« PreviousContinue »
superiority. He felt he had conquered and bad driven in the thin edge of the wedge. “But you need not put your hands into a gentleman's when you speak. Ladies do not do such things in good society," he added with a patronising smile; not unkindly, rather the contrary; the smile of a man who accepts his obligations and fulfils them at any cost, even that of being cold and disagreeable in checking a youthful enthusiasm towards himself, which however pleasant was perhaps dangerous.
No more was said after this; and the carriage rattled on in silence till at last it turned out of the main road into one narrower and even smoother, flanked on each side by high banks topped with hedges, which, dark as it was, Patricia saw were closely trimmed and sheared.
And here Mr. Hamley said graciously; “We are close on home now. Your home too, my dear, as well as mine, if you are wise and will learn how to conduct yourself like a lady should. And I hope you will find it so, till,” laughing, “ you meet Mr. Right, and then I reckon it will be, * Up, Killick !' and away in no time!"
While he was saying this, Patricia understanding only his words and not the sense of them, they were driving through the lodge-gates with the woman who opened them courtesying to the very ground; then through the chestnut-avenue of the park, and so to the gates of the garden-lodge, with another woman to open them also courtesying to the ground; up the shrubbery-drive; and finally to the broad sweep before the hall door.
The instant they drove up the doors were flung open with a clang; and two dogs, and what seemed to Patricia a crowd of men in scarlet and buff, appeared in the brilliantly-lighted hall. The small dog barked shrilly, and the servants all came forward under them arshalship of a solemn-looking man in black whom Patricia took to be a gentleman and probably Mr. Hamley's uncle, or a visitor: he was only the butler; and then Mr. Hamley got out of the carriage -he would have called it descended from the carriage—and the servant offered his arm to Patricia. The poor girl got out rather more awkwardly than she had got in, knocking her hat against the roof, stumbling over her dress, and taking the man's proffered elbow underhanded, as if it had been a rope.
Mr. Hamley turned and as a relief to his feelings kicked the big dog that was standing quite still, leisurely surveying the new-comer. If she had blushed and looked ashamed, he would not have minded so much ; but that “confounded coolness of hers," as he called her innocent unconsciousness, annoyed him perhaps more than her awkwardness. However, there was no help for it. He only hoped the men had not noticed her; but he made sure they had; and for them to know that Mrs. Hamley's niece had not been a carriage-lady all her life was a bitter mortification to the former shoeless little streetboy holding horses for coppers, and the present master of Abbey Holme.
Concealing his annoyance in the best way he could, the butler leading the way, Mr. Hamley took Patricia's hand upon his arm and walked solemnly with her across the ball and through half a dozen ante-rooms to the small drawing room where they always sat, and where he would present her to her aunt.
The small drawing-room at Abbey Holme was about thirty feet in length and of proportionate width ; and to Patricia, accustomed to a sitting-room just a third that size, it looked interminable. It was heavily furnished, but feebly lighted, a couple of silver reading-lamps, casting two little islands of light on two little velvet tables drawn close to the hearth, being the whole of the illumination. By one table sat Mrs. Hamley, by the other Dora Drummond.
A tall, thin, fashionably-dressed woman, noticeably upright, and with a small waist tightly belted; wearing her own hair not dyed, but restored— as she was careful to tell her friends—her scanty puffs and braids, helped out by art, profusely ornamented with white lace and shining black flowers, her rustling black silk gown also glistening with beads and bugles, and multitudinous jet ornaments clinking lightly as she moved her head or hands; a tall thin woman, with a look partly of ill-health and partly of ill-temper on her pinched and sallow face; with cold light grey eyes and closely-drawn pale and narrow lips-a woman fully twenty years the senior of her sleek and prosperous husband—rose slowly from her seat as the pair came up to where she sat.
“ How do you do, Mr. Hamley ?” she said in a thin voice to her husband, shaking hands with him coldly. The Hamley marriage was not one of the caressing sort. “I am glad to see you safe. And is this my niece, Patricia Kemball ? How do you do, Patricia ? How tall you are! You are like poor Reginald, and like my poor mamma too, I see."
“ How do you do, Aunt Hamley ? I am very much obliged to you for your kindness in taking me here,” said Patricia, in her loud clear voice; a little subdued perhaps, because she was partly shy and partly moved, but louder and clearer and fuller than the normal register heard at Abbey Holme. It sounded like a silver trumpet, full, rich, sonorous, after Mrs. Hamley's tinkling wires; but it was louder than Mrs. Hamley liked, and sounded the note of discordance at the outset. She and Dora Drummond looked at each other; and each understood what the other thought.
“ How do you do, Patricia ?” said Dora Drummond in the sweetest flute-like notes. She had a dainty little lisp, especially becoming-a catch rather than a lisp—and she spoke slowly and softly.
Patricia turned and looked at her. She saw a young woman of about four and twenty, of middle height, by no means thin, but of singular grace of line and movement; she saw a fair face with a small head round which coiled and twisted innumerable braids of golden hair as smooth and glossy as spun glass; blue eyes with light lashes -eyes that did not look straight and steady like her own, but that had the most bewitching little trick of shy observation, fleeting, half ashamed to be caught observing, such glances as Mr. Hamley liked, and which he had once confessed to Simpson the lawyer, when he was making his will, “ fetched him, as nothing of the kind had ever done in his life before,” but which others had been heard to say they wished were franker and not so sly; a small, moist, rosy mouth; a small, round, dimpled chin ; a waist that you could span—only eighteen inches; and dimpled tiny hands, pink and unpractical. This dainty little person was dressed in a pretty costume of peach-blossom set about with black lace and ribbon to mark her share in the family mourning—a costume all frills and lace and coquettish arrangements of bows and ends, as beseemed her youth and beauty, and making her graceful figure look more graceful still by contrast with the billowy puffings which concealed some lines to betray others to greater advantage. Altogether she was one of the loveliest creatures Patricia had ever seen; and yet the girl's first movement towards this fairy was one of repulsion. Her second, when Dora looked at her so kindly, spoke to her so softly, and pressed her hand with such tender warmth, was one of gratitude; and with gratitude and admiration together the rest was not difficult.
Especially graceful and well-mannered, as was also Aunt Hamley in her own severe way, both women struck the home-bred girl as of a different type and mould from ordinary humanity. Not even Miss Pritchard had ever invented lessons of deportment that came near to the lovely grace of Dora Drummond, the ladylike self-possession of Aunt Hamley.
“ Now I know, why dear uncle wanted me to have a lady companion,” she thought, and looked at Dora with a beaming face that seemed to that young person "infinitely funny."
She was accustomed to be admired, but not by girls; and the naïveté of Patricia's admiration amused her. But she accepted it with a sweet and friendly smile, mentally determining to turn it to good account, if she should ever want a Lelp as blind as Patricia’s would be.
“She will not be my rival, and I will make her my slave,” Dora thought, as she looked up with the sweetest friendliness into the clear eyes gazing down so honestly into hers; and, pressing the large hand that held her taper fingers quite enclosed, suggested that Patricia must be cold, and apologized for standing between her and the fire. Which she was not doing; but it sounded hospitable to say so.
On which Mrs. Hamley rang the bell for her maid, and Patricia; under her guidance, was led through hall and passage and corridor, till the way seemed as if it would never end, before she was finally ushered into the room assigned her; where the first thing she did. was to draw back the curtains from the window, open the windowshutters, then the window, point with a look of dismay to the huge fire blazing in the grate, and say piteously, “Oh, please take that away; I never have a fire in my bedroom !” and altogether show the savage simplicity of her up-bringing to her aunt's prim and genteel maid as clearly as if she had given her a sketch of her whole life, and proved mathematically that Unele Robert had been “no gentleman,” and that. she herself was not a whit more of a lady.
And while she was upstairs scandalising Bignold by her unladylike simplicity of personal habits in the first place, and by her unfashionably cut garments in the second, the three Assessors down-stairs were passing judgment on her from first impressions.
“ She has a nice face,” said Mrs. Hamley ; “ but she is dreadfully un couth.”
“Quite in the rough, Lady, as I told you,” said Mr. Hamley, shifting his feet noisily.
“She will look better when she is better dressed,” suggested Dora amiably. “She is untidy now, and looks tired and tumbled. To-morrow perhaps she will be better.”
“ There you are out, Dora,” said Mr. Hamley; "she'll be no better to your liking to-morrow than she is to-day. I tell you what it is, Lady,” turning to his wife, “ you've got your hands full with that young woman, and your work's cut out for you and no mistake !"
"I shall be able to make her all I could wish. She is my own niece," said Mrs. Hamley coldly; and Mr. Hamley was too well drilled not to be able to note signs with accuracy.
“ No doubt no doubt !” he said, spreading out his large hands to the fire. “ At all events”—with his grand manner; the manner he put on when he wanted to impress women with the consciousness of his bigness and manliness and strength and magnanimity—"at all events this is her home, poor young lady, and we must do the best we can for her. What we've done for Dora we'll do for her; and I'll never grudge the outlay. Whether she'll turn out as good a job as Dora is another matter;" here he smiled on his fair cousin; “but we'll try, Lady, we'll try. Faint heart never won fair lady, and we can't top the hills if we sit down at the foot.”
“ You speak as if she was a savage,” said Mrs. Hamley tartly.
“ You might have made a worse guess, Lady !" replied the brewer composedly.
MILLTOWN was eminently a residential place. Visitors were discouraged, and the enterprising or impecunious householders who ventured to exhibit “ Apartments” in their windows were not well regarded by the gentry, who seemed to regard such an announcement as a personal impertinence, as well as a liberty, for which the householders deserved reproof. To let lodgings to strangers was held to be a base sacrifice of Milltown respectability to filthy lucre; and gentlefolks with a good balance at their bankers are generally strict in their estimate of the mill wherein their poorer brethren grind their corn.
Being thus residential nothing was done to attract the outlying public. There was no parade, no evening band, no pier for the display of pretty boots and neat ankles on windy days, no Rooms, and next to no baths. The inhabitants thought it indelicate to bathe; so there were only two machines: one for the ladies, painted blue and white, and one for the gentlemen, painted green and black; and even these the proprietor said he was working at a sacrifice and on the ground of public spirit.
Though a seaside place, the sea was only a passive adjunct not an. active part of Milltown existence. A land-locked placid bay, shallow and barren, it was artistically valuable on account of its colour, and the changing lights lying on its cliffs; but nearly worthless for fishing and very little used for boating. Only one house in the place had a yacht in the basin within the breakwater. This was the Water Lily, a pretty little toy belonging to the Lowes; young Sydney Lowe, with his father the Colonel, generally contriving to have all they wished to have, though by no means wealthy people; indeed, being the most out at elbows of all the Milltown gentry. But the more nearly insolvent a certain kind of man is the more he contrives to spend on his pleasures. Colonel Lowe, of Cragfoot, was this kind of man, and his son Sydney was like him. Being thickly inhabited by the gentry every rood of land had its exclusive owner and its artificial as well as natural value. The very cliffs were fenced off against trespassers; perpetual attempts were made to stop old-established rights of way, which sometimes succeeded, if at others they failed when come man of more public spirit than his neighbours was person-ally inconvenienced ; and the open paths across the fields, which were inalienable, were grudgingly marked off by lines of thorns, with fierce warnings of prosecution should the narrow strip be departed from ; while all the gates were padlocked and the stiles made unnecessarily high and difficult. It was a jealous, " this is mine, and you have no right here,” kind of system that was not good for the higher feeling of the people.