The Christmas holidays ended, and Ascott left for London. It was the greatest household change the Misses Leaf had known for years, and they missed him sorely. Ascott was not exactly a lovable boy, and yet, after the fashion of womankind, his aunts were both fond and proud of him; fond, in their childless old maidenhood, of any sort of nephew, and proud, unconsciously, that the said nephew was a big fellow, who could look over all their heads, besides being handsome and pleasant mannered, and though not clever enough to set the Thames on fire, still sufficiently bright to make them hope that in his future the family star might again rise.
There was something pathetic in these three women’s idealization of him—even Selina’s who though quarrelling with him to his face always praised him behind his back,—that great, good-looking, lazy lad; who, every body else saw clearly enough, thought more of his own noble self than of all his aunts put together.
The only person he stood in awe of was Mr. Lyon—for whom he always protested unbounded respect and admiration. How far Robert Lyon liked Ascott even Hilary could never quite find out; but he was always very kind to him.
There was one person in the house who, strange to say, did not succumb to the all-dominating youth. From the very first there was a smouldering feud between him and Elizabeth. Whether she overheard, and slowly began to comprehend his mocking gibes about the “South Sea Islander,” or whether her sullen and dogged spirit resisted the first attempts the lad made to “put upon her”—as he did upon his aunts, in small daily tyrannies—was never found out; but certainly Ascott, the general favorite, found little favor with the new servant. She never answered when he “hollo’d” for her; she resisted blacking his boots more than once a day; and she obstinately cleared the kitchen fire-place of his “messes,” as she ignominiously termed various pots and pans belonging to what he called his “medical studies.”
Although the war was passive rather than aggressive, and sometimes a source of private amusement to the aunts, still, on the whole, it was a relief when the exciting cause of it departed; his new and most gentlemanly port manteau being carried down stairs by Elizabeth herself, of her own accord, with an air of cheerful alacrity, foreign to her mien for some weeks past, and which, even in the midst of the dolorous parting, amused Hilary extremely.
“I think that girl is a character,” she said afterward to Johanna. “Any how she has curiously strong likes and dislikes.”
“You may say that, my dear; for she brightens up whenever she looks at you.”
“Does she? Oh, that must be because I have most to do with her. It is wonderful how friendly one gets over sauce pans and brooms; and what reverence one inspires in the domestic mind when one really knows how to make a bed or a pudding.”