But, though Nina differed somewhat from Ayala as to their ideas as to life in general, they were close friends, and everything was done both by the Marchesa and by her daughter to make Ayala happy. There was not very much of going into grand society, and that difficulty about the dresses solved itself, as do other difficulties. There came a few presents, with entreaties from Ayala that presents of that kind might not be made. But the presents were, of course, accepted, and our girl was as prettily arrayed, if not as richly, as the best around her. At first there was an evening at the opera, and then a theatre — diversions which are easy. Ayala, after her six dull months in Kingsbury Crescent, found herself well pleased to be taken to easy amusements. The carriage in the park was delightful to her, and delightful a visit which was made to her by Lucy. For the Tringle carriage could be spared for a visit in Brook Street, even though there was still a remembrance in the bosom of Aunt Emmeline of the evil things which had been done by the Marchesa in Rome. Then there came a dance — which was not so easy. The Marchesa and Nina were going to a dance at Lady Putney’s, and arrangements were made that Ayala should be taken. Ayala begged that there might be no arrangements, declared that she would be quite happy to see Nina go forth in her finery. But the Marchesa was a woman who always had her way, and Ayala was taken to Lady Putney’s dance without a suspicion on the part of any who saw her that her ball-room apparatus was not all that it ought to be.
Ayala when she entered the room was certainly a little bashful. When in Rome, even in the old days at the bijou, when she did not consider herself to be quite out, she had not been at all bashful. She had been able to enjoy herself entirely, being very fond of dancing, conscious that she could dance well, and always having plenty to say for herself. But now there had settled upon her something of the tedium, something of the silence, of Kingsbury Crescent, and she almost felt that she would not know how to behave herself if she were asked to stand up and dance before all Lady Putney’s world. In her first attempt she certainly was not successful. An elderly gentleman was brought up to her — a gentleman whom she afterwards declared to be a hundred, and who was, in truth, over forty, and with him she manoeuvred gently through a quadrille. He asked her two or three questions to which she was able to answer only in monosyllables. Then he ceased his questions, and the manoeuvres were carried on in perfect silence. Poor Ayala did not attribute any blame to the man. It was all because she had been six months in Kingsbury Crescent. Of course this aged gentleman, if he wanted to dance, would have a partner chosen for him out of Kingsbury Crescent. Conversation was not to be expected from a gentleman who was made to stand up with Kingsbury Crescent. Any powers of talking that had ever belonged to herself had of course evaporated amidst the gloom of Kingsbury Crescent. After this she was returned speedily to the wings of the Marchesa, and during the next dance sat in undisturbed peace. Then suddenly, when the Marchesa had for a moment left her, and when Nina had just been taken away to join a set, she saw the man of silence coming to her from a distance, with an evident intention of asking her to stand up again. It was in his eye, in his toe, as he came bowing forward. He had evidently learned to suppose that they two outcasts might lessen their miseries by joining them together. She was to dance with him because no one else would ask her! She had plucked up her spirit and resolved that, desolate as she might be, she would not descend so far as that, when, in a moment, another gentleman sprang in, as it were, between her and her enemy, and addressed her with free and easy speech as though he had known her all her life. “You are Ayala Dormer, I am sure,” said he. She looked up into his face and nodded her head at him in her own peculiar way. She was quite sure that she had never set her eyes on him before. He was so ugly that she could not have forgotten him. So at least she told herself. He was very, very ugly, but his voice was very pleasant. “I knew you were, and I am Jonathan Stubbs. So now we are introduced, and you are to come and dance with me.”
She had heard the name of Jonathan Stubbs. She was sure of that, although she could not at the moment join any facts with the name. “But I don’t know you,” she said, hesitating. Though he was so ugly he could not but be better than that ancient dancer whom she saw standing at a distance, looking like a dog that has been deprived of his bone.
“Yes, you do,” said Jonathan Stubbs, and if you’ll come and dance I’ll tell you about it. The Marchesa told me to take you.”
“Did she?” said Ayala, getting up, and putting her little hand upon his arm.
“I’ll go and fetch her if you like; only she’s a long way off, and we shall lose our place. She’s my aunt.”
“Oh,” said, Ayala, quite satisfied — remembering now that she had heard her friend Nina boast of a Colonel cousin, who was supposed to be the youngest Colonel in the British army, who had done some wonderful thing — taken a new province in India, or marched across Africa, or defended the Turks — or perhaps conquered them. She knew that he was very brave — but why was he so very ugly? His hair was ruby red, and very short; and he had a thick red beard: not silky, but bristly, with each bristle almost a dagger — and his mouth was enormous. His eyes were very bright, and there was a smile about him, partly of fun, partly of good humour. But his mouth! And then that bristling beard! Ayala was half inclined to like him, because he was so completely master of himself, so unlike the unhappy ancient gentleman who was still hovering at a distance. But why was he so ugly? And why was he called Jonathan Stubbs?
“There now,” he said, we can’t get in at any of the sets. That’s your fault.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Ayala.
“Yes, it is. You wouldn’t stand up till you had heard all about me.”
“I don’t know anything about you now.”
“Then come and walk about and I’ll tell you. Then we shall be ready for a waltz. Do you waltz well?”
“I’ll back myself against any Englishman, Frenchman, German, or Italian, for a large sum of money. I can’t come quite up to the Poles. The fact is, the honester the man is the worse he always dances. Yes; I see what you mean. I must be a rogue. Perhaps I am — perhaps I’m only an exception. I knew your father.”
“Yes, I did. He was down at Stalham with the Alburys once. That was five years ago, and he told me he had a daughter named Ayala. I didn’t quite believe him.”
“It is such an out-of-the-way name.”
“It’s as good as Jonathan, at any rate.” And Ayala again nodded her head.
“There’s a prejudice about Jonathan, as there is about Jacob and Jonah. I never could quite tell why. I was going to marry a girl once with a hundred thousand pounds, and she wouldn’t have me at last because she couldn’t bring her lips to say Jonathan. Do you think she was right?”
“Did she love you?” said Ayala, looking up into his face.
“Awfully! But she couldn’t bear the name; so within three months she gave herself and all her money to Mr Montgomery Talbot de Montpellier. He got drunk, and threw her out of the window before a month was over. That’s what comes of going in for sweet names.”
“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Ayala.
“Very well. Didn’t Septimus Traffick marry your cousin?”
“Of course he did, about a month ago.”
“He is another friend of mine. Why didn’t you go to your cousin’s marriage?”
“There were reasons,” said Ayala.
“I know all about it,” said the Colonel. You quarrelled with Augusta down in Scotland, and you don’t like poor Traffick because he has got a bald head.”
“I believe you’re a conjuror,” said Ayala.
“And then your cousin was jealous because you went to the top of St Peter’s, and because you would walk with Mr Traffick on the Pincian. I was in Rome, and saw all about it.”
“I won’t have anything more to do with you,” said Ayala.
“And then you quarrelled with one set of uncles and aunts, and now you live with another.”
“Your aunt told you that.”
“And I know your cousin, Tom Tringle.”
“You know Tom?” asked Ayala.
“Yes; he was ever so good to me in Rome about a horse; I like Tom Tringle in spite of his chains. Don’t you think, upon the whole, if that young lady had put up with Jonathan she would have done better than marry Montpellier? But now they’re going to waltz, come along.”
Thereupon Ayala got up and danced with him for the next ten minutes. Again and again before the evening was over she danced with him; and although, in the course of the night, many other partners had offered themselves, and many had been accepted, she felt that Colonel Jonathan Stubbs had certainly been the partner of the evening. Why should he be so hideously ugly? said Ayala to herself, as she wished him goodnight before she left the room with the Marchesa and Nina.
“What do you think of my nephew?” asked the Marchesa, when they were in the carriage together.
“Do tell us what you think of Jonathan,” said Nina.
“I thought he was very good-natured.”
“And very handsome?”
“Nina, don’t be foolish. Jonathan is one of the most rising officers in the British service, and luckily he can be that without being beautiful to look at.”
“I declare,” said Nina, sometimes, when he is talking, I think him perfectly lovely. The fire comes out of his eyes, and he rubs his old red hairs about till they sparkle. Then he shines all over like a carbuncle, and every word he says makes me die of laughter.”
“I laughed too,” said Ayala.
“But you didn’t think him beautiful,” said Nina.
“No, I did not,” said Ayala. I liked him very much, but I thought him very ugly. Was it true about the young lady who married Mr Montgomery de Montpellier and was thrown out of a window a week afterwards?”
“There is one other thing I must tell you about Jonathan,” said Nina. “You must not believe a word that he says.”
“That I deny,” said the Marchesa; but here we are. And now, girls, get out of the carriage and go up to bed at once.”
Ayala, before she went to sleep, and again when she woke in the morning, thought a great deal about her new friend. As to shining like a carbuncle — perhaps he did, but that was not her idea of manly beauty. And hair ought not to sparkle. She was sure that Colonel Stubbs was very, very ugly. She was almost disposed to think that he was the ugliest man she had ever seen. He certainly was a great deal worse than her cousin Tom, who, after all, was not particularly ugly. But, nevertheless, she would very much rather dance with Colonel Stubbs. She was sure of that, even without reference to Tom’s objectionable love-making. Upon the whole she liked dancing with Colonel Stubbs, ugly as he was. Indeed, she liked him very much. She had spent a very pleasant evening because he had been there. “It all depends upon whether anyone has anything to say.” That was the determination to which she came when she endeavoured to explain to herself how it had come to pass that she had liked dancing with anybody so very hideous. The Angel of Light would of course have plenty to say for himself, and would be something altogether different in appearance. He would be handsome — or rather, intensely interesting, and his talk would be of other things. He would not say of himself that he danced as well as though he were a rogue, or declare that a lady had been thrown out of a window the week after she was married. Nothing could be more unlike an Angel of Light than Colonel Stubbs — unless, perhaps, it were Tom Tringle. Colonel Stubbs, however, was completely unangelic — so much so that the marvel was that he should yet be so pleasant. She had no horror of Colonel Stubbs at all. She would go anywhere with Colonel Stubbs, and feel herself to be quite safe. She hoped she might meet him again very often. He was, as it were, the Genius of Comedy, without a touch of which life would be very dull. But the Angel of Light must have something tragic in his composition — must verge, at any rate, on tragedy. Ayala did not know that beautiful description of a “Sallow, sublime, sort of Werther-faced man,” but I fear that in creating her Angel of Light she drew a picture in her imagination of a man of that kind.
Days went on, till the last day of Ayala’s visit had come, and it was necessary that she should go back to Kingsbury Crescent. It was now August, and everybody was leaving town. The Marchesa and Nina were going to their relations, the Alburys, at Stalham, and could not, of course, take Ayala with them. The Dosetts would remain in town for another month, with a distant hope of being able to run down to Pegwell Bay for a fortnight in September. But even that had not yet been promised. Colonel Stubbs had been more than once at the house in Brook Street, and Ayala had come to know him almost as she might some great tame dog. It was now the afternoon of the last day, and she was sorry because she would not be able to see him again. She was to be taken to the theatre that night — and then to Kingsbury Crescent and the realms of Lethe early on the following morning.
It was very hot, and they were sitting with the shutters nearly closed, having resolved not to go out, in order that they might be ready for the theatre — when the door was opened and Tom Tringle was announced. Tom Tringle had come to call on his cousin.
“Lady Baldoni,” he said, I hope you won’t think me intrusive, but I thought I’d come and see my cousin once whilst she is staying here.” The Marchesa bowed, and assured him that he was very welcome. “It’s tremendously hot,” said Tom.
“Very hot indeed,” said the Marchesa.
“I don’t think it’s ever so hot as this in Rome,” said Nina, fanning herself.
“I find it quite impossible to walk a yard,” said Tom, “and therefore I’ve hired a hansom cab all to myself. The man goes home and changes his horse regularly when I go to dinner; then he comes for me at ten, and sticks to me till I go to bed. I call that a very good plan.” Nina asked him why he didn’t drive the cab himself. “That would be a grind,” said he, because it would be so hot all day, and there might be rain at night. Have you read what my brother-in-law, Traffick, said in the House last night, my Lady?”
“I’m afraid I passed it over,” said the Marchesa. “Indeed, I am not very good at the debates.”
“They are dull,” said Tom, but when it’s one’s brother-in-law, one does like to look at it. I thought he made that very clear about the malt tax.” The Marchesa smiled and bowed.
“What is — malt tax?” asked Nina.
“Well, it means beer,” said Tom. The question is whether the poor man pays it who drinks the beer, or the farmer who grows the malt. It is very interesting when you come to think of it.”
“But I fear I never have come to think of it,” said the Marchesa.
During all this time Ayala never said a word, but sat looking at her cousin, and remembering how much better Colonel Jonathan Stubbs would have talked if he had been there. Then, after a pause, Tom got up, and took his leave, having to content himself with simply squeezing his cousin’s hand as he left the room.
“He is a lout,” said Ayala, as soon as she knew that the door was closed behind him.
“I don’t see anything loutish at all,” said the Marchesa.
“He’s just like most other young men,” said Nina.
“He’s not at all like Colonel Stubbs,” said Ayala.
Then the Marchesa preached a little sermon. “Colonel Stubbs, my dear,” she said, “happens to have been thrown a good deal about the world, and has thus been able to pick up that easy mode of talking which young ladies like, perhaps because it means nothing. Your cousin is a man of business, and will probably have amassed a large fortune when my poor nephew will be a do-nothing old general on half-pay. His chatter will not then have availed him quite so much as your cousin’s habits of business.”
“Mamma,” said Nina, Jonathan will have money of his own.”
“Never mind, my dear. I do not like to hear a young man called a lout because he’s more like a man of business than a man of pleasure.” Ayala felt herself to be snubbed, but was not a whit the less sure that Tom was a lout, and the Colonel an agreeable partner to dance with. But at the same time she remembered that neither the one nor the other was to be spoken of in the same breath, or thought of in the same spirit, as the Angel of Light.
When they were dressed, and just going to dinner, the ugly man with the red head was announced, and declared his purpose of going with them to the theatre. “I’ve been to the office,” said he, “and got a stall next to yours, and have managed it all. It now only remains that you should give me some dinner and a seat in the carriage.” Of course he was told that there was no dinner sufficient for a man to eat; but he put up with a feminine repast, and spent the whole of the evening sitting next to his aunt, on a back tier, while the two girls were placed in front. In this way, leaning forward, with his ugly head between them, he acted as a running chorus to the play during the whole performance. Ayala thoroughly enjoyed herself, and thought that in all her experience no play she’d seen had ever been so delightful. On their return home the two girls were both told to go to bed in the Marchesa’s good-natured authoritative tone; but, nevertheless, Ayala did manage to say a word before she finally adjusted herself on her pillow. “It is all very well, Nina, for your mamma to say that a young man of business is the best; but I do know a lout when I see him; and I am quite sure that my cousin Tom is a lot, and that Colonel Jonathan is not.”
“I believe you are falling in love with Colonel Jonathan,” said Nina.
“I should as soon think of falling in love with a wild bear — but he’s not a lout, and therefore I like him.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14