THE GOLDEN CALF
BY M.E. BRADDON
'LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET,' 'AURORA FLOYD,' 'VIXEN,' 'ISHMAEL,' ETC., ETC.
I. THE ARTICLED PUPIL
II. 'I AM GOING TO MARRY FOR MONEY'
III. AT THE KNOLL
IV. WENDOVER ABBEY
V. DR. RYLANCE ASSERTS HIMSELF
VI. A BIRTHDAY FEAST
VII. IN THE RIVER-MEADOW
VIII. AT THE LOCK-HOUSE
IX. A SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT
X. A BAD PENNY
XI. ACCOMPLISHMENTS AT A DISCOUNT
XII. THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES
XIII. KINGTHORPE SOCIETY
XIV. THE TRUE KNIGHT
XV. MR. WENDOVER PLANS AN EXCURSION
XVI. THICKER THAN WATER
XVII. OUGHT SHE TO STAY?
XVIII. AFTER A STORM COMES A CALM
XIX. AFTER A CALM A STORM
XX. WAS THIS THE MOTIVE?
XXI. TAKING LIFE QUIETLY
XXII. LADY PALLISER STUDIES THE UPPER TEN
XXIII. 'ALL OUR LIFE is MIXED WITH DEATH'
XXIV. 'FRUITS FAIL AND LOVE DIES AND TIME RANGES'
XXV. 'MY SEED WAS YOUTH, MY CROP WAS ENDLESS CARE'
XXVI. 'AND, IF I DIE, NO SOUL WILL PITY ME'
XXVII. JOHN JARDINE SOLVES THE MYSTERY
XXVIII. AN ENGLISHMAN'S HOUSE IS HIS CASTLE
XXIX. 'AS ONE DEAD IN THE BOTTOM OF A TOMB'
XXX. A FIERY DAWN
XXXI. 'SOLE PARTNER AND SOLE PART OF ALL THESE JOYS'
THE GOLDEN CALF
THE ARTICLED PUPIL.
'Where is Miss Palliser?' inquired Miss Pew, in that awful voice of hers, at which the class-room trembled, as at unexpected thunder. A murmur ran along the desks, from girl to girl, and then some one, near that end of the long room which was sacred to Miss Pew and her lieutenants, said that Miss Palliser was not in the class-room.
'I think she is taking her music lesson, ma'am,' faltered the girl who had ventured diffidently to impart this information to the schoolmistress.
'Think?' exclaimed Miss Pew, in her stentorian voice. 'How can you think about an absolute fact? Either she is taking her lesson, or she is not taking her lesson. There is no room for thought. Let Miss Palliser be sent for this moment.'
At this command, as at the behest of the Homeric Jove himself, half a dozen Irises started up to carry the ruler's message; but again Miss Pew's mighty tones resounded in the echoing class-room.
'I don't want twenty girls to carry one message. Let Miss Rylance go.'
There was a grim smile on the principal's coarsely-featured countenance as she gave this order. Miss Rylance was not one of the six who had started up to do the schoolmistress's bidding. She was a young lady who considered her mission in life anything rather than to carry a message—a young lady who thought herself quite the most refined and elegant thing at Mauleverer Manor, and so entirely superior to her surroundings as to be absolved from the necessity of being obliging. But Miss Pew's voice, when fortified by anger, was too much even for Miss Rylance's calm sense of her own merits, and she rose at the lady's bidding, laid down her ivory penholder on the neatly written exercise, and walked out of the room quietly, with the slow and stately deportment imparted by a long course of instruction from Madame Rigolette, the fashionable dancing-mistress.
'Rylance won't much like being sent on a message,' whispered Miss Cobb, the Kentish brewer's daughter, to Miss Mullins, the Northampton carriage-builder's heiress.
'And old Pew delights in taking her down a peg,' said Miss Cobb, who was short, plump, and ruddy, a picture of rude health and unrefined good looks—a girl who bore 'beer' written in unmistakable characters across her forehead, Miss Rylance had observed to her own particular circle. 'I will say that for the old lady,' added Miss Cobb, 'she never cottons to stuckupishness.'
Vulgarity of speech is the peculiar delight of a schoolgirl off duty. She spends so much of her life under the all-pervading eye of authority, she is so drilled, and lectured, and ruled and regulated, that, when the eye of authority is off her, she seems naturally to degenerate into licence. No speech so interwoven with slang as the speech of a schoolgirl—except that of a schoolboy.
There came a sudden hush upon the class-room after Miss Rylance had departed on her errand. It was a sultry afternoon in late June, and the four rows of girls seated at the two long desks in the long bare room, with its four tall windows facing a hot blue sky, felt almost as exhausted by the heat as if they had been placed under an air-pump. Miss Pew had a horror of draughts, so the upper sashes were only lowered a couple of inches, to let out the used atmosphere. There was no chance of a gentle west wind blowing in to ruffle the loose hair upon the foreheads of those weary students.
Thursday afternoons were devoted to the study of German. The sandy-haired young woman at the end of the room furthest from Miss Pew's throne was Fraeulein Wolf, from Frankfort, and it was Fraeulein Wolf's mission to go on eternally explaining the difficulties of her native language to the pupils at Mauleverer Manor, and to correct those interesting exercises of Ollendorff's which ascend from the primitive simplicity of golden candlesticks and bakers' dogs, to the loftiest themes in romantic literature.
For five minutes there was no sound save the scratching of pens, and the placid voice of the Fraeulein demonstrating to Miss Mullins that in an exercise of twenty lines, ten words out of every twenty were wrong, and then the door was opened suddenly—not at all in the manner so carefully instilled by the teacher of deportment. It was flung back, rather, as if with an angry hand, and a young woman, taller than the generality of her sex, walked quickly up the room to Miss Pew's desk, and stood before that bar of justice, with head erect, and dark flashing eyes, the incarnation of defiance.
'Was fuer ein Maedchen.' muttered the Fraeulein, blinking at that distant figure, with her pale gray-green eyes.
Miss Pew pretended not to see the challenge in the girl's angry eyes. She turned to her subordinate, Miss Pillby, the useful drudge who did a little indifferent teaching in English grammar and geography, looked after the younger girls' wardrobes, and toadied the mistress of the house.
'Miss Pillby, will you be kind enough to show Ida Palliser the state of her desk?' asked Miss Pew, with awe-inspiring politeness.
'She needn't do anything of the kind, 'said Ida coolly. 'I know the state of my desk quite as well as she does. I daresay it's untidy. I haven't had time to put things straight.'
'Untidy!' exclaimed Miss Pew, in her appalling baritone; 'untidy is not the word. It's degrading. Miss Pillby, be good enough to call over the various articles which you have found in Ida Palliser's desk.'
Miss Pillby rose to do her employer's bidding. She was a dull piece of human machinery to which the idea of resistance to authority was impossible. There was no dirty work she would not have done meekly, willingly even, at Miss Pew's bidding. The girls were never tired of expatiating upon Miss Pillby's meanness; but the lady herself did not even know that she was mean. She had been born so.
She went to the locker, lifted the wooden lid, and proceeded in a flat, drawling voice to call over the items which she found in that receptacle.
'A novel, "The Children of the Abbey," without a cover.'
'Ah!' sighed Miss Pew.
'One stocking with a rusty darning-needle sticking in it. Five apples, two mouldy. A square of hardbake. An old neck-ribbon. An odd cuff. Seven letters. A knife, with the blade broken. A bundle of pen-and-ink—well, I suppose they are meant for sketches.'
'Hand them over to me,' commanded Miss Pew.
She had seen some of Ida Palliser's pen-and-ink sketches before to-day—had seen herself represented in every ridiculous guise and attitude by that young person's facile pen. Her large cheeks reddened in anticipation of her pupil's insolence. She took the sheaf of crumpled paper and thrust it hastily into her pocket.
A ripple of laughter swept over Miss Palliser's resolute face; but she said not a word.
'Half a New Testament—the margins shamefully scribbled over,' pursued Miss Pillby, with implacable monotony. 'Three Brazil nuts. A piece of slate-pencil. The photograph of a little boy—'
'My brother,' cried Ida hastily. 'I hope you are not going to confiscate that, Miss Pew, as you have confiscated my sketches.'
'It would be no more than you deserve if I were to burn everything in your locker, Miss Palliser,' said the schoolmistress.
'Burn everything except my brother's portrait. I might never get another. Papa is so thoughtless. Oh, please, Miss Pillby, give me back the photo.'
'Give her the photograph,' said Miss Pew, who was not all inhuman, although she kept a school, a hardening process which is supposed to deaden the instincts of womanhood. 'And now, pray, Miss Palliser, what excuse have you to offer for your untidiness?'
'None,' said Ida, 'except that I have no time to be tidy. You can't expect tidiness from a drudge like me.'
And with this cool retort Miss Palliser turned her back upon her mistress and left the room.
'Did you ever see such cheek?' murmured the irrepressible Miss Cobb to her neighbour.
'She can afford to be cheeky,' retorted the neighbour. 'She has nothing to lose. Old Pew couldn't possibly treat her any worse than she does. If she did, it would be a police case.'
When Ida Palliser was in the little lobby outside the class room, she took the little boy's photograph from her pocket, and kissed it passionately. Then she ran upstairs to a small room on the landing, where there was nothing but emptiness and a worn-out old square piano, and sat down for her hour's practice. She was always told off to the worst pianos in the house. She took out a book of five-finger exercises, by a Leipsic professor, placed it on the desk, and then, just as she was beginning to play, her whole frame was shaken like a bulrush in a sudden gust of wind; she let her head fall forward on the desk, and burst into tears, hot, passionate tears, that came like a flood, in spite of her determination not to cry.
What was the matter with Ida Palliser? Not much, perhaps. Only poverty, and poverty's natural corollary, a lack of friends. She was the handsomest girl in the school, and one of the cleverest—clever in an exceptional way, which claimed admiration even from the coldest. She occupied the anomalous position of a pupil teacher, or an articled pupil. Her father, a military man, living abroad on his half pay, with a young second wife, and a five-year old son, had paid Miss Pew a lump sum of fifty pounds, and for those fifty pounds Miss Pew had agreed to maintain and educate Ida Palliser during the space of three years, to give her the benefit of instruction from the masters who attended the school, and to befit her for the brilliant and lucrative career of governess in a gentleman's family. As a set-off against these advantages, Miss Pew had full liberty to exact what services she pleased from Miss Palliser, stopping short, as Miss Green had suggested, of a police case.
Miss Pew had not shown herself narrow in her ideas of the articled pupil's capacity. It was her theory that no amount of intellectual labour, including some manual duties in the way of assisting in the lavatory on tub-nights, washing hair-brushes, and mending clothes, could be too much for a healthy young woman of nineteen. She always talked of Ida as a young woman. The other pupils of the same age she called girls; but of Ida she spoke uncompromisingly as a 'young woman.'
'Oh, how I hate them all!' said Ida, in the midst of her sobs. 'I hate everybody, myself most of all!'
Then she pulled herself together with an effort, dried her tears hurriedly, and began her five-finger exercises, tum, tum, tum, with the little finger, all the other fingers pinned resolutely down upon the keys.
'I wonder whether, if I had been ugly and stupid, they would have been a little more merciful to me?' she said to herself.
Miss Palliser's ability had been a disadvantage to her at Mauleverer Manor. When Miss Pew discovered that the girl had a knack of teaching she enlarged her sphere of tuition, and from taking the lowest class only, as former articled pupils had done, Miss Palliser was allowed to preside over the second and third classes, and thereby saved her employers forty pounds a year.
To teach two classes, each consisting of from fifteen to twenty girls, was in itself no trifling labour. But besides this Ida had to give music lessons to that lowest class which she had ceased to instruct in English and French, and whose studies were now conducted by Miss Pillby. She had her own studies, and she was eager to improve herself, for that career of governess in a gentleman's family was the only future open to her. She used to read the advertisements in the governess column of the Times supplement, and it comforted her to see that an all-accomplished teacher demanded from eighty to a hundred a year for her services. A hundred a year was Ida's idea of illimitable wealth. How much she might do with such a sum! She could dress herself handsomely, she could save enough money for a summer holiday in Normandy with her neglectful father and her weak little vulgar step-mother, and the half-brother, whom she loved better than anyone else in the world.
The thought of this avenue to fortune gave her fortitude. She braced herself up, and set herself valourously to unriddle the perplexities of a nocturne by Chopin.
'After all I have only to work on steadily,' she told herself; 'there will come an end to my slavery.'
Presently she began to laugh to herself softly:
'I wonder whether old Pew has looked at my caricatures,' she thought, 'and whether she'll treat me any worse on account of them?'
She finished her hour's practice, put her music back into her portfolio, which lived in an ancient canterbury under the ancient piano, and went to the room where she slept, in company with seven other spirits, as mischievous and altogether evilly disposed as her own.
Mauleverer Manor had not been built for a school, or it would hardly have been called a manor. There were none of those bleak, bare dormitories, specially planned for the accommodation of thirty sleepers—none of those barrack-like rooms which strike desolation to the soul. With the exception of the large classroom which had been added at one end of the house, the manor was very much as it had been in the days of the Mauleverers, a race now as extinct as the Dodo. It was a roomy, rambling old house of the time of the Stuarts, and bore the date of its erection in many unmistakable peculiarities. There were fine rooms on the ground floor, with handsome chimney-pieces and oak panelling. There were small low rooms above, curious old passages, turns and twists, a short flight of steps here, and another flight there, various levels, irregularities of all kinds, and, in the opinion of every servant who had ever lived in the house, an unimpeachable ghost. All Miss Pew's young ladies believed firmly in that ghost; and there was a legend of a frizzy-haired girl from Barbados who had seen the ghost, and had incontinently gone out of one epileptic fit into another, until her father had come in a fly—presumably from Barbados—and carried her away for ever, epileptic to the last.
Nobody at present located at Mauleverer Manor remembered that young lady from Barbados, nor had any of the existing pupils ever seen the ghost. But the general faith in him was unshaken. He was described as an elderly man in a snuff-coloured, square-cut coat, knee-breeches, and silk stockings rolled up over his knees. He was supposed to be one of the extinct Mauleverers; harmless and even benevolently disposed; given to plucking flowers in the garden at dusk; and to gliding along passages, and loitering on the stairs in a somewhat inane manner. The bolder-spirited among the girls would have given a twelve-month's pocket money to see him. Miss Pillby declared that the sight of that snuff-coloured stranger would be her death.
'I've a weak 'art, you know,' said Miss Pillby, who was not mistress of her aspirates,—she managed them sometimes, but they often evaded her,—'the doctor said so when I was quite a little thing.'
'Were you ever a little thing, Pillby?' asked Miss Rylance with superb disdain, the present Pillby being long and gaunt.
And the group of listeners laughed, with that frank laughter of school girls keenly alive to the ridiculous in other people. There was as much difference in the standing of the various bedrooms at Mauleverer Manor as in that of the London squares, but in this case it was the inhabitants who gave character to the locality. The five-bedded room off the front landing was occupied by the stiffest and best behaved of the first division, and might be ranked with Grosvenor Square or Lancaster Gate. There were rooms on the second floor where girls of the second and third division herded in inelegant obscurity, the Bloomsbury and Camden Town of the mansion. On this story, too, slept the rabble of girls under twelve—creatures utterly despicable in the minds of girls in their teens, and the rooms they inhabited ranked as low as St. Giles's.
Ida Palliser was fortunate enough to have a bed in the butterfly-room, so called on account of a gaudy wall paper, whereon Camberwell Beauties disported themselves among roses and lilies in a strictly conventional style of art. The butterfly-room was the most fashionable and altogether popular dormitory at the Manor. It was the May Fair—a district not without a shade of Bohemianism, a certain fastness of tone. The wildest girls in the school were to be found in the butterfly-room.
It was a pleasant enough room in itself, even apart from its association with pleasant people. The bow window looked out upon the garden and across the garden to the Thames, which at this point took a wide curve between banks shaded by old pollard willows. The landscape was purely pastoral. Beyond the level meadows came an undulating line of low hill and woodland, with here and there a village spire dark against the blue.
Mauleverer Manor lay midway between Hampton and Chertsey, in a land of meadows and gardens which the speculating builder had not yet invaded.
The butterfly-room was furnished a little better than the common run of boarding-school bedchambers. Miss Pew had taken a good deal of the Mauleverer furniture at a valuation when she bought the old house; and the Mauleverer furniture being of a rococo and exploded style, the valuation had been ridiculously low. Thus it happened that a big wainscot wardrobe, with doors substantial enough for a church, projected its enormous bulk upon one side of the butterfly-room, while a tall narrow cheval glass stood in front of a window. That cheval was the glory of the butterfly-room. The girls could see how their skirts hung, and if the backs of their dresses fitted. On Sunday mornings there used to be an incursion of outsiders, eager to test the effect of their Sabbath bonnets, and the sets of their jackets, by the cheval.
And now Ida Palliser came into the butterfly-room, yawning wearily, to brush herself up a little before tea, knowing that Miss Pew and her younger sister, Miss Dulcibella—who devoted herself to dress and the amenities of life generally—would scrutinize her with eyes only too ready to see anything amiss.
The butterfly-room was not empty. Miss Rylance was plaiting her long flaxen hair in front of the toilet table, and another girl, a plump little sixteen-year-old, with nut-brown hair, and a fresh complexion, was advancing and retiring before the cheval, studying the effect of a cherry-coloured neck-ribbon with a gray gown.
'Cherry's a lovely colour in the abstract,' said this damsel, 'but it reminds one too dreadfully of barmaids.'
'Did you ever see a barmaid?' asked Miss Rylance, languidly, slowly winding the long flaxen plait into a shining knob at the back of her head, and contemplating her reflection placidly with large calm blue eyes which saw no fault in the face they belonged to.
With features so correctly modelled, and a complexion so delicately tinted, Miss Rylance ought to have been lovely. But she had escaped loveliness by a long way. There was something wanting, and that something was very big.
'Good gracious, yes; I've seen dozens of barmaids,' answered Bessie Wendover, with her frank voice. 'Do you suppose I've never been into an hotel, or even into a tavern? When I go for a long drive with papa he generally wants brandy and soda, and that's how I get taken into the bar and introduced to the barmaid.'
'When you say introduced, of course you don't mean it,' said Miss Rylance, fastening her brooch. 'Calling things by their wrong names is your idea of wit.'
'I would rather have a mistaken idea of wit than none at all,' retorted Miss Wendover, and then she pirouetted on the tips of her toes, and surveyed her image in the glass from head to foot, with an aggravated air. 'I hope I'm not vulgar-looking, but I'm rather afraid I am,' she said. 'What's the good of belonging to an old Saxon family if one has a thick waist and large hands?'
'What's the good of anything at Mauleverer Manor?' asked Ida, coming into the room, and seating herself on the ground with a dejected air.
Bessie Wendover ran across the room and sat down beside her.
'So you were in for it again this afternoon, you poor dear thing,' she murmured, in a cooing voice. 'I wish I had been there. It would have been "Up, guards, and at 'em!" if I had. I'm sure I should have said something cheeky to old Pew. The idea of overhauling your locker! I should just like her to see the inside of mine. It would make her blood run cold.'
'Ah!' sighed Ida, 'she can't afford to make an example of you. You mean a hundred and fifty pounds a year. I am of no more account in her eyes than an artist's lay figure, which is put away in a dark closet when it isn't in use. She wanted to give you girls a lesson in tidiness, so she put me into her pillory. Fortunately I'm used to the pillory.'
'But you are looking white and worried, you dear lovely thing,' exclaimed Bessie, who was Ida Palliser's bosom friend. 'It's too bad the way they use you. Have this neck-ribbon,' suddenly untying the bow so carefully elaborated five minutes ago. 'You must, you shall; I don't want it; I hate it. Do, dear.'
And for consolation Miss Wendover tied the cherry-coloured ribbon under her friend's collar, patted Ida's pale cheeks, and kissed and hugged her.
'Be happy, darling, do,' she said, in her loving half-childish way, while Miss Rylance looked on with ineffable contempt. 'You are so clever and so beautiful; you were born to be happy.'
'Do you think so, pet?' asked Ida, with cold scorn; 'then I ought to have been born with a little more money.'
'What does money matter?' cried Bessie.
'Not very much to a girl like you, who has never known the want of it.'
'That's not true, darling. I never go home for the holidays that I don't hear father grumble about his poverty. The rents are so slow to come in; the tenants are always wanting drain-pipes and barns and things. Last Christmas his howls were awful. We are positive paupers. Mother has to wait ages for a cheque.'
'Ah, my pet, that's a very different kind of poverty from mine. You have never known what it is to have only three pairs of wearable stockings.'
Bessie looked as if she were going to cry.
'If you were not so disgustingly proud, you horrid thing, you need never feel the want of stockings,' she said discontentedly.
'If it were not for what you call my disgusting pride, I should degenerate into that loathsome animal a sponge,' said Ida, rising suddenly from her dejected attitude, and standing up before her admiring little friend,
'A daughter of the gods, divinely tall And most divinely fair.'
That fatal dower of beauty had been given to Ida Palliser in fullest measure. She had the form of a goddess, a head proudly set upon shoulders that were sloping but not narrow, the walk of a Moorish girl, accustomed to carrying a water-jug on her head, eyes dark as night, hair of a deep warm brown rippling naturally across her broad forehead, a complexion of creamiest white and richest carnation. These were but the sensual parts of beauty which can be catalogued. But it was in the glorious light and variety of expression that Ida shone above all compeers. It was by the intellectual part of her beauty that she commanded the admiration—enthusiastic in some cases, in others grudging and unwilling—of her schoolfellows, and reigned by right divine, despite her shabby gowns and her cheap ready-made boots, the belle of the school.
'I AM GOING TO MARRY FOR MONEY.'
When a schoolgirl of sixteen falls in love with one of her schoolfellows there are no limits to her devotion. Bessie Wendover's adoration of Miss Palliser was boundless. Ida's seniority of three years, her beauty, her talent, placed her, as it were, upon a pinnacle in the eyes of the younger girl. Her poverty, her inferior position in the school, only made her more interesting to the warm-hearted Bessie, who passionately resented any slight offered to her friend. It was in vain that Miss Rylance took Bessie to task, and demonstrated the absurdity of this childish fancy for a young person whose future sphere of life must be necessarily remote from that of a Hampshire squire's daughter. Bessie despised this worldly wisdom.
'What is the use of attaching yourself to a girl whom you are never likely to see after you leave school?' argued Miss Rylance.
'I shall see her. I shall ask her home,' said Bessie, sturdily.
'Do you think your people will let you ?'
'Mother will do anything I ask her, and father will do anything mother asks him. I am going to have Ida home with me all the summer holidays.'
'How do you know that she will come?'
'I shall make her come. It is very nasty of you to insinuate that she won't.'
'Palliser has a good deal of pride—pride and poverty generally go together, don't you know. I don't think she'll care about showing herself at the Grange in her old clothes and her three pairs of stockings, one on, one off, and one at the laundress's,' said Miss Rylance, winding up with a viperish little laugh as if she had said something witty.
She had a certain influence with Bessie, whom she had known all her life. It was she who had inspired Bessie with the desks to come to Mauleverer Manor, to be finished, after having endured eight years of jog-trot education from a homely little governess at home—who grounded the boys in Latin and mathematics before they went to Winchester, and made herself generally useful. Miss Rylance was the daughter of a fashionable physician, whose head-quarters were in Cavendish Square, but who spent his leisure at a something which he called 'a place' at Kingthorpe, a lovely little village between Winchester and Romsey, where the Wendovers were indigenous to the soil, whence they seemed to have sprung, like the armed men in the story; for remotest tradition bore no record of their having come there from anywhere else, nor was there record of a time when the land round Kingthorpe belonged to any other family.
Dr. Rylance, whose dainty verandah shaded cottage stood in gardens of three and a half acres, and who rented a paddock for his cow, was always lamenting that he could not buy more land.
'The Wendovers have everything,' he said. 'It is impossible for a new man to establish himself.'
It was to be observed, however, that when land within a reasonable distance of Kingthorpe came into the market, Dr. Rylance did not put himself forward as a buyer. His craving for more territory always ended in words.
Urania Rylance had spent much of her girlhood at Kingthorpe, and had always been made welcome at The Knoll; but although she saw the Wendovers established upon their native soil, the rulers of the land, and revered by all the parish, she had grown up with the firm conviction that Dr. Rylance, of Cavendish Square, and Dr. Rylance's daughter were altogether superior to these country bumpkins, with their narrow range of ideas and their strictly local importance.
The summer days wore on at Mauleverer Manor, not altogether unpleasantly for the majority of the girls, who contrived to enjoy their lives in spite of Miss Pew's tyranny, which was considered vile enough to rank that middle-aged, loud-voiced lady with the Domitians and Attilas of history. There was a softening influence, happily, in the person of Miss Dulcibella, who was slim and sentimental, talked about sweetness and light, loved modern poetry, spent all her available funds upon dress, and was wonderfully girlish in her tastes and habits at nine-and-thirty years of age.
It was a splendid summer, a time of roses and sunshine, and the girls were allowed to carry on their studies in the noble old garden, in the summer-houses and pleasure domes which the extinct Mauleverers had made for themselves in their day of power. Grinding at history, grammar, and geography did not seem so oppressive a burden when it could be done under the shade of spreading cedars, amid the scent of roses, in an atmosphere of colour and light. Even Ida's labours seemed a little easier when she and her pupils sat in a fast-decaying old summer-house in the rose-garden, with a glimpse of sunlit river flashing athwart the roses.
So the time wore on until the last week in July, and then all the school was alive with excitement, and every one was looking forward to the great event of the term, 'breaking up.' 'Old Pew,' had sent out her invitations for a garden party, an actual garden party—not a mere namby-pamby entertainment among the girls themselves, in which a liberal supply of blanc-mange and jam tarts was expected to atone for the absence of the outside world. Miss Pew had taken it into her head that Mauleverer Manor ought to be better known, and that a garden party would be a good advertisement. With this idea, she had ordered a hundred invitation cards, and had disseminated them among the most eligible of her old pupils, and the parents and guardians of those damsels now at the Manor. The good old gardens, where velvet greensward and cedars of Lebanon cost little labour to maintain in perfect order, were worthy to be exhibited. The roses, Miss Dulcibella's peculiar care, were, in that lady's opinion, equal to anything outside Chatsworth or Trentham. A garden party, by all means, said Miss Dulcibella, and she gave the young ladies to understand that the whole thing was her doing.
'I waited till Sarah was in a good temper,' she told her satellites, half a dozen or so of the elder girls who worshipped her, and who, in the slang phraseology of the school, were known as Miss Dulcie's 'cracks,' 'and then I proposed a garden party. It required a great deal of talking to bring her even to think about such a thing. You see the expense will be enormous! Ices, tea and coffee, cakes, sandwiches, claret-cup. Thank goodness it's too late in the year for people to expect strawberries. Yes, my dears, you may thank me for your garden party.'
'Dear Miss Dulcibella,' exclaimed one.
'You too delicious darling,' cried another.
'What will you wear?' asked a third, knowing that Miss Dulcie was weak about dress, and had a morbid craving for originality.
'Well, dears,' began Miss Dulcie, growing radiant at the thrilling question, 'I have been thinking of making up my art needlework tunic—the pale green, you know, with garlands of passion flowers, worked in crewels—over a petticoat of the faintest primrose.'
'That will be quite too lovely,' exclaimed four enthusiasts in a chorus.
'You know how fond I am of those delicate tints in that soft Indian cashmere, that falls in such artistic folds.'
'Heavenly,' sighed the chorus, and Miss Dulcie went on talking for half-an-hour by Chertsey clock, in fact till the tea-bell broke up the little conclave.
What was Ida Palliser going to wear at the garden party? The question was far more serious for her than for Miss Dulcibella, who had plenty of money to spend upon her adornment. In Ida the necessity for a new gown meant difficulty, perhaps mortification.
'Why should I not spend the day in one of the garrets, darning stockings and packing boxes?' she said bitterly, when a grand discussion about the garden party was being held in the butterfly-room; 'nobody will want me. I have no relations coming to admire me.'
'You know you don't mean what you say,' said Miss Rylance. 'You expect to have half-a-dozen prizes, and to lord it over all of us.'
'I have worked hard enough for the prizes,' answered Ida. 'I don't think you need grudge me them.'
'I do not,' said Miss Rylance, with languid scorn. 'You know I never go in for prizes. My father looks upon school as only a preliminary kind of education. When I am at home with him in the season I shall have lessons from better masters than any we are favoured with here.'
'What a comfort it is for us to know that!' retorted Ida, her eyes dancing mischievously.
It was now within a week of the garden party. Miss Pew was grimmer of aspect and louder of voice than usual, and it was felt that, at the slightest provocation, she might send forth an edict revoking all her invitations, and the party might be relegated to the limbo of unrealized hopes. Never had the conduct of Miss Pew's pupils been so irreproachable, never had lessons been learned, and exercises prepared, so diligently.
Ida had received a kind little note from Mrs. Wendover, asking her to spend her summer holidays at Kingthorpe, and at Bessie's earnest desire had accepted the cordial invitation.
'You don't know what a foolish thing you are doing, Bess,' said Miss Palliser, when—reluctant to the last—she had written her acceptance, Bessie looking over her shoulder all the while. 'Foolish for you, foolish for me. It is a mistake to associate yourself with paupers. You will feel ashamed of me half-a-dozen times a day at Kingthorpe.'
'No, no, no!' cried the energetic Bessie; 'I shall never feel anything but pride in you. I shall be proud to show my people what a beautiful, brilliant, wonderful friend I have chosen for myself.'
'Ardent child!' exclaimed Ida, with a touch of sadness even in her mockery. 'What a pity you have not a bachelor brother to fall in love with me!'
'Never mind the brother. I have two bachelor cousins.'
'Of course! The rich Brian, and the poor Brian, whose histories I have heard almost as often as I heard the story of "Little Red Ridinghood" in my nursery days. Both good-looking, both clever, both young. One a man of landed estate. All Kingthorpe parish belongs to him, does it not?'
'All except the little bit that belongs to papa.'
'And Dr. Rylance's garden and paddock; don't forget that.'
'Could I forget the Rylances? Urania says that although her father has no land at Kingthorpe, he has influence.'
'The other cousin dependent on his talents, and fighting his way at the Bar. Is not that how the story goes, Bess?'
'Yes, darling. I am afraid poor Brian has hardly begun fighting yet. He is only eating his terms. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds rather low.'
'Well, Bess, if I am to marry either of your cousins, it must be the rich one,' said Ida, decisively.
'Oh, Ida, how can you say so? You can't know which you will like best.'
'My likes and dislikes have nothing to do with it. I am going to marry for money.'
Miss Rylance had brought her desk to that end of the table where the two girls were sitting, during the latter part of the conversation. It was evening, the hour or so of leisure allowed for the preparation of studies and the writing of home letters. Miss Rylance unlocked her desk, and took out her paper and pens; but, having got so far as this, she seemed rather inclined to join in the conversation than to begin her letter.
'Isn't that rather a worldly idea for your time of life?' she asked, looking at Ida with her usual unfriendly expression.
'No doubt. I should be disgusted if you or Bessie entertained such a notion. But in me it is only natural. I have drained the cup of poverty to the dregs. I thirst for the nectar of wealth. I would marry a soap-boiler, a linseed-crusher, a self-educated navvy who had developed into a great contractor—any plebian creature, always provided that he was an honest man.'
'How condescending!' said Miss Rylance. 'I suppose, Bessie, you know that Miss Pew has especially forbidden us all to indulge in idle talk about courtship and marriage?'
'Quite so,' said Bessie; 'but as old Pew knows that we are human, I've no doubt she is quite aware that this is one of her numerous rules which we diligently set at nought.'
Urania began her letter, but although her pen moved swiftly over her paper in that elegant Italian hand which was, as it were, a badge of honour at Mauleverer Manor, her ears were not the less open to the conversation going on close beside her.
'Marry a soap-boiler, indeed!' exclaimed Bessie, indignantly; 'you ought to be a duchess!'
'No doubt, dear, if dukes went about the world, like King Cophetua, on the look out for beggar-maids.'
'I am so happy to think you are coming to Kingthorpe! It is the dearest old place. We shall be so happy!'
'It will not be your fault if we are not, darling,' said Ida, looking tenderly at the loving face, uplifted to hers. 'Well, I have written to my father to ask him for five pounds, and if he sends the five pounds I will go to Kingthorpe. If not, I must invent an excuse—mumps, or measles, or something—for staying away. Or I must behave so badly for the last week of the term that old Pew will revoke her sanction of the intended visit. I cannot come to Kingthorpe quite out at elbows.'
'You look lovely even in the gown you have on,' said Bessie.
'I don't know anything about my loveliness, but I know that this gown is absolutely threadbare.'
Bessie, sighed despondently. She knew her friend's resolute temper, and that any offer of clothes or money from her would be worse than useless. It would make Ida angry.
'What kind of man is your father, darling?' she asked, thoughtfully.
'Ah! Then he will send the five pounds.'
'Ah! Then he may change his mind about it.'
'Then he may not have the money.'
'The lot is in the urn of fate, Bess, We must take our chance. I think, somehow, that the money will come. I have asked for it urgently, for I do want to come to Kingthorpe.' Bessie kissed her. 'Yes, dear, I wish with all my heart to accept your kind mother's invitation; though I know, in my secret soul, that it is foolishness for me to see the inside of a happy home, to sit beside a hospitable hearth, when it is my mission in life to be a dependent in the house of a stranger. If you had half a dozen small sisters, now, and your people would engage me as a nursery governess—'
'You a nursery governess!' cried Bessie, 'you who are at the top of every class, and who do everything better than the masters who teach you?'
'Well, if my perfection prove worth seventy pounds a-year when I go out into the world, I shall be satisfied,' said Ida.
'What will you buy with your five pounds?' asked Bessie.
'A black cashmere gown, as plain as a nun's, a straw hat, and as many collars, cuffs, and stockings as I can get for the rest of the money.'
Miss Rylance listened, smiling quietly to herself as she bent over her desk. To the mind of an only daughter, who had been brought up in a supremely correct manner, who had had her winter clothes and summer clothes at exactly the right season, and of the best that money could buy, there was a piteous depth of poverty and degradation in Ida Palliser's position. The girl's beauty and talents were as nothing when weighed against such sordid surroundings.
The prize-day came, a glorious day at the beginning of August, and the gardens of Mauleverer Manor, the wide reach of blue river, the meadows, the willows, the distant woods, all looked their loveliest, as if Nature was playing into the hands of Miss Pew.
'I am sure you girls ought to be very happy to live in such a place!' said one of the mothers, as she strolled about the velvet lawn with her daughters, 'instead of being mewed up in a dingy London square.'
'You wouldn't say that if you saw the bread and scrape and the sloppy tea we have for breakfast,' answered one of the girls,
'It's all very well for you, who see this wretched hole in the sunshine, and old Pew in her best gown and her company manners. The place is a whited sepulchre. I should like you to have a glimpse behind the scenes, ma.'
'Ma' smiled placidly, and turned a deaf ear to these aspersions of the schoolmistress. Her girls looked well fed and healthy. Bread and scrape evidently agreed with them much better than that reckless consumption of butter and marmalade which swelled the housekeeping bills during the holidays.
It was a great day. Miss Pew the elder was splendid in apple-green moire antique; Miss Pew the younger was elegant in pale and flabby raiment of cashmere and crewel-work. The girls were in that simple white muslin of the jeune Meess Anglaise, to which they were languishing to bid an eternal adieu. There were a great many pretty girls at Mauleverer Manor, and on this day, when the white-robed girlish forms were flitting to and fro upon the green lawns, in the sweet summer air and sunshine, it seemed as if the old manorial mansion were a bower of beauty. Among the parents of existing pupils who had accepted the Misses Pew's invitation was Dr. Rylance, the fashionable physician, whose presence there conferred distinction upon the school. It was Miss Rylance's last term, and the doctor wished to assist at those honours which she would doubtless reap as the reward of meritorious studies. He was not blindly devoted to his daughter, but he was convinced that, like every thing else belonging to him, she was of the best quality; and he expected to see her appreciated by the people who had been privileged to educate her.
The distribution of prizes was the great feature of the day. It was to take place at four o'clock, in the ball room, a fine old panelled saloon, in which the only furniture was a pair of grand pianos, somewhat the worse for wear, a table at the end of the room on which the prizes were arranged, and benches covered with crimson cloth for the accommodation of the company.
There was to be a concert before the distribution. Four of the best pianoforte players in the school were to hammer out an intensely noisy version of the overture to Zampa, arranged for eight hands on two pianos. The crack singer was to sing 'Una voce,' and Ida Palliser was to play the 'Moonlight Sonata.'
Dr. Rylance had come early, on purpose to be present at this ceremonial. He was the most important guest who had yet arrived, and Miss Pew devoted herself to his entertainment, and went rustling up and down the terrace in front of the ballroom windows in her armour of apple-green moire, listening deferentially to the physician's remarks.
Dr. Rylance was a large fair-complexioned man, who had been handsome in his youth, and who at seven-and-forty was still remarkably good-looking. He had fine teeth, good hair, full blue eyes, capable of the hardest, coldest stare that ever looked out of a human countenance. Mr. Darwin has told us that the eyes do not smile, that the radiance we fancy we see in the eye itself is only produced by certain contractions of the muscles surrounding it. Assuredly there was no smile in the eyes of Dr. Rylance. His smile, which was bland and frequent, gave only a vague impression of white teeth and brown whiskers. He had a fine figure, and was proud of his erect carriage. He dressed carefully and well, and was as particular as Brummel about his laundress. His manners were considered pleasing by the people who liked him; while those who disliked him accused him of an undue estimate of his own merits, and a tendency to depreciate the rest of humanity. His practice was rather select than extensive, for Dr. Rylance was a specialist. He had won his reputation as an adviser in cases of mental disease; and as, happily, mental diseases are less common than bodily ailments, Dr. Rylance had not the continuous work of a Gull or a Jenner. His speciality paid him remarkably well. His cases hung long on hand, and when he had a patient of wealth and standing Dr. Rylance knew how to keep him. His treatment was soothing and palliative, as befitted an enlightened age. In an age of scepticism no one could expect Dr. Rylance to work miraculous cures. It is in no wise to his discredit to say that he was more successful in sustaining and comforting the patient's friends than in curing the patient.
This was Laurence Rylance, a man who had begun life in a very humble way, had raised himself by his own efforts, if not to the top of the medical tree, certainly to a very comfortable and remunerative perch among its upper branches; a man thoroughly satisfied with himself and with what destiny had done for him; a man who, to be a new Caesar, would hardly have foregone the privilege of being Laurence Rylance.
'My daughter has done well during this last term, I hope, Miss Pew?' he said, interrogatively, but rather as if the question were needless, as he walked beside the rustling moire.
'She has earned my entire approval,' replied Miss Pew, in her oiliest accents. 'She has application.' Dr. Rylance nodded assentingly. 'She has a charming deportment. I know of no girl in the school more thoroughly ladylike. I have never seen her with a collar put on crookedly, or with rough hair. She is a pattern to many of my girls.'
'That is all gratifying to my pride as a father; but I hope she has made progress in her studies.'
Miss Pew coughed gently behind a mittened hand.
'She has not made quite so great an advance as I should have wished. She has talent, no doubt; but it is hardly of a kind that comes into play among other girls. In after-life, perhaps, there may be development. I am sorry to say she is not in our roll-call of honour to-day. She has won no prize.'
'Perhaps she may have hardly thought it worth her while to compete,' said Dr. Rylance, hurt in his own individual pride by the idea that his daughter had missed distinction, just as he would have been hurt if anybody had called one of his pictures a copy, or made light of his blue china. 'With the Rylances it has always been Caesar or nothing.'
'I regret to say that my three most important prizes have been won by a young woman whom I cannot esteem,' said Miss Pew, bristling in her panoply of apple-green, at the thought of Ida Palliser's insolence. 'I hope I shall ever be just, at whatever sacrifice of personal feeling. I shall to-day bestow the first prize for modern languages, for music, and for English history and literature, upon a young person of whose moral character I have a very low opinion.'
'And pray who is this young lady?' asked Dr. Rylance.
'Miss Palliser, the daughter of a half-pay officer residing in the neighbourhood of Dieppe—for very good reasons, no doubt.
'Palliser; yes, I have heard my daughter talk of her. An insolent, ill-bred girl. I have been taught to consider her somewhat a disgrace to your excellent and well-managed school.'
'Her deportment is certainly deplorable,' admitted Miss Pew; 'but the girl has remarkable talents.'
More visitors were arriving from this time forward, until everyone was seated in the ball-room. Miss Pew was engaged in receiving people, and ushering them to their seats, always assisted by Miss Dulcibella—an image of limp gracefulness—and the three governesses—all as stiff as perambulating black-boards. Dr. Rylance strolled by himself for a little while, sniffed at the great ivory cup of a magnolia, gazed dreamily at the river—shining yonder across intervening gardens and meadows—and ultimately found his daughter.
'I am sorry to find you are not to be honoured with a prize, Ranie,' he said, smiling at her gently.
In no relation of life had he been so nearly perfect as in his conduct as a father. Were he ever so disappointed in his daughter, he could not bring himself to be angry with her.
'I have not tried for prizes, papa. Why should I compete with such a girl as Ida Palliser, who is to get her living as a governess, and who knows that success at school is a matter of life and death with her?'
'Do you not think it might have been worth your while to work as hard as Miss Palliser, for the mere honour and glory of being first in your school?'
'Did you ever work for mere honour and glory, papa?' asked Urania, with her unpleasant little air of cynicism.
'Well, my love, I confess there has been generally a promise of solid pudding in the background. Pray, who is this Miss Palliser, whom I hear of at every turn, and whom nobody seems to like?'
'There you are mistaken, papa. Miss Palliser has her worshippers, though she is the most disagreeable girl in the school. That silly little Bessie raves about her, and has actually induced Mrs. Wendover to invite her to The Knoll!'
'That is a pity, if the girl is ill-bred and unpleasant,' said Dr. Rylance.
'She's a horror,' exclaimed Urania, vindictively.
Five minutes later Dr. Rylance and his daughter made their entrance into the ball-room, which was full of people, and whence came the opening crash of an eight-handed 'Zampa.' Father and daughter went in softly, and with a hushed air, as if they had been going into church; yet the firing of a cannon or two more or less would hardly have disturbed the performers at the two pianos, so tremendous was their own uproar. They were taking the overture in what they called orchestral time; though it is doubtful whether even their playing could have kept pace with the hurrying of excited fiddles in a presto passage, or the roll of the big drum, simulating distant thunder. Be that as it may, the four performers were pounding along at a breathless pace; and if their pianissimo passages failed in delicacy, there was no mistake about their fortissimo.
'What an abominable row!' whispered Dr. Rylance. 'Is this what they call music?'
Urania smiled, and felt meritorious in that, after being chosen as one of the four for this very 'Zampa,' she had failed ignominiously as a timist, and had been compelled to cede her place to another pupil.
'I might have toiled for six weeks at the horrid thing,' she thought, 'and papa would have only called it a row.'
'Zampa' ended amidst polite applause, the delighted parents of the four players feeling that they had not lived in vain. And now the music mistress took her place at one of the pianos, the top of the instrument was lowered, and Miss Fane, a little fair girl with a round face and frizzy auburn hair, came simpering forward to sing 'Una voce,' in a reedy soprano, which had been attenuated by half-guinea lessons from an Italian master, and which frequently threatened a snap.
Happily on this occasion the thin little voice got through its work without disaster; there was a pervading sense of relief when the crisis was over, and Miss Fane had simpered her acknowledgments of the applause which rewarded a severely conscientious performance.
'Any more singing?' inquired Dr. Rylance of his daughter, not with the air of a man who pants for vocal melody.
'No, the next is the "Moonlight Sonata."'
Dr. Rylance had a dim idea that he had heard of this piece before. He waited dumbly, admiring the fine old room, with its lofty ceiling, and florid cornice, and the sunny garden beyond the five tall windows.
Presently Ida Palliser came slowly towards the piano, carrying herself like an empress. Dr. Rylance could hardly believe the evidence of his eyes. Was this the girl whose deportment had been called abominable, whom Urania had denounced as a horror? Was this the articled pupil, the girl doomed to life-long drudgery as a governess, this superb creature, with her noble form and noble face, looking grave defiance at the world which hitherto had not used her too kindly?
She was dressed in black, a sombre figure amidst the white muslins and rainbow sashes of her comrades. Her cashmere gown was of the simplest fashion, but it became the tall full figure to admiration. Below her linen collar she wore a scarlet ribbon, from which hung a silver locket, the only ornament she possessed. It was Bessie Wendover who had insisted on the scarlet ribbon, as a relief to that funereal gown.
'I was never so surprised in my life,' whispered Dr. Rylance to his daughter. 'She is the handsomest girl I ever saw.'
'Yes, she is an acknowledged beauty, said Urania, with a contraction of her thin lips; 'nobody disputes her good looks. It is a pity her manners are so abominable.'
'She moves like a lady.'
'She has been thoroughly drilled,' sneered Urania. 'The original savage in her has been tamed as much as possible.'
'I should like to know more of that girl,' said Dr. Rylance, 'for she looks as if she has force of character. I'm sorry you and she are not better friends.'
Ida seated herself at the piano and began to play, without honouring the assembly with one glance from her dark eyes. She sat looking straight before her, like one whose thoughts are far away. She played by memory, and at first her hands faltered a little as they touched the keys, as if she hardly knew what she was going to play. Then she recollected herself in a flash, and began the firm, slow, legato movement with the touch of a master hand, the melody rising and falling in solemn waves of sound, like the long, slow roll of a calm sea.
The 'Moonlight Sonata' is a composition of some length. Badly, or even indifferently performed, the 'Moonlight Sonata' is a trial; but no one grew weary of it to-day, though the strong young hands which gave emphasis to the profound beauties of that wonderful work were only the hands of a girl. Those among the listeners who knew least about music, knew that this was good playing; those who cared not at all for the playing were pleased to sit and watch the mobile face of the player as she wove her web of melody, her expression changing with every change in the music, but unmoved by a thought of the spectators.
Presently, just as the sonata drew to its close, an auburn head was thrust between Dr. Rylance and his daughter, and a girl's voice whispered,
'Is she not splendid? Is she not the grandest creature you ever saw?'
The doctor turned and recognized Bessie Wendover.
'She is, Bessie,' he said, shaking hands with her. 'I never was so struck by anyone in my life.'
Urania grew white with anger. Was it not enough that Ida Palliser should have outshone her in every accomplishment upon which school-girls pride themselves? Was it not enough that she should have taken complete possession of that foolish little Bessie, and thus ingratiated herself into the Wendover set, and contrived to get invited to Kingthorpe? No. Here was Urania's own father, her especial property, going over to the enemy.
'I am glad you admire her so much, papa,' she said, outwardly calm and sweet, but inwardly consumed with anger; 'for it will be so pleasant for you to see more of her at Kingthorpe.'
'Yes,' he said heartily, 'I am glad she is coming to Kingthorpe. That was a good idea of yours, Bessie.'
'Wasn't it? I am so pleased to find you like her. I wish you could get Ranie to think better of her.'
Now came the distribution of prizes and accessits. Miss Pew took her seat before the table on which the gaudily-bound books were arranged, and began to read out the names. It was a hard thing for her to have to award the three first prizes to a girl she detested; but Miss Pew knew the little world she ruled well enough to know that palpable injustice would weaken her rule. Ninety-nine girls who had failed to win the prize would have resented her favouritism if she had given the reward to a hundredth girl who had not fairly won it. The eyes of her little world were upon her, and she was obliged to give the palm to the real victor. So, in her dull, hard voice, looking straight before her, with cold, unfriendly eyes, she read out—
'The prize for modern languages has been obtained by Miss Palliser!' and Ida came slowly up to the table and received a bulky crimson volume, containing the poetical works of Sir Walter Scott.
'The prize for proficiency in instrumental music is awarded to Miss Palliser!'
Another bulky volume was handed to Ida. For variety the binding was green, and the inside of the book was by William Cowper.
'The greatest number of marks for English history and literature nave been obtained by Miss Palliser.'
Miss Palliser was now the happy possessor of a third volume bound in blue, containing a selection from the works of Robert Southey.
With not one word of praise nor one smile of approval did Miss Pew sweeten the gifts which she bestowed upon the articled pupil. She gave that which justice, or rather policy, compelled her to give. No more. Kindliness was not in the bond.
Ida came slowly away from the table, laden with her prizes, her head held high, but not with pride in the trophies she carried. Her keenest feeling at this moment was a sense of humiliation. The prizes had been given her as a bone might be flung to a strange dog, by one whose heart held no love for the canine species. An indignant flush clouded the creamy whiteness of her forehead, angry tears glittered in her proud eyes. She made her way to the nearest door, and went away without a word to the crowd of younger girls, her own pupils, who had crowded round to congratulate and caress her. She was adored by these small people, and it was her personal influence as much as her talent which made her so successful a teacher.
Dr. Rylance followed her to the door with his eyes. He was not capable of wide sympathies, or of projecting himself into the lives of other people; but he did sympathize with this girl, so lonely in the splendour of her beauty, so joyless in her triumph.
'God help her, poor child, in the days to come!' he said to himself.
AT THE KNOLL.
Between Winchester and Romsey there lies a region of gentle hills and grassy slopes shadowed by fine old yew trees, a land of verdure, lonely and exceeding fair; and in a hollow of this undulating district nestles the village of Kingthorpe, with its half-dozen handsome old houses, its richly cultivated gardens, and quaint old square-towered church. It is a prosperous, well-to-do little settlement, where squalor and want are unknown. Its humbler dwellings belong chiefly to the labourers on the Wendover estate, and those are liberally paid and well cared for. An agricultural labourer's wages at Kingthorpe might seem infinitely small to a London mechanic; but when it is taken into account that the tiller of the fields has a roomy cottage and an acre of garden for sixpence a-week, his daily dole of milk from the home farm, as much wood as he can burn, blankets and coals at Christmas, and wine and brandy, soup and bread from the great house, in all emergencies, he is perhaps not so very much worse off than his metropolitan brother.
There was an air of comfort and repose at Kingthorpe which made the place delightful to the eye of a passing wanderer—a spot where one would gladly have lain down the burden of life and rested for awhile in one of those white cottages that lay a little way back from the high road, shadowed by a screen of tall elms. There was a duck-pond in front of a low red-brick inn which reminded one of Birkett Foster, and made the central feature of the village; a spot of busy life where all else was stillness. There were accommodation roads leading off to distant farms, above which the tree-tops interlaced, and where the hedges were rich in blackberry and sloe, dog-roses and honeysuckle, and the banks in spring-time dappled with violet and primrose, purple orchids and wild crocus, and all the flowers that grow for the delight of village children.
Ida Palliser sat silent in her corner of the large landau which was taking Miss Wendover and her schoolfellows from Winchester station to Kingthorpe. Miss Rylance had accepted a seat in the Wendover landau at her father's desire; but she would have preferred to have had her own smart little pony-carriage to meet her at the station. To drive her own carriage, were it ever so small, was more agreeable to Urania's temper than to sit behind the over-fed horses from The Knoll, and to be thus, in some small measure, indebted to Bessie Wendover.
Ida Palliser's presence made the thing still more odious. Bessie was radiant with delight at taking her friend home with her. She watched Ida's eyes as they roamed over the landscape. She understood the girl's silent admiration.
'They are darling old hills, aren't they, dear?' she asked, squeezing Ida's hand, as the summer shadows and summer lights went dancing over the sward like living things.
'Yes, dear, they are lovely,' answered Ida, quietly.
She was devouring the beauty of the scene with her eyes. She had seen nothing like it in her narrow wanderings over the earth—nothing so simple, so beautiful, and so lonely. She was sorry when they left that open hill country and came into a more fertile scene, a high road, which was like an avenue in a gentleman's park, and then the village duck-pond and red homestead, the old gray church, with its gilded sun-dial, marking the hour of six, the gardens brimming over with roses, and as full of sweet odours as those spicy islands which send their perfumed breath to greet the seaman as he sails to the land of the Sun.
The carriage stopped at the iron gate of an exquisitely kept garden, surrounding a small Gothic cottage of the fanciful order of architecture,—a cottage with plate-glass windows, shaded by Spanish blinds, a glazed verandah sheltering a tesselated walk, sloping banks and terraces, on a very small scale, stone vases full of flowers, a tiny fountain sparkling in the afternoon sun.
This was Dr. Rylance's country retreat. It had been a yeoman's cottage, plain, substantial and homely as the yeoman and his household. The doctor had added a Gothic front, increased the number of rooms, but not the general convenience of the dwelling. He had been his own architect, and the result was a variety of levels and a breakneck arrangement of stairs at all manner of odd corners, so ingenious in their peril to life and limb that they might be supposed to have been designed as traps for the ignorant stranger.
'Don't say good-bye, Ranie,' said Bessie, when Miss Rylance had alighted, and was making her adieux at the carriage door; 'you'll come over to dinner, won't you, dear? Your father won't be down till Saturday. You'll be dreadfully dull at home.'
'Thanks, dear, no; I'd rather spend my first evening at home. I'm never dull,' answered Urania, with her air of superiority.
'What a queer girl you are!' exclaimed Bessie, frankly. 'I should be wretched if I found myself alone in a house. Do run over in the evening, at any rate. We are going to have lots of fun.'
Miss Rylance shuddered. She knew what was meant by lots of fun at The Knoll; a romping game at croquet, or the newly-established lawn-tennis, with girls in short petticoats and boys in Eton jackets; a raid upon the plum-trees on the crumbling red brick walls of the fine old kitchen-garden; winding up with a boisterous bout at hide-and-seek in the twilight; and finally a banquet of sandwiches, jam tarts, and syllabub in the shabby old dining-room.
'I'll come over to see Mrs. Wendover, if I am not too tired,' she said, with languid politeness, and then she closed the gate, and the carriage drove on to The Knoll.
Colonel Wendover's house was a substantial dwelling of the Queen Anne period, built of unmixed red brick, with a fine pediment, a stone shell over the entrance, four long narrow windows on each side of the tall door, and nine in each upper story, a house that looked all eyes, and was a blaze of splendour when the western sun shone upon its many windows. The house stood on a bit of rising ground at the end of the village, and dominated all meaner habitations. It was the typical squire's house, and Colonel Wendover was no bad representative of the typical squire.
A fine old iron gate opened upon a broad gravel drive, which made the circuit of a well-kept parterre, where the flowers grew as they only grow for those who love them dearly. This gate stood hospitably open at all times, and many were the vehicles which drove up to the tall door of The Knoll, and friendly the welcome which greeted all comers.
The door, like the gate, stood open all day long—indeed, open doors were the rule at Kingthorpe. Ida saw a roomy old hall, paved with black and white marble, a few family portraits, considerably the worse for wear, against panelled walls painted white, a concatenation of guns, fishing-rods, whips, canes, cricket-bats, croquet-mallets, and all things appertaining to the out-door amusements of a numerous family. A large tiger skin stretched before the drawing-room door was one memorial of Colonel Wendover's Indian life; a tiger's skull gleaming on the wall, between a pair of elephant's ears, was another. One side of the wall was adorned with a collection of Indian arms, showing all those various curves with which oriental ingenuity has improved upon the straight simplicity of the western sword.
It was not a neatly kept hall. There had been no careful study of colour in the arrangement of things—hats and caps were flung carelessly on the old oak chairs—there was a licentious mixture of styles in the furniture—half Old English, half Indian, and all the worse for wear: but Ida Palliser thought the house had a friendly look, which made it better than any house she had ever seen before.
Through an open door at the back of the hall she saw a broad gravel walk, long and straight, leading to a temple or summer-house built of red brick, like the mansion itself. On each side of the broad walk there was a strip of grass, just about wide enough for a bowling-green, and on the grass were orange-trees in big wooden tubs, painted green. Slowly advancing along the broad walk there came a large lady.
'Is that you mother?' asked Ida.
'No, it's Aunt Betsy. You ought to have known Aunt Betsy at a glance. I'm sure I've described her often enough. How good of her to be here to welcome us!' and Bessie flew across the hall and rushed down the broad walk to greet her aunt.
Ida followed at a more sober pace. Yes, she had heard of Aunt Betsy—a maiden aunt, who lived in her own house a little way from The Knoll. A lady who had plenty of money and decidedly masculine tastes, which she indulged freely; a very lovable person withal, if Bessie might be believed. Ida wondered if she too would be able to like Aunt Betsy.
Miss Wendover's appearance was not repulsive. She was a woman of heroic mould, considerably above the average height of womankind, with a large head nobly set upon large well-shaped shoulders. Bulky Miss Wendover decidedly was, but she carried her bulkiness well. She still maintained a waist, firmly braced above her expansive hips. She walked well, and was more active than many smaller women. Indeed, her life was full of activity, spent for the most part in the open air, driving, walking, gardening, looking after her cows and poultry, and visiting the labouring-classes round Kingthorpe, among whom she was esteemed an oracle.
Bessie hung herself round her large aunt like ivy on an oak, and the two thus united came up the broad walk to meet Ida, Bessie chattering all the way.
'So this is Miss Palliser,' said Aunt Betsy heartily, and in a deep masculine voice, which accorded well with her large figure. 'I have heard a great deal about you from this enthusiastic child,—so much that I was prepared to be disappointed in you. It is the highest compliment I can pay you to say I am not.'
'Where's mother?' asked Bessie.
'Your father drove her to Romsey to call on the new vicar. There's the phaeton driving in at the gate.'
It was so. Before Ida had had breathing time to get over the introduction to Aunt Betsy, she was hurried off to see her host and hostess.
They were very pleasant people, who did not consider themselves called on to present an icy aspect to a new acquaintance.
The Colonel was the image of his sister, tall and broad of figure, with an aquiline nose and a commanding eye, thoroughly good-natured withal, and a man whom everybody loved. Mrs. Wendover was a dumpy little woman, who had brought dumpiness and a handsome fortune into the family. She had been very pretty in girlhood, and was pretty still, with a round-faced innocent prettiness which made her look almost as young as her eldest daughter. Her husband loved her with a fondly protecting and almost paternal affection, which was very pleasant to behold; and she held him in devoted reverence, as the beginning and end of all that was worth loving and knowing in the Universe. She was not an accomplished woman, and had made the smallest possible use of those opportunities which civilization affords to every young lady whose parents have plenty of money; but she was a lady to the marrow of her bones—benevolent, kindly. thinking no evil, rejoicing in the truth—an embodiment of domestic love.
Such a host and hostess made Ida feel at home in their house in less than five minutes. If there had been a shade of coldness in their greeting her pride would have risen in arms against them, and she would have made herself eminently disagreeable. But at their hearty welcome she expanded like a beautiful flower which opens its lovely heart to the sunshine.
'It is so good of you to ask me here,' she said, when Mrs. Wendover had kissed her, 'knowing so little of me.'
'I know that my daughter loves you,' answered the mother, 'and it is not in Bessie's nature to love anyone who isn't worthy of love.'
Ida smiled at the mother's simple answer.
'Don't you think that in a heart so full of love some may run over and get wasted on worthless objects?' she asked.
'That's very true,' cried a boy in an Eton jacket, one of a troop that had congregated round the Colonel and his wife since their entrance. 'You know there was that half-bred terrier you doted upon, Bess, though I showed you that the roof of his mouth was as red as sealing-wax.'
'I hope you are not going to compare me to a half-bred terrier,' said Ida, laughing.
'If you were a terrier, the roof of your mouth would be as black as my hat,' said the boy decisively. It was his way of expressing his conviction that Ida was thoroughbred.
The ice being thus easily broken, Ida found herself received into the bosom of the family, and at once established as a favourite with all. There were two boys in Eton jackets, answering to the names of Reginald and Horatio, but oftener to the friendly abbreviations Reg and Horry. Both had chubby faces, liberally freckled, warts on their hands, and rumpled hair; and it was not easy for a new comer to distinguish Horatio from Reginald, or Reginald from Horatio. There was a girl of fourteen with flowing hair, who looked very tall because her petticoats were very short, and who always required some one to hug and hang upon. If she found herself deprived of human support she lolled against a wall.
This young person at once pounced upon Ida, as a being sent into the world to sustain her.
'Do you think you shall like me?' she asked, when they had all swarmed up to the long corridor, out of which numerous bedrooms opened.
'I like you already,' answered Ida.
'Do thoo like pigs?' asked a smaller girl, round and rosy, in a holland pinafore, putting the question as if it were relevant to her sister's inquiry.
'I don't quite know,' said Ida doubtfully.
''Cos there are nine black oneths, tho pwutty. Will thoo come and thee them?'
Ida said she would think about it: and then she received various pressing invitations to go and see lop-eared rabbits, guinea-pigs, a tame water-rat in the rushes of the duck-pond, a collection of eggs in the schoolroom, and the new lawn-tennis ground which father had made in the paddock.
'Now all you small children run away!' cried Bessie, loftily. 'Ida and I are going to dress for dinner.'
The crowd dispersed reluctantly, with low mutterings about rabbits, pigs, and water-rats, like the murmurs of a stage mob; and then Bessie led her friend into a large sunny room fronting westward, a room with three windows, cushioned window-seats, two pretty white-curtained beds, and a good deal of old-fashioned and heterogeneous furniture, half English, half Indian.
'You said you wouldn't mind sleeping in my room,' said Bessie, as she showed her friend an exclusive dressing-table, daintily draperied, and enlivened with blue satin bows, for the refreshment of the visitor's eye.
While the girls were contemplating this work of art the door was suddenly opened and Blanche's head was thrust in.
'I did the dressing-table, Miss Palliser, every bit, on purpose for you.'
And the door then slammed to, and Bessie rushed across the room and drew the bolt.
'We shall have them all one after another,' she said.
'Don't shut them out on my account.'
'Oh, but I must. You would have no peace. I can see they are going to be appallingly fond of you.'
'Let them like me as much as they can. Do you know, Bessie, this is my first glimpse into the inside of a home!'
'Oh, Ida, dear, but your father,' remonstrated Bessie.
'My father has never been unkind to me, but I have had no home with him. When my mother brought me home from India—she died very soon after we got home, you know'—Ida strangled a sob at this point—'I was placed with strangers, two elderly maiden ladies, who reared me very well, no doubt, in their stiff business-like way, and who really gave me a very good education. That went on for nine years,—a long time to spend with two old maids in a dull little house at Turnham Green,—and then I had a letter from my father to say he had come home for good. He had sold his commission and meant to settle down in some quiet spot abroad. His first duty would be to make arrangements for placing me in a high-class school, where I could finish my education; and he told me, quite at the end of his letter, that he had married a very sweet young lady, who was ready to give me all a mother's affection, and who would be able to receive me in my holidays, when the expense of the journey to France and back was manageable.'
'Poor darling!' sighed Bessie. 'Did your heart warm to the sweet young lady?'
'No, Bess; I'm afraid it must be an unregenerate heart, for I took a furious dislike to her. Very unjust and unreasonable, wasn't it? Afterwards, when my father took me over to his cottage, near Dieppe, to spend my holidays, I found that my stepmother was a kind-hearted, pretty little thing, whom I might look down upon for her want of education, but whom I could not dislike. She was very kind to me; and she had a baby boy. I have told you about him, and how he and I fell in love with each other at first sight.'
'I am horribly jealous of that baby boy,' protested Bessie. 'How old is he now?'
'Nearly five. He was two years and a half old when I was at Les Fontaines, and that was before I went to Mauleverer Manor.'
'And you have been at Mauleverer Manor more than two years without once going home for the holidays,' said Bessie. 'That seems hard.'
'My dear, poverty is hard. It is all of a piece. It means deprivation, humiliation, degradation, the severance of friends. My father would have had me home if he could have afforded it; but he couldn't. He has only just enough to keep himself and his wife and boy. If you were to see the little box of a house they inhabit in that tiny French village, you would wonder that anybody bigger than a pigeon could live in so small a place. They have a narrow garden, and there is an orchard on the slope of a hill behind the cottage, and a long white road leading to nowhere in front. It is all very nice in the summer, when one can live half one's life out of doors, but I am sure I don't know how they manage to exist through the winter.'
'Poor things!' sighed Bessie, who had a large stock of compassion always on hand.
And then she tied a bright ribbon at the back of Ida's collar, by way of finishing touch to the girl's simple toilet, which had been going on while they talked, and then, Bessie in white and Ida in black, like sunlight and shadow, they went downstairs to the drawing-room, where Colonel Wendover was stretched on his favourite sofa, reading a county paper. Since his retirement from active service into domestic idleness the Colonel had required a great deal of rest, and was to be found at all hours of the day extended at ease on his own particular sofa. During his intervals of activity he exhibited a large amount of energy. When he was indoors his stentorian voice penetrated from garret to cellar; when he was out of doors the same deep-toned thunder could be heard across a couple of paddocks. He pervaded the gardens and stables, supervised the home farm, and had a finger in every pie.
Mrs. Wendover was sitting in her own particular arm-chair, close to her husband's sofa—they were seldom seen far apart—with a large basket of crewel-work beside her, containing sundry squares of kitchen towelling and a chaos of many-coloured wools, which never seemed to arrive at any result.
The impression which Mrs. Wendover's drawing-room conveyed to a stranger was a general idea of homeliness and comfort. It was not fine, it was not aesthetic, it was not even elegant. A great bay window opened upon the garden, a large old-fashioned fireplace, with carved wooden chimney-piece faced the bay. The floor was polished oak, with only an island of faded Persian carpet in the centre, and Indian prayer rugs lying about here and there. There were chairs and tables of richly carved Bombay blackwood, Japanese cabinets in the recesses beside the fire-place, a five-leaved Indian screen between the fire-place and the door. There was just enough Oriental china to give colour to the room, and to relieve by glowing reds and vivid purples the faded dead-leaf tint of curtains and chair covers.
The gong began to boom as the two girls came into the room, and the rest of the family dropped in through the open windows at the same moment, Aunt Betsey bringing up the rear. There was no nursery dinner at The Knoll. Colonel Wendover allowed his children to dine with him from the day they were able to manage their knives and forks. Save on state occasions, the whole brood sat down with their father and mother to the seven o'clock dinner; as the young sprigs of the House of Orleans used to sit round good King Louis Philippe in his tranquil retirement at Claremont. Even the lisping girl who loved pigs had her place at the board, and knew how to behave herself. There was a subdued struggle for the seat next Ida, whom the Colonel had placed on his right, but Reginald, the elder of the Winchester boys, asserted his claim with a quiet firmness that proved irresistible. Grace was said with solemn brevity by the Colonel, whose sum total of orthodoxy was comprised in that brief grace, and in regular attendance at church on Sunday mornings; and then there came a period of chatter and laughter which might have been a little distracting to a stranger. Each of the boys and girls had some wonderful fact, usually about his or her favourite animal, to communicate to the father. Aunt Betsy broke in with her fine manly voice at every turn in the conversation. Ripples of laughter made a running accompaniment to everything. It was a new thing to Ida Palliser to find herself in the midst of so much happiness.
After dinner they all rushed off to play lawn tennis, carrying Ida along with them.
'It's a shame,' protested Bessie. 'I know you're tired, darling. Come and rest in a shady corner of the drawing-room.'
This sounded tempting, but it was not to be.
'No she's not,' asserted Blanche, boldly. 'You're not tired, are you, Miss Palliser?'
'Not too tired for just one game,' replied Ida. 'But you are never to call me Miss Palliser.'
'May I really call you Ida? That's too lovely.'
'May we all call you Ida?' asked Horatio. 'Don't begin by making distinctions. Blanche is no better than the rest of us.'
'Don't be jealous,' said Miss Palliser, laughing. 'I am going to be everybody's Ida.'
On this she was borne off to the garden as in a whirlwind.
There were some bamboo chairs and sofas on the grass in front of the bay window, and here the elder members of the family established themselves.
'I like that schoolfellow of Bessie's,' said Aunt Betsy, with her decided air, whereupon the Colonel and his wife assented, as they always did to any proposition of Miss Wendover's.
'She is remarkably handsome,' said the Colonel.
'She is good and thorough, and that's of much more consequence,' said his sister.
'She takes to the children, and that is so truly nice in her' murmured Mrs. Wendover.
The next day was fine. The children had all been praying for fine weather, that they might entertain Miss Palliser with an exploration of the surrounding neighbourhood. Loud whoops of triumph and sundry breakdown dances were heard in the top story soon after five o'clock, for the juvenile Wendovers were early risers, and when in high spirits made themselves distinctly audible.
The eight o'clock breakfast in the old painted dining-room—all oak panelling, but painted stone colour by generations of Goths and Vandals—was even more animated than the seven o'clock dinner.
Such a breakfast, after the thick bread and butter and thin coffee at Mauleverer. Relays of hot buttered cakes, and eggs and bacon, fish, honey, fresh fruit from the garden, a picturesque confusion of form and colour on the lavishly-furnished table, and youthful appetites ready to do justice to the good cheer.
'What are you going to do with Miss Palliser?' asked the Colonel. 'Am I to take her for a drive?'
'No, father, you can't have Miss Palliser to-day. She's going in the jaunting-car,' said Reginald, talking of the lady as if she were a horse. 'We're going to take her over to the Abbey.'
The Abbey was the ancestral home of the Wendovers, now in possession of Brian Wendover, only son of the Colonel's eldest brother, and head of the house.
'Well, don't upset her oftener than you can help,' replied the father. 'I suppose you don't much mind being spilt off an outside car, Miss Palliser? I believe young ladies of your age rather relish the excitement.'
'She needn't be afraid,' said Reginald; 'I am going to drive.'
'Then we are very likely to find ourselves reposing in a ditch before the day is over,' retorted Bessie. 'I hope you—or the pony—will choose a dry one.'
'I'll risk it, ditches and all,' said Ida, good-naturedly. 'I am longing to see the Abbey.'
'The rich Brian's Abbey,' said Bessie, laughing. 'What a pity he is not at home for you to see him too! Do you think Brian will be back before Ida's holidays are over, father?'
'I never know what that young man is going to do,' answered the Colonel. 'When last I heard from him he was fishing in Norway. He doesn't care much about the sport, he tells me; indeed, he was never a very enthusiastic angler; but he likes the country and the people. He ought to stay at home, and stand for the county at the next election. A young man in his position has no business to be idle.'
'Is he clever?' asked Ida.
'Too clever for my money,' answered the Colonel. 'He has too much book-learning, and too little knowledge of men and things. What is the good of a man being a fine Greek scholar if he knows nothing about the land he owns, or the cattle that graze upon it, and has not enough tact to make himself popular in his own neighbourhood? Brian is a man who would starve if his bread depended on his own exertions.'
'He's a jolly kind of cousin for a fellow to have,' suggested Horry, looking up from his eggs and bacon. 'He lets us do what we like at the Abbey. By the way, Blanche, have you packed the picnic basket?'
'What have you put in?'
'That's my secret,' answered Blanche. 'Do you think I am going to tell you what you are to have for lunch? That would spoil all the fun.'
'Blanche isn't half a bad caterer,' said Reg. 'I place myself in her hands unreservedly; I will only venture to hint that I hope she hasn't forgotten the chutnee, Tirhoot, and plenty of it. What's the good of having a father who was shoulder to shoulder with Gough in the Punjab, if we are to run short of Indian condiments?'
At nine o'clock the young people were all ready to start. The jaunting-car held five, including the driver; Bessie and her friend were to occupy one side, Eva, the round child who loved pigs, was to have a seat, and a place was to be kept for Miss Rylance, who was to be invited to join the exploration party, much to the disgust of the Winchester lads, who denounced her as a stuck-up minx, and distinguished her with various other epithets of an abusive character selected from a vocabulary known only to Wyckhamists. Blanche and Horatio and a smaller boy, called Ernest, who was dressed like a gillie, and had all the wildness of a young Highlander, were to walk, with the occasional charity of a lift.
The jaunting-car was drawn by a large white pony, fat and pampered, overfed with dainties from the children's tables, and petted and played with until he had become almost human in his intelligence, and a match for his youthful masters in cunning and mischief. This impish animal had been christened Robin Goodfellow, a name that was shortened for convenience to Robin. Robin's eagerness to depart was now made known to the family by an incessant rattling of his bit.
Reginald took the reins, and got into his seat with the quiet grandeur of a celebrity in the four-in-hand club. Ida and Bessie were handed to their places by Horatio, the chubby Eva scrambled into her seat, with a liberal display of Oxford blue stocking, under the shortest of striped petticoats; and off they drove to the cottage, Dr. Rylance's miniature dwelling, where the plate-glass windows were shining in the morning sun, and the colours of the flower-beds were almost too bright to be looked at.