THE CLEVER WOMAN OF THE FAMILY
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 5 out of 11
manner of hands. There were some testimonials from a German
university, and letters from German professors in a compromise
between English and German hand, looking impossible to read, also the
neat writing and thin wavy water-marked paper of American professors
and philanthropists in high commendation of his ability and his
scheme, and a few others that he said were of too private a nature to
do more than show Miss Curtis in confidence, but on which she
recognised some distinguished names of persons interested in Social
Science. She would not wound his feelings by too close an inquiry,
but she felt armed at all points against cavillers. Really, she
began to think, it was a great pity Colonel Keith should cross her
path again, she had so much on her hands that it would be a public
misfortune if any one man's private domestic love should monopolize
her; and yet, such was this foolish world, the Honourable Mrs. Colin
Keith would be a more esteemed lady patroness than Miss Rachel
Curtis, though the Curtises had been lords of the soil for many
generations, and Colonel Keith was a mere soldier of fortune.
One disappointment Rachel had, namely, that Mr. Mauleverer announced
that he was about to return to St. Herbert's, the very large and
fashionable watering-place in the next indentation of the coast. He
had duties there, he said, and he had only come to Avonmouth for a
brief holiday, a holiday that was to result in such happy effects.
He lived in an exceedingly retired way, he said, being desirous of
saving his small private means for his great object, and he gave
Rachel his address at the chief printseller's of the place, where his
letters were left for him, while he made excursions from time to time
to study the picturesque, and to give lectures on behalf of
philanthropical subjects. He offered such a lecture at Avonmouth,
but Mr. Touchett would not lend either school-room, and space was
nowhere else available. In the meantime a prospectus was drawn up,
which Rachel undertook to get printed at Villars's, and to send about
to all her friends, since a subscription in hand was the first
Never since she had grown up to be a thinking woman had Rachel been
so happy as with this outlet to her activity and powers of managing,
"the good time coming at last." Eagerly she claimed sympathy, names
and subscriptions. Her own immediate circle was always easily under
her influence, and Lady Temple, and Mrs. Curtis supplied the dignity
of lady patronesses; Bessie Keith was immensely diverted at the
development of "that landscape painter," and took every opportunity
of impressing on Rachel that all was the result of her summons to the
rescue. Ermine wished Rachel had found out who was the bishop's
chaplain who rejected him, but allowed that it would have been an
awkward question to ask, and also she wondered if he were a
university man; but Mr. Touchett had been at a Hall, and never knew
anybody, besides being so firmly convinced that Mr. Mauleverer was a
pestiferous heretic, that no one, except Lady Temple, could have
obtained a patient answer from him on that head--and even with her he
went the length of a regret that she had given the sanction of her
name to an undertaking by a person of whose history and principles
nothing satisfactory was known. "Oh!" said Fanny, with her sweet
look of asking pardon, "I am so sorry you think so; Rachel wished it
so much, and it seems such a nice thing for the poor children."
"Indeed," said Mr. Touchett, well nigh disarmed by the look, "I am
quite sensible of the kindness of all you do, I only ventured to wish
there had been a little more delay, that we were more certain about
"When Colonel Keith comes back he will find out all about him, I am
sure," said Fanny, and Mr. Touchett, to whom seemed to have been
transferred Rachel's dislike to the constant quoting of Colonel
Keith, said no more.
The immediate neighbourhood did not very readily respond to the
appeal to it in behalf of the lace-makers. People who did not look
into the circumstances of their neighbours thought lace furnished a
good trade, and by no means wished to enhance its price; people who
did care for the poor had charities of their own, nor was Rachel
Curtis popular enough to obtain support for her own sake; a few five-
pound notes, and a scanty supply of guineas and half-guineas from
people who were ready at any cost to buy off her vehement eyes and
voice was all she could obtain, and with a subscription of twenty
pounds each from her mother, Lady Temple, and Grace, and all that she
could scrape together of her own, hardly seemed sufficient to meet
the first expenses, and how would the future be provided for? She
calculated how much she could spare out of her yearly income, and
actually, to the great horror of her mother and the coachman, sold
Bessie Keith was the purchaser. It was an expense that she could
quite afford, for she and her brother had been left very well off by
their father--a prudent man, who, having been a widower during his
Indian service, had been able to live inexpensively, besides having
had a large amount of prize money. She had always had her own horse
at Littleworthy, and now when Rachel was one day lamenting to her the
difficulty of raising money for the Industrial Asylum, and declaring
that she would part with her horse if she was sure of its falling
into good hands, Bessie volunteered to buy it, it was exactly what
would suit her, and she should delight in it as a reminder of dear
Avonmouth. It was a pang, Rachel loved the pretty spirited creature,
and thought of her rides with the Colonel; but how weigh the pleasure
of riding against the welfare of one of those hard-worked, half-
stifled little girls, and besides, it might be best to have done with
Colonel Keith now that her mission had come to find her. So the
coachman set a purposely unreasonable value upon poor Meg, and Rachel
reduced the sum to what had been given for it three years before; but
Bessie begged her brother to look at the animal and give his opinion.
"Is that what you are after?" he exclaimed.
"Indeed, Alick, I thought it was the greatest kindness I could do
her; she is so very eager about this plan, and so anxious to find
poor Meg a good home."
"Purely to oblige her?"
"Of course, Alick, it was much more convenient to her than if she had
had to send about to horse-dealers or to advertise. I doubt if she
could have done it at all; and it is for her asylum, you know."
"Then give the coachman's sixty guineas at once."
"Ah, Alick, that's your infatuation!" and she put on a droll gesture
of pity. "But excuse me, where would be the fine edge of delicacy in
giving a manifestly fancy price? Come and look at her."
"I never meddle with horse-dealing."
"Stuff, as if you weren't the best-mounted man in the regiment.
I shall send a note to Captain Sykes if you won't; he knows how to
drive a bargain."
"And give a fancy price the other way. Well, Bessie, on one
condition I'll go, and that is, that Meg goes to Bishopsworthy the
day she is yours. I won't have her eating Lady Temple's corn, and
giving her servants trouble."
"As if I should think of such a thing."
Captain Keith's estimate of the value of the steed precisely agreed
with Rachel's demand of the original price. Bessie laughed, and said
there was collusion.
"Now seriously, Alick, do you think her worth so much? Isn't it a
pity, when you know what a humbug poor Rachel is going to give it
to?" and she looked half comical, half saucy.
"If she were going to throw it into the sea, I don't see what
difference that would make."
"Ah! you are far too much interested. Nothing belonging to her can
bear a vulgar price."
"Nothing belonging to me is to gain profit by her self-denial," said
Alick, gravely. "You cannot do less than give her what she gave for
it, if you enter on the transaction at all."
"You mean that it would look shabby. You see we womankind never
quite know the code of the world on such matters," she said,
"There is something that makes codes unnecessary, Bessie," he said.
"Ah! I can make allowances. It is a cruel stroke. I don't wonder
you can't bear to see any one else on her palfrey; above all as a
sacrifice to the landscape painter."
"Then spare my feelings, and send the mare to Bishopsworthy," said
Alick, as usual too careless of the imputation to take the trouble to
rebut it or to be disconcerted.
Bessie was much tickled at his acceptance, and laughed heartily.
"To be sure," she said, "it is past concealment now. You must have
been very far gone, indeed, to have been taken in to suppose me to be
making capital of her 'charitable purposes.'"
"Your acting is too like life," he said, not yet induced to laugh,
and she rattled on with her droll, sham sentimental air. "Is it the
long words, Alick, or is it 'the great eyes, my dear;' or is it--oh,
yes, I know what is the great attraction--that the Homestead doesn't
possess a single spot where one could play at croquet!"
"Quite irresistible!" replied Alick, and Bessie retreated from the
colloquy still not laughing at but with him; that is, if the odd,
quaint, inward mirth which only visibly lengthened his sleepy eyes,
could be called a laugh.
Next time Captain Keith rode to Avonmouth he met the riding party on
the road, Bessie upon Rachel's mare, and it appeared that Lady Temple
had considered it so dreadful that Meg should not share her
hospitality, that it had been quite impossible to send her away.
"So, Alick, your feelings must endure the dreadful spectacle."
Meanwhile Rachel was hard at work with the subscribers to the
"Christian Knowledge Society." Beginning with the A's, and working
down a page a day, she sent every member a statement of the wrongs of
the lacemakers, and the plans of the industrial establishment, at a
vast expense of stamps; but then, as she calculated, one pound thus
gained paid for two hundred and forty fruitless letters.
"And pray," said Alick, who had ridden on to call at the Homestead,
"how do you reconcile yourself to the temptation to the postmen?"
"They don't see what my letters are about?"
"They must be dull postmen if they don't remark on the shower of
envelopes that pass through their hands--ominous money-letters, all
with the same address, and no detection remember. You don't know who
will answer and who will not."
"I never thought of that," said Rachel; "but risks must be run when
any great purpose is in hand."
"The corruption of one postman versus the rescue of--how many
children make a postman?" asked Captain Keith, with his grave,
"The postman would be corrupt already," said Grace, as Rachel thought
the last speech too mocking to be worthy of reply, and went on
picking up her letters.
"There is another objection," added Captain Keith, as he watched her
busy fingers. "Have you considered how you are frightening people
out of the society? It is enough to make one only subscribe as
Michael Miserly or as Simon Skinflint, or something equally
uninviting to applications."
"I shall ask you to subscribe by both names!" said Rachel, readily.
"How much for Simon Skinflint?"
"Ten pounds. Stop--when Mr. Mauleverer gives him a reference."
"That's ungenerous. Will Michael Miserly make up for it?"
"Yes, when the first year's accounts have been audited."
"Ah! those who have no faith to make a venture can never effect any
"You evidently build on a great amount of faith from the public.
How do you induce them to believe--do you write in your own name?"
"No, it makes mamma unhappy. I was going to put R. C., but Grace
said people would think it meant Roman Catholic. Your sister thought
I had better put the initials of Female Union for Lacemaker's
"You don't mean that Bessie persuaded you to put that?" exclaimed
Alick Keith, more nearly starting up than Rachel had ever seen him.
"Yes. There is no objection, is there?"
"Oh, Rachel, Rachel, how could we have helped thinking of it?" cried
Grace, nearly in a state of suffocation.
Rachel held up her printed appeal, where subscriptions were invited
to the address of F. U. L. E., the Homestead, Avonmouth.
"Miss Curtis, though you are not Scottish, you ought to be well read
in Walter Scott."
"I have thought it waste of time to read incorrect pictures of
pseudo-chivalry since I have been grown up," said Rachel. "But that
has nothing to do with it."
"Ah, Rachel, if we had been more up in our Scotch, we should have
known what F. U. L. E. spells," sighed Grace.
A light broke in upon Rachel. "I am sure Bessie never could have
recollected it," was her first exclamation. "But there," she
continued, too earnest to see or stumble at straws, "never mind. It
cannot be helped, and I dare say not one person in ten will be struck
"Stay," said Grace, "let it be Englishwoman's Employment. See, I can
very easily alter the L into an E."
Rachel would hardly have consented, but was forced to yield to her
mother's entreaties. However, the diligent transformation at L's did
not last long, for three days after a parcel was left at the
Homestead containing five thousand printed copies of the appeal, with
the E rightly inserted. Bessie laughed, and did not disavow the half
reluctant thanks for this compensation for her inadvertence or
mischief, whichever it might be, laughing the more at Rachel's
somewhat ungrateful confession that she had rather the cost had gone
into a subscription for the F. U. E. E. As Bessie said to herself,
it was much better and more agreeable for all parties that it should
so stand, and she would consider herself in debt to Alick for the
amount. Indeed, she fully expected him to send her in the bill, but
in the meantime not one word was uttered between the brother and
sister on the subject. They understood one another too well to spend
Contrary to most expectation, there was result enough from Rachel's
solicitations to serve as justification for the outlay in stamps.
The very number of such missives that fly about the world proves that
there must be a great amount of uninquiring benevolence to render the
speculation anything but desperate, and Rachel met with very
tolerable success. Mr. Mauleverer called about once a week to report
progress on his side, and, in his character of treasurer, to take
charge of the sums that began to accumulate. But Rachel had heard so
much on all sides of the need of caution in dealing with one so
entirely a stranger, that she resolved that no one should blame her
for imprudence, and therefore retained in her own name, in the
Avoncester Bank, all the sums that she received. Mr. Mauleverer
declared himself quite contented with this arrangement, and eagerly
anticipated the apologies that Rachel was ashamed even to make to
Enough was collected to justify a beginning on a small scale. A
house was to be taken where Mr. Mauleverer and a matron would receive
the first pupils, teach them wood engraving, and prepare the earlier
numbers of the magazine. When a little more progress had been made,
the purchase of a printing-press might be afforded, and it might be
struck off by the girls themselves, but in the meantime they must be
dependent on the regular printer. On this account Mr. Mauleverer
thought it best to open the establishment, not at Avonmouth, but at
St. Herbert's, where he had acquaintance that would facilitate the
Rachel was much disappointed. To be in and out constantly, daily
teaching and watching the girls, and encouraging them by learning the
employment herself, had been an essential portion of her vision. She
had even in one of her most generous moods proposed to share the
delight with the Williamses, and asked Ermine if she would not, if
all things suited, become the resident matron. However, Mr.
Mauleverer said that there was an individual of humbler rank, the
widow of a National Schoolmaster, so anxious to devote herself to the
work, that he had promised she should share it whenever he was in a
condition to set the asylum on foot; and he assured Rachel that she
would find this person perfectly amenable to all her views, and ready
to work under her. He brought letters in high praise of the late
school master, and recommendations of his widow from the clergyman of
the parish where they had lived; and place and name being both in the
"Clergy List," even Ermine and Alison began to feel ashamed of their
incredulity, whilst as to Grace, she had surrendered herself
completely to the eager delight of finding a happy home for the
little children in whom she was interested. Grace might laugh a
little at Rachel, but in the main her trust in her sister's
superiority always led her judgment, and in the absence of Colonel
Keith, Fanny was equally willing to let Rachel think for her when her
own children were not concerned.
Rachel did not give up her hopes of fixing the asylum near her till
after a considerable effort to get a house for it at Avonmouth, but
this was far from easy. The Curtises' unwillingness to part with
land for building purposes enhanced the price of houses, and in
autumn and winter the place was at its fullest, so that she could not
even rent a house but at a ruinous price. It would be the best way
to build on Homestead land, but this would be impracticable until
spring, even if means were forthcoming, as Rachel resolved they
should be, and in the meantime she was obliged to acquiesce in Mr.
Mauleverer's assurance that a small house in an overbuilt portion of
St. Norbert's would be more eligible than one in some inland parish.
Anything was better than delay. Mr. Mauleverer was to superintend
from his lodgings.
Rachel went with Grace and her mother to St. Norbert's, and inspected
the house, an ordinary cheap one, built to supply lodgings for the
more economical class of visitors. It was not altogether what Rachel
wished, but must serve till she could build, and perhaps it would be
best to form her experience before her plans. Mr. Mauleverer's own
lodgings were near at hand, and he could inspect progress. The
furniture was determined upon--neat little iron beds for the
dormitories, and all that could serve for comfort and even pleasure,
for both Mr. Mauleverer and Rachel were strong against making the
place bare and workhouse-like, insulting poverty and dulling the
Grace suggested communication with the clergyman of the parish; but
the North Hill turned out not to belong to St. Norbert's proper,
being a part of a great moorland parish, whose focus was twelve miles
off. A district was in course of formation, and a church was to be
built; but in the meantime the new houses were practically almost
pastorless, and the children and their matron must take their chance
on the free seats of one of the churches of St. Norbert's. The staff
of clergy there were so busy that no one liked to add extra parochial
work to their necessary duties, and there was not sufficient
acquaintance with them to judge how they would view Mr. Mauleverer's
peculiarities. Clerical interference was just what Rachel said she
did not want; it was an escape that she did not call it meddling.
One bit of patronage at least she could exercise; a married pair of
former Homestead servants had set up a fuel store at St. Norbert's,
receiving coal from the ships, and retailing it. They were to supply
the F. U. E. E. with wood, coal, and potatoes; and this was a great
ingredient in Mrs. Curtis's toleration. The mother liked anything
that brought custom to Rossitur and Susan.
The establishment was at present to consist of three children: the
funds were not sufficient for more. One was the child of the matron,
and the other two were Lovedy Kelland and the daughter of a widow in
ill health, whose family were looking very lean and ill cared for.
Mrs. Kelland was very unwilling to give Lovedy up, she had always
looked to receiving the apprentice fee from the Burnaby bargain for
her as soon as the child was fourteen, and she had a strong prejudice
against any possible disturbance to the lace trade; but winter would
soon come and her sale was uncertain; her best profit was so
dependent on Homestead agency that it was impolitic to offend Miss
Curtis; and, moreover, Lovedy was so excited by the idea of learning
to make pictures to books that she forgot all the lace dexterity she
had ever learnt, and spoilt more than she made, so that Mrs. Kelland
was reduced to accept the kind proposal that Lovedy should be Lady
Temple's nominee, and be maintained, by her at the F. U. E. E. at
seven shillings a week.
Fanny, however, asked the clergyman's consent first, telling him,
with her sweet, earnest smile, how sorry she was for the little girl,
and showing him the high testimonials to Mrs. Rawlins. He owned that
they were all that could be wished, and even said at her request that
he would talk to Mr. Mauleverer. What the talk amounted to they
never knew; but when Fanny said "she hoped he had found nothing
unsatisfactory, the poor man must be so glad to be of use;" Mr.
Touchett replied with, "Indeed, it is an unfortunate situation;" and
his opposition might therefore be considered as suspended.
"Of course," cried Bessie, "we know by what witchery!" But Alison
Williams, her listener, turned on her such great eyes of wilful want
of comprehension, that she held her peace.
Rachel and Grace united in sending Mary Morris, the other child; they
really could do nothing more, so heavily had their means been drawn
upon for the first expenses; but Rachel trusted to do more for the
future, and resolved that her dress should henceforth cost no more
than Alison Williams's; indeed, she went through a series of
assertions by way of examining Alison on the expenses of her
The house was taken from Michaelmas, and a few days after, the two
little victims, as Bessie laughingly called them, were taken over to
St. Norbert's in the Homestead carriage, Lady Temple chaperoning the
three young ladies to see the inauguration, and the height of
They were received by Mr. Mauleverer at the door, and slightly in the
rear saw the matron, Mrs. Rawlins, a handsome pale woman, younger
than they expected, but whose weeds made Fanny warm to her directly;
but she was shy and retiring, and could not be drawn into
conversation; and her little Alice was only three years old, much
younger than Rachel had expected as a pupil, but a very pretty
creature with great black eyes.
Tea and cake were provided by way of an inauguration feast, and the
three little girls sat up in an atmosphere of good cheer, strongly
suggestive of school feasts, and were left in the midst, with many
promises of being good, a matter that Lovedy seemed to think would be
very easy in this happy place, with no lace to make.
Mrs. Rawlins, whose husband had been a trained schoolmaster, was to
take the children to church, and attend to their religious
instruction; indeed, Mr. Mauleverer was most anxious on this head,
and as Rachel already knew the scruples that withheld him from
ordination were only upon the absolute binding himself to positive
belief in minor technical points, that would never come in the way of
Altogether, the neat freshness of the room, the urbanity of Mr.
Mauleverer, the shy grief of the matron, all left a most pleasant
impression. Rachel was full of delight and triumph, and Grace and
Fanny quite enthusiastic; the latter even to the being sure that the
Colonel would be delighted, for the Colonel was already beginning to
dawn on the horizon, and not alone. He had written, in the name of
his brother, to secure a cottage of gentility of about the same
calibre as Myrtlewood, newly completed by a speculator on one of the
few bits of ground available for building purposes. A name was yet
wanting to it; but the day after the negotiation was concluded, the
landlord paid the delicate compliment to his first tenant by painting
"Gowanbrae" upon the gate-posts in letters of green. "Go and bray,"
read Bessie Keith as she passed by; "for the sake of the chief of my
name, I hope that it is not an omen of his occupations here."
The two elder boys were with her; and while Francis, slowly
apprehending her meaning in part, began to bristle up with the
assurance that "Colonel Keith never brayed in his life," Conrade
caught the point with dangerous relish, and dwelt with colonial
disrespect, that alarmed his mother, on the opinion expressed by some
unguarded person in his hearing, that Lord Keith was little better
than an old donkey. "He is worse than Aunt Rachel," said Conrade,
meditatively, "now she has saved Don, and keeps away from the
Meantime Rachel studied her own feelings. A few weeks ago her heart
would have leapt at the announcement; but now her mission had found
her out, and she did not want to be drawn aside from it. Colonel
Keith might have many perfections, but alike as Scotsman, soldier,
and High-Churchman, he was likely to be critical of the head of the
F. U. E. E., and matters had gone too far now for her to afford to
doubt, or to receive a doubting master. Moreover, it would be
despicable to be diverted from a great purpose by a courtship like
any ordinary woman; nor must marriage settlements come to interfere
with her building and endowment of the asylum, and ultimate devotion
of her property thereunto. No, she would school herself into a
system of quiet discouragement, and reserve herself and her means as
the nucleus of the great future establishment for maintaining female
rights of labour.
LADY TEMPLE'S TROUBLES.
"The pheasant in the falcon's claw,
He scarce will yield, to please a daw."--SCOTT.
Early in the afternoon of a warm October day, the brothers arrived at
Avomnouth, and ten minutes after both were upon the lawn at
Myrtlewood, where croquet was still in progress. Shouts of delight
greeted the Colonel, and very gracefully did Bessie Keith come to
meet him, with the frank confiding sweetness befitting his recent
ward, the daughter of his friend. A reassuring smile and
monosyllable had scarcely time to pass between him and the governess
before a flood of tidings was poured on him by the four elder boys,
while their mother was obliged to be mannerly, and to pace leisurely
along with the elder guest, and poor Mr. Touchett waited a little
aloof, hammering his own boot with his mallet, as if he found the
enchanted ground failing him. But the boys had no notion of losing
their game, and vociferated an inquiry whether the Colonel knew
croquet. Yes, he had several times played with his cousins in
Scotland. "Then," insisted Conrade, "he must take mamma's place,
whilst she was being devoured, and how surprised she would be at
being so helped on!"
"Not now, not to-day," he answered. "I may go to your sister, Ailie?
Yes, boys, you must close up your ranks without me."
"Then please," entreated Hubert, "take him away," pointing to the
engrosser of their mother.
"Do you find elder brothers so easily disposed of, Hubert?" said the
Colonel. "Do you take Conrade away when you please?"
"I should punch him," returned Francis.
"He knows better," quoth Conrade in the same breath, both with
infinite contempt for Hubert.
"And I know better," returned Colonel Keith; "never mind, boys, I'll
come back in--in reasonable time to carry him off," and he waved a
"Surely you wish to go too," said Bessie to Alison, "if only to
relieve them of the little girl! I'll take care of the boys. Pray
"Thank you," said Alison, surprised at her knowledge of the state of
things, "but they are quite hardened to Rose's presence, and I think
would rather miss her."
And in fact Alison did not feel at all sure that, when stimulated by
Bessie's appreciation of their mischief, her flock might not in her
absence do something that might put their mother in despair, and make
their character for naughtiness irretrievable; so Leoline and Hubert
were summoned, the one from speculations whether Lord Keith would
have punched his brother, the other from amaze that there was
anything our military secretary could not do, and Conrade and Francis
were arrested in the midst of a significant contraction of the
nostrils and opening of the mouth, which would have exploded in an
"eehaw" but for Bessie's valiant undertaking to be herself and Lady
Temple both at once.
Soon Colonel Keith was knocking at Ermine's door, and Rose was
clinging to him, glowing and sparkling with shy ecstasy; while,
without sitting down again after her greeting, Rachel resolutely took
leave, and walked away with firm steps, ruminating on her
determination not to encourage meetings in Mackarel Lane.
"Better than I expected!" exclaimed Colonel Keith, after having
ushered her to the door in the fulness of his gratitude. "I knew it
was inevitable that she should be here, but that she should depart so
fast was beyond hope!"
"Yes," said Ermine, laughing, "I woke with such a certainty that she
would be here and spend the first half hour in the F. U. E, E. that I
wasted a great deal of resignation. But how are you, Colin? You are
much thinner! I am sure by Mrs. Tibbie's account you were much more
ill than you told me."
"Only ill enough to convince me that the need of avoiding a northern
winter was not a fallacy, and likewise to make Tibbie insist on
coming here for fear Maister Colin should not be looked after. It is
rather a responsibility to have let her come, for she has never been
farther south than Edinburgh, but she would not be denied. So she
has been to see you! I told her you would help her to find her
underlings. I thought it might be an opening for that nice little
girl who was so oppressed with lace-making."
"Ah! she has gone to learn wood-cutting at the F. U. E. E.; but I
hope we have comfortably provided Tibbie with a damsel. She made us
a long visit, and told us all about Master Colin's nursery days.
Only I am afraid we did not understand half."
"Good old body," said the Colonel, in tones almost as national as
Tibbie's own. "She was nursery girl when I was the spoilt child of
the house, and hers was the most homelike face that met me. I wish
she may be happy here. And you are well, Ermine?"
"Very well, those drives are so pleasant, and Lady Temple so kind!
It is wonderful to think how many unlooked-for delights have come to
us; how good every one is;" and her eyes shone with happy tears as
she looked up at him, and felt that he was as much her own as ever.
"And you have brought your brother," she said; "you have been too
useful to him to be spared. Is he come to look after you or to be
"A little of both I fancy," said the Colonel, "but I suspect he is
giving me up as a bad job. Ermine, there are ominous revivifications
going on at home, and he has got himself rigged out in London, and
had his hair cut, so that he looks ten years younger."
"Do you think he has any special views!"
"He took such pains to show me the charms of the Benorchie property
that I should have thought it would have been Jessie Douglas, the
heiress thereof, only coming here does not seem the way to set about
it, unless be regards this place as a bath of youth and fashion.
I fancy he has learnt enough about my health to make him think me a
precarious kind of heir, and that his views are general. I hope he
may not be made a fool of, otherwise it is the best thing that could
happen to us."
"It has been a dreary uncomfortable visit, I much fear," said Ermine.
"Less so than you think. I am glad to have been able to be of use to
him, and to have lived on something like brotherly terms. We know
and like each other much better than we had a chance of doing before,
and we made some pleasant visits together, but at home there are many
things on which we can never be of one mind, and I never was well
enough at Gowanbrae to think of living there permanently."
"I was sure you had been very unwell! You are better though?"
"Well, since I came into Avonmouth air," said he, "I fear nothing but
cold. I am glad to have brought him with me, since he could not stay
there, for it is very lonely for him."
"Yet you said his daughter was settled close by."
"Yes; but that makes it the worse. In fact, Ermine, I did not know
before what a wretched affair he had made of his daughters'
marriages. Isabel he married when she was almost a child to this
Comyn Menteith, very young too at the time, and who has turned out a
good-natured, reckless, dissipated fellow, who is making away with
his property as fast as he can, and to whom Keith's advice is like
water on a duck's back. It is all rack and ruin and extravagance, a
set of ill-regulated children, and Isabel smiling and looking pretty
in the midst of them, and perfectly impervious to remonstrance. He
is better out of sight of them, for it is only pain and vexation, an
example of the sort of match he likes to make. Mary, the other
daughter, was the favourite, and used to her own way, and she took
it. Keith was obliged to consent so as to prevent an absolute
runaway wedding, but he has by no means forgiven her husband, and
they are living on very small means on a Government appointment in
Trinidad. I believe it would be the bitterest pill to him that
either son-in-law should come in for any part of the estate."
"I thought it was entailed."
"Gowanbrae is, but as things stand at present that ends with me, and
the other estates are at his disposal."
"Then it would be very hard on the daughters not to have them."
"So hard that the death of young Alexander may have been one of the
greatest disasters of my life, as well as of poor Keith's. However,
this is riding out to meet perplexities. He is most likely to
outlive me; and, moreover, may marry and put an end to the
difficulty. Meantime, till my charge is relieved, I must go and see
after him, and try if I can fulfil Hubert's polite request that I
would take him away. Rosie, my woman, I have hardly spoken to you.
I have some hyacinth roots to bring you to-morrow."
In spite of these suspicions, Colonel Keith was not prepared for what
met him on his return to Myrtlewood. On opening the drawing-room
door, he found Lady Temple in a low arm-chair in an agony of crying,
so that she did not hear his approach till he stood before her in
consternation. Often had he comforted her before, and now, convinced
that something dreadful must have befallen one of the children, he
hastily, though tenderly, entreated her to tell him which, and what
he could do.
"Oh, no, no!" she exclaimed, starting up, and removing her
handkerchief, so that he saw her usually pale cheeks were crimson--
"Oh, no," she cried, with panting breath and heaving chest. "It is
all well with them as yet. But--but--it's your brother."
He was at no loss now as to what his brother could have done, but he
stood confounded, with a sense of personal share in the offence, and
his first words were-- "I am very sorry. I never thought of this."
"No, indeed," she exclaimed, "who could? It was too preposterous to
be dreamt of by any one. At his age, too, one would have thought he
might have known better."
A secret sense of amusement crossed the Colonel, as he recollected
that the disparity between Fanny Curtis and Sir Stephen Temple had
been far greater than that between Lady Temple and Lord Keith, but
the little gentle lady was just at present more like a fury than he
had thought possible, evidently regarding what had just passed as an
insult to her husband and an attack on the freedom of all her sons.
In answer to a few sympathising words on the haste of his brother's
proceeding, she burst out again with indignation almost amusing in
one so soft-- "Haste! Yes! I did think that people would have had
some respect for dear, dear Sir Stephen," and her gush of tears came
with more of grief and less of violence, as if she for the first time
felt herself unprotected by her husband's name.
"I am very much concerned," he repeated, feeling sympathy safer than
reasoning. "If I could have guessed his intentions, I would have
tried to spare you this; at least the suddenness of it. I could not
have guessed at such presumptuous expectations on so short an
"He did not expect me to answer at once," said Fanny. "He said he
only meant to let me know his hopes in coming here. And, oh, that's
the worst of it! He won't believe me, though I said more to him than
I thought I could have said to anybody! I told him," said Fanny,
with her hands clasped over her knee to still her trembling, "that I
cared for my dear, dear husband, and always shall--always--and then
he talked about waiting, just as if anybody could leave off loving
one's husband! And then when he wanted me to consider about my
children, why then I told him"--and her voice grew passionate again--
"the more I considered, the worse it would be for him, as if I would
have my boys know me without their father's name; and, besides, he
had not been so kind to you that I should wish to let him have
anything to do with them! I am afraid I ought not to have said
that," she added, returning to something of her meek softness; "but
indeed I was so angry, I did not know what I was about. I hope it
will not make him angry with you."
"Never mind me," said Colonel Keith, kindly. "Indeed, Lady Temple,
it is a wonderful compliment to you that he should have been ready to
undertake such a family."
"I don't want such compliments! And, oh!" and here her eyes widened
with fright, "what shall I do? He only said my feelings did me
honour, and he would be patient and convince me. Oh, Colonel Keith,
what shall I do?" and she looked almost afraid that fate and
perseverance would master her after all, and that she should be
married against her will.
"You need do nothing but go on your own way, and persist in your
refusal," he said in the calm voice that always reassured her.
"Oh, but pray, pray never let him speak to me about it again!"
"Not if I can help it, and I will do my best. You are quite right,
Lady Temple. I do not think it would be at all advisable for
yourself or the children, and hardly for himself," he added, smiling.
"I think the mischief must all have been done by that game at whist."
"Then I'll never play again in my life! I only thought he was an old
man that wanted amusing--." Then as one of the children peeped in at
the window, and was called back--"0 dear! how shall I ever look at
Conrade again, now any one has thought I could forget his father?"
"If Conrade knew it, which I trust he never will, he ought to esteem
it a testimony to his mother."
"Oh, no, for it must have been my fault! I always was so childish,
and when I've got my boys with me, I can't help being happy," and the
tears swelled again in her eyes. "I know I have not been as sad and
serious as my aunt thought I ought to be, and now this comes of it."
"You have been true, have acted nothing," said Colonel Keith, "and
that is best of all. No one who really knew you could mistake your
feelings. No doubt that your conduct agrees better with what would
please our dear Sir Stephen than if you drooped and depressed the
"Oh, I am glad you say that," she said, looking up, flushed with
pleasure now, and her sweet eyes brimming over. "I have tried to
think what he would like in all I have done, and you know I can't
help being proud and glad of belonging to him still; and he always
told me not to be shy and creeping into the nursery out of every
The tears were so happy now that he felt that the wound was healed,
and that he might venture to leave her, only asking first, "And now
what would you like me to do? Shall I try to persuade my brother to
come away from this place?"
"Oh, but then every one would find out why, and that would be
dreadful! Besides, you are only just come. And Miss Williams--"
"Do not let that stand in your way."
"No, no. You will be here to take care of me. And his going now
would make people guess; and that would be worse than anything."
"It would. The less disturbance the better; and if you upset his
plans now, he might plead a sort of right to renew the attempt later.
Quiet indifference will be more dignified and discouraging. Indeed,
I little thought to what I was exposing you. Now I hope you are
going to rest, I am sure your head is aching terribly."
She faintly smiled, and let him give her his arm to the foot of the
At first he was too indignant for any relief save walking up and down
the esplanade, endeavouring to digest the unfairness towards himself
of his brother's silence upon views that would have put their joint
residence at Avonmouth on so different a footing; above all, when the
Temple family were his own peculiar charge, and when he remembered
how unsuspiciously he had answered all questions on the money
matters, and told how all was left in the widow's own power. It was
the more irritating, as he knew that his displeasure would be
ascribed to interested motives, and regarded somewhat as he had seen
Hubert's resentment treated when Francis teased his favourite rabbit.
Yet not only on principle, but to avoid a quarrel, and to reserve to
himself such influence as might best shield Lady Temple from further
annoyance, he must school himself to meet his brother with coolness
and patience. It was not, however, without strong effort that he was
able to perceive that, from the outer point of view, one who, when a
mere child, had become the wife of an aged general, might, in her
early widowhood, be supposed open to the addresses of a man of higher
rank and fewer years, and the more as it was not in her nature to
look crushed and pathetic. He, who had known her intimately
throughout her married life and in her sorrow, was aware of the quiet
force of the love that had grown up with her, so entirely a thread in
her being as to crave little expression, and too reverent to be
violent even in her grief. The nature, always gentle, had recovered
its balance, and the difference in years had no doubt told in the
readiness with which her spirits had recovered their cheerfulness,
though her heart remained unchanged. Still, retired as her habits
were, and becoming as was her whole conduct, Colin began to see that
there had been enough of liveliness about her to lead to Lord Keith's
mistake, though not to justify his want of delicacy in the
precipitation of his suit.
These reflections enabled him at length to encounter his brother with
temper, and to find that, after all, it had been more like the
declaration of an intended siege than an actual summons to surrender.
Lord Keith was a less foolish and more courteous man than might have
been gathered from poor Fanny's terrified account; and all he had
done was to intimate his intention of recommending himself to her,
and the view with which he had placed himself at Avonmouth; nor was
he in the slightest degree disconcerted by her vehemence, but rather
entertained by it, accepting her faithfulness to her first husband's
memory as the best augury of her affection for a second. He did not
even own that he had been precipitate.
"Let her get accustomed to the idea," he said with a shrewd smile.
"The very outcry she makes against it will be all in my favour when
the turn comes."
"I doubt whether you will find it so."
"All the world does not live on romance like you, man. Look on, and
you will see that a pretty young widow like her cannot fail to get
into scrapes; have offers made to her, or at least the credit of
them. I'd lay you ten pounds that you are said to be engaged to her
yourself by this time, and it is no one's fault but your own that you
are not. It is in the very nature of things that she will be driven
to shelter herself from the persecution, with whoever has bided his
"Oh, if you prefer being accepted on such terms--"
He smiled, as if the romance of the exclamation were beneath
contempt, and proceeded--"A pretty, gracious, ladylike woman, who has
seen enough of the world to know how to take her place, and yet will
be content with a quiet home. It is an introduction I thank you for,
"And pray," said Colin, the more inwardly nettled because he knew
that his elder brother enjoyed his annoyance, "what do you think of
those seven slight encumbrances?"
"Oh, they are your charge," returned Lord Keith, with a twinkle in
his eye. "Besides, most of them are lads, and what with school, sea,
and India, they will be easily disposed of."
"Certainly it has been so in our family," said Colin, rather
hoarsely, as he thought of the four goodly brothers who had once
risen in steps between him and the Master.
"And," added Lord Keith, still without direct answer, "she is so
handsomely provided for, that you see, Colin, I could afford to give
you up the Auchinvar property, that should have been poor Archie's,
and what with the farms and the moor, it would bring you in towards
three hundred a year for your housekeeping."
Colin restrained himself with difficulty, but made quiet answer.
"I had rather see it settled as a provision on Mary and her
Lord Keith growled something about minding his own concerns.
"That is all I desire," responded the Colonel, and therewith the
conference ended. Nor was the subject recurred to. It was
observable, however, that Lord Keith was polite and even attentive to
Ermine. He called on her, sent her grouse, and though saying
nothing, seemed to wish to make it evident that his opposition was
withdrawn, perhaps as no longer considering his brother's affairs as
his own, or else wishing to conciliate him. Lady Temple was not
molested by any alarming attentions from him. But for the
proclamation, the state of siege might have been unsuspected. He
settled himself at the southern Gowanbrae as if he had no conquest to
achieve but that of the rheumatism, and fell rapidly into sea-side
habits--his morning stroll to see the fishing-boats come in, his
afternoon ride, and evening's dinner party, or whist-club, which
latter institution disposed of him, greatly to Colin's relief. The
brothers lived together very amicably, and the younger often made
himself helpful and useful to the elder, but evidently did not feel
bound to be exclusively devoted to his service and companionship.
All the winter residents and most of the neighbouring gentry quickly
called at Gowanbrae, and Lord Keith, in the leisure of his present
life, liked society where he was the man of most consequence, and
readily accepted and gave invitations. Colin, whose chest would not
permit him to venture out after sunset, was a most courteous
assistant host, but necessarily made fewer acquaintances, and often
went his own way, sometimes riding with his brother, but more
frequently scarcely seeing him between breakfast and twilight, and
then often spending a solitary evening, which he much preferred
either to ecarte or to making talk.
The summer life had been very different from the winter one. There
was much less intercourse with the Homestead, partly from Rachel
being much engrossed with the F. U. E. E., driving over whenever the
coachman would let her, to inspect progress, and spending much of her
time in sending out circulars, answering letters, and writing a tale
on the distresses of Woman, and how to help them, entitled "Am I not
a Sister?" Tales were not much in Bachel's line; she despised
reading them, and did not love writing them, but she knew that she
must sugar the cup for the world, and so she diligently applied
herself to the piece de resistance for the destined magazine, heavily
weighting her slender thread of story with disquisitions on economy
and charity, and meaning to land her heroines upon various industrial
asylums where their lot should be far more beatific than marriage,
which was reserved for the naughty one to live unhappy in ever after.
In fact, Rachel, in her stern consistency, had made up her mind to
avoid and discourage the Colonel, and to prevent her own heart from
relenting in his favour, or him from having any opportunity of asking
an explanation, and with this determination she absented herself both
from Ermine's parlour and Lady Temple's croquet ground; and if they
met on the esplanade or in a morning call, took care never to give
the chance of a tete-a-tete, which he was evidently seeking.
The croquet practice still survived. In truth, Fanny was afraid to
ride lest Lord Keith should join her, and was glad to surround
herself with companions. She could not see the enemy without a
nervous trepidation, and was eager to engross herself with anybody or
thing that came to hand so as to avoid the necessity of attending to
him. More than once did she linger among her boys "to speak to Mr.
Touchett," that she might avoid a ten minutes' walk with his
lordship; and for nothing was she more grateful than for the quiet
and ever ready tact with which Bessie Keith threw herself into the
breach. That bright damsel was claimed by Lord Keith as a kinswoman,
and, accepting the relationship, treated him with the pretty
playfulness and coquetry that elderly men enjoy from lively young
girls, and thus often effected a diversion in her friend's favour, to
the admiration both of the Colonel and of Lady Temple herself; all,
however, by intuition, for not a word had been hinted to her of what
had passed during that game at croquet. She certainly was a most
winning creature; the Colonel was charmed with her conversation in
its shades between archness and good sense, and there was no one who
did not look forward with dread to the end of her visit, when after a
short stay with one of her married cousins, she must begin her
residence with the blind uncle to whose establishment she, in her
humility, declared she should be such a nuisance. It was the
stranger that she should think so, as she had evidently served her
apprenticeship to parish work at Bishopsworthy; she knew exactly how
to talk to poor people, and was not only at home in clerical details
herself, but infused them into Lady Temple; so that, to the extreme
satisfaction of Mr. Touchett, the latter organized a treat for the
school-children, offered prizes for needlework, and once or twice
even came to listen to the singing practice when anything memorable
was going forward. She was much pleased at being helped to do what
she felt to be right and kind, though hitherto she had hardly known
how to set about it, and had been puzzled and perplexed by Rachel's
disapproval, and semi-contempt of "scratching the surface" by the
commonplace Sunday-school system.
A CHANGE AT THE PARSONAGE.
"What could presumptuous hope inspire."--Rokeby.
There had been the usual foretaste of winter, rather sharp for
Avonmouth, and though a trifle to what it was in less sheltered
places, quite enough to make the heliotropes sorrowful, strip the
fig-trees, and shut Colonel Keith up in the library. Then came the
rain, and the result was that the lawn of Myrtlewood became too
sloppy for the most ardent devotees of croquet; indeed, as Bessie
said, the great charm of the sport was that one could not play it
above eight months in the year.
The sun came back again, and re-asserted the claim of Avonmouth to be
a sort of English Mentone; but drying the lawn was past its power,
and Conrade and Francis were obliged to console themselves by the
glory of taking Bessie Keith for a long ride. They could not
persuade their mother to go with them, perhaps because she had from
her nursery-window sympathized with Cyril's admiration of the great
white horse that was being led round to the door of Gowanbrae.
She said she must stay at home, and make the morning calls that the
charms of croquet had led her to neglect, and in about half an hour
from that time she was announced in Miss Williams' little parlour,
and entered with a hurried, panting, almost pursued look, a
frightened glance in her eyes, and a flush on her cheek, such as to
startle both Ermine and the Colonel.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, as if still too much perturbed to know quite
what she was saying, "I--I did not mean to interrupt you."
"I'm only helping Rose to change the water of her hyacinths," said
Colonel Keith, withdrawing his eyes and attention to the
accommodation of the forest of white roots within the purple glass.
"I did not know you were out to-day," said Lady Temple, recovering
herself a little.
"Yes, I came to claim my walking companion. Where's your hat,
And as the child, who was already equipped all but the little brown
hat, stood by her aunt for the few last touches to the throat of her
jacket, he leant down and murmured, "I thought he was safe out
"Oh no, no, it is not that," hastily answered Lady Temple, a fresh
suffusion of crimson colour rustling over her face, and inspiring an
amount of curiosity that rendered a considerable effort of attention
necessary to be as supremely charming a companion as Rose generally
found him in the walks that he made it his business to take with her.
He turned about long before Rose thought they had gone far enough,
and when he re-entered the parlour there was such an expectant look
on his face that Ermine's bright eyes glittered with merry mischief,
when she sent Rose to take off her walking dress. "Well!" he said.
"Well? Colin, have you so low an opinion of the dignity of your
charge as to expect her to pour out her secrets to the first ear in
"Oh, if she has told you in confidence."
"No, she has not told me in confidence; she knew better."
"She has told you nothing?"
"Nothing!" and Ermine indulged in a fit of laughter at his
discomfiture, so comical that he could not but laugh himself, as he
said, "Ah! the pleasure of disappointing me quite consoles you."
"No; the proof of the discretion of womanhood does that! You
thought, because she tells all her troubles to you, that she must
needs do so to the rest of the world."
"There is little difference between telling you and me."
"That's the fault of your discretion, not of hers."
"I should like to know who has been annoying her. I suspect--"
"So do I. And when you get the confidence at first hand, you will
receive it with a better grace than if you had had a contraband
He smiled. "I thought yours a more confidence-winning face, Ermine."
"That depends on my respect for the individual. Now I thought Lady
Temple would much prefer my looking another way, and talking about
Conrade's Latin grammar, to my holding out my arms and inviting her
to pour into my tender breast what another time she had rather not
know that I knew."
"That is being an honourable woman," he said, and Rose's return ended
the exchange of speculations; but it must be confessed that at their
next meeting Ermine's look of suppressed inquiry quite compensated
for her previous banter, more especially as neither had he any
confidence to reveal or conceal, only the tidings that the riders,
whose coalition had justified Lady Temple's prudence, had met Mr.
Touchett wandering in the lanes in the twilight, apparently without a
clear idea of what he was doing there. And on the next evening there
was quite an excitement, the curate looked so ill, and had broken
quite down when he was practising with the choir boys before church;
he had, indeed, gone safely through the services, but at school he
had been entirely at a loss as to what Sunday it was, and had still
more unfortunately forgotten that to be extra civil to Miss Villars
was the only hope of retaining her services, for he had walked by her
with less attention than if she had been the meanest scholar. Nay,
when his most faithful curatolatress had offered to submit to him a
design for an illumination for Christmas, he had escaped from her
with a desperate and mysterious answer that he had nothing to do with
illumination, he hoped it would be as sombre as possible.
No wonder Avonmouth was astonished, and that guesses were not
confined to Mackarel Lane.
"Well, Colin," said Ermine, on the Tuesday, "I have had a first-hand
confidence, though from a different quarter. Poor Mr. Touchett came
to announce his going away."
"Yes. In the very nick of time, it seems, Alick Keith has had a
letter from his uncle's curate, asking him to see if he could meet
with a southern clergyman to exchange duties for the winter with a
London incumbent who has a delicate wife, and of course. Mr. Touchett
jumped at it."
"A very good thing--a great relief."
"Yes. He said he was very anxious for work, but he had lost ground
in this place within the last few months, and he thought that he
should do better in a fresh place, and that a fresh person would
answer better here, at least for a time. I am very sorry for him,
I have a great regard for him."
"Yes; but he is quite right to make a fresh beginning. Poor man! he
has been quite lifted off his feet, and entranced all this time, and
his recovery will be much easier elsewhere. It was all that unlucky
"I believe it was. I think there was at first a reverential sort of
distant admiration, too hopeless to do any one any harm, and that
really might have refined him, and given him a little of the
gentleman-like tone he has always wanted. But then came the croquet,
and when it grew to be a passion it was an excuse for intimacy that
it would have taken a stronger head than his to resist."
"Under the infection of croquet fever."
"It is what my father used to say of amusements--the instant they
become passions they grow unclerical and do mischief. Now he used,
though not getting on with the Curtises, to be most successful with
the second-rate people; but he has managed to offend half of them
during this unhappy mania, which, of course, they all resent as
mercenary, and how he is ever to win them back I don't know. After
all, curatocult is a shallow motive--Rachel Curtis might triumph!"
"The higher style of clergyman does not govern by curatocult. I hope
this one may be of that description, as he comes through Mr. Clare.
I wonder if this poor man will return?"
"Perhaps," said Ermine, with a shade of mimicry in her voice, "when
Lady Temple is married to the Colonel. There now, I have gone and
told you! I did try to resolve I would not."
"And what did you say?"
"I thought it due to Lady Temple to tell him exactly how she regarded
"Yes, Ermine, and it is due to tell others also. I cannot go on on
these terms, either here or at Myrtlewood, unless the true state of
the case is known. If you will not let me he a married man, I must
be an engaged one, either to you or to the little Banksia."
This periphrasis was needful, because Rose was curled up in a corner
with a book, and her accessibility to outward impressions was
dubious. It might be partly for that reason, partly from the tone of
fixed resolve in his voice, that Ermine made answer, "As you please."
It was calmly said, with the sweet, grave, confiding smile that told
how she trusted to his judgment, and accepted his will. The look and
tone brought his hand at once to press hers in eager gratitude, but
still she would not pursue this branch of the subject; she looked up
to him and said gently, but firmly, "Yes, it may be better that the
true state of the case should be known," and he felt that she thus
conveyed that he must not press her further, so he let her continue,
"At first I thought it would do him good, he began pitying us so
vehemently; but when he found I did not pity myself, he was as ready
to forget our troubles as--you are to forget his," she added,
catching Colin's fixed eye, more intent on herself than on her
"I beg his pardon, but there are things that come more home."
"So thought he," said Ermine.
"Did you find out," said Colin, now quite recalled, "what made him
"When he had once come to the subject, it seemed to be a relief to
tell it all out, but he was so faltering and agitated that I did not
always follow what he said. I gather, though, that Lady Temple has
used him a little as a defence from other perils."
"Yes, I have seen that."
"And Miss Keith's fun has been more encouragement than she knew;
constantly summoning him to the croquet-ground, and giving him to
understand that Lady Temple liked to have him there. Then came that
unlucky day, it seems, when he found Bessie mounting her horse at the
door, and she called out that it was too wet for croquet, but Lady
Temple was in the garden, and would be glad to see him. She was
going to make visits, and he walked down with her, and somehow, in
regretting the end of the croquet season, he was surprised into
saying how much it had been to him. He says she was exceedingly
kind, and regretted extremely that anything should have inspired the
hope, said she should never marry again, and entreated him to forget
it, then I imagine she fled in here to put an end to it."
"She must have been much more gentle this time than she was with
Keith. I had never conceived her capable of being so furious as she
was then. I am very sorry, I wish we could spare her these things."
"I am afraid that can only be done in one way, which you are not
likely at present to take," said Ermine with a serious mouth, but
with light dancing in her eyes.
"I know no one less likely to marry again," he continued, "yet no one
of whom the world is so unlikely to believe it. Her very gentle
simplicity and tenderness tell against her! Well, the only hope now
is that the poor man has not made his disappointment conspicuous
enough for her to know that it is attributed to her. It is the
beginning of the fulfilment of Keith's prediction that offers and
reports will harass her into the deed!"
"There is nothing so fallacious as prophecies against second
marriages, but I don't believe they will. She is too quietly
dignified for the full brunt of reports to reach her, and too much
concentrated on her children to care about them."
"Well, I have to see her to-morrow to make her sign some papers about
her pension, so I shall perhaps find out how she takes it."
He found Fanny quite her gentle composed self, as usual
uncomprehending and helpless about her business affairs, and throwing
the whole burthen on him of deciding on her investments; but in such
a gracious, dependent, grateful way that he could not but take
pleasure in the office, and had no heart for the lesson he had been
meditating on the need of learning to act for herself, if she wished
to do without a protector. It was not till she had obediently
written her "Frances Grace Temple" wherever her prime minister
directed, that she said with a crimson blush, "Is it true that poor
Mr. Touchett is going away for the winter?"
"I believe he is even going before Sunday."
"I am very glad--I mean I am very sorry. Do you think any one knows
why it is?"
"Very few are intimate enough to guess, and those who are, know you
too well to think it was otherwise than very foolish on his part."
"I don't know," said Fanny, "I think I must have been foolish too, or
he never could have thought of it. And I was so sorry for him, he
seemed so much distressed."
"I do not wonder at that, when he had once allowed himself to admit
"Yes, that is the thing. I am afraid I can't be what I ought to be,
or people would never think of such nonsense," said Fanny, with large
tears welling into her eyes." I can't be guarding that dear memory
as I ought, to have two such things happening so soon."
"Perhaps they have made you cherish it all the more."
"As if I wanted that! Please will you tell me how I could have been
more guarded. I don't mind your knowing about this; indeed you
ought, for Sir Stephen trusted me to you, but I can't ask my aunt or
any one else. I can't talk about it, and I would not have them know
that Sir Stephen's wife can't get his memory more respected."
She did not speak with anger as the first time, but with most
"I don't think any one could answer," he said.
"I did take my aunt's advice about the officers being here. I have
not had them nearly as much as Bessie would have liked, not even
Alick. I have been sorry it was so dull for her, but I thought it
could not be wrong to be intimate with one's clergyman, and Rachel
was always so hard upon him."
"You did nothing but what was kind and right. The only possible
thing that could have been wished otherwise was the making a regular
habit of his playing croquet here."
"Ah! but the boys and Bessie liked it so much. However, I dare say
it was wrong. Alick never did like it."
"Not wrong, only a little overdone. You ladies want sometimes to be
put in mind that, because a clergyman has to manage his own time, he
is not a whit more really at liberty than a soldier or a lawyer,
whose hours are fixed for him. You do not do him or his parish any
kindness by engrossing him constantly in pastimes that are all very
well once in a way, but which he cannot make habitual without
detriment to his higher duties."
"But I thought he would have known when he had time."
"I am afraid curates are but bits of human nature after all."
"And what ought I to have done?"
"If you had been an exceedingly prudent woman who knew the world, you
would have done just as you did about the officers, been friendly,
and fairly intimate, but instead of ratifying the daily appointments
for croquet, have given a special invitation now and then, and so
shown that you did not expect him without one."
"I see. Oh, if I had only thought in time, I need not have driven
him away from his parish! I hope he won't go on being unhappy long!
Oh, I wish there may be some very nice young lady where he is going.
If he only would come back married!"
"We would give him a vote of thanks."
"What a wedding present I would make her," proceeded Fanny,
brightening perceptibly; "I would give her my best Indian table, only
I always meant that for Ermine. I think she must have the emu's egg
set in Australian gold."
"If she were to be induced by the bribe," said Colonel Keith,
laughing, "I think Ermine would be sufficiently provided for by the
emu's egg. Do you know," he added, after a pause, "I think I have
made a great step in that direction."
She clasped her hands with delighted sympathy. "She has given me
leave to mention the matter," he continued, "and I take that as a
sign that her resistance will give way."
"Oh, I am very glad," said Fanny, "I have so wished them to know at
the Homestead," and her deepened colour revealed, against her will,
that she had not been insensible to the awkwardness of the secrecy.
"I should rather like to tell your cousin Rachel myself, said the
Colonel; "she has always been very kind to Ermine, and appreciated
her more than I should have expected. But she is not easily to be
"Her whole heart is in her orphan asylum," said Fanny. "I hope you
will soon go with us and see it; the little girls look so nice.
The brightening of his prospects seemed to have quite consoled her
for her own perplexities.
That Avonmouth should have no suspicion of the cause of the sudden
change of pastor could hardly be hoped; but at least Lady Temple did
not know how much talk was expended upon her, how quietly Lord Keith
hugged himself, how many comical stories Bessie detailed in her
letters to her Clare cousins, nor how Mrs. Curtis resented the
presumption; and while she shrank from a lecture, more especially as
she did not see how dear Fanny was to blame, flattered herself and
Grace that, for the future, Colonel Keith and Rachel would take
better care of her.
Rachel did not dwell much on the subject, it was only the climax of
conceit, croquet, and mere womanhood; and she was chiefly anxious to
know whether Mr. Mitchell, the temporary clergyman, would support the
F. U. E. E., and be liberal enough to tolerate Mr. Mauleverer. She
had great hopes from a London incumbent, and, besides, Bessie Keith
knew him, and spoke of him as a very sensible, agreeable, earnest
"Earnest enough for you, Rachel," she said, laughing.
"Is he a party man?"
"Oh, parties are getting obsolete! He works too hard for fighting
The Sunday showed a spare, vigorous face, and a voice and
pronunciation far more refined than poor Mr. Touchett's; also the
sermons were far more interesting, and even Rachel granted that there
were ideas in it. The change was effected with unusual celerity, for
it was as needful to Mrs. Mitchell to be speedily established in a
warm climate, as it was desirable to Mr. Touchett to throw himself
into other scenes; and the little parsonage soon had the unusual
ornaments of tiny children with small spades and wheelbarrows.
The father and mother were evidently very shy people, with a great
deal beneath their timidity, and were much delighted to have an old
acquaintance like Miss Keith to help them through their
introductions, an office which she managed with all her usual bright
tact. The discovery that Stephana Temple and Lucy Mitchell had been
born within two days of one another, was the first link of a warm
friendship between the two mammas; and Mr. Mitchell fell at once into
friendly intercourse with Ermine Williams, to whom Bessie herself
conducted him for his first visit, when they at once discovered all
manner of mutual acquaintance among his college friends; and his next
step was to make the very arrangement for Ermine's church-going, for
which she had long been wishing in secret, but which never having
occurred to poor Mr. Touchett, she had not dared to propose, lest
there should be some great inconvenience in the way.
Colonel Keith was the person, however, with whom the new comers
chiefly fraternized, and he was amused with their sense of the space
for breathing compared with the lanes and alleys of their own
district. The schools and cottages seemed to them so wonderfully
large, the children so clean, even their fishiness a form of poetical
purity, the people ridiculously well off, and even Mrs. Kelland's
lace-school a palace of the free maids that weave their thread with
bones. Mr. Mitchell seemed almost to grudge the elbow room, as he
talked of the number of cubic feet that held a dozen of his own
parishioners; and needful as the change had been for the health of
both husband and wife, they almost reproached themselves for having
fled and left so many pining for want of pure air, dwelling upon
impossible castles for the importation of favourite patients to enjoy
the balmy breezes of Avonmouth.
Rachel talked to them about the F. U. E. E., and was delighted by the
flush of eager interest on Mrs. Mitchell's thin face. "Objects"
swarmed in their parish, but where were the seven shillings per week
to come from? At any rate Mr. Mitchell would, the first leisure day,
come over to St. Herbert's with her, and inspect. He did not fly off
at the first hint of Mr. Mauleverer's "opinions," but said he would
talk to him, and thereby rose steps untold in Rachel's estimation.
The fact of change is dangerously pleasant to the human mind; Mr.
Mitchell walked at once into popularity, and Lady Temple had almost
conferred a public benefit by what she so little liked to remember.
At any rate she had secured an unexceptionable companion, and many a
time resorted to his wing, leaving Bessie to amuse Lord Keith, who
seemed to be reduced to carry on his courtship to the widow by
attentions to her guest.
THE FOX AND THE CROW.
"She just gave one squall,
When the cheese she let fall,
And the fox ran away with his prize."
"My dear," said Mrs. Curtis, one Monday morning, "I offered Colonel
Keith a seat in the carriage to go to the annual book-club meeting
with us. Mr. Spicer is going to propose him as a member of the club,
you know, and I thought the close carriage would be better for him.
I suppose you will be ready by eleven; we ought to set out by that
time, not to hurry the horses."
"I am not going," returned Rachel, an announcement that electrified
her auditors, for the family quota of books being quite insufficient
for her insatiable appetite, she was a subscriber on her own account,
and besides, this was the grand annual gathering for disposing of old
books, when she was relied on for purchasing all the nuts that nobody
else would crack. The whole affair was one of the few social
gatherings that she really tolerated and enjoyed, and her mother
gazed at her in amazement.
"I wrote to Mrs. Spicer a month ago to take my name off. I have no
superfluous money to spend on my selfish amusement."
"But Rachel," said Grace, "did you not particularly want--oh! that
fat red book which came to us uncut?"
"I did, but I must do without it."
"Poor Mr. Spicer, he reckoned on you to take it; indeed, he thought
you had promised him."
"If there is anything like a promise, I suppose it must be done, but
I do not believe there is. I trust to you, Grace, you know I have
nothing to waste."
"You had better go yourself, my dear, and then you would be able to
judge. It would be more civil by the society, too."
"No matter, indeed I cannot; in fact, Mr. Mauleverer is coming this
morning to give his report and arrange our building plans. I want to
introduce him to Mr. Mitchell, and fix a day for going over."
Mrs. Curtis gave up in despair, and consulted her eldest daughter in
private whether there could have been any misunderstanding with
Colonel Keith to lead Rachel to avoid him in a manner that was
becoming pointed. Grace deemed it nothing but absorption into the
F. U. E. E., and poor Mrs. Curtis sighed over this fleeting away of
her sole chance of seeing Rachel like other people. Of Mr.
Mauleverer personally she had no fears, he was in her eyes like a
drawing or music-master, and had never pretended to be on equal terms
in society with her daughters, and she had no doubts or scruples in
leaving Rachel to her business interview with him, though she much
regretted this further lapse from the ordinary paths of sociability.
Rachel, on the other hand, felt calmly magnanimous in the completion
of a veritable sacrifice, for those books had afforded her much
enjoyment, and she would much like to have possessed many of those
that would be tossed aside at a cheap rate. But the constant small
expenses entailed by the first setting on foot such an establishment
as the F. U. E. E. were a heavy drain on her private purse, as she
insisted on all accounts being brought to her, and then could not
bear that these small nondescript matters should be charged upon the
general fund, which having already paid the first half-year's rent in
advance, and furnished the house, must be recruited by some
extraordinary supply before she could build. The thing could not be
done at all but by rigid economy, and she was ready to exercise it,
and happy in so doing. And the Colonel? She thought the pain of her
resolution was passing. After all, it was not so dreadful as people
would have one believe, it was no such wrench as novels described to
make up one's mind to prefer a systematically useful life to an
Mr. Mauleverer came, with a good report of the children's progress,
and talking quite enthusiastically of Lovedy's sweetness and
intelligence. Perhaps she would turn out a superior artist, now that
chill penury no longer repressed her noble rage, and he further
brought a small demand for drawing materials and blocks for
engraving, to the amount of five pounds, which Rachel defrayed from
the general fund, but sighed over its diminution.
"If I could only make the Barnaby bargain available," she said; "it
is cruel to have it tied up to mere apprenticeships, which in the
present state of things are absolutely useless, or worse."
"Can nothing be done?"
"You shall hear. Dame Rachel Curtis, in 1605, just when this place
was taking up lace-making, an art learnt, I believe, from some poor
nuns that were turned out of St. Mary's, at Avoncester, thought she
did an immense benefit to the place by buying the bit of land known
as Burnaby's Bargain, and making the rents go yearly to apprentice
two poor girls born of honest parents. The rent is fourteen pounds,
and so the fees are so small that only the small lace-makers here
will accept them. I cannot get the girls apprenticed to anything
better in the towns except for a much larger premium."
"Do I understand you that such a premium is at present to be
"No, not till next June. The two victims for this year have been
sacrificed. But perhaps another time it might be possible to bind
them to you as a wood engraver or printer!" cried Rachel, joyfully.
"I should be most happy. But who would be the persons concerned?"
"The trustees are the representative of our family and the rector of
the parish--not Mr. Touchett (this is only a district), but poor old
Mr. Linton at Avonbridge, who is barely able to sign the papers, so
that practically it all comes to me."
"Extremely fortunate for the objects of the charity."
"I wish it were so; but if it could only be made available in such a
cause as ours, I am sure my good namesake's intentions would be much
better carried out than by binding these poor girls down to their
cushions. I did once ask about it, but I was told it could only be
altered by Act of Parliament."
"Great facilities have of late been given," said Mr. Mauleverer,
"many old endowments have most beneficially extended their scope.
May I ask where the land in question is?"
"It is the level bit of meadow just by the river, and all the slope
down to the mouth; it has always been in our hands, and paid rent as
part of the farm. You know how well it looks from the garden-seat,
but it always grieves me when people admire it, for I feel as if it
were thrown away."
"Ah! I understand. Perhaps if I could see the papers I could judge
of the feasibility of some change."
Rachel gladly assented, and knowing where to find the keys of the
strong box, she returned in a short space with a parcel tied up with,
red tape, and labelled "Barnaby's Bargain."
"I have been thinking," she exclaimed, as she came in, "that that
piece of land must have grown much more valuable since this rent was
set on it! Fourteen pounds a year, why we never thought of it; but
surely in such a situation, it would be worth very much more for
"There can be no doubt. But your approach, Miss Curtis?"
"If it is a matter of justice to the charity, of course that could
not be weighed a moment. But we must consider what is to be done.
Get the land valued, and pay rent for it accordingly? I would give
it up to its fate, and let it for what it would bring, but it would
break my mother's heart to see it built on."
"Perhaps I had better take the papers and look over them. I see they
will need much consideration."
"Very well, that will be the best way, but we will say nothing about
it till we have come to some conclusion, or we shall only startle and
distress my mother. After all, then, I do believe we have the real
income of the F. U. E. E. within our very hands! It might be ten
times what it is now."
Rachel was in higher spirits than ever. To oblige the estate to pay
£140 a year to the F. U. E. E. was beyond measure delightful, and
though it would be in fact only taking out of the family pocket, yet
that was a pocket she could not otherwise get at. The only thing for
which she was sorry was that Mr. Mauleverer had an appointment, and
could not come with her to call on Mr. Mitchell; but instead of this
introduction, as she had sworn herself to secrecy rather than worry
her mother till the ways and means were matured, she resolved, by way
of compensation, upon going down to impart to Ermine Williams this
grave reformation of abuses, since this was an afternoon when there
was no chance of meeting the Colonel.
Very happy did she feel in the hope that had come to crown her
efforts at the very moment when she had actually and tangibly given
up a pleasure, and closed a door opening into worldly life, and she
was walking along with a sense of almost consecrated usefulness, to
seek her companion in the path of maiden devotion, when in passing
the gates of Myrtlewood, she was greeted by Captain Keith and his
bright-eyed sister, just coming forth together.
A few words told that they were all bound for Mackarel Lane, actuated
by the same probability of finding Miss Williams alone, the Colonel
"Wonderfully kind to her he is," said Rachel, glad to praise him to
convince herself that she did not feel bitter; "he takes that little
girl out walking with him every morning."
"I wonder if his constancy will ever be rewarded?" said Bessie,
lightly; then, as Rachel looked at her in wonder and almost rebuke
for so direct and impertinent a jest, she exclaimed, "Surely you are
not in ignorance! What have I done? I thought all the world knew--
all the inner world, that is, that revels in a secret."
"Knew what?" said Rachel, unavoidable intolerable colour rushing into
"Why the romance of Colin and Ermine! To live on the verge of such
a--a tragi-comedy, is it? and not be aware of it, I do pity you."
"The only wonder is how you knew it," said her brother, in a tone of
"I! Oh, it is a fine thing to be a long-eared little pitcher when
one's elders imagine one hears nothing but what is addressed to
oneself. There I sat, supposed to be at my lessons, when the English
letters came in, and I heard papa communicating to mamma how he had a
letter from old Lord Keith--not this one but one older still--the
father of him--about his son's exchange--wanted papa to know that he
was exemplary and all that, and hoped he would be kind to him, but
just insinuated that leave was not desirable--in fact it was to break
off an affair at home. And then, while I was all on fire to see what
a lover looked like, comes another letter, this time to mamma, from
Lady Alison something, who could not help recommending to her
kindness her dear nephew Colin, going out broken-hearted at what was
feared would prove a fatal accident, to the dearest, noblest girl in
the world, for so she must call Ermine Williams. Ermine was a name
to stick in one's memory if Williams was not, and so I assumed
sufficient certainty to draw it all out of dear Lady Temple."
"She knows then?" said Rachel, breathlessly, but on her guard.
"Know? Yes, or she could hardly make such a brother of the Colonel.
In fact, I think it is a bit of treachery to us all to keep such an
affair concealed, don't you? with a vivid flash out of the corner of
"Treachery not to post up a list of all one's--"
"One's conquests?" said Bessie, snatching the word out of her
brother's mouth. "Did you ever hear a more ingenious intimation of
the number one has to boast?"
"Only in character," calmly returned Alick.
"But do not laugh," said Rachel, who had by this time collected
herself; "if this is so, it must be far too sad and melancholy to be
"So it is," said Alick, with a tone of feeling. "It has been a
mournful business from the first, and I do not see how it is to end."
"Why, I suppose Colonel Colin is his own master now," said Bessie;
"and if he has no objection I do not see who else can make any."
"There are people in the world who are what Tennyson calls
'selfless,'" returned Alick.
"Then the objection comes from her?" said Rachel, anxiously.
"So saith Lady Temple," returned Bessie.
They were by this time in Mackarel Lane. Rachel would have given
much to have been able to turn back and look this strange news in the
face, but consciousness and fear of the construction that might be
put on her change of purpose forced her on, and in a few moments the
three were in the little parlour, where Ermine's station was now by
the fire. There could be no doubt, as Rachel owned to herself
instantly, that there was a change since she first had studied that
face. The bright colouring, and far more, the active intellect and
lively spirit, had always obviated any expression of pining or
invalidism; but to the air of cheerfulness was added a look of
freshened health and thorough happiness, that rendered the always
striking features absolutely beautiful; more so, perhaps, than in
their earliest bloom; and the hair and dress, though always neat, and
still as simply arranged as possible, had an indescribable air of
care and taste that added to the effect of grace and pleasantness,
and made Rachel feel convinced in a moment that the wonder would have
been not in constancy to such a creature but in inconstancy. The
notion that any one could turn from that brilliant, beaming, refined
face to her own, struck her with a sudden humiliation. There was
plenty of conversation, and her voice was not immediately wanted;
indeed, she hardly attended to what was passing, and really dreaded
outstaying the brother and sister. When Ermine turned to her, and
asked after Lovedy Kelland in her new home, she replied like one in a
dream, then gathered herself up and answered to the point, but
feeling the restraint intolerable, soon rose to take leave.
"So soon?" said Ermine; "I have not seen you for a long time."
"I--I was afraid of being in the way," said Rachel, the first time
probably that such a fear had ever suggested itself to her, and
blushing as Ermine did not blush.
"We are sure to be alone after twilight," said Ermine, "if that is
not too late for you, but I know you are much occupied now."
Somehow that invalid in her chair had the dignity of a queen
appointing her levee, and Rachel followed the impulse of thanking and
promising, but then quickly made her escape to her own thoughts.
"Her whole soul is in that asylum," said Ermine, smiling as she went.
"I should like to hear that it is going on satisfactorily, but she
does not seem to have time even to talk."
"The most wonderful consummation of all," observed Bessie.
"No," said Ermine, "the previous talk was not chatter, but real
effervescence from the unsatisfied craving for something to do."
"And has she anything to do now?" said Bessie.
"That is exactly what I want to know. It would be a great pity if
all this real self-devotion were thrown away."
"It cannot be thrown away," said Alick.
"Not on herself," said Ermine, "but one would not see it misdirected,
both for the waste of good energy and the bitter disappointment."
"Well," said Bessie, "I can't bear people to be so dreadfully in
"You are accountable for the introduction, are not you?" said Ermine.
"I'm quite willing! I think a good downfall plump would be the most
wholesome thing that could happen to her; and besides, I never told
her to take the man for her almoner and counsellor! I may have
pointed to the gulf, but I never bade Curtia leap into it."
"I wish there were any one to make inquiries about this person," said
Ermine; "but when Colonel Keith came it was too late. I hoped she
might consult him, but she has been so much absorbed that she really
has never come in his way."
"She would never consult any one," said Bessie.
"I am not sure of that," replied Ermine. "I think that her real
simplicity is what makes her appear so opinionated. I verily believe
that there is a great capability of humility at the bottom."
"Of the gulf," laughed Bessie; but her brother said, "Quite true.
She has always been told she is the clever woman of the family, and
what can she do but accept the position?"
"Exactly," said Ermine; "every one has given way to her, and, of
course, she walks over their bodies, but there is something so noble
about her that I cannot but believe that she will one day shake
herself clear of her little absurdities."
"That is contrary to the usual destiny of strong-minded women," said
"She is not a strong-minded woman, she only has been made to believe
herself one," said Ermine, warmly.
With this last encounter, Bessie and her brother took leave, and the
last at once exclaimed, in sentimental tones, "Generous rivals! I
never saw so good a comedy in all my days! To disclose the fatal
truth, and then bring the rival fair ones face to face!"
"If that were your belief, Bessie, the demon of teasing has fuller
possession of you than I knew."
"Ah! I forgot," exclaimed Bessie, "it is tender ground with you
likewise. Alas! Alick, sisterly affection cannot blind me to the
fact of that unrequited admiration for your honourable rival."
"What, from the strong-minded Curtia?"
"Ah! but have we not just heard that this is not the genuine article,
only a country-made imitation? No wonder it was not proof against an
honourable colonel in a brown beard."
"So much the better; only unluckily there has been a marked avoidance
"Yes; the Colonel was sacrificed with all other trivial incidents at
the shrine of the F. U. L. E.--E. E., I mean. And only think of
finding out that one has been sacrificing empty air after all--and to
"Better than to sacrifice everything to oneself," said Alick.
"Not at all. The latter practice is the only way to be agreeable!
By-the-bye, Alick, I wonder if she will deign to come to the ball?"
"Your ball at Avoncester. It is what I am staying on for! Major
McDonald all but promised me one; and you know you must give one
before you leave this place."
"Don't you know that poor Fraser has just been sent for home on his
"But I conclude the whole regiment does not go into mourning?"
"No, but Fraser is the one fellow to whom this would he real
enjoyment. Indeed, I particularly wish no hints may be given about
it. Don't deny, I know you have ways of bringing about what you
wish, and I will not have them used here. I know something of the
kind must be done before we leave Avoncester, but to give one this
autumn would be much sooner than needful. I believe there is hardly
an officer but myself and Fraser to whom the expense would not be a
serious consideration, and when I tell you my father had strong
opinions about overdoing reciprocities of gaiety, and drawing heavily
on the officers' purses for them, I do not think you will allow their
regard for him to take that manifestation towards you."
"Of course not," said Bessie, warmly; "I will not think of it again.
Only when the fate does overtake you, you will have me here for it,
He readily promised, feeling gratified at the effect of having spoken
to his sister with full recognition of her good sense.
Meantime Rachel was feeling something of what Bessie ascribed to her,
as if her sacrifice had been snatched away, and a cloud placed in its
stead. Mortification was certainly present, and a pained feeling of
having been made a fool of, whether by the Colonel or herself, her
candid mind could hardly decide; but she was afraid it was by
herself. She knew she had never felt sure enough of his attentions
to do more than speculate on what she would do if they should become
more pointed, and yet she felt angry and sore at having been exposed
to so absurd a blunder by the silence of the parties concerned.
"After all," she said to herself, "there can be no great harm done, I
have not been weak enough to commit my heart to the error. I am
unscathed, and I will show it by sympathy for Ermine. Only--only,
why could not she have told me?"
An ordeal was coming for which Rachel was thus in some degree
prepared. On the return of the party from the book club, Mrs. Curtis
came into Rachel's sitting-room, and hung lingering over the fire as
if she had something to say, but did not know how to begin. At last,
however, she said, "I do really think it is very unfair, but it was
not his fault, he says."
"Who?" said Rachel, dreamily.
"Why, Colonel Keith, my dear," said good Mrs. Curtis, conceiving that
her pronominal speech had "broken" her intelligence; "it seems we
were mistaken in him all this time."
"What, about Miss Williams?" said Rachel, perceiving how the land
lay; "how did you hear it?"
"You knew it, my dear child," cried her mother in accents of extreme
"Only this afternoon, from Bessie Keith."
"And Fanny knew it all this time," continued Mrs. Curtis. "I cannot
imagine how she could keep it from me, but it seems Miss Williams was
resolved it should not be known. Colonel Keith said he felt it was
wrong to go on longer without mentioning it, and I could not but say
that it would have been a great relief to have known it earlier."
"As far as Fanny was concerned it would," said Rachel, looking into
the fire, but not without a sense of rehabilitating satisfaction, as
the wistful looks and tone of her mother convinced her that this
semi-delusion had not been confined to herself.
"I could not help being extremely sorry for him when he was telling
me," continued Mrs. Curtis, as much resolved against uttering the
idea as Rachel herself could be. "It has been such a very long
attachment, and now he says he has not yet been able to overcome her
scruples about accepting him in her state. It is quite right of her,
I can't say but it is, but it is a very awkward situation."
"I do not see that," said Rachel, feeling the need of decision in
order to reassure her mother; "it is very sad and distressing in some
ways, but no one can look at Miss Williams without seeing that his
return has done her a great deal of good; and whether they marry or
not, one can only be full of admiration and respect for them."
"Yes, yes," faltered Mrs. Curtis; "only I must say I think it was due
to us to have mentioned it sooner."
"Not at all, mother. Fanny knew it, and it was nobody's concern but
hers. Pray am I to have Owen's 'Palaeontology'?"
"No, Colonel Keith bought that, and some more of the solid books. My
dear, he is going to settle here; he tells me he has actually bought
that house he and his brother are in."
"Yes; he says, any way, his object is to be near Miss Williams.
Well, I cannot think how it is to end, so near the title as he is,
and her sister a governess, and then that dreadful business about her
brother, and the little girl upon her hands. Dear me, I wish Fanny
had any one else for a governess."
"So do not I," said Rachel. "I have the greatest possible admiration
for Ermine Williams, and I do not know which I esteem most, her for
her brave, cheerful, unrepining unselfishness, or him for his
constancy and superiority to all those trumpery considerations. I am
glad to have the watching of them. I honour them both."
Yes, and Rachel honoured herself still more for being able to speak
all this freely and truly out of the innermost depths of her candid
THE GOWANBRAE BALL.
"Your honour's pardon,
I'd rather have my wounds to heal again,
Than hear say how I got them."--Coriolanus.
"Yes, I go the week after next."
"So soon? I thought you were to stay for our ball."
"Till this time next year! No, no, I can't quite do that, thank
"This very winter."
"Oh, no--no such thing! Why, half the beauty and fashion of the
neighbourhood is not come into winter quarters yet. Besides, the
very essence of a military ball is that it should be a parting--the
brightest and the last. Good morning."
And Meg's head, nothing loth, was turned away from the wide view of
the broad vale of the Avon, with the Avoncester Cathedral towers in
the midst, and the moors rising beyond in purple distance. The two
young lieutenants could only wave their farewells, as Bessie cantered
merrily over the soft smooth turf of the racecourse, in company with
Lord Keith, the Colonel, and Conrade.
"Do you not like dancing?" inquired Lord Keith, when the canter was
over, and they were splashing through a lane with high hedges.
"I'm not so unnatural," returned Bessie, with a merry smile, "but it
would never do to let the Highlanders give one now. Alick has been
telling me that the expense would fall seriously on a good many of
"True," said Colonel Keith, "too many fetes come to be a heavy tax."
"That is more consideration than is common in so young a lad," added
"Yes, but dear Alick is so full of consideration," said the sister,
eagerly. "He does not get half the credit for it that he deserves,
because, you know, he is so quiet and reserved, and has that unlucky
ironical way with him that people don't like; especially rattlepates
like those," pointing with her whip in the direction of the two young
"It is a pity," said the Colonel, "it lessens his influence. And it
is strange I never perceived it before his return to England."
"Oh! there's much owing to the habitual languor of that long illness.
That satirical mumble is the only trouble he will take to lift up his
testimony, except when a thing is most decidedly his duty, and then
he does it as England expects."
"And he considered it his duty to make you decline this ball?" said
"Oh, not his more than mine," said Bessie. "I don't forget that I am
the Colonel's daughter."
No more was said on that occasion, but three days after cards were
going about the county with invitations from Lord Keith to an evening
party, with "Dancing." Lord Keith averred, with the full concurrence
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