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   Chapter 15 No.15

Countess Kate By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 18155

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Nothing of note passed during the rest of the evening. Mrs. Umfraville came home; but Kate had fallen back into the shy fit that rendered her unwilling to begin on what was personal, and the Colonel waited to talk it over with his wife alone before saying any more.

Besides, there were things far more near to them than their little great-niece, and Mrs. Umfraville could not see Lord de la Poer without having her heart very full of the sons to whom he had been so kind. Again they sat round the fire, and this time in the dark, while once more Giles and Frank and all their ways were talked over and over, and Kate was forgotten; but she was not sitting alone in the dark window-no, she had a footstool close to her uncle, and sat resting her head upon his knee, her eyes seeking red caverns in the coals, her heart in a strange peaceful rest, her ears listening to the mother's subdued tender tones in speaking of her boys, and the friend's voice of sympathy and affection. Her uncle leant back and did not speak at all; but the other two went on and on, and Mrs. Umfraville seemed to be drinking in every little trait of her boys' English life, not weeping over it, but absolutely smiling when it was something droll or characteristic.

Kate felt subdued and reverent, and loved her new relations more and more for their sorrows; and she began to dream out castles of the wonderful goodness by which she would comfort them; then she looked for her uncle's hand to see if she could dare to stroke it, but one was over his brow, the other out of reach, and she was shy of doing anything.

The dinner interrupted them; and Kate had the pleasure of dining late, and sitting opposite to Lord de la Poer, who talked now and then to her, and told her what Adelaide and Grace were doing; but he was grave and sad, out of sympathy with his friends, and Kate was by no means tempted to be foolish.

Indeed, she began to feel that she might hope to be always good with her uncle and aunt, and that they would never make her naughty. Only too soon came the announcement of the carriage for Lady Caergwent; and when Aunt Emily took her into the bedroom to dress, she clung to that kind hand and fondled it.

"My dear little girl!" and Aunt Emily held her in her arms, "I am so glad! Kate, I do think your dear uncle is a little cheered to-night! If having you about him does him any good, how I shall love you, Katie!" and she hugged her closer. "And it is so kind in Lord de la Poer to have come! Oh, now he will be better! I am so thankful he is in England again! You must be with us whenever Barbara can spare you, Katie dear, for I am sure he likes it."

"Each wants me, to do the other good," thought Kate; and she was so much touched and pleased that she did not know what to do, and looked foolish.

Uncle Giles took her down stairs; and when they were in the carriage, in the dark, he seemed to be less shy: he lifted her on his knee and said, "I will talk to your aunt, and we will see how soon you can come to us, my dear."

"Oh, do let it be soon," said Kate.

"That must depend upon your Aunt Barbara," he answered, "and upon law matters, perhaps. And you must not be troublesome to her; she has suffered very much, and will not think of herself, so you must think for her."

"I don't know how, Uncle Giles," said poor sincere Kate. "At home, they always said I had no consideration."

"You must learn," he said gravely. "She is not to be harassed."

Kate was rather frightened; but he spoke in a kinder voice. "At home, you say. Do you mean with my sisters, or at Oldburgh?"

"Oh, at Oldburgh, Uncle Giles!"

"You are older now," he answered, "and need not be so childish."

"And please one thing-"

"Well-"

There came a great choking in her throat, but she did get it out. "Please, please, don't think all I do wrong is the Wardours' fault! I know I am naughty and horrid and unladylike, but it is my own own fault, indeed it is, and nobody else's! Mary and Uncle Wardour would have made me good-and it was all my fault."

"My dear," and he put the other hand so that he completely encircled the little slim waist, "I do quite believe that Mr. Wardour taught you all the good you have. There is nothing I am so glad of as that you love and reverence him as he deserves-as far as such a child can do. I hope you always will, and that your gratitude will increase with your knowledge of the sacrifices that he made for you."

It was too much of a speech for Kate to answer; but she nestled up to him, and felt as if she loved him more than ever. He added, "I should like to see Mr. Wardour, but I can hardly leave your aunt yet. Would he come to London?"

Kate gave a gasp. "Oh dear! Sylvia said he would have no money for journeys now! It cost so much his coming in a first-class carriage with me."

"You see how necessary it is to learn consideration," said the Colonel; "I must run down to see him, and come back at night."

By this time they were at the aunts' door, and both entered the drawing-room together.

Lady Barbara anxiously hoped that Katharine had behaved well.

"Perfectly well," he answered; and his face was really brighter and tenderer.

It was Kate's bed-time, and she was dismissed at once. She felt that the kiss and momentary touch of the hand, with the "Bless you," were far more earnest than the mere greeting kiss. She did not know that it had been his wonted good-night to his own children.

When she was gone, he took a chair, and explained that he could remain for a little while, as Lord de la Poer would bear his wife company. Lady Jane made room for him on the sofa, and Lady Barbara looked pleased.

"I wished to talk to you about that child," he said.

"I have been wishing it for some time," said Lady Barbara; "waiting, in fact, to make arrangements till your return."

"What arrangements?"

"For forming an establishment for her."

"The child's natural home is with you or with me."

There was a little silence; then Lady Jane nervously caught her brother's hand, saying, "O Giles, Giles, you must not be severe with her, poor little thing!"

"Why should I be severe, Jane?" he said. "What has the child done to deserve it?"

"I do not wish to enter into particulars," said Lady Barbara. "But she is a child who has been so unfortunately brought up as to require constant watching; and to have her in the house does so much harm to Jane's health, that I strongly advise you not to attempt it in Emily's state of spirits."

"It would little benefit Emily's spirits to transfer a duty to a stranger," said the Colonel. "But I wish to know why you evidently think so ill of this girl, Barbara!"

"Her entire behaviour since she has been with us-" began Lady Barbara.

"Generalities only do mischief, Barbara. If I have any control over this child, I must know facts."

"The truth is, Giles," said his sister, distressed and confused, "that I promised the child not to tell you of her chief piece of misconduct, unless I was compelled by some fresh fault."

"An injudicious promise, Barbara. You do the child more harm by implying such an opinion of her than you could do by letting me hear what she has actually done. But you are absolved from the promise, for she has herself told me."

"Told you! That girl has no sense of shame! After all the pains I took to conceal it!"

"No, Barbara; it was with the utmost shame that she told me. It was unguarded of me, I own; but De la Poer and I had entirely forgotten that she was present, and I asked him if he could account for your evident dislike and distrust of her. The child's honourable feelings would not allow her to listen, and she came forward, and accused herself, not you!"

"Before Lord de la Poer! Giles, how could you allow it?" cried Lady Barbara, confounded. "That whole family will tell the story, and she will be marked for ever!"

"De la Poer has some knowledge of child nature," said the Colonel, slightly smiling.

"A gentleman often encourages that sort of child, but condemns her the more. She will be a by-word in that family! I always knew she would be our disgrace!"

"O Giles, do tell Barbara it cannot be so very bad!" entreated Lady Jane. "She is such a child-poor little dear!-and so little used to control!"

"I have only as yet heard her own confused account."

Lady Barbara gave her own.

"I see," said the Colonel, "the child was both accurate and candid. You should be thankful that your system has not destroyed her sincerity."

"But, indeed, dear Giles," pleaded Lady Jane, "you know Barbara did not want her to say what was false."

"No," said the Colonel: "that was a mere misunderstanding. It is the spirit of distrust that-assuming that a child will act dishonourably-is likely to drive her to do so."

"I never distrusted Katharine till she drove me to do so," said Lady Barbara, with cold, stern composure.

"I would never bring an accusation of breach of trust where I had not made it evident that I reposed confidence," said the Colonel.

"

I see how it is," said Lady Barbara; "you have heard one side. I do not contradict. I know the girl would not wilfully deceive by word; and I am willing to confess that I am not capable of dealing with her. Only from a sense of duty did I ever undertake it."

"Of duty, Barbara?" he asked.

"Yes-of duty to the family."

"We do not see those things in the same light," he said quietly. "I thought, as you know, that the duty was more incumbent when the child was left an orphan-a burthen on relatives who could ill afford to be charged with her. Perhaps, Barbara, if you had noticed her then, instead of waiting till circumstances made her the head of our family, you might have been able to give her that which has been wanting in your otherwise conscientious training-affection."

Lady Barbara held up her head, stiffly, but she was very near tears, of pain and wounded pride; but she would not defend herself; and she saw that even her faithful Jane did not feel with her.

"I came home, Barbara," continued the Colonel, "resolving that-much as I wished for Emily's sake that this little girl should need a home with us-if you had found in her a new interest and delight, and were in her-let me say it, Barbara-healing old sores, and giving her your own good sense and high principle, I would not say one word to disturb so happy a state of things. I come and find the child a state prisoner, whom you are endeavouring by all means to alienate from the friends to whom she owes a daughter's gratitude; I find her not complaining of you, but answering me with the saddest account a child can give of herself-she is always naughty. After this, Barbara, I can be doing you no injury in asking you to concur with me in arrangements for putting the child under my wife's care as soon as possible."

"To-morrow, if you like," said Lady Barbara. "I took her only from a sense of duty; and it has half killed Jane. I would not keep her upon any consideration!"

"O Barbara, it has not hurt me.-O Giles, she will always be so anxious about me; it is all my fault for being nervous and foolish!" cried Lady Jane, with quivering voice, and tears in her eyes. "If it had not been for that, we could have made her so happy, dear little spirited thing. But dear Barbara spoils me, and I know I give way too much."

"This will keep you awake all night!" said Barbara, as the Colonel's tender gesture agitated Jane more. "Indeed, Giles, you should have chosen a better moment for this conversation-on almost your first arrival too! But the very existence of this child is a misfortune!"

"Let us trust that in a few years she may give you reason to think otherwise," said the Colonel. "Did you mean what you said-that you wished us to take her to-morrow?"

"Not to incommode Emily. She can go on as she has done till your plans are made. You do not know what a child she is."

"Emily shall come and settle with you to-morrow," said Colonel Umfraville. "I have not yet spoken to her, but I think she will wish to have the child with her."

"And you will be patient with her. You will make her happy," said Lady Jane, holding his hand.

"Everything is made happy by Emily," he answered.

"But has she spirits for the charge?"

"She has always spirits enough to give happiness to others," he answered; and the dew was on his dark lashes.

"And you, Giles-you will not be severe even if the poor child is a little wild?"

"I know what you are thinking of, Jane," he said kindly. "But indeed, my dear, such a wife as mine, and such sorrows as she has helped me to bear, would have been wasted indeed, if by God's grace they had not made me less exacting and impatient than I used to be.-Barbara," he added after a pause, "I beg your pardon if I have spoken hastily, or done you injustice. All you have done has been conscientious; and if I spoke in displeasure-you know how one's spirit is moved by seeing a child unhappy-and my training in gentleness is not as complete as it ought to be, I am sorry for the pain I gave you."

Lady Barbara was struggling with tears she could not repress; and at last she broke quite down, and wept so that Lady Jane moved about in alarm and distress, and her brother waited in some anxiety. But when she spoke it was humbly.

"You were right, Giles. It was not in me to love that child. It was wrong in me. Perhaps if I had overcome the feeling when you first told me of it, when her mother died, it would have been better for us all. Now it is too late. Our habits have formed themselves, and I can neither manage the child nor make her happy. It is better that she should go to you and Emily. And, Giles, if you still bring her to us sometimes, I will try-" The last words were lost.

"You will," he said affectionately, "when there are no more daily collisions. Dear Barbara, if I am particularly anxious to train this poor girl up at once in affection and in self-restraint, it is because my whole life-ever since I grew up-has taught me what a grievous task is left us, after we are our own masters. If our childish faults-such as impetuosity and sullenness-are not corrected on principle, not for convenience, while we are children."

After this conversation, everyone will be sure that Mrs. Umfraville came next day, and after many arrangements with Lady Barbara, carried off the little Countess with her to the house that Lord de la Poer had lent them.

Kate was subdued and quiet. She felt that she had made a very unhappy business of her life with her aunts, and that she should never see Bruton Street without a sense of shame. Lady Barbara, too, was more soft and kind than she had ever seen her; and Aunt Jane was very fond of her, and grieved over her not having been happier.

"Oh, never mind, Aunt Jane; it was all my naughtiness. I know Aunt Emily will make me good; and nobody could behave ill in the house with Uncle Giles, could they now? So I shall be sure to be happy. And I'll tell you what, Aunt Jane; some day you shall come to stay with us, and then I'll drive you out in a dear delicious open carriage, with two prancing ponies!"

And when she wished her other aunt good-bye, she eased her mind by saying, "Aunt Barbara, I am very sorry I was such a horrid plague."

"There were faults on both sides, Katharine," her aunt answered with dignity. "Perhaps in time we may understand one another better."

The first thing Katharine heard when she had left the house with Mrs. Umfraville was, that her uncle had gone down to Oldburgh by an early train, and that both box and shawl had gone with him.

But when he came back late to Lord de la Poer's house, whom had he brought with him?

Mary! Mary Wardour herself! He had, as a great favour, begged to have her for a fortnight in London, to take care of her little cousin, till further arrangements could be made; and to talk over with Mrs. Umfraville the child's character, and what would be good for her.

If there was one shy person in the house that night, there was another happier than words could tell!

Moreover, before very long, the Countess of Caergwent had really seen the Lord Chancellor, and found him not so very unlike other people after all; indeed, unless Uncle Giles had told her, she never would have found out who he was! And when he asked her whether she would wish to live with Colonel Umfraville or with Lady Barbara and Lady Jane, it may be very easily guessed what answer she made!

So it was fixed that she should live at Caergwent Castle with her uncle and aunt, and be brought up to the care of her own village and poor people, and to learn the duties of her station under their care.

And before they left London, Mrs. Umfraville had chosen a very bright pleasant young governess, to be a friend and companion, as well as an instructress. Further, it was settled that as soon as Christmas was over, Sylvia should come for a long visit, and learn of the governess with Kate.

Those who have learned to know Countess Kate can perhaps guess whether she found herself right in thinking it impossible to be naughty near Uncle Giles or Aunt Emily. But of one thing they may be sure-that Uncle Giles never failed to make her truly sorry for her naughtiness, and increasingly earnest in the struggle to leave it off.

And as time went on, and occupations and interests grew up round Colonel and Mrs. Umfraville, and their niece lost her childish wildness, and loved them more and more, they felt their grievous loss less and less, and did not so miss the vanished earthly hope. Their own children had so lived that they could feel them safe; and they attached themselves to the child in their charge till she was really like their own.

Yet, all the time, Kate still calls Mr. Wardour "Papa;" and Sylvia spends half her time with her. Some people still say that in manners, looks, and ways, Sylvia would make a better Countess than Lady Caergwent; but there are things that both are learning together, which alone can make them fit for any lot upon earth, or for the better inheritance in Heaven.

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