She took her son's letter and read it, and as a matter of course misunderstood the position. At Glenbogie something had been whispered to her about Tom and Ayala, but she had not believed much in it. Ayala was a child, and Tom was to her not much more than a boy. But now here was a genuine love-letter, – a letter in which her son had made a distinct proposition to marry the orphan. She did not stop to consider why Ayala had brought the letter to her, but entertained at once an idea that the two young people were going to vex her very soul by a lamentable love affair. How imprudent she had been to let the two young people be together in Rome, seeing that the matter had been whispered to her at Glenbogie! "How long has this been going on?" she asked, severely.
"He used to tease me at Glenbogie, and now he is doing it again," said Ayala.
"There must certainly be put an end to it. You must go away."
Ayala knew at once that her aunt was angry with her, and was indignant at the injustice. "Of course there must be put an end to it, Aunt Emmeline. He has no right to annoy me when I tell him not."
"I suppose you have encouraged him."
This was too cruel to be borne! Encouraged him! Ayala's anger was caused not so much by a feeling that her aunt had misappreciated the cause of her coming as that it should have been thought possible that she should have "encouraged" such a lover. It was the outrage to her taste rather than to her conduct which afflicted her. "He is a lout," she said; "a stupid lout!" thus casting her scorn upon the mother as well as on the son, and, indeed, upon the whole family. "I have not encouraged him. It is untrue."
"Ayala, you are very impertinent."
"And you are very unjust. Because I want to put a stop to it I come to you, and you tell me that I encourage him. You are worse than Augusta."
This was too much for the good nature even of Aunt Emmeline. Whatever may have been the truth as to the love affair, however innocent Ayala may have been in that matter, or however guilty Tom, such words from a niece to her aunt, – from a dependent to her superior, – were unpardonable. The extreme youthfulness of the girl, a peculiar look of childhood which she still had with her, made the feeling so much the stronger. "You are worse than Augusta!"
And this was said to her who was specially conscious of her endeavours to mitigate Augusta's just anger. She bridled up, and tried to look big and knit her brows. At that moment she could not think what must be the end of it, but she felt that Ayala must be crushed. "How dare you speak to me like that, 'Miss'?" she said.
"So you are. It is very cruel. Tom will go on saying all this nonsense to me, and when I come to you you say I encourage him! I never encouraged him. I despise him too much. I did not think my own aunt could have told me that I encouraged any man. No, I didn't. You drive me to it, so that I have got to be impertinent."
"You had better go to your room," said the aunt.
Aunt Emmeline, when she was left alone, felt herself to be enveloped in a cloud of doubt. The desirableness of Tom as a husband first forced itself upon her attention, and the undesirableness of Ayala as a wife for Tom. She was perplexed at her own folly in not having seen that danger of this kind would arise when she first proposed to take Ayala into the house. Aunts and uncles do not like the marriage of cousins, and the parents of rich children do not, as a rule, approve of marriages with those which are poor. Although Ayala had been so violent, Lady Tringle could not rid herself of the idea that her darling boy was going to throw himself away. Then her cheeks became red with anger as she remembered that her Tom had been called a lout, – a stupid lout. There was an ingratitude in the use of such language which was not alleviated even by the remembrance that it tended against that matrimonial danger of which she was so much afraid. Ayala was behaving very badly. She ought not to have coaxed Tom to be her lover, and she certainly ought not to have called Tom a lout. And then Ayala had told her aunt that she was unjust and worse than Augusta! It was out of the question that such a state of things should be endured. Ayala must be made to go away.
Before the day was over Lady Tringle spoke to her son, and was astonished to find that the "lout" was quite in earnest, – so much in earnest that he declared his purpose of marrying his cousin in opposition to his father and mother, in opposition even to Ayala herself. He was so much in earnest that he would not be roused to wrath even when he was told that Ayala had called him a lout. And then grew upon the mother a feeling that the young man had never been so little loutish before. For there had been, even in her maternal bosom, a feeling that Tom was open to the criticism expressed on him. Tom had been a hobble-de-hoy, one of those overgrown lads who come late to their manhood, and who are regarded by young ladies as louts. Though he had spent his money only too freely when away, his sisters had sometimes said that he could not say "bo to a goose" at home. But now, – now Tom was quite an altered young man. When his own letter was shown to him he simply said that he meant to stick to it. When it was represented to him that his cousin would be quite an unfit wife for him he assured his mother that his own opinion on that matter was very different. When his father's anger was threatened he declared that his father would have no right to be angry with him if he married a lady. At the word "lout" he simply smiled. "She'll come to think different from that before she's done with me," he said, with a smile. Even the mother could not but perceive that the young man had been much improved by his love.
But what was she to do? Two or three days went on, during which there was no reconciliation between her and Ayala. Between Augusta and Ayala no word was spoken. Messages were taken to her by Gertrude, the object of which was to induce her to ask her aunt's pardon. But Ayala was of opinion that her aunt ought to ask her pardon, and could not be beaten from it. "Why did she say that I encouraged him?" she demanded indignantly of Gertrude. "I don't think she did encourage him," said Gertrude to her mother. This might possibly be true, but not the less had she misbehaved. And though she might not yet have encouraged her lover it was only too probable that she might do so when she found that her lover was quite in earnest.
Lady Tringle was much harassed. And then there came an additional trouble. Gertrude informed her mother that she had engaged herself to Mr. Francis Houston, and that Mr. Houston was going to write to her father with the object of proposing himself as a son-in-law. Mr. Houston came also to herself, and told her, in the most natural tone in the world, that he intended to marry her daughter. She had not known what to say. It was Sir Thomas who managed all matters of money. She had an idea that Mr. Houston was very poor. But then so also had been Mr. Traffick, who had been received into the family with open arms. But then Mr. Traffick had a career, whereas Mr. Houston was lamentably idle. She could only refer Mr. Houston to Sir Thomas, and beg him not to come among them any more till Sir Thomas had decided. Upon this Gertrude also got angry, and shut herself up in her room. The apartments Ruperti were, therefore, upon the whole, an uncomfortable home to them.
Letters upon letters were written to Sir Thomas, and letters upon letters came. The first letter had been about Ayala. He had been much more tender towards Ayala than her aunt had been. He talked of calf-love, and said that Tom was a fool; but he had not at once thought it necessary to give imperative orders for Tom's return. As to Ayala's impudence, he evidently regarded it as nothing. It was not till Aunt Emmeline had spoken out in her third letter that he seemed to recognise the possibility of getting rid of Ayala altogether. And this he did in answer to a suggestion which had been made to him. "If she likes to change with her sister Lucy, and you like it, I shall not object," said Sir Thomas. Then there came an order to Tom that he should return to Lombard Street at once; but this order had been rendered abortive by the sudden return of the whole family. Sir Thomas, in his first letter as to Gertrude, had declared that the Houston marriage would not do at all. Then, when he was told that Gertrude and Mr. Houston had certainly met each other more than once since an order had been given for their separation, he desired the whole family to come back at once to Merle Park.
The proposition as to Lucy had arisen in this wise. Tom being in the same house with Ayala, of course had her very much at advantage, and would carry on his suit in spite of any abuse which she might lavish upon him. It was quite in vain that she called him lout. "You'll think very different from that some of these days, Ayala," he said, more seriously.
"No, I shan't; I shall think always the same."
"When you know how much I love you, you'll change."
"I don't want you to love me," she said; "and if you were anything that is good you wouldn't go on after I have told you so often. It is not manly of you. You have brought me to all manner of trouble. It is your fault, but they make me suffer."
After that Ayala again went to her aunt, and on this occasion the family misfortune was discussed in more seemly language. Ayala was still indignant, but she said nothing insolent. Aunt Emmeline was still averse to her niece, but she abstained from crimination. They knew each as enemies, but recognised the wisdom of keeping the peace. "As for that, Aunt Emmeline," Ayala said, "you may be quite sure that I shall never encourage him. I shall never like him well enough."
"Very well. Then we need say no more about that, my dear. Of course, it must be unpleasant to us all, being in the same house together."
"It is very unpleasant to me, when he will go on bothering me like that. It makes me wish that I were anywhere else."
Then Aunt Emmeline began to think about it very seriously. It was very unpleasant. Ayala had made herself disagreeable to all the ladies of the family, and only too agreeable to the young gentleman. Nor did the manifest favour of Sir Thomas do much towards raising Ayala in Lady Tringle's estimation. Sir Thomas had only laughed when Augusta had been requested to go upstairs for the scrap-book. Sir Thomas had been profuse with his presents even when Ayala had been most persistent in her misbehaviour. And then all that affair of the Marchesa, and even Mr. Traffick's infatuation! If Ayala wished that she were somewhere else would it not be well to indulge her wish! Aunt Emmeline certainly wished it. "If you think so, perhaps some arrangement can be made," said Aunt Emmeline, very slowly.
"You must not suppose that I wish to turn you out?"
"But what arrangement?"
"You see, Ayala, that unfortunately we have not all of us hit it off nicely; have we?"
"Not at all, Aunt Emmeline. Augusta is always angry with me. And you, – you think that I have encouraged Tom."
"I am saying nothing about that, Ayala."
"But what arrangement is it, Aunt Emmeline?" The matter was one of fearful import to Ayala. She was prudent enough to understand that well. The arrangement must be one by which she would be banished from all the wealth of the Tringles. Her coming among them had not been a success. She had already made them tired of her by her petulance and independence. Young as she was she could see that, and comprehend the material injury she had done herself by her folly. She had been very wrong in telling Augusta to go upstairs. She had been wrong in the triumph of her exclusive visits to the Marchesa. She had been wrong in walking away with Mr. Traffick on the Pincian. She could see that. She had not been wrong in regard to Tom, – except in calling him a lout; but whether wrong or right she had been most unfortunate. But the thing had been done, and she must go.
At this moment the wealth of the Tringles seemed to be more to her than it had ever been before, – and her own poverty and destitution seemed to be more absolute. When the word "arrangement" was whispered to her there came upon her a clear idea of all that which she was to lose. She was to be banished from Merle Park, from Queen's Gate, and from Glenbogie. For her there were to be no more carriages, and horses, and pretty trinkets; – none of that abandon of the luxury of money among which the Tringles lived. But she had done it for herself, and she would not say a word in opposition to the fate which was before her. "What arrangement, aunt?" she said again, in a voice which was intended to welcome any arrangement that might be made.
Then her aunt spoke very softly. "Of course, dear Ayala, we do not wish to do less than we at first intended. But as you are not happy here – " Then she paused, almost ashamed of herself.
"I am not happy here," said Ayala, boldly.
"How would it be if you were to change, – with Lucy?"
The idea which had been present to Lady Tringle for some weeks past had never struck Ayala. The moment she heard it she felt that she was more than ever bound to assent. If the home from which she was to be banished was good, then would that good fall upon Lucy. Lucy would have the carriages and the horses and the trinkets, Lucy, who certainly was not happy at Kingsbury Crescent. "I should be very glad, indeed," said Ayala.
Her voice was so brave and decided that, in itself, it gave fresh offence to her aunt. Was there to be no regret after so much generosity? But she misunderstood the girl altogether. As the words were coming from her lips, – "I should be very glad, indeed," – Ayala's heart was sinking with tenderness as she remembered how much after all had been done for her. But as they wished her to go there should be not a word, not a sign of unwillingness on her part.
"Then perhaps it can be arranged," said Lady Tringle.
"I don't know what Uncle Dosett may say. Perhaps they are very fond of Lucy now."
"They wouldn't wish to stand in her way, I should think."
"At any rate, I won't. If you, and my uncles, and Aunt Margaret, will consent, I will go whenever you choose. Of course I must do just as I'm told."
Aunt Emmeline made a faint demur to this; but still the matter was held to be arranged. Letters were written to Sir Thomas, and letters came, and at last even Sir Thomas had assented. He suggested, in the first place, that all the facts which would follow the exchange should be explained to Ayala; but he was obliged after a while to acknowledge that this would be inexpedient. The girl was willing; and knew no doubt that she was to give up the great wealth of her present home. But she had proved herself to be an unfit participator, and it was better that she should go.
Then the departure of them all from Rome was hurried on by the indiscretion of Gertrude. Gertrude declared that she had a right to her lover. As to his having no income, what matter for that. Everyone knew that Septimus Traffick had no income. Papa had income enough for them all. Mr. Houston was a gentleman. Till this moment no one had known of how strong a will of her own Gertrude was possessed. When Gertrude declared that she would not consent to be separated from Mr. Houston then they were all hurried home.
Such was the state of things when Mr. Dosett brought the three letters home with him to Kingsbury Crescent, having been so much disturbed by the contents of the two which were addressed to himself as to have found himself compelled to leave his office two hours before the proper time. The three letters were handed together by her uncle to Lucy, and she, seeing the importance of the occasion, read the two open ones before she broke the envelope of her own. That from Sir Thomas came first, and was as follows; —
Lombard Street, January, 187 – .
My dear Dosett,
I have had a correspondence with the ladies at Rome which has been painful in its nature, but which I had better perhaps communicate to you at once. Ayala has not got on as well with Lady Tringle and the girls as might have been wished, and they all think it will be better that she and Lucy should change places. I chiefly write to give my assent. Your sister will no doubt write to you. I may as well mention to you, should you consent to take charge of Ayala, that I have made some provision for her in my will, and that I shall not change it. I have to add on my own account that I have no complaint of my own to make against Ayala.Yours sincerely,T. Tringle.
Lucy, when she had read this, proceeded at once to the letter from her aunt. The matter to her was one of terrible importance, but the importance was quite as great to Ayala. She had been allowed to go up alone into her own room. The letters were of such a nature that she could hardly have read them calmly in the presence of her Aunt Dosett. It was thus that her Aunt Emmeline had written; —
Palazzo Ruperti, Rome, Thursday.
My dear Reginald,
I am sure you will be sorry to hear that we are in great trouble here. This has become so bad that we are obliged to apply to you to help us. Now you must understand that I do not mean to say a word against dear Ayala; – only she does not suit. It will occur sometimes that people who are most attached to each other do not suit. So it has been with dear Ayala. She is not happy with us. She has not perhaps accommodated herself to her cousins quite as carefully as she might have done. She is fully as sensible of this as I am, and is, herself, persuaded that there had better be a change.
Now, my dear Reginald, I am quite aware that when poor Egbert died it was I who chose Ayala, and that you took Lucy partly in compliance with my wishes. Now I write to suggest that there should be a change. I am sure you will give me credit for a desire to do the best I can for both the poor dear girls. I did think that this might be best done by letting Ayala come to us. I now think that Lucy would do better with her cousins, and that Ayala would be more attractive without the young people around her.
When I see you I will tell you everything. There has been no great fault. She has spoken a word or two to me which had been better unsaid, but I am well convinced that it has come from hot temper and not from a bad heart. Perhaps I had better tell you the truth. Tom has admired her. She has behaved very well; but she could not bear to be spoken to, and so there have been unpleasantnesses. And the girls certainly have not got on well together. Sir Thomas quite agrees with me that if you will consent there had better be a change.
I will not write to dear Lucy herself because you and Margaret can explain it all so much better, – if you will consent to our plan. Ayala also will write to her sister. But pray tell her from me that I will love her very dearly if she will come to me. And indeed I have loved Ayala almost as though she were my own, only we have not been quite able to hit it off together.
Of course neither has Sir Thomas or have I any idea of escaping from a responsibility. I should be quite unhappy if I did not have one of poor dear Egbert's girls with me. Only I do think that Lucy would be the best for us; and Ayala thinks so too. I should be quite unhappy if I were doing this in opposition to Ayala.
We shall be in England almost as soon as this letter, and I should be so glad if this could be decided at once. If a thing like this is to be done it is so much better for all parties that it should be done quickly. Pray give my best love to Margaret, and tell her that Ayala shall bring everything with her that she wants.Your most affectionate sister,Emmeline Tringle.
The letter, though it was much longer than her uncle's, going into details, such as that of Tom's unfortunate passion for his cousin, had less effect upon Lucy, as it did not speak with so much authority as that from Sir Thomas. What Sir Thomas said would surely be done; whereas Aunt Emmeline was only a woman, and her letter, unsupported, might not have carried conviction. But, if Sir Thomas wished it, surely it must be done. Then, at last, came Ayala's letter; —
Dearest, dearest Lucy,
Oh, I have such things to write to you! Aunt Emmeline has told it all to Uncle Reginald. You are to come and be the princess, and I am to go and be the milkmaid at home. I am quite content that it should be so because I know that it will be the best. You ought to be a princess and I ought to be a milkmaid.
It has been coming almost ever since the first day that I came among them, – since I told Augusta to go upstairs for the scrap-book. I felt from the very moment in which the words were uttered that I had gone and done for myself. But I am not a bit sorry, as you will come in my place. Augusta will very soon be gone now, and Aunt Emmeline is not bad at all if you will only not contradict her. I always contradicted her, and I know that I have been a fool. But I am not a bit sorry, as you are to come instead of me.
But it is not only about Augusta and Aunt Emmeline. There has been that oaf Tom. Poor Tom! I do believe that he is the most good-natured fellow alive. And if he had not so many chains I should not dislike him so very much. But he will go on saying horrible things to me. And then he wrote me a letter! Oh dear! I took the letter to Aunt Emmeline, and that made the quarrel. She said that I had – encouraged him! Oh, Lucy, if you will think of that! I was so angry that I said ever so much to her, – till she sent me out of the room. She had no business to say that I encouraged him. It was shameful! But she has never forgiven me, because I scolded her. So they have decided among them that I am to be sent away, and that you are to come in my place.
My own darling Lucy, it will be ever so much better. I know that you are not happy in Kingsbury Crescent, and that I shall bear it very much better. I can sit still and mend sheets.
Poor Ayala, how little she knew herself!