Holme Lee.

This work-a-day world (Volume 2) online

. (page 2 of 13)
Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of giving her pleasure, and the merit of self-
denial for both, compensated by grouse for him.
He did not consider if there might be compen-
sation for her or not ; perhaps because his will
still inclined him to be kind. Whether, had
Miss Hesketh been less pretty, he would have
shown her so much charity, need not be inquired
into. Her eyes were very winning — when they
looked up to him, with the wistfulness of ear-
nest attention, they were lovely. It stands
to reason that had they been otherwise, had
they been dull and lustreless (like twenty
score pair of eyes in a day), Durant would
not have seen the beautiful soul in them ; for
he was a man of simple, unsophisticated mind,
although he knew the world so widely.
Then Miss Hesketh's ways, her airs and graces


were new and amusing. He felt protective
towards her ; for, though on no account would
she be treated as helpless and dependent, the
timidity and Inexperience Inseparable from her
age, her sex and her manner of life crept out in
spite of her endeavours after dignity and univer-
sal propriety. Mr Huttonhad set the example
of addressing her with good-humoured raillery,
and Mr Durant imitated it, with a difference.
Winny did not resent the freedom very highly.
All her life her friends had taken this tone with
her, and she was submissive to it, as implying
fondness, and not excluding respect. She
might blush with shy or laughing deprecation,
but from Durant it sounded what she still called
— kind. And Durant meant to be no more
than kind. But men are carried insensibly
beyond their best intentions, and he was sliding
into danger. A fear and suspicion dawned
upon the mind of Mrs Hutton the elder that
Sunday afternoon, as she observed the two in
the garden, talking together across one of her
rose-bushes. Mrs Hutton was at the drawing-
room window, and Mildred was mooninor with


a good book in a quiet corner. (Her dear
Frank had gone to his own home for a few
days, to return for the expedition to Comber).

* Mildred, look here,' said her mother with a
slight gesture towards the objects of her notice.
* I hope your little friend is not growing too fond
of Leonard Durant's company ? That would
be a pity, indeed ! ' Her voice implied that she
knew a good reason why it would be a pity.

Mildred rose, and gave one careless glance
at them : ' Oh, there is no fear for Winny/ said
she with a sort of tender depreciation. ' She
is very affectionate, but she is not one of the
'' inflammables," as you used to call me. I don't
believe she knows what love means, and she
has a whole battery of philosophical arguments
against it.'

* I don't remember that philosophical argu-
ments or any arguments prevailed to help you,
Mildred,' said her mother drily. * However,
you know her best. She is a nice girl, and I
am always sorry for a girl who gives hqr love
for nothing.'

And there the matter dropt.


As Winny Hesketh was to return to Cotham
the day after the expedition to Comber she
made her preparations the day before. In the
course of her packing she came upon the
manuscript story that she had brought for
Mildred's perusal. It had not been opened —
it had been forgotten by Winny herself, in

* I don't think we shall ever write that joint
book now, Milly,' said she, holding up the roll
of papers significantly.

' I don't think we shall — Frank has put a
stop to ever so many things I meant us to do.
It cannot be helped ! '

'And is not to be cried over — I shall write
the book by myself.'

' Dear little Winny, you had much better
look out for a Frank of your own. You need
not to go to Comber in your brown bonnet to-

' I don't intend.'

Winny resumed her packing, and Mildred
reverted to her sweet musins^s. The g^irls at
the Manor School used to say that Mildred


Hutton passed half her life in a dream. It
was certainly true of her at this time. But she
was so entirely, blissfully happy that it was the
last thing in the world Winny would have
thought of, to complain of her absorption. She
loved reverie herself more and more.

Mr Durant did not go to the moors on the
eleventh. He stayed for the fete at Comber,
and made one of the Hutton party on the road,
riding on this occasion with Mr Melhuish.
Mildred and Frank rode also. Mr Hutton
could not go : he was dreading a break in the
weather, and dared not lose a day at his harvest-
ing. Winny Hesketh went in the phaeton,
driven by young Mrs Hutton, two of whose
sisters filled the back-seat.

It was a large and miscellaneous gathering,
for the engineers were about to migrate, and
before quitting the wold-country quarters where
they had been a most welcome and agreeable
addition to society, they desired to return the
copious hospitality they had enjoyed in the
neighbourhood. Chaperones were limited to


a few. It was, indeed, useless to burden a
festivity meant to consist of climbing ruins,
roaming woods, dancing and a picnic dinner
with gouty and other infirm subjects — they
had had their day, and it was their duty to be
happy and contented in the happiness and
contentment of the coming generation — some-
body original dared to make that bold declara-
tion, and it was judiciously acted on. When
the company were all assembled within the
Priory bounds youth was in the ascendant.
There were only two gentlemen with white
hair, one born so, and in spectacles, who was
the engineer-in-chief, and the other Mr Dawson,
the proprietor of Comber. Of old ladies there
were none. Young Mrs Hutton and five or
six matrons, her contemporaries, were the

But, lavish preparation and wise precaution
notwithstanding, the fete at Comber did not
escape the bane of disappointment that waits on
picnics. How many of these gala celebrations
ever do turn out what the assistants blithely
dream they must? With the woes, material


and sentimental, that befell the rout of the
company this story cannot meddle, but one
incident that happened early In the day, and
quite marred the anticipated pleasure of the
guests with whom It is most concerned, must
needs be recorded. It was the Incident of the
picnic to Winny Hesketh and Durant.

At Comber Priory there was a wonderful
lovely view to be seen for those who had the
pluck to climb the ruinous stair of the clerestory
in the chapel, and pass along the gallery that
ran above what was the great west window ; but
It required a nerve, for the parapet was gone,
and it was rough footing with the broken stones
and loose stones amongst the ivy.

* Dare you venture, Miss Hesketh ? ' Mr
Melhuish asked her. Winny would certainly
venture if there was anything to reward her.
Mr Melhuish had been, and had come down
again, and could assure her that she would be
well rewarded.

Two or three of the young engineers had
gone up since, and seeing a clear way before
her, Winny followed. When she had mounted


a dozen steps she heard some one behind
her, and making a little haste, emerged suddenly
into the dazzling sunshine. The light was very
strong In her eyes, but when she had scanned
the view all round, she walked along the rugged
way with cautious swiftness, and not a thought
of danger until she was about half-way across,
when Alick Broome espied her from below, and
shouted out : ' Eh, you, up there, mind you
don't fall ! '

Unwisely Winny halted, and looked down.
It was a dizzy height. She felt herself wavering
— she had an idea of trying to turn back, when
Durant's voice behind her, said harshly : * Go
on. Miss Hesketh ; what are you stopping for?'

' I did not know you were there,' replied
Winny, and recovering her balance with the
shock, went on as she was bidden.

The descent was by another broken turret-
stair, and Alick Broome came half-way up to
help her down. It was awkwardly precipitous in
places, and Winny thankfully availed herself of
his assistance till she landed safe at the bottom.

When Durant appeared he was white with


anger : ' You officious young fool, what pos-
sessed you to call out to Miss Hesketh and put
her in such peril ? ' exclaimed he, addressing

Winny saw with surprise and perplexity that
he was shaken past control. Alick looked at
him with deprecating humility and confessed that
it was a heedless trick ; and then, with a shame-
faced glance at Miss Hesketh, conveyed himself

Durant did not excuse his outburst. ' You
are safe,' he said to Winny. ' But when I saw
you hesitate, and stretch out your hand, I shut
my eyes — I could not reach you.' He was
silent. He had taken the hand she had stretched
out, and held it painfully hard, gazing at her
with an emotion he could neither hide nor
suppress. * I have been in some dangers in my
time, but I do not remember ever to have suf-
fered such a minute of supreme anguish as
I have just passed through,' he said in a sub-
dued tone. Then, after another pause in
which Winny's eyes began to shine with
sweet solicitude, he added : * Don't put your-


self in any more risks to-day/ and dropping
her hand, he left her abruptly.

Winny stood for some moments where she
was. She took off her glove to relieve her
white, cramped fingers, and said to herself :
' I was not aware of my peril.'

And that incident was the end of her pleasure
this fine picnic-day. Durant did not return to
her. She lost sight of him altogether, and
though she heard several inquiries of his where-
abouts, she heard no satisfactory answer. She
rambled in the woods, and they were delightfully
umbrageous ; she perambulated the flower-
gardens, and they were gaudy and glowing ;
she shared the feast, and that was in its way
perfect — but the glory of the day was de-

About four o'clock a sudden gloom over-
spread the earth, and a rapid assembling of
black clouds in the sky gave warning of a
thunderstorm which burst with a heavy shower,
and compelled a general flight to the inn.
The inn boasted one large room used for
tenants' dinners and similar festivities, and

VOL. II. c


there the multitude flocked. It had not been
intended to begin dancing so early, but the
music was at once called for, and the weather
valiantly defied.

WInny Hesketh stood at the window
watching the rain, and presently to her came
Allck Broome, and said : * Durant has for-
saken us. Miss Hesketh.' WInny made
some indifferent reply, and being asked if she
would dance, said she was tired, and would
rather not. However, as girls were in a mino-
rity, she had to do her duty, and dance many
times — indeed every time, until the rain
having abated, Mrs Hutton sent her a message
to slip away, for their party were going. WInny
obeyed the summons without a wish to linger.
So much did the presence or absence of Durant
make for her pleasure or the reverse.

Comber was not more than five miles from
Foston, and the road ran through Rushmead.
Mildred and Frank had ridden on in advance.
The evening was unsettled, though beautiful
after the storm, and Mrs Hutton feared WInny
would have a bad day for her journey on the


morrow. ' And if the weather break now, it
will retard the harvest and spoil the grouse-
shooting,' she continued. ' By the by, Durant
left Comber early — I wonder why ? '

* I don't know,' said Winny. She had begun
to think she should not see him again before she
went away.

But when they came within view of that stile
by the roadside, they smelt first the perfume of
his cigar, and then they saw him, coming across
it to bid them good-night. He had recovered
his usual easy manner, and as I\Irs Hutton
pulled up for a minute, he announced that he
should be off to the moors by six o'clock in the
morning. Mrs Hutton supposed that he would
be home again for the partridges. 'Yes,' he
said, * yes, I hope so. The rain is coming on
— I won't keep you. Good-night — good-bye,
Miss Hesketh.' He shook hands with them
all, and with Winny last. ' When are we to see
you next ? ' he asked her.

* Ah, that I don't know ; that I cannot tell
you,' answered she.

' Before very long — ^before next midsummer,*


said Mrs Hutton. ' We shall not give her time
to forget us.'

It had been agreed that Winny must be one
of Mildred's bridesmaids, and the wedding was
to be in the spring.

' Well, good-night,' he repeated. ' Good-bye,'
and stood back in the road as Mrs Hutton
drove on.

When the House was reached everybody
confessed to being tired, and that was a happy
excuse for going off silent to bed.



The widow Hesketh never made communica-
tions of importance in her letters, but as Winny
sat at tea with her on the evening of her return
to Cotham her mother told her there was a
chancre in the house. Mr Andrews had ac-
cepted an appointment in London, and in his
room was now established a clergyman, a poor
young curate, broken down by hard work in a
great city, whom Dr Archer had asked her to
take in because he required care and good
nursing to bring him round to health and
strength again.

*Very well, mother; if you are satisfied, so
am I. But why has the short-faced gentleman,
why has our Mr Spec, forsaken dear and
familiar Cotham for everything strange in
London ? I thought he meant to live and die
with us.'


*So did I, WInny. It was quite a sudden
move. But he is gone, and Mr Nicholls does
not like the piano.'

' I will not trouble him, poor fellow, if he be
ill. I hope he is not very ill, mother, for your
sake ? '

' No — he is rather tedious and capricious, but
I endeavour to please him. And now, Winny,
tell me about your visit to Miss Hutton.'

Winny told all her gaieties at large, gave an
account of all her recent acquaintances, not
forgetting Mr Durant and Mrs Brett, or even
minor characters and actors in the fresh fields
and pastures new from which she had just re-
turned. Her mother heard .nothing to alarm
her fears, and was gratified by the honour to be
put upon her daughter as Miss Hutton's brides-
maid — respecting which she suggested that the
dress that did for the wedding at Foston would
do again for Delphine Mercier s wedding, unless
Delphine's took place the first ; an economical
notion in which Winny was not ashamed to ac-

The space before the end of her holiday


which WInny Hesketh had to spend at home
was not long. She had something every day to
do, and her humour was ahos^ether cheerful and
contented. Her mother said the visit to Foston
had done her good, to which Winny rejoined
that a little diversion was good for everybody.
Miss Denham was still absent from Cotham,
and the Holworth Grange people were at the
sea, but Delphine Mercier was trudging about
the town, giving occasional and holiday-lessons,
and Miss Baxter and Miss Maria were in their
groove — the one embroidering, the other dis-
pensing physic, perfumery, and tea, with the
usual moral reflections on the tediousness of
customers and the perplexity of bad debts. The
old ladies wxre glad to see Winny, they loved
her best of all their young friends, and proud
to introduce her to a black-browed, thick-set
gentleman, their nephew, native of Wimpleburn
and professor at Cambridge — a great scholar in
history, as they explained to her : * And as you
are both so mighty clever, you ought to be
friends,' said Miss Maria. But the professor
was mighty glum as well as mighty clever, and


Winny felt too frivolous to enter into his dis-
course. Not that he asked her. When told
that she was a governess, he mentioned the
high respect in which he held women who
devoted themselves to honourable work — then
he talked of family matters to his aunts, and
gave her the least notice possible. Winny dis-
entangled skeins of silk, and heard his big voice
remotely booming through a reverie of the garden
at Foston. Miss Baxter remarked to her sister
afterwards, that it was very provoking : young
people who ought to take to each other were
always perverse, and never did — and if she was
not blind, little Winny Hesketh, demure as she
looked, had got somebody in her head.

The idea thus frankly expounded by Miss
Baxter penetrated the brain of Delphine Mer-
cier also during the first hour of confidence
they two spent 'together. Delphine was prepar-
ing her wedding-garments, on a modest scale
and with prudent foresight, and she enlisted
Winny, who was skilled in beautiful stitches,
to give her help and advice, which Winny was
delighted to do. They sat in the study upstairs


at Delphlne's house — in the room where her
father used to give his lessons, where he
would never give them any more — and talked
like veritable wise women — that is, Delphine
did : Winny was best at listening, and it struck
Delphine once or t\vice that she listened a little
absently, as if she were running after her own
thoughts while lending her ears with such serious,
mild attention.

To prove her Delphine hazarded a speech :
* Yes, I shall choose my wedding-gown as Mrs
Primrose did hers — one to be useful on other
occasions ; and as it will be cold weather
when we are married, I am thinking of green
baize. What do you think of green baize,
Winny ? '

Winny murmured composedly that she
thought it would be very nice. ' And you will
wear a bonnet — not a wreath and veil ?' she

Delphine gave her a scrutinising, merry look,
and exclaimed : * I've found you out ! You
have not heard a word I've been saying. Now
^vhat did I say my wedding-dress should be ? '


' Green baize,' replied Wlnny colouring —
* Some new stuff, is it ? — Surely not what they
cover swing-doors and Family Bibles with ?'
and she laughed.

* Ah, you are deep, very deep, but not so
deep as you fancy. Miss Winny,' rejoined her
friend, wagging the head of derision. ' Te/l
me, now ? '

Winny calmly required another of those
handkerchiefs that were to be hem-stitched,
and all Delphine's insistance did not elicit
another blush, or the slightest further self-
betrayal. She was set on her guard, however,
or, perhaps she tried to play at self-deception.
What she said was, that she must not give way
to weaving her webs for stories except when
alone, lest she should become absent-minded
— as grave a drawback for a governess as deaf-
ness. Delphine heard her plea with courtesy,
but she was not convinced that her discernment
had overshot the mark.

Miss Hesketh's return to Hall Green was
not a day of dolour either to herself or her


pupils. There was vast effusion of talk at tea,
and Sissy communicated that Miss Hesketh
had been heard of through Cousin Allck

* Yes — he told us that he had almost been
the death of you/ quoth Mab who still presided
over the schoolroom tea-pot on high solemnities.
WInny laughed at the exaggeration, and re-
counted the Incident that Alick Broome had
acted In.

' Papa said it was foolish and dangerous to
startle anybody upon a height,' observed
Clemmy with her customary propriety. And
then, out of the fulness of her heart, she began
to speak of her personal concerns — * O Miss
Hesketh, papa will not buy me Keightley or
Hume — he thinks Markham and M agnail go
quite far enough for girls. But we may have
books out of the library, as many as you please.'

' Oh, do leave lessons alone till to-morrow,
Clem,' pleaded Mab. ' Clem has been flattered
that she has a great deal of talent. Miss Hes-
keth, and I expect you will have to suffer for it.
She is going to live for a purpose.'


The young governess did not expect that she
would have to suffer very severely, and she was
in health and spirits to bear it — so she stated
and so she looked. Everybody complimented
her on her blooming and lively aspect, and
Mrs Broome, between herself and her husband,
made some private remarks on a few idle
words that Alick Broome had spoken without

The next day they all fell into their places
and routine of work. Clemmy's threat of living
for a purpose proved real, and she was remorse-
less in making Miss Hesketh serve it. At the
root of Winny's character there was a deposit
of most easy good-nature, which would always
render her liable to heavy taxation by encroach-
ing and selfish persons, and Clemmy began to
impose upon her with an admirable coolness of
which she only by slow degrees became aware.
The young lady would invade the schoolroom,
or even the sky-parlour in the turret, during the
sacred hours of recreation, bringing piles of
volumes up to her chin, which she would let
slide upon the floor by Winny's chair, with the


following preface or introduction of her
demands —

' Oh, dear Miss Hesketh, papa does not care
about light pencil-marks that can be rubbed
out, only he wishes you to look over all the pas-
sages I must read. I have made notes of my
questions — let me see, here they are-^I will
not give you them all at once/ Winny hoped
not ; the first instalment filled a closely-ruled
quarto sheet. Clemmy read : * I want to know
all about the feudal customs as they affected
orirls and women — the chief messuao^e went to
the eldest daughter when there w^ere no sons,
and there was a fuss about the marrying of
heiresses — do you believe they were really ever
married at fourteen ? If they were, Mab must
be quite an old maid.' After a pause of reflec-
tion, which Winny did not interrupt, the Inquir-
ing scholar passed to her next head : ' Then I
want to understand clearly how the Petition of
Right came to be invented, and why so many of
the men who resisted King Charles in parlia-
ment while they were only squabbling over
taxes and old statutes went over to his side


when it came to fighting ? And do you call
Wentworth a traitor to his party or to the
country ? Oh, and what is divine right ? I
have brought you Hallam and Clarendon and
Macaulay, and if there is anybody else' —

' Enough for the present, Clemmy/ Winny
would say, withdrawing a pair of serenely mus-
ing eyes from the sweetness of the September
evening to turn them on the pages of constitu-
tional history, Clemmy often standing with an
arm round her neck to keep watch over her
at her task. For let it be confessed that Winny 's
conscience was satisfied with duty when the
children went to dessert, and she did not like
to forego her needful rest and refreshment,
whether she took a twilight stroll in the retired
paths of the garden, or a spell of equally need-
ful sewing, relieved by meditative gazes out of
window — at the soft, deep, purple-black shadows
under bush and wood when rain-clouds were
coming out of the north, at the yellow light
receding from the high tree-tops that nodded
west, at the silvery grey and blue silences still
undisturbed in the east and the south when


the cloud-curtain was sweeping down In a

But It came natural to her — or came by that
habit which Is a second nature — to respond to
her pupils' requirements, and she applied herself
to satisfy Miss Clemmy's with care and pre-
cision. Thus indulged, Clemmy would soon
give her no peace at all — even out walking,
being the eldest in the schoolroom, she claimed
the right to her governess's arm, and daily
beguiled her into the delivery of peripatetic
lectures when Winny would have been much the
better for holding her peace. But she bore the
persecution, unconscious of Its burden, for so
strong, so light-hearted and buoyant as she
felt after her holiday. The world was never to
her so beautiful a place as It was through this
September at twenty years old. She was up
in the morning early, and saw the silver cob-
webs and the delicious faint windless sky of
autumn In the cool hours before the sun orlowed
on the stubbles and the changing woods. And
work and play alike were easy to her — for
she was happy. She did not ask herself why —


she let that alone. If any one else had asked
her, she would have been perplexed to answer.
Perhaps she would have said it was because
she was young, and had nothing to vex her.
Nothing to vex her !

One dancing-day when Miss Hesketh had
seen her young ladies safe at the Manor

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 13)