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SIX TO SIXTEEN. A STORY FOR GIRLS.
BY JULIANA HORATIA EWING.
LONDON: SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, W.C. NEW YORK: E. & J. B. YOUNG & CO.
[Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee.]
TO MISS ELEANOR LLOYD.
MY DEAR ELEANOR,
I wish that this little volume were worthier of being dedicated to you.
It is, I fear, fragmentary as a mere tale, and cannot even plead as an excuse for this that it embodies any complete theory on the vexed question of the upbringing of girls. Indeed, I should like to say that it contains no attempt to paint a model girl or a model education, and was originally written as a sketch of domestic life, and not as a vehicle for theories.
That it does touch by the way on a few of the many strong opinions I have on the subject you will readily discover; though it is so long since we held discussions together that I hardly know how far your views will now agree with mine.
If, however, it seems to you to illustrate a belief in the joys and benefits of intellectual hobbies, I do not think that we shall differ on that point; and it may serve, here and there, to recall one, nearly as dear to you as to me, for whom the pleasures of life were at least doubled by such interests, and who found in them no mean resource under a burden heavier than common of life's pain.
That, whatever labour I may spend on this or any other bit of work—whatever changes or confirmations time and experience may bring to my views of people and things—I cannot now ask her approval of the one, or delight in the play of her strong intellect and bright wit over the other, is an unhealable sorrow with which no one sympathizes more fully than you.
This story was written before her death: it has been revised without her help.
Such as it is, I beg you to accept it in affectionate remembrance of old times and of many common hobbies of our girlhood in my Yorkshire home and in yours.
J. H. E.
I. My Pretty Mother—Ayah—Company 20
II. The Cholera Season—My Mother Goes Away—My Sixth Birthday 26
III. The Bullers—Matilda takes Me up—We Fall Out—Mr. George 34
IV. Sales—Matters of Principle—Mrs. Minchin Quarrels with the Bride—Mrs. Minchin Quarrels with Everybody—Mrs. Minchin is Reconciled—The Voyage Home—A Death on Board 40
V. A Home Station—What Mrs. Buller thought of it—What Major Buller thought of it 53
VI. Dress and Manner—I Examine Myself—My Great-Grandmother 59
VII. My Great-Grandmother—The Duchess's Carriage—Mrs. O'Connor is Curious 67
VIII. A Family History 73
IX. Hopes and Expectations—Dreams and Daydreams—The Vine—Elspeth—My Great-Grandfather 84
X. Thomas the Cat—My Great-Grandfather's Sketches—Adolphe is my Friend—My Great-great-great-Grandfather Disturbs my Rest—I Leave The Vine 96
XI. Matilda's News—Our Governess—Major Buller turned Tutor—Eleanor Arkwright 103
XII. Poor Matilda—The Awkward Age—Mrs. Buller takes Counsel with her Friends—The 'Milliner and Mantuamaker'—Medical Advice—The Major Decides 120
XIII. At School—The Lilac Bush—Bridget's Posies—Summer— Health 138
XIV. Miss Mulberry—Discipline and Recreation—Madame— Conversation—Eleanor's Opinion of the Drawing-master— Miss Ellen's—Eleanor's Apology 146
XV. Eleanor's Theories reduced to Practice—Studies—The Arithmetic-master 159
XVI. Eleanor's Reputation—The Mad Gentleman—Fancies and Follies—Matilda's Health—The New Doctor 166
XVII. Eleanor's Health—Holy Living—The Prayer of the Son of Sirach 175
XVIII. Eleanor and I are late for Breakfast—The School Breaks Up—Madame and Bridget 179
XIX. Northwards—The Black Country—The Stone Country 183
XX. The Vicarage—Keziah—The Dear Boys—The Cook—A Yorkshire Tea—Bed-fellows 191
XXI. Gardening—Drinkings—The Moors—Wading—Batrachosperma— The Church—Little Margaret 197
XXII. A New Home—The Arkwrights' Return—The Beasts—Going to Meet the Boys—Jack's Hat-box—We Come Home a Rattler 209
XXIII. I Correspond with the Major—My Collection—Occupations— Madame Again—Fete de Village—The British Hooray 219
XXIV. We and the Boys—We and the Boys and our Fads—The Lamp of Zeal—Clement on Unreality—Jack's Ointment 234
XXV. The "Household Album"—Sketching under Difficulties—A New Species?—Jack's Bargain—Theories 242
XXVI. Manners and Customs—Clique—The Lessons of Experience— Out Visiting—House-pride—Dressmaking 257
XXVII. Matilda—Ball Dresses and the Ball—Gores—Miss Lining—The 'Parishioner's Pennyworth' 269
XXVIII. I go Back to The Vine—After Sunset—A Twilight Existence—Salad of Monk's-hood—A Royal Summons 279
XXIX. Home Again—Home News—The Very End 293
SIX TO SIXTEEN.
Eleanor and I are subject to fads. Indeed, it is a family failing. (By the family I mean our household, for Eleanor and I are not, even distantly, related.) Life would be comparatively dull, up away here on the moors, without them. Our fads and the boys' fads are sometimes the same, but oftener distinct. Our present one we would not so much as tell them of on any account; because they would laugh at us. It is this. We purpose this winter to write the stories of our own lives down to the present date.
It seems an egotistical and perhaps silly thing to record the trivialities of our everyday lives, even for fun, and just to please ourselves. I said so to Eleanor, but she said, "Supposing Mr. Pepys had thought so about his everyday life, how much instruction and amusement would have been lost to the readers of his Diary." To which I replied, that as Mr. Pepys lived in stirring times, and amongst notable people, his daily life was like a leaf out of English history, and his case quite different to the case of obscure persons living simply and monotonously on the Yorkshire moors. On which Eleanor observed that the simple and truthful history of a single mind from childhood would be as valuable, if it could be got, as the whole of Mr. Pepys' Diary from the first volume to the last. And when Eleanor makes a general observation of this kind in her conclusive tone, I very seldom dispute it; for, to begin with, she is generally right, and then she is so much more clever than I.
One result of the confessed superiority of her opinion to mine is that I give way to it sometimes even when I am not quite convinced, but only helped by a little weak-minded reason of my own in the background. I gave way in this instance, not altogether to her argument (for I am sure my biography will not be the history of a mind, but only a record of small facts important to no one but myself), but chiefly because I think that as one grows up one enjoys recalling the things that happened when one was little. And one forgets them so soon! I envy Eleanor for having kept her childish diaries. I used to write diaries too, but, when I was fourteen years old, I got so much ashamed of them (it made me quite hot to read my small moral reflections, and the pompous account of my quarrels with Matilda, my sentimental admiration for the handsome bandmaster, &c., even when alone), and I was so afraid of the boys getting hold of them, that I made a big hole in the kitchen fire one day, and burned them all. At least, so I thought; but one volume escaped the flames, and the fun Eleanor and I have now in re-reading this has made me regret that I burned the others. Of course, even if I put down all that I can remember, it will not be like having kept my diaries. Eleanor's biography, in this respect, will be much better than mine; but still, I remember a good deal now that I dare say I shall forget soon, and in sixteen more years these histories may amuse us as much as the old diaries. We are all growing up now. We have even got to speaking of "old times," by which we mean the times when we used to wade in the brooks and——
But this is beside the mark, and I must not allow myself to wander off. I am too apt to be discursive. When I had to write leading articles for our manuscript periodical, Jack used to laugh at me, and say, "If it wasn't for Eleanor's disentangling your sentences, you'd put parenthesis within parenthesis till, when you got yourself into the very inside one, you'd be as puzzled as a pig in a labyrinth, and not know how to get back to where you started from." And I remember Clement—who generally disputed a point, if possible—said, "How do you know she wouldn't get back, if you let her work out each train of thought in peace? The curt, clean-cut French style may suit some people, whose brains won't stretch far without getting tired; but others may have more sympathy with a Semitic cast of mind."
This excuse pleased me very much. It was pleasanter to believe that my style was Semitic, than to allow, with Jack, that it tended towards that of Mrs. Nickleby. Though at that time my notion of the meaning of the word Semitic was not so precise as it might have been.
Our home is a beautiful place in the summer, and in much of spring and autumn. In winter I fancy it would look dreary to the eyes of strangers. At night the wind comes over the top of Deadmanstone Hill, and down the valley, whirls the last leaves off the old trees by the church, and sends them dancing over the closely-ranged gravestones. Then up through the village it comes, and moans round our house all night, like some miserable being wanting to get in. The boys say it does get in, more than enough, especially into their bedrooms; but then boys always grumble. It certainly makes strange noises here. I have more than once opened the back-door late in the evening, because I fancied that one of the dogs had been hurt, and was groaning outside.
That stormy winter after the Ladybrig murder, our fancies and the wind together played Eleanor and me sad tricks. When once we began to listen we seemed to hear a whole tragedy going on close outside. We could distinguish footsteps and voices through the bluster, and then a struggle in the shrubbery, and a thud, and a groan, and then a roar of wind, half drowning the sound of flying footsteps—and then an awful pause, and at last faint groaning, and a bump, as of some poor wounded body falling against the house. At this point we were wont to summon courage and rush out, with the kitchen poker and a candle shapeless with tallow shrouds from the strong draughts. We never could see anything; partly, perhaps, because the candle was always blown out; and when we stood outside it became evident that what we had heard was only the wind, and a bough of the old acacia-tree, which beat at intervals upon the house.
When the nights are stormy there is no room so comfortable as the big kitchen. We first used it for parochial purposes, small night-schools, and so forth. Then one evening, as we strolled in to look for one of the dogs, the cook said, "You can sit here, if you like, Miss Eleanor. We always sits in the pantry on winter nights; so there'll be no one to disturb you." And as we had some writing on hand which we did not wish to have discussed or overlooked by other members of the family, we settled down in great peace and comfort by the roaring fire which the maids had heaped to keep the kitchen warm in their absence.
We found ourselves so cosy and independent that we returned again and again to our new study. The boys (who go away a great deal more than we do, and are apt to come back dissatisfied with our "ways," and anxious to make us more "like other people") object strongly to this habit of ours. They say, "Who ever heard of ladies sitting in the kitchen?" And, indeed, there are many south-country kitchens in which I should not at all like to sit. But we have this large, airy, spotlessly clean room, with its stone floor, its yellow-washed walls, its tables scrubbed to snowy whiteness, its quaint old dresser and clock and corner cupboards of shiny black oak, and its huge fire-place and blazing fire all to ourselves, and we have abundance of room, and may do anything we please, so I think it is no wonder that we like it, though it be, in point of fact, a kitchen. We cover the table, and (commonly) part of the floor, with an amount of books, papers, and belongings of various sorts, such as we should scruple to deluge the drawing-room with. The fire crackles and blazes, so that we do not mind the wind, though there are no blinds to the kitchen, and if we do not "cotter" the shutters, we look out upon the black night, and the tall Scotch pine that has been tossed so wildly for so many years, and is not torn down yet.
Keziah the cook takes much pride in this same kitchen, which partly accounts for its being in a state so suitable to our use. She "stones" the floor with excruciating regularity. (At least, some people hate the scraping sound. I do not mind it myself.) She "pot-moulds" the hearth in fantastic patterns; the chests, the old chairs, the settle, the dresser, the clock and the corner cupboards are so many mirrors from constant polishing. She says, with justice, that "a body might eat his dinner off anything in the place."
We dine early, and the cooking for the late supper is performed in what we call "the second kitchen," beyond this. I believe that what is now the Vicarage was originally an old farmhouse, of which this same charming kitchen was the chief "living-room." It is quite a journey, through long, low passages, to get from the modern part of the house to this.
One year, when the "languages fad" was strong upon us, Eleanor and I earned many a backache by carrying the huge volumes of the Della Crusca Italian dictionary from the dining-room shelves to the kitchen. We piled them on the oak chest for reference, and ran backwards and forwards to them from the table where we sat and beat our brains over the "Divina Commedia," while the wind growled in the tall old box-trees without, and the dogs growled in dreams upon the hearth.
It is by this well-scrubbed table, in this kitchen, that our biographies are to be written. They cannot be penned under the noses of the boys.
Eleanor finds rocking a help to composition, and she is swinging backwards and forwards in the glossy old rocking-chair, with a pen between her lips, and a vacant gaze in her eyes, that becomes almost a look of inspiration when the swing of the chair turns her face towards the ceiling. For my own part I find that I can meet the crisis of a train of ideas best upon my feet, so I pace up and down past the old black dresser, with its gleaming crockery, like a captain on his quarter-deck. Suddenly Eleanor's chair stands still.
"Margery," she says, laying her head upon the table at her side, "I do think this is a capital idea."
"Yours will be capital," I reply, pausing also, and leaning back against the dresser; "for you have kept your old diaries, and——"
"My dear Margery, what if I have kept my old diaries? I've lived in this place my whole life. Now, you have had some adventures! I quite look forward to reading your life, Margery. You have no idea what pleasure it gives me to think of it. I was thinking just now, if ever we are separated in life, how I shall enjoy looking over it again and again. You must give me yours, you know, and I will give you mine. Yes; I am very glad we thought of it." And Eleanor begins to rock once more, and I resume my march.
But this quite settles the matter in my mind. To please Eleanor I would try to do a great deal; much more than this. I will write my autobiography.
Though it seems rather (to use an expressive Quaker term) a "need-not" to provide for our being separated in life, when we have so firmly resolved to be old maids, and to live together all our lives in the little whitewashed cottage behind the church.
MY PRETTY MOTHER—AYAH—COMPANY.
My name is Margaret Vandaleur. My father was a captain in her Majesty's 202nd Regiment of Foot. The regiment was in India for six years, just after I was born; indeed, I was not many months old when I made my first voyage, which I fancy Eleanor is thinking of when she says that I have had some adventures.
Military ladies are said to be unlucky as to the times when they have to change stations; the move often chancing at an inconvenient moment. My mother had to make her first voyage with the cares of a young baby on her hands; nominally, at any rate, but I think the chief care of me fell upon our Ayah. My mother hired her in England. The Ayah wished to return to her country, and was glad to do so as my nurse. I think that at first she only intended to be with us for the voyage, but she stayed on, and became fond of me, and so remained my nurse as long as I was in India.
I have heard that my mother was the prettiest woman on board the vessel she went out in, and the prettiest woman at the station when she got there. Some people have told me that she was the prettiest woman they ever saw. She was just eighteen years old when my father married her, and she was not six-and-twenty when she died.
[I got so far in writing my life, seated at the round, three-legged pinewood table, with Eleanor scribbling away opposite to me. But I could get no further just then. I put my hands before my eyes as if to shade them from the light; but Eleanor is very quick, and she found out that I was crying. She jumped up and threw herself at my feet.
"Margery, dear Margery! what is the matter?"
I could only sob, "My mother, O my mother!" and add, almost bitterly, "It is very well for you to write about your childhood, who have had a mother—and such a mother!—all your life; but for me——"
Eleanor knelt straight up, with her teeth set, and her hands clasped before her.
"I do think," she said slowly, "that I am, without exception, the most selfish, inconsiderate, dense, unfeeling brute that ever lived." She looked so quaintly, vehemently in earnest as she knelt in the firelight, that I laughed in spite of my tears.
"My dear old thing," I said, "it is I who am selfish, not you. But I am going on now, and I promise to disturb you no more." And in this I was resolute, though Eleanor would have burned our papers then and there, if I had not prevented her.
Indeed she knew as well as I did that it was not merely because I was an orphan that I wept, as I thought of my early childhood. We could not speak of it, but she knew enough to guess at what was passing through my mind. I was only six years old when my mother died, but I can remember her. I can remember her brief appearances in the room where I played, in much dirt and contentment, at my Ayah's feet—rustling in silks and satins, glittering with costly ornaments, beautiful and scented, like a fairy dream. I would forego all these visions for one—only one—memory of her praying by my bedside, or teaching me at her knee. But she was so young, and so pretty! And yet, O Mother, Mother! better than all the triumphs of your loveliness in its too short prime would it have been to have left a memory of your beautiful face with some devout or earnest look upon it—"as it had been the face of an angel"—to your only child.
As I sit thinking thus, I find Eleanor's dark eyes gazing at me from her place, to which she has gone back; and she says softly, "Margery, dear Margery, do let us give it up." But I would not give it up now, for anything whatever.]
The first six years of my life were spent chiefly with my Ayah. I loved her very dearly. I kissed and fondled her dark cheeks as gladly as if they had been fair and ruddy, and oftener than I touched my mother's, which were like the petals of a china rose. My most intimate friends were of the Ayah's complexion. We had more than one "bearer" during those years, to whom I was greatly attached. I spoke more Hindostanee than English. The other day I saw a group of Lascar sailors at the Southampton Station; they had just come off a ship, and were talking rapidly and softly together. I have forgotten the language of my early childhood, but its tones had a familiar sound; those dark bright faces were like the faces of old friends, and my heart beat for a minute, as one is moved by some remembrance of an old home.
When my mother went out for her early ride at daybreak, before the heat of the day came on, Ayah would hold me up at the window to see her start. Sometimes my father would have me brought out, and take me before him on his horse for a few minutes. But my nurse never allowed this if a ready excuse could prevent it. Her care of me was maternal in its tenderness, but she did not keep me tidy enough for me to be presentable off-hand to company.
There was always "company" wherever my mother went—gentleman company especially. The gentlemen, in different places, and at different times, were not the same, but they had a common likeness. I used to count them when they rode home with my father and mother, or assembled for any of the many reasons for which "company" hung about our homes. I remember that it was an amusement to me to discover, "there are six to-day," or "five to-day," and to tell my Ayah. I was even more minute. I divided them into three classes: "the little ones, the middle ones, and the old ones." The "little ones" were the very young men—smooth-cheeked ensigns, etc.; the "old ones" were usually colonels, generals, or elderly civilians. From the youngest to the oldest, officers and civilians, they were all very good-natured to me, and I approved of them accordingly.
When callers came, I was often sent into the drawing-room. Great was my dear Ayah's pride when I was dressed in pink silk, my hair being arranged in ringlets round my head, to be shown off to the company. I was proud of myself, and was wont rather to strut than walk into the room upon my best kid shoes. They were pink, to match my frock, and I was not a little vain of them. There were usually some ladies in the room, dressed in rustling finery like my mother, but not like her in the face—never so pretty. There were always plenty of gentlemen of the three degrees, and they used to be very polite to me, and to call me "little Rosebud," and give me sweetmeats. I liked sweetmeats, and I liked flattery, but I had an affection stronger than my fancy for either. I used to look sharply over the assembled men for the face I wanted, and when I had found it I flew to the arms that were stretched out for me. They were my father's.
I remember my mother, but I remember my father better still. I did not see very much of him, but when we were together I think we were both thoroughly happy. I can recall pretty clearly one very happy holiday we spent together. My father got some leave, and took us for a short time to the hills. My clearest memory of his face is as it smiled on me, from under a broad hat, as we made nosegays for Mamma's vases in our beautiful garden, where the fuchsias and geraniums were "hardy," and the sweet-scented verbenas and heliotropes were great bushes, loading the air with perfume.
I have one remembrance of it almost as distinct—the last.
THE CHOLERA SEASON—MY MOTHER GOES AWAY—MY SIXTH BIRTHDAY.
We were living in a bungalow not far from the barracks at X. when the cholera came. It was when I was within a few weeks of six years old. First we heard that it was among the natives, and the matter did not excite much notice. Then it broke out among the men, and the officers talked a good deal about it. The next news was of the death of the Colonel commanding our regiment.
One of my early recollections is of our hearing of this. An ensign of our regiment (one of the "little ones") called upon my mother in the evening of the day of the Colonel's death. He was very white, very nervous, very restless. He brought us the news. The Colonel had been ill barely thirty-six hours. He had suffered agonies with wonderful firmness. He was to be buried the next day.
"He never was afraid of cholera," said Mr. Gordon; "he didn't believe it was infectious; he thought keeping up the men's spirits was everything. But, you see, it isn't nervousness, after all, that does it."
"It goes a long way, Gordon," said my father. "You're young; you've never been through one of these seasons. Don't get fanciful, my good fellow. Come here, and play with Margery."
Mr. Gordon laughed.
"I am a fool, certainly," he said. "Ever since I heard of it, I have fancied a strange, faint kind of smell everywhere, which is absurd enough."
"I will make you a camphor-bag," said my mother, "that ought to overpower any faint smell, and it is a charm against infection."
I believe Mr. Gordon was beginning to thank her, but his words ended in a sort of inarticulate groan. He stood on his feet, though not upright, and at last said feebly, "I beg your pardon, I don't feel quite well."
"You're upset, old fellow; it's quite natural," said my father. "Come and get some brandy, and you shall come back for the camphor."
My father led him away, but he did not come back. My father took him to his quarters, and sent the surgeon to him; and my mother took me on her knee, and sat silent for a long time, with the unfinished camphor-bag beside her.
The next day I went to the end of our compound with Ayah, to see the Colonel's funeral pass. The procession seemed endless. The horse he had ridden two days before by my mother's side tossed its head fretfully, as the "Dead March" wailed, and the slow tramp of feet poured endlessly on. My mother was looking out from the verandah. As Ayah and I joined her, a native servant, who was bringing something in, said abruptly, "Gordon Sahib—he dead too."
When my father returned from the funeral he found my mother in a panic. Some friends had lately invited her to stay with them, and she was now resolved to go. "I am sure I shall die if I stay here!" she cried, and it ended in her going away at once. There was some difficulty as to accommodating me and Ayah, and it was decided that, if necessary, we should follow my mother later.
For my own part, I begged to remain. I had no fear of cholera, and I was anxious to dine with my father on my birthday, as he had promised that I should.
It was on the day before my birthday that one of the surgeons was buried. The man next in rank to the poor Colonel was on leave, and the regiment was commanded by our friend Major Buller, whose little daughters were invited to spend the following evening with me. The Major, my father, and two other officers had been pall-bearers at the funeral. My father came to me on his return. He was slightly chilled, and said he should remain indoors; so I had him all to myself, and we were very happy, though he complained of fatigue, and fell asleep once on the floor with his head in my lap. He was still lying on the floor when Ayah took me to bed. I believe he had been unwell all the day, though I did not know it, and had been taking some of the many specifics against cholera, of which everybody had one or more at that time.
Half-an-hour later he sent for a surgeon, who happened to be dining with Major Buller. The Doctor and the Major came together to our bungalow, and with them two other officers who happened to be of the party, and who were friends of my father. One of them was a particular friend of my own. He was an ensign, a reckless, kind-hearted lad "in his teens," a Mr. Abercrombie, who had good reason to count my father as a friend.
Mr. Abercrombie mingled in some way with my dreams that night, or rather early morning, and when I fairly woke, it was to the end of a discussion betwixt my Ayah, who was crying, and Mr. Abercrombie, in evening dress, whose face bore traces of what looked to me like crying also. I was hastily clothed, and he took me in his arms.
"Papa wants you, Margery dear," he said; and he carried me quickly down the passages in the dim light of the early summer dawn.
Two or three officers, amongst whom I recognized Major Buller, fell back, as we came in, from the bed to which Mr. Abercrombie carried me. My father turned his face eagerly towards me, but I shrank away. That one night of suffering and collapse had changed him so that I did not know him again. At last I was persuaded to go to him, and by his voice and manner recognized him as his feeble fingers played tenderly with mine. And when he said, "Kiss me, Margery dear," I crept up and kissed his forehead, and started to feel it so cold and damp.
"Be a good girl, Margery dear," he whispered; "be very good to Mamma." There was a short silence. Then he said, "Is the sun rising yet, Buller?"
"Just rising, old fellow. Does the light bother you?"
"No, thank you; I can't see it. The fact is, I can't see you now. I suppose it's nearly over. GOD'S will be done. You've got the papers, Buller? Arkwright will be kind about it, I'm sure. You'll break it to my wife as well as you can?"
After another pause he said, "It's time you fellows went to bed and got some sleep."
But no one moved, and there was another silence, which my father broke by saying, "Buller, where are you? It's quite dark now. Would you say the Lord's Prayer for me, old fellow? Margery dear, put your hands with poor Papa's."
"I've not said my prayers yet," said I; "and you know I ought to say my prayers, for I've been dressed a long time."
The Major knelt simply by the bed. The other men, standing, bent their heads, and Mr. Abercrombie, kneeling, buried his face on the end of the bed and sobbed aloud.
Major Buller said the Lord's Prayer. I, believing it to be my duty, said it also, and my father said it with us to the clause "For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory," when his voice failed, and I, thinking he had forgotten (for I sometimes forgot in the middle of my most familiar prayers and hymns), helped him—"Papa dear! for ever and ever."
Still he was silent, and as I bent over him I heard one long-drawn breath, and then his hands, which were enfolded with mine, fell apart. The sunshine was now beginning to catch objects in the room, and a ray lighted up my father's face, and showed a change that even I could see. An officer standing at the head of the bed saw it also, and said abruptly, "He's dead, Buller." And the Major, starting up, took me in his arms, and carried me away.
I cried and struggled. I had a dim sense of what had happened, mixed with an idea that these men were separating me from my father. I could not be pacified till Mr. Abercrombie held out his arms for me. He was more like a woman, and he was crying as well as I. I went to him and buried my sobs on his shoulder. Mr. George (as I had long called him, from finding his surname hard to utter) carried me into the passage and walked up and down, comforting me.
"Is Papa really dead?" I at length found voice to ask.
"Yes, Margery dear. I'm so sorry."
"Will he go to Abraham's bosom, Mr. George?"
"Will he go where, Margery?"
"To Abraham's bosom, you know, where the poor beggar went that's lying on the steps in my Sunday picture-book, playing with those dear old dogs."
Mr. Abercrombie's knowledge of Holy Scripture was, I fear, limited. Possibly my remarks recalled some childish remembrance similar to my own. He said, "Oh yes, to be sure. Yes, dear."
"Do you think the dogs went with the poor beggar?" I asked. "Do you think the angels took them too?"
"I don't know," said Mr. George. "I hope they did."
There was a pause, and then I asked, in awe-struck tones, "Will the angels fetch Papa, do you think?"
Mr. George had evidently decided to follow my theological lead, and he replied, "Yes, Margery dear."
"Shall you see them?" I asked.
"No, no, Margery. I'm not good enough to see angels."
"I think you're very good," said I. "And please be good, Mr. George, and then the angels will fetch you, and perhaps me, and Mamma, and perhaps Ayah, and perhaps Bustle, and perhaps Clive." Bustle was Mr. Abercrombie's dog, and Clive was a mastiff, the dog of the regiment, and a personal friend of mine.
"Very well, Margery dear. And now you must be good too, and you must let me take you to bed, for it's morning now, and I have had no sleep at all."
"Is it to-morrow now?" I asked; "because, if it's to-morrow, it's my birthday." And I began to cry afresh, because Papa had promised that I should dine with him, and had promised me a present also.
"I'll give you a birthday present," said my long-suffering friend; and he began to unfasten a locket that hung at his watch-chain. It was of Indian gold, with forget-me-nots in turquoise stones upon it. He opened it and pulled out a photograph, which he tore to bits, and then trampled underfoot.
"There, Margery, there's a locket for you; you can throw it into the fire, or do anything you like with it. And I wish you many happy returns of the day." And he finally fastened it round my neck with his Trichinopoli watch-chain, leaving his watch loose in his waistcoat-pocket. The locket and chain pleased me, and I suffered him to carry me to bed. Then, as he was parting from me, I thought of my father again, and asked:
"Do you think the angels have fetched Papa now, Mr. George?"
"I think they have, Margery."
Whereupon I cried myself to sleep. And this was my sixth birthday.
THE BULLERS—MATILDA TAKES ME UP—WE FALL OUT—MR. GEORGE.
Major Buller took me home to his house after my father's death. My father had left his affairs in his hands, and in those of a friend in England—the Mr. Arkwright he had spoken of. I believe they were both trustees under my mother's marriage settlement.
The Bullers were relations of mine. Mrs. Buller was my mother's cousin. She was a kind-hearted, talkative lady, and good-looking, though no longer very young. She dressed as gaily as my poor mother, though, somehow, not with quite so good an effect. She copied my mother's style, and sometimes wore things exactly similar to hers; but the result was not the same. I have heard Mrs. Minchin say that my mother took a malicious pleasure, at times, in wearing costumes that would have been most trying to beauty less radiant and youthful than hers, for the fun of seeing "poor Theresa" appear in a similar garb with less success. But Mrs. Minchin's tales had always a sting in them!
Mrs. Buller received me very kindly. She kissed me, and told me to call her "Aunt Theresa," which I did ever afterwards. Aunt Theresa's daughters and I were like sisters. They showed me their best frocks, and told me exactly all that had been ordered in the parcel that was coming out from England.
"Don't you have your hair put in papers?" said Matilda, whose own curls sat stiffly round her head as regularly as the rolls of a lawyer's wig. "Are your socks like lace? Doesn't your Ayah dress you every afternoon?"
Matilda "took me up." She was four years older than I was, which entitled her to blend patronage with her affection for me. In the evening of the day on which I went to the Bullers, she took me by the hand, and tossing her curls said, "I have taken you up, Margery Vandaleur. Mrs. Minchin told Mamma that she has taken the bride up. I heard her say that the bride was a sweet little puss, only so childish. That's just what Mrs. Minchin said. I heard her. And I shall say so of you, too, as I've taken you up. You're a sweet little puss. And of course you're childish, because you're a child," adds Miss Matilda, with an air. For had not she begun to write her own age with two figures?
Had I known then as much as I learned afterwards of what it meant to be "taken up" by Mrs. Minchin, I might not have thought the comparison a good omen for my friendship with Matilda. To be hotly taken up by Mrs. Minchin meant an equally hot quarrel at no very distant date. The squabble with the bride was not slow to come, but Matilda and I fell out first. I think she was tyrannical, and I know I was peevish. My Ayah spoilt me; I spoke very broken English, and by no means understood all that the Bullers said to me; besides which, I was feverishly unhappy at intervals about my father.
It was two months before Mrs. Minchin found out that her sweet little puss was a deceitful little cat; but at the end of two days I had offended Matilda, and we plunged into a war of words such as children wage when they squabble.
"I won't show you any more of my dresses," said Matilda.
"I've seen them all," I boldly asserted; and the stroke told.
"You don't know that," said Matilda.
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't."
"Well, show me the others then."
"No, that I won't."
"I don't care."
"I've got a blue silk coming out from England," Matilda continued, "but you haven't."
"I've got a pink silk here," said I, "and pink shoes."
"Ah, but you can't wear them now your papa's dead," said Matilda; "Mamma says you will have to wear black for twelve months."
I am sure Matilda did not mean to be cruel, but this blow cut me deeply. I remember the tide of misery that seemed to flood over my mind, to this day. I was miserable because my father was dead, and I could not go to him for comfort. I was miserable because I was out of temper, and Matilda had had the best of the quarrel. I was miserable—poor little wretch!—because I could not wear my pink silk, now my father was dead. I put my hands to my eyes, and screaming, "Papa! Papa!" I rushed out into the verandah.
As I ran out, some one ran in; we struck against each other, and Bustle and I rolled over on to the floor. In a moment more I was in Mr. Abercrombie's arms, and sobbing out my woes to him.
I am sorry to say that he swore rather loudly when he heard what Matilda had said, and I fancy that he lectured her when I had gone to Ayah, for she came to me presently and begged my pardon. Of course we were at once as friendly as before. Many another breach was there between us after that, hastily made and quickly healed. But the bride and Mrs. Minchin never came to terms.
"Mr. George" remained my devoted friend. I looked for him as I used to look for my father. The first time I saw him after I came to the Bullers was on the day of my father's funeral. He was there, and came back with Major Buller. I was on Mr. George's knee in a moment, with my hand through the crape upon his sleeve. The Major slowly unfastened his sword-belt, and laid it down with a sigh, saying, "We've lost a good man, Abercrombie, and a true friend."
"You don't know what a friend to me," said Mr. George impetuously. "Why, look here, sir. A month or two ago I'd outrun the constable—I always am getting into a mess of some sort—and Vandaleur found it out and lent me the money."
"You're not the first youngster he has helped by many, to my knowledge," said Major Buller.
"But that's not all, sir," said Mr. George, standing up with me in his arms. "When we first went in that night, you remember his speaking privately to me once? Well, what he said was, 'I think I'm following the rest, Abercrombie, and I wanted to speak to you about this.' He had got my I.O.U. in his hand, and he tore it across, and said, 'Don't bother any more about it; but keep straight, my boy, if you can, for your people's sake.' I'm sadly given to going crooked, sir, but if anything could make a fellow——"
Mr. George got no further in his sentence, but the Major seemed to understand what he meant, for he spoke very kindly to him, and they left me for a bit and walked up and down the verandah together. Just before Mr. George left, I heard him say, "Have you heard anything of Mrs. Vandaleur?"
"I wrote to her, in the best fashion that I could," said Major Buller. "But there's no breaking rough news gently, Abercrombie. I ought to hear from her soon."
But he never did hear from her. My poor mother had fled from the cholera only to fall a victim to fever. The news of my father's death was, I believe, the immediate cause of the relapse in which she died.
And so I became an orphan.
Shortly afterwards the regiment was ordered home, and the Bullers took me with them.
SALES—MATTERS OF PRINCIPLE—MRS. MINCHIN QUARRELS WITH THE BRIDE—MRS. MINCHIN QUARRELS WITH EVERYBODY—MRS. MINCHIN IS RECONCILED—THE VOYAGE HOME—A DEATH ON BOARD.
I only remember a little of our voyage home in the troop-ship, but I have heard so much of it, from the elder Buller girls and the ladies of the regiment, that I seem quite familiar with all that happened; and I hardly know now what I remember myself, and what has been recalled or suggested to me by hearing the other ladies talk.
There was no lack of subjects for talk when the news came that the regiment was ordered home. As Aunt Theresa repeatedly remarked, "There are a great many things to be considered." And she considered them all day long—by word of mouth.
The Colonel (that is, the new Colonel)—he had just returned from leave in the hills—and his wife behaved rather shabbily, it was thought. "But," as Mrs. Minchin said, "what could you expect? They say she was the daughter of a wholesale draper in the City. And trade in the blood always peeps out." We knew for certain that before there was a word said about the regiment going home, it had been settled that the Colonel's wife should go to England, where her daughters were being educated, and take the two youngest children with her. Her passage in the mail-steamer was all but taken, if not quite. And then, when they heard of the troop-ship, she stayed to go home in that. "Money can be no object to them," said Mrs. Minchin, "for one of the City people belonging to her has died lately, and left her—I can't tell you how many thousands. Indeed, they've heaps of money, and now he's got the regiment he ought to retire. And I must say, I think it's very hard on you, dear Mrs. Buller. With all your family, senior officer's wife's accommodation would be little enough, for a long voyage."
"Which is no reason why my wife should have better accommodation than she is entitled to, more than any other lady on board," observed Uncle Buller. "The Quartermaster's wife has more children than we have, and you know how much room she will get."
"Quartermaster's wife!" muttered Mrs. Minchin. "She would have been accommodated with the women of the regiment if we had gone home three months ago (at which time Quartermaster Curling was still only a sergeant)."
Uncle Buller made no reply. He was not fond of Mrs. Minchin, and he never disputed a point with her.
One topic of the day was "sales." We all had to sell off what we did not want to take home, and the point was to choose the right moment for doing so.
"I shan't be the first," said Aunt Theresa decidedly. "The first sales are always failures somehow. People are depressed. Then they know that there are plenty more to come, and they hang back. But further on, people have just got into an extravagant humour, and would go bargain-hunting to fifty sales a day. Later still, they find out that they've got all they want."
"And a great deal that they don't want," put in Uncle Buller.
"Which is all the same thing," said Aunt Theresa. "So I shall sell about the middle." Which she did, demanding her friends' condolences beforehand on the way in which her goods and chattels would be "given away," and receiving their congratulations afterwards upon the high prices that they fetched.
To do Aunt Theresa justice, if she was managing, she was quite honest.
[Eleanor is shocked by some of the things I say about people in our own rank of life. She believes that certain vulgar vices, such as cheating, lying, gluttony, petty gossip, malicious mischief-making, etc., are confined to the lower orders, or, as she wisely and kindly phrases it, to people who know no better. She laughs at me, and I laugh at myself, when I say (to support my own views) that I know more of the world than she does; since what I know of the world beyond this happy corner of it I learned when I was a mere child. But though we laugh, I can remember a good deal. I have heard polished gentlemen lie, at a pinch, like the proverbial pick-pocket, and pretty ladies fib as well as servant-girls. Of course, I do not mean to say that as many ladies as servant-girls tell untruths. But Eleanor would fain believe that the lie which Solomon discovered to be "continually on the lips of the untaught" is not on the lips of those who "know better" at all. As to dishonesty, too, I should be sorry to say that customers cheat as much as shopkeepers, but I do think that many people who ought to "know better" seem to forget that their honour as well as their interest is concerned in every bargain. The question then arises, do people in our rank know so much better on these points of moral conduct than those below them? If Eleanor and her parents are "old-fashioned" (and the boys think us quite behind the times), I fancy, that perhaps high principle and a nice sense of honour are not so well taught now as they used to be. Noble sentiments are not the fashion. The very phrase provokes a smile of ridicule. But I do not know whether the habit of uttering ignoble ones in "chaff" does not at last bring the tone of mind down to the low level. It is so terribly easy to be mean, and covetous, and selfish, and cowardly untrue, if the people by whose good opinion one's character lives will comfortably confess that they also "look out for themselves," and "take care of Number One," and think "money's the great thing in this world," and hold "the social lie" to be a necessary part of social intercourse. I know that once or twice it has happened that young people with whom we have been thrown have said things which have made high-principled Eleanor stand aghast in honourable horror; and that that speechless indignation of hers has been as much lost upon them as the touch of a feather on the hide of a rhinoceros. Eleanor is more impatient than I am on such subjects. I who have been trained in more than one school myself, am sorry for those who have never known the higher teaching. Eleanor thinks that modesty, delicacy of mind and taste, and uprightness in word and deed, are innate in worthy characters. Where she finds them absent, she is apt to dilate her nostrils, and say, in that low, emphatic voice which is her excited tone, "There are some things that you cannot put into anybody!" and so turn her back for ever on the offender. Or, as she once said to a friend of the boys, who was staying with us, in the heat of argument, "I supposed that honourable men, like poets, are born, not made." I, indeed, do believe these qualities to be in great measure inherited; but I believe them also to come of training, and to be more easily lost than Eleanor will allow. She has only lived in one moral atmosphere. I think that the standard of a family or a social circle falls but too easily; and in all humbleness of mind, I say that I have reason to believe that in this respect, as in other matters, elevation and amendment are possible.
However, this is one of the many subjects we discuss, rocking and pacing the kitchen to the howling of the wind. We have confessed that our experience is very small, and our opinions still unfixed in the matter, so it is unlikely that I shall settle it to my own, or anybody's satisfaction, in the pages of this biography.]
To return to Aunt Theresa. She was, as I said, honest. She chose a good moment for our sale; but she did not "doctor" the things. For the credit of the regiment, I feel ashamed to confess that everybody was not so scrupulous. One lady sat in our drawing-room, with twenty-five pounds' worth of lace upon her dress, and congratulated herself on having sold some toilette-china as sound, of which she had daintily doctored two fractures with an invaluable cement. The pecuniary gain may have been half-a-crown. The loss in self-respect she did not seem to estimate. Aunt Theresa would not have done it herself, but she laughed encouragingly. It is difficult to be strait-laced with a lady who had so much old point, and whose silks are so stiff that she can rustle down your remonstrances. Another friend, a young officer whose personal extravagance was a proverb even at a station in India, boasted for a week of having sold a rickety knick-knack shelf to a man who was going off to the hills for five-and-twenty rupees when it was not worth six. I have heard him swear at tailors, servants, and subordinates of all kinds, for cheating. I do not think it ever dawned upon his mind that common honesty was a virtue in which he himself was wanting. As to Mrs. Minchin's tales on this subject—but Mrs. Minchin's tales were not to be relied upon.
It was about this time that Mrs. Minchin and the bride quarrelled. In a few weeks after her arrival, the bride knew all the ladies of the regiment and the society of the station, and then showed little inclination to be bear-led by Mrs. Minchin. She met that terrible lady so smartly on one occasion that she retired, worsted, for the afternoon, and the bride drove triumphantly round the place, and called on all her friends, looking as soft as a Chinchilla muff, and dropping at every bungalow the tale of something that Mrs. Minchin had said, by no means to the advantage of the inmates.
It was in this way that Aunt Theresa came to know what Mrs. Minchin had said about her wearing half-mourning for my father and mother. That she knew better than to go into deep black, which is trying to indefinite complexions, but was equal to any length of grief in those lavenders, and delicate combinations of black and white, which are so becoming to everybody, especially to people who are not quite so young as they have been.
In the warmth of her own indignation at these unwarrantable remarks, and of the bride's ready sympathy, Aunt Theresa felt herself in candour bound to reveal what Mrs. Minchin had told her about the bride's having sold a lot of her wedding presents at the sale for fancy prices; they being new-fashioned ornaments, and so forth, not yet to be got at the station.
The result of this general information all round was, of course, a quarrel between Mrs. Minchin and nearly every lady in the regiment. The bride had not failed to let "the Colonel's lady" know what Mrs. Minchin thought of her going home in the troop-ship, and had made a call upon the Quartermaster's wife for the pleasure of making her acquainted with Mrs. Minchin's warm wish that the regiment had been ordered home three months sooner, when Mrs. Curling and the too numerous little Curlings would not have been entitled to intrude upon the ladies' cabin.
And yet, strange to say, before we were half-way to England, Mrs. Minchin was friendly once more with all but the bride; and the bride was at enmity with every lady on board. The truth is, Mrs. Minchin, though a gossip of the deepest dye, was kind-hearted, after a fashion. Her restless energy, which chiefly expended itself in petty social plots, and the fomentation of quarrels, was not seldom employed also in practical kindness towards those who happened to be in favour with her. She was really interested—for good or for evil—in those with whose affairs she meddled, and if she was a dangerous enemy, and a yet more dangerous friend, she was neither selfish nor illiberal.
The bride, on the other hand, had no real interest whatever in anybody's affairs but her own, and combined in the highest degree those qualities of personal extravagance and general meanness which not unfrequently go together.
A long voyage is no small test of temper; and it was a situation in which Mrs. Minchin's best qualities shone. It was proportionably unfavourable to those of the bride. Her maid was sick, and she was slovenly. She was sick herself, and then her selfishness and discontent knew no check. The other ladies bore their own little troubles, and helped each other; but under the peevish egotism of the bride, her warmest friends revolted. It was then that Mrs. Minchin resumed her sway amongst us.
With Aunt Theresa she was soon reconciled. Mrs. Buller's memory was always hazy, both in reference to what she said herself, and to what was said to her. She was too good-natured to strain it to recall past grievances. Her indignation had not lasted much beyond that afternoon in which the bride scattered discord among her acquaintances. She had relieved herself by outpouring the tale of Mrs. Minchin's treachery to Uncle Buller, and then taking him warmly to task for the indifference with which he heard her wrongs; and had ended by laughing heartily when he compared the probable encounter between Mrs. Minchin and the bride to the deadly struggles of two quarrelsome "praying-mantises" in his collection.
[Major Buller was a naturalist, and took home some rare and beautiful specimens of Indian insects.]
It was an outbreak of sickness amongst the little Curlings which led to the reconciliation with the Quartermaster's wife. Neither her kindness of heart nor her love of managing other folks' matters would permit Mrs. Minchin to be passive then. She made the first advances, and poor Mrs. Curling gratefully responded.
"I'm sure, Mrs. Minchin," said she, "I don't wonder at any one thinking the children would be in the way, poor dears. But of course, as Curling said——"
"GOD bless you, my good woman," Mrs. Minchin broke in. "Don't let us go back to that. We all know pretty well what Mrs. Seymour's made of, now. Let's go to the children. I'm as good a sick-nurse as most people, and if you keep up your heart we'll pull them all through before we get to the Cape."
But with all her zeal (and it did not stop short of a quarrel with the surgeon) and all her devotion, which never slackened, Mrs. Minchin did not "pull them all through."
We were just off the Cape when Arthur Curling died. He was my own age, and in the beginning of the voyage we had been playfellows. Of all the children who swarmed on deck to the distraction of (at least) the unmarried officers of the regiment, he had been the noisiest and the merriest. He made fancy ships in corners, to which he admitted the other children as fancy passengers, or fancy ship's officers of various grades. Once he employed a dozen of us to haul at a rope as if we were "heaving the log." Owing to an unexpected coil, it slackened suddenly, and we all fell over one another at the feet of two young officers who were marching up and down, arm-in-arm, absorbed in conversation. Their anger was loud as well as deep, but it did not deter Arthur Curling from further exploits, or stop his ceaseless chatter about what he would do when he was a man and the captain of a vessel.
He did not live to be either the one or the other. Some very rough weather off the Cape was fatal to him at a critical point in his illness. How Mrs. Minchin contrived to keep her own feet and to nurse the poor boy as she did was a marvel. He died on her knees.
The weather had been rough up to the time of his death, but it was a calm lovely morning on which his body was committed to the deep. The ship's bell tolled at daybreak, and all the ladies but the bride were with poor Mrs. Curling at the funeral. Mrs. Seymour lay in her berth, and whined complaints of "that horrid bell." She displayed something between an interesting terror and a shrewish anger because there was "a body on board." When she said that the Curlings ought to be thankful to have one child less to provide for, the other ladies hurried indignantly from the cabin.
The early morning air was fresh and mild. The sea and sky were grey, but peaceful. The decks were freshly washed. The sailors in various parts of the ship uncovered their heads. The Colonel and several officers were present. I had earnestly begged to be there also, and finding Mr. George, I stood with my hand in his.
Mrs. Curling's grief had passed the point of tears. She had not shed one since the boy died, though Mrs. Minchin had tried hard to move her to the natural relief of weeping. She only stood in silent agony, though the Quartermaster's cheeks were wet, and most of the ladies sobbed aloud.
As the little coffin slid over the hatchway into the quiet sea, the sun rose, and a long level beam covered the place where the body had gone down.
Then, with a sudden cry, the mother burst into tears.
A HOME STATION—WHAT MRS. BULLER THOUGHT OF IT—WHAT MAJOR BULLER THOUGHT OF IT.
Riflebury, in the south of England—our next station—was a very lively place. "There was always something going on." "Somebody was always dropping in." "People called and stayed to lunch in a friendly way." "One was sure of some one at afternoon tea." "What with croquet and archery in the Gardens, meeting friends on the Esplanade, concerts at the Rooms, shopping, and changing one's novels at the circulating library, one really never had a dull hour." So said "everybody;" and one or two people, including Major Buller, added that "One never had an hour to one's self."
"If you had any one occupation, you'd know how maddening it is," he exclaimed, one day, in a fit of desperation.
"Any one occupation!" cried Mrs. Buller, to whom he had spoken. "I'm sure, Edward, I'm always busy. I never have a quiet moment from morning to night, it seems to me. But it is so like you men! You can stick to one thing all along, and your meals come to you as if they dropped out of the skies, and your clothes come ready-made from the tailor's (and very dearly they have to be paid for, too!); and when one is ordering dinner and luncheon, and keeping one's clothes decent, and looking after the children and the servants, and taking your card, and contriving excuses that are not fibs for you to the people you ought to call on, from week's end to week's end—you say one has no occupation."
"Well, well, my dear," said the Major, "I know you have all the trouble of the household, but I meant to say that if you had any pursuit, any study——"
"And as to visitors," continued Aunt Theresa, who always pursued her own train of ideas, irrespective of replies, "I'm sure society's no pleasure to me; I only call on the people you ought to call on, and keep up a few acquaintances for the children's sake. You wouldn't have us without a friend in the world when the girls come out; and really, what with regimental duties in the morning, and insects afterwards, Edward, you are so absorbed, that if it wasn't for a lady friend coming in now and then, I should hardly have a soul to speak to."
The Major was melted in a moment.
"I am afraid I am a very inattentive husband," he said. "You must forgive me, my dear. And this sprained ankle keeping me in makes me cross, too. And I had so reckoned on these days at home to finish my list of Coleoptera, and get some dissecting and mounting done. But to-day, Mrs. Minchin brought her work directly after breakfast, and that empty-headed fellow Elliott dropped in for lunch, and we had callers all the afternoon, and a coterie for tea, and Mrs. St. John (who seems to get through life somehow without the most indefinite notion of how time passes) came in just when tea was over, and you had to order a fresh supply when we should have been dressing for dinner, and the dinner was spoilt by waiting till she discovered that she had no idea (whoever did know her have an idea?) how late it was, and that Mr. St. John would be so angry. And now you want me to go in a cab to a concert at the Rooms to meet all these people over again!"
"I'm sure I don't care for Mrs. St. John a bit more than you do," said Mrs. Buller. "And really she does repeat such things sometimes—without ever looking round to see if the girls are in the room. She told me a thing to-day that old Lady Watford had told her."
"My dear, her ladyship's stories are well known. Cremorne's wife hears them from her, and tells them to her husband, and he tells them to the other fellows. I can always hear them if I wish. But I do not care to. But if you don't like Mrs. St. John, Theresa, what on earth made you ask her to come and sit with you in the morning?"
"Well, my dear, what can I do?" said Mrs. Buller. "She's always saying that everybody is so unsociable, and that she is so dull, she doesn't know what to do with herself, and begging me to take my work and go and sit with her in a morning. How can I go and leave the children and the servants, just at the time of day when everything wants to be set going? So I thought I'd better ask her to come here instead. It's a great bore, but I can keep an eye over the house, and if any one else drops in I can leave them together. It's not me that she wants, it's something to amuse her.
"You talk about my having nothing to do," Aunt Theresa plaintively continued. "But I'm sure I can hardly sleep at night sometimes for thinking of all I ought to do and haven't done. Mrs. Jerrold, you know, made me promise faithfully when we were coming away to write to her every mail, and I never find time. Every week, as it comes round, I think I will, and can't. I used to think that one good thing about coming home would be the no more writing for the English mail; but the Indian mail is quite as bad. And I'm sure mail-day seems to come round quicker than any other day of the week. I quite dread Fridays. And then your mother and sisters are always saying I never write. And I heard from Mrs. Pryce Smith only this morning, telling me I owed her two letters; and I don't know what to say to her when I do write, for she knows nobody here, and I know nobody there. And we've never returned the Ridgeways' call, my dear. And we've never called on the Mercers since we dined there. And Mrs. Kirkshaw is always begging me to drive out and spend the day at the Abbey. I know she is getting offended, I've put her off so often; and Mrs. Minchin says she is very touchy. And Mrs. Taylor looks quite reproachfully at me because I've not been near the Dorcas meetings for so long. But it's all very well for people who have no children to work at these things. A mother's time is not her own, and charity begins at home. I'm sure I never seem to be at rest, and yet people are never satisfied. Lady Burchett says she's certain I am never at home, for she always misses me when she calls; and Mrs. Graham says I never go out, she's sure, for she never meets me anywhere."
"Isn't all that just what I say?" said Major Buller, laying down his knife and fork. (The discussion took place at dinner.) "It's the tyranny of the idle over the busy; and why, in the name of common sense, should it be yielded to? Why should friends be obliged, at the peril of disparagement of their affection or good manners, to visit each other when they do not want to go—to receive each other when it is not convenient, and to write to each other when there is nothing to say? You women, my dear, I must say, are more foolish in this respect than men. Men simply won't write long letters to their friends when they've nothing to say, and I don't think their friendships suffer by it. And though there are heaps of idle gossiping fellows, as well as ladies with the same qualities, a man who was busy would never tolerate them to his own inconvenience, much less invite them to persecute him. We are more straightforward with each other, and that is, after all, the firmest foundation for friendship. It is partly a misplaced amiability, a phase of the unselfishness in which you excel us, and partly also, I think, a want of some measuring quality that makes you women exact unreasonable things, make impossible promises, and after blandly undertaking a multiplicity of small matters that would tax the method of a man of business to accomplish punctually, put your whole time at the disposal of every fool who is pleased to waste it."
"It's all very well talking, Edward," said Aunt Theresa. "But what is one to do?"
"Make a stand," said the Major. "When you're busy, and can't conveniently see people, let your servant tell them so in as many words. The friendship that can't survive that is hardly worth keeping, I think. Eh, my dear?"
But I suppose the stand was to be made further on, for Major Buller took Aunt Theresa to the concert at "the Rooms."
DRESS AND MANNER—I EXAMINE MYSELF—MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER.
When we began our biographies we resolved that neither of us should read the other's till both were finished. This was partly because we thought it would be more satisfactory to be able to go straight through them, partly as a check on a propensity for beginning things and not finishing them, to which we are liable, and partly from the childish habit of "saving up the treat for the last," as we used—in "old times"—to pick the raisins out of the puddings and lay them by for a bonne bouche when we should have done our duty by the more solid portion.
But our resolve has given way. We began by very much wishing to break it, and we have ended by finding excellent reasons for doing so.
We both wish to read the biographies—why should we tease ourselves by sticking obstinately to our first opinion?
No doubt it would be nice to read them "straight through." But we are rather apt to devour books at a pace unfavourable to book-digestion, so perhaps it will be better still to read them by bits, as one reads a thing that "comes out in numbers."
And in short, at this point Eleanor took mine, and has read it, and I have read hers. She lays down mine, saying, "But, my dear, you don't remember all this?"
Which is true. What I have recorded of my first English home is more what I know of it from other sources than what I positively remember. And yet I have positive memories of my own about it, too.
I have hinted that my poor young mother did not look after me much. Also that the Ayah, who had a mother's love and care for me, paid very little attention to my being tidy in person or dress, except when I was exhibited to "company."
But my mother was dead. Ayah (after a terrible parting) was left behind in India. And from the time that I passed into Aunt Theresa's charge, matters were quite changed.
I do remember the dresses I had then, and the keen interest I took in the subject of dress at a very early age. A very keen interest was taken in it by Aunt Theresa herself, by Aunt Theresa's daughters, and by the ladies of Aunt Theresa's acquaintance. I think I may say that it formed (at least one of) the principal subjects of conversation during all those working hours of the day which the ladies so freely sacrificed to each other. Mrs. Buller was truly kind, and I am sure that if I had depended in every way upon her, she would have given to my costume as much care as she bestowed upon that of her own daughters. But my parents had not been poor; there was no lack of money for my maintenance, and thus "no reason," as Aunt Theresa said, why my clothes should not be "decent," and "decent" with Aunt Theresa and her friends was a synonym for "fashionable."
Thus my first black frock was such an improvement (in fashion) upon the pink silk one, as to deprive my deep mourning of much of its gloom. Mrs. (Colonel) St. Quentin could not refuse to lend one of her youngest little girl's frocks as a copy, for "the poor little orphan"; and a bevy of ladies sat in consultation over it, for all Mrs. St. Quentin's things were well worth copying.
"Keep a paper pattern, dear," said Mrs. Minchin; "it will come in for the girls. Her things are always good."
And Mrs. Buller kept a paper pattern.
I remember the dress quite clearly. It is fixed in my mind by an incident connected with it. It had six crape tucks, of which fact I was very proud, having heard a good deal said about it. The first time Mr. George came to our bungalow, after I had begun to wear it, I strutted up to him holding my skirt out, and my head up.
"Look at my black frock, Mr. George," said I; "it has got six crape tucks."
Matilda was most precocious in—at least—one way: she could repeat grown-up observations of wonderful length.
"It's the best crape," she said; "it won't spot. Cut on the bias. They're not real tucks though, Margery. They're laid on; Mrs. Minchin said so."
"They are real tucks," I stoutly asserted.
"No, they're not. They're cut on the bias, and laid on to imitate tucks," Matilda repeated. I think she was not sorry there should be some weak point in the fashionable mourning in which she did not share.
I turned to Mr. George, as usual.
"Aren't they real tucks, Mr. George?"
But Mr. George had a strange look on his face which puzzled and disconcerted me. He only said, "Good heavens!" And all my after efforts were vain to find out what he meant, and why he looked in that strange manner.
Little things that puzzle one in childhood remain long in one's memory. For years I puzzled over that look of Mr. George's, and the remembrance never was a pleasant one. It chilled my enthusiasm for my new dress at the time, and made me feel inclined to cry. I think I have lived to understand it.
But I was not insensible of my great loss, though I took pride in my fashionable mourning. I do not think I much connected the two in my mind. I did not talk about my father to any one but Mr. George, but at night I often lay awake and cried about him. This habit certainly affected my health, and I had become a very thin, weak child when the home voyage came to restore my strength.
By the time we reached Riflebury, my fashionable new dress was neither new nor fashionable. It was then that Mrs. Minchin ferreted out a dressmaker whom Mrs. St. Quentin employed, and I was put under her hands.
The little Bullers' things were "made in the house," after the pattern of mine.
"And one sees the fashion-book, and gets a few hints," said Mrs. Buller.
If Mr. George was not duly impressed by my fashionable mourning, I could (young as I was) trace the effect of Aunt Theresa's care for my appearance on other friends in the regiment. They openly remarked on it, and did not scruple to do so in my hearing. Callers from the neighbourhood patronized me also. Pretty ladies in fashionably pitched bonnets smiled, and said, "One of your little ones, Mrs. Buller? What a pretty little thing!" and duly sympathized over the sad story which Aunt Theresa seemed almost to enjoy relating. Sometimes it was agony to me to hear the oft-repeated tale of my parents' death, and then again I enjoyed a sort of gloomy importance which gave me satisfaction. I even rehearsed such scenes in my mind when I was in bed, shedding real tears as (in the person of Aunt Theresa) I related the sad circumstances of my own grief to an imaginary acquaintance; and then, with dry eyes, prolonging the "fancy" with compliments and consolations of the most flattering nature. I always took care to fancy some circumstances that led to my being in my best dress on the occasion.
Gentleman company did not haunt my new home as was the case with the Indian one. But now and then officers of the regiment called on Mrs. Buller, and would say, "Is that poor Vandaleur's child? Dear me! Very interesting little thing;" and speculate in my hearing on the possibility of my growing up like my mother.
"'Pon my soul, she is like her!" said one of the "middle ones" one day, examining me through his eyeglass, "Th' same expressive eyes, you know, and just that graceful gracious little manner poor Mrs. Vandaleur had. By Jove, it was a shocking thing! She was an uncommonly pretty woman."
"You never saw her mother, my good fellow," said one of the "old ones" who was present. "She had a graceful gracious manner, if you like, and Mrs. Vandaleur was not to be named in the same day with her. Mrs. Vandaleur knew how to dress, I grant you——"
"You may go and play, Margery dear," said Aunt Theresa, with kindly delicacy.
The "old one" had lowered his voice, but still I could hear what he said, as Mrs. Buller saw.
When my father was not spoken of, my feelings were very little hurt. On this occasion my mind was engaged simply with the question whether I did or did not inherit my mother's graces. I ran to a little looking-glass in the nursery and examined my eyes; but when I tried to make them "expressive," I either frowned so unpleasantly, or stared so absurdly, that I could not flatter myself on the point.
The girls were out; I had nothing to do; the nursery was empty. I walked about, shaking out my skirts, and thinking of my gracious and graceful manner. I felt a pardonable curiosity to see this for myself, and, remembering the big glass in Aunt Theresa's room, I stole out to see if I could make use of it unobserved. But the gentlemen had gone, and I feared that Mrs. Buller might come up-stairs. In a few minutes, however, the door-bell rang, and I heard the sound of a visitor being ushered into the drawing-room.
I seized the chance, and ran to Aunt Theresa's room.
The mirror was "full length," and no one could see me better than I now saw myself. Once more I attempted to make expressive eyes, but the result was not favourable to vanity. Then I drew back to the door, and, advancing upon the mirror with mincing steps, I threw all the grace and graciousness of which I was conscious into my manner, and holding out my hand, said, in a "company voice," "Charmed to see you, I'm sure!"
"Mais c'est bien drole!" said a soft voice close behind me.
I had not heard the door open, and yet there stood Aunt Theresa on the threshold, and with her a little old lady. The little old lady had a bright, delicately cut face, eyes of whose expressiveness there could be no question, and large grey curls. She wore a large hat, with large bows tied under her chin, and a dark-green satin driving-cloak lined with white and grey fur.
She looked like a fairy godmother, like the ghost of an ancestor—like "somebody out of a picture." She was my great-grandmother.
MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER—THE DUCHESS'S CARRIAGE—MRS. O'CONNOR IS CURIOUS.
I was much discomfited. My position was not a dignified one at the best, and in childhood such small shames seem too terrible ever to be outlived. My great-grandmother laughed heartily, and Mrs. Buller, whose sense of humour was small, looked annoyed.
"What in the world are you doing here, Margery?" she said.
I had little or no moral courage, and I had not been trained in high principles. If I could have thought of a plausible lie, I fear I should have told it in my dilemma. As it was, I could not; I only put my hand to my burning cheek, and said:
"Let me see!"
I must certainly have presented a very comical appearance, but the little old lady's smiles died away, and her eyes filled with tears.
"It is strange, is it not," she said to Aunt Theresa, "that, after all, I should laugh at this meeting?"
Then, sitting down on a box by the door, she held out her hands to me, saying:
"Come, little Margery, there is no sin in practising one's good manners before the mirror. Come and kiss me, dear child; I am your father's father's mother. Is not that to be an old woman? I am your great-grandmother."
My great-grandmother's voice was very soft, her cheek was soft, her cloak was soft. I buried my face in the fur, and cried quietly to myself with shame and excitement; she stroking my head, and saying:
"Pauvre petite!—thou an orphan, and I doubly childless! It is thus we meet at last to join our hands across the graves of two generations of those we love!"
"It was a dreadful thing!" said Mrs. Buller, rummaging in her pocket for a clean handkerchief. "I'm sure I never should forget it, if I lived a thousand years. I never seemed able to realize that they were gone; it was all so sudden."
The old lady made no answer, and we all wept in silence.
Aunt Theresa was the first to recover herself, and she insisted on our coming down-stairs. A young regimental surgeon and his wife dropped in to lunch, for which my great-grandmother stayed. We were sitting in the drawing-room afterwards, when "Mrs. Vandaleur's carriage" was announced. As my great-grandmother took leave of me, she took off a watch and chain and hung them on my neck. It was a small French watch with an enamelled back of dark blue, on which was the word "Souvenir" in small pearls.
"I gave it to your grandfather long years ago, my child, and he gave it back to me—before he sailed. I would only part with it to his son's child. Farewell, petite! Be good, dear child—try to be good. Adieu, Mrs. Buller, and a thousand thanks! Major Buller, I am at your service."
Major Buller took the hand she held out to him and led the old lady to the front door, whither we all followed them.
Mrs. Vandaleur's carriage was before the steps. It was a very quaint little box on two wheels, in by no means good repair. It was drawn by a pony, white, old, and shaggy. At the pony's head stood a small boy in decent, but not smart, plain clothes.
"Put the mat over the wheel to save my dress, Adolphe," said the old lady; and as the little boy obeyed her order she stepped nimbly into the carriage, assisted by the Major. "The silk is old," she observed complacently; "but it is my best, of course, or it would not have been worn to-day," and she gave a graceful little bow towards Aunt Theresa; "and I hope that, with care, it will serve as such for the rest of my life, which cannot be very long."
"If it wears as well as you do, Madam," said Major Buller, tucking her in, "it may; not otherwise."
The Surgeon was leaning over the other side of the little cart, and seemed also to be making polite speeches. It recalled the way that men used to hang upon my mother's carriage. The old lady smiled, and made gracious little replies, and meanwhile deliberately took off her kid gloves, folded, and put them into her pocket. She then drew on a pair of old worsted ones.
"Economy, economy," she said, smiling, and giving a hand on each side of her to the two gentlemen. "May I trouble you for the reins? Many thanks. Farewell, gentlemen! I cannot pretend to fear that my horse will catch cold—his coat is too thick; but you may. Adieu, Mrs. Buller, once more. Farewell, little one, I wish you good-morning, Madam. Adolphe, seat yourself; make your bow, Adolphe. Adieu, dear friends!"
She gave a flick with the whip, which the pony resented by shaking his head; after which he seemed, so to speak, to snatch up the little cart, my great-grandmother, and Adolphe, and to run off with them at a good round pace.
"What an extraordinary turn-out!" said the Surgeon's wife. (She was an Irish attorney's daughter, with the commonest of faces, and the most unprecedented of bonnets. She and her husband had lately "set up" a waggonette, the expense of which just made it difficult for them to live upon their means, and the varnish of which added a care to life.) "Fancy driving down High Street in that!" she continued; "and just when everybody is going out, too!"
"Uncommon sensible little affair, I think," said the Surgeon. "Suits the old lady capitally."
"Mrs. Vandaleur," said Major Buller, "can afford to be independent of appearances to an extent that would not perhaps be safe for most of us."
"You're right there, Buller," said the Surgeon. "Wonderfully queenly she is! That fur cloak looks like an ermine robe on her."
"I don't think you'd like to see me in it!" tittered his wife.
"I don't say I should," returned the Surgeon, rather smartly.
"My dear," said Mrs. Buller, "you must make up your mind to be jealous of the Duchess. All gentlemen are mad about her."
"The Duchess!" said Mrs. O'Connor, in a tone of respect. "I thought you said——"
"Oh, she is not really a duchess, my dear; it's only a nickname. I'll tell you all about it some day. It's a long story."
Discovering that Mrs. Vandaleur was a family connection, and not a chance visitor from the neighbourhood, Mrs. O'Connor apologized for her remarks, and tried to extract the Duchess's history from Aunt Theresa then and there. But Mrs. Buller would only promise to tell it "another time."
"I'm dying with curiosity," said Mrs. O'Connor, as she took leave, "I shall run in to-morrow afternoon on purpose to hear all about it. Can you do with me, dear Mrs. Buller?"
"Pray come," said Aunt Theresa warmly, with an amiable disregard of two engagements and some arrears of domestic business.
I was in the drawing-room next day when Mrs. O'Connor arrived.
"May I come in, dear Mrs. Buller?" she said, "I won't stay two minutes; but I must hear about the Duchess. Now, are you busy?"
"Not at all," said Aunt Theresa, who was in the midst of making up her tradesmen's books. "Pray sit down, and take off your bonnet."
"It's hardly worth while, for I can't stay," said Mrs. O'Connor, taking her bonnet off, and setting it down so as not to crush the flowers.
As Mrs. O'Connor stayed two hours and a half, and as Aunt Theresa granted my request to be allowed to hear her narrative, I learnt a good deal of the history of my great-grandmother.
A FAMILY HISTORY.
"We are not really connected," Mrs. Buller began. "She is Margery's great-grandmother, and Margery and I are second cousins. That's all. But I knew her long ago, before my poor cousin Alice married Captain Vandaleur. And I have heard the whole story over and over again."
I have heard the story more than once also. I listened with open mouth to Aunt Theresa at this time, and often afterwards questioned her about my "ancestors," as I may almost call them.
Years later I used to repeat these histories to girls I was with. When we were on good terms they were interested to hear, as I was proud to tell, and would say, "Tell us about your ancestors, Margery." And if we fell out there was no surer method of annoying me than to slight the memory of my great-great-grandparents.
I have told their story pretty often. I shall put it down here in my own way, for Aunt Theresa told a story rather disconnectedly.
The de Vandaleurs (we have dropped the de now) were an old French family. There was a Duke in it who was killed in the Revolution of '92, and most of the family emigrated, and were very poor. The title was restored afterwards, and some of the property. It went to a cousin of the Duke who was murdered, he having no surviving children; but they say it went in the wrong line. The cousin who had remained in France, and always managed to keep the favour of the ruling powers, got the title, and remade his fortunes; the others remained in England, very poor and very proud. They would not have accepted any favours from the new royal family, but still they considered themselves deprived of their rights. One of these Vandaleur emigres (the one who ought to have been the Duke) had married his cousin. They suffered great hardships in their escape, I fancy, and on the birth of their son, shortly after their arrival in England, the wife died.
There was an old woman, Aunt Theresa said, who used to be her nurse when she was a child, in London, who had lived, as a girl, in the wretched lodgings where these poor people were when they came over, and she used to tell her wonderful stories about them. How, in her delirium (she was insane for some little time before her son was born), Madame de Vandaleur fancied herself in her old home, "with all her finery about her," as Nurse Brown used to say.
Nurse Brown seems to have had very little sympathy with nervous diseases. She could understand a broken leg, or a fever, "when folks kept their beds"; but the disordered fancies of a brain tried just too far, the mad whims of a lady who could "go about," and who insisted upon going about, and changing her dress two or three times a day, and receiving imaginary visitors, and ordering her faithful nurse up and down under the names of half-a-dozen servants she no longer possessed, were beyond her comprehension.
Aunt Theresa said that she and her brothers and sisters had the deepest pity for the poor lady. They thought it so romantic that she should cry for fresh flowers and dress herself to meet the Queen in a dirty little lodging at the back of Leicester Square, and they were always begging to hear "what else she did." But Nurse Brown seems to have been fondest of relating the smart speeches in which she endeavoured to "put sense into" the devoted French servant who toiled to humour every whim of her unhappy mistress, instead of being "sharp with her," as Nurse Brown advised. Aunt Theresa had some doubts whether Mrs. Brown ever did make the speeches she reported; but when people say they said this or that, they often only mean that this or that is what they wish they had said.
"If she's mad, I says, shave her head, instead of dressing her hair all day long. I've knowed mad people as foamed at the mouth and rolled their eyes, and would have done themselves a injury but for a strait-jacket; and I've knowed folks in fevers unreasonable enough, but they kept their beds in a dark room, and didn't know their own mothers. Madame's ways is beyond me, I says. You calls it madness: I calls it temper. Tem—per, and no—thing else."
Aunt Theresa used to make us laugh by repeating Nurse Brown's sayings, and the little shake of herself with which she emphasized the last sentence.
If she had no sympathy for Madame de Vandaleur, she had a double share for the poor lady's husband: "a good soul," as she used to call him. It was in vain that Jeanette spoke of the sweet temper and unselfishness of her mistress "before these terrible days"; her conduct towards her husband then was "enough for" Nurse Brown, so she said. No sooner had the poor gentleman gone off on some errand for her pleasure than she called for him to be with her, and was only to be pacified by a fable of Jeanette's devising, who always said that "the King" had summoned Monsieur de Vandaleur. Jeanette was well aware that, the childless old Duke being dead, her master had succeeded to the title, and she often spoke of him as Monsieur le Duc to his wife, which seems to have pleased the poor lady. When he was absent, Jeanette's ready excuse, "Eh, Madame! Pour Monsieur le Duc—le Roi l'a fait appeller," was enough, and she waited patiently for his return.
Ever-changing as her whims and fancies were, the poor gentleman sacrificed everything to gratify them. His watch, his rings, his buckles, the lace from his shirt, and all the few trifles secured in their hasty flight, were sold one by one. His face was familiar to the keepers of certain stalls near to where Covent Garden Market now stands. He bought flowers for Madame when he could not afford himself food. He sold his waistcoat, and buttoned his coat across him—and looked thinner than ever.
Then the day came when Madame wished, and he could not gratify her wish. Everything was gone. He said, "This will kill me, Jeanette;" and Jeanette believed him.
Nurse Brown (according to her own account) assured Jeanette that it would not. "Folk doesn't die of such things, says I."
But, in spite of common-sense and experience, Monsieur de Vandaleur did die of grief, or something very like it, within twenty-four hours of the death of his wife, and the birth of their only son.
For some years the faithful Jeanette supported this child by her own industry. She was an exquisite laundress, and she throve where the Duke and Duchess would have starved. As the boy grew up she kept him as far as possible from common companions, treated him with as much deference as if he had succeeded to the family honours, and filled his head with traditions of the deserts and dignity of the de Vandaleurs.
At last a cousin of Monsieur de Vandaleur found them out. He also was an exile, but he had prospered better, had got a small civil appointment, and had married a Scotch lady. It was after he had come to the help of his young kinsman, I think, that an old French lady took a fancy to the boy, and sent him to school in France at her own expense. He was just nineteen when she died, and left him what little money she possessed. He then returned to England, and paid his respects to his cousin and the Scotch Mrs. Vandaleur.
She congratulated herself, I have heard, that her only child, a daughter, was from home when this visit was paid.
Mrs. Janet Vandaleur was a high-minded, hard-headed, north-country woman. She valued long descent, and noble blood, and loyalty to a fallen dynasty like a Scotchwoman, but, like a Scotchwoman, she also respected capability and energy and endurance. She combined a romantic heart with a practical head in a way peculiar to her nation. She knew the pedigree of every family (who had a pedigree) north of the Tweed, and was, probably, the best housekeeper in Great Britain. She devoutly believed her own husband to be as perfect as mortal man may be here below, whilst in some separate compartment of her brain she had the keenest sense of the defects and weaknesses which he inherited, and dreaded nothing more than to see her daughter mated with one of the helpless Vandaleurs.
This daughter, with much of her mother's strong will and practical capacity, had got her father's physique and a good deal of his artistic temperament. Dreading the development of de Vandaleur qualities in her, the mother made her education studiously practical and orderly. She had, like most Scotch matrons of her type, too good a gift for telling family stories, and too high a respect for ancestral traditions, to have quite kept herself from amusing her daughter's childhood with tales of the de Vandaleur greatness. But after her husband discovered his young relative, and as their daughter grew up, she purposely avoided the subject, which had, probably, the sole effect of increasing her daughter's interest in the family romance. Mrs. Janet knew the de Vandaleur pedigree as well as her own, and had shown a miniature of the late Duke in his youth to her daughter as a child on many occasions; when she had also alluded to the fact that the title by birth was undoubtedly in the exiled branch of the family. Miss Vandaleur was not ignorant that the young gentleman who had just completed his education was, if every one had their rights, Monsieur le Duc; and she was as much disappointed to have missed seeing him as her mother was glad that they had not met.
For Bertrand de Vandaleur had all the virtues and the weaknesses of his family in intense proportions. He had a hopeless ignorance of the value of money, which was his strongest condemnation before his Scotch cousin. He was high-minded, chivalrous, in some points accomplished, charming, and tender-hearted. But he was weak of will, merely passive in endurance, and quite without energy. He had a graceful, fanciful, but almost weak intellect. I mean, it just bordered on mental deficiency; and at times his dreamy eyes took a wildness that was said to make him painfully like his mother in her last days. He was an absurd but gracefully romantic idea of his family consequence. He was very handsome, and very like the miniature of the late Duke. It was most desirable that his cousin should not meet him, especially as she was of the sentimental age of seventeen. So Mrs. Janet Vandaleur hastened their return from London to their small property in Scotland.
But there was no law to hinder Monsieur de Vandaleur from making a Scotch tour.
One summer's afternoon, when she had just finished the making of some preserves, Miss Vandaleur strolled down through a little wood behind the house towards a favourite beck that ran in a gorge below. She was singing an old French song in praise of the beauty of a fair lady of the de Vandaleurs of olden time. As she finished the first verse, a voice from a short distance took up the refrain—
"Victoire de Vandaleur! Victoire! Victoire!"
It was her own name as well as that of her ancestress, and she blushed as her eyes met those of a strange young gentleman, with a sketch-book in his hand, and a French poodle at his heels.
"Place aux dames!" said the stranger. On which the white poodle sat up, and his master bowed till his head nearly touched the ground.
They had met once as children, which was introduction enough in the circumstances. Here, at last, for Victoire, was the embodiment of all her dreams of the de Vandaleur race. He was personally so like the miniature, that he might have been the old Duke. He was the young one, as even her mother allowed. For him, he found a companion whose birth did not jar on his aristocratic prejudices, and whose strong character was bone and marrow to his weak one. Before they reached the house Mrs. Janet's precautions were vain.
She grew fond of the lad in spite of herself. The romantic side of her sympathized with his history. He was an orphan, and she had a mother's heart. In the direct line he was a Duke, and she was a Scotchwoman. He freely consented to settle every penny he had upon his wife, and, as his mother-in-law justly remarked, "Many a cannier man wouldn't just have done that."
In fine, the young people were married with not more than the usual difficulties beforehand.
He was nineteen, and she was seventeen. They were my great-grandfather and great-grandmother.
They had only one child—a son. They were very poor, and yet they gave him a good education. I ought to say, she gave him, for everything that needed effort or energy was done by my great-grandmother. The more it became evident that her Bertrand de Vandaleur was less helpful and practical than any Bertrand de Vandaleur before him, the more there seems to have developed in her the purpose and capability inherited from Mrs. Janet. Like many another poor and ambitious mother, she studied Latin and Greek and algebra that she might teach her son. And at the same time she saved, even out of their small income. She began to "put by" from the boy's birth for his education, and when the time came he was sent to school.
My grandfather did well. I have heard that he inherited his father's beauty, and was not without his mother's sense and energy. He had the de Vandaleur quality of pleasing, with the weakness of being utterly ruled by the woman he loved. At twenty he married an heiress. His parents had themselves married too early to have reasonable ground for complaint at this; but when he left his own Church for that of his wife, there came a terrible breach between them and their only son. His mother soon forgave him; but the father was as immovable in his displeasure as weak people can sometimes be. Happily, however, after the birth of a grandson peace was made, and the young husband brought his wife to visit his parents. The heiress had some property in the West Indies, which they proposed to visit, and they remained with the old people till just before they sailed. It was as a keepsake at parting that my grandfather had restored to his mother the watch which she gave to me. The child was left in England with his mother's relations.
My grandfather and grandmother never returned. They were among the countless victims of the most cruel of all seas. The vessel they went out in was lost during a week of storms. On what day or night, and in what part of the Atlantic, no one survived to tell.
Their orphan child was my dear father.
HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS—DREAMS AND DAY DREAMS—THE VINE—ELSPETH—MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER.
My father was brought up chiefly by his mother's relations. The religious question was always a difficulty as regarded the de Vandaleurs, and I fancy extended to my own case. My guardians were not my great-grandparents, but Major Buller, and Mr. Arkwright, a clergyman of the Church of England. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were Roman Catholics. Though not my appointed guardians, they were my nearest relations, and when my great-grandmother had held out her little hand towards me over the side of the pony-carriage and said, "You will let the child come to me? Soon, very soon?" Major Buller had taken her hand in both his, and replied very cordially, "Of course, my dear madam, of course. Whenever it is convenient to yourself and to Mr. de Vandaleur."