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minutes at any rate. But on this particular afternoon the very demon of idleness seemed to have taken possession of him. He stumbled through his spelling, yawned over his reading in a manner that reduced it to a mere jumble of unintelligible sounds, drew pictures all over bis slate instead of doing his sums, entangled himself hopelessly in the mazes of the multiplication table, and finally, when the question was propounded to him, “What did Cortez first discover on entering the city of Mexico ?” made answer in a vague tone, with his eyes fixed dreamily on the tempting prospect of waving woods and sunny fields visible from the open window, “Two red-birds and a hen-sparrow.”
Then it was that the last remnant of Grandmother's patience ebbed away, and she gave utterance to that appalling determination which filled us with apprehension and dismay. “Forbearance," she cried, slapping the history book down on the table, ceases sometimes to be a virtue. Mine has been taxed to its utmost limits, and I will endure such shamefut trifting no longer. This very evening 1 shatr write to engage a governess.
“A governess!” was echoed in dolorous unison from three pair of lips. "Oh, Grandma!"
Philip,” said Grandmother, without noticing our exclamation, "go at once to my dressing-room, and don't presume to come out of it again until you are called to dinner.”
“Oh, Grandma !” said Phil piteously, "please do let me off this once! I do want to go out so dreadful bad.”
“If you do not immediately obey me," said Grandma in a terrible tone, “I shall ring for Phillis to take you away and lock you up."
The threat of being delivered into the custody of Phillis, the maid, was an outrage on Phil's manliness almost too great to be borne ; it had the effect, however, of hastening his movements, and he quickly retired from the field, screwing up his features in a curious manner to conceal the close proximity of tears, which he was beginning to think it incompatible with the dignity of eight years to shed in public.
I was sorry for Phil; he was such a merry, boisterous, fun-loving little scapegrace, and the weather was so delicious out of doors. So I crept up to Grandma after he was gone and whispered a plea in his behalf.
“Molly,” said the old lady mildly, " discipline must be sometimes maintained, my dear. Phil has behaved shockingly to-day, and must suffer a little in consequence. An hour or two in my dressing-room can do him no harm."
As she did not forbid me to go to him, I went up shortly after to pay a visit of condolence to the prisoner, whom I found swinging his legs on a high-cushioned chair, and gazing out of the window in a very gloomy frame of mind.
"If it wasn't for my traps,” he said tragically, “I wouldn't care so much. But I know they have caught, and the next thing is, the little niggers will steal the birds. I can't trust 'em, you know.”
As setting bird-traps was a prohibited practice, I felt a little shocked at Phil's disregard of the parental injunction, and began to think that perhaps a brief sojourn in the dressing-room was not so bad for him after all.
There were five of us, all Lamberts, and orphans, but not all brothers and sisters. Prudy and I were the children of our grandmother's eldest son, and having lost both parents in infancy, remembered Fairoaks as our earliest home. Laura, Phil, and little Ned were the children of uncle Edward, our father's younger brother, who had died about a twelvemonth before the time of which I am writing, leaving them to his mother's care.
I do not think Prudy and I gave much trouble ; at least we were very quiet, and never got into scrapes like the others. But those three ! - such a frisky, turbulent set as they were, especially Phil, who was forever playing pranks, and was a continual weight on Grandma's mind, because of his mischievous propensities. He was a goodhearted boy on the whole, however, and so merry and affectionate, and so funny even when he was naughty, that it was not easy to be angry with him very long. Grandma tried to be very strict with him, and to appear dreadfully shocked at his misdemeanors, but in her heart she was often amused, I am sure, when she seemed most angry, and I think the little culprit had a sly suspicion of the true state of affairs. Certain it was that he frequently contrived to elude punishment and to win her over to his side ; and on this very afternoon of which I write, I saw him in less than an hour after the sentence of incarceration had been pronounced upon him, scampering gaily off in the direction of the corn-fields.
Whether our grandmother was sensible of her weakness in this particular, and deemed it on that account especially advisable to place some one in authority over us who could better control the unruly spirits in our little band, I do not know ; but at all events she did not change her mind in regard to the governess, as we fondly hoped she would. Perhaps she was afraid her resolution might warer if she put off too long carrying it into effect, for she wrote that same evening to some friends in town to make inquiries on the subject. We felt as if a doom were hanging over our beads. Visions of angular-looking middle-aged ladies, with bespectacled noses and sharp voices, floated depressingly through my dreams by night and my thoughts by day; and as for Laura and Phil, they were quite sobered by the anticipation, and became for once really good children.
How anxiously thenceforth did we watch for the return of old Daddy Cyrus from the post office, how tremblingly did we look at the mail bag when he brought it in and presented it to Grandma, how relieved did we always feel when he made the announcement, “No letter to-day, Missus, the gentleman say!” But at last came a letter - yes, the letter that settled our fate; and we learned the very day and hour at which we might expect our doom to descend upon us.
It came at the appointed time, in the shape of a quiet-looking, bright-eyed little lady, in a travelling suit of sober gray. A thorough lady, as we saw at once — no bespectacled, sharp-voiced schoolmarm such as my fancy had portrayed. She gave her little gloved hand to each of us as we were presented to her, after she had returned Grandmother's kind, cordial greeting, and I felt it tremble a little, as if from nervousness, when it clasped mine.
“This is Molly, Mrs. Herbert, my eldest grandchild -- a staid little woman who will give you no trouble ; and this is her sister Prudy. Here are my younger fock, Laura and Ned - he's the baby, you see
and Phil where are you, Phil?” for the urchin was hiding behind her skirts. "Come and shake hands with Mrs. Herbert directly, Sir! Of these three,” said Grandma, with her benevolent smile, “I'll not say a great deal at present, but leave you to judge for yourself. Now will you come at once and have some lunch, or do you prefer going to your room first?"
Mrs. Herbert said she would go to her room for a little while, and I was deputed to show her the way. When we got there she laid aside her bonnet, and then taking my hand in both hers, stooped and kissed me on the cheek.
"Tell me, Molly,” she said, with a wistful look, “do you think you wiil like me, dear? Can you learn to like me very much ?”
I answered truthfully that I was sure of it; indeed I liked her very much already.
“And your grandmamma - do you think she will too? I want you all to be fond of me, dear."
Her tone was very earnest, so earnest that I was touched, especially when on looking up into her dark eyes I saw that there were tears in them. She smiled at me, however, and kissed me again, saying that I was a dear little girl, and had made her quite happy by my assurance that we would all love her.
Who could have helped loving her, I wonder! She had not been in the house twenty-four hours before she had won the heart of each of its inmates. Her brief sadness or nervousness having worn off, she showed hersel? to be a warm-hearted, sunshiny little woman, full of thought for the pleasure and comfort of others; equally ready to render Grandma some courteous little service, to entertain Ned with stories, to enter into Phil's frolics — tempering them by her own gentleness — and our quieter amusements; to read to us, talk to us, walk with us, play with us, as we most desired ; at all times our companion and friend, yet maintaining in the schoolroom a gentle authority which none of us desired to dispute, and which won for her our greater respect and esteem. How surprising it seemed that we should ever have dreaded her coming! How grateful we were to Phil for having been so naughty and idle as to oblige Grandma to send for her! As to Phil, he yielded to her influence as if by magic; she was so patient, so kind, and yet so firm, so resolved that the obnoxious lessons must be faithfully performed, and so earnest in helping him to understand and overcome all difficulties, that he was incited to do his very best, and prompted by a sincere desire to win her approbation, soon evinced a decided improvement, not only in his studies, but in manners and morals as well. I do not mean 10 say that he became a youthful saint, or that there was not still a strong spice of mischief and impudence remaining in him; but that was only natural, and I do not think Mrs. Herberi liked him the less for it. On the contrary, it soon became apparent to us that of all her pupils the troublesome little scamp was her especial favorite. She was equally kind to the rest of us, but there was a certain softening of her voice and manner, an almost wistful tenderness in her look sometimes when she regarded him, that made me fancy he must resemble some other child whom she had dearly loved, and who was perhaps dead. I think this fondness of hers for Phil was a strong bond between Grandmamma and herseif; for somehow he was Grandma's pet too.
One circumstance seems a little odd to me now as I recall it, and that is, that we decided unhesitatingly on the fact of our governess being a widow. No mention had ever been made of a Mr. Herbert, either by her or by the friends who had written to Grandmother regarding her; and it was natural to suppose that had such an individual been in existence, his wife would not have gone away from him to earn a living among strangers. We were undeceived on this point, however, before she had been many weeks at Fairoaks. We were sitting around the fire one evening, when by some means the conversation turned upon my grandfather, long since dead, whose handsome, stately-looking portrait hung over the mantel-piece. Grandmamma descanted upon his many excellences, ending with the remark so frequently made on such occasions, that none of us could possibly imagine the extent of the loss she had sustained in his death, or realise the depth of her grief.
“And yet I am wrong in saying so,” she added, addressing Mrs. Herbert, who sat at a table close by, busily plying her needle by the light of the old-fashioned lamp which Grandmamma was conservative enough to prefer to more modern inventions. “We are all apt to think our own peculiar trials the heaviest ; but you, my dear, have doubtless experienced the very feeling I have described to you, with this difference, that the severance of the tie in your case could not so completely have changed your whole life, so entirely have broken up all old associations, as it did in mine, your married life being necessarily so much shorter. I had been married thirty years when my husband died.”
Mrs. Herbert hesitated a moment before replying.
"I — there has been some mistake,” she said presently, in a low and somewhat hurried tone. “I thought you knew — at least, I did not know that you thought differently — that I was not a widow.”
“Not a widow, my dear!” said Grandmamma mildly, but with evident surprise in her tone. “ Then I am sure I beg your pardon — but there has been some mistake, as you say.”
Mrs. Herbert bent over her work to avoid the curious glances involuntarily directed towards her, and I saw that she was all flushed and trembling in an instant.
“It was unintentional on my part,” she said in a still lower tone than before. "I did not mean - I never thought of explaining. My husband is abroad.”
There was a short silence, during which we sat looking a little awkwardly at the fire, until presently Grandmamma got up, and going round by the back of Mrs. Herbert's chair, put her hand kindly on her shoulder, and said something in a low voice, the import of which was inaudible to our ears, but which was probably an apology of some sort for having alluded to the subject in question, for Mrs. Her
beri instantly clasped her hand in hers, and looking up with tearful eyes, answered fervently, “Not from you, my best, kindest friend ; some day you shall know all.”
Well, here was a mystery. Of course I delighted in anything in the shape of mystery or romance - what school girl of fourteen does not? — and my interest in our governess thenceforth increased tenfold. I immediately began to weave all sorts of probable and improbable fancies and conjectures, suggested by a naturally imaginative turn of mind, respecting Mr. Herbert's absence and Mrs. Herbert's singular reticence in regard to him. The facts of his being abroad and of her employing herself in teaching were in themselves simple enough;, but then it was so strange that she had never spoken of him, and still stranger that she should manifest such evident emotion when he was brought into question. Perhaps he had treated her badly, and she had been forced to leave him ; perhaps he had gone off and left her without any cause or explanation ; perhaps he was insane; or perhaps he had committed soine crime and been forced to leave the country. In any case I felt sure that she had not been to blame, but that the fault, if fault there was in the matter, lay altogether at the door of this unknown, mysterious, absent Mr. Herbert. Les absents ont toujours tort, says the proverb, and in this case it was certainly true, in my estimation at any rate.
For some days I kept hoping for an elucidation to the puzzle, but none presented itself, nor did Mrs. Herbert ever recur to the subject which had given rise to so much speculation, or betray in her manner any return of the agitation and distress it had evidently caused her. She received letters sometimes, but always carried them to her room to read, though without any show of concealment or mystery. I must confess to having had the somewhat impertinent curiosity to examine the envelope of one of these which she left once lying on her table ; but though it was directed in a masculine hand, it bore the postmark C-, and therefore shed no light on my inquisitive mind, for no possible latitude of speech could, by the widest stretch of the imagination, be construed into applying the term “abroad” to that respectable city.
Winter sped away unmarked by any event to break the even current of our daily life, and spring with flowery footstep and balmy breath came smiling on his track. We took long rambles through the woods, where the dry pine-trash rustled pleasantly beneath our tread, and the yellow jessamine, hanging in festoons from the trees, filled the air with fragrance. Sometimes on holidays we would stay out for hours at a time ; Mrs. Herbert often carrying some entertaining book, which she would read aloud to those of us who cared to listen, while the others roamed about at will, and the only sound to break the stillness around us was the soft sighing of the wind as it swayed the green boughs and gently waved the long gray moss above our heads. What bright tranquil days those were! No other April days have ever seemed half as lovely to me since then, nor any skies as blue as those which bent above the Fairoaks woods. When those days came to an end, as such days will, there were others equally pleasant in store for us. Our summer home was on an island, the