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- The Long Vacation - 10/58 -
Adeline, only they are in Italy; and then comes Carrara, Captain Henderson's—-"
"You are expected to rave about Mrs. Henderson's beauty," said the cousin, Dolores Mohun, as she opened Miss Mohun's gate, between two copper beeches, while Anna listened to the merry tongues, almost bewildered by the chatter, so unlike the seclusion and silent watching of the last month; but when Mysie Merrifield asked, "Is it not quite overwhelming?" she said—-
"Oh no! it is like being among them all at Vale Leston. My sisters always tell me my tongue wants greasing when I come down."
Her tongue was to have exercise enough among the bevy of damsels who surrounded her in Miss Mohun's drawing-room-—four Merrifields, ranging from twenty-two to twelve years old, and one cousin, Dolores Mohun, with a father in New Zealand.
"Won't you be in the Mouse-trap?" presently asked number three, by name Valetta.
"If I did not know that she would drag it in!" cried Dolores.
"What may it be?" asked Anna.
"An essay society and not an essay society," was the lucid answer. "Gillian said you would be sure to belong to it."
"I am afraid I can't if it takes much time," said Anna in a pleading tone. "My uncle is very far from well, and I have a good deal to do in the way of reading to him, and my little brother is coming to go to school with yours."
"Mr. Underwood brought his little boy," said Gillian. "Fergus said he was one of the jolliest little chaps he had ever seen."
"Uncle Reginald quite lost his heart to him," said Mysie, "and Aunt Jane says he is a charming little fellow."
"Oh, Felix Underwood!" said Anna. "Adrian is much more manly. You should see him ride and climb trees."
The comparative value of brothers and cousins was very apparent. However, it was fixed that Anna should attend the Mouse-trap, and hear and contribute as she could find time.
"I did the Erl King," said Valetta.
"'Who rideth so late in the forest so wild? It is the fond father and his loving child.'"
"Oh, spare us, Val," cried her sister Gillian. "Every one has done that."
"Gerald parodied mine," said Anna.
"'Who trampeth so late in a shocking bad hat? 'Tis the tipsy old father a-hugging his brat."
"Oh, go on."
"I can't recollect any more, but the Erl King's daughter is a beggar- woman, and it ends with—-
"I'll give thee a tanner and make him a bait, So in the gin palace was settled his fate."
Some of the party were scandalized, others laughed as much or more than the effusion deserved.
"We accept drawings," added another voice, "and if any one does anything extraordinarily good in that way, or in writing, it makes a little book."
"We have higher designs than that," said Gillian. "We want to print the cream."
"For the benefit of the school board—-no, the board school."
"Oh! oh! Valetta!" cried the general voice.
"The thing is," explained Gillian, "that we must build a new school for the out-liers of St. Kenelm's, or 'my lords' will be down on us, and we shall be swamped by board schools."
"Aunt Jane is frantic about it," said Dolores Mohun.
"There's no escape from school board worries!" exclaimed Anna. "They helped to demolish Uncle Clement."
"There is to be a sale of work, and a concert, and all sorts of jolly larks," added Valetta.
"Larks! Oh, Val!"
"Larks aren't slang. They are in the dictionary," declared Valetta.
"By the bye, she has not heard the rules of the Mice," put in Mysie.
"I'll say them," volunteered Valetta the irrepressible. "Members of the Mouse-trap never utter slang expressions, never wear live birds-— I mean dead ones-—in their hats."
"Is an ostrich feather a live bird or a dead?" demanded Anna.
"And," said Dolores, "what of the feather screens that the old Miss Smiths have been making all the winter—circles of pheasants' feathers and peacocks' eyes outside a border of drakes' curls?"
"Oh, like ostriches they don't count, since peacocks don't die, and drakes and pheasants _must_," said Gillian.
"We have been getting ready for this sale ever so long," said Mysie. "Aunt Jane has a working party every Friday for it."
"The fit day," said Dolores, "for she is a perfect victim to other people's bad work, and spends the evening in stitching up and making presentable the wretched garments they turn out."
"The next rule-—" began Valetta, but Gillian mercilessly cut her short.
"You know clever people, Anna. Do you know how to manage about our Mouse-trap book? Our bookseller here is a school-board man, all on the wrong side, and when I tried to feel our way, he made out that the printing and getting it up would cost a great deal more than we could risk."
"It is a pity that Uncle Lance is gone home," said Anna. "He could tell you all about it."
"Could you not write to him?"
"Oh, yes, but I know he will want to see a specimen before he can make any estimate."
It was agreed that the specimen should be forthcoming on the next occasion, and Miss Mohun coming home, and tea coming in, the conference was ended. Anna began to unravel the relationships.
Dolores Mohun was a niece of Lady Merrifield. She had lost her own mother early, and after living with the Merrifields for a year, had been taken by her father to New Zealand, where he had an appointment. He was a man of science, and she had been with him at Rotaruna during the terrible volcanic eruption, when there had been danger and terror enough to bring out her real character, and at the same time to cause an amount of intimacy with a young lady visitor little older than herself, which had suddenly developed into a second marriage of her father. In this state of things she had gladly availed herself of the home offered her at Clipstone, and had gone home under the escort of her Aunt Phyllis (Mrs. Harry May), who was going with her husband to spend a year in England. Dolores had greatly improved in all ways during her two years' absence, and had become an affectionate, companionable, and thoughtful member of the Merrifield household, though still taking a line of her own.
The Kalliope whom Gillian had befriended, to her own detriment, was now the very beautiful Mrs. Henderson, wife to the managing partner in the marble works. She continued to take a great interest in the young women employed in designing and mosaics, and had a class of them for reading and working. Dolores had been asked to tell first Aunt Jane's G. F. S. (Girl's Friendly Society) girls, and afterwards Mrs. Henderson's, about her New Zealand experiences and the earthquake, and this developed into regular weekly lectures on volcanoes and on colonies. She did these so well, that she was begged to repeat them for the girls at the High School, and she had begun to get them up very carefully, studying the best scientific books she could get, and thinking she saw her vocation.
Mrs. Henderson was quite a power in the place. Her brother Alexis was an undergraduate, but had been promised a tutorship for the vacation. He seldom appeared at Carrara, shrinking from what recalled the pain and shame that he had suffered; while Petros worked under Captain Henderson, and Theodore was still in the choir at St. Matthew's. Maura had become the darling of Mr. White, and was much beloved by Mrs. White, though there had been a little alarm the previous year, when Lord Rotherwood and his son came down to open a public park or garden on the top of the cliffs, where Lord Rotherwood's accident had occurred. Lord Ivinghoe, a young Guardsman, had shown himself enough disposed to flirt with the pretty little Greek to make the prudent very glad that her home was on the Italian mountains.
Gillian was always Mrs. Henderson's friend, but Gillian's mind was full of other things. For her father had reluctantly promised, that if one of her little brothers got a scholarship at one of the public schools, Gillian might fulfil her ardent desire of going to a ladies' college. Wilfred was a hopeless subject. It might be doubted if he could have succeeded. He had apparently less brain power than some of the family, and he certainly would not exert what he had. His mother had dragged him through holiday tasks; but nobody else could attempt to make him work when at home, and Gillian's offers had been received with mockery or violence. So all her hopes centred on Fergus, who, thanks to Aunt Jane's evening influence over his
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