Jane Barlow, In Mio’s Youth: A Novel (1917) - Extracts

Source:Jane Barlow, In Mio’s Youth: A Novel (London: Hutchinson, 1917). This sample has been extracted by Anne van Weerden [Utrecht] for style-identification testing in Secret Life of Pronouns, by James W. Pennebaker [see Input page] (Nov. 2021).



Their exodus from Letterbrack was not altogether as abrupt as Captain Delaney had at first been disposed to decree. He modified his views on that point during a conversation with Mrs. Armitage, by which he brought her to share, or at least act upon, his way of thinking.

“You must admit,” he urged her, “that it’s not natural for a small boy to find his summum bonum in sitting hall the day with a blind man, and working at mathematics from clumsy instructions. But find it he does at present, and the thing mustn’t go on.”

“He might easily light on worse summums bonums,” Mrs. Armitage said with inelegant latinity. “However, I see that it will be better to take him away.” So it was arranged that Mrs. Armitage should with as little delay as might be, take up her abode close to a super-excellent preparatory school at Cheltenham; and that the Christmas holidays should be spent abroad, probably in the South of France, where both climate and language were attractions. Letterbrack would see the Armitages no more, for Captain Delaney’s self-renouncing ordinance was to be a thorough-going one. These plans for his future were not more than partially revealed to Alfred, who might, if he had but known, have reproached his elders with being “imperfect speakers,” when they talked of his absence from Letterbrack as if it were a limited period, and gave no hint, although he showed clearly that he was counting on a speedy return. Still, communicativeness on their part would not have made him by any means happier. As it was, his coming days wore an agreeable aspect of novelty that could not fail to interest; and if at the end of his forecasts his mind did always revert restfully to a nook on the sun-warmed strand, or the Captain’s own corner in the Drumatin House library, why, that point would probably go gliding on ahead of him, until it gradually receded into vagueness, and was no longer regarded as a goal.

Whereas the Armitages’ sojourn at Letterbrack was thus cut unexpectedly short, little Mio Helveran’s stay there much exceeded the limits originally proposed for it. In the midst of Mrs. Armitage’s preparations she received a distracted letter from Mrs. Quin. Her youngest boy Gerald had developed scarlatina, she hoped and trusted in a mild form, as he was anything but strong; however, one kind seemed to be as infectious as the other. She feared that Carrie was sickening for it, too, complaining of a sore throat and cold shivers, which looked uncommonly like it. Indeed, it would most likely go through the whole house. So what on earth she was to do about Mio’s coming back she did not know. The Hill-Clarkes were still on their wedding tour, or she might have asked Vi to take in the child, though it would be a long way to send her by herself, and Mrs. Fenlow was away paying visits in Scotland; they didn’t even know her address, and it would be no use in any case. And Miss Brannock, or course, was gone.

Confronted by all these difficulties, Mrs. Armitage at first saw nothing for it except to take little Mio with them, although at some inconvenience; but a different solution offered itself from an unlooked-for quarter. Making a farewell call on the Maddens, she happened to mention the subject, when to her surprise Miss Madden said with unmistakable alacrity, as if jumping at a chance: “Let her come here.” In the circumstances it really seemed the best possible arrangement, notwithstanding that there was a certain amount of unsuitability about it. The addition of Mio to the Drumatin household in some degree resembled the sticking of a small, daintily-bound volume of children’s fairy-stories into a shelf which turned only dingy brown leather backs on a rather dull and dusty world. But her heterogeneousness proved to be, in fact, no serious disadvantage; perhaps none at all. It was not, indeed, of an obtrusive or disturbing kind, and could easily have passed unnoticed, had her neighbours chosen to ignore her presence among them, as they did not choose. David Madden forthwith set about spoiling her flagrantly, and would not admit that the practice was in any way reprehensible. When taxed with it once by his sister, he avowed his intention of continuing it.

“If you want me to keep a small wild bird at arm’s length,” he said, “you shouldn’t bring it to hop about where I am. For the nearer I can entice it to come, the more stuck up I feel myself, and that’s a fact.”

“Even so,” Miss Madden objected, “it can’t be necessary for you to have the whole place strewn all over with crumbs.”

There were some grounds for her protest, as at that moment of the darkening November afternoon the vicinity of the library fire was wildly littered with large sheets of music-paper, on which he had written out in big, slowly-drying ink blobs an easy arrangement of “Pestel” with variations, for the furtherance of Mio’s musical studies.

“Don’t blot them on me for your life” he said in an agonized tone, as his sister approached the hearth-rug; “those ones are quite wet still - there! your skirt was all but over them.”

“Oh, I’ll take care,” Miss Madden said with, resigned impatience. “I just want to put this little saucepan on the fire for a minute, and boil some milk.”

“What on earth for,” said her brother, “at this hour of the day?”

“I’m going to make a small cup of chocolate for Mio,” said Miss Madden; “she didn’t seem to be hungry at luncheon, and hardly touched her rice-pudding.”

“I suppose it was spoiled,” David said sarcastically, and with a triumphant chuckle, which was echoed from Lambert Delaney’s corner.

“You’re a mean creature, Lambert Delancy,” she said, turning towards it, “to sit there making a mock of me, when I’ve got nobody else to back me up. I have two minds not to put in another stick as I had intended for a cup for you this dismal chilly day.” But she did not take that threatened vengeance.

An accident nearly befell Mio’s cup on its way upstairs to her own room, where she was writing a letter to her cousin Carrie. For Miss Madden caught her foot in something, and, stumbling, very narrowly averted an irremediable disaster to what she had in her hand. On investigation she found that a gathered flounce at the bottom of her long-suffering black alpaca skirt had at one point become ripped, and hung in an ensnaring loop. Her method of dealing with it was simple and summary. Grasping it firmly, she tore it off all round the edge, to harsh sounds of rent material and broken threads, and then rolling up the endlessly trailing yards, threw the black ball into the fire. Mio looked on rather aghast from over her frothy cup and sugary biscuits.

“Well, now, it’s a mystery to me,” Miss Madden said reflectively, as she watched this discarded ornament turning to ashes among the red turf-sods, “what possesses any rational beings to tack such things on to their clothes, which are nuisance enough without them in all conscience. It can hardly be that they want more chances of breaking their necks. I was within an ace of coming down that time.”

“Perhaps they think it looks nicer than just plain,” Mio suggested, “and if they didn’t have their frocks so much longer than this one of mine, they couldn’t put their foot in it, even when it got unripped.” “If they would but believe it, the less there is to look at about them the better, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred,” said Miss Madden; “that’s to say, my dear, when they come to be old hags. As long as they are like you, of course, they must wear their pretty frocks and all that.”

“I suppose they might burn up a piece, if it was torn off,” said Mio, who considered the expedient a sensible one, calculated to avert scoldings and reproachful repairs. But to her disappointment Miss Madden pronounced against young persons taking upon themselves to cremate any articles of attire until they had arrived at years of discretion. “When you are as old as I am, you know, you can please yourself - or at least try - about frills and furbelows; but meanwhile you mustn’t take me for a model, little Owl’s-eyes, by any manner of means. It’s a privilege of the venerable to wear ugly old overalls - blessed for ever be he who invented them,” Miss Madden said, pulling down the sleeves of her shabby ulster. “You can wear anything under them, and always look perfectly respectable. But you’d be a funny little figure; no, indeed, you’ll have to bide your time,”

That Mio should not rough it in any way while domiciled at Drumatin House was a matter about which Miss Madden concerned herself with real seriousness. So far did she carry her solicitude, that she used to toil upstairs with the big kitchen-kettle filled for the child’s bath, lest the housemaid should supply her with hard water to the detriment of her delicate pink and white. “The pump is three steps nearer the scullery door than the soft-water cistern,” Miss Madden argued, “and three steps are further than I’d trust Kitty McNulty any day of the year.”

Altogether it need not be wondered at that Mio found herself well off in her new quarters, much made of, and amply supplied with what most interested her indoors, music and books, while in the precincts of the sea she had an inexhaustible storehouse of treasures, marvellous and various. Yet at times her thoughts went back wistfully to Craiganogue, though less on account of anything enjoyable remembered there than of misfortunes which she apprehended to be now existing among its inhabitants. She was gravely concerned about the reported illness of Gerald and Carrie, especially Carrie, and deeply regretted her inability to prove her sympathy or do anything to please them. Then it occurred to her that she might write as Carrie had done, and, like her, send something in the letter. It would surely be possible to find a small gift that would not stick in the slit or the pillarbox at the gate. With this object in view, she went down that very morning to the beach, where she luckily lighted on a wonderful little rock-pool, in which were dispread quite an elfin forest of seaweeds, lacy and coloured, with every shade of red and russet, green and pink and lilac. When a handful or them were fished out of the clear water, they lost some of their floating beauty, but still had a charm. Kitty McNulty, to whom Mio showed them, expressed great admiration, and said: “Sure, I knew a lady one time did be prodding them out with a pin on sheets of white paper in a sort of pattron like. Fiddling over them she often was half the day, and setting great store by them entirely.” In that case, Mio thought, these would certainly amuse Carrie, who must be very tired of staying indoors, where she always said she had nothing to do. So next day, after they had dried themselves on the window-stool until they were only a little dampish, Mio wrote a letter to Carrie, and folded up in it a present which she had sought out from among her stores. Round the letter she then wrapped the stiffening, filmy sprays, and she was thus engaged, when, as has been reported, the arrival of a cup of chocolate interrupted her. She was glad to have the chance of asking Miss Madden to address the envelope, a task that had loomed formidably, with “Craiganogue” as a most crucial test or spelling and penmanship.

On taking up the envelope Miss Madden said: “Uchgh,” for fragrance is not a virtue found in seaweed.

“It doesn’t smell nice, I know, if you look at it very close,” Mio said rather anxiously; “but I don’t think Carrie will mind, and she can throw it away if she does.”

“Oh, I daresay she won’t,” Miss Madden said. “But what is the hard thing you have put in the middle?”

“Diamonds,” Mio said triumphantly; “fine big ones.”

“The child must have picked up some clear-looking little pebble-stones on the shore,” Miss Madden thought; “however, they’ll probably please the other little girl just as well as the real thing.” And aloud she said: “That’s grand!”

But Carrie Quin, on opening the envelope in her bedroom at Craiganogue, first uttered what sounded like a prolongation of Miss Madden’s “Uchgh!” and then extracted from the crumpled sheet of note-paper a circlet of ray-darting brilliants. Mio had written: “The seaweed is to stik on white paiper, and the broshe is to be your own now, and not mine, so you can lend it. It is a pressent like the Pig, and I hope you will be well again sum day, and Gareld to.”

The diamond brooch had been in Carrie’s possession for many months by the time that she and its former owner met again, so unexpectedly did Mio’s visit to Letterbrack lengthen out. There were difficulties in the way of her return to Crniganogue, and none whatever about her remaining at Drumatin House. After the excitement of her eldest daughter’s wedding, and the worry of the children’s illness, Mrs. Quin’s health really broke down, so that she could hardly cope with her household cares. She was the more helpless because she had seized the opportunity of Miss Brannock’s absence on a holiday to inform her by letter that her services were no longer requiled. This statement was forthwith belied by harassing circumstances, and Mrs. Quin, at a loss for the successor, whom she could not easily procure, thankfully accepted Miss Madden’s offer to keep little Mio until she could be quite conveniently received at Craiganogue. Though that time did not perhaps ever actually come, her Uncle Charlie, considering it inexpedient that she should take up her abode wholly with the Maddens, made a point of having her brought back after about a year had passed. But she left them on the understanding that she was not to be long away.

 

CHAPTER XII

THINGS at Craiganogue seemed to Mio not much changed after her year’s absence. If she had considered them under that aspect, the difference which would have struck her most might have been the increased crossness of several among the house’s inmates. This impression would have been, no doubt, partly due to her own recent experiences of spoiling, but there were real grounds for such a one. Her Aunt Ethel, with physical machinery out of gear, and burdensome anxieties piling themselves up, economized her overtaxed energy by the adoption of a glum curtness in her demeanour towards everybody who was not an especial favorite; an expedient which, discouraging unnecessary intercourse, tended to avert friction, though at the sacrifice of social amenities. Mio kept out of her company. It was not in the natural disposition of Charlie Quin to be continuously morose, but he had become in those days unusually subject to fits of moodiness and irritability, so that people said you couldn’t tell where you’d find him. Mio avoided him also, to the extent of not approaching him, albeit she refrained from slipping away if he came into her vicinity. As heretofore, Jack and Flossie were still the good-tempered ones of the family; but their paths did not often fall in with Mio’s. Domestic pursuits chiefly occupied Flossie, she being to the manner born, and early promoted to housekeeping by her mother’s breakdown; and Jack was generally out of doors, too far afield for his small cousin’s rambling capability.

In the places of Vi and Fred there were just gaps; and yet not altogether so, for the influence of, at any rate, the absent Fred made itself felt in the household. It was not an harmonious one, a fact for which other people were in part more to blame than he. Dissatisfaction, indeed, was na turally enough caused by the disappointing reports of his progress in his studies. This he made not more rapidly than might have been expected from his habit of spending liberally on what he called “larking around” the time which he should have devoted to them, and a considerable fraction of the remainder on forecasting the future martial glories of Fred Quin. But then no small proportion of his father ’s chagrin at these untoward proceedings arose from his unea sy remembrance of how he had acquired the funds wherewith to provide the expensive grinding by which the young ass seemed likely to profit not at all. What censorious persons might choose to describe as the misapplication of trust money was, he admitted to himself, a step which somehow required for its complete justification that it shou1d bring about some signal and brilliant success, and now nothing of the kind appeared likely to occur. On the contrary, it looked as if it was going to turn out no better than those infernal Nitrates shares, which might have gone a long way towards retrieving the situation, if they had not hopelessly slumped with a suddenness nobody could have foreseen. Hence, Fred was not entirely accountable for the bitter spirit in which his father coupled him with that other bad investment. Even less could he be held responsible in the matter of the ill-humours displayed by his youngest brother Gerald, who for some time past had constituted himself a portion of his partial mother’s daily harassments. Gerald was by nature jealous and imitative, and the fulfilment of Fred’s wishes had stirred up in him both these qualities. He thought it behoved him also to desire a military career, and having persuaded himself that he did, he could not see why he should not go to lodgings in Dublin and have a grinder just as well as Fred. These views he urged upon his mother with native obstinacy, from the vantage ground of his position as pet, and was mightily aggrieved because in the face of obvious impossibilities she dared not offer him the immediate encoumgcment which he demanded. He scoffed at her temporizing plea that thirteen was too young, and raged at the suggestion of any alternative pursuit. His mother deemed it her duty to tell him that he should not be so unreasonable, but in her heart she blamed his father for giving in to Fred’s nonsense; no wonder it made the poor child discontented. The poor child did, at any rate, in his discontent so grumble and whine, that he fully maintained his character as one of the household crosspatches. Carrie, who was likewise quite living up to her reputation, had also at this time a grievance of her own; namely, that no resident governess had been provided for her. Instead of this, Miss Stack, the Protestant National School mistress, came up for a couple of hours in the afternoon. And Rose O’Callaghan, the parlour-maid, said she had never in her life heard of a family where a resident governess was not kept, when there were growing-up young ladies. And as for Miss Stack, she was nothing on earth except old Briney Coleman’s grand-daughter, that kept the little public at Longhally cross-roads many a long year. The eldest of the Colcmans took and married a son of Tom Stack, that was land-steward to Sir Digby Ryeford, and that was the beginning of all the grandeur she ever had. And turned a black Protestant to get him. “But this Minnie Stack that’s cocked up here by way of teaching you, Miss Carrie, it’s attending the mixed school at Kildee she used to be a long with me own sisters; and her father just a working gardener.” Nor had Rose ever heard of the likes of her having tea brought to her in the schoolroom. And Rose was scarcely thinking she’d care to be stopping in a place where she was expected to wash up after one of the Stacks. It was only natural, of course, that Carrie should feel profoundly dissatisfied with a person so inferior for a preceptress.

“The last time Aunt Mabel was here, I heard her and mother talking about it,” she reported to Mio, “and they said this young woman - that’s Miss Stack - would do well enough till you wanted someone better, and then I could be finished off too. As if I didn’t matter any more than some sort of old pig.”

They were in the schoolroom writing copies, a branch of education on which Miss Stack laid much stress, as it produced visible results with small trouble to herself. On the present occasion Carrie’s copy was “Knowledge is a pearl of great price,” and her preoccupied thoughts led her on one line to substitute “pig” for “pearl.” When she saw the blunder, she said: “Oh, bother; never mind. I daresay she’ll never remark it, for she hardly looks at them at all. Anyhow, it’s ridiculous for me to be writing copies, and I just twelve. How do you keep your fingers out of the ink? I always get all over it. But I suppose she doesn’t really know how to teach anything except common writing.”

“Can she play on the piano?” inquired Mio.

“Not she. She plays hymns on the old harmonium in the school-house. We sometimes hear them all squalling like hens inside there when we’re going past.”

“I don’t want to learn any hymns,” said Mio. “Maybe you’ll like the tunes Mr. Madden says I am to play every day after I have practised the exercises.”

But Carrie replied: “Oof! do you go on with that still? I should think you might have got tired by this time of scraping on a squeaky fiddle like old Mick Moynihan.” Which made Mio feel rather forlornly lonesome, and wonder whether in the library at Drumatin House Captain Delaney was playing Handel’s “Largo” on his ’cello to the soft chime of the big piano’s accompaniment. A few days afterwards she did meet with a more sympathetic and appreciative hearer, but, as it happened, in a saddening sort of way.

Latish one evening Lizzie, the housemaid, put her head in at the schoolroom door, and said that Mick Moynihan was below. He had stepped over to bid Kate Hely good-bye, because he was going home to Bantry for good and all this time, so he wouldn’t be coming back again. And he was asking after Miss Mio.

Down to the kitchen thereupon ran Mio with her violin, which Mick had never yet seen or heard. He examined it, profuse in admiring expressions, which he uttered with enthusiasm. But when she had played two or three tunes, to which he listened from his usual position, propped up against the big wooden turf-box, and half sitting on a ledge projected by the adjacent wall, he kept silence so long that the maids, fearing lest Miss Mio should be mortified, abandoned ecstatic comments among themselves for direct appeals to him: “Well now, Mick, isn’t that something you might call fiddling?” “It’s a wonder to me how she contrives so ilegant, with her little fingers scarce a size to get a good grip of the handle of it at all.” “You don’t very often hear the like of that, Mick, I’ll go bail, with all the travelling you have about the country?” At last he spoke:

“Indeed, and bedad, Miss Mio, consaiting in me own mind I did be that it was meself had you finely insthructed in the fiddling. A great offer you made at it entirely last year. But past and beyond me you’re gone now, whoever it was had the taiching of you, on that grand little insthrument or yours, Miss Mio. There’ll be no more talk with you of meself and me ould fiddle.”

A regretfulness in Mick’s tone made Mio feel suddenly as if she had been guilty of an ingratitude with which she was far from enduring to reproach herself. “Oh, but I’ll be always talking of you and the fiddle,” she said. “Why, you know, I never could think how people got any sort of noise out of it except horrible screeches, until you showed me the way. And if I hadn’t learnt that, what would have made Uncle Charlie get me the violin?”

“Ah, sure, perhaps that might be the way it was, Miss Mio,” said Mick, not apparently consoled; “but, anyhow, you wouldn’t look at a common ould fiddle these times at all, let alone playing on it.”

“It isn’t common, Mick,” Mio protested, “not a bit; it’s just as good as anything else. I’ll tell you, Mick, I think my violin’s a little better, maybe, for playing on if people only want to listen to tunes; but your fiddle is ever so much the best when they’re wanting to dance, the way Lizzie and Jorah Murphy did in the shed one wet day, do you remember? And it would be very nice if you and I could learn to play a duet - that’s when two people play a tune at the same time, as Mr. Madden at Letterbrack does on his violin and Captain Delaney on his big ’cello. They’re beautiful. Maybe the next evening you come over we could learn to play one together, you on the fiddle and I on the violin.”

“I’ll never be in it again after this night, Miss Mio, me honey,” said Mick. “Stopping at home with me sister is what I’ll be doing the rest of me days. Since me accident it’s too much the lame leg does be coming agin me for going backwards and forwards.”

“After getting a bad fall on the road last month the crathur is, Miss Mio,” explained Kate Hely. “He had a right to quit stravading around before he breaks his neck, and that’s a solemn fact, as often I told him.”

“So now I’ll be stepping along with meself in the name or God,” Mick said, twisting himself to his feet. “And good luck to you, Miss Mio, with the grand little fiddle. It’s more than you or I can tell, where the two of us may happen to be playing our tunes one of these fine days.”

This vague prospect did not conceal from Mio that Mick Moynihan’s departure thus unreturningly was a melancholy event. A livelier one occurred that same evening in the arrival on a visit of her cousin Mrs. Hill-Clarke. It did not, however, promote concord in the establishment. Vi had hardly been at any time, and was now less than formerly, an inmate likely to do so. After a year of matrimony the extreme self-importance, which had been developed in her by her sudden elevation to the dignities or a married woman, continued undiminished; but much of the first glamour, worn off by use and wont, many or the early “imaginings as we would,” rebuffed by encounters with things as they are, had gone their way, and taken with them part of the elated complacency that had helped to keep her in a good humour. Therefore, she was now revisiting Craiganogue to some extent in the character of a person of consequence, who, reeling that her claims to distinguished privileges have not been fully recognized by the world in general, is the less tolerant of such shortcomings in particular individuals. Her husband at this time had been so found wanting, and was, in fact, the reprehensible cause or her visit. For he had gone off to a shooting-party in Donegal, the invitation to which should, she considered, have included her, and not doing so, should have been declined. Her aggrieved mood accordingly made her touchy and exacting, and was to grounds for taking offence what a sugary stickiness is to the resort of flies.

These things are worth mentioning here, as they brought about between her and her sister Carrie a quarrel, the results of which lasted long and extended far. Its proximate cause was trivial enough, and apparently remote from any serious outcome. On the schoolroom chimney-piece there had stood for six or seven years a china match-holder, in shape a hollow tree-trunk, bearing an inscription, realistically rudely wrought: “With Best Wishes.” Carrie, the owner of it, prized it much, as a birthday gift from her former governess, Miss Farrell, whose memory she cherished, in the opinion of her family chiefly out of contrariness. Vi, one morning soon after her arrival, accidentally swept this ornament off its place, to a shattered destruction in the fender, by an incautious brushing past of her voluminous blouse-sleeve.

“Goodness gracious! What have I knocked down?” said Vi. Then, picking up a fragment large enough for purposes of identification: “Oh, it’s only that hideous old match-holder. It’s no loss, I’m sure, so there’s no great harm done.”

At this uprose in wrath Carrie’s voice shrill from an opposite corner.

“Oh, yes, it’s all very fine for you to come clumping in here and smash up other people’s things. I wonder how you’d like it yourself if somebody destroyed anything of yours that way?”

“If I had any such ugly rubbish,” Vi said, laughing, “I ’m sure I’d be glad and thankful to get rid of it.”

“Then I wish to goodness you’d go back to your own rubbishy place,” said Carrie, “and keep out of cart-horsing about where you’re not wanted.”

“Be quiet, miss, and don’t let me hear you speaking in such a way to your sister again,” said their mother.

“Good gracious! who do you suppose would mind what the little donkey gabbles?” Vi said with dignified disdain. “I’m going now to get Flossie to put a stitch in my glove-buttons, for this evening, you know. The shop people always sew them on so badly; they come off in no time.”

“Maybe you’ll mind fast enough before very long, you great clumsy lump!” Carrie called after her furiously, as she left the room. And this veiled threat, received by Vi with a contemptuous giggle, seemingly terminated the incident.

The entertainment to which Vi had alluded was a musical evening at the neighbouring Hutchinsons. For several reasons she regarded it as a rather great event. It would be almost her first appearance in the society of her neighbourhood, and she thoroughly liked the prospect of bursting out on it in a sudden blaze as Mrs. Gilbert Hill-Clarke, at an age when in the ordinary course of things she would have just come out, with no brilliancy at all, as merely the Quins’ eldest girl. She expected to meet there also, for the first time since her childhood, some distant and wealthy cousins, who in the old days had assumed a high and mighty demeanour, but who had since her marriage shown symptoms of an inclination to make themselves more agreeable. These people Vi had proudly resolved that she would surprise not a little through her manner, conversation and attire, with evidence of how every bit she was as good as they were, and how completely above being looked down upon, or condescended to, by any of them. But, after all, the first time to which she looked forward with most enjoyment was connected with a very splendid blouse, which she had never yet worn, though it had long been in her possession. Youthful Mrs. Hill-Clarke’s taste for dress had certainly grown with her suddenly acquired means of indulging it. Indeed, a tendency to outgrow those means had already appeared, and had occasioned a few domestic differences at Mount Vale. Still, it was on the whole a taste simple and unsophisticated. She had never associated with anybody who was really fashionable and extravagant, nor had she the least inkling of the superb scorn which would have been roused in such a person by the idea that she supposed herself to have pretensions of the kind. If a costume or a hat seemed to her pretty and sufficiently like what she saw on fashion plates, it satisfied all her requirements. Only quite of late had she even begun to call things chic. So now she was childishly capable of looking forward with pleased excitement to the putting on of a pink satin blouse, which had lain for more than twelve months, in its careful folds of tissue paper, beneath a cardboard lid.

The keeping of it there had involved the exercise on her part of some prudential self-restraint. She explained her action to her mother and sister, while Flossie was tightening the wobbly glove-buttons.

“You see, it’s the last of my wedding things that I haven’t worn at all, and the one I liked best of all the blouses. I made up my mind that I would keep one of them as a reserve in case of emergencies, for, of course, I knew it could get no harm packed up in its box, and those dressy evening blouses don’t go out of fashion. So it has hardly been out of its papers since it came from the shop. I was sure that if I ever did look at it, I couldn’t resist putting it on, it’s such a heavenly pink, and such a ducky little chemisette; Valenciennes lace. And now, you see, I was very wise, for only for it, here I’d be this minute without a stitch in the shape of a body for the Hutchinsons. But, as it is, it will go beautifully with my cramoisi velours epingle skirt. You couldn’t have a better contrast than the dark, dark red and that pale-blush-rose shade. It’s a trained skirt.”

“I’m sure it ought to look lovely, my dear,” said Mrs. Quin, “and you could wear your pink coral-set.”

“I don’t care very much about coral,” said Vi. “I’ve set my heart on making Gilbert get me a little pearl necklace or collarette. A necklace would suit me best, I think, as my neck is plump and not too long. I saw somewhere or other that pearls are rather cheap just now. So one of these days I’ll take him when he’s in the humour and get it out of him. He likes girlish-looking things for me, and there’s nothing more girlish than pearls. Oh, I’ll manage him easily enough, no fear,” she concluded with airy complacency.

But before a round of the clock was finished, came to a sudden end all her satisfaction. It was between eight and nine on that evening, and Vi had gone up to her room to begin dressing for her party. A few minutes afterwards her door was violently thrown open, and her voice, loud and peremptory with agitation, called: “Mother! Flossie!” Both sped precipitately upstairs at the summons, to find Vi standing in her doorway, with the pink satin blouse gathered up recklessly in her arms, and her flushed face full of consternation.

“Oh,” she said, “just look at this! And what on earth am I to do?” Turning, she flung the blouse down on the bed, and her misfortune was at once manifest. On the front of the blouse a huge ink-blot, spread over the shimmering pink satin and delicate white lace, stood out in startling blackness. Furthermore, it had soaked through to the back, where a corresponding patch glared at the beholder. Sundry smaller spatterings added completeness to the ruin. A stream or ink had apparently been poured into the box from some little height through a crevice in the paper folds, which had concealed from anybody merely glancing under the lid that dire destruction had gone on darkly below them.

Mrs. Quin and Flossie stood amazed. “How in the world did it happen?” said Mrs. Quin. “You weren’t doing anything with ink?”

“It didn’t happen - I was doing nothing to anything at all,” Vi declared incoherently. “Even the cord wasn’t unfastened off it till just this minute ago.”

“Who can have done it?” said Mrs. Quin.

“It’s the most extraordinary thing I ever heard of in my life,” said Flossie, and they both relapsed into unconjecturing amazement.

But Vi’s mind was working more rapidly under the stimulus of a nearer interest in the disaster, and a disposition which always led her in quest of somebody to blame for untoward events. “I’ll tell you who it was, then,” she said, “it was that nasty little toad, Carrie.”

“Oh, good gracious, Vi!” her mother said, shocked. “Carrie? What would make the child do such a thing?”

“Spite,” said Vi. “She’s been scowling at me like a fiend the whole day, ever since I knocked down her trashy old china thing. So that’s why she’s gone and destroyed my beautiful blouse. Four guineas it was; there’s the price label on it still. I remember now she bawled after us when we were going out of the schoolroom that she would do something of the sort; and I did hear the little wretch stumping upstairs while Flossie was sewing on my buttons in the bookroom. You may depend upon it, that was what she was at. It’s just like her.”

“I really wouldn’t have believed it or her,” said Mrs. Quin.

“You may believe it, then,” Vi averred with increasing confidence. “And don’t you remember at luncheon her fingers were black with ink? You yourself said that she ought to be ashamed of the state she had her cuffs in with ink stains.”

“Carrie always is all over ink,” observed Flossie.

“Besides that, there was nobody else to do it,” Vi continued. “I noticed when I was untying them that the knots on the cord looked as if they had been meddled with; and I thought the housemaid had been prying at it, till I saw the way it was. She wouldn’t have had any ink, if it had been her.”

“It’s quite dry - as dry as a bone,” Flossie said, scrutinizing the stain.

“Of course it is,” said Vi. “That sort of blue-black stuff dries in a few minutes, and she must have done it hours and hours ago. It was only about ten o’clock.”



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