Beatrice Whitby.

A matter of skill : a novel online

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wall ; by its side was a bell-handle mounted on a
brass plate, on which the direction, " Ring and walk
in " was engraved.

On the center of the lawn a tulip tree and a
standard magnolia grew side by side, beneath them
stood a rustic garden seat on which Miss Mitford
was now sitting ; she held her watch in her hand, at
which she glanced every now and then, with evi-
dent anxiety. Presently she rose, and bustling
over to the garden door she opened it and prowled
out upon the road, thence she soon returned very
breathless and with an increased anxiety depicted
on her face. She then hurried into the house call-
ing "Betsey."

People who are desperate use desperate remedies,
and if Betsey was not a desperate remedy, she was
at least an old servant, who, though she was wont
to say, " she knew her place, " did not keep it, but
tyrannized over her gentle Mistress as a "valuable
servant " alone knows how to do.


When Miss Mitford had repeated her call for
" Betsey" several times, she recollected that Betsey
was always conscientiously deaf to a call and only
responded to a summons from the bell. So she
rang, and then paced to and fro the hall, looking
now at the grandfather's clock in the corner, now
at the flowers on the table.

An old woman, lean as a rook, with hard, black
eyes, and a mouth which twisted down with a curl
at the corners, opened a side door and came into
the hall.

" Look at the time, Betsey," cried her mistress,
pointing at the clock and shaking her head. " See
how late it is, and that dear child has not yet ar-
rived. I begin to feel sure something has happened.
I have been uneasy all day, no doubt a presenti-
ment of misfortune and — "

"Thunder in the air, ma'am," interrupted Bet-
' sey, "and tying up them carnations in a blazing sun
is enough to give presentiments to mummies."

s ' t John tells me that the omnibus came in half
an hour ago," pursued Miss Mitford, almost crying.
"The flies are even fleeter than the omnibuses.
Dear me, dear me, the more I think, the more
anxious I become. Betsey, where can that poor
gid be ?»


" Miss Helen is a young lady who can take good
care of herself, ma'am, better than many twice and
thrice her age. Her head is fit for use as well as
for ornament, and she holds it high."

With Betsey the absent were always right — the
present wrong— Miss Elizabeth hardly heard her
words, she sprang up from her seat and wrung her
hands, fearful misgivings began to crowd upon her
anxious mind.

" These are dreadful days, Betsey," she said,
"the papers teem with horrors. I live so safely
here that I do not consider the dangers of others
less blessed than myself. Those terrible murderers
cut their victims into small portions and throw
them here and there over the hedges."

Betsey possessed the nineteenth-century weak-
ness — a perniciously skeptical mind ; she even went
to the length of occasionally doubting the infallible
truth of what she read " on the paper," so now, in-
stead of sharing her companion's fears, she smiled,
an acrid, superior smile.

"So we hear, ma'am, but we don't see nothing
of such things down in these respectable parfcs, and
as for Miss Helen being murdered and made away
with, I'd be sorry for the ruffian who attempted

A MATTER OF Sktlt. iy

iC Ah, Betsey, don't we often, you and I, see a
strong ship sail down the bay one morning," cried
poor Miss Elizabeth, pointing with a tragic gesture
to the sea, "and a few hours later, alas, where is
I she ? A wreck, a wreck ! Because we can't see
the sunken rock upon which she founders, does
that save her ? Oh, dear, dear, I am so anxious !"

"If you go on like this, ma'am, fitting Miss
Helen into parables like the parson, you will upset
yourself, you will indeed. The young lady will be
here in a minute and you'll be too ill to see her,
through running down hill to meet misfortune.
Ships sail past, a score a day, and come home, too,
most times, and overfill the public houses, more
shame to their crew."

These words "running down hill to meet mis-
fortune" suggested an action to the hearer by
which she could lessen her fears.

"Fetch my lace shawl and gauntlet gloves, Bet-
sey," she commanded, with a sudden determination.
"I will go down into Noelcombe and you shall
accompany me. I will see the omnibus conductor ;
he promised me to inquire for the poor girl at the
station, he undertook to look after her, otherwise I
should have gone to meet her myself — as I ought
to have done, as I ought to have done."


"It would have been better, ma'am than tying
up them carnation blossoms as if Providence was
mistaken in making them top-heavy."

"I wished Miss Helen to see the garden at its
best," said the poor gardener sadly.

"Young ladies don't look very particular at
flowers, ma'am. 'Tisn't in a garden they take inter-
est. Fine clothes, not fine flowers, are their de-
light ; of young gentlemen, not carnations, they
take notice."

Presently the mistress and maid — the former,
dispirited and drooping ; the latter, erect and ener-
getic — were to be seen hurrying down the steep,
descending street into the village of Noelcombe

Half an hour later a carrier's cart drew up out-
side the garden door of Carnation Cottage. The
carrier, who had been walking beside his horse up
the hill, addressed some one who was seated on a
bench among a mountain of parcels and boxes
beneath the arched awning.

"This yur be the place, mum, if yer plaze to
get out. It's a awkwardish concern is a carrier's
cart for a young lady to ride in, but it saved 'ee the
worke howsomever ; and a long worke it be from
up station down to Noelcumbe."


(l Yes, indeed, and I am so much obliged to you,"
answered a gracious voice, most gratefully, and
Helen, emerging from the shadow of the awning,
climbed down by aid of the shaft, upon the road.
" Your cart is very comfortable, I am glad I missed
the omnibus now ; I couldn't have seen the country
half so well from it."

"No, mum, I sim as how yu couldn't. 'Tain't
much to see, however. 'Twas a bit of luck my
meeting of 'ee and thinking to ask 'ee if you'd have
a lift."

"So it was; thank you very much indeed. I
have brought you out of your way, too, I am

"Lor' bless 'ee, mum, dorn't you spake of it.
Poppet and me dorn't count an extra moile or tu ;
it's all in the day's job."

But Helen would not allow him to pooh-pooh his
civility ; she was most thankful to him, and with '
reason. His ready West-country courtesy had not
only saved her a walk of deadly length and dreari-
ness, but had restored her self-assurance. She had
not been compelled to resort to the weak revenge
of the foolish; she had not cut off her nose to spite
her face after all.

She had certainly been born under a lucky star.


If a misfortune seemed to threaten her, a lucky
chance, intervening, averted it. She was elate
with self -congratulation when a sudden memory of
1 her moneyless and watchless condition struck her,
1 and, slightly sobered by the recollection, she bade
the carrier " good-night," and entered her aunt's

The twilight had turned to dusk, and the moon,
"like a rick on fire," was rising over the sea 3 be-
fore the elder Miss Mitford returned. Too agitated
to speak, she leaned on Betsy's stiffly- crooked arm,
with her eyes cast on the ground, a thousand fears
overwhelmed her. The slugs, tempted forth by the
falling dew, might feast undisturbed for once in
their lives ; she was too preoccupied to remember
them. Even Betsy was perturbed; her rugged
face was solemn, and she gave quite as high a
jump, and gasped quite as fast and breathlessly as
| did her mistress when a girl's head was thrust
I through the open spare room window and a lively
voice cried —

"Oh, here you are, at last ! I am unpacking, I
will come down."

And the next moment Helen herself came out of
the porch door to meet them.
" My dear, my dear, how you have frightened


me ! What happened \ Where have you been ?
There, take me indoors, Helen, I am trembling
sadly, I should like to rest."

\ "I am so dreadfully sorry, Aunt Elizabeth ;
(but really, upon my word, it was not my own

"Kiss me, my love; now that you are here, I
mind nothing. Only that conductor increased my
alarm. I know so little about girls ; they are odd
nowadays, quite changed since my youth. Betsy
didn't believe it, but, then, Betsy never believes
anything, you know."

Then Helen, her aunt and Betsy hanging on
her words and asking many questions, gave a de-
tailed account of the day's occurrences. She omit-
ted all mention of Mr. Jones's name, however, and
slurred over the explanations of how she lost the

] "And you came here in the carrier's cart — how
j extremely uncomfortable you must have been."

" It was rather jolty down the hills, Aunt Eliza-

Aunt Elizabeth and she were having supper.
Betsy hovered about them, joining every now and
then uninvited in the conversation.

" The carrier is a civil man ; he admired mf



wallflowers so much in the spring— a dark variety,

Helen, and particularly sweet-scented ; would your

father care for some seedlings, do you think ? "

" He would love them, auntie ; so should I."

"I am still thinking of the carrier, Helen; he
and Mr. Jones are so very unlike. It is extraor-
dinary that such an intelligent person as the con>
ductor could have been so mistaken."

Here Betsy made some remark about Ananias in
an impressive aside.

" What mistake did the conductor make, auntie ?
"What did he say about me ?"

" Well, really, I can't quite remember, my love.
You see I was in the stable-yard at the Mermaid
Hotel — such a confusing spot, for the horses were
loose and so close to me." Though they were quiet
at the time and looking hot and exhausted, poor
things, it does not do to trust to appearance — I kept
my eye on them."

"But what was the mistake?" Helen repeated.
— "Dear Helen is so determined/' Mrs. Mitford was
in the habit of saying, "she has such force of
character." —

"Never mind, love, never mind. It was a mis-
take, so I will not repeat what might be an annoy-
ance to you. I make a point of forgetting anything


unpleasing. Those kind of people do not mean any
harm, not at all ; but they are not discerning."

These remarks were not likely to arrest Helen's
curiosity. 1

" I should like to hear what he said." \

Miss Mitf ord was of a plastic disposition ; though
she formed her own opinions and preserved them,
yet she was always ready to comply with the wishes
of her companions.

"He didn't say much, Helen."

From behind them came some indignant and
isolated words, of which " Shameful " — " Sir Adol-
phus, indeed" — "grinding the poor" — "an old-
clothes man" — "ought to know better" — "re-
spected herself" — "not a word of truth" — were

"Why did you go to see the omnibus conductor,
auntie ? "

"I had asked him to look out for you at the
station, I had given him a shilling, and he had
promised to see after you. When you did not ar-
rive, we went down to the ' Mermaid,' where the
omnibus stops, to inquire for you. The conductor,
doubtless to screen his own carelessness, had the
effrontery to tell me that you had started for Noel-
combe in young Mr. Jones's dogcart with that gen-


tleman. Yes, my dear, he even said that Mr.
Jones's valet told him not to wait, as his master was
taking every care of you and would see you home.
I questioned him, for I could not believe it. The
conductor was both wrong and foolish to invent so
impossible a tale to screen his fault."

While Miss Mitford was speaking Helen blushed,
and her gray eyes sparkled, but with mischief,
not malice. She did not execrate the inventor
of the calumny, but she laughed and turned the

" Don't faint, Aunt Elizabeth, but I want some
more lobster ; I was never so hungry in my life."

After supper the aunt and niece settled down
for that underrated feminine delight, a " long talk."
Helen was good company ; she had plenty to say,
and when she listened she was a good listener.

Her aunt had a hobby — our neighbors' hobbies
are apt to weary us, but Helen had inherited the
family flower-love, so she was sympathetic with this
horticultural enthusiasm. She discussed the sub-
ject of seedlings and cuttings, of annuals and peren-
nials, of bedding and sowing, of grafting and bud-
ding, without being palpably bored.

Betsey belonged to that unhappy race of people
who were once described as those " who hate bear-


baiting not because it gave pain to the bear, but
because it gave pleasure to the spectators," so she
treated her mistress's delight in her garden as a
weakness to be first despised and then quenched.
The pleasure- crushers of the world are to be found
in each flock. Never owing to, nor, perchance,
realizing their unlucky tendency, they contrive to
act as a drag upon their companion's happiness,
blight the blossom of his innocent amusements, and
play the miserable part of Killjoy in a world not
overprolific of bliss at the best of times.

Helen's unfeigned interest in an admiration for
every flower of the field or garden was delightf ul to
Miss Mitford.

" I have not enjoyed an evening so much for
years," she told the girl as they mounted the stairs
on their way to bed ; " it was very good of you to
come to me at last, love, though I am afraid you
will find it dull with only an old woman for your
companion. You bring brightness with you, so I
hope you will be content here, though the life I lead
will seem monotonous and quiet, I know."

"I thought Noelcombe was raging with dissipa-
tion, auntie, ever since it had engulfed the great
Sir Adolphus."

" Well, my dear, I hear that Newton is always


filled with guests, and I believe that the Jones's en-
tertainments are continual, but they do not invite
me to partake in them. However, my friends at
the Priory, the Majoribanks, are bidden to the ball
there next week, and have already offered to take
you with their party."

"I shan't go, though," Helen said, with a mighty
yawn ; " those sort of impossible people don't
amuse me. I suppose everybody who goes to their
house goes either to laugh at them or for what they
can get."

Helen's tone was not dulcet ; Miss Mitford waa
surprised at it.

" I know very little about them, my dear. They
sit near me in church — such rows of servants and
such very smart young ladies ; they titter a good
deal, which d iot seemly ; but I hear that Lady
Jones is ext ■>* ely kind to the poor. Their man-
sion is very i and much decorated ; Sir Adolphus,
people say, *is his own architect. You can see the
lights from the window of this room — over in that
direction — a little further to the left — below the
clump of trees, love — you are looking at the wrong
spot. Good-night.



" O saw ye bonnie Lesley
As she gaed o'er the border ?
She's gane, like Alexander,
To spread her conquest farther." Burns.

TI7TTHIN the drawing-room belonging to that
* * gorgeous mansion, toward the lights of which
Miss Mitf ord had drawn Helen's attention, a rollick-
ing party of smart people were assembled. The
room, large as it was, was yet well filled, for the
owner thereof and his daughters were indifferent to
such charms as may be found in an unadulterated
home circle, and their idea of bliss was to fill their
house with guests — guests of distinction if possible —
but guests at any rate, and at all hazards. Their
brother, when he favored them with his presence —
which was fairly often, considering that his com-
pany as an eligible young man, a good shot, and a
good-humored companion — was much sought— fell
in with their mood. Poor little Lady Jones's good
nature overruled her good sense ; her partiality for


her daughters converted their wishes into her law,
so she, with the courage of a martyr, lived in a
harassing round of dissipation among people in the
society of whom she felt neither ease nor comfort, j
The constant strain of the endeavor to appear otheii
than she was, and the knowledge of the failure of
the attempt, spoiled all the pleasure of her riches,
and turned her from a homely, sensible woman into
a blundering, timorous nonentity. By the con-
strained expression of her daughters' faces, she
knew when she had made some egregious mistake,
but how to rectify such errors she realized that she
was either too stupid or too old to learn.

Dinner was over — an excellent dinner it had
been, such as leaves those who have been happy
enough to discuss it in the best of humors. If the
wit was weak among the party at Newton, the
laughter was strong, and there was plenty of it,
and the music of laughter is pleasant to hear in a
world where it does not always over-abound.

A group of men and girls were gathered round
the piano, which, with an accompaniment of banjo,
bones, and vigorous voices, was degrading its mel-
lifluous tones by leading the popular strains of that
curious tune "Killaloo."

Apart from the group at the piano, upon the


ledge of an open window, Helen's recent acquaint-
ance, Mr. Albert Jones, was seated talking, with
rather a listless and condescending air, to his
youngest sister, Anastasia.

"Don't grumble, Bertie, come and sing," she
was saying ; "or, if you won't sing, go and smoke
— do something. I saw Lady Lucy looking over
here just now ; it's rather uncivil of you not to
talk to her. * You have been so stupid all the even-
ing ; you bored her to death at dinner, I saw her

"'That polished horde, formed of two mighty
tribes, the Bores and Bored, ' " he quoted, with a
comprehensive glance, first at the musicians, and
then round the room. "My dear An, I can't tune
myself up to concert pitch in heat like this. Lady
Lucy is all very well, but she is not invigorating ;
she is as mild as buttermilk."

His sister looked at him rather anxiously, and
knitted her eyebrows.

"She is perfectly charming, Bertie; we are de-
voted to her, and so is papa. They have asked us
all there on the 29th. Didn't she tell you ? Hasn't
she asked you ?"

" She said something about polo at their place,
and a golf or tennis week — I forget which, It


made me hot to think of such violent exercise, and
I said so."

"You are too spoiled, Bertie," said Anastasia,
shrugging her shoulders. ' 'You really are. You
are getting disagreeble. "

At that moment the chorus of "Killaloo" —

"We larn to sing it aisy, that song the Marseillasy
Too long, vouslong, the Continent, we learnt at Killaloo."

rung out through the room.

"Pretty thing that!" growled the young man
— " just like ' White Wings' or Lady Lucy. Sort
of thing you never get sick of — grows on you — just
suits a night like this."

He pointed through the open window to
where the moon traced its pathway across the
dark, heaving sea — to where the black cliffs tow-
ered, standing on guard upon either side of the
cleft chasm in which twinkled the lights of the

Anastasia did not look at the view, but she look-
ed keenly at her brother.

"Did Troubadour win the Norchester Stakes ?"
she inquired, with apparent irrelevance.

' ' Walk over, ' ' — laconically.

"Then what's the matter, Bertie ? When you


are crusty something quite extraordinary must have

" I'm all right, my dear ; there is nothing earth-
ly the matter with me. I suppose a fellow needn't
make a fool of himself unless it is agreeable to him.
Lady Lucy is everything that is correct, but she
can't sing —

' Her voice was soft and low
A cooing kind of voice, you know,
Except when she began to sing,
And then it was a fearful thing."'

"Lady Lucy sings beautifully," his sister said,
lAvher stiffly. '*Good-by, Bertie. You are such
dull company, I'm off."

She had not gone more than two or three steps
when he called her back.

Anastasia returned— no one ever dreamed of dis-
puting Mr. Jones's wishes ; but she was impatient
at his demands on her time. With a half-a-dozen
young men within hail, the best of brothers would
seem a dull companion ; this grim, uncomplaisant
brother was an unmitigated bore.

*' What do you want ?"

(m Well, I wanted to hear" — he rfpoke slowly ;
he was staring hard at his foot, as though its ap-
pearance at the end of his trousers was an interest-


ing novelty — "I wanted to hear how many people
are coming to this ball, and who they are, and what
sort of entertainment it's likely to be."

This was an engrossing and a sensible topic, into
which Anastasia conld enter.

"Every one is coming," she answered, confi-
dentially. "We have been so lucky — hardly one
refusal. All the right people in the house."
She ran through a string of noble names glibly,
and in rather a raised voice ; it is curious that
such names should require emphasizing. "It
ought to go off well. There are plenty of men,
if they will only do their duty as well in the
ball room as they are sure to do in the supper-

Mr. Jones was still staring at his foot, his inter-
est in which had developed into anxiety ; for he
twisted it about and craned his neck to enable him
to catch sight of the sole of his shoe.

"Have you asked any of the other people ?" he
inquired, indifferently.

" Whom do you mean ?"

" Why, the — the— what-do-you-call-them ?— the
villagers. The parson and the doctor, and the law-
yer and the old ladies, don't you know ? The
people one only sees in churchc"


Miss Anastasia said, "G-ood gracious, no!" and

Then Bertie, still occupied ,with the formation
of his foot, spoke more briskly than he had hith-
erto done.

" It is a great mistake to make enemies," he be-
gan, as though he was delivering a lecture and was
a little pressed for time ; si the greatest mistake in
the world, Anastasia. We ought to ask everybody ;
we ought to make a point of asking everybody.
There is no end of room in this house ; a dozen
more people won't crowd us out, and-if I'm to stand
for this side of the county at the next election it
won't do to risk unpopularity and that sort of thing
by want of civility, People like to be asked, and
it ought to be done. I feel very strongly about it
myself — I always have done so. I should like to
know why they shouldn't be asked, and come, too ?
Surely there are plenty of old ladies in Noelcombe ?
Poor old souls ! — a ball would cheer them up a bit.
You needn't laugh. I don't want them to dance —
I don't mean that — but the looking on and all the
rest of it. I'm not chaffing, An ; I want some more
invitations sent out."

Anastasia looked perplexed, and spoke coldly —

" Thanks for indulging me with your maiden


speech, Bertie — not very elegant, but emphatic.
So you will support women's rights, and old wom-
en's rights in particular ? Most benevolent of you !"

1< I want those invitations sent out," her brother

He did not often exert himself to express a wish,
but when he did so his family knew that, come
what might, that wish would eventually be fulfilled.

"Then you had better speak to mother. She is
always eager to gather in from the hedges and high-
ways. No doubt she will be charmed to send every
tradesman in the village a card."

This last whim of Bertie's was preposterous, and
the indulgence of it likely to prove a great trial to
his relations. Though that magic word politics
(which ' surprises in himself") could be made to
account for the presence of any social curiosities at
the party, yet their entertainment— an uncongenial
task — would devolve upon the ladies of the house.

Anastasia was annoyed, and when she was dis-
pleased she had a knack of making herself pecul-
iarly disagreeable to her neighbors, but it was im-
politic to quarrel with her brother, so she contented
herself by turning down the corners of her mouth,
shrugging her wide shoulders, and leaving him to
occupy his window-seat alone.


He, however, did not remain where she had left
him, bat crossing the room, seated himself by the
side of his mother, with whom he conversed for
some time. Lady Jones still possessed one joy

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