Countess Kate

Author: Charlotte Mary Yonge

Chapter III.

In a very few days, Kate had been settled into the ways of the household in Bruton Street; and found one day so like another, that she sometimes asked herself whether she had not been living there years instead of days.

She was always to be ready by half-past seven. Her French maid, Josephine, used to come in at seven, and wash and dress her quietly, for if there were any noise Aunt Barbara would knock and be displeased. Aunt Barbara rose long before that time, but she feared lest Aunt Jane should be disturbed in her morning’s sleep; and Kate thought she had the ears of a dragon for the least sound of voice or laugh.

At half-past seven, Kate met Mrs. Lacy in the school-room, read the Psalms and Second Lesson, and learnt some answers to questions on the Catechism, to be repeated to Lady Barbara on a Sunday. For so far from playing at cards in a bird-of-paradise turban all Sunday, the aunts were quite as particular about these things as Mr. Wardour— more inconveniently so, the countess thought; for he always let her answer his examinations out of her own head, and never gave her answers to learn by heart; "Answers that I know before quite well," said Kate, "only not made tiresome with fine words."

"That is not a right way of talking, Lady Caergwent," gravely said Mrs. Lacy; and Kate gave herself an ill-tempered wriggle, and felt cross and rebellious.

It was a trial; but if Kate had taken it humbly, she would have found that even the stiff hard words and set phrases gave accuracy to her ideas; and the learning of the texts quoted would have been clear gain, if she had been in a meeker spirit.

This done, Mrs. Lacy gave her a music-lesson. This was grievous work, for the question was not how the learning should be managed, but whether the thing should be learnt at all.

Kate had struggled hard against it. She informed her aunts that Mary had tried to teach her for six weeks in vain, and that she had had a bad mark every day; that Papa had said it was all nonsense, and that talents could not be forced; and that Armyn said she had no more ear than an old pea-hen.

To which Lady Barbara had gravely answered, that Mr. Wardour could decide as he pleased while Katharine was under his charge, but that it would be highly improper that she should not learn the accomplishments of her station.

"Only I can’t learn," said Kate, half desperate; "you will see that it is no use, Aunt Barbara."

"I shall do my duty, Katharine," was all the answer she obtained; and she pinched her chair with suppressed passion.

Lady Barbara was right in saying that it was her duty to see that the child under her charge learnt what is usually expected of ladies; and though Kate could never acquire music enough to give pleasure to others, yet the training and discipline were likely not only to improve her ear and untamed voice, but to be good for her whole character—that is, if she had made a good use of them. But in these times, being usually already out of temper with the difficult answers of the Catechism questions, and obliged to keep in her pettish feelings towards what concerned sacred things, she let all out in the music lesson, and with her murmurs and her inattention, her yawns and her blunders, rendered herself infinitely more dull and unmusical than nature had made her, and was a grievous torment to poor Mrs. Lacy, and her patient, "One, two, three—now, my dear."

Kate thought it was Mrs. Lacy who tormented her! I wonder which was the worse to the other! At any rate, Mrs. Lacy’s heavy eyes looked heavier, and she moved as though wearied out for the whole day by the time the clock struck nine, and released them; whilst her pupil, who never was cross long together, took a hop, skip, and jump, to the dining-room, and was as fresh as ever in the eager hope that the post would bring a letter from home.

Lady Barbara read prayers in the dining-room at nine, and there breakfasted with Kate and Mrs. Lacy, sending up a tray to Lady Jane in her bed-room. Those were apt to be grave breakfasts; not like the merry mornings at home, when chatter used to go on in half whispers between the younger ones, with laughs, breaking out in sudden gusts, till a little over-loudness brought one of Mary’s good-natured "Hushes," usually answered with, "O Mary, such fun!"

It was Lady Barbara’s time for asking about all the lessons of the day before; and though these were usually fairly done, and Mrs. Lacy was always a kind reporter, it was rather awful; and what was worse, were the strictures on deportment. For it must be confessed, that Lady Caergwent, though neatly and prettily made, with delicate little feet and hands, and a strong upright back, was a remarkably awkward child; and the more she was lectured, the more ungraceful she made herself—partly from thinking about it, and from fright making her abrupt, partly from being provoked. She had never been so ungainly at Oldburgh; she never was half so awkward in the school-room, as she would be while taking her cup of tea from Lady Barbara, or handing the butter to her governess. And was it not wretched to be ordered to do it again, and again, and again, (each time worse than the last- -the fingers more crooked, the elbow more stuck out, the shoulder more forward than before), when there was a letter in Sylvia’s writing lying on the table unopened?

And whereas it had been the fashion at St. James’s Parsonage to compare Kate’s handing her plate to a chimpanzee asking for nuts, it was hard that in Bruton Street these manners should be attributed to the barbarous country in which she had grown up! But that, though Kate did not know it, was very much her own fault. She could never be found fault with but she answered again. She had been scarcely broken of replying and justifying herself, even to Mr. Wardour, and had often argued with Mary till he came in and put a sudden sharp stop to it; and now she usually defended herself with "Papa says—" or "Mary says—" and though she really thought she spoke the truth, she made them say such odd things, that it was no wonder Lady Barbara thought they had very queer notions of education, and that her niece had nothing to do but to unlearn their lessons. Thus:

"Katharine, easy-chairs were not meant for little girls to lounge in."

"Oh, Papa says he doesn’t want one always to sit upright and stupid."

So Lady Barbara was left to suppose that Mr. Wardour’s model attitude for young ladies was sitting upon one leg in an easy-chair, with the other foot dangling, the forehead against the back, and the arm of the chair used as a desk! How was she to know that this only meant that he had once had the misfortune to express his disapproval of the high-backed long-legged school-room chairs formerly in fashion? In fact, Kate could hardly be forbidden anything without her replying that Papa or Mary ALWAYS let her do it; till at last she was ordered, very decidedly, never again to quote Mr. and Miss Wardour, and especially not to call him Papa.

Kate’s eyes flashed at this; and she was so angry, that no words would come but a passionate stammering "I can’t—I can’t leave off; I won’t!"

Lady Barbara looked stern and grave. "You must be taught what is suitable to your position, Lady Caergwent; and until you have learnt to feel it yourself, I shall request Mrs. Lacy to give you an additional lesson every time you call Mr. Wardour by that name."

Aunt Barbara’s low slow way of speaking when in great displeasure was a terrific thing, and so was the set look of her handsome mouth and eyes. Kate burst into a violent fit of crying, and was sent away in dire disgrace. When she had spent her tears and sobs, she began to think over her aunt’s cruelty and ingratitude, and the wickedness of trying to make her ungrateful too; and she composed a thrilling speech, as she called it—"Lady Barbara Umfraville, when the orphan was poor and neglected, my Uncle Wardour was a true father to me. You may tear me with wild horses ere I will cease to give him the title of—No; and I will call him papa—no, father—with my last breath!"

What the countess might have done if Lady Barbara had torn her with wild horses must remain uncertain. It is quite certain that the mere fixing of those great dark eyes was sufficient to cut off Pa—at its first syllable, and turn it into a faltering "my uncle;" and that, though Kate’s heart was very sore and angry, she never, except once or twice when the word slipped out by chance, incurred the penalty, though she would have respected herself more if she had been brave enough to bear something for the sake of showing her love to Mr. Wardour.

And the fact was, that self-justification and carelessness of exact correctness of truth had brought all this upon her, and given her aunt this bad opinion of her friends!

But this is going a long way from the description of Kate’s days in Bruton Street.

After breakfast, she was sent out with Mrs. Lacy for a walk. If she had a letter from home, she read it while Josephine dressed her as if she had been a doll; or else she had a story book in hand, and was usually lost in it when Mrs. Lacy looked into her room to see if she were ready.

To walk along the dull street, and pace round and round the gardens in Berkeley Square, was not so entertaining as morning games in the garden with Sylvia; and these were times of feeling very like a prisoner. Other children in the gardens seemed to be friends, and played together; but this the aunts had forbidden her, and she could only look on, and think of Sylvia and Charlie, and feel as if one real game of play would do her all the good in the world.

To be sure she could talk to Mrs. Lacy, and tell her about Sylvia, and deliver opinions upon the characters in her histories and stories; but it often happened that the low grave "Yes, my dear," showed by the very tone that her governess had heard not a word; and at the best, it was dreary work to look up and discourse to nothing but the black crape veil that Mrs. Lacy always kept down.

"I cannot think why I should have a governess in affliction; it is very hard upon me!" said Kate to herself.

Why did she never bethink herself how hard the afflictions were upon Mrs. Lacy, and what good it would have done her if her pupil had tried to be like a gentle little daughter to her, instead of merely striving for all the fun she could get?

The lesson time followed. Kate first repeated what she had learnt the day before; and then had a French master two days in the week; on two more, one for arithmetic and geography; and on the other two, a drawing master. She liked these lessons, and did well in all, as soon as she left off citing Mary Wardour’s pronunciations, and ways of doing sums. Indeed, she had more lively conversation with her French master, who was a very good-natured old man, than with anyone else, except Josephine; and she liked writing French letters for him to correct, making them be from the imaginary little girls whom she was so fond of drawing, and sending them to Sylvia.

After the master was gone, Kate prepared for him for the next day, and did a little Italian reading with Mrs. Lacy; after which followed reading of history, and needle-work. Lady Barbara was very particular that she should learn to work well, and was a good deal shocked at her very poor performances. "She had thought that plain needle-work, at least, would be taught in a clergyman’s family."

"Mary tried to teach me; but she says all my fingers are thumbs."

And so poor Mrs. Lacy found them.

Mrs. Lacy and her pupil dined at the ladies’ luncheon; and this was pleasanter than the breakfast, from the presence of Aunt Jane, whose kiss of greeting was a comforting cheering moment, and who always was so much distressed and hurt at the sight of her sister’s displeasure, that Aunt Barbara seldom reproved before her. She always had a kind word to say; Mrs. Lacy seemed brighter and less oppressed in the sound of her voice; everyone was more at ease; and when speaking to her, or waiting upon her, Lady Barbara was no longer stern in manner nor dry in voice. The meal was not lively; there was nothing like the talk about parish matters, nor the jokes that she was used to; and though she was helped first, and ceremoniously waited on, she might not speak unless she was spoken to; and was it not very cruel, first to make everything so dull that no one could help yawning, and then to treat a yawn as a dire offence?

The length of the luncheon was a great infliction, because all the time from that to three o’clock was her own. It was a poor remnant of the entire afternoons which she and Sylvia had usually disposed of much as they pleased; and even what there was of it, was not to be spent in the way for which the young limbs longed. No one was likely to play at blind man’s buff and hare and hounds in that house; and even her poor attempt at throwing her gloves or a pen-wiper against the wall, and catching them in the rebound, and her scampers upstairs two steps at once, and runs down with a leap down the last four steps, were summarily stopped, as unladylike, and too noisy for Aunt Jane. Kate did get a private run and leap whenever she could, but never with a safe conscience; and that spoilt the pleasure, or made it guilty and alarmed.

All she could do really in peace was reading or drawing, or writing letters to Sylvia. Nobody had interfered with any of these occupations, though Kate knew that none of them were perfectly agreeable to Aunt Barbara, who had been heard to speak of children’s reading far too many silly story-books now-a-days, and had declared that the child would cramp her hand for writing or good drawing with that nonsense.

However, Lady Jane had several times submitted most complacently to have a whole long history in pictures explained to her, smiling very kindly, but not apparently much the wiser. And one, at least, of the old visions of wealth was fulfilled, for Kate’s pocket-money enabled her to keep herself in story-books and unlimited white paper, as well as to set up a paint-box with real good colours. But somehow, a new tale every week had not half the zest that stories had when a fresh book only came into the house by rare and much prized chances; and though the paper was smooth, and the blue and red lovely, it was not half so nice to draw and paint as with Sylvia helping, and the remains of Mary’s rubbings for making illuminations; nay, Lily spoiling everything, and Armyn and Charlie laughing at her were now remembered as ingredients in her pleasure; and she would hardly have had the heart to go on drawing but that she could still send her pictorial stories to Sylvia, and receive remarks on them. There were no more Lady Ethelindas in flounces in Kate’s drawings now; her heroines were always clergymen’s daughters, or those of colonists cutting down trees and making the butter.

At three o’clock the carriage came to the door; and on Mondays and Thursdays took Lady Caergwent and her governess to a mistress who taught dancing and calisthenic exercises, and to whom her aunts trusted to make her a little more like a countess than she was at present. Those were poor Kate’s black days of the week; when her feet were pinched, and her arms turned the wrong way, as it seemed to her; and she was in perpetual disgrace. And oh, that polite disgrace! Those wishes that her Ladyship would assume a more aristocratic deportment, were so infinitely worse than a good scolding! Nothing could make it more dreadful, except Aunt Barbara’s coming in at the end to see how she was getting on.

The aunts, when Lady Jane was well enough, used to take their drive while the dancing lesson was in progress, and send the carriage afterwards to bring their niece home. On the other days of the week, when it was fine, the carriage set Mrs. Lacy and Kate down in Hyde Park for their walk, while the aunts drove about; and this, after the first novelty, was nearly as dull as the morning walk. The quiet decorous pacing along was very tiresome after skipping in the lanes at home; and once, when Mrs. Lacy had let her run freely in Kensington Gardens, Lady Barbara was much displeased with her, and said Lady Caergwent was too old for such habits.

There was no sight-seeing. Kate had told Lady Jane how much she wished to see the Zoological Gardens and British Museum, and had been answered that some day when she was very good Aunt Barbara would take her there; but the day never came, though whenever Kate had been in no particular scrape for a little while, she hoped it was coming. Though certainly days without scrapes were not many: the loud tones, the screams of laughing that betrayed her undignified play with Josephine, the attitudes, the skipping and jumping like the gambols of a calf, the wonderful tendency of her clothes to get into mischief—all were continually bringing trouble upon her.

If a splash of mud was in the street, it always came on her stockings; her meals left reminiscences on all her newest dresses; her hat was always blowing off; and her skirts curiously entangled themselves in rails and balusters, caught upon nails, and tore into ribbons; and though all the repairs fell to Josephine’s lot, and the purchase of new garments was no such difficulty as of old, Aunt Barbara was even more severe on such mishaps than Mary, who had all the trouble and expense of them.

After the walk, Kate had lessons to learn for the next day—poetry, dates, grammar, and the like; and after them came her tea; and then her evening toilette, when, as the aunts were out of hearing, she refreshed herself with play and chatter with Josephine. She was supposed to talk French to her; but it was very odd sort of French, and Josephine did not insist on its being better. She was very goodnatured, and thought "Miladi" had a dull life; so she allowed a good many things that a more thoughtful person would have known to be inconsistent with obedience to Lady Barbara.

When dressed, Kate had to descend to the drawing-room, and there await her aunts coming up from dinner. She generally had a book of her own, or else she read bits of those lying on the tables, till Lady Barbara caught her, and in spite of her protest that at home she might always read any book on the table ordered her never to touch any without express permission.

Sometimes the aunts worked; sometimes Lady Barbara played and sang. They wanted Kate to sit up as they did with fancy work, and she had a bunch of flowers in Berlin wool which she was supposed to be grounding; but she much disliked it, and seldom set three stitches when her aunts’ eyes were not upon her. Lady Jane was a great worker, and tried to teach her some pretty stitches; but though she began by liking to sit by the soft gentle aunt, she was so clumsy a pupil, that Lady Barbara declared that her sister must not be worried, and put a stop to the lessons. So Kate sometimes read, or dawdled over her grounding; or when Aunt Barbara was singing, she would nestle up to her other aunt, and go off into some dreamy fancy of growing up, getting home to the Wardours, or having them to live with her at her own home; or even of a great revolution, in which, after the pattern of the French nobility, she should have to maintain Aunt Jane by the labour of her hands! What was to become of Aunt Barbara was uncertain; perhaps she was to be in prison, and Kate to bring food to her in a little basket every day; or else she was to run away: but Aunt Jane was to live in a nice little lodging, with no one to wait on her but her dear little niece, who was to paint beautiful screens for her livelihood, and make her coffee with her own hands. Poor Lady Jane!

Bed-time came at last—horrible bed-time, with all its terrors! At first Kate persuaded Josephine and her light to stay till sleep came to put an end to them; but Lady Barbara came up one evening, declared that a girl of eleven years old must not be permitted in such childish nonsense, and ordered Josephine to go down at once, and always to put out the candle as soon as Lady Caergwent was in bed.

Lady Barbara would hardly have done so if she had known how much suffering she caused; but she had always been too sensible to know what the misery of fancies could be, nor how the silly little brain imagined everything possible and impossible; sometimes that thieves were breaking in—sometimes that the house was on fire—sometimes that she should be smothered with pillows, like the princes in the Tower, for the sake of her title—sometimes that the Gunpowder Plot would be acted under the house!

Most often of all it was a thought that was not foolish and unreal like the rest. It was the thought that the Last Judgment might be about to begin. But Kate did not use that thought as it was meant to be used when we are bidden to "watch." If she had done so, she would have striven every morning to "live this day as if the last." But she never thought of it in the morning, nor made it a guide to her actions; or else she would have dreaded it less. And at night it did not make her particular about obedience. It only made her want to keep Josephine; as if Josephine and a candle could protect her from that Day and Hour! And if the moment had come, would she not have been safer trying to endure hardness for the sake of obedience—with the holy verses Mr. Wardour had taught her on her lips, alone with her God and her good angel—than trying to forget all in idle chatter with her maid, and contrary to known commands, detaining her by foolish excuses?

It is true that Kate did not feel as if obedience to Lady Barbara was the same duty as obedience to "Papa." Perhaps it was not in the nature of things that she should; but no one can habitually practise petty disobedience to one "placed in authority over" her, without hurting the whole disposition.


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Chicago: Charlotte Mary Yonge, "Chapter III.," Countess Kate, ed. Altemus, Henry and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in Countess Kate Original Sources, accessed August 7, 2022,

MLA: Yonge, Charlotte Mary. "Chapter III." Countess Kate, edited by Altemus, Henry, and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in Countess Kate, Original Sources. 7 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Yonge, CM, 'Chapter III.' in Countess Kate, ed. and trans. . cited in , Countess Kate. Original Sources, retrieved 7 August 2022, from