But she did not expect that the letter should be shown her, – which, however, came to be the case. When she was in the library, waiting to start to church, Lady Albury came in and threw the letter to her across the table. "That concerns you," she said, "you had better read it." There was another lady in the room, also waiting to start on their walk across the park, and therefore it was natural that nothing else should be said at the moment. Ayala read the letter, returned it to the envelope, and then handed it back to Lady Albury, – so that there was no word spoken about it before church. The letter, which was very short, was as follows; —
"I shall be at Stalham by the afternoon train on Sunday, 30th, – in time for dinner, if you will send the dog-cart. I could not leave this most exigeant of all places this week. I suppose Albury will go on in the woodlands for a week or ten days in April, and I must put up with that. I hear that Batsby is altogether fixed by the fascinations of Merle Park. I hope that you and Albury will receive consolation in the money." Then there was a postscript. "If Croppy can be got back again, Miss Dormer might see me tumble into another river."
It was evident that Lady Albury did not expect anything to be said at present. She put the letter into her pocket, and there, for the moment, was the end of it. It may be feared that Ayala's attention was not fixed that morning so closely as it should have been on the services of the Church. There was so much in that little letter which insisted upon having all her attention! Had there been no postscript, the letter would have been very different. In that case the body of the letter itself would have intended to have no reference to her, – or rather it would have had a reference altogether opposite to that which the postscript gave it. In that case it would have been manifest to her that he had intentionally postponed his coming till she had left Stalham. Then his suggestion about the hunting would have had no interest for her. Everything would have been over. She would have been at Kingsbury Crescent, and he would have been at Stalham. But the postscript declared his intention of finding her still in the old quarters. She would not be there, – as she declared to herself. After this there would be but one other day, and then she would be gone. But even this allusion to her and to the pony made the letter something to her of intense interest. Had it not been so Lady Albury would not have shown it to her. As it was, why had Lady Albury shown it to her in that quiet, placid, friendly way, – as though it were natural that any letter from Colonel Stubbs to Stalham should be shown to her?
At lunch Sir Harry began about the pony at once. "Miss Dormer," he said, "the pony will hardly be fit to-morrow, and the distances during the rest of the week are all too great for you; you had better wait till Monday week, when Stubbs will be here to look after you."
"But I am going home on Tuesday," said Ayala.
"I've had the pony brought on purpose for you," said Sir Harry.
"You are not going at all," said Lady Albury.
"I don't think – " began Ayala.
"I shall take it very much amiss," said Sir Harry, "if you go now. Stubbs is coming on purpose."
"I don't think – " began Ayala again.
"My dear Ayala, it isn't a case for thinking," said Lady Albury. "You most positively will not leave this house till some day in April, which will have to be settled hereafter. Do not let us have a word more about it." Then, on that immediate occasion, no further word about it was spoken. Ayala was quite unable to speak as she sat attempting to eat her lunch.
We must go again to Merle Park, where the Tringle family was still living, – and from which Gertrude had not as yet been violently abducted at the period to which the reader has been brought in the relation which has been given of the affairs at Stalham. Jonathan Stubbs's little note to Lady Albury was received on Sunday, 23rd March, and Gertrude was not abducted till the 29th. On Sunday, the 30th, she was brought back, – not in great triumph. At that time the house was considerably perturbed. Sir Thomas was very angry with his daughter Augusta, having been led to believe that she had been privy to Gertrude's escapade, – so angry that very violent words had been spoken as to her expulsion from the house. Tom also was ill, absolutely ill in bed, with a doctor to see him, – and all from love, declaring that he would throw himself over the ship's side and drown himself while there was yet a chance left to him for Ayala. And in the midst of this Lady Tringle herself was by no means exempt from the paternal wrath. She was told that she must have known what was going on between her daughter and that idiot Captain, – that she encouraged the Trafficks to remain, – that she coddled up her son till he was sick from sheer lackadaisical idleness. The only one in the house who seemed to be exempt from the wrath of Sir Thomas was Lucy, – and therefore it was upon Lucy's head that fell the concentrated energy of Aunt Emmeline's revenge. When Captain Batsby was spoken of with contumely in the light of a husband, – this being always done by Sir Thomas, – Lady Tringle would make her rejoinder to this, when Sir Thomas had turned his back, by saying that a captain in Her Majesty's army, with good blood in his veins and a competent fortune, was at any rate better than a poor artist, who had, so to say, no blood, and was unable to earn his bread; and when Tom was ridiculed for his love for Ayala she would go on to explain, – always after Sir Thomas's back had been turned, – that poor Tom had been encouraged by his father, whereas Lucy had taken upon herself to engage herself in opposition to her pastors and masters. And then came the climax. It was all very well to say that Augusta was intruding, – but there were people who intruded much worse than Augusta, without half so much right. When this was said the poor sore-hearted woman felt her own cruelty, and endeavoured to withdraw the harsh words; but the wound had been given, and the venom rankled so bitterly that Lucy could no longer bear her existence among the Tringles. "I ought not to remain after that," she wrote to her lover. "Though I went into the poor-house I ought not to remain."
"I wrote to Mr. Hamel," she said to her aunt, "and told him that as you did not like my being here I had better, – better go away."
"But where are you to go? And I didn't say that I didn't like you being here. You oughtn't to take me up in that way."
"I do feel that I am in the way, aunt, and I think that I had better go."
"But where are you to go? I declare that everybody says everything to break my heart. Of course you are to remain here till he has got a house to keep you in." But the letter had gone and a reply had come telling Lucy that whatever might be the poor-house to which she would be destined he would be there to share it with her.
Hamel wrote this with high heart. He had already resolved, previous to this, that he would at once prepare a home for his coming bride, though he was sore distressed by the emergency of his position. His father had become more and more bitter with him as he learned that his son would in no respect be guided by him. There was a sum of money which he now declared to be due to him, and which Isadore acknowledged to have been lent to him. Of this the father demanded repayment. "If," said he, "you acknowledge anything of the obedience of a son, that money is at your disposal, – and any other that you may want. But, if you determine to be as free from my control and as deaf to my advice as might be any other young man, then you must be to me as might be any other young man." He had written to his father saying that the money should be repaid as soon as possible. The misfortune had come to him at a trying time. It was, however, before he had received Lucy's last account of her own misery at Merle Park, so that when that was received he was in part prepared.
Our Colonel, in writing to Lady Albury, had declared Aldershot to be a most exigeant place, – by which he had intended to imply that his professional cares were too heavy to allow his frequent absence; but nevertheless he would contrive occasionally to fly up to London for a little relief. Once when doing so he had found himself sitting in the sculptor's studio, and there listening to Hamel's account of Lucy's troubles at Merle Park. Hamel said nothing as to his own difficulties, but was very eager in explaining the necessity of removing Lucy from the tyranny to which she was subjected. It will perhaps be remembered that Hamel down in Scotland had declared to his friend his purpose of asking Lucy Dormer to be his wife, and also the success of his enterprise after he had gone across the lake to Glenbogie. It will be borne in mind also that should the Colonel succeed in winning Ayala to his way of thinking the two men would become the husbands of the two sisters. Each fully sympathised with the other, and in this way they had become sincere and intimate friends.
"Is she like her sister?" asked the Colonel, who was not as yet acquainted with Lucy.
"Hardly like her, although in truth there is a family likeness. Lucy is taller, with perhaps more regular features, and certainly more quiet in her manner."
"Ayala can be very quiet too," said the lover.
"Oh, yes, – because she varies in her moods. I remember her almost as a child, when she would remain perfectly still for a quarter of an hour, and then would be up and about the house everywhere, glancing about like a ray of the sun reflected from a mirror as you move it in your hand."
"She has grown steadier since that," said the Colonel.
"I cannot imagine her to be steady, – not as Lucy is steady. Lucy, if it be necessary, can sit and fill herself with her own thoughts for the hour together."
"Which of them was most like their father?"
"They were both of them like him in their thorough love for things beautiful; – but they are both of them unlike him in this, that he was self-indulgent, while they, like women in general, are always devoting themselves to others." She will not devote herself to me, thought Jonathan Stubbs to himself, but that may be because, like her father, she loves things beautiful. "My poor Lucy," continued Hamel, "would fain devote herself to those around her if they would only permit it."
"She would probably prefer devoting herself to you," said the Colonel.
"No doubt she would, – if it were expedient. If I may presume that she loves me, I may presume also that she would wish to live with me."
"Is it not expedient?" asked the other.
"It will be so, I trust, before long."
"But it seems to be so necessary just at present." To this the sculptor at the moment made no reply. "If," continued Stubbs, "they treat her among them as you say, she ought at any rate to be relieved from her misery."
"She ought to be relieved certainly. She shall be relieved."
"But you say that it is not expedient."
"I only meant that there were difficulties; – difficulties which will have to be got over. I think that all difficulties are got over when a man looks at them steadily."
"This, I suppose, is an affair of money."
"Well, yes. All difficulties seem to me to be an affair of money. A man, of course, would wish to earn enough before he marries to make his wife comfortable. I would struggle on as I am, and not be impatient, were it not that I fear she is more uncomfortable as she is now than she would be here in the midst of my poverty."
"After all, Hamel, what is the extent of the poverty? What are the real circumstances? As you have gone so far you might as well tell me everything." Then after considerable pressure the sculptor did tell him everything. There was an income of less than three hundred a year, – which would probably become about four within the next twelvemonth. There were no funds prepared with which to buy the necessary furniture for the incoming of a wife, and there was that debt demanded by his father.
"Must that be paid?" asked the Colonel.
"I would starve rather than not pay it," said Hamel, "if I alone were to be considered. It would certainly be paid within the next six months if I were alone, even though I should starve."
Then his friend told him that the debt should be paid at once. It amounted to but little more than a hundred pounds. And then, of course, the conversation was carried further. When a friend inquires as to the pecuniary distresses of a friend he feels himself as a matter of course bound to relieve him. He would supply also the means necessary for the incoming of the young wife. With much energy, and for a long time, Hamel refused to accept the assistance offered to him; but the Colonel insisted in the first place on what he considered to be due from himself to Ayala's sister, and then on the fact that he doubted not in the least the ultimate success which would attend the professional industry of his friend. And so before the day was over it was settled among them. The money was to be forthcoming at once, so that the debt might be paid and the preparations made, and Hamel was to write to Lucy and declare that he should be ready to receive her as soon as arrangements should be made for their immediate marriage. Then came the further outrage, – that cruel speech as to intruders, and Lucy wrote to her lover, owning that it would be well for her that she should be relieved.
The news was, of course, declared to the family at Merle Park. "I never knew anything so hard," said Aunt Emmeline. "Of course you have told him that it was all my fault." When Lucy made no answer to this, she went on with her complaint. "I know that you have told him that I have turned you out, – which is not true."
"I told him it was better I should go, as you did not like my being here."
"I suppose Lucy was in a little hurry to have the marriage come off," said Augusta, – who would surely have spared her cousin if at the moment she had remembered the haste which had been displayed by her sister.
"I thought it best," said Lucy.
"I'm sure I don't know how it is to be done," said Aunt Emmeline. "You must tell your uncle yourself. I don't know how you are to be married from here, seeing the trouble we are in."
"We shall be up in London before that," said Gertrude.
"Or from Queen's Gate either," continued Aunt Emmeline.
"I don't suppose that will much signify. I shall just go to the church."
"Like a servant-maid?" asked Gertrude.
"Yes; – like a servant-maid," said Lucy. "That is to say, a servant-maid would, I suppose, simply walk in and be married; and I shall do the same."
"I think you had better tell your uncle," said Aunt Emmeline. "But I am sure I did not mean that you were to go away like this. It will be your own doing, and I cannot help it if you will do it."
Then Lucy did tell her uncle. "And you mean to live upon three hundred a year!" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "You don't know what you are talking about."
"I think Mr. Hamel knows."
"He is as ignorant as a babe unborn; – I mean about that kind of thing. I don't doubt he can make things in stone as well as anybody."
"In marble, Uncle Tom."
"Marble is stone, I suppose; – or in iron."
"Bronze, Uncle Tom."
"Very well. There is iron in bronze, I suppose. But he doesn't know what a wife will cost. Has he bought any furniture?"
"He is going to buy it, – just a little; – what will do?"
"Why should you want to bring him into this?" Lucy looked wistfully up into his face. He himself had been personally kind to her, and she found it to be impossible to complain to him of her aunt. "You are not happy here?"
"My aunt and cousins think that I am wrong; but I must be married to him now, Uncle Tom."
"Why did he kick up his heels when I wanted to help him?" Nevertheless, he gave his orders on the subject very much in Lucy's favour. She was to be married from Queen's Gate, and Gertrude must be her bridesmaid. Ayala no doubt would be the other. When his wife expostulated, he consented that the marriage should be very quiet, but still he would have it as he had said. Then he bestowed a cheque upon Lucy, – larger in amount than Stubbs's loan, – saying that after what had passed in Lombard Street he would not venture to send money to so independent a person as Mr. Isadore Hamel; but adding that Lucy, perhaps, would condescend to accept it. There was a smile in his eye as he said the otherwise ill-natured word, so that Lucy, without any wound to her feelings, could kiss him and accept his bounty.
"I suppose I am to have nothing to do in settling the day," said Aunt Emmeline. It was, however, settled between them that the marriage should take place on a certain day in May. Upon this Lucy was of course overjoyed, and wrote to her lover in a full flow of spirits. And she sent him the cheque, having written her name with great pride on the back of it. There was a little trouble about this as a part of it had to come back as her trousseau, but still the arrangement was pleasantly made. Then Sir Thomas again became more kind to her, in his rough manner, – even when his troubles were at the worst after the return of Gertrude. "If it will not be altogether oppressive to his pride you may tell him that I shall make you an allowance of a hundred a year as my niece, – just for your personal expenses."
"I don't know that he is so proud, Uncle Tom."
"He seemed so to me. But if you say nothing to him about it, and just buy a few gowns now and again, he will perhaps be so wrapt up in the higher affairs of his art as not to take any notice."
"I am sure he will notice what I wear," said Lucy. However she communicated her uncle's intentions to her lover, and he sent back his grateful thanks to Sir Thomas. As one effect of all this the Colonel's money was sent back to him, with an assurance that as things were now settling themselves such pecuniary assistance was not needed. But this was not done till Ayala had heard what the Angel of Light had done on her sister's behalf. But as to Ayala's feelings in that respect we must be silent here, as otherwise we should make premature allusion to the condition in which Ayala found herself before she had at last managed to escape from Stalham Park.
"Papa," said Gertrude, to her father one evening, "don't you think you could do something for me too now?" Just at this time Sir Thomas, greatly to his own annoyance, was coming down to Merle Park every evening. According to their plans as at present arranged, they were to stay in the country till after Easter, and then they were to go up to town in time to despatch poor Tom upon his long journey round the world. But poor Tom was now in bed, apparently ill, and there seemed to be great doubt whether he could be made to go on the appointed day in spite of the taking of his berth and the preparation of his outfit. Tom, if well enough, was to sail on the nineteenth of April, and there now wanted not above ten days to that time. "Don't you think you could do something for me now?" asked Gertrude. Hitherto Sir Thomas had extended no sign of pardon to his youngest daughter, and never failed to allude to her and to Captain Batsby as "those two idiots" whenever their names were mentioned before him.
"Yes, my dear; I will endeavour to do a good deal for you if you will behave yourself."
"What do you call behaving myself, papa?"
"In the first place telling me that you are very sorry for your misbehaviour with that idiot."
"Of course I am sorry if I have offended you."
"Well, that shall go for something. But how about the idiot?"
"Papa!" she exclaimed.
"Was he not an idiot? Would any one but an idiot have gone on such an errand as that?"
"Gentlemen and ladies have done it before, papa."
"I doubt it," he said. "Gentlemen have run away with young ladies before, and generally have behaved very badly when they have done so. He behaved very badly indeed, because he had come to my house, with my sanction, with the express purpose of expressing his affection for another young lady. But I think that his folly in this special running away was worse even than his conduct. How did he come to think that he could get himself married merely by crossing over the sea to Ostend? I should be utterly ashamed of him as a son-in-law, – chiefly because he has shown himself to be an idiot."
"But, papa, you will accept him, won't you?"
"No, my dear, I will not."
"Not though I love him?"
"If I were to give you a choice which you would take, him or Mr. Houston?"
"Houston is a scoundrel."
"Very likely; but then he is not an idiot. My choice would be altogether in favour of Mr. Houston. Shall I tell you what I will do, my dear? I will consent to accept Captain Batsby as my son-in-law if he will consent to become your husband without having a shilling with you."
"Would that be kind, papa?"
"I do not think that I can show you any greater kindness than to protect you from a man who I am quite sure does not care a farthing about you. He has, you tell me, an ample income of his own."