Part 2 out of 8
lively little child on the pillow, side by side with the head of
her doll, they would have encountered an elderly lady of
considerable size, fast asleep and snoring in a vast armchair,
with a book on her lap. The married men among the tourists would
have recognized a mother-in-law, and would have set an excellent
example to the rest; that is to say, the example of leaving the
The lady composed under the soporific influence of literature was
a person of importance in the house--holding rank as Mrs.
Linley's mother; and being otherwise noticeable for having
married two husbands, and survived them both.
The first of these gentlemen--the Right Honorable Joseph
Norman--had been a member of Parliament, and had taken office
under Government. Mrs. Linley was his one surviving child. He
died at an advanced age; leaving his handsome widow (young
enough, as she was always ready to mention, to be his daughter)
well provided for, and an object of matrimonial aspiration to
single gentlemen who admired size in a woman, set off by money.
After hesitating for some little time, Mrs. Norman accepted the
proposal of the ugliest and dullest man among the ranks of her
admirers. Why she became the wife of Mr. Presty (known in
commercial circles as a merchant enriched by the sale of vinegar)
she was never able to explain. Why she lamented him, with tears
of sincere sorrow, when he died after two years of married life,
was a mystery which puzzled her nearest and dearest friends. And
why when she indulged (a little too frequently) in recollections
of her married life, she persisted in putting obscure Mr. Presty
on a level with distinguished Mr. Norman, was a secret which this
remarkable woman had never been known to reveal. Presented by
their widow with the strictest impartiality to the general view,
the characters of these two husbands combined, by force of
contrast, the ideal of manly perfection. That is to say, the
vices of Mr. Norman were the virtues of Mr. Presty; and the vices
of Mr. Presty were the virtues of Mr. Norman.
Returning to the sitting-room after bidding Kitty goodnight, Mrs.
Linley discovered the old lady asleep, and saw that the book on
her mother's lap was sliding off. Before she could check the
downward movement, the book fell on the floor, and Mrs. Presty
"Oh, mamma, I am so sorry! I was just too late to catch it.
"It doesn't matter, my dear. I daresay I should go to sleep
again, if I went on with my novel."
"Is it really as dull as that?"
"Dull?" Mrs. Presty repeated. "You are evidently not aware of
what the new school of novel writing is doing. The new school
provides the public with soothing fiction."
"Are you speaking seriously, mamma?"
"Seriously, Catherine--and gratefully. These new writers are so
good to old women. No story to excite our poor nerves; no
improper characters to cheat us out of our sympathies, no
dramatic situations to frighten us; exquisite management of
details (as the reviews say), and a masterly anatomy of human
motives which--I know what I mean, my dear, but I can't explain
"I think I understand, mamma. A masterly anatomy of human motives
which is in itself a motive of human sleep. No; I won't borrow
your novel just now. I don't want to go to sleep; I am thinking
of Herbert in London."
Mrs. Presty consulted her watch.
"Your husb and is no longer in London," she announced; "he has
begun his journey home. Give me the railway guide, and I'll tell
you when he will be here tomorrow. You may trust me, Catherine,
to make no mistakes. Mr. Presty's wonderful knowledge of figures
has been of the greatest use to me in later life. Thanks to his
instructions, I am the only person in the house who can grapple
with the intricacies of our railway system. Your poor father, Mr.
Norman, could never understand time-tables and never attempted to
conceal his deficiencies. He had none of the vanity (harmless
vanity, perhaps) which led poor Mr. Presty to express positive
opinions on matters of which he knew nothing, such as pictures
and music. What do you want, Malcolm?"
The servant to whom this question was addressed answered: "A
telegram, ma'am, for the mistress."
Mrs. Linley recoiled from the message when the man offered it to
her. Not usually a very demonstrative person, the feeling of
alarm which had seized on her only expressed itself in a sudden
change of color. "An accident!" she said faintly. "An accident on
Mrs. Presty opened the telegram.
"If you had been the wife of a Cabinet Minister," she said to her
daughter, "you would have been too well used to telegrams to let
them frighten you. Mr. Presty (who received his telegrams at his
office) was not quite just to the memory of my first husband. He
used to blame Mr. Norman for letting me see his telegrams. But
Mr. Presty's nature had all the poetry in which Mr. Norman's
nature was deficient. He saw the angelic side of women--and
thought telegrams and business, and all that sort of thing,
unworthy of our mission. I don't exactly understand what our
"Mamma! mamma! is Herbert hurt?"
"Stuff and nonsense! Nobody is hurt; there has been no accident."
"They why does he telegraph to me?"
Hitherto, Mrs. Presty had only looked at the message. She now
read it through attentively to the end. Her face assumed an
expression of stern distrust. She shook her head.
"Read it yourself," she answered; "and remember what I told you,
when you trusted your husband to find a governess for my
grandchild. I said: 'You do not know men as I do.' I hope you may
not live to repent it."
Mrs. Linley was too fond of her husband to let this pass. "Why
shouldn't I trust him?" she asked. "He was going to London on
business--and it was an excellent opportunity."
Mrs. Presty disposed of this weak defense of her daughter's
conduct by waving her hand. "Read your telegram," she repeated
with dignity, "and judge for yourself."
Mrs. Linley read:
"I have engaged a governess. She will travel in the same train
with me. I think I ought to prepare you to receive a person whom
you may be surprised to see. She is very young, and very
inexperienced; quite unlike the ordinary run of governesses. When
you hear how cruelly the poor girl has been used, I am sure you
will sympathize with her as I do."
Mrs. Linley laid down the message, with a smile.
"Poor dear Herbert!" she said tenderly. "After we have been eight
years married, is he really afraid that I shall be jealous?
Mamma! Why are you looking so serious?"
Mrs. Presty took the telegram from her daughter and read extracts
from it with indignant emphasis of voice and manner.
"Travels in the same train with him. Very young, and very
inexperienced. And he sympathizes with her. Ha! I know the men,
Catherine--I know the men!"
The Governess Enters.
Mr. Herbert Linley arrived at his own house in the forenoon of
the next day. Mrs. Linley, running out to the head of the stairs
to meet her husband, saw him approaching her without a traveling
companion. "Where is the governess?" she asked--when the first
salutes allowed her the opportunity of speaking.
"On her way to bed, poor soul, under the care of the
housekeeper," Linley answered.
"Anything infectious, my dear Herbert?" Mrs. Presty inquired
appearing at the breakfast-room door.
Linley addressed his reply to his wife:
"Nothing more serious, Catherine, than want of strength. She was
in such a state of fatigue, after our long night journey, that I
had to lift her out of the carriage."
Mrs. Presty listened with an appearance of the deepest interest.
"Quite a novelty in the way of a governess," she said. "May I ask
what her name is?"
Mrs. Presty looked at her daughter and smiled satirically.
Mrs. Linley remonstrated.
"Surely," she said, "you don't object to the young lady's name!"
"I have no opinion to offer, Catherine. I don't believe in the
"Oh, mamma, do you suspect that it's an assumed name?"
"My dear, I haven't a doubt that it is. May I ask another
question?" the old lady continued, turning to Linley. "What
references did Miss Westerfield give you?"
"No references at all."
Mrs. Presty rose with the alacrity of a young woman, and hurried
to the door. "Follow my example," she said to her daughter, on
her way out. "Lock up your jewel-box."
Linley drew a deep breath of relief when he was left alone with
his wife. "What makes your mother so particularly disagreeable
this morning?" he inquired.
"She doesn't approve, dear, of my leaving it to you to choose a
governess for Kitty."
"Where is Kitty?"
"Out on her pony for a ride over the hills. Why did you send a
telegram, Herbert, to prepare me for the governess? Did you
really think I might be jealous of Miss Westerfield?"
Linley burst out laughing. "No such idea entered my head," he
answered. "It isn't _in_ you, my dear, to be jealous."
Mrs. Linley was not quite satisfied with this view of her
character. Her husband's well-intended compliment reminded her
that there are occasions when any woman may be jealous, no matter
how generous and how gentle she may be. "We won't go quite so far
as that," she said to him, "because--" She stopped, unwilling to
dwell too long on a delicate subject. He jocosely finished the
sentence for her. "Because we don't know what may happen in the
future?" he suggested; making another mistake by making a joke.
Mrs. Linley returned to the subject of the governess.
"I don't at all say what my mother says," she resumed; "but was
it not just a little indiscreet to engage Miss Westerfield
without any references?"
"Unless I am utterly mistaken," Linley replied, "you would have
been quite as indiscreet, in my place. If you had seen the
horrible woman who persecuted and insulted her--"
His wife interrupted him. "How did all this happen, Herbert? Who
first introduced you to Miss Westerfield?"
Linley mentioned the advertisement, and described his interview
with the schoolmistress. Having next acknowledged that he had
received a visit from Miss Westerfield herself, he repeated all
that she had been able to tell him of her father's wasted life
and melancholy end. Really interested by this time, Mrs. Linley
was eager for more information. Her husband hesitated. "I would
rather you heard the rest of it from Miss Westerfield," he said,
"in my absence."
"Why in your absence?"
"Because she can speak to you more freely, when I am not present.
Hear her tell her own story, and then let me know whether you
think I have made a mistake. I submit to your decision
beforehand, whichever way it may incline."
Mrs. Linley rewarded him with a kiss. If a married stranger had
seen them, at that moment, he would have been reminded of
forgotten days--the days of his honeymoon.
"And now," Linley resumed, "suppose we talk a little about
ourselves. I haven't seen any brother yet. Where is Randal?"
"Staying at the farm to look after your interests. We expect him
to come back to-day. Ah, Herbert, what do we not all owe to that
dear good brother of yours? There is really no end to his
kindness. The last of our poor Highland families who have
emigrated to America have had their expenses privately paid by
Randal The wife has written to me, and has let out the secret.
There is an American newspaper, among the letters that are
waiting your brother's return, sent to him as a little mark of
attention by these good grateful people." Having alluded to the
neighbors who had left Scotland, Mrs. Linley was reminded of
other neighbors who had remain ed. She was still relating events
of local interest, when the clock interrupted her by striking the
hour of the nursery dinner. What had become of Kitty? Mrs. Linley
rose and rang the bell to make inquiries.
On the point of answering, the servant looked round at the open
door behind him. He drew aside, and revealed Kitty, in the
corridor, hand in hand with Sydney Westerfield--who timidly
hesitated at entering the room. "Here she is mamma," cried the
child. "I think she's afraid of you; help me to pull her in."
Mrs. Linley advanced to receive the new member of her household,
with the irresistible grace and kindness which charmed every
stranger who approached her. "Oh, it's all right," said Kitty.
"Syd likes me, and I like Syd. What do you think? She lived in
London with a cruel woman who never gave her enough to eat. See
what a good girl I am? I'm beginning to feed her already." Kitty
pulled a box of sweetmeats out of her pocket, and handed it to
the governess with a tap on the lid, suggestive of an old
gentleman offering a pinch of snuff to a friend.
"My dear child, you mustn't speak of Miss Westerfield in that
way! Pray excuse her," said Mrs. Linley, turning to Sydney with a
smile; "I am afraid she has been disturbing you in your room."
Sydney's silent answer touched the mother's heart; she kissed her
little friend. "I hope you will let her call me Syd," she said
gently; "it reminds me of a happier time." Her voice faltered;
she could say no more. Kitty explained, with the air of a grown
person encouraging a child. "I know all about it, mamma. She
means the time when her papa was alive. She lost her papa when
she was a little girl like me. I didn't disturb her. I only said,
'My name's Kitty; may I get up on the bed?' And she was quite
willing; and we talked. And I helped her to dress." Mrs. Linley
led Sydney to the sofa, and stopped the flow of her daughter's
narrative. The look, the voice, the manner of the governess had
already made their simple appeal to her generous nature. When her
husband took Kitty's hand to lead her with him out of the room,
she whispered as he passed: "You have done quite right; I haven't
a doubt of it now!"
Mrs. Presty Changes Her Mind.
The two ladies were alone.
Widely as the lot in life of one differed from the lot in life of
the other, they presented a contrast in personal appearance which
was more remarkable still. In the prime of life, tall and
fair--the beauty of her delicate complexion and her brilliant
blue eyes rivaled by the charm of a figure which had arrived at
its mature perfection of development--Mrs. Linley sat side by
side with a frail little dark-eyed creature, thin and pale, whose
wasted face bore patient witness to the three cruelest privations
under which youth can suffer--want of fresh air, want of
nourishment, and want of kindness. The gentle mistress of the
house wondered sadly if this lost child of misfortune was capable
of seeing the brighter prospect before her that promised
enjoyment of a happier life to come.
"I was afraid to disturb you while you were resting," Mrs. Linley
said. "Let me hope that my housekeeper has done what I might have
done myself, if I had seen you when you arrived."
"The housekeeper has been all that is good and kind to me,
"Don't call me 'madam'; it sounds so formal--call me 'Mrs.
Linley.' You must not think of beginning to teach Kitty till you
feel stronger and better. I see but too plainly that you have not
been happy. Don't think of your past life, or speak of your past
"Forgive me, Mrs. Linley; my past life is my one excuse for
having ventured to come into this house."
"In what way, my dear?"
At the moment when that question was put, the closed curtains
which separated the breakfast-room from the library were softly
parted in the middle. A keen old face, strongly marked by
curiosity and distrust, peeped through--eyed the governess with
stern scrutiny--and retired again into hiding.
The introduction of a stranger (without references) into the
intimacy of the family circle was, as Mrs. Presty viewed it, a
crisis in domestic history. Conscience, with its customary
elasticity, adapted itself to the emergency, and Linley's
mother-in-law stole information behind the curtain--in Linley's
best interests, it is quite needless to say.
The talk of the two ladies went on, without a suspicion on either
side that it was overheard by a third person.
Sydney explained herself.
"If I had led a happier life," she said, "I might have been able
to resist Mr. Linley's kindness. I concealed nothing from him. He
knew that I had no friends to speak for me; he knew that I had
been dismissed from my employment at the school. Oh, Mrs. Linley,
everything I said which would have made other people suspicious
of me made _him_ feel for me! I began to wonder whether he was an
angel or a man. If he had not prevented it, I should have fallen
on my knees before him. Hard looks and hard words I could have
endured patiently, but I had not seen a kind look, I had not
heard a kind word, for more years than I can reckon up. That is
all I can say for myself; I leave the rest to your mercy."
"Say my sympathy," Mrs. Linley answered, "and you need say no
more.. But there is one thing I should like to know. You have not
spoken to me of your mother. Have you lost both your parents?"
"Then you were brought up by your mother?"
"You surely had some experience of kindness when you were a
A third short answer would have been no very grateful return for
Mrs. Linley's kindness. Sydney had no choice but to say plainly
what her experience of her mother had been.
"Are there such women in the world!" Mrs. Linley exclaimed.
"Where is your mother now?"
"In America--I think."
"My mother married again," said Sydney. "She went to America with
her husband and my little brother, six years ago."
"And left you behind?"
"And has she never written to you;"
This time, Mrs. Linley kept silence; not without an effort.
Thinking of Sydney's mother--and for one morbid moment seeing her
own little darling in Sydney's place--she was afraid to trust
herself to speak while the first impression was vividly present
to her mind.
"I will only hope," she replied, after waiting a little, "that
some kind person pitied and helped you when you were deserted.
Any change must have been for the better after that. Who took
charge of you?"
"My mother's sister took charge of me, an elder sister, who kept
a school. The time when I was most unhappy was the time when my
aunt began to teach me. 'If you don't want to be beaten, and kept
on bread and water,' she said, 'learn, you ugly little wretch,
and be quick about it."'
"Did she speak in that shameful way to the other girls?"
"Oh, no! I was taken into her school for nothing, and, young as I
was, I was expected to earn my food and shelter by being fit to
teach the lowest class. The girls hated me. It was such a
wretched life that I hardly like to speak of it now. I ran away,
and I was caught, and severely punished. When I grew older and
wiser, I tried to find some other employment for myself. The
elder girls bought penny journals that published stories. They
were left about now and then in the bedrooms. I read the stories
when I had the chance. Even my ignorance discovered how feeble
and foolish they were. They encouraged me to try if I could write
a story myself; I couldn't do worse, and I might do better. I
sent my manuscript to the editor. It was accepted and
printed--but when I wrote and asked him if he would pay me
something for it, he refused. Dozens of ladies, he said, wrote
stories for him for nothing. It didn't matter what the stories
were. Anything would do for his readers, so long as the
characters were lords and ladies, and there was plenty of love in
it. My next attempt to get away from the school ended in another
disappointment. A poor old man, who had once been an actor, used
to come to us twice a week, and get a few shillings by teaching
the girls to read aloud. He was called 'Professor of English
Literature,' and he taught out of a ragged book of verses which
smelled o f his pipe. I learned one of the pieces and repeated it
to him, and asked if there was any hope of my being able to go on
the stage. He was very kind; he told me the truth. 'My dear, you
have no dramatic ability; God forbid you should go on the stage.'
I went back again to the penny journals, and tried a new editor.
He seemed to have more money than the other one; or perhaps he
was kinder. I got ten shillings from him for my story. With that
money I made my last attempt--I advertised for a situation as
governess. If Mr. Linley had not seen my advertisement, I might
have starved in the streets. When my aunt heard of it, she
insisted on my begging her pardon before the whole school. Do
girls get half maddened by persecution? If they do, I think I
must have been one of those girls. I refused to beg pardon; and I
was dismissed from my situation without a character. Will you
think me very foolish? I shut my eyes again, when I woke in my
delicious bed today. I was afraid that the room, and everything
in it, was a dream." She looked round, and started to her feet.
"Oh, here's a lady! Shall I go away?"
The curtains hanging over the entrance to the library were opened
for the second time. With composure and dignity, the lady who had
startled Sydney entered the room.
"Have you been reading in the library?" Mrs. Linley asked. And
Mrs. Presty answered: "No, Catherine; I have been listening.
Mrs. Linley looked at her mother; her lovely complexion reddened
with a deep blush.
"Introduce me to Miss Westerfield," Mrs. Presty proceeded, as
coolly as ever.
Mrs. Linley showed some hesitation. What would the governess
think of her mother? Perfectly careless of what the governess
might think, Mrs. Presty crossed the room and introduced herself.
"Miss Westerfield, I am Mrs. Linley's mother. And I am, in one
respect, a remarkable person. When I form an opinion and find
it's the opinion of a fool, I am not in the least ashamed to
change my mind. I have changed my mind about you. Shake hands."
Sydney respectfully obeyed.
"Sit down again." Sydney returned to her chair.
"I had the worst possible opinion of you," Mrs. Presty resumed,
"before I had the pleasure of listening on the other side of the
curtain. It has been my good fortune--what's your Christian name?
Did I hear it? or have I forgotten it? 'Sydney,' eh? Very well. I
was about to say, Sydney, that it has been my good fortune to be
intimately associated, in early life, with two remarkable
characters. Husbands of mine, in short, whose influence over me
has, I am proud to say, set death and burial at defiance. Between
them they have made my mind the mind of a man. I judge for
myself. The opinions of others (when they don't happen to agree
with mine) I regard as chaff to be scattered to the winds. No,
Catherine, I am not wandering. I am pointing out to a young
person, who has her way to make in the world, the vast
importance, on certain occasions, of possessing an independent
mind. If I had been ashamed to listen behind those curtains,
there is no injury that my stupid prejudices might not have
inflicted on this unfortunate girl. As it is, I have heard her
story, and I do her justice. Count on me, Sydney, as your friend,
and now get up again. My grandchild (never accustomed to wait for
anything since the day when she was born) is waiting dinner for
you. She is at this moment shouting for her governess, as King
Richard (I am a great reader of Shakespeare) once shouted for his
horse. The maid (you will recognize her as a stout person
suffering under tight stays) is waiting outside to show you the
way to the nursery. _Au revoir._ Stop! I should like to judge the
purity of your French accent. Say 'au revoir' to me. Thank
you.--Weak in her French, Catherine," Mrs. Presty pronounced,
when the door had closed on the governess; "but what can you
expect, poor wretch, after such a life as she has led? Now we are
alone, I have a word of advice for your private ear. We have much
to anticipate from Miss Westerfield that is pleasant and
encouraging. But I don't conceal it from myself or from you, we
have also something to fear."
"To fear?" Mrs. Linley repeated. "I don't understand you."
"Never mind, Catherine, whether you understand me or not. I want
more information. Tell me what your husband said to you about
this young lady?"
Wondering at the demon of curiosity which appeared to possess her
mother, Mrs. Linley obeyed. Listening throughout with the closest
attention, Mrs. Presty reckoned up the items of information, and
pointed the moral to be drawn from them by worldly experience.
"First obstacle in the way of her moral development, her
father--tried, found guilty, and dying in prison. Second
obstacle, her mother--an unnatural wretch who neglected and
deserted her own flesh and blood. Third obstacle, her mother's
sister--being her mother over again in an aggravated form. People
who only look at the surface of things might ask what we gain by
investigating Miss Westerfield's past life. We gain this: we know
what to expect of Miss Westerfield in the future."
"I for one," Mrs. Linley interposed, "expect everything that is
good and true."
"Say she's naturally an angel," Mrs. Presty answered; "and I
won't contradict you. But do pray hear how my experience looks at
it. I remember what a life she has led, and I ask myself if any
human creature could have suffered as that girl has suffered
without being damaged by it. Among those damnable people--I beg
your pardon, my dear; Mr. Norman sometimes used strong language,
and it breaks out of me now and then--the good qualities of that
unfortunate young person can _not_ have always resisted the
horrid temptations and contaminations about her. Hundreds of
times she must have had deceit forced on her; she must have lied,
through ungovernable fear; she must have been left (at a critical
time in her life, mind!) with no more warning against the
insidious advances of the passions than--than--I'm repeating what
Mr. Presty said of a niece of his own, who went to a bad school
at Paris; and I don't quite remember what comparisons that
eloquent man used when he was excited. But I know what I mean. I
like Miss Westerfield; I believe Miss Westerfield will come out
well in the end. But I don't forget that she is going to lead a
new life here--a life of luxury, my dear; a life of ease and
health and happiness--and God only knows what evil seed sown in
her, in her past life, may not spring up under new influences. I
tell you we must be careful; I tell you we must keep our eyes
open. And so much the better for Her. And so much the better for
Mrs. Presty's wise and wary advice (presented unfavorably, it
must be owned, through her inveterately quaint way of expressing
herself) failed to produce the right impression on her daughter's
mind. Mrs. Linley replied in the tone of a person who was
"Oh, mamma, I never knew you so unjust before! You can't have
heard all that Miss Westerfield said to me. You don't know her,
as I know her. So patient, so forgiving, so grateful to Herbert."
"So grateful to Herbert." Mrs. Presty looked at her daughter in
silent surprise. There could be no doubt about it; Mrs. Linley
failed entirely to see any possibilities of future danger in the
grateful feeling of her sensitive governess toward her handsome
husband. At this exhibition of simplicity, the old lady's last
reserves of endurance gave way: she rose to go. "You have an
excellent heart, Catherine," she remarked; "but as for your
"Well, and what of my head?"
"It's always beautifully dressed, my dear, by your maid." With
that parting shot, Mrs. Presty took her departure by way of the
library. Almost at the same moment, the door of the
breakfast-room was opened. A young man advanced, and shook hands
cordially with Mrs. Linley.
Randal Receives His Correspondence.
Self-revealed by the family likeness as Herbert's brother, Randal
Linley was nevertheless greatly Herbert's inferior in personal
appearance. His features were in no way remarkable for manly
beauty. In stature, he hardly reached the middle height; and
young as he was, either bad habit or physica l weakness had so
affected the upper part of his figure that he stooped. But with
these, and other disadvantages, there was something in his eyes,
and in his smile--the outward expression perhaps of all that was
modestly noble in his nature--so irresistible in its attractive
influence that men, women, and children felt the charm alike.
Inside of the house, and outside of the house, everybody was fond
of Randal; even Mrs. Presty included.
"Have you seen a new face among us, since you returned? were his
sister-in-law's first words. Randal answered that he had seen
Miss Westerfield. The inevitable question followed. What did he
think of her? "I'll tell you in a week or two more," he replied.
"No! tell me at once."
"I don't like trusting my first impression; I have a bad habit of
jumping to conclusions."
"Jump to a conclusion to please me. Do you think she's pretty?"
Randal smiled and looked away. "Your governess," he replied,
"looks out of health, and (perhaps for that reason) strikes me as
being insignificant and ugly. Let us see what our fine air and
our easy life here will do for her. In so young a woman as she
is, I am prepared for any sort of transformation. We may be all
admiring pretty Miss Westerfield before another month is over our
heads.--Have any letters come for me while I have been away?"
He went into the library and returned with his letters. "This
will amuse Kitty," he said, handing his sister-in-law the
illustrated New York newspaper, to which she had already referred
in speaking to her husband.
Mrs. Linley examined the engravings--and turned back again to
look once more at an illustration which had interested her. A
paragraph on the same page caught her attention. She had hardly
glanced at the first words before a cry of alarm escaped her.
"Dreadful news for Miss Westerfield!" she exclaimed. "Read it,
He read these words:
"The week's list of insolvent traders includes an Englishman
named James Bellbridge, formerly connected with a disreputable
saloon in this city. Bellbridge is under suspicion of having
caused the death of his wife in a fit of delirium tremens. The
unfortunate woman had been married, for the first time, to one of
the English aristocracy--the Honorable Roderick
Westerfield--whose trial for casting away a ship under his
command excited considerable interest in London some years since.
The melancholy circumstances of the case are complicated by the
disappearance, on the day of the murder, of the woman's young son
by her first husband. The poor boy is supposed to have run away
in terror from his miserable home, and the police are endeavoring
to discover some trace of him. It is reported that another child
of the first marriage (a daughter) is living in England. But
nothing is known about her."
"Has your governess any relations in England?" Randal asked.
"Only an aunt, who has treated her in the most inhuman manner."
"Serious news for Miss Westerfield, as you say," Randal resumed.
"And, as I think, serious news for us. Here is a mere girl--a
poor friendless creature--absolutely dependent on our protection.
What are we to do if anything happens, in the future, to alter
our present opinion of her?"
"Nothing of the sort is likely to happen," Mrs. Linley declared.
"Let us hope not," Randal said, gravely.
Randal Writes to New York.
The members of the family at Mount Morven consulted together,
before Sydney Westerfield was informed of her brother's
disappearance and of her mother's death.
Speaking first, as master of the house, Herbert Linley offered
his opinion without hesitation. His impulsive kindness shrank
from the prospect of reviving the melancholy recollections
associated with Sydney's domestic life. "Why distress the poor
child, just as she is beginning to feel happy among us?" he
asked. "Give me the newspaper; I shan't feel easy till I have
torn it up."
His wife drew the newspaper out of his reach. "Wait a little,"
she said, quietly; "some of us may feel that it is no part of our
duty to conceal the truth."
Mrs. Presty spoke next. To the surprise of the family council ,
she agreed with her son-in-law.
"Somebody must speak out," the old lady began; "and I mean to set
the example. Telling the truth," she declared, turning severely
to her daughter, "is a more complicated affair than you seem to
think. It's a question of morality, of course; but--in family
circles, my dear--it's sometimes a question of convenience as
well. Is it convenient to upset my granddaughter's governess,
just as she is entering on her new duties? Certainly not! Good
heavens, what does it matter to my young friend Sydney whether
her unnatural mother lives or dies? Herbert, I second your
proposal to tear up the paper with the greatest pleasure."
Herbert, sitting next to Randal, laid his hand affectionately on
his brother's shoulder. "Are you on our side?" he asked.
"I feel inclined to agree with you," he said to Herbert. "It does
seem hard to recall Miss Westerfield to the miserable life that
she has led, and to do it in the way of all others which must try
her fortitude most cruelly. At the same time--"
"Oh, don't spoil what you have said by seeing the other side of
the question!" cried his brother "You have already put it
admirably; leave it as it is."
"At the same time," Randal gently persisted, "I have heard no
reasons which satisfy me that we have a right to keep Miss
Westerfield in ignorance of what has happened."
This serious view of the question in debate highly diverted Mrs.
Presty. "I do not like that man," she announced, pointing to
Randal; "he always amuses me. Look at him now! He doesn't know
which side he is on, himself."
"He is on my side," Herbert declared.
Herbert consulted his brother. "What do you say yourself?"
"I don't know," Randal answered.
"There!" cried Mrs. Presty. "What did I tell you?"
Randal tried to set his strange reply in the right light. "I only
mean," he explained, "that I want a little time to think."
Herbert gave up the dispute and appealed to his wife. "You have
still got the American newspaper in your hand," he said. "What do
you mean to do with it?"
Quietly and firmly Mrs. Linley answered: "I mean to show it to
"Against my opinion? Against your mother's opinion?" Herbert
asked. "Have we no influence over you? Do as Randal does--take
time, my dear, to think."
She answered this with her customary calmness of manner and
sweetness of tone. "I am afraid I must appear obstinate; but it
is indeed true that I want no time to think; my duty is too plain
Her husband and her mother listened to her in astonishment. Too
amiable and too happy--and it must be added too indolent--to
assert herself in the ordinary emergencies of family life, Mrs.
Linley only showed of what metal she was made on the very rare
occasions when the latent firmness in her nature was stirred to
its innermost depths. The general experience of this
sweet-tempered and delightful woman, ranging over long intervals
of time, was the only experience which remained in the memories
of the persons about her. In bygone days, they had been amazed
when her unexpected readiness and firmness of decision presented
an exception to a general rule--just as they were amazed now.
Herbert tried a last remonstrance. "Is it possible, Catherine,
that you don't see the cruelty of showing that newspaper to Miss
Even this appeal to Mrs. Linley's sympathies failed to shake her
resolution. "You may trust me to be careful," was all she said in
reply; "I shall prepare her as tenderly for the sad news from
America, as if she was a daughter of my own."
Hearing this, Mrs. Presty showed a sudden interest in the
proceedings "When do you mean to begin?" she asked.
"At once, mamma."
Mrs. Presty broke up the meeting on the spot. "Wait till I am out
of the way," she stipulated. "Do you object to Herbert giving me
his arm? Distressing scenes are not in his line or in mine."
Mrs. Linley made no objection. Herbert resigned himself (not at
all unwillingly) to circumstances. Arm in arm, he and his wife's
mother left the room.
Randal showed no inte ntion of following them; he had given
himself time to think. "We are all wrong, Catherine," he said;
"and you alone are right. What can I do to help you?"
She took his hand gratefully. "Always kind! Never thinking of
yourself! I will see Miss Westerfield in my own room. Wait here,
in case I want you."
After a much shorter absence than Randal anticipated, Mrs. Linley
returned. "Has it been very distressing?" he asked, seeing the
traces of tears in her eyes.
"There are noble qualities," she answered, "in that poor ill-used
girl. Her one thought, as soon as she began to understand my
motive in speaking to her, was not for herself, but for me. Even
you, a man, must have felt the tears in your eyes, if you had
heard her promise that I should suffer no further anxiety on her
account. 'You shall see no distressing change in me,' she said,
'when we meet to-morrow.' All she asked was to be left in her
room for the rest of the day. I feel sure of her resolution to
control herself; and yet I should like to encourage her if I can.
Her chief sorrow (as it seems to me) must be--not for the mother
who has so shamefully neglected her--but for the poor little
brother, a castaway lost in a strange land. Can we do nothing to
relieve her anxiety?"
"I can write," Randal said. "to a man whom I know in New York; a
lawyer in large practice."
"The very person we want! Write--pray write by today's post.
The letter was dispatched. It was decided--and wisely decided, as
the result proved--to say nothing to Sydney until the answer was
received. Randal's correspondent wrote back with as little delay
as possible. He had made every inquiry without success. Not a
trace of the boy had been found, or (in the opinion of the
police) was likely to be found. The one event that had happened,
since the appearance of the paragraph in the New York journal,
was the confinement of James Bellbridge in an asylum, as a madman
under restraint without hope of recovery.
Mrs. Presty had not very seriously exaggerated the truth, when
she described her much-indulged granddaughter as "a child who had
never been accustomed to wait for anything since the day when she
Governesses in general would have found it no easy matter to
produce a favorable impression on Kitty, and to exert the
necessary authority in instructing her, at the same time. Spoiled
children (whatever moralists may say to the contrary) are
companionable and affectionate children, for the most
part--except when they encounter the unfortunate persons employed
to introduce them to useful knowledge. Mr. and Mrs. Linley
(guiltily conscious of having been too fond of their only child
to subject her to any sort of discipline) were not very willing
to contemplate the prospect before Miss Westerfield on her first
establishment in the schoolroom. To their surprise and relief
there proved to be no cause for anxiety after all. Without making
an attempt to assert her authority, the new governess succeeded
nevertheless when older and wiser women would have failed.
The secret of Sydney's triumph over adverse circumstances lay
hidden in Sydney herself.
Everything in the ordinary routine of life at Mount Morven was a
source of delight and surprise to the unfortunate creature who
had passed through six years of cruelty, insult, and privation at
her aunt's school Look where she might, in her new sphere of
action, she saw pleasant faces and heard kind words. At meal
times, wonderful achievements in the art of cookery appeared on
the table which she had not only never tasted, but never even
heard of. When she went out walking with her pupil they were free
to go where they pleased, without restriction of time--except the
time of dinner. To breathe the delicious air, to look at the
glorious scenery, were enjoyments so exquisitely exhilarating
that, by Sydney's own confession, she became quite light headed
with pleasure. She ran races with Kitty--and nobody reproved her.
She rested, out of breath, while the stronger child was ready to
run on--and no merciless voice cried "None of your laziness;
time's up!" Wild flowers that she had never yet seen might be
gathered, and no offense was committed. Kitty told her the names
of the flowers, and the names of the summer insects that flashed
and hummed in the hillside breezes; and was so elated at teaching
her governess that her rampant spirits burst out in singing.
"Your turn next," the joyous child cried, when she too was out of
breath. "Sing, Sydney--sing!" Alas for Sydney! She had not sung
since those happiest days of her childhood, when her good father
had told her fairy stories, and taught her songs. They were all
forgotten now. "I can't sing, Kitty; I can't sing." The pupil,
hearing this melancholy confession, became governess once more.
"Say the words, Syd; and hum the tune after me." They laughed
over the singing lesson, until the echoes of the hills mocked
them, and laughed too. Looking into the schoolroom, one day, Mrs.
Linley found that the serious business of teaching was not
neglected. The lessons went on smoothly, without an obstacle in
the way. Kitty was incapable of disappointing her friend and
playfellow, who made learning easy with a smile and a kiss. The
balance of authority was regulated to perfection in the lives of
these two simple creatures. In the schoolroom, the governess
taught the child. Out of the schoolroom, the child taught the
governess. Division of labor was a principle in perfect working
order at Mount Morven--and nobody suspected it! But, as the weeks
followed each other, one more remarkable circumstance presented
itself which every person in the household was equally quick to
observe. The sad Sydney Westerfield whom they all pitied had now
become the pretty Sydney Westerfield whom they all admired. It
was not merely a change--it was a transformation. Kitty stole the
hand-glass from her mother's room, and insisted that her
governess should take it and look at herself. "Papa says you're
as plump as a partridge; and mamma says you're as fresh as a
rose; and Uncle Randal wags his head, and tells them he saw it
from the first. I heard it all when they thought I was playing
with my doll--and I want to know, you best of nice girls, what
you think of your own self?"
"I think, my dear, it's time we went on with our lessons."
"Wait a little, Syd; I have something else to say."
"What is it?"
"It's about papa. He goes out walking with us--doesn't he?"
"He didn't go out walking with me--before you came here. I've
been thinking about it; and I'm sure papa likes you. What are you
looking in the drawer for?"
"For your lesson books, dear."
"Yes--but I haven't quite done yet. Papa talks a good deal to
you, and you don't talk much to papa. Don't you like him?"
"Then do you like him?"
"How can I help liking him? I owe all my happiness to your papa."
"Do you like him better than mamma?"
"I should be very ungrateful, if I liked anybody better than your
Kitty considered a little, and shook her head. "I don't
understand that," she declared roundly. "What do you mean?"
Sydney cleaned the pupil's slate, and set the pupil's sum--and
Kitty placed a suspicious construction of her own on her
governess's sudden silence. "Perhaps you don't like my wanting to
know so many things," she suggested. "Or perhaps you meant to
Sydney sighed, and answered, "I'm puzzled myself."
In the autumn holiday-time friends in the south, who happened to
be visiting Scotland, were invited to stop at Mount Morven on
their way to the Highlands; and were accustomed to meet the
neighbors of the Linleys at dinner on their arrival. The time for
this yearly festival had now come round again; the guests were in
the house; and Mr. and Mrs. Linley were occupied in making their
arrangements for the dinner-party. With her unfailing
consideration for every one about her, Mrs. Linley did not forget
Sydney while she was sending out her cards of invitation. "Our
table will be full at dinner," she said to her husband; "Miss
Westerfield had better join us in the evening with Kitty."
"I suppose so," Linley answered with some hesitation.
"You seem to doubt about it, Herbert. Why?"
"I was only wondering--"
"Wondering about what?"
"Has Miss Westerfield got a gown, Catherine, that will do for a
Linley's wife looked at him as if she doubted the evidence of her
own senses. "Fancy a man thinking of that!" she exclaimed.
"Herbert, you astonish me."
He laughed uneasily. "I don't know how I came to think of
it--unless it is that she wears the same dress every day. Very
neat; but (perhaps I'm wrong) a little shabby too."
"Upon my word, you pay Miss Westerfield a compliment which you
have never paid to me! Wear what I may, you never seem to know
how _I_ am dressed."
"I beg your pardon, Catherine, I know that you are always dressed
That little tribute restored him to his place in his wife's
estimation. "I may tell you now," she resumed, with her gentle
smile, "that you only remind me of what I had thought of already.
My milliner is at work for Miss Westerfield. The new dress must
be your gift."
"Are you joking?"
"I am in earnest. To-morrow is Sydney's birthday; and here is
_my_ present." She opened a jeweler's case, and took out a plain
gold bracelet. "Suggested by Kitty," she added, "pointing to an
inlaid miniature portrait of the child. Herbert read the
inscription: _To Sydney Westerfield with Catherine Linley's
love._ He gave the bracelet back to his wife in silence; his
manner was more serious than usual--he kissed her hand
The day of the dinner-party marked an epoch in Sydney's life.
For the first time, in all her past experience, she could look in
the glass, and see herself prettily dressed, with a gold bracelet
on her arm. If we consider how men (in one way) and milliners (in
another) profit by it, vanity is surely to be reckoned, not among
the vices but among the virtues of the sex. Will any woman, who
speaks the truth, hesitate to acknowledge that her first
sensations of gratified vanity rank among the most exquisite and
most enduring pleasures that she has ever felt? Sydney locked her
door, and exhibited herself to herself--in the front view, the
side view, and the back view (over the shoulder) with eyes that
sparkled and cheeks that glowed in a delicious confusion of pride
and astonishment. She practiced bowing to strangers in her new
dress; she practiced shaking hands gracefully, with her bracelet
well in view. Suddenly she stood still before the glass and
became serious and thoughtful. Kind and dear Mr. Linley was in
her mind now. While she was asking herself anxiously what he
would think of her, Kitty--arrayed in _her_ new finery, as vain
and as happy as her governess--drummed with both fists outside
the door, and announced at the top of her voice that it was time
to go downstairs. Sydney's agitation at the prospect of meeting
the ladies in the drawing-room added a charm of its own to the
flush that her exercises before the glass had left on her face.
Shyly following instead of leading her little companion into the
room, she presented such a charming appearance of youth and
beauty that the ladies paused in their talk to look at her. Some
few admired Kitty's governess with generous interest; the greater
number doubted Mrs. Linley's prudence in engaging a girl so very
pretty and so very young. Little by little, Sydney's
manner--simple, modest, shrinking from observation--pleaded in
her favor even with the ladies who had been prejudiced against
her at the outset. When Mrs. Linley presented her to the guests,
the most beautiful woman among them (Mrs. MacEdwin) made room for
her on the sofa, and with perfect tact and kindness set the
stranger at her ease. When the gentlemen came in from the
dinner-table, Sydney was composed enough to admire the brilliant
scene, and to wonder again, as she had wondered already, what Mr.
Linley would say to her new dress.
Mr. Linley certainly did notice her--at a distance.
He looked at her with a momentary fervor of interest and
admiration which made Sydney (so gratefully and so guiltlessly
attached to him) tremble with pleasure; he even stepped forward
as if to approach her, checked himself, and went back again among
his guests. Now, in one part of the room, and now in another, she
saw him speaking to them. The one neglected person whom he never
even looked at again, was the poor girl to whom his approval was
the breath of her life. Had she ever felt so unhappy as she felt
now? No, not even at her aunt's school!
Friendly Mrs. MacEdwin touched her arm. "My dear, you are losing
your pretty color. Are you overcome by the heat? Shall I take you
into the next room?"
Sydney expressed her sincere sense of the lady's kindness. Her
commonplace excuse was a true excuse--she had a headache; and she
asked leave to retire to her room.
Approaching the door, she found herself face to face with Mr.
Linley. He had just been giving directions to one of the
servants, and was re-entering the drawing-room. She stopped,
trembling and cold; but, in the very intensity of her
wretchedness, she found courage enough to speak to him.
"You seem to avoid me, Mr. Linley," she began, addressing him
with ceremonious respect, and keeping her eyes on the ground. "I
hope--" she hesitated, and desperately looked at him--"I hope I
haven't done anything to offend you?"
In her knowledge of him, up to that miserable evening, he
constantly spoke to her with a smile. She had never yet seen him
so serious and so inattentive as he was now. His eyes, wandering
round the room, rested on Mrs. Linley--brilliant and beautiful,
and laughing gayly. Why was he looking at his wife with plain
signs of embarrassment in his face? Sydney piteously persisted in
repeating her innocent question: "I hope I haven't done anything
to offend you?"
He seemed to be still reluctant to notice her--on the one
occasion of all others when she was looking her best! But he
answered at last.
"My dear child, it is impossible that you should offend me; you
have misunderstood and mistaken me. Don't suppose--pray don't
suppose that I am changed or can ever be changed toward you."
He emphasized the kind intention which those words revealed by
giving her his hand.
But the next moment he drew back. There was no disguising it, he
drew back as if he wished to get away from her. She noticed that
his lips were firmly closed and his eyebrows knitted in a frown;
he looked like a man who was forcing himself to submit to some
hard necessity that he hated or feared.
Sydney left the room in despair.
He had denied in the plainest and kindest terms that he was
changed toward her. Was that not enough? It was nothing like
enough. The facts were there to speak for themselves: he was an
altered man; anxiety, sorrow, remorse--one or the other seemed to
have got possession of him. Judging by Mrs. Linley's gayety of
manner, his wife could not possibly have been taken into his
What did it mean? Oh, the useless, hopeless question! And yet,
again and again she asked herself: what did it mean?
In bewildered wretchedness she lingered on the way to her room,
and stopped at the end of a corridor.
On her right hand, a broad flight of old oak stairs led to the
bed-chambers on the second floor of the house. On her left hand,
an open door showed the stone steps which descended to the
terrace and the garden. The moonlight lay in all its loveliness
on the flower-beds and the grass, and tempted her to pause and
admire it. A prospect of sleepless misery was the one prospect
before her that Sydney could see, if she retired to rest. The
cool night air came freshly up the vaulted tunnel in which the
steps were set; the moonlit garden offered its solace to the
girl's sore heart. No curious women-servants appeared on the
stairs that led to the bed-chambers. No inquisitive eyes could
look at her from the windows of the ground floor--a solitude
abandoned to the curiosity of tourists. Sydney took her hat and
cloak from the stand in a recess at the side of the door, and
went into the garden.
Mrs. Presty Makes a Discovery.
The dinner-party had come to an end; the neighbors had taken
their departure; and the ladies at Mount Morven had retired
for the night.
On the way to her room Mrs. Presty knocked at her daughter's
door. "I want to speak to you, Catherine. Are you in bed?"
"No, mamma. Come in."
Robed in a dressing-gown of delicately-mingled white and blue,
and luxuriously accommodated on the softest pillows that could be
placed in an armchair, Mrs. Linley was meditating on the events
of the evening. "This has been the most successful party we have
ever given," she said to her mother. "And did you notice how
charmingly pretty Miss Westerfield looked in her new dress?"
"It's about that girl I want to speak to you," Mrs. Presty
answered, severely. "I had a higher opinion of her when she first
came here than I have now."
Mrs. Linley pointed to an open door, communicating with a second
and smaller bed-chamber. "Not quite so loud," she answered, "or
you might wake Kitty. What has Miss Westerfield done to forfeit
your good opinion?"
Discreet Mrs. Presty asked leave to return to the subject at a
"I will merely allude now," she said, "to a change for the worse
in your governess, which you might have noticed when she left the
drawing-room this evening. She had a word or two with Herbert at
the door; and she left him looking as black as thunder."
Mrs. Linley laid herself back on her pillows and burst out
laughing. "Black as thunder? Poor little Sydney, what a
ridiculous description of her! I beg your pardon, mamma; don't be
"On the contrary, my dear, I am agreeably surprised. Your poor
father--a man of remarkable judgment on most subjects--never
thought much of your intelligence. He appears to have been wrong;
you have evidently inherited some of my sense of humor. However,
that is not what I wanted to say; I am the bearer of good news.
When we find it necessary to get rid of Miss Westerfield--"
Mrs. Linley's indignation expressed itself by a look which, for
the moment at least, reduced her mother to silence. Always equal
to the occasion, however, Mrs. Presty's face assumed an
expression of innocent amazement, which would have produced a
round of applause on the stage. "What have I said to make you
angry?" she inquired. "Surely, my dear, you and your husband are
"Do you mean to tell me, mamma, that you have said to Herbert
what you said just now to me?"
"Certainly. I mentioned it to Herbert in the course of the
evening. He was excessively rude. He said: 'Tell Mrs. MacEdwin to
mind her own business--and set her the example yourself.'"
Mrs. Linley returned her mother's look of amazement, without her
mother's eye for dramatic effect. "What has Mrs. MacEdwin to do
with it?" she asked.
"If you will only let me speak, Catherine, I shall be happy to
explain myself. You saw Mrs. MacEdwin talking to me at the party.
That good lady's head--a feeble head, as all her friends
admit--has been completely turned by Miss Westerfield. 'The first
duty of a governess' (this foolish woman said to me) 'is to win
the affections of her pupils. _My_ governess has entirely failed
to make the children like her. A dreadful temper; I have given
her notice to leave my service. Look at that sweet girl and your
little granddaughter! I declare I could cry when I see how they
understand each other and love each other.' I quote our charming
friend's nonsense, verbatim (as we used to say when we were in
Parliament in Mr. Norman's time), for the sake of what it led to.
If, by any lucky chance, Miss Westerfield happens to be
disengaged in the future, Mrs. MacEdwin's house is open to
her--at her own time, and on her own terms. I promised to speak
to you on the subject, and I perform my promise. Think over it; I
strongly advise you to think over it."
Even Mrs. Linley's good nature declined to submit to this. "I
shall certainly not think over what cannot possibly happen," she
said. "Good-night, mamma."
"Good-night, Catherine. Your temper doesn't seem to improve as
you get older. Perhaps the excitement of the party has been too
much for your nerves. Try to get some sleep before Herbert comes
up from the smoking-room and disturbs you."
Mrs. Linley refused even to let this pass unanswered. "Herbert is
too considerate to disturb me, when his friends keep him up
late," she said. "On those occasions, as you may see for
yourself, he has a bed in his dressing-room."
Mrs. Presty passed through the dressing-room on her way out. "A
very comfortable-looking bed," she remarked, in a tone intended
to reach her daughter's ears. "I wonder Herbert ever leaves it."
The way to her own bed-chamber led her by the door of Sydney's
room. She suddenly stopped; the door was not shut. This was in
itself a suspicious circumstance.
Young or old, ladies are not in the habit of sleeping with their
bedroom doors ajar. A strict sense of duty led Mrs. Presty to
listen outside. No sound like the breathing of a person asleep
was to be heard. A strict sense of duty conducted Mrs. Presty
next into the room, and even encouraged her to approach the bed
on tip-toe. The bed was empty; the clothes had not been disturbed
since it had been made in the morning!
The old lady stepped out into the corridor in a state of
excitement, which greatly improved her personal appearance. She
looked almost young again as she mentally reviewed the list of
vices and crimes which a governess might commit, who had retired
before eleven o'clock, and was not in her bedroom at twelve. On
further reflection, it appeared to be barely possible that Miss
Westerfield might be preparing her pupil's exercises for the next
day. Mrs. Presty descended to the schoolroom on the first floor.
No. Here again there was nothing to see but an empty room.
Where was Miss Westerfield?
Was it within the limits of probability that she had been bold
enough to join the party in the smoking-room? The bare idea was
In another minute, nevertheless, Mrs. Presty was at the door,
listening. The men's voices were loud: they were talking
politics. She peeped through the keyhole; the smokers had, beyond
all doubt, been left to themselves. If the house had not been
full of guests, Mrs. Presty would now have raised an alarm. As
things were, the fear of a possible scandal which the family
might have reason to regret forced her to act with caution. In
the suggestive retirement of her own room, she arrived at a wise
and wary decision. Opening her door by a few inches, she placed a
chair behind the opening in a position which commanded a view of
Sydney's room. Wherever the governess might be, her return to her
bed-chamber, before the servants were astir in the morning, was a
chance to be counted on. The night-lamp in the corridor was well
alight; and a venerable person, animated by a sense of duty, was
a person naturally superior to the seductions of sleep. Before
taking the final precaution of extinguishing her candle, Mrs.
Presty touched up her complexion, and resolutely turned her back
on her nightcap. "This is a case in which I must keep up my
dignity," she decided, as she took her place in the chair.
One man in the smoking-room appeared to be thoroughly weary of
talking politics. That man was the master of the house.
Randal noticed the worn, preoccupied look in his brother's face,
and determined to break up the meeting. The opportunity for which
he was waiting occurred in another minute. He was asked as a
moderate politician to decide between two guests, both members of
Parliament, who were fast drifting into mere contradiction of
each other's second-hand opinions. In plain terms, they stated
the matter in dispute: "Which of our political parties deserves
the confidence of the English people?" In plain terms, on his
sides Randal answered: "The party that lowers the taxes." Those
words acted on the discussion like water on a fire. As members of
Parliament, the two contending politicians were naturally
innocent of the slightest interest in the people or the taxes;
they received the new idea submitted to them in helpless silence.
Friends who were listening began to laugh. The oldest man present
looked at his watch. In five minutes more the lights were out and
the smoking-room was deserted.
Linley was the last to retire--fevered by th e combined
influences of smoke and noise. His mind, oppressed all through
the evening, was as ill at ease as ever. Lingering, wakeful and
irritable, in the corridor (just as Sydney had lingered before
him), he too stopped at the open door and admired the peaceful
beauty of the garden.
The sleepy servant, appointed to attend in the smoking room,
asked if he should close the door. Linley answered: "Go to bed,
and leave it to me." Still lingering at the top of the steps, he
too was tempted by the refreshing coolness of the air. He took
the key out of the lock; secured the door after he had passed
through it; put the key in his pocket, and went down into the
Somebody Attends to the Door.
With slow steps Linley crossed the lawn; his mind gloomily
absorbed in thoughts which had never before troubled his easy
nature--thoughts heavily laden with a burden of self-reproach.
Arrived at the limits of the lawn, two paths opened before him.
One led into a quaintly pretty inclosure, cultivated on the plan
of the old gardens at Versailles, and called the French Garden.
The other path led to a grassy walk, winding its way capriciously
through a thick shrubbery. Careless in what direction he turned
his steps, Linley entered the shrubbery, because it happened to
be nearest to him.
Except at certain points, where the moonlight found its way
through open spaces in the verdure, the grassy path which he was
now following wound onward in shadow. How far he had advanced he
had not noticed, when he heard a momentary rustling of leaves at
some little distance in advance of him. The faint breeze had died
away; the movement among the leaves had been no doubt produced by
the creeping or the flying of some creature of the night. Looking
up, at the moment when he was disturbed by this trifling
incident, he noticed a bright patch of moonlight ahead as he
advanced to a new turn in the path.
The instant afterward he was startled by the appearance of a
figure, emerging into the moonlight from the further end of the
shrubbery, and rapidly approaching him. He was near enough to see
that it was the figure of a woman. Was it one of the female
servants, hurrying back to the house after an interview with a
sweetheart? In his black evening dress, he was, in all
probability, completely hidden by the deep shadow in which he
stood. Would he be less likely to frighten the woman if he called
to her than if he allowed her to come close up to him in the
dark? He decided on calling to her.
"Who is out so late?" he asked.
A cry of alarm answered him. The figure stood still for a moment,
and then turned back as if to escape him by flight.
"Don't be frightened," he said. "Surely you know my voice?"
The figure stood still again. He showed himself in the moonlight,
and discovered--Sydney Westerfield.
"You!" he exclaimed.
She trembled; the words in which she answered him were words in
"The garden was so quiet and pretty--I thought there would be no
harm--please let me go back--I'm afraid I shall be shut out--"
She tried to pass him. "My poor child!" he said, "what is there
to be frightened about? I have been tempted out by the lovely
night, like you. Take my arm. It is so close in here among the
trees. If we go back to the lawn, the air will come to you
She took his arm; he could feel her heart throbbing against it.
Kindly silent, he led her back to the open space. Some garden
chairs were placed here and there; he suggested that she should
rest for a while.
"I'm afraid I shall be shut out," she repeated. "Pray let me get
He yielded at once to the wish that she expressed. "You must let
me take you back," he explained. "They are all asleep at the
house by this time. No! no! don't be frightened again. I have got
the key of the door. The moment I have opened it, you shall go in
She looked at him gratefully. "You are not offended with me now,
Mr. Linley," she said. "You are like your kind self again ."
They ascended the steps which led to the door. Linley took the
key from his pocket. It acted perfectly in drawing back the lock;
but the door, when he pushed it, resisted him. He put his
shoulder against it, and exerted his strength, helped by his
weight. The door remained immovable.
Had one of the servants--sitting up later than usual after the
party, and not aware that Mr. Linley had gone into the
garden--noticed the door, and carefully fastened the bolts on the
inner side? That was exactly what had happened.
There was nothing for it but to submit to circumstances. Linley
led the way down the steps again. "We are shut out," he said.
Sydney listened in silent dismay. He seemed to be merely amused;
he treated their common misfortune as lightly as if it had been a
"There's nothing so very terrible in our situation," he reminded
her. "The servants' offices will be opened between six and seven
o'clock; the weather is perfect; and the summer-house in the
French Garden has one easy-chair in it, to my certain knowledge,
in which you may rest and sleep. I'm sure you must be tired--let
me take you there."
She drew back, and looked up at the house.
"Can't we make them hear us?" she asked.
"Quite impossible. Besides--" He was about to remind her of the
evil construction which might be placed on their appearance
together, returning from the garden at an advanced hour of the
night; but her innocence pleaded with him to be silent. He only
said, "You forget that we all sleep at the top of our old castle.
There is no knocker to the door, and no bell that rings upstairs.
Come to the summer-house. In an hour or two more we shall see the
She took his arm in silence. They reached the French Garden
without another word having passed between them.
The summer-house had been designed, in harmony with the French
taste of the last century, from a classical model. It was a rough
copy in wood of The Temple of Vesta at Rome. Opening the door for
his companion, Linley paused before he followed her in. A girl
brought up by a careful mother would have understood and
appreciated his hesitation; she would have concealed any feeling
of embarrassment that might have troubled her at the moment, and
would have asked him to come back and let her know when the
rising of the sun began. Neglected by her mother, worse than
neglected by her aunt, Sydney's fearless ignorance put a question
which would have lowered the poor girl cruelly in the estimation
of a stranger. "Are you going to leave me here by myself?" she
asked. 'Why don't you come in?"
Linley thought of his visit to the school, and remembered the
detestable mistress. He excused Sydney; he felt for her. She held
the door open for him. Sure of himself, he entered the
As a mark of respect on her part, she offered the armchair to
him: it was the one comfortable seat in the neglected place. He
insisted that she should take it; and, searching the
summer-house, found a wooden stool for himself. The small
circular room received but little of the dim outer light--they
were near each other--they were silent. Sydney burst suddenly
into a nervous little laugh.
"Why do you laugh?" he asked good-humoredly.
"It seems so strange, Mr. Linley, for us to be out here." In the
moment when she made that reply her merriment vanished; she
looked out sadly, through the open door, at the stillness of the
night. "What should I have done," she wondered, "if I had been
shut out of the house by myself?" Her eyes rested on him timidly;
there was some thought in her which she shrank from expressing.
She only said: "I wish I knew how to be worthy of your kindness."
Her voice warned him that she was struggling with strong emotion.
In one respect, men are all alike; they hate to see a woman in
tears. Linley treated her like a child; he smiled, and patted her
on the shoulder. "Nonsense!" he said gayly. "There is no merit in
being kind to my good little governess."
She took that comforting hand--it was a harmless impulse that she
was unable to resist--she bent over it, and kissed it gratefully.
He drew his hand away from her as if the soft touch of her lips
had been fire that burned it. "Oh ," she cried, "have I done
"No, my dear--no, no."
There was an embarrassment in his manner, the inevitable result
of his fear of himself if he faltered in the resolute exercise of
self-restraint, which was perfectly incomprehensible to Sydney.
He moved his seat back a little, so as to place himself further
away. Something in that action, at that time, shocked and
humiliated her. Completely misunderstanding him, she thought he
was reminding her of the distance that separated them in social
rank. Oh, the shame of it! the shame of it! Would other
governesses have taken a liberty with their master? A fit of
hysterical sobbing burst its way through her last reserves of
self-control; she started to her feet, and ran out of the
Alarmed and distressed, he followed her instantly.
She was leaning against the pedestal of a statue in the garden,
panting, shuddering, a sight to touch the heart of a far less
sensitive man than the man who now approached her. "Sydney!" he
said. "Dear little Sydney!" She tried to speak to him in return.
Breath and strength failed her together; she lifted her hand,
vainly grasping at the broad pedestal behind her; she would have
fallen if he had not caught her in his arms. Her head sank
faintly backward on his breast. He looked at the poor little
tortured face, turned up toward him in the lovely moonlight.
Again and again he had honorably restrained himself--he was
human; he was a man--in one mad moment it was done, hotly,
passionately done--he kissed her.
For the first time in her maiden's life, a man's lips touched her
lips. All that had been perplexing and strange, all that had been
innocently wonderful to herself in the feeling that bound Sydney
to her first friend, was a mystery no more. Love lifted its veil,
Nature revealed its secrets, in the one supreme moment of that
kiss. She threw her arms around his neck with a low cry of
delight--and returned his kiss.
"Sydney," he whispered, "I love you."
She heard him in rapturous silence. Her kiss had answered for
At that crisis in their lives, they were saved by an accident; a
poor little common accident that happens every day. The spring in
the bracelet that Sydney wore gave way as she held him to her;
the bright trinket fell on the grass at her feet. The man never
noticed it. The woman saw her pretty ornament as it dropped from
her arm--saw, and remembered Mrs. Linley's gift.
Cold and pale--with horror of herself confessed in the action,
simple as it was--she drew back from him in dead silence.
He was astounded. In tones that trembled with agitation, he said
to her: "Are you ill?"
"Shameless and wicked," she answered. "Not ill." She pointed to
the bracelet on the grass. "Take it up; I am not fit to touch it.
Look on the inner side."
He remembered the inscription: "To Sydney Westerfield, with
Catherine Linley's love." His head sank on his breast; he
understood her at last. "You despise me," he said, "and I deserve
"No; I despise myself. I have lived among vile people; and I am
vile like them."
She moved a few steps away with a heavy sigh. "Kitty!" she said
to herself. "Poor little Kitty!"
He followed her. "Why are you thinking of the child," he asked,
"at such a time as this?"
She replied without returning or looking round; distrust of
herself had inspired her with terror of Linley, from the time
when the bracelet had dropped on the grass.
"I can make but one atonement," she said. "We must see each other
no more. I must say good-by to Kitty--I must go. Help me to
submit to my hard lot--I must go."
He set her no example of resignation; he shrank from the prospect
that she presented to him.
"Where are you to go if you leave us?" he asked.
"Away from England! The further away from _you_ the better for
both of us. Help me with your interest; have me sent to the new
world in the west, with other emigrants. Give me something to
look forward to that is not shame and despair. Let me do
something that is innocent and good--I may find a trace of my
poor lost brother. Oh, let me go! Let me go!"
Her resolution shamed him. He rose to her level, in spite of
"I dare not tell you that you are wrong," he said. "I only ask
you to wait a little till we are calmer, before you speak of the
future again." He pointed to the summer-house. "Go in, my poor
girl. Rest, and compose yourself, while I try to think."
He left her, and paced up and down the formal walks in the
garden. Away from the maddening fascination of her presence, his
mind grew clearer. He resisted the temptation to think of her
tenderly; he set himself to consider what it would be well to do
The moonlight was seen no more. Misty and starless, the dark sky
spread its majestic obscurity over the earth. Linley looked
wearily toward the eastern heaven. The darkness daunted him; he
saw in it the shadow of his own sense of guilt. The gray
glimmering of dawn, the songs of birds when the pure light softly
climbed the sky, roused and relieved him. With the first radiant
rising of the sun he returned to the summer-house.
"Do I disturb you?" he asked, waiting at the door.
"Will you come out and speak to me?"
She appeared at the door, waiting to hear what he had to say to
"I must ask you to submit to a sacrifice of your own feelings,"
he began. "When I kept away from you in the drawing room, last
night--when my strange conduct made you fear that you had
offended me--I was trying to remember what I owed to my good
wife. I have been thinking of her again. We must spare her a
discovery too terrible to be endured, while her attention is
claimed by the guests who are now in the house. In a week's time
they will leave us. Will you consent to keep up appearances? Will
you live with us as usual, until we are left by ourselves?"
"It shall be done, Mr. Linley. I only ask one favor of you. My
worst enemy is my own miserable wicked heart. Oh, don't you
understand me? I am ashamed to look at you!"
He had only to examine his own heart, and to know what she meant.
"Say no more," he answered sadly. "We will keep as much away from
each other as we can."
She shuddered at that open recognition of the guilty love which
united them, in spite of their horror of it, and took refuge from
him in the summer-house. Not a word more passed between them
until the unbarring of doors was heard in the stillness of the
morning, and the smoke began to rise from the kitchen chimney.
Then he returned, and spoke to her.
"You can get back to the house," he said. "Go up by the front
stairs, and you will not meet the servants at this early hour. If
they do see you, you have your cloak on; they will think you have
been in the garden earlier than usual. As you pass the upper
door, draw back the bolts quietly, and I can let myself in."
She bent her head in silence. He looked after her as she hastened
away from him over the lawn; conscious of admiring her, conscious
of more than he dared realize to himself. When she disappeared,
he turned back to wait where she had been waiting. With his sense
of the duty he owed to his wife penitently present to his mind,
the memory of that fatal kiss still left its vivid impression on
him. "What a scoundrel I am!" he said to himself as he stood
alone in the summer-house, looking at the chair which she had
Kitty Mentions Her Birthday.
A clever old lady, possessed of the inestimable advantages of
worldly experience, must submit nevertheless to the laws of
Nature. Time and Sleep together--powerful agents in the small
hours of the morning--had got the better of Mrs. Presty's
resolution to keep awake. Free from discovery, Sydney ascended
the stairs. Free from discovery, Sydney entered her own room.
Half-an-hour later, Linley opened the door of his dressing-room.
His wife was still sleeping. His mother-in-law woke two hours
later; looked at her watch; and discovered that she had lost her
opportunity. Other old women, under similar circumstances, might
have felt discouraged. This old woman believed in her own
suspicions more devoutly than ever. When the breakfast-bell rang,
Sydney found Mrs. Presty in the corridor, waiting to say good m
"I wonder what you were doing last night, when you ought to have
been in bed?" the old lady began, with a treacherous amiability
of manner. "Oh, I am not mistaken! your door was open, my dear,
and I looked in."
"Why did you look in, Mrs. Presty?"
"My young friend, I was naturally anxious about you. I am anxious
still. Were you in the house? or out of the house?"
"I was walking in the garden," Sydney replied.
"Admiring the moonlight?"
"Yes; admiring the moonlight."
"Alone, of course?" Sydney's friend suggested.
And Sydney took refuge in prevarication. "Why should you doubt
it?" she said.
Mrs. Presty wasted no more time in asking questions. She was
pleasantly reminded of the words of worldly wisdom which she had
addressed to her daughter on the day of Sydney's arrival at Mount
Morven. "The good qualities of that unfortunate young creature"
(she had said) "can _not_ have always resisted the horrid
temptations and contaminations about her. Hundreds of times she
must have lied through ungovernable fear." Elevated a little
higher than ever in her own estimation, Mrs. Presty took Sydney's
arm, and led her down to breakfast with motherly familiarity.
Linley met them at the foot of the stairs. His mother-in-law
first stole a look at Sydney, and then shook hands with him
cordially. "My dear Herbert, how pale you are! That horrid
smoking. You look as if you had been up all night."
Mrs. Linley paid her customary visit to the schoolroom that
The necessary attention to her guests had left little leisure for
the exercise of observation at the breakfast-table; the one
circumstance which had forced itself on her notice had been the
boisterous gayety of her husband. Too essentially honest to
practice deception of any kind cleverly, Linley had overacted the
part of a man whose mind was entirely at ease. The most
unsuspicious woman living, his wife was simply amused "How he
does enjoy society!" she thought. "Herbert will be a young man to
the end of his life."
In the best possible spirits--still animated by her successful
exertions to entertain her friends--Mrs. Linley opened the
schoolroom door briskly. "How are the lessons getting on?" she
began--and checked herself with a start, "Kitty!" she exclaimed,
The child ran to her mother with tears in her eyes. "Look at Syd!
She sulks; she cries; she won't talk to me--send for the doctor."
"You tiresome child, I don't want the doctor. I'm not ill."
"There, mamma!" cried Kitty. "She never scolded me before
In other words, here was a complete reversal of the usual order
of things in the schoolroom. Patient Sydney was out of temper;
gentle Sydney spoke bitterly to the little friend whom she loved.
Mrs. Linley drew a chair to the governess's side, and took her
hand. The strangely altered girl tore her hand away and burst
into a violent fit of crying. Puzzled and frightened, Kitty (to
the best of a child's ability) followed her example. Mrs. Linley
took her daughter on her knee, and gave Sydney's outbreak of
agitation time to subside. There were no feverish appearances in
her face, there was no feverish heat in her skin when their hands
had touched each other for a moment. In all probability the
mischief was nervous mischief, and the outburst of weeping was an
hysterical effort at relief.
"I am afraid, my dear, you have had a bad night," Mrs. Linley
"Bad? Worse than bad!"
Sydney stopped; looked at her good mistress and friend in terror;
and made a confused effort to explain away what she had just
said. As sensibly and kindly self-possessed as ever, Mrs. Linley
told her that she only wanted rest and quiet. "Let me take you to
my room," she proposed. "We will have the sofa moved into the
balcony, and you will soon go to sleep in the delicious warm air.
You may put away your books, Kitty; this is a holiday. Come with
me, and be petted and spoiled by the ladies in the morning-room."
Neither the governess nor the pupil was worthy of the sympathy so
frankly offered to them. Still strangely confused, Sydney made
commonplace apologies and asked leave to go out and walk in the
park. Hearing this, Kitty declared that where her governess went
she would go too. Mrs. Linley smoothed her daughter's pretty
auburn hair, and said, playfully: "I think I ought to be
jealous." To her surprise, Sydney looked up as if the words had
been addressed to herself "You mustn't be fonder, my dear, of
your governess," Mrs. Linley went on, "than you are of your
mother." She kissed the child, and, rising to go, discovered that
Sydney had moved to another part of the room. She was standing at
the piano, with a page of music in her hand. The page was upside
down--and she had placed herself in a position which concealed
her face. Slow as Mrs. Linley was to doubt any person (more
especially a person who interested her), she left the room with a
vague fear of something wrong, and with a conviction that she
would do well to consult her husband.
Hearing the door close, Sydney looked round. She and Kitty were
alone again; and Kitty was putting away her books without showing
any pleasure at the prospect of a holiday.
Sydney took the child fondly in her arms. "Would you be very
sorry," she asked, "if I was obliged to go away, some day, and
leave you?" Kitty turned pale with terror at the dreadful
prospect which those words presented. "There! there! I am only
joking," Sydney said, shocked at the effect which her attempt to
suggest the impending separation had produced. "You shall come
with me, darling; we will walk in the park together."
Kitty's face brightened directly. She proposed extending their
walk to the paddock, and feeding the cows. Sydney readily
consented. Any amusement was welcome to her which diverted the
child's attention from herself.
They had been nearly an hour in the park, and were returning to
the house through a clump of trees, when Sydney's companion,
running on before her, cried: "Here's papa!" Her first impulse
was to draw back behind a tree, in the hope of escaping notice.
Linley sent Kitty away to gather a nosegay of daisies, and joined
Sydney under the trees.
"I have been looking for you everywhere," he said. "My wife--"
Sydney interrupted him. "Discovered!" she exclaimed.
"There is nothing that need alarm you," he replied. "Catherine is
too good and too true herself to suspect others easily. She sees
a change in you that she doesn't understand--she asks if I have
noticed it--and that is all. But her mother has the cunning of
the devil. There is a serious reason for controlling yourself."
He spoke so earnestly that he startled her. "Are you angry with
me?" she asked.
"Angry! Does the man live who could be angry with you?"
"It might be better for both of us if you _were_ angry with me. I
have to control myself; I will try again. Oh, if you only knew
what I suffer when Mrs. Linley is kind to me!"
He persisted in trying to rouse her to a sense of the danger that
threatened them, while the visitors remained in the house. "In a
few days, Sydney, there will be no more need for the deceit that
is now forced on us. Till that time comes, remember--Mrs. Presty
Kitty ran back to them with her hands full of daisies before they
could say more.
"There is your nosegay, papa. No; I don't want you to thank me--I
want to know what present you are going to give me." Her father's
mind was preoccupied; he looked at her absently. The child's
sense of her own importance was wounded: she appealed to her
governess. "Would you believe it?" she asked. "Papa has forgotten
that next Tuesday is my birthday!"
"Very well, Kitty; I must pay the penalty of forgetting. What
present would you like to have?"
"I want a doll's perambulator."
"Ha! In my time we were satisfied with a doll."
They all three looked round. Another person had suddenly joined
in the talk. There was no mistaking the person's voice: Mrs.
Presty appeared among the trees, taking a walk in the park. Had
she heard what Linley and the governess had said to each other
while Kitty was gathering daisies?
"Quite a domestic scene!" the sly old lady remarked. "Papa,
looking like a saint in a picture, with flowers i n his hand.
Papa's spoiled child always wanting something, and always getting
it. And papa's governess, so sweetly fresh and pretty that I
should certainly fall in love with her, if I had the advantage of
being a man. You have no doubt remarked Herbert--I think I hear
the bell; shall we go to lunch?--you have no doubt, I say,
remarked what curiously opposite styles Catherine and Miss
Westerfield present; so charming, and yet such complete
contrasts. I wonder whether they occasionally envy each other's
good looks? Does my daughter ever regret that she is not Miss
Westerfield? And do you, my dear, some times wish you were Mrs.
"While we are about it, let me put a third question," Linley
interposed. "Are you ever aware of it yourself, Mrs. Presty when
you are talking nonsense?"
He was angry, and he showed it in that feeble reply. Sydney felt
the implied insult offered to her in another way. It roused her
to the exercise of self-control as nothing had roused her yet.
She ignored Mrs. Presty's irony with a composure worthy of Mrs.
Presty herself. "Where is the woman," she said, "who would _not_
wish to be as beautiful as Mrs. Linley--and as good?"
"Thank you, my dear, for a compliment to my daughter: a sincere
compliment, no doubt. It comes in very neatly and nicely," Mrs.
Presty acknowledged, "after my son-in-law's little outbreak of
temper. My poor Herbert, when will you understand that I mean no
harm? I am an essentially humorous person; my wonderful spirits
are always carrying me away. I do assure you, Miss Westerfield, I
don't know what worry is. My troubles--deaths in the family, and
that sort of thing--seem to slip off me in a most remarkable
manner. Poor Mr. Norman used to attribute it to my excellent
digestion. My second husband would never hear of such an
explanation as that. His high ideal of women shrank from
allusions to stomachs. He used to speak so nicely (quoting some
poet) of the sunshine of my breast. Vague, perhaps," said Mrs.
Presty, modestly looking down at the ample prospect of a personal
nature which presented itself below her throat, "but so
flattering to one's feelings. There's the luncheon bell again, I
declare! I'll run on before and tell them you are coming. Some
people might say they wished to be punctual. I am truth itself,
and I own I don't like to be helped to the underside of the fish.
_Au revoir!_ Do you remember, Miss Westerfield, when I asked you
to repeat _au revoir_ as a specimen of your French? I didn't
think much of your accent. Oh, dear me, I didn't think much of
Kitty looked after her affluent grandmother with eyes that stared
respectfully in ignorant admiration. She pulled her father's
coat-tail, and addressed herself gravely to his private ear. "Oh,
papa, what noble words grandmamma has!"
Linley Asserts His Authority.
On the evening of Monday in the new week, the last of the
visitors had left Mount Morven. Mrs. Linley dropped into a chair
(in, what Randal called, "the heavenly tranquillity of the
deserted drawing-room") and owned that the effort of entertaining
her guests had completely worn her out. "It's too absurd, at my
time of life," she said with a faint smile; but I am really and
truly so tired that I must go to bed before dark, as if I was a
Mrs. Presty--maliciously observant of the governess, sitting
silent and apart in a corner--approached her daughter in a hurry;
to all appearance with a special object in view. Linley was at no
loss to guess what that object might be. "Will you do me a favor,
Catherine?" Mrs. Presty began. "I wish to say a word to you in
your own room."
"Oh, mamma, have some mercy on me, and put it off till
Mrs. Presty reluctantly consented to this proposal, on one
condition. "It is understood," she stipulated "that I am to see
you the first thing in the morning?"