2 This paper, “Anne,” ought to have been inserted before some of the papers which have preceded it, as the events it treats of took place at an earlier date.
“Why, what’s the matter with you?” cried the Squire.
“Matter enough,” responded old Coney, who had come hobbling into our house, and sat down with a groan. “If you had the gout in your great toe, Squire, as I have it in mine, you’d soon feel what the matter was.”
“You have been grunting over that gout for days past, Coney!”
“So I have. It won’t go in and it won’t come out; it stops there on purpose to torment me with perpetual twinges. I have been over to Timberdale Parsonage this morning, and the walk has pretty nigh done for me.”
The Squire laughed. We often did laugh at Coney’s gout: which never seemed to be very bad, or to get beyond incipient “twinges.”
“Better have stayed at home and nursed your gout than have pranced off to Timberdale.”
“But I had to go,” said the farmer. “Jacob Lewis sent for me.”
Mr. Coney spoke of Parson Lewis, Rector of Timberdale. At this time the parson was on his last legs, going fast to his rest. His mother and old Coney’s mother had been first cousins, which accounted for the intimacy between the parsonage and the farm. It was Eastertide, and we were spending it at Crabb Cot.
“Do you remember Thomas Lewis, the doctor?” asked old Coney.
“Remember him! ay, that I do,” was the Squire’s answer. “What of him?”
“He has been writing to the parson to take a house for him; he and his daughter are coming to live in old England again. Poor Lewis can’t look out for one himself, so he has put it upon me. And much I can get about, with this lame foot!”
“A house at Timberdale?”
“Either in the neighbourhood of Timberdale or Crabb, Dr. Lewis writes: or he wouldn’t mind Islip. I saw his letter. Jacob says there’s nothing vacant at Timberdale at all likely to suit. We have been thinking of that little place over here, that the people have just gone out of.”
“What little place?”
“Maythorn Bank. ‘Twould be quite large enough.”
“And it’s very pretty,” added the Squire. “Thomas Lewis coming back! Wonders will never cease. How he could reconcile himself to staying away all his life, I can’t tell. Johnny lad, he will like to see you. He and your father were as thick as inkle weavers.”
“Ay! Ludlow was a good friend to him while he was doing nothing,” nodded old Coney. “As to his staying away, I expect he could not afford to live in England. He has had a legacy left him now, he tells the parson. What are you asking, Johnny?”
“Did I ever know Dr Lewis?”
“Not you, lad. Thomas Lewis went abroad ages before you were born, or thought of. Five-and-twenty years he must have been away.”
“More than that,” said the Squire.
This Thomas Lewis was half-brother to the Rector of Timberdale, but was not related to the Coneys. He served his time, when a boy, to a surgeon at Worcester. In those days young men were apprenticed to doctors just as they were to other trades. Young Lewis was steady and clever; but so weak in health that when he was qualified and ought to have set up on his own account, he could not. People were wondering what would become of him, for he had no money, when by one of those good chances that rarely fail in time of need, he obtained a post as travelling companion to a nobleman, rich and sickly, who was going to reside in the warmth of the south of France. They went. It brought up Thomas Lewis’s health well; made quite another man of him; and when, a little later, his patron died, he found that he had taken care of his future. He had left the young surgeon a competency of two hundred a-year. Mr. Lewis stayed on where he was, married a lady who had some small means, took a foreign medical degree to become Dr. Lewis, and obtained a little practice amidst the English that went to the place in winter. They had been obliged to live frugally, though an income of from two to three hundred a-year goes a great deal farther over the water than it does in England: and perhaps the lack of means to travel had kept Dr. Lewis from visiting his native land. Very little had been known of him at home; the letters interchanged by him and the parson were few and far between. Now, it appeared, the doctor had again dropped into a legacy of a few hundred pounds, and was coming back with his daughter — an only child. The wife was dead.
Maythorn Bank, the pretty little place spoken of by Mr. Coney, was taken. It belonged to Sir Robert Tenby. A small, red-brick house, standing in a flower-garden, with a delightful view from its windows of the charming Worcestershire scenery and the Malvern Hills in the distance. Excepting old Coney’s great rambling farm-homestead close by, it was the nearest house to our own. But the inside, when it came to be looked at, was found to be in a state of dilapidation, not at all fit for a gentleman’s habitation. Sir Robert Tenby was applied to, and he gave directions that it should be put in order.
Before this was completed, the Rector of Timberdale died. He had been suffering from ailments and sorrow for a long while; and in the sweet spring season, the season that he had loved above all other seasons, when the May birds were singing and the May flowers were blooming, he crossed the river that divides us from the eternal shores.
Mr. Coney had to see to the new house then upon his own responsibility; and when it was finished and the workmen were gone out of it, he went over to Worcester, following Dr. Lewis’s request, and ordered in a sufficiency of plain furniture. By the middle of June all was ready, a maid-servant engaged, and the doctor and his daughter were at liberty to come when they pleased.
We had just got home for the Midsummer holidays when they arrived. Old Coney took me to the station to meet them; he said there might be parcels to carry. Once, a French lady had come on a visit to the farm, and she brought with her fifteen small hand-packages and a bandbox.
“And these people are French, too, you see, Johnny,” reasoned old Coney. “Lewis can’t be called anything better, and the girl was born there. Can’t even speak English, perhaps. I’m sure he has had time to forget his native tongue.”
But they spoke English just as readily and fluently as we did; even the young lady, Anne, had not the slightest foreign accent. And there were no small packages; nothing but three huge trunks and a sort of large reticule, which she carried herself, and would not give up to me. I liked her looks the moment I saw her. You know I always take likes or dislikes. A rather tall girl, light and graceful, with a candid face, a true and sweet voice, and large, soft brown eyes that met mine frankly and fearlessly.
But the doctor! He was like a shadow. A tall man, with stooping shoulders, handsome, thin features, hollow cheeks, and scanty hair. But every look and movement bespoke the gentleman; every tone of his low voice was full of considerate courtesy.
“What a poor weak fellow!” lamented old Coney aside to me. “It’s just the Thomas Lewis of the years gone by; no health, no stamina. I’m afraid he has only come home to die.”
They liked the house, and liked everything in it; and he thanked old Coney very earnestly for the trouble he had taken. I never saw a man, as I learnt later, so considerate for the feelings of others, or so grateful for any little service rendered to himself.
“It is delightful,” said Miss Lewis, smiling at me. “I shall call it our little château. And those hills in the distance are the beautiful Malvern Hills that my father has so often told me of!”
“How well you speak English!” I said. “Just as we do.”
“Do you suppose I could do otherwise, when my father and my mother were English? It is in truth my native tongue. I think I know England better than France. I have always heard so much of it.”
“But you speak French as a native?”
“Oh, of course. German also.”
“Ah, I see you are an accomplished young lady, Miss Lewis.”
“I am just the opposite,” she said, with a laugh. “I never learnt accomplishments. I do not play; I do not sing; I do not draw; I do not — but yes, I do dance: every one dances in France. Ours was not a rich home, and my dear mother brought me up to be useful in it. I can make my own dresses; I can cook you an omelette, or ——”
“Anne, this is Mr. Todhetley,” interrupted her father.
The Squire had come in through the open glass doors, round which the jessamine was blooming. When they had talked a bit, he took me up to Dr. Lewis.
“Has Coney told you who he is? William Ludlow’s son. You remember him?”
“Remember William Ludlow! I must forget myself before I could forget him,” was the doctor’s answer, as he took both my hands in his and held me before him to look into my eyes. The tears were rising in his own.
“A pleasant face to look at,” he was pleased to say. “But they did not name him William?”
“No. We call him Johnny.”
“One generation passes away and another rises up in its place. How few, how few of those I knew are now left to welcome me! Even poor Jacob has not stayed.”
Tears seemed to be the fashion just then. I turned away, when released, and saw them in Miss Lewis’s eyes as she stood against the window-sill, absently playing with the white jessamine.
“When they begin to speak of those who are gone, it always puts me in mind of mamma,” she said in a whisper, as if she would apologize for the tears. “I can’t help it.”
“Is it long since you lost her?”
“Nearly two years; and home has not been the same to papa since. I do my best; but I am not my mother. I think it was that which made papa resolve to come to England when he found he could afford it. Home is but triste, you see, when the dearest one it contained has gone out of it.”
It struck me that the house could not have had one dearer in it than Anne. She was years and years older than I, but I began to wish she was my sister.
And her manners to the servant were so nice — a homely country girl, named Sally, engaged by Mr. Coney. Miss Lewis told the girl that she hoped she would be happy in her new place, and that she would help her when there was much work to do. Altogether Anne Lewis was a perfect contrast to the fashionable damsels of that day, who could not make themselves appear too fine.
The next day was Sunday. We had just finished breakfast, and Mrs. Todhetley was nursing her toothache, when Dr. Lewis came in, looking more shadowy than ever in his black Sunday clothes, with the deep band on his hat. They were going to service at Timberdale, and he wanted me to go with them.
“Of course I have not forgotten the way to Timberdale,” said he; “but there’s an odd, shy feeling upon me of not liking to walk about the old place by myself. Anne is strange to it also. We shall soon get used to it, I dare say. Will you go, Johnny?”
“Crabb Church is close by, Lewis,” remarked the Squire, “and it’s a steaming hot day.”
“But I must go to Timberdale this morning. It was poor Jacob’s church, you know for many years. And though he is no longer there, I should like to see the desk and pulpit which he filled.”
“Ay, to be sure,” readily acquiesced the Squire. “I’d go with you myself, Lewis, but for the heat.”
Dr. Lewis said he should take the roadway, not the short cut through Crabb Ravine. It was a good round, and we had to start early. I liked Anne better than ever: no one could look nicer than she did in her trim black dress. As we walked along, Dr. Lewis frequently halted to recognize old scenes, and ask me was it this place, or that.
“That fine place out yonder?” he cried, stopping to point to a large stone house half-a-mile off the road, partly hidden amidst its beautiful grounds. “I ought to know whose it is. Let me see!”
“It is Sir Robert Tenby’s seat — Bellwood. Your landlord, sir.”
“Ay, to be sure — Bellwood. In my time it was Sir George’s, though.”
“Sir George died five or six years ago.”
“Has Sir Robert any family? He must be middle-aged now.”
“I think he is forty-five, or so. He is not married.”
“Does he chiefly live here?”
“About half his time; the rest he spends at his house in London, He lives very quietly. We all like Sir Robert.”
We sat in the Rector’s pew, having it to ourselves. Herbert Tanerton did the duty, and gave a good sermon. Nobody was yet appointed to the vacant living, which was in Sir Hubert Tenby’s gift. Herbert, meanwhile, took charge of the parish, and many people thought he would get it — as he did, later.
The Bellwood pew faced the Rector’s, and Sir Robert sat in it alone. A fine-looking man, with greyish hair, and a homely face that you took to at once. He seemed to pay the greatest attention to Herbert Tanerton’s sermon; possibly was deliberating whether he was worthy of the living, or not. In the pew behind him sat Mrs. Macbean, an old lady who had been housekeeper at Bellwood during two generations; and the Bellwood servants sat further down.
We were talking to Herbert Tanerton outside the church after service, when Sir Robert came up and spoke to the parson. He, Herbert, introduced Dr. Lewis to him as the late Rector’s brother. Sir Robert shook hands with him at once, smiled pleasantly at Anne, and nodded to me as he continued his way.
“Do you like your house?” asked Herbert.
“I shall like it by-and-by, no doubt,” was the doctor’s answer. “I should like it now, but for the paint. The smell is dreadful.”
“Oh, that will soon go off,” cried Herbert.
“Yes, I hope so: or I fear it will make me ill.”
In going back we took Crabb Ravine, and were at home in no time. They asked me to stay dinner, and I did so. We had a loin of lamb, and a raspberry tart, if any one is curious to know. Dr. Lewis had taken a fancy to me: I don’t know why, unless it was that he had liked my father; and I’m sure I had taken one to them. But the paint did smell badly, and that’s the truth.
In all my days I don’t think I ever saw a man so incapable as Dr. Lewis; so helpless in the common affairs of life. What he would have done without Anne, I know not. He was just fit to sit down and be led like a child; to have said to him — Come here, go there; do this, do the other. Therefore, when he asked me to run in in the morning and see if he wanted anything, I was not surprised. Anne thought he might be glad of my shoulder to lean upon when he walked about the garden.
It was past eleven when I arrived there, for I had to do an errand first of all for the Squire. Anne was kneeling down in the parlour amidst a lot of small cuttings of plants, which she had brought from France. They lay on the carpet on pieces of paper. She wore a fresh white cotton gown, with black spots upon it, and a black bow at the throat; and she looked nicer than ever.
“Look here, Johnny; I don’t know what to do. The labels have all come off, and I can’t tell which is which. I suppose I did not fasten them on securely. Sit down — if you can find a chair.”
The chairs and tables were strewed with books, most of them French, and other small articles, just unpacked. I did not want a chair, but knelt down beside her, asking if I could help. She said no, and that she hoped to be straight by the morrow. The doctor had stepped out, she did not know where, “to escape the smell of the paint.”
I was deep in the pages of one of the books, “Les Contes de Ma Bonne,” which Anne said was a great favourite of hers, though it was meant for children; and she had her head, as before, bent over the green sprigs and labels, when a shadow, passing the open glass doors, glanced in and halted. I supposed it must be the doctor; but it was Sir Robert Tenby. Up I started; Anne did the same quietly, and quietly invited him in.
“I walked over to see Dr. Lewis, and to ask whether the house requires anything else done to it,” he explained. “And I had to come early, as I am leaving the neighbourhood this afternoon.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Anne, “it is very kind of you to come. Will you please to sit down, sir?” hastily taking the books off a chair. “Papa is out, but I think he will not be long.”
“Are you satisfied with the house?” he asked.
“Quite so, sir; and I do not think it wants anything done to it at all. I hope you will not suppose we shall keep it in this state,” she added rather anxiously. “When things are being unpacked, the rooms are sure to look untidy.”
Sir Robert smiled. “You seem very notable, Miss Lewis.”
“Oh, I do everything,” she answered, smiling back. “There is no one else.”
He had not taken the chair, but went out, saying he should probably meet Dr. Lewis — leaving a message for him, about the house, in case he did not.
“He is your great and grand man of the neighbourhood, is he not, Johnny?” said Anne, as she knelt down on the carpet again.
“Oh, he is grand enough.”
“Then don’t you think he is, considering that fact, very pleasant and affable? I’m sure he is as simple and free in manners and speech as we are.”
“Most grand men — if they are truly great — are that. Your upstarts assume no end of airs.”
“I know who will never assume airs, Johnny. He has none in him.”
It made me laugh. I had nothing to assume them for.
It was either that afternoon or the following one that Dr. Lewis came up to the Squire and old Coney as they were talking together in the road. He told them that he could not possibly stay in the house; he should be laid up if he did; he must go away until the smell of the paint was gone. That he was looking ill, both saw; and they believed he did not complain without cause.
The question was, where could he go? Mr. Coney hospitably offered him house-room; but the doctor, while thanking him, said the smell might last a long time, and he should prefer to be independent. He had been thinking of going with Anne to Worcester for a time. Did they know of lodgings there?
“Better go to an hotel,” said the Squire. “No trouble at an hotel.”
“But hotels are not always comfortable. I cannot feel at home in them,” argued the poor doctor. “And they cost too much besides.”
“You might chance to hit upon lodgings where you wouldn’t be any more comfortable, Lewis. And they’d be very dull for you.”
“There’s Lake’s boarding-house,” put in old Coney, whilst the doctor was looking blank and helpless.
“A boarding-house? Ay, that might do, if it’s not a noisy one.”
“It’s not noisy at all,” cried the Squire. “It’s uncommonly well conducted: sometimes there are not three visitors in the house. You and Miss Lewis would be comfortable there.”
And for Lake’s boarding-house Dr. Lewis and Anne took their departure on the very next day. If they had only foreseen the trouble their stay at it would lead to!
Lake’s boarding-house stood near the cathedral. A roomy house, with rather shabby furniture in it: but in boarding-houses and lodgings people don’t, as a rule, look for gilded chairs and tables. Some years before, Mrs. Lake, the wife of a professional man, and a gentlewoman, was suddenly left a widow with four infant children, boys, and nothing to keep them upon. What to do she did not know. And it often puzzles me to think what such poor ladies do do, left in similar straits.
She had her furniture; and that was about all. Friends suggested that she should take a house in a likely situation, and try for some lady boarders; or perhaps for some of the college boys, whose homes lay at a distance. Not to make too long a story of it, it was what she did do. And she had been in the house ever since, struggling on (for these houses mostly do entail a struggle), sometimes flourishing in numbers, sometimes down in the dumps with empty rooms. But she had managed to bring the children up: the two elder ones were out in the world, the two younger were still in the college school. Mrs. Lake was a meek little woman, ever distracted with practical cares, especially as to stews and gravies: Miss Dinah Lake (her late husband’s sister, and a majestic lady of middle age), who lived with her, chiefly saw to the company.
But now, would any one believe that Dr. Lewis was “that shy,” as their maid, Sally, expressed it — or perhaps you would rather call it helpless — that he begged the Squire to let me go with him to Lake’s. Otherwise he should be lost, he said; and Anne, accustomed to French ways and habits, could not be of much use to him in a strange boarding-house: Johnny knew the house, and would feel at home there.
When Captain Sanker and his wife (if you have not forgotten them) first came to Worcester, they stayed at Lake’s while fixing on a residence, and that’s how we became tolerably well acquainted with the Lakes. This year that I am now writing about was the one that preceded the accident to King Sanker, told of earlier in the volume. And, in point of rotation, this paper ought to have appeared first.
So I went with Dr. Lewis and Anne. It was late in the afternoon when we reached Worcester, close upon the dinner-hour — which was five o’clock, and looked upon as quite a fashionable hour in those days. The dinner-bell had rung, and the company had filed in to dinner when we got downstairs.
But there was not much company staying in the house. Mrs. Lake did not appear at dinner, and Miss Dinah Lake took the head of the table. It happened more often than not that Mrs. Lake was in the kitchen, superintending the dinner and seeing to the ragouts and sauces; especially upon the advent of fresh inmates, when the fare would be unusually liberal. Mrs. Lake often said she was a “born cook;” which was lucky, as she could not afford to keep first-rate servants.
Miss Dinah sat at the head of the table, in a rustling green gown and primrose satin cap. Having an income of her own she could afford to dress. (Mrs. Lake’s best gown was black silk, thin and scanty.) Next to Miss Dinah sat a fair, plump little woman, with round green eyes and a soft voice: at any rate, a soft way of speaking: who was introduced to us as Mrs. Captain Podd. She in turn introduced her daughters, Miss Podd and Miss Fanny Podd: both fair, like their mother, and with the same sort of round green eyes. A Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell completed the company; two silent people who seemed to do nothing but eat.
Dr. Lewis sat by Mrs. Captain Podd: and very pleasant and attentive the doctor found her. He was shy as well as helpless; but she talked to him freely in her low soft voice and put him altogether at his ease. My place chanced to be next to Miss Fanny Podd’s: and she began at once to put me at my ease, as her mother was putting the doctor.
“You are a stranger here, at the dinner-table,” observed Miss Fanny; “but we shall be good friends presently. People in this house soon become sociable.”
“I am glad of that.”
“I did not quite hear your name. Did you catch mine? Fanny Podd.”
“Yes. Thank you. Mine is Ludlow.”
“I suppose you never were at Worcester before?”
“Oh, I know Worcester very well indeed. I live in Worcestershire.”
“Why!” cried the young lady, neglecting her soup to stare at me, “we heard you had just come over from living in France. Miss Dinah said so — that old guy at the head of the table.”
“Dr. and Miss Lewis have just come from France. Not I. I know Miss Dinah Lake very well.”
“Do you? Don’t go and tell her I called her an old guy. Mamma wants to keep in with Miss Dinah, or she might be disagreeable. What a stupid town Worcester is!”
“Perhaps you do not know many people in it.”
“We don’t know any one. We had been staying last in a garrison town. That was pleasant: so many nice officers about. You could not go to the window but there’d be some in sight. Here nobody seems to pass but a crew of staid old parsons.”
“We are near the cathedral; that’s why you see so many parsons. Are you going to remain long in Worcester?”
“That’s just as the fancy takes mamma. We have been here already six or seven weeks.”
“Have you no settled home?”
Miss Fanny Podd pursed up her lips and shook her head. “We like change best. A settled home would be wretchedly dull. Ours was given up when papa died.”
Thus she entertained me to the end of dinner. We all left the table together — wine was not in fashion at Lake’s. Those who wanted any had to provide it for themselves: but the present company seemed to be satisfied with the home-brewed ale. Mrs. Captain Podd put her arm playfully into that of Dr. Lewis, and said she would show him the way to the drawing-room.
And so it went on all the evening: she making herself agreeable to the doctor: Miss Podd to Anne; Fanny to me. Of course it was highly good-natured of them. Mrs. Podd discovered that the doctor liked backgammon; and she looked for a moment as cross as a wasp on finding there was no board in the house.
“Quite an omission, my dear Miss Dinah,” she said, smoothing away the frown with a sweet smile. “I thought a backgammon-board was as necessary to a house as chairs and tables.”
“Mrs. Lake had a board once,” said Miss Dinah; “but the boys got possession of it, and somehow it was broken. We have chess — and cribbage.”
“Would you like a hand at cribbage, my dear sir?” asked Mrs. Podd of the doctor.
“Don’t play it, ma’am,” said he.
“Ah”— with a little sigh. “Julia, love, would you mind singing one of your quiet songs? Or a duet. Fanny, sweetest, try a quiet duet with your sister. Go to the piano.”
If they called the duet quiet, I wondered what they called noisy. You might have heard it over at the cathedral. Their playing and singing was of the style known as “showy.” Some people admire it: but it is a good thing ear-drums are not easily cracked.
The next day Mrs. Podd made the house a present of a backgammon-board: and in the evening she and Dr. Lewis sat down to play. Our number had decreased, for Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell had left; and Mrs. Lake dined with us, taking the foot of the table. Miss Dinah always, I found, kept the head.
“She is so much better calculated to preside than I am,” whispered meek Mrs. Lake to me later in the evening; as, happening to pass the kitchen-door after dinner, I saw her in there, making the coffee. “What should I do without Dinah!”
“But need you come out to make the coffee, Mrs. Lake?”
“My dear, when I leave it to the servants, it is not drinkable. I am rather sorry Mrs. Podd makes a point of having coffee in an evening. Our general rule is to give only tea.”
“I wouldn’t give in to Mrs. Podd.”
“Well, dear, we like to be accommodating when we can. Being my cousin, she orders things more freely than our ladies usually do. Dinah calls her exacting; but ——”
“Is Mrs. Podd your cousin?” I interrupted, in surprise.
“My first cousin. Did you not know it? Her mother and my mother were sisters.”
“The girls don’t call you ‘aunt.’”
“They do sometimes when we are alone. I suppose they think I am beneath them — keeping a boarding-house.”
I had not much liked the Podds at first: as the days went on I liked them less. They were not sincere: I was quite sure of it; Mrs. Podd especially. But the manner in which she had taken Dr. Lewis under her wing was marvellous. He began to think he could not move without her: he was as one who has found a sheet-anchor. She took trouble of all kinds from him: her chief aim seemed to be to make his life pass pleasantly. She would order a carriage and take him for a drive in it; she’d parade the High Street on his arm; she sat with him in the Green within the enclosure, though Miss Dinah told her one day she had not the right of entrance to it; she walked him off to inspect the monuments in the cathedral, and talked with him in the cloisters of the old days when Cromwell stabled his horses there. After dinner they would play backgammon till bed-time. And with it all, she was so gay and sweet and gentle, that Dr. Lewis thought she must be a very angel come out of heaven.
“Johnny, I don’t like her,” said Anne to me one day. “She seems to take papa completely out of my hands. She makes him feel quite independent of me.”
“You like her as well as I do, Anne.”
“This morning I found him in the drawing-room; alone, for a wonder: he was gazing up in his abstracted way, as if wanting to discover what the pinnacles of the cathedral were made of, which appear to be so close, you know, from the windows of that room. ‘Papa, you are lonely,’ I said. ‘Would you like to walk out? — or what would you like to do?’ ‘My dear, Mrs. Podd will see to it all,’ he answered; ‘don’t trouble yourself; I am waiting for her.’ It is just as though he had no more need of me.”
Anne Lewis turned away to hide her wet eyelashes. For my part, I thought the sooner Mrs. Captain Podd betook herself from Lake’s boarding-house, the better. It was too much of a good thing.
That same afternoon I heard some conversation not meant for me. Behind the house was a square patch of ground called a garden, containing a few trees and some sweet herbs. I was sitting on the bench there, underneath the high, old-fashioned dining-room windows, thinking how hot the sun was, wishing for something to do, and wondering when Dr. Lewis meant to send me home. He and Mrs. Podd were out together; Anne was in the kitchen, teaching Mrs. Lake some mysteries of French cookery. Miss Dinah sat in the dining-room, in her spectacles, darning table-cloths.
“Oh, have you come in!” I suddenly heard her say, as the door opened. And it was Mrs. Podd’s voice that answered.
“The sun is so very hot: poor dear Dr. Lewis felt quite ill. He has gone up to his room for half-an-hour to sit quietly in the shade. Where are my girls?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Miss Dinah: and it struck me that her tone of voice was rather crusty. “Mrs. Podd, I must again ask you when you will let me have some money?”
“As soon as I can,” said Mrs. Podd: who seemed by the sound, to have thrown herself upon a chair, and to be fanning her face with a rustling newspaper.
“But you have said that for some weeks. When is the ‘soon’ to be?”
“You know I have been disappointed in my remittances. It is really too hot for talking.”
“I know that you say you have. But we cannot go on without some money. The expenses of this house are heavy: how are they to be kept up if our guests don’t pay us? Indeed you must let me have part of your account, if not all.”
“My dear sweet creature, the house is not yours,” returned Mrs. Podd, in her most honeyed accents.
“I manage it,” said Miss Dinah, “and am responsible for getting in the accounts. You know that our custom is to be paid weekly.”
“Exactly, dear Miss Dinah. But I am sure that my cousin, Emma Lake, would not wish to inconvenience me. I am indebted to her; not to you; and I will pay her as soon as I can. My good creature, how can you sit stewing over that plain sewing this sultry afternoon?”
“I am obliged to,” responded Miss Dinah. “We have not money to spend on new linen: trouble enough, it is, I can assure you, to keep the old decent.”
“I should get somebody to help me. That young woman, Miss Lewis, might do it: she seems to have been used to all kinds of work.”
“I wish you would shut that door: you have left it open,” retorted Miss Dinah: “I don’t like sitting in a draught, though it is hot. And I must beg of you to understand, Mrs. Podd, that we really cannot continue to keep you and your daughters here unless you can manage to give us a little money.”
By the shutting of the door and the silence that ensued, it was apparent that Mrs. Podd had departed, leaving Miss Dinah to her table-cloths. But now, this had surprised me. For, to hear Mrs. Captain Podd and her daughters talk, and to see the way in which they dressed, one could not have supposed they were ever at a fault for ready-cash.
At the end of ten days I went home. Dr. Lewis no longer wanted me: he had Mrs. Podd. And I think it must have been about ten days after that, that we heard the doctor and Anne were returning. The paint smelt still, but not so badly as before.
They did not come alone. Mrs. Podd and her two daughters accompanied them to spend the day. Mrs. Podd was in a ravishing new toilette; and I hoped Lake’s boarding-house had been paid.
Mrs. Podd went into raptures over Maythorn Bank, paint and all. It was the sweetest little place she had ever been in, she said, and some trifling, judicious care would convert it into a paradise.
I know who had the present care; and that was Anne. They got over about twelve o’clock; and as soon as she had seen the ladies’ things off, and they were comfortably installed in the best parlour, its glass doors standing open to the fragrant flower-beds, she put on a big apron in the kitchen and helped Sally with the dinner.
“Need you do it, Anne?” I said, running in, having seen her crumbling bread as I passed the window.
“Yes, I must, Johnny. Papa bade me have a nice dinner served today: and Sally is inexperienced, you know: she knows nothing about the little dishes he likes. To tell you the truth,” added Anne, glancing meaningly into my eyes for a moment, “I would rather be cooking here than talking with them there.”
“Are you sorry to leave Worcester?”
“Yes, and no,” she answered. “Sorry to leave Mrs. Lake and Miss Dinah, for I like them both: glad to be at home again and to have papa to myself. I shall not cry if we never see Mrs. Podd again. Perhaps I am mistaken: and I’m sure I did not think that the judging of others uncharitably was one of my faults; but I cannot help thinking that she has tried to estrange papa from me. I suppose it is her way: she cannot have any real wish to do it. However, she goes back to-night, and then it will be over.”
“Who is at Lake’s now?”
“No one — except the Podds. I am sorry, for I fear they have some difficulty to make both ends meet.”
Was it over! Anne Lewis reckoned without her host.
I was running into Maythorn Bank the next morning, when I saw the shimmer of Anne’s white garden-bonnet and her morning dress amidst the raspberry-bushes, and turned aside to greet her. She had a basin in her hand, picking the fruit, and the hot tears were running down her cheeks. Conceal her distress she could not; any attempt would have been worse than futile.
“Oh, Johnny, she is going to marry him!” cried she, with an outburst of sobs.
“Going to marry him! — who? what?” I asked, taking the basin from her hand: for I declare that the truth did not strike me.
“She is. Mrs. Podd. She is going to marry papa.”
For a moment she held her face against the apple-tree. The words confounded me. More real grief I had never seen. My heart ached for her.
“Don’t think me selfish,” she said, turning presently, trying to subdue the sobs, and wiping the tears away. “I hope I am not that: or undutiful. It is not for myself that I grieve; indeed it is not; but for him.”
I knew that.
“If I could only think it would be for his happiness! But oh, I fear it will not be. Something seems to tell me that it will not. And if — he should be-uncomfortable afterwards — miserable afterwards! — I think the distress would kill me.”
“Is it true, Anne? How did you hear it?”
“True! Too true, Johnny. At breakfast this morning papa said, ‘We shall be dull today without our friends, Anne.’ I told him I hoped not, and that I would go out with him, or read to him, or do anything else he liked; and I reminded him of his small stock of choice books that he used to be so fond of. ‘Yes, yes, we shall be very dull, you and I alone in this strange house,’ he resumed. ‘I have been thinking for some time we should be, Anne, and so I have asked that dear, kind, lively woman to come to us for good.’ I did not understand him; I did not indeed, Johnny; and papa went on to explain. ‘You must know that I allude to Mrs. Podd, Anne,’ he said. ‘When I saw her so charmed with this house yesterday, and we were talking about my future loneliness in it — and she lamented it, even with tears — one word led to another, and I felt encouraged to venture to ask her to share it and be my wife. And so, my dear, it is all settled; and I trust it will be for the happiness of us all. She is a most delightful woman, and will make the sunshine of any home.’ I wish I could think it,” concluded Anne.
“No; don’t take the basin,” I said, as she went to do so. “I’ll finish picking the raspberries. What are they for?”
“A pudding. Papa said he should like one.”
“Why could not Sally pick them? Country girls are used to the sun.”
“Sally is busy. Papa bade her clear out that room where our boxes were put: we shall want all the rooms now. Oh, Johnny, I wish we had not left France! Those happy days will never come again.”
Was the doctor falling into his dotage? The question crossed my mind. It might never have occurred to me; but one day at Worcester Miss Dinah had asked it in my hearing. I felt very uncomfortable, could not think of anything soothing to say to Anne, and went on picking the raspberries.
“How many do you want? Are these enough?”
“Yes,” she answered, looking at them. “I must fill the basin up with currants.”
We were bending over a currant-bush, Anne holding up a branch and I stripping it, when footsteps on the path close by made us both look up hastily. There stood Sir Robert Tenby. He stared at the distress on Anne’s face, which was too palpable to be concealed, and asked without ceremony what was amiss.
It was the last feather that broke the camel’s back. These words from a stranger, and his evident concern, put the finishing touch to Anne’s state. She burst into more bitter tears than she had yet shed.
“Is it any trouble that I can help you out of?” asked Sir Robert, in the kindest tones, feeling, no doubt, as sorry as he looked. “Oh, my dear young lady, don’t give way like this!”
Touched by his sympathy, her heart seemed to open to him: perhaps she had need of finding consolation somewhere. Drying her tears, Anne told her story simply: commenting on it as she had commented to me.
“It is for my father’s sake that I grieve, sir; that I fear. I feel sure Mrs. Podd will not make him really happy.”
“Well, well, we must hope for the best,” spoke Sir Robert, who looked a little astonished at hearing the nature of the grievance, and perhaps thought Anne’s distress more exaggerated than it need have been. “Dr. Lewis wrote to me last night about some alteration he wants to make in the garden; I have come to speak to him about it.”
“Alteration in the garden!” mechanically repeated Anne. “I have heard nothing about it.”
He passed into the house to the doctor. We picked on at the currants, and then took them into the kitchen. Anne sat down on a chair to strip them from their stalks. Presently we saw Sir Robert and the doctor at one end of the garden, the latter drawing boundaries round a corner with his walking-stick.
“Oh, I know,” exclaimed Anne. “Yesterday Mrs. Podd suggested that a summer-house in that spot would be a delightful improvement. But I never, never could have supposed papa meant to act upon the suggestion.”
Just so. Dr. Lewis wished to erect a summer-house of wood and trellis-work, but had not liked to do it without first speaking to his landlord.
As the days went on, Anne grew to feel somewhat reassured. She was very busy, for all kinds of preparations had to be made in the house, and the wedding was to take place at once.
“I think, perhaps, I took it up in a wrong light, Johnny,” she said to me one day, when I went in and found her sewing at some new curtains. “I hope I did. It must have been the suddenness of the news, I suppose, and that I was so very unprepared for it.”
“How do you mean? In what wrong light?”
“No one seems to think ill of it, or to foresee cause for apprehension. I am so glad. I don’t think I can ever much like her: but if she makes papa happy, it is all I ask.”
“Who has been talking about it?”
“Herbert Tanerton for one. He saw Mrs. Podd at Worcester last week, and thought her charming. The very woman, he said, to do papa good; lively and full of resource. So it may all be for the best.”
I should as soon have expected an invitation to the moon as to the wedding. But I got it. Dr. Lewis, left to himself, was feeling helpless again, and took me with him to Worcester on the eve of the happy day. We put up at the Bell Hotel for the night; but Anne went direct to Lake’s boarding-house. I ran down there in the evening.
Whether an inkling of the coming wedding had got abroad, I can’t say; it was to be kept private, and had been, so far as any one knew; but Lake’s house was full, not a room to be had in it for love or money. Anne was put in a sleeping-closet two yards square.
“It is not our fault,” spoke Miss Dinah, openly. “We were keeping a room for Miss Lewis; but on Monday last when a stranger came, wanting to be taken in, Mrs. Podd told us Miss Lewis was going to the hotel with her father.”
“My dear love, I thought you were,” chimed in Mrs. Podd, as she patted Anne on the shoulder. “I must have mis-read a passage in your dear papa’s letter, and so caught up the misapprehension. Never mind; you shall dress in my room if your own is not large enough. And I am sure all young ladies ought to be obliged to me, for the new inmate is a delightful man. My daughters find him charming.”
“The room is quite large enough, thank you,” replied Anne, meekly.
“Do you approve of the wedding, Miss Dinah?” I asked her later, when we were alone in the dining-room. “Do you like it?”
Miss Dinah, who was counting a lot of glasses on the sideboard that the maid had just washed and brought in, counted to the end, and then began upon the spoons.
“It is the only way we can keep our girls in check,” observed she; “otherwise they’d break and lose all before them. I know how many glasses have been used at table, consequently how many go out to be washed, and the girl has to bring that same number in, or explain the reason why. As to the spoons, they get thrown away with the dishwater and sometimes into the fire. If they were silver it would be all the same.”
“Do you like the match, Miss Dinah?”
“Johnny Ludlow,” she said, turning to face me, “we make a point in this house of not expressing our likes and dislikes. Our position is peculiar, you know. When people have come to years of discretion, and are of the age that Mrs. Podd is, not to speak of Dr. Lewis’s, we must suppose them to be capable of judging and acting for themselves. We have not helped on the match by so much as an approving word or look: on the other hand, it has not lain in our duty or in our power to retard it.”
Which was, of course, good sense. But for all her caution, I fancied she could have spoken against it, had she chosen.
A trifling incident occurred to me in going back to the Bell. Rushing round the corner into Broad Street, a tall, well-dressed man, sauntering on before me, suddenly turned on his heel, and threw away his cigar. It caught the front of my shirt. I flung it off again; but not before it had burnt a small hole in the linen.
“I beg your pardon,” said the smoker, in a courteous voice — and there was no mistaking him for anything but a gentleman. “I am very sorry. It was frightfully careless of me.”
“Oh, it is nothing; don’t think about it,” I answered, making off at full speed.
St. Michael’s Church stood in a nook under the cathedral walls: it is taken down now. It was there that the wedding took place. Dr. Lewis arrived at it more like a baby than a bridegroom, helpless and nervous to a painful degree. But Mrs. Podd made up for his deficiencies in her grand self-possession; her white bonnet and nodding feather seemed to fill the church. Anne wore grey silk; Julia and Fanny Podd some shining pink stuff that their petticoats could be seen through. Poor Anne’s tears were dropping during the service; she kept her head bent down to hide them.
“Look up, Anne,” I said from my place close to her. “Take courage.”
“I can’t help it, indeed, Johnny,” she whispered. “I wish I could. I’m sure I wouldn’t throw a damper on the general joy for the world.”
The wedding-party was a very small one indeed; just ourselves and a stern-looking gentleman, who was said to be a lawyer-cousin of the Podds, and to come from Birmingham. All the people staying at Lake’s had flocked into the church to look on.
“Pray take my arm. Allow me to lead you out. I see how deeply you are feeling this.”
The ceremony seemed to be over almost as soon as it was begun — perhaps the parson, remembering the parties had both been married before, cut it short. And it was in the slight bustle consequent upon its termination that the above words, in a low, tender, and most considerate tone, broke upon my ear. Where had I heard the voice before?
Turning hastily round, I recognized the stranger of the night before. It was to Anne he had spoken, and he had already taken her upon his arm. Her head was bent still; the rebellious tears would hardly be kept back; and a sweet compassion sat on every line of his handsome features as he gazed down at her.
“Who is he?” I asked of Fanny Podd, as he walked forward with Anne.
“Mr. Angerstyne — the most fascinating man I ever saw in my life. The Lakes could not have taken him in, but for mamma’s inventing that little fable of Anne’s going with old Lewis to the Bell. Trust mamma for not letting us two girls lose a chance,” added free-speaking Fanny. “I may take your arm, I suppose, Johnny Ludlow.”
And after a plain breakfast in private, which included only the wedding-party, Dr. and Mrs. Lewis departed for Cheltenham.
“Johnny, what can I do? What do you think I can do?”
In the pretty grey silk that she had worn at her father’s wedding, and with a whole world of perplexity in her soft brown eyes, Anne Lewis stood by me, and whispered the question. As soon as the bride and bridegroom had driven off, Anne was to depart for Maythorn Bank, with Julia and Fanny Podd; all three of them to remain there for the few days that Dr. and Mrs. Lewis purposed to be away. But now, no sooner had the sound of the bridal wheels died on our ears, and Anne had suggested that they should get ready for their journey home, than the two young ladies burst into a laugh, and said, Did she think they were going off to that dead-alive place! Not if they knew it. And, giving her an emphatic nod to prove they meant what they said, they waltzed to the other end of the room in their shining pink dresses to talk to Mr. Angerstyne.
Consternation sat in every line of Anne’s face. “I cannot go there alone, or stay there alone,” she said to me. “These things are not done in France.”
No: though Maythorn Bank was her own home, and though she was as thoroughly English as a girl can be, it could not be done. French customs and ideas did not permit it, and she had been brought up in them. It was certainly not nice behaviour of the girls. They should have objected before their mother left.
“I don’t know what you can do, Anne. Better ask Miss Dinah.”
“Not go with you, after the arrangements are made — and your servant Sally is expecting you all!” cried Miss Dinah Lake. “Oh, you must be mistaken,” she added; and went up to talk to them. Julia only laughed.
“Go to be buried alive at Maythorn Bank as long as mamma chooses to stay away!” she cried. “You won’t get either of us to do anything of the kind, Miss Dinah.”
“Mrs. Podd — I mean Mrs. Lewis — will be back to join you there in less than a week,” said Miss Dinah.
“Oh, will she, though! You don’t know mamma. She may be off to Paris and fifty other places before she turns her head homewards again. Anne Lewis can go home by herself, if she wants to go: I and Fanny mean to stay with you, Miss Dinah.”
So Anne had to stay also. She sat down and wrote two letters: one to Sally, saying their coming home was delayed; the other to Dr. Lewis, asking what she was to do.
“And the gain is mine,” observed Mr. Angerstyne. “What would the house have been without you?”
He appeared to speak to the girls generally. But his eyes and his smile evidently were directed to Anne. She saw it too, and blushed. Blushed! when she had not yet known him four-and-twenty hours. But he was just the fellow for a girl to fall in love with — and no disparagement to her to say so.
“Who is he?” I that evening asked Miss Dinah.
“A Mr. Angerstyne,” she answered. “I don’t know much of him, except that he is an independent gentleman with a beautiful estate in Essex, and a fashionable man. I see what you are thinking, Johnny: that it is curious a man of wealth and fashion should be staying at Lake’s boarding-house. But Mr. Angerstyne came over from Malvern to see Captain Bristow, the old invalid, who keeps his room upstairs, and when here the captain persuaded him to stay for a day or two, if we could give him a room. That’s how it was. Captain Bristow leaves us soon, and I suppose Mr. Angerstyne will be leaving too.”
I had expected to go home the following day; but that night up came two of the young Sankers, Dan and King, and said I was to go and stay a bit with them. Leave to do so was easily had from home; for just as our school at old Frost’s was reassembling, two boys who had stayed the holidays were taken with bad throats, and we were not to go back till goodness knew when. Tod, who was on a visit in Gloucestershire, thought it would be Michaelmas.
Back came letters from Cheltenham. Mrs. Lewis told her girls they might remain at Worcester if they liked. And Dr. Lewis wrote to Anne, saying she must not go home alone; and he enclosed a note to Mrs. Lake, asking her to be so kind as to take care of his daughter.
After that we had a jolly time. The Sankers and Lakes amalgamated well, and were always at one another’s houses. This does not apply to Mrs. Lake and Miss Dinah: as Miss Dinah put it, they had no time for gadding down to Sanker’s. But Mr. Angerstyne (who had not left) grew quite familiar there; the Sankers, who never stood on the slightest ceremony, making no stranger of him. Captain Sanker discovered that two or three former naval chums of his were known to Mr. Angerstyne; one dead old gentleman in particular, who had been his bosom friend. This was quite enough. Mr. Angerstyne had, so to say, the key of the house given him, and went in and out of it at will.
Every one liked Mr. Angerstyne. And for all the pleasurable excursions that now fell to our lot, we were indebted to him. Without being ostentatious, he opened his purse freely; and there was a delicacy in his manner of doing it that prevented its being felt. On the plea of wanting, himself, to see some noted spot or place in the neighbourhood, he would order a large post-carriage from the Star or the Crown, and invite as many as it would hold to accompany him, and bring baskets of choice fruit, or dainties from the pastry-cook’s, to regale us on. Or he would tell the Sankers that King looked delicate: poor lame King, who was to die ere another year had flown. Down would come the carriage, ostensibly to take King for a drive; and a lot of us reaped the benefit. Mrs. Sanker was always of the party: without a chaperon, the young ladies could not have gone. Generally speaking the Miss Podds would come —they took care of that: and Anne Lewis always came — which I think Mr. Angerstyne took care of. The golden page of life was opening for Anne Lewis: she seemed to be entering on an Elysian pathway, every step of which was strewn with flowers.
One day we went to Holt Fleet. The carriage came down to the Sankers’ in the morning, Mr. Angerstyne in it, and the captain stepped out of doors, his face beaming, to see the start. Once in a way he would be of the party himself, but not often. Mr. Angerstyne handed Mrs Sanker in, and then called out for me. I held back, feeling uncomfortable at being always taken, and knowing that Fred and Dan thought me selfish for it. But it was of no use: Mr. Angerstyne had a way of carrying out his own will.
“Get up on the box, Johnny,” he said to me. And, close upon my heels, wanting to share the box with me, came Dan Sanker. Mr. Angerstyne pulled him back.
“Not you, Dan. I shall take King.”
“King has been ever so many times — little wretch!” grumbled Dan. “It’s my turn. It’s not fair, Mr. Angerstyne.”
“You, Dan, and Fred, and Toby, all the lot of you, shall have a carriage to yourselves for a whole day if you like, but King goes with me,” said Mr. Angerstyne, helping the lad up.
He got in himself, took his seat by Mrs. Sanker, and the post-boy touched up his horses. Mrs. Sanker, mildly delighted, for she liked these drives, sat in her ordinary costume: a fancy shawl of some thick kind of silk crape, all the colours of the rainbow blended into its pattern, and a black velvet bonnet with a turned-up brim and a rose in it, beneath which her light hair hung down in loose curls.
We stopped at Lake’s boarding-house to take up the three girls; who got in, and sat on the seat opposite Mrs. Sanker and Mr. Angerstyne: and then the post-boy started for Holt Fleet. “The place is nothing,” observed Captain Sanker, who had suggested it as an easy, pleasant drive to Mr. Angerstyne; “but the inn is comfortable, and the garden’s nice to sit or stroll in.”
We reached Holt Fleet at one o’clock. The first thing Mr. Angerstyne did was to order luncheon, anything they could conveniently give us, and to serve it in the garden. It proved to be ham and eggs; first-rate; we were all hungry, and he bade them keep on frying till further orders. At which the girl who waited on us laughed, as she drew the corks of some bottled perry.
I saw a bit of by-play later on. Strolling about to digest the ham and eggs, some in one part of the grounds, which in places had a wild and picturesque aspect, some in another, Mr. Angerstyne suddenly seized Anne, as if to save her from falling. She was standing in that high narrow pathway that is perched up aloft and looks so dangerous, steadying herself by a tree, and bending cautiously forwards to look down. The path may be gone now. The features of the whole place may be altered; perhaps even done away with altogether; for I am writing of years and years ago. He stole up and caught her by the waist.
“Oh, Mr. Angerstyne!” she exclaimed, blushing and starting.
“Were you going to take a leap?”
“No, no,” she smiled. “Would it kill me if I did?”
“Suppose I let you go — and send you over to try it?”
Ah, he would not do that. He was holding her all too safely. Anne made an effort to free herself; but her eyelids drooped over her tell-tale eyes, her conscious face betrayed what his presence was to her.
“How beautiful the river is from this, as we look up it!” she exclaimed.
“More than beautiful.”
Julia Podd rushed up to mar the harmony. Never does a fleeting moment of this kind set in but somebody does mar it. Julia flirted desperately with Mr. Angerstyne.
“Mr. Angerstyne, I have been looking for you everywhere. Mrs. Sanker wants to know if you will take us for a row on the water. The inn has a nice boat.”
“Mrs. Sanker does!” he exclaimed. “With pleasure. Are you fond of the water, Miss Lewis?”
Anne made no particular reply. She stood at a little distance now, apparently looking at the view; but I thought she wanted to hide her hot cheeks. Mr. Angerstyne caught her hand in his, playfully put his other hand within Miss Julia’s arm, and so piloted them down. Ah, he might flirt back again with Julia Podd, and did; with Fanny also; but it was not to them his thoughts were given.
“Go on the water!” said Mrs. Sanker, who was sitting under the shade of the trees, repeating one of her favourite ballads to King in a see-saw tone. “I! Julia Podd must have misunderstood me. To go on the water might be nice for those who would like it, I said. I don’t.”
“Will you go?” asked Mr. Angerstyne, turning to Anne.
Anne shook her head, confessing herself too much of a coward. She had never been on any water in her life until when crossing over from France, and never wished to be. And Mr. Angerstyne ungallantly let the boat alone, though Julia and Fanny told him they adored the water.
We sat down in the shade by Mrs. Sanker; some on the bench by her side, some on the grass at her feet, and she recited for us the time-worn ballad she had begun for King: just as the following year she would recite things to us, as already told of, sitting on the floor beam of the turret-room. It was called “Lord Thomas.” Should you like to hear it?
Lord Thomas he was a bold forester,
And a keeper of the king’s deer;
Fair Ellenor, she was a fair young lady,
Lord Thomas he loved her dear.
“Come, read me a riddle, dear mother,” said he,
“And riddle us both as one:
Whether fair Ellen shall be mine —
Or to bring the brown girl home?”
“The brown girl she hath both houses and lands;
Fair Ellenor, she has none:
Therefore I’d advise thee, on my blessing,
To bring the brown girl home.”
Then he decked himself and he dressed himself,
And his merry men, all in green:
And as he rode through the town with them
Folks took him to be some king.
When he came to fair Ellenor’s bower
So boldly he did ring;
There was none so ready as fair Ellen herself
To loose Lord Thomas in.
“What news, what news, Lord Thomas,
What news have you brought unto me?”
“I’m come to invite you to my wedding;
And that is bad news for thee.”
“Oh, now forbid,” fair Ellenor said,
“That any such thing should be done:
For I thought to have been the bride myself,
And that you would have been the bridegroom.
“Come, read me a riddle, dear mother,” said she,
“And riddle us both as one:
Whether I shall go to Lord Thomas’s wedding,
Or whether I shall tarry at home?”
“There’s one may be thy friend, I know;
But twenty will be thy foe:
Therefore I charge thee, on my blessing,
To Lord Thomas’s wedding don’t go.”
“There’s one will be my friend, I know,
Though twenty should be my foe:
Betide me life, or betide me death,
To Lord Thomas’s wedding I go.”
Then she went up into her chamber
And dressed herself all in green:
And when she came downstairs again,
They thought it must be some queen.
When she came to Lord Thomas’s castle
So nobly she did ring:
There was none so ready as Sir Thomas himself
To loose this lady in.
Then he took her by her lily-white hand
And led her across the hall;
And he placed her on the daïs,
Above the ladies all.
“Is this your bride, Lord Thomas?
I think she looks wondrous brown:
You might have had as fair a young maiden
As ever trod English ground.”
“Despise her not,” said Lord Thomas;
“Despise her not unto me;
I love thy little finger, Ellen,
Better than her whole body.”
The brown girl, having a knife in her hand,
Which was both keen and sharp,
Between the long ribs and the short,
She pierced fair Ellenor’s heart.
“Oh, what’s the matter?” Lord Thomas said,
“I think you look pale and wan:
You used to have as fine a colour
As ever the sun shone on.”
“What, are you blind, now, Thomas?
Or can’t you very well see?
Oh, can’t you see, and oh, can’t you see my own heart’s blood
Run trickling down to my knee?”
Then Lord Thomas, he took the brown girl by the hand,
And led her across the hall;
And he took his own bride’s head off her shoulders,
And dashed it against the wall.
Then Lord Thomas, he put the sword to the ground,
The point against his heart:
So there was an end of those three lovers,
So sadly they did part!
Upon fair Ellenor’s grave grew a rose,
And upon Lord Thomas’s a briar:
And there they twixed and there they twined, till they came to
That all the world might plainly see, true love is never forgot.
“Oh, how delightful these old ballads are!” cried Anne, as Mrs. Sanker finished.
“Delightful!” retorted Julia Podd. “Why, they are full of queer phrases and outrageous metre and grammar!”
“My dears, it is, I suppose, how people wrote and spoke in those old days,” said Mrs. Sanker, who had given great force to every turn of the song, and seemed to feel its disasters as much as though she had been fair Ellen herself.
“Just so,” put in Mr. Angerstyne. “The world was not full of learning then, as it is now, and we accept the language — ay and like it, too — as that of a past day. To me, these old ballads are wonderful: every one has a life’s romance in it.”
And that day at Holt Fleet, the only time I, Johnny Ludlow, ever saw the place, lives in my memory as a romance now.
As the days went on, there could be no mistake made by the one or two of us who kept our eyes open. I mean, as to Mr. Angerstyne’s liking for Anne Lewis, and the reciprocal feelings he had awakened. With her, it had been a case of love at first sight; or nearly so. And that, if you may believe the learned in the matter, is the only love deserving the name. Perhaps it had been so with him: I don’t know.
Three parts of their time they talked together in French, for Mr. Angerstyne spoke it well. And that vexed Julia and Fanny Podd; who called themselves good French scholars, but who somehow failed to understand. “They talk so fast; they do it on purpose,” grumbled Fanny. At German Mr. Angerstyne was not apt. He spoke it a very little, and Anne would laughingly correct his mistakes, and repeat the German words slowly over, that he might catch the accent, causing us no end of fun. That was Anne’s time of day, as Fanny Podd expressed it; but when it came to the musical evenings, Anne was nowhere. The other two shone like stars then, and did their best to monopolize Mr. Angerstyne.
That a fine gentleman, rich, and a man of the great world, should stay dawdling on at a boarding-house, puzzled Miss Dinah, who knew what was what. Of course it was no business of hers; she and Mrs. Lake were only too glad to have one who paid so liberally. He would run upstairs to sit with Captain Bristow; and twice a week he went to Malvern, sometimes not getting back in time for dinner.
The college school had begun again, and I was back at Lake’s. For Tom and Alfred Lake, who had been away, were at home now: and nothing would do but I must come to their house before I went home — to which I was daily expecting a summons. As to the bride and bridegroom, we thought they meant to remain away for good; weeks had elapsed since their departure. No one regretted that: Julia and Fanny Podd considered Maythorn Bank the fag-end of the world, and hoped they might never be called to it. And Anne, living in the Elysian Fields, did not care to leave them for the dreary land outside their borders.
One evening we were invited to a tea-dinner at Captain Sanker’s. The Miss Podds persisted in calling it a soirée. It turned out to be a scrambling sort of entertainment, and must have amused Mr. Angerstyne. Biddy had poured the bowl of sweet custard over the meat patties by mistake, and put salt on the open tartlets instead of sugar. It seemed nothing but fun to us all. The evening, with its mistakes, and its laughter, and its genuine hospitality, came to an end, and we started to go home under the convoy of Mr. Angerstyne, all the Sanker boys, except Toby, attending us. It was a lovely moonlight night; Mrs. Lake, who had come in at the tail of the soirée to escort the girls home, remarked that the moon was never brighter.
“Why, just look there!” she exclaimed, as we turned up Edgar Street, intending to take that and the steps homewards; “the Tower gates are open!” For it was the custom to close the great gates of Edgar Tower at dusk.
“Oh, I know,” cried Fred Sanker. “The sub-dean gave a dinner to-night; and the porter has left the gates wide for the carriages. Who is good for a race round the green?”
It seemed that we all were, for the whole lot of us followed him in, leaving Mrs. Lake calling after us in consternation. The old Tower porter, thinking the Green was being charged by an army of ill-doers, rushed out of his den, shouting to us to come back.
Much we heeded him! Counting the carriages (three of them) waiting at the sub-dean’s door, we raced onwards at will, some hither, some thither. King went back to Mrs. Lake. The evening coolness felt delicious after the hot and garish day; the moonlight brought out the lights and shades of the queer old houses and the older cathedral. Collecting ourselves together presently, at Fred Sanker’s whoop, Mr. Angerstyne and Anne were missing.
“They’ve gone to look at the Severn, I think,” said Dan Sanker. “I heard him tell her it was worth looking at in the moonlight.”
Yes, they were there. He had Anne’s arm tucked up under his, and his head bent over her that she might catch his whispers. They turned round at hearing our footsteps.
“Indeed we must go home, Mr. Angerstyne,” said Julia Podd, who had run down after me, and spoke crossly. “The college clock is chiming a quarter to eleven. There’s Mrs. Lake waiting for us under the Tower!”
“Is it so late?” he answered her, in a pleasant voice. “Time flies quickly in the moonlight: I’ve often remarked it.”
Walking forward, he kept by the side of Julia; Anne and I followed together. Some of the boys were shouting themselves hoarse from the top of the ascent, wanting to know if we were lost.
“Is it all settled, Anne?” I asked her, jestingly, dropping my voice.
“Is what settled?” she returned. But she understood; for her face looked like a rose in the moonlight.
“You know. I can see, if the others can’t. And if it makes you happy, Anne, I am very glad of it.”
“Oh, Johnny, I hope — I hope no one else does see. But indeed you are making more of it than it deserves.”
“What does he say to you?”
“He has not said anything. So you see, Johnny, you may be quite mistaken.”
It was all the same: if he had not said anything yet, there could be no question that he meant soon to say it. We were passing the old elm-trees just then; the moonlight, flickering through them on Anne’s face, lighted up the sweet hope that lay on it.
“Sometimes I think if — if papa should not approve of it!” she whispered.
“But he is sure to approve of it. One cannot help liking Mr. Angerstyne: and his position is undeniable.”
The sub-dean’s dinner guests were gone, the three carriages bowling them away; and the porter kept up a fire of abuse as he waited to watch us through the little postern-door. The boys, being college boys, returned his attack with interest. Wishing the Sankers good-night, who ran straight down Edgar Street on their way home, we turned off up the steps, and found Mrs. Lake standing patiently at her door. I saw Mr. Angerstyne catch Anne’s hand for a moment in his, under cover of our entrance.
The morning brought news. Dr. and Mrs. Lewis were on their way to Maythorn Bank, expected to reach it that evening, and the young ladies were bidden to depart for it on the following day.
A wonderful change had taken place in Dr. Lewis. If they had doubted before whether the doctor was not falling into his dotage they could not doubt longer, for he was decidedly in it. A soft-speaking, mooning man, now; utterly lost in the shadow cast by his wife’s importance. She appeared to be smiling in face and gentle in accent as ever, but she overruled every soul in the house: no one but herself had a will in it. What little strength of mind he might have had, his new bride had taken out of him.
Anne did not like it. Hitherto mistress of all things under her father, she found herself passed over as a nonentity. She might not express an opinion, or hazard a wish. “My dear, I am here now,” Mrs. Lewis said to her once or twice emphatically. Anne was deposed; her reign was over.
One little thing, that happened, she certainly did not like. Though humble-minded, entirely without self-assertion, sweet-tempered and modest as a girl should be, she did not like this. Mrs. Lewis sent out invitations for dinner to some people in the neighbourhood, strangers to her until then; the table was too full by one, and she had told Anne that she could not sit down. It was too bad; especially as Julia and Fanny Podd filled two of the more important places, with bunches of fresh sweet-peas in their hair.
“Besides,” Mrs. Lewis had said to Anne in the morning, “we must have a French side-dish or two, and there’s no one but you understands the making of them.”
Whether having to play the host was too much for him, or that he did not like the slight put upon his daughter, before the dinner was half over, the doctor fell asleep. He could not be roused from it. Herbert Tanerton, who had sat by Mrs. Lewis’s side to say grace, thought it was not sleep but unconsciousness. Between them the company carried him into the other room; and Anne, hastening to send in her French dishes, ran there to attend upon him.
“I hope and trust there’s nothing amiss with his heart,” said old Coney doubtfully, in the bride’s ear.
“My dear Mr. Coney, his heart is as strong as mine — believe me,” affirmed Mrs. Lewis, flicking some crumbs off the front of her wedding-dress.
“I hope it is, I’m sure,” repeated Coney. “I don’t like that blue tinge round his lips.”
They went back to the dinner-table when Dr. Lewis revived. Anne remained kneeling at his feet, gently chafing his hands.
“What’s the matter?” he cried, staring at her like a man bewildered. “What are you doing?”
“Dear papa, you fell asleep over your dinner, and they could not wake you. Do you feel ill?”
“Where am I?” he asked, as if he were speaking out of a dream. And she told him what she could. But she had not heard those suspicious words of old Coney’s.
It was some minutes yet before he got much sense into him, or seemed fully to understand. He fell back in the chair then, with a deep sigh, keeping Anne’s hand in his.
“Shall I get you anything, papa?” she asked. “You had eaten scarcely any dinner, they say. Would you like a little drop of brandy-and-water?”
“Why was not your dress ready?”
“My dress!” exclaimed Anne.
“She said so to me, when I asked why you did not come to table. Not made, or washed, or ironed; or something.”
Anne felt rather at sea. “There’s nothing the matter with my dresses, papa,” she said. “But never mind them — or me. Will you go back to dinner? Or shall I get you anything here?”
“I don’t want to go back; I don’t want anything,” he answered. “Go and finish yours, my dear.”
“I have had mine,” she said, with a faint blush. For indeed her dinner had consisted of some bread-and-butter in the kitchen, eaten over the French stew-pans. Dr. Lewis was gazing out at the trees, and seemed to be in thought.
“Perhaps you stayed away from home rather too long, papa,” she suggested. “You are not accustomed to travelling; and I think you are not strong enough for it. You looked very worn when you first came home; worn and ill.”
“Ay,” he answered. “I told her it did not do for me; but she laughed. It was nothing but a whirl, you know. And I only want to be quiet.”
“It is very quiet here, dear papa, and you will soon feel stronger. You shall sit out of doors in the sun of a day, and I will read to you. I wish you would let me get you ——”
“Hush, child. I’m thinking.”
With his eyes still fixed on the outdoor landscape, he sat stroking Anne’s hand abstractedly. Nothing broke the silence, except the faint rattle of knives and forks from the dining-room.
“Mind, Anne, she made me do it,” he suddenly exclaimed.
“Made you do what, papa?”
“And so, my dear, if I am not allowed to remedy it, and you feel disappointed, you must think as lightly of it as you are able; and don’t blame me more than you can help. I’ll alter it again if I can, be sure of that; but I don’t have a moment to myself, and at times it seems that she’s just my keeper.”
Anne answered soothingly that all he did must be right, but had no time to say more, for Mr. Coney, stealing in on tip-toe from the dining-room, came to see after the patient. Anne had not the remotest idea what it was that the doctor alluded to; but she had caught up one idea with dread of heart — that the marriage had not increased his happiness. Perhaps had marred it.
Maythorn Bank did not suit Mrs. Lewis. Ere she had been two weeks at it, she found it insufferably dull; not to be endured at any price. There was no fashion thereabout, and not much visiting; the neighbours were mostly simple, unpretending people, quite different from the style of company met with in garrison towns and pump-rooms. Moreover the few people who might have visited Mrs. Lewis, did not seem to take to her, or to remember that she was there. This did not imply discourtesy: Dr. Lewis and his daughter had just come into the place, strangers, so to say, and people could not practically recollect all at once that Maythorn Bank was inhabited. Where was the use of dressing up in peacock’s plumes if nobody came to see her? The magnificent wardrobe, laid in during her recent honeymoon, seemed as good as wasted.
“I can’t stand this!” emphatically cried Mrs. Lewis one day to her daughters. And Anne, chancing to enter the room unexpectedly at the moment, heard her say it, and wondered what it meant.
That same afternoon, Dr. Lewis had another attack. Anne found him sitting beside the pear-tree insensible, his head hanging over the arm of the bench. Travelling had not brought this second attack on, that was certain; for no man could be leading a more quiet, moping life than he was. Save that he listened now and then to some book, read by Anne, he had no amusement whatever, no excitement; he might have sat all day long with his mouth closed, for all there was to open it for. Mrs. Lewis’s powers of fascination, that she had exercised so persistently upon him as Mrs. Podd, seemed to have deserted her for good. She passed her hours gaping, sleeping, complaining, hardly replying to a question of his, if he by chance asked her one. Even the soft sweet voice that had charmed the world mostly degenerated now into a croak or a scream. Those very mild, not-say-boo-to-a-goose voices are sometimes only kept for public life.
“I shall take you off to Worcester,” cried Mrs. Lewis to him, when he came out of his insensibility. “We will start as soon as breakfast’s over in the morning.”
Dr. Lewis began to tremble. “I don’t want to go to Worcester,” said he. “I want to stay here.”
“But staying here is not good for you, my dear. You’ll be better at Mrs. Lake’s. It is the remains of this paint that is making you ill. I can smell it still quite strongly, and I decidedly object to stay in it.”
“My dear, you can go; I shall not wish to prevent you. But, as to the paint, I don’t smell it at all now. You can all go. Anne will take care of me.”
“My dear Dr. Lewis, do you think I would leave you behind me? It is the paint. And you shall see a doctor at Worcester.”
He said he was a doctor himself, and did not need another; he once more begged to be left at home in peace. All in vain: Mrs. Lewis announced her decision to the household; and Sally, whose wits had been well-nigh scared away by the doings and the bustle of the new inmates, was gladdened by the news that they were about to take their departure.
“Pourtant si le ciel nous protège,
Peut-être encore le reverrai-je.”
These words, the refrain of an old French song, were being sung by Anne Lewis softly in the gladness of her heart, as she bent over the trunk she was packing. To be going back to Worcester, where he was, seemed to her like going to paradise.
“What are you doing that for?”
The emphatic question, spoken in evident surprise, came from her stepmother. The chamber-door was open; Mrs. Lewis had chanced to look in as she passed.
“What are you doing that for?” she stopped to ask. Anne ceased her song at once and rose from her knees. She really did not know what it was that had elicited the sharp query — unless it was the singing.
“You need not pack your own things. You are not going to Worcester. It is intended that you shall remain here and take care of the house and of Sally.”
“Oh, but, Mrs. Lewis, I could not stay here alone,” cried Anne, a hundred thoughts rushing tumultuously into her mind. “It could not be.”
“Not stay here alone! Why, what is to hinder it? Do you suppose you would get run away with? Now, my dear, we will have no trouble, if you please. You will stay at home like a good girl — therefore you may unpack your box.”
Anne went straight to her father, and found him with Herbert Tanerton. He had walked over from Timberdale to inquire after the doctor’s health.
“Could this be, papa?” she said. “That I am to be left alone here while you stay at Worcester?”
“Don’t talk nonsense, child,” was the peevish answer. “My belief is that you dream dreams, Anne, and then fancy them realities.”
“But Mrs. Lewis tells me that I am not to go to Worcester — that I am to stay at home,” persisted Anne. And she said it before Mrs. Lewis: who had come into the room then, and was shaking hands with the parson.
“I think, love, it will be so much better for dear Anne to remain here and see to things,” she said, in that sweet company-voice of hers.
“No,” dissented the doctor, plucking up the courage to be firm. “If Anne stays here, I shall stay. I’m sure I should be thankful if you’d let us stay: we should have a bit of peace and quiet.”
She did not make a fuss before the parson. Perhaps she saw that to hold out might cause some unprofitable commotion. Treating Anne to a beaming smile, she remarked that her dear papa’s wish was of course law, and bade her run and finish her packing.
And when they arrived the next day at Lake’s, and Anne heard that Henry Angerstyne was in truth still there and knew that she should soon be in his presence, it did indeed seem to her that she had stepped into paradise. She was alone when he entered. The others had sought their respective chambers, leaving Anne to gather up their packages and follow, and she had her bonnet untied and her arms full of things when he came into the room. Paradise! she might have experienced some bliss in her life, but none like unto this. Her veins were tingling, her heart-blood leaping. How well he looked! how noble! how superior to other men! As he caught her hand in his, and bent to whisper his low words of greeting, she could scarcely contain within bounds the ecstasy of her emotion.
“I am so glad you are back again, Anne! I could not believe the good news when the letter came to Mrs. Lake this morning. You have been away two weeks, and they have seemed like months.”
“You did not come over: you said you should,” faltered Anne.
“Ay. And I sprained my foot the day you left, and have had to nurse it. It is not strong yet. Bad luck, was it not? Bristow has been worse, too. Where are you going?”
“I must take these things up to papa and Mrs. Lewis. Please let me go.”
But, before he would release her hand, he suddenly bent his head and kissed her: once, twice.
“Pardon me, Anne, I could not help it; it is only a French greeting,” he whispered, as she escaped with her face rosy-red, and her heart beating time to its own sweet music.
“What a stay Mr. Angerstyne is making!” exclaimed Fanny Podd, who had run about to seek Miss Dinah, and found her making a new surplice for Tom.
“Well, we are glad to have him,” answered Miss Dinah, “and he has had a sprained ankle. We know now what is detaining him in Worcestershire. It seems that some old lady is lying ill at Malvern, and he can’t get away.”
“Some old lady lying ill at Malvern!” retorted Fanny, who liked to take Miss Dinah down when she could. “Why should that detain Mr. Angerstyne? Who is the old lady?”
“She is a relation of his: his great-aunt, I think. And I believe she is very fond of him, and won’t let him go to any distance. All these visits he makes to Malvern are to see her. She is very rich, and he will come in for her money.”
“I’m sure he’s rich enough without it; he does not want more money,” grumbled Fanny. “If the old lady would leave a little to those who need it, she might do some good.”
“She would have to be made of gold and diamonds if she left some to all who need it,” sighed Miss Dinah. “Mr. Angerstyne deserves to be rich, he is so liberal with his money. Many a costly dainty he causes us to send up to that poor sick Captain Bristow, letting him think it is all in the regular fare.”
“But I think it was fearfully sly of him never to tell us why he went so much to Malvern — only you must always put in a good word for everybody, Miss Dinah. I asked him one day what his attraction was, that he should be perpetually running over there, and he gravely answered me that he liked the Malvern air.”
Just for a few days, Dr. Lewis seemed to get a little better. Mrs. Lewis’s fascinations had returned to her, and she in a degree kept him alive. It might have been from goodness of heart, or it might have been that she did not like to neglect him before people just yet, but she was ever devising plans for his amusement — which of course included that of herself and of her daughters. Mr. Angerstyne had not been more lavish of money in coach hire than was Mrs. Lewis now. Carriages for the country and flys for the town — that was the order of the day. Anne was rarely invited to make one of the party: for her there never seemed room. What of that? — when by staying at home she had the society of Mr. Angerstyne.
Whilst they were driving everywhere, or taking their pleasure in the town, shopping and exhibiting their finery, of which they seemed to display a new stock perpetually, Anne was left at liberty to enjoy her dangerous happiness. Dangerous, if it should not come to anything: and he had not spoken yet. They would sit together over their German, Anne trying to beat it into him, and laughing with him at his mistakes. If she went out to walk, she presently found herself overtaken by Mr. Angerstyne: and they would linger in the mellow light of the soft autumn days, or in the early twilight. Whatever might come of it, there could be no question that for the time being she was living in the most intense happiness. And about a fortnight of this went on without interruption.
Then Dr. Lewis began to droop. One day when he was out he had another of those attacks in the carriage. It was very slight, Mrs. Lewis said when they got back again; he did not lose consciousness for more than three or four minutes. But he continued to be so weak and ill afterwards that a physician was called in-Dr. Malden. What he said was known only to the patient and his wife, for nobody else was admitted to the conference.
“I want to go home,” the doctor said to Anne the next morning, speaking in his usual querulous, faint tone, and as if his mind were half gone. “I’m sure I did not smell any paint the last time; it must have been her fancy. I want to go there to be quiet.”
“Well, papa, why don’t you say so?”
“But it’s of no use saying so: she won’t listen. I can’t stand the racket here, child, and the perpetual driving out: the wheels of the carriages shake my head. And look at the expense! It frightens me.”
Anne scarcely knew what to answer. She herself was powerless; and, so far as she believed, her father was; utterly so. Powerless in the hands of his new wife. Dr. Lewis glanced round the room as if to make sure there were no eavesdroppers, and went on in a whisper.
“I’m terrified, Anne. I am being ruined. All my ready-money’s gone; she has had it all; she made me draw it out of the bank. And there, in that drawer, are two rolls of bills; she brought them to me yesterday, and there’s nothing to pay them with.”
Anne’s heart fluttered. Was he only fancying these things in his decaying mind? Or, were they true?
“September has now come in, papa, and your quarter’s dividends will soon be due, you know. Do not worry yourself.”
“They have been forestalled,” he whispered. “She owed a lot of things before her marriage, and the people would have sued me had I not paid them. I wish we were back in France, child! I wish we had never left it!” And, but for one thing, Anne would have wished it, too.
One afternoon, when it was getting late, Anne went into High Street to buy some ribbon for her hair. Mrs. Lewis and her party had gone over to Croome, some one having given her an order to see the gardens there. Lake’s house was as busy as it could be, some fresh inmates of consequence being expected that evening; Anne had been helping Miss Dinah, and it was only at the last minute she could run out. In coming back, the ribbon bought, close to the college gates she heard steps behind her, and found her arm touched. It was by Mr. Angerstyne. For the past two days — nearly three — he had been absent at Malvern. The sight of him was as if the sun had shone.
“Oh! — is it you? — are you back again?” she cried, with as much quiet indifference as she could put on.
“I have just arrived. My aunt is better. And how are you, Anne?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“Need you go in yet? Let us take a short stroll. The afternoon is delightful.”
He called it afternoon, but it was getting on fast for evening: and he turned in at the college gates as he spoke. So they wound round St. Michael’s Churchyard and passed on to the Dark Alley, and so down the long flight of steps that leads from it, and on to the banks of the Severn.
“How are you all going on at Lake’s?” he asked presently, breaking the silence.
“Just as usual. To-day is a grand field-day,” Anne added gaily: “at least, this evening is to be one, and we are not to dine until seven o’clock.”
“Seven? So much the better. But why?”
“Some people of importance are coming ——”
Mr. Angerstyne’s laugh interrupted her. She laughed also.
“They are Miss Dinah’s words: ‘people of importance.’ They will arrive late, so the dinner-hour is put off.”
“Take care, Anne!”
A horse, towing a barge, was overtaking them. Mr. Angerstyne drew Anne out of the way, and the dinner and the new guests were forgotten.
It was almost dusk when they returned. The figures on the college tower were darkened, as they came through the large boat-house gateway: the old elm-trees, filled with their cawing rooks, looked weird in the dim twilight. Mr. Angerstyne did not turn to the Dark Alley again, but went straight up to the Green. He was talking of his estate in Essex. It was a topic often chosen by him; and Anne seemed to know the place quite well by this time.
“You would like the little stream that runs through the grounds,” he was observing. “It is not, of course, like the grand river we have just left, but it is pleasant to wander by, for it winds in and out in the most picturesque manner possible, and the banks are overshadowed by trees. Yes, Anne, you would like that.”
“Are you going through the cloisters? — is it not too late?” she interrupted, quite at a loss for something to say; not caring to answer that she should like to wander by the stream.
For he was crossing towards the little south cloister door: though onwards through the Green would have been their more direct road.
“Too late? No. Why should it be? You are not afraid of ghosts, are you?”
Anne laughed. But, lest she should be afraid of ghosts, he put her hand within his arm as they passed through the dark narrow passage beyond the postern; and so they marched arm-inarm through the cloisters.
“To sit by that winding stream on a summer’s day listening to its murmurs, to the singing of the birds, the sweet sighing of the trees; or holding low converse with a cherished companion — yes, Anne, you would like that. It would just suit you, for you are of a silent and dreamy nature.”
There might not be much actual meaning in the words if you sat down to analyze them: but, to the inexperienced mind of Anne, they sounded very like plain speaking. At any rate, she took them to be an earnest that she should sometime sit by that stream with him — his wife. The dusky cloisters seemed to have suddenly filled themselves with refulgent light; the gravestones over which she was passing felt soft as the mossy glades of fairyland: ay, even that mysterious stone that bears on it the one terrible word “Miserrimus.” Heaven was above her, and heaven beneath: there was no longer any prosaic earth for Anne Lewis.
“Good-night to you, gentlefolks.”
The salutation was from the cloister porter; who, coming into close the gates, met them as they were nearing the west door. Not another word had passed until now: Mr. Angerstyne had fallen into silence. Anne could not have spoken to gain the world.
“Good-night to you, my man,” he answered.
Lake’s was in a bustle when they reached it. The luggage of the new people, who had just been shown to their chambers, was being taken in; the carriage containing Dr. and Mrs. Lewis was then just driving up. Anne felt alarmed as she caught sight of her father; he looked so very ill. Mr. Angerstyne, in his ready, kindly way, waited to help him down and give him his arm along the passage; he then ran up to his room, remarking that he had letters to write.
The people assembled for dinner in full fig, out of deference to the new-comers: who proved to be a Lady Knight, and a Mrs. and Miss Colter. Anne wore her pretty grey bridesmaid’s dress, and the ribbon, just bought, in her hair. At the very last moment, Mr. Angerstyne came down, his hands full of the letters he had been writing.
“Why, are you here?” exclaimed Lady Knight: who seemed to be a chatty, voluble woman. “I am surprised.”
Mr. Angerstyne, putting his letters on the side-table, until he could take them to the post, turned round at the address. A moment’s stare, half doubt, half astonishment, and he went forward to shake Lady Knight’s hand.
“What brings you here?” she asked.
“I have been here some little time. Old Miss Gibson is at Malvern, so I can’t go far away.”
There was no opportunity for more: dinner was waiting. Mr. Angerstyne and Anne sat side by side that evening; Lady Knight was opposite. Miss Dinah presided as usual, her best yellow cap perched on the top of her curls.
During an interval of silence between the general bustle and rattle of the dinner, for the two girls who waited (after their own fashion) had both run away with the fish to bring in the meat, Lady Knight looked across the table to put a question to Mr. Angerstyne.
“How is your wife?”
The silence dropped to a dead stillness. He appeared not to hear.
“How is your wife, Henry Angerstyne? Have you seen her lately?”
He could not pretend to be deaf any longer, and answered with angry curtness:
“No, I have not. She is all right, I suppose.”
By the way the whole table stared, you might have thought a bombshell had fallen. Miss Dinah sat with her mouth open in sheer amazement, and then spoke involuntarily.
“Are you really married, Mr. Angerstyne?”
“Of course he is married,” said Lady Knight, answering Miss Dinah. “All the world knows that. His wife is my cousin. I saw her at Lowestoft a few weeks ago, Henry. She was looking prettier than ever.”
“Ah, Mr. Angerstyne, how sly you were, not to tell us!” cried Mrs. Lewis, playfully shaking her fan at him. “You —— Oh, goodness me!”
A loud crash! Jenny the maid had dropped a hot vegetable dish on the floor, scattering the pieces and spilling the peas; and followed it up with a shriek and a scream. That took off the attention; and Mr. Angerstyne, coolly eating away at his bread, turned to make some passing remark to Anne.
But the words he would have said were left unspoken. No ghost ever seen, in cloisters or out of them, was whiter than she. Lips and fingers were alike trembling.
“You should be more careful!” he called to the maid in a tone of authority. “Ladies don’t care to be startled in this way.” Just as though Anne had turned white from the noise of the broken dish!
Well, it had been a dreadful revelation for her. All the sunshine of this world seemed to have gone out for ever; to have left nothing behind it but a misty darkness. Rallying her pride and her courage, she went on with her dinner, as the others did. Her head was throbbing, her brain on fire; her mind had turned to chaos. She heard them making arrangements for a picnic-party to the woods at Croome on the morrow; not in the least understanding what was said or planned.
“You did surprise us!” observed Mrs. Lewis to Lady Knight, when they were in the drawing-room after dinner, and Mr. Angerstyne had gone out to post his letters. “What could have been his motive for allowing us to think him a bachelor?”
“A dislike to mention her name,” replied Lady Knight, candidly. “That was it, I expect. He married her for her pretty face, and then found out what a goose she was. So they did not get on together. She goes her way, and he goes his; now and then they meet for a week or two, but it is not often.”
“What a very unsatisfactory state of things!” cried Miss Dinah, handing round the cups of coffee herself for fear of another upset. “Is it her fault or his?”
“Faults lie on both sides,” said Lady Knight, who had an abrupt way of speaking, and was as poor as a church mouse. “She has a fearfully affronting temper of her own; those women with dolls’ faces sometimes have; and he was not as forbearing as he might have been. Any way, that is the state of affairs between Mr. and Mrs. Angerstyne: and, apart from it, there’s no scandal or reproach attaching to either of them.”
Anne, sitting in a quiet corner, listened to all this mechanically. What mattered the details to her? the broad fact had been enough. The hum of conversation was going on all around; her father, looking somewhat the better for his dinner, was playing at backgammon with Tom Lake. She saw nothing, knew nothing, until Mr. Angerstyne dropped into the seat beside her.
“Shall you join this expedition to Croome tomorrow, Anne?”
Julia and Fanny were thumping over a duet, pedal down, and Anne barely caught the low-spoken words.
“I do not know,” she answered, after a brief pause. “My head aches.”
“I don’t much care about it myself; rather the opposite. I shall certainly not go if you don’t.”
Why! he was speaking to her just as though nothing had occurred! If anything could have added to her sense of shame and misery it was this. It sounded like an insult, arousing all the spirit she possessed; her whole nature rose in rebellion against his line of conduct.
“Why have you been talking to me these many weeks as you have been talking, Mr. Angerstyne?” she asked in her straightforward simplicity, turning her face to his.
“There has been no harm in it,” he answered.
“Harm!” she repeated, from her wrung heart. “Perhaps not to you. There has been at least no good in it.”
“If you only knew what an interval of pleasantness it has been for me, Anne! Almost deluding me into forgetting my odious chains and fetters?”
“Would a gentleman have so amused himself, Mr. Angerstyne?”
But she gave him no opportunity of reply. Rising from her seat, and drawing her slight form to its full height, she looked into his face steadily, knowing not perhaps how much of scorn and reproach her gaze betrayed, then crossed the room and sat down by her father. Once after that she caught his eye: caught the expression of sorrow, of repentance, of deep commiseration that shone in every line of his face — for she could not altogether hide the pain seated in her own. And later, amidst the bustle of the general good-nights, she found her hand pressed within his, and heard his whispered, contrite prayer —
“Forgive me, Anne: forgive me!”
She lay awake all night, resolving to be brave, to make no sign; praying Heaven to help her to bear the anguish of her sorely-stricken heart, not to let the blow quite kill her. It seemed to her that she must feel it henceforth during all her life.
And before the house was well up in the morning, a messenger arrived post-haste from Malvern to summon Mr. Angerstyne to his aunt’s dying bed. He told Miss Dinah, when he shook hands with her at parting, that she might as well send his traps after him, if she would be so kind, as he thought he might not be able to return to Worcester again.
And that was the ending of Anne Lewis’s love. Not a very uncommon ending, people say. But she had been hardly dealt by.
The blinds of a house closely drawn, the snow drifting against the windows outside, and somebody lying dead upstairs, cannot be called a lively state of things. Mrs. Lewis and her daughters, Julia and Fanny Podd, sitting over the fire in the darkened dining-room at Maythorn Bank, were finding it just the contrary.
When Dr. Lewis, growing worse and worse during their sojourn at Lake’s boarding-house at Worcester the previous autumn, had one day plucked up courage to open his mind to his physician, telling him that he was pining for the quiet of his own little cottage home, and that the stir and racket at Lake’s was more than he could bear, Dr. Malden peremptorily told Mrs. Lewis that he must have his wish, and go. So she had to give in, and prepared to take him; though it went frightfully against the grain. That was in September, three months back; he had been getting weaker and more imbecile ever since, and now, just as Christmas was turned, he had sunk quietly away to his rest.
Anne, his loving, gentle daughter, had been his constant companion and attendant. He had not been so ill as to lie in bed, but a great deal had to be done for him, especially in the matter of amusing what poor remnant of mind was left. She read to him, she talked to him, she wrapped great-coats about him, and took him out to walk on sunshiny days in the open walk by the laurels. It was well for Anne that she was thus incessantly occupied, for it diverted her mind from the misery left there by the unwarrantable conduct of Mr. Angerstyne. When a girl’s lover proves faithless, to dwell upon him and lament him brings to her a sort of painful pleasure: but that negative indulgence was denied to Anne Lewis: Henry Angerstyne was the husband of another, and she might not, willingly, keep him in her thoughts. To forget him, as she strove to do, was a hard and bitter task: but the indignation she felt at the man’s deceit and cruel conduct was materially helping her. Once, since, she had seen his name in the Times: it was amongst the list of visitors staying at some nobleman’s country-house. Henry Angerstyne. And the thrill that passed through her veins as the name caught her eye, the sudden stopping and then rushing violently onwards of her life’s blood, convinced her how little she had forgotten him.
“But I shall forget him in time,” she said to herself, pressing her hand upon her wildly-beating heart. “In time, God helping me.”
And from that moment she redoubled her care and thought for her father; and he died blessing her and her love for him.
Anne felt the loss keenly; though perhaps not quite so much so as she would have felt it had her later life been less full of suffering. It seemed to be but the last drop added to her cup of bitterness. She knew that to himself death was a release: he had ceased to find pleasure in life. And now she was left amidst strangers, or worse than strangers; she seemed not to have a friend to turn to in the wide world.
Dr. Lewis had died on Monday morning. This was Tuesday. Mrs. Lewis had been seeing people today and yesterday, giving her orders; but never once consulting Anne, or paying her the compliment to say, Would you like it to be this way, or that?
“How on earth any human being could have pitched upon this wretched out-of-the-world place, Crabb, to settle down in, puzzles me completely,” suddenly exclaimed Mrs. Lewis, bending forward to stir the fire.
“He must have been a lunatic,” acquiesced Julia, irreverently alluding to the poor man who was lying in the room above.
“Not a decent shop in the place! Not a dressmaker who can cut out a properly-fitting skirt! Be quiet, Fanny: you need not dance.”
“One does not know what to do,” grumbled Fanny, ceasing to shuffle, and returning to her seat. “But I should like to know, mamma, about our mourning.”
“I think I shall go to Worcester today and order it,” spoke up Mrs. Lewis, briskly, after a pause. “Necessity has no law; and we cannot get proper things unless I do. Yes, we will go: I don’t mind the weather. Julia, ring the bell.”
Anne — poor Anne — came in to answer the bell. She had no choice: Sally was out on an errand.
“Just see that we have a tray in with the cold meat, Anne, at half-past twelve. We must go to Worcester about the mourning ——”
“To Worcester!” involuntarily interrupted Anne, in her surprise.
“There’s no help for it, though of course it’s not the thing I would choose to do,” said Mrs. Lewis, coldly. “One cannot provide proper things here: bonnets especially. I will get you a bonnet at the same time. And we must have a bit of something, hot and nice, for tea, when we come home.”
“Very well,” sighed Anne.
In the afternoon, Anne sat in the same room alone, busy over some black work, on which her tears dropped slowly. When it was growing dusk, Mr. Coney and the young Rector of Timberdale came in together. Herbert Tanerton did not forget that his late stepfather and Dr. Lewis were half-brothers. Anne brushed away the signs of her tears, laid down her work, and stirred the fire into a blaze.
“Now, my lass,” said the farmer, in his plain, homely way, but he always meant kindly, “I’ve just heard that that stepmother of yours went off to Worcester today with those two dandified girls of hers, and so I thought I’d drop in while the coast was clear. I confess I don’t like her: and I say that somebody ought to look a bit to you and your interests.”
“And I, coming over upon much the same errand, met Mr. Coney at the gate,” added Herbert Tanerton, with a smile as near geniality as he ever gave. “I wish to express my deep regret for your loss, Miss Lewis, and to assure you of my true sympathy. You will think my visit a late one, but I had a — a service this afternoon.” He would not say a funeral.
“You are both very, very kind,” said Anne, her eyes again filling, “and I thank you for thinking of me. I feel isolated from all: this place at best is strange to me after my life’s home in France. It seems that I have not a friend in the world.”
“Yes, you have,” said the farmer; “and if my wife had not been staying with our sick daughter at Worcester, she’d have been in to tell you the same. My dear, you are just going, please, to make a friend of me. And you won’t think two or three questions, that I should like to put, impertinent, will you?”
“That I certainly will not,” said Anne.
“Well, now, to begin with: Did your father make a will?”
“Oh yes. I hold it.”
“And do you chance to know how the property is left?”
“To me. No name but my own is mentioned in it.”
“Then you’ll be all right,” said Mr. Coney. “I feared he might have been leaving somebody else some. You will have about two hundred and fifty pounds a-year; and that’s enough for a young girl. When your father first came over, he spoke to me of his income and his means.”
“I— I fear the income will be somewhat diminished from what it was,” hesitated Anne, turning red at having to confess so much, because it would tell against her stepmother. “My father has had to sell out a good deal lately, to entrench upon his capital. I think the trouble it gave him hastened his end.”
“Sell out for what?” asked old Coney.
“For bills, and — and debts, that came upon him.”
“Her bills? Her debts?”
Anne did not expressly answer, but old Coney caught up the truth, and nodded his head in wrath. He as good as knew it before.
“Well, child, I suppose you may reckon, at the worst, on a clear two hundred a-year, and you can live on that. Not keep house, perhaps; and it would be very lonely for you also. You will have to take up your abode with some pleasant family: many a one would be glad to have you.”
“I should like to go back to France,” sighed Anne, recalling the misery that England had brought her: first in her new stepmother, then in Mr. Angerstyne, and now in her father’s death. “I have many dear friends in France who will take every care of me.”
“Well, I don’t know,” cried old Coney, with a blank look. “France may be very well for some people; but I’d almost as lieve go to the gallows as there. Don’t you like England?”
“I should like it well, if I— if I could be happy in it,” she answered, turning red again at the thought of him who had marred her happiness. “But, you see, I have no ties here.”
“You must make ties, my lass.”
“How much of the income ought I to pay over yearly to Mrs. Lewis, do you think?” she questioned. “Half of it?”
“Half! No!” burst forth old Coney, coughing down a strong word which had nearly slipped out. “You will give her none. None. A pretty idea of justice you must have, Anne Lewis.”
“But it would be fair to give it her,” argued Anne. “My father married her.”
“Oh, did he, though! She married him. I know. Other folks know. You will give her none, my dear, and allow her none. She is a hard, scheming, deceitful brickbat of a woman. What made her lay hold of your poor weakened father, and play off upon him her wiles and her guiles, and marry him, right or wrong?” ran on old Coney, getting purple enough for apoplexy. “She did it for a home; she did it that she might get her back debts paid; that’s what. She has had her swing as long as his poor life lasted, and put you down as if you were a changeling; we have all seen that. Now that her short day’s over, she must go back again to her own ways and means. Ask the parson there what he thinks.”
The parson, in his cold sententious way, that was so much more suited to an old bishop than a young rector, avowed that he thought with Mr. Coney. He could not see that Mrs. Lewis’s few months of marriage entitled her (all attendant circumstances being taken into consideration) to deprive Miss Lewis of any portion of her patrimony.
“You are sure you have got the will all tight and safe?” resumed Mr. Coney. “I wouldn’t answer for her not stealing it. Ah, you may laugh, young lassie, but I don’t like that woman. Miss Dinah Lake was talking to me a bit the other day; she don’t like her, either.”
Anne was smiling at his vehement partisanship. She rose, unlocked a desk that stood on the side-table, and brought out a parchment, folded and sealed. It was subscribed, “Will of Thomas Lewis, M.D.”
“Here it is,” she said. “Papa had it drawn up by an English lawyer just before we left France. He gave it to me, as he was apt to mislay things himself, charging me to keep it safely.”
“And mind you do keep it safely,” enjoined old Coney. “It won’t be opened, I suppose, till after the funeral’s over.”
“But wait a minute,” interposed the clergyman. “Does not marriage — a subsequent marriage — render a will invalid?”
“Bless my heart, no: much justice there’d be in that!” retorted old Coney, who knew about as much of law as he did of the moon. And Mr. Tanerton said no more; he was not certain; and supposed the older and more experienced man might be right.
Anne sighed as she locked up the will again. She was both just and generous; and she knew she should be sure to hand over to Mrs. Lewis the half of whatever income it might give her.
“Well, my girl,” said the farmer, as they prepared to leave, “if you want me, or anything I can do, you just send Sally over, and I’ll be here in a jiffy.”
“It is to be at Timberdale, I conclude?” whispered Herbert Tanerton, as he shook hands. Anne knew that he alluded to the funeral; and the colour came up in her face as she answered —
“I don’t know. My father wished it; he said he wished to lie beside his brother. But Mrs. Lewis — here they come, I think.”
They came in with snowy bonnets and red noses, stamping the slush off their shoes. It was a good walk from the station. Mrs. Lewis had expected to get a fly there; one was generally in waiting: but some one jumped out of the train before she did, and secured it. It made her feel cross and look cross.
“Such a wretched trapes!” she was beginning in a vinegar tone; but at sight of the gentlemen her face and voice smoothed down to oil. She begged them to resume their seats; but they said they were already going.
“We were just asking about the funeral,” the farmer stayed to say. “It is to be at Timberdale?”
Up went Mrs. Lewis’s handkerchief to her eyes. “Dear Mr. Coney, I think not. Crabb will be better.”
“But he wished to lie at Timberdale.”
“Crabb will be so much cheaper — and less trouble,” returned the widow, with a sob. “It is as well to avoid useless expense.”
“Cheaper!” cried old Coney, his face purple again with passion, so much did he dislike her and her ways. “Not cheaper at all. Dearer. Dearer, ma’am. Must have a hearse and coach any way: and Herbert Tanerton here won’t charge fees if it’s done at Timberdale.”
“Oh, just as you please, my dear sir. And if he wished it, poor dear! Yes, yes; Timberdale of course. Anywhere.”
They got out before she had dried her eyes — or pretended at it. Julia and Fanny then fetched in some bandboxes which had been waiting in the passage. Mrs. Lewis forgot her tears, and put back her cloak.
“Which is Anne’s?” she asked. “Oh, this one”— beginning to undo one of the boxes. “My own will be sent tomorrow night. I bought yours quite plain, Anne.”
Very plain indeed was the bonnet she handed out. Plain and common, and made of the cheapest materials; one that a lady would not like to put upon her head. Julia and Fanny were trying theirs on at the chimney-glass. Gay bonnets, theirs glistening with jet beads and black flowers. The bill lay open on the table, and Anne read the cost: her own, twelve shillings; the other two, thirty-three shillings each. Mrs. Lewis made a grab at the bill, and crushed it into her pocket.
“I knew you would prefer it plain,” said she. “For real mourning it is always a mistake to have things too costly.”
“True,” acquiesced Anne; “but yet — I think they should be good.”
It seemed to her that to wear this bonnet would be very like disrespect to the dead. She silently determined to buy a better as soon as she had the opportunity of doing so.
Of all days, for weather, the one of the funeral was about the worst. Sleet, snow, rain, and wind. The Squire had a touch of lumbago; he could not face it; and old Coney came bustling in to say that I was to attend in his place. Anne wanted Johnny Ludlow to go all along, he added; her father had liked him; only there was no room before in the coach.
“Yes, yes,” cried the Squire, “Johnny, of course. He is not afraid of lumbago. Make haste and get into your black things, lad.”
Well, it was shivery, as we rolled along in the creaky old mourning-coach, behind the hearse: Mr. Coney and the Podds’ lawyer-cousin from Birmingham on one side; I and Cole, the doctor, opposite. The sleet pattered against the windows, the wind whistled in our ears. The lawyer kept saying “eugh,” and shaking his shoulders, telling us he had a cold in his head; and looked just as stern as he had at the wedding.
All was soon over: Herbert Tanerton did not read slowly today: and we got back to Maythorn Bank. Cole had left us: he stopped the coach en route, and cut across a field to see a patient: but Mr. Coney drew me into the house with him after the lawyer.
“We will go in, Johnny,” he whispered. “The poor girl has no relation or friend to back her up, and I shall stay with her while the will’s read.”
Mrs. Lewis, in a new widow’s cap as big as a house, and the two girls in shining jet chains, were sitting in state. Anne came in the next minute, her face pale, her eyes red. We all sat down; and for a short time looked at one another in silence, like so many mutes.
“Any will to be read? I am told there is one,” spoke the lawyer — who had, as Fanny Podd whispered to me, a wife at home as sour as himself. “If so, it had better be produced: I have to catch a train.”
“Yes, there is a will,” answered old Coney, glad to find that Anne, as he assumed, had mentioned the fact. “Miss Lewis holds the will. Will you get it, my dear?”
Anne unlocked the desk on the side-table, and put the will into Mr. Coney’s hand. Without saying with your leave or by your leave, he broke the seals, and clapped on his spectacles.
“What’s that?” Mrs. Lewis asked old Coney, from her seat on the sofa.
“Dr. Lewis’s will, ma’am. Made in France, I believe: was it not, Miss Anne?”
“My dear, sweet creature, it is so much waste paper,” spoke Mrs. Lewis, smiling sweetly upon Anne. “My deeply lamented husband’s last will and testament was made long since he left France.”
Pulling up the sofa-cushion at her elbow, she produced another will, and asked the lawyer if he would be good enough to unseal and read it. It had been made, as the date proved, at Cheltenham, the day after she and Dr. Lewis were married; and it left every earthly thing he possessed to “his dear wife, Louisa Jane Lewis.”
Old Coney’s face was a picture. He stared alternately at the will in his hands, at the one just read by the lawyer. Anne stood meekly by his side; looking as if she did not understand matters.
“That can’t stand good!” spoke the farmer, in his honest indignation. “The money can’t go to you, ma’am”— turning his burly form about to face Mrs. Lewis, and treading on my toes as he did it. “The money is this young lady’s; part of it comes from her own mother: it can’t be yours. Thomas Lewis must have signed the will in his sleep.”
“Does a daughter inherit before a wife, dear sir?” cried Mrs. Lewis, in a voice soft as butter. “It is the most just will my revered husband could have made. I need the money: I cannot keep on the house without it. Anne does not need it: she has no house to keep.”
“Look here,” says old Coney, buttoning his coat and looking fiercely at the company. “It’s not my wish to be rude today, remembering what place we came straight here from; but if you don’t want to be put down as — as schemers, you will not lose an hour in making over the half of that income to Anne Lewis. It is what she proposed to do by you, madam, when she thought all was left to her,” he added, brushing past Mrs. Lewis. “Come along, Johnny.”
The time went on. Mrs. Lewis kept all the money. She gave notice to leave the house at Midsummer: but she had it on her hands until then, and told people she should die of its dulness. So far as could be known, she had little, if any, income, except that which she inherited from Dr. Lewis.
Anne’s days did not pass in clover. Treated as of no moment, she was made fully to understand that she was only tolerated in what was once her own home; and she had to make herself useful in it from morning till night, just like a servant. Remembering what had been, and what was, Anne felt heart-broken, submitting patiently and unresistingly to every trial; but a reaction set in, and her spirit grew rebellious.
“Is there any remedy, I wonder?” she asked herself one night in her little chamber, when preparing for bed, and the day had been a particularly trying day. She had ventured to ask for a few shillings for some purpose or other, and was told she could not have them: being Easter–Monday, Sally had had a holiday, and she had been kept at work like a slave in the girl’s place: Herbert Tanerton and his wife had come to invite her for a day or two to Timberdale, and a denial was returned to them without herself being consulted, or even allowed to see them. Yes, it had been a trying day. And in France Easter had always been kept as a fête.
“Is there not a remedy?” she debated, as she slowly undressed. “I have no home but this; but — could I not find one?”
She knew that she had no means of living, except by her own exertions; she had not even a rag to wear or a coin to spend, except what should come to her by Mrs. Lewis’s bounty. And, whether that lady possessed bounty or not, she seemed never to possess ready-money. It appeared to Anne that she had been hardly dealt by in more ways than one; that the world was full of nothing but injustice and trouble.
“And I fancy,” added Anne, thinking out her thoughts, “that they will be glad to get rid of me; that they want me gone. So I dare say there will be no objection made here.”
With morning light, she was up and busy. It fell to her lot to prepare the breakfast: and she must not keep the ladies waiting for it one minute. This morning, however, she had to keep them waiting; but not through any fault of hers.
They grew impatient. Five minutes past nine: ten minutes past nine: what did Anne mean? Julia and Fanny were not much better dressed than when they got out of bed; old jackets on, rough and rumpled hair stuck up with hair-pins. In that respect they presented a marked contrast to Anne, who was ever trim and nice.
“I’m sure she must be growing the coffee-berries!” cried Fanny, as she flung the door open. “Is that breakfast coming today, or tomorrow?”
“In two minutes,” called back Anne.
“Oh, what a dreary life it is out here!” groaned Mrs. Lewis. “Girls, I think we will go over to Worcester today, and arrange to stay a week at Lakes. And then you can go to the subscription ball at the Town Hall, that you are so wild over.”
“Oh, do, do!” cried Julia, all animation now. “If I don’t go to that ball, I shall die.”
“I shall run away, if we don’t; I have said all along I would not miss the Easter ball,” spoke Fanny. “Mamma, I cannot think why you don’t shut this miserable house up!”
“Will you find the rent for another?” coolly asked Mrs Lewis. “What can that girl be at with the coffee?”
It came in at last; and Anne was abused for her laziness. When she could get a word in, she explained that Sally had had an accident with the tea-kettle, and fresh water had to be boiled.
More indignation: Julia’s egg turned out to be bad. What business had Anne to boil bad eggs? Anne, saying nothing, took it away, boiled another and brought it in. Then Mrs. Lewis fancied she could eat a thin bit of toasted bacon; and Anne must go and do it at the end of a fork. Altogether the breakfast was nearly at an end before she could sit down and eat her own bread-and-butter.
“I have been thinking,” she began, in a hesitating tone, to Mrs. Lewis, “that I should like to go out. If you have no objection.”
“Go out where?”
“Into some situation.”
Mrs. Lewis, in the act of conveying a piece of bacon to her mouth, held it suspended in mid-air, and stared at Anne in amazement.
“A situation in some gentleman’s family. I have no prospect before me; no home; I must earn my own living.”
“The girl’s daft!” cried Mrs. Lewis, resuming her breakfast. “No home! Why, you have a home here; your proper home. Was it not your father’s?”
“Yes. But it is not mine.”
“It is yours; and your days in it are spent usefully. What more can you want? Now, Anne, hold your tongue, and don’t talk nonsense. If you have finished your breakfast you can begin to take the things away.”
“Mamma, why don’t you let her go?” whispered Fanny, as Anne went out with some plates.
“Because she is useful to me,” said Mrs. Lewis. “Who else is there to see to our comforts? We should be badly off with that incapable Sally. And who would do all the needlework? recollect how much she gets through. No, as long as we are here, Anne must stay with us. Besides, the neighbourhood would have its say finely if we let her turn out. People talk, as it is, about the will, and are not so friendly as they might be. As if they would like me to fly in the face of my dear departed husband’s wishes, and tacitly reproach his judgment!”
But Anne did not give up. When she had taken all the things away and folded up the table-cloth, she came in again and spoke.
“I hope you will not oppose me in this, Mrs. Lewis. I should like to take a situation.”
“And, pray, what situation do you suppose you could take?” ironically asked Mrs. Lewis. “You are not fitted to fill one in a gentleman’s family.”
“Unless it be as cook,” put in Julia.
“Or seamstress,” said Fanny. “By the way, I want some more cuffs made, Anne.”
“I should like to try for a situation, notwithstanding my deficiencies. I could do something or other.”
“There, that’s enough: must I tell you again not to talk nonsense?” retorted Mrs. Lewis. “And now you must come upstairs and see to my things, and to Julia’s and Fanny’s. We are going to Worcester by the half-past eleven train — and you may expect us home to tea when you see us.”
They went off. As soon as their backs were turned, Anne came running into our house, finding me and Mrs. Todhetley at the piano. It was pleasant Easter weather, though March was not out: the Squire and Tod had gone to Dyke Manor on some business, and would not be home till late. Anne told all her doubts and difficulties to the mater, and asked her advice, as to whether there would be anything wrong in her seeking for a situation.
“No, my dear,” said the mother, “it would be right, instead of wrong. If ——”
“If people treated me as they treat you, Anne, I wouldn’t stay with them a day,” said I, hotly. “I don’t like toads.”
“Oh, Johnny!” cried Mrs. Todhetley. “Never call names, dear. No obligation whatever, Anne, lies on you to remain in that home; and I think you would do well to leave it. You shall stay and dine with me and Johnny at one o’clock, Anne; and we will talk it over.”
“I wish I could stay,” said poor Anne; “I hardly knew how to spare these few minutes to run here. Mrs. Lewis has left me a gown to unpick and turn, and I must hasten to begin it.”
“So would I begin it!” I cried, going out with her as far as the gate. “And I should like to know who is a toad, if she’s not.”
“Don’t you think I might be a nursery governess, Johnny?” she asked me, turning round after going through the gate. “I might teach French, and English, and German: and I am very fond of little children. The difficulty will be to get an introduction. I have thought of one person who might give it me — if I could only dare to ask him.”
“Sir Robert Tenby. He is of the great world, and must know every one in it. And he has always shown himself so very sociable and kind. Do you think I might venture to apply to him?”
“Why not? He could not eat you for it.”
She ran on, and I ran back. But, all that day, sitting over her work, Anne was in a state of doubt, not able to make up her mind. It was impossible to know how Sir Robert Tenby might take it.
“I have made you a drop of coffee and a bit of hot toast and butter, Miss Anne,” said Sally, coming in with a small tray. “Buttered it well. She’s not here to see it.”
Anne laughed, and thanked her; Mrs. Lewis had left them only cold bacon for dinner, and ordered them to wait tea until her return. But before the refreshment was well disposed of, she and the girls came in.
“How soon you are back!” involuntarily cried Anne, hoping Mrs. Lewis would not smell the coffee. “And how are they all at Lake’s?”
Mrs. Lewis answered by giving a snappish word to Lake’s, and ordered Anne to get tea ready. Fanny whispered the information that they were going to Worcester on the morrow to stay over the Easter ball; but not to Lake’s. Anne wondered at that.
Upon arriving at Lake’s that morning, Miss Dinah had received them very coolly; and was, as Mrs. Lewis remarked afterwards, barely civil. The fact was, Miss Dinah, being just-minded, took up Anne’s cause rather warmly; and did not scruple to think that the beguiling poor weak-minded Dr. Lewis out of the will he made, was just a piece of iniquity, and nothing less. Perceiving Miss Dinah’s crusty manner, Mrs. Lewis inquired after Mrs. Lake. “Where’s Emma?” she asked.
“Very much occupied today. Can I do anything for you?”
“We are thinking of coming to you tomorrow for a week, Dinah; I and my two girls. They are wild to go to the Easter ball. Which rooms can you give us?”
“Not any rooms,” spoke Miss Dinah, decisively. “We cannot take you in.”
“Not take me in! When the servant opened the door to us she said the house was not full. I put the question to her.”
“But we are expecting it to be full,” said Miss Dinah, curtly. “The Beales generally come over to the ball; and we must keep rooms for them.”
“You don’t know that they are coming, I expect. And in a boarding-house the rule holds good, ‘First come, first served.’”
“A boarding-house holds its own rules, and is not guided by other people’s. Very sorry: but we cannot make room this time for you and your daughters.”
“I’ll soon see that,” retorted Mrs. Lewis, getting hot. “Where’s Emma Lake? I am her cousin, and shall insist on being taken in.”
“She can’t take you in without my consent. And she won’t: that’s more. Look here, Mrs. Podd — I beg your pardon — the new name does not always come pat to me. When you were staying here before, and kept us so long out of our money, it put us to more inconvenience than you had any idea of. We ——”
“You were paid at last.”
“Yes,” said Miss Dinah; “with poor Dr. Lewis’s money, I expect. We made our minds up then, Mrs. Lewis, not to take you again. At least, I did; and Mrs. Lake agreed with me.”
“You will not have to wait again: I have money in my pocket now. And the girls must go to the ball on Thursday.”
“If your pockets are all full of money, it can make no difference to me. I’m sorry to say I cannot take you in, Mrs. Lewis: and now I have said all I mean to say.”
Mrs. Lewis went about the house, looking for Mrs. Lake, and did not find her. She, not as strong-minded as Miss Dinah, had bolted herself into the best bedroom, just then unoccupied. So Mrs. Lewis, not to be baffled as to the ball, went out to look for other lodgings, and found them in Foregate Street.
“But we shall be home on Saturday,” she said to Anne, as they were starting this second time for Worcester, on the Wednesday morning, the finery for the ball behind them in two huge trunks. “I have to pay a great deal for the rooms, and can’t afford to stay longer than that. And mind that you and Sally get the house in order whilst we are away; it’s a beautiful opportunity to clean it thoroughly down: and get on as quickly as you can with the needlework.”
“Why, my dear young lassie, I am not able to help you in such a thing as this. You had better see the master himself.”
Anne had lost no time. Leaving Sally to the cleaning, she dressed and walked over on the Wednesday afternoon to Bellwood, Sir Robert Tenby’s seat. She explained her business to Mrs. Macbean, the old family housekeeper, and asked whether she could help her into any good family.
“Nae, nae, child. I live down here all my days, and I know nothing of the gentlefolks in the great world. The master knows them all.”
“I did think once of asking if I might see Sir Robert; but my courage fails me now,” said Anne.
“And why should it?” returned the old lady. “If there’s one man more ready than another to do a kindness, or more sociable to speak with, it’s Sir Robert Tenby. He takes after his mother for that, my late dear lady; not after his father. Sir George was a bit proud. I’ll go and tell Sir Robert what you want.”
Sir Robert was in his favourite room; a small one, with a bright fire in it, its purple chairs and curtains bordered with gold. It was bright altogether, Anne thought as she entered: for he said he would see her. The windows looked out on a green velvet lawn, with beds of early flowers, and thence to the park; and, beyond all, to the chain of the Malvern Hills, rising against the blue sky. The baronet sat near one of the windows, some books on a small table at his elbow. He came forward to shake hands with Anne, and gave her a chair opposite his own. And, what with his good homely face and its smile of welcome, and his sociable, unpretending words, Anne felt at home at once.
In her own quiet way, so essentially that of a lady in its unaffected truth, she told him what she wanted: to find a home in some good family, who would be kind to her in return for her services, and pay her as much as would serve to buy her gowns and bonnets. Sir Robert Tenby, no stranger to the gossip rife in the neighbourhood, had heard of the unjust will, and of Anne’s treatment by the new wife.
“It is, I imagine, impossible for a young lady to get into a good family without an introduction,” said Anne. “And I thought — perhaps — you might speak for me, sir: you do know a little of me. I have no one else to recommend me.”
He did not answer for the moment: he sat looking at her. Anne blushed, and went on, hoping she was not offending him.
“No one else, I mean, who possesses your influence, and mixes habitually with the great world. I should not care to take service in an inferior family: my poor father would not have liked it.”
“Take service,” said he, repeating the word. “It is as governess that you wish to go out?”
“As nursery governess, I thought. I may not aspire to any better position, for I know nothing of accomplishments. But little children need to be taught French and German; I could do that.”
“You speak French well, of course?”
“As a native. German also. And I think I speak good English, and could teach it. And oh, sir, if you did chance to know of any family who would engage me, I should be so grateful to you.”
“French, English, and German,” said he, smiling. “Well, I can’t tell what the great world, as you put it, may call accomplishments; but I think those three enough for anybody.”
Anne smiled too. “They are only languages, Sir Robert. They are not music and drawing. Had my dear mamma suspected I should have to earn my own living, she would have had me educated for it.”
“I think it is a very hard thing that you should have to earn it,” spoke Sir Robert.
Anne glanced up through her wet eye-lashes: reminiscences of her mother always brought tears. “There’s no help for it, sir; I have not a shilling in the world.”
“And no home but one that you are ill-treated in-made to do the work of a servant? Is it not so?”
Anne coloured painfully. How did he know this? Generous to Mrs. Lewis in spite of all, she did not care to speak of it herself.
“And if people did not think me clever enough to teach, sir,” she went on, passing over his question, “I might perhaps go out to be useful in other ways. I can make French cakes and show a cook how to make French dishes; and I can read aloud well, and do all kinds of needlework. Some old lady, who has no children of her own, might be glad to have me.”
“I think many an old lady would,” said he. The remark put her in spirits. She grew animated.
“Oh, do you! I am so glad. If you should know of one, sir, would you please to tell her of me?”
Sir Robert nodded, and Anne rose to leave. He rose also.
“If I could be so fortunate as to get into such a home as this, with some kind old lady for my friend and mistress, I should be quite happy,” she said, in the simplicity of her heart. “How pleasant this room is! and how beautiful it is outside!”— pausing to look at the early flowers, as she passed the window.
“Do you know Bellwood? Were you ever here before?”
“No, sir, never.”
Sir Robert put on his hat and went out with her, showing her some pretty spots about the grounds. Anne was enchanted, especially with the rocks and the cascades. Versailles, she thought, could not be better than Bellwood.
“And when you hear of anything, sir, you will please to let me know?” she said, in parting.
“Yes. You had better come again soon. This is Wednesday: suppose you call on Friday. Will you?”
“Oh, I shall be only too glad. I will be sure to come. Good-bye, Sir Robert: and thank you very, very much.”
She went home with a light heart: she had not felt so happy since her father died.
“How good he is! how kind! a true gentleman,” she thought. “And what a good thing he fixed Friday instead of Saturday, for on Saturday they will be at home. But it is hardly possible that he will have heard of any place by that time, unless he has one in his eye.”
It was Friday afternoon before Anne could get to Bellwood, and rather late, also. She asked, as before, for Mrs. Macbean, not liking to ask direct for Sir Robert Tenby. Sir Robert was out, but was expected in every minute, and Anne waited in Mrs. Macbean’s parlour.
“Do you think he has heard of anything for me?” was one of the first questions she put.
“Eh, my dear, and how should I know?” was the old lady’s reply. “He does not tell me of his affairs. Not but what he talks to me a good deal, and always like a friend: he does not forget that my late leddy, his mother, made more of a friend of me than a servant. Many’s the half-hour he keeps me talking in his parlour; and always bids me take the easiest seat there. I wish he would marry!”
“Do you?” replied Anne, mechanically: for she was thinking more of her own concerns than Sir Robert’s.
“Why, yes, that I do. It’s a lonely life for him at best, the one he leads. I’ve not scrupled to tell him, times and oft, that he ought to bring a mistress home —— Eh, but there he is! That’s his step.”
As before, Anne went into the pretty room that Sir Robert, when alone, mostly sat in. Three or four opened letters lay upon the table, and she wondered whether they related to her.
“No, I have as yet no news for you,” he said, smiling at her eager face, and keeping her hand in his while he spoke. “You will have to come again for it. Sit down.”
“But if — if you have nothing to tell me today, I had better not take up your time,” said Anne, not liking to appear intrusive.
“My time! If you knew how slowly time some days seems to pass for me, you would have no scruple about ‘taking it up.’ Sit here. This is a pleasant seat.”
With her eyes fixed on the outer landscape, Anne sat on and listened to him. He talked of various things, and she felt as much at her ease (as she told me that same evening) as though she had been talking with me. Afterwards she felt half afraid she had been too open, for she told him all about her childhood’s home in France and her dear mother. It was growing dusk when she got up to go.
“Will you come again on Monday afternoon?” he asked. “I shall be out in the morning.”
“If I can, sir. Oh yes, if I can. But Mrs. Lewis, who will be at home then, does not want me to take a situation at all, and she may not let me come out.”
“I should come without telling her,” smiled Sir Robert. “Not want you to leave home, eh? Would you like to stay there to make the puddings? Ay, I understand. Well, I shall expect you on Monday. There may be some news, you know.”
And, somehow, Anne took up the notion that there would be news, his tone sounded so hopeful. All the way home her feet seemed to tread on air.
On the Sunday evening, when they were all sitting together at Maythorn Bank, and Anne had no particular duty on hand, she took courage to tell of what she had done, and that Sir Robert Tenby was so good as to interest himself for her. Mrs. Lewis was indignant; the young ladies were pleasantly satirical.
“As nursery governess: you!” mocked Miss Julia. “What shall you teach your pupils? To play at cats’ cradle?”
“Why, you know, Anne, you are not fit for a governess,” said Fanny. “It would be quite — quite wicked of you to make believe to be one. You never learnt a note of music. You can’t draw. You can’t paint.”
“You had better go to school yourself, first,” snapped Mrs. Lewis. “I will not allow you to take such a step: so put all thought of it out of your head.”
Anne leaned her aching brow upon her hand in perplexity. Was she so unfit? Would it be wicked? She determined to put the case fully before her kind friend, Sir Robert Tenby, and ask his opinion.
Providing that she could get to Sir Robert’s. Ask leave to go, she dare not; for she knew the answer would be a point-blank refusal.
But fortune favoured her. Between three and four o’clock on Monday afternoon, Mrs. Lewis and her daughters dressed themselves and sailed away to call on some people at South Crabb; which lay in just the contrary direction to Bellwood. They left Anne a heap of sewing to do: but she left the sewing and went out on her own score. I met her near the Ravine. She told me what she had done, and looked bright and flushed over it.
“Mrs. Lewis is one cat, and they are two other cats, Anne. Tod says so. Good-bye. Good luck to you!”
“Eh, my dear, and I was beginning to think you didna mean to come,” was Mrs. Macbean’s salutation. “But Sir Robert is nae back yet, he has been out on horseback since the morning; and he said you were to wait for him. So just take your bonnet off, and you shall have a cup of tea with me!”
Nothing loth, Anne took off her outdoor things. “They will be home before I am, and find me gone out,” she reflected; “but they can’t quite kill me for it.” The old lady rang her bell for tea, and thought what a nice and pretty young gentlewoman Anne looked in her plain black dress with its white frilling, and the handsome jet necklace that had been her mother’s.
But before the tea could be made, Sir Robert Tenby’s horse trotted up, and they heard him go to his sitting-room. Mrs. Macbean took Anne into his presence, saying at the same time that she had been about to give the young lady a cup of tea.
“I should like some tea, too,” said Sir Robert; “Miss Lewis can take it with me. Send it in.”
It came in upon a waiter, and was placed upon the table. Anne, at his request, put sugar and cream into his cup, handed it to him, and then took her own. He was looking very thoughtful; she seemed to fancy he had no good news for her, as he did not speak of it; and her heart went down, down. In a very timid tone, she told him of the depreciating opinion held of her talents at home, and begged him to say what he thought, for she should not like to be guilty of undertaking any duty she was not fully competent to fulfil.
“Will you take some more tea?” was all Sir Robert said in answer.
“No, thank you, sir.”
“Another biscuit? No? We will send the tray away then.”
Ringing the bell, a servant came in and removed the things. Sir Robert, standing at the window, and looking down at Anne as she sat, began to speak.
“I think there might be more difficulty in getting you a situation as governess than we thought for; one that would be quite suited to you, at least. Perhaps another kind of situation would do better for you.”
Her whole face, turned up to him with its gaze of expectancy, changed to sadness; the light in her eyes died away. It seemed so like the knell of all her hopes. Sir Robert only smiled.
“If you could bring yourself to take it — and to like it,” he continued.
“But what situation is it, sir?”
“That of my wife. That of Lady of Bellwood.”
Just for a moment or two she simply stared at him. When his meaning reached her comprehension, her face turned red and white with emotion. Sir Robert took her hand and spoke more fully. He had learnt to like her very very much, to esteem her, and wished her to be his wife.
“I am aware that there is a good deal of difference in our ages, my dear; more than twenty years,” he went on, while she sat in silence. “But I think you might find happiness with me; I will do my very best to insure it. Better be my wife than a nursery governess. What do you say?”
“Oh, sir, I do not know what to say,” she answered, trembling a little. “It is so unexpected — and a great honour — and — and I am overwhelmed.”
“Could you like me?” he gently asked.
“I do like you, sir; very much. But this — this would be different. Perhaps you would let me take until tomorrow to think about it?”
“Of course I will. Bring me your answer then. Bring it yourself, whatever it may be.”
“I will, sir. And I thank you very greatly.”
All night long Anne Lewis lay awake. Should she take this good man for her husband, or should she not? She did like him very much: and what a position it would be for her; and how sheltered she would be henceforth from the frowns of the world! Anne might never have hesitated, but for the remains of her love for Mr. Angerstyne. That was passing away from her heart day by day, as she knew; it would soon have passed entirely. She could never feel that same love again; it was over and done with for ever; but there was surely no reason why she should sacrifice all her future to its remembrance. Yes: she would accept Sir Robert Tenby: and would, by the help of Heaven, make him a true, faithful, good wife.
It was nearly dusk the next afternoon before she could leave the house. Mrs. Lewis had kept her in sight so long that she feared she might not find the opportunity that day. She ran all the way to Bellwood, anxious to keep her promise: she could not bear to seem to trifle, even for a moment, with this good and considerate man. Sir Robert was waiting for her in a glow of firelight. He came forward, took both her hands in his, and looked into her face inquiringly.
“Yes, sir, if you still wish to take me. I will try to be to you a loving wife; obedient and faithful.”
With a sigh of relief, he sat down on a sofa that was drawn to the fire and placed her beside him, holding her hand still.
“My dear, I thank you: you have made me very happy. You shall never have cause to repent it.”
“It is so strange,” she whispered, “that you should wait all these years, with the world to choose from, and then think of me at last! I can scarcely believe it.”
“Ay, I suppose it is strange. But I must tell you something, Anne. When quite a youth, only one-and-twenty, there was a young lady whom I dearly loved. She was poor, and not of much family, and my father forbade the union. She married some one else, and died. It is for the love of her I have kept single all these years. But I shall not make you the less good husband.”
“And I— I wish to tell you that I once cared for some one,” whispered Anne, in her straightforward honesty. “It is all over and done with; but I did like him very much.”
“Then, my dear, we shall be even,” he said, with a merry smile. “The one cannot reproach the other. And now — this is the beginning of April; before the month shall have closed you had better come to me. We have nothing to wait for; and I do not like, now that you belong to me, to leave you one moment longer than is needful with that lady whom you are forced to call stepmother.”
How Anne reached home that late afternoon she hardly knew: she knew still less how to bring the news out. In the course of the following morning she tried to do so, and made a bungle of it.
“Sir Robert not going to get you a situation as governess!” interrupted Julia, before Anne had half finished. “Of course he is not. He knows you are not capable of taking one. I thought how much he was intending to help you. You must have had plenty of cheek, Anne, to trouble him.”
“I am going to be his wife instead,” said poor Anne, meekly. “He has asked me to be. And — and it is to be very soon; and he is coming to see Mrs. Lewis this morning.”
Mrs. Lewis, sitting back in an easy-chair, her feet on the fender, dropped the book she was reading to stare at Anne. Julia burst into a laugh of incredulity. Her mother echoed it, and spoke ——
“You poor infatuated girl! This comes of being brought up on French soup. But Sir Robert Tenby has no right to play jokes upon you. I shall write and tell him so.”
“I— think — he is there,” stammered Anne.
There he was. A handsome carriage was drawing up to the gate, the baronet’s badge upon its panels. Sir Robert sat inside. A footman came up the path and thundered at the door.
Not very long afterwards — it was in the month of June — Anne and her husband were guests at a London crush in Berkeley Square. It was too crowded to be pleasant. Anne began to look tired, and Sir Robert whispered to her that if she had had enough of it, they would go home. “Very gladly,” she answered, and turned to say good-night to her hostess.
“Anne! How are you?”
The unexpected interruption, in a voice she knew quite well, and which sent a thrill through her, even yet, arrested Anne in her course. There stood Henry Angerstyne, his hand held out in greeting, a confident smile, as if assuming she could only receive him joyfully, on his handsome face.
“I am so much surprised to see you here; so delighted to meet you once again, Miss Lewis.”
“You mistake, sir,” replied Anne, in a cold, proud tone, drawing her head a little up. “I am Lady Tenby.”
Walking forward, she put her arm within her husband’s, who waited for her. Mr. Angerstyne understood it at once; it needed not the almost bridal robes of white silk and lace to enlighten him. She was not altered. She looked just the same single-minded, honest-hearted girl as ever, with a pleasant word for all — except just in the moment when she had spoken to him.
“I am glad of it: she deserves her good fortune,” he thought heartily. With all his faults, few men could be more generously just than Henry Angerstyne.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55