Holme Lee.

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

. (page 3 of 13)
Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

School for their music-lesson, and was on her
hurried way to Castle Green, she met Mr
Durant. She blushed and dimpled with the
glad surprise — was so confused with the sudden
joy that she could not recollect afterwards what
she had said by way of greeting, but she hoped
and believed, nothing. Durant would turn and
walk with her at a slackened pace. His manner
was still the same kind and simple manner that
had gone so far to make her happy at Foston.

A long while ago Winny had read in her
Homer of Nausicaa, at the sight of Ulysses,
desiring that the gods might give her just such
a noble spouse. If it had been possible for
Winny Hesketh, after all the prudent counsels
and cautions she had imbibed, to wish a wish


of that nature, Durant would have been her

He did not mention any affairs that he had
in Gotham — indeed, he said that he had never
been in the town before. Of course, Winny
could not imagine that he was there only to see
her. They were not ten minutes together. At
her mother's door he shook hands with her
cordially, promised to let her friend Mildred
Hutton hear how blithe and bonny she was
looking — those were Mildred's terms for her —
and then marched off as if duty and pleasure
both were satisfied.

That was a happy day. The widow Hes-
keth was insensibly cheered by her daughter's
animation. Mrs Brunton remarked to Mam'zelle
that Miss Winifred had turned out really nice
looking — quite a charming countenance. The
tedious dancing-hours slipped over impercep-
tibly in the wake of Winny's vision, and the
drive out along the country-road to Hall Green
was too swift by half.

There, at the end of it, was dear, indefatigable
Glemmy, eager to resume her inquiries into the



rights and wrongs of the Puritans whom Whit-
gift harried for Queen Elizabeth. * Oh, I cannot
talk about harrying anybody now — I'll play you
at ball if you like ! ' cried the governess, impetu-
ously arresting the flow of her excellent pupil's
judicious curiosity.

Mrs Broome happened to be in the way, and
to overhear the challenge : ' I think,' said she,
' less book and more ball would be good for
your figure, Clemmy. Thank you. Miss Hes-
keth, for the wise proposal.'

And until tea was ready there was a game
at ball, Mab joining, and Winny keeping hers
up to past a hundred. Mr Broome, wondering
at the noise, came out of his study to see what
it meant, and remarked, but not in a displeased
tone, that the big children were worse than the
little ones. Miss Hesketh, being in the spirit
and pride of the play, would not have let her
ball down for king nor kaiser, and went on
tossing and backing and turning with the
quickest light graceful movements, and all in
rhymic time.

' She is a very handsome little woman, and I


wish your conjectures may be true,' the gentle-
man said to his wife afterwards, referring to
her idea that had sprung from those idle w^ords
of Alick Broome.

' I wish Miss Hesketh well, certainly, but I
do not wish to lose her. She is sensible and
conscientious, and gives me no trouble to keep
in good-humour, which is a great thing,' said
the lady. * I have a horror of misunderstood,
low-spirited young women ; a governess of that
character would be the plague of my life.'


UNWERSm Of ttA***^



Miss Denham did not return to Cotham until
nearly the end of October, but as soon as she
did return, she let Winny Hesketh know of it,
and invited her to pay her a visit next dancing-
day, as late in the afternoon as she conveniently
was able.

Winny had played many games at ball, and
had elucidated many historic problems for
Clemmy Broome between the sweet September
day when she met Mr Durant in the town, and
this chill October day when she obeyed
Georgie's summons. She committed her pupils,
for once, to the care of excellent Miss Molyneux,
and confided to the practical wit of Sissy the
ordering of the carriage to come round for her
to Mr Denham's house, when the dancing-lesson
was over.


Georgle was in her sanctum, with an unusual
air of preparedness about it, and a splendid fire.
She sat at ease in her own peculiar chair,
dressed in her own peculiar style, reading in
French, a work connected with her own peculiar
studies. Winny came in, gay and happy, her
eyes full of light, her cheeks rosy with the cold
— it was always a great joy to her to see
Georgie. She was begged to take a chair by
the hearth, but preferred one at a distance from
the fire, on the comfortable old sofa at the fur-
ther side of the table — on account of the frosty
air out of doors, she said, but in reality on an
impulse to place herself beyond the range of
Georgie's scrutiny. Something in Georgie's
reception of her, warm but embarrassed, had
roused in Winny a wary expectation of intel-
ligence that might be a surprise, accompanied
with pain, and possibly, a call for fortitude.

And, in fact, Georgie had somewhat on her
mind to say — imperative to be said, as she
judged, but difficult and delicate nevertheless.
She discoursed delusively of other matters to
lead the way, but Winny was marking her pre-


cautionary steps, and became sensitively alive
when she approached the burning question,
thus — * I have not seen you since that ball at
Rockbro', Winny. Pray, how did you get on
afterwards ? '

' Oh, capitally ! They are all so kind at
Foston. I am to be Mildred's bridesmaid, you
know, in spring,' Winny said, watchfully on

' I am glad you get a little pleasure in your
life — it must be dull enough in general. Mr
Durant, will he be at the wedding ? '

* I hope so. Why do you ask that, Georgie ?
He is a most agreeable and pleasant gentleman,
courteous to everybody, and very kind to some.'

Georgie elevated her chin, an expressive
gesture with her, and was absolutely silent for
three or four minutes — not disputing her previous
conclusions, but reflecting whether she might
not be on the verge of an impertinence. Winny
drew towards her on the table a journal of
medical science, and reading off the title, ob-
served that Georgie still inclined, then, to
pursue her vocation of a healer ?


* Yes. I mean to be of use In that way. Do
you remember what first made us two friends
at school ? ' Georgle said, contemplating the
antique buckles on her Spanish leather shoes,
stretched out, and crossed lightly the one over
the other on the bear-skin rug.

Winny appeared to consider before she
answered : ' You took a thorn out of my hand.
If there Is any question of taking out thorns
to-day, Georgle, I think — perhaps — I'd rather
not — I'd rather put It off.'

' No, you would not, Winny. You fancy so
at this moment, but before you had gone the
length of the street you would come back, and
ask to have It over.'

' Well, then, go on — let me have It over.'

' You are such a healthy soul that I am not
apprehensive of bad consequences following on
the operation. Mr Durant Is married. You
did not know that, did you, Winny ? '

* No. He lives as a bachelor. Well, Georgle,
is the thorn out ? Is that the thorn ? He never
spoke of love to me. Why should he not be
married?* Winny's voice vibrated clear and


high as a silver bell. She pushed away the
journal, and came and stood over against the
fire, in front of her friend, resting a foot on the
fender. There was another silence — it is not
the business of a physician to convince a patient
that he suffers. Stoicism is not amiss In sharp
cases : it economises energy, and the reparative
powers. The day was growing dusk, but the
light of the fire shone full in Winny s face — her
bright eyes were curiously veiled as with a film,
and her lips apart as if to breathe were a hard-

' You will scorch your dress, Winny. What
a pretty soft violet shade it is,' Georgle said in
her gentle manner.

* It begins to be an old thing now — it was
the last thing my mother gave me when she
started me In the world — before I went to Hall
Green,' Winny replied, and took her foot from
the fender, and drew her dress away from the
risk of scorching. Then she looked up at the
window, and remarked how black the evening
was turning, and it was time the carriage was


At that instant they heard it at the door.

Georgie rose, rested her two hands on
Winny's shoulders, and kissed her. They
said good-bye, not one word more, and then
Winny was in the street — in the carriage with
the girls, all a-chatter together. And she
chatted too, much as usual — they heard no
difference ; only about half a mile from home
she stopt the carriage, and got out, to walk the
rest of the way. Clemmy offered to walk with
her, but the offer was declined with thanks.
Miss Hesketh said she would rather walk alone,
she wanted a blow and ten minutes of peace
and quietness, to set her up for the lessons that
had to be done after tea.

There had been a thick wet mist all day, but
now, with the moonrise and a north-west wind,
the atmosphere was clearing. Clouds, ragged,
huge, yellow, lurid, swept in irregular battalions
across the pale sky, and the heavy sway of
leafless trees against the low horizon seemed to
dwarf the world with their desolateness, and to
shut it in. Winny braced herself and marched
on, strong and steady, sensible of a change


within and without, but not seeking to define
it. The rough gloom of the weather was
suggestive of miserable life, of life not to regret
leaving — a momentary revelation of despair.
And then she thought of her mother, and other
people's troubles, and so she arrived at the hall
door, and entered into the circle of common
light, and the noise of children's tongues, and
was gathered back into the round of duties and
the work of the hour.

Men and women are chary of bringing sym-
pathy to persons who do not make it manifest
that they are very sorry for themselves. They
say, and are thankful, that the back is made for
the burden, and where there is so little show of
grief, the grief cannot be overwhelming. We
differ not only in the capacity of feeling, but in
our power of expressing it — and we differ also
in our force of controlling it. Perhaps, on the
whole it is safer to be over-reserved than over-
effusive — for how wearisome is a prolonged
draught upon that same sympathy we all credit
ourselves that we possess ! how soon we grow


Impatient of easy tears, of fluent complaining,
and windy, pitiful sighs, losing faith in their
sincerity, and vexing our hearts with simulated
compassion for the pretences of customary
woe !

Miss Denham rode out in the direction of
Hall Green a few days after her interview with
Winny Hesketh, in the hope that Winny might
turn her steps towards Gotham in that expecta-
tion. And it did happen so. They met at
what the children called the ' Two Trees,' two
immense, bushy chestnuts in the hedgerow,
which were the limit of half an hour's smart
walking on a winter's day. Thus they reckoned
their time for noon-recreation. Winny kept
by Georgie's bridle, and the little girls ran on
before, bowling their hoops. The friends did
not revert to the interest of their previous
meeting, and Winny had plenty to say on
general subjects, but Georgie was not thereby
induced to imagine that she had performed a
merely officious action. She understood that
her patient had no more present need of
special advice. All the effect she discerned


in her was a degree of absence, and once or
twice the dropping of a sentence unfinished, as
if she had forgotten, or lost the thread of what
she meant to say.

When they were about to separate at the
gate of Hall Green, Georgie, with a slight
suffusion of colour in her face, asked : * Do you
like to see me, Winny ? '

Winny looked up, brightly wondering : ' If
I like to see you, Georgie ? What a question!
Certainly, I do ! '

* Then I'll ride this way oftener. It is as
good a road in winter as the Holworth road —
and winter is beginning early this year/

' Yes. I wish it were over. I never loved
the dreary days,' said Winny. * Then, good-

So Miss Denham took her ride twice or
thrice a week towards Hall Green, and some-
times she fell in with Miss Hesketh and her
pupils, and sometimes she missed them. It
was a monotonous, level road, but on a fine
morning, when the robins were singing and the
sun shone low on the fields, it was pleasant


enough. And their talks by the way — how
discursive they were, and to both, how dehght-
ful ! Georgie had infinite tact. She uttered
no personal criticisms on Winny, though she
thought many. There was not a word spoken
again of that secret which lay between them.
Winny always wanted to be informed of what
Georgie was reading, writing, dissecting — of
her own doings she was not communicative
unless questioned, and as it had been ever
much more their practice to dilate on Georgie's
philosophies than on Winny's inventions, the
same thing went on still.

Miss Denham, when she had carefully noted
for three or four weets how her patient bore
herself under pain, had no cause to be dissatis-
fied with what she had ventured, though she
could not congratulate herself on having made
an absolutely triumphant cure while the sufferer
visibly winced from any discussion of it.



It did not escape the shrewd, circumspect,
diligent observation of Mrs Broome, that a
change had passed upon her young governess,
who was such a treasure. Winny's healthy
appetite was somewhat abated, and much
against her inclination Mr Broome, who con-
stantly presided at the children's dinner for love
of their society, insisted upon a tonic course
of strong Edinbro' ale, and when Miss Hesketh
eyed the foaming tumbler askance, objecting
that she did not like it, and she should fall
asleep after it, he compounded for a claret-glass
or two, instead, and Clemmy availed herself of
the opportunity to emit her spite against Mrs
Markham by stating : ' It is of no consequence,
papa, if she does fall asleep ; for it is only
English history after dinner for Sis and Bee,


and she would hear in a dream if they made a
mistake — not in the book.'

' Clemmy, my dear, you are too clever b}'
half,' said her elder sister.

Miss Hesketh solemnly averred that she was
well — for anything she knew to the contrary —
but there must have been some symptom of
failure, for one evening she received a severe
shock. Mrs Broome came up to the school-
room on purpose to remark that the winter was
setting in with unusual rigour, and she thought
it would be a judicious move if Miss Hesketh
descended from her sky-parlour, and took up
her night-quarters in a room with Mab.
Winny was dreadfully dismayed, and replied
with intense decision that she should not like
that at all — she must have some silent retreat
of her own — she could not live with the
children's noises for ever.

' You are not required to do so,' Mrs Broome
said, considerately but firmly. * There is no
fire-place in the tower, and a great volume of
cold air must pour down that open chimney.
You shall have a small bed put into Mab's room


— you can keep your sky-parlour, as you call
it, for a dressing-room.'

* I would much rather keep it, and sleep in
it altogether,' urged Winny plaintively.

' My dear Miss Hesketh, Mr Broome insists
upon it,' rejoined the lady, and immediately con-
veyed herself beyond the hearing of any further
remonstrances. Miss Hesketh had to submit,
of course.

When the dancing-days came round now
Winny Hesketh never went into Cotham with-
out fearing that Mr Durant might meet her
again. If she saw a figure in the distance that
resembled his, she turned down another street
with throbbing heart and whitened lips. This
influence of imagination was lowered after a few
occasions, and it seemed likely that the fear and
emotion might wear off, but when the event
actually occurred the revulsion of feeling was
very painful.

It was in the afternoon. She suddenly de-
scried Mr Durant going in the same direction
as herself towards Castle Green. Winny knew


more ways than one to her mother's house, and

she gained that refuge before he could come in

sio^ht of the door. She was flushed with her

hurry when she arrived, but sitting by the fire,

and with her back to the Hght, her countenance

was hidden in shadow. Her mother noticed

nothinor stranore in either her looks or behaviour ;

she only told her it was foolish to walk herself

out of breath. Perhaps that was why Winny

was so silent this visit. Her mother recollected

it after she was gone, when she went over in

her own mind the incidents and words of the

day, as people who are much alone do.

Winny lingered till the last minute, and

longer than she ought to have done, yet not

quite long enough to escape the ordeal that she

dreaded. Nevertheless, the need to make haste

helped her when Mr Durant, coming up from

behind, overtook her at Church Corner. They

shook hands, and she said she was late, and

stepped quickly on. She compelled a smile,

and her voice did not betray her, but her colour

had vanished, and in her eyes, though she was

unconscious of it, there was the troubled ex-
voL. 11. E


presslon of a mind ill at ease. She looked
straight forward. Mr Durant went on speaking,
but she did not hear, to understand, anything
he said until they were parting, when he asked :
* Have you any message this time for your
friend, Mildred Hutton ? ' Then she answered :
' Only my love to her,' and their eyes met.

Her blithe and bonny face was sad, shy,
crest-fallen. It touched him to the quick.
' What has happened ? ' he asked, and then was
filled with self-reproach for the idle question.
He knew very well what had happened.

' Oh, nothing,' said Winny, and with a quick
nod, and a sudden illumination as of wonder,
she turned and went in at the door of the
Talbot, where the children were waiting for her
in readiness to start.

Mr Durant had made some excuse to himself
for coming to Gotham this second time, which
was frivolous and not true — a sign that his
conscience did not sanction the indulgence.
He came for the pleasure of seeing Miss Hes-
keth — for nothing but that, unless it were for
the pleasure the sight of him would give her.


He felt that she was a little grateful to him
for kindnesses received — perhaps, a little more
than grateful ; and this was sweet to him. But
to-day what a transformation ! All her light-
heartedness was gone. If there had been any
groundswell of vanity in his thoughts, the rising
tide of tenderness swept it away when he saw
how she was in pain. He wished she knew
how he loved her, how she had charmed him
from the first hour of their meeting — if that
would do her good, or be any comfort under
the tortures of her alarmed pride. And almost
he believed it might. He believed that a girl
wants a plea before her own modesty for loving
a man, and that the only plea which will serve
the turn is the confidence that she is but giving
like for like ; silently responding to unspoken

Winny's sentiments were hardly so sophisti-
cated. She did not reason about her feelings.
She had sustained a shock, which, for the nonce,
routed her philosophy. She cried herself to
sleep that night, for self-reproach, self-pity,
anger, shame, for a crowd of pathetic fancies.


She had a very straitened heart, and trembled
lest any one should find her out. She was
afraid that Miss Denham might hear of this
encounter, and mention it. It would not occur
again. She assured herself that it was for the
last time — almost as if she had a contrary hope.
She had tried to be herself, easy, disengaged,
but she had grievously failed ; and in Mr
Durant's gaze of inquiry and surprise, she had
read his discovery of her concealed thoughts.
Her sole consolation was in the experience she
had of his simple kindness, his indulgence of
temper — all her desire that he would keep out
of her way, that he would not blame her too
harshly for a little foolishness, and that he
would soon forget it. Her sense of humiliation
was very sore, indeed.

Mildred Hutton's letters of this period had
but one song — her happy love : and the song had
but one burden, the name of Frank. WInny
dared inquire nothing of her, and yet she had a
longing curiosity to know the history of Mr
Durant's marriage. She had to be satisfied, for
the present, with the knowledge of the plain


fact, for it did not occur to Mildred to tell her
that old story, though she was moved to tell
her something else, which, if it was not more
salutary, was certainly more soothing. Her
placid absorption was stirred for once in a
while, and diverted into an alien channel — how
deeply stirred Winny guessed from the exertion
she made. Mildred wrote her an immense
epistle on a Sunday night in her bedroom, when
all the house was quiet, to inform her of a con-
versation, and a confession that she had received
from Mr Durant in the afternoon.

The confession had not been formally made.
Between his visit to Cotham and that Sunday
afternoon three days had elapsed, during which
Mr Durant had remembered often, and ever
more tenderly. Miss Hesketh's forlorn little
effort to look at him unconcerned. It did
cross his mind once, and even twice, that he
might not be the author of her dejection —
there might be other causes, many other
causes — but still the conviction remained that
he had laid himself out to promote her enjoy-
ment, and had done his best to make her glad


and happy in his company. This, which she
called kindness, had in it a strain of cruelty.
He was not free to win her affections ; a slight
preference was all he courted, — so he said to
himself, and while he said it, he knew that
he had desired much more than that, and had
succeeded quite beyond his deserts. He was
triumphant, and he was pitiful — he was very
restless and distressed until he had found out
a way of disburthening his conscience, and, as
he hoped, of administering consolation.

* I was in Cotham on Wednesday, and there
I met that sweet little woman. Miss Hesketh,'
he said to Mildred Hutton as indifferently as
he was able.

* She is a sweet little woman,' Mildred
replied. ' And what had she to tell you ? '

' Nothing. She seemed tired, and out of
spirits, I thought. She was gayer here.'

' Winny would be as gay as any of us if her
life did not fetter her. She is bound to behave
as if she were a hundred, or nobody would have
her for a governess. I wish she were out of


Suddenly there flashed into Mildred's memory
that remark of her mother upon Durant and her
friend, and she glanced in his face with a shrewd
penetration. His eyes met hers : ' I wish I
were out of bondage, too,' said he. ' I never
saw the woman yet with whom it would be
easier to live pleasant than with her.'

Mildred was silent for a minute after this,
and then, with a sigh and an air of pensive
abstraction, she cried softly : ' Ah, but wishing
will not release you ! ' She was comparing her
own fate with Winny's. She perfectly under-
stood what Durant meant her to understand,
without fuller expression of it, and now she
feared that her mother had seen truer than
herself when she gave warning of the peril to
her friend of the close intimacy which had
grown up between her and the master of
Rushmead. But she knew too well what
loyalty to her sex required to admit that
any such peril existed. She had been familiar
with Durant as an elder friend of her brother
since she was herself a child, and that he
should be dangerous to Winny Hesketh's


peace (a man of double her years ! ) was
difficult to realise ; but, nevertheless, such a
thing might be. Winny had come to Foston
unforewarned, and, therefore, unforearmed ;
Durant had been assiduously good to her,
and she had the partiality of a reserved and
quiet character for people older than herself.
Still Mildred smiled with a half incredulity at

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHolme LeeThis work-a-day world (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 13)