Countess Kate

Author: Charlotte Mary Yonge

Chapter X.

It had been intended that Mrs. Lacy should rejoin her pupil at Bournemouth at the end of six weeks; but in her stead came a letter saying that she was unwell, and begging for a fortnight’s grace. At the fortnight’s end came another letter; to which Lady Barbara answered that all was going on so well, that there was no need to think of returning till they should all meet in London on the 1st of October.

But before that 1st, poor Mrs. Lacy wrote again, with great regret and many excuses for the inconvenience she was causing. Her son and her doctor had insisted on her resigning her situation at once; and they would not even allow her to go back until her place could be supplied.

"Poor thing!" said Lady Jane. "I always thought it was too much for her. I wish we could have made her more comfortable: it would have been such a thing for her!"

"So it would," answered Lady Barbara, "if she had had to do with any other child. A little consideration or discretion, such as might have been expected from a girl of eleven years old towards a person in her circumstances, would have made her happy, and enabled her to assist her son. But I have given up expecting feeling from Katharine."

That speech made Kate swell with anger at her aunt’s tone and in her anger she forgot to repent of having been really thoughtless and almost unkind, or to recollect how differently her own gentle Sylvia at home would have behaved to the poor lady. She liked the notion of novelty, and hoped for a new governess as kind and bright as Miss Oswald.

Moreover, she was delighted to find that Mrs. George Wardour was going to live in London for the present, that Alice might be under doctors, and Sylvia under masters. Kate cared little for the why, but was excessively delighted with plans for meeting, hopes of walks, talks, and tea-drinkings together; promises that the other dear Sylvia should come to meet her; and above all, an invitation to spend Sylvia Joanna’s birthday with her on the 21st of October, and go all together either to the Zoological Gardens or to the British Museum, according to the weather.

With these hopes, Kate was only moderately sorry to leave the sea and pine-trees behind her, and find herself once more steaming back to London, carrying in her hand a fine blue and white travelling-bag, worked for her by her two little friends, but at which Lady Barbara had coughed rather dryly. In the bag were a great many small white shells done up in twists of paper, that pretty story "The Blue Ribbons," and a small blank book, in which, whenever the train stopped, Kate wrote with all her might. For Kate had a desire to convince Sylvia Joanna that one was much happier without being a countess, and she thought this could be done very touchingly and poetically by a fable in verse; so she thought she had a very good idea by changing the old daisy that pined for transplantation and found it very unpleasant, into a harebell.

A harebell blue on a tuft of moss In the wind her bells did toss.

That was her beginning; and the poor harebell was to get into a hothouse, where they wanted to turn her into a tall stately campanula, and she went through a great deal from the gardeners. There was to be a pretty fairy picture to every verse; and it would make a charming birthday present, much nicer than anything that could be bought; and Kate kept on smiling to herself as the drawings came before her mind’s eye, and the rhymes to her mind’s ear.

So they came home; but it was odd, the old temper of the former months seemed to lay hold of Kate as soon as she set foot in the house in Bruton Street, as if the cross feelings were lurking in the old corners.

She began by missing Mrs. Lacy very much. The kind soft governess had made herself more loved than the wayward child knew; and when Kate had run into the schoolroom and found nobody sitting by the fire, no sad sweet smile to greet her, no one to hear her adventures, and remembered that she had worried the poor widow, and that she would never come back again, she could have cried, and really had a great mind to write to her, ask her pardon, and say she was sorry. It would perhaps have been the beginning of better things if she had; but of all things in the world, what prevented her? Just this—that she had an idea that her aunt expected it of her! O Kate! Kate!

So she went back to the harebell, and presently began rummaging among her books for a picture of one to copy; and just then Lady Barbara came in, found half a dozen strewn on the floor, and ordered her to put them tidy, and then be dressed. That put her out, and after her old bouncing fashion she flew upstairs, caught her frock in the old hitch at the turn, and half tore off a flounce.

No wonder Lady Barbara was displeased; and that was the beginning of things going wrong—nay, worse than before the going to Bournemouth. Lady Barbara was seeking for a governess, but such a lady as she wished for was not to be found in a day; and in the meantime she was resolved to do her duty by her niece, and watched over her behaviour, and gave her all the lessons that she did not have from masters.

Whether it was that Lady Barbara did not know exactly what was to be expected of a little girl, or whether Kate was more fond of praise than was good for her, those daily lessons were more trying than ever they had been. Generally she had liked them; but with Aunt Barbara, the being told to sit upright, hold her book straight, or pronounce her words rightly, always teased her, and put her out of humour at the beginning. Or she was reminded of some failure of yesterday, and it always seemed to her unjust that bygones should not be bygones; or even when she knew she had been doing her best, her aunt always thought she could have done better, so that she had no heart or spirit to try another time, but went on in a dull, save-trouble way, hardly caring to exert herself to avoid a scolding, it was so certain to come.

It was not right—a really diligent girl would have won for herself the peaceful sense of having done her best, and her aunt would have owned it in time; whereas poor Kate’s resistance only made herself and her aunt worse to each other every day, and destroyed her sense of duty and obedience more and more.

Lady Barbara could not be always with her, and when once out of sight there was a change. If she were doing a lesson with one of her masters, she fell into a careless attitude in an instant, and would often chatter so that there was no calling her to order, except by showing great determination to tell her aunt. It made her feel both sly and guilty to behave so differently out of sight, and yet now that she had once begun she seemed unable to help going on and she was sure, foolish child, that Aunt Barbara’s strictness made her naughty!

Then there were her walks. She was sent out with Josephine in the morning and desired to walk nowhere but in the Square; and in the afternoon she and Josephine were usually set down by the carriage together in one of the parks, and appointed where to meet it again after Lady Jane had taken her airing when she was well enough, for she soon became more ailing than usual. They were to keep in the quiet paths, and not speak to anyone.

But neither Josephine nor her young lady had any turn for what was "triste." One morning, when Kate was in great want of a bit of India-rubber, and had been sighing because of the displeasure she should meet for having lost her own through using it in play-hours, Josephine offered to take her—only a little out of her way—to buy a new piece.

Kate knew this was not plain dealing, and hated herself for it, but she was tired of being scolded, and consented! And then how miserable she was; how afraid of being asked where she had been; how terrified lest her aunt should observe that it was a new, not an old, piece; how humiliated by knowing she was acting untruth!

And then Josephine took more liberties. When Kate was walking along the path, thinking how to rhyme to "pride," she saw Josephine talking over the iron rail to a man with a beard; and she told her maid afterwards that it was wrong; but Josephine said, "Miladi had too good a heart to betray her," and the man came again and again, and once even walked home part of the way with Josephine, a little behind the young lady.

Kate was desperately affronted, and had a great mind to complain to her aunts. But then Josephine could have told that they had not been in the Square garden at all that morning, but in much more entertaining streets! Poor Kate, these daily disobediences did not weigh on her nearly as much as the first one did; it was all one general sense of naughtiness!

Working at her harebell was the pleasantest thing she did, but her eagerness about it often made her neglectful and brought her into scrapes. She had filled one blank book with her verses and pictures, some rather good, some very bad; and for want of help and correction she was greatly delighted with her own performance, and thought it quite worthy of a little ornamental album, where she could write out the verses and gum in the drawings.

"Please, Aunt Barbara, let me go to the Soho Bazaar to-day?"

"I cannot take you there, I have an engagement."

"But may I not go with Josephine?"

"Certainly not. I would not trust you there with her. Besides, you spend too much upon trumpery, as it is."

"I don’t want it for myself; I want something to get ready for Sylvia’s birthday—the Sylvia that is come to London, I mean."

"I do not approve of a habit of making presents."

"Oh! but, Aunt Barbara, I am to drink tea with her on her birthday, and spend the day, and go to the Zoological Gardens, and I have all ready but my presents! and it will not be in time if you won’t let me go to-day."

"I never grant anything to pertinacity," answered Lady Barbara. "I have told you that I cannot go with you to-day, and you ought to submit."

"But the birthday, Aunt Barbara!"

"I have answered you once, Katharine; you ought to know better than to persist."

Kate pouted, and the tears swelled in her eyes at the cruelty of depriving her of the pleasure of making her purchase, and at having her beautiful fanciful production thus ruined by her aunt’s unkindness. As she sat over her geography lesson, out of sight of her own bad writing, her broken-backed illuminated capitals, her lumpy campanulas, crooked-winged fairies, queer perspective, and dabs of blue paint, she saw her performance not as it was, but as it was meant to be, heard her own lines without their awkward rhymes and bits like prose, and thought of the wonder and admiration of all the Wardour family, and of the charms of having it secretly lent about as a dear simple sweet effusion of the talented young countess, who longed for rural retirement. And down came a great tear into the red trimming of British North America, and Kate unadvisedly trying to wipe it up with her handkerchief, made a red smear all across to Cape Verd! Formerly she would have exclaimed at once; now she only held up the other side of the book that her aunt might not see, and felt very shabby all the time. But Lady Barbara was reading over a letter, and did not look. If Kate had not been wrapt up in herself, she would have seen that anxious distressed face.

There came a knock to the schoolroom door. It was Mr. Mercer, the doctor, who always came to see Lady Jane twice a week, and startled and alarmed, Lady Barbara sprang up. "Do you want me, Mr. Mercer? I’ll come."

"No, thank you," said the doctor, coming in. "It was only that I promised I would look at this little lady, just to satisfy Lady Jane, who does not think her quite well."

Kate’s love of being important always made her ready to be looked at by Mr. Mercer, who was a kind, fatherly old gentleman, not greatly apt to give physic, very good-natured, and from his long attendance more intimate with the two sisters than perhaps any other person was. Lady Barbara gave an odd sort of smile, and said, "Oh! very well!" and the old gentleman laughed as the two bright clear eyes met his, and said, "No great weight there, I think! Only a geography fever, eh? Any more giddy heads lately, eh? Or only when you make cheeses?"

"I can’t make cheeses now, my frocks are so short," said Kate, whose spirits always recovered with the least change.

"No more dreams?"

"Not since I went to Bournemouth."

"Your tongue." And as Kate, who had a certain queer pleasure in the operation, put out the long pinky member with its ruddier tip, quivering like an animal, he laughed again, and said, "Thank you, Lady Caergwent; it is a satisfaction once in a way to see something perfectly healthy! You would not particularly wish for a spoonful of cod-liver oil, would you?"

Kate laughed, made a face, and shook her head.

"Well," said the doctor as he released her, "I may set Lady Jane’s mind at rest. Nothing the matter there with the health."

"Nothing the matter but perverseness, I am afraid," said Lady Barbara, as Kate stole back to her place, and shut her face in with the board of her atlas. "It is my sister who is the victim, and I cannot have it go on. She is so dreadfully distressed whenever the child is in disgrace that it is doing her serious injury. Do you not see it, Mr. Mercer?"

"She is very fond of the child," said Mr. Mercer.

"That is the very thing! She is constantly worrying herself about her, takes all her naughtiness for illness, and then cannot bear to see her reproved. I assure you I am forced for my sister’s sake to overlook many things which I know I ought not to pass by." (Kate shuddered.) "But the very anxiety about her is doing great harm."

"I thought Lady Jane nervous and excited this morning," said Mr. Mercer: "but that seemed to me to be chiefly about the Colonel’s return."

"Yes," said Lady Barbara, "of course in some ways it will be a great pleasure; but it is very unlucky, after staying till the war was over, that he has had to sell out without getting his promotion. It will make a great difference!"

"On account of his son’s health, is it not?"

"Yes; of course everything must give way to that, but it is most unfortunate. The boy has never recovered from his wound at Lucknow, and they could not bear to part, or they ought to have sent him home with his mother long ago; and now my brother has remained at his post till he thought he could be spared; but he has not got his promotion, which he must have had in a few months."

"When do you expect him?"

"They were to set off in a fortnight from the time he wrote, but it all depended on how Giles might be. I wish we knew; I wish there could be any certainty, this is so bad for my sister. And just at this very time, without a governess, when some children would be especially thoughtful and considerate, that we should have this strange fit of idleness and perverseness! It is very trying; I feel quite hopeless sometimes!"

Some children, as Lady Barbara said, would have been rendered thoughtful and considerate by hearing such a conversation as this, and have tried to make themselves as little troublesome to their elders as possible; but there are others who, unless they are directly addressed, only take in, in a strange dreamy way, that which belongs to the grown-up world, though quick enough to catch what concerns themselves. Thus Kate, though aware that Aunt Barbara thought her naughtiness made Aunt Jane ill, and that there was a fresh threat of the Lord Chancellor upon the return of her greatuncle from India, did not in the least perceive that her Aunt Barbara was greatly perplexed and harassed, divided between her care for her sister and for her niece, grieved for her brother’s anxiety, and disappointed that he had been obliged to leave the army, instead of being made a General. The upshot of all that she carried away with her was, that it was very cross of Aunt Barbara to think she made Aunt Jane ill, and very very hard that she could not go to the bazaar.

Lady Jane did not go out that afternoon, and Lady Barbara set her niece and Josephine down in the Park, saying that she was going into Belgravia, and desiring them to meet her near Apsley House. They began to walk, and Kate began to lament. "If she could only have gone to the bazaar for her album! It was very hard!"

"Eh," Josephine said, "why should they not go? There was plenty of time. Miladi Barbe had given them till four. She would take la petite."

Kate hung back. She knew it was wrong. She should never dare produce the book if she had it.

But Josephine did not attend to the faltered English words, or disposed of them with a "Bah! Miladi will guess nothing!" and she had turned decidedly out of the Park, and was making a sign to a cab. Kate was greatly frightened, but was more afraid of checking Josephine in the open street, and making her dismiss the cab, than of getting into it. Besides, there was a very strong desire in her for the red and gold square book that had imprinted itself on her imagination. She could not but be glad to do something in spite of Aunt Barbara. So they were shut in, and went off along Piccadilly, Kate’s feelings in a strange whirl of fright and triumph, amid the clattering of the glasses. Just suppose she saw anyone she knew!

But they got to Soho Square at last; and through the glass door, in among the stalls—that fairy land in general to Kate; but now she was too much frightened and bewildered to do more than hurry along the passages, staring so wildly for her albums, that Josephine touched her, and said, "Tenez, Miladi, they will think you farouche. Ah! see the beautiful wreaths!"

"Come on, Josephine," said Kate impatiently.

But it was not so easy to get the French maid on. A bazaar was felicity to her, and she had her little lady in her power; she stood and gazed, admired, and criticised, at every stall that afforded ornamental wearing apparel or work patterns; and Kate, making little excursions, and coming back again to her side, could not get her on three yards in a quarter of an hour, and was too shy and afraid of being lost, to wander away and transact her own business. At last they did come to a counter with ornamental stationery; and after looking at four or five books, Kate bought a purple embossed one, not at all what she had had in her mind’s eye, just because she was in too great a fright to look further; and then step by step, very nearly crying at last, so as to alarm Josephine lest she should really cry, she got her out at last. It was a quarter to four, and Josephine was in vain sure that Miladi Barbe would never be at the place in time; Kate’s heart was sick with fright at the thought of the shame of detection.

She begged to get out at the Marble Arch, and not risk driving along Park Lane; but Josephine was triumphant in her certainty that there was time; and on they went, Kate fancying every bay nose that passed the window would turn out to have the brougham, the man-servant, and Aunt Barbara behind it.

At length they were set down at what the Frenchwoman thought a safe distance, and paying the cabman, set out along the side path, Josephine admonishing her lady that it was best not to walk so swiftly, or to look guilty, or they would be "trahies."

But just then Kate really saw the carriage drawn up where there was an opening in the railings, and the servant holding open the door for them. Had they been seen? There was no knowing! Lady Barbara did not say one single word; but that need not have been surprising—only how very straight her back was, how fixed her marble mouth and chin! It was more like Diana’s head than ever—Diana when she was shooting all Niobe’s daughters, thought Kate, in her dreamy, vague alarm. Then she looked at Josephine on the back seat, to see what she thought of it; but the brown sallow face in the little bonnet was quite still and like itself—beyond Kate’s power to read.

The stillness, doubt, and suspense, were almost unbearable. She longed to speak, but had no courage, and could almost have screamed with desire to have it over, end as it would. Yet at last, when the carriage did turn into Bruton Street, fright and shame had so entirely the upper hand, that she read the numbers on every door, wishing the carriage would only stand still at each, or go slower, that she might put off the moment of knowing whether she was found out.

They stopped; the few seconds of ringing, of opening the doors, of getting out, were over. She knew how it would be, when, instead of going upstairs, her aunt opened the schoolroom door, beckoned her in, and said gravely, "Lady Caergwent, while you are under my charge, it is my duty to make you obey me. Tell me where you have been."

There was something in the sternness of that low lady-like voice, and of that dark deep eye, that terrified Kate more than the brightest flash of lightning: and it was well for her that the habit of truth was too much fixed for falsehood or shuffling even to occur to her. She did not dare to do more than utter in a faint voice, scarcely audible "To the bazaar."

"In direct defiance of my commands?"

But the sound of her own confession, the relief of having told, gave Kate spirit to speak; "I know it was naughty," she said, looking up; "I ought not. Aunt Barbara, I have been very naughty. I’ve been often where you didn’t know."

"Tell me the whole truth, Katharine;" and Lady Barbara’s look relaxed, and the infinite relief of putting an end to a miserable concealment was felt by the little girl; so she told of the shops she had been at, and of her walks in frequented streets, adding that indeed she would not have gone, but that Josephine took her. "I did like it," she added candidly; "but I know I ought not."

"Yes, Katharine," said Lady Barbara, almost as sternly as ever; "I had thought that with all your faults you were to be trusted."

"I have told you the truth!" cried Kate.

"Now you may have; but you have been deceiving me all this time; you, who ought to set an example of upright and honourable conduct."

"No, no, Aunt!" exclaimed Kate, her eyes flashing. "I never spoke one untrue word to you; and I have not now—nor ever. I never deceived."

"I do not say that you have TOLD untruths. It is deceiving to betray the confidence placed in you."

Kate knew it was; yet she had never so felt that her aunt trusted her as to have the sense of being on honour; and she felt terribly wounded and grieved, but not so touched as to make her cry or ask pardon. She knew she had been audaciously disobedient; but it was hard to be accused of betraying trust when she had never felt that it was placed in her; and yet the conviction of deceit took from her the last ground she had of peace with herself.

Drooping and angry, she stood without a word; and her aunt presently said, "I do not punish you. The consequences of your actions are punishment enough in themselves, and I hope they may warn you, or I cannot tell what is to become of you in your future life, and of all that will depend on you. You must soon be under more strict and watchful care than mine, and I hope the effect may be good. Meantime, I desire that your Aunt Jane may be spared hearing of this affair, little as you seem to care for her peace of mind."

And away went Lady Barbara; while Kate, flinging herself upon the sofa, sobbed out, "I do care for Aunt Jane! I love Aunt Jane! I love her ten hundred times more than you! you horrid cross old Diana! But I have deceived! Oh, I am getting to be a wicked little girl! I never did such things at home. Nobody made me naughty there. But it’s the fashionable world. It is corrupting my simplicity. It always does. And I shall be lost! O Mary, Mary! O Papa, Papa! Oh, come and take me home!" And for a little while Kate gasped out these calls, as if she had really thought they would break the spell, and bring her back to Oldburgh.

She ceased crying at last, and slowly crept upstairs, glad to meet no one, and that not even Josephine was there to see her red eyes. Her muslin frock was on the bed, and she managed to dress herself, and run down again unseen; she stood over the fire, so that the housemaid, who brought in her tea, should not see her face; and by the time she had to go to the drawing-room, the mottling of her face had abated under the influence of a story-book, which always drove troubles away for the time.

It was a very quiet evening. Aunt Barbara read bits out of the newspaper, and there was a little talk over them: and Kate read on in her book, to hinder herself from feeling uncomfortable. Now and then Aunt Jane said a few soft words about "Giles and Emily;" but her sister always led away from the subject, afraid of her exciting herself, and getting anxious.

And if Kate had been observing, she would have heard in the weary sound of Aunt Barbara’s voice, and seen in those heavy eyelids, that the troubles of the day had brought on a severe headache, and that there was at least one person suffering more than even the young illused countess.

And when bed-time came, she learnt more of the "consequences of her actions." Stiff Mrs. Bartley stood there with her candle.

"Where is Josephine?"

"She is gone away, my Lady."

Kate asked no more, but shivered and trembled all over. She recollected that in telling the truth she had justified herself, and at Josephine’s expense. She knew Josephine would call it a blackness—a treason. What would become of the poor bright merry Frenchwoman? Should she never see her again? And all because she had not had the firmness to be obedient! Oh, loss of trust! loss of confidence! disobedience! How wicked this place made her! and would there be any end to it?

And all night she was haunted through her dreams with the Lord Chancellor, in his wig, trying to catch her, and stuff her into the woolsack, and Uncle Wardour’s voice always just out of reach. If she could only get to him!


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Chicago: Charlotte Mary Yonge, "Chapter X.," Countess Kate, ed. Altemus, Henry and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in Countess Kate Original Sources, accessed May 30, 2023,

MLA: Yonge, Charlotte Mary. "Chapter X." Countess Kate, edited by Altemus, Henry, and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in Countess Kate, Original Sources. 30 May. 2023.

Harvard: Yonge, CM, 'Chapter X.' in Countess Kate, ed. and trans. . cited in , Countess Kate. Original Sources, retrieved 30 May 2023, from