The latter first looked up at the lady with simple surprise; then, as in spite of the other two, Miss Selina worked herself up into a downright passion, and unlimited abuse fell upon the victim’s devoted head, Elizabeth’s manner changed. After one dogged repetition of, “It was the cat!” not another word could be got out of her. She stood, her eyes fixed on the kitchen floor, her brows knitted, and her under lip pushed out—the very picture of sullenness. Young as she was, Elizabeth evidently had, like her unfortunate mistress, “a temper of her own”—a spiritual deformity that some people are born with, as others with hare-lip or club-foot; only, unlike these, it may be conquered, though the battle is long and sore, sometimes ending only with life.
It had plainly never commenced with poor Elizabeth Hand. Her appearance, as she stood under the flood of sharp words poured out upon her, was absolutely repulsive. Even Miss Hilary turned away, and began to think it would have been easier to teach all day and do house work half the night, than have the infliction of a servant—to say nothing of the disgrace of seeing Selina’s “peculiarities” so exposed before a stranger.
She knew of old that to stop the torrent was impracticable. The only chance was to let Selina expend her wrath and retire, and then to take some quiet opportunity of explaining to Elizabeth that sharp language was only “her way,” and must be put up with. Humiliating as this was, and fatal to domestic authority that the first thing to be taught a new servant was to “put up” with one of her mistresses, still there was no alternative.—Hilary had already foreboded and made up her mind to such a possibility, but she had hoped it would not occur the very first evening.
It did, however, and its climax was worse even than she anticipated. Whether, irritated by the intense sullenness of the girl. Selina’s temper was worse than usual, or whether, as is always the case with people like her, something else had vexed her, and she vented it upon the first cause of annoyance that occurred, certain it is that her tongue went on unchecked till it failed from sheer exhaustion. And then, as she flung herself on the sofa—oh, sad mischance!—she caught sight of her nephew standing at the school-room door, grinning with intense delight, and making faces at her behind her back.
It was too much. The poor lady had no more words left to scold with; but she rushed up to Ascott, and big lad as he was, she soundly boxed his ears.
On this terrible climax let the curtain fall.
Common as were the small fends between Ascott and his Aunt Selina, they seldom reached such a catastrophe as that described in my last chapter. Hilary had to fly to the rescue, and literally drag the furious lad back into the school-room; while Johanna, pale and trembling, persuaded Selina to quit the field and go and lie down. This was not difficult; for the instant she saw what she had done, how she had disgraced herself and insulted her nephew. Selina felt sorry. Her passion ended in a gush of “nervous” tears under the influence of which she was led up stairs and put to bed, almost like a child—the usual termination of these pitiful outbreaks.