A Fair Barbarian
Francis Hodgson Burnett
Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and PG Distributed Proofreaders
A FAIR BARBARIAN
BY FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
I. MISS OCTAVIA BASSETT
II. "AN INVESTMENT, ANYWAY"
IV. LADY THEOBALD
VII. "I SHOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE OF SLOWBRIDGE"
VIII. SHARES LOOKING UP
IX. WHITE MUSLIN
X. ANNOUNCING MR. BAROLD
XI. A SLIGHT INDISCRETION
XII. AN INVITATION
XIV. A CLERICAL VISIT
XV. SUPERIOR ADVANTAGES
XIX. AN EXPERIMENT
XX. PECULIAR TO NEVADA
XXI. LORD LANSDOWNE
XXII. "YOU HAVE MADE IT LIVELIER"
XXIII. "MAY I GO?"
XXIV. THE GARDEN PARTY
XXV. "SOMEBODY ELSE"
A FAIR BARBARIAN.
MISS OCTAVIA BASSETT.
Slowbridge had been shaken to its foundations.
It may as well be explained, however, at the outset, that it would not
take much of a sensation to give Slowbridge a great shock. In the first
place, Slowbridge was not used to sensations, and was used to going on
the even and respectable tenor of its way, regarding the outside world
with private distrust, if not with open disfavor. The new mills had been
a trial to Slowbridge,--a sore trial. On being told of the owners' plan
of building them, old Lady Theobald, who was the corner-stone of the
social edifice of Slowbridge, was said, by a spectator, to have turned
deathly pale with rage; and, on the first day of their being opened in
working order, she had taken to her bed, and remained shut up in her
darkened room for a week, refusing to see anybody, and even going so far
as to send a scathing message to the curate of St. James, who called in
fear and trembling, because he was afraid to stay away.
"With mills and mill-hands," her ladyship announced to Mr. Laurence, the
mill-owner, when chance first threw them together, "with mills and
mill-hands come murder, massacre, and mob law." And she said it so loud,
and with so stern an air of conviction, that the two Misses Briarton, who
were of a timorous and fearful nature, dropped their buttered muffins (it
was at one of the tea-parties which were Slowbridge's only dissipation),
and shuddered hysterically, feeling that their fate was sealed, and that
they might, any night, find three masculine mill-hands secreted under
their beds, with bludgeons. But as no massacres took place, and the
mill-hands were pretty regular in their habits, and even went so far as
to send their children to Lady Theobald's free school, and accepted the
tracts left weekly at their doors, whether they could read or not,
Slowbridge gradually recovered from the shock of finding itself forced to
exist in close proximity to mills, and was just settling itself to
sleep--the sleep of the just--again, when, as I have said, it was shaken
to its foundations.
It was Miss Belinda Bassett who received the first shock. Miss Belinda
Bassett was a decorous little maiden lady, who lived in a decorous little
house on High Street (which was considered a very genteel street in
Slowbridge). She had lived in the same house all her life, her father had
lived in it, and so also had her grandfather. She had gone out, to take
tea, from its doors two or three times a week, ever since she had been
twenty; and she had had her little tea-parties in its front parlor as
often as any other genteel Slowbridge entertainer. She had risen at
seven, breakfasted at eight, dined at two, taken tea at five, and gone to
bed at ten, with such regularity for fifty years, that to rise at eight,
breakfast at nine, dine at three, and take tea at six, and go to bed at
eleven, would, she was firmly convinced, be but "to fly in the face of
Providence," as she put it, and sign her own death-warrant. Consequently,
it is easy to imagine what a tremor and excitement seized her when, one
afternoon, as she sat waiting for her tea, a coach from the Blue Lion
dashed--or, at least, _almost_ dashed--up to the front door, a young lady
got out, and the next minute the handmaiden, Mary Anne, threw open the
door of the parlor, announcing, without the least preface,--
"Your niece, mum, from 'Meriker."
Miss Belinda got up, feeling that her knees really trembled beneath her.
In Slowbridge, America was not approved of--in fact, was almost entirely
ignored, as a country where, to quote Lady Theobald, "the laws were
loose, and the prevailing sentiments revolutionary." It was not
considered good taste to know Americans,--which was not unfortunate, as
there were none to know; and Miss Belinda Bassett had always felt a
delicacy in mentioning her only brother, who had emigrated to the United
States in his youth, having first disgraced himself by the utterance of
the blasphemous remark that "he wanted to get to a place where a fellow
could stretch himself, and not be bullied by a lot of old tabbies." From
the day of his departure, when he had left Miss Belinda bathed in tears
of anguish, she had heard nothing of him; and here upon the threshold
stood Mary Anne, with delighted eagerness in her countenance,
"Your niece, mum, from 'Meriker!"
And, with the words, her niece entered.
Miss Belinda put her hand to her heart.
The young lady thus announced was the prettiest, and at the same time the
most extraordinary-looking, young lady she had ever seen in her life.
Slowbridge contained nothing approaching this niece. Her dress was so
very stylish that it was quite startling in its effect; her forehead was
covered down to her large, pretty eyes themselves, with curls of
yellow-brown hair; and her slender throat was swathed round and round
with a grand scarf of black lace.
She made a step forward, and then stopped, looking at Miss Belinda. Her
eyes suddenly, to Miss Belinda's amazement, filled with tears.
"Didn't you," she said,--"oh, dear! _Didn't_ you get the letter?"
"The--the letter!" faltered Miss Belinda. "What letter, my--my dear?"
"Pa's," was the answer. "Oh! I see you didn't."
And she sank into the nearest chair, putting her hands up to her face,
and beginning to cry outright.
"I--am Octavia B-bassett," she said. "We were coming to surp-prise you,
and travel in Europe; but the mines went wrong, and p-pa was obliged to
go back to Nevada."
"The mines?" gasped Miss Belinda.
"S-silver-mines," wept Octavia. "And we had scarcely landed when Piper
cabled, and pa had to turn back. It was something about shares, and he
may have lost his last dollar."
Miss Belinda sank into a chair herself.
"Mary Anne," she said faintly, "bring me a glass of water."
Her tone was such that Octavia removed her handkerchief from her eyes,
and sat up to examine her.
"Are you frightened?" she asked, in some alarm.
Miss Belinda took a sip of the water brought by her handmaiden, replaced
the glass upon the salver, and shook her head deprecatingly.
"Not exactly frightened, my dear," she said, "but so amazed that I find
it difficult to--to collect myself."
Octavia put up her handkerchief again to wipe away a sudden new gush of
"If shares intended to go down," she said, "I don't see why they couldn't
go down before we started, instead of waiting until we got over here, and
then spoiling every thing."
"Providence, my dear"--began Miss Belinda.
But she was interrupted by the re-entrance of Mary Anne.
"The man from the Lion, mum, wants to know what's to be done with the
trunks. There's six of 'em, an' they're all that 'eavy as he says he
wouldn't lift one alone for ten shilling."
"Six!" exclaimed Miss Belinda. "Whose are they?"
"Mine," replied Octavia. "Wait a minute. I'll go out to him."
Miss Belinda was astounded afresh by the alacrity with which her niece
seemed to forget her troubles, and rise to the occasion. The girl ran to
the front door as if she was quite used to directing her own affairs, and
began to issue her orders.
"You will have to get another man," she said. "You might have known that.
Go and get one somewhere."
And when the man went off, grumbling a little, and evidently rather at a
loss before such peremptory coolness, she turned to Miss Belinda.
"Where must he put them?" she asked.
It did not seem to have occurred to her once that her identity might be
doubted, and some slight obstacles arise before her.
"I am afraid," faltered Miss Belinda, "that five of them will have to be
put in the attic."
And in fifteen minutes five of them _were_ put into the attic, and the
sixth--the biggest of all--stood in the trim little spare chamber, and
pretty Miss Octavia had sunk into a puffy little chintz-covered
easy-chair, while her newly found relative stood before her, making the
most laudable efforts to recover her equilibrium, and not to feel as if
her head were spinning round and round.
"AN INVESTMENT, ANYWAY."
The natural result of these efforts was, that Miss Belinda was moved to
shed a few tears.
"I hope you will excuse my being too startled to say I was glad to see
you," she said. "I have not seen my brother for thirty years, and I was
very fond of him."
"He said you were," answered Octavia; "and he was very fond of you too.
He didn't write to you, because he made up his mind not to let you hear
from him until he was a rich man; and then he thought he would wait until
he could come home, and surprise you. He was awfully disappointed when he
had to go back without seeing you."
"Poor, dear Martin!" wept Miss Belinda gently. "Such a journey!"
Octavia opened her charming eyes in surprise.
"Oh, he'll come back again!" she said. "And he doesn't mind the journey.
The journey is nothing, you know."
"Nothing!" echoed Miss Belinda. "A voyage across the Atlantic nothing?
When one thinks of the danger, my dear"--
Octavia's eyes opened a shade wider.
"We have made the trip to the States, across the Isthmus, twelve times,
and that takes a month," she remarked. "So we don't think ten days much."
"Twelve times!" said Miss Belinda, quite appalled. "Dear, dear, dear!"
And for some moments she could do nothing but look at her young relative
in doubtful wonder, shaking her head with actual sadness.
But she finally recovered herself, with a little start.
"What am I thinking of," she exclaimed remorsefully, "to let you sit here
in this way? Pray excuse me, my dear. You see I am so upset."
She left her chair in a great hurry, and proceeded to embrace her young
guest tenderly, though with a little timorousness. The young lady
submitted to the caress with much composure.
"Did I upset you?" she inquired calmly.
The fact was, that she could not see why the simple advent of a relative
from Nevada should seem to have the effect of an earthquake, and result
in tremor, confusion, and tears. It was true, she herself had shed a tear
or so, but then her troubles had been accumulating for several days; and
she had not felt confused yet.
When Miss Belinda went down-stairs to superintend Mary Anne in the
tea-making, and left her guest alone, that young person glanced about her
with a rather dubious expression.
"It is a queer, nice little place," she said. "But I don't wonder that pa
emigrated, if they always get into such a flurry about little things. I
might have been a ghost."
Then she proceeded to unlock the big trunk, and attire herself.
Down-stairs, Miss Belinda was wavering between the kitchen and the
parlor, in a kindly flutter.
"Toast some muffins, Mary Anne, and bring in the cold roast fowl," she
said. "And I will put out some strawberry-jam, and some of the preserved
ginger. Dear me! Just to think how fond of preserved ginger poor Martin
was, and how little of it he was allowed to eat! There really seems a
special Providence in my having such a nice stock of it in the house when
his daughter comes home."
In the course of half an hour every thing was in readiness; and then Mary
Anne, who had been sent up-stairs to announce the fact, came down in a
most remarkable state of delighted agitation, suppressed ecstasy and
amazement exclaiming aloud in every feature.
"She's dressed, mum," she announced, "an' 'll be down immediate," and
retired to a shadowy corner of the kitchen passage, that she might lie in
Miss Belinda, sitting behind the tea-service, heard a soft, flowing,
silken rustle sweeping down the staircase, and across the hall, and then
her niece entered.
"Don't you think I've dressed pretty quick?" she said, and swept across
the little parlor, and sat down in her place, with the calmest and most
unconscious air in the world.
There was in Slowbridge but one dressmaking establishment. The head of
the establishment--Miss Letitia Chickie--designed the costumes of every
woman in Slowbridge, from Lady Theobald down. There were legends that she
received her patterns from London, and modified them to suit the
Slowbridge taste. Possibly this was true; but in that case her labors as
modifier must have been severe indeed, since they were so far modified as
to be altogether unrecognizable when they left Miss Chickie's
establishment, and were borne home in triumph to the houses of her
patrons. The taste of Slowbridge was quiet,--upon this Slowbridge prided
itself especially,--and, at the same time, tended toward economy. When
gores came into fashion, Slowbridge clung firmly, and with some pride, to
substantial breadths, which did not cut good silk into useless strips
which could not be utilized in after-time; and it was only when, after a
visit to London, Lady Theobald walked into St. James's one Sunday with
two gores on each side, that Miss Chickie regretfully put scissors into
her first breadth. Each matronly member of good society possessed a
substantial silk gown of some sober color, which gown, having done duty
at two years' tea-parties, descended to the grade of "second-best," and
so descended, year by year, until it disappeared into the dim distance of
the past. The young ladies had their white muslins and natural flowers;
which latter decorations invariably collapsed in the course of the
evening, and were worn during the latter half of any festive occasion in
a flabby and hopeless condition. Miss Chickie made the muslins,
festooning and adorning them after designs emanating from her fertile
imagination. If they were a little short in the body, and not very
generously proportioned in the matter of train, there was no rival
establishment to sneer, and Miss Chickie had it all her own way; and, at
least, it could never be said that Slowbridge was vulgar or overdressed.
Judge, then, of Miss Belinda Bassett's condition of mind when her fair
relative took her seat before her.
What the material of her niece's dress was, Miss Belinda could not have
told. It was a silken and soft fabric of a pale blue color; it clung to
the slender, lissome young figure like a glove; a fan-like train of great
length almost covered the hearth-rug; there were plaitings and frillings
all over it, and yards of delicate satin ribbon cut into loops in the
most recklessly extravagant manner.
Miss Belinda saw all this at the first glance, as Mary Anne had seen it,
and, like Mary Anne, lost her breath; but, on her second glance, she saw
something more. On the pretty, slight hands were three wonderful,
sparkling rings, composed of diamonds set in clusters: there were great
solitaires in the neat little ears, and the thickly-plaited lace at the
throat was fastened by a diamond clasp.
"My dear," said Miss Belinda, clutching helplessly at the teapot, "are
you--surely it is a--a little dangerous to wear such--such priceless
ornaments on ordinary occasions."
Octavia stared at her for a moment uncomprehendingly.
"Your jewels, I mean, my love," fluttered Miss Belinda. "Surely you don't
wear them often. I declare, it quite frightens me to think of having such
things in the house."
"Does it?" said Octavia. "That's queer."
And she looked puzzled for a moment again.
Then she glanced down at her rings.
"I nearly always wear these," she remarked. "Father gave them to me. He
gave me one each birthday for three years. He says diamonds are an
investment, anyway, and I might as well have them. These," touching the
ear-rings and clasp, "were given to my mother when she was on the stage.
A lot of people clubbed together, and bought them for her. She was a
Miss Belinda made another clutch at the handle of the teapot.
"Your mother!" she exclaimed faintly. "On the--did you say, on the"--
"Stage," answered Octavia. "San Francisco. Father married her there. She
was awfully pretty. I don't remember her. She died when I was born. She
was only nineteen."
The utter calmness, and freedom from embarrassment, with which these
announcements were made, almost shook Miss Belinda's faith in her own
identity. Strange to say, until this moment she had scarcely given a
thought to her brother's wife; and to find herself sitting in her own
genteel little parlor, behind her own tea-service, with her hand upon her
own teapot, hearing that this wife had been a young person who had been
"a great favorite" upon the stage, in a region peopled, as she had been
led to suppose, by gold-diggers and escaped convicts, was almost too much
for her to support herself under. But she did support herself bravely,
when she had time to rally.
"Help yourself to some fowl, my dear," she said hospitably, even though
very faintly indeed, "and take a muffin."
Octavia did so, her over-splendid hands flashing in the light as she
"American girls always have more things than English girls," she
observed, with admirable coolness. "They dress more. I have been told so
by girls who have been in Europe. And I have more things than most
American girls. Father had more money than most people; that was one
reason; and he spoiled me, I suppose. He had no one else to give things
to, and he said I should have every thing I took a fancy to. He often
laughed at me for buying things, but he never said I shouldn't buy them."
"He was always generous," sighed Miss Belinda. "Poor, dear Martin!"
Octavia scarcely entered into the spirit of this mournful sympathy. She
was fond of her father, but her recollections of him were not pathetic or
"He took me with him wherever he went," she proceeded. "And we had a
teacher from the States, who travelled with us sometimes. He never sent
me away from him. I wouldn't have gone if he had wanted to send me--and
he didn't want to," she added, with a satisfied little laugh.
Miss Belinda sat, looking at her niece, with a sense of being at once
stunned and fascinated. To see a creature so young, so pretty, so
luxuriously splendid, and at the same time so simply and completely at
ease with herself and her surroundings, was a revelation quite beyond her
comprehension. The best-bred and nicest girls Slowbridge could produce
were apt to look a trifle conscious and timid when they found themselves
attired in the white muslin and floral decorations; but this slender
creature sat in her gorgeous attire, her train flowing over the modest
carpet, her rings flashing, her ear-pendants twinkling, apparently
entirely oblivious of, or indifferent to, the fact that all her
belongings were sufficiently out of place to be startling beyond measure.
Her chief characteristic, however, seemed to be her excessive frankness.
She did not hesitate at all to make the most remarkable statements
concerning her own and her father's past career. She made them, too, as
if there was nothing unusual about them. Twice, in her childhood, a
luckless speculation had left her father penniless; and once he had taken
her to a Californian gold-diggers' camp, where she had been the only
female member of the somewhat reckless community.
"But they were pretty good-natured, and made a pet of me," she said;
"and we did not stay very long. Father had a stroke of luck, and we
went away. I was sorry when we had to go, and so were the men. They made
me a present of a set of jewelry made out of the gold they had got
themselves. There is a breastpin like a breastplate, and a necklace like
a dog-collar: the bracelets tire my arms, and the ear-rings pull my ears;
but I wear them sometimes--gold girdle and all."
"Did I," inquired Miss Belinda timidly, "did I understand you to say, my
dear, that your father's business was in some way connected with
"It _is_ silver-mining," was the response. "He owns some mines, you
"Owns?" said Miss Belinda, much fluttered; "owns some silver-mines? He
must be a very rich man,--a very rich man. I declare, it quite takes my
"Oh! he is rich," said Octavia; "awfully rich sometimes. And then again
he isn't. Shares go up, you know; and then they go down, and you don't
seem to have any thing. But father generally comes out right, because he
is lucky, and knows how to manage."
"But--but how uncertain!" gasped Miss Belinda: "I should be perfectly
miserable. Poor, dear Mar"--
"Oh, no, you wouldn't!" said Octavia: "you'd get used to it, and wouldn't
mind much, particularly if you were lucky as father is. There is every
thing in being lucky, and knowing how to manage. When we first went to
"My dear!" cried Miss Belinda, aghast. "I--I beg of you"--
Octavia stopped short: she gazed at Miss Belinda in bewilderment, as she
had done several times before.
"Is any thing the matter?" she inquired placidly.
"My dear love," explained Miss Belinda innocently, determined at least to
do her duty, "it is not customary in--in Slowbridge,--in fact, I think I
may say in England,--to use such--such exceedingly--I don't want to wound
your feelings, my dear,--but such exceedingly strong expressions! I
refer, my dear, to the one which began with a B. It is really considered
profane, as well as dreadful beyond measure."
"'The one which began with a B,'" repeated Octavia, still staring at her.
"That is the name of a place; but I didn't name it, you know. It was
called that, in the first place, because a party of men were surprised
and murdered there, while they were asleep in their camp at night. It
isn't a very nice name, of course, but I'm not responsible for it; and
besides, now the place is growing, they are going to call it Athens or
Magnolia Vale. They tried L'Argentville for a while; but people would
call it Lodginville, and nobody liked it."
"I trust you never lived there," said Miss Belinda. "I beg your pardon
for being so horrified, but I really could not refrain from starting when
you spoke; and I cannot help hoping you never lived there."
"I live there now, when I am at home," Octavia replied. "The mines are
there; and father has built a house, and had the furniture brought on
from New York."
Miss Belinda tried not to shudder, but almost failed.
"Won't you take another muffin, my love?" she said, with a sigh. "Do take
"No, thank you," answered Octavia; and it must be confessed that she
looked a little bored, as she leaned back in her chair, and glanced down
at the train of her dress. It seemed to her that her simplest statement
or remark created a sensation.
Having at last risen from the tea-table, she wandered to the window, and
stood there, looking out at Miss Belinda's flower-garden. It was quite a
pretty flower-garden, and a good-sized one considering the dimensions of
the house. There were an oval grass-plot, divers gravel paths, heart and
diamond shaped beds aglow with brilliant annuals, a great many
rose-bushes, several laburnums and lilacs, and a trim hedge of holly
"I think I should like to go out and walk around there," remarked
Octavia, smothering a little yawn behind her hand. "Suppose we go--if you
"Certainly, my dear," assented Miss Belinda. "But perhaps," with a
delicately dubious glance at her attire, "you would like to make some
little alteration in your dress--to put something a little--dark over
Octavia glanced down also.
"Oh, no!" she replied: "it will do well enough. I will throw a scarf over
my head, though; not because I need it," unblushingly, "but because I
have a lace one that is very becoming."
She went up to her room for the article in question, and in three minutes
was down again. When she first caught sight of her, Miss Belinda found
herself obliged to clear her throat quite suddenly. What Slowbridge would
think of seeing such a toilet in her front garden, upon an ordinary
occasion, she could not imagine. The scarf truly was becoming. It was a
long affair of rich white lace, and was thrown over the girl's head,
wound around her throat, and the ends tossed over her shoulders, with the
most picturesque air of carelessness in the world.
"You look quite like a bride, my dear Octavia," said Miss Belinda. "We
are scarcely used to such things in Slowbridge."
But Octavia only laughed a little.
"I am going to get some pink roses, and fasten the ends with them, when
we get into the garden," she said.
She stopped for this purpose at the first rose-bush they reached. She
gathered half a dozen slender-stemmed, heavy-headed buds, and, having
fastened the lace with some, was carelessly placing the rest at her
waist, when Miss Belinda started violently.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed nervously, "there is Lady Theobald."
Lady Theobald, having been making calls of state, was returning home
rather later than usual, when, in driving up High Street, her eye fell
upon Miss Bassett's garden. She put up her eyeglasses, and gazed through
them severely; then she issued a mandate to her coachman.
"Dobson," she said, "drive more slowly."
She could not believe the evidence of her own eyeglasses. In Miss
Bassett's garden she saw a tall girl, "dressed," as she put it, "like an
actress," her delicate dress trailing upon the grass, a white lace scarf
about her head and shoulders, roses in that scarf, roses at her waist.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed: "is Belinda Bassett giving a party,
without so much as mentioning it to _me_?"
Then she issued another mandate.
"Dobson," she said, "drive faster, and drive me to Miss Bassett's."
Miss Belinda came out to the gate to meet her, quaking inwardly. Octavia
simply turned slightly where she stood, and looked at her ladyship,
without any pretence of concealing her curiosity.
Lady Theobald bent forward in her landau.
"Belinda," she said, "how do you do? I did not know you intended to
introduce garden-parties into Slowbridge."
"Dear Lady Theobald"--began Miss Belinda.
"Who is that young person?" demanded her ladyship.
"She is poor dear Martin's daughter," answered Miss Belinda. "She arrived
to-day--from Nevada, where--where it appears Martin has been very
fortunate, and owns a great many silver-mines"--
"A 'great many' silver-mines!" cried Lady Theobald. "Are you mad, Belinda
Bassett? I am ashamed of you. At your time of life too!"
Miss Belinda almost shed tears.
"She said 'some silver-mines,' I am sure," she faltered; "for I remember
how astonished and bewildered I was. The fact is, that she is such a very
singular girl, and has told me so many wonderful things, in the
strangest, cool way, that I am quite uncertain of myself. Murderers, and
gold-diggers, and silver-mines, and camps full of men without women,
making presents of gold girdles and dog-collars, and ear-rings that drag
your ears down. It is enough to upset any one."
"I should think so," responded her ladyship. "Open the carriage-door,
Belinda, and let me get out."
She felt that this matter must be inquired into at once, and not allowed
to go too far. She had ruled Slowbridge too long to allow such
innovations to remain uninvestigated. She would not be likely to be
"upset," at least. She descended from her landau, with her most rigorous
air. Her stout, rich black _moire-antique_ gown rustled severely; the
yellow ostrich feather in her bonnet waved majestically. (Being a
brunette, and Lady Theobald, she wore yellow.) As she tramped up the
gravel walk, she held up her dress with both hands, as an example to
vulgar and reckless young people who wore trains and left them to
take care of themselves. Octavia was arranging afresh the bunch of
long-stemmed, swaying buds at her waist, and she was giving all her
attention to her task when her visitor first addressed her.
"How do you do?" remarked her ladyship, in a fine, deep voice.
Miss Belinda followed her meekly.
"Octavia," she explained, "this is Lady Theobald, whom you will be very
glad to know. She knew your father."
"Yes," returned my lady, "years ago. He has had time to improve since
then. How do you do?"
Octavia's limpid eyes rested serenely upon her.
"How do you do?" she said, rather indifferently.
"You are from Nevada?" asked Lady Theobald.
"It is not long since you left there?"
Octavia smiled faintly.
"Do I look like that?" she inquired.
"Like what?" said my lady.
"As if I had not long lived in a civilized place. I dare say I do,
because it is true that I haven't."
"You don't look like an English girl," remarked her ladyship.
Octavia smiled again. She looked at the yellow feather and stout _moire
antique_ dress, but quite as if by accident, and without any mental
deduction; then she glanced at the rosebuds in her hand.
"I suppose I ought to be sorry for that," she observed. "I dare say I
shall be in time--when I have been longer away from Nevada."
"I must confess," admitted her ladyship, and evidently without the
least regret or embarrassment, "I must confess that I don't know where
"It isn't in Europe," replied Octavia, with a soft, light laugh. "You
know that, don't you?"
The words themselves sounded to Lady Theobald like the most outrageous
impudence; but when she looked at the pretty, lovelock-shaded face, she
was staggered the look it wore was such a very innocent and undisturbed
one. At the moment, the only solution to be reached seemed to be that
this was the style of young people in Nevada, and that it was ignorance
and not insolence she had to do battle with--which, indeed, was
"I have not had any occasion to inquire where it is situated, so far,"
she responded firmly. "It is not so necessary for English people to know
America as it is for Americans to know England."
"Isn't it?" said Octavia, without any great show of interest. "Why not?"
"For--for a great many reasons it would be fatiguing to explain," she
answered courageously. "How is your father?"
"He is very sea-sick now," was the smiling answer,--"deadly sea-sick. He
has been out just twenty-four hours."
"Out? What does that mean?"
"Out on the Atlantic. He was called back suddenly, and obliged to leave
me. That is why I came here alone."
"Pray do come into the parlor, and sit down, dear Lady Theobald,"
ventured Miss Belinda. "Octavia"--
"Don't you think it is nicer out here?" said Octavia.
"My dear," answered Miss Belinda. "Lady Theobald"--She was really quite
"Ah!" interposed Octavia. "I only thought it was cooler."
She preceded them, without seeming to be at all conscious that she was
taking the lead.
"You had better pick up your dress, Miss Octavia," said Lady Theobald
The girl glanced over her shoulder at the length of train sweeping the
path, but she made no movement toward picking it up.
"It is too much trouble, and one has to duck down so," she said. "It is
bad enough to have to keep doing it when one is on the street. Besides,
they would never wear out if one took too much care of them."
When they went into the parlor, and sat down, Lady Theobald made
excellent use of her time, and managed to hear again all that had tried
and bewildered Miss Belinda. She had no hesitation in asking questions
boldly; she considered it her privilege to do so: she had catechised
Slowbridge for forty years, and meant to maintain her rights until Time
played her the knave's trick of disabling her.
In half an hour she had heard about the silver-mines, the gold-diggers,
and L'Argentville; she knew that Martin Bassett was a millionnaire, if
the news he had heard had not left him penniless; that he would return to
England, and visit Slowbridge, as soon as his affairs were settled. The
precarious condition of his finances did not seem to cause Octavia much
concern. She had asked no questions when he went away, and seemed quite
at ease regarding the future.
"People will always lend him money, and then he is lucky with it," she
She bore the catechising very well. Her replies were frequently rather
trying to her interlocutor, but she never seemed troubled, or ashamed of
any thing she had to say; and she wore, from first to last, that
inscrutably innocent and indifferent little air.
She did not even show confusion when Lady Theobald, on going away, made
her farewell comment:--
"You are a very fortunate girl to own such jewels," she said, glancing
critically at the diamonds in her ears; "but if you take my advice, my
dear, you will put them away, and save them until you are a married
woman. It is not customary, on this side of the water, for young girls to
wear such things--particularly on ordinary occasions. People will think
you are odd."
"It is not exactly customary in America," replied Octavia, with her
undisturbed smile. "There are not many girls who have such things.
Perhaps they would wear them if they had them. I don't care a very great
deal about them, but I mean to wear them."
Lady Theobald went away in a dudgeon.
"You will have to exercise your authority, Belinda, and _make_ her put
them away," she said to Miss Bassett. "It is absurd--besides being
"Make her!" faltered Miss Bassett.
"Yes, 'make her'--though I see you will have your hands full. I never
heard such romancing stories in my life. It is just what one might expect
from your brother Martin."
When Miss Bassett returned, Octavia was standing before the window,
watching the carriage drive away, and playing absently with one of her
ear-rings as she did so.
"What an old fright she is!" was her first guileless remark.
Miss Belinda quite bridled.
"My dear," she said, with dignity, "no one in Slowbridge would think of
applying such a phrase to Lady Theobald."
Octavia turned around, and looked at her.
"But don't you think she is one?" she exclaimed. "Perhaps I oughtn't to
have said it; but you know we haven't any thing as bad as that, even out
"My dear," said Miss Belinda, "different countries contain different
people; and in Slowbridge _we_ have our standards,"--her best cap
trembling a little with her repressed excitement.
But Octavia did not appear overwhelmed by the existence of the standards
in question. She turned to the window again.
"Well, anyway," she said, "I think it was pretty cool in her to order me
to take off my diamonds, and save them until I was married. How does she
know whether I mean to be married, or not? I don't know that I care
In this manner Slowbridge received the shock which shook it to
its foundations, and it was a shock from which it did not recover for
some time. Before ten o'clock the next morning, everybody knew of the
arrival of Martin Bassett's daughter.
The very boarding-school (Miss Pilcher's select seminary for young
ladies, "combining the comforts of a home," as the circular said,
"with all the advantages of genteel education") was on fire with it,
highly colored versions of the stories told being circulated from
the "first class" downward, even taking the form of an Indian princess,
tattooed blue, and with difficulty restrained from indulging in
war-whoops,--which last feature so alarmed little Miss Bigbee, aged
seven, that she retired in fear and trembling, and shed tears under the
bedclothes; her terror and anguish being much increased by the stirring
recitals of scalping-stories by pretty Miss Phipps, of the first
class--a young person who possessed a vivid imagination, and delighted in
romances of a tragic turn.
"I have not the slightest doubt," said Miss Phipps, "that when she is at
home she lives in a wampum."
"What is a wampum?" inquired one of her admiring audience.
"A tent," replied Miss Phipps, with some impatience. "I should
think any goose would know that. It is a kind of tent hung with
scalps and--and--moccasins, and--lariats--and things of that sort."
"I don't believe that is the right name for it," put in Miss Smith, who
was a pert member of the third class.
"Ah!" commented Miss Phipps, "that was Miss Smith who spoke, of course.
We may always expect information from Miss Smith. I trust that I may be
allowed to say that I _think_ I _have_ a brother"--
"He doesn't know much about it, if he calls a wigwam a wampum,"
interposed Miss Smith, with still greater pertness. "I have a brother who
knows better than that, if I am only in the third class." For a moment
Miss Phipps appeared to be meditating. Perhaps she was a trifle
discomfited; but she recovered herself after a brief pause, and returned
to the charge.
"Well," she remarked, "perhaps it is a wigwam. Who cares if it is? And
at any rate, whatever it is, I haven't the slightest doubt that she
lives in one."
This comparatively tame version was, however, entirely discarded when the
diamonds and silver-mines began to figure more largely in the reports.
Certainly, pretty, overdressed, jewel-bedecked Octavia gave Slowbridge
abundant cause for excitement.
After leaving her, Lady Theobald drove home to Oldclough Hall, rather
out of humor. She had been rather out of humor for some time, having
never quite recovered from her anger at the daring of that cheerful
builder of mills, Mr. John Burmistone. Mr. Burmistone had been one
innovation, and Octavia Bassett was another. She had not been able to
manage Mr. Burmistone, and she was not at all sure that she had managed
She entered the dining-room with an ominous frown on her forehead.
At the end of the table, opposite her own seat, was a vacant chair, and
her frown deepened when she saw it.
"Where is Miss Gaston?" she demanded of the servant.
Before the man had time to reply, the door opened, and a girl came in
hurriedly, with a somewhat frightened air.
"I beg pardon, grandmamma dear," she said, going to her seat quickly. "I
did not know you had come home."
"We have a dinner-hour," announced her ladyship, "and _I_ do not
"I am very sorry," faltered the culprit.
"That is enough, Lucia," interrupted Lady Theobald; and Lucia dropped her
eyes, and began to eat her soup with nervous haste. In fact, she was glad
to escape so easily.
She was a very pretty creature, with brown eyes, a soft white skin, and
a slight figure with a reed-like grace. A great quantity of brown hair
was twisted into an ugly coil on the top of her delicate little head;
and she wore an ugly muslin gown of Miss Chickie's make. For some time
the meal progressed in dead silence; but at length Lucia ventured to
raise her eyes.
"I have been walking in Slowbridge, grandmamma," she said, "and I met Mr.
Burmistone, who told me that Miss Bassett has a visitor--a young lady
Lady Theobald laid her knife and fork down deliberately.
"Mr. Burmistone?" she said. "Did I understand you to say that you stopped
on the roadside to converse with Mr. Burmistone?"
Lucia colored up to her delicate eyebrows and above them.
"I was trying to reach a flower growing on the bank," she said, "and he
was so kind as to stop to get it for me. I did not know he was near at
first. And then he inquired how you were--and told me he had just heard
about the young lady."
"Naturally!" remarked her ladyship sardonically. "It is as I anticipated
it would be. We shall find Mr. Burmistone at our elbows upon all
occasions. And he will not allow himself to be easily driven away. He is
as determined as persons of his class usually are."
"O grandmamma!" protested Lucia, with innocent fervor. "I really do not
think he is--like that at all. I could not help thinking he was very
gentlemanly and kind. He is so much interested in your school, and so
anxious that it should prosper."
"May I ask," inquired Lady Theobald, "how long a time this generous
expression of his sentiments occupied? Was this the reason of your
forgetting the dinner-hour?"
"We did not"--said Lucia guiltily: "it did not take many minutes. I--I do
not think that made me late."
Lady Theobald dismissed this paltry excuse with one remark,--a remark
made in the deep tones referred to once before.
"I should scarcely have expected," she observed, "that a granddaughter of
mine would have spent half an hour conversing on the public road with the
proprietor of Slowbridge Mills."
"O grandmamma!" exclaimed Lucia, the tears rising in her eyes: "it was
not half an hour."
"I should scarcely have expected," replied her ladyship, "that a
granddaughter of mine would have spent five minutes conversing on the
public road with the proprietor of Slowbridge Mills."
To this assault there seemed to be no reply to make. Lady Theobald had
her granddaughter under excellent control. Under her rigorous rule, the
girl--whose mother had died at her birth--had been brought up. At
nineteen she was simple, sensitive, shy. She had been permitted to have
no companions, and the greatest excitements of her life had been the
Slowbridge tea-parties. Of the late Sir Gilbert Theobald, the less said
the better. He had spent very little of his married life at Oldclough
Hall, and upon his death his widow had found herself possessed of a
substantial, gloomy mansion, an exalted position in Slowbridge society,
and a small marriage-settlement, upon which she might make all the
efforts she chose to sustain her state. So Lucia wore her dresses a much
longer time than any other Slowbridge young lady: she was obliged to mend
her little gloves again and again; and her hats were retrimmed so often
that even Slowbridge thought them old-fashioned. But she was too simple
and sweet-natured to be much troubled, and indeed thought very little
about the matter. She was only troubled when Lady Theobald scolded her,
which was by no means infrequently. Perhaps the straits to which, at
times, her ladyship was put to maintain her dignity imbittered her
"Lucia is neither a Theobald nor a Barold," she had been heard to say
once, and she had said it with much rigor.
A subject of much conversation in private circles had been Lucia's
future. It had been discussed in whispers since her seventeenth year, but
no one had seemed to approach any solution of the difficulty. Upon the
subject of her plans for her granddaughter, Lady Theobald had preserved
stern silence. Once, and once only, she had allowed herself to be
betrayed into the expression of a sentiment connected with the matter.
"If Miss Lucia marries"--a matron of reckless proclivities had remarked.
Lady Theobald turned upon her, slowly and majestically.
"_If_ Miss Gaston marries," she repeated. "Does it seem likely that Miss
Gaston will _not_ marry?"
This settled the matter finally. Lucia was to be married when Lady
Theobald thought fit. So far, however, she had not thought fit: indeed,
there had been nobody for Lucia to marry,--nobody whom her grandmother
would have allowed her to marry, at least. There were very few young men
in Slowbridge; and the very few were scarcely eligible according to Lady
Theobald's standard, and--if such a thing should be mentioned--to
Lucia's, if she had known she had one, which she certainly did not.
When dinner was over, Lady Theobald rose, and proceeded to the
drawing-room, Lucia following in her wake. From her very babyhood Lucia
had disliked the drawing-room, which was an imposing apartment of great
length and height, containing much massive furniture, upholstered in
faded blue satin. All the girl's evenings, since her fifth year, had been
spent sitting opposite her grandmother, in one of the straightest of the
blue chairs: all the most scathing reproofs she had received had been
administered to her at such times. She had a secret theory, indeed, that
all unpleasant things occurred in the drawing-room after dinner.
Just as they had seated themselves, and Lady Theobald was on the point of
drawing toward her the little basket containing the gray woollen mittens
she made a duty of employing herself by knitting each evening, Dobson,
the coachman, in his character of footman, threw open the door, and
announced a visitor.
Lady Theobald dropped her gray mitten, the steel needles falling upon the
table with a clink. She rose to her feet at once, and met half-way the
young man who had entered.
"My dear Francis," she remarked, "I am exceedingly glad to see you at
last," with a slight emphasis upon the "at last."
"Tha-anks," said Capt. Barold, rather languidly. "You're very good, I'm
Then he glanced at Lucia, and Lady Theobald addressed her:--
"Lucia," she said, "this is Francis Barold, who is your cousin."
Capt. Barold shook hands feebly.
"I have been trying to find out whether it is third or fourth," he said.
"It is third," said my lady.
Lucia had never seen her display such cordiality to anybody. But Capt.
Francis Barold did not seem much impressed by it. It struck Lucia that he
would not be likely to be impressed by any thing. He seated himself near
her grandmother's chair, and proceeded to explain his presence on the
spot, without exhibiting much interest even in his own relation of facts.
"I promised the Rathburns that I would spend a week at their place; and
Slowbridge was on the way, so it occurred to me I would drop off in
passing. The Rathburns' place, Broadoaks, is about ten miles farther on;
not far, you see."
"Then," said Lady Theobald, "I am to understand that your visit is
Capt. Barold was not embarrassed. He did not attempt to avoid her
ladyship's rather stern eye, as he made his cool reply.
"Well, yes," he said. "I beg pardon, but it is accidental, rather."
Lucia gave him a pretty, frightened look, as if she felt that, after such
an audacious confession, something very serious must happen; but nothing
serious happened at all. Singularly enough, it was Lady Theobald herself
who looked ill at ease, and as though she had not been prepared for such
During the whole of the evening, in fact, it was always Lady Theobald
who was placed at a disadvantage, Lucia discovered. She could hardly
realize the fact at first; but before an hour had passed, its truth was
forced upon her.
Capt. Barold was a very striking-looking man, upon the whole. He was
large, gracefully built, and fair: his eyes were gray, and noticeable for
the coldness of their expression, his features regular and aquiline, his
As he conversed with her grandmother, Lucia wondered at him privately. It
seemed to her innocent mind that he had been everywhere, and seen every
thing and everybody, without caring for or enjoying his privileges. The
truth was, that he had seen and experienced a great deal too much. As an
only child, the heir to a large property, and heir prospective to one of
the oldest titles in the country, he had exhausted life early. He saw in
Lady Theobald, not the imposing head and social front of Slowbridge
social life, the power who rewarded with approval and punished with a
frown, but a tiresome, pretentious old woman, whom his mother had asked
him, for some feminine reason, to visit. "She feels she has a claim upon
us, Francis," she had said appealingly.
"Well," he had remarked, "that is rather deuced cool, isn't it? We have
people enough on our hands without cultivating Slowbridge, you know."
His mother sighed faintly.
"It is true we have a great many people to consider; but I wish you would
do it, my dear."
She did not say any thing at all about Lucia: above all, she did not
mention that a year ago she herself had spent two or three days at
Slowbridge, and had been charmed beyond measure by the girl's innocent
freshness, and that she had said, rather absently, to Lady Theobald,--
"What a charming wife Lucia would make for a man to whom gentleness and a
yielding disposition were necessary! We do not find such girls in society
nowadays, my dear Lady Theobald. It is very difficult of late years to
find a girl who is not spoken of as 'fast,' and who is not disposed to
take the reins in her own hands. Our young men are flattered and courted
until they become a little dictatorial, and our girls are spoiled at
home. And the result is a great deal of domestic unhappiness
afterward--and even a great deal of scandal, which is dreadful to
contemplate. I cannot help feeling the greatest anxiety in secret
concerning Francis. Young men so seldom consider these matters until it
is too late."
"Girls are not trained as they were in my young days, or even in yours,"
said Lady Theobald. "They are allowed too much liberty. Lucia has been
brought up immediately under my own eye."
"I feel that it is fortunate," remarked Mrs. Barold, quite incidentally,
"that Francis need not make a point of money."
For a few moments Lady Theobald did not respond; but afterward, in the
course of the conversation which followed, she made an observation which
was, of course, purely incidental.
"If Lucia makes a marriage which pleases her great-uncle, old Mr. Dugald
Binnie, of Glasgow, she will be a very fortunate girl. He has intimated,
in his eccentric fashion, that his immense fortune will either be hers,
or will be spent in building charitable asylums of various kinds. He is a
remarkable and singular man."
When Capt. Barold had entered his distinguished relative's drawing-room,
he had not regarded his third cousin with a very great deal of interest.
He had seen too many beauties in his thirty years to be greatly moved by
the sight of one; and here was only a girl who had soft eyes, and looked
young for her age, and who wore an ugly muslin gown, that most girls
could not have carried off at all.
"You have spent the greater part of your life in Slowbridge?" he
condescended to say in the course of the evening.
"I have lived here always," Lucia answered. "I have never been away more
than a week at a time."
"Ah?" interrogatively. "I hope you have not found it dull."
"No," smiling a little. "Not very. You see, I have known nothing gayer."
"There is society enough of a harmless kind here," spoke up Lady Theobald
virtuously. "I do not approve of a round of gayeties for young people: it
unfits them for the duties of life."
But Capt. Barold was not as favorably impressed by these remarks as might
have been anticipated.
"What an old fool she is!" was his polite inward comment. And he resolved
at once to make his visit as brief as possible, and not to be induced to
run down again during his stay at Broadoaks. He did not even take the
trouble to appear to enjoy his evening. From his earliest infancy, he had
always found it easier to please himself than to please other people. In
fact, the world had devoted itself to endeavoring to please him, and win
his--toleration, we may say, instead of admiration, since it could not
hope for the latter. At home he had been adored rapturously by a large
circle of affectionate male and female relatives; at school his tutors
had been singularly indulgent of his faults and admiring of his talents;
even among his fellow-pupils he had been a sort of autocrat.
Why not, indeed, with such birthrights and such prospects? When he had
entered society, he had met with even more amiable treatment from
affectionate mothers, from innocent daughters, from cordial paternal
parents, who voted him an exceedingly fine fellow. Why should he bore
himself by taking the trouble to seem pleased by a stupid evening with an
old grenadier in petticoats and a badly dressed country girl?
Lucia was very glad when, in answer to a timidly appealing glance, Lady
"It is half-past ten. You may wish us good-night, Lucia."
Lucia obeyed, as if she had been half-past ten herself, instead of nearly
twenty; and Barold was not long in following her example.
Dobson led him to a stately chamber at the top of the staircase, and left
him there. The captain chose the largest and most luxurious chair, sat
down in it, and lighted a cigar at his leisure.
"Confoundedly stupid hole!" he said with a refined vigor one would
scarcely have expected from an individual of his birth and breeding. "I
shall leave to-morrow, of course. What was my mother thinking of? Stupid
business from first to last."
"I SHOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE OF SLOWBRIDGE."
When he announced at breakfast his intention of taking his departure on
the midday train, Lucia wondered again what would happen; and again, to
her relief, Lady Theobald was astonishingly lenient.
"As your friends expect you, of course we cannot overrule them," she
said. "We will, however, hope to see something of you during your stay at
Broadoaks. It will be very easy for you to run down and give us a few
hours now and then."
"Tha-anks," said Capt. Barold.
He was decently civil, if not enthusiastic, during the few remaining
hours of his stay. He sauntered through the grounds with Lucia, who took
charge of him in obedience to her grandmother's wish. He did not find her
particularly troublesome when she was away from her ladyship's side. When
she came out to him in her simple cotton gown and straw hat, it occurred
to him that she was much prettier than he had thought her at first. For
economical reasons she had made the little morning-dress herself, without
the slightest regard for the designs of Miss Chickie; and as it was not
trimmed at all, and had only a black-velvet ribbon at the waist, there
was nothing to place her charming figure at a disadvantage. It could not
be said that her shyness and simplicity delighted Capt. Barold, but, at
least, they did not displease him; and this was really as much as could
"She does not expect a fellow to exert himself, at all events," was his
inward comment; and he did not exert himself.
But, when on the point of taking his departure, he went so far as to make
a very gracious remark to her.
"I hope we shall have the pleasure of seeing you in London for a season,
before very long," he said: "my mother will have great pleasure in taking
charge of you, if Lady Theobald cannot be induced to leave Slowbridge."
"Lucia never goes from home alone," said Lady Theobald; "but I should
certainly be obliged to call upon your mother for her good offices, in
the case of our spending a season in London. I am too old a woman to
alter my mode of life altogether."
In obedience to her ladyship's orders, the venerable landau was brought
to the door; and the two ladies drove to the station with him.
It was during this drive that a very curious incident occurred,--an
incident to which, perhaps, this story owes its existence, since, if it
had not taken place, there might, very possibly, have been no events of a
stirring nature to chronicle. Just as Dobson drove rather slowly up the
part of High Street distinguished by the presence of Miss Belinda
Bassett's house, Capt. Barold suddenly appeared to be attracted by some
figure he discovered in the garden appertaining to that modest structure.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, in an undertone, "there is Miss Octavia."
For the moment he was almost roused to a display of interest. A faint
smile lighted his face, and his cold, handsome eyes slightly brightened.
Lady Theobald sat bolt upright.
"That is Miss Bassett's niece, from America," she said. "Do I understand
you know her?"
Capt. Barold turned to confront her, evidently annoyed at having allowed
a surprise to get the better of him. All expression died out of his face.
"I travelled with her from Framwich to Stamford," he said. "I suppose we
should have reached Slowbridge together, but that I dropped off at
Stamford to get a newspaper, and the train left me behind."
"O grandmamma!" exclaimed Lucia, who had turned to look, "how very pretty
Miss Octavia certainly was amazingly so this morning. She was standing by
a rosebush again, and was dressed in a cashmere morning-robe of the
finest texture and the faintest pink: it had a Watteau plait down the
back, _jabot_ of lace down the front, and the close, high frills of lace
around the throat which seemed to be a weakness with her. Her hair was
dressed high upon her head, and showed to advantage her little ears and
as much of her slim white neck as the frills did not conceal.
But Lady Theobald did not share Lucia's enthusiasm.
"She looks like an actress," she said. "If the trees were painted canvas
and the roses artificial, one might have some patience with her. That
kind of thing is scarcely what we expect in Slowbridge."
Then she turned to Barold.
"I had the pleasure of meeting her yesterday, not long after she
arrived," she said. "She had diamonds in her ears as big as peas, and
rings to match. Her manner is just what one might expect from a young
woman brought up among gold-diggers and silver-miners."
"It struck me as being a very unique and interesting manner," said Capt.
Barold. "It is chiefly noticeable for a _sang-froid_ which might be
regarded as rather enviable. She was good enough to tell me all about her
papa and the silver-mines, and I really found the conversation
"It is scarcely customary for English young women to confide in their
masculine travelling companions to such an extent," remarked my lady
"She did not confide in me at all," said Barold. "Therein lay her
attraction. One cannot submit to being 'confided in' by a strange young
woman, however charming. This young lady's remarks were flavored solely
with an adorably cool candor. She evidently did not desire to appeal to
any emotion whatever."
And as he leaned back in his seat, he still looked at the picturesque
figure which they had passed, as if he would not have been sorry to see
it turn its head toward him.
In fact, it seemed that, notwithstanding his usual good fortune, Capt.
Barold was doomed this morning to make remarks of a nature objectionable
to his revered relation. On their way they passed Mr. Burmistone's mill,
which was at work in all its vigor, with a whir and buzz of machinery,
and a slight odor of oil in its surrounding atmosphere.
"Ah!" said Mr. Barold, putting his single eyeglass into his eye, and
scanning it after the manner of experts. "I did not think you had any
thing of that sort here. Who put it up?"
"The man's name," replied Lady Theobald severely, "is Burmistone."
"Pretty good idea, isn't it?" remarked Barold. "Good for the place--and
all that sort of thing."
"To my mind," answered my lady, "it is the worst possible thing which
could have happened."
Mr. Francis Barold dropped his eyeglass dexterously, and at once lapsed
into his normal condition--which was a condition by no means favorable
"Think so?" he said slowly. "Pity, isn't it, under the circumstances?"
And really there was nothing at all for her ladyship to do but preserve a
lofty silence. She had scarcely recovered herself when they reached the
station, and it was necessary to say farewell as complacently as
"We will hope to see you again before many days," she said with dignity,
if not with warmth.
Mr. Francis Barold was silent for a second, and a slightly reflective
expression flitted across his face.
"Thanks, yes," he said at last. "Certainly. It is easy to come down, and
I should like to see more of Slowbridge."
When the train had puffed in and out of the station, and Dobson was
driving down High Street again, her ladyship's feelings rather got the
better of her.
"If Belinda Bassett is a wise woman," she remarked, "she will take my
advice, and get rid of this young lady as soon as possible. It appears to
me," she continued, with exalted piety, "that every well-trained English
girl has reason to thank her Maker that she was born in a civilized
"Perhaps," suggested Lucia softly, "Miss Octavia Bassett has had no one
to train her at all; and it may be that--that she even feels it deeply."
The feathers in her ladyship's bonnet trembled.
"She does not feel it at all!" she announced. "She is an
SHARES LOOKING UP.
There were others who echoed her ladyship's words afterward, though they
echoed them privately, and with more caution than my lady felt necessary.
It is certain that Miss Octavia Bassett did not improve as time
progressed, and she had enlarged opportunities for studying the noble
example set before her by Slowbridge.
On his arrival in New York, Martin Bassett telegraphed to his daughter
and sister, per Atlantic cable, informing them that he might be detained
a couple of months, and bidding them to be of good cheer. The arrival of
the message in its official envelope so alarmed Miss Belinda, that she
was supported by Mary Anne while it was read to her by Octavia, who
received it without any surprise whatever. For some time after its
completion, Slowbridge had privately disbelieved in the Atlantic cable,
and, until this occasion, had certainly disbelieved in the existence of
people who received messages through it. In fact, on first finding that
she was the recipient of such a message, Miss Belinda had made immediate
preparations for fainting quietly away, being fully convinced that a
shipwreck had occurred, which had resulted in her brother's death, and
that his executors had chosen this delicate method of breaking the news.
"A message by Atlantic cable?" she had gasped. "Don't--don't read it, my
love. L-let some one else do that. Poor--poor child! Trust in Providence,
my love, and--and bear up. Ah, how I wish I had a stronger mind, and
could be of more service to you!"
"It's a message from father," said Octavia. "Nothing is the matter. He's
all right. He got in on Saturday."
"Ah!" panted Miss Belinda. "Are you _quite_ sure, my dear--are you quite
"That's what he says. Listen."
"Got in Saturday. Piper met me. Shares looking up. May be kept here two
months. Will write. Keep up your spirits. MARTIN BASSETT."
"Thank Heaven!" sighed Miss Belinda. "Thank Heaven!"
"Why?" said Octavia.
"Why?" echoed Miss Belinda. "Ah, my dear, if you knew how terrified I
was! I felt sure that something had happened. A _cable_ message, my dear!
I never received a telegram in my life before, and to receive a _cable_
message was really a _shock_."
"Well, I don't see why," said Octavia. "It seems to me it is pretty much
like any other message."
Miss Belinda regarded her timidly.
"Does your papa _often_ send them?" she inquired. "Surely it must be
"I don't suppose it's cheap," Octavia replied, "but it saves time and
worry. I should have had to wait twelve days for a letter."
"Very true," said Miss Belinda, "but"--
She broke off with rather a distressed shake of the head. Her simple
ideas of economy and quiet living were frequently upset in these times.
She had begun to regard her niece with a slight feeling of awe; and yet
Octavia had not been doing any thing at all remarkable in her own eyes,
and considered her life pretty dull.
If the elder Miss Bassett, her parents and grandparents, had not been so
thoroughly well known, and so universally respected; if their social
position had not been so firmly established, and their quiet lives not
quite so highly respectable,--there is an awful possibility that
Slowbridge might even have gone so far as not to ask Octavia out to tea
at all. But even Lady Theobald felt that it would not do to slight
Belinda Bassett's niece and guest. To omit the customary state teas
would have been to crush innocent Miss Belinda at a blow, and place
her--through the medium of this young lady, who alone deserved
condemnation--beyond the pale of all social law.
"It is only to be regretted," said her ladyship, "that Belinda Bassett
has not arranged things better. Relatives of such an order are certainly
to be deplored."
In secret Lucia felt much soft-hearted sympathy for both Miss Bassett and
her guest. She could not help wondering how Miss Belinda became
responsible for the calamity which had fallen upon her. It really did not
seem probable that she had been previously consulted as to the kind of
niece she desired, or that she had, in a distinct manner, evinced a
preference for a niece of this description.
"Perhaps, dear grandmamma," the girl ventured, "it is because Miss
Octavia Bassett is so young that"--
"May I ask," inquired Lady Theobald, in fell tones, "how old you are?"
"I was nineteen in--in December."
"Miss Octavia Bassett," said her ladyship, "was nineteen last October,
and it is now June. I have not yet found it necessary to apologize for
you on the score of youth."
But it was her ladyship who took the initiative, and set an evening for
entertaining Miss Belinda and her niece, in company with several other
ladies, with the best bohea, thin bread and butter, plum-cake, and
various other delicacies.
"What do they do at such places?" asked Octavia. "Half-past five is
"We spend some time at the tea-table, my dear," explained Miss Belinda.
"And afterward we--we converse. A few of us play whist. I do not. I feel
as if I were not clever enough, and I get flurried too easily by--by
differences of opinion."
"I should think it wasn't very exciting," said Octavia. "I don't fancy
I ever went to an entertainment where they did nothing but drink tea,
"It is not our intention or desire to be exciting, my dear," Miss Belinda
replied with mild dignity. "And an improving conversation is frequently
most beneficial to the parties engaged in it."
"I'm afraid," Octavia observed, "that I never heard much improving
She was really no fonder of masculine society than the generality of
girls; but she could not help wondering if there would be any young men
present, and if, indeed, there were any young men in Slowbridge who might
possibly be produced upon festive occasions, even though ordinarily kept
in the background. She had not heard Miss Belinda mention any masculine
name so far, but that of the curate of St. James's; and, when she had
seen him pass the house, she had not found his slim, black figure, and
faint, ecclesiastic whiskers, especially interesting.
It must be confessed that Miss Belinda suffered many pangs of anxiety in
looking forward to her young kinswoman's first appearance in society. A
tea at Lady Theobald's house constituted formal presentation to the
Slowbridge world. Each young lady within the pale of genteel society,
having arrived at years of discretion, on returning home from
boarding-school, was invited to tea at Oldclough Hall. During an entire
evening she was the subject of watchful criticism. Her deportment was
remarked, her accomplishments displayed, she performed her last new
"pieces" upon the piano, she was drawn into conversation by her hostess;
and upon the timid modesty of her replies, and the reverence of her
listening attitudes, depended her future social status. So it was very
natural indeed that Miss Belinda should be anxious.
"I would wear something rather quiet and--and simple, my dear Octavia,"
she said. "A white muslin perhaps, with blue ribbons."
"Would you?" answered Octavia. Then, after appearing to reflect upon the
matter a few seconds, "I've got one that would do, if it's warm enough
to wear it. I bought it in New York, but it came from Paris. I've never
worn it yet."
"It would be nicer than any thing else, my love," said Miss Belinda,
delighted to find her difficulty so easily disposed of. "Nothing is so
charming in the dress of a young girl as pure simplicity. Our Slowbridge
young ladies rarely wear any thing but white for evening. Miss Chickie
assured me, a few weeks ago, that she had made fifteen white-muslin
dresses, all after one simple design of her own."
"I shouldn't think that was particularly nice, myself," remarked Octavia
impartially. "I should be glad one of the fifteen didn't belong to me. I
should feel as if people might say, when I came into a room, 'Good
gracious, there's another!'"
"The first was made for Miss Lucia Gaston, who is Lady Theobald's niece,"
replied Miss Belinda mildly. "And there are few young ladies in
Slowbridge who would not emulate her example."
"Oh!" said Octavia, "I dare say she is very nice, and all that; but I
don't believe I should care to copy her dresses. I think I should draw
the line there."
But she said it without any ill-nature; and, sensitive as Miss Belinda
was upon the subject of her cherished ideals, she could not take offence.
When the eventful evening arrived, there was excitement in more than one
establishment upon High Street and the streets in its vicinity. The
stories of the diamonds, the gold-diggers, and the silver-mines, had been
added to, and embellished, in the most ornate and startling manner. It
was well known that only Lady Theobald's fine appreciation of Miss
Belinda Bassett's feelings had induced her to extend her hospitalities to
that lady's niece.
"I would prefer, my dear," said more than one discreet matron to her
daughter, as they attired themselves,--"I would much prefer that you
would remain near me during the earlier part of the evening, before we
know how this young lady may turn out. Let your manner toward her be
kind, but not familiar. It is well to be upon the safe side."
What precise line of conduct it was generally anticipated that this
gold-digging and silver-mining young person would adopt, it would be
difficult to say: it is sufficient that the general sentiments regarding
her were of a distrustful, if not timorous, nature.
To Miss Bassett, who felt all this in the very air she breathed, the
girl's innocence of the condition of affairs was even a little touching.
With all her splendor, she was not at all hard to please, and had quite
awakened to an interest in the impending social event. She seemed in good
spirits, and talked more than was her custom, giving Miss Belinda graphic
descriptions of various festal gatherings she had attended in New York,
when she seemed to have been very gay indeed, and to have worn very
beautiful dresses, and also to have had rather more than her share of
partners. The phrases she used, and the dances she described, were all
strange to Miss Belinda, and tended to reducing her to a bewildered
condition, in which she felt much timid amazement at the intrepidity of
the New-York young ladies, and no slight suspicion of the "German"--as a
theatrical kind of dance, involving extraordinary figures, and an
extraordinary amount of attention from partners of the stronger sex.
It must be admitted, however, that by this time, notwithstanding the
various shocks she had received, Miss Belinda had begun to discover in
her young guest divers good qualities which appealed to her
affectionate and susceptible old heart. In the first place, the girl
had no small affectations: indeed, if she had been less unaffected she
might have been less subject to severe comment. She was good-natured,
and generous to extravagance. Her manner toward Mary Anne never ceased
to arouse Miss Belinda to interest. There was not any condescension
whatever in it, and yet it could not be called a vulgarly familiar
manner: it was rather an astonishingly simple manner, somehow
suggestive of a subtile recognition of Mary Anne's youth, and ill-luck
in not having before her more lively prospects. She gave Mary Anne
presents in the shape of articles of clothing at which Slowbridge
would have exclaimed in horror if the recipient had dared to wear them;
but, when Miss Belinda expressed her regret at these indiscretions,
Octavia was quite willing to rectify her mistakes.
"Ah, well!" she said, "I can give her some money, and she can buy some
things for herself." Which she proceeded to do; and when, under her
mistress's direction, Mary Anne purchased a stout brown merino, she took
quite an interest in her struggles at making it.
"I wouldn't make it so short in the waist and so full in the skirt, if I
were you," she said. "There's no reason why it shouldn't fit, you know,"
thereby winning the house-maiden's undying adoration, and adding much to
the shapeliness of the garment.
"I am sure she has a good heart," Miss Belinda said to herself, as the
days went by. "She is like Martin in that. I dare say she finds me very
ignorant and silly. I often see in her face that she is unable to
understand my feeling about things; but she never seems to laugh at me,
nor think of me unkindly. And she is very, very pretty, though perhaps I
ought not to think of that at all."
As the good little spinster was arraying herself on this particular
evening, having laid upon the bed the greater portion of her modest
splendor, she went to her wardrobe, and took therefrom the scored bandbox
containing her best cap. All the ladies of Slowbridge wore caps; and all
being respectfully plagiarized from Lady Theobald, without any reference
to age, size, complexion, or demeanor, the result was sometimes a little
trying. Lady Theobald's head-dresses were of a severe and bristling
order. The lace of which they were composed was induced by some ingenious
device to form itself into aggressive quillings, the bows seemed lined
with buckram, the strings neither floated nor fluttered.
"To a majestic person the style is very appropriate," Miss Belinda had
said to Octavia that very day; "but to one who is not so, it is rather
trying. Sometimes, indeed, I have _almost_ wished that Miss Chickie would
vary a _little_ more in her designs."
Perhaps the sight of the various articles contained in two of the five
trunks had inspired these doubts in the dear old lady's breast: it is
certain, at least, that, as she took the best cap up, a faint sigh
fluttered upon her lips.
"It is very large for a small person," she said. "And I am not at all
sure that amber is becoming to me."
And just at that moment there came a tap at the door, which she knew was
She laid the cap back, in some confusion at being surprised in a moment
"Come in, my love," she said.
Octavia pushed the door open, and came in. She had not dressed yet, and
had on her wrapper and slippers, which were both of quilted gray silk,
gayly embroidered with carnations. But Miss Belinda had seen both wrapper
and slippers before, and had become used to their sumptuousness: what she
had not seen was the trifle the girl held in her hand. "See here," she
said. "See what I have been making for you!"
She looked quite elated, and laughed triumphantly.
"I did not know I could do it until I tried," she said. "I had seen some
in New York, and I had the lace by me. And I have enough left to make
ruffles for your neck and wrists. It's Mechlin."
"My dear!" exclaimed Miss Belinda. "My dear!"
Octavia laughed again.
"Don't you know what it is?" she said. "It isn't like a Slowbridge cap;
but it's a cap, nevertheless. They wear them like this in New York, and I
think they are ever so much prettier."
It was true that it was not like a Slowbridge cap, and was also true that
it was prettier. It was a delicate affair of softly quilled lace, adorned
here and there with loops of pale satin ribbon.
"Let me try it on," said Octavia, advancing; and in a minute she had done
so, and turned Miss Bassett about to face herself in the glass. "There!"
she said. "Isn't that better than--well, than emulating Lady Theobald?"
It was so pretty and so becoming, and Miss Belinda was so touched by the
girl's innocent enjoyment, that the tears came into her eyes.
"My--my love," she faltered, "it is so beautiful, and so expensive,
that--though indeed I don't know how to thank you--I am afraid I should
not dare to wear it."
"Oh!" answered Octavia, "that's nonsense, you know. I'm sure there's no
reason why people shouldn't wear becoming things. Besides, I should be
awfully disappointed. I didn't think I could make it, and I'm real proud
of it. You don't know how becoming it is!"
Miss Belinda looked at her reflection, and faltered. It was becoming.
"My love," she protested faintly, "real Mechlin! There is really no such
lace in Slowbridge."
"All the better," said Octavia cheerfully. "I'm glad to hear that. It
isn't one bit too nice for you."
To Miss Belinda's astonishment, she drew a step nearer to her, and gave
one of the satin loops a queer, caressing little touch, which actually
seemed to mean something. And then suddenly the girl stooped, with a
little laugh, and gave her aunt a light kiss on her cheek.
"There!" she said. "You must take it from me for a present. I'll go and
make the ruffles this minute; and you must wear those too, and let people
see how stylish you can be."
And, without giving Miss Bassett time to speak, she ran out of the room,
and left the dear old lady warmed to the heart, tearful, delighted,
A coach from the Blue Lion had been ordered to present itself at a
quarter past five, promptly; and at the time specified it rattled up to
the door with much spirit,--with so much spirit, indeed, that Miss
Belinda was a little alarmed.
"Dear, dear!" she said. "I hope the driver will be able to control the
horse, and will not allow him to go too fast. One hears of such terrible
Then Mary Anne was sent to announce the arrival of the equipage to Miss
Octavia, and, having performed the errand, came back beaming with smiles.
"Oh, mum," she exclaimed, "you never see nothin' like her! Her gownd is
'evingly. An' lor'! how you do look yourself, to be sure!"
Indeed, the lace ruffles on her "best" black silk, and the little cap on
her smooth hair, had done a great deal for Miss Bassett; and she had only
just been reproaching herself for her vanity in recognizing this fact.
But Mary Anne's words awakened a new train of thought.
"Is--is Miss Octavia's dress a showy one, Mary Anne?" she inquired. "Dear
me, I do hope it is not a showy dress!"
"I never see nothin' no eleganter, mum," said Mary Anne: "she wants
nothin' but a veil to make a bride out of her--an' a becominer thing she
never has wore."
They heard the soft sweep of skirts at that moment, and Octavia came in.
"There!" she said, stopping when she had reached the middle of the room.
"Is that simple enough?" Miss Belinda could only look at her helplessly.
The "white muslin" was composed almost entirely of Valenciennes lace; the
blue ribbons were embroidered with field-daisies; the air of delicate
elaborateness about the whole was something which her innocent mind could
not have believed possible in orthodox white and blue.
"I don't think I should call it exactly simple," she said. "My love, what
a quantity of lace!"
Octavia glanced down at her _jabots_ and frills complacently.
"There _is_ a good deal of it," she remarked; "but then, it is nice, and
one can stand a good deal of nice Valenciennes on white. They said Worth
made the dress. I hope he did. It cost enough. The ribbon was embroidered
by hand, I suppose. And there is plenty of it cut up into these bows."
There was no more to be said. Miss Belinda led the way to the coach,
which they entered under the admiring or critical eyes of several most
respectable families, who had been lying in wait behind their
window-curtains since they had been summoned there by the sound of
As the vehicle rattled past the boarding-school, all the young ladies in
the first class rushed to the window. They were rewarded for their zeal
by a glimpse of a cloud of muslin and lace, a charmingly dressed
yellow-brown head, and a pretty face, whose eyes favored them with a
frank stare of interest.
"She had diamonds in her ears!" cried Miss Phipps, wildly excited. "I saw
them flash. Ah, how I should like to see her without her wraps! I have no
doubt she is a perfect blaze!"
ANNOUNCING MR. BAROLD.
Lady Theobald's invited guests sat in the faded blue drawing-room,
waiting. Everybody had been unusually prompt, perhaps because
everybody wished to be on the ground in time to see Miss Octavia
Bassett make her entrance.
"I should think it would be rather a trial, even to such a girl as she is
said to be," remarked one matron.
"It is but natural that she should feel that Lady Theobald will regard
her rather critically, and that she should know that American manners
will hardly be the thing for a genteel and conservative English country
"We saw her a few days ago," said Lucia, who chanced to hear this
speech, "and she is very pretty. I think I never saw any one so very
"But in quite a theatrical way, I think, my dear," the matron replied, in
a tone of gentle correction.
"I have seen so very few theatrical people," Lucia answered sweetly,
"that I scarcely know what the theatrical way is, dear Mrs. Burnham. Her
dress was very beautiful, and not like what we wear in Slowbridge; but
she seemed to me to be very bright and pretty, in a way quite new to me,
and so just a little odd."
"I have heard that her dress is most extravagant and wasteful," put in
Miss Pilcher, whose educational position entitled her to the
condescending respect of her patronesses. "She has lace on her morning
"Miss Bassett and Miss Octavia Bassett," announced Dobson, throwing
open the door.
Lady Theobald rose from her seat. A slight rustle made itself heard
through the company, as the ladies all turned toward the entrance; and,
after they had so turned, there were evidences of a positive thrill.
Before the eyes of all, Belinda Bassett advanced with rich ruffles of
Mechlin at her neck and wrists, with a delicate and distinctly novel cap
upon her head, her niece following her with an unabashed face, twenty
pounds' worth of lace on her dress, and unmistakable diamonds in her
"There is not a _shadow_ of timidity about her," cried Mrs. Burnham under
her breath. "This is actual boldness."
But this was a very severe term to use, notwithstanding that it was born
of righteous indignation. It was not boldness at all: it was only the
serenity of a young person who was quite unconscious that there was any
thing to fear in the rather unimposing party before her. Octavia was
accustomed to entering rooms full of strangers. She had spent several
years of her life in hotels, where she had been stared out of countenance
by a few score new people every day. She was even used to being, in some
sort, a young person of note. It was nothing unusual for her to know that
she was being pointed out. "That pretty blonde," she often heard it said,
"is Martin Bassett's daughter: sharp fellow, Bassett,--and lucky fellow
too; more money than he can count."
So she was not at all frightened when she walked in behind Miss Belinda.
She glanced about her cheerfully, and, catching sight of Lucia, smiled at
her as she advanced up the room. The call of state Lady Theobald had made
with her grand-daughter had been a very brief one; but Octavia had taken
a decided fancy to Lucia, and was glad to see her again.
"I am glad to see you, Belinda," said her ladyship, shaking hands. "And
you also, Miss Octavia."
"Thank you," responded Octavia.
"You are very kind," Miss Belinda murmured gratefully.
"I hope you are both well?" said Lady Theobald with majestic
condescension, and in tones to be heard all over the room.
"Quite well, thank you," murmured Miss Belinda again. "_Very_ well
indeed;" rather as if this fortunate state of affairs was the result of
her ladyship's kind intervention with the fates.
She felt terribly conscious of being the centre of observation, and
rather overpowered by the novelty of her attire, which was plainly
creating a sensation. Octavia, however, who was far more looked at, was
entirely oblivious of the painful prominence of her position. She
remained standing in the middle of the room, talking to Lucia, who had
approached to greet her. She was so much taller than Lucia, that she
looked very tall indeed by contrast, and also very wonderfully dressed.
Lucia's white muslin was one of Miss Chickie's fifteen, and was, in a
"genteel" way, very suggestive of Slowbridge. Suspended from Octavia's
waist by a long loop of the embroidered ribbon, was a little round fan,
of downy pale-blue feathers, and with this she played as she talked; but
Lucia, having nothing to play with, could only stand with her little
hands hanging at her sides.
"I have never been to an afternoon tea like this before," Octavia said.
"It is nothing like a kettle-drum."
"I am not sure that I know what a kettle-drum is," Lucia answered. "They
have them in London, I think; but I have never been to London."
"They have them in New York," said Octavia; "and they are a crowded sort
of afternoon parties, where ladies go in carriage-toilet, not evening
dress. People are rushing in and out all the time."
Lucia glanced around the room and smiled.
"That is very unlike this," she remarked.
"Well," said Octavia, "I should think that, after all, this might be
Which was very civil.
Lucia glanced around again--this time rather stealthily--at Lady
Theobald. Then she glanced back at Octavia.
"But it isn't," she said, in an undertone.
Octavia began to laugh. They were on a new and familiar footing from
"I said 'it might,'" she answered.
She was not afraid, any longer, of finding the evening stupid. If there
were no young men, there was at least a young woman who was in sympathy
with her. She said,--
"I hope that I shall behave myself pretty well, and do the things I am
expected to do."
"Oh!" said Lucia, with a rather alarmed expression, "I hope so. I--I am
afraid you would not be comfortable if you didn't."
Octavia opened her eyes, as she often did at Miss Belinda's remarks, and
then suddenly she began to laugh again.
"What would they do?" she said disrespectfully. "Would they turn me out,
without giving me any tea?"
Lucia looked still more frightened.
"Don't let them see you laughing," she said. "They--they will say you
"Giddy!" replied Octavia. "I don't think there is any thing to make me
"If they say you are giddy," said Lucia, "your fate will be sealed; and,
if you are to stay here, it really will be better to try to please them
Octavia reflected a moment.
"I don't mean to _dis_please them," she said, "unless they are very
easily displeased. I suppose I don't think very much about what people
are saying of me. I don't seem to notice."
"Will you come now and let me introduce Miss Egerton and her sister?"
suggested Lucia hurriedly. "Grandmamma is looking at us."
In the innocence of her heart Octavia glanced at Lady Theobald, and
saw that she was looking at them, and with a disapproving air. "I
wonder what that's for?" she said to herself; but she followed Lucia
across the room.
She made the acquaintance of the Misses Egerton, who seemed rather
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