Some few days after Lady Tringle had been at Kingsbury Crescent, two visitors, who knew little or nothing of each other, came to see Ayala. One was a lady and the other a gentleman, and the lady came first. The gentleman, however, arrived before the lady had gone. Mrs Dosett was present while the lady remained; but when the gentleman came she was invited to leave him alone with her niece — as shall be told.
The lady was the Marchesa Baldoni. Can the reader go so far back as to remember the Marchesa Baldoni? It was she who rather instigated Ayala to be naughty to the Tringles in Rome, and would have Ayala at her parties when she did not want the Tringles. The Marchesa was herself an Englishwoman, though she had lived at Rome all her life, and had married an Italian nobleman. She was now in London for a few weeks, and still bore in mind her friendship for Ayala, and a certain promise she had once made her. In Rome Lady Tringle, actuated by Augusta, who at the moment was very angry with everybody, including her own lover, had quarrelled with the Marchesa. The Marchesa had then told Ayala that she, Ayala, must stay with her aunt — must, in fact, cease for the time to come to the Marchesa’s apartments, because of the quarrel; but that a time would come in which they might again be friends.
Soon afterwards the Marchesa had heard that the Tringle family had discarded poor Ayala — that her own quarrel had, in fact, extended itself to Ayala, and that Ayala had been shunted off to a poor relation, far away from all the wealth and luxuries which she had been allowed to enjoy for so short a time. Therefore, soon after her arrival in London, the Marchesa had made herself acquainted with the address of the Dosetts, and now was in Kingsbury Crescent in fulfilment of her promise made at Rome.
“So now you have got our friend Ayala,” said the Marchesa with a smile to Mrs Dosett.
“Yes; we have her now. There has been a change. Her sister, Lucy, has gone to my husband’s sister, Lady Tringle.”
The Marchesa made a pleasant little bow at each word. She seemed to Mrs Dosett to be very gorgeously dressed. She was thoroughly well dressed, and looked like a Marchesa — or perhaps, even, like a Marchioness. She was a tall, handsome woman, with a smile perhaps a little too continuously sweet, but with a look conscious of her own position behind it. She had seen in a moment of what nature was Ayala, how charming, how attractive, how pretty, how clever — how completely the very opposite of the Tringles! Ayala learned Italian so readily that she could talk it almost at once. She could sing, and play, and draw. The Marchesa had been quite willing that her own daughter Nina should find a friend in Ayala. Then had come the quarrel. Now she was quite willing to renew the friendship, though Ayala’s position was so sadly altered. Mrs Dosett was almost frightened as the grand lady sat holding Ayala’s hand, and patting it. “We used to know her so well in Rome — did we not, Ayala?”
“You were very kind to me.”
“Nina couldn’t come, because her father would make her go with him to the pictures. But now, my dear, you must come to us just for a little time. We have a furnished house in Brook Street, near the park, till the end of the season, and we have one small spare room which will just do for you. I hope you will let her come to us, for we really are old friends,” said the Marchesa, turning to Mrs Dosett.
Mrs Dosett looked black. There are people who always look black when such applications are made to them — who look black at any allusions to pleasures. And then there came across her mind serious thoughts as to flowers and ribbons — and then more serious thoughts as to boots, dresses, and hats. Ayala, no doubt, had come there less than six months since with good store of everything; but Mrs Dosett knew that such a house as would be that of this lady would require a girl to show herself with the newest sheen on everything. And Ayala knew it too. The Marchesa turned from the blackness of Mrs Dosett’s face with her sweetest smile to Ayala. “Can’t we manage it?” said the Marchesa.
“I don’t think we can,” said Ayala, with a deep sigh.
“And why not?”
Ayala looked furtively round to her aunt. “I suppose I may tell, Aunt Margaret?” she said.
“You may tell everything, my dear,” said Mrs Dosett.
“Because we are poor,” said Ayala.
“What does that matter?” said the Marchesa, brightening up. “We want you because you are rich in good gifts and pretty ways.”
“But I can’t get new frocks now as I used to do in Rome. Aunt Emmeline was cruel to me, and said things which I could not bear. But they let me have everything. Uncle Reginald gives me all that he has, and I am much happier here. But we cannot go out and buy things — can we, Aunt Margaret?”
“No, my dear; we cannot.”
“It does not signify,” said the Marchesa. We are quite quiet, and what you have got will do very well. Frocks! The frocks you had in Rome are good enough for London. I won’t have a word of all that. Nina has set her heart upon it, and so has my husband, and so have I. Mrs Dosett, when we are at home we are the most homely people in the world. We think nothing of dressing. Not to come and see your old friends because of your frocks! We shall send for you the day after tomorrow. Don’t you know, Mrs Dosett, it will do her good to be with her young friend for a few days.” Mrs Dosett had not succeeded in her remonstrances when Sir Thomas Tringle was shown into the room, and then the Marchesa took her leave. For Sir Thomas Tringle was the other visitor who came on that morning to see Ayala.
“If you wouldn’t mind, Mrs Dosett,” said Sir Thomas before he sat down, “I should like to see Ayala alone.” Mrs Dosett had not a word to say against such a request, and at once took her leave.
“My dear,” he began, coming and sitting opposite to Ayala, with his knees almost touching her, “I have got something very particular to say to you.” Ayala was at once much frightened. Her uncle had never before spoken to her in this way — had never in truth said a word to her seriously. He had always been kind to her, making her presents, and allowing himself to be kissed graciously morning and evening. He had never scolded her, and, better than all, had never said a word to her, one way or the other, about Tom. She had always liked her uncle, because he had never caused her trouble when all the others in his house had been troublesome to her. But now she was afraid of him. He did not frown, but he looked very seriously at her, as he might look, perhaps, when he was counting out all his millions in Lombard Street. “I hope you think that I have always wished to be kind to you, Ayala.”
“I am sure you have, Uncle Tom.”
“When you had come to us I always wished you to stay. I don’t like changes of this sort. I suppose you didn’t hit it off with Augusta. But she’s gone now.”
“Aunt Emmeline said something.” That accusation, as to “encouragement”, so rankled in her heart, that when she looked back at her grievances among the Tringles that always loomed the largest.
“I don’t want to hear anything about it,” said Sir Thomas. “Let bygones be bygones. Your aunt, I am sure, never meant unkindly by you. Now, I want you to listen to me.”
“I will, Uncle Tom.”
“Listen to me to the end, like a good girl.”
“Your Cousin Tom —.” Ayala gave a visible shudder, and uttered an audible groan, but as yet she did not say a word. Sir Thomas, having seen the shudder, and heard the groan, did frown as he began again. “Your Cousin Tom is most truly attached to you.”
“Why won’t he leave me alone, then?”
“Ayala, you promised to listen to me without speaking.”
“I will, Uncle Tom. Only — ”
“Listen to me, and then I will hear anything you have to say.”
“I will,” said Ayala, screwing up her lips, so that no words should come out of them, let the provocation be what it might.
Sir Thomas began again. “Your Cousin Tom is most truly attached to you. For some time I and his mother disapproved of this. We thought you were both too young, and there were other reasons which I need not now mention. But when I came to see how thoroughly he was in earnest, how he put his heart into it, how the very fact that he loved you had made a man of him; then how the fact that you would not return his love unmanned him — when I saw all that, I gave my permission.” Here he paused, almost as though expecting a word; but Ayala gave an additional turn to the screw on her lips, and remained quite silent. “Yes; we gave our permission — I and your aunt. Of course, our son’s happiness is all in all to us; and I do believe that you are so good that you would make him a good wife.”
“But — ”
“Listen till I have done, Ayala.” Then there was another squeeze. “I suppose you are what they call romantic. Romance, my dear, won’t buy bread and butter. Tom is a very good young man, and he loves you most dearly. If you will consent to be his I will make a rich man of him. He will then be a respectable man of business, and will become a partner in the house. You and he can choose a place to live in almost where you please. You can have your own establishment and your carriage, and will be able to do a deal of good. You will make him happy, and you will be my dear child. I have come here to tell you that I will make you welcome into the family, and to promise that I will do everything I can to make you happy. Now you may say what you like; but, Ayala, think a little before you speak.”
Ayala thought a little — not as to what she should say, but as to the words in which she might say it. She was conscious that a great compliment was paid to her. And there was a certain pride in her heart as she thought that this invitation into the family had come to her after that ignominious accusation of encouragement had been made. Augusta had snubbed her about Tom, and her aunt; but now she was asked to come among them, and be one of them, with full observances. She was aware of all this, and aware, also, that such treatment required from her a gracious return. But not on that account could she give herself to the Beast. Not on that account could she be untrue to her image. Not on that account could she rob her bosom of that idea of love which was seated there. Not on that account could she look upon the marriage proposed to her with aught but a shuddering abhorrence. She sat silent for a minute or two, while her heavy eyes were fixed upon his. Then, falling on her knees before him, she put up her little hands to pray to him. “Uncle Tom, I can’t,” she said. And then the tears came running down her cheeks.
“Why can’t you, Ayala? Why cannot you be sensible, as other girls are?” said Sir Thomas, lifting her up, and putting her on his knee.
“I can’t,” she said. I don’t know how to tell you.”
“Do you love some other man?”
“No; no; no!” To Uncle Tom, at any rate, she need say nothing of the image.
“Then why is it?”
“Because I can’t. I don’t know what I say, but I can’t. I know how very, very, very good you are.”
“I would love you as my daughter.”
“But I can’t, Uncle Tom. Pray tell him, and make him get somebody else. He would be quite happy if he could get somebody else.”
“It is you that he loves.”
“But what’s the use of it, when I can’t? Dear, dear Uncle Tom, do have it all settled for me. Nothing on earth could ever make me do it. I should die if I were to try.”
“I do so want not to make you angry, Uncle Tom. And I do so wish he would be happy with someone else. Nobody ought to be made to marry unless they like it — ought they?”
“There is no talk of making,” said Sir Thomas, frowning.
“At any rate I can’t,” said Ayala, releasing herself from her uncle’s embrace.
It was in vain that even after this he continued his request, begging her to come down to Glenbogie, so that she might make herself used to Tom and his ways. If she could only once more, he thought, be introduced to the luxuries of a rich house, then she would give way. But she would not go to Glenbogie,; she would not go to Merle Park; she would not consent to see Tom anywhere. Her uncle told her that she was romantic and foolish, endeavouring to explain to her over and over again that the good things of the world were too good to be thrown away for a dream. At last there was a touch of dignity in the final repetition of her refusal. “I am sorry to make you angry, but I can’t, Uncle Tom.” Then he frowned with all his power of frowning, and, taking his hat, left the room and the house almost without a word.
At the time fixed the Marchesa’s carriage came, and Ayala with her boxes was taken away to Brook Street. Uncle Reginald had offered to do something for her in the way of buying a frock, but this she refused, declaring that she would not allow herself to become an expense merely because her friends in Rome had been kind to her. So she had packed up the best of what she had and started, with her heart in her mouth, fearing the grandeur of the Marchesa’s house. On her arrival she was received by Nina, who at once threw herself into all her old intimacy. “Oh, Ayala,” she said, this is so nice to have you again. I have been looking forward to this ever since we left Rome.”
“Yes,” said Ayala, it is nice.
“But why did you tell mamma you would not come? What nonsense to talk to her about frocks! Why not come and tell me? You used to have everything at Rome, much more than I had.”
Then Ayala began to explain the great difference between Uncle Tom and Uncle Reginald — how Uncle Tom had so many thousands that nobody could count them, how Uncle Reginald was so shorn in his hundreds that there was hardly enough to supply the necessaries of life. “You see,” she said, when papa died Lucy and I were divided. I got the rich uncle, and Lucy got the poor one; but I made myself disagreeable, and didn’t suit, and so we have been changed.”
“But why did you make yourself disagreeable?” said Nina, opening her eyes. “I remember when we were at Rome your cousin Augusta was always quarrelling with you. I never quite knew what it was all about.”
“It wasn’t only that,” said Ayala, whispering.
“Did you do anything very bad?”
Then it occurred to Ayala that she might tell the whole story to her friend, and she told it. She explained the nature of that great persecution as to Tom. “And that was the real reason why we were changed,” said Ayala, as she completed her story.
“I remember seeing the young man,” said Nina.
“He is such a lout!”
“But was he very much in love?” asked Nina.
“Well, I don’t know. I suppose he was after his way. I don’t think louts like that can be very much in love to signify. Young men when they look like that would do with one girl as well as another.”
“I don’t see that at all,” said Nina.
“I am sure he would if he’d only try. At any rate what’s the good of his going on? They can’t make a girl marry unless she chooses.”
“Won’t he be rich?”
“Awfully rich,” said Ayala.
“Then I should think about it again,” said the young lady from Rome.
“Never,” said Ayala, with an impressive whisper. I will never think about it again. If he were made of diamonds I would not think about it again.”
“And is that why you were changed?” said Nina.
“Well, yes. No; it is very hard to explain. Aunt Emmeline told me that — that I encouraged him. I thought I should have rushed out of the house when she said that. Then I had to be changed. I don’t know whether they could forgive me, but I could not forgive her.”
“And how is it now?”
“It is different now,” said Ayala, softly. Only that it can’t make any real difference.”
“They’d let me come if I would, I suppose; but I shall never, never go to them any more.”
“I suppose you won’t tell me everything?” said Nina, after a pause.
“You won’t be angry if I ask?”
“No, I will not be angry.”
“I suppose there is someone else you really care for?”
“There is no one,” said Ayala, escaping a little from her friend’s embrace.
“Then why should you be so determined against that poor young man?”
“Because he is a lout and a beast,” said Ayala, jumping up. “I wonder you should ask me — as if that had anything to do with it. Would you fall in love with a lout because you had no one else? I would rather live for ever all alone, even in Kingsbury Crescent, than have to think of becoming the wife of my cousin Tom.” At this Nina shrugged her shoulders, showing that her education in Italy had been less romantic than that accorded to Ayala in London.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14