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- Countess Kate - 3/36 -
"Oh, a Peerage!" said Mary; "but even you, my Lady Countess, can't have a whole peerage to yourself."
And that little laugh seemed to do Mary good, for she rose and began to rule the single lines for Kate's letter. Kate could write a very tidy little note; but just now she was too much elated and excited to sit down quietly, or quite to know what she was about. She went skipping restlessly about from one chair to another, chattering fast about what she would do, and wondering what the aunts would be like, and what Armyn would say, and what Charlie would say, and the watch she would buy for Charlie, and the great things she was to do for everybody--till Mary muttered something in haste, and ran out of the room.
"I wonder why Mary is so cross," said Kate.
Poor Mary! No one could be farther from being cross; but she was thoroughly upset. She was as fond of Kate as of her own sisters, and was not only sorry to part with her, but was afraid that she would not be happy or good in the new life before her.
The days passed very slowly with Kate, until the moment when she was to go to London and take her state upon her, as she thought. Till that should come to pass, she could not feel herself really a countess. She did not find herself any taller or grander; Charlie teased her rather more instead of less and she did not think either Mr. Wardour or Mary or Armyn thought half enough of her dignity: they did not scruple to set her down when she talked too loud, and looked sad instead of pleased when she chattered about the fine things she should do. Mr. and Mrs. Brown, to be sure, came to wish her good-bye; but they were so respectful, and took such pains that she should walk first, that she grew shy and sheepish, and did not like it at all.
She thought ease and dignity would come by nature when she was once in London; and she made so certain of soon seeing Sylvia again, that she did not much concern herself about the parting with her; while she was rather displeased with Mary for looking grave, and not making more of her, and trying to tell her that all might not be as delightful as she expected. She little knew that Mary was grieved at her eagerness to leave her happy home, and never guessed at the kind sister's fears for her happiness. She set it all down to what she was wont to call crossness. If Mary had really been a cross or selfish person, all she would have thought of would have been that now there would not be so many rents to mend after Kate's cobbling attempts, nor so many shrill shrieking laughs to disturb Papa writing his sermon, nor so much difficulty in keeping any room in the house tidy, nor so much pinching in the housekeeping. Instead of that, Mary only thought whether Barbara and Lady Jane would make her little Kate happy and good. She was sure they were proud, hard, cold people; and her father had many talks with her, to try to comfort her about them.
Mr. Wardour told her that Kate's grandfather had been such a grief and shame to the family, that it was no wonder they had not liked to be friendly with those he had left behind him. There had been help given to educate the son, and some notice had been taken of him, but always very distant; and he had been thought very foolish for marrying when he was very young, and very ill off. At the time of his death, his uncle, Colonel Umfraville, had been very kind, and had consulted earnestly with Mr. Wardour what was best for the little orphan; but had then explained that he and his wife could not take charge of her, because his regiment was going to India, and she could not go there with them; and that his sisters were prevented from undertaking the care of so young a child by the bad health of the elder, who almost owed her life to the tender nursing of the younger. And as Mrs. Wardour was only eager to keep to herself all that was left of her only sister, and had a nursery of her own, it had been most natural that Kate should remain at St. James's Parsonage; and Mr. Wardour had full reason to believe that, had there been any need, or if he had asked for help, the aunts would have gladly given it. He knew them to be worthy and religious women; and he told Mary that he thought it very likely that they might deal better with Kate's character than he had been able to do. Mary knew she herself had made mistakes, but she could not be humble for her father, or think any place more improving than under his roof.
And Kate meanwhile had her own views. And when all the good-byes were over, and she sat by the window of the railway carriage, watching the fields rush by, reduced to silence, because "Papa" had told her he could not hear her voice, and had made a peremptory sign to her when she screamed her loudest, and caused their fellow- travellers to look up amazed, she wove a web in her brain something like this:- "I know what my aunts will be like: they will be just like ladies in a book. They will be dreadfully fashionable! Let me see--Aunt Barbara will have a turban on her head, and a bird of paradise, like the bad old lady in Armyn's book that Mary took away from me; and they will do nothing all day long but try on flounced gowns, and count their jewels, and go out to balls and operas--and they will want me to do the same--and play at cards all Sunday! 'Lady Caergwent,' they will say, 'it is becoming to your position!' And then the young countess presented a remarkable contrast in her ingenuous simplicity," continued Kate, not quite knowing whether she was making a story or thinking of herself--for indeed she did not feel as if she were herself, but somebody in a story. "Her waving hair was only confined by an azure ribbon, (Kate loved a fine word when Charlie did not hear it to laugh at her;) and her dress was of the simplest muslin, with one diamond aigrette of priceless value!"
Kate had not the most remote notion what an aigrette might be, but she thought it would sound well for a countess; and she went on musing very pleasantly on the amiable simplicity of the countess, and the speech that was to cure the aunts of playing at cards on a Sunday, wearing turbans, and all other enormities, and lead them to live in the country, giving a continual course of school feasts, and surprising meritorious families with gifts of cows. She only wished she had a pencil to draw it all to show Sylvia, provided Sylvia would know her cows from her tables.
After more vain attempts at chatter, and various stops at stations, Mr. Wardour bought a story-book for her; and thus brought her to a most happy state of silent content, which lasted till the house roofs of London began to rise on either side of the railway.
Among the carriages that were waiting at the terminus was a small brougham, very neat and shiny; and a servant came up and touched his hat, opening the door for Kate, who was told to sit there while the servant and Mr. Wardour looked for the luggage. She was a little disappointed. She had once seen a carriage go by with four horses, and a single one did not seem at all worthy of her; but she had two chapters more of her story to read, and was so eager to see the end of it, that Mr. Wardour could hardly persuade her to look out and see the Thames when she passed over it, nor the Houses of Parliament and the towers of Westminster Abbey.
At last, while passing through the brighter and more crowded streets, Kate having satisfied herself what had become of the personages of her story, looked up, and saw nothing but dull houses of blackened cream colour; and presently found the carriage stopping at the door of one.
"Is it here, Papa?" she said, suddenly seized with fright.
"Yes," he said, "this is Bruton Street;" and he looked at her anxiously as the door was opened and the steps were let down. She took tight hold of his hand. Whatever she had been in her day- dreams, she was only his own little frightened Kate now; and she tried to shrink behind him as the footman preceded them up the stairs, and opening the door, announced--"Lady Caergwent and Mr. Wardour!"
Two ladies rose up, and came forward to meet her. She felt herself kissed by both, and heard greetings, but did not know what to say, and stood up by Mr. Wardour, hanging down her head, and trying to stand upon one foot with the other, as she always did when she was shy and awkward.
"Sit down, my dear," said one of the ladies, making a place for her on the sofa. But Kate only laid hold of a chair, pulled it as close to Mr. Wardour as possible, and sat down on the extreme corner of it, feeling for a rail on which to set her feet, and failing to find one, twining her ankles round the leg of the chair. She knew very well that this was not pretty; but she never could recollect what was pretty behaviour when she was shy. She was a very different little girl in a day-dream and out of one. And when one of the aunts asked her if she were tired, all she could do was to give a foolish sort of smile, and say, "N--no."
Then she had a perception that Papa was looking reprovingly at her; so she wriggled her legs away from that of the chair, twisted them together in the middle, and said something meant for "No, thank you;" but of which nothing was to be heard but "q," apparently proceeding out of the brim of her broad hat, so low did the young countess, in her amiable simplicity, hold her head.
"She is shy!" said one of the ladies to the other; and they let her alone a little, and began to talk to Mr. Wardour about the journey, and various other things, to which Kate did not greatly listen. She began to let her eyes come out from under her hat brim, and satisfied herself that the aunts certainly did not wear either turbans or birds of paradise, but looked quite as like other people as she felt herself, in spite of her title.
Indeed, one aunt had nothing on her head at all but a little black velvet and lace, not much more than Mary sometimes wore, and the other only a very light cap. Kate thought great-aunts must be as old at least as Mrs. Brown, and was much astonished to see that these ladies had no air of age about them. The one who sat on the sofa had a plump, smooth, pretty, pink and white face, very soft and pleasant to look at, though an older person than Kate would have perceived that the youthful delicacy of the complexion showed that she had been carefully shut up and sheltered from all exposure and exertion, and that the quiet innocent look of the small features was that of a person who had never had to use her goodness more actively than a little baby. Kate was sure that this was aunt Jane, and that she should get on well with her, though that slow way of speaking was rather wearisome.
The other aunt, who was talking the most, was quite as slim as Mary, and had a bright dark complexion, so that if Kate had not seen some shades of grey in her black hair, it would have been hard to believe her old at all. She had a face that put Kate in mind of a picture of a beautiful lady in a book at home--the eyes, forehead, nose, and
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