Seeing that the child was making poor progress, and as it was out of the question to dismiss a governess who had been entrusted with the three daughters of the Duchess of Dulworth, Lady Durwent sent for reinforcement in the person of the organist of their church, and bade him teach Elise the art of the piano. With the dull lack of vision belonging to men of his type, he failed to recognise the spirit of music lying in her breast, merely waiting the call to spring into life. He knew that her home was one where music was unheard, and his method of unfolding to the girl the most spiritual and fundamental of all the arts was to give her SCALES. He was a kindly, well-intentioned fellow, and would not willingly have hurt a sparrow; but he took a nature doomed to suffer for lack of self-expression, and succeeded in walling up the great river of music which might have given her what she lacked. He hid the edifice and offered her scaffolding—then wondered.
Elise was consistent in few things, but her love for Richard, the youngest of the family, was of a depth and a mature tenderness that never varied. Doomed to an insufficient will-power and an easy, plastic nature that lent itself readily to the abbreviation ‘Dick,’ he quickly succumbed to his fiery-tinted sister, and became a willing dupe in all her escapades.
At her order he turned the hose on the head-gardener; when told to put mucilage on the rector’s chair at dinner, he merely asked for the pot. On six different occasions she offered him soap, telling him it was toffy, and each time he bit of it generously and without suspicion. Every one else in the house represented law and order to him—Elise was the spirit of outlawry, and he her slave. She taught him a dance of her own invention entitled ‘The Devil and the Maiden’ (with a certain inconsistency casting him as the maiden and herself as the Devil), and frequently, when ordered to go to bed, they would descend to the servants’ quarters and perform it to the great delight of the family retainers.
A favourite haunt of theirs was the stables, where they would persuade the grooms to place them on their father’s chargers; and they were frequent visitors at feeding-time, taking a never-ending delight in the gourmandism of the whinnying beasts, and finding particular joy in acquiring the language and the mannerisms of the stablemen, which they would reserve for, and solemnly use at, the next gathering of the neighbouring gentry.
When Elise was ten and Dick seven, she read him highwaymen’s tales until his large blue eyes almost escaped from their sockets. It was at the finish of one of these narratives of derring-do that she whispered temptation into his ear, with the result that they bided their opportunity, and, when the one groom on duty was asleep, repaired to the stables armed with a loaded shot-gun. After herculean efforts they succeeded in harnessing Lord Durwent’s famous hunter with the saddle back to front, the curb-bit choking the horse’s throat, the brow-band tightly strapped around the poor beast’s nostrils, the surcingle trailing in the dust.