Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

girls because they were so heavy in hand, asked for an introduction to the new beauty. Mrs Midelmass Duff, who had been in close conversation with Lord Humphrey, wondered what men could see in a girl so totally deficient in style. Mrs Midelmass Duff has style. She is famous for her resemblance to a great prima donna of Parisian opéra bouffe, and, according to her friend Lady Raddley, is apt to forget that she is not dressing for the part of the Princess Popomakamikka in the play. But then Lady Raddley has no doubt heard that cruel speech about her own brilliant colour, and is well aware that Mrs Duff has wit, a pretty wit, and as Parisian as her gowns.

Miss Katharine Adare was pleased and irritated by the excitement which she caused. To wake from a life of school-room, park, and village to wake and find herself famous in the glare and bustle of society—was too sudden a change. She wanted time to consider her position to enjoy her triumph. She wanted to observe this strange world; but wherever she looked she saw only eyes, before which she must drop her own. The air seemed full of her whispered name. So many people were thinking about her, that she was obliged to think about herself. She had to assume unconsciousness of the admiration around her, and to enter rooms with a fine air of selfpossession. All this was very hard to one so frank by nature, and so little given to pondering on her own states of mind. She looked in the glass with unwonted anxiety. She wondered if she was really so handsome. She was half inclined to lament the brilliancy of her appearance. These golden blondes are too rare, like the masterpieces of the great Venetian, who dipped his brush in sunlight. The tall, proud girl was half ashamed of her beauty. She told herself that she was countrified, and resisted the temptation to powder. It was not until she found herself in the country at Easter that Miss Katharine tasted the sweets of success. She was free once more, and able to be natural. She enjoyed the humour of the thing. She conjured up the picture of the shy school-girl, and that of the young lady of fashion, and laughed at herself in both characters. She laughed at the men, too, as she called to mind the heavy attentions of Captain Loyd, and the half-timid, half-patronising, compliments of Mr Peepin, who was but a nervous man of the world. She thought that she knew all about Society now, and was ready to play her part in all its pageants. She fancied all sorts of dazzling scenes, omitting the crushing and weariness. She was too full of life to be tired. When old women in the village, grateful for jelly or port, invoked blessings on her pretty face, she laughed and blushed at the thought of more dangerous flatterers.

On a fair morning in April, Miss Katharine stood by the open window of her mother's boudoir. She watched the light shadows of the flying clouds pass on the sloping hill. She saw where the broken shaft of sunlight was quenched in a far wooded hollow. She felt the springtime in her heart, and her lips began to shape a silent song. She was wondering what Irvine would think of her social triumph. No doubt he would sneer at her frivolity. He would be vexed, as he had so often been, by her failure to take a sufficiently wide view of life. If he were by her side, she knew that she could sting him into an epigram or two about the dining class. So she began to wish for one of their old quarrels. She smiled, as the world before her eyes changed in its April mood. The old world was so young, light-hearted, and debonair, that the girl's lips rounded themselves, and the beautiful Miss Adare began to whistle.

“Katharine !” said her mother -- "Katharine, my dear!” Mrs Adare's voice had an habitual

tone of mild expostulation for her daughter. Early in her married life she had soothed the restless baby. At a later period she had felt it her duty to tone down the gay spirits of the little girl, who for some time connected a visit to the boudoir with entering church. She often observed plaintively that it was strange that all the children took after their poor father. She had a mild delight in theories; and when her great, strong husband was accidentally killed, amid all her real and deep grief, there was some comfort in the thought that she could bring up her girl and three boys according to her own ideas. Nevertheless these ideas remained for the most part mere food for conversation, and the children scrambled up as children do, learning something from governesses and more from each other, until the boys were all at school. Then the tall girl in the short frock, who looked so awkward to the maternal eye, received all that soft repression which was Mrs Adare's sole practical contribution to the education of her family. The mother loved the daughter, checked her as a duty, and envied her her buoyancy and gladness. She was a little jealous of her, though she had never confessed it to herself, and would have been horrified at the bare thought.

Katharine was very fond of her mother, but began very early in life to be puzzled by her. Rebuked for noise, she set up her parent as a model of repose, and tried hard to imitate her. She prayed for help with much simplicity, and at one time forced herself to lie on the sofa so often, that Mrs Adare was suddenly seized with a panic and telegraphed for a London doctor.

As the girl grew up in health and beauty, she abandoned the effort after languor, and tried to atone for her want of repose by a good use of her natural activity. She was always ready to do some trifling service for her mother. Now, on this sweet spring morning, when she knew that she had offended her ears, she made haste to offer to read aloud. A pile of books lay on a small table by the couch, a volume of English history, the last book of popular science, and three new volumes from the circulating library. Mrs Adare had always held that a woman's education should not end at her marriage. She still believed that she kept up with the thought of the day. When people spoke of the last learned books, she sometimes said modestly enough that she had looked into them, and that they were very abstruse. She would have been unhappy if she had not had them

« ForrigeFortsett »