The old hackneyed round of daily life at Mauleverer Manor seemed just a little worse to Ida Palliser after that happy break of six weeks’ pure and perfect enjoyment. Miss Pew was no less exacting than of old. Miss Pillby, for whose orphaned and friendless existence there had been no such thing as a holiday, and who had spent the vacation at Mauleverer diligently employed in mending the house-linen, resented Ida’s visit to The Knoll as if it were a personal injury, and vented her envy in sneers and innuendoes of the coarsest character.
‘If I were to spoon upon one of the rich pupils, I dare say I could get invited out for the holidays,’ she said, apropos to nothing particular; ‘but I am thankful to say I am above such meanness.’
‘I never laid myself under an obligation I didn’t feel myself able to return,’ said Miss Motley, the English governess, who had spent her holidays amidst the rank and fashion of Margate. ‘When I go to the sea-side with my sister and her family, I pay my own expenses, and I feel I’ve a right to be made comfortable.’
Miss Pillby, who had flattered and toadied every well-to-do pupil, and laboured desperately to wind herself into the affections of Bessie Wendover, that warm-hearted young person seeming particularly accessible to flattery, felt herself absolutely injured by the kindness that had been lavished upon Ida. She drank in with greedy ears Miss Palliser’s description of The Knoll and its occupants — the picnics, carpet-dances, afternoon teas; and the thought that all these enjoyments and festivities, the good things to eat and drink, the pleasant society, ought to have been hers instead of Ida’s, was wormwood.
‘When I think of my kindness to Bessie Wendover,’ she said to Miss Motley, in the confidence of that one quiet hour which belonged to the mistresses after the pupils’ curfew-bell had rung youth and hope and gaiety into retirement, ‘when I think of the mustard poultices I have put upon her chest, and the bronchial troches I have given her when she had the slightest touch of cold or cough, I am positively appalled at the ingratitude of the human race.’
‘I don’t think she likes bronchial troches,’ said Miss Motley, a very matter-of-fact young person who saved money, wore thick boots, and was never unprovided with an umbrella: ‘I have seen her throw them away directly after you gave them to her.’
‘She ought to have liked them,’ exclaimed Miss Pillby, sternly. ‘They are very expensive.’
‘No doubt she appreciated your kindness,’ said Miss Motley, absently, being just then absorbed in an abstruse calculation as to how many yards of merino would be required for her winter gown.
‘No, she did not,’ said Miss Pillby. ‘If she had been grateful she would have invited me to her home. I should not have gone, but the act would have given me a higher idea of her character.’
‘Well, she is gone, and we needn’t trouble ourselves any more about her,’ retorted Miss Motley, who hated to be plagued about abstract questions, being a young woman of an essentially concrete nature, born to consume and digest three meals a day, and having no views that go beyond that function.
Miss Pillby sighed at finding herself in communion with so coarse a nature.
‘I don’t easily get over a blow of that sort,’ she said; ‘I am too tender-hearted.’
‘So you are,’ acquiesced Miss Motley. ‘It doesn’t pay in a big boarding-school, however it may answer in private families.’
Ida, having lost her chief friend and companion, Bessie Wendover, found life at Mauleverer Manor passing lonely. She even missed the excitement of her little skirmishes, her passages-at-arms, with Urania Rylance, in which she had generally got the best of the argument. There had been life and emotion in these touch-and-go speeches, covert sneers, quick retorts, innuendoes met and flung back in the very face of the sneerer. Now there was nothing but dull, dead monotony. Many of the old pupils had departed, and many new pupils had come, daughters of well-to-do parents, prosperous, well-dressed, talking largely of the gaieties enjoyed by their elder sisters, of the wonderful things done by their brothers at Oxford or Cambridge, and of the grand things which were to happen two or three year hence, when they themselves should be ‘out.’ Ida took no interest in their prattle. It was so apt to sting her with the reminder of her own poverty, the life of drudgery and dependence that was to be her portion till the end of her days. She did not, in the Mauleverer phraseology, ‘take to’ the new girls. She left them to be courted by Miss Pillby, and petted by Miss Dulcibella. She felt as lonely as one who has outlived her generation.
Happily the younger girls in the class which she taught were fond of her, and when she wanted company she let these juveniles cluster round her in her garden rambles; but in a general way she preferred loneliness, and to work at the cracked old piano in the room where she slept. Beethoven and Chopin, Mozart and Mendelssohn were companions of whom she never grew weary.
So the slow days wore on till nearly the end of the month, and on one cool, misty, afternoon, when the river flowed sluggishly under a dull grey sky she walked alone along that allotted extent of the river-side path which the mistresses and pupil-teachers were allowed to promenade without surveillance. This river walk skirted a meadow which was in Miss Pew’s occupation, and ranked as a part of the Mauleverer grounds, although it was divided by the high road from the garden proper.
A green paling, and a little green gate, always padlocked, secured this meadow from intrusion on the road-side, but it was open to the river. To be entrusted with the key of this pastoral retreat was a privilege only accorded to governesses and pupil-teachers.
It was supposed by Miss Pew that no young person in her employment would be capable of walking quite alone, where it was within the range of possibility that her solitude might be intruded upon by an unknown member of the opposite sex. She trusted, as she said afterwards, in the refined feeling of any person brought into association with her, and, until rudely awakened by facts, she never would have stooped from the lofty pinnacle of her own purity to suspect the evil consequences which arose from the liberty too generously accorded to her dependents.
Ida detested Miss Pillby and despised Miss Motley; and the greatest relief she knew to the dismal monotony of her days was a lonely walk by the river, with a shabby Wordsworth or a battered little volume of Shelley’s minor poems for her companions. She possessed so few books that it was only natural for her to read those she had until love ripened with familiarity.
On this autumnal afternoon she walked with slow steps, while the river went murmuring by, and now and then a boat drifted lazily down the stream. The boating season was over for the most part — the season of picnics and beanfeasts, and Cockney holiday-making, and noisy revelry, smart young women, young men in white flannels, with bare arms and sunburnt noses. It was the dull blank time when everybody who could afford to wander far from this suburban paradise, was away upon his and her travels. Only parsons, doctors, schoolmistresses, and poverty stayed at home. Yet now and then a youth in boating costume glided by, his shoulders bending slowly to the lazy dip of his oars, his keel now and then making a rushing sound among long trailing weeds.
Such a youth presently came creeping along the bank, almost at Ida’s feet, but passed her unseen. Her heavy lids were drooping, her eyes intent upon the familiar page. The young man looked up at her with keen gray eyes, recognised her, and pushed his boat in among the rushes by the bank, moored it to a pollard willow, and with light footstep leaped on shore.
He landed a few yards in the rear of Ida’s slowly moving figure, followed softly, came close behind her, and read aloud across her shoulder:
‘There was a Power in this sweet place, An Eve in this garden; a ruling grace Which to the flowers, did they waken or dream, Was as God is to the starry scheme.’
Ida looked round, first indignant, then laughing.
‘How you startled me!’ she exclaimed; ‘I thought you were some horrid, impertinent stranger; and yet the voice had a familiar sound. How are they all at The Knoll? It is nearly a fortnight since Bessie wrote to me. If she only knew how I hunger for her letters.’
‘Very sweet of you,’ answered Mr. Wendover, holding the girl’s hand with a lingering pressure, releasing it reluctantly when her rising colour told him it would be insolent to keep it longer.
How those large dark eyes beamed with pleasure at seeing him! Was it for his own sake, or for love of her friends at Kingthorpe? The smile was perhaps too frank to be flattering.
‘Very sweet of you to care so much for Bessie’s girlish epistles,’ he said lazily; ‘they are full of affection, but the style of composition always recalls our dear Mrs. Nickleby. “Aunt Betsy was asking after you the other day: and that reminds me that the last litter of black Hampshires was sixteen — the largest number father ever remembers having. The vicar and his wife are coming to dinner on Tuesday, and do tell me if this new picture that everybody is talking about is really better than the Derby Day,” and that sort of thing. Not a very consecutive style, don’t you know.’
‘Every word is interesting to me,’ said Ida, with a look that told him she was not one of those young ladies who enjoy a little good-natured ridicule of their nearest and dearest. ‘Is it long since you left Kingthorpe?’
‘Not four-and-twenty hours. I promised Bessie that my very first occupation on coming to London should be to make my way down here to see you, in order that I may tell her faithfully and truly whether you are well and happy. She has a lurking conviction that you are unable to live without her, that you will incontinently go into a galloping consumption, and keep the fact concealed from all your friends until they receive a telegram summoning them to your death-bed. I know that is the picture Bessie’s sentimental fancies have depicted.’
‘I did not think Bessie was so morbid,’ said Ida, laughing. ‘No, I am not one of those whom the gods love. I am made of very tough material, or I should hardly have lived till now. I see before me a perspective of lonely, loveless old age — finishing in a governess’ almshouse. I hope there are almshouses for governesses.
‘Nobody will pity your loneliness or lovelessness,’ retorted Brian,’ for they will both be your own fault.’
She blushed, looking dreamily across the dark-gray river to the level shores beyond — the low meadows — gentle hills in the back-ground — the wooded slopes of Weybridge and Chertsey. If this speaker, whose voice dropped to so tender a tone, had been like the Brian of her imaginings — if he had looked at her with the dark eyes of Sir Tristram’s picture, how differently his speech would have affected her! As it was, she listened with airy indifference, only blushing girlishly at his compliment, and wondering a little if he really admired her — he the owner of that glorious old Abbey — the wealthy head of the house of Wendover — the golden fish for whom so many pretty fishers must have angled in days gone by.
‘Did you stay at The Knoll all the time,’ she inquired, her thoughts having flown back to Kingthorpe; ‘or at the Abbey?’
‘At The Knoll. It is ever so much livelier, and my cousins like to have me with them.’
‘Naturally. But I wonder you did not prefer living in that lovely old house of yours. To occupy it must seem like living in the Middle Ages.’
‘Uncommonly. One is twelve miles from a station, and four from post-office, butcher, and baker. Very like the Middle Ages. There is no gas even in the offices, and there are as many rats behind the wainscot as there were Israelites in Egypt. All the rooms are draughty and some are damp. No servant who has not been born and bred on the estate will stay more than six months. There is a deficient water supply in dry summers, and there are three distinct ghosts all the year round. Extremely like the Middle Ages.’
‘I would not mind ghosts, rats, anything, if it were my house’ exclaimed Ida, enthusiastically. ‘The house is a poem.’
‘Perhaps; but it is not a house; in the modern sense of the word, that is to say, which implies comfort and convenience.’
Ida sighed, deeply disgusted at this want of appreciation of the romantic spot where she had dreamed away more than one happy summer noontide, while the Wendover children played hide-and-seek in the overgrown old shrubberies.
No doubt life was always thus. The people to whom blind fortune gave such blessings were unable to appreciate them, and only the hungry outsiders could imagine the delight of possession.
‘Are you living in London now?’ she asked, as Mr. Wendover lingered at her side, and seemed to expect the conversation to be continued indefinitely.
His boat was safe enough, moving gently up and down among the rushes, with the gentle flow of the tide. Ida looked at it longingly, thinking how sweet it would be to step into it and let it carry her — any whither, so long as it was away from Mauleverer Manor.
‘Yes, I am in London for the present.’
‘But not for long, I suppose.’
‘I hardly know. I have no plans. I won’t say with Romeo that I am fortune’s fool — but I am fortune’s shuttlecock; and I suppose that means pretty much the same.’
‘It was very kind of you to come to see me,’ said Ida.
‘Kind to myself, for in coming I indulged the dearest wish of my soul,’ said the young man, looking at her with eyes whose meaning even her inexperience could not misread.
‘Please don’t pay me compliments,’ she said, hastily, ‘or I shall feel very sorry you came. And now I must hurry back to the house — the tea-bell will ring in a few minutes. Please tell Bessie I am very well, and only longing for one of her dear letters. Good-bye.’
She made him a little curtsey, and would have gone without shaking hands, but he caught her hand and detained her in spite of herself.
‘Don’t be angry,’ he pleaded; ‘don’t look at me with such cold, proud eyes. Is it an offence to admire, to love you too quickly? If it is, I have sinned deeply, and am past hope of pardon. Must one serve an apprenticeship to mere formal acquaintance first, then rise step by step to privileged friendship, before one dares to utter the sweet word love? Remember, at least, that I am your dearest friend’s first cousin, and ought not to appear to you as a stranger.’
‘I can remember nothing when you talk so wildly,’ said Ida, crimson to the roots of her hair. Never before had a young lover talked to her of love. ‘Pray let me go. Miss Pew will be angry if I am not at tea.’
‘To think that such a creature as you should be under the control of any such harpy,’ exclaimed Brian. ‘Well, if I must go, at least tell me I am forgiven, and that I may exist upon the hope of seeing you again. I suppose if I were to come to the hall-door, and send in my card, I should not be allowed to see you?’
‘Certainly not. Not if you were my own cousin instead of Bessie’s. Good-bye.’
‘Then I shall happen to be going by in my boat every afternoon for the next month or so. There is a dear good soul at the lock who lets lodgings. I shall take up my abode there.’
‘Please never land on this pathway again,’ said Ida earnestly ‘Miss Pew would be horribly angry if she heard I had spoken to you. And now I must go.’
She withdrew her hand from his grasp, and ran off across the meadow, light-footed as Atalanta. Her heart was beating wildly, beating furiously, when she flew up to her room to take off her hat and jacket and smooth her disordered hair. Never before had any man, except middle-aged Dr. Rylance, talked to her of love: and that this man of all others, this man, sole master of the old mansion she so intensely admired, her friend’s kinsman, owner of a good old Saxon name; this man, who could lift her in a moment from poverty to wealth, from obscurity to place and station; that this man should look at her with admiring eyes, and breathe impassioned words into her ear, was enough to set her heart beating tumultuously, to bring hot blushes to her cheeks. It was too wild a dream.
True, that for the man himself, considered apart from his belongings, his name and race, she cared not at all. But just now, in this tumult of excited feeling, she was disposed to confuse the man with his surroundings — to think of him, not as that young man with gray eyes and thin lips, who had walked with her at The Knoll, who had stood beside her just now by the river, but as the living embodiment of fortune, pride, delight.
Perhaps the vision really dominant in her mind was the thought of Herself as mistress of the Abbey, herself as living for ever among the people she loved, amidst those breezy Hampshire hills, in the odour of pine-woods — rich, important, honoured, and beloved, doing good to all who came within the limit of her life. Yes, that was a glorious vision, and its reflected light shone upon Brian Wendover, and in somewise glorified him.
She went down to tea with such a triumphant light in her eyes that the smaller pupils who sat at her end of the table, so as to be under her surveillance during the meal, exclaimed at her beauty.
‘What a colour you’ve got, Miss Palliser!’ said Lucy Dobbs, ‘and how your eyes sparkle! You look as if you’d just had a hamper.’
‘I’m not quite so greedy as you, Lucy,’ retorted Ida; ‘I don’t think a hamper would make my eyes sparkle, even if there were anybody to send me one.’
‘But there is somebody to send you one,’ argued Lucy, with her mouth full of bread and butter; ‘your father isn’t dead?’
‘Then he might send you a hamper.’
‘He might, if he lived within easy reach of Mauleverer Manor,’ replied Ida; ‘but as he lives in France —’
‘He could send a post-office order to a confectioner in London, and the confectioner would send you a big box of cakes, and marmalade, and jam, and mixed biscuits, and preserved ginger,’ said Lucy, her cheeks glowing with the rapture of her theme. ‘That is what my mamma and papa did, when they were in Switzerland, on my birthday. I never had such a hamper as that one. I was ill for a week afterwards.’
‘And I suppose you were very glad your mother and father were away,’ said Ida, while the other children laughed in chorus.
‘It was a splendid hamper,’ said Lucy, stolidly. ‘I shall never forget it. So you see your father might send you a hamper,’ she went on, for the sake of argument, ‘though he is in France.’
‘Certainly,’ said Ida, ‘if I were not too old to care about cakes and jam.’
‘We are not too old,’ persisted Lucy; ‘you might share them among us.’
Ida’s heart had not stilled its stormy vehemence yet. She talked likely to her young companions, and tried to eat a little bread and butter, but that insipid fare almost choked her. Her mind was overcharged with thought and wonder.
Could he have meant all or half he said just now? — this young man with the delicate features, pale complexion, and thin lips. He had seemed intensely earnest. Those gray eyes of his, somewhat too pale of hue for absolutely beauty, had glowed with a fire which even Ida’s inexperience recognised as something above and beyond common feeling. His hand had trembled as it clasped hers. Could there be such a thing as love at first sight? and was she destined to be the object of that romantic passion? She had read of the triumphs of beauty, and she knew that she was handsome. She had been told the fact in too many ways — by praise sometimes, but much more often by envy — to remain unconscious of her charms. She was scornful of her beauty, inclined to undervalue the gift as compared with the blessings of other girls — a prosperous home, the world’s respect, the means to gratify the natural yearnings of youth — but she knew that she was beautiful. And now it seemed to her all at once that beauty was a much more valuable gift than she had supposed hitherto — indeed, a kind of talisman or Aladdin’s lamp, which could win for her all she wanted in this world — Wendover Abbey and the position of a country squire’s wife. It was not a dazzling or giddy height to which to aspire; but to Ida just now it seemed the topmost pinnacle of social success.
‘Oh, what a wretch I am!’ she said to herself presently; ‘what a despicable, mercenary creature! I don’t care a straw for this man; and yet I am already thinking of myself as his wife.’
And then, remembering how she had once openly declared her intention of marrying for money, she shrugged her shoulders disdainfully.
‘Ought I to hesitate when the chance comes to me?’ she thought. ‘I always meant to marry for money, if ever such wonderful fortune as a rich husband fell in my way.’
And yet she had refused Dr. Rylance’s offer, without a moment’s hesitation. Was it really as he had said, in the bitterness of his wrath, because the offer was not good enough, the temptation not large enough? No, she told herself, she had rejected the smug physician, with his West End mansion and dainty Hampshire villa, his courtly manners, his perfect dress, because the man himself was obnoxious to her. Now, she did not dislike Brian Wendover — indeed, she was rather inclined to like him. She was only just a little disappointed that he was not the ideal Brian of her dreams. The dark-browed cavalier, with grave forehead and eagle eyes. She had a vague recollection of having once heard Blanche say that her cousin Brian of the Abbey was like Sir Tristram’s portrait; but this must have been a misapprehension upon her part, since no two faces could have differed more than the pale delicate-featured countenance of the living man and the dark rugged face in the picture.
She quieted the trouble of her thoughts as well as she could before tea was over and the evening task of preparation — the gulfs and straits, the predicates and noun sentences, rule of three, common denominators, and all the dry-as-dust machinery was set in motion again.
Helping her pupils through their difficulties, battling with their stupidities, employed her too closely for any day-dreams of her own. But when prayers had been read, and the school had dispersed, and the butterfly-room was hushed into the silence of midnight, Ida Palliser lay broad awake, wondering at what Fate was doing for her.
‘To think that perhaps I am going to be rich after all — honoured, looked up to, able to help those I love,’ she thought, thrilling at the splendour of her visions.
Ah! if this thing were verily to come to pass, how kind, how good she would be to others! She would have them all at the Abbey — the shabby old half-pay father, shabby no longer in those glorious days; the vulgar little stepmother, improved into elegance; the five-year old brother, that loveliest and dearest of created beings. How lovely to see him rioting in the luxuriance of those dear old gardens, rolling on that velvet sward, racing his favourite dogs round and round the grand old cedars! What a pony he should ride! His daily raiment should be Genoa velvet and old point lace. He should be the admiration and delight of half the county. And Bessie — how kind she could be to Bessie, repaying in some small measure that which never could be fully repaid — the kindness shown by the prosperous girl to the poor dependent. And above all — vision sweeter even than the thought of doing good — how she would trample on Urania Rylance — how the serpentine coils of that damsel’s malice and pride could be trodden under foot! Not a ball, not a dinner, not a garden-party given at the Abbey that would not be a thorn in Urania’s side, a nail in Urania’s coffin.
So ran her fancies — in a very fever — all through the troubled night; but when the first streak of the autumn dawn glimmered coldly in the east, dismal presage of the discordant dressing-bell, then she turned upon her pillow with a weary sigh, and muttered to herself:—
‘After all I daresay Mr. Wendover is only fooling me. Perhaps it is his habit to make love to every decent-looking girl he meets.’
The next day Ida walked on the same riverside path, but this time not alone. Her natural modesty shrank from the possibility of a second tête-à-tête with her admirer, and she stooped from her solitary state to ask Fräulein Wolf to accompany her in her afternoon walk.
Fräulein was delighted, honoured even, by the request. She was a wishy-washy person, sentimental, vapourish, altogether feeble, and she intensely admired Ida Palliser’s vigorous young beauty.
The day was bright and sunny, the air deliciously mild, the river simply divine. The two young women paced the path slowly, talking of German poetry. The Fräulein knew her Schiller by heart, having expounded him daily for the last four years, and she fondly believed that after Shakespeare Schiller was the greatest poet who had ever trodden this globe.
‘And if God had spared him for twenty more years, who knows if he would not have been greater than Shakespeare? inquired the Fräulein, blandly.
She talked of Schiller’s idea of friendship, as represented by the Marquis of Posa.
‘Ah,’ sighed Ida, ‘I doubt if there is any such friendship as that out of a book.’
‘I could be like the marquis,’ said the Fräulein, smiling tenderly.’ Oh, Ida, you don’t know what I would do for anyone I loved — for a dear and valued friend, like you for instance, if you would only let me love you; but you have always held me at arm’s length.’
‘I did not mean to do so,’ answered Ida, frankly; ‘but perhaps I am not particularly warm-hearted. It is not in my nature to have many friends. I was very fond of Bessie Wendover, but then she is such a dear clinging thing, like a chubby child that puts its fat arms round your neck — an irresistible creature. She made me love her in spite of myself.’
‘Why cannot I make you love me?’ asked the fair Gertrude, with a languishing look.
Ida could have alleged several reasons, but they would have been unflattering, so she only said feebly —
‘Oh, I really like you very much, and I enjoy talking about German literature with you. Tell me more about Schiller — you know his poetry so well — and Jean Paul. I never can quite understand the German idolatry of him. He is too much in the clouds for me.’
‘Too philosophic, you mean,’ said Fräulein. ‘I love philosophy.’
‘“Unless philosophy can make a Juliet, it helps not, it avails not,”’ said a manly voice from the river close by, and Brian Wendover shot his boat in against the bank and leapt up from among the rushes like a river-god.
Miss Palliser blushed crimson, but it hardly needed her blushes to convince Fräulein Wolf that this young stranger was a lover. Her sentimental soul thrilled at the idea of having plunged into the very midst of an intrigue.
Ida’s heart throbbed heavily, not so much with emotion at beholding her admirer as at the recollection of her visions last night. She tried to look calm and indifferent.
‘How do you do?’ she said, shaking hands with him. ‘Mr. Wendover — Miss Wolf, our German mistress.’
The Fräulein blushed, sniggered, and curtseyed.
‘This gentleman is Bessie Wendover’s first cousin, Fräulein,’ said Ida, with an explanatory air. ‘He was staying at The Knoll during the last part of my visit.’
‘Yes, and you saw much of each other, and you became heart-friends,’ gushed Miss Wolf, beaming benevolently at Brian with her pale green orbs.
Brian answered in very fair German, sinking his voice a little so as only to be heard by the Fräulein, who was in raptures with this young stranger. So good-looking, so elegant, and speaking Hanoverian German. He told her that he had seen only too little of Ida at The Knoll, but enough to know that she was his ‘Schicksal’; and then he took the Fräulein’s hand and pressed it gently.
‘I know you are our friend,’ he said.
‘Bis den Tod,’ gasped Gertrude.
After this no one felt any more restraint. The Fräulein dropped into her place of confidante as easily as possible.
‘What brings you here again this afternoon, Mr. Wendover?’ asked Ida, trying to sustain the idea of being unconcerned in the matter.
‘My load-star; the same that drew me here yesterday, and will draw me here to-morrow.’
‘You had better not come here any more; you have no idea what a terrible person Miss Pew is. These river-side fields are her own particular property. Didn’t you see the board, “Trespassers will be prosecuted”?’
‘Let her prosecute. If her wrath were deadly, I would risk it You know what Borneo says —
“Wert thou as far As that vast shore washed with the farthest sea, I would adventure for such merchandize”
And shall I be afraid of Miss Pew, when the path to my paradise lies so near?’
‘Please don’t talk such nonsense,’ pleaded Ida; ‘Fräulein will think you a very absurd person.’
But Miss Wolf protested that she would think nothing of the sort. Sentiment of that kind was her idea of common sense.
‘I am established at Penton Hook,’ said Brian. ‘I live on the water, and my only thought in life is to be near you. I shall know every stump of willow — every bulrush before I am a month older.’
‘But surely you are not going to stay at Penton Hook for a month!’ exclaimed Ida, ‘buried alive in that little lock-house?’
‘I shall have my daily resurrection when I see you.’
‘But you cannot imagine that I shall walk upon this path every afternoon, in order that you may land and talk nonsense?’ protested Ida.
‘I only imagine that this path is your daily walk, and that you would not be so heartless as to change your habits in order to deprive me of the sunshine of your presence,’ replied Brian, gazing at her tenderly, as if Miss Wolf counted for nothing, and they two were standing alone among the reeds and willows.
‘You will simply make this walk impossible for me. It is quite out of the question that I should come here again so long as you are likely to be lying in wait for me. Is it not so, Fräulein? You know Miss Pew’s way of thinking, and how she would regard such conduct.’
Fräulein shook her head dolefully, and admitted that in Miss Pew’s social code such a derogation from maiden dignity would be, in a manner, death — an offence beyond all hope of pardon.
‘Hang Miss Pew!’ exclaimed Brian. ‘If Miss Pew were Minerva, with all the weight and influence of her father, the Thunderer, to back her up, I would defy her. Confess now, dear Fräulein — liebste Fräulein’— how tender his accents sounded in German! —‘you do not think it wrong for me to see the lady of my love for a few all-too-happy moments once a day?’
The Fräulein declared that it was the most natural thing in the world for them thus to meet, and that she for her part would be enchanted to play propriety, and to be her dearest Ida’s companion on all such occasions, nor would thumbscrew or rack extort from her the secret of their loves.
‘Nonsense!’ exclaimed Ida, ‘in future I shall always walk in the kitchen garden; the walls are ten feet high, and unless you had a horse that could fly, like Perseus, you would never be able to get at me.’
‘I will get a flying horse,’ answered Brian. ‘Don’t defy me. Remember there are things that have been heard of before now in love-stories, called ladders.’
After this their conversation became as light and airy as that dandelion seed which every breath of summer blows across the land. They were all three young, happy in health and hope despite of fortune. Ida began to think that Brian Wendover, if in nowise resembling her ideal, was a very agreeable young man. He was full of life and spirits; he spoke German admirably. He had the Fräulein’s idolized Schiller on the tip of his tongue. He quoted Heine’s tenderest love songs. Altogether his society was much more intellectual and more agreeable than any to be had at Mauleverer Manor. Miss Wolf parted from him reluctantly, and thought that Ida was unreasonably urgent when she insisted on leaving him at the end of half an hour’s dawdling walk up and down the river path.
‘Ach, how he is handsome! how he is clever! What for a man!’ exclaimed Miss Wolf, as they went back to the Manor grounds, across the dusty high-road, the mere passage over which had a faint flavour of excitement, as a momentary escape into the outside world. ‘How proud you must be of his devotion to you!’
‘Indeed I am not,’ answered Ida, frankly. ‘I only wonder at it. We have seen so little of each other; we have known each other so short a time.’
‘I don’t think time counts for lovers,’ argued the romantic Gertrude. ‘One sees a face which is one’s fate, and only wonders how one can have lived until that moment, since life must have been so empty without him.’
‘Have you done that sort of thing often?’ asked Ida, with rather a cynical air. ‘You talk as if it were a common experience of yours.’
Fräulein Wolf blushed and simpered.
‘There was one,’ she murmured, ‘when I was very young. He was to me as a bright particular star. His father kept a shop, but, oh, his soul would have harmonized with the loftiest rank in the land. He was in the Landwehr. If you had seen him in his uniform — ach, Himmel! He went away to the Franco–Prussian war. I wept for him; I thought of him as Leonora of her Wilhelm. He came back. Ach!’
‘Was he a ghost? Did he carry you off to the churchyard?’
‘Neither to churchyard nor church,’ sighed Gertrude. ‘He was false! He married his father’s cook — a fat, rosy-cheeked Swabian. All that was delicate and refined in his nature, every poetical yearning of his soul, had been trampled out of him in that hellish war!’
‘I dare say he was hungry after a prolonged existence upon wurst,’ said Ida, ‘and that instinct drew him to the cook-maid.’
After this there came many afternoons on which the Fräulein and Ida walked in the meadow path by the river, and walk there when they would, the light wherry always came glancing along the tide, and shot in among the reeds, and Miss Palliser’s faithful swain was in attendance upon her. On doubtful afternoons, when Ida was inclined to stay indoors, the sentimental Fräulein was always at her side to urge her to take the accustomed walk. Not only was Mr. Wendover’s society agreeable to her poetic soul, but he occasionally brought some tender offering in the shape of hothouse grapes or Jersey pears, which were still more welcome to the fair German.
The governesses, Miss Motley, Miss Pillby, and Mademoiselle were always on duty on fine afternoons, in attendance upon the pupils’ regulation walks — long dusty perambulations of dull high roads; and thus it happened that Ida and the Fräulein had the meadow path to themselves.
Nothing occurred during the space of a fortnight to disturb their sense of security. The river-side seemed a kind of Paradise, without the possibility of a serpent. Ida’s lover had not yet made her any categorical and formal offer of marriage. Indeed, he had never been one minute alone with her since their first meeting; but he talked as if it was a settled thing that they two were to be man and wife in the days to come. He did not speak as if their marriage were an event in the near future; and at this Ida wondered a little, seeing that the owner of Wendover Abbey could have no need to wait for a wife — to consider ways and means — and to be prudently patient, as struggling professional youth must be. This was curious; for that he loved her passionately there could be little doubt. Every look, every tone told her as much a hundred times in an hour. Nor did she make any protest when he spoke of her as one pledged to him, though no formal covenant had been entered upon. She allowed him to talk as he pleased about their future; and her only wonder was, that in all his conversation he spoke so little of the house in which he was born, and indeed of his belongings generally.
Once she expatiated to Fräulein Wolf in Brian’s presence upon the picturesque beauties of the Abbey.
‘It is the dearest, noblest old house you can conceive,’ she said; ‘and the old, old gardens and park are something too lovely: but I believe Mr. Wendover does not care a straw about the place.’
‘You know what comes of familiarity,’ answered Brian, carelessly. ‘I have seen too much of the Abbey to be moved to rapture by its Gothic charms every time I see it after the agony of separation.’
‘But you would like to live there?’
‘I would infinitely prefer living anywhere else. The place is too remote from civilization. A spot one might enjoy, perhaps, on the downhill side of sixty; but in youth or active middle age every sensible man should shun seclusion. A man has to fight against an inherent tendency to lapse into a vegetable.’
‘Fox did not become a vegetable,’ said Ida; ‘yet how he adored St. Ann’s Hill!’
‘Fox was a hard drinker and a fast liver,’ answered Brian.
‘If he had not let the clock run down now and then, the works would have worn out sooner than they did.’
‘But do you never feel the need of rest?’ asked Ida.
Brian stifled a yawn.
‘No; I’m afraid I have never worked hard enough for that. The need will come, perhaps, later — when the work comes.’
On more than one occasion when Ida talked of the Abbey, Mr. Wendover replied in the same tone. It was evident that he was indifferent to the family seat, or that he even disliked it. He had no pride in surroundings which might have inspired another man.
‘One would think you had been frightened by the family ghost,’ Ida said laughingly, ‘you so studiously avoid talking about the Abbey.’
‘I have not been frightened by the ghost — I am too modern to believe in ghosts.’
‘Oh, but it is modern to believe in everything impossible — spirit-rapping, thought-reading.’
‘Perhaps; but I am not of that temper.’ And then, with a graver look than Ida had ever seen in his face, he said, ‘You are full of enthusiasm about that old place among the hills, Ida. I hope you do not care more for the Abbey than for me.’
She crimsoned and looked down. The question touched her weakness too nearly.
‘Oh, no,’ she faltered; ‘what are cedars and limestone as compared with humanity?’
‘And if I were without the Abbey — if the Abbey and I were nothing to each other — should I be nobody in your sight?’
‘It is difficult to dissociate a man from his surroundings,’ she answered; ‘but I suppose you would be just the same person?’
‘I hope so,’ said Brian. ‘“The rank is but the guinea stamp, the man’s a man for a’ that.” But the guinea stamp is an uncommonly good thing in its way, I admit.’
These afternoon promenades between four and five o’clock, while the rest of the school was out walking, had been going on for a fortnight, and no harm to Ida had come of her indiscretion. Perhaps she hardly considered how wrong a thing she was doing in violating Miss Pew’s confidence by conduct so entirely averse from Miss Pew’s ideas of good behaviour. The confidence had been so grudgingly given, Miss Pew had been so systematically unkind, that the girl may be forgiven for detesting her, nay, even for glorying in the notion of acting in a manner which would shock all Miss Pew’s dearest prejudices. Her meeting with her lover could scarcely be called clandestine, for she took very little pains to conceal the fact. If the affair had gone on secretly for so long, it was because of no artifice on her part.
But that any act of any member of the Mauleverer household could remain long unknown was almost an impossibility. If there had been but one pair of eyes in the establishment, and those the eyes of Miss Pillby, the thing would have been discovered; for those pale unlovely orbs were as the eyes of Argus himself in their manifold power to spy out the proceedings of other people — more especially of any person whom their owner disliked.
Now Miss Pillby had never loved Ida Palliser, objecting to her on broad grounds as a person whose beauty and talents were an indirect injury to mediocre people. Since Ida’s visit to The Knoll her angry feeling had intensified with every mention of the pleasures and comforts of that abode. Miss Pillby, who never opened a book for her own pleasure, who cared nothing for music, and whose highest notion of art was all blacklead pencil and bread-crumbs, had plenty of vacant space in her mind for other people’s business. She was a sharp observer of the fiddle-faddle of daily life; she had a keen scent for evil motives underlying simple actions. Thus when she perceived the intimacy which had newly arisen between the Fräulein and Miss Palliser, she told herself that there must be some occult reason for the fact. Why did those two always walk together? What hidden charm had they discovered in the river-meadow?
For this question, looked at from Miss Pillby’s point of view, there could be only one answer. The attraction was masculine. One or other of the damsels must have an admirer whom she contrived to see somehow, or to correspond with somehow, during her meadow walk. That the thing had gone so far as it really had gone, that any young lady at Mauleverer could dare to walk and talk with an unlicensed man in the broad light of day, was more than Miss Pillby’s imagination could conceive. But she speculated upon some transient glimpse of a man on the opposite bank, or in the middle distance of the river — a handkerchief waved, a signal given, perhaps a love-letter hidden in a hollow bree. This was about the culminating point to which any intrigue at Mauleverer had ever reached hitherto. Beyond this Miss Pillby’s fancy ventured not.
It was on the second Sunday in October, when the Mauleverer pupils were beginning to look forward, almost hopefully, to the Christmas vacation, that a flood of light streamed suddenly upon Miss Pillby’s troubled mind. The revelation happened in this wise. Evening service at a smart little newly-built church, where the function was Anglican to the verge of Ritualism, was a privilege reserved for the elder and more favoured of the Mauleverer flock. All the girls liked this evening service at St. Dunstan’s. It had a flavour of dissipation. The lamps, the music, the gaily decorated altar, the Saint’s-day banners and processional hymn, were faintly suggestive of the opera. The change from the darkness of the country road to the glow and glitter of the tabernacle was thrilling. Evening service at St. Dunstan’s was the most exciting event of the week. There was a curate who intoned exquisitely, with that melodious snuffle so dear to modern congregations, and whose voice had a dying fall when he gave out a hymn which almost moved girl-worshippers to tears. He was thought to be in a consumption — had a little dry hacking cough, actually caused by relaxed tonsils, but painfully recalling her of the camelias. The Mauleverer girls called him interesting, and hoped that he would never marry, but live and die like St. Francis de Sales. On this particular Sunday, Miss Pew — vulgarly Old Pew — happened to be unusually amiable. That morning’s post had brought her the promise of three new pupils, daughters of a mighty sheep farmer lately returned from Australia, and supposed to be a millionaire. He was a widower, and wanted motherly care for his orphans. They were to be clothed as well as fed at Mauleverer; they were to have all those tender cares and indulgences which a loving mother could give them. This kind of transaction was eminently profitable to the Miss Pews. Maternal care meant a tremendous list of extra charges — treats, medical attendance, little comforts of all kinds, from old port to lamb’s-wool sleeping-socks. Orphans of this kind were the pigeons whose tender breasts furnished the down with which that experienced crow, Miss Pew, feathered her nest. She had read the Australian’s letter over three times before evening service, and she was inclined to think kindly of the human race; so when Miss Palliser asked if she too — she, the Pariah, might go to St. Dunstan’s — she, whose general duty of a Sunday evening was to hear the little ones their catechism, or keep them quiet by reading aloud to them ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ or ‘Agathos,’ perhaps — Miss Pew said, loftily, ‘I do not see any objection.’
There was no kindness, no indulgence in her tone, but she said she saw no objection, and Ida flew off to put on her bonnet — that poor little black lace bonnet with yellow rosebuds which had done duty for so many services.
It was a relief to get a way from school, and its dull monotony, even for a couple of hours; and then there was the music. Ida loved music too passionately to be indifferent to the harmony of village voices, carefully trained to sing her favourite hymns to the sound of a small but excellent organ.
The little church was somewhat poorly attended on this fine autumn evening, when the hunter’s moon hung like a big golden shield above the river, glorifying the dipping willows, the narrow eyots, haunts of swan and cygnet, and the distant woodlands of Surrey. It was a night which tempted the free to wander in the cool shadowy river-side paths, rather than to worship in the warm little temple.
The Mauleverer girls made a solid block of humanity on one side of the nave, but on the other side the congregation was scattered thinly in the open oaken seats.
Miss Pillby, perusing those figures within her view, as she stood in the back row of the school seats, perceived a stranger — a stranger of elegant and pleasing appearance, who was evidently casting stolen glances at the lambs of the Mauleverer fold. Nor was Miss Pillby’s keen eye slow to discover for which lamb those ardent looks were intended. The object of the stranger’s admiration was evidently Ida Palliser.
‘I thought as much,’ mused Miss Pillby, as she listened, or seemed to listen, to the trials and triumphs of the children of Israel, chanted by fresh young voices with a decidedly rural twang; ‘this explains everything.’
When they left the church, Miss Pillby was perfectly aware of the stranger following the Mauleverer flock, evidently in the hope of getting speech with Miss Palliser. He hung on the pathway near them, he shot ahead of them, and then turned and strolled slowly back. All in vain. Ida was too closely hemmed in and guarded for him to get speech of her; and the maiden procession passed on without any violation of the proprieties.
‘Did you see that underbred young man following us as we came home?’ asked Miss Pillby, with a disgusted air, as she shared an invigorating repast of bread and butter and toast and water with the pupils who had been to church. ‘Some London shopman, no doubt, by his bad manners.’ She stole a look at Ida, who flushed ever so slightly at hearing Brian Wendover thus maligned.
Fräulein Wolf slept in the room occupied by Miss Pillby and Miss Motley — three narrow iron bedsteads in a particularly inconvenient room, always devoted to governesses, and supposed to be a temple of learning.
While Miss Motley was saying her prayers, Miss Pillby wriggled up to the Fräulein, who was calmly brushing her flaxen tresses, and whispered impetuously, ‘I have seen him! I know all about it!’
‘Ach, Himmel,’ cried the Fräulein. ‘Thou wouldst not betray?’
‘Not for the world.’
‘Is he not handsome, godlike?’ demanded the Fräulein, still in German.
‘Yes, he is very nice-looking. Don’t tell Palliser that I know anything about him. She mightn’t like it.’
The Fräulein shook her head, and put her finger to her lips, just as Miss Motley rose from her knees, remarking that it was impossible for anybody to pray in a proper business-like manner with such whispering and chattering going on.
Next day Miss Pillby contrived to get a walk in the garden before the early dinner. Here among the asparagus beds she had a brief conversation with a small boy employed in the kitchen-garden, a youth whose mother washed for the school, and had frequent encounters with Miss Pillby, that lady having charge of the linen, and being, in the laundress’s eye, a power in the establishment. Miss Pillby had furthermore been what she called ‘kind’ to the laundress’s hope. She had insisted upon his learning his catechism, and attending church twice every Sunday, and she had knitted him a comforter, the material being that harsh and scrubby worsted which makes the word comforter a sound of derision.
Strong in the sense of these favours, Miss Pillby put it upon the boy as a duty which he owed to her and to society to watch Ida Palliser’s proceedings in the river-meadow. She also promised him sixpence if he found out anything bad.
The influence of the Church Catechism, learned by rote, parrot fashion, had not awakened in the laundress’s boy any keen sense of honour. He had a dim feeling that it was a shabby service which he was called upon to perform; but then of course Miss Pillby, who taught the young ladies, and who was no doubt a wise and discreet personage, knew best; and a possible sixpence was a great temptation.
‘Them rushes and weeds down by the bank wants cutting. Gar’ner told me about it last week,’ said the astute youth. ‘I’ll do ’em this very afternoon.’
‘Do, Sam. Be there between four and five. Keep out of sight as much as you can, but be well within hearing. I want you to tell me all that goes on.’
‘And when shall I see you agen, miss?’
‘Let me see. That’s rather difficult. I’m afraid it can’t be managed till to-morrow. You are in the house at six every morning to clean the boots?’
‘Then I’ll come down to the boot-room at half-past six to-morrow morning and hear what you’ve got to tell me.’
‘Lor, miss, it’s such a mucky place — all among the coal-cellars.’
‘I don’t mind,’ said Miss Pillby; which was quite true. There was no amount of muckiness Miss Pillby would not have endured in order to injure a person she disliked.
‘I have never shrunk from my duty, however painful it might be, Sam!’ she said, and left the youth impressed by the idea of her virtues.
In the duskiness of the October dawn Miss Pillby stole stealthily down by back stairs and obscure passages to the boot-room, where she found Sam hard at work with brushes and blacking, by the light of a tallow candle, in an atmosphere flavoured with coals.
‘Well, Sam?’ asked the vestal, eagerly.
‘Well, miss, I seed ’em and I heerd ’em,’ answered the boy; ‘such goin’s on. Orful?’
‘What kind of thing, Sam?’
‘Love-makin,’ miss; keepin’ company. The young ladies hadn’t been there five minutes when a boat dashes up to the bank, and a young gent jumps ashore. My, how he went on! I was down among the rushes, right under his feet, as you may say, most of the time, and I heerd him beautiful. How he did talk; like a poetry book!’
‘Did he kiss her?’
‘Yes, miss, just one as they parted company. She was very stand-offish with him, but he catched hold of her just as she was wishing of him good-bye. He gave her a squeedge like, and took her unawares. It was only one kiss, yer know, miss, but he made it last as long as he could. The foreigner looked the other way.’
‘Shameful creatures, both of them!’ exclaimed Miss Pillby. ‘There’s your sixpence, Sam, and don’t say a word to anybody about what you’ve seen, till I tell you. I may want you to repeat it all to Miss Pew. If I do, I’ll give you another sixpence.’
‘Lawks, miss, that would be cheap at a shilling,’ said the boy. ‘It would freeze my blood to have to stand up to talk before Miss Pew.’
‘Nonsense, Sam, you will be only telling the truth, and there can be nothing to frighten you. However, I dare say she will be satisfied with my statement. She won’t want confirmation from you.’
‘Confirmation from me,’ muttered Sam, as Miss Pillby left his den. ‘No, I should think not. Why, that’s what the bishops do. Fancy old Pew being confirmed too — old Pew in a white frock and a veil. That is a good’un,’ and Sam exploded over his blacking-brush at the preposterous idea.
It was Miss Pew’s habit to take a cup of tea and a square of buttered toast every morning at seven, before she left her pillow; in order to fortify herself for the effort of getting up and dressing, so as to be in her place, at the head of the chief table in the school dining-room, when eight o’clock struck. Had Miss Pew consulted her own inclination she would have reposed until a much later hour; but the maintenance of discipline compelled that she should be the head and front of all virtuous movements at Mauleverer Manor. How could she inveigh with due force against the sin of sloth if she were herself a slug-a-bed? Therefore did Miss Pew vanquish the weakness of the flesh, and rise at a quarter past seven, summer and winter. But this struggle between duty and inclination made the lady’s temper somewhat critical in the morning hours.
Now it was the custom for one of the mistresses to carry Miss Pew’s tea-tray, and to attend at her bedside while she sipped her bohea and munched her toast. It was a delicate attention, a recognition of her dignity, which Miss Pew liked. It was the lever du roi upon a small scale. And this afforded an opportunity for the mistress on duty to inform her principal of any small fact in connection with the school or household which it was well for Miss Pew to know. Not for worlds would Sarah Pew have encouraged a spy, according to her own view of her own character; but she liked people with keen eyes, who could tell her everything that was going on under her roof.
‘Good morning, Pillby,’ said Miss Pew, sitting up against a massive background of pillows, like a female Jove upon a bank of clouds, an awful figure in frilled white raiment, with an eye able to command, but hardly to flatter; ‘what kind of a day in it?’
‘Dull and heavy,’ answered Miss Pillby; ‘I shouldn’t wonder if there was a thunderstorm.’
‘Don’t talk nonsense, child; it’s too late in the year for thunder. We shall have the equinoctial gales soon, I dare say.’
‘No doubt,’ replied Miss Pillby, who had heard about the equinox and its carryings on all her life without having arrived at any clear idea of its nature and properties. ‘We shall have it very equinoctial before the end of the month, I’ve no doubt.’
‘Well, is there anything going on? Any of the girls bilious? One of my black draughts wanted anywhere?’
Miss Pew was not highly intellectual, but she was a great hand at finance, household economies, and domestic medicine. She compounded most of the doses taken at Mauleverer with her own fair hands, and her black draughts were a feature in the school. The pupils never forgot them. However faint became the memory of youthful joys in after years, the flavour of Miss Pew’s jalap and senna was never obliterated.
‘No; there’s nobody ill this morning,’ answered Miss Pillby, with a faint groan.
‘Ah, you may well sigh,’ retorted her principal; ‘the way those girls ate veal and ham yesterday was enough to have turned the school into a hospital — and with raspberry jam tart after, too.’
Veal with ham was the Sunday dinner at Mauleverer, a banquet upon which Miss Pew prided herself, as an instance of luxurious living rarely to be met with in boarding-schools. If the girls were ill after it, that was their look out.
‘There’s something wrong, I can see by your face, said Miss Pew, after she had sipped half her tea and enjoyed the whole of her toast; ‘is it the servants or the pupils?’
Strange to say, Miss Pew did not look grateful to the bearer of evil tidings. This was one of her idiosyncrasies. She insisted upon being kept informed of all that went wrong in her establishment, but she was apt to be out of temper with the informant.
‘Neither,’ answered Miss Pillby, with an awful shake of her sandy locks; ‘I don’t believe there is a servant in this house who would so far forget herself. And as to the pupils —’
‘We know what they are,’ snapped Miss Pew; ‘I never heard of anything bad enough to be beyond their reach. Who is it?’
‘Your clever pupil teacher, Ida Palliser.’
‘Ah,’ grunted Miss Pew, setting down her cup; ‘I can believe anything of her. That girl was born to be troublesome. What has she done now?’
Miss Pillby related the circumstances of Miss Palliser’s crime setting forth her own cleverness in the course of her narrative — how her misgivings had been excited by the unwonted familiarity between Ida and the Fräulein — a young person always open to suspicion as a stranger in the land — how her fears had been confirmed by the conduct of an unknown man in the church; and how, urged by her keen sense of duty, she had employed Mrs. Jones’s boy to watch the delinquents.
‘I’ll make an example of her,’ said Miss Pew, flinging back the bed-clothes with a tragic air as she rose from her couch. ‘That will do, Pillby. I want no further details. I’ll wring the rest out of that bold-faced minx in the face of all the school. You can go.’
And without any word of praise or thanks from her principal, Miss Pillby retired: yet she knew in her heart that for this piece of ill news Miss Pew was not ungrateful.
Never had Sarah Pew looked more awful than she appeared that morning at the breakfast table, clad in sombre robes of olive green merino, and a cap bristling with olive-green berries and brambly twigs — a cap which to the more advanced of the pupils suggested the head-gear of Medusa.
Miss Dulcibella, gentle, limp, sea-greeny, looked at her stronger-minded sister, and was so disturbed by the gloom upon that imperial brow as to be unable to eat her customary rasher. Not a word did Miss Pew speak to sister or mistresses during that brief but awful meal; but when the delft breakfast cups were empty, and the stacks of thick bread and butter had diminished to nothingness, and the girls were about to rise and disperse for their morning studies, Miss Pew’s voice arose suddenly amidst them like the sound of thunder.
‘Keep your seats, if you please, young ladies. I am about to make an example; and I hope what I have to say and do may be for the general good. Miss Palliser, stand up.’
Ida rose in her place, at that end of the table where she was supposed to exercise a corrective influence upon the younger pupils. She stood up where all the rest were seated, a tall and perfect figure, a beautiful statuesque head, supported by a neck like a marble column. She stood up among all those other girls the handsomest of them all, pale, with flashing eyes, feeling very sure that she was going to be ill-treated.
‘Pray, Miss Palliser, who is the person whom it is your daily habit to meet and converse with in my grounds? Who is the man who has dared to trespass on my meadow at your invitation?’
‘Not at my invitation,’ answered Ida, as calm as marble ‘The gentleman came of his own accord. His name is Brian Wendover, and he and I are engaged to be married.’
Miss Pew laughed a loud ironical laugh, a laugh which froze the blood of all the seventeen-year-old pupils who were not without fear or reproach upon the subject of clandestine glances, little notes, or girlish carryings-on in the flirtation line.
‘Engaged?’ she exclaimed, in her stentorian voice, ‘That is really too good a joke. Engaged? Pray, which Mr. Brian Wendover is it?
‘Mr. Wendover of the Abbey.’
‘Mr. Wendover of the Abbey, the head of the Wendover family?’ cried Miss Pew. ‘And you would wish us to believe that Mr. Wendover, of Wendover Abbey — a gentleman with an estate worth something like seven thousand a year, young ladies — has engaged himself to the youngest of my pupil-teachers, whose acquaintance he has cultivated while trespassing on my meadow? Miss Palliser, when a gentleman of Mr. Wendover’s means and social status wishes to marry a young person in your position — a concatenation which occurs very rarely in the history of the human race — he comes to the hall door. Mr. Wendover no more means to marry you than he means to marry the moon. His views are of quite a different kind, and you know it.’
Ida cast a withering look at her tyrant, and moved quickly from her place.
‘You are a wretch to say such a thing to me,’ she cried passionately; ‘I will not stay another hour under your roof to be so insulted.’
‘No, you will not stay under my roof, Miss Palliser,’ retorted Miss Pew. ‘My mind was made up more than an hour ago on that point. You will not be allowed to stay in this house one minute longer than is needed for the packing up of your clothes, and that, I take it,’ added the schoolmistress, with an insolent laugh, ‘will not be a lengthy operation. You are expelled, Miss Palliser — expelled from this establishment for grossly improper conduct; and I am only sorry for your poor father’s sake that you will have to begin your career as a governess with disgrace attached to your name.’
‘There is no disgrace, except in your own foul mind,’ said Ida. ‘I can imagine that as nobody ever admired you or made love to you when you were young, you may have mistaken ideas as to the nature of lovers and love-making’— despite the universal awe, this provoked a faint, irrepressible titter —‘but it is hard that you should revenge your ignorance upon me. Mr. Wendover has never said a word to me which a gentleman should not say. Fräulein Wolf, who has heard his every word, knows that this is true.’
‘Fräulein will leave this house to-morrow, if she is not careful,’ said Miss Pew, who had, however, no intention of parting with so useful and cheap a teacher.
She could afford to revenge herself upon Ida, whose period of tutelage was nearly over.
‘Fräulein knows that Mr. Wendover speaks of our future as the future of man and wife.’
‘Ja wohl,’ murmured the Fräulein, ‘that is true; ganz und gan.’
‘I will not hear another word!’ cried Miss Pew, swelling with rage, while every thorn and berry on her autumnal cap quivered. ‘Ungrateful, impudent young woman! Leave my house instantly. I will not have these innocent girls perverted by your vile example. In speech and in conduct you are alike detestable.’
‘Good-bye, girls,’ cried Ida, lightly: ‘you all know how much harm my speech and my example have done you. Good-bye, Fräulein; don’t you be afraid of dismissal — you are too well worth your salt.’
Polly Cobb, the brewer’s daughter, sat near the door by which Ida had to make her exit. She was quite the richest, and perhaps the best-natured girl in the school. She caught hold of Ida’s gown and thrust a little Russia-leather purse into her hand, with a tender squeeze.
‘Take it, dear,’ she whispered; ‘I don’t want it, I can get plenty more. Yes, yes, you must; you shall. I’ll make a row, and get myself into disgrace, if you refuse. You can’t go to France without money.’
‘God bless you, dear. I’ll send it you back,’ answered Ida.
‘Don’t; I shall hate you if you do.’
‘Is that young woman gone?’ demanded Miss Pew’s awful voice.
‘Going, going, gone!’ cried Miss Cobb, forgetting herself in her excitement, as the door closed behind Ida.
‘Who was that?’ roared Miss Pew.
Half a dozen informants pronounced Miss Cobb’s name.
Now Miss Cobb’s people were wealthy, and Miss Cobb had younger sisters, all coming on under a homely governess to that critical stage in which they would require the polishing processes of Mauleverer Manor: so Sarah Pew bridled her wrath, and said quietly —
‘Kindly reserve your jocosity for a more appropriate season, Miss Cobb. Young ladies, you may proceed with your matutinal duties.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50