A. Balfour Symington L. T. Meade.

Atalanta online

. (page 71 of 110)
Online LibraryA. Balfour Symington L. T. MeadeAtalanta → online text (page 71 of 110)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


at our house. I was kept back by the feeling that
any intimacy with us, however slight, would be an
annoyance to my lady. Now I began to half
regret what might seem to him a want of courtesy.
Of course if he was so minded he could call at the
door; but papa being still from home I feared it
would never occur to Martha's mind to ask him to
come in.

Our Den looks into the garden, projecting out
from an angle — it belongs to the older portion of
the house — and has latticed windows, which in the
summer-time are smothered by roses and clematis.
Such a tangle do they spring up into that you
cannot catch sight of the sturdy ivy, which neither
in winter or summer ever permits a stone to be
seen. Just now the ivy has it all its own way, but
its reign is almost at an end. Summer is drawing
near, and the great suckers of roses are beginning
to climb, and the dry wreaths of clematis are
studded with bursts of green. The flowers will



soon come, and it seems fit they should ; our mood
is in touch with them. We chatter — we laugh— we
tease each other in a pleasant way ; I tell Dumps
that I intend to call him Marmaduke ; he calls me
Miss Sylvia Carleton ; and in the midst of this the
door opens and Martha, looking very red and
flurried, says, " If you please, miss, its "

" Me," says a voice behind her, and as we both
start round, in walks Sir Felix. " I wouldn't be
taken into the drawing-room," he says in vindication
of Martha's embarrassment, "and while I was
having the struggle a nice old body came up and
told the maid to take me here — to the Den— I
know the name, you see."

" It's awfully untidy," I exclaim.

** Oh, I was prepared for that ; she said I should
find you in a rare litter, everything uppermost, and
nothing at hand."

He has shaken hands with me ; has put his arm
round Dumps' neck, and given him a friendly tap
on the shoulder ; has spied out a chair — which for
a wonder has nothing heaped upon it ; has brought
it over, and has sat down at the table.

** I'm so glad you've come," says Dumps, giving
a little movement of his arms as if he was hugging
himself with joy.

** Thank you. Dumps, it's very good of you.
It's more than Miss Carleton has managed to say,"
and he looks at me with mock reproach.

** Miss Carleton feels so all the same," I answer,
conscious of having grown a bit shy.

" I expected you would have asked me yesterday.
Why didn't you?"

" It wasn't because she didn't want you to come,''
says Dumps chivalrously. " We have talked of
nothing else but of you, and what we did and what
we said."

" It was quite an event for us," I say by way of
apology for this outburst of Dumps' confidence.

" And it was quite an event for me. I've wanted
to know you for ever so long. I asked the Clarkes
why they didn't ask you to go for walks with them
sometimes," and then he laughs in rather an amused



Digitized by



Google



D UMPS.



485



way which makes me suspicious, and I ask —
"What did they say?"

"Well, Bessie Clarke said you were such an
old-fashioned little thing/'

" And so I am," for I am not at all disturbed at
the description given of me.

"YouVe nothing of the kind," says Dumps,
sturdily ; " you're not anything else but what you
ought to be; you're a great deal nicer than the
Clarkes, or any of the girls about here."

"That's right," calls out Sir Felix, knocking on
the table with his fisL " Bravo, Dumps ! Well
done, old fellow ; always stand up for your friends."

"I shall always stand up for her," and Dumps
nods his head defiantly, " and so will you too when
you know her as well as I do ; there isn't another
girl in the world Hke Via."

" You've seen such a lot of girls," I say. ** You
excitable little bit of quicksilver, you forget that
Sir Felix has friends and relations who are young
ladies in London, and therefore most likely very
different to me."

"All the worse luck for them, then."

"Go it," cries Sir Felix, amused at our earnest-
ness ; " two to one on Dumps, and don't spare the
young ladies, whether they're my relations or not."

"That won't do, though," says the irrepressible
Dumps, " because she's one of your relations too.^

I give Dumps the most furious glare. If a look
could annihilate a person, there would have been
an end to the poor fellow for ever.

" She ! " exclaims Sir Felix. " Who ? Miss Carle-
ton?" But Dumps has caught my eye, and his
crestfallen face is expressing to me the deepest
penitence for this untoward slip of his tongue.

" Come, come, now, no signalling between you
two ; just you explain yourself, Mr. Dumps ; how a
relation, eh ? "

Poor Dumps is driven into a comer.

" I don't know," he says, stammeringly, " only
her mother was — so I thought for the minute
perhaps she might be too."

**Your mother!" and Sir Felix looks at me
wonderingly. " Was that really so ? Tell me."

" Oh ! " I begin vexedly, ** I dare say you do not
know that my mother was a Miss Cuthbert of the
Friary. My father ran away with her," and I am
conscious of holding my head unusually high ; " but
it is not a thing we ever speak of, or claim in any
way."



"In fact you are rather ashamed of us than
otherwise."

*'Well, no," I say, put on my mettle; "if you
put it in that way it — it is rather you who have
completely ignored me."

" But I never heard of it before," he says,
amazedly ; " and my mother, surely — but no, I
feel quite certain that she has no idea of any such
relationship. Your mother a Miss Cuthbert! — a
sister of Mr. Trenham Cuthbert, who died a year
or so ago ! — after he had lost all his property ? "
I give a nod of my head in reply.
" But," he continues, " I remember how angry
my mother was with Mr. Carleton, because she
thought it was through him that the estate went for
so little money."

" Yes," I say, " my father has never been able to
look over the slight cast upon my mother. I am
afraid he feels very revengeful to every one related
to or connected with her."

" In that case it is very good of you to have
received me as you have," and his face flushes as he
says so.

" But no ; there is not a bit of credit due to me,
because I do not share my father's feelings. On
the contrary, I take the greatest interest in every-
body in any way connected with my mother, and I
am sure I am not wrong in doing so, because she
never felt resentment of any kind. Nurse says she
grieved, and was sore-hearted about herself, but
never with her family. She always said if they
had deserted her, she had first deserted them."

My voice is a little unsteady, and Sir Felix gives
me an opportunity of recovering myself, while he
says —

"Well, this is extraordinary, and the strange
part is that I should always have felt as if I should
like to know you. I've often said things about you
to my mother, and when she has taken no notice,
I thought it was because of your father. Well !
grown-up people sometimes don't care for each
other, do they? I know our vicar, Mr. Bethune,
doesn't hit it oflf with Mr. Carleton ; but he always
likes to see you ; and Mr. Preston and Miss Olivia
are very fond of you. Whenever I have said any-
thing to them, they've always said something nice
about you; still they never mentioned that we
were connected in any way."

" The connection is a very slight one," I say ;
and I think with pleasure of what he is telling me.



Digitized by



Google



486



D UMPS.



" Oh," he continues, *' I shall be quite anxious
for my mother to return ; you will see how soon
things will be diflferent. I do not say she will alter
towards your father — I dare say he wouldn't wish
her to ; but with regard to you — well, I know my
mother — she is very stately in her manner, and
people think her haughty and proud ; but she has
a fine character, she is generous, and good, and
just, and she is very sympathetic to any one in
trouble. She always says she has not had a happy
life. She has been very lonely. Then the manage-
ment of the estate gives her a great deal of anxiety,
because we're far from rich. Oh ! and lots of other
worries that I don't know of, because she keeps
them from me. I am certain you would like my
mother, and that she would like you. You're the
kind of girl who would be a comfort to her."

A comfort to my lady ! If it never happens, and
it is never likely to, I thank Sir Felix in my heart
of hearts for thinking so ; only unfortunately my
gratitude is apt to take the form of a great lump
in my throat, which just now won't be swallowed
down, and blurs my eyes with tears, forerunners of
a great shower of them which threaten to follow.

" Now," I say, struggling with my sobs, ** I know
I'm going to cry."

" No, no. Via ; you mustn't."

Dumps is at once full of sympathy.

" Oh, please don't." Sir Felix, too, has evidently
a masculine horror of tears. " What can we do —
or say ? Dumps, think of something, invent some-
thing; what's the good of having such a clever
noddle if you don't make some use of it ? "

"But I can't think of anything," says Dumps,
despairingly, " unless — unless we go and have our
tea. I can smell the toast making," he adds in
explanation of this prosaic suggestion.

** Exactly the thing," cries Sir Felix, jumping up.
" What it is to be a genius, Dumps ! I knew that
I was beginning to feel a void," and he indicates
with his hand where the vacancy is felt ; " but the
word toast explains everything."

I am forced into laughing, although I am not
entirely pleased with Dumps* inviiation.

" I don't know that you are quite right in asking
Sir Felix," I begin, but am interrupted by the
innocent dear explaining that it's all right ; there's
sure to be plenty — because it's cake day.

'* We shall have some little ones — with currants
inside — split open, buttery."



Dumps eats about as much as a sparrow ; but to
listen to him now, you would think him a very
valiant trencherman. The little fellow has the gift
of true hospitality ; he wants our guest to partake of
the best we have, and rejoices that this is an after-
noon of special dainties. Accustomed to see
every one invited to stop to tea, or to whatever
meal is going, there is no reason in his mind why
Sir Felix should be omitted. Dumps is a true
gentleman; it is I who am lacking in breeding,
because I am oppressed, and embarrassed with
fears that the meal will be too homely. Nurse
may be too familiar, all may not be like what he
is accustomed to have and to see. One thing
ought to dispel these doubts, and that is the cer-
tainty that Sir Felix does not share them, for he
screams with delight at every fresh communia-
tion. All but anticipation of the tea is apparently
forgotten.

** I say, Dumps, look sharp. Now then — ^" Sir
Felix stops suddenly. " I declare. Miss Carleton,"
he says, " I was going to call you by your Christian
name."

" Why shouldn't you ? " says Dumps ; " yes, do."

" It's an awfully pretty name," says Sir Felix.
" I'll try for once how it sounds in my tiaouth.
Come along, Via ! " and the name is lost in the
burst of laughter that follows.

CHAPTER XIII.

It is very certain that we did not lose any of our
gaiety by joining nurse's society. The dear old
thing behaved most beaurifuUy ; for the first time in
my life she made some hesitation about taking her
accustomed place at the table ; but this of course
I would not allow.

" Why, it is with you we have come to take tea,"
I said, "and we have brought Sir Felix with us."

And then Sir Felix said something very nice to
her, which put her into great good-humour. It is
not altogether the words he says, but the way he
says them that is so pleasant ; then he is so cheerfiil
and unaffected, and full of life and spirits, that
without knowing it he infects us with the same,
and we all bubble over with laughter and fun, and
some would say foolishness ; for afterwards I couW
not remember anything that had specially called
forth such merriment Yet there was something
good in it all, for when we parted we were real



Digitized by



Google



D UMPS.



487



friends together, and Dumps and I having walked
through the garden with him — going out from the
far gate of which (the Ahbey Gate we call it) makes
Ac way to Sharrows much shorter — we both felt
after watching him out of sight that we could never
forget him, and that he would never forget us.
Miss Olivia always says, " Youth is the time for
making friendships," and I have answered her
sadly, saying I had never had the opportunity of
making any. Now in the last few months I have
made two, and I feel much more happy.

Later that same evening my father was expected
home, and I was full of the surprise my news
would give him. I felt a little anxious as to how
he would receive it, still I believed that on the
whole he would not be displeased.

He dined alone, because the journey — which I
suppose was a long one — had tired him ; but after
dinner he sent for me to go down. To my surprise
I found him sitting in an easy-chair doing nothing
—not writing, not reading — a condition so unusual,
that I burst out with —

" Aren't you well, papa ? "

" Well, my dear ? Yes, perfectly. Why ? "

"Oh, because you're sitting like you are," I
answer vaguely, not finding it easy to put my
reasons into words.

" Not occupying myself, you mean. I own it is
not very natural to me, but I have earned my idle-
ness by being very busy while away."

" Have you been far off— to London ? " I ask,
inquiringly.

" I was in London a few days since," he says,
and his manner tells me that I am not expected to
ask more. There is no mystery in this. My father
has never been communicative ; he goes away — he
comes back — often that is all I know of his
journeys.

" Well ? " he says, looking at me ; and I know
that he means me to let my tongue run, and tell
him all that has happened in his absence. This
time I am not slow to accept the invitation, and I
at once plunge into the details of Dumps' accident,
and all that it has led to.

I have said that I was doubtful how my father
would receive it ; but I am quite unprepared for
the effect it has upon him. He is so agitated,
so unlike himself, that the fear that he is unwell
returns again to me. I look at him, and it seems



to me that his face looks older, more lined and
careworn than I have ever seen it before.

" Papa," I say, and I cannot help putting my
arms round him, " you haven't had any worry, have
you, while you've been away ? "

"A little disappointment perhaps," and he smiles
at me, ** but it's all forgotten in my amusement at
listening to what you have to telL And so Sir
Felix has always noticed you, and wanted to know
you ? " His face lights up with pleasure as he says
this, and with the wish to give him more I say —

" Yes ; and once he got punished for wanting to
send me a valentine, because he said I was his
little sweetheart."

There is a choking noise in my father's throat,
sounding so like a sob that I quickly untwine my
arms, but not before I feel that he is putting me
away from him, to get up and go to the far end of
the room, to and fro which he walks for a minute
or two, after which he returns, reseats himself, and
says in his usual voice —

" And Dumps, how did he get on ? I want to
hear everything that you can remember."

Thereupon I tell him all that took place, ending
with the assurance of Sir Felix that his mother
would be sure to like me, and that I should be
sure to like her.

" Isn't it very odd," I continue after a pause,
" that he should never have heard that we are in a
way connected ? "

It is the first time I have ever ventured on
naming the relationship to my father.

" I don't know that it is ; the skeleton of the
family is often more familiar to outsiders than to
those who live close to its cupboard."

"Well, if they have no worse skeletons than
being forty-fourth cousins to little Miss Me, they
haven't much to complain of. I think Fortune has
treated them very well."

My father laughs his grim laugh.

"Ah! I fancy that my lady has had her bad
half-hours like the rest of us ; however, if she has
the good sense to open her arms to the little fairy
her son seems desirous of pushing into them, she
may from this lime sleep more soundly."

The " little fairy " I know means me ; but how
can I affect my lady's good or bad rest? I am
speculating on this when my father begins question-
ing me afresh, making me repeat every circum-
stance, however trivial, as if I was in a witness-box.



Digitized by



Google



488



D UMPS.



Perhaps it is habit, because he is a lawyer ; yet I
never knew hina quite so curious before ; and gradu-
ally an uneasy feeling gets possession of me that
what, out of the fullness of my heart, I am telling
him, is going to be put to some account, and I
draw in my horns as a snail does at the approach
of danger.

"You'd better pay a visit to Miss Spratt to-
morrow," he begins, seeing that I have got up at
hearing the clock strike ten. "Get her to turn
you out another new frock or two, and let them be
better than anything youVe had yet — silk, or some-
thing of that sort, such as girls in society wear of
an evening ; — she'll know."

" But what for, papa ? My frocks are very nice,
and I have quite as many as I want."

" Do as I tell you, my dear," and with an air of
assertion which / very seldom see in him, he adds,
" I don't choose that my daughter shall look second
to any one.*'

Evidently he already counts on my going to The
House as a certainty, while with me it remains
more than doubtful.

" What I have told you, papa, is only what Sir
Felix said. I don't think we can take it as granted.
He can no more answer for his mother than I could
answer for you."

" Sound argument as a rule, but this case happens
to be an exception."

My face, I think, tells him that he has not con-
vinced me, for he continues in a softer tone —

" My little daughter must leave the management
of affairs in the hands of her father. All she has
to do is to continue to keep up this unexpected
friendship with Sir Felix. While my lady is away,
see as much of him as you can. Clarke told me
that old Bethune was laid up with gout, so he won't
meddle with his freedom. You and Dumps go to
Sharrows to-morrow. Ask him to come back with
you ; you need not say that I have returned ; he
might think I should interfere in some way. Come
now, I haven't imposed such a very hard task on
you. All you have to do is to make yourself agree-
able to, apparently, a very agreeably-inclined young
fellow — so be off with you," and he bids me good-
night, and I go. But I am full of rebellion ; my
pride, my dignity, and a dozen other feelings for
which I can find no name are up in arms. 1 have
it in me to say that I wish Sir Felix and I may
never meet again. Why do our elders so misunder-



stand us ? Or is it only papa ? Surely girls with
mothers are more fortunate ; mothers cannot make
such mistakes. And I was so happy ; now all our
future seems fettered with a motive. I go slowly
up-stairs with a heavy step. All my spirit is gone.
I meet Dumps.

" Doesn't he want us to know him ? " he asks
anxiously, noting at once that something has gone
wrong. How can I answer ? What can I say to
him? I would not for the world that Dumps
should share the feelings that my father has given
rise to in me. I know papa, I know that he has
many, many more good qualities than any but I
dream of — and then I love him as no one else can
— so I give a shake of my head and say —

" No, it isn't that ; but— I don't feel quite well,
I think."

I am conscious of equivocating, and I am also
conscious that although Dumps takes my hand and
says, " Poor Via ! " I have not deceived him.

CHAPTER XIV.

Several days have passed ; during two of these
I am not well, and the remainder are wet Sir
Felix and I have not met again.

My father, who fortunately for me is very much
occupied, has not mentioned the subject since.
Yet I see by his manner when we meet that he has
not forgotten it.

Each morning while he takes his breakfast—
which he does alone — I read to him. This morn-
ing he dismisses me with the meaning words —

**I suppose there is no reason that you should
not take your walk to-day ? "

No ; not any, except the obstacle he has raised,
which still rankles in me, so that instead of con-
sidering how I shall most surely encounter Sir
Felix, I am thinking how best I may avoid him
This thought occupies me when Martha brings in a
note. My face turns scarlet ; I look at Dumps,
who nods smilingly at me. We both know at once
from whom it comes.

"Dear Miss Carleton [it runs] —

" I am going to the walk, this morning.

which leads from the woods to the Lady Garden.

I so wish you would walk there, as I have something

I want particularly to say to you. Hoping to see you,

" Sincerely yours,

"Felix Deloraine."



Digitized by



Google



D UMFS.



489



I hand the note to Dumps.
" Of course you'll go," he says.
" Yes, I think we must."
"Shall I go with you?"

" Of course you will. I shouldn't go unless you
went"

The matter being thus settled we get ready and
start. At first I am a little disposed to be silent ;
the influence of my father's suggestions weighs upon
me; but by degrees the beauty of the morning
drives away these vapours, and I begin to take
pleasure in all I see. Never have the woods
looked more lovely ; fresh and green, with dew-
drops sparkling on each leaf and flower; the
thrushes in full song pouring out their voices —
everything about seems full of life, so that our
spirits rise with every step, and by the time Sir Felix
comes in sight we are primed for fun and laughter.
" We're very obedient, you see," I say to him ;
"we started off directly I had that note from you."
" I wanted to send it yesterday, but the rain
came and — I couldn't ask you to come out in
that," and then I see that he hesitates.

"Why didn't you bring it yourself, and come
and see us?" puts in Dumps eagerly.

" Well, it wasn't because I didn't want to, my
boy," and we are conscious of a sudden embarrass-
ment having come to us all.

" Do you mind me getting the flowers for nurse
now, Via ? " says Dumps. " Last time I couldn't
pick them, you know."

Dumps proposes this with the delicacy natural
to him, and before I can say, ** No ; wait, and I'll
go with you," he is quickly hopping away, leaving
Sir Felix and me standing.

" You're very obstinate," I cry. " Dumps— stop,
you tiresome boy."

But he continues to go on, and Sir Felix says —
" It is very good of him to be so thoughtful, for
I would rather say what I want to say alone with
you."

•* Yes," I answer faintly, a presentiment of evil
stealing over me ; " what is it ? "

" I am very vexed with my mother," he begins.
" Not because of me," I cry, interrupting him.
"Whatever happens please don't let me be the
cause; that would be terrible."

"And your saying this only makes me feel it
the more. I cannot think what has come to her.
Except by a few words she hardly notices anything



I told her in my letter ; but she desires I will join
her immediately."

" And of course you will go ? "

" Yes ; I have never knowingly disobeyed her
wishes, and this is almost a command ; still I
could not leave without speaking to you. Some
explanation is due to you."

" No, not any," I say, resolutely. We are walking
up and down a short space, not wishing to leave
the spot where Dumps has left us. " I quite
understand that my lady objects to your knowing
me; but from the beginning I was prepared for
that."

He gives a sigh of discontent, and after a minute's
pause he says in an embarrassed way —

" It seems so hard to find fault with anything
your parents are doing, or to suspect them of
motives which you couldn't name, or let others
share with you. Oh, it is impossible for you to
know what I mean ! "

On the contrary. Unhappily I know exactly ;
it is but another bond between us, and somehow
the words slip out —

" Yes, I do ; because I feel the same with my
father."

" Do you think he would have objected to you
knowing me ? "

Evidently he has not heard of my father's return.

" No," I stammer ; " I don't think so ; it was the
motive I was alluding to."

" I wonder if it could be the same."

I shake my head in positive denial ; if he could
guess my father's motive as I do, I should die with
shame.

" Oh, I don't know," he continues, " it's more
than likely, and then it puts such ideas into one's
head — things you never thought of until they made



Online LibraryA. Balfour Symington L. T. MeadeAtalanta → online text (page 71 of 110)