A CROOKED PATH
BY MRS. ALEXANDER,
Author of "The Wooing O't," "A Life Interest," Etc.
NEW YORK THE F. M. LUPTON PUBLISHING COMPANY, NOS. 72-76 WALKER STREET.
A CROOKED PATH.
The London season had not yet reached its height, some years ago, before the arch admitting to Constitution Hill had been swept back to make room for the huge, ever-increasing stream of traffic, or the plebeian 'bus had been permitted to penetrate the precincts of Hamilton Place. It was the forenoon of a splendid day, one of the earliest of June, and at that hour the roadway between the entrance to Hyde Park and the gate then surmounted by the statue of the Duke of Wellington on his drooping steed was comparatively free, when two gentlemen coming from opposite directions recognized each other, and paused at the gate of Apsley House—the elder, a stout, florid man of military aspect, middle age, and average height, with large gray mustache and small, slightly bloodshot eyes; the younger, who was tall and bony, might have been thirty, or even forty, so grave and sedate was his bearing, although his erect carriage, elastic step, and clear keen dark eyes suggested earlier manhood.
Both had the indescribable well-groomed, freshly bathed look peculiar to Englishmen of the "upper ten."
"Ha! Errington! I didn't know you were in town. I thought you were cruising somewhere with Melford, or rusticating at Garston Hall. I think your father expected you about this time."
"I don't think so. I was summoned by telegraph from Paris. My father was seized with a paralysis last week. He had just come up to town, and for a few days was dangerously ill, but is now slowly recovering."
"Very sorry to hear of it. A man of his stamp would have been of immense value to the country. He had begun to take a very leading part in local matters. I trust he will come round."
"I fear he will never be the same again. I doubt if he will be able to direct his own affairs as he used."
"That's bad! You are not in the business, I believe?"
"No; I never took any part in it. I almost regret I did not. It would, I imagine, be a relief to my father, now that his mind is less clear, to know that I was at the helm. But we have a capital man as manager, quite devoted to the house. I shall get my father down to the country as soon as I can, and I trust he'll come round."
"No doubt he will. He was wonderfully hale and strong for his years."
"Ay! how d'ye do, Bertie?" interrupted the first speaker, holding out his hand to a young man who came up from Hyde Park and seemed about to pass with a smile and a nod. "Who would have thought of meeting you in these godless regions? I hear you are busy 'slumming' from morning till night."
"Well, Colonel," returned Bertie—a slight, fair, boyish-looking man—"I am so far false to my new vocation as to have lost some irrevocable moments looking at the horses and horsewomen in the Row."
"Aha! the old leaven, my dear boy! You are on the brink of perdition.—Don't you know Bertie Payne?" he continued, to his newly met friend. "He was one of my subs before he renounced the devil and all his works. He was with us at Barrackbore when you were in India."
"I do not think we have met," the other was beginning, when a young lady—toward whom the Colonel had already cast some sharp, admiring glances as she stood on the curbstone holding a hand of the smaller of two little boys in smart sailor suits—uttered a cry of dismay. The elder child had rushed into the road, as if to stop a passing omnibus, not seeing that a hansom was coming up at speed.
The young man called Bertie dashed forward, and barely succeeded in snatching the child from under the wheel. A scramble of horses' feet, an imprecation or two shouted by the irritated driver, a noisy declaration from the "fare" that he should lose his train, and the scuffle was over.
The little man, held firmly by the shoulder, was marched back to his young guardian.
"Thank you!—oh, thank you a thousand times! You have saved his life!" she exclaimed, fervently, in unsteady tones. Then to the child: "How could you break your promise to stay by me, Cecil? You would have been killed but for this gentleman!"
"I wanted to catch the 'omlibus' for you, auntie!" he cried, with an irrepressible sob, though he gallantly tried to hold back his tears.
"Hope the little fellow is none the worse of his fright," said the Colonel, advancing and raising his hat. "Can I be of any use?—can I call a cab?"
"No, thank you; I will take an omnibus and get home as soon as I can. Cecil will soon forget his fright, I fear—"
"Sooner than you will," remarked Bertie. "There is a Royal Oak omnibus. Will that do?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Come along, then, my young man; I will not let you go."
Bertie put the trio into the vehicle, and the lookers-on saw that he shook hands with "auntie" as the conductor jumped on his perch and they rolled on.
"Gad! there's a chance for you!" cried the Colonel as Bertie joined him. "An uncommon fine girl, by George! What a coloring! and a splendid pair of black eyes!"
"I suspect extreme fright did a good deal for both, poor girl. Her eyes are brown, not black."
"Brown! Nonsense! Didn't you think they were black?"
"I did not observe them," returned the grave personage he addressed, indifferently. "The boy had a narrow escape. I must say good morning," he added.
"Stop a bit," cried the Colonel. "I must see you again before you leave town. Dine with me to-morrow at the Junior. And, Bertie—"
"Thanks, no, I am engaged." He said good-by and walked on.
"Queer fellow that," said the Colonel, looking after him. "He got into some money troubles in India, left the army, and got converted. Now he is not exactly a Salvation soldier, but something of the kind. He'll be at you one of the days for a subscription to convert the crossing sweepers or some such undertaking. But you'll dine with me to-morrow. I'll tell you all the Clayshire gossip."
"Thank you, I shall be very happy."
"Then good-by for the present, I am engaged to lunch to meet one of the prettiest little widows you ever saw in your life, but she has no cash. Here, hansom," calling to the driver of a cab which was passing slowly. "I am a little late." He jumped in and drove off.
His friend, with a slight grave smile, continued his walk to the Alexandria Hotel, the portals of which received him.
Meantime the hero of the cab incident sat very demurely by his young aunt, as the omnibus rolled slowly up Park Lane, occasionally stealing inquisitive glances at her face.
"You have been a very naughty boy, Cecil!" she exclaimed as her eyes met his. "How could I have gone home to mamma if I had been obliged to leave you behind?"
"But you needn't, you know; you could have tied me up in a bundle and taken me back. Mamma would have known it wasn't your fault."
"I am not so sure of that, and you have made poor Charlie cry,"—drawing the younger boy to her side.
"Charlie is just a baby," contemptuously.
"He is a better boy than you are." Silence.
"Auntie, do you think the gentleman who pulled me back was the old gentleman's son?"
"No, I do not think he was."
"Why don't you, auntie?"
"I can hardly say why."
"I have seen that gentleman—the old gentleman—in Kensington Gardens," said little Charlie, nestling up to his aunt. "He spoke to mammy the day she took me to feed the ducks."
"I think that is only a fancy, dear."
"No; I am quite sure."
"Oh, you are always fancying things; you are a silly," cried Cecil, now quite recovered, and turning to kneel upon the seat that he might look out, thereby rubbing his feet on the very best "afternoon" dress of a severely respectable female, whose rubicund face expressed "drat the boy!" as strongly as a face could.
The rest of the journey was accomplished after the usual style of such travels when the aunt and nephews went out together. Cecil was constantly rebuked and made to sit down, and as constantly resumed his favorite position; so that he ultimately reached home with beautifully clean shoes, having wiped "the dust off his feet" effectually on the garments of his fellow-passengers, while his little brother nestled to his auntie's side and gazed observantly on his fellow-travellers, arriving at curious conclusions respecting them, to be afterward set forth to the amusement of his hearers.
Leaving the omnibus at the Royal Oak, the trio diverged to one of the streets between that well-known establishment and the Bayswater Road—a street which had still a few trees and small semi-detached villas, with front gardens left at one end, the relics of a past when Penrhyn Place was "quite the country"; while at the other, bricks, mortar, scaffolding, and a deeply rutted roadway indicated the commencement of mansions which would soon swallow up their humbler predecessors.
At one of these villas, the garden of which was tolerably neat, the little boys and their aunt stopped, and were admitted by a smart but not over-clean girl, who welcomed the children with a cheerful, "Well, Master Cecil, you are just in nice time for dinner! Come, get your things off; your gran'ma has a treat for you."
"Has she? Oh, what is it? Do tell, Lottie!"
"Don't mind, dear, if you are tired; your morning-gown will do very well, as we are alone."
"No, no; I must honor Cecil's birthday with my best dress. These trifles are important."
"I suppose so," returned her daughter, looking after her gravely, as she left the room.
Mrs. Liddell was tall, and the lines of her figure considerably enlarged. Yet she had not quite lost the grace for which she was once remarkable. Her light brown hair had a pale look from the increasing admixture of gray, and her blue eyes seemed faded by much use. It was a kind, thoughtful, worn face from which they looked, yet it could still smile brightly.
"She looks very, very tired," thought her daughter. "I must make her lie down if I can; it is so hard to make her rest!" She too looked uneasily at the mass of writing on the table, and then went away to remove her out-door attire.
The birthday dinner gave great satisfaction. It was crowned by a plum-pudding, terrible as such a compound must always be in June; but it was a favorite "goody" with the young hero of the day. Grandmamma made herself as agreeable as though she was one of a party of wits, and drank her grandson's health in a bottle of choice gooseberry, proposing it in a "neat and appropriate" speech, which gave rise to much uproarious mirth and delight. At last the feast was over; the children retired to amuse themselves with a horse and a wheelbarrow—some of the birthday gifts—in the back garden (a wilderness resigned to their ravages), and Mrs. Liddell and her daughter were left alone.
"Now, mother, do come and lie down on the sofa in the drawing-room. I see you are out of sorts. You hardly tasted food, and you are dreadfully tired; come and rest. I will read you to sleep."
"No, Kate; there can be no rest for me, my darling," returned her mother, rising, and beginning to put the plates and glasses together with a nervous movement. "I am out of sorts, for I have had a great disappointment. The Family Friend has refused my three-volume novel, and I really have not the heart to try it anywhere else after such repeated rejections. At the same time Skinner & Palm write to say they cannot use my short story, 'On the Rack,' for five or six months, as they have such a quantity of already accepted manuscripts."
"How provoking!" cried Katherine. "But come away; the drawing-room is cooler; let us go there and talk things over."
Mrs. Liddell accepted the suggestion, and sank into an arm-chair, while her daughter let down the blinds, and then placed herself on a low ottoman opposite her.
There was a short silence; then Mrs. Liddell sighed and began: "I counted so much on that short story for ready money! Skinner always pays directly he has published. Now I do not know what to do. If I take it back I may fail to dispose of it, yet I cannot wait. But the novel—that is the worst disappointment of all. I suppose it was foolish, but I felt sure about that."
"Of course you did," cried Katherine, eagerly. "It is an excellent story."
"It is not worse than many Santley brings out," resumed Mrs. Liddell; "but one is no judge of one's own work. It was with reluctance I offered it to The Family Friend, and you see—" her voice faltered, and she stopped abruptly.
Katherine knew the tears were in her eyes and swelling her heart. She restrained the impulse to throw her arms round her; she feared to agitate her mother; rather she would help her self-control.
"Well, dear, I am no great judge, but I am quite sure that such a story as yours must succeed sooner or later. So we will be patient."
"Ah! but, Katie, the landlord and the butcher will not wait, and, my child, I have only about five pounds. I made too sure of success for I did so well last year. Then Madame de Corset will soon be sending in her bill for that famous dress of Ada's, and she will want the money she lent me."
"Then Madame de Corset must wait," said Katherine, firmly. "Ada is really your debtor. Where could she live at so small a cost as with you? Where could she be so free to run about without a thought for the children? What has become of her? Couldn't she stay with Cecil on his birthday?"
"She is gone to luncheon with the Burnetts. It is as well to keep up with them; their influence might be useful to the boys hereafter; but I do wish I could pay her."
"I wish you could, for it would make you happier; but she really owes you ten pounds and more."
"What shall I do about that novel? If I could get two hundred—even one hundred—pounds for it, I should do well. I began to hope I might make both ends meet with my pen. Oh, Katie dear, I am ashamed of myself, but for the first time in my life I feel beaten. I feel as if I could not come up to time again. It has been such a long, weary battle!" She pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
"I wish I could give you rest, darling mother!" said Katherine, taking her hand and fondling it. "I fear I have been too useless—too thoughtless."
"You have done all you could, my child; one cannot expect much from nineteen. But I wish—I wish I could think of any means of deliverance from my present difficulty. A small sum would suffice. Where to find it is the question. I counted too much on those unlucky manuscripts, and now I do not know where to turn; I see a vista of debt." A sudden fit of coughing interrupted her.
"You have taken cold, mother," cried Katherine. "I heard you coughing this morning. I was sure you would suffer for sitting near the open window in the study last night."
"It was so hot!" murmured Mrs. Liddell, lying back exhausted.
"Yes, but it was also frightfully damp. Tell me, mother, is there anything we can sell?—anything—"
Mrs. Liddell interrupted her. "Nothing, dear. The few jewels I had preserved went when I was trying to furnish this house. I fancied we should do well in a house of our own, and I was so anxious to make a home for my poor boy's widow!"
"When do you expect any more money?"
"Not for nearly two months, and then another quarter's rent will be due."
"Mother," said Katherine, after a moment's silence, "would not my father's brother, of whom I heard you speak, help you? It is dreadful to ask, but he is so near a kinsman, and childless."
"It is useless to think of it. He and your father quarrelled about money, and he is implacable. His only child, a son, opposed him, and he drove him away. Poor fellow! he was killed in Australia."
"Why have hard-hearted wretches heaps of money, while kind, generous souls like you never have a farthing?"
"That is a mystery of long standing," said Mrs. Liddell, with a faint smile. "Katie, I cannot think or talk any more. I will go and lie down in my own room. There neither Ada nor the children can disturb me. Oh, my darling, how can I ever die in peace if I leave you to do battle with the bitter, bitter world unprovided for?" Her voice quivered, and the hand she laid on her daughter's trembled.
"Do not fear for me, mother. I am tougher and more selfish than you are. It is time I worked for you. How feverish you are! Come up to your own room. You will see things differently when you have had a little sleep. If the worst comes, I will tell Ada that we must give up the house and go back to lodgings. We never had difficulties before we came here."
"No, for we never had debts. Now I have, and I have this house for nearly three years longer. It is not so easy to shake off engagements as you would a cloak that had grown too heavy."
So saying, Mrs. Liddell rose and ascended to the room she shared with her daughter, whom she allowed to take off her dress and put on her wrapper, to arrange her pillows, to bathe her brow in eau-de-cologne and water, and soothe her with those loving touches, those tender cares, that the heart alone can prompt, till in spite of the cloud and thick darkness that hid her future, Mrs. Liddell was calmed by the delicious sense of her daughter's love and sympathy.
"I will make a list of editors," said Katherine—"I mean those whom you have not tried—and go round to them myself. Perhaps I may bring you luck."
"Yes; your young life is more likely to have fortune on its side: the fickle jade has forsaken me."
Katherine made no reply beyond a gentle kiss. She sat silently by her mother's side, till feeling the hand that held hers relax its hold, she slowly and softly withdrew her own, comforted to perceive that balmy sleep had stolen upon the weary woman.
Still she sat there thinking with all the force of her young brain, partly remembering, partly anticipating.
Of her father she had scarce any knowledge. She was but four years old when he died, and her only brother was nearly fourteen. The eldest and youngest of Mrs. Liddell's children were the survivors of several.
Katherine's memory of her childish days presented the dim picture of a quaint foreign town; of blue skies, bright sunshine, and abundant vegetation; of large rooms and a smiling black-eyed attendant in a peculiar head-dress; of some one lying back in a large chair, near whom she must never make a noise. Then came a change; mother always in black, with a white cap, and often weeping, and of colder winters, snow and skating—a happy time, for she was always with mother both in lesson and play time, whilst Fred used to go away early to school. Next, clear and distinct, was the recollection of her first visit to London, and from this time she was the companion and confidante of her mother. They were poor—at least every outlay had to be carefully considered—but Katie never knew the want of money. Then came the excitement and preparation attending Fred's departure for India, the mixture of sorrow and satisfaction with which her mother parted from him, of how bitterly she had cried herself; for though somewhat tyrannical, Fred had been always kind and generous.
How well she remembered the day he had left them never to return—how her mother had clasped her to her heart and exclaimed: "You must be all in all to me now, Katie. I have done but little for you yet, dear, Fred needed so much."
A spell of happy, busy life in Germany followed, enlivened by long letters from the young Indian officer, whose career seemed full of promise. But when Katherine was a little more than thirteen sorrow fell upon them. Fred's letters had become irregular; then came a confession of weakness and debt, crowned by the supreme folly of marriage, concluding with a prayer for help.
Mrs. Liddell was cruelly disappointed. She had hoped and expected much from her boy. She believed he was doing so well! She told all to Katie, who heartily agreed with her that Fred must be helped. Some of their slender capital was sold out and sent to him, while mother and daughter cheerfully accepted the loss of many trifling indulgences, drawing the narrow limits of their expenditure closer still, content and free from debt, though as time went on Katherine cast many a longing glance at the world of social enjoyment in which their poverty forbade her to triumph.
Mrs. Liddell had always loved literature, and her husband had been an accomplished though a reckless and self-indulgent man. She had wandered a good deal with him, and had seen a great variety of people and places. It occurred to her to try her pen as a means of adding to her income, and after some failures she succeeded with one or two of the smaller weekly periodicals. This induced her to return to London, hoping to do better in that great centre of work. Here the tidings of her son's death overwhelmed her. Next came an imploring letter from the young widow, who had no near relatives, praying to be allowed to live with her and Katherine—sharing expenses—as the pension to which an officer's widow and orphans were entitled insured her a small provision.
So Mrs. Liddell again roused herself, and managed to furnish very scantily the little home where Katherine sat thinking. But the addition to their income was but meagre compared to the expenses which followed in the train of Mrs Frederic Liddell and her two "little Indian boys."
All the efforts of the practical mother and daughter did not suffice to keep within the limits they dreaded to overpass. Mrs. Liddell's pen became more than ever essential to the maintenance of the household, while the younger widow considered herself a martyr to the most sordid, the most unnecessary stinginess.
A tapping at the door and suppressed childish laughter called Katherine from her thoughts. She rose and opened the door quickly and softly.
"Hush, Cecil! be quiet, Charlie! poor grannie is asleep. Come with me downstairs; I will read to you if you like."
"Oh yes, do," said Charlie.
"I don't care for reading," cried Cecil. "Can't you play bears?"
"It makes too much noise. I will play it to-morrow if grandmamma is better. Shall I tell you a story?"
"No," said Cecil; "I will tell you one."
"Very well. I shall be delighted to hear it."
"I would rather have you read, auntie," said the little one.
"Never mind, Charlie; I will read to you after."
"Shall we sit in the garden? We have made it quite clean and tidy."
"No, dear; grannie would hear us there. Come into the dining-room."
Established there, the boys one on each side of her, Katherine listened to the young story-teller, who began fluently: "There was once two little boys called Jimmie and Frank. Frank was the biggest; he was very strong and very courageous; and he learned his lessons very well when he liked, but he did not always like. The two little boys had an aunt; she was nice and pleasant sometimes, but more times she was cross and disagreeable, and she spoiled Jimmie a great deal. One day they went out to walk a long way, and saw lots of people riding, and Jimmmie grew tired, and so did Frank, but Frank would not complain, and their aunt was so unkind that she would not call a hansom; so when they came to a great street Frank thought he would catch an omnibus, and he ran out quick—quick. He would have caught it, but his aunt was so silly and such a coward that she sent a man after him, who nearly dragged him under the feet of a horse that was coming up, and they would both have been killed if Frank had not called out to the cabman to stop."
"Oh, Cecil, that is you and I. What a story! Auntie is not unkind, and you did not call out," cried Charlie.
Katherine could not help laughing at the little monkey's version of the incident.
"Cecil, Cecil, you must learn to tell the truth—" she was beginning, when the door was opened, and a small, slight lady in black silk, with a profusion of delicate gray ribbons, jet trimming, and foamy white tulle ruching, stood in the doorway. She was very fair, with light eyes, a soft pink color, and pale golden brown hair—altogether daintily pretty.
"Oh, mammy! mammy! where have you been all my birthday?" cried the elder boy, rushing to her.
"My own precious darling, do not put your dear dirty little paws on my dress!" she exclaimed, in alarm. "I was obliged to go, my boy; but I have brought you a bag of sweets; it is in the hall. Dear me! how stuffy this room is! Mrs. Burnett's house is so cool and fresh! It looks into a charming garden at the back; and oh, how delightful it must be to be rich!" She had advanced into the room as she spoke, and began to untie and smooth out her bonnet strings.
"It must indeed," returned Katherine, with a deep sigh.
"I will go and put on an old dress; this one is too pretty to spoil, and the house is so dusty. Do you think it becoming, Katherine?"
"Yes, very"—with an indulgent smile. "You ought always to wear half-mourning; it suits you admirably."
"I think it does; but I must put it off some day, you know. Cecil dear, go and ask cook to make me a cup of tea. I will have it up in my room. Charlie, don't cuddle up against your aunt in that way; it makes her too hot, and you will grow crooked." Charlie jumped down from his chair and held up his face.
"There, dear," giving a hasty kiss. "Don't worry."
"Mammy," said Cecil, with much solemnity, "I was nearly killed to-day."
"Nonsense, dear! This is one of your wonderful inventions. What does he mean, Katherine?"
"He might have been. He darted from me at Hyde Park Corner, intending to catch an omnibus, and would have been run over if a gentleman had not snatched him from under the horses' feet."
"My precious boy!" laying her hand on his head, but keeping him at a distance. "How wrong of you, Katherine, to let his hand go!"
"I did not let it go; I was not holding it," returned Katherine, dryly.
"At Hyde Park Corner?" pursued Mrs. Frederic Liddell, eagerly. "Was the gentleman soldierly and stout, with gray mustaches?"
"No. He was young and slight and clean-shaved."
"That is curious; for Colonel Ormonde was saying at luncheon to-day that he had saved, or helped to save, such a pretty little boy from being run over. I don't exactly remember what he said. I was listening to Mrs. De Vere Hopkins, and Mrs. Burnett's boy was making a noise. Colonel Ormonde said he was just like a little fellow he had seen nearly run over that morning. I am sure Tom Burnett is not half as handsome as my Cecil."
"I should not have been run over if auntie had left me alone."
"Go and get mother's tea, and you, Charlie, fetch her some nice bread and butter," said Katherine, who, though six or seven years her sister-in-law's junior, looked at first sight older. "There was an elderly gentleman such as you describe, talking with the young man who rescued Cecil, and he was very polite and interested in Cecil, who broke away from me, though he had promised to stay by my side."
"Promised," repeated Mrs. Frederic, lightly, and carefully dusting her bonnet with her handkerchief. "What can you expect from a child's promise? But poor Cecil rarely does right in your eyes."
"Not at all. I am very observant. But tell me, did Colonel Ormonde take much notice of Cecil?"
"I do not know. I was too much frightened to see anything but the dear child himself."
Mrs. Frederic did not reply for a moment; she seemed to be thinking deeply. "Where did you get those flowers—those you bought on Saturday for sixpence?"
"Oh! at the little florist's on Queen's Road. It was late in the evening, you know, or they would not have been so cheap."
"I should like some to-morrow to make the drawing-room look pretty, if possible, for Colonel Ormonde said he would call. He wishes to see some of my Otocammed photographs. Heigho! it is a miserable place to receive any one in."
"Well, you see, it must do."
"Really, Katherine, you are very unsympathetic. If you have a fault, dear, it is selfishness. You don't mind my saying so?"
"Oh, not at all. I am thankful for the 'if.'"
"Where is your mother?"
"Lying down. She is tired, and has a horrid headache."
"I'm sure I don't wonder at it, toiling from morning till night for those wretched papers. I was telling Mrs. Burnett to-day that my mother-in-law was an authoress, but when I mentioned that she wrote for The Family Friend and The Cheerful Visitor, Lady Everton, who writes in The Court Journal and various grand things of that kind, said they were quite low publications, and never got higher than the servants' hall."
"You need not have gone into particulars, Ada. Whether my mother writes well or ill, the pressure on her is too great to allow of her picking or choosing; she must catch at the quickest market."
"I'm sure it is a great pity. That is the reason I stay on here, and let you teach Cis and Charlie, though Colonel Ormonde says the sooner boys are out of a woman's hands the better."
"If Colonel Ormonde is the old man I saw this morning, he looks more capable of judging a dinner than what is the best training for youth."
"Old!" screamed the pretty widow. "He is not old; he is only mature. He is very well off, too. He has a place in the country. And as to mentioning those papers, I know nothing of such things. The Nineteenth Century, or Bow Bells, or The Family Friend, they are all the same to me. Only I am sure such a nice lady-like woman as Mrs. Liddell should not write for the servants' hall. She must have been so handsome, too! Fred, poor fellow, was her image. You will never be so good-looking, Kate."
"No, I don't suppose I shall," returned Katherine, with much equanimity.
"Are there any letters for me?" asked Mrs. Frederic, looking round as she lifted her bonnet from the table.
"Here are two."
"Ah! this is from Harry Vigors. I suppose he is coming home. And oh! this is Madame de Corset's bill"—putting down her bonnet and opening it. "Eleven pounds seventeen and ninepence-half-penny. Why, this is abominable! She promised it should not be much more than ten pounds. There is five per cent off for ready money. Oh, I'll pay it immediately. How much will that be altogether, Kate? Eleven shillings? Well, that is worth saving. It will buy me two pairs of gloves. Now I'll go and rest. Tell me when Mrs. Liddell is awake."
BREAKING NEW GROUND.
Katherine took care that her sister-in-law should not have an opportunity of private conversation with Mrs. Liddell, that evening at least.
She rolled up and arranged the disordered manuscripts, putting the small study in order, and locking away the rejected tales. Then she proposed conducting the young widow to the florist's, as the evening grew cooler, and made herself agreeable by listening attentively to the little woman's description of the luncheon party, and her repetition of all the pretty things said to her by the various gentlemen present, especially by Colonel Ormonde.
"Of course I do not mind their nonsense, but however my heart may cling to dear Fred's memory, I must think of my precious boys," was her conclusion. To which Katherine answered, "Of course," as she would have answered any proposition, however wild, provided only she could save her mother from worry, at least for that evening.
Next day was showery and dull. True to her resolution, Katherine put her mother's lucubrations into their covers, and prepared to start on her projected round.
"I am not sure I ought to let you go, Katie dear," said Mrs. Liddell, as her daughter came into the study in her out-door dress. "It is rather a wild goose chase. Why should you succeed for me when I have failed for myself? Besides, personal interviews are of no avail. No editor will take work that does not suit him, however interesting the applicant."
"Nevertheless I will go. I shall bring a new element into the business, and I may be lucky! Why have you plunged into these horrid accounts?" pointing to a pile of small books, and a sheaf of backs of letters scribbled over with calculations. "This is not the way to cheer yourself."
"My love, it is a change of occupation, at least, to revert to the old yet ever new problem of life—how to extract thirty shillings from a sovereign. I am trying to see where we can possibly retrench. What is Ada doing?"
"She is decking the drawing-room and herself for the reception of Colonel Ormonde, who is coming to afternoon tea."
"She is quite excited, I assure you. Is it not soon to think of——"
"Do not judge her harshly. She is a woman not made to live alone. In due time I shall be glad to see her happily married, for she will marry."
"Tell me, is that irreconcilable uncle of mine really still alive? How long is it since you heard anything of him?"
"Oh, more than six or seven years. But I am sure he is alive. I should have heard of his death. I suppose he is still living on in Camden Town."
"Not a very agreeable quarter," returned Katherine, carelessly. "Good-by, mother dear! Do not expect me to dinner. I can have something whenever I come in."
Katherine walked briskly toward town, intending to save some of her omnibus fare, for she had planned a long and daring expedition—an undertaking which taxed all her courage. In truth, though she had never known the ease or luxury of wealth, she had been most tenderly brought up. Her mother had constantly shielded her from all the roughness of life, and the deed she contemplated seemed to her mind an almost desperate effort of independent action.
Through one of the very few sleepless nights she had ever experienced she had thought out an idea which had flashed through her brain while Mrs. Liddell was explaining her difficulties, and which she had carefully kept to herself.
She saw clearly enough the hopelessness of their position; probably with the intensity of youth she exaggerated it, which was scarcely necessary, as a small rut is apt to widen into a bottomless pit if it crosses the path of those who are living up to the utmost verge of a narrow income. As she reviewed the endless instances of her mother's self-abnegation which memory supplied—her cheerful industry, her brave struggle to live like a gentlewoman on a pittance, her tender thought for the welfare and happiness of her children—she felt she could walk through a burning fiery furnace if by so doing she could earn ease and repose for her mother's weary spirit.
"She is looking ill and worn," thought Katherine, "and years older. She has never been the same since that attack of bronchitis last year. Ada and the boys are too much for her, though they are dear little fellows; but they are costly. If Ada would even give us twenty pounds a year more it would be a great help."
The project Katherine had evolved through the night-watches was to visit her uncle and ask him, face to face, for help! It is, she argued, harder to say "no" than to write it; even if she failed she should know her fate at once, and not have to endure the agony of waiting for a letter. Nor, were she refused, need her mother ever know now she had humiliated herself in the dust.
How her young heart sank within her at the thought of being harshly, contemptuously rejected! It was a positive painful physical sense of faintness that made her limbs tremble as she pressed on faster than she was aware. "But I will do it—I will! If I succeed no humiliation will be too great," she said to herself. "I will speak with all my soul! When I begin, this horrible feeling that my tongue is dry and speechless will go away. I must find out where this awful old man is; what is his street and number. I dared not ask mother. First I will try the publisher; as the 'servants' hall' publications have rejected it, I shall offer Darrell's Doom to a first-rate house. Why not try Channing & Wyndham? They cannot say worse than 'no,' and I shall no doubt see a Directory there." Thus communing with herself, she took an omnibus down Park Lane and walked thence to the well-known temple of the Muses in Piccadilly.
Arrived there, a civil clerk took her card—which was her mother's—and soon returning, asked if she had an appointment. "No, I have not, but pray ask Mr. Channing or Mr. Wyndham to see me; I will not stay more than a few minutes." The young man smiled slightly; he was accustomed to such assurances. Almost as Katherine spoke, a stout "country gentleman" looking person came into the warehouse, slightly raising his hat as he passed her. A sudden inspiration prompted her to say, "Pray excuse me, but are you Mr. Wyndham?"
"Then do let me speak to you for five minutes."
"With pleasure," said the great publisher, graciously, and ushered her into a sort of literary loose box or small enclosure in the remote back-ground.
"I have ventured to bring you a manuscript," began Katherine, smiling with all her might, with an abject desire to propitiate the arbiter of her mother's fate.
"So I see," he returned, ruefully but politely.
"It is a beautiful story, and I thought it ought to be published by a great house like yours," pursued Katherine.
"Thank you," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "Pray is it your own?"
"Mine! Oh dear no! It is my mother's. She is not very strong, so I brought it."
There was a slight faltering in her voice that suggested a good deal to her hearer. "Then you are not Mrs. W. Liddell," glancing at the card, "but Mrs. Liddell's daughter. Pray put down that heavy parcel. Three volumes, I suppose?"
"Yes, three volumes, but they are not very long, and the story is most interesting."
"No doubt. I hope it is not historical?"
"Oh no! quite modern."
"So much the better. Well, Miss Liddell, I will look at the manuscript, or rather our reader shall, and let you know the result in due course; but I must warn you that we are rather overdone with three-volume novels, and there are already a large number of manuscripts awaiting perusal, so you must not expect our verdict for some little time."
"When you will, but oh! as soon as you can," she urged.
"I will keep your address, and you shall hear at the earliest date we can manage. Good-morning. Very damp, uncomfortable day."
Katherine felt herself dismissed, and almost forgot her ulterior intention. "Would you be so very good as to let me look at the Directory, if you have one?"
"Certainly," said Wyndham, who was slipping the card under the string of poor Katherine's parcel. "Here, Tompkins, let this young lady see the Directory. Excuse me—I am a good deal pressed for time;" and with a bow he went off, the manuscript under his arm.
"Well, it is really in his hands, at all events," thought Katherine, looking wistfully after it.
A boy with inky hands here placed that thick volume, the Post-Office Directory, before her, and she proceeded to search confusedly among the endless pages of names, a little strengthened and cheered by her brief interview with the publisher. It seemed that she was in a lucky vein: trouble is always conducive to superstition. When visible hope fails, poor human hearts turn to the invisible and the improbable.
At last she paused at "John Wilmot Liddell, 27 Legrave Crescent, Camden Town, N. W." That must be her uncle; they were all Wilmot Liddells. How to reach his abode was the question.
The inky boy soon gave her the requisite information. "You take a Waterloo 'bus at Piccadilly Circus; it runs through to Camden Town; that is, to the beginning of Camden Town," he said. Katherine thanked him, and again set forth.
It was a long, tedious drive. The omnibus was crammed with warm passengers and damp umbrellas, but Katherine was too racked with impatience and fear to heed small discomforts. Would her dreaded relative order her out of his sight at once? Was her interview with the publisher a good omen?
At last she reached the end of her journey, and addressing herself to the tutelary policeman solemnly pacing past the Tavern where the omnibus paused, she asked to be directed to Legrave Crescent.
It was an old-fashioned row of houses, before them a few sooty trees in a half-moon of grass, one side railed off from the street and dignified with gates at either end—gates which were always open.
The place had a still, deserted air, but about the middle stood a cab, on which a rheumatic driver, assisted by a small boy, was placing a cumbrous box. As Katherine approached she found that the house before which it stood bore the number she sought, and on reaching it she found the door held open by a little smutty girl, the very lowest type of slavey, with unkempt hair, and a rough holland apron of the grimiest aspect. On the top step stood a stout woman, fairly well dressed in a large shawl and a straw bonnet largely decorated with crushed artificial flowers; a very red, angry face appeared beneath it, with watery eyes and a coarse, half-open mouth. All this Katherine saw, but hardly observed, so strongly was her attention attracted to a figure that stood a few paces within the entrance—a tall, thin old man, bent and leaning on a stick. He was wrapped in a long dressing-gown of dull dark gray, evidently much worn; slippers were on his feet, and a black velvet skull-cap on his head, from under which some thin straggling locks of white hair escaped. His thin aquiline features and dark sunken eyes were alight with an expression of malignant fury; one long claw-like hand was outstretched with a gesture of dismissal, the other grasped the top of his stick. "Begone, you accursed drunken thief!" he was almost screaming in a shrill voice. "I would take you to the police, court if there was anything to be got out of you; but it would only be throwing good money away after bad. Get you gone to the ditch where you'll die! You guzzling, muzzling fool, to leave my house without a shilling after all your pilfering!"
While he uttered these words with frightful vehemence, the woman he addressed kept up a rapid undercurrent of reply.
"Living with a miserable screwy miser like you would make a saint drink! Do you think people will serve you for nothing, and not pay themselves somehow? The likes of you are born to be robbed—and may your last crust be stole from you, you old skinflint!" With this last defiance, she turned and threw herself hastily into the cab, which crawled away as if horse and driver were equally rheumatic.
"Shut the door," said the old man, hoarsely, as if exhausted.
"Please, sir, there's a lady here," said the little slavey. Katherine, who was as frightened as if she were face to face with a lunatic, had a terrible conviction that this appalling old man was her uncle. How should she ever address him? What an unfortunate time to have fallen upon!
"What do you want?" asked the old man, fiercely, frowning till his shaggy white eyebrows almost met over his angry black eyes.
"I want to see Mr. John Wilmot Liddell."
"Then you see him! Who are you?"
"Katherine Liddell, your niece."
"My niece!" with inexpressible contempt and disbelief, "Well, niece or not, you may serve a turn. Can you read?"
"Yes, of course."
"Come, then—come in." He turned and walked with some difficulty to the door of the front parlor. Half bewildered, Katherine followed mechanically, and the small servant shut the front door, putting up the chain with a good deal of noise.
The room to which Katherine was so unceremoniously introduced was of good size, covered with a carpet of which no pattern and very little color were left. The furniture was old-fashioned and solid; a dining-table covered with faded green baize was in the middle, and a writing-table with several drawers was placed near the fireplace, beside which stood a high-backed leather arm-chair, old, worn, dirty. A wretched fire was dying out in the grate, almost choked by the red ashes of the very cheapest coal.
An odor of dust long undisturbed pervaded the atmosphere, and the dull damp weather without added to the extreme gloom. Indeed the door of this apartment might well have borne Dante's inscription over the entrance to a warmer place.
Mr. Liddell went with feeble rapidity across to where a large newspaper lay upon the floor, and resting one hand on the writing-table, stooped painfully to raise it.
"There! read—read the price-list to me. I am blind and helpless, for that jade has hid my glasses. I know she has. I cannot find them anywhere, and I must know how Turkish bonds are going. Read to me. I'll hear what you have to say after." He thrust the paper into her hand, and sat down in the high-backed chair.
Poor Katherine felt almost dazed. She took a seat at the other side of the table, and began to look for the mysterious list. The geography of the mighty Times was unknown to her, and even in her mother's humbler penny paper the City article was a portion she never glanced at. While she turned the wide pages, painfully bewildered, the old man "glowered" at her.
"I don't think you know what you are looking for," he cried, impatiently.
"I do not indeed! If you will show it to me——"
He snatched it from her, and pointed out the part he wished to hear. "Read from the beginning," he said.
Katherine obeyed, her courage returning as she found herself thus strangely installed within the fortress she feared to attack. She stumbled occasionally, and was sharply set upon her feet, in the matter of figures, by her eager hearer. At last she came to Turkish six per cents.
"Eighty-seven to eighty-eight and a quarter."
"Ha!" muttered the old man, "that's an advance! good! nothing to be done there yet. Now read the railway stocks."
Katherine obeyed. When she came to "Florida and Teche debentures, sixty-two and a half to sixty-five and three-fourths," she was startled by a sort of shrill shout. "Ay! that's a rise! Some rigging design there! I must write—I must. Where, where has that——harridan hid my glasses? Why, it is almost twelve o'clock! the boy will be here for the paper immediately. And the post! the post! I must catch the post. Can you write?"
"Oh yes! Shall I write for you?"
"You shall! you shall! here's paper"—rising and opening an ancient blotting-book, its covers all scribbled over with tiny figures, the result of much calculating, he hastily set forth writing materials, his lean, claw-like, dirty hands trembling with eagerness. "Hear, hear, write fast."
Katherine, growing a little clearer, and amazed at her own increasing self-possession, drew off her gloves, and taking the rusty pen offered her, wrote at his dictation:
"To Messrs. Rogers & Stokes, Corbett Court, E. C.:
"GENTLEMEN,—Sell all my Florida shares if possible to-day, even if they decline a quarter.
"I am yours faithfully—"
"Now let me come there!" he exclaimed. "I'll let no one sign my name. I'll manage that. There? there! Direct an envelope. Oh Lord! I haven't a stamp—not one! and its ten minutes' walk to the post-office."
"I think—I believe I have a stamp," said Katherine, drawing her slender purse from her pocket and opening it.
"Have you?" eagerly. "Give it to me. Stick it on! Go! go! There is a pillar just outside the left-hand gate there; and mind you come back. I will give you a penny. Ah, yes, you shall have your penny?"
"I hope you will hear me when I return," she said, appealingly, as she left the room.
"Ay, ay; but go—go now."
When Katherine returned she found the old man, with the half-opened door in his hand, waiting for her.
"Were you in time?" he asked, eagerly.
"Oh yes, quite. I saw the postman coming across the road to empty the box as I was dropping the letter in."
"That's well. I will rest a bit now, and you can tell me what you please. First, what have you come here for?"
It was an appalling question, and nothing but the simple truth occurred to her as an answer. Indeed, some irresistible power seemed to compel the reply, spoken very low and distinct, "I came here to beg."
The old man burst into a singularly unpleasant laugh. "Well, I like candor. Pray what business have you to beg from me?"
"Because I know no one else to turn to—because, you are so near a kinsman. Let me tell you about my mother." Simply and shortly she gave the history of their life and struggles, of the coming of her brother's young widow and orphans, of the disappointment of her mother's literary expectations, of the present necessity. The quiver in her young voice, the pathetic earnestness with which she told her story, the deep love for her mother breathing through the recital, might well have moved a heart of ordinary coldness, but it seemed to small impression on her grim uncle.
"You come of a wasteful extravagant lot," he said, faintly, "if you are what you represent yourself to be—of which there is no proof whatever. How do I know you are the daughter of Frederic Liddell?"
This was an objection Katherine had never anticipated, and knew not how to meet. She colored vividly and hesitated; then, struck with the ghastly pallor of the old man's face, she exclaimed, "You are ill! you are fainting!" drawing near him as she spoke.
"I am not ill," he gasped. "I am weak from want of food. I have tasted none since yesterday afternoon."
"Will you not order some?" said Katherine, looking round for a bell.
"There is nothing in the house. That drunken robber I have just driven out went off to her revels last night and left me without anything; but while she was away a tradesman came with a bill I thought was paid, and so I discovered all her iniquity."
"You must have something," cried Katherine, seriously alarmed. "Can I get you some wine or brandy?" and she rang hastily.
Mr. Liddell drew a bunch of keys from his trousers pocket, and feebly selecting one, put it in her hand, pointing to the sideboard.
The first cellaret Katherine opened was quite empty, the opposite one held two empty bottles covered with dust, and another, at the bottom of which was about a wineglass of brandy. She sought eagerly for and found a glass, and brought it to the fainting man, pouring out a small quantity, which he sipped readily enough. "Ah!" he said, "I was nearly gone. I must eat. I suppose that wretched brat can cook something. Ring again." Katherine rang, and rang, but in vain.
"May I go down and see what has become of her?"
"If you please," he murmured, more civilly than he had yet spoken.
Katherine, with increasing surprise and interest, descended the dingy stair and entered a chaotic kitchen.
Such a scene of dirt and confusion she had never beheld. Nothing seemed fit to touch. The little girl's rough apron lay on the floor in the midst, and she herself was tying on a big bonnet, while a small bundle lay on a chair beside her. She started and colored when Katherine stood in the doorway. "Mr. Liddell has sent me to look for you. He is very ill. Why did you not answer the bell?"
"Because I was going away to mother," cried the girl, bursting into tears. "I could not stay here by myself. Mr. Liddell is more like a wild beast than a man when he is angry, and I have had a night and a day as would frighten a policemen. I can't stay—I can't indeed, miss."
"But you must," said Katherine, impressively. "I am Mr. Liddell's niece, and at least you must do a few things for me before you go."
"Oh! if you are here, miss, I don't mind. I can't think as how you are Mr. Liddell's niece."
"I am, and I must not leave him till he is better. What is your name?"
"Well, Susan, is there any bread or anything in the larder?"
"Not a blessed scrap, miss, and I am so hungry"—a fresh burst of tears.
"Don't cry. Do as I bid you, and then you had better ask your mother to come here. Now get me some fresh water."
"There's only water in the tap; the filterer is broke."
"Well, give me a jugful. And are you too hungry to make up the fire?"
"I'll manage that, 'm; we had a hundred of coal in yesterday morning before the row."
"Then clear away the ashes and get as clear a fire as you can. I will get some food."
The desperate, deserted condition of the old man seemed to rob him of his terrors, and all Katherine's energy was roused to save him from the ill effects of his own fury. She hastened back to the dining-room. Mr. Liddell was sitting up, grasping the arms of his chair.
"There is nothing downstairs. Will you allow me to go and buy you some food? You will be ill unless you eat."
"Can't that child fetch what is needful?" he said, with an effort.
"I am afraid she may not return."
"Then you had better go. I'll open the door to you when you come back."
"I will go at once. But you must give me a little money. I would gladly pay for the things, but I have only my omnibus fare back."
"How much do you want?" he returned, drawing forth an old worn green porte-monnaie.
"If you will be satisfied with a chop, two shillings will get all you want," said Katherine.
"There, then; bring me the change and account," he returned, handing her the required sum.
Since her mother had become a housekeeper Katherine had done a good deal of the marketing and household management, and had put her heart into her work, as was natural to her. She therefore felt quite competent to make these small purchases.
"You will want a little more wine or something," she ventured to suggest.
"I have plenty—plenty. Make haste!"
Katherine called the little girl, told her she was going out, and promised to bring her back some food. Then she sped on her way to some shops she had noticed on her way, and soon accomplished her errand. This necessity for action put her right with herself, and gave her the courage she needed. With a word to the fainting old miser, she descended to the chaotic kitchen, where she rejoiced the heart of the small slavey by the sight of the cold beef and bread she had brought for her. Then she set to work to cook the chops she had purchased. This done, to the amazement of the little servant, she looked in vain for a cloth to spread upon the only battered tray she could find. She was obliged to be content with dusting it and placing the result of her cooking between two warm plates thereupon. Then she carried the whole up to her starving relative. Mr. Liddell had fallen into a doze from exhaustion, and looked quite wolfish when, rousing up, his eyes fell upon the sorely needed food.
"You have been quick, but it is surely wasteful to cook two chops."
"You will not find them too much, I hope. I am sure you ought to eat both."
"I do not know, but the meat is good." He fell to and ate with relish. Katherine asked where she could find some wine for him. He again produced his keys, selected one, and told her to open a door at the end of the room, which she fancied led into another. It was a cupboard, plentifully filled with bottles of various descriptions, from among which, by her patient's direction, she selected one labelled cognac, and gave him some in water.
Katherine sat down and watched the old man demolish both chops with evident enjoyment. Then he paused, drank a little brandy and water, and drew over the plate containing the butter, and smelled it very deliberately.
"You have extravagant ways, I am afraid," he said. "This is fresh butter."
"That piece only cost fourpence-halfpenny," she said, gravely, "and the little you eat you had better have good."
"Fourpence-halfpenny!" he repeated, and fell into profound meditation, from which he broke with a sudden return of anger. "What a double-dyed villain and robber that infernal woman has been! She told me that prices had risen to such a height that the commonest salt butter was eighteenpence a pound, that every chop was a shilling, that—that—" Then breaking off, with an air of the deepest pathos he exclaimed: "Thirty shillings a week I gave her to keep the house, and she has left the butcher unpaid for six months. But I will not pay him. He shall suffer. Why did he trust her? What did you pay for these things?" he ended, abruptly, in a high key.
Katherine silently handed him the back of a letter on which she had scribbled down the items.
"What is the use of showing me this, when I cannot read—when I have no glasses?" he exclaimed, impatiently.
"True. I must try and find them for you. Where did you first miss them?"
"Oh, I don't know. I had them on when I went to see that——woman out of the house."
Calling Susan to assist in the search, Katherine looked carefully in the hall, but in vain, when her young assistant gave a cry of joy; she had almost trodden on them as they lay between a mangy mat and the foot of the stairs.
The recovery of his precious glasses did more to soothe the ruffled spirit of the recluse than anything else. He wiped them tenderly, and looking through them, observed that they were all right. Then he sat in profound silence, while Susan, under Katherine's directions, cleared up the hearth, and removed the heap of dust and ashes which had nearly put out the fire. When she had retired, carrying off the tray, Mr. Liddell turned his keen eyes on his young visitor, and said:
"You came in the nick of time, and you seem to know what you are about; but I dare say I should have pulled through without you. Now about your story. Before anything else I must be assured that you are really Frederic Liddell's daughter. Not that your being so gives you the smallest claim upon me."
"I suppose it does not," returned Katherine, sadly. "Still, if you could help us with a loan at this trying time it might be the saving of our fortunes, and both my mother and myself would do our best to repay you."
"That's but indifferent security," said the miser with a sardonic grin.
"I feel sure that my mother's novel will succeed. It is a beautiful story—and you know how some of the best books have been rejected—and when it is taken they will give her at least a hundred pounds for it!" cried Katherine, eagerly.
"Good Lord! a hundred pounds for trashy scribblings."
"They are not trash, sir," returned Katherine, with spirit.
"And what sum do you want on this first-class security?" he asked.
"Oh, thirty or forty pounds!" she said, her heart beating with wild anxiety.
"Thirty pounds! Why, that is a fortune!"
"It would be to us," said Katherine, fighting bravely against a desperate inclination to cry.
"And all you have to offer in exchange is a mortgage on an unpublished novel?"
"We have nothing in the world but the furniture," she replied, with a slight sob.
"Furniture!" repeated Mr. Liddell, sharply. "How much?—how many rooms have you?"
"A drawing-room and dining-room, my mother's study, and four bedrooms, besides—"
"Well!" exclaimed Liddell, interrupting her, "you'll have a hundred pounds' worth in it, and I dare say it cost you two. Now you have shown you have some knowledge of the value of money, and you have served me well at this uncomfortable crisis. I'll tell you what I will do; I'll write to my solicitor to go and see you, at the address you have told me, to-morrow. He shall find out if you are speaking the truth, and look at your goods and chattels. If he reports favorably I will do something for you, on the security of the furniture. You haven't given a bill of sale to any one else, I suppose?"
"A bill of sale?—I do not know what you mean."
"Ah! perhaps not." He rose and hobbled to his writing-table, where he began to write. "What's your address?" he asked. Katherine told him. Presently he finished and turned to her. "Put this in the post. Look at it. Mr. Newton, my solicitor, will take it with him when he calls, to-morrow or next day. No!" suddenly. "I will send the girl with it to the pillar, and you shall stay till she returns. You may or you may not be honest; but I will never trust any one again."
"As you like," returned Katherine, overjoyed not to be utterly refused. "And before I go, do let me try and find some one to be with you. It is dreadful to think of your being alone in this large house with only that poor little girl! and she is inclined to run away! I think her mother is coming here; let me stay till she comes."
"I don't want any one," said the old man, fiercely. "I am hale and strong; the child can do all I want. You got some food for her I see. The strength of that meat will last till to-morrow. Then you must come to hear what I decide, and you can do what I want, if you are my niece!"
"Do—do let me find some one to stay with you! I cannot bear to think of your being alone." The old man stared at her curiously, and a sort of mocking smile parted his lips. "May I at least ask Susan if her mother can come? for I am sure the girl will not stay alone."
"Very well," he said; "but be sure you do not promise her money! She may come here to keep the child company—not for my sake."
Katherine hastened to question Susan, and found that her mother, a char-woman, lived near. She despatched the little girl to fetch her, and, after some parleying, agreed to give her half a crown if she would remain for the night, determining to pay it herself rather than mention the subject to the ogre upstairs. Then she put her hat straight and resumed her gloves. "I must bid you good-morning now," she said. "This mother of Susan's looks a respectable woman, and will not ask you for any money. Will you not let me get you some tea and sugar before I go, and something for—"
"No!" cried the old man. "I have some tea. It is all that——robber left behind her. I want nothing more. Mind you come back to-morrow. If you are my brother's daughter (though it is no recommendation!) I'll do something for you. If you are not, I'd—I'd like to give you a piece of my mind." He laughed a fiendish, spiteful laugh as he said this.
"Then accept my thanks beforehand," said Katherine smiling a little wearily.
She was very tired. It was an oppressive day, and she had been under a mental strain of no small severity. Now she was longing to be at home to tell her mother all her strange adventures, and she had yet to find out by what route she should return.
Once more she said good-by. Mr. Liddell followed her to the door, with an air of seeing her safe off the premises, rather than of courtesy, and Katherine quickly retraced her steps to the place where she had alighted, hoping to find that universal referee, a policeman, who would no doubt set her on her homeward way.
THE LAWYER'S VISIT.
While her young sister-in-law was thus seeking fortune in strange places, Mrs. Fred Liddell was spending a busy and, it must be confessed, a cheerful morning, preparing for the anticipated visit of Colonel Ormonde.
It was rather inconsiderate, she thought, of Katherine to go out and leave all the extra dusting of the drawing-room to her. If she, Katherine, had remained at home she would have taken the boys, as she always did, and then Jane, the house and children's maid, would have been able to help.
If Katherine would only stay out all day she could forgive her—but she would be sure to come in for dinner, and so appear at afternoon tea, which by no means suited Mrs. F. Liddell's views.
The Colonel had given so very highly colored a description of the young lady who was with the little boy so nearly run over on the previous morning that the pretty widow's jealousy was aroused.
In spite of her flightiness and love of pleasure she had a very keen sense of her own interest, and perceiving Colonel Ormonde's decided appreciation, she had made up her mind to marry him.
This, she felt, would be more easily designed than accomplished. Colonel Ormonde was an old soldier in every sense, and an old bachelor to boot, with an epicurean taste for good dinners and pretty women. He might sacrifice something for the first, but the latter were too plentiful and too come-at-able to be worth great cost. Still, it was generally believed he was matrimonially inclined, and Mrs. Fred thought she might have as good a chance as any one else, had she not been hampered with her two boys.
It would be too dreadful if Ormonde's fancy were caught by Katherine's bold eyes and big figure. So Mrs. Fred wished that her sister-in-law might not put in an appearance.
"She is not a bit like other girls," thought the little woman, as she finally shook the duster out of the open window and set herself to distribute the flowers she had bought the previous evening to the best advantage. "She has no dear friends, no acquaintances with whom she likes to stop and chatter; she never stays out, and I don't think she ever had the ghost of a lover. When I was her age I had had a dozen, and I was married. Poor Fred! Heigho! I wish he had left me a little money, and I am sure I should never dream of giving him a successor. But for the sake of the dear boys I should never think of marrying! How cruel it is to be so poor, and to be with such unenterprising people! If Mrs. Liddell would only venture to make an appearance, and just risk a little, she might dispose of Kate and of me too. There are men who might admire Kate, and there they go on screwing and scribbling. I wish my mother-in-law would write for some big magazine—Blackwood or Temple Bar—or not write at all! That will do, I think. That is the only strong arm-chair in the house; it will stand nicely beside the sofa. Oh, have you come in already, children?"—as the two boys peeped in. "Couldn't Jane have kept you out a little longer! Don't attempt to come in here!"
"Jane had to come back to lay the cloth. Mamma, where is aunty?"
"She has not come in yet. Why, dear me, it is nearly one o'clock! Go and get off your boots, my darlings, and ask grandmamma when she expects aunty."
Mrs. Liddell did not know when Katherine might return, and, moreover, she was getting uneasy. She did not like to say much about her errand, for she knew her daughter-in-law thought but indifferently of her writings, and with an indescribable "crass" dislike of what she could not do herself, would have been rather pleased than otherwise to know that a manuscript had been rejected.
In looking over one of the drawers in her writing-table Mrs. Liddell had found that Katherine had left the shorter story behind. This rendered her prolonged absence less accountable, for she could have interviewed several publishers of three-volume novels in the time. The poor lady naturally feared that they must have refused even to look at her work, or Katherine would have returned.
When dinner was over, and four o'clock came, Mrs. Liddell's anxiety rose high; she could not bear her daughter-in-law's presence, and retired into her own den.
"Won't you stay and see Colonel Ormonde? He used to be quite friendly with poor Fred in India, and I should like him to see what a nice handsome mamma-in-law I have," said Mrs. Fred, caressingly: she rather liked her mother-in-law, and felt it was as well to be on affectionate terms with her.
"No, my dear; my head is not quite free from pain, and I want to give Katherine something to eat when she comes in; she will be very hungry. Then I can see that the children do not get into any mischief in the garden."
The younger lady then went to pose herself with a dainty piece of fancy-work in the drawing-room, and the elder to sit at her writing-table, pen in hand, but not writing; only thinking round and round the circle of difficulties which hedged her in, and longing for the sight of her daughter's face.
At last it beamed upon her through the open door-window which led out on the stairway to the garden; her approach had been seen by her little nephews, who had admitted her through the back gate.
"You must not come in now, dears; I want to talk to grannie. If you keep away I will tell you a nice story in the evening."
"My dearest child, what has kept you? I have been uneasy; and how dreadfully tired you look!"
"I am tired, but that is nothing. I think, dear, I have a little good news for you."
"Come into the dining-room. I have some dinner for you, and we can talk quietly. Ada is expecting a visitor."
But Katherine could not eat until she told her adventures. First she described her interview with Mr. Channing.
"It is something certainly to have left my unfortunate MS. in his hands; still I dare not hope much from that," said Mrs. Liddell.
"Then, mother dear," resumed Katherine, "I ventured to do something for which I hope you will not be angry with me—I have found John Liddell! I have invaded his den; I have spoken to him; I have cooked a chop for him, as I used for you last winter; and though I have been sent empty away, I am not without hopes that he will help us out of our difficulties."
"Katie, dear, what have you done?" cried her mother, aghast. "How did you manage—how did you dare?" Whereupon Katherine gave her mother a graphic account of the whole affair.
"It is a wonderful history," said Mrs. Liddell. "I feel half frightened; yet if Mr. Liddell's solicitor is an honest, respectable man, he will surely be on our side; at the same time, I am half afraid of falling into John Liddell's clutches. He has the character of being a relentless creditor: he will have his pound of flesh! If he gives this money as a loan, and I fail in paying the interest, he will take me by the throat as he would the greatest stranger."
"Why should you fail?" cried Katherine. "You only want time to succeed. I am sure you will sell your books, and then we can pay principal and interest; besides, old Mr. Liddell could not treat his brother's widow as he would a stranger."
"I am not so sure."
"And you are not angry with me for going to him?"
"No, dear love; I am proud of your courage. Had I known what you intended, I should have forbidden you. I should never have allowed you to run the risk of being insulted: it was too much for you. I wish I could shield you from all such trials, my Kate; but I cannot—I cannot." The unwonted tears stood in her kind, faded eyes.
"Ah, mother, you have borne the burden and heat of the day long enough alone; I must take my share now, and I assure you, after my adventures to-day, I feel quite equal to do so. I have been too long a heedless idler; I want to be a real help to you now. Do you think I have done any good?"
"Yes, certainly! but everything depends on this man who is coming to-morrow. Your poor father used to know Mr. Liddell's solicitor, and I think liked him; of course he may have a different one now. Still it is a gleam of hope; which is doubly sweet because you brought it."
Katherine hastily pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, and choked down the sob that would swell her throat. She was dreadfully tired, physically and mentally.
"Ada asked me for that money this morning as soon as you were gone. I told her I could not return it for a while, and she did not look pleased, naturally enough."
"I think she is very selfish," said Katherine.
"No, dear, only thoughtless, and younger than her years. She is always nice with me, and would be with you if you had more patience. You must remember that no character is stronger than its weakest part, and hers is—"
"Self," put in Katherine.
"No! love of admiration and pleasure," added her mother.
"Well," returned Katherine, good-humoredly, "they both are very nice."
Here the person under discussion came hastily into the room, in the crispest of lilac and white muslins, with a black sash and bows, and a rose at her waist, looking as fresh as if the heaviest atmosphere could not touch her.
"Oh, you have arrived, Katherine! I wish you would come and see Colonel Ormonde. He wants so much to speak to you!"
"But I do not want to speak to him. I don't want to see any one."
"Do come, Katie! I assure you you have made quite an impression; come and deepen it," cried Mrs. Frederic, with a persuasive smile, while she thought, "She is looking awfully bad and pale, and Katherine without color is nowhere; her eyes are red too.—Come, like a dear," she persisted, aloud, "unless you want to go up and beautify."
"No, I certainly do not," said Katherine, rising impatiently. "I will go with you for a minute or two, but I am too tired to talk."
"Your hair is in utter disorder," remarked her mother.
"It is no matter," returned Katherine, following her sister-in-law out of the room.
Her dress was by no means becoming. It was of thin black material, the remains of her last year's mourning; the white frill at her throat was crushed by the friction of her jacket, and some splashes on the skirt gave her a travel-stained aspect. But no disorder could hide the fine warm bronze brown of her abundant hair, nor disguise the shape of her brows and eyes, though the eyes themselves lost something of their color from the paleness of her cheeks; nor did her weariness detract from the charm of her delicate upturned chin.
"Here is my naughty sister-in-law, who has been wandering about all the morning alone, and making us quite uneasy."
"What! In search of further adventures—eh?" asked Colonel Ormonde, rising and making an elaborate bow. He spoke in a tone half paternal, half gallant, in right of which elderly gentlemen sometimes take liberties.
"I went to do a commission for my mother," said Katherine, indifferently.
"Ah! if we had a corps of such commissionnaires as you are, we should spend our lives sending and receiving messages," returned the Colonel, with a laugh. He spoke in short authoritative sentences, with a loud harsh voice, and in what might be termed the "big bow-wow" style.
"You must not believe all Colonel Ormonde says," observed the fair widow, smiling and slightly shaking her head. "He is a very faithless man."
"By George! Mrs. Liddell, I don't deserve such a character from you. But"—addressing Katherine, who had simply looked at him with quiet, contemplative eyes—"I hope you have recovered from your fright of yesterday. I never saw eyes or cheeks express terror so eloquently."
"Yes, I was dreadfully frightened, and very, very grateful to the gentleman who saved poor Cecil. I hope he was not hurt?"
"Shall I tell him to come and report himself in person?"
"No, thank you."
"Wouldn't you like to thank him again? It might be a pleasant process to both parties—eh?"
Katherine smiled good-humoredly, while she thought, "What an idiot!"
"Katherine is a very serious young woman," said Mrs. Frederic—"quite too awfully in earnest; is always striving painfully to do her duty. She despises frivolities and never dreams of flirtation."
"This is an appalling description," said Ormonde. "Pray is it on principle you renounce flirtation?"
"For a much better reason," replied Katherine, wearily. "Because I have no one to flirt with."
"By Jove! there's a state of destitution! Why, it is a blot on society that you should be left lamenting."
"Yes; is it not melancholy?" replied Katherine, carelessly. "Ada, I am so tired I am sure you will excuse me if I go away to rest?"
"Before you go," said Ormonde, eagerly, "I have a request to make. A chum of mine, Sir James Brereton, and myself are going up the river on Thursday, with some friends of Mrs. Liddell's—a picnic affair. Your sister-in-law has promised to honor me with her company, and I earnestly hope you will accompany her. I promise you shall be induced to rescind your anti-flirtation resolutions."
"Up the river?" repeated Katherine, with a wistful look, and paused. "On Thursday next? Thank you very much, but I'm engaged—quite particularly engaged."
"Nonsense, Katie!" cried her sister-in-law. "Where in the world are you going? You know you never have an engagement anywhere."
"Come, Miss Liddell, do not be cruel. We will have a very jolly day, and I'll try and persuade your hero of yesterday to meet you."
"I should like to go very much, but I really cannot. I thank you for thinking of me." She stood up, and, with a slight bow, said, "Good-morning," leaving the room before the stout Colonel could reach the door to open it.
"Phew! that was sharp, short, and decisive," said Ormonde.
"Yes, wasn't it? She is quite a character. Leave her to me if you wish her to go. I will manage it."
"Yes, do. She is something fresh, though she is not so handsome as I thought. I suspect there is a strong dash of the devil in her."
"I cannot say I have seen much of it," said the young widow, frankly. She was extremely shrewd in a small way, and had adopted an air of candid good-nature as best suited to her style and complexion. "Handsome or not, if you would like to have her at your party, I will try to persuade her to come."
"Thanks. What a little brick you are!" said Ormonde, admiringly. "No nonsense with you, or trying to keep a pretty girl out of it. I say, Mrs. Liddell, it must be an awful life for you, shut up in this stuffy suburban box?"
"Well, it is not cheerful; but I have no choice, so I just make the best of it," she returned, with as bright a smile as she could muster. "No use spoiling one's eyes or one's temper over the inevitable. Then I am really fond of my mother-in-law, poor soul! She would spoil me if she had the means; and Katherine—well, she isn't bad."
"By George! if you make your mother-in-law fond of you, you must be an angel incarnate."
"An angel!" echoed the little lady. "That would never do. No, no; it is because I am so desperately human I get on with them all."
"Delightfully human, you mean. No house could be dull with you in it. There's nothing like pluck and good-humor in a woman."
"Well, Heaven knows I want both!"
"I am afraid I must be off," said the Colonel. "I am going to dine with Eversley, and he has a villa at Rochampton—quite a journey, you know. Where is the little chap that was nearly run over?"
"Playing in the garden, very happy and very dirty. I dare not have him in—he always climbs up and hangs about me, for I have my best dress on!"—the last words in large capitals.
"A deuced becoming dress too; but it's not so fine as what you had on yesterday."
"No, of Course not; there are degrees of best dress. Yesterday's was my very best go-to-luncheon dress, and must last me a whole year."
"A year! By Jove! And you always look well dressed! You are a wonderful woman! Now I must be off. Mrs. Burnett says she will send the carriage for you on Thursday. We drive down to Twickenham."
"Oh, thank you, Colonel Ormonde! I am sure I am indebted to you for that lift," said Mrs. Frederic, while she thought, "He might have driven me down himself."
"Au revoir, then. Always hard to tear myself away from such a charming little witch as you are."
Ormonde kissed her hand and departed.
"Jolly, plucky little woman," he thought, as he walked toward the Bayswater Road, looking for a hansom. "Just the sort to save a man trouble, and get full value out of a sovereign." He continued to muse on the wonderful discovery he had made of a woman perfectly planned, according to man's ideal—sweet, yielding, tenderly sympathetic, willing and capable to ward off all annoyances from her master, full of feeling for his troubles, and not to be moved by her own to sad looks, unbecoming tears, or downcast spirits—all softness to him, all bristling sharpness to the rest of the world. "Such a woman would answer my purpose as well as a woman with money, and she is an uncommonly tempting morsel. But then those infernal boys! I am not going to provide for another fellow's brats, and they can't have more than sixty pounds between them from the fund! No; I must not make an ass of myself, even for a pretty, clever woman, who has rather a hankering for myself, or I am much mistaken. That sister-in-law of hers is the making of an uncommon fine woman. There's a dash of a tragedy queen about her, but it will be good fun to play her against the widow."
And the widow, as she rang for the house-maid to remove the tea-things, indulged in a few speculations on her side. "He was evidently disappointed with Katherine. I am not surprised. She is looking ill, and she has such ungracious manners! Of course she will come to this Richmond party when I ask her, and I must ask her. Ormonde is a good deal smitten with me, but he'll not lose his head. It is an awful thing to be poor and to have two boys. Oh, how dreadful it is to live in this horrible dull hole! I wonder if Colonel Ormonde will ever propose for me! He is very nice and pleasant, but he is awfully selfish. I hate selfishness. Perhaps if Mrs. Liddell would undertake to keep the little boys altogether it might make matters easier. Poor children! if I were only rich I would never wish to part with them; but who can hold out against poverty?"
The night which followed was sleepless to Mrs. Liddell. How could she close her eyes when so much depended on the visit she hoped to receive to-morrow? If this agent of John Liddell's was propitious, she might get breathing-time and be able to wait till her manuscript brought forth some fruit; if not—well she dared not think of the reverse. She listened to the soft, regular breathing of her daughter, who was wrapped in refreshing slumber, and thanked God for the quick forgetfulness of youth. It was like a fresh draught of life and hope to think of her courage and perseverance in finding out and affronting her miserly uncle. Good must come of it.
Day dawned bright and clear, and the little party met as usual at breakfast. Neither mother nor daughter had breathed a word of their hopes or fears to the pretty widow. Breakfast over, they all dispersed to their usual avocations. Katherine, downstairs, was consulting cook, and Mrs. Liddell was wearily sorting and tearing up papers, when the servant came into the study and said, "Please, 'm, there's a gentleman wanting you.'
"Where have you put him?" asked Mrs. Liddell, glancing at the card presented to her, on which was printed, "Mr. C. B. Newton, 26 Manchester Buildings."
"He is by the door, 'm."
"Oh, show him into the dining-room. Where is Mrs. Frederic?"
"Gone out, 'm."
"I will come directly," and Mrs. Liddell hastily locked a drawer and put a weight on her papers; "Tell Miss Liddell to come to me," she said as she passed.
A short, thick-set man of more than middle age, slightly bald, with an upturned nose, quiet, watchful eyes of no particular color, and small sandy mutton-chop whiskers, was standing near the window when she entered. He made a quick bow, and stepped nearer "Mrs. Liddell?" he asked.
"Yes, I am Mrs. Liddell."
"I have called on the part of my client, Mr. John Liddell, of Legrave Crescent, to make certain inquiries. This note, which I received from him yesterday afternoon, will explain the object of my visit."
"Pray sit down, Mr. Newton"—taking a chair as she spoke, while she read the small, crabbed, tremulous characters written on the page presented to her. The note contained directions to call on Mrs. Liddell and ascertain if she really was the widow of his late brother; also what security she could offer for a small loan.
Her color rose faintly as she read.
"You must not regard the plainness of business phraseology," said the visitor, in dry, precise tones. "My client means no offence."
"Nor do I mean to take any," she replied, handing him back the note. "Pray how am I to prove my own identity?"
"It would not, I suppose, be very difficult; but, as it happens, I can be your witness. I quite well remember seeing you with Mr. Liddell, your late husband, some sixteen or seventeen years ago."
"Indeed! I am surprised that I do not recall you. I generally have a good memory, but—"
"I am not surprised. I was unhappily the bearer of an unpleasant message, which excited Mr. Liddell considerably, and your attention was absorbed by your efforts to calm him."
"I remember," said Mrs. Liddell, coloring deeply. "It was a trying time."
"We will consider this inquiry answered. As regards the loan"—the door opening to admit Katherine interrupted him; he rose and bowed formally when her mother named her; then he resumed his sentence—"as regards the loan, I must first know the amount it is proposed to borrow, in order to judge of the security offered."
"I asked my uncle for thirty pounds, but I should be very glad if he would lend us forty."
"No, Katie; I dare not take so much," interrupted her mother. "Remember, it must be repaid; and," addressing the lawyer, she added, "the only security I have to offer is the furniture of this house—furniture of the simplest, as you will see."
"Have you seen Mr. Liddell?" asked Mr. Newton, a slight expression of surprise passing over his face.
"My daughter has," said Mrs. Liddell.
"Yes; I ventured to visit him, because"—she hesitated, and then went on, frankly—"because we wanted this money very much indeed; and I found him in a sad condition." Katherine went on to describe the scene of yesterday, dwelling on the desolate position of the old man. "I felt frightened to leave him alone; he seems weak, and unfit to take care of himself. I hope, Mr. Newton, you will go to him and induce him to have a proper servant. I am going, because I promised in any case to go; and I must give the little servant's mother the half-crown I promised her."
"I have been somewhat uneasy respecting Mr. Liddell. For a considerable time I had my doubts of his cook housekeeper; but he is a man of strong will and peculiar views. Then the fear of parting with money increases with increasing years. I am glad Miss Liddell succeeded in making herself known to him; he is a peculiar character—very peculiar." He paused a moment, looking keenly at Katherine, and added: "With a view to arranging for the loan you require, I must ask to look at your rooms. I do not suppose I am a judge of such things, but the knowledge of former transactions, my recollection of our last interview, determines me to come myself rather than to send an ordinary employee."
"I feel your kind consideration warmly," said Mrs. Liddell. "Follow me, and you shall see what few household goods I possess."
Gravely and in silence Mr. Newton was conducted to the drawing-room, the best bedroom, Mrs. Liddell's, and the children's rooms. The examination was swiftly accomplished. Then the sedate lawyer returned to the dining-room and began to put on his right-hand glove. "I presume," he said—"it is a mere, formal question—I presume there is no claim or lien upon your goods and chattels?"
"None whatever. I want a little temporary help until—" She paused.
"My mother has been successful in writing short stories. Channing & Wyndham have a three-volume novel of hers now, and I am sure they will take it; then she can pay Mr. Liddell easily."
The lawyer smiled a queer little withered, half-developed smile. "I trust your anticipations may be verified," he said. "Now, my dear madam, I need intrude on you no longer; I shall go on to see Mr. Liddell. But though I shall certainly represent that he may safely make you this small advance, it is possible he may refuse; and it is certain he will ask high interest. However, I shall do my best."
"It will be a great accommodation if he consents. And if he is rich surely he will not deal as hardly with his brother's widow as with a stranger."
"Where money is concerned, Mr. Liddell recognizes neither friend nor foe. He will wish some form of the nature of a bill of sale to be signed."
"Whatever you both think right," said Mrs. Liddell.
Here some shouts from the garden drew Newton's attention to the window, through which Cecil and Charlie could be seen endeavoring to put some noxious insect on the neck of the nurse-maid, who had taken them their noonday slices of bread and butter. "My grandsons," said Mrs. Liddell, smiling—"My poor boy's orphans."
"Hum!" said the little man; and he stood a moment in thought.
"I think Miss Liddell said her uncle expressed a wish that she should return to see him?"
"He made me promise to go back to-day."
"Then by no means disappoint him. He is a very difficult man to manage, and if your daughter"—to Mrs. Liddell—"could contrive to interest him, to make him indulge in a few of the comforts necessary to his years and his position, it would be of the last importance, and ultimately, I hope, not unprofitable to herself."
"I fear the last is highly improbable; but Katherine will certainly fulfil her promise."
"I am going to drive over to Legrave Crescent myself: if it would suit Miss Liddell to accompany me, I shall be most happy to be her escort."
"Thank you; I shall be very glad."
"My brother-in-law will not imagine there is any collusion between you?" asked Mrs. Liddell, with a smile. "Men of his character are suspicious."
"No; I think I may venture so far, though Mr. Liddell is suspicious."
"Then I must ask you to wait while I put on my hat," said Katherine, and left the room.
She had changed her dress when her mother followed her. "My love, you had better take a few shillings, and try and come back soon. Why, Katie, considering you had to do cooking yesterday, you ought not to have put on your best frock, dear, for I see little chance of another."
"Oh, mother, I could not go out in my old black cashmere with Mr. Newton. Why, he is the perfection of neatness."
"Here is Ada, just coming in."
"What a volley of questions she will ask! Now, mother, do not satisfy her. Tell her my rich uncle has sent his solicitor to interview us, and that I am going to dine with him. I wish I could have had some dinner before I went, for I am going to Hungry Hall."
"Courage, darling! If we can get this loan it will be a great relief. Do not keep him waiting any longer—there are your gloves. Come back as soon as ever you can."
"A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS."
"Where in the world is Katherine going, and who is that man?" exclaimed the younger widow, her light blue eyes wide open in amazement, when Katherine had passed her with a smiling "Good-by for the present," and walked down the road beside the precise lawyer.
"She is going-to her uncle, Mr. John Liddell, who expressed a wish to see her to-day, and that gentleman is Mr. Liddell's solicitor," returned the elder lady, smiling to think how soon she had been driven in upon the reserved force of her daughter's suggestion.
"What! that terrible old miser poor Fred used to talk of? Why, he will take a favorable turn, and leave everything to Katie! Oh, dear Mrs. Liddell, that will not be fair. Do contrive to let him see Cis and Charlie. We will declare that Cecil is his very image. Old men like to be considered like pretty young creatures. I always get on with crabbed old men. Let me see him too. Katherine must not keep the game all in her own hands. Let me have a chance."
"I don't fancy Katie has much of a chance herself," returned Mrs. Liddell, as she followed her daughter-in-law into the dining-room. "It is an old man's whim, and he will probably never wish to see her again."
"Very likely. You know dear Katherine does not do herself justice; her manners are so abrupt. You do not mind my saying so?"
"Not in the least." Mrs. Liddell had a fine temper, and also a keen sense of humor. Though fond of and indulgent to her daughter-in-law, she saw through her more clearly than Katherine did, as she gave full credit for the good that was in her, in spite of her little foibles and greediness. "Katherine is much more abrupt than you are."
"Exactly. She will never be quite up to her dear mother's mark. Few step-mothers and daughters get on as we do, and I am sure you would look after poor Fred's boys as if they were your own."