Augusta that evening was somewhat more than ordinarily kind to her cousin. Now that the great secret was told, her cousin no doubt would recognise her importance. "I suppose you had not heard of him before?" she said to Ayala.
"I never did."
"That's because you have not attended to the debates."
"I never have. What are debates?"
"Mr. Traffick is very much thought of in the House of Commons on all subjects affecting commerce."
"It is the most glorious study which the world affords."
"The House of Commons. I don't think it can be equal to art."
Then Augusta turned up her nose with a double turn, – first as against painters, Mr. Dormer having been no more, and then at Ayala's ignorance in supposing that the House of Commons could have been spoken of as a study. "Mr. Traffick will probably be in the government some day," she said.
"Has not he been yet?" asked Ayala.
"Then won't he be very old before he gets there?" This was a terrible question. Young ladies of five-and-twenty, when they marry gentlemen of four-and-fifty, make up their minds for well-understood and well-recognised old age. They see that they had best declare their purpose, and they do declare it. "Of course, Mr. Walker is old enough to be my father, but I have made up my mind that I like that better than anything else." Then the wall has been jumped, and the thing can go smoothly. But at forty-five there is supposed to be so much of youth left that the difference of age may possibly be tided over and not made to appear abnormal. Augusta Tringle had determined to tide it over in this way. The forty-five had been gradually reduced to "less than forty," – though all the Peerages were there to give the lie to the assertion. She talked of her lover as Septimus, and was quite prepared to sit with him beside a stream if only half-an-hour for the amusement could be found. When, therefore, Ayala suggested that if her lover wanted to get into office he had better do so quickly, lest he should be too old, Augusta was not well pleased.
"Lord Boardotrade was much older when he began," said Augusta. "His friends, indeed, tell Septimus that he should not push himself forward too quickly. But I don't think that I ever came across any one who was so ignorant of such things as you are, Ayala."
"Perhaps he is not so old as he looks," said Ayala. After this it may be imagined that there was not close friendship between the cousins. Augusta's mind was filled with a strong conception as to Ayala's ingratitude. The houseless, penniless orphan had been taken in, and had done nothing but make herself disagreeable. Young! No doubt she was young. But had she been as old as Methuselah she could not have been more insolent. It did not, however, matter to her, Augusta. She was going away; but it would be terrible to her mamma and to Gertrude! Thus it was that Augusta spoke of her cousin to her mother.
And then there came another trouble, which was more troublesome to Ayala even than the other.
She repudiated his love with such power as she had, but she could not silence him. She could not at all understand that a young man, who seemed to her to be an oaf, should really be in love, – honestly in love with her. But such was the case. Then she became afraid lest others should see it, – afraid, though she often told herself that she would appeal to her aunt for protection. "I tell you I don't care a bit about you, and you oughtn't to go on," she said. But he did go on, and though her aunt did not see it Augusta did.
Then Augusta spoke a word to her in scorn. "Ayala," she said, "you should not encourage Tom."
Encourage him! What a word from one girl to another! What a world of wrong there was in the idea which had created the word! What an absence of the sort of feeling which, according to Ayala's theory of life, there should be on such a matter between two sisters, two cousins, or two friends! Encourage him! When Augusta ought to have been the first to assist her in her trouble! "Oh, Augusta," she said, turning sharply round, "what a spiteful creature you are."
"I suppose you think so, because I do not choose to approve."
"Approve of what! Tom is thoroughly disagreeable. Sometimes he makes my life such a burden to me that I think I shall have to go to my aunt. But you are worse. Oh!" exclaimed Ayala, shuddering as she thought of the unwomanly treachery of which her cousin was guilty towards her.
Nothing more came of it at Glenbogie. Tom was required in Lombard Street, and the matter was not suspected by Aunt Emmeline, – as far, at least, as Ayala was aware. When he was gone it was to her as though there would be a world of time before she would see him again. They were to go to Rome, and he would not be at Rome till January. Before that he might have forgotten his folly. But Ayala was quite determined that she would never forget the ill offices of Augusta. She did hate Augusta, as she had told her sister. Then, in this frame of mind, the family was taken to Rome.
During her journeying and during her sojourn at Rome Ayala did enjoy much; but even these joys did not come to her without causing some trouble of spirit. At Glenbogie everybody had known that she was a dependent niece, and that as such she was in truth nobody. On that morning when she had ordered Augusta to go upstairs the two visitors had stared with amazement, – who would not have stared at all had they heard Ayala ordered in the same way. But it came about that in Rome Ayala was almost of more importance than the Tringles. It was absolutely true that Lady Tringle and Augusta and Gertrude were asked here and there because of Ayala; and the worst of it was that the fact was at last suspected by the Tringles themselves. Sometimes they would not always be asked. One of the Tringle girls would only be named. But Ayala was never forgotten. Once or twice an effort was made by some grand lady, whose taste was perhaps more conspicuous than her good-nature, to get Ayala without burdening herself with any of the Tringles. When this became clear to the mind of Augusta, – of Augusta, engaged as she was to the Honourable Septimus Traffick, Member of Parliament, – Augusta's feelings were – such as may better be understood than described! "Don't let her go, mamma," she said to Lady Tringle one morning.
"But the Marchesa has made such a point of it."
"Bother the Marchesa! Who is the Marchesa? I believe it is all Ayala's doing because she expects to meet that Mr. Hamel. It is dreadful to see the way she goes on."
"Mr. Hamel was a very intimate friend of her father's."
"I don't believe a bit of it."
"He certainly used to be at his house. I remember seeing him."
"I daresay; but that doesn't justify Ayala in running after him as she does. I believe that all this about the Marchesa is because of Mr. Hamel." This was better than believing that Ayala was to be asked to sing, and that Ayala was to be f?ted and admired and danced with, simply because Ayala was Ayala, and that they, the Tringles, in spite of Glenbogie, Merle Park, and Queen's Gate, were not wanted at all. But when Aunt Emmeline signified to Ayala that on that particular morning she had better not go to the Marchesa's picnic, Ayala simply said that she had promised; – and Ayala went.
At this time no gentleman of the family was with them. Sir Thomas had gone, and Tom Tringle had not come. Then, just at Christmas, the Honourable Septimus Traffick came for a short visit, – a very short visit, no more than four or five days, because Supply and Demand were requiring all his services in preparation for the coming Session of Parliament. But for five halcyon days he was prepared to devote himself to the glories of Rome under the guidance of Augusta. He did not of course sleep at the Palazzo Ruperti, where it delighted Lady Tringle to inform her friends in Rome that she had a suite of apartments "au premi?re," but he ate there and drank there and almost lived there; so that it became absolutely necessary to inform the world of Rome that it was Augusta's destiny to become in course of time the Honourable Mrs. Traffick, otherwise the close intimacy would hardly have been discreet, – unless it had been thought, as the ill-natured Marchesa had hinted, that Mr. Traffick was Lady Tringle's elder brother. Augusta, however, was by no means ashamed of her lover. Perhaps she felt that when it was known that she was about to be the bride of so great a man then doors would be open for her at any rate as wide as for her cousin. At this moment she was very important to herself. She was about to convey no less a sum than ?120,000 to Mr. Traffick, who, in truth, as younger son of Lord Boardotrade, was himself not well endowed. Considering her own position and her future husband's rank and standing, she did not know how a young woman could well be more important. She was very important at any rate to Mr. Traffick. She was sure of that. When, therefore, she learned that Ayala had been asked to a grand ball at the Marchesa's, that Mr. Traffick was also to be among the guests, and that none of the Tringles had been invited, – then her anger became hot.
She must have been very stupid when she took it into her head to be jealous of Mr. Traffick's attention to her cousin; stupid, at any rate, when she thought that her cousin was laying out feminine lures for Mr. Traffick. Poor Ayala! We shall see much of her in these pages, and it may be well to declare of her at once that her ideas at this moment about men, – or rather about a possible man, – were confined altogether to the abstract. She had floating in her young mind some fancies as to the beauty of love. That there should be a hero must of course be necessary. But in her day-dreams this hero was almost celestial, – or, at least, ?thereal. It was a concentration of poetic perfection to which there was not as yet any appanage of apparel, of features, or of wealth. It was a something out of heaven which should think it well to spend his whole time in adoring her and making her more blessed than had ever yet been a woman upon the earth. Then her first approach to a mundane feeling had been her acknowledgment to herself that Isadore Hamel would do as a lover for Lucy. Isadore Hamel was certainly very handsome, – was possessed of infinite good gifts; but even he would by no means have come up to her requirements for her own hero. That hero must have wings tinged with azure, whereas Hamel had a not much more ?therealised than ordinary coat and waistcoat. She knew that heroes with azure wings were not existent save in the imagination, and, as she desired a real lover for Lucy, Hamel would do. But for herself her imagination was too valuable then to allow her to put her foot upon earth. Such as she was, must not Augusta have been very stupid to have thought that Ayala should become fond of her Mr. Traffick!
Her cousin Tom had come to her, and had been to her as a Newfoundland dog is when he jumps all over you just when he has come out of a horsepond. She would have liked Tom had he kept his dog-like gambols at a proper distance. But when he would cover her with muddy water he was abominable. But this Augusta had not understood. With Mr. Traffick there would be no dog-like gambols; and, as he was not harsh to her, Ayala liked him. She had liked her uncle. Such men were, to her thinking, more like dogs than lovers. She sang when Mr. Traffick asked her, and made a picture for him, and went with him to the Coliseum, and laughed at him about Supply and Demand. She was very pretty, and perhaps Mr. Traffick did like to look at her.
"I really think you were too free with Mr. Traffick last night," Augusta said to her one morning.
"Free! How free?"
"You were – laughing at him."
"Oh, he likes that," said Ayala. "All that time we were up at the top of St. Peter's I was quizzing him about his speeches. He lets me say just what I please."
This was wormwood. In the first place there had been a word or two between the lovers about that going up of St. Peter's, and Augusta had refused to join them. She had wished Septimus to remain down with her, – which would have been tantamount to preventing any of the party from going up; but Septimus had persisted on ascending. Then Augusta had been left for a long hour alone with her mother. Gertrude had no doubt gone up, but Gertrude had lagged during the ascent. Ayala had skipped up the interminable stairs and Mr. Traffick had trotted after her with admiring breathless industry. This itself, with the thoughts of the good time which Septimus might be having at the top, was very bad. But now to be told that she, Ayala, should laugh at him; and that he, Septimus, should like it! "I suppose he takes you to be a child," said Augusta; "but if you are a child you ought to conduct yourself."
"I suppose he does perceive the difference," said Ayala.
She had not in the least known what the words might convey, – had probably meant nothing. But to Augusta it was apparent that Ayala had declared that her lover, her Septimus, had preferred her extreme youth to the more mature charms of his own true love, – or had, perhaps, preferred Ayala's raillery to Augusta's serious demeanour. "You are the most impertinent person I ever knew in my life," said Augusta, rising from her chair and walking slowly out of the room. Ayala stared after her, not above half comprehending the cause of the anger.
Then came the very serious affair of the ball. The Marchesa had asked that her dear little friend Ayala Dormer might be allowed to come over to a little dance which her own girls were going to have. Her own girls were so fond of Ayala! There would be no trouble. There was a carriage which would be going somewhere else, and she would be fetched and taken home. Ayala at once declared that she intended to go, and her Aunt Emmeline did not refuse her sanction. Augusta was shocked, declaring that the little dance was to be one of the great balls of the season, and pronouncing the whole to be a falsehood; but the affair was arranged before she could stop it.
But Mr. Traffick's affair in the matter came more within her range. "Septimus," she said, "I would rather you would not go to that woman's party." Septimus had been asked only on the day before the party, – as soon, indeed, as his arrival had become known to the Marchesa.
"Why, my own one?"
"She has not treated mamma well, – nor yet me."
"Ayala is going." He had no right to call her Ayala. So Augusta thought.
"My cousin is behaving badly in the matter, and mamma ought not to allow her to go. Who knows anything about the Marchesa Baldoni?"
"Both he and she are of the very best families in Rome," said Mr. Traffick, who knew everything about it.
"At any rate they are behaving very badly to us, and I will take it as a favour that you do not go. Asking Ayala, and then asking you, as good as from the same house, is too marked. You ought not to go."
Perhaps Mr. Traffick had on some former occasion felt some little interference with his freedom of action. Perhaps he liked the acquaintance of the Marchesa. Perhaps he liked Ayala Dormer. Be that as it might, he would not yield. "Dear Augusta, it is right that I should go there, if it be only for half-an-hour." This he said in a tone of voice with which Augusta was already acquainted, which she did not love, and which, when she heard it, would make her think of her ?120,000. When he had spoken he left her, and she began to think of her ?120,000.
They both went, Ayala and Mr. Traffick, – and Mr. Traffick, instead of staying half-an-hour, brought Ayala back at three o'clock in the morning. Though Mr. Traffick was nearly as old as Uncle Tringle, yet he could dance. Ayala had been astonished to find how well he could dance, and thought that she might please her cousin Augusta by praising the juvenility of her lover at luncheon the next day. She had not appeared at breakfast, but had been full of the ball at lunch. "Oh, dear, yes, I dare say there were two hundred people there."
"That is what she calls a little dance," said Augusta, with scorn.
"I suppose that is the Italian way of talking about it," said Ayala.
"Italian way! I hate Italian ways."
"Mr. Traffick liked it very much. I'm sure he'll tell you so. I had no idea he would care to dance."
Augusta only shook herself and turned up her nose. Lady Tringle thought it necessary to say something in defence of her daughter's choice. "Why should not Mr. Traffick dance like any other gentleman?"
"Oh, I don't know. I thought that a man who makes so many speeches in Parliament would think of something else. I was very glad he did, for he danced three times with me. He can waltz as lightly as – " As though he were young, she was going to say, but then she stopped herself.
"He is the best dancer I ever danced with," said Augusta.
"But you almost never do dance," said Ayala.
"I suppose I may know about it as well as another," said Augusta, angrily.
The next day was the last of Mr. Traffick's sojourn in Rome, and on that day he and Augusta so quarrelled that, for a certain number of hours, it was almost supposed in the family that the match would be broken off. On the afternoon of the day after the dance Mr. Traffick was walking with Ayala on the Pincian, while Augusta was absolutely remaining behind with her mother. For a quarter-of-an-hour, – the whole day, as it seemed to Augusta, – there was a full two hundred yards between them. It was not that the engaged girl could not bear the severance, but that she could not endure the attention paid to Ayala. On the next morning "she had it out," as some people say, with her lover. "If I am to be treated in this way you had better tell me so at once," she said.
"I know no better way of treating you," said Mr. Traffick.
"Dancing with that chit all night, turning her head, and then walking with her all the next day! I will not put up with such conduct."
Mr. Traffick valued ?120,000 very highly, as do most men, and would have done much to keep it; but he believed that the best way of making sure of it would be by showing himself to be the master. "My own one," he said, "you are really making an ass of yourself."
"Very well! Then I will write to papa, and let him know that it must be all over."
For three hours there was terrible trouble in the apartments in the Palazzo Ruperti, during which Mr. Traffick was enjoying himself by walking up and down the Forum, and calculating how many Romans could have congregated themselves in the space which is supposed to have seen so much of the world's doings. During this time Augusta was very frequently in hysterics; but, whether in hysterics or out of them, she would not allow Ayala to come near her. She gave it to be understood that Ayala had interfered fatally, foully, damnably, with all her happiness. She demanded, from fit to fit, that telegrams should be sent over to bring her father to Italy for her protection. She would rave about Septimus, and then swear that, under no consideration whatever, would she ever see him again. At the end of three hours she was told that Septimus was in the drawing-room. Lady Tringle had sent half-a-dozen messengers after him, and at last he was found looking up at the Arch of Titus. "Bid him go," said Augusta. "I never want to behold him again." But within two minutes she was in his arms, and before dinner she was able to take a stroll with him on the Pincian.