his back and walked away. Tom took himself off to reflect whether it would not be a grand thing to be turned penniless out into the world, – and all for love!
By the early train on Monday Sir Thomas returned to London, having taken little or no heed of Captain Batsby during his late visit to the country. Even at Merle Park Captain Batsby's presence was less important than it would otherwise have been to Lady Tringle and Mrs. Traffick, because of the serious nature of Sir Thomas's decision as to his son. Lady Tringle perhaps suspected something. Mrs. Traffick, no doubt, had her own ideas as to her sister's position; but nothing was said and nothing was done. Both on the Wednesday and on the Thursday Lady Tringle went up to town to give the required orders on Tom's behalf. On the Thursday her elder daughter accompanied her, and returned with her in the evening. On their arrival they learnt that neither Captain Batsby nor Miss Gertrude had been seen since ten o'clock; that almost immediately after Lady Tringle's departure in the morning Captain Batsby had caused all his luggage to be sent into Hastings; and that it had since appeared that a considerable number of Miss Gertrude's things were missing. There could be no doubt that she had caused them to be packed up with the Captain's luggage.
It was at this time past seven o'clock, and Lady Tringle when she heard the news was so astounded that she did not at first know how to act. It was not possible for her to reach Dover that night before the night-boat for Ostend should have started, – even could she have done any good by going there. Tom was in such a condition that she hardly dared to trust him; but it was settled at last that she should telegraph at once to Sir Thomas, in Lombard Street, and that Tom should travel up to London by the night train.
On the following morning Lady Tringle received a letter from Gertrude, posted by that young lady at Dover as she passed through on her road to Ostend. It was as follows; —
You will be surprised on your return from London to find that we have gone. After much thinking about it we determined it would be best, because we had quite made up our mind not to be kept separated. Ben was so eager about it that I was obliged to yield. We were afraid that if we asked papa at once he would not have given his consent. Pray give him my most dutiful love, and tell him that I am sure he will never have occasion to be ashamed of his son-in-law. I don't suppose he knows, but it is the fact that Captain Batsby has about three thousand a year of his own. It is very different from having nothing, like that wretch Frank Houston, or, for that matter, Mr. Traffick. Ben was quite in a position to ask papa, but things had happened which made us both feel that papa would not like it just at present. We mean to be married at Ostend, and then will come back as soon as you and papa say that you will receive us. In the meantime I wish you would send some of my clothes after me. Of course I had to come away with very little luggage, because I was obliged to have my things mixed up with Ben's. I did not dare to have my boxes brought down by the servants. Could you send me the green silk in which I went to church the last two Sundays, and my pink gauze, and the grey poplin? Please send two or three flannel petticoats, as I could not put them among his things, and as many cuffs and collars as you can cram in. I suppose I can get boots at Ostend, but I should like to have the hat with the little brown feather. There is my silk jacket with the fur trimming; I should like to have that. I suppose I shall have to be married without any regular dress, but I am sure papa will make up my trousseau to me afterwards. I lent a little lace fichu to Augusta; tell her that I shall so like to have it.
Give papa my best love, and Augusta, and poor Tom, and accept the same from your affectionate daughter,Gertrude.
I suppose I must not add the other name yet.
Sir Thomas did not receive the telegram till eleven o'clock, when he returned from dinner, and could do nothing that night. On the next morning he was disturbed soon after five o'clock by Tom, who had come on the same errand. "Idiots!" exclaimed Sir Thomas, "What on earth can they have gone to Ostend for? And what can you do by coming up?"
"My mother thought that I might follow them to Ostend."
"They wouldn't care for you. No one will care for you until you have got rid of all this folly. I must go. Idiots! Who is to marry them at Ostend? If they are fools enough to want to be married, why shouldn't they get married in England?"
"I suppose they thought you wouldn't consent."
"Of course I shan't consent. But why should I consent a bit more because they have gone to Ostend? I don't suppose anybody ever had such a set of fools about him as I have." This would have been hard upon Tom had it not been that he had got beyond the feeling of any hardness from contempt or contumely. As he once said of himself, all sense of other injury had been washed out of him by Ayala's unkindness.
On that very day Sir Thomas started for Ostend, and reached the place about two o'clock. Captain Batsby and Gertrude had arrived only during the previous night, and Gertrude, as she had been very sick, was still in bed. Captain Batsby was not in bed. Captain Batsby had been engaged since an early hour in the morning looking for that respectable clergyman of the Church of England of whose immediate services he stood in need. By the time that Sir Thomas had reached Ostend he had found that no such clergyman was known in the place. There was a regular English clergyman who would be very happy to marry him, – and to accept the usual fees, – after the due performance of certain preliminaries as ordained by the law, and as usual at Ostend. The lady, no doubt, could be married at Ostend, after such preliminaries, – as she might have been married also in England. All this was communicated by the Captain to Gertrude, – who was still very unwell, – at her bedroom door. Her conduct during this trying time was quite beyond reproach, – and also his, – as Captain Batsby afterwards took an opportunity of assuring her father.
"What on earth, Sir, is the meaning of all this?" said Sir Thomas, encountering the man who was not his son-in-law in the sitting-room of the hotel.
"I have just run away with your daughter, Sir Thomas. That is the simple truth."
"And I have got the trouble of taking her back again."
"I have behaved like a gentleman through it all, Sir Thomas," said the Captain, thus defending his own character and the lady's.
"You have behaved like a fool. What on earth am I to think of it, Sir? You were asked down to my house because you gave me to understand that you proposed to ask my niece, Miss Dormer, to be your wife; and now you have run away with my daughter. Is that behaviour like a gentleman?"
"I must explain myself?"
"Well, Sir?" Captain Batsby found the explanation very difficult; and hummed and hawed a great deal. "Do you mean to say that it was a lie from beginning to end about Miss Dormer?" Great liberties of speech are allowed to gentlemen whose daughters have been run away with, and whose hospitality has been outraged.
"Oh dear no. What I said then was quite true. It was my intention. But – but – ." The perspiration broke out upon the unhappy man's brow as the great immediate trouble of his situation became clear to him. "There was no lie, – no lie at all. I beg to assure you, Sir Thomas, that I am not a man to tell a lie."
"How has it all been, then?"
"When I found how very superior a person your daughter was!"
"It isn't a month since she was engaged to somebody else," said the angry father, forgetting all propriety in his indignation.
"Gertrude?" demanded Captain Batsby.
"You are two fools. So you gave up my niece?"
"Oh dear yes, altogether. She didn't come to Merle Park, you know. How was I to say anything to her when you didn't have her there?"
"Why didn't you go away then, instead of remaining under a false pretence? Or why, at any rate, didn't you tell me the truth?"
"And what would you have me to do now?" asked Captain Batsby.
"Go to the d – ," said Sir Thomas, as he left the room, and went to his daughter's chamber.
Gertrude had heard that her father was in the house, and endeavoured to hurry herself into her clothes while the interview was going on between him and her father. But she was not yet perfectly arrayed when her father burst into her room. "Oh, papa," she said, going down on her knees, "you do mean to forgive us?"
"I mean to do nothing of the kind. I mean to carry you home and have you locked up."
"But we may be married!"
"Not with my leave. Why didn't you come and ask if you wanted to get yourselves married? Why didn't you tell me?"
"We were ashamed."
"What has become of Mr. Houston, whom you loved so dearly?"
"And the Captain was so much attached to Ayala!"
"Get up, you stupid girl. Why is it that my children are so much more foolish than other people's? I don't suppose you care for the man in the least."
"I do, I do. I love him with all my heart."
"And as for him, – how can he care for you when it is but the other day he was in love with your cousin?"
"What he wants is my money, of course."
"He has got plenty of money, papa."
"I can understand him, fool as he is. There is something for him to get. He won't get it, but he might think it possible. As for you, I cannot understand you at all. What do you expect? It can't be for love of a hatchet-faced fellow like that, whom you had never seen a fortnight ago."
"It is more than a month ago, papa."
"Frank Houston was, at any rate, a manly-looking fellow."
"He was a scoundrel," said Gertrude, now standing up for the first time.
"A good-looking fellow was Frank Houston; that at least may be said for him," continued the father, determined to exasperate his daughter to the utmost. "I had half a mind to give way about him, because he was a manly, outspoken fellow, though he was such an idle dog. If you'd gone off with him, I could have understood it; – and perhaps forgiven it," he added.
"He was a scoundrel!" screamed Gertrude, remembering her ineffectual attempts to make her former lover perform this same journey.
"But this fellow! I cannot bring myself to believe that you really care for him."
"He has a good income of his own, while Houston was little better than a beggar."
"I'm glad of that," said Sir Thomas, "because there will be something for you to live upon. I can assure you that Captain Batsby will never get a shilling of my money. Now, you had better finish dressing yourself, and come down and eat your dinner with me if you've got any appetite. You will have to go back to Dover by the boat to-night."
"May Ben dine with us?" asked Gertrude, timidly.
"Ben may go to the d – . At any rate he had better not show himself to me again," said Sir Thomas.
The lovers, however, did get an opportunity of exchanging a few words, during which it was settled between them that as the young lady must undoubtedly obey her father's behests, and return to Dover that night, it would be well for Captain Batsby to remain behind at Ostend. Indeed, he spoke of making a little tour as far as Brussels, in order that he might throw off the melancholy feelings which had been engendered. "You will come to me again, Ben," she said. Upon this he looked very grave. "You do not mean to say that after all this you will desert me?"
"He has insulted me so horribly!"
"What does that signify? Of course he is angry. If you could only hear how he has insulted me."
"He says that you were in love with somebody else not a month since."
"So were you, Ben, for the matter of that." He did, however, before they parted, make her a solemn promise that their engagement should remain an established fact, in spite both of father and mother.
Gertrude, who had now recovered the effects of her sea-sickness, – which, however, she would have to encounter again so very quickly, – contrived to eat a hearty dinner with her father. There, however, arose a little trouble. How should she contrive to pack up the clothes which she had brought with her, and which had till lately been mixed with the Captain's garments. She did, however, at last succeed in persuading the chamber-maid to furnish her with a carpet-bag, with which in her custody she arrived safely on the following day at Merle Park.
Ayala's arrival at Stalham was full of delight to her. There was Nina with all her new-fledged hopes and her perfect assurance in the absolute superiority of Lord George Bideford to any other man either alive or dead. Ayala was quite willing to allow this assurance to pass current, as her Angel of Light was as yet neither alive nor dead. But she was quite certain, – wholly certain, – that when the Angel should come forth he would be superior to Lord George. The first outpouring of all this took place in the carriage as Nina and Ayala were driven from the station to the house, while the Colonel went home alone in a dog-cart. It had been arranged that nothing should be said to Ayala about the Colonel, and in the carriage the Colonel's name was not mentioned. But when they were all in the hall at Stalham, taking off their cloaks and depositing their wraps, standing in front of the large fire, Colonel Stubbs was there. Lady Albury was present also, welcoming her guests, and Sir Harry, who had already come home from hunting, with one or two other men in red coats and top breeches, and a small bevy of ladies who were staying in the house. Lady Albury was anxious to know how her friend had sped with Ayala, but at such a moment no question could be asked. But Ayala's spirits were so high that Lady Albury was at a loss to understand whether the whole thing had been settled by Jonathan with success, – or whether, on the other hand, Ayala was so happy because she had not been troubled by a word of love.
"He has behaved so badly, Lady Albury," said Ayala.
"What; – Stubbs?" asked Sir Harry, not quite understanding all the ins and outs of the matter.
"Yes, Sir Harry. There was an old lady and an old gentleman. They were very funny and he would laugh at them."
"I deny it," said the Colonel.
"Why shouldn't he laugh at them if they were funny?" asked Lady Albury.
"He knew it would make me laugh out loud. I couldn't help myself, but he could be as grave as a judge all the time. So he went till the old woman scolded me dreadfully."
"But the old man took your part," said the Colonel.
"Yes; – he did. He said that I was ornamental."
"A decent and truth-speaking old gentleman," said one of the sportsmen in top-boots.
"Quite so; – but then the old lady said that I was perverse, and Colonel Stubbs took her part. If you had been there, Lady Albury, you would have thought that he had been in earnest."
"So I was," said the Colonel.
All this was very pleasant to Ayala. It was a return to the old joyousness when she had first discovered the delight of having such a friend as Colonel Stubbs. Had he flattered her, paid her compliments, been soft and delicate to her, – as a lover might have been, – she would have been troubled in spirit and heavy at heart. But now it seemed as though all that love-making had been an episode which had passed away, and that the old pleasant friendship still remained. As yet, while they were standing there in the hall, there had come no moment for her to feel whether there was anything to regret in this. But certainly there had been comfort in it. She had been able to appear before all her Stalham friends, in the presence even of the man himself, without any of that consciousness which would have oppressed her had he come there simply as her acknowledged lover, and had she come there conscious before all the guests that it was so.
Then they sat for a while drinking tea and eating buttered toast in the drawing-room. A supply of buttered toast fully to gratify the wants of three or four men just home from hunting has never yet been created by the resources of any establishment. But the greater marvel is that the buttered toast has never the slightest effect on the dinner which is to follow in an hour or two. During this period the conversation turned chiefly upon hunting, – which is of all subjects the most imperious. It never occurs to a hunting-man to suppose that either a lady, or a bishop, or a political economist, can be indifferent to hunting. There is something beyond millinery, – beyond the interests of the church, – beyond the price of wheat, – in that great question whether the hounds did or did not change their fox in Gobblegoose Wood. On the present occasion Sir Harry was quite sure that the hounds did carry their fox through Gobblegoose Wood, whereas Captain Glomax, who had formerly been master of the pack which now obeyed Sir Harry, was perfectly certain that they had got upon another animal, who went away from Gobblegoose as fresh as paint. He pretended even to ridicule Sir Harry for supposing that any fox could have run at that pace up Buddlecombe Hill who had travelled all the way from Stickborough Gorse. To this Sir Harry replied resentfully that the Captain did not know what were the running powers of a dog-fox in March. Then he told various stories of what had been done in this way at this special period of the year. Glomax, however, declared that he knew as much of a fox as any man in England, and that he would eat both the foxes, and the wood, and Sir Harry, and, finally, himself, if the animal which had run up Buddlecombe Hill was the same which they brought with them from Stickborough Gorse into Gobblegoose Wood. So the battle raged, and the ladies no doubt were much interested; – as would have been the bishop had he been there, or the political economist.
After this Ayala was taken up into her room, and left to sit there by herself for a while till Lady Albury should send her maid. "My dear," said Lady Albury, "there is something on the bed which I expect you to wear to-night. I shall be broken-hearted if it doesn't fit you. The frock is a present from Sir Harry; the scarf comes from me. Don't say a word about it. Sir Harry always likes to make presents to young ladies." Then she hurried out of the room while Ayala was still thanking her. Lady Albury had at first intended to say something about the Colonel as they were sitting together over Ayala's fire, but she had made up her mind against this as soon as she saw their manner towards each other on entering the house. If Ayala had accepted him at a word as they were travelling together, then there would be need of no further interference in the matter. But if not, it would be better that she should hold her peace for the present.
Ayala's first instinct was to look at the finery which had been provided for her. It was a light grey silk, almost pearl colour, as to which she thought she had never seen anything so lovely before. She measured the waist with her eye, and knew at once that it would fit her. She threw the gauzy scarf over her shoulders and turned herself round before the large mirror which stood near the fire-place. "Dear Lady Albury!" she exclaimed; "dear Lady Albury!" It was impossible that she should have understood that Lady Albury's affection had been shown to Jonathan Stubbs much rather than to her when those presents were prepared.