On the day before his marriage Captain Batsby paid a fourth visit to Lombard Street in obedience to directions from Sir Thomas. "There, my boy," said he, "though you and Gertrude did take a little journey on the sly to a place which we will not mention, you shan't take her altogether empty-handed." Then he explained certain arrangements which he had made for endowing Gertrude with an allowance, which under the circumstance the bridegroom could not but feel to be liberal. It must be added, that, considering the shortness of time allowed for getting them together, the amount of wedding presents bestowed was considered by Gertrude to be satisfactory. As Lucy's were exhibited at the same time the show was not altogether mean. "No doubt I had twice as much as the two put together," said Mrs. Traffick to Ayala up in her bedroom, "but then of course Lord Boardotrade's rank would make people give."
After that last walk in Gobblegoose Wood, after Lady Tringle's unnecessary journey to Stalham on the Friday, and the last day's hunting with Sir Harry's hounds, – which took place on the Saturday, – Ayala again became anxious to go home. Her anxiety was in its nature very different from that which had prompted her to leave Stalham on an appointed day lest she should seem to be waiting for the coming of Colonel Stubbs. "No; I don't want to run away from him any more," she said to Lady Albury. "I want to be with him always, and I hope he won't run away from me. But I've got to be somewhere where I can think about it all for a little time."
"Can't you think about it here?"
"No; – one can never think about a thing where it has all taken place. I must be up in my own little room in Kingsbury Crescent, and must have Aunt Margaret's work around me, – so that I may realise what is going to come. Not but what I mean to do a great deal of work always."
"Mend his stockings?"
"Yes, – if he wears stockings. I know he doesn't. He always wears socks. He told me so. Whatever he has, I'll mend, – or make if he wants me.
'I can bake and I can brew,
And I can make an Irish stew; —
Wash a shirt, and iron it too.'"
Then, as she sang her little song, she clapped her hands together.
"Where did you get all your poetry?"
"He taught me that. We are not going to be fine people, – except sometimes when we may be invited to Stalham. But I must go on Thursday, Lady Albury. I came for a week, and I have been here ever since the middle of February. It seems years since the old woman told me I was perverse, and he said that she was right."
"Think how much you have done since that time."
"Yes, indeed. I very nearly destroyed myself; – didn't I?"
"Not very nearly."
"I thought I had. It was only when you showed me his letter on that Sunday morning that I began to have any hopes. I wonder what Mr. Greene preached about that morning.
"Was there a postscript?"
"Of course there was. Don't you remember?"
"No, indeed; not I."
"The letter would have been nothing without the postscript. He said that Croppy was to come back for me. I knew he wouldn't say that unless he meant to be good to me. And yet I wasn't quite sure of it. I know it now; don't I? But I must go, Lady Albury. I ought to let Aunt Margaret know all about it." Then it was settled that she should go on the Thursday, – and on the Thursday she went. As it was now considered quite wrong that she should travel by the railway alone, – in dread, probably, lest the old lady should tell her again how perverse she had been, – Colonel Stubbs accompanied her. It had then been decided that the wedding must take place at Stalham, and many messages were sent to Mr. and Mrs. Dosett assuring them that they would be made very welcome on the occasion. "My own darling Lucy will be away at that time with her own young man," said Ayala, in answer to further invitations from Lady Albury.
"And so you've taken Colonel Stubbs at last," said her Aunt Margaret.
"He has taken me, aunt. I didn't take him."
"But you refused him ever so often."
"Well; – yes. I don't think I quite refused him."
"I thought you did."
"It was a dreadful muddle, Aunt Margaret; – but it has come right at last, and we had better not talk about that part of it."
"I was so sure you didn't like him."
"Not like him? I always liked him better than anybody else in the world that I ever saw."
"Of course I shouldn't say so if it hadn't come right at last. I may say whatever I please about it now, and I declare that I always loved him. A girl can be such a fool! I was, I know. I hope you are glad, aunt."
"Of course I am. I am glad of anything that makes you happy. It seemed such a pity that, when so many gentlemen were falling in love with you all round, you couldn't like anybody."
"But I did like somebody, Aunt Margaret. And I did like the best, – didn't I?" In answer to this Mrs. Dosett made no reply, having always had an aunt's partiality for poor Tom, in spite of all his chains.
Her uncle's congratulations were warmer even than her aunt's.
"My dear girl," he said, "I am rejoiced indeed that you should have before you such a prospect of happiness. I always felt how sad for you was your residence here, with two such homely persons as your aunt and myself."
"I have always been happy with you," said Ayala, – perhaps straining the truth a little in her anxiety to be courteous. "And I know," she added, "how much Lucy and I have always owed you since poor papa's death."
"Nevertheless, it has been dull for a young girl like you. Now you will have your own duties, and if you endeavour to do them properly the world will never be dull to you." And then there were some few words about the wedding. "We have no feeling, my dear," said her uncle, "except to do the best we can for you. We should have been glad to see you married from here if that had suited. But, as this lover of yours has grand friends of his own, I dare say their place may be the better." Ayala could hardly explain to her uncle that she had acceded to Lady Albury's proposal because, by doing so, she would spare him the necessary expense of the wedding.
But Ayala's great delight was in meeting her sister. The two girls had not seen each other since the engagement of either of them had been ratified by their friends. The winter and spring, as passed by Lucy at Merle Park, had been very unhappy for her. Things at Merle Park had not been pleasant to any of the residents there, and Lucy had certainly had her share of the unpleasantness. Her letters to Ayala had not been triumphant when Aunt Emmeline had more than once expressed her wish to be rid of her, and when the news reached her that Uncle Tom and Hamel had failed to be gracious to each other. Nor had Ayala written in a spirit of joy before she had been able to recognise the Angel of Light in Jonathan Stubbs. But now they were to meet after all their miseries, and each could be triumphant.
It was hard for them to know exactly how to begin. To Lucy, Isadore Hamel was, at the present moment, the one hero walking the face of this sublunary globe; and to Ayala, as we all know, Jonathan Stubbs was an Angel of Light, and, therefore, more even than a hero. As each spoke, the "He's" intended took a different personification; so that to any one less interested than the young ladies themselves there might be some confusion as to which "He" might at that moment be under discussion. "It was bad," said Lucy, "when Uncle Tom told him to sell those magnificent conceptions of his brain by auction!"
"I did feel for him certainly," said Ayala.
"And then when he was constrained to say that he would take me at once without any preparation because Aunt Emmeline wanted me to go, I don't suppose any man ever behaved more beautifully than he did."
"Yes indeed," said Ayala. And then she felt herself constrained to change the subject by the introduction of an exaggerated superlative in her sister's narrative. Hamel, no doubt, had acted beautifully, but she was not disposed to agree that nothing could be more beautiful. "Oh, Lucy," she said, "I was so miserable when he went away after that walk in the wood. I thought he never would come back again when I had behaved so badly. But he did. Was not that grand in him?"
"I suppose he was very fond of you."
"I hope he was. I hope he is. But what should I have done if he had not come back? No other man would have come back after that. You never behaved unkindly to Isadore?"
"I think he would have come back a thousand times," said Lucy; "only I cannot imagine that I should ever have given him the necessity of coming back even a second. But then I had known him so much longer."
"It wasn't that I hadn't known him long enough," said Ayala. "I seemed to know all about him almost all at once. I knew how good he was, and how grand he was, long before I had left the Marchesa up in London. But I think it astounded me that such a one as he should care for me." And so it went on through an entire morning, each of the sisters feeling that she was bound to listen with rapt attention to the praises of the other's "him" if she wished to have an opportunity of singing those of her own.
But Lucy's marriage was to come first by more than two months, and therefore in that matter she was allowed precedence. And at her marriage Ayala would be present, whereas with Ayala's Lucy would have no personal concern. Though she did think that Uncle Tom had been worse than any Vandal in that matter of selling her lover's magnificent works, still she was ready to tell of his generosity. In a manner of his own he had sent the money which Hamel had so greatly needed, and had now come forward to provide, with a generous hand, for the immediate necessities, and more than the necessities, of the wedding. It was not only that she was to share the honours of the two wedding-cakes with Gertrude, and that she was to be taken as a bride from the gorgeous mansion in Queen's Gate, but that he had provided for her bridal needs almost as fully as for those of his own daughter. "Never mind what she'll be able to do afterwards," he said to his wife, who ventured on some slight remonstrance with him as to the unnecessary luxuries he was preparing for the wife of a poor man. "She won't be the worse for having a dozen new petticoats in her trunk, and, if she don't want to blow her nose with as many handkerchiefs this year as Gertrude does, she'll be able to keep them for next year." Then Aunt Emmeline obeyed without further hesitation the orders which were given her.
Nor was his generosity confined to the niece who for the last twelve months had been his property. Lucy was still living in Queen's Gate, though at this time she spent much of each day in Kingsbury Crescent, and on one occasion she brought with her a little note from Uncle Tom. "Dear Ayala," said the little note,
As you are going to be married too, you, I suppose, will want some new finery. I therefore send a cheque. Write your name on the back of it, and give it to your uncle. He will let you have the money as you want it.Yours affectionately,T. Tringle.
I hope your Colonel Stubbs will come and see me some day.
"You must go and see him," she said to her Colonel Stubbs, when he called one day in Kingsbury Crescent. "Only for him I shouldn't have any clothes to speak of at all, and I should have to be married in my old brown morning frock."
"It would be just as good as any other for my purpose," said the Colonel.
"But it wouldn't for mine, Sir. Fine feathers make fine birds, and I mean to be as fine as Lady Albury's big peacock. So if you please you'll go to Queen's Gate, and Lombard Street too, and show yourself. Oh, Jonathan, I shall be so proud that everybody who knows me should see what sort of a man has chosen to love me."
Then there was a joint visit paid by the two sisters to Mr. Hamel's studio, – an expedition which was made somewhat on the sly. Aunt Margaret in Kingsbury Crescent knew all about it, but Aunt Emmeline was kept in the dark. Even now, though the marriage was sanctioned and was so nearly at hand, Aunt Emmeline would not have approved of such a visit. She still regarded the sculptor as improper, – at any rate not sufficiently proper to be treated with full familiarity, – partly on account of his father's manifest improprieties, and partly because of his own relative poverty and unauthorised position in the world. But Aunt Margaret was more tolerant, and thought that the sister-in-law was entitled to visit the workshop in which her sister's future bread was to be earned. And then, starting from Kingsbury Crescent, they could go in a cab; whereas any such proceeding emanating from Queen's Gate would have required the carriage. There was a wickedness in this starting off in a Hansom cab to call on an unmarried young man, doing it in a manner successfully concealed from Aunt Emmeline, on which Ayala expatiated with delight when she next saw Colonel Stubbs.
"You don't come and call on me," said the Colonel.
"What! – all the way down to Aldershot? I should like, but I don't quite dare to do that."
The visit was very successful. Though it was expected, Hamel was found in his artist's costume, with a blouse or loose linen tunic fitted close round his throat, and fastened with a belt round his waist. Lucy thought that in this apparel he was certainly as handsome as could ever have been any Apollo, – and, so thinking, had contrived her little plans in such a way that he should certainly be seen at his best. To her thinking Colonel Stubbs was not a handsome man. Hamel's hair was nearly black, and she preferred dark hair. Hamel's features were regular, whereas the Colonel's hair was red, and he was known for a large mouth and broad nose, which were not obliterated though they were enlightened by the brightness of his eyes. "Yes," said Ayala to herself, as she looked at Hamel; "he is very good looking, but nobody would take him for an Angel of Light."
"Ayala has come to see you at your work," said Lucy, as they entered the studio.
"I am delighted to see her. Do you remember where we last met, Miss Dormer?"
"Miss Dormer, indeed," said Ayala. "I am not going to call you Mr. Hamel. Yes; it was high up among the seats of the Coliseum. There has a great deal happened to us all since then."
"And I remember you at the bijou."
"I should think so. I knew then so well what was going to happen," said Ayala.
"What did you know?"
"That you and Lucy were to fall in love with each other."
"I had done my part of it already," said he.
"Hardly that, Isadore," said Lucy, "or you would not have passed me in Kensington Gardens without speaking to me."
"But I did speak to you. It was then I learned where to find you."
"That was the second time. If I had remained away, as I ought to have done, I suppose you never would have found me."
Ayala was then taken round to see all those magnificent groups and figures which Sir Thomas would have disposed of at so many shillings apiece under the auctioneer's hammer. "It was cruel, – was it not?" said Lucy.
"He never saw them, you know," said Ayala, putting in a goodnatured word for her uncle.
"If he had," said the sculptor, "he would have doubted the auctioneer's getting anything. I have turned it all in my mind very often since, and I think that Sir Thomas was right."
"I am sure he was wrong," said Lucy. "He is very goodnatured, and nobody can be more grateful to another person than I am to him; – but I won't agree that he was right about that."
"He never would have said it if he had seen them," again pleaded Ayala.
"They will never fetch anything as they are," continued the sculptor, "and I don't suppose that when I made them I thought they would. They have served their purpose, and I sometimes feel inclined to break them up and have them carted away."
"Isadore!" exclaimed Lucy.
"For what purpose?" asked Ayala.
"They were the lessons which I had to teach myself, and the play which I gave to my imagination. Who wants a great figure of Beelzebub like that in his house?"
"I call it magnificent," said Ayala.
"His name is Lucifer, – not Beelzebub," said Lucy. "You call him Beelzebub merely to make little of him."
"It is difficult to do that, because he is nearly ten feet high. And who wants a figure of Bacchus? The thing is, whether, having done a figure of Bacchus, I may not be better able to do a likeness of Mr. Jones, when he comes to sit for his bust at the request of his admiring friends. For any further purpose that it will answer, Bacchus might just as well be broken up and carted away in the dust-cart." To this, however, the two girls expressed their vehement opposition, and were of opinion that the time would come when Beelzebub and Bacchus, transferred to marble, would occupy places of honour in some well-proportioned hall built for the purpose of receiving them. "I shall be quite content," said Hamel, "if the whole family of the Jones's will have their busts done about the size of life, and stand them up over their bookshelves. My period for Beelzebubs has gone by." The visit, on the whole, was delightful. Lucy was contented with the almost more than divine beauty of her lover, and the two sisters, as they made their return journey to Kingsbury Crescent in another Hansom, discussed questions of art in a spirit that would have been delightful to any aspiring artist who might have heard them.
Then came the wedding, of which some details were given at the close of the last chapter, at which two brides who were very unlike to each other were joined in matrimony to two bridegrooms as dissimilar. But the Captain made himself gracious to the sculptor who was now to be connected with him, and declared that he would always look upon Lucy as a second sister to his dear Gertrude. And Gertrude was equally gracious, protesting, when she was marshalled to walk up to the altar first, that she did not like to go before her darling Lucy. But the dimensions of the church admitted but of one couple at a time, and Gertrude was compelled to go in advance. Colonel Stubbs was there acting as best man to Hamel, while Lord John Battledore performed the same service for Captain Batsby. Lord John was nearly broken-hearted by the apostacy of a second chum, having heard that the girl whom Frank Houston had not succeeded in marrying was now being taken by Batsby without a shilling. "Somebody had to bottle-hold for him," said Lord John, defending himself at the club afterwards, "and I didn't like to throw the fellow over, though he is such a fool! And there was Stubbs, too," continued his Lordship, "going to take the other girl without a shilling! There's Stubbs, and Houston, and Batsby, all gone and drowned themselves. It's just the same as though they'd drowned themselves!" Lord John was horrified, – nay, disgusted, – by the folly of the world. Nevertheless, before the end of the year, he was engaged to marry a very pretty girl as devoid of fortune as our Ayala.
Now we have come to our last chapter, and it may be doubted whether any reader, – unless he be some one specially gifted with a genius for statistics, – will have perceived how very many people have been made happy by matrimony. If marriage be the proper ending for a novel, – the only ending, as this writer takes it to be, which is not discordant, – surely no tale was ever so properly ended, or with so full a concord, as this one. Infinite trouble has been taken not only in arranging these marriages but in joining like to like, – so that, if not happiness, at any rate sympathetic unhappiness, might be produced. Our two sisters will, it is trusted, be happy. They have chosen men from their hearts, and have been chosen after the same fashion. Those two other sisters have been so wedded that the one will follow the idiosyncrasies of her husband, and the other bring her husband to follow her idiosyncrasies, without much danger of mutiny or revolt. As to Miss Docimer there must be room for fear. It may be questioned whether she was not worthy of a better lot than has been achieved for her by joining her fortunes to those of Frank Houston. But I, speaking for myself, have my hopes of Frank Houston. It is hard to rescue a man from the slough of luxury and idleness combined. If anything can do it, it is a cradle filled annually. It may be that he will yet learn that a broad back with a heavy weight upon it gives the best chance of happiness here below. Of Lord John's married prospects I could not say much as he came so very lately on the scene; but even he may perhaps do something in the world when he finds that his nursery is filling, For our special friend Tom Tringle, no wife has been found. In making his effort, – which he did manfully, – he certainly had not chosen the consort who would be fit for him. He had not seen clearly, as had done his sisters and cousins. He had fallen in love too young, – it being the nature of young men to be much younger than young ladies, and, not knowing himself, had been as might be a barn-door cock who had set his heart upon some azure-plumaged, high-soaring lady of the woods. The lady with the azure plumes had, too, her high-soaring tendencies, but she was enabled by true insight to find the male who would be fit for her. The barn-door cock, when we left him on board the steamer going to New York, had not yet learned the nature of his own requirements. The knowledge will come to him. There may be doubts as to Frank Houston, but we think that there need be none as to Tom Tringle. The proper wife will be forthcoming; and in future years, when he will probably have a Glenbogie and a Merle Park of his own, he will own that Fortune did well for him in making his cousin Ayala so stern to his prayers.