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- Countess Kate - 10/36 -
cushion to be Perdita."
"And where's Bohemia?"
"Oh! the hall must be Bohemia, and the stair-carpet the sea, because then the aunts won't hear the lion and bear roaring."
With these precautions, the characteristic roaring and growling of lion and bear, and the shrieks of the courtier, though not absolutely unheard in the drawing-room, produced no immediate results. But in the very midst of Lady Jane's signing her name to some paper, she gave a violent start, and dropped the pen, for they were no stage shrieks--"Ah! ah! It is coming down! Help me down! Ernest, Ernest! help me down! Ah!"--and then a great fall.
The little mahogany bracket on the wall had been mounted by the help of a chair, but it was only fixed into the plaster, being intended to hold a small lamp, and not for young ladies to stand on; so no sooner was the chair removed by which Kate had mounted, than she felt not only giddy in her elevation, but found her pedestal loosening! There was no room to jump; and Ernest, perhaps enjoying what he regarded as a girl's foolish fright, was a good way off, endeavouring to wind up the musical-box, when the bracket gave way, and Hermione descended precipitately with anything but the sound of soft music; and as the inhabitants of the drawing-room rushed out to the rescue, her legs were seen kicking in the air upon the landing-place; Ernest looking on, not knowing whether to laugh or be dismayed.
Lord de la Poer picked her up, and sat down on the stairs with her between his knees to look her over and see whether she were hurt, or what was the matter, while she stood half sobbing with the fright and shock. He asked his son rather severely what he had been doing to her.
"He did nothing," gasped Kate; "I was only Hermione."
"Yes, that's all, Papa," repeated Ernest; "it is all the fault of the plaster."
And a sort of explanation was performed between the two children, at which Lord de la Poer could hardly keep his gravity, though he was somewhat vexed at the turn affairs had taken. He was not entirely devoid of awe of the Lady Barbara, and would have liked his children to be on their best behaviour before her.
"Well," he said, "I am glad there is no worse harm done. You had better defer your statueship till we can find you a sounder pedestal, Lady Caergwent."
"Oh! call me Kate," whispered she in his ear, turning redder than the fright had made her.
He smiled, and patted her hand; then added, "We must go and beg pardon, I suppose; I should not wonder if the catastrophe had damaged Aunt Jane the most; and if so, I don't know what will be done to us!"
He was right; Lady Barbara had only satisfied herself that no bones had been broken, and then turned back to reassure her sister; but Lady Jane could not be frightened without suffering for it, and was lying back on the sofa, almost faint with palpitation, when Lord de la Poer, with Kate's hand in his, came to the door, looking much more consciously guilty than his son, who on the whole was more diverted than penitent at the commotion they had made.
Lady Barbara looked very grand and very dignified, but Lord de la Poer was so grieved for Lady Jane's indisposition, that she was somewhat softened; and then he began asking pardon, blending himself with the children so comically, that in all her fright and anxiety, Kate wondered how her aunt could help laughing.
It never was Lady Barbara's way to reprove before a guest; but this good gentleman was determined that she should not reserve her displeasure for his departure, and he would not go away till he had absolutely made her promise that his little friend, as he called Kate, should hear nothing more about anything that had that day taken place.
Lady Barbara kept her promise. She uttered no reproof either on her niece's awkward greeting, her abrupt conversation and its tendency to pertness, nor on the loudness of the unlucky game and the impropriety of climbing; nor even on what had greatly annoyed her, the asking for the subscription to the church. There was neither blame nor punishment; but she could not help a certain cold restraint of manner, by which Kate knew that she was greatly displeased, and regarded her as the most hopeless little saucy romp that ever maiden aunt was afflicted with.
And certainly it was hard on her. She had a great regard for Lord de la Poer, and thought his a particularly well trained family; and she was especially desirous that her little niece should appear to advantage before him. Nothing, she was sure, but Katharine's innate naughtiness could have made that well-behaved little Ernest break out into rudeness; and though his father had shown such good nature, he must have been very much shocked. What was to be done to tame this terrible little savage, was poor Lady Barbara's haunting thought, morning, noon, and night!
And what was it that Kate did want? I believe nothing could have made her perfectly happy, or suited to her aunt; but that she would have been infinitely happier and better off had she had the spirit of obedience, of humility, or of unselfishness.
The one hour of play with Ernest de la Poer had the effect of making Kate long more and more for a return of "fun," and of intercourse with beings of her own age and of high spirits.
She wove to herself dreams of possible delights with Sylvia and Charlie, if the summer visit could be paid to them; and at other times she imagined her Uncle Giles's two daughters still alive, and sent home for education, arranging in her busy brain wonderful scenes, in which she, with their assistance, should be happy in spite of Aunt Barbara.
These fancies, however, would be checked by the recollection, that it was shocking to lower two happy spirits in Heaven into playful little girls upon earth; and she took refuge in the thought of the coming chance of playfellows, when Lord de la Poer was to bring his family to London. She had learnt the names and ages of all the ten; and even had her own theories as to what her contemporaries were to be like--Mary and Fanny, Ernest's elders, and Adelaide and Grace, who came next below him; she had a vision for each of them, and felt as if she already knew them.
Meanwhile, the want of the amount of air and running about to which she had been used, did really tell upon her; she had giddy feelings in the morning, tired limbs, and a weary listless air, and fretted over her lessons at times. So they showed her to the doctor, who came to see Lady Jane every alternate day; and when he said she wanted more exercise, her morning walk was made an hour longer, and a shuttlecock and battledores were bought, with which it was decreed that Mrs. Lacy should play with her for exactly half an hour every afternoon, or an hour when it was too wet to go out.
It must be confessed that this was a harder task to both than the music lessons. Whether it were from the difference of height, or from Kate's innate unhandiness, they never could keep that unhappy shuttlecock up more than three times; and Mrs. Lacy looked as grave and melancholy all the time as if she played it for a punishment, making little efforts to be cheerful that were sad to see. Kate hated it, and was always cross; and willingly would they have given it up by mutual consent, but the instant the tap of the cork against the parchment ceased, if it were not half-past five, down sailed Lady Barbara to inquire after her prescription.
She had been a famous battledore-player in the galleries of Caergwent Castle; and once when she took up the battledore to give a lesson, it seemed as if, between her and Mrs. Lacy, the shuttlecock would not come down--they kept up five hundred and eighty-one, and then only stopped because it was necessary for her to go to dinner.
She could not conceive anyone being unable to play at battledore, and thought Kate's failures and dislike pure perverseness. Once Kate by accident knocked her shuttlecock through the window, and hoped she had got rid of it; but she was treated as if she had done it out of naughtiness, and a new instrument of torture, as she called it, was bought for her.
It was no wonder she did not see the real care for her welfare, and thought this intensely cruel and unkind; but it was a great pity that she visited her vexation on poor Mrs. Lacy, to whom the game was even a greater penance than to herself, especially on a warm day, with a bad headache.
Even in her best days at home, Kate had resisted learning to take thought for others. She had not been considerate of Mary's toil, nor of Mr. Wardour's peace, except when Armyn or Sylvia reminded her; and now that she had neither of them to put it into her mind, she never once thought of her governess as one who ought to be spared and pitied. Yet if she had been sorry for Mrs. Lacy, and tried to spare her trouble and annoyance, how much irritability and peevishness, and sense of constant naughtiness, would have been prevented! And it was that feeling of being always naughty that was what had become the real dreariness of Kate's present home, and was far worse than the music, the battledore, or even the absence of fun.
At last came a message that Lady Caergwent was to be dressed for going out to make a call with Lady Barbara as soon as luncheon was over.
It could be on no one but the De la Poers; and Kate was so delighted, that she executed all manner of little happy hops, skips, and fidgets, all the time of her toilette, and caused many an expostulation of "Mais, Miladi!" from Josephine, before the pretty delicate blue and white muslin, worked white jacket, and white ribboned and feathered hat, were adjusted. Lady Barbara kept her little countess very prettily and quietly dressed; but it was at the cost of infinite worry of herself, Kate, and Josephine, for there never was a child whom it was so hard to keep in decent trim. Armyn's old saying, that she ought to be always kept dressed in sacking, as the only thing she could not spoil, was a true one; for the sharp hasty movements, and entire disregard of where she stepped, were so ruinous, that it was on the records of the Bruton Street household, that she had gone far to demolish eight frocks in ten days.
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