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- In the Year of Jubilee - 5/87 -
'I don't mind being thought rude,' replied Nancy, with a movement of the head, 'if it teaches people that I consider myself as good as they are.'
'Well, will you come to-morrow?'
'Ye-es; if you'll go somewhere else with me in the evening.'
'To walk about the streets after dark, and see the crowds and the illuminations.'
Nancy uttered this with a sly mirthfulness. Her friend was astonished.
'Nonsense! you don't mean it.'
'I do. I want to go for the fun of the thing. I should feel ashamed of myself if I ran to stare at Royalties, but it's a different thing at night. It'll be wonderful, all the traffic stopped, and the streets crammed with people, and blazing with lights. Won't you go?'
'But the time, the time! I can't afford it. I'm getting on so wretchedly with my Greek and my chemistry.'
'You've time enough,' said Nancy. 'And, you know, after all it's a historical event. In the year 3000 it will be 'set' in an examination paper, and poor wretches will get plucked because they don't know the date.'
This was quite a new aspect of the matter to Jessica Morgan. She pondered it, and smiled.
'Yes, I suppose it will. But we should have to be out so late.'
'Why not, for once? It needn't be later than half-past eleven.' Nancy broke off and gesticulated. 'That's just why I want to go! I should like to walk about all night, as lots of people will. The public-houses are going to be kept open till two o'clock.'
'Do you want to go into public-houses?' asked Jessica, laughing.
'Why not? I should like to. It's horrible to be tied up as we are; we're not children. Why can't we go about as men do?'
'Won't your father make any objection?' asked Jessica.
'We shall take Horace with us. Your people wouldn't interfere, would they?'
'I think not. Father is away in Yorkshire, and will be till the end of the week. Poor mother has her rheumatism. The house is so dreadfully damp. We ought never to have taken it. The difference of rent will all go in doctors' bills.--I don't think mother would mind; but I must be back before twelve, of course.'
'I don't see the "of course,"' Nancy returned impatiently, 'but we could manage that. I'll speak to the Pasha to-night, and either come, or let you have a note, to-morrow morning. If there's any objection, I'm not sure that I shan't make it the opportunity for setting up my standard of revolt. But I don't like to do that whilst the Pasha is out of sorts--it might make him worse.'
'You could reason with him quietly.'
'Reason with the Pasha--How innocent you are, Jess! How unworldly! It always refreshes me to hear you talk.'
Only twelve months ago Stephen Lord had renewed the lease of his house for a period of seven years. Nancy, had she been aware of this transaction, would assuredly have found courage to enter a protest, but Mr. Lord consulted neither son nor daughter on any point of business; but for this habit of acting silently, he would have seemed to his children a still more arbitrary ruler than they actually thought him.
The dwelling consisted of but eight rooms, one of which, situated at the rear of the entrance passage, served Mr. Lord as sitting-room and bed-chamber; it overlooked a small garden, and afforded a side glimpse of the kitchen with its outer appurtenances. In the front room the family took meals. Of the chambers in the storey above, one was Nancy's, one her brother's; the third had, until six years ago, been known as 'Grandmother's room,' and here its occupant, Stephen Lord's mother, died at the age of seventy-eight. Wife of a Norfolk farmer, and mother of nine children, she was one of the old-world women whose thoughts found abundant occupation in the cares and pleasures of home. Hardship she had never known, nor yet luxury; the old religion, the old views of sex and of society, endured with her to the end.
After her death the room was converted into a parlour, used almost exclusively by the young people. At the top of the house slept two servants, each in her own well-furnished retreat; one of them was a girl, the other a woman of about forty, named Mary Woodruff. Mary had been in the house for twenty years; she enjoyed her master's confidence, and, since old Mrs. Lord's death, exercised practical control in the humbler domestic affairs.
With one exception, all parts of the abode presented much the same appearance as when Stephen Lord first established himself antiquated, and in primitive taste. Nancy's bedroom alone here. The furniture was old, solid, homely; the ornaments were displayed the influence of modern ideas. On her twentieth birthday, the girl received permission to dress henceforth as she chose (a strict sumptuary law having previously been in force), and at the same time was allowed to refurnish her chamber. Nancy pleaded for modern reforms throughout the house, but in vain; even the drawing-room kept its uninviting aspect, not very different, save for the removal of the bed, from that it had presented when the ancient lady slept here. In her own little domain, Miss. Lord made a clean sweep of rude appointments, and at small expense surrounded herself with pretty things. The woodwork and the furniture were in white enamel; the paper had a pattern of wild-rose. A choice chintz, rose-leaf and flower on a white ground, served for curtains and for bed-hangings. Her carpet was of green felt, matching in shade the foliage of the chintz. On suspended shelves stood the books which she desired to have near her, and round about the walls hung prints, photographs, chromolithographs, selected in an honest spirit of admiration, which on the whole did no discredit to Nancy's sensibilities.
To the best of Nancy's belief, her father had never seen this room. On its completion she invited him to inspect it, but Mr. Lord coldly declined, saying that he knew nothing, and cared nothing, about upholstery.
His return to-day was earlier than usual. Shortly after five o'clock Nancy heard the familiar heavy step in the passage, and went downstairs.
'Will you have a cup of tea, father?' she asked, standing by the door of the back room, which was ajar.
'If it's ready,' replied a deep voice.
She entered the dining-room, and rang the bell. In a few minutes Mary Woodruff appeared, bringing tea and biscuits. She was a neat, quiet, plain-featured woman, of strong physique, and with set lips, which rarely parted save for necessary speech. Her eyes had a singular expression of inquietude, of sadness. A smile seldom appeared on her face, but, when it did, the effect was unlooked for: it touched the somewhat harsh lineaments with a gentleness so pleasing that she became almost comely.
Having set down the tray, she went to Mr. Lord's door, gave a soft tap, and withdrew into the kitchen.
Nancy, seated at the table, turned to greet her father. In early life, Stephen Lord must have been handsome; his face was now rugged, of unhealthy tone, and creased with lines betokening a moody habit. He looked much older than his years, which were fifty-seven. Dressed with excessive carelessness, he had the appearance rather of one at odds with fortune than of a substantial man of business. His short beard was raggedly trimmed; his grizzled hair began to show the scalp. Judging from the contour of his visage, one might have credited him with a forcible and commanding character; his voice favoured that impression; but the countenance had a despondent cast, the eyes seemed to shun observation, the lips suggested a sullen pride, indicative of some defect or vice of will.
Yet in the look which he cast upon her, Nancy detected a sign of more amiability than she had found in him of late. She addressed him with confidence.
'Early to-day, father.'
The monosyllable sounded gruff, but again Nancy felt satisfaction. Mr. Lord, who disliked to seat himself unless he were going to keep his position for some time, took the offered beverage from his daughter's hand, and stood with it before the fireplace, casting glances about the room.
'How have you felt, father?'
'Nothing to complain of.'
His pronunciation fell short of refinement, but was not vulgar. Something of country accent could still be detected in it. He talked like a man who could strike a softer note if he cared to, but despises the effort.
'I suppose you will have a rest to-morrow?'
'I suppose so. If your grandmother had lived,' he added thoughtfully, 'she would have been eighty-four this week on Thursday.'
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