Till the last moment for going Ayala seemed to be childish, triumphant, and indifferent. But, till that last moment, she was never alone with Lucy. It was the presence of her aunt and cousins which sustained her in her hardihood. Tom was never there — or so rarely as not to affect her greatly. In London he had his own lodgings, and was not encouraged to appear frequently till Ayala should have gone. But Aunt Emmeline and Gertrude were perseveringly gracious, and even Augusta had somewhat relaxed from her wrath. With them Ayala was always good-humoured, but always brave. She affected to rejoice at the change which was to be made. She spoke of Lucy’s coming and of her own going as an unmixed blessing. This she did so effectually as to make Aunt Emmeline declare to Sir Thomas, with tears in her eyes, that the girl was heartless. But when, at the moment of parting, the two girls were together, then Ayala broke down.
They were in the room, together, which one had occupied and the other was to occupy, and their boxes were still upon the floor. Though less than six months had passed since Ayala had come among the rich things and Lucy had been among the poor, Ayala’s belongings had become much more important than her sister’s. Though the Tringles had been unpleasant they had been generous. Lucy was sitting upon the bed, while Ayala was now moving about the room restlessly, now clinging to her sister, and now sobbing almost in despair. “Of course I know,” she said. “What is the use of telling stories about it any longer?”
“It is not too late yet, Ayala. If we both go to Uncle Tom he will let us change it.”
“Why should it be changed? If I could change it by lifting up my little finger I could not do it. Why should it not be you as well as me? They have tried me, and — as Aunt Emmeline says — I have not suited.”
“Aunt Dosett is not ill-natured, my darling.”
“No, I dare say not. It is I that am bad. It is bad to like pretty things and money, and to hate poor things. Or, rather, I do not believe it is bad at all, because it is so natural. I believe it is all a lie as to its being wicked to love riches. I love them, whether it is wicked or not.”
“Do not you? Don’t let us be hypocritical, Lucy, now at the last moment. Did you like the way in which they lived in Kingsbury Crescent?”
Lucy paused before she answered. “I like it better than I did,” she said. “At any rate, I would willingly go back to Kingsbury Crescent.”
“Yes — for my sake.”
“Indeed I would, my pet.”
“And for your sake I would rather die than stay. But what is the good of talking about it, Lucy? You and I have no voice in it, though it is all about ourselves. As you say, we are like two tame birds, who have to be moved from one cage into another just as the owner pleases. We belong either to Uncle Tom or Uncle Dosett, just as they like to settle it. Oh, Lucy, I do so wish that I were dead.”
“Ayala, that is wicked.”
“How can I help it, if I am wicked? What am I to do when I get there? What am I to say to them? How am I to live? Lucy, we shall never see each other.”
“I will come across to you constantly.”
“I meant to do so, but I didn’t. They are two worlds, miles asunder. Lucy, will they let Isadore Hamel come here?” Lucy blushed and hesitated. “I am sure he will come.”
Lucy remembered that she had given her friend her address at Queen’s Gate, and felt that she would seem to have done it as though she had known that she was about to be transferred to the other uncle’s house. “It will make no difference if he does,” she said.
“Oh, I have such a dream — such a castle in the air! If I could think it might ever be so, then I should not want to die.”
“What do you dream?” But Lucy, though she asked the question, knew the dream.
“If you had a little house of your own, oh, ever so tiny; and if you and he —?”
“There is no he.”
“There might be. And, if you and he would let me have any corner for myself, then I should be happy. Then I would not want to die. You would, wouldn’t you?”
“How can I talk about it, Ayala? There isn’t such a thing. But yet — but yet; oh, Ayala, do you not know that to have you with me would be better than anything?”
“No — not better than anything — second best. He would be best. I do so hope that he may be “he”. Come in.” There was a knock at the door, and Aunt Emmeline, herself, entered the room.
“Now, my dears, the horses are standing there, and the men are coming up for the luggage. Ayala, I hope we shall see you very often. And remember that, as regards anything that is unpleasant, bygones shall be bygones.” Then there was a crowd of farewell kisses, and in a few minutes Ayala was alone in the carriage on her road up to Kingsbury Crescent.
The thing had been done so quickly that hitherto there had hardly been time for tears. To Ayala herself the most remarkable matter in the whole affair had been Tom’s persistence. He had, at last, been allowed to bring them home from Rome, there having been no other gentleman whose services were available for the occasion. He had been watched on the journey very closely, and had had no slant in his favour, as the young lady to whom he was devoted was quite as anxious to keep out of his way as had been the others of the party to separate them. But he had made occasion, more than once, sufficient to express his intention. “I don’t mean to give you up, you know,” he had said to her. “When I say a thing I mean it. I am not going to be put off by my mother. And as for the governor he would not say a word against it if he thought we were both in earnest.”
“But I ain’t in earnest,” said Ayala; or rather, I am very much in earnest.”
“So am I. That’s all I’ve got to say just at present.” From this there grew up within her mind a certain respect for the “lout”, which, however, made him more disagreeable to her than he might have been had he been less persistent.
It was late in the afternoon, not much before dinner, when Ayala reached the house in Kingsbury Crescent. Hitherto she had known almost nothing of her Aunt Dosett, and had never been intimate even with her uncle. They, of course, had heard much of her, and had been led to suppose that she was much less tractable than the simple Lucy. This feeling had been so strong that Mr Dosett himself would hardly have been led to sanction the change had it not been for that promise from Sir Thomas that he would not withdraw the provision he had made for Ayala, and would do as much for Lucy if Lucy should become an inmate of his family. Mrs Dosett had certainly been glad to welcome any change, when a change was proposed to her. There had grown up something of affection at the last moment, but up to that time she had certainly disliked her niece. Lucy had appeared to her to be at first idle and then sullen. The girl had seemed to affect a higher nature than her own, and had been wilfully indifferent to the little things which had given to her life whatever interest it possessed. Lucy’s silence had been a reproach to her, though she herself had been able to do so little to abolish the silence. Perhaps Ayala might be better.
But they were both afraid of Ayala — as they had not been afraid of Lucy before her arrival. They made more of preparation for her in their own minds, and, as to their own conduct, Mr Dosett was there himself to receive her, and was conscious in doing so that there had been something of failure in their intercourse with Lucy. Lucy had been allowed to come in without preparation, with an expectation that she would fall easily into her place, and there had been failure. There had been no regular consultation as to this new coming, but both Mr and Mrs Dosett were conscious of an intended effort.
Lady Tringle and Mr Dosett had always been Aunt Emmeline and Uncle Reginald, by reason of the nearness of their relationship. Circumstances of closer intercourse had caused Sir Thomas to be Uncle Tom. But Mrs Dosett had never become more than Aunt Dosett to either of the girls. This in itself had been matter almost of soreness to her, and she had intended to ask Lucy to adopt the more endearing form of her Christian name; but there had been so little endearment between them that the moment for doing so had never come. She was thinking of all this up in her own room, preparatory to the reception of this other girl, while Mr Dosett was bidding her welcome to Kingsbury Crescent in the drawing-room below.
Ayala had been dissolved in tears during the drive round by Kensington to Bayswater, and was hardly able to repress her sobs as she entered the house. “My dear,” said the uncle, we will do all that we can to make you happy here.”
“I am sure you will; but — but — it is so sad coming away from Lucy.”
“Lucy I am sure will be happy with her cousins.” If Lucy’s happiness were made to depend on her cousins, thought Ayala, it would not be well assured. “And my sister Emmeline is always good-natured.”
“Aunt Emmeline is very good, only — ”
“I don’t know. But it is such a sudden change, Uncle Reginald.”
“Yes, it is a very great change, my dear. They are very rich and we are poor enough. I should hardly have consented to this, for your sake, but that there are reasons which will make it better for you both.”
“As to that,” said Ayala, stoutly, I had to come away. I didn’t suit.”
“You shall suit us, my dear.”
“I hope so. I will try. I know more now than I did then. I thought I was to be Augusta’s equal.”
“We shall all be equal here.”
“People ought to be equal, I think — except old people and young people. I will do whatever you and my aunt tell me. There are no young people here, so there won’t be any trouble of that kind.”
“There will be no other young person, certainly. You shall go upstairs now and see your aunt.”
Then there was the interview upstairs, which consisted chiefly in promises and kisses, and Ayala was left alone to unpack her boxes and prepare for dinner. Before she began her operations she sat still for a few moments, and with an effort collected her energies and made her resolution. She had said to Lucy in her passion that she would that she were dead. That that should have been wicked was not matter of much concern to her. But she acknowledged to herself that it had been weak and foolish. There was her life before her, and she would still endeavour to be happy though there had been so much to distress her. She had flung away wealth. She was determined to fling it away still when it should present itself to her in the shape of her cousin Tom. But she had her dreams — her day-dreams — those castles in the air which it had been the delight of her life to construct, and in the building of which her hours had never run heavy with her. Isadore Hamel would, of course, come again, and would, of course, marry Lucy, and then there would be a home for her after her own heart. With Isadore as her brother, and her own Lucy close to her, she would not feel the want of riches and of luxury. If there were only some intellectual charm in her life, some touch of art, some devotion to things beautiful, then she could do without gold and silver and costly raiment. Of course, Isadore would come; and then — then — in the far distance, something else would come, something of which in her castle-building she had not yet developed the form, of which she did not yet know the bearing, or the manner of its beauty, or the music of its voice; but as to which she was very sure that its form would be beautiful and its voice full of music. It can hardly be said that this something was the centre of her dreams, or the foundation of her castles. It was the extreme point of perfection at which she would arrive at last, when her thoughts had become sublimated by the intensity of her thinking. It was the tower of the castle from which she could look down upon the inferior world below — the last point of the dream in arranging which she would all but escape from earth to heaven — when in the moment of her escape the cruel waking back into the world would come upon her. But this she knew — that this something, whatever might be its form or whatever its voice, would be exactly the opposite of Tom Tringle.
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 utilised. 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 bedroom.
“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. Of course I have thought about it, coming away from all manner of rich things; and I have determined that it shall not make me unhappy. I will rise above it. I will begin tomorrow and do anything if you will tell me.” Then Aunt Dosett took her in her arms and kissed her, and declared that on the morrow they would begin their work together in perfect confidence and love with each other.
“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.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14