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   Chapter 6 No.6

Countess Kate By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 14430

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


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 ha

d 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 moiré 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.

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