Part 11 out of 11
anxiety of all this long detention of yours, that I don't dare to say
a word that could prey on her."
"In fact, you would chiefly be decided by Edward's own wishes."
"If I were sure of them," sighed poor Alison; "but he lives on
experiments, and can hardly detach himself from them even to attend
to Ermine herself. I don't know whether we should be a comfort or a
burthen, and he would be afraid to hurt our feelings by telling the
truth. I have been longing to consult you who have seen him at that
place in Russia."
"And indeed, Ailie, he is so wedded to smoke and calculations, and so
averse to this sublunary world, that though your being with him might
be beneficial, still I greatly question whether the risk of carrying
poor little Rose to so remote a place in such a climate, would be
desirable. If he were pining to have a home made for him, it would
be worth doing; as it is, the sacrifice would be disproportioned."
"It would be no sacrifice if he only wanted us."
"Where you are wanted is here. Ermine wants you. I want you. The
Temples want you."
"Now, Colin, tell me truly. Edward feels as I do, and Dr. Long spoke
seriously of it. Will not my present position do you and Ermine harm
among your friends?"
"With no friend we wish to make or keep!"
"If I do remain," continued Alison, "it must be as I am. I would not
live upon you, even if you asked me, which you have too much sense to
do; and though dear Lady Temple is everything to me, and wants me to
forget that I am her governess, that would be a mere shuffle, but if
it is best for you that I should give it up, and go out, say so at
"Best for me to have eight Temples thrown on my hands, all in
despair! To have you at Myrtlewood is an infinite relief to me, both
on their account and Ermine's. You should not suspect a penniless
Scotsman of such airs, Ailie."
"Not you, Colin, but your family."
"Isabel Menteith thinks a glass-blower was your father, and
Mauleverer your brother, so yours is by far the most respectable
profession. No, indeed, my family might be thankful to have any one
in it who could do as you have done."
Alison's scruples were thus disposed of, and when Edward's brain
cleared itself from platinum, he showed himself satisfied with the
decision, though he insisted on henceforth sending home a sum
sufficient for his daughter's expenses, and once said something that
could be construed into a hope of spending a quiet old age with her
and his sister; but at present he was manifestly out of his element,
and was bent on returning to Ekaterinburg immediately after the
His presence was but a qualified pleasure. Naturally shy and absent,
his broken spirits and removal from domestic life, and from society,
had exaggerated his peculiarities; and under the pressure of
misfortune, caused in a great measure by his own negligence, he had
completely given way, without a particle of his sister's patience or
buoyancy, and had merely striven to drown his troubles in engrossing
problems of his favourite pursuit, till the habit of abstraction had
become too confirmed to be shaken off. When the blot on his name was
removed, he was indeed sensible that he was no longer an exile, but
he could not resume his old standing, friendships rudely severed
could not be re-united; his absorption had grown by indulgence; old
interests had passed away; needful conformity to social habits was
irksome, and even his foreign manner and appearance testified to his
entire unfitness for English life.
Tibbie was in constant dread of his burning the house down, so
incalculable and preposterous were his hours, and the Colonel,
longing to render the house a perfect shrine for his bride, found it
hard to tolerate the fumes with which her brother saturated it. If
he had been sure that opium formed no portion of Edward's solace, his
counsel to Alison would have been less decisive. To poor little
Rose, her father was an abiding perplexity and distress; she wanted
to love him, and felt it absolute naughtiness to be constantly
disappointed by his insensibility to her approaches, or else repelled
and disgusted by that vice of the Russian sheep. And a vague hint of
being transported to the Ural mountains, away from Aunt Ermine, had
haunted her of late more dreadfully than even the lions of old; so
that the relief was ineffable when her dear Colonel confided to her
that she was to be his niece and Aunt Ermine's handmaid, sent her to
consult with Tibbie on her new apartment, and invited Augustus to the
most eligible hole in the garden. The grotto that Rose, Conrade, and
Francis proceeded to erect with pebbles and shells, was likely to
prove as alarming to that respectable reptile as a model cottage to
an Irish peasant.
Ermine had dropped all scruples about Rose's intercourse with other
children, and the feeling that she might associate with them on equal
terms, perhaps, was the most complete assurance of Edward's
restoration. She was glad that companionship should render the
little maiden more active and childlike, for Edward's abstraction had
made her believe that there might be danger in indulging the
dreaminess of the imaginative child.
No one welcomed the removal of these restraints more warmly than Lady
Temple. She was perhaps the happiest of the happy, for with her
there was no drawback, no sorrow, no parting to fear. Her first
impulse, when Colonel Keith came to tell her his plans, was to seize
on hat and shawl, and rush down to Mackarel Lane to kiss Ermine with
all her heart, and tell her that "it was the most delightful thing of
her to have consented at last, for nobody deserved so well to be
happy as that dear Colonel;" and then she clung to Alison, declaring
that now she should have her all to herself, and if she would only
come to Myrtlewood, she would do her very best to make her
comfortable there, and it should be her home--her home always.
"In fact," said Ermine, afterwards to the Colonel, "when you go to
Avoncester, I think you may as well get a licence for the wedding of
Alison Williams and Fanny Temple at the same time. There has been
quite a courtship on the lady's part."
The courtship had been the more ardent from Fanny's alarm lest the
brother should deprive her of Alison; and when she found her fears
groundless, she thanked him with such fervour, and talked so eagerly
of his sister's excellences that she roused him into a lucid
interval, in which he told Colonel Keith that Lady Temple might give
him an idea of the style of woman that Lucy had been. Indeed, Colin
began to think that it was as well that he was so well wrapped up in
smoke and chemistry, otherwise another might have been added to the
list of Lady Temple's hopeless adorers. The person least satisfied
was Tibbie, who could not get over the speediness of the marriage,
nor forgive the injury to Miss Williams, "of bringing her hame like
any pleughman's wife, wantin' a honeymoon trip, forbye providin'
hersel' with weddin' braws conformable. Gin folk tak' sic daft
notions aff the English, they'd be mair wise like to bide at hame,
an' that's my way o' thinkin'."
Crusty as she was, there was no danger of her not giving her warmest
welcome, and thus the morning came. Tibbie had donned her cap, with
white satin ribbons, and made of lace once belonging to the only
heiress who had ever brought wealth to the Keiths. Edward Williams,
all his goods packed up, had gone to join his sisters, and the
Colonel, only perceptibly differing from his daily aspect in having
a hat free from crape, was opening all the windows in hopes that a
thorough draft would remove the last of the tobacco, when the letters
were brought in, and among them one of the black bordered bulletins
from Littleworthy, which ordinarily arrived by the second post. It
was a hurried note, evidently dashed off to catch the morning mail.
My Dear Colonel,--Alick tells me to write in haste to catch the
morning post, and beg you to telegraph the instant your wedding is
over. The doctors see cause to hasten their measures, but your
brother will have nothing done till the will is signed. He and Alick
both desire you will not come, but it is getting to be far too much
for Alick. I would tell you more if there were time before the post
goes. Love to dear Ermine.
Very sincerely yours,
There was so shocked and startled a look on Colin's face, that Tibbie
believed that his brother must be dead, and when in a few almost
inaudible words he told her that he must start for Bishopsworthy by
the afternoon train, she fairly began to scold, partly by way of
working off the irritation left by her alarm. "The lad's clean
demented! Heard ye ever the like, to rin awa' frae his new-made wife
afore the blessin's been weel spoke; an' a' for the whimsie of that
daft English lassie that made siccan a piece of work wi' her
"I am afraid she is right now," said the Colonel, "and my brother
must not be left any longer."
"Hout awa, Maister Colin, his lordship has come between you and your
luve oft enough already, without partin' ye at the very church door.
Ye would na have the English cast up to us, that one of your name did
na ken better what was fittin by his bride!"
"My bride must be the judge, Tibbie. You shall see whether she bids
me stay," said Colin, a little restored by his amusement at her
anxiety for his honour among the English. "Now desire Smith to meet
me at the church door, and ride at once from thence to Avoncester;
and get your face ready to give a cheerful welcome, Tibbie. Let her
have that, at least, whatever may come after."
Tibbie looked after him, and shook her head, understanding from her
ain laddie's pallid check, and resolute lip, nay, in the very sound
of his footfall, how sore was his trial, and with one-sided
compassion she muttered, "Telegrafted awa on his vera weddin' day.
His Lordship'll be the death o' them baith before he's done."
As it was in every way desirable that the wedding should be
unexpected by Avonmonth in general, it was to take place at the close
of the ordinary morning service, and Ermine in her usual seat within
the vestry, was screened from knowing how late was Colin's entrance,
or seeing the determined composure that would to her eyes have
betrayed how much shaken he was. He was completely himself again by
the time the congregation dispersed, leaving only Grace Curtis, Lady
Temple, and the little best man, Conrade, a goodly sight in his grey
suit and scarlet hose. Then came the slow movement from the vestry,
the only really bridal-looking figure being Rose in white muslin and
white ribbons; walking timidly and somewhat in awe beside her younger
aunt; while her father upheld and guided the elder. Both were in
quiet, soft, dark dresses, and straw bonnets, but over hers Ermine
wore the small though exquisite Brussels lace veil that had first
appeared at her mother's wedding; and thankful joy and peaceful awe
looked so lovely on her noble brow, deep, soft dark eyes, and the
more finely moulded, because somewhat worn, features; and so
beauteously deepened was the carnation on her cheek, that Mr.
Mitchell ever after maintained that he had never married any one to
compare with that thirty-three years' old bride upon crutches, and,
as he reported to his wife, in no dress at all.
Her brother, who supported her all the time she stood, was infinitely
more nervous than she was. Her native grace and dignity, and absence
of all false shame entirely covered her helplessness, and in her
earnestness, she had no room for confusion; her only quivering of
voice was caught for one moment from the tremulous intensity of
feeling that Colin Keith could not wholly keep from thrilling in his
tones, as he at last proclaimed his right to love and to cherish her
for whom he had so long persevered.
Unobserved, he filled up the half-written despatch with the same pen
with which he signed the register, and sent Conrade to the door with
it to his already mounted messenger. Then assuming Edward's place as
Ermine's supporter, he led her to the door, seated her in her wheeled
chair, and silently handing Rachel's note as his explanation to
Alison, he turned away, and walked alone by Ermine's side to his own
house. Still silent, he took her into the bright drawing-room he had
so long planned for her, and seated her in her own peculiar chair.
Then his first words were, "Thank God for this!"
She knew his face. "Colin, your brother is worse?" He bent his
head, he could not speak.
"And you have to go to him! This very day?"
"Ermine, you must decide. You are at last my first duty!"
"That means that you know you ought to go. Tell me what it is."
He told the substance of the note, ending with, "If you could come
"I would if I should not be a tie and hindrance. No, I must not do
that; but here I am, Colin, here I am. And it is all true--it has
all come right at last! All we waited for. Nothing has ever been
She was the stronger. Tears, as much of loving thankfulness as of
overflowing disappointment, rushed into his eyes at such a fulfilment
of the purpose that he had carried with him by sea and land, in
battle and sickness, through all the years of his manhood. And
withal her one thought was to infuse in its strongest measure the
drop of happiness that was to sustain him through the scenes that
awaited him, to make him feel her indeed his wife, and to brighten
him with the sunbeam face that she knew had power to cheer him.
Rallying her playfulness, she took off her bonnet, and said as she
settled her hair, "There, that is being at home! Take my shawl, yes,
and these white gloves, and put them out of sight, that I may not
feel like a visitor, and that you may see how I shall look when you
come back. Do you know, I think your being out of the way will be
rather a gain, for there will be a tremendous feminine bustle with
the fitting of our possessions."
Her smile awoke a responsive look, and she began to gaze round and
admire, feeling it safest to skim on the surface; and he could not
but be gratified by her appreciation of the pains spent upon this,
her especial home. He had recovered himself again by the time these
few sentences had passed; they discussed the few needful arrangements
required by his departure, and Tibbie presently found them so
cheerful that she was quite scandalized, and when Ermine held out her
hands, saying, "What Tibbie, won't you come and kiss me, and wish me
joy?" she exclaimed--
"Wish ye joy! It's like me to wish ye joy an yer lad hurled awa frae
yer side i' the blink o' an ee, by thae wild telegrams. I dinna see
what joy's to come o't; it's clean again the Scripture!"
"I told you I had left it to her to decide, Tibbie," said the
"Weel, an what wad ye hae the puir leddy say? She kens what sorts
ye, when the head of yer name is sick an lyin' among thae English
loons that hae brocht him to siccan a pass."
"Right, Tibbie," exclaimed Ermine, greatly amused at the unexpected
turn, purely for the sake of putting Maister Colin in the wrong. "If
a gentleman won't be content without a bride who can't walk, he must
take the consequence, and take his wedding trip by himself! It is my
belief, Tibbie, as I have just been telling him, that you and I shall
get the house in all the better order for having him off our hands,
just at first," she added, with a look of intelligence.
"Deed, an maybe we shall," responded Tibbie, with profound
satisfaction. "He was aye a camsteary child when there was any wark
Colin could not help laughing, and when once this had been effected,
Ermine felt that his depression had been sufficiently met, and that
she might venture on deeper, and more serious sympathy, befitting the
chastened, thankful feelings with which they hailed the crowning of
their youthful love, the fulfilment of the hopes and prayers that the
one had persisted in through doubt and change, the other had striven
to resign into the All-wise Hands.
They had an early meal together, chiefly for the sake of his wheeling
her to the head of his table, and "seeing how she looked there," and
then the inexorable hour was come, and he left her, with the echo of
her last words in his ear, "Goodbye, Colin, stay as long as you
ought. It will make the meeting all the sweeter, and you have your
wife to some back to now. Give a sister's love to your brother, and
thanks for having spared you," and his last look at the door was
answered with her sunshiny smile.
But when, a few minutes after, Edward came up with Alison for his
farewell, they found her lying back in her chair, half fainting, and
her startled look told almost too plainly that she had not thought of
her brother. "Never mind," said Edward, affectionately, as much to
console Alison as Ermine for this oblivion; "of course it must be so,
and I don't deserve otherwise. Nothing brought me home but Colin
Keith's telling me that he saw you would not have him till my
character was cleared up; and now he has repaired so much of the evil
I did you, all I can do is to work to make it up to you in other
ways. Goodbye, Ermine, I leave you all in much better hands than
mine ever were, you are right enough in feeling that a week of his
absence outweighs a year of mine. Bless you for all that you and he
have done for my child. She, at least, is a comfort to you."
Ermine's powers were absolutely exhausted; she could only answer him
by embraces and tears; and all the rest of the day she was, to use
her own expression, "good for nothing but to be let alone." Nor,
though she exerted herself that she might with truth write that she
was well and happy, was she good for much more on the next, and her
jealous guardians allowed her to see no one but soft, fondling Lady
Temple, who insisted on a relationship (through Rachel), and whose
tender pensive quietness could not fail to be refreshment to the
strained spirits, and wearied physical powers, and who better than
anybody could talk of the Colonel, nay, who could understand, and
even help Ermine herself to understand, that these ever-welling tears
came from a source by no means akin to grief or repining.
The whole aspect of the rooms was full of tokens of his love and
thought for her. The ground-floor had been altered for her
accommodation, the furniture chosen in accordance with her known
tastes or with old memories, all undemonstratively prepared while yet
she had not decided on her consent. And what touched her above all,
was the collection of treasures that he had year by year gathered
together for her throughout the weary waiting, purchases at which
Lady Temple remembered her mother's banter, with his quiet evasions
of explanation. No wonder Ermine laid her head on her hand, and
could not retain her tears, as she recalled the white, dismayed face
of the youth, who had printed that one sad earliest kiss on her brow,
as she lay fire-scathed and apparently dying; and who had cherished
the dream unbroken and unwaveringly, had denied himself consistently,
had garnered up those choice tokens when ignorant over whether she
still lived; had relied on her trust, and come back, heart-whole, to
claim and win her, undaunted by her crippled state, her poverty, and
her brother's blotted name. "How can such love ever be met? Why am
I favoured beyond all I could have dared to image to myself?" she
thought, and wept again; because, as she murmured to Fanny, "I do
thank God for it with all my heart, and I do long to tell him all.
I don't think my married life ought to begin by being sillier than
ever I was before, but I can't help it."
"And I do love you so much the better for it," said Fanny; a better
companion to-day than the grave, strong Alison, who would have been
kind, but would have had to suppress some marvel at the break-down,
and some resentment that Edward had no greater share in it.
The morning's post brought her the first letter from her husband,
and in the midst of all her anxiety as to the contents, she could not
but linger a moment on the aspect of the Honourable Mrs. Colin Keith
in his handwriting; there was a carefulness in the penmanship that
assured her that, let him have to tell her what he would, the very
inditing of that address had been enjoyment to him. That the border
was black told nothing, but the intelligence was such as she had been
fully prepared for. Colin had arrived to find the surgeon's work
over, but the patient fast sinking. Even his recognition of his
brother had been uncertain, and within twenty-four hours of the
morning that had given Colin a home of his own, the last remnant of
the home circle of his childhood had passed from him.
Still Ermine had to continue a widowed bride for full a fortnight,
whilst the funeral and subsequent arrangements necessitated Colin's
presence in Scotland. It was on a crisp, beautiful October evening
that Rose, her chestnut hair flying about her brow, stood, lighted up
by the sunbeams in the porch, with upraised face and outstretched
hands, and as the Colonel bent down to receive her joyous embrace,
said, "Aunt Ermine gave me leave to bring you to the door. Then I am
going to Myrtlewood till bed-time. And after that I shall always
The open door showed Ermine, too tremulous to trust to her crutch,
but leaning forward, her eyes liquid with tears of thankfulness. The
patient spirits had reached their home and haven, the earthly haven
of loving hearts, the likeness of the heavenly haven, and as her head
leant, at last, upon his shoulder, and his guardian arm encircled
her, there was such a sense of rest and calm that even the utterance
of their inward thanksgiving, or of a word of tenderness would have
jarred upon them. It was not till a knock and message at the door
interrupted them, that they could break the blessed stillness.
"And there you are, my Ermine!" said Colin, standing on the hearth-
rug, and surveying her with satisfied eyes. "You are a queenly
looking dame in your black draperies, and you look really well, much
better than Rachel led me to expect."
"Ah! when she was here I had no fixed day to look forward to. And
receiving our poor little orphan baby was not exactly like receiving
his uncle, though Rachel seemed to think it ought to make up for
"She was thoroughly softened by that child! It was a spirited thing
her bringing him down here on the Monday when we started for
Scotland, and then coming all the way alone with her maid. I did not
think Alick would have consented, but he said she would always be the
happier for having deposited her charge in your hands."
"It was a great wrench to her. I felt it like robbery when she put
the little fellow down on my lap and knelt over him, not able to get
herself away, but saying that she was not fit to have him; she could
not bear it if she made him hate her as Conrade did! I am glad she
has had his first smile, she deserves it."
"Is Tibbie in charity with him?"
"Oh, more than in charity! She did not take the first announcement
of his coming very amiably; but when I told her she was to reign in
the nursery, and take care the poor little chief know the sound of a
Scots' tongue, she began to thaw; and when he came into the house,
pity or loyalty, or both, flamed up hotly, and have quite relieved
me; for at first she made a baby of me, and was a perfect dragon of
jealousy at poor Ailie's doing anything for me. It was a rich scene
when Rachel began giving her directions out of 'Hints for the
Management of Infants,' just in the old voice, and Tibbie swept round
indignantly, 'His Lordship, Lord Keith of Gowanbrae, suld hae the
best tendance she could gie him. She did na lippen to thae English
buiks, as though she couldna rear a wean without bulk learning.'
Poor Rachel nearly cried, and was not half comforted by my promising
to study the book as much as she pleased."
"It will never do to interfere with Tibbie, and I own I am much of
her opinion, I had rather trust to her than to Rachel, or the book!"
"Well, the more Rachel talked book, the more amiable surprise passed
between her mother and Lady Temple that the poor little follow should
have lived at all, and I believe they were very angry with me for
thinking her views very sensible. Lady Temple is so happy with him.
She says it is so melancholy to have a house without a baby, that she
comes in twice or three times a day to console herself with this
"Did you not tell me that she and the Curtises spent the evening with
"Yes, it was rather shocking to receive them without you, but it was
the only way of being altogether on Rachel's one evening here; and it
was very amusing, Mrs. Curtis so happy with her daughter looking well
and bright, and Rachel with so much to tell about Bishopsworthy, till
at last Grace, in her sly odd way, said she thought dear Alexander
had even taught Rachel curatolatry; whereupon Rachel fired up at such
an idea being named in connexion with Mr. Clare, then came suddenly,
and very prettily, down, and added, 'Living with Alick and Mr. Clare
has taught me what nonsense I talked in those days.'"
"Well done, Rachel! It proves what Alick always said, that her great
characteristic is candour!"
"I hope she was not knocked up by the long night journey all at one
stretch. Mrs. Curtis was very uneasy about it, but nothing would
move her; she owned that Alick did not expect her, for she had taken
care he should not object, by saying nothing of her intention, but
she was sure he would be ill on Wednesday morning, and then Mrs.
Curtis not only gave in directly, but all we married women turned
upon poor Grace for hinting that Alick might prefer a day's solitary
illness to her being over-tired."
"She was extremely welcome! Alick was quite done for by all he had
gone through; he was miserably ill, and I hardly knew what to do with
him, and he mended from the moment his face lightened up at the sight
"There's the use of strength of mind! How is Alick?"
"Getting better under M'Vicar and Edinburgh winds. It was hard on
him to have borne the brunt of all the nursing that terrible last
week, and in fact I never knew how much he was going through rather
than summon me. His sauntering manner always conceals how much he is
doing, and poor Keith was so fond of him, and liked his care so much
that almost the whole fell upon him at last. And I believe he said
more that was good for Keith, and brought in Mr. Clare more than
perhaps I should ever have been able to do. So though I must regret
having been away, it may have been the best thing."
"And it was by your brother's earnest wish," said Ermine; "it was not
as if you had stayed away for your own pleasure."
"No! Poor Keith repeatedly said he could not die in peace till he
had secured our having the sole charge of his son. It was a strong
instinct that conquered inveterate prejudice! Did I tell you about
"You said I should hear particulars when you came."
"The personal guardianship is left to us first, then to Alick and
Rachel, with £300 a year for the expenses. Then we have Auchinvar.
The estate is charged with an equivalent settlement upon Mary, a
better plan, which I durst not propose, but with so long a minority
the estate will bear it. Alick has his sister's fortune back again,
and the Menteith children a few hundreds; but Menteith is rabid about
the guardianship, and would hardly speak to Alick."
"They always keep the peace with me. Isabel even made us a wedding
present--a pair of miniatures of my father and mother, that I am very
glad to rescue, though, as she politely told me, I was welcome to
them, for they were hideously dressed, and she wanted the frames for
two sweet photographs of Garibaldi and the Queen of Naples."
Then looking up as if to find a place for them--
"Why, Ermine, what have you done to the room? It is the old
"Did not you mean it, when you took the very proportions of the bay
window, and chose just such a carpet?"
"But what have you done to it?"
"Ailie and Rose, and Lady Temple and her boys, have done it. I have
sat looking on, and suggesting. Old things that we kept packed up
have seen the light, and your beautiful Indian curiosities have found
"And the room has exactly the old geranium scent!"
"I think the Curtises must have brought half their greenhouse down.
Do you remember the old oak-leaf geranium that you used to gather a
leaf of whenever you passed our old conservatory?"
"I have been wondering where the fragrance came from that made the
likeness complete. I have smelt nothing like it since!"
"I said that I wished for one, and Grace got off without a word, and
searched everywhere at Avoncester till she found one in a corner of
the Dean's greenhouse. There, now you have a leaf in your fingers,
I think you do feel at home."
"Not quite, Ermine. It still has the dizziness of a dream. I have
so often conjured up all this as a vision, that now there is nothing
to take me away from it, I can hardly feel it a reality."
"Then I shall ring. Tibbie and the poor little Lord upstairs are
substantial witnesses to the cares and troubles of real life."
WHO IS THE CLEVER WOMAN?
"Half-grown as yet, a child and vain,
She cannot fight the fight of death.
What is she cut from love and faith?
Knowledge and Wisdom, TENNYSON.
It was long before the two Mrs. Keiths met again. Mrs. Curtis and
Grace were persuaded to spend the spring and summer in Scotland, and
Alick's leave of absence was felt to be due to Mr. Clare, and thus it
was that the first real family gathering took place on occasion of
the opening of the institution that had grown out of the Burnaby
Bargain. This work had cost Colonel Keith and Mr. Mitchell an
infinity of labour and perseverance before even the preliminaries
could be arranged, but they contrived at length to carry it out, and
by the fourth spring after the downfall of the F. U. E. E. a house
had been erected for the convalescents, whose wants were to be
attended to by a matron, assisted by a dozen young girls in training
The male convalescents were under the discipline of Sergeant O'Brien
and the whole was to be superintended by Colonel and Mrs. Keith.
Ermine undertook to hear a class of the girls two or three times a
week, and lower rooms had been constructed with a special view to her
being wheeled into them, so as to visit the convalescents, and give
them her attention and sympathy. Mary Morris was head girl, most of
the others were from Avonmouth, but two pale Londoners came from Mr.
Touchett's district, and a little motherless lassie from the -th
Highlanders was brought down with the nursery establishment, on which
Mrs. Alexander Keith now practised the "Hints on the management of
May was unusually propitious, and after an orthodox tea-drinking, the
new pupils and all the Sunday-schools were turned out to play on the
Homestead slopes, with all the world to look on at them. It was a
warm, brilliant day, of joyous blossom and lively green, and long
laughing streaks of sunlight on the sea, and no one enjoyed it more
than did Ermine, as she sat in her chair delighting in the fresh
sweetness of the old thorns, laughing at the freaks of the scampering
groups of children, gaily exchanging pleasant talk with one friend
after another, and most of all with Rachel, who seemed to gravitate
back to her whenever any summons had for a time interrupted their
affluence of conversation.
And all the time Ermine's footstool was serving as a table for the
various flowers that two children were constantly gathering in the
grass and presenting to her, to Rachel, or to each other, with a
constant stream of not very comprehensible prattle, full of pretty
gesticulation that seemed to make up for the want of distinctness.
The yellow-haired, slenderly-made, delicately-featured boy, whose
personal pronouns were just developing, and his consonants very
scanty, though the elder of the two, dutifully and admiringly obeyed
the more distinct, though less connected, utterances of the little
dark-eyed girl, eked out by pretty imperious gestures, that seemed
already to enchain the little white-frocked cavalier to her service.
All the time it was droll to see how the two ladies could pay full
attention to the children, while going on with their own unbroken
stream of talk.
"I am not overwhelming you," suddenly exclaimed Rachel, checking
herself in mid-career about the mothers' meetings for the soldiers'
"Far from it. Was I inattentive--?"
"Oh no--(Yes, Una dear, very pretty)--but I found myself talking in
the voice that always makes Alick shut his eyes."-
"I should not think he often had to do so," said Ermine, much amused
by this gentle remedy--("Mind, Keith, that is a nettle. It will
"Less often than before," said Rachel--("Never mind the butterfly,
Una)--I don't think I have had more than one thorough fit of what he
calls leaping into the gulf. It was about the soldiers' wives
married without leave, who, poor things, are the most miserable
creatures in the world; and when I first found out about them I was
in the sort of mood I was in about the lace, and raved about the
system, and was resolved to employ one poor woman, and Alick looked
meeker and meeker, and assented to all I said, as if he was half
asleep, and at last he quietly took up a sheet of paper, and said he
must write and sell out, since I was bent on my gulf, and an
officer's wife must be bound by the regulations of the service.
I was nearly as bad as ever, I could have written an article on the
injustice of the army regulations, indeed I did begin, but what do
you think the end was? I got a letter from a good lady, who is
always looking after the poor, to thank Mrs. Alexander Keith for the
help that had been sent for this poor woman, to be given as if from
the general fund. After that I could not help listening to him, and
then I found it was so impossible to know about character, or to be
sure that one was not doing more harm than--What is it, boys?" as
three or four Temples rushed up.
"Aunt Rachel, Mr. Clare is going to teach us a new game, and he says
you know it. Pray come."
"Come, Una. What, Keith, will you come too? I'll take care of him,
And with a child in each hand, Rachel followed the deputation, and
had scarcely disappeared before the light gracious figure of Rose
glanced through the thorn trees. "Aunt Ermine, you must come nearer;
it is so wonderful to see Mr. Clare teaching this game."
"Don't push my chair, my dear; it is much too heavy for you uphill."
"As if I could not drive you anywhere, and here is Conrade coming."
Conrade was in search of the deserter, but he applied himself
heartily to the propulsion of aunt Ermine, informing Rose that Mr.
Clare was no end of a man, much better than if he could see, and aunt
Rachel was grown quite jolly.
"I think she has left off her long words," said Rose.
"She is not a civilian now," said Conrade, quite unconscious of
Ermine's amusement at his confidences as he pushed behind her.
"I did think it a most benighted thing to marry her, but that's what
it is. Military discipline has made her conformable." Having placed
the chair on a spot which commanded the scene, the boy and girl
rushed off to take their part in the sport, leaving Ermine looking
down a steep bank at the huge ring of performers, with linked hands,
advancing and receding to the measure of a chanted verse round a
figure in the centre, who made gesticulations, pursued and caught
different individuals in the ring, and put them through a formula
which provoked shouts of mirth. Ermine much enjoyed the sight, it
was pretty to watch the 'prononce' dresses of the parish children,
interspersed with the more graceful forms of the little gentry, and
here and there a taller lady. Then Ermine smiled to recognise Alison
as usual among her boys, and Lady Temple's soft greys and whites, and
gentle floating movements, as she advanced and receded with Stephana
in one hand, and a shy infant-school child in the other. But
Ermine's eye roamed anxiously, for though Rachel's animated,
characteristic gestures were fully discernible, and her little Una's
arch toss of the head marked her out, yet the companion whom she had
beguiled away, and who had become more to Ermine than any other of
the frisking little ones of the flock, was neither with her not with
his chief protector, Rose. In a second or two, however, the step
that to her had most "music in't" of all footfalls that ever were
trodden, was sounding on the path that led circuitously up the path,
and the Colonel appeared with the little runaway holding his hand.
"Why, baby, you are soon come away!"
"I did not like it,--sit on mamma's knee," said the little fellow,
scrambling to his place then as one who felt it his own nest and
"He was very soon frightened," said the Colonel; "it was only that
little witch Una who could have deluded him into such a crowd, and,
as soon as she saw a bigger boy to beguile, she instantly deserted
Keith, so I relieved Rachel of him."
"See Rachel now; Mr. Clare is interrogating her. How she is making
them laugh! I did not think she could ever have so entered into
"Alick must have made it a part of her education. When the Invalid
has time for another essay, Ermine, it should be on the Benefits of
"Against Clever Womanhood? But then the subject must have Rachel's
perfect good humour."
"And the weapon must be in the most delicately skilful hands," added
the Colonel. "Properly wielded, it saves blunting the superior
weapon by over-frequent use. Here the success is complete."
"It has been irony rather than ridicule," said Ermine, "though, when
he taught her to laugh, he won half the battle. It is beautiful to
see her holding herself back, and most forbearing where she feels
most positive. I am glad to see him looking so much stronger and
more substantial. Where is he?"
"On the further bank, supposed by Mrs. Curtis to be asleep, but
watching uncle, wife, and child through his eyelashes. Did you ever
see any one so like his sister as that child?"
"Much more so than this one. I am glad he may one day see such a
shadow of his bright-faced mother."
"You are mother!" said the the little orphan, looking up into
Ermine's face with a startled, wistful look, as having caught more of
her meaning than she had intended, and she met his look with a kiss,
the time was not yet come for gainsaying the belief more than in the
words, "Yes, always a mother to you, my precious little man."
"Nor could you have had a bonnier face to look into," added the
Colonel. "There, the game breaks up. We should collect our flock,
and get them them back to Les Invalides, as Alick calls it."
"Take care no one else does so," said Ermine, laughing. "It has been
a most happy day, and chief of all the pleasures has been the sight
of Rachel just what I hoped, a thorough wife and mother, all the more
so for her being awake to larger interests, and doing common things
better for being the Clever Woman of the family. Where is she? I
don't see her now."
Where is she? was asked by more than one of the party, but the next
to see her was Alick, who found her standing at the window of her own
room, with her long-robed, two-months' old baby in her arms. "Tired?"
"No; I only sent down nurse to drink tea with the other grandees.
What a delightful day it has been! I never hoped that such good
fruit would rise out of my unhappy blunders."
"The blunders that brought so much good to me."
"Ah! the old places bring them back again. I have been recollecting
how it used to seem to me the depth of my fall that you were marrying
me out of pure pity, without my having the spirit to resent or
prevent it, and now I just like to think how kind and noble it was in
"I am glad to hear it! I thought I was so foolishly in love, that I
was very glad of any excuse for pressing it on."
"Are the people dispersing? Where is your uncle?"
"He went home with the Colonel and his wife; he has quite lost his
heart to Ermine."
"And Una--did you leave her with Grace?"
"No, she trotted down hand in hand with his little lordship:
promising to lead her uncle back."
"My dear Alick, you don't mean that you trust to that?"
"Why, hardly implicitly."
"Is that the way you say so? They may be both over the cliffs. If
you will just stay in the room with baby, I will go down and fetch
Alick very obediently held out his arms for his son, but when Rachel
proceeded to take up her hat, he added, "You have run miles enough
to-day. I am going down as soon as my uncle has had time to pay his
visit in peace, without being hunted."
"Does he know that?"
"The Colonel does, which comes to the same thing. Is not this boy
just of the age that little Keith was when you gave him up?"
"Yes; and is it not delightful to see how much larger and heavier he
"Hardly, considering your objections to fine children."
"Oh, that was only to coarse, over-grown ones. Una is really quite
as tall as little Keith, and much more active. You saw he could not
play at the game at all, and she was all life and enjoyment, with no
notion of shyness."
"It does not enter into her composition."
"And she speaks much plainer. I never miss a word she says, and I
don't understand Keith a bit, though he tells such long stories."
"Then she knows all her letters by sight--almost all, and Ermine can
never get him to tell b from d; and you know how she can repeat so
many little verses, while he could not even say, 'Thank you, pretty
cow,' this morning, when I wanted to hear him."
"It is only eight months; but then Una is such a bright, forward
"Now, Alick, what am I about? Why are you agreeing with me?
"I am between the horns of a dilemma. Either our young chieftain
must be a dunce, or we are rearing the Clever Woman of the family."
"I hope not!" exclaimed Rachel.
"Indeed? I would not grudge her a superior implement, even if I had
sometimes cut my own fingers."
"But, Alick, I really do not think I ever was such a Clever Woman."
"I never thought you one," he quietly returned.
She smiled. This faculty had much changed her countenance. "I see,"
she said, thoughtfully, "I had a few intellectual tastes, and liked
to think and read, which was supposed to be cleverness; and my
wilfulness made me fancy myself superior in force of character, in a
way I could never have imagined if I had lived more in the world.
Contact with really clever people has shown me that I am slow and
"It was a rusty implement, and you tried weight instead of edge. Now
it is infinitely brighter."
"But, Alick," she said, leaving the thought of herself for that of
her child, "I believe you may be right about Una, for," she added in
low voice, "she is like the most practically clever person I ever
"True," he answered gravely, "I see it every day, in every saucy
gesture and coaxing smile, when she tries to turn away displeasure in
her naughty fits. I hardly knew how to look on at her airs with
Keith, it was so exactly like the little sister I first knew.
Rachel, such cleverness as that is a far more perilous gift to woman
than your plodding intellectuality could ever be. God grant," he
added, with one of the effusions which sometimes broke through his
phlegmatic temperament, "that this little fellow may be a kinder,
wiser brother than ever I was, and that we may bring her up to your
own truth and unselfishness. Then such power would be a happy
"Yes," said Rachel, "may she never be out of your influence, or be
left to untrustworthy hands. I should have been much better if I had
had either father or brother to keep me in order. Poor child, she
has a wonderful charm, not all my fancy, Alick. And yet there is one
whose real working talent has been more than that of any of us, who
has made it effective for herself and others, and has let it do her
only good, not harm."
"You are right. If we are to show Una how intellect and brilliant
power can be no snares, but only blessings helping the spirits in
infirmity and trouble, serving as a real engine for independence and
usefulness, winning love and influence for good, genuine talents in
the highest sense of the word, then commend me to such a Clever Woman
of the family as Ermine Keith."