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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter
    A GOOD BEGINNING

    Only the housemaids were astir when Miss Muir left her room next morning
    and quietly found her way into the garden. As she walked, apparently
    intent upon the flowers, her quick eye scrutinized the fine old house
    and its picturesque surroundings.

    "Not bad," she said to herself, adding, as she passed into the adjoining
    park, "but the other may be better, and I will have the best."

    Walking rapidly, she came out at length upon the wide green lawn which
    lay before the ancient hall where Sir John Coventry lived in solitary
    splendor. A stately old place, rich in oaks, well-kept shrubberies, gay
    gardens, sunny terraces, carved gables, spacious rooms, liveried
    servants, and every luxury befitting the ancestral home of a rich and
    honorable race. Miss Muir's eyes brightened as she looked, her step grew
    firmer, her carriage prouder, and a smile broke over her face; the smile
    of one well pleased at the prospect of the success of some cherished
    hope. Suddenly her whole air changed, she pushed back her hat, clasped
    her hands loosely before her, and seemed absorbed in girlish admiration
    of the fair scene that could not fail to charm any beauty-loving eye.
    The cause of this rapid change soon appeared. A hale, handsome man,
    between fifty and sixty, came through the little gate leading to the
    park, and, seeing the young stranger, paused to examine her. He had only
    time for a glance, however; she seemed conscious of his presence in a
    moment, turned with a startled look, uttered an exclamation of surprise,
    and looked as if hesitating whether to speak or run away. Gallant Sir
    John took off his hat and said, with the old-fashioned courtesy which
    became him well, "I beg your pardon for disturbing you, young lady.
    Allow me to atone for it by inviting you to walk where you will, and
    gather what flowers you like. I see you love them, so pray make free
    with those about you."

    With a charming air of maidenly timidity and artlessness, Miss Muir
    replied, "Oh, thank you, sir! But it is I who should ask pardon for
    trespassing. I never should have dared if I had not known that Sir John
    was absent. I always wanted to see this fine old place, and ran over the
    first thing, to satisfy myself."

    "And _are_ you satisfied?" he asked, with a smile.

    "More than satisfied--I'm charmed; for it is the most beautiful spot I
    ever saw, and I've seen many famous seats, both at home and abroad," she
    answered enthusiastically.

    "The Hall is much flattered, and so would its master be if he heard
    you," began the gentleman, with an odd expression.

    "I should not praise it to him--at least, not as freely as I have to
    you, sir," said the girl, with eyes still turned away.

    "Why not?" asked her companion, looking much amused.

    "I should be afraid. Not that I dread Sir John; but I've heard so many
    beautiful and noble things about him, and respect him so highly, that I
    should not dare to say much, lest he should see how I admire and--"

    "And what, young lady? Finish, if you please."

    "I was going to say, love him. I will say it, for he is an old man, and
    one cannot help loving virtue and bravery."

    Miss Muir looked very earnest and pretty as she spoke, standing there
    with the sunshine glinting on her yellow hair, delicate face, and
    downcast eyes. Sir John was not a vain man, but he found it pleasant to
    hear himself commended by this unknown girl, and felt redoubled
    curiosity to learn who she was. Too well-bred to ask, or to abash her by
    avowing what she seemed unconscious of, he left both discoveries to
    chance; and when she turned, as if to retrace her steps, he offered her
    the handful of hothouse flowers which he held, saying, with a gallant
    bow, "In Sir John's name let me give you my little nosegay, with thanks
    for your good opinion, which, I assure you, is not entirely deserved,
    for I know him well."

    Miss Muir looked up quickly, eyed him an instant, then dropped her eyes,
    and, coloring deeply, stammered out, "I did not know--I beg your
    pardon--you are too kind, Sir John."

    He laughed like a boy, asking, mischievously, "Why call me Sir John? How
    do you know that I am not the gardener or the butler?"

    "I did not see your face before, and no one but yourself would say that
    any praise was undeserved," murmured Miss Muir, still overcome with
    girlish confusion.

    "Well, well, we will let that pass, and the next time you come we will
    be properly introduced. Bella always brings her friends to the Hall, for
    I am fond of young people."

    "I am not a friend. I am only Miss Coventry's governess." And Miss Muir
    dropped a meek curtsy. A slight change passed over Sir John's manner.
    Few would have perceived it, but Miss Muir felt it at once, and bit her
    lips with an angry feeling at her heart. With a curious air of pride,
    mingled with respect, she accepted the still offered bouquet, returned
    Sir John's parting bow, and tripped away, leaving the old gentleman to
    wonder where Mrs. Coventry found such a piquant little governess.

    "That is done, and very well for a beginning," she said to herself as
    she approached the house.

    In a green paddock close by fed a fine horse, who lifted up his head and
    eyed her inquiringly, like one who expected a greeting. Following a
    sudden impulse, she entered the paddock and, pulling a handful of
    clover, invited the creature to come and eat. This was evidently a new
    proceeding on the part of a lady, and the horse careered about as if
    bent on frightening the newcomer away.

    "I see," she said aloud, laughing to herself. "I am not your master, and
    you rebel. Nevertheless, I'll conquer you, my fine brute."

    Seating herself in the grass, she began to pull daisies, singing idly
    the while, as if unconscious of the spirited prancings of the horse.
    Presently he drew nearer, sniffing curiously and eyeing her with
    surprise. She took no notice, but plaited the daisies and sang on as if
    he was not there. This seemed to pique the petted creature, for, slowly
    approaching, he came at length so close that he could smell her little
    foot and nibble at her dress. Then she offered the clover, uttering
    caressing words and making soothing sounds, till by degrees and with
    much coquetting, the horse permitted her to stroke his glossy neck and
    smooth his mane.

    It was a pretty sight--the slender figure in the grass, the
    high-spirited horse bending his proud head to her hand. Edward Coventry,
    who had watched the scene, found it impossible to restrain himself any
    longer and, leaping the wall, came to join the group, saying, with
    mingled admiration and wonder in countenance and voice, "Good morning,
    Miss Muir. If I had not seen your skill and courage proved before my
    eyes, I should be alarmed for your safety. Hector is a wild, wayward
    beast, and has damaged more than one groom who tried to conquer him."

    "Good morning, Mr. Coventry. Don't tell tales of this noble creature,
    who has not deceived my faith in him. Your grooms did not know how to
    win his heart, and so subdue his spirit without breaking it."

    Miss Muir rose as she spoke, and stood with her hand on Hector's neck
    while he ate the grass which she had gathered in the skirt of her dress.

    "You have the secret, and Hector is your subject now, though heretofore
    he has rejected all friends but his master. Will you give him his
    morning feast? I always bring him bread and play with him before
    breakfast."

    "Then you are not jealous?" And she looked up at him with eyes so bright
    and beautiful in expression that the young man wondered he had not
    observed them before.

    "Not I. Pet him as much as you will; it will do him good. He is a
    solitary fellow, for he scorns his own kind and lives alone, like his
    master," he added, half to himself.

    "Alone, with such a happy home, Mr. Coventry?" And a softly
    compassionate glance stole from the bright eyes.

    "That was an ungrateful speech, and I retract it for Bella's sake.
    Younger sons have no position but such as they can make for themselves,
    you know, and I've had no chance yet."

    "Younger sons! I thought--I beg pardon." And Miss Muir paused, as if
    remembering that she had no right to question.

    Edward smiled and answered frankly, "Nay, don't mind me. You thought I
    was the heir, perhaps. Whom did you take my brother for last night?"

    "For some guest who admired Miss Beaufort. I did not hear his name, nor
    observe him enough to discover who he was. I saw only your land mother,
    your charming little sister, and--"

    She stopped there, with a half-shy, half-grateful look at the young man
    which finished the sentence better than any words. He was still a boy,
    in spite of his one-and-twenty years, and a little color came into his
    brown cheek as the eloquent eyes met his and fell before them.

    "Yes, Bella is a capital girl, and one can't help loving her. I know
    you'll get her on, for, really, she is the most delightful little dunce.
    My mother's ill health and Bella's devotion to her have prevented our
    attending to her education before. Next winter, when we go to town, she
    is to come out, and must be prepared for that great event, you know," he
    said, choosing a safe subject.

    "I shall do my best. And that reminds me that I should report myself to
    her, instead of enjoying myself here. When one has been ill and shut up
    a long time, the country is so lovely one is apt to forget duty for
    pleasure. Please remind me if I am negligent, Mr. Coventry."

    "That name belongs to Gerald. I'm only Mr. Ned here," he said as they
    walked toward the house, while Hector followed to the wall and sent a
    sonorous farewell after them.

    Bella came running to meet them, and greeted Miss Muir as if she had
    made up her mind to like her heartily. "What a lovely bouquet you have
    got! I never can arrange flowers prettily, which vexes me, for Mamma is
    so fond of them and cannot go out herself. You have charming taste," she
    said, examining the graceful posy which Miss Muir had much improved by
    adding feathery grasses, delicate ferns, and fragrant wild flowers to
    Sir John's exotics.

    Putting them into Bella's hand, she said, in a winning way, "Take them
    to your mother, then, and ask her if I may have the pleasure of making
    her a daily nosegay; for I should find real delight in doing it, if it
    would please her."

    "How kind you are! Of course it would please her. I'll take them to her
    while the dew is still on them." And away flew Bella, eager to give both
    the flowers and the pretty message to the poor invalid.

    Edward stopped to speak to the gardener, and Miss Muir went up the steps
    alone. The long hall was lined with portraits, and pacing slowly down it
    she examined them with interest. One caught her eye, and, pausing before
    it, she scrutinized it carefully. A young, beautiful, but very haughty
    female face. Miss Muir suspected at once who it was, and gave a decided
    nod, as if she saw and caught at some unexpected chance. A soft rustle
    behind her made her look around, and, seeing Lucia, she bowed, half
    turned, as if for another glance at the picture, and said, as if
    involuntarily, "How beautiful it is! May I ask if it is an ancestor,
    Miss Beaufort?"

    "It is the likeness of my mother" was the reply, given with a softened
    voice and eyes that looked up tenderly.

    "Ah, I might have known, from the resemblance, but I scarcely saw you
    last night. Excuse my freedom, but Lady Sydney treated me as a friend,
    and I forget my position. Allow me."

    As she spoke, Miss Muir stooped to return the handkerchief which had
    fallen from Lucia's hand, and did so with a humble mien which touched
    the other's heart; for, though a proud, it was also a very generous one.

    "Thank you. Are you better, this morning?" she said, graciously. And
    having received an affirmative reply, she added, as she walked on, "I
    will show you to the breakfast room, as Bella is not here. It is a very
    informal meal with us, for my aunt is never down and my cousins are very
    irregular in their hours. You can always have yours when you like,
    without waiting for us if you are an early riser."

    Bella and Edward appeared before the others were seated, and Miss Muir
    quietly ate her breakfast, feeling well satisfied with her hour's
    work. Ned recounted her exploit with Hector, Bella delivered her
    mother's thanks for the flowers, and Lucia more than once recalled,
    with pardonable vanity, that the governess had compared her to her
    lovely mother, expressing by a look as much admiration for the living
    likeness as for the painted one. All kindly did their best to make the
    pale girl feel at home, and their cordial manner seemed to warm and
    draw her out; for soon she put off her sad, meek air and entertained
    them with gay anecdotes of her life in Paris, her travels in Russia
    when governess in Prince Jermadoff's family, and all manner of witty
    stories that kept them interested and merry long after the meal was
    over. In the middle of an absorbing adventure, Coventry came in,
    nodded lazily, lifted his brows, as if surprised at seeing the
    governess there, and began his breakfast as if the ennui of another
    day had already taken possession of him. Miss Muir stopped short, and
    no entreaties could induce her to go on.

    "Another time I will finish it, if you like. Now Miss Bella and I should
    be at our books." And she left the room, followed by her pupil, taking
    no notice of the young master of the house, beyond a graceful bow in
    answer to his careless nod.

    "Merciful creature! she goes when I come, and does not make life
    unendurable by moping about before my eyes. Does she belong to the
    moral, the melancholy, the romantic, or the dashing class, Ned?" said
    Gerald, lounging over his coffee as he did over everything he attempted.

    "To none of them; she is a capital little woman. I wish you had seen her
    tame Hector this morning." And Edward repeated his story.

    "Not a bad move on her part," said Coventry in reply. "She must be an
    observing as well as an energetic young person, to discover your chief
    weakness and attack it so soon. First tame the horse, and then the
    master. It will be amusing to watch the game, only I shall be under the
    painful necessity of checkmating you both, if it gets serious."

    "You needn't exert yourself, old fellow, on my account. If I was not
    above thinking ill of an inoffensive girl, I should say you were the
    prize best worth winning, and advise you to take care of your own heart,
    if you've got one, which I rather doubt."

    "I often doubt it, myself; but I fancy the little Scotchwoman will not
    be able to satisfy either of us upon that point. How does your highness
    like her?" asked Coventry of his cousin, who sat near him.

    "Better than I thought I should. She is well-bred, unassuming, and very
    entertaining when she likes. She has told us some of the wittiest
    stories I've heard for a long time. Didn't our laughter wake you?"
    replied Lucia.

    "Yes. Now atone for it by amusing me with a repetition of these
    witty tales."

    "That is impossible; her accent and manner are half the charm," said
    Ned. "I wish you had kept away ten minutes longer, for your appearance
    spoilt the best story of all."

    "Why didn't she go on?" asked Coventry, with a ray of curiosity.

    "You forget that she overheard us last night, and must feel that you
    consider her a bore. She has pride, and no woman forgets speeches like
    those you made," answered Lucia.

    "Or forgives them, either, I believe. Well, I must be resigned to
    languish under her displeasure then. On Sydney's account I take a slight
    interest in her; not that I expect to learn anything from her, for a
    woman with a mouth like that never confides or confesses anything. But I
    have a fancy to see what captivated him; for captivated he was, beyond a
    doubt, and by no lady whom he met in society. Did you ever hear anything
    of it, Ned?" asked Gerald.

    "I'm not fond of scandal or gossip, and never listen to either." With
    which remark Edward left the room.

    Lucia was called out by the housekeeper a moment after, and Coventry
    left to the society most wearisome to him, namely his own. As he
    entered, he had caught a part of the story which Miss Muir had been
    telling, and it had excited his curiosity so much that he found himself
    wondering what the end could be and wishing that he might hear it.

    What the deuce did she run away for, when I came in? he thought. If she
    _is_ amusing, she must make herself useful; for it's intensely dull, I
    own, here, in spite of Lucia. Hey, what's that?

    It was a rich, sweet voice, singing a brilliant Italian air, and singing
    it with an expression that made the music doubly delicious. Stepping out
    of the French window, Coventry strolled along the sunny terrace,
    enjoying the song with the relish of a connoisseur. Others followed, and
    still he walked and listened, forgetful of weariness or tune. As one
    exquisite air ended, he involuntarily applauded. Miss Muir's face
    appeared for an instant, then vanished, and no more music followed,
    though Coventry lingered, hoping to hear the voice again. For music was
    the one thing of which he never wearied, and neither Lucia nor Bella
    possessed skill enough to charm him. For an hour he loitered on the
    terrace or the lawn, basking in the sunshine, too indolent to seek
    occupation or society. At length Bella came out, hat in hand, and nearly
    stumbled over her brother, who lay on the grass.

    "You lazy man, have you been dawdling here all this time?" she said,
    looking down at him.

    "No, I've been very busy. Come and tell me how you've got on with the
    little dragon."

    "Can't stop. She bade me take a run after my French, so that I might be
    ready for my drawing, and so I must."

    "It's too warm to run. Sit down and amuse your deserted brother, who has
    had no society but bees and lizards for an hour."

    He drew her down as he spoke, and Bella obeyed; for, in spite of his
    indolence, he was one to whom all submitted without dreaming of refusal.

    "What have you been doing? Muddling your poor little brains with all
    manner of elegant rubbish?"

    "No, I've been enjoying myself immensely. Jean is _so_ interesting, so
    kind and clever. She didn't bore me with stupid grammar, but just talked
    to me in such pretty French that I got on capitally, and like it as I
    never expected to, after Lucia's dull way of teaching it."

    "What did you talk about?"

    "Oh, all manner of things. She asked questions, and I answered, and she
    corrected me."

    "Questions about our affairs, I suppose?"

    "Not one. She don't care two sous for us or our affairs. I thought she
    might like to know what sort of people we were, so I told her about
    Papa's sudden death, Uncle John, and you, and Ned; but in the midst of
    it she said, in her quiet way, 'You are getting too confidential, my
    dear. It is not best to talk too freely of one's affairs to strangers.
    Let us speak of something else.'"

    "What were you talking of when she said that, Bell?"

    "You."

    "Ah, then no wonder she was bored."

    "She was tired of my chatter, and didn't hear half I said; for she was
    busy sketching something for me to copy, and thinking of something more
    interesting than the Coventrys."

    "How do you know?"

    "By the expression of her face. Did you like her music, Gerald?"

    "Yes. Was she angry when I clapped?"

    "She looked surprised, then rather proud, and shut the piano at once,
    though I begged her to go on. Isn't Jean a pretty name?"

    "Not bad; but why don't you call her Miss Muir?"

    "She begged me not. She hates it, and loves to be called Jean, alone.
    I've imagined such a nice little romance about her, and someday I shall
    tell her, for I'm sure she has had a love trouble."

    "Don't get such nonsense into your head, but follow Miss Muir's
    well-bred example and don't be curious about other people's affairs. Ask
    her to sing tonight; it amuses me."

    "She won't come down, I think. We've planned to read and work in my
    boudoir, which is to be our study now. Mamma will stay in her room, so
    you and Lucia can have the drawing room all to yourselves."

    "Thank you. What will Ned do?"

    "He will amuse Mamma, he says. Dear old Ned! I wish you'd stir about and
    get him his commission. He is so impatient to be doing something and yet
    so proud he won't ask again, after you have neglected it so many times
    and refused Uncle's help."

    "I'll attend to it very soon; don't worry me, child. He will do very
    well for a time, quietly here with us."

    "You always say that, yet you know he chafes and is unhappy at being
    dependent on you. Mamma and I don't mind; but he is a man, and it frets
    him. He said he'd take matters into his own hands soon, and then you may
    be sorry you were so slow in helping him."

    "Miss Muir is looking out of the window. You'd better go and take your
    run, else she will scold."

    "Not she. I'm not a bit afraid of her, she's so gentle and sweet. I'm
    fond of her already. You'll get as brown as Ned, lying here in the
    sun. By the way, Miss Muir agrees with me in thinking him handsomer
    than you."

    "I admire her taste and quite agree with her."

    "She said he was manly, and that was more attractive than beauty in a
    man. She does express things so nicely. Now I'm off." And away danced
    Bella, humming the burden of Miss Muir's sweetest song.

    "'Energy is more attractive than beauty in a man.' She is right, but how
    the deuce _can_ a man be energetic, with nothing to expend his energies
    upon?" mused Coventry, with his hat over his eyes.

    A few moments later, the sweep of a dress caught his ear. Without
    stirring, a sidelong glance showed him Miss Muir coming across the
    terrace, as if to join Bella. Two stone steps led down to the lawn. He
    lay near them, and Miss Muir did not see him till close upon him. She
    started and slipped on the last step, recovered herself, and glided on,
    with a glance of unmistakable contempt as she passed the recumbent
    figure of the apparent sleeper. Several things in Bella's report had
    nettled him, but this look made him angry, though he would not own it,
    even to himself.

    "Gerald, come here, quick!" presently called Bella, from the rustic seat
    where she stood beside her governess, who sat with her hand over her
    face as if in pain.

    Gathering himself up, Coventry slowly obeyed, but involuntarily
    quickened his pace as he heard Miss Muir say, "Don't call him; _he_ can
    do nothing"; for the emphasis on the word "he" was very significant.

    "What is it, Bella?" he asked, looking rather wider awake than usual.

    "You startled Miss Muir and made her turn her ankle. Now help her to the
    house, for she is in great pain; and don't lie there anymore to frighten
    people like a snake in the grass," said his sister petulantly.

    "I beg your pardon. Will you allow me?" And Coventry offered his arm.

    Miss Muir looked up with the expression which annoyed him and answered
    coldly, "Thank you, Miss Bella will do as well."

    "Permit me to doubt that." And with a gesture too decided to be
    resisted, Coventry drew her arm through his and led her into the house.
    She submitted quietly, said the pain would soon be over, and when
    settled on the couch in Bella's room dismissed him with the briefest
    thanks. Considering the unwonted exertion he had made, he thought she
    might have been a little more grateful, and went away to Lucia, who
    always brightened when he came.

    No more was seen of Miss Muir till teatime; for now, while the family
    were in retirement, they dined early and saw no company. The governess
    had excused herself at dinner, but came down in the evening a little
    paler than usual and with a slight limp in her gait. Sir John was there,
    talking with his nephew, and they merely acknowledged her presence by
    the sort of bow which gentlemen bestow on governesses. As she slowly
    made her way to her place behind the urn, Coventry said to his brother,
    "Take her a footstool, and ask her how she is, Ned." Then, as if
    necessary to account for his politeness to his uncle, he explained how
    he was the cause of the accident.

    "Yes, yes. I understand. Rather a nice little person, I fancy. Not
    exactly a beauty, but accomplished and well-bred, which is better for
    one of her class."

    "Some tea, Sir John?" said a soft voice at his elbow, and there was Miss
    Muir, offering cups to the gentlemen.

    "Thank you, thank you," said Sir John, sincerely hoping she had
    overheard him.

    As Coventry took his, he said graciously, "You are very forgiving, Miss
    Muir, to wait upon me, after I have caused you so much pain."

    "It is my duty, sir" was her reply, in a tone which plainly said, "but
    not my pleasure." And she returned to her place, to smile, and chat, and
    be charming, with Bella and her brother.

    Lucia, hovering near her uncle and Gerald, kept them to herself, but
    was disturbed to find that their eyes often wandered to the cheerful
    group about the table, and that their attention seemed distracted by
    the frequent bursts of laughter and fragments of animated conversation
    which reached them. In the midst of an account of a tragic affair which
    she endeavored to make as interesting and pathetic as possible, Sir
    John burst into a hearty laugh, which betrayed that he had been
    listening to a livelier story than her own. Much annoyed, she said
    hastily, "I knew it would be so! Bella has no idea of the proper manner
    in which to treat a governess. She and Ned will forget the difference
    of rank and spoil that person for her work. She is inclined to be
    presumptuous already, and if my aunt won't trouble herself to give Miss
    Muir a hint in time, I shall."

    "Wait until she has finished that story, I beg of you," said Coventry,
    for Sir John was already off.

    "If you find that nonsense so entertaining, why don't you follow Uncle's
    example? I don't need you."

    "Thank you. I will." And Lucia was deserted.

    But Miss Muir had ended and, beckoning to Bella, left the room, as if
    quite unconscious of the honor conferred upon her or the dullness she
    left behind her. Ned went up to his mother, Gerald returned to make his
    peace with Lucia, and, bidding them good-night, Sir John turned
    homeward. Strolling along the terrace, he came to the lighted window of
    Bella's study, and wishing to say a word to her, he half pushed aside
    the curtain and looked in. A pleasant little scene. Bella working
    busily, and near her in a low chair, with the light falling on her fair
    hair and delicate profile, sat Miss Muir reading aloud. "Novels!"
    thought Sir John, and smiled at them for a pair of romantic girls. But
    pausing to listen a moment before he spoke, he found it was no novel,
    but history, read with a fluency which made every fact interesting,
    every sketch of character memorable, by the dramatic effect given to it.
    Sir John was fond of history, and failing eyesight often curtailed his
    favorite amusement. He had tried readers, but none suited him, and he
    had given up the plan. Now as he listened, he thought how pleasantly the
    smoothly flowing voice would wile away his evenings, and he envied Bella
    her new acquisition.

    A bell rang, and Bella sprang up, saying, "Wait for me a minute. I must
    run to Mamma, and then we will go on with this charming prince."

    Away she went, and Sir John was about to retire as quietly as he came,
    when Miss Muir's peculiar behavior arrested him for an instant. Dropping
    the book, she threw her arms across the table, laid her head down upon
    them, and broke into a passion of tears, like one who could bear
    restraint no longer. Shocked and amazed, Sir John stole away; but all
    that night the kindhearted gentleman puzzled his brains with conjectures
    about his niece's interesting young governess, quite unconscious that
    she intended he should do so.
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