Beechcroft at Rockstone
Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 1 out of 8
Yonge was prepared by Sandra Laythorpe, firstname.lastname@example.org. A
web page for Charlotte M Yonge will be found at
BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE
Charlotte M Yonge
CHAPTER I. A DISPERSION
'A telegram! Make haste and open it, Jane; they always make me so
nervous! I believe that is the reason Reginald always _will_
telegraph when he is coming,' said Miss Adeline Mohun, a very pretty,
well preserved, though delicate-looking lady of some age about forty,
as her elder sister, brisk and lively and some years older, came into
'No, it is not Reggie. It is from Lily. Poor Lily! Jasper---
'Poor dear Lily! Is it young Jasper or old Jasper, I wonder?'
'If it were young Jasper she would have put Japs. I am afraid it is
her husband. If so, she will be going off to him. I must catch the
11.20 train. Will you come, Ada?'
'Oh no; I should be knocked up, and on your hands. The suspense is
bad enough at home.'
'If it is old Jasper, we shall see in the paper to-day. I will send
it down to you from the station. Supposing it is Sir Jasper, and she
wants to go out to him, we must take in some of the children.'
'Oh! Dear little Primrose would be nice enough, but what should we
do with that Halfpenny woman? If we had the other girls, I suppose
they would be at school all day; but surely some might go to
Beechcroft. And mind, Jane, I will not have you overtasking
yourself! Do not take any of them without having Gillian to help
you. That I stipulate.'
Jane Mohun seemed as if she did not hear as these sentences were
uttered at intervals, while she stood dashing off postcards at her
davenport. Then she said, on her way to the door---
'Don't expect me to-night. I will send Fanny to ask one of the
Wellands to come in to you, and telegraph if I bring any one home
'But, Jane dear--'
However, the door was shut, and by the time Miss Adeline had reached
her sister's room, the ever-ready bag was nearly packed.
'I only wanted to say, dear Jane, that you must give my love to dear
Lily. I am grieved---grieved for her; but indeed you must not
undertake anything rash.' (A shake of the head, as the shoes went
into their neat bag.) 'Do not let her persuade you to stay at
Silverfold in her absence. You cannot give up everything here'
'Yes, yes, Ada, I know it does not suit you. Never fear.'
'It is not that, but you are much too useful here to drop everything,
especially now every one is away. I would willingly sacrifice
'Yes, I know, Ada dear. Now, good-bye, and take care of yourself,
and don't be nervous. It may mean only that young Japs has twisted
his little finger.'
And with a kiss, Miss Mohun ran downstairs as fast and lightly as if
her years had been half their amount, and accomplished her orders to
Fanny---otherwise Mrs. Mount---a Beechcroft native, who, on being left
a widow, had returned to her former mistresses, bringing with her a
daughter, who had grown up into an efficient housemaid. After a few
words with her, Miss Mohun sped on, finding time at the station to
purchase a morning paper just come down, and to read among the
'COLOMBO, Sept. 3rd.
'Lieutenant-General Sir Jasper Merrifield, G.C.B., has been thrown
from his horse, and received severe injuries.'
She despatched this paper to her sister by a special messenger, whom
she had captured by the way, and was soon after in the train,
knitting and pondering.
At Silverton station she saw the pony carriage, and in it her niece
Gillian, a girl not quite seventeen, with brown eyes showing traces
'Mamma knew you would come,' she said.
'You have heard direct, of course.'
'Yes; Claude telegraphed. The horse fell over a precipice. Papa's
leg and three ribs are broken. Not dangerous. That is all it says;
and mamma is going out to him directly.'
'I was quite sure she would. Well, Gillian, we must do the best we
can. Has she any plans?'
'I think she waited for you to settle them. Hal is come; he wanted
to go with her, but she says it will cost too much, and besides,
there is his Ordination in Advent.'
'Has she telegraphed to your uncles?'
'To Beechcroft and to Stokesley; but we don't quite know where Uncle
Reginald is. Perhaps he will see the paper.'
Gillian's tears were flowing again, and her aunt said---
'Come, my dear, you must not give way; you must do all you can to
make it better for your mother.'
'I know,' she answered. 'Indeed, I didn't cry till I sat waiting,
and it all came over me. Poor papa! and what a journey mamma will
have, and how dreadful it will be without her! But I know that it is
horrid of me, when papa and my sisters must want her so much more.'
'That's right---quite right to keep up before her. It does not sound
to me so bad, after all; perhaps they will telegraph again to stop
her. Did Claude ask her to come out?'
'Oh no! There were only those few words.'
No more could be learnt till the pony stopped at the door, and Hal
ran out to hand out his aunt, and beg her privately to persuade his
mother to take him, or, if she would not consent to that, at least to
have Macrae, the old soldier-servant, with her---it was not fit for
her to travel alone.
Lady Merrifield looked very pale, and squeezed her sister close in
her arms as she said---
'You are my great help, Jenny.'
'And must you go?'
'Without waiting to hear more?'
'There is no use in losing time. I cannot cross from Folkestone till
the day after to-morrow, at night. I must go to London to-morrow,
and sleep at Mrs. Merrifield's.'
'But this does not seem to me so very bad.'
'Oh, no, no! but when I get there in three weeks' time, it will be
just when I shall be most wanted. The nursing will have told on the
girls, and Jasper will be feeling weary of being laid up, and wanting
to take liberties.'
'And what will you be after such a journey?'
'Just up to keeping him in order. Come, you have too much sense to
'No; you would wear yourself to fiddle-strings if you stayed at home.
I only want you to take Hal, or Macrae.'
'Hal is out of the question, I would not interfere with his
preparation on any account. Macrae would be a very costly article;
and, moreover, I want him to act major-domo here, unless you would,
and that I don't dare to hope for.'
'No, you must not, Lily; Ada never feels well here, nor always at
Brighton, and Emily would be too nervous to have her without me.
But we will take as many children as you please, or we have room
'That is like you, Jenny. I know William will offer to take them in
at home, but I cannot send them without Miss Vincent; and she cannot
leave her mother, who has had a sort of stroke. Otherwise I should
try leaving them here while I am away, but the poor old lady is in no
state for it---in fact, I doubt her living long.'
'I know; you have been governess by yourself these last weeks; it
will be well to relieve her. The best way will be for us to take
Mysie and Valetta, and let them go to the High School; and there is a
capital day-school for little boys, close to St. Andrew's, for
Fergus, and Gillian can go there too, or join classes in whatever she
'My Brownie! Have you really room for all those?'
'Oh yes! The three girls in the spare room and dressing-room, and
Fergus in the little room over the porch. I will write to Fanny; I
gave her a hint.'
'And I have no doubt that Primrose will be a delight to her aunt
Alethea, poor little dear! Yes, that makes it all easy, for in the
holidays I know the boys are sure of a welcome at the dear old home,
or Hal might have one or two of them at his Curacy.'
The gong sounded for the melancholy dinner that had to go on all the
same, and in the midst all were startled by the arrival of a
telegram, which Macrae, looking awestruck, actually delivered to
Harry instead of to his mistress; but it was not from Ceylon. It was
from Colonel Mohun, from Beechcroft: 'Coming 6.30. Going with you.
Send children here.'
Never were twenty words, including addresses, more satisfactory. The
tears came, for the first time, to Lady Merrifield's eyes at the
kindness of her brothers, and Harry was quite satisfied that his
uncle would be a far better escort than himself or Macrae. Aunt Jane
went off to send her telegram home and write some needful letters,
and Lady Merrifield announced her arrangements to those whom they
'Oh! mamma, don't,' exclaimed Valetta; 'all the guinea-pigs will
'I thought,' said Gillian, 'that we might stay here with Miss Vincent
to look after us.'
'That will not do in her mother's state. Mrs. Vincent cannot be
moved up here, and I could not lay such a burthen on them.'
'We would be very good,' said Val.
'That, I hope, you will be any way; but I think it will be easier at
Rockstone, and I am quite sure that papa and I shall be better
satisfied about you.'
'Mayn't we take Quiz!' asked Fergus.
'And Rigdum Funnidos?' cried Valetta.
'And Ruff and Ring?' chimed in Mysie.
'My dear children, I don't see how Aunt Jane can be troubled with any
more animals than your four selves. You must ask her, only do not be
surprised or put out if she refuses, for I don't believe you can keep
Off the three younger ones went, Gillian observing, 'I don't see how
they can, unless it was Quiz; but, mamma, don't you think I might go
to Beechcroft with Primrose? I should be so much quieter working for
the examination there, and I could send my exercises to Miss Vincent;
and then I should keep up Prim's lessons.'
'Your aunt Alethea will, I know, like doing that, my dear; and I am
afraid to turn those creatures loose on the aunts without some one to
look after them and their clothes. Fanny will be very helpful; but
it will not do to throw too much on her.'
'Oh! I thought they would have Lois---'
'There would not be room for her; besides that, I don't think it
would suit your aunts. You and Mysie ought to do all the mending for
yourselves and Fergus, and what Valetta cannot manage. I know you
would rather be at Beechcroft, my dear; but in this distress and
difficulty, some individual likings must be given up.'
Lady Merrifield looked rather dubiously at her daughter. She had
very little time, and did not want to have an argument, nor to elicit
murmurs, yet it might be better to see what was in Gillian's mind
before it was too late. Mothers, very fond of their own sisters,
cannot always understand why it is not the same with their daughters,
who inherit another element of inherited character, and of another
generation, and who have not been welded together with the aunts in
childhood. 'My dear,' she said, 'you know I am quite ready to hear
if you have any real reasonable objection to this arrangement.'
'No, mamma, I don't think I have,' said Gillian thoughtfully. 'The
not liking always meeting a lot of strangers, nor the general bustle,
is all nonsense, I know quite well. I see it is best for the
children, but I should like to know exactly who is to be in authority
'Certainly Aunt Jane,' replied Lady Merrifield. 'She must be the
ultimate authority. Of course you will check the younger ones in
anything going wrong, as you would here, and very likely there will
be more restrictions. Aunt Ada has to be considered, and it will be
a town life; but remember that your aunt is mistress of the house,
and that even if you do think her arrangements uncalled for, it is
your duty to help the others to submit cheerfully. Say anything you
please fully and freely in your letters to me, but don't let there be
any collisions of authority. Jane will listen kindly, I know, in
private to any representation you may like to make, but to say before
the children, "Mamma always lets them," would be most mischievous.'
'I see,' said Gillian. 'Indeed, I will do my best, mamma, and it
will not be for very long.'
'I hope and trust not, my dear child. Perhaps we shall all meet by
Easter---papa, and all; but you must not make too sure. There may be
delays. Now I must see Halfpenny. I cannot talk to you any more, my
Gillyflower, though I am leaving volumes unsaid.
Gillian found Aunt Jane emerging from her room, and beset by her
three future guests.
'Aunt Jane, may we bring Quiz?'
'And Rigdum Funnidos and Lady Rigdum?'
'And Ruff and Ring? They are the sweetest doves in the world.'
'Doves! Oh, Mysie, they would drive your aunt Ada distracted, with
coo-roo-roo at four o'clock in the morning, just as she goes off to
'The Rigdums make no noise but a dear little chirp,' triumphantly
'Do you mean the kittens? We have a vacancy for one cat, you know.'
Oh yes, we want you to choose between Artaxerxes and the Sofy. But
the Rigdums are the eldest pair of guinea-pigs. They are so fond of
me, that I know poor old Funnidos will die of grief if I go away and
'I sincerely hope not, Valetta, for, indeed, there is no place to put
'I don't think he would mind living in the cellar if he only saw me
once a day,' piteously pleaded Valetta.
'Indeed, Val, the dark and damp would surely kill the poor thing, in
spite of your attentions. You must make up your mind to separation
from your pets, excepting the kitten.'
Valetta burst out crying at this last drop that made the bucket
overflow, but Fergus exclaimed: 'Quiz! Aunt Jane! He always goes
about with us, and always behaves like a gentleman, don't you,
Quizzy?' and the little Maltese, who perfectly well understood that
there was trouble in the air, sat straight up, crossed his paws, and
looked touchingly wistful.
'Poor dear little fellow!' said Aunt Jane; 'yes, I knew he would be
good, but Kunz would be horribly, jealous, you see; he is an only
dog, and can't bear to have his premises invaded.'
'He ought to be taught better,' said Fergus gravely.
'So he ought,' Aunt Jane confessed; 'but he is too old to begin
learning, and Aunt Ada and Mrs. Mount would never bear to see him
disturbed. Besides, I really do not think Quiz would be half so well
off there as among his own friends and places here, with Macrae to
take care of him.' Then as Fergus began to pucker his face, she
added, 'I am really very sorry to be so disagreeable.'
'The children must not be unreasonable,' said Gillian sagely, as she
'And I am to choose between Xerxes and Artaxerxes, is it?' said Aunt
'No, the Sofy,' said Mysie. 'A Sofy is a Persian philosopher, and
this kitten has got the wisest face.'
'Run and fetch them,' suggested her aunt, 'and then we can choose.
Oh,' she added, with some relief at the thought, 'if it is an object
to dispose of Cockie, we could manage him.'
The two younger ones were gratified, but Gillian and Mysie both
exclaimed that Cockie's exclusive affections were devoted to Macrae,
and that they could not answer for his temper under the separation.
To break up such a household was decidedly the Goose, Fox, and
Cabbage problem. As Mysie observed, in the course of the search for
the kittens, in the make-the-best-of-it tone, 'It was not so bad as
the former moves, when they were leaving a place for good and all.'
'Ah, but no place was ever so good as this,' said poor Valetta.
'Don't be such a little donkey,' said Fergus consequentially. 'Don't
you know we are going to school, and I am three years younger than
'It is only a petticoat school,' said Val, 'kept by ladies.'
'It is; I heard Harry say so.'
'And yours is all butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.'
On which they fell on each other, each with a howl of defiance.
Fergus grabbed at Val's pigtail, and she was buffeting him vehemently
when Harry came out, held them apart, and demanded if this were the
way to make their mother easy in leaving them.
'She said it was a pet-pet-petticoat school,' sobbed Fergus.
'And so it ought to be, for boys that fight with girls.'
'And he said mine was all butchers and bakers and candlestick
makers,' whined Valetta.
'Then you'd better learn manners, or they'll take you for a tramp,'
observed Harry; but at that moment Mysie broke in with a shout at
having discovered the kittens making a plaything of the best library
pen-wiper, their mother, the sleek Begum, abetting them, and they
were borne off to display the coming glories of their deep fur to
Her choice fell upon the Sofy, as much because of the convenience of
the name as because of the preternatural wisdom of expression
imparted by the sweep of the black lines on the gray visage. Mr.
Pollock's landlady was to be the happy possessor of Artaxerxes, and
the turbulent portion of the Household was disposed of to bear him
thither, and to beg Miss Hacket to give Buff and Ring the run of her
cage, whence they had originally come, also to deliver various
messages and notes.
By the time they returned, Colonel Mohun was met in the hall by his
sister. 'Oh, Reggie, it is too good in you!' were the words that
came with her fervent kiss. 'Remember how many years I have been
seasoned to being "cockit up on a baggage waggon." Ought not such an
old soldier as I to be able to take care of myself?'
'And what would your husband say to you when you got there? And
should not I catch it from William? Well, are you packing up the
youthful family for Beechcroft, except that at Rotherwood they are
shrieking for Mysie?'
'I know how good William and Alethea would be. This child,' pointing
to Primrose, who had been hanging on her all day in silence, 'is to
go to them; but as I can't send Miss Vincent, educational advantages,
as the advertisements say, lie on the side of Rockstone; so Jenny
here undertakes to be troubled with the rabble.'
'But Mysie? Rotherwood met me at the station and begged me to obtain
her from you. They really wish it.'
'He does, I have no doubt.'
'So does Madame la Marquise. They have been anxious about little
Phyllis all the summer. She was languid and off her feed in London,
and did not pick up at home as they expected. My belief is that it
is too much governess and too little play, and that a fortnight here
would set her up again. Rotherwood himself thinks so, and Victoria
has some such inkling. At any rate, they are urgent to have Mysie
with the child, as the next best thing.'
'Poor dear little Fly!' ejaculated Lady Merrifield; 'but I am afraid
Mysie was not very happy there last year.'
'And what would be the effect of all the overdoing?' said Miss Mohun.
'Mysie is tougher than that sprite, and I suppose there is some
relaxation,' said Lady Merrifield.
'Yes; the doctors have frightened them sufficiently for the present.
'I suppose Mysie is a prescription, poor child,' said her aunt, in a
tone that evoked from her brother---
'Well, Jane,' said Lady Merrifield, 'you know how thankful I am to
you and Ada, but I am inclined to let it depend on the letters I get
to-morrow, and the way Victoria takes it. If it is really an earnest
wish on that dear little Fly's account, I could not withstand old
Rotherwood, and though Mysie might be less happy than she would be
with you, I do not think any harm will be done. Everything there is
sound and conscientious, and if she picks up a little polish, it
won't hurt her.'
'Shall you give her the choice?'
'I see no good in rending the poor child's mind between two
affections, especially as there will be a very short time to decide
in, for I shall certainly not send her if Victoria's is a mere duty
'You are quite right there, Lily,' said the Colonel. 'The less
choice the greater comfort.'
'Well done, sir soldier,' said his sister Jane. 'I say quite right
too; only, for my own sake, I wish it had been Valetta.'
'So no doubt does she,' said the mother; 'but unluckily it isn't.
And, indeed, I don't think I wish it. Val is safer with you. As
Gillian expressed it the other day, "Val does right when she likes
it; Mysie does right when she knows it."'
'You have the compliment after all, Jane,' said the Colonel. 'Lily
trusts you with the child she doesn't trust!'
There was no doubt the next morning, for Lady Rotherwood wrote an
earnest, affectionate letter, begging for Mysie, who, she said, had
won such golden opinions in her former visit that it would be a real
benefit to Phyllis, as much morally as physically, to have her
companionship. It was the tenderest letter that either of the
sisters had ever seen from the judicious and excellent Marchioness,
full of warm sympathy for Lady Merrifield's anxiety for her husband,
and betraying much solicitude for her little girl.
'It has done her good,' said Jane Mohun. 'I did not think she had
such a soft spot.'
'Poor Victoria,' said Lady Merrifield, 'that is a shame. You know
she is an excellent mother.'
'Too excellent, that's the very thing,' muttered Aunt Jane. 'Well,
Mysie's fate is settled, and I dare say it will turn out for the
So Mysie was to go with Mrs. Halfpenny and Primrose to Beechcroft,
whence the Rotherwoods would fetch her. If the lady's letter had
been much less urgent, who could have withstood her lord's
postscript: 'If you could see the little pale face light up at the
bare notion of seeing Mysie, you would know how grateful we shall be
Mysie herself heard her destiny without much elation, though she was
very fond of Lady Phyllis, and the tears came into her eyes at the
thought of her being unwell and wanting her.
'Mamma said we must not grumble,' she said to Gillian; 'but I shall
feel so lost without you and Val. It is so unhomish, and there's
that dreadful German Fraulein, who was not at home last time.'
'If you told mamma, perhaps she would let you stay,' returned
Gillian. 'I know I should hate it, worse than I do going to
Rockstone and without you.'
'That would be unkind to poor Fly,' said Mysie. 'Besides, mamma said
she could not have settling and unsettling for ever. And I shall see
Primrose sometimes; besides, I do love Fly. It's marching orders,
It was Valetta who made the most objection. She declared that it was
not fair that Mysie, who had been to the ball at Rotherwood, should
go again to live with lords and ladies, while she went to a nasty
day-school with butchers' and bakers' daughters. She hoped she
should grow horridly vulgar, and if mamma did not like it, it would
be her own fault!
Mrs. Halfpenny, who did not like to have to separate Mysie's clothes
from the rest after they were packed, rather favoured this
naughtiness by observing: 'The old blue merino might stay at home.
Miss Mysie would be too set up to wear that among her fine folk. Set
her up, that she should have all the treats, while her own Miss
Gillian was turned over to the auld aunties!'
'Nonsense, nurse,' said Gillian. 'I'm much better pleased to go and
be of some use! Val, you naughty child, how dare you make such a
fuss?' for Valetta was crying again.
'I hate school, and I hate Rockstone, and I don't see why Mysie
should always go everywhere, and wear new frocks, and I go to the
butchers and bakers and wear horrid old ones.'
'I wish you could come too,' said Mysie; 'but indeed old frocks are
the nicest, because one is not bothered to take so much care of them;
and lords and ladies aren't a bit better to play with than, other
people. In fact, Ivy is what Japs calls a muff and a stick.'
Valetta, however, cried on, and Mysie went the length of repairing to
her mother, in the midst of her last notes and packings, to entreat
to change with Val, who followed on tip-toe.
'Certainly not,' was the answer from Lady Merrifield, who was being
worried on all sides, 'Valetta is not asked, and she is not behaving
so that I could accept for her if she were.'
And Val had to turn away in floods of tears, which redoubled on being
told by the united voices of her brothers and sisters that they were
ashamed of her for being so selfish as to cry for herself when all
were in so much trouble about papa.
Lady Merrifield caught some of the last words. 'No, my dear,' she
said. 'That is not quite just or kind. It is being unhappy that
makes poor Val so ready to cry about her own grievances. Only, Val,
come here, and remember that fretting is not the way to meet such
things. There is a better way, my child, and I think you know what I
mean. Now, to help you through the time in an outer way, suppose you
each set yourself some one thing to improve in while I am away.
Don't tell me what it is, but let me find out when I come home.'
With that she obeyed an urgent summons to speak to the gardener.
'I shall! I shall,' cried little Primrose, 'write a whole copy-book
in single lines! And won't mamma be pleased? What shall you do,
Fergus? and Val? and Mysie?'
'I shall get to spin my peg-top so as it will never tumble down, and
will turn an engine for drawing water,' was the prompt answer of
'What nonsense!' said Val; 'you'd better settle to get your long
division sums right.'
'That s girls' stuff,' replied Fergus; 'you'd better settle to leave
off crying for nothing.'
'That you had!' said several voices, and Val very nearly cried again
as she exclaimed: 'Don't be all so tiresome. I shall make mamma a
beautiful crewel cushion, with all the battles in history on it. And
won't she be surprised!'
'I think mamma meant more than that,' said Mysie.
'Oh, Mysie, what shall you do?' asked Primrose.
'I did think of getting to translate one of mamma's favourite German
stories quite through to her without wanting the dictionary or
stumbling one bit,' said Mysie; 'but I am sure she meant something
better and better, and I'm thinking what it is---Perhaps it is making
all little Flossie Maddin's clothes, a whole suit all oneself---Or
perhaps it is manners. What do you think, Gill?'
'I should say most likely it was manners for you,' volunteered Harry,
'and the extra you are most likely to acquire at Rotherwood.'
'I'm so glad,' said Mysie.
'And you, Gill,' inquired Primrose, 'what will you do? Mine is a
copy-book, and Fergus's is the spinning-top-engines, and rule of
three; and Val's is a crewel battle cushion and not crying; and
Mysie's is German stories and manners; and what's yours, Gill?'
'Gill is so grown up, she is too good to want an inside thing'
'Oh, Prim, you dear little thing,' cried both elder brother and
sister, as they thought with a sort of pang of the child's opinion of
'Harry is grown up more,' put in Fergus; 'why don't you ask him?'
'Because I know,' said Primrose, with a pretty shyness, and as they
pressed her, she whispered, 'He is going to be a clergyman.'
There was a call for Mysie and Val from upstairs, and as the younger
population scampered off, Gillian said to her brother---
'Is not it like "occupy till I come"?'
'So I was thinking,' said Harry gravely. 'But one must be as young
as Mysie to throw one's "inside things" into the general stock of
'Yes,' said Gillian, with uplifted eyes. 'I do---I do hope to do
Some great thing was her unspoken thought---some great and excellent
achievement to be laid before her mother on her return. There was a
tale begun in imitation of Bessie Merrifield, called "Hilda's
Experiences". Suppose that was finished, printed, published,
splendidly reviewed. Would not that be a great thing? But alas, she
was under a tacit engagement never to touch it in the hours of study.
CHAPTER II. ROCKQUAY
The actual moment of a parting is often softened by the confusion of
departure. That of the Merrifield family took place at the junction,
where Lady Merrifield with her brother remained in the train, to be
carried on to London.
Gillian, Valetta, and Fergus, with their aunt, changed into a train
for Rockstone, and Harry was to return to his theological college,
after seeing Mysie and Primrose off with nurse on their way to the
ancestral Beechcroft, whence Mysie was to be fetched to Rotherwood.
The last thing that met Lady Merrifield's eyes was Mrs. Halfpenny
gesticulating wildly, under the impression that Mysie's box was going
off to London.
And Gillian's tears were choked in the scurry to avoid a smoking-
carriage, while Harry could not help thinking---half blaming himself
for so doing---that Mysie expended more feeling in parting with Sofy,
the kitten, than with her sisters, not perceiving that pussy was the
safety-valve for the poor child's demonstrations of all the sorrow
that was oppressing her.
Gillian, in the corner of a Rockstone carriage, had time for the full
heart-sickness and tumult of fear that causes such acute suffering to
young hearts. It is quite a mistake to say that youth suffers less
from apprehension than does age; indeed, the very inexperience and
novelty add to the alarms, where there is no background of anxieties
that have ended happily, only a crowd of examples of other people's
misfortunes. The difference is in the greater elasticity and power
of being distracted by outward circumstances; and thus lookers-on
never guess at the terrific possibilities that have scared the
imagination, and the secret ejaculations that have met them. How
many times on that brief journey had not Gillian seen her father
dying, her sisters in despair, her mother crushed in the train,
wrecked in the steamer, perishing of the climate, or arriving to find
all over and dying of the shock; yet all was varied by speculations
on the great thing that was to offer itself to be done, and the
delight it would give, and when the train slackened, anxieties were
merged in the care for bags, baskets, and umbrellas.
Rockstone and Rockquay had once been separate places---a little
village perched on a cliff of a promontory, and a small fishing
hamlet within the bay, but these had become merged in one, since
fashion had chosen them as a winter resort. Speculators blasted away
such of the rocks as they had not covered with lodging-houses and
desirable residences. The inhabitants of the two places had their
separate churches, and knew their own bounds perfectly well; but to
the casual observer, the chief distinction between them was that
Rockstone was the more fashionable, Rockquay the more commercial,
although the one had its shops, the other its handsome crescents and
villas. The station was at Rockquay, and there was an uphill drive
to reach Rockstone, where the two Miss Mohuns had been early
inhabitants---had named their cottage Beechcroft after their native
home, and, to justify the title, had flanked the gate with two copper
beeches, which had attained a fair growth, in spite of sea winds,
perhaps because sheltered by the house on the other side.
The garden reached out to the verge of the cliff, or rather to a low
wall, with iron rails and spikes at the top, and a narrow, rather
giddy path beyond. There was a gate in the wall, the key of which
Aunt Jane kept in her own pocket, as it gave near access to certain
rocky steps, about one hundred and thirty in number, by which, when
in haste, the inhabitants of Rockstone could descend to the lower
regions of the Quay.
There was a most beautiful sea-view from the house, which compensated
for difficulties in gardening in such a situation, though a very
slight slope inwards from the verge of the cliff gave some protection
to the flower-beds; and there was not only a little conservatory
attached to the drawing-room at the end, but the verandah had glass
shutters, which served the purpose of protecting tender plants, and
also the windows, from the full blast of the winter storms. Miss
Mohun was very proud of these shutters, which made a winter garden of
the verandah for Miss Adeline to take exercise in. The house was
their own, and, though it aimed at no particular beauty, had grown
pleasant and pretty looking by force of being lived in and made
It was a contrast to its neighbours on either side of its pink and
gray limestone wall. On one side began the grounds of the Great
Rockstone Hotel; on the other was Cliff House, the big and seldom-
inhabited house of one of the chief partners in the marble works,
which went on on the other side of the promontory, and some people
said would one day consume Rockstone altogether. It was a very fine
house, and the gardens were reported to be beautifully kept up, but
the owner was almost always in Italy, and had so seldom been at
Rockstone that it was understood that all this was the ostentation of
a man who did not know what to do with his money.
Aunt Adeline met the travellers at the door with her charming
welcome. Kunz, all snowy white, wagged his tight-curled tail amid
his barks, at sight of Aunt Jane, but capered wildly about the Sofy's
basket, much to Valetta's agony; while growls, as thunderous as a
small kitten could produce, proceeded therefrom.
'Kunz, be quiet,' said Aunt Jane, in a solemn, to-be-minded voice,
and he crouched, blinking up with his dark eye.
'Give me the basket. Now, Kunz, this is our cat. Do you hear? You
are not to meddle with her.'
Did Kunz really wink assent---a very unwilling assent?
'Oh, Aunt Jane!' from Val, as her aunt's fingers undid the cover of
'Once for all!' said Aunt Jane.
'M-m-m-m-ps-pss-psss!' from the Sofy, two screams from Val and
Fergus, a buffeting of paws, a couple of wild bounds, first on a
chair-back, then on the mantelpiece, where, between the bronze
candlestick and the vase, the Persian philosopher stood hissing and
swearing, while Kunz danced about and barked.
'Take her down, Gillian,' said Aunt Jane; and Gillian, who had some
presence of mind, accomplished it with soothing words, and, thanks to
her gloves, only one scratch.
Meantime Miss Mohun caught up Kunz, held up her finger to him,
stopped his barks; and then, in spite of the 'Oh, don'ts,' and even
the tears of Valetta, the two were held up---black nose to pink nose,
with a resolute 'Now, you are to behave well to each other, from Aunt
Kunz sniffed, the Sofy hissed; but her claws were captive. The dog
was the elder and more rational, and when set down again took no more
notice of his enemy, whom Valetta was advised to carry into Mrs.
Mount's quarters to be comforted and made at home there; the united
voice of the household declaring that the honour of the Spitz was as
spotless as his coat!
Such was the first arrival at Rockstone, preceding even Aunt
Adeline's inquiries after Mysie, and the full explanation of the
particulars of the family dispersion. Aunt Ada's welcome was not at
all like that of Kunz. She was very tender and caressing, and
rejoiced that her sister could trust her children to her. They
should all get on most happily together, she had no doubt.
True-hearted as Gillian was, there was something hopeful and
refreshing in the sight of that fair, smiling face, and the touch of
the soft hand, in the room that was by no means unfamiliar, though
she had never slept in the house before. It was growing dark, and
the little fire lighted it up in a friendly manner. Wherever Aunt
Jane was, everything was neat; wherever Aunt Adeline was, everything
was graceful. Gillian was old enough to like the general prettiness;
but it somewhat awed Val and Fergus, who stood straight and shy till
they were taken upstairs. The two girls had a very pretty room and
dressing-room---the guest chamber, in fact; and Fergus was not far
off, in a small apartment which, as Val said, 'stood on legs,' and
formed the shelter of the porch.
'But, oh dear! oh dear!' sighed Val, as Gillian unpacked their
evening garments, 'Isn't there any nice place at all where one can
make a mess?'
'I don't know whether the aunts will ever let us make a mess,' said
Gillian; 'they don't look like it.'
At which Valetta's face puckered up in the way only too familiar to
'Come, don't be silly, Val. You won't have much time, you know; you
will go to school, and get some friends to play with, and not want to
make messes here.'
'I hate friends!'
'All but Fly, and Mysie is gone to her. I want Mysie.'
So in truth did Gillian, almost as much as her mother. Her heart
sank as she thought of having Val and Fergus to save from scrapes
without Mysie's readiness and good humour. If Mysie were but there
she should be free for her 'great thing.' And oh! above all, Val's
hair---the brown bush that Val had a delusion that she 'did' herself,
but which her 'doing' left looking rather worse than it did before,
and which was not permitted in public to be in the convenient tail.
Gillian advanced on her with the brush, but she tossed it and
declared it all right!
However, at that moment there was a knock. Mrs. Mount's kindly face
and stout form appeared. She had dressed Miss Ada and came to see
what she could do for the young people, being of that delightful
class of old servants who are charmed to have anything young in the
house, especially a boy. She took Valetta's refractory mane in hand,
tied her sash, inspected Fergus's hands, which had succeeded in
getting dirty in their inevitable fashion, and undertook all the
unpacking and arranging. To Val's inquiry whether there was any
place for making 'a dear delightful mess' she replied with a curious
little friendly smile, and wonder that a young lady should want such
'I'm afraid we are all rather strange specimens of young ladies,'
replied Gillian; 'very untidy, I mean.'
'And I'm sure I don't know what Miss Mohun and Miss Ada will say'
said good Mrs. Mount.
'What's that? What am I to say?' asked Aunt Jane, coming into the
But, after all, Aunt Jane proved to have more sympathy with 'messes'
than any of the others. She knew very well that the children would
be far less troublesome if they had a place to themselves, and she
said, 'Well, Val, you shall have the boxroom in the attics. And
mind, you must keep all your goods there, both of you. If I find
them about the house, I shall---'
'Oh, what, Aunt Jane?'
'Confiscate them,' was the reply, in a very awful voice, which
impressed Fergus the more because he did not understand the word.
'You need not look so much alarmed, Fergus,' said Gillian; 'you are
not at all the likely one to transgress.'
'No,' said Valetta gravely. 'Fergus is what Lois calls a regular old
'I won't be called names,' exclaimed Fergus.
'Well, Lois said so---when you were so cross because the poker had got
on the same side as the tongs! She said she never saw such an old
battledore, and you know how all the others took it up.'
'Shuttlecock yourself then!' angrily responded Fergus, while both
aunt and sister were laughing too much to interfere.
'I shall call you a little Uncle Maurice instead,' said Aunt Jane.
'How things come round! Perhaps you would not believe, Gill, that
Aunt Ada was once in a scrape, when she was our Mrs. Malaprop, for
applying that same epithet on hearsay to Maurice.'
This laugh made Gillian feel more at home with her aunt, and they
went up happily together for the introduction to the lumber-room, not
a very spacious place, and with a window leading out to the leads.
Aunt Jane proceeded to put the children on their word of honour not
to attempt to make an exit thereby, which Gillian thought
unnecessary, since this pair were not enterprising.
The evening went off happily. Aunt Jane produced one of the old
games which had been played at the elder Beechcroft, and had a
certain historic character in the eyes of the young people. It was
one of those variations of the Game of the Goose that were once held
to be improving, and their mother had often told them how the family
had agreed to prove whether honesty is really the best policy, and
how it had been agreed that all should cheat as desperately as
possible, except 'honest Phyl,' who _couldn't_; and how, by some
extraordinary combination, good for their morals, she actually was
the winner. It was immensely interesting to see the identical much-
worn sheet of dilapidated pictures with the padlock, almost close to
the goal, sending the counter back almost to the beginning in search
of the key. Still more interesting was the imitation, "in very
wonderful drawing, devised by mamma, of the career of a true knight---
from pagedom upwards---in pale watery Prussian-blue armour, a crimson
scarf, vermilion plume, gamboge spurs, and very peculiar arms and
legs. But, as Valetta observed, it must have been much more
interesting to draw such things as that than stupid freehand lines
and twists with no sense at all in them.
Aunt Ada, being subject to asthmatic nights, never came down to
breakfast, and, indeed, it was at an hour that Gillian thought
fearfully early; but her Aunt Jane was used to making every hour of
the day available, and later rising would have prevented the two
children from being in time for the schools, to which they were to go
on the Monday. Some of Aunt Jane's many occupations on Saturday
consisted in arranging with the two heads of their respective
schools, and likewise for the mathematical class Gillian was to join
at the High School two mornings in the week, and for her lessons on
the organ, which were to be at St. Andrew's Church. Somehow Gillian
felt as if she were as entirely in her aunt's hands as Kunz and the
Sofy had been!
After the early dinner, which suited the invalid's health, Aunt Jane
said she would take Valetta and Fergus to go down to the beach with
the little Varleys, while she went to her district, leaving Gillian
to read to Aunt Ada for half an hour, and then to walk with her for a
quiet turn on the beach.
It was an amusing article in a review that Gillian was set to read,
and she did it so pleasantly that her aunt declared that she looked
forward to many such afternoon pastimes, and then, by an easier way
than the hundred and a half steps, they proceeded down the hill, the
aunt explaining a great deal to the niece in a manner very gratifying
to a girl beginning to be admitted to an equality with grown-up
'There is our old church,' said Aunt Ada, as they had a glimpse of a
gray tower with a curious dumpy steeple.
'Do you go to church there!'
'I do---always. I could not undertake the hill on Sundays; but Jane
takes the school-children to the St. Andrew's service in the
'But which is the parish church?'
'In point of fact, my dear; it is all one parish. Good morning, Mr.
Hablot. My niece, Miss Gillian Merrifield. Yes, my sister is come
home. I think she will be at the High School. He is the vicar of
St. Andrew's,' as the clergyman went off in the direction of the
'I thought you said it was all one parish.'
'St. Andrew's is only a district. Ah, it was all before your time,
'I know dear Uncle Claude was the clergyman here, and got St.
'Yes, my dear. It was the great work and thought with him and Lord
Rotherwood in those days that look so bright now,' said Aunt Ada.
'Yes, and with us all.'
'Do tell me all about it,' entreated Gillian; and her aunt, nothing
loth, went on.
'Dear Claude was only five-and-twenty when he had the living. Nobody
would take it, it was such a neglected place. All Rockquay down
there had grown up with only the old church, and nobody going to it.
It was a great deal through Rotherwood. Some property here came to
him, and he was shocked at the state of things. Then we all thought
the climate might be good for dear Claude, and Jane came to live with
him and help him, and look after him. You see there were a great
many of us, and Jane---well, she didn't quite get on with Alethea, and
Claude thought she wanted a sphere of her own, and that is the way
she comes to have more influence than any one else here. And as I am
always better in this air than anywhere else, I came soon after---even
before my dear fathers death. And oh! what an eager, hopeful time it
was, setting everything going, and making St. Andrew's all we could
wish! We were obliged to be cautious at the old church, you know,
because of not alarming the old-fashioned people. And so we are
'Is that St. Andrew's? Oh, it is beautiful. May I look in?'
'Not now, my dear. You will see it another time.'
'I wish it were our church.'
'You will find the convenience of having one so near. And our
services are very nice with our present rector, Mr. Ellesmere, an
excellent active man, but his wife is such an invalid that all the
work falls on Jane. I am so glad you are here to help her a little.
St. Andrew's has a separate district, and Mr. Hablot is the vicar;
but as it is very poor, we keep the charities all in one. Rotherwood
built splendid schools, so we only have an infant school for the
Rockstone children. On Sunday, Jane assembles the older children
there and takes them to church; but in the afternoon they all go to
the National Schools, and then to a children's service at St.
Andrew's. She gets on so well with Mr. Hablot---he was dear Claude's
curate, you see, and little Mrs. Hablot was quite a pupil of ours.
What do you think little Gerald Hablot said---he is only five---"Isn't
Miss Mohun the most consultedest woman in Rockquay?"'
'I suppose it is true,' said Gillian, laughing, but rather awestruck.
'I declare it makes me quite giddy to count up all she has on her
hands. Nobody can do anything without her. There are so few
permanent inhabitants, and when people begin good works, they go
away, or marry, or grow tired, and then we can't let them drop!'
'Oh! what's that pretty spire, on the rise of the other hill?'
'My dear, that was the Kennel Mission Chapel, a horrid little hideous
iron thing, but Lady Flight mistook and called it St. Kenelm's, and
St. Kenelm's it will be to the end of the chapter.' And as she
exchanged bows with a personage in a carriage, 'There she is, my
'Who? Did she build that church?'
'It is not consecrated. It really is only a mission chapel, and he
is nothing but a curate of Mr. Hablot's,' said Aunt Ada, Gillian
thought a little venomously.
She asked, 'Who?'
'The Reverend Augustine Flight, my dear. I ought not to say anything
against them, I am sure, for they mean to be very good; but she is
some City man's widow, and he is an only son, and they have more
money than their brains can carry. They have made that little place
very beautiful, quite oppressed with ornament---City taste, you know,
and they have all manner of odd doings there, which Mr. Hablot
allows, because he says he does not like to crush zeal, and he thinks
interference would do more harm than good. Jane thinks he ought not
to stand so much, but---'
Gillian somehow felt a certain amusement and satisfaction in finding
that Aunt Jane had one disobedient subject, but they were interrupted
by two ladies eagerly asking where to find Miss Mohun, and a few
steps farther on a young clergyman accosted them, and begged that
Miss Mohun might be told the hour of some meeting. Also that 'the
Bellevue Church people would not co-operate in the coal club.'
Then it was explained that Bellevue Church was within the bounds of
another parish, and had been built by, and for, people who did not
like the doctrine at the services of St. Andrew's.
By this time aunt and niece had descended to the Marine esplanade, a
broad road, on one side of which there was a low sea wall, and then
the sands and rocks stretched out to the sea, on the other a broad
space of short grass, where there was a cricket ground, and a lawn-
tennis ground, and the volunteers could exercise, and the band played
twice a week round a Russian gun that stood by the flagstaff.
The band was playing now, and the notes seemed to work on Gillian's
feet, and yet to bring her heart into her throat, for the last time
she had heard that march was from the band of her father's old
regiment, when they were all together!
Her aunt was very kind, and talked to her affectionately and
encouragingly of the hopes that her mother would find her father
recovering, and that it would turn out after all quite an expedition
of pleasure and refreshment. Then she said how much she rejoiced to
have Gillian with her, as a companion to herself, while her sister
was so busy, and she was necessarily so much left alone.
'We will read together, and draw, and play duets, and have quite a
good account of our employment to give,' she said, smiling.
'I shall like it very much,' said Gillian heartily.
'Dear child, the only difficulty will be that you will spoil me, and
I shall never be able to part with you. Besides, you will be such a
help to my dear Jane. She never spares herself, you know, and no one
ever spares her, and I can do so little to help her, except with my
'Surely here are plenty of people,' said Gillian, for they were in
the midst of well-dressed folks, and Aunt Ada had more than once
exchanged nods and greetings.
'Quite true, my dear; but when there is anything to be done, then
there is a sifting! But now we have you, with all our own Lily's
spirit, I shall be happy about Jane for this winter at least.
They were again interrupted by meeting a gentleman and lady, to whom
Gillian was introduced, and who walked on with her aunt conversing.
They had been often in India, and made so light of the journey that
Gillian was much cheered. Moreover, she presently came in sight of
Val and Fergus supremely happy over a castle on the beach, and
evidently indoctrinating the two little Varleys with some of the
dramatic sports of Silverfold.
Aunt Ada found another acquaintance, a white moustached old
gentleman, who rose from a green bench in a sunny corner, saying,
'Ah, Miss Mohun, I have been guarding your seat for you.'
'Thank you, Major Dennis. My niece, Miss Merrifield.'
He seemed to be a very courteous old gentleman, for he bowed, and
made some polite speech about Sir Jasper, and, as he was military,
Gillian hoped to have heard some more about the journey when they sat
down, and room was made for her; but instead of that he and her aunt
began a discussion of the comings and goings of people she had never
heard of, and the letting or not letting of half the villas in
Rockstone; and she found it so dull that she had a great mind to go
and join the siege of Sandcastle. Only her shoes and her dress were
fitter for the esplanade than the shore with the tide coming in; and
when one has just begun to buy one's own clothes, that is a
At last she saw Aunt Jane's trim little figure come out on the sands
and make as straight for the children as she could, amid greetings
and consultations, so with an exclamation, she jumped up and went
over the shingle to meet them, finding an endeavour going on to make
them tolerably respectable for the walk home, by shaking off the
sand, and advising Val to give up her intention of dragging home a
broad brown ribbon of weed with a frilled edge, all polished and
shiny with wet. She was not likely to regard it as such a curiosity
after a few days' experience of Rockquay, as her new friends told
Kitty Varley went to the High School, which greatly modified
Valetta's disgust to it, for the little girls had already vowed to be
the greatest chums in the world, and would have gone home with arms
entwined, if Aunt Jane had not declared that such things could not be
done in the street, and Clem Varley, with still more effect,
threatened that if they were such a pair of ninnies, he should squirt
at them with the dirtiest water he could find.
Valetta had declared that she infinitely preferred Kitty to Fly, and
Kitty was so flattered at being adopted by the second cousin of a
Lady Phyllis, and the daughter of a knight, that she exalted Val
above all the Popsys and Mopsys of her present acquaintance, and at
parting bestowed on her a chocolate cream, which tasted about equally
of salt water and hot hand---at least if one did not feel it a
testimonial of ardent friendship.
Fergus and Clement had, on the contrary, been so much inclined to
punch and buffet one another, that Miss Mohun had to make them walk
before her to keep the peace, and was by no means sorry when the gate
of 'The Tamarisks' was reached, and the Varleys could be disposed of.
However, the battery must have been amicable, for Fergus was crazy to
go in and see Clement's little pump, which he declared 'would do it'-
--an enigmatical phrase supposed to refer to the great peg-top-
perpetual-motion invention. He was dragged away with difficulty on
the plea of its being too late by Aunt Jane, who could not quite turn
two unexpected children in on Mrs. Varley, and had to effect a cruel
severance of Val and Kitty in the midst of their kisses.
'Sudden friendships,' said Gillian, from the superiority of her age.
'I do not think you are given that way,' said Aunt Jane.
'Does the large family suffice for all of you? People are so
different,' added Aunt Ada.
'Yes,' said Gillian. 'We have never been in the way of caring for
any outsider. I don't reckon Bessie Merrifield so---nor Fly Devereux,
nor Dolores, because they are cousins.'
'Cousins may be everything or nothing,' asserted Miss Mohun. 'You
have been about so much that you have hardly had time to form
intimacies. But had you no friends in the officers' families?'
'People always retired before their children grew up to be
companionable, said Gillian. 'There was nobody except the Whites.
And that wasn't exactly friendship.'
'Who were they?' said Aunt Jane, who always liked to know all about
'He rose from the ranks,' said Gillian. 'He was very much respected,
and nobody would have known that he was not a gentleman to begin
with. But his wife was half a Greek. Papa said she had been very
pretty; but, oh! she had grown so awfully fat. We used to call her
the Queen of the White Ants. Then Kally---her name was really
Kalliope---was very nice, and mamma got them to send her to a good
day-school at Dublin, and Alethea and Phyllis used to have her in to
try to make a lady of her. There used to be a great deal of fun
about their Muse, I remember; Claude thought her very pretty, and
always stood up for her, and Alethea was very fond of her. But soon
after we went to Belfast, Mr. White was made to retire with the rank
of captain. I think papa tried to get something for him to do; but I
am not sure whether he succeeded, and I don't know any more about
'Not exactly friendship, certainly,' said Aunt Jane, smiling. 'After
all, Gillian, in your short life, you have had wider experiences than
have befallen your old aunts!'
'Wider, perhaps, not deeper, Jane,' suggested Miss Adeline.
And Gillian thought---though she felt it would be too sentimental to
say---that in her life, persons and scenes outside her own family had
seemed to 'come like shadows and so depart'; and there was a general
sense of depression at the partings, the anxiety, and the being
unsettled again when she was just beginning to have a home.
CHAPTER III. PERPETUAL MOTION
If Fergus had not yet discovered the secret of perpetual motion,
Gillian felt as if Aunt Jane had done so, and moreover that the
greater proportion of parish matters were one vast machine, of which
she was the moving power.
As she was a small spare woman, able to do with a very moderate
amount of sleep, her day lasted from 6 A.M. to some unnamed time
after midnight; and as she was also very methodical, she got through
an appalling amount of business, and with such regularity that those
who knew her habits could tell with tolerable certainty, within
reasonable limits, where she would be found and what she would be
doing at any hour of the seven days of the week. Everything she
influenced seemed to recur as regularly as the motions of the great
ruthless-looking engines that Gillian had seen at work at Belfast;
the only loose cog being apparently her sister Adeline, who quietly
took her own way, seldom came downstairs before eleven o'clock, went
out and came in, made visits or received them, wrote letters, read
and worked at her own sweet will. Only two undertakings seemed to
belong to her---a mission working party, and an Italian class of young
ladies; and even the presidency of these often lapsed upon her
sister, when she had had one of those 'bad nights' of asthma, which
were equally sleepless to both sisters. She was principally useful
by her exquisite needlework, both in church embroidery and for sales;
and likewise as the recipient of all the messages left for Miss
Mohun, which she never forgot, besides that, having a clear sensible
head, she was useful in consultation.
She was thoroughly interested in all her sister's doings, and always
spoke of herself as the invalid, precluded from all service except
that of being a pivot for Jane, the stationary leg of the compasses,
as she sometimes called herself. This repose, together with her
prettiness and sweetness of manner, was very attractive; especially
to Gillian, who had begun to feel herself in the grip of the great
engine which bore her along without power of independent volition,
and with very little time for 'Hilda's Experiences'.
At home she had gone on harmoniously in full acquiescence with
household arrangements; but before the end of the week the very same
sensations came over her which had impelled her and Jasper into
rebellion and disgrace, during the brief reign of a very strict daily
governess, long ago at Dublin. Her reason and sense approved of all
that was set before her, and much of it was pleasant and amusing; but
this was the more provoking by depriving her of the chance of
resistance or the solace of complaint. Moreover, with all her time
at Aunt Jane's disposal, how was she to do her great thing?
Valetta's crewel battle cushion had been reduced to a delicious
design of the battle of the frogs and mice, drawn by Aunt Ada, and
which she delighted in calling at full length 'the Batrachyomachia,'
sparing none of the syllables which she was to work below. And it
was to be worked at regularly for half an hour before bed-time.
Trust Aunt Jane for seeing that any one under her dominion did what
had been undertaken! Only thus the spontaneity seemed to have
departed, and the work became a task. Fergus meanwhile had set his
affections on a big Japanese top he had seen in a window, and was
eagerly awaiting his weekly threepence, to be able to complete the
purchase, though no one but Valetta was supposed to understand what
it had to do with his 'great thing.'
It was quite pleasant to Gillian to have a legitimate cause of
opposition when Miss Mohun made known that she intended Gillian to
take a class at the afternoon Sunday-school, while the two children
went to Mrs. Hablot's drawing-room class at St. Andrew's Vicarage,
all meeting afterwards at church.
'Did mamma wish it?' asked Gillian.
'There was no time to mention it, but I knew she would.'
'I don't think so,' said Gillian. 'We don't teach on Sundays, unless
some regular person fails. Mamma likes to have us all at home to do
our Sunday work with her.'
'Alas, I am not mamma! Nor could I give you the time.'
'I have brought the books to go on with Val and Ferg. I always do
some of their work with them, and I am sure mamma would not wish them
to be turned over to a stranger.'
'The fact is, that young ladies have got beyond Sunday-schools!'
'No, no, Jane,' said her sister; 'Gillian is quite willing to help
you; but it is very nice in her to wish to take charge of the
'They would be much better with Mrs. Hablot than dawdling about here
and amusing themselves in the new Sunday fashion. Mind, I am not
going to have them racketing about the house and garden, disturbing
you, and worrying the maids.'
'Aunt Jane!' cried Gillian indignantly, 'you don't think that is the
way mamma brought us up to spend Sunday?'
'We shall see,' said Aunt Jane; then more kindly, 'My dear, you are
right to use your best judgment, and you are welcome to do so, as
long as the children are orderly and learn what they ought.'
It was more of a concession than Gillian expected, though she little
knew the effort it cost, since Miss Mohun had been at much pains to
set Mrs. Hablot's class on foot, and felt it a slight and a bad
example that her niece and nephew should be defaulters. The motive
might have worked on Gillian, but it was a lower one, therefore
She had seen Mrs. Hablot at the Italian class, and thought her a mere
girl, and an absolute subject of Aunt Jane's stumbling pitifully,
moreover, in a speech of Adelchi's; therefore evidently not at all
likely to teach Sunday subjects half so well as herself!
Nor was there anything amiss on that first Sunday. The lessons were
as well and quietly gone through as if with mamma, and there was a
pleasant little walk on the esplanade before the children's service
at St. Andrew's; after which there was a delightful introduction to
some of the old books mamma had told them of.
They were all rather subdued by the strangeness and newness of their
surroundings, as well as by anxiety. If the younger ones were less
anxious about their parents than was their sister, each had a plunge
to make on the morrow into a very new world, and the Varleys'
information had not been altogether reassuring. Valetta had learnt
how many marks might be lost by whispering or bad spelling, and how
ferociously cross Fraulein Adler looked at a mistake in a German
verb; while Fergus had heard a dreadful account of the ordeals to
which Burfield and Stebbing made new boys submit, and which would be
all the worse for him, because he had a 'rum' Christian name, and his
father was a swell.
Gillian had some experience through her elder brothers, and suspected
Master Varley of being guilty of heightening the horrors; so she
assured Fergus that most boys had the same sort of Christian names,
but were afraid to confess them to one another, and so called each
other Bill and Jack. She advised him to call himself by his surname,
not to mention his father's title if he could help it, and, above
all, not to seem to mind anything.
Her own spirits were much exhilarated the next morning by a note from
Harry, the recipient of all telegrams, with tidings that the doctors
were quite satisfied with Sir Jasper, and that Lady Merrifield had
There was great excitement at sight of a wet morning, for it appeared
that an omnibus came round on such occasions to pick up the scholars;
and Valetta thought this so delightful that she danced about
exclaiming, 'What fun!' and only wishing for Mysie to share it. She
would have rushed down to the gate umbrellaless if Aunt Jane had not
caught and conducted her, while Gillian followed with Fergus. Aunt
Jane looked down the vista of young faces---five girls and three boys-
--nodding to them, and saying to the senior, a tall damsel of fifteen,
'Here are my children, Emma. You will take care of them, please.
You are keeping order here, I suppose?'
There was a smile and bow in answer as the door closed, and the
omnibus jerked away its ponderous length.
'I'm sorry to see that Stebbing there,' observed the aunt, as she
went back; 'but Emma Norton ought to be able to keep him in order.
It is well you have no lessons out of the house to-day, Gillian.'
'Are you going out then?'
'Oh yes!' said Miss Mohun, running upstairs, and presently coming
back with a school-bag and a crackling waterproof cloak, but pausing
as she saw Gillian at the window, nursing the Sofy, and gazing at the
gray cloud over the gray sea. 'You are not at a loss for something
to do,' she said, 'you said you meant to write to your mother.'
'Oh yes!' said Gillian, suddenly fretted, and with a sense of being
hunted, 'I have plenty to do.'
'I see,' said Miss Mohun, turning over the books that lay on the
little table that had been appropriated to her niece, in a way that,
unreasonably or not, unspeakably worried the girl, 'Brachet's French
Grammar---that's right. Colenso's Algebra---I don't think they use
that at the High School. Julius Caesar---you should read that up in
'I did,' said Gillian, in a voice that very nearly said, 'Do let them
'Well, you have materials for a very useful, sensible morning's work,
and when Ada comes down, very likely she will like to be read to.'
Off went the aunt, leaving the niece stirred into an absolute desire,
instead of spending the sensible morning, to take up 'Near
Neighbours', and throw herself into an easy-chair; and when she had
conscientiously resisted that temptation, her pen would hover over
'Hilda's Experiences', even when she had actually written 'Dearest
Mamma.' She found she was in no frame to write such a letter as
would be a comfort to her mother, so she gave that up, and made her
sole assertion of liberty the working out of a tough double equation
in Colenso, which actually came right, and put her in such good
humour that she was no longer afraid of drumming the poor piano to
death and Aunt Ada upstairs to distraction, but ventured on learning
one of the Lieder ohne Worte; and when her Aunt Ada came down and
complimented her on the sounds that had ascended, she was complacent
enough to write a very cheerful letter, whilst her aunt was busied
with her own. She described the Sunday-school question that had
arisen, and felt sure that her father would pronounce his Gill to be
a sensible young woman. Afterwards Miss Adeline betook herself to a
beautiful lily of church embroidery, observing, as Gillian sat down
to read to her Alphonse Karr's Voyage autour de mon Jardin, that it
was a real pleasure to listen to such prettily-pronounced French.
Kunz lay at her feet, the Sofy nestled in Gillian's lap, and there
was a general sense of being rubbed down the right way.
By and by there loomed through the rain two dripping shiny forms
under umbrellas strongly inclined to fly away from them---Miss Mohun
and Mr. Grant, the junior curate, whom she had brought home to
luncheon. Both were full of the irregularities of the two churches
of Bellevue and St. Kenelm's on the recent harvest-thanksgiving
Sunday. It was hard to tell which was most reprobated, what St.
Kenelm's did or what Bellevue did not do. If the one blew trumpets
in procession, the other collected the offertory in a warming-pan.
Gillian had already begun to find that these misdoings supplied much
conversation at Beechcroft Cottage, and began to get half weary, half
curious to judge for herself of all these enormities; nor did she
feel more interested in the discussion of who had missed church or
school, and who needed tickets for meat, or to be stirred up to pay
for their coal club.
At last she heard, 'Well, I think you might read to her, Gillian!
Oh! were not you listening? A very nice girl near here, a pupil
teacher, who has developed a hip complaint, poor child. She will
enjoy having visits from you, a young thing like herself.'
Gillian did not like it at all, but she knew that it would be wrong
to refuse, and answered, 'Very well,' with no alacrity---hoping that
it was not an immediate matter, and that something might happen to
prevent it. But at that moment the sun came out, the rain had
ceased, and there were glistening drops all over the garden; the
weather quarter was clear, and after half an hours rest after dinner
Aunt Jane jumped up, decreeing that it was time to go out, and that
she would introduce Gillian to Lilian Giles before going on to the
rest of her district.
She gathered a few delicate flowers in the little conservatory, and
put them in a basket with a peach from the dessert, then took down a
couple of books from the shelf. Gillian could not but acquiesce,
though she was surprised to find that the one given to her was a
translation of Undine.
'The child is not badly off,' explained Miss Mohun. 'Her father is a
superior workman. She does not exactly want comforts, but she is
sadly depressed and disappointed at not being able to go on with her
work, and the great need is to keep her from fretting over her
troubles, and interested in something.'
Gillian began to think of one of the graceful hectic invalids of whom
she had read, and to grow more interested as she followed Aunt Jane
past the old church with the stout square steeple, constructed to
hold, on a small side turret window, a light for the benefit of ships
at sea. Then the street descended towards the marble works. There
was a great quarry, all red and raw with recent blasting, and above,
below, and around, rows of new little stuccoed, slated houses, for
the work-people, and a large range of workshops and offices fronting
the sea. This was Miss Mohun's district, and at a better-looking
house she stopped and used the knocker.
That was no distinction; all had doors with knockers and sash
windows, but this was a little larger, and the tiny strip of garden
was well kept, while a beautiful myrtle and pelargonium peeped over
the muslin blind; and it was a very nice-looking woman who opened the
door, though she might have been the better for a cap. Aunt Jane
shook hands with her, rather to Gillian's surprise, and heard that
Lily was much the same.
'It is her spirits are so bad, you see, Miss Mohun,' she added, as
she ushered them into a somewhat stuffy little parlour, carpeted and
bedecked with all manner of knick-knacks, photographs, and framed
certificates of various societies of temperance and providence on the
gaily-papered walls. The girl lay on a couch near the fire, a sallow
creature, with a big overhanging brow, made heavier by a dark fringe,
and an expression that Gillian not unjustly decided was fretful,
though she smiled, and lighted up a little when she saw Miss Mohun.
There was a good deal said about her bad nights, and her appetite,
and how the doctor wanted her to take as much as she could, and how
everything went against her---even lardy cake and roly-poly pudding
with bacon in it!
Miss Mohun put the flowers on the little table near the girl, who
smiled a little, and thanked her in a languid dreary manner. Finding
that she had freshly been visited by the rector, Miss Mohun would not
stop for any serious reading, but would leave Miss Merrifield to read
a story to her.
'And you ought to get on together,' she said, smiling. 'You are just
about the same age, and your names rhyme--Gillian and Lilian. And
Gillians mother is a Lily too.'
This the young lady lid not like, for she was already feeling it a
sort of presumption in the girl to bear a name so nearly resembling
her mother's. She had seen a little cottage poverty, and had had a
class of little maidservants; but this level of life which is in no
want, keeps a best parlour, and does not say ma'am, was quite new to
her, and she did not fancy it. When the girls were left together,
while Mrs. Giles returned to her ironing, Gillian was the shyer of
the two, and began rather awkwardly and reluctantly---
'Miss Mohun thought you would like to hear this. It is a sort of
German fairy tale.'
Lilian said, 'Yes, Miss Merrifield' in a short dry tone, completing
Gillian's distaste, and she began to read, not quite at her best, and
was heartily glad when at the end of half an hour Mrs. Giles was
heard in parley with another visitor, so that she had an excuse for
going away without attempting conversation. She was overtaken by the
children on their way home from their schools, where they had dined.
They rushed upon her, together with the two Varleys, who wanted to
take them home to tea; and Gillian giving her ready consent, Fergus
dashed home to fetch his beloved humming-top, which was to be
introduced to Clement Varley's pump, and in a few minutes they were
off, hardly vouchsafing an answer to such comparatively trifling
inquiries as how they were placed at their schools.
Gillian found, however, that neither of her aunts was pleased at her
having consented to the children's going out without reference to
their authority. How did she suppose they were to come home?
'I did not think, can't they be fetched?' said Gillian, startled.
'It is not far,' said Adeline, pitying her. 'One of the maids---'
'My dear Ada!' exclaimed Aunt Jane. 'You know that Fanny cannot go
out at night with her throat, and I never will send out those young
girls on any account.'
'Can't I go?' said Gillian desperately.
'Are not you a young girl? I must go myself.'
And go she did at a quarter to eight, and brought home the children,
looking much injured. Gillian went upstairs with them, and there was
'It was horrid to be fetched home so soon, just as there was a chance
of something nice; when all the tiresome big ones had gone to dress,
and we could have had some real fun,' said Valetta.
'Real fun! Real sense!' said Fergus.
'But what had you been about all this time?'
'Why, their sisters and a man that was there _would_ come and drink
tea in the nursery, where nobody wanted them, and make us play their
'Wasn't that nice? You are always crying out for Harry and me to
come and play with you.'
'Oh, it wasn't like that,' said Val, 'you play with us, and they only
pretended, and played with each other. It wasn't nice.'
'Clem said it was---forking,' said Fergus.
'No, spooning,' said Val. 'The dish ran after the spoon, you know.'
'Well, but you haven't told me about the schools,' said Gillian, in
elder sisterly propriety, thinking the subject had better be
'Jolly, jolly, scrumptious!' cried Fergus.
'Oh! Fergus, mamma doesn't like slang words. Jasper doesn't say
'Not at home, but men say what they like at school, and the 'bus was
scrumptious and splendiferous!'
'I'm sure it wasn't,' said Valetta; 'I can't bear being boxed up with
horrid rude boys.'
'Because you are only a girl!'
'Now, Gill, they shot with---'
'Val, if you tell---'
'Telling Gill isn't telling. Is it, Gill?'
'They did, Gill. They shot at us with pea-shooters,' sighed the
'Oh! it was jolly, jolly, jolly!' cried the boy. 'Stebbing hit the
girl who made the sour face on her cheeks, and they all squealed, and
the cad looked in and tried to jaw us.'
'But that dreadful boy shot right into his mouth,' said Val, while
Fergus went into an ecstasy of laughter. 'Wasn't it a shame, Gill?'
'Indeed it was' said Gillian. 'Such ungentlemanly boys ought not to
be allowed in the omnibus.'
'Girls shouldn't be allowed in the 'bus, they are so stupid,' said
Fergus. 'That one---as cross as old Halfpenny---who was she, Val?'
'Emma Norton! Up in the highest form!'
'Well, she is a prig, and a tell-tale-tit besides; only Stebbing said
if she did, her junior would catch it.'
'What a dreadful bully he must be!' exclaimed Gillian.
I'll tell you what,' said Fergus, in a tone of profound admiration,
'no one can hold a candle to him at batting! He snowballed all the
Kennel choir into fits, and he can brosier old Tilly's stall, and go
on just the same.'
'What a greedy boy!' exclaimed Val.
'Disgusting,' added Gillian.
'You're girls,' responded Fergus, lengthening the syllable with
infinite contempt; but Valetta had spirit enough to reply, 'Much
better be a girl than rude and greedy.'
'Exactly,' said Gillian; 'it is only little silly boys who think such
things fine. Claude doesn't, nor Harry, nor Japs.'
'You know nothing about it,' said Fergus.
'Well, but you've never told me about school---how you are placed, and
whom you are under.'
'Oh! I'm in middle form, under Miss Edgar. Disgusting! It's only
the third form that go up to Smiler. She knows it is no use to try
to take Stebbing and Burfield.'
'And, Gill,' added Val, 'I'm in second class too, and I took three
places for knowing where Teheran was, and got above Kitty Varley and
a girl there two years older than I am, and her name is Maura.'
'Maura, how very odd! I never heard of any one called Maura but one
of the Whites,' said Gillian. 'What was her surname?'
This Valetta could not tell, and at the moment Mrs. Mount came up
with intent to brush Miss Valetta's hair, and to expedite the going
Gillian, not very happy about the revelations she had heard, went
downstairs, and found her younger aunt alone, Miss Mohun having been
summoned to a conference with one of her clients in the parish room.
In her absence Gillian always felt more free and communicative, and
she had soon told whatever she did not feel as a sort of confidence,
including Valetta's derivation of spooning, and when Miss Mohun
returned it was repeated to her.
'Yes,' was her comment, 'children's play is a convenient cover to the
present form of flirtation. No doubt Bee Varley and Mr. Marlowe
believe themselves to have been most good-natured.'
'Who is he, and will it come to anything?' asked Aunt Ada, taking her
sister's information for granted.
'Oh no, it is nothing. A civil service man, second cousin's brother-
in-law's stepson. That's quite enough in these days to justify
'I thought Beatrice Varley a nice girl.'
'So she is, my dear. It is only the spirit of the age, and, after
all, this deponent saith not which was the dish and which was the
spoon. Have the children made any other acquaintances, I wonder?
And how did George Stebbing comport himself in the omnibus? I was
sorry to see him there; I don't trust that boy.'
'I wonder they didn't send him in solitary grandeur in the brougham,'
said Miss Ada.
Gillian held the history of the pea-shooting as a confidence, even
though Aunt Jane seemed to have been able to see through the omnibus,
so she contented herself with asking who George Stebbing was.
'The son of the manager of the marble works; partner, I believe.'
'Yes,' said Aunt Ada. 'the Co. means Stebbing primarily.'
'Is he a gentleman?'
'Well, as much as old Mr. White himself, I suppose. He is come up
here---more's the pity---to the aristocratic quarter, if you please,'
said Aunt Jane, smiling, 'and if garden parties are not over, Mr.
Stebbing may show you what they can be.'
'That boy ought to be at a public school,' said her sister. 'I hope
he doesn't bully poor little Fergus.'
'I don't think he does,' said Gillian. 'Fergus seemed rather to
'I had rather hear of bullying than patronage in that quarter,' said
Miss Mohun. 'But, Gillian, we must impress on the children that they
are to go to no one's house without express leave. That will avoid
offence, and I should prefer their enjoying the society of even the
Varleys in this house.'
Did Aunt Jane repent of her decision on the Thursday half-holiday
granted to Mrs. Edgar's pupils, when, in the midst of the working
party round the dining-room table, in a pause of the reading, some
one said, 'What's that!'---and a humming, accompanied by a drip, drop,
drip, drop, became audible?
Up jumped Miss Mohun, and so did Gillian, half in consternation, half
to shield the boy from her wrath. In a few moments they beheld a
puddle on the mat at the bottom of the oak stairs, while a stream was
descending somewhat as the water comes down at Lodore, while Fergus's
voice could be heard above---
'Don't, Varley! You see how it will act. The string of the humming-
top moves the pump handle, and that spins. Oh!'
'Master Fergus! Oh---h, you bad boy!'
The shriek was caused by the avenging furies who had rushed up the
back stairs just as Miss Mohun had darted up the front, so as to
behold, on the landing between the two, the boys, one spinning the
top, the other working the pump which stood in its own trough of
water, receiving a reckless supply from the tap in the passage. The
maid's scream of 'What will your aunt say?' was answered by her
appearance, and rush to turn the cock.
'Don't, don't, Aunt Jane,' shouted Fergus; 'I've almost done it!
Perpetual motion.' He seemed quite unconscious that the motion was
kept up by his own hands, and even dismay could not turn him from
'Oh! Miss Jane,' cried Mrs. Mount, 'if I had thought what they boys
'Mop it up, Alice,' said Aunt Jane to the younger girl. 'No don't
come up, Ada; it is too wet for you. It is only a misdirected
experiment in hydraulics.'
'I told him not,' said Clement Varley, thinking affairs serious.
'Fergus, I am shocked at you,' said Gillian sternly. 'You are
frightfully wet. You must be sent to bed.'
'You must go and change,' said Aunt Jane, preventing the howl about
to break forth. 'My dear boy, that tap must be let alone. We can't
have cataracts on the stairs.'
'I didn't mean it, Aunt Jane; I thought it was an invention,' said
'I know; but another time come and ask me where to try your
experiments. Go and take off those clothes; and you, Clement, you
are soaking too. Run home at once.'
Gillian, much scandalised, broke out---
'It is very naughty. At home, he would be sent to bed at once.'
'I am not Mrs. Halfpenny, Gillian,' said Aunt Jane coldly.
'Jane has a soft spot for inventions, for Maurice's sake,' said her
'I can't confound ingenuity and enterprise with wanton mischief, or
crush it out for want of sympathy,' said Miss Mohun. 'Come, we must
return to our needles.'
If Aunt Jane had gone into the state of wrath to be naturally
expected, Gillian would have risen in arms on her brother's behalf,
and that would have been much pleasanter than the leniency which made
her views of justice appear like unkindness.
This did not dispose her to be the better pleased at an entreaty from
the two children to be allowed to join Mrs. Hablot's class on Sunday.
It appeared that they had asked Aunt Jane, and she had told them that
their sister knew what their mother would like.
'But I am sure she would not mind,' said Valetta. 'Only think, she
has got a portfolio with pictures of everything all through the
'Yes,' added Fergus, 'Clem told me. There are the dogs eating
Jezebel, and such a jolly picture of the lion killing the prophet.
I do want to see them! Varley told me!'
'And Kitty told me,' added Valetta. 'She is reading such a book to
them. It is called The Beautiful Face, and is all about two children
in a wood, and a horrid old grandmother and a dear old hermit, and a
wicked baron in a castle! Do let us go, Gillyflower.
'Yes,' said Fergus; 'it would be ever so much better fun than poking
'You don't want fun on Sunday.'
'Not fun exactly, but it is nicer.'
'To leave me, the last bit of home, and mamma's own lessons.'
'They ain't mamma's,' protested Fergus; but Valetta was touched by
the tears in Gillian's eyes, kissed her, and declared, 'Not that.'
Whether it were on purpose or not, the next Sunday was eminently
unsuccessful; the Collects were imperfect, the answers in the
Catechism recurred to disused babyish blunders; Fergus twisted
himself into preternatural attitudes, and Valetta teased the Sofy to
scratching point, they yawned ferociously at The Birthday, and would
not be interested even in the pony's death. Then when they went out
walking, they would not hear of the sober Rockstone lane, but
insisted on the esplanade, where they fell in with the redoubtable
Stebbing, who chose to patronise instead of bullying 'little Merry'---
and took him off to the tide mark---to the agony of his sisters, when
they heard the St. Andrew's bell.
At last, when the tempter had gone off to higher game, Fergus's
Sunday boots and stockings were such a mass of black mud that Gillian
had to drag him home in disgrace, sending Valetta into church alone.
She would have put him to bed on her own responsibility, but she
could not master him; he tumbled about the room, declaring Aunt Jane
would do no such thing, rolled up his stockings in a ball, and threw
them in his sister's face.
Gillian retired in tears, which she let no one see, not even Aunt
Ada, and proceeded to record in her letter to India that those
dreadful boys were quite ruining Fergus, and Aunt Jane was spoiling
However, Aunt Jane, having heard what had become of the youth, met
him in no spoiling mood; and though she never knew of his tussle with
Gillian, she spoke to him very seriously, shut him into his own room,
to learn thoroughly what he had neglected in the morning, and allowed
him no jam at tea. She said nothing to Gillian, but there were
The lessons went no better on the following Sunday; Gillian could
neither enforce her authority nor interest the children. She avoided
the esplanade, thinking she had found a nice country walk to the
common beyond the marble works; but, behold, there was an outbreak of
drums and trumpets and wild singing. The Salvation Army was marching
that way, and, what was worse, yells and cat-calls behind showed that
the Skeleton Army was on its way to meet them. Gillian, frightened
almost out of her wits, managed to fly over an impracticable-looking
gate into a field with her children, but Fergus wanted to follow the
drum. After that she gave in. The children went to Mrs. Hablot, and
Gillian thought she saw 'I told you so' in the corners of Aunt Jane's
It was a further offence that her aunt strongly recommended her going
regularly to the High School instead of only attending certain
classes. It would give her far more chance of success at the
examination to work with others and her presence would be good for
Valetta. But to reduce her to a schoolgirl was to be resented on
Miss Vincent's account as well as her own.
CHAPTER IV. THE QUEEN OF THE WHITE ANTS
The High School was very large. It stood at present at the end of a
budding branch of Rockquay, where the managers, assisted by the funds
advanced by Lord Rotherwood and that great invisible potentate, the
head of the marble works, had secured and adapted a suitable house,
and a space round it well walled in.
The various classes of students did not see much of each other,
except those who were day boarders and spent the midday recreation
time together. Even those in the same form were only together in
school, as the dressing-room of those who dined there was separate
from that of the others, and they did not come in and out at the same
time. Valetta had thus only really made friends with two or three
more Rockstone girls of about her own age besides Kitty Yarley, with
whom she went backwards and forwards every day, under the escort
provided in turn by the families of the young ladies.
Gillian's studies were for three hours in the week at the High
School, and on two afternoons she learnt from the old organist at
Rockstone Church. She went and came alone, except when Miss Mohun
happened to join her, and that was not often, 'For,' said that lady
to her sister, 'Gillian always looks as if she thought I was acting
spy upon her. I wish I could get on with that girl; I begin to feel
almost as poor Lily did with Dolores.'
'She is a very good girl,' said Miss Adeline.
'So she is; and that makes it all the more trying to be treated like
the Grand Inquisitor.'
'Shall I speak to her? She is always as pleasant as possible with
'Oh no, don't. It would only make it worse, and prevent you from
having her confidence.'
'Ah, Jane, I have often thought your one want was gentleness,' said
Miss Ada, with the gesture of her childhood---her head a little on one
side. 'And, besides, don't you know what Reggie used to call your
ferret look? Well, I suppose you can't help it, but when you want to
know a thing and are refraining from asking questions, you always
have it more or less.'
'Thank you, Ada. There's nothing like brothers and sisters for
telling one home-truths. I suppose it is the penalty of having been
a regular Paul Pry in my childhood, in spite of poor Eleanor making
me learn "Meddlesome Matty" as soon as I could speak. I always _do_
and always _shall_ have ringing in my ears---
'"Oh! what a pretty box is this,
I'll open it," said little Miss.'
'Well, you know you always do know or find out everything about
everybody, and it is very useful.'
'Useful as a bloodhound is, eh?'
'Oh no, not that, Jenny.'
'As a ferret, or a terrier, perhaps. I suppose I cannot help that,
though,' she added, rather sadly. 'I have tried hard to cure the
slander and gossip that goes with curiosity. I am sorry it results
in repulsion with that girl; but I suppose I can only go on and let
her find out that my bark, or my eye, is worse than my bite.'
'You are so good, so everything, Jenny,' said Adeline, 'that I am
sure you will have her confidence in time, if only you won't poke
Which made Miss Mohun laugh, though her heart was heavy, for she had
looked forward to having a friend and companion in the young
Gillian meantime went her way.
One morning, after her mathematical class was over, she was delayed
for about ten minutes by the head mistress, to whom she had brought a
message from her aunt, and thus did not come out at noon at the same
time as the day scholars. On issuing into the street, where as yet
there was hardly any traffic, except what was connected with the two
schools, she perceived that a party of boys were besetting a little
girl who was trying to turn down the cross road to Bellevue, barring
her way, and executing a derisive war-dance around her, and when she,
almost crying, made an attempt to dash by, pulling at her plaited
tail, with derisive shouts, even Gillian's call, 'Boys, boys, how can
you be so disgraceful!' did not check them. One made a face and put
his tongue out, while the biggest called out, 'Thank you, teacher,'
and Gillian perceived to her horror, that they were no street boys,
but Mrs. Edgar's, and that Fergus was one of them. That he cried in
dismay, 'Don't, Stebbing! It's my sister,' was no consolation, as
she charged in among them, catching hold of her brother, as she said,
'I could not believe that you could behave in such a disgraceful
All the other tormentors rushed away headlong, except Stebbing, who,
in some compunction, said---
'I beg your pardon, Miss Merrifield, I had no notion it was you.'
'You are making it no better,' said Gillian. 'The gentlemen I am
used to know how to behave properly to any woman or girl. My father
would be very sorry that my brother has been thrown into such
And she walked away with her head extremely high, having certainly
given Master Stebbing a good lesson. Fergus ran after her. 'Gill,
Gill, you won't tell.'
'I don't think I ever was more shocked in my life,' returned Gillian.
'But, Gill, she's a nasty, stuck-up, conceited little ape, that Maura
Back to Full Books