The Professional Aunt
by Mary C.E. Wemyss
A boy's profession is not infrequently chosen for him by his parents,
which perhaps accounts for the curious fact that the shrewd,
business-like member of a family often becomes a painter, while the
artistic, unpractical one becomes a member of the Stock Exchange, in
course of time, naturally.
My profession was forced upon me, to begin with, by my sisters-in-
law, and in the subsequent and natural order of things by their
children — my nephews and nieces.
Zerlina says it is the duty of one woman in every family to be an
aunt. By that she means of course a professional aunt. She says she
does not understand the longing on the part of unattached females —
the expression is hers, not mine—for a larger sphere of usefulness
than that which aunt hood offers. She considers that it affords full
scope for the energies of any reasonably constituted woman; and no
doubt, if the professional aunt was all that Zerlina says she should
be, she would have her time fully occupied in the discharging of her
Zerlina cannot see that it is not exactly a position of a woman's
own choosing, although under strong pressure she has been known to
admit that there have been cases in which women have been made aunts
whether they would or no; and she thinks it is perhaps by way of
protest against such usage that they so shamefully neglect their
duties in that walk of life to which their bothers and sister-in-law
have seen fit to call them.
Of course, when an aunt marries, she loses at once all the
perfecting of the properly constituted aunt; and that is a thing to
be seriously considered. Is she wise in leaving a profession for
which all her sisters-in-law think she is admirably fitted, for one
which the most experienced pronounce a lottery?
This is all of course written from Zerlina's point of view. She
requires of a professional aunt many things. She must, to begin
with, remember the birthdays of all her nephews and nieces, of
Zerlina's children in particular. If she remembers their birthdays,
it stand to reason, Zerlina's reason, that the sequence of thought is
The really successful aunt knows the particular taste of each
nephew and niece. She knows, moreover, the exact moment at which the
taste changes from a love for woolly rabbits to a passion for steam
engines. Instinct tells her at what age a child maybe promoted, with
safety, from wool to paint, and she knows the critical moment in a
boy's life when a Bible should be bestowed. It usually, or perhaps I
should say my experience is that it usually, follows the first knife,
an ordinary two-bladed knife, and comes the birthday before a knife —
with things in it." The real boy must have a knife with things in it:
a corkscrew,— I wonder why a corkscrew? — a buttonhook, a thing to
take stones out of horses' hoofs, a thing to mend traces with — I
know I am ignorant of the technical terms — but the hardest-hearted
shop- assistant will never fail to help a professional aunt in the
choice of a knife, unless by chance he should be unhappy enough never
to have been a boy, and such cases are rare.
I used often to wonder why boys wanted all these things. Now I
know, bemuse I asked Dick and he said, You see, Aunt Woggles, I use
them for other things." I am not sure that most of us don't do the
same thing with many of our most cherished possessions in life.
As regards steam-engines Zerlina lays down a distinct law. They
must never burst-that is an injury no sister-in-law would ever
forgive—and paint must never come off. If Zerlina had known and
loved the taste of crimson lake in the days of her youth, she would
never draw so hard and fast a line.
From the earliest moment in a baby's career, the professional aunt
takes upon herself serious responsibilities. She may not, for
instance, like any ordinary aunt, pass the baby in his perambulator,
out walking. Any other aunt may, with perfect propriety, say, "Hullo,
duckie, where's auntie?" and pass on. She knows the danger of
stopping, and seeks to avoid it. Not so the professional aunt. She
realizes the danger and faces it. She knows she will have to wait,
for the sake of the child's character, until he shall choose to say,
He will probably, if he is a healthy child, say everything he
knows but that. He will go through his limited vocabulary in a
pathetically obliging manner, making the most beautiful "moo-moos "
and "quack-quacks," but he will not say, "Ta-ta." Why should he? On
persuasion, and more especially if the interview should take place at
a street-corner on a windy March day, he will repeat the "moo-moos"
and "quack-quacks" even more successfully than before, and he will
wonder in what way they fall short of perfection, since he earns no
praise. He likes to be rewarded with, "Kevver boy." We all do, just
as a matter of form, if nothing else. Surely ordinary politeness
He will not say, "Ta-ta," though. Who knows but what it is innate
politeness on his part and his way of saying, "Oh, don't go! What a
However, the professional aunt cannot be sure of this, although
she can guess; so she must wait patiently, for the sake of Baby's
morals and nurse's feelings, until he does say, "Ta-ta." We may
suppose that he at last loses his temper and says it, meaning, no
doubt, "For goodness sake, go!" if not something stronger. The nurse
is satisfied, the aunt is released, and the conscientious objector is
Besides ministering to the soul of a baby the aunt must tend to
its bodily needs, and for this reason she must be a good needlewoman.
Before the arrival of the first nephew or niece, when she is very
unprofessional, she will hastily put her work under the sofa or
behind the cushion when any one comes into the room. As she grows
older and more professional, and the nephews and nieces become more
numerous, she will give up hiding her work. People who are intimately
connected with the family will show no surprise, and to inquisitive
strangers, unless she is very religious, she can murmur something
about a crèche, so long, of course, as Zerlina is not there.
The really successful aunt, one who is at the top of her
profession, can perfectly well be trusted to take all the children to
the Zoo alone; that is to say, without a nurse, and of course without
the mother. The mother knows how pleased and gratified an aunt feels
on being given the entire charge of the children. The nurse is
gratified too; in fact every one is pleased, with perhaps the
exception of the aunt. But it is against professional etiquette for
her to say so. She only wonders why mothers think a privilege they
hold so lightly — taking the children to the Zoo——should be so
esteemed by other women. But as the old story goes, "Hush, darling,
hush, the doctor knows best," so must we say, — Mothers know best."
Another qualification in a professional aunt, desirable if not
indispensable, is tact. If she should be possessed of ever so
little, it will save her a considerable amount of bother. She won't,
in a moment of mental aberration, praise dark-eyed children to
Zerlina, whose children have blue eyes. Should she do so, by some
unlucky chance, it would take several expeditions to the Zoo, and
probably one to Kew, before things were as they were. If Zerlina,
however, should, by the expedition of the aunt and children to Kew, be
enabled to do something she very much wanted to do, and couldn't,
because the nurse's father was ill, and the nursery-maid anemic, the
little misunderstanding will have disappeared by the time the aunt
returns from Kew, and Zerlina will say, after carefully counting the
children, — it is this mathematical tendency in mothers that hurts an
aunt, — "I do trust you implicitly with the children, dear. You know
that; it isn't every one I could trust; you are so capable! I wish I
were, but one can't be everything. Of course you don't understand a
I sometimes wonder why Zerlina always says this to me. I have
never pretended to be anything but an aunt.
But to return to my profession. As the children grow older the
duties of the aunt become more arduous. For the benefit of schoolboy
nephews with exeats, she must have an intimate acquaintance with the
Hippodrome, any exhibition going, every place of instruction, of a
kind, or amusement. She must be thoroughly up in matinees,, and know
what plays are frightfully exciting, and she must have a nice taste in
sweets. She need not necessarily eat them; it is perhaps better if
she does not. But she must know where the very best are to be
procured. She must never get tired. She must love driving in hansoms
and going on the top of 'buses. She must know where the white ones
go, and where the red ones don't, although a mistake on her part is
readily forgiven, if it prolongs the drive without curtailing a
performance of any kind. This requires great experience. She must
set aside, moreover, a goodly sum every year for professional
The foregoing are a few of the qualifications which Zerlina thinks
essential in aunts. There are others, and the greatest of them is
love. Zerlina forgot to mention that.
But Diana! That is another story. Open the windows wide, let in
the fresh air, the whispering of trees, the song of the birds, and
all that is good and beautiful in nature. The very thought of Diana
is sunshine. She is as God meant us to be, happy and good, believing
in the goodness of others, slow to find evil in them, quick to forgive
it, infinitely pitiful of the sorrows of the suffering. This is
Diana, and she has three children, Betty, Hugh, and Sara. Allah be
You do not imagine that I dislike Zerlina, do you? I should be
sorry to give that impression. But a professional aunt must be above
all things absolutely straightforward and truthful.
I had been engaged for weeks to go to Hames for the first shoot,
and an urgent telegram from Zerlina, followed by a feverish letter,
failed to move me from my purpose. The telegram, by the way, ran as
follows: "Can you Tuesday for fortnight. Do. Urgent. ZERLINA." I
wondered why Zerlina elected to leave out "come." If I had been
strictly economizing, I should have saved on the "do." The letter
followed in due course of time:—
Dear Betty, I have just sent a wire in frantic haste asking you to
come [that was exactly what she had not done] on Tuesday for a
fortnight. I should so much like you to see something of the
children, and Baby really is very fascinating. She is such a fat
child, much fatter than Muriel's baby, who is six months older. The
fact is, Jim is rather run down; nothing much, of course, but I think
a change would do him good, and the Staveleys have asked us to go to
them, and I don't like to refuse, and we thought it would be such a
good opportunity to have my bedroom re-papered and painted. I don't
believe you would smell the paint, and in any case I believe there is
some new kind of paint which smells delicious, like stephanotis, I am
told, so I will order that. I would not ask you to come just as we
are going away, because I should like to be at home to see you, but I
could go away so happily if you were with the children; I often think
for a woman without children, you are so wonderfully understanding,
about children, I mean. You could manage nurse, too, I am sure. She
is in one of her moods just now, and I feel I must get away from all
worries for a little. Yours,
P. S. — Jim is so well, and would send his love if he were here.
I telegraphed back, of course, directly I got Zerlina's telegram,
saying I could not come, and answered the letter at leisure. It is
as a sister-in-law in relation to the aunt that Diana particularly
shines. This aunt she looks upon as something more than useful, and
asks her to stay at other times than when the children have measles,
and whooping-cough, or the bedroom is to be re-papered. Zerlina
perhaps is unfortunate. She says, "Have you ever noticed how the
children always have something when you come to stay?" Zerlina is
quite pretty when she puts her head on one side. I answer, "Yes,
Zerlina, I have noticed it curiously enough," but I do not say that I
suspect that at the very first sound of a cough, at the very first
appearance of a rash, this aunt is urged to come and stay.
Diana accepts such services; the mother of such creatures as
Betty, Hugh, and Sara is forced to do so by very reason of their
existence. But those services she accepts with generous
appreciation; not that an aunt wants thanks, but being human,
pitifully so, even the most professional of them, she is conscious
where they are not expressed, in some form or other. A smile is
So to Hames I went, in spite of Zerlina's appeal, with treasures
deep down in my box for Betty, Hugh, and Sara. Sara is of all babes
in the world the most fascinating, say sisters-in-law other than Diana
what they will. As a tribute to this fascination, the largest white
rabbit, woolly to a degree undreamed of — at least I hoped so — in
Sara's world, was carefully packed in my box, wrapped cunningly in
tissue-paper, and guarded on all sides by clothing of a soft
description. I have known a chiffon skirt put to strange uses in the
interests of Sara.
I found the carriage waiting for me, and was touched to see that
Croft, the old coachman, had come to meet me himself. It is an honor
he does the family with perhaps two or three exceptions. When he comes
to meet me,, there is a regular program to be gone through. It varies
only in a very slight degree and begins like this: —
I say, "Well, Croft, it is very nice to see you," and he says,
"The same to you, miss, and many of them." He then begins to
"riminize"; the word is his own. He begins with the auspicious day
on which I was born, and describes how he himself went to fetch the
doctor in the dead of the night. He describes minutely his costume
and the part the elements played on the occasion; they were evidently
very much upset. He then goes on to say how he held me on my first
pony, and taught me to ride and drive. Having finally certificated me
as competent to drive a pair of horses under any circumstances, I ask
how the children are, Sara in particular. Here Croft looks
heavenward, and says she looks a picture, and adds that she looks very
like me. The footman knows that here the program is at an end, Croft
having no greater praise to bestow on mortal woman, and he opens the
carriage door and I get in.
Diana knows what it is to travel t he distance of three miles in
the suffocating embraces of Hugh and Betty; otherwise she would
probably have sent the children to meet me.
The smell of the brougham brought my childhood vividly back to me.
I shut my eyes and instinctively put out my hand; and that hand that
was always held out to us as children took mine in its loving clasp,
and I was a child again, home from a visit, so glad to feel that hand
again and to see that mother from whom it was agony to be parted, for
even a short space of time.
When I arrived at Hames, Diana, tall, fair, and beautiful as a
Diana should be, was on the doorstep to meet me. Diana, by the way,
had been christened "Diana Elizabeth," in case she should have turned
out short and dumpy and, by some miraculous chance, dark. I looked
for Sara in the tail of Diana's gown, — I am afraid this is a
literary license, as Diana does not wear tails to her gowns in the
country as a rule, — but Sara was not there.
"She is not there, said Diana. "The children are in the wildest
state of excitement, and will you faithfully promise to go up and see
them directly you have had tea?"
I would willingly have gone then and there, and murmured something
about my box, and Diana said she hoped I had not brought them
"Oh! nothing," I said; "only the smallest things possible";
knowing all the time that the woolly rabbit was, of its kind,
unrivaled. But these are professional expenses, and what I spend
does not afterwards give me a moment's worry. I have seen David, on
the other hand, speechlessly miserable after buying a mezzotint, for
the time being only, of course; the joy cometh in the morning, when
Diana proves to him that it was the only thing to do, and that it was
really quite wonderful, the way in which he was led to buy it. He had
had no idea of doing so. Not the slightest! And yet something within
him urged him to buy it. Absolutely urged him!
Then, Diana said, it was clearly meant. If a man deliberately set
out on a fine morning, bent on spending more than he could afford,
then —! Diana's "then" is always so comforting.
I am so afraid you will spoil the children, she said; "they expect
presents, which is so dreadful. Hugh bet sixpence at lunch that you
would bring him something, and he said to poor Mr. Hardy, You didn't."
"But he will next time, Diana," I said.
"Of course he will; that is the dreadful part of it."
It is right that Diana should feel like that. A mother's point of
view and another's, an aunt's, for instance, are totally different
things, and I told Diana that, while fully appreciating her anxieties
regarding the characters of her children, considered that to destroy a
child's faith in an aunt was little short of criminal. But I promised
that the next time I came I would, perhaps, not bring them anything.
"But I shall give them fair warning."
Diana admitted the justice of this, and she said, with a sigh of
relief, "I can't bear the children to be disappointed; a disappointed
Sara is —"
"Diana," I interrupted, "is it wise to begin Saraing at this time
In reality the woolly rabbit was tugging at my heartstrings and
clamoring to be unpacked. After a hurried tea, which I was obliged
to have for the sake of Bindon's feelings, I went upstairs, resolved
to disinter at all costs, without delay, the rabbit. I felt great
anxiety lest in transit the machinery which made the rabbit squeak in
a way that surely no rabbit, mechanical or otherwise,—particularly
the otherwise, I hoped,—had ever squeaked before, might be impaired;
happily it was not.
Having carefully shut the door and silenced the attendant
housemaid, I took the precaution of burying the rabbit partially
under the eider-down quilt before testing the squeak, so that no
noise should reach the children. I am afraid I "mothered" the squeak
of that rabbit if I imagined it could reach anywhere so far; it was in
reality such a very small one. But such as it was, it was perfect, in
spite of the deadening effect of the quilt, and I pictured Sara's
dimples dimpling. How she would love it! The treasure was carefully
wrapped up again, and I tried hard to make it look like anything
rather than a rabbit, in case Sara should try, by feeling it, to
discover its nature.
Jane, the housemaid, said that no one could tell, no matter how
much they tried; if they tried all day, they wouldn't, that she knew
for sure; which was very consoling.
I then examined Hugh's train and Betty's cooking-stove, and found
them intact, with, the exception of a saucepan lid. This, after a
search, we found under the wardrobe. Why do things always go under
things? Jane didn't know—she only knew they did. Then I opened the
door and called.
Suddenly I heard a noise unearthly in its shrillness: it was Hugh
calling his Aunt Woggles. He threw himself into my arms, keeping one
eye, I could not help noticing, on the parcels. During the hug, which
gave him plenty of time to make up his mind, he evidently decided
which was for him; for he relaxed his hold and went to the table by
the window, on which the parcels lay, whistling in as careless a
manner as a boy bursting with excitement could do. First of all he
stood on one leg, then on the other, and looked knowingly at me out of
the corner of his eye. He was too honest to pretend that he thought
the parcel was for some other boy, since there was no other. When the
excitement became more than he could bear, he sang in a sing-song
voice, "I see it, I see it!"
"Open it, then," I said, which he proceeded to do with great
energy, if with little success.
"I b'lieve it's a knife with things in it," he said.
My heart sank. "Oh, it's much too big for a knife, Hugh," I
"I 'spect it is, all the same," he said with a nod; "you've made
it big on purpose; I positively know you have."
At last it was opened, and I said, aunt-like, "Do you like it,
"Awfully, thanks." Then he added a little wistfully, "Tommy's got
a knife with things in it, a button'ook."
Perhaps he saw I looked disappointed, for he added magnanimously,
"I like trains next best, Aunt Woggles; only you see I didn't exactly
pray for a train, that's why. What's Betty's?"
"Betty must open it herself."
"Don't you suppose," he said, "that she would like me to open it
for her, because it is a hard thing opening parcels — and Betty says
I may always open all her parcels when she is out."
"Hugh!" I exclaimed.
He rushed to the door. "Come on, Betty," he shouted. "Aunt
Woggles wants you."
If Betty's entrance was less tempestuous than Hugh's, her embrace
was not less ecstatic. She put her arms round my neck and took her
legs off the ground, — a quite simple process, and known to most
aunts, I expect. The ultimate result would, no doubt, be
strangulation. No one knows, of course, but among aunts it is a very
general belief. Unlike Hugh, Betty kept her eyes religiously away
from parcels, and she got very pink when I drew her attention to the
very nobly one which was hers. Hugh stood by, urging her to open it,
and offering to help her; but this Betty would not allow, and she
opened it, her lips trembling with excitement.
"Is it for my very own?" she whispered.
"Absolutely for your very own, Betty," I answered.
"Oh!" said Betty. "Hugh, it's all for my very, very own; Aunt
Woggles says so; but you may play with it when you are very good."
This in Hugh's eyes seemed so remote a contingency as to be
scarcely worth consideration.
When the cooking-stove stood revealed in all its glory, Betty was
silent for a moment; then she said in a voice choked with emotion, "I
shall cook dinners for you, all for your very own self — nobody
My heart sank. "You will eat the things, won't you?" she asked,
"if I make proper things, just like real things?"
"Of course," I said. "Where's Sara?"
"She wouldn't have her face washed," said Betty, "so she's waiting
till she's good."
Poor Sara! A strict disciplinarian is Betty!
The regeneration of Sara was evidently a matter of moments only,
for the words were hardly out of Betty's mouth when Sara, in all her
clean, delicious dumpiness, appeared in the doorway. If there is one
thing more delicious than a grubby Sara, it is a clean Sara. Sara
after gardening is delicious, but Sara clean is assuredly the cleanest
thing on God's earth. I have never seen a child look so new, and so
straight out of tissue-paper, as Sara can look. She stared solemnly
at her Aunt Woggles, and then proceeded to walk away in the opposite
direction, which was an invitation on her part to me to follow and
snatch her up in my arms. She bore the hug stoically for a reasonable
time, and then said, "Oo 'urt."
I realized, with the agony of remorse, that a very large aunt can
by means of a brooch inflict exquisite torture on a very small niece.
She wriggled herself free and began to rearrange her ruffled
garments. "Yaya's got noo soos," she announced; "ved vuns."
"No, blue, darling," I said.
"Ved," said Sara.
"No, sweetest, blue," I repeated in a somewhat professional but
wholly affectionate manner.
"Ved," said Sara with great decision; so I gave it up.
"Sara always thinks blue is red," said Betty; "don't you,
"No, boo," replied Sara; so the matter dropped.
"Oo's tummin' to see Yaya's toys," said Sara.
"Am I, darling? When?"
"But Aunt Woggles has got something for you," I said in a
Sara showed no interest and pulled me by the hand toward the door.
"Hand me that, Betty," I said, pointing to the parcel on the
Betty handed it to me.
"Here, Sara, I said, "I have got a darling white rabbit for you!
Sara! A bunny!"
"Yaya's got a blush upstairs, a lubbly blush," she said,
disdaining even to look at the parcel. I held it toward her, undid
it, I squeaked the squeak, I called the rabbit endearing names; but to
no purpose. Sara looked the other way. A look I at last persuaded
her to bestow upon the rabbit; but she gazed at its charms, unmoved.
"Yaya doesn't yike nasty bunnies, only nice blushes," she said.
"It's a hearth-brush dressed up," whispered Betty, "and it's
dressed up in my dolly's cape, at least in one of my dolly's capes;
she loves it. Aunt Woggles, do you think it is a good thing to make
hearth-brushes say their prayers? Sara does."
I followed Sara disconsolately to the nursery and was shown the
beauties of the "lubbly blush."
Nannie bemoaned her darling's taste, and the nursery-maid blushed
for very shame.
"Not but what it's quite clean, miss," Nannie said; "it's been
thoroughly washed in carbolic."
Meanwhile Sara was rocking herself backward and forward in a
manner truly maternal and singing her version of "Jesus Tender" to
her "lubbly blush."
"I thought she would love the rabbit," I said, and Nannie, by way
of consolation, assured me that there was really nothing Sara loved
so much as a rabbit. I suppose Nannie knew, and that it was only
another instance of the folly of judging from appearances.
"You will love your bunny, won't you, darling?" said Nannie; "nice
"Nasty bunny," said Sara with great decision.
"That's naughty, baby," said Nannie; "nice bunny!"
"Naughty bunny," said Sara, "vake Yaya's yubbly vitty blush." And
she resumed her singing with religious fervor.
Nannie was really quite upset, and apologized for her charge. I
accepted the apology and resolved then and there to send the despised
rabbit to the Children's Hospital by the next post. Have you ever
given a toy-balloon to a child, and had the child say, "Balloons don't
amuse?" I have.
Nannie then, by way of consolation, suggested that Sara should say
her prayers at my knee. It was the greatest compliment she could pay
any one. Sara consented after much pressure, and she knelt down and
proceeded to pack up her face. No other word to my mind describes the
process. First of all she shut her eyes tight. To keep them tight
seemed to require a great physical effort; this was done by tightly
screwing up her nose. Next she proceeded to gather her eyebrows into
the smallest possible compass, and then she drew a deep breath, folded
her small hands, and started off at a terrific pace, "Gaw bess parver
yan muvver yan nannie yan hughyan betty yan dicky an aunt woggles yan
ellen yan emma yan croft—yan blusby yan all ve vitty children yan
make dem velly good boys yan make my nastyole bunnyagoodgirl. May Yaya
"Not yet, baby, think," said Nannie.
Sara thought, and then with a fresh access of solemnity repeated
an entirely new version of the Lord's Prayer. Nannie understood it
evidently, for at a point quite unintelligible to me, Nannie said,
"Good girl!" and Sara jumped up.
Nannie told me that nothing would induce Sara to pray that she
might be made good. She was always very ready to make such petitions
on the behalf of Betty and Hugh, but for herself, no. She is not like
Betty, who at her age prayed, "Dear God, please make me a good little
girl, but if you can't manage it, don't bother about it; Nannie will
soon do it."
Difficult and tedious as the task may have appeared to Betty, I
think it was assuredly within the power of God to make her good
without the intervention of Nannie. Dear Betty!
Sara was then put to bed, and while Nannie brushed her hair, Sara
brushed the hearth-brush's hair. Sara was very anxious to have it in
her bath with her, but here Nannie was firm.
Later the hearth-brush was dressed in a nightgown and laid beside
Sara in her little bed. The last thing she did before going to sleep
was to gaze at her darling "blush" with rapture and say, "Nasty —
'ollid — bunny!"
Her eyelashes fluttered and then gently fell on her cheek, as a
butterfly hovers and then settles on the petal of a rose.
"Leave it here, miss," said Nannie; "she'll see it when she
I left the despised bunny and went to dress for dinner. Betty was
waiting for me outside. "Is the cooking-stove for my very own self,
"Absolutely, Betty. Why?"
"Only because Hugh wondered if it wasn't or him, too. He only
wondered, and I said I didn't suppose one present could be for two
people, because then it wouldn't be such a very real present, would
I said, "Of course not"; and I told her the story of the two men
who owned one elephant, and one man said to the other: "I don't know
what you are going to do with your half; I am going to shoot mine!"
"And did he, Aunt Woggles? " asked Betty, her eyes wide with
"I wonder," I said. "I'll race you to the end of the passage."
"I won," cried Betty. "No, we both of us did," she added,
slipping her hand into mine.
That evening Diana told me that a few days before, she had heard
the following conversation between Hugh and Betty:
"I am going to shoot my cock."
"Hugh!" said Betty, "don't, it's a darlin' cock."
"But it doesn't lay eggs," said Hugh.
"I don't think cocks are supposed to lay eggs," said Betty
"Well, I don't see why they shouldn't," said Hugh; "widowers have
Suppose all aunts, that is to say, all professional aunt, know
what it is to be visited at seven o'clock in the morning by nephews
and nieces, fresh, vigorous, and rosy after a night's rest. Fresh,
and oh! so vigorous and deliciously rosy were Hugh and Betty when they
appeared at my bedside at seven o'clock the next morning.
"Hullo!" said Hugh, "we've come. May we get into your bed? I'll
get up steam and take a long run and jump in. Shall I?"
I braced myself up for the shock. There is no need to go through
the morning's program; I suppose every aunt knows it. Bears,
camel-rides, robbers, and various other things, all of a distinctly
energetic nature. At half past seven-you see it doesn't take long,
any aunt can bear half an hour — Nannie appeared, carrying a
deliciously rosy Sara with her hair done on the top, which makes her
more than ever fascinating; and in her arms she carried her bunny—
Sara's arms, I mean, of course. "Nice bunny," she said.
"Who gave you your bunny?" I asked.
"Jesus!" said Sara, triumphantly nodding her head and opening her
eyes very wide. "Jesus makes all ve bunnies, and all ve vitty dickey
birds, and all ve vitty fowers, and all ve big fowers and all ve ponge
cakes, and Yaya."
"And what is Sara going to do with her bunny?" I asked.
"Vuv it," she said with ecstasy.
"Shall I leave her?" asked Nannie.
"What a foolish question, Nannie!" I said. "Could any one send
away a blue dressing-be-gowned Sara?"
"And shall I take the others, miss?"
"Do," I replied.
They went and left me in sole possession of Sara.
"Shall I tell Sara a story?" I said. She nodded her head.
"A storlie all about bunnies."
So I began, "Once upon a time there was a big bunny."
"A vitty bunny," said Sara.
"A little bunny," I said. "Once upon a time there was a little
"A velly, velly vitty bunny," said Sara.
"Once upon a time there was a very, very little bunny, "I repeated,
emphasizing the very, very little," as Sara had done. She cuddled
into the bedclothes, evidently quite satisfied with the beginning as
it now stood. "And the very, very little bunny lived in a nice hole
"A nice bed," said Sara, "a velly nice bed and not in a vitty bed,
but in a velly big bed, a velly, velly big bed with Aunt Woggles."
"In a nice big bed with Aunt Woggles," I said, "and he was a very
good little bunny."
At this Sara rose in the bed and looked at me very severely.
" Did he say his palayers eberly day?" she asked.
"No, not prayers, darling. Bunnies don't say prayers; children
"Naughty bunnies!" said Sara with great severity.
Dreading a religious discussion, which Sara loves, I proposed
changing the story to "The Three Bears." She acquiesced with jumps
of joy up and down, just where one would not choose to be jumped upon,
and said, "Ve felee belairs."
Here I fared no better: my version of the story was so hopelessly
wrong, and I received such crushing correction at the hands of Sara,
that I was glad to relinquish my office of story-teller and suggested
that she should tell a story instead.
This was evidently what she had wanted to do all along, for she
began at once. She tells a story very much as she says her prayers,
at the same terrific pace certainly. First of all she swallowed and
took a deep breath, then she began, "Vunce there was a vitty blush —
and not a bad nasty blush — it said its palayers ebery morning an
nannie said good girly an then the blush vent to sleep in a vitty bed
"Go slower, darling," I said. "Aunt Woggles can't quite
"Yan — ven — Yaya — voke up ve vitty — belush said, 'Good-
morning,' yan Yaya said, 'Good-morning,' yan it was a nice bunny yan
not a nasty bunny any more."
Here Sara's thoughts were distracted, and the story ended abruptly
for want of breath, or possibly of story. She refused to go on, and
when pressed said with great decision, "Dey's all dead."
She then had her share of camel-rides and bears, and by the time
Nannie came I began to feel that I had earned my breakfast. I was
one of the first down, and Bindon was evidently waiting for me,
because as I went into the dining-room he took up his position behind
a certain chair, which action on his part plainly indicated that I was
to sit there. I wondered why. Could it be that I had arrived at the
age when it is advisable for a woman to sit back to the light at
breakfast? Was this only another instance of Bindon's devotion to us
all? That the credit of the family is paramount in his mind, I know!
All this flashed through my mind, but I saw a moment later that it
was not of my complexion that Bindon thought, for on a plate before
the chair behind which he stood, lay a small dark gray wad about the
size of a five-shilling piece. I hesitated., and Bindon said in an
undertone, "Miss Betty made it." Not a muscle of his face moved.
I sat down and gazed at the awful result of my present to Betty.
The — what shall I call it? — was gray, as I said before; it had a
crisscross pattern on it, deeply indented, and snugly sunk in the
middle of it was a currant. I sighed. My duty as a professional aunt
was clear: had I not in a moment of weakness said I would eat anything
Betty made, provided it was a proper thing? Had I here a loophole of
escape? No, it was certainly, according to Betty's lights, a most
proper thing. But why does dough, in the hands of the cleanest child,
become dark gray?
Bindon, having done his duty by Betty, and not being able on this
occasion to do it by both of us, made no further explanation. Like
the first step, it is no doubt the first bite that costs most dearly;
and while I was pondering whether to take two bites or swallow it
whole, Mr. Dudley came in and sat down opposite me. He is a young man
who thinks that no woman he doesn't know can be worth knowing. When
by force of circumstances he comes to know a fresh one, he always
tells her he feels as if he had known her all her life, and talks of a
previous existence, and so gets over a difficulty. I felt that it was
a tribute to Diana that he treated me so kindly, and I earned his
gratitude and commanded his respect by refusing food at his hands. I
said I liked helping myself at breakfast. He insisted, however, on
passing me the toast. This I felt was apart from Diana altogether.
After a few moments the little gray wad attracted his attention,
and his eyebrows expressed a wish to know what it was.
"Betty made it," I said.
"And what is it? "
"I wonder!" I said. "I think it must come under the head of black
" What are you going to do with it?" he asked.
I answered, "Why, eat it, of course; only I can't make up my mind
how. What should you say, two bites or a swallow?"
His interest was now thoroughly aroused; he had evidently never
before met an aunt professionally. He looked at me solemnly and said,
"You are going to eat that?"
"I am an aunt, you see," said; "a professional aunt."
"A what?" he asked.
"A professional aunt," I answered. "You are an uncle, I suppose."
"I am constantly getting wires to that effect, but I am hanged if
I have ever eaten mud-pies."
" No, that is part of the profession," I said; "you see, I
Mr. Dudley relapsed into silence. I had given him food for
Here Betty appeared, "not to eat anything," she carefully
explained. Hugh came next, followed a moment later by Sara, who was
beside herself with excitement, which was centered in the blue ribbon
in her hair, to which she had that morning been promoted. A red curl
had become more rebellious than its fellows, and it was tied up with a
blue ribbon, in the fashion beloved of young mothers. Diana dislikes
any reference made to poodles.
"Yaya's got a ved vimvirn in her har," she announced.
We all expressed the keenest interest and unbounded surprise. One
very well-meaning person put down his knife and fork and said he was
too surprised to eat any more breakfast; whereupon Hugh said, "You
needn't be so very funny, because Sara doesn't understand those sort
Whether Sara understood it or not, it seemed to encourage her to
further revelations, and she announced with bated breath, "Yaya's got
ved vimvims in her — "She opened her eyes very wide and nodded very
mysteriously, and was about to suit her actions to her words and
disclose the ribbons in question, when Diana, with a promptitude quite
splendid, administered a banana. Sara ate some with relish, paused,
and said in a loud voice, subdued by banana, "jormalies." She was not
going to be put off with a banana.
Betty was very much shocked, and with a face of virtuous
indignation whispered in my ear, "Sara means-" I hastily stopped
Betty because her whispers are louder than Sara's loudest
conversation and very much more distinct. And after all there is
everything in the way a word is pronounced. Without any context I
think "jormalies" might pass anywhere as a perfectly right and proper
word, to be used on any occasion.
Hugh, too, had something to say on the absorbing topic of ribbons,
and on such a subject I thought he might safely be trusted. On what
an unsafe foundation is built the faith of an aunt!
"Aunt Woggles," he said, "has got pink ribbons in her nightie;
it's lovely, and she doesn't do her hair in funny little things like
Here David distracted Hugh's attention by telling him an absolute
untruth concerning a fox to be seen out of the window. The first of
April is the only day in the whole year on which the word "fox" won't
take him flying to the window.
Betty, perhaps by way of changing the conversation, said, "You did
eat my cake, didn't you, Aunt Woggles?"
"Of course I did, Betty."
"Don't you believe it," said Mr. Dudley.
"I always believe my Aunt Woggles," said Betty with infinite
scorn. "Was it nice, Aunt Woggles?" Mercifully she didn't wait for
an answer, but continued: " I lost the currant three times, but I
found it all right. I thought I had trodden on it, but I hadn't,
because I looked on the bottom of my shoe and it wasn't there. I did
have lots of currants, only when I dropped them Mungo ate them all up,
except this one. He didn't eat this one because I stopped him. I
said, 'Drop it, Mungo!' and he did. It was a good thing he didn't eat
it, wasn't it? I made lines across, did you see ? All across the
cake! I made those with a hairpin. It was a good plan, wasn't it? "
Somehow or other my breakfast had fallen short of my expectations.
But what I had lost in appetite I had perhaps gained in other ways,
for I had until then undoubtedly existed in the mind of Mr. Dudley
only under the shadow of Diana's charming personality. I now took my
stand alone, as the Aunt Woggles who ate mud-pies, I am afraid; but
still it is something to have a separate existence. Is it?
Diana's children are of a distinctly religious turn of mind. I
think most children are, and what wonderful, curious thing their
religion is! Looking back to my own childhood, I remember thinking,
or rather knowing, that the Holy Ghost was a Shetland shawl. We
called our shawls "comforters"; we wore them when we went to parties
in the winter. I will not leave you comfortless," could mean nothing
else. To complete the illusion, we had in the nursery a picture of
the Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a cloudy
substance, not unlike a Shetland shawl. I was so sure that I was
right, that I never thought of asking any one. When I grew older and
told my mother, she said, "But why didn't you ask me, darling?"
forgetting that when a child knows a thing it never asks; when in
doubt it will ask, but not when it knows. It is a difficult and
dangerous thing to shake a child's belief, and a pity, too. For if we
could all believe as simply as a child does, how different it would
make life! If Diana has a fault, it is that she takes her children
too seriously. She thinks it is wrong to tell them, "Children should
be seen and not heard," simply because they have asked a question she
can't answer. Aunts have been known to do it as a last resource, on
occasions of great danger.
Hugh wants to know if God put in the quack before he made the
duck. It is difficult, isn't it, to answer that sort of question?
On another occasion he asked Betty if God was alive. Betty, eager
to instruct, said, "My dear Hugh, God is a Spirit."
"Then we can boil our milk on him." That was a poser for Betty.
Diana was at a loss, too, when Hugh announced his intention of
going to Heaven. She asked him what he would do when he got there.
I thought the question a little unwise at the time. "Oh! " said
Hugh, "stroll round with Jesus, I suppose, and have a shot at the
Diana's position was a difficult one. It was this: if she told
Hugh there were no rabbits in Heaven, he wouldn't pray to go there;
and if she said there was no shooting in Heaven, Hugh would know for
certain that his father wouldn't want to go there, and it wouldn't do
for Hugh to think his father didn't want to go to Heaven. It was a
difficulty, but Hugh's Heaven was or is a very real and very happy
place to him. It is strangely like Hames; and isn't the home of every
happy child very near to Heaven? Surely it lies at its very gates,
which we could see if it was not for the mountains which intervene,
those beautiful snow mountains, which foolish grown-ups call clouds.
Diana has come triumphantly out of situations more difficult, and
she will no doubt surmount those connected with the spiritual
upbringing of Hugh, Betty, and Sara.
It is the custom of Diana to read the Bible every morning with her
children, and they resent any deviation from custom.
After breakfast on the particular Sunday over which this shooting-
party extended, Hugh marched through the hall, .where most of us were
assembled) with his Bible under his arm, followed by Betty, carrying a
smaller Bible. Hugh's seemed particularly cumbersome. He cast a
reproachful glance at his mother and her guests, and said to Betty, "I
will teach you, darling."
Betty said, "Can you, Hugh?" and he said, "Rather!"
Into the drawing-room he stumped, followed by the impressed Betty.
"You may come, Aunt Woggles," he said, "if you don't talk."
I promised not to talk, and sat down to write letters.
Hugh sat down on the sofa and Betty plumped down beside him. She
carefully arranged her muslin skirts over her long black- stockinged
legs, and then told Hugh to begin.
"What's it going to be about?" she asked.
"All sorts of things," said Hugh grandly. "Perhaps about Adam and
Eve, and Jonah and the whale, and Samson and Elijah. Do you know the
diff'rence between Enoch and Elijah? That's the first thing."
"No, I don't," said Betty reluctantly.
"Well, darling, you must remember the diff'rence is that Enoch
only walked with God, but the carriage was sent for Elijah!"
"Was it a carriage and pair, Hugh?"
"More, I expect."
"What next, Hugh?"
"We'll just look until we find something." And Hugh opened the
"It's upside down," whispered Betty.
Hugh assumed the expression my spaniel puts on when he meets a dog
bigger than himself — an expression of extreme earnestness of
purpose combined with a desire to look neither to the right nor to
the left, but to get along as fast as he can.
Hugh assumed an immense dignity and looked straight in front of
him, just to show Betty he was thinking and had not heard what she
said, while he turned the Bible round.
"Go on, Hugh," said Betty humbly, feeling it was she who had made
the mistake. How often do men make women feel this!
"Now, Betty," he said, "you must listen properly and not talk,
because it's a proper lesson, just like mother gives us when visitors
aren't here." A pause, then Hugh said in a very solemn voice, "You
know, darling, Jesus would have been born in the manger, but the dog
in the manger wouldn't let him!"
I stole out of the room.
"You don't disturb us, Aunt Woggles," called out Hugh; "you
Hugh had evidently told all he knew, for in a few minutes he came
out of the drawing-room and joined us in the hall. "We've done!" he
exclaimed; "we've had our lesson all the same."
"I am sorry, Hugh," said Diana.
He slipped his hand in hers as a sign of forgiveness, and by way
of making matters quite right, I said, "You know, Hugh, mothers must
look after their guests. Their children are always with them, but
friends only occasionally."
Why do aunts interfere? Retribution speedily follows.
"Visitors are mostly always here," said Hugh plaintively. "When
you have children of your own, Aunt Woggles, then —"
"A fox, a fox, Hugh!" cried some one.
He rushed to the window.
"That's two foxes today that weren't there when I looked," said
Hugh; "I shan't look next time."
This was a desperate state of affairs; an attack might come at any
time, and we should have exhausted our ammunition.
"The best thing," said Diana, "is for those who are going to
church to get ready."
Betty and Hugh were of course going; Sara wanted to, but those in
authority deemed it wiser that she should wait till she was older.
This offended her very much, as did any reference to her age. But
the decision was a wise one: she prayed too fervently, she sang too
lustily, and she talked too audibly, to admit of reverent worship on
the part of the younger members of the congregation, and of the older
ones, too, I am afraid.
One memorable Sunday she did go to church, as a great treat; and
when the hymn—"Peace, perfect peace" was given out, a beatific
smile illumined her face, and with her hymn-book upside-down she was
preparing to sing, when Diana said, — whispered rather — You don't
know this, darling."
"Yes, I do, mummy, peace in the valley of Bong."
Betty walked to church with me. "Aunt Woggles," she said, "you
know the gentleman in the Bible who lived inside the whale?"
"Yes, darling," I said, "I do remember." My heart sank at the
difficulties presented by Jonah as gentleman.
"Well," she said, "what dye suppose he did without candles in the
dark passages of the whale?"
Betty evidently pictured the dark passages of the whale to be what
Haines used to be before electric light was installed. The whale,
like a house, must be modernized to meet the requirements of the day.
When Betty starts asking questions, she mercifully quickly follows
one with another, and does not wait for answers. The interior economy
of the whale suggested various trains of thought, and she went
skipping along beside me, or rather in front of me, propounding the
most astounding theories. I was quite glad when Mr. Dudley and Hugh
caught us up.
"You did come along fast, old man," said Mr. Dudley.
"It wasn't me, it was you," panted Hugh. "It truthfully was, Aunt
Woggles, and he wasn't going to church at all till I told him you
were going. I'm awfully out of breath because he wanted to catch you
up, so it wasn't me all the time."
I was sorry Hugh and Mr. Dudley had caught us up.
Mr. Dudley murmured something about "Young ruffian," and I felt it
my duty as well as my pleasure to tell Hugh not to talk so much.
"I 'sect you want to sit next my Aunt Woggles, don't you?" said
Hugh to Mr. Dudley; "but you can't, because I said, 'bags I sit next
Aunt Woggles in church' before she came to stay, ever so long before,
before two Christmases ago, I should think it was, or nearly before
two Christmases ago!"
Betty's grasp on my hand tightened, and I returned it with a
reassuring pressure, as much as to say, "There are two sides to every
aunt in church, dear Betty; it is a comfort to know that."
"I may sit next you, mayn't I?"
"Yes, Betty," I said.
"You are very rosy, Aunt Woggles," said Hugh. "Do you love my
Aunt Woggles?" he continued, dancing backward in front of Mr. Dudley.
"Of course he does," I said boldly, taking the bull by the horns.
"Mr.Dudley loves even his enemies, especially on Sundays."
Hugh looked puzzled, and pondered. Before he had come to any
definite conclusion as to how this affected Mr. Dudley's feelings
towards me, we reached the lichgate, where we found the rest of the
party awaiting us. We all separated: Diana took Betty, who gazed at
me mournfully, but was too loyal to her mother to say anything; Hugh
gave a series of triumphant jumps, which added pain to Betty's already
In church I found myself allotted to what we call the overflow
pew, which is at right angles to the family pews and in full view of
them. It is the children's favorite pew only, I imagine, because they
don't always sit there. Hugh sat very close to me, and kept on giving
little wriggles and gazing up at me, then at Mr. Dudley, and snuggling
closer to me as if to emphasize the superiority of his position over
that of Mr. Dudley.
"Hugh," I whispered, "you must behave."
"He didn't sit next you, after all," he whispered.
I say whispered, but must explain that Hugh's whisper is a very
far-reaching thing. He loves a victory. I hope that when he grows
up he will be a generous victor. He says he is going to be a
dangerous man; I can believe it.
Betty, the vanquished one, stared solemnly in front of her, not
deigning to notice Hugh's triumph. What pleasure is there to
children in sitting next to some particular person in church? I
remember, as a child, it was a matter of earnest prayer during the
week that on Sunday I might sit next, some particular person in
church. "And, O Lord, if it be for my good, let me sit next the
door." A child's religion is a very real thing to him, and not only
a Saturday-to-Monday thing.
I looked at Betty's serious little face and wished that I could
for one moment read her thoughts. Her eyes, such lovely eyes, were
fixed on the preacher's face. What did his sermon convey to her? It
was a particularly uninteresting one, I remember, an appeal on behalf
of the curates' fund. Her eyes never left his face — such solemn,
searching, truthful eyes. I think a child like Betty should not be
allowed to go to church on such occasions, for what is the use of
preaching against matrimony on the one hand, and that, I suppose, is
what the moral of such a sermon should be, — and on the other hand
holding up an incentive to matrimony in the very alluring shape of
Betty? For, personally, I think Betty would be a very wonderful
possession for any curate to have.
Hugh was growing restless and I was bearing the brunt of it.
Nannie, feeling for me, leaned over from the back pew and said,
"Don't rest your head on your Aunt Woggles."
"I came to church on purpose to rest my head on my Aunt Woggles's
chest," said Hugh, again in what he calls a whisper. A moment later,
he asked, "Is it done?"
It was, and he jumped up.
"May I sit next you next Sunday, Aunt Woggles?" he said, so soon
as we got outside the church door.
"No, Hugh," I said.
"I bet I do, all the same," he said.
"Aunt Woggles," said Betty, as we walked home, "I collect for the
prevention of children; do you suppose Mr. Dudley would give me a
"I am sure he would, darling, but it is the prevention of cruelty
to children — the prevention of cruelty."
"That's such a long thing to say, Aunt Woggles, don't you suppose
he would understand if I did say it a little wrong?"
"Perhaps, darling, but it is always best to say things right."
"Yes, I will, but I was only supposing, supposing I didn't."
At luncheon Diana cautioned Betty against swallowing a fish-bone.
"You might die, darling, if you did."
"Then I shall swallow every single bone I can," announced Betty.
"But, darling," said Diana, "why do you say that? You don't want
to die. You are quite happy, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm very happy, but I want to die, all the same."
"Oh, darling, don't say that," said Diana; "there is a great deal
for you to do in this world before you die."
"Yes, but you see, darling," said Betty, "if I don't die soon, I
shall be too old to sit on Jesus' knee."
Diana is very particular about the children's manners, and Hugh
came face to face with a great difficulty a moment later, over his
ginger beer. "If I don't say I thank you, mother doesn't like it,
and if I do say I thank you, Bindon stops pouring."
In answer to a really desperate telegram from Zerlina, I left
Hames hurriedly, and arrived at Zerlina's, to find her out and all
the children apparently well. I was shown upstairs into the
drawing-room. In Diana's house I am never "shown" anywhere; however,
in Zerlina's I am, so it is no use discussing that question. The
drawing-room into which I was shown was empty of furniture except for
the sofas and chairs which were arranged round the room against the
wall. As Zerlina's room does not err as a rule on the side of
emptiness, I realized that there was going to be a party. I felt like
the child who said, "There's been a wedding, I smell rice!" One knows
these things by instinct.
The butler solemnly informed me that there was going to be a
party, and that Miss Hyacinth would be down in a moment.
I thought it odd that Zerlina should have said nothing about a
party; but then she never says anything about measles, or
whooping-cough, or re-painting rooms, until I am within the doors and
unable to escape. I remembered she had urged me on this occasion to
come early. I sat down on a sofa and sadly fixed my gaze on the
parquet floor. How different had been my arrival at Hames! My
conscience smote me. I had no train, no cooking stove,, no woolly
rabbit in my box. But then neither was there a Hugh, Betty, and Sara.
At Hames should I have sat in the drawing-room? Never! Of course I
know what some people will say: that it is my fault; if I had treated
the children as I treated Betty, Hugh, and Sara, it would have made
all the difference; but it wouldn't, really. It is, the mother of the
children who makes the difference; it is her attitude to the aunt
which is adopted by the children. If Diana had been out, the house
would have resounded with shrieks for Aunt Woggles. But in Zerlina's
house children never shriek, people never rush to the nursery. The
children are always tidied before they are brought down to see me.
Of course some people will again say, "Quite right"; and it is
quite right that for such people they should be tidied; but do those
people realize what a wall tidiness builds between child and grown-up?
Have they ever thought what a boy feels when his mother comes down to
see him at school and the first thing she does when he comes into the
room is to say that his collar is dirty, or that his hands want
washing? At that moment, perhaps, she lays the first brick in the
wall which builds between mother and son. He is a happy boy and she a
blessed mother who stand always with no wall between them. All a boy
demands of his mother when she comes to see him at school is that she
shall behave just like other people, and that she shall dress
properly. If she can be beautiful, so much the better: it will
redound enormously to his credit. Boys are very sensitive about their
belongings, but when praise can be bestowed they bestow it, as in the
case of Tommy, who wrote to his father, who had been down to the
school to play in a match, "Fathers against Sons, "Dear father, you
did look odd, but you made the second biggest score."
While I was pondering over these things, the door opened and my
niece Hyacinth came in.
"Hullo!" she said; "mum's out."
"So I hear," I said; "won't you kiss me?"
"Oh! I forgot," she said, twirling round on one leg and holding
out a cheek to be kissed. "There's going to be a party to it."
"So I see, I said; "what sort of a party?"
"Oh! it's the end-up of the dancing class, four to seven; that's
why mum asked you to come early."
"She isn't in yet?" I asked innocently.
"Oh! she's not coming," said Hyacinth, raising her eyebrows and
laughing; "she always has something to do on dancing days. The
Frauleins get on her nerves. They sit all round the room."
And Hyacinth indicated the position of the Frauleins with a sweep
of her arm.
"What time is it now?" I asked.
"Half past three," she said; "I'm ready."
"I'm not," I said savagely.
I went upstairs, vowing vengeance on Zerlina. I could have shaken
Hyacinth, poor child, and why? Because her legs were too long, or
her skirts too short, or the bow in her hair too large? What a
disagreeable, cross-grained professional aunt I was! Or did I miss
the hug Hyacinth might have given me?
I was only just ready when the children began to arrive. I flew
downstairs and found not only children in every shape and form, but
mothers in big hats and trailing skirts, and Frauleins in small hats
and skirts curtailed, mademoiselles and nannies. The nannies I handed
over to the nursery department, and the mothers and the Frauleins and
the mademoiselles I arranged in a dado round the room., making
inappropriate remarks to each in turn. No surprise was expressed at
the absence of Zerlina.
The children began to dance. There was a particularly painstaking
little boy in a white silk shirt and black velvet knickerbockers,
very tight in places, who danced assiduously, looking neither to the
right nor to the left. "Right leg, To-mus, left leg, To-mus!" came in
stentorian tones from a Fraulein in the corner, who suited her actions
to her words by the uplifting of the leg corresponding to that
recommended to Tomus's consideration, and bringing it down with
emphasis on the parquet floor.
By the sudden quickening of leg-action on the part of my
painstaking friend, I knew him to be Tomus, and by that only, so many
of the boys looked as if they might be Tomus. The real Tomus asserted
himself manfully, however, by using the exactly opposite leg to that
ordered by Fraulein. I liked this spirit of independence, and
determined to make friends with him so soon as that dance should be
over. I took the liberty of introducing myself; he made no remark but
took me by the hand and led me out on to the landing, and there he
found two chairs in the orthodox position. Into one of these he
wriggled himself by a backward and upward movement, and I sat in the
other. How absurdly easy it is for a grown-up to sit down! I waited
for Thomas to make a remark; I might be waiting still, if I had not
made a beginning. He looked at me under his eyelashes, and tried not
to smile. It was an effort, I could see, and I could tell just where
the dimples would come. When the effort became too great and the
dimples asserted themselves beyond recall, he looked away and put out
a minute portion of his tongue. Having done that, he subsided into
I began to feel embarrassed, and asked him how old he was. He
smiled. "Do you like dancing, Thomas?" I said.
He looked away, and every time I addressed him he seemed to
retreat farther into his chair, until I had fears that he would
disappear altogether from my sight. His waist-line seemed to be the
vanishing-point. I made no further effort, and relapsed into silence.
Thomas continued to gaze at me and smile. At last he extended a fat
little hand, uncurled one by one four soft little fingers, and
revealed, lying in his palm, a short screw. It was evidently his
greatest treasure, for the moment.
"Is that for me, Thomas?" I asked. "Nope," he said, shaking his
"Is it your very own?"
"Yeth," said Thomas, drawing in his breath. He shut his little
hand, put out his tongue just the smallest bit, and became serious
"Is it a present?" I asked. Having got so far, it seemed a pity
not to go on. He had done me the greatest honor that a small boy can
do a woman, which, by the way, was what our Nannie said when she told
us that a strange man had proposed to her on a penny steamboat.
Thomas shook his head and said, "Nope."
"Did you find it?" I asked.
He nodded. "I always find fings," he said.
Beyond that I could get nothing out of him. I have not often sat
out with a more embarrassing partner. To be continually stared at
and never spoken to would, I think, make the boldest woman shy. There
was a stolidity about Thomas that promised well for England's future.
There was a steady resistance from attack that was really admirable;
but I was not altogether sorry when Fraulein pounced upon him. As she
led him off I heard him say, "Parties do last a long time, don't they,
Having lost Thomas, I sought a new partner. A tall, fair girl
with wide, gray eyes, a pink-and-white complexion, a beautiful mouth,
and a delicately refined nose, interested me, as I imagine she has
continued to do every one who has met her. She reminded me of spring,
with birds singing and flowers flowering and trees bursting, just as
Diana does. As it was quite the correct thing for girls to dance with
one another, I made so bold as to ask her for a dance. With the
timidity of a boy just out of Etons, or perhaps I should say, of a shy
boy just out of Etons, I approached her. "Right-o," she said, "let's
She puckered her penciled eyebrows and studied her program. "The
third after the two next?"
She bowed gravely, and I said, "Thank you." I felt very young and
inexperienced as I returned the bow.
"That's all right," she said. "Where shall I find you? It
doesn't matter, I shall know you again"; and she had the audacity to
write on her program, for I saw her do it, "white dress, red hair."
She was borne off by a triumphant boy, who looked at me as much as
to say, "You're jolly well sold if you think you are going to nab
I asked a hungry-looking boy with many freckles who she was. "Oh!
that's Dolly," he said; "she is a flyer, isn't she?"
"Dolly who?" I asked.
"Oh! just Dolly; that does." He looked away, looked back,
hesitated, and swallowed. I, feeling that he perhaps needed the
assistance a man sometimes requires of a woman, encouragement, smiled
"You wouldn't dance this, I suppose?" he said.
"Certainly," I answered.
We danced. He was a nice boy, very much in earnest, very much
afraid of tiring me, very much afraid of letting me go, too shy to
stop, until I suggested it, for which act of consideration he seemed
He told me he had five brothers, all older than himself; that he
never had new trousers, always the other boys' cut down; that he
liked school; wanted a bicycle more than anything in the world — of
his very own, of course; wanted a pony of his very own; wanted a dog
of his very own. He hadn't anything of his very own.
I said I supposed he thought his eldest brother very lucky.
"Because of the trousers?" he asked.
I said, "Well, yes, I suppose he has the new ones."
"Well," he said, "you see he doesn't. That's the chowse of the
whole thing. He is the eldest, but you see Dick's the biggest, so he
gets the new trousers. It is hard, isn't it?"
I said it was indeed.
"The best of it is," he said, "I am catching jackup. He is in an
awful wax. I shouldn't be surprised if I were bigger than him next
holidays. Do you like dancing? I simply loathe it — not with you, I
don't mean I."
He told me many other confidences, and I was really sorry when he
remembered, with an evident pang, that he had to dance with that "rum
little kid over there."
I was quite certain that he would never break a promise. I could
picture him going through life always keeping promises, rashly made,
no doubt. I wondered what he would talk to girls about at dances
years hence — trousers? Hardly. By that time he would have trousers
of his very own, and they would cease, in consequence, to be things of
He would be a soldier — of that I could have no doubt. He was
the kind of boy England wants and can still get, thank God! say
pessimists what they will.
While I was awaiting my Dolly dance, I came upon a small,
"I'm looking for an empty partner," he said.
I captured a passing girl, very small, and they danced away
together. The boy I could see was very energetic, the girl was very
small and fat. As they passed me I heard her say, "I — can't — go
— so — fast!"
"Very sorry," said the small boy, "but I must keep up with the
Dolly found me. "I think I had better dance gentleman," she said;
"I think I am as tall as you." With a tremendous effort she drew her
slim figure to its full height, and, gazing up into my face she had
the audacity to say, "Yes, I do just look down upon you; anyhow, men
aren't always taller than girls. My cousin says so, and she goes to
dances—heaps — and she is six foot."
We started off, I felt at once, on a perilous course. "You see,"
she said, "I had better — steer — because" (bump we went into
somebody), "because — I dance once a week — always" (crash),
"sometimes oftener — so I get — plenty of practice" (bang) "in
steering, and that helps. I love dancing — don't you? Oh, that's
all right — it's — only — the stupid — old mantelpiece — I always
go into that — it sticks out so — doesn't it? It is hard —
Dolly was a flyer and no mistake. I was brought to a standstill
at last by colliding with Thomas's Fraulein.
"It's all right," said Dolly generously, "you didn't hurt us!"
Fraulein was hurled on to a sofa and made no remark. She gave up
temporarily the management of Thomas's left leg.
"Shall we sit out?" said Dolly. "It is hot, isn't it?"
She fanned herself with a very small program and tossed her hair
back from her face. It was such lovely hair.
"Hair is beastly stuff, isn't it?" she said. "Wouldn't you love
to be a boy? Oh, I promised mother not to say I 'beastly'; that's
one of the things I would like to be a boy for, because boys may do
such an awful lot of things."
I soon found out that Dolly liked boys better than girls.
She loved horses and dogs.
She hated and detested bearing-reins.
She didn't want to come out.
She thought grown-ups silly, except some—
She loved the country and strawberry ice.
She hated dull lessons, and I very soon discovered that there were
none other than dull.
She collected stamps.
She longed to have a pet monkey or a brother, she didn't much mind
At the mention of brothers I looked down at Dolly's slim legs,
clothed in fine black silk stockings, at the valenciennes lace on her
muslin frock, and I imagined that if she had any brothers, the younger
ones would be quite likely to have started life in trousers of their
own. Yes, Dolly looked like it. I learned a great deal from her in
the time it had taken me to get "yeth" and "nope" out of Thomas.
The energetic boy who had been obliged to keep up with the music
at all costs, the little fat girl's in particular, came up to me, and
said in an aggrieved voice, "Miss Daly has spoilt my program; she
can't write, and she has written big D's all over it. Will you write
me out a fresh one?"
Which I, of course, did. Really it was very careless of Miss
The children danced hard, with intervals for tea and refreshment;
and as seven o'clock struck, there was a transformation scene. With
conscientious punctuality the party-dressed children turned, into
little or big woolen bundles, as the case might be. The last bundle I
saw was a pink woolen one, weeping bitterly. My heart was wrung. The
noisy crying of a child is bad enough, but when it is the soft weeping
of a broken heart, it is unbearable. Of course it was my friend
Thomas. I stood on the staircase unable to do anything, for he was
quickly borne from the arms of Fraulein by a big footman, and no doubt
deposited in a brougham in the outer darkness. Poor Thomas!
I hoped that the right sort of mother would be at home to unroll
that pink bundle, a mother who would pretend that it could not be her
darling who was crying, but a strange little boy with a face quite
unknown to her. Where could he have come from? And so on, until
Thomas would be ashamed to be seen with a strange face, and would
smile, and then his mother would say, "What is it, my darling?"
because, of course, it was her own darling who was crying, and she
would never rest till she knew why.
I went back to the drawing-room quite happy that Thomas should be
unrolled by the right sort of mother, and as I walked across the
room, my foot slipped on something. I looked to see what it was I
had trodden on. It was a short screw, Thomas's precious possession.
"That was why the poor pink bundle was crying!"
"Hyacinth," I said, "who was Thomas?"
"Which one? There was little Thomas and the Thomas who lives a
long way off, and then just plain Thomas."
"I mean the fat little Thomas who danced so hard."
"Oh! that's the little Thomas," said Hyacinth.
"Where does he live?" I asked.
"Oh, quite close; when we go to tea there we walk. He hasn't got
a mother, so there's no drawing-room. She died," added Hyacinth, as
if it was an every-day occurrence that Thomas should be left without a
mother, instead of its being a heart-breaking tragedy. A child with no
mother, no mother to unwrap the pink bundle, no mother to grieve for
the screw, no mother to understand things. Perhaps his mother had been
a Diana sort of mother.
"Oh, Thomas," I thought, "I must send you back your screw." I
didn't care what any one said — he should have it.
If he had had a mother, it wouldn't have mattered, because she
would have known it was a screw he had lost, and she would have known
just what comfort he would have needed; whereas a Fraulein would know
nothing about a screw, beyond the German for it, and the gender, of
course. And of what use is that to a child? It may sound very
unconventional, and I suppose it was so, to go to a strange house and
ask for Thomas, and my only excuse a small screw. But still I went!
I pictured a lonely child in a large house with a Fraulein and a
nurse, perhaps two; those I could face. A tall, sad father I had
never thought of! I am afraid I am not suited for the profession, I
am too impulsive.
I rang the bell. The door was opened by a solemn man-servant, who
did not show the surprise he must have felt when I asked for Master
Thomas. Another, still more solemn, showed me into a downstairs room.
I refused to give my name, and a very large, serious Thomas rose from
a chair as I was ushered in, "A lady to see Master Thomas." So my
errand was in part explained, but the part left to tell was by far the
most difficult. If only Thomas had lost anything but a screw! No
father could be expected to know how it had been treasured. Supposing
Thomas had been crying because he had a pain, which sometimes comes to
children after tea? Supposing he hadn't been crying for his screw at
all? Supposing he repudiated all knowledge of it?
But here I was, screw in hand, and my story to tell. I told if. I
was grateful to the tall, sad Thomas for being so solemn, and not
even smiling, when I mentioned the screw. He said he was very
grateful for my kindness, and he went so far as to say he was sure
Thomas had valued the screw.
While some one was coming, for whom he had rung, he told me that
when he had taken Thomas to the Zoo, the only thing which he was
really excited about was the mouse in the elephant's house! Somehow
or other that little story put me at my ease, for it showed that the
big Thomas at least understood in part the mind of a child.
A nurse, not sad-looking I was glad to see, came in answer to the
bell, and the big Thomas asked if the little Thomas had lost a screw?
In that I was disappointed, the best nurse in the world might not
know of a screw. But the big Thomas did not wait to hear; be was sure
the little Thomas had, and he said we were coming upstairs to restore
it to him. Of course I had said by this time that I was Zerlina's
We went upstairs, I following the tall Thomas, past the drawing-
room, past that bedroom whose door I knew was closed. A mother's
bedroom is nearly always in the same place in a London house, a child
blindfolded could find it, and the handle of a mother's door is always
within the reach of the smallest child; and so easily does it turn,
that the door opens at the slightest pressure of the smallest fingers.
Up we went to Thomas's own bedroom. There in his bed he sat, no
longer crying, but still sad and solemn, with evidences in his face
of a sorrow that rankled. He smiled when he saw me, too much of a
gentleman to show any surprise at seeing me in his bedroom.
"Thomas," I said, "I have brought you back your screw which you
lost." I put it in his outstretched hand, and a smile rippled all
over his face.
Suddenly from out the darkness came a stentorian voice, "Right
hand, Tomus!" It was Fraulein! Thomas put out his right hand, and
I, putting aside all convention, gave him a real "Sara hug" for the
sake of that mother whose door was closed. It then began to dawn upon
me how very unconventional it was of me to be hugging a comparatively
strange child, in a perfectly strange house, and I hastily said
good-night to the small Thomas and the big Thomas, nurses and
Fraulein, and literally ran downstairs, followed of course by the big
Thomas. At the foot of the stairs I ran into the arms of Mr. Dudley.
His exclamation of "Aunt Woggles" was involuntary, I felt sure,
and he had every right to visit a sad, tall Mr. Thomas. But I
thought Diana ought to have told me that I was likely to meet him at
— Well, a stranger's house; so how could she? The only thing that
consoled me was that in all probability Mr. Dudley would explain my
profession in life, and that I had a screw loose. Yes, that would
exactly explain the position. Otherwise I didn't exactly know how he
could describe me.
Well, Zerlina of course said I was mad. She didn't agree with me
that the screw could not possibly have been sent back in an envelope
with a few words of explanation. She said she would have bought a
nice toy for the child. What's the good of a toy to a child when he
has lost a screw which he found his very own self, any more than a
squeaking rabbit is to a child who has a "lubbly blush"? That was a
lesson I had lately learned.
I didn't say all that to Zerlina, because, you see, she is a
mother, and I couldn't understand these things. She was very much
surprised at being late for the party, so surprised. She was full of
It was so good of me to help her! Had the darling children
I said, yes, they had, and the adorable mothers, and the delicious
Frauleins, and the heavenly mademoiselles. At this Zerlina looked a
little pained, and I was sorry I was cross, but I felt her want of
sympathy for Thomas. But then she had never passed that closed door.
As a professional aunt must live somewhere, if only to simplify
the delivery of telegrams, it is as well perhaps to explain where I
live and why. The answer to the where, is London, and to the why,
because it is the best place for all professionals to live in. Many
were the suggestions that I should live in the country. Careful
relatives and good housewives saw a chance of cheap and fresh eggs,
cheap and large chickens, and cheap and freshly gathered vegetables,
which showed, in the words of Dr. Johnson, a triumph of hope over
experience, for I have always found that there are no eggs so dear as
those laid by the hens of friends, no chickens so thin as those kept
by relatives, no vegetables so expensive as those grown by
acquaintances. But a professional aunt would of course be expected to
make special terms, although her hens, like those of other people,
would eat corn, and railways would charge just the same for carrying
her goods, whether they were consigned to sisters-in-law or not, and
the expense of the carriage is the reason invariably given why things
are so dear when bought from friends. Friends, too, have a way of
sending chickens with their feathers on, whereas the chickens one
knows by sight, laid in rows in poulterers' shops, have no association
with feathers. Don't you dislike the country friend who asks you to
spend a night, and then tells you at breakfast that the pillow you
slept on was filled with the feathers of departed hens known and
loved by her?
Then there was Nannie, and my, living in London added a great
importance to her position. She became at once chaperon,
housekeeper, counselor, and friend. It was a great joy to her to
think that she shielded me from the dangers of London; and she would
willingly have fetched me from dinners and parties generally, and saw
nothing incongruous in the announcement, " Miss Lisle's nurse is at
"Not that I should be at the door," said Nannie; "I never go
anywhere but what I am asked inside and treated as such." Nannie
still thinks of us as children, and will continue to do so, no doubt
until she who has rocked so many babies to sleep shall herself be
enfolded in the arms of Mother Earth — and tenderly bidden to sleep.
Personally I had a leaning toward a flat, so many of my friends
told me of the joys of shutting it up when one goes away, which, by
the way, I find they never, or very rarely, do. But Nannie didn't
hold with flats. It is curious what things people don't hold with.
After reading of a terrible murder in a railway carriage, I cautioned
my little housemaid, who was going home one Sunday, to be careful not
to be thrown out of a window. She replied, "I don't hold with girls
who are thrown out of windows."
Well, Nannie didn't hold with flats. To please me and to show her
open-mindedness, she went with me to look at flats, but there was a
tactless integrity about her criticism. I discovered that she judged
of everything from a nursery point of view; and when I ventured to
suggest that, as there were no children, a nursery was not of very
great importance, she said, "You never can tell." In this instance I
felt I could most distinctly tell, and wondered whether I might too
tell Nannie of something I didn't hold with. But I didn't. I remember
once long ago one of us asking Nannie if any one could have children
without being married, and Nannie answered in a very matter of fact
voice, "They can, dear, but it's better not." Anyhow, she didn't hold
with flats. "There's the porters for one thing," she said. That, of
course, settled it, and we looked at small houses.
"I suppose you will get married one of these days," she said, as
we stood on a doorstep waiting to be let in.
"Perhaps no one will have me," I said.
"Well, they might; people marry you least expect to. Look at
Maria Dewberry; you would never have —"
The door opened, or we will presume so, as my knowledge of Maria's
movements after her surprising marriage is nil.
Looking over houses is not without excitement, and certainly not
without surprises; but I was spared the experience some unknown
person had who came one day to see our house when we all lived in
London, but happened to be away. Having a house in the country, we
very often did let the London house, which accounts for the agent's
One day, just as Archie was going out, he found on the doorstep a
charming lady with a very pretty daughter.
"May we see over the house?" she asked.
"Certainly," said Archie.
He showed them all over the house, from cellar to garret. He says
he initiated them into the mysteries of the dark cupboard, and he
says he showed them everything of historic interest in the family.
The daughter, he vows, was tremendously interested. When they had
seen everything and Archie had brought them back to the hall, the
charming mother said, "And when is the house to let?"
"Oh! it's not to let," said Archie.
He says he assured them it was no trouble at all, etc.!
In every small house we went, Nannie trudged laboriously up to the
top, and I heard her murmuring, "Night, day," as she went backward
and forward, from one room to the other. At last we found a small
house in Chelsea of which she thoroughly approved. She couldn't
exonerate the agent from all blame in saying that there were views of
the river from the window. "Not but what there might be if we, leaned
out far enough, but we can't because of the bars." It was the very
bars that had attracted her in the first instance, from the outside.
Bars meant a nursery. Iron bars may not make a cage, but they
undoubtedly make a nursery.
She stood at the top window and looked out on the green trees, and
a blackbird was obliging enough, at that very moment, to sing a
love-song. Perhaps it was about nurseries, and Nannie understood it;
at all events she decided there and then to take the house. " Of
course, she said, "I know there's no nursery wanted, but I don't hold
with houses that can't have nurseries in them, if they want to." That
gave me an idea! It came like a flash. Nannie should have her
Of course this all happened some years ago, when the home at Hames
was broken up. With the help of Diana I managed it beautifully. It
was kept a dead secret. Diana collected, or rather allowed me to
collect, all the things Nannie had specially loved in the home
nursery, which I am sure cost Diana a pang, as she was very anxious
her children should abide by tradition and grow up among the things
their father had loved as a boy; but she sent them all, even the
rocking-horse, to me for my nursery.
The walls I had papered just as our nursery had been papered. Even
the old kettle was rescued from oblivion,, and stood on the hob. It
was so old that any jumble sale would have been pleased to have it.
The kettle-holder hung on the wall, with its cat on a green ground,
which had been lovely in the day of its youth. One of us had worked
it; Nannie of course knew which. The tea-set was there with its
green, speckled ground.
But while all this was being arranged, Nannie had a very bad time.
It was not for long, certainly, but she said it was pretty bad while
it lasted. To insure the complete secrecy of our nursery plan, we
arranged that she should go to Hames while we were doing it all, never
thinking of what she would feel on going into the Hames nursery and
finding all her treasures gone, and finding another woman reigning in
her place; for all through our grown-up years the nursery had been
left for Nannie as it had been when we were children. The nurse in
her place hurt most.
"'Mrs.' here and 'Mrs.' there, certificated and teaching. It's
all very well, but I'm not sure they don't go too far in this
teaching business. No amount of teaching will — Well, it's there,
so what's the use? I expect Eve knew how to handle Cain right
"He wasn't very well brought up, though, Nannie," I said.
"Poor child! " said Nannie. " How do we know it wasn't Abel's
fault? He may have been an aggravating child; some are born so, and
I've seen a child, m any a time, go on at another till he's almost
worried him into a frenzy just saying, ' I see you,' over and over
again, does it sometimes. Children will do it, of course; besides,
there were no commandments then, and you can't expect children to do
right without rules and regulations. That's all discipline is, rules
and regulations, which is commandments, so to speak."
"You think, then, Nannie," I said, "that Eve forgot to tell Cain
not to kill Abel?"
"Well," said Nannie, "Eve had a lot to do; we can't blame her. She
must have had a lot to do. Think what a worry Adam must have been: he
had no experience, no nothing; he couldn't be a help to a woman.,
brought up as he was, always thinking of himself as first, as of
course he was! Now, there's Parker — he is a good husband: he rolls
the beef on Sunday to save Mrs. Parker trouble, and prepares the
vegetables; he is a good husband, no trouble in the house whatsoever.
He never brings in dirt, Mrs. Parker says, wipes his feet ever so
before he comes, on the finest day just the same."
I thought the comparison a little hard on Adam, but still I didn't
say so, and Nannie reverted to the modern nurse, after informing me
that men and horses were sacred beasts!
"Well, about nurses, ' Mrs.' before a nurse's name doesn't soothe
a fretful child, nor make her more patient or loving. It might make
her less patient, if she took to wishing the ' Mrs.' was real instead
of sham; some women are like that, all for marrying. I dare say,"
said Nannie, when going over her experiences, "my face did look blank
when I missed all my treasures, but f said nothing, although it was a
blow when I thought of all the lovely times you had had with that
rocking-horse. You remember the hole in it? Well, that was cut out
solid because of all the things that were inside that rocking-horse;
almost all the things that had been lost for years we found in that
horse. My gold chain, for one thing, to say nothing of other things.
The tail came out, and that is how the things got lost. The boys,
always up to mischief, just popped anything they came across down that
hole and put in the tail again, so no one knew anything about it.
Well, then, your father lost something very special, I forget what,
and there was a to-do! And Jane said she believed there was a power
of things down that rocking-horse, so we got Jane's sister's young
man, who was a carpenter, or by way of being, to come and cut out a
square block out of the underneath — well, the stomach — of that
horse — and then we found things! Things we had lost for years.
Then we put the block back, and no one would have noticed
particularly, not unless they had looked. Well, that's what I
missed, the rocking-horse, but still I said nothing. Then we had tea
out of new cups, and still I said nothing, because tea-cups will get
broken, and you can't expect young girls to take care of cups like we
did. The kettle-holder was gone! Then Mrs. David came in. Oh! she
is lovely and like your mother in some ways, — the ways of going
round and speaking to every one, — and she laid her hand on Betty's
head, just as I've seen your mother do a hundred times on yours, and
that was hard to bear. Anyhow, it's a good thing it wasn't some one
else who got Hames. There 's that to be thankful for. It begins with
' Z,' you know."
"Nannie!" I said.
"Z for Zebra," said Nannie.
When the new nursery was all ready, Nannie was sent for. A dozen
times that day I ran up that narrow staircase, and in the morning I
laid the tea to see how it would look, and it looked so pretty that I
left it. At four o'clock the fire was lighted and the kettle was put
on to boil. Nannie drove up in a four wheeler. I was in the hall to
meet her. She lingered to look at everything. She went round and
round the dining-room, up to the drawing-room, even into the spare
room, but no word of nursery. "Which is my room?" she said.
"It's upstairs," I said. "Won't you come and look at it?"
"There's no hurry, is there, miss?"
I could see it was the nursery floor she dreaded.
"Well, there is rather a hurry, Nannie," I said. "I am so anxious
to see if you like all the house."
At last I got her upstairs. I threw open the nursery door. It
was too sudden, no doubt. At the sight of the kettle, the
rocking-horse, the tea-set, she burst into tears.
"Dear, dear Nannie," I said. "it is your own nursery; it's all
She paused in her sobs. "The robin mug's wrong," she said, and
she moved it to the opposite side of the table; "he always sat
there." "He" applied to a little brother who had died, not to the
"It's a very small nursery, Nannie," I said apologetically.
"Well, there are no children to make it untidy," she answered.
So Nannie and I settled down in our nursery, and through the
darkening of that first evening she talked to me of my mother. It
seems to me very wonderful how one woman can so devotedly love the
children of another, but was it not greatly for the love of that
other woman that Nannie loved us so much? It is her figure, I know,
that Nannie sees when she shuts her eyes and re-peoples the nursery in
her dreams, — that lovely mother, the center of that nursery and
home; that mother so quick to praise, so loath to blame, so ready to
find good in everything, so tender to suffering, so pitiful to sin!
"Tell me about her when she was quite young, Nannie," I said.
And Nannie talked on, telling me the stories I knew by heart and
loved so dearly; and then, I remember, she started up.
"What is it, Nannie? " I asked.
"I thought she was calling," she replied; "I often seem to hear
Dear Nannie! I believe she is ready to answer that call at any
moment, for all the love of her new nursery.
That is how I came to live in London.
Most people, I imagine, who live in London are asked by their
relatives and friends who live in the country to shop for them.
My post is often a matter of great anxiety to me, and I know
nothing more upsetting than on a very hot summer's morning, or a wet
winter's one, to find an envelope on my plate, or beside it, addressed
in Cousin Anastasia's large handwriting. "Dearest," the letter inside
it begins, "if" (heavily underlined) "you should be passing
Paternoster Row, will you choose me a nice little prayer- book,
without a cross on it, please; people tell me they are cheaper there
than elsewhere, prayer-books, I mean, for Jane, who is going to be
confirmed. She is such a nice clean girl. I do hope she will be as
clean after her confirmation, but one never can tell. In any case I
feel I ought to give her something, and a prayer-book, under the
circumstances, seems the most suitable thing."
Jane, I remember, is a kitchen-maid. Of course I never pass
Paternoster Row, but that to a country cousin of Anastasia's mental
caliber is not worth consideration. She has no knowledge of
geography, London's or otherwise, and is doubtless one of those people
who think New Zealand is another name for Australia.
On another occasion she writes to say that Martha, the head
housemaid, "such an excellent servant," (all heavily under lined),
who has been with them seventeen years, is going to marry a nice,
clean widower with six children. She must give her a nice present;
"nice" is underlined several times. She has heard that in the
Edgeware Road there are to be had, complete in case, for
three-and-sixpence, excellent clocks. She doesn't know the name of
the shop, but she believes it begins with "P," and if I could look in
as I pass, she would be most grateful. As will be guessed, Anastasia
is a wealthy woman with no sense of humor. She knows she has none,
and she says she doesn't know what rich people want it for. Of course
for poor people it is an excellent thing, because it enables them to
look at the bright side of things; but as Anastasia's things, life in
particular, are bright on all sides, she doesn't need that particular
Then there is another country cousin she is so sweet and diffident
about asking me to do anything, that I feel I ought willingly to look
into every shop window in the Edgeware Road beginning with "P" or any
other letter, however wet or hot the day! And I am not sure that I
wouldn't! Her writing is as meek as Anastasia's is aggressive, and
she never descends to the transparency of an underlined "if." She
says, would I mind sending her a book, called so-and-so, by such and
such an author, price so much? It is all plain sailing with Cousin
Penelope. She knows just what she wants and where to get it; so much
so that I sometimes wonder why she doesn't send straight to the shop.
But country cousins never do that; for wherein would lie the use of
London cousins, if they didn't shop for their country cousins? How
would they occupy their time? She would like me please to get it at
Bumpus's, because they are so very civil and they knew her dear
father. I might mention his name if I thought fit! Now, I know quite
well that it is impossible that any one at Bumpus's, be he ever so
venerable, can ever have known Cousin Penelope's father. The name,
being Smith, may no doubt be familiar. Of course Cousin Penelope
would repay any expense I incurred. In fact she must insist on so
"Insist" seems too strong a word to apply to any power that Cousin
Penelope could enforce. It would be something so gentle; persistent,
perhaps, but insistent? Never! "I beg, I implore, I entreat," would
all be suitable, but "I insist " does not suggest Cousin Penelope.
Dear Cousin Penelope, we are told, had a love-story in her youth,
the sadness of which ruined her life. It must have been a very
beautiful thing, that sorrow., to have made her what she is. One
feels that it must be a very wonderful love that is laid away in the
wrappings of submission and tied with the ribbons of resignation.
There is assuredly no bitterness about it, and I sometimes wonder if
one's own sorrow which tears and tugs at one's heart will some day
leave such a record of holiness and patience on one's face! I am
afraid not. I look in the glass, but I see nothing in the reflection
which in the least resembles Cousin Penelope, nor can I believe that
time will do it, nor am I brave enough to wish it. I cannot yet pray
for a peace like hers. People say time can do everything, but
Too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love Time is
So it is written on a sun-dial I know, and when I have a sun-dial
of my own, those words shall be written thereon.
"I think time lies heavily sometimes on Hugh's hands. He said one
day, "The days pass by, Betty, and we don't grow up!"
To return to booksellers. There is "Truslove and Hanson" in my
more or less immediate neighborhood, who are civil to a degree, but
they did not know Cousin Penelope's father, therefore they are not
specially qualified to sell a book to his daughter! So to Bumpus I
must go, and I love it. A bookshop is a joy to me; the feel of books,
the smell of books, the look of books, I love! I even enjoy cutting
the pages of a book, which I believe every one does not enjoy.
Then there is another country cousin, Pauline. When her letter
comes, I open it with mixed feelings, in which the feeling of
fondness predominates. One can't help loving her. She never asks
one to shop for her, but with her, which is perhaps an even greater
test of friendship. On a particularly hot day, I remember, a letter
came from Pauline which announced her immediate arrival. I was,
waiting in the hall for her, ready to start, which is a stipulation
she always makes, as she says it is such a pity to waste time. She
greeted me in the same rather tempestuous manner that I am accustomed
to at the hands of Betty and Hugh, and then she ran down the steps
again to tell the cabman that he had a very nice horse, which she
patted, and said, "Whoa, mare!" She always does that. She then
asked the cabman how long he had been driving, whether it was
difficult to drive at night, and whether it was true he could only see
his horse's ears; and I think she asked if he had any children, but of
that I am not quite sure. If she didn't, it was a lapse of memory on
her part. Even the cab- runner interested her. Hadn't I noticed what
a sad face he had?
I said I hadn't noticed anything except that he was rather dirty.
Pauline said, "Of course he is dirty; what would you be, if you ran
after cabs all day?" I wondered.
Talking of cab-runners, I told her of the children's party I went
to with Cousin Penelope, who, very much afraid that she was late,
said in her sweetest manner to a man who opened the cab-door for us,
"Are we late?" And the man answered, "I really cannot say, madam; I
have only just this moment arrived myself."
He was in rags, which I did not tell her; the sponge cake would
have stuck in her throat at tea if I had. But I gave him something
for his ready wit, and wished for weeks afterwards that I had plunged
into the darkness after him. "What a charming man!" said Cousin
Penelope. But to return to Pauline.
"What a glorious day we are going to have!" she said. "It is good
of you to say I may stay the night, and if I go to a ball, you won't
mind? I have brought a small box, — as you see."
I did see, and to my mind its size bordered on indecency. I like
a box to look sufficiently large to take all I think a woman ought to
need for a night's stay. Pauline often assures me it does hold
everything, squashed tight, of course. I say it must be squashed
very tight, and she says it is. "That's the beauty of the
present-day fashion of fluffy things: everything is so easily
squashed, and yet you can't squash them; an accordion-pleated thing,
To a man whose admiration for a woman is gauged by the amount of
luggage she can travel without, Pauline would prove irresistible. I
know one who prides himself on his packing, and who has a horror of
much luggage. He was all packed ready to go to Scotland, when his
wife asked him if he could lend her a collar-stud for her flannel
shirts, and he said, "Yes, but you must carry it yourself, I'm full
To that man Pauline, I am sure, would be very attractive.
When Pauline and I started off on our shopping expedition, she
demurred at taking a hansom, although she loves driving in them; but
she said 'buses were so much more amusing. People in 'buses say such
funny things," she said, and so they do. The old lady in particular
who, when the horse got his leg over the trace without hurting himself
or any one else, got up and announced to the 'bus in general: "There,
I always did say I hated horses and dogs," and sat down again. I
loved her for that and for other things too, among them her
apple-cheeks and poke bonnet.
Another reason why I insisted upon a hansom is that Pauline is not
to be trusted in a 'bus; her interest in her fellow-creatures is
embarrassing. I have, moreover, sat opposite babies in 'buses with
Pauline, and where a baby is concerned, she has no self- control. So
I was firm, and we started off in a hansom. I was continually
besought to look at some delicious baby, first this side, then that.
Pauline calmly avers that she would go mad if she lived in London.
She couldn't stand seeing so many beautiful children, or babies,
beautiful or otherwise. It is curious how babies in perambulators
hold out their hands to Pauline as she passes, and laugh and gurgle
Once in Piccadilly, beautiful babies became less plentiful, and
Pauline turned her thoughts and sympathies to horses and bearing-
reins. She was instantly plunged into the depths of despair.
Couldn't I do something, she asked, to remedy such a crying evil? She
said it was the duty of every woman in London — Something in the
catalogue she was carrying arrested her attention, and what it was the
duty of every woman to do I am not sure. I did not ask, but was
grateful for the peace which ensued.
Pauline was glad the sales were on. She loved them, and yet she
didn't like them, because she didn't think they brought out the best
side of a woman's character. "I think," she said, "a woman's behavior
at sales is a test, don't you?"
I said I thought her behavior as regarded swing-doors was a surer
one. She said she hadn't thought of that.
"But I know what you mean; I do dislike the flouncing, pushing
woman. I think every one should be taught to be courteous and
gentle, don't you?" She added, "I hate being pushed."
I told her of a woman next me in a 'bus one day, who said, "You're
a-sittin' on me!" How I rose and politely begged her pardon,
whereupon she said, "Now you're a-standin' on me!" And we agreed
that there is no pleasing some people.
Pauline returned to the perusal of the catalogue, in which she had
put a large cross against the picture of a coat and skirt. She said
she was stock-size. She didn't suppose any really smart women were.
"Or would own to it," I suggested, but she didn't answer; she never
does if she detects any savor of malice in a remark. She was very
anxious I should admire the illustration. I did, but I felt it my
duty as a London cousin to a country cousin to tell her that the
illustration might lead her to expect too much. She warmly agreed
that of course as regarded the figure, etc., the illustration was
misleading, because she, of course, could never look so beautifully
willowy as that. She was inclined to come out where the illustration
went in, and she could never be so slanty, never; but apart from that,
of course the coat and skirt would be exactly as it was pictured. Her
figure would be to blame, of course. Her figure happens to be a very
pretty one, but she didn't give me time to say so. I repeated that I
should not put implicit faith in the illustration. She was a little
hurt. She did not think it right to cast aspersions on the character
of so respectable a firm as that whose name headed the catalogue. I
said I didn't see it quite in the same light. Pauline looked at me
reproachfully, and said drawing a lie was as bad as telling one.
The argument was beyond me; besides, I like Pauline to look
reproachfully at me, she is so pretty. Being as pretty as she
undoubtedly is, I often wonder why she is not more effective.
The right kind of country beauty is very convincing to the jaded
Londoner; but to convince, one must be convinced, and that is exactly
what Pauline is not. She never thinks whether she is beautiful or
not, and I am sure it often lies with the woman herself, how beautiful
people think her, except in the rare cases of real beauty, when there
can be but one opinion. But in the case of ordinary beauty, the woman
is appraised at her own value. Then there is the art of putting on
clothes, of which Pauline is absolutely ignorant. There is even a
studied untidiness which passes under the name of picturesque. All of
this is a closed book to Pauline, and, after all, she is a delightful
creature; but the trouble to me was that, at the time she came up to
shop with me, she didn't wear good boots, and to do that I hold is
part, or should be part, of a woman's creed. She gets her. boots from
the village shoemaker because his wife died. Her eyes filled with
tears at the mere thought of the man, and she told me she thought it
right to encourage local talent. In the boots I saw evidences of
locality, — bumps, for instance, — but not of talent. Pauline was
very indignant and said she had no bumps on her feet. "But you see my
position?" I did, but I persuaded her to have some good boots made in
London. This she consented to do, rather unwillingly and on the
distinct understanding that in the country she should continue to
encourage local talent. On wet days," I ventured.
And at flower-shows, she added.
I have seen Pauline in the country, against a background of golden
beech trees and brown bracken, look even beautiful; but in London she
lacks something, possibly the right background. She has glorious
hair, but her maid can't do it. Pauline admits it, but she says she
can't send a nice woman away on that account; besides, she suffers
from rheumatism, and Pauline's particular part of the country suits
her better than any other.
"Couldn't she learn?" I suggested.
"No, she can't," said Pauline. "She had lessons once, and she
came back and did my hair like treacle, all over my head, — no idea,
absolutely. I should never look like you, whatever I did."
"My dear Pauline," I said, "what nonsense!"
"It's not nonsense. Father was saying only the other day that you
are a beautiful creature, only no one seems to see it."
"Dear Uncle Jim," I said; "how delightful, and how like him!"
"But it's true you are beautiful; only the part about the people
not seeing it isn't true: that's father's way of putting it. You are
"My dear child!"
"Why do you say 'dear child' to me? People would think you were
years and years older than I am. Why do you always talk as if life
were over? Have you a secret sorrow?"
If Pauline, warm-hearted, loving Pauline had really thought I had,
she would have been the last person to ask such a question.
"Do I look it?" I asked.
"No-o. Only when people seem to spend the whole of their life in
doing things for other people, it makes one suspect that they are
saying to themselves, 'As we can't be happy ourselves, we can see
that other people are.'"
"What a philosopher you are, Pauline! If you go on that
supposition, you must have a terrible sorrow somewhere hidden behind
that happy face of yours."
Pauline is not meant to live in London. She thanks people in a
crowd for letting her pass. If she is pushed off the pavement, she
is only sorry that the person can be so rude as to do it . She never
gets into a 'bus or takes any vehicular advantage over a widow, and
she feels choky if she sees any one very old. "Do you know why?" she
asked. "Because they are, so near Heaven, and sometimes I think you
see the reflection of it in their faces."
"Like Cousin Penelope," I said.
We arrived at the shop where the coat and skirt were to be had,
and Pauline, having admired the horse and thanked the cabman, and the
commissionaire, who held his arm over a perfectly dry wheel, followed
me into the shop. She admired everything as she went through the
different departments, and apologized to the shop walkers for not
being able to buy everything; but she lived in the country, and
although the things were lovely, they would be no use to her — dogs
on her lap most of the day, and so on.
Everyone looked at Pauline; and old ladies, to whom she always
appeals very much, put their heads on one side, as old ladies do when
they admire anything very much, anything which reminds them of their
own youth, and smiled. Old ladies have this privilege, that when they
arrive at a certain age, they are allowed to think they were beautiful
in their youth, and to tell you so. It is a recognized thing, and one
of the recompenses of old age. We all know that every one had a
beautiful grandmother — one at least; and if a portrait of one
grandmother belies the fact, then there is the other one to fall back
upon, of whom, unfortunately, no portrait exists, and she was abs —
so — lute — lee lovely!
The coat and skirt were found and eagerly compared with the
illustration, and Pauline turned to me and said with a triumphant
ringing her voice: "It wasn't an exaggeration. I knew it wouldn't
be. Mother has dealt here for years."
Then we went upstairs to try it on. In a few minutes Pauline had
discovered that the fitter was supporting her deceased sister's
husband and six children, the eldest of whom wasn't quite right and
the youngest had rickets. She was so distressed that she didn't want
the back of her coat altered, the woman already had so much to bear.
But I prevailed upon her to have the alteration made regardless of
the woman's domestic anxieties. I felt sure it would make no
difference. But I cannot help feeling that Pauline's visit to that
shop did make a difference to that poor woman, if only for a few
moments in her life. And I think those children's lives were made
happier too; but it is difficult to get Pauline to talk of these
Then we went to the shoemaker, and Pauline told him all about the
widower bootmaker, and of her scruples about having boots made by any
one else. The bootmaker evidently thought that a foot like Pauline's
was worthy of a good boot and Pauline said there were occasions on
which one had to sink one's own feelings. She was scandalized at
London prices, and told the man so. "But of course it means higher
pay for the men, so it's all right."
On our way home I said to Pauline that I couldn't understand why
she was so economical — ready-made coats and skirts, and afraid of
paying a fair price for good boots! Was her allowance smaller than it
used to be? She got pink and didn't answer. I determined she should,
and at last she did.
"Well, you see, I pay a woman to come and wash the shoemaker's
children on Saturday evenings."
I smiled. "That can't cost much, unless she provides the soap."
Pauline got pinker still. "Well, I pay for the village nurse, and
a few other little things. Then there's a little baby," she dropped
her voice, "who has no mother — she died — and who never had a
father, and every one doesn't care for those sort of babies. — You do
like my coat and skirt, don't you?"
I think, by the way, that it was on that very day that Mr. Dudley
met Pauline. She, of course, would know the exact date and hour, but
I am almost sure of it, for although it may mean a day of less
ecstatic joy to me than it does to her, it brought much peace and
subsequent happiness into my life, and therefore is writ in red
letters in my book of days. For the visits of Dick Dudley had
latterly become more frequent than I cared for, and much as I liked
him, I began to wish that I had remained in his estimation under the
shadow of Diana's charming personality, for so he had tolerated me
until the fateful day on which I had partaken of Betty's gray wad.
That act of professional valor ignited a spark of feeling for me in
his breast, which, fostered by Hugh's constant suggestion, sprang into
something warmer than I could have wished, and was fanned into flame
on the day on which he found me paying a visit of consolation to the
small fat Thomas. Now, strangely enough, that small fat person was
nephew to Dick Dudley. How small the world is! And the mother turned
out to have been exactly the sort of mother I had thought she must be.
One of the nicest things about Dick Dudley was the way he spoke of
that sister) and we had long talks about her, until I awoke to the
fact that that sister and I must have been twins, so alike were we;
then I began to be afraid. For I couldn't tell him that there was
some one far away, for whom I was waiting from day to day. One can
hardly barricade one's self behind such an announcement. The
classification of women is incomplete. There are those who are
engaged and who care; there are those who are engaged and who don't
care; there are those who don't care and, who are not engaged; then
there are those who care and who are not engaged, so cannot say. It
is not their fault if, sometimes, they wound a passing lover.
Mercifully there are Pauline's in this world to relieve one of
unsought affections, and I liked Dick Dudley well enough, and not too
much to be glad when I saw him give ever such a small start when he
walked into my drawing-room and saw Pauline sitting there, clothed in
cool green linen and looking her very best. I had done her glorious
hair on the top — that, I think is the expression — and she sat in
the window so that her hair shone like burnished gold, and she was
saying in a voice fraught with emotion, "If I had my way, there should
be no sorrow or suffering," which of all sentiments was the most
likely to appeal to Dick Dudley, for he is one of those who look upon
sorrow and suffering as bad management on the part of some one, since
the world is really such an awfully jolly place, if only people didn't
make a muddle of their lives. He says it is all very well to talk of
high ideals, you can't live up to them, the best you can do is to live
up to the highest practical ideal. But then his standard of ideal is
very much higher since he saw Pauline for the first time. Pauline
blushed when a strange man walked into the room, which was all for the
best, and made the day a happier one for me. Not that Dick Dudley was
not very loyal to me. He tried, I could see it was an effort) not to
talk too much to Pauline, although the topic of bearing-reins, under
certain circumstances, was a very engrossing one, and spaniels a
never-ending one. Pauline expressed her surprise that Mr. Dudley
should ask her if she lived in London.
"I thought every one could see I lived in the country," she said.
"Did you mean it for a compliment?" she asked kindly.
Dick Dudley was a little overcome by this, and he said he would
hardly have dared to pay her a compliment, since every one knew that
girls who lived in the country away from bearing-reins and other
hardening and worldly influences, and in close proximity to spaniels,
black, liver and white, cocker, clumber, and otherwise, were so vastly
superior to their London sisters. Here Dick got a little deep and
Pauline kindly rescued him.
"A compliment to my clothes, I meant," she said; "because all my
friends in London tell me my clothes are so countrified."
Dick listened very, very seriously to the reasons why Pauline was
obliged to have most of her clothes made in the country, and I could
see that every moment he thought less of the importance of clothes and
their makers, and more and more of the qualities essential in woman,
simplicity, goodness, frankness, and an absence of artificiality. I
saw it all on his face, dawning slowly and surely. By the time we had
had tea, I could see it was a matter of mutual satisfaction to both
Dick and Pauline to find that they were going to the same dance that
night. The responsibility of chaperoning Pauline was not mine.
My anxiety as to the ball dress emerging from the small box was
relieved by Pauline telling me that it was to come from the
dressmaker just in time for her to dress for the ball; which it did.
She came to be inspected by Nannie and me before she started, and she
really looked delicious. Her assets as a country girl counted heavily
that night, she looked so fresh, so natural, and so full of the joy of
living. Her hair counted, every hair of it. Nannie was so touched
that she wept aloud and said it was what I ought to be doing. But I
told her professional aunts went only to children's parties, where
they could be of some use. Pauline wished I was going. "Betty," she
said and paused, I am sure Mr. — is his name Dudley? feels very much
your not going." I laughed, and marked it down against her that she
should have said, "Is his name Dudley?" It was the first evidence of
feminine guile I had detected in her. Men are answerable for a very
I woke to greet Pauline when she came into my sunlit room at five
o'clock in the morning, looking still fresh, untired, and more than
ever full of the joy of living. "Oh, it was lovely," she said,
sitting down on my bed.
"Who saw you home?" I asked professionally.
"Oh, Aunt Adela to the very door; she even waited till I shut it."
"Who did you dance with? " I asked.
"Heaps and heaps of people. I was lucky; all Thorpshire seemed to
be there; and then Mr. Dudley. Betty, I understand now."
"What?" I said, alarmed by the note of tragic kindness in her
"About Mr. Dudley, he talked about you so beautifully. He agrees
with me absolutely about your character, and he told me about his
sister." Pauline's voice became hushed.
"Did he say she was just a little like you, Pauline?"
"Yes, he did. You knew her, then? He said I reminded him of her
so strangely. I think he would make a woman very happy. I do
"So do I, dear Pauline, really."
"Then won't you?"
"No, darling goose."
"Because I am not the woman. Go to bed, Pauline."
She went — to sleep? I cannot say. I forget whether a girl goes
to sleep the first night after she has fallen in love. Night? I
suppose I should say morning. But it depends on the hour when she
takes the first step into that bewildering fairyland of first love.
For a fairyland it assuredly is, if she is lucky enough to find the
right guide. He must, to begin with, believe in the fairyland. He
must know that the path may be rough at times, stony and overgrown
with weeds, but he will know that all the difficulties will be worth
while when he brings her out into the open, and they look away to the
limitless horizon of happiness.
A few hours later, Pauline said to me at breakfast, "Betty, I
think I shall tell that bootmaker to make me two pairs of boots and
two pairs of shoes. It is better to have enough while one is about
it, don't you think so?"
So began the regeneration of Pauline, regeneration in the matter
of footgear, I mean, and to wear good boots did her character no
harm, nor the pocket of the country shoemaker either, I am sure. Good
boots could not turn her feet from the pathway of truth and goodness
which from her earliest childhood she had set out to tread, never
pausing except to pick up some one who lagged behind, or to help some
one who had strayed from the path.
Dick Dudley, whose pathway through life had zigzagged
considerably, was astonished to find how easy the pathway was to
keep, guided by Pauline, and how alluring the goal of goodness. He
gave himself up gladly to her guidance, and was touched to find how
much there was of latent goodness in him. He had never before
realized, that was all, how much he loved his fellow-creatures, how
he longed to help them all, how the conditions of the laboring-classes
made his blood boil with indignation, how he idolized babies, loved
old women, reverenced old men.
It was all a revelation to him. It was, moreover, delightful to
be told by Pauline how wonderful she found all these things in him,
and how unexpected. This, she explained, was nothing personal. "But
I often wondered if I should ever meet a man like you."
"Darling," he answered humbly, "I don't think I am that sort of
man; really, I'm awfully and frightfully ordinary."
Then Pauline, to prove the contrary, would ask him if he didn't
feel this or that or the other? And of course he could truthfully
say he did, because he felt all and everything Pauline wished him to
feel, with her beautiful eyes fixed upon him and the flush of
enthusiasm on her cheeks. Here was something to inspire a man, this
splendidly generous, magnanimous creature. Of course he had always
felt all these things; he had been groping after goodness. It was the
goodness in Diana, and he was kind enough to say in the professional
aunt, which had appealed to him. He had been feeling after, it for
years, but it was only Pauline who had revealed it to him, in himself.
Well, he was very much in love. Most men engaged to charming girls
feel their own unworthiness, and the girl is sweetly content that they
should do so. Not so Pauline. She revealed to her astonished lover a
depth of goodness in his character that he had least suspected, and he
gradually began to feel how little he had been understood.
Now this is an excellent basis on which to start an engagement. I
forget exactly how and when they became engaged, but it was certainly
before Dick said humbly, "Darling, I don't think I am that sort of
man; really, I'm awfully and frightfully ordinary," because, with all
Pauline's kindness to sinners, there was none hardened enough to
address her as "darling" without being first engaged to her; so by
that I know they were engaged that evening at the opera, because it
was in a Wagnerian pause that Dick said those words, in a loud voice
from the back of the box. How else should a professional aunt know
Between meeting Dick and becoming engaged to him, Pauline went
home and came back with a larger box and stayed quite a long time, as
time goes, although, as a time in which to become engaged, it was very
short, and Nannie, feeling this, asked Pauline if she knew much about
Mr. Dudley, and was she wise? In spite of this anxiety on Nannie's
part, she enjoyed it all immensely, and wept to her heart's content
when the engagement was announced. Now Dick Dudley was a rich young
man, and I wondered whether other people wept too from motives less
pure and simple than Nannie's.
Pauline wanted me to join a society called "The Deaf Dog Society."
The obligation enforced on members was that they should kneel down,
put their arms round the neck of any deaf dog they should chance to
meet, and say, "Darling, I love you."
"You see," she said, "a deaf dog doesn't know he is deaf, he only
wonders why no one ever speaks to him, why no one ever calls him. So
you see what a splendid society it is, and there is no subscription."
Dick made a stipulation that the benefits of the society should be
conferred on dogs only. He made a point of that.
As there was nothing to wait for, happy people, it was agreed by
all parties that the wedding should take place in August, which kept
me rather late in town; it was hardly worth going away, to come back
again, as back again I had to come, as Betty and Hugh were coming to
stay with me for a night on their way to Thorpshire. It is not
astonishing, perhaps, that two children, modern children in
particular, and a nursery-maid can fill to overflowing a small London
house, but it is astonishing how demoralizing a thing it is. A
visiting child to people who have children of their own means nothing,
beyond the changing from one room to another of some particular child,
or the putting up of an extra bed, or perhaps the joy supreme to some
child of sleeping in something that is not a real bed. We all
remember that joy. Except for that one child, it is an every-day thing
and fraught with no particular excitement. The servants, for
instance, in a house where children are an every-day thing, remain
quite calm, if good tempered, when a visiting child is expected, and
the kitchen- maid, no doubt, cleans the doorstep as usual, and, no
doubt, takes in the milk. But this I know, that if I had happened to
possess such a thing when Betty and Hugh were coming to stay, my
doorstep would never have been cleaned. For once I was glad that I
depended on the services of a very small boy, who thinks he cleans
it. Staid and level-headed as were my maids, they answered no bells
that morning, which was perhaps natural, as I believe none ring up to
the nursery. Of course they had to be interested in Nannie's
It was a hot August day, I remember, and I sat at the window
writing, or pretending to write. As a matter of fact, I was
listening. Among other things to the "Austrian Anthem," played over
and over again, first right hand, then left, then both, but not
together, by, I guessed, a child about ten years old, next door.
Poor, hot child, how I pitied her.
"Never mind," I thought, "take courage, seaside time is coming.
Within a few days, no doubt, an omnibus will come to the door empty,
to go away full, filled with luggage, crowned by a perambulator and a
baby's bath!" It is only a woman who can travel with a perambulator
and a bath; they are the epitome of motherhood. A father is always
too busy to go by that particular train.
I heard the twitter of sparrows, the jingle of bells, the hooting
of a siren, or was it my neighbor singing "A rose I gave to you"? of
course it was, — the rumble of a post-office van, and the cry of
children's voices, rather peevish voices, poor mites! Never mind,
seaside time is coming.
Listening more intently, I beard in the far distance, yet
distinct, the cries of the children who ought to go to the seaside,
children who have never been to the seaside, never paddled, never
built castles, never caught crabs, never seen sea- anemones or
starfish, children whose faces are wan and whose mothers are too tired
to be kind to them. It is often that, I am sure, too tired to be
Listening again, I heard faintly—it is not with the ears that
one hears these things — the unuttered complaints of those tired
mothers, worn-out women, despairing men, and the singing, in dark
alleys and in hot areas, of caged birds. There are thousands of
caged creatures, other than birds, in London in August, men, women,
and children. Hats off, then, to the little feathered Christians who
sing for their fellow-prisoners a paean of praise. It is perhaps
easier to sing to the patch of blue sky when you do not know that it
will be hidden behind clouds tomorrow.
"They've come," cried Nannie.
"O Aunt Woggles!" said Hugh, "I've brought you a lovely
caterpillar wrapped up in grass."
"And I've brought you one of my very own bantam eggs," said Betty.
"I've kept it ever so long for you."
Then it will be bad, said Hugh.
"Oh, not so long as to be bad," said Betty. "You will eat it,
won't you, Aunt Woggles?"
Nannie was radiantly happy at tea that day, but I think her
happiness was supreme when she fetched me later to look at the
children asleep. We stole into Betty's room together, and Nannie
shaded the candle as she held it, for me to look at what is assuredly
the loveliest thing on God's earth — a sleeping child.
Nannie, in an eloquent silence, pointed to the chair on which lay
Betty's clean clothes, folded ready for the morning, and to her hairy
horse which she had brought for company. Her blue slippers were
beside the bed. Then we went into Hugh's room. He, too, lay peaceful
and beautiful, his clothes folded ready for the morning, and his
pistol beside him in case he was "attacked." His slippers were red,
and Nannie, at the sight of them, cried quietly. To some happy
mothers a child's slippers mean nothing more than size two or three,
and serve only to remind her how quickly children grow out of things!
But to Nannie they brought back memories of years of happiness,
through which little feet, in just the same sort of slippers, had
pattered, stumbling here, falling there, picked up, and guided by
her. But she thought most of the little feet in just that sort of
slippers, that had stopped still forever early on their life's
journey. It is the voices that are hushed that call most distinctly,
the footsteps that stop that are most carefully traced. It is the
children who have gone that stand and beckon!
Pauline's wedding-day dawned gloriously bright and beautiful. The
whole village was up and doing, very early, putting the finishing
touches to the decorations.
The widower shoemaker and his children, and the woman who washed
them — the children, I mean — on Saturdays, had all combined to
erect a triumphal arch of, great splendor, and the woman showed such
sensibility in the choice of mottoes, and such a nice appreciation of
the joys of matrimony, together with a decided leaning towards the
bridegroom's side of the arch, that the shoemaker suggested that she
should suit her actions to her words — that was how he expressed it
— and marry him, which she agreed to do. But she afterwards
explained, in breaking the news to her friends, that they could have
knocked her down with a leaf! Whether this was due to the weakened
state of her heart, or to her precarious position on the ladder, I do
Everybody and everything was in a bustle, with the exception of
Aunt Cecilia, who sat through it all as calm and as beautiful as
ever. Not that she did not feel parting with Pauline, but her love
for everybody and everything was of a nature so purely unselfish that
it never occurred to her to count the cost to herself.
I have never met any one who so completely combines in her
character gentleness and strength as does Aunt Cecilia: so gentle in
spirit and judgment, and so strong in her fight for principles and
beliefs. If she has a weakness, and I could never wish any one I love
to be without one, it lies in her love for Patience. She does not
think it right to play in the morning, but sometimes, being unable to
withstand the temptation of so doing, she plays it in an empty drawer
of her writing-table, and if she hears any one coming, she can close
Her greatest interest in life, next to her husband and children,
is her garden and other people's gardens. In fact, she looks at life
generally from a gardening point of view, and is apt to regard men as
gardeners, possible gardeners, or gardeners wasted. As gardeners they
have their very distinct use, and as such deserve every consideration,
but if a man will not till the soil, he is a cumberer thereof. She,
at least, inclines that way in thought. Life, she says, is a garden,
children the flowers, parents the gardeners. "If we treated children
as we do roses, they would be far happier. We don't call roses
naughty when they grow badly and refuse to flower as they ought to; we
blame the gardeners or the soil."
"But, Aunt Cecilia," I say, "one can recommend an unsatisfactory
gardener to a friend, but one can't so dispose of unsatisfactory
"You must educate them, dear."
Now all this sounds very convincing when said by Aunt Cecilia,
because, for one thing, she says it very charmingly, and for another,
she is still a very beautiful woman. She is too fond, perhaps, of
extinguishing her beauty under a large mushroom hat, and is given to
bending too much over herbaceous borders, and so hiding her beautiful
face. But I dare say the flowers love to look at it, and to see
mirrored in it their own loveliness.
Aunt Cecilia wears a bonnet sometimes, and thereby hangs a tale.
So few aunts wear a bonnet nowadays that the fact of one doing so is
almost worth chronicling. She doesn't wear it very often, only at the
christenings of the head gardener's babies. From a christening point
of view that is very often, but from a bonnet point of view I suppose
it might be called seldom — once a year? I know that bonnet well,
because it has been sent to me often for renovation. On one
particular occasion it arrived in a cardboard box. On the top of the
bonnet was a bunch of flowers, beautiful enough to make any bonnet
accompanying it welcome, in whatever state of dilapidation. Aunt
Cecilia has a knack of sending just the right sort of flowers, and
they always bring a message, which everybody's flowers don't do.
The bonnet I renovated to the best of my ability and sent it back.
In the course of a few days I received a slightly agitated note from
Aunt Cecilia. "It doesn't suit me, dearest, and after all the trouble
you have taken!"
Knowing Aunt Cecilia, I wrote back, "Did you try it on in bed with
your hair down?"
She answered by return, "Dearest, I did! It really suits me very
well now that I have tried it on in my right mind. I am going to
wear it at the last little Shrub's christening, this afternoon. It is
just in time."
When David and Diana were singled out by night for the particular
attention of a burglar, Aunt Cecilia wrote to sympathize and said, "I
am so thankful, dearest, David did not meet the poor, misguided man!"
May we all be judged as tenderly!
This is a digression, but it perhaps explains Pauline and
Pauline's wedding, and the joy with which all the people in the
village entered into it.
The strangest people kept on arriving the morning of the wedding.
It was verily a gathering of the halt, the lame, and the blind — all
friends of Pauline's. Whenever Uncle Jim was particularly overcome,
it was sure to mean that some old soldier, officer or otherwise, had
turned up, who had served with him in some part of the world, long
before Pauline was born. Aunt Cecilia welcomed them all in her
inimitable manner, which made each one feel that he was the one and
most particularly honored guest. For all her apparent
absent-mindedness, she knew exactly who belonged to Mrs. Bunce's
department and who not.
Mrs. Bunce, the old housekeeper, was very busy, every button doing
its duty! A wedding didn't come her way every day. The sisters-
in-law, of course, came with their belongings.
Zerlina was distressed at the nature of many of the presents; and
wondered if Pauline would have enough spare rooms to put them in;
which showed how little she knew her. If Pauline had told her that
she valued the alabaster greyhound under a glass case, subscribed for
by the old men and women in the village, over seventy, Zerlina
wouldn't have believed her any more than did old Mrs. Barker when
Diana told her Sara was named after a dear old housemaid and not after
Betty and Hugh were among the bridesmaids and pages, and Hugh
shocked Betty very much by saying, in the middle of the service "When
may I play with my girl?"
Some one described Uncle Jim as looking like one of the Apostles,
and Aunt Cecilia certainly looked like a saint. Ought I, by the way,
to bracket an apostle and a saint? But nothing was so wonderful or so
beautiful as the expression on Pauline's face. I am sure that, as she
walked up the aisle, she was oblivious to everything and every one
except God and Dick.
It is assuredly a great responsibility for a man to accept such a
love as hers.
A wedding is nearly always a choky thing, and Pauline's was
particularly so. As she left the church, she stopped in the
churchyard to speak to her friends, and for one old woman she waited
to let her feel her dress.
"Is it my jewels you want to feel, Anne?" she said, as the old
hands tremblingly passed over her bodice. "I have on no jewels."
The old hands went up to Pauline's face and gently and reverently
touched it. "God bless her happy face," said the old woman. "I had
to know for sure." Pauline kissed the old fingers gently. We all
knew for sure, but then we had eyes to see.
Pauline went away in the afternoon, and the villagers danced far
into the evening, and there was revelry in the park by night.
After Pauline and Dick had gone away, I walked across the park to
the post office to send a telegram to Julia, who was kept at home by
illness, to her very great disappointment. There is nothing she
adores like a wedding. I was glad to escape for a few minutes. I
wrote out the telegram and handed it to the postmaster, who, reading
it, said, I'm glad it went off so well. "There's nobody what wouldn't
wish her well." Then he counted the words. "Julia Westby?" he said.
"Um-um-um-um. Eleven, miss. You might as well give her the title."
I laughed and added, or rather he added, the "Lady."
Julia is not a sister-in-law really, but she likes to call herself
so, since she might have been one, having been for one ecstatic week
in Archie's life engaged to him. She is wont now to lay her hand on
his head, in public, for choice, and say, "He was almost mine." She
says she still loves him as a friend. "But, you see, dearest Betty,
there is everything that is delightful in the relationship of a poor
friend, but a poor husband! That is another thing. To begin with, it
is not fair to a man that he should have to deny his wife things. It
is bad for his character and, of course, for hers. He becomes a saint
at her expense, whereas the expense should always be borne by the
husband. William is so delightfully rich, but he is not an Archie, of
course! But then husbands are not supposed to be."
Hugh, going to bed, wondered if the angels would bring Pauline a
baby that night, a darling little baby!
And Betty said, in her great wisdom, "Oh, darling, I think it
would be too exciting for Pauline to be married and have a baby all
on one day."
Then Hugh suggested the glorious possibility of the angels
bringing it to Fullfield, whereupon Hyacinth said that was not at all
likely, because she knew that when a baby was born, it was usual for
one or other parent to be present!
We stayed for a few days at Fullfield, and Hugh and Betty enjoyed
themselves immensely. Hyacinth said it was just like staying for a
week at the pantomime, and Betty said, with a deep sigh, that it was
much nicer, a billion times nicer.
Pauline's brother Jack most nearly resembled any one in a
pantomime, and the children loved him. One day at lunch he went to
the side-table to fetch a potato in its jacket, and coming back he
laid it on Uncle Jim's slightly bald head and said, "Am I feverish,
"It Good Heavens, my boy!" exclaimed Uncle Jim; "you must be in an
After that, the eyes of the children never left Jack during any
meal at which they happened to be present, and whenever he got up to
fetch anything, Hugh began dancing with joy and saying in a loud
whisper, "He's going to do something funny"; and if Jack remained
silent, Hugh was sure he was thinking of something to do. It is
difficult to live up to those expectations.
One morning at breakfast Hugh said suddenly, "Aunt Woggles, have
you got a mole?"
I said I believed I had.
"It's frightfully lucky. I have," he said, pulling up his sleeve
and disclosing a mole on his very white little arm. "It is lucky."
"I've got one too," said Betty, diving under the table.
"All right, darling," I said, "you needn't show us."
"I couldn't, Aunt Woggles, at least not now. If you come to see
me in my bath, you can; but it's truthfully there."
I said I was sure it was.
"I 'spect she's sitting on it," said Hugh in aloud whisper;
"We asked Mr. Hardy once if he had a mole, and he got redder and
redder;" we asked him at lunch, said Betty.
"He got redder and redder," said Hugh, by way of corroboration.
"Mother said moles weren't good things to ask people about, so we
asked him if he had any little children, and he hadn't; then we
didn't know what to ask."
"We only asked about moles because we wanted him to be lucky,"
said kindhearted Betty.
"Last time I went to the Zoo," said Hugh, "I gave all my bread to
one animal. He was a lucky animal, wasn't he?"
It was the hippopotamus, I think; he was lucky."
"Perhaps he has a mole, Hugh," I said.
We'll look, said Hugh. "I 'spect he has."
The proverbial difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack seemed
child's play compared to that of finding a mole on a hippopotamus.
Another aunt, Anna by name, suggested that as I was at Fullfield,
I might take the opportunity of paying her a visit at Manwell, why
because I was at Fullfield I don't know, as they are miles apart,
counties apart I should say. However, I went because it is difficult
to refuse Aunt Anna anything; she accepts no excuses. It is as well
for any one who wishes to see Aunt Anna at her best to see her in her
own home. She, according to Aunt Cecilia, does best in her own soil.
Moreover, she is nothing without her family, it so thoroughly
justifies her existence.
Aunt Anna is one of those jewels who owe a certain amount to their
Her husband calls her a jewel, and as such she is known by the
family in general which recalls to my mind an interesting biennial
custom which was said to hold good in the Manwell family. Every time
a lesser jewel made its appearance, the mother-jewel was presented
with a diamond and ruby ornament of varying magnificence, with the
words "The price of a good woman is far above rubies" conveniently
Aunt Anna took it all very seriously, from the tiara downward, and
if diamond and ruby shoe-buckles had not involved twins, I think she
would have hankered after those, but even as it was, she came in time
to possess a very remarkable collection of rubies and diamonds.
Aunt Anna is very prosperous, very happy, very rich, and very
She prides herself on none of these things, but only on the
unprejudiced state of her maternal mind.
"Of course," she says, "I cannot help seeing that my children are
more beautiful than other people's. It would be ludicrously affected
and hypocritical of me if I pretended otherwise. If they were plain,
I should be the first to see it, and —"
I think she was going to add "say it," but she stopped short; she
invariably does at a deliberate lie, because she is a very truthful
woman, and thinks a lie is a wicked thing unless socially a necessity.
I arrived at tea-time which is a thing Aunt Anna expects of her
guests. I noticed that she looked a little less contented than
usual, and that she even gave way to a gesture of impatience when
Mrs. Blankley asked for a fifth cup of tea. Mrs. Blankley is a great
advocate of temperance. In connection with which, Aunt Anna once said
that she thought there should be temperance in all things beginning
with "t." Which vague saying, as illustrative of her wit, was
treasured up by her indulgent husband and quoted "As Anna so funnily
Now as Aunt Anna, we know, never says witty things unless under
strong provocation, she rarely says them, for she is of an amazingly
even temperament. She often says she considers cleverness a very
dangerous gift. It is not one I seek for either myself or my
children. It is so easy to say clever, unkind things. Every one can
do it if they choose; the difficulty is not to say them.
It is evident that Aunt Anna chooses the harder part.
Mrs. Blankley, having disposed of the fifth cup of tea, expressed
a desire to see the pigs. Aunt Anna never goes to see pigs, nor
demands that sacrifice of Londoners, for which act of consideration I
honor her; not but what I am fond of pigs, black ones and small. Aunt
Anna knows that there are such things because of the continual
presence of bacon in her midst. She also knows that pigs are things
that get prizes. She still clings to her childish belief that streaky
bacon comes from feeding the pigs one day and not the next.
Every one, like Mrs. Blankley, had a thirst to see something, and
I was left alone with Aunt Anna, to discuss Pauline's wedding. As a
rule, there is nothing Aunt Anna would sooner discuss, but I saw that
something was worrying her, and I guessed that the unburdening of a
rarely perturbed mind was imminent. It was.
"Is anything wrong? — I asked. "Any of the children worrying
you? She nodded and pointed to a diamond and ruby brooch and said
plaintively. "This one, Claud, just a little worrying."
I tried to hide a smile. "Oh, that's Claud, is it? I get a little
"I dare say, dear," she said; "but it's quite simple, really. Jack
was the tiara, and so on."
"What has Claud been doing?" I asked. "Oh, nothing he can help, I
feel sure. He has a temperament, I believe. What it is I don't
quite know; people grow out of it, I am told. It's not so much doing
things as saying them; and his friends are odd, decidedly odd. They
wear curious ties, have disheveled hair, and are distinctly décolleté.
I don't know if I should apply the word to men, but they are."
I suggested that these little indiscretions on the part of extreme
youth need not worry her. But she said they did, in a way, because
her other children were so very plain sailing. They never took any
one by surprise. She then told me of poor Lady Adelaide, a near
neighbor, at least as near as it was possible for any neighbor to be,
considering the extent of the Manwell property, one of whose boys had
written a book without her knowledge, and the other had married under
exactly similar conditions.
I said I thought the writing of a book a minor offense compared to
the matrimonial venture. She agreed, but said they were both
upsetting because unexpected. As an instance, did I remember when
Lady Victoria was butted by her pet lamb, when she was showing the
Prince her white farm? It wasn't the upsetting she minded, so much
as the unexpectedness of it, because the lamb had a blue ribbon round
"A black sheep in a white farm, Aunt Anna!" I said.
"No, dear, it was white, and it was a lamb."
But to return to Lady Adelaide. Now that Aunt Anna came to think
of it, the marriage was the better of the two shocks, because
financially it was a success, and the book wasn't. "Books aren't,"
"Is that all Claud does, or, rather, his friends do?" I asked.
"No, it's not," she said. "Ever since he went to Oxford he has
changed completely. He has got into his head that we are a self-
centered family, and that I am a prejudiced mother, when it is the
only thing I am not. I may be everything else for all I know, I may
be daily breaking all the commandments without knowing it! But a
prejudiced mother I am not! Before he went to Oxford he came into my
bedroom one morning, and he said that he thought Maud and Edith were
quite the most beautiful girls he had ever seen, and he had sat behind
some famous beauty in a theatre a few nights before. I didn't ask
him! I was suffering from neuralgia at the time, I remember, and he
might, under the circumstances, have agreed just to soothe me, but he
said it of his own accord, and he wondered if they would go up to
London and walk down Bond Street with him. I said it should be
arranged. They walked with him three times up and down Bond Street;
he only asked for once. I am only telling you this because you will
then realize what this change in him means to me. He came back from
Oxford after one term and he said nothing about the girls' beauty,
although I thought them improved. I didn't say so; I made some little
joke about Bond Street, which he pretended not to understand. So I
just said I thought the girls improved, or rather were looking very
pretty, and he said, "My dear mother, we must learn to look at these
things from the point of view of the outsider. Place yourself in the
position of a man of the world seeing them for the first time."
To begin with, Aunt Anna proceeded to explain, she could never
place herself in a position to which she was not born; she did not
think it right. She said that Claud then urged her to look at it
from stranger's point of view, since that of man of the world was
impracticable, which Aunt Anna said was a thing no mother could do,
nor would she wish to do it. She left such things to actresses.
Talking of actresses reminded her that Claud had even found fault
with Maud as an actress, when every one knew how very excellent she
was. Several newspapers, the Southshire Herald in particular, had
alluded to her as one of our most talented actresses.
"We had a professional down to coach her, and he said there was
really nothing he could teach her. He was a very nice man, and had
all his meals with us. I went," continued Aunt Anna, "to see the
great French actress who was in London in the spring, you remember?
And if ever a mother went with an unprejudiced mind, I was that
mother. I was prepared to think she was better than Maud, and if she
had been, I should have been the first to say it. But she was not, at
least not to my mind! Maud is always a lady, even on the stage, and
that woman was not."
I ventured to suggest that she was perhaps not supposed to be a
lady in the part. Aunt Anna said, "Perhaps not, but that does not
matter; Maud would be a lady under any circumstances, whatever
character she impersonated, laundress or lady. Claud says she will
never act till she learns to forget herself I trust one of my
daughters will never do that!"
I strove to pacify Aunt Anna, but her tender heart was wounded and
she was hard to comfort.
"Claud must admire Edith's violin playing," I ventured.
Aunt Anna shook her head. "He begged me to eliminate from my mind
all preconceived notions and to judge her from the unprejudiced point
of view. I told Edith to put away her violin. Claud says I must call
it a fiddle. I could not bear to see it. I never thought there could
be such dissension in our united family."
By way of distraction, I asked if the young man at tea with the
disheveled hair and startlingly unorthodox tie was a friend of
Claud's, and she said, "His greatest!"
At that moment Claud came into the room, wearing a less earnest
expression than usual and Aunt Anna held out a hand of forgiveness.
He warmly clasped it. "Mother," he said, "Windlehurst has just told
me, in strict confidence, that he considers Maud's the most beautiful
face he has ever seen, except, of course, in the best period of
ancient Greek art. I knew you wanted to hear the unprejudiced opinion
of an unbiased outsider."
I wondered how Windlehurst would like the description! Claud went
on: "I think Edith every bit as good looking, more so in some ways.
Now that I have heard an unprejudiced opinion I can express mine,
which you have known all along. You see, mother, people say we are a
self-centered and egotistical family. I have proved that we are not."
"Dear, dearest Claud, your tie is disarranged," murmured his
mother, struggling to reduce it to the dimensions of the orthodox
sailor knot. "Do wait and listen to all dear Betty is telling me of
dearest Pauline's wedding. So interesting. Go on, dear Betty; where
had we got to?"
My correspondence regarding my summer plans was varied, and the
suggestions contained therein numerous. Here are some of the
Darling Betty, — What do you say to the Cornish coast, coves,
cream, and children! As much of the coast and cream, and as little
of the children as you like! David has a bachelor shoot in view, and
I think sea air would do the children good. I do not propose leaving
any nurses at home, or sending them away; they shall all come and run
after Sara should she get into the sea, when she ought not to, but you
and I will have the joy of watching her. She really is delicious
paddling. Think of the rocks, and the coves, and the sands, and not
of the wind or of other disadvantages that may strike you. As much as
you like you shall read, and whatever you like, so long as you will,
at intervals, look up and smile at me. I shall love to feel you are
there, so do come, not as a professional aunt, as you sometimes
describe yourself, but as your own dear self.
Dearest Betty, — I know how difficult you are to find disengaged,
but do try and come to Cornwall with us. The children would love to
have you, and I know you enjoy tearing about after them on the sands!
Nurse must go home for her holiday, and the nursery-maid is so
useless. But you shall do exactly as you like. I know you wouldn't
mind if I left you for a day or two. Jim is so keen that I should go
to the Cross-Patches, being in the neighborhood, more or less. Do
write and say you will come. I do get such headaches at the seaside,
and I look so awful when I get sun burnt, but it suits you.
Betty dear, — You have simply got to come. Diana tells me she is
asking you to Cornwall, and that, I know, you will not refuse,
because for some extraordinary reason you can't refuse her anything.
Oh! for Diana's charm for one day a week! What wouldn't I do! That
woman wastes her life; I've always said so. But go to Cornwall,
blazes, or anywhere you like, but come here on your way back —
everywhere is on the way back from Cornwall. Because the house is to
be full of William's friends and he is never perfectly at ease unless
there is a bishop among them, and a bishop drives me to desperate
deeds of wickedness. They always like me! Betty, in your capacity of
professional something, think of me. I want helping more than any
one. I don't ask you to give up Cornwall, but afterwards, don't
Dear Miss Lisle, — I wonder if you will remember me. I am almost
afraid to hope so. But I met you last summer at the Anstells'
garden-party, and you passed me an ice, vanilla and strawberry mixed!
I have never forgotten it. It was not so much passing the ice, lots
of people did that, as the way you did it. I was very unhappy at the
time, and there was something in your expression as you did it that
made me feel you were unlike any one else I had ever met. I wore
I am wondering whether you would come to Cornwall, to stay with
us. The coast is lovely, and in its wildness one can forget one's
self, and that, I think, is what one most wants to do! I know what a
help you would be to me, if you could come, and I will tell you all my
troubles when we have been together some days. One gets to know
people by the sea very quickly, I think, don't you? Although I feel as
if I had known you all my life. My hat was brown, mushroom.
Your sincere friend and admirer,
P. S. — I forgot to say that my father and mother will be
delighted to see you. I have ten brothers and sisters, but there is
miles of coast, and I and my five sisters have a sitting-room all to
ourselves. Father says "he" must pass his examinations first. I tell
you this because you will then understand. "He" won the obstacle race
at the Anstells', but he was in a sack, so I expect you did not notice
The big, sad Thomas:
Dear Miss Lisle, — For months, in fact since the day you restored
the screw to my small son, I have been trying to write to you on a
subject that may or may not be distasteful to you. That it will come
as a surprise I feel sure. My love for my boy must be my excuse;
nothing else could justify my writing to any woman as I am about to
write to you. Will you be a mother to my Thomas? It would not be
honest on my part to pretend that I can offer you in myself anything
but a very sad and lonely man, the best of me having gone. No one
could ever, — or shall ever, take the place of my beloved wife in my
heart, the remains of which I offer unreservedly to you. For the sake
of my boy I am prepared to sacrifice myself, and I can at least
promise you that you shall never regret by any action of mine whatever
sacrifice it may entail on your part. I shall not insult you by the
mention of money matters or any such things, for I feel sure that the
fact of my being a rich man will make no difference in your decision
as to whether or no you will be a mother to my Thomas.
Yours very sincerely,
Dear Betty, — If you should be in the North, — and why not make
a certainty of it? — don't forget us! A line to say when and where
to meet you is all we want, and you will find the warmest of welcomes
awaiting you, and your own favorite room in the turret. Don't mention
nephews or nieces in answering this.
Angel Betty, — Help a brother in distress. I'm desperately in
love. First of all, — how long do you suppose it will last?
Forever, I think. But I can't live at this pitch for long, and my
summer plans depend on it. She is lovely. Makes me long to sing
hymns on Sunday evenings; you know the kind of thing —feeling, I
should say! She's like Pauline, only more beautiful, I think. I
will tell you all about it when we meet. There are complications. My
first trouble is this: I have taken a small place in Skye with
Coningsby. Now it is perfectly impossible to live with Con when one
is in love; of all the unsympathetic, dried-up old crabs, he is the
worst. Now the question is, can I buy him out? Have you to stay
instead, ask my beloved too, save her from drowning, which in Skye
should be easy, and then live happily ever afterwards. I am consumed
with a desire to save her from something. It is a symptom, I know,
but, Betty dear, it is serious this time. Her eyes look as if they
saw into another world, which makes me feel hopeless! I don't mind
you hinting something about it to Julia, if you should see her. You
needn't enter into details!
Of all the letters, Diana's was the most tempting.
Zerlina's had no power to lure. Dear Archie's little — he had so
often written the same — sort of letters. Veronica Vokins' less,
and the sad, big Thomas! What a curious letter! I hardly knew
whether to laugh or to cry. How careful he was to point out the
sacrifice on his part entailed in his offer. It was hardly
flattering to me, except that he refrained from mentioning his
worldly goods, or the advantages to me accruing from the bestowal
thereof. I had at least looked unworldly when I had visited the
small Thomas in bed; of that I was glad. And, after all, why should
I mind? It is something, perhaps, to be asked to be a mother to a
small fat Thomas. I wrote, refusing as kindly as I could. I dare say
there are women who would accept the position. Let us hope, if one be
found to do so, that she will not forget the mother part!
Dear Lady Glenburnie's letter had something of temptation lurking
in it somewhere. The turret room, commanding its views of purple
hills and sunsets, and the warmest of welcomes! But, again, the most
aching of memories. I could not go there again under circumstances so
different. If ever it could be again as it had been, how I should
love it! So that invitation I declined, saying I should be in
Cornwall with Diana. Lady Glenburnie would forgive the mention of
Diana, I knew, and of Betty, Hugh, and Sara I said nothing, as she had
Then I wrote to Julia saying I would go to her after I had been to
Cornwall. She might need consoling by then, should Archie have
proved himself recovered of the wounds inflicted by her. This I did
not tell her. If I waited a little, there might be nothing to tell.
So to Cornwall I went, and found the sands and the coves and the
rocks and the sea, just as Diana had said, nor was I disappointed in
the back view of Sara with her petticoats tucked into her
bathing-drawers. It was divine. She was delicious, too, paddling,
and there were enough nurses to prevent her doing more, if necessary,
and Diana and I could, if we liked, lie on the sands and watch the
children. But it so happens that I love building castles and making
puddings, and, curiously enough, Diana does too, and we were children
once more with perhaps less hinge in our backs than formerly, but
still we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Betty, the first day, full of faith, tried to walk on the sea, and
was pulled out very wet and disappointed, and her faith a little
shaken, perhaps, for the moment. Hugh told her she didn't have faith
hard enough. "You must go like this," and he held his breath,
threatening to become purple in the face.
"Could you now?" said Betty wistfully, when Hugh was at his
"No!" he said, "because I burst. Aunt Woggles looked at me when I
was just believing very hard."
Betty forgot that trouble in her infinite delight at discovering
where Heaven really was. She knew if she could just row out to the
silver pathway across the sea, it would lead straight to Heaven. "I
know it would," she said.
Hugh objected because Heaven was in the sky, that he knew! Betty
said how did he know?
"Well, look," said Hugh; "you can see it's all bright and blue and
shining, and angels fly, and you can't fly on the sea, so that
Betty wasn't sure of that because of flying-fish; she'd seen them
in a book where "F" was for flying-fish, so she knew. But Hugh knew
that angels weren't fish, because fish is good to eat and angels
aren't. I was glad the culinary knowledge of Hugh and Betty didn't
extend to "angels on horseback," or where should we have been in the
abysses of argument?
We made expeditions which, as expeditions, were not a success.
Sara objected to leaving the object of her passing affections, a
starfish perhaps, and Hugh and Betty also always found treasures of
their very own, which they must just watch for just a little time, in
case they did something exciting. These things hinder! But still we
did sometimes reach another cove, and one day, in a very secluded one,
I caught sight of a pair of lovers. One can tell the most discreet of
them at a glance, and more than a glance I should never have given
this pair had not the girl, so much of her as I could see under a
brown mushroom hat, been very pretty. Her dress too was green muslin,
which was in itself compelling, and the boy with her, I felt sure, had
passed no examinations. And yet they were deliriously happy, that I
could tell. So the father wasn't so cruel, after all, and I doubted
whether I should have been the comfort to Veronica that she had
anticipated. In fact, I could easily imagine how greatly in the way I
should have been. Poor professional friend! That I had at least been
spared from becoming.
Veronica, no less than Betty, had discovered where Heaven really
was, and the boy had a clearer definition of angels than Hugh. Hugh
was right so far — they were in no way related to, or bore any
resemblance to, fish. They were angels pure and simple, and the most
beautiful of them, the most enchanting of them, wore a green muslin
and a brown mushroom hat.
If I had been that young man, I should have objected to the
dimensions of that hat, but he didn't, I suppose. Not having passed
his examinations may have made a difference. He would later on, no
doubt. It is a pity, perhaps, that men have to pass examinations; it
robs them of much of their simplicity.
Zerlina discovered, to her immense surprise, that she was near
enough to bring all her party to play with ours, and it was arranged
that she should do so on the first fine day.
It so happened that all the days were fine, so every day Diana and
I watched for the small cloud in the distance that should herald
their approach, and one day it appeared, no bigger than a man's hand.
When it came nearer it was considerably bigger, and it finally
assumed the dimensions of Zerlina, Hyacinth, the twins, Teddy, and a
small nursery-maid. Betty was immensely delighted with the twins, her
one ambition in life being to have twins of her own. Failing that,
and every birthday only brought fresh disappointment in its wake, the
care of somebody else's was the next best thing.
They really were delicious people, so round and so solemn. Hugh,
for the moment, was engrossed in Teddy; Teddy having, among other
things, a knife with "things in it," most of which he was mercifully
unable to open. It was the certainty of being able to do so on the
part of Hugh, which made him so deliriously busy. Sara was out of it,
having no one as yet to play with, and she was proud and disdainful in
consequence. I knew that Betty would shortly have one twin to spare,
perhaps two, but this Sara could not guess, knowing nothing of twins.
"Now, Sara," I said, "we will build a castle all for our very own
"Our velly, velly own selves," said Sara, hugging her spade with
ecstasy. "A velly, velly big castle."
"Very, very big," I replied.
"A bemormous castle?"
"An enormous castle," I said, starting to dig the foundations.
"Dat's a velly, velly vitty hole," said Sara.
"It's going to be a castle, darling."
"For Yaya to live in?"
And Nannie and Aunt Woggles and Hugh and Betty and muvver?"
Sara danced with joy at the prospect, and Sara dancing in bathing-
drawers was distracting. I dug industriously, however, and it was
very hot. Sara looked on, occasionally watering the castle and me
"Not too much water, darling," I said, "because it makes Aunt
Woggles so wet."
Sara subsided for the moment. "Is it a velly big castle?" she
asked every now and then with evident anxiety.
"It's going to be, darling," I said.
"It's a velly, velly small castle now," she said sadly.
I dug harder and harder, and it seemed to me that the castle was
becoming quite a respectable size, but Sara's interest had flagged.
"Aunt Woggles," she said.
"Yes, darling," I answered.
"Sall we dig a velly, velly deep hole, velly, velly deep, for all
ve cwabs, and all ve vitty fish, and Nannie and Aunt Woggles?"
"A very big hole," I said; "but look at the lovely castle!"
"Yaya doesn't yike 'ollid ole castles," she said.
I began to dig a hole. One does these things, I find, for the
Saras of this world, and Sara was for the moment enchanted, but it
didn't last long.
"Yaya's so sirsty," she said. "Yaya wants a 'ponge cake."
"I think you would rather have some milk, darling," I said.
"Yaya's so sirsty," she said in a very sad voice. "Yaya would
yike a 'ponge cake!"
"Very well, darling; but don't you want to dig any more?"
"No," she said. "Yaya doesn't yike digging."
Now was that fair? — digging, indeed, when it was the poor aunt
who had been digging all the time. When I told Diana of this she
shook her head and said, — Betty, it frightens me. Do you think
Sara will grow up that sort of woman?"
"What sort of woman?"
"Like Polly in Charles Dudley Warner's 'My Summer in a Garden.'
You remember when the husband says, 'Polly, do you know who planted
that squash, or those squashes?'"
"'James, I suppose.'
"Well, yes, perhaps James did plant them, to a certain extent. But
who hoed them?'
"Well, it seems to me," I said, "that she was rather a delightful
"In a book, absolutely delightful. I am only thinking of Sara's
husband, poor man! You see Polly's husband was an American, and that
makes all the difference. You remember I told you of a man I met who
in decorating his house wanted to have red walls as a background to
his beautiful pictures, and his wife wanted to have green. I asked
him what he did, and he said he made a compromise. I said how clever
of him, how did he do it? and he said, 'We had green!' You see,
Betty, what an American husband means!"
"Well, to return to Sara's, you need not worry. I think he will,
in all probability, be in such raptures over the possession of
anything so delicious as Sara promises to be, that he will overlook
these little pluralities on her part."
"Yes, Betty, of course; but does that sort of thing last?"
"You ought to know, to a certain extent."
"Ah! but then David is such a dear."
"I think it is quite likely that Sara will find a dear too."
"I hope so, oh! how I hope so!" said Diana. "I often wonder what
it must be to find you have given your daughter to some one who is
unkind to her. I can hardly imagine so great a sorrow! I dare not
even think of David the day Betty marries. He says he thinks it must
be worse for a father than a mother."
"I wonder," I said. "I think a mother perhaps has a greater
belief in the goodness of men; a woman, a happy woman certainly, has
so little knowledge of men, other than her own."
"Yes," said Diana, "a good father and a good husband give one a
very deep rooted faith and belief in the goodness of mankind
generally. How we are prosing, Betty!"
Zerlina meanwhile sat on a rock, of the hardness of which she
complained. She found fault with our cove, the sun was too hot and
the wind was too strong. But then she had driven ten miles in a
wagonette under Teddy and the twins, so it was no wonder she grumbled
"I can't think," she said plaintively, "why my hair doesn't look
nice when it blows about in the wind, and I hate myself sun burnt. I
can't bear seeing my nose wherever I look. You and Betty are the
stuff martyrs are made of. It would be comparatively easy to walk to
the stake if you had the right amount of hair hanging down behind;
without it, no amount of religious conviction would avail. Oh dear, I
used to have such lots, before I had measles! I hardly knew what to
do with it!"
"That's rather what we find with Betty's," said Diana; "we plait
it up as tight as we can, don't we, darling?" she said, re-tying the
ribbon which secured Betty's very thick pigtail.
"I had twice as much as Betty, at her age, I'm sure," said
Zerlina, forgetting a photograph which stands on Jim's dressing-
table, of a small fat girl with very little hair and that rather
scraggy. But what does it matter? These are the sort of traditions
women cling to.
Someone suggested building a steamship in the sand, grown-ups,
children, and all, and Hugh was told to go and make a second-class
berth. He retired to a short distance, and no sound coming from his
direction, we looked round and saw him in ecstatic raptures, rocking
himself backward and forward.
"What are you doing, Hugh? " we said.
"Well," said Hugh, "I was told to make a second-class berth. I
suppose that means twins, and I 'm nursing them."
Zerlina took it quite well, and was easily persuaded that there
was no insult intended to her twins in particular.
A few minutes later Sara appeared, triumphant, having apparently
found a small child to play with.
"Who is your little friend, Sara?" I asked.
She shook her head. She didn't know, but he was delicious to play
with for all that, and she bore him off in triumph.
He was not long unsought, for a young girl came anxiously towards
us and said, "Have you seen a little boy?"
It reminded me a little of the story, the other way round, of a
lost boy who asked a man, "Please, sir, have you seen a man without a
little boy, because if you have, I'm the little boy."
She looked as anxious and as distraught as that little boy must
have looked, I am sure.
"I think," said Diana, "you will find him behind that rock. —
Sara," called Diana, "bring the little boy here."
A small portion of Sara's person appeared round the rock: —
"We're velly busy," she said.
So rapidly do women make friendships!
"He's quite safe," said Diana; "your little brother, I suppose?"
The girl blushed. "No, I'm his mother," she said.
She looked so young and so pretty, and her hair must have moved
Zerlina to tears, it was so beautiful, and grew so prettily on her
forehead. But she looked too young to be searching for lost babies
all by herself.
"How old is he?" asked Diana.
"He's three," she said; then added, "his father never saw him; he
went to the war soon after we were married, and he was killed. Baby
is just like him," and she unfastened a miniature she wore on a chain
round her neck and handed it to Diana.
I am sure Diana saw nothing but a blur, but she managed to say,
"You must be glad! Come and see my little girl, she is very much the
"What an extraordinarily communicative person!" said Zerlina as
they walked off. "Just imagine telling strangers the whole of your
history like that. I wonder if her husband left her well off."
"Can't you see he did?" I said.
"No; I don't think she is very well dressed, but you never can
tell with that picturesque style of dressing. It may or may not be
expensive; even that old embroidery only means probably that she had a
grandmother. It is a terrible thing for a girl of that age to be left
with a boy to bring up. I know, Betty, just what you are thinking —
cold, heartless, mercenary Zerlina! But I'm practical."
When Diana came back, I could see in her face that she knew all
about the poor little widow. It is wonderful what a comfort it seems
to be even to strangers to confide in Diana. For one thing I feel
sure they know that she won't tell, and that makes all the difference.
It is a relief sometimes to tell some one, although some things can
be better borne when nobody knows. But I imagine there was little
bitterness in the sorrow of this girl widow. She too had learned
something from Diana, for she turned to me and said, "Are you a
relation of Captain Lisle?"
"If his name is Archie," I said, "I am his sister."
"I've met him," and she blushed.
This, then, was the girl Archie longed to save from drowning, and
who inspired him with a desire to sing hymns on Sunday evenings. Dear
old Archie! I could imagine his tender, susceptible heart going out
to the little widow. But I said to myself, "It's no good, Archie
dear, not yet at all events, not while she looks as she does over the
sea," for I was sure it was far away in a grave on the lonely veldt
that her heart was buried.
"He is so devoted to children, isn't he?" she said. "He was so
good to my baby. I find that men are so extraordinarily fond of
children. I am afraid they will spoil him."
Whereupon the baby burst into a long dissertation on a present he
had lately received. It sounded something like this: —
"Mormousman give boy a yockerile an a epelan, anye yockerile yanan
yan all over de jurnmer yunder de hoha an eberelyyare."
He then proceeded to turn bead over heels, or try to, and was
sharply rebuked by Sara, who rearranged his garments with stern
severity, and then was about to show him the right method, when she
in turn was stopped by Nannie.
One of the twins arrived at this moment to say that Hugh had
called him bad names. Betty the peacemaker explained that Hugh had
called him a wicket keeper, and the twin had thought he bad called him
a wicked keeper. So that was all right. We suggested that, in any
case, the twin wasn't the best person to be wicket keeper. But he
went in twice running to make up, and Hugh gave him several puddings
as well. "Puddings," the nursery-maid explained, were first balls,
and didn't count.
"Betty," I said, "you've got a hole in your stocking!"
"I hope it 's not a Jacob's ladder," said Betty.
"Hush, darling, hush," said Hugh; "you know we mustn't be
It was during an interval when we rested and drank milk and ate
cake, those of us who would or could, that we discovered that the
little widow was staying with a very old friend of my father's and
"And where does Lady Mary live?" asked Diana.
"Just over there. Do come and see her; she will be so delighted
to see you and to show you the garden, which is quite famous."
The following day Diana got a delightful letter from Lady Mary
asking us to go to luncheon, or to tea, or to both, or whatever we
liked best, so long as it was at once, and that we stayed a long
time, and brought all the children. She offered to send for us, but
going in a donkey-cart was a stipulation on the part of the children,
otherwise they could not or would not tear themselves away from the
sand and all its fascinations. Sara was particularly offended at
having to get out to tea, and more so at not being allowed to go in
her bathing-drawers. But a mushroom hat trimmed with daisies appeased
her, and even at that early age she saw the incongruity of that hat
and those nether garments. They were packed, Hugh, Betty, Sara, and
the nursery-maid, into the donkey-cart. Betty was supposed to drive,
but Hugh and Sara had so large a share in the stage direction of that
donkey, that I wonder we ever arrived. We did. Our approach was not
dignified. The donkey would eat the lawn at the critical moment, and
neither the stern rebukes of Sara, nor the gentle persuasion of Betty,
had any effect; neither, to tell the truth, had the chastisements of
Hugh. Of Diana's efforts and mine it is unnecessary to speak; they
only made us very hot. As to Nannie, she said she would rather have
ten children to deal with.
There were horribly tidy and beautifully dressed people walking
about on the lawn, people who had never, I felt sure, been called
upon to speak unkindly to a donkey. It was a little tactless of
them, I thought, in view of our flushed cheeks, to appear so calm and
cool, but they were quite kind, and I noticed that Diana as usual held
a little court of her own, not entirely as the mother of Sara, either.
Hugh and Betty too made friends, and hearing shouts of laughter
coming from Hugh's audience, I went, aunt-like, to see what was
happening, and I heard Hugh saying: —
"I've got another! What did the skeleton —"
"Hugh," I said, "I want you!"
"I'm asking riddles, Aunt Woggles."
"Yes, but have you seen the tortoise?"
The situation was saved.
I look back to the rest of that afternoon, and it is all blur and
confusion. I remember the loveliness of the gardens, the peeps of
distant moorland through arches of pink ramblers. I remember how the
sun shone and how beautiful everything was, and above all and through
all those confused memories I hear the quiet, gentle voice of Lady
Mary as she talked to me of things of which I had thought no one knew
anything. She asked me, I remember, if I would like to see the
garden, and I loved her for her graciousness, her affection, and for
her love for my mother. I could see even in the way she looked at me
that it was of my mother he was thinking, and I remember, in answer to
her question whether I liked the garden, saying I thought it was quite
beautiful and so peaceful!
She said, "That is what I feel, the peace of it all. But you,
dear Betty, are too young to feel that. It is as we grow older that
the promise of peace holds out so much. But to the young, life is
All that, I remember quite clearly, and a little more. I can
still see Lady Mary, so beautiful, so calm, so confident in the peace
which the future held for her. Then all of a sudden came these words,
"Betty, I liked your hero so much; what happened?"
It was a too sudden opening of prison doors. I was blinded by the
light. I could say nothing. My secret, I felt, was wrested from me.
I had ceased almost to try to hide it, it seemed so safe. What —
could I say?
Lady Mary went on: "It is not from curiosity that I ask, but from
a very real and deep interest. Your dear mother used so often to
talk of your future. Her love for you was very wonderful, Betty."
I looked away to the purple hills and longed to escape, but she
laid her hand on mine with a gentle pressure. "I liked him so much.
His gentle chivalry appealed to me; it is a thing one does not meet
every day. Some one, I remember, described him as being as hard as
nails and full of sentiment, which was a charming description of a
delightful character and a rare combination. All women, I think,
would have their heroes strong, and the sentiment makes all the
difference in life. If it is money, Betty dear, as I imagine it is,
that must come right. It was money?"
"His father got into difficulties, no fault of his own, that—and
friends made mischief."
"And he is helping his father," continued Lady Mary. "And while
he is doing that, he thinks he has no right to bind a woman."
How could I say when I didn't know? "Men make that mistake; they
forget how much easier it is for a woman to wait bound than to be
free, not knowing. They don't distinguish between the woman who
wants to get married and the woman who loves. Remember, Betty, how
hard it must be for him. I am not sure that his is not the harder
"If he cares," I said.
"I am sure he cares," said Lady Mary softly. "There are secrets
that are not mine, Betty, but there is one that is — the money shall
come right. I had been looking out for a hero for some time when I
met yours. This is strictly between ourselves, and you must remember
that all my young people are so ludicrously well off, that an old
woman doing as she likes with her own will do no one any harm. If I
had had children, that, of course, would have made a difference. To
me, who have lived the quiet life I have lately lived, the soldier,
the man of action, appeals very strongly. Much as I love this place,
it seems to me that I should love it still more if it came as quiet
after a storm, a haven of rest after the battle of life."
Then she spoke of Diana. "Hers is a wonderful character, and I
often think how beautiful it is that she should follow your dear
mother at Hames."
"You feel that?" I said.
"Very, very strongly, dear. How happy it must have made her to
feel that her grandchildren should have such a mother. I may be
wrong, and you will smile at an old woman's prejudice and think that
she is looking back with prejudiced eyes into that wonderful past
which is always so much better than any present. I am not, but still
it seems to me that Diana has something that all young people have not
got nowadays, a reverence for the old, an admiration for the good, and
a pity for the poor and distressed. These things take you far through
life, dear, and, combined with her wonderful vitality and beauty, make
her a power.
"Talking of your beautiful mother, it was said years ago that she
was the only woman of whom I had ever been jealous. I am old enough
to tell you these things. It is the privilege of the old to enlist
the sympathies of the young! But it was not true. I had every reason
to be jealous, as had most women I ever saw, but jealousy in
connection with anything so perfect as your mother, I think, was not
possible. Her beauty was of the kind which disarms jealousy. It was
beyond comparison or criticism. It seemed to belong to another world,
and yet she was so tender to the sinners, so understanding, so full of
loving kindness. Hers was a beauty of the soul as well as the body,
and that beauty is as remote from the everyday prettiness as the earth
is from the stars. Her expression had something of the divine in it,
as if she had seen God face to face. I see the same look coming in
Diana's face. Old Sir George used to say it would be worth committing
a sin to be forgiven by your mother. He said her look was a
As I said good-by to Lady Mary, she held my hand and said, "Betty
dear, you will some day forgive an interfering old woman, and in days
to come, when you look to these distant hills, you will remember this
day with a kind thought for your beautiful mother's old friend."
"Isn't Lady Mary a darling?" said Diana, as we walked home through
the scented lanes on that most wonderful of summer evenings. "You
look as if you had been seeing visions, Betty, quite dazed like, as
Nannie used to say."
"I often see visions," I said.
"Have you been crying, Aunt Woggles?" said Hugh. "Were all the
peaches gone when you got back?"
Betty slipped her little hand into mine. "You promised to let me
walk with you for a little. Shall we pick honeysuckle, supposing we
"Yes, we will, darling."
"Supposing you can't reach it," she said.
"There is always some within reach."
"I suppose grown-ups can always reach things," said Betty.
Later, in the quiet darkness of the night, I could picture the
garden, the roses, the distant moor, Lady Mary's beautiful face, but
I could not bring myself to believe that I had really heard those
words, "I am sure that he cares."
Surely I had dreamed them, or Lady Mary had, because if they were
true, why had he said nothing? How should he have told her what he
could not tell me?
Then came that wonderful morning on which I read that Captain Paul
Buchanan was coming home, was expected to arrive that very day. I
opened the paper at breakfast, as usual and my eyes caught the word
that at any time had the power to set my heart thumping and to send
the blood rushing to my head, a word common enough, and which to most
people, beyond relating to a country always interesting, means little
— Africa. It is curious that a day that is to change the whole of
one's life should begin exactly like any other day. Of the most
important things we have no premonition, most of us.
That what I longed and prayed for every hour of my life should
come to pass was not wonderful, but that a day on which I was to be
called to make the greatest sacrifice of my life should steal
stealthily upon me seems strange.
That morning when I came downstairs, my little house in Chelsea
looked exactly like it always had done. The sun shone as the sun
does shine in the early winter in London, and no more, until after I
had read that paragraph; then, behold a new world was born. Why had
my eyes been blind to the gloriousness of the morning? Why had I
thought the day an ordinarily dull one with just the amount of pale
sunshine which is meted out to those happy people who are wise enough
to live within easy reach of the river? Yes, I know, some people do
say that Chelsea is foggy.
It depends so much on their lives. No place could be foggy to me
that day. My fear was that Nannie should read the news in my face.
I looked away when she said, "Anything in the paper?" as she had said
a hundred times before. She always came to see me eat my breakfast,
so she said, but I knew it was really to hear the news. I handed her
the paper, although I hated to let the words out of my sight, and she
glanced at it. She paused and walked to the window. Kind Nannie, she
was giving me time. She blew her nose, she was crying, she knew. A
double knock at the door brought my heart to a standstill. Lady Mary
was right, he did care. It seemed hours before the telegram was
brought to me. I hardly dared to open it. There is some happiness
too great to bear. I opened it and read: —
Sara very ill. Come at once.
"Nannie," I said, "I am going to Hames."
"To-day?" she said. She knew it was my day of days.
"I must, Nannie. Will you come?"
"No; I'll stay here. Poor Mrs. David, whatever will she do?"
I could hardly imagine, and I am glad to remember that my sorrow
seemed a small thing compared to hers.
It would be impossible for me to describe that journey. The train
crept along. It seemed to stop hours at the station. No one seemed
to remember that Sara was ill. I felt the grip of a cold hand on my
heart. Should I ever arrive? I did at last, and found a groom
waiting for me at the station, with a dogcart. His mouth twitched,
and he could hardly control his voice to tell me that there was no
fresh news. The carriages were wanted for the doctors; did I mind the
dogcart? Mind? I could have urged the horse to a gallop, and yet I
dreaded to arrive.
It was strange to pass through the quiet, deserted hall, up the
stairs, and to hear no sound. A nurse opened a door and spoke in a
whisper. I went into the room, and not until I saw Diana, so lovely
in her grief, did I realize the agony of her suffering. She put out
her hand and silently pressed mine. I turned away so that she should
not see my face.
A man, a stranger to me, sat by the bedside, his eyes fixed on the
child lying there. He was the great London doctor, in whom I could
see all hope was centered. There were other doctors and nurses, I
believe, but it all seemed confusion to me now; but poor, broken
hearted Nannie I remember. She stood at a distance. Not a sound was
uttered, and I took up my watch with the others, to watch that
precious life ebbing away. The soft flitting backward and forward of
nurses, a word now and then from the great man who held not only the
life of Sara in his hands, but, it seemed to me, the life of my
beautiful Diana, only broke the intense silence. The night came on
and we still watched.
The doctor's face became sterner and graver and the little life
weaker, or so it seemed to me. Diana knelt at the side of the bed.
She never moved.
As the dawn broke, Sara opened her eyes and said, "Nannie."
Diana rose and beckoned to Nannie. Nannie hesitated, and Diana,
taking her hand, whispered, "Dear Nannie, I am so glad," and gave up
her place. It is not given to all of us to reach great heights, but
Diana at that moment, I think, reached the divine in human nature.
Then came the moment, too wonderful to think of, when the doctor told
Diana that the great danger was over.
Later he said to David, "My boy, you have given your children the
greatest of all blessings in their mother. Thank God for her every
moment of your life. I've seen many mothers and many sick children,
but — thank God, and don't forget it."
Dear David, I think most of us thank God oftener than we know and
in many and divers ways, and I am not sure that David does not do it
every time he looks at Diana.
Sara, having got over the crisis and being on the fair road to
recovery, —children recover quickly, — my heart turned towards home
— and a longing to get back obsessed me. I could think of nothing
but home, now that Diana's immediate need of me was over. She begged
me to stay with her. To fail her at such a moment was a great grief
to me, but I could make no further sacrifice. I must go home.
"I must go, David," I urged.
"Of course, if you must, you must, Betty, but I should have
thought after all Diana has gone through, you would have stayed with
her. You have always been so much to each other."
How he hurt me, as if I wouldn't do anything in the world for
Diana; but I must go home.
"David," I said in desperation, "I must go. If I promise to come
back directly, you won't misunderstand my going?"
"I'll try to understand, Betty, that you have some very strong
reason for going back."
"Thank you, David," I said.
"But," he continued, "you must tell Diana yourself."
I went to her room, where she was lying down. "Diana, darling," I
said, "I want very much to go home, if only for a day."
"Of course, Betty, you must go. But don't look so distressed. I
must have been selfish if I gave you the impression that I would not
let you go. It is only that I love so having you, you are such a
rock, and oh! it seems like some awful and terrible dream we have been
through, doesn't it? Sara asked for her darling bunny today. Think
what that means! Darling Betty, I pray that some great happiness may
come to you some day. I begin to believe that the greatest joys come
through the greatest sorrows."
"Don't, Diana," I whispered. "I can't bear you to be too kind. I
suppose it's all we've been through, but I feel."
"I know, Betty," she whispered. "I lie here too tired to do
anything but thank God. I ache with thankfulness, for you among
other blessings. Come back soon."
"What did Diana say?" asked David, who was waiting outside the
door. "Did she understand?"
"Understand? Did you ever know a time when Diana didn't
I went. Oh, the joy of setting out towards home! That
ridiculously small house in Chelsea in which were centered all my
hopes. Some word might be there waiting for me. Nannie might have
thought nothing of sufficient importance to forward at such a moment.
How I hoped that was it, and that it might be there, else all my
hopes were shattered.
I opened the door with my latchkey. I looked. No telegram lay on
the table; that I saw at a glance. Then Nannie appeared. She was
"Nannie," I said, "don't cry, she is much better, and is going to
get quite well; only I had to come home."
How explain to Nannie that I had left Sara and Diana at such a
"Your bat's crooked," said Nannie.
"You ridiculous old person," I said, "what does that matter?"
Nannie sniffed. I put my hat straight. "Is that better?"
"Yes, it's better, it'll do," she answered, not quite satisfied,
evidently. I wondered why she asked no questions. Why had I come
home to this? No wonder David had been surprised at my leaving
Diana! What was the use?
Then Nannie said with a startling suddenness, "Some one is waiting
for you upstairs."
"Someone for me, Nannie. What do you mean?"
"He's waiting," she said, between laughter and sobs. "He's
I often wonder how I had the strength to go upstairs and open the
door. But I did, and there surely enough he stood, only a few feet
of green-painted boards separating us. How I crossed them I never
knew. He came halfway, no doubt.
I should never have done the journey alone, and I wondered too how
it was we met as lovers! That was the most wonderful part of all.
How, when I did not even know that he cared, could it have happened?
It was all too wonderful, and I was too dazed with happiness to
question anything at the moment. I only knew that the world had
become a paradise, and that the past years of doubt and perplexity had
fallen away like a disused garment.
Then we began to talk, and the mystery deepened. He spoke of a
telegram. I had never received one! And my telegram? I had never
sent one! He laughed, and when I said I didn't understand, he said
what was the use of understanding when knowing was sufficient?
It was all very puzzling, but I was content. There was so much to
talk of, so many explanations to make and to hear! But in time we
came back to the telegram. There had been no such thing!
He laughed. "I have it here," he said, putting his hand on his
"Show it to me," I pleaded.
Never; it was his, and his alone.
"But nothing is yours now that is not mine," I urged, "at least,
if you have asked me to marry you."
"Betty," he said, "I quite forgot. I came home for the express
purpose of doing so. I have thought and dreamed of nothing else, all
through the long marches in Africa; all the way home I have thought of
that and of your answer. Betty, will you marry me?"
"I shall be delighted, Captain Buchanan. But where is my telegram
to you, your telegram to me?"
It I think Nannie must have one."
"And did she answer it? Oh, what did she say?"
"Never mind; she said exactly the right thing. Don't let's
discuss Nannie's telegram when we have to make up for the silence of
years! 0 Betty! shall I wake up?"
A little later he said, "Tell me, did you care that night at the
"I said I never remembered a time when I didn't care.
"0 Betty! if only you hadn't been so proud!"
"Or you so horribly ununderstandable!"
You wonderful Nannie," I said later, as I sat at her feet, "how
did you do it?"
"Quite easily," said Nannie. "When I saw that you must go to
Hames, as of course you had to, I thought to myself, I'll wait! Years
ago my lady said to me, I Nannie, don't let my child throw away her
own chance of happiness. I feel that a day may come when she will be
called upon to make a sacrifice, and she will make it, regardless of
her own feelings. You were always giving up your toys and things to
the boys; that's what made your mother think of it. The day she spoke
of came the morning the telegram came from Hames. I had been waiting
and waiting so as to be sure to do what your mother told me, and the
day came. You see, I saw the paper, and I knew!"
"How, Nannie? No one knew, I thought."
"Ah, nannies know things; much use they'd be in this world if they
didn't? I know lots of things I'm not supposed to! Well, I waited,
and no telegram came from him that day. There were all sorts of
things about him in the evening paper, being a hero and a lion and all
those sort of things. Then the next day the telegram came. The ship
had been late; you never can tell with ships. Leave ships to sailors,
I say. Well, I opened the telegram. It said, 'Will you see me if I
come straight to you ?' or some such words, and I answered it."
"What did you say, Nannie?"
"I don't see that that matters. There's nothing in words, and I'm
"Nannie dear, it does matter. It meant everything in the world to
me. If only you knew how happy I am, how ridiculously happy."
"It's all right, then. I've done what she said." A rapturous
smile illuminated her old face.
"All right, Nannie?"
Only a hug can express some things. Nannie straightened her cap.
"Well, then," she said, drawing herself up, "I couldn't do it for
sixpence, it cost ninepence halfpenny. I said, 'Come. Been waiting
for you for years.'"
"Nannie!" I exclaimed.