Three Feet of Obstinacy
Atalanta, vol. 4, issue 39 (1890)
Introductory Note: L. B. Walford was a Scottish novelist known for her domestic fiction. Walford regularly contributed to Atalanta, a monthly magazine for middle-class, educated young women aged eighteen to twenty-five. Her short fiction piece “Three Feet of Obstinacy” features independent eighteen-year-old Hattie Chevenix. As a “demure, elegant specimen of young ladyhood,” Hattie endears all who meet her. Her kind and outgoing personality leads to a chance encounter while on a seaside holiday.
Advisory: This story contains a racial slur.
A GAY seaside resort was in full swing.
Every hotel, villa, and boarding house was busy and overflowing; the weather was superb; and each day and all day long, the beach, the parade, and the thyme-scented downs above, were covered with bright-clad holiday makers, who, according to taste, either sailed hither and thither athwart the dancing waters, strolled and rested beneath the warm cliffs, or rode and drove about the open undulating country behind.
“It is a most vulgar place,” said a lady, calmly.
The speaker never went near the sea, and never scaled the cliffs. To her view there was only one spot tolerable in the whole neighbourhood—one oasis in the desert by which she was surrounded.
“I go to the Park, yes, every afternoon,” Mrs. Chevenix now proceeded (she was sitting in “the Park” as she spoke). “I go in the afternoon, and also in the evening. There is really nowhere else, you know. There are a few people to be seen there; and one gets away from all the shocking noises; the bands, and the organs, and the nigger-minstrels. Of course it is stupid, but still it is better than doing nothing, and as I have to be here, I must make the days pass somehow.” Then the speaker yawned behind her fan.
“When do you expect your daughter?” inquired a lady who sat by her side.
“To-night. And really—of course I shall be glad to see Hattie, but I am not sure—I almost wish”—with some hesitation—“the fact is, my dear Mrs. Lothbury”—all at once confidence was decided upon—“the real truth is, that Windbourne is not the place for a young girl of my daughter’s temperament. Hattie is a dear child; but she is a curious sort of affectionate, impulsive creature; and there is one thing she will do, and no one can prevent her, she will make friends. She will pick up people here, there, and everywhere. Of course Hattie is a charming girl, and I am very proud of her—you will admire her immensely, I am sure, and so will Colonel Lothbury—but you will soon see what I have to go through in the matter of my daughter’s introductions. She will not have been here three days before she will come flying in with the news that she has found somebody who is coming to call upon me!”
Maternal instinct was not at fault. Towards evening on the third day after Miss Harriett Chevenix made her appearance on the scene, she entered her mother’s apartment with joy painted on her countenance, and the anticipated announcement on the tip of her tongue.
“Now, don’t, my dear Hattie, pray don’t,” cried the elder lady, and poor Mrs. Chevenix was very much in earnest beneath her laughing exterior. “I know what you are going to say, child, and I—but well, I suppose it must come. Let me hear the worst, then. Who have you discovered? Who have pitched their tents here close to us? Who is coming to-morrow to call on me?”
“Mamma! How could you know?” Hattie was all ablaze with astonishment.
“Know!” There was something almost ludicrous in the bitterness of the rejoinder. “Who would not know? I have learned by experience. Until you came here I had peace and security. Ever since I have been treading on the edge of a precipice.”
“Oh, mamma!” The young girl’s head drooped a little, and the light died out of her eyes.
“Well, well, my dear; of course I did not mean that, exactly; you must not take me up too seriously.” Mrs. Chevenix was not an ill-natured woman. “Here, come and kiss me. I did not mean to be unkind, Hattie”—quite gently—“but you do try me, you know, my dear. You have some expectations. You are not quite like everybody else. And your father has no notion of keeping anyone aloof; and I am afraid, that you—that I see a little of the same kind of universal bon camaraderie in you. “Eh? Is it not so? But you see, Hattie, that does not do in these days; it really does not do,” reiterating the words with emphasis. “It leads to all kinds of awkwardness.”
Hattie’s lips parted. Protest painted itself upon her cheek.
“Yes, yes, I know,” nodded her mother, with a smile. “I know what you would say; but spare me, my dear child, and spare yourself also. I am late as it is, and I had meant to put on this new lilac dress to-night. There will be no time now,” glancing disconsolately at the robe which was spread out upon the bed. “A new dress always takes so long to arrange. Run away, there’s a good child, and get ready for dinner yourself. Remember, we have to dine at seven, in order to secure good seats for the concert.”
“Oh, are we going to the concert again?” exclaimed Hattie, in a tone that told its own tale.
“Again!” repeated her mother. “You have only been once, and——”
“And it was as dull as ditch-water. Oh, well, I will go if you wish it mamma. But, mamma,” and the speaker paused, while the colour with which her cheek had been suffused on first entering the room again rose and softly mantled there. “Mamma, I—we—May and I——”
“Oh, you have been with May, have you?”
“Aunt Sophy said I might take May to the downs, and we started quite early, and had a glorious, delightful time. And we had our tea there. We took Aunt Sophy’s tea apparatus——”
“Well, my dear? Get on a little faster, my dear.” Mrs. Chevenix glanced again at the lilac robe. “You can tell me all this another time, you know,” she hinted.
“We had a little adventure before we came home,” murmured Hattie, half turning away, and yet stealing a shy glance of triumph as she spoke.
“Oh, adventure!” poor Mrs. Chevenix groaned. “I knew it. I knew what was coming as soon as ever you appeared at the door. Your face betrayed you, child. You are at your old tricks again,” with growing irritability. “Well, who, for goodness sake, who is ‘so glad to know we are here?’ And who is coming to see me to-morrow?”
“Sir John and Lady Pulborough.”
Mrs. Chevenix started from her seat, as though a pistol shot had been let off at her ear. “What? Who? Who did you say? Why, Hattie——”
But Hattie had flashed out of the room the instant the words escaped her lips.
It was her saucy revenge, and the little minx meant to have it.
From the above it will easily be seen that Hattie Chevenix was, in popular phrase, not her mother’s child. In her eyes it signified less than nothing whether or not those with whom she came in contact had fine-sounding names, large houses, rich clothes, horses and carriages—in short, all the apparatus of wealth and fashion. On the other hand, she was a thousand-fold more particular than her parent ever had been, or would be, as to what her friends or acquaintances were in themselves. If they were good, kind, simple, and pleasant, Hattie loved them; and being of a loving nature, it must be added that she found far more of her fellow-creatures worthy of affection than might be supposed.
But false pretence, arrogance, and affection had but little mercy at the hands of an observer whose innocence was, at yet, unblinded by that prudential self-interest which the world instils into its votaries.
Hattie was, what few girls are in these days, really and positively young. She went straight to the root of every matter, as a child would do. She took fancies to people because they had nice faces, or nice voices. She took interest in whole families because they seemed fond of one another. When she was taken to shows of any kind, she would select, in the twinkling of an eye, the competitor whose partisan she meant to be. In crowded halls or churches, she would be almost breathless with desire that the late comers, the unpunctual people, for whom no one else had any mercy, should have the vacant seats which she could espy, and would fain have herself flown to point them out. In railway carriages she had actually been known to beckon travellers to the door, and assure them with outstretched hand that there was room within.
“And of course it is all very well,” Hattie’s mother would observe discontentedly; “and they tell me that Hattie is a favourite because she has such pretty manners. But all the same,—” and hereupon would ensue a confidence such as that wherewith our little story opens.
When Hattie had been two days at Windbourne, and had not in that time made any fresh acquaintances, her mother had been almost surprised.
“She is beginning to see; her eyes are getting opened,” Mrs. Chevenix told herself, well pleased. “If she only goes on as well as she has begun, I shall breathe freely at last. Of course it is a strain having a great grown-up daughter, with such strength as Hattie has. She never tires; she flies about all day long from one thing to the other; and how can I, with my poor nerves and delicate health, fly after her? But if Hattie will only sober down, and be content to sit quietly with me in the Park——”
The next moment, however, showed that Hattie was not going to sit quietly with anybody in the Park.
“Mamma, I am off to the downs. There is a most magnificent view of the sea from a place above the golf-links, Aunt Sophy says; and this is just the day on which to see it.”
“A place above the golf-links, my dear! Above the golf-links!” Mrs. Chevenix had never yet been above the golf-links, and had only once driven as far as that salubrious spot. “Then I suppose you will not be in till dinner time,” she added, plaintively.
She did not put a stop to the expedition, be it observed; the fact being that she would have had to answer for it to her husband had she done so, and Major Chevenix had opinions of his own about Hattie. “Be content with drivelling away your own life, and be-dabbling your own face with powder and paint,” he had once brutally told his wife; “I won’t interfere with you. But if you interfere with Hattie, by George! you will have me to reckon with. I will stand no nonsense, madam,” he had subjoined, so sternly, that from thenceforth the only daughter of the ill-assorted pair had as absolutely lost a mother’s control as she had formerly missed her tenderness and care.
This will account for the tone of independence adopted by a young girl of eighteen—a tone which must have struck our readers.
We will follow Hattie through the day, the day which shook all her mother’s faith in her afresh, but which at the same time turned the tables—nay, we will not anticipate.
Understand, then, that it is the afternoon of Hattie’s third day at Windbourne-by-the-Sea, that she has so far been a demure, elegant specimen of young ladyhood, trotting hither and thither beneath the shadow of the maternal wing, and that she is now about to indemnify herself for two whole days of chatter and finery by a relapse into her real self, in congenial company and amidst soul-inspiring surroundings.
The two springing youthful figures then, whom we see breasting the hillside in the summer sunlight, are Hattie and May Chevenix, both only children, both open, joyous, light-hearted little maids. How the two frolicked and jested as they went! Hattie would push May, and May would lie in wait to catch Hattie unawares.
Hattie would pretend to be lost, and May would affect not to find her, and presently there would be a game of “Catch me if you can” to sharpen the point of the double fiction.
The two raced, and tumbled, and tossed about upon the heights.
We do not, of course, mean to affirm that anyone strolling along the high ground above the outskirts of town would have seen any exhibition of tomboy-hood in the two pretty girls, who for all their simple cotton dresses and straw hats, could never have been mistaken for village maidens—but it is indisputable that severe gravity and downcast eyelashes had often to be resorted to when strangers passed, as the only safeguard against the merry laughter with which their lips were rippling, and that the coast would be barely clear ere the fun would begin afresh.
As for the pots and pans, they were swung and jangled about from hand to hand. Sometimes they were set rolling down a steep incline, out of sheer wantonness.
May would steal slily up behind her cousin, and tip the load out of her arms; Hattie would turn sharply round and retort with a quid pro quo in kind.
Had there been any china to break, the two might have been less reckless in their sport, but Aunt Sophy’s tea apparatus was happily constructed of tin throughout, and the girls had, with possible foresight of a merry time, declined cups, and substituted mugs of horn, of which for sketching purposes each possessed one.
“Now we can do as we please, and not be worried or bothered,” May, the school-girl, had cried exultant; and exactly as they pleased the two accordingly did.
Even the wildest of wild spirits exhaust themselves, however, at last; and having skipped and gambled and laughed themselves tired, the two happy young creatures presently alit like butterflies upon a soft bunch of mossy thyme in the heart of a sheet of gorse, and there elected to boil their kettle.
Wonderful to relate, the kettle was willing to boil.
Kettles are by no means apt to be of an accommodating nature, and the one in question having been jerked and swung hither and thither throughout the whole of its upward journey, might really have been excused had it been in a bad temper.
“I dare say the stupid thing will never really boil,” quoth Hattie Chevenix, sagaciously; “we can make believe it does, and, ——” but even as the skeptical young tea-maker spoke, there emanated from the mouth of the maligned implement a faint jet of steam, which was speedily followed by gentle singing, the sweetest of music to a thirsty ear. Aunt Sophy’s lamp—three good burners enclosed within a case of perforated tin—proved to be in perfect working order, and the protection of a thick prickly bush, into the midst of which the little stand had been plunged, enabled the flames to rise clearly; the result being that a soft cloud presently puffed away over the gorse, and the tea being popped in—a teapot had, of course, been dispensed with—the girls gleefully turned their attention to minor details.
“Now for the buns and butter,” said Hattie, fussing about. “Now, May, you split and butter those great brown buns, while I see what Virginie has put in the other paper bag. Sponge cakes, oh, good Virginie! I love sponge cakes. And here are some slices of the cake Aunt Sophy had at her tea-party yesterday. Virginie has cleared the dish for us. She is a better Virginie than ever. Oh, May, here is actually another packet; I thought my load began to grow rather heavy. It is sweet biscuits. Dear me, we shall never eat all we have here. Such pretty pink and white biscuits too,” regretfully. “It is a tea fit for two princesses, May; now,” laughing, “if we had only a handsome, gallant, hungry prince to sit down and share it with us. Oh, thank you,” in an altered tone, “not a prince of your kind, indeed,” under her breath, as simultaneously with the gay aspiration, and apparently conjured into being by it, a young man in cricketing flannels shot out of the ground, as it seemed, just above the girls’ heads, and barely succeeded in pulling himself up in time not to go head-over-heels into the middle of their little feast. He had obviously been flying down the hill-side at full speed.
“Rude boy!” muttered Hattie, with an angry frown. She and May had fancied themselves alone in this solitary nook, and a stranger was perforce an intruder.
“Beg pardon,” responded an equally indignant mutter back. The aggressor, it might have been perceived, considered he also had been aggrieved. (“A beastly mess of a picnic,” he was, in fact, saying in his heart, with a shudder of disgust).
Then there was a moment’s pause, during which all three impatiently awaited the dissolution of their involuntary partnership.
No one spoke, but the young man looked upwards with a restive eye. From thence, it was plain, help was to come. Nor was the help long in coming.
Within a few seconds, in far less time than it takes to write it, there was a rustling in the brake, and even nearer to the small encampment than the former invader had broken covert, there emerged a small, stumbling, breathless figure, who plumped into a gorse bush and rolled over, before anyone could catch hold of him to prevent the mischance.
He was the smallest little fellow ever seen in trousers. His tiny white sailor suit might almost have been made for a very large doll, and yet it suited every inch of the plump, rounded, healthy little frame.
“Why, he cannot be more than three years old,” decided Miss Chevenix, with the eye of experience.1The original text read “three years’ old.” “He certainly is not four.”
She could not help regarding favourably the little toddler; she and May were fond of children.
“Hi, Johnny,” said Johnny’s companion, quickly, “take care; come along.”
Johnny picked himself up, and stood still, his eyes growing round. What a delicious meal he saw before him!
All at once, doubtless, the little boy realised a sensation which had been imperceptible to him a minute before.
“Hi, Johnny, come along.” This time the stranger, rather gruff in the voice and red in the face, just lifted his hat to the young ladies in apology, as he endeavoured to cut short the scene.
But now a serious matter occurred. It is a very serious matter to bring a young, unreasoning child into the presence of a tempting display of viands just at his own tea hour, and it was now considerably past Johnny Somebody-or-other’s tea hour.2A viand is an item of food. For this cause it was that the said Johnny was being bustled along at a pace and down a steep incline which an older hand would have known was fraught with peril.
Johnny was all of a sudden very tired as well as dreadfully hungry.
“Come along, Johnny.” Emphasis on the “along” showed that the elder brother—(Hattie and May had at once decided that the leader was the elder brother)—was losing patience and temper.
Johnny, however, was not to be “Come alonged” at by anyone in that tone of voice. For reply, he only drew a little nearer to the snowy tablecloth on which the good things were spread, and sighed aloud.
The sigh made Hattie Chevenix bite her lips.
She and May were in an awkward position certainly; for all their boisterous glee, the outpouring of two glad young hearts, they were gentlewomen and had the instincts of gentlewomen; it took all desire to laugh out of them, to be thus confronted with a predicament in which two other unknown individuals played a part, and they were not in the least inclined even to smile at this crisis. Hattie only bit her lips because she longed to give the little boy a cake, and bid him gently run away, and she knew that this she could hardly do.
Johnny’s brother had now turned around, and got his back to the girls.
“Come along, you little beggar,” he reiterated in an imperative undertone. “Do as I tell you this moment, or you’ll never come with me again. Come,” taking a pace or two forward, and looking over his shoulder.
Not an inch budged. Obstinacy in arms. Rebellion made itself unmistakably evident in a humped back and pouted lips.
“You little fool—come, I tell you.” Back came the discomfited elder.
Stock still stood the child. He had seen, he had smelt, the very milk in the bottle had an irresistible fascination for his parched tongue. Large tears slowly welled up into the blue eyes.
Apparently without effect, however.
“I’ll haul you along, if you don’t come.” The unfortunate speaker was at his wits’ end, and he almost groaned as he gave vent to the appalling threat. “Johnny, I say, come,” he added suddenly in new and inviting accents, as though the happy idea had only just occurred, and was sure to prove irresistible.
But the wile was thrown away, as the entreaty and the command had alike been.
“Come then, this minute.” Exasperated beyond endurance, the young man strode roughly to the spot, and brushing past Hattie Chevenix’s summer draperies, he seized the delinquent, with the obvious intention of bearing him off willy-nilly.
But this was easier said than done. At the first touch of the hand which laid hold of his with a grasp the interpretation whereof was clear even to his infantile understanding, Johnnie’s forces of mind and body gathered themselves together in one final effort, and with a roar of rage and disappointment such as only a little boy or a little lion cub can emit, he flung himself down full length upon the moss.
A dark flush mounted to the brow of his unfortunate guardian for the nonce.3For the nonce means for the time being or for the occasion.
“If ever again!” he ground his teeth, “if I ever get let in for this again! Get up, you little beast—oh, confound you! What am I to do?” ejaculated he, the drops standing on his temples, and his broken breath coming and going in an agony of vexation and shame beyond the powers of endurance to conceal.
Meantime Johnnie lay and bawled.
He looked such a little cherub lying there, kicking his little trousered legs, and shouting with all the strength of his little healthy lungs, that at last Hattie Chevenix could stand no more.
Besides, what was to be done?
No one, except a skilled and nimble nurse, can lift a kicking child and carry him off out of sight and hearing with anything like dignity, or even safety; and on a steep hillside the chances were that Johnny and his captor would have come to considerable grief. Add to which, what a dreadful predicament for the boy’s poor brother to be placed in! If he carried Johnny far, Johnny’s cries would resound till general attention would infallibly be aroused; if he set him down, would he ever get the little wretch to move on?
“He is a little wretch, but he has the dearest little face in the world,” thought Hattie, and made up her mind.
“I hope you will not think it strange,” she said, with a gentle shyness that was the most absolute contrast possible to the free prattling humour friendship and familiarity would have warranted, “but I am afraid the poor little boy really is very tired, and—and hungry. If you would not mind, we shall be so glad to give him some of our tea, and when he has rested a little, he will be quite good, and ready to go on,” confidently.
A sudden cessation of the outcry by her side showed that somebody was listening.
“Would you not be quite good, Johnny, if you had a little cake and milk, and sat up here and ate it with us?” whispered the pretty lady in the naughty little ear.
“’Es.” A loud sob, tribute to the departing storm, accompanied the promise.
“Then let me wipe your eyes,” added Hattie, bending over him. “Johnny must not cry any more, but have a drink of nice milk and a sponge cake,” suiting the action to the words. “May, the large horn cup,” hastily. “Now, drink, dear; don’t cry any more,” nothing but pity and tenderness in her tone; “he really can hardly stop now,” she turned round with the feminine instinct to apologise for tears; and the silent figure in the background made a shift to seem appeased by the apology; “he is so tired; and he is so little,” she concluded, drawing the small creature closer to her side.
“I am sure you are very kind.” The young man took off his cap, and forced himself to accept the situation. “I suppose I took him too far; but he told me he could walk,” he continued, in an aggrieved tone. “I should never have dreamed of taking him all the way up here, if both he and his fool of a nurse had not said he could walk to the Head perfectly well, and had often done it before.”
“So I has,” said Johnny, with his mouth full, and turning up a glazed face to his brother, “offin.”
“Often? Then what in the name of—why could you not do it to-day, then? Why must you go and make an exhibition of yourself just because you were with me?”
“You didn’t carry me.” Johnny took another complacent bite, and his limpid eyes shone with satisfaction. How quickly the tears of childhood dry!
“Carry you!” echoed his brother, another flush of disgust deepening on his cheek. “Do you mean to say that it was part of the programme that I was to carry you?”
“If I’m tired, nurse carries me.”
“She will carry you in future, as far as I am concerned,” retorted the young man, realising at length the trap into which he had fallen. Then perceiving that it was hardly polite to be thus arguing with the youthful culprit to the neglect of his entertainers, he endeavoured shamefacedly to make matters a little easier. “I took him for a walk, and I suppose it is a little late,” he said, “and I am sure you are very kind—I am most awfully ashamed. I will just go and sit over there till he is ready,” a good idea occurring.
“Will you not have a cup of tea yourself?” May Chevenix courteously proffered the second horn mug.
“No, thank you. I—I had rather not,” hastily. “He won’t be long. You are very kind. Poor little fellow!” and for the first time an infusion of something like compassion entered into the ill-used elder’s tone. It is hard for one-and-twenty to be made a fool of (in his own mind) and not to feel wrath pure and simple against the guilty personage, however small and weak, and at another time dear to the heart, that little wicked gadfly may be.
Johnny, munching away with a happy face, had something rather irresistible about him now.
But at the end of half-an-hour—(“Please don’t hurry him,” Hattie had urged, and it had eventually been decided that Johnny’s jailer should depart and view the landscape from different points for about that period,)—at the expiration of half-an-hour, when the gentleman re-appeared upon the scene, the little urchin proved to be more irresistible still.
Replete with good things, comforted in his inner man, cooled down in the seductive retreat, and serene with all the trustfulness of his years, the little one had curled himself up into a ball in Hattie Chevenix’s lap, and fallen fast asleep, with his rosy cheek upon her bosom.
Hattie’s arms were locked around him.
Here was a new dilemma. But somehow it did not rouse the ire the former one had done.
“Good Heavens! What is he up to now?” exclaimed the young man, under his breath. “But, good Heavens!”—internally—“how lovely the girl is! And what a—a—yes, I thought she was pretty before,”—he had been ruminating on the young lady’s looks during his term of banishment—“but now she has the face of an angel. It is a beautiful face. I can’t be angry with the boy if he is tired; it would be unreasonable. And the little imp has chosen good quarters for himself, that’s certain.” Then aloud, “How very unfortunate! Really I—I—we are most unfortunate. Forcing ourselves upon you like this!”
“Oh no,” it was both girls who spoke at once.
“If there is any one to blame, this is the naughty person,” proceeded the elder, her glance falling upon the dimpled rosy cheek which nestled to her, sunk in the sweet sleep of childhood, “and look, you cannot be angry with him.”
He could not be angry with anybody. But what was to be done? There reposed the little sleeper, cares and weariness alike forgotten—but the glory of the day was fading, the party was at some distance from the outskirts of the town, it was time for everybody to be moving homewards, and here were they one and all fast caught in the tangle of a golden web of hair. Nor was there any prospect of escape.
“He must not be awakened,” said Hattie Chevenix, decidedly.
“I am afraid he really must.” The demur, however, was a faint one.
May Chevenix was busy packing up the tea-things. After a momentary hesitation, the stranger whom circumstances had thus victimised seated himself by her cousin’s side.
“I never felt more ashamed in my life,” he said. “I can’t tell you how annoyed I am.” But somehow there was but little shame and no annoyance in the words. “How long do you think it will be before he wakes?” added the speaker, presently.
“I have no idea.” A little hug of the bundle in Hattie’s arms.
“He is a great weight. You will be very tired.”
“He is no weight; he is a perfect darling.” Then followed a bright blush and an instant wish that the epithet had been less fervent. “I ought not to have said that,” reflected Modesty. But Admiration thought otherwise.
“She is the dearest as well as the loveliest girl I ever saw in my life,” concluded a certain spectator, deeply moved. “Johnnie, I forgive you.”
Then followed a long pause.
Johnnie slept peacefully on; Hattie smiled contentedly down upon him; the stranger watched them both. Every uneasy emotion died out of his breast.
“I will tell you what I can do,” suddenly however, he burst out at last. “I will run down and fetch the carriage. The carriage can easily get up as far as that point down there, and then I will run up and carry Johnnie down.” (N.B. No horror of carrying Johnnie down now.)4“N.B.” is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “nota bene” which means take notice. “I shall only be gone about twenty minutes,” proceeded the speaker, springing to his feet. “If I have luck, I shall catch my mother just come in from her drive, so there will be nothing to delay me.” Then he stopped with an evident afterthought. “We have already trespassed so terribly on you,—”
“But if you could kindly wait here?”
“And the carriage can take you home first.”
“We shall not be late, thank you,” said the elder Miss Chevenix, in a clear voice. “We are in rooms at this end of the town, and shall be home in time for dinner. It is no matter; not the slightest. We can wait quite well.”
He was off.
“Chevenix?” he muttered to himself as he hurried down hill. He had seen a directed envelope lying about, (it had been used as a kettle-holder), “Chevenix? I seem to know the name; and yet I cannot remember when I have heard it.”
Lady Pulborough, however, remembered instantly. “My dear boy, they are here; I knew it. Those very rich, smart people who have taken Broadlands, don’t you know? Sir John said I need not call unless I liked, as they are only tenants; and I did not like at all. I disliked all I heard of them. The mother is a most silly woman.”5Broadlands is an English country house near the town of Romsey.
“Come and see the daughter,” was all his answer.
The two were bowling swiftly along towards the downs, and in a few minutes after the last speaker had said “Come and see the daughter,” the barouche drew up at the nearest point to where the tea encampment had been made.
“You are coming up, are you not?” said Mr. Pulborough. He particularly wished his august parent to go up.
“It is very steep, my dear.” Her ladyship glanced ruefully upwards.
“But Johnnie may be frightened when he wakes.”
“So he may, poor darling. Oh, I will certainly come.” She had but the two sons, and worshipped them both; all the intermediate daughters went for nothing. “Besides, I must thank these young ladies.” Lady Pulborough had a grateful heart.
“And I doubt their accepting to drive unless you ask them.”
He had no mercy, even when he saw her panting and struggling. He got her up somehow. And then came triumph.
The little sleeper still lay calmly slumbering, still was watched over by the angel face.
“Oh dear, what a picture!” cried the mother under her breath, and the victory was won.
We have no space to describe what followed; to tell of how the little man was borne tenderly down to the carriage by stronger arms than Hattie’s, which were only eager now for the honour of succeeding hers; of how Miss Chevenix on her part succeeded to the charge which Mr. Pulborough had resigned, and guided dutifully his mother’s steps; of how Lady Pulborough introduced herself with pleasant words and benignant smiles; of how all the party drove home in the cool evening light, when little Johnnie woke at last and kissed the fair cheek that bent over him; and of how a dark pair of eyes opposite jealously noted, yet approved of the proceeding.
At length the girls reached their lodgings, and it was subsequently to this that the conversation took place in Mrs. Chevenix’s apartment, which we have already heard.
Our little story is almost over.
Mrs. Chevinix had been dying for Lady Pulborough to call ever since they had become country neighbours, but had at last given up all hopes of the desired event. She had been so much chagrined as almost to have made her husband cut short his lease in consequence. Then to run up hap-hazard against the great lady at a place like Windbourne! To meet and to know her through Hattie! It was extraordinary, unheard-of good luck. She was now all excitement and anticipation.
“Really, it was most wonderfully fortunate,” she cried. She had followed Hattie as soon as ever the lilac robe was on, and had hurried as she had never hurried before. “Really, it was a perfect scene in a play,” having heard the adventure, even to the minutest detail, with interest. “But how odd that we should never even have known that the Pulboroughs were here—never have met them in the Park, nor anywhere!
“They never go to the Park. Lady Pulborough was not complimentary to the Park, mamma.”
“Was she not?” Mrs. Chevenix’s face fell a little. “Did she think it—ahem—vulgar, Hattie?”
“I think so, mamma.”
“What, then, does she do with herself?” inquired Mrs. Chevenix, after a moment’s discomfited pause.
“She drives about the country, and Sir John plays golf.”
“And the son? What does he do?”
“Goes sea fishing. Oh,” cried Hattie with the innocence of a babe, “how I should like to go sea fishing!”
“Well, well,” said Mrs. Chevenix, cheerfully. “I dare say you can go, if the Pulboroughs ask you. I dare say your father would consent. But the extraordinary thing is,” with animation, “you must forgive my saying it, Hattie,—but the strange thing is that this introduction should be your doing. For you know, Hattie, you must confess, that you would have done what you did exactly the same if it had been the veriest beggar’s brat who came by,—you know you would.”
Almost the same words were said by another pair of lips one day not very long afterwards.
“By Jove! It was that which fetched me,” said Hattie’s lover, as the two hung over the side of a sailing boat, and held the hand-lines which the fish seemed to shun for the nonce. “It was that which bowled me over, you know. You looked so pretty—but that was nothing, you looked so good, sitting there. I could not help thinking, ‘By Jove! that girl would have done the same for any beggar’s brat who was in trouble,’ and—and—I like that kind of girl, you know.”
But Three Feet of Obstinacy sets up a claim that it was his naughtiness which won his brother’s happiness; and the worst of it is, that no one can deny his right to say so.
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How To Cite (MLA Format)
L. B. Walford. “Three Feet of Obstinacy.” Atalanta, vol. 4, no. 39, 1890, pp. 199-206. Edited by Julia Willardson. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 9 June 2023, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/three-feet-of-obstinacy/.
21 March 2020
7 June 2023