Read CHAPTER II - HONOURS REFLECTED of That Stick , free online book, by Charlotte M. Yonge, on ReadCentral.com.

On the beach at Westhaven, beyond the town and harbour, stood a row of houses, each with a garden of tamarisk, thrift, and salt-loving flowers, frequented by lodgers in search of cheap sea breezes, and sometimes by families of yachting personages who liked to have their headquarters on shore.

Two girls were making their way to one of these.  One was so tall though very slight, that in spite of the dark hair streaming in the wind, she looked more than her fifteen years, and her brilliant pink-and-white complexioned face confirmed the impression.  Her sister, keeping as much as she could under her lee, was about twelve years old, much more childish as well as softer, smaller, with lighter colouring and blue eyes.  Going round the end of the house, they entered by the back door, and turning into a little parlour, they threw off their hats and gloves.  The younger one began to lay the table for dinner, while the elder, throwing herself down panting, called out ­

’Ma, here’s a letter from uncle.  I’ll open it.  I hope he’s not crusty about that horrid low millinery business.’

‘Yes, do,’ called back a voice across the tiled passage.  ’I’ve had no time.  This girl has put me about so with Mrs. Leeson’s luncheon that I’ve not had a moment.  Of all the sluts I’ve ever been plagued with, she’s the very worst, and so I tell her till I’m ready to drop.  What is it then, Ida?’ as an inarticulate noise was heard.

‘Ma! ma! uncle is a lord!’ came back in a gasp.

‘What?’

‘Uncle’s a lord!  Oh!’

’Your uncle!  That stick of a man!  Don’t be putting your jokes on me, when I’m worrited to death!’ exclaimed Mrs. Morton, in fretful tones.

‘No joke.  It’s true ­Lord Northmoor.’  And this brought Mrs. Morton out of the kitchen in her apron and bib, with a knife in one hand and a bunch of parsley in the other.  She was a handsome woman, in the same style as Ida, but her complexion had grown harder than accorded with the slightly sentimental air she assumed when she had time to pity herself.

‘It is! it is!’ persisted Ida, reading scraps from the letter; ’"Title and estates devolve on me ­family bereavements ­elder line extinct."’

‘Give me the letter.  Oh, you gave me such a turn!’ said Mrs. Morton, sinking into a chair.

‘What’s the row?’ said another voice, as a sturdy bright-eyed boy, between the ages of his sisters, came bouncing in.  ’I say, I want my grub ­and be quick!’

‘Oh, Herbert, my dear boy,’ and his mother hugged him, ’your uncle is a lord, and you’ll be one one of these days.’

‘I say, don’t lug a man’s head off.  Who has been making a fool of you?’

‘Uncle Frank is Lord Northmoor,’ said Ida impressively.

‘I say, that’s a good one!’ and Herbert threw himself into a chair in fits of laughter.

‘It is quite true, Herbert,’ said his mother.  ‘Here is the letter.’

A bell rang sharply.

’Bless me!  I shall not hear much more of that bell, I hope.  Run up, Conny, and say Mrs. Leeson’s lunch will be up in a moment, but we were hindered by unexpected news,’ said Mrs. Morton, bustling into the kitchen.  ‘Oh dear! one doesn’t know where one is.’

‘Let her ring,’ said Ida.  ’Send her off, bag and baggage!  We’ve done with lodgings and milliners and telegraphs, and all that’s low.  We shall all be lords and ladies, and ever so rich.’

‘Hold hard!’ said Herbert, who had got possession of the letter.  ’He doesn’t say so.’

‘He’ll be nasty and mean, I daresay,’ said Ida.  ’What does he say?  I hadn’t time to see.’

Herbert read from the neat, formal, distinct writing:  “I do not yet know what is in my power, nor what means I may be able to command; but I hope to make your position more comfortable and to give my nephew and nieces a really superior education.  You had better, however, not take any steps till you hear from me again.”  There, Ida, lots of schooling, that’s all.’

‘Nonsense, Bertie; he must ­if he is a lord, what are we?’

Hunger postponed this great question for a little while; but dinner had been delayed till the afternoon school hour had passed, and indeed the young people agreed that they were far above going to their present teachers any more.

‘We must acquire a few accomplishments,’ said Ida.  ’Uncle never would afford me lessons on the piano ­such a shame; but he can’t refuse me now.  Dancing lessons, too, we will have; and then, oh, Conny! we will go to Court, and how they will admire us!’

At which Herbert burst out laughing loudly, and his mother rebuked him.  ’You will be a nobleman, Herbert, and your sisters a nobleman’s sisters.  Why should they not go to Court like the best of them?’

‘That’s all my eye!’ said Herbert.  ’The governor has got a young woman of his own, hasn’t he?’

‘That dowdy old teacher!’ said Ida.  ‘Of course he won’t marry her now.’

’She will be artful enough to try to hold him to it, you may depend on it,’ said Mrs. Morton; ’but I shall take care he knows what a shame and disgrace it would be.  Oh no; he will not dare.’

‘She is awfully old,’ said Ida.

‘Not near so old as Miss Pottle, who was married yesterday,’ said Constance, who, at the time of her father’s death, and at other times when the presence of a young child was felt to be inconvenient at home, had stayed with her grandmother at Hurminster, and had grown fond of Miss Marshall.

‘Don’t talk about what you know nothing about, Constance,’ broke in her mother.  ’Your uncle, Lord Northmoor, ain’t going to lower and demean himself by dragging a mere school teacher up into the peerage, to cut out poor Herbert and all his family.  There’s that bell again!  I shall go and let Mrs. Leeson know how we are situated, and that I shall give her notice one of these days.  Clear the table, girls; we don’t know who may be dropping in.’

This done, chiefly by Constance, the sisters put on their hats, and sallied forth with their astounding news to such of their friends as were within reach, and by the time they had finished their expedition they were convinced of their own nobility, and prepared to be called Lady Ida and Lady Constance Northmoor on the spot.

When they came in they found the parlour being prepared for company, and were sent to procure sausages and muffins for tea.  Mrs. Morton had, on reflection, decided that it was inexpedient to answer her brother-in-law till she had ascertained, as she said, her just rights, and she had invited to tea Mr. and Mrs. Rollstone and, to Constance’s delight, his little daughter Rose, their neighbours a few doors off; but as Rose was attending classes, it had been useless to go to her before.

Mr. Rollstone was a great authority, for he had spent the best part of his life in what he termed the first families of the highest circles.  He had been hall boy to a duke, footman to a viscountess, valet to an earl, butler to a right honourable baronet, M.P., and when he had retired on the death of the baronet and marriage with the housekeeper he had brought away a red volume, by name Burke’s Peerage, by which, as well as by his previous knowledge, he was enabled to serve as an oracle respecting all owners of yachts worthy of consideration.  If their names were not recorded in that book, he scorned them as ‘parvenoos,’ however perfect their vessels might be in the eyes of mariners.  The edition was indeed a quarter of a century old, but he had kept it up to date, by marking in neatly all the births, deaths, and marriages from the Gazette ­his daily study.  His daughter, a nice, modest-looking girl of fourteen, Constance’s chief friend, came too.

His wife was detained by her lodgers, but when he rolled in, with the book under his arm, there was a certain resemblance between himself and it, for both were broad and slightly dilapidated ­the one from gout, the other from wear, and the red cover had faded into a nondescript whity-brown, or browny-white, not unlike the complexion of a close-shaven face.  He was carefully arrayed in evening costume, and was very choice in his language, being, in fact, much grander than all his aristocratic masters rolled into one; so that though Mrs. Morton tried to recollect that she was a great lady and he had been a servant, force of habit made her feel his condescension when he held out his puffy white hand; and, with a gracious bend of his yellow-gray head, said, ’Allow me to offer my congratulations, Mrs. Morton.  I little suspected my proximity to a lady so nearly allied to the aristocracy.’

’I am sure you are very kind, Mr. Rollstone.  I had no notion ­Ida can tell you I was quite overcome ­though when I came to think of it, my poor, dear Morton always did say he had high connections, but I always thought it was one of his jokes.’

’Then as I understand, Mrs. Morton, the lamented deceased was junior to the present Lord Northmoor?’

’Yes, poor dear!  Oh, if he had but lived and been eldest, he would have become his honours ever so much better!’

‘And oh, Mr. Rollstone, what are we?’ put in Ida breathlessly, while Rose squeezed Constance’s hand in schoolgirl fashion.

’Indeed, Miss Ida, I fear I cannot flatter you with any change in your designation.  If your respected parent had survived he might have become the Honourable Charles, but only by special grant from Her Majesty.  It was so in the case of the Honourable Frances Fordingham, when her brother inherited the title.’

‘Then at least I am an Honourable!’ exclaimed Mrs. Morton.

’I am afraid not, Mrs. Morton.  I know of no precedent for such honours being bestowed on a relict; but as I understand that Lord Northmoor is no longer in his first youth, your son might succeed to the title, and, in that case, his sisters might be’ ­he paused for a word ­’ennobled.’

‘Then does not it really make any difference to us?’ exclaimed Mrs. Morton.

‘That would rest in the bosom of his lordship,’ said Mr. Rollstone solemnly.

‘I declare it is an awful shame,’ burst out Ida, while Constance cooed ‘Dear uncle!’

‘Hush, hush, Ida!’ said her mother.  ’Your uncle has always treated us handsomely, and we have every reason to expect that he will continue to do so.’

’He ought to have us to live with him in his house in London, and take us to Court,’ said Ida.  ‘Oh, Mr. Rollstone, is he not bound to do that?’

And Constance breathed, ‘How delicious!’

Mr. Rollstone perhaps had his doubts of the figures Mrs. and Miss Morton would cut in society, but he contented himself with saying, ’It may be well to moderate your expectations, Miss Ida, and to remember that Lord Northmoor is not compulsorily bound to consult any interests but his own.’

‘If he does not, it is perfectly abominable,’ cried Mrs. Morton, ’towards his poor, only brother’s children, with Herbert his next heir-apparent.’

‘Heir-presumptuous,’ solemnly corrected Mr. Rollstone, at which Ida looked at Constance, but Constance respected Rosie’s feelings, and would not return her sister’s glance, only blushed, and sniggered.

’Heir-apparent is only the eldest son, who cannot be displaced by any contingency.’

’And there’s a horrid, little, artful school teacher, who drew him in years ago ­before I was married even,’ said Mrs. Morton.  ’No doubt she will try to keep him now.  Most likely she always knew what was going to happen.  Cannot he be set free from the entanglement?’

‘Oh!’ gasped Constance.

‘That is serious,’ observed Mr. Rollstone gravely.  ’It would be an unfortunate commencement to have an action for breach of promise of marriage.’

‘She would never dare,’ said Mrs. Morton.  ’She is as poor as a rat, and could not do it!’

‘Well, Mrs. Morton,’ said Mr. Rollstone, ’if I may be allowed to tender my poor advice, it would be that you should be very cautious and careful not to give any offence to his lordship, or to utter what might be reported to him in a sinister manner.’

‘Oh, I know every one has enemies!’ said Mrs. Morton, tossing her head.

After this disappointment there was rather less interest displayed when Mr. Rollstone proceeded to track out and explain the whole Northmoor pedigree, from the great lawyer, Sir Michael Morton, who had gained the peerage, down to the failure of the direct line, tracing the son from whom Francis and Charles Morton were descended.  Certainly Miss Marshall must have been wonderfully foresighted if she had engaged herself with a view to the succession, for at the time it began, the last Lord Northmoor had two sons and a brother living!  There was also a daughter, the Honourable Bertha Augusta.

‘Is she married?’ demanded Mrs. Morton.

’It is not marked here, and if it had been mentioned in the papers, I should not have failed to record it.’

‘And how old is she?’

’The author of this peerage would never be guilty of the solecism of recording a lady’s age,’ said Mr. Rollstone gravely; ’but as the Honourable Arthur was born in 1848, and the Honourable Michael in 1850, we may infer that the young lady is no longer in her first youth.’

’And not married?  Nearly Fr ­Lord Northmoor’s age.  She must be an old cat who will set her mind on marrying him,’ sighed Mrs. Morton, ’and will make him cut all his own relations.’

‘Then Mary Marshall might be the better lookout,’ said Ida.

‘She could never be unkind,’ breathed little Constance.

‘There is no knowing,’ said Mr. Rollstone oracularly; ’but the result of my observations has been that the true high-bred aristocracy are usually far more affable and condescending than those elevated from a lower rank.’

‘Oh, I do hope for Miss Marshall,’ said Constance in a whisper to Rose.

‘Nasty old thing ­a horrid old governess,’ returned Ida; and they tittered, scarcely pausing to hear Mr. Rollstone’s announcement of the discovery that he had entered the marriage in 1879 of the Honourable Arthur Michael to Lady Adela Emily, only daughter of the Earl of Arlington, and the death of the said Honourable Arthur by a carriage accident four years later.

Then Herbert tumbled in, bringing a scent of tea and tar, and was greeted with an imploring injunction to brush his hair and wash his hands ­both which operations he declared that he had performed, spreading out his brown hands, which might be called clean, except for ingrained streaks of tar.  Mr. Rollstone tried to console his mother by declaring that it was aristocratic to know how to handle the ropes; and Herbert, sitting among the girls, began, while devouring sausages, to express his intention of having a yacht, in which Rose should be taken on a voyage.  No, not Ida; she would only make a fool of herself on board; and besides, she had such horrid sticking-out ears, with a pull at them, which made her scream, and her mother rebuke him; while Mr. Rollstone observed that the young gentleman had much to learn if he was to conform to aristocratic manners, and Herbert under his breath hung aristocratic manners, and added that he was not to be bored, at any rate, till he was a lord; and then to salve any shock to his visitor, proceeded to say that his yacht should be the Rose, and invite her to a voyage.

‘Certainly not till you can behave yourself,’ replied Rose; and there was a general titter among the young people.