Part 5 out of 9
have been made known to him in a gentle way--but God disposes.'
'There is nothing to make known--I don't understand,' said
Ethelberta, going from him.
By this time Ladywell had walked round the gravel walks with the two
other ladies and Mr. Belmaine, and they were all turning to come
back again. The young painter had deputed his voice to reply to
their remarks, but his understanding continued poring upon other
things. When he came up to Ethelberta, his agitation had left him:
she too was free from constraint; while Neigh was some distance off,
carefully examining nothing in particular in an old fragment of
The little party was now united again as to its persons; though in
spirit far otherwise. They went through the church in general talk,
Ladywell sad but serene, and Ethelberta keeping far-removed both
from him and from Neigh. She had at this juncture entered upon that
Sphinx-like stage of existence in which, contrary to her earlier
manner, she signified to no one of her ways, plans, or sensations,
and spoke little on any subject at all. There were occasional
smiles now which came only from the face, and speeches from the lips
The journey home was performed as they had come, Ladywell not
accepting the seat in Neigh's cab which was phlegmatically offered
him. Mrs. Doncastle's acquaintance with Ethelberta had been slight
until this day; but the afternoon's proceeding had much impressed
the matron with her younger friend. Before they parted she said,
with the sort of affability which is meant to signify the beginning
of permanent friendship: 'A friend of my husband's, Lord
Mountclere, has been anxious for some time to meet you. He is a
great admirer of the poems, and more still of the story-telling
invention, and your power in it. He has been present many times at
the Mayfair Hall to hear you. When will you dine with us to meet
him? I know you will like him. Will Thursday be convenient?'
Ethelberta stood for a moment reflecting, and reflecting hoped that
Mrs. Doncastle had not noticed her momentary perplexity. Crises
were becoming as common with her as blackberries; and she had
foreseen this one a long time. It was not that she was to meet Lord
Mountclere, for he was only a name and a distant profile to her: it
was that her father would necessarily be present at the meeting, in
the most anomalous position that human nature could endure.
However, having often proved in her disjointed experience that the
shortest way out of a difficulty lies straight through it,
Ethelberta decided to dine at the Doncastles', and, as she murmured
that she should have great pleasure in meeting any friend of theirs,
set about contriving how the encounter with her dearest relative
might be made safe and unsuspected. She bade them adieu blithely;
but the thoughts engendered by the invitation stood before her as
sorrowful and rayless ghosts which could not be laid. Often at such
conjunctures as these, when the futility of her great undertaking
was more than usually manifest, did Ethelberta long like a tired
child for the conclusion of the whole matter; when her work should
be over, and the evening come; when she might draw her boat upon the
shore, and in some thymy nook await eternal night with a placid
28. ETHELBERTA'S - MR. CHICKEREL'S ROOM
The question of Neigh or no Neigh had reached a pitch of insistence
which no longer permitted of dallying, even by a popular beauty.
His character was becoming defined to Ethelberta as something very
differently composed from that of her first imagining. She had set
him down to be a man whose external in excitability owed nothing to
self-repression, but stood as the natural surface of the mass
within. Neigh's urban torpor, she said, might have been in the
first instance produced by art, but, were it thus, it had gone so
far as to permeate him. This had been disproved, first
surprisingly, by his reported statement; wondrously, in the second
place, by his call upon her and sudden proposal; thirdly, to a
degree simply astounding, by what had occurred in the city that day.
For Neigh, before the fervour had subsided which was produced in him
by her look and general power while reading 'Paradise Lost,' found
himself alone with her in a nook outside the church, and there had
almost demanded her promise to be his wife. She had replied by
asking for time, and idly offering him the petals of her rose, that
had shed themselves in her hand. Neigh, in taking them, pressed her
fingers more warmly than she thought she had given him warrant for,
which offended her. It was certainly a very momentary affair, and
when it was over seemed to surprise himself almost as much as it had
vexed her; but it had reminded her of one truth which she was in
danger of forgetting. The town gentleman was not half so far
removed from Sol and Dan, and the hard-handed order in general, in
his passions as in his philosophy. He still continued to be the
male of his species, and when the heart was hot with a dream Pall
Mall had much the same aspect as Wessex.
Well, she had not accepted him yet; indeed, for the moment they were
in a pet with one another. Yet that might soon be cleared off, and
then recurred the perpetual question, would the advantage that might
accrue to her people by her marriage be worth the sacrifice? One
palliative feature must be remembered when we survey the matrimonial
ponderings of the poetess and romancer. What she contemplated was
not meanly to ensnare a husband just to provide incomes for her and
her family, but to find some man she might respect, who would
maintain her in such a stage of comfort as should, by setting her
mind free from temporal anxiety, enable her to further organize her
talent, and provide incomes for them herself. Plenty of saleable
originality was left in her as yet, but it was getting crushed under
the rubbish of her necessities.
She was not sure that Neigh would stand the test of her revelations.
It would be possible to lead him to marry her without revealing
anything--the events of the last few days had shown her that--yet
Ethelberta's honesty shrank from the safe course of holding her
tongue. It might be pleasant to many a modern gentleman to find
himself allied with a lady, none of whose ancestors had ever
pandered to a court, lost an army, taken a bribe, oppressed a
community, or broken a bank; but the added disclosure that, in
avoiding these stains, her kindred had worked and continued to work
with their hands for bread, might lead such an one to consider that
the novelty was dearly purchased.
Ethelberta was, upon the whole, dissatisfied with her progress thus
far. She had planned many things and fulfilled few. Had her father
been by this time provided for and made independent of the world, as
she had thought he might be, not only would her course with regard
to Neigh be quite clear, but the impending awkwardness of dining
with her father behind her chair could not have occurred. True,
that was a small matter beside her regret for his own sake that he
was still in harness; and a mere change of occupation would be but a
tribute to a fastidiousness which he did not himself share. She had
frequently tried to think of a vocation for him that would have a
more dignified sound, and be less dangerously close to her own path:
the post of care-taker at some provincial library, country
stationer, registrar of births and deaths, and many others had been
discussed and dismissed in face of the unmanageable fact that her
father was serenely happy and comfortable as a butler, looking with
dread at any hint of change short of perfect retirement. Since,
then, she could not offer him this retirement, what right had she to
interfere with his mode of life at all? In no other social groove
on earth would he thrive as he throve in his present one, to which
he had been accustomed from boyhood, and where the remuneration was
actually greater than in professions ten times as stately in name.
For the rest, too, Ethelberta had indulged in hopes, the high
education of the younger ones being the chief of these darling
wishes. Picotee wanted looking to badly enough. Sol and Dan
required no material help; they had quickly obtained good places of
work under a Pimlico builder; for though the brothers scarcely
showed as yet the light-fingered deftness of London artizans, the
want was in a measure compensated by their painstaking, and
employers are far from despising country hands who bring with them
strength, industry, and a desire to please. But their sister had
other lines laid down for them than those of level progress; to
start them some day as masters instead of men was a long-cherished
wish of Ethelberta's.
Thus she had quite enough machinery in her hands to keep decently
going, even were she to marry a man who would take a kindly view of
her peculiar situation, and afford her opportunities of
strengthening her powers for her kindred's good. But what would be
the result if, eighteen months hence--the date at which her
occupation of the house in Exonbury Crescent came to an end--she
were still a widow, with no accumulated capital, her platform
talents grown homely and stunted through narrow living, and her
tender vein of poesy completely dispersed by it? To calmly
relinquish the struggle at that point would have been the act of a
stoic, but not of a woman, particularly when she considered the
children, the hopes of her mother for them, and her own condition--
though this was least--under the ironical cheers which would greet a
slip back into the mire.
It here becomes necessary to turn for a moment to Master Joey
Chickerel, Ethelberta's troublesome page and brother. The face of
this juvenile was that of a Graeco-Roman satyr to the furthest
degree of completeness. Viewed in front, the outer line of his
upper lip rose in a double arch nearly to his little round nostrils,
giving an expression of a jollity so delicious to himself as to
compel a perpetual drawing in of his breath. During half-laughs his
lips parted in the middle, and remained closed at the corners, which
were small round pits like his nostrils, the same form being
repeated as dimples a little further back upon his cheek. The
opening for each eye formed a sparkling crescent, both upper and
under lid having the convexity upwards.
But during some few days preceding the dinner-party at the
Doncastles' all this changed. The luxuriant curves departed, a
compressed lineality was to be observed everywhere, the pupils of
his eyes seemed flattened, and the carriage of his head was limp and
sideways. This was a feature so remarkable and new in him that
Picotee noticed it, and was lifted from the melancholy current of
her own affairs in contemplating his.
'Well, what's the matter?' said Picotee.
'O--nothing,' said Joey.
'Nothing? How can you say so?'
'The world's a holler mockery--that's what I say.'
'Yes, so it is, to some; but not to you,' said Picotee, sighing.
'Don't talk argument, Picotee. I only hope you'll never feel what I
feel now. If it wasn't for my juties here I know what I'd do; I'd
'list, that's what I'd do. But having my position to fill here as
the only responsible man-servant in the house, I can't leave.'
'Has anybody been beating you?'
'Beating! Do I look like a person who gets beatings? No, it is a
madness,' said Joey, putting his hand upon his chest. 'The case is,
I am in love.'
'O Joey, a boy no bigger than you are!' said Picotee reprovingly.
Her personal interest in the passion, however, provoked her to
inquire, in the next breath, 'Who is it? Do tell, Joey.'
'No bigger than I! What hev bigness to do with it? That's just
like your old-fashioned notions. Bigness is no more wanted in
courting nowadays than in soldiering or smoking or any other duty of
man. Husbands is rare; and a promising courter who means business
will fetch his price in these times, big or small, I assure ye. I
might have been engaged a dozen times over as far as the bigness
goes. You should see what a miserable little fellow my rival is
afore you talk like that. Now you know I've got a rival, perhaps
you'll own there must be something in it.'
'Yes, that seems like the real thing. But who is the young woman?'
'Well, I don't mind telling you, Picotee. It is Mrs. Doncastle's
new maid. I called to see father last night, and had supper there;
and you should have seen how lovely she were--eating sparrowgrass
sideways, as if she were born to it. But, of course, there's a
rival--there always is--I might have known that, and I will crush
'But Mrs. Doncastle's new maid--if that was she I caught a glimpse
of the other day--is ever so much older than you--a dozen years.'
'What's that to a man in love? Pooh--I wish you would leave me,
Picotee; I wants to be alone.'
A short time after this Picotee was in the company of Ethelberta,
and she took occasion to mention Joey's attachment. Ethelberta grew
exceedingly angry directly she heard of it.
'What a fearful nuisance that boy is becoming,' she said. 'Does
father know anything of this?'
'I think not,' said Picotee. 'O no, he cannot; he would not allow
any such thing to go on; she is so much older than Joey.'
'I should think he wouldn't allow it! The fact is I must be more
strict about this growing friendliness between you all and the
Doncastle servants. There shall be absolutely no intimacy or
visiting of any sort. When father wants to see any of you he must
come here, unless there is a most serious reason for your calling
upon him. Some disclosure or reference to me otherwise than as your
mistress, will certainly be made else, and then I am ruined. I will
speak to father myself about Joey's absurd nonsense this evening. I
am going to see him on another matter.' And Ethelberta sighed. 'I
am to dine there on Thursday,' she added.
'To dine there, Berta? Well, that is a strange thing! Why, father
will be close to you!'
'Yes,' said Ethelberta quietly.
'How I should like to see you sitting at a grand dinner-table, among
lordly dishes and shining people, and father about the room
unnoticed! Berta, I have never seen a dinner-party in my life, and
father said that I should some day; he promised me long ago.'
'How will he be able to carry out that, my dear child?' said
Ethelberta, drawing her sister gently to her side.
'Father says that for an hour and a half the guests are quite fixed
in the dining-room, and as unlikely to move as if they were trees
planted round the table. Do let me go and see you, Berta,' Picotee
added coaxingly. 'I would give anything to see how you look in the
midst of elegant people talking and laughing, and you my own sister
all the time, and me looking on like puss-in-the-corner.'
Ethelberta could hardly resist the entreaty, in spite of her recent
'We will leave that to be considered when I come home to-night,' she
said. 'I must hear what father says.'
After dark the same evening a woman, dressed in plain black and
wearing a hood, went to the servants' entrance of Mr. Doncastle's
house, and inquired for Mr. Chickerel. Ethelberta found him in a
room by himself, and on entering she closed the door behind her, and
unwrapped her face.
'Can you sit with me a few minutes, father?' she said.
'Yes, for a quarter of an hour or so,' said the butler. 'Has
anything happened? I thought it might be Picotee.'
'No. All's well yet. But I thought it best to see you upon one or
two matters which are harassing me a little just now. The first is,
that stupid boy Joey has got entangled in some way with the lady's-
maid at this house; a ridiculous affair it must be by all account,
but it is too serious for me to treat lightly. She will worm
everything out of him, and a pretty business it will be then.'
'God bless my soul! why, the woman is old enough to be his mother!
I have never heard a sound of it till now. What do you propose to
'I have hardly thought: I cannot tell at all. But we will consider
that after I have done. The next thing is, I am to dine here
Thursday--that is, to-morrow.'
'You going to dine here, are you?' said her father in surprise.
'Dear me, that's news. We have a dinner-party to-morrow, but I was
not aware that you knew our people.'
'I have accepted the invitation,' said Ethelberta. 'But if you
think I had better stay away, I will get out of it by some means.
Heavens! what does that mean--will anybody come in?' she added,
rapidly pulling up her hood and jumping from the seat as the loud
tones of a bell clanged forth in startling proximity.
'O no--it is all safe,' said her father. 'It is the area door--
nothing to do with me. About the dinner: I don't see why you may
not come. Of course you will take no notice of me, nor shall I of
you. It is to be rather a large party. Lord What's-his-name is
coming, and several good people.'
'Yes; he is coming to meet me, it appears. But, father,' she said
more softly and slowly, 'how wrong it will be for me to come so
close to you, and never recognize you! I don't like it. I wish you
could have given up service by this time; it would have been so much
less painful for us all round. I thought we might have been able to
manage it somehow.'
'Nonsense, nonsense,' said Mr. Chickerel crossly. 'There is not the
least reason why I should give up. I want to save a little money
first. If you don't like me as I am, you must keep away from me.
Don't be uneasy about my comfort; I am right enough, thank God. I
can mind myself for many a year yet.'
Ethelberta looked at him with tears in her eyes, but she did not
speak. She never could help crying when she met her father here.
'I have been in service now for more than seven-and-thirty years,'
her father went on. 'It is an honourable calling; and why should
you maintain me because you can earn a few pounds by your gifts, and
an old woman left you her house and a few sticks of furniture? If
she had left you any money it would have been a different thing, but
as you have to work for every penny you get, I cannot think of it.
Suppose I should agree to come and live with you, and then you
should be ill, or such like, and I no longer able to help myself? O
no, I'll stick where I am, for here I am safe as to food and shelter
at any rate. Surely, Ethelberta, it is only right that I, who ought
to keep you all, should at least keep your mother and myself? As to
our position, that we cannot help; and I don't mind that you are
unable to own me.'
'I wish I could own you--all of you.'
'Well, you chose your course, my dear; and you must abide by it.
Having put your hand to the plough, it will be foolish to turn
'It would, I suppose. Yet I wish I could get a living by some
simple humble occupation, and drop the name of Petherwin, and be
Berta Chickerel again, and live in a green cottage as we used to do
when I was small. I am miserable to a pitiable degree sometimes,
and sink into regrets that I ever fell into such a groove as this.
I don't like covert deeds, such as coming here to-night, and many
are necessary with me from time to time. There is something without
which splendid energies are a drug; and that is a cold heart. There
is another thing necessary to energy, too--the power of
distinguishing your visions from your reasonable forecasts when
looking into the future, so as to allow your energy to lay hold of
the forecasts only. I begin to have a fear that mother is right
when she implies that I undertook to carry out visions and all. But
ten of us are so many to cope with. If God Almighty had only killed
off three-quarters of us when we were little, a body might have done
something for the rest; but as we are it is hopeless!'
'There is no use in your going into high doctrine like that,' said
Chickerel. 'As I said before, you chose your course. You have
begun to fly high, and you had better keep there.'
'And to do that there is only one way--that is, to do it surely, so
that I have some groundwork to enable me to keep up to the mark in
my profession. That way is marriage.'
'Marriage? Who are you going to marry?'
'God knows. Perhaps Lord Mountclere. Stranger things have
'Yes, so they have; though not many wretcheder things. I would
sooner see you in your grave, Ethelberta, than Lord Mountclere's
wife, or the wife of anybody like him, great as the honour would
'Of course that was only something to say; I don't know the man
'I know his valet. However, marry who you may, I hope you'll be
happy, my dear girl. You would be still more divided from us in
that event; but when your mother and I are dead, it will make little
Ethelberta placed her hand upon his shoulder, and smiled cheerfully.
'Now, father, don't despond. All will be well, and we shall see no
such misfortune as that for many a year. Leave all to me. I am a
rare hand at contrivances.'
'You are indeed, Berta. It seems to me quite wonderful that we
should be living so near together and nobody suspect the
relationship, because of the precautions you have taken.'
'Yet the precautions were rather Lady Petherwin's than mine, as you
know. Consider how she kept me abroad. My marriage being so secret
made it easy to cut off all traces, unless anybody had made it a
special business to search for them. That people should suspect as
yet would be by far the more wonderful thing of the two. But we
must, for one thing, have no visiting between our girls and the
servants here, or they soon will suspect.'
Ethelberta then laid down a few laws on the subject, and, explaining
the other details of her visit, told her father soon that she must
He took her along the passage and into the area. They were standing
at the bottom of the steps, saying a few parting words about
Picotee's visit to see the dinner, when a female figure appeared by
the railing above, slipped in at the gate, and flew down the steps
past the father and daughter. At the moment of passing she
whispered breathlessly to him, 'Is that you, Mr. Chickerel?'
'Yes,' said the butler.
She tossed into his arms a quantity of wearing apparel, and adding,
'Please take them upstairs for me--I am late,' rushed into the
'Good heavens, what does that mean?' said Ethelberta, holding her
father's arm in her uneasiness.
'That's the new lady's-maid, just come in from an evening walk--that
young scamp's sweetheart, if what you tell me is true. I don't yet
know what her character is, but she runs neck and neck with time
closer than any woman I ever met. She stays out at night like this
till the last moment, and often throws off her dashing courting-
clothes in this way, as she runs down the steps, to save a journey
to the top of the house to her room before going to Mrs.
Doncastle's, who is in fact at this minute waiting for her. Only
look here.' Chickerel gathered up a hat decked with feathers and
flowers, a parasol, and a light muslin train-skirt, out of the
pocket of the latter tumbling some long golden tresses of hair.
'What an extraordinary woman,' said Ethelberta. 'A perfect
Cinderella. The idea of Joey getting desperate about a woman like
that; no doubt she has just come in from meeting him.'
'No doubt--a blockhead. That's his taste, is it! I'll soon see if
I can't cure his taste if it inclines towards Mrs. Menlove.'
'Menlove; that's her name. She came about a fortnight ago.'
'And is that Menlove--what shall we do!' exclaimed Ethelberta. 'The
idea of the boy singling out her--why it is ruin to him, to me, and
to us all!'
She hastily explained to her father that Menlove had been Lady
Petherwin's maid and her own at some time before the death of her
mother-in-law, that she had only stayed with them through a three
months' tour because of her flightiness, and hence had learnt
nothing of Ethelberta's history, and probably had never thought at
all about it. But nevertheless they were as well acquainted as a
lady and her maid well could be in the time. 'Like all such
doubtful characters,' continued Ethelberta, 'she was one of the
cleverest and lightest-handed women we ever had about us. When she
first came, my hair was getting quite weak; but by brushing it every
day in a peculiar manner, and treating it as only she knew how, she
brought it into splendid condition.'
'Well, this is the devil to pay, upon my life!' said Mr. Chickerel,
with a miserable gaze at the bundle of clothes and the general
situation at the same time. 'Unfortunately for her friendship, I
have snubbed her two or three times already, for I don't care about
her manner. You know she has a way of trading on a man's sense of
honour till it puts him into an awkward position. She is perfectly
well aware that, whatever scrape I find her out in, I shall not have
the conscience to report her, because I am a man, and she is a
defenceless woman; and so she takes advantage of one's feeling by
making me, or either of the menservants, her bottle-holder, as you
see she has done now.'
'This is all simply dreadful,' said Ethelberta. 'Joey is shrewd and
trustworthy; but in the hands of such a woman as that! I suppose
she did not recognize me.'
'There was no chance of that in the dark.'
'Well, I cannot do anything in it,' said she. 'I cannot manage Joey
'I will see if I can,' said Mr. Chickerel. 'Courting at his age,
indeed--what shall we hear next!'
Chickerel then accompanied his daughter along the street till an
empty cab passed them, and putting her into it he returned to the
29. ETHELBERTA'S DRESSING-ROOM - MR. DONCASTLE'S HOUSE
The dressing of Ethelberta for the dinner-party was an undertaking
into which Picotee threw her whole skill as tirewoman. Her energies
were brisker that day than they had been at any time since the
Julians first made preparations for departure from town; for a
letter had come to her from Faith, telling of their arrival at the
old cathedral city, which was found to suit their inclinations and
habits infinitely better than London; and that she would like
Picotee to visit them there some day. Picotee felt, and so probably
felt the writer of the letter, that such a visit would not be very
practicable just now; but it was a pleasant idea, and for fastening
dreams upon was better than nothing.
Such musings were encouraged also by Ethelberta's remarks as the
dressing went on.
'We will have a change soon,' she said; 'we will go out of town for
a few days. It will do good in many ways. I am getting so alarmed
about the health of the children; their faces are becoming so white
and thin and pinched that an old acquaintance would hardly know
them; and they were so plump when they came. You are looking as
pale as a ghost, and I daresay I am too. A week or two at Knollsea
will see us right.'
'O, how charming!' said Picotee gladly.
Knollsea was a village on the coast, not very far from Melchester,
the new home of Christopher; not very far, that is to say, in the
eye of a sweetheart; but seeing that there was, as the crow flies, a
stretch of thirty-five miles between the two places, and that more
than one-third the distance was without a railway, an elderly
gentleman might have considered their situations somewhat remote
from each other.
'Why have you chosen Knollsea?' inquired Picotee.
'Because of aunt's letter from Rouen--have you seen it?'
'I did not read it through.'
'She wants us to get a copy of the register of her baptism; and she
is not absolutely certain which of the parishes in and about
Knollsea they were living in when she was born. Mother, being a
year younger, cannot tell of course. First I thought of writing to
the clergyman of each parish, but that would be troublesome, and
might reveal the secret of my birth; but if we go down there for a
few days, and take some lodgings, we shall be able to find out all
about it at leisure. Gwendoline and Joey can attend to mother and
the people downstairs, especially as father will look in every
evening until he goes out of town, to see if they are getting on
properly. It will be such a weight off my soul to slip away from
'Yes. At the same time I ought not to speak so, for they have been
very kind. I wish we could go to Rouen afterwards; aunt repeats her
invitation as usual. However, there is time enough to think of
Ethelberta was dressed at last, and, beholding the lonely look of
poor Picotee when about to leave the room, she could not help having
a sympathetic feeling that it was rather hard for her sister to be
denied so small an enjoyment as a menial peep at a feast when she
herself was to sit down to it as guest.
'If you still want to go and see the procession downstairs you may
do so,' she said reluctantly; 'provided that you take care of your
tongue when you come in contact with Menlove, and adhere to father's
instructions as to how long you may stay. It may be in the highest
degree unwise; but never mind, go.'
Then Ethelberta departed for the scene of action, just at the hour
of the sun's lowest decline, when it was fading away, yellow and
mild as candle-light, and when upper windows facing north-west
reflected to persons in the street dissolving views of tawny cloud
with brazen edges, the original picture of the same being hidden
from sight by soiled walls and slaty slopes.
Before entering the presence of host and hostess, Ethelberta
contrived to exchange a few words with her father.
'In excellent time,' he whispered, full of paternal pride at the
superb audacity of her situation here in relation to his. 'About
half of them are come.'
'Not yet; he's coming.'
'Yes. He came absurdly early; ten minutes before anybody else, so
that Mrs. D. could hardly get on her bracelets and things soon
enough to scramble downstairs and receive him; and he's as nervous
as a boy. Keep up your spirits, dear, and don't mind me.'
'I will, father. And let Picotee see me at dinner if you can. She
is very anxious to look at me. She will be here directly.'
And Ethelberta, having been announced, joined the chamberful of
assembled guests, among whom for the present we lose sight of her.
Meanwhile the evening outside the house was deepening in tone, and
the lamps began to blink up. Her sister having departed, Picotee
hastily arrayed herself in a little black jacket and chip hat, and
tripped across the park to the same point. Chickerel had directed a
maid-servant known as Jane to receive his humbler daughter and make
her comfortable; and that friendly person, who spoke as if she had
known Picotee five-and-twenty years, took her to the housekeeper's
room, where the visitor deposited her jacket and hat, and rested
A quick-eyed, light-haired, slight-built woman came in when Jane had
gone. 'Are you Miss Chickerel?' she said to Picotee.
'Yes,' said Picotee, guessing that this was Menlove, and fearing her
'Jane tells me that you have come to visit your father, and would
like to look at the company going to dinner. Well, they are not
much to see, you know; but such as they are you are welcome to the
sight of. Come along with me.'
'I think I would rather wait for father, if you will excuse me,
'Your father is busy now; it is no use for you to think of saying
anything to him.'
Picotee followed her guide up a back staircase to the height of
several flights, and then, crossing a landing, they descended to the
upper part of the front stairs.
'Now look over the balustrade, and you will see them all in a
minute,' said Mrs. Menlove. 'O, you need not be timid; you can look
out as far as you like. We are all independent here; no slavery for
us: it is not as it is in the country, where servants are
considered to be of different blood and bone from their employers,
and to have no eyes for anything but their work. Here they are
Picotee then had the pleasure of looking down upon a series of human
crowns--some black, some white, some strangely built upon, some
smooth and shining--descending the staircase in disordered column
and great discomfort, their owners trying to talk, but breaking off
in the midst of syllables to look to their footing. The young
girl's eyes had not drooped over the handrail more than a few
moments when she softly exclaimed, 'There she is, there she is! How
lovely she looks, does she not?'
'Who?' said Mrs. Menlove.
Picotee recollected herself, and hastily drew in her impulses. 'My
dear mistress,' she said blandly. 'That is she on Mr. Doncastle's
arm. And look, who is that funny old man the elderly lady is
'He is our honoured guest, Lord Mountclere. Mrs. Doncastle will
have him all through the dinner, and after that he will devote
himself to Mrs. Petherwin, your "dear mistress." He keeps looking
towards her now, and no doubt thinks it a nuisance that she is not
with him. Well, it is useless to stay here. Come a little further-
-we'll follow them.' Menlove began to lead the way downstairs, but
Picotee held back.
'Won't they see us?' she said.
'No. And if they do, it doesn't matter. Mrs. Doncastle would not
object in the least to the daughter of her respected head man being
accidentally seen in the hall.'
They descended to the bottom and stood in the hall. 'O, there's
father!' whispered Picotee, with childlike gladness, as Chickerel
became visible to her by the door. The butler nodded to his
daughter, and became again engrossed in his duties.
'I wish I could see her--my mistress--again,' said Picotee.
'You seem mightily concerned about your mistress,' said Menlove.
'Do you want to see if you have dressed her properly?'
'Yes, partly; and I like her, too. She is very kind to me.'
'You will have a chance of seeing her soon. When the door is nicely
open you can look in for a moment. I must leave you now for a few
minutes, but I will come again.'
Menlove departed, and Picotee stood waiting. She wondered how
Ethelberta was getting on, and whether she enjoyed herself as much
as it seemed her duty to do in such a superbly hospitable place.
Picotee then turned her attention to the hall, every article of
furniture therein appearing worthy of scrutiny to her unaccustomed
eyes. Here she walked and looked about for a long time till an
excellent opportunity offered itself of seeing how affairs
progressed in the dining-room.
Through the partly-opened door there became visible a sideboard
which first attracted her attention by its richness. It was,
indeed, a noticeable example of modern art-workmanship, in being
exceptionally large, with curious ebony mouldings at different
stages; and, while the heavy cupboard doors at the bottom were
enriched with inlays of paler wood, other panels were decorated with
tiles, as if the massive composition had been erected on the spot as
part of the solid building. However, it was on a space higher up
that Picotee's eyes and thoughts were fixed. In the great mirror
above the middle ledge she could see reflected the upper part of the
dining-room, and this suggested to her that she might see Ethelberta
and the other guests reflected in the same way by standing on a
chair, which, quick as thought, she did.
To Picotee's dazed young vision her beautiful sister appeared as the
chief figure of a glorious pleasure-parliament of both sexes,
surrounded by whole regiments of candles grouped here and there
about the room. She and her companions were seated before a large
flowerbed, or small hanging garden, fixed at about the level of the
elbow, the attention of all being concentrated rather upon the
uninteresting margin of the bed, and upon each other, than on the
beautiful natural objects growing in the middle, as it seemed to
Picotee. In the ripple of conversation Ethelberta's clear voice
could occasionally be heard, and her young sister could see that her
eyes were bright, and her face beaming, as if divers social wants
and looming penuriousness had never been within her experience. Mr.
Doncastle was quite absorbed in what she was saying. So was the
queer old man whom Menlove had called Lord Mountclere.
'The dashing widow looks very well, does she not?' said a person at
It was her conductor Menlove, now returned again, whom Picotee had
'She will do some damage here to-night you will find,' continued
Menlove. 'How long have you been with her?'
'O, a long time--I mean rather a short time,' stammered Picotee.
'I know her well enough. I was her maid once, or rather her mother-
in-law's, but that was long before you knew her. I did not by any
means find her so lovable as you seem to think her when I had to do
with her at close quarters. An awful flirt--awful. Don't you find
'I don't know.'
'If you don't yet you will know. But come down from your perch--the
dining-room door will not be open again for some time--and I will
show you about the rooms upstairs. This is a larger house than Mrs.
Petherwin's, as you see. Just come and look at the drawing-rooms.'
Wishing much to get rid of Menlove, yet fearing to offend her,
Picotee followed upstairs. Dinner was almost over by this time, and
when they entered the front drawing-room a young man-servant and
maid were there rekindling the lights.
'Now let's have a game of cat-and-mice,' said the maid-servant
cheerily. 'There's plenty of time before they come up.'
'Agreed,' said Menlove promptly. 'You will play, will you not, Miss
'No, indeed,' said Picotee, aghast.
'Never mind, then; you look on.'
Away then ran the housemaid and Menlove, and the young footman
started at their heels. Round the room, over the furniture, under
the furniture, through the furniture, out of one window, along the
balcony, in at another window, again round the room--so they glided
with the swiftness of swallows and the noiselessness of ghosts.
Then the housemaid drew a jew's-harp from her pocket, and struck up
a lively waltz sotto voce. The footman seized Menlove, who appeared
nothing loth, and began spinning gently round the room with her, to
the time of the fascinating measure
'Which fashion hails, from countesses to queens,
And maids and valets dance behind the scenes.'
Picotee, who had been accustomed to unceiled country cottages all
her life, wherein the scamper of a mouse is heard distinctly from
floor to floor, exclaimed in a terrified whisper, at viewing all
this, 'They'll hear you underneath, they'll hear you, and we shall
all be ruined!'
'Not at all,' came from the cautious dancers. 'These are some of
the best built houses in London--double floors, filled in with
material that will deaden any row you like to make, and we make
none. But come and have a turn yourself, Miss Chickerel.'
The young man relinquished Menlove, and on the spur of the moment
seized Picotee. Picotee flounced away from him in indignation,
backing into a corner with ruffled feathers, like a pullet trying to
appear a hen.
'How dare you touch me!' she said, with rounded eyes. 'I'll tell
somebody downstairs of you, who'll soon see about it!'
'What a baby; she'll tell her father.'
'No I shan't; somebody you are all afraid of, that's who I'll tell.'
'Nonsense,' said Menlove; 'he meant no harm.'
Playtime was now getting short, and further antics being dangerous
on that account, the performers retired again downstairs, Picotee of
necessity following. Her nerves were screwed up to the highest
pitch of uneasiness by the grotesque habits of these men and maids,
who were quite unlike the country servants she had known, and
resembled nothing so much as pixies, elves, or gnomes, peeping up
upon human beings from their shady haunts underground, sometimes for
good, sometimes for ill--sometimes doing heavy work, sometimes none;
teasing and worrying with impish laughter half suppressed, and
vanishing directly mortal eyes were bent on them. Separate and
distinct from overt existence under the sun, this life could hardly
be without its distinctive pleasures, all of them being more or less
pervaded by thrills and titillations from games of hazard, and the
perpetual risk of sensational surprises.
Long before this time Picotee had begun to be anxious to get home
again, but Menlove seemed particularly to desire her company, and
pressed her to sit awhile, telling her young friend, by way of
entertainment, of various extraordinary love adventures in which she
had figured as heroine when travelling on the Continent. These
stories had one and all a remarkable likeness in a certain point--
Menlove was always unwilling to love the adorer, and the adorer was
always unwilling to live afterwards on account of it.
'Ha-ha-ha!' in men's voices was heard from the distant dining-room
as the two women went on talking.
'And then,' continued Menlove, 'there was that duel I was the cause
of between the courier and the French valet. Dear me, what a
trouble that was; yet I could do nothing to prevent it. This
courier was a very handsome man--they are handsome sometimes.'
'Yes, they are. My aunt married one.'
'Did she? Where do they live?'
'They keep an hotel at Rouen,' murmured Picotee, in doubt whether
this should have been told or not.
'Well, he used to follow me to the English Church every Sunday
regularly, and I was so determined not to give my hand where my
heart could never be, that I slipped out at the other door while he
stood expecting me by the one I entered. Here I met M. Pierre,
when, as ill luck would have it, the other came round the corner,
and seeing me talking to the valet, he challenged him at once.'
'Ha-ha-ha!' was heard again afar.
'Did they fight?' said Picotee.
'Yes, I believe they did. We left Nice the next day; but I heard
some time after of a duel not many miles off, and although I could
not get hold of the names, I make no doubt it was between those two
gentlemen. I never knew which of them fell; poor fellow, whichever
'Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!' came from the dining-room.
'Whatever are those boozy men laughing at, I wonder?' said Menlove.
'They are always so noisy when the ladies have gone upstairs. Upon
my soul, I'll run up and find out.'
'No, no, don't,' entreated Picotee, putting her hand on her
entertainer's arm. 'It seems wrong; it is no concern of ours.'
'Wrong be hanged--anything on an impulse,' said Mrs. Menlove,
skipping across the room and out of the door, which stood open, as
did others in the house, the evening being sultry and oppressive.
Picotee waited in her seat until it occurred to her that she could
escape the lady's-maid by going off into her father's pantry in her
absence. But before this had been put into effect Menlove appeared
'Such fun as they are having up there,' she said. 'Somebody asked
Mr. Neigh to tell a story which he had told at some previous time,
but he was very reluctant to do so, and pretended he could not
recollect it. Well, then, the other man--I could not distinguish
him by his voice--began telling it, to prompt Mr. Neigh's memory;
and, as far as I could understand, it was about some lady who
thought Mr. Neigh was in love with her, and, to find whether he was
worth accepting or not, she went with her maid at night to see his
estate, and wandered about and got lost, and was frightened, and I
don't know what besides. Then Mr. Neigh laughed too, and said he
liked such common sense in a woman. No names were mentioned, but I
fancy, from the awkwardness of Mr. Neigh at being compelled to tell
it, that the lady is one of those in the drawing-room. I should
like to know which it was.'
'I know--have heard something about it,' said Picotee, blushing with
anger. 'It was nothing at all like that. I wonder Mr. Neigh had
the audacity ever to talk of the matter, and to misrepresent it so
'Tell all about it, do,' said Menlove.
'O no,' said Picotee. 'I promised not to say a word.'
'It is your mistress, I expect.'
'You may think what you like; but the lady is anything but a
mistress of mine.'
The flighty Menlove pressed her to tell the whole story, but finding
this useless the subject was changed. Presently her father came in,
and, taking no notice of Menlove, told his daughter that she had
been called for. Picotee very readily put on her things, and on
going outside found Joey awaiting her. Mr. Chickerel followed
closely, with sharp glances from the corner of his eye, and it was
plain from Joey's nervous manner of lingering in the shadows of the
area doorway instead of entering the house, that the butler had in
some way set himself to prevent all communion between the fair
lady's-maid and his son for that evening at least.
He watched Picotee and her brother off the premises, and the pair
went on their way towards Exonbury Crescent, very few words passing
between them. Picotee's thoughts had turned to the proposed visit
to Knollsea, and Joey was sulky under disappointment and the blank
of thwarted purposes.
30. ON THE HOUSETOP
'Picotee, are you asleep?' Ethelberta whispered softly at dawn the
next morning, by the half-opened door of her sister's bedroom.
'No, I keep waking, it is so warm.'
'So do I. Suppose we get up and see the sun rise. The east is
filling with flame.'
'Yes, I should like it,' said Picotee.
The restlessness which had brought Ethelberta hither in slippers and
dressing-gown at such an early hour owed its origin to another cause
than the warmth of the weather; but of that she did not speak as
yet. Picotee's room was an attic, with windows in the roof--a
chamber dismal enough at all times, and very shadowy now. While
Picotee was wrapping up, Ethelberta placed a chair under the window,
and mounting upon this they stepped outside, and seated themselves
within the parapet.
The air was as clear and fresh as on a mountain side; sparrows
chattered, and birds of a species unsuspected at later hours could
be heard singing in the park hard by, while here and there on ridges
and flats a cat might be seen going calmly home from the devilries
of the night to resume the amiabilities of the day.
'I am so sorry I was asleep when you reached home,' said Picotee.
'I was so anxious to tell you something I heard of, and to know what
you did; but my eyes would shut, try as I might, and then I tried no
longer. Did you see me at all, Berta?'
'Never once. I had an impression that you were there. I fancied
you were from father's carefully vacuous look whenever I glanced at
his face. But were you careful about what you said, and did you see
Menlove? I felt all the time that I had done wrong in letting you
come; the gratification to you was not worth the risk to me.'
'I saw her, and talked to her. But I am certain she suspected
nothing. I enjoyed myself very much, and there was no risk at all.'
'I am glad it is no worse news. However, you must not go there
again: upon that point I am determined.'
'It was a good thing I did go, all the same. I'll tell you why when
you have told me what happened to you.'
'Nothing of importance happened to me.'
'I expect you got to know the lord you were to meet?'
'O yes--Lord Mountclere.'
'And it's dreadful how fond he is of you--quite ridiculously taken
up with you--I saw that well enough. Such an old man, too; I
wouldn't have him for the world!'
'Don't jump at conclusions so absurdly, Picotee. Why wouldn't you
have him for the world?'
'Because he is old enough to be my grandfather, and yours too.'
'Indeed he is not; he is only middle-aged.'
'O Berta! Sixty-five at least.'
'He may or may not be that; and if he is, it is not old. He is so
entertaining that one forgets all about age in connection with him.'
'He laughs like this--"Hee-hee-hee!"' Picotee introduced as much
antiquity into her face as she could by screwing it up and suiting
the action to the word.
'This very odd thing occurred,' said Ethelberta, to get Picotee off
the track of Lord Mountclere's peculiarities, as it seemed. 'I was
saying to Mr. Neigh that we were going to Knollsea for a time,
feeling that he would not be likely to know anything about such an
out-of-the-way place, when Lord Mountclere, who was near, said, "I
shall be at Enckworth Court in a few days, probably at the time you
are at Knollsea. The Imperial Archaeological Association holds its
meetings in that part of Wessex this season, and Corvsgate Castle,
near Knollsea, is one of the places on our list." Then he hoped I
should be able to attend. Did you ever hear anything so strange?
Now, I should like to attend very much, not on Lord Mountclere's
account, but because such gatherings are interesting, and I have
never been to one; yet there is this to be considered, would it be
right for me to go without a friend to such a place? Another point
is, that we shall live in menagerie style at Knollsea for the sake
of the children, and we must do it economically in case we accept
Aunt Charlotte's invitation to Rouen; hence, if he or his friends
find us out there it will be awkward for me. So the alternative is
Knollsea or some other place for us.'
'Let it be Knollsea, now we have once settled it,' said Picotee
anxiously. 'I have mentioned to Faith Julian that we shall be
'Mentioned it already! You must have written instantly.'
'I had a few minutes to spare, and I thought I might as well write.'
'Very well; we will stick to Knollsea,' said Ethelberta, half in
doubt. 'Yes--otherwise it will be difficult to see about aunt's
baptismal certificate. We will hope nobody will take the trouble to
pry into our household. . . . And now, Picotee, I want to ask you
something--something very serious. How would you like me to marry
Ethelberta could not help laughing with a faint shyness as she asked
the question under the searching east ray. 'He has asked me to
marry him,' she continued, 'and I want to know what you would say to
such an arrangement. I don't mean to imply that the event is
certain to take place; but, as a mere supposition, what do you say
to it, Picotee?' Ethelberta was far from putting this matter before
Picotee for advice or opinion; but, like all people who have an
innate dislike to hole-and-corner policy, she felt compelled to
speak of it to some one.
'I should not like him for you at all,' said Picotee vehemently. 'I
would rather you had Mr. Ladywell.'
'O, don't name him!'
'I wouldn't have Mr. Neigh at any price, nevertheless. It is about
him that I was going to tell you.' Picotee proceeded to relate
Menlove's account of the story of Ethelberta's escapade, which had
been dragged from Neigh the previous evening by the friend to whom
he had related it before he was so enamoured of Ethelberta as to
regard that performance as a positive virtue in her. 'Nobody was
told, or even suspected, who the lady of the anecdote was,' Picotee
concluded; 'but I knew instantly, of course, and I think it very
unfortunate that we ever went to that dreadful ghostly estate of
Ethelberta's face heated with mortification. She had no fear that
Neigh had told names or other particulars which might lead to her
identification by any friend of his, and she could make allowance
for bursts of confidence; but there remained the awkward fact that
he himself knew her to be the heroine of the episode. What annoyed
her most was that Neigh could ever have looked upon her indiscretion
as a humorous incident, which he certainly must have done at some
time or other to account for his telling it. Had he been angry with
her, or sneered at her for going, she could have forgiven him; but
to see her manoeuvre in the light of a joke, to use it as
illustrating his grim theory of womankind, and neither to like nor
to dislike her the more for it from first to last, this was to treat
her with a cynicism which was intolerable. That Neigh's use of the
incident as a stock anecdote ceased long before he had decided to
ask her to marry him she had no doubt, but it showed that his love
for her was of that sort in which passion makes war upon judgment,
and prevails in spite of will. Moreover, he might have been
speaking ironically when he alluded to the act as a virtue in a
woman, which seemed the more likely when she remembered his cool
bearing towards her in the drawing-room. Possibly it was an
antipathetic reaction, induced by the renewed recollection of her
'I will never marry Mr. Neigh!' she said, with decision. 'That
shall settle it. You need not think over any such contingency,
Picotee. He is one of those horrid men who love with their eyes,
the remainder part of him objecting all the time to the feeling; and
even if his objections prove the weaker, and the man marries, his
general nature conquers again by the time the wedding trip is over,
so that the woman is miserable at last, and had better not have had
him at all.'
'That applies still more to Lord Mountclere, to my thinking. I
never saw anything like the look of his eyes upon you.'
'O no, no--you understand nothing if you say that. But one thing be
sure of, there is no marriage likely to take place between myself
and Mr. Neigh. I have longed for a sound reason for disliking him,
and now I have got it. Well, we will talk no more of this--let us
think of the nice little pleasure we have in store--our stay at
Knollsea. There we will be as free as the wind. And when we are
down there, I can drive across to Corvsgate Castle if I wish to
attend the Imperial Association meeting, and nobody will know where
I came from. Knollsea is not more than five miles from the Castle,
Picotee was by this time beginning to yawn, and Ethelberta did not
feel nearly so wakeful as she had felt half-an-hour earlier. Tall
and swarthy columns of smoke were now soaring up from the kitchen
chimneys around, spreading horizontally when at a great height, and
forming a roof of haze which was turning the sun to a copper colour,
and by degrees spoiling the sweetness of the new atmosphere that had
rolled in from the country during the night, giving it the usual
city smell. The resolve to make this rising the beginning of a long
and busy day, which should set them beforehand with the rest of the
world, weakened with their growing weariness, and an impulse to lie
down just for a quarter of an hour before dressing, ended in a sound
sleep that did not relinquish its hold upon them till late in the
31. KNOLLSEA - A LOFTY DOWN - A RUINED CASTLE
Knollsea was a seaside village lying snug within two headlands as
between a finger and thumb. Everybody in the parish who was not a
boatman was a quarrier, unless he were the gentleman who owned half
the property and had been a quarryman, or the other gentleman who
owned the other half, and had been to sea.
The knowledge of the inhabitants was of the same special sort as
their pursuits. The quarrymen in white fustian understood practical
geology, the laws and accidents of dips, faults, and cleavage, far
better than the ways of the world and mammon; the seafaring men in
Guernsey frocks had a clearer notion of Alexandria, Constantinople,
the Cape, and the Indies than of any inland town in their own
country. This, for them, consisted of a busy portion, the Channel,
where they lived and laboured, and a dull portion, the vague
unexplored miles of interior at the back of the ports, which they
seldom thought of.
Some wives of the village, it is true, had learned to let lodgings,
and others to keep shops. The doors of these latter places were
formed of an upper hatch, usually kept open, and a lower hatch, with
a bell attached, usually kept shut. Whenever a stranger went in, he
would hear a whispering of astonishment from a back room, after
which a woman came forward, looking suspiciously at him as an
intruder, and advancing slowly enough to allow her mouth to get
clear of the meal she was partaking of. Meanwhile the people in the
back room would stop their knives and forks in absorbed curiosity as
to the reason of the stranger's entry, who by this time feels
ashamed of his unwarrantable intrusion into this hermit's cell, and
thinks he must take his hat off. The woman is quite alarmed at
seeing that he is not one of the fifteen native women and children
who patronize her, and nervously puts her hand to the side of her
face, which she carries slanting. The visitor finds himself saying
what he wants in an apologetic tone, when the woman tells him that
they did keep that article once, but do not now; that nobody does,
and probably never will again; and as he turns away she looks
relieved that the dilemma of having to provide for a stranger has
passed off with no worse mishap than disappointing him.
A cottage which stood on a high slope above this townlet and its bay
resounded one morning with the notes of a merry company. Ethelberta
had managed to find room for herself and her young relations in the
house of one of the boatmen, whose wife attended upon them all.
Captain Flower, the husband, assisted her in the dinner
preparations, when he slipped about the house as lightly as a girl
and spoke of himself as cook's mate. The house was so small that
the sailor's rich voice, developed by shouting in high winds during
a twenty years' experience in the coasting trade, could be heard
coming from the kitchen between the chirpings of the children in the
parlour. The furniture of this apartment consisted mostly of the
painting of a full-rigged ship, done by a man whom the captain had
specially selected for the purpose because he had been seven-and-
twenty years at sea before touching a brush, and thereby offered a
sufficient guarantee that he understood how to paint a vessel
Before this picture sat Ethelberta in a light linen dress, and with
tightly-knotted hair--now again Berta Chickerel as of old--serving
out breakfast to the rest of the party, and sometimes lifting her
eyes to the outlook from the window, which presented a happy
combination of grange scenery with marine. Upon the irregular slope
between the house and the quay was an orchard of aged trees wherein
every apple ripening on the boughs presented its rubicund side
towards the cottage, because that building chanced to lie upwards in
the same direction as the sun. Under the trees were a few Cape
sheep, and over them the stone chimneys of the village below:
outside these lay the tanned sails of a ketch or smack, and the
violet waters of the bay, seamed and creased by breezes insufficient
to raise waves; beyond all a curved wall of cliff, terminating in a
promontory, which was flanked by tall and shining obelisks of chalk
rising sheer from the trembling blue race beneath.
By one sitting in the room that commanded this prospect, a white
butterfly among the apple-trees might be mistaken for the sails of a
yacht far away on the sea; and in the evening when the light was
dim, what seemed like a fly crawling upon the window-pane would turn
out to be a boat in the bay.
When breakfast was over, Ethelberta sat leaning on the window-sill
considering her movements for the day. It was the time fixed for
the meeting of the Imperial Association at Corvsgate Castle, the
celebrated ruin five miles off, and the meeting had some
fascinations for her. For one thing, she had never been present at
a gathering of the kind, although what was left in any shape from
the past was her constant interest, because it recalled her to
herself and fortified her mind. Persons waging a harassing social
fight are apt in the interest of the combat to forget the smallness
of the end in view; and the hints that perishing historical remnants
afforded her of the attenuating effects of time even upon great
struggles corrected the apparent scale of her own. She was reminded
that in a strife for such a ludicrously small object as the entry of
drawing-rooms, winning, equally with losing, is below the zero of
the true philosopher's concern.
There could never be a more excellent reason than this for going to
view the meagre stumps remaining from flourishing bygone centuries,
and it had weight with Ethelberta this very day; but it would be
difficult to state the whole composition of her motive. The
approaching meeting had been one of the great themes at Mr.
Doncastle's dinner-party, and Lord Mountclere, on learning that she
was to be at Knollsea, had recommended her attendance at some, if
not all of the meetings, as a desirable and exhilarating change
after her laborious season's work in town. It was pleasant to have
won her way so far in high places that her health of body and mind
should be thus considered--pleasant, less as personal gratification,
than that it casually reflected a proof of her good judgment in a
course which everybody among her kindred had condemned by calling a
And she might go without the restraint of ceremony.
Unconventionality--almost eccentricity-was de rigueur for one who
had been first heard of as a poetess; from whose red lips magic
romance had since trilled for weeks to crowds of listeners, as from
a perennial spring.
So Ethelberta went, after a considerable pondering how to get there
without the needless sacrifice either of dignity or cash. It would
be inconsiderate to the children to spend a pound on a brougham when
as much as she could spare was wanted for their holiday. It was
almost too far too walk. She had, however, decided to walk, when
she met a boy with a donkey, who offered to lend it to her for three
shillings. The animal was rather sad-looking, but Ethelberta found
she could sit upon the pad without discomfort. Considering that she
might pull up some distance short of the castle, and leave the ass
at a cottage before joining her four-wheeled friends, she struck the
bargain and rode on her way.
This was, first by a path on the shore where the tide dragged
huskily up and down the shingle without disturbing it, and thence up
the steep crest of land opposite, whereon she lingered awhile to let
the ass breathe. On one of the spires of chalk into which the hill
here had been split was perched a cormorant, silent and motionless,
with wings spread out to dry in the sun after his morning's fishing,
their white surface shining like mail. Retiring without disturbing
him and turning to the left along the lofty ridge which ran inland,
the country on each side lay beneath her like a map, domains behind
domains, parishes by the score, harbours, fir-woods, and little
inland seas mixing curiously together. Thence she ambled along
through a huge cemetery of barrows, containing human dust from
Standing on the top of a giant's grave in this antique land,
Ethelberta lifted her eyes to behold two sorts of weather pervading
Nature at the same time. Far below on the right hand it was a fine
day, and the silver sunbeams lighted up a many-armed inland sea
which stretched round an island with fir-trees and gorse, and amid
brilliant crimson heaths wherein white paths and roads occasionally
met the eye in dashes and zigzags like flashes of lightning.
Outside, where the broad Channel appeared, a berylline and opalized
variegation of ripples, currents, deeps, and shallows, lay as fair
under the sun as a New Jerusalem, the shores being of gleaming sand.
Upon the radiant heather bees and butterflies were busy, she knew,
and the birds on that side were just beginning their autumn songs.
On the left, quite up to her position, was dark and cloudy weather,
shading a valley of heavy greens and browns, which at its further
side rose to meet the sea in tall cliffs, suggesting even here at
their back how terrible were their aspects seaward in a growling
southwest gale. Here grassed hills rose like knuckles gloved in
dark olive, and little plantations between them formed a still
deeper and sadder monochrome. A zinc sky met a leaden sea on this
hand, the low wind groaned and whined, and not a bird sang.
The ridge along which Ethelberta rode divided these two climates
like a wall; it soon became apparent that they were wrestling for
mastery immediately in her pathway. The issue long remained
doubtful, and this being an imaginative hour with her, she watched
as typical of her own fortunes how the front of battle swayed--now
to the west, flooding her with sun, now to the east, covering her
with shade: then the wind moved round to the north, a blue hole
appeared in the overhanging cloud, at about the place of the north
star; and the sunlight spread on both sides of her.
The towers of the notable ruin to be visited rose out of the
furthermost shoulder of the upland as she advanced, its site being
the slope and crest of a smoothly nibbled mount at the toe of the
ridge she had followed. When observing the previous uncertainty of
the weather on this side Ethelberta had been led to doubt if the
meeting would be held here to-day, and she was now strengthened in
her opinion that it would not by the total absence of human figures
amid the ruins, though the time of appointment was past. This
disposed of another question which had perplexed her: where to find
a stable for the ass during the meeting, for she had scarcely liked
the idea of facing the whole body of lords and gentlemen upon the
animal's back. She now decided to retain her seat, ride round the
ruin, and go home again, without troubling further about the
movements of the Association or acquaintance with the members
Accordingly Ethelberta crossed the bridge over the moat, and rode
under the first archway into the outer ward. As she had expected,
not a soul was here. The arrow-slits, portcullis-grooves, and
staircases met her eye as familiar friends, for in her childhood she
had once paid a visit to the spot. Ascending the green incline and
through another arch into the second ward, she still pressed on,
till at last the ass was unable to clamber an inch further. Here
she dismounted, and tying him to a stone which projected like a fang
from a raw edge of wall, performed the remainder of the ascent on
foot. Once among the towers above, she became so interested in the
windy corridors, mildewed dungeons, and the tribe of daws peering
invidiously upon her from overhead, that she forgot the flight of
Nearly three-quarters of an hour passed before she came out from the
immense walls, and looked from an opening to the front over the wide
expanse of the outer ward, by which she had ascended.
Ethelberta was taken aback to see there a file of shining carriages,
which had arrived during her seclusion in the keep. From these
began to burst a miscellany of many-coloured draperies, blue, buff,
pied, and black; they united into one, and crept up the incline like
a cloud, which then parted into fragments, dived into old doorways,
and lost substance behind projecting piles. Recognizing in this the
ladies and gentlemen of the meeting, her first thought was how to
escape, for she was suddenly overcome with dread to meet them all
single-handed as she stood. She drew back and hurried round to the
side, as the laughter and voices of the assembly began to be
audible, and, more than ever vexed that she could not have fallen in
with them in some unobtrusive way, Ethelberta found that they were
immediately beneath her.
Venturing to peep forward again, what was her mortification at
finding them gathered in a ring, round no object of interest
belonging to the ruin, but round her faithful beast, who had
loosened himself in some way from the stone, and stood in the middle
of a plat of grass, placidly regarding them.
Being now in the teeth of the Association, there was nothing to do
but to go on, since, if she did not, the next few steps of their
advance would disclose her. She made the best of it, and began to
descend in the broad view of the assembly, from the midst of which
proceeded a laugh--'Hee-hee-hee!' Ethelberta knew that Lord
Mountclere was there.
'The poor thing has strayed from its owner,' said one lady, as they
all stood eyeing the apparition of the ass.
'It may belong to some of the villagers,' said the President in a
historical voice: 'and it may be appropriate to mention that many
were kept here in olden times: they were largely used as beasts of
burden in victualling the castle previous to the last siege, in the
year sixteen hundred and forty-five.'
'It is very weary, and has come a long way, I think,' said a lady;
adding, in an imaginative tone, 'the humble creature looks so aged
and is so quaintly saddled that we may suppose it to be only an
animated relic, of the same date as the other remains.'
By this time Lord Mountclere had noticed Ethelberta's presence, and
straightening himself to ten years younger, he lifted his hat in
answer to her smile, and came up jauntily. It was a good time now
to see what the viscount was really like. He appeared to be about
sixty-five, and the dignified aspect which he wore to a gazer at a
distance became depreciated to jocund slyness upon nearer view, when
the small type could be read between the leading lines. Then it
could be seen that his upper lip dropped to a point in the middle,
as if impressing silence upon his too demonstrative lower one. His
right and left profiles were different, one corner of his mouth
being more compressed than the other, producing a deep line thence
downwards to the side of his chin. Each eyebrow rose obliquely
outwards and upwards, and was thus far above the little eye, shining
with the clearness of a pond that has just been able to weather the
heats of summer. Below this was a preternaturally fat jowl, which,
by thrusting against cheeks and chin, caused the arch old mouth to
be almost buried at the corners.
A few words of greeting passed, and Ethelberta told him how she was
fearing to meet them all, united and primed with their morning's
knowledge as they appeared to be.
'Well, we have not done much yet,' said Lord Mountclere. 'As for
myself, I have given no thought at all to our day's work. I had not
forgotten your promise to attend, if you could possibly drive
across, and--hee-hee-hee!--I have frequently looked towards the hill
where the road descends. . . . Will you now permit me to introduce
some of my party--as many of them as you care to know by name? I
think they would all like to speak to you.'
Ethelberta then found herself nominally made known to ten or a dozen
ladies and gentlemen who had wished for special acquaintance with
her. She stood there, as all women stand who have made themselves
remarkable by their originality, or devotion to any singular cause,
as a person freed of her hampering and inconvenient sex, and, by
virtue of her popularity, unfettered from the conventionalities of
manner prescribed by custom for household womankind. The charter to
move abroad unchaperoned, which society for good reasons grants only
to women of three sorts--the famous, the ministering, and the
improper--Ethelberta was in a fair way to make splendid use of:
instead of walking in protected lanes she experienced that luxury of
isolation which normally is enjoyed by men alone, in conjunction
with the attention naturally bestowed on a woman young and fair.
Among the presentations were Mr. and Mrs. Tynn, member and member's
mainspring for North Wessex; Sir Cyril and Lady Blandsbury; Lady
Jane Joy; and the Honourable Edgar Mountclere, the viscount's
brother. There also hovered near her the learned Doctor Yore; Mr.
Small, a profound writer, who never printed his works; the Reverend
Mr. Brook, rector; the Very Reverend Dr. Taylor, dean; and the
undoubtedly Reverend Mr. Tinkleton, Nonconformist, who had slipped
into the fold by chance.
These and others looked with interest at Ethelberta: the old county
fathers hard, as at a questionable town phenomenon, the county sons
tenderly, as at a pretty creature, and the county daughters with
great admiration, as at a lady reported by their mammas to be no
better than she should be. It will be seen that Ethelberta was the
sort of woman that well-rooted local people might like to look at on
such a free and friendly occasion as an archaeological meeting,
where, to gratify a pleasant whim, the picturesque form of
acquaintance is for the nonce preferred to the useful, the spirits
being so brisk as to swerve from strict attention to the select and
sequent gifts of heaven, blood and acres, to consider for an idle
moment the subversive Mephistophelian endowment, brains.
'Our progress in the survey of the castle has not been far as yet,'
Lord Mountclere resumed; 'indeed, we have only just arrived, the
weather this morning being so unsettled. When you came up we were
engaged in a preliminary study of the poor animal you see there:
how it could have got up here we cannot understand.'
He pointed as he spoke to the donkey which had brought Ethelberta
thither, whereupon she was silent, and gazed at her untoward beast
as if she had never before beheld him.
The ass looked at Ethelberta as though he would say, 'Why don't you
own me, after safely bringing you over those weary hills?' But the
pride and emulation which had made her what she was would not permit
her, as the most lovely woman there, to take upon her own shoulders
the ridicule that had already been cast upon the ass. Had he been
young and gaily caparisoned, she might have done it; but his age,
the clumsy trappings of rustic make, and his needy woful look of
hard servitude, were too much to endure.
'Many come and picnic here,' she said serenely, 'and the animal may
have been left till they return from some walk.'
'True,' said Lord Mountclere, without the slightest suspicion of the
truth. The humble ass hung his head in his usual manner, and it
demanded little fancy from Ethelberta to imagine that he despised
her. And then her mind flew back to her history and extraction, to
her father--perhaps at that moment inventing a private plate-powder
in an underground pantry--and with a groan at her inconsistency in
being ashamed of the ass, she said in her heart, 'My God, what a
thing am I!'
They then all moved on to another part of the castle, the viscount
busying himself round and round her person like the head scraper at
a pig-killing; and as they went indiscriminately mingled, jesting
lightly or talking in earnest, she beheld ahead of her the form of
Neigh among the rest.
Now, there could only be one reason on earth for Neigh's presence--
her remark that she might attend--for Neigh took no more interest in
antiquities than in the back of the moon. Ethelberta was a little
flurried; perhaps he had come to scold her, or to treat her badly in
that indefinable way of his by which he could make a woman feel as
nothing without any direct act at all. She was afraid of him, and,
determining to shun him, was thankful that Lord Mountclere was near,
to take off the edge of Neigh's manner towards her if he approached.
'Do you know in what part of the ruins the lecture is to be given?'
she said to the viscount.
'Wherever you like,' he replied gallantly. 'Do you propose a place,
and I will get Dr. Yore to adopt it. Say, shall it be here, or
where they are standing?'
How could Ethelberta refrain from exercising a little power when it
was put into her hands in this way?
'Let it be here,' she said, 'if it makes no difference to the
'It shall be,' said Lord Mountclere.
And then the lively old nobleman skipped like a roe to the President
and to Dr. Yore, who was to read the paper on the castle, and they
soon appeared coming back to where the viscount's party and
Ethelberta were beginning to seat themselves. The bulk of the
company followed, and Dr. Yore began.
He must have had a countenance of leather--as, indeed, from his
colour he appeared to have--to stand unmoved in his position, and
read, and look up to give explanations, without a change of muscle,
under the dozens of bright eyes that were there converged upon him,
like the sticks of a fan, from the ladies who sat round him in a
semicircle upon the grass. However, he went on calmly, and the
women sheltered themselves from the heat with their umbrellas and
sunshades, their ears lulled by the hum of insects, and by the drone
of the doctor's voice. The reader buzzed on with the history of the
castle, tracing its development from a mound with a few earthworks
to its condition in Norman times; he related monkish marvels
connected with the spot; its resistance under Matilda to Stephen,
its probable shape while a residence of King John, and the sad story
of the Damsel of Brittany, sister of his victim Arthur, who was
confined here in company with the two daughters of Alexander, king
of Scotland. He went on to recount the confinement of Edward II.
herein, previous to his murder at Berkeley, the gay doings in the
reign of Elizabeth, and so downward through time to the final
overthrow of the stern old pile. As he proceeded, the lecturer
pointed with his finger at the various features appertaining to the
date of his story, which he told with splendid vigour when he had
warmed to his work, till his narrative, particularly in the
conjectural and romantic parts, where it became coloured rather by
the speaker's imagination than by the pigments of history, gathered
together the wandering thoughts of all. It was easy for him then to
meet those fair concentred eyes, when the sunshades were thrown
back, and complexions forgotten, in the interest of the history.
The doctor's face was then no longer criticized as a rugged boulder,
a dried fig, an oak carving, or a walnut shell, but became blotted
out like a mountain top in a shining haze by the nebulous pictures
conjured by his tale.
Then the lecture ended, and questions were asked, and individuals of
the company wandered at will, the light dresses of the ladies
sweeping over the hot grass and brushing up thistledown which had
hitherto lain quiescent, so that it rose in a flight from the skirts
of each like a comet's tail.
Some of Lord Mountclere's party, including himself and Ethelberta,
wandered now into a cool dungeon, partly open to the air overhead,
where long arms of ivy hung between their eyes and the white sky.
While they were here, Lady Jane Joy and some other friends of the
viscount told Ethelberta that they were probably coming on to
She instantly perceived that getting into close quarters in that way
might be very inconvenient, considering the youngsters she had under
her charge, and straightway decided upon a point that she had
debated for several days--a visit to her aunt in Normandy. In
London it had been a mere thought, but the Channel had looked so
tempting from its brink that the journey was virtually fixed as soon
as she reached Knollsea, and found that a little pleasure steamer
crossed to Cherbourg once a week during the summer, so that she
would not have to enter the crowded routes at all.
'I am afraid I shall not see you in Knollsea,' she said. 'I am
about to go to Cherbourg and then to Rouen.'
'How sorry I am. When do you leave?'
'At the beginning of next week,' said Ethelberta, settling the time
there and then.
'Did I hear you say that you were going to Cherbourg and Rouen?'
Lord Mountclere inquired.
'I think to do so,' said Ethelberta.
'I am going to Normandy myself,' said a voice behind her, and
without turning she knew that Neigh was standing there.
They next went outside, and Lord Mountclere offered Ethelberta his
arm on the ground of assisting her down the burnished grass slope.
Ethelberta, taking pity upon him, took it; but the assistance was
all on her side; she stood like a statue amid his slips and
totterings, some of which taxed her strength heavily, and her
ingenuity more, to appear as the supported and not the supporter.
The incident brought Neigh still further from his retirement, and
she learnt that he was one of a yachting party which had put in at
Knollsea that morning; she was greatly relieved to find that he was
just now on his way to London, whence he would probably proceed on
his journey abroad.
Ethelberta adhered as well as she could to her resolve that Neigh
should not speak with her alone, but by dint of perseverance he did
manage to address her without being overheard.
'Will you give me an answer?' said Neigh. 'I have come on purpose.'
'I cannot just now. I have been led to doubt you.'
'Doubt me? What new wrong have I done?'
'Spoken jestingly of my visit to Farnfield.'
'Good ---! I did not speak or think of you. When I told that
incident I had no idea who the lady was--I did not know it was you
till two days later, and I at once held my tongue. I vow to you
upon my soul and life that what I say is true. How shall I prove my
truth better than by my errand here?'
'Don't speak of this now. I am so occupied with other things. I am
going to Rouen, and will think of it on my way.'
'I am going there too. When do you go?'
'I shall be in Rouen next Wednesday, I hope.'
'May I ask where?'
'Hotel Beau Sejour.'
'Will you give me an answer there? I can easily call upon you. It
is now a month and more since you first led me to hope--'
'I did not lead you to hope--at any rate clearly.'
'Indirectly you did. And although I am willing to be as considerate
as any man ought to be in giving you time to think over the
question, there is a limit to my patience. Any necessary delay I
will put up with, but I won't be trifled with. I hate all nonsense,
and can't stand it.'
'Indeed. Good morning.'
'But Mrs. Petherwin--just one word.'
'I have nothing to say.'
'I will meet you at Rouen for an answer. I would meet you in Hades
for the matter of that. Remember this: next Wednesday, if I live,
I shall call upon you at Rouen.'
She did not say nay.
'May I?' he added.
'If you will.'
'But say it shall be an appointment?'
Lord Mountclere was by this time toddling towards them to ask if
they would come on to his house, Enckworth Court, not very far
distant, to lunch with the rest of the party. Neigh, having already
arranged to go on to town that afternoon, was obliged to decline,
and Ethelberta thought fit to do the same, idly asking Lord
Mountclere if Enckworth Court lay in the direction of a gorge that
was visible where they stood.
'No; considerably to the left,' he said. 'The opening you are
looking at would reveal the sea if it were not for the trees that
block the way. Ah, those trees have a history; they are half-a-
dozen elms which I planted myself when I was a boy. How time
'It is unfortunate they stand just so as to cover the blue bit of
sea. That addition would double the value of the view from here.'
'You would prefer the blue sea to the trees?'
'In that particular spot I should; they might have looked just as
well, and yet have hidden nothing worth seeing. The narrow slit
would have been invaluable there.'
'They shall fall before the sun sets, in deference to your opinion,'
said Lord Mountclere.
'That would be rash indeed,' said Ethelberta, laughing, 'when my
opinion on such a point may be worth nothing whatever.'
'Where no other is acted upon, it is practically the universal one,'
he replied gaily.
And then Ethelberta's elderly admirer bade her adieu, and away the
whole party drove in a long train over the hills towards the valley
wherein stood Enckworth Court. Ethelberta's carriage was supposed
by her friends to have been left at the village inn, as were many
others, and her retiring from view on foot attracted no notice.
She watched them out of sight, and she also saw the rest depart--
those who, their interest in archaeology having begun and ended with
this spot, had, like herself, declined the hospitable viscount's
invitation, and started to drive or walk at once home again.
Thereupon the castle was quite deserted except by Ethelberta, the
ass, and the jackdaws, now floundering at ease again in and about
the ivy of the keep.
Not wishing to enter Knollsea till the evening shades were falling,
she still walked amid the ruins, examining more leisurely some
points which the stress of keeping herself companionable would not
allow her to attend to while the assemblage was present. At the end
of the survey, being somewhat weary with her clambering, she sat
down on the slope commanding the gorge where the trees grew, to make
a pencil sketch of the landscape as it was revealed between the
ragged walls. Thus engaged she weighed the circumstances of Lord
Mountclere's invitation, and could not be certain if it were
prudishness or simple propriety in herself which had instigated her
to refuse. She would have liked the visit for many reasons, and if
Lord Mountclere had been anybody but a remarkably attentive old
widower, she would have gone. As it was, it had occurred to her
that there was something in his tone which should lead her to
hesitate. Were any among the elderly or married ladies who had
appeared upon the ground in a detached form as she had done--and
many had appeared thus--invited to Enckworth; and if not, why were
they not? That Lord Mountclere admired her there was no doubt, and
for this reason it behoved her to be careful. His disappointment at
parting from her was, in one aspect, simply laughable, from its odd
resemblance to the unfeigned sorrow of a boy of fifteen at a first
parting from his first love; in another aspect it caused reflection;
and she thought again of his curiosity about her doings for the
remainder of the summer.
While she sketched and thought thus, the shadows grew longer, and
the sun low. And then she perceived a movement in the gorge. One
of the trees forming the curtain across it began to wave strangely:
it went further to one side, and fell. Where the tree had stood was
now a rent in the foliage, and through the narrow rent could be seen
the distant sea.
Ethelberta uttered a soft exclamation. It was not caused by the
surprise she had felt, nor by the intrinsic interest of the sight,
nor by want of comprehension. It was a sudden realization of vague
things hitherto dreamed of from a distance only--a sense of novel
power put into her hands without request or expectation. A
landscape was to be altered to suit her whim. She had in her
lifetime moved essentially larger mountains, but they had seemed of
far less splendid material than this; for it was the nature of the
gratification rather than its magnitude which enchanted the fancy of
a woman whose poetry, in spite of her necessities, was hardly yet
extinguished. But there was something more, with which poetry had
little to do. Whether the opinion of any pretty woman in England
was of more weight with Lord Mountclere than memories of his
boyhood, or whether that distinction was reserved for her alone;
this was a point that she would have liked to know.
The enjoyment of power in a new element, an enjoyment somewhat
resembling in kind that which is given by a first ride or swim, held
Ethelberta to the spot, and she waited, but sketched no more.
Another tree-top swayed and vanished as before, and the slit of sea
was larger still. Her mind and eye were so occupied with this
matter that, sitting in her nook, she did not observe a thin young
man, his boots white with the dust of a long journey on foot, who
arrived at the castle by the valley-road from Knollsea. He looked
awhile at the ruin, and, skirting its flank instead of entering by
the great gateway, climbed up the scarp and walked in through a
breach. After standing for a moment among the walls, now silent and
apparently empty, with a disappointed look he descended the slope,
and proceeded along on his way.
Ethelberta, who was in quite another part of the castle, saw the
black spot diminishing to the size of a fly as he receded along the
dusty road, and soon after she descended on the other side, where
she remounted the ass, and ambled homeward as she had come, in no
bright mood. What, seeing the precariousness of her state, was the
day's triumph worth after all, unless, before her beauty abated, she
could ensure her position against the attacks of chance?
'To be thus is nothing;
But to be safely thus.'
--she said it more than once on her journey that day.
On entering the sitting-room of their cot up the hill she found it
empty, and from a change perceptible in the position of small
articles of furniture, something unusual seemed to have taken place
in her absence. The dwelling being of that sort in which whatever
goes on in one room is audible through all the rest, Picotee, who
was upstairs, heard the arrival and came down. Picotee's face was
rosed over with the brilliance of some excitement. 'What do you
think I have to tell you, Berta?' she said.
'I have no idea,' said her sister. 'Surely,' she added, her face
intensifying to a wan sadness, 'Mr. Julian has not been here?'
'Yes,' said Picotee. 'And we went down to the sands--he, and
Myrtle, and Georgina, and Emmeline, and I--and Cornelia came down
when she had put away the dinner. And then we dug wriggles out of
the sand with Myrtle's spade: we got such a lot, and had such fun;
they are in a dish in the kitchen. Mr. Julian came to see you; but
at last he could wait no longer, and when I told him you were at the
meeting in the castle ruins he said he would try to find you there
on his way home, if he could get there before the meeting broke up.'
'Then it was he I saw far away on the road--yes, it must have been.'
She remained in gloomy reverie a few moments, and then said, 'Very
well--let it be. Picotee, get me some tea: I do not want dinner.'
But the news of Christopher's visit seemed to have taken away her
appetite for tea also, and after sitting a little while she flung
herself down upon the couch, and told Picotee that she had settled
to go and see their aunt Charlotte.
'I am going to write to Sol and Dan to ask them to meet me there,'
she added. 'I want them, if possible, to see Paris. It will
improve them greatly in their trades, I am thinking, if they can see
the kinds of joinery and decoration practised in France. They
agreed to go, if I should wish it, before we left London. You, of
course, will go as my maid.'
Picotee gazed upon the sea with a crestfallen look, as if she would
rather not cross it in any capacity just then.
'It would scarcely be worth going to the expense of taking me, would
it?' she said.
The cause of Picotee's sudden sense of economy was so plain that her
sister smiled; but young love, however foolish, is to a thinking
person far too tragic a power for ridicule; and Ethelberta forbore,
going on as if Picotee had not spoken: 'I must have you with me. I
may be seen there: so many are passing through Rouen at this time
of the year. Cornelia can take excellent care of the children while
we are gone. I want to get out of England, and I will get out of
England. There is nothing but vanity and vexation here.'
'I am sorry you were away when he called,' said Picotee gently.
'O, I don't mean that. I wish there were no different ranks in the
world, and that contrivance were not a necessary faculty to have at
all. Well, we are going to cross by the little steamer that puts in
here, and we are going on Monday.' She added in another minute,
'What had Mr. Julian to tell us that he came here? How did he find
'I mentioned that we were coming here in my letter to Faith. Mr.
Julian says that perhaps he and his sister may also come for a few
days before the season is over. I should like to see Miss Julian
again. She is such a nice girl.'
'Yes.' Ethelberta played with her hair, and looked at the ceiling
as she reclined. 'I have decided after all,' she said, 'that it
will be better to take Cornelia as my maid, and leave you here with
the children. Cornelia is stronger as a companion than you, and she
will be delighted to go. Do you think you are competent to keep
Myrtle and Georgina out of harm's way?'
'O yes--I will be exceedingly careful,' said Picotee, with great
vivacity. 'And if there is time I can go on teaching them a
little.' Then Picotee caught Ethelberta's eye, and colouring red,
sank down beside her sister, whispering, 'I know why it is! But if
you would rather have me with you I will go, and not once wish to
Ethelberta looked as if she knew all about that, and said, 'Of
course there will be no necessity to tell the Julians about my
departure until they have fixed the time for coming, and cannot
alter their minds.'
The sound of the children with Cornelia, and their appearance
outside the window, pushing between the fuchsia bushes which
overhung the path, put an end to this dialogue; they entered armed
with buckets and spades, a very moist and sandy aspect pervading
them as far up as the high-water mark of their clothing, and began
to tell Ethelberta of the wonders of the deep.
32. A ROOM IN ENCKWORTH COURT
'Are you sure the report is true?'
'I am sure that what I say is true, my lord; but it is hardly to be
called a report. It is a secret, known at present to nobody but
myself and Mrs. Doncastle's maid.'
The speaker was Lord Mountclere's trusty valet, and the conversation
was between him and the viscount in a dressing-room at Enckworth
Court, on the evening after the meeting of archaeologists at
'H'm-h'm; the daughter of a butler. Does Mrs. Doncastle know of
this yet, or Mr. Neigh, or any of their friends?'
'No, my lord.'
'You are quite positive?'
'Quite positive. I was, by accident, the first that Mrs. Menlove
named the matter to, and I told her it might be much to her
advantage if she took particular care it should go no further.'
'Mrs. Menlove! Who's she?'
'The lady's-maid at Mrs. Doncastle's, my lord.'
'O, ah--of course. You may leave me now, Tipman.' Lord Mountclere
remained in thought for a moment. 'A clever little puss, to
hoodwink us all like this--hee-hee!' he murmured. 'Her education--
how finished; and her beauty--so seldom that I meet with such a
woman. Cut down my elms to please a butler's daughter--what a joke-
-certainly a good joke! To interest me in her on the right side
instead of the wrong was strange. But it can be made to change
sides--hee-hee!--it can be made to change sides! Tipman!'
Tipman came forward from the doorway.
'Will you take care that that piece of gossip you mentioned to me is
not repeated in this house? I strongly disapprove of talebearing of
any sort, and wish to hear no more of this. Such stories are never
true. Answer me--do you hear? Such stories are never true.'
'I beg pardon, but I think your lordship will find this one true,'
said the valet quietly.
'Then where did she get her manners and education? Do you know?'
'I do not, my lord. I suppose she picked 'em up by her wits.'
'Never mind what you suppose,' said the old man impatiently.
'Whenever I ask a question of you tell me what you know, and no
'Quite so, my lord. I beg your lordship's pardon for supposing.'
'H'm-h'm. Have the fashion-books and plates arrived yet?'
'Le Follet has, my lord; but not the others.'
'Let me have it at once. Always bring it to me at once. Are there
any handsome ones this time?'
'They are much the same class of female as usual, I think, my lord,'
said Tipman, fetching the paper and laying it before him.
'Yes, they are,' said the viscount, leaning back and scrutinizing
the faces of the women one by one, and talking softly to himself in
a way that had grown upon him as his age increased. 'Yet they are
very well: that one with her shoulder turned is pure and charming--
the brown-haired one will pass. All very harmless and innocent, but
without character; no soul, or inspiration, or eloquence of eye.
What an eye was hers! There is not a girl among them so beautiful.
. . . Tipman! Come and take it away. I don't think I will
subscribe to these papers any longer--how long have I subscribed?
Never mind--I take no interest in these things, and I suppose I must
give them up. What white article is that I see on the floor
'I can see nothing, my lord.'
'Yes, yes, you can. At the other end of the room. It is a white
handkerchief. Bring it to me.'
'I beg pardon, my lord, but I cannot see any white handkerchief.
Whereabouts does your lordship mean?'
'There in the corner. If it is not a handkerchief, what is it?
Walk along till you come to it--that is it; now a little further--
now your foot is against it.'
'O that--it is not anything. It is the light reflected against the
skirting, so that it looks like a white patch of something--that is
'H'm-hm. My eyes--how weak they are! I am getting old, that's what
it is: I am an old man.'
'O no, my lord.'
'Yes, an old man.'
'Well, we shall all be old some day, and so will your lordship, I
suppose; but as yet--'
'I tell you I am an old man!'
'Yes, my lord--I did not mean to contradict. An old man in one
sense--old in a young man's sense, but not in a house-of-parliament
or historical sense. A little oldish--I meant that, my lord.'
'I may be an old man in one sense or in another sense in your mind;
but let me tell you there are men older than I--'
'Yes, so there are, my lord.'
'People may call me what they please, and you may be impertinent
enough to repeat to me what they say, but let me tell you I am not a
very old man after all. I am not an old man.'