A few days after this, just as the bread and cheese had been put on the table for the modest mid-day meal at Kingsbury Crescent, there came a most unwonted honour on Mrs Dosett. It was a call from no less a person than Lady Tringle herself, who had come all the way up from Merle Park on purpose. It was a Saturday. She had travelled by herself and intended to go back on the same day with her husband. This was an amount of trouble which she very seldom gave herself, not often making a journey to London during the periods of her rural sojourn; and, when she began by assuring her sister-in-law that she made the journey with no object but that of coming to Kingsbury Crescent, Mrs Dosett was aware that something very important was to be communicated. Mrs Dosett and Ayala were together in the dining-room when Lady Tringle appeared, and the embracings were very affectionate. They were particularly affectionate towards Ayala, who was kissed as though nothing had ever happened to interfere with the perfect love existing between the aunt and the niece. They were more than friendly, almost sisterly towards Mrs Dosett, whom in truth Lady Tringle met hardly more than once in a year. It was very manifest that Aunt Emmeline wanted to have something done. “Now, my darling,” she said, turning to Ayala, “if you would not mind going away for ten minutes, I could say a few words on very particular business to your aunt.” Then she gave her niece a tender little squeeze and assumed her sweetest smile.
It will be as well to go back a little and tell the cause which had produced this unexpected visit. There had been very much of real trouble at Merle Park. Everything was troublesome. Gertrude had received her final letter from her lover, had declared herself to be broken-hearted, and was evincing her sorrow by lying in bed half the day, abstaining from her meals, and relieving herself from famine by sly visits to the larder. It was supposed that her object was to bend the stony heart of her father, but the process added an additional trouble to her mother. Then the Trafficks were a sore vexation. It was now nearly the end of January and they were still at Merle Park. There had been a scene in which Sir Thomas had been very harsh. “My dear,” he had said to his wife, “I find that something must be done to the chimney of the north room. The workmen must be in it by the first of February. See and have all the furniture taken out before they come.” Now the north room was the chamber in which the Trafficks slept, and the Trafficks were present when the order was given. No one believed the story of the chimney. This was the mode of expulsion which Sir Thomas had chosen on the spur of the moment. Mr Traffick said not a word, but in the course of the morning Augusta expostulated with her mother. This was also disagreeable. Then the condition of Tom was truly pitiable. All his trust in champagne, all his bellicose humour, had deserted him. He moped about the place the most miserable of human beings, spending hour after hour in imploring his mother’s assistance. But Lucy with her quiet determination, and mute persistency in waiting, was a source of almost greater annoyance to her aunt than even her own children. That Lucy should in any degree have had her way with Mr Hamel, had gone against the grain with her. Mr Hamel, to her thinking, was a person to be connected with whom would be a disgrace. She was always speaking of his birth, of his father’s life, and of those Roman iniquities. She had given way for a time when she had understood that her husband intended to give the young people money enough to enable them to marry. In that case Lucy would at once be taken away from the house. But now all that had come to an end. Sir Thomas had given no money, and had even refused to give any money. Nevertheless he was peacefully indulgent to Lucy, and was always scolding his wife because she was hostile to Lucy’s lover.
In this emergency she induced him to accede to a proposition, by which one of her miseries would be brought to an end and another might perhaps be remedied. A second exchange should be made. Lucy should be sent back to Kingsbury Crescent, and Ayala should once more be brought into favour at Merle Park, Queen’s Gate, and Glenbogie. “Your brother will never put up with it,” said Sir Thomas. Lady Tringle was not afraid of her brother, and thought that by soft words she might even talk over her sister-in-law. Ayala, she knew, had been troublesome in Kingsbury Crescent. She was sure, she said, Ayala’s whims would of their nature be more troublesome to such a woman as Mrs Dosett than Lucy’s obstinacy. Ayala had no doubt been pert and disobedient at Glenbogie and at Rome, but there had been an unbending obduracy about Lucy which had been more distasteful to Aunt Emmeline than even Ayala’s pert disobedience. “It will be the only way”, she had said to Sir Thomas, “to put Tom on his legs again. If the girl comes back here she will be sure to have him at last.” There was much in this which to Sir Thomas was weak and absurd. That prolonged journey round by San Francisco, Japan, and Pekin, was the remedy which recommended itself to him. But he was less able to despatch Tom at once to Japan than the elder Faddle had been to send off the younger Faddle to the stern realities of life in Aberdeen. He was quite willing that Tom should marry Ayala if it could be arranged, and therefore he gave his consent.
So armed, Lady Tringle had come up to Kingsbury Crescent, and was now about to undertake a task, which she acknowledged to herself to be difficult. She, in the first place, had had her choice and had selected a niece. Then she had quarrelled with her own selection, and had changed nieces. This had been done to accommodate her own fancy; and now she wanted to change the nieces back again! She felt aware that her request was unreasonable, and came, therefore, determined to wrap it up in her blandest smiles.
When Ayala had left the room Mrs Dosett sat mute in attention. She was quite aware that something very much out of the ordinary way was to be asked of her. In her ordinary way Lady Tringle never did smile when she came to Kingsbury Crescent. She would be profuse in finery, and would seem to throw off sparks of wealth at every word she spoke. Now even her dress had been toned down to her humbler manner, and there was no touch of her husband’s purse in her gait. “Margaret,” she said, I have a proposition of great importance to make to you.” Mrs Dosett opened her eyes wider and sat still mute. “That poor girl is not — is not — is not doing perhaps the very best for herself here at Kingsbury Crescent.”
“Why is she not doing the best for herself?” asked Mrs Dosett, angrily.
“Do not for a moment suppose that I am finding fault either with you or my brother.”
“You’d be very wrong if you did.”
“No doubt — but I am not finding fault. I know how very generous you have both been. Of course Sir Thomas is a rich man, and what he gives to one of the girls comes to nothing. Of course it is different with you. It is hard upon my brother to have any such burden put upon him; and it is very good both in him and you to bear it.”
“What is it you want us to do now, Emmeline?”
“Well — I was going to explain. I do think it a great pity that Tom and Ayala should not become man and wife. If ever any young man ever did love a girl I believe that he loves her.”
“I think he does.”
“It is dreadful. I never saw anything like it. He is just for all the world like those young men we read of who do all manner of horrible things for love — smothering themselves and their young women with charcoal, or throwing them into the Regent’s Canal. I am constantly afraid of something happening. It was all because of Ayala that he got into that terrible row at the police court — and then we were afraid he was going to take to drink. He has given all that up now.”
“I am very glad he has given drink up. That wouldn’t do him any good.”
“He is quite different now. The poor fellow hardly takes anything. He will sit all the afternoon smoking cigarettes and sipping tea. It is quite sad to see him. Then he comes and talks to me, and is always asking me to make Ayala have him.”
“I don’t think that anybody can ever make Ayala do anything.”
“Not quite by talking to her. I dare say not. I did not mean to say a word to her about it just now.”
“We can do nothing, I fear,” said Mrs Dosett.
“I was going to suggest something. But I wanted first to say a word or two about poor Lucy.” They were just at present all “poor” to Lady Tringle — Ayala, Lucy, Tom, and Gertrude. Even Augusta was poor because she was to be turned out of her bedroom.
“Is she in trouble?”
“Oh, dear, yes. But,” she added, thinking well to correct herself, so that Mrs Dosett might not imagine that she would have to look forward to troubles with Lucy, “she could arrange her affairs, no doubt, if she were not with us. She is engaged to that Mr Isadore Hamel, the sculptor.”
“So I have heard.”
“He does not earn very much just at present, I fear. Sir Thomas did offer to help him, but he was perhaps a little hoity-toity, giving himself airs. That, however, did not come off, and there they are, waiting. I don’t mean to say a word against poor Lucy. I think it a pity, you know; but perhaps it was natural enough. He isn’t what I should have liked for a niece who was living with me just as though she was my daughter; but I couldn’t help that.”
“But what are we to do, Emmeline?”
“Let them just change places again.”
“Change again! Ayala go to you and Lucy come back here!”
“Just that. If Ayala were with us she would be sure to get used to Tom at last. And then Lucy could manage her affairs with Mr Hamel so much better if she were with you.”
“Why should she manage her affairs better if she were with us?”
Lady Tringle was aware that this was the weak part of her case. On the poor Ayala and poor Tom side of the question there was a good deal which might be said. Then, though she might not convince, she might be eloquent. But, touching Lucy, she could say nothing which did not simply signify that she wanted to get rid of the girl. Now, Mrs Dosett had also wanted to get rid of Lucy when the former exchange had been made. “What I mean is, that, if she were away, Sir Thomas would be more likely to do something for her.” This was an invention at the spur of the moment.
“Do you not feel that the girls should not be chucked about like balls from a battledore?” asked Mrs Dosett.
“For their own good, Margaret. I only propose it for their own good. You can’t but think it would be a good thing for Ayala to be married to our Tom.”
“If she liked him.”
“Why shouldn’t she like him? You know what that means. Poor Ayala is young, and a little romantic. She would be a great deal happier if all that could be knocked out of her. She has to marry somebody, and the sooner she settles down the better. Sir Thomas will do anything for them — a horse and carriage, and anything she could set her heart upon! There is nothing Sir Thomas would not do for Tom so as to get him put upon his legs again.”
“I don’t think Ayala would go.”
“She must, you know,” whispered Lady Tringle, if we both tell her.”
“She must too,” again whispered Lady Tringle. It they are told they are to go, what else can they do? Why shouldn’t Ayala wish to come?”
“There were quarrels before.”
“Yes — because of Augusta. Augusta is married now.” Lady Tringle could not quite say that Augusta was gone.
“Will you speak to Ayala?”
“Perhaps it would come better from you, Margaret, if you agree with me.”
“I am not sure that I do. I am quite sure that your brother would not force her to go, whether she wished it or not. No doubt we should be glad if the marriage could be arranged. But we cannot force a girl to marry, and her aversion in this case is so strong — ”
“Aversion to being married, I mean. It is so strong that I do not think she will go of her own accord to any house where she is likely to meet her cousin. I dare say she may be a fool. I say nothing about that. Of course, she shall be asked; and, if she wishes to go, then Lucy can be asked too. But of course it must all depend upon what your brother says.”
Then Lady Tringle took her leave without again seeing Ayala herself, and as she went declared her intention of calling at Somerset House. She would not think it right, she said, in a matter of such importance, to leave London without consulting her brother. It might be possible, she thought, that she would be able to talk her brother over; whereas his wife, if she had the first word, might turn him the other way.
“Is Aunt Emmeline gone?” asked Ayala, when she came down. “I am glad she has gone, because I never know how to look when she calls me dear. I know she hates me.”
“I hope not, Ayala.”
“I am sure she does, because I hated Augusta. I do hate Augusta, and my aunt hates me. The only one of the lot I like is Uncle Tom.”
Then the proposition was made, Ayala sitting with her mouth wide open as the details, one after another, were opened out to her. Her aunt did it with exquisite fairness, abstaining from opening out some of the details which might be clear enough to Ayala without any explanation. Her Aunt Emmeline was very anxious to have her back again — the only reason for her former expulsion having been the enmity of Augusta. Her Uncle Tom and her aunt, and, no doubt, Gertrude, would be very glad to receive her. Not a word was said about Tom. Then something was urged as to the material comforts of the Tringle establishments, and of the necessary poverty of Kingsbury Crescent.
“And Lucy is to have the poverty?” said Ayala, indignantly.
“I think it probable, my dear, that before long Lucy will become the wife of Mr Hamel.”
“And you want to get rid of me?” demanded Ayala.
“No, my dear; not so. You must not think that for a moment. The proposition has not originated with me at all. I am endeavouring to do my duty by explaining to you the advantages which you would enjoy by going to your Aunt Emmeline, and which you certainly cannot have if you remain here. And I must tell you, that, if you return to Sir Thomas, he will probably provide for you. You know what I mean by providing for you?”
“No, I don’t,” said Ayala, who had in her mind some dim idea that her cousin Tom was supposed to be a provision. She was quite aware that her Aunt Margaret, in her explanation as hitherto given, had not mentioned Tom’s name, and was sure that it had not been omitted without reason.
“By providing, I mean that if you are living in his house he will leave you something in his will — as would be natural that he should do for a child belonging to him. Your Uncle Reginald’ — this she said in a low and very serious tone — “will, I fear, have nothing to leave to you.” Then there was silence for some minutes, after which Mrs Dosett asked the important question, “Well, Ayala, what do you think about it?”
“Must I go?” said Ayala. May I stay?
“Yes, my dear; you may certainly stay if you wish it.”
“Then I will stay,” said Ayala, jumping up on to her feet. “You do not want to turn me out, Aunt Margaret?” Then she went down on her knees, and, leaning on her aunt’s lap, looked up into her face. “If you will keep me I will try to be good.”
“My dear, you are good. I have nothing to complain of. Of course we will keep you. Nobody has thought for a moment of bidding you go. But you should understand that when your aunt made the proposition I was bound to tell it you.” Then there was great embracing and kissing, and Ayala felt that she was relieved from a terrible danger. She had often declared that no one could make her marry her cousin Tom; but it had seemed to her for a moment that if she were given up bodily to the Tringles no mode of escape would be open to her short of suicide. There had been a moment almost of regret that she had never brought herself to regard Jonathan Stubbs as an Angel of Light.
At Somerset House Lady Tringle made her suggestion to her brother with even more flowery assurance of general happiness than she had used in endeavouring to persuade his wife. Ayala would, of course, be married to Tom in the course of the next six months, and during the same period Lucy, no doubt, would be married to that very enterprising but somewhat obstinate young man, Mr Hamel. Thus there would be an end to all the Dormer troubles; “and you, Reginald,” she said, “will be relieved from a burden which never ought to have been laid upon your shoulder.”
“We will think of it,” he said very gravely, over and over again. Beyond that “we will think of it” he could not be induced to utter a word.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01