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- Countess Kate - 5/36 -
But when the preparations were very nearly over, and Kate began to think of the strange room, and the roar of carriages in the streets sounded so unnatural, her heart failed her, and the fear of being alone quite overpowered her dread of the grave staid Mrs. Bartley, far more of being thought a silly little girl.
"Please please, Mrs. Bartley," she said in a trembling voice, "are you going away?"
"Yes, my Lady; I am going down to supper, when I have placed my Lady Jane's and my Lady Barbara's things."
"Then please--please," said Kate, in her most humble and insinuating voice, "do leave the door open while you are doing it."
"Very well, my Lady," was the answer, in a tone just like that in which Lady Barbara said "Oh!"
And the door stayed open; but Kate could not sleep. There seemed to be the rattle and bump of the train going on in her bed; the gas- lights in the streets below came in unnaturally, and the noises were much more frightful and unaccountable than any she had ever heard at home. Her eyes spread with fright, instead of closing in sleep; then came the longing yearning for Sylvia, and tears grew hot in them; and by the time Mrs. Bartley had finished her preparations, and gone down, her distress had grown so unbearable, that she absolutely began sobbing aloud, and screaming, "Papa!" She knew he would be very angry, and that she should hear that such folly was shameful in a girl of her age; but any anger would be better than this dreadful loneliness. She screamed louder and louder; and she grew half frightened, half relieved, when she heard his step, and a buzz of voices on the stairs; and then there he was, standing by her, and saying gravely, "What is the matter, Kate?"
"O Papa, Papa, I want--I want Sylvia!--I am afraid!" Then she held her breath, and cowered under the clothes, ready for a scolding; but it was not his angry voice. "Poor child!" he said quietly and sadly. "You must put away this childishness, my dear. You know that you are not really alone, even in a strange place."
"No, no, Papa; but I am afraid--I cannot bear it!"
"Have you said the verse that helps you to bear it, Katie?"
"I could not say it without Sylvia."
She heard him sigh; and then he said, "You must try another night, my Katie, and think of Sylvia saying it at home in her own room. You will meet her prayers in that way. Now let me hear you say it."
Kate repeated, but half choked with sobs, "I lay me down in peace," and the rest of the calm words, with which she had been taught to lay herself in bed; but at the end she cried, "O Papa, don't go!"
"I must go, my dear: I cannot stay away from your aunts. But I will tell you what to do to-night, and other nights when I shall be away: say to yourself the ninety-first Psalm. I think you know it--'Whoso abideth under the defence of the Most High--'"
"I think I do know it."
"Try to say it to yourself, and then the place will seem less dreary, because you will feel Who is with you. I will look in once more before I go away, and I think you will be asleep."
And though Kate tried to stay awake for him, asleep she was.
In a very few days, Kate had been settled into the ways of the household in Bruton Street; and found one day so like another, that she sometimes asked herself whether she had not been living there years instead of days.
She was always to be ready by half-past seven. Her French maid, Josephine, used to come in at seven, and wash and dress her quietly, for if there were any noise Aunt Barbara would knock and be displeased. Aunt Barbara rose long before that time, but she feared lest Aunt Jane should be disturbed in her morning's sleep; and Kate thought she had the ears of a dragon for the least sound of voice or laugh.
At half-past seven, Kate met Mrs. Lacy in the school-room, read the Psalms and Second Lesson, and learnt some answers to questions on the Catechism, to be repeated to Lady Barbara on a Sunday. For so far from playing at cards in a bird-of-paradise turban all Sunday, the aunts were quite as particular about these things as Mr. Wardour-- more inconveniently so, the countess thought; for he always let her answer his examinations out of her own head, and never gave her answers to learn by heart; "Answers that I know before quite well," said Kate, "only not made tiresome with fine words."
"That is not a right way of talking, Lady Caergwent," gravely said Mrs. Lacy; and Kate gave herself an ill-tempered wriggle, and felt cross and rebellious.
It was a trial; but if Kate had taken it humbly, she would have found that even the stiff hard words and set phrases gave accuracy to her ideas; and the learning of the texts quoted would have been clear gain, if she had been in a meeker spirit.
This done, Mrs. Lacy gave her a music-lesson. This was grievous work, for the question was not how the learning should be managed, but whether the thing should be learnt at all.
Kate had struggled hard against it. She informed her aunts that Mary had tried to teach her for six weeks in vain, and that she had had a bad mark every day; that Papa had said it was all nonsense, and that talents could not be forced; and that Armyn said she had no more ear than an old pea-hen.
To which Lady Barbara had gravely answered, that Mr. Wardour could decide as he pleased while Katharine was under his charge, but that it would be highly improper that she should not learn the accomplishments of her station.
"Only I can't learn," said Kate, half desperate; "you will see that it is no use, Aunt Barbara."
"I shall do my duty, Katharine," was all the answer she obtained; and she pinched her chair with suppressed passion.
Lady Barbara was right in saying that it was her duty to see that the child under her charge learnt what is usually expected of ladies; and though Kate could never acquire music enough to give pleasure to others, yet the training and discipline were likely not only to improve her ear and untamed voice, but to be good for her whole character--that is, if she had made a good use of them. But in these times, being usually already out of temper with the difficult answers of the Catechism questions, and obliged to keep in her pettish feelings towards what concerned sacred things, she let all out in the music lesson, and with her murmurs and her inattention, her yawns and her blunders, rendered herself infinitely more dull and unmusical than nature had made her, and was a grievous torment to poor Mrs. Lacy, and her patient, "One, two, three--now, my dear."
Kate thought it was Mrs. Lacy who tormented her! I wonder which was the worse to the other! At any rate, Mrs. Lacy's heavy eyes looked heavier, and she moved as though wearied out for the whole day by the time the clock struck nine, and released them; whilst her pupil, who never was cross long together, took a hop, skip, and jump, to the dining-room, and was as fresh as ever in the eager hope that the post would bring a letter from home.
Lady Barbara read prayers in the dining-room at nine, and there breakfasted with Kate and Mrs. Lacy, sending up a tray to Lady Jane in her bed-room. Those were apt to be grave breakfasts; not like the merry mornings at home, when chatter used to go on in half whispers between the younger ones, with laughs, breaking out in sudden gusts, till a little over-loudness brought one of Mary's good-natured "Hushes," usually answered with, "O Mary, such fun!"
It was Lady Barbara's time for asking about all the lessons of the day before; and though these were usually fairly done, and Mrs. Lacy was always a kind reporter, it was rather awful; and what was worse, were the strictures on deportment. For it must be confessed, that Lady Caergwent, though neatly and prettily made, with delicate little feet and hands, and a strong upright back, was a remarkably awkward child; and the more she was lectured, the more ungraceful she made herself--partly from thinking about it, and from fright making her abrupt, partly from being provoked. She had never been so ungainly at Oldburgh; she never was half so awkward in the school-room, as she would be while taking her cup of tea from Lady Barbara, or handing the butter to her governess. And was it not wretched to be ordered to do it again, and again, and again, (each time worse than the last- -the fingers more crooked, the elbow more stuck out, the shoulder more forward than before), when there was a letter in Sylvia's writing lying on the table unopened?
And whereas it had been the fashion at St. James's Parsonage to compare Kate's handing her plate to a chimpanzee asking for nuts, it was hard that in Bruton Street these manners should be attributed to the barbarous country in which she had grown up! But that, though Kate did not know it, was very much her own fault. She could never be found fault with but she answered again. She had been scarcely broken of replying and justifying herself, even to Mr. Wardour, and had often argued with Mary till he came in and put a sudden sharp stop to it; and now she usually defended herself with "Papa says--" or "Mary says--" and though she really thought she spoke the truth, she made them say such odd things, that it was no wonder Lady Barbara thought they had very queer notions of education, and that her niece had nothing to do but to unlearn their lessons. Thus:
"Katharine, easy-chairs were not meant for little girls to lounge in."
"Oh, Papa says he doesn't want one always to sit upright and stupid."
So Lady Barbara was left to suppose that Mr. Wardour's model attitude for young ladies was sitting upon one leg in an easy-chair, with the other foot dangling, the forehead against the back, and the arm of the chair used as a desk! How was she to know that this only meant that he had once had the misfortune to express his disapproval of the high-backed long-legged school-room chairs formerly in fashion? In fact, Kate could hardly be forbidden anything without her replying
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