The Authors' Press Series of the Works of Elinor Glyn
THE AUTHORS' PRESS, PUBLISHERS AUBURN, N. Y.
Copyright, 1905, by ELINOR GLYN
When copyrighted by Elinor Glyn in 1905, this book was published under the title "The Vicissitudes of Evangeline."
I wonder so much if it is amusing to be an adventuress, because that is evidently what I shall become now. I read in a book all about it; it is being nice looking and having nothing to live on, and getting a pleasant time out of life—and I intend to do that! I have certainly nothing to live on, for one cannot count L300 a year; and I am extremely pretty, and I know it quite well, and how to do my hair, and put on my hats, and those things—so, of course, I am an adventuress! I was not intended for this role—in fact, Mrs. Carruthers adopted me on purpose to leave me her fortune, as at that time she had quarrelled with her heir, who was bound to get the place. Then she was so inconsequent as not to make a proper will—thus it is that this creature gets everything, and I nothing!
I am twenty, and up to the week before last, when Mrs. Carruthers got ill and died in one day, I had had a fairly decent time at odd moments when she was in a good temper.
There is no use pretending even when people are dead, if one is writing down one's real thoughts. I detested Mrs. Carruthers most of the time. A person whom it was impossible to please. She had no idea of justice, or of anything but her own comfort, and what amount of pleasure other people could contribute to her day.
How she came to do anything for me at all was because she had been in love with papa, and when he married poor mamma—a person of no family—and then died, she offered to take me, and bring me up, just to spite mamma, she has often told me. As I was only four I had no say in the matter, and if mamma liked to give me up that was her affair. Mamma's father was a lord, and her mother I don't know who, and they had not worried to get married, so that is how it is poor mamma came to have no relations. After papa was dead, she married an Indian officer and went off to India, and died, too, and I never saw her any more—so there it is; there is not a soul in the world who matters to me, or I to them, so I can't help being an adventuress, and thinking only of myself, can I?
Mrs. Carruthers periodically quarrelled with all the neighbors, so beyond frigid calls now and then in a friendly interval, we never saw them much. Several old, worldly ladies used to come and stay, but I liked none of them, and I have no young friends. When it is getting dark, and I am up here alone, I often wonder what it would be like if I had—but I believe I am the kind of cat that would not have got on with them too nicely—so perhaps it is just as well. Only, to have had a pretty—aunt, say—to love one—that might have been nice.
Mrs. Carruthers had no feelings like this; "stuff and nonsense," "sentimental rubbish," she would have called them. To get a suitable husband is what she brought me up for, she said, and for the last years had arranged that I should marry her detested heir, Christopher Carruthers, as I should have the money and he the place.
He is a diplomat, and lives in Paris, and Russia, and amusing places like that, so he does not often come to England. I have never seen him. He is quite old—over thirty—and has hair turning gray.
Now he is master here, and I must leave—unless he proposes to marry me at our meeting this afternoon, which he probably won't do.
However, there can be no harm in my making myself look as attractive as possible under the circumstances. As I am to be an adventuress, I must do the best I can for myself. Nice feelings are for people who have money to live as they please. If I had ten thousand a year, or even five, I would snap my fingers at all men, and say, "No, I make my life as I choose, and shall cultivate knowledge and books, and indulge in beautiful ideas of honor and exalted sentiments, and perhaps one day succumb to a noble passion." (What grand words the thought, even, is making me write!) But as it is, if Mr. Carruthers asks me to marry him, as he has been told to do by his aunt, I shall certainly say yes, and so stay on here, and have a comfortable home. Until I have had this interview it is hardly worth while packing anything.
What a mercy black suits me! My skin is ridiculously white. I shall stick a bunch of violets in my frock—that could not look heartless, I suppose. But if he asks me if I am sad about Mrs. Carruthers's death, I shall not be able to tell a lie.
I am sad, of course, because death is a terrible thing, and to die like that, saying spiteful things to every one, must be horrid—but I can't, I can't regret her. Not a day ever passed that she did not sting some part of me; when I was little, it was not only with her tongue—she used to pinch me, and box my ears until Dr. Garrison said it might make me deaf, and then she stopped, because she said deaf people were a bore, and she could not put up with them.
I shall not go on looking back. There are numbers of things that even now make me raging to remember.
I have only been out for a year. Mrs. Carruthers got an attack of bronchitis when I was eighteen, just as we were going up to town for the season, and said she did not feel well enough for the fatigues, and off we went to Switzerland. And in the autumn we travelled all over the place, and in the winter she coughed and groaned, and the next season would not go up until the last court, so I have only had a month of London. The bronchitis got perfectly well—it was heart-failure that killed her, brought on by an attack of temper because Thomas broke the Carruthers vase. I shall not write of her death, or the finding of the will, or the surprise that I was left nothing but a thousand pounds and a diamond ring.
Now that I am an adventuress, instead of an heiress, of what good to chronicle all that! Sufficient to say if Mr. Carruthers does not obey his orders and offer me his hand this afternoon, I shall have to pack my trunks and depart by Saturday, but where to is yet in the lap of the gods.
He is coming by the 3.20 train, and will be in the house before four, an ugly, dull time; one can't offer him tea, and it will be altogether trying and exciting.
He is coming ostensibly to take over his place, I suppose, but in reality it is to look at me, and see if in any way he will be able to persuade himself to carry out his aunt's wishes. I wonder what it will be like to be married to some one you don't know and don't like? I am not greatly acquainted yet with the ways of men. We have not had any that you could call that here, much—only a lot of old wicked sort of things, in the autumn, to shoot the pheasants, and play bridge with Mrs. Carruthers. The marvel to me was how they ever killed anything, such antiques they were! Some politicians and ambassadors, and creatures of that sort; and mostly as wicked as could be. They used to come trotting down the passage to the school-room, and have tea with mademoiselle and me on the slightest provocation, and say such things! I am sure lots of what they said meant something else, mademoiselle used to giggle so. She was rather a good-looking one I had the last four years, but I hated her. There was never any one young and human who counted.
I did look forward to coming out in London, but being so late, every one was preoccupied when we got there, and no one got in love with me much. Indeed, we went out very little; a part of the time I had a swollen nose from a tennis-ball at Ranelagh, and people don't look at girls with swollen noses.
I wonder where I shall go and live! Perhaps in Paris—unless, of course, I marry Mr. Carruthers. I don't suppose it is dull being married. In London all the married ones seemed to have a lovely time, and had not to bother with their husbands much.
Mrs. Carruthers always assured me love was a thing of absolutely no consequence in marriage. You were bound to love some one some time, but the very fact of being chained to him would dispel the feeling. It was a thing to be looked upon like measles, or any other disease, and was better to get it over and then turn to the solid affairs of life. But how she expected me to get it over when she never arranged for me to see any one, I don't know.
I asked her one day what I should do if I got to like some one after I am married to Mr. Carruthers, and she laughed one of her horrid laughs, and said I should probably do as the rest of the world. And what do they do, I wonder? Well, I suppose I shall find out some day.
Of course there is the possibility that Christopher (do I like the name of Christopher, I wonder?)—well, that Christopher may not want to follow her will.
He has known about it for years, I suppose, just as I have, but I believe men are queer creatures, and he may take a dislike to me. I am not a type that would please every one. My hair is too red—brilliant, dark, fiery red, like a chestnut when it tumbles out of its shell, only burnished like metal. If I had the usual white eyelashes I should be downright ugly, but, thank goodness! by some freak of nature mine are black and thick, and stick out when you look at me sideways, and I often think when I catch sight of myself in the glass that I am really very pretty—all put together—but, as I said before, not a type to please every one.
A combination I am that Mrs. Carruthers assured me would cause anxieties. "With that mixture, Evangeline," she often said, "you would do well to settle yourself in life as soon as possible. Good girls don't have your coloring." So you see, as I am branded as bad from the beginning, it does not much matter what I do. My eyes are as green as pale emeralds, and long, and not going down at the corners with the Madonna expression of Cicely Parker, the vicar's daughter. I do not know yet what is being good, or being bad; perhaps I shall find out when I am an adventuress, or married to Mr. Carruthers.
All I know is that I want to live, and feel the blood rushing through my veins. I want to do as I please, and not have to be polite when I am burning with rage. I want to be late in the morning if I happen to fancy sleeping, and I want to sit up at night if I don't want to go to bed! So, as you can do what you like when you are married, I really hope Mr. Carruthers will take a fancy to me, and then all will be well! I shall stay up-stairs until I hear the carriage wheels, and leave Mr. Barton—the lawyer—to receive him. Then I shall saunter down nonchalantly while they are in the hall. It will be an effective entrance. My trailing black garments, and the great broad stairs—this is a splendid house—and if he has an eye in his head he must see my foot on each step! Even Mrs. Carruthers said I have the best foot she had ever seen. I am getting quite excited—I shall ring for Veronique and begin to dress!... I shall write more presently.
It is evening, and the fire is burning brightly in my sitting-room, where I am writing. My sitting-room!—did I say? Mr. Carruthers's sitting-room, I meant—for it is mine no longer, and on Saturday, the day after to-morrow, I shall have to bid good-bye to it forever.
For—yes, I may as well say it at once—the affair did not walk; Mr. Carruthers quietly, but firmly, refused to obey his aunt's will, and thus I am left an old maid!
I must go back to this afternoon to make it clear, and I must say my ears tingle as I think of it.
I rang for Veronique, and put on my new black afternoon frock, which had just been unpacked. I tucked in the violets in a careless way, saw that my hair was curling as vigorously as usual, and not too rebelliously for a demure appearance, and so, at exactly the right moment, began to descend the stairs.
There was Mr. Carruthers in the hall. A horribly nice-looking, tall man, with a clean-shaven face and features cut out of stone, a square chin, and a nasty twinkle in the corner of his eye. He has a very distinguished look, and that air of never having had to worry for his things to fit; they appear as if they had grown on him. He has a cold, reserved manner, and something commanding and arrogant in it that makes one want to contradict him at once; but his voice is charming—one of that cultivated, refined kind, which sounds as if he spoke a number of languages, and so does not slur his words. I believe this is diplomatic, for some of the old ambassador people had this sort of voice.
He was standing with his back to the fire, and the light of the big window with the sun getting low was full on his face, so I had a good look at him. I said in the beginning that there was no use pretending when one is writing one's own thoughts for one's own self to read when one is old, and keeping them in a locked-up journal, so I shall always tell the truth here—quite different things to what I should say if I were talking to some one and describing to them this scene. Then I should say I found him utterly unattractive, and, in fact, I hardly noticed him! As it was, I noticed him very much, and I have a tiresome inward conviction that he could be very attractive indeed, if he liked.
He looked up, and I came forward with my best demure air as Mr. Barton nervously introduced us, and we shook hands. I left him to speak first.
"Abominably cold day," he said, carelessly. That was English and promising!
"Yes, indeed," I said. "You have just arrived?"
And so we continued in this banal way, with Mr. Barton twirling his thumbs, and hoping, one could see, that we should soon come to the business of the day; interposing a remark here and there which added to the gene of the situation.
At last Mr. Carruthers said to Mr. Barton that he would go round and see the house, and I said tea would be ready when they got back. And so they started.
My cheeks would burn, and my hands were so cold, it was awkward and annoying—not half the simple affair I had thought it would be up-stairs.
When it was quite dark and the lamps were brought, they came back to the hall, and Mr. Barton, saying he did not want any tea, left us to find papers in the library.
I gave Mr. Carruthers some tea, and asked the usual things about sugar and cream. His eye had almost a look of contempt as he glanced at me, and I felt an angry throb in my throat. When he had finished he got up and stood before the fire again. Then, deliberately, as a man who has determined to do his duty at any cost, he began to speak.
"You know the wish, or, rather, I should say, the command, my aunt left me," he said. "In fact, she states that she had always brought you up to the idea. It is rather a tiresome thing to discuss with a stranger, but perhaps we had better get it over as soon as possible, as that is what I came down here to-day for. The command was I should marry you." He paused a moment. I remained perfectly still, with my hands idly clasped in my lap, and made myself keep my eyes on his face.
He continued, finding I did not answer, just a faint tone of resentment creeping into his voice—because I would not help him out, I suppose. I should think not! I loved annoying him!
"It is a preposterous idea in these days for any one to dispose of people's destinies in this way, and I am sure you will agree with me that such a marriage would be impossible."
"Of course I agree," I replied, lying with a tone of careless sincerity. I had to control all my real feelings of either anger or pleasure for so long in Mrs. Carruthers's presence that I am now an adept.
"I am so glad you put it so plainly," I went on, sweetly. "I was wondering how I should write it to you, but now you are here it is quite easy for us to finish the matter at once. Whatever Mrs. Carruthers may have intended me to do, I had no intention of obeying her; but it would have been useless for me to say so to her, and so I waited until the time for speech should come. Won't you have some more tea?"
He looked at me very straightly, almost angrily, for an instant; presently, with a sigh of relief, he said, half laughing:
"Then we are agreed; we need say no more about it!"
"No more," I answered; and I smiled, too, although a rage of anger was clutching my throat. I do not know who I was angry with—Mrs. Carruthers for procuring this situation, Christopher for being insensible to my charms, or myself for ever having contemplated for a second the possibility of his doing otherwise. Why, when one thinks of it calmly, should he want to marry me, a penniless adventuress with green eyes and red hair that he had never seen before in his life? I hoped he thought I was a person of naturally high color, because my cheeks from the moment I began to dress had been burning and burning. It might have given him the idea the scene was causing me some emotion, and that he should never know!
He took some more tea, but he did not drink it, and by this I guessed that he also was not as calm as he looked!
"There is something else," he said—and now there was almost an awkwardness in his voice—"something else which I want to say, though perhaps Mr. Barton could say it for me, but which I would rather say straight to you, and that is, you must let me settle such a sum of money on you as you had every right to expect from my aunt, after the promises I understand she always made to you——"
This time I did not wait for him to finish. I bounded up from my seat, some uncontrollable sensation of wounded pride throbbing and thrilling through me.
"Money! Money from you!" I exclaimed. "Not if I were starving." Then I sat down again, ashamed of this vehemence. How would he interpret it! But it galled me so—and yet I had been ready an hour ago to have accepted him as my husband! Why, then, this revolt at the idea of receiving a fair substitute in gold? Really, one is a goose, and I had time to realize, even in this tumult of emotion, that there can be nothing so inconsistent as the feelings of a girl.
"You must not be foolish!" he said, coldly. "I intend to settle the money whether you will or no, so do not make any further trouble about it!"
There was something in his voice so commanding and arrogant, just as I noticed at first, that every obstinate quality in my nature rose to answer him.
"I do not know anything about the law in the matter; you may settle what you choose, but I shall never touch any of it," I said, as calmly as I could. "So it seems ridiculous to waste the money, does it not? You may not, perhaps, be aware I have enough of my own, and do not in any way require yours."
He became colder and more exasperated.
"As you please, then," he said, snappishly, and Mr. Barton fortunately entering at that moment, the conversation was cut short, and I left them.
They are not going back to London until to-morrow morning, and dinner has yet to be got through. Oh, I do feel in a temper! and I can never tell of the emotions that were throbbing through me as I came up the great stairs just now. A sudden awakening to the humiliation of the situation! How had I ever been able to contemplate marrying a man I did not know, just to secure myself a comfortable home! It seems preposterous now. I suppose it was because I have always been brought up to the idea, and, until I came face to face with the man, it did not strike me as odd. Fortunately he can never guess that I had been willing to accept him; my dissimulation has stood me in good stead. Now I am animated by only one idea—to appear as agreeable and charming to Mr. Carruthers as possible. The aim and object of my life shall be to make him regret his decision. When I hear him imploring me to marry him, I shall regain a little of my self-respect! And as for marriage, I shall have nothing to do with the horrid affair! Oh, dear, no! I shall go away free and be a happy adventuress. I have read the Trois Mousquetaires and Vingt Ans Apres—mademoiselle had them—and I remember milady had only three days to get round her jailer, starting with his hating her; whereas Mr. Carruthers does not hate me, so that counts against my only having one evening. I shall do my best!
I was down in the library, innocently reading a book, when Mr. Carruthers came in. He looked even better in evening dress, but he appeared ill-tempered, and no doubt found the situation unpleasant.
"Is not this a beautiful house?" I said, in a velvet voice, to break the awkward silence, and show him I did not share his unease. "You had not seen it before, for ages, had you?"
"Not since I was a boy," he answered, trying to be polite. "My aunt quarrelled with my father—she was the direct heiress of all this—and married her cousin, my father's younger brother—but you know the family history, of course——"
"They hated each other, she and my father."
"Mrs. Carruthers hated all her relations," I said, demurely.
"Myself among them?"
"Yes," I said, slowly, and bent forward so that the lamplight should fall upon my hair. "She said you were too much like herself in character for you ever to be friends."
"Is that a compliment?" he asked, and there was a twinkle in his eye.
"We must speak no ill of the dead," I said, evasively.
He looked slightly annoyed—as much as these diplomats ever let themselves look anything.
"You are right," he said. "Let her rest in peace."
There was silence for a moment.
"What are you going to do with your life now?" he asked, presently. It was a bald question.
"I shall become an adventuress," I answered, deliberately.
"A what?" he exclaimed, his black eyebrows contracting.
"An adventuress. Is not that what it is called? A person who sees life, and has to do the best she can for herself."
He laughed. "You strange little lady!" he said, his irritation with me melting. And when he laughs you can see how even his teeth are; but the two side ones are sharp and pointed, like a wolf's.
"Perhaps, after all, you had better have married me!"
"No, that would clip my wings," I said, frankly, looking at him straight in the face.
"Mr. Barton tells me you propose leaving here on Saturday. I beg you will not do so. Please consider it your home for so long as you wish—until you can make some arrangements for yourself. You look so very young to be going about the world alone!"
He bent down and gazed at me closer—there was an odd tone in his voice.
"I am twenty, and I have been often snubbed," I said, calmly. "That prepares one for a good deal. I shall enjoy doing what I please."
"And what are you going to please?"
"I shall go to Claridge's until I can look about me."
He moved uneasily.
"But have you no relations—no one who will take care of you?"
"I believe none. My mother was nobody particular, you know—a Miss Tonkins by name."
"But your father?" He sat down now on the sofa beside me; there was a puzzled, amused look in his face; perhaps I was amazing him.
"Papa? Oh, papa was the last of his family. They were decent people, but there are no more of them."
He pushed one of the cushions aside.
"It is an impossible position for a girl—completely alone. I cannot allow it. I feel responsible for you. After all, it would do very well if you married me. I am not particularly domestic by nature, and should be very little at home, so you could live here and have a certain position, and I would come back now and then and see you were getting on all right."
One could not say if he was mocking or no.
"It is too good of you," I said, without any irony. "But I like freedom, and when you were at home it might be such a bore——"
He leaned back and laughed merrily.
"You are candid, at any rate!" he said.
Mr. Barton came into the room at that moment, full of apologies at being late. Immediately after, with the usual ceremony, the butler entered and pompously announced, "Dinner is served, sir." How quickly they recognize the new master!
Mr. Carruthers gave me his arm, and we walked slowly down the picture-gallery to the banqueting-hall, and there sat down at the small, round table in the middle, that always looks like an island in a lake.
I talked nicely at dinner. I was dignified and grave, and quite frank. Mr. Carruthers was not bored. The chef had outdone himself, hoping to be kept on. I never felt so excited in my life.
I was apparently asleep under a big lamp, after dinner, in the library, a book of silly poetry in my lap, when the door opened and he—Mr. Carruthers—came in alone, and walked up the room. I did not open my eyes. He looked for just a minute—how accurate I am! Then he said, "You are very pretty when asleep!"
His voice was not caressing or complimentary—merely as if the fact had forced this utterance.
I allowed myself to wake without a start.
"Was the '47 port as good as you hoped?" I asked, sympathetically.
He sat down. I had arranged my chair so that there was none other in its immediate neighborhood. Thus he was some way off, and could realize my whole silhouette.
"The '47 port? Oh yes; but I am not going to talk of port. I want you to tell me a lot more about yourself, and your plans——"
"I have no plans—except to see the world."
He picked up a book and put it down again; he was not perfectly calm.
"I don't think I shall let you. I am more than ever convinced you ought to have some one to take care of you—you are not of the type that makes it altogether safe to roam about alone."
"Oh! as for my type," I said, languidly, "I know all about that. Mrs. Carruthers said no one with this combination of color could be good, so I am not going to try. It will be quite simple."
He rose quickly from his chair and stood in front of the great log fire, such a comical expression on his face.
"You are the quaintest child I have ever met," he said.
"I am not a child, and I mean to know everything I can."
He went over towards the sofa again and arranged the cushions—great, splendid, fat pillows of old Italian brocade, stiff with gold and silver.
"Come!" he pleaded. "Sit here beside me, and let us talk; you are miles away there, and I want to—make you see reason."
I rose at once and came slowly to where he pointed. I settled myself deliberately. There was one cushion of purple and silver right under the light, and there I rested my head.
"Now talk!" I said, and half closed my eyes.
Oh, I was enjoying myself! The first time I have ever been alone with a real man! They—the old ambassadors and politicians and generals—used always to tell me I should grow into an attractive woman—now I meant to try what I could do.
Mr. Carruthers remained silent, but he sat down beside me, and looked and looked right into my eyes.
"Now talk, then," I said again.
"Do you know, you are a very disturbing person," he said, at last, by way of a beginning.
"What is that?" I asked.
"It is a woman who confuses one's thoughts when one looks at her. I do not now seem to have anything to say, or too much——"
"You called me a child."
"I should have called you an enigma."
I assured him I was not the least complex, and that I only wanted everything simple, and to be left in peace, without having to get married or worry to obey people.
We had a nice talk.
"You won't leave here on Saturday," he said, presently, apropos of nothing. "I do not think I shall go myself to-morrow. I want you to show me all over the gardens, and your favorite haunts."
"To-morrow I shall be busy packing," I said, gravely, "and I do not think I want to show you the gardens; there are some corners I rather loved; I believe it will hurt a little to say good-bye."
Just then Mr. Barton came into the room, fussy and ill at ease. Mr. Carruthers's face hardened again, and I rose to say good-night.
As he opened the door for me—"Promise you will come down to give me my coffee in the morning," he said.
"Qui vivra verra," I answered, and sauntered out into the hall. He followed me, and watched as I went up the staircase.
"Good-night!" I called, softly, as I got to the top, and laughed a little—I don't know why.
He bounded up the stairs, three steps at a time, and before I could turn the handle of my door he stood beside me.
"I do not know what there is about you," he said, "but you drive me mad. I shall insist upon carrying out my aunt's wish, after all! I shall marry you, and never let you out of my sight—do you hear?"
Oh, such a strange sense of exaltation crept over me—it is with me still! Of course, he probably will not mean all that to-morrow, but to have made such a stiff block of stone rush up-stairs and say this much now is perfectly delightful!
I looked at him up from under my eyelashes. "No, you will not marry me," I said, calmly, "or do anything else I don't like; and now, really, good-night," and I slipped into my room and closed the door. I could hear he did not stir for some seconds. Then he went off down the stairs again, and I am alone with my thoughts!
My thoughts! I wonder what they mean! What did I do that had this effect upon him? I intended to do something, and I did it, but I am not quite sure what it was. However, that is of no consequence. Sufficient for me to know that my self-respect is restored and I can now go out and see the world with a clear conscience.
He has asked me to marry him—and I have said I won't!
Thursday night, November 3.
A quaint thing has happened to me! Came down here to take over the place, and to say decidedly I would not marry Miss Travers, and I find her with red hair and a skin like milk, and a pair of green eyes that look at you from a forest of black eyelashes with a thousand unsaid challenges. I should not wonder if I commit some folly. One has read of women like this in the cinque-cento time in Italy, but up to now I had never met one. She is not in the room ten minutes before one feels a sense of unrest, and desire for one hardly knows what—principally to touch her, I fancy. Good Lord! what a skin! pure milk and rare roses—and the reddest Cupid's bow of a mouth! You had better come down at once (these things are probably in your line) to save me from some sheer idiocy. The situation is exceptional—she and I practically alone in the house, for old Barton does not count. She had nowhere to go, and as far as I can make out has not a friend in the world. I suppose I ought to leave. I will try to on Monday; but come down to-morrow by the 4.00 train.
P. S.—'47 port A1, and two or three brands of the old aunt's champagne exceptional, Barton says—we can sample them. Shall send this up by express; you will get it in time for the 4.00 train.
[Footnote 1: A letter from Mr. Carruthers which came into Evangeline's possession later, and which she put into her journal at this place.—EDITOR'S NOTE.]
Friday night, November 4th.
This morning Mr. Carruthers had his coffee alone. Mr. Barton and I breakfasted quite early, before nine o'clock, and just as I was calling the dogs in the hall for a run, with my out-door things already on, Mr. Carruthers came down the great stairs with a frown on his face.
"Up so early!" he said. "Are you not going to pour out my tea for me, then?"
"I thought you said coffee! No, I am going out," and I went on down the corridor, the wolf-hounds following me.
"You are not a kind hostess!" he called after me.
"I am not a hostess at all," I answered back—"only a guest."
He followed me. "Then you are a very casual guest, not consulting the pleasure of your host."
I said nothing. I only looked at him over my shoulder as I went down the marble steps—looked at him and laughed, as on the night before.
He turned back into the house without a word, and I did not see him again until just before luncheon.
There is something unpleasant about saying good-bye to a place, and I found I had all sorts of sensations rising in my throat at various points in my walk. However, all that is ridiculous and must be forgotten. As I was coming round the corner of the terrace, a great gust of wind nearly blew me into Mr. Carruthers's arms. Odious weather we are having this autumn!
"Where have you been all the morning?" he said, when we had recovered ourselves a little. "I have searched for you all over the place."
"You do not know it all yet, or you would have found me," I said, pretending to walk on.
"No, you shall not go now!" he exclaimed, pacing beside me. "Why won't you be amiable, and make me feel at home?"
"I do apologize if I have been unamiable," I said, with great frankness. "Mrs. Carruthers always brought me up to have such good manners."
After that he talked to me for half an hour about the place.
He seemed to have forgotten his vehemence of the night before. He asked all sorts of questions, and showed a sentiment and a delicacy I should not have expected from his hard face. I was quite sorry when the gong sounded for luncheon and we went in.
I have no settled plan in my head. I seem to be drifting—tasting for the first time some power over another human being. It gave me delicious thrills to see his eagerness when contrasted with the dry refusal of my hand only the day before.
At lunch I addressed myself to Mr. Barton; he was too flattered at my attention, and continued to chatter garrulously.
The rain came on and poured and beat against the window-panes with a sudden, angry thud. No chance of further walks abroad. I escaped up-stairs while the butler was speaking to Mr. Carruthers, and began helping Veronique to pack. Chaos and desolation it all seemed in my cosey rooms.
While I was on my knees in front of a great wooden box, hopelessly trying to stow away books, a crisp tap came to the door, and without more ado my host—yes, he is that now—entered the room.
"Good Lord! what is all this?" he exclaimed. "What are you doing?"
"Packing," I said, not getting up.
He made an impatient gesture.
"Nonsense!" he said. "There is no need to pack. I tell you I will not let you go. I am going to marry you and keep you here always."
I sat down on the floor and began to laugh.
"You think so, do you?"
"You can't force me to marry you, you know—can you? I want to see the world. I don't want any tiresome man bothering after me. If I ever do marry, it will be because—oh, because—" and I stopped and began fiddling with the cover of a book.
"Mrs. Carruthers said it was so foolish—but I believe I should prefer to marry some one I liked. Oh, I know you think that silly—" and I stopped him as he was about to speak—"but of course, as it does not last, anyway, it might be good for a little to begin like that—don't you think so?"
He looked round the room, and on through the wide-open double doors into my dainty bedroom, where Veronique was still packing.
"You are very cosey here; it is absurd of you to leave it," he said.
I got up off the floor and went to the window and back. I don't know why I felt moved—a sudden sense of the cosiness came over me. The world looked wet and bleak outside.
"Why do you say you want me to marry you, Mr. Carruthers?" I said. "You are joking, of course."
"I am not joking. I am perfectly serious. I am ready to carry out my aunt's wishes. It can be no new idea to you, and you must have worldly sense enough to realize it would be the best possible solution of your future. I can show you the world, you know."
He appeared to be extraordinarily good-looking as he stood there, his face to the dying light. Supposing I took him at his word, after all!
"But what has suddenly changed your ideas since yesterday? You told me you had come down to make it clear to me that you could not possibly obey her orders."
"That was yesterday," he said. "I had not really seen you—to-day I think differently."
"It is just because you are sorry for me; I suppose I seem so lonely," I whispered, demurely.
"It is perfectly impossible, what you propose to do—to go and live by yourself at a London hotel—the idea drives me mad."
"It will be delightful—no one to order me about from day to night!"
"Listen," he said, and he flung himself into an arm-chair. "You can marry me, and I will take you to Paris, or where you want, and I won't order you about—only I shall keep the other beasts of men from looking at you."
But I told him at once that I thought that would be very dull. "I have never had the chance of any one looking at me," I said, "and I want to feel what it is like. Mrs. Carruthers always assured me I was very pretty, you know, only she said that I was certain to come to a bad end, because of my type, unless I got married at once, and then if my head was screwed on it would not matter; but I don't agree with her."
He walked up and down the room impatiently.
"That is just it," he said. "I would rather be the first—I would rather you began by me. I am strong enough to ward off the rest."
"What does 'beginning by you' mean?" I asked, with great candor. "Old Lord Bentworth said I should begin with him, when he was here to shoot pheasants last autumn; he said it could not matter, he was so old; but I didn't——"
Mr. Carruthers bounded up from his chair.
"You didn't what! Good Lord! what did he want you to do?" he asked, aghast.
"Well," I said, and I looked down for a moment; I felt stupidly shy. "He wanted me to kiss him."
Mr. Carruthers looked almost relieved. It was strange.
"The old wretch! Nice company my aunt seems to have kept!" he exclaimed. "Could she not take better care of you than that—to let you be insulted by her guests?"
"I don't think Lord Bentworth meant to insult me. He only said he had never seen such a red, curly mouth as mine; and as I was bound to go to the devil some day with that, and such hair, I might begin by kissing him—he explained it all."
"And were you not very angry?" his voice wrathful.
"No, not very; I could not be, I was shaking so with laughter. If you could have seen the silly old thing, like a wizened monkey, with dyed hair and an eye-glass—it was too comic! I only told you because you said the sentence 'begin with you,' and I wanted to know if it was the same thing——"
Mr. Carruthers's eyes had such a strange expression—puzzle and amusement, and something else. He came over close to me.
"Because," I went on, "if so—I believe if that is always the beginning, I don't want any beginnings. I haven't the slightest desire to kiss any one. I should simply hate it."
Mr. Carruthers laughed. "Oh, you are only a baby child, after all!" he said.
This annoyed me. I got up with great dignity. "Tea will be ready in the white drawing-room," I said, stiffly, and walked towards my bedroom door.
He came after me.
"Send your maid away, and let us have it up here," he said. "I like this room."
But I was not to be appeased thus easily, and deliberately called Veronique and gave her fresh directions.
"Poor old Mr. Barton will be feeling so lonely," I said, as I went out into the passage. "I am going to see that he has a nice tea," and I looked back at Mr. Carruthers over my shoulder. Of course, he followed me, and we went together down the stairs.
In the hall a footman with a telegram met us. He tore it open impatiently. Then he looked quite annoyed.
"I hope you won't mind," he said, "but a friend of mine, Lord Robert Vavasour, is arriving this afternoon. He is a—er—great judge of pictures. I forgot I asked him to come down and look at them; it clean went out of my head."
I told him he was host, and why should I object to what guests he had.
"Besides, I am going myself to-morrow," I said, "if Veronique can get the packing done."
"Nonsense! How can I make you understand that I do not mean to let you go at all?"
I did not answer—only looked at him defiantly.
Mr. Barton was waiting patiently for us in the white drawing-room, and we had not been munching muffins for five minutes when the sound of wheels crunching the gravel of the great sweep—the windows of this room look out that way—interrupted our made conversation.
"This must be Bob arriving," Mr. Carruthers said, and went reluctantly into the hall to meet his guest.
They came back together presently, and he introduced Lord Robert to me.
I felt at once he was rather a pet. Such a shape! Just like the Apollo Belvedere! I do love that look, with a tiny waist and nice shoulders, and looking as if he were as lithe as a snake, and yet could break pokers in half like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.
He has great, big, sleepy eyes of blue, and rather a plaintive expression, and a little fairish mustache turned up at the corners, and the nicest mouth one ever saw; and when you see him moving, and the back of his head, it makes you think all the time of a beautifully groomed thorough-bred horse. I don't know why. At once—in a minute—when we looked at each other, I felt I should like "Bob." He has none of Mr. Carruthers's cynical, hard expression, and I am sure he can't be nearly as old—not more than twenty-seven or so.
He seemed perfectly at home—sat down and had tea, and talked in the most casual, friendly way. Mr. Carruthers appeared to freeze up, Mr. Barton got more banal, and the whole thing entertained me immensely.
I often used to long for adventures in the old days with Mrs. Carruthers, and here I am really having them!
Such a situation! I am sure people would think it most improper! I alone in the house with these three men! I felt I really would have to go—but where?
Meanwhile I have every intention of amusing myself.
Lord Robert and I seemed to have a hundred things to say to each other. I do like his voice—and he is so perfectly sans gene it makes no difficulties. By the end of tea we were as old friends. Mr. Carruthers got more and more polite and stiff, and finally jumped up and hurried his guest off to the smoking-room.
I put on such a duck of a frock for dinner—one of the sweetest, chastened simplicity, in black, showing peeps of skin through the thin part at the top. Nothing could be more demure or becoming, and my hair would not behave, and stuck out in rebellious waves and curls everywhere.
I thought it would be advisable not to be in too good time, so sauntered down after I knew dinner was announced.
They were both standing on the hearth-rug. I always forget to count Mr. Barton; he was in some chair, I suppose, but I did not notice him.
Mr. Carruthers is the taller—about one inch. He must be a good deal over six feet, because the other one is very tall, too; but now that one saw them together, Mr. Carruthers's figure appeared stiff and set besides Lord Robert's, and he hasn't got nearly such a little waist. But they really are lovely creatures, both of them, and I don't yet know which I like best.
We had such an engaging time at dinner! I was as provoking as I could be in the time, sympathetically, absorbingly interested in Mr. Barton's long stories, and only looking at the other two now and then from under my eyelashes; while I talked in the best demure fashion that I am sure even Lady Katherine Montgomerie—a neighbor of ours—would have approved of.
They should not be able to say I could not chaperone myself in any situation.
"Dam good port this, Christopher," Lord Robert said, when the '47 was handed round. "Is this what you asked me down to sample?"
"I thought it was to give your opinion about the pictures?" I exclaimed, surprised. "Mr. Carruthers said you were a great judge."
They looked at each other.
"Oh—ah—yes," said Lord Robert, lying transparently. "Pictures are awfully interesting. Will you show me them after dinner?"
"The light is too dim for a connoisseur to investigate them properly," I said.
"I shall have it all lit by electricity as soon as possible; I wrote about it to-day," Mr. Carruthers announced, sententiously. "But I will show you the pictures myself, to-morrow, Bob."
This at once decided me to take Lord Robert round to-night, and I told him so in a velvet voice while Mr. Barton was engaging Christopher's attention.
They stayed such a long time in the dining-room after I left that I was on my way to bed when they came out into the hall, and could with difficulty be persuaded to remain—for a few moments.
"I am too awfully sorry," Lord Robert said. "I could not get away. I do not know what possessed Christopher; he would sample ports, and talked the hind-leg off a donkey, till at last I said to him straight out I wanted to come to you. So here I am. Now you won't go to bed, will you?—please, please."
He has such pleading blue eyes, imploring pathetically, like a baby in distress, it is quite impossible to resist him—and we started down the gallery.
Of course, he did not know the difference between a Canaletto and a Turner, and hardly made a pretence of being interested; in fact, when we got to the end where the early Italians hang, and I was explaining the wonderful texture of a Madonna, he said:
"They all look sea-sick and out of shape. Don't you think we might sit in that comfy window-seat and talk of something else?" Then he told me he loved pictures, but not this sort.
"I like people to look human, you know, even on canvas," he said. "All these ladies appear as if they were getting enteric, like people used in Africa; and I don't like their halos and things; and all the men are old and bald. But you must not think me a Goth. You will teach me their points, won't you?—and then I shall love them."
I said I did not care a great deal for them myself, except the color.
"Oh, I am so glad!" he said. "I should like to find we admired the same things; but no picture could interest me as much as your hair. It is the loveliest thing I have ever seen, and you do it so beautifully."
That did please me. He has the most engaging ways—Lord Robert—and he is very well informed, not stupid a bit, or thick, only absolutely simple and direct. We talked softly together, quite happy for a while.
Then Mr. Carruthers got rid of Mr. Barton and came towards us. I settled myself more comfortably on the velvet cushions. Purple velvet cushions and curtains in this gallery, good old relics of early Victorian taste. Lots of the house is awful, but these curtains always please me.
Mr. Carruthers's face was as stern as a stone bust of Augustus Caesar. I am sure the monks in the Inquisition looked like that. I do wonder what he was going to say, but Lord Robert did not give him time.
"Do go away, Christopher," he said. "Miss Travers is going to teach me things about Italian Madonnas, and I can't keep my attention if there is a third person about."
I suppose if Mr. Carruthers had not been a diplomat he would have sworn, but I believe that kind of education makes you able to put your face how you like, so he smiled sweetly and took a chair near.
"I shall not leave you, Bob," he said. "I do not consider you are a good companion for Miss Evangeline. I am responsible for her, and I am going to take care of her."
"Then you should not have asked him here if he is not a respectable person," I said, innocently. "But Italian Madonnas ought to chasten and elevate his thoughts. Anyway, your responsibility towards me is self-constituted. I am the only person whom I mean to obey," and I settled myself deliberately in the velvet pillows.
"Not a good companion!" exclaimed Lord Robert. "What dam cheek, Christopher! I have not my equal in the whole Household Cavalry, as you know."
They both laughed, and we continued to talk in a sparring way—Mr. Carruthers sharp and subtle, and fine as a sword-blade; Lord Robert downright and simple, with an air of a puzzled baby.
When I thought they were both wanting me very much to stay, I got up and said good-night.
They both came down the gallery with me, and insisted upon each lighting a candle from the row of burnished silver candlesticks in the hall, which they presented to me with great mock-homage. It annoyed me—I don't know why—and I suddenly froze up and declined them both, while I said good-night again stiffly, and walked in my most stately manner up the stairs.
I could see Lord Robert's eyebrows puckered into a more plaintive expression than ever while he let the beautiful silver candlestick hang, dropping the grease onto the polished oak floor.
Mr. Carruthers stood quite still, and put his light back on the table. His face was cynical and rather amused. I can't say what irritation I felt, and immediately decided to leave on the morrow—but where to, fate or the devil could only know.
When I got to my room a lump came in my throat. Veronique had gone to bed, tired out with her day's packing.
I suddenly felt utterly alone—all the exaltation gone. For the moment I hated the two down-stairs. I felt the situation equivocal and untenable, and it had amused me so much an hour ago.
It is stupid and silly, and makes one's nose red, but I felt like crying a little before I got into bed.
Saturday afternoon, November 5th.
This morning I woke with a headache, to see the rain beating against my windows, and mist and fog—a fitting day for the 5th of November. I would not go down to breakfast. Veronique brought me mine to my sitting-room fire, and, with Spartan determination, I packed steadily all the morning.
About twelve a note came up from Lord Robert. I put it in.
DEAR MISS TRAVERS,—
Why are you hiding? Was I a bore last night? Do forgive me and come down. Has Christopher locked you in your room? I will murder the brute if he has!
Yours very sincerely,
"Can't; I am packing," I scribbled in pencil on the envelope, and gave it back to Charles, who was waiting in the hall for the answer. Two minutes after, Lord Robert walked into the room, the door of which the footman had left open.
"I have come to help you," he said, in that voice of his that sounds so sure of a welcome you can't snub him. "But where are you going?"
"I don't know," I said, a little forlornly, and then bent down and vigorously collected photographs.
"Oh, but you can't go to London by yourself!" he said, aghast. "Look here, I will come up with you, and take you to my aunt, Lady Merrenden. She is such a dear, and I am sure when I have told her all about you she will be delighted to take care of you for some days until you can hunt round."
He looked such a boy, and his face was so kind, I was touched.
"Oh no, Lord Robert! I cannot do that, but I thank you. I don't want to be under an obligation to any one," I said, firmly. "Mr. Carruthers suggests a way out of the difficulty—that I should marry him, and stay here. I don't think he means it, really, but he pretends he does."
He sat down on the edge of a table already laden with books, most of which overbalanced and fell crash on the floor.
"So Christopher wants you to marry him—the old fox?" he said, apparently oblivious of the wreck of literature he had caused. "But you won't do that, will you? And yet I have no business to say that. He is a dam good friend, Christopher."
"I am sure you ought not to swear so often, Lord Robert; it shocks me, brought up as I have been," I said, with the air of a little angel.
"Do I swear?" he asked, surprised. "Oh no, I don't think so—at least, there is no 'n' to the end of the 'dams,' so they are only an innocent ornament to conversation. But I won't do it, if you don't wish me to."
After that he helped me with the books, and was so merry and kind I soon felt cheered up, and by lunchtime all were finished and in the boxes ready to be tied up and taken away. Veronique, too, had made great progress in the adjoining room, and was standing stiff and maussade by my dressing-table when I came in. She spoke respectfully in French, and asked me if I had made my plans yet, for, as she explained to me, her own position seemed precarious, and yet, having been with me for five years, she did not feel she could leave me at a juncture like this. At the same time she hoped mademoiselle would make some suitable decision, as she feared, respectfully, it was "une si drole de position pour une demoiselle du monde," alone with "ces messieurs."
I could not be angry; it was quite true what she said.
"I shall go up this evening to Claridge's, Veronique," I assured her—"by about the 5.15 train. We will wire to them after luncheon."
She seemed comforted, but she added—in the abstract—that a rich marriage was what was obviously mademoiselle's fate, and she felt sure great happiness and many jewels would await mademoiselle if mademoiselle could be persuaded to make up her mind. Nothing is sacred from one's maid. She knew all about Mr. Carruthers, of course. Poor old Veronique! I have a big, warm corner for her in my heart. Sometimes she treats me with the frigid respect one would pay to a queen, and at others I am almost her enfant, so tender and motherly she is to me. And she puts up with all my tempers and moods, and pets me like a baby just when I am the worst of all.
Lord Robert had left me reluctantly when the luncheon gong sounded.
"Haven't we been happy?" he said, taking it for granted I felt the same as he did. This is a very engaging quality of his, and makes one feel sympathetic, especially when he looks into one's eyes with his sleepy blue ones. He has lashes as long and curly as a gypsy's baby.
Mr. Carruthers was alone in the dining-room when I got in; he was looking out of the window, and turned round sharply as I came up the room. I am sure he would like to have been killing flies on the panes if he had been a boy. His eyes were steel.
"Where have you been all the time?" he asked, when he had shaken hands and said good-morning.
"Up in my room, packing," I said, simply. "Lord Robert was so kind he helped me. We have got everything done; and may I order the carriage for the 5.15 train, please?"
"Certainly not. Confound Lord Robert!" Mr. Carruthers said. "What business is it of his? You are not to go. I won't let you. Dear, silly little child!—" his voice was quite moved. "You can't possibly go out into the world all alone. Evangeline, why won't you marry me? I—do you know, I believe—I shall love you——"
"I should have to be perfectly sure that the person I married loved me, Mr. Carruthers," I said, demurely, "before I consented to finish up my life like that."
He had no time to answer, for Mr. Barton and Lord Robert came into the room.
There seemed a gloom over luncheon. There were pauses, and Lord Robert had a more pathetic expression than ever. His hands are a nice shape—but so are Mr. Carruthers's; they both look very much like gentlemen.
Before we had finished, a note was brought in to me. It was from Lady Katherine Montgomerie. She was too sorry, she said, to hear of my lonely position, and she was writing to ask if I would not come over and spend a fortnight with them at Tryland Court.
It was not well worded, and I had never cared much for Lady Katherine, but it was fairly kind, and fitted in perfectly with my plans.
She had probably heard of Mr. Carruthers's arrival, and was scandalized at my being alone in the house with him.
Both men had their eyes fixed on my face when I looked up, as I finished reading the note.
"Lady Katherine Montgomerie writes to ask me to Tryland," I said. "So if you will excuse me I will answer it, and say I will come this afternoon," and I got up.
Mr. Carruthers rose, too, and followed me into the library. He deliberately shut the door and came over to the writing-table where I sat down.
"Well, if I let you go, will you tell her then that you are engaged to me, and I am going to marry you as soon as possible?"
"No, indeed I won't," I said, decidedly. "I am not going to marry you, or any one, Mr. Carruthers. What do you think of me? Fancy my consenting to come back here forever, and live with you, when I don't know you a bit! And having to put up with your—perhaps—kissing me, and—and—things of that sort. It is perfectly dreadful to think of!"
He laughed as if in spite of himself. "But supposing I promised not to kiss you?"
"Even so," I said, and I couldn't help biting the end of my pen. "It could happen that I might get a feeling I wanted to kiss some one else—and there it is! Once you're married, everything nice is wrong!"
"Evangeline! I won't let you go—out of my life—you strange little witch! You have upset me, disturbed me—I can settle to nothing. I seem to want you so very much."
"Pouf!" I said, and I pouted at him.
"You have everything in your life to fill it—position, riches, friends. You don't want a green-eyed adventuress."
I bent down and wrote steadily to Lady Katherine. I would be there about six o'clock, I said, and thanked her in my best style.
"If I let you go, it is only for the time," Mr. Carruthers said as I signed my name. "I intend you to marry me—do you hear?"
"Again I say, 'Qui vivre verra!'" I laughed and rose with the note in my hand.
Lord Robert looked almost ready to cry when I told him I was off in the afternoon.
"I shall see you again," he said. "Lady Katherine is a relation of my aunt's husband, Lord Merrenden. I don't know her myself, though."
I do not believe him. How can he see me again? Young men do talk a lot of nonsense!
"I shall come over on Wednesday to see how you are getting on," Mr. Carruthers said. "Please do be in."
I promised I would, and then I came up-stairs.
And so it has come to an end, my life at Branches. I am going to start a new phase of existence, my first beginning as an adventuress!
How completely all one's ideas can change in a few days! This day three weeks ago Mrs. Carruthers was alive. This day two weeks ago I found myself no longer a prospective heiress, and only three days ago I was contemplating calmly the possibility of marrying Mr. Carruthers; and now, for heaven, I would not marry any one! And so, for fresh woods and pastures new! Oh, I want to see the world, and lots of different human beings; I want to know what it is makes the clock go round—that great big clock of life. I want to dance and to sing and to laugh, and to live—and—and—yes, perhaps some day to kiss some one I love!
TRYLAND COURT HEADINGTON,
Wednesday, November 9th.
Goodness gracious! I have been here four whole days, and I continually ask myself how I shall be able to stand it for the rest of the fortnight. Before I left Branches, I began to have a sinking at the heart. There were horribly touching farewells with housekeepers and people I have known since a child, and one hates to have that choky feeling, especially as just at the end of it, while tears were still in my eyes, Mr. Carruthers came out into the hall and saw them; so did Lord Robert!
I blinked and blinked, but one would trickle down my nose. It was a horribly awkward moment.
Mr. Carruthers made profuse inquiries as to my comforts for the drive, in a tone colder than ever, and insisted upon my drinking some cherry brandy. Such fussing is quite unlike his usual manner, so I suppose he, too, felt it was a tiresome quart d'heure. Lord Robert did not hide his concern; he came up to me and took my hand while Christopher was speaking to the footman who was going with me.
"You are a dear," he said, "and a brick, and don't you forget I shall come and stay with Lady Katherine before you leave, so you won't feel you are all among strangers."
I thanked him, and he squeezed my hand so kindly. I do like Lord Robert.
Very soon I was gay again and insouciante, and the last they saw of me was smiling out of the brougham window as I drove off in the dusk. They both stood upon the steps and waved to me.
Tea was over at Tryland when I arrived—such a long, damp drive! And I explained to Lady Katherine how sorry I was to have had to come so late, and that I could not think of troubling her to have up fresh for me; but she insisted, and after a while a whole new lot came, made in a hurry with the water not boiling, and I had to gulp down a nasty cup—Ceylon tea, too! I hate Ceylon tea! Mr. Montgomerie warmed himself before the fire, quite shielding it from us, who shivered on a row of high-backed chairs beyond the radius of the hearth-rug.
He has a way of puffing out his cheeks and making a noise like "Burrrr," which sounds very bluff and hearty until you find he has said a mean thing about some one directly after. And while red hair looks very well on me, I do think a man with it is the ugliest thing in creation. His face is red, and his nose and cheeks almost purple, and fiery whiskers, fierce enough to frighten a cat in a dark lane.
He was a rich Scotch manufacturer, and poor Lady Katherine had to marry him, I suppose; though, as she is Scotch herself, I dare say she does not notice that he is rather coarse.
There are two sons and six daughters—one married, four grown-up, and one at school in Brussels—and all with red hair! But straight and coarse, and with freckles and white eyelashes. So, really, it is very kind of Lady Katherine to have asked me here.
They are all as good as gold on top, and one does poker-work, and another binds books, and a third embroiders altar-cloths, and the fourth knits ties—all for charities, and they ask every one to subscribe to them directly they come to the house. The tie and the altar-cloth ones were sitting working hard in the drawing-room—Kirstie and Jean are their names; Jessie and Maggie, the poker-worker and the bookbinder, have a sitting-room to themselves—their work-shop they call it. They were there still, I suppose, for I did not see them until dinner. We used to meet once a year at Mrs. Carruthers's Christmas parties ever since ages and ages, and I remember I hated their tartan sashes, and they generally had colds in their heads, and one year they gave every one mumps, so they were not asked the next. The altar-cloth one, Jean, is my age, the other three are older.
It was really very difficult to find something to say, and I can quite understand common people fidgeting when they feel worried like this. I have never fidgeted since eight years ago, the last time Mrs. Carruthers boxed my ears for it. Just before going up to dress for dinner Mr. Montgomerie asked blank out if it was true that Mr. Carruthers had arrived. Lady Katherine had been skirting round this subject for a quarter of an hour.
I only said yes, but that was not enough, and, once started, he asked a string of questions, with "Burrrr" several times in between. Was Mr. Carruthers going to shoot the pheasants in November? Had he decided to keep on the chef? Had he given up diplomacy? I said I really did not know any of these things, I had seen so little of him.
Lady Katherine nodded her head, while she measured a comforter she was knitting, to see if it was long enough.
"I am sure it must have been most awkward for you, his arriving at all; it was not very good taste on his part, I am afraid, but I suppose he wished to see his inheritance as soon as possible," she said.
I nearly laughed, thinking what she would say if she knew which part of his inheritance he had really come to see. I do wonder if she has ever heard that Mrs. Carruthers left me to him, more or less, in her will!
"I hope you had your old governess with you, at least," she continued, as we went up the stairs, "so that you could feel less uncomfortable—really a most shocking situation for a girl alone in the house with an unmarried man!"
I told her Mr. Barton was there, too, but I had not the courage to say anything about Lord Robert; only that Mr. Carruthers had a friend of his down who was a great judge of pictures, to see them.
"Oh, a valuer, I suppose. I hope he is not going to sell the Correggios," she exclaimed.
"No, I don't think so," I said, leaving the part about the valuer unanswered.
Mr. Carruthers's being unmarried seemed to worry her most; she went on about it again before we got to my bedroom door.
"I happened to hear a rumor at Miss Sheriton's" (the wool-shop in Headington, our town) "this morning," she said, "and so I wrote at once to you. I felt how terrible it would be for one of my own dear girls to be left alone with a bachelor like that. I almost wonder you did not stay up in your own rooms."
I thanked her for her kind thought, and she left me at last.
If she only knew! The unmarried ones who came down the passage to talk to mademoiselle were not half so saucy as the old fellows with wives somewhere. Lord Bentworth was married, and he wanted me to kiss him, whereas Colonel Grimston had no wife, and he never said Bo! to a goose. And I do wonder what she thought Mr. Carruthers was going to do to me, that it would have been wise for me to stay up in my rooms. Perhaps she thinks diplomats, having lived in foreign places, are sort of wild beasts.
My room is frightful after my pretty rosy chintzes at Branches. Nasty yellowish wood furniture, and nothing much matching; however, there are plenty of wardrobes, so Veronique is content.
They were all in the drawing-room when I got down, and Malcolm, the eldest son, who is in a Highland militia regiment, had arrived by a seven-o'clock train.
I had that dreadful feeling of being very late and Mr. Montgomerie wanting to swear at me, though it was only a minute past a quarter to eight.
He said "Burrrr" several times, and flew off to the dining-room with me tucked under his arm, murmuring it gave no cook a chance to keep the dinner waiting. So I expected something wonderful in the way of food, but it is not half so good as our chef sent up at Branches. And the footmen are not all the same height, and their liveries don't fit like Mrs. Carruthers always insisted that ours should do.
Malcolm is a titsy pootsy man. Not as tall as I am, and thin as a rail, with a look of his knees being too near together. He must be awful in a kilt, and I am sure he shivers when the wind blows—he has that air. I don't like kilts—unless men are big, strong, bronzed creatures that don't seem ashamed of their bare bits. I saw some splendid specimens marching, once, in Edinburgh, and they swung their skirts just like the beautiful ladies in the Bois, when mademoiselle and I went out of the Allee Mrs. Carruthers told us to try always to walk in.
Lady Catherine talked a great deal at dinner about politics and her different charities, and the four girls were so respectful and interested, but Mr. Montgomerie contradicted her whenever he could. I was glad when we went into the drawing-room.
That first evening was the worst of all, because we were all so strange; one seems to get acclimatized to whatever it is after a while.
Lady Katherine asked me if I had not some fancy-work to do. Kirstie had begun her ties, and Jean the altar-cloth, again.
"Do let Maggie run to your room and fetch it for you," she said.
I was obliged to tell her I never did any. "But I—I can trim hats," I said; it really seemed awful not to be able to do anything like them, I felt I must say this as a kind of defence for myself.
However, she seemed to think that hardly a lady's employment.
"How clever of you!" Kirstie exclaimed. "I wish I could, but don't you find that intermittent? You can't trim them all the time. Don't you feel the want of a constant employment?"
I was obliged to say I had not felt like that yet, but I could not tell them I particularly loved sitting perfectly still, doing nothing.
Jessie and Maggie played Patience at two tables which folded up, and which they brought out and sat down to with a deliberate accustomed look which made me know at once they did this every night, and that I should see those tables planted exactly on those two spots of carpet every evening during my whole stay. I suppose it is because they cannot bring the poker-work and the bookbinding into the drawing-room.
"Won't you play us something?" Lady Katherine asked, plaintively. Evidently it was not permitted to do nothing, so I got up and went to the piano.
Fortunately I know heaps of things by heart, and I love them, and would have gone on and on, so as to fill up the time, but they all said "Thank you" in a chorus after each bit, and it rather put me off.
Mr. Montgomerie and Malcolm did not come in for ages, and I could see Lady Katherine getting uneasy. One or two things at dinner suggested to me that these two were not on the best terms, perhaps she feared they had come to blows in the dining-room. The Scotch, Mrs. Carruthers said, have all kinds of rough customs that other nations do not keep up any longer.
They did turn up at last, and Mr. Montgomerie was purple all over his face, and Malcolm a pale green, but there were no bruises on him; only one could see they had had a terrible quarrel.
There is something in breeding, after all, even if one is of a barbarous country. Lady Katherine behaved so well, and talked charities and politics faster than ever, and did not give them time for any further outburst, though I fancy I heard a few "damns" mixed with the "burrrrs," and not without the "n" on just for ornament, like Lord Robert's.
It was a frightful evening.
Wednesday, November 9th. (Continued.)
Malcolm walked beside me going to church the next day. He looked a little less depressed, and I tried to cheer him up.
He did not tell me what his worries were, but Jean had said something about it when she came into my room as I was getting ready. It appears he has got into trouble over a horse called Angela Grey—Jean gathered this from Lady Katherine; she said her father was very angry about it, as he had spent so much money on it.
To me it does not sound like a horse's name, and I told Jean so, but she was perfectly horrified, and said it must be a horse, because they were not acquainted with any Angela Grey, and did not even know any Greys at all. So it must be a horse!
I think that a ridiculous reason, as Mrs. Carruthers said all young men knew people one wouldn't want to; and it was silly to make a fuss about it, and that they couldn't help it, and they would be very dull if they were as good as gold, like girls.
But I expect Lady Katherine thinks differently about things to Mrs. Carruthers, and the daughters the same.
I shall ask Lord Robert when I see him again if it is a horse or not.
Malcolm is not attractive, and I was glad the church was not far off.
No carriages are allowed out on Sunday, so we had to walk; and coming back it began to rain, and we could not go round the stables, which I understand is the custom here every Sunday.
Everything is done because it is the custom, not because you want to amuse yourself.
"When it rains and we can't go round the stables," Kirstie said, "we look at the old Illustrated London News, and go on our way from afternoon church."
I did not particularly want to do that, so stayed in my room as long as I could. The four girls were seated at a large table in the hall, each with a volume in front of her when I got down at last. They must know every picture by heart, if they do it every Sunday it rains—they stay in England all the winter.
Jean made room for me beside her.
"I am at the 'Sixties,'" she said. "I finished the 'Fifties' last Easter." So they evidently do even this with a method.
I asked her if there were not any new books they wanted to read, but she said Lady Katherine did not care for their looking at magazines or novels unless she had been through them first, and she had not time for many, so they kept the few they had to read between tea and dinner on Sunday.
By this time I felt I should do something wicked; and if the luncheon gong had not sounded, I do not know what would have happened.
Mr. Montgomerie said rather gallant things to me when the cheese and port came along, while the girls looked shocked, and Lady Katherine had a stony stare. I suppose he is like this because he is married. I wonder, though, if young married men are the same. I have never met any yet.
By Monday night I was beginning to feel the end of the world would come soon. It is ten times worse than ever having had to conceal all my feelings and abjectly obey Mrs. Carruthers. Because she did say cynical, entertaining things sometimes to me, and to her friends, that made one laugh. And one felt it was only she who made the people who were dependent upon her do her way, because she herself was so selfish, and that the rest of the world were free if once one got outside.
But Lady Katherine and the whole Montgomerie milieu give you the impression that everything and everybody must be ruled by rules; and no one could have a right to an individual opinion in any sphere of society.
You simply can't laugh—they asphyxiate you. I am looking forward to this afternoon and Mr. Carruthers coming over. I often think of the days at Branches, and how exciting it was, with those two, and I wish I were back again.
I have tried to be polite and nice to them all here, and yet they don't seem absolutely pleased.
Malcolm gazes at me with sheep's eyes. They are a washy blue, with the family white eyelashes (how different to Lord Robert's!). He has the most precise, regulated manner, and never says a word of slang; he ought to have been a young curate, and I can't imagine his spending money on any Angela Greys, even if she is a horse or not.
He speaks to me when he can, and asks me to go for walks round the golf course. The four girls play for an hour and three-quarters every morning. They never seem to enjoy anything—the whole of life is a solid duty. I am sitting up in my room, and Veronique has had the sense to have my fire lighted early. I suppose Mr. Carruthers won't come until about four—an hour more to be got through. I have said I must write letters, and so have escaped from them and not had to go for the usual drive.
I suppose he will have the sense to ask for me, even if Lady Katherine is not back when he comes.
This morning it was so fine and frosty a kind of devil seemed to creep into me. I have been so good since Saturday, so when Malcolm said, in his usual prim, priggish voice, "Miss Travers, may I have the pleasure of taking you for a little exercise," I jumped up without consulting Lady Katherine, and went and put my things on, and we started.
I had a feeling that they were all thinking I was doing something wrong, and so, of course, it made me worse. I said every kind of simple thing I could to Malcolm to make him jump, and looked at him now and then from under my eyelashes. So when we got to a stile, he did want to help me, and his eyes were quite wobblish. He has a giggle right up in the treble, and it comes out at such unexpected moments, when there is nothing to laugh at. I suppose it is being Scotch—he has just caught the meaning of some former joke. There would never be any use in saying things to him like to Lord Robert and Mr. Carruthers, because one would have left the place before he understood, if even then.
There was an old Sir Thomas Farquharson who came to Branches, and he grasped the deepest jokes of Mrs. Carruthers—so deep that even I did not understand them—and he was Scotch. It may be they are like that only when they have red hair.
When I was seated on top of a stile, Malcolm suddenly announced:
"I hear you are going to London when you go. I hope you will let me come and see you; but I wish you lived here always."
"I don't," I said, and then I remembered that sounded rather rude, and they had been kind to me. "At least, you know, I think the country is dull; don't you—for always?"
"Yes," he replied, primly, "for men, but it is where I should always wish to see the woman I respected."
"Are towns so wicked?" I asked, in my little-angel voice. "Tell me of their pitfalls, so that I may avoid them."
"You must not believe everything people say to you, to begin with," he said, seriously. "For one so young as you, I am afraid you will find your path beset with temptations."
"Oh, do tell me what!" I implored. "I have always wanted to know what temptations were. Please tell me. If you come to see me—would you be a temptation, or is temptation a thing and not a person?" I looked at him so beseechingly he never for a second saw the twinkle in my eye.
He coughed pompously. "I expect I should be," he said modestly. "Temptations are—er—er—Oh, I say, you know, I say—I don't know what to say."
"Oh, what a pity!" I said, regretfully. "I was hoping to hear all about it from you, especially if you are one yourself; you must know."
He looked gratified, but still confused.
"You see, when you are quite alone in London, some man may make love to you."
"Oh, do you think so, really?" I asked, aghast. "That, I suppose, would be frightful, if I were by myself in the room. Would it do, do you think, if I left the sitting-room door open and kept Veronique on the other side?"
He looked at me hard, but he only saw the face of an unprotected angel, and, becoming reassured, he said, gravely:
"Yes, it might be just as well."
"You do surprise me about love," I said. "I had no idea it was a violent kind of thing like that. I thought it began with grave reverence and respect, and after years of offering flowers and humble compliments, and bread-and-butter at tea-parties, the gentleman went down upon one knee and made a declaration—'Clara Maria, I adore you; be mine'—and then one put out a lily-white hand and, blushing, told him to rise; but that can't be your sort, and you have not yet explained what temptation means."
"It means more or less wanting to do what you ought not to."
"Oh, then," I said, "I am having temptation all the time; aren't you? For instance, I want to tear up Jean's altar-cloth, and rip Kirstie's ties, and tool bad words on Jessie's bindings, and burn Maggie's wood-boxes."
He looked horribly shocked and hurt, so I added at once:
"Of course, it must be lovely to be able to do these things; they are perfect girls, and so clever, only it makes me feel like that because I suppose I am—different."
He looked at me critically. "Yes, you are different; I wish you would try and be more like my sisters, then I should not feel so nervous about your going to London."
"It is too good of you to worry," I said, demurely. "But I don't think you need, you know. I have rather a strong suspicion I am acquainted with the way to take care of myself," and I bent down and laughed right in his face, and jumped off the stile onto the other side.
He did look such a teeny shrimp climbing after me! But it does not matter what is their size, the vanity of men is just the same. I am sure he thought he had only to begin making love to me himself and I would drop like a ripe peach into his mouth.
I teased him all the way back, until when we got in to lunch he did not know whether he was on his head or his heels. Just as we came up to the door he said:
"I thought your name was Evangeline; why did you say it was Clara Maria?"
"Because it is not!" I laughed over my shoulder, and ran into the house.
He stood on the steps, and if he had been one of the stable-boys he would have scratched his head.
Now I must stop and dress. I shall put on a black tea-frock I have. Mr. Carruthers shall see I have not caught frumpdom from my hosts.
I do think men are the most horrid creatures—you can't believe what they say or rely upon them for five minutes! Mrs. Carruthers was right; she said, "Evangeline, remember, it is quite difficult enough to trust one's self without trusting a man."
Such an afternoon I have had! That annoying feeling of waiting for something all the time and nothing happening. For Mr. Carruthers did not turn up, after all. How I wish I had not dressed and expected him!
He is probably saying to himself he is well out of the business, now I have gone. I don't suppose he meant a word of his protestations to me. Well, he need not worry. I had no intention of jumping down his throat; only I would have been glad to see him, because he is human, and not like any one here.
Of course, Lord Robert will be the same, and I shall probably never see either of them again. How can Lord Robert get here when he does not know Lady Katherine? No; it was just said to say something nice when I was leaving, and he will be as horrid as Mr. Carruthers.
I am thankful, at least, that I did not tell Lady Katherine; I should have felt such a goose. Oh! I do wonder what I shall do next. I don't know at all how much things cost; perhaps three hundred a year is very poor. I am sure my best frocks always were five or six hundred francs each, and I dare say hotels run away with money. But for the moment I am rich, as Mr. Barton kindly advanced some of my legacy to me; and, oh, I am going to see life! and it is absurd to be sad! I shall go to bed, and forget how cross I feel.
They are going to have a shoot here next week—pheasants. I wonder if they will have a lot of old men. I have not heard all who are coming.
Lady Katherine said to me after dinner this evening that she was sorry, as she was afraid it would be most awkward for me their having a party, on account of my deep mourning, and I, if I felt it dreadfully, I need not consider they would find me the least rude if I preferred to have dinner in my room.
I don't want to have dinner in my room. Think of the stuffiness of it! And perhaps hearing laughter going on down-stairs.
I can always amuse myself watching faces, however dull they are. I thanked her, and said it would not be at all necessary, as I must get accustomed to seeing people. I could not count upon always meeting hostesses with such kind thoughts as hers, and I might as well get used to it.
She said "Yes," but not cordially.
To-morrow Mrs. Mackintosh, the eldest daughter, is arriving with her four children. I remember her wedding five years ago. I have never seen her since.
She was very tall and thin, and stooped dreadfully, and Mrs. Carruthers said Providence had been very kind in giving her a husband at all. But when Mr. Mackintosh tittuped down the aisle with her, I did not think so.
A wee, sandy fellow about up to her shoulder!
Oh, I would hate to be tied to that! I think to be tied to anything could not be very nice. I wonder how I ever thought of marrying Mr. Carruthers offhand!
I feel now I shall never marry, for years. Of course one can't be an old maid, but for a long time I mean to see life first.
Thursday, November 10th.
DEAR MISS TRAVERS,—
I regret exceedingly I was unable to come over to Tryland to-day, but hope to do so before you leave. I trust you are well, and did not catch cold on the drive.
Yours, very truly,
This is what I get this morning! Pig!
Well, I sha'n't be in if he does come. I can just see him pulling himself together once temptation (it makes me think of Malcolm!) is out of his way; he no doubt feels he has had an escape, as I am nobody very grand.
The letters come early here, as everywhere, but in a bag which only Mr. Montgomerie can open, and one has to wait until every one is seated at breakfast before he produces the key and deals them all out.
Mr. Carruthers's was the only one for me, and it had "Branches" on the envelope, which attracted Mr. Montgomerie's attention, and he began to "burrrr," and hardly gave me time to read it before he commenced to ask questions apropos of the place, to get me to say what the letter was about. He is a curious man.
"Carruthers is a capital fellow, they tell me—er. You had better ask him over quietly, Katherine, if he is all alone at Branches"—this with one eye on me in a questioning way.
I remained silent.
"Perhaps he is off to London, though?"
I pretended to be busy with my coffee.
"Best pheasant-shoot in the county, and a close borough under the old regime. Hope he will be more neighborly—Er—suppose he must shoot 'em before November?"
I buttered my toast.
Then the "burrrrs" began. I wonder he does not have a noise that ends with d—n simply. It would save him time.
"Couldn't help seeing your letter was from Branches. Hope Carruthers gives you some news?"
As he addressed me deliberately, I was obliged to answer:
"I have no information. It is only a business letter," and I ate toast again.
He "burrred" more than ever, and opened some of his own correspondence.
"What am I to do, Katherine," he said, presently—"that confounded fellow Campion has thrown me over for next week, and he is my best gun? At short notice like this, it's impossible to replace him with the same class of shot."
"Yes, dear," said Lady Katherine, in that kind of voice that has not heard the question. She was deep in her own letters.
"Katherine!" roared Mr. Montgomerie. "Will you listen when I speak—burrrr!" and he thumped his fist on the table.
Poor Lady Katherine almost jumped, and the china rattled.
"Forgive me, Anderson," she said, humbly; "you were saying——?"
"Campion has thrown me over," glared Mr. Montgomerie.
"Then I have perhaps the very thing for you," Lady Katherine said, in a relieved way, returning to her letters. "Sophia Merrenden writes this morning, and among other things tells me of her nephew, Lord Robert Vavasour—you know, Torquilstone's half-brother. She says he is the most charming young man and a wonderful shot—she even suggests" (looking back a page), "that he might be useful to us, if we are short of a gun."
"Damned kind of her!" growled Mr. Montgomerie.
I hope they did not notice, but I had suddenly such a thrill of pleasure that I am sure my cheeks got red. I felt frightfully excited to hear what was going to happen.
"Merrenden, as you know, is the best judge of shooting in England," Lady Katherine went on, in an injured voice. "Sophia is hardly likely to recommend his nephew so highly if he were not pretty good."
"But you don't know the puppy, Katherine."
My heart fell.
"That is not the least consequence; we are almost related. Merrenden is my first cousin, you forget that, I suppose!"
Fortunately I could detect that Lady Katherine was becoming obstinate and offended. I drank some more coffee. Oh, how lovely if Lord Robert comes!
Mr. Montgomerie "burrred" a lot first, but Lady Katherine got him round, and before breakfast was over it was decided she should write to Lord Robert and ask him to come to the shoot. As we were all standing looking out of the window at the dripping rain, I heard her say, in a low voice:
"Really, Anderson, we must think of the girls sometimes. Torquilstone is a confirmed bachelor and a cripple—Lord Robert will certainly one day be duke."
"Well, catch him if you can," said Mr. Montgomerie. He is coarse sometimes.
I am not going to let myself think much about Lord Robert. Mr. Carruthers has been a lesson to me. But if he does come, I wonder if Lady Katherine will think it funny of me not saying I knew him when she first spoke of him. It is too late now, so it can't be helped.
The Mackintosh party arrived this afternoon. Marriage must have quite different effects on some people. Numbers of the married women we saw in London were lovely—prettier, I always heard, than they had been before—but Mary Mackintosh is perfectly awful. She can't be more than twenty-seven, but she looks forty, at least; and stout, and sticking out all in the wrong places, and flat where the stick-outs ought to be. And the four children. The two eldest look much the same age, the next a little smaller, and there is a baby, and they all squall, and although they seem to have heaps of nurses, poor Mr. Mackintosh has to be a kind of under one. He fetches and carries for them, and gives his handkerchief when they slobber, but perhaps it is he feels proud that a person of his size had these four enormous babies almost all at once like that.
The whole thing is simply dreadful.
Tea was a pandemonium! The four aunts gushing over the infants, and feeding them with cake, and gurgling with "tootsie-wootsie popsy-wopsy" kind of noises. They will get to do "burrrrs," I am sure, when they get older. I wonder if the infants will come down every afternoon when the shoot happens. The guests will enjoy it.
I said to Jean as we came up-stairs that I thought it seemed terrible to get married; did not she? But she was shocked, and said no, marriage and motherhood were sacred duties, and she envied her sister.
This kind of thing is not my idea of bliss. Two really well-behaved children would be delicious, I think; but four squalling imps all about the same age is bourgeois, and not the affair of a lady.
I suppose Lord Robert's answer cannot get here till about Saturday. I wonder how he arranged it? It is clever of him. Lady Katherine said this Mr. Campion who was coming is in the same regiment, the 3d Life Guards. Perhaps when—— But there is no use my thinking about it, only somehow I am feeling so much better to-night—gay, and as if I did not mind being very poor—that I was obliged to tease Malcolm a little after dinner. I would play Patience, and never lifted my eyes from the cards.
He kept trying to say things to me to get me to go to the piano, but I pretended I did not notice. A palm stands at the corner of a high Chippendale writing-bureau, and Jessie happened to have put the Patience-table behind that rather, so the rest of them could not see everything that was happening. Malcolm at last sat very near beside me, and wanted to help with the aces—but I can't bear people being close to me, so I upset the board, and he had to pick up all the cards on the floor. Kirstie, for a wonder, played the piano then—a cake-walk—and there was something in it that made me feel I wanted to move—to dance, to undulate—I don't know what—and my shoulders swayed a little in time to the music. Malcolm breathed quite as if he had a cold, and said, right in my ear, in a fat voice:
"You know you are a devil—and I——"
I stopped him at once, and looked up for the first time, absolutely shocked and surprised.
"Really, Mr. Montgomerie, I do not know what you mean," I said.
He began to fidget.
"Er—I mean—I mean—I awfully wish to kiss you."
"But I do not a bit wish to kiss you," I said, and I opened my eyes wide at him.
He looked like a spiteful bantam, and fortunately at that moment Jessie returned to the Patience, and he could not say any more.
Lady Katherine and Mrs. Mackintosh came into my room on the way up to bed. She—Lady Katherine—wanted to show Mary how beautifully they had had it done up; it used to be hers before she married. They looked all round at the dead-daffodil-colored cretonne and things, and at last I could see their eyes often straying to my night-gown, and dressing-gown, laid out on a chair beside the fire.
"Oh, Lady Katherine, I am afraid you are wondering at my having pink silk," I said, apologetically, "as I am in mourning; but I have not had time to get a white dressing-gown yet."
"It is not that, dear," said Lady Katherine, in a grave duty voice. "I—I—do not think such a night-gown is suitable for a girl."
"Oh, but I am very strong," I said. "I never catch cold."
Mary Mackintosh held it up, with a face of stern disapproval. Of course it has short sleeves ruffled with Valenciennes, and is fine linen cambric nicely embroidered. Mrs. Carruthers was always very particular about them, and chose them herself at Doucet's. She said one never could know when places might catch on fire.
"Evangeline, dear, you are very young, so you probably cannot understand," Mary said. "But I consider this garment not in any way fit for a girl, or for any good woman for that matter. Mother, I hope my sisters have not seen it."
I looked so puzzled.
She examined the stuff, one could see the chair through it, beyond.
"What would Alexander say if I were to wear such a thing!"
This thought seemed to almost suffocate them both; they looked genuinely pained and shocked.
"Of course it would be too tight for you," I said, humbly; "but it is otherwise a very good pattern, and does not tear when one puts up one's arms. Mrs. Carruthers made a fuss at Doucet's because my last set tore so soon, and they altered these."
At the mention of my late adopted mother, both of them pulled themselves up.
"Mrs. Carruthers, we know, had very odd notions," Lady Katherine said, stiffly. "But I hope, Evangeline, you have sufficient sense to understand now for yourself that such a—a—garment is not at all seemly."
"Oh, why not, dear Lady Katherine?" I said, "You don't know how becoming it is."
"Becoming!" almost screamed Mary Mackintosh, "But no nice-minded woman wants things to look becoming in bed!"
The whole matter appeared so painful to them I covered up the offending "nighty" with my dressing-gown, and coughed. It made a break, and they went away, saying good-night frigidly.
And now I am alone. But I do wonder why it is wrong to look pretty in bed, considering nobody sees one, too!
Monday, November 14th.
I have not felt like writing; these last days have been so stodgy—sticky, I was going to say. Endless infant talk. The methods of head nurses, teething, the knavish tricks of nursemaids, patent foods, bottles, bibs—everything. Enough to put one off forever from wishing to get married. And Mary Mackintosh sitting there all out of shape, expounding theories that can have no results in practice, as there could not be worse-behaved children than hers.
They even try Lady Katherine, I can see, when the two eldest, who come in while we are at breakfast each day, take the jam-spoon, or something equally horrid, and dab it all over the cloth. Yesterday they put their hands in the honey-dish which Mr. Montgomerie was helping himself to, and then after smearing him (the "burrrs" were awful), they went round the table to escape being caught, and fingered the backs of every one's chair and the door-handle, so that one could not touch a thing without getting sticky.
"Alexander, dearie," Mary said. "Alec must have his mouth wiped."
Poor Mr. Mackintosh had to get up and leave his breakfast, catch these imps, and employ his table-napkin in vain.
"Take 'em up-stairs, do—burrrr," roared their fond grandfather.
"Oh, father, the poor darlings are not really naughty," Mary said, offended. "I like them to be with us all as much as possible. I thought they would be such a pleasure to you."