Small as I was that was too much for me. Somewhere in my little heart there had long been a secret pang of mortified pride—how born I do not know—at seeing Aunt Bridget take the place of my mother, and now, choking with vexation but without saying a word, I swept off the heads of all the flowers in the bed, and with my arms full of them—ten times more than I wanted—I sailed back to my mother’s room.
Inside two minutes there was a fearful tumult. I thought I was doomed to punishment when I heard the big bunch of keys, which Aunt Bridget kept suspended from her waist, come jingling up the stairs, but it was my poor mother who paid the penalty.
“Isabel,” cried Aunt Bridget, “I hope you are satisfied with your child at last.”
“What has Mary been doing now, dear?” said my mother.
“Don’t ask me what she has been doing. You know quite well, or if you don’t you ought to.”
My mother glanced at the flowers and she seemed to understand what had happened, for her face fell and she said submissively,
“Mary has done wrong, but I am sure she is sorry and will never do it again.”
“Sorry, indeed!” cried my Aunt. “Not she sorry. And she’ll do it again at the very next opportunity. The vixen! The little wilful, underhand vixen! But what wonder if children go wrong when their own mothers neglect to correct them.”
“I daresay you are quite right, dear Bridget—you are always right,” said my mother in a low, grave voice. “But then I’m not very well, and Mary is all I have, you know.”
My mother was in tears by this time, but Aunt Bridget was not content with her triumph. Sweeping downstairs she carried her complaint to my father, who ordered that I was to be taken out of my mother’s charge on the ground that she was incapable of attending to my upbringing—a task which, being assigned to my Aunt Bridget, provided that I should henceforward live on the ground floor and eat oaten cake and barley bonnag and sleep alone in the cold room over the hall while Betsy Beauty ate wheaten bread and apple tart and slept with her mother in the room over the kitchen in which they always kept a fire.
The altered arrangements were a cause of grief to my mother, but I am bound to confess that for me they had certain compensations. One of them was the greater ease with which I could slip out to Tommy the Mate, who had been a sailor before he was a gardener, and was still a fine old salt, with grizzled beard and shaggy eyebrows, and a merry twinkle in what he called his “starboard” eye.
I think Tommy was one of the few about my father’s house who were really fond of me, but perhaps that was mainly because he loathed aunt Bridget. He used to call her the Big Woman, meaning that she was the master and mistress of everything and everybody about the place. When he was told of any special piece of her tyranny to servant or farmhand he used to say: “Aw, well, she’ll die for all”; and when he heard how she had separated me from my mother, who had nothing else to love or live for, he spat sideways out of his mouth and said: