1855?-1897 Duchess.

A point of conscience online

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London: CHATTO & WINDUS, iii St. Martin's Lane, W.C.




'the professor's experiment,' ' LADY VERNER's FLIGHT, ETC.






' Affection lights a brighter flame
Than ever blazed by art.'

' I REALLY think we may congratulate ourselves about this
governess/ says Lady Maria^ leaning back in her chair, and
letting her lovely old hands, with their knitting, drop into her
lap. ' She seems a most excellent creature. '

With Lady Maria most people inferior to herself are
'creatures.' A 'nice' creature, or a 'good' creature, if it
happens to be the doctor's or the curate's wife, and she
approves of her ; an ' excellent ' creature, if it be the butler
or the governess ; whilst a ' worthy ' creature does for the
butcher, the baker, and the candlestick makei*.

'She's very pretty,' returns Mrs. Verschoyle, a tall, hand-
some, fashionable-looking woman of about forty, with a touch
of humour in her clear gray eyes. It is perhaps this touch of
humour that has endeared her so strongly to her mother-in-
law, with whom she has lived ever since the death of her
husband, Lady Maria's eldest son — a death that took place
five years ago, and was so much to these two women of the
world that they found it impossible to forget it.

' Oh, pretty !' says Lady Maria, with a shrug. ' What has
prettiness to do with it? Beauty is not necessary in one's
governess. In fact, 1 always think that sort of person should
be born plain. To be distinctly plain, without being actually
repulsive, would be so wise of them !'

' It is so hard for them to arrange it beforehand,' says Mrs.




Verschoyle. ' But you haven't looked sufficiently at Miss Royce.
She has not been wise. She is not plain.'

' That black little thing !'

'Very dark, I allow you; but wonderful colouring. The
name is English enough ; but her face, with those black eyes
and that olive skin, is almost French.'

' French ! Good gracious, Jane ! why didn't you say all
this before ? She has been here for a month now, and '

' Why should I .'' She seems an admirable governess ; she
suits Jinnie (who, as you know, is not very easily suited), and
what more do I want V

' I can see you have taken a dislike to her.'

' Indeed I have not. Efficiency in a governess is all that
one requires, as I have just been saying.'

' For all that,' says Lady Maria, ' you are a mass of pre-

' Am I ?' Mrs. Verschoyle looks amused. ' Let me tell
you, though, that not one out of the mass would lead me
astray in my judgment.'

' What an absurd speech ! As if prejudices were not made
for that special purpose — to lead one astray. I hope you will
not set your face against Miss Royce, Jane. Don't, my dear.
She sings so well, and is such a quiet creature. Quite a treasure,
/ call her. One ' — raising herself in her chair to give emphasis
to her clinchmg argument — ' one never sees her !'

Mrs. Verschoyle smiles.

' You score there,' says she. ' She certainly is seldom to be
seen — a splendid thing in governesses. Miss Royce is wise in
her manners, if not in her face.'

' To drag up one's last words is not good manners, Jane,'
says Lady Maria, putting down her knitting again — a long,
seemingly interminable row of red and black wool, meant for
the comforting of some deep-sea fisherman. * For the rest,
let me forget Miss Royce for a while. By-the-by ' — inconse-
quently — ' what a curious Christian name she has !'

* Yes — Maden. It suggests the missing i. I am sure it
must be an abbreviation of something. But she is very
reticent ; she will not speak of herself or let one be friends
with her.'

' Just as well,' says Lady Maria indifferently.

' Oh, I don't know ! Poor little thing ! I am almost sure
she has known rough passages in her life.'


' Well, she ought to find it all the smoothei* here/ says
Lady Maria comfortably. ' Don't I see somebody coming
down the hill ? Is it Sidney ? By the way^ what a rolling
stone he is !'

Mrs. Verschoyle raises her head and glances across the sunny
landscape outside^ over the flowering beds and the budding
rose-trees^ over the tennis-courts below (already being shaven
and rolled in anticipation of the coming summer), to the
gentle hill beyond.

' Anthony, I think,' says she, peering uncertainly, ' and,
beyond doubt, that is Jinnie ' — her daughter's small form
being unmistakable — ' and Miss Royce. And yes, it is Sidney,

' Talk of the ,' begins Lady Maria, with a shrug.

She laughs gaily, checking herself at the naughty Avord.
Her laugh is infectious and wonderfully young, considering
that she is a grandmother, and not even a young one at that.
Grief and disappointment had failed to check the indomitable
spirit that had been born with her (as, indeed, with most of
the Amyots), and she had had much of both.

The mai'riage of her elder and favoui'ite son with Jane
Brandreth, the daughter and heiress of an old house slightly
connected with her own, had been a cause of keen pleasure to
her, and had helped to dull the sense of loneliness that had
shadowed her after her husband's death. But sorrow follows
hard upon the heels of joy, and Avhen the tiny grandchild (a
girl, too !) was barely a twelvemonth old, George Verschoyle
had gone over to the majority. It was a blow that stunned,
and it left its indelible mark on the mother who loved, the
wife who adored him.

The child, too, was only a girl ! Poor George left no heir.
And thus Anthony Verschoyle stej^ped into his inheritance.
At first, when real and honest grief for the brother he loved
Avas full upon him, Anthony cared little for the pomp and
glory of it, though to be head of all the Verschoyles, and
master of The Towers, were as good things as a man could
come into in these dull days ; but later on, as was only natural,
he grew to feel and know the meaning of possession, though
of all men he would probably be the slowest to give in thus
to Nature's cruelties. Perhaps he never (piite felt or knew
that he cared for the change in his fortune until Cecil Fairfax
came back to live in her own home, Fairtown, a charming


place situated about four miles from The Towers — a fatherless,
motherless girl, but rich enough, and of sufficient strength to
elect to live alone, without duenna, or companion, or governess,
or whatever one chooses to call the overseer on these oc-

It was then that Anthony awoke to a belief in his posses-
sions, and a delight in them. And truly The Towers was
woi'thy of much thought. It stood up there, and stands there
now, for the matter of that — on the top of that high hill,
surrounded and encompassed by woods and wooded places,
and by all the blasts of heaven as well, if the truth be told, at
certain seasons of the year.

Down below in the valley the river ran, mild as a babe in
summer, raging and tumbling in the winter, and roaring its
wild song, that is always so full of melody. Down in the
valley, too, sitting in its leafy pleasaunces under the shadow
of The Towers, lay the Dowei-house, tranquil, calm, imprisoned
in its dainty gardens. Lady Maria, who was never impassioned
in her manner, had nevertheless taken a vehement dislike to
The Towers on the death of her elder born, the poor George
I have spoken of, and had gone down to the valley and the
calm house thei*e, that was always waiting for her, as she said,
since her husband left her. The Towers felt cold to her. Her
husband had died there, and there, too, had died her dearest
possession. She always kncAv in her soul that George had
been dearer to her than his father, a fact that added poignancy
in the way of remorse to her grief at his death. Had Heaven
meant it as a reprisal .''

Any way, at George's death the old place grew too much
for her, and she cast it oft", as it were, and went down to the
Dower-house, that was, as I have said, a dream of beauty. It
seemed to call to her, to remind her of the young lover, whose
son had become dearer even than himself, ousting him out of
the principal ])lace in her heart. There she had lived after
her marriage for many years with the elder George, until his
father and mother in the big house above had made room for
them — they no longer having room left them there, or any-
where on earth, save the small six feet of it that the poorest of
us may claim.

Well, the old people were gone, and now she was the ' old
people,' compressed into one frail, pretty old lady, and she
went back to the house from which she came, and which held


the sweetest memories for her. There she had lived with
' George the first,' as in her lightest hours she had called him,
and there ' George the second ' was bom.

Anthony, her other son, had been cut to the heart by her
going, but she had been very determined, and George's widow
had gone with her.

' You will buth desert me,' said Anthony, standing, a little
pale, and facing them both.

' Yes, darling,' said his mother, ' and there is jiothing to
forgive, Tony. I am going now, because ' — ^^playfully — ' I
should hate to be turned out later on, when you take to youi'-
self a wife.'

' You were not afraid that George would turn you out,' said
he, breathing a little quickl3\

' Ah ! but I knew George's wife,' said his mother.

' Do you think mine will be less easy to know ?' said he, and
his heart contracted a little, and then throbbed madly, as he
thought of Cecil Fairfax, over there beyond the river in her
lonely home.

' I'm not a seer, Tony. Who can read the future ? And
my going ! It is such a little going ! Just a step or two
down there, where I can always see you, and where you can
come to me at a moment's notice should I be ill or dying.'

' God forbid the last,' said he, but he felt cold at heart as
he said it. She was forsaking him, no matter what arguments
she might use, or in Avhat pretty words she clothed the deser-

Any way, she had gone, taking George's widow with her.
She had hardly dared at first, in spite of her indomitable pluck,
to suggest the change to Jane Verschoyle, who had ever been
a fashionable woman, and used to the keener niceties of life.
How would she care to come and live in the depths of the
country in a house, lovely indeed, but smaller — much smaller
than The Towers ? But she had from the very first loved
Jane, who had, indeed, more of Lady Maria in her nature than
Lady Maria's begotten children — and she risked the question.

' Of course, Jane, the world is wide, and you are a young
woman, and handsome — and to bury yourself here ... A

house in town would suit you ' she broke oft', compelling

a little cough to her assistance — a kind little cough that hid,
or as she thought hid, a most sorry and undignified choking in
her throat,


' So it might,' Jane had responded gently, ' if ' — she looked
up out of her weeds, into the face of her mother-in-law ; the
weeds were intensely fashionable, but quite as intense was the
undying regret on the face of George's widow — ' if there were
not another house in the counti'v, that drcws me to it. . . .
Mother!' — with a sudden touch of rare passion — 'Jinnieand I
are yo«/;y/ Do not refuse to have us.'

So it was arranged, and when Lady Maria went to the
Dower-house, Jane went too, with her daughter, and that
daughter's governess. Of the succession of these governesses
there seemed to be no end ; they had reached an eighth edition,
indeed, before the child came to its age of to-day — seven
years. Then Lady Mai-ia had advertised once more, and
Miss Royce had dropped into the quiet life at the Dower-

The latter, as I have said, lies at the foot of the valley, and
between it and The Towers a pleasant river runs, spanned by
a bridge that catches the eye from the Dower dining-room,
whilst from the drawing-room a clear glimpse of the taller of
the two towers can be seen standing out grand and massive
from the forest of trees that surrounds it. From this tower a
red flag waves always, to tell Lady Mai'ia that all is well with
her son up there ; but on occasions a green flag is hoisted, and
that is to tell Lady Maria that Anthony is coming down to see
her, and so on : quite a little code of loving signals have been
now set up between mother and son. For Verschoyle has at
last learnt to tolerate his mother's going, and to read between
the lines the real meaning of it.

Besides, very often, in quite a serious spirit, and as though
there were no element of the comic sort in it. Lady Maria
packs up her bag and baggage, including Mrs. Verschoyle,
Jinnie, and governess, to say nothing of maids, and goes up to
the top of the hill to stay with her son for a week or so. She
always chooses the long way round by the road to get there,
taking out her carriage and coachman and footman, paying
thus a tribute to her determination to think of The Towers as
being quite a long way off, though, as a fact, she might have
crossed the rustic bridge in her little pony-carriage and got
there in less than a quarter of the time. And there her old
rooms are always ready for her ; Anthony never allows any
guests to irhabit them ; and there she falls for the moment
into the old groove again, with God alone knows what sad


and happy memories, and with the old gi-ace to take her place
at the head of her son's table — and is all that her son would
have her to be, and perhaps more than most women of her own
age could be.


' That's unkind !' says Mrs. Verschoyle. She has turned
from her glance at the hill that leads with a rush over the
pretty toy bridge into the valley below and the Dower grounds.
' And it belies your former judgment. You quite praised Miss
Royce only a moment ago.'

' Miss Royce ! The romantic Maden ?' Lady Maria pretends
to throw up her hands. ' I was not thinking of Iter when I
spoke, but of Sidney Fenton. '

' Your pauses are eloquent/ says Jane, who does not love
Sidney Fenton.

' Oh, I mean nothing ; you know he is a sort of nephew of
mine, on my husband's side. What I object to is his long stay
here. I can see that Anthony does not care for him.'

' And is too good-heai'ted to give him his cofige ?'

' Quite that. Sidney and Anthony could never be really
friends ; they are miles apart in every way. And yet ' —
knitting a little faster^ — ' he has his points.'

' He is very handsome,' says Jane Verschoyle.

' Pah !' says Lady Maria. It is the fashion nowadays to say
that metaphorically you have made someone 'sit up.' Mrs.
Verschoyle has gone one better. L nder her speech Lady
Mai-ia literally does it. ' What do you mean, Jane .'' You
enrage me ! Have you only one set of sentences } Miss
Royce is "pretty." Sidney is "handsome." Are there no
other virtues } Really, if so, I'd rather have vices ! Have
you no opinion ? Are you a mere nothing ?'

' I wish I were,' says Mrs. Verschoyle. ' It would save so
much trouble ; besides, negatives have weight ; you never
know what's beyond them. But, as a fact, I used a positive.
I stated distinctly my views on the personal charms of Miss
Royce and Sidney.'

' I wish he would go away,' says Lady Maria irrelevantly.

' There we come together, at all events : if — affectionately
— ' we are ever really apart. I dislike Sidney in spite of his
beaujc yeux and his general air of good-nature, and yet ' — re-
luctantly — ' I don't know why. There must be some good in
him, I'm sure.'


' Not to know is the most fatal argument of all/ says Lady
Maria thoughtfully. ' To honestly dislike a person without
knowing why proves a reason. That old rhyme, " I do not
love thee. Dr. Fell," contained very clever germs.'

' He has two months' leave/ says Jane. 'And only three
weeks of that expired.'

' Three ' Lady Maria puts down her knitting. ' I

have sometimes thought,' begins she, in a troubled tone.

' Oh, so have I,' says Mrs. Verschoyle, interrupting her.
' But you mustn't dwell on it.'

' You think, then '

' That Cecil ' Mrs. Verschoyle pauses. ' I don't think

she is in love with AviJwuif,' says she, in a low tone.

' I had so set my heart on it,' says Lady Maria, alluding to
something unspoken.

' Don't.' Jane, I'ising with one of her swift, beautiful move-
ments, brings herself on her knees beside her mother-in-law.
' Don't set your heart on that : I — I am afraid she has set her
heart on Sidney.'

' Well, well !' says Lady Maria.

A silence follows. She presses Jane's cheek to her OAvn
and kisses her lingeringl)-, and with love. The old, time-
worn theoiy of hatred between mother-in-law and daughter-
in-law is cast to the winds in their case.

' Still,' says Lady Maria, as Jane gets to her feet again,
'you may be mistaken, dearest.'

' I may ' doubtfully.

' And he — Sidney — may not be in love with her.'

' True : I ' — hastily, with a view to comfort — ' don't think

he is either. But — she has money, and Let us forget

all this, however. Why trouble about bare possibilities }
And, besides, no harm has been done. Perhaps Anthony is
not in love with her, either.'

' Ah ! if one could be sure,' says Anthony's mother.

She herself, however, is quite sure. No wife, no child, can
understand or pierce to the heart of things as can a man's

' There is Mr. Popkin coming down the hill now with Carry
Desmond,' says Mrs. Verschoyle suddenly, glad of a point of
diversion. It has been given to her as a relief to watch the
arrivals from the hockey ground, who, as a rule, drop in to tea at
the Dower-house. ' I'm certain he has a penchant for Carry.'


' Poor CaiTy !' says Lady Maria, who has not yet come back
to her usual kindly indifferent air.

' What a criticism !' said Mrs. Verschoyle ; ' but I can't help
crying yea and amen to it. Carry is too good for curates.
Still, it makes two distinct love affairs in our dull neighbour-
hood, and that means something.'

' Two r

' I'm afraid Aurora Langley — or else her dreadful mother —
has fallen in love with poor dear Richie.'

Lady Maria leans back in her lounge. Her fingers knit
faster than ever. Her brows knit too.

' What a gossip you are, Jane !' says she.


' So well she's masked under this fair pretence,
An infidel would swear she's made of perfect innocence.'

Mrs. Verschoyle, as if tickled by some inward thought,
laughs softly.

' That is why you love me,' says she, a little audaciously.

' For that reason !'

' Like cleaves to like, you know.'

'Tut, Jane ! Poor — very poor ! I'll quote you as good as
that, and better. " Extremes meet." How's that, now ?'

' When they meet they are one,' says Mrs. Verschoyle

' Your wits were never made for the good of your soul,' says
Lady Maria contemptuously. ' Let us try your fingers. Give
me a cup of tea.'

Mrs. Verschoyle rises, pours out the tea, and gives it to her,
with one of the tiny hot cakes in which her soul delights.
Passing back again to her seat, her eyes glance through the
far window that overlooks the drive.

' Here come Mrs. Langley-Binks,' says she, ' and her fair
Aurora, rosier than the rosiest morn.'

'A boisterous morn would describe her better. Is she
driving ?'

' Yes. 'J'/ic brand-new carriage, and the brand-new horses.
They are all frightfully new. Richie has just come up with
them, and now Mr. Popkin and Carry. How boyish that
girl is !'


' Hoydenish is the word.'

'Oh no ; the last word. A boy spoiled, that is all.'

' Or a spoiled boy.'

' I never know whether Carry is pretty or not, but I always
know I love to look at her.'

' That's fascination — a far better thing than mere beauty.
Yes, I too like that child. She is youth itself, and there is
something so strong and sweet about her.'

' Ah ! that sounds intoxicating indeed,' says Mrs. Verschoyle,
whereat both the women laugh.

' Now, what can Mrs. Langley-Binks mean by coming here
again to-day,' says Lady Maria, the wheels of the coming
chariot now sounding louder on the gravel. ' She was here
only last Thursday.'

' I told you a moment ago that she and Aurora are anxious
to annex our "poor Richard." He is dreadfully poor, dear
fellow ! but he is your cousin, and his uncle ' — laughing — ' is
a real live lord, and when one has been boiling soap for half a
lifetime '

Mrs. Verschoyle shrugs her shoulders with meaning.

' One should be clean,' supplements Lady Maria dryly.
' And soap is an excellent thing ' (she neai-ly says ' creature ').
' But these people — they are very pushing ; their methods, I
fear, are not as clean as their soap.'

' No ? Oh, I think they are honest enough. People hang-
ing on the outskirts of Society will always sacrifice a good
deal to get into the inner circle, and I really think Mrs.
Langley-Binks is quite open in her desire to give Aurora and
her foi-tune for Richie and his connections.'

' I begin to pity myself even more than Richie,' says Lady
Maria ; ' I am one of the connections. Still, really, Jane, I
hardly see how the poor boy can do better. I pity him, but
the old place must go soon if no fresh grist is brought to the
mill. And yet — Dick Amyot's son and that dreadful girl !
And the Amyots were always so festidious. ... If there
wasn't so much of Aurora, one might . . . or, if her mother
could be translated, or cremated, or something. Still, I can
see plainly that Richie must either take this chance or let
himself go altogether.'

' Where ?' asks Mrs. Verschoyle, with a frivolity she is far
from feeling ; and then, as if ashamed of herself, ' Oh, poor
old Richie !'


' It will mean ruin to him. He is getting into debt as fast
as he can in a vain effort to make the place pay. I can see
nothing before him but Australia, or ' She pauses signifi-

' Ah, no ' — hastily — ' Richie is not made like that. He is
quite good, and so honest, and healthy, and handsome. I
suppose ' — regretfully — ' you are I'ight, and it will have to be
Miss Langley-Binks.'

' Her mother is even more objectionable than she is ; she
is perfectly terrible, and such a size, my dear Jane. As broad

as she is long, and ' Here the door is thrown open.

' Oh, how d'ye do, Mrs. Langley-Binks ? Very cold, is it not.''
Come nearer to the fire.'

She motions daintily Avith her slender, patrician, heavily-
ringed hand, that time has failed to deprive of its original
charm, to the large woman who has just entered, and pushes
a lounging chair a little forwai'd. Mrs. Langley-Binks, after
a slight hesitation that might reasonably be laid down to an
uncertainty on her part as to whether the seat in question is
capable of upholding hei", drops into it with an elephantine
grace, and an assumption of ease that is plainly far from her.
She is followed by her daughter, a generous replica of herself,
a girl of about twenty-three, with a truly Wellingtonian nose
and a voice like a Gatling gun.

' You are earlier than usual this evening, Richie,' says Mrs.
Verschoyle, standing between a tall fair young man, with
handsome, clear-cut features, blue eyes, and an athletic figure,
and two girls. One is Miss Langley-Binks, already described,
the other Cany Desmond — a girl of nineteen, a child at heart,
and as sweet a creature (as Lady Maria would have said) as
one might care to look for. She is very slender, very beauti-
fully made, with the figure of an Atalanta, whom, indeed, she
might have run close in many ways, and with a small, shajiely
head, covered with closely-cropped curls. Very far from
beauty. Carry Desmond has still that charm that creates its
own beauty, and lives long after the more classical tyjies lie

Online Library1855?-1897 DuchessA point of conscience → online text (page 1 of 33)