JAMES MAYNARD and
Margaret Waring were wards of Lord Littmass, though not by virtue of Chancery.
When children they had constantly met in his house in
Endowed with such a keen appreciation of the ‘improper’ as to be in the habit of denouncing the most innocent romps of children as ‘bold and dangerous familiarities,’ whenever the party consisted of both sexes, Lady Prim took fire at the equivocal
position of her
charge, and began to look upon Margaret as a firebrand, dangerous alike to
herself and others and so, suddenly left
Born in Florence while her father held the Embassy there, christened by an Italian name, and decidedly more Catholic than Protestant at heart, she looked to Rome as her ultimate residence, and now hastened thither with the child whom her brother had committed to her charge, and a favourite old servant of the family, who had known Margaret’s mother, and had tended Margaret herself from infancy.
Not for herself only was Lady Prim anxious to reach Roma. There was a vague notion in her mind that the circumstances attending Margaret’s birth were somehow such as required to be in some way remedied by priestly contact, and that a journey to Rome was a sort of pilgrimage, the performance of which exercised a healthy and retrospective influence. Decided as were this good lady’s ideas of duty, her perceptions of fact were very dim. Her brother’s ascendancy over her was complete. He had left her in doubt about Margaret’s real history, intimating that it was not a subject for her to enter upon; and she ever after rigidly abstained from inquiry or conjecture, believing that if it were ‘proper’ for her to know it she would have known it. She was not aware that her ignorance was not shared by nurse Partridge, for her character was one that prohibited indulgence in anything approaching to familiar conversation with servants; and the dame looked upon herself as belonging to Lord Littmass rather than to his sister, and to Margaret more than to either. While serving Lady Prim she did not love her; and she had no promptings, either from within or from without, to disclose to her aught that she knew.
In short, the dame was a good creature, who understood young people, though
somewhat puzzled by Margaret whom she dearly loved and she resented the prudery
that would chill young lives with gloom and distrust. She was a great ally,
also, of James Maynard and if she had any suspicions of his parentage, she kept
them so entirely to herself, that even Lord Littmass was in doubt whether she
knew or not. It was under her kindly eye that they had explored the wild glens
Such reserve, indeed, was but part of Margaret’s character,
and it well
became her. It was in perfect harmony with the wondering, dreamy look that was
habitual to her; a look that seemed to imply that she was but a new arrival in
the world from some other state of existence, and had not yet learnt to
understand its ways, or become accustomed to the things about her. When now and
then a gleam of sudden appreciation lighted up her eyes, as James Maynard
described to her the organism of some flower, or explained the significance of
some legend, painting, or statue, he started at its wondrous suggestiveness of a
double existence of which the old was but slowly giving place to the new, – so
slowly, indeed, that he sometimes doubted if the angel would ever quite yield to
the woman. On the occasion of Lady Prim’s sudden alarm, she vanished from
He had paid his annual visit to Lord Littmass, and found him in mourning for his sister, Lady Prim, who had died of heart disease accelerated by starvation during the previous Lent; for, under the spiritual manipulation of the priests, she had followed her native bent and become very devout.
‘It is the weak point of our family,’ said Lord Littmass, when imparting this information to Maynard; ‘the heart weakness, I mean, not the devoutness; and it has the advantage of saving doctors’ bills, and the discomfort of a long illness; while its disadvantages may be postponed indefinitely by care.’
But he said nothing of Margaret and her nurse, and Maynard did not venture any
inquiry. Perhaps it did not occur to him to do so, the information being
vouchsafed in reference only to Lord Littmass’s garb. So to
thought of any personal interests or engrossments to distract his attention.