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Lot 99

By Ada Radford

THE library in the house where I was born was a well aired
and well dusted room, but the things we kept in it were so
connected in the mind with dust and fustiness that it was difficult
to feel happy there.

There were preserved fish of various kinds hanging from the
walls, there was a large glass case of sea birds, one of many
varieties of inland birds, cases of minerals, and, all over the mantel-
piece, and on the shelves, there were little Hindoo gods, models
of Keltic crosses, models of every imaginable thing from Cleo-
patra s needle to the Eddystone lighthouse.

As a child I hated this room. Although it was called the
library there were few books in it. The writing-desk, where I
was often sent to do my lessons, was horribly uncomfortable and
in a bad light.

My lessons always took me a long time in this room, for al-
though I hated being there, and longed to be away, and off with
Lionel, the evil-looking gods, and the fishes glaring at me with
their glass eyes, chained me to the spot. I never felt at home,
and yet I remember that Aunt Lizzie had been all round the room
with me, and had told me the history of every object, where
father had bought it, and how much it had cost, and I could hear


                        268 Lot 99

my voice, as a sound outside me, saying : ” Yes, Auntie, did he
really ? ” and hers, like a nearer sound in answer, to my surprise :
” My dear child, that’s a trifle for a genuine antique.”

How I hated those birds and fishes ! Not only were they dead,
but the life had been dried, inflated, and stuffed out of them, and
horror of horrors, glass eyes had been forced into their senseless

And yet one day I heard Aunt Lizzie tell a lady she was calling
on, that I was wonderfully intelligent. ” It’s the kind of mind I
like,” she said. ” She’s like our side of the family, she takes
interest in external objects.”

I can see Aunt Lizzie’s bonnet now as she said it. The mauve
that blondes used to wear, and on one side, a daring arrangement
in imitation coral and sea-weed. Even in her bonnets Aunt
Lizzie s personality shone out, and very marked were the person-
alities of what I now learnt was my side of the family.

It did not improve the library to my mind that Aunt Lizzie
chose it as the place in which to hang large photographs of her
brothers and sisters. They were striking people ; I felt it as a
child when I met them, and now I am sure of it. Amiable,
strong willed and capable, they indeed were always interested in
external objects. They were a great contrast to the other side of
the family, my mother’s side, ” your poor dear mother ” as Aunt
Lizzie always called her, although my father who was also dead
was always referred to simply as John. Of my mother and her
people I knew little, our grandparents were dead and my mother’s
only sister was married and had a large family of her own in

” I think your poor dear mother did wonderfully considering
her people,” I remember Aunt Lizzie once said to me. ” They
never got on. No common sense. Fortunately your mother


                        269 By Ada Radford

married young, and altered a good deal. At first she had the
most unpractical ideas. She would have no nurse for you children.
She would tell her housemaid not to hurry home in the evening if
she were enjoying herself. She thought of every one before
herself ; that’s very pretty in a young girl, but it may be carried
too far. John’s influence steadied her. But I used to think that
John was just the least little bit foolish about her, although I like
to see a happy marriage ; but really John gave one the idea that
there was no one but Mary in the world. He sometimes neglected
his own people. It was not your mother’s fault, my dear ; no one
could have been more anxious to have us. John got an idea that
she ought to have quiet, and insisted on it, and poor Mary died
when you were six; and we might have brightened her last days
much more than we did, but for John’s obstinacy. Your mother
was a most lovable woman. I was almost glad John never noticed
her lack of common sense.”

I had very little to remind me of my mother. I had been
given a little packet of letters, of father’s to her and hers to father,
but I burnt them unread ; besides those I had nothing but a
few little trinkets. Dainty old-fashioned things ; beautiful,
although bought in the days of the worst taste. Little things
that his sisters would not have looked at. I liked them. They
strengthened a feeling I had that my mother had made her
impression on one member of the family of dominant personalities,
at any rate he had cared to know her mind and tastes, and I felt
more gently towards the ladies and gentlemen who hung in the
library with their marked features and heavy ornaments. To
one of them the family qualities had not been everything, and a
member of the family doomed as regards success had been made a
close study of. Still I was oppressed in the library, the features of
the uncles and aunts, the want of view from the window, the glass


                        270 Lot 99

eyes of innumerable birds, the height of the room, or the com-
bination of all these things, made my heart feel solid lead and my
head a disused machine. And it seems to me now in looking
back that whenever anything painful has happened to me it has
happened in that room ; if I have a nightmare I am there and
every object is in its place ; although last time I saw the most
hated of them, they were together in a heap (lot 99), at the

In that room I fought my first important battle and lost. I
think I was too anxious to be calm and logical. I knew my
brother’s opinion of girls. I knew that he had had a legal
training, and I knew that I had had no training. I wanted him
to tell me whether it would be possible for my trustees to advance
me some capital.

It would not have surprised him more if I had asked whether
he thought it well that I should keep a tame tiger, but he only
raised his eyebrows slightly. It was a possibility under the will,
he said, if the trustees were prepared to take a certain amount of
responsibility in the matter.

He sat at the desk, and I having put my tennis hat on one stiff
backed chair took the other, as near as the window as I could get.
I told him that I wanted it for educational purposes, and he asked
me what had been wrong with my education.

I told him that it had not left me in a position to maintain

” Let us be practical,” Lionel said, assuming the expression of
one of his uncles on the wall ; and he made a few notes on a bit
of paper.

” When you are thirty,” he told me next, ” you will be


                        271 By Ada Radford

independent, because that little property of mother s falls to you

I was nineteen.

” Thirty ? ” I said quietly. ” I might as well be dead.”

Lionel did not argue that point. He looked at me critically.
I felt him notice my disordered hair and blue flannel blouse.

” You are pretty,” he said judicially.

I was annoyed that I blushed, but I said in a sufficiently matter-
of-fact tone : ” But not very.”

He acquiesced, and said, ” It’s difficult not to be pretty in this
climate at nineteen. I don’t think it will last.”

” No,” I broke in eagerly. ” It’s only complexion. Aunt
Lizzie said so a few days ago.”

Lionel looked a little surprised at my eagerness to go off, but I
knew well that my looks were being weighed against the pro-
bability of my doing anything. His next words confirmed my

” You’ll marry,” he remarked.

” Lionel,” I said in a tone so emphatic that again he raised his
eyebrows slightly, ” I shall not marry,” and I meant it.

Lionel smiled the smile of a man who has lived five years
longer than the person he is speaking to, and that person his

It was true that sometimes on our country walks I had wished
that I were engaged, for Jack and Lionel would not stop long in
beautiful places, and they would not let me pick things ; if I said
I wanted to, they would stuff my hands full of flowers and hurry
me along. If I saw something pretty across a stream and waded
for it, Jack would say : ” Do come on, stupid ! you’re getting
your feet wet ! ” and yet the bogs he’d have brought me through
that very day ! And I had thought vaguely, that the person I


                        272 Lot 99

was engaged to would not mind waiting for me, or be bored at
loitering. But I never had these ideas indoors, and the knowledge
that Lionel was weighing my chances drove all lingering romance
from my head.

” I have never had an offer,” I said, hoping that this statement
would have due weight with him in his final decision.

Lionel’s smile this time made me flush indignantly. I saw that
he was laughing at me.

” Aunt Lizzie had had more than one before she was my age,”
I said coolly, ” but I do not see what this has to do with the

” It has this,” said Lionel, “whether we boys marry or not, we
have our livings to get ; you have not to, you have a home with
Aunt Lizzie until you marry, and in any case just enough money
of your own when you are thirty. It would be simple madness
to touch your capital.”

I felt completely crushed. I did not in reality know enough
about our affairs to ask an intelligent question, and Lionel’s last
emphatic statement had made its impression. He saw that he had

” What had you thought of doing ? ” he asked now not

” I thought I’d prepare myself to be a teacher,” I said

” Oh don’t,” he said. ” You’d find it an awful grind, you
wouldn’t be half so jolly, and when we came home there’d only be
Aunt Lizzie, or if you were here at all, you’d be half asleep and
talking shop.” I suppose I did not look convinced, for Lionel
grew really distressed and his legal manner disappeared completely,
and he said with what for him was a show of feeling, “We always
said we’d stick together, Grace.”


                        273 By Ada Radford

None the less that this was the first I had heard of it I was
moved, my plans melted away. I held out my hand and renewed
the compact, although vaguely I realised that it meant Lionel
would go and I should stick.

If in my little bedroom rhere were no objects of interest, it was
not Aunt Lizzie’s fault, but my own.

Lionel had won and I had given up the idea of going away
from home for the time being, but from that day I spent some
hours every day in my bedroom stvidying, preparing, working for
examinations, so that I should be ready—for what I hardly

Aunt Lizzie expressed disappointment that I did not choose to
do my work in the library, but on that point I was firm. I could
hardly tell her that I disliked the birds and fishes ; if I had, the
statement would have been met with the same pained surprise as
if I had told her I disliked the portrait of my uncle, the Rev.
Samuel Bayley, that hung under the most surprising swordfish in
the room. So I did not go into the matter. I simply told her
that I preferred my own room, and every morning I found the
maid had lighted the fire there and made it ready for me. I think
no girl ever had an easier aunt to live with.

For more than a year I worked very hard ; but I said nothing
to Lionel about it, from a feeling I had that he might think it
unfair of me.

Aunt Lizzie stood by me in this effort at doing some solid
work. For I remember once, that an old friend of my mother’s
who took an interest in me, pointed out to us that it was a pity
for a girl to be too clever, and to lose her opportunities.

Once I came into the drawing-room when she and Aunt


                        274 Lot 99

Lizzie were engaged in eager conversation. I was going away
again, but Aunt Lizzie kept me, saying, ” We were saying nothing
unsuitable for you to hear, my dear.”

I guessed as I turned over a book on the table that this was
hardly her visitor’s opinion.

” The women of my family have never been dolls,” asserted
Aunt Lizzie.

Any one who knew the women of Aunt Lizzie’s family would
know that when she started from such a fundamental proposition
she was ready for a keen argument.

” There is, I hope, something between a doll and a blue
stocking,” tittered the other lady, and pointed out that while
under proper guidance she thought it quite right that a girl should
study, she thought it a great pity she should obtrude her know
ledge in conversation. She thought that most unattractive,
especially to gentlemen.

” I have never found,” said Aunt Lizzie, “that knowledge and in
telligence are unappreciated by the other sex. On the contrary—”

She broke off, she was so obviously in a position to judge that
it would have been indelicate on her part to pursue the point she
had made.

” I know they appreciate it,” said Mrs. Merrit, with a curious
stress on the word appreciate, ” but down here in the country, at
any rate, I don’t think they like it in their wives ; ” and then we
were told, with the little nervous giggle that I knew Aunt Lizzie
thought detestable, that the girls Mrs. Merrit knew who got
engaged first were not clever, not even pretty, but gentle and
anxious to please.

” I have no wish for my niece to become engaged while her
judgment is immature,” said Aunt Lizzie. Mrs. Merrit would
have liked to point out that by the time the judgment is matured


                        275 By Ada Radford

the complexion has gone off, but Aunt Lizzie with her handsome
face, her few words, and the manner of her family, was frightening
this eminently feminine little person.

I was amused at the conversation, but I turned rather wearily
away. I wandered round the library, and finding no rest there,
went out into the garden. Lionel had been at home so little
lately. My time when I had done my work hung very heavily
on my hands. I wanted to get away from home, where, I did
not know or care. I was amused at Aunt Lizzie and the family.
Of course I thought, of course I studied. Of course we weren’t
dolls, the women of our family.

What a curious emphatic way Aunt Lizzie had with her.

I was in the library with Lionel one evening. He was a full-
fledged lawyer now, living at home with us in the old house.
Latterly I had not seen much of him. He was out a great deal.
I had fancied he seemed worried. But it was not our way to
sympathise with each other. My standard of manners and expres-
sion of feeling had been learnt from my brothers. Lionel and I
had even left off our good-night kiss. ” It’s rather a senseless
form,” I had said, and that settled it.

It had been a very hot day. Lionel sat at the desk writing,
and I at the open window. I was oppressed and pining for air,
but I had an unusual feeling that I must wait for Lionel to go
into the garden with me.

” Grace, I want to tell you something.”

My heart seemed to stop, for into our even lives something was

I knew it, for Lionel’s usually matter-of-fact voice was charged
with feeling.

The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. R


                        276 Lot 99

” Will you tell me in the garden ? ” I asked.

But no, he would rather tell me where we were. I cannot
remember the words he used. I remember that I tried not to
show how much I felt, and encouraged him quietly to talk. It
was this : it seemed that Lionel was going to marry a girl I had
never seen, a girl not in our social position, and I remember now
in what a relieved tone he said :

” But I knew that you would not mind about that,” and I only
gathered gradually that there was something more than this. He
did not think she was a girl Aunt Lizzie would receive ; it was a
marriage that would hurt his practice perhaps a little separate
him from friends.

Suddenly I had kissed Lionel, the first time for years. I
do not know what I said ; I had only one thought in the midst
of my feelings—that he should feel that there was some one
who would love her, some one who did not care what people

He stroked my hair and seemed touched and surprised at my
warmth. In my heart was a great joy that a subtle barrier I had
felt between us was gone. I asked no questions and had hardly
any fears. He must love her, that was enough. He must be
right. Only one thing would have broken my heart—if Lionel
had not depended on me to love her too.

A few days later, although I had never seen her I fought
Nelly’s battle with Aunt Lizzie. And it seemed that I won, for
in the evening I was able to tell Lionel that Aunt Lizzie had
written to ask Nelly to stay with us, before their wedding which
was to take place soon.

I see now that Aunt Lizzie did all in her power to save Lionel


                        277 By Ada Radford

from this step, and I used all my strength and inexperience to
hurry him.

” He loves her,” I said, as if that settled the matter.

And there in her favourite room Aunt Lizzie enlightened me
about the world I lived in.

Fierce indignation woke in my heart, and unreasoningly it was
directed against Aunt Lizzie, none the less that I knew she was
telling me facts. One moment I hated her for telling me, and
the next I was hating her for not having told me before ; and
then myself for the way I took it.

Aunt Lizzie did not guess how much she was stirring me. I
sat very quiet while she talked. I can remember her saying that
many people, even the clergy, thought it right to chain a young
man to his folly, to make him bear the consequences. In that she
saw a lack of common sense. She would never be one to drive

The only light I could stretch out into all this darkness was
my love for Lionel. For better or worse, I had given him my
hand over this marriage, and Aunt Lizzie, although she did
her best to make me use my influence with him, might just
as well have talked to one of the stuffed birds in the cases.

When she found it was useless, as regards Nelly’s visit she
gave in completely and graciously, and I knew her well enough
to know that she would do her best to make it pleasant for

I have often thought since how well Aunt Lizzie bore with us
both, with Lionel and me. For she was proud of Lionel, of his
brains and his common sense, and in both of us up to this time
she had seen the qualities of her own family, and now Lionel
was on the brink of a piece of quixotic folly, and I was backing
him up.


                        278 Lot 99

In all that talk Aunt Lizzie did not once remind me of my
youth and inexperience. She told me facts and she appealed to
my common sense. However often she thought of her, she did
not once mention my poor dear mother.

But I had only one clear idea in my head : the world was a hard
cruel unjust place ; Lionel chose to defy it. No one I cared for
should defy it alone.

I have often thought that Aunt Lizzie was not unjustly proud
of the common sense of her family, but I have wondered if she ever
knew how much I appreciated a quality she had that was not
common sense.

It was some weeks after that scene in the library in which
nominally I had come off victorious. Lionel’s Nelly had been
with us a week. Aunt Lizzie and I had never spoken of her
since she came. Lionel and I had tried to once, but we never tried
again and never shall.

I was alone in the library, the gloomy room. I tried to look
forward. What was there in my life ? How I had wound it
round Lionel and his happiness, and now it took all my strength
to hide my bitter disappointment ! Lionel was entrapped—be-
fooled. I had given him my word that I would stand by him and
her. But what lifeless support !

I could not save him. The less I was with them the better.
My heart grew heavier and heavier. Could Lionel with his keen
sense mistake the tawdry little thing ? More painful was the
thought that was beginning to take possession of me that he
had not mistaken her ; he saw, and seeing had made up his

Looking forward I could see nothing in my own life. Of
what use was my love to Lionel ? Life and health were strong


                        279 By Ada Radford

within me ; outside—nothing, nothing. I burst into tears ;
unconscious that I could be seen from the garden, unconscious
of everything but my own misery. All the objects in the room
were blurred, Nelly’s face was everywhere, and Lionel’s voice
when he first told me about her.

I became aware that some one was in the room and close to
me. I started up in terror. It might be Lionel. Not only
would he see me crying but he would know why, and then what

It was Aunt Lizzie, who had seen me from the garden and had
come in quickly.

” Lionel and Nelly, dear, are coming down the path,” she said,
in a matter-of-fact, but rather hurried voice.

I rose quickly and stood out of sight. Aunt Lizzie had done
me a great kindness. A week or two ago I had told her that I
at any rate should love Nelly, that I was not chained by conven-
tional ideas, that Lionel was and must be the best judge where
his own feelings were concerned.

She must have seen my struggles to keep up for days. Now
she had her enemy down she would not say a word, I knew.
What humiliation she could she had saved me. I wanted her to
know that I appreciated her generosity ; and as I stood at the
door on my way upstairs, I made an effort to speak. Apparently
she did not hear me, for she said in a vexed tone as she too left
the room :

” In spite of all this education it will be a long time before we
get any really nice feeling into the working classes. That new
girl has taken a piece of old lace I left on my dressing-table—a
piece that belonged to your grandmother, my dear—and she’s
actually starched and ironed it ! ”


                        280 Lot 99

The vivid light that any sudden change throws on the past
may not be a true light, but I know that when Aunt Lizzie died,
for a long time I saw our early life at home as one sees the scenes
on the brightly lighted stage ; the present as the dim faces around
one, and the future not at all. My later friends, the ties I had
formed, such joys and troubles as I had, claimed for a time a small
share in my thoughts.

They were busied with scraps of Aunt Lizzie’s talk ; all I
should ever hear now of my mother and father. Lionel, Jack,
and I, children walking, learning, living together, and Aunt
Lizzie in our midst, always treating us as rational, almost as
grown-up, beings ; the house, the garden, in which parts were
always kept “as John left them, my dear,” the seat he had put for
” your poor dear mother,” so sheltered, that in that western
country, the year she died, she had sat out of doors in November.

I had had a happy childhood, except for vague depressions which
I had never tried to account for. My lacks were too great for any
child to grasp. Looking back, there are some things in my bringing-
up for which I am most grateful.

It was with my brothers that I learnt to love Nature, so that it
was not as a series of pictures one turns tired eyes on in the hope
of finding rest and refreshment, but as some people love their
homes. I learnt to live out of doors ; we walked, we swam, we
ate and slept, as it pleased us, in the open air. We did not go into
the country in the July and August glare, and sit shivering by our
fires in the other months. We watched the spring come in, and
we tramped the winter through. Better than a cloudless summer
day we loved a storm, and to be swept dry after it by the north-
west wind.

There were bad times ahead of me, for I had made the mistake
Aunt Lizzie made, in thinking that I had the stable qualities of


                        281 By Ada Radford

her family. I am glad that she never knew how completely they
failed me. But I would give, if I could, to any one else, who had
painful surprises in store for them, the part of my life that I spent
in the open air with my brothers.

And one other thing I am grateful for—that Aunt Lizzie
treated me, long before I deserved it, as a rational being. I feel
no compunction when I realise that I got this treatment entirely
under false pretences. The features of her family—a boy’s
standard of outspokenness and endurance in external things—have
taken in other people besides Aunt Lizzie. But this much she
gave me of what she expected from me : that when I saw my
failure, though there were many names by which it might have
been called, I put them away and gave it the ugliest and the

One of Aunt Lizzie’s brothers was at the funeral. I had never
seen much of Uncle Willie. We walked, after it was over, around
the desolate garden, more desolate, I thought, because down there
flowers linger into November that should be over and done with
long before.

Uncle Willie took comfort in what seemed to me the strangest
things ; in the number of persons present at the burial, and in the
fact that the mourning of some very distant cousins was as deep as
our own.

One thing he regretted—that the house must be sold.
” Neither of your brothers is in a position to buy it,” he said
regretfully, and then touched on their careers : Lionel’s unfor-
tunate marriage ; Jack’s absurd scheme, which had been broached
to him to-day, and which he was glad, indeed, dear Lizzie had not
lived to hear, of giving up the bar, where he promised to do well


                        282 Lot 99

for writing, if you please, using the little capital Aunt Lizzie had
left him in the meantime.

I heard Uncle Willie’s voice rather distantly as our feet sounded
on the gravel, and felt a certain gratitude to him that, although
his position might have justified it, he did not touch on my life or
affairs. He simply told me that my new black was most becom-
ing, and that I had managed to make every one as comfortable as
possible on this sad occasion. I was relieved when he was gone,
and mechanically I turned into the library, which I knew now
would soon be dismantled, and although it was not from affection
as of old, once there, my feet seemed rooted.

After a time, Lionel and Jack came in, and we stayed there,
talking in our old quiet, undemonstrative way about the sale and
the arrangements we had to make. I remember my relief when
Lionel told me that if I did not want them, he and Jack would
like the photographs of our uncles and aunts ; and he told me,
too, that Aunt Lizzie had said she thought I should like to have
some of the things that father had bought.

“I don’t want any of them,” I said. “Wouldn’t some museum
be glad of these things ! ” and I pointed to the birds and the fishes
and many other objects in the room.

I think Jack was a little shocked at my want of sentiment, but
Lionel’s smile, as he said : ” You never cared for relics,” took me
back to our childhood, the time when we were such great friends.

MLA citation:

Radford, Ada. “Lot 99.” The Yellow Book, vol. 11, October 1896, pp. 267-282. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.