Ellen came in, expecting to regale her eyes with the newest fashions. Or were they all coming down from the dressmaker?
“I had no time to be worried with dressmakers,” said Caroline.
“I thought you went there while the girls were going about with Mrs. Acton.”
“Indeed no. I had just got my new bonnet for the winter.”
“And indeed, I have not inherited any more heads.”
Ellen sighed at the impracticability of her sister-in-law and the blindness of fortune. But nobody could sigh long in the face of that Twelfth-day Christmas-tree. What need be said of it but that each member of the house of Brownlow, and each of its dependents, obtained the very thing that the bright-eyed fairy of the family had guessed would be most acceptable.
Happiest of all, in that her gentle spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed.
Merchant of Venice.
“It is our melancholy duty to record the demise of James Barnes, Esq., which took place at his residence at Belforest Park, near Kenminster, on the 20th of December. The lamented gentleman had long been in failing health, and an attack of paralysis, which took place on the 19th, terminated fatally. The vast property which the deceased had accumulated, chiefly by steamboat and railway speculations in the West Indies, rendered him one of the richest proprietors in the county. We understand that the entire fortune is bequeathed solely to his grand-niece, Mrs. Caroline Otway Brownlow, widow of the late Joseph Brownlow, Esq., and at present resident in the Pagoda, Kenminster Hill. Her eldest son, Allen Brownlow, Esq., is being educated at Eton.”
That was the paragraph which David Ogilvie placed before the eyes of his sister in a newspaper lent to him in the train by a courteous fellow-traveller.
“Poor Caroline!” said Mary.
They said no more till the next day, when, after the English service at Florence, they were strolling together towards San Miniato, and feeling themselves entirely alone.
“I wonder whether this is true,” began Mary at last.
“Why not true?”
“I thought Mr. Barnes had threatened the boys that they should remember the Midas escapade.”
“It must have been only a threat. It could only lie between her and the Spanish child; and, if report be true, even the half would be an enormous fortune.”
“Will it be fortune or misfortune, I wonder?”
“At any rate, it puts an end to my chances of being of any service to her. Be it the half or the whole, she is equally beyond my reach.”
“As she was before.”
“Don’t misinterpret me, Mary. I mean out of reach of helping her in any way. I was of little use to her before. I could not save little Armine from those brutal bullies, and never suspected the abuse that engulphed Bobus. I am not fit for a schoolmaster.”