صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

grow too large for any great beauty soon. Reggy had, likewise, grown to be a handsome, but delicate-looking, youth: with regard to the others we need not particularize. The pupils had been succeeded by two fresh ones, one of whom, a bright lad of sixteen, by name Dempster, was staying over the Christmas vacation—his father having returned to India—and supposed himself to be desperately in love with Dora, who received his advances with extreme scorn.

Old Betts was there still, not changed, in the least, to the outward eye. He used to go to the city every day, look into the shops, and come home again; at least, that was all he ever seemed to do: but it turned out afterwards that sometimes some of his old friends would, halt in pity, half in contempt, throw into his way some little crumbs in the way of commission. Betts had carefully hoarded these sums and kept his secret from Algernon, nursing it with great private delight until that morning; but Algernon's worn look had drawn it from him prematurely. He had been accumulating it for years, he told Algy, and there it

He had meant to have kept it until it was a hundred pounds, and have given it to Algernon on his birthday. But it had come on him that morning that it lay with him to make the difference between a sad Christmas and a merry one; and who was he to interpose a private whim between them and a day's happiness? So there it was,

, ninety-four pounds odd; and it was full time to start across for church, and the least said, the soonest mended. Algernon had said but little, for he was greatly moved, and he preached his kindly, earnest Christmas sermon with a cleared brow and a joyful voice which reflected themselves upon the faces of many of his hearers, and gladdened them also.

Algernon had been vexed and bothered for some time about his Christmas bills. This contribution of Mr. Betts towards the housekeeping relieved him from all anxiety, and made a lightness in his heart which had not been there for years. Firstly, because he found himself beforehand with the world ; and secondly, because it showed him Betts in a new light. Mr. Betts had been vulgar, ostentatious, and not over honest in old times—had been cringing and some

was.

what tiresome in the later ones. But he had distinctly and decidedly done a kind action in a graceful and gentlemanly way. Anything good delighted Algy's soul; and here was something good. He and Betts were an ill-assorted couple, brought together by the ties of chivalrous kindheartedness on the one hand, and of sheer necessity on the other; and this action of Mr. Betts drew them closer together than they had ever been before. It reacted on Betts himself with the best effects. It removed that wearing sense of continual humiliating obligation, which too often, I fear, makes a man hate his kindest friend; and caused him to hold his head higher than he had held it for a long time. As he told Algernon over their modest bottle of sherry after dinner, when the children had gone to the Regent's Park to see the skaters, he felt more like a man than he had ever felt since his misfortune. When Algy said, in reply, that he thanked God that his misfortune had been so blessed to him, he did not speak mere pulpit talk, but honestly meant what he said. If you had driven him into a corner, he, I think, with his inexorable honesty, would have confessed that what be meant was, that Betts, although he still dropped his h's and ate with his knife, was becoming more of a gentleman-consequently more of a Christian-consequently nearer to the standard of Balliol or University. Algy's Christianity was so mixed with his intense Oxfordism, that to shock the latter was, I almost fancy, for a moment to weaken the former. wonder at it? Three years of perfect happiness had been passed there. Alma Mater had been (forgive the confusion of metaphor) an Old Man of the Mountain to him, and had admitted him into Paradise for three years. bound to be a mild and gentle Assassin for her for the rest of his life.

We must leave him, in the beams of the first sunshine which had fallen on him for some years, to follow the very disorderly troop that posted off, with their early Christmas dinner in their mouths, to see the skaters in the Regent's Park. They were a very handsome, noisy, and disorderly group, and the inexorable laws of fiction compel me to follow them, and use them as a foil ; because their leader,

Who can

He was

Miss Lee, was louder, more disorderly, and a hundred times more beautiful than the whole lot of them together.

If she had been less thoroughly genial and good-humoured it would have been (for some reasons) much better. If she had been less demonstrative in the streets it would have been much better. If she had been less noisy and boisterous, it would have been a great deal better still. If she had not been so amazingly beautiful, one could have excused all her other shortcomings. But here she was, and one must make the best of her: beautiful, attractive, boisterous, noisy; ready at any moment to enter into an animated and friendly discussion with a policeman, or for that matter a chimneysweep: with a great tendency to laugh loudly at the smallest

. ghost of a joke, and perfectly indifferent as to whether she stood on the pavement, in the gutter, or in the middle of the road. There she was, in short, her real self; as she was at that time. A mass of kindliness, vitality, and good humour; half spoilt by her imperfect training, and further spoilt by the respectful indulgence she had been used to in Algernon's house ; but as clever as need be.

“I can't think why it is,” said Algernon once, in answer to a remonstrance of Arthur's about this young lady (little he knew what was in store for him). “She was not boisterous when she first came to me. There was not a quieter girl anywhere. She can't have learnt to be noisy from me. I am sure I ain't a noisy man.”

But Miss Lee had had the bit between her teeth so long that at all events she was very noisy. And she had another specialité which I think is common to all young ladies of excessive vitality and good humour, who are not accustomed to control of any kind. If she saw any one of either sex doing anything, she must straightway, on the spot, do that thing herself. On their first starting, for instance, Dempster, the pupil, illegally, and in defiance of Her Majesty's peace, throne, and government, &c. &c., went down a slide. Miss Lee promptly essayed to do the like, regardless of time or place. Now the three or four winters which Miss Lee had passed in London had been mild, and sliding is not an art practised in Devonshire; Miss Lee had never tried sliding before, and so came down on the back of

her head in the street, and began to think that she was enjoying herself.

With her kindly, uncontrollable vivacity, in the brisk winter air she became more “herserk” as she went on. She was only twenty or so, and life was a very glorious and precious possession to her. An honest, innocent, childish creature, who had only lately found out that she was a child no longer, and wanted a lover whom she could tease and make run about for her. She knew how to treat lovers from an infinite number of novels; only she had not got one yet. She wanted one sadly; what woman does not ? She was not utterly unconscious of her wonderful beauty, and she was thinking, on this very afternoon, whether Dempster, the pupil, was not old enough to be made a fetch-and-carry lover of: and she came to the conclusion that he was not old enough to stand it, and that she might still find a rival in raspberry tarts. This day, for the last time in her life, she was nothing more than a wild schoolgirl. Remember that she had no mother, no cultivation, and for three or four years no control whatever. If she was an unworthy person, she would not be mentioned here.

It is not necessary to follow Miss Lee and her charge through their long afternoon's walk. It might be funny; but we don't want to be funny. Enough to say that, what with good health, good humour, youth, and a natural enough carelessness of appearance, she committed a hundred small indiscretions, and arrived home by much the most boisterous of the party. And, after a short scrambling and riotous tea, they all took to blind-man's-buff as a sedative.

When every one had got more tangled and excited than ever; when Algernon was laughing fit to split his sides; when Mr. Betts, intensely interested and enthusiastic, had, as blind man, walked bang into the fire and burnt himself, under the belief, Dora wickedly suggested, that Miss Lee was up the chimney; then Miss Lee herself proposed that they—with a view to rest and quiet themselves before supper and snap-dragon-should have a game of hide-andseek all over the house. It was voted by acclamation ; and, during the acclamations, one of the junior Silcotes, who are practically out of this story, fell down stairs, with

a

a

such a thumping of his soft body on the stair carpet, such a rattling of the nearly equally soft head of him against the banisters, and such a clatter of loose stair rods which he brought after him in the catastrophe, that they were all quiet for nearly five seconds, until his frantic father had dashed down, and found him lying in the hall unhurt, under the impression that he had distinguished himself, and done the thing of the evening! Then they began their hide-and-seek.

Mr. Betts hid first; but Dora contemptuously walked up to him, and took him from behind the scullery door. Then Reginald hid, and with amazing dexterity got home into the front parlour through the folding doors which connected that room with his father's study, which was the back parlour on the first floor (perpend it for yourselves in a twelve-roomed house; you will find it come right, for I saw it. I might describe the spreading of bread and butter, or the baking of cakes, but I must not dwell on a game of hide-and-seek). After this, Dora had hid, but Dempster the pupil had found her, and the rest of them found that Dora had lost her temper. A rude boy, I fear, that Dempster, though neither of them said anything about it afterwards. Perhaps an ill-achieved kiss may be worth a sound box on the ears, and a week's sulks. That is a matter in which only the first parties are concerned. Then when confusion and fun were grown into mad hurly-burly, it became Miss Lee's turn to hide.

At this time, also, it became Arthur Silcote's turn-after having preached for, and also dined with, a Balliol man in the neighbourhood—to step across to his brother to see how he was getting on, to knock at the door, to be admitted instantly by a grinning maidservant, and, on inquiring about the noise in the house, to be told, by that confused and delighted young person, that they were playing at blind-man’s-buff, and that his niece, Miss Dora, was at that moment hiding behind the study curtains.

I dread going on. I am afraid of telling the awful catastrophe which followed.

It is very dreadful, but there is not a bit of harm in it, and it might happen to any one to-morrow. Arthur knew the way perfectly well;

« السابقةمتابعة »