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“Your own first cousin, Francis,” expostulates the elder Miss Theobald.
“My own first cousin, Anne. I became his heir by accident, and I feel exceedingly grateful to him-for his sudden death; but I am not going to wear mourning for him. Jenny, my dear, you have never heard the story of our good fortune ? You shall hear it in a dozen words. Once upon a time, long ago, our cousin James made a will, leaving all the worldly goods he possessed to me. Since then, certain actions of mine having displeased him, he made up bis mind to cut me off with a shilling, had a new will drawn out to that effect, and died before he had signed it, leaving me, whether he liked it or not, his heir-at-law. Well, I say I am exceedingly grateful to him ou many accounts, but I am not going to wear sackcloth and ashes because he is dead. Black does not become me, Jane, nor you either.”
“Become! You can view a duty in such a light as that !” exclaims Charlotte, with fierce contempt. “What do you suppose the neighbourhood—what do you suppose our friends will think when they see you flaunting about in every colour of the rainbow.”
Mr. Theobald is habited in a black morning coat, the rest of his dress is of soberest neutral tints. “Every colour of the rainbow? Why, Charlotte, you must be getting blind, like me. What flaunting colours have I got about me? I, who pride myself upon my chaste severity of style!"
“ You can turn what I say into ridicule, Francis. I am in no humour for joking.” A sniff for every full stop. “For you and your wife to appear in Chalkshire out of mourning is
“ To set Mrs. Grundy openly and deliberately at defiance, Charlotte,” interrupts Theobald, putting up his glass again, and looking across good-humouredly at his younger sister's face. “Precisely. Well, I have set Mrs. Grundy at defiance all my life
"You have indeed,” says Charlotte, with a glance at Jane.
“I shall probably do so till I die. I am too old to change my ways, and Mrs. Grundy, once set at naught, is not a lady to be easily propitiated. Bloss, young woman, come here, and let me hear some of your wise opinions on things in general.”
Blossy rushes across the room, and springs, helter-skelter, into her father's arms, where she commences her usual fusillade of chatter, her back well turned upon the two “narsy” ladies in black. The elder Miss Theobald clears her throat, mentally measures the width of Jane's flounces, then, in the tone of one who has made a discovery, remarks that “It is light enough, really, to read yet," qualifying the proposition, however, by adding that “ June is a month in which one must expect long days.” Jane, who has not the faintest notion of sustaining conversation of this kind, answers bluntly, "Why, yes, of
course we must,” then is silent. Miss Charlotte, her face gray and sharp in the twilight, her smooth snake-shaped head erect, her hands resting, in a somewhat masculine mode peculiar to herself, on either knee, sits, evidently collecting her forces for a new assault.
“You won't find many friends in the neighbourhood, I should say, Francis,” she asks, or, more correctly speaking, asserts, after a time.
“Eh—friends ? Not a soul,” answers Theobald, who is choking with suppressed laughter over some whispered family criticism of Blossy's. “At least, I don't know yet whether I shall or not. What sort of regiment have you got at Lidlington now?"
“ Really I cannot inform you. We live in extremely quiet style, Anne and I, as befits our income. We do not,” her head becoming more and more erect—" we do not entertain the military.” Theobald's hardly-suppressed laughter at this point gets the better of him. “Nor was I speaking of mere acquaintance. Regimental people, here to-day and gone to-morrow. But friends-real sterling friends.”
“Ah, real sterling friends are very rare birds, my dear Charlotte,” says Mr. Theobald, pulling one of Blossy's yellow curls.
“No doubt you have found them so. Anne and I have thirty-six resident families on our visiting list. But you have chosen to spend your life in wandering. The rolling stone gathers no moss.'”
“ Thank heaven, it does not,” says Theobald, wilfully misapplying the proverb. "There's that one blessing in being a professional tramp; you never get moss-grown. Jane, my love," and he turns, with an expression singularly irritating to Miss Charlotte, towards his wife," what do you think of Theobalds ? I have been hearing Blossy's commentaries. Let me hear yours.”
Now Jane, ten short minutes ago, had resolved to strive her uttermost, not to play the hypocrite, but by all lawful means to conciliate her husband's sisters. She desired, for Blossy's sake, that they should tolerate her. She hoped that they would, at least, be won by the child's grace and beauty and sweetness into overlooking her demerits. But Miss Charlotte's biting speeches, the chilly condescension of Miss Theobald, have already sufficed to turn every good disposition of this ignorant impulsive creature's heart to gall. Theobald was right on points of social wisdom. When was he not right? Mrs. Grundy, once set at defiance, can never be conciliated more in this life! The Miss Theobalds were just as much her antagonists as was Mrs. Crosbie, as would be every woman in Chalkshire. And she would treat them all alike!
“What I think of Theobalds ? Well, my dear, I think it smells damp."
The sisters exchange a petrified glance. “That shows its antiquity, Jenny," says Theobald. “Badge of blue blood for a house to smell mildewed. How do you like this room? Nice old carved ceiling, isn't it?"
Jane looks up at the dingy arabesque above her head, at the heavy centre-piece, the cupids exercising their dislocated arms and legs in the corners. “I don't think I am any judge of carved ceilings," she remarks, coolly.
“I dare say not,” exclaims Miss Charlotte. “Such a ceiling as this is a Work of Art. Such a ceiling as this is never to be met with out of a gentleman's house."
“When all these heavy hangings are cleared away,” Jane proceeds, “and when we get modern furniture, and white curtains, and plenty of flowers, and line-yes, line the walls with looking-glass, I think the room may be pretty. It hasn't a bit the look of a room that people could live in now.”
Anne Theobald rises to her feet, her soul, being weaker, more horror-stricken even than Charlotte's by such unexampled audacity. “If you will permit me, Francis, I will ring for the carriage. You and Mrs. Theobald will, doubtless, be glad to be alone to talk over your domestic arrangements.”
And the icy tone, the formal “Mrs. Theobald,” are deadlier thrusts, covert though they may be, than any of Miss Charlotte's open ones. Even Theobald winces for the moment under their effect.
The ladies go upstairs to put on their bonnets, and Jane, grimly invited thereto by Miss Charlotte, accompanies them. Stout heart though she has, she feels a greater coward than she ever felt in her life before as soon as she has quitted the protecting presence of Blossy and Theobald, and finds herself alone with her sisters-in-law. Every blind is down, every window closed, throughout the house. At three in winter, at six in summer, it is an article of the Miss Theobalds' faith that outer air shall be excluded from curtains and French polish. The indescribable mustiness of old wood pervades the staircase; a mingled flavour of dry rot, lavender, and feather beds is in the sleeping rooms. Jane feels as though she would stifle! They conduct her through two or three smaller chambers to the purple, or best, room of the house. It is of the same dimensions as the drawing-room, and contains a huge four-post bedstead, the like of which Jane never saw in her life before-a four-post bedstead draped with purple damask, and covered with a purple satin counterpane, upon which repose the crape bonnets and mantles of the Miss Theobalds. They are arrangel with extraordinary neatness-each sister's bonnet exactly over her own long black mantle—and, to Jane's fancy, look, in this dim light, unpleasantly like the dead and “laid-out” bodies of former Theobalds.
“Our cousin James died here," remarks Miss Charlotte. “I conclude you and my brother will choose it for your own room. has been got ready for the child at the further end of the house."
“Blossy always sleeps at my side,” says Jane. “This is a very handsome room, certainly; but perhaps one with rather more light and air in it would do better for her."
“I think, Charlotte,” says Miss Theobald, suavely, “you will be wise to offer no opinions at all on matters connected with taste. I really think so."
And then, each before a separate glass, the sisters silently make ready for their departure. The toilette-tables are precisely alike. The Miss Theobalds' dresses are alike. Everything in the room, even to the purple watch-pockets above the pillows, seems mysteriously duplicated. If two dead cousin Jameses were suddenly to rise up and take possession again, Jane feels there would be nothing startling or out of place in the apparition.
“Now, if you could hurry a little, Anne," Miss Charlotte's sharp voice rings through the gloom. “How in the world can it matter at this time of night whether your bonnet-strings are geometrically even or not? You know what Thomas is if the horse is kept.”
Anne Theobald, thus admonished, begins groping about, all in a flurry, for a pin; and Jane, perceiving her need, politely takes one from her own waist-belt and offers it.
“I thank you,” says Miss Theobald, opening her dreary eyes wide. “I am in mourning. I want a Black One."
Jane shrinks away conscience-stricken.
Mr. Theobald is waiting at the house-door when they come down, so has the advantage of a few pleasant words alone with his sisters ; for after a chill good-night Jane flies off-to Blossy, anywhere, where her relations are not.
“You have the same old trap still, I see, Charlotte ?" Cheerfully he speaks, as a man determined neither to give offence nor to take it.
A pause broken only by the clink of Theobald's eye-glass as it falls down against his waistcoat-buttons. Thomas, the white-gloved serious coachman, stands outside, a figure of wood, holding open the door of the heavy old-fashioned brougham. Diocletian, the whitestockinged serious cob, stands also, looking straight away, down his own melancholy Roman nose, into futurity.
“ Have you given Francis the key, Anne ?” Miss Charlotte asks at length, her voice duly subdued by reason of Thomas's presence.
Miss Theobald draws forth a rusty big key from her pocket, and places it, with Blue-beard solemnity, in her brother's hand. “The cellar key, Francis. You are aware that under poor cousin James'sahem! under the peculiar circumstances of your inheritance, even the wine in the cellar becomes yours.'
“ I hope there is plenty there,” says Mr. Theobald. “About the quality of it I have no doubt.”
“Well, no," Miss Theobald assents. “ Most things in this house, I believe, are genuine.”
Although they may not suit the modern fast school of ideas!" Miss Charlotte, loquitur.
Theobald, upon this, takes the initiative. “Jane has excellent taste in everything that may be called decorative art, my dear Charlotte-you were alluding to Jane, were you not ?-indeed she has excellent taste on most points, I think. The drawing-room really does want brightening up and modernising. You'll agree with Jenny, I'm sure, when you see the changes she makes."
“ It is a painful thing to us to see change of any kind in Theobalds, a very painful thing.” Miss Theobald enunciates this truth after the manner of some men when they give out a text, and follows it up with a sigh. “However, what must be must be !" she adds, after a minute's uncomfortable silence.
“Yes,” says Charlotte, taking up the ball, “ what must be, must. And our duty is to make the best of it. Francis,” laying her thin hand, with as near an approach to affection as she is capable of, on Theobald's arm, “I wish you to understand one thing. We have been long estranged from you, and the fault, as you know, has not been ours. But now that you have returned to your early home, I wish and mean to do my duty towards you—towards you, and towards those belonging to you, as well."
Theobald groans in the spirit; the recollections of his youth fornishing him with only too many illustrations of what his sister Charlotte understands by that terrible word “duty.” “I am quite sure you'll get on with Jenny in time, both of you,” he remarks, evasively. "No," answers Charlotte, “ that we shall never do.
I will speak for myself. I shall never get on with your wife, or like her, any more than she will like or get on with me, while I live. These things cannot be, Francis. She belongs to another class; she belongs to another world than ours."
"To quite another world!" Mr. Theobald responds, under his breath.
"But she is your wife-she is my sister-in-law. And, since you have brought her here to live, I must do my duty in taking her by the band as best I can."
“ You are extremely good, Charlotte. Just be kind and amiable in your own manner to her, and poor Jenny will ask no more. She does not expect, I do not myself expect, to be noticed by any of the people in the neighbourhood.”
“You will be content for your wife to live, and for your child to grow up-not visited ?”
“I shall be perfectly contented for our neighbours to please themselves. Jane and I will run after none of them, you may be quite
If the neighbourhood doesn't like us, or we don't like the