MoboReader > Literature > The Clever Woman of the Family


The Clever Woman of the Family By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 40329

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"But O unseen for three long years,

Dear was the garb of mountaineers

To the fair maid of Lorn."-LORD OF THE ISLES.

"Only nerves," said Alison Williams, whenever she was pushed hard as to why her sister continued unwell, and her own looks betrayed an anxiety that her words would not confess. Rachel, after a visit on the first day, was of the same opinion, and prescribed globules and enlivenment; but after a personal administration of the latter in the shape of a discussion of Lord Keith, she never called in the morning without hearing that Miss Williams was not up, nor in the afternoon without Alison's meeting her, and being very sorry, but really she thought it better for her sister to be quite quiet.

In fact, Alison was not seriously uneasy about Ermine's health, for these nervous attacks were not without precedent, as the revenge for all excitement of the sensitive mind upon the much-tried constitution. The reaction must pass off in time, and calm and patience would assist in restoring her; but the interview with Lord Keith had been a revelation to her that her affection was not the calm, chastened, mortified, almost dead thing of the past that she had tried to believe it; but a young, living, active feeling, as vivid, and as little able to brook interference as when the first harsh letter from Gowanbrae had fallen like a thunderbolt on the bright hopes of youth. She looked back at some verses that she had written, when first perceiving that life was to be her portion, where her own intended feelings were ascribed to a maiden who had taken the veil, believing her crusader slain, but who saw him return and lead a recluse life, with the light in her cell for his guiding star. She smiled sadly to find how far the imaginings of four and twenty transcended the powers of four and thirty; and how the heart that had deemed itself able to resign was chafed at the appearance of compulsion. She felt that the right was the same as ever; but it was an increased struggle to maintain the resolute abstinence from all that could bind Colin to her, at the moment when he was most likely to be detached, and it was a struggle rendered the more trying by the monotony of a life, scarcely varied except by the brainwork, which she was often obliged to relinquish.

Nothing, however, here assisted her so much as Lady Temple's new pony carriage which, by Fanny's desire, had been built low enough to permit of her being easily lifted into it. Inert, and almost afraid of change, Ermine was hard to persuade, but Alison, guessing at the benefit, was against her, and Fanny's wistful eyes and caressing voice were not to be gainsaid; so she suffered herself to be placed on the broad easy seat, and driven about the lanes, enjoying most intensely the new scenes, the peeps of sea, the distant moors, the cottages with their glowing orchards, the sloping harvest fields, the variety that was an absolute healing to the worn spirits, and moreover, that quiet conversation with Lady Temple, often about the boys, but more often about Colonel Keith.

Not only Ermine, but other inhabitants of Avonmouth found the world more flat in his absence. Rachel's interest was lessened in her readings after she had lost the pleasure of discussion, and she asked herself many times whether the tedium were indeed from love, or if it were simply from the absence of an agreeable companion. "I will try myself," she said to herself, "if I am heartily interested in my occupations by the end of the next week, then I shall believe myself my own woman!"

But in going back to her occupations, she was more than ordinarily sensible of their unsatisfactoriness. One change had come over her in the last few months. She did not so much long for a wider field, as for power to do the few things within her reach more thoroughly. Her late discussions had, as it were, opened a second eye, that saw two sides of questions that she had hitherto thought had only one, and she was restless and undecided between them, longing for some impulse from within or without, and hoping, for her own dignity and consistency's sake, that it was not only Colonel Keith's presence which had rendered this summer the richest in her life.

A test was coming for her, she thought, in the person of Miss Keith. Judging by the brother, Rachel expected a tall fair dreamy blonde, requiring to be taught a true appreciation of life and its duties, and whether the training of this young girl would again afford her food for eagerness and energy, would, as she said to herself, show whether her affections were still her own. Moreover, there was the great duty of deciding whether the brother were worthy of Fanny!

It chanced to be convenient that Rachel should go to Avoncester on the day of the arrival, and call at the station for the traveller. She recollected how, five months previously, she had there greeted Fanny, and had seen the bearded apparition since regarded, with so much jealousy, and now with such a strangely mixed feeling. This being a far more indifferent errand, she did not go on the platform, but sat in the carriage reading the report of the Social Science Congress, until the travellers began to emerge, and Captain Keith (for he had had his promotion) came up to her with a young lady who looked by no means like his sister. She was somewhat tall, and in that matter alone realized Rachel's anticipations, for she was black-eyed, and her dark hair was crepe and turned back from a face of the plump contour, and slightly rosy complexion that suggested the patches of the last century; as indeed Nature herself seemed to have thought when planting near the corner of the mouth a little brown mole, that added somehow to the piquancy of the face, not exactly pretty, but decidedly attractive under the little round hat, and in the point device, though simple and plainly coloured travelling dress.

"Will you allow me a seat?" asked Captain Keith, when he had disposed of his sister's goods; and on Rachel's assent, he placed himself on the back seat in his lazy manner.

"If you were good for anything, you would sit outside and smoke," said his sister.

"If privacy is required for swearing an eternal friendship, I can go to sleep instead," he returned, closing his eyes.

"Quite the reverse," quoth Bessie Keith; "he has prepared me to hate you all, Miss Curtis."

"On the mutual aversion principle," murmured the brother.

"Don't you flatter yourself! Have you found out, Miss Curtis, that it is the property of this species always to go by contraries?"

"To Miss Curtis I always appear in the meekest state of assent," said Alick.

"Then I would not be Miss Curtis. How horribly you must differ!"

Rachel was absolutely silenced by this cross fire; something so unlike the small talk of her experience, that her mind could hardly propel itself into velocity enough to follow the rapid encounter of wits. However, having stirred up her lightest troops into marching order, she said, in a puzzled, doubtful way, "How has he prepared you to hate us?-By praising us?"

"Oh, no; that would have been too much on the surface. He knew the effect of that," looking in his sleepy eyes for a twinkle of response. "No; his very reserve said, I am going to take her to ground too transcendent for her to walk on, but if I say one word, I shall never get her there at all. It was a deep refinement, you see, and he really meant it, but I was deeper," and she shook her head at him.

"You are always trying which can go deepest?" said Rachel.

"It is a sweet fraternal sport," returned Alick.

"Have you no brother?" asked Bessie.


"Then you don't know what detestable creatures they are," but she looked so lovingly and saucily at her big brother, that Rachel, spite of herself, was absolutely fascinated by this novel form of endearment. An answer was spared her by Miss Keith's rapture at the sight of some soldiers in the uniform of her father's old regiment.

"Have a care, Bessie; Miss Curtis will despise you," said her brother.

"Why should you think so?" exclaimed Rachel, not desirous of putting on a forbidding aspect to this bright creature.

"Have I not been withered by your scorn!"

"I-I-" Rachel was going to say something of her change of opinion with regard to military society, but a sudden consciousness set her cheeks in a flame and checked her tongue; while Bessie Keith, with ease and readiness, filled up the blank.

"What, Alick, you have brought the service into disrepute! I am ashamed of you!"

"Oh, no!" said Rachel, in spite of her intolerable blushes, feeling the necessity of delivering her confession, like a cannon-ball among skirmishers; "only we had been used to regard officers as necessarily empty and frivolous, and our recent experience has-has been otherwise." Her period altogether failed her.

"There, Alick, is that the effect of your weight of wisdom? I shall be more impressed with it than ever. It has redeemed the character of your profession. Captain Keith and the army."

"I am afraid I cannot flatter myself," said Alick; and a sort of reflection of Rachel's burning colour seemed to have lighted on his cheek, "its reputation has been in better hands."

"O Colonel Colin! Depend upon it, he is not half as sage as you, Alick. Why, he is a dozen years older!-What, don't you know, Miss Curtis, that the older people grow the less sage they get?"

"I hope not," said Rachel.

"Do you! A contrary persuasion sustains me when I see people obnoxiously sage to their fellow-creatures."

"Obnoxious sageness in youth is the token that there is stuff behind," said Alick, with eagerness that set his sister laughing at him for fitting on the cap; but Rachel had a sort of odd dreamy perception that Bessie Keith had unconsciously described her (Rachel's) own aspect, and that Alick was defending her, and she was silent and confused, and rather surprised at the assumption of the character by one who she thought could never even exert himself to be obnoxious. He evidently did not wish to dwell on the subject, but began to inquire after Avonmouth matters, and Rachel in return asked for Mr. Clare.

"Very well," was the answer; "unfailing in spirits, every one agreed that he was the youngest man at the wedding."

"Having outgrown his obnoxious sageness," said Bessie.

"There is nothing he is so adroit at as guessing the fate of a croquet-ball by its sound."

"Now Bessie," exclaimed Alick.

"I have not transgressed, have I?" asked Bessie; and in the exclamations that followed, she said, "You see what want of confidence is. This brother of mine no sooner saw you in the carriage than he laid his commands on me not to ask after your croquet-ground all the way home, and the poor word cannot come out of my mouth without-"

"I only told you not to bore Miss Curtis with the eternal subject, as she would think you had no more brains than one of your mallets," he said, somewhat energetically.

"And if we had begun to talk croquet, we should soon have driven him outside."

"But suppose I could not talk it," said Rachel, "and that we have no ground for it."

"Why, then,"-and she affected to turn up her eyes,-"I can only aver that the coincidence of sentiments is no doubt the work of destiny."

"Bessie!" exclaimed her brother.

"Poor old fellow! you had excuse enough, lying on the sofa to the tune of tap and click; but for a young lady in the advanced ranks of civilization to abstain is a mere marvel."

"Surely it is a great waste of time," said Rachel.

"Ah! when I have converted you, you will wonder what people did with themselves before the invention."

"Woman's mission discovered," quoth her brother.

"Also man's, unless he neglects it," returned Miss Elizabeth; "I wonder, now, if you would play if Miss Curtis did."

"Wisdom never pledges itself how it will act in hypothetical circumstances," was the reply.

"Hypothetical," syllabically repeated Bessie Keith; "did you teach him that word, Miss Curtis? Well, if I don't bring about the hypothetical circumstances, you may call me hyperbolical."

So they talked, Rachel in a state of bewilderment, whether she were teased or enchanted, and Alexander Keith's quiet nonchalance not concealing that he was in some anxiety at his sister's reckless talk, but, perhaps, he hardly estimated the effect of the gay, quaint manner that took all hearts by storm, and gave a frank careless grace to her nonsense. She grew graver and softer as she came nearer Avonmouth, and spoke tenderly of the kindness she had received at the time of her mother's death at the Cape, when she had been brought to the general's, and had there remained like a child of the house, till she had been sent home on the removal of the regiment to India.

"I remember," she said, "Mrs. Curtis kept great order. In fact, between ourselves, she was rather a dragon; and Lady Temple, though she had one child then, seemed like my companion and playfellow. Dear little Lady Temple, I wonder if she is altered!"

"Not in the least," returned both her companions at once, and she was quite ready to agree with them when the slender form and fair young face met her in the hall amid a cloud of eager boys. The meeting was a full renewal of the parting, warm and fond, and Bessie so comported herself on her introduction to the children, that they all became enamoured of her on the spot, and even Stephana relaxed her shyness on her behalf. That sunny gay good-nature could not be withstood, and Rachel, again sharing Fanny's first dinner after an arrival, no longer sat apart despising the military atmosphere, but listening, not without amusement, to the account of the humours of the wedding, mingled with Alick Keith's touches of satire.

"It was very stupid," said Bessie, "of none of those girls to have Uncle George to marry them. My aunt fancied he would be nervous, but I know he did marry a couple when Mr. Lifford was away; I mean him to marry me, as I told them all."

"You had better wait till you know whether he will," observed Alick.

"Will? Oh, he is always pleased to feel he can do like other people," returned Bessie, "and I'll undertake to see that he puts the ring on the right-I mean the left finger. Because you'll have to give me away, you know, Alick, so you can look after him."

"You seem to have arranged the programme pretty thoroughly," said Rachel.

"After four weddings at home, one can't but lay by a little experience for the future," returned Bessie; "and after all, Alick need not look as if it must be for oneself. He is quite welcome to profit by it, if he has the good taste to want my uncle to marry him."

"Not unless I were very clear that he liked my choice," said Alick, gravely.

"Oh, dear! Have you any doubts, or is that meant for a cut at poor innocent me, as if I could help people's folly, or as if he was not gone to Rio Janeiro," exclaimed Bessie, with a sort of meek simplicity and unconsciousness that totally removed all the unsatisfactoriness of the speech, and made even her brother smile while he looked annoyed; and Lady Temple quietly changed the conversation. Alick Keith was obliged to go away early, and the three ladies sat long in the garden outside the window, in the summer twilight, much relishing the frank-hearted way in which this engaging girl talked of herself and her difficulties to Fanny as to an old friend, and to Rachel as belonging to Fanny.

"I am afraid that I was very naughty," she said, with a hand laid on Lady Temple's, as if to win pardon; "but I never can resist plaguing that dear anxious brother of mine, and he did so dreadfully take to heart the absurdities of that little Charlie Carleton, as if any one with brains could think him good for anything but a croquet partner, that I could not help giving a little gentle titillation. I saw you did not like it, dear Lady Temple, and I am sorry for it."

"I hope I did not vex you," said Fanny, afraid of having been severe.

"Oh, no, indeed; a little check just makes one feel one is cared for," and they kissed affectionately: "you see when one has a very wise brother, plaguing him is irresistible. How little Stephana will plague hers, in self-defence, with so many to keep her in order."

"They all spoil her."

"Ah, this is the golden age. See what it will be when they think themselves responsible for her! Dear Lady Temple, how could you send him home so old and so grave?"

"I am afraid we sent him home very ill. I never expected to see him so perfectly recovered. I could hardly believe my eyes when Colonel Keith brought him to the carriage not in the least lame."

"Yes; and it was half against his will. He would have been almost glad to be a lay curate to Uncle George, only he knew if he was fit for service my father would have been vexed at his giving up his profession."

"Then it was not his choice!" said Rachel.

"Oh, he was born a soldier, like all the rest of us, couldn't help it. The -th is our home, and if he would only take my hint and marry, I could be with him there, now! Lady Temple, do pray send for all the eligible officers-I don't know any of them now, except the two majors, and Alick suspects my designs, I believe, for he won't tell me anything about them."

"My dear!" said Fanny, bewildered, "how you talk; you know we are living a very quiet life here."

"Oh, yes, so Alick has told me," she said, with a pretty compunction in her tone; "you must be patient with me," and she kissed Fanny's fingers again and spoke in a gentler way. "I am used to be a great chatter-box, and nobody protested but Alick."

"I wish you would tell me about his return, my dear; he seemed so unfit to travel when your poor father came to the hills and took him away by dak. It seemed so impossible he could bear the journey; he could not stand or help himself at all, and had constant returns of fever; but they said the long sea voyage was the only chance, and that in India he could not get vigour enough to begin to recover. I was very unhappy about him," said Fanny, innocently, whilst Rachel felt very vigilant, wondering if Fanny were the cause of the change his sister spoke of.

"Yes, the voyage did him good, but the tidings of papa's death came two months before him, and Uncle George's eyes were in such a state that he had to be kept in the dark, so that no one could go and meet the poor dear boy at Southampton but Mr. Lifford, and the shock of the news he heard brought the fever back, and it went on intermitting for weeks and weeks. We had him at Littleworthy at first, thinking he could be better nursed and more cheerful there, but there was no keeping the house quiet enough."

"Croquet!" said Rachel.

"Everything!" returned Bessie. "Four courtships in more or less progress, besides a few flirtations, and a house where all the neighbours were running in and out in a sociable way. Our loss was not as recent there as it was to him, and they were only nieces, so we could not have interfered with them; besides, my aunt was afraid he would be dull, and wanted to make the most of her conquering hero, and everybody came and complimented him, and catechised him whether he believed in the Indian mutilations, when, poor fellow, he had seen horrors enough never to bear to think of them, except when the fever brought them all over again. I am sure there was excuse enough for his being a little irritable."

"My dear," exclaimed Fanny, quite hurt, "he was patience itself while he was with us."

"That's the difference between illness and recovery, dear Lady Temple! I don't blame him. Any one might be irritable with fresh undetected splinters of bone always working themselves out, all down one side; and doubts which were worse, the fingers on, or the fingers off, and no escape from folly or politeness, for he could not even use a crutch. Oh, no, I don't blame him; I quite excuse the general dislike he took to everything at poor dear Littleworthy. He viewed it all like that child in Mrs. Browning's poem, 'seeing through tears the juggle

rs leap,' and we have partaken of the juggler aspect to him ever since!"

"I don't think he could ever be very irritable," said Fanny, taking the accusation much to heart.

"Sister and recovery!" lightly said Bessie; "they encounter what no one else does! He only pined for Bishopsworthy, and when we let him move there, after the first month, he and my uncle were happy. I stayed there for a little while, but I was only in the way, the dear good folks were always putting themselves out on my account; and as to Alick, you can't think how the absence of his poor 'souffre-douleur,' invigorated him. Every day I found him able to put more point into his cutting compliments, and reading to my uncle with more energy; till at last by the time the -th came home, he had not so much as a stiff leg to retire upon. Luckily, he and my uncle both cared too much for my poor father's wishes for him to do so without, though if any unlucky chance should take Mr. Lifford away from my uncle, he threatens coming to supply the vacancy, unless I should, and that is past hope."

"Your home is with your uncle," affirmed Rachel.

"Yes," she said, mournfully, "dear Littleworthy was too happy to last. It broke itself up by its own charms-all married and gone, and the last rose of summer in my poor person must float away. Jane wants her mother and not me, and my uncle will submit to me as cheerfully as to other necessary evils. It is not myself that I fear for; I shall be very happy with the dear uncle, but it will be a dreadful overthrow to his habits."

"I do not see why it need be," said Rachel.

"What! two old bachelors with a young lady turned in on them! And the housekeeper-think of her feelings!"

"I do not think you need be uneasy, my dear," said Fanny. "Your brother is convinced that it will be the greatest pleasure and comfort to Mr. Clare to have you; and though there may be difficulties at first, I am sure anybody must be the happier for having you," and she caressed the upturned face, which responded warmly, but with a sigh.

"Alick is no judge! He is the child of the house, and my uncle and Mr. Lifford don't feel complete without him. My uncle is as fond of me as can be, and he and I could get on beautifully, but then Mr. Lifford is impracticable."

"Impracticable?" said Rachel, taking up the long word. "He objects to your exerting yourself in the parish. I know what that is."

"Pray, Rachel," said Fanny, imploringly, "pray don't any anything against him! I am very sorry he has annoyed you, but I do like him."

"Oh, does he play croquet!" cried Bessie.

"I gather," said Rachel, in her impressive tone, a little disappointed, "that by impracticable you mean one who will not play croquet."

"You have hit it!" laughed Bessie. "Who will neither play at croquet, nor let one work except in his way. Well, there are hopes for you. I cure the curates of every cure I come near, except, of course, the cure that touches me most nearly. The shoemaker's wife goes the worst shod! I'll tame yours."

"My dear, I can't have poor Mr. Touchett made game of."

"I won't make game of him, dear Lady Temple, only make him play a game."

"But you said Alick did not approve," said Fanny, with the dimmest possible ideas of what croquet was, and believing it a wicked flirtation trap that figured in "Punch."

"Oh, that's fudge on Master Alick's part! Just the remains of his old miseries, poor fellow. What he wants is love! Now he'll meet his fate some of these days; and as he can't meet three Englishwomen without a mallet in hand, love and croquet will come together."

"Alick is very good," went on Lady Temple, not answering, but arguing with herself whether this opposition could be right. "Colonel Hammond gave me such an account of him, so valuable and excellent among the men, and doing all that is possible for their welfare, interesting himself about their library, and the regimental school and all. The colonel said he wished only that he was a little more easy and popular among the young officers; but so many of his own standing were gone by the time he joined again, that he lives almost too much to himself, reads a good deal, and is most exemplary, but does not quite make his influence as available as it might be."

"That's just it," cried Bessie, eagerly; "the boy is a lazy boy, and wants shaking up, or he'll get savage and no good. Can't you see, by the way he uses his poor little sister, what an awful don Captain Keith must be to a schoolboy of an ensign? He must be taught toleration and hunted into amiability, or he'll be the most terrible Turk by the time he is a colonel; and you are the only person that can do it, dear Lady Temple."

Rachel did not much like this, but it was so prettily and playfully said that the pleasing impression was quite predominant; and when Rachel took leave, it was with a sense of vexation that a person whom she had begun to esteem should be hard upon this bright engaging sister. Yet it might be well if Fanny took note of the admission that he could be irritable as well as stern, and sometimes mistaken in his judgments. What would the Colonel say to all this? The Colonel-here he was coming back again into her imagination. Another symptom!

The brother left the field entirely to his sister for the present; he was a good deal occupied after his leave, and other officers being away, he was detained at Avoncester, and meantime Bessie Keith took all hearts by storm with her gay good humour and eager sympathy. By the end of the first morning she had been to the stable with a swarm of boys, patted, and learnt the names of all the ponies; she was on the warmest terms with the young spaniel, that, to the Curtises' vexation, one of the officers had given Conrade, and which was always getting into the way; she had won Alison by telling her of Mr. Clare's recollections of Ermine's remarkable beauty and intelligence, and charmed Ermine herself by his kind messages and her own sunshiny brightness; she had delighted Mrs. Curtis and Grace by appreciating their views and their flowers; she had discussed hymnals and chants with Mr. Touchett, and promised her services; she had given a brilliant object lesson at Mrs. Kelland's, and received one herself in lace-making; and had proved herself, to Rachel's satisfaction, equally practical and well-read. All the outer world was asking, "Have you seen the young lady with Lady Temple?"

Nothing came amiss to her, from the antiquity of man to Stephana's first words; and whether she taught Grace new stitches, played cricket with Conrade, made boats for Cyril, prattled with Lady Temple, or studied with Rachel, all was done with grace, zest, and sympathy peculiarly her own. Two practisings at the school removed the leaden drawl, and lessened the twang of the choir; and Mr. Touchett looked quite exalted, while even Rachel owned that she had hardly believed her ears.

Rachel and she constituted themselves particular friends, and Grace kept almost aloof in the fear of disturbing them. She had many friends, and this was the first, except Ermine Williams, to whom Rachel had taken, since a favourite companion of her youth had disappointed her by a foolish marriage. Bessie's confidences had a vigour in them that even Rachel's half-way meetings could not check, and then the sharp, clever things she would say, in accordance with Rachel's views, were more sympathetic than anything she had met with. It was another new charm to life.

One great pleasure they enjoyed together was bathing. The Homestead possessed a little cove of its own under the rocks, where there was a bathing-house, and full perfection of arrangement for young ladies' aquatic enjoyment, in safety and absolute privacy. Rachel's vigorous strength and health had been greatly promoted by her familiarity with salt water, and Bessie was in ecstasies at the naiad performances they shared together on the smooth bit of sandy shore, where they dabbled and floated fearlessly. One morning, when they had been down very early to be beforehand with the tide, which put a stop to their enjoyment long before the breakfast hour, Bessie asked if they could not profit by their leisure to climb round the edge of the cliff's instead of returning by the direct path, and Rachel agreed, with the greater pleasure, that it was an enterprise she had seldom performed.

Very beautiful, though adventurous, was the walk-now on the brow of the steep cliff, looking down on the water or on little bays of shingle, now through bits of thicket that held out brambles to entangle the long tresses streaming on their shoulders; always in the brisk morning air, that filled them with strength and spirit, laughing, joking, calling to one another and to Conrade's little dog, that, like every other creature, had attached itself to Bessie, and had followed her from Myrtlewood that morning, to the vexation of Rachel, who had no love for dogs in their early youth.

They were beyond the grounds of the Homestead, but had to go a little further to get into the path, when they paused above a sort of dip or amphitheatre of rock around a little bay, whilst Rachel began telling of the smugglers' traditions that haunted the place-how much brandy and silk had there been landed in the time of the great French war, and how once, when hard pressed, a party of smugglers, taking a short cut in the moonlight midnight across the Homestead gardens, had encountered an escaped Guinea-pig, and no doubt taking it for the very rat without a tail, in whose person Macbeth's witch was to do, and to do, and to do, had been nearly scared out of their wits.

Her story was cut short by a cry of distress from the dog, and looking down, they perceived that the poor fellow had been creeping about the rocks, and had descended to the little cove, whence he was incapable of climbing up again. They called encouragingly, and pretended to move away, but he only moaned more despairingly, and leapt in vain.

"He has hurt his foot!" exclaimed Rachel; "I must go down after him. Yes, Don, yes, poor fellow, I'm coming."

"My dear Curtia, don't leap into the gulf!"

"Oh, it's no great height, and the tide will soon fill up this place."

"Don't! don't! You'll never be able to get up again."

But Rachel was already scrambling down, and, in effect, she was sure-footed and used to her own crags, nor was the distance much above thirty foot, so that she was soon safe on the shingle, to the extreme relief of poor Don, shown by grateful whines; but he was still evidently in pain, and Rachel thought his leg was broken. And how to get up the rock, with a spaniel that when she tried to lift it became apparently twice the size she had always believed it to be, and where both hands as well as feet were required, with the sea fast advancing too?

"My dear Rachel, you will only break your neck, too, it is quite vain to try!"

"If you could just come to that first rock, perhaps I could push him up to you!"

Bessie came to it, but screamed. "Oh, I'm not steady; I couldn't do it! Besides, it would hurt him so, and I know you would fall. Poor fellow, it is very sad; but indeed, Rachel, your life is more precious than a dog's!"

"I can't leave him to drown," said Rachel, making a desperate scramble, and almost overbalancing herself. "Here, if you could only get him by the scrough of his neck, it would not hurt him so much; poor Don, yes, poor fellow!" as he whined, but still showed his confidence in the touching manner of a sensible dog, knowing he is hurt for his good. Bessie made another attempt, but, unused to rocks, she was uneasy about her footing, and merely frightened herself. "Indeed," she said, "I had better run and call some one; I won't be long, and you are really quite safe."

"Yes, quite safe. If you were down here and I above I am sure he could do it easily."

"Ah! but I'm no cragswoman; I'll be back instantly."

"That way, that's the shortest, call to Zack or his father," tried Rachel, as the light figure quickly disappeared, leaving her a little annoyed at her predicament. She was not at all alarmed for herself, there was no real danger of drowning, she could at any moment get up the rock herself if she chose to leave the dog to its fate; but that she could not bear to think of, and she even thought the stimulus of necessity might prove the mother of invention, if succour should not come before that lapping flux and reflux of water should have crept up the shingly beach, on which she stood; but she was anxious, and felt more and more drawn to the poor dog, so suffering, yet so patient and confiding. Nor did she like the awkwardness of being helped in what ought to be no difficulty at all to a native, and would not have been had her companion, been Grace or even Conrade. Her hope was that her ally Zack would come, as she had directed Bessie towards the cottage; but, behold, after a wearily long interval, it was no blue jacket that appeared, but a round black sea-hide hat, and a sort of easy clerical-looking dress, that Bessie was fluttering before!

Few words were required, the stranger's height and length of arms did all that was needful, and Don was placed in safety with less pain and outcry than could have been hoped, Rachel ascending before the polite stranger had time to offer his assistance. The dog's hurt was, he agreed with Rachel, a broken leg, and his offer of carrying it home could not be refused, especially as he touched it with remarkable tenderness and dexterity, adding that with a splint or two, he thought he had surgery enough to set the limb.

They were much nearer the Homestead than to Myrtle-wood, and as it had been already agreed that Bessie should breakfast there, the three bent their steps up the hill as fast as might be, in consideration of Mrs. Curtis's anxieties. Bessie in a state of great exultation and amusement at the romantic adventure, Rachel somewhat put out at the untoward mishap that obliged her to be beholden to one of the casual visitors, against whom her mother had such a prejudice.

Still, the gentleman himself was far from objectionable, in appearance or manner; his air was that of an educated man, his dress that of a clergyman at large, his face keen. Rachel remembered to have met him once or twice in the town within the last few days, and wondered if he could be a person who had called in at the lace school and asked so many questions that Mrs. Kelland had decided that he could be after no good; he must be one of the Parliament folks that they sent down to take the bread out of children's mouths by not letting them work as many hours as was good for them. Not quite believing in a Government commission on lace-making grievances, Rachel was still prepared to greet a kindred spirit of philanthropy, and as she reflected more, thought that perhaps it was well that an introduction had been procured on any terms.

So she thawed a little, and did not leave all the civility to Miss Keith, but graciously responded to the stranger's admiration of the views, the exquisite framings of the summer sea and sky made by tree, rock, and rising ground, and the walks so well laid out on the little headland, now on smooth turf, now bordering slopes wild with fern and mountain ash, now amid luxuriant exotic shrubs that attested the mildness of Avonmouth winters.

When they came near the front of the house, Rachel took man and dog in through the open window of her own sitting-room, and hastened to provide him with bandages and splints, leaving Bessie to reassure Mrs. Curtis that no human limbs were broken, and that no one was even wet to the skin; nay, Bessie had even the tact to spare Mrs. Curtis the romantic colouring that delighted herself. Grace had followed Rachel to assist at the operation, and was equally delighted with its neatness and tenderness, as well as equally convinced of the necessity of asking the performer first to wash his hands and then to eat his breakfast, both which kind proposals he accepted with diffident gratitude, first casting a glance around the apartment, which, though he said nothing, conveyed that he was profoundly struck with the tokens of occupation that it contained. The breakfast was, in the first place, a very hungry one; indeed, Bessie had been too ravenous to wait till the surgery was over, and was already arrived at her second egg when the others appeared, and the story had again to be told to the mother, and her warm thanks given. Mrs. Curtis did not like strangers when they were only names, but let her be brought in contact, and her good nature made her friendly at once, above all in her own house. The stranger was so grave and quiet too, not at all presuming, and making light of his services, but only afraid he had been trespassing on the Homestead grounds. These incursions of the season visitors were so great a grievance at the Homestead that Mrs. Curtis highly approved his forbearance, whilst she was pleased with his tribute to her scenery, which he evidently admired with an artistic eye. Love of sketching had brought him to Avonmouth, and before he took leave, Mrs. Curtis had accorded him that permission to draw in her little peninsula for which many a young lady below was sighing and murmuring. He thanked her with a melancholy look, confessing that in his circumstances his pencil was his toy and his solace.

"Once again, that landscape painter!" exclaimed Bessie, with uplifted hands, as soon as both he and Mrs. Curtis were out of earshot, "an adventure at last."

"Not at all," said Rachel, gravely; "there was neither alarm nor danger."

"Precisely; the romance minus the disagreeables. Only the sea monster wanting. Young Alcides, and rock-you stood there for sacrifice, I was the weeping Dardanian dames."

Even Grace could not help laughing at the mischief of the one, and the earnest seriousness of the other.

"Now, Bessie, I entreat that you will not make a ridiculous story of a most simple affair," implored Rachel.

"I promise not to make one, but don't blame me if it makes itself."

"It cannot, unless some of us tell the story."

"What, do you expect the young Alcides to hold his tongue? That is more than can be hoped of mortal landscape painter."

"I wish you would not call him so. I am sure he is a clergyman."

"Landscape painter, I would lay you anything you please."

"Nay," said Grace, "according to you, that is just what he ought not to be."

"I do not understand what diverts you so much," said Rachel, growing lofty in her displeasure. "What matters it what the man may be?"

"That is exactly what we want to see," returned Bessie.

Poor Rachel, a grave and earnest person like her, had little chance with one so full of playful wit and fun as Bessie Keith, to whom her very dignity and susceptibility of annoyance made her the better game. To have involved the grave Rachel in such a parody of an adventure was perfectly irresistible to her, and to expect absolute indifference to it would, as Grace felt, have been requiring mere stupidity. Indeed, there was forbearance in not pushing Rachel further at the moment; but proceeding to tell the tale at Myrtlewood, whither Grace accompanied Bessie, as a guard against possible madcap versions capable of misconstruction.

"Yes," said Rachel to herself, "I see now what Captain Keith regrets. His sister, with all her fine powers and abilities, has had her tone lowered to the hateful conventional style of wit that would put me to the blush for the smallest mishap. I hope he will not come over till it is forgotten, for the very sight of his disapproval would incite her further. I am glad the Colonel is not here. Here, of course, he is in my imagination. Why should I be referring everything to him; I, who used to be so independent? Suppose this nonsense gave him umbrage? Let it. I might then have light thrown on his feelings and my own. At any rate, I will not be conscious. If this stranger be really worth notice, as I think he is, I will trample on her ridicule, and show how little I esteem it."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top