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- Countess Kate - 20/36 -


'Malcolm!' and then put up your hand behind your ear, and stand listening

"With locks thrown back and lips apart, Like monument of Grecian art;"

and then I'll tell you what to do."

Away scudded the delighted Kate; and after having lamented her gallant grey, and admired the Trosachs, came up too-tooing through her hand with all her might, but found poor Ellen, very unlike a monument of Grecian art, absolutely crying, and Allan Bane using his best English and kindest tones to console her.

"Miladi l'a stupefaite--la pauvre petite!" began Josephine; and Kate in consternation asking what was the matter, and Josephine encouraging her, it was all sobbed out. She did not like to be called Ellen--and she thought it unkind to send her into banishment-- and she had fancied she was to get astride on her hoop, which she justly thought highly improper--and above all, she could not bear to say 'Father'--because -

"I never thought you would mind that," said Kate, rather abashed. "I never did; and I never saw my papa or mamma either."

"No--so you didn't care."

"Well then," said Kate gravely, "we won't play at that. Let's have 'Marmion' instead; and I'll be killed."

"But I don't like you to be killed."

"It is only in play."

"Please--please, let us have a nice play!"

"Well, what do you call a nice play?"

"Alice and I used to drive hoops."

"That's tiresome! My hoop always tumbles down: think of something else."

"Alice and I used to play at ball; but there's no ball here!"

"Then I'll stuff my pocket-handkerchief with seaweed, and make one;" and Kate spread out her delicate cambric one--not quite so fit for such a purpose as the little cheap cotton ones at home, that Mary tried in vain to save from cruel misuse.

"Here's a famous piece! Look, it is all wriggled; it is a mermaid's old stay-lace that she has used and thrown away. Perhaps she broke it in a passion because her grandmother made her wear so many oyster- shells on her tail!"

"There are no such creatures as mermaids," said Sylvia, looking at her solemnly.

This was not a promising beginning; Sylvia Joanna was not a bit like Sylvia Katharine, nor like Adelaide and Grace de la Poer; yet by seeing each other every day, she and Kate began to shake together, and become friends.

There was no fear of her exciting Kate to run wild; she was a little pussy-cat in her dread of wet, and guarded her clothes as if they could feel--indeed, her happiest moments were spent in the public walks by Alice's chair, studying how the people were dressed; but still she thought it a fine thing to be the only child in Bournemouth who might play with the little Countess, and was so silly as to think the others envied her when she was dragged and ordered about, bewildered by Kate's loud rapid talk about all kinds of odd things in books, and distressed at being called on to tear through the pine- woods, or grub in wet sand. But it was not all silly vanity: she was a gentle, loving little girl, very good-natured, and sure to get fond of all who were kind to her; and she liked Kate's bright ways and amusing manner--perhaps really liking her more than if she had understood her better; and Kate liked her, and rushed after her on every occasion, as the one creature with whom it was possible to play and to chatter.

No, not quite the one; for poor sick Alice was better for talk and quiet play than her sister. She read a great deal; and there was an exchange of story-books, and much conversation over them, between her and Kate--indeed, the spirit and animation of this new friend quite made her light up, and brighten out of her languor whenever the shrill laughing voice came near. And Kate, after having got over her first awe at coming near a child so unlike herself, grew very fond of her, and felt how good and sweet and patient she was. She never ran off to play till Alice was taken in-doors; and spent all her spare time in-doors in drawing picture stories, which were daily explained to the two sisters at some seat in the pine-woods.

There was one very grand one, that lasted all the latter part of the stay at Bournemouth--as the evenings grew longer, and Kate had more time for preparing it, at the rate of four or five scenes a day, drawn and painted--being the career of a very good little girl, whose parents were killed in a railway accident, (a most fearful picture was that--all blunders being filled up by spots of vermilion blood and orange-coloured flame!) and then came all the wonderful exertions by which she maintained her brothers and sisters, taught them, and kept them in order.

They all had names; and there was a naughty little Alexander, whose monkey tricks made even Sylvia laugh. Sylvia was very anxious that the admirable heroine, Hilda, should be rewarded by turning into a countess; and could not enter into Kate's first objection--founded on fact--that it could not be without killing all the brothers. "Why couldn't it be done in play, like so many other things?" To which Kate answered, "There is a sort of true in play;" but as Sylvia could not understand her, nor she herself get at her own idea, she went on to her other objection, a still more startling one--that "She couldn't wish Hilda anything so nasty!"

And this very ignoble word was long a puzzle to Alice and Sylvia.

Thus the time at the sea-side was very happy--quite the happiest since Kate's change of fortune. The one flaw in those times on the sands was when she was alone with Sylvia and Josephine; not in Sylvia's dulness--that she had ceased to care about--but in a little want of plain dealing. Sylvia was never wild or rude, but she was not strictly obedient when out of sight; and when Kate was shocked would call it very unkind, and caress and beseech her not to tell.

They were such tiny things, that they would hardly bear mention; but one will do as a specimen. Sylvia was one of those very caressing children who can never be happy without clinging to their friends, kissing them constantly, and always calling them dear, love, and darling.

Now, Mrs. Wardour knew it was not becoming to see all this embracing in public, and was sure besides that Lady Barbara would not like to see the Countess hung upon in Sylvia's favourite way; so she forbade all such demonstrations except the parting and meeting kiss. It was a terrible grievance to Sylvia--it seemed as if her heart could not love without her touch; but instead of training herself in a little self-control and obedience, she thought it "cross;" and Mamma was no sooner out of sight than her arm was around Kate's waist. Kate struggled at first--it did not suit her honourable conscientiousness; but then Sylvia would begin to cry at the unkindness, say Kate did not love her, that she would not be proud if she was a countess: and Kate gave in, liked the love--of which, poor child! she got so little--and let Sylvia do as she pleased, but never without a sense of disobedience and dread of being caught.

So, too, about her title. Sylvia called her darling, duck, and love, and she called Sylvia by plenty of such names; but she had been obliged to tell of her aunt's desire--that Katharine and Kate should never be used.

Sylvia's ready tears fell; but the next day she came back cheerful, with the great discovery that darling Lady Caergwent might be called K, her initial, and the first syllable of her title. It was the cleverest invention Sylvia had ever made; and she was vexed when Kate demurred, honestly thinking that her aunts would like it worse than even Kate, and that therefore she ought not to consent.

But when Sylvia coaxingly uttered, "My own dear duck of a K," and the soft warm arm squeezed her, and the eyes would have been weeping, and the tongue reproaching in another moment, she allowed it to go on--it was so precious and sweet to be loved; and she told Sylvia she was a star in the dark night.

No one ever found out those, and one or two other, instances of small disobedience. They were not mischievous, Josephine willingly overlooked them, and there was nothing to bring them to light. It would have been better for Sylvia if her faults had been of a sort that brought attention on them more easily!

Meanwhile, Lady Barbara had almost found in her a model child--except for her foolish shy silence before her elders, before whom she always whispered--and freely let the girls be constantly together. The aunt little knew that this meek well-behaved maiden was giving the first warp to that upright truth that had been the one sterling point of Kate's character!

CHAPTER X.

It had been intended that Mrs. Lacy should rejoin her pupil at Bournemouth at the end of six weeks; but in her stead came a letter saying that she was unwell, and begging for a fortnight's grace. At the fortnight's end came another letter; to which Lady Barbara answered that all was going on so well, that there was no need to think of returning till they should all meet in London on the 1st of October.

But before that 1st, poor Mrs. Lacy wrote again, with great regret and many excuses for the inconvenience she was causing. Her son and her doctor had insisted on her resigning her situation at once; and they would not even allow her to go back until her place could be supplied.

"Poor thing!" said Lady Jane. "I always thought it was too much for her. I wish we could have made her more comfortable: it would have been such a thing for her!"


Countess Kate - 20/36

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