Honoria Spencer’s Mistake; or, Duty Versus Love, Part 2
by S. L. Gibbs
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: This short story by S. L. Gibbs was published in The Girl’s Own Paper and marketed towards adolescent girls. When innocent and kind Kate comes to live with her stern, duty-focused aunt, she’s prepared to never feel love again. But everything is turned on its head with the arrival of Kate’s two energetic cousins. As a didactic tale, this story explores the relationship between duty and love and provides commentary on the importance of both.
This entry was published as the second of two parts:
KATE was seventeen when her Uncle Henry wrote to his sister as follows:—
“DEAR SISTER HONOR,
“It is a long time since I wrote to you. I now do so to ask a favour from you. My dear wife has been very ill for some time; the physicians give no hope of permanent recovery unless she leaves here immediately. We therefore start at once on a rather long tour, beginning with Algiers. The favour Ellen and I ask from you is, will you take care of our Millie till our return? We hope, as you have dear Alice’s daughter with you, our girl will be little extra trouble. Millie starts this evening with Mrs. Glenny; she is mad with delight at the thoughts of seeing her unknown relations. Ellen is in no danger if she is moved at once.”
This letter fell on Miss Spencer and Hannah like a thunderbolt.
Kate was bad enough, but her aunt owned that she was quiet; while the only remembrance she had of Millie was of a noisy little girl of five or six years of age, with a great deal to say, a determination to say it, and a decided will of her own.
“A hateful child!” Miss Honor had pronounced her to be; and was this child to become an inmate of her well-ordered household?
Kate looked forward to seeing her unknown cousin with as much joy as her aunt did with dread, and would have asked many questions about her only she knew it would be useless, as her inquiries would not be answered.
Hannah could give her very little information, as she had only seen her once, when she had been quite a baby.
The eventful day arrived. Millie could not be there till very late. Kate ventured to ask to be allowed to sit up for her, but was sternly told that “it could not be thought of for a minute.”
She heard a carriage drive up, a pleasant voice speaking; then all was quiet, and she fell asleep.
The next morning she was aroused by feeling a pair of hands placed over her eyes, and by hearing a clear voice bidding her “Get up, and guess who it was.”
Kate guessed at once “Cousin Millie,” and the hands being removed, she sat up and looked at her visitor.
She saw a piquant little lady of about eighteen years, with black hair fastened in a coil at the back of a well-shaped head, clear, grey eyes that were now looking in honest admiration at her, and such a pleasant expression, that, though she was not really beautiful, all her friends thought her so.
“How glad I am to see you, Kitty! May I call you Kitty? Papa always does. I am so glad you are so nice! I was afraid you might be after Aunt Honoria’s pattern! Oh dear! I should not have said that, but I couldn’t help it—it slipped out. I beg your pardon, but surely you don’t do your hair like that! It don’t suit your face at all. May I do it for you? Felicie—that’s mamma’s maid, you know—says I am quite a grand hairdresser. Let me do it for you. I promise I won’t pull it.”
Kate sat down by the glass rather overwhelmed by her cousin’s brisk chatter, and too shy to make any objection, waited results patiently.
Millie brushed the long beautiful hair, bidding her hastily not to move nor look till her work was finished. As she arranged it she continued talking busily.
“It could have been no one but you who placed the flowers in my room. I am so much obliged to you. Now you only want a rose in your hair and you will be perfect.” She fastened one in quickly. “There, mademoiselle,” she remarked, making an elaborate courtesy, “deign to look at your countenance in yon mirror, and tell me if I am not a deft lady’s maid to ‘the fair one with the golden locks’?”
Kate rose. The little excitement—a great one though to her—had sent a faint colour to her cheeks, usually so pale; her eyes sparkled. Her hair was dressed becomingly, the white rose just showing behind her tiny ear. Altogether she saw in the glass a very pretty picture.
Kitty stared in such evident surprise at herself that Mille laughed delightedly.
“Why, Kitty, I do believe you never knew you were pretty before! Just put this pink ribbon round your neck and you’ll do nicely. I shall laugh when I see Dick’s surprise, because, you know, we both thought you would be like Aunt Honor.”
“Dick?” said Kitty, nervously; “who is Dick?”
“Who’s Dick?” echoed her cousin, “why, my brother, of course. Who did you think he was?”
“I didn’t know he was coming, but—but I don’t think I like boys.”
“Didn’t know he was coming! No more did I till three days ago. And he isn’t a boy,” she continued, half angrily; “he is more than twenty! Not like Dick! Nonsense! Everybody likes Dick!”
With this conclusive argument, she linked her arm in Kitty’s, and they went down to the parlour.
Kate was so nervous and timid that she would almost have been relieved if the stairs had opened to swallow her up, for, in passing from her room door, she stepped into the arms of a young gentleman, who was also descending the stairs, and who gazed at her in undisguised amazement.
“I beg your pardon,” said he, recovering himself, “but are you Cousin Kitty?”
“Didn’t I tell you he would be surprised?” said Millie, mischievously. “You don’t know what a flattering portrait we drew of you as we came here. We expected to see a Gorgon in spectacles with a perpetual frown—”
“Spectacles at seventeen!” cried Kate, with a rippling silvery laugh, the first that had been heard in that dreary house for many a long day. “And have you altered your flattering opinion?”
“I should think we had, indeed,” said Dick, so earnestly that it brought the colour in floods to her face.
“A race! a race!” cried Millie. “Let’s see who will be down first.”
She rushed down the stairs, taking the last ones with a jump, and ran against the breakfast-room door out of breath.
Dick quickly, and Kate more slowly, came after, Kitty laughing merrily till the door opened, and Miss Spencer looked out.
Kate’s merriment stopped suddenly, and the rest went in quietly enough.
After prayers they began breakfast, and then Miss Spencer noticed the difference in her niece’s appearance.
“Katherine,” she said, coldly, “pray what have you been doing to yourself? Why have you done your hair in that unbecoming manner? You must alter it directly.”
Kate coloured; the tears sprang to her eyes. She was about to rise to obey her aunt, feeling deeply mortified at being scolded before comparative strangers, when Millie exclaimed—
“My dear Aunt Honor, surely you don’t think it unbecoming! Why, she was going to do it like—like her grandmother might have done. Of course, I could not allow that, so I did it for her, and it looks ever so much better; don’t it, Dick?”
“I do not admire it,” said Miss Spencer, decisively, “but you need not alter it just now. I am sorry to see you so vain.”1For "decisively," the original read "decivisely."
The subject was not allowed to drop till a long tirade had been preached about the evils of vanity and the unbecomingness of it in young persons.
When the uncomfortable meal was over, they rose with a feeling of relief. Millie asked Kate to show her the garden. Miss Spencer graciously allowing her to do so, they went out.
“Poor Kitty!” was all she said, with a caressing touch of the hand.
This touch was too much for her over-taxed feelings. Kate burst into a flood of tears. “I am so very, very miserable,” she sobbed.
“I should think you were, indeed,” said Millie, indignantly. “Is she always like that? What a disagreeable old thing! Never mind, Kitty, I mean to love you very much, and while we are here you shall enjoy yourself. Oh! here comes Dick. What shall we do, Dick? Where shall we go? There is not much to see in this garden, is there?”
“Do I observe in the far distance a primeval forest?” asked Dick, with mock solemnity, pointing to the wood near them. “Would it be possible to reach it in a day’s journey?”
“Well, if we walked fast we might get there in five minutes, but I don’t think aunt would let us go.”
“Wouldn’t she! I’ll go and ask her.” Millie ran in quickly and a little noisily, and began her request, but was checked by Miss Spencer, who remarked, “Millicent, is this a ladylike mode of entering a room? I am sure you know it is not. Sit down and state your wishes quietly.”
Millie sat down, and, as quietly as she could, stated her wishes.
“It cannot be thought of for a moment! I cannot go with you, and Hannah is busy.”
“But, aunt, surely Kitty knows the way, and Dick will take care of us.”
“The garden, I am sure, is large enough for recreation. Katherine never walks anywhere else. You cannot go.”
“Poor Kitty,” she sighed, involuntarily, and was going away, feeling that she had failed in her mission, when Dick came in at the window.
He guessed immediately how matters stood, and acted accordingly.
“Well, Millie,” he said, rapidly, “I hope you have been long enough! You and Kate go on; I’ll catch you. I want to ask you a favour, aunt. Please will you lend us a market basket, because we are going nutting. What, Millie, not gone yet? You need not wait for me; I’ll fetch the basket. We won’t be late, aunt. By the bye, what time is lunch?”
“Two o’clock,” said Miss Spencer, “but—”
“All right, we won’t be late, and we’ll bring you lots of nuts. Good-bye, aunt. Make haste, Millie.”
He hurried his sister away before either she or her aunt had time to speak.
As soon as they were out of hearing, he burst into a hearty fit of laughter.
“Oh, Millie! what a caution she is! ‘You cannot go!’ Can’t we? Didn’t I do it well? Don’t tell Katie; it would only vex her, poor little thing! We must make her as jolly as we can while we stay. Do you know, Millie, I do believe that if we had not come, she would have gone melancholy mad.”
“No doubt of it, and enough to make her!” replied Millie, indignantly.
They procured the basket—Dick kissing Hannah as payment, on which the old lady shook her head and wondered “what the world was coming to.”
They went merrily to the wood.
On reaching it, they were thunderstruck to find that Kate had never been through any part of it but the path that led to the church.
They declined to walk there, and went down to the depths of it, amongst the closely growing trees and ferns, where they spent a most happy morning, and it was not till after one that they thought of returning.
“What sort of visitors have you here?—pleasant ones, I mean, of course.”
“I hardly know,” said Kate, doubtfully. “There is Mr. Green, the clergyman, but I don’t think he is pleasant; and there are Mr. Barton, Miss Lesling, and a good many more, but they are not at all nice.”
“Lively companions, indeed! Then we shall have to depend on ourselves for society, and I, for one, am glad of it.”
While they were returning, Miss Spencer was talking to Hannah.
“Yes, Hannah, actually carried them away against my express command! I do not blame Kate.” (“I should think not,” murmured Hannah, quietly.) “It was not her fault. She has always been a severe trial to me, and still will be so, of course; but I foresee they will be far worse. There is Mr. Green coming down the road; I am sure he will feel for our trouble. Look, Hannah!” she exclaimed, “there is a disgraceful exhibition to appear before a clergyman’s eyes!”
Millie, Dick, and Kate were coming down the winding path leading to the house. Dick in the middle, holding the market basket heaped high with nuts in his two hands, the girls hanging on his arms and eating the nuts as fast as they could, laughing heartily at his pitiful entreaties to them not to steal, or, at least, to give him a share.
Millie had crowned Kate and herself with wreaths of wild honeysuckle, and made posies of wild flowers. Above the bright sun shone, and lit up the little happy party of joyous young people.
Hannah looked out, as she was told to do, and though it a prettier sight than any she had ever seen, and so replied, rather tartly—
“Well, miss, I should think as Mr. Green must be pleased to see such an exhibition. It is a fine sight, surely. I beg your pardon, ma’am, for being so bold, but Miss Kate hasn’t looked so happy as she does now since she’s been here. Maybe, miss, girls want sunshine, and I misgive me she ain’t had much.”
She hurried away to let the visitors in. Miss Spencer repeated the words, “Girls want sunshine!” and a slight misgiving crossed her mind for the first time that, though she had done her duty, she had not done all that was required.
This thought was banished immediately, but it left her heart softer than usual, and the culprits were received without the severe scolding she had meant to administer.
The days and weeks passed by, each one brighter than the last to Kitty, who had quite regained her former good spirits, till the time came for her cousins to return to their home.
She would have been puzzled to tell why she felt so cold and miserable when she heard that they must go.
Her aunt had changed for the better. The idea that perhaps it was not wrong to be happy presented itself often to her mind, and seeing how much more good and cheerful Kitty was through her happiness and content, she tried the experiment herself.
At first it was very difficult. Difficult for a smile to come on her hard, stern face, to put a pleasant tone in her cold voice, or to think for others; but the effort was made, and after each attempt it was easier to be kind.
In the beginning of this Kate looked at her aunt in amazement at the change, but she found it so pleasant that in a short time she almost forgot that she had once been so different.
. . . .
It is some years later, and a cold winter’s night. By a bright fire on a wide, old-fashioned hearth two elderly ladies and an old gentleman sit.
They are Mr. and Mrs. Spencer, and our old friend Honor.
Miss Spencer is playing with a little, golden-haired girl, who runs continually from her to her baby brother, resting on his mother’s knee.
That mother, whose hand is held closely by her husband, is Kate, as merry and happy as it is possible to be; her husband, of course, is Dick.
Millie is married, and will visit them tomorrow to spend the Christmas season with them.
“Come to me, little Honor,” says Miss Spencer, and as the child runs to her and nestles in her arms, she continues, softly, “Ah, Katie, you will never make the sad mistake I did in thinking duty would do instead of love.”
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2 April 2020
9 August 2020
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|1.||↑||For "decisively," the original read "decivisely."|