We must go back to Ayala’s life during the autumn and winter. She was rapidly whirled away to Glenbogie amidst the affectionate welcomings of her aunt and cousins. All manner of good things were done for her, as to presents and comforts. Young as she was, she had money given to her, which was not without attraction; and though she was, of course, in the depth of her mourning, she was made to understand that even mourning might be made becoming if no expense were spared. No expense among the Tringles ever was spared, and at first Ayala liked the bounty of profusion. But before the end of the first fortnight there grew upon her a feeling that even bank-notes become tawdry if you are taught to use them as curl-papers. It may be said that nothing in the world is charming unless it be achieved at some trouble. If it rained “‘64 Leoville’ — which I regard as the most divine of nectars — I feel sure that I should never raise it to my lips. Ayala did not argue the matter out in her mind, but in very early days she began to entertain a dislike to Tringle magnificence. There had been a good deal of luxury at the bijou, but always with a feeling that it ought not to be there — that more money was being spent than prudence authorised — which had certainly added a savour to the luxuries. A lovely bonnet, is it not more lovely because the destined wearer knows that there is some wickedness in achieving it? All the bonnets, all the claret, all the horses, seemed to come at Queen’s Gate and at Glenbogie without any wickedness. There was no more question about them than as to one’s ordinary bread and butter at breakfast. Sir Thomas had a way — a merit shall we call it or a fault? — of pouring out his wealth upon the family as though it were water running in perpetuity from a mountain tarn. Ayala the romantic, Ayala the poetic, found very soon that she did not like it.
Perhaps the only pleasure left to the very rich is that of thinking of the deprivations of the poor. The bonnets, and the claret, and the horses, have lost their charm; but the Gladstone, and the old hats, and the four-wheeled cabs of their neighbours, still have a little flavour for them. From this source it seemed to Ayala that the Tringles drew much of the recreation of their lives. Sir Thomas had his way of enjoying this amusement, but it was a way that did not specially come beneath Ayala’s notice. When she heard that Break-at-last, the Huddersfield manufacturer, had to sell his pictures, and that all Shoddy and Stuffgoods’ grand doings for the last two years had only been a flash in the pan, she did not understand enough about it to feel wounded; but when she heard her aunt say that people like the Poodles had better not have a place in Scotland than have to let it, and when Augusta hinted that Lady Sophia Smallware had pawned her diamonds, then she felt that her nearest and dearest relatives smelt abominably of money.
Of all the family Sir Thomas was most persistently the kindest to her, though he was a man who did not look to be kind. She was pretty, and though he was ugly himself he liked to look at things pretty. He was, too, perhaps, a little tired of his own wife and daughters — who were indeed what he had made them, but still were not quite to his taste. In a general way he gave instructions that Ayala should be treated exactly as a daughter, and he informed his wife that he intended to add a codicil to his will on her behalf. “Is that necessary?” asked Lady Tringle, who began to feel something like natural jealousy. “I suppose I ought to do something for a girl if I take her by the hand,” said Sir Thomas, roughly. “If she gets a husband I will give her something, and that will do as well.” Nothing more was said about it, but when Sir Thomas went up to town the codicil was added to his will.
Ayala was foolish rather than ungrateful, not understanding the nature of the family to which she was relegated. Before she had been taken away she had promised Lucy that she would be “obedient” to her aunt. There had hardly been such a word as obedience known at the bijou. If any were obedient, it was the mother and the father to the daughters. Lucy, and Ayala as well, had understood something of this; and therefore Ayala had promised to be obedient to her aunt. “And to Uncle Thomas,” Lucy had demanded, with an imploring embrace. “Oh, yes,” said Ayala, dreading her uncle at that time. She soon learned that no obedience whatsoever was exacted from Sir Thomas. She had to kiss him morning and evening, and then to take whatever presents he made her. An easy uncle he was to deal with, and she almost learned to love him. Nor was Aunt Emmeline very exigeant, though she was fantastic and sometimes disagreeable. But Augusta was the great difficulty. Lucy had not told her to obey Augusta, and Augusta she would not obey. Now Augusta demanded obedience.
“You never ordered me,” Ayala had said to Lucy when they met in London as the Tringles were passing through. At the bijou there had been a republic, in which all the inhabitants and all the visitors had been free and equal. Such republicanism had been the very mainspring of life at the bijou. Ayala loved equality, and she specially felt that it should exist among sisters. Do anything for Lucy? Oh, yes, indeed, anything; abandon anything; but for Lucy as a sister among sisters, not for an elder as from a younger! And if she were not bound to serve Lucy then certainly not Augusta. But Augusta liked to be served. On one occasion she sent Ayala upstairs, and on another she sent Ayala downstairs. Ayala went, but determined to be equal with her cousin. On the morning following, in the presence of Aunt Emmeline and of Gertrude, in the presence also of two other ladies who were visiting at the house, she asked Augusta if she would mind running upstairs and fetching her scrap-book! She had been thinking about it all the night and all the morning, plucking up her courage. But she had been determined. She found a great difficulty in saying the words, but she said them. The thing was so preposterous that all the ladies in the room looked aghast at the proposition. “I really think that Augusta has got something else to do,” said. Aunt Emmeline. “Oh, very well,” said Ayala, and then they were all silent. Augusta, who was employed on a silk purse, sat still and did not say a word.
Had a great secret, or rather a great piece of news which pervaded the family, been previously communicated to Ayala, she would not probably have made so insane a suggestion. Augusta was engaged to be married to the Honourable Septimus Traffick, the member for Port Glasgow. A young lady who is already half a bride is not supposed to run up and down stairs as readily as a mere girl. For running up and down stairs at the bijou Ayala had been proverbial. They were a family who ran up and down with the greatest alacrity. “Oh, papa, my basket is out on the seat’ — for there had been a seat in the two-foot garden behind the house. Papa would go down in two jumps and come up with three skips, and there was the basket, only because his girl liked him to do something for her. But for him Ayala would run about as though she were a tricksy Ariel. Had the important matrimonial news been conveyed to Ariel, with a true girl’s spirit she would have felt that during the present period Augusta was entitled to special exemption from all ordering. Had she herself been engaged she would have run more and quicker than ever — would have been excited thereto by the peculiar vitality of her new prospects; but to even Augusta she would be subservient, because of her appreciation of bridal importance. She, however, had not been told till that afternoon.
“You should not have asked Augusta to go upstairs,” said Aunt Emmeline, in a tone of mitigated reproach.
“Oh! I didn’t know,” said Ayala.
“You had meant to say that because she had sent you you were to send her. There is a difference, you know.”
“I didn’t know,” said Ayala, beginning to think that she would fight her battle if told of such differences as she believed to exist.
“I had meant to tell you before, but I may as well tell you now, Augusta is engaged to be married to the Honourable Mr Septimus Traffick. He is second son of Lord Boardotrade, and is in the House.”
“Dear me!” said Ayala, acknowledging at once within her heart that the difference alleged was one against which she need not rouse herself to the fight. Aunt Emmeline had, in truth, intended to insist on that difference — and another; but her courage had failed her.
“Yes, indeed. He is a man very much thought of just now in public life, and Augusta’s mind is naturally much occupied. He writes all those letters in The Times about supply and demand.”
“Does he, aunt?” Ayala did feel that if Augusta’s mind was entirely occupied with supply and demand she ought not to be made to go upstairs to fetch a scrap-book. But she had her doubts about Augusta’s mind. Nevertheless, if the forthcoming husband were true, that might be a reason. “If anybody had told me before I wouldn’t have asked her,” she said.
Then Lady Tringle explained that it had been thought better not to say anything heretofore as to the coming matrimonial hilarities because of the sadness which had fallen upon the Dormer family. Ayala accepted this as an excuse, and nothing further was said as to the iniquity of her request to her cousin. But there was a general feeling among the women that Ayala, in lieu of gratitude, had exhibited an intention of rebelling.
On the next day Mr Traffick arrived, whose coming had probably made it necessary that the news should be told. Ayala was never so surprised in her life as when she saw him. She had never yet had a lover of her own, had never dreamed of a lover, but she had her own idea as to what a lover ought to be. She had thought that Isadore Hamel would be a very nice lover — for her sister. Hamel was young, handsome, with a great deal to say on such a general subject as art, but too bashful to talk easily to the girl he admired. Ayala had thought that all that was just as it should be. She was altogether resolved that Hamel and her sister should be lovers, and was determined to be devoted to her future brother-in-law. But the Honourable Septimus Traffick! It was a question to her whether her Uncle Tringle would not have been better as a lover.
And yet there was nothing amiss about Mr Traffick. He was very much like an ordinary hard-working member of the House of Commons, over perhaps rather than under forty years of age. He was somewhat bald, somewhat grey, somewhat fat, and had lost that look of rosy plumpness which is seldom, I fear, compatible with hard work and late hours. He was not particularly ugly, nor was he absurd in appearance. But he looked to be a disciple of business, not of pleasure, nor of art. “To sit out on the bank of a stream and have him beside one would not be particularly nice,” thought Ayala to herself. Mr Traffick no doubt would have enjoyed it very well if he could have spared the time; but to Ayala it seemed that such a man as that could have cared nothing for love. As soon as she saw him, and realised in her mind the fact that Augusta was to become his wife, she felt at once the absurdity of sending Augusta on a message.
Augusta that evening was somewhat more than ordinarily kind to her cousin. Now that the great secret was told, her cousin no doubt would recognise her importance. “I suppose you had not heard of him before?” she said to Ayala.
“I never did.”
“That’s because you have not attended to the debates.”
“I never have. What are debates?”
“Mr Traffick is very much thought of in the House of Commons on all subjects affecting commerce.”
“It is the most glorious study which the world affords.”
“The House of Commons. I don’t think it can be equal to art.”
Then Augusta turned up her nose with a double turn — first as against painters, Mr Dormer having been no more, and then at Ayala’s ignorance in supposing that the House of Commons could have been spoken of as a study. “Mr Traffick will probably be in the government some day,” she said.
“Has not he been yet?” asked Ayala.
“Then won’t he be very old before he gets there?” This was a terrible question. Young ladies of five-and-twenty, when they marry gentlemen of four-and-fifty, make up their minds for well-understood and well-recognised old age. They see that they had best declare their purpose, and they do declare it. “Of course, Mr Walker is old enough to be my father, but I have made up my mind that I like that better than anything else.” Then the wall has been jumped, and the thing can go smoothly. But at forty-five there is supposed to be so much of youth left that the difference of age may possibly be tided over and not made to appear abnormal. Augusta Tringle had determined to tide it over in this way. The forty-five had been gradually reduced to “less than forty’ — though all the Peerages were there to give the lie to the assertion. She talked of her lover as Septimus, and was quite prepared to sit with him beside a stream if only half an hour for the amusement could be found. When, therefore, Ayala suggested that if her lover wanted to get into office he had better do so quickly, lest he should be too old, Augusta was not well pleased.
“Lord Boardotrade was much older when he began,” said Augusta. “His friends, indeed, tell Septimus that he should not push himself forward too quickly. But I don’t think that I ever came across anyone who was so ignorant of such things as you are, Ayala.”
“Perhaps he is not so old as he looks,” said Ayala. After this it may be imagined that there was not close friendship between the cousins. Augusta’s mind was filled with a strong conception as to Ayala’s ingratitude. The houseless, penniless orphan had been taken in, and had done nothing but make herself disagreeable. Young! No doubt she was young. But had she been as old as Methuselah she could not have been more insolent. It did not, however, matter to her, Augusta. She was going away; but it would be terrible to her mamma and to Gertrude! Thus it was that Augusta spoke of her cousin to her mother.
And then there came another trouble, which was more troublesome to Ayala even than the other. Tom Tringle, who was in the house in Lombard Street, who was the only son, and heir to the title and no doubt to much of the wealth, had chosen to take Ayala’s part and to enlist himself as her special friend. Ayala had, at first, accepted him as a cousin, and had consented to fraternise with him. Then, on some unfortunate day, there had been some word or look which she had failed not to understand, and immediately she had become afraid of Tom. Tom was not like Isadore Hamel — was very far, indeed, from that idea of a perfect lover which Ayala’s mind had conceived; but he was by no means a lout, or an oaf, or an idiot, as Ayala in her letters to her sister had described him. He had been first at Eton and then at Oxford, and having spent a great deal of money recklessly, and done but little towards his education, had been withdrawn and put into the office. His father declared of him now that he would do fairly well in the world. He had a taste for dress, and kept four or five hunters which he got but little credit by riding. He made a fuss about his shooting, but did not shoot much. He was stout and awkward looking — very like his father, but without that settled air which age gives to heavy men. In appearance he was not the sort of lover to satisfy the preconceptions of such a girl as Ayala. But he was good-natured and true. At last he became to her terribly true. His love, such as it seemed at first, was absurd to her. “If you make yourself such a fool, Tom, I’ll never speak to you again,” she had said, once. Even after that she had not understood that it was more than a stupid joke. But the joke, while it was considered as such, was very distasteful to her; and afterwards, when a certain earnestness in it was driven in upon her, it became worse than distasteful.
She repudiated his love with such power as she had, but she could not silence him. She could not at all understand that a young man, who seemed to her to be an oaf, should really be in love — honestly in love with her. But such was the case. Then she became afraid lest others should see it — afraid, though she often told herself that she would appeal to her aunt for protection. “I tell you I don’t care a bit about you, and you oughtn’t to go on,” she said. But he did go on, and though her aunt did not see it Augusta did.
Then Augusta spoke a word to her in scorn. “Ayala,” she said, “you should not encourage Tom.”
Encourage him! What a word from one girl to another! What a world of wrong there was in the idea which had created the word! What an absence of the sort of feeling which, according to Ayala’s theory of life, there should be on such a matter between two sisters, two cousins, or two friends! Encourage him! When Augusta ought to have been the first to assist her in her trouble! “Oh, Augusta,” she said, turning sharply round, “what a spiteful creature you are.”
“I suppose you think so, because I do not choose to approve.”
“Approve of what! Tom is thoroughly disagreeable. Sometimes he makes my life such a burden to me that I think I shall have to go to my aunt. But you are worse. Oh!” exclaimed Ayala, shuddering as she thought of the unwomanly treachery of which her cousin was guilty towards her.
Nothing more came of it at Glenbogie. Tom was required in Lombard Street, and the matter was not suspected by Aunt Emmeline — as far, at least, as Ayala was aware. When he was gone it was to her as though there would be a world of time before she would see him again. They were to go to Rome, and he would not be at Rome till January. Before that he might have forgotten his folly. But Ayala was quite determined that she would never forget the ill offices of Augusta. She did hate Augusta, as she had told her sister. Then, in this frame of mind, the family was taken to Rome.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01