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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter VII

page 37

Chapter VII.

IIt was decided that Addie's wedding should not take place for at least twelve months, so that for the present the girls could devote their attention to the concert and sale of work that were now so shortly to take place. The arrangements for the concert were left almost entirely to Netta; and, being so near Christmas, there was also, of course, a good deal of extra parish work to be attended to. But Netta was strong and perfectly healthy, and would have been able to bear the strain very well, had she taken proper care of herself, but self-abnegation was one of Netta's chief characteristics, and self was never thought of even in the matter of food: as Addie said, if Agnes made her any particular little dainties, she invariably took them to the Parkers. Bessie was very poorly just then, and her mother nearly as bad. The mother's illness was to a great degree brought on by her fretfulness of temper, and her self-reproach and remorse for her past extravagances.

The Parkers were comparative strangers at Fanarth, but still it was well known that they had once been very rich; and the old lady felt their present position very much. Her constant cry was "To think that she should have come to be dependent on charity!" Netta was the only one who could soothe and comfort her, and so often sat with her and Bessie when she ought to have been taking her well-earned and much-needed rest.

Her father had more than once said that he was afraid her work would prove too much for her; but the collapse came sooner than he expected. Netta had come in one evening, cold and tired, and was going to take her accustomed seat at the fire, when suddenly the room seemed to turn round, and she would have page 38 fallen heavily to the ground had not her father caught her in his arms. He lay her on the sofa, and poor Addie thought she would die there and then, for every vestige of colour had left Netta's face. Howover, after two or three hours' perfect rest, and a cup or two of hot milk, sipped very slowly—Netta's usual remedy when very tired—she felt better, and when Mr. Webster and Ernest came in later on to try their songs for the concert, she said she was quite able to play their accompaniments; but her father gave a very decided "No." He said that for the present, at least, she must act the invalid.

"Then, dear," he said, turning to Netta, "we must give you a change; we must send you somewhere from here for a little while; I have seen for some time that the work was too much for you."

"Oh! it is not the work, papa," said Netta; "it is constantly going to see those poor people, and being able to give them so little practical help. If I could only earn money in some way! I wish I knew of some rich people who wanted a governess for their children, and who would not mind giving a good salary; it would be a change for me, and I could give Bessie a little change, too. I believe she would get over her illness yet if she had change of air, and plenty of good, nourishing food; but she will never get better where she is."

There had never been one word of love spoken between Alfred Webster and Netta; still he knew perfectly well that if ever he married it would be to Netta Bateman. At present he had no home to offer her; but he knew his own power, and felt that in time he would be able to offer her, if not a luxurious home, still a name that she need not be ashamed of; he also felt that Netta would not refuse that name. Meanwhile, he was content to wait, so long as she was near him, but to have her exposed to the "tender mercies" of the Atlantic Ocean, especially at that time of the year, and then be so far away, was quite another thing. So when Netta spoke of some rich people, and a big salary, he moved uneasily in his chair, and his colour changed more than once. What a battle he was fighting with his conscience just then! The tempter spoke loudly, and authoritatively, "Burn the letter; page 39 say nothing about it; no one will be the wiser;" but the still small voice of right whispered "You will be unworthy of the love you crave if you do."

There is one supreme battle fought in the lives of most people; if right prevails, then the character is strengthened, and the next victory becomes easier: on the other hand, if wrong prevails, the character invariably suffers after. I know not if then was fought the supreme battle in Alfred Webster's life; but judging from his appearance it must have been a very hard struggle. However, right prevailed, and, after steadying his voice as best he could, he said:

"It is a very strange coincidence, but, when I was on the Continent, I met an American lady—a widow—with one little girl, and immensely rich. When she went back to London, I gave her a letter of introduction to my parents, and this morning I had a letter from my sister, saying that directly after Christmas she is going home, and wishes very much to take back with her an English lady as governess to her little girl; salary, I know, would not stand in the way."

"I am afraid the child would be terribly spoiled," said Netta.

"I think not," answered Mr. Webster; "her mother did her best, but so far the attempt had failed. She is a loving and lovable little thing, and passionately fond of music."

"May I go, papa?" whispered Netta.

"My dear child, how can we spare you!" said the father; "besides, I don't like to think of my little girl earning her own bread."

"Oh, papa! I won't mind that a bit, and you know I am fond of children; I am half in love with the little girl already," said Netta. But no one else seemed to care for the arrangement; however, Netta enlarged so on all the advantages that her father promised to write to Mrs. Hargreaves in the morning.

When Mr. Webster and Ernest went back to the Hall, and spoke about it to Mrs. Mordaunt:

"Well, Alfred," she said, "I meant to write to your parents to-morrow to ask them to spend Christmas with us; I will now page 40 include your friend in the invitation, so that if Miss Bateman really does go—and I think the change might do her good, she cannot possibly go on much longer as she is—she will not be quite among strangers."

In a week or so, Mr. and Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Hargreaves and Olive came down to the Hall, and the Batemans were asked over to meet them. Mrs. Hargreaves and Netta were delighted with each other; as for Olive, she promised to be good, goods, goodest, if Miss Bateman would only be her governess, and fairly went into raptures over Netta's playing.

"And now, Miss Bateman, when shall we start?" said Mrs. Hargreaves; for, as she told Mrs. Mordaunt, she was determined to have Netta at any price. "I am longing to be at home once more."

"You will, of course, stay here till after the concert," said Mrs. Mordaunt, "and then you can go back to London, and Miss Bateman will follow you as soon as she is ready."

"Oh, mamma, mayn't we stay here till Miss Bateman comes, too?" pleaded Olive. "I like being here, I do, and hate London, where you can't go out without a hat on and gloves"-gloves were Olive's pet aversion,—"and where there are no nice ponies to ride."

"That's right, Olive," cried Ernest; "you shall stay any way, even if mamma does go back to that horrid London; you will stay with me, won't you?"

"I will stay with you for ever and ever," said Olive; "I will marry you."

"Will you, little one?" said Ernest, with a sly look at Addie; "well, we'll have a ride on the ponies now; we'll see about the other proposal after."

"Woman's rights!" said Alfred, laughing.

"Now you will stay, won't you?" asked Mrs. Mordaunt "Have you many preparations to make in town?"

"Oh, no!" answered Mrs. Hargreaves; "I can accomplish all in a few days."

So it was decided that they were to stay, much to the satisfaction of Olive, who "did not want to go back to that horrid, page 41 noisy London; but wished she could go to sleep at the Hall and wake up the next morning at her own beautiful home in America." But poor little Olive was destined to go back to her beautiful home without her "darling" Miss Bateman.

"Papa, will you be very busy to-morrow?" asked Netta, some days after the concert, which passed off most successfully.

"Not very," answered Mr. Bateman; "I have one or two families at the further end of the parish whom I have not visited for some time. I had thought of going to see them tomorrow."

"That will do beautifully," said Netta; "if you will please drive me round too; otherwise I am afraid I shall never get my 'good-byes' over have been out three days and have just been to three places: there's no getting away."

"Very well," said the father; "as the days are so short we had better start directly after breakfast."

Mr. Bateman little thought then, that it would be his "goodbye," and not Netta's.

It was one of those mild, sunny days with which we are sometimes favoured, even in mid-winter; and Mr. Bateman and Netta had had a most enjoyable day. They were both great favourites, and rich and poor had been very glad to see them; and hoped "Miss Netta" would soon be back amongst them again.

They were driving home in the dusk, and Mr. Bateman was remarking on some white object which he thought he saw on the road. He had scarcely finished speaking, when the horse suddenly shied, and turned completely round. Netta and her father were both thrown out of the phaeton, but in some miraculous way Netta escaped unhurt. "When she recovered from the shock, she saw her father lying in a heap on the ground.

"Are you hurt, papa?" she cried. No answer. "Papa! speak to me, papa!" she again cried.

Mr. Bateman uttered a low groan, and fell back heavily to the ground. Poor Netta was in despair! But luckily there were some men going home from their work at the time, and they came to the rescue.

page 42

The horse was now standing perfectly still, and looking as if thoroughly ashamed of the mischief it had done. The men tried to lift Mr. Bateman in the phaeton, but finding they could not do so, they made a litter, and carried him home, whilst one of their number drove off for the doctor.

"How is our friend?" asked Mr. Mordaunt, who had gone over to meet the doctor as he came from the Manor-house.

"He may live, perhaps, for years," replied the doctor; "but he will never preach again."

. . . . . .

"Are you there, Netta?"

"Yes, papa."

"Are the Websters gone?"

"No, papa; they are in the dining-room talking to Mr. Colborne."

"They are quite reconciled now to living in the country, and are going to rent one of Ernest's new cottages," said Mr. Bateman.

"I think it will be a very pretty cottage; I saw it yesterday," replied Netta.

"I am very, very sorry for them," said Mr. Bateman; "they seem to have a good deal to reproach themselves for. Mrs. Webster says that if they had lived quietly, but comfortably, as the Mordaunts live at the Hall, they might have made ample provision for old age; besides, they can now see that Alfred ought to be thinking about a home for himself."

"We can wait, papa."

"Wait till the old people die! Not a very nice thought for the old people. How pleasant it would be for you three, if you would live on here in the old home, and Addie at the Hall, and Agnes settled at the Rectory."

"But Agnes is not settled at all yet, papa," said Netta, laughing.

"No, not yet, not yet; but Mr. Colborne spoke to me to-day; and I think it quite likely that he will be Hector of Fanarth some day; the living is in the gift of his uncle."

"Don't you think you had better go to sleep, papa? I am afraid you have had too many visitors to-day," said Netta, putting her cool hand on her father's forehead.

page 43

"No, child, I can't sleep: the Websters have set me thinking. How long is it now since the accident?"

"A little over four months, papa."

"I wonder Mr. Cromby does not write."

"He has, papa."

"And accepts my resignation, of course?" asked Mr. Bate-man, a little huskily.

"He hopes to be home now in a week or so, and says that he will then see about it."

"Then, I suppose, Mr. Colborne will formally take my place. What are we to do then, Netta?"

"Agnes and I are going to open a school, papa."

"Open a school! Then my little girl will have to work for her own bread after all, and her father's, too," he said, looking fondly at Netta. "Your old age pension would not be amiss now, Netta."

"Oh, Agnes and I will do beautifully, papa; we have been promised several pupils already."

"But I should have made some provision for this. If I had my time over again——"

"Nevermind, papa," said Netta, smiling; "you can formulate an old age pension scheme for others instead."

"Taking as a basis Joe Wiseman's annuity stamp?"

"What do you really think of that, papa?" asked Netta.

"I don't see why it should not do," replied her father. "It would be very convenient and easily worked, and if there were some such easy method, the habit might become pretty general, even if it were not compulsory."

"I should try to go to sleep now, then, if I were you," repeated Netta, kissing her father's feverish brow; "and next week we will work out all the details of the scheme, and then send it out to the colonies, so that they can profit by our experience."

"My dear child," answered the father, "I am afraid that young countries are like young people—they prefer buying their experience. But something ought to be done. 'Poverty is a heavy burden when on the shoulders of an old man.'"

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