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CHAPTER IX.
After the most successful party, even if it is only a garden party, a flatness is apt to fall upon the family of the entertainers who have been so nobly doing their best to amuse their friends. Besides the grateful sense of success, and of the fact that the trouble is well over, comes a flagging of both physical and mental powers. The dinner at Wradisbury was heavy after the great success of the afternoon; there was a little conversation about that, and about how everybody looked, and on Ralph’s part, who was decidedly the least dull of the party, on the changes that time had made, especially upon the women whom he remembered as little girls, and who were now, as he said, “elderly,” some of them with little girls of their own; but{130} neither Mr. Wradisley nor Mr. Bertram were at all amused, and Lucy was tired, and agreeing with Ralph completely in his estimation of the old young ladies, was not exhilarated by it as she might have been. The master of the house did not indeed betray fatigue or ill-humor, he was too well bred for that. But he was a little cross to the butler, and dissatisfied with the dinner, which was an unusual thing; he even said something to his mother about “your cook,” as if he thought the sins of that important person resulted from the fact that she was Mrs. Wradisley’s cook, and had received bad advice from her mistress. When he was pleased he said “my cook,” and on ordinary occasions “the cook,” impersonally and impartially. Bertram on the other hand, had the air of a man who had fallen from a great height, and had not been able to pick himself up—he was pale, his face was drawn. He scarcely heard when he was spoken to. When he perceived that he was being addressed he woke up with an effort. All this Lucy perceived keenly and put down{131} to what was in fact its real reason, though with a difference. She said to herself:

“Nelly Nugent must have known him. She must have known his wife and all about him, and how it was they didn’t get on. I’ll make her tell me,” Lucy said to herself, and she addressed herself very particularly to Mr. Bertram’s solace and entertainment, partly because she was romantically interested and very sorry for him, and partly to show her mother, who had told her with a certain air that Mr. Bertram was married, that his marriage made not the slightest difference to her. She tried to draw him out about Tiny, who was the first and most natural subject.

“Isn’t she a delightful little thing? I am sure she made a slave of you, Mr. Bertram, and got you to do everything she wanted. She always does. She is a little witch,” Lucy said.

“Oh, Tiny,” said Bertram, with a slight change of color. “Yes—I had not been thinking. What is her—real name?”

“I believe it is Agnes, and another name{132} too—an old-fashioned name; do you remember, mother?”

“Laetitia. I don’t know what you mean by an old-fashioned name. I had once a great friend whose name was Laetitia. It means light-heartedness, doesn’t it?—joy. And a very nice meaning, too. It would just suit Tiny. They can call her Letty when she gets a little older. But the worst of these baby names is that there is no getting rid of them; and Tiny is so absurd for a big girl.”

During this rather long speech Bertram sat with a strange look, as if he could have cried, Lucy thought, which, however, must have been absurd, for what he did do was to laugh. “Yes, they do stick; and the more absurd they are the longer they last.”

“Tiny, however, is not absurd in the least; and isn’t she a delightful little thing?” Lucy repeated. She was not, perhaps, though so very good a girl, very rapid in her perceptions, and besides, it would have been entirely idiotic to imagine the existence of any reason why Bertram should not discuss freely the little characteristics of Mrs. Nugent’s child.{133}

“Poor little Tiny!” he said, quite inappropriately, with a sort of stifled sigh.

“Oh! do you mean because her father is dead?” said Lucy, with a countenance of dismay. She blamed herself immediately for having thought so little of that misfortune. Perhaps the thing was that Mr. Bertram had been a friend of Tiny’s father, and it was this that made him so grave. She added, “I am sure I am very sorry for poor Mr. Nugent; but then I never knew him, or knew anybody that knew him. Yes, to be sure, poor little Tiny! But, Mr. Bertram, she has such a very nice mother. Don’t you think for a girl the most important thing is to have a nice mother?”

“No doubt,” Bertram said very gravely, and again he sighed.

Lucy was full of compunction, but scarcely knew how to express it. He must have been a very great friend of poor Mr. Nugent, and perhaps he had felt, seeing Nelly quite out of mourning, and looking on the whole so bright, that his friend had been forgotten. But no! Lucy was ready to go to the stake{134} for it, that Mrs. Nugent had not forgotten her husband—more at least than it was inevitable and kind to her other friends to forget.

And then Mr. Wradisley, having finished his complaints about “your cook,” told his mother across the table that it was quite possible he might have to go to town in a few days. “Perhaps to-morrow,” he said. The dealer in antiquities, through whose hands he spent a great deal of money, had some quite unique examples which it would be sinful to let slip by.

Mrs. Wradisley exclaimed against this suggestion. “I thought, Reginald, you were to be at home with us all the winter; and Ralph just come, too,” she said.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Ralph.

“Ralph may be sure, mother,” said Mr. Wradisley, with his usual dignity, “that I mind him very much. Still there are opportunities that occur but once in a lifetime. But nothing,” he added, “need be settled till to-morrow.”

What did Reginald expect to-morrow? Mr. Bertram looked up too with a sort of{135} involuntary movement, as if he were about to say something concerning to-morrow; but then changed his mind and did not speak. This was Lucy’s observation, who was uneasy, watching them all, and feeling commotion, though she knew not whence it came, in the air.

In the morning there was still the same commotion in the air to Lucy’s consciousness, who perhaps, however, was the only person who was aware of it. But any vague sensation of that sort was speedily dispersed by the exclamation of Mrs. Wradisley, after she had poured out the tea and coffee (which was an office she retained in her own hands, to Lucy’s indignation). While she did this she glanced at the outside of the letters which lay by the side of her plate; for they retained the bad habit in Wradisbury of giving you your letters at breakfast, instead of sending them up to your room as soon as they arrived; so that you received your tailor’s bill or your lover’s letter before the curious eyes of all the world, so to speak. Mrs. Wradisley looked askance at her letters as{136} she poured out the tea, and said, half to herself, “Ah! Mrs. Nugent. Now what can she be writing to me about? I saw her last night, and I shall probably see her to-day.”

“It will be about those cuttings for the garden, mother,” said Lucy. “May I open it and see?”

Mrs. Wradisley put her hand for a moment on the little pile. “I prefer to open my letters myself. No one has ever done that for me yet.”

“Nor made the tea either, mother,” said Ralph.

“Nor made the tea either, Raaf, though Lucy would like to put me out, I know,” said Mrs. Wradisley, with a little nod of her head; and then, having finished that piece of business like one who felt her very life attacked by any who should question her powers of doing it, she proceeded to open her letters—one or two others before that on which she had remarked.

Lucy was so much interested herself that she did not see how still her elder brother sat behind his paper, or how uneasy Bertram{137} was, cutting his roll into small pieces on his plate. Then Mrs. Wradisley gave a little scream, and gave them all an excuse for looking up at her, and Mr. Wradisley for demanding, “What is the matter, mother?” in his quiet tones.

“Dear me! I beg your pardon, Reginald, for crying out; how very absurd of me. Mrs. Nugent has gone away! I was so startled I could not help it. She’s gone away! This is to tell me—and she was here all the afternoon yesterday, and never said a word.”

“Oh, that’s the little widow,” said Ralph; “and a very good thing too, I should say, mother. Nothing so dangerous as little widows about.”

Again I am sorry that Lucy was so much absorbed in her own emotions as not to be capable of general observation, or she would have seen that both her brother Reginald and Mr. Bertram looked at Raaf as if they would like to cut his throat.

“She says she did tell me yesterday,” said Mrs. Wradisley, reading her letter. “‘I{138} mentioned that I had news that disturbed me a little.’ Yes, now I recollect she did. I thought she wasn’t looking herself, and of course I asked what was the matter. But I had forgotten all about it, and I never thought it was serious. ‘And now I find that I must go. You have all been so kind to me, and I am so sorry to leave. Tiny, too, will break her little heart; only a child always believes she is coming back again to-morrow; and the worst of it is I don’t know when I may be able to get back.’”

“But, mother, she can’t have gone yet; there will be time to run and say good-by by the ten o’clock train,” said Lucy, getting up hurriedly.

Once more Mrs. Wradisley raised a restraining hand, “Listen,” she said, “you’ve not heard the end. ‘To-night I am going up to town by the eight o’clock train. I have not quite settled what my movements will be afterwards; but you shall hear when I know myself.’ That’s all,” said the mother, “and very unsatisfactory I call it; but you see you will do no manner of good, Lucy, jumping{139} up and disturbing everybody at breakfast on account of the ten o’clock train.”

“Well,” said Lucy, drawing a long breath, “that is something at least—if she will really let us know as soon as she knows herself.”

“Gammon,” said Ralph. “My belief is you will never hear of your pretty widow again. She’s seen somebody that is up to her tricks, or she’s broken down in some little game, or—”

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