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Lalage's Lovers   By: (1865-1950)

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LALAGE'S LOVERS

By George A. Birmingham

Copyright, 1911 By George H. Doran Company

CHAPTER I

I had, I suppose, some reason for calling on Canon Beresford, but I have totally forgotten what it was. In all probability my mother sent me to discuss some matter connected with the management of the parish or the maintenance of the fabric of the church. I was then, and still am, a church warden. The office is hereditary in my family. My son Miss Pettigrew recommended my having several sons will hold it when I am gone. My mother has always kept me up to the mark in the performance of my duties. Without her at my elbow I should, I am afraid, be inclined to neglect them. I am bored, not interested as a churchwarden should be, when the wall of the graveyard crumbles unexpectedly. I fail to find either pleasure or excitement in appointing a new sexton. Canon Beresford, our rector, is no more enthusiastic about such things than I am. He and I are very good friends, but when he suspects me of paying him a business visit he goes out to fish. There are, I believe, trout in the stream which flows at the bottom of the glebe land, but I never heard of Canon Beresford catching any of them.

It must have been business of some sort which took me to the rectory that afternoon, for Canon Beresford had gone out with his rod. Miss Battersby told me this and added, as a justification of her own agreeable solitude, that Lalage was with her father. Miss Battersby is Lalage's governess, and she would not consider it right to spend the afternoon over a novel unless she felt sure that her pupil was being properly looked after. In this case she was misinformed. Lalage was not with her father. She was perched on one of the highest branches of a horse chestnut tree. I heard her before I saw her, for the chestnut tree was in full leaf and Lalage had to hail me three or four times before I discovered where she was. I always liked Lalage, and even in those days she had a friendly feeling for me. I doubt, however, whether a simple desire for my conversation would have brought her down from her nest. I might have passed without being hailed if it had not happened that I was riding a new bicycle. In those days bicycles were still rare in the west of Ireland. Mine was a new toy and Lalage had never seen it before. She climbed from her tree top with remarkable agility and swung herself from the lowest branch with such skill and activity that she alighted on her feet close beside the bicycle. She was at that time a little more than fourteen years of age. She asked at once to be allowed to ride the bicycle. I was a young man then, active and vigorous; but I was hot, breathless, and exhausted before Lalage had enough of learning to ride. I doubt whether she would have given in even after an hour's hard work if we had not met with a serious accident. We charged into a strong laurel bush. Lalage's frock was torn. The rent was a long one, extending diagonally from the waistband to the bottom hem. I knew, even while I offered one from the back of my tie, that a pin would be no use.

"Cattersby," said Lalage, "will be mad raging mad. She's always at me because things will tear my clothes. Horrid nuisance clothes are, aren't they? But Cattersby doesn't think so of course. She likes them."

The lady's name is Battersby, not Cattersby. She held the position of governess to Lalage for more than a year and is therefore entitled to respect. Her predecessor, a Miss Thomas, resigned after six weeks. It was my mother who recommended Miss Battersby to Canon Beresford. I felt that I ought to protest against Lalage's irreverent way of speaking. In mere loyalty to my mother, apart altogether from the respect which, as a landed proprietor, I naturally entertain for all forms of law and order, I was absolutely bound to say something.

"You should speak of her as Miss Battersby," I said firmly.

"I call her Cattersby," said Lalage, "because that is her nature."

I said that I understood what this marker meant; but Lalage, who even then had a remarkable faculty for getting at the naked truth of things, did not even pretend to believe me... Continue reading book >>




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