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- Countess Kate - 4/36 -
shape of the chin, were so finely made; and yet there was something in them that made the little girl afraid, and feel as if the plaster cast of Diana's head on the study mantelpiece had got a pair of dark eyes, and was looking very hard at her; and there was a sort of dry sound in her voice that was uncomfortable to hear.
Then Kate took a survey of the room, which was very prettily furnished, with quantities of beautiful work of all kinds, and little tables and brackets covered with little devices in china and curiosities under glass, and had flowers standing in the windows; and by the time she had finished trying to make out the subject of a print on the walls, she heard some words that made her think that her aunts were talking of her new governess, and she opened her ears to hear, "So we thought it would be an excellent arrangement for her, poor thing!" and "Papa" answering, "I hope Kate may try to be a kind considerate pupil." Then seeing by Kate's eyes that her attention had been astray, or that she had not understood Lady Barbara's words, he turned to her, saying, "Did you not hear what your aunt was telling me?"
"She was telling me about the lady who will teach you. She has had great afflictions. She has lost her husband, and is obliged to go out as governess, that she may be able to send her sons to school. So, Kate, you must think of this, and try to give her as little trouble as possible."
It would have been much nicer if Kate would have looked up readily, and said something kind and friendly; but the fit of awkwardness had come over her again, and with it a thought so selfish, that it can hardly be called otherwise than naughty--namely, that grown-up people in trouble were very tiresome, and never let young ones have any fun.
"Shall I take you to see Mrs. Lacy, my dear?" said Lady Barbara, rising. And as Kate took hold of Mr. Wardour's hand, she added, "You will see Mr. Wardour again after dinner. You had better dress, and have some meat for your tea, with Mrs. Lacy, and then come into the drawing-room."
This was a stroke upon Kate. She who had dined with the rest of the world ever since she could remember--she, now that she was a countess, to be made to drink tea up-stairs like a baby, and lose all that time of Papa's company! She swelled with displeasure: but Aunt Barbara did not look like a person whose orders could be questioned, and "Papa" said not a word in her favour. Possibly the specimen of manners she had just given had not led either him or Lady Barbara to think her fit for a late dinner.
Lady Barbara first took her up-stairs, and showed her a little long narrow bed-room, with a pretty pink-curtained bed in it.
"This will be your room, my dear," she said. "I am sorry we have not a larger one to offer you; but it opens into mine, as you see, and my sister's is just beyond. Our maid will dress you for a few days, when I hope to engage one for you."
Here was something like promotion! Kate dearly loved to have herself taken off her own hands, and not to be reproved by Mary for untidiness, or roughly set to rights by Lily's nurse. She actually exclaimed, "Oh, thank you!" And her aunt waited till the hat and cloak had been taken off and the chestnut hair smoothed, looked at her attentively, and said, "Yes, you are like the family."
"I'm very like my own papa," said Kate, growing a little bolder, but still speaking with her head on one side, which was her way when she said anything sentimental.
"I dare say you are," answered her aunt, with the dry sound. "Are you ready now? I will show you the way. The house is very small," continued Lady Barbara, as they went down the stairs to the ground floor; "and this must be your school-room for the present."
It was the room under the back drawing-room; and in it was a lady in a widow's cap, sitting at work. "Here is your little Pupil--Lady Caergwent--Mrs. Lacy," said Lady Barbara. "I hope you will find her a good child. She will drink tea with you, and then dress, and afterwards I hope, we shall see you with her in the drawing-room."
Mrs. Lacy bowed, without any answer in words, only she took Kate's hand and kissed her. Lady Barbara left them, and there was a little pause. Kate looked at her governess, and her heart sank, for it was the very saddest face she had ever seen--the eyes looked soft and gentle, but as if they had wept till they could weep no longer; and when the question was asked, "Are you tired, my dear?" it was in a sunk tone, trying to be cheerful but the sadder for that very reason. Poor lady! it was only that morning that she had parted with her son, and had gone away from the home where she had lived with her husband and children.
Kate was almost distressed; yet she felt more at her ease than with her aunts, and answered, "Not at all, thank you," in her natural tone.
"Was it a long journey?"
Kate had been silent so long, that her tongue was ready for exertion; and she began to chatter forth all the events of the journey, without heeding much whether she were listened to or not, till having come to the end of her breath, she saw that Mrs. Lacy was leaning back in her chair, her eyes fixed as if her attention had gone away. Kate thereupon roamed round the room, peeped from the window and saw that it looked into a dull black-looking narrow garden, and then studied the things in the room. There was a piano, at which she shook her head. Mary had tried to teach her music; but after a daily fret for six weeks, Mr. Wardour had said it was waste of time and temper for both; and Kate was delighted. Then she came to a book-case; and there the aunts had kindly placed the books of their own younger days, some of which she had never seen before. When she had once begun on the "Rival Crusoes," she gave Mrs. Lacy no more trouble, except to rouse her from it to drink her tea, and then go and be dressed.
The maid managed the white muslin so as to make her look very nice; but before she had gone half way down-stairs, there was a voice behind--"My Lady! my Lady!"
She did not turn, not remembering that she herself must be meant; and the maid, running after her, caught her rather sharply, and showed her her own hand, all black and grimed.
"How tiresome!" cried she. "Why, I only just washed it!"
"Yes, my Lady; but you took hold of the balusters all the way down. And your forehead! Bless me! what would Lady Barbara say?"
For Kate had been trying to peep through the balusters into the hall below, and had of course painted her brow with London blacks. She made one of her little impatient gestures, and thought she was very hardly used--dirt stuck upon her, and brambles tore her like no one else.
She got safely down this time, and went into the drawing-room with Mrs. Lacy, there taking a voyage of discovery among the pretty things, knowing she must not touch, but asking endless questions, some of which Mrs. Lacy answered in her sad indifferent way, others she could not answer, and Kate was rather vexed at her not seeming to care to know. Kate had not yet any notion of caring for other people's spirits and feelings; she never knew what to do for them, and so tried to forget all about them.
The aunts came in, and with them Mr. Wardour. She was glad to run up to him, and drag him to look at a group in white Parian under a glass, that had delighted her very much. She knew it was Jupiter's Eagle; but who was feeding it? "Ganymede," said Mr. Wardour; and Kate, who always liked mythological stories, went on most eagerly talking about the legend of the youth who was borne away to be the cup-bearer of the gods. It was a thing to make her forget about the aunts and everybody else; and Mr. Wardour helped her out, as he generally did when her talk was neither foolish nor ill-timed but he checked her when he thought she was running on too long, and went himself to talk to Mrs. Lacy, while Kate was obliged to come to her aunts, and stood nearest to Lady Jane, of whom she was least afraid.
"You seem quite at home with all the heathen gods, my dear," said Lady Jane; "how come you to know them so well?"
"In Charlie's lesson-books, you know," said Kate; and seeing that her aunt did not know, she went on to say, "there are notes and explanations. And there is a Homer--an English one, you know; and we play at it."
"We seem to have quite a learned lady here!" said aunt Barbara, in the voice Kate did not like. "Do you learn music?"
"No; I haven't got any ear; and I hate it!"
"Oh!" said Lady Barbara drily; and Kate seeing Mr. Wardour's eyes fixed on her rather anxiously, recollected that hate was not a proper word, and fell into confusion.
"And drawing?" said her aunt.
"No; but I want to--"
"Oh!" again said Lady Barbara, looking at Kate's fingers, which in her awkwardness she was apparently dislocating in a method peculiar to herself.
However, it was soon over, for it was already later than Kate's home bed-time; she bade everyone good-night, and was soon waited on by Mrs. Bartley, the maid, in her own luxurious little room.
But luxurious as it was, Kate for the first time thoroughly missed home. The boarded floor, the old crib, the deal table, would have been welcome, if only Sylvia had been there. She had never gone to bed without Sylvia in her life. And now she thought with a pang that Sylvia was longing for her, and looking at her empty crib, thinking too, it might be, that Kate had cared more for her grandeur than for the parting.
Not only was it sorrowful to be lonely, but also Kate was one of the silly little girls, to whom the first quarter of an hour in bed was a time of fright. Sylvia had no fears, and always accounted for the odd noises and strange sights that terrified her companion. She never believed that the house was on fire, even though the moon made very bright sparkles; she always said the sounds were the servants, the wind, or the mice; and never would allow that thieves would steal little girls, or anything belonging to themselves. Or if she were fast asleep, her very presence gave a feeling of protection.
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