THE CLEVER WOMAN OF THE FAMILY
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 3 out of 11
make mamma think that Con told stories.
"I don't mind that," said Conrade, stoutly; "let her try!"
"Oh, but she wanted mamma to shut you up," added Francis.
"Well, and mamma knows better," said Conrade, "and it made her leave
off teaching me, so it was lucky. But I don't mind that; only don't
you see, Colonel, they don't know how to treat mamma! They go and
bully her, and treat her like--like a subaltern, till I hate the very
sight of it."
"My boy," said the Colonel, who had been giving only half attention;
"you must make up your mind to your mother not being at the head of
everything, as she used to be in your father's time. She will always
be respected, but you must look to yourself as you grow up to make a
position tor her!"
"I wish I was grown up!" sighed Conrade; "how I would give it to Aunt
Rachel! But why must we live here to have her plaguing us?"
Questions that the Colonel was glad to turn aside by moans of the
ponies, and by a suggestion that, if a very quiet one were found, and
if Conrade would be very careful, mamma might, perhaps, go out riding
with them. The motion was so transcendant that, no sooner had the
ponies been seen, than the boys raced home, and had communicated it
at the top of their voices to mamma long before their friend made his
appearance. Lady Temple was quite startled at the idea. "Dear
papa," as she always called her husband, "had wished her to ride, but
she had seldom done so, and now--" The tears came into her eyes.
"I think you might," said the Colonel, gently; "I could find you a
quiet animal, and to have you with Conrade would be such a protection
to him," he added, as the boys had rushed out of the room.
"Yes; perhaps, dear boy. But I could not begin alone; it is so long
since I rode. Perhaps when you come back from Ireland."
"I am not going to Ireland."
"I thought you said--" said Fanny looking up surprised; "I am very
glad! But if you wished to go, pray don't think about us! I shall
learn to manage in time, and I cannot bear to detain you."
"You do not detain me," he said, sitting down by her; "I have found
what I was going in search of, and through your means."
"What--what do you mean! You were going to see Miss Williams this
afternoon, I thought!"
"Yes, and it was she whom I was seeking." He paused, and added
slowly, as if merely for the sake of dwelling on the words, "I have
"Miss Williams!" said Fanny, with perplexed looks.
"Miss Williams!--my Ermine whom I had not seen since the day after
her accident, when we parted as on her deathbed!"
"That sister! Oh, poor thing, I am so glad! But I am sorry!" cried
the much confused Fanny, in a breath; "were not you very much
"I had never hoped to see her face in all its brightness again," he
said. "Twelve years! It is twelve years that she has suffered, and
of late she has been brought to this grievous state of poverty, and
yet the spirit is as brave and cheerful as ever! It looks out of the
beautiful eyes--more beautiful than when I first saw them,--I could
see and think of nothing else!"
"Twelve years!" repeated Fanny; "is it so long since you saw her?"
"Almost since I heard of her! She was like a daughter to my aunt at
Beauchamp, and her brother was my schoolfellow. For one summer, when
I was quartered at Hertford, I was with her constantly, but my family
would not even hear of the indefinite engagement that was all we
could have looked to, and made me exchange into the -th."
"Ah! that was the way we came to have you! I must tell you, dear Sir
Stephen always guessed. Once when he had quite vexed poor mamma by
preventing her from joking you in her way about young ladies, he told
me that once, when he was young, he had liked some one who died or
was married, I don't quite know which, and he thought it was the same
with you, from something that happened when you withdrew your
application for leave after your wound."
"Yes! it was a letter from home, implying that my return would be
accepted as a sign that I gave her up. So that was an additional
instance of the exceeding kindness that I always received."
And there was a pause, both much affected by the thought of the good
old man's ever ready consideration. At last Fanny said, "I am sure
it was well for us! What would he have done without you?--and," she
added, "do you really mean that you never heard of her all these
"Never after my aunt's death, except just after we went to Melbourne,
when I heard in general terms of the ruin of the family and the false
imputation on their brother."
"Ah! I remember that you did say something about going home, and Sir
Stephen was distressed, and mamma and I persuaded you because we saw
he would have missed you so much, and mamma was quite hurt at your
thinking of going. But if you had only told him your reason, he
would never have thought of standing in your way."
"I know he would not, but I saw he could hardly find any one else
just then who knew his ways so well. Besides, there was little use
in going home till I had my promotion, and could offer her a home;
and I had no notion how utter the ruin was, or that she had lost so
much. So little did I imagine their straits that, but for Alison's
look, I should hardly have inquired even on hearing her name."
"How very curious--how strangely things come round!" said Fanny; then
with a start of dismay, "but what shall I do? Pray, tell me what you
would like. If I might only keep her a little while till I can find
some one else, though no one will ever be so nice, but indeed I would
not for a moment, if you had rather not."
"Why so? Alison is very happy with you, and there can be no reason
against her going on."
"Oh!" cried Lady Temple, with an odd sound of satisfaction, doubt,
and surprise, "but I thought you would not like it."
"I should like, of course, to set them all at ease, but as I can do
no more than make a home for Ermine and her niece, I can only rejoice
that Alison is with you."
"But your brother!"
"If he does not like it, he must take the consequence of the utter
separation he made my father insist on," said the Colonel sternly.
"For my own part, I only esteem both sisters the more, if that were
possible, for what they have done for themselves."
"Oh! that is what Rachel would like! She is so fond of the sick--I
mean of your--Miss Williams. I suppose I may not tell her yet."
"Not yet, if you please. I have scarcely had time as yet to know
what Ermine wishes, but I could not help telling you."
"Thank you--I am so glad," she said, with sweet earnestness, holding
out her hand in congratulation. "When may I go to her? I should
like for her to come and stay here. Do you think she would?"
"Thank you, I will see. I know how kind you would be--indeed, have
already been to her."
"And I am so thankful that I may keep Miss Williams! The dear boys
never were so good. And perhaps she may stay till baby is grown up.
Oh! how long it will be first!"
"She could not have a kinder friend," said the Colonel, smiling, and
looking at his watch.
"Oh, is it time to dress? It is very kind of my dear aunt; but I do
wish we could have stayed at home to-night. It is so dull for the
boys when I dine out, and I had so much to ask you. One thing was
about that poor little Bessie Keith. Don't you think I might ask her
down here, to be near her brother?"
"It would be a very kind thing in you, and very good for her, but you
must be prepared for rather a gay young lady."
"Oh, but she would not mind my not going out. She would have Alick,
you know, and all the boys to amuse her; but, if you think it would
be tiresome for her, and that she would not be happy, I should be
very sorry to have her, poor child."
"I was not afraid for her," said Colonel Keith, smiling, "but of her
being rather too much for you."
"Rachel is not too much for me," said Fanny, "and she and Grace will
entertain Bessie, and take her out. But I will talk to Alick. He
spoke of coming to-morrow. And don't you think I might ask Colonel
and Mrs. Hammond to spend a day? They would so like the sea for the
"Then perhaps you would write--oh, I forgot," colouring up, "I never
can forget the old days, it seems as if you were on the staff still."
"I always am on yours, and always hope to be," he said, smiling,
"though I am afraid I can't write your note to the Hammonds for you."
"But you won't go away," she said. "I know your time will be taken
up, and you must not let me or the boys be troublesome; but to have
you here makes me so much less lost and lonely. And I shall have
such a friend in your Erminia. Is that her name?"
"Ermine, an old Welsh name, the softest I ever heard. Indeed it is
dressing time," added Colonel Keith, and both moved away with the
startled precision of members of a punctual military household, still
feeling themselves accountable to somebody.
"For as his hand the weather steers,
So thrive I best 'twixt joys and tears,
And all the year have some green ears."--H. VAUGHAN.
Alison had not been wrong in her presentiment that the second
interview would be more trying than the first. The exceeding
brightness and animation of Ermine's countenance, her speaking eyes,
unchanged complexion, and lively manner--above all, the restoration
of her real substantial self--had so sufficed and engrossed Colin
Keith in the gladness of their first meeting that he had failed to
comprehend her helpless state; and already knowing her to be an
invalid, not entirely recovered from her accident, he was only
agreeably surprised to see the beauty of face he had loved so long,
retaining all its vivacity of expression. And when he met Alison the
next morning with a cordial brotherly greeting and inquiry for her
sister, her "Very well," and "not at all the worse for the
excitement," were so hearty and ready that he could not have guessed
that "well" with Ermine meant something rather relative than
positive. Alison brought him a playful message from her, that since
he was not going to Belfast, she should meet him with a freer
conscience if he would first give her time for Rose's lessons, and,
as he said, he had lived long enough with Messrs. Conrade and Co. to
acknowledge the wisdom of the message. But Rose had not long been at
leisure to look out for him before he made his appearance, and walked
in by right, as one at home; and sitting down in his yesterday's
place, took the little maiden on his knee, and began to talk to her
about the lessons he had been told to wait for. What would she have
done without them? He knew some people who never could leave the
house quiet enough to hear one's-self speak if they were deprived of
lessons. Was that the way with her? Rose laughed like a creature,
her aunt said, "to whom the notion of noise at play was something
strange and ridiculous; necessity has reduced her to Jacqueline
Pascal's system with her pensionnaires, who were allowed to play one
by one without any noise."
"But I don't play all alone," said Rose; "I play with you, Aunt
Ermine, and with Violetta."
And Violetta speedily had the honour of an introduction, very
solemnly gone through, in due form; Ermine, in the languid
sportiveness of enjoyment of his presence and his kindness to the
child, inciting Rose to present Miss Violetta Williams to Colonel
Keith, an introduction that he returned with a grand military salute,
at the same time as he shook the doll's inseparable fingers. "Well,
Miss Violetta, and Miss Rose, when you come to live with me, I shall
hope for the pleasure of teaching you to make a noise."
"What does he mean?" said Rose, turning round amazed upon her aunt.
"I am afraid he does not quite know," said Ermine, sadly.
"Nay, Ermine," said he, turning from the child, and bending over her,
"you are the last who should say that. Have I not told you that
there is nothing now in our way--no one with a right to object, and
means enough for all we should wish, including her--? What is the
matter?" he added, startled by her look.
"Ah, Colin! I thought you knew--"
"Knew what, Ermine?" with his brows drawn together.
"Knew--what I am," she said; "knew the impossibility. What, they
have not told you? I thought I was the invalid, the cripple, with
"I knew you had suffered cruelly; I knew you were lame," he said,
"It is more than lame," she said. "I should be better off if the
fiction of the Queens of Spain were truth with me. I could not move
from this chair without help. Oh, Colin! poor Colin! it was very
cruel not to have prepared you for this!" she added, as he gazed at
her in grief and dismay, and made a vain attempt to find the voice
that would not come. "Yes, indeed it is so," she said; "the
explosion, rather than the fire, did mischief below the knee that
poor nature could not repair, and I can but just stand, and cannot
walk at all."
"Has anything been done--advice?" he murmured.
"Advice upon advice, so that I felt at the last almost a compensation
to be out of the way of the doctors. No, nothing more can be done;
and now that one is used to it, the snail is very comfortable in its
shell. But I wish you could have known it sooner!" she added, seeing
him shade his brow with his hand, overwhelmed.
"What you must have suffered!" he murmured.
"That is all over long ago; every year has left that further behind,
and made me more content. Dear Colin, for me there is nothing to
He could not control himself, rose up, made a long stride, and passed
through the open window into the garden.
"Oh, if I could only follow him," gasped Ermine, joining her hands
and looking up.
"Is it because you can't walk?" said Rose, somewhat frightened, and
for the first time beginning to comprehend that her joyous-tempered
aunt could be a subject for pity.
"Oh! this was what I feared!" sighed Ermine. "Oh, give us strength
to go through with it." Then becoming awake to the child's presence-
-"A little water, if you please, my dear." Then, more composedly,
"Don't be frightened, my Rose; you did not know it was such a shock
to find me so laid by--"
"He is in the garden walking up and down," said Rose. "May I go and
tell him how much merrier you always are than Aunt Ailie?"
Poor Ermine felt anything but merry just then, but she had some
experience of Rose's powers of soothing, and signed assent. So in
another second Colonel Keith was met in the hasty, agonized walk by
which he was endeavouring to work off his agitation, and the slender
child looked wistfully up at him from dark depths of half
understanding eyes--"Please, please don't be so very sorry," she
said. "Aunt Ermine does not like it. She never is sorry for
"Have I shaken her--distressed her?" he asked, anxiously.
"She doesn't like you to be sorry," said Rose, looking up. "And,
indeed, she does not mind it; she is such a merry aunt! Please, come
in again, and see how happy we always are--"
The last words were spoken so near the window that Ermine caught
them, and said, "Yes, come in, Colin, and learn not to grieve for me,
or you will make me repent of my selfish gladness yesterday."
"Not grieve!" he exclaimed, "when I think of the beautiful vigorous
being that used to be the life of the place--" and he would have said
more but for a deprecating sign of the hand.
"Well," she said, half smiling, "it is a pity to think even of a
crushed butterfly; but indeed, Colin, if you can bear to listen to
me, I think I can show you that it all has been a blessing even by
sight, as well as, of course, by faith. Only remember the
unsatisfactoriness of our condition--the never seeing or hearing from
one another after that day when Mr. Beauchamp came down on us. Did
not the accident win for us a parting that was much better to
remember than that state of things? Oh, the pining, weary feel as if
all the world had closed on me! I do assure you it was much worse
than anything that came after the burn. Yes, if I had been well and
doing like others, I know I should have fretted and wearied, pined
myself ill perhaps, whereas I could always tell myself that every
year of your absence might be a step towards your finding me well;
and when I was forced to give up that hope for myself, why then,
Colin, the never seeing your name made me think you would never be
disappointed and grieved as you are now. It is very merciful the way
that physical trials help one through those of the mind."
"I never knew," said the Colonel; "all my aunt's latter letters spoke
of your slow improvement beyond hope."
"True, in her time, I had not reached the point where I stopped. The
last time I saw her I was still upstairs; and, indeed, I did not half
know what I could do till I tried."
"Yes," said he, brightened by that buoyant look so remarkable in her
face; " and you will yet do more, Ermine. You have convinced me that
we shall be all the happier together--"
"But that was not what I meant to convince you of--" she said,
"Not what you meant, perhaps; but what it did convince me was, that
you--as you are, my Ermine--are ten thousand times more to me than
even as the beautiful girl, and that there never can be a happier
pair than we shall be when I am your hands and feet."
Ermine sat up, and rallied all her forces, choked back the swelling
of her throat, and said, "Dear Colin, it cannot be! I trusted you
were understanding that when I told you how it was with me."
He could not speak from consternation.
"No," she said; "it would be wrong in me to think of it for an
instant. That you should have done so, shows--0 Colin, I cannot talk
of it; but it would be as ungenerous in me to consent, as it is noble
of you to propose it."
"It is no such thing," he answered; "it has been the one object and
thought of my life, the only hope I have had all these years."
"Exactly so," she said, struggling again to speak firmly; "and that
is the very thing. You kept your allegiance to the bright, tall,
walking, active girl, and it would be a shame in the scorched cripple
to claim it."
"Don't call yourself names. Have I not told you that you are more
than the same?"
"You do not know. You are pleased because my face is not burnt, nor
grown much older, and because I can talk and laugh in the same voice
still." (Oh, how it quivered!) "But it would be a wicked mockery in
me to pretend to be the wife you want. Yes, I know you think you do,
but that is just because my looks are so deceitful, and you have kept
on thinking about me; but you must make a fresh beginning."
"You can tell me that," he said, indignantly.
"Because it is not new to me," she said; "the quarter of an hour you
stood by me, with that deadly calm in your white face, was the real
farewell to the young hopeful dream of that bright summer. I wish it
was as calm now."
"I believed you dying then," answered he.
"Do not make me think it would have been better for you if I had
been," she said, imploringly. "It was as much the end, and I knew it
from the time my recovery stopped short. I would have let you know
if I could, and then you would not have been so much shocked."
"So as to cut me off from you entirely?"
"No, indeed. The thought of seeing you again was too--too
overwhelming to be indulged in; knowing, as I did, that if you were
the same to me, it must be at this sad cost to you," and her eyes
filled with tears.
"It is you who make it so, Ermine."
"No; it is the providence that has set me aside from the active work
of life. Pray do not go on, Colin, it is only giving us both useless
pain. You do not know what it costs me to deny you, and I feel that
I must. I know you are only acting on the impulse of generosity.
Yes, I will say so, though you think it is to please yourself," she
added, with one of those smiles that nothing could drive far from her
lips, and which made it infinitely harder to acquiesce in her denial.
"I will make you think so in time," he said. "Then I might tell you,
you had no right to please yourself," she answered, still with the
same air of playfulness; "you have got a brother, you know--and--yes,
I hear you growl; but if he is a poor old broken man out of health,
it is the more reason you should not vex him, nor hamper yourself
with a helpless commodity."
"You are not taking the way to make me forget what my brother has
done for us."
"How do you know that he did not save me from being a strong-minded
military lady! After all, it was absurd to expect people to look
favourably on our liking for one another, and you know they could not
be expected to know that there was real stuff in the affair. If
there had not been, we should have thought so all the same, you know,
and been quite as furious."
He could not help smiling, recollecting fury that, in the course of
these twelve years, he had seen evinced under similar circumstances
by persons who had consoled themselves before he had done pitying
them. "Still," he said gravely, "I think there was harshness."
"So do I, but not so much as I thought at that time, and--oh, surely
that is not Rachel Curtis? I told her I thought you would call."
"Intolerable!" he muttered between his teeth. "Is she always coming
to bore you?"
"She has been very kind, and my great enlivenment," said Ermine, "and
she can't be expected to know how little we want her. Oh, there, the
danger is averted! She must have asked if you were here."
"I was just thinking that she was the chief objection to Lady
Temple's kind wish of having you at Myrtlewood."
"Does Lady Temple know?" asked Ermine, blushing.
"I could not keep it from one who has been so uniformly kind to me;
but I desired her not to let it go further till I should hear your
"Yes, she has a right to know," said Ermine; "but please, not a word
"And will you not come to stay with her?"
"I? Oh, no; I am fit for no place but this. You don't half know how
bad I am. When you have seen a little more of us, you will be quite
"Well, at least, you give me leave to come here."
"Leave? When it is a greater pleasure than I ever thought to have
again; that is, while you understand that you said good-bye to the
Ermine of Beauchamp Parsonage twelve years ago, and that the thing
here is only a sort of ghost, most glad and grateful to be a friend--
"So," he said, "those are to be the terms of my admission."
"The only possible ones."
"I will consider them. I have not accepted them."
"You will," she said.
But she met a smile in return, implying that there might be a will as
steadfast as her own, although the question might be waived for a
Meantime, Rachel was as nearly hating Colonel Keith as principle
would allow, with "Human Reeds," newly finished, burning in her
pocket, "Military Society" fermenting in her brain, and "Curatocult"
still unacknowledged. Had he not had quite time for any rational
visit? Was he to devour Mackarel Lane as well as Myrtlewood? She
was on her way to the latter house, meeting Grace as she went, and
congratulating herself that he could not be in two places at once,
whilst Grace secretly wondered how far she might venture to build on
Alison Williams's half confidence, and regretted the anxiety wasted
by Rachel and the mother; though, to be sure, that of Mrs. Curtis was
less uncalled for than her daughter's, since it was only the fear of
Fanny's not being sufficiently guarded against misconstructions.
Rachel held up her hands in despair in the hall. "Six officers'
cards!" she exclaimed.
"No, only six cards," said Grace; "there are two of each."
"That's enough," sighed Rachel; "and look there," gazing through the
garden-door. "She is walking with the young puppy that dined here on
Thursday, and they called Alick."
"Do you remember," said Grace, "how she used to chatter about Alick,
when she first came to us, at six years old. He was the child of one
of the officers. Can this be the same?"
"That's one of your ideas, Grace. Look, this youth could have been
hardly born when Fanny came to us. No; he is only one of the idlers
that military life has accustomed her to."
Rather against Grace's feeling, Rachel drew her on, so as to come up
with Lady Temple and her friend in the midst of their conversation,
and they heard the last words--
"Then you will give me dear Bessie's direction?"
"Thank you, it will be the greatest kindness--"
"Oh, Grace, Rachel, is it you?" exclaimed Fanny. "You have not met
before, I think. Mr. Keith--Miss Curtis."
Very young indeed were both face and figure, fair and pale, and
though there was a moustache, it was so light and silky as to be
scarcely visible; the hair, too, was almost flaxen, and the whole
complexion had a washed-out appearance. The eyes, indeed, were of
the same peculiar deep blue as the Colonel's, but even these were
little seen under their heavy sleepy lids, and the long limbs had in
every movement something of weight and slowness, the very sight of
which fretted Rachel, and made her long to shake him. It appeared
that he was come to spend the Sunday at Avonmouth, and Grace tried to
extract the comfort for her mother that two gentlemen were better
than one, and Fanny need not be on their minds for chaperonage for
A party of garden-chairs on the lawn invited repose, and there the
ladies seated themselves; Fanny laying down her heavy crape bonnet,
and showing her pretty little delicate face, now much fresher and
more roseate than when she arrived, though her wide-spreading black
draperies gave a certain dignity to her slight figure, contrasting
with the summer muslins of her two cousins; as did her hot-house
plant fairness, with their firm, healthy glow of complexion; her
tender shrinking grace, with their upright vigour. The gentleman of
the party leant hack in a languid, easy posture, as though only half
awake, and the whole was so quiet that Grace, missing the usual
tumult of children, asked after them.
"The boys have gone to their favourite cove under the plantation.
They have a fort there, and Hubert told me he was to be a hero, and
Miss Williams a she-ro."
"I would not encourage that description of sport," said Rachel,
willing to fight a battle in order to avert maternal anecdotes of
"They like it so much," said Fanny, "and they learn so much now that
they act all the battles they read about."
"That is what I object to," said Rachel; "it is accustoming them to
confound heroism with pugnacity."
"No, but Rachel dear, they do quarrel and fight among themselves much
less now that this is all in play and good humour," pleaded Fanny.
"Yes, that may be, but you are cultivating the dangerous instinct,
although for a moment giving it a better direction."
"Dangerous? Oh, Alick! do you think it can be?" said Fanny, less
easily borne down with a supporter beside her.
"According to the Peace Society," he answered, with a quiet air of
courteous deference; "perhaps you belong to it?"
"No, indeed," answered Rachel, rather indignantly, "I think war the
great purifier and ennobler of nations, when it is for a good and
great cause; but I think education ought to protest against
confounding mere love of combat with heroism."
"Query, the true meaning of the word?" he said, leaning back.
"Heros, yes from the same root as the German herr," readily responded
Rachel, "meaning no more than lord and master; but there can be no
doubt that the progress of ideas has linked with it a much nobler
"Progress! What, since the heroes were half divine!"
"Half divine in the esteem of a people who thought brute courage
godlike. To us the word maintains its semi-divinity, and it should
be our effort to associate it only with that which veritably has the
"And that is--?"
"Doing more than one's duty," exclaimed Rachel, with a glistening
"Very uncomfortable and superfluous, and not at all easy," he said,
half shutting his already heavy eyes.
"Easy, no, that's the beauty and the glory--"
"Major Sherborne and Captain Lester in the drawing room, my lady,"
announced Coombe, who had looked infinitely cheered since this
"You will come with me, Grace," said Fanny, rising. "I dare say you
had rather not, Rachel, and it would be a pity to disturb you,
"Thank you; it would be decidedly more than my duty."
"I am quite sorry to go, you are so amusing," said Fanny, "but I
suppose you will have settled about heroism by the time we come out
again, and will tell me what the boys ought to play at."
Rachel's age was quite past the need of troubling herself at being
left tete-a-tete with a mere lad like this; and, besides, it was an
opportunity not to be neglected of giving a young carpet knight a
lesson in true heroism. There was a pause after the other two had
moved off. Rachel reflected for a few moments, and then,
precipitated by the fear of her audience falling asleep, she
"No words have been more basely misused than hero and heroine. The
one is the mere fighting animal whose strength or fortune have borne
him through some more than ordinary danger, the other is only the
subject of an adventure, perfectly irrespective of her conduct in
"Bathos attends all high words," he said, as she paused, chiefly to
see whether he was awake, and not like her dumb playfellow of old.
"This is not their natural bathos but their misuse. They ought to be
reserved for those who in any department have passed the limits to
which the necessity of their position constrained them, and done acts
of self-devotion for the good of others. I will give you an
instance, and from your own profession, that you may see I am not
prejudiced, besides, the hero of it is past praise or blame."
Encouraged by seeing a little more of his eyes, she went on. "It was
in the course of the siege of Delhi, a shell came into a tent where
some sick and wounded were lying. There was one young officer among
them who could move enough to have had a chance of escaping the
explosion, but instead of that he took the shell up, its fuse burning
as it was, and ran with it out of the tent, then hurled it to a
distance. It exploded, and of course was his death, but the rest
were saved, and I call that a deed of heroism far greater than
mounting a breach or leading a forlorn hope."
"Killed, you say?" inquired Mr. Keith, still in the same lethargic
"Oh yes, mortally wounded: carried back to die among the men he had
"Jessie Cameron singing his dirge," mumbled this provoking
individual, with something about the form of his cheek that being
taken by Rachel for a derisive smile, made her exclaim vehemently,
"You do not mean to undervalue an action like that in comparison with
mere animal pugnacity in an advance."
"More than one's duty was your test," he said.
"And was not this more than duty? Ah! I see yours is a spirit of
depreciation, and I can only say I pity you."
He took the trouble to lift himself up and make a little bow of
acknowledgment. Certainly he was worse than the Colonel; but Rachel,
while mustering her powers for annihilating him, was annoyed by all
the party in the drawing-room coming forth to join them, the other
officers rallying young Keith upon his luxurious station, and making
it evident that he was a proverb in the regiment for taking his ease.
Chairs were brought out, and afternoon tea, and the callers sat down
to wait for Colonel Keith to come in; Grace feeling obliged to stay
to help Fanny entertain her visitors, and Rachel to protect her from
their follies. One thing Grace began to perceive, that Lady Temple
had in her former world been a person of much more consideration than
she was made here, and seeing the polite and deferential manner of
these officers to her, could only wonder at her gentle content and
submission in meeting with no particular attention from anybody, and
meekly allowing herself to be browbeaten by Rachel and lectured by
A lecture was brewing up for her indeed. Poor Mrs. Curtis was very
much concerned at the necessity, and only spurred up by a strong
sense of duty to give a hint--the study of which hint cost her a
whole sleepless night and a very weary Sunday morning. She decided
that her best course would be to drive to Myrtlewood rather early on
her way to church, and take up Fanny, gaining a previous conference
with her alone, if possible. "Yes, my dear," she said to Grace, "I
must get it over before church, or it will make me so nervous all
through the service." And Grace, loving her mother best, durst not
suggest what it might do to Fanny, hoping that the service might help
her to digest the hint.
Mrs. Curtis's regular habits were a good deal shocked to find Fanny
still at the breakfast table. The children had indeed long finished,
and were scattered about the room, one of them standing between
Colonel Keith's knees, repeating a hymn; but the younger guest was
still in the midst of his meal, and owned in his usual cool manner
that he was to blame for the lateness, there was no resisting the
charms of no morning parade.
Her aunt's appearance made Fanny imagine it much later than it really
was, and she hurried off the children to be dressed, and proceeded
herself to her room, Mrs. Curtis following, and by way of
preliminary, asking when Colonel Keith was going to Ireland.
"Oh!" said Fanny, blushing most suspiciously under her secret, "he is
not going to Ireland now."
"Indeed! I quite understood he intended it."
"Yes," faltered Fanny, "but he found that he need not."
"Indeed!" again ejaculated poor perplexed Mrs. Curtis; "but then, at
least, he is going away soon."
"He must go to Scotland by-and-by, but for the present he is going
into lodgings. Do you know of any nice ones, dear aunt?"
"Well, I suppose you can't help that; you know, my dear, it would
never do for him to stay in this house."
"I never thought of that," said Fanny simply, the colour coming in a
"No, my dear, but you see you are very young and inexperienced. I do
not say you have done anything the least amiss, or that you ever
would mean it, only you will forgive your old aunt for putting you on
Fanny kissed her, but with eyes full of tears, and cheeks burning,
then her candour drew from her--"It was he that thought of getting a
lodging. I am glad I did not persuade him not; but you know he
always did live with us."
"With us. Yes, my poor dear, that is the difference, and you see he
feels it. But, indeed, my dear child, though he is a very good man,
I dare say, and quite a gentleman all but his beard, you had better
not encourage-- You know people are so apt to make remarks."
"I have no fear," said Fanny, turning away her head, conscious of the
impossibility of showing her aunt her mistake.
"Ah! my dear, you don't guess how ready people are to talk; and you
would not like--for your children's sake, for your husband's sake--
"Pray, pray aunt," cried Fanny, much pained, "indeed you don't know.
My husband had confidence in him more than in any one. He told him
to take care of me and look after the boys. I couldn't hold aloof
from him without transgressing those wishes"--and the words were lost
in a sob.
"My dear, indeed I did not mean to distress you. You know, I dare
say--I mean--" hesitated poor Mrs. Curtis. "I know you must see a
great deal of him. I only want you to take care--appearances are
appearances, and if it was said you had all these young officers
always coming about--"
"I don't think they will come. It was only just to call, and they
have known me so long. It is all out of respect to my father and Sir
Stephen," said Fanny, meekly as ever. "Indeed, I would not for the
world do anything you did not like, dear aunt; but there can't be any
objection to my having Mrs. Hammond and the children to spend the day
Mrs. Curtis did not like it; she had an idea that all military ladies
were dashing and vulgar, but she could not say there was any
objection, so she went on to the head of poor Fanny's offending.
"This young man, my dear, he seems to make himself very intimate."
"Alick Keith? Oh aunt!" said Fanny, more surprised than by all the
rest; "don't you know about him? His father and mother were our
greatest friends always; I used to play with him every day till I
came to you. And then just as I married, poor Mrs. Keith died, and
we had dear little Bessie with us till her father could send her
home. And when poor Alick was so dreadfully wounded before Delhi,
Sir Stephen sent him up in a litter to the hills for mamma and me to
nurse. Mamma was so fond of him, she used to call him her son."
"Yes, my dear, I dare say you have been very intimate; but you see
you are very young; and his staying here--"
"I thought he would be so glad to come and be with the Colonel, who
was his guardian and Bessie's," said Fanny, "and I have promised to
have Bessie to stay with me, she was such a dear little thing--"
"Well, my dear, it may be a good thing for you to have a young lady
with you, and if he is to come over, her presence will explain it.
Understand me, my dear, I am not at all afraid of your--your doing
anything foolish, only to get talked of is so dreadful in your
situation, that you can't be too careful."
"Yes, yes, thank you, dear aunt," murmured the drooping and subdued
Fanny, aware how much the remonstrance must cost her aunt, and sure
that she must be in fault in some way, if she could only see how.
"Please, dear aunt, help me, for indeed I don't know how to manage--
tell me how to be civil and kind to my dear husband's friends
Her voice broke down, though she kept from tears as an unkindness to
In very fact, little as she knew it, she could not have defended
herself better than by this humble question, throwing the whole
guidance of her conduct upon her aunt. If she had been affronted,
Mrs. Curtis could have been displeased; but to be thus set to
prescribe the right conduct, was at once mollifying and perplexing.
"Well, well, my dear child, we all know you wish to do right; you can
judge best. I would not have you ungrateful or uncivil, only you
know you are living very quietly, and intimacy--oh! my dear, I know
your own feeling will direct you. Dear child! you have taken what I
said so kindly. And now let me see that dear little girl."
Rachel had not anticipated that the upshot of a remonstrance, even
from her mother, would be that Fanny was to be directed by her own
That same feeling took Lady Temple to Mackarel Lane later in the day.
She had told the Colonel her intention, and obtained Alison's
assurance that Ermine's stay at Myrtlewood need not be impracticable,
and armed with their consent, she made her timid tap at Miss
Williams' door, and showed her sweet face within it.
"May I come in? Your sister and your little niece are gone for a
walk. I told them I would come! I did want to see you!"
"Thank you," said Ermine, with a sweet smile, colouring cheek, yet
grave eyes, and much taken by surprise at being seized by both hands,
and kissed on each cheek.
"Yes, you must let me," said her visitor, looking up with her pretty
imploring gesture, "you know I have known him so long, and he has
been so good to me!"
"Indeed it is very kind in you," said Ermine, fully feeling the force
of the plea expressed in the winning young face and gentle eyes full
"Oh, no, I could not help it. I am only so sorry we kept him away
from you when you wanted him so much; but we did not know, and he was
Sir Stephen's right hand, and we none of us knew what to do without
him; but if he had only told--"
"Thank you, oh, thank you!" said Ermine, "but indeed it was better
for him to be away."
Even her wish to console that pleading little widow could not make
her say that his coming would not have been good for her. "It has
been such a pleasure to hear he had so kind and happy a home all
"Oh, you cannot think how Sir Stephen loved and valued him. The one
thing I always did wish was, that Conrade should grow up to be as
much help and comfort to his father, and now he never can! But,"
driving back a tear, "it was so hard that you should not have known
how distinguished and useful and good he was all those years. Only
now I shall have the pleasure of telling you," and she smiled. She
was quite a different being when free from the unsympathizing
influence which, without her understanding it, had kept her from
dwelling on her dearest associations.
"It will be a pleasure of pleasures," said Ermine, eagerly.
"Then you will do me a favour, a very great favour," said Lady
Temple, laying hold of her hand again, "if you and your sister and
niece will come and stay with me." And as Ermine commenced her
refusal, she went on in the same coaxing way, with a description of
her plans for Ermine's comfort, giving her two rooms on the ground
floor, and assuring her of the absence of steps, the immunity from
all teasing by the children, of the full consent of her sister, and
the wishes of the Colonel, nay, when Ermine was still unpersuaded of
the exceeding kindness it would be to herself. "You see I am
terribly young, really," she said, "though I have so many boys, and
my aunt thinks it awkward for me to have so many officers calling,
and I can't keep them away because they are my father's and Sir
Stephen's old friends; so please do come and make it all right!"
Ermine was driven so hard, and so entirely deprived of all excuse,
that she had no alternative left but to come to the real motive.
"I ought not," she said, "it is not good for him, so you must not
press me, dear Lady Temple. You see it is best for him that nobody
should ever know of what has been between us."
"What! don't you mean--?" exclaimed Fanny, breaking short off.
"I cannot!" said Ermine.
"But he would like it. He wishes it as much as ever."
"I know he does," said Ermine, with a troubled voice; "but you see
that is because he did not know what a wretched remnant I am, and he
never has had time to think about any one else."
"Oh no, no."
"And it would be very unfair of me to take advantage of that, and
give him such a thing as I am."
"Oh dear, but that is very sad!" cried Fanny, looking much startled.
"But I am sure you must see that it is right."
"It may be right," and out burst Fanny's ready tears; "but it is
very, very hard and disagreeable, if you don't mind my saying so,
when I know it is so good of you. And don't you mean to let him even
see you, when he has been constant so long?"
"No; I see no reason for denying myself that; indeed I believe it is
better for him to grow used to me as I am, and be convinced of the
"Well then, why will you not come to me?"
"Do you not see, in all your kindness, that my coming to you would
make every one know the terms between us, while no one remarks his
just coming to me here as an old friend? And if he were ever to turn
his mind to any one else--"
"He will never do that, I am sure."
"There is no knowing. He has never been, in his own estimation,
disengaged from me," said Ermine; "his brother is bent on his
marrying, and he ought to be perfectly free to do so, and not under
the disadvantage that any report of this affair would be to him."
"Well, I am sure he never will," said Fanny, almost petulantly;
"I know I shall hate her, that's all."
Ermine thought her own charity towards Mrs. Colin Keith much more
dubious than Lady Temple's, but she continued--
"At any rate you will be so very kind as not to let any one know of
it. I am glad you do. I should not feel it right that you should
not, but it is different with others."
"Thank you. And if you will not come to me, you will let me come to
you, won't you? It will be so nice to come and talk him over with
you. Perhaps I shall persuade you some of these days after all.
Only I must go now, for I always give the children their tea on
Sunday. But please let your dear little niece come up to-morrow and
play with them; the little Hammonds will be there, she is just their
Ermine felt obliged to grant this at least, though she was as
doubtful of her shy Rose's happiness as of the expedience of the
intimacy; but there was no being ungracious to the gentle visitor,
and no doubt Ermine felt rejoiced and elevated. She did not need
fresh assurances of Colin's constancy, but the affectionate sister-
like congratulations of this loving, winning creature, showed how
real and in earnest his intentions were. And then Lady Temple's
grateful esteem for him being, as it was, the reflection of her
husband's, was no small testimony to his merits.
"Pretty creature!" said Ermine to herself, "really if it did come to
that, I could spare him to her better than to any one else. She has
some notion how to value him."
Alison and Rose had, in the meantime, been joined by Colonel Keith
and the boys, whom Alick had early deserted in favour of a sunny
sandy nook. The Colonel's purpose was hard on poor Alison; it was to
obtain her opinion of her sister's decision, and the likelihood of
persistence in it. It was not, perhaps, bad for either that they
conversed under difficulties, the boys continually coming back to
them from excursions on the rocks, and Rose holding her aunt's hand
all the time, but to be sure Rose had heard nearly all the Colonel's
affairs, and somehow mixed him up with Henry of Cranstoun.
Very tenderly towards Alison herself did Colin Keith speak. It was
the first time they had ever been brought into close contact, and she
had quite to learn to know him. She had regarded his return as
probably a misfortune, but it was no longer possible to do so when
she heard his warm and considerate way of speaking of her sister, and
saw him only desirous of learning what was most for her real
happiness. Nay, he even made a convert of Alison herself! She did
believe that would Ermine but think it right to consent, she would be
happy and safe in the care of one who knew so well how to love her.
Terrible as the wrench would be to Alison herself, she thought he
deserved her sister, and that she would be as happy with him as earth
could make her. But she did not believe Ermine would ever accept
him. She knew the strong, unvarying resolution by which her sister
had always held to what she thought right, and did not conceive that
it would waver. The acquiescence in his visits, and the undisguised
exultant pleasure in his society, were evidences to Alison not of
wavering or relenting, but of confidence in Ermine's own sense of
impossibility. She durst not give him any hope, though she owned
that he merited success. "Did she think his visits bad for her
sister?" he then asked in the unselfishness that pleaded so strongly
"No, certainly not," she answered eagerly, then made a little
hesitation that made him ask further.
"My only fear," she said candidly, "is, that if this is pressed much
on her, and she has to struggle with you and herself too, it may hurt
her health. Trouble tells not on her cheerfulness, but on her
"Thank you," he said, "I will refrain."
Alison was much happier than she had been since the first
apprehension of his return. The first pang at seeing Ermine's heart
another's property had been subdued; the present state of affairs was
indefinitely-prolonged, and she not only felt trust in Colin Keith's
consideration for her sister, but she knew that an act of oblivion
was past on her perpetration of the injury. She was right. His
original pitying repugnance to a mere unknown child could not be
carried on to the grave, saddened woman devoted to her sister, and in
the friendly brotherly tone of that interview, each understood the
other. And when Alison came home and said, "I have been walking with
Colin," her look made Ermine very happy.
"And learning to know him."
"Learning to sympathize with him, Ermine," with steady eyes and
voice. "You are hard on him."
"Now, Ailie," said Ermine, "once for all, he is not to set you on me,
as he has done with Lady Temple. The more he persuades me, the
better I know that to listen would be an abuse of his constancy. It
would set him wrong with his brother, and, as dear Edward's affairs
stand, we have no right to carry the supposed disgrace into a family
that would believe it, though he does not. If I were ever so well,
I should not think it right to marry. I shall not shun the sight of
him; it is delightful to me, and a less painful cure to him than
sending him away would be. It is in the nature of things that he
should cool into a friendly kindly feeling, and I shall try to bear
it. Or if he does marry, it will be all right I suppose--" but her
voice faltered, and she gave a sort of broken laugh.
"There," she said, with a recovered flash of liveliness, "there's my
resolution, to do what I like more than anything in the world as long
as I can; and when it is over I shall be helped to do without it!"
"I can't believe--" broke out Alison.
"Not in your heart, but in your reason," said Ermine, endeavouring to
smile. "He will hover about here, and always be kind, loving,
considerate; but a time will come that he will want the home
happiness I cannot give. Then he will not wear out his affection on
the impossible literary cripple, but begin over again, and be happy.
And, Alison, if your love for me is of the sound, strong sort I know
it is, you will help me through with it, and never say one word to
make all this less easy and obvious to him."
WAITNG FOR ROSE
"Not envy, sure! for if you gave me
Leave to take or to refuse
In earnest, do you think I'd choose
That sort of new love to enslave me?"--R. BROWNING.
So, instead of going to Belfast, here was Colonel Keith actually
taking a lodging and settling himself into it; nay, even going over
to Avoncester on a horse-buying expedition, not merely for the
Temples, but for himself.
This time Rachel did think herself sure of Miss Williams' ear in
peace, and came down on her with two fat manuscripts upon Human Reeds
and Military Society, preluding, however, by bitter complaints of the
"Traveller" for never having vouchsafed her an answer, nor having
even restored "Curatocult," though she had written three times, and
sent a directed envelope and stamps for the purpose. The paper must
be ruined by so discourteous an editor, indeed she had not been
nearly so much interested as usual by the last few numbers. If only
she could get her paper back, she should try the "Englishwoman's
Hobby-horse," or some other paper of more progress than that
"Traveller." "Is it not very hard to feel one's self shut out from
the main stream of the work of the world when one's heart is
"I think you overrate the satisfaction."
"You can't tell! You are contented with that sort of home peaceful
sunshine that I know suffices many. Even intellectual as you are,
you can't tell what it is to feel power within, to strain at the
leash, and see others in the race."
"I was thinking whether you could not make an acceptable paper on the
lace system, which you really know so thoroughly."
"The fact is," said Rachel, "it is much more difficult to describe
from one's own observation than from other sources."
"But rather more original," said Ermine, quite overcome by the
naivete of the confession.
"I don't see that," said Rachel. "It is abstract reasoning from
given facts that I aim at, as you will understand when you have heard
my 'Human Reeds,' and my other--dear me, there's your door bell. I
thought that Colonel was gone for the day."
"There are other people in the world besides the Colonel," Ermine
began to say, though she hardly felt as if there were, and at any
rate a sense of rescue crossed her. The persons admitted took them
equally by surprise, being Conrade Temple and Mr. Keith.
"I thought," said Rachel, as she gave her unwilling hand to the
latter, "that you would have been at Avoncester to-day."
"I always get out of the way of horse-dealing. I know no greater
bore," he answered.
"Mamma sent me down," Conrade was explaining; "Mr. Keith's uncle
found out that he knew Miss Williams--no, that's not it, Miss
Williams' uncle found out that Mr. Keith preached a sermon, or
something of that sort, so mamma sent me down to show him the way to
call upon her; but I need not stay now, need I?"
"After that elegant introduction, and lucid explanation, I think you
may be excused," returned Alick Keith.
The boy shook Ermine's hand with his soldierly grace, but rather
spoilt the effect thereof by his aside, "I wanted to see the toad and
the pictures our Miss Williams told me about, but I'll come another
time;" and the wink of his black eyes, and significant shrug of his
shoulders at Rachel, were irresistible. They all laughed, even
Rachel herself, as Ermine, seeing it would be worse to ignore the
demonstration, said, "The elements of aunt and boy do not always work
"No," said Rachel; "I have never been forgiven for being the first
person who tried to keep those boys in order."
"And now," said Ermine, turning to her other visitor, "perhaps I may
discover which of us, or of our uncles, preached a sermon."
"Mine, I suspect," returned Mr. Keith. "Your sister and I made out
at luncheon that you had known my uncle, Mr. Clare, of
"Mr. Clare! Oh yes," cried Ermine eagerly, "he took the duty for one
of our curates once for a long vacation. Did you ever hear him speak
"Yes, often; and of Dr. Williams. He will be very much interested to
hear of you."
"It was a time I well remember," said Ermine. "He was an Oxford
tutor then, and I was about fourteen, just old enough to be delighted
to hear clever talk. And his sermons were memorable; they were the
first I ever listened to."
"There are few sermons that it is not an infliction to listen to,"
began Rachel, but she was not heard or noticed.
"I assure you they are even more striking now in his blindness."
"Blindness! Indeed, I had not heard of that."
Even Rachel listened with interest as the young officer explained
that his uncle, whom both he and Miss Williams talked of as a man of
note, of whom every one must have heard, had for the last four years
been totally blind, but continued to be an active parish priest,
visiting regularly, preaching, and taking a share in the service,
which he knew by heart. He had, of course, a curate, who lived with
him, and took very good care of him.
"No one else?" said Rachel. "I thought your sister lived at
"No, my sister lives, or has lived, at Little Worthy, the next
parish, and as unlike it as possible. It has a railroad in it, and
the cockneys have come down on it and 'villafied' it. My aunt, Mrs.
Lacy Clare, has lived there ever since my sister has been with her;
but now her last daughter is to be married, she wishes to give up
"And your sister is coming to Lady Temple," said Rachel, in her
peculiar affirmative way of asking questions. "She will find it very
"With all the advantages of Avoncester at hand?" inquired Alick, with
a certain gleam under his flaxen eyelashes that convinced Ermine that
he said it in mischief. But Rachel drew herself up gravely, and
"In Lady Temple's situation any such thing would be most inconsistent
with good feeling."
"Such as the cathedral?" calmly, not to say sleepily, inquired Alick,
to the excessive diversion of Ermine, who saw that Rachel had never
been laughed at in her life, and was utterly at a loss what to make
"If you meant the cathedral," she said, a little uncertainly,
recollecting the tone in which Mr. Clare had just been spoken of, and
thinking that perhaps Miss Keith might be a curatolatress, "I am
afraid it is not of much benefit to people living at this distance,
and there is not much to be said for the imitation here."
"You will see what my sister says to it. She only wants training to
be the main strength of the Bishopsworthy choir, and perhaps she may
find it here."
Rachel was evidently undecided whether chants or marches were Miss
Keith's passion, and, perhaps, which propensity would render the
young lady the most distasteful to herself. Ermine thought it
merciful to divert the attack by mentioning Mr. Clare's love of
music, and hoping his curate could gratify it. "No," Mr. Keith said,
"it was very unlucky that Mr. Lifford did not know one note from
another; so that his vicar could not delude himself into hoping that
his playing on his violin was anything but a nuisance to his
companion, and in spite of all the curate's persuasions, he only
indulged himself therewith on rare occasions." But as Ermine showed
surprise at the retention of a companion devoid of this sixth sense,
so valuable to the blind, he added--"No one would suit him so well.
Mr. Lifford has been with him ever since his sight began to fail, and
understands all his ways."
"Yes, that makes a great difference."
"And," pursued the young man, coming to something like life as he
talked of his uncle, "though he is not quite all that a companion
might be, my uncle says there would be no keeping the living without
him, and I do not believe there would, unless my uncle would have me
Ermine laughed and looked interested, not quite knowing what other
answer to make. Rachel lifted up her eyebrows in amazement.
"Another advantage," added Alick, who somehow seemed to accept Ermine
as one of the family, "is, that he is no impediment to Bessie's
living there, for, poor man, he has a wife, but insane."
"Then your sister will live there?" said Rachel. "What an enviable
position, to have the control of means of doing good that always
falls to the women of a clerical family."
"Tell her so," said the brother, with his odd, suppressed smile.
"What, she does not think so?"
"Now," said Mr. Keith, leaning back, "on my answer depends whether
Bessie enters this place with a character for chanting, croquet, or
crochet. Which should you like worst, Miss Curtis?"
"I like evasions worst of all," said Rachel, with a flash of
something like playful spirit, though there was too much asperity in
"But you see, unfortunately, I don't know," said Alick Keith, slowly.
"I have never been able to find out, nor she either. I don't know
what may be the effect of example," he added. Ermine wondered
whether he were in mischief or earnest, and suspected a little of
"I shall be very happy to show Miss Keith any of my ways," said
Rachel, with no doubts at all; "but she will find me terribly impeded
here. When does she come?"
"Not for a month or six weeks, when the wedding will be over. It is
high time she saw something of her respected guardian."
"Yes," then to Ermine, "Every one turns to him with reliance and
confidence. I believe no one in the army received so many last
charges as he has done, or executes them more fully."
"And," said Ermine, feeling pleasure colour her cheek more deeply
than was convenient, "you are relations."
"So far away that only a Scotsman would acknowledge the cousinship."
"But do not you call yourself Scotch?" said Ermine, who had for years
thought it glorious to do so.
"My great grandfather came from Gowan-brae," said Alick, "but our
branch of the family has lived and died in the -th Highlanders for so
many generations that we don't know what a home is out of it. Our
birthplaces--yes, and our graves--are in all parts of the world."
"Were you ever in Scotland?"
"Never; and I dread nothing so much as being quartered there. Just
imagine the trouble it would be to go over the pedigree of every
Keith I met, and to dine with them all upon haggis and sheeps' head!"
"There's no place I want to sea as much as Scotland," said Rachel.
"Oh, yes! young ladies always do."
"It is not for a young lady reason," said Rachel, bluntly. "I want
to understand the principle of diffused education, as there
practised. The only other places I should really care to see are the
Grand Reformatory for the Destitute in Holland, and the Hospital for
Cretins in Switzerland."
"Scotch pedants, Dutch thieves, Swiss goitres--I will bear your
tastes in mind," said Mr. Keith, rising to take leave.
"Really," said Rachel, when he was gone, "if he had not that silly
military tone of joking, there might be something tolerable about him
if he got into good hands. He seems to have some good notions about
his sister. She must be just out of the school-room, at the very
turn of life, and I will try to get her into my training and show her
a little of the real beauty and usefulness of the career she has
before her. How late he has stayed! I am afraid there is no time
for the manuscripts."
And though Ermine was too honest to say she was sorry, Rachel did not
miss the regret.
Colonel Keith came the next day, and under his arm was a parcel,
which was laid in little Rose's arms, and, when unrolled, proved to
contain a magnificent wax doll, no doubt long the object of
unrequited attachment to many a little Avoncestrian, a creature of
beauteous and unmeaning face, limpid eyes, hair that could be
brushed, and all her members waxen, as far as could be seen below the
provisional habiliment of pink paper that enveloped her. Little
Rose's complexion became crimson, and she did not utter a word, while
her aunt, colouring almost as much, laughed and asked where were her
"Oh!" with a long gasp, "it can't be for me!"
"Do you think it is for your aunt?" said the Colonel.
"Oh, thank you! But such a beautiful creature for me!" said Rose,
with another gasp, quite oppressed. "Aunt Ermine, how shall I ever
make her clothes nice enough?"
"We will see about that, my dear. Now take her into the verandah and
introduce her to Violetta."
"Yes;" then pausing and looking into the fixed eyes, "Aunt Ermine, I
never saw such a beauty, except that one the little girl left behind
on the bench on the esplanade, when Aunt Ailie said I should he
coveting if I went on wishing Violetta was like her."
"I remember," said Ermine, "I have heard enough of that 'ne plus
ultra' of doll! Indeed, Colin, you have given a great deal of
pleasure, where the materials of pleasure are few. No one can guess
the delight a doll is to a solitary imaginative child."
"Thank you," he said, smiling.
"I believe I shall enjoy it as much as Rose," added Ermine, "both for
play and as a study. Please turn my chair a little this way, I want
to see the introduction to Violetta. Here comes the beauty, in
Rose's own cloak."
Colonel Keith leant over the back of her chair and silently watched,
but the scene was not quite what they expected. Violetta was sitting
in her "slantingdicular" position on her chair placed on a bench, and
her little mistress knelt down before her, took her in her arms, and
began to hug her.
"Violetta, darling, you need not be afraid! There is a new beautiful
creature come, and I shall call her Colinette, and we must be very
kind to her, because Colonel Keith is so good, and knows your
grandpapa; and to tell you a great secret, Violetta, that you must
not tell Colinette or anybody, I think he is Aunt Ermine's own true
"Hush!" whispered the Colonel, over Ermine's head, as he perceived
her about to speak.
"So you must be very good to her, Violetta, and you shall help me
make her clothes; but you need not be afraid I ever could love any
one half or one quarter as much as you, my own dear child, not if she
were ten times as beautiful, and so come and show her to Augustus.
She'll never be like you, dear old darling."
"It is a study," said the Colonel, as Rose moved off with a doll in
either hand; "a moral that you should take home."
Ermine shook her head, but smiled, saying, "Tell me, does your young
"Alick Keith! Not from me, and Lady Temple is perfectly to be
trusted; but I believe his father knew it was for no worse reason
that I was made to exchange. But never mind, Ermine, he is a very
good fellow, and what is the use of making a secret of what even
There was no debating the point, for her desire of secrecy was
prompted by the resolution to leave him unbound, whereas his wish for
publicity was with the purpose of binding himself, and Ermine was
determined that discussion was above all to be avoided, and that she
would, after the first explanation, keep the conversation upon other
subjects. So she only answered with another reproving look and
smile, and said, "And now I am going to make you useful. The editor
of the 'Traveller' is travelling, and has left his work to me. I
have been keeping some letters for him to answer in his own hand,
because mine betrays womanhood; but I have just heard that he is to
stay about six weeks more, and people must be put out of their misery
before that. Will you copy a few for me? Here is some paper with
the office stamp."
"What an important woman you are, Ermine."
"If you had been in England all this time, you would see how easy the
step is into literary work; but you must not betray this for the
'Traveller's' sake or Ailie's."
"Your writing is not very womanish," said the colonel, as she gave
him his task. "Or is this yours? It is not like that of those
verses on Malvern hills that you copied out for me, the only thing
you ever gave me."
"I hope it is more to the purpose than it was then, and it has had to
learn to write in all sorts of attitudes."
"What's this?" as he went on with the paper; "your manuscript
entitled 'Curatocult.' Is that the word? I had taken it for the
produce of Miss Curtis's unassisted genius."
"Have you heard her use it!" said Ermine, disconcerted, having by no
means intended to betray Rachel.
"Oh yes! I heard her declaiming on Sunday about what she knows no
more about than Conrade! A detestable, pragmatical, domineering
girl! I am thankful that I advised Lady Temple only to take the
house for a year. It was right she should see her relations, but she
must not be tyrannized over."
"I don't believe she dislikes it."
"She dislikes no one! She used to profess a liking for a huge
Irishwoman, whose husband had risen from the ranks; the most
tremendous woman I ever saw, except Miss Curtis."
"You know they were brought up together like sisters."
"All the worse, for she has the habit of passive submission. If it
were the mother it would be all right, and I should be thankful to
see her in good keeping, but the mother and sister go for nothing,
and down comes this girl to battle every suggestion with principles
picked up from every catchpenny periodical, things she does not half
understand, and enunciates as if no one had even heard of them
"I believe she seldom meets any one who has. I mean to whom they
are matters of thought. I really do like her vigour and eamestness."
"Don't say so, Ermine! One reason why she is so intolerable to me
is that she is a grotesque caricature of what you used to be."
"You have hit it! I see why I always liked her, besides that it is
pleasant to have any sort of visit, and a good scrimmage is
refreshing; she is just what I should have been without papa and
Edward to keep me down, and without the civilizing atmosphere at the
"No, I was not her equal in energy and beneficence, and I was younger
when you came. But I feel for her longing to be up and doing, and
her puzzled chafing against constraint and conventionality, though it
breaks out in very odd effervescences."
"Extremely generous of you when you must be bored to death with her
"You don't appreciate the pleasure of variety! Besides, she really
interests me, she is so full of vigorous crudities. I believe all
that is unpleasing in her arises from her being considered as the
clever woman of the family; having no man nearly connected enough to
keep her in check, and living in society that does not fairly meet
her. I want you to talk to her, and take her in hand."
"Me! Thank you, Ermine! Why, I could not even stand her talking
about you, though she has the one grace of valuing you."
"Then you ought, in common gratitude, for there is no little
greatness of soul in patiently coming down to Mackarel Lane to be
snubbed by one's cousin's governess's sister."
"If you will come up to Myrtlewood, you don't know what you may do."
"No, you are to set no more people upon me, though Lady Temple's eyes
are very wistful."
"I did not think you would have held out against her."
"Not when I had against you? No, indeed, though I never did see
anybody more winning than she is in that meek, submissive gentleness!
Alison says she has cheered up and grown like another creature since
"And Alexander Keith's. Yes, poor thing, we have brought something
of her own old world, where she was a sort of little queen in her
way. It is too much to ask me to have patience with these relations,
Ermine. If you could see the change from the petted creature she was
with her mother and husband, almost always the first lady in the
place, and latterly with a colonial court of her own, and now,
ordered about, advised, domineered over, made nobody of, and taking
it as meekly and sweetly as if she were grateful for it! I verily
believe she is! But she certainly ought to come away."
"I am not so sure of that. It seems to me rather a dangerous
responsibility to take her away from her own relations, unless there
were any with equal claims."
"They are her only relations, and her husband had none. Still to be
under the constant yoke of an overpowering woman with unfixed
opinions seems to be an unmitigated evil for her and her boys; and no
one's feelings need be hurt by her fixing herself near some public
school for her sons' education. However, she is settled for this
year, and at the end we may decide."
With which words he again applied himself to Ermine's correspondence,
and presently completed the letter, offering to direct the envelope,
which she refused, as having one already directed by the author. He
rather mischievously begged to see it that he might judge of the
character of the writing, but this she resisted.
However, in four days' time there was a very comical twinkle in his
eye, as he informed her that the new number of the "Traveller" was in
no favour at the Homestead, "there was such a want of original
thought in it." Ermine felt her imprudence in having risked the
betrayal, but all she did was to look at him with her full, steady
eyes, and a little twist in each corner of her mouth, as she said,
"Indeed! Then we had better enliven it with the recollections of a
military secretary," and he was both convinced of what he guessed,
and also that she did not think it right to tell him; "But," he said,
"there is something in that girl, I perceive, Ermine; she does think
for herself, and if she were not so dreadfully earnest that she can't
smile, she would be the best company of any of the party."
"I am so glad you think so! I shall be delighted if you will really
talk to her, and help her to argue out some of her crudities. Indeed
she is worth it. But I suppose you will hardly stay here long enough
to do her any good."
"What, are you going to order me away?"
"I thought your brother wanted you at home."
"It is all very well to talk of an ancestral home, but when it
consists of a tall, slim house, with blank walls and pepper-box
turrets, set down on a bleak hill side, and every one gone that made
it once a happy place, it is not attractive. Moreover, my only use
there would be to be kept as a tame heir, the person whose
interference would be most resented, and I don't recognise that
"You are a gentleman at large, with no obvious duty," said Ermine,
"What, none?" bending his head, and looking earnestly at her.
"Oh, if you come here out of duty--" she said archly, and with her
merry laugh. "There, is not that a nice occasion for picking a
quarrel? And seriously," she continued, "perhaps it might be good
for you if we did. I am beginning to fear that I ought not to keep
you lingering here without purpose or occupation."
"Fulfil my purpose, and I will find occupation."
"Don't say that."
"This once, Ermine. For one year I shall wait in the hope of
convincing you. If you do not change, your mind in that time, I
shall look for another staff appointment, to last till Rose is ready
The gravity of this conclusion made Ermine laugh. "That's what you
learnt of your chief," she said.
"There would be less difference in age," he said. "Though I own I
should like my widow to be less helpless than poor little Lady
Temple. So," he added, with the same face of ridiculous earnest, "if
you continue to reject me yourself, you will at least rear her with
an especial view to her efficiency in that capacity."
And as Rose at that critical moment looked in at the window, eager to
be encouraged to come and show Colinette's successful toilette, he
drew her to him with the smile that had won her whole heart, and
listening to every little bit of honesty about "my work" and "Aunt
Ermine's work," he told her that he knew she was a very managing
domestic character, perfectly equal to the charge of both young
"Aunt Ermine says I must learn to manage, because some day I shall
have to take care of papa."
"Yes," with his eyes on Ermine all the while, "learn to be a useful
woman; who knows if we shan't all depend on you by-and-by?"
"Oh do let me be useful to you," cried Rose; "I could hem all your
handkerchiefs, and make you a kettle-holder."
Ermine had never esteemed him more highly than when he refrained from
all but a droll look, and uttered not one word of the sportive
courtship that is so peculiarly unwholesome and undesirable with
children. Perhaps she thought her colonel more a gentleman than she
had done before, if that were possible; and she took an odd, quaint
pleasure in the idea of this match, often when talking to Alison of
her views of life and education, putting them in the form of what
would become of Rose as Lady Keith; and Colin kept his promise of
making no more references to the future. On moving into his
lodgings, the hour for his visits was changed, and unless he went out
to dinner, he usually came in the evening, thus attracting less
notice, and moreover rendering it less easy to lapse into the tender
subject, as Alison was then at home, and the conversation was
necessarily more general.
The afternoons were spent in Lady Temple's service. Instead of the
orthodox dowager britchska and pair, ruled over by a tyrannical
coachman, he had provided her with a herd of little animals for
harness or saddle, and a young groom, for whom Coombe was answerable.
Mrs. Curtis groaned and feared the establishment would look flighty;
but for the first time Rachel became the colonel's ally. "The worst
despotism practised in England," she said, "is that of coachmen, and
it is well that Fanny should be spared! The coachman who lived here
when mamma was married, answered her request to go a little faster,
'I shall drive my horses as I plazes,' and I really think the present
one is rather worse in deed, though not in word."
Moreover, Rachel smoothed down a little of Mrs. Curtis's uneasiness
at Fanny's change of costume at the end of her first year of
widowhood, on the ground that Colonel Keith advised her to ride with
her sons, and that this was incompatible with weeds. "And dear Sir
Stephen did so dislike the sight of them," she added, in her simple,
innocent way, as if she were still dressing to please him.
"On the whole, mother," said Rachel, "unless there is more heart-
break than Fanny professes, there's more coquetry in a pretty young
thing wearing a cap that says, 'come pity me,' than in going about
like other people."
"I only wish she could help looking like a girl of seventeen," sighed
Mrs. Curtis. "If that colonel were but married, or the other young
man! I'm sure she will fall into some scrape; she does not know how,
out of sheer innocence."
"Well, mother, you know I always mean to ride with her, and that will
be a protection."
"But, my dear, I am not sure about your riding with these gay
officers; you never used to do such things."
"At my age, mother, and to take care of Fanny."
And Mrs. Curtis, in her uncertainty whether to sanction the
proceedings and qualify them, or to make a protest--dreadful to
herself, and more dreadful to Fanny,--yielded the point when she
found herself not backed up by her energetic daughter, and the
cavalcade almost daily set forth from Myrtlewood, and was watched
with eyes of the greatest vexation, if not by kind Mrs. Curtis, by
poor Mr. Touchett, to whom Lady Temple's change of dress had been a
grievous shock. He thought her so lovely, so interesting, at first;
and now, though it was sacrilege to believe it of so gentle and
pensive a face, was not this a return to the world? What had she to
do with these officers? How could her aunt permit it? No doubt it
was all the work of his great foe, Miss Rachel.
It was true that Rachel heartily enjoyed these rides. Hitherto she
had been only allowed to go out under the escort of her tyrant the
coachman, who kept her in very strict discipline. She had not
anticipated anything much more lively with Fanny, her boys, and
ponies; but Colonel Keith had impressed on Conrade and Francis that
they were their mother's prime protectors, and they regarded her
bridle-rein as their post, keeping watch over her as if her safety
depended on them, and ready to quarrel with each other if the roads
were too narrow for all three to go abreast. And as soon as the
colonel had ascertained that she and they were quite sufficient to
themselves, and well guarded by Coombe in the rear, he ceased to
regard himself as bound to their company, but he and Rachel extended
their rides in search of objects of interest. She liked doing the
honours of the county, and achieved expeditions which her coachman
had hitherto never permitted to her, in search of ruins, camps,
churches, and towers. The colonel had a turn for geology, though a
wandering life even with an Indian baggage-train had saved him from
incurring her contempt for collectors; but he knew by sight the
character of the conformations of rocks, and when they had mounted
one of the hills that surrounded Avonmouth, discerned by the outline
whether granite, gneiss, limestone, or slate formed the grander
height beyond, thus leading to schemes of more distant rides to
verify the conjectures, which Rachel accepted with the less argument,
because sententious dogmatism was not always possible on the back of
a skittish black mare.
There was no concealing from herself that she was more interested by
this frivolous military society than by any she had ever previously
met. The want of comprehension of her pursuits in her mother's
limited range of acquaintance had greatly conduced both to her over-
weening manner and to her general dissatisfaction with the world, and
for the first time she was neither succumbed to, giggled at, avoided,
nor put down with a grave, prosy reproof. Certainly Alick Keith, as
every one called him, nettled her extremely by his murmured irony,
but the acuteness of it was diverting in such a mere lad, and showed
that if he could only once be roused, he might be capable of better
things. There was an excitement in his unexpected manner of seeing
things that was engaging as well as provoking; and Rachel never felt
content if he were at Myrtlewood without her seeing him, if only
because she began to consider him as more dangerous than his elder
namesake, and so assured of his position that he did not take any
pains to assert it, or to cultivate Lady Temple's good graces; he was
simply at home and perfectly at ease with her.
Colonel Keith's tone was different. He was argumentative where his
young cousin was sarcastic. He was reading some of the books over
which Rachel had strained her capacities without finding any one with
whom to discuss them, since all her friends regarded them as
poisonous; and even Ermine Williams, without being shaken in her
steadfast trust, was so haunted and distressed in her lonely and
unvaried life by the echo of these shocks to the faith of others,
that absolutely as a medical precaution she abstained from dwelling
on them. On the other hand Colin Keith liked to talk and argue out
his impressions, and found in Rachel the only person with whom the
subject could be safely broached, and thus she for the first time
heard the subjects fairly handled. Hitherto she had never thought
that justice was done to the argument except by a portion of the
press, that drew conclusions which terrified while they allured her,
whereas she appreciated the candour that weighed each argument,
distinguishing principle from prejudice, and religious faith from
conventional construction, and in this measurement of minds she felt
the strength, and acuteness of powers superior to her own. He was
not one of the men who prefer unintellectual women. Perhaps clever
men, of a profession not necessarily requiring constant brain work,
are not so much inclined to rest the mind with feminine empty
chatter, as are those whose intellect is more on the strain. At any
rate, though Colonel Keith was attentive and courteous to every one,
and always treated Lady Temple as a prime minister might treat a
queen, his tendency to conversation with Rachel was becoming marked,
and she grew increasingly prone to consult him. The interest of this
new intercourse quite took out the sting of disappointment, when
again Curatocult came back, "declined with thanks." Nay, before
making a third attempt she hazarded a question on his opinion of
female authorship, and much to her gratification, and somewhat to her
surprise, heard that he thought it often highly useful and valuable.
"That is great candour. Men generally grudge whatever they think
their own privilege."
"Many things can often be felt and expressed by an able woman better
than by a man, and there is no reason that the utterance of anything
worthy to be said should be denied, provided it is worthy to be
"Ah! there comes the hit. I wondered if you would get through
"It was not meant as a hit. Men are as apt to publish what is not
worth saying as women can be, and some women are so conscientious as
only to put forth what is of weight and value."
"And you are above wanting to silence them by palaver about
"There is no need of publicity. Much of the best and most wide-
spread writing emanates from the most quiet, unsuspected quarters."
"That is the benefit of an anonymous press."
"Yes. The withholding of the name prevents well-mannered people from
treating a woman as an authoress, if she does not proclaim herself
one; and the difference is great between being known to write, and
setting up for an authoress."
"Between fact and pretension. But write or not write, there is an
instinctive avoidance of an intellectual woman."
"Not always, for the simple manner that goes with real superiority is
generally very attractive. The larger and deeper the mind, the more
there would be of the genuine humbleness and gentleness that a
shallow nature is incapable of. The very word humility presupposes
"I see what you mean," said Rachel. "Gentleness is not feebleness,
nor lowness lowliness. There must be something held back."
"I see it daily," said Colonel Keith; and for a moment he seemed
about to add something, but checked himself, and took advantage of an
interruption to change the conversation.
"Superior natures lowly and gentle!" said Rachel to herself. "Am I
so to him, then, or is he deceiving himself? What is to be done? At
my age! Such a contravention of my principles! A soldier, an
honourable, a title in prospect, Fanny's major! Intolerable! No,
no! My property absorbed by a Scotch peerage, when I want it for so
many things! Never. I am sorry for him though. It is hard that a
man who can forgive a woman for intellect, should be thrown back on
poor little Fanny; and it is gratifying--. But I am untouched yet,
and I will take care of myself. At my age a woman who loves at all,
loves with all the gathered force of her nature, and I certainly feel
no such passion. No, certainly not; and I am resolved not to be
swept along till I have made up my mind to yield to the force of the
torrent. Let us see."
"Grace, my dear," said Mrs. Curtis, in one of her most confidential
moments, "is not dear Rachel looking very well? I never saw her
dress so well put on."
"Yes, she is looking very handsome," said Grace. "I am glad she has
consented to have her hair in that now way, it is very becoming to
"I--I don't know that it is all the hair," said the mother,
faltering, as if half ashamed of herself; "but it seemed to me that
we need not have been so uneasy about dear Fanny. I think, don't
you? that there may be another attraction. To be sure, it would be
at a terrible distance from us; but so good and kind as he is, it
would be such a thing for you and Fanny as well--" Grace gave a great
"Yes, my dear," Mrs. Curtis gently prosed on with her speculation,
"she would be a dreadful loss to us; but you see, so clever and odd
as she is, and with such peculiar ideas, I should be so thankful to
see her in the hands of some good, sensible man that would guide
"But do you really think it is so, mother?"
"Mind, my dear, it is nothing to build on, but I cannot help being
struck, and just thinking to myself. I know you'll not say
Grace felt much distressed after this communication had opened her
eyes to certain little touches of softening and consciousness that
sat oddly enough on her sister. From the first avowal of Colonel
Keith's acquaintance with the Williamses, she had concluded him to be
the nameless lover, and had been disappointed that Alison, so far
from completing the confidence, had become more reserved than ever,
leaving her to wonder whether he were indeed the same, or whether his
constancy had survived the change of circumstances. There were no
grounds on which to found a caution, yet Grace felt full of
discomfort and distrust, a feeling shared by Alison, who had never
forgiven herself for her half confidence, and felt that it would be
wiser to tell the rest, but was withheld by knowing that her motive
would actuate her sister to a contrary course. That Colin should
detach himself from her, love again, and marry, was what Ermine
schooled herself to think fitting; but Alison alternated between
indignant jealousy for her sister, and the desire to warn Rachel that
she might at best win only the reversion of his heart. Ermine was
happy and content with his evening visits, and would not take umbrage
at the daily rides, nor the reports of drawing-room warfare, and
Alison often wavered between the desire of preparing her, and the
doubt whether it were not cruel to inflict the present pain of want
of confidence. If that were a happy summer to some at Avonmouth, it
was a very trying one to those two anxious, yet apparently
uninterested sisters, who were but lookers-on at the game that
affected their other selves.
At length, however, came a new feature into the quiet summer life at
Avonmouth. Colin looked in on Ermine one morning to announce, with
shrugged shoulders, and a face almost making game of himself, that
his brother was coming! Lord Keith had been called to London on
business, and would extend his journey to come and see what his
brother was doing.
"This comes of being the youngest of the family," observed Colin,
meditatively. "One is never supposed capable of taking care of one's
self. With Keith I shall be the gay extravagant young officer to the
end of my days."
"You are not forgiving to your brother," said Ermine.
"You have it in your power to make me so," he said eagerly.
"Then you would have nothing to forgive," she replied, smiling.
Lady Temple's first thought was a renewal of her ardent wish that
Ermine should be at Myrtlewood; and that Mackarel Lane, and the
governesship should be as much as possible kept out of sight. Even
Alison was on her side; not that she was ashamed of either, but she
wished that Ermine should see and judge with her own eyes of Colin's
conduct, and also eagerly hailed all that showed him still committed
to her sister. She was proportionably vexed that he did not think it
expedient to harass Ermine with further invitations.
"My brother knows the whole," he said, "and I do not wish to attempt
to conceal anything."
"I do not mean to conceal," faltered Fanny, "only I thought it might
save a shock--appearances--he might think better of it, if--"
"You thought only what was kind," answered the colonel, "and I thank
you for it most warmly; but this matter does not depend on my
brother's consent, and even if it did, Ermine's own true position is
that which is most honourable to her."
Having said this, he was forced to console Fanny in her shame at her
own kind attempt at this gentle little feminine subterfuge. He
gratified her, however, by not interfering with her hospitable
instincts of doing honour to and entertaining his brother, for whose
sake her first approach to a dinner party was given; a very small
one, but treated by her and her household as a far more natural
occurrence than was any sort of entertainment at the Homestead. She
even looked surprised, in her quiet way, at Mrs. Curtis's proffers of
assistance in the et ceteras, and gratefully answered for Coombe's
doing the right thing, without troubling herself further. Mrs.
Curtis was less easy in her mind, her housewifely soul questioned the
efficiency of her niece's establishment, and she was moreover
persuaded that Lord Keith must be bent on inspecting his brother's
choice, while even Rachel felt as if the toils of fate were being
drawn round her, and let Grace embellish her for the dinner party, in
an odd sort of mood, sometimes rejecting her attempts at decoration,
sometimes vouchsafing a glance at the glass, chiefly to judge whether
her looks were really as repellently practical and intellectual as
she had been in the habit of supposing. The wreath of white roses,
which she wore for the first time, certainly had a pleasing and
softening effect, and she was conscious that she had never looked so
well; then was vexed at the solicitude with which her mother looked
her over, and fairly blushed with annoyance at the good lady's
But, after all, Rachel, at her best, could not have competed with the
grace of the quiet little figure that received them, the rich black
silk giving dignity to the slender form, and a sort of compromise
between veil and cap sheltering the delicate fair face; and with a
son on each side, Fanny looked so touchingly proud and well
supported, and the boys were so exultant and admiring at seeing her
thus dressed, that it was a very pretty sight, and struck the first
arrived of her guests, Mr. Touchett, quite dumb with admiration.
Colonel Hammond, the two Keiths, and their young kinsman, completed
the party. Lord Keith of Gowanbrae was best described by the said
young kinsman's words "a long-backed Scotchman." He was so intensely
Scottish that he made his brother look and sound the same, whereas
ordinarily neither air nor accent would have shown the colonel's
nation, and there was no definable likeness between them, except,
perhaps, the baldness of the forehead, but the remains of Lord
Keith's hair were silvered red, whereas Colin's thick beard and
scanty locks were dark brown, and with a far larger admixture of
hoar-frost, though he was the younger by twenty years, and his
brother's appearance gave the impression of a far greater age than
fifty-eight, there was the stoop of rheumatism, and a worn, thin look
on the face, with its high cheek bones, narrow lips, and cold eyes,
by no means winning. On the other hand, he was the most finished
gentleman that Grace and Rachel had ever encountered; he had all the
gallant polish of manner that the old Scottish nobility have
inherited from the French of the old regime--a manner that, though
Colin possessed all its essentials, had been in some degree rubbed
off in the frankness of his military life, but which the old nobleman
retained in its full perfection. Mrs. Curtis admired it extremely as
a specimen of the "old school," for which she had never ceased to
mourn; and Rachel felt as if it took her breath away by the likeness
to Louis XIV.; but, strange to say, Lady Temple acted as if she were
quite in her element. It might be that the old man's courtesy
brought back to her something of the tender chivalry of her soldier
husband, and that a sort of filial friendliness had become natural to
her towards an elderly man, for she responded at once, and devoted
herself to pleasing and entertaining him. Their civilities were
something quite amusing to watch, and in the evening, with a complete
perception of his tastes, she got up a rubber for him.
"Can you bear it? You will not like to play?" murmured the colonel
to her, as he rung for the cards, recollecting the many evenings of
whist with her mother and Sir Stephen.
"Oh! I don't mind. I like anything like old times, and my aunt does
not like playing--"
No, for Mrs. Curtis had grown up in a family where cards were
disapproved, and she felt it a sad fall in Fanny to be playing with
all the skill of her long training, and receiving grand compliments
from Lord Keith on joint victories over the two colonels. It was a
distasteful game to all but the players, for Rachel felt slightly
hurt at the colonel's defection, and Mr. Touchett, with somewhat of
Mrs. Curtis's feeling that it was a backsliding in Lady Temple,
suddenly grew absent in a conversation that he was holding with young
Mr. Keith upon--of all subjects in the world--lending library books,
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