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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 60/74 -
Merrifield will meet him, and see to that. That will serve both to stay him and the purchaser.'
'That is another misfortune. This Gudgeon is the chief officer, or whatever they call it, of the Salvation Army. I knew they had been looking out for a place for a barracks, and could not get one because almost everything belongs to Lord Rotherwood or to Mr. White.'
Sir Jasper could only reply that he would see what could be done in the matter, and that, at any rate, Kalliope should not be disturbed.
Accordingly Lady Merrifield repaired to Ivinghoe Terrace for the doctor's visit, and obtained from him the requisite certificate that the patient could not be removed at present. He gave it, saying, however, to Lady Merrifield's surprise, that though he did not think it would be possible to remove her in a week's time, yet after that he fully believed that she would have more chance of recovering favourably if she could be taken out of the small room and the warm atmosphere beneath the cliffs---though of course all must depend on her state at the time.
Meantime there was a council of the gentlemen about outbidding the Salvation Army. Lord Rotherwood was spending already as much as he could afford, in the days of agricultural depression, on the improvements planned with Mr. White. That individual was too good a man of business to fall, as he said, into the trap, and make a present to that scamp Richard of more than the worth of the houses, and only Mr. Flight was ready to go to any cost to keep off the Salvation Army; but the answer was curt. Richard knew he had no chance with Mr. White, and did not care to keep terms with him.
'Mr. Richard White begs to acknowledge the obliging offer of the Rev. Augustine Flight, and regrets that arrangements have so far progressed with Mr. Gudgeon that he cannot avail himself of it.'
Was this really regret or was the measure out of spite? Only the widest charity could accept the former suggestion, and even Sir Jasper Merrifield's brief and severe letter and Dr. Dagger's certificate did not prevent a letter to Alexis, warning him not to make their sister's illness a pretext for unreasonable delay.
What was to be done? Kalliope was still unfit to be consulted or even informed, and she had been hitherto so entirely the real head and manager of the family that Alexis did not like to make any decision without her; and even the acceptance of the St. Wulstan's choristership for Theodore had been put off for her to make it, look to his outfit, and all that only the woman of the family could do for them.
And here they were at a loss for a roof over their heads, and nowhere to bestow the battered old furniture, of which Richard magnanimously renounced his sixth share; while she who had hitherto toiled, thought, managed, and contrived for all the other four, without care of their own, still lay on her bed, sensible indeed and no longer feverish, but with the perilous failure of heart, renewed by any kind of exertion or excitement, a sudden movement, or a startling sound in the street; and Mrs. Halfpenny, guarding her as ferociously as ever, and looking capable of murdering any one of her substitutes if they durst hint a word of their perplexities. Happily she asked no questions; she was content when allowed to be kissed by the others, and to see they were well. Nature was enforcing repose, and so far "her senses was all as in a dream bound up." Alexis remembered that it had been somewhat thus at Leeds, when, after nursing all the rest, she had succumbed to the epidemic; but then the mother had been able to watch over her, and had been a more effective parent to the rest than she had since become.
The first practical proposal was Mrs. Lee's. They thought of reversing the present position, and taking a small house where their present hosts might become their lodgers. Moreover, Miss Mohun clenched the affair about Theodore, and overcame Alexis's scruples, while Lady Merrifield, having once or twice looked in, and been smiled at and thanked by Kalliope, undertook to prepare her for his farewell.
Alexis and Maura both declared that she would instantly jump up, and want to begin looking over his socks; but she got no further than---
'Dear boy! It is the sort of thing I always wished for him. People are very good! But his things---'
'Oh yes, dearie, ye need not fash yourself. I've mended them as I sat by you, and packed them all. Lie still. They are all right.'
There was an atmosphere of the Royal Wardours about Mrs. Halfpenny, which was at once congenial and commanding; and Kalliope's mind at once relinquished the burthen of socks, shirts, and even the elbows of the outgrown jacket, nor did any of the family ever know how the deficiencies had been supplied.
And when Theodore, well admonished, came softly and timidly for the parting kiss, his face quivering all over with the effort at self- control, she lay and smiled; but with a great crystal tear on each dark eyelash, and her thin transparent fingers softly stroked his cheeks, as the low weak voice said---
'Be a good boy, dear---speak truth. Praise God well. Write; I'll write when I am better.'
It was the first time she had spoken of being better, and they told Theodore to take comfort from it when all the other three walked him up to the station.
CHAPTER XXI. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
In the search for a new abode Mrs. Lee was in much difficulty, for it was needful to be near St. Kenelm's, and the only vacant houses within her means were not desirable for the reception of a feeble convalescent; moreover, Mr. Gudgeon grumbled and inquired, and was only withheld by warnings enhanced by the police from carrying the whole charivari of the Salvation Army along Ivinghoe Terrace on Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps it was this, perhaps it was the fact of having discussed the situation with the two Miss Mohuns, that made Mr. White say to Alexis, 'There are two rooms ready for your sister, as soon as Dagger says she can be moved safely. The person who nurses her had better come with her, and you may as well come back to your old quarters.'
Alexis could hardly believe his ears, but Mr. White waved off all thanks. The Mohun sisters were delighted and triumphant, and Jane came down to talk it over with her elder sister, auguring great things from that man who loved to deal in surprises.
'That is true,' said Sir Jasper.
'What does that mean, Jasper?' said his wife. 'It sounds significant.'
'I certainly should not be amazed if he did further surprise us all. Has it never struck you how that noontide turn of Adeline's corresponds with his walk home from the reading-room?'
Lady Merrifield looked rather startled, but Jane only laughed, and said, 'My dear Jasper, if you only knew Ada as well as I do! Yes, I have seen far too many of those little affairs to be taken in by them. Poor Ada! I know exactly how she looks, but she is only flattered, like a pussy-cat waggling the end of its tail---it means nothing, and never comes to anything. The thing that is likely and hopeful is, that he may adopt those young people as nephews and nieces.'
'Might it not spoil them?' said Lady Merrifield.
'Oh! I did not mean that. They might work with him still. However, there is no use in settling about that. The only thing to be expected of him is the unexpected!'
'And the thing to be done,' added her sister, 'is to see how and when that poor girl can be got up to Cliff House.'
To the general surprise, Dr. Dagger wished the transit to take place without loss of time. A certain look of resigned consternation crossed Kalliope's face on being informed of her destiny, but she justified Mrs. Halfpenny's commendation of her as the maist douce and conformable patient in the world, for she had not energy enough even to plead against anything so formidable, and she had not yet been told that Ivinghoe Terrace was her home no longer.
The next day she was wrapped in cloaks and carried downstairs between her brother and Mrs. Halfpenny, laid on a mattress in the Merrifield waggonette, which went up the hill at a foot's pace, and by the same hands, with her old friend the caretaker's wife going before, was taken upstairs to a beautiful large room, with a window looking out on vernal sky and sea. She was too much exhausted on her arrival to know anything but the repose on the fresh comfortable bed, whose whiteness was almost rivalled by her cheek, and Mrs. Halfpenny ordered off Alexis, who was watching her in great anxiety. However, when he came back after his afternoon's work, it was to find that she had eaten and slept, and now lay, with her eyes open, in quiet interested admiration of a spacious and pleasant bedroom, such as to be a great novelty to one whose life had been spent in cheap lodging houses. The rooms had been furnished twenty years before as a surprise intended for the wife who never returned to occupy them, and though there was nothing extraordinary in them, there was much to content the eyes accustomed to something very like squalidness, for had not Kalliope's lot always been the least desirable chamber in the family quarters?
At any rate, from that moment she began to recover, ate with appetite, slept and woke to be interested, and to enjoy Theodore's letter of description of St. Wulstan's, and even to ask questions. Alexis was ready to dance for joy when she first began really to talk to him; and could not forbear imparting his gladness to the Miss Mohuns that very evening, as well as to Mr. White, and running down after dinner with the good news to Maura, Mrs. Lee, and Lady Merrifield. Dinners with Mr. White had, on his first sojourn in that house, been a great penance, though there were no supercilious servants, for all the waiting was by the familiar housekeeper, Mrs. Osborne, who had merely added an underling to her establishment on her master's return; but Alexis then had been utterly miserable, feeling guilty and ashamed, as one only endured on sufferance out of compassion, because his brother cast him out, and fresh from the sight of his mother's dying bed; a terrible experience altogether, which had entirely burnt out and effaced his foolish fit of romantic
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