But Ayala herself, – Ayala our pet heroine, – had not been yet married when the last chapter was written, and now there remains a page or two in which the reader must bid adieu to her as she stands at the altar with her Angel of Light. She was at Stalham for a fortnight before her marriage, in order, as Lady Albury said, that the buxom ladysmaid might see that everything had been done rightly in reference to the trousseau. "My dear," said Lady Albury, "it is important, you know. I dare say you can bake and brew, because you say so; but you don't know anything about clothes." Ayala, who by this time was very intimate with her friend, pouted her lips, and said that if "Jonathan did not like her things as she chose to have them he might do the other thing." But Lady Albury had her way, inducing Sir Harry to add something even to Uncle Tom's liberality, and the buxom woman went about her task in such a fashion that if Colonel Stubbs were not satisfied he must have been a very unconscionable Colonel. He probably would know nothing about it, – except that his bride in her bridal array had not looked so well as in any other garments, which, I take it, is invariably the case, – till at the end of the first year a glimmer of the truth as to a lady's wardrobe would come upon him. "I told you there would be a many new dresses before two years were over, Miss," said the buxom female, as she spread all the frocks and all the worked petticoats and all the collars and all the silk stockings and all the lace handkerchiefs about the bedroom to be inspected by Lady Albury, Mrs. Gosling, and one or two other friends, before they were finally packed up.
Then came the day on which the Colonel was to reach Stalham, that day being a Monday, whereas the wedding was to take place on Wednesday. It was considered to be within the bounds of propriety that the Colonel should sleep at Stalham on the Monday, under the same roof with his bride; but on the Tuesday it was arranged that he should satisfy the decorous feeling of the neighbourhood by removing himself to the parsonage, which was distant about half-a-mile across the park, and was contiguous to the church. Here lived Mr. Greene, the bachelor curate, the rector of the parish being an invalid and absent in Italy.
"I don't see why he is to be sent away after dinner to walk across the park in the dark," said Ayala, when the matter was discussed before the Colonel's coming.
"It is a law, my dear," said Lady Albury, "and has to be obeyed whether you understand it or not, like other laws. Mr. Greene will be with him, so that no one shall run away with him in the dark. Then he will be able to go into church without dirtying his dress boots."
"But I thought there would be half-a-dozen carriages at least."
"But there won't be room in one of them for him. He is to be nobody until he comes forth from the church as your husband. Then he is to be everybody. That is the very theory of marriage."
"I think we managed it all very well between us," said Lady Albury afterwards, "but you really cannot guess the trouble we took."
"Why should there have been trouble?"
"Because you were such a perverse creature, as the old lady said.
"Indeed I was not. I am sure I did not intend to give any trouble to anybody."
"But you did. Only think of my going up to London to meet him, and of him coming from Aldershot to meet me, simply that we might put our heads together how to overcome the perversity of such a young woman as you!" There then came a look almost of pain on Ayala's brow. "But I do believe it was for the best. In this way he came to understand how absolutely necessary you were to him."
"Am I necessary to him?"
"He thinks so."
"Oh, if I can only be necessary to him always! But there should have been no going up to London. I should have rushed into his arms at once."
"That would have been unusual."
"But so is he unusual," said Ayala.
It is probable that the Colonel did not enjoy his days at Stalham before his marriage, except during the hour or two in which he was allowed to take Ayala out for a last walk. Such days can hardly be agreeable to the man of whom it is known by all around him that he is on the eve of committing matrimony. There is always, on such occasions, a feeling of weakness, as though the man had been subdued, brought at length into a cage and tamed, so as to be made fit for domestic purposes, and deprived of his ancient freedom amongst the woods; – whereas the girl feels herself to be the triumphant conqueror, who has successfully performed this great act of taming. Such being the case, the man had perhaps better keep away till he is forced to appear at the church-door.
Nevertheless our Colonel did enjoy his last walk. "Oh, yes," she said, "of course we will go to the old wood. Where else? I am so glad that poor fox went through Gobblegoose; – otherwise we should never have gone there, and then who knows whether you and I would ever have been friends again any more?"
"If one wood hadn't been there, I think another would have been found."
"Ah, that's just it. You can know that you had a purpose, and perhaps were determined to carry it out."
"But I couldn't be sure of that. I couldn't carry out my purpose, even if I had one. I had to doubt, and to be unhappy, and to hate myself, because I had been perverse. I declare, I do think you men have so much the best of it. How glorious would it have been to be able to walk straight up and say, Jonathan Stubbs, I love you better than all the world. Will you be my husband?"
"But suppose the Jonathan Stubbs of the occasion were to decline the honour. Where would you be then?"
"That would be disagreeable," said Ayala.
"It is disagreeable, – as you made me feel twice over."
"Oh, Jonathan, I am so sorry."
"Therefore it is possible that you may have the best of it."
"And so you never will take another walk with Ayala Dormer?" she said, as they were returning home.
"Never another," he replied.
"You cannot think how I regret it. Of course I am glad to become your wife. I do not at all want to have it postponed. But there is something so sweet in having a lover; – and you know that though I shall have a husband I shall never have a lover again, – and I never had one before, Jonathan. There has been very little of it. When a thing has been so sweet it is sad to think that it must be gone for ever!" Then she leaned upon him with both her hands, and looked up at him and smiled, with her lips a little open, – as she knew that he liked her to lean upon him and to look, – for she had caught by her instinct the very nature of the man, and knew how to witch him with her little charms. "Ah me! I wonder whether you'll like me to lean upon you when a dozen years have gone by."
"That depends on how heavy you may be."
"I shall be a fat old woman, perhaps. But I shall lean upon you, – always, always. What else shall I ever have to lean upon now?"
"What else should you want?"
"Nothing, – nothing, – nothing! I want nothing else. I wonder whether there is anybody in all the world who has got so completely everything that she ever dreamed of wanting as I have. But if you could have been only my lover for a little longer – !" Then he assured her that he would be her lover just the same, even though they were husband and wife. Alas, no! There he had promised more than it is given to a man to perform. Faith, honesty, steadiness of purpose, joined to the warmest love and the truest heart, will not enable a husband to maintain the sweetness of that aroma which has filled with delight the senses of the girl who has leaned upon his arm as her permitted lover.
"What a happy fellow you are!" said Mr. Greene, as, in the intimacy of the moment, they walked across the park together.
"Why don't you get a wife for yourself?"
"Yes; with ?120 a-year!"
"With a little money you might."
"I don't want to have to look for the money; and if I did I shouldn't get it. I often think how very unfairly things are divided in this world."
"That will all be made up in the next."
"Not if one covets one's neighbour's wife, – or even his ass," said Mr. Greene.
On the return of the two lovers to the house from their walk there were Mr. and Mrs. Dosett, who would much rather have stayed away had they not been unwilling not to show their mark of affection to their niece. I doubt whether they were very happy, but they were at any rate received with every distinction. Sir Thomas and Aunt Emmeline were asked, but they made some excuse. Sir Thomas knew very well that he had nothing in common with Sir Harry Albury; and, as for Aunt Emmeline, her one journey to Stalham had been enough for her. But Sir Thomas was again very liberal, and sent down as his contribution to the wedding presents the very necklace which Ayala had refused from her cousin Tom. "Upon my word, your uncle is magnificent," said Lady Albury, upon which the whole story was told to her. Lucy and her husband were away on their tour, as were Gertrude and hers on theirs. This was rather a comfort, as Captain Batsby's presence at the house would have been a nuisance. But there was quite enough of guests to make the wedding, as being a country wedding, very brilliant. Among others, old Tony Tappett was there, mindful of the manner in which Cranbury Brook had been ridden, and of Croppy's presence when the hounds ran their fox into Dillsborough Wood. "I hope she be to ride with us, off and on, Colonel," said Tony, when the ceremony had been completed.
"Now and then, Tony, when we can get hold of Croppy."
"Because, when they come out like that, Colonel, it's a pity to lose 'em, just because they's got their husbands to attend to."
And Lord Rufford was there, with his wife, who on this occasion was very pressing with her invitations. She had heard that Colonel Stubbs was likely to rise high in his profession, and there were symptoms, of which she was an excellent judge, that Mrs. Colonel Stubbs would become known as a professional beauty. And Larry Twentyman was there, who, being in the neighbourhood, was, to his great delight, invited to the breakfast.
Thus, to her own intense satisfaction, Ayala was handed over to her
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