The Hand of Ethelberta
24. Ethelberta's House (Continued) - The
Mrs. Chickerel, in deploring the risks of their present
speculative mode of life, was far from imagining that signs of
the foul future so much dreaded were actually apparent to
Ethelberta at the time the lament was spoken. Hence the
daughter's uncommon sensitiveness to prophecy. It was as if
a dead-reckoner poring over his chart should predict
breakers ahead to one who already beheld them.
That her story-telling would prove so attractive Ethelberta
had not ventured to expect for a moment; that having once
proved attractive there should be any falling-off until such
time had elapsed as would enable her to harvest some solid
fruit was equally a surprise. Future expectations are often
based without hesitation upon one happy accident, when the
only similar condition remaining to subsequent sets of
circumstances is that the same person forms the centre of
them. Her situation was so peculiar, and so unlike that of
most public people, that there was hardly an argument
explaining this triumphant opening which could be used in
forecasting the close; unless, indeed, more strategy were
employed in the conduct of the campaign than Ethelberta
seemed to show at present.
There was no denying that she commanded less attention
than at first: the audience had lessened, and, judging by
appearances, might soon be expected to be decidedly thin.
In excessive lowness of spirit, Ethelberta translated these
signs with the bias that a lingering echo of her mother's
dismal words naturally induced, reading them as conclusive
evidence that her adventure had been chimerical in its birth.
Yet it was very far less conclusive than she supposed. Public
interest might without doubt have been renewed after a due