“And if she can have access to a good library of old and classical
books, there need be no choosing at all … turn her loose into the old
library every wet day, and let her alone … let her loose in the
library, I say, as you do a fawn in the field. It knows the bad weeds
twenty times better than you; and the good ones, too, and will eat some
bitter and prickly ones, good for it, which you had not the slightest
thought would have been so.” _Sesame and Lilies_.
Jane-Anne had got her heart’s desire. She was allowed to wait upon Mr.
Wycherly. She laid his breakfast and carried it in. She laid his
luncheon and his dinner and her good aunt brought the heavy trays to the
slab outside the dining-room door, and Jane-Anne fetched dishes one by
one and set them on table or sideboard, and handed vegetables and poured
out Mr. Wycherly’s beer for him from the old brown Toby jug that had
once belonged to Admiral Bethune.
It was brought about in this wise. When Jane-Anne had been in Holywell
about a month there came a letter for her one morning.
Now, that she should have a letter at all, except from her aunt, was a
tremendous and most untoward event. Yet it was undoubtedly for her, for
it was addressed Miss Jane-Anne (no surname), c/o M. Wycherly, Esq., not
enclosed in one of his, but stamped and sent to her direct. She found
it on her plate at breakfast when she came down, and turned it over and
over in her hands before she opened it.
The handwriting was small, clear and upright, and rather like Mr.
Wycherly’s own. She noticed this at once as she had often taken his
letters to post for him.
“Aren’t you going to open your letter?” her aunt asked.
Nervously Jane-Anne tore the envelope, flushed and paled, as she always
did when excited, and then read it eagerly in absolute silence.
“Well?” Mrs. Dew demanded impatiently. “Who’s been writing to you?”
“It’s from Master Montagu,” Jane-Anne cried breathlessly. “He’s written
to _me_, to ask me to see that Mr. Wycherly eats his meals—oh aunt you
_will_ let me wait on him now, won’t you?”
“What’s he say?” asked Mrs. Dew.
“My dear Jane-Anne,” she read aloud, “I’m glad to hear from Guardie
you’re all right again. It would be decent of you if you’d write to me
sometimes and tell me how he is, for he never says himself. And there’s
another thing: I wish you’d go in and out sometimes at meals and see
that he isn’t reading and forgetting to eat at all. That’s what he does
if he isn’t watched, Robina told me. Just go in and joggle his elbow
and remind him, if he’s got a book, especially if it’s ’Aeschylus’; he’s
very fond of that and forgets the chops and potatoes and everything.
And please make him go out every day; you might take him. You see he
used always to take Mause, our dog, for a walk, but she’s dead, poor
“You’ve not got much to do, with no school, so just look after Guardie
like a good kid. I shall be awfully obliged, and please write.
“Yours truly,
“There,” said Jane-Anne.
“I’ll not say but what it’s quite a good idea,” Mrs. Dew admitted,
“though you can’t go jogglin’ the master’s elbow or any impudence of
that sort. Still, you might wait on him, and if he gets reading, just
go quiet and say ’potatoes, sir,’ or ’peas, sir,’ and it’ll bring ’im
back. It goes to my very heart when he forgets and leaves a homelette
till it’s all flat and tough, an’ it’d come easier like from you—you can
stop in the room at lunch and dinner, and stand be’ind him at the
sideboard. And mind you don’t get woolgathering too, as is but likely.”
“Can I have a cap and apron, like Mrs. Methuen’s parlour-maid?” Jane
Anne asked eagerly, desirous to dress to the part.
“Certainly not; you’d look ridiklus. I don’t want any tweeny maids in
this house—you go in neat and tidy in one of the nice dresses as Mrs.
Methuen got made, and behave quiet and respectful, an’ if there’s
company—why I’ll wait myself, though I don’t care about it much, it not
bein’ what I’ve bin used to.”
“Why couldn’t I wait if there was company? I’d be very quick and quiet,
and I’d love to hear the gentry talk.”
“We’ll see first how you waits without,” said Mrs. Dew, ever dubious as
to Jane-Anne’s practical capacities.
So it came about that she waited on Mr. Wycherly that very day at lunch,
and when she handed him the vegetables he murmured something about
“tender little thumbs” which puzzled her extremely.
She was very deft and quiet, because she wanted to wait well, and
whatever Jane-Anne wanted to do, that she did excellently. She had
watched Mrs. Methuen’s parlour-maid, and she modelled herself on that
very superior young person. So quiet was she, that at first, Mr.
Wycherly would sometimes forget she was there, and pick up the brown
calf-bound book with the queer scratchy print, that Jane-Anne already
loved because she knew it was Greek, and fall a-reading only to be
instantly recalled by a vegetable dish presented at his elbow and a prim
low voice (even her voice was modelled on Mrs. Methuen’s parlour-maid)
remarking, “Cabbage, sir,” or something of the sort.
But although Jane-Anne completely forgot herself in the ardour of her
impersonation, Mr. Wycherly after the very first did not forget
“Couldn’t you stand where I can see you?” he suggested after about a
week of her ministrations, “or better still, sit down.”
“Oh, sir, I mustn’t sit down,” she remonstrated in shocked tones;
“parlour-maids never do that.”
“Don’t they?” said Mr. Wycherly. “It’s so long since I had a
parlour-maid I’ve forgotten. When I was young I was generally waited
upon by men, and in Scotland we never had any waiting at all; we helped
each other.”
“Men are best,” Jane-Anne replied from her place on the hearth-rug where
she had obediently taken her stand. “If I grow up good-looking perhaps
I may marry a first footman.”
“Good God!” ejaculated Mr. Wycherly in tones of the utmost
Jane-Anne looked very surprised.
“There was a first footman at Dursley House. Oh, he was a beautiful
young man!” she exclaimed in reminiscent rapture; “so dignified.”
Mr. Wycherly was quite shaken out of his usual smiling fatalism. Had he
been able at the moment to analyse his feelings he would have been
amazed at the violence of his objection to a first footman as a possible
husband for Jane-Anne. But just then he was only conscious of strong
resentment at the very idea.
It was one thing for her to wait upon him, but to think of his Greek
nymph in intimate relations with anybody’s first footman was
inconceivable. He grew hot all over, and his chief desire at that
moment was to knock somebody down.
There she stood by the fireplace, slender and virginal and sweet, a
graceful, gracious figure in the straight blue linen dress Mrs. Methuen
had chosen for her, regarding him with large surprised brown eyes, and
calmly proposing to marry a footman.
“Do you not think it would be nice?” she asked.
“My dear,” said Mr. Wycherly, recovering himself with difficulty and
striving ineffectually to speak with his usual calm detachment, “it is
an outrageous and impossible contingency, and I beg that you will
forthwith dismiss it from your mind at once and for ever.”
“Sir, you are not eating your dinner,” Jane-Anne remarked after a
moment’s silence.
“How can I eat if you suggest such horrible things?” Mr. Wycherly
“But I’d like to marry somebody,” Jane-Anne protested, “and I wouldn’t
like an ugly person.”
“Heavens!” exclaimed Mr. Wycherly. “Are footmen the only good-looking
men in the world?”
“They’re the best-looking men in our walk in life, sir,” Jane-Anne
rejoined primly, in exact imitation of her aunt.
“Come here, Jane-Anne,” said Mr. Wycherly.
She went obediently and stood beside him.
“Have you ever thought,” he said gravely, “that your walk in life may be
precisely what you choose to make it?”
“No, sir,” she said frankly, “I’ve always supposed I should be a
servant—there doesn’t seem anything else for me to be. You see, aunt
knows she could get me into a good family.”
“I don’t think you’re strong enough for a servant,” Mr. Wycherly
“Then,” she said decidedly, “I think I’d better be a ward.”
“A ward?” Mr. Wycherly repeated in puzzled tones.
“Your ward, like Master Edmund and Master Montagu. I’d like that, it
would be lovelly.”
Mr. Wycherly laughed. “It seems to me,” he said, “that I have already
adopted you.”
“Then that’s all right for just now, but afterwards, when I’m grown up,
what would you like me to be, sir?”
“We’ll think about that later on. Just now I want you to be an entirely
happy little girl, to dance in the sunshine and get fat and merry——”
“I hope I shall never be fat,” she interrupted. “I think it’s hideous.”
“Well, perhaps not fat—but plump and round and jolly—to learn all your
good aunt teaches you and to read for yourself——
“May I read the books in the book-case in the parlour?” she asked
eagerly. “I’ll be so careful. I don’t spoil books, I truly don’t.”
“Certainly you may; you will find many excellent books among them, and
when I come back—I’m going to London for a few days, to-morrow—you shall
tell me what you have read and we’ll talk it over together.”
The book-case in the dining-room was full of books that had belonged to
Miss Esperance, and Mr. Wycherly felt that he was perfectly safe in
giving Jane-Anne permission to read any of them. He had never even
troubled to see what they were. He knew there was a whole edition of
Sir Walter and most of the standard novels up to about the year 1870.
Many theological works, and the little gilt books—precious these—that
had come to Miss Esperance from her own mother.
“You won’t be long away, I hope, sir?” Jane-Anne said wistfully. “It
will seem very lonely when you are gone.”
“I shall not be a moment longer than I can help, and I shall expect to
hear all sorts of interesting news when I come back.”
“Do you think I could ever learn to be a lady, sir—if I can’t be a
“I see no reason why you should not grow up a very charming lady.”
“But ladies don’t dust and wash dishes and do things like I do.”
“As I do,” Mr. Wycherly corrected almost mechanically. Then, as if he
had not spoken, he went on, “the best and most beautiful lady I ever
knew did all these things.”
“Did she like doing them?”
“I don’t think she ever thought much about what she liked or disliked.
She did what she had to do, and did it better and more gracefully than
anybody else.”
She pondered over this. It seemed to her an impossible ideal. How
could anyone do a thing “more gracefully than anybody else” just because
it had to be done? Liking had everything to do with Jane-Anne’s doings.
When she had cleared away, Mr. Wycherly sat long over his glass of port.
He did not read. He did not drink his wine, but sat on at the table
staring at nothing, and wondering about the future of this queer, lonely
child who had crept into his heart so quietly and imperceptibly that not
till she made that astounding announcement as to her matrimonial
ambitions did he realise how dear she had become.
He had released the starling; it was true.
The bird was very tame, and came at call to his hand; but the wings were
there, young and strong and untried.
When the time came for flight, whither would they bear her?
* * * * *
On Thursday Mr. Wycherly went to London. He was to remain over Sunday,
in order to hear an old friend preach at the Temple Church. On Friday
morning Jane-Anne hied her to the parlour to inspect the book-case.
It is true that all the books in the dining-room had belonged to Miss
Esperance, but Mr. Wycherly had reckoned without the Admiral. His books
were there too. These included the works of Henry Fielding and Tobias
Smollett, and there was on the top shelf a long row of little books,
“the dear and dumpy twelves” beloved by our ancestors.
The book-case was a tall one, and, with the natural perversity of
children, Jane-Anne attacked the top row first. Just because she could
not reach it, she desired ardently to look at the small dull-coloured
books on the top shelf. So she dragged up a chair, placed a work-box
upon that and then, mounted upon the two, she could read the titles on
the books, and pull the books out at her ease.
There were ten little books all alike, bound in dark green cloth with a
shield and a coronet in gold above the title on the backs, and a golden
crest on the front cover. Haphazard she pulled one out just to look at
Evidently it had been much read at one time, for it opened of itself and
she saw that it was poetry and that certain of the verses were marked at
the side in pencil, just as she marked her favourite texts.
“The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece,
Where burning Sappho loved and sung.”
Where had she heard those lines before?
Slowly and carefully she read on till she gave a little cry and nearly
fell off the work-box in her excitement.
“The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea—
And musing there an hour alone,
I dreamed that Greece might still be free.”
The long quest was at an end.
The poem that her father had chanted as he used to carry her about, was
She jumped off the work-box on to the floor, and sat down upon it,
leaning her back against the book-case.
The tears were wet on her cheeks as she read, and her breath came
quickly as though she had been running. She was deeply moved. She
repeated the lines softly, whispering them to herself, sometimes
mispronouncing the long words but ever vividly and intensely alive to
the music of the measure, to the nobility of the conception, to the
tragic dignity of its expression.
The dew of genius had fallen upon the thought, and the words bloomed
again in their fiery beauty for this small, unlettered girl, who, with
something of the spirit of old Greece, sat weeping over the wonder of
Over and over again she read those sixteen verses, till she heard her
aunt calling her to come to dinner, and, carrying the precious work with
her, she darted upstairs to her bedroom, hid it in a drawer, and rushed
down again in a tumult of excitement that could find no outlet.
“You’ve got a cold, Jane-Anne,” said Mrs. Dew as she carved the joint.
“Your nose is red an’ you’re sniffling.”
Jane-Anne did not explain. The imputation must be borne.
“I don’t think it’s much, aunt,” she said meekly. “Did you ever,” she
added in her eager way, “hear of anybody called Lord Byron?”
“He never visited where I lived,” Mrs. Dew answered; “but then there’s
a-many lords as I never heerd on. Why do you want to know?”
“I only wondered. It would have been nice if you’d known about him. He
wrote poetry.”
“Then I shouldn’t think as he was much of a lord. The real old families
don’t do such things. Perhaps he made his money in beer (there’s a good
many such) and then took to writing poetry to amuse himself when he’d
retired. You may depend it was somethin’ of the sort. Now you come to
mention it, I’ve a notion as your mother had some of his poetry books.
She’d seen the places as he wrote about—yet I don’t hold much with
poetry myself, and the books was all sold—only a few pence they
fetched—after she died.”
Jane-Anne felt chilled and disappointed. She disliked the smell of beer
exceedingly, and to connect it with the author of these soul-stirring
verses was impossible. She could find out, she was sure, all about Lord
Byron when Mr. Wycherly returned; but she was an impatient person—how
could she wait until then?
A bright thought struck her.
“Aunt, don’t you think I ought to answer Master Montagu’s letter?” she
asked diplomatically. “Will you give me a stamp and I’ll do it this
“Mind you’re respectful and proper—you’d better let me see the letter
before it goes. And if it’s suitable, I’ll give you a stamp.”
“Very well, aunt,” Jane-Anne sighed. It was very hard to write what
would seem suitable to those unsympathetic eyes—but she’d have a try for
the thing she wanted.
Ink was provided, one sheet of paper, an envelope, a pen, with a point
like a needle, and a single sheet of much-used blotting-paper.
Jane-Anne sat down at the table in the housekeeper’s room and wrote in a
neat, round hand:
“I send my duty and the master was quite well when he left yesterday.
“I wait upon him at meals and he doesn’t read at all now; he talks to
me, and I think he eats pretty well considering. I also go out with
him, which is very beautiful. It is very sad here now he is gone. I
wonder if you are acquainted with a poetry book named ’Don-Juan,’ or if
you think it squish like ’Home Influence.’ I don’t think it is like
’Home Influence,’ but I love it, I shall read it all, it is in two vols.
The master said I was to read any books I liked in the parlour; there
are ten volumes by his Lordship there. I shall read them all. Can you
tell me if he is one of the real gentry like Lord Dursley. I would like
to see him.
“Yours respectfully,
Mrs. Dew read the letter through and grunted that it was much too long,
but she gave Jane-Anne a stamp, which she immediately affixed. Then she
frolicked gleefully to the post and put her precious missive in the box.