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- Countess Kate - 1/36 -


COUNTESS KATE

by Charlotte M. Yonge

CHAPTER I.

"There, I've done every bit I can do! I'm going to see what o'clock it is."

"I heard it strike eleven just now."

"Sylvia, you'll tip up! What a tremendous stretch!"

"Wha-ooh! Oh dear! We sha'n't get one moment before dinner! Oh, horrible! oh, horrible! most horrible!"

"Sylvia, you know I hate hearing Hamlet profaned."

"You can't hate it more than having no one to hear our lessons."

"That makes you do it. What on earth can Mary be about?"

"Some tiresome woman to speak to her, I suppose."

"I'm sure it can't be as much her business as it is to mind her poor little sisters. Oh dear! if Papa could only afford us a governess!"

"I am sure I should not like it at all; besides, it is wrong to wish to be richer than one is."

"I don't wish; I am only thinking how nice it would be, if some one would give us a famous quantity of money. Then Papa should have a pretty parsonage, like the one at Shagton; and we would make the church beautiful, and get another pony or two, to ride with Charlie."

"Yes, and have a garden with a hothouse like Mr. Brown's."

"Oh yes; and a governess to teach us to draw. But best of all--O Sylvia! wouldn't it be nice not to have to mind one's clothes always? Yes, you laugh; but it comes easier to you; and, oh dear! oh dear! it is so horrid to be always having to see one does not tear oneself."

"I don't think you do see," said Sylvia, laughing.

"My frocks always WILL get upon the thorns. It is very odd."

"Only do please, Katie dear, let me finish this sum; and then if Mary is not come, she can't scold if we are amusing ourselves."

"I know!" cried Kate. "I'll draw such a picture, and tell you all about it when your sum is over."

Thereon ensued silence in the little room, half parlour, half study, nearly filled with books and piano; and the furniture, though carefully protected with brown holland, looking the worse for wear, and as if danced over by a good many young folks.

The two little girls, who sat on the opposite sides of a little square table in the bay-window, were both between ten and eleven years old, but could not have been taken for twins, nor even for sisters, so unlike were their features and complexion; though their dress, very dark grey linsey, and brown holland aprons, was exactly the same, except that Sylvia's was enlivened by scarlet braid, Kate's darkened by black--and moreover, Kate's apron was soiled, and the frock bore traces of a great darn. In fact, new frocks for the pair were generally made necessary by Kate's tattered state, when Sylvia's garments were still available for little Lily, or for some school child.

Sylvia's brown hair was smooth as satin; Kate's net did not succeed in confining the loose rough waves of dark chestnut, on the road to blackness. Sylvia was the shorter, firmer, and stronger, with round white well-cushioned limbs; Kate was tall, skinny, and brown, though perfectly healthful. The face of the one was round and rosy, of the other thin and dark; and one pair of eyes were of honest grey, while the others were large and hazel, with blue whites. Kate's little hand was so slight, that Sylvia's strong fingers could almost crush it together, but it was far less effective in any sort of handiwork; and her slim neatly-made foot always was a reproach to her for making such boisterous steps, and wearing out her shoes so much faster than the quieter movements of her companion did--her sister, as the children would have said, for nothing but the difference of surname reminded Katharine Umfraville that she was not the sister of Sylvia Wardour.

Her father, a young clergyman, had died before she could remember anything, and her mother had not survived him three months. Little Kate had then become the charge of her mother's sister, Mrs. Wardour, and had grown up in the little parsonage belonging to the district church of St. James's, Oldburgh, amongst her cousins, calling Mr. and Mrs. Wardour Papa and Mamma, and feeling no difference between their love to their own five children and to her.

Mrs. Wardour had been dead for about four years, and the little girls were taught by the eldest sister, Mary, who had been at a boarding- school to fit her for educating them. Mr. Wardour too taught them a good deal himself, and had the more time for them since Charlie, the youngest boy, had gone every day to the grammar-school in the town.

Armyn, the eldest of the family, was with Mr. Brown, a very good old solicitor, who, besides his office in Oldburgh, had a very pretty house and grounds two miles beyond St. James's, where the parsonage children were delighted to spend an afternoon now and then.

Little did they know that it was the taking the little niece as a daughter that had made it needful to make Armyn enter on a profession at once, instead of going to the university and becoming a clergyman like his father; nor how cheerfully Armyn had agreed to do whatever would best lighten his father's cares and troubles. They were a very happy family; above all, on the Saturday evenings and Sundays that the good-natured elder brother spent at home.

"There!" cried Sylvia, laying down her slate pencil, and indulging in another tremendous yawn; "we can't do a thing more till Mary comes! What can she be about?"

"Oh, but look, Sylvia!" cried Kate, quite forgetting everything in the interest of her drawing on a large sheet of straw-paper. "Do you see what it is?"

"I don't know," said Sylvia, "unless--let me see--That's a very rich little girl, isn't it?" pointing to an outline of a young lady whose wealth was denoted by the flounces (or rather scallops) on her frock, the bracelets on her sausage-shaped arms, and the necklace on her neck.

"Yes; she is a very rich and grand--Lady Ethelinda; isn't that a pretty name? I do wish I was Lady Katharine."

"And what is she giving? I wish you would not do men and boys, Kate; their legs always look so funny as you do them."

"They never will come right; but never mind, I must have them. That is Lady Ethelinda's dear good cousin, Maximilian; he is a lawyer-- don't you see the parchment sticking out of his pocket?"

"Just like Armyn."

"And she is giving him a box with a beautiful new microscope in it; don't you see the top of it? And there is a whole pile of books. And I would draw a pony, only I never can nicely; but look here,"-- Kate went on drawing as she spoke--"here is Lady Ethelinda with her best hat on, and a little girl coming. There is the little girl's house, burnt down; don't you see?"

Sylvia saw with the eyes of her mind the ruins, though her real eyes saw nothing but two lines, meant to be upright, joined together by a wild zig-zag, and with some peaked scrabbles and round whirls intended for smoke. Then Kate's ready pencil portrayed the family, as jagged in their drapery as the flames and presently Lady Ethelinda appeared before a counter (such a counter! sloping like a desk in the attempt at perspective, but it conveniently concealed the shopman's legs,) buying very peculiar garments for the sufferers. Another scene in which she was presenting them followed, Sylvia looking on, and making suggestions; for in fact there was no quiet pastime more relished by the two cousins than drawing stories, as they called it, and most of their pence went in paper for that purpose.

"Lady Ethelinda had a whole ream of paper to draw on!" were the words pronounced in Kate's shrill key of eagerness, just as the long lost Mary and her father opened the door.

"Indeed!" said Mr. Wardour, a tall, grave-looking man; "and who is Lady Ethelinda!"

"O Papa, it's just a story I was drawing," said Kate, half eager, half ashamed.

"We have done all the lessons we could, indeed we have--" began Sylvia; "my music and our French grammar, and--"

"Yes, I know," said Mary; and she paused, looking embarrassed and uncomfortable, so that Sylvia stood in suspense and wonder.

"And so my little Kate likes thinking of Lady--Lady Etheldredas," said Mr. Wardour rather musingly; but Kate was too much pleased at his giving any sort of heed to her performances to note the manner, and needed no more encouragement to set her tongue off.

"Lady Ethelinda, Papa. She is a very grand rich lady, though she is a little girl: and see there, she is giving presents to all her cousins; and there she is buying new clothes for the orphans that were burnt out; and there she is building a school for them."

Kate suddenly stopped, for Mr. Wardour sat down, drew her between his knees, took both her hands into one of his, and looked earnestly into her face, so gravely that she grew frightened, and looking appealingly up, cried out, "O Mary, Mary! have I been naughty?"

"No, my dear," said Mr. Wardour; "but we have heard a very strange piece of news about you, and I am very anxious as to whether it may turn out for your happiness."

Kate stood still and looked at him, wishing he would speak faster. Could her great-uncle in India be come home, and want her to make him


Countess Kate - 1/36

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