Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Verner's Pride - Part 4

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The former chapters may be looked upon somewhat in the light of an introduction to what is to follow. It was necessary to relate the events recorded in them, but we must take a leap of not far short of two years from the date of their occurrence.

John Massingbird and his attendant, Luke Roy, had arrived safely at Melbourne in due course. Luke had written home one letter to his mother, and there his correspondence ended: but John Massingbird wrote frequently, both to Mrs. Verner and to his brother Frederick. John, according to his own account, appeared to be getting on all one way: the money he took out had served him well: he had made good use of it, and was accumulating a fortune rapidly. Such was his statement: but whether implicit reliance might be placed upon it was a question. Gay John was apt to deceive himself; was given to look on the bright side, and imbue things with a tinge of couleur de rose; when, for less sanguine eyes, the tinge would have shone out decidedly yellow. His last account told of a “glorious nugget” he had picked up at the diggings. “Almost as big as his head:” a “fortune in itself,” ran some of the phrases in his letters: and his intention was to go down himself to Melbourne and “realise the thousands” for it. His letter to Frederick was especially full of this; and he strongly recommended his brother to go out and pick up nuggets on his own score. Frederick Massingbird appeared very much inclined to take the hint.

“Were I only sure it was all gospel, I’d go to-morrow,” observed Frederick Massingbird to Lionel Verner, one day that the discussion of the contents of John’s letter had been renewed, a month or two subsequent to its arrival. “A year’s luck, such as this, and a man might come home a millionaire. I wish I knew whether to put entire faith in it.”

“Why should John deceive you?” asked Lionel.

“He’d not deceive me wilfully. He has no cause to deceive me. The question is, is he deceived himself? Remember what grand schemes he would now and then become wild upon here, saying and thinking he had found the philosopher’s stone. And how would they turn out? This may be one of the same calibre. I wonder we did not hear again by the last month’s mail.”

“There’s a mail due now.”

“I know there is,” said Frederick. “Should it bring news to confirm this, I shall go out to him.”

“The worst is, those diggings appear to be all a lottery,” remarked Lionel. “Where one gets his pockets lined, another starves: nay, ten—fifty—more, for all we know, starve for the one lucky one. I should not myself feel inclined to risk the journey to them.”

You! It’s not likely you would,” was the reply of Frederick Massingbird. “Everybody was not born heir to Verner’s Pride.”

Lionel laughed pleasantly. They were pacing the terrace in the sunshine of a winter’s afternoon: a crisp, cold, bright day in January. At that moment Tynn came out of the house and approached them.

“My master is up, sir, and would like the paper read to him,” said he, addressing Frederick Massingbird.

“Oh, bother, I can’t stop now,” broke from that gentleman, involuntarily. “Tynn, you need not say that you found me here. I have an appointment, and I must hasten to keep it.”

Lionel Verner looked at his watch.

“I can spare half an hour,” he observed to himself: and he proceeded to Mr. Verner’s room.

The old study that you have seen before. And there sat Mr. Verner in the same arm-chair, cushioned and padded more than it had used to be. What a change there was in him! Shrunken, wasted, drawn: surely there would be no place very long in this world for Mr. Verner.

He was leaning forward in his chair, his back bowed, his hands resting on his stick, which was stretched out before him. He lifted his head when Lionel entered, and an expression, partly of displeasure, partly of pain, passed over his countenance.

“Where’s Frederick?” he sharply asked.

“Frederick has an appointment out, sir. I will read to you.”

“I thought you were going down to your mother’s,” rejoined Mr. Verner, his accent not softening in the least.

“I need not go for this half hour yet,” replied Lionel, taking up the “Times,” which lay on a table near Mr. Verner. “Have you looked at the headings of the news, sir, or shall I go over them for you, and then you can tell me what you wish read.”

“I don’t want anything read by you,” said Mr. Verner. “Put the paper down.”

Lionel did not immediately obey. A shade of mortification had crossed his face.

“Do you hear me, Lionel? Put the paper down. You know how it fidgets me to hear those papers ruffled, when I am not in a mood for reading.”

Lionel rose, and stood before Mr. Verner. “Uncle, I wish you would let me do something for you. Better send me out of the house altogether, than treat me with this estrangement. Will it be of any use my asking you, for the hundredth time, what I did to displease you?”

“I tell you I don’t want the paper read,” said Mr. Verner. “And if you’d leave me alone I should be glad. Perhaps I shall get a wink of sleep. All night, all night, and my eyes were never closed! It’s time I was gone.”

The concluding sentences were spoken as in soliloquy; not to Lionel. Lionel, who knew his uncle’s every mood, quitted the room. As he closed the door, a heavy groan, born of displeasure mingled with pain, like the greeting look had been, was sent after him by Mr. Verner. Very emphatically did it express his state of feeling with regard to Lionel; and Lionel felt it keenly.

Lionel Verner had remained in Paris six months, when summoned thither by the accident to his brother. The accident need not have detained him half that period of time; but the seductions of the gay French capital had charms for Lionel. From the very hour that he set foot in Verner’s Pride on his return, he found that Mr. Verner’s behaviour had altered to him. He showed bitter, angry estrangement, and Lionel could only conceive one cause for it—his long sojourn abroad. Fifteen or sixteen months had now elapsed since his return, and the estrangement had not lessened. In vain Lionel sought an explanation. Mr. Verner would not enter upon it. In fact, so far as direct words went, Mr. Verner had never expressed much of his displeasure: he left it to his manner. That said enough. He had never dropped the slightest allusion to its cause. When Lionel asked an explanation, he neither accorded nor denied it, but would put him off evasively; as he might have put off a child who asked a troublesome question: like you have now seen him do once again.

After the rebuff, Lionel was crossing the hall, when he suddenly halted, as if a thought struck him, and he turned back to the study. If ever a man’s attitude bespoke utter grief and prostration, Mr. Verner’s did, as Lionel opened the door. His head and hands had fallen, and his stick had dropped upon the carpet. He started out of his reverie at the appearance of Lionel, and made an effort to recover his stick. Lionel hastened to pick it up for him.

“I have been thinking, sir, that it might be well for Decima to go in the carriage to the station, to receive Miss Tempest. Shall I order it?”

“Order anything you like; order all Verner’s Pride—what does it matter? Better for some of us, perhaps, that it had never existed.”

Hastily, abruptly, carelessly was the answer given: there was no mistaking that Mr. Verner was nearly beside himself with mental pain.

Lionel went round to the stables, to give the order he had suggested. One great feature in the character of Lionel Verner was, its complete absence of assumption. Courteously refined in mind and feelings, he could not have presumed: others, in his position, might have deemed they were but exercising a right. Though the presumptive heir to Verner’s Pride, living in it, brought up as such, he would not, you see, even send out its master’s unused carriage, without that master’s sanction. In little things as in great, Lionel Verner could but be a thorough gentleman: to be otherwise he must have changed his nature.

“Wigham, will you take the close carriage to Deerham Court. It is wanted for Miss Verner.”

“Very well, sir.” But Wigham—who had been coachman in the family nearly as many years as Lionel had been in the world—wondered much, for all his prompt reply. He scarcely ever remembered a Verner’s Pride carriage to have been ordered for Miss Verner.

Lionel passed into the high road from Verner’s Pride, and, turning to the left, commenced his walk to Deerham. There were no roadside houses for a little way, but they soon began, by ones, by twos, and at last they grew into a consecutive street. These houses were mostly very poor; small shops, beer-houses, labourers’ cottages; but a turning to the right in the midst of the village led to a part where the houses were of a superior character, several gentlemen living there. It was a new road, called Belvedere Road; the first house in it being inhabited by Dr. West.

Lionel cast a glance across at that house as he passed down the long street. At least, as much as he could see of it, looking obliquely. His glance was not rewarded. Very frequently pretty Sibylla would be at the windows, or her vain sister Amilly. Though, if vanity is to be brought in, I don’t know where it would be found in an equal degree, as it was in Sibylla West. The windows appeared to be untenanted: and Lionel withdrew his eyes and passed straightly on his way. On his left hand was situated the shop of Mrs. Duff: its prints, its silk neckerchiefs, and its ribbons displayed in three parts of its bow-window. The fourth part was devoted to more ignominious articles, huddled indiscriminately into a corner. Children’s Dutch dolls and black-lead; penny tale-books and square pint packets of cocoa; bottles of ink and India rubber balls: side combs and papers of stationery; scented soap and Circassian cream (home made); tape, needles, pins, starch, bandoline, lavender water, baking powder, iron skewers; and a host of other articles too numerous to notice. Nothing came amiss to Mrs. Duff; she patronised everything she thought she could turn a penny by.

“Your servant, sir,” said she, dropping a curtsey as Lionel came up: for Mrs. Duff was standing at the door.

He merely nodded to her, and went on. Whether it was the sight of the woman or of some lavender prints hanging in her window, certain it was, that the image of poor Rachel Frost came vividly into the mind of Lionel. Nothing had been heard, nothing found, to clear up the mystery of that past night.

At the extremity of the village, lying a little back from it, was a moderate-sized, red brick house, standing in the midst of lands, and called Deerham Court. It had once been an extensive farm; but the present tenant, Lionel’s mother, rented the house only, very little of the land. The land was let to a neighbouring farmer. Nearly a mile beyond—you could see its towers and its chimneys from this—rose the stately old mansion, called Deerham Hall. Deerham Hall, Deerham Court, and a great deal of the land and property on that side of the village, belonged to Sir Rufus Hantley, a proud, unsociable man. He lived at the Hall: and his only son, between whom and himself it was conjectured there existed some estrangement, had purchased into an Indian regiment, where he was now serving.

Lionel Verner passed the village, branched off to the right, and entered the great iron gates which enclosed the court-yard of Deerham Court. A very unpretending entrance admitted him into a spacious hall, the hall being the largest and best part of the house. Those great iron gates and the hall would have done honour to a large mansion; and they gave an appearance of pretension to Deerham Court which it did not deserve.

Lionel opened a door on the left and entered a small ante-room. This led him into the only really good room the house contained. It was elegantly furnished and fitted up, and its two large windows looked towards the open country, and to Deerham Hall. Seated by the fire, in a rich violet dress, a costly white lace cap shading her delicate face, that must once have been so beautiful—indeed, that was beautiful still—was a lady of middle age. Her seat was low: one of those chairs that we are pleased to call, commonly and irreverently, a prie-dieu. Its back was carved in arabesque foliage, and its stuffing was of rich violet velvet. On a small, inlaid table, whose carvings were as beautiful, and its top inlaid with mosiac-work, lay a dainty handkerchief of lace, a bottle of smelling-salts, and a book turned with its face downwards, all close at the lady’s elbow. She was sitting in idleness just then: she always did sit in idleness: her face bent on the fire, her small hands, cased in white gloves, lying motionless on her lap—ay, a beautiful face once, though it had grown habitually peevish and discontented now. She turned her head when the door opened, and a flush of bloom rose to her cheeks when she saw Lionel.

He went up and kissed her. He loved her much. She loved him, too, better than she loved anything in life; and she drew a chair close to her, and he sat down, bending towards her. There was not much likeness between them, the mother and the son: both were very good-looking, but not alike.

“You see, mother mine, I am not late, as you prophesied I should be,” said he, with one of his sweetest smiles.

“You would have been, Lionel, but for my reminding you not. I’m sure I wish—I wish she was not coming! She must remember the old days in India, and will contrast the difference.”

“She will scarcely remember India, when you were there. She is only a child yet, is she?”

“You know nothing about it, Lionel,” was the querulous answer. “Whether she remembers or not, will she expect to see me in such a house, such a position as this. It is at these seasons, when people are coming here, who know what I have been and ought to be, that I feel all the humiliation of my poverty. Lucy Tempest is nineteen.”

Lionel Verner knew that it was of no use to argue with his mother, when she began upon that most unsatisfactory topic, her position; which included what she called her “poverty” and her “wrongs.” Though, in truth, not a day passed but she broke out upon it.

“Lionel,” she suddenly said.

He had been glancing over the pages of the book—a new work on India. He laid it down as he had found it, and turned to her.

“What shall you allow me, when you come into Verner’s Pride?”

“Whatever you shall wish, mother. You shall name the sum, not I. And if you name too modest a one,” he added laughing, “I shall double it. But Verner’s Pride must be your home then, as well as mine.”

“Never!” was the emphatic answer. “What! to be turned out of it again by the advent of a young wife? No, never, Lionel.”

Lionel laughed: constrainedly this time.

“I may not be bringing home a young wife for this many and many a year to come.”

“If you never brought one, I would not make my home at Verner’s Pride,” she resumed, in the same impulsive voice. “Live in the house by favour, that ought to have been mine by right? You would not be my true son, to ask me, Lionel. Catherine, is that you?” she called out, as the movements of some one were heard in the anteroom.

A woman-servant put in her head.

“My lady?”

“Tell Miss Verner that Mr. Lionel is here.”

“Miss Verner knows it, my lady,” was the woman’s reply. “She bade me ask you, sir,” addressing Lionel, “if you’d please to step out to her.”

“Is she getting ready, Catherine?” asked Lady Verner.

“I think not, my lady.”

“Go to her, Lionel, and ask her if she knows the time. A pretty thing if you arrive at the station after the train is in!”

Lionel quitted the room. Outside in the hall stood Catherine, waiting for him.

“Miss Verner has met with a little accident and hurt her foot, sir,” she whispered. “She can’t walk.”

“Not walk!” exclaimed Lionel. “Where is she?”

“She is in the store-room, sir; where it happened.”

Lionel went to the store-room, a small boarded room at the back of the hall. A young lady sat there; a very pretty white foot in a wash-hand basin of warm water, and a shoe and stocking lying near, as if hastily thrown off.

“Why, Decima! what is this?”

She lifted her face. A face whose features were of the highest order of beauty, regular as if chiselled from marble, and little less colourless. But for the large, earnest, dark-blue eyes, so full of expression, it might have been accused of coldness. In sleep, or in perfect repose, when the eyelids were bent, it looked strangely cold and pure. Her dark hair was braided; and she wore a dress something the same in colour as Lady Verner’s.

“Lionel, what shall I do? And to-day of all days! I shall be obliged to tell mamma: I cannot walk a step.”

“What is the injury? How did you do it?”

“I got on a chair. I was looking for some old Indian ornaments that I know are in that high cupboard, wishing to put them in Miss Tempest’s room, and somehow the chair tilted with me, and I fell upon my foot. It is only a sprain: but I can’t walk.”

“How do you know it is only a sprain, Decima? I shall send West to you.”

“Thank you all the same, Lionel, but if you please I don’t like Doctor West well enough to have him,” was Miss Verner’s answer. “See! I don’t think I can walk.”

She took her foot out of the basin, and attempted to try. But for Lionel, she would have fallen: and her naturally pale face became paler from the pain.

“And you say you will not have Dr. West!” he cried, gently putting her into the chair again. “You must allow me to judge for you, Decima.”

“Then, Lionel, I’ll have Jan—if I must have any one. I have more faith in him,” she added, lifting her large blue eyes, “than in Dr. West.”

“Let it be Jan, then, Decima. Send one of the servants for him at once. What is to be done about Miss Tempest?”

“You must go alone. Unless you can persuade mamma out. Lionel, you will tell mamma about this. She must be told.”

As Lionel crossed the hall on his return, the door was being opened: the Verner’s Pride carriage had just driven up. Lady Verner had seen it from the window of the ante-room, and her eyes spoke her displeasure.

“Lionel, what brings that here?”

“I told them to bring it for Decima. I thought you would prefer that Miss Tempest should be met with that, than with a hired one.”

“Miss Tempest will know soon enough that I am too poor to keep a carriage,” said Lady Verner. “Decima may use it if she pleases. I would not.”

“My dear mother, Decima will not be able to use it. She cannot go to the station. She has hurt her foot.”

“How did she do that?”

“She was on a chair in the store-room, looking in the cupboard. She—”

“Of course! that’s just like Decima!” crossly responded Lady Verner. “She is at something or other everlastingly: doing half the work of a servant about the house.”

Lionel made no reply. He knew that, but for Decima, the house would be less comfortable, than it was, for Lady Verner: and that, what Decima did, she did in love.

“Will you go to the station?” he inquired.

“I! In this cold wind! How can you ask me, Lionel? I should get my face chapped irretrievably. If Decima cannot go, you must go alone.”

“But how shall I know Miss Tempest?”

“You must find her out,” said Lady Verner. “Her mother was as tall as a giantess: perhaps she is the same. Is Decima much hurt?”

“She thinks it is only a sprain. We have sent for Jan.”

“For Jan! Much good he will do!” returned Lady Verner: in so contemptuous a tone as to prove she had no very exalted opinion of Mr. “Jan’s” abilities.

Lionel went out to the carriage, and stepped in. The footman did not shut the door. “And Miss Verner, sir?”

“Miss Verner is not coming. The railway station. Tell Wigham to drive fast, or I shall be late.”

“My lady wouldn’t let Miss Decima come out in it,” thought Wigham to himself, as he drove on.


The words of my lady, “as tall as a giantess,” unconsciously influenced the imagination of Lionel Verner. The train was steaming into the station at one end, as his carriage stopped at the other. Lionel leaped from it, and mixed amidst the bustle of the platform.

Not very much bustle either. And it would have been less, but that Deerham Station was the nearest approach, as yet, by rail to Heartburg, a town of some note about four miles distant. Not a single tall lady got out of the train. Not a lady at all, that Lionel could see. There were two fat women, tearing about after their luggage, both habited in men’s drab great coats, or what looked like them; and there was one very young lady, who stood back in apparent perplexity, gazing at the scene of confusion around her.

She cannot be Miss Tempest,” deliberated Lionel. “If she is, my mother must have mistaken her age: she looks but a child. No harm in asking her, at any rate.”

He went up to the young lady. A very pleasant-looking girl, fair, with a peach bloom upon her cheeks, dark brown hair, and eyes soft and brown and luminous. Those eyes were wandering to all parts of the platform, some anxiety in their expression.

Lionel raised his hat.

“I beg your pardon. Have I the honour of addressing Miss Tempest?”

“Oh, yes, that is my name,” she answered, looking up at him, the peach bloom deepening to a glow of satisfaction, and the soft eyes lighting with a glad smile. “Have you come to meet me?”

“I have. I come from my mother, Lady Verner.”

“I am so glad,” she rejoined, with a frank sincerity of manner perfectly refreshing in these modern days of artificial young ladyism. “I was beginning to think nobody had come: and then what could I have done?”

“My sister would have come with me to receive you, but for an accident which occurred to her just before it was time to start. Have you any luggage?”

“There’s the great box I brought from India, and a hair-trunk, and my school-box. It is all in the van.”

“Allow me to take you out of this crowd, and it shall be seen to,” said Lionel, bending to offer his arm.

She took it, and turned with him. But stopped ere more than a step or two had been taken.

“We are going wrong. The luggage is up that way.”

“I am taking you to the carriage. The luggage will be all right.”

He was placing her in it when she suddenly drew back, and surveyed it.

“What a pretty carriage!” she exclaimed.

Many said the same of the Verner Pride equipages. The colour of the panels was of that rich shade of blue called ultra-marine, with white linings and hammer-cloths, while a good deal of silver shone on the harness of the horses. The servants’ livery was white and silver, their small-clothes blue.

Lionel handed her in.

“Have we far to go?” she asked.

“Not five minutes’ drive.”

He closed the door, gave the footman directions about the luggage, took his own seat by the coachman, and the carriage started. Lady Verner came to the door of the court to receive Miss Tempest.

In the old Indian days of Lady Verner, she and Sir Lionel had been close and intimate friends of Colonel and Mrs. Tempest. Subsequently Mrs. Tempest had died, and their only daughter had been sent to a clergyman’s family in England for her education—a very superior place where six pupils only were taken. But she was of age to leave it now, and Colonel Tempest, who contemplated soon being home, had craved of Lady Verner to receive her in the interim.

“Lionel,” said his mother to him, “you must stop here for the rest of the day, and help to entertain her.”

“Why, what can I do towards it?” responded Lionel.

“You can do something. You can talk. They have got Decima into her room, and I must be up and down with her. I don’t like leaving Lucy alone the first day she is in the house—she will take a prejudice against it. One blessed thing, she seems quite simple, not exacting.”

“Anything but exacting, I should say,” replied Lionel. “I will stay for an hour or two, if you like, mother, but I must be home to-dinner.”

Lady Verner need not have troubled herself about “entertaining” Lucy Tempest. She was accustomed to entertain herself: and as to any ceremony or homage being paid to her, she would not have understood it, and might have felt embarrassed. She had not been used to anything of the sort. Could Lady Verner have seen her then, at the very moment she was talking to Lionel, her fears might have been relieved. Lucy Tempest had found her way to Decima’s room, and had taken up her position in a very undignified fashion at that young lady’s feet, her soft, candid brown eyes fixed upwards on Decima’s face, and her tongue busy with its reminiscences of India. After some time spent in this manner, she was scared away by the entrance of a gentleman whom Decima called “Jan.” Upon which she proceeded to the chamber she had been shown to as hers, to dress, a process which did not appear to be very elaborate by the time it took, and then she went down-stairs to find Lady Verner.

Lady Verner had not quitted Lionel. She had been grumbling and complaining all that time: it was half the pastime of Lady Verner’s life to grumble in the ears of Lionel and Decima. Bitterly mortified had Lady Verner been when she found, upon her arrival from India, that Stephen Verner, her late husband’s younger brother, had succeeded to Verner’s Pride, to the exclusion of herself and of Lionel; and bitterly mortified she remained. Whether it had been by some strange oversight on the part of old Mr. Verner, or whether it had been intentional, no provision whatever had been left by him to Lady Verner and to her children. Stephen Verner would have remedied this. On the arrival of Lady Verner, he had proposed to pay over to her yearly a certain sum out of the estate: but Lady Verner, smarting under disappointment, under the sense of injustice, had flung his proposal back to him. Never, so long as he lived, would she be obliged to him for the worth of a sixpence in money or in kind, she told Stephen Verner passionately: and she had kept her word.

Her income was sadly limited: it was very little besides her pay as a colonel’s widow: and to Lady Verner it seemed less than it really was, for her habits were somewhat expensive. She took this house, Deerham Court, which was then to be let without the land; had it embellished inside and out—which cost her more than she could afford—and had since resided in it. She would not have rented under Mr. Verner had he paid her to do it. She declined all intercourse with Verner’s Pride; had never put her foot over its threshold: Decima went once in a way; but she, never. If she and Stephen Verner met abroad, she was coldly civil to him: she was indifferently haughty to Mrs. Verner, whom she despised in her heart for not being a lady. With all her deficiencies, Lady Verner was essentially a gentlewoman: not to be one, amounted in her eyes to little less than a sin. No wonder that she, with her delicate beauty of person, her quiet refinements of dress, shrank within herself as she swept past poor Mrs. Verner, with her great person, her crimson face, and her flaunting colours! No wonder that Lady Verner, smarting under her wrongs, passed half her time giving utterance to them; or, that her smooth face was acquiring premature wrinkles of discontent. Lionel had a somewhat difficult course to steer, between Verner’s Pride and Deerham Court, so as to keep friends with both.

Lucy Tempest appeared at the door. She stood there hesitating, after the manner of a timid schoolgirl. They turned round and saw her.

“If you please, may I come in?”

Lady Verner could have sighed over the deficiency of “style,” or confidence: whichever you may like to term it. Lionel laughed, as he crossed the room to throw the door wider by way of welcome.

She wore a light, shot pink dress of peculiar material, a sort of cashmere, very fine and soft. Looking at it one way it was pink; the other, mauve: the general shade of it was beautiful. Lady Verner could have sighed again: if the wearer was deficient in style, certainly the dress was. A low body and short sleeves, perfectly simple, a narrow bit of white lace alone edging them: nothing on her neck, nothing on her arms, no gloves. A child of seven might have been so dressed. Lady Verner looked at her, her brow knit, and various thoughts running through her brain: she began to fear that Miss Tempest would require so much training as to give her trouble.

Lucy saw the look, and deemed that her attire was wrong. “Ought I to have put on my best things—my new silk?” she asked.

My new silk! My best things! Lady Verner was almost at a loss for an answer. “You have not an extensive wardrobe, possibly, my dear?”

“Not very,” replied Lucy. “This was my best dress, until I had my new silk. Mrs. Cust told me to put this one on for dinner to-day, and she said if Lady—if you and Miss Verner dressed very much, I could change it for the silk to-morrow. It is a beautiful dress,” Lucy added, looking ingenuously at Lady Verner, “a pearl grey. Then I have my morning dresses, and my white for dancing. Mrs. Cust said that anything you found deficient in my wardrobe it would be better for you to supply than for her, because you would be the best judge of what I should require.”

“Mrs. Cust does not pay much attention to dress, probably,” observed Lady Verner, coldly. “She is a clergyman’s wife. It is sad taste when people neglect themselves, whatever may be the duties of their station.”

“But Mrs. Cust does not neglect herself,” spoke up Lucy, a surprised look upon her face. “She is always dressed nicely: not fine, you know. Mrs. Cust says that the lower classes have become so fine now-a-days, that nearly the only way you may know a lady, until she speaks, is by her quiet simplicity.”

“My dear, Mrs. Cust should say elegant simplicity,” corrected Lady Verner. “She ought to know. She is of good family.”

Lucy humbly acquiesced. She feared she herself must be too “quiet” to satisfy Lady Verner. “Will you be so kind, then, as to get me what you please?” she asked.

“My daughter will see to all these things, Lucy,” replied Lady Verner. “She is not young, like you, and she is remarkably steady, and experienced.”

“She does not look old,” said Lucy, in her open candour. “She is very pretty.”

“She is turned five-and-twenty. Have you seen her?”

“I have been with her ever so long. We were talking about India. She remembers my dear mamma; and, do you know”—her bright expression fading to sadness—“I can scarcely remember her! I should have stayed with Decima—May I call her Decima?” broke off Lucy, with a faltering tongue, as if she had done wrong.

“Certainly you may.”

“I should have stayed with Decima until now, talking about mamma, but a gentleman came in.”

“A gentleman?” echoed Lady Verner.

“Yes. Some one tall and very thin. Decima called him Jan.—After that, I went to my room again. I could not find it at first,” she added, with a pleasant little laugh. “I looked into two; but neither was mine, for I could not see the boxes. Then I changed my dress, and came down.”

“I hope you had my maid to assist you,” quickly remarked Lady Verner.

“Some one assisted me. When I had my dress on, ready to be fastened, I looked out to see if I could find any one to do it, and I did. A servant was at the end of the corridor, by the window.”

“But, my dear Miss Tempest, you should have rung,” exclaimed Lady Verner, half petrified at the young lady’s unformed manners, and privately speculating upon the sins Mrs. Cust must have to answer for. “Was it Thérèse?”

“I don’t know,” replied Lucy. “She was rather old, and had a broom in her hand.”

“Old Catherine, I declare! Sweeping and dusting as usual! She might have soiled your dress.”

“She wiped her hands on her apron,” said Lucy, simply. “She had a nice face: I liked it.”

“I beg, my dear, that in future you will ring for Thérèse,” emphatically returned Lady Verner, in her discomposure. “She understands that she is to wait upon you. Thérèse is my maid, and her time is not half occupied. Decima exacts very little of her. But take care that you do not allow her to lapse into English when with you. It is what she is apt to do, unless checked. You speak French, of course?” added Lady Verner, the thought crossing her that Mrs. Cust’s educational training might have been as deficient on that point, as she deemed it had been on that of “style.”

“I speak it quite well,” replied Lucy; “as well, or nearly as well, as a French girl. But I do not require anybody to wait on me,” she continued. “There is never anything to do for me, but just to fasten these evening dresses that close behind. I am much obliged to you, all the same, for thinking of it, Lady Verner.”

Lady Verner turned from the subject: it seemed to grow more and more unprofitable. “I shall go and hear what Jan says, if he is there,” she remarked to Lionel.

“I wonder we did not see or hear him come in,” was Lionel’s answer.

“As if Jan could come into the house like a gentleman!” returned Lady Verner, with intense acrimony. “The back way is a step or two nearer, and therefore he patronises it.”

She quitted the room as she spoke, and Lionel turned to Miss Tempest. He had been exceedingly amused and edified at the conversation between her and his mother; but while Lady Verner had been inclined to groan over it, he had rejoiced. That Lucy Tempest was thoroughly and genuinely unsophisticated; that she was of a nature too sincere and honest for her manners to be otherwise than of truthful simplicity, he was certain. A delightful child, he thought; one he could have taken to his heart and loved as a sister. Not with any other love: that was already given elsewhere by Lionel Verner.

The winter evening was drawing on, and little light was in the room, save that cast by the blaze of the fire. It flickered upon Lucy’s face, as she stood near it. Lionel drew a chair towards her. “Will you not sit down, Miss Tempest?”

A formidable-looking chair, large and stately, as Lucy turned to look at it. Her eyes fell upon the low one which, earlier in the afternoon, had been occupied by Lady Verner. “May I sit in this one instead? I like it best.”

“You ‘may’ sit in any chair that the room contains, or on an ottoman, or anywhere that you like,” answered Lionel, considerably amused. “Perhaps you would prefer this?”

“This” was a very low seat indeed—in point of fact, Lady Verner’s footstool. He had spoken in jest, but she waited for no second permission, drew it close to the fire, and sat down upon it. Lionel looked at her, his lips and eyes dancing.

“Perhaps you would have preferred the rug?”

“Yes I should,” answered she, frankly. “It is what we did at the rectory. Between the lights, on a winter’s evening, we were allowed to do what we pleased for twenty minutes, and we used to sit down on the rug before the fire and talk.”

“Mrs. Cust, also?” asked Lionel.

“Not Mrs. Cust: you are laughing at me. If she came in, and saw us, she would say we were too old to sit there, and should be better on chairs. But we liked the rug best.”

“What had you used to talk of?”

“Of everything, I think. About the poor; Mr. Cust’s poor, you know; and the village, and our studies, and—But I don’t think I must tell you that,” broke off Lucy, laughing merrily at her own thoughts.

“Yes you may,” said Lionel.

“It was about that poor old German teacher of ours. We used to play her such tricks, and it was round the fire that we planned them. But she is very good,” added Lucy, becoming serious, and lifting her eyes to Lionel, as if to bespeak his sympathy for the German teacher.

“Is she?”

“She was always patient and kind. The first time Lady Verner lets me go to a shop, I mean to buy her a warm winter cloak. Hers is so thin. Do you think I could get her one for two pounds?”

“I don’t know at all,” smiled Lionel. “A great coat for me would cost more than two pounds.”

“I have two soverings left of my pocket-money, besides some silver. I hope it will buy a cloak. It is Lady Verner who will have the management of my money, is it not, now that I have left Mrs. Cust’s?”

“I believe so.”

“I wonder how much she will allow me for myself?” continued Lucy, gazing up at Lionel with a serious expression of inquiry, as if the question were a momentous one.

“I think cloaks for old teachers ought to be apart,” cried Lionel; “they should not come out of your pocket-money.”

“Oh, but I like them to do so. I wish I had a home of my own!—like I shall have when papa returns to Europe. I should invite her to me for the holidays, and give her nice dinners always, and buy her some nice clothes, and send her back with her poor old heart happy.”

“Invite whom?”

“Fraulein Müller. Her father was a gentleman of good position, and he somehow lost his inheritance. When he died she found it out—there was not a shilling for her, instead of a fortune, as she had always thought. She was over forty then, and she had to come to England and begin teaching for a living. She is fifty now, and nearly all she gets she sends to Heidelberg to her poor sick sister. I wonder how much good, warm cloaks do cost?”

Lucy Tempest spoke the last sentence dreamily. She was evidently debating the question in her own mind. Her small white hands rested inertly upon her pink dress, her clear face with its delicate bloom was still, her eyes were bent on the fire. But that Lionel’s heart was elsewhere, it might have gone out, there and then, to that young girl and her attractive simplicity.

“What a pretty child you are!” involuntarily broke from him.

Up came those eyes to him, soft and luminous, their only expression being surprise, not a shade of vanity.

“I am not a child: why do you call me one? But Mrs. Cust said you would all be taking me for a child, until you knew me.”

“How old are you?” asked Lionel.

“I was eighteen last September.”

“Eighteen!” involuntarily repeated Lionel.

“Yes; eighteen. We had a party on my birthday. Mr. Cust gave me a most beautifully bound copy of Thomas à Kempis: he had had it bound on purpose. I will show it to you when my books are unpacked. You would like Mr. Cust if you knew him. He is an old man now, and he has white hair. He is twenty years older than Mrs. Cust: but he is so good!”

“How is it,” almost vehemently broke forth Lionel, “that you are so different from others?”

“I don’t know. Am I different?”

“So different—so different—that—that—”

“What is the matter with me?” she asked, timidly, almost humbly, the delicate colour in her cheeks deepening to crimson.

“There is nothing the matter with you,” he answered, smiling; “a good thing if there were as little the matter with everybody else. Do you know that I never saw any one whom I liked so much at first sight as I like you, although you appear to me only as a child? If I call here often I shall grow to love you almost as much as I love my sister Decima.”

“Is not this your home?”

“No. My home is at Verner’s Pride.”