Ayala, on her return from the walk to the wood, spent the remainder of the afternoon in tears.
During the walk she kept close to Sir Harry, pretending to listen to the arguments about the fox, but she said nothing. Her ears were really intent on endeavouring to catch the tones of her lover’s voice as he went on in front of them talking to Nina. Nothing could be more pleasant than the sound as he said a word or two now and again, encouraging Nina in her rhapsodies as to Lord George and all Lord George’s family. But Ayala learned nothing from that. She had come to know the man well enough to be aware that he could tune his voice to the occasion, and could hide his feelings let them be ever so strong. She did not doubt his love now. She did not doubt but that at this moment his heart was heavy with rejected love. She quite believed in him. But nevertheless his words were pleasant and kind as he encouraged Nina.
Nor did she doubt her own love. She was alone in her room that afternoon till she told herself at last the truth. Oh, yes; she loved him. She was sure of that. But now he was gone! Why had she been so foolish? Then it seemed as though at that moment the separation took place between herself and the spirit which had haunted her. She seemed to know now — now at this very moment — that the man was too good for her. The knowledge had been coming to her. It had almost come when he had spoken to her in the wood. If it could only have been that he should have delayed his appeal to her for yet another day or two! She thought now that if he could have delayed it but for a few hours the cure would have been complete. If he had talked to her as he so well knew how to talk while they were in the wood together, while they were walking home — so as to have exorcised the spirit from her by the sweetness of his words — and then have told her that there was his love to have if she chose to have it, then she thought she would have taken it. But he had come to her while those words which she had prepared under the guidance of the spirit were yet upon her tongue. “I cannot,” she had said. I cannot. But she had not told him that she did not love him.
“I did love him,” she said to herself, almost acknowledging that the spirit had been wholly exorcised. The fashion of her mind was altogether different from that which had so strongly prevailed with her. He was an honest, noble man, high in the world’s repute, clever, a gentleman, a man of taste, and possessed of that gentle ever-present humour which was so inexpressibly delightful to her. She never again spoke to herself even in her thoughts of that Angel of Light — never comforted herself again with the vision of that which was to come! There had appeared to her a man better than all other men, and when he had asked her for her hand she had simply said — “I cannot.” And yet she had loved him all the time. How foolish, how false, how wicked she had been! It was thus that she thought of it all as she sat there alone in her bedroom through the long hours of the afternoon. When they sent up for her asking her to come down, she begged that she might be allowed to remain there till dinner-time, because she was tired with her walk.
He would not come again now. Oh, no — he was too proud, too firm, too manly for that. It was not for such a one as he to come whining after a girl — like her cousin Tom. Would it be possible that she should even yet tell him? Could she say to him one little word, contradicting that which she had so often uttered in the wood? “Now I can,” once whispered in his ear, would do it all. But as to this she was aware that there was no room for hope. To speak such a word, low as it might be spoken, simple and little as it might be, was altogether impossible. She had had her chance and had lost it — because of those idle dreams. That the dreams had been all idle she declared to herself — not aware that the Ayala whom her lover had loved would not have been an Ayala to be loved by him, but for the dreams. Now she must go back to her uncle and aunt and to Kingsbury Crescent, with the added sorrow that the world of dreams was closed to her for ever. When the maid came to her she consented to have the frock put on, the frock which Sir Harry had given her, boldly resolving to struggle through her sorrow till Lady Albury should have dismissed her to her home. Nobody would want her now at Stalham, and the dismissal would soon come.
While she had been alone in her room the Colonel had been closeted with Lady Albury. They had at least been thus shut up together for some half hour during which he had told his tale. “I have to own,” said he, half-laughing as he began his tale, “that I thoroughly respect Miss Dormer.”
“Why is she to be called Miss Dormer?”
“Because she has shown herself worthy of my respect.”
“What is it that you mean, Jonathan?”
“She knew her own mind when she told me at first that she could not accept the offer which I did myself the honour of making her, and now she sticks to her purpose. I think that a young lady who will do that should be respected.”
“She has refused you again?”
“Well, I hardly know that I am prepared to explain the “as how” even to you. I am about as thick-skinned a man in such matters as you may find anywhere, but I do not know that even I can bring myself to tell the “as how”. The ‘as how’ was very clear in one respect. It was manifest that she knew her own mind, which is a knowledge not in the possession of all young ladies. She told me that she could not marry me.”
“I do not believe it.”
“Not that she told me so?”
“Not that she knew her own mind. She is a little simple fool, who with some vagary in her brain is throwing away utterly her own happiness, while she is vexing you.”
“As to the vexation you are right.”
“Cross-grained little idiot!”
“An idiot she certainly is not; and as to being cross-grained I have never found it. A human being with the grains running more directly all in the same way I have never come across.”
“Do not talk to me, Jonathan, like that,” she said. “When I call her cross-grained I mean that she is running counter to her own happiness.”
“I cannot tell anything about that. I should have endeavoured, I think, to make her happy. She has certainly run counter to my happiness.”
“What — as to this very moment! I shall leave Stalham tomorrow.”
“Why should you do that? Let her go if one must go.”
“That is just what I want to prevent. Why should she lose her little pleasure?”
“You don’t suppose that we can make the house happy to her now! Why should we care to do so when she will have driven you away?” He sat silent for a minute or two looking at the fire, with his hands on his two knees. “You must acknowledge, Jonathan,” continued she, “that I have taken kindly to this Ayala of yours.”
“I do acknowledge it.”
“But it cannot be that she should be the same to us simply as a young lady, staying here as it were on her own behalf, as she was when we regarded her as your possible wife. Then every little trick and grace belonging to her endeared itself to us because we regarded her as one who was about to become one of ourselves. But what are her tricks and graces to us now?”
“They are all the world to me,” said the Colonel.
“But you must wipe them out of your memory — unless, indeed, you mean to ask her again.”
“Ah! — that is it.”
“You will ask her again?”
“I do not say so; but I do not wish to rob myself of the chance. It may be that I shall. Of course I should tomorrow if I thought there was a hope. Tomorrow there would be none — but I should like to know, that I could find her again in hands so friendly as yours, if at the end of a month I should think myself strong enough to encounter the risk of another refusal. Would Sir Harry allow her to remain here for another month?”
“He would say, probably, nothing about it.”
“My plan is this,” he continued; let her remain here, say, for three weeks or a month. Do you continue all your kindness to her — if not for her sake then for mine. Let her feel that she is made one of yourselves, as you say.”
“That will be hard,” said Lady Albury.
“It would not be hard if you thought that she was going to become so at last. Try it, for my sake. Say not a word to her about me — though not shunning my name. Be to her as though I had told you nothing of this. Then when the period is over I will come again — if I find that I can do so. If my love is still stronger than my sense of self-respect, I shall do so.” All this Lady Albury promised to do, and then the interview between them was over.
“Colonel Stubbs is going to Aldershot tomorrow,” said she to Ayala in the drawing-room after dinner. “He finds now that he cannot very well remain away.” There was no hesitation in her voice as she said this, and no look in her eye which taught Ayala to suppose that she had heard anything of what had occurred in the wood.
“Is he indeed?” said Ayala, trying, but in vain, to be equally undemonstrative.
“It is a great trouble to us, but we are quite unable to prevent it — unless you indeed can control him.”
“I cannot control him,” said Ayala, with that fixed look of resolution with which Lady Albury had already become familiar.
That evening before they went to bed the Colonel bade them all goodbye, as he intended to start early in the morning. “I never saw such a fellow as you are for sudden changes,” said Sir Harry.
“What is the good of staying here for hunting when the ground and Tony’s temper are both as hard as brick-bats? If I go now I can get another week further on in March if the rain should come.” With this Sir Harry seemed to be satisfied; but Ayala felt sure that Tony’s temper and the rain had had nothing to do with it.
“Goodbye, Miss Dormer,” he said, with his pleasantest smile, and his pleasantest voice.
“Goodbye,” she repeated. What would she not have given that her voice should be as pleasant as his, and her smile! But she failed so utterly that the little word was inaudible — almost obliterated by the choking of a sob. How bitterly severe had that word, Miss Dormer, sounded from his mouth! Could he not have called her Ayala for the last time — even though all the world should have heard it? She was wide awake in the morning and heard the wheels of his cart as he was driven off. As the sound died away upon her ear she felt that he was gone from her for ever. How had it been that she had said, “I cannot,” so often, when all her heart was set upon I can?”
And now it remained to her to take herself away from Stalham as fast as she might. She understood perfectly all those ideas which Lady Albury had expressed to her well-loved friend. She was nothing to anybody at Stalham, simply a young lady staying in the house — as might be some young lady connected with them by blood, or some young lady whose father and mother had been their friends. She had been brought there to Stalham, now this second time, in order that Jonathan Stubbs might take her as his wife. Driven by some madness she had refused her destiny, and now nobody would want her at Stalham any longer. She had better begin to pack up at once — and go. The coldness of the people, now that she had refused to do as she had been asked, would be unbearable to her. And yet she must not let it appear that Stalham was no longer dear to her merely because Colonel Stubbs had left it. She would let a day go by, and then say with all the ease she could muster that she would take her departure on the next. After that her life before her would be a blank. She had known up to this — so at least she told herself — that Jonathan Stubbs would afford her at any rate another chance. Now there could be no other chance.
The first blank day passed away, and it seemed to her almost as though she had no right to speak to anyone. She was sure that Lady Rufford knew what had occurred, because nothing more was said as to the proposed visit. Mrs Colonel Stubbs would have been welcome anywhere, but who was Ayala Dormer? Even though Lady Albury bade her come out in the carriage, it seemed to her to be done as a final effort of kindness. Of course they would be anxious to be rid of her. That evening the buxom woman did not come to help her dress herself. It was an accident. The buxom woman was wanted here and there till it was too late, and Ayala had left her room. Ayala, in truth, required no assistance in dressing. When the first agonizing moment of the new frock had been passed over, she would sooner have arrayed herself without assistance. But now it seemed as though the buxom woman was running away because she, Ayala, was thought to be no longer worthy of her services.
On the next morning she began her little speech to Lady Albury. “Going away tomorrow?” said Lady Albury.
“Or perhaps the next day,” suggested Ayala.
“My dear, it has been arranged that you should stay here for another three weeks.”
“I say it was arranged. Everybody understood it. I am sure your aunt understood it. Because one person goes, everybody else isn’t to follow so as to break up a party. Honour among thieves!”
“Well — anything else you like to call us all. The party has been made up. And to tell the truth I don’t think that young ladies have the same right of changing their minds and rushing about as men assume. Young ladies ought to be more steady. Where am I to get another young lady at a moment’s notice to play lawn tennis with Mr Greene? Compose yourself and stay where you are like a good girl.”
“What will Sir Harry say?”
“Sir Harry will probably go on talking about the Stillborough fox and quarrelling with that odious Captain Glomax. That is, if you remain here. If you go all of a sudden, he will perhaps hint — ”
“Hint what, Lady Albury?”
“Never mind. He shall make no hints if you are a good girl.” Nothing was said at the moment about the Colonel — nothing further than the little allusion made above. Then there came the lawn tennis, and Ayala regained something of her spirits as she contrived with the assistance of Sir Harry to beat Nina and the curate. But on the following day Lady Albury spoke out more plainly. “It was because of Colonel Stubbs that you said that you would go away.”
Ayala paused for a moment, and then answered stoutly, “Yes, it was because of Colonel Stubbs.”
Ayala paused again and the stoutness almost deserted her. “Because — “
“Well, my dear?”
“I don’t think I ought to be asked,” said Ayala.
“Well, you shall not be asked. I will not be cruel to you. But do you not know that if I ask anything it is with a view to your own good?”
“Oh, yes,” said Ayala.
“But though I may not ask I suppose I may speak.” To this Ayala made no reply, either assenting or dissenting. “You know, do you note that I and Colonel Stubbs love each other like brother and sister — more dearly than many brothers and sisters?”
“I suppose so.”
“And that therefore he tells me everything. He told me what took place in the wood — and because of that he has gone away.”
“Of course you are angry with me — because he has gone away.”
“I am sorry that he has gone — because of the cause of it. I always wish that he should have everything that he desires; and now I wish that he should have this thing because he desires it above all other things.” Does he desire it above all other things? — thought Ayala to herself. And, if it be really so, cannot I now tell her that he shall have it? Cannot I say that I too long to get it quite as eagerly as he long to have it? The suggestion rushed quickly to her mind; but the answer to it came as quickly. No — she would not do so. No offer of the kind would come from her. By what she had said must she abide — unless, indeed, he should come to her again. “But why should you go, Ayala, because he has gone? Why should you say aloud that you had come here to listen to his offer, and that you had gone away as soon as you had resolved that, for this reason or that, it was not satisfactory to you?”
“Oh, Lady Albury.”
“That would be the conclusion drawn. Remain here with us, and see if you can like us well enough to be one of us.”
“Dear Lady Albury, I do love you dearly.”
“What he may do I cannot say. Whether he may bring himself to try once again I do not know — nor will I ask you whether there might possibly be any other answer were he to do so.”
“No!” said Ayala, driven by a sudden fit of obstinacy which she could not control.
“I ask no questions about it, but I am sure it will be better for you to remain here for a few weeks. We will make you happy if we can, and you can learn to think over what has passed without emotion.” Thus it was decided that Ayala should prolong her visit into the middle of March. She could not understand her own conduct when she again found herself alone. Why had she ejaculated that sudden “No,” when Lady Albury had suggested to her the possibility of changing her purpose? She knew that she would fain change it if it were possible; and yet when the idea was presented to her she replied with a sudden denial of its possibility. But still there was hope, even though the hope was faint. “Whether he may bring himself to try again I do not know.” So it was that Lady Albury had spoken of him, and of what Lady Albury said to her she now believed every word. “Whether he could bring himself!” Surely such a one as he would not condescend so far as that. But if he did one word should be sufficient. By no one else would she allow it to be thought, for an instant, that she would wish to reverse her decision. It must still be No to any other person from whom such suggestion might come. But should he give her the chance she would tell him instantly the truth of everything. “Can I love you! Oh, my love, it is impossible that I should not love you!” It would be thus that the answer should be given to him, should he allow her the chance of making it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01