Miss Crespigny - Frances Hodgson Burnett - ebook

Miss Crespigny written by Frances Hodgson Burnett who was a British novelist and playwright. This book was published in 1879. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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Miss Crespigny


Frances Hodgson Burnett

Table of Contents

Author’s Note.




















Author’s Note.

These love stories were written for and printed in “Peterson’s Ladies’ Magazine.” Owing to the fact that this magazine was not copyrighted, a number of them have been issued in book-form without my consent, and representing the sketches to be my latest work.

If these youthful stories are to be read in book form, it is my desire that my friends should see the present edition, which I have revised for the purpose, and which is brought out by my own publishers.

Frances Hodgson Burnett.

October, 1878.


“Another party?” said Mrs. Despard.

“Oh yes!” said Lisbeth. “And, of course, a little music, and then a little supper, and a little dancing, and all that sort of thing.” And she frowned impatiently.

Mrs. Despard looked at her in some displeasure.

“You are in one of your humors, again, Lisbeth,” she said, sharply.

“Why shouldn’t I be?” answered Miss Crespigny, not a whit awed by her patroness. “People’s humors are their privileges. I would not help mine if I could. I like them because they are my own private property, and no one else can claim them.”

“I should hardly think any one would want to claim yours,” said Mrs. Despard, dryly, but at the same time regarding the girl with a sort of curiosity.

Lisbeth Crespigny shrugged her shoulders—those expressive shoulders of hers. A “peculiar girl,” even the mildest of people called her, and as to her enemies, what did they not say of her? And her enemies were not in the minority. But “peculiar” was not an unnatural term to apply to her. She was “peculiar.” Seeing her kneeling close before the fender this winter evening, one’s first thought would have been that she stood apart from other girls. Her very type was her own, and no one had ever been heard to say of any other woman, “she is like Lisbeth Crespigny.” She was rather small of figure, she had magnificent hair; her black brows and lashes were a wonder of beauty; her eyes were dark, mysterious, supercilious. She often frightened people. She frightened modest people with her nerve and coolness, bold people with her savage sarcasms, quiet people with her moods. She had alarmed Mrs. Despard, occasionally, when she had first come to live with her; but after three years, Mrs. Despard, who was strong of nerve herself, had become used to her caprices, though she had not got over being curious and interested in spite of herself.

She was a widow, this Mrs. Despard. She had been an ambitious nobody in her youth, and having had the luck to marry a reasonably rich man, her ambition had increased with her good fortune. She was keen, like Lisbeth, quick-witted and restless. She had no children, no cares, and thus having no particular object in life, formed one for herself in making herself pleasingly conspicuous in society.

It was her whim to be conspicuous; not in a vulgar way, however; she was far too clever for that. She wished to have a little social court of her own, and to reign supreme in it. It was not rich people she wanted at her entertainments, nor powerful people; it was talented people—people, shall it be said, who would admire her æsthetic soirées, and talk about her a little afterward, and feel the distinction of being invited to her house. And it was because Lisbeth Crespigny was “peculiar” that she had picked her up.

During a summer visit to a quaint, picturesque, village on the Welsh coast, she had made the acquaintance of the owners of a cottage, whose picturesqueness had taken her fancy. Three elderly maiden ladies were the Misses Tregarthyn, and Lisbeth was their niece, and the apple of each gentle spinster’s eye. “Poor, dear Philip’s daughter,” and poor, dear Philip, who had been their half-brother, and the idol of their house, had gone abroad, and “seen the world,” and, after marrying a French girl, who died young, had died himself, and left Lisbeth to them as a legacy. And then they had transferred their adoration and allegiance to Lisbeth, and Lisbeth, as her manner was, had accepted it as her right, and taken it rather coolly. Mrs. Despard had found her, at seventeen years old, a restless, lawless, ambitious young woman, a young woman when any other girl would have been almost a child. She found her shrewd, well-read, daring, and indifferent to audacity; tired of the picturesque little village, secretly a trifle tired of being idolized by the three spinsters, inwardly longing for the chance to try her mettle in the great world. Then, too, she had another reason for wanting to escape from the tame old life. In the dearth of excitement, she had been guilty of the weakness of drifting into what she now called an “absurd” flirtation, which had actually ended in an equally absurd engagement, and of which she now, not absurdly, as she thought, was tired.

“I scarcely know how it happened,” she said, with cool scorn, to Mrs. Despard, when they knew each other well enough to be confidential. “It was my fault, I suppose. If I had let him alone, he would have let me alone. I think I am possessed of a sort of devil, sometimes, when I have nothing to do. And he is such a boy,” with a shrug, “though he is actually twenty-three. And then my aunts knew his mother when she was a girl. And so when he came to Pen’yllan, he must come here and stay with them, and they must encourage him to admire me. And I should like to know what woman is going to stand that.” (“Woman, indeed!” thought Mrs. Despard.) “And then, of course, he has some sense of his own, or at least he has what will be sense some day. And he began to be rather entertaining after a while; and we boated, and walked, and talked, and read, and at last I was actually such a little fool as to let it end in a sort of promise, for which I was sorry the minute it was half made. If he had kept it to himself, it would not have been so bad; but, of course, being such a boyish animal, he must confide in Aunt Millicent, and Aunt Millicent must tell the others; and then they must all gush, and cry, and kiss me, as if everything was settled, and I was to be married in ten minutes, and bid them all an everlasting farewell in fifteen. So I began to snub him that instant, and have snubbed him ever since, in hopes he would get as tired of me as I am of him. But he won’t. He does nothing but talk rubbish, and say he will bear it for my sake. And the fact is, I am beginning to hate him; and it serves me right.”

She had always interested Mrs. Despard, but she interested her more than ever after this explanation. She positively fascinated her; and the end of it all was, that when the lady left Pen’yllan, she carried Lisbeth with her. The Misses Tregarthyn wept, and appealed, and only gave in, under protest, at last, because Lisbeth was stronger than the whole trio. She wanted to see the world, she said. Mrs. Despard was fond of her. She had money enough to make her so far independent, that she could return when the whim seized her; and she was tired of Pen’yllan. So, why should she not go? She might only stay a month, or a week, but, however that was, she had made up her mind to see life. While the four fought their battle out, Mrs. Despard looked on and smiled. She knew Lisbeth would win, and of course Lisbeth did. She packed her trunk, and went her way. But the night before her departure she had an interview with poor Hector Anstruthers, who came to the garden to speak to her, his boyish face pale and haggard, his sea-blue eyes wild and hollow with despair; and, like the selfish, heartless, cool little wretch that she was, she put an end to his pleadings peremptorily.

“No!” she said. “I would rather you would not write to me. I want to be let alone; and it is because I want to be let alone that I am going away from Pen’yllan. I never promised one of the things you are always insisting that I promised. You may call me as many hard names as you like, but you can’t deny that——”

“No!” burst forth the poor lad, in a frenzy. “You did not promise, but you let me understand——”

“Understand!” echoed his young tyrant. “I tried hard enough to make you understand that I wanted to be let alone. If you had been in your right senses, you might have seen what I meant. You have driven me almost out of my mind, and you must take the consequences.” And then she turned away and left him, stunned and helpless, standing, watching her as she trailed over the grass between the lines of rose-bushes, the moonlight falling on her white dress and the little light-blue scarf she had thrown over her long, loose, dusky hair.

Three years ago all this had happened, and she was with Mrs. Despard still, though of course she had visited Pen’yllan occasionally. She had not tired her patroness, if patroness she could be called. She was not the sort of girl to tire people of their fancy for her. She was too clever, too cool, too well-poised. She interested Mrs. Despard as much to-day as she had done in the first week of their acquaintance. She was just as much of a study for her, even in her most vexatious moods.

“Have you a headache?” asked Mrs. Despard, after a while.

“No,” answered Lisbeth.

“Have you had bad news from Pen’yllan?”

Lisbeth looked up, and answered Mrs. Despard, with a sharp curiousness.

“How did you know I had heard from Pen’yllan?” she demanded.

“Oh!” said Mrs. Despard, “I guessed so, from the fact that you seemed to have no other reason for being out of humor; and lately that has always been a sufficient one.”

“I cannot see why it should be,” said Lisbeth, tartly. “What can Pen’yllan have to do with my humor?”

“But you have had a letter?” said Mrs. Despard.

“Yes; from Aunt Clarissa. There is no bad news in it, however. Indeed, no news at all. How did I ever exist there?” her small face lowering.

“You would not like to go back?” suggested Mrs. Despard.

Lisbeth shrugged her shoulders.

“Would you like me to go back?” she questioned.

“I?” in some impatience. “You know, as well as I do, that I cannot do without you. You would never miss me, Lisbeth, as I should miss you. It is not your way to attach yourself to people.”

“How do you know?” interposed Lisbeth. “What can you know about me? What can any one man or woman know of another? That is nonsense.”

“It is the truth, nevertheless,” was the reply. “Whom were you ever fond of? Were you fond of the Misses Tregarthyn, who adored you? Were you fond of that poor boy, who was so madly in love with you? Have you been fond of any of the men who made simpletons of themselves, because you had fine eyes, and a soft voice, and knew, better than any other woman in the world, how to manage them? No; you know you have not.”

Lisbeth shrugged her shoulders again.

“Well, then, it is my way, I suppose,” she commented; “and my ways are like my humors, as you call them. So, we may as well let them rest.”

There was a pause after this; then Lisbeth rose, and going to the table, began to gather together the parcels she had left there when she returned from her shopping expedition.

“You have not seen the dress?” she said.


“It is a work of art. The pansies are as real as any that ever bloomed. They might have been just gathered. How well that woman understands her business!”


She went up stairs, after this, to her own room, a comfortable, luxurious little place, near Mrs. Despard’s own apartment. A clear, bright fire burned in the grate, and her special sleepy-hollow chair was drawn before it; and when she had laid aside her hat, and disposed of her purchases, she came to this chair, and seated herself in it. Then she drew the Pen’yllan letter from her pocket, and laid it on her lap, and left it there, while she folded her hands, and leaned back, looking at the fire dreamily, and thinking to herself.

The truth is, that letter, that gentle, sweet-tempered, old-fashioned letter of Miss Clarissa’s, stung the girl, worldly and selfish as she was. Three years ago she would not have cared much, but “seeing the world”—ah! the world had taught her a lesson. She had seen a great deal of this world, under Mrs. Despard’s guidance. She had ripened marvelously; she had grown half a score of years older; she had learned to be bitter and clear-sighted; and now a curious mental process was going on with her.

“We shall never cease to feel your absence, my dear,” wrote Miss Tregarthyn. “Indeed, we sometimes say to each other, that we feel it more every day; but, at the same time, we cannot help seeing that our life is not the life one so young and attractive ought to live. It was not a congenial life for our poor dear old Philip, and how could it seem congenial to his daughter? And if, by a little sacrifice, we can make our dear Lisbeth happy, ought we not to be more than willing to submit to it? We are so proud of you, my dear, and it delights us so to hear that you are enjoying yourself, and being so much admired, that when we receive your letters, we forget everything else. Do you think you can spare us a week in the summer? If you can, you know how it will rejoice us to see you, even for that short time,” etc., etc., through half a dozen pages.

And this letter now lay on Lisbeth’s lap, as we have said, while she pondered over the contents moodily.

“I do not see,” she said, at last, “I do not see what there is in me for people to be so fond of.”

A loosened coil of her hair hung over her shoulder and bosom, and she took this soft and thick black tress, and began to twist it round and round her slender mite of a wrist with a sort of vindictive force. “Where is the fascination in me?” she demanded, of the fire, one might have thought. “It is not for my amiability, it is not for my ‘odd fine eyes, and odd soft voice,’ as Mrs. Despard puts it, that those three women love me, and lay themselves under my feet. If they were men,” with scorn, “one could understand it. But women! Is it because they are so much better than I am, that they cannot help loving something—even me? Yes it is!” defiantly. “Yes it is!”

She was angry, and all her anger was against herself, or at least against the fate which had made her what she was. Lisbeth knew herself better than other people knew her. It was a fate, she told herself. She had been born cold-blooded and immovable, and it was not to be helped. But she never defended herself thus, when others accused her; she would have scorned to do it. It was only against her own secret, restless, inner accusations that she deigned to defend herself. It was characteristic of her that she should brave the opinions of others, and feel rebellious under her own. What Lisbeth Crespigny thought in secret of Lisbeth Crespigny must have its weight.

At last she remembered the dress lying upon the bed—the dress Lecomte had just sent home. She was passionately fond of dress, especially fond of a certain striking, yet artistic style of setting, for her own unusually effective face and figure. She turned now to this new dress, as a refuge from herself.

“I may as well put it on now,” she said. “It is seven o’clock, and it is as well to give one’s self plenty of time.”

So she got up, and began her toilet leisurely. She found it by no means unpleasant to watch herself grow out of chrysalis form. She even found a keen pleasure in standing in the brilliant light before the mirror, working patiently at the soft, cloud-like masses of her hair, until she had wound and twisted it into some novel, graceful fancifulness. And yet even this scarcely arose from a vanity such as the vanity of other women.

She went down to the drawing-room, when she was dressed. She knew she was looking her best, without being told. The pale gray tissue, pale as a gray sea-mist, the golden-hearted, purple pansies with which it was lightly sown, and which were in her hair, and on her bosom, and in her hands, suited her entirely. Her eyes, too, soft, dense, mysterious under their sweeping, straight black lashes—well, Lisbeth Crespigny’s eyes, and no other creature’s.

“A first glance would tell me who had designed that dress,” said Mrs. Despard. “It is not Lecomte; it is your very self, in every touch and tint.”

Lisbeth smiled, and looking down the length of the room, where she stood reflected in a mirror at the end of it, unfurled her fan, a gilded fan, thickly strewn with her purple pansies; but she made no reply.

A glass door, in the drawing-room, opened into a conservatory all aglow with light and bloom, and in this conservatory she was standing half an hour later, when the first arrivals came. The door, a double one, was wide open, and she, in the midst of the banks and tiers of flowers, was bending over a vase of heliotrope, singing a low snatch of song.

“The fairest rose blooms but a day,The fairest Spring must end with May,And you and I can only say,Good-by, good-by, good-by!”

She just sang this much, and stopped. One of the two people who had arrived was speaking to Mrs. Despard. She lifted her head, and listened. She could not see the speaker’s face, because a tall, tropical-leaved lily interposed itself. But the voice startled her uncomfortably.

“Who is that man?” she said, to herself. “Who is that man?” And then, without waiting another moment, she left the heliotrope, and made her way to the glass door.

Mrs. Despard looked first, and saw her standing there.

“Ah, Lisbeth,” she said, and then turned, with a little smile, toward the gentleman who stood nearest to her. “Here is an old friend,” she added, as Lisbeth advanced. “You are indebted to Mr. Lyon for the pleasure of seeing Mr. Anstruthers again.”

Lisbeth came forward, feeling as if she was on the verge of losing her amiable temper. What was Hector Anstruthers doing here? What did he want? Had he been insane enough to come with any absurd fancy that—that he could—that—. But her irritated hesitance carried her no farther than this. The young man met her halfway, with the greatest self-possession imaginable.

“This is an unexpected pleasure,” he said, holding out his hand frankly. “I was not aware, when Lyon brought me to his friend’s, that I should find you here.”

All this, as complacently, be it observed, as if he had been addressing any other woman in the world; as if that little affair of a few years ago had been too mere a bagatelle to be remembered; as if his boyish passion, and misery, and despair, had faded utterly out of his mind.

Mrs. Despard smiled again, and watched her young friend closely. But if Lisbeth was startled and annoyed by the too apparent change, she was too clever to betray herself. She was a sharp, secretive young person, and had her emotions well under control. She held out her hand with a smile of her own—a slow, well-bred, not too expressive affair, not an effusive affair, by any means.

“Delighted, I am sure?” she said. “I have just been reading a letter from Aunt Clarissa, and naturally it has prepared me to be doubly glad to see one of her special favorites.”