Cashel Byron's Profession
Lydia resumed her work next day with shaken nerves and a longing for society. Many
enthusiastic young ladies of her acquaintance would have brought her kisses and
devotion by the next mail in response to a telegram; and many more practical people
would have taken considerable pains to make themselves agreeable to her for the sake
of spending the autumn at Wiltstoken Castle. But she knew that they would only cause
her to regret her former solitude. She shrank from the people who attached themselves
to her strength and riches even when they had not calculated her gain, and were
conscious only of admiration and gratitude. Alice, as a companion, had proved a failure.
She was too young, and too much occupied with the propriety of her own behavior, to
be anything more to Lydia than an occasional tax upon her patience. Lydia, to her own
surprise, thought several times of Miss Gisborne, and felt tempted to invite her, but was
restrained by mistrust of the impulse to communicate with Cashel's mother, and
reluctance to trace it to its source. Eventually she resolved to conquer her loneliness,
and apply herself with increased diligence to the memoir of her father. To restore her
nerves, she walked for an hour every day in the neighborhood, and drove out in a pony
carriage, in the evening. Bashville's duties were now fulfilled by the butler and Phoebe,
Lydia being determined to admit no more young footmen to her service.
One afternoon, returning from one of her daily walks, she found a stranger on the castle
terrace, in conversation with the butler. As it was warm autumn weather, Lydia was
surprised to see a woman wearing a black silk mantle trimmed with fur, and heavily
decorated with spurious jet beads. However, as the female inhabitants of Wiltstoken
always approached Miss Carew in their best raiment, without regard to hours or
seasons, she concluded that she was about to be asked for a subscription to a school
treat, a temperance festival, or perhaps a testimonial to one of the Wiltstoken curates.
When she came nearer she saw that the stranger was an elderly lady--or possibly not a
lady--with crimped hair, and ringlets hanging at each ear in a fashion then long
"Here is Miss Carew," said the butler, shortly, as if the old lady had tried his temper.
"You had better talk to her yourself."
At this she seemed fluttered, and made a solemn courtesy. Lydia, noticing the courtesy
and the curls, guessed that her visitor kept a dancing academy. Yet a certain
contradictory hardihood in her frame and bearing suggested that perhaps she kept a
tavern. However, as her face was, on the whole, an anxious and a good face, and as
her attitude towards the lady of the castle was one of embarrassed humility, Lydia
acknowledged her salutation kindly, and waited for her to speak.
"I hope you won't consider it a liberty," said the stranger, tremulously. "I'm Mrs. Skene."