Presently the aunts rose, and Lady Barbara said to her in the low ceremonious voice that was a sure sign of warning and displeasure, "You had better come up stairs with us, Katharine, and amuse Lord Ernest in the back drawing-room while his father is engaged with us."
Kate's heart leapt up at the sound "amuse." She popped her precious note into her pocket, bounded up-stairs, and opened the back drawing- room door for her playfellow, as he brought up the rear of the procession.
Lord de la Poer and Lady Barbara spread the table with papers; Lady Jane sat by; the children were behind the heavy red curtains that parted off the second room. There was a great silence at first, then began a little tittering, then a little chattering, then presently a stifled explosion. Lady Barbara began to betray some restlessness; she really must see what that child was about.
"No, no," said Lord de la Poer; "leave them in peace. That poor girl will never thrive unless you let her use her voice and limbs. I shall make her come over and enjoy herself with my flock when we come up en masse."
The explosions were less carefully stifled, and there were some sounds of rushing about, some small shrieks, and then the door shut, and there was a silence again.
By this it may be perceived that Kate and Ernest had become tolerably intimate friends. They had informed each other of what games were their favourites; Kate had told him the Wardour names and ages; and required from him in return those of his brothers and sisters. She had been greatly delighted by learning that Adelaide was no end of a hand at climbing trees; and that whenever she should come and stay at their house, Ernest would teach her to ride. And then they began to consider what play was possible under the present circumstances— beginning they hardly knew how, by dodging one another round and round the table, making snatches at one another, gradually assuming the characters of hunter and Red Indian. Only when the hunter had snatched up Aunt Jane's tortoise-shell paper-cutter to stab with, complaining direfully that it was a stupid place, with nothing for a gun, and the Red Indian's crinoline had knocked down two chairs, she recollected the consequences in time to strangle her own war-whoop, and suggested that they should be safer on the stairs; to which Ernest readily responded, adding that there was a great gallery at home all full of pillars and statues, the jolliest place in the world for making a row.
"Oh dear! oh dear! how I hope I shall go there!" cried Kate, swinging between the rails of the landing-place. "I do want of all things to see a statue."
"A statue! why, don't you see lots every day?"
"Oh! I don't mean great equestrian things like the Trafalgar Square ones, or the Duke—or anything big and horrid, like Achilles in the Park, holding up a shield like a green umbrella. I want to see the work of the great sculptor Julio Romano."
"He wasn't a sculptor."
"Yes, he was; didn't he sculp—no, what is the word—Hermione. No; I mean they pretended he had done her."
"Hermione! What, have you seen the 'Winter's Tale?'"
"Papa—Uncle Wardour, that is—read it to us last Christmas."
"Well, I've seen it. Alfred and I went to it last spring with our tutor."
"Oh! then do, pray, let us play at it. Look, there's a little stand up there, where I have always so wanted to get up and be Hermione, and descend to the sound of slow music. There's a musical-box in the back drawing-room that will make the music.
"Very well; but I must be the lion and bear killing the courtier."
"O yes—very well, and I'll be courtier; only I must get a sofa- cushion to be Perdita."
"And where's Bohemia?"
"Oh! the hall must be Bohemia, and the stair-carpet the sea, because then the aunts won't hear the lion and bear roaring."
With these precautions, the characteristic roaring and growling of lion and bear, and the shrieks of the courtier, though not absolutely unheard in the drawing-room, produced no immediate results. But in the very midst of Lady Jane's signing her name to some paper, she gave a violent start, and dropped the pen, for they were no stage shrieks—"Ah! ah! It is coming down! Help me down! Ernest, Ernest! help me down! Ah!"—and then a great fall.
The little mahogany bracket on the wall had been mounted by the help of a chair, but it was only fixed into the plaster, being intended to hold a small lamp, and not for young ladies to stand on; so no sooner was the chair removed by which Kate had mounted, than she felt not only giddy in her elevation, but found her pedestal loosening! There was no room to jump; and Ernest, perhaps enjoying what he regarded as a girl's foolish fright, was a good way off, endeavouring to wind up the musical-box, when the bracket gave way, and Hermione descended precipitately with anything but the sound of soft music; and as the inhabitants of the drawing-room rushed out to the rescue, her legs were seen kicking in the air upon the landing-place; Ernest looking on, not knowing whether to laugh or be dismayed.
Lord de la Poer picked her up, and sat down on the stairs with her between his knees to look her over and see whether she were hurt, or what was the matter, while she stood half sobbing with the fright and shock. He asked his son rather severely what he had been doing to her.
"He did nothing," gasped Kate; "I was only Hermione."
"Yes, that's all, Papa," repeated Ernest; "it is all the fault of the plaster."
And a sort of explanation was performed between the two children, at which Lord de la Poer could hardly keep his gravity, though he was somewhat vexed at the turn affairs had taken. He was not entirely devoid of awe of the Lady Barbara, and would have liked his children to be on their best behaviour before her.
"Well," he said, "I am glad there is no worse harm done. You had better defer your statueship till we can find you a sounder pedestal, Lady Caergwent."
"Oh! call me Kate," whispered she in his ear, turning redder than the fright had made her.
He smiled, and patted her hand; then added, "We must go and beg pardon, I suppose; I should not wonder if the catastrophe had damaged Aunt Jane the most; and if so, I don't know what will be done to us!"
He was right; Lady Barbara had only satisfied herself that no bones had been broken, and then turned back to reassure her sister; but Lady Jane could not be frightened without suffering for it, and was lying back on the sofa, almost faint with palpitation, when Lord de la Poer, with Kate's hand in his, came to the door, looking much more consciously guilty than his son, who on the whole was more diverted than penitent at the commotion they had made.
Lady Barbara looked very grand and very dignified, but Lord de la Poer was so grieved for Lady Jane's indisposition, that she was somewhat softened; and then he began asking pardon, blending himself with the children so comically, that in all her fright and anxiety, Kate wondered how her aunt could help laughing.
It never was Lady Barbara's way to reprove before a guest; but this good gentleman was determined that she should not reserve her displeasure for his departure, and he would not go away till he had absolutely made her promise that his little friend, as he called Kate, should hear nothing more about anything that had that day taken place.
Lady Barbara kept her promise. She uttered no reproof either on her niece's awkward greeting, her abrupt conversation and its tendency to pertness, nor on the loudness of the unlucky game and the impropriety of climbing; nor even on what had greatly annoyed her, the asking for the subscription to the church. There was neither blame nor punishment; but she could not help a certain cold restraint of manner, by which Kate knew that she was greatly displeased, and regarded her as the most hopeless little saucy romp that ever maiden aunt was afflicted with.
And certainly it was hard on her. She had a great regard for Lord de la Poer, and thought his a particularly well trained family; and she was especially desirous that her little niece should appear to advantage before him. Nothing, she was sure, but Katharine's innate naughtiness could have made that well-behaved little Ernest break out into rudeness; and though his father had shown such good nature, he must have been very much shocked. What was to be done to tame this terrible little savage, was poor Lady Barbara's haunting thought, morning, noon, and night!
And what was it that Kate did want? I believe nothing could have made her perfectly happy, or suited to her aunt; but that she would have been infinitely happier and better off had she had the spirit of obedience, of humility, or of unselfishness.
The one hour of play with Ernest de la Poer had the effect of making Kate long more and more for a return of "fun," and of intercourse with beings of her own age and of high spirits.
She wove to herself dreams of possible delights with Sylvia and Charlie, if the summer visit could be paid to them; and at other times she imagined her Uncle Giles's two daughters still alive, and sent home for education, arranging in her busy brain wonderful scenes, in which she, with their assistance, should be happy in spite of Aunt Barbara.
These fancies, however, would be checked by the recollection, that it was shocking to lower two happy spirits in Heaven into playful little girls upon earth; and she took refuge in the thought of the coming chance of playfellows, when Lord de la Poer was to bring his family to London. She had learnt the names and ages of all the ten; and even had her own theories as to what her contemporaries were to be like—Mary and Fanny, Ernest's elders, and Adelaide and Grace, who came next below him; she had a vision for each of them, and felt as if she already knew them.
Meanwhile, the want of the amount of air and running about to which she had been used, did really tell upon her; she had giddy feelings in the morning, tired limbs, and a weary listless air, and fretted over her lessons at times. So they showed her to the doctor, who came to see Lady Jane every alternate day; and when he said she wanted more exercise, her morning walk was made an hour longer, and a shuttlecock and battledores were bought, with which it was decreed that Mrs. Lacy should play with her for exactly half an hour every afternoon, or an hour when it was too wet to go out.
It must be confessed that this was a harder task to both than the music lessons. Whether it were from the difference of height, or from Kate's innate unhandiness, they never could keep that unhappy shuttlecock up more than three times; and Mrs. Lacy looked as grave and melancholy all the time as if she played it for a punishment, making little efforts to be cheerful that were sad to see. Kate hated it, and was always cross; and willingly would they have given it up by mutual consent, but the instant the tap of the cork against the parchment ceased, if it were not half-past five, down sailed Lady Barbara to inquire after her prescription.
She had been a famous battledore-player in the galleries of Caergwent Castle; and once when she took up the battledore to give a lesson, it seemed as if, between her and Mrs. Lacy, the shuttlecock would not come down—they kept up five hundred and eighty-one, and then only stopped because it was necessary for her to go to dinner.
She could not conceive anyone being unable to play at battledore, and thought Kate's failures and dislike pure perverseness. Once Kate by accident knocked her shuttlecock through the window, and hoped she had got rid of it; but she was treated as if she had done it out of naughtiness, and a new instrument of torture, as she called it, was bought for her.
It was no wonder she did not see the real care for her welfare, and thought this intensely cruel and unkind; but it was a great pity that she visited her vexation on poor Mrs. Lacy, to whom the game was even a greater penance than to herself, especially on a warm day, with a bad headache.
Even in her best days at home, Kate had resisted learning to take thought for others. She had not been considerate of Mary's toil, nor of Mr. Wardour's peace, except when Armyn or Sylvia reminded her; and now that she had neither of them to put it into her mind, she never once thought of her governess as one who ought to be spared and pitied. Yet if she had been sorry for Mrs. Lacy, and tried to spare her trouble and annoyance, how much irritability and peevishness, and sense of constant naughtiness, would have been prevented! And it was that feeling of being always naughty that was what had become the real dreariness of Kate's present home, and was far worse than the music, the battledore, or even the absence of fun.
At last came a message that Lady Caergwent was to be dressed for going out to make a call with Lady Barbara as soon as luncheon was over.
It could be on no one but the De la Poers; and Kate was so delighted, that she executed all manner of little happy hops, skips, and fidgets, all the time of her toilette, and caused many an expostulation of "Mais, Miladi!" from Josephine, before the pretty delicate blue and white muslin, worked white jacket, and white ribboned and feathered hat, were adjusted. Lady Barbara kept her little countess very prettily and quietly dressed; but it was at the cost of infinite worry of herself, Kate, and Josephine, for there never was a child whom it was so hard to keep in decent trim. Armyn's old saying, that she ought to be always kept dressed in sacking, as the only thing she could not spoil, was a true one; for the sharp hasty movements, and entire disregard of where she stepped, were so ruinous, that it was on the records of the Bruton Street household, that she had gone far to demolish eight frocks in ten days.
However, on this occasion she did get safe down to the carriage— clothes, gloves, and all, without detriment or scolding; and jumped in first. She was a long way yet from knowing that, though her aunts gave the first place to her rank, it would have been proper in her to yield it to their years, and make way for them.
She was too childish to have learnt this as a matter of good breeding, but she might have learnt it of a certain parable, which she could say from beginning to end, that she should "sit not down in the highest room."
Her aunt sat down beside her, and spent the first ten minutes of the drive in enjoining on her proper behaviour at Lady de la Poer's. The children there were exceedingly well brought up, she said, and she was very desirous they should be her niece's friends; but she was certain that Lady de la Poer would allow no one to associate with them who did not behave properly.
"Lord de la Poer was very kind to me just as I was," said Kate, in her spirit of contradiction, which was always reckless of consequences.
"Gentlemen are no judges of what is becoming to a little girl," said Lady Barbara severely. "Unless you make a very different impression upon Lady de la Poer, she will never permit you to be the friend of her daughters."
"I wonder how I am to make an impression," meditated Kate, as they drove on; "I suppose it would make an impression if I stood up and repeated, 'Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!' or something of that sort, as soon as I got in. But one couldn't do that; and I am afraid nothing will happen. If the horses would only upset us at the door, and Aunt Barbara be nicely insensible, and the young countess show the utmost presence of mind! But nothing nice and like a book ever does happen. And after all, I believe that it is all nonsense about making impressions. Thinking of them is all affectation; and one ought to be as simple and unconscious as one can." A conclusion which did honour to the countess's sense. In fact, she had plenty of sense, if only she had ever used it for herself, instead of for the little ladies she drew on her quires of paper.
Lady Barbara had started early, as she really wished to find her friends at home; and accordingly, when the stairs were mounted, and the aunt and niece were ushered into a pretty bright-looking drawing- room, there they found all that were not at school enjoying their after-dinner hour of liberty with their father and mother.
Lord de la Poer himself had the youngest in his arms, and looked very much as if he had only just scrambled up from the floor; his wife was really sitting on the ground, helping two little ones to put up a puzzle of wild beasts; and there was a little herd of girls at the farther corner, all very busy over something, towards which Kate's longing eyes at once turned—even in the midst of Lord de la Poer's very kind greeting, and his wife's no less friendly welcome.
It was true that, as Lady Barbara had said, they were all exceedingly well-bred children. Even the little fellow in his father's arms, though but eighteen months old, made no objection to hold out his fat hand graciously, and showed no shyness when Lady Barbara kissed him! and the others all waited quietly over their several occupations, neither shrinking foolishly from notice, nor putting themselves forward to claim it. Only the four sisters came up, and took their own special visitor into the midst of them as their own property; the elder of them, however, at a sign from her mamma, taking the baby in her arms, and carrying him off, followed by the other two small ones- -only pausing at the door for him to kiss his little hand, and wave it in the prettiest fashion of baby stateliness.
The other sisters drew Kate back with them into the room, where they had been busy. Generally, however much she and Sylvia might wish it, they had found acquaintance with other children absolutely impossible in the presence of grown-up people, whose eyes and voices seemed to strike all parties dumb. But these children seemed in no wise constrained: one of them said at once, "We are so glad you are come. Mamma said she thought you would before we went out, one of those days."
"Isn't it horrid going out in London?" asked Kate, at once set at ease.
"It is not so nice as it is at home," said one of the girls; laughing; "except when it is our turn to go out with Mamma."
"She takes us all out in turn," explained another, "from Fanny, down to little Cecil the baby—and that is our great time for talking to her, when one has her all alone."
"And does she never take you out in the country?"
"Oh yes! but there are people staying with us then, or else she goes out with Papa. It is not a regular drive every day, as it is here."
Kate would not have had a drive with Aunt Barbara every day, for more than she could well say. However, she was discreet enough not to say so, and asked what they did on other days.
"Oh, we walk with Miss Oswald in the park, and she tells us stories, or we make them. We don't tell stories in the country, unless we have to walk straight along the drives, that, as Papa says, we may have some solace."
Then it was explained that Miss Oswald was their governess, and that they were very busy preparing for her birth-day. They were making a paper-case for her, all themselves, and this hour was their only time for doing it out of her sight in secret.
"But why do you make it yourselves?" said Kate; "one can buy such beauties at the bazaars."
"Yes; but Mamma says a present one has taken pains to make, is worth a great deal more than what is only bought; for trouble goes for more than money."
"But one can make nothing but nasty tumble-to-pieces things," objected Kate.
"That depends," said Lady Mary, in a very odd merry voice; and the other two, Adelaide and Grace, who were far too much alike for Kate to guess which was which, began in a rather offended manner to assure her that THEIR paper-case was to be anything but tumble-to-pieces. Fanny was to bind it, and Papa had promised to paste its back and press it.
"And Mamma drove with me to Richmond, on purpose to get leaves to spatter," added the other sister.
Then they showed Kate—whose eyes brightened at anything approaching to a mess—that they had a piece of coloured cardboard, on which leaves, chiefly fern, were pinned tightly down, and that the entire sheet was then covered with a spattering of ink from a tooth-brush drawn along the tooth of a comb. When the process was completed, the form of the loaf remained in the primitive colour of the card, thrown out by the cloud of ink-spots, and only requiring a tracing of its veins by a pen.
A space had been cleared for these operations on a side-table; and in spite of the newspaper, on which the appliances were laid, and even the comb and brush, there was no look of disarrangement or untidiness.
"Oh, do—do show me how you do it!" cried Kate, who had had nothing to do for months, with the dear delight of making a mess, except what she could contrive with her paints.
And Lady Grace resumed a brown-holland apron and bib, and opening her hands with a laugh, showed their black insides, then took up her implements.
"Oh, do—do let me try," was Kate's next cry; "one little bit to show Sylvia Wardour."
With one voice the three sisters protested that she had better not; she was not properly equipped, and would ink herself all over. If she would pin down a leaf upon the scrap she held up, Grace should spatter it for her, and they would make it up into anything she liked.
But this did not satisfy Kate at all; the pinning out of the leaf was stupid work compared with the glory of making the ink fly. In vain did Adelaide represent that all the taste and skill was in the laying out the leaves, and pinning them down, and that anyone could put on the ink; in vain did Mary represent the dirtiness of the work: this was the beauty of it in her eyes; and the sight of the black dashes sputtering through the comb filled her with emulation; so that she entreated, almost piteously, to be allowed to "do" an ivy loaf, which she had hastily, and not very carefully, pinned out with Mary's assistance—that is, she had feebly and unsteadily stuck every pin, and Mary had steadied them.
The new friends consented, seeing how much she was set on it; but Fanny, who had returned from the nursery, insisted on precautions— took off the jacket, turned up the frock sleeves, and tied on an apron; though Kate fidgeted all the time, as if a great injury were being inflicted on her; and really, in her little frantic spirit, thought Lady Fanny a great torment, determined to delay her delight till her aunt should go away and put a stop to it.
When once she had the brush, she was full of fun and merriment, and kept her friends much amused by her droll talk, half to them, half to her work.
"There's a portentous cloud, isn't there? An inky cloud, if ever there was one! Take care, inhabitants below; growl, growl, there's the thunder; now comes the rain; hail, hail, all hail, like the beginning of Macbeth."
"Which the Frenchman said was in compliment to the climate," said Fanny; at which the whole company fell into convulsions of laughing; and neither Kate nor Grace exactly knew what hands or brush or comb were about; but whereas the little De La Poers had from their infancy laughed almost noiselessly, and without making faces, Kate for her misfortune had never been broken of a very queer contortion of her lips, and a cackle like a bantam hen's.
When this unlucky cackle had been several times repeated, it caused Lady Barbara, who had been sitting with her back to the inner room, to turn round.
Poor Lady Barbara! It would not be easy to describe her feelings when she saw the young lady, whom she had brought delicately blue and white, like a speedwell flower, nearly as black as a sweep.
Lord de la Poer broke out into an uncontrollable laugh, half at the aunt, half at the niece. "Why, she has grown a moustache!" he exclaimed. "Girls, what have you been doing to her?" and walking up to them, he turned Kate round to a mirror, where she beheld her own brown eyes looking out of a face dashed over with black specks, thicker about the mouth, giving her altogether much the colouring of a very dark man closely shaved. It was so exceedingly comical, that she went off into fits of laughing, in which she was heartily joined by all the merry party.
"There," said Lord de la Poer, "do you want to know what your Uncle Giles is like? you've only to look at yourself See, Barbara, is it not a capital likeness?"
"I never thought her like GILES," said her aunt gravely, with an emphasis on the name, as if she meant that the child did bear a likeness that was really painful to her.
"My dears," said the mother, "you should not have put her in such a condition; could you not have been more careful?"
Kate expected one of them to say, "She would do it in spite of us;" but instead of that Fanny only answered, "It is not so bad as it looks, Mamma; I believe her frock is quite safe; and we will soon have her face and hands clean."
Whereupon Kate turned round and said, "It is all my fault, and NOBODY'S ELSE'S. They told me not, but it was such fun!"
And therewith she obeyed a pull from Grace, and ran upstairs with the party to be washed; and as the door shut behind them, Lord de la Poer said, "You need not be afraid of THAT likeness, Barbara. Whatever else she may have brought from her parsonage, she has brought the spirit of truth."
Though knowing that something awful hung over her head, Kate was all the more resolved to profit by her brief minutes of enjoyment; and the little maidens all went racing and flying along the passages together; Kate feeling as if the rapid motion among the other young feet was life once more.
"Well! your frock is all right; I hope your aunt will not be very angry with you," said Adelaide. (She know Adelaide now, for Grace was the inky one.)
"It is not a thing to be angry for," added Grace.
"No, it would not have been at my home," said Kate, with a sigh; "but, oh! I hope she will not keep me from coming here again."
"She shall not," exclaimed Adelaide; "Papa won't let her."
"She said your mamma would mind what your papa did not," said Kate, who was not very well informed on the nature of mammas.
"Oh, that's all stuff," decidedly cried Adelaide. "When Papa told us about you, she said, 'Poor child! I wish I had her here.'"
Prudent Fanny made an endeavour at chocking her little sister; but the light in Kate's eye, and the responsive face, drew Grace on to ask, "She didn't punish you, I hope, for your tumbling off the bracket?"
"No, your papa made her promise not; but she was very cross. Did he tell you about it?"
"Oh yes; and what do you think Ernest wrote? You must know he had grumbled excessively at Papa's having business with Lady Barbara; but his letter said, 'It wasn't at all slow at Lady Barbara's, for there was the jolliest fellow there you ever knew; mind you get her to play at acting.'"
Lady Fanny did not think this improving, and was very glad that the maid came in with hot water and towels, and put an end to it with the work of scrubbing.
Going home, Lady Barbara was as much displeased as Kate had expected, and with good reason. After all her pains, it was very strange that Katharine should be so utterly unfit to behave like a well-bred girl. There might have been excuse for her before she had been taught, but now it was mere obstinacy.
She should be careful how she took her out for a long time to come!
Kate's heart swelled within her. It was not obstinacy, she know; and that bit of injustice hindered her from seeing that it was really wilful recklessness. She was elated with Ernest's foolish school-boy account of her, which a more maidenly little girl would not have relished; she was strengthened in her notion that she was ill-used, by hearing that the De la Poers pitied her; and because she found that Aunt Barbara was considered to be a little wrong, she did not consider that she herself had ever been wrong at all.
And Lady Barbara was not far from the truth when she told her sister "that Katharine was perfectly hard and reckless; there was no such thing as making her sorry!"
After that first visit, Kate did see something of the De la Poers, but not more than enough to keep her in a constant ferment with the uncertain possibility, and the longing for the meetings.
The advances came from them; Lady Barbara said very truly, that she could not be responsible for making so naughty a child as her niece the companion of any well-regulated children; she was sure that their mother could not wish it, since nice and good as they naturally were, this unlucky Katharine seemed to infect them with her own spirit of riot and turbulence whenever they came near her.
There was no forwarding of the attempts to make appointments for walks in the Park, though really very little harm had ever come of them, guarded by the two governesses, and by Lady Fanny's decided ideas of propriety. That Kate embarked in long stories, and in their excitement raised her voice, was all that could be said against her on those occasions, and Mrs. Lacy forbore to say it.
Once, indeed, Kate was allowed to ask her friends to tea; but that proved a disastrous affair. Fanny was prevented from coming; and in the absence of her quiet elder-sisterly care, the spirits of Grace and Adelaide were so excited by Kate's drollery, that they were past all check from Mary, and drew her along with them into a state of frantic fun and mad pranks.
They were full of merriment all tea time, even in the presence of the two governesses; and when that was over, and Kate showed "the bracket," they began to grow almost ungovernable in their spirit of frolic and fun: they went into Kate's room, resolved upon being desert travellers, set up an umbrella hung round with cloaks for a tent, made camels of chairs, and finding those tardy, attempted riding on each other—with what results to Aunt Jane's ears below may be imagined—dressed up wild Arabs in bournouses of shawls, and made muskets of parasols, charging desperately, and shrieking for attack, defence, "for triumph or despair," as Kate observed, in one of her magnificent quotations. Finally, the endangered traveller, namely Grace, rushed down the stairs headlong, with the two Arabs clattering after him, banging with their muskets, and shouting their war-cry the whole height of the house.
The ladies in the drawing-room had borne a good deal; but Aunt Jane was by this time looking meekly distracted; and Lady Barbara sallying out, met the Arab Sheikh with his white frock over his head, descending the stairs in the rear, calling to his tribe in his sweet voice not to be so noisy—but not seeing before him through the said bournouse, he had very nearly struck Lady Barbara with his parasol before he saw her.
No one could be more courteous or full of apologies than the said Sheikh, who was in fact a good deal shocked at his unruly tribe, and quite acquiesced in the request that they would all come and sit quiet in the drawing-room, and play at some suitable game there.
It would have been a relief to Mary to have them thus disposed of safely; and Adelaide would have obeyed; but the other two had been worked up to a state of wildness, such as befalls little girls who have let themselves out of the control of their better sense.
They did not see why they should sit up stupid in the drawing-room; "Mary was as cross as Lady Barbara herself to propose it," said Grace, unfortunately just as the lady herself was on the stairs to enforce her desire, in her gravely courteous voice; whereupon Kate, half tired and wholly excited, burst out into a violent passionate fit of crying and sobbing, declaring that it was very hard, that whenever she had ever so little pleasure, Aunt Barbara always grudged it to her.
None of them had ever heard anything like it; to the little De la Poers she seemed like one beside herself, and Grace clung to Mary, and Adelaide to Miss Oswald, almost frightened at the screams and sobs that Kate really could not have stopped if she would. Lady Jane came to the head of the stairs, pale and trembling, begging to know who was hurt; and Mrs. Lacy tried gentle reasoning and persuading, but she might as well have spoken to the storm beating against the house.
Lady Barbara sternly ordered her off to her room; but the child did not stir—indeed, she could not, except that she rocked herself to and fro in her paroxysms of sobbing, which seemed to get worse and worse every moment. It was Miss Oswald at last, who, being more used to little girls and their naughtiness than any of the others, saw the right moment at last, and said, as she knelt down by her, half kindly, half severely, "My dear, you had better let me take you up- stairs. I will help you: and you are only shocking everyone here."
Kate did let her take her up-stairs, though at every step there was a pause, a sob, a struggle; but a gentle hand on her shoulder, and firm persuasive voice in her ear, moved her gradually onwards, till the little pink room was gained; and there she threw herself on her bed in another agony of wild subs, unaware of Miss Oswald's parley at the door with Lady Barbara and Mrs. Lacy, and her entreaty that the patient might be left to her, which they were nothing loth to do.
When Kate recovered her speech, she poured out a wild and very naughty torrent, about being the most unhappy girl in the world; the aunts were always unkind to her; she never got any pleasure; she could not bear being a countess; she only wanted to go back to her old home, to Papa and Mary and Sylvia; and nobody would help her.
Miss Oswald treated the poor child almost as if she had been a little out of her mind, let her say it all between her sobs, and did not try to argue with her, but waited till the talking and the sobbing had fairly tried her out; and by that time the hour had come at which the little visitors were to go home. The governess rose up, and said she must go, asking in a quiet tone, as if all that had been said were mere mad folly, whether Lady Caergwent would come down with her, and tell her aunts she was sorry for the disturbance she had made.
Kate shrank from showing such a spectacle as her swollen, tear- stained, red-marbled visage. She was thoroughly sorry, and greatly ashamed; and she only gasped out, "I can't, I can't; don't let me see anyone."
"Then I will wish Mary and her sisters good-bye for you."
"Yes, please." Kate had no words for more of her sorrow and shame.
"And shall I say anything to your aunt for you?"
"I—I don't know; only don't let anyone come up."
"Then shall I tell Lady Barbara you are too much tired out now for talking, but that you will tell her in the morning how sorry you are?"
"Well, yes," said Kate rather grudgingly. "Oh, must you go?"
"I am afraid I must, my dear. Their mamma does not like Addie and Grace to be kept up later than their usual bed-time."
"I wish you could stay. I wish you were my governess," said Kate, clinging to her, and receiving her kind, friendly, pitying kiss.
And when the door had shut upon her, Kate's tears began to drop again at the thought that it was very hard that the little De la Poers, who had father, mother, and each other, should likewise have such a nice governess, while she had only poor sad dull Mrs. Lacy.
Had Kate only known what an unselfish little girl and Mrs. Lacy might have been to each other!
However, the first thing she could now think of was to avoid being seen or spoken to by anyone that night; and for this purpose she hastily undressed herself, bundled-up her hair as best she might, as in former days, said her prayers, and tumbled into bed, drawing the clothes over her head, resolved to give no sign of being awake, come who might.
Her shame was real, and very great. Such violent crying fits had overtaken her in past times, but had been thought to be outgrown. She well recollected the last. It was just after the death of her aunt, Mrs. Wardour, just when the strange stillness of sorrow in the house was beginning to lessen, and the children had forgotten themselves, and burst out into noise and merriment, till they grew unrestrained and quarrelsome; Charlie had offended Kate, she had struck him, and Mary coming on them, grieved and hurt at their conduct at such a time, had punished Kate for the blow, but missed perception of Charlie's offence; and the notion of injustice had caused the shrieking cries and violent sobs that had brought Mr. Wardour from the study in grave sorrowful severity.
What she had heard afterwards from him about not making poor Mary's task harder, and what she had heard from Mary about not paining him, had really restrained her; and she had thought such outbreaks passed by among the baby faults she had left behind, and was the more grieved and ashamed in consequence. She felt it a real exposure: she remembered her young friends' surprised and frightened eyes, and not only had no doubt their mother would really think her too naughty to be their playfellow, but almost wished that it might be so—she could never, never bear to see them again.
She heard the street door close after them, she heard the carriage drive away; she felt half relieved; but then she hid her face in the pillow, and cried more quietly, but more bitterly.
Then some one knocked; she would not answer. Then came a voice, saying, "Katharine." It was Aunt Barbara's, but it was rather wavering. She would not answer, so the door was opened, and the steps, scarcely audible in the rustling of the silk, came in; and Kate felt that her aunt was looking at her, wondered whether she had better put out her head, ask pardon, and have it over, but was afraid; and presently heard the moire antique go sweeping away again.
And then the foolish child heartily wished she had spoken, and was seized with desperate fears of the morrow, more of the shame of hearing of her tears than of any punishment. Why had she not been braver?
After a time came a light, and Josephine moving about quietly, and putting away the clothes that had been left on the floor. Kate was not afraid of her, but her caressing consolations and pity would have only added to the miserable sense of shame; so there was no sign, no symptom of being awake, though it was certain that before Josephine went away, the candle was held so as to cast a light over all that was visible of the face. Kate could not help hearing the low muttering of the Frenchwoman, who was always apt to talk to herself: "Asleep! Ah, yes! She sleeps profoundly. How ugly la petite has made herself! What cries! Ah, she is like Miladi her aunt! a demon of a temper!"
Kate restrained herself till the door was shut again, and then rolled over and over, till she had made a strange entanglement of her bed- clothes, and brought her passion to an end by making a mummy of herself, bound hand and foot, snapping with her month all the time, as if she longed to bite.
"O you horrible Frenchwoman! You are a flatterer, a base flatterer; such as always haunt the great! I hate it all. I a demon of a temper? I like Aunt Barbara? Oh, you wretch! I'll tell Aunt Barbara a to-morrow, and get you sent away!"
Those were some of Kate's fierce angry thoughts in her first vexation; but with all her faults, she was not a child who ever nourished rancour or malice; and though she had been extremely wounded at first, yet she quickly forgave.
By the time she had smoothed out her sheet, and settled matters between it and her blanket, she had begun to think more coolly. "No, no, I won't. It would be horribly dishonourable and all that to tell Aunt Barbara. Josephine was only thinking out loud; and she can't help what she thinks. I was very naughty; no wonder she thought so. Only next time she pets me, I will say to her, 'You cannot deceive me, Josephine; I like the plain truth better than honeyed words.'"
And now that Kate had arrived at the composition of a fine speech that would never be made, it was plain that her mind was pretty well composed. That little bit of forgiveness, though it had not even cost an effort, had been softening, soothing, refreshing; it had brought peacefulness; and Kate lay, not absolutely asleep, but half dreaming, in the summer twilight, in the soft undefined fancies of one tired out with agitation.
She was partly roused by the various sounds in the house, but not startled—the light nights of summer always diminished her alarms; and she heard the clocks strike, and the bell ring for prayers, the doors open and shut, all mixed in with her hazy fancies. At last came the silken rustlings up the stairs again, and the openings of bed-room doors close to her.
Kate must have gone quite to sleep, for she did not know when the door was opened, and how the soft voices had come in that she heard over her.
"Poor little dear! How she has tossed her bed about! I wonder if we could set the clothes straight without wakening her."
How very sweet and gentle Aunt Jane's voice was in that low cautious whisper.
Some one—and Kate knew the peculiar sound of Mrs. Lacy's crape—was moving the bed-clothes as gently as she could.
"Poor little dear!" again said Lady Jane; "it is very sad to see a child who has cried herself to sleep. I do wish we could manage her better. Do you think the child is happy?" she ended by asking in a wistful voice.
"She has very high spirits," was the answer.
"Ah, yes! her impetuosity; it is her misfortune, poor child! Barbara is so calm and resolute, that—that—" Was Lady Jane really going to regret anything in her sister? She did not say it, however; but Kate heard her sigh, and add, "Ah, well! if I were stronger, perhaps we could make her happier; but I am so nervous. I must try not to look distressed when her spirits do break out, for perhaps it is only natural. And I am so sorry to have brought all this on her, and spoilt those poor children's pleasure!"
Lady Jane bent over the child, and Kate reared herself up on a sudden, threw her arms round her neck, and whispered, "Aunt Jane, dear Aunt Jane, I'll try never to frighten you again! I am so sorry."
"There, there; have I waked you? Don't, my dear; your aunt will hear. Go to sleep again. Yes, do."
But Aunt Jane was kissing and fondling all the time; and the end of this sad naughty evening was, that Kate went to sleep with more softness, love, and repentance in her heart, than there had been since her coming to Bruton Street.
Lady Caergwent was thoroughly ashamed and bumbled by that unhappy evening. She looked so melancholy and subdued in the morning, with her heavy eyelids and inflamed eyes, and moved so meekly and sadly, without daring to look up, that Lady Barbara quite pitied her, and said—more kindly than she had ever spoken to her before:
"I see you are sorry for the exposure last night, so we will say no more about it. I will try to forget it. I hope our friends may."
That hope sounded very much like "I do not think they will;" and truly Kate felt that it was not in the nature of things that they ever should. She should never have forgotten the sight of a little girl in that frenzy of passion! No, she was sure that their mamma and papa knew all about it, and that she should never be allowed to play with them again, and she could not even wish to meet them, she should be miserably ashamed, and would not know which way to look.
She said not one word about meeting them, and for the first day or two even begged to walk in the square instead of the park; and she was so good and steady with her lessons, and so quiet in her movements, that she scarcely met a word of blame for a whole week.
One morning, while she was at breakfast with Lady Barbara and Mrs. Lacy, the unwonted sound of a carriage stopping, and of a double knock, was heard. In a moment the colour flushed into Lady Barbara's face, and her eyes lighted: then it passed away into a look of sadness. It had seemed to her for a moment as if the bright young nephew who had been the light and hope of her life, were going to look in on her; and it had only brought the remembrance that he was gone for ever, and that in his stead there was only the poor little girl, to whom rank was a misfortune, and who seemed as if she would never wear it becomingly. Kate saw nothing of all this; she was only eager and envious for some change and variety in these long dull days. It was Lord de la Poer and his daughter Adelaide, who the next moment were in the room; and she remembered instantly that she had heard that this was to be Adelaide's birthday, and wished her many happy returns in all due form, her heart beating the while with increasing hope that the visit concerned herself.
And did it not? Her head swam round with delight and suspense, and she could hardly gather up the sense of the words in which Lord de la Poer was telling Lady Barbara that Adelaide's birthday was to be spent at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham; that the other girls were gone to the station with their mother, and that he had come round with Adelaide to carry off Kate, and meet the rest at ten o'clock. Lady de la Poer would have written, but it had only boon settled that morning on finding that he could spare the day.
Kate squeezed Adelaide's hand in an agony. Oh! would that aunt let her go?
"You would like to come?" asked Lord de la Poer, bending his pleasant eyes on her. "Have you ever been there?"
"Never! Oh, thank you! I should like it so much! I never saw any exhibition at all, except once the Gigantic Cabbage!—May I go, Aunt Barbara?"
"Really you are very kind, after—"
"Oh, we never think of AFTERS on birthdays!—Do we, Addie?"
"If you are so very good, perhaps Mrs. Lacy will kindly bring her to meet you."
"I am sure," said he, turning courteously to that lady, "that we should be very sorry to give Mrs. Lacy so much trouble. If this is to be a holiday to everyone, I am sure you would prefer the quiet day."
No one could look at the sad face and widow's cap without feeling that so it must be, even without the embarrassed "Thank you, my Lord, if—"
"If—if Katharine were more to be trusted," began Lady Barbara.
"Now, Barbara," he said in a drolly serious fashion, "if you think the Court of Chancery would seriously object, say so at once."
Lady Barbara could not keep the corners of her mouth quite stiff, but she still said, "You do not know what you are undertaking."
"Do you deliberately tell me that you think myself and Fanny, to say nothing of young Fanny, who is the wisest of us all, unfit to be trusted with this one young lady?" said he, looking her full in the face, and putting on a most comical air: "It is humiliating, I own."
"Ah! if Katharine were like your own daughters, I should have no fears," said the aunt. "But—However, since you are so good—if she will promise to be very careful—"
"Oh yes, yes, Aunt Barbara!"
"I make myself responsible," said Lord de la Poer. "Now, young woman, run off and get the hat; we have no time to lose."
Kate darted off and galloped up the stairs at a furious pace, shouted "Josephine" at the top; and then, receiving no answer, pulled the bell violently; after which she turned round, and obliged Adelaide with a species of dancing hug, rather to the detriment of that young lady's muslin jacket.
"I was afraid to look back before," she breathlessly said, as she released Adelaide; "I felt as if your papa were Orpheus, when
'Stern Proserpine relented, And gave him back the fair—'
and I was sure Aunt Barbara would catch me like Eurydice, if I only looked back."
"What a funny girl you are, to be thinking about Orpheus and Eurydice!" said Adelaide. "Aren't you glad?"
"Glad? Ain't I just! as Charlie would say. Oh dear! your papa is a delicious man; I'd rather have him for mine than anybody, except Uncle Wardour!"
"I'd rather have him than anyone," said the little daughter. "Because he is yours," said Kate; "but somehow, though he is more funny and good-natured than Uncle Wardour, I wouldn't—no, I shouldn't like him so well for a papa. I don't think he would punish so well."
"Punish!" cried Adelaide. "Is that what you want? Why, Mamma says children ought to be always pleasure and no trouble to busy fathers. But there, Kate; you are not getting ready—and we are to be at the station at ten."
"I am waiting for Josephine! Why doesn't she come?" said Kate, ringing violently again.
"Why don't you get ready without her?"
"I don't know where anything is! It is very tiresome of her, when she knows I never dress myself," said Kate fretfully.
"Don't you? Why, Grace and I always dress ourselves, except for the evening. Let me help you. Are not those your boots?"
Kate rushed to the bottom of the attic stairs, and shouted "Josephine" at the top of her shrill voice; then, receiving no answer, she returned, condescended to put on the boots that Adelaide held up to her, and noisily pulled out some drawers; but not seeing exactly what she wanted, she again betook herself to screams of her maid's name, at the third of which out burst Mrs. Bartley in a regular state of indignation: "Lady Caergwent! Will your Ladyship hold your tongue! There's Lady Jane startled up, and it's a mercy if her nerves recover it the whole day—making such a noise as that!"
"But Josephine won't come, and I'm going out, Bartley," said Kate piteously. "Where is Josephine?"
"Gone out, my Lady, so it is no use making a piece of work," said Bartley crossly, retreating to Lady Jane.
Kate was ready to cry; but behold, that handy little Adelaide had meantime picked out a nice black silk cape, with hat and feather, gloves and handkerchief, which, if not what Kate had intended, were nice enough for anything, and would have—some months ago—seemed to the orphan at the parsonage like robes of state. Kind Adelaide held them up so triumphantly, that Kate could not pout at their being only everyday things; and as she began to put them on, out came Mrs. Bartley again, by Lady Jane's orders, pounced upon Lady Caergwent, and made her repent of all wishes for assistance by beginning upon her hair, and in spite of all wriggles and remonstrances, dressing her in the peculiarly slow and precise manner by which a maid can punish a troublesome child; until finally Kate—far too much irritated for a word of thanks, tore herself out of her hands, caught up her gloves, and flew down-stairs as if her life depended on her speed. She thought the delay much longer than it had really been, for she found Lord de la Poer talking so earnestly to her aunt, that he hardly looked up when she came in—something about her Uncle Giles in India, and his coming home—which seemed to be somehow becoming possible—though at a great loss to himself; but there was no making it out; and in a few minutes he rose, and after some fresh charges from Lady Barbara to her niece "not to forgot herself," Kate was handed into the carriage, and found herself really off.
Then the tingle of wild impatience and suspense subsided, and happiness began! It had not been a good beginning, but it was very charming now.
Adelaide and her father were full of jokes together, so quick and bright that Kate listened instead of talking. She had almost lost the habit of merry chatter, and it did not come to her quickly again; but she was greatly entertained; and thus they came to the station, where Lady de la Poer and her other three girls were awaiting them, and greeted Kate with joyful faces.
They were the more relieved at the arrival of the three, because the station was close and heated, and it was a very warm summer day, so that the air was extremely oppressive.
"It feels like thunder," said some one. And thenceforth Kate's perfect felicity was clouded. She had a great dislike to a thunder- storm, and she instantly began asking her neighbours if they REALLY thought it would be thunder.
"I hope it will," said Lady Fanny; "it would cool the air, and sound so grand in those domes."
Kate thought this savage, and with an imploring look asked Lady de la Poer if she thought there would be a storm.
"I can't see the least sign of one," was the answer. "See how clear the sky is!" as they steamed out of the station.
"But do you think there will be one to-day?" demanded Kate.
"I do not expect it," said Lady de la Poer, smiling; "and there is no use in expecting disagreeables."
"Disagreeables! O Mamma, it would be such fun," cried Grace, "if we only had a chance of getting wet through!"
Here Lord de la Poer adroitly called off the public attention from the perils of the clouds, by declaring that he wanted to make out the fourth line of an advertisement on the banks, of which he said he had made out one line as he was whisked by on each journey he had made; and as it was four times over in four different languages, he required each damsel to undertake one; and there was a great deal of laughing over which it should be that should undertake each language. Fanny and Mary were humble, and sure they could never catch the German; and Kate, more enterprising, undertook the Italian. After all, while they were chattering about it, they went past the valuable document, and were come in sight of the "monsters" in the Gardens; and Lord de la Poer asked Kate if she would like to catch a pretty little frog; to which Mary responded, "Oh, what a tadpole it must have been!" and the discovery that her friends had once kept a preserve of tadpoles to watch them turn into frogs, was so delightful as entirely to dissipate all remaining thoughts of thunder, and leave Kate free for almost breathless amazement at the glittering domes of glass, looking like enormous bubbles in the sun.
What a morning that was, among the bright buds and flowers, the wonders of nature and art all together! It was to be a long day, and no hurrying; so the party went from court to court at their leisure, sat down, and studied all that they cared for, or divided according to their tastes. Fanny and Mary wanted time for the wonderful sculptures on the noble gates in the Italian court; but the younger girls preferred roaming more freely, so Lady de la Poer sat down to take care of them, while her husband undertook to guide the wanderings of the other three.
He particularly devoted himself to Kate, partly in courtesy as to the guest of the party, partly because, as he said, he felt himself responsible for her; and she was in supreme enjoyment, talking freely to one able and willing to answer her remarks and questions, and with the companionship of girls of her own age besides. She was most of all delighted with the Alhambra—the beauty of it was to her like a fairy tale; and she had read Washington Irving's "Siege of Granada," so that she could fancy the courts filled with the knightly Moors, who were so noble that she could not think why they were not Christians—nay, the tears quite came into her eyes as she looked up in Lord de la Poer's face, and asked why nobody converted the Abencerrages instead of fighting with them!
It was a pity that Kate always grew loud when she was earnest; and Lord de la Poer's interest in the conversation was considerably lessened by the discomfort of seeing some strangers looking surprised at the five syllables in the squeaky voice coming out of the mouth of so small a lady.
"Gently, my dear," he softly said; and Kate for a moment felt it hard that the torment about her voice should pursue her even in such moments, and spoil the Alhambra itself.
However, her good humour recovered the next minute, at the Fountain of Lions. She wanted to know how the Moors came to have lions; she thought she had heard that no Mahometans were allowed to represent any living creature, for fear it should be an idol. Lord de la Poer said she was quite right, and that the Mahometans think these forms will come round their makers at the last day, demanding to have souls given to them; but that her friends, the Moors of Spain, were much less strict than any others of their faith. She could see, however, that the carving of such figures was a new art with them, since these lions were very rude and clumsy performances for people who could make such delicate tracery as they had seen within. And then, while Kate was happily looking with Adelaide at the orange trees that completed the Spanish air of the court, and hoping to see the fountain play in the evening, he told Grace that it was worth while taking people to see sights if they had as much intelligence and observation as Kate had, and did not go gazing idly about, thinking of nothing.
He meant it to stir up his rather indolent-minded Grace—he did not mean the countess to hear it; but some people's eyes and ears are wonderfully quick at gathering what is to their own credit, and Kate, who had not heard a bit of commendation for a long time, was greatly elated.
Luckily for appearances, she remembered how Miss Edgeworth's Frank made himself ridiculous by showing off to Mrs. J— , and how she herself had once been overwhelmed by the laughter of the Wardour family for having rehearsed to poor Mrs. Brown all the characters of the gods of the Northmen—Odin, Thor, and all—when she had just learnt them. So she was more careful than before not to pour out all the little that she knew; and she was glad she had not committed herself, for she had very nearly volunteered the information that Pompeii was overwhelmed by Mount Etna, before she heard some one say Vesuvius, and perceived her mistake, feeling as if she had been rewarded for her modesty like a good child in a book.
She applauded herself much more for keeping back her knowledge till it was wanted, than for having it; but this self-satisfaction looked out in another loop-hole. She avoided pedantry, but she was too much elated not to let her spirits get the better of her; and when Lady de la Poer and the elder girls came up, they found her in a suppressed state of capering, more like a puppy on its hind logs, than like a countess or any other well-bred child.
The party met under the screen of kings and queens, and there had some dinner, at one of the marble tables that just held them pleasantly. The cold chicken and tongue were wonderfully good on that hot hungry day, and still better were the strawberries that succeeded them; and oh! what mirth went on all the time! Kate was chattering fastest of all, and loudest—not to say the most nonsensically. It was not nice nonsense—that was the worst of it— it was pert and saucy. It was rather the family habit to laugh at Mary de la Poer for ways that were thought a little fanciful; and Kate caught this up, and bantered without discretion, in a way not becoming towards anybody, especially one some years her elder. Mary was good-humoured, but evidently did not like being asked if she had stayed in the mediaeval court, because she was afraid the great bulls of Nineveh would run at her with their five legs.
"She will be afraid of being teazed by a little goose another time," said Lord de la Poer, intending to give his little friend a hint that she was making herself very silly; but Kate took it quite another way, and not a pretty one, for she answered, "Dear me, Mary, can't you say bo to a goose!"
"Say what?" cried Adelaide, who was always apt to be a good deal excited by Kate; and who had been going off into fits of laughter at all these foolish sallies.
"It is not a very nice thing to say," answered her mother gravely; "so there is no occasion to learn it."
Kate did take the hint this time, and coloured up to the ears, partly with vexation, partly with shame. She sat silent and confused for several minutes, till her friends took pity on her, and a few good- natured words about her choice of an ice quite restored her liveliness. It is well to be good-humoured; but it is unlucky, nay, wrong, when a check from friends without authority to scold, does not suffice to bring soberness instead of rattling giddiness. Lady de la Poer was absolutely glad to break up the dinner, so as to work off the folly and excitement by moving about, before it should make the little girl expose herself, or infect Adelaide.
They intended to have gone into the gardens till four o'clock, when the fountains were to play; but as they moved towards the great door, they perceived a dark heavy cloud was hiding the sun that had hitherto shone so dazzlingly through the crystal walls.
"That is nice," said Lady Fanny; "it will be cool and pleasant now before the rain."
"If the rain is not imminent," began her father.
"Oh! is it going to be a thunder-storm?" cried Kate. "Oh dear! I do so hate thunder! What shall I do?" cried she; all her excitement turning into terror.
Before anyone could answer her, there was a flash of bright white light before all their eyes, and a little scream.
"She's struck! she's struck!" cried Adelaide, her hands before her eyes.
For Kate had disappeared. No, she was in the great pond, beside which they had been standing, and Mary was kneeling on the edge, holding fast by her frock. But before the deep voice of the thunder was roaring and reverberating through the vaults, Lord de la Poer had her in his grasp, and the growl had not ceased before she was on her feet again, drenched and trembling, beginning to be the centre of a crowd, who were running together to help or to see the child who had been either struck by lightning or drowned.
"Is she struck? Will she be blind?" sobbed Adelaide, still with her hands before her eyes; and the inquiry was echoed by the nearer people, while more distant ones told each other that the young lady was blind for life.
"Struck! nonsense!" said Lord de la Poer; "the lightning was twenty miles off at least. Are you hurt, my dear?"
"No," said Kate, shaking herself, and answering "No," more decidedly. "Only I am so wet, and my things stick to me."
"How did it happen?" asked Grace.
"I don't know. I wanted to get away from the thunder!" said bewildered Kate.
Meantime, an elderly lady, who had come up among the spectators, was telling Lady de la Poer that she lived close by, and insisting that the little girl should be taken at once to her house, put to bed, and her clothes dried. Lady de la Poer was thankful to accept the kind offer without loss of time; and in the fewest possible words it was settled that she would go and attend to the little drowned rat, while her girls should remain with their father at the palace till the time of going home, when they would meet at the station. They must walk to the good lady's house, be the storm what it would, as the best chance of preventing Kate from catching cold. She looked a rueful spectacle, dripping so as to make a little pool on the stone floor; her hat and feather limp and streaming; her hair in long lank rats' tails, each discharging its own waterfall; her clothes, ribbons, and all, pasted down upon her! There was no time to be lost; and the stranger took her by one hand, Lady de la Poer by the other, and exchanging some civil speeches with one another half out of breath, they almost swung her from one step of the grand stone stairs to another, and hurried her along as fast as these beplastered garments would let her move. There was no rain as yet, but there was another clap of thunder much louder than the first; but they held Kate too fast to let her stop, or otherwise make herself more foolish.
In a very few minutes they were at the good lady's door; in another minute in her bedroom, where, while she and her maid bustled off to warm the bed, Lady de la Poer tried to get the clothes off—a service of difficulty, when every tie held fast, every button was slippery, and the tighter garments fitted like skins. Kate was subdued and frightened; she gave no trouble, but all the help she gave was to pull a string so as to make a hopeless knot of the bow that her friend had nearly undone.
However, by the time the bed was warm the dress was off, and the child, rolled up in a great loose night-dress of the kind lady's, was installed in it, feeling—sultry day though it were—that the warm dryness was extremely comfortable to her chilled limbs. The good lady brought her some hot tea, and moved away to the window, talking in a low murmuring voice to Lady de la Poer. Presently a fresh flash of lightning made her bury her head in the pillow; and there she began thinking how hard it was that the thunder should come to spoil her one day's pleasure; but soon stopped this, remembering Who sends storm and thunder, and feeling afraid to murmur. Then she remembered that perhaps she deserved to be disappointed. She had been wild and troublesome, had spoilt Adelaide's birthday, teazed Mary, and made kind Lady de la Poer grave and displeased.
She would say how sorry she was, and ask pardon. But the two ladies still stood talking. She must wait till this stranger was gone. And while she was waiting—how it was she knew not—but Countess Kate was fast asleep.
When Kate opened her eyes again, and turned her face up from the pillow, she saw the drops on the window shining in the sun, and Lady de la Poer, with her bonnet off, reading under it.
All that had happened began to return on Kate's brain in a funny medley; and the first thing she exclaimed was, "Oh! those poor little fishes, how I must have frightened them!"
"Do you think I did much mischief?" said Kate, raising herself on her arm. "I am sure the fishes must have been frightened, and the water- lilies broken. Oh! you can't think how nasty their great coiling stems were—just like snakes! But those pretty blue and pink flowers! Did it hurt them much, do you think—or the fish?"
"I should think the fish had recovered the shock," said Lady de la Poer, smiling; "but as to the lilies, I should be glad to be sure you had done yourself as little harm as you have to them."
"Oh no," said Kate, "I'm not hurt—if Aunt Barbara won't be terribly angry. Now I wouldn't mind that, only that I've spoilt Addie's birthday, and all your day. Please, I'm very sorry!"
She said this so sadly and earnestly, that Lady de la Poer came and gave her a kind hiss of forgiveness, and said:
"Never mind, the girls are very happy with their father, and the rest is good for me."
Kate thought this very comfortable and kind, and clung to the kind hand gratefully; but though it was a fine occasion for one of the speeches she could have composed in private, all that came out of her mouth was, "How horrid it is—the way everything turns out with me!"
"Nay, things need not turn out horrid, if a certain little girl would keep herself from being silly."
"But I AM a silly little girl!" cried Kate with emphasis. "Uncle Wardour says he never saw such a silly one, and so does Aunt Barbara!"
"Well, my dear," said Lady de la Poer very calmly, "when clever people take to being silly, they can be sillier than anyone else."
"Clever people!" cried Kate half breathlessly.
"Yes," said the lady, "you are a clever child; and if you made the most of yourself, you could be very sensible, and hinder yourself from being foolish and unguarded, and getting into scrapes."
Kate gasped. It was not pleasant to be in a scrape; and yet her whole self recoiled from being guarded and watchful, even though for the first time she heard she was not absolutely foolish. She began to argue, "I was naughty, I know, to teaze Mary; and Mary at home would not have let me; but I could not help the tumbling into the pond. I wanted to get out of the way of the lightning."
"Now, Kate, you ARE trying to show how silly you can make yourself."
"But I can't bear thunder and lightning. It frightens me so, I don't know what to do; and Aunt Jane is just as bad. She always has the shutters shut."
"Your Aunt Jane has had her nerves weakened by bad health; but you are young and strong, and you ought to fight with fanciful terrors."
"But it is not fancy about lightning. It does kill people."
"A storm is very awful, and is one of the great instances of God's power. He does sometimes allow His lightnings to fall; but I do not think it can be quite the thought of this that terrifies you, Kate, for the recollection of His Hand is comforting."
"No," said Kate honestly, "it is not thinking of that. It is that the glare—coming no one knows when—and the great rattling clap are so—so frightful!"
"Then, my dear, I think all you can do is to pray not only for protection from lightning and tempest, but that you may be guarded from the fright that makes you forget to watch yourself, and so renders the danger greater! You could not well have been drowned where you fell; but if it had been a river—"
"I know," said Kate.
"And try to get self-command. That is the great thing, after all, that would hinder things from being horrid!" said Lady de la Poer, with a pleasant smile, just as a knock came to the door, and the maid announced that it was five o'clock, and Miss's things were quite ready; and in return she was thanked, and desired to bring them up.
"Miss!" said Kate, rather hurt: "don't they know who we are?"
"It is not such a creditable adventure that we should wish to make your name known," said Lady de la Poer, rather drily; and Kate blushed, and became ashamed of herself.
She was really five minutes before she recovered the use of her tongue, and that was a long time for her. Lady de la Poer meantime was helping her to dress, as readily as Josephine herself could have done, and brushing out the hair, which was still damp. Kate presently asked where the old lady was.
"She had to go back as soon as the rain was over, to look after a nephew and niece, who are spending the day with her. She said she would look for our party, and tell them how we were getting on."
"Then I have spoilt three people's pleasure more!" said Kate ruefully. "Is the niece a little girl?"
"I don't know; I fancy her grown up, or they would have offered clothes to you."
"Then I don't care!" said Kate.
"Why, for not telling my name. Once it would have been like a fairy tale to Sylvia and me, and have made up for anything, to see a countess—especially a little girl. But don't you think seeing me would quite spoil that?"
Lady de la Poer was so much amused, that she could not answer at first; and Kate began to feel as if she had been talking foolishly, and turned her back to wash her hands.
"Certainly, I don't think we are quite as well worth seeing as the Crystal Palace! You put me in mind of what Madame Campan said. She had been governess to the first Napoleon's sisters; and when, in the days of their grandeur, she visited them, one of them asked her if she was not awe-struck to find herself among so much royalty. 'Really,' she said, 'I can't be much afraid of queens whom I have whipped!'"
"They were only mock queens," said Kate.
"Very true. But, little woman, it is ALL mockery, unless it is the SELF that makes the impression; and I am afraid being perched upon any kind of pedestal makes little faults and follies do more harm to others. But come, put on your hat: we must not keep Papa waiting."
The hat was the worst part of the affair; the colour of the blue edge of the ribbon had run into the white, and the pretty soft feather had been so daggled in the wet, that an old hen on a wet day was respectability itself compared with it, and there was nothing for it but to take it out; and even then the hat reminded Kate of a certain Amelia Matilda Bunny, whose dirty finery was a torment and a by-word in St. James's Parsonage. Her frock and white jacket had been so nicely ironed out, as to show no traces of the adventure; and she disliked all the more to disfigure herself with such a thing on her head for the present, as well as to encounter Aunt Barbara by-and-by.
"There's no help for it," said Lady de la Poer, seeing her disconsolately surveying it; "perhaps it will not be bad for you to feel a few consequences from your heedlessness."
Whether it were the hat or the shock, Kate was uncommonly meek and subdued as she followed Lady de la Poer out of the room; and after giving the little maid half a sovereign and many thanks for having so nicely repaired the damage, they walked back to the palace, and up the great stone stairs, Kate hanging down her head, thinking that everyone was wondering how Amelia Matilda Bunny came to be holding by the hand of a lady in a beautiful black lace bonnet and shawl, so quiet and simple, and yet such a lady!
She hardly even looked up when the glad exclamations of the four girls and their father sounded around her, and she could not bear their inquiries whether she felt well again. She knew that she owed thanks to Mary and her father, and apologies to them all; but she had not manner enough to utter them, and only made a queer scrape with her foot, like a hen scratching out corn, hung her head, and answered "Yes."
They saw she was very much ashamed, and they were in a hurry besides; so when Lord de la Poer had said he had given all manner of thanks to the good old lady, he took hold of Kate's hand, as if he hardly ventured to let go of her again, and they all made the best of their way to the station, and were soon in full career along the line, Kate's heart sinking as she thought of Aunt Barbara. Fanny tried kindly to talk to her; but she was too anxious to listen, made a short answer, and kept her eyes fixed on the two heads of the party, who were in close consultation, rendered private by the noise of the train.
"If ever I answer for anyone again!" said Lord de la Poer. "And now for facing Barbara!"
"You had better let me do that."
"What! do you think I am afraid?" and Kate thought the smile on his lip very cruel, as she could not hear his words.
"I don't do you much injustice in thinking so," as he shrugged up his shoulders like a boy going to be punished; "but I think Barbara considers you as an accomplice in mischief, and will have more mercy if I speak."
"Very well! I'm not the man to prevent you. Tell Barbara I'll undergo whatever she pleases, for having ever let go the young lady's hand! She may have me up to the Lord Chancellor if she pleases!"
A little relaxation in the noise made these words audible; and Kate, who knew the Lord Chancellor had some power over her, and had formed her notions of him from a picture, in a history book at home, of Judge Jefferies holding the Bloody Assize, began to get very much frightened; and her friends saw her eyes growing round with alarm, and not knowing the exact cause, pitied her; Lord de la Poer seated her upon his knee, and told her that Mamma would take her home, and take care Aunt Barbara did not punish her.
"I don't think she will punish me," said Kate; "she does not often! But pray come home with me!" she added, getting hold of the lady's hand.
"What would she do to you, then?"
"She would—only—be dreadful!" said Kate.
Lord de la Poer laughed; but observed, "Well, is it not enough to make one dreadful to have little girls taking unexpected baths in public? Now, Kate, please to inform me, in confidence, what was the occasion of that remarkable somerset."
"Only the lightning," muttered Kate.
"Oh! I was not certain whether your intention might not have been to make that polite address to an aquatic bird, for which you pronounced Mary not to have sufficient courage!"
Lady de la Poer, thinking this a hard trial of the poor child's temper, was just going to ask him not to tease her; but Kate was really candid and good tempered, and she said, "I was wrong to say that! It was Mary that had presence of mind, and I had not."
"Then the fruit of the adventure is to be, I hope, Look Before you Leap!—Eh, Lady Caergwent?"
And at the same time the train stopped, and among kisses and farewells, Kate and kind Lady de la Poer left the carriage, and entering the brougham that was waiting for them, drove to Bruton Street; Kate very grave and silent all the way, and shrinking behind her friend in hopes that the servant who opened the door would not observe her plight—indeed, she took her hat off on the stairs, and laid it on the table in the landing.
To her surprise, the beginning of what Lady de la Poer said was chiefly apology for not having taken better care of her. It was all quite true: there was no false excuse made for her, she felt, when Aunt Barbara looked ashamed and annoyed, and said how concerned she was that her niece should be so unmanageable; and her protector answered,
"Not that, I assure you! She was a very nice little companion, and we quite enjoyed her readiness and intelligent interest; but she was a little too much excited to remember what she was about when she was startled."
"And no wonder," said Lady Jane. "It was a most tremendous storm, and I feel quite shaken by it still. You can't be angry with her for being terrified by it, Barbara dear, or I shall know what you think of me;—half drowned too—poor child!"
And Aunt Jane put her soft arm round Kate, and put her cheek to hers. Perhaps the night of Kate's tears had really made Jane resolved to try to soften even Barbara's displeasure; and the little girl felt it very kind, though her love of truth made her cry out roughly, "Not half drowned! Mary held me fast, and Lord de la Poer pulled me out!"
"I am sure you ought to be extremely thankful to them," said Lady Barbara, "and overcome with shame at all the trouble and annoyance you have given!"
Lady de la Poer quite understood what the little girl meant by her aunt being dreadful. She would gladly have protected her; but it was not what could be begged off like punishment, nor would truth allow her to say there had been no trouble nor annoyance. So what she did say was, "When one has ten children, one reckons upon such things!" and smiled as if they were quite pleasant changes to her.
"Not, I am sure, with your particularly quiet little girls," said Aunt Barbara. "I am always hoping that Katharine may take example by them."
"Take care what you hope, Barbara," said Lady de la Poer, smiling: "and at any rate forgive this poor little maiden for our disaster, or my husband will be in despair."
"I have nothing to forgive," said Lady Barbara gravely. "Katharine cannot have seriously expected punishment for what is not a moral fault. The only difference will be the natural consequences to herself of her folly.—You had better go down to the schoolroom, Katharine, have your tea, and then go to bed; it is nearly the usual time."
Lady de la Poer warmly kissed the child, and then remained a little while with the aunts, trying to remove what she saw was the impression, that Kate had been complaining of severe treatment, and taking the opportunity of telling them what she herself thought of the little girl. But though Aunt Barbara listened politely, she could not think that Lady de la Poer knew anything about the perverseness, heedlessness, ill-temper, disobedience, and rude ungainly ways, that were so tormenting. She said no word about them herself, because she would not expose her niece's faults; but when her friend talked Kate's bright candid conscientious character, her readiness, sense, and intelligence, she said to herself, and perhaps justly, that here was all the difference between at home and abroad, an authority and a stranger.
Meantime, Kate wondered what would be the natural consequences of her folly. Would she have a rheumatic fever or consumption, like a child in a book?—and she tried breathing deep, and getting up a little cough, to see if it was coming! Or would the Lord Chancellor hear of it? He was new bugbear recently set up, and more haunting than even a gunpowder treason in the cellars! What did he do with the seals? Did he seal up mischievous heiresses in closets, as she had seen a door fastened by two seals and a bit of string? Perhaps the Court of Chancery was full of such prisons! And was the woolsack to smother them with, like the princes in the Tower?
It must be owned that it was only when half asleep at night that Kate was so absurd. By day she knew very well that the Lord Chancellor was only a great lawyer; but she also knew that whenever there was any puzzle or difficulty about her or her affairs, she always heard something mysteriously said about applying to the Lord Chancellor, till she began to really suspect that it was by his commands that Aunt Barbara was so stern with her; and that if he knew of her fall into the pond, something terrible would come of it. Perhaps that was why the De la Poers kept her name so secret!
She trembled as she thought of it; and here was another added to her many terrors. Poor little girl! If she had rightly feared and loved One, she would have had no room for the many alarms that kept her heart fluttering!
It may be doubted whether Countess Kate ever did in her childhood discover what her Aunt Barbara meant by the natural consequences of her folly, but she suffered from them nevertheless. When the summer was getting past its height of beauty, and the streets were all sun and misty heat, and the grass in the parks looked brown, and the rooms were so close that even Aunt Jane had one window open, Kate grew giddy in the head almost every morning, and so weary and dull all day that she had hardly spirit to do anything but read story- books. And Mrs. Lacy was quite poorly too, though not saying much about it; was never quite without a head-ache, and was several times obliged to send Kate out for her evening walk with Josephine.
It was high time to be going out of town; and Mrs. Lacy was to go and be with her son in his vacation.
This was the time when Kate and the Wardours had hoped to be together. But "the natural consequence" of the nonsense Kate had talked, about being "always allowed" to do rude and careless things, and her wild rhodomontade about romping games with the boys, had persuaded her aunts that they were very improper people for her to be with, and that it would be wrong to consent to her going to Oldburgh.
That was one natural consequence of her folly. Another was that when the De la Poers begged that she might spend the holidays with them, and from father and mother downwards were full of kind schemes for her happiness and good, Lady Barbara said to her sister that it was quite impossible; these good friends did not know what they were asking, and that the child would again expose herself in some way that would never be forgotten, unless she were kept in their own sight till she had been properly tamed and reduced to order.