Part 4 out of 9
through. But she could not improve her situation by going anywhere else.
The station, with its dingy waiting-rooms and garish refreshment-room,
was as good an hotel for her as any other. She was faint for want of
food, having taken nothing since her apology for breakfast at seven
'Can one get a cup of tea here?' she asked of the dry-as-dust matron in
charge of the waiting-room; whereupon the matron good-naturedly offered
to fetch her some tea.
'If you would be so kind,' she faltered, too exhausted to speak above a
whisper; 'I don't like going into that crowded refreshment-room.'
'No, to be sure--not much used to travelling alone, I daresay. You will
be better when you've had a cup of tea.'
The tea, with a roll and butter, revived exhausted nature. Ida paid for
this temperate refreshment, went to the booking-office, made some
inquiries about her ticket, and bought herself a book at the stall,
wherewith to beguile the time and to distract her mind from brooding on
its own miseries.
She felt it was a frightful extravagance as she paid away two of Miss
Cobb's shillings for Bulwer's 'Caxtons;' but she felt also that to live
through those three tedious hours without such aid would be a step on the
road to a lunatic asylum.
Armed with her book, she went back to the waiting-room, settled herself
in a corner of the sofa, and remained there absorbed, immovable; while
travellers came and went, all alike fussy, flurried, and full of their
own concerns--not one of them stopping to notice the pale, tired-looking
girl reading in the remotest corner of the spacious room.
A somewhat stormy passage brought the boat which carried Ida and her
fortunes to straggling, stony, smelly Dieppe, now abandoned to its native
population, and deprived of that flavour of fashion which pervades its
beach in the brighter months of August and September. The town looked
gray, cold, and forbidding in the bleak October morning, when Ida found
herself alone amidst its stoniness, the native population only just
beginning to bestir itself in the street above the quay, and making
believe, by an inordinate splashing and a frantic vehemence in the use of
birch-brooms, to be the cleanest population under the sun; an assertion
of superiority somewhat belied by an all-pervading odour of decomposed
vegetable matter, a small heap of which refuse, including egg-shells and
fishy offal--which the town in the matutinal cleansing process offered up
to the sun-god as incense upon an altar--lay before every door, to be
collected by the local scavenger at his leisure, or to be blown about and
disseminated by the winds of heaven.
Alone upon the stony quay, in the freshness and chilliness of early
morning, Ida took temporary refuge in the humblest _cafe_ she could find,
where a feeble old woman was feebly brooming the floor, and where there
was no appearance of any masculine element. Here she expended another of
Miss Cobb's shillings upon a cup of coffee and a roll. She had spent five
and twenty shillings for her second-class ticket. The debt to Miss Cobb
now amounted to a sovereign and a half; and Ida Palliser thought of it
with an aching sense of her own helplessness to refund so large a sum.
Yesterday morning, believing herself about to become the wife of a rich
man, she had thought what fun it would be to send 'Cobby' a five-pound
note in the prettiest of ivory purses from one of those shops in the
She drank her coffee slowly, not anxious to hasten the hour of a
home-coming which could not be altogether pleasant. She was as fond of
her father as adverse circumstances had allowed her to be; she adored her
half-brother, and was not unkindly disposed towards her step-mother. But
to go back to them penniless, threadbare, disgraced--go back to be a
burden upon their genteel poverty. That was bitter.
She had made up her mind to walk to Les Fontaines rather than make any
further inroad upon Miss Cobb's purse for coach-hire. What was she that
she should be idle or luxurious, or spare the labour of her young limbs?
She went along the narrow stony street where the shops were only now
being opened, past the wide market where the women were setting out their
stalls in front of the fine old church, and where Duguesclin, heroic and
gigantic, defied the stormy winds that had ruffled his sculptured hair.
Two years and a half ago it had been a treat to her to walk in that
market-place, hanging on her father's arm, to stand in the sombre
stillness of that solemn cathedral, while the organ rolled its
magnificent music along the dusky aisles. They two had chaffered for
fruit at those stalls, laughing gaily with the good-tempered
countrywomen. They had strolled on the beach and amused themselves
economically, from the outside, with the diversions of the
_etablissement_. An afternoon in Dieppe had meant fun and holiday-making.
Now she looked at the town with weary eyes, and thought how dull and
shabby it had grown.
The walk to Les Fontaines, along a white dusty road, seemed interminable.
If she had not been told again and again that it was only four miles from
the town to the village, she would have taken the distance for eight--so
long, so weary, seemed the way. There were hills in the background, hills
right and left of her, orchards, glimpses of woodland--here and there a
peep of sea--pretty enough road to be whirled along in a comfortable
carriage with a fast horse, but passing flat, stale, and unprofitable to
the heavy-hearted pedestrian.
At last the little straggling village, the half-dozen new houses--square
white boxes, which seemed to have been dropped accidentally in square
enclosures of ragged garden--white-walled penitentiaries on a small
scale, deriving an air of forced liveliness from emerald-green shutters,
here a tree, and there a patch of rough grass, but never a flower--for
the scarlet geraniums in the plaster vases on the wall of the grandest of
the mansions had done blooming, and beyond scarlet geraniums on the wall
the horticultural taste of Les Fontaines had never risen. The old
cottages, with heavy thatched roofs and curious attic windows, with fruit
trees sprawling over the walls, and orchards in the rear, were better
than the new villas; but even these lacked the neatness and picturesque
beauty of an English cottage in a pastoral landscape. There was a shabby
dustiness, a barren, comfortless look about everything; and the height of
ugliness was attained in the new church, a plastered barn, with a gaudily
painted figure of our Blessed Lady in a niche above the door, all red and
blue and gold, against the white-washed wall.
Ida thought of Kingthorpe,--the rustic inn with its queer old gables,
shining lattices, quaint dovecots, the green, the pond, with its willowy
island, the lovely old Gothic church--solid, and grave, and gray--calm
amidst the shade of immemorial yews. The country about Les Fontaines was
almost as pretty as that hilly region between Winchester and Romsey; but
the English village was like a gem set in the English landscape, while
the French village was a wart on the face of a smiling land.
'Why call it Les Fontaines?' Ida wondered, in her parched and dusty
weariness. 'It is the dryest village I ever saw; and I don't believe
there is anything like a fountain within a mile.'
Her father's house was one of the white boxes with green shutters. It
enjoyed a dignified seclusion behind a plaster wall, which looked as if
anyone might knock it down in very wantonness. The baby-boy had varied
the monotony of his solitary sports by picking little bits out of it.
There was a green door opening into this walled forecourt or garden,
but the door was not fastened, so Ida pushed it open and went in. The
baby-boy, now a sturdy vagabond of five years old, was digging an empty
flower-bed. He caught sight of his sister, and galloped off into the
house before she could take him in her arms, shouting, 'Maman, une
dame--une dame! lady, lady, lady!' exercising his lungs upon both those
languages which were familiar to his dawning intelligence.
His mother came out at his summons, a pretty, blue-eyed woman with an
untidy gown and towzley hair, aged and faded a little since Ida had seen
'Oh, Ida,' she said, kissing her step-daughter heartily enough, despite
her reproachful tone, 'how could you go on so! We have had such a letter
from Miss Pew. Your father is awfully cut up. And we were expecting you
all yesterday. He went to Dieppe to meet the afternoon boat. Where have
you been since Tuesday?'
'I slept at the lock-house with a nice civil woman, who gave me a night's
lodging,' said Ida, somewhat embarrassed by this question.
'But why not have come home at once, dear?' asked the step-mother mildly.
She always felt herself a poor creature before her Juno-like daughter.
'I was flurried and worried--hardly knew what I was doing for the first
few hours after I left Mauleverer; and I let the time slip by till it was
too late to think of travelling yesterday,' answered Ida. 'Old Pew is a
'She seems to be a nasty, unkind old thing,' said Mrs. Palliser; 'for,
after all, the worst she can bring against you is flirting with your
friend's cousin. I hope you are engaged to him, dear; for that will
'No, I am not engaged to him--he is nothing to me,' answered Ida,
crimsoning; 'I never saw him, except in Fraeulein's company. Neither you
nor my father would like me to marry a man without sixpence.'
'But in Miss Pew's letter she said you declared you were engaged to Mr.
Wendover of the Abbey, a gentleman of wealth and position. She was wicked
enough to say she did not believe a word you said; but still, Ida, I do
hope you were not telling falsehoods.'
'I hardly knew what I said,' replied Ida, feeling the difficulties of her
position rising up on every side and hemming her in. She had never
contemplated this kind of thing when she repudiated her marriage and
turned her face homewards. 'She maddened me by her shameful attack,
talking to me as if I were dirt, degrading me before the whole school. If
you had been treated as I was you would have been beside yourself.'
'I might have gone into hysterics,' said Mrs. Palliser, 'but I don't
think I should have told deliberate falsehoods: and to say that you were
engaged to a rich man when you were not engaged, and the man hasn't a
sixpence, was going a little too far. But don't fret, dear,' added the
step-mother, soothingly, as the tears of shame and anger--anger against
fate, life, all things--welled into Ida's lovely eyes. 'Never mind. We'll
say no more about it. Come upstairs to your own room--it's Vernie's
day-nursery now, but you won't mind that, I know--and take off your hat.
Poor thing, how tired and ill you look!'
'I feel as if I was going to be ill and die, and I hope I am,' said Ida,
'Don't, dear; it's wicked to say such a thing as that. You needn't be
afraid of your poor pa; he takes everything easily.'
'Yes, he is always good. Where is he?'
'Not up yet. He comes down in time for his little _dejeuner a la
fourchette_. Poor fellow, he had to get up so early in India.'
Captain Palliser had for the last seven years been trying to recover
those arrears of sleep incurred during his Eastern career. He had been
active enough under a tropical sky, when his mind was kept alive by a
modicum of hard work and a very wide margin of sport--pig-sticking,
peacock-shooting, paper-chases, all the delights of an Indian life. But
now, vegetating on a slender pittance in the semi-slumberous idleness of
Les Fontaines, he had nothing to do and nothing to think about; and he
was glad to shorten his days by dozing away the fresher hours of the
morning, while his wife toiled at the preparation of that elaborate meal
which he loved to talk about as tiffin.
Poor little Mrs. Palliser made strenuous efforts to keep the sparsely
furnished dusty house as clean and trim as it could be kept; but her life
was a perpetual conflict with other people's untidiness.
The house was let furnished, and everything was in the third-rate French
style--inferior mahogany and cheap gilding, bare floors with gaudy little
rugs lying about here and there, tables with flaming tapestry covers,
chairs cushioned with red velvet of the commonest kind, sham
tortoiseshell clock and candelabra on the dining-room chimney-piece,
alabaster clock and candelabra in the drawing-room. There was nothing
home-like or comfortable in the house to atone for the smallness of the
rooms, which seemed mere cells to Ida after the spaciousness of
Mauleverer Manor and The Knoll. She wondered how her father and mother
could breathe in such rooms.
That bed-chamber to which Mrs. Palliser introduced her step-daughter was
even a shade shabbier than the rest of the house. The boy had run riot
here, had built his bricks in one corner, had stabled a headless wooden
horse and cart in another, and had scattered traces of his existence
everywhere. There were his little Windsor chair, the nurse-girl's rocking
chair, a battered old table, a heap of old illustrated newspapers, and
'You won't mind Vernon's using the room in the day, dear, will you?' said
Mrs. Palliser, apologetically. 'It shall be tidied for you at night.'
This meant that in the daytime Ida would have no place for retreat, no
nook or corner of the house which she might call her own. She submitted
meekly even to this deprivation, feeling that she was an intruder who had
no right to be there.
'I should like to see my father soon,' she said, with a trembling lip,
stooping down to caress Vernon, who had followed them upstairs.
He was a lovely, fair-haired boy, with big candid blue eyes, a lovable,
confiding child, full of life and spirits and friendly feeling towards
all mankind and the whole animal creation, down to its very lowest forms.
'You shall have your breakfast with him,' said Mrs. Palliser, feeling
that she was conferring a great favour, for the Captain's breakfast was a
meal apart. 'I don't say but what he'll be a little cross to you at
first; but you must put up with that. He'll come round afterwards.'
'He has not seen me for two years and a half,' said Ida, thinking that
fatherly affection ought to count for something under such circumstances.
'Yes, it's only two years and a half,' sighed Mrs. Palliser, 'and you
were to have stayed at Mauleverer Manor three years. Miss Pew is a wicked
old woman to cheat your father out of six months' board and tuition. He
paid her fifty pounds in one lump when he articled you--fifty pounds--a
heap of money for people in our position; and here you are, come back to
us like a bad penny.'
'I am very sorry,' faltered Ida, reddening at that unflattering
comparison. 'But I worked very hard at Mauleverer, and am tolerably
experienced in tuition. I must try to get a governess's situation
directly, and then I shall be paid a salary, and shall be able to give
you back the fifty pounds by degrees.'
'Ah, that's the dreadful part of it all,' sighed Mrs. Palliser, who was
very seldom in the open air, and had that despondent view of life common
to people who live within four narrow walls. 'Goodness knows how you are
ever to get a situation without references. Miss Pew says you are not to
refer to her; and who else is there who knows anything of you or your
'Yes, there is some one else. Bessie Wendover and her family.'
'The people you went to visit in Hampshire. Ah! there went another five
pounds in a lump. You have been a heavy expense to us, Ida. I don't know
whether anyone wanting to employ you as a governess would take such a
reference as that. People are so particular. But we must hope for the
best, and in the meantime you can make yourself useful at home in taking
care of Vernon and teaching him his letters. He is dreadfully backward.'
'He is an angel,' said Ida, lifting the cherub in her arms, and letting
the fair, curly head nestle upon her shoulder. 'I will wait upon him like
a slave. You do love me, don't you, pet?'
'Ess, I love 'oo, but I don't know who 'oo is. _Connais pas_,' said
Vernon, shaking his head vehemently.
'I am your sister, darling, your only sister.'
'My half-sister,' said Vernon. 'Maman said I had a half-sister, and she
was naughty. _Dites donc_, would a whole sister be twice as big as you?'
Thus in his baby language, which may be easier imagined than described,
gravely questioned the boy.
'I am your sister, dearest, heart and soul. There is no such thing as
half-love or half-sisterhood between us. You should not have talked to
him like that, mother,' said Ida, turning her reproachful gaze upon her
step-mother, who was melted to tears.
'Your father was so upset by Miss Pew's letter,' she murmured
apologetically. 'To pay fifty pounds for you, and for it to end in such
humiliation as that. You must own that it was hard for us.'
'It was harder for me,' said Ida; 'I had to stand up and face that wicked
woman, who knew that I had done no wrong, and who wreaked her malignity
upon me because I am cleverer and better-looking than ever she was in her
'I must go and make your father's omelette,' said the stepmother, 'while
you tidy yourself for breakfast. I think there's some water on the
washstand, and Vernon shall bring you a clean towel.'
The little fellow trotted out after his mother, and trotted back
presently with the towel--one towel, which was about in proportion to the
water-jug and basin. Ida shuddered, remembering the plentitude of water
and towels at The Knoll. She made her toilet as well as she could, with
the scantiest materials, as she might have done on board ship; shook and
brushed the shabby gray cashmere--her wedding gown, she thought, with a
bitter smile--before she put it on again, and then went down the bare
narrow deal staircase, superb in all the freshness of her youth and
beauty, which neither care nor poverty could spoil.
Captain Palliser was pacing up and down his little dining parlour,
looking flurried and anxious. He turned suddenly as Ida entered, and
stood staring at her.
'By Jove, how handsome you have grown!' he said, and then he look her in
his arms and kissed her. 'But you know, my dear, this is really too bad,'
he went on in a fretful tone,' to come back upon us like a bad penny.'
'That is what my step-mother said just now.'
'My dear, how can one help saying it, when it's the truth? After my
paying fifty pounds, don't you know, and thinking that you were
comfortably disposed of for the next three years, and that at the expiry
of the term Miss Pew would place you in a gentleman's family, where you
would receive from sixty to a hundred per annum, according to your
acquirements--those were her very words--to have you sent back to us like
this, in disgrace, and to be told that you had been carrying on in an
absurd way with a young man on the bank of a river. It is most
humiliating. And now my wife tells me the young man has not a sixpence
which makes the whole thing so very culpable.'
'Please let me tell you the extent of my iniquity, father, and then you
can judge what right Miss Pew had to expel me.'
Whereupon Ida quietly described her afternoon promenades upon the
river-path, with the Fraeulein always in her company, and how her friend's
cousin had been permitted to walk up and down with them.
'Nobody supposes there was any actual harm,' replied Captain Palliser,
'but you must have been perfectly aware that you were acting
foolishly--that this kind of thing was a violation of the school
etiquette. Come, now, you knew Miss Pew would disapprove of such goings
on, did you not?'
'Well, yes, no doubt I knew old Pew would be horrified. Perhaps it was
the idea of that which gave a zest to the thing.'
'Precisely! and you never thought of my fifty pounds, and you ran this
risk for the sake of a young man without a penny, who never could be your
Ida grew scarlet and then deadly pale.
'There, don't look so distressed, child. I must try to forget my fifty
pounds, and to think of your future career. It is a deuced awkward
business--here come the omelette and the coffee--an escapade of this kind
is always cropping up against a girl in after life--sit down and make
yourself comfortable--capital dish of kidneys--the world is so small; and
of course every pupil at Mauleverer Manor will gabble about this
business. No mushrooms!--what is the little woman thinking about?'
Captain Palliser seated himself, and arranged his napkin under his chin,
French fashion. His features were of that aquiline type which seems to
have been invented on purpose for army men. His eyes were light blue,
like his boy's--Ida's dark eyes were a maternal inheritance--his hair was
auburn, sprinkled with gray, his moustache straw-colour and with a
carefully trained cavalry droop. His clothes and boots were perfect of
their kind, albeit they had seen good wear. He had been heard to declare
that he had rather wear feathers and war-paint, like a red Indian, than a
coat made by a third-rate tailor. He was tall and inclining to stoutness,
broad-shouldered, and with an easy carriage and a nonchalant air, which
were not without their charm. He had what most people called a patrician
look--that is to say the air of never having done anything useful in the
whole course of his existence--not such a patrician as a Palmerston, a
Russell, a Derby, or a Salisbury, but the ideal lotus-eating aristocrat,
who dresses, drives, and dines and gossips through a languid existence.
The Captain's career in the East had not been particularly brilliant. His
lines had not lain in great battles or stirring campaigns. Except during
the awful episode of the Mutiny, when he was still a young man, he had
seen little active service. His life, since his return from India, had
been a blank.
His mind, never vigorous, had rusted slowly in the slow monotony of his
days. He had come to accept the rhythmical ebb and flow of life's river
as all-sufficient for content. Breakfast and dinner were the chief events
of his life--if it was well with these it was well with him.
There was a rustic tavern where in summer a good many people came to
dine, either in the house or the garden, and in a room adjoining the
kitchen there was a small French billiard-table with very big balls. Here
the Captain played of an evening with the _habitues_ of the place, and
was much looked up to for his superior skill. An occasional drive into
Dieppe on the _banquette_ of the diligence, and a saunter by the sea, was
his only other amusement.
His daughter poured out his coffee, and ministered to his various wants
as he breakfasted, eating with but little appetite herself, albeit the
fare was excellent.
Captain Palliser talked in a desultory way as he ate, not often looking
up from his plate, but meandering on. Happily for Ida, who had been
reduced to the lowest stage of self-abasement by her welcome, he said no
more about Miss Pew or his daughter's gloomy prospects. It was not
without a considerable mental effort that he was able to bring his
thoughts to bear upon other people's business. He had strained his mind a
good deal during the last twenty-four hours, and he was very glad to
relax the tension of the bow.
'Rather a dull kind of life for a man who has been used to society--eh,
Ida?' he murmured, as he ate his omelette; 'but we contrive to rub on
somehow. Your step-mother likes it, and the boy likes it--wonderful
healthy air, don't you know--no smoke--no fogs--only three miles from the
sea, as the crow flies. It suits them, and it's cheap--a paramount
consideration with a poor devil on half-pay; and in the season there are
some of the best people in Europe to be seen at the _etablissement_.'
'I suppose you go to Dieppe often in the season, father?' said Ida,
pleased to find he had dropped Miss Pew and the governess question.
'Well, yes; I wander in almost every fine day.'
'You don't walk?' exclaimed Ida, surprised at such activity in a man of
his languid temper.
'Oh, no; I never walk. I just wander in--on the diligence-or in, a return
fly. I wander in and look about me a little, and perhaps take a cup of
coffee with a friend at the Hotel des Bains. There is generally some one
I know at the Bains or the Royal. Ah, by-the-bye whom, do you think I saw
there a fortnight ago?'
'I haven't the least idea,' answered Ida; 'I know so few of your
'No, of course not. You never saw Sir Vernon Palliser, but you've heard
me talk about him.'
'Your rich brother, the wicked old baronet in Sussex, who never did you a
kindness in his life?'
'My dear, old Sir Vernon has been dead two years.'
'I never heard of his death.'
'No, by-the-bye. It wasn't worth while worrying you about it, especially
as we could not afford to go into mourning. Your step-mother fretted
about that dreadfully, poor little woman; as if it could matter to her,
when she had never seen the man in her life. She said if one had a
baronet in one's family one ought to go into mourning for him. I can't
understand the passion some women have for mourning. They are eager to
smother themselves in crape at the slightest provocation, and for a mean
old beggar like Vernon, who never gave me a sixpence. But as I was
saying, these two young fellows turned up the other day in front of the
Hotel des Bains.'
'Which two young fellows, my dear father? I haven't the faintest idea of
whom you are talking,' protested Ida, who found her father's conversation
very difficult to follow.
'Why, Sir Vernon, of course--the present Sir Vernon and his brother
Peter: ugly name, isn't it, Ida? but there has always been a Peter in the
family; and as a rule,' added Captain Palliser, growing slower and
dreamier of speech as he fell into reminiscences of the past--'as a
rule the Peter Pallisers have gone to the dogs. There was Major
Palliser--fought in the Peninsula--knew George the Fourth--married a very
pretty woman and beat her--died in the Bench.'
'Tell me about the present Sir Vernon,' asked Ida, more interested in the
moving, breathing life of to-day than in memories of the unknown dead.
'Is he nice?'
'He is a fine, broad-shouldered young fellow--seven or eight and twenty.
No, not handsome--my brother Vernon was never distinguished for beauty,
though he had all the markings of race. There is nothing like race, Ida;
you see it in a man's walk; you hear it in every tone of a man's voice.'
'Dear father, I was asking about this particular Sir Vernon,' urged Ida,
with a touch of impatience, unaccustomed to this slow meandering talk.
'And I was telling you about him,' answered the Captain, slightly
offended. His little low-born wife never hurried and hustled his thoughts
in this way. She was content to sit at his feet, and let him meander on
for hours. True that she did not often listen, but she was always
respectful. 'I was remarking that Sir Vernon is a fine young fellow, and
likely to live to see himself a great-grandfather. His brother, too, is
nearly as big and healthy--healthy to a degree. The breakfast I saw those
two young men devour at the hotel would have made your hair stand on end.
But, thank heaven, I have never been the kind of man to wait for dead
'I see,' said Ida. 'If these boys had been sickly and had died young, you
would have succeeded to the baronetcy.'
'To the baronetcy and to the estate in Sussex, which is a very fine
estate, worth eight thousand a year.'
'Then, of course, they are strong, and likely to live to the age of
Methuselah!' exclaimed Ida, with a laugh of passing bitterness. 'Who ever
heard of luck coming our way? It is not in our race to be fortunate.'
The shame and agony of her own failure to win fortune were still strong
'Who knows what might happen?' said the Captain, with amiable
listlessness. 'I have never allowed my thoughts to dwell upon the
possibilities of the future; yet it is a fact that, so long as those
young men remain unmarried, there are only two lives between me and
wealth. They feel the position themselves; for when Sir Vernon came over
here to lunch, he patted my boy on the head and said, in his joking way,
"If Peter and I had fallen down a crevasse the other day in the Oberland,
this little chap would have been heir to Wimperfield."'
'No doubt Sir Vernon and his brother will marry and set up nurseries of
their own within the next two or three years,' said Ida, carelessly.
Eager as she had been to be rich during those two and a half bitter years
in which she had so keenly felt the sting of poverty, she was not capable
of seeing her way to fortune through the dark gate of death.
'Yes, I daresay they will both marry,' replied Captain Palliser, gravely,
folding his napkin and whisking an accidental crumb off his waistcoat.
'Young men always get drifted into matrimony. If they are rich all the
women are after them, If they are poor--well, there is generally some
woman weak enough to prefer dual starvation to bread and cheese and
solitude. Vernon told me he had no idea of marriage. He and his brother
are both rovers--fond of mountain-climbing, yachting, every open-air
'Did you see much of them while they were at Dieppe ?'
'They only stayed three days. They walked over here to lunch, put the
poor little woman in a fluster--although they were very pleasant and easy
about everything--invited me to dinner, tipped the boy munificently, and
went off by the night-boat, bound straight for Wimperfield and the
partridges. Very fine partridge shooting at Wimperfield! Vernon asked me
to go across with him and stay at the old place for a week or two; but my
sporting days are over. I can't get up early; and I can't walk in
shooting-boots. Besides, the little woman would have fretted if I had
left her alone so long.'
'But the change would have done you good, father.'
'No, my dear; any change of habits would worry me. I have dropped into my
groove and I must stay in it. What a pity you were not here when your
cousins called! Who knows what might have happened? Vernon might have
fallen over head and ears in love with you.'
'Don't, father!' cried Ida, with absolute pain in her voice. 'Don't talk
about marrying for money. There is nothing in life so revolting, so
degrading. Be sure, it is a sin which always brings its own punishment.'
'My dear,' said the Captain, gravely, 'there are so many love-matches
which bring their own punishment, that I am inclined to believe that
marrying for money is a virtue which ought to ensure its own reward. You
may depend, if we could get statistics upon the subject, one would find
that after ten years' marriage the couples who were drawn together by
prudential motives are just as fond of each other as those more romantic
pairs who wedded for love. A decade of matrimony rounds a good many sharp
angles, and dispels a good many illusions.'
ACCOMPLISHMENTS AT A DISCOUNT.
Now began for Ida a life of supreme dullness--an empty, almost hopeless,
life, waiting upon fortune. Her father was kind to her in his easy-going,
lymphatic way, liking well enough to have her about him, pleased with her
affection for his boy, proud of her beauty and her talents, but with no
earnest care for her welfare in the present or the future. What was to
become of wife, son and daughter when he was dead and gone, was a
question which Captain Palliser dared not ask himself. For the widow
there would be a pittance, for son and daughter nothing. It was therefore
vital that Ida should either marry well or become a money-earning
personage. Of marriage at Les Fontaines there seemed not the faintest
probability, since the experiences of the past afford so few instances of
wandering swains caught and won by a face at a window, or the casual
appearance of a beautiful girl on a country road.
Of friends or acquaintance, in his present abode, Captain Palliser had
none. The only people he had ever cared for were the men and women he had
known in India; and he had lost sight of those since his marriage. They
were scattered; and he was too proud to expose his fallen fortunes to
those who had known him in his happier days, those days when the careless
expenditure of his modest capital had given him a false air of easy
His life at Les Fontaines suited him well enough, individually. It was a
kind of hibernation. He slept a good deal, and ate a good deal, and
smoked incessantly, and took very little exercise. For all that is best
and noblest in life, Captain Palliser might just as well have been dead.
He had outlived hope and ambition, thought, invention. He exercised no
influence upon the lives of others, except upon the little homely wife,
who was a slave to him. He was no possible good in the world. Yet his
daughter was fond of him, and pleased to bear him company when he would
have her; and under her influence his sluggish intellect brightened a
For the first few weeks of her residence at Les Fontaines, Ida was
tortured by a continually recurring fear of Brian Wendover's pursuit. He
had let her go coolly enough; but what if he were to change his mind and
follow and claim her? She belonged to him. She was his goods, his
chattels--to have and to hold till death did them part. Her life was no
longer her own to dispose of as she pleased. Would he let her alone?--he
who had held her in his arms with passionate force, who had entreated her
to stay with him, and had surrendered her reluctantly in sullen anger.
What if anger, which had been stronger with him than love at that last
moment, should urge him to denounce her--to tell the world how base a
thing she was--a woman who had been eager to marry a rich man and had
been trapped by a pauper! She glanced with a sickening dread at every
letter which her father received, lest it should be from Brian, telling
her shameful story. She counted the days as they went by, saying to
herself, 'A fortnight since we were married; surely if he had meant to
claim me he would have come before now.' 'Three weeks! now I must be
safe!' And then came the dull November morning which completed the
calendar month since her wedding-day, and her husband had made no sign.
She began to feel easier, to believe that he repented his marriage as
deeply as she did, and that he was very glad to be free from its bondage.
And now she was able to think more seriously of her future. She had
answered a great many advertisements in the _Times_, wherein paragons
were demanded for the tuition of youth or the companionship of age; but
as she saw the papers only on the day after their publication, other
paragons, on the spot, were beforehand with her. She did not receive a
single answer to those carefully written letters, setting forth her
qualifications and her willingness to work hard.
'I shall waste a small fortune in postage-stamps, father,' she said at
last, 'and shall be no nearer the mark. My only chance is to advertise.
Will you give me the money for an advertisement? I am sorry to ask you,
'My dear, you are always asking me for money,' replied Captain Palliser,
peevishly; which was hardly fair, as she had asked him nothing since
her return, except the sum of thirty shillings, being the exact amount
of which she stood indebted to kind-hearted Miss Cobb. 'However, I
suppose you must have it.' He produced a half sovereign from his
meagrely-furnished purse. 'It is only right you should do something;
indeed, anything is better than wasting your life in such a hole as this.
But what if you do get any answers to your advertisement? Who is to give
you a character, since that old witch at Mauleverer Manor has chosen to
put up her back against you?'
'That must be managed somehow,' answered Ida, moodily. 'Will it not be
enough for the people to know who you are, and that I have never been in
a situation before? Why should they apply to the schoolmistress who
finished my education?'
'People are so suspicious,' said the Captain, 'and the handsomer a girl
is the more questions they ask. They seem to think she has no right to be
so handsome. However you must risk it'
Ida wrote her advertisement, an unvarnished statement of her
qualifications as a teacher, and of her willingness to be useful; not a
word about references. The advertisement appeared a few days later, and
the little family at Les Fontaines anxiously awaited the result, even
little Vernon eagerly expressing himself on the subject, his youthful
ears being open to every topic discussed in his presence, and his
youthful mind quick to form opinions.
'You shan't go away!' he exclaimed. 'Ma, she shan't go, shall she? lady
shan't have her; I want her always; you mustn't go, sissie,' all in baby
language, with a curious perversion of consonants. He had climbed on her
knee, and had his arms round her neck--energetic young arms which almost
throttled her. She had been his chief companion and playfellow for the
last five weeks, had read him all his favourite fairy-tales over and over
again, had sat with him of an evening till he fell asleep, an invincible
defence against bogies and vague fears of darkness. She had taken him for
long rural rambles, over breezy downs towards the sea, had dug and delved
with him on the lonely beach below the great white lighthouse, warmly
coated and shawled, and working hard in the November wind; and now, just
when he had grown fonder of her than anyone else in the world, she was
going to leave him. He lifted up his head and howled, and refused all
comfort from mother or father. Ida cried with him. 'My pet, I can't bear
to leave you, but I must; my darling, I shall come back,' she protested,
clasping him to her breast, kissing his fair tearful face, soft round
cheeks, lovely blue eyes swimming in tears.
'To-morrow?' inquired Vernon, with a strangled sob.
'No, darling, not to-morrow; there would be no use in my going just for
one day; but I am not going yet--I don't know when I am going--Vernon
must not cry. See how unhappy he is making poor mamma.'
Mrs. Palliser put her hands before her face, and made a bohooing noise to
keep up the illusion; whereupon the affectionate little fellow slipped
off his sister's knee, and ran to his mother to administer comfort.
'I am not going away yet, Vernon; indeed, I hardly know whether I am ever
going at all. I have come back like a bad penny, and I seem likely to be
as difficult to get rid of as other bad pennies,' said Ida, despondingly,
for three posts had gone by since the insertion of her advertisement, and
had brought her nothing. The market was evidently overstocked with young
ladies knowing French and German, able to play and sing, and willing to
After this Vernon would hardly let his sister out of his sight. He had a
suspicion that she would leave him unawares--slip out of the door some
day, and be gone without a moment's warning. That is how joy flees.
'My pet, be reasonable,' said Ida; 'I can't go away without my trunk.'
This comforted him a little, and he made a point of sitting upon one of
Ida's trunks, when they two were alone in that barely furnished chamber
which served for her bed-room and his day-nursery.
She contrived to tell him fairy-tales, and to keep him amused; albeit she
was now busy at carefully overhauling, patching, and repairing her scanty
wardrobe--trying to make neat mending do duty for new clothes, and
getting ready against any sudden summons. She could not bring herself to
ask her father for money, sadly as she wanted new garments. He had given
her five pounds in August, and two sovereigns since her return, and the
way he had doled out those sums indicated the low state of his funds. No,
the gown that had been new at The Knoll must still be her best gown. Last
winter's jacket, albeit threadbare in places, must do duty for this
winter. Before the next summer she might be in the receipt of a salary
and able to clothe herself decently, and to send presents to this beloved
boy, who was not much better clad than herself.
But the days wore on, and brought no answer to her advertisement.
'I shouldn't wonder if it were the foreign address,' said Captain
Palliser, when they were all speculating upon the cause of this dismal
silence. 'People are suspicious of anyone living abroad. If you had been
able to advertise from a rectory in Lincolnshire, or even an obscure
street at the west end of London, they'd have thought better of you. But
Boulogne, Calais, Dieppe, they all hint at impecuniosity and enforced
exile. It's very unlucky.'
The postman stopped at the little green gate next morning, and Ida flew
to receive his packet. It was a letter for her--a bulky letter--in a hand
she knew well, and her heart seemed to stop beating as she looked at the
The hand was Bessie Wendover's. Who could tell what new trouble the
letter might announce? Brian might have told his family the whole history
of his marriage and her unworthy conduct. Oh, what shame, what agony, if
this were so! And how was she to face her father when he asked her the
contents of the letter? She ran out into the garden--the little bare,
joyless garden--to read her letter alone, and to gain time.
This is how the dreaded epistle ran:--
'My dear darling, ill-used, cruel thing,--
'However could you treat me so badly? What is friendship worth, if you
set no higher value upon it than this? I don't believe you know what
friendship means, or you never could act so. How miserable you have made
me! how wretched you must have been yourself! you proud, noble-minded
darling--under the sting of such vile treatment.
'I wrote to you three times last month, and could not imagine why my
letters were unanswered. Brian had told me that you were perfectly well,
and looking splendid when he saw you in October, so I did not think it
could be illness that kept you silent; and at last I began to feel angry,
and to fancy you had forgotten me, and were ungrateful. No, I don't mean
that, dearest. What reason had you for gratitude? The obligation was all
on my side.
'Towards the end of October I wrote to Brian, telling him of your
silence, and asking if he could find out if you were well. He answered
with one of his short, unsatisfactory scrawls that he had reason to know
you were quite well. After this I felt _really_ offended; for I thought
you must have deceived me all along, and that you had never cared a straw
about me; so I coiled myself up in my dignity, and, although I felt very
unhappy, I resolved never to write you another line till you wrote to me.
I was very miserable, but still I felt that I owed a duty to my own
self-respect, don't you know; and just at thistimall went to Bournemouth,
where we were very gay. Father and mother knew no end of people there,
and I began to feel what it really is to be out, which no girl ever could
at Kingthorpe, where there are about three parties in a twelvemonth.
'Well, darling, so I went on leading a frivolous life among people I did
not care twopence for, and hardening my heart against my dearest friend,
when, on the day we came home, I happened to take up the _Times_ in the
railway carriage. I hate newspapers in a common way, but one reads such
things when one is travelling, and out of mere idleness I amused myself
skimming the advertisements, which I found ever so much more interesting
than the leading articles. What should my eye light upon but an
advertisement from a young lady wanting to go out as a governess--address
I.P., Le Rosier, Les Fontaines, near Dieppe--and the whole murder was
out. You must have left old Pew's and be living with your father. I was
horribly indignant with you--as, indeed, I am still--for not having
told me anything about it; but directly I got home I telegraphed to
Polly Cobb, as the best-natured girl I knew at Mauleverer, asking where
you were, and why you had left. I had such a letter from her next
day--spelling bad, but full of kind feeling--giving me a full account of
the row, and old Pew's detestable conduct. She told me that Fraeulein
vouched for your having behaved with the most perfect propriety, and
never having seen Brian out of her presence; but Brian's meanness in not
having told me about the trouble he had brought upon you is more than I
'Well, darling, I went off to Aunt Betsy, who is always my _confidante_
in all delicate matters, because she's ever so much cleverer than dear
warm-hearted mother, who never could keep a secret in her life, sweet
soul, and is no better than a speaking-tube for conveying information to
the Colonel. I told Aunt Betsy everything--how it was all Brian's fault,
and how I adore you, and how miserable I felt about you, and how you were
trying to get a situation as governess, in spite of that malignant old
Pew--she must be a lineal descendant of the wicked fairy--having said she
would give you no certificate of character or ability.
'Now, what do you think that sweetest and best of aunties said? "Let her
come to me," she said; "I am getting old and dull, and I want something
bright and clever about me, to cheer me and rouse me when I feel
depressed. Let her come to me as a companion and amanuensis, help me to
look after my cottagers, who are getting too much for me, and play to me
of an evening. I like that girl, and I should like to have her in my
'I was enchanted at the thought of your being always near us, and I
fancied you wouldn't altogether dislike it; although Kingthorpe certainly
is the dullest, sleepiest old hole in the universe. So I begged Aunt
Betsy to write to you _instanter_; said I knew you would be charmed to
accept such a situation, and that she would secure a treasure; and, in
all probability, you'll have a letter from her to-morrow.
'And now, dear, I must repeat that you have treated me shamefully. Why
did you not write to me directly you left Mauleverer? Could you think
that I could believe you had really done wrong--that I could possibly be
influenced by the judgment of that old monster, Pew? If you could think
so, you are not worthy to be loved as I love you. However, come to us,
sweetest, directly you get auntie's letter, and all shall be forgiven and
forgotten, as the advertisements say.'
Ida kissed the loving letter. So far, therefore, Brian had not betrayed
her; and, having kept her secret so long, it might be supposed he would
keep it for all time.
Poor little warm-hearted Bessie! Was not she by her foolish
falsification--a piece of mild jocosity, no doubt--the prime author of
all the evil that had followed? And yet Ida could not feel angry with
her, any more than she could have been angry with Vernon for some piece
of sportive mischief.
'Thank God, he has kept our wretched secret,' she thought, as she folded
Bessie's long letter, and went back to the house. 'I am grateful to him
She went in radiant, gladdened at the thought of being able to relieve
her father and step-mother of the burden of her maintenance; for the fact
that she was a burden had not been hidden from her. They had been kind;
they had given her to eat and to drink of their best, and had admired her
talents and accomplishments; but they had let her know at the same time
that she was a failure, and that her future was a dark problem still far
from solution--a problem which troubled them in the silent watches of the
night. Nor did they forget to remind her from time to time that by her
imprudence--pardonable although that imprudence might be--she had
forfeited six months' board and lodging, together with those educational
advantages the Captain's fifty pounds had been intended to purchase for
her. These facts had been reiterated, not altogether unkindly, but in a
manner that made life intolerable; and she felt that were she to continue
at Les Fontaines for the natural term of her existence, the same theme
would still furnish the subject for parental harpings.
'Father,' she said, going behind Captain Palliser's chair, as he smoked
his after-breakfast cigar, and read yesterday's _Times_, 'I want you to
read this letter. It is a foolish schoolgirl letter, perhaps; but it will
show you that my friends are not going to discard me on account of Miss
The Captain laid down his paper, and slowly made his way through Bessie's
lengthy epistle, which, although prettily written, with a good deal of
grace in the slopes and curves of the penmanship, gave him considerable
trouble to decipher. It was only when he had discovered that all the B's
looked like H's, and that all the G's were K's, and all the L's S's, and
had, as it were, made a system for himself, that he was able to get on
'Bless my soul,' he murmured, 'why cannot girls write legibly?'
'It is the real Mauleverer hand, papa, and is generally thought very
pretty,' said Ida.
'Pretty, yes; you might have a zigzag pattern over the paper that would
be just as pretty. One wants to be able to read a letter. This is almost
as bad as Arabic. However, the girl seems a good, warm-hearted creature,
and very fond of you; and I should think you could not do better than
accept her aunt's offer. It will be a beginning.'
'It is Hobson's choice, papa; but I am sure I shall be happy with Miss
Wendover,' said Ida; and then she gave a faint sigh, and her heart
sank at the thought of that Damoclesian sword always hanging over her
head--the possibility of her husband claiming her.
Mrs. Palliser was much more rapturous when she heard the contents of
the letter--much more interested in all details about Ida's future home.
She wanted to know what Miss Wendover was like--how many servants she
kept--whether carriage or no carriage--what kind of a house she lived in,
and how it was furnished.
'You will be quite a grand lady,' she said, with a touch of envy, when
Ida had described the cosy red-brick cottage, the verandahed drawing-room
and conservatory added by Miss Wendover, the pair of cobs which that lady
drove, the large well-kept gardens; 'you will look down upon us with our
poor ways, and this house, in which all the rooms smell of whitewash.'
'No, indeed, mamma, I shall always think of you with affection; for you
have been very kind to me, although I know I have been a burden.'
'Everything is a burden when one is poor,' sighed her stepmother; 'even
one extra in the washing-bills makes a difference; and we shall feel it
awfully when Vernon grows up. Boys are so extravagant; and one cannot
talk to them as one can to girls.'
'But I hope you will be better off then, mamma.'
'My dear, you might as well hope we should be dukes and duchesses. What
chance is there of any improvement? Your poor papa has no idea of earning
money. I'm sure I have said to him, often and often, "Reginald, do
_something_. Write for the magazines! Surely you can do _that_? Other men
in your position do it." "Yes," he growled, "and that's why the magazines
are so stupid." No, Ida, your father's circumstances will never improve;
and when the time comes for giving Vernon a proper education we shall be
'Poor papa!' sighed Ida; 'I am afraid he is not strong enough to make any
'He has given way, my dear; that is the root of it all. We shall never be
better off, unless those two healthy, broad-shouldered young men were to
go and get themselves swallowed up by an earthquake; and that is rather
too much for anyone to expect.'
'What young men?' asked Ida, absently.
'Your two cousins.'
'Oh, Sir Vernon and his brother. No, I don't suppose they will die to
oblige us poor creatures.'
'They went up the what's-its-name Horn, in Switzerland,' said Mrs.
Palliser, plaintively. 'It made my blood run cold to hear them talk about
it. "By Jove, Peter, I thought it was all over with you," said Sir
Vernon, when he told us how foolhardy his brother had been. But you see
they got to the bottom all safe and sound, though ever so many people
have been killed on that very mountain.'
'I'm glad they did, mamma. We may want their money very badly, but we are
not murderers, even in thought.'
'God forbid!' sighed the little woman. 'They are fine-grown, gentlemanly
young men, too. Sir Vernon gave my Vernie a sovereign, and promised him a
pony next year; but, good gracious! how could we afford to keep a pony,
even if we had a stable? "You had better make it the other kind of pony,"
says your father, and then they all burst out laughing.'
'So little makes a man laugh!' said Ida, somewhat contemptuously. That
picture of her father making sport of his poverty irritated her. 'Well,
dear mamma,' she said presently, moved by one of those generous impulses
which were a part of her frank, unwise nature, 'if ever I can earn a
hundred a year-and there are many governesses who get as much--you shall
have fifty to help pay Vernon's schooling.'
'You are a dear generous 'arted girl,' exclaimed the stepmother, and the
two women kissed again with tears, an operation which they usually
performed in the hour of domestic trouble.
Miss Wendover's letter came next day, a hearty, frank, affectionate
letter, offering a home that was really meant to be like home, and a
salary of forty pounds a year, 'just to buy your gowns,' Miss Wendover
said. 'I know it is not sufficient remuneration for such accomplishments
as yours, but I want _you_ rather than your accomplishments and I am not
rich enough to give as much as you are worth. But you will, at least,
stave off the drudgery of a governess's life till you are older, and
better able to cope with domineering mothers and insolent pupils.'
Such a salary was a long way off that hundred per annum which Ida had set
before her eyes as the golden goal to be gained by laborious pianoforte
athletics and patient struggles with the profundities of German grammar;
but, as Captain Palliser paid, it was a beginning; and Ida was very glad
so to begin. She wrote to Miss Wendover gratefully accepting her offer,
and in a very humble spirit.
'I fear it is pity that prompts your kind offer,' she wrote, 'and that
you take me because you know I left Mauleverer Manor in disgrace, and
that nobody else would have me. I am a bad penny. That is what my father
called me when I came home to him. And now I am to go back to Kingthorpe
as a bad penny. But, please God, I will try to prove to you that I am not
altogether worthless; and, whatever may happen, I shall love you and be
grateful to you till the end of my life.
'As you are so kind as to say I may come as soon as I like, I shall be
with you on the day after you receive this letter.'
Ida's preparations for departure were not elaborate. Her scanty wardrobe
had been put in the neatest possible order. A few hours sufficed for
packing trunk and bonnet-box. On the last afternoon Mrs. Palliser came to
her highly elated, and proposed a walk to Dieppe, and a drive home in the
diligence which left the Market Place at five o'clock.
'I am going to give you a new hat,' she said, triumphantly. 'You must
have a new hat.'
'But, dear mamma, I know you can't afford it.'
'I _will_ afford it, Ida. You will have to go to church at
Kingthorpe'--Mrs. Palliser regarded church-going as an oppressive
condition of prosperous respectability. One of the few privileges of
being hard up and quite out of society was that one need not go to
church--'and I should like you to appear like a lady. You owe it to your
pa and I. A hat you must 'ave. I can pay for it out of the housekeeping
money, and your pa will never know the difference.'
'No, mamma, but you and Vernon will have to pinch for it,' said Ida,
knowing that there was positively no margin to that household's narrow
means of existence.
'A little pinching won't hurt us. Vernie is as bilious as he can be; he
eats too many compots and little fours. I shall keep him to plain bread
and butter for a bit, and it will do him a world of good. There's no use
talking, Ida, I mean you to 'ave a 'at; and if you won't come and choose
it I must choose it myself,' concluded the little woman, dropping more
aspirates as she grew more excited.
So mother and daughter walked to Dieppe in the dull November afternoon,
Vernon trudging sturdily by his sister's side. They bought the hat, a
gray felt with partridge plumage, which became Ida's rich dark bloom to
perfection; and then they went to the Cathedral, and knelt in the dusky
aisle, and heard the solemn melody of the organ, and the subdued voices
of the choir, in the plaintive music of Vesper Psalms, monotonous
somewhat, but with a sweet soothing influence, music that inspired gentle
Then they went back to the Market-Place, and were in time to get good
places on the _banquette_ of the diligence, before the big white Norman
horses trotted and ambled noisily along the stony street.
Ida left Dieppe late on the following evening, by the same steamer that
had brought her from Newhaven. The British stewardess recognised her.
'Why, you was only across the other day, miss!' she said; 'what a
gad-about you must be!'
She arrived in London by ten o'clock next morning, and left Waterloo at a
quarter-past eleven, reaching Winchester early in the day. How different
were her feelings this time, as the train wound slowly over those chalky
hills! how full of care was her soul! And yet she was no longer a visitor
going among strangers--this time she went to an assured home, she was to
be received among friends. But the knowledge that her liberty was
forfeited for ever, that she was a free-agent only on sufferance, made
her grave and depressed. Never again could she feel as glad and frank a
creature as she had been in the golden prime of the summer that was gone,
when she and Bessie and Urania Rylance came by this same railway, over
those green English hill-sides, to the city that was once the chief seat
of England's power and splendour.
A young man in a plain gray livery and irreproachable top-boots stood
contemplatively regarding the train as it came into the station. He
touched his hat at sight of Miss Palliser, and she remembered him as Miss
'Any luggage, ma'am?' he asked, as she alighted; as if it were as likely
as not that she had come without any.
'There is one box, Needham. That is all besides these things.'
Her bonnet-box--frail ark of woman's pride--was in the carriage, with a
wrap and an umbrella, and her dressing bag.
'All right, ma'am. If you'll show me which it is I'll tell the porter to
bring it. I've got the cobs outside.'
'Oh, I am so sorry,--how good of Miss Wendover!'
'They wanted exercise, 'um. They was a bit above themselves, and the
drive has done 'em good.'
Miss Wendover's cherished brown cobs, animals which in the eyes of
Kingthorpe were almost as sacred as that Egyptian beast whose profane
slaughter was more deeply felt than the nation's ruin--to think that
these exalted brutes should have been sent to fetch that debased
creature, a salaried companion. But then Aunt Betsy was never like anyone
Needham took the cobs across the hills at a pace which he would have
highly disapproved in any other driver. Had Miss Wendover so driven them,
he would have declared she was running them off their legs. But in his
own hands, Brimstone and Treacle--so called to mark their difference of
disposition--could come to no harm. 'They wanted it,' he told Miss
Palliser, when she remarked upon their magnificent pace, 'they never got
half work enough.'
The hills looked lovely, even in this wintry season--yew trees and grass
gave no token of November's gloom. The sky was bright and blue, a faint
mist hung like a veil over the city in the valley, the low Norman tower
of the cathedral, the winding river, and flat fertile meadows--a vision
very soon left far in the rear of Brimstone and Treacle.
'How handsome they look!' said Ida, admiring their strong, bold crests,
like war-horses in a Ninevite picture, their shining black-brown coats.
'Is Brimstone such a very vicious horse?'
'Vicious, mum? no, not a bit of vice about him,' answered Needham
promptly, 'but he's a rare difficult horse to groom. There ain't none but
me as dares touch him. I let the boy try it once, and I found the poor
lad half an hour afterwards standing in the middle of the big loose box
like a statter, while Brimstone raced round him as hard as he could go,
just like one of them circus horses. The boy dursn't stir. If he'd moved
a limb, Brimstone 'ud have 'molished him.'
'What an awful horse! But isn't that viciousness?'
'Lor', no mum. That ain't vice,' answered the groom smiling amusedly at
the lady's ignorance. Vice is crib-biting, or jibbing, or boring or
summat o' that kind. Brimstone is a game hoss, and he's got a bit of a
temper, but he ain't got no vice.'
Here was Kingthorpe, looking almost as pretty as it had looked when she
gazed upon it with tearful eyes in her sad farewell at the close of
summer. The big forest trees were bare, but there were flowers in all the
cottage gardens, even late lingering roses on southern walls, and the
clipped yew-tree abominations--dumb-waiters, peacocks, and other
monstrosities--were in their pride of winter beauty. The ducks were
swimming gaily in the village pond, and the village inn was still
glorious with red geraniums, in redder pots. The Knoll stood out grandly
above all other dwellings--the beds full of chrysanthemums, and a bank of
big scarlet geraniums on each side of the hall door.
It seemed strange to be driven swiftly past the familiar carriage-drive,
and round into the lane leading to Miss Wendover's cottage. It was only
an accommodation lane--or a back-out lane, as the boys called it, since
no two carriages could pass each other in that narrow channel--and in bad
weather the approach to the Homestead was far from agreeable. A carriage
and horses had been known to stick there, with wheels hopelessly embedded
in the clay, while Miss Wendover's guests picked their footsteps through
But the Homestead, when attained, was such a delightful house that one
forgot all impediments in the way thither. The red brick front--old red
brick, be it noted, which has a brightness and purity of colour never
retained for above a twelvemonth by the red brick of to-day--glowing,
athwart its surrounding greenery, like the warm welcome of a friend; the
exquisite neatness of the garden, where every flower that could be coaxed
into growing in the open air bloomed in perfection; the spick-and-span
brightness of the windows; the elegant order that prevailed within, from
cellar to garret; the old, carefully-chosen furniture, which had for the
most part been collected from other old-world homesteads; the artistic
colouring of draperies and carpets--all combined to make Miss Wendover's
'My house had need be orderly,' she said, when her friends waxed
rapturous; 'I have so little else to think about.'
Yet the sick and poor, within a radius of ten miles, might have testified
that Miss Wendover had thought and care for all who needed them, and that
she devoted the larger half of her life to other people's interests.
It was a clear, balmy day, one of those lovely autumn days which hang
upon the edge of winter, and Miss Wendover was pacing her garden walks
bare-headed, armed with gardening scissors and formidable brown leather
gauntlets, nipping a leaf here, or a withered rosebud there, with eyes
whose eagle glance not so much as an aphis could escape. From the slope
of her lawn Aunt Betsy saw the cobs turn into the lane, and she was
standing at the gate to welcome the traveller when the carriage drew up.
There was no carriage-drive on this side of the house, only a lawn with a
world of flower-beds. Those visitors who wanted to enter in a ceremonious
manner had to drive round by shrubbery and orchard to the back, where
there were an old oak door and an entrance-hall. On this garden front
there were only glass doors and long French windows, verandahs, and sunny
parlours, opening one out of another.
'How do you do, my dear?' said the spinster heartily, as Ida alighted; 'I
am very glad to see you. Why, how bright and blooming you look--not a bit
like a sea-sick traveller.'
'Dear Miss Wendover, I ought to look bright when I am so glad to come to
you; and, as to the other thing, I am never sea-sick.'
'What a splendid girl! That unhappy little Bessie can't cross to the
Wight without being a martyr. But, Ida, I am not going to be called Miss
Wendover. Only bishops and county magnates, and people of that kind, call
me by that name. To you I am to be Aunt Betsy, as I am to the children at
'Is not that putting me too much on a level--'
'With my own flesh and blood? Nonsense! I mean you to be as my own flesh
and blood. I could not bear to have anyone about me who was not.'
'You are too good,' faltered Ida. 'How can I ever repay you?'
'You have only to be happy. It is your nature to be frank and truthful,
so I will say nothing about that.'
Ida blushed deepest scarlet. Frank and truthful--she--whose very name was
a lie! And yet there could be no wrong done to Miss Wendover, she told
herself, by her suppression of the truth. It was a suppression that
concerned only Brian Walford and herself. No one else could have any
interest in the matter.
Betsy Wendover herself led the way to the bed-chamber that had been
prepared for the new inmate. It was a dear old room, not spacious, but
provided with two most capacious closets, in each of which a small gang
of burglars could have hidden--dear old closets, with odd little corner
cupboards inside them, and a most elaborate system of shelves. One closet
had a little swing window at the top for ventilation, and this, Miss
Wendover told Ida, was generally taken for a haunted corner, as the
ventilating window gave utterance to unearthly noises in the dead watches
of the night, and sometimes gave entrance to a stray cat from adjacent
tiles. A cat less agile than the rest of his species had been known to
entangle himself in the little swing window, and to hang there all the
night, sending forth unearthly caterwaulings, to the unspeakable terror
of Miss Wendover's guest, unfamiliar with the mechanism of the room, and
wondering what breed of Hampshire demon or afrit was thus making night
There was a painted wooden dado halfway up the wall, and a florid rose
and butterfly paper above it. There was a neat little brass bedstead
on one side of the room, a tall Chippendale chest of drawers, with
writing-table and pigeon-holes on the other side; the dearest, oldest
dressing-table and shield-shaped glass in front of the broad latticed
window; while in another window there was a cushioned seat, such as
Mariana of the Moated Grange sat upon when she looked across the fens and
bewailed her dead-and-gone joys. There were old cups and saucers on the
high, narrow chimney-piece, below which a cosy fire burned in a little
old basket grate. Altogether the room was the picture of homely comfort.
'Oh, what a lovely room!' cried Ida, inwardly contrasting this cheery
chamber with that white-washed den at Lea Fontaines, with its tawdry
mahogany and brass fittings, its florid six feet of carpet on a deal
floor stained brown, its alabaster clock and tin candelabra--a cheap
caricature of Parisian elegance.
'I'm glad you like it, my dear, 'answered Miss Wendover. 'Bessie said it
would suit you; and all I ask you is to keep it tidy. I hope I am not a
tyrant; but I am an old maid. Of course, I shall never pry into your
room; but I warn you that I have an eye which takes in everything at a
flash; and if I happen to go past when your door is open, and see a
bonnet and shawl on your bed, or a gown sprawling on your sofa, my teeth
will be set on edge for the next half-hour.'
'Dear Miss Wen--, dear Aunt Betsy,' said Ida, corrected by a frown, 'I
hope you will come into my room every day, and give me a good scolding if
it is not exactly as you like. Everything in this house looks lovely. I
want to learn your nice neat ways.'
'Well, my love, you might learn something worse,' replied Miss Wendover,
with innocent pride. 'And now come down to luncheon; I kept it back on
purpose for you, and I am sure you must be starving.'
The luncheon was excellent, served with a tranquil perfection only to be
attained by careful training; and yet Miss Wendover's youthful butler
three years ago had been a bird boy; while her rosy-cheeked parlour-maid
was only eighteen, and had escaped but two years from the primitive
habits of cottage life. Aunt Betsy had a genius for training young
'You had better unpack your boxes directly after luncheon, said Miss
Wendover, when Ida had eaten with very good appetite, 'and arrange your
things in your drawers. That will take you an hour or so, I suppose--say
till five o'clock, when Bessie is coming over to afternoon tea.'
'Oh, I am so glad! I am longing to see Bessie. Is she as lovable and
pretty as ever?'
'Well, yes,' replied Aunt Betsy, with a critical air; 'I think she has
rather improved. She is plump enough still, in all conscience, but not
quite so stumpy as she was last summer. Her figure is a little less like
'I hope she was very much admired at Bournemouth.'
'Yes, strange to say, she had a good many admirers,' answered Miss
Wendover coolly. 'She made a point of never being enthusiastic about her
relations. She had always partners at the dances, I am told, even when
there was a paucity of dancing men; and she was considered rather
remarkable at lawn tennis. No doubt she will tell you all about it this
afternoon. I have some work to do in the village, and I shall leave you
two girls together.'
This was a delicacy which touched Ida. She was very anxious to see
Bessie, and to talk to her as they could only talk when they were alone.
She wanted to know her faithful friend's motive for that cruel deception
about Brian Walford. That the frank, tender-hearted Bessie could have so
deceived her from any unworthy motive was impossible.
Five o'clock struck, and Ida was sitting alone in the drawing-room,
waiting to receive her friend, just as if she were the daughter of the
house, instead of a salaried dependent. The pretty carved Indian
tea-table--a gem in Bombay blackwood--was wheeled in front of the
fire-place, which was old, as regarded the high wooden mantel-piece and
capacious breadth of the hearth, but essentially new in its glittering
tiles and dainty brass fire-irons.
The clock had hardly finished striking when Bessie bounced into the room,
rosy and smiling, in sealskin jacket and toque.
'Oh, you darling! isn't this lovely?' she exclaimed, hugging Ida. 'You
are to live here for ever and ever, and never, never, never to leave us
again, and never to marry, unless you marry one of the Brians. Don't
shudder like that, pet, they are both nice! And I'm sure you like Brian
Walford, though, perhaps, not quite so much as he liked you. You do like
him now, don't you, darling?' urged Bess.
Ida had withdrawn from her embrace, and was seated before the low Bombay
table, occupied with the tea pot. There was no light but the fire and one
shaded lamp on a distant table. The curtains were not yet drawn, and
white mists were rising in the garden outside, like a sea.
'Bessie,' Ida began, gravely, as her old schoolfellow sat on a low stool
in front of the fire, 'how could you deceive me like that? What could put
such a thing in your head--_you_, so frank, so open?'
'I am sure I hardly know,' answered Bess, innocently. 'It was my
birthday, don't you know, and we were all wild. Perhaps the champagne had
something to do with it, though I didn't take any. But that sort of
excitement communicates itself; and running up and down hill gets into
one's head. We all thought it would be such fun to pass off penniless B.
W. for his wealthy cousin--and just to see how you liked him, with that
extra advantage. But there was no harm in it, was there, dear? Of course,
he told you afterwards, when you saw him at Mauleverer?
'Yes, he told me--afterwards.'
'Naturally; and having begun to like him as the rich Brian, you didn't
leave off liking him because of his poverty--did you, darling? The man
himself was the same.'
Ida was silent, remembering how, with the revelation of the fraud that
had been practised upon her, the very man himself had seemed to undergo a
transformation--as if a disguise, altering his every characteristic, had
been suddenly flung aside.
She did not answer Bessie's question, but, looking down at her with
grave, searching eyes, she said,--'Dear Bessie, it was a very foolish
jest. I know it is not in your nature to mean unkindly to anyone, least
of all to me, to whom you have been an angel of light; but all practical
jokes of that kind are liable to inflict pain and humiliation upon the
victim--however innocently meant. Whose idea was it, Bess? Not yours, I
'No; it was Urania who proposed it. She said it would be such fun.'
'Miss Rylance is not usually so--funny.'
'No; but she was particularly jolly that day, don't you remember? in
positively boisterous spirits--for her.'
'And the outcome of her amiability was this suggestion?'
'Yes, darling. She had noticed that you had a kind of romantic fancy
about Brian of the Abbey--that you had idealised his image, as it
were--and set him up as a kind of demi-god. Not because of his wealth,
darling--don't suppose that we supposed that--but on account of that dear
old Abbey and its romantic associations, which gave a charm to the owner.
And so she said what fun it would be to pass off Brian Walford as his
cousin, and see if you fell in love with him. 'I know she is ready to lay
her heart at the feet of the owner of the Abbey,' Urania said; and I
thought it would be too delicious if you were to fall in love with Brian
Walford, who could not help falling in love with you, for of course it
would end in your marrying him, and his getting on splendidly at the Bar;
for, with his talents, he must do well. He only wants a motive for
industry. And then you would be our very own cousin! I hope it wasn't a
very wicked idea, Ida, and that you will find it in your heart to forgive
me,' pleaded Bess, kneeling by her friend's chair, with clasped bands
upon Ida's knees, and sweet, half-tearful face looking up, 'My darling, I
have never been angry with you,' answered Ida, clasping the girl to her
heart, with a stifled sob. 'But I don't think Miss Rylance meant so
kindly. Her idea sprang from a malevolent heart. She wanted to humiliate
me--to drag my most sordid characteristics into the light of day--to make
me more abject than poverty had made me already. That was the motive of
'Never mind her motive, dear. All I am interested in is your opinion of
Brian. I hope he behaved nicely at Mauleverer.'
'Cobb says that Fraeulein positively raves about him--declares he is quite
the most gentlemanly young man she ever saw--a godly young man she called
him, in her funny English. And, she says, that he was madly in love with
you. Of course he made you an offer?'
'How could he do that when I was always with the Fraeulein?'
'Oh, nonsense. Brian is not the kind of young man to be kept at bay by a
mild nonentity like the Fraeulein. He told me before he left that he was
desperately in love with you, and that he meant to win you for his wife.
I asked him how he intended to keep a wife, and he said he should write
for the magazines, and do theatrical criticisms for the newspapers, till
briefs began to drop in. He was determined to win you if you were to be
won. So I feel sure that he made you an offer, unless, indeed, that
horrid old Pew spoiled all by her venomous conduct.'
'That is it, dear. Miss Pew brought matters to an abrupt close.'
'And you are not engaged to Brian?' said Bess, dolefully.
'And he didn't follow you to Dieppe?'
'Then he is not half so fine a fellow as I thought him.'
'Suppose, Bessie, that after a little mild flirtation, with Fraeulein Wolf
for an audience, we both discovered that our liking for each other was of
the very coolest order, and that it was wiser to let the acquaintance
'You might feel that; but I would never believe it of Brian. Why, he
raved about you; he was passionately in love. He told me there was no
sacrifice he would not make to call you his wife.'
'He had so much to sacrifice,' said Ida, with a cynical air.
'Don't be unkind, Ida. Of course I know that he has his fortune to make;
but he is so thoroughly nice--so full of fun.'
'Did you ever know him do anything good or great, anything worth being
remembered--anything that proved the depth and nobility of his nature?'
asked Ida, earnestly.
'Good gracious! no, not that I can remember. He is always nice, and
amusing. He doesn't like carrying a basket, or skates, and things; but of
course, where there are younger boys one couldn't expect him to do that;
and he hates plain girls and old women; but I suppose that is natural,
for even father does it, in his secret soul, though he is always so
utterly sweet to the poor things. But I am sure Brian Walford has a
tender heart, because he is so fond of kittens.'
'I didn't mean to insinuate that he was a modern Domitian,' answered Ida,
smiling at Bessie's childish earnestness. 'What I mean is that there is
no depth in his nature, no nobility in his character. He is shallow, and,
I fear, selfish. But, Bessie, my pet, I am going to ask you a favour.'
'Ask away,' cried Bessie, cheerfully; 'I can't give you the moon, but
anything which I really do possess is yours this instant.'
'Don't let us ever talk of Brian Walford. I can never get over the
feeling of humiliation which Miss Rylance's practical joke caused me; and
my only chance of forgetting it is to forget your cousin's existence.'
'Oh, but he will come to The Knoll, I hope, at Christmas, and then you
will think better of him.'
'If he should come I--I hope I shall not see him.'
'Has he offended you so deeply?'
'Don't let us talk about him, Bess. Tell me all about your Bournemouth
triumphs. I hear you were the belle of the place.'
'Then you have heard a most egregious fib. There were dozens of girls
with nineteen-inch waists, before whom I felt myself a monster of
dumpiness. But I got on pretty well. I don't pretend to be a good dancer,
but I can generally adapt myself to the badness of other people's steps,
and that goes for something.'
And now having got away from all painful subjects, Bessie rattled on at a
tremendous pace, describing girls and gowns, and partners, and tennis
tournaments, and yachting excursions, all in a breath, as she sat in
front of the fire sipping her tea, and devouring a particular kind of
buttered bun for which Miss Wendover's cook was famous.
'Aunt Betsy's tea is always nicer than any one else's; and so are her
buns and her butter; in fact everything in this house is nicer than it is
anywhere else,' said Bessie, pausing in her reminiscences. 'You are in
clover here, Ida.'
'Thanks to your goodness, Bess.'
'To mine? But I have positively nothing to do with it.'
'Yes, you have. It is from the wish to please her warm-hearted little
niece that Miss Wendover has been so good to me.'
'But if you had been plain or stupid she would have only been kind to you
at a distance. Aunt Betsy has her idiosyncrasies, and one of them is a
liking for beauty in individuals, as well as in chairs and tables and
cups and saucers. You will see that all her servants are pretty. She
picks them for their good looks, I believe, and trains them afterwards.
She would not have so much as a bad-looking stable boy.'
'Hard upon ugliness to be shut out of this paradise,' said Ida.
'Oh, but she finds places for the ugly boys and girls, with people whose
teeth are not so easily set on edge, she says herself. And now I must
be off, to change my frock for dinner. You know the back way to The
Knoll--across the fields to the little door in the kitchen-garden. You
will always come that way, of course. When are you coming to see us?
'You forget that my time is not my own. I will come whenever Miss
Wendover can best spare me.'
'Oh, you will have plenty of spare time, I am sure.'
'I hope not too much, or I shall be too sharply reminded that Miss
Wendover has taken me out of charity.'
'Charity fiddlestick! A prize-winner like you! And now good-bye, pet, or
I shall be late for dinner, which offends the Colonel beyond measure.'
Bessie scampered off, Ida following her to the glass door, only in time
to see her running across the lawn as fast as her feet could carry her.
It was characteristic of Bessie to cut everything very fine in the way of
THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES.
And now began for Ida a life of exceeding peacefulness, comfort,
happiness even; for how could a girl fail to be happy among people who
were so friendly and kind, who so thoroughly respected her, and so warmly
admired her for gifts altogether independent of fortune--who never, by
word or look, reminded her that she was in anywise of less importance
Nor had the girl any cause to fear that she was a useless member of Miss
Wendover's household. That lady found plenty of occupation for her young
companion--varied and pleasant duties, which made the days seem too
short, and the leisure of the long winter evenings an agreeable relief
from the busy hours of daylight.
That exquisite neatness which gave such a charm to Wendover's house was
not attained without labour. The polished surface of the old Chippendale
bureaus, the inlaid Sheraton chairs and tables, could only be maintained
by daily care. A housemaid's perfunctory dusting was not sufficient here;
and Miss Wendover, gloved and aproned, and armed with leathers and
brushes, gave at least half an hour every morning to the care of her old
furniture. Another half hour was devoted to china; and the floral
arrangements indoors, even in this wintry season, occupied half an hour
more. This was all active work, about which Aunt Betsy and Ida went
merrily, talking tremendously as they polished and dusted, and upon all
possible subjects, for Miss Wendover's lonely evenings had enabled her to
read almost as much as Southey, and she delighted in telling Ida the
curious out-of-the-way facts that were stored up in her memory.
Sometimes there was an hour or so given to culinary matters--new dishes,
new kickshaws, _hors d'oeuvres,_ savouries--to be taught the young,
teachable cook-maid; for whenever Miss Wendover went to a great dinner,
her eagle eye was on the alert to discover some modern improvement in the
dishes or the table arrangements.
Then there was gardening, which absorbed a good deal of time in fine
weather; for Aunt Betsy held that no gardener, however honestly inclined,
would long feel interested in a garden to which its owner was
indifferent. Miss Wendover knew every flower that grew--could bud, and
graft, and pot, and prune, and do everything that her youthful gardeners
could do, beside being ever so much more learned in the science of
Then there were inspections of piggery and poultry-yard, medicines and
particular foods to be prepared for the poultry, hospitals to be
established and looked after in odd corners of the orchard, and the
propagation of species to be carried on by mechanical contrivances.
On wet days there was art needlework, for which Miss Wendover had what
artists would call a great deal of feeling, without being very skilful as
an executant. Under her direction, Ida began a mauresque border for a
tawny plush curtain which was to be a triumph of art when completed, and
which was full of interest in progress. She worked at this of an evening,
while Miss Wendover, who had a fine full voice, and a perfect
enunciation, read aloud to her. Then, when Miss Wendover was tired, Ida
went to the piano and played for an hour or so, while the elder lady gave
herself up to rare idleness and dreamy thought.
These were home duties only. The two ladies had occupations abroad of a
more exacting nature. Miss Wendover until now had given two botany
lessons, and one physical science lesson, every week in the village
school. The botany lessons she now handed over to Ida, whom she coached
for that purpose. Summer or winter these lessons were always given out of
doors, in the course of an hour's ramble in field, lane, or wood. Then
Miss Wendover had a weekly class for domestic economy, a class attended
by all the most promising girls, from thirteen years old upwards, within
five miles. This class was held in the kitchen or housekeeper's room at
the Homestead; and many were the savoury messes of broth or soup, cheap
stews and meat puddings, and the jellies and custards compounded at these
lessons, to be fleut off next day to the sick poor upon Miss Wendover's
Then there was house to house visiting all over the widely-scattered
parish, much talk with gaffers and goodies, in all of which Ida assisted.
She would have hated the work had Miss Wendover been a person of the
Pardiggle stamp; but as love was the governing principle of all Aunt
Betsy's work, her presence was welcome as sunshine or balmy air; so
welcome that her sharpest lectures (and she could lecture when there was
need) were received with meekness and even gratitude. In these visits Ida
learned to know a great deal about the ways and manners of the
agricultural poor, all the weakness and all the nobility of the rural
Every Saturday or half-holiday at the village school--blessed respite
which gave the hard-worked mistress time to mend her clothes, and make
herself bright and trim for Sunday, and opened for the master brilliant
possibilities in the way of a jaunt to Bomsey or Winchester--Miss
Wendover gave a dinner to all the school children under twelve. She had
taken up Victor Hugo's theory that a substantial meat dinner, even on one
day out of seven, will do much to build up the youthful constitution and
to prevent scrofulous diseases. Moved by these considerations, she had
fitted up a disused barn as a rustic dining-hall, the walls plastered and
whitewashed, or buff-washed, the massive cross timbers painted a dark
red, a long deal table and a few forms the only furniture. Here every
Saturday, at half-past one o'clock, she provided a savoury meat dinner;
and very strong must be that temptation or that necessity which would
induce Aunt Betsy to abandon her duties as hostess at this weekly feast.
It was she who said grace before and after meat--save when some suckling
parson was admitted to the meal; it was she who surveyed and improved the
manners of her guests by sarcastic hints or friendly admonitions; and it
was she who furnished intellectual entertainment in the shape of
anecdote, historical story, or excruciating conundrum.
Ida was allowed to assist at these banquets, and there was nothing in her
new life which she enjoyed more than the sight of all those glad young
faces round the board, or the sound of that frank, rustic laughter. Some
there were naturally of a bovine dullness, in whom even Miss Wendover
could not awaken a ray of intelligence; but these were few. The
generality of the children were far above the average rustic in
brightness of intellect, and this superiority might fairly be ascribed to
Aunt Betsy's influence.
A fortnight before Christmas, by which time Ida had been at the Homestead
more than a month, Miss Wendover suggested a drive to Winchester, and
before starting she handed Ida a ten-pound note. 'You may want some
additional finery for Christmas,' she said kindly. 'Girls generally do.
So you may as well buy it to-day.'
'But, dear Aunt Betsy, I have only been with you a month.'
'Never mind that, my dear. We will not be particular as to quarter-days.
When I think you want money I shall give it to you, and we can make up
our accounts at the end of the year.'
'You are ever so much too good to me,' said Ida, with a loving look that
said a good deal more than words.
There was a light frost that whitened the hills, and the keen freshness
of the air stimulated Brimstone to conduct of a somewhat riotous
character, but Miss Wendover's firm hand held his spirits in check.
Treacle was a sagacious beast, who never did more work than he was
absolutely obliged to do, and who allowed Brimstone to drag the phaeton
while he trotted complacently on the other side of the pole. But Miss
Wendover would stand no nonsense, even from the amiable Treacle. She sent
the pair across the hills at a splendid pace, and drove them under the
old archway and down the stony street with a style which won the
admiration of every experienced eye.
They drew up at the chief draper's of the town; and here Miss Wendover
retired to hold a solemn conference with the head milliner, a judicious
and accomplished person who made Aunt Betsy's gowns and bonnets--all of a
solid and substantial architecture, as if modelled on the adjacent
cathedral. Ida, left alone amidst all the fascinations of the chief shop
in a smart county town, and feeling herself a Croesus, had much need of
fortitude and coolness of temper. Happily she remembered what a little
way that five-pound note had gone in preparing her for her summer visit
to The Knoll, and this brought wisdom. Before spending sixpence upon
herself she bought a gown--an olive merino gown, and velvet to trim it
withal--for her stepmother.
'I don't think she gets a new gown much oftener than I do,' she thought;
'and even if this costs four or five shillings for carriage it will be
worth the money, as a Christmas surprise.'
The gown left only trifling change out of two sovereigns, so that by the
time Ida had bought herself a dark brown cloth jacket and a brown
cashmere gown there were only four sovereigns left out of the ten. She
spent one of these upon some pale pink cashmere for an evening dress, and
half a sovereign on gloves, as she knew Miss Wendover liked to see people
neatly gloved. Ten shillings more were spent upon calico, and another
sovereign went by-and-by at the bootmaker's, leaving the damsel with
just twenty shillings out of her quarter's wage; but as the need of
pocket-money at Kingthorpe, except for the Sunday offertory, was nil, she
felt herself passing rich in the possession of that last remaining
sovereign. She would have liked to spend it all upon Christmas gifts for
her young friends at The Knoll; but this fond wish she relinquished with
a sigh. Paupers could not be givers of gifts. Whatever she gave must be
the fruit of her own labour--some delicate piece of handiwork made out of
'They are all too good to think meanly of me because I can only show my
gratitude in words,' she told herself.
As Christmas drew near Ida listened anxiously for any allusion to Brian
Walford as a probable visitor; and to her infinite relief, just three
days before the festival, she heard that he was not coming. He had been
invited, and he had left his young cousins in suspense as to his
intentions till the last moment, and then had written to say that he had
accepted an invitation to Norfolk, where there would be shooting, and a
probability of a stag-hunt on foot.
'Which I call horridly mean of him,' protested Horatio, who had come
across the fields expressly to announce this fact to Ida. 'Why can't he
come and shoot here? I don't mean to say that there is anything
particular to shoot, but he and I could go out together and try our luck.
Our hills are splendid for hares.'
'Do you mean that there are plenty of hares?' inquired Ida.
'No, not exactly that. But it would be capital ground for them, don't you
know, if there were any.'
'And where is your other cousin Brian?' asked Ida, merely for the sake of
All interest, all idle dreaming about the unknown Brian was over with her
since the fatal mistake which had marred her life. She could not conceive
that anything save evil could ever arise to her henceforward out of that
'Oh, he is in Sweden, or Turkey, or Russia, or somewhere,' replied
Horatio, with a disgusted air; 'always on the move, instead of keeping up
the Abbey in proper style, and cultivating his cousins. A man with such
an income is bound in duty to his fellow-creatures to keep a pack of
foxhounds. What else was he sent into the world for, I should like to
'Perhaps to cultivate the knowledge of his fellow-creatures in distant
countries, and to improve his mind.'
'Rot!' exclaimed Horatio, who was not choice in his language. 'What does
he want with mind? or to make a walking Murray or Baedeker of himself?
Society requires him to lay out his money to the local advantage. Here we
are, with no foxhounds nearer than the New Forest, when we ought to have
a pack at our door!'
Ida could not enter into the keen sense of deprivation caused by a dearth
of foxhounds, so she went on quietly with her work, shading the wing of
the inevitable swallow flitting across the inevitable bulrushes which
formed the design for a piano back.
Presently Bessie came bouncing in, her sealskin flung on anyhow, and the
most disreputable thing in hats perched sideways on her bright brown
'Mother is going to let us have a dance,' she burst forth breathlessly,
'on Twelfth Night! Won't that be too jolly? A regular party, don't you
know, with a crumb-cloth, and a pianiste from Winchester, and perhaps a
cornet. It's only another guinea, and if father's in a good temper he's
sure to say yes. You must come over to The Knoll every evening to
practise your waltzing. We shall have nothing but round dances in the
programme. I'll take care of that!'
'But if there are any matrons who like to have a romp in the Lancers or
the Caledonians, ain't it rather a shame to leave them out in the cold?'
suggested Horatio. 'You're so blessed selfish, Bess.'
'We are not going to have any matrons. Mother will matronize the whole
party. We are going to have the De Travers, and the Pococks, and the
Ducies, and the Bullinghams over from Bournemouth.'
'And where the deuce are you going to put 'em?'
'Oh, we can put up at least twenty--on spare mattresses, don't you know,
in the old nursery, and in the dressing-rooms and bath-room; and as for
us, why, of course, _we_ can sleep anywhere.'
'Thank you,' replied Horatio; 'I hope you don't suppose I am going to
turn out of my den, or to allow a pack of girls to ransack my drawers and
smoke my favourite pipe.'
'I don't suppose any decent-minded girl would consent to sleep in such a
loathsome hole,' retorted Bessie. 'She would prefer a pillow and a rug on
'My den is quite as tidy as that barrack of yours,' said the Wykhamiste,
'though I haven't yet risen to disfiguring my walls with kitchen plates
and fourpenny fans. The cheap aesthetic is not my line.
'Don't pretend to be cantankerous, Horatio,' said Ida, looking at him
with the loveliest eyes, twinkling a little at his expense; 'we all know
that you are brimming over with good-humour.
Perhaps Aunt Betsy will take in some of your visitors, Bess. I am sure
they shall be welcome to my room, if I have to sleep in the poultry
'Happy thought,' cried Bessie; 'I'll sound the dear creature as to her
views on the subject this very day.'
Aunt Betsy was all goodness, and offered to accommodate half a dozen
young ladies of neat and cleanly habits. She protested that she would
have no candle-grease droppers or door-mat despisers in her house.
'The Homestead is the only toy I have,' she said,' and I won't have it
So six irreproachable young women, the pride of careful mothers, were
billeted on Miss Wendover, while the more Bohemian damsels were to revel
in the improvised accommodation of The Knoll.
That particular Christmas-tide at Kingthorpe was a time of innocent mirth
and youthful happiness which might have banished black care, for the
nonce, from the oldest, weariest breast. For Ida, still young and fresh,
loving and lovable, the contagion of that youthful mirth was
She forgot by how fine a hair hung the sword that dangled over her guilty
head--or began to think that the hair was tough enough to hold good for
ever. And what mattered the existence of the sword provided it was never
to fall? Sometimes it seemed to her in the pure and perfect happiness of
this calm rural home, this useful, innocent life, as if that ill-advised
act of hers had never been acted--as if that autumn morning, that one
half-hour in the modern Gothic church, still smelling of mortar and
pitch-pine, set in flat fields, from which October mists were rising
ghostlike, was no more than a troubled dream--a dream that she had
dreamed and done with for ever. Could it be that such an hour--so dim, so
shadowy to look back upon from the substantial footing of her present
existence--was to give colour to all the rest of her life? No, it was the
dark dream of a troubled past, and she had nothing to do but to forget it
as soon as possible.
Forgetfulness--or at least a temporary kind of forgetfulness--was
tolerably easy while Brian Walford was civil enough to stay away from
Kingthorpe; but the problem of life would be difficult were he to appear
in the midst of that cordial circle--difficult to impossibility.
'It is evident that he doesn't mean to come while I am here,' she told
herself, 'and that at least is kind. But in that case I must not stay
here too long. It is not fair that I should shut him out of his uncle's
house. It is I who am the interloper.'
She thought with bitterest grief of any change from this peaceful life
among friends who loved her, to service in the house of a stranger; but
her conscience recognised the necessity for such a change.
She had no right to squat upon the family of the man she had married--to
exclude him from his rightful heritage, she who refused to acknowledge
his right as her husband. He had done her a deep wrong; he had deceived
her cruelly; and she deemed that she had a right to repudiate a bond
tainted by fraud; but she knew that she had no right to banish him from
his family circle--to dwell, under false pretences, by the hearth of his
'I did wrong in coming here,' she thought; 'it was a mean thing to do.
Yet how could I resist the temptation, when no other place offered, and
when I knew I was such a burden at home?'
In the very midst of her happiness, therefore, there was always this
corroding care, this remorseful sense of wrong-doing. This present life
of hers was all blissful, but it was bliss which could not, which must
not, last. Yet what fortitude would be needed ere she could break this
flowery bondage, loosen these dear fetters which love had laid upon her!
Once, during that jovial Christmas season, she hinted at a possible
change in the future.
'What a happy day this has been!' she said as she walked across the
wintry fields with Miss Wendover on the verge of midnight, after a
Christmas dinner and a long evening of Christmas games at The Knoll,
Needham marching in front of them with an unnecessary lantern, and all
the stars of heaven shining in blue frosty brilliance above their heads,
'and what a happy home! I feel it is a privilege to have seen so much of
it; and by-and-by, when I am among strangers--'
'What do you mean?' exclaimed Aunt Betsy, sharply; 'there is to be no
such by-and-by; or, if there ever be such a time, it will be your making,
not mine. You suit me capitally, and I mean to keep you as long as ever I
can, without absolute selfishness. If an eligible husband should want to
carry you off, I must let you go; but I will part with you to no one less
than a husband--unless, indeed,' and here Betsy Wendover's voice took a
colder and graver tone, 'unless you should want to better yourself, as
the servants say, and get more money than I can afford to give you. I
know your accomplishments are worth much more; but it is not everybody to
whom you would be as their own flesh and blood.'
'Oh, Aunt Betsy, can you think that I should ever set money in the scale
against your kindness--your infinite goodness to me?'
'When you talk of a change by-and-by, you set me thinking. Perhaps you
are already beginning to tire of this rustic dullness.'
'No, no, no; I never was so happy in my life--never since I was a child
playing about on board the ship that brought my mother and me to England.
Everybody were kind to me, and made much of me. My mother and I adored
each other; and I did not know that she was dying. Soon after we landed
she grew dangerously ill, and lay for weeks in a darkened room, which I
was not allowed to enter. It was a dreary, miserable time; a lonely,
friendless child pining in a furnished lodging, with no one but a servant
and a sick-nurse to speak to; and then, one dark November morning, the
black hearse and coaches came to the door, and I stood peeping behind a
corner of the parlour blind, and saw my mother's coffin carried out of
the house. No; from the time we left the ship till I came to The Knoll I
had never known what perfect happiness meant.'
'Surely you must have had some happy days with your father?' said Aunt
'Very few. There was always a cloud. Papa is not the kind of man who can
be cheerful under difficulties. Besides, I have seen so little of him,
poor dear. He did not come home from India till I was thirteen, and then
he fell in love with my stepmother, and married her, and took her to
France, where he fancies it is cheaper to live than in England. Yet I
cannot help thinking there are corners of dear old England where he might
find a prettier home and live quite as cheaply.'
'Of course, if he were a sensible man; but I gather from all you have
told me that there is a gentlemanlike helplessness about him--as of a
person who ought to have inherited a handsome income, and is out of his
element as a struggler.'
'That is quite true,' answered Ida; 'my father was not born to wrestle
They were at the glass door which opened into the morning-room by this
time. The room was steeped in rosy light--such a pretty room, with chintz
curtains and chintz-covered easy-chairs, low, luxurious, inviting; the
only ponderous piece of furniture an old Japanese cabinet, rich in gold
work upon black lacquer. On the dainty little octagon table there was a
large shallow brown glass vase full of Christmas roses; and there was an
odour of violets from the celadon china jars on the chimney-piece. Aunt
Betsy's favourite Persian cat, a marvel of fluffy whiteness, rose from
the hearth to welcome them. It was a delightful picture of home life.
Miss Wendover seemed in no hurry to go to bed. She seated herself in the
low arm-chair by the fire, and allowed the Persian to rub its white head
and arch its back against her dark brocade skirt. No one within twenty
miles of Winchester wore such brocades or such velvets as Miss
Wendover's. They were supposed to be woven on purpose for her. Her gowns
were gowns of the old school, and lasted for years, smelling of the
sandal or camphor wood chests in which they reposed for months at a
stretch, yet, by virtue of some wonderful tact in the wearer, never
looked dowdy or out of date.
'Now,' said Miss Wendover, with a resolute air, 'let us understand each
other, my dear Ida. I don't quite like what you said just now; and I want
to hear for certain that you are satisfied with your life here.'
'I am utterly happy here, dear Aunt Betsy. Is that a sufficient answer?
Only, when I came here, I felt that it was charity--an impulse of
kindness for a friendless girl--that prompted you to offer me a home;
that, in accepting your kindness, I had no right to become an
encumbrance; that, having enjoyed your genial hospitality for a space, I
ought to move on upon my journey, to go where I could be of more use.'
'You too ridiculous girl, can you suppose that you are not useful to me?'
exclaimed Aunt Betsy, impatiently. 'Is there a single hour of your day
unoccupied? Granted that my original motive was a desire to give a
comfortable home to a dear girl who seemed in need of new surroundings,
but that idea would hardly have occurred to me unless I had begun to feel
the want of some energetic helpmate to lighten the load of my daily
duties. The experiment has answered admirably, so far as I am concerned.
But it is just possible you feel otherwise. You may think that you could
make better use of your powers--earn double my poor salary, win
distinction by your fine playing, dress better, see more of the world. I
daresay to a girl of your age Kingthorpe seems a kind of living death.'
'So far from that, I love Kingthorpe with all my heart, so much that I
almost hate myself for not having been born here, for not being able to
say these are my native fields, I was cradled among these hills.'
'So be it. If you love Kingthorpe and love me, you have nothing to do but
to stay here till the hero of your life-story comes to carry you off.'
'There will be no such hero.'
'Oh, yes, there will! Every story, however humble, has its hero; but
yours is going to be a very magnificent personage, I hope.'
The little clock on the chimney-piece chimed the half-hour after
midnight, whereupon Aunt Betsy started up and called for her candle. She
and Ida kissed as they wished each other good night on the threshold of
the elder lady's room.
After this conversation, how could Ida ever again broach the subject of
departure? and yet she felt that sooner or later she must depart. Honour,
conscience, womanly feeling, forbade that she should remain at the cost
of Brian Walford's banishment.
On New Year's Eve Miss Wendover gave one of her famous dinner-parties;