Chapter 162362834

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleA PROPOSITION.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162362834
Full Date1896-09-26
Page Number36
Corrections0
Word Count2232
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Ducies of Dulverton
article text

THE DUCIES OF DULVERTON.

BY GEORGE B. BURG IN.

Author of " A Quaker Girl/' Ac., Ac,

CHAPTER I.

A PROPOSITION.

' There was Mary Beaton, and Mary Seaton, and Mary Carmicbael, and me,' " sang Cissy LTSstrange, as she sat under the apple-. blossoms in the orchard, and looked lovingly at the swelling expanse of greenery risinc until it met the skyline. She was in a 'cup like hollow of the hills among the apple-blos sonis. _ Others might like to climb the moun tain heights. " What pleasure lives in height?" the poet sang. ''Come down, for love is of the valley, come." In obedience to this poetical invitation, Cissy had, to use an Americanism, "climbed down." But she wasn't in love. She had been, once or twice, or fancied that she had been. Something had gone wrong in the

first case. The soldier lover had died at Malta; and when the time came for some one else to fall in love with her she didn't respond. It wa this second episode in her somewhat uneventful life which had given Cissy a graver air than is usual with girls of three or four and twenty. She was accustomed to view life from a very old standpointindeed. Somehow, itseeroed to her that all the freshness of it had faded away with the death of her boy lover. What an idyllic world it had been. But the Btern parents — there generally are stern parents in all cases of first love—had insisted that young love's dream could not lie indulged in until someone provided a sufficiency of

bread and butter. The bread and butter

wasn't forthcoming; it seldom is under such circumstances. When it does come, after twenty or thirty years of patient waiting, it hasn't the same flavour; there is always more than a suspicion of oleomargarine in it. So Cissy had parted from her boy lover, and sent him forth to win his spurs, and in a little while he was laid to rest. And all the joy, and the light, and the laughter of life were quenched in Cissy's heart. But she got over it, if to get over it means that she lived through it. Sometimes she would wake irr the night, and hear, or seem to hear, the voice of her voice lover calling her to come under the apple blossoms; and then, if her pillow grew wet with bitter tears, no one knew of it. There might be a dark shadow under her lovely hazel eyes the next morning, but the old Colonel, her father, had become accustomed to such evidences of grief, and took but little notice of them when she appeared at the breakfast table.

This grief of Cissy's had gi ven be.r a some what pensive and nun-like look. Not that Bhe went about in a green and yellow melan choly. Only she was a little graver than other girls—that was all. And so to-day she was rather wistfully humming the fragment of an old song which years ago Rhe never could sing with becoming melancholy.

Her song ended. Cissy stretched herself out in a very becoming attitude, a»d looked up through the intercostal branches of the apple

trees.

It was a warm May day, and the bees were booming through the orchard, quite regardless of the possibility of their venturing beyond what an eminent naturalist has declared to be their customary range--a three-mile radius.

When she was tired of the bees, she listened for the postman's crushing footsteps on the gravel path leading up to the house. Of course, he was three-quarters of an hour late. Rural postmen always are. They sav it is liecause, since the invention of the Parcels Post, they haven't bicycles on which to carry the parcels; hut, as they have always been late from time immemorial, the excuse can hardly lie deemed

sutneienc. vissy naa aireaoy aunwci sue

postman far beyond the ordinary timo, and now, rising1, with a slight feeling of irritation, came out of the orchard, and stepped through the low window into the breakfast-room.

Colonel L'Estrange was bnsilv engaged in reading the 1 imct. He still believed in the thunder of that venerable organ, although hi# newly-married better half did not. Mrs. L'Estrange hoped to cure him some day. She was resolved to be mistress in the place, and had already made Cissy feel it in a hundred different ways. There was little chance of the two getting on well together. The Colonel had simply said that they must, and imagined there was nothing more to be done.

As Cissy came through the window, it was evident, that she had interrupted a somewhat

acrimonious discussion.

"I tell you I will not put up with it," her somewhat vinegary-featured stepmother w'fts saving. "Cissy must either olicy me. im plicitly, or"

" What?" asked Cissy, as she stepped through the window.

"Go elsewhere," said Mrs. L'Estrange.

" Very well." said Cissy, calmly. " You are onlv anticipating a decision at. which T arrived some time ago. Tf you allow me- oh. there's the postman ; thank you. Jenkins, that's my letter—I'll tell you all about it."

"Nonsense," said the Colonel, in his most peremptory manner. " Odd's life, what do yon want to quarrel about? Discipline must be maintained. Cissy, why don't, you give in with a good grace?"

"But, my dear father.'" said ('issy, "don't you see it's a case of oil and vinegar? We simply can't mix."

" I won't stop here to discuss the subject," said Mrs. L'Estrange.

" I should lie so glad if yon would only give us five minutes," said Cissy. " You don't make allowances for a girl in my position. 1 have tried my best to step the sewants appealing to me about everything, but they have done so for such a long time that they can't, break themselves of the habif. t always send them to you. but of course you are an noyed at put it; T should tie if T married under such eitenmstanees. But it isn't my fault: and SO, &f¥ I am such an apple of discord, f ,am alxvnt to take myself off elsewhere. I have enough money of my own to provide myself with gloves and boots. Gloves and boots-are highly ornamental objects of attvre; bntthey dou't constitute the whole wardrobe of StvvelJ regulated young lady, and so l shall sgpfdc

moat my small funds in another way. I am going- out aaa lady-help."

. Mrs. L'Estrange shrieked.

t TheOolOnel was very uncomfortable. - He bated scenes. He had married again, for moneys and was ashamed that his choice had no other recommendation in Cissy's eyes. The girl's presence' was a constant reproach. He wished the women would harmonize and let him alone. If he were in town he could go to bis club hud forget all about it, but there was no dodging the situation in the sweet domes ticity of his country place. He. had little money of his own, or he would have made Cissy an'allowance on which she could have travelled or lived comfortably with some old

maiden aunt. It was. evident that she couldn't stop at home. Ho temporized, but Gissy felt that a time had come to settle matters definitely.

Cissy opened tho letter. "I thought so,"

she exclaimed. ^ "' Miss Priscilla Ducie will have tho honour of calljng on Colonel L'Estrange at 3 o'clock to-day. You musn't go out to-day, papa."

" What lias Miss Priscilla Ducie got to do with it?." demanded the Colonel: "I never heard of her before."

"Miss Priscilla Duoie'is tho leading spirit of Dulverton Orange, papa; at least she has Conducted all the correspondence.

The Colonol stamped round the room. " My dear girl,"lie entreated, " do be a little- more coherent. What, I say, what correspon dence?" '

"Shewantsalady-help, papa. I am," man awestruck whispor, "the lady-help who is to comfort her declining years."

"Vory well." said the Colonel, resignedly, ''you can try it for'a mouth, Cissy, if you like to be so undiitiful and drag the name of L'Estrange through the scullery in this way. We'll change our arms to a dishclout rampant on a field of bread sauce. I had hoped you would have comforted my declining years. What is Miss Ducie to you that you want to be her lady-help?"

Mrs. L'Estrange was frightenedshe came over to Cissy. "Do not mind my ill-temper. Cissy," she said. "Perhaps it would be as well" for you to go away for a little time, and then wo shall get on better. It is enough to worrit—I moan worry—one to play second fiddle in one's own house. Still, dear, if you like to stay, don't mind me."

Cissy actually kissed her.

"I feel liorrioly-bad tempered and selfish," she said. "But you are quite right. I'll go away as a lady's help for a little whilo and work off my ill temper. 'I shall soon be glad to come back again."

"But why a lady-help, Cissy?" said her father. "Travel for a little while. I've always meant t'o sell that second hunter of mine; ho pulls like tho blazes. I'll get rid of him, and you can travel on the proceeds."

"Look here, Cissy,"said Mrs. L'Estrange, quite forgcttiner her animosity, " you know my bark is a good deal worse than my bite. I'vo always wanted to mako you an allowance, but you novor gave me an opportunity of saying so. Lot's all be friends again, and understand one anothor bettor."

C>ssy kissed ber again.

"I'm ashamed of myself," she said; "you are a groat deal too good to mo. I—I wish I had been more amiable. You were quite right to resent my selfishness. When I come back the servants will have become used to the now riyimn , and wo shall live happily ever after."

"Then give up all this nonsense," said Mrs. L'Estrange. "You know, Cissy, I shall never be able to manage Perkins"—Perkins was the butler—" without you. I should be calling him ' Sir.' He—lie quite frightens mo when ho will mix up my wines so at dinner. And— ho always brings mo things I don't like, and glares at me if I send them away again."

The poor woman, who had more money than manners, looked quite relieved that Rhc had at last been able to rid herself of -such a guilty

secret.

Cissy felt that alio had greatly misjudged her stepmother. There had not been such an abundance of ready money and servants until very lately; in fact, the Colonel's second marriage had only happened just in timo to prevent his own property being put up to auction.

? Of course, no reverses could rob him of his ancestral tree; still, he couldn't live on it. He did the next best thing—ho married on it.

• The wealthy and somewhat illiterate widow

?who had become the senond Mrs. L'Estrange was an animated moneybag. She dropped her gold and " H's" about with equal liberality, and was quite grateful to the Colonel for assuming the responsibility of looking after both. That somewhat mercenary old soldier liad explained with becoming frankness his actual position. He must marry money to keep his ancestral halls from going to the dogs, otherwise the dogs would come to him.

The widow was touched by his frankness, and was very much annoyed that the Colonel would insist that all her property should bo settled on herself. The mortgages were paid off, a largo establishment kept up, because Mrs. T/Estrange thought it would please the Colonel, and then these ill-assorted people sat down to pass the rest of their lives together.

The experiment did not promise to be a success. And it had culminated in Cissy's absurd determination to go out as a sort of Don Quixote, to tilt at windmills. Hor weapons were to be a broom instead of a lance. And her armour! Ah, well, her armour! The less said about that the better. She had hoen sorely wounded once before. Other people talked of tho sunshine. She seemed to bo walking through a misty world of her own—a kingdom of dreams and shadows, wherein nought was real and substantial.

Sometimes she had a vague longing that tho veil might bo lifted, the sunshine pierce the gloom. But she made no effort to anticipate tho process. It would come in its own good time, she thought, if it camo at all.

Then there dawned u[>ou her a desire to bo free from her surroundings, to havo some enforced occupation which should bring the realities of life very close to licr. She had been too near them once before. If she made another attempt could she not gradually begin to live again? She wanted •to give herself another chance. As a lady help she. would have ample opportunity of be ing once more roused into life. Even the antagonistic attitude of her stepmother had failed to have any permanent effect on her. Tt occured to her that if she had to make hor own bed she might perhaps sleep better.

There came a ring at the door at the appointed time, and Perkins announced Miss ' Ducie in his best manner—a manner which, as Captain Cuttle said of his celebrated watch, v/as "equalled by few and excelled by none.'*