“I have had a letter from Lady Albury,” said Aunt Margaret, almost as soon as Ayala had taken off her hat and cloak.
“Yes, I know, Aunt Margaret. She wrote to ask that I might stay for four more days. I hope it was not wrong.”
“I have had another letter since that, on Monday about it; I have determined to show it you. There it is. You had better read it by yourself, and I will come to you again in half an hour.” Then, very solemnly, but with no trace of ill-humour, Mrs Dosett left the room. There was something in her tone and gait so exceedingly solemn that Ayala was almost frightened. Of course, the letter must be about Colonel Stubbs, and, of course, the writer of it would find fault with her. She was conscious that she was adding one to her terribly long list of sins in not consenting to marry Colonel Stubbs. It was her misfortune that all her friends found fault with everything that she did. Among them there was not one, not even Nina, who fully sympathised with her. Not even to Lucy could she expatiate with a certainty of sympathy in regard to the Angel of Light. And now, though her aunt was apparently not angry — only solemn — she felt already sure that she was to be told that it was her duty to marry Colonel Stubbs. It was only the other day that her aunt was preaching to her as to the propriety of marrying her cousin Tom. It seemed, she said to herself, that people thought that a girl was bound to marry any man who could provide a house for her, and bread to eat, and clothes to wear. All this passed through her mind as she slowly drew Lady Albury’s letter from the envelope and prepared to read it. The letter was as follows:
Albury, Monday, 18th November, 187
Your niece will return to you, as you request, on Thursday, but before she reaches you I think it my duty to inform you of a little circumstance which has occurred here. My cousin, Colonel Jonathan Stubbs, who is also the nephew of the Marchesa Baldoni, has made Miss Dormer an offer. I am bound to add that I did not think it improbable that it would be so, when I called on your husband, and begged him to allow your niece to come to us. I did not then know my cousin’s intention as a fact. I doubt whether he knew it himself; but from what I had heard I thought it probable, and, as I conceive that any young lady would be fortunate in becoming my cousin’s wife, I had no scruple.
He has proposed to her, and she has rejected him. He has set his heart upon the matter, and I am most anxious that he should succeed, because I know him to be a man who will not easily brook disappointment where he has set his heart. Of all men I know he is the most steadfast in his purpose.
I took the liberty of speaking to your niece on the subject, and am disposed to think that she is deterred by some feeling of foolish romance, partly because she does not like the name, partly because my cousin is not a handsome man in a girl’s eyes — more probably, however, she has built up to herself some poetic fiction, and dreams of she knows not what. If it be so, it is a pity that she should lose an opportunity of settling herself well and happily in life. She gave as a reason that she did not love him. My experience is not so long as yours, perhaps, but such as I have has taught me to think that a wife will love her husband when she finds herself used well at all points. Mercenary marriages are, of course, bad; but it is a pity, I think, that a girl, such as your niece, should lose the chance of so much happiness by a freak of romance.
Colonel Stubbs, who is only twenty-eight years of age, has a staff appointment at Aldershot. He has private means of his own, on which alone he would be justified in marrying. On the death of his uncle, General Stubbs, he will inherit a considerable accession of fortune. He is not, of course, a rich man; but he has ample for the wants of a family. In all other good gifts, temper, manliness, truth, and tenderness, I know no one to excel him. I should trust any young friend of my own into his hands with perfect safety.
I have thought it right to tell you this. You will use your own judgment in saying what you think fit to your niece. Should she be made to understand that her own immediate friends approve of the offer, she would probably be induced to accept it. I have not heard my cousin say what may be his future plans. I think it possible that, as he is quite in earnest, he will not take one repulse. Should he ask again, I hope that your niece may receive him with altered views.
Pray believe me to be, my dear Madam,
Ayala read the letter twice over before her aunt returned to her, and, as she read it, felt something of a feeling of renewed kindness come upon her in reference to the writer of it — not that she was in the least changed in her own resolution, but that she liked Lady Albury for wishing to change her. The reasons given, however, were altogether impotent with her. Colonel Stubbs had the means of keeping a wife! If that were a reason then also ought she to marry her cousin, Tom Tringle. Colonel Stubbs was good and true; but so also very probably was Tom Tringle. She would not compare the two men. She knew that her cousin Tom was altogether distasteful to her, while she took delight in the companionship of the Colonel. But the reasons for marrying one were to her thinking as strong as for marrying the other. There could be only one valid excuse for marriage — that of adoring the man — and she was quite sure that she did not adore Colonel Jonathan Stubbs. Lady Albury had said in her letter, that a girl would be sure to love a man who treated her well after marriage; but that would not suffice for her. Were she to marry at all, it would be necessary that she should love the man before her marriage.
“Have you read the letter, my dear?” said Mrs Dosett; as she entered the room and closed the door carefully behind her. She spoke almost in a whisper, and seemed to be altogether changed by the magnitude of the occasion.
“Yes, Aunt Margaret, I have read it.”
“I suppose it is true?”
“True! It is true in part.”
“You did meet this Colonel Stubbs?”
“Oh, yes; I met him.”
“And you had met him before?”
“Yes, Aunt Margaret. He used to come to Brook Street. He is the Marchesa’s nephew.”
“Did he — “ This question Aunt Margaret asked in a very low whisper, and her most solemn voice. “Did he make love to you in Brook Street?”
“No,” said Ayala sharply.
“Not at all?”
“Not at all. I never thought of such a thing. I never dreamed of such a thing when he began talking to me out in the woods at Stalham on Saturday.”
“Had you been — been on friendly terms with him?”
“Very friendly terms. We were quite friends, and used to talk about all manner of things. I was very fond of him, and never afraid of anything that he said to me. He was Nina’s cousin and seemed almost to be my cousin too.”
“Then you do like him?”
“Of course I do. Everybody must like him. But that is no reason why I should want to marry him.”
Upon this Mrs Dosett sat silent for awhile turning the great matter over in her thoughts. It was quite clear to her that every word which Ayala had spoken was true; and probable also that Lady Albury’s words were true. In her inmost thoughts she regarded Ayala as a fool. Here was a girl who had not a shilling of her own, who was simply a burden on relatives whom she did not especially love, who was doomed to a life which was essentially distasteful to her — for all this in respect to herself and her house Mrs Dosett had sense enough to acknowledge — who seemed devoted to the society of rich and gay people, and yet would not take the opportunities that were offered her of escaping what she disliked and going to that which she loved! Two offers had now been made to her, both of them thoroughly eligible, to neither of which would objection have been made by any of the persons concerned. Sir Thomas had shown himself to be absolutely anxious for the success of his son. And now it seemed that the grand relations of this Colonel Stubbs were in favour of the match. What it was in Ayala that entitled her to such promotion Mrs Dosett did not quite perceive. To her eyes her niece was a fantastic girl, pretty indeed, but not endowed with that regular tranquil beauty which she thought to be of all feminine graces the most attractive. Why Tom Tringle should have been so deeply smitten with Ayala had been a marvel to her; and now this story of Colonel Stubbs was a greater marvel. “Ayala,” she said, “you ought to think better of it.”
“Think better of what, Aunt Margaret?”
“You have seen what this Lady Albury says about her cousin, Colonel Stubbs.”
“What has that to do with it?”
“You believe what she says? If so why should you not accept him?”
“Because I can’t,” said Ayala.
“Have you any idea what is to become of your future life?” said Mrs Dosett, very gravely.
“Not in the least,” said Ayala. But that was a fib, because she had an idea that in the fullness of time it would be her heavenly fate to put her hand into that of the Angel of Light.
“Gentlemen won’t come running after you always, my dear.”
This was almost as bad as being told by her Aunt Emmeline that she had encouraged her cousin Tom.
“It’s a great shame to say that. I don’t want anybody to run after me. I never did.”
“No, my dear; no. I don’t think that you ever did.”
Mrs Dosett, who was justice itself, did acknowledge to herself that of any such fault as that suggested, Ayala was innocent. Her fault was quite in the other direction, and consisted of an unwillingness to settle herself and to free her relations of the burden of maintaining her when proper opportunities arose for doing so. “I only want to explain to you that people must — must — must make their hay while the sun shines. You are young now.”
“I am not one-and-twenty yet,” said Ayala, proudly.
“One-and-twenty is a very good time for a girl to marry — that is to say if a proper sort of gentleman asks her.”
“I don’t think I ought to be scolded because they don’t seem to me to be the proper sort. I don’t want anybody to come. Nobody ought to be talked to about it at all. If I cared about anyone that you or Uncle Reginald did not approve, then you might talk to me. But I don’t think that anything ought to be said about anybody unless I like him myself.” So the conversation was over, and Mrs Dosett felt that she had been entirely vanquished.
Lady Albury’s letter was shown to Mr Dosett but he refused to say a word to his niece on the subject.
In the argument which followed between him and his wife he took his niece’s part, opposing altogether that idea that hay should be made while the sun shines. “It simply means selling herself,” declared Mr Dosett.
“That is nonsense, Reginald. Of course such a girl as Ayala has to do the best she can with her good looks. What else has she to depend upon?”
“My brother-in-law will do something for her.”
“I hope he will — though I do not think that a very safe reed to depend upon as she has twice offended him. But of course a girl thinks of marrying. Ayala would be very much disgusted if she were told that she was to be an old maid, and live upon £100 a year supplied by Sir Thomas’s bounty. It might have been that she would have to do it — but now that chances are open she ought to take them. She should choose between her cousin Tom and this Colonel Stubbs; and you should tell her that, if she will not, you will no longer be responsible for her.”
To this Mr Dosett turned altogether a deaf ear. He was quite sure that his responsibility must be continued till Ayala should marry, or till he should die, and he would not make a threat which he would certainly be unable to carry out. He would be very glad if Ayala could bring herself to marry either of the young men. It was a pity that she should feel herself compelled to refuse offers so excellent. But it was a matter for her own judgment, and one in which he would not interfere. For two days this almost led to a coldness between the man and his wife, during which the sufferings of poor Mrs Dosett were heartrending.
Not many days after Ayala’s return her sister Lucy came to see her. Certain reasons had caused Lady Tringle to stay at Glenbogie longer than usual, and the family was now passing through London on their way to Merle Park. Perhaps it was the fact that the Trafficks had been effectually extruded from Glenbogie, but would doubtless turn up at Merle Park, should Lady Tringle take up her residence there before the autumn was over. That they should spend their Christmas at Merle Park was an acknowledged thing — to mamma Tringle an acknowledged benefit, because she liked to have her daughter with her; to papa Tringle an acknowledged evil, because he could not endure to be made to give more than he intended to give. That they should remain there afterwards through January, and till the meeting of Parliament, was to be expected. But it was hoped that they might be driven to find some home for themselves if they were left homeless by Sir Thomas for a while. The little plan was hardly successful, as Mr Traffick had put his wife into lodgings at Hastings, ready to pounce down on Merle Park as soon as Lady Tringle should have occupied the house a few days. Lady Tringle was now going there with the rest of the family, Sir Thomas having been in town for the last six weeks.
Lucy took advantage of the day which they passed in London, and succeeded in getting across to the Crescent. At this time she had heard nothing of Colonel Stubbs, and was full indeed of her own troubles.
“You haven’t seen him?” she said to her sister.
“Seen who?” asked Ayala, who had two hims to her bow — and thought at the moment rather of her own two “hims” than of Lucy’s one.
“Isadore. He said that he would call here.” Ayala explained that she had not seen him, having been absent from town during the last ten days — during which Mr Hamel had in fact called at the house. “Ayala,” concluded Lucy, what am I to do?
“Stick to him,” said Ayala, firmly.
“Of course I shall. But Aunt Emmeline thinks that I ought to give him up or — ”
“Or go away,” said Lucy, very gravely.
“Where would you go to?”
“Oh, where indeed? Of course he would have me, but it would be ruin to him to marry a wife without a penny when he earns only enough for his own wants. His father has quarrelled with him altogether. He says that nobody can prevent our being married if we please, and that he is quite ready to make a home for me instantly; but I know that last year he hardly earned more than two hundred pounds after paying all his expenses, and were I to take him at his word I should ruin him.”
“Would Uncle Tom turn you out?”
“He has been away almost ever since Mr Hamel came to Glenbogie, and I do not know what he will say. Aunt Emmeline declares that I can only stay with them just as though I were her daughter, and that a daughter would be bound to obey her.”
“Does Gertrude obey her about Mr Houston?”
“Gertrude has her own way with her mother altogether. And of course a daughter cannot really be turned out. If she tells me to go I suppose I must go.”
“I should ask Uncle Tom,” said Ayala. She could not make you go out into the street. When she had to get rid of me, she could send me here in exchange; but she can’t say now that you don’t suit, and have me back again.”
“Oh, Ayala, it is so miserable. I feel that I do not know what to do with myself.”
“Nor do I,” said Ayala, jumping up from the bed on which she was sitting. “It does seem to be so cross-grained. Nobody will let you marry, and everybody will make me.”
“Do they still trouble you about Tom?”
“It is not Tom now, Lucy. Another man has come up.”
“As a lover?”
“Oh, yes; quite so. His name is — such a name, Lucy — his name is Colonel Jonathan Stubbs.”
“That is Isadore’s friend — the man who lives at Drumcaller.
“Exactly. He told me that Mr Hamel was at Drumcaller with him. And now he wants me to be his wife.”
“Do you not like him?”
“That is the worst part of it all, Lucy. If I did not like him I should not mind it half so much. It is just because I like him so very much that I am so very unhappy. “His hair is just the colour of Aunt Emmeline’s big shawl.”
“What does that signify?”
“And his mouth stretches almost from ear to ear.”
“I shouldn’t care a bit for his mouth.”
“I don’t think I do much, because he does look so good-natured when he laughs. Indeed he is always the most good-natured man that ever lived.”
“Has he got an income enough for marriage?” asked Lucy, whose sorrows were already springing from that most fertile source of sorrowing.
“Plenty they tell me — though I do not in the least know what plenty means.”
“Then, Ayala, why should you not have him?”
“Because I can’t,” said Ayala. How is a girl to love a man if she does not love him? Liking has nothing to do with it. You don’t think liking ought to have anything to do with it?”
This question had not been answered when Aunt Margaret came into the room, declaring that the Tringle manservant, who had walked across the park with Miss Dormer, was waxing impatient. The sisters, therefore, were separated, and Lucy returned to Queen’s Gate.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55