“Probably you are not aware, Sir, that I am not at present the young lady’s guardian.” This was said at the office in Lombard Street by Sir Thomas, in answer to an offer made to him by Captain Batsby for Ayala’s hand. Captain Batsby had made his way boldly into the great man’s inner room, and had there declared his purpose in a short and businesslike manner. He had an ample income of his own, he said, and was prepared to make a proper settlement on the young lady. If necessary, he would take her without any fortune — but it would, of course, be for the lady’s comfort and for his own if something in the way of money were forthcoming. So much he added, having heard of this uncle’s enormous wealth, and having also learned the fact that if Sir Thomas were not at this moment Ayala’s guardian he had been not long ago. Sir Thomas listened to him with patience, and then replied to him as above.
“Just so, Sir Thomas. I did hear that. But I think you were once; and you are still her uncle.”
“Yes; I am her uncle.”
“And when I was so ill-treated in Kingsbury Crescent I thought I would come to you. It could not be right that a gentleman making an honourable proposition — and very liberal, as you must acknowledge — should not be allowed to see the young lady. It was not as though I did not know her. I had been ten days in the same house with her. Don’t you think, Sir Thomas, I ought to have been allowed to see her?”
“I have nothing to do with her,” said Sir Thomas — “that is, in the way of authority.” Nevertheless, before Captain Batsby left him, he became courteous to that gentleman, and though he could not offer any direct assurance he acknowledged that the application was reasonable. He was, in truth, becoming tired of Ayala, and would have been glad to find a husband whom she would accept, so that she might be out of Tom’s way. He had been quite willing that Tom should marry the girl if it were possible, but he began to be convinced that it was impossible. He had offered again to open his house to her, with all its wealth, but she had refused to come into it. His wife had told him that, if Ayala could be brought back in place of Lucy, she would surely yield. But Ayala would not allow herself to be brought back. And there was Tom as bad as ever. If Ayala were once married then Tom could go upon his travels, and come back, no doubt, a sane man. Sir Thomas thought it might be well to make inquiry about this Captain, and then see if a marriage might be arranged. Mrs Dosett, he told himself, was a hard stiff woman, and would never get the girl married unless she allowed such a suitor as this Captain Batsby to have access to the house. He did make inquiry, and before the week was over had determined that if Ayala would become Mrs Batsby there might probably be an end to one of his troubles.
As he went down to Merle Park he arranged his plan. He would, in the first place, tell Tom that Ayala had as many suitors as Penelope, and that one had come up now who would probably succeed. But when he reached home he found that his son was gone. Tom had taken a sudden freak, and had run up to London. “He seemed quite to have got a change,” said Lady Tringle.
“I hope it was a change for the better as to that stupid girl.” Lady Tringle could not say that there had been any change for the better, but she thought that there had been a change about the girl. Tom had, as she said, quite “brisked up”, had declared that he was not going to stand this thing any longer, had packed up three or four portmanteaus, and had had himself carried off to the nearest railway station in time for an afternoon train up to London. “What is he going to do when he gets there?” asked Sir Thomas. Lady Tringle had no idea what her son intended to do, but thought that something special was intended in regard to Ayala.
“He is an ass,” said the father
“You always say he is an ass,” said the mother complaining.
“No doubt I do. What else am I to call him?” Then he went on and developed his scheme. “Let Ayala be asked to Merle Park for a week — just for a week — and assured that during that time Tom would not be there. Then let Captain Batsby also be invited.” Upon this there followed an explanation as to Captain Batsby and his aspirations. Tom must be relieved after some fashion, and Sir Thomas declared that no better fashion seemed to present itself. Lady Tringle received her orders with sundry murmurings, still grieving for her son’s grief — but she assented, as she always did assent, to her husband’s propositions.
Now we will accompany Tom up to London. The patient reader will perhaps have understood the condition of his mind when in those days of his sharpest agony he had given himself up to Faddle and champagne. By these means he had brought himself into trouble and disgrace, of which he was fully conscious. He had fallen into the hands of the police and had been harassed during the whole period by headache and nausea. Then had come the absurdity of his challenge to Colonel Stubbs, the folly of which had been made plain to him by the very letter which his rival had written to him. There was good sense enough about the poor fellow to enable him to understand that the police court, and the prison, that Faddle and the orgies at Bolivia’s, that his challenge and the reply to it, were alike dishonourable to him. Then had come a reaction, and he spent a miserable fortnight down at Merle Park, doing nothing, resolving on nothing, merely moping about and pouring the oft-repeated tale of his woes into his mother’s bosom. These days at Merle Park gave him back at any rate his health, and rescued him from the intense wretchedness of his condition on the day after the comparison of Bolivia’s wines. In this improved state he told himself that it behoved him even yet to do something as a man, and he came suddenly to the bold resolution of having — as he called it to himself — another “dash at Ayala”.
How the “dash” was to be made he had not determined when he left home. But to this he devoted the whole of the following Sunday. He had received a lachrymose letter from his friend Faddle, at Aberdeen, in which the unfortunate youth had told him that he was destined to remain in that wretched northern city for the rest of his natural life. He had not as yet been to the Mountaineers since his mishap with the police, and did not care to show himself there at present. He was therefore altogether alone, and, walking all alone the entire round of the parks, he at last formed his resolution.
On the following morning when Mr Dosett entered his room at Somerset House, a little after half past ten o’clock, he found his nephew Tom there before him, and waiting for him. Mr Dosett was somewhat astonished, for he too had heard of Tom’s misfortunes. Some ill-natured chronicle of Tom’s latter doings had spread itself among the Tringle and Dosett sets, and Uncle Reginald was aware that his nephew had been forced to relinquish his stool in Lombard Street. The vices of the young are perhaps too often exaggerated, so that Mr Dosett had heard of an amount of champagne consumed and a number of policemen wounded, of which his nephew had not been altogether guilty. There was an idea at Kingsbury Crescent that Tom had gone nearly mad, and was now kept under paternal care at Merle Park. When, therefore, he saw Tom blooming in health, and brighter than usual in general appearance, he was no doubt rejoiced, but also surprised, at the change. “What, Tom!” he said; I’m glad to see you looking so well. Are you up in London again?”
“I’m in town for a day or two,” said Tom.
“And what can I do for you?”
“Well, Uncle Reginald, you can do a great deal for me if you will. Of course you’ve heard of all those rows of mine?”
“I have heard something.”
“Everybody has heard,” said Tom, mournfully. I don’t suppose anybody was ever knocked so much about as I’ve been for the last six months.”
“I’m sorry for that, Tom.”
“I’m sure you are, because you’re always good-natured. Now I wonder if you will do a great thing to oblige me.”
“Let us hear what it is,” said Uncle Reginald.
“I suppose you know that there is only one thing in the world that I want. “Mr Dosett thought that it would be discreet to make no reply to this, but, turning his chair partly round, he prepared to listen very attentively to what his nephew might have to say to him. “All this about the policeman and the rest of it has simply come from my being so unhappy about Ayala.”
“It wouldn’t be taken as a promise of your being a good husband, Tom, when you get into such a mess as that.”
“That’s because people don’t understand,” said Tom. It is because I am so earnest about it, and because I can’t bear the disappointment! There isn’t one at Travers and Treason who doesn’t know that if I’d married Ayala I should have settled down as quiet a young man as there is in all London. You ask the governor else himself. As long as I thought there was any hope I used to be there steady as a rock at half past nine. Everybody knew it. So I should again, if she’d only come round.”
“You can’t make a young lady come round, as you call it.”
“Not make her; no. Of course you can’t make a girl. But persuading goes a long way. Why shouldn’t she have me? As to all these rows, she ought to feel at any rate that they’re her doing. And what she’s done it stands to reason she could undo if she would. It only wants a word from her to put me all right with the governor — and to put me all right with Travers and Treason too. Nobody can love her as I do.”
“I do believe that nobody could love her better,” said Mr Dosett, who was beginning to be melted by his nephew’s earnestness.
“Oughtn’t that to go for something? And then she would have everything that she wishes. She might live anywhere she pleased — so that I might go to the office every day. She would have her own carriage, you know.”
“I don’t think that would matter much with Ayala.”
“It shows that I’m in a position to ask her,” said Tom. “If she could only bring herself not to hate me — ”
“There is a difference, Tom, between hating and not loving.”
“If she would only begin to make a little way, then I could hope again. Uncle Reginald, could you not tell her that at any rate I would be good to her?”
“I think you would be good to her,” he said.
“Indeed, I would. There is nothing I would not do for her. Now will you let me see her just once again, and have one other chance?”
This was the great thing which Tom desired from his uncle, and Mr Dosett was so much softened by his nephew’s earnestness that he did promise to do as much as this — to do as much as this, at least, if it were in his power. Of course, Ayala must be told. No good could be done by surprising her by a visit. But he would endeavour so to arrange it that, if Tom were to come to him on the following afternoon, they two should go to the Crescent together, and then Tom should remain and dine there — or go away before dinner, as he might please, after the interview. This was settled, and Tom left Somerset House, rejoicing greatly at his success. It seemed to him that now at last a way was open to him.
Uncle Reginald, on his return home, took his niece aside and talked to her very gently and very kindly. “Whether you like him or whether you do not, my dear, he is so true to you that you are bound to see him again when he asks it.” At first she was very stout, declaring that she would not see him. Of what good could it be, seeing that she would rather throw herself into the Thames than marry him? Had she not told him so over and over again, as often as he had spoken to her? Why would he not just leave her alone? But against all this her uncle pleaded gently but persistently. He had considered himself bound to promise so much on her behalf, and for his sake she must do as he asked. To this, of course, she yielded. And then he said many good things of poor Tom. His constancy was a great virtue. A man so thoroughly in love would no doubt make a good husband. And then there would be the assent of all the family, and an end, as far as Ayala was concerned, of all pecuniary trouble. In answer to this she only shook her head, promising, however, that she would be ready to give Tom an audience when he should be brought to the Crescent on the following day.
Punctually at four Tom made his appearance at Somerset House, and started with his uncle as soon as the index-books had been put in their places. Tom was very anxious to take his uncle home in a cab, but Mr Dosett would not consent to lose his walk. Along the Embankment they went, and across Charing Cross into St James’s Park, and then by Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens, all the way to Notting Hill. Mr Dosett did not walk very fast, and Tom thought they would never reach Kingsbury Crescent. His uncle would fain have talked about the weather, of politics, or the hardships of the Civil Service generally; but Tom would not be diverted from his one subject. Would Ayala be gracious to him? Mr Dosett had made up his mind to say nothing on the subject. Tom must plead his own cause. Uncle Reginald thought that he knew such pleading would be useless, but still would not say a word to daunt the lover. Neither could he say a word expressive of hope. As they were fully an hour and a half on their walk, this reticence was difficult.
Immediately on his arrival, Tom was taken up into the drawing-room. This was empty, for it had been arranged that Mrs Dosett should be absent till the meeting was over. “Now I’ll look for this child,” said Uncle Reginald, in his cheeriest voice as he left Tom alone in the room. Tom, as he looked round at the chairs and tables, remembered that he had never received as much as a kind word or look in the room, and then great drops of perspiration broke out all over his brow. All that he had to hope for in the world must depend upon the next five minutes — might depend perhaps upon the very selection of the words which he might use.
Then Ayala entered the room and stood before him.
“Ayala,” he said, giving her his hand.
“Uncle Reg says that you would like to see me once again.”
“Of course I want to see you once, and twice — and always. Ayala, if you could know it! If you could only know it!” Then he clasped his two hands high upon his breast, not as though appealing to her heart, but striking his bosom in very agony. “Ayala, I feel that, if I do not have you as my own, I can only die for the want of you. Ayala, do you believe me?”
“I suppose I believe you, but how can I help it?”
“Try to help it! Try to try and help it! Say a word that you will perhaps help it by and bye.” Then there came a dark frown upon her brow — not, indeed, from anger, but from a feeling that so terrible a task should be thrown upon her. “I know you think that I am common.”
“I have never said a word, Tom, but that I could not love you.”
“But I am true — true as the sun. Would I come again after all if it were not that I cannot help coming? You have heard that I have been — been misbehaving myself?”
“I have not thought about that.”
“It has been so because I have been so wretched. Ayala, you have made me so unhappy. Ayala, you can make me the happiest man there is in London this day. I seem to want nothing else. As for drink, or clubs, or billiards, and all that, they are nothing to me — unless when I try to forget that you are so — so unkind to me!”
“It is not unkind, not to do as you ask me.”
“To do as I ask you — that would be kind. Oh, Ayala, cannot you be kind to me?” She shook her head, still standing in the place which she had occupied from the beginning. “May I come again? Will you give me three months, and then think of it? If you would only say that, I would go back to my work and never leave it.” But she still shook her head. “Must I never hope?
“Not for that, Tom. How can I help it?”
“Not help it?”
“No. How can I help it? One does not fall in love by trying — nor by trying prevent it.”
“By degrees you might love me — a little.” She had said all that she knew how to say, and again shook her head. “It is that accursed Colonel,” he exclaimed, forgetting himself as he thought of his rival.
“He is not accursed,” said Ayala, angrily.
“Then you love him?”
“No! But you should not ask. You have no right to ask. It is not proper.”
“You are not engaged to him?”
“No; I am not engaged to him. I do not love him. As you will ask, I tell you. But you should not ask; and he is not accursed. He is better than you — though I do not love him. You should not have driven me to say this. I do not ask you questions.”
“There is none that I would not answer. Stay, Ayala,” for now she was going to leave the room. “Stay yet a moment. Do you know that you are tearing my heart in pieces? Why is it that you should make me so wretched? Dear Ayala — dearest Ayala — stay yet a moment.”
“Tom, there is nothing more that I can say. I am very, very sorry if you are unhappy. I do think that you are good and true; and if you will shake hands with me, there is my hand. But I cannot say what you want me to say.” Tom took her by the hand and tried to hold her, without, however, speaking to her again. But she slid away from him and left the room, not having for a moment sat down in his presence.
When the door was closed he stood awhile looking round him, trying to resolve what he might do or what he might say next. He was now at any rate in the house with her, and did not know whether such an opportunity as that might ever occur to him again. He felt that there were words within his bosom which, if he could only bring them up to his mouth, would melt the heart of a stone. There was his ineffable love, his whole happiness at stake, his purpose — his holy purpose — to devote himself, and all that he had, to her well-being. Of all this he had a full conception within his own heart, if only he could express it so that others should believe him! But of what use was it now? He had had this further liberty of speech accorded to him, and in it he had done nothing, made no inch of progress. She had hardly spoken a dozen words to him, but of those she had spoken two remained clear upon his memory. He must never hope, she had said; and she had said also that that other man was better than he. Had she said that he was dearer, the word would hardly have been more bitter. All the old feeling came upon him of rage against his rival, and of a desire that something desperate should be done by which he might wreak his vengeance.
But there he was standing alone in Mrs Dosett’s drawing-room, and it was necessary that he should carry himself off. As for dining in that house, sitting down to eat and drink in Ayala’s presence after such a conversation as that which was past, that he felt to be quite out of the question. He crammed his hat upon his head, left the room, and hurried down the stairs towards the door.
In the passage he was met by his uncle, coming out of the dining-room. “Tom,” he said, you’ll stay and eat your dinner?”
“No, indeed,” said Tom, angrily.
“You shouldn’t let yourself be disturbed by little trifles such as these,” said his uncle, trying to put a good face upon the matter.
“Trifles!” said Tom Tringle. Trifles! And he banged the door after him as he left the house.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14