« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
was quick-witted enough to guess already that Eleanor, wizened and flattened as she was, would prove a better friend.
It was a goodish sort of house, with sufficient accommodation for a large family; the furniture was solid and respectable. The best spare-room proved comfortable in a stony fashion, and would have been really comfortable had it been glowing with the red light of a warm fire.
"Shall I help you to unpack?" asked Henrietta, with friendly willingness to see new wedding clothes.
"No, I'll help you," said Hubert, who rather wanted to get rid of his sister. He was savage with his family, but was eager to make the best of them to his wife.
"Shall I dress now?" Sheila asked, when she had unpacked. "When's dinner, I won
"I don't remember a bit. Yes, you'd better."
It was dark now, and evening had certainly set in. By the time they went down to the drawing-room the fire had burned up, and the stiff, rather gaunt room, looked more pleasant.
"I don't remember at what hour you
dine now," Hubert observed cheerfully, taking his wife to the fire. Mrs. Burscough immune from colds, was seated in the warmest corner. "So I told Sheila she had better make one job of it, and dress now."
His mother's black watered silk was very handsome and thick; Eleanor and Henrietta in dust-coloured alpacas were less imposing; but all three considered themselves dressed for the evening, and all three wore the gowns in which they had received the bridal couple.
"We dine," said Mrs. Burscough," usually at half-past five. To-night, tea being put off an hour for your arrival, we dine at seven."
She was eyeing Sheila with a severe scowling; Eleanor was trying not to look; Henrietta was looking with all her might, with staring astonishment mingled with appreciation.
"But," continued Sheila's mother-in-law, we make our final change for the evening early. And this is a rectory. It is not our practice to expose our chests to--observation. It is strange you, Hubert, should have forgotten. In a rectory we do not consider it delicate to undress for the evening meal"
Dear mamma!" pleaded Eleanor.
"Mother!" cried Hubert, reddening angrily. Mrs. Burscough raised an undaunted shapely hand.
"It is best," she said, "to speak one's mind "(only she rather liked a monopoly of it)" and Mrs. Hubert must forgive me if I point out the difference between a decorous English country parsonage and
"Sheila, keep quiet," interrupted Hubert. "I think, mother, that what a girl has been accustomed to in her own home is what she should be expected to do. Her father would think it slovenly and disrespectful for his daughter not to dress for the evening
He meant well, and it was in a good spirit that he stood up thus boldly to his mother in defence of his wife; but courage and tact do not always walk hand in hand. Mrs. Burscough did honestly disapprove her daughter-in-law's bridal finery; she could, however, have disapproved without being angry. Hubert's interference made her angry, not so much with him as with the stranger on whose behalf he had, almost for the first time, braved her displeasure. She had not been cordially prepared to like his wife, and she began already to dislike her.
Little as the old woman showed it, Hubert
was her favourite child; Roger and Joshua had chosen wives without consulting her, and she welcomed them to the family with cool approval; they were, she considered, harmless, sensible women, not too pretty nor too fine; useful commonplace persons, if not rich, without extravagant notions above what their fortune justified. Had her youngest son married a certain Miss Hayworth whom she, his mother, had decided he had better marry, it is probable that Mrs. Burscough would have received his bride with some mild satisfaction; Eliza Hayworth had twelve thousand pounds, and spent very little of the interest on dress. She was a tallish, well-drilled young woman, with a sufficiency of good looks and a natural talent for housekeeping and economy. If a little dull she was not stupid, and, being the only child of a fairly wealthy mill-owner, it was reasonable to suppose that the twelve thousand pounds would not be the end of the story. For Hubert to marry a poor girl his mother thought to be sheer madness; he was the only extravagant member of the family, and was probably in debt already. Bur even had he married a fortune it is possible Mrs. Burscough would have been
jealous of his wife, had he found her for himself, and had it plainly appeared that he had chosen her, not for prudential reasons, but because he was in love with her.
"Hubert," said the old woman, speaking tightly with hard lips and a cold frown, "I shall not argue with you; nor shall you argue with me. Your wife shall dress as pleases you. When I have said that it does not please me, I have said all there is for me to say."
"Dinner's on the table, ma'am," said Jane, appearing as opportunely as she had ever done in her life.
Eleanor was trembling in her chair; Henrietta was quite good-natured enough to be sorry for Sheila, and was much redder in the face than if she had been scolded herself— she was used to it. Hubert was red, too. Poor Sheila had turned white, and was trying to keep back a tear.
"Tell your master," said Mrs. Burscough. But he was at the door.
"Why, why! how smart we are," he cried with cheerful jocosity, rubbing his lean hands as he made for his new daughter. Wedding grandeur, eh? Trousseau-what? Well, it's a fine thing being a bride-and brides are finer than they were in my day."