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Title: The Ugly Duckling
Author: Katharine Tynan
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100161.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2011
Date most recently updated: March 2011

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Ugly Duckling
Author: Katharine Tynan

*

Published in The Queenslander, Saturday, 10 October, 1914.

*

Lady Prue was the plain, elder daughter of a most beautiful mother.

She had been so accustomed from early childhood to hearing her plainness
commented upon that she had come to accept the fact without any doubt at
all as to the justice of it. Her mother had never seemed to regard her
little daughter as a sensitive being when she had said to her friends
and acquaintances, the children being brought into the drawing-room for
five minutes--

"Look at this one--isn't it plain? How could I have produced such an
ugly little thing?"

The ladies used to laugh--the American Countess's ways were well
known--but not all of them. The men were slower to laugh. Once, a young
man, whom even at the tender age of seven Lady Prue knew to be charming
and gracious beyond the ways of young men, had coloured and looked away,
saying something under his soft, dark moustache which sounded ashamed
and compassionate.

Lady Winterfield cared a deal more for her pedigree dogs and cats than
she did for her children, though she had a toleration for Lady Susan,
the younger child, who was fair and golden like herself, beyond what she
had for the dark, quiet, elder child.

"What will you do with her, Delphine?" a lady had asked one day looking
with lazy cruelty at Prue. The lady was of the sort of ladies who used
to turn down a thumb for a sentence of death at the gladiatorial games.

"The convent is unfortunately not available, Winterfield's family being
very Evangelical," Lady Winterfield had replied. "Else she would not
have made a bad Mother Abbess. As it is she'll have to take to nursing
or something else of that nasty kind."

Prue had flushed painfully. At this time she was ten years old; she
flushed because of the presence of the beautiful young man, whom she
knew as Sir Guy Wemyss, a captain in a dragoon regiment which had its
headquarters at Knightsbridge Barracks. She would not have minded what
mamma said, or what Mrs. Stanhope said; but the sword was in her heart
because Sir Guy heard what was said.

She caught his low aside to Mrs. Stanhope.

"It isn't true, Coralie," he said. "The poor little thing. She has
glorious eyes."

After that a good many allegations came Prue's way through Sir Guy, who
seemed a great favourite with mamma and her friends.

Susan, who was less simple than Prue, had discovered that Sir Guy was
the handsomest of all the handsome young men that year, and that a great
many people were supposed to be in love with him. He had brains and
charms as well as beauty; and Ringwood, which would come to him on the
death of his grandfather, was one of the finest places in England. He
was a parti; Susan had heard the French maid's lady say so to the young
ladies' sewing maid. Furthermore she had heard something about some one
who was a dog in the manger, and would keep the beautiful young
gentleman from his proper place, which was plainly amongst the
marriageable girls. "That one there," said Celestine, "she has no heart.
She will play with monsieur of the beautiful eyes. She will not let
another have him."

Then she snapped her fingers.

"She will not have him," she said. "He gives not one sou for her regard.
It is but that he is so amiable he knows not how to escape the exacting
of that insatiate one."

Susan, repeating this speech to Prue, did not associate it with mamma.
Prue, older and more thoughtful, was very glad that Sir Guy was not
going to be hurt by some one who was exacting and insatiable.

At eleven Prue was sent to school--first to a ladies' school at
Bournemouth, later to Paris. Later on Susan joined her. Mamma's
tolerance for Susan did not go very far, although she was more tolerant
of Susan than she had ever been of Prue, and the little lady might have
had quite a good time accompanying mamma to her functions, if only she
had been content to play up to mamma when mamma wished to appear in the
character of a beautiful young mother. But Susan had refused to play up.
She very much preferred papa's society to mammas. Papa was a dusty,
disregarded gentleman who got what happiness he might out of his books
and his pictures; who was much happier in the country than in the town,
although mamma, who detested the country, would would seldom hear of his
going there. Papa brought Susan over to Paris. He gave the two little
girls a splendid time while he stayed. He left them, the tears standing
in his eyes. He had explained to Madame du Boisson that her ladyship was
so nervous that the society of two healthy children was altogether too
much for her. He had consented to their going to school because he
honestly believed that they would be happier.

He said nothing about the stuffy quarters to which the little girls were
banished in the London house; nothing about the Hampshire house and the
big place in Scotland where, according to Lady Winterfield, the children
were always in the way.

Perhaps Madame Du Boisson understood, for she was very tender to the two
little girls--so much so that people had asked once or twice if they
were motherless, observing madame's way with them.

Lady Prue was happy during her school days with a quiet and demure
happiness; quite unlike Lady Susan, who was a rowdy little person. Both
were great favourites with their school fellows. Once the conversation
turned on how soon the French girls would marry after leaving school; it
was one of the subjects discouraged by madame, but in the ordered
routine of the French girl's life the future husband is the one point of
light. Lady Prue said in answer to a question:

"Oh, but I shall never marry. I shall coiffer St. Catharine. I shall be
a nurse in the hospital for the poor."

"Quelle idee affreuse!" cried the French girls, looking at Lady Prue
with wide eyes of pity.

Prue, bending over her delicate needle work, said to herself that of
course she would not marry; she was too ugly; she only wished she might
take the veil so that no one--like Sir Guy Wemyss--could look at her
compassionately because she was so ugly. Perhaps the sick people would
forget her ugliness if she was very good to them. But she would have
preferred the veil if it were possible. She remembered the rough comfort
of her old nurse who had been sent away by mamma for her outspokenness.

"Never mind, my lamb! If you're good no one will think whether you're
pretty or not," and her own reply--"I'd like to be so pretty that people
would love me whether I was good or not."

In all the years she had been in the Avenue Richelieu no faintest
suggestion had come to her regarding her ugliness. She thought it was
very kind of the other girls. They were anxious, concerned about her
because she resolutely refused to make the best of herself. They would
insist on her doing her hair for a feast, decking her with ribbons and
flowers; they would try to drag her to a glass, saying, "Come and see
how pretty we have made thee!" But she never would look in the glass. If
a mortal disease had shown itself in her face she could not have been
more afraid to look.

She went home at the age of eighteen feeling as though the world were
over for her instead of beginning. Her father himself came to fetch her.
The poor gentleman found time hang rather heavily on his hands when the
House of Lords was not sitting, and he had to loaf about town waiting on
his wife's pleasure. This time they were going out of town almost
immediately. Mamma had an invitation to Scotland for August. If she
accepted, Lord Winterfield and his daughter would be free to do what
they liked with their month. Lord Winterfield was rather out of it with
those smart American people with whom his wife was going to stay. For
once she was sympathetic and had bidden him spend August at Oakdene with
the children.

"Next year, I suppose I shall have to present Prue," she said, with a
prodigious yawn. "Dreadful to have to chaperone an ugly girl."

"Prue is not ugly," said Lord Winterfield. "You have not seen her for a
long time, Maimie."

"She was always hideous!" said the mother, smiling at her own fair
complacent beauty in the nearest glass.

To her father Prue had always been pretty, so that his judgment went for
nothing when he remarked that he thought Prue very handsome. Lady
Winterfield only shrugged her shoulders and remembered an engagement.

She was out of the way when her daughters came home. They arrived about
seven o'clock. Her ladyship only came home to dress for a dinner party,
from which she was going on to one of the last great ball of the season.

They did not see her till she came down fully dressed, looking like a
Versailles Shepherdess in her white chiffon gown trimmed with roses, an
ideal dress for Susan, but Lady Winterfield certainly kept surprisingly
young, the brightness of her eyes undimmed, the roses of her cheeks
still unflawed--an absurdly young-looking mamma for two great girls like
Lady Prue and Lady Susan.

She kissed Lady Susan as though she had seen her but yesterday. Somehow
or other she had always been away when the girls came home for their
vacation. She stared at Prue, who shrank miserably into the background.

"Why," said she, "it is not so amiss, after all. When do you go to your
hospital, Prue?"

She went off to her fine dinner. Lord Winterfield and his daughters
dined alone quietly. Afterwards Lord Winterfield suggested a visit to
the opera. It was one of the very last nights of the season, and the
opera was "Tristan and Isolde."

Lady Prue, in her plain, school-girlish frock of white transparent
stuff, made almost up to the chin, had the front seat in the opera-box.
She leant on the ledge, the most wonderful emotions lightening and
darkening in her eyes. She had no eyes for the 'house,' though a good
many opera glasses were turned upon her. The passion of the great music
disturbed her and hurt her vaguely. So this was what men and women
thought their world well lost for, this which was not for ugly people
like herself, who had far better scurry within the veil if it were
possible; if not, into the plain uniform and hard work of a nurse.

She turned about with the light dying out of her eyes. The curtain had
descended, and she was slowly coming back to the every-day world when
the music dropped out of it. Her father was saying something. Some one
was standing up in the box bending before her. Sir Guy Wemyss.
Impossible to mistake him. He was only the handsomer because a premature
greyness had come to his dark hair.

He was bending over her hand as though she were a queen. Some one else
who had come with him was talking to Lord Winterfield and Susan.

"You remember me? he said.

"Oh, yes," said Lady Prue, hardly knowing what she said. "I couldn't
mistake you. It is not likely that I should forget."

"I have remembered your eyes all these years," he said, looking into
them. "Otherwise you have changed."

She blushed painfully as he said it.

"I am--just the same," she said.

"Oh, no," he returned, and, sitting down beside her, leant his arm on
the edge of the box, his hand shading his eyes.

The others were talking cheerfully in the back of the box. Lady Prue
drew within the shadow of the curtain.

"You are come home for good?" he said.

"To see the world for a little while," she answered. "Papa does not like
me to leave him too soon. We are going into Hampshire for a month. After
that I shall apply to be taken on as a probationer at a hospital."

"I am glad there will be a month," he said. "Your father has asked me to
come and stay with him in Hampshire this month. You would like me to
come?" he asked, seeing that she said nothing.

"If you like it?" she returned.

It might have been the music. The curtain went up. Sir Guy Wemyss seemed
to have forgotten that his place in the stalls was vacant. He sat on.
There was plenty of room in the box. Lord Winterfield, who was a
virtuoso, was studying the score by the light of a little hand lamp he
carried. Except for the dimly-lit stage the house was in darkness.

Somewhere mid-way of the Garden Scene Lady Prue felt her hand taken in
another hand.

"You are very beautiful," said her hero at her ear.

She could have wept. It was so cruel, so unlike her memory of him all
these years. The tears stood in her eyes.

"You hurt me," she said under her breath. "I am very ugly."

"You are beautiful and I love you," he whispered back.

How could it have happened under cover of the wonderful music? How could
she have heard what he said? How could he have answered her?

They asked each other these questions that golden August in Hampshire,
her face reflected in the water of the still merea. They asked them over
and over in the way lovers have. What matter! It had been love at first
sight, thought each maintained to the other that the first sight had
been when Guy Wemyss was a young cavalry subaltern and Lady Prue was no
more than ten years old.

Every one was happy about it except Lady Winterfield; and even she
confessed cynically to one of her gossips that it was as well to have
Prue out of the way--with those eyes.


THE END



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