Sydney’s silent answer touched the mother’s heart; she kissed her little friend. “I hope you will let her call me Syd,” she said gently; “it reminds me of a happier time.” Her voice faltered; she could say no more. Kitty explained, with the air of a grown person encouraging a child. “I know all about it, mamma. She means the time when her papa was alive. She lost her papa when she was a little girl like me. I didn’t disturb her. I only said, ‘My name’s Kitty; may I get up on the bed?’ And she was quite willing; and we talked. And I helped her to dress.” Mrs. Linley led Sydney to the sofa, and stopped the flow of her daughter’s narrative. The look, the voice, the manner of the governess had already made their simple appeal to her generous nature. When her husband took Kitty’s hand to lead her with him out of the room, she whispered as he passed: “You have done quite right; I haven’t a doubt of it now!”
Mrs. Presty Changes Her Mind.
The two ladies were alone.
Widely as the lot in life of one differed from the lot in life of the other, they presented a contrast in personal appearance which was more remarkable still. In the prime of life, tall and fair—the beauty of her delicate complexion and her brilliant blue eyes rivaled by the charm of a figure which had arrived at its mature perfection of development—Mrs. Linley sat side by side with a frail little dark-eyed creature, thin and pale, whose wasted face bore patient witness to the three cruelest privations under which youth can suffer—want of fresh air, want of nourishment, and want of kindness. The gentle mistress of the house wondered sadly if this lost child of misfortune was capable of seeing the brighter prospect before her that promised enjoyment of a happier life to come.
“I was afraid to disturb you while you were resting,” Mrs. Linley said. “Let me hope that my housekeeper has done what I might have done myself, if I had seen you when you arrived.”
“The housekeeper has been all that is good and kind to me, madam.”
“Don’t call me ‘madam’; it sounds so formal—call me ’Mrs. Linley.’ You must not think of beginning to teach Kitty till you feel stronger and better. I see but too plainly that you have not been happy. Don’t think of your past life, or speak of your past life.”
“Forgive me, Mrs. Linley; my past life is my one excuse for having ventured to come into this house.”
“In what way, my dear?”
At the moment when that question was put, the closed curtains which separated the breakfast-room from the library were softly parted in the middle. A keen old face, strongly marked by curiosity and distrust, peeped through—eyed the governess with stern scrutiny—and retired again into hiding.
The introduction of a stranger (without references) into the intimacy of the family circle was, as Mrs. Presty viewed it, a crisis in domestic history. Conscience, with its customary elasticity, adapted itself to the emergency, and Linley’s mother-in-law stole information behind the curtain—in Linley’s best interests, it is quite needless to say.