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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 4/74 -
'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' announced Primrose.
'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 grown-up impeccability.
'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 resolutions.'
'Yes,' said Gillian, with uplifted eyes. 'I do---I do hope to do something.'
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 comfortable.
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 the basket.
'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 Jane.
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.
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