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come upon her in which she has nothing to say for herself.
I am afraid I may be thought to write ill-naturedly; but I am still more afraid that this unfavourable version may not altogether be incorrect. So, my dear womankind, you shall leave me to my office, and not entice me into the dissipation of shopping and visiting. As for the shops, I should indeed be a foolish fly if I accepted a spider-hearted invitation to walk into that description of parlour. It is enough for me it I discharge the painful duty of writing cheques, qualified by my prescriptive privilege of grumbling. Of course I have at times my own little private shopping to do, during which a clerk is qualified to say that I shall return within a few minutes. I order in fish and oysters, and, being a bit of a philosopher, not without a process of deliberate selection; and at the tailor's I am a known and, I trust, an appreciated customer; and I don't object to doing a little pleasant shopping in Covent Garden at a season of choice fruits; and at the poulterer's my judgment on snipe and woodcock is respected. Also I am free to admit that there are certain kinds of people on whom I am always ready to call. I don't care how often I have to call on dear Lady F, the wisest, gentlest, most accomplished old lady in the grand world, who will entice me to talk myself, and in the most unaffected way will tell me all about that great world in which she has lived and where her reminiscences are historical. And Mrs. L is so pretty and engaging, and her children so charming, and the drawing-room so thoroughly perfect, that I could stay for hours watching her graceful ways and musical prattle, and that beautiful head whose interior, I am afraid, corresponds but poorly with its fair ontward show. I might continue this category for a time, and yet I am afraid no catalogue is really
long of those ladies who are brilliant conversationalists either in silence or expression, and who throw off the life-giving ozone of a generous nature into the most conventional atmosphere. I like a lady with a speciality, whether travel, or art, or philanthropy; and I find that often in a very brief conversation they will give me their best and brightest thoughts, and send me away with the cheerful reflection that I have really done a good morning's work by my lounging visit. And, after all, calling is a great institution, not lightly to be spoken of; and though it is one of those things which no fellow can understand,' it is also one of those things which 'no fellow can do without.' They are the regular lines of approach by which English people proceed to sociality, intimacy, and friendship. A call is the prologue to a dinner and the epilogue to the feast. You may have intimacy and friendship under some novel set of cireumstances; but it is the nature of the English to entrench themselves within the conventional lines of etiquette, and to look upon an intimacy which has not been 'graduated with calls and visits as something abnormal, irregular, and illicit. I confess to an honest British prejudice on the subject, and believe that after all a good deal is to be said in favour of the customary observances of society. Still there is a wonderful difference at the houses where you call, and I do not care to call anywhere where I am not en rapport. I know at times that the carriage will positively bear me away an unwilling captive to make some visit of state, because I shall offend people if I do not go; but I had much rather, I protest, watch graceful figures from the office window and guess their errand, unless, indeed, I slip away to bright faces which are brighter when I come!
A VERY SINGULAR STORY.
hour, and I heartily wished Agnes would learn German herself. Lessons had been talked of, but the idea had been given up.
Y name is Rachel Althea TraIt seems to me that in an account of this sort, it is better to state that at once, and then it avoids all worrying as to who that perpetually recurring 'I' may be. They are unfortunate initials, as you may perhaps observe, and have led to my being apostrophized as Rat' by an impertinent younger brother, who is, I am thankful to say, generally at school. We, that is, my mother, my two sisters, and myself, live in Bryanston Square. We have no country house, and consequently are in town a great part of the year, when I, for one, would sooner be anywhere else; not that that melancholy fact has anything to do with my story, except so far as it accounts for our being in London one nasty day in November, when something happened which was the remote cause of my writing this, the cause, in fact, of my having this to write. I had a headache. Now I don't mean to say I wrote this story because I had a headache; I think that, perhaps, would have been a reason for not writing it, but I will explain in a minute what my headache had to do with it. It was the 15th I think, and I was sitting in the drawingroom while my sister Agnes had her music lesson. I could speak German with tolerable fluency, having spent the last winter in Vienna with some friends, but Agnes hardly understood a single word. Herr Blume could, however, speak a little English, and they might in reality have got on very well, had it not been for the extreme excitability of the little man's temperament. In the event of a wrong chord, his conversation, though fluent, became totally incomprehensible, and of such a striking nature that Agnes, who was very nervous, had once gone into violent hysterics, occasioned by agonising attempts to suppress her laughter. After that, my mother declared that I must always remain in the room to translate. It was a great bore being tied to one spot twice a week at exactly the same
'Rachel, dear, I don't think it's any use,' my mother had said to me; she hasn't the least talent for languages, and though the lessons may not be very expensive, yet you know, my dear child, all these things make a difference.'
Poor dear mamma! I made the sacrifice with a better grace, knowing as I did how many of all those things' she would gladly have had, but denied herself for our sakes.
And so it came to pass that that 15th of November found me at my usual post in a corner of the sofa, awaiting the arrival of Herr Blume. In he came, as the clock struck eleven, in the midst of a frantic rush on poor Agnes's part through an immense pile of music to find her piece. I think that put him out, for he stood watching her with an unnatural calmness, which I felt sure could only be the effect of almost superhuman efforts of selfcontrol. He was a short, haycoloured man, with spectacles, extraordinarily round eyes, and an immense quantity of distractedlooking hair, through which he was constantly running his fingers in a manner quite peculiar to himself. At last the piece was found, Agnes began to play, and I established myself more snugly in my corner. Alas! the peace which followed was but of short duration. A series of small disturbances began, the immediate cause of which was the piano: now the piano was a hired one, and not particularly good. Under a successful course of our treatment it had arrived at a blissful state of indifference concerning the pedal, keeping up a perpetual rumble which sounded like mild thunder; this little peculiarity appeared to have a most irritating effect on the unfortunate music master, and once or twice he had given vent to his feelings by a violent castigation of the wretched instrument. This, however, as ono
may imagine, only tended to increase the evil, and matters had arrived at a crisis, when this morning my mother entered the room, as he was engaged in inflicting upon us a succession of tremendous minor crashes that were truly terrible.
With a bound which would not have disgraced Leotard, he leaped from the music stool and stood before her. After the usual compliments, he asked if it might be allowed to him to make to madame one small representation?'
This little inquiry was accompanied by a smile intended to be insinuating, but which was simply sardonic.
My mother of course assured him that she would be most happy to listen to any suggestion; upon which he declared, running his fingers through his hair, that, though it inflicted upon him much sorrow, he felt it to be his duty to instruct her that the pedal was much disordered, and was very noxious to him. For myself,' he proceeded, with a grand heroism,
for myself I care not a little bit, but for these young messes'-here he indicated with a theatrical flourish Agnes and myself-it is a fatal story.'
'It is only a hired piano, Herr Blume,' said my mother, and I think I really must change it; I know it is very bad.'
Ach!' he said, eagerly, 'why does not one have her own splendid instrument? Madame will perhaps reflect this what I have said.'
He then suddenly closed his lips, and with a pirouette and another bound seated himself again, commencing on the spot such an illustration of that little weakness on the part of the pedal of which he had spoken, that my poor mother fled the room. I remained, sorely against my will, but tried to find consolation in a pile of cushions. My head ached, I could not read, and 1 sat listlessly turning over a photograph book, until I suppose I must have gone off into a doze. I was suddenly roused by Herr Blume's voice, raised to a positive shriek: 'Langsamer!-lang-samer, lang--saa-mer-r' I got up, and rushed to
wards the piano; poor Agnes was as white as a sheet, and on Herr Blume's forehead stood great drops of perspiration.
Slower, Agnes, slower; that is what Herr Blume means,' I said. Poor child, she made one more effort, but her fingers trembled so that she could hardly strike a note, and the next moment she burst into tears.
There was nothing more to be done that morning by either of them, I plainly saw; as for him he had been in a vile temper from the beginning.
I am really very sorry, Herr Blume,' I said, as the door closed after her; it was entirely my fault for not attending: you know my sister hardly understands a word of German.'
That, my fräulein, I know,' he answered, with awful solemnity, and I must, I fear, abandon her, if she cannot learn a little.'
To be abandoned by him he seemed to think the most dreadful fate in life.
'My tempers,' he continued, with excitement, suffers, yes, suffers, through these trials.'
He never had any to speak of, but I didn't tell him so, thinking he mightn't perhaps like it. For a few minutes we both remained silent, he standing in a Napoleonic attitude, with folded armis, and knitted brows, glaring in a malignant manner at a cross in the carpet. I began nervously to consider whether it could possibly be that, owing to a strong anti-ritualistic feeling, our carpet might be displeasing to his eye. My apprehensions were, however, relieved when he proceeded to unfold his plans. There was, it seemed, a German lady of his acquaintance lodging in a street close by, who was anxious to give lessons: he could recommend her highly for her ability and accent, he added, and if my mother would permit Agnes to have a few lessons, he was sure her music would greatly benefit. Might he ask the lady to call on madame? he inquired; and so the end of it was, that it was arranged for her to come the next day at eleven o'clock.
'Of course you will manage it all, Rachel,' my mother said in the evening. I daresay she can't speak a word of English.'
So she came. As I look back at it now, the whole thing seems so odd, as if all that followed were the consequence of a little headache on my part, and a little temper on Herr Blume's; all the merest chance; and yet it cannot be: we are all working out some vast design, subservient to one great master will: generally, upon tiniest threads of trifles hang the great joys and miseries of life.
A little after eleven the next morning a card was brought up, on which was written Fräulein Dorn,' and in a minute she was in the room. She was not the least like what I had expected. Most people form some idea as to any one they are going to meet, and I had formed mine; but I was entirely wrong: there was not a trace of that dowdiness of dress and manner of which I had seen so much in the Vaterland, even in the classes to which, I knew, by her name, she did not belong. On the contrary, everything about her was fresh and graceful, and there was a charming ease and grave courtesy in her manner which astonished me. Her face, even now that I know it under its many changes, is difficult to describe. Clear was the only word that came into my mind as I looked at her. A sweet oval face, clear and pale, with dark hazel eyes, somewhat round and deep set, looking out fearlessly, like shining stars. Her lips were excessively pretty, and gave colour to a face which would perhaps otherwise have been too pale: not that dark colour verging on purple which Lely has bestowed on some of his beauties, and which gives one the painful impression that they have been indulging in black currant jam, but a bright light-red. It was not the first morning that I saw all the excellences of her face, but afterwards, when I grew to know her better.
There were two lessons a week, and I used generally to join in them; she was very quiet at first, but gradually we began to get better
friends, and she would talk about Germany, or England, or on any general subject in the most amusing and lively manner; but I could never by any means whatever lead her to speak of herself, her former life, her reasons for coming to England, nor say a word, in fact, that could afford any clue to her history. There was a mystery about her; of that I felt very sure. Now the unravelling of mysteries was considered rather my forte, so I felt on my honour, as it were, to penetrate it. There had been an eagerness about Herr Blume's manner which had struck me at the very outset of the affair, and, strange to say, once or twice during the lessons, I had been possessed by a strong feeling that I had seen her before: yet the face was perfectly strange to me. The more I studied it, the more convinced I became that I must be labouring under some delusionthere was not a feature familiar to me. The lessons continued regularly until a little time before Christmas, when one morning she failed to make her appearance.
I knew the number of the house, though I had never been to her lodging, so before luncheon I walked round to see after her. door was opened to me by an untidylooking maid, and as I advanced into the passage, loud, angry tones issued from a room on my right. There was no help for it but to proceed, and this I was doing when I was almost knocked down by a fat, dirty, angry woman coming hastily out of the room, her head turned round, still addressing some one within.
'And sure it's not my house as 'll hould ye, with yer fine clothes and yer fine airs, if it's not a civil tongue ye can keep in yer head!'
She flounced off, and I ventured a peep into the room. It was in a state of the utmost confusion; clothes were lying in every direction, on the tables, on the chairs; and boxes half packed stood about the floor.
On one of these, looking like Scipio amid the ruins of Carthage, sat the fräulein. Another woman, black haired and bright eyed, with an angry red spot on either cheek, was
busily packing a box. On seeing me, the fräulein started up.
Ach! I am so glad to see you,' she said. 'I must explain why I have not come to you. This woman, Thérèse, has made her angry-furious: poor Thérèse, she was foolish. The woman has said we leave the house, so I go instantly; but where to, that I know not.'
This was wretched. I tried in vain to make her tell me what Thérèse had said, thinking it most probably some misunderstanding which had arisen owing to their not understanding each other's language; but she evaded it, declaring, however, that it was impossible for her to remain.
I made up my mind on the spot, and rushed home to ask my mother to invite her to come to us until after Christmas.
'My dear Rachel, I really don't think I can do it; she is quite a stranger, you know nothing, or next to nothing, about her. I think you had better give it up: no doubt she has friends in London.'
Such were the arguments with which my dear mother attempted to dissuade me from my request; but I could not be dissuaded.
'Darling mamsey,' I implored, caressing her, 'just this once; you acknowledge that she is very nice; and indeed she has no friends, except Herr Blume and his wife, who live themselves in lodgings. You mustn't shut up your heart at Christmas time: just for a day or two,' I entreated, giving her a hug, 'until she can find a place to go to.'
I knew she would not be able to hold out long.
Well, Rachel,' she said, 'it's all upon your shoulders. You're a naughty self-willed girl,' she added, smiling, and shaking her head deprecatingly, as I dashed off to bring back my beauty to Bryanston Square.
It was just as I expected, they all fell in love with her; her sweet face, her high-bred, gentle manners, her charming grace; but most of all, she fascinated Bertie, that unpolished schoolboy whom we owned for a brother, and in so doing caused
the benedictions of his sisters to rain down upon her head.
Never were there such peaceful Christmas holidays within the recollection of the oldest inhabitant,' and we trembled at the idea of losing our presiding genius. My mother, also, joined heartily in our entreaties for her to stay, for beside really liking her, it was impossible to overlook the immense advantages which accrued to us from her society. She could scarcely speak a word of English, but German, French, and Italian she seemed to be equally fluent in; and, wonder of wonders, Bertie, by New Year's Day, was positively beginning to talk French with, I won't say a good, but certainly a less extraordinary accent than when he came home.
This undisputed possession of the field was perfect bliss to him: he lionized her about London, taking her to all sorts of museums and places, which he professed to think it quite necessary that she should