Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 2 out of 7
'Come in here, dear Miss Headworth,' said Mary, gently drawing her
arm into hers, for the poor old lady could hardly stand for
trembling, and bidding Gerard open the door of her own house with the
She took them into the dining-room, so as not to disturb her mother,
sent Gerard off after Mr. Dutton in the very uttermost astonishment
and bewilderment, and set Miss Headworth down in an easy-chair, where
she recovered herself, under Mary's soothing care, enough to tell her
story in spite of Nuttie's exclamations. 'Wait! wait, Nuttie! You
mustn't burst in on them so! No, you need not be afraid. Don't be a
silly child! He won't hurt her! Oh no! They are quite delighted to
'Delighted to meet?' said Nuttie, as if transfixed.
'Yes,' said her aunt. 'Oh yes, I always knew the poor child cared
for him and tried to believe in him all along. He only had to say
'I wouldn't,' cried the girl, her eyes flashing. 'Why didn't you ask
him how he could desert her and leave her?'
'My dear! how can one come between husband and wife? Oh, my poor
'How was it, how did they meet, dear Miss Headworth?' asked Mary,
administering the wine she had been pouring out.
'You hadn't been gone half an hour, Alice was reading to me, and I
was just dozing, when in came Louisa. "A gentleman to see Mrs.
Egremont," she said, and there he was just behind. We rose up--she
did not know him at once, but he just said "Edda, my little Edda,
sweeter than ever, I knew you at once," or something of that sort,
and she gave one little cry of "I knew you would come," and sprang
right into his arms. I--well, I meant to make him understand how he
had treated her, but just as I began "Sir"--he came at me with his
'You didn't take it, aunt, I hope?' cried Nuttie.
'My dear, when you see him, you will know how impossible it is. He
_has_ that high-bred manner it is as if he were conferring a favour.
"Miss Headworth, I conclude," said he, "a lady to whom I owe more
than I can express." Just as if I had done it for his sake.' Miss
Nugent felt this open expression dangerous on account of the
daughter, and she looked her consternation at Mr. Dutton, who had
quietly entered, ruthlessly shutting Gerard Godfrey out with only
such a word of explanation as could be given on the way.
'Then he comes with--with favourable intentions,' said Mary, putting
as much admonition as she could into her voice.
'Oh! no doubt of that,' said Miss Headworth, drawing herself
together. 'He spoke of the long separation,--said he had never been
able to find her, till the strange chance of his nephew stumbling on
her at Abbots Norton.'
'That is--possib--probably true,' said Mr. Dutton.
'It can't be,' broke in Nuttie. 'He never troubled himself about it
till his nephew found the papers. You said so, Aunt Ursel! He is a
dreadful traitor of a man, just like Marmion, or Theseus, or
Lancelot, and now he is telling lies about it! Don't look at me.
Aunt Ursel, they are lies, and I _will_ say it, and he took in poor
dear mother once, and now he is taking her in again, and I can't bear
that he should be my father!'
It was so entirely true, yet so shocking to hear from her mouth, that
all three stood aghast, as she stood with heaving chest, crimson
cheeks, and big tears in her eyes. Miss Headworth only muttered,
'Oh, my poor child, you mustn't!'
Mr. Dutton prevented another passionate outburst by his tone of
grave, gentle authority. 'Listen a moment, Ursula,' he said. 'It is
unhappily true that this man has acted in an unjustifiable way
towards your mother and yourself. But there are, no doubt, many more
excuses for him than you know of, and as I found a few years ago that
the people at Dieppe had lost the address that had been left with
them, he must have found no traces of your mother there. You cannot
understand the difficulties that may have been in his way. And there
is no use, quite the contrary, in making the worst of him. He has
found your mother out, and it seems that he claims her
affectionately, and she forgives and welcomes him--out of the sweet
tenderness of her heart.'
'She may--but I can't,' murmured Nuttie.
'That is not a fit thing for a daughter, nor a Christian, to say,'
Mr. Dutton sternly said.
''Tis not for myself--'tis for her,--'objected Nuttie.
'That's nonsense; a mere excuse,' he returned. 'You have nothing at
all to forgive, since he did not know you were in existence. And as
to your mother, whom you say you put first, what greater grief or
pain can you give her than by showing enmity and resentment against
her husband, when she, the really injured person, loves and
'He's a bad man. If she goes back to him, I know he will make her
'You don't know any such thing, but you do know that your opposition
will make her unhappy. Remember, there's no choice in the matter.
He has legal rights over you both, and since he shows himself ready
(as I understand from Miss Headworth that he is) to give her and you
your proper position, you have nothing to do but to be thankful. I
think myself that it is a great subject of thankfulness that your
mother can return so freely without any bitterness. It is the
blessing of such as she--'
Nuttie stood pouting, but more thoughtful and less violent, as she
said, 'How can I be thankful? I don't want position or anything. I
only want him to let my--my own mother, and aunt, and me alone.'
'Child, you are talking of what you do not understand. You must not
waste any more time in argument. Your mother has sent for you, and
it is your duty to go and let her introduce you to your father. I
have little doubt that you will find him very unlike all your
imagination represents him, but let that be as it may, the fifth
Commandment does not say, "Honour only thy good father," but, "Honour
thy father." Come now, put on your gloves--get her hat right, if you
please, Miss Mary. There--now, come along, be a reasonable creature,
and a good girl, and do not give unnecessary pain and vexation to
your mother.' He gave her his arm, and led her away.
'Well done, Mr. Dutton!' exclaimed Miss Nugent.
'Poor Mr. Dutton!' All Aunt Ursel's discretion could not suppress
that sigh, but Mary prudently let it pass unnoticed, only honouring
in her heart the unselfishness and self-restraint of the man whose
long, patient, unspoken hopes had just received a death-blow.
'Oh, Mary! I never thought it would have been like this!' cried the
poor old lady. 'I ought not to have spoken as I did before the
child, but I was so taken by surprise! Alice turned to him just as
if he had been the most faithful, loving husband in the world. She
is believing every word he says.'
'It is very happy for her that she can,' pleaded Mary.
'So it is, yes, but--when one knows what he is, and what she is! Oh,
Mr. Dutton, is the poor child gone in?'
'Yes, I saw her safe into the room. She was very near running off up
the stairs,' said Mr. Dutton. 'But I daresay she is fascinated by
this time. That sort of man has great power over women.'
'Nuttie is hardly a woman yet,' said Miss Nugent.
'No, but there must be a strong reaction, when she sees something
unlike her compound of Marmion and Theseus.'
'I suppose there is no question but that they must go with him!' said
Miss Headworth wistfully.
'Assuredly. You say he--this Egremont--was affectionate,' said Mr.
Dutton quietly, but Mary saw his fingers white with his tight
clenching of the bar of the chair.
'Oh yes, warmly affectionate, delighted to find her prettier than
ever, poor dear; I suppose he meant it. Heaven forgive me, if I am
judging him too hardly, but I verily believe he went to church to
reconnoitre, and see whether she pleased his fancy--'
'And do you understand,' added Mr. Dutton, 'that he is prepared to do
her full justice, and introduce her to his family and friends as his
wife, on equal terms? Otherwise, even if she were unwilling to stand
up for herself, it would be the duty of her friends to make some
'I am pretty sure that he does,' said the aunt; 'I did not stay long
when I saw that I was not wanted, but I heard him say something about
his having a home for her now, and her cutting out the Redcastle
'Besides, there is the nephew, Mr. Mark Egremont,' said Mary. 'He
will take care of her.'
'Yes,' said Mr. Dutton. 'It appears to be all right. At any rate,
there can be no grounds for interference on our part.'
Mr. Dutton took his leave with these words, wringing Miss Headworth's
hand in mute sympathy, and she, poor old lady, when he was gone,
fairly collapsed into bitter weeping over the uncertain future of
those whom she had loved as her own children, and who now must leave
her desolate. Mary did her best with comfort and sympathy, and
presently took her to share her griefs and fears with gentle old Mrs.
'I do think this lady
To be my child.'-King Lear.
Nuttie, in her fresh holland Sunday dress, worked in crewels with
wild strawberries by her mother's hands, and with a white-trimmed
straw hat, was almost shoved into the little drawing-room by Mr.
Dutton, though he was himself invisible.
Her eyes were in such a daze of tears that she hardly saw more at
first than that some one was there with her mother on the sofa. 'Ah,
there she is!' she heard her mother cry, and both rose. Her mother's
arm was round her waist, her hand was put into another, Mrs.
Egremont's voice, tremulous with exceeding delight, said, 'Our child,
our Ursula, our Nuttie! Oh, this is what I have longed for all these
years! Oh, thanks, thanks!' and her hands left her daughter to be
clasped and uplifted for a moment in fervent thanksgiving, while
Nuttie's hand was held, and a strange hairy kiss, redolent of
tobacco-smoking, was on her forehead--a masculine one, such as she
had never known, except her cousin Mark's, since the old rector died,
and she had grown too big for Mr. Dutton's embraces. It was more
strange than delightful, and yet she felt the polish of the tone that
said, 'We make acquaintance somewhat late, Ursula, but better late
She looked up at this new father, and understood instantly what she
had heard of his being a grand gentleman. There was a high-bred look
about him, an entire ease and perfect manner that made everything he
did or said seem like gracious condescension, and took away the power
of questioning it at the moment. He was not above the middle size,
and was becoming unwieldy; but there was something imposing and even
graceful in his deportment, and his bald narrow forehead looked
aristocratic, set off between side tufts of white hair, white
whiskers, and moustaches waxed into sharp points, Victor Emmanuel
fashion, and a round white curly beard. His eyes were dark, and
looked dull, with yellow unwholesome corners, and his skin was not of
a pleasant colour, but still, with all Nuttie's intentions of
regarding him with horror, she was subdued, partly by the grand
breeding and air of distinction, and partly by the current of
sympathy from her mother's look of perfect happiness and exultation.
She could not help feeling it a favour, almost an undeserved favour,
that so great a personage should say, 'A complete Egremont, I see.
She has altogether the family face.'
'I am so glad you think so,' returned her mother.
'On the whole it is well, but she might have done better to resemble
you, Edda,' he said caressingly; 'but perhaps that would have been
too much for the Earlsforth natives. William's girls will have
enough to endure without a double eclipse!' and he laughed.
'I--I don't want--' faltered the mother.
'You don't want, no, but you can't help it,' he said, evidently with
a proud delight in her beauty. 'Now that I have seen the child,' he
added, 'I will make my way back to the hotel.'
'Will you--won't you stay to tea or dinner?' said his wife, beginning
with an imploring tone which hesitated as she reviewed possible chops
and her aunt's dismay.
'Thank you, I have ordered dinner at the hotel,' he answered, 'and
Gregorio is waiting for me with a cab. No doubt you will wish to
make arrangements with Madame--the old lady--and I will not trouble
her further to-night. I will send down Gregorio to-morrow morning,
to tell you what I arrange. An afternoon train, probably, as we
shall go no farther than London. You say Lady Kirkaldy called on
you. We might return her visit before starting, but I will let you
know when I have looked at the trains. My compliments to Miss
Headworth. Good evening, sweetest.' He held his wife in a fond
embrace, kissing her brow and cheeks and letting her cling to him,
then added, 'Good evening, little one,' with a good-natured careless
gesture with which Nuttie was quite content, for she had a certain
loathing of the caresses that so charmed her mother. And yet the
command to make ready had been given with such easy authority that
the idea of resisting it had never even entered her mind, though she
stood still while her mother went out to the door with him and
watched him to the last.
Coming back, she threw her arms round her daughter, kissed her again
and again, and, with showers of the glad tears long repressed, cried,
'Oh, my Nuttie, my child, what joy! How shall I be thankful enough!
Your father, your dear father! Now it is all right.' Little
sentences of ecstasy such as these, interspersed with caresses, all
in the incoherence of overpowering delight, full of an absolute faith
that the lost husband had loved her and been pining for her all these
years, but that he had been unable to trace her, and was as happy as
she was in the reunion.
The girl was somewhat bewildered, but she was carried along by this
flood of exceeding joy and gladness. The Marmion and Theseus images
had been dispelled by the reality, and, with Mr. Dutton's sharp
reproof fresh upon her, she felt herself to have been doing a great
injustice to her father; believed all that her mother did, and found
herself the object of a romantic recognition--if not the beggar girl
become a princess, at any rate, the little school-teacher a county
lady! And she had never seen her mother so wildly, overpoweringly
happy with joy. That made her, too, feel that something grand and
glorious had happened.
'What are we going to do?' she asked, as the vehemence of Mrs.
Egremont's emotion began to work itself off.
'Home! He takes us to his home! _His_ home!' repeated her mother,
in a trance of joy, as the yearnings of her widowed heart now were
'Oh, but Aunt Ursel!'
'Poor Aunt Ursel! Oh, Nuttie, Nuttie, I had almost forgotten! How
could I?' and there was a shower of tears of compunction. 'But he
said he owed everything to her! She will come with us! Or if she
doesn't live with us, we will make her live close by in a dear little
cottage. Where is she? When did she go? I never saw her go.'
The sound of the front door was heard, for the visitor had been
watched away and Miss Headworth was returning to her own house to be
there received with another fervent gush of happiness, much more
trying to her, poor thing, than to Nuttie.
There was evensong imminent, and the most needful act at the moment
was to compose the harmonium-player sufficiently for her to take her
part. Miss Headworth was really glad of the necessity, since it put
off the discussion, and made a reason for silencing Nuttie until all
should be more recovered from the first agitation. Alice Egremont
herself was glad to carry her gratitude and thankfulness to the
Throne of Grace, and in her voluntary, and all her psalms, there was
an exulting strain that no one had thought the instrument capable of
producing, and that went to the heart of more than one of her
hearers. No one who knew her could doubt that hers was simply
innocent exultation in the recovery of him whom she so entirely loved
and confided in. But there could not but be terrible doubts whether
he were worthy of that trust, and what the new page in her life would
Miss Headworth had said they would not talk till after church, but
there was no deferring the matter then. She was prepared, however,
when her niece came up to her in a tender deprecating manner, saying,
'Aunt Ursel, dear Aunt Ursel, it does seem very ungrateful, but--'
'He is going to take you away? Yes, I saw that. And it ought to be,
my dear. You know where?'
'Yes; to London first, to be fitted out, and then to his own home.
To Bridgefield Egremont. I shall have to see Mr. Egremont,' and her
voice sank with shame. 'But Mark will be good to me, and why should
I care when I have him.'
'It is quite right. I am glad it should be so,' firmly said the old
'And yet to leave you so suddenly.'
'That can't be helped.'
'And it will only be for a little while,' she added, 'till you can
make arrangements to come to us. My dear husband says he owes you
everything. So you must be with us, or close to us.'
'My dear, it's very dear and good of you to think of it, but I must
be independent.' She put it in those words, unwilling again to speak
unguardedly before Nuttie.
'Oh, dear auntie, indeed you must! Think what you are to us, and
what you have done for us. We can't go away to be happy and
prosperous and leave you behind. Can we, Nuttie? Come and help me
to get her to promise. Do--do dearest auntie,' and she began the
coaxing and caressing natural to her, but Nuttie did not join in it,
and Miss Headworth shook her head and said gravely--
'Don't, Alice. It is of no use. I tell you once for all that my
mind is made up.'
Alice, knowing by long experience that, when her aunt spoke in that
tone, persuasion was useless, desisted, but looked at her in
consternation, with eyes swimming in tears. Nuttie understood her a
little better, and felt the prickings of distrust again.
'But, aunt, dear aunt, how can we leave you? What will you do with
all the boarders,' went on Mrs. Egremont.
'I shall see my way, my dear. Do not think about that. It is a
great thing to see you and this child receive justice.'
'And only think, after all the hard things that have been said of
him, that we should meet first at church! He would not wait and send
letters and messages by Mark. You see he came down himself the first
moment. I always knew he would. Only I am so sorry for him, that he
should have lost all those sweet years when Nuttie was a tiny child.
She must do all she can to make up to him.'
'Oh dear!' broke out Nuttie. 'It is so strange! It will be all so
'It will be a very new life,' said her aunt, rather didactically;
'but you must do your best to be a good daughter, and to fill your
new position, and I have no doubt you will enjoy it.'
'If I could but take all with me!' said Nuttie. 'Oh dear! whatever
will you do, Aunt Ursel? Oh mother, the choir! Who will play the
harmonium? and who will lead the girls? and whatever will Mr. Spyers
do? and who will take my class? Mother, couldn't we stay a little
longer to set things going here?'
'It is nice of you to have thought of it, my dear,' said Mrs.
Egremont, 'but your father would not like to stay on here.'
'But mightn't I stay, just a few days, mother, to wish everybody
good-bye? Mr. Dutton, and Miss Mary, and Gerard, and all the girls?'
There was some consolation in this plan, and the three women rested
on it that night, Mrs. Egremont recovering composure enough to write
three or four needful notes, explaining her sudden departure. The
aunt could not talk of a future she so much dreaded for her nieces,
losing in it the thought of her own loneliness; Alice kept back her
own loving, tender, undoubting joy with a curious sense that it was
hard and ungrateful towards the aunt; but it was impossible to think
of that, and Nuttie was in many moods.
Eager anticipation of the new unseen world beyond, exultation in
finding herself somebody, sympathy with her mother's happiness, all
had their share, but they made her all the wilder, because they were
far from unmixed. The instinctive dislike of Mr. Egremont's
countenance, and doubt of his plausible story, which had vanished
before his presence, and her mother's faith, returned upon her from
time to time, caught perhaps from her aunt's tone and looks. Then
her aunt had been like a mother to her--her own mother much more like
a sister, and the quitting her was a wrench not compensated for as in
Mrs. Egremont's case by a more absorbing affection. Moreover, Nuttie
felt sure that poor Gerard Godfrey would break his heart. As the
mother and daughter for the last time lay down together in the room
that had been theirs through the seventeen years of the girl's life,
Alice fell asleep with a look of exquisite peace and content on her
face, feeling her long term of trial crowned by unlooked-for joy,
while Ursula, though respecting her slumbers too much to move, lay
with wide-open eyes, now speculating on the strange future, now
grieving over those she left--Aunt Ursel, Gerard, Mary, and all such;
the schemes from which she was snatched, and then again consoling
herself with the hope that, since she was going to be rich, she could
at once give all that was wanted--the white altar cloth, the brass
pitcher--nay, perhaps finish the church and build the school! For
had not some one said something about her position? Oh yes, she had
not thought of it before, but, since she was the elder brother's
daughter, she must be the heiress! There was no doubt a grand
beautiful story before her; she would withstand all sorts of
fascinations, wicked baronets and earls innumerable, and come back
and take Gerard by the hand, and say, 'Pride was quelled and love was
free.' Not that Gerard had ever uttered a word tending in that
direction since he had been seven years old, but that would make it
all the prettier; they would both be silently constant, till the time
came, perhaps when she was of age. Mother would like it, though
_that_ father would certainly be horrid. And how nice it would be to
give Gerard everything, and they would go all over the Continent, and
see pictures, and buy them, and see all the cathedrals and all the
mountains. But perhaps, since Mark Egremont had really been so
generous in hunting up the cousin who was displacing him, she was
bound in duty to marry him; perhaps he reckoned on her doing so. She
would be generous in her turn, give up all the wealth to him, and
return to do and be everything to Micklethwayte. How they would
admire and bless her. And oh! she was going to London to-morrow--
London, which she so much wished to see--Westminster Abbey, British
Museum, All Saints, National Gallery, no end of new dresses.
Half-waking, half-dreaming, she spent the night which seemed long
enough, and the light hours of the summer morning seemed still
longer, before she could call it a reasonable time for getting up.
Her splashings awoke her mother, who lay smiling for a few moments,
realising and giving thanks for her great joy, then bestirred herself
with the recollection of all that had to be done on this busy morning
before any summons from her husband could arrive.
Combining packing and dressing, like the essentially unmethodical
little woman she was, Mrs. Egremont still had all her beautiful silky
brown hair about her shoulders when the bell of St. Ambrose's was
heard giving its thin tinkling summons to matins at half-past seven.
She was disappointed; she meant to have gone for this last time, but
there was no help for it, and Nuttie set off by herself.
Gerard Godfrey was at his own door. He was not one of the regular
attendants at the short service, being of that modern species that
holds itself superior to 'Cranmer's prayers,' but on this morning he
hastened up to her with outstretched hand.
'And you are going away!' he said.
'I hope to get leave to stay a few days after mother,' she said.
'To prolong the torment?' he said.
'To wish everybody good-bye. It is a great piece of my life that is
come to an end, and I can't bear to break it off so short.'
'And if you feel so, who are going to wealth and pleasure, what must
it be to those who are left behind?'
'Oh!' said Nuttie, 'some one will be raised up. That's what they
always say. '
'I shall go into a brotherhood,' observed Gerard desperately.
'Oh, don't,' began Nuttie, much gratified, but at that moment Miss
Nugent came out at her door, and Mr. Spyers, who was some way in
advance, looked round and waited for them to come up. He held out
his hands to her and said, 'Well, Nuttie, my child, you are going to
begin a new life.'
'Oh dear! I wish I could have both!' cried Nuttie, not very
relevantly as far as the words
'Scheiden und weiden thut weh!' quoted Mary.
'If his place was only Monks Horton. What will Aunt Ursel do?'
'I think perhaps she may be induced to join us,' said Mary. 'We mean
to do our best to persuade her.'
'And there's the choir! And my class, and the harmonium,' went on
Nuttie, while Gerard walked on disconsolately.
'Micklethwayte has existed without you, Nuttie,' said Mr. Spyers,
taking her on with him alone. 'Perhaps it will be able to do so
again. My dear, you had better look on. There will be plenty for
you to learn and to do where you are going, and you will be sure to
find much to enjoy, and also something to bear. I should like to
remind you that the best means of going on well in this new world
will be to keep self down and to have the strong desire that only
love can give to be submissive, and to do what is right both to God
and your father and mother. May I give you a text to take with you?
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."'
They were at the door and there was no time for an answer, but
Nuttie, as she took her place, was partly touched and partly fretted
at the admonition.
The question as to her remaining a day or two after her mother was
soon disposed of. Mrs. Egremont sent a pretty little note to make
the request, but the elegant valet who appeared at ten o'clock
brought a verbal message that his master wished Mrs. and Miss
Egremont to be ready by two o'clock to join him in calling on Lady
Kirkaldy at Monks Horton, and that if their luggage was ready by four
o'clock, he (Gregorio) would take charge of it, as they were all to
go up to town by the 4.40 train.
'Did he have my note?' faltered Alice, stimulated by the imploring
glances of aunt and daughter, but anticipating the answer.
'Yes, madame, but he wishes that Miss Egremont should accompany you
'Of course,' was Alice's comment, 'now that he has found his child,
he cannot bear to part with her.'
And all through the farewells that almost rent the gentle Alice's
heart in two, she was haunted by the terror that she or her daughter
should have red eyes to vex her husband. As to Mr. Dutton, he had
only come in with Gerard in a great hurry just after breakfast, said
there was much to do to-day at the office, as they were going to take
stock, and they should neither of them have time to come home to
luncheon. He shook the hands of mother and daughter heartily,
promised to 'look after' Miss Headworth, and bore off in his train
young Gerard, looking the picture of woe, and muttering 'I believe he
has got it up on purpose;' while mother and daughter thought it very
odd, and rather unkind.
'And ye sall walk in silk attire,
And siller hae to spare.'--Old Ballad.
The very best open fly and pair of horses, being the equipage most
like a private carriage possessed by the Royal Hotel, came to the
door with Mr. Egremont seated in it, at a few minutes after two
o'clock, and found Alice in her only black silk, with a rose in her
bonnet, and a tie to match on her neck, hastily procured as signs of
She had swallowed her tears, and Nuttie was not a crying person, but
was perfectly scarlet on her usually brown cheeks. Her father
muttered some civility about back seats, but it was plain that it was
only in words, and she never thought of anything but looking back,
with her last wave to her aunt and the two maids, one crying at the
gate, the other at the door.
'There,' said Mr. Egremont, as they drove away, 'that is over!'
'My dear aunt,' said his wife. 'Who can express her goodness to me?'
'Cela va sans dire,' was the reply. 'But these are connections that
happily Ursula is young enough to forget and leave behind.'
'I shall never forget!' began Nuttie, but she saw her father
composing himself in his corner without paying the slightest heed to
what she was saying, and she encountered a warning and alarmed glance
from her mother, so she was forced to content herself with uttering
silent vows of perpetual recollection as she passed each well-known
object,--the unfinished church, with Mr. Spyers at the door talking
to old Bellman; the Town Hall, whose concerts, lectures, and S. P. G.
meetings had been her chief gaiety and excitement; the School of Art,
where Lady Kirkaldy's appearance now seemed to her to have been like
that of a bird of omen; past the shops in the High Street, with a
little exultation at the thought of past desires which they had
excited. Long could she have rattled away, her hopes contradicting
her regrets, and her regrets qualifying her anticipations, but she
saw that her mother was nervous about every word and gesture, and
fairly looked dismayed when she exclaimed, 'Oh, mother, there's Etta
Smith; how surprised she will be!' bowing and smiling with all her
There was a look of bare toleration on Mr. Egremont's face, as if he
endured because it would soon be over, as Nuttie bowed several times,
and his wife, though less quick to catch people's eyes, sometimes
also made her recognition. When the streets were past and Nuttie had
aimed her last nods at the nursery parties out walking on the road,
she became aware that those cold, lack-lustre, and yet sharply
critical eyes of her father were scanning her all over.
'She has been educated?' he presently said to his wife.
'Oh yes,' was the eager answer. 'She is in the highest form at the
High School, and has to go up for the Senior Local Examination. Miss
Belper makes sure that she will get a first class.'
Mr. Egremont gave a little wave of the hand, as dismissing something
superfluous, and said, 'I hope she has some accomplishments.'
'She has done very fairly in French and German--'
'And Latin,' put in Ursula.
'And she has had several prizes at the School of Art.'
'And music? That's the only thing of any value in society,' he said
impatiently, and Mrs. Egremont said more timidly, 'She has learnt
'But I don't care about it,' broke in Nuttie. 'I haven't mother's
ear nor her voice. I learnt the science in case I should have to
teach, and they make me practise. I don't mind classical music, but
I can't stand rubbish, and I think it is waste of time.'
Mr. Egremont looked fairly amused, as at the outspoken folly of an
enfant terrible, but he only said, either to his wife or to himself,
'A little polish, and then she may be fairly presentable. '
'We have taken great pains with her,' answered the gentle mother,
evidently taking this as a great compliment, while the daughter was
tingling with indignation. She, bred up by mother, and aunt, and
Mary Nugent, to be barely presentable. Was not their society at
Micklethwayte equal in good manners to any, and superior, far
superior, in goodness and intelligence to these stupid fashionable
people, who undervalued all her real useful acquirements, and cared
for nothing but trumpery music.
The carriage entered the park, and Nuttie saw lake and woods from a
fresh point of view. The owners were both at home, and Nuttie found
herself walking behind her parents into a cheerful apartment, half
library, half morning-room. Mrs. Egremont was by far the most shy
and shrinking of the party, but it was an occasion that showed her
husband's complete tact and savoir favre. He knew perfectly well
that the Kirkaldys knew all about it, and he therefore took the
initiative. 'You are surprised to see us,' he said, as he gave his
hand, 'but we could not leave the country without coming to thank
Lady Kirkaldy for her kindness in assisting in following up the clue
to Mrs. Egremont's residence.'
'I am very happy,' said Lady Kirkaldy, while all were being seated.
'I think it was here that my nephew Mark first met one whom, child as
he was, he could not but remember.'
'I don't think you met him here,' said Lady Kirkaldy to Mrs.
Egremont; 'but he heard the name and was struck by it.'
'Dear Mark!' was the response. 'He was so kind.'
'He is a dear good boy,' chimed in my lady.
'Yes,' said her lord, 'an excellent good fellow with plenty of
'As he well knows,' said Mr. Egremont. 'Oh yes; I quite agree with
all you say of him! One ought to be thankful for the possession of a
It was in the tone in which Falstaff discussed that sober boy, Lord
John of Lancaster. Lord Kirkaldy asked if the visitors were going to
remain long in the neighbourhood.
'We are due in London to-night,' replied Mr. Egremont. 'We shall
spend a day or two there, and then go home. Alice,' he added, though
his wife had never heard him call her so before, 'Lady Kirkaldy knows
your inexperience. Perhaps she would be good enough to give you some
addresses that might be useful.'
'I shall be delighted,' said the lady, cordially looking at the
blushing Mrs. Egremont.
'Dressmaker, and all the rest of it,' said Mr. Egremont. 'You know
better than she does what she will require, and a little advice will
be invaluable. Above all, if you could tell her how to pick up a
Lady Kirkaldy proposed to take the mother and daughter up to her
dressing-room, where she kept her book of addresses to London
tradesmen; and Mr. Egremont only begged that they would remember the
4.40 train. Then Lord Kirkaldy was left to entertain him, while the
ladies went up the broad staircase to the pleasant room, which had a
mingled look of refinement and usefulness which struck Nuttie at
once. Lady Kirkaldy, as soon as the door was shut, took her visitor
by the hand, kissed her forehead, and said, 'You must let me tell you
how glad I am.'
The crystal veil at once spread over Alice's eyes.
'Oh, thank you. Lady Kirkaldy! I am _so_ happy, and yet I am so
afraid. Please tell me what we shall _do_ so that we may not vex
him, so high bred and fastidious as he is?'
'Be yourself! That's all, my dear,' said Lady Kirkaldy tenderly.
'Don't be afraid. You are quite incapable of doing anything that
could distress the most fastidious taste.'
It was perfectly true of the mother, perhaps less so of the daughter;
but Lady Kirkaldy only thought of her as a mere girl, who could
easily be modelled by her surroundings. The kind hostess applied
herself to giving the addresses of the people she thought likely to
be most useful in the complete outfit which she saw would be
necessary, explaining to which establishments she applied with
confidence if she needed to complete her wardrobe in haste, feeling
certain that nothing would be sent her that she disliked, and giving
leave to use her name. She soon saw that the mother was a little
dazed, while Ursula's eyes grew rounder at the unlimited vista of
fine clothes, and she assented, and asked questions as to the
details. As to a maid, Lady Kirkaldy would write to a person who
would call on Mrs. Egremont at the hotel in London, and who might be
what was wanted; and in conclusion, Lady Kirkaldy, with some
diffidence, begged to be written to--'if--if,' she said, 'there
happened to be any difficulty about which you might not like to
consult Mrs. William Egremont.' Nuttie hardly knew whether to be
grateful or not, for she did not believe in any standard above that
of Micklethwayte, and she was almost angry at her mother's grateful
answer--'Oh, thank you! I should be so grateful! I am so afraid of
annoying him by what he may think small, ignorant, country-town ways!
You will understand--'
Lady Kirkaldy did understand, and she dreaded what might be before
the sweet little yielding woman, not from want of breeding so much as
from the long-indulged selfishness of her husband; but she encouraged
her as much as possible, and promised all possible counsel, bringing
her downstairs again just in time.
'Pretty little soul!' said Lord Kirkaldy, as the fly clattered away.
'I wonder whether Mark has done her a kindness!'
'It is just what she is, a pretty, nay, a beautiful soul, full of
tenderness and forgiveness and affection and humility, only I doubt
whether there is any force or resolution to hold her own. You smile!
Well, perhaps the less of that she has the better she may get on with
him. Did he say anything about her?'
'No; I think he wants to ignore that they have not spent the last
twenty years together.'
'That may be the best way for all parties. Do you think he will
behave well to her?'
'No man could well do otherwise to such a sweet little thing,' said
Lord Kirkaldy; 'especially as she will be his most obedient slave,
and will make herself necessary to him. It is much better luck than
he deserves; but I pity her when she comes to make her way with yon
'I wish I was there! I know she will let herself be trodden on!
However, there's Mark to stand up for her, and William Egremont will
do whatever he thinks right and just. I wish I knew how his wife
will take it!'
'Let us see these handsome houses
Where the wealthy nobles dwell.'--TENNYSON.
'Mother, mother!' cried two young people, bursting open the door of
the pretty dining-room of Bridgefield Rectory, where the grown-up
part of the family were lingering over a late breakfast.
'Gently, gently, children,' said the dignified lady at the head of
the table. 'Don't disturb papa.'
'But we really have something to say, mother!' said the elder girl,
'and Fraulein said you ought to know. Uncle Alwyn is come home, and
Mrs. Egremont. And please, are we to call her Aunt Egremont, or Aunt
Alwyn, or what?'
The desired sensation was produced. Canon Egremont put down his
newspaper. The two elder sisters looked from one to the other in
unmitigated astonishment. Mark briefly made answer to the final
question, 'Aunt Alice,' and Mrs. Egremont said gravely, 'How did you
hear this, Rosalind? You know I always forbid you to gossip.'
'We didn't gossip, mother. We went up to the gardens to get some
mulberries for our half-holiday feast; and Ronaldson came out and
told us we must ask leave first, for the ladies were come. The
Squire came home at nine o'clock last night, and Mrs. Egremont and
all, and only sent a telegram two hours before to have the rooms got
'Has Uncle Alwyn gone and got himself married?' exclaimed one of the
young ladies, in utter amazement.
'Not just now, Blanche,' said her father. 'It is an old story now.
Your uncle married this lady, who had been governess to May and Mark,
many years ago, and from--circumstances in which she was not at all
to blame, he lost sight of her while he was abroad with old General
Egremont. Mark met her about a fortnight ago, and this has led to
your uncle's going in quest of her, though he has certainly been more
sudden in his proceedings than I expected.'
The mother here succeeded in sending Rosalind and Adela, with their
wondering eyes, off the scene, and she would much have liked to send
her two stepdaughters after them, but one-and-twenty and eighteen
could not so readily be ordered off as twelve and ten; and Mark, who
had been prohibited from uttering a word to his sisters, was eagerly
examining Margaret whether she remembered their Edda; but she had
been only three years old at the time of the adventures in the Isle
of Wight, and remembered nothing distinctly but the aspect of one of
the sailors in the yacht.
'Well,' said Mrs. Egremont, 'this has come very suddenly upon us. It
would have been more for her own dignity if she had held out a little
before coming so easily to terms, after the way in which she has been
'When you see her, mother, you will understand,' said Mark.
'Shall we have to be intimate with her?' asked May.
'I desire that she should be treated as a relation,' said the Canon
decidedly. 'There is nothing against her character,' and, as his
wife was about to interrupt,--'nothing but an indiscretion to which
she was almost driven many years ago. She was cruelly treated, and I
for one am heartily sorry for having let myself be guided by others.'
Mrs. William Egremont felt somewhat complacent, for she knew he meant
Lady de Lyonnais, and there certainly had been no love lost between
her and her step-children's grandmother; but she was a sensible
woman, and forbore to speak, though there was a mental reservation
that intimacy would a good deal depend upon circumstances. Blanche
cried out that it was a perfect romance, and May gravely said, 'But
is she a lady?'
'A perfect lady,' said Mark. 'Aunt Margaret says so.'
'One knows what a perfect lady means,' returned May.
'Come, May,' said Mrs. Egremont, 'do not let us begin with a
prejudice. By all accounts the poor thing has conducted herself with
perfect respectability all this time. What did you tell me, Mark?
She has been living with an aunt, keeping a school at Micklethwayte.'
Not quite,' said Mark. 'She has been acting as a daily governess.
She seemed to be on friendly terms with the clerical folk. I came
across the name at a school feast, or something of the kind, which
came off in the Kirkaldys' park.'
'Oh, then, I know exactly the sort of person!' returned May, pursing
up her lips.
Mark laughed and said, 'I wonder whether it is too soon to go up and
see them. I wonder what my uncle thinks of his daughter.'
'What! You don't mean to say there is a daughter?' cried May.
'Even so. And exactly like you too, Miss May.'
'Then you are cut out, Mark!'
'You are cut out, I think, May. You'll have to give her all your
Miss Egremont cards.'
'No,' said the young lady; 'mother made me have my Christian name
printed. She said all but the daughters of the head of the family
ought to have it so. I'm glad of it.'
'How old is she?' asked Blanche.
'About a year younger than you.'
'I think it is very interesting,' said Blanche. 'How wonderful it
must all be to her! I will go up with you, Mark, as soon as I can
'You had better wait till later in the day, Blanche,' said the
mother. She knew the meeting was inevitable, but she preferred
having it under her own eye, if she could not reconnoitre.
She was a just and sensible woman, who felt reparation due to the
newly-discovered sister-in-law, and that harmony, or at least the
appearance of it, must be preserved; but she was also exclusive and
fastidious by nature, and did not look forward to the needful
intercourse with much satisfaction either on her own account or that
of her family.
She told Mark to say that she should come to see Mrs. Egremont after
luncheon, since he was determined to go at once, and moreover to drag
his father with him. Canon Egremont was a good and upright man,
according to his lights, which were rather those of a well-beneficed
clergyman of the first than of the last half of the century,
intensified perhaps that the passive voice was the strongest in him.
All the country knew that Canon Egremont could be relied on to give a
prudent, scholarly judgment, and to be kind and liberal, when once
induced to stir mind or body--but how to do that was the problem. He
had not been a young man at the time of his first marriage, and was
only a few years' junior to his brother, though he had the fresh,
wholesome look of a man who kept regular hours and lived much in the
Alice knew him at once, and thought eighteen years had made little
change, as, at Nuttie's call to her, she looked from the window and
saw the handsome, dignified, gray-haired, close-shaven rosy face, and
the clerical garb unchanged in favour of long coats and high
The mother and daughter were exploring the house together. Mr.
Egremont had made it known that he preferred having his breakfast
alone, and not being disturbed in the forenoon. So the two ladies
had breakfasted together at nine, the earliest hour at which they
could prevail on the household to give them a meal. Indeed Nuttie
had slept till nearly that time, for between excitement and noise,
her London slumbers had been broken; and her endeavour to keep
Micklethwayte hours had resulted in a long, weary, hungry time in the
sitting-room of the hotel, with nothing to do, when the gaze from the
window palled on her, but to write to her aunt and Mary Nugent. The
rest of the day had been spent in driving about in a brougham with
her mother shopping, and this she could not but enjoy exceedingly,
more than did the timid Mrs. Egremont, who could not but feel herself
weighted with responsibility; and never having had to spend at the
utmost more than ten pounds at a time, felt bewildered at the cheques
put into her hands, and then was alarmed to find them melting away
faster than she expected.
There was a very late dinner, after which Mr. Egremont, on the first
day, made his wife play bezique with him. She enjoyed it, as a
tender reminiscence of the yachting days; but Nuttie found herself de
trop, and was reduced to the book she had contrived to purchase on
her travels. The second night Mr. Egremont had picked up two
friends, not yet gone out of town, whose talk was of horses and of
yachts, quite incomprehensible to the ladies. They were very
attentive to Mrs. Egremont, whom they evidently admired, one so
visibly as to call up a blush; but they disregarded the daughter as a
schoolgirl. Happily they appeared no more after the dinner; but
Nuttie's first exclamation of astonished disgust was silenced at once
by her mother with unusual determination, 'You must not speak so of
your father's friends.'
'Not at all,' interrupted Mrs. Egremont.
The only sense of promotion to greatness that Ursula had yet enjoyed
was in these fine clothes, and the maid whom Lady Kirkaldy had
recommended, a grave and severe-looking person, of whom both stood
somewhat in awe. The arrival at Bridgefield had been too late for
anything to be taken in but a general impression of space and
dreariness, and the inevitable dinner of many courses, after which
Nuttie was so tired out that her mother sent her to bed.
Since the waking she had made some acquaintance with the house.
There was no show of domestics, no curtseying housekeeper to parade
the new mistress over the house; Mr. Egremont had told his wife that
she must fill up the establishment as she pleased, but that there was
an admirable cook downstairs, and he would not have her interfered
with--she suited his tastes as no one else did, and she must be left
to deal with the provisions and her own underlings. There was a
stable establishment, and a footman had been hired in town, but there
was besides only one untidy-looking housemaid, who began by giving
warning; and Alice and Nuttie had roamed about without meeting any
one from the big wainscotted dining-room with faded crimson curtains
and family portraits, the older grimy, the younger chalky, to the two
drawing-rooms, whose gilding and pale blue damask had been preserved
by pinafores of brown holland; the library, which looked and smelt as
if Mr. Egremont was in the habit of sitting there, and a big
billiard-room, all opening into a shivery-feeling hall, with
Scagliola columns and a few dirty statues between them; then upstairs
to a possible morning-room, looking out over a garden lawn, where
mowing was going on in haste, and suites of dreary shut-up fusty
bedrooms. Nuttie, who had notions of choosing her own bower, could
not make up her mind which looked the least inviting. It did not
seem as if girls could ever have laughed together, or children
clattered up and down the stairs. Mrs. Egremont begged her to keep
possession for the present at least of the chamber where the grim
housemaid had chosen to put her, and which had the advantage of being
The two windows looked out over the park, and thence it was that
while Morris, the maid, was unpacking and putting away the new
purchases, and Nuttie was standing, scarcely realising that such
pretty hats and bonnets could be her very own, when her mother beheld
the Canon and Mark advancing up the drive. It was with a great start
that she called Ursula to come down directly with her, as no one
would know where to find them, hastily washing the hands that had
picked up a sense of dustiness during the exploration, and taking a
comprehensive glance in the cheval glass, which showed her some one
she felt entirely unfamiliar to her in a dainty summer costume of
pale gray silk picked out with a mysterious shade of pink. Ursula
too thought Miss Egremont's outer woman more like a Chelsea
shepherdess than Nuttie's true self, as she tripped along in her
buckled shoes and the sea green stockings that had been sent home
with her skirt. With crimson cheeks and a throbbing heart, Alice was
only just at the foot of the stairs when the newcomers had made their
way in, and the kind Canon, ignoring all that was past, held out his
hands saying, 'Well, my dear, I am glad to see you here,' kissing
Mrs. Egremont on each cheek. 'And so this is your daughter. How do
you do, my dear--Ursula? Isn't that your name?' And Ursula had
again to submit to a kiss, much more savoury and kindly than her
father's, though very stubbly. And oh! her uncle's dress was like
that of no one she had ever seen except the rector of the old church,
the object of unlimited contempt to the adherents of St. Ambrose's.
As to Mark, he only kissed his aunt, and shook hands with her, while
his father ran on with an unusual loquacity that was a proof of
nervousness in him.
'Mrs. Egremont--Jane, I mean--will be here after luncheon. She
thought you would like to get settled in first. How is Alwyn? Is he
'I will see,' in a trembling voice.
'Oh no, never mind, Alwyn hates to be disturbed till he has made
himself up in the morning. My call is on you, you know. Where are
'I don't quite know. In the drawing-room, I suppose.'
The Canon, knowing the house much better than she did, opened a door
into a third drawing-room she had not yet seen, a pretty little room,
fitted up with fluted silk, like a tent, somewhat faded but not much
the worse for that, and opening into a conservatory, which seemed to
have little in it but some veteran orange trees. Nuttie, however,
exclaimed with pleasure at the nicest room she had seen, and Mark
began unfastening the glass door that led into it. Meantime Alice,
with burning cheeks and liquid eyes, nerved her voice to say, 'Oh,
sir--Mr. Egremont--please forgive me! I know now how wrong I was.'
'Nonsense, my dear. Bygones are bygones. You were far more sinned
against than sinning, and have much to forgive me. There, my dear,
we will say no more about it, nor think of it either. I am only too
thankful that poor Alwyn should have some one to look after him.'
Alice, who had dreaded nothing more than the meeting with her former
master, was infinitely relieved and grateful for this kindness. She
had ejaculated, 'Oh, you are so good!' in the midst, and now at the
mention of her husband, she exclaimed, 'Oh! do you think he is ill?
I can't help being afraid he is, but he will not tell me, and does
not like to be asked.'
'Poor fellow, he has damaged his health a good deal,' was the answer.
'He had a sharp attack in the spring, but he has pretty well got over
it, and Raikes told me there was no reason for uneasiness, provided
he would be careful; and that will be a much easier matter now. I
should not wonder if we saw him with quite a renewed youth.'
So the Canon and Mrs. Egremont were getting on pretty well together,
but there was much more stiffness and less cordiality between the two
cousins, although Mark got the window open into the conservatory, and
showed Nuttie the way into the garden, advising her to ask Ronaldson,
the gardener, to fill the conservatory with flowers. The pavilion,
as this little room was called, always seemed to have more capacities
for being lived in than any other room in the house. It had been
fitted up when such things were the fashion for the shortlived bride
of 'our great uncle.'
'The colour must have been awful then,' said Mark, looking up at it,
'enough to set one's teeth on edge; but it has faded into something
quite orthodox--much better than could be manufactured for you.'
Mark had evidently some ideas of art, and was besides inclined to do
the honours to the stranger; but Nuttie was not going to encourage
him or anybody else to make up to her, while she had that look of
Gerard Godfrey's in her mind's eye. So she made small answer, and he
felt rebuffed, but supposed her shy, and wondered when he could go
back to her mother, who was so much more attractive.
Presently his father went off to storm the den of the master of the
house, and there was a pleasant quarter of an hour, during which the
three went out through the conservatory, and Mark showed the ins-and-
outs of the garden, found out Ronaldson, and congratulated him on
having some one at last to appreciate his flowers, begging him to
make the conservatory beautiful. And Mrs. Egremont's smile was so
effective that the Scot forthwith took out his knife and presented
her with the most precious of the roses within his reach.
Moreover Mark told the names and ages of all his sisters, whole and
half. He was the only son, except a little fellow in the nursery.
And he exhorted his aunt not to be afraid of his step-mother, who was
a most excellent person, he declared, but who never liked to see any
one afraid of her.
There was something a little alarming in this, but on the whole the
visit was very pleasant and encouraging to Mrs. Egremont; and she
began rejoicing over the kindness as soon as the Canon had summoned
his son, and they had gone away together.
'I am sure you must be delighted with your uncle and cousin, my
dear,' she said.
'He's not a bit my notion of a priest,' returned Nuttie. 'And I
don't believe he has any daily prayers!'
'He is old-fashioned, my dear.'
'One of the stodgey old clergymen in books,' observed Nuttie. 'I
didn't think there were any of that sort left.'
'Oh, my dear, pray don't take fancies into your head! He is a very,
very good man, and has been most kind to me, far more than I deserve,
and he is your uncle, Nuttie. I do so hope you will get on well with
Here a gong, a perfectly unknown sound to Nuttie, made itself heard,
and rather astonished her by the concluding roar. The two ladies
came out into the hall as Mr. Egremont was crossing it. He made an
inclination of the head, and uttered a sort of good morning to his
daughter, but she was perfectly content to have no closer salutation.
Having a healthy noonday appetite, her chief wish was at the moment
that those beautiful little cutlets, arranged in a crown form, were
not so very tiny; or that, with two men-servants looking on, it were
possible to attain to a second help, but she had already learnt that
Gregorio would not hear her, and that any attempt to obtain more food
frightened her mother.
'So his reverence has been to see you,' observed Mr. Egremont.
'William, if you like it better.'
'Oh yes, and he was kindness itself!'
'And how did Master Mark look at finding I could dispense with his
'I think he is very glad.'
Mr. Egremont laughed. 'You are a simple woman, Edda! The pose of
virtuous hero was to have been full compensation for all that it
might cost him! And no doubt he looks for the reward of virtue
Wherewith he looked full at Ursula, who, to her extreme vexation,
felt herself blushing up to the ears. She fidgeted on her chair, and
began a most untrue 'I'm sure--' for, indeed, the poor girl was sure
of nothing, but that her father's manner was most uncomfortable to
her. His laugh choked whatever she might have said, which perhaps
was well, and her mother's cheeks glowed as much as hers did.
'Did the Canoness--Jane, I mean--come up?' Mr. Egremont went on.
'Mrs. Egremont? No; she sent word that she is coming after
'Hm! Then I shall ride out and leave you to her majesty. Now look
you, Alice, you are to be very careful with William's wife. She is a
Condamine, you know, and thinks no end of herself, and your position
among the women-folk of the county depends more on how she takes you
up than anything else. But that doesn't mean that you are to let her
give herself airs and domineer over you. Remember you are the elder
brother's wife--Mrs. Egremont of Bridgefield Egremont--and she is
nothing but a parson's wife, and I won't have her meddling in my
house. Only don't you be absurd and offend her, for she can do more
for or against you in society than any one else--more's the pity!'
'Oh! won't you stay and help me receive her?' exclaimed the poor
lady, utterly confused by these contrary directions.
'Not I! I can't abide the woman! nor she me!' He added, after a
moment, 'You will do better without me.'
So he went out for his ride, and Ursula asked, 'Oh, mother! what will
'The best I can, my dear. They are good people, and are sure to be
kinder than I deserve.'
Nuttie was learning that her mother would never so much as hear, far
less answer, a remark on her husband. It was beginning to make a
sore in the young heart that a barrier was thus rising, where there
once had been as perfect oneness and confidence as could exist
between two natures so dissimilar, though hitherto the unlikeness had
never made itself felt.
Mrs, Egremont turned the conversation to the establishing themselves
in the pavilion, whither she proceeded to import some fancy-work that
she had bought in London, and sent Nuttie to Ronaldson, who was
arranging calceolarias, begonias, and geraniums in the conservatory,
to beg for some cut-flowers for a great dusty-looking vase in the
centre of the table.
These were being arranged when Mrs. William Egremont and Miss Blanche
Egremont were ushered in, and there were the regular kindred
embraces, after which Alice and Nuttie were aware of a very handsome,
dignified-looking lady, well though simply dressed in what was
evidently her home costume, with a large shady hat and feather, her
whole air curiously fitting the imposing nickname of the Canoness.
Blanche was a slight, delicate-looking, rather pretty girl in a lawn-
tennis dress. The visitor took the part of treating the newcomers as
'We would not inundate you all at once,' she said, 'but the children
are all very eager to see their cousin. I wish you would come down
to the Rectory with me. My ponies are at the door. I would drive
you, and Ursula might walk with Blanche.' And, as Alice hesitated
for a moment, considering how this might agree with the complicated
instructions that she had received, she added, 'Never mind Alwyn. I
saw him going off just before I came up, and he told William he was
going to look at some horses at Hale's, so he is disposed of for a
good many hours.'
Alice decided that her husband would probably wish her to comply, and
she rejoiced to turn her daughter in among the cousins, so hats,
gloves, and parasols were fetched, and the two mothers drove away
with the two sleek little toy ponies. By which it may be perceived
that Mrs. William Egremont's first impressions were favourable.
'It is the shortest way through the gardens,' said Blanche. 'Have
you been through them yet?'
'Mark walked about with us a little.'
'You'll improve them ever so much. There are great capabilities.
Look, you could have four tennis courts on this one lawn. We wanted
to have a garden-party up here last year, and father said we might,
but mother thought Uncle Alwyn might think it a liberty; but now
you'll have some delicious ones? Of course you play lawn-tennis?'
'I have seen it a very few times,' said Nuttie.
'Oh, we must teach you! Fancy living without lawn-tennis!' said
Blanche. 'I always wonder what people did without it. Only'--with
an effort at antiquarianism--'I believe they had croquet.'
'Aunt Ursula says there weren't garden-parties before croquet came
'How dreadful, Ursula! Your name's Ursula, isn't it? Haven't you
some jolly little name to go by?'
'Nuttie! That's scrumptious! I'll call you Nuttie, and you may call
'That's not so nice as Blanche.'
'Mother won't have me called so when strangers are there, but you
aren't a stranger, you know. You must tell me all about yourself,
and how you came never to learn tennis!'
'I had something else to do,' said Nuttie, with dignity.
'Oh, you were in the schoolroom! I forgot. Poor little Nuts!'
'At school,' said Ursula.
'Ah, I remember! But you're out now, aren't you? I've been out
since this spring. Mother won't let us come out till we are
eighteen, isn't it horrid? And we were so worked there! I can tell
you a finishing governess is an awful institution! Poor little Rosie
and Adey will be in for one by and by. At present they've only got a
jolly little Fraulein that they can do anything they please with.'
'Oh, I wonder if she would tell me of some German books!'
'You don't mean that you want to read German!' and Blanche stood
still, and looked at her cousin in astonishment.
'Why, what else is the use of learning it?'
'Oh, I don't know. Every one does. If one went abroad or to court,
you know,' said Blanche vaguely; but Ursula had now a fresh subject
of interest; for, on emerging from the shrubbery, they came in sight
of a picturesque but not very architectural church, which had the
smallest proportion of wall and the largest of roof, and a pretty
oriel-windowed schoolhouse covered with clematis. Nuttie rushed into
inquiries about services and schools, and was aghast at hearing of
mere Sundays and saints' days.
'Oh no! father isn't a bit Ritualistic. I wish he was, it would be
so much prettier; and then he always advertises for curates of
moderate views, and they are so stupid. You never saw such a stick
as we have got now, Mr. Edwards; and his wife isn't a lady, I'm
Then as to schools, it was an absolute amazement to Nuttie to find
that the same plans were in force as had prevailed when her uncle had
come to the living and built that pretty house--nay, were kept up at
his sole expense, because he liked old-fashioned simplicity, and did
not choose to be worried with Government inspection.
'And,' said Blanche, 'every one says our girls work ever so much
better, and make nicer servants than those that are crammed with all
sorts of nonsense not fit for them.'
As to the Sunday school. Mother and the curate take care of that.
I'm sure, if you like it, you can have my class, for I always have a
headache there, and very often I can't go. Only May pegs away at it,
and she won't let me have the boys, who are the only jolly ones,
because she says I spoil them. But you must be my friend--mind,
Nuttie, not May's, for we are nearer the same age. When is your
birthday? You must put it down in my book!'
Nuttie, who had tolerable experience of making acquaintance with new
girls, was divided between a sense of Blanche's emptiness, and the
warmth excited by her friendliness, as well as of astonishment at all
she heard and saw.
Crossing the straggling, meandering village street, the cousins
entered the grounds of the Rectory, an irregular but well-kept
building of the soft stone of the country, all the garden front of it
a deep verandah that was kept open in summer, but closed with glass
frames in the winter--flower-beds lying before it, and beyond a lawn
where the young folk were playing at the inevitable lawn-tennis.
Margaret was not so pretty as Blanche, but had a more sensible face,
and her welcome to Ursula was civil but reserved. Rosalind and Adela
were bright little things, in quite a different style from their
half-sisters, much lighter in complexion and promising to be
handsomer women. They looked full of eagerness and curiosity at the
new cousin, whom Blanche set down on a bank, and proceeded to
instruct in the mysteries of the all-important game by comments and
criticisms on the players.
As soon as Mark and Adela had come out conquerors, Ursula was called
on to take her first lesson. May resigned her racket, saying she had
something to do, and walked off the field, and carrying off with her
Adela, who, as Blanche said, 'had a spine,' and was ordered to lie
down for an hour every afternoon. The cheerfulness with which she
went spoke well for the training of the family.
Nuttie was light-footed and dexterous handed, and accustomed to
active amusements, so that, under the tuition of her cousins, she
became a promising pupil, and thawed rapidly, even towards Mark.
She was in the midst of her game when the two mothers came out, for
the drive had been extended all round the park, under pretext of
showing it to its new mistress, but really to give the Canoness an
opportunity of judging of her in a tete-a-tete. Yet that sensible
woman had asked no alarming questions on the past, still less had
offered any advice that could seem like interference. She had only
named localities, mentioned neighbours, and made little
communications about the ways of the place such as might elicit
remarks; and, as Alice's voice betrayed less and less constraint, she
ventured on speaking of their daughters, so as to draw forth some
account of how Ursula might have been educated.
And of this, Alice was ready and eager to talk, telling how clever
and how industrious Nuttie had always been, and how great an
advantage Miss Nugent's kindness was, and how she was hoping to go up
for the Cambridge examination; then, detecting some doubt in her
companion's manner, she said, 'It would be a great disappointment to
her not to do so now. Do you think she had better not?'
'I don't think she will find time to go on with the preparation!
And, to tell the truth, I don't think we are quite ripe for such
things in this county. We are rather backward, and Ursula, coming in
fresh upon us, might find it a disadvantage to be thought much
cleverer than other people.'
'Ah! I was not quite sure whether her father would like it.'
'I do not think he would. I am sure that if my little Rose were to
take it into her head, I should have hard work to get her father's
consent, though no doubt the world will have progressed by the time
she is old enough.'
'That settles it,' said Alice. 'Thank you, Mrs. Egremont. I own,'
she added presently, 'that I do somewhat regret that it cannot be,
for I thought that a motive for keeping up her studies would be
helpful to my child;--I do not mean for the sake of the studies, but
of the--the balance in all this change and novelty.'
'You are quite right, I have felt it myself,' said her sister-in-law.
'Perhaps something could be done by essay societies. May belongs to
one, and if Ursula is an intellectual girl, perhaps you could keep
her up to some regular employment in the morning. I succeeded in
doing so when May came out, but I can accomplish nothing regular but
music with Blanche; and an hour's steady practice a day is better
The drive was on the whole a success, and so was the tea-drinking in
the verandah, where Aunt Alice and little five-years old Basil became
fast friends and mutual admirers; the Canon strolled out and was
installed in the big, cushioned basket-chair that crackled under his
weight; Blanche recounted Nuttie's successes, and her own tennis
engagements for the week; Mark lay on a rug and teased her, and her
dachshund; Nuttie listened to the family chatter as if it were a
play, and May dispensed the cups, and looked grave and severe.
'Well?' said the Canon anxiously, when Mark, Blanche, and little
Basil had insisted on escorting the guests home, and he and his wife
were for a few minutes tete-a-tete.
'It might have been much worse,' said the lady. 'She is a good
little innocent thing, and has more good sense than I expected.
Governessy, that's all, but she will shake out of that.'
'Of course she will. It's the best thing imaginable for Alwyn!'
His wife kept back the words, 'A hundred times too good for Alwyn!'
'Madam, the guests are come, supper served up,
My young lady asked for!'--Romeo and Juliet.
A garden-party, Mrs. William Egremont decided, would be the best mode
of testifying her approbation of her sister-in-law, and introducing
the newcomers to the neighbourhood. So the invitations were sent
forth for an early day of the coming week.
From how many points of view was Mrs. William Egremont's garden-party
regarded, and how different! There was Basil, to whom it meant
wearing his velvet suit and eating as many ices as mother would
allow. To Blanche, it was an occasion for triumph on the tennis
ground for herself, and for hopes for her pupil; and Ursula herself
looked forward to it and practised for it like a knight for his first
encounter in the lists, her sole care being to distinguish herself
with her racket. To her mother, it was an ordeal, where she trusted
not to be a mortification to her husband and his family; while to the
hostess, it was a not unwelcome occasion of exercising honest
diplomacy and tact, not without a sense of magnanimity. To May, it
was a bore to be endured with dutiful philosophy; to her good-natured
father an occasion for hospitality, where he trusted that his brother
would appear, and appear to advantage, and was ready even to bribe
him thereto with that wonderful claret that Alwyn had always envied,
and declared to be wasted on a parson. And Mark, perhaps he viewed
the occasion with different eyes from any one else. At any rate,
even the denizens of Bridgefield mustered there with as many minds as
Scott ascribes to the combatants of Bannockburn, and there were
probably as many other circles of feeling more or less intersecting
one another among the more distant guests, most of them, however,
with the same feeling of curiosity as to what this newly-discovered
wife and daughter of Alwyn Egremont might be like.
Externally, in her rich black silk, trimmed with point lace, and her
little straw-coloured bonnet with its tuft of feathery grass and blue
cornflower, she was so charming that her daughter danced round her,
crying, 'O mammy, mammy, if they could but see you at home'--then, at
a look: 'Well then--Aunt Ursel, and Miss Mary, and Mr. Dutton!'
Nuttie was very much pleased with her own pretty tennis dress; but
she had no personal vanity for herself, only for her mother. The
knowledge that she was no beauty was no grievance to her youthful
spirits; but when her father surveyed them in the hall, she looked
for his verdict for her mother as if their relations were reversed.
'Ha! Well, you certainly are a pretty creature, Edda,' he said
graciously. 'You'll pass muster! You want nothing but style. And,
hang it! you'll do just as well without it, if the Canoness will only
do you justice. Faces like that weren't given for nothing.'
She blushed incarnadine and accepted one of his kisses with a
pleasure, at which Nuttie wondered, her motherly affection prompting
her to murmur in his ear--
'She'll not cut you out; but she is Egremont enough to do very
fairly. Going already?'
'If you would come with us,' she said wistfully, to the horror of
Nuttie, who was burning to be at the beginning of all the matches.
'I? oh no! I promised old Will to look in, but that won't be till
late in the day, or I shall have to go handing all the dowagers into
the dining-room to tea.'
'Then I think we had better go on. They asked us to come early, so
as to see people arrive and know who they are.'
_They_ was a useful pronoun to Alice, who felt it a liberty to call
her grand-looking sister-in-law, Jane--was too well-bred to term her
The mother and daughter crossed the gardens, Nuttie chattering all
the way about the tennis tactics she had picked up from Blanche,
while her mother answered her somewhat mechanically, wondering, as
her eye fell on the square squat gray church tower, what had become
of the earnest devotion to church work and intellectual pursuits that
used to characterise the girl. True, always both mother and daughter
had hitherto kept up their church-going, and even their Sunday-school
habits, nor had any hindrance come in their way, Mr. Egremont
apparently acquiescing in what he never shared. But these things
seemed, in Ursula's mind, to have sunk out of the proportion they
held at Bridgefield, no longer to be the spirit of a life, but mere
Sunday duties and occupations.
Was this wicked world getting a hold of the poor child? Which was
duty? which was the world? This was the thought that perplexed
Alice, too simple as yet to perceive that Ursula's former absorption
had been in the interests that surrounded her and her companions,
exactly as they were at present, and that the real being had yet to
work itself out.
For herself, Alice did not think at all. She was rejoicing in her
restored husband, and his evident affection. Her duty towards him
was in her eyes plain. She saw, of course, that he had no religion,
but she accepted the fact like that of bad weather; she loved him,
and she loved her daughter; she said her prayers with all her heart
for them, she hoped, and she did her best, without trying to go below
There was the Rectory gate wide open. There was Basil rushing up to
greet his dear Aunt Alice, there were all the windows and doors of
the Rectory open, and the nearer slopes covered with chairs and seats
of all dimensions, some under trees, some umbelliferous, and glowing
Afghan rugs, or spotted skins spread for those who preferred the
ground. There was Blanche flitting about wild with excitement, and
pouncing on Nuttie to admire her outfit, and reiterate instructions;
there were the two younger girls altering the position of chairs
according to their mother's directions; there were actually two
guests--not very alarming ones, only the curate and his wife, both
rather gaunt, bony people. He was button-holing the Canon, and she
was trying to do the same by the Canoness about some parish casualty.
The Canon hoped to escape in the welcome to his sister-in-law and
niece, but he was immediately secured again, while his wife found it
requisite to hurry off else where, leaving Mrs. Edwards to tell her
story to Mrs. Egremont. In point of fact, Alice really liked the
good lady, was quite at ease with her, and felt parish concerns a
natural element, so that she gave full heed and attention to the
cruelty of Mrs. Parkins' depriving Betsy Butter (with an old father
and mother to support) of her family washing, on the ground of a
missing pocket handkerchief, the which Mrs. Edwards believed to have
been abstracted by the favourite pickle of Miss Blanche's class, if
only a confession could be elicited from him when undefended by his
furious mother. Mrs. Egremont was listening with actual interest and
sympathy to the history of Betsy Butter's struggles, and was
inquiring the way to her cottage, when she was called off to be
introduced to the arrivals who were beginning to flood the lawn. She
presently saw May, who had just come down, walking up and down with
Mrs. Edwards, evidently hearing the story of the handkerchief. She
thought it had been Nuttie for a moment. There was a general
resemblance between the cousins that made them be mistaken for one
another several times in the course of the day, since their dresses,
though not alike, were of the same make and style.
Thus it was that as Nuttie was sitting on the grass in earnest
contemplation of Blanche's play, a hand was familiarly laid on her
shoulder, and a voice said, 'I haven't seen that horrid girl yet!'
After so many introductions, Nuttie had little idea whom she knew, or
whom she did not know. She looked up and saw a small person in light
blue, with the delicate features, transparent skin, and blue eyes
that accompany yellow hair, with an indescribable glitter of mirth
and joyousness about the whole creature, as if she were part and
parcel of the sunbeam in which she stood,
'What horrid girl?' said Nuttie.
'The interloper, the newly-discovered savage, come to upset--Ah!'--
with a little shriek--'It isn't May! I beg your pardon.'
'I'm May's cousin,' said Nuttie, 'Ursula Egremont.'
'Oh, oh!' and therewith the fact burst on both girls at once. They
stood still a moment in dismay, then the stranger went into a fit of
laughter. 'Oh, I beg your pardon! I can't help it! It is so
Nuttie was almost infected, though somewhat hurt. 'Who said I was
horrid?' she asked.
'Nobody! Nobody but me--Annaple Ruthven--and they'll all tell you,
May and all, that I'm always putting my foot in it. And I never
meant that you were horrid--you yourself--you know--only--'
'Only nobody wanted us here,' said Nuttie; 'but we could not help
'Of course not. It was shocking, just my way. Please forgive me!'
and she looked most pleading. Nuttie held out her hand with
something about 'No one could mind;' and therewith Annaple cried,
'Oh, if you don't mind, we can have our laugh out!' and the rippling
laughter did set Nuttie off at once. The peal was not over when May
herself was upon them demanding what was the joke.
'Oh, there she is! The real May! Why,' said Annaple, kissing her,
'only think here I've been and gone and thought this was you, and
inquired about--What was it?--the awful monster--the chimera dire--
that Mark had routed up--'
'No; you didn't say that,' said Nuttie, half provoked.
'Never mind what I said. Don't repeat it. I only wish myself and
every one else to forget it. Now it is swept to the winds by a good
wholesome giggling. But what business have you two to be so
inconveniently alike? You are as bad as the twin Leslies!'
'There's an old foremother on the staircase in white satin who left
her looks to us both,' said May.
'You'll have to wear badges,' said Annaple. 'You know the Leslies
were so troublesome that one had to be shipped off to the East Indies
and the other to the West.'
'They married, that's all,' said May, seeing Nuttie looking
mystified; and at that moment, Blanche's side coming out victorious,
Nuttie descended into the arena to congratulate and be asked to form
part of the next set.
'Well, that was a scrape!' said Annaple; 'but she wasn't bad about
it! I must do something to make up for it somehow--get Janet to
invite her, but really Janet is in such a state of mind that I am
mildness itself compared with her. She would not have come, only
John was curious, and declared he should go whether we did or not.'
'Ah!' said May, 'I saw him, like the rest of mankind, at madame's
'Oh! is she of that sort?'
'No,' said May, 'not at all. Mother and father too both think she is
good to the backbone; but she is very pretty, with just the inane
soft sweetness that men rave about--innocent really. All accounts of
her are excellent, and she has nice parish ways, and will be as
helpful as Uncle Alwyn will let her.'
'But she couldn't always have been nice?'
'Well, I verily believe it was all Uncle Alwyn's and grandmamma's
fault. I know Mark thinks so.'
'When the women of a family acquit a woman it goes for something,'
said Annaple. 'That's not original, my dear, I heard old Lady
Grosmede say so to Janet when she was deliberating over the
invitation, "For a good deal more than Mr. Mark's, at any rate.'"
'Mark is very fond of her--the mother, I mean. He says when he was a
little fellow her loss was worse to him than even our mother's.'
'Do you remember the catastrophe?'
'Not a bit. Only when she is petting Basil it strikes me that I have
heard the tones before. I only remember the time of misery under the
crosspatches grandmamma got for us.'
'Well, it was a splendid cutting of his own throat in Mark,' said
Annaple, 'so it ought to turn out well.'
'I don't know how it is to turn out for Mark,' answered May. 'Oh,
here he comes!'
'Will you come into this set, Annaple?' he asked. 'They want another
couple,' and, as she accepted, 'How do you get on with May's
'I pity May for having such a double.'
'Don't encourage her by misplaced pity.'
'It's abominable altogether! I want to fly at somebody!'
'Exhaust your feelings on your racket, and reflect that you see a man
released from bondage.'
'Is that philosophy or high-faluting?' she said in a teasing tone as
the game began.
The Ruthvens had very blue blood in their veins, but as there were
nine of the present generation, they possessed little beyond their
long pedigree; even the head of the family, Lord Ronnisglen, being
forced to live as a soldier, leaving his castle to grouse shooters.
His seven brothers had fared mostly in distant lands as they could,
and his mother had found a home, together with her youngest child, at
Lescombe, where her eldest was the wife of Sir John Delmar. Lady
Ronnisglen was an invalid, confined to the house, and Lady Delmar had
daughters fast treading on the heels of Annabella, so christened, but
always called Annaple after the old Scottish queens, her ancestors.
She had been May Egremont's chief friend ever since her importation
at twelve years old, and the intimacy had been promoted by her mother
and sister. Indeed, the neighbourhood had looked on with some
amusement at the competition ascribed to Lady Delmar and to the
wealthy parvenu, Mrs. West, for the heir-presumptive of Bridgefield
Annaple's lightness and dexterity rendered her the best of the lady
tennis-players, and the less practised Ursula found herself defeated
in the match, in spite of a partner whose play was superior to
Mark's, and with whom she shyly walked off to eat ices.
'I see,' said Annaple, 'it is a country-town edition of May. I
shan't blunder between them again.'
'She will polish,' said Mark, 'but she is not equal to her mother.'
'Whom I have not seen yet. Ah, there's Mr. Egremont! Why, he looks
'Well he may be!'
'But Mark, not to hurt your feelings, he must have behaved
'I'm not going to deny it,' said Mark.
'I always did think he looked like it,' said Annaple.
'When have you seen him before?'
'Only once, but it was my admirable sagacity, you understand? I
always see all the villains in books just on his model. Oh, but
who's that? How very pretty! You don't mean it is she! Well, she
might be the heroine of anything!'
'Isn't she lovely?'
'And has she been keeping school like Patience on a monument all
these years? It doesn't seem to have much damaged her damask cheek!'
'It was only daily governessing. She looks much better than when I
first saw her; and as to the damask--why, that's deepened by the
introduction to old Lady Grosmede that is impending.'
'She is being walked up to the old Spanish duck with the red rag
round her leg to receive her fiat. What a thing it is to be a
bearded Dowager, and rule one's neighbourhood!'
'I think she approves. She has made room for her by her side. Is
she going to catechise her?'
Annaple made an absurd sound of mingled pity and disgust.
'Not that she--my aunt, I mean--need be afraid. The shame is all on
the other side.'
'And I think Lady Grosmede has too much sense to think the worse of
her for having worked for herself,' added Annaple. 'If it was not
for mother I should long to begin!'
'You? It's a longing well known to me!--but you!'
'Exactly! As the Irishman felt blue moulded for want of a bating, so
do I feel fagged out for want of an honest day's work.'
'If one only knew what to turn to,' said Mark so wearily that Annaple
'We seem to be in the frozen-out state of mind, and might walk up and
down singing "I've got no work to do,"'--to which she gave the well
'Too true,' said he, joining in the hum.
'But I thought you were by way of reading law.'
'One must see more than only "by way of" in these days to do any
At that moment Basil ran up with a message that Lady Delmar was ready
to go home.
They walked slowly up the terrace and Mark paused as they came near
Mrs. Egremont to say, 'Aunt Alice, here is Miss Ruthven, May's great
Annaple met a pleasant smile, and they shook hands, exchanging an
observation or two, while a little way off Lady Grosmede was nodding
her strong old face at Lady Delmar, and saying, 'Tell your mother
I'll soon come and see her, my dear. That's a nice little innocent
body, lady-like, and thoroughly presentable. Alwyn Egremont might
have done worse.'
'The only wonder is he did not!' returned Lady Delmar. 'They make
the best of it here.'
'Very good taste of them. But, now I've seen her, I don't believe
there's anything behind. Very hard upon the poor young man, though
it was all his doing, his mother says. I congratulate you that it
had not gone any farther in that quarter.'
'Oh, dear no! Never dreamt of it. She is May's friend, that's all.'
Nevertheless Lady Delmar made a second descent in person to hurry
'Isn't it disgusting?' said May, catching her stepmother's smile.
'You will see a good deal more of the same kind,' said the Canoness;
'I am afraid more mortification is in store for Mark than he guesses.
I wish that girl were more like her mother.'
'Mamma! a girl brought up among umbrella-makers! Just fancy! Why,
she has just nothing in her!'
'Don't set Mark against her, May; he might do worse.'
'Her head is a mere tennis ball,' said May, drawing her own higher
than ever, 'and no one would know her from a shop girl.'
'She is young enough,' said the Canoness. 'Don't class me with Lady
Delmar, May--I only say--if--and that I don't think you realise the
change Mark will feel.'
'Better so than sell himself,' muttered May.
OUT OF WORK.
'I'm seeking the fruit that's nae growing.'--Ballad.
Society recognised the newcomers. Lady Grosmede's card appeared the
next day, and was followed by showers of others, and everybody asked
everybody 'Have you seen Mrs. Egremont?'
It was well for Alice's happiness even at home that she was a
success. When Alwyn Egremont had been lashed by his nephew's
indignant integrity into tardy recognition of the wife of his youth,
it had been as if he had been forced to pick up a flower which he had
thrown away. He had considerable doubts whether it would answer.
First, he reconnoitred, intending, if he found a homely or faded
being, to pension her off; but this had been prevented by her
undeniable beauty and grace, bringing up a rush of such tender
associations as he was capable of. Yet even then, her position
depended on the impression she might make on those about him, on her
own power of self-assertion, and on her contributing to his comfort
Of self-assertion Alice had none, only a gentle dignity in her
simplicity, and she was so absolutely devoted to him that he found
his house far more pleasant and agreeable for her presence and
unfailing attention, though still his estimation of her was
influenced more than he owned to himself by that of the world in
general, and the Rectory in particular.
And the Rectory did its part well. The Canon was not only charmed
with the gentle lady, but felt an atonement due to her; and his wife,
without ever breathing into any ears, save his, the mysterious
adjective 'governessy,' praised her right and left, confiding to all
inquirers the romance of the burnt yacht, the lost bride, and the
happy meeting under Lady Kirkaldy's auspices, with the perfect
respectability of the intermediate career, while such was the
universal esteem for, and trust in herself and the Canon, that she
was fully believed; and people only whispered that probably Alwyn
Egremont had been excused for the desertion more than he deserved.
The subject of all this gossip troubled herself about it infinitely
less than did the good Canoness. In effect she did not know enough
of the world to think about it at all. Her cares were of a different
order, chiefly caused by tenderness of conscience, and solicitude to
keep the peace between the two beings whom she best loved.
Two things were in her favour in this latter respect, one that they
saw very little of each other, since Mr. Egremont seldom emerged from
his own rooms till after luncheon; and the other that Ursula's brains
ran to little but lawn-tennis for the ensuing weeks. To hold a
champion's place at the tournaments, neck and neck with her cousin
Blanche, and defeat Miss Ruthven, and that veteran player, Miss
Basset, was her foremost ambition, and the two cousins would have
practised morning, noon, and night if their mothers would have let
them. There need have been no fear of Ursula's rebellion about the
Cambridge honours, she never seemed even to think of them, and would
have had no time in the more important competition of rackets.
Indeed, it was almost treated as a hardship that the pair were
forbidden to rush together before twelve o'clock, and that Ursula's
mother insisted on rational home occupation until that time, setting
the example herself by letter-writing, needlework, and sharing in the
music which was a penance to the girl, only enforced by that strong
sense of protecting affection which forbade rebellion. But Alice
could hope that their performances were pleasant to her husband in
the evening, if only to sleep by, and so she persisted in preparing
Nuttie's rage for tennis, and apparent forgetfulness of her old life
and aspirations, might be disappointing, but it conduced to make her
mother's task easier than if she had been her original, critical, and
protesting self. In the new and brilliant surroundings she troubled
herself much less than could have been expected at the failure of her
father, his house, nay, and of the parish itself, in coming up to the
St. Ambrose standard. How much was owing to mere novelty and
intoxication, how much to a yet unanalysed disappointment, how much
to May's having thrown her upon the more frivolous Blanche, could not
be guessed. The effect was unsatisfactory to her mother, but a
certain relief, for Nuttie's aid would have been only mischievous in
the household difficulties that weighed on the anxious conscience.
Good servants would not stay at Bridgefield Hall for unexplained
causes, which their mistress believed to be connected with Gregorio,
or with the treasure of a cook-housekeeper over whom she was
forbidden to exercise any authority, and who therefore entirely
neglected all meals which the master did not share with the ladies.
Fortunately, Mr. Egremont came in one day at their luncheon and found
nothing there but semi-raw beef, upon which there was an explosion;
and being by this time convinced that his wife both would and could
minister to his comfort, her dominion was established in the female
department, though, as long as Gregorio continued paramount with his
master, and the stables remained in their former state, it was
impossible to bring matters up to the decorous standard of the
Rectory, and if ever his mistress gave an order he did not approve,
Gregorio overruled it as her ignorance. In fact, he treated both the
ladies with a contemptuous sort of civility. Meantime Mr. Egremont
was generally caressing and admiring in his ways towards his wife,
with only occasional bursts of temper when anything annoyed him. He
was proud of her, gave her a liberal allowance, and only refused to
be troubled; and she was really happy in his affection, for which she
felt a gratitude only too humble in the eyes of her daughter.
They had parties. Blanche's ambition of tennis courts all over the
lawn was fulfilled, and sundry dinners, which were crosses to Alice,
who had neither faculty nor training for a leader and hostess,
suffered much from the menu, more from the pairing of her guests,
more again in catching her chief lady's eye after, and most of all
from her husband's scowls and subsequent growls and their
consequence, for Ursula broke out, 'It is not fair to blame my
mother. How should she have all the savoir-faire, or what you may
call it, of Aunt Jane, when she has had no practice?'
'Perhaps, Mrs. Egremont,' he retorted with extreme suavity, 'you will
also attend to your daughter's manners.' Otherwise he took little
notice of Ursula, viewing her perhaps, as did the neighbourhood, as a
poor imitation of May, without her style, or it may be with a sense
that her tongue might become inconvenient if not repressed. When he
began to collect sporting guests of his own calibre in the shooting
season, the Canoness quietly advised her sister-in-law to regard them
as gentlemen's parties, and send Ursula down to spend the evening
with her cousins; and to this no objection was made. Mr. Egremont
wanted his beautiful wife at the head of his table, and his guests
never comported themselves unsuitably before her; but nobody wanted
the unformed girl, and she and Blanche were always happy together.
The chief restraint was when Mark was at home, and that was not
always. He made sundry visits and expeditions, and was altogether in
an uncomfortable condition of reaction and perplexity as to his
future. He was a good and conscientious fellow, and had never been
actually idle, but had taken education and life with the easiness of
the prospective heir to a large property; and though he had acquitted
himself creditably, it was with no view of making his powers
marketable. Though he had been entered at the Temple, it was chiefly
in order to occupy himself respectably, and to have a nominal
profession, so as not to be wholly dependent on his uncle; and all
that he had acquired was the conviction that it would be half a
lifetime, if not a whole one, before the law would afford him a
His father wished him to take Holy Orders with a view to the
reversion of the Rectory, but Mark's estimate of clerical duty and
vocation was just such as to make him shrink from them. He was
three-and-twenty, an awkward age for all those examinations that
stand as lions in the face of youth intended for almost any sort of
service, and seldom or never to be gagged by interest. For one
indeed, he went up and failed, and in such a manner as to convince
him that cramming had more to do than general culture with success.
He had a certain consciousness that most people thought another way
open to him, most decidedly his gentle aunt, and perhaps even his
parents. The matter came prominently before him one day at luncheon,
when, some parochial affairs being on hand and Mr. Egremont out for
the day, Alice, whose free forenoons enabled her to take a share in
church and parish affairs, was there, as well as the curate and his
These good people were in great commotion about a wedding about to
take place between a young farmer and his delicate first cousin, the
only survivor of a consumptive family.
'"Proputty, proputty,"' quoted the Canon. 'James Johnson is what
they call a warm man.'
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