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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 5/74 -


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 her friends.

'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!'

'Oh, Val!'

'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 a thing.

'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 room.

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 battledore.'

'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 people.

'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 afternoon.'

'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 steps.

'I thought you said it was all one parish.'

'St. Andrew's is only a district. Ah, it was all before your time, my dear.'

'I know dear Uncle Claude was the clergyman here, and got St. Andrew's built.'

'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 still---'

'Is that St. Andrew's? Oh, it is beautiful. May I look in?'


Beechcroft at Rockstone - 5/74

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