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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 3/74 -
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 Aunt Jane.
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 letter.'
'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 best.'
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 for her.'
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, you know.'
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 Fergus.
'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.'
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