Part 3 out of 8
"For Heaven's sake do not!" cries Sir Roger, smiling in spite of
himself, yet seriously and earnestly desirous of checking my wit. "Let
the poor boy have a little peace! He no more understands chaff than I
I hop out of the carriage like a parched pea, scorning equally the step
and Frank's hand extended to help me. I feel to-day as if I need only
stand on tiptoe, and stretch out my arms in order to be able to fly.
"So you have come to see the last of us," I say, trying to pull a long
face, and walking with him into the waiting-room.
"Yes; rather a mistake, is not it?" he says, somewhat gloomily, but
loading himself at once, with ostentatious haste (in memory of my former
reproof), with my bag, parasol, and novel.
"The day after--the day after--the day after to-morrow," say I, smiling
cheerfully up in his dismal face. "You may fancy us just turning in at
the park-gates--by-the-by, have you any message to send to the boys, to
"None to the boys," he answers, half smiling, too. "I hate boys: you may
give my love to Barbara if you like, and if you are quite sure that she
is like the St. Catherine."
"Wait till you see her," say I, oracularly.
"But when _shall_ I see her?" he asks, roused into an eagerness which I
think promises admirably for Barbara; "when are you coming home,
"Keep a good lookout at your lodge," I say, gayly, "and you will no
doubt see us arrive some fine day, looking very foolish, most probably--
crawling along like snails, dragged by our tenants."
"Were you _ever_ known to answer a plain question plainly since you were
born?" he cries, petulantly. "When are you likely to come _really_?"
"'I know not! What avails to know?'" reply I, pompously spouting a line
out of some forgotten poem that has lurked in my memory, and now struts
out, to the anger and discomfiture of Mr. Musgrave.
"Ah! here are the doors opening."
Everybody pours out on to the platform, and into the empty and expectant
Sir Roger and I get into a carriage--_not_ a _coupe_ this time--and
dispose our myriad parcels above our heads, under our feet. Trucks roll,
and porters bawl past; luggage is violently shot into vans. The last
belated, panting passenger has got in. The doors are slammed-to. Off we
go! The train is already in motion when the young man jumps on the step
and thrusts in his hand for one parting shake.
"_Mon tout_," say I, screwing up my face into a crying shape, and
speaking in a squeaky, pseudo-tearful voice, "_je ne saurai vous le
Then he is hustled off by an indignant guard and three porters, and we
see him no more. I throw myself back into my corner laughing.
"General," say I, "I think your young friend is nearly as soft-hearted
as the girl in Tennyson who was
'Tender over drowning flies.'
He looked as if he were going to _weep_, did not he? and what on earth
"How mother, when we used to stun
Her head wi' all our noisy fun,
Did wish us all a-gone from home;
But now that some be dead and some
Be gone, and, oh, the place is dumb,
How she do wish wi' useless tears
To have again about her ears
The voices that be gone!"
We have passed Cologne; have passed Brussels; have passed Calais and
Dover; have passed London; we are drawing near home. How refreshing
sounds the broad voice of the porters at Dover! Squeamish as I am, after
an hour and three-quarters of a nice, short, chopping sea, the sight of
the dear green-fustian jackets, instead of the slovenly blue blouses
across-Channel, goes nigh to revive me. Adieu, O neatly aquiline,
broad-shaved French faces! Welcome, O bearded Britons, with your
To avoid the heat of the day, we go down from London by a late afternoon
train. It is evening when, almost _before_ the train has stopped, I
insist on jumping out at our station. Imagine if through some accident
we were carried on to the next by mistake!
Such a thing has never happened in the annals of history, but still it
Sir Roger has some considerable difficulty in hindering me from shaking
hands with the whole staff of officials. One veteran porter, who has
been here ever since I was born, has a polite but improbable trick of
addressing _every_ female passenger as "my lady." Well, with regard to
_me_, at least, he is right now. I _am_ "my lady." Ha! ha! I have not
nearly got over the ridiculousness of this fact yet, though I have been
in possession of it now these _four_ whole weeks.
It has been a hot, parching summer day, and now that the night draws on
all the flagging flowers in the cottage-borders are straightening
themselves anew, and lifting their leaves to the dews. The pale
bean-flowers, in the broad bean-fields, as we pass, send their delicate
scent over the hedge to me, as if it were some fair and courteous
speech. To me it seems as if they were saying, as plainly as may be,
"Welcome home, Nancy!"
The sky that has been all of one hue during the livelong day--wherever
you looked, nothing but pale, _pale_ azure--is now like the palette of
some God-painter splashed and freaked with all manner of great and noble
colors--a most regal blaze of gold--wide, plains of crimson, as if all
heaven were flashing at some high thought--little feathery cloud-islands
of tenderest rose-pink. We are coming very near now. There, down below,
set round its hips with tall rushes, is our pool, all blood-red in the
sunset! Can _that_ be colorless water--that great carmine fire? There
are our elms, with their heads in the sunset, too.
"General," say I, very softly, putting my hand through his arm, and
speaking in a small tone of unutterable content, "I should like to kiss
everybody in the world."
"Perhaps you would not mind beginning with _me_" returns he, gayly;
then--for I look quite capable of it--glancing slightly over his
shoulder at the vigilant couple in the dickey.
"No, I did not mean _really_."
We are trotting alongside of the park-paling. I stand up and try to
catch a glimpse between the coachman and footman, of the gate, to see
whether they have come to meet me.
We are slackening our speed; we are going to turn in; the lodge-keeper
runs out to open the gate; but no, it is needless. It is already open. I
could have told _her_ that. Here they all are!--Barbara, Algy, Bobby,
"Here they are!" cry I, in a fidgety rapture. "Oh, general, just look
how Tou Tou has grown; her frock is nearly up to her knees!"
"Do you think she _can_ have grown that much in four weeks?" asks he,
not contradictiously, but a little _doubtfully_, as Don Quixote may have
asked the Princess Micomicona her reasons for landing at Ossime. "But
pray, madam," says he, "why did your ladyship land at Ossime, seeing
that it is not a seaport town?"
"I suppose not," I reply, a little disappointed. "I suppose that her
frock must have run up in the washing."
To this day I have not the faintest idea how I got out of the carriage.
My impression is that I _flew_ over the side with wings which came to my
aid in that one emergency, and then for evermore disappeared.
I do not know _this_ time _where_ I begin, or whom I end with. I seemed
to be kissing them _all_ at once. All their arms seem to be round _my_
neck, and mine round all of theirs at the same moment. The only wonder
is that, at the end of our greetings, we have a feature left among us.
When at length they are ended--
"Well," say I, studiedly, with a long sigh of content, staring from one
countenance to another, with a broad grin on my own. "Well!" and though
I have been away _four_ weeks, and been to foreign parts, and dined at
_table d'hotes_ and seen Crucifixions and Madonnas, and seem to have
more to tell than could be crowded into a closely-packed twelvemonth of
talk, this is all I can find to say.
"Well," reply they, nor do they seem to be much richer in conversation
Bobby is the first to regain the use of his tongue. He says, "My eye!"
(oh, dear and familiar expletive, for a whole calendar month I have not
heard you!)--"my eye! what a swell you are!"
Meanwhile Sir Roger stands aloof. If he _ever_ thought of himself, he
might be reasonably and equitably huffy at being so entirely neglected,
for I will do them the justice to say that I think they have all utterly
forgotten his existence: but, as he never does, I suppose he is not; at
least there is only a friendly entertainment, and no hurt dignity, in
the gentle strength of his face.
In the exuberance of my happiness, I have given him free leave to kiss
Barbara and Tou Tou, but the poor man does not seem to be likely to have
"Are not you going to speak to the general?" I say, nudging Barbara.
"You have never said 'How do you do?' to him."
Thus admonished, they recover their presence of mind and turn to salute
him. There are no kissings, however, only some rather formal
hand-shakings; and then Algy, as being possessed of the nearest approach
to manners of the family, walks on with him. The other three adhere to
"Well," say I, for the third time, holding Barbara by one hand, and
resting the other on Bobby's stout arm, dressed in cricketing-flannel,
while Tou Tou _backs_ before us with easy grace. "Well, and how is
everybody? How is mother?"
"She is all right!"
"And HE? Is anybody in disgrace now? At least of course _somebody_ is,
"_In disgrace_!" cries Bobby, briskly. "Bless your heart, no! we are
'Like the young lambs,
A sporting about by the side of their dams.'
_In disgrace_, indeed! we are 'Barbara, child,' and 'Algy, my dear
fellow,' and 'Bobby, love.'"
"_Bobby!_" cries Tou Tou, in a high key of indignation at this
monstrously palpable instance of unveracity, and nearly capsizing, as
she speaks, into a rabbit-hole, which, in her backward progress--we are
crossing the park--she has not perceived.
"Well," replies Bobby, candidly, "that last yarn may not be _quite_ a
fact, I own _that_; but I appeal to _you_, Barbara, is not it true _i'
the main?_ Are not we all 'good fellows,' and 'dear boys?'"
"I am thankful to say that we are," replies Barbara, laughing; "but how
long we shall remain so is quite another thing."
"I have brought a present for him," say I, rather nervously; "do you
think he will be pleased?"
"He will say that he very much regrets that you should have taken the
trouble to waste your money upon _him_, as he did last birthday, when we
exerted ourselves to lay out ten shillings and sixpence on that
spectacle-case," answers Bobby, cheerfully.
"But what is it?"
"What is it?" cry Barbara and Tou Tou in a breath.
"It is a--a _traveling-bag_," reply I, with a little hesitation, looking
imploringly from Barbara to Bobby. "Do you think he will like it?" "A
_traveling-bag!_" echoes Bobby; then, a little bluntly, "but he never
"No more he does!" reply I, feeling a good deal crestfallen. "I thought
of that myself; it was not quite my own idea--it was the general's
"The general!" says Bobby, "whew--w!" (with a long whistle of
intelligence)--"well, _he_ ought to know what he likes and dislikes,
ought not he? He ought to understand his tastes, being the same age, and
having been at schoo--"
"Look!" cry I, hastily, breaking into the midst of these soothing facts,
which are daily becoming more distasteful to me, and pointing to the
windows of the house, which are all blazing in the sunset, each pane
sending forth a sheaf of fire, as if some great and mighty feast were
being held within. "I see you are having an illumination in honor of
"Yes," answers Bobby, kindly entering into my humor, "and the reason why
father did not come to meet you at the gate was that he was busy
lighting the candles."
My spirits are so dashed by the more implied than expressed disapproval
of my brethren, that I resolve to defer the presentation of the bag till
to-morrow, or perhaps--to-morrow being Sunday, always rather a dark day
in the paternal calendar--till Monday.
Dinner is over, and, as it is clearly impossible to stay in-doors on
such a night, we are all out again. The three elders--father, mother,
and husband--sitting sedately on three rustic chairs on the dry
gravel-walk, and we young ones lying about in different attitudes of
restful ease, on rugs and cloaks that we have spread upon the dewy
grass. We are not far off from the others, but just so far as that our
talk should be out of ear-shot. In my own mind, I am not aware that Sir
Roger would far rather be with _us_, listening to our quick gabble, and
laughing with us at our threadbare jests, which are rewarded with mirth
so disproportioned to their size, than interchanging sober talk with the
friend of his infancy. Once or twice I see his gray eyes straying a
little wistfully toward us, but he makes no slightest movement toward
joining us. I should like, if I had my own way, to ask him to come to
us, to ask him to sit on the rugs and make jokes too, but some sort of
false shame, some sneaky shyness before the boys, hinders me. I am
leaning my elbow on the soft fur of the rug, and my head on my hand, and
am staring up at the stars, cool and throbbing, so like little
stiletto-holes pricked in heaven's floor, as they steal out in systems
and constellations on the night.
"There is dear old Charles Wain," say I, affectionately; "I never knew
where to look for him in Dresden; _how_ nice it is to be at home again!"
"Nancy!" says Algy, gravely, "do you know I have counted, and that is
the _sixteenth_ time that you have made that _ejaculation_ since your
arrival! Do you know--I am sorry to have to say it--that it sounds as if
you had not enjoyed your honey-moon very much?"
"It sounds quite wrong, then," cry I, coming down from the stars, and
speaking rather sharply. "I enjoyed it immensely; yes, _immensely_!"
I say this with an emphasis which is calculated to convince not only
everybody else, but even myself.
"Come, now," cries Bobby, who is farthest off from me, and, to remedy
this disadvantage, begins to travel quickly, in a sitting posture, along
the rugs toward me, "tell the truth--_gospel_ truth, mind!--the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God. Would you
like to be setting off on it over again, to-morrow morning?"
"Of course not," reply I, angrily; "what a silly question! Would _any
one_ like to begin _any thing_ over again, just the very minute that
they had finished it? You might as well ask me would I like to have
dinner over again, and begin upon a fresh plate of soup."
No one is convinced.
"When _I_ marry," continues Bobby, lying flat on his back, with his
hands clasped under his head (we all laugh)--"when _I_ marry, no one
shall succeed in packing me off to foreign parts, with my young woman. I
shall take her straight home, as if I was not ashamed of her, and we
will have a _dance_, and make a clean sweep of our own cake."
"Nancy!" cries Tou Tou, innocently, joining in the conversation for the
first time, "_did_ any one take him for your _grandfather_ as the Brat
said they would?"
"Of course not!" cry I, crossly, making a spiteful lunge, as I speak, at
a _startle-de-buz_, which has lumbered booming into my face. "Who on
earth supposed they would _really_?"
Tou Tou collapses, with a hazy impression of having been snubbed, and
there is a moment's silence. A faint, fire-like flush still lingers in
the west--all that is left of the dazzling pageant that the heavens sent
to welcome me home. I am looking toward it--away from my brothers and
sisters--away from everybody--across the indistinct garden-beds--across
the misty park, and the dark tree-tops, when a voice suddenly brings me
"Nancy, child!" it says, "is not it rather damp for you? Would you mind
putting _this_ on?"
I look up in a hurry, and see Sir Roger stooping over me, with an
outspread cloak in his hands.
"Oh, thank you!" cry I, hurriedly, reddening--I do not quite know why--
and with that same sort of sneaky feeling, as if the boys were laughing;
"I am not one much apt to catch cold--none of us are--but I will, if
So saying, I drew it round my shoulders. Then he goes, _in a minute_,
without a second's lingering, back to the gravel-walk, to his
wicker-chair, to grave, dry talk, to the friend of his infancy! I have
an uncomfortable feeling that there is a silent and hidden laugh among
"Barbara, my treasure!" says Algy, presently, in a mocking voice,
"_might_ I be allowed to offer you our umbrella, and a pair of goloshes
to defend you from the evening dews?"
"Hush!" cries Barbara, gently pushing him away, and stretching out her
hand to me. She is the only one that understands. (Oh, why, _why_ did I
ever laugh at him with them? What is there to laugh at in him?)
"My poor Barbara!" continues Algy, in a tone of affected solicitude. "If
you had not a tender brother to look after you, your young limbs might
be cramped with rheumatism, and twitched with palsy, before any one
would think of bringing _you_ a cloak."
"Wait a bit!" say I, recovering my good-humor with an effort, reflecting
that it is no use to be vexed--that they _mean_ nothing--and that,
lastly, _I have brought it on myself_!
"Wait for _what_?" asks Barbara, laughing. "Till Toothless Jack has
grown used to his new teeth?"
"By-the-by," cries Bobby, eagerly, "that was since you went away, Nancy:
he has set up a stock of _new_ teeth--_beauties_--like Orient pearl--he
wore them in church last Sunday for the first time. We tell Barbara that
he has bought them on purpose to propose in. Now, do not you think it
"We do not mean, however," says Algy, lighting a cigar, "to let Barbara
go _cheap_! Now that we have disposed of you so advantageously, we are
beginning to be rather ambitious even for _Tou Tou_"
"We think," says Bobby, giving a friendly but severe pull to our
youngest sister's outspread yellow locks, "that Tou Tou would adorn the
_Church_. Bishops have mostly _thin_ legs, so it is to be presumed that
they admire them: we destine Tou Tou for a bishop's lady!"
Hereupon follows a lively fire of argument between Bobby and his sister;
she protesting that she will _not_ espouse a bishop, and he asseverating
that she shall. It lasts the best part of a quarter of hour, and ends by
reducing Tou Tou to tears.
"But come," says Algy, taking his cigar out of his mouth, throwing his
head back, and blowing two columns of smoke out of his nose, "let us
take up our subject again where we dropped it. I should be really glad
if I could get you to own that you and _he_"--(indicating my husband by
a jerk of his head)--"grew rather sick of each other! Whether you own it
or not, I know you _did_; and it would give me pleasure to hear it. You
need not take it personally. I assure you that it is no slur upon him--
_everybody_ does. I have talked to lots of fellows who have gone through
it, and they all say the same."
"Nancy!" says Bobby, abandoning, at length, his persecution of Tou Tou,
and pretending not to hear her last persevering assertion of her
determination not to be episcopally wed--"tell the truth, and shame the
devil. It would be different if we were strangers, but _we_ that have
sported with you since you wore frilled trousers and a bib--come now--
did you, or did you not, kneel three times a day, like the prophet
Daniel, looking eastward or westward, or whichever way it _did_ look,
and yearn for us, and Jacky, and the bun-loaf--come, now?"
"Well, yes," say I, reluctantly making the admission. "I do not say that
I did not! Of course, after having been used to you all my life, it
would have been very odd if I had not missed you rather badly; but that
is a very different thing from being _sick of him_!"
"Well, we will not say _sick_" returns Algy, with the air of one who is
making a handsome concession, "it is a disagreeable, bilious expression,
but it would be useless to try and convince me that _any_ human
affection could stand the wear and tear of twenty-eight whole days of an
absolute duet and not be rather the worse for it!"
"But it was _not_ an absolute duet," cry I, raising my voice a little,
and speaking with some excitement; "you are talking about what you do
not know! you are quite wrong."
"Well, it is not the first time in my life that I have been that," he
says, philosophically; "but come--who did you the Christian office of
interrupting it? tell us."
"I told you in my letters," say I, rather petulantly. "I certainly
mentioned--yes, I know I did--we happened at Dresden to fall in with a
friend of the general's--at least, a person he knew."
"A person he knew? What kind of a person? Man or woman?"
"Old or young?"
"Ugly or pretty?"
"Pretty," answer I, laughing. "Ah! what a rage he would be in, if he
could hear such an epithet applied to him!"
"A young, well-looking, man-friend!" says Algy, slowly recapitulating
all my admissions as he lies gently puffing on the rug beside me.
"_Well_!" echo I, rather snappishly. "Nothing! only that I wanted to
show you that it was not quite such a _duet_ as you imagined! Of course
--Dresden is not a big place--of course we met very often, and went here
and there together."
"And where was Sir Roger meanwhile?"
"Sir Roger was there, too, of course," reply I, still a little crossly,
"except once or twice--certainly not more than twice--he said he did not
feel inclined to come, and so we went without him."
"You left him at home, in fact!" says Algy, with a rather malicious
smile, "out of harm's way, while you and the young friend marauded about
the town together; it must have been very lively for him, poor man! Oh,
fie! Nancy, fie!"
"We did not do any thing of the kind," cry I, now thoroughly vexed and
uncomfortable. "I wish you would not misunderstand things on purpose!
there is not any fun in it! _Both_ times I _wanted_ him to come! I
_asked_ him particularly!"
"And, if I may make so bold as to inquire," asks Bobby, striking in,
"how did the young friend call himself? What was his name?"
"Musgrave," reply I, shortly. "Frank Musgrave!" for the stream of my
conversation seems dried.
"Was he _nice_? Should _we_ like him?" ask Tou Tou, who has recovered
her equanimity, dried her tears, and forgotten the bishop.
"He was nice _to look at_!" reply I cautiously.
"That is a very different thing!" says Barbara, laughing. "But was he
nice in himself?"
"No," say I, "I do not think he was: at least, he wanted a great deal of
"As I have no doubt that you told him," says Algy, with a smile.
"I dare say I did," reply I, distantly, for I am not pleased with Algy.
A little pause.
"I think he _was_ nice, too, _in a way_" say I, rather compunctiously.
"I used to tell him about all of you, and--I dare say it was pretense--
but he _seemed_ to like to hear about you! When I came away, he sent his
love to Barbara; he would not send any messages to you boys--he said he
"Humph!" Another short silence. The elders have gone in to tea. Through
the windows, I see the lamp-light shining on the tea-cups.
"Algy!" say I, in a rather low voice, edging a little nearer to where he
lies gracefully outspread, "you did not mean it, _really?_ You do not
think I--I--I--_neglected_ the general, do you?--you do not think I--I--
_liked_ to be away from him?"
"My lady!" replies he, teasingly, "I _think_ nothing! I only know what
your ladyship was good enough to tell me!"
Then we all get up, shoulder our rugs, and walk in.
Well, no one will deny that Sunday comes after Saturday; and it was
Saturday evening, when the heavens painted themselves with fire, and the
sun lit up all the house-windows to welcome us home. Sunday is not
usually one of our blandest days, but we must hope for the best.
"General," say I, standing before him, dressed for morning church, after
having previously turned slowly round on the point of my toes, to favor
him with the back view of as delightful a bonnet, and as airily fresh
and fine a muslin gown, as ever young woman said her prayers in--
"by-the-by, do you like my calling you general?"
"At least I understand who you mean by it," he says, a little evasively;
"which, after all, is the great thing, is not it?"
"It is my own invention," say I, rather proudly; "nobody put it into my
head, and nobody else calls you by it, do they?"
"_Not now?_" cry I, surprised; "but did they ever?"
"Yes," he says, "for about a year, most people did; I was general a year
before my brother died."
"_Your brother died?_" cry I, again repeating his words, and arching my
eyebrows, which have not naturally the slightest tendency toward
describing a semicircle. "What! _you_ had a brother, too, had you? I
never knew that before."
"Did you think _you_ had a monopoly of them?" laughing a little.
"So you were not 'Sir' always?"
"No more than _you_ are," he answers, smiling. "No, I was not born in
the purple; for thirty-seven years of my life I earned my own bread--and
rather dry bread too."
"You do not say so!" cry I, in some astonishment.
"If I had come here seven years ago," he says, taking both my pale
yellow hands in his light gray ones, and looking at me with eyes which
seem darker and deeper than usual under the shade of the brim of his
tall hat--"by-the by, you would have been a little girl then--as little
as Tou Tou--"
"Yes," interrupt I, breaking in hastily; "but, indeed, I never was a bit
like her, never. I _never_ had such legs--ask the boys if I had!"
"I did not suppose that you had," he answers, bursting into a hearty and
most unfeigned laugh! "but" (growing grave again), "Nancy, suppose that
I had come here then! I should have had no shooting to offer the boys--
no horses to mount Algy--no house worth asking Barbara to--"
"No more you would!" say I, too much impressed with surprise at this new
light on Sir Roger's past life to notice the sort of wistfulness and
inquiry that lurks in his last words; then, after a second, perceiving
it: "And you think," say I, loosing my hands from his, and growing as
pink as the delicate China rose-bud that is peeping round the corner of
the trellis in at the window, "that there would not have been as much
inducement _then_ for me to propose to you, as there was in the present
state of things!"
I am laughing awkwardly as I speak; then, eagerly changing the
conversation, and rushing into another subject: "By-the-by, I had
something to say to you--something quite important--before we
"O general!" taking hold of the lapel of his coat, and looking up at him
with appealing earnestness, "do you know that I have made up my mind to
give _him_ the _bag_ to-day! it is no use putting off the evil day--it
_must_ come, after supper--they all say _after supper!_"
"Well, I want you to talk to him _all day_, and get him into a
good-humor by then, if you can, that is all!"
"_That is all!_" repeats my husband, with the slightest possible
ironical accent. Then we go to church. It is too near to drive, so we
all walk. The church-yard elms are out in fullest leaf above our heads.
There are so many leaves, and they are so close together, that they hide
the great brown rooks' nests. They do not hide the rooks themselves. It
would take a good deal to do that. Dear pleasant-spoken rooks, talking
so loudly and irreverently about their own secular themes--out-cawing
the church-bells, as we pace by, devout and smart, to our prayers.
Last time I walked up this path, it was hidden with red cloth, and
flowers were tumbling under my feet. Ah! red cloth comes but once in a
lifetime. It is only the queen who lives in an atmosphere of red cloth
and cut flowers.
We are in church now. The service is in progress. Can it be only _five_
Sundays ago that I was standing here as I am now, watching all the
little well-known incidents? Father standing up in frock-coat and
spectacles, keeping a sharp lookout over the top of his prayer-book, to
see _how_ late the servants are. The ill-behaved charity-boys emulously
trying who shall make the hind-legs of his chair squeak the loudest on
the stone floor. Toothless Jack leering distantly at Barbara from the
side aisle. Something apparently is amusing him. He is smiling a little.
I see his teeth. They, at least, are new. _They_ were not here five
weeks ago. The little starved curate--the one who tore his gloves into
strips--loses his place in the second lesson, and madly plunges at three
different wrong verses in succession, before he regains the thread of
We have come to the sermon. The text is, "I have married a wife, and
therefore I cannot come." No sooner is it given out than Algy, Bobby,
and Tou Tou, all look at me and grin; but father, who has a wily way of
establishing himself in the corner of the pew, so as to have a
bird's-eye view of all our demeanors, speedily frowns them down into a
preternatural gravity. Ah, why _to-day_, of all days, did they laugh?
and why _to-day_, of all days, did the servants file noisily in,
numerous and out of breath, in the middle of the psalms? I tremble when
I thing of the bag.
Well, who will may laugh again now: we are out in the sunshine, with the
church-yard grass bowing and swaying in the wind, and the little
cloud-shadows flying across the half-effaced names of the forgotten
dead, who lie under their lichen-grown tombs.
"Did you see his _teeth?_" asks Tou Tou, joining me with a leap, almost
before I am outside the church-porch.
"They are not comfortable yet," remarks Bobby, gravely, as he walks
beside me carrying my prayer-book. "I could see that: he was taking them
out, and putting them in again, with his tongue all through the Litany."
"When once he has secured Barbara, I expect that they will go back with
the box for good and all--eh, Barbara?" say I, laughing, as I speak; but
Barbara is out of ear-shot. She is lingering behind to shake hands with
the curate, and ask all the poor old people after their diseases. _I_
never can recollect clearly _who_ has _what_. I always apportion the
rheumatism wrongly, but _she_ never does. There she stands just by the
church-gate, with the little sunny lights running up and down upon her
snow-white gown, shaking each grimy old hand with a kind and friendly
The day rolls by; afternoon service; walk round the grounds; early
dinner (we always embitter our lives on Sundays by dining at _six_,
which does the servants no good, and sours the tempers of the whole
family); then prayers. Prayers are always immediately followed by that
light refection which we call supper.
As the time approaches, my heart sinks imperceptibly lower in my system
than the place where it usually resides.
"Be ready, Sister Nancy,
For the time is drawing nigh,"
says Algy, solemnly, putting his arm round my shoulders, as, the
prayer-bell having rung, we set off for the wonted justicing-room.
"Have a pull at my flask," suggests Bobby, seriously; "there is some
cognac left in it since the day we fished the pool. It would do you all
the good in the world, and, if you took _enough_, you would feel able to
give him _ten_ bags, or, indeed, throw them at his head at a pinch."
"Have you got it?" say I, faintly, to the general, who at this moment
"Yes, here it is."
"But what will you do with it _meanwhile?_" cry I, anxiously; "he must
not see it _first_"
"Sit upon it," suggests Algy, flippantly.
"Hang it round his neck while he is at prayers," bursts out Bobby, with
the air of a person who has had an illumination; "you know he always
pretends to have his eyes shut."
"And at 'Amen,' he would awake to find himself famous," says Algy,
But this suggestion, although I cannot help looking upon it as
ingenious, I do not adopt.
Prayers on Sunday are a much _finer_ and larger ceremonial than they are
on week-days. In the first place, instead of a few of the church prayers
quickly pattered, which are ended in five minutes, we have a whole long
sermon, which lasts twenty. In the second place, the congregation is so
much greater. On week-days it is only the in-door servants; on Sundays
it is the whole staff--coachman, grooms, stablemen. I think myself that
it is more in the nature of a _parade_, to insure that none of the
establishment are out _sweethearting_, than of a religious exercise.
Usually I am delighted when the sermon is ended. Even Barrow or Jeremy
Taylor would sound dull and stale if fired off in a flat, fierce
monotone, without emphasis or modulation. Tonight, at every page that
turns, my heart declines lower and lower down. It is ended now; so is
the short prayer that follows it. We all rise, and father stands with
his hawk-eyes fixed on the servants, as they march out, _counting_ them.
The upper servants are all right; so are the housemaids, cookmaids, and
lesser scullions. Alas! alas! there is a helper wanting.
Having listened to and _dis_believed the explanation of his absence,
father leads the way into supper, but the little incident has taken the
bloom off his suavity.
Sir Roger has deposited the bag--still wrapped in its paper coverings--
on a chair, in a modest and unobtrusive corner of the dining-room, ready
for presentation. He did this just before prayers. As we enter the room,
father's eyes fall on it.
"What is _that_?" he cries, pointing with his forefinger, and turning
severely to the boys. "How many times have I told you that I will not
have parcels left about, littering the whole place? Off with it!"
"If you please, father," say I, in a very small and starved voice, "it
is not the boys', it is _mine_."
"_Yours_, is it?" with a sudden change of tone, and return to amenity.
"Oh, all right!" (Then, with a little accent of sudden jocosity)--"One
of your foreign purchases, eh?"
We sit round the snowy table, in the pleasant light of the shaded lamps,
eating chicken-salad, and abasing and rifling the great red pyramids of
strawberries and raspberries, but talking not much. We young ones never
_can_ talk out loud before father. He has never heard our voices raised
much above a whisper. I do not think he has an idea what fine, loud,
Billingsgate voices his children _really_ have. He has said grace--we
always have a longer, _gratefuller_ grace than usual on Sundays--and has
risen to go.
"Now for it!" cries Bobby, wildly excited, and giving me an awful dig in
the ribs with his elbow.
"Shall I get it?" asks the general, in an encouraging whisper. "Cheer
up, Nancy! do not look so _white!_ it is all right."
He rises and fetches it, slips it quickly out of its coverings, and puts
it into my hand. Father has reached the door, I run after him.
"Father!" cry I, in a choked and trembling voice. "Stop!"
He turns with the handle in his grasp, and looks at me in some surprise.
"Father!" cry I, beginning again, and holding my gift out nervously
toward him, "here's--here's--here's a _bag_!"
This is my address of presentation. I hear the boys tittering at the
table behind me--a sound which, telling me how ill I am speeding, makes
my confusion tenfold worse. I murmur, helplessly and indistinctly,
something about his never traveling, and my knowing that fact--and
having been always sure that he would hate it--and then I glance
helplessly round with a wild idea of flight. But at the same moment an
arm of friendly strength comes round my shoulders--a friendly voice
sounds in my buzzing ears.
"James," it says, simply and directly, "she has brought you a present,
and she is afraid that you will not care about it."
"A _present_!" echoes my father, the meaning of the inexplicable object
which has suddenly been thrust into his grasp beginning to dawn upon
him. "Oh, I see! I am sure, my dear Nancy"--with a sort of embarrassed
stiffness that yet means to be gracious--"that I am extremely obliged to
you, extremely; and though I regret that you should have wasted your
money on me--yet--yet--I assure you, I shall always prize it very
Then he goes out rather hastily. I return to the supper-table.
"Shake hands!" cries Algy, pouring me out a glass of claret. "_Now_,
perhaps, you have some faint idea of what _I_ felt when I had to return
thanks for the bridesmaids."
"Nancy!" cries Bobby, holding out the fruit to which he alludes, and
speaking in a wobbly, quivering voice, with a painfully _literal_
imitation of my late address, "here's--here's--here's a _peach_!"
But I am burying my face in Sir Roger's shoulder, like a shy child.
"I _like_ you!" I say, creeping up quite close to him. "You were the
only one that came to help me. If it had not been for _you_, I should be
The bag-affair is quite an old one now--a fortnight old. The bag itself
has, I believe, retired into the decent privacy of a cupboard, nor is it
much more likely to reissue thence than was one of the frail nuns built
into the wall in the old times likely to come stepping out again. Bobby
has at length ceased to offer me every object which it devolves upon him
to hand me, with a quavering voice and a prolonged stammer, since,
though I was at first excellently vulnerable by this weapon of offense,
I am now becoming _hornily_ hard and indifferent to it. We have stepped
over the boundaries of June into July.
Yes, June has gone to look for all its dead brothers, wherever--since
they say nothing is ever really lost--they lie with their stored sweets.
To me, this has been as merry and good a June as any one of my nineteen.
Sir Roger is beginning to talk of going home--_his_ home, that is--but
rather diffidently and tentatively, as if not quite sure whether the
proposal will meet with favor in my eyes. He need not be nervous on this
point. I, too, am rather anxious and eager to see my house--_my_ house,
if you please!--I, who have never hitherto possessed any larger
residence than a doll's house, whose whole front wall opened at once,
giving one an improbably simultaneous view of kitchen-range, best
four-poster, and drawing-room chairs. I have, it is true, seen
photographs of my new house, photographs of its east front, of its west
front--photographs, in its park, of the great old cedar; in its gardens,
of its woody pool--but, to tell you the truth, I want to see _it._ I
have already planned a house-warming, and invited them all to it, a
house-warming in which--oh, absurd!--_I_ shall sit at the head of the
table, and father and mother only at the sides--_I_ shall tell the
people who they are to take in to dinner, and nod my head from the top
when dessert is ended.
To-day lam going to write and secure the Brat's company--that is, later
in the day--but now it is quite, _quite_, early, even the letters have
not come in. We have all--viz., the boys, the girls, and I--risen (in
pursuance of a plan made overnight) preternaturally early, almost as
early as I did on my wedding-morning, and are going out to gather
mushrooms in the meadow, by the river. Indignation against the
inhabitants of the neighboring town is what has torn us from our morning
dreams, the greedy townsfolk, by whom, on every previous occasion, we
have found our meadow rifled before we could reach it. To-day we shall,
at least, meet them on equal terms. We are all rather gapy at first,
more especially Algy, who has deferred the making of the greater part of
his toilet till his return, looks disheveled, and sounds grumbling But
before long both gapes and grumbles depart.
Who would see the day when he is old, and stale, and shabby, when, like
us, they could come out to meet him as he walks across the meadow with a
mantle of dew wrapped round him, and a garland of paling rose-clouds,
that an hour ago were crimson, about his head?
The place toward which we tend is at some little distance, and our road
thither leads through all manner of comely rustic places, flowered
fields, where the buttercups crowd their little varnished cups, and the
vigilant ox-eyes are already wakefully staring up from among the
grass-spears; a little wood; a deep and ruddy-colored lane, along whose
unpruned hedges straggle the riches of the wild-rose, most delicately
flushed, as if God in passing had called her very good, and she had
reddened at his praise; where the honey-suckle, too, is holding stilly
aloft the open cream-colored trumpets and closed red trumpet-buds of her
In an instant Tou Tou is scrawling and scrambling like a great spider up
the steep bank: in an instant more she is tugging, tearing, devastating;
while the faint petals that no mightiest king can restore, but that any
infant with a touch can destroy, are showering in scented ruin around
her. It gives me a pain to see it, as if I saw some sentient thing in
agony. I think I feel, with Walter Savage Landor--
"I never pluck the rose; the violet's head
Hath shaken with my breath upon its bank
And not reproached me: the ever-sacred cup
Of the pure lily hath between my hands
Felt safe, unsoiled, nor lost one grain of gold."
"You will have your basket filled before we get there," I say,
remonstrating, but she does not heed me.
Hot and scratched--at least I am glad that in their death-pain they were
able to scratch her--she still tugs and mauls. I walk on. We reach the
meadow. Well, at least _to-day_ we are in time. It has the silence and
solitude of the dawn of Creation's first still day, broken only by the
sheep that are cropping
"The slant grass, and daisies pale."
The slow, smooth river washes by, sucking in among the rushes. Our
footsteps show plainly shaped as we step along through the hoary dew. We
separate--going one this way, one that--and, in silence and gravity,
pace with bent heads and down-turned eyes through the fine, short grass.
Excitement and emulation keep us dumb, for let who will--_blase_ and
used up--deny it, but there is an excitement, wholesome and hearty, in
_seeking_, and a joy pure and unadulterated in finding, mushrooms in a
probable field in the hopeful morning; whether the mushroom be a
patriarch whose gills are browned with age, and who is big enough to be
an umbrella for the fairy people, or a little milk-white button, half
hidden in daisies and trefoil. Sometimes a cry of rage and anguish
bursts from one or other of us who has been the dupe of a puff-ball
family, and who is satiating his or her revenge by stamping on the
deceiver's head, and reducing its fair, round proportions to a fiat and
fleshy pulp. We search long and diligently, and our efforts are blessed
with an unwonted success. By the time that the sun has attained height
enough in the heavens to make his power tyrannically felt, our baskets
are filled. Tou Tou has to throw away her wild-roses, limp and flaccid,
into the dust of the lane. We walk home, singing, and making poor jokes,
as is our wont. As we draw near the house with joyful foretastes of
breakfast in our minds, with redly-flushed cheeks and merry eyes, I see
Sir Roger leaning on the stone balustrade of the terrace, looking as if
he were watching for us, and, indeed, no sooner does he catch sight of
us, than he comes toward us.
"Do you like mushrooms?" cry I, at the top of my voice, long before I
have reached him, holding up my basket triumphantly. "See, I have got
the most of anybody, except Tou Tou!"
I have met him by the end of this sentence.
"Do you like mushrooms?" I repeat, lifting the lid, and giving him a
peep into the creamy and pink-colored treasures inside, "oh, you _must_!
if you do not, I shall have a _divorce_! I could not bear a difference
of opinion upon such a subject."
I have never given him time to speak, and now I look with appealing
laughter into his silent face.
"Why, what is the matter?" I cry, with an abrupt change of tone. "What
has happened? How odd you look!"
"Nothing has happened," he answers, trying to smile, but I see that it
is quite against the grain, "only that I have had some not very pleasant
"It is not any thing about--about the _Brat_!" cry I, stopping suddenly,
seizing his arm with both hands, and turning, as I feel, extremely pale,
while my thoughts fly to the only one of my beloveds that is out of my
"About the _Brat_!" he echoes in surprise, "oh, dear no! nothing!"
"Then I do not much care _who_ is dead?" I answer, unfeelingly, drawing
a long breath; "he is the only person _out_ of this house whose death
would afflict me much, and I do not think that there is any one besides
_us_ that _you_ are very devoted to, is there?"
"Why are you so determined that some one is _dead_?" he asks, smiling
again, but this time a little more naturally; "is there nothing
vexatious in the world but _death_?"
"Yes," say I, laughing, despite myself, as my thoughts revert to my late
employment, "there are _puff-balls!_"--then, ashamed of having been
flippant, and afraid of having been unsympathetic, I add hastily: "I
wish you would tell me what it is! I am sure, _when I hear_, I shall be
vexed too; but you see as long as I do not know what it is, I cannot,
"There is no time now," he says, glancing toward father, whose head
appears through the dining-room windows. "See! they are going to
breakfast!--afterward I will tell you--afterward--and child--" (putting
his hands on my shoulders, and essaying to look at me with an altogether
cheered and careless face,) "do not you worry your head about it!--eat
your breakfast with an easy mind; after all, it is nothing very bad!--it
could not be any thing _very_ bad, as long as--." He stops abruptly, and
adds hastily, "let us have a look at your mushrooms! well, you _have_ a
"Yes, have not I?" say I, triumphantly, "more than any of them, except
Tou Tou--." Then, not quite satisfied with the impression our late talk
has left upon me: "General!" say I, lowering my face and reddening, "I
hope you do not think that I am _quite_ a baby because I like childish
things--gathering mushrooms--running about with the boys--talking to
Jacky. I can understand serious things _too_, I assure you. I think I
could enter into your trouble--I think, if you gave me the chance, that
you would find that I could!"
Then a sort of idiotic false shame overtakes me, and without waiting for
his answer I disappear.
I meet Bobby retiring to the kitchen to cook his mushrooms himself. He
invites me to join him, but I refuse. It is the first time in the annals
of history that I was ever known to say no to such an offer. Bobby
regards me with reproachful anger, and makes a muffled remark, the drift
of which I understand to be that, though I may _pretend_ not to be, I
_am_ grown fine, as he always said I should. To-day it seems to me as if
breakfast would _never_ end. It is one of our fixed laws that no one
shall leave the table until father gives the signal by saying grace.
Sometimes, when he is in one of his unfortunate moods, he keeps us all
staring at our empty cups and platters for half an hour. To-day I watch
with warm anxiety the progress downward of the tea in his cup. At last
he has come to the grounds. He lays down the _Times_. We all joyfully
half bow our heads, in expectation of the wonted "For what we have
received." etc., but speedily and disappointedly raise them again.
"Jane, can you spare me another cup?" and reburies himself in a long
leader. Behind the shelter of the great sheet, I make a hideous
contortion across the table at Sir Roger, who has fallen with great
docility into our ways, and is looking back at me now with that gentle,
steadfast serenity which is the leading characteristic of his face, but
which this morning is, I cannot help thinking, a dood [Transcriber's
note: sic] deal disturbed, hard as he is trying to hide it. There are,
thank Heaven, no more false starts. Next time that he lays down the
paper, we are all afraid to bend our heads, for fear that the movement
shall break the charm, and induce him to send for a fourth cup--he has
already had _three_--but no! release has come at last.
"For what we have received the Lord make us truly thankful!"
Almost before we have reached "thankful," there is a noise of several
chairs pushed back. Before you could say "knife!" we are all out of the
room. All but Sir Roger! In deference, I suppose, to the feelings of the
friend of his infancy, and not to appear _too_ anxious to leave him--Sir
Roger ought to have married Barbara, they two are always thinking of
other people's feelings--he delays a little, and indeed they emerge
together and find me sitting on one of the uncomfortable, stiff
hall-chairs, on which nobody ever sits. To my dismay, I hear father say
something about the chestnut colt's legs, and I know that another delay
is in store for me. Sir Roger comes over to me, and takes his wide-awake
from the stand beside me.
"We are going to the stables," he says, patting my shoulder.
I make a second hideous face. Often have I been complimented by the
boys, on the flexibility of my features.
"I shall be back in ten minutes," he says, in a low voice; "will you
wait for me in the morning-room?"
"I suppose I must," say I, reluctantly, with a disgusted and
disappointed drawing down of the corners of my mouth.
Ten minutes pass; twenty, five-and-twenty! Still he has not come back. I
walk up and down the room; I look out of window at the gardeners rolling
the grass; I rend a large and comely rose into tatters, while all manner
of unpleasant possibilities stalk along in order before my mind's eye.
Perhaps Tempest is burnt down. Perhaps some bank, in which he has put
all his money, has broken. Perhaps he has found out that his brother is
not _really_ dead after all! I dismiss this last _worst_ suggestion as
improbable. The door opens, and he enters.
"Here you are!" I cry, making a joyous rush at him. "I thought you were
never coming! Please, is _that_ your idea of ten minutes?"
"I could not help it," he answers; "he kept me talking; I could not get
away any sooner."
"Why did you go?" say I, dutifully. "Why did not you say, when he asked
you, 'No, I will not?' He would have done it to you as soon as look at
"That would have been so polite to one's host and father-in-law, would
not it?" he answers, a little ironically. "After all, Nancy, where is
the use of vexing people for nothing?"
"Not _people_ generally," reply I, still chafed; "but I _should_ like
some one who was not his child, and in whom it would not be
disrespectful, to pay him out for keeping us all as he did this morning;
he knew as well as possible that we were dying to be off; _that_ was why
he had that last cup: he did not _want_ it any more than I did. He did
not drink it; did not you see? he left three-quarters of it."
Sir Roger does not answer, unless a slight shrug and a passing his hand
across his face with a rather dispirited gesture be an answer. I feel
ashamed of my petulance.
"Do you feel inclined to tell me about your ill news?" I say, gently,
going over to him, and putting my hand on his shoulder. "I have been
making so many guesses as to what it can be?"
"Have you?" he says, looking up. "I dare say. Well, I will tell you. Do
you remember--I dare say you do not--my once mentioning to you that I
had some property in the West Indies--in Antigua?"
"To be sure I do; I recollect I had not an idea where Antigua was, and I
looked out for it at once in Tou Tou's atlas."
"Well, a fortnight--three weeks ago--it was when we were in Dresden, I
had a letter telling me of the death of my agent out there. I knew
nothing about him personally--had never seen him--but he had long been
in my poor brother's employment, and was very highly thought of by him."
"_Poor_ brother!" think I; "well, thank Heaven! at least _he_ has not
revived; he would not be 'poor' if he had," but I say only, "Yes?" with
a delicately interrogative accent.
"And to-day comes this letter"--(pulling one out of his pocket)--
"telling me that now that his affairs have been looked into, they are
found to be in the greatest confusion--that he has died bankrupt, in
fact; and not only _that_, but that he has been cheating me right and
left for years and years, appropriating the money which ought to have
been spent on the estate to his own uses; and, as misfortunes never come
single, I also hear"--(unfolding the sheet, and glancing rather
disconsolately over it)--"that there has been a hurricane, which has
destroyed nearly all the sugar-canes."
The thought of _Job_ and his successive misfortunes instantly occurs to
me--the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, the great wind from the wilderness--but
being a little doubtful as to his example having a very consoling
effect, with some difficulty, and at the cost of a great pressure
exercised on myself, I abstain from mentioning him.
"To make a long story short," continues Sir Roger, "and not to bother
you with unnecessary details--"
"But indeed they would not bother me," interrupt I, eagerly, putting my
hand through his arm, and turning my face anxiously up to him; "I should
_enjoy_ hearing them. I wish you would not think that all sensible,
sober things _bother_ me."
"My dear," he says, gently pinching my cheek, "I think nothing of the
kind, but I know that not all the explanations in the world will alter
the result, which is, that I shall not get a farthing from the property
_this_ year, and very likely not _next_ either."
"You do not say so!" cry I, trying to impart a tragic tone to my voice,
and only hoping that my face _looks_ more distressed and aghast than it
To tell you the truth, I am mightily relieved. At this period of my
history, money troubles seem to me the lightest and airiest of all
afflictions. I have sat down, and Sir Roger is walking up and down, with
a restlessness unlike his usual repose; on his face there is a vexed and
thwarted look, that is unfamiliar to me. The old parrot sits in the sun,
outside his cage, scratching his head, and chuckling to himself. Tou
Tou's voice comes ringing from the garden. It has a tone of mingled
laughter and pain, which tells me that she is undergoing severe and
searching discipline at the hands of Bobby.
"I suppose," say I, presently, speaking with some diffidence, "that
_that_ is _all_. Of course I do not mean to say that it is not very bad,
but is there nothing _worse_?"
"Is not it _bad enough_?" he asks, half laughing. "What did you expect?"
"You know," say I, still hesitatingly, "I have not an idea _how_ well
off you are; I mean, how much a year you have. Mercenary as I am"--
(laughing nervously)--"I never thought of asking you; but I suppose,
even if the earth were to open and swallow Antigua--even if there were
no such things as West Indies--we should still have money enough to buy
us bread and cheese, should not we?"
"Well, it is to be hoped so," he answers, a gleam of amusement flashing
like a little sunshiny arrow across his vexation; "it would be a bad
lookout for you and me, would not it, considering the size of our
appetites, if we should not?"
A little pause. Tou Tou's voice again. The anguish has conquered the
laughter, and is now mixed with a shrill treble wrath. Polly is
alternately barking like Vick, and laughing with a quiet amusement at
his own performance.
"Do you think," say I, still airing my opinion with timidity, as one
that has no great opinion of their worth, "that it does one much good to
be rich beyond a certain point?--that a large establishment, for
instance, gives one much pleasure? I am sure it does not in _our_ case;
if you were to know the number of nails that the servants and their
iniquities have knocked into mother's coffin--yes, and father's, too."
"Have they?" (a little absently). He is still pacing up and down
restlessly--to and fro--along and across--he that is usually so innocent
of fidget or fuss. "Nancy," he says, half seriously, half in rueful
jest, "if you want a thing done, do it yourself: mind that, all your
life. I am a standing instance of the disadvantage of having let other
people do it for me. The fact is, I ought to have gone out there long
ago, to look after things myself."
"If you _had_ been there, you could not have stopped the hurricane
coming, any more than Canute could stop the waves," say I, filching a
piece of history from "Little Arthur," and pushing it to the front.
"Not the hurricane--no; but the hurricane was the lesser evil. I might
have done something to avert, or, at least, lessen the greater one. To
tell the truth, I meant to have gone out there this spring--had, indeed,
almost fixed upon a day for starting, when--_you_ stopped me."
"Yes," he says, pausing in his walk in front of me, and looking at me
with a face full of sunshine, content, and laughter; a face whence
hurricanes, West Indies, and agents have altogether fled; "you called me
a '_beast_,' and the expression startled me so much--I suppose from not
being used to it--that it sent the West Indies, yes, and the East ones
too, clean out of my head."
"I hope," say I, anxiously, "that you will never tell any one that I
said _that_. They would think that I was in the habit of calling people
''_beasts_', and indeed--_indeed_, I very seldom use so strong a word,
_even_ to Bobby."
"Well," he says, not heeding my request, not, I am sure, hearing it, and
resuming his walk, "what is done cannot be undone, so there is no use
whining about it, Nancy" (again stopping before me, and this time taking
my face in his two hands). "Will you mind much, or will you not?--do you
ever mind _any thing much_, I wonder?" (eagerly and wistfully scanning
my face, as if trying to read my character through the mask of my pale
skin, and small and unremarkable features). "Well, there is no help for
it--as I did not go then, I must go now."
"Go!" repeat I, panting in horrid surprise, "go where?--to Antigua?"
"Yes, to Antigua."
No need now to dress my voice in the tones of factitious tragedy--no
need to lengthen my face artificially. It feels all of a sudden quite a
yard and a half long. Polly has stopped barking: he is now calling,
"Barb'ra! Barbara!" in father's voice, and he hits off the pompous
severity of his tone with such awful accuracy, that did not my eyes
assure me to the contrary, I could swear that my parent was in the room.
After a moment I rise, throw my arms round Sir Roger, and lay my head on
his breast--a most unwonted caress on my part, for we are not a couple
by any means given to endearments.
"Do not go!" I say in a coaxing whisper, "do nothing of the kind!--stay
"And will _you_ go instead of me?" he asks with a gentle irony,
stroking, the while, my plaits as delicately as if he were afraid that
they would _come off_, which indeed, _indeed_, they would not.
"By myself," say I, laughing, but not raising my head.
"Oh! of course; nothing I should like better, and I should be so
invaluable in mending the sugar-canes, and keeping the new agent on his
P's and Q's, should not I?"
"Stay!" say I, again whispering, as being more persuasive; "where would
be the use of going _now_? It would be shutting the stable-door after
the steed was stolen, and--" (this in a still lower voice)--"we are
beginning to get on so nicely, too."
"Beginning!" he echoes, with a half-melancholy smile, "only _beginning_
have not we always got on nicely?"
"And if we are poorer," continue I, insinuatingly, "I believe we shall
get on better still. I am sure that poor people are fonder of one
another than rich ones--they have less to distract them from each
I have now raised my head, and perceive that Sir Roger does not look
very much convinced.
"But granting that poverty _is_ better than riches, do you believe that
it _is_, Nancy?--for my part I doubt it--for myself I will own to you
that I have found it pleasant not to be obliged to look at sixpence upon
both sides; but _that_" he says with straightforward simplicity, "is
perhaps because I have not long been used to it--because once, long ago,
I wanted money badly--I would have given my right hand for it, and could
not get it!"
"What did you want it for?" cry I, curiously, pricking my ears, and for
a moment forgetting my private troubles in the hope of a forthcoming
"Ah! would not you like to know?" he says, playfully, but he does not
explain: instead, he goes on: "Even granting that it is so, do you think
it would be very manly to let a fine estate run to ruin, because one was
too lazy to look after it? Do you think it would be quite _honest_--
quite fair to those that will come after us?"
"_Those that will come after us_!" cry I, scornfully, making a face for
the third and last time this morning. "And who are they, pray? Some
sixteenth cousin of yours, I suppose?"
"Nancy," he says, gravely, but in a tone whose gentleness takes all
harshness from the words, "you are talking nonsense, and you know as
well as I do that you are!"
Then I know that I may as well be silent. After a pause:
"And when," say I, in as lamentable a voice as King Darius sent down
among the lions in search of Daniel--"how soon, I mean, are we to set
"_We_!" he cries, a sudden light springing into his eyes, and an accent
of keen pleasure into his voice. "Do you mean to say that _you_ thought
of coming too?"
I look up in surprise.
"Do not wives generally go with their husbands?"
"But would you _like_ to come?" he asks, seizing my hands, and pressing
them with such unconscious eagerness, that my wedding-ring makes a red
print in its neighborfinger.
O friends, I wish to Heaven that I had told a lie! It would have been, I
am sure, one of the cases in which a lie would have been justifiable--
nay, praiseworthy, too. But, standing there, under the truth of his
eyes, I have to be true, too.
"Like!" say I, evasively, casting down my eyes, and fiddling uneasily
with one of the buttons of his coat, "it is hardly a question of
'_like_,' is it? I do not imagine that you _like_ it much yourself?--one
cannot always be thinking of what one likes."
The pressure of his fingers on mine slackens; and, though, thanks to my
wedding-ring, it was painful, I am sorry. After a minute:
"But you have not," say I, trying to speak in a tone of light and airy
cheerfulness, "answered my question yet--how soon we must set off? You
know what a woman always thinks of first--her _clothes_, and I must be
seeing to my packing."
"The sooner the better," he answers, with a preoccupied look. "Not later
than ten days hence!"
Again my jaw falls. He has altogether loosed my hands now, and resumed
his walk. I sit down by the table, lean my elbows on it, and push my
fingers through my hair in most dejected musing. Polly has been dressing
himself; turning his head over his shoulder, and arranging his feathers
with his aquiline nose. He has finished now, and has just given vent, in
a matter-of-fact, unemotional voice, to an awful oath! There is the
sound of brisk feet on the sunny gravel outside. Bobby's face looks in
at the window--broad, sunburnt, and laughing.
"Well! what is up now?" cries he, catching a glimpse of my disconsolate
attitude. "You look as if the fungi had disagreed with you!"
"Then appearances are deceitful," reply I, trying to be merry, "for they
He has only glanced in upon us in passing: he is gone again now. I
rebury my hands in my locks, which, instead of a highly-cultivated
garden, I am rapidly making into a wilderness.
"I suppose," say I, in a tone which fitly matches the length of my face,
"that Bobby will have got a ship before I come back; I hope they will
not send him to any very unhealthy station--Hong-Kong, or the Gold
"I hope not."
"What port shall we sail from?"
"And how long--about how long will the voyage be?"
"About seventeen days to Antigua."
"And how long"--(still in the same wretched and resignedly melancholy
voice)--"shall we have to stay there?"
"It depends upon the state in which I find things?"
A good long pause. My elbows are growing quite painful, from the length
of time during which they have been digging into the hard _marqueterie_
table, and my hair is as wild as a red Indian's. _Ten_ days! ten little
galloping days, and then _seventeen_ long, slow, monstrous ones!
_Seventeen_ days at sea! seventeen days and seventeen nights, too--do
not let us forget that--of that deadly nausea, of that unspeakable
sinking of all one's inside to the very depths of creation--of the smell
of boiling oil, and the hot, sick, throbbing of engines!
"I hope," say I, in a voice so small that I hardly recognize it for my
own, "that I shall not be _quite_ as ill all the way as I was crossing
from Calais to Dover; and the steward," continue I, in miserable
meditation, "kept telling me all the while what a fine passage we were
"So we were!"
Another pause. I am still thinking of the horrid theme; living over
again my nearly-forgotten agonies.
"Do you remember," say I, presently, "hearing about that Lady Somebody--
I forget her name--but she was the wife of one Governor-General of
India, and she always suffered so much from sea-sickness that she
thought she should suffer less in a sailing-vessel, and so returned from
India in one, and just as she came in sight of the shores of England
As I reach this awful climax, I open my eyes very wide, and sink my
voice to a tragic depth.
"The moral is--" says Sir Roger, stopping beside me, laying his hand on
my chair back, and regarding me with a mixture of pain and diversion in
his eyes, "stick to steam!"
A heavy foot along the passage, a hand upon the door, a hatted head
"Roger," says father, in that laboriously amiable voice in which he
always addresses his son-in-law, "sorry to interrupt you, but could you
come here for a minute--will not keep you long."
"All right!" cries Sir Roger, promptly.
(How _can_ he speak in that flippantly cheerful voice, with the prospect
of seventeen days' sea before him?)
"Now, where did I put my hat, Nancy? did you happen to notice?"
"It is here," say I, picking it up from the window-seat, and handing it
to him with lugubrious solemnity.
As he reaches the door, following father, he turns and nods to me with a
"Cheer up," he says, "it shall not be a sailing-vessel."
He is gone, and I return to my former position, and my former
occupation, only that now--the check of Sir Roger's presence being
removed--I indulge in two or three good hearty groans. To think how
the look of all things is changed since this morning!
As we came home through the fields singing, if any one had given me
three wishes, I should have been puzzled what to ask--and _now_! All the
good things I am going to lose march in gloomy procession before my
mind. _No house-warming!_ It will have to be put off till we come back,
and, by the time that we come back, Bobby will almost certainly have
been sent to some foreign station for three or four years. And who knows
what may happen before he returns? Perhaps--for I am in the mood when
all adversities seem antecedently probable--he will _never_ come back.
Perhaps never again shall I be the willing victim of his buffets, never
again shall I buffet him in return.
And the _sea_! It is all very fine for Sir Roger to take it so easily,
to laugh and make unfeeling jokes at my expense! _He_ does not lie on
the flat of his back, surrounded by the horrid paraphernalia of
sea-sickness. _He_ walks up and down, with his hands in his pockets,
smoking a cigar, and talking to the captain. _He_ cares nothing for the
heaving planks. The taste of the salt air gives _him_ an appetite. An
_appetite_! Oh, prodigious! I must say I think he might have been a
_little_ more feeling, might have expressed himself a _little_ more
By dint of thinking over Sir Roger's iniquities on this head, I
gradually work myself up into such a state of righteous indignation and
injury against him, that when, after a longish interval, the door again
opens to readmit him, I affect neither to see nor hear him, nor be in
anyway conscious of his presence. Through the chinks of my fingers,
dolorously spread over my face, I see that he has sat down on the other
side of the table, just opposite me, and that he is smiling in the same
unmirthful, gently sarcastic way, as he was when he left me.
"Nancy," he says, "I have been thinking what a pity it is that I have
not a _yacht_! We might have taken our own time then, and done it
enjoyably--made quite a pleasure-trip of it."
I drop my hands into my lap.
"People's ideas of pleasure differ," I say, with trite snappishness.
"Yes," he answers, a little sadly, "no two people look at any thing in
_quite_ the same way, do they?--not even husband and wife."
"I suppose not," say I, still thinking of the steward.
"Do you know," he says, leaning his arms and his crossed hands on the
table between us, and steadfastly regarding me, "that I never saw you
look miserable before, never? I did not even know that you _could_!"
"I am not _miserable_" I answer, rather ashamed of myself, "that is far
too strong a word! Of course I am a little disappointed." Then I mumble
off into an indistinctness, whence the nouns "House--warming," "Bobby,"
"Gold Coast," crop out audibly.
"After all," he says, still regarding me, and speaking kindly, yet a
little coldly too, "you need not look so woebegone. They say second
thoughts are best, do not they? Well, I have been thinking second
thoughts, and--I have altered my mind."
"You are going to stay at home?" cry I, at the top of my voice, jumping
up in an ecstasy, and beginning to clap my hands.
"No," he says, gently, "not quite _that_, as I explained to you before,
that is impossible: but--do not be downcast--something nearly as good. I
am going to leave _you_ at home!"
To leave me at home! My first feeling is one of irrepressible relief. No
sea! no steward! no courtesying ship! no swaying waves after all! Then
comes a quick and strong revulsion, shame, mortification, and pain.
"To--leave--me--at home!" I repeat slowly, hardly yet grasping the idea,
"By myself," he answers, gently. "You see, it is no thing to me. I have
been by myself for forty-seven years."
A quick, remorseful pain runs through my heart.
"But you are not by yourself any longer," I cry, eagerly. "Why do you
talk as if you were? Do you count _me_ for nothing?"
"For nothing?" he answers, smiling quietly. "I am glad of an excuse to
be rid of you for a bit--that is it!"
"But _is_ that it?" cry I, excitedly, rising and running round to him.
"If you are sure of that--if you will _swear_ it to me--I will not say
another word. I will hold my tongue, and try to bear as well as I can,
your having grown tired of me so soon--but--" speaking more slowly, and
hesitating, "if--if--it is that you fancied--you thought--you imagined--
that I did not _want_ to come with you--"
"My dear," he says, laughing not at all bitterly, but with a genuine
amusement, "I should have been even less bright than I am, if I had not
gathered that much."
I sink down on a chair, and cover my face with my hands. My _attitude_
is the same as it was ten minutes ago, but oh, how different are my
feelings! What bitter repentance, what acute self-contempt, invade my
soul! As I so sit, I feel an arm round my waist.
"Nancy," says Sir Roger, "it was ill-naturedly said; do not fret about
it; you were not in the least to blame. I should not like you half so
much--should not think nearly so well of you, if you had been willing to
give up all your own people, to throw them lightly over, all of a
sudden, for a comparative stranger, treble your age, too"--(with a
He generously ignores the selfish fear of sea-sickness, of _personal_
suffering, which had occupied the fore-front of my mind.
"It will be much, _much_ better, and a far more sensible plan for both
of us," he continues, cheerfully. "Where would be the use of exposing
you to the discomfort and misery of what you hate most on earth for no
possible profit? I shall not be long away, shall be back almost before
you realize that I am gone, and meanwhile I should be far happier
thinking of you merry, and enjoying yourself with your brothers and
sisters at Tempest, than I should be seeing you bored and suffering,
with no one but me to amuse you--you know, dear--" (smiling pensively);
"do not be angry with me, it was no fault of yours; but you _did_ grow
rather tired of me at Dresden."
"I did not! I did not!" cry I, bursting into a passion of tears, and
asseverating all the more violently because I feel, with a sting of
remorse, that there is a tiny grain of truth--not so large a one as he
thinks, but still a _grain_ in his accusations. "It seemed rather
_quiet_ at first--I had always been used to such a noisy house, and I
missed the boys' chatter a little, perhaps; but _indeed_, INDEED, that
"Was it? I dare say! I dare say!" he says, soothingly.
"You shall _not_ leave me behind," say I, still weeping with stormy
bitterness. "I _will not_ be left behind! What business have you to go
without me? Am I to be only a fair-weather wife to you? to go shares in
all your pleasant things, and then--when any thing hard or disagreeable
comes--to be left out. I tell you" (looking up at him with streaming
eyes) "that I _will not_! I WILL NOT!"
"My darling!" he says, looking most thoroughly concerned, I do not fancy
that crying women have formed a large part of his life-experience--"you
misunderstand me! I will own to you, that five minutes ago I did you an
injustice; but _now_ I know, I am thoroughly convinced, that you would
follow me without a murmur or a sulky look to the world's end--and"
(laughing) "be frightfully sea-sick all the way; but" (kindly patting my
heaving shoulder) "do you think that I want to be hampered with a little
invalid? and, supposing that I took you with me, whom should I have to
look after things at Tempest, and keep them straight for me against I
"I know what it is," I cry, passionately clinging round his neck, "you
think I do not like you! I _see_ it! twenty times a day, in a hundred
things that you do and leave undone! but indeed, _indeed_, you never
were more mistaken in all your life! I will own to you that I did not
care _very_ much about you at first. I thought you good, and kind, and
excellent, but I was not _fond_ of you; but _now_, every day, every hour
that I live, I like you better! Ask Barbara, ask the boys if I do not! I
like you ten thousand times better than I did the day I married you!"
"_Like_ me!" he repeats a little dreamily, looking with a strong and
bitter yearning into my eyes; then, seeing that I am going to
asseverate, "for God's sake, child," he says, hastily, "do not tell me
that you _love_ me, for I know it is not true! you can no more help it
than I can help caring for you in the idiotic, mad way, that I do!
Perhaps, on some blessed, far-off day, you may be able to say so, and I
to believe it, but not now!--_not now_!"
With feet as heavy and slowly-dragging as those of some unwieldy old
person, with drooped figure, and stained and swollen face, I enter the
school-room an hour later to tell my ill-news.
"Enter a young mourner!" says Algy, facetiously, in unkind allusion to
the gloom of my appearance, which is perhaps heightened by the
black-silk gown I wear.
"What _is_ up?" cries Bobby, advancing toward me with an overpowering
curiosity, not unmixed with admiration, legible on his burnt face; "what
_has_ summoned those glorious sunset tints into your eyes and nose?"
"Which of Turner's pictures," says Algy, putting up his hand in the
shape of a spy-glass to one eye, and critically regarding me through it,
"is she so like in coloring? the 'Founding of Carthage,' or 'The
"Shame! shame!" cries Bobby, in a mock hortatory tone, trying to swell
himself out to the shape and bulk of our fat rector, and to speak in his
wheezy tone, "that a young woman so richly dowered with the good things
of this life; a young woman with a husband and a deer-park in
possession, and a house-warming in prospect--"
"But I have not," interrupt I, speaking for the first time, and with a
snuffliness of tone engendered by much crying.
"Have not? have not _what_?"
"Have not a house-warming in prospect," reply I, with distinct
malignity. A moment's silence. My bomb-shell has worked quite as much
havoc as I expected.
"But where has it gone to since this morning?" asks Algy, looking rather
"What do you mean?" cries Tou Tou, shrilly; "it was only last night that
you were asking me for the Brat's address that you might invite him."
"And tell him to bring a judiciously-selected assortment of
undergraduate friends with him," supplements Bobby, loudly.
"Yes," say I, sighing, "I know I did; but last night was last night."
"That throws a great deal of light on the matter, does it not?" says
"Nancy!" cries Bobby, seizing both my hands, and looking me in the face
with an air of irritated determination, "if you do not _this moment_
stop sighing like a wind-mill and tell _us_ what is up, I will go to Sir
Roger, hanged if I will not, and ask him what he means by making you cry
yourself to a _jelly_!"
At this bold metaphor applied to my own appearance, the tears begin
again to start to my eyes.
"Do not!" cry I, eagerly, catching at his wrists in detention, "it was
not his fault! he could not help it; but" (mopping first one eye and
then the other, and finishing by a dolorous blast on my nose) "but I am
so disappointed, every thing is _so_ changed, and I know I shall miss
him _so_ much!" I end with a break in my voice, and a long whimper.
"_Miss him_! miss whom?"
"The ge-general!" reply I, indistinctly, from the recesses of a drenched
"But what is going to happen to him? where is he going to? I wish that
you would be a little more intelligible," cry they all, impatiently.
"He is going to the West Indies, to Antigua," reply I, lifting my face
and speaking with a slow dejection.
"_To Antigua I_" cries Algy; "but what in the world is going to take him
"Perhaps," says Bobby, in a loud aside to Tou Tou, "perhaps he has got
another wife out there--a _black_ one--and he thinks it is _her_ turn
Barbara says, "Hush!" and Tou Tou is beginning to embark on a long
argument to prove that a man _cannot_ have more than one wife at a time,
when she is summarily _hustled_ into silence, for I speak again.
"He has some property in the West Indies--I knew he had before--" (with
a passing flash of pride in my superior information)--"I dare say you
did not--and he has to go out there to look after it."
"By himself, worse luck!" reply I, despondently, reinterring my
countenance in my pocket-handkerchief.
"And you decline to accompany him? Well, I think you are about right!"
says Algy, rising, lounging over to the empty hearth, and looking at his
face with a glance of serious fondness in the glass that hangs above the
"I do nothing of the kind!" cry I, indignantly, "I have not the chance!
he will not take me!"
I am not looking-at him, nor, indeed, in his direction at all; but I am
aware that Bobby is giving Tou Tou a private and severe nudge, which
means "Attend! here is confirmation of my theory for you!" and that the
idea of the hypothetical black lady is again traversing his ingenuous
"I hope he will bring us some Jamaica ginger," he says, presently.
"I wish you would mention it, Nancy! the suggestion would come best from
_you_, would not it?"
"And you are to be left _alone_ at Tempest? Is that the plan?" asks
Algy, turning his eyes from his own face, and fixing them on the less
interesting object of mine.
It may be my imagination, but I cannot help fancying that there is a
tone of slight and repressed exultation in his voice; and also that a
look of hope and bright expectation is passing from one to another of
the faces round me. All but Barbara's! Barbara always understands.
"_All alone_?" cries Tou Tou, opening her ugly little eyes to their
widest stretch. "Nobody but the servants in the house with you? Will not
you be very much afraid _of ghosts_?"
"She need never be alone, unless she chooses," says Bobby, winking with
dexterous slightness at the others; "there is the beauty of having three
kind little brothers!"
"The moment you feel _at all_ lonely," says Algy, emphasizing his
remarks by benevolent but emphatic strokes with his flat hand on my
shoulder, "_send for us!_ one of us is sure to be handy! If it will be
any comfort to Sir Roger, I shall be most happy to promise him that I
will keep _all_ his horses in exercise next winter!"
"I am sorrier than I was before," says Bobby, reflectively, "that the
heavy rains have drowned so many of the young birds."
"O Nancy!" cries Tou Tou, ecstatically clasping her hands, "_have_ a
"And a dance after it!" adds Bobby, beginning to whistle a waltz-tune.
"And Sir Roger's not being at home will be a good excuse for not asking
father," cries Algy, catching the prevailing excitement.
"I will not have _one_ of you!" cry I, rising with a face pale, as I
feel with anger--with flashing eyes and a trembling voice, "not _one_ of
you shall enter his doors, except Barbara!--I _hate_ you _all!_--you are
all g--g--_glad_ that he is going, and I--I never was so sorry for any
thing in my life before!"
I end in a passion of tears. There is a silence of consternation on the
late so jubilant assembly.
"'Times is changed,' says the dog's-meat man,"
remarks Bobby, presently, veiling his discomfiture in vulgarity, and
launching into uncouth and low-lived rhyme:
"'Lights is riz,' says the dog's-meat man!"
However, not all the hot tears in the world--not all the swelled noses
and boiled-gooseberry eyes avail to alter the case. Not even all my
righteous wrath against the boys profits--and I do keep Bobby at
arms'-length for a day and a half. No one who does not know Bobby
understands how difficult such a course of proceeding is; for he is one
of those people who ignore the finer shades of displeasure. The more
delicately dignified and civilly frosty one is to him, the more grossly
familiar and hopelessly, obtusely friendly is he. I have made several
more efforts to change Sir Roger's decision, but in vain. He makes the
case more difficult by laying his refusal chiefly on his own
convenience; dilating on the much greater speed and ease with which he
will be able to transact his business, if _alone_, than if weighted by a
woman, and a woman's paraphernalia, and also on the desirability of
having in me a _locum tenens_ for himself at Tempest. But, in my soul, I
know that both these are hollow pretenses to lighten the weight on my
"But," say I, with discontented demurring, "you have been away often
before! how did Tempest get on _then?_"
"Very middling, indeed! last time I was away the servants gave a ball in
the new ballroom--so my friends told me afterward, and the time
before, the butler took the housekeeper a driving-tour in my T.-cart. I
should not have minded _that_ much--but I suppose he was not a very good
whip, and so he threw down one of my best horses, and broke his knees!"
"Well, they _shall not_ give a ball!" say I, resolutely, "but"--(in a
tone of melancholy helplessness)--"they may throw down _all_ the
horses, for any thing _I_ can do to prevent them! A horse's knees would
have to be _very much broken_ before I should perceive that they were!"
"You must get Algy to help you," he says, kindly. "It is an ill wind
that blows nobody good, is not it? Poor boy!"--(laughing)--"You must not
expect _him_ to be very keen about my speedy return."
As he speaks, an arrow of animosity toward Algy shoots through my heart.
We are at Tempest--Sir Roger and I. It has been his wish to establish
me there before his departure; and now it is the gray of the evening
before his setting off, and we are strolling through the still park.
Vick is racing, with idiotic ardor, through the tall green bracken,
after the mottled deer, yelping with shrill insanity, and vainly
imagining that she is going to overtake them. The gray rabbits are
scuttling across the grass rides in the pale light: as I see them
popping in and out of their holes, I cannot help thinking of Bobby.
Apparently, Sir Roger also is reminded of him.
"Nancy," he says, looking down at me with a smile of recollected
entertainment, "have you forgiven Bobby yet for leaving you sitting on
the wall? I remember, in the first blaze of your indignation, you vowed
that never should he fire a gun in your preserves!--do you still stick
to it, or have you forgiven him?"
"_That_ I have not!" cry I, heartily. "None of them shall shoot any
thing! Why should they? Every thing shall be kept for you against you
He raises his eyebrows a little.
"Rabbits and all?"
"Rabbits and all!" reply I, firmly.
"And what will the farmers say?" asks Sir Roger, smiling.
I have not considered this aspect of the question, so remain silent. We
walk on without speaking for some moments. The deer, in lofty pity for
Vick, have stopped to allow her to get nearer to them. With their fine
noses in the air, and their proud necks compassionately turned toward
her, they are waiting, while she pushes, panting and shrieking, through
the stout fern-stems; then, leap cruelly away in airy bounds.
"If I am not back by Christmas--" says Sir Roger, presently.
"By _Christmas_!" interrupt I, aghast, "one, two, three, four, _five_
months--but you _must_!--you MUST!" clasping both hands on his arm.
"I hope I shall, certainly," replies he; "but one never knows what may
happen! If I am _not_--"
"But you _must_," repeat I urgently, and apparently resolved that he
shall never reach the end of his sentence; "if you are not--I warn you--
you may not like it--I dare say you will not--but--I shall come to look
"In a _sailing-vessel_, like the governor-general's wife?" asks he with
* * * * *
And now he is gone! gone in the first freshness of the morning! This
year, I seem fated to witness the childhood of many summer days. The
carriage that bears him away is lost to sight--dwindled away to nothing
among the park-trees. Five minutes ago, my arms were clinging with a
tightness of a clasp that a bear might have admired round his neck. I
was too choked with tears to say much, and kept repeating with the
persistence of a guinea-fowl, but without the distinctness, "Come back!
"Good-by, my Nancy!" he says, holding me a little from him, that he may
the better consider my face, "be quite--_quite_ happy, while I am away--
_indeed_, that will be the way to please me best, and be a little glad
to see me when I come back!"
And now he is gone; and I am left standing at the hall-door with level
hand shading my eyes from the red sun--with a smeared face--with the
butler and two footmen respectfully regarding my affliction--_(they_ do
not like to disappear, till they have shut the door--_I_ do not like to
ask them to retire, and I do not like to lose the last glimpse) so there
I remain--nineteen--a grass widow, and--ALONE! I shall not, however,
be alone for long; for this evening Barbara is coming. Algy is to bring
her, and to stay a few days on his way to Aldershott. All day long, I
wander with restless aimlessness about the house, my big house--so
empty, so orderly in its stateliness--so frightfully silent! Ah! the
doll's house whose whole front came out at once was a better companion--
much more friendly, and not half so oppressive. In almost every room, I
cry profusely--disagreeable tears of shame and remorse and grief--only,
O friends! I will tell you _now_, what I would not tell myself then,
that the grief, though true, was not so great as either of the other
feelings. I lunch in the great dining-room, with tall full-length
Tempests eying me with constant placidity from the walls; with the
butler and footman still trying respectfully to ignore my swelled nose
and bunged-up eyes.
As evening draws on--evening that is to bring some voices, some sound of
steps to me and my great dumb house--I revive a little. If it were
Bobby that were coming, my mind would be weighted by the thought of the
repression his spirits would need, but Algy's mirth is several shades
less violent, and Barbara is never jarringly joyful. So I change my
dress, bathe my face, make my maid retwist my hair, and prepare to be
chastenedly and moderately glad to see them.
At least there will be some one to occupy two more of these numberless
chairs; two more for the stolid family portraits to eye; two voices, nay
_three_, for I shall speak then, to drown the sounding silence.
It is time they should be here. The carriage went to the station more
than an hour ago. I sit down in a window-seat that commands the park,
and look along the drive by which the general went this morning.
Dear Roger! I will practise calling him "Roger" when I am by myself, and
then perhaps I may be able to address him by it when he comes home. I
will say, "How are you, Roger?"
I have fallen into a pleasant reverie, with my head leaned against the
curtain, in which I see myself giving glib utterance to this formula, as
I stand in a blue gown--Roger likes me in blue--and a blue cap--I look
older in a cap--while he precipitates himself madly--
My reverie breaks off. Some one has entered, and is standing by me. It
is a footman, with a telegram on a salver. Albeit I know the trivial
causes for which people employ the telegraph-wires nowadays, I never can
get over my primal deadly fear of those yellow envelopes, that seem
emblems and messengers of battle, murder, and sudden death. As I tear it
open, a hundred horrible impossible possibilities flash across my brain.
Algy and Barbara have both been killed in a railway-accident, and have
telegraphed to tell me so; the same fate has happened to Roger, and he
has adopted the same course.
"_Algernon Grey to Lady Tempest._
"Cannot come: not allowed. _He_ has turned nasty."
The paper drops into my lap, as I draw a long breath of mingled relief
and disappointment. A whole long evening long night of this solitude
before me! perhaps much more, for they do not even say that they will
come to-morrow! I _must_ utter my disappointment to somebody, even if it
is only the footman.
"They are not coming!" say I, plaintively; then, recollecting and
explaining myself, "I mean, they need not send in dinner! I will not
have any!" I _cannot_ stand another repast--three times longer than the
last too--for one _can_ abridge luncheon, seated in lorn dignity between
the staring dead on the walls, and the obsequious living.
As soon as the man is fairly out of the room, I cry again. Yes, though
my hair is readjusted, though I spent more than a quarter of an hour in
bathing my eyes, and restoring some semblance of white to their lids,
though I had resolved--and without much difficulty, too, hitherto--to be
dry-eyed for the rest of the evening. What does it matter what color my
eyelids are? what size my nose is? or how beblubbered my cheeks? Not a
soul will see them, except my maid, and I am naturally indifferent as to
the effect I produce upon her. I look at the clock on the mantel-piece.
It has stopped--ornamental clocks mostly do--but even this trivial
circumstance adds to my affliction. I instantly take out my
pocket-handkerchief, and begin to cry again. Then I look at my watch; a
quarter-past seven only--and my watch always gains! Two hours and
three-quarters before I can, with the smallest semblance of decency, go
to bed. Meanwhile I am hungry. Though my husband has deserted me, though
my brother and sister have failed me, my appetite has done neither.
Faithful friend! never yet was it known to quit me, and here it is! I
decide to have _tea_ in my own boudoir. Tea is informal, and one need
not be waited on at it. When it comes, I try to dawdle over it as much
as possible, to sip my tea with labored slowness, and bite each mouthful
with conscientious care. When I have finished, I think with satisfaction
that I cannot have occupied less than half an hour. Again I consult my
watch. Exactly twelve minutes. It is now five minutes to eight; two
hours and five minutes more! I sigh loudly, and putting on my hat stroll
out into the wide and silent garden. It is as yet unfamiliar to me. I do
not know where half the walks lead. I have no favorite haunts, no chosen
spot of solitude and greenery, where old and pleasant thoughts meet me.
Many such have I at home, but none here. I wander objectlessly,
pleasurelessly about with Vick--apparently sharing my depression--
trotting subduedly, with tail half-mast high, at my heels, and at length
sit down on a bench under a mulberry-tree. The scentless flame of the
geraniums and calceolarias fills, without satisfying my eyes; the gnats'
officious hum offends my ears; and thoughts in comparison of which the
calceolarias are sweet and the gnats melodious, occupy my mind.
Sir Roger will most likely be drowned on his voyage out. Bobby will
almost certainly be sent to Hong-Kong, and, as a natural consequence,
die of a putrid fever. Algy has just entered the army; there can be no
two opinions as to our going to war immediately with either Russia or
America. Algy will probably be among the first to fall, and will die,
grasping his colors, and shouting "Victory!" or "Westminster Abbey!" or
I have not yet decided what he shall be shouting, when the current of my
thoughts is turned by seeing some one--thank Heaven, not a footman,
this time!--advancing across the sward toward me. Surely I know the
nonchalant lounge of that walk--the lazy self-consciousness of that
gait, though, when last I saw it, it was not on dewy English turf, but
on the baking flags of a foreign town. It is Mr. Musgrave. Until this