She had fallen away from her resolution to her dreams for a time, when suddenly she jumped up and began her work with immense energy. Open went one box after another, and in five minutes the room was strewed with her possessions. The modest set of drawers which was to supply all her wants was filled with immediate haste. Things were deposited in whatever nooks might be found, and every corner was utilized. Her character for tidiness had never stood high. At the bijou Lucy, or her mother, or the favourite maid, had always been at hand to make good her deficiencies with a reproach which had never gone beyond a smile or a kiss. At Glenbogie and even on the journey there had been attendant lady's maids. But here she was all alone.
Everything was still in confusion when she was called to dinner. As she went down she recalled to herself her second resolution. She would be good; – whereby she intimated to herself that she would endeavour to do what might be pleasing to her Aunt Dosett. She had little doubt as to her uncle. But she was aware that there had been differences between her aunt and Lucy. If Lucy had found it difficult to be good how great would be the struggle required from her!
She sat herself down at table a little nearer to her aunt than her uncle, because it was specially her aunt whom she wished to win, and after a few minutes she put out her little soft hand and touched that of Mrs. Dosett. "My dear," said that lady. "I hope you will be happy."
"I am determined to be happy," said Ayala, "if you will let me love you."
Mrs. Dosett was not beautiful, nor was she romantic. In appearance she was the very reverse of Ayala. The cares of the world, the looking after shillings and their results, had given her that look of commonplace insignificance which is so frequent and so unattractive among middle-aged women upon whom the world leans heavily. But there was a tender corner in her heart which was still green, and from which a little rill of sweet water could be made to flow when it was touched aright. On this occasion a tear came to her eye as she pressed her niece's hand; but she said nothing. She was sure, however, that she would love Ayala much better than she had been able to love Lucy.
"What would you like me to do?" asked Ayala, when her aunt accompanied her that night to her bed room.
"To do, my dear? What do you generally do?"
"Nothing. I read a little and draw a little, but I do nothing useful. I mean it to be different now."
"You shall do as you please, Ayala."
"Oh, but I mean it. And you must tell me. Of course things have to be different."
"We are not rich like your uncle and aunt Tringle."
"Perhaps it is better not to be rich, so that one may have something to do. But I want you to tell me as though you really cared for me."
"I will care for you," said Aunt Dosett, sobbing.
"Then first begin by telling me what to do. I will try and do it.
"I think she will do better than Lucy," said Mrs. Dosett to her husband that night.
"Lucy was a dear girl too," said Uncle Reginald.
"Oh, yes; – quite so. I don't mean to say a word against Lucy; but I think that I can do better with Ayala. She will be more diligent." Uncle Reginald said nothing to this, but he could not but think that of the two Lucy would be the one most likely to devote herself to hard work.
On the next morning Ayala went out with her aunt on the round to the shopkeepers, and listened with profound attention to the domestic instructions which were given to her on the occasion. When she came home she knew much of which she had known nothing before. What was the price of mutton, and how much mutton she was expected as one of the family to eat per week; what were the necessities of the house in bread and butter, how far a pint of milk might be stretched, – with a proper understanding that her Uncle Reginald as head of the family was to be subjected to no limits. And before their return from that walk, – on the first morning of Ayala's sojourn, – Ayala had undertaken always to call Mrs. Dosett Aunt Margaret for the future.
During the next three months, up to the end of the winter and through the early spring, things went on without any change either in Queen's Gate or Kingsbury Crescent. The sisters saw each other occasionally, but not as frequently as either of them had intended. Lucy was not encouraged in the use of cabs, nor was the carriage lent to her often for the purpose of going to the Crescent. The reader may remember that she had been in the habit of walking alone in Kensington Gardens, and a walk across Kensington Gardens would carry her the greater part of the distance to Kingsbury Crescent. But Lucy, in her new circumstances, was not advised, – perhaps, I may say, was not allowed, – to walk alone. Lady Tringle, being a lady of rank and wealth, was afraid, or pretended to be afraid, of the lions. Poor Ayala was really afraid of the lions. Thus it came to pass that the intercourse was not frequent. In her daily life Lucy was quiet and obedient. She did not run counter to Augusta, whose approaching nuptials gave her that predominance in the house which is always accorded to young ladies in her recognised position. Gertrude was at this time a subject of trouble at Queen's Gate. Sir Thomas had not been got to approve of Mr. Frank Houston, and Gertrude had positively refused to give him up. Sir Thomas was, indeed, considerably troubled by his children. There had been a period of disagreeable obstinacy even with Augusta before Mr. Traffick had been taken into the bosom of the family. Now Gertrude had her own ideas, and so also had Tom. Tom had become quite a trouble. Sir Thomas and Lady Tringle, together, had determined that Tom must be weaned; by which they meant that he must be cured of his love. But Tom had altogether refused to be weaned. Mr. Dosett had been requested to deny him admittance to the house in Kingsbury Crescent, and as this request had been fully endorsed by Ayala herself orders had been given to the effect to the parlour-maid. Tom had called more than once, and had been unable to obtain access to his beloved. But yet he resolutely refused to be weaned. He told his father to his face that he intended to marry Ayala, and abused his mother roundly when she attempted to interfere. The whole family was astounded by his perseverance, so that there had already sprung up an idea in the minds of some among the Tringles that he would be successful at last. Augusta was very firm, declaring that Ayala was a viper. But Sir Thomas, himself, began to inquire, within his own bosom, whether Tom should not be allowed to settle down in the manner desired by himself. In no consultation held at Queen's Gate on the subject was there the slightest expression of an opinion that Tom might be denied the opportunity of settling down as he wished through any unwillingness on the part of Ayala.
When things were in this position, Tom sought an interview one morning with his father in Lombard Street. They rarely saw each other at the office, each having his own peculiar branch of business. Sir Thomas manipulated his millions in a little back room of his own, while Tom, dealing probably with limited thousands, made himself useful in an outer room. They never went to, or left, the office together, but Sir Thomas always took care to know that his son was or was not on the premises. "I want to say a word or two, Sir, about – about the little affair of mine," said Tom.
"What affair?" said Sir Thomas, looking up from his millions.
"I think I should like to – marry."
"The best thing you can do, my boy; only it depends upon who the young lady may be."
"My mind is made up about that, Sir; I mean to marry my cousin. I don't see why a young man isn't to choose for himself." Then Sir Thomas preached his sermon, but preached it in the manner which men are wont to use when they know that they are preaching in vain. There is a tone of refusal, which, though the words used may be manifestly enough words of denial, is in itself indicative of assent. Sir Thomas ended the conference by taking a week to think over the matter, and when the week was over gave way. He was still inclined to think that marriages with cousins had better be avoided; but he gave way, and at last promised that if Tom and Ayala were of one mind an income should be forthcoming.
For the carrying out of this purpose it was necessary that the door of Uncle Dosett's house should be unlocked, and with the object of turning the key Sir Thomas himself called at the Admiralty. "I find my boy is quite in earnest about this," he said to the Admiralty clerk.
"I can't say I quite like it myself." Mr. Dosett could only shake his head. "Cousins had better be cousins, and nothing more."
"And then you would probably expect him to get money?"
"Not at all," said Sir Thomas, proudly. "I have got money enough for them both. It isn't an affair of money. To make a long story short, I have given my consent; and, therefore, if you do not mind, I shall be glad if you will allow Tom to call at the Crescent. Of course, you may have your own views; but I don't suppose you can hope to do better for the girl. Cousins do marry, you know, very often." Mr. Dosett could only say that he could not expect to do anything for the girl nearly so good, and that, as far as he was concerned, his nephew Tom should be made quite welcome at Kingsbury Crescent. It was not, he added, in his power to answer for Ayala. As to this, Sir Thomas did not seem to have any doubts. The good things of the world, which it was in his power to offer, were so good, that it was hardly probable that a young lady in Ayala's position should refuse them.
"My dear," said Aunt Margaret, the next morning, speaking in her most suasive tone, "your Cousin Tom is to be allowed to call here."
"Yes, my dear. Sir Thomas has consented."
"Then he had better not," said Ayala, bristling up in hot anger. "Uncle Tom has got nothing to do with it, either in refusing or consenting. I won't see him."
"I think you must see him if he calls."
"But I don't want. Oh, Aunt Margaret, pray make him not come. I don't like him a bit. We are doing so very well. Are we not, Aunt Margaret?"
"Certainly, my dear, we are doing very well; – at least, I hope so. But you are old enough now to understand that this is a very serious matter."
"Of course it is serious," said Ayala, who certainly was not guilty of the fault of making light of her future life. Those dreams of hers, in which were contained all her hopes and all her aspirations, were very serious to her. This was so much the case that she had by no means thought of her Cousin Tom in a light spirit, as though he were a matter of no moment to her. He was to her just what the Beast must have been to the Beauty, when the Beast first began to be in love. But her safety had consisted in the fact that no one had approved of the Beast being in love with her. Now she could understand that all the horrors of oppression might fall upon her. Of course it was serious; but not the less was she resolved that nothing should induce her to marry the Beast.
"I think you ought to see him when he comes, and to remember how different it will be when he comes with the approval of his father. It is, of course, saying that they are ready to welcome you as their daughter."
"I don't want to be anybody's daughter."
"But, Ayala, there are so many things to be thought of. Here is a young man who is able to give you not only every comfort but great opulence."
"I don't want to be opulent."
"And he will be a baronet."
"I don't care about baronets, Aunt Margaret."
"And you will have a house of your own in which you may be of service to your sister."
"I had rather she should have a house."
"But Tom is not in love with Lucy."
"He is such a lout! Aunt Margaret, I won't have anything to say to him. I would a great deal sooner die. Uncle Tom has no right to send him here. They have got rid of me, and I am very glad of it; but it isn't fair that he should come after me now that I'm gone away. Couldn't Uncle Reginald tell him to stay away?"
A great deal more was said, but nothing that was said had the slightest effect on Ayala. When she was told of her dependent position, and of the splendour of the prospects offered, she declared that she would rather go into the poor-house than marry her cousin. When she was told that Tom was good-natured, honest, and true, she declared that good-nature, honesty, and truth had nothing to do with it. When she was asked what it was that she looked forward to in the world she could merely sob and say that there was nothing. She could not tell even her sister Lucy of those dreams and castles. How, then, could she explain them to her Aunt Margaret? How could she make her aunt understand that there could be no place in her heart for Tom Tringle seeing that it was to be kept in reserve for some angel of light who would surely make his appearance in due season, – but who must still be there, present to her as her angel of light, even should he never show himself in the flesh. How vain it was to talk of Tom Tringle to her, when she had so visible before her eyes that angel of light with whom she was compelled to compare him!
But, though she could not be brought to say that she would listen patiently to his story, she was nevertheless made to understand that she must see him when he came to her. Aunt Margaret was very full on that subject. A young man who was approved of by the young lady's friends, and who had means at command, was, in Mrs. Dosett's opinion, entitled to a hearing. How otherwise were properly authorised marriages to be made up and arranged? When this was going on there was in some slight degree a diminished sympathy between Ayala and her aunt. Ayala still continued her household duties, – over which, in the privacy of her own room, she groaned sadly; but she continued them in silence. Her aunt, upon whom she had counted, was, she thought, turning against her. Mrs. Dosett, on the other hand, declared to herself that the girl was romantic and silly. Husbands with every immediate comfort, and a prospect of almost unlimited wealth, are not to be found under every hedge. What right could a girl so dependent as Ayala have to refuse an eligible match? She therefore in this way became an advocate on behalf of Tom, – as did also Uncle Reginald, more mildly. Uncle Reginald merely remarked that Tom was attending to his business, which was a great thing in a young man. It was not much, but it showed Ayala that in this matter her uncle was her enemy. In this, her terrible crisis, she had not a friend, unless it might be Lucy.
Then a day was fixed on which Tom was to come, which made the matter more terrible by anticipation. "What can be the good?" Ayala said to her aunt when the hour named for the interview was told her, "as I can tell him everything just as well without his coming at all." But all that had been settled. Aunt Margaret had repeated over and over again that such an excellent young man as Tom, with such admirable intentions, was entitled to a hearing from any young lady. In reply to this Ayala simply made a grimace, which was intended to signify the utter contempt in which she held her cousin Tom with all his wealth.
Tom Tringle, in spite of his rings and a certain dash of vulgarity, which was, perhaps, not altogether his own fault, was not a bad fellow. Having taken it into his heart that he was very much in love he was very much in love. He pictured to himself a happiness of a wholesome cleanly kind. To have the girl as his own, to caress her and foster her, and expend himself in making her happy; to exalt her, so as to have it acknowledged that she was, at any rate, as important as Augusta; to learn something from her, so that he, too, might become romantic, and in some degree poetical; – all this had come home to him in a not ignoble manner. But it had not come home to him that Ayala might probably refuse him. Hitherto Ayala had been very persistent in her refusals; but then hitherto there had existed the opposition of all the family. Now he had overcome that, and he felt therefore that he was entitled to ask and to receive.
On the day fixed, and at the hour fixed, he came in the plenitude of all his rings. Poor Tom! It was a pity that he should have had no one to advise him as to his apparel. Ayala hated his jewelry. She was not quite distinct in her mind as to the raiment which would be worn by the angel of light when he should come, but she was sure that he would not be chiefly conspicuous for heavy gilding; and Tom, moreover, had a waistcoat which would of itself have been suicidal. Such as he was, however, he was shown up into the drawing-room, where he found Ayala alone. It was certainly a misfortune to him that no preliminary conversation was possible. Ayala had been instructed to be there with the express object of listening to an offer of marriage. The work had to be done, – and should be done; but it would not admit of other ordinary courtesies. She was very angry with him, and she looked her anger. Why should she be subjected to this terrible annoyance? He had sense enough to perceive that there was no place for preliminary courtesy, and therefore rushed away at once to the matter in hand. "Ayala!" he exclaimed, coming and standing before her as she sat upon the sofa.
"Tom!" she said, looking boldly up into his face.
"Ayala, I love you better than anything else in the world."
"But what's the good of it?"
"Of course it was different when I told you so before. I meant to stick to it, and I was determined that the governor should give way. But you couldn't know that. Mother and the girls were all against us."
"They weren't against me," said Ayala.
"They were against our being married, and so they squeezed you out as it were. That is why you have been sent to this place. But they understand me now, and know what I am about. They have all given their consent, and the governor has promised to be liberal. When he says a thing he'll do it. There will be lots of money."
"I don't care a bit about money," said Ayala, fiercely.
"No more do I, – except only that it is comfortable. It wouldn't do to marry without money, – would it?"
"It would do very well if anybody cared for anybody." The angel of light generally appeared "in form? pauperis," though there was always about him a tinge of bright azure which was hardly compatible with the draggle-tailed hue of everyday poverty.
"But an income is a good thing, and the governor will come down like a brick."
"The governor has nothing to do with it. I told you before that it is all nonsense. If you will only go away and say nothing about it I shall always think you very good-natured."
"But I won't go away," said Tom speaking out boldly, "I mean to stick to it. Ayala, I don't believe you understand that I am thoroughly in earnest."
"Why shouldn't I be in earnest, too?"
"But I love you, Ayala. I have set my heart upon it. You don't know how well I love you. I have quite made up my mind about it."
"And I have made up my mind."
"But Ayala – " Now the tenor of his face changed, and something of the look of a despairing lover took the place of that offensive triumph which had at first sat upon his brow. "I don't suppose you care for any other fellow yet."
There was the angel of light. But even though she might be most anxious to explain to him that his suit was altogether impracticable she could say nothing to him about the angel. Though she was sure that the angel would come, she was not certain that she would ever give herself altogether even to the angel. The celestial castle which was ever being built in her imagination was as yet very much complicated. But had it been ever so clear it would have been quite impossible to explain anything of this to her cousin Tom. "That has nothing to do with it," she said.
"If you knew how I love you!" This came from him with a sob, and as he sobbed he went down before her on his knees.
"Don't be a fool, Tom, – pray don't. If you won't get up I shall go away. I must go away. I have heard all that there is to hear. I told them that there is no use in your coming."
"Ayala!" with this there were veritable sobs.
"Then why don't you give it up and let us be good friends."
"I can't give it up. I won't give it up. When a fellow means it as I do he never gives it up. Nothing on earth shall make me give it up. Ayala, you've got to do it, and so I tell you."
"Nobody can make me," said Ayala, nodding her head, but somewhat tamed by the unexpected passion of the young man.