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   Chapter 15 GO AND BRAY

The Clever Woman of the Family By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 15607

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this!"-

As You Like It

"Alick, I have something to say to you."

Captain Keith did not choose to let his sister travel alone, when he could help it, and therefore was going to Bath with her, intending to return to Avoncester by the next down train. He made no secret that he thought it a great deal of trouble, and had been for some time asleep, when, at about two stations from Bath, Bessie having shut the little door in the middle of the carriage, thus addressed him, "Alick, I have something to say to you, and I suppose I may as well say it now."

She pressed upon his knee, and with an affected laziness, he drew his eyes wide open.

"Ah, well, I've been a sore plague to you, but I shall be off your hands now."

"Eh! whose head have you been turning?"

"Alick, what do you think of Lord Keith?"

Alick was awake enough now! "The old ass!" he exclaimed. "But at least you are out of his way now."

"Not at all. He is coming to Bath to-morrow to see my aunt."

"And you want me to go out to-morrow and stop him?"

"No, Alick, not exactly. I have been cast about the world too long not to be thankful."


"Do not look so very much surprised," she said, in her sweet pleading way. "May I not be supposed able to feel that noble kindness and gracious manner, and be glad to have some one to look up to?"

"And how about Charlie Carleton?" demanded Alick, turning round full on her.

"For shame, Alick!" she exclaimed hotly; "you who were the one to persecute me about him, and tell me all sorts of things about his being shallow and unprincipled, and not to be thought of, you to bring him up against me now."

"I might think all you allege," returned Alick, gravely, "and yet be much amazed at the new project."

Bessie laughed. "In fact you made a little romance, in which you acted the part of sapient brother, and the poor little sister broke her heart ever after! You wanted such an entertainment when you were lying on the sofa, so you created a heroine and a villain, and thundered down to the rescue."

"Very pretty, Bessie, but it will not do. It was long after I was well again, and had joined."

"Then it was the well-considered effect of the musings of your convalescence! When you have a sister to take care of, it is as well to feel that you are doing it."

"Now, Elizabeth," said her brother, with seriousness not to be laughed aside, and laying his hand on hers, "before I hear another word on this matter, look me in the face and tell me deliberately that you never cared for Carleton."

"I never thought for one moment of marrying him," said Bessie, haughtily. "If I ever had any sort of mercy on him, it was all to tease you. There, are you satisfied?"

"I must be, I suppose," he replied, and he sighed heavily. "When was this settled?"

"Yesterday, walking up and down the esplanade. He will tell his brother to-day, and I shall write to Lady Temple. Oh, Alick, he is so kind, he spoke so highly of you."

"I must say," returned Alick, in the same grave tone, "that if you wished for the care of an old man, I should have thought my uncle the more agreeable of the two."

"He is little past fifty. You are very hard on him."

"On the contrary, I am sorry for him. You will always find it good for him to do whatever suits yourself."

"Alick?" said his sister mournfully, "you have never forgotten or forgiven my girlish bits of neglect after your wound."

"No, Bessie," he said, holding her hand kindly, "it is not the neglect or the girlishness, but the excuses to me, still more to my uncle, and most of all to yourself. They are what make me afraid for you in what you are going to take upon yourself."

She did not answer immediately, and he pursued-"Are you driven to this by dislike to living at Bishopsworthy? If so, do not be afraid to tell me. I will make any arrangement, if you would prefer living with Jane. We agreed once that it would be too expensive, but now I could let you have another hundred a year."

"As if I would allow that, Alick! No, indeed! Lord Keith means you to have all my share."

"Does he? There are more words than one to that question. And pray is he going to provide properly for his poor daughter in the West Indies?"

"I hope to induce him to take her into favour."

"Eh? and to make him give up to Colin Keith that Auchinvar estate that he ought to have had when Archie Keith died?"

"You may be sure I shall do my best for the Colonel. Indeed, I do think Lord Keith will consent to the marriage now."

"You have sacrificed yourself on that account?" he said, with irony in his tone, that he could have repented the next moment, so good-humoured was her reply, "That is understood, so give me the merit."

"The merit of, for his sake, becoming a grandmother. You have thought of the daughters? Mrs. Comyn Menteith must be older than yourself."

"Three years," said Bessie, in his own tone of acceptance of startling facts, "and I shall have seven grandchildren in all, so you see you must respect me."

"Do you know her sentiments?"

"I know what they will be when we have met. Never fear, Alick. If she were not married it might be serious, being so, I have no fears."

Then came a silence, till a halt at the last station before Bath roused Alick again.

"Bessie," he said, in the low voice the stoppage permitted, "don't think me unkind. I believe you have waited on purpose to leave me no time for expostulation, and what I have said has sounded the more harsh in consequence."

"No, Alick," she said, "you are a kind brother in all but the constructions you put upon my doings. I think it would be better if there were more difference between our ages. You are a young guardian, over anxious, and often morbidly fanciful about me during your illness. I think we shall be happier together when you no longer feel yourself responsible."

"The tables turned," muttered Alick.

"I am prepared for misconstruction," added Bessie. "I know it will be supposed to be the title; the estate it cannot be, for you know how poor a property it is; but I do not mean to care for the world. Your opinion is a different thing, and I thought you would have seen that I could not be insensible to such dignified kindness, and the warmth of a nature that many people think cold."

"I don't like set speeches, Bessie."

"Then believe me, Alick. May I not love the fine old man that has been so kind to me?"

"I hope you do," said Alick, slowly.

"And you can't believe it? Not with Lady Temple before you and hers was really an old man."

"Do not talk of her or Sir Stephen either. No, Bessie," he added more calmly after a time, "I may be doing great injustice to you both, but I must speak what it is my duty to say. Lord Keith is a hard, self-seeking man, who has been harsh and grasping towards his family, and I verily believe came here bent on marriage, only because his brother was no longer under his tyranny. He may not be harsh to you, because he is past his vigour, and if he really loves you, you have a power of governing; but from what I know of you, I cannot believe in your loving him enough to make such management much better than selfish manoeuvring. Therefore I cannot think this marriage for your real welfare, or be other than bitterly grieved at it. Do not answer, Bessie, but think this over, and if at any time this evening you feel the least doubt of your happiness in this matter, telegraph to me, and I will stop him."

"Indeed, Alick," she answered, without anger, "I believe you are very anxious for my good."

It will readily be believed that Captain Keith received no telegram.

Nevertheless, as soon as his time was his own the next morning, he rode to Av

onmouth and sought out the Colonel, not perhaps with very defined hopes of making any change in his sister's intentions, but feeling that some attempt on his own part must be made, if only to free himself from acquiescence, and thinking that Colin, as late guardian to the one party, and brother to the other, was the most proper medium.

Colonel Keith was taken by surprise at the manner in which his cordial greeting was met. He himself had been far from displeased at his brother's communication; it was a great relief to him personally, as well as on Lady Temple's account, and he had been much charmed at Bessie's good sense and engaging graces. As to disparity of years, Lord Keith had really made himself much younger of late, and there was much to excite a girl's romance in the courtesy of an elderly man, the chief of her clan; moreover, the perfect affection and happiness Colin had been used to witness in his general's family disposed him to make light of that objection; and he perceived that his brother was sufficiently bewitched to be likely to be kind and indulgent to his bride.

He had not expected Alexander Keith to be as well pleased as he was himself, but he was not prepared for his strong disapprobation, and earnest desire to find some means of prevention, and he began to reassure him upon the placability of Mrs. Comyn Menteith, the daughter, as well as upon his brother's kindness to the objects of his real affection.

"Oh, I am not afraid of that. She will manage him fast enough."

"Very likely, and for his good. Nor need you question his being a safe guide for her in higher matters. Perhaps you are prejudiced against him because his relations with me have not been happy, but candidly, in them you know the worst of him; and no doubt he thought himself purely acting for my welfare. I know much more of him now that I have been at home with him, and I was greatly struck with his real consideration for the good of all concerned with him."

"No, I am not thinking of Lord Keith. To speak it out, I cannot believe that my sister has heart enough in this to justify her."

"Young girls often are more attracted by elderly men than by lads."

"You do not know Bessie as, I am sorry to say, I do," said Alick, speaking slowly and sadly, and with a flush of shame on his cheek. "I do not say that she says anything untrue, but the truth is not in her. She is one of those selfish people who are infinitely better liked than those five hundred times their worth, because they take care to be always pleased."

"They give as much pleasure as they take."

"Yes, they take every one in. I wish to my heart I could be taken in too, but I have seen too much of her avoidance of every service to my uncle that she did not like. I verily believe, at this moment, that one great inducement with her is to elude the care of him."

"Stern judgments, Alick. I know you would not speak thus without warrant; but take it into account that marriage makes many a girl's selfishness dual, and at last drowns the self."

"Yes, when it is a marriage of affection. But the truth must be told, Colonel. There was a trumpery idle fellow always loitering at Littleworthy, and playing croquet. I set my face against it with all my might, and she always laughed to scorn the notion that there was anything in it, nor do I believe that she has heart enough to wish to marry him. I could almost say I wish she had, but I never saw her show the same pleasure in any one's attentions, and I believe he is gone out to Rio in hopes of earning means to justify his addresses."

Colonel Keith sat gravely considering what he knew would not be spoken lightly. "Do you mean that there was attachment enough to make it desirable that you should tell my brother?"

"No, I could say nothing that she could not instantly contradict with perfect truth, though not with perfect sincerity."

"Let me ask you one question, Alick-not a flattering one. May not some of these private impressions of yours have been coloured by your long illness!"

"That is what Bessie gives every one to understand," said Alick, calmly. "She is right, to a certain degree, that suffering sharpened my perceptions, and helplessness gave me time to draw conclusions. If I had been well, I might have been as much enchanted as other people; and if my uncle had not needed her care, and been neglected, I could have thought that I was rendered exacting by illness. But I imagine all I have said is not of the slightest use, only, if you think it right to tell your brother to talk to me, I would rather stand all the vituperation that would fall on me than allow this to take place."

Colonel Keith walked up and down the room considering, whilst Alick sat in a dejected attitude, shading his face, and not uttering how very bitter it had been to him to make the accusation, nor how dear the sister really was.

"I see no purpose that would be answered," said Colonel Keith, coming to a pause at last; "you have nothing tangible to mention, even as to the former affair that you suspect. I see a great deal in your view of her to make you uneasy, but nothing that would not be capable of explanation, above all to such a man as my brother. It would appear like mere malevolence."

"Never mind what it would appear," said Alick, who was evidently in such a ferment as his usually passive demeanour would have seemed incapable of.

"If the appearance would entirely baffle the purpose, it must be considered," said the Colonel; "and in this case it could only lead to estrangement, which would be a lasting evil. I conclude that you have remonstrated with your sister."

"As much as she gave me time for; but of course that is breath spent in vain."

"Your uncle had the same means of judging as yourself."

"No, Colonel, he could do nothing! In the first place, there can be no correspondence with him; and next, he is so devotedly fond of Bessie, that he would no more believe anything against her than Lady Temple would. I have tried that more than once."

"Then, Alick, there is nothing for it but to let it take its course; and even upon your own view, your sister will be much safer married than single."

"I had very little expectation of your saying anything else, but in common honesty I felt bound to let you know."

"And now the best thing to be done is to forget all you have said."

"Which you will do the more easily as you think it an amiable delusion of mine. Well, so much the better. I dare say you will never think otherwise, and I would willingly believe that my senses went after my fingers' ends."

The Colonel almost believed so himself. He was aware of the miserably sensitive condition of shattered nerve in which Alick had been sent home, and of the depression of spirits that had ensued on the news of his father's death; and he thought it extremely probable that his weary hours and solicitude for his gay young sister might have made molehills into mountains, and that these now weighed on his memory and conscience. At least, this seemed the only way of accounting for an impression so contrary to that which Bessie Keith made on every one else, and, by his own avowal, on the uncle whom he so much revered. Every other voice proclaimed her winning, amiable, obliging, considerate, and devoted to the service of her friends, with much drollery and shrewdness of perception, tempered by kindness of heart and unwillingness to give pain; and on that sore point of residence with the blind uncle, it was quite possibly a bit of Alick's exaggerated feeling to imagine the arrangement so desirable-the young lady might be the better judge.

On the whole, the expostulation left Colonel Keith more uncomfortable on Alick's account than on that of his brother.

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