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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 10/74 -
'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 here'
'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 him.
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 inferences.
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 eyes.
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 me.'
'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 after it.'
Which made Miss Mohun laugh, though her heart was heavy, for she had looked forward to having a friend and companion in the young generation.
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 manner!'
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 company.'
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 White, or whatever her ridiculous name is. They pretend her father was an officer, but he was really a bad cousin of old Mr. White's that ran away; and her mother is not a lady---a great fat disgusting woman, half a nigger; and Mr. White let her brother and sister be in the marble works out of charity, because they have no father, and she
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