Ayala's Angel, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21

Ayalaxr’s Indignation

Perhaps Mrs Dosett had some just cause for refusing her sanction for the proposed visit to Albury. If Fate did require that Ayala should live permanently in Kingsbury Crescent, the gaiety of a very gay house, and the wealth of a very wealthy house, would hardly be good preparation for such a life. Up to the time of her going to the Marchesa in Brook Street, Ayala had certainly done her best to suit herself to her aunt’s manners — though she had done it with pain and suffering. She had hemmed the towels and mended the sheets and had made the rounds to the shops. She had endeavoured to attend to the pounds of meat and to sympathise with her aunt in the interest taken in the relics of the joints as they escaped from the hungry treatment of the two maidens in the kitchen. Ayala had been clever enough to understand that her aunt had been wounded by Lucy’s indifference, not so much because she had desired to avail herself of Lucy’s labours as from a feeling that that indifference had seemed to declare that her own pursuits were mean and vulgar. Understanding this she had struggled to make those pursuits her own — and had in part succeeded. Her aunt could talk to her about the butter and the washing, matters as to which her lips had been closed in any conversation with Lucy. That Ayala was struggling Mrs Dosett had been aware — but she had thought that such struggles were good and had not been hopeless. Then came the visit to Brook Street, and Ayala returned quite an altered young woman. It seemed as though she neither could nor would struggle any longer. “I hate mutton bones,” she said to her aunt one morning soon after her return.

“No doubt we would all like meat joints the best,” said her aunt, frowning.

“I hate joints too.”

“You have, I dare say, been cockered up at the Marchesa’s with made dishes.”

“I hate dishes,” said Ayala, petulantly.

“You don’t hate eating?”

“Yes, I do. It is ignoble. Nature should have managed it differently. We ought to have sucked it in from the atmosphere through our fingers and hairs, as the trees do by their leaves. There should have been no butchers, and no grease, and no nasty smells from the kitchen — and no gin.”

This was worse than all — this allusion to the mild but unfashionable stimulant to which Mr Dosett had been reduced by his good nature. “You are flying in the face of the Creator, Miss,” said Aunt Margaret, in her most angry voice — “in the face of the Creator who made everything, and ordained what His creatures should eat and drink by His infinite wisdom.”

“Nevertheless,” said Ayala, I think we might have done without boiled mutton.” Then she turned to some articles of domestic needlework which were in her lap so as to show that in spite of the wickedness of her opinions she did not mean to be idle. But Mrs Dosett, in her wrath, snatched the work from her niece’s hands and carried it out of the room, thus declaring that not even a pillowcase in her house should owe a stitch to the hands of a girl so ungrateful and so blasphemous.

The wrath wore off soon. Ayala, though not contrite was meek, and walked home with her aunt on the following morning, patiently carrying a pound of butter, six eggs, and a small lump of bacon in a basket. After that the pillowcase was recommitted to her. But there still was left evidence enough that the girl’s mind had been upset by the luxuries of Brook Street — evidence to which Aunt Margaret paid very much attention, insisting upon it in her colloquies with her husband. “I think that a little amusement is good for young people,” said Uncle Reginald, weakly.

“And for old people too. No doubt about it, if they can get it so as not to do them any harm at the same time. Nothing can be good for a young woman which unfits her for that state of life to which it has pleased God to call her. Ayala has to live with us. No doubt there was a struggle when she first came from your sister, Lady Tringle, but she made it gallantly, and I gave her great credit. She was just falling into a quiet mode of life when there came this invitation from the Marchesa Baldoni. Now she has come back quite an altered person, and the struggle has to be made all over again.” Uncle Reginald again expressed his opinion that young people ought to have a little amusement, but he was not strong enough to insist very much upon his theory. It certainly, however, was true that Ayala, though she still struggled, had been very much disturbed by the visit.

Then came the invitation to Stalham. There was a very pretty note from Lady Albury to Ayala herself, saying how much pleasure she would have in seeing Miss Dormer at her house, where Ayala’s old friends the Marchesa and Nina were then staying. This was accompanied by a long letter from Nina herself, in which all the charms of Stalham, including Mr Ponsonby and lawn tennis, were set forth at full length. Ayala had already heard much about Stalham and the Alburys from her friend Nina, who had hinted in a whisper that such an invitation as this might perhaps be forthcoming. She was ready enough for the visit, having looked through her wardrobe, and resolved that things which had been good enough for Brook Street would still be good enough for Stalham. But the same post had brought a letter for Mrs Dosett, and Ayala could see, that, as the letter was read, a frown came upon her aunt’s brow, and that the look on her aunt’s face was decidedly averse to Stalham. This took place soon after breakfast, when Uncle Reginald had just started for his office, and neither of them for a while said a word to the other of the letter that had been received. It was not till after lunch that Ayala spoke. “Aunt,” she said, you have had a letter from Lady Albury?”

“Yes,” said Mrs Dosett, grimly, I have had a letter from Lady Albury.”

Then there was another silence, till Ayala, whose mind was full of promised delights, could not refrain herself longer. “Aunt Margaret,” she said, “I hope you mean to let me go. For a minute or two there was no reply, and Ayala again pressed her question. “Lady Albury wants me to go to Stalham.”

“She has written to me to say that she would receive you.”

“And I may go?”

“I am strongly of opinion that you had better not,” said Mrs Dosett, confirming her decree by a nod which might have suited Jupiter.

“Oh, Aunt Margaret, why not?”

“I think it would be most prudent to decline.”

“But why — why — why, Aunt Margaret?”

“There must be expense.”

“I have money enough for the journey left of my own from what Uncle Tom gave me,” said Ayala, pleading her cause with all her eloquence.

“It is not only the money. There are other reasons — very strong reasons.”

“What reasons, Aunt Margaret?”

“My dear, it is your lot to have to live with us, and not with such people as the Marchesa Baldoni and Lady Albury.”

“I am sure I do not complain.”

“But you would complain after having for a time been used to the luxuries of Albury Park. I do not say that as finding fault, Ayala. It is human nature that it should be so.”

“But I won’t complain. Have I ever complained?”

“Yes, my dear. You told me the other day that you did not like bones of mutton, and you were disgusted because things were greasy. I do not say this by way of scolding you, Ayala, but only that you may understand what must be the effect of your going from such a house as this to such a house as Stalham, and then returning back from Stalham to such a house as this. You had better be contented with your position.”

“I am contented with my position,” sobbed Ayala.

“And allow me to write to Lady Albury refusing the invitation.”

But Ayala could not be brought to look at the matter with her aunt’s eyes. When her aunt pressed her for an answer which should convey her consent she would give none, and at last left the room bitterly sobbing. Turning the matter over in her own bosom upstairs she determined to be mutinous. No doubt she owed a certain amount of obedience to her aunt; but had she not been obedient, had she not worked hard and lugged about that basket of provisions, and endeavoured to take an interest in all her aunt’s concerns? Was she so absolutely the property of her aunt that she was bound to do everything her aunt desired to the utter annihilation of all her hopes, to the extermination of her promised joys? She felt that she had succeeded in Brook Street. She had met no Angel of Light, but she was associated with people whom she had liked, and had been talked to by those to whom it had been a pleasure to listen. That colonel with the quaint name and the ugly face was still present to her memory as he had leaned over her shoulder at the theatre, making her now laugh by his drollery, and now filling her mind with interest by his description of the scenes which she was seeing. She was sure that all this, or something of the same nature, would be renewed for her delight at Stalham. And was she to be robbed of this — the only pleasure which seemed to regain to her in this world — merely because her aunt chose to entertain severe notions as to duty and pleasure? Other girls went out when they were asked. At Rome, when that question of the dance at the Marchesa’s had been discussed, she had had her own way in opposition to her Aunt Emmeline and her cousin Augusta. No doubt she had, in consequence partly of her conduct on that occasion, been turned out of her Uncle Tom’s house; but of that she did not think at the present moment. She would be mutinous, and would appeal to her Uncle Reginald for assistance.

But the letter which contained the real invitation had been addressed to her aunt, and her aunt could in truth answer it as she pleased. The answer might at this moment be in the act of being written, and should it be averse Ayala knew very well that she could not go in opposition to it. And yet her aunt came to her in the afternoon consulting her again, quite unconquered as to her own opinion, but still evidently unwilling to write the fatal letter without Ayala’s permission. Then Ayala assured herself that she had rights of her own, which her aunt did not care to contravene. “I think I ought to be allowed to go,” she said, when her aunt came to her during the afternoon.

“When I think it will be bad for you?”

“It won’t be bad. They are very good people. I think that I ought to be allowed to go.”

“Have you no reliance on those who are your natural guardians?”

“Uncle Reginald is my natural guardian,” said Ayala, through her tears.

“Very well! If you refuse to be guided by me as though I were not your aunt, and as you will pay no attention to what I tell you is proper for you and best, the question must be left till your uncle comes home. I cannot but be very much hurt that you should think so little of me. I have always endeavoured to do the best I could for you, just as though I were your mother.”

“I think that I ought to be allowed to go,” repeated Ayala.

As the first consequence of this, the replies to all the three letters were delayed for the next day’s post. Ayala had considered much with what pretty words she might best answer Lady Albury’s kind note, and she had settled upon a form of words which she had felt to be very pretty. Unless her uncle would support her, that would be of no avail, and another form must be chosen. To Nina she would tell the whole truth, either how full of joy she was — or else how cruelly used and how thoroughly broken-hearted. But she could not think that her uncle would be unkind to her. Her uncle had been uniformly gentle. Her uncle, when he should know how much her heart was set upon it, would surely let her go.

The poor girl, when she tacitly agreed that her uncle should be the arbiter in the matter, thus pledging herself to abide by her uncle’s decision, let it be what it might, did not think what great advantage her aunt would have over her in that discussion which would be held upstairs while the master of the house was washing his hands before dinner. Nor did she know of how much stronger will was her Aunt Margaret than her Uncle Reginald. While he was washing his hands and putting on his slippers, the matter was settled in a manner quite destructive of poor Ayala’s hopes. “I won’t have it,” said Mrs Dosett, in reply to the old argument that young people ought to have some amusement. “If I am to be responsible for the girl I must be allowed my own way with her. It is trouble enough, and very little thanks I get for it. Of course she hates me. Nevertheless, I can endeavour to do my duty, and I will. It is not thanks, nor love, nor even gratitude, that I look for. I am bound to do the best I can by her because she is your niece, and because she has no other real friends. I knew what would come of it when she went to that house in Brook Street. I was soft then and gave way. The girl has moped about like a miserable creature ever since. If I am not to have my own way now I will have done with her altogether.” Having heard this very powerful speech, Uncle Reginald was obliged to give way, and it was settled that after dinner he should convey to Ayala the decision to which they had come.

Ayala, as she sat at the dinner-table, was all expectation, but she asked no question. She asked no question after dinner, while her uncle slowly, solemnly, and sadly sipped his one beaker of cold gin and water. He sipped it very slowly, no doubt because he was anxious to postpone the evil moment in which he must communicate her fate to his niece. But at last the melancholy glass was drained, and then, according to the custom of the family, Mrs Dosett led the way up into the drawing-room, followed by Ayala and her husband. He, when he was on the stairs, and when the eyes of his wife were not upon him, tremulously put out his hand and laid it on Ayala’s shoulder, as though to embrace her. The poor girl knew well that mark of affection. There would have been no need for such embracing had the offered joys of Stalham been in store for her. The tears were already in her eyes when she seated herself in the drawing-room, as far removed as possible from the armchair which was occupied by her aunt.

Then her uncle pronounced his judgment in a vacillating voice — with a vacillation which was ineffectual of any good to Ayala. “Ayala,” he said, your aunt and I have been talking over this invitation to Stalham, and we are of opinion, my dear, that you had better not accept it.”

“Why not, Uncle Reginald?”

“There would be expense.”

“I can pay for my own ticket.”

“There would be many expenses, which I need not explain to you more fully. The truth is, my dear, that poor people cannot afford to live with rich people, and had better not attempt it.”

“I don’t want to live with them.”

“Visiting them is living with them for a time. I am sorry, Ayala, that we are not able to put you in a position in which you might enjoy more of the pleasures incidental to your age; but you must take the things as they are. Looking at the matter all round, I am sure that your aunt is right in advising that you should stay at home.”

“It isn’t advice at all,” said Ayala.

“Ayala!” exclaimed her aunt, in a tone of indignation.

“It isn’t advice,” repeated Ayala. Of course, if you won’t let me go, I can’t.”

“You are a very wicked girl,” said Mrs Dosett, to speak to your uncle like that, after all that he has done for you.”

“Not wicked,” said the uncle.

“I say, wicked. But it doesn’t matter. I shall at once write to Lady Albury, as you desire, and of course there will be no further question as to her going.” Soon after that Mrs Dosett sat down to her desk, and wrote that letter to which the Marchesa had alluded in hers to her nephew. No doubt it was stern and hard, and of a nature to make such a woman as the Marchesa feel that Mrs Dosett would not be a pleasant companion for a girl like Ayala. But it was written with a full conviction that duty required it; and the words, though hard and stiff, had been chosen with the purpose of showing that the doing of this disagreeable duty had been felt to be imperative.

When the matter had been thus decided, Ayala soon retreated to her own room. Her very soul was burning with indignation at the tyranny to which she thought herself subjected. The use of that weak word, advice, had angered her more than anything. It had not been advice. It had not been given as advice. A command had been laid upon her, a most cruel and unjust command, which she was forced to obey, because she lacked the power of escaping from her condition of slavery. Advice, indeed! Advice is a thing with which the advised one may or may not comply, as that advised one may choose. A slave must obey an order! Her own papa and her own mamma had always advised her, and the advice had always been followed, even when read only in the glance of an eye, in a smile, or a nod. Then she had known what it was to be advised. Now she was ordered — as slaves are ordered; and there was no escape from her slavery!

She, too, must write her letter, but there was no need now of that pretty studied phrase, in which she had hoped to thank Lady Albury fitly for her great kindness. She found, after a vain attempt or two, that it was hopeless to endeavour to write to Lady Albury. The words would not come to her pen. But she did write to Nina:

DEAR, DEAREST NINA,

They won’t let me go! Oh, my darling, I am so miserable! Why should they not let me go, when people are so kind, so very kind, as Lady Albury and your dear mamma? I feel as though I should like to run from the house, and never come back, even though I had to die in the streets. I was so happy when I got your letter and Lady Albury’s, and now I am so wretched! I cannot write to Lady Albury. You must just tell her, with many thanks from me, that they will not let me go!

Your unhappy but affectionate friend, AYALA

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43