‘Indeed,’ said Mrs. Dusautoy, anxious to console and encourage, as well as to talk the young step-mother out of her self-reproach, ’I do not think that if I had been my good aunt’s own child, she would have been more likely to find out that anything was amiss. It was the fashion to be strong and healthy in that house, and I was never really ill—but I came as a little stunted, dwining cockney, and so I was considered ever after—never quite comfortable, often forgetting myself in enjoyment, paying for it afterwards, but quite used to it. We all thought it was “only Fanny,” and part of my London breeding. Yes, we thought so in good faith, even after the largest half of my life had been spent in Yorkshire.’
‘And what brought it to a crisis? Did they go on neglecting you?’ exclaimed Albinia.
‘Why, my dear,’ said the little lady, a glow lighting on her cheek, and a smile awakening, ’my uncle took a new curate, whom it was the family custom to call “the good-natured giant,” and whose approach put all of us young ladies in a state of great excitement. It was all in character with his good-nature, you know, to think of dragging the poor little shrimp up the hill to church, and I believe he did not know how she would get on without his strong arm; for do you know, when he had the curacy of Lauriston given him, he chose to carry the starveling off with him, instead of any of those fine, handsome prosperous girls. Dear Mary and Bessie! how good they were, and how kind and proud for me! I never could complain of not having sisters.’
‘Well, and Mr. Dusautoy made you have advice?’
’Not he! Why, we all believed it cockneyism, you know, and besides, I was so happy and so well, that when we went to Scotland, I fairly walked myself off my legs, and ended the honeymoon laid up in a little inn on Loch Katrine, where John used regularly to knock his head whenever he came into the room. It was a fortnight before I could get to Edinburgh, and the journey made me as bad as ever. So the doctors were called in, and poor John learnt what a crooked stick he had chosen; but they all said that if I had been taken in hand as a child, most likely I should have been a sound woman. The worst of it was, that I was so thoroughly knocked up that I could not bear the motion of a carriage; besides, I suppose the doctors wanted a little amusement out of me, for they would not hear of my going home. So poor John had to go to Lauriston by himself, and those were the longest, dreariest six months I ever spent in my life, though Bessie was so good as to come and take care of me. But at last, when I had nearly made up my mind to defy the whole doctorhood, they gave leave, and between water and steam, John brought me to Lauriston, and ever since that, I don’t see that a backbone would have made us a bit happier.’