Aunt Judith: The Story of a Loving Life eBook: Page1

L. Frank Baum (2007)




  Produced by Al Haines

  Started off through the first figure.]

  AUNT JUDITH

  The Story of a Loving Life

  BY

  GRACE BEAUMONT

  THOMAS NELSON AND SONS

  LONDON, EDINBURGH,

  DUBLIN, AND NEW YORK

  Published 1888, 1910

  CONTENTS.

  I. A School-girl Quarrel II. Aunt Judith III. Will You have Me for a Friend? IV. A Talk with Aunt Judith V. A Fallen Queen VI. Winnie's Home VII. An Afternoon at Dingle Cottage VIII. Forging the First Link IX. The Christmas Party X. Gathering Clouds XI. It is so hard to say Good-bye XII. I always speak as I think XIII. Our Sailor Boy XIV. The Prize Essay XV. How shall I live through the long, long years? XVI. Light in Darkness XVII. I shall learn to be good now XVIII. Conclusion

  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

  Started off through the first figure . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

  "Will you have me for a friend?"

  A prostrate figure with white, upturned face

  The eyes, wide open, were fixed on the sheets of manuscript before her

  AUNT JUDITH.

  CHAPTER I.

  A SCHOOL-GIRL QUARREL.

  "Girls, girls, I've news for you!" cried Winnifred Blake, entering theschool-room and surveying the faces of her school-mates with greateagerness.

  Luncheon hour was almost over, and the pupils belonging to Mrs. Elder'sSelect Establishment for Young Ladies were gathered together in thelarge school-room, some enjoying a merry chat, others, more studiouslyinclined, conning over a forthcoming lesson.

  "Give us the benefit of your news quickly, Winnie," said Ada Irvine,looking round from her snug seat on the broad window-ledge; "surely wemust be going to hear something wonderful when _you_ are so excited;"and the girl eyed her animated school-fellow half scornfully.

  "A new pupil is coming," announced Winnie with an air of greatsolemnity. "Be patient, my friends, and I'll tell you how I know.Dinner being earlier to-day, I managed to get back to school soonerthan usual, and was just crossing the hall to join you all in theschool-room, when the drawing-room door opened, and Mrs. Elderappeared, accompanied by a lady in a long loose cloak and hugebonnet--regular coal-scuttle affair, girls; so large, in fact, that itwas quite impossible to get a glimpse of her face. Mrs. Elder wassaying as I passed, 'I shall expect your niece to-morrow morning, MissLatimer, at nine o'clock; and trust she will prosecute her studies withall diligence, and prove a credit to the school.'" Winnie mimicked thelady-principal's soft, plausible voice as she spoke.

  "A new pupil!" remarked Ada once more, her voice raised in supremecontempt; "really, Winnie, I fail to understand your excitement oversuch a trifle. Why, she may be a green-grocer's daughter for all youknow to the contrary;" and the speaker's dainty nose was turned up witha gesture of infinite scorn.

  "Well, and what then, Miss Conceit?" retorted Winnie, flushing angrilyat her school-mate's contemptuous tone; "I presume a green-grocer'sdaughter is not exempted from possessing the same talented abilitieswhich characterize your charming self."

  "Certainly not," replied the other with the same quiet ring of scorn inher voice; "but, pray, who would associate with a green-grocer'sdaughter? Most assuredly not I. My mother is very particular withregard to the circle in which I move."

  Winnie swept a graceful courtesy.

  "Allow me to express my deep sense of obligation," she said mockingly,"at the honour conferred on my unworthy self by your attemptedpatronage and esteem." Then, changing her tone and raising her littlehead proudly--"Ada Irvine, I am ashamed of you--your pride isinsufferable; and my heartiest wish is that some day you may be lookeddown upon and viewed with the supreme contempt you now bestow on thoselower (most unfortunately) in the social scale than yourself."

  "Thanks for your amiable wish," was the answer, given in that easy,tranquil voice which the owner well knew irritated her adversary morethan the fiercest burst of passion would have done; "but I am afraidthere is little likelihood of its ever being realized."

  Winnie elevated her eyebrows. "Is that your opinion?" she said inaffected surprise, while the other school-girls gathered round,tittering at the caustic little tongue. "I suppose you study thepoets, Miss Irvine; and if so, doubtless you will remember who it isthat says:--

  'Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!'"

  The mischievous child stopped for a second, and then continued: "I amafraid you look at yourself and your various charms throughrose-coloured spectacles, certainly not with 'a jaundiced eye;'--but Ibeg your pardon; were you about to speak?" and Winnie looked innocentlyinto the fair face of her antagonist, which was now white and set withpassion.

  The blue eyes were flashing with an angry light, the pretty lipstrembling, and the smooth brow knit in a heavy frown; but only for afew moments. By-and-by the features relaxed their fixed and stonygaze; the countenance resumed its usual haughty expression; and,lifting up the book which was lying on her lap, Ada opened it at therequired page, and ended the discussion by saying, "I shall consider itmy duty to inform Mrs. Elder of your charming sentiments; in themeantime, kindly excuse me from continuing such highly edifyingconversation." With that she bent her head over the French grammar,and soon appeared thoroughly engrossed in the conjugation of the verb_avoir_, to have, while her mischievous school-mate turned away with alight shrug of her pretty shoulders.

  Winnifred Blake, the youngest daughter of a wealthy, influentialgentleman, was a bright, happy girl of about fourteen years, with akind, generous heart, and warm, impulsive nature. Being small andslight in stature, she seemed to all appearance a mere child; and thequaint, gipsy face peeping from beneath a mass of shaggy, tangled curlsshowed a pair of large laughter-loving eyes and a mischievous littlemouth.

  Was she clever?

  Well, that still remained to be seen. Certainly, the bright,intelligent countenance gave no indication of a slow understanding andfeeble brain; but Winnie hated study, and consequently was usually tobe found adorning the foot of the class. "It is deliciouslycomfortable here, girls," she would say to her school-mates when eventhey protested against such continual indolence; "you see I am near thefire, and that is a consideration in the cold, wintry days, I assureyou. Don't annoy yourselves over my shortcomings. Lazy, selfishpeople always get on in the world;" and speaking thus, the incorrigiblechild would nestle back in her lowly seat with an air of the utmostsatisfaction.

  Ada Irvine smiled in supreme contempt over what she termed Winnie'sstupidity, and would repeat her own perfectly-learned lesson withadditional triumph in her tone; but the faultless repetition by nomeans disconcerted her lazy school-mate, who was often heard to say,with seeming simplicity, "I could do just as well if I chose; but thenI don't choose, and that, you see, makes all the difference."

  Ada Irvine was an only child, and her parents having gone abroad in the(alas, how often vain!) search after health, had left her with Mrs.Elder, to whose care she was intrusted with every charge for hercomfort and advantage--a charge which that young lady took great careshould be amply fulfilled. She was only six months older than Winnie,but very tall, and already giving the promise of great beauty in afteryears. Talented and brilliant also, she held a powerful sway over theminds and actions of her schoolmates, and queened in the school rightroyally; but the cold, haughty pride which marred her nature failed tomake her such a general favourite as her fiery, little adversary.

  In the afternoon, when the school was being dismissed for the day, Adasought the presence of the lady-principal; and consequently, just asWinnie was strapping up her books
preparatory to going home, a servantappeared in the dressing-room summoning Miss Blake to Mrs. Elder'ssanctum.

  "Now you're in for it, Winnie," said the girls pityingly; "Ada has keptto her word and told. How mean!" But the child only tossed her curlyhead, and with slightly heightened colour followed the maid to thecomfortable parlour where the lady-principal was usually to be found.

  Mrs. Elder, seated by a small fire which burned brightly in the shininggrate, turned a face expressive of the most severe displeasure on thedefiant little culprit as she entered; while Ada, standing slightly inthe shadow of the window-curtain, looked at the victim haughtily, andshaped her lips in a malicious smile at the lady-principal's openingwords.

  "I presume you are aware of my reason for requesting your presencehere, Miss Blake," she began in icy tones; "and I trust you have comebefore me sincerely penitent for your fault. I cannot express insufficiently strong terms the displeasure I feel at your shamefulconduct this afternoon. I never thought a pupil of this establishmentcould be guilty of such unlady-like language as fell from your lips,and it grieves me to know that I have in my school a young girl capableof cherishing the evil spirit of animosity against a fellow-creature.What have you to say in defence of your conduct? Can you vindicate itin any way, or shall I take your silence as full confession of yourguilt?"

  Winnie pressed her lips tightly together, but did not speak. "I neednot attempt to clear myself," she mentally decided. "Ada will havecoloured our quarrel to suit herself, and being Mrs. Elder's favourite,her word will be relied on before mine; that has been the case before,and will be so again."

  The lady-principal, however, mistook the continued silence forconscious guilt.

  "Then I demand that an ample apology be made to Miss Irvine now, in mypresence," she said once more in frigid tones. "Come, Miss Blake; mytime is too precious to be trifled with."

  Winnie's eyes sparkled, and raising her small head defiantly, shereplied, "I decline to apologize, Mrs. Elder. I only spoke as Ithought, and am quite prepared to say the same again if occasionoffers. Miss Irvine knows my words, if distasteful, were but too true."

  The lady-principal gasped. "Miss Blake," she cried at length,horrified at the bold assertion, and endeavouring to quail heraudacious pupil with one stern, withering glance, "this is dreadful!"But the angry child only pouted, and repeated doggedly, "It is quitetrue."

  Then Mrs. Elder rose, and laying her hand firmly on Winnie's shoulder,said quietly, but with an awful meaning underlying her words,"Apologize at once, Miss Blake, or I shall resort to stronger measures,and also complain to your parents"--a threat which terrified theunwilling girl into submission.

  Going forward with flushed cheeks and mutinous mouth, she stood beforethe triumphant Ada, and said sullenly, "Please accept my apology forunlady-like language, Miss Irvine. I am sorry I should have degradedmyself and spoken as I did, but" (and here a mischievous light sweptthe gloomy cloud from the piquant face and lit it up with an elfishsmile) "you provoked me, and I am very outspoken."

  Ada coloured with anger and vexation; and in spite of her displeasure,Mrs. Elder found it difficult to repress a smile.

  "That will do," she pronounced coldly; "such an apology is only addinginsult to injury. You will kindly write out twenty times four pages ofFrench vocabulary, and also remain at the foot of all your classesduring the next fortnight. Go! I am greatly displeased with you, MissBlake;" and as the lady-principal waved her hand in token of dismissal,she frowned angrily, and looked both mortified and indignant.

  Winnie required no second bidding. She drew her slight figure up toits full height, made her exit with all the dignity of an offendedqueen, entered the now deserted dressing-room, and seizing her books,hurried from the school, and was soon running rapidly down the busystreet.

  "Hallo, Win! what's the row? One would think you had stolen thegiant's seven-league boots," cried a voice from behind. "Did ever Isee a girl dashing along at such a rate!" And turning round, Winniesaw before her a tall, strapping boy, whose honest, freckled face,illumined by a broad, friendly grin, shone brightly on her from under ashock of fiery red hair.

  "I'll bet I know without your telling me," he continued, coming to herside and removing his heavy load of books from one shoulder to theother. "Been quarrelling with the lovely Ada, eh?" and he glancedkindly at the little figure by his side.

  Winnie laughed slightly. "You're about right, Dick," she replied."There has been a cat-and-dog fight; only this time the cat's velvetypaws scratched the poor little dog and wounded it sorely."

  "Ah! you went at it tooth and nail, I suppose," Dick saidphilosophically; "pity you girls can't indulge in a regular stand-upfight." And the wild boy began to brandish his arms about as if hewould thoroughly enjoy commencing there and then.

  The quick flush of temper was over now, and the girl's eyes gleamedmischievously as she replied, "I've a weapon of my own, Dick, fully aspowerful as yours. I'll use my tongue;" and the audacious little minxsmiled saucily into her brother's honest face.

  A hearty roar greeted her words, and Dick almost choked before hemanaged to say, "Go it, Win; I'll back you up. Commend me to a woman'stongue!" And the boy, unable to control his risible faculties, burstinto a hearty laugh, which died away in a chuckle of genuine merriment.

  Richard Blake, or Dick (the name by which he was generally called) wasWinnie's favourite brother, and she almost idolized the big, kindlyfellow, on whom the other members of the family showered ridicule andcontempt. He was a bluff, outspoken lad, with a brave, true heart astender and pitiful as a woman's; but, lacking both the capacity for andinclination to study, he by no means proved a brilliant scholar, andthus brought down on himself the censure of his masters and the heavydispleasure of his father. "Hard words break no bones. I daresay Ishall manage through the world somehow," he would say after havingreceived some cutting remark from an elder brother or sister; andWinnie, always his stanch friend and advocate, would nod her sunny headand prophesy confidently, "We shall be proud of you yet, Dick."

  In the meantime they sauntered along, swinging their books and chattinggaily, till a turn in the road brought them to a quiet square wherehandsome dwelling-houses faced each other in sombre grandeur.

  "No. 3 Victoria Square--this way, miss," said Dick, mounting the stepsand ringing the bell violently.

  "What a boy you are!" laughed Winnie, following, and giving herbrother's rough coat a mischievous pull. "Whenever will you learnsense, Dick?" Then the door opened, and with glad young hearts brotherand sister entered their comfortable home.