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- The Long Vacation - 20/58 -
The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral.-—Hamlet.
The Matrons, otherwise denominated lady patronesses, met in committee, Miss Mohun being of course the soul and spirit of all, though Mrs. Ellesmere, as the wife of the rector of old Rockstone Church, was the president, Lady Flight, one of the most interested, was there, also Lady Merrifield, dragged in to secure that there was nothing decided on contrary to old-world instincts, Mrs. Grinstead, in right of the musical element that her brother promised, the beautiful Mrs. Henderson, to represent the marble works, Mrs. Simmonds of the Cliff Hotel, the Mayoress, and other notables.
The time was fixed for the first week in August, the only one when engagements would permit the Rotherwood family to be present for the opening, and when the regatta was apt to fill Rockquay with visitors. The place was to be the top of the cliffs of Rockstone, where the gardens of the Cliff Hotel, of Beechcroft Cottage, Rocca Marina, and Carrara, belonging respectively to Miss Mohun, Mr. White, and Captain Henderson, lay close together separated by low walls, and each with a private door opening on a path along the top of the cliffs. They could easily be made to communicate together, by planks laid over the boundaries, and they had lawns adapted for tents, etc., and Rocca Marina rejoiced in a shrubbery and conservatories that were a show in themselves, and would be kindly lent by Mr. and Mrs. White, though health compelled them to be absent and to resort to Gastein. The hotel likewise had a large well-kept garden, where what Mrs. Simmonds called a pavilion, "quite mediaeval," was in course of erection, and could be thrown open on the great day.
It was rather "tea-gardenish," but it could be made available for the representation of The Outlaw's Isle. Lancelot made a hurried visit to study the place, and review the forces, and decided that it was practicable. There could be a gallery at one end for the spectators, and the outer end toward the bay could be transformed into a stage, with room for the orchestra, and if the weather were favourable the real sea could be shown in the background. The scenes had been painted by the clever fingers at Vale Leston. It remained to cast the parts. Lancelot himself would be Prospero, otherwise Alaster Maclan, and likewise conductor, bringing with him the school-master of Vale Leston, who could supply his part as conductor when he was on the stage. His little boy Felix would be Ariel, the other elves could be selected from the school-children, and the local Choral Society would supply the wreckers and the wrecked. But the demur was over Briggs, a retired purser, who had always had a monopoly of sea- songs, and who looked on the boatswain as his right, and was likely to roar every one down. Ferdinand would be Gerald, under the name of Angus, but the difficulty was his Miranda-—Mona as she was called. The Vanderkists could not be asked to perform in public, nor would Sir Jasper Merrifield have consented to his daughters doing so, even if they could have sung, and it had been privately agreed that none of the other young ladies of Rockquay could be brought forward, especially as there was no other grown-up female character.
"My wife might undertake it," said Lancelot, "but her voice is not her strong point, and she would be rather substantial for a Miranda."
"It would be rather like finding a mother instead of a wife—-with all respect to my Aunt Daisy," laughed Gerald.
"By the bye, I'm sure I once heard a voice, somewhere down by the sea, that would be perfect," exclaimed Lance. "Sweet and powerful, fresh and young, just what is essential. I heard it when I was in quest of crabs with my boy."
"I know!" exclaimed Gerald, "the Little Butterfly, as they call her!"
"At a cigar-shop," said Lance.
"Mrs. Schnetterling's. Not very respectable," put in Lady Flight.
"Decidedly attractive to the little boys, though," said Gerald. "Sweets, fishing-tackle, foreign stamps, cigars. I went in once to see whether Adrian was up to mischief there, and the Mother Butterfly looked at me as if I had seven heads; but I just got a glimpse of the girl, and, as my uncle says, she would make an ideal Mona, or Miranda."
"Lydia Schnetterling," exclaimed Mr. Flight. "She is a very pretty girl with a nice voice. You remember her, Miss Mohun, at our concerts? A lovely fairy."
"I remember her well. I thought she was foreign, and a Roman Catholic."
"So her mother professes-—a Hungarian. The school officer sent her to school, and she did very well there, Sunday-school and all, and was a monitor. She was even confirmed. Her name is really Ludmilla, and Lida is the correct contraction. But when I wanted her to be apprenticed as a pupil-teacher, the mother suddenly objected that she is a Roman Catholic, but I very much doubt the woman's having any religion at all. I wrote to the priest about her, but I believe he could make nothing of her. Still, Lydia is a very nice girl-—comes to church, and has not given up the Choral Society."
"She is a remarkably nice good girl," added Mrs. Henderson. "She came to me, and entreated that I would speak for her to be taken on at the marble works."
"You have her there?"
"Yes; but I am much afraid that her talents do not lie in the way of high promotion, and I think if she does not get wages enough to satisfy her mother, she is in dread of being made to sing at public- houses and music-halls."
"That nice refined girl!"
"Yes; I am sure the idea is dreadful to her."
"Could you not put her in the way of getting trained?" asked Gerald of his uncle.
"I must hear her first."
"I will bring her up to the Choral Society tonight," said Mr. Flight.
"What did you call her?" said Geraldine.
"Some German or foreign name, Schnetterling, and the school calls her Lydia."
At that moment the council was invaded, as it sat in Miss Mohun's drawing-room, upon rugs and wicker chairs, to be refreshed with tea. In burst a whole army of Merrifields, headed by little Primrose, now a tall girl of twelve years old, more the pet of the family than any of her elders had been allowed to be. Her cry was—-
"Oh, mamma, mamma, here's the very one for the captain of the buccaneers!"
The startling announcement was followed by the appearance of a tall, stalwart, handsome young man of a certain naval aspect, whom Lady Merrifield introduced as Captain Armytage.
"We must congratulate him, Gillian," she said. "I see you are gazetted as commander."
Primrose, who had something of the licence of the youngest, observed—-
"We have been telling him all about it. He used to be Oliver Cromwell in 'How Do You Like It?' and now he will be a buccaneer!"
"Oliver Cromwell, you silly child!" burst out Gillian, with a little shake, while the rest fell into fits of laughing.
"I fear it was a less distinguished part," said Captain Armytage.
"May I understand that you will help us?" said Lancelot. "I heard of you at Devereux Castle."
"I don't think you heard much of my capabilities, especially musical ones. I was the stick of the party," said Captain Armytage.
It was explained that Captain Armytage had actually arrived that afternoon at the Cliff Hotel, and had walked over to call at Clipstone, whence he found the young ladies setting out to walk to Rockstone. He could not deny that he had acted and sung, though, as he said, his performance in both cases was vile. Little Miss Primrose had most comically taken upon her to patronize him, and to offer him as buccaneer captain had been a freak of her own, hardly to be accounted for, except that Purser Briggs's unsuitableness had been discussed in her presence.
"Primrose is getting to be a horrid little forward thing," observed Gillian to her aunt.
"A child of the present," said Miss Mohun. "Infant England! But her suggestion seems to be highly opportune."
"I don't believe he can sing," growled Gillian, "and it will be just an excuse for his hanging about here."
There was something in Gillian's "savagery" which gave Aunt Jane a curious impression, but she kept it to herself.
Late in the evening Lance appeared in his sister's drawing-room with—-
"I have more hopes of it. I did not think it was feasible when Anna wrote to me, but I see my way better now. That parson, Flight, has a good notion of drilling, and that recruit of the little Merrifield girl, Captain Armytage, is worth having."
"If he roared like a sucking dove we would have him, only to silence that awful boatswain," said Gerald; "and as to the little Cigaretta, she is a born prima donna."
"Your Miranda? Are you content with her?" said his aunt.
"She is to the manner born. Lovely voice, acts like a dragon, and has an instinct how to stand and how to hold her hands."
"Coming in drolly with her prim dress and bearing. Though she was dreadfully frightened," said Lance. "Being half-foreign accounts for something, I suppose, but it is odd how she reminds me of some one. No doubt it is of some singer at a concert. What did they say was
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