Beatrice Whitby.

A matter of skill : a novel online

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that his personal attractions were irresistible. Of
the more substantial attractions which he possessed
they were evidently oblivious, and he, to do him
justice, did not suspect his guileless flatterers of
ulterior designs, but accepted their proffered friend-
ship with frank pleasure, ascribing his popularity
with the fair sex to any reason and every reason
but the right one. He had proved himself neither
| a susceptible nor a sentimental person. It has
been said that there "is safety in numbers," and
Mr. Jones admired a very great many damsels very
much. Many dovecotes had been fluttered, many
hopes had been raised by the marked, but mean-
ingless attentions, which he so impartially be-

With an appreciative eye, he noted the beauty of


Miss Mitford's graceful figure ; the turn of her
throat, the erect pose of her head, the length of her
curly lashes, the dimple that cleft her round chin,
and the curve of her short, upper lip. She was
more than pretty — she was beautiful, and just the
style of girl whom he admired ; he wished to see
more of her ; he would like to hear her talk. How
silent she was, and how solemn — saddened, no
doubt, by her depressing position. He would like
to see her smile ; her smile ought to be very sweet ;
there was a suspicion of a dimple indenting her pale
cheek. How white, how. travel- soiled, how grave
she looked: He was so sorry for her. But her con-
duct was disappointing, for she, with frigid polite-
ness, refused his offer of tea, and turned to re-enter
the ladies' waiting-room.

"Why not wait here ?" he inquired, earnestly.

" I should like to rest until the train is in," with
what he called her unfortunate governess man-

" You can rest out here," pointing to an adjacent
bench; "there is more air out here. It is much
better for you than being stifled among all those
women. Do come, you are looking so awfully
done up, and I will bring you a cup of tea down


But the waiting-room door had closed behind her
before his sentence was ended, It was evident that
she was very gauche, but it was also evident to her
observant and good-natured companion that she
was tired out ; he was convinced that she had re-
fused his offer from some other motive than dis-
inclination for the proffered refreshment.

" It is an awkward thing for a shy girl to accept
anything from a strange fellow," he reflected. " I
was clumsy : I must manage it better. She shall
have her tea, I swear, for I know she is dying
for it," and he walked off to the refreshment-

A few minutes later, a maid, accompanied by
Smith ers, and carrying tea, cake, biscuit, and a
plate filled with white-heart cherries, entered the
ladies' waiting-room. There, at Smither's direc-
tion, the tray was placed on the table by Helen's
side, with the words —

"The gentleman desired me to bring these,

The retreating figure showed no consciousness of
Helen's quick disclaimer —

" It is a mistake. I ordered nothing — I want

The tea and those seductive cherries stood un-


tasted at this foolish girl's elbow ; she looked at
them wistfully, but she touched them not. When
her train came into the station, she felt that she
] was turning her back on a terrible temptation, as
; she bustled out upon the crowded platform, where
she was immediately joined by Mr. Jones.

" This way if you please. I've got you a carriage.
My man will see to your luggage ; it is with

And he hustled her on till they reached an empty
compartment, the door of which was held open by

"I am traveling third," she said, glancing within
the carriage. " This is first."

" The man — the who-do-you-call it at the ticket
office " — stammering over the prevarication — "gave
me a first-class ticket for you."

[As indeed he had done, and had been paid for it,

"Thank you, but I like third best; it— it is

"As you please." This girl was less shy than
disagreeable after all. "I am going in there," indi-
cating the smoking-carriage next door, "so you
would get this place to yourself. The rest of the
train is very much crowded."


Helen hesitated. She believed that the white
ticket which he held had been provided by the gen-
erosity of the railway company ; she also believed
that by a fortunate coincidence — not by bribery and !
corruption— the selected compartment happened to |
be empty — the only empty compartment in the full

Smithers, with respectful mien, patiently held the
door open. "Take your seat ! " shouted a porter at
her elbow. An eager crowd of excited excursionists
surged past; a drunken man staggered close to her.
Mr. Jones said nothing, but preserved an indifferent
air. The drunken man settled the question. Helen
shrunk away in disgust from him, and saying, "I
really think I will go in here," entered the carriage
precipitately, and with some loss of dignity.

"There was an excursion to Exeter from Barn-
staple to-day," Mr. Jones explained. "They go back
by this train. We shall get rid of the crowd

He was standing on the platform, still with his
hand on the sill of the open window. He was think-
ing that it would hav.e been pleasanter to travel with
this handsome girl than to smoke next door. He
was in search of an excuse to change his mind and
join her. Miss Mitf ord, with a calm and unap-


proachable mien, returned his steady gaze. An
excuse was not easy to find, but just before the
train started he gave her an inkling of his intention
by his last words —

"You will find some papers in there 1 you care
to look at them. I shall see you again at Barn-
staple ; I shall have done my smoke by that time.
Au revoir."

" He means to travel with me from Barnstaple to
Noelcombe," Helen concluded, closing her lips tight
and not looking amiable.

That is precisely what he had meant, and what
he also proceeded to do.

At Barnstaple he entered the carriage, as though
it was a matter of course that he should do so,
and taking the seat opposite to its occupant, he
said —

"I hope you don't mind my coming in here?
There was such a lot of men in the other carriage
that they smoked me out."

She made some inarticulate sound which sug-
gested her indifference to his movements.

A pile of illustrated papers lay, where he had
placed them, beside her on the seat. He pointed at
them, and asked whether she had been reading.

"It is too hot to read/' she said.


" Perhaps you are one of the people who can
never read in a train ? "

"I read sometimes."

(f It makes your head ache, perhaps ?"

" Yes, it does."

' ' Does it make your head ache to look at pict-
ures ? "

" No " — a moment's pause ; "but talking makes
my head ache."

"I'm so sorry ; that is particularly unfortunate,
for I have a question or two which I really must
ask you. You see, I ought to have a full descrip-
tion of your . watch and purse, a minute account of
your fellow- travelers — every particular, in fact, of
the circumstances to send up to headquarters as
soon as possible. I am sorry to trouble you, but I
want it down in black and white ; it would not do
to trust to my memory in any important business. "

He drew out a book — it might have been a note-
book — and pencil from his breast pocket, and began
in a business-like way to question Helen, and write
down her answers. She was impressed by his man-
ner and set at ease by this explanation of his in-

"Your name?"

" Helen Mitford."


"You came from Meriton, you said — started
about 2:30? How far do you live from the sta-

"Two miles."

He entered this important item carefully.

" Meriton is a pretty village," he remarked. " I
have often passed through it on my way to Dro-

Helen started and, looked at him.

" You know Dromore ? " he pursued.


"The Chilterns are awfully nice people."

Lady Chiltern was Helen's cousin and most inti-
mate friend ; but she had grown frigid again, for
what had the Chilterns to do with the notebook, or
the theft ?

"Would you kindly describe your fellow-trav-
elers ? " he proceeded, with solemnity, his pencil
poised in the air and his dark eyes watching her ex-
pressive face.

" A thin, middle-aged man — I thought he was a
dissenting minister — sat next to me. There was a
woman — a smart women with feathers and dirty
hands— opposite to me. The other people were
men ; I hardly looked at them. I could not recog-
nize either of them."


"Poor men !" murmured the gentleman, writing
in his book.

This superfluity of the dialogue was a mistake on
his part. A delicate color rose to Helen's cheek ;
she averted her eyes and her attention from her vis-
a vis, and fixed them on the landscape. The scen-
ery through which they were passing was magnifi-
cent. Great hills, topped with rugged bowlders of
gray granite, clothed with short turf on which
droves of horned sheep were browsing, streaked and
belted with woods of oak and ash, rose almost per-
pendicularly from out the smiling valleys.

In those valleys herds of the copper-red Devon
cows cropped the meadows, acres of young, pale
corn undulated in the mild breeze. Scarlet -tiled
farms, with groups of yellowish ricks for sentinels,
were scattered here and there. A wide river, be-
tween high banks, gleamed in the sun.

Helen was keenly alive to beauty ; she loved the
country, and the sight of the matchless landscape
of North Devon was a revelation of wonder and de-
light. It left her capable of no sensation but one
of pure and perfect enjoyment.

Mr. Jones was not wanting in penetration. He
replaced his note-book with a smile at his own ex-
pense, for he soon saw that his companion's afcten-


tion was absorbed by the scenery, at which she was
gazing with rapture in her eyes, a pleased smile rip-
pled her mouth,, and that she had forgotten him.

He was an admirer of fine scenery himself —
woods, as coverts, and mountain streams as harbors
for trout, were always particularly interesting to
him ; but while Miss Mitf ord looked out of the win-
dow he looked at her, not at the landscape. They
were approaching Noelcombe, where they must sep-
arate, and he had made no way with her. If he al-
lowed her to leave him thus, it was probable that
he should see her no more, therefore it was that
he must draw her attention to himself once more.
Hitherto he had found, with her amiable sex, such
a task wonderfully easy.

He began again, with pencil and note-book, his
examination and cross-examination on the well-worn
topic. This was, of course, a little tiresome, but
Helen answered with great precision and accuracy,
and with her eyes on the window.

" Oh, look," she suddenly cried, with a deep-
drawn breath of happiness, pointing through the
open window, " there is the sea."

A blue and wrinkled belt of water glittered be-
tween a cleft hill, at the sight of which Mr. Jones,
on being thus accosted, expressed rapture.


" Have you never been here before ? "


"It is such a ripping little place, I know you
will love it. Whereabouts in Noelcombe are you
staying ? "

"I don't know exactly where the house is."

"I might have to see you, don't you know,
about this business ; I may have forgotten to ask
you some important question, so I ought to know
your address."

" My aunt lives at Carnation Cottage."

For some time his governess theory about her
had been wavering : it now expired.

" How long shall you be down ?" he asked, anx-

"I do not know."
\ " You will be here until the week after next \ "

"Oh, yes."

" I shall probably hear something from the rail-
- way company in a few days ; in that case I will call
_ and tell you what they say — that is, if you will allow
me to do so."

" Thank you ; you are very kind."

The words were unimpeachable, but the tone
in which they were uttered was not encourag-


u We shall be very lucky if we can hear of either
watch or purse again."

The " we" was very offensive to Miss Mitford.

" Yes, the recovery of things lost in that way is
so unlikely that I am exceedingly sorry that you
troubled yourself at all about the matter."

She was very dignified and grand, but he was not

"It is the sort of search I like," he said frankly ;
"I shall be as proud as Lucifer if I can trace
them. If it can be done, it shall be done, I promise

" I can't see how you are going to do it."

"Leave it to me," he told her, with a smile of
superior wisdom. And then he diplomatically be-
gan to extol the glorious country through which
they were passing. There was Morte Point, there
the merciful lighthouse which guarded the ships off
that sharp peninsula of jagged rocks, there was the j
famous Toro, there a Druidical stone, there a crom- (
lech. If his geography was inaccurate, Helen did
not discover it, but listened to what he said with in-
terest and smiled upon him.

But when the travelers reached Noelcombe Eoad
poor Helen discovered that the misfortunes of that
unlucky day were not yet over. With a culpable


want of forethought, Mr. Jones desired her to inter-
view station master and ticket collector in his pres-
ence. Out came his note-book again, and the tedi-
ous routine of endless questions which she had al-
ready answered had to be repeated. At the time
the useless delay fretted her, but when at last she
was free, and, on emerging from the station, found
that omnibuses and cabs had alike started for Noel-
combe, leaving her and her box five miles from
her destination, she was dismayed and ready to

" Why didn't you fetch me V she inquired, mis-
erably, of a porter; "you saw me here, you knew
I was going to Noelcornbe. Why did you let the
omnibus start without me ?"

"I understood you were along of Mr. Jones,
Miss," the man said ; "you came up in the train
along o' him. His man went on in the cab, but the
dogcart is outside waiting."

At this moment Mr. Jones himself approached
and asked Helen anxiously what was wrong.
When she had explained her position and this cul-
minating misfortune, he was extremely concerned.
He rated the porter with great severity and used
unparliamentary language about the thick heads of
the west -country people.


"However," he added, turning to Helen with a
courtly and ingenous air, " it is fortunate that my
cart is here, for, as I am going your way, I need not
tell you how pleased I shall be to drive you to Car-
nation Cottage."

His manner was very happy. If Helen had
not, by an abrupt turn of her head, caught sight
of a meaning grin on the face of the porter, she
would most likely have complied gratefully
with this suggestion, but that grin aroused a sus-
picion in her mind that determined her immediate

It would have been a relief to have said something
really rude to this presumptuous, low-born stranger ;
her eyes were dangerously bright, she was very
angry. With a meaningless inclination of the head
she waived the question, and, turning, re-entered
the station. After giving the station master suc-
cinct orders for the forwarding of her box at the
earliest opportunity, she inquired of him her way
to Noelcombe, and then, without looking to the right
hand or the left, set off at a rapid pace in the direc-
tion indicated.

A few minutes later the unconscious offender,
Mr. Jones, climbed into his cart and drove off after
the dark figure, which was already at some distance.


from him, and upon which he kept his eyes. He
wondered why she would not start with him ; per-
haps she was shy of the people at the station. She
had not seemed a bashful young woman ; no doubt
that studiously cold way of hers was a form of shy-
ness. He would wait until she turned the corner of
the road, and was consequently out of sight of the
station, before he picked her up.

How well and how quickly she moved. Neither
heat nor weariness beat down her erect head ; how
high she held it. Her shoulders were rigid as she
walked ; there was no undulation, nothing gentle,
nor drooping about her ; she had an uncompro-
mising back. The sun was low in the west, the
air was cooler than it had been all day, a fresh-
ening evening breeze had arisen, yet how pale
she looked. Poor girl she was tired out. He
touched the horse with the whip, and next mo-
ment was alongside of her and addressing her by

" Miss Mitford, you went off in such a hurry ;
you had gone in a moment, before I knew where
you were. Please get in as quick as you can, the
horse won't stand." He leaned over the splash-
board and offered her his hand to help her into the


" Thank you, but I'm going to walk to Noel-
combe," she answered, moving on as she spoke.
He caught sight of her face ; there was animosity
in every line of it.

" You can't walk," he said, "it would kill you. j
It's five miles — more — and an awful road — hills the
whole way — hills like a switchback."

She did not argue, but she walked on faster ; he
kept the cart by her side.

"I assure you that you can't walk," he said, a
little irritated and very much surprised. "You
don't understand, I am not exaggerating — it is five
miles if it is a step. You don't know what that
distance in this part of the country means. You
must get in — indeed, you must ; you are tired out

" Thank you, but I would rather walk were the
distance ten times greater than it is."

" Under those circumstances I have nothing more
to say."

And, taking off his hat with great ceremony, Mr.
Jones drove off, leaving an irritating cloud of dust
in his track.

Before the cart was out of sight Helen had re-
pented her decision.

"I was a fool," she said, "it would have been

6g a matter of SKILL

better to have driven with a butcher or a hangman
than this."

"This" was a long, steep, stony hill, which
stretched before her.




Long lines of cliff breaking have left a chasm ; I

And in the chasm are foam and yellow sands ;

Beyond, red roofs about a narrow wharf

In cluster; then a molder'd church, and high

A long street climbs —

Enoch Arde

'VTOELCOMBE was just such another fishing-
*■* hamlet as that home of Philip, Enoch, anal
Annie, above described ; but its one narrow street,
after clambering half-way up the broken cliff -side,*
was met and lost in row after row of neat, newly-
built lodging-houses.

Marine Parade, Sea View Terrace, and West Clint
Place, daily disgorged, during the season, an in-
numerable army of " visitors," for whose summer
sea-blow these houses had been lately erected by the
great patron of the village, Sir Adolphus Jones,
who, in a speculative way, appreciated the attract-
ive beauty of the place.

The old residents of Noelcombe and its neighbor-
hood—among whose number Sir Adolphus was not
—conservative to the backbone, regarded those


horizontal rows of remunerative houses, and that
enormous mansion, flanked by acres of glass, and
oversmart, alike in color and design, in the middle
distance, with distinct disfavor.

But the county patronized Sir Adolphus and his
family; rich neighbors who owned an eligible son,
daughters, too, sufficiently good looking, and more
than sufficiently dowered, who kept open house
where champagne flowed like water, where a French
cook presided in the sumptuous kitchen, where your
presence was eagerly welcomed, and where your wit
was sure to be appreciated, were acquaintances to
be cultivated.

If the house was new, it was none the less lux-
urious on that account. So the county smiled good-
humoredly, at Lady Jones's faux-pas, replaced Sir
Adolphus's H's when they could surreptitiously do
so, shot his coverts, fished his rivers, sailed in his
yacht, and ate his dinners, availing themselves,
without stint, of his hospitality. This condescen-
sion toward this patronage of the Joneses by the great
people around, astonished their humbler neighbors,
who could trace a very decent descent for themselves
and knew no difficulties of H's or etiquette, but to
whom neither great people nor upstart Joneses paid
attention or respect.


To neither section — the Jones-patronize rs nor
the Jones -detesters — did Miss Elizabeth Mitford be-
long, for beyond the inclosing cob-walls of her gar-
den she had no interests worthy of the name. With
the exception of the mice which fed on her bulbs
and crocus, the slugs, snails, wood-lice and wire-
worms that she slew with pitiless ferocity, or those
errand boys who wantonly sloshed the lovely heads
from off the juicy stalks of her tulips, or who, by
leaving the gate open, allowed strange dogs to enter
her domain and ravish her flower-beds, she regarded
all humanity with placid benevolence.

Above the winding village street, above the
highest horizontal row of offending " apartments w
(from which it was separated by a wooded glen),
nestling down against a background of tall trees,
stood Carnation Cottage, the dainty home of this
gentle maiden lady who lived her guileless life sur-
rounded by, and existing for, her flowers.

The house was a large, many-roomed cottage ;
the porch door opened into a square hall, which
was furnished as a room, the narrow bay windows
of the miniature drawing-room were shaded by
overhanging creepers ; above, latticed windows,
fringed with flowers, were tucked away unevenly
beneath the eaves of the thached roof.


Miss Elizabeth Mitford was in face, disposition,
and in manner, a mild caricature of her brother,
the Eector.

Her gray hair was arranged in rows of gradu-
ated curls on either side of her tanned and weather- j
beaten face, her long nose dipped over a wide
mouth that curled up at the corners with a bland
contentedness which was almost, but not quite, a
smile ; her chin receded, and her over-arched eye-
brows wrinkled her forehead deeply, and left her
round blue eyes wide open.

She was indifferent to her appearance but not
to her comfort. For the sake of shade, she wore a
wide-brimmed straw hat, bound, for the sake of
security, with a black ribbon beneath her chin. For
the sake of coolness, she wore a light chintz gown,
fashioned with a view to ease, not elegance ; for
the sake of convenience, she wore no gloves.

I have described her in her gardening garb, and
as she spent the greater part of each day in this '
pursuit, and often snatched an hour from the night
for murderous sallies on slugs — which is a form
of gardening — this was her perpetual summer cos-

She took no interest in herself, she lavished all
her care upon the beautifying of her house and gar-


den, and, no doubt, she was wise in doing so, for
they repaid her attention better than her old face
and bent figure could have done, however deftly
decorated by art. Her little rooms were the pret-
tiest, and brightest, and cosiest imaginable, their \
windows, too, commanded a glorious view of the
cove [wherein the sea swept from cliff to cliff] and
a wide stretch of neutral sand out of which great
rocks thrust their dark ribs and cast black shadows
on the beach.

The atmosphere within a hundred yards of Car-
nation cottage was redolent of flowers ; the round
grass plot before the house was edged and sprinkled
with beds that were thick with blossom.

A small conservatory which opened out of . the
drawing-room, was a complete blaze of color. Miss
Mitford's plants seemed to understand and respond
to their owner's love, and half -killed themselves to
gratify her by their profuse bloom. j

The trellised walls of the cottage were concealed ,
by creeping fuchsias, and myrtles, which were
trained so as to completely cover them. Against
the house was a broad bed of poppies, their scarlet
and yellow petals caught the rays of the sinking sun.
On the window ledges were tiled boxes filled with
mignonette, lobelias, and marguerites. An old-


fashioned border of hollyhocks, sunflowers, sweet
peas, candy-tuft, honesty, balsams, phloxes, and
pansies edged the gravel walk that swept round
the grass plot and led to the gate through which
Carnation Cottage was reached. This gate was no
smart entrance, but a green door let into the cob

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Online LibraryBeatrice WhitbyA matter of skill : a novel → online text (page 3 of 11)