Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature

treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors) or get HELP Reading, Downloading and Converting files)

SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search

Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: The Ugly Duckling
Author: Katharine Tynan
eBook No.: 1100161.html
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2011
Most recent update: December 2023

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy and Colin Choat

View our licence and header

The Ugly Duckling


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.


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia