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- Countess Kate - 2/36 -
a visit in London? How delightful! If it had been anybody but Papa, she would have said, "Go on."
"My dear," said Mr. Wardour at last, "you know that your cousin, Lord Caergwent, was killed by an accident last week."
"Yes, I know," said Kate; "that was why Mary made me put this black braid on my frock; and a very horrid job it was to do--it made my fingers so sore."
"I did not know till this morning that his death would make any other difference to you," continued Mr. Wardour. "I thought the title went to heirs-male, and that Colonel Umfraville was the present earl; but, my little Katharine, I find that it is ordained that you should have this great responsibility."
"What, you thought it was the Salic law?" said Kate, going on with one part of his speech, and not quite attending to the other.
"Something like it; only that it is not the English term for it," said Mr. Wardour, half smiling. "As your grandfather was the elder son, the title and property come to you."
Kate did not look at him, but appeared intent on the marks of the needle on the end of her forefinger, holding down her head.
Sylvia, however, seemed to jump in her very skin, and opening her eyes, cried out, "The title! Then Kate is--is--oh, what is a she- earl called?"
"A countess," said Mr. Wardour, with a smile, but rather sadly. "Our little Kate is Countess of Caergwent."
"My dear Sylvia!" exclaimed Mary in amazement; for Sylvia, like an India-rubber ball, had bounded sheer over the little arm-chair by which she was standing.
But there her father's look and uplifted finger kept her still and silent. He wanted to give Kate time to understand what he had said.
"Countess of Caergwent," she repeated; "that's not so pretty as if I were Lady Katharine."
"The sound does not matter much," said Mary. "You will always be Katharine to those that love you best. And oh!--" Mary stopped short, her eyes full of tears.
Kate looked up at her, astonished. "Are you sorry, Mary?" she asked, a little hurt.
"We are all sorry to lose our little Kate," said Mr. Wardour.
"Lose me, Papa!" cried Kate, clinging to him, as the children scarcely ever did, for he seldom made many caresses; "Oh no, never! Doesn't Caergwent Castle belong to me? Then you must all come and live with me there; and you shall have lots of big books, Papa; and we will have a pony-carriage for Mary, and ponies for Sylvia and Charlie and me, and--"
Kate either ran herself down, or saw that the melancholy look on Mr. Wardour's face rather deepened than lessened, for she stopped short.
"My dear," he said, "you and I have both other duties."
"Oh," but if I built a church! I dare say there are people at Caergwent as poor as they are here. Couldn't we build a church, and you mind them, Papa?"
"My little Katharine, you have yet to understand that 'the heir, so long as he is a child, differeth in nothing from a servant, but is under tutors and governors.' You will not have any power over yourself or your property till you are twenty-one."
"But you are my tutor and my governor, and my spiritual pastor and master," said Kate. "I always say so whenever Mary asks us questions about our duty to our neighbour."
"I have been so hitherto," said Mr. Wardour, setting her on his knee; "but I see I must explain a good deal to you. It is the business of a court in London, that is called the Court of Chancery, to provide that proper care is taken of young heirs and heiresses and their estates, if no one have been appointed by their parents to do so; and it is this court that must settle what is to become of you."
"And why won't it settle that I may live with my own papa and brothers and sisters?"
"Because, Kate, you must be brought up in a way to fit your station; and my children must be brought up in a way to fit theirs. And besides," he added more sadly, "nobody that could help it would leave a girl to be brought up in a household without a mother."
Kate's heart said directly, that as she could never again have a mother, her dear Mary must be better than a stranger; but somehow any reference to the sorrow of the household always made her anxious to get away from the subject, so she looked at her finger again, and asked, "Then am I to live up in this Court of Chances?"
"Not exactly," said Mr. Wardour. "Your two aunts in London, Lady Barbara and Lady Jane Umfraville, are kind enough to offer to take charge of you. Here is a letter that they sent inclosed for you."
"The Countess of Caergwent," was written on the envelope; and Kate's and Sylvia's heads were together in a moment to see how it looked, before opening the letter, and reading:- "'My dear Niece,'--dear me, how funny to say niece!--'I deferred writing to you upon the melancholy--' oh, what is it, Sylvia?"
"The melancholy comet!"
"No, no; nonsense."
"Melancholy event," suggested Mary.
"Yes, to be sure. I can't think why grown-up people always write on purpose for one not to read them.--'Melancholy event that has placed you in possession of the horrors of the family.'"
"Well, I am sure it IS horrors," said the little girl rather perversely.
"This is not a time for nonsense, Kate," said Mr. Wardour; and she was subdued directly.
"Shall I read it to you?" said Mary.
"Oh, no, no!" Kate was too proud of her letter to give it up, and applied herself to it again.--"'Family honours, until I could ascertain your present address. And likewise, the shock of your poor cousin's death so seriously affected my sister's health in her delicate state, that for some days I could give my attention to nothing else.' Dear me! This is my Aunt Barbara, I see! Is Aunt Jane so ill?"
"She has had very bad health for many years," said Mr. Wardour; "and your other aunt has taken the greatest care of her."
"'We have now, however, been able to consider what will be best for all parties; and we think nothing will be so proper as that you should reside with us for the present. We will endeavour to make a happy home for you; and will engage a lady to superintend your education, and give you all the advantages to which you are entitled. We have already had an interview with a very admirable person, who will come down to Oldburgh with our butler next Friday, and escort you to us, if Mrs. Wardour will kindly prepare you for the journey. I have written to thank her for her kindness to you.'"
"Mrs. Wardour!" exclaimed Sylvia.
"The ladies have known and cared little about Kate or us for a good many years," said Mary, almost to herself, but in such a hurt tone, that her father looked up with grave reproof in his eyes, as if to remind her of all he had been saying to her during the long hours that the little girls had waited.
"'With your Aunt Jane's love, and hoping shortly to be better acquainted, I remain, my dear little niece, your affectionate aunt, Barbara Umfraville.' Then I am to go and live with them!" said Kate, drawing a long sigh. "O Papa, do let Sylvia come too, and learn of my governess with me!"
"Your aunts do not exactly contemplate that," said Mr. Wardour; "but perhaps there may be visits between you."
Sylvia began to look very grave. She had not understood that this great news was to lead to nothing but separation. Everything had hitherto been in common between her and Kate, and that what was good for the one should not be good for the other was so new and strange, that she did not understand it at once.
"Oh yes! we will visit. You shall all come and see me in London, and see the Zoological Gardens and the British Museum; and I will send you such presents!"
"We will see," said Mr. Wardour kindly; "but just now, I think the best thing you can do is to write to your aunt, and thank her for her kind letter; and say that I will bring you up to London on the day she names, without troubling the governess and the butler."
"Oh, thank you!" said Kate; "I sha'n't be near so much afraid if you come with me."
Mr. Wardour left the room; and the first thing Mary did was to throw her arms round the little girl in a long vehement embrace. "My little Kate! my little Kate! I little thought this was to be the end of it!" she cried, kissing her, while the tears dropped fast.
Kate did not like it at all. The sight of strong feeling distressed her, and made her awkward and ungracious. "Don't, Mary," she said, disengaging herself; "never mind; I shall always come and see you; and when I grow up, you shall come to live with me at Caergwent. And you know, when they write a big red book about me, they will put in that you brought me up."
"Write a big red book about you, Kate!"
"Why," said Kate, suddenly become very learned, "there is an immense fat red and gold book at Mr. Brown's, all full of Lords and Ladies."
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