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Sarah's School Friend试读：
版权信息书名：Sarah's School Friend作者：Baldwin, May排版：Cicy出版时间：2017-11-28本书由当当数字商店（公版书）授权北京当当科文电子商务有限公司制作与发行。— · 版权所有 侵权必究 · —CHAPTER I.A MILL-HAND'S MANSION.
'It's a dreadful thing to have a father you don't respect,' said Sarah Clay, as she walked into the gilded and beautifully painted drawing-room of the aforesaid father's mansion in Yorkshire.
Her mother gave a little, sharp scream, and let fall the book she was holding in her hand.
Sarah came forward swiftly, picked it up, and turned it over to look at the title, at sight of which she said, with a little laugh, 'What a humbug you are, mother! You know you've never read a single word of this book.'
Mrs Clay's face flushed crimson. ''Ow dare you talk similar to that, Sarah?' Only she pronounced it fairly with a true cockney accent, and left out all her h's. 'I don't know w'at women are comin' to nowadays, w'at wi' one thing an' another, w'en it comes to a chit o' sixteen talkin' like that about 'er mother bein' an 'umbug, let alone sayin' she doesn't respect 'er father; an' w'at 'e'd say if 'e 'eard 'er I couldn't say, I'm sure,' she said, flustered.
'Then don't say it,' observed Sarah lightly, as she threw herself lazily into one of the luxurious armchairs opposite her mother, and only then became aware that buried in the depths of another easy-chair was another figure—that of a man. For a moment she was taken aback, and started in fright, thinking that it was her father, of whom she might speak disrespectfully behind his back, but whom she did not dare to abuse to his face, fearless though she was by nature. However, to her relief, she saw it was not her father's big, burly form that filled the gold-brocaded chair, but her brother's tall, slight figure.
'Awfully bad form, Sarah,' he murmured in an effeminate voice, after which he laid his head back in an attitude of exhaustion against the chair, and gazed up at the ceiling.
'Yes; I think it must be that 'igh-class, fashionable school that's taught 'er to speak so of 'er parents, an' not respect any one,' agreed her mother in querulous accents.
'I didn't mean to speak disrespectfully to you, dear old mother,' said the girl with a kind of patronising affection.
'I don't know w'at you call it, then, callin' me an 'umbug,' objected Mrs Clay.
'I was in fun, and you know it is humbug your pretending to read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' persisted Sarah.
At the title, the youth in the armchair roused himself, and said in quite a different tone, 'Were you reading that, mater? Is it my copy?'
'Well, I can't say I'd really read it, not to understand it; but I saw it was one o' the books you were studyin', an' I thought I'd take a look at it just to know a little w'at you were studyin' w'en you got back to college,' said his mother apologetically.
'That's awfully nice of you, mater; but why didn't you ask me about it? I'd have told you anything you wanted to know about my work. That's such a frightfully dry book. I should grind it up for my trip,' replied her son.
'I don't know that I want to know about "trips;" but I feel I ought to try an' educate myself now you two are comin' on, so as not to disgrace you,' began his mother.
But her son, with an impatient movement—which, however, he immediately suppressed—interrupted her. 'Dear mater, what does it matter whether you are learned or not? For my part, I don't see what women want to be educated for at all.'
'Oh, you don't, don't you? You ought to have lived about the year one. You're several centuries behind the times, George!' exclaimed his sister indignantly.
'I wish I had. I'm sure the girls of that time were nicer than they are nowadays,' he replied, calmly relapsing into his nonchalant attitude.
'I'm sure they never talked about not respectin' their dads,' said Mrs Clay plaintively. She had, as will be seen, a habit of harping back to the same grievance, and this remark of her daughter's evidently rankled in her mind.
'Perhaps their fathers were more respectable than mine,' replied Sarah.
'Well, I never did!' cried Mrs Clay, scandalised.
'Draw it mild, Sarah! The pater may be a bit of a tartar sometimes, but he's respectable enough, in all conscience,' remonstrated her brother.
'I don't think so,' declared Sarah.
Before her mother could utter the protests which her son saw in her face, George said, 'Oh, let her talk! She's got some maggot in her brain, and she wants to air it. It amuses her, and it doesn't hurt us, as long as the pater doesn't come in and hear her; and she'll take good care to shut up if he does,' he wound up with a laugh.
His laugh exasperated his sister, and she retorted with some warmth, 'If I do shut up when he comes in, it's only because he's so violent and hateful!'
'Sarah! Sarah!' came from the mother and son simultaneously, in accents of horrified indignation; and Mrs Clay continued, 'Leave the room at once, miss. I won't sit 'ere an' 'ave my 'usband insulted like that.'
Without a word, the girl rose from her seat and left the drawing-room, shutting the door sharply behind her.
'What's the governor been doing to upset her now?' inquired Mr George Clay of his mother.
'Nothin' that I know of. It's some crotchet of Sairey, now she's begun studyin' the woman's question, as she calls it, an' thinks 'e treats the women 'ere badly.'
'Oh goodness, don't you tell me she's started that! Do they go in for politics at that school, then?' cried her brother. 'I never heard of such a thing at a girls' school; it ought not to be allowed.'
'Well, I don't know that it's politics exactly; it's somethin' to do wi' women's duties to each other an' the 'ard life our mill-lasses 'ave, or somethin'. She was talkin' to me the other evenin' about it, quite beautifully; an' I will say that for Sairey, she don't mind my not understandin', but explains, an' never seems to despise me for my ignorance,' said his mother.
'I should think not, indeed! Book-learning isn't everything. With all your experience of life you could teach Sarah a precious sight more than she can teach you,' said George.
'It's very nice o' you to talk like that, dear; but I know you're both far above me wi' your beautiful manners an' ways o' talkin',' said the poor woman humbly.
'For goodness' sake, don't talk like that, mother, or I shall be sorry I ever went to Eton and Cambridge if it makes you feel any distance between us!' he cried.
'I don't feel it so much wi' you, dear. It's Sairey I feel it worse wi', an' it's not 'er fault either; it's only that she's so clever an' so beautiful.'
'She's good-looking, certainly; but, then, so are you. She's taken after you, like me.' The young man smiled at his mother in a very pretty way. He certainly had beautiful manners, as his mother said. 'But as for being clever,' he continued, 'I call her a proud peacock.'
'Oh George, I was never as good-lookin' as Sairey, nor you either; nor 'alf such a lady. W'y, she might be a duchess's daughter! Every one says so,' cried his mother, woman-like, dwelling upon the subject of good looks rather than on her son's criticism of Sarah's cleverness.
'That's only education. You'd have been just as duchessy if you'd been educated,' insisted her son, hesitating for a word to use instead of lady-like, for he would not, even to himself, own that his mother was not a lady in the world's acceptation of the word.
What every one in the West Riding, or heavy woollen district, said was, what a most extraordinary thing it was that the son and daughter of that brute Clay should be so refined when their father was such a rough, uncouth man! The Clay family was one of the many instances in Yorkshire of the mill-hand who rose from being a labourer to be the owner of a large mill and enormous wealth, and who gave to his children the education he had never received himself. But though in most cases the children were better educated and superior in outward seeming to their parents, it was not often that the contrast was so marked. In this case it may have been caused by the fact that Mark Clay, instead of marrying a mill-lass, had taken to wife a very pretty, delicate-looking girl from London, who had bequeathed her good looks to her two children. She, or rather her husband—for little Mrs Clay had no voice in the matter—had sent the boy to Eton and then to Cambridge, and the girl to what her mother called a ''igh-class, fashionable school'—which, if high prices are any criterion, it certainly was.
Mrs Clay shook her head at her son's last remark. 'I should never 'ave made a duchess. I was always timid, an' couldn't 'old up my 'ead as Sairey does. It's somethin' in you both, though I don't 'old wi' Sairey speakin' of 'er father in the way she does.'
'I should think not, indeed,' put in her son.
'Still, we can't expect 'er to respect us as much as she would if we 'ad the same good manners an' way o' talkin' that she an' you 'ave. It's natural she should feel superior, an' show it, too,' argued the poor woman with some shrewdness; 'an' I've told your dad that it was only w'at 'e might 'ave expected.'
'Pray, don't talk of Sarah's manners being good, nor her way of talking either; they're both as bad as bad can be,' said George Clay, with his soft drawl.
'W'y, you don't never mean to say that, George, an' after all the pounds dad's paid for 'er? For goodness' sake, don't tell 'im, or 'e'll 'alf-kill 'er—'e would! You don't know your father as I do,' cried the mother in consternation.
An expression of annoyance came over her son's face at these words. 'Don't make the pater out worse than he is, my dear mother. He may be violent at times, but I hope he knows better than to use physical force. Anyway, I shall not tell him anything of the sort, and when I say her manners are bad and her language unlady-like'——
'But that's just w'at 'e thinks it isn't; an' though 'e gets angry, 'e thinks a lot o' 'er. An' w'en I don't like the words she uses sometimes, 'e says I don't know the way o' society; that the aristocracy speak like that, an' be'ave so, too.'
'Well, so they do, some of them,' admitted her son.
But before he could finish his remark his mother interrupted him. 'Well, then, that's w'at 'e wants; so if you tell 'im that, dear, 'e'll be in a good temper for the rest o' the evenin'.' She looked wistfully at her son as she made this suggestion.
He laughed good-humouredly. 'All right, mother; if Sarah gives him some of her cheek to-night I'll tell him it's the fashion of the day. It's true enough; but, oh dear! I wish you wouldn't have such fearfully long dinners. That's not the fashion; it's the thing to starve.'
'It's not a bit o' good you tellin' 'im that, for 'e says 'e can afford a Lord Mayor's banquet every day 'e likes, an' 'e 'll 'ave it, an' 'e can't abear to see you sittin' there pickin' at a bit o' chicken, an' not even takin' whisky-an'-soda wi' him.'
'Well, I must go and dress for this Lord Mayor's banquet, and so must you, mother; so go and put on your black silk,' he remarked, as he rose lazily from his armchair.
'Not that old dress, dear; it's so plain an' dowdy. I've somethin' better than that;' and, looking as pleased as a young girl at his interest in her dress, she went off nodding and smiling at the thought of the pleasure she was going to give him at sight of her new finery.
George Clay was just going to beg her not to put on anything better than the black silk, but on second thoughts checked himself. After all, if it pleased her that was the chief thing, not to mention that his father would probably think her choice more suited to his banquet, for such the dinners at the Clays' might well be called.
On her way to her own room Mrs Clay had to pass her daughter's suite of rooms, and after a little hesitation she knocked at the door of her boudoir.
'Come in,' said a voice, and she entered.
Sarah was sitting on the wide window-seat, looking out over the park towards the town, the tall factory chimneys of which could be seen, at the bottom of the hill, belching out their volumes of smoke, which made even the trees in the park unfit to touch, thanks to the soot it deposited upon their leaves, stems, and trunks.
'W'y, Sairey, ain't you goin' to begin to dress? W'y 'asn't Naomi put out your things?' exclaimed her mother.
'I'm not coming down to-night; I don't want to see your husband,' said Sarah, still staring out into the park.
'My 'usband, indeed! Who do you think you're talkin' to? You seem to forget I'm your own mother, an' that my 'usband, as you call 'im, is your father, miss! 'Usband, indeed!' cried Mrs Clay.
'You're sure there's no mistake, mother? You're sure he is my father? I sometimes wonder if I could have been kidnapped as a baby, and changed.'
But she got no further, for little Mrs Clay could stand no more. 'You're my child, Sairey. Though you're a deal better-lookin' than ever I was, you are like enough for any one to know I'm your mother,' she protested.
'I wish to goodness I wasn't! Oh mother, don't look like that! I didn't mean you, of course. I'm glad to be your child; but, oh, why did you marry that man? Now, if you had only married Uncle Howroyd.'
'Seein' that I 'ave married 'im, an' that 'e's your father, it's no use talkin' about such things. An', dear, 'e's not as bad as 'e might be. 'E doesn't drink nor beat me,' she said.
'Mother, you talk as if he were a coalheaver,' cried her daughter indignantly.
''E wasn't a coalheaver; but 'e was a mill-'and, an' I was a milliner's girl in a little shop in London w'en I married 'im, an' I 'adn't a farthing. An' look at the beautiful 'ouse I'm mistress o' now, an' look at the money 'e spends on you an' me both—never stints us for anythin'! I'm sure you ought to be grateful to 'im. I am, for I never expected to rise to this w'en I was a milliner's 'prentice in London.'
'You needn't talk about that. It's bad enough to be a vulgar millionaire's daughter,' replied the girl, and at the same time she dropped from the window-seat and came towards her mother; adding, 'Well, if you want me to come down to dinner I suppose I must ring for Naomi. It's an awful nuisance, and I shall probably have a row with the pater.'
Mrs Clay was going to plead with her daughter as she had with her son; but Sarah, who had suggested dressing partly to get rid of her mother, pointed to the clock, and Mrs Clay hurried away to get ready for dinner herself.CHAPTER II.A DREARY BANQUET.
After the mother had left the room, her daughter seemed in no hurry to get ready for dinner; she turned back to the window, and, taking up her old position on the wide window-seat, sat gazing down at the hideous view of the big manufacturing town, with blackened buildings and tall, smoky chimneys, which lay at the bottom of the hill, and seemed to have a weird fascination for her. It must certainly have been from choice that Sarah Clay looked at them, for she had only to sit at the other side of the broad window-seat, turn her back on Ousebank, and, looking out on the other side of the hill, she would have had a beautiful view over the hill of pretty vales and villages and smiling pasture, and their own fine park; but the girl deliberately turned her back upon nature, and looked not upon art—for art there was not in Ousebank except what was produced in the mills—but upon nature perverted by man, who had turned the beautiful vale into a Black Country with its big factories, which polluted earth and sky, air and water.
She was still staring out with a frown on her face when a knock came to the door, and she called out, 'Come in,' without turning her head to see who the new-comer was.
'Excuse me, miss,' said the voice of the maid, 'but the mistress sent me with this, and you'll best be getting ready for dinner, for it's late.'
Sarah turned her head, with the air that her mother declared was like that of a duchess's daughter, and looked at the large cardboard box which her maid held in her arms, with a gaze which, to do her justice, she was quite unconscious was haughty. 'What is it?' she asked shortly.
'You just come and see, Miss Sarah,' replied the maid quite politely, but with Yorkshire independence.
Sarah did not resent the tone of the advice, but came slowly from her window-seat, and watched the maid undo the string of the box and take out, with many exclamations of admiration, a beautiful white silk frock elaborately trimmed with lace and ribbons.
'It's grand! Oh miss, make haste and let me do your hair, and put it on you!' cried the maid.
'Now? I have no time. Put it away, and get out my white muslin, Naomi,' replied Sarah, and she turned away after hardly a glance at the pretty dress.
'But you are to wear it to-night. At least, the mistress said would you, please, put it on,' corrected Naomi, as she saw her young mistress's look of indignation at the peremptory order.
Sarah was just going to refuse decidedly; but the thought of her mother's disappointment made her hesitate. The girl had good enough taste to feel that the dress was far too smart for an ordinary family dinner; but, then, as she reflected, it would be in keeping with the rest, which was far too smart, all of it. So she said, 'Very well. Make haste, Naomi.'
'There, miss, you look just like a queen, and fit to live in a palace; though, to be sure, ours is one, or as good as one. Now, just look in the glass and see if you aren't lovely.'
'Yes; it's very pretty,' said Sarah impatiently.
'Are you ill, miss? You don't seem a bit pleased to have such beautiful things. I'm sure if I had everything I could wish for like you I'd be as happy as a queen,' observed Naomi, whom Sarah allowed to say what she liked; in the first place, because she was the daughter of the head mill-watchman, and her family had all—some still did—worked in Clay's Mills; and, in the second place, because they had played together as little children.
'I dare say you would; so am I, because a queen is not at all a happy person; at least, if she is, it's not because she is a queen and can have lots of new dresses and things,' remarked Sarah.
'You wouldn't talk like that if you'd ever had to do without them,' replied the girl.
Sarah turned round and faced the girl. 'Naomi,' she said passionately, 'I'd give anything on earth to be poor and work for my living as you do.'
'Oh miss!' cried Naomi, and 'Oh Sal!' cried another voice, whose owner had overheard this last remark.
For Mrs Clay had just entered the room, and had forgotten that her daughter objected strongly to this shortening of her name, which it was one of her father's aggravating habits to do. 'Oh Sarah,' she cried, 'don't talk such nonsense, and before Naomi, too! Some must be poor an' some rich. It's always been so, and always will be so, an' it's flyin' in the face o' Providence not to be thankful that you're not poor; an' with that lovely gown on, too. 'Ow could you earn enough money to buy a gown like that, do you suppose? W'y, Naomi doesn't earn enough in a year to pay for it, I'd have you to know.'
'Then she ought to,' began Sarah; whereupon Mrs Clay cleared her throat noisily, and said in quite a decided tone for her, 'That'll do, Naomi; you can leave the room.' And when Naomi had done so, she continued in a tone of reproof to her daughter,'What are you thinkin' of, wishin' you earned your own livin' like Naomi? A nice one you'd be if such a dreadful thing 'appened to you, wi' your 'aughty airs an' scornful ways that no one would put up wi', let alone that you could never earn a penny if you tried.'
'I'm not so sure about that. I've a good mind to try, to show you that you're wrong,' said Sarah meditatively.
Her mother cast a frightened glance at her, and said soothingly, 'There, my dearie, there's no need to think about it; you're far too pretty even to do such a thing. You were born for a mansion, an' I 'ope you'll always 'ave one to live in.'
'I don't. I hope I shall one day have to work for my living, and I shall do it whether it is necessary or not, you'll see,' she declared.
Fortunately both the dinner-gong and an elaborate set of chimes rang out through the house, and Mrs Clay, with a nervous start, said hurriedly, 'There's the chimes! Well, we must be goin'. Don't you look grand to-night, Sairey?'
'That's just what I feel, mother—a great deal too grand for a quiet family dinner; and so are you,' she added, as she looked critically at her mother in the elaborately trimmed, plum-coloured silk dress, so rich that it seemed to prop up the delicate little woman and almost stifle her with its heavy gold trimmings and fringes.