« PreviousContinue »
her the better the more entire her dependence; but the Captain elected to take the child himself, and Aunt Hamley had never quite forgiven him. The plan had distressed as well as disappointed her. Men were doubtful creatures at the best, in her opinion. As husbands, she held theoretically by the doctrine of wifely submission and obedience, as women often do when the rod wherewith they rule is of iron sharply pointed; but outside this theoretical premiership, beyond doing all the hard work of the world that women may live softly and fare richly, taking care of their ladies in a crowd, looking after the luggage and the tickets at a railway station, and managing the business details of life, she did not see of what good they were. When it came to an old sea captain, with a wooden leg and only his half-pay and pension, taking charge of a little girl of six, and never a lady in the establishment to see that her hair was properly brushed, or that her boot-tags were neatly tucked in and her clothes nicely made, she was more disgusted at the selfishness and home-helplessness of the sex than she had ever been before, and this was saying much.
This refusal to let her have Patricia had not only offended her with her brother, but had given her a distaste for the girl herself. Though she had never seen her since her cherubic days of short frocks and scratched legs, she was sure that she had a grown up undesirable by the logical necessity of her training ;" and she did not care that Dora Drummond, Mr. Hamley's young cousin whom she had adopted in default of Patricia after her brother's refusal, should have such questionable companionship.
“She must be dreadful,” she used to say when discussing her unknown niece in family conclave; and both Mr. Hamley and Dora used to say, “Dreadful indeed !” in concert.
Neither of these last-mentioned persons wanted to see Mrs. Hamley become interested in her niece. To Mr. Hamley the adoption of his own cousin had been a matter of intense pride and satisfaction; and such a cousin too !—fit to be a queen, he used to think. And dear Dora, though not noticeably jealous, naturally wished to keep her standing intact, and did not desire a rival. Hence, no word of praise —that was impossible, for no one knew if she was praiseworthy or not—but no word of indulgent hope was ever coupled with Patricia’s name at Abbey Holme, and the idea of her was associated with a certain steadfast disfavour that bore its fruits in the time to come, and made itself felt even now in the time at hand.
Patricia had thus some cause for the sudden dismay that overcame her when her uncle said he would write to Aunt Hamley for her advice and be guided by it. She knew by intuition that all the advice they would have from Abbey Holme would be hard and uncomfortable so far as she was concerned; and who knows? perhaps her uncle would adopt it, whatever it might be, even if it hurt himself to do so. He had his crotchets at times, and was not always in the same humour; and his conscience had a trick of self-torturing when he was not quite well, which led him to acts of pain and penance, happily of short duration if severe while they lasted.
Right or wrong however, this idea of a lady companion had taken possession of him; and with it the necessity “of consulting his sister Hamley in a matter so purely out of his line.” So acting on the theory of the providential inspiration of his thought, he wrote now on the instant to Abbey Holme, at Milltown, as has been said; and in doing so felt he had washed his hands of half his responsibility and all his difficulty.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO, LOVE ?” This was the first break in Patricia's life; a break as yet only potential, not actual. But it brought her up with a round turn, as she herself would have said, and made her reflect on her position, for the first time seriously. For the first time too, it opened the gate of the future and gave her a glimpse of the possibilities lying within.
Her uncle's darling, to be sure, that she knew she was; the light of his days, the apple of his eye. He could no more get on without her than the trees and the flowers in the garden could live without the sun. She knew all this well enough; had always known it with more or less consciousness from the time when she was brought to the cottage in her little black frock, with her doll in her arms, and Uncle Robert, whose name was associated in her childish mind with perennial sugarplums and almost the only toys she ever had, had taken her on his knees and had kissed her and her doll too, and had told her with a husky voice that he would be her father now, and that she was to be a good girl and say her prayers, and never do anything behind backs she was afraid of all the world seeing.
From that time she had taken her place and had rooted. And she had been happy; who indeed happier ? It had been just the life that had suited best with her physical temperament and her moral nature. She was nothing of a dreamer, nor yet of a casuist; she was contented with things as they were; things she could touch and understand without going to their roots or questioning eternal causes. She liked to know that she was doing right, but she did not care to analyse her own sensations, nor to understand exactly where her right might have broadened into wrong. Certainly she was not over well educated nor yet intellectually inclined. Hitherto she had not cared greatly for reading, save history, which was true and therefore fascinating enough; and her uncle had not made her read much beside the Bible and Shakespeare, which last he had Bowdlerised on his own account with a broad pen and very thick ink. But on the other hand she had learnt a good deal of natural history, and what she knew of life was by the village dramas acted before her eyes, not by theories thought out by others. As yet she had more conscience than consciousness, and a moral sense keener than her intellectual perceptions.
Her physical life too, suited her as exactly as the rest. Two-thirds of it was passed in the open air, chiefly in strong exercise; and her home occupations were for the most part active-outside her needlework and her evening backgammon with her uncle. Her health was. perfect, and her strength greater than the strength of most women, save such as work in the fields or the like. And she loved to use it. And as, happily for her, her uncle did not think it part of the eternal rule of right that women should be defrauded of their inheritance of health and development, she did use it, and to good purpose. Thus it was that she never knew what it was to be sick or sorry, depressed or doubtful, out of heart or out of temper, or at cross purposes with life at home or abroad.
But with all this fullness of joy in the present her future was not assured. Her uncle was not her father, and she had no claims hereafter, if many privileges now. If anything happened—she did not realise for the instant what could happen-so that she had to turn out into the world, what could she do whereby to gain her own bread ? Absolutely nothing, unless her physical strength might turn to some account; and how could it? Women were wanted for fingers, not muscles : clever heads, not powerful bands. If ever that day of need came, of all girls living she, so rich in life's best wealth now, would be the most to be despised then. It came to her with a shock, a blow. She almost started as she saw the truth of her position, and felt herself for the moment degraded by her ignorance, her uselessness, anywhere but where she was.
As she sat by the window, her work fallen from her hands, her eyes fixed on the sea that stretched from the familiar shore far away into the unknown, so like her own life—ah, so like all life !she tried to reason it out fairly and to convince herself that the dear old man's instinct was right. She had been happy and she had been well loved, as also she had loved. She was strong and not afraid ; and she knew a few things that were of use in their way, and had been of great use hitherto. But she wanted more. She wanted the power of self-help if she needed it; she wanted more education and to be made more like other women; and she wanted to be taught how to make money in the time to come when there would be no one to give it to her. For must not that time come in the ordinary course of things ? However far off—and until now, when she was holding this innocent
parliament with herself, she had never once foreseen either the time or the fact-was it not to be expected that her dear uncle should die before her? And if he did, she would be left absolutely penniless. He had nothing but his half-pay and pension; and he had not saved, if he was not in debt. He had told her so, many a time; and how could she wish him to save when distress was about, and the poor men and destitute women and children had to be fed and clothed in the hard winters of bad fishing years ? Perhaps that was what he was thinking of now-the real meaning of this new idea of his about his sister's advice and the lady companion. He was thinking of what would be best for her in the future when he should not be with her-dear, good, unselfish uncle! And she had shrunk from the
proposition—what a wicked thing to do! Ah, she would be so good tonight! She would show him that she was sorry she had been so cowardly, and that she was ready to do all, accept all, he
proposed. How grieved she would be when she was alone in the world to remember her misdeeds! When she was alone—when the supreme decree had gone forth!
Like a picture actually before her she suddenly realised the loss of her second father, and saw him lying there dead, and gone for ever from her. It was so vivid, she felt as if she could have touched him. With a kind of startled cry she put up her hands to her face, and broke into sobs with a strange and bitter pain.
If her uncle had seen her at this moment he would have thought she was crying because of the lady companion, which would have made him more determined than before ; and he would have thought her temper had “turned nasty,” though that was not her way; and he would have been wounded and annoyed.
No one however did see her, and she soon dried her eyes again ; tears not being luxuries to her as they are to some-being indeed amongst the rarest events of her life.
“ Crying never did any one any good yet,” she said to herself ; "and I had better make my dear uncle happy while he lives than sit here and sob over his death, which would make him unhappy, and will not be till I am an old woman. And I will not vex him any more about this lady companion who is to come. I don't like the idea, and I don't want her for pleasure; but it is my duty to be obedient, and I dare say she will teach me a lot of things I ought to know. Ob, I dare say it will be all right!-only I hope she will not be like Miss Pritchard who always looks as if she had been eating green gooseberries. Perhaps she will be a darling. Why not? There are more good people in the world than bad, and why should she not be one of them? But if Aunt Hamley chooses her? Well! if Aunt Hamley chooses her she will perhaps be nice all the same, and at any rate I will try to love her and to make her happy.”
On which she shook off her hair from her face, threw back her shoulders, straightened her slender figure which had drooped together as she had pondered, looked out frank and brave to sea and sky; and then, as if to meet her brighter mood, she heard a firm, swift, manly step come down the lane and stop at the little wicketgate of the garden. Immediately after she was leaning out of the window framed in by the crimson foliage, with the sunlight pouring on her like a golden glory, laughing to a fair-haired young man in a sailor's cap and jacket who stood on the lawn below.
Why, Gordon! I thought you had run away without bidding us good-bye !" she said.
And Gordon Frere, laughing too, answered with just the faintest dash of Irish accent in his voice : " Ah now, Patricia, could you think so meanly of me as that !"
Well, it was not like you, certainly,” said Patricia ; " but people do odd things sometimes, you know.”
“I don't think I should ever do anything quite so odd as that,” he said.
On which she laughed again, and said, “No!”
Presently the Captain, who had finished his letter to his sister Hamley, came out into the porch again.
“Hullo, Gordon! where have you been all this time ?” he said. “That's just what I have been asking,” said Patricia.
Not that she had in words, but her thoughts had meant the same thing.
"To London, sir,” said Gordon, with a look up at the face framed in the scarlet leaves.
“Ay?-and what may you have been doing there, boy ?”
“ It was only an uninteresting bit of family business on my coming of age," said Gordon. "Lawyers and deeds, and no end of fees to pay and musty old courts to visit.”
“ Lawyers-sharks !” said Captain Kemball with a shudder.
He was not an enlightened old gentleman, though he was a good one; and he cherished his superstitions. “Well
, perhaps,” answered the young man hesitatingly. “And yet it saves a world of trouble to have a fellow at one's elbow who knows everything where you know nothing, and who sees so jolly far ahead! It is like telling fortunes by the cards; and when that old family lawyer of ours, that Mr. Fletcher, whom I believe I once mentioned to you—but you know him for yourself, don't you, sir ?”
“ To be sure I do. The Fletchers come from Milltown where I was born and bred,” said the Captain ; " and that Fletcher you speak of has been our family lawyer for three generations—at least, not that man, but the house."