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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 the room.
'No, it is not Reggie. It is from Lily. Poor Lily! Jasper--- accident---Come.'
'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 with me.'
'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 myself, but--'
'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 telegrams---
'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 of tears.
'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 expostulate, Jenny.'
'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 for.'
'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 pleases.'
'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
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