THE CLEVER WOMAN OF THE FAMILY
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 4 out of 11
and finally repaired to the piano, where Grace was playing her
mother's favourite music, in hopes of distracting her mind from
Fanny's enormity; and there he stood, mechanically thanking Miss
Curtis, but all the time turning a melancholy eye upon the game.
Alick Keith, meanwhile, sat himself down near Rachel and her mother,
close to an open window, for it was so warm that even Mrs. Curtis
enjoyed the air; and perhaps because that watching the colonel had
made Rachel's discourses somewhat less ready than usual, he actually
obtained an interval in which to speak! He was going the next day to
Bishops Worthy, there to attend his cousin's wedding, and at the end
of a fortnight to bring his sister for her visit to Lady Temple.
This sister was evidently his great care, and it needed but little
leading to make him tell a good deal about her. She had, it seemed,
been sent home from the Cape at about ten years old, when the
regiment went to India, and her brother who had been at school, then
was with her for a short time before going out to join the regiment.
"Why," said Rachel, recovering her usual manner, "you have not been
ten years in the army!"
"I had my commission at sixteen," he answered.
"You are not six-and-twenty!" she exclaimed.
"You are as right as usual," was the reply, with his odd little
smile; "at least till the 1st of August."
"My dear!" said her mother, more alive than Rachel to his amusement
at her daughter's knowing his age better than he did himself, but
adding, politely, "you are hardly come to the time of life for liking
to hear that your looks deceived us."
"Boys are tolerated," he said, with a quick glance at Rachel; but at
that moment something many-legged and tickling flitted into the
light, and dashed over her face. Mrs. Curtis was by no means a
strong-minded woman in the matter of moths and crane-flies, disliking
almost equally their sudden personal attentions and their suicidal
propensities, and Rachel dutifully started up at once to give chase
to the father-long-legs, and put it out of window before it had
succeeded in deranging her mother's equanimity either by bouncing
into her face, or suspending itself by two or three legs in the wax
of the candle. Mr. Keith seconded her efforts, but the insect was
both lively and cunning, eluding them with a dexterity wonderful in
such an apparently over-limbed creature, until at last it kindly
rested for a moment with its wooden peg of a body sloping, and most
of its thread-like members prone upon a newspaper, where Rachel
descended on it with her pocket-handkerchief, and Mr. Keith tried to
inclose it with his hands at the same moment. To have crushed the
fly would have been melancholy, to have come down on the young
soldier's fingers, awkward; but Rachel did what was even more
shocking--her hands did descend on, what should have been fingers,
but they gave way under her--she felt only the leather of the glove
between her and the newspaper. She jumped and very nearly cried out,
looking up with an astonishment and horror only half reassured by his
extremely amused smile. "I beg your pardon; I'm so sorry--" she
"Inferior animals can dispense with a member more or less," he
replied, giving her the other corner of the paper, on which they bore
their capture to the window, and shook it till it took wing, with
various legs streaming behind it. "That venerable animal is
apparently indifferent to having left a third of two legs behind
him," and as he spoke he removed the already half drawn-off left-hand
glove, and let Rachel see for a moment that it had only covered the
thumb, forefinger, two joints of the middle, and one of the third;
the little finger was gone, and the whole hand much scarred. She was
still so much dismayed that she gasped out the first question she had
ever asked him--
"Not under the handkerchief," he answered, picking it up as if he
thought she wanted convincing. "At Delhi, I imagine."
At that moment, Grace, as an act of general beneficence certainly
pleasing to her mother, began to sing. It was a stop to all
conversation, for Mrs. Curtis particularly disliked talking during
singing, and Rachel had to digest her discoveries at her leisure, as
soon as she could collect herself after the unnatural and strangely
lasting sensation of the solid giving way. So Grace was right, he
was no boy, but really older than Fanny, the companion of her
childhood, and who probably would have married her had not the
general come in the way! Here was, no doubt, the real enemy, while
they had all been thinking of Colonel Keith. A man only now
expecting his company! It would sound more absurd. Yet Rachel was
not wont to think how things would sound! And this fresh intense
dislike provoked her. Was it the unsuitability of the young widow
remarrying? "Surely, surely, it must not be that womanhood in its
contemptible side is still so strong that I want to keep all for
myself! Shame! And this may be the true life love, suppressed, now
able to revive! I have no right to be disgusted, I will watch
minutely, and judge if he will be a good guide and father to the
boys, though it may save the colonel trouble. Pish! what have I to
do with either? Why should I think about them? Yet I must care for
Fanny, I must dislike to see her lower herself even in the eyes of
the world. Would it really be lowering herself? I cannot tell, I
must think it out. I wish that game was over, or that Grace would
let one speak."
But songs and whist both lasted till the evening was ended by Lady
Temple coming up to the curate with her winnings and her pretty
smile, "Please, Mr. Touchett, let this go towards some treat for the
school children. I should not like to give it in any serious way,
you know, but just for some little pleasure for them."
If she had done it on purpose, she could not have better freshly
riveted his chains. That pensive simplicity, with the smile of
heartfelt satisfaction at giving pleasure to anybody, were more and
more engaging as her spirits recovered their tone, and the most
unsatisfactory consideration which Rachel carried away that evening
was that Alexander Keith being really somewhat the senior, if the
improvement in Fanny's spirits were really owing to his presence, the
objection on the score of age would not hold. But, thought Rachel,
Colonel Keith being her own, what united power they should have over
Fanny. Pooh! she had by no means resigned herself to have him,
though for Fanny's sake it might be well, and was there not a foolish
prejudice in favour of married women, that impeded the usefulness of
single ones? However, if the stiff, dry old man approved of her for
her fortune's sake, that would be quite reason enough for repugnance.
The stiff old man was the pink of courtesy, and paid his respects in
due order to his brother's friends the next day, Colin attending in
his old aide-de-camp fashion. It was curious to see them together.
The old peer was not at all ungracious to his brother; indeed, Colin
had been agreeably surprised by an amount of warmth and brotherliness
that he had never experienced from him before, as if old age had
brought a disposition to cling to the remnant of the once
inconveniently large family, and make much of the last survivor,
formerly an undesirable youngest favourite, looked on with jealous
eyes and thwarted and retaliated on for former petting, as soon as
the reins of government fell from the hands of the aged father. Now,
the elder brother was kind almost to patronizing, though evidently
persuaded that Colin was a gay careless youth, with no harm in him,
but needing to be looked after; and as to the Cape, India, and
Australia being a larger portion of the world than Gowanbrae,
Edinburgh, and London, his lordship would be incredulous to the day
of his death.
He paid his formal and gracious visits at Myrtlewood and the
Homestead, and then supposed that his brother would wish him to call
upon "these unfortunate ladies." Colin certainly would have been
vexed if he had openly slighted them; but Alison, whom the brothers
overtook on their way into Mackarel Lane, did not think the colonel
looked in the most felicitous frame of mind, and thought the most
charitable construction might be that he shared her wishes that she
could be a few minutes in advance; to secure that neither Rose's
sports nor Colinette's toilette were very prominent.
All was right, however; Ermine's taste for the fitness of things had
trained Rose into keeping the little parlour never in stiff array,
but also never in a state to be ashamed of, and she herself was
sitting in the shade in the garden, whither, after the first
introduction, Colin and Rose brought seats; and the call, on the
whole, went off extremely well. Ermine naver let any one be
condescending to her, and conducted the conversation with her usual
graceful good breeding, while the colonel, with Rose on his knee,
half talked to the child, half listened and watched.
As soon as he had deposited his brother at the hotel, he came back
again, and in answer to Ermine's "Well," he demanded, "What she
thought of his brother, and if he were what she expected?"
"Very much, only older and feebler. And did he communicate his views
of Mackarel Lane? I saw him regarding, me as a species of mermaid or
syren, evidently thinking it a great shame that I have not a burnt
face. If he had only known about Rose!"
"The worst of it is that he wants me to go home with him, and I am
afraid I must do so, for now that he and I are the last in the
entail, there is an opportunity of making an arrangement about the
property, for which he is very anxious."
"Well, you know, I have long thought it would be very good for you."
"And when I am there I shall have to visit every one in the family;"
and he looked into her eyes to see if she would let them show
concern, but she kept up their brave sparkle as she still said, "You
know you ought."
"Then you deliver me up to Keith's tender mercies till--"
"Till you have done your duty--and forgiven him."
"Remember, Ermine, I can't spend a winter in Scotland. A cold always
makes the ball remind me of its presence in my chest, and I was told
that if I spent a winter at home, it must be on the Devonshire
"That ball is sufficient justification for ourselves, I allow," she
said, that one little word our making up for all that had gone
"And meantime you will write to me--about Rose's education."
"To be sure, or what would be the use of growing old?"
Alison felt savage all through this interview. That perfect
understanding and the playful fiction about waiting for Rose left him
a great deal too free. Ermine might almost be supposed to want to
get rid of him, and even when he took leave she only remained for a
few minutes leaning her cheek on her hand, and scarcely indulged in a
sigh before asking to be wheeled into the house again, nor would she
make any remark, save "It has been too bright a summer to last for
ever. It would be very wrong to wish him to stay dangling here. Let
what will happen, he is himself."
It sounded far too like a deliberate resignation of him, and
persuasion that if he went he would not return to be all he had been.
However, the departure was not immediate, Lord Keith had taken a
fancy to the place and scenery, and wished to see all the lions of
the neighbourhood, so that there were various expeditions in the
carriages or on horseback, in which he displayed his grand courtesy
to Lady Temple, and Rachel enjoyed the colonel's conversation, and
would have enjoyed it still more if she had not been tracing a
meaning in every attention that he paid her, and considering whether
she was committing herself by receiving it. She was glad he was
going away that she might have time to face the subject, and make up
her mind, for she was convinced that the object of his journey was to
make himself certain of his prospects. When he said that he should
return for the winter, and that he had too much to leave at Avonmouth
to stay long away from it, there must be a meaning in his words.
Ermine had one more visit from Lord Keith, and this time he came
alone. He was in his most gracious and courteous mood, and sat
talking of indifferent things for some time, of his aunt Lady Alison,
and of Beauchamp in the old time, so that Ermine enjoyed the renewal
of old associations and names belonging to a world unlike her present
one. Then he came to Colin, his looks and his health, and his own
desire to see him quit the army.
Ermine assented to his health being hardly fit for the army, and
restrained the rising indignation as she recollected what a
difference the best surgical advice might have made ten years ago.
And then, Lord Keith said, a man could hardly be expected to settle
down without marrying. He wished earnestly to see his brother
married, but, unfortunately, charges on his estate would prevent him
from doing anything for him; and, in fact, he did not see any
possibility of his--of his marrying, except a person with some means.
"I understand," said Ermine, looking straight before her, and her
"I was sure that a person of your great good sense would do so," said
Lord Keith. "I assure you no one can be more sensible than myself of
the extreme forbearance, discretion, and regard for my brother's true
welfare that has been shown here."
Ermine bowed. He did not know that the vivid carmine that made her
look so handsome was not caused by gratification at his praise, but
by the struggle to brook it patiently.
"And now, knowing the influence over him that, most deservedly, you
must always possess, I am induced to hope that, as his sincere
friend, you will exert it in favour of the more prudent counsels."
"I have no influence over his judgment," said Ermine, a little
"I mean," said Lord Keith, forced to much closer quarters, "you will
excuse me for speaking thus openly--that in the state of the case,
with so much depending on his making a satisfactory choice, I feel
convinced, with every regret, that you will feel it to be for his
true welfare--as indeed I infer that you have already endeavoured to
show him--to make a new beginning, and to look on the past as past."
There was something in the insinuating tone of this speech, increased
as it was by the modulation of his Scottish voice, that irritated his
hearer unspeakably, all the more because it was the very thing she
had been doing.
"Colonel Keith must judge for himself," she said, with a cold manner,
but a burning heart.
"I--I understand," said Lord Keith, "that you had most honourably,
most consistently, made him aware that--that what once might have
been desirable has unhappily become impossible."
"Well," said Ermine.
"And thus," he proceeded, "that the sincere friendship with which you
still regard him would prevent any encouragement to continue an
attachment, unhappily now hopeless and obstructive to his prospects."
Ermine's eyes flashed at the dictation. "Lord Keith," she said, "I
have never sought your brother's visits nor striven to prolong them;
but if he finds pleasure in them after a life of disappointment and
trouble, I cannot refuse nor discourage them."
"I am aware," said Lord Keith, rising as if to go, "that I have
trespassed long on your time, and made a suggestion only warranted by
the generosity with which you have hitherto acted."
"One may be generous of one's own, not of other people's," said
He looked at her puzzled, then said, "Perhaps it will be best to
speak categorically, Miss Williams. Let it be distinctly understood
that my brother Colin, in paying his addresses to you, is necessarily
without my sanction or future assistance."
"It might not be necessary, my lord. Good morning;" and her
courteous bow was an absolute dismissal.
But when Alison came home she found her more depressed than she had
allowed herself to be for years, and on asking what was the matter
"Pride and perverseness, Ailie!" then, in reply to the eager
exclamation, "I believe he was justified in all he said. But, Ailie,
I have preached to Colin more than I had a right to do about
forgiving his brother. I did not know how provoking he can be.
I did not think it was still in me to fly out as I did!"
"He had no business to come here interfering and tormenting you,"
said Alison, hotly.
"I dare say he thought he had! But one could not think of that when
it came to threatening me with his giving no help to Colin if-- There
was no resisting telling him how little we cared!"
"You have not offended him so that he will keep Colin away!"
"The more he tried, the more Colin would come! No, I am not sorry
for having offended him. I don't mind him; but Ailie, how little one
knows! All the angry and bitter feelings that I thought burnt out
for ever when I lay waiting for death, are stirred up as hotly as
they were long ago. The old self is here as strong as ever! Ailie,
don't tell Colin about this; but to-morrow is a saint's day, and
would you see Mr. Touchett, and try to arrange for me to go to the
early service? I think then I might better be helped to conquer
"But, Ermine, how can you? Eight o'clock, you know."
"Yes, dearest, it will give you a great deal of trouble, but you
never mind that, you know; and I am so much stronger than I used to
be, that you need not fear. Besides, I want help so much! And it is
the day Colin goes away!"
Alison obeyed, as she always obeyed her sister; and Lord Keith,
taking his constitutional turn before breakfast on the esplanade, was
met by what he so little expected to encounter that he had not time
to get out of the way--a Bath chair with Alison walking on one side,
his brother on the other. He bowed coldly, but Ermine held out her
hand, and he was obliged to come near.
"I am glad to have met you " she said.
"I am glad to see you out so early," he answered, confused.
"This is an exception," she said, smiling and really looking
beautiful. "Good-bye, I have thought over what passed yesterday, and
I believe we are more agreed than perhaps I gave you reason to
There was a queenly air of dignified exchange of pardon in her manner
of giving her hand and bending her head as she again said "Good-bye,"
and signed to her driver to move on.
Lord Keith could only say "Good-bye;" then, looking after her,
muttered, "After all, that is a remarkable woman."
WOMAN'S MISSION DISCOVERED.
"But 0 unseen for three long years,
Dear was the garb of mountaineers
To the fair maid of Lorn."--LORD OF THE ISLES.
"Only nerves," said Alison Williams, whenever she was pushed hard as
to why her sister continued unwell, and her own looks betrayed an
anxiety that her words would not confess. Rachel, after a visit on
the first day, was of the same opinion, and prescribed globules and
enlivenment; but after a personal administration of the latter in the
shape of a discussion of Lord Keith, she never called in the morning
without hearing that Miss Williams was not up, nor in the afternoon
without Alison's meeting her, and being very sorry, but really she
thought it better for her sister to be quite quiet.
In fact, Alison was not seriously uneasy about Ermine's health, for
these nervous attacks were not without precedent, as the revenge for
all excitement of the sensitive mind upon the much-tried
constitution. The reaction must pass off in time, and calm and
patience would assist in restoring her; but the interview with Lord
Keith had been a revelation to her that her affection was not the
calm, chastened, mortified, almost dead thing of the past that she
had tried to believe it; but a young, living, active feeling, as
vivid, and as little able to brook interference as when the first
harsh letter from Gowanbrae had fallen like a thunderbolt on the
bright hopes of youth. She looked back at some verses that she had
written, when first perceiving that life was to be her portion, where
her own intended feelings were ascribed to a maiden who had taken the
veil, believing her crusader slain, but who saw him return and lead a
recluse life, with the light in her cell for his guiding star. She
smiled sadly to find how far the imaginings of four and twenty
transcended the powers of four and thirty; and how the heart that had
deemed itself able to resign was chafed at the appearance of
compulsion. She felt that the right was the same as ever; but it was
an increased struggle to maintain the resolute abstinence from all
that could bind Colin to her, at the moment when he was most likely
to be detached, and it was a struggle rendered the more trying by the
monotony of a life, scarcely varied except by the brainwork, which
she was often obliged to relinquish.
Nothing, however, here assisted her so much as Lady Temple's new pony
carriage which, by Fanny's desire, had been built low enough to
permit of her being easily lifted into it. Inert, and almost afraid
of change, Ermine was hard to persuade, but Alison, guessing at the
benefit, was against her, and Fanny's wistful eyes and caressing
voice were not to be gainsaid; so she suffered herself to be placed
on the broad easy seat, and driven about the lanes, enjoying most
intensely the new scenes, the peeps of sea, the distant moors, the
cottages with their glowing orchards, the sloping harvest fields, the
variety that was an absolute healing to the worn spirits, and
moreover, that quiet conversation with Lady Temple, often about the
boys, but more often about Colonel Keith.
Not only Ermine, but other inhabitants of Avonmouth found the world
more flat in his absence. Rachel's interest was lessened in her
readings after she had lost the pleasure of discussion, and she asked
herself many times whether the tedium were indeed from love, or if it
were simply from the absence of an agreeable companion. "I will try
myself," she said to herself, "if I am heartily interested in my
occupations by the end of the next week, then I shall believe myself
my own woman!"
But in going back to her occupations, she was more than ordinarily
sensible of their unsatisfactoriness. One change had come over her
in the last few months. She did not so much long for a wider field,
as for power to do the few things within her reach more thoroughly.
Her late discussions had, as it were, opened a second eye, that saw
two sides of questions that she had hitherto thought had only one,
and she was restless and undecided between them, longing for some
impulse from within or without, and hoping, for her own dignity and
consistency's sake, that it was not only Colonel Keith's presence
which had rendered this summer the richest in her life.
A test was coming for her, she thought, in the person of Miss Keith.
Judging by the brother, Rachel expected a tall fair dreamy blonde,
requiring to be taught a true appreciation of life and its duties,
and whether the training of this young girl would again afford her
food for eagerness and energy, would, as she said to herself, show
whether her affections were still her own. Moreover, there was the
great duty of deciding whether the brother were worthy of Fanny!
It chanced to be convenient that Rachel should go to Avoncester on
the day of the arrival, and call at the station for the traveller.
She recollected how, five months previously, she had there greeted
Fanny, and had seen the bearded apparition since regarded, with so
much jealousy, and now with such a strangely mixed feeling. This
being a far more indifferent errand, she did not go on the platform,
but sat in the carriage reading the report of the Social Science
Congress, until the travellers began to emerge, and Captain Keith
(for he had had his promotion) came up to her with a young lady who
looked by no means like his sister. She was somewhat tall, and in
that matter alone realized Rachel's anticipations, for she was black-
eyed, and her dark hair was crepe and turned back from a face of the
plump contour, and slightly rosy complexion that suggested the
patches of the last century; as indeed Nature herself seemed to have
thought when planting near the corner of the mouth a little brown
mole, that added somehow to the piquancy of the face, not exactly
pretty, but decidedly attractive under the little round hat, and in
the point device, though simple and plainly coloured travelling
"Will you allow me a seat?" asked Captain Keith, when he had disposed
of his sister's goods; and on Rachel's assent, he placed himself on
the back seat in his lazy manner.
"If you were good for anything, you would sit outside and smoke,"
said his sister.
"If privacy is required for swearing an eternal friendship, I can go
to sleep instead," he returned, closing his eyes.
"Quite the reverse," quoth Bessie Keith; "he has prepared me to hate
you all, Miss Curtis."
"On the mutual aversion principle," murmured the brother.
"Don't you flatter yourself! Have you found out, Miss Curtis, that
it is the property of this species always to go by contraries?"
"To Miss Curtis I always appear in the meekest state of assent," said
"Then I would not be Miss Curtis. How horribly you must differ!"
Rachel was absolutely silenced by this cross fire; something so
unlike the small talk of her experience, that her mind could hardly
propel itself into velocity enough to follow the rapid encounter of
wits. However, having stirred up her lightest troops into marching
order, she said, in a puzzled, doubtful way, "How has he prepared you
to hate us?--By praising us?"
"Oh, no; that would have been too much on the surface. He knew the
effect of that," looking in his sleepy eyes for a twinkle of
response. "No; his very reserve said, I am going to take her to
ground too transcendent for her to walk on, but if I say one word, I
shall never get her there at all. It was a deep refinement, you see,
and he really meant it, but I was deeper," and she shook her head at
"You are always trying which can go deepest?" said Rachel.
"It is a sweet fraternal sport," returned Alick.
"Have you no brother?" asked Bessie.
"Then you don't know what detestable creatures they are," but she
looked so lovingly and saucily at her big brother, that Rachel, spite
of herself, was absolutely fascinated by this novel form of
endearment. An answer was spared her by Miss Keith's rapture at the
sight of some soldiers in the uniform of her father's old regiment.
"Have a care, Bessie; Miss Curtis will despise you," said her
"Why should you think so?" exclaimed Rachel, not desirous of putting
on a forbidding aspect to this bright creature.
"Have I not been withered by your scorn!"
"I--I--" Rachel was going to say something of her change of opinion
with regard to military society, but a sudden consciousness set her
cheeks in a flame and checked her tongue; while Bessie Keith, with
ease and readiness, filled up the blank.
"What, Alick, you have brought the service into disrepute! I am
ashamed of you!"
"Oh, no!" said Rachel, in spite of her intolerable blushes, feeling
the necessity of delivering her confession, like a cannon-ball among
skirmishers; "only we had been used to regard officers as necessarily
empty and frivolous, and our recent experience has--has been
otherwise." Her period altogether failed her.
"There, Alick, is that the effect of your weight of wisdom? I shall
be more impressed with it than ever. It has redeemed the character
of your profession. Captain Keith and the army."
"I am afraid I cannot flatter myself," said Alick; and a sort of
reflection of Rachel's burning colour seemed to have lighted on his
cheek, "its reputation has been in better hands."
"0 Colonel Colin! Depend upon it, he is not half as sage as you,
Alick. Why, he is a dozen years older!--What, don't you know, Miss
Curtis, that the older people grow the less sage they get?"
"I hope not," said Rachel.
"Do you! A contrary persuasion sustains me when I see people
obnoxiously sage to their fellow-creatures."
"Obnoxious sageness in youth is the token that there is stuff
behind," said Alick, with eagerness that set his sister laughing at
him for fitting on the cap; but Rachel had a sort of odd dreamy
perception that Bessie Keith had unconsciously described her
(Rachel's) own aspect, and that Alick was defending her, and she was
silent and confused, and rather surprised at the assumption of the
character by one who she thought could never even exert himself to be
obnoxious. He evidently did not wish to dwell on the subject, but
began to inquire after Avonmouth matters, and Rachel in return asked
for Mr. Clare.
"Very well," was the answer; "unfailing in spirits, every one agreed
that he was the youngest man at the wedding."
"Having outgrown his obnoxious sageness," said Bessie.
"There is nothing he is so adroit at as guessing the fate of a
croquet-ball by its sound."
"Now Bessie," exclaimed Alick.
"I have not transgressed, have I?" asked Bessie; and in the
exclamations that followed, she said, "You see what want of
confidence is. This brother of mine no sooner saw you in the
carriage than he laid his commands on me not to ask after your
croquet-ground all the way home, and the poor word cannot come out of
my mouth without--"
"I only told you not to bore Miss Curtis with the eternal subject, as
she would think you had no more brains than one of your mallets," he
said, somewhat energetically.
"And if we had begun to talk croquet, we should soon have driven him
"But suppose I could not talk it," said Rachel, "and that we have no
ground for it."
"Why, then,"--and she affected to turn up her eyes,--"I can only aver
that the coincidence of sentiments is no doubt the work of destiny."
"Bessie!" exclaimed her brother.
"Poor old fellow! you had excuse enough, lying on the sofa to the
tune of tap and click; but for a young lady in the advanced ranks of
civilization to abstain is a mere marvel."
"Surely it is a great waste of time," said Rachel.
"Ah! when I have converted you, you will wonder what people did with
themselves before the invention."
"Woman's mission discovered " quoth her brother.
"Also man's, unless he neglects it," returned Miss Elizabeth; "I
wonder, now, if you would play if Miss Curtis did."
"Wisdom never pledges itself how it will act in hypothetical
circumstances," was the reply.
"Hypothetical," syllabically repeated Bessie Keith; "did you teach
him that word, Miss Curtis? Well, if I don't bring about the
hypothetical circumstances, you may call me hyperbolical."
So they talked, Rachel in a state of bewilderment, whether she were
teased or enchanted, and Alexander Keith's quiet nonchalance not
concealing that he was in some anxiety at his sister's reckless talk,
but, perhaps, he hardly estimated the effect of the gay, quaint
manner that took all hearts by storm, and gave a frank careless grace
to her nonsense. She grew graver and softer as she came nearer
Avonmouth, and spoke tenderly of the kindness she had received at the
time of her mother's death at the Cape, when she had been brought to
the general's, and had there remained like a child of the house, till
she had been sent home on the removal of the regiment to India.
"I remember," she said, "Mrs. Curtis kept great order. In fact,
between ourselves, she was rather a dragon; and Lady Temple, though
she had one child then, seemed like my companion and playfellow.
Dear little Lady Temple, I wonder if she is altered!"
"Not in the least," returned both her companions at once, and she was
quite ready to agree with them when the slender form and fair young
face met her in the hall amid a cloud of eager boys. The meeting was
a full renewal of the parting, warm and fond, and Bessie so comported
herself on her introduction to the children, that they all became
enamoured of her on the spot, and even Stephana relaxed her shyness
on her behalf. That sunny gay good-nature could not be withstood,
and Rachel, again sharing Fanny's first dinner after an arrival, no
longer sat apart despising the military atmosphere, but listening,
not without amusement, to the account of the humours of the wedding,
mingled with Alick Keith's touches of satire.
"It was very stupid," said Bessie, "of none of those girls to have
Uncle George to marry them. My aunt fancied he would be nervous, but
I know he did marry a couple when Mr. Lifford was away; I mean him to
marry me, as I told them all."
"You had better wait till you know whether he will," observed Alick.
"Will? Oh, he is always pleased to feel he can do like other
people," returned Bessie, and I'll undertake to see that he puts the
ring on the right--I mean the left finger. Because you'll have to
give me away, you know, Alick, so you can look after him."
"You seem to have arranged the programme pretty thoroughly," said
"After four weddings at home, one can't but lay by a little
experience for the future," returned Bessie; "and after all, Alick
need not look as if it must be for oneself. He is quite welcome to
profit by it, if he has the good taste to want my uncle to marry
"Not unless I were very clear that he liked my choice," said Alick,
"Oh, dear! Have you any doubts, or is that meant for a cut at poor
innocent me, as if I could help people's folly, or as if he was not
gone to Rio Janeiro," exclaimed Bessie, with a sort of meek
simplicity and unconsciousness that totally removed all the
unsatisfactoriness of the speech, and made even her brother smile
while he looked annoyed; and Lady Temple quietly changed the
conversation. Alick Keith was obliged to go away early, and the
three ladies sat long in the garden outside the window, in the summer
twilight, much relishing the frank-hearted way in which this engaging
girl talked of herself and her difficulties to Fanny as to an old
friend, and to Rachel as belonging to Fanny.
"I am afraid that I was very naughty," she said, with a hand laid on
Lady Temple's, as if to win pardon; "but I never can resist plaguing
that dear anxious brother of mine, and he did so dreadfully take to
heart the absurdities of that little Charlie Carleton, as if any one
with brains could think him good for anything but a croquet partner,
that I could not help giving a little gentle titillation. I saw you
did not like it, dear Lady Temple, and I am sorry for it."
"I hope I did not vex you," said Fanny, afraid of having been severe.
"Oh, no, indeed; a little check just makes one feel one is cared
for," and they kissed affectionately: "you see when one has a very
wise brother, plaguing him is irresistible. How little Stephana will
plague hers, in self-defence, with so many to keep her in order."
"They all spoil her."
"Ah, this is the golden age. See what it will be when they think
themselves responsible for her! Dear Lady Temple, how could you send
him home so old and so grave?"
"I am afraid we sent him home very ill. I never expected to see him
so perfectly recovered. I could hardly believe my eyes when Colonel
Keith brought him to the carriage not in the least lame."
"Yes; and it was half against his will. He would have been almost
glad to be a lay curate to Uncle George, only he knew if he was fit
for service my father would have been vexed at his giving up his
"Then it was not his choice!" said Rachel.
"Oh, he was born a soldier, like all the rest of us, couldn't help
it. The -th is our home, and if he would only take my hint and
marry, I could be with him there, now! Lady Temple, do pray send for
all the eligible officers--I don't know any of them now, except the
two majors, and Alick suspects my designs, I believe, for he won't
tell me anything about them."
"My dear!" said Fanny, bewildered, "how you talk; you know we are
living a very quiet life here."
"Oh, yes, so Alick has told me," she said, with a pretty compunction
in her tone; "you must be patient with me," and she kissed Fanny's
fingers again and spoke in a gentler way. "I am used to be a great
chatter-box, and nobody protested but Alick."
"I wish you would tell me about his return, my dear; he seemed so
unfit to travel when your poor father came to the hills and took him
away by dak. It seemed so impossible he could bear the journey; he
could not stand or help himself at all, and had constant returns of
fever; but they said the long sea voyage was the only chance, and
that in India he could not get vigour enough to begin to recover.
I was very unhappy about him," said Fanny, innocently, whilst Rachel
felt very vigilant, wondering if Fanny were the cause of the change
his sister spoke of.
"Yes, the voyage did him good, but the tidings of papa's death came
two months before him, and Uncle George's eyes were in such a state
that he had to be kept in the dark, so that no one could go and meet
the poor dear boy at Southampton but Mr. Lifford, and the shock of
the news he heard brought the fever back, and it went on intermitting
for weeks and weeks. We had him at Littleworthy at first, thinking
he could be better nursed and more cheerful there, but there was no
keeping the house quiet enough."
"Croquet!" said Rachel.
"Everything!" returned Bessie. "Four courtships in more or less
progress, besides a few flirtations, and a house where all the
neighbours were running in and out in a sociable way. Our loss was
not as recent there as it was to him, and they were only nieces, so
we could not have interfered with them; besides, my aunt was afraid
he would be dull, and wanted to make the most of her conquering hero,
and everybody came and complimented him, and catechised him whether
he believed in the Indian mutilations, when, poor fellow, he had seen
horrors enough never to bear to think of them, except when the fever
brought them all over again. I am sure there was excuse enough for
his being a little irritable."
"My dear," exclaimed Fanny, quite hurt, "he was patience itself while
he was with us."
"That's the difference between illness and recovery, dear Lady
Temple! I don't blame him. Any one might be irritable with fresh
undetected splinters of bone always working themselves out, all down
one side; and doubts which were worse, the fingers on, or the fingers
off, and no escape from folly or politeness, for he could not even
use a crutch. Oh, no, I don't blame him; I quite excuse the general
dislike he took to everything at poor dear Littleworthy. He viewed
it all like that child in Mrs. Browning's poem, 'seeing through tears
the jugglers leap,' and we have partaken of the juggler aspect to him
"I don't think he could ever be very irritable," said Fanny, taking
the accusation much to heart.
"Sister and recovery!" lightly said Bessie; "they encounter what no
one else does! He only pined for Bishopsworthy, and when we let him
move there, after the first month, he and my uncle were happy. I
stayed there for a little while, but I was only in the way, the dear
good folks were always putting themselves out on my account; and as
to Alick, you can't think how the absence of his poor "souffre-
douleur," invigorated him. Every day I found him able to put more
point into his cutting compliments, and reading to my uncle with more
energy; till at last by the time the -th came home, he had not so
much as a stiff leg to retire upon. Luckily, he and my uncle both
cared too much for my poor father's wishes for him to do so without,
though if any unlucky chance should take Mr. Lifford away from my
uncle, he threatens coming to supply the vacancy, unless I should,
and that is past hope."
"Your home is with your uncle," affirmed Rachel.
"Yes," she said, mournfully, "dear Littleworthy was too happy to
last. It broke itself up by its own charms--all married and gone,
and the last rose of summer in my poor person must float away. Jane
wants her mother and not me, and my uncle will submit to me as
cheerfully as to other necessary evils. It is not myself that I fear
for; I shall be very happy with the dear uncle, but it will be a
dreadful overthrow to his habits."
"I do not see why it need be," said Rachel.
"What! two old bachelors with a young lady turned in on them! And
the housekeeper--think of her feelings!"
"I do not think you need be uneasy, my dear," said Fanny. "Your
brother is convinced that it will be the greatest pleasure and
comfort to Mr. Clare to have you; and though there may be
difficulties at first, I am sure anybody must be the happier for
having you," and she caressed the upturned face, which responded
warmly, but with a sigh.
"Alick is no judge! He is the child of the house, and my uncle and
Mr. Lifford don't feel complete without him. My uncle is as fond of
me as can be, and he and I could get on beautifully, but then Mr.
Lifford is impracticable."
"Impracticable?" said Rachel, taking up the long word. "He objects
to your exerting yourself in the parish. I know what that is."
"Pray, Rachel," said Fanny, imploringly, "pray don't any anything
against him! I am very sorry he has annoyed you, but I do like him."
"Oh, does he play croquet!" cried Bessie.
"I gather," said Rachel, in her impressive tone, a little
disappointed, "that by impracticable you mean one who will not play
"You have hit it!" laughed Bessie. "Who will neither play at
croquet, nor let one work except in his way. Well, there are hopes
for you. I cure the curates of every cure I come near, except, of
course, the cure that touches me most nearly. The shoemaker's wife
goes the worst shod! I'll tame yours."
"My dear, I can't have poor Mr. Touchett made game of."
"I won't make game of him, dear Lady Temple, only make him play a
"But you said Alick did not approve," said Fanny, with the dimmest
possible ideas of what croquet was, and believing it a wicked
flirtation trap that figured in "Punch."
"Oh, that's fudge on Master Alick's part! Just the remains of his
old miseries, poor fellow. What he wants is love! Now he'll meet
his fate some of these days; and as he can't meet three Englishwomen
without a mallet in hand, love and croquet will come together."
"Alick is very good," went on Lady Temple, not answering, but arguing
with herself whether this opposition could be right. "Colonel
Hammond gave me such an account of him, so valuable and excellent
among the men, and doing all that is possible for their welfare,
interesting himself about their library, and the regimental school
and all. The colonel said he wished only that he was a little more
easy and popular among the young officers; but so many of his own
standing were gone by the time he joined again, that he lives almost
too much to himself, reads a good deal, and is most exemplary, but
does not quite make his influence as available as it might be."
"That's just it," cried Bessie, eagerly; "the boy is a lazy boy, and
wants shaking up, or he'll get savage and no good. Can't you see, by
the way he uses his poor little sister, what an awful don Captain
Keith must be to a schoolboy of an ensign? He must be taught
toleration and hunted into amiability, or he'll be the most terrible
Turk by the time he is a colonel; and you are the only person that
can do it, dear Lady Temple."
Kachel did not much like this, but it was so prettily and playfully
said that the pleasing impression was quite predominant; and when
Rachel took leave, it was with a sense of vexation that a person whom
she had begun to esteem should be hard upon this bright engaging
sister. Yet it might be well if Fanny took note of the admission
that he could be irritable as well as stern, and sometimes mistaken
in his judgments. What would the Colonel say to all this? The
Colonel--here he was coming back again into her imagination. Another
The brother left the field entirely to his sister for the present; he
was a good deal occupied after his leave, and other officers being
away, he was detained at Avoncester, and meantime Bessie Keith took
all hearts by storm with her gay good humour and eager sympathy. By
the end of the first morning she had been to the stable with a swarm
of boys, patted, and learnt the names of all the ponies; she was on
the warmest terms with the young spaniel, that, to the Curtises'
vexation, one of the officers had given Conrade, and which was always
getting into the way; she had won Alison by telling her of Mr.
Clare's recollections of Ermine's remarkable beauty and intelligence,
and charmed Ermine herself by his kind messages and her own sunshiny
brightness; she had delighted Mrs. Curtis and Grace by appreciating
their views and their flowers; she had discussed hymnals and chants
with Mr. Touchett, and promised her services; she had given a
brilliant object lesson at Mrs. Kelland's, and received one herself
in lace-making; and had proved herself, to Rachel's satisfaction,
equally practical and well-read. All the outer world was asking,
"Have you seen the young lady with Lady Temple?"
Nothing came amiss to her, from the antiquity of man to Stephana's
first words; and whether she taught Grace new stitches, played
cricket with Conrade, made boats for Cyril, prattled with Lady
Temple, or studied with Rachel, all was done with grace, zest, and
sympathy peculiarly her own. Two practisings at the school removed
the leaden drawl, and lessened the twang of the choir; and Mr.
Touchett looked quite exalted, while even Rachel owned that she had
hardly believed her ears.
Rachel and she constituted themselves particular friends, and Grace
kept almost aloof in the fear of disturbing them. She had many
friends, and this was the first, except Ermine Williams, to whom
Rachel had taken, since a favourite companion of her youth had
disappointed her by a foolish marriage. Bessie's confidences had a
vigour in them that even Rachel's half-way meetings could not check,
and then the sharp, clever things she would say, in accordance with
Rachel's views, were more sympathetic than anything she had met with.
It was another new charm to life.
One great pleasure they enjoyed together was bathing. The Homestead
possessed a little cove of its own under the rocks, where there was a
bathing-house, and full perfection of arrangement for young ladies'
aquatic enjoyment, in safety and absolute privacy. Rachel's vigorous
strength and health had been greatly promoted by her familiarity with
salt water, and Bessie was in ecstasies at the naiad performances
they shared together on the smooth bit of sandy shore, where they
dabbled and floated fearlessly. One morning, when they had been down
very early to be beforehand with the tide, which put a stop to their
enjoyment long before the breakfast hour, Bessie asked if they could
not profit by their leisure to climb round the edge of the cliff's
instead of returning by the direct path, and Rachel agreed, with the
greater pleasure, that it was an enterprise she had seldom performed.
Very beautiful, though adventurous, was the walk--now on the brow of
the steep cliff, looking down on the water or on little bays of
shingle, now through bits of thicket that held out brambles to
entangle the long tresses streaming on their shoulders; always in the
brisk morning air, that filled them with strength and spirit,
laughing, joking, calling to one another and to Conrade's little dog,
that, like every other creature, had attached itself to Bessie, and
had followed her from Myrtlewood that morning, to the vexation of
Rachel, who had no love for dogs in their early youth.
They were beyond the grounds of the Homestead, but had to go a little
further to get into the path, when they paused above a sort of dip or
amphitheatre of rock around a little bay, whilst Rachel began telling
of the smugglers' traditions that haunted the place--how much brandy
and silk had there been landed in the time of the great French war,
and how once, when hard pressed, a party of smugglers, taking a short
cut in the moonlight midnight across the Homestead gardens, had
encountered an escaped Guinea-pig, and no doubt taking it for the
very rat without a tail, in whose person Macbeth's witch was to do,
and to do, and to do, had been nearly scared out of their wits.
Her story was cut short by a cry of distress from the dog, and
looking down, they perceived that the poor fellow had been creeping
about the rocks, and had descended to the little cove, whence he was
incapable of climbing up again. They called encouragingly, and
pretended to move away, but he only moaned more despairingly, and
leapt in vain.
"He has hurt his foot!" exclaimed Rachel; "I must go down after him.
Yes, Don, yes, poor fellow, I'm coming."
"My dear Curtia, don't leap into the gulf!"
"Oh, it's no great height, and the tide will soon fill up this
"Don't! don't! You'll never be able to get up again."
But Rachel was already scrambling down, and, in effect, she was sure-
footed and used to her own crags, nor was the distance much above
thirty foot, so that she was soon safe on the shingle, to the extreme
relief of poor Don, shown by grateful whines; but he was still
evidently in pain, and Rachel thought his leg was broken. And how to
get up the rock, with a spaniel that when she tried to lift it became
apparently twice the size she had always believed it to be, and where
both hands as well as feet were required, with the sea fast advancing
"My dear Rachel, you will only break your neck, too, it is quite vain
"If you could just come to that first rock, perhaps I could push him
up to you!"
Bessie came to it, but screamed. "Oh, I'm not steady; I couldn't do
it! Besides, it would hurt him so, and I know you would fall. Poor
fellow, it is very sad; but indeed, Rachel, your life is more
precious than a dog's!"
"I can't leave him to drown," said Rachel, making a desperate
scramble, and almost overbalancing herself. "Here, if you could only
get him by the scrough of his neck, it would not hurt him so much;
poor Don, yes, poor fellow!" as he whined, but still showed his
confidence in the touching manner of a sensible dog, knowing he is
hurt for his good. Bessie made another attempt, but, unused to
rocks, she was uneasy about her footing, and merely frightened
herself. "Indeed," she said, "I had better run and call some one;
I won't be long, and you are really quite safe."
"Yes, quite safe. If you were down here and I above I am sure he
could do it easily."
"Ah! but I'm no cragswoman; I'll be back instantly."
"That way, that's the shortest, call to Zack or his father," tried
Rachel, as the light figure quickly disappeared, leaving her a little
annoyed at her predicament. She was not at all alarmed for herself,
there was no real danger of drowning, she could at any moment get up
the rock herself if she chose to leave the dog to its fate; but that
she could not bear to think of, and she even thought the stimulus of
necessity might prove the mother of invention, if succour should not
come before that lapping flux and reflux of water should have crept
up the shingly beach, on which she stood; but she was anxious, and
felt more and more drawn to the poor dog, so suffering, yet so
patient and confiding. Nor did she like the awkwardness of being
helped in what ought to be no difficulty at all to a native, and
would not have been had her companion, been Grace or even Conrade.
Her hope was that her ally Zack would come, as she had directed
Bessie towards the cottage; but, behold, after a wearily long
interval, it was no blue jacket that appeared, but a round black sea-
hide hat, and a sort of easy clerical-looking dress, that Bessie was
Few words were required, the stranger's height and length of arms did
all that was needful, and Don was placed in safety with less pain and
outcry than could have been hoped, Rachel ascending before the polite
stranger had time to offer his assistance. The dog's hurt was, he
agreed with Rachel, a broken leg, and his offer of carrying it home
could not be refused, especially as he touched it with remarkable
tenderness and dexterity, adding that with a splint or two, he
thought he had surgery enough to set the limb.
They were much nearer the Homestead than to Myrtle-wood, and as it
had been already agreed that Bessie should breakfast there, the three
bent their steps up the hill as fast as might be, in consideration of
Mrs. Curtis's anxieties. Bessie in a state of great exultation and
amusement at the romantic adventure, Rachel somewhat put out at the
untoward mishap that obliged her to be beholden to one of the casual
visitors, against whom her mother had such a prejudice.
Still, the gentleman himself was far from objectionable, in
appearance or manner; his air was that of an educated man, his dress
that of a clergyman at large, his face keen. Rachel remembered to
have met him once or twice in the town within the last few days, and
wondered if he could be a person who had called in at the lace school
and asked so many questions that Mrs. Kelland had decided that he
could be after no good; he must be one of the Parliament folks that
they sent down to take the bread out of children's mouths by not
letting them work as many hours as was good for them. Not quite
believing in a Government commission on lace-making grievances,
Rachel was still prepared to greet a kindred spirit of philanthropy,
and as she reflected more, thought that perhaps it was well that an
introduction had been procured on any terms.
So she thawed a little, and did not leave all the civility to Miss
Keith, but graciously responded to the stranger's admiration of the
views, the exquisite framings of the summer sea and sky made by tree,
rock, and rising ground, and the walks so well laid out on the little
headland, now on smooth turf, now bordering slopes wild with fern and
mountain ash, now amid luxuriant exotic shrubs that attested the
mildness of Avonmouth winters.
When they came near the front of the house, Rachel took man and dog
in through the open window of her own sitting-room, and hastened to
provide him with bandages and splints, leaving Bessie to reassure
Mrs. Curtis that no human limbs were broken, and that no one was even
wet to the skin; nay, Bessie had even the tact to spare Mrs. Curtis
the romantic colouring that delighted herself. Grace had followed
Rachel to assist at the operation, and was equally delighted with its
neatness and tenderness, as well as equally convinced of the
necessity of asking the performer first to wash his hands and then to
eat his breakfast, both which kind proposals he accepted with
diffident gratitude, first casting a glance around the apartment,
which, though he said nothing, conveyed that he was profoundly struck
with the tokens of occupation that it contained. The breakfast was,
in the first place, a very hungry one; indeed, Bessie had been too
ravenous to wait till the surgery was over, and was already arrived
at her second egg when the others appeared, and the story had again
to be told to the mother, and her warm thanks given. Mrs. Curtis did
not like strangers when they were only names, but let her be brought
in contact, and her good nature made her friendly at once, above all
in her own house. The stranger was so grave and quiet too, not at
all presuming, and making light of his services, but only afraid he
had been trespassing on the Homestead grounds. These incursions of
the season visitors were so great a grievance at the Homestead that
Mrs. Curtis highly approved his forbearance, whilst she was pleased
with his tribute to her scenery, which he evidently admired with an
artistic eye. Love of sketching had brought him to Avonmouth, and
before he took leave, Mrs. Curtis had accorded him that permission to
draw in her little peninsula for which many a young lady below was
sighing and murmuring. He thanked her with a melancholy look,
confessing that in his circumstances his pencil was his toy and his
"Once again, that landscape painter!" exclaimed Bessie, with uplifted
hands, as soon as both he and Mrs. Curtis were out of earshot, "an
adventure at last."
"Not at all," said Rachel, gravely; "there was neither alarm nor
"Precisely; the romance minus the disagreeables. Only the sea
monster wanting. Young Alcides, and rock--you stood there for
sacrifice, I was the weeping Dardanian dames."
Even Grace could not help laughing at the mischief of the one, and
the earnest seriousness of the other.
"Now, Bessie, I entreat that you will not make a ridiculous story of
a most simple affair," implored Rachel.
"I promise not to make one, but don't blame me if it makes itself."
"It cannot, unless some of us tell the story."
"What, do you expect the young Alcides to hold his tongue? That is
more than can be hoped of mortal landscape painter."
"I wish you would not call him so. I am sure he is a clergyman."
"Landscape painter, I would lay you anything you please."
"Nay," said Grace, "according to you, that is just what he ought not
"I do not understand what diverts you so much," said Rachel, growing
lofty in her displeasure. "What matters it what the man may be?"
"That is exactly what we want to see," returned Bessie.
Poor Rachel, a grave and earnest person like her, had little chance
with one so full of playful wit and fun as Bessie Keith, to whom her
very dignity and susceptibility of annoyance made her the better
game. To have involved the grave Rachel in such a parody of an
adventure was perfectly irresistible to her, and to expect absolute
indifference to it would, as Grace felt, have been requiring mere
stupidity. Indeed, there was forbearance in not pushing Rachel
further at the moment; but proceeding to tell the tale at Myrtlewood,
whither Grace accompanied Bessie, as a guard against possible madcap
versions capable of misconstruction.
"Yes," said Rachel to herself, "I see now what Captain Keith regrets.
His sister, with all her fine powers and abilities, has had her tone
lowered to the hateful conventional style of wit that would put me to
the blush for the smallest mishap. I hope he will not come over till
it is forgotten, for the very sight of his disapproval would incite
her further. I am glad the Colonel is not here. Here, of course, he
is in my imagination. Why should I be referring everything to him;
I, who used to be so independent? Suppose this nonsense gave him
umbrage? Let it. I might then have light thrown on his feelings and
my own. At any rate, I will not be conscious. If this stranger be
really worth notice, as I think he is, I will trample on her
ridicule, and show how little I esteem it."
THE NEW SPORT
"'Sire,' I replied, 'joys prove cloudlets,
Men are the merest Ixions.'
Here the King whistled aloud, 'Let's,
Heigho, go look at our lions!'
Such are the sorrowful chances
If you talk fine to King Francis."--R. BROWNING.
The day after Rachel's adventure with Don a card came into the
drawing-room, and therewith a message that the gentleman had availed
himself of Mrs. Curtis's kind permission, and was sketching the
Spinster's Needles, two sharp points of red rock that stood out in
the sea at the end of the peninsula, and were specially appropriated
by Rachel and Grace.
The card was written, not engraved, the name "Rd. R. H. C. L.
Mauleverer;" and a discussion ensued whether the first letters stood
for Richard or for Reverend, and if he could be unconscionable enough
to have five initials. The sisters had some business to transact at
Villars's, the Avonmouth deposit of literature and stationery, which
was in the hands of a somewhat aspiring genius, who edited the weekly
paper, and respected Miss Rachel Curtis in proportion to the number
of periodicals she took in, and the abstruseness of the publications
she inquired after. The paper in its Saturday's dampness lay fresh
on the counter, and glancing at the new arrivals, Grace had the
desired opportunity of pointing to Mr. Mauleverer's name, and asking
when he had come. About a week since, said the obliging Mr. Villars,
he appeared to be a gentleman of highly literary and artistic tastes,
a philanthropist; indeed, Mr. Villars understood him to be a clerical
gentlemen who had opinions--
"Oh, Rachel, I am very sorry," said Grace.
"Sorry, what for?"
"Why, you and mamma seemed quite inclined to like him."
"Well, and what have we heard?"
"Not much that is rational, certainly," said Grace, smiling; "but we
know what was meant."
"Granting that we do, what is proved against him? No, I will not say
proved, but alleged. He is one of the many who have thought for
themselves upon the perplexing problems of faith and practice, and
has been sincere, uncompromising, self-sacrificing, in avowing that
his mind is still in that state of solution in which all earnest and
original minds must be ere the crystallizing process sets in.
Observe, Grace, I am not saying for an instant that he is in the
right. All I do say is, that when depth of thought and candour have
brought misfortune upon a man, it is ungenerous, therefore, to treat
him as if he had the leprosy."
"Indeed, Rachel, I think you have made more out of his opinions than
"I was only arguing on your construction of his opinions."
"Take care--!" For they were at this moment reaching a gate of
Myrtlewood, and the sound of hoofs came close behind them. They were
those of the very handsome chestnut, ridden by Alexander Keith, who
jumped off his horse with more alacrity than usual as they were
opening the gate for him, and holding out his hand, eagerly said--
"Then I conclude there is nothing the matter?"
"Nothing at all," said Grace. "What did you hear?"
"Only a little drowning, and a compound fracture or two," said he,
relapsing into his languid ease as he gave his bridle to a groom, and
walked with them towards the house.
" There, how very annoying!" exclaimed Rachel, "though, of course,
the smallest adventure does travel."
"I may venture to hope that neither are you drowned, nor my sister's
leg broken, nor a celebrated professor and essayist 'in a high fever
wi' pulling any of you out of the sea.'"
"There, Grace," exclaimed Rachel; "I told you he was something
"My dear Rachel, if his celebrity be in proportion to the rest of the
"Then there really was a rescue!" exclaimed Captain Keith, now with
much more genuine anxiety; and Rachel recollecting her desire that
the right version should have the precedence, quickly answered,
"There was no danger, only Don slipped down into that curved cove
where we walked one day with the boys. I went down after him, but he
had broken his leg. I could not get up with him in my arms, and
Bessie called some one to help me."
"And why could not Bessie help you herself?"
"Oh! strangers can never climb on our slippery rocks as we can."
"Moreover, it would have spoilt the predicament," muttered the
brother to himself; then turning round with a smile, "And is the
child behaving herself?"
Grace and Rachel answered in a eager duet how she was charming every
one, so helpful, so kind, so everything.
"Ah!" he said with real satisfaction, apparent in the eyes that were
so pleasant when open wide enough to be visible; "I knew she always
did better when I was not there."
They were by this time entering the hall, which, in the confident
fashion of the sea-side, stood open; and at the moment Fanny came
tripping downstairs with her dress looped up, and a shady hat on her
head, looking fearfully girlish, thought her cousins, though her
attire was still rigidly black.
"Oh, I am so glad to see you; Don is so much better, Rachel, and
Conrade wants to thank you. He went up yesterday, and was so sorry
you were out. Might it not have been dreadful, Alick? I have been
so wanting to tell you how very delightful that dear sister of yours
is. All the boys are distracted about her. Come out please. She
has been teaching the boys such a delightful game; so much nicer than
cricket, for I can play with them."
Alick and Rachel could not but exchange a glance, and at the same
moment, emerging through the screen of shrubs on the lawn, Bessie
Keith, Conrade, Francis, and Leoline, were seen each with a mallet in
hand and a gay ball in readiness to be impelled through the hoops
that beset the lawn.
"And you really are learning croquet!" exclaimed innocent Grace;
"well, it makes a beautiful ground."
"Croquet!" exclaimed poor Lady Temple, with startled eyes; "you don't
really mean that it is croquet! 0 Bessie, Bessie!"
"Ah! I didn't mean you to have come so soon," said the much amused
Bessie, as she gave her hand in greeting. "I meant the prejudice to
be first conquered. See, dear Lady Temple, I'm not ashamed; this
whitey brown moustache is going to kiss me nevertheless and
And so it certainly did, and smiled into the bargain, while the boys
came clamouring up, and after thanks for Don's preservation, began
loudly to beg mamma would come, they could not make up their sides
without her, but mamma was distressed and unhappy.
"Not now, my dears--I must--I must. Indeed I did not know."
"Now, Alick, I trust to your generosity," said Bessie, finding that
they must be pacified. "Coming, Con--Come, Grace, come and convince
Lady Temple that the pastime is not too wicked for you."
"Indeed, Alick," Lady Temple was saying. "I am very sorry, I won't
allow it one moment if you think it is objectionable."
"But I don't," said Alick, smiling. "Far from it. It is a capital
game for you and your boys."
"I thought--I thought you disapproved and could not bear it," said
Lady Temple, wondering and wistful.
"Can't bear is not disapprove. Indeed," seeing that gentle earnest
alone could console her, "there is no harm in the game itself. It is
a wholly personal distaste, arising from my having been bored with it
when I was ill and out of spirits."
"But is not there something about it in 'Punch?'" she still asked, so
anxiously, that it was impossible not to smile; but there was not a
particle of that subdued mockery that was often so perplexing in him,
as he replied, "Certainly there is about its abuse as an engine for
flirtation, which, to tell you the truth, was what sickened me with
the sight at Littleworthy; but that is not the line Con and Francie
will take just yet. Why, my uncle is specially addicted to listening
to croquet, and knows by the step and sound how each player is
getting on, till he is quite an oracle in disputed hits."
"So Bessie told me," said Fanny, still feeling that she had been
taken in and the brother unkindly used; "but I can't think how she
could, when you don't like it."
"Nobody is bound to respect foolish prejudices," said Alick, still
quite in earnest. "It would have been very absurd not to introduce
"Come, Alick," said Bessie, advancing, "have you absolved her, and
may we begin? Would it not be a generous act of amnesty if all the
present company united in a match?"
"Too many," said Alick, "odd numbers. I shall go down and call on
Miss Williams. May I come back, Lady Temple, and have a holiday from
"I shall be very glad; only I am afraid there is no dinner."
"So much the better. Only let me see you begin, or I shall never
dare to express an opinion for the future."
"Mamma, do pray, pray begin; the afternoon is wasting like nothing!"
cried Conrade of the much-tried patience. "And Aunt Rachel," he
added, in his magnanimity, "you shall be my partner, and I'll teach
"Thank you, Conrade, but I can't; I promised to be at home at four,"
said Rachel, who had all this time been watching with curious
interest which influence would prevail--whether Alick would play for
Fanny's sake, or Fanny abstain for Alick's sake. She was best
satisfied as it was, but she had still to parry Bessie Keith's
persuasive determination. Why would she go home? it certainly was to
inspect the sketches of the landscape-painter. "You heard, Alick, of
the interesting individual who acted the part of Rachel's preserver,"
The very force of Rachel's resolution not to be put out of
countenance served to cover her with the most uncomfortable blushes,
all the more at the thought of her own unlucky exclamation. "I came
here," said Alick, coolly, "to assist in recovering the beloved
remains from a watery grave;" and then, as Bessie insisted on hearing
the Avoncester version, he gave it; while Grace added the
intelligence that the hero was a clergyman, sinking the opinions, as
too vague to be mentioned, even had not the company been too flighty
for a subject she thought serious and painful. "And he is at this
moment sketching the Spinster's Needles!" said Bessie. "Well, I am
consoled. With all your resolve to flatten down an adventure, fate
is too strong for you. Something will come of it. Is not the very
resolve that it shall not be an adventure a token?"
"If any one should wish to forget it, it is you, I think, Bessie,"
said Alick. "Your admirable sagacity seems to have been at fault.
I thought you prided yourself on your climbing."
"Up a slippery perpendicular--"
"I know the place," he gravely answered.
"Well," exclaimed Bessie, recovering herself, "I am not a mermaid nor
even a dear gazelle, and, in my humble opinion, there was far more
grace in preventing heroism from being 'unwept, unnoticed, and
unsung,' than in perilling my own neck, craning down and strangling
the miserable beast, by pulling him up by the scrough of his neck!
What an introduction would have been lost!"
"If you are going to play, Bessie," said her brother, "it would be
kind to take pity upon those boys."
"One achievement is mine," she said, dancing away backwards, her
bright eyes beaming with saucy merriment, "the great Alexander has
bidden me to croquet."
"I am afraid," said her brother, turning to Rachel as she departed,
"that it was all her fault. Pray be patient with her, she has had
His incomprehensible irony had so often perplexed Rachel, that she
did not know whether his serious apologetic tone were making game of
her annoyance, and she answered not very graciously, "Oh, never mind,
it did not signify." And at the same time came another urgent
entreaty from the boys that the two "aunts " would join the game,
Conrade evidently considering that partnership with him would seal
the forgiveness Aunt Rachel had won by the rescue of Don.
Grace readily yielded, but Rachel pleaded her engagement, and when
the incorrigible Bessie declared that they perfectly understood that
nothing could compete with the sketch of the Spinster's Needles, she
answered, "I promised to write a letter for my mother on business
before post time. The Burnaby bargain," she explained, to add
"A business-like transaction indeed!" exclaimed Bessie, much diverted
with the name.
"Only a bit of land in trust for apprenticing poor children," said
Rachel. "It was left by a Curtis many generations ago, in trust to
the rector of the parish and the lord of the manor; and poor Mr.
Linton is so entirely effete, that it is virtually in our hands. It
is one of the vexations of my life that more good cannot be done with
it, for the fees are too small for superior tradespeople, and we can
only bind them to the misery of lacemaking. The system belongs to a
worn-out state of things."
The word system in Rachel's mouth was quite sufficient to send Bessie
to her croquet, and the poor boys were at length rewarded for their
unusual patience. Their mother had been enduring almost as much as
they did in her dislike to see them tantalised, and she now threw
herself into the game with a relish that proved that as yet, at
least, Conrade's approbation was more to her than Captain Keith's.
It was very pretty to see her so pleased with her instructions, so
eager about her own game, and yet so delighted with every hit of her
boys; while Bessie was an admirable general, playing everybody's game
as well as her own, and with such life and spirit, such readiness and
good nature, that a far duller sport would have been delicious under
"Poor Alick," said she, meeting him when he again strolled into the
garden, while the boys were collecting the mallets and balls; "he did
think he had one lawn in the world undefiled by those horrible
hoops!" then as she met his smile of amusement and pardon, "but it
was so exactly what they wanted here. It is so good for Lady Temple
and her boys to have something they can do together."
The pleased affectionate smile was gone.
"I object to nothing but its being for her good," he said gravely.
"But now, does not it make her very happy, and suit her excellently?"
"May be so, but that is not the reason you introduced it."
"You have a shocking habit of driving one up into corners, Alick, but
it shall be purely, purely for my own selfish delight," and she
clasped her hands in so droll an affectation of remorse, that the
muscles round his eyes quivered with diversion, though the hair on
his lip veiled what the corners of his mouth were about; "if only,"
she proceeded, "you won't let it banish you. You must come over to
take care of this wicked little sister, or who knows what may be the
"I kept away partly because I was busy, and partly because I believe
you are such a little ape as always to behave worse when you have the
semblance of a keeper;" he said, with his arm fondly on her shoulder
as they walked.
"And in the mean time fell out the adventure of the distinguished
"I am afraid," he returned, "that was a gratuitous piece of mischief,
particularly annoying to so serious and thoughtful a person as Miss
"Jealousy?" exclaimed Bessie in an ecstatic tone. "You see what you
lost by not trusting me, to behave myself under the provocation of
"What! the pleasure of boxing your ears for a coward?"
"Of seizing the happy opening! I am very much afraid for you now,
Alick," she proceeded with mock gravity. "What hope can a poor
Captain of Highlanders, even if he does happen to be a wounded hero
or two, have against a distinguished essayist and landscape painter;
if it were a common case indeed, but where Wisdom herself is
"Military frivolity cannot hope," returned Alick, with a shake of his
head, and a calm matter-of-fact acquiescent tone.
"Ah, poor Alick," pursued his sister, "you always were a discreet
youth; but to be connected with such a union of learning, social
science, and homeaopathy, soared beyond my utmost ambition. I
suppose the wedding tour--supposing the happy event to take place--
will be through a series of model schools and hospitals, ending in
"No," said Alick, equally coolly, "to the Dutch reformatory, and the
Swiss cretin asylum."
She was exceedingly tickled at his readiness, and proceeded in a
pretended sentimental tone, "I am glad you have revealed the secrets
of your breast. I saw there was a powerful attraction and that you
were no longer your own, but my views were humbler. I thought the
profound respect with which you breathed the name of Avonmouth, was
due to the revival of the old predilection for our sweet little--"
"Hush, Bessie," said her brother, roused for the first time into
sternness, "this is more than nonsense. One word more of this, and
you will cut me off from my greatest rest and pleasure."
"From the lawn where croquet waits his approbation," was on Bessie's
tongue, but she did not say it. There were moments when she stood in
fear of her brother. He paused, and as if perceiving that his
vehemence was in itself suspicious, added, "Remember, I never met her
from seven years old till after her marriage. She has been the
kindest of friends in right of our fathers' old friendship. You know
how her mother nursed me, and the sister she was to me. And Bessie,
if your selfishness--I wish I could call it thoughtlessness--involves
her innocent simplicity in any scrape, derogatory to what is becoming
her situation, I shall find it very hard to forgive you, and harder
still to forgive myself for letting you come here."
Bessie pouted for a moment, but her sweetness and good humour were
never away. "There, you have given your wicked little sister a
screed," she said, looking insinuatingly up at him. "Just as if I
did not think her a darling, and would not for the world do anything
to spoil her. Have not I been leading the most exemplary life,
talking systems and visiting cottages with Rachel and playing with
the boys, and singing with the clergyman; and here am I pounced on,
as if I were come to be the serpent in this anti-croquet paradise."
"Only a warning, Bessie."
"You'll be better now you have had it out. I've seen you suppressing
it all this time, for fear of frightening me away."
Every one knows how the afternoon croquet match on the Myrtlewood
Lawn became an institution, though with some variation in the
observers thereof, owing to the exigencies of calls, rides, and
Ermine Williams's drive, which Lady Temple took care should happen at
least twice a week. The most constant votaries of the mallet and
hoop were, of course, the two elder boys, the next pair being distant
worshippers only now and then admitted by special favour, but the
ardour of their mother even exceeded that of Bessie Keith, and it was
always a disappointment to her if she were prevented from playing.
Grace and Alison Williams frequently took their share with enjoyment,
though not with the same devotion, and visitors, civil and military,
also often did their part, but the most fervent of all these was Mr.
Touchett. Ever since that call of his, when, after long impatience
of his shy jerks of conversation and incapacity of taking leave, Miss
Keith had exclaimed, "Did you ever play at croquet? do come, and we
will teach you," he had been its most assiduous student. The first
instructions led to an appointment for more, one contest to another,
and the curate was becoming almost as regular a croquet player as
Conrade himself, not conversing much but sure to be in his place; and
showing a dexterity and precision that always made Lady Temple
pleased to have him on her side, and exclaim with delight at his hits
as a public benefit to the cause, or thank him with real gratitude
when he croqued her or one of her sons out of a difficulty.
Indeed that little lawn at Myrtlewood was a battle-field, of which
Alison used to carry her sister amusing and characteristic sketches.
The two leading players were Miss Keith and Mr. Touchett, who alone
had any idea of tactics; but what she did by intuition, sleight of
hand or experience, he effected by calculation and generalship, and
even when Conrade claimed the command of his own side, the
suggestions of the curate really guided the party. Conrade was a
sort of Murat on the croquet field, bold, dashing, often making
wonderful hits, but uncertain, and only gradually learning to act in
combination. Alison was a sure-handed, skilful hitter, but did not
aspire to leadership. Mamma tried to do whatever her boys commanded,
and often did it by a sort of dainty dexterity, when her exultation,
was a very pretty sight, nor was Grace's lady-like skill
contemptible, but having Francis as an ally was like giving a castle;
and he was always placed on the other side from Conrade, as it was
quite certain that he would do the very reverse of whatever his
brother advised. Now and then invitations were given for Rose
Williams to join the game, but her aunts never accepted them. Ermine
had long ago made up her mind against intimacies between her niece
and any pupils of Alison's, sure that though starts of pleasure might
result, they would be at the cost of ruffling, and, perhaps,
perturbing the child's even stream of happiness--even girl-
friendships might have been of doubtful effect where circumstances
were so unequal; but Lady Temple's household of boys appeared to
Ermine by no means a desirable sphere for her child to be either
teased or courted in. Violetta, Colinette, and Augustus were safer
comrades, and Rose continued to find them sufficient, varied with the
rare delight of now and then sharing her aunt's drive, and brightened
by many a kind message in Colonel Keith's letters to her aunt, nay,
occasionally a small letter to herself, or an enclosure of some
pretty photograph for her much-loved scrap book, or some article for
Colinette's use, sometimes even a new book! She was never forgotten
in his letters, and Ermine smiled her strange pensive smile of
amusement at his wooing of the unconscious Rose.
"Scorn not the smallness of daily endeavour,
Let the great meaning ennoble it ever,
Droop not o'er efforts expended in vain,
Work, as believing, that labour is gain."
Queen Isabel, &c. by S. M.
The sturdy recusant against Myrtlewood croquet continued to be Rachel
Curtis, and yet it was not a testimony against the game so much as
real want of time for it. She was always full of occupation, even
while her active mind craved for more definite and extended labour;
and when she came upon the field of strategy, it was always either
with some business before her, or else so late that the champions
were only assisting their several lags to bring the battle to an end.
If there had been a will there would have been a way, but, as she
said, she saw enough to perceive that proficiency could only be
attained at the cost of much time and study, and she did not choose
to be inferior and mediocre. Also, she found occupations open to her
elsewhere that had long been closed or rendered unpleasant. Mr.
Touchett had become wonderfully pacific and obliging of late, as if
the lawn tactics absorbed his propensities for offence and defence,
he really seemed obliged for one or two bits of parish work that she
attended to; finding that between him and his staff of young ladies
they were getting omitted. Somehow, too, an unaccountable blight was
passing over the activity of those curatolatresses, as Rachel had
been wont to call them; they were less frequently to be met with
popping out of the schools and cottages, and Rachel, who knew well
all the real poor, though refusing the bonds of a district, was
continually detecting omissions which she more often supplied than
reported. There was even a smaller sprinkling at the weekly
services, and the odd thing was that the curate never seemed to
remark or be distressed by the change, or if any one spoke of the
thin congregation he would say, winter was the Avonmouth season,
which was true enough, but the defaulters were mostly his own
peculiar followers, the female youth of the professional and
Rachel did not trouble herself about the cause of all this, indeed
she was too much occupied with the gradual gliding into somewhat of
her original activity and importance in the field thus left open to
her. None the less, however, did she feel the burden of life's
problems; the intercourse she had enjoyed with Colonel Keith had
excited her for a time, but in the reaction, the old feelings
returned painfully that the times were out of joint; the heavens
above became obscure and misty as before, the dark places of the
earth looked darker than ever, and those who lived at ease seemed to
be employed either in sport upon the outside of the dungeon where the
captives groaned, or in obstructing the way of those who would fain
have plunged in to the rescue.
Her new acquaintance, Mr. Mauleverer, was an example of such
prevention, which weighed much on her mind. He had been perfectly
unobtrusive, but Mrs. Curtis meeting him on the second day of his
sketching, had naturally looked at his drawing, and admired it so
much that she brought her daughters to see it when in course of
completion the next day. He had then asked whether there would be
any objection to his making use of the sketches in the way of
remunerative sale. Mrs. Curtis looked rather taken aback, it hardly
agreed with her exclusive notions of privacy, and he at once
apologized with such humility that she was touched, and felt herself
doing him a wrong, whilst Rachel was angry at her scruple, yet
uncomfortably thought of "that landscape painter," then said in her
decided way, "you did not mean to object, mother?"
"Oh, not for a moment, pray don't think of it," returned Mr.
Mauleverer, in haste. "I would not think of the intrusion. It is
only that these poor trifles are steps to one of the few means by
which I can still hope to do even a little for my fellow creatures;
the greatest solace that remains to me."
"My mother did not mean to prevent anything," said Rachel eagerly;
"least of all any means of doing good."
"Indeed, I cannot but be aware that Miss Curtis is the last
individual who would do so, except indeed by the good works she
"You are too good, sir," returned Mrs. Curtis; "I am sure I did not
mean to object to anything for good. If it is for a charity, I am
sure some of our friends would be very glad to take some sketches of
our scenery; they have been begging me this long time to have it
photographed. I should like to have that drawing myself, it would
please your aunt so much, my dear, if we sent it to her."
Mr. Mauleverer bowed, but Rachel was not sure whether he had not been
Next day he left at the door the drawing handsomely mounted, and
looking so grand and meritorious that poor Mrs. Curtis became much
troubled in mind whether its proper price might not be five or even
ten guineas, instead of the one for which she had mentally bargained,
or if this might not be the beginning of a series; "which would be
quite another thing, you know, my dear."
Rachel offered to go and talk to the artist, who was sketching in
full view from the windows, and find out what value he set upon it.
"Perhaps, but I don't know, my dear. Won't it be odd? Had you not
better wait till Grace comes in, or till I can come down with you?"
"No need at all, mother, I can do it much better alone, and at my
So Rachel took a parasol and stepped out, looked at the outline newly
produced, thanked and praised the drawing that had been received,
adding that her mother would be glad to know what price Mr.
Mauleverer set upon it. She was met by a profession of ignorance of
its value, and of readiness to be contented with whatever might be
conferred upon his project; the one way in which he still hoped to be
of service to his fellow creatures, the one longing of his life.
"Ah!" said Rachel, greatly delighted with this congenial spirit, and
as usual preferring the affirmative to the interrogative. "I heard
you had been interesting yourself about Mrs Kelland's lace school.
What a miserable system it is!"
"My inquiries have betrayed me then? It is indeed a trying
"And to be helpless to alleviate it," continued Rachel. "Over work,
low prices and middle-men perfectly batten on the lives of our poor
girls here. I have thought it over again and again, and it is a
constant burden on my mind."
"Yes, indeed. The effects of modern civilization are a constant
burden on the compassion of every highly constituted nature."
"The only means that seems to me likely to mitigate the evil,"
continued Rachel, charmed at having the most patient listener who had
ever fallen to her lot, "would be to commence an establishment where
some fresh trades might be taught, so as to lessen the glut of the
market, and to remove the workers that are forced to undersell one
another, and thus oblige the buyers to give a fairly remunerative
"Precisely my own views. To commence an establishment that would
drain off the superfluous labour, and relieve the oppressed, raising
the whole tone of female employment."
"And this is the project you meant?"
"And in which, for the first time, I begin to hope for success, if it
can only receive the patronage of some person of influence."
"Oh, anything I can do!" exclaimed Rachel, infinitely rejoiced. "It
is the very thing I have been longing for for years. What, you would
form a sort of industrial school, where the children could be taught
some remunerative labour, and it might soon be almost self-
"Exactly; the first establishment is the difficulty, for which I have
been endeavouring to put a few mites together."
"Every one would subscribe for such a purpose!" exclaimed Rachel.
"You speak from your own generous nature, Miss Curtis; but the world
would require patronesses to recommend."
"There could be no difficulty about that!" exclaimed Rachel; but at
this moment she saw the Myrtlewood pony carriage coming to the door,
and remembering that she had undertaken to drive out Ermine Williams
in it, she was obliged to break off the conversation, with an eager
entreaty that Mr. Mauleverer would draw up an account of his plan,
and bring it to her the next day, when she would give her opinion on
it, and consider of the means.
"My dear," said her mother, on her return, "how long you have been;
and what am I to give for the water-colour?"
"Oh, I forgot all about the water-colour; but never mind what we
give, mamma, it is all to go to an asylum for educating poor girls,
and giving them some resource beyond that weary lace-making--the very
thing I have always longed for. He is coming to settle it all with
me to-morrow, and then we will arrange what to give."
"Indeed, my dear, I hope it will be something well managed. I think
if it were not for those middle-men, lace-making would not be so bad.
But you must not keep poor Miss Williams waiting."
Ermine had never seen Rachael in such high spirits as when they set
out through the network of lanes, describing her own exceeding
delight in the door thus opening for the relief of the suffering over
which she had long grieved, and launching out into the details of the
future good that was to be achieved. At last Ermine asked what
Rachel knew of the proposer.
"Captain Keith, heard he was a distinguished professor and essayist."
"Then I wonder we have not heard his name," said Ermine. "It is a
remarkable one; one might look in the 'Clergy List' at Villars's."
"Villars called him a clerical gentleman," mused Rachel.
"Then you would be sure to be able to find out something about him
before committing yourself."
"I can see what he is," said Rachel, "a very sensible, accomplished
man, and a great deal more; not exactly a finished gentleman. But
that is no objection to his doing a great work."
"None at all," said Ermine, smiling; "but please forgive me. We have
suffered so much from trusting too implicitly, that I never can think
it safe to be satisfied without thorough knowledge of a person's
"Of course," said Rachel, "I shall do nothing without inquiry.
I will find out all about him, but I cannot see any opening for
distrust. Schemes of charity are not compatible with self-seeking
"But did I not hear something about opinions?"
"Oh, as to that, it was only Villars. Besides, you are a clergyman's
daughter, and your views have a different colouring from mine.
Modern research has introduced so many variations of thought, that no
good work would be done at all if we required of our fellow-labourers
perfect similarity of speculative belief."
"Yet suppose he undertook to teach others?"
"The simple outlines of universal doctrine and morality which are
required by poor children are not affected by the variations to which
investigation conducts minds of more scope."
"I am afraid such variations may often reach the foundation."
"Now, Miss Williams, I am sure you must often have heard it observed
how when it comes to real practical simple teaching of uninstructed
people, villagers or may be heathens, the details of party difference
melt away, and people find themselves in accordance."
"True, but there I think party differences in the Church, and even
the variations between Christian sects are concerned, both being
different ways of viewing the same truth. These may, like the
knights in the old fable, find that both were right about the shield,
both have the same foundation. But where the foundation is not the
same, the results of the teaching will not agree."
"Every one agrees as to morality."
"Yes, but do all give a motive sufficient to enforce the self-denial
that morality entails? Nay, do they show the way to the spiritual
strength needful to the very power of being moral?"
"That is begging the question. The full argument is whether the full
church, say Christian system, exactly as you, as we hold it, is
needful to the perfection of moral observance. I don't say whether I
assent, but the present question is whether the child's present
belief and practice need be affected by its teacher's dogmatic or
"The system for life is generally formed in childhood. Harvest
depends on seed time."
"And after all," added Rachel, "we have no notion whether this poor
man be not precisely of your own opinions, and from their fruits I am
sure you ought to claim them."
"Their blossoms if you please," laughed Ermine. "We have not seen
their fruits yet."
"And I shall take care the fruits are not nipped with the blight of
suspicion," said Rachel, good-humouredly.
However, after driving Ermine home, and seeing her lifted out and
carried into the house by her sister, Rachel did send the carriage
back by the groom and betake herself to Villars's shop, where she
asked for a sight of the "Clergy List." The name of Mauleverer
caught her eye, but only one instance of it appeared, and he was a
cathedral canon, his presentation dated in 1832, the time at which,
judging from appearances, the object of her search might have been
born; besides, he rejoiced in the simple name of Thomas. But
Rachel's search was brought to an abrupt conclusion by the issue of
Mr. Mauleverer himself from the reading-room within the shop. He
bowed and passed by, but Rachel for the life of her could not hinder
a burning colour from spreading to the very tips of her ears; so
certain did she feel that she was insulting him by her researches,
and that he perceived them. She felt absolutely ashamed to see him
the next day, and even in her dreams was revolving speeches that
might prove that though cautious and clear-sighted, she was neither
suspicious nor narrow-minded.
He came when some morning visitors were at the Homestead, prosy
neighbours whose calls were always a penance to Rachel, and the
butler, either from the manner of the inquiry or not regarding him as
drawing-room company, put him into the dining-room and announced,
"Mr. Mauleverer to see Miss Rachel." Up jumped Miss Rachel, with
"You'll excuse me, it is on business;" and went off highly satisfied
that "the mother" was hindered by politeness from making any attempt
at chaperonage either personally or through Grace, so unnecessary at
her age, for since Colonel Keith's departure, Rachel's age had begun
to grow on her again. She held out her hand as if to atone for her
search, hut she found at once that it had been remarked.
"You were doing me the honour to look for my name in the 'Clergy
List,' Miss Curtis," he said.
"Yes, one is apt--," faltered Rachel, decidedly out of countenance.
"I quite appreciate the motive. It is exactly in accord with Miss
Curtis's prudence and good sense. I should wish to be fully explicit
before any arrangements are made. I am unhappily not in orders, Miss
Curtis. I know your liberality will regard the cause with leniency."
"Indeed," said Rachel, sufficiently restored to recall one of her
premeditated reassurances. "I can fully appreciate any reluctance to
become stringently bound to dogmatic enunciations, before the full
powers of the intellect have examined into them."
"You have expressed it exactly, Miss Curtis. Without denying an iota
of them, I may be allowed to regret that our formularies are too
technical for a thoughtful mind in the present age."
"Many have found it so," returned Rachel, thoughtfully, "who only
needed patience to permit their convictions to ripen. Then I
understand you, it was a rejection on negative not positive grounds?"
"Precisely; I do not murmur, but it has been the blight of my life."
"And yet," said Rachel, consolingly, "it may enable you to work with
"Since you encourage me to believe so, Miss Curtis, I will hope it,
but I have met with much suspicion."
"I can well believe it," said Rachel; even some of the most superior
persons refuse to lay their hands to any task unless they are
certified of the religious opinions of their coadjutors, which seems
to me like a mason's refusing to work at a wall with a man who liked
Greek architecture when he preferred Gothic!"
If Rachel had been talking to Ermine she might have been asked
whether the dissimilarity might not be in the foundations, or in the
tempering of the mortar, but Mr. Mauleverer only commended her
liberal spirit, and she thought it high time to turn from this
subject to the immediate one in hand. He had wished to discuss the
plan with her, he said, before drawing it up, and in effect she had
cogitated so much upon it that her ideas came forth with more than
her usual fluency and sententiousness. The scheme was that an asylum
should be opened under the superintendence of Mr. Mauleverer himself,
in which young girls might be placed to learn handicrafts that might
secure their livelihood, in especial, perhaps, wood engraving and
printing. It might even be possible, in time, to render the whole
self-supporting, suppose by the publication of a little illustrated
periodical, the materials for which might be supplied by those
interested in the institution.
If anything could add to Rachel's delight it was this last
proposition. In all truth and candour, the relief to the victims to
lace-making was her primary object, far before all besides, and the
longing desire of her heart for years seemed about to be fulfilled;
but a domestic magazine, an outlet to all the essays on Curatocult,
on Helplessness, on Female Folly, and Female Rights, was a
development of the plan beyond her wildest hopes! No dull editor to
hamper, reject or curtail! She should be as happy, and as well able
to expand as the Invalid herself.
Mr. Mauleverer had brought a large packet of letters with him, in all
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