Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Curtis Weyant, Carol David and the Online Distributed
"'GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART!'" "RED AS A ROSE IS SHE," ETC., ETC.
"As through the land at eve we went,
And plucked the ripened ears,
We fell out, my wife and I,
Oh, we fell out, I know not why,
And kissed again with tears."
* * * * *
"Put into a small preserving pan three ounces of fresh butter, and, as
soon as it is just melted, add one pound of brown sugar of moderate
"Not moderate; the browner the better," interpolates Algy.
"Cannot say I agree with you. I hate brown sugar--filthy stuff!" says
"Not half so _filthy_ as white, if you come to that," retorts Algy,
loftily, looking up from the lemon he is grating to extinguish his
brother. "They clear white sugar with but--"
"Keep these stirred gently over a clear fire for about fifteen minutes,"
interrupt I, beginning to read again very fast, in a loud, dull
recitative, to hinder further argument, "or until a little of the
mixture dipped into cold water breaks clear between the teeth without
sticking to them. When it is boiled to this point it must be poured out
immediately or it will burn."
Having galloped jovially along, scorning stops, I here pause out of
breath. We are a large family, we Greys, and we are _all_ making taffy.
Yes, every one of us. It would take all the fingers of one hand, and the
thumb of the other, to count us, O reader. Six! Yes, six. A Frenchman
might well hold up his hands in astonied horror at the insane
prolificness--the foolhardy fertility--of British householders. We come
very _improbably_ close together, except Tou Tou, who was an
after-thought. There are no two of us, I am proud to say, exactly
simultaneous, but we have come tumbling on each other's heels into the
world in so hot a hurry that we evidently expect to find it a pleasant
place when we get there. Perhaps we do--perhaps we do not; friends, you
will hear and judge for yourselves.
A few years ago when we were little, people used to say that we were
quite a pretty sight, like little steps one above another. We are big
steps now, and no one any longer hazards the suggestion of our being
pretty. On the other hand, nobody denies that we are each as well
furnished with legs, arms, and other etceteras, as our neighbors, nor
can affirm that we are notably more deficient in wits than those of our
friends who have arrived in twos and threes.
We are in the school-room, the big bare school-room, that has seen us
all--that is still seeing some of us--unwillingly dragged, and painfully
goaded up the steep slopes of book-learning. Outside, the March wind is
roughly hustling the dry, brown trees and pinching the diffident green
shoots, while the round and rayless sun of late afternoon is staring,
from behind the elm-twigs in at the long maps on the wall, in at the
high chairs--tall of back, cruelly tiny of seat, off whose rungs we have
kicked all the paint--in at the green baize table, richly freaked with
splashes. Hardly less red than the sun's, are our burnt faces gathered
about the fire.
This fire has no flame--only a glowing, ruddy heart, on which the bright
brass saucepan sits; and kneeling before it, stirring the mess with a
long iron spoon, is Barbara. Algy, as I have before remarked, is grating
a lemon. Bobby is buttering soup-plates. The Brat--the Brat always takes
his ease if he can--is peeling almonds, fishing delicately for them in a
cup of hot water with his finger and thumb; and I, Nancy, am reading
aloud the receipt at the top of my voice, out of a greasy, dog's-eared
cookery-book, which, since it came into our hands, has been the innocent
father of many a hideous compound. Tou Tou alone, in consideration of
her youth, is allowed to be a spectator. She sits on the edge of the
table, swinging her thin legs, and kicking her feet together.
Certainly we deteriorate in looks as we go downward. In Barbara we made
an excellent start: few families a better one, though we say it that
should not. Although in Algy there was a slight falling off, it was not
much to complain of. But I am sensibly uglier than Algy (as indeed he
has, on several occasions, dispassionately remarked to me); the Brat
than me; Bobby than the Brat; and so steadily on, till we reach our
nadir of unhandsomeness in Tou Tou. Tou Tou is our climax, and we
certainly defy our neighbors and acquaintances to outdo her.
Hapless young Tou Tou! made up of the thinnest legs, the widest mouth,
the invisiblest nose, and over-visiblest ears, that ever went to the
composition of a child of twelve years.
"Keep stirring always! You must take care that it does not stick to the
bottom!" say I, closing the receipt-book, and speaking on my own
account, but still as one having authority.
"All very well to say 'Keep stirring always,'" answers Barbara, turning
round a face unavoidably pretty, even though at the present moment
deeply flame-colored; eyes still sweetly laughing with gay good-humor,
even though half burnt out of her head, to answer me; "but if you had
been stirring as long as I have, you would wonder that you had any arm
left to stir with, however feebly. Here, one of you boys, take a turn!
You Brat, you never do any thing for your living!"
The Brat complies, though not with eagerness. They change occupations:
the Brat stirs, and she fishes for almonds. Ten minutes pass: the taffy
is done, and what is more it really is taffy. The upshot of our cookery
is in general so startlingly indifferent from what we had intended, that
the result in the present case takes us by surprise. We all prove
practically that, in the words of the receipt-book, it "breaks clear
between the teeth without sticking to them." It is poured into Bobby's
soup-plate, and we have thrown up the window-sashes, and set it on the
ledge to cool. The searching wind blows in dry and biting. Now it is
rushing in a violent current through the room, for the door has opened.
"To what may we attribute the honor of this visit?" says Algy, turning
away from the window to meet her, and setting her a chair. Bobby gives
her a kiss, and the Brat a lump of taffy, concerning which it would be
invidious to predicate which were the stickier; so exceedingly adhesive
"Your father says," begins she, sitting down. She is interrupted by a
loud and universal groan.
"Says what? Something unpleasant of course, who is it now? Who has done
any thing now? I do hope it is the Brat," cries Bobby, viciously; "it is
quite his turn; he has been good boy of the family for the last week."
"I dare say it is," replies the Brat, resignedly; "one can't expect such
prosperity as mine to last forever."
"Of course it is _I_," says Algy, rather bitterly, "it is always I. I
have never been good boy since I was ploughed; and, please God, I never
will be again."
"But what is it? what is it? About how bad is it? Is it to be one of our
We are all speaking together at the top of our voices; indeed, we rarely
employ a lower key.
"It is no one; no one has done any thing," replies mother, when, at
last, we allow her to make herself heard, "only your father sends you a
message that, as Sir Roger Tempest is coming here to-day, he hopes you
will make less noise this evening in here than you did last night: he
says he could hardly hear the sound of his own voice."
"Ahem!" "Very likely!" "I dare say!" in different tones of angry
"He begs you to see that the swing-door is shut, as he does not wish his
friend to imagine that he keeps a private lunatic asylum."
A universal snort of indignation.
"If we are bedlamites, we know who made us so. We will tell old Roger if
he asks," etc.
"For my part," say I, resolutely pinching my lips together as I kneel on
the carpet, and violently hammer the now cold and hard taffy with the
handle of the poker, which in its day has been put to many uses vile, "I
can tell you that I shall not dine with you to-night: I should
infallibly say something to father--something unfortunate--I feel it
rising; and it would be unseemly to have one of our _emeutes_ before
this old gentleman, would not it?"
"They are nice breezy things when you are used to them," says Barbara,
laughing; "but one requires to be brought up to them."
"Do not you dine either, Brat," say I, looking up, and waving the poker
with suave command at him, "and we will broil bones for tea, and roast
potatoes on the shovel."
"Some of you must dine," says poor mother, rather wearily, "or your
"He cannot complain if we send our two specimen ones," say I, again
looking up, and indicating Barbara and Algy with my weapon, "our sample
figs: if Sir Robert--Sir Robin--Sir Roger--what is he?--does not see the
rest of us, he may perhaps imagine that we are all equally presentable,
which would be more to your credit, mother, than if Bobby and Tou Tou
and I were to be submitted to the poor old thing's notice."
Mother looks rather at sea.
"What are you talking about? What poor old thing? Oh! I understand."
"He will have to see us," says Tou Tou, rather lugubriously, "he cannot
help it--at prayers."
Tou Tou has descended from the table, and is standing propped against
mother's knee, twisting one leg with ingenious grace round the other.
"Bless your heart," says the Brat, comfortingly, "he will never find out
that we are there: do you suppose that his blear old eyes will see all
across that big room, economically lit up by one pair of candles?"
"Wait till you see whether he has blear eyes!"
"He must be very ancient," says Algy, in all the insolence of twenty,
leaning his flat back against the mantel-shelf, "as he was at school
"Father has not blear eyes," remarks Bobby, dryly. "Would God he had!
For then perhaps he would not see our little vices quite so clearly with
them as he does."
"But then father has not been in India," retorts Algy, stretching.
"India plays the deuce with one's organs and appurtenances."
"I wish you joy of him," say I, rising flushed and untidy from my knees,
having successfully smashed the taffy into little bits; "from soup to
walnuts, you will have to undergo a ceaseless tyranny of tales about
hitmaghars and dak bungalows and Choto Lazery: which of us has not
suffered in our day from the horrible monotony of ideas of an old
"Never you mind, Barbara!" cries the Brat, giving her a sounding
brotherly pat on the back. "Pay no attention to her."
"'What great events from trivial causes spring!' as the poet says: you
may live to bless the day that old Roger Crossed our doors."
"As how?" says Barbara, laughing, and rocking herself backward and
forward in a veteran American rocking-chair which, at different periods
of our history, has served most of us the dirty turn of tipping us over,
and presenting us reversed to the eyes of our family.
"Never you mind," repeats the Brat, oracularly; "truth is stranger than
fiction! odd things happen: I read in the paper the other day of a man
who pulled up the window for an old woman in the train, and she died at
once--I do not mean on the spot, but very soon after, and when she died
--listen, please, all of you--" (speaking very slowly and impressively)
--"she left him _two thousand pounds_ a year."
"I wish I saw the application," answers Barbara, still rocking and
"Mind that you set a stool for his gouty foot," says Algy, feeling for
his faint mustache, "and run and search for his spectacle-case, when he
has mislaid it."
"Seriously," say I, "what a grand thing it would be for the family if he
were to adopt you, Barbara!"
"Or me," suggests the Brat, standing before the fire with his coat-tails
under his arm. "Why not _me_? My manners to the aged are always
considered particularly happy."
"Here he is!" cries Tou Tou from the window, whither she has retired,
and now stands, like a heron, on one leg, leaning her elbow on the sill.
"Here is the dog-cart turning the corner!"
We all make a rush to the casement.
"Yes, there he is! sure enough! our future benefactor!" says Algy,
looking over the rest of our heads, and making a counterfeit greeting.--
"Welcome, welcome, good old man!"
"And father, all affability, pointing out the house," supplements Bobby.
We laugh grimly.
"But who is it he has in the fly?" say I, as the second vehicle follows
the first. "His harem, I suppose! half a dozen old Wampoos."
"His valet, to be sure," replies the Brat, chidingly, "with his stays,
and his evening wig, and the calves of his legs."
The wind is even colder than it was, stronger and more withering now
that the sun's faint warmth is withdrawn, and that the small and chilly
stars possess the sky. Nevertheless, both the school-room windows are
open. We are all huddled shivering round the hearth, yet no one talks of
closing them. The fact is, that amateur cooking, though a graceful
accomplishment, has its penalties, and that at the present moment the
smell of broiled bones and fried potatoes that fills our place of
learning is something appalling. Why may not it penetrate beneath the
swing-door, through the passages, and reach the drawing-room? Such a
thing has happened once or twice before. At the bare thought we all
quake. I am in the pleasant situation, just at present, of owning a
chilled body and a blazing face.
Chiefest among the cooks have I been, and now I am sitting trying to fan
my red cheeks and redder nose, with the back of an old atlas, gutted in
some ancient broil, trying, in deference to Sir Roger, to cool down my
appearance a little against prayer-time. Alas! that epoch is nearer than
I think. Ting! tang! the loud bell is ringing through the house. My hair
is loosened and tumbled with stooping over the fire, and I have burnt a
hole right in the fore front of my gown, by letting a hot cinder fall
from the grate upon it. There is, however, now no time to repair these
dilapidations. We issue from our lair, and _en route_ meet the long
string of servants filing from their distant regions. How is it that the
cook's face is so much, _much_ less red than mine? Prayers are held in
the justicing-room, and thither we are all repairing. The accustomed
scene bursts on my eye. At one end the long, straight row of the
servants, immovably devout, staring at the wall, with their backs to us.
In the middle of the room, facing them, father, kneeling upon a chair
with his hands clutched, and his eyes closed, repeating the church
prayers, as if he were rather angry with them than otherwise. Mother,
kneeling on the carpet beside him, like the faithful, ruffed, and
farthingaled wife on a fifteenth-century tomb. Behind them, again, at
some little distance, we and our visitor. With the best will in the
world to do so, I can get but a meagre view of the latter. The room is
altogether rather dark, it being one of our manners and customs not to
throw much light on prayers, and he has chosen the darkest corner of it.
I only vaguely see the outline of a kneeling figure, evidently neither
bulky nor obese, of a flat back and vigorous shoulders. His face is
generally hidden in his hands, but once or twice he lifts it to scan the
proportions of my late grandfather's preposterously fat cob, whose
portrait hangs on the wall above his head.
There is no doubt that on some days the devil reigns with a more potent
sway over people than on others. Tonight he has certainly entered into
the boys. He often does a little, but this evening he is holding a great
and mighty carnival among them. While father's strong, hard voice
vibrates in a loud, dull monotone through the silent room, they are
engaged in a hundred dumb yet ungodly antics behind his back.
Algernon has thrust his head far out between the rungs of his
chair-back, and affects to be unable to withdraw it again, making
movements of simulated suffocation. The Brat is stealthily walking on
his knees across the space that intervenes between them to Barbara, with
intent, as I too well know, of unseemly pinchings. If father unbutton
his eyes, or move his head one barley-corn, we are all dead men. I hold
my breath in a nervous agony. Thank Heaven! the harsh recitation still
flows on with equable loud slowness. In happy ignorance of his
offspring's antics, father is still asking, or rather ordering, the
Almighty (for there is more of command than entreaty in his tone) to
prosper the High Court of Parliament. Also the Brat is now returning to
his place, travelling with surprising noiseless rapidity over the Turkey
carpet, dragging his shins and his feet after him. I draw a long breath
of relief, and drop my hot face into my spread hands. My peace, however,
is not of long duration. I am aroused again by a sort of choking snort
from Tou Tou, who is beside me--a snort that seems compounded of mingled
laughter and pain, and, looking up, detect Bobby in the act of deftly
puncturing one of her long bare legs with a long brass pin, which he has
found straying, after the vagabond manner of pins, over the carpet.
I raise myself, and lean over Tou Tou, to give the offender a silent
buffet of admonition, and, lifting my eyes apprehensively to see if I am
noticed, I meet the blear eyes of Sir Roger fixed upon mine. He has
turned his face quite toward me, and a ray from the candles falls full
upon it. _Blear_! Well, if his eyes are blear, then henceforth blear
must bear a different signification from the unhandsome one it has
hitherto worn. Henceforth it must mean blue as steel: it must mean clear
as a glass of spring water; keen as a well-tempered knife; kindly as the
I am so astonished at my discovery, that I remain for full two minutes
staring blankly at the object of it, while he also looks stealthily at
me; then, recollecting my manners, I burrow my face into my
chair-bottom, and so remain until mother's gentle Amen, and a noise of
shuffling and scrambling to their feet on the part of the congregation,
tell me that the end has come.
We all go up to father, and coldly and stiffly kiss him. While I am
waiting for my turn to receive our parent's chilly salute, I steal a
second glance at our guest. Yes, he is old certainly. Despite the youth
of his eyes, despite the uprightness, the utter freedom from superfluous
flesh--from the ugly shaky bulkiness of age--in his tall and stalwart
figure, still he is old--old in the eyes of nineteen--as old as father,
perhaps--though in much better preservation--forty-eight or forty-nine;
for is not his hair iron-gray, and his heavy mustache, and the thick and
silky beard that falls on his broad breast, are they not iron-gray too?
I have dropped my small and unwilling kiss on father's forehead--and
said "good-night" in a tone as suppressedly hostile as his own. Now I
may go. We may all go. I am the last, or I think I am, to pass through
the swing-door. I hurry along the passage to join the rest in the
school-room. I upbraid the boys for the rash impiety of their demeanor.
I feel a foot on my garments behind, and hear a long cracking sound that
I too, too well know to mean _gathers_.
"You beast!" cried I, in good nervous English, turning sharply round
with my hand raised in act to strike, "that is the third time this week
that you have torn out my--"
I stop dumfounded. If I mean to box the offender's ears, I must raise my
hand considerably higher than it is at present. Angels and ministers of
grace! what has happened? I have called General Sir Roger Tempest a
_beast_, and offered to cuff him. For a moment, I am dumfounded. Then,
for shyness has never been my besetting sin, and something in the genial
laughter of his eyes reassures me.
I hold out the injured portion of my raiment, and say:
"Look! when you see what you have done, I am sure you will forgive me;
but of course I meant it for Bobby. I never dreamt it was you."
He takes hold of one end of the rent, I of the other, and we both
"How exceedingly clumsy of me! how could it have happened? I beg your
pardon ten thousand times."
In his words there is polite remorse and solicitude; in his face only a
friendly mirth. He is old, that is clear. Had he been young, he would
have said, with that variety and suitability of epithets so
characteristic of this generation:
"I am awfully sorry! how awfully stupid of me! what an awful duffer I
The gas is shining in its garish yellow brightness full down upon us, as
we stand together, illuminating my plain, scorched face, the slatternly
looseness of my hair, and the burnt hole in my gown.
"You will have to give me another," I say, looking up at him and
smiling. I should not have thought of saying it if he had been a young
man, but with a _vieux papa_ one may be at one's ease.
"There is nothing in the world I should like better," he says, with a
sort of hurry and eagerness, not very suggestive of a _vieux papa_; "but
really--" (seeing me look rather ashamed of my proposition)--"is it
_quite hopeless?_ the damage quite irremediable?"
"On the contrary," reply I, tucking my gathers in, with a graceful
movement, at the band of my gown, "five minutes will make it as good as
new--at least" (casting a disparaging eye over its frayed and
taffy-marked surface), "as good as it _ever_ will be in this world."
A little pause.
"I suppose I have lost my way," he says, thinking, I fancy, that I look
rather eager to be gone. "I am never very good at the geography of a
"Yes," say I, promptly; "you came through _our_ door, instead of your
own; shall I show you the way back?"
"Since I have come so far, may not I come a little farther?" he asks,
glancing rather longingly at the half-open school-room door, whence
sounds of pious mirth are again beginning to reissue.
"Do you mean _really?_" ask I, with a highly-dissuasive inflection of
voice. "Please not to-night; we are all higgledy-piggledy--at sixes and
sevens! To tell you the truth, we have been _cooking_. I wonder you did
not smell it in the drawing-room."
Again he looks amused.
"May not I cook too? I _can_, though you look disbelieving; there are
few people that can beat me at an Irish stew when I set my mind to it."
A head (Bobby's) appears round the school-room door.
"I say, Nancy, who are you colloquing with out there? I believe you have
got hold of our future benefact--"
An "oh!" of utter discomfiture, and the head is withdrawn.
"I am keeping you," Sir Roger says. "Well, I will say good-night. You
will shake hands, won't you, to show that you bear no malice?"
"That I will," reply I, heartily stretching out my right hand, and
giving his a cordial shake. For was not he at school with father?
Day has followed night. The broiled smell has at length evacuated the
school-room, but a good deal of taffy, spilt in the pouring out, still
adheres to the carpet, making it nice and sticky. The wind is still
running roughly about over the earth, and the yellow crocuses, in the
dark-brown garden-borders, opened to their widest extent, are staring up
at the sun. How _can_ they stare so straight up at him without blinking?
I have been trying to emulate them--trying to stare, too, up at him,
through the pane, as he rides laughing, aloft in the faint far sky; and
my presumptuous eyes have rained down tears in consequence. I am trying
now to read; but a hundred thousand things distract me: the sun shining
warm on my shoulder, as I lean against the window; the divine morning
clamor of the birds; their invitations to come out that will take no
nay; and last, but oh! not, _not_ least, the importunate voices of
Barbara and Tou Tou. Every morning at this hour they have a weary tussle
with the verb "aimer," "to love." It is hard that they should have
pitched upon so tenderhearted a verb for the battle-field of so grim a
J'aime, I love.
Tu aimes, Thou lovest.
Il aime, He loves.
Nous aimons, We love.
Vous aimez, You love.
Ils aiment, They love.
This, with endless variations of ingenious and hideous inaccuracies--
this, interspersed with foolish laughter and bitter tears, is what I
have daily been audience to, for the last two months. The day before
yesterday a great stride was taken; the present tense was pronounced
vanquished, and Barbara and her pupil passed on in triumph to the
imperfect, "j'aimais, I loved, or was loving." To-day, in order to be
quite on the safe side, a return has been made to "j'aime," and it has
been discovered that it has utterly disappeared from our young sister's
memory. "J'aimais, I loved, or was loving," has entirely routed and
dispersed his elder brother, "j'aime, I love." The old strain is,
therefore, desperately resumed:
J'aime, I love.
Tu aimes, Thou lovest.
Il aime, He loves, etc.
It is making me drowsy. Ten minutes more, and I shall be asleep in the
sun, with my head down-dropped on the window-sill. I get up, and,
putting on my out-door garments, stray out into the sun, leaving
Barbara--her pretty forehead puckered with ineffectual wrath, and Tou
Tou blurred with grimy tears, to their death-struggle with the restive
verb "to love." It is the end of March, and when one can hide round a
corner from the wind, one has a foretaste of summer, in the sun's warm
strength. I gaze lovingly at the rich brown earth, so lately freed from
the frost's grasp, through which the blunt green buds are gently forcing
themselves. I look down the flaming crocus throats--the imperial purple
goblets with powdery gold stamens--and at the modest little pink faces
of the hepaticas. All over our wood there is a faint yet certain purply
shade, forerunner of the summer green, and the loud and sweet-voiced
birds are abroad. O Spring! Spring! with all your searching east winds,
with your late, shriveling frosts, with your occasional untimely sleets
and snows, you are yet as much better than summer as hope is better than
J'aime, I love.
Tu aimes, Thou lovest.
Il aime, He loves.
It runs in my head like some silly refrain. I meet Bobby. I also meet
Vick, my little shivering, smooth, white terrier. They both join me. The
one wriggles herself into the shape of a trembling comma, and, foolishly
chasing herself, rolls over on her back, to demonstrate her joy at my
advent. The other says:
"Come into the kitchen-garden, and see whether the apricot-flowers are
out on the south wall."
We pace along the broad and even gravel walk among the red cabbages and
the sea-kale, basking in the sun, whose heat we feel undiminished by the
influence of any bitter blast, in the prison of these four high walls,
against which the long tree-branches are pinioned. In one place, the
pinioning has failed. Along, flower-laden arm has burst from its bonds,
and is dangling loosely down. There is a ladder against the wall, set
for the gardener to replace it.
"Is it difficult to get up a ladder, Bobby?" ask I, standing still.
"Difficult! Bless your heart, no! Why?"
"One can see nothing here," I answer. "I should like to climb up and sit
on the top of the wall, where one can look about one."
My wish is easy of gratification. Bobby holds the ladder, and I climb
cautiously, rung by rung. Having reached the summit, I sit at ease,
with, my legs loosely dangling. There is no broken glass, there are no
painful bottoms of bottles to disturb my ruminant quiet. The air bites a
little, but I am warmly clad, and young. Bobby sits beside me, whistling
and kicking the bricks with his heels. There is the indistinctness of
fine weather over the chain of low round hills that bound our horizon,
giving them a dignity that, on clearer days, they lack. As I sit, many
small and pleasant noises visit my ears, sometimes distinct, sometimes
mixed together; the brook's noise, as it runs, quick and brown, between
the flat, dry March fields; the gray geese's noise, as they screech all
together from the farm-yard; the church-bells' noise, as they ring out
from the distant town, whose roofs and vanes are shining and glinting in
the morning sun.
"Do you hear the bells?" say I. "Some one has been married this
"Do not you wish it was you?" asks Bobby, with a brotherly grin.
"I should not mind," reply I, picking out a morsel of mortar with my
finger and thumb. "It is about time for one of us to move off, is not
it? And Barbara has made such a signal failure hitherto, that I think it
is but fair that I should try my little possible."
"All I ask of you is," says Bobby, gravely, "not to take a fellow who
has not got any shooting."
"I will make it a _sine qua non_," I answer, seriously.
A louder screech than ever from the geese, accompanied with
wing-flappings. How unanimous they are! There is not a voice wanting.
"I wonder how long Sir Roger will stay?" I say presently.
"What connection of ideas made you think of him?" asks Bobby, curiously.
"Do you suppose that he has any shooting?"
I break into a laugh.
"I do not know, I am sure. I do not think it matters much whether he has
"I dare say that there are a good many women--old ones, you know--who
would take him, old as he is," says Bobby, with liberality.
"I dare say," I answer. "I do not know. I am not old, but I am not sure
that I would not rather marry him than be an old maid."
A pause. Again I laugh--this time a laugh of recollection.
"What a fool you did look last night!" I say with sisterly candor, "when
you put your head round the schoolroom door, and found that you had been
witty about him to his face!"
Bobby reddens, and aims a bit of mortar at a round-eyed robin that has
perched near us.
"At all events, I did not call him a _beast_"
"Well, never mind; do not get angry! What did it matter?" say I,
comfortingly. "You did not mention his name. How could he tell that he
was our benefactor? He did not even know that he was to be; and I begin
to have misgivings about it myself."
"I cannot say that I see much sign of his putting his hand into his
breeches-pocket," says Bobby, vulgarly.
There is the click of a lifted latch. We both look in the direction
whence comes the sound. He of whom we speak is entering the garden by a
"Get down, Bobby!" cry I, hurriedly, "and help me down. Make haste!
quick! I would not have him find me perched up here for _worlds_"
Bobby gets down as nimbly as a monkey. I prepare to do likewise.
"Hold it steady!" I cry nervously, and, so saying, begin to turn round
and to stretch out one leg, with the intention of making a graceful
"Stop!" cries Bobby from the bottom, with a diabolical chuckle. "I think
you observed just now that I looked a fool last night! perhaps you will
not mind trying how it feels!"
So saying, he seizes the ladder--a light and short one--and makes off
with it. I cry, "Bobby! Bobby!" suppressedly, several times, but I need
hardly say that my appeal is addressed to deaf ears. I remain sitting on
the wall-top, trying to look as if I did not mind, while grave
misgivings possess my soul as to the extent of strong boot and ankle
that my unusual situation leaves visible. Once the desperate idea of
jumping presents itself to my mind, but the ground looks so distant, and
the height so great, that my heart fails me.
From my watch-tower I trace the progress of Sir Roger between the
fruit-trees. As yet, he has not seen me. Perhaps he will turn into
another walk, and leave the garden by an opposite door, I remaining
undiscovered. No! he is coming toward me. He is walking slowly along, a
cigar in his mouth, and his eyes on the ground, evidently in deep
meditation. Perhaps he will pass me without looking up. Nearer and
nearer he comes, I hold my breath, and sit as still as stone, when, as
ill-luck will have it, just as he is approaching quite close to me,
utterly innocent of my proximity, a nasty, teasing tickle visits my
nose, and I sneeze loudly and irrepressibly. Atcha! atcha! He starts,
and not perceiving at first whence comes the unexpected sound, looks
about him in a bewildered way. Then his eyes turn toward the wall. Hope
and fear are alike at an end. I am discovered. Like Angelina, I--
A maid in all my charms."
"How--on--earth--did you get up there?" he asks, in an accent of slow
and marked astonishment, not unmixed with admiration.
As he speaks, he throws away his cigar, and takes his hat off.
"How on earth am I to get down again? is more to the purpose," I answer,
"I could not have believed that any thing but a cat could have been so
agile," he says, beginning to laugh. "Would you mind telling me how
_did_ you get up?"
"By the ladder," reply I, laconically, reddening, and, under the
influence of that same insupportable doubt concerning my ankles, trying
to tuck away my legs under me, a manoeuvre which all but succeeds in
toppling me over.
"The _ladder_!" (looking round). "Are you quite sure? Then where has it
"I said something that vexed Bobby," reply I, driven to the humiliating
explanation, "and he went off with it. Never mind! once I am down, I
will be even with him!"
He looks entertained.
"What will you do? What will you say? Will you make use of the same
excellently terse expression that you applied to me last night?"
"I should not wonder," reply I, bursting out into uncomfortable
laughter; "but it is no use talking of what I shall do when I am down: I
am not down yet; I wish I were."
"It is no great distance from the ground," he says, coming nearer the
wall, standing close to where the apricot is showering down her white
and pinky petals. "Are you afraid to jump? Surely not! Try! If you will,
I will promise that you shall come to no hurt."
"But supposing that I knock you down?" say I, doubtfully. "I really am a
good weight--heavier than you would think to look at me--and coming from
such a height, I shall come with great force."
"I am willing to risk it; if you do knock me down, I can but get up
I require no warmer invitation. With arms extended, like the sails of a
windmill, I hurl myself into the embrace of Sir Roger Tempest. The next
moment I am standing beside him on the gravel-walk, red and breathless,
"I hope I did not hurt you much," I say with concern, turning toward him
to make my acknowledgments, "but I really am very much obliged to you; I
believe that, if you had not come by, I should have been left there till
"It must have been a very unpleasant speech that you made to deserve so
severe a punishment," he says, looking back at me, with a kindly and
I do not gratify his inquisitiveness.
"It was something not quite polite," I answer, shortly.
We walk on in silence, side by side. My temper is ruffled. I am planning
five distinct and lengthy vengeances against Bobby.
"I dare say," says my companion presently, "that you are wondering what
brought me in here now--what attraction a kitchen-garden could have for
me, at a time of year when not the most sanguine mind could expect to
find any thing good to eat in it."
"At least, it is sheltered," I answer, shivering, thrusting my hands a
little farther into the warm depths of my muff.
"I was thinking of old days," he says, with a hazy, wistful smile. "Ah!
you have not come to the time of life for doing that yet. Do you know, I
have not been here since your father and I were lads of eleven and
"_You_ were eleven, and _he_ was twelve, I am sure," say
"You look _so much_ younger than he," I answer, looking frankly and
unembarrassedly up into his face.
"Do I?" (with a pleased smile). "It is clear, then, that one cannot
judge of one's self; on the rare occasions when I look in the glass it
seems to me that, in the course of the last five years, I have grown
into a _very_ old fogy."
"He looks as if he had been so much oftener vexed, and so much seldomer
pleased than you do," continued I, mentally comparing the smooth though
weather-beaten benignity of the straight-cut features beside me, with
the austere and frown-puckered gravity of my father's.
"Does he?" he answers, with an air of half-surprised interest, as if the
subject had never struck him in that light before. "Poor fellow! I am
sorry if it is so. Ah, you see"--with a smile--"he has _six_ more
reasons for wrinkles than I have."
"You mean us, I suppose," I answer matter-of-factly. "As to that, I
think he draws quite as many wrinkles on our faces as we do on his."
Then, rather ashamed of my over-candor, I add, with hurried bluntness,
"You have never been married, I suppose?"
He half turns away his head.
"No--not yet! I have not yet had that good fortune."
I am inwardly amused at the power of his denial. Surely, surely he might
say in the words of Lancelot:
"Had I chosen to wed,
I had been wedded earlier, sweet Elaine."
"And you?" he asks, turning with an accent of playfulness toward me.
"Not yet," I answer, laughing, "and most likely I shall have to answer
'not yet' to that question as often as it is put to me till the end of
I shrug my shoulders.
"In moments of depression it strikes Barbara and me, that me and Tou Tou
shall end by being three old cats together."
"Are you so anxious to be married?" he asks with an air of wonder, "in
such a hurry to leave so happy a home?"
"Every one knows best where his own shoe pinches," I answer
vernacularly. "I am afraid that it does not sound very lady-like, but
since you ask me the question, I _am_ rather anxious. Barbara is not:
A shade of I cannot exactly say what emotion--it _looks_ like
disappointment, but surely it cannot be that--passes across the sunshine
of his face.
"All my plans hinge on my marrying," I continue, feeling drawn, I do not
know how or why, into confidential communication to this almost total
stranger, "and what is more, on my marrying a rich man."
"And what are your plans?" he asks, with an air of benevolent interest,
but that unexplained shade is still there.
"Their name is Legion," I answer; "you will be very tired before I get
to the end of them."
"Try me." "Firstly then," say I, narratively, "my husband must have a
great deal of interest in several professions--the army, the navy, the
bar--so as to give the boys a helping hand; then he must have some
shooting--good shooting for them; for them all, that is, except Bobby!
_never_ shall _he_ fire a gun in my preserves!"
My mind again wanders away to my vengeances, and I break off.
"He must also keep two or three horses for them to hunt: Algy _loves_
hunting, but he hardly ever gets a day. He is so big, poor dear old boy,
that nobody ever gives him a mount--"
"Well, then, I should like to be able to have some nice parties--dancing
and theatricals, and that sort of thing, for Barbara--father will never
hardly let us have a soul here--and to buy her some pretty dresses to
set off her beauty--"
"And then I should like to have a nice, large, cheerful house, where
mother could come and stay with me, for two or three months at a time,
and get _clear_ away from the worries of house-keeping and--" the
tyranny of father, I am about to add, but pull myself up with a jerk,
and substitute lamely and stammeringly "and--and--others."
"Any thing else?"
"I should not at all mind a donkey-carriage for Tou Tou, but I shall not
_insist_ upon that."
He is smiling broadly now. The shade has fled away, and only sunshine
"And what for yourself? you seem to have forgotten yourself!"
"For myself!" I echo, in surprise, "I have been telling you--you cannot
have been listening--all these things are for myself."
Again he has turned his face half away.
"I hope you will get your wish," he says shortly and yet heartily.
I laugh. "That is so probable, is not it? I am so likely to fall in with
a rich young man of weak intellect who is willing to marry all the whole
six of us, for that is what he would have to do, and so I should explain
Sir Roger is looking at me again with an odd smile--not disagreeable in
any way--not at all hold-cheap, or as if he were sneering at me for a
simpleton, but merely _odd_.
"And you think," he says, "that when he hears what is expected of him he
Again I laugh heartily and rather loudly, for the idea tickles me, and,
in a large family, one gets into the habit of raising one's voice, else
one is not heard.
"I am so sadly sure that he will never come forward, that I have never
taken the trouble to speculate as to whether, if he did, my greediness
would make him retire again."
"Now that I come to think of it, though," continue I, after a pause, "I
have no manner of doubt that he would."
Apparently Sir Roger is tired of the subject of my future prospects, for
he drops it. We have left the kitchen-garden--have passed through the
flower-garden--have reached the hall-door. I am irresolutely walking up
the stone steps that mount to it, not being able to make up my mind as
to whether or no I should make some sort of farewell observation to my
companion, when his voice follows me. It seems to me to have a
"Are you going in?"
"Well, yes," I answer uncertainly, "I suppose so."
He looks at his watch.
"It is quite early yet--not near luncheon-time--would it bore you very
much to take a turn in the park? I think" (with a smile) "that you are
quite honest enough to say so if it would: or, if you did not, I should
read it on your face."
"Would you?" say I, a little piqued. "I do not think you would: I assure
you that my face can tell stories, at a pinch, as well as its neighbor."
"Well, _would_ it bore you?"
"Not at all! not at all!" reply I briskly, beginning to descend again;
"but one thing is very certain, and that is that it will bore _you_"
"Why should it?"
"If I say what I was going to say you will think that it is on purpose
to be contradicted," I answer, unlatching the gate in the fence, and
entering the park.
"And if I do, much you will mind," he answers, smiling.
"Well, then," say I, candidly, looking down at my feet as they trip
quickly along through the limp winter grass, "there is no use blinking
the fact that I have no conversation--none of us have. We can gabble
away among ourselves like a lot of young rooks, about all sorts of silly
home jokes, that nobody but us would see any fun in; but when it comes
to real talk--"
I pause expressively.
"I do not care for _real talk_," he says, looking amused; "I like
_gabble_ far, far better. I wish you would gabble a little now."
But the request naturally ties my tongue tight up.
"This is the tree that they planted when father was born," I say,
presently, in a stiff, _cicerone_ manner, pointing to a straight and
strong young oak, which is lifting its branchy head, and the fine
net-work of its brown twigs, to the cold, pale sky.
Sir Roger leans his arms on the top of the palings that surround the
"Ah! eight-and-forty years ago! eight-and-forty years ago!" he repeats
to himself with musing slowness. "Hard upon half a century!"
I turn over in my own mind whether I should do well to make some
observation of a trite and copy-book nature on the much greater duration
of trees than men, but reflecting that the application of the remark may
be painful to a person so elderly as the gentleman beside me, I abstain.
However, he does something of the kind himself.
"To think that it should be such a stripling," he says, looking with a
half-pensive smile at the straight young trunk, "hardly out of the
petticoat age, and _we_--he and I--such a couple of old wrecks!"
It never occurs to me that it would be polite, and even natural, to
contradict him. Why should not he call himself an old wreck, if it
amuses him? I suppose he only means to express a gentleman decidedly in
the decline of life, which, in my eyes, he is; so I say kindly and
"Yes, it _is_ rather hard, is it not?"
"Forty-one--forty-two--yes, forty-two years since I first saw him," he
continues, reflectively, "running about in short, stiff, white
petticoats and bare legs, and going bawling to his mother, because he
tumbled up those steps to the hall-door, and cut his nose open."
I lift my face out of my muff, in which, for the sake of warmth, I have
been hiding it, and, opening my mouth, give vent to a hearty and
undutiful roar of laughter.
"Cut his nose open!" repeat I, indistinctly. "How pleased he must have
been, and what sort of a nose was it? already hooked? It never _could_
have been the conventional button, _that_ I am sure of; _yours_ was, I
dare say, but _his_--_never._ Good Heavens!" (with a sudden change of
tone, and disappearance of mirth) "here he is! Come to look for you, no
doubt! I--I--think I may go now, may not I?"
"Go!" repeats he, looking at me with unfeigned wonder. "Why? It is more
likely _you_ that he has missed, _you_, who are no doubt his daily
"Not quite daily," I answer, with a fine shake of irony, which, by
reason of his small acquaintance with me, is lost on my friend. "Two,
you know, is company, and three none. Yes, if you do not mind, I think
it must be getting near luncheon-time. I will go."
So I disappear through the dry, knotted tussocks of the park grass.
"Friends, Romans, and countrymen!" say I, on that same afternoon,
strutting into the school-room, with my left hand thrust oratorically
into the breast of my frock, and my right loftily waving, "I wish to
collect your suffrages on a certain subject. Tell me," sitting down on a
hard chair, and suddenly declining into a familiar and colloquial tone,
"have you seen any signs of derangement in father lately?"
"None more than usual," answers Algy, sarcastically, lifting his pretty,
disdainful nose out of his novel. "If, as the Eton Latin Grammar says,
_ira_ is a _brevis furor_, you will agree with me that he is pretty
often out of his mind, in fact, a good deal oftener than he is in it."
"No, but _really?_"
"Of course not. What do you mean?"
"Put down all your books!" say I, impressively. "Listen attentively.
Bobby, stop see-sawing that chair, it makes me feel deadly sick. Ah! my
young friend, _you_ will rue the day when you kept me sitting on the top
of that wall--"
I break off.
"Go on! go on!" in five different voices of impatience.
"Well, then, father has sent a message by mother to the effect that I am
to dine with them to-night--_I_, if you please--_I_!--you must own"
(lengthening my neck as I speak, and throwing up my untidy flax head)
"that sweet Nancies are looking up in the world."
A silence of stupefaction falls on the assembly. After a pause--
"And how do you account for it?"
"I believe," reply I, simpering, "that our future benefac--, no! I
really must give up calling him that, or I shall come out with it to his
face, as Bobby did last night. Well, then, Sir Roger asked me why I did
not appear yesterday. I suppose he thought that I looked so _very_ grown
up, that they must be keeping me in pinafores by force."
Algy has risen. He is coming toward me. He has pulled me off my chair.
He has taken me by the shoulders, and is turning me round to face the
"Allow me!" he says, bowing, and making me bow, too, "to introduce you
to the future legatee!--Barbara, my child, you and I are _nowhere_. This
depraved old man has clearly no feeling for symmetry of form or face; a
long career of Begums has utterly vitiated his taste. To-morrow he will
probably be clamoring for Tou Tou's company."
"Brat!" says Barbara, laughing, "where has the analogy between me and
the man who pulled up the window in the train for the old woman gone
"Mother said I was to look as nice as I could," say I, casting a rueful
glance at the tea-board, at the large plum loaf, at the preparations for
temperate conviviality. I have sat down on the threadbare blue-and-red
hearth-rug, and am shading my face with a pair of cold pink hands, from
the clear, quick blaze. "What _am_ I to wear?" I say, gloomily. "None of
my frocks are ironed, and there is no time now. I shall look as if I
came out of the dirty clothes-basket! Barbara, dear, will you lend me
your blue sash? Last time I wore mine the Brat upset the gum-bottle over
"Let us each have the melancholy pleasure of contributing something
toward the decking of our victim," says Algy, with a grin; "have my
"Have as many beads as you can about you," puts in Bobby. "Begums always
have plenty of beads."
A little pause, while the shifting flame-light makes small pictures of
us on the deep-bodied teapot's sides, and throws shadowy profiles of us
on the wall.
"Mother said, too, that I was to try and not say any of my unlucky
things!" I remark, presently.
"Do not tell him," says Bobby, ill-naturedly, "as you told poor Captain
Saunders the other day, that 'they always put the fool of the family
into the army.'"
"I did not say so of myself," cry I, angrily. "I only told it him as a
"Abstain from quotations, then," retorts Bobby, dryly; "for you know in
conversation one does not see the inverted commas."
"What _shall_ I talk about?" say I, dropping my shielding hand into my
lap, and letting the full fire-warmth blaze on eyes, nose, and cheeks.
"Barbara, what _did_ you talk about?"
"Whatever I talked about," replies Barbara, gayly, "they clearly were
not successful topics, so I will not reveal what they were."
Barbara is standing by the tea-table, thin and willowy, a tea-caddy in
one hand, and a spoon in the other, ladling tea into the deep-bodied
pot--a spoonful for each person and one for the pot.
"I will draw you up a list of subjects to be avoided," says Algy,
drawing his chair to the table, and pulling a pencil out of his
waistcoat-pocket. "Here, Tou Tou, tear a leaf out of your copy-book--
imprimis, _old age_."
"You are wrong there," cry I, triumphantly, "_quite_ wrong; he is rather
fond of talking of his age, harps upon it a good deal. He said to-day
that he was an _old wreck!_"
"Of course he meant you to contradict him!" says Bobby, cackling, "and,
from the little I know of you, I am morally certain that you did not--
_did_ you, now?"
"Well, no!" reply I, rather crestfallen; "I certainly did not. I would,
though, in a minute, if I had thought that he wanted it."
"I wish," says Barbara, shutting the caddy with a snap, "that Providence
had willed to send the dear old fellow into the world twenty years later
than it did. In that case I should not at all have minded trying to be a
comfort to him."
"He must have been very good-looking, must not he?" say I, pensively,
staring at the red fire-caverns. "Very--before his hair turned gray. I
wonder what color it was?"
Visions of gold yellow, of sunshiny brown, of warm chestnut locks,
travel in succession before my mind's eye, and try in turn to adjust
themselves to the good and goodly weather-worn face, and wide blue eyes
of my new old friend.
"It is so nice and curly even now," I go on, "twice as curly as Algy's."
"Tongs," replies Algy, with short contempt, looking up from his list of
"_Very_ good-looking!" repeat I, dogmatically, entirely ignoring the
"Perhaps when this planet was young!" retorts he, with the superb
impertinence of twenty.
"You talk as if he were eighty years old," cry I, with an unaccountably
_personal_ feeling of annoyance. "He is _only_ forty-seven!"
And they all laugh.
"Well, I must be going, I suppose," cry I, leisurely rising, stretching,
sighing, and beginning to collect the various articles of my wardrobe,
scattered over the furniture. "Good-by, dear teapot! good-by, dear plum
loaf! _how_ I wish I was going to stay with you! It really is ten
minutes past dressing--time, and father is always so pleased when one
keeps him waiting for his soup."
"He would not say any thing to you to-day if you _were_ late," says
Bobby, astutely. "You might tumble over his gouty foot, and he would
smile! Are we not the most united family in Christendom--_when we have
After all, I need not have disquieted myself; I am in very good time.
When I open the drawing-room door, and make my entrance in the borrowed
splendor of Barbara's broad blue-sash tails, and the white virginity of
my own muslin frock, I find that neither of my parents have as yet made
their appearance. Sir Roger has the hearth-rug to himself; at least he
only shares it with Vick, and she is asleep; sitting very upright, it is
true, with her thin tail round her toes, like a cat's, her head and
whole body swaying from side to side in indisputable slumber. At sight
of the chaste and modest apparition that the opened door yields to his
gaze, an exclamation of pleasure escapes him--at least it sounds like
"Ah! this is all right! You are here to-night at all events; but,
by-the-by, what became of you yesterday?"
"What always becomes of me?" reply I, bluntly, lifting my grave gray
eyes to his face, and to the hair which sweeps thick and waved above his
broad brown forehead. (Tongs indeed!)
"I remember that you told me you had been _cooking_, but you cannot
cook _every_ night."
"Not quite," reply I, with a short smile, stretching my hands to the
"But do not you dine generally?"
"Never when I can possibly help it," I reply, with emphasis. And no
sooner are the words out of my mouth than I see that I have already
transgressed my mother's commands, and given vent to one of "my unlucky
things." I stand silent and ashamed, reflecting that no after-tinkering
will mend my unfortunate speech.
"And to-night you could not help it?" he asks, after a slight, hardly
I look up to answer him. He is forty-seven years old. He is a general,
and a sir, and has been in every known land; has killed big and little
beasts, and known big and little people, and I am nineteen and nobody,
and have rarely been beyond our own park and parish, and my acquaintance
is confined to half a dozen turnipy squires and their wives; and yet he
is looking snubbed, and it is I that have snubbed him. Well, I cannot
help it. Truth is truth; and so I answer, in a low voice:
"No, father said I was to."
"And you look upon it as a great penance?" he says, still with that
"To be sure I do," reply I, briskly. "So does Barbara. Ask her if she
does not. So would you, if you were I."
"Hush!" say I, hearing a certain heavy, well-known, slow footfall. "He
is coming! I will tell you by-and-by--when we are by ourselves."
After all, how convenient an elderly man is! I could not have said that
to any of the young squires!
His blue eyes are smiling in the firelight, as, leaning one strong
shoulder against the mantel-piece, he turns to face me more fully.
"And when are we likely to be by ourselves?"
"Oh, I do not know," reply I, indifferently. "Any time."
And then father enters, and I am dumb. Presently, dinner is announced,
and we walk in; I on father's arm. He addresses me several times with
great _bonhomie_ and I respond with nervous monosyllables. Father is
always suavity itself to us, when we have guests; but, when one is not
in the habit of being treated with affability, it is difficult to enter
into the spirit of the joke. Several times I catch our guest's frank
eyes, watching me with inquiring wonder, as I respond with brief and
low-voiced hurry to some of my parent's friendly and fatherly queries as
to the disposition of my day. And I sit tongue-tied and hungry--for,
thank God, I have always had a large appetite--dumb as the butler and
footman--dumb as the racing-cups on the sideboard--dumber than Vick,
who, being a privileged person, is standing--very tall--on her
hind-legs, and pawing Sir Roger's coat-sleeve, with a small, impatient
"Why, Nancy, child!" says father, helping himself to sweetbread, and
smiling, "what made you in such a hurry to get away this morning out of
(Why can't he always speak in that voice? always smile?--even his nose
looks a different shape.)
"Near--luncheon-time," reply I, indistinctly, with my head bent so low
that my nose nearly touches the little square of bare neck that my
muslin frock leaves exposed.
"Not a bit of it--half an hour off.--Why, Roger, I am afraid you had not
been making yourself agreeable! eh, Nancy?"
"No," say I, mumbling, "that is--yes--quite so."
"I was _very_ agreeable, as it happened--rather more brilliant than
usual, if possible, was not I? And, to clear my character, and prove
that you thought so, you will take me out for another walk, some day,
will not you?"
At the sound of his voice so evidently addressing me, I look up--look at
"Yes! with pleasure! when you like!" I answer heartily, and I neither
mumble nor stutter, nor do I feel any disposition to drop my eyes. I
_like_ to look at him. For the rest of dinner I am absolutely mute, I
make only one other remark, and that is a request to one of the footmen
to give me some water. The evening passes. It is but a short one--at
least, as regards the company of the gentlemen, for they sit late;
father's port, I am told, not being to be lightly left for any female
frippery. I retire to the school-room, and regale my brethren with
lively representations of father's unexampled benignity. I also resume
with Algy the argument about _tongs_, at the very point where I had
dropped it. It lasts till prayer-time; and its monotony is relieved by
personalities. The devil in the boys is fairly quiescent to-night, and
our evening devotions pass over with tolerable peace; the only
_contretemps_ being that the Brat, having fallen asleep, remains on his
knees when "Amen" raises the rest of the company from theirs, and has to
be privily and heavily kicked to save him from discovery and ruin.
Having administered the regulation embrace to father, and heartily
kissed mother--not but what I shall see her again; she always comes, as
she came when we were little, to kiss us in bed--I turn to find Sir
Roger holding open the swing-door for us.
"Are you quite sure about it to-night?" I, say, stretching out my hand
to him to bid him good-night. "_Ours_ on the right--_yours_ on the left
--do you see?"
"_Yours_ on the right--_mine_ on the left," he repeats. "Yes--I see--I
shall make no more mistakes--unless I make one on purpose."
"Do not come without telling us beforehand!" I cry, earnestly. "I mean
_really_: if you hold a vague threat of paying us a visit over our
heads, you will keep us in a state of unnatural tidiness for days."
I make a move toward retiring, but he still has hold of my hand.
"And about our walk?"
The others--boys and girls--have passed us: the servants have melted out
of sight; so has mother; father is speaking to the butler in the
passage--we are alone.
"Yes? what about it?" I ask, my eyes calmly resting on his.
"You will not forget it?"
"Not I!" reply I, lightly. "I want to hear the end of the anecdote about
father's nose! I cannot get over the idea of him in a stiff white
petticoat: I thought of it at dinner, whenever I looked at him!"
At the mention of father, his face falls a little.
"Nancy," he says, abruptly, taking possession of my other hand also,
"why did you answer your father so shortly to-day? Why did you look so
scared when he tried to joke with you?"
"Ah, why?" reply I, laughing awkwardly.
"You are not _afraid_ of him, surely?"
"Oh, no--not at all!"
"Why do you speak in that sneering voice? It is not your own voice; I
have known you only twenty-four hours, and yet I can tell that."
"I will not answer any more questions," reply I, recovering both hands
with a sudden snatch: "and if you ask me any more, I will not take you
out walking! there!" So I make off, laughing.
"A peck of March dust is worth a king's ransom," say I slowly next
morning, as I stand by the window, trying to see clearly through the
dimmed and tearful pane. "The king would have to do without his ransom
It is raining _mightily_: strong, straight, earnest rain, that harshly
lashes the meek earth, that sends angry runlets down the gravel walks,
that muddies the gold goblets of the closed crocuses.
"And you without your walk!" says Barbara, lifting her face from her
stitching. "Poor Miss Nancy!"
"There is not enough blue sky to make a cat a pair of breeches!" cries
Bobby, despondently, and with his usual vulgarity.
Sometimes I am tempted to fear that Bobby is hopelessly ungenteel--
ungenteel for life. He has now taken possession of another window, and
is consulting the eastern sky.
"A ransomless king, and a trouserless cat! That is about the state of
the case!" say I, turning away from the window with a grin.
After all, now I come to think of it, I am nearly as vulgar as Bobby.
But I am right. Through the day, through the long, light, cold evening,
the posture of the weather changes not. To-day, Barbara, Algy, and I,
are all constrained to dine; for have not we a dinner-party, or rather a
mild simulation of one?--a squire or two, a squiress or two, a curate or
two--such odd-come-shorts as can be got together in a scattered country
neighborhood at briefest notice. Barbara and I, as it happens, are both
late. It is five minutes past eight, when with the minor details of our
toilets a good deal slurred, with a paucity of bracelets and lack of
necessary pins, we hurriedly and sneakingly enter the drawing-room, and
find all our guests already come together. Mother gives us an almost
imperceptible glance of gentle reproach, but father is so occupied in
bantering a strange miss--banter in which the gallant and the fatherly
happily join to make that manner which is the envy and admiration of the
neighborhood--that he seems unconscious of our entrance. An intuition,
however, tells us that this is not the case, but that he is making a
note of it. This depresses us so much that, until song and sherry have
comforted and emboldened us, we have not spirits to make any effort
toward the entertainment of our neighbors. We have been paired with a
couple of curates. Mine is a strong-handed, ingenuous Ishmael, who tells
everybody that he hates his trade, and that he thinks it is very hard
that he may not get out of it, now that his elder brother is dead. I am
thankful to say that his appetite is as vast as his shoulders; so, after
I have told him that I _love_ raw oysters, and that Barbara cannot sit
in the room with a roast hare; and have heard in return that he does not
care about brill, but worships John Dory, we slide into a gluttonous
silence, and abide in it. Barbara's man of God is in a wholly different
pattern to mine. He is a macerated little saint, with the eyes of a
ferret and the heart of a mouse. As the courses pass by, in savory
order, I, myself unemployed, watch my sister gradually reassuring,
comforting, heartening him, as is her way with all weakly, maimed, and
unhandsome creatures. She has succeeded in thawing him into a thin
trickle of parochial talk, when mother bends her laced and feathered
head in distant signal from the table-top, and off we go. We drink
coffee, we drink tea, we pick clever little holes in our absent
neighbors, in brisk duet and tortuous solo we hammer the blameless
spinnet, we sing affecting songs about "fair doves," and "cleansing
fires," and people "far away," and still our deliverers come not. They
_must_ hear our appealing melodies clearly through the walls and doors,
but still they come not. Sunk in sloth and old port, still they come
not. I seem to have said every possible thing that is to be said on
every known subject to the young woman beside me, and now I am falling
asleep. I feel it. Lulled by the warm glow diffused through the room, by
the smell of the jonquils, lilies of the valley and daphnes, by the low
even talk, I am slipping into slumber. The door opens, and I jump into
wakefulness; Sir Roger to the rescue. I am afraid that I look at him
with something not unlike invitation in my eyes, for he makes straight
"Wish me good-morning," say I, rubbing my eyes, "for I have been sweetly
asleep. I fell asleep wondering which of you would come first--somehow I
thought it would be you. Are you going to sit here? Oh! that is all
right!" as he subsides into the next division of the ottoman to mine.
"What have you been talking about?" I continue, with a contented, chatty
feeling, leaning my elbow on the blue-satin ottoman-top; "any thing
pleasant? Did not you hear our screams for help through the wall?"
"Have not we come in answer to them?"
Yes; they are all here now, at last; all, from father down to the
curates; some sitting resolutely down, some standing uncertainly up.
Barbara's _protege_ with frightened stealth, is edging round the
furniture to where she sits on a little chair alone. Barbara is
locketless, braceletless, chainless, head-dressless! such was our
unparalleled haste to abscond. Ornaments has she none but those that God
has given her: a sweep of blond hair, a long, cool throat, and two
smooth arms that lie bare and white as any milk on her lap. As he
nervously draws near, she lifts her eyes with a lovely friendliness to
his face. He is poor, slightly thought of, sickly, not over-clever;
probably she will talk to him all the evening.
"Look at Barbara!" say I, with deep admiration, familiarly laying my
hand on Sir Roger's coat-sleeve, to make sure of engaging his attention,
"that is always her way! Did you ever see any thing so cruelly shy as
that poor little man is? See! he is wriggling all over like an eel! He
came to call the other day, and while he was talking to mother I watched
him. He tore a pair of quite new tea-green gloves into thin strips, like
little thongs! He must find it rather expensive work, if he makes many
morning calls, must he not?"
"I am sure that you and Barbara would get on," continue I, loquaciously,
leaning my head on my hand, and talking in that low, comfortable voice
that our proximity warrants; "I cannot understand how it was that you
did not make great friends that first night! I suppose that you are not
poor and ugly and depressed enough for her to make much of you! Shall I
make a sign to her to come over and talk to us?"
Sir Roger does not accept my proposal with the alacrity I had expected.
"Do not you think that she looks very comfortable where she is?" he
asks, rather doubtfully.
I am a little disappointed.
"I am sure she would like you," I say, with a dogmatic shake of the
head. "I told her that you were--well, that _I_ got on with you, and we
always like the same people."
"That must be awkward sometimes?"
"What do you mean? Oh! not in _that_ way--" (with an unblushing
heart-whole laugh). "Lucky for me that we do not."
"Lucky for _you?_" (interrogatively).
"Why _will_ you make me say things that sound mock-modest?" cry I,
reddening a little this time. "You know perfectly well what I mean--it
is not likely that any one would _look_ at me when Barbara was by--you
can have no notion," continue I, speaking very fast to avoid
contradiction, "how well she looks when she is dancing--never gets hot,
or flushed, or _mottled_ as so many people do."
"And _you?_ how do _you_ look?"
"I grow purple," I answer, laughing--"a rich imperial purple, all over.
If you had once seen me, you would never forget me."
"Go on: tell me something more about Barbara!"
He has settled himself with an air of extreme repose and enjoyment. We
really _are_ very comfortable.
"Well," say I, nothing loath, for I have always dearly loved the sound
of my own voice, "do you see that man on the hearth-rug?--do not look at
him this very minute, or he will know that we are speaking of him. I
cannot imagine why father has asked him here to-night--he wants to marry
Barbara; he has never said it, but I know he does: the boys--we all,
indeed--call him _Toothless Jack_! he is not old _really_, I suppose--
not more than fifty, that is; but for Barbara!--"
I think that Sir Roger is beginning to find me rather tiresome:
evidently he is not listening: he has even turned away his head.
There is a movement among the guests, the first detachment are bidding
good-night, the rest speedily do the like. Father follows his favorite
miss into the hall, cloaks her with gallant care, and through the door I
hear him playfully firing off parting jests at her as she drives away,
Then he returns to the drawing-room. Sir Roger has gone to put on his
smoking-coat, I suppose. Father is alone with his wife and his two
lovely daughters. We make a faint movement toward effacing ourselves,
but our steps are speedily checked.
"Yes, father" (in a couple of very small voices).
"May I ask what induced you to keep my guests waiting half an hour for
their dinner to-night?"
No manner of answer. _How_ hooked his nose looks! how fearfully like a
hawk he has grown all in a minute!
"When you have houses of your own," he continues with iced politeness,
"you may of course treat your visitors to what vagaries you please, but
as long as you deign, to honor _my_ roof with your presence, you will be
good enough to behave to my guests with decent civility, do you hear?"
"Well, Roger, how is the glass? up or down? What is it doing? Are we to
have a fine day to-morrow?"
For Roger apparently has got quickly into his smoking-coat: at least he
is here: he has heard all. Barbara and I _crawl_ away with no more
spring or backbone in us than a couple of torpid, wintery flies.
Five minutes later, "Do you wonder that we hate him?" cry I, with
flaming cheeks, holding a japanned candlestick in one hand, and Sir
Roger's right hand in the other.
"I do not care if he _does_ hear me!--yes, I do, though" (giving a great
jump as a door bangs close to me).
Sir Roger is looking down at me with an expression of most thorough
discomfiture and silent pain in his face.
"He did not mean it, Nancy!" he says, hesitatingly, and with a sort of
look of shamed wonder in his friendly eyes.
"_Did_ not he?" (ironically).
A little pause, the position of the japanned candlestick and of Sir
Roger's hand still remaining the same. "_How_ I wish that _you_ were my
father instead!" I say with a sort of sob. He does not, as I fully
expect, say, "So do I!" and I go to bed, feeling rather small, as one
who has _gushed_, and whose gush has not been welcome to the recipient.
A fortnight has passed. Two Sundays, two Mondays, two Tuesdays, etc.
Fourteen times have I sleepily laid head on pillow. Fourteen times have
I yawningly raised it from my pillow. Fourteen times have I hungrily
eaten my dinner, since the night when I stood in the hall with Sir
Roger's hand in mine, raging against my parent. And Sir Roger is here
still. After all, there is nothing like the tenacity of boyish
friendship, is there?
I suppose that, to Sir Roger, father is still the manly, debonair youth
that he remembers thirty years ago. In happy ignorance he slurs over the
thirty intervening years of moroseness, and goes back to that blest
epoch in which I have so much difficulty in believing, and about which
he, walking beside me now and again through the tender, springing grass
of the meadows, has told me many a tale. For our promised walk has come
off, and so has many others like it.
He _must_ be dotingly fond of father. It is the 15th of April. I dare
say, O reader, that it seems to you much like any other date, but to me,
through every back-coming year, it seems to gain fresh significance--the
date that marks the most important day--take it for all in all--of my
life, though, whether for good or ill, who shall say, until I am dead,
and my life's sum reckoned up. I awake on that morning with no forecast
of what is coming? I tear myself from my morning dreams with as sleepy
unwillingness as usual. I eat my bread-and-butter with as stolidly
healthy an appetite. I run with as scampering feet, as evenly-beating a
heart as is my wont, with little Vick along the garden-walks, in the
royal morning sun. For one of God's own days has come--one that must
have lost his way, and strayed from paradise.
It has the steady heat of June, though we are only in mid-April, and the
freshness of the prune. The leaves on the trees are but tender and tiny,
and through them the sun sends his might. The tulips are all a-blaze and
a-stare, making one blink with the dazzle of their odorless beauty: the
frolicsome young wind is shaking out their balm from the hyacinth-bells,
and the sweet Nancies--my flowers--blowing all together, are swaying and
_congeeing_ to the morning airs.
O wise men, who know all things, do you know this? Can you tell it me?
Where does the flower hide her scent? From what full cup of hidden
sweets does one suck it?
It is one of those days when one feels most convinced of being
immortal--when the spirits of men stretch out longing arms toward the
All-Good, the Altogether Beautiful--when souls thirst for God, yearn
most deeply for the well of his unfathomed truth--when, to those who
have lost, their dead come back in most pleasant, gentle guise. As for
me, I have lost nothing and no one as yet. All my treasures are still
about me; I can stretch out live hands, and touch _them_ alive; none of
my dear names are yet to be spoken sparingly with bated breath, as too
holy for common talk. And yet I, too, as I walk and bask, and bend to
smell the hyacinth-blooms, feel that same vague and most unnamed
yearning--a delicate pain that he who has it would barter for no
boisterous joy. The clocks tick out the scented hours, and with loud
singing of happy birds, with pomp of flowers and bees, and freaked
butterflies, God's day treads royally past.
It is afternoon, and the morning wind, heaving with too much fragrance,
has lain down to sleep. A great warm stillness is on the garden and
house. The sweet Nancies no longer bow. They stand straight up, all
a-row, making the whole place honeyed. The school-room is one great
nosegay. Every vase and jug, and cup, and pot and pan and pipkin that we
can command, is crammed with heavy-headed daffodils, with pale-cheeked
primroses, with wine-colored gilly-flowers, every thing that spring has
thrust most plentifully into our eager hands.
The boys have been out fishing.
Algy and Bobby have been humorously trying to drown the Brat.
He looks small and cold in consequence, and his little pert nose is
tinged with a chilly pink. Half an hour ago, mother called me away to a
private conference, exciting thereby a mighty curiosity not unmixed with
envy in my brethren.
Our colloquy is ended now, and I am reentering the school-room.
"Well, what was it? out with it," cries Algy, almost before I am inside
the door again. Algy is sitting more than half--more than three-quarters
out of the window, balancing himself with great nicety on the sill. He
is in the elegant _neglige_ of a decrepit shooting-jacket, no waistcoat,
and no collar.
"What have you been doing to your face?" says Bobby, drawing nigh, and
peering with artless interest into the details of my appearance; "it is
the color of this" (pointing to a branch of red rhibes, which is hanging
its drooped flowers, and joining its potent spice to the other
"Is it?" I answer, putting both hands to my cheeks, to feel their
temperature. "I dare say! so would yours be, perhaps, if you had, like
me, been having a--" I stop suddenly.
"Having a _what_?"
"I will not say what I was going to say," I cry, emphatically, "it was
"But what _has_ she told you, Nancy?" asks Barbara, who, enervated by
the first hot day, is languishing in the rocking-chair, slowly
seesawing. "What could it have been that she might not as well have said
before us all?"
"You had better try and guess," I reply, darkly.
"I will not, for one," says Bobby, doggedly, "I never made out a
conundrum in my life, except, 'What is most like a hen stealing?'"
"It is not much like that," say I, demurely, "and, in fact, when one
comes to think of it, it can hardly be called a conundrum at all!"
"I do not believe it is any thing worth hearing," remarks the Brat,
skeptically, "or you would have come out with it long ago! you never
could have kept in to yourself!"
"Not worth hearing!" cry I, triumphantly raising my voice, "is not it?
That is all _you_ know about it!"
"Do not wrangle, children," says Algy from the window; "but, Nancy, if
you have not told us before the clock gets to the quarter" (looking
impressively at the slowly-traveling hands), "I shall think it right
What awful threats would have followed will never now be certainly
known, for I interrupt.
"I _will_ tell you! I _mean_ to tell you!" I cry, excitedly covering my
face with my hands, and turning my back to them all; "only do not _look_
at me! look the other way, or I _cannot_ tell you."
A little pause.
"You have only three minutes, Nancy."
"Will you _promise_" cry I, with indistinct emphasis from under my
hands, "none of you to _laugh_--none, even Bobby!"
"Will you _swear?_"
"What is the use of swearing?--you have only half a minute now. Well, I
dare say it is nothing very funny. Yes, we will swear!"
"Well, then, Sir Roger--I _hear_ Bobby laughing!"
"He is not!"--"He is not!"--"I am not!--I am only beginning to sneeze!"
"Well, then, Sir Roger--"
I come to a dead stop.
"_Sir Roger?_ What about him? There is not a smile on one of our faces:
if you do not believe, look for yourself!--What about our future
"He _is_ not our future benefactor," cry I, energetically, whisking
swiftly round to face them again, and dropping my hands, "he _never_
will be!--he does not _want_ to be! He wants to--to--to MARRY ME!
The murder is out. The match is set to the gunpowder train. Now for the
The clock-hand reaches the quarter--passes it; but in all the assembly
there is no sound. The westering sun shines in on four open mouths (the
youthful Tou Tou is absent), on four pairs of stupidly-staring eyes. The
rocking-chair has ceased rocking. Bobby's sneeze has stopped half-way.
There is a petrified silence.
At length, "_Marry you_!" says the Brat, in a deeply-accented tone of
low and awed disbelief. "Why, he was at school with father!"
"I wish to heavens that he had never been at school anywhere!" cry I, in
a fury. "I am sick to death of hearing that he was at school with
father. Will no one ever forget it?"
"He is for-ty-sev-en!" says Algy, at last closing his mouth, and
speaking with slow impressiveness. "Nineteen from forty-seven! how many
years older than you?"
"Do not count!" cry I, pettishly; "what is the use? not all the counting
in the world will make him any younger."
"It is not true!" cries Bobby, with boisterous skepticism, jumping up
from his seat, and making a plunge at me; "it is a _hoax_! she has been
taking us all in! Really, Nancy, for a beginner, you did not do it
"It is _not_ a hoax!" cry I, scornfully, standing scarlet and deeply
ashamed, facing them all; "it is real, plain, downright, simple truth."
Another pause. No sound but the monotonous, unemotional clock, and the
woodpecker's fluty laugh from the orchard.
"And so you _really_ have a lover at last, Nancy?" says Algy, the
corners of his mouth beginning to twitch in a way which looks badly for
the keeping of his oath.
"Yes!" say I, beginning to laugh violently, but quite uncomfortably;
"are you surprised? you know I always told you that if you half shut
your eyes, and looked at me from a great way off, I really was not so
"You have distanced the Begums!" cries the young fellow, joining in my
mirth, but with a good deal more enjoyment than I can boast.
"So I have!" I answer; and my sense of the ludicrous overcoming all
other considerations, I begin to giggle with a good-will.
"Let us look at you, Nancy!" says the Brat, taking hold of me by both
arms, and bringing the minute impertinence of his face into close
neighborhood to mine. "I begin to think that there must be more in you
than we have yet discovered! we never looked upon you as one of our most
favorable specimens, did we?"
"Do not you remember old Aunt Williams?" reply I, merrily; "how she used
to say I was not pretty, my dears, but I was a pleasant little devil!'
perhaps I am a pleasant little devil!"
"_Poor_--_dear_--old fellow!" says Barbara, in an accent of the
profoundest, delicatest, womanliest pity, "_how_ sorry I am for him!
Nancy, how will you break it to him most kindly? I am afraid he will be
sadly hurt! will you speak to him, or do it by letter?"
Barbara has risen. We are all standing up, more or less; it is
impossible to sit through such news; Barbara's garden-hat is in her
hand. The warm and mellow sun that is making Africa's dreary expanse in
the map on the wall, one broad fine sheet, is enkindling, too, the silk
of her hair, the flower-petals of her cheeks, the blue compassion of her
eyes. My pretty, tall Barbara! Let them say what they like, I am sure
that somewhere--_somewhere_--you are pretty now!
"If you write," says Algy, still laughing, but with more moderation, "I
should advise you to depute me to make a fair copy of the letter; else,
from the extreme ambiguity of your handwriting, he will most likely
mistake your drift, and imagine that you are saying yes."
"How do you know that I am not going to say yes?" I ask, abruptly.
Rivers of additional scarlet are racing to my cheeks, over my forehead--
in among the roots of my hair--all around and about my throat, but I
stand, looking the assembled multitude full in the face, fairly, well,
"Listen!" I continue, holding up my right hand in deprecation, "let me
speak!--do not interrupt me!--Bobby, I know that he was at school with
father--Algy, I know that he is forty-seven--all of you, I know that his
hair is gray, and that there are crows'-feet about his eyes--but still--
"Do you mean to say that you are _in love_ with him?" breaks in Bobby,
Instances of enamored humanity have been rare in Bobby's experience.
With the exception of Toothless Jack, he has never had a near and
familiar view of an authentic specimen. I therefore see him now
regarding me with a reverent interest, not unmixed with awe.
"I mean nothing so silly!" I answer, with lofty petulance. "I am a great
deal too old for any such nonsense!"
"There I go with you," says Algy, not without grandeur. "I believe that
it is the greatest humbug out, and that it rarely occurs between the
ages of sixteen and sixty."
"Father's and mother's was a love-match," says Bobby, gravely. "Did not
Aunt Williams tell us that they used always to sit hand-in-hand before
they were married?"
A shout of laughter at our parents' expense greets this piece of
"_All_ married people grow to hate one another after a bit," say I,
comprehensively; "it is only a question of time."
"But if you do not love him _now_, and if you are sure that you will
hate him by-and-by," says Barbara, looking rather puzzled, "what makes
you think of taking him?"
"It would be such a fine thing for all the family: I could give all the
boys such a shove," say I, with homely shrewdness.
"They killed seven hundred head of game on his big day last year; I
heard him tell father so," says Bobby, with his mouth watering.
"He has a moor in Scotland," throws in the Brat.
"He must ride a stone heavier than I do," says Algy, thoughtfully, "his
horses would certainly carry me: I wonder would he give me a mount now
"I would have you _all_ staying with me _always_," I cry, warming with
my theme, and beginning to dance, "all except father: he should come
once a year for a week, if he was good, and _not at all_, if he was
"What will you call him, Nancy?" asks the Brat, inquisitively. "What
shall _we_ call him?"
"He will be Tou Tou's _brother_" cries Bobby, with a yell of delight.
"Hush!" says Barbara, apprehensively, "he will hear you."
"No he will not," I answer, composedly. "A person would have to bawl
even louder than Bobby does, to make him hear: he has gone away for a
week; he said he did not wish me to decide in a hurry: he has given me
till this day week; I wish it were this day ten years--"
"This day week, then," says Algy, walking about with his hands in his
pockets, and smiling to himself, "we may hope to see him return in
triumph in a blue frock-coat, with the ring and the parson: at that age
one has no time to lose."
"Haste to the wedding!" cries the Brat at the top of his voice, seizing
me by both hands, and forcing me to execute an uncouth war-dance, in
unwilling celebration of my approaching nuptials.
"I hope that there will be lots of almonds in the cake!" says Bobby,
The week's reprieve has ended; my Judgment Day has come. Never, never,
surely, did seven days race so madly past, tumbling over each other's
heels. Even Sunday--Sunday, which mostly contains at least forty-eight
hours--has gone like a flash. Morning service, afternoon service, good
looks, sermon to the servants, supper, they all run into one another
like dissolving views. For the first time in my life, my sleep is
broken. I fall asleep in a fever of irresolution. I awake in one. I walk
about in one. I feed the jackdaw in one. I box Bobby's ears in one. My
appetite (oh, portent!) flags. In intense excitement, who can eat yards
of bread-and-butter, pounds of oatmeal-porridge, as has ever been my
bucolic habit? Shall I marry Sir Roger, or shall I not? The birds, the
crowing cocks, the church-bells, the gong for dinner, the old pony
whinnying in the park, they all seem to say this. It seems written on
the sailing clouds, on the pages of every book that I open. Armies of
_pros_ wage battle against legions of _cons_, and every day the issue
of the fight seems even more and more doubtful.
The morning of the day has arrived, and I am still undecided. I dress in
a perfect storm of doubts and questionings. I put on my gown, without
the faintest idea of whether it is inside out, or the reverse. I go
slowly downstairs, every banister marked by a fresh decision. I open the
dining-room door. Father's voice is the first thing that I hear;
father's voice, raised and rasping. He is standing up, and has a letter
in his hand; from the engaging blue of its color, and the harmony of its
shape, too evidently a bill.
"I regret to have to hurt your feelings," he is saying, in that awful
civil voice, at which we all--small and great--quake, "but the next time
that _this_ occurs" (pointing to the bill), "I must request you to find
accommodation for yourself elsewhere, as really my poor house is not a
fit place for a young gentleman with such princely views on the subject
The object of this pleasant harangue is Algy, who, also standing, with
his face very white, his lips very much compressed, and his eyes
flashing with a furious light, is fronting his parent on the hearth-rug.
Behind the tea-urn, mother is mingling her drink with tears, and making
little covert signs to Algy, at all rates to hold his tongue.
My mind is made up, never to be unmade again. I will marry Sir Roger. He
shall pay all Algy's debts, and forever dry mother's sad, wet eyes.
* * * * *
The weather of paradise is gone back to paradise. This day is very
earthly. There has been a sharp, cold shower, and there is still a
strong rain-wind, which has snapped a score of tulip-heads. Poor, brave
_Jour ne sols_! Prone they lie on the garden-beds, defiled, dispetalled.
Even the survivors are stained and dashed, and the sweet Nancies look
pinched and small. If you were to go down on your knees to them, they
could not give you any scent. I am walking up and down the room, in a
state of the utmost agitation. My heart is beating so as to make me feel
quite sick. My fingers are very hot, but hardly so hot as my face.
"For Heaven's sake do not make me laugh! do not!" cry I, nervously, "it
would be _too_ dreadful if I were to receive his overtures with a broad
grin, would not it? There! is it gone? Do I look quite grave?"
I take half a dozen hurried turns along the floor, and try to think of
all our most depressing family themes--father; Algy's college-bills; Tou
Tou's shrunk face and thin legs; nothing will do. When I stop before the
glass and consult it, that hysterical smile is there still.
"Do you remember the day, when we were children, that we all went to the
dentist?" says the Brat, chuckling, "and father gave Bobby a New
Testament because he had his eye-tooth out? Does to-day at all remind
you of it, Nancy?"
"I had far rather have _both_ my eye-teeth out, and several of my double
ones, too," reply I, sincerely.
A little pause.
"I must not keep him waiting any longer," cry I, desperately. "Tell me!"
(appealing piteously to them all), "do I look all right? do I look