Miss Bertha and the Yankeeby Wilkie Collins
Format of Original Source: Novella
Recommended Adaptation Length:
Candidate for Adaptation? Not Reviewed
My aunt rose from her chair. She astonished me. On all ordinary occasions the most retiring, the most feminine of women, she now walked up to Captain Stanwick and looked him full in the face, without flinching for an instant.
“You appear to have forgotten that you are speaking in the presence of two ladies,” she said. “Alter your tone, sir, or I shall be obliged to take my niece out of the room.”
Half angry, half frightened, I tried to speak in my turn. My aunt signed to me to be silent. The Captain drew back a step as if he felt her reproof. But his eyes, still fixed on me, were as fiercely bright as ever. _There_ the gentleman’s superficial good-breeding failed to hide the natural man beneath.
“I will leave you in undisturbed possession of the room,” he said to my aunt with bitter politeness. “Before I go, permit me to give your niece an opportunity of reconsidering her conduct before it is too late.” My aunt drew back, leaving him free to speak to me. After considering for a moment, he laid his hand firmly, but not roughly, on my arm. “You have accepted Lionel Varleigh’s invitation to visit him,” he said, “under pretense of seeing his curiosities. Think again before you decide on keeping that engagement. If you go to Varleigh tomorrow, you will repent it to the last day of your life.” Saying those words, in a tone which made me tremble in spite of myself, he walked to the door. As he laid his hand on the lock, he turned toward me for the last time. “I forbid you to go to Varleigh’s lodgings,” he said, very distinctly and quietly. “Understand what I tell you. I forbid it.”
With those words he left us.
My aunt sat down by me and took my hand kindly. “There is only one thing to be done,” she said; “we must return at once to Nettlegrove. If Captain Stanwick attempts to annoy you in your own house, we have neighbors who will protect us, and we have Mr. Loring, our rector, to appeal to for advice. As for Mr. Varleigh, I will write our excuses myself before we go away.”
She put out her hand to ring the bell and order the carriage. I stopped her. My childish pride urged me to assert myself in some way, after the passive position that I had been forced to occupy during the interview with Captain Stanwick.
“No,” I said, “it is not acting fairly toward Mr. Varleigh to break our engagement with him. Let us return to Nettlegrove by all means, but let us first call on Mr. Varleigh and take our leave. Are we to behave rudely to a gentleman who has always treated us with the utmost consideration, because Captain Stanwick has tried to frighten us by cowardly threats? The commonest feeling of self-respect forbids it.”
My aunt protested against this outbreak of folly with perfect temper and good sense. But my obstinacy (my firmness as I thought it!) was immovable. I left her to choose between going with me to Mr. Varleigh, or letting me go to him by myself. Finding it useless to resist, she decided, it is needless to say, on going with me.
We found Mr. Varleigh very courteous, but more than usually grave and quiet. Our visit only lasted for a few minutes; my aunt using the influence of her age and her position to shorten it. She mentioned family affairs as the motive which recalled us to Nettlegrove. I took it on myself to invite Mr. Varleigh to visit me at my own house. He bowed and thanked me, without engaging himself to accept the invitation. When I offered him my hand at parting, he raised it to his lips, and kissed it with a fervor that agitated me. His eyes looked into mine with a sorrowful admiration, with a lingering regret, as if they were taking their leave of me for a long while. “Don’t forget me!” he whispered, as he stood at the door, while I followed my aunt out. “Come to Nettlegrove,” I whispered back. His eyes dropped to the ground; he let me go without a word more.
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