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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 50/74 -
'Beneath thy contemplation Sink heart and voice opprest!'
'Oh, Harry, can't we stay and see Henry VII.'s Chapel, and Poets' Corner, and Edward I.'s monument?' pleaded the sister.
'I am afraid we must not, Gill. I have to see after some vases, and to get a lot of things at the Stores, and it will soon be dark. If I don't go to Southampton to-morrow, I will take you then. Now then, feet or cab?'
'Oh, let us walk! It is ten times the fun.'
'Then mind you don't jerk me back at the crossings.'
There are few pleasures greater of their kind than that of the youthful country cousin under the safe escort of a brother or father in London streets. The sisters looked in at windows, wondered and enjoyed, till they had to own their feet worn out, and submit to a four-wheeler.
'An hour of London is more than a month of Rockquay, or a year of Silverfold,' cried Gillian.
'Dear old Silverfold,' said Mysie; 'when shall we go back?'
'By the bye,' said Harry, 'how about the great things that were to be done for mother?'
'Primrose is all right,' said Mysie. 'The dear little thing has written a nice copybook, and hemmed a whole set of handkerchiefs for papa. She is so happy with them.'
'And you, little Mouse?'
'I have done my translation---not quite well, I am afraid, and made the little girl's clothes. I wonder if I may go and take them to her.'
'And Val has finished her crewel cushion, thanks to the aunts,' said Gillian.
'Fergus's machine, how about that? Perpetual motion, wasn't it?'
'That has turned into mineralogy, worse luck,' said Gillian.
'Gill has done a beautiful sketch of Rockquay,' added Mysie.
'Oh! don't talk of me,' said Gillian. 'I have only made a most unmitigated mess of everything.'
But here attention was diverted by Harry's exclaiming---
'Hullo! was that Henderson?'
'Nonsense; the Wardours are at Cork.'
'He may be on leave.'
'Or retired. He is capable of it.'
'I believe it was old Fangs.'
The discussion lasted to Belgrave Square.
And then Sunday was spent upon memorable churches and services under the charge of Harry, who was making the most of his holiday. The trio went to Evensong at St. Wulstan's, and a grand idea occurred to Gillian---could not Theodore White become one of those young choristers, who had their home in the Clergy House.
CHAPTER XVIII. FATHER AND MOTHER
The telegram came early on Monday morning. Admiral Merrifield and Harry started by the earliest train, deciding not to take the girls; whereupon their kind host, to mitigate the suspense, placed himself at the young ladies' disposal for anything in the world that they might wish to see. It was too good an opportunity of seeing the Houses of Parliament to be lost, and the spell of Westminster Abbey was upon Mysie.
Cousin Rotherwood was a perfect escort, and declared that he had not gone through such a course of English history since he had taken his cousin Lilias and his sister Florence the same round more years ago than it was civil to recollect. He gave a sigh to the great men he had then let them see and hear, and regretted the less that there was no possibility of regaling the present pair with a debate. It was all like a dream to the two girls. They saw, but suspense was throbbing in their hearts all the time, and qualms were crossing Gillian as she recollected that in some aspects her father could be rather a terrible personage when one was wilfully careless, saucy to authorities, or unable to see or confess wrong-doing; and the element of dread began to predominate in her state of expectation. The bird in the bosom fluttered very hard as the possible periods after the arrivals of trains came round; and it was not till nearly eight o'clock that the decisive halt of wheels was heard, and in a few moments Mysie was in the dearest arms in the world, and Gillian feeling the moustached kiss she had not known for nearly four long years, and which was half-strange, half-familiar.
In drawing-room light, there was the mother looking none the worse for her journey, her clear brown skin neither sallow nor lined, and the soft brown eyes as bright and sweet as ever; but the father must be learnt over again, and there was awe enough as well as enthusiastic love to make her quail at the thought of her record of self-will.
There was, however, no disappointment in the sight of the fine, tall soldierly figure, broad shouldered, but without an ounce of superfluous flesh, and only altered by his hair having become thinner and whiter, thus adding to the height of his forehead, and making his very dark eyebrows and eyes have a different effect, especially as he was still pallid beneath the browning of many years, though he declared himself so well as to be ashamed of being invalided.
Time was short. Harry and the Admiral, who were coming to dinner, had rushed home to dress and to fetch Susan; and Lady Merrifield was conducted in haste to her bedroom, and left to the almost too excited ministrations of her daughters.
It was well that attentive servants had unfastened the straps, for when Gillian had claimed the keys of the dear old familiar box, her hand shook so much that they jingled; the key would not go into the hole, and she had to resign them to sober Mysie, who had been untying the bonnet, with a kiss, and answering for the health of Primrose, whom Uncle William was to bring to London in two days' time.
'My dear silly child,' said her mother, surprised at Gillian's emotion.
And the reply was a burst of tears. 'Oh, so silly! so wrong! I have so wanted you.'
'I know all about it. You told us all, like an honest child.'
'Oh, such dreadful things---the rock---the poor child killed---Cousin Rotherwood hurt.'
'Yes, yes, I heard! We can't have it out now. Here's papa! she is upset about these misadventures,' added Lady Merrifield, looking up to her husband, who stood amazed at the sobs that greeted him.
'You must control yourself, Gillian,' he said gravely. 'Stop that! Your mother is tired, and has to dress! Don't worry her. Go, if you cannot leave off.'
The bracing tone made Gillian swallow her tears, the more easily because of the familiarity of home atmosphere, confidence, and protection; and a mute caress from her mother was a promise of sympathy.
The sense of that presence was the chief pleasure of the short evening, for there were too many claimants for the travellers' attention to enable them to do more than feast their eyes on their son and daughters, while they had to talk of other things, the weddings, the two families, the home news, all deeply interesting in their degree, though not touching Gillian quite so deeply as the tangle she had left at Rockstone, and mamma's view of her behaviour; even though it was pleasant to hear of Phyllis's beautiful home in Ceylon, and Alethea's bungalow, and how poor Claude had to go off alone to Rawul Pindee. She felt sure that her mother was far more acceptable to her hostess than either of the aunts, and that, indeed, she might well be so!
Gillian's first feeling was like Mysie's in the morning, that nothing could go wrong with her again, but she must perforce have patience before she could be heard. Harry could not be spared for another day from his curacy, and to him was due the first tete-a-tete with his mother, after that most important change his life had yet known, and in which she rejoiced so deeply. 'The dream of her heart,' she said, 'had always been that one of her sons should be dedicated;' and now that the fulfilment had come in her absence, it was precious to her to hear all those feelings and hopes and trials that the young man could have uttered to no other ears.
Sir Jasper, meantime, had gone out on business, and was to meet the rest at luncheon at his mother's house, go with them to call on the Grinsteads, and then do some further commissions, Lady Rotherwood placing the carriage at their disposal. As to 'real talk,' that seemed impossible for the girls, they could only, as Mysie expressed it, 'bask in the light of mamma's eyes' and after Harry was gone on an errand for his vicar, there were no private interviews for her.
Indeed, the mother did not know how much Gillian had on her mind, and thought all she wanted was discussion, and forgiveness for the follies explained in the letter, the last received. Of any connection between that folly and the accident to Lord Rotherwood of course she was not aware, and in fact she had more on her hands than she could well do in the time allotted, and more people to see. Gillian had to find that things could not be quite the same as when she had been chief companion in the seclusion of Silverfold.
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