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 moiré 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 moiré, 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 moiré.
‘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.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:47