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- The Long Vacation - 6/58 -
"Don't be so disgusting, Gerald! My friends have too much sense," cried Anna.
"But it is true enough as regards 'my minnie,'" said Emilia.
"Well, eight daughters _are_ serious-—baronet's daughters!" observed Gerald in his teasing voice.
"Tocherless lasses without even the long pedigree," laughed Anna. "Poor mother."
"The pedigree is long enough to make her keep poor Vale Leston suitors at arm's length," mumbled Gerald; but the sisters did not hear him, for Emilia was exclaiming—-
"I mean to be a worker. I shall make Marilda let me have hospital training, and either go out to Aunt Angela or have a hospital here. Come and help me, Annie."
"I have a hospital here," laughed Anna.
"But, Nan dear, do come! You know such lots of swells. You would get one into real society if one is to have it; Lady Rotherwood, Lady Caergwent, besides all your delightful artist friends; and that would pacify mother, and make it so much pleasanter for me. Oh, if you knew what the evenings are!"
"What an inducement!"
"It would not be so if Annie were there. We should go out, and miss the horrid aldermanic kind of dinners; and at home, when we had played the two old dears to sleep, as I have to do every night, while they nod over their piquet or backgammon, we could have some fun together! Now, Annie, you would like it. You do care for good society, now don't you?"
"I did enjoy it very much when Aunt Cherry went with me, but—-"
"No buts, no buts. You would come to the laundry girls, and the cooking-class, and all the rest with me, and we should not have a dreary moment. Have you done fiddling over those flowers?"
"Not yet; Vale Leston flowers, you know. Besides, Aunt Cherry can't bear them not artistic."
"Tidy is enough for Marilda. She does them herself, or the housekeeper; I can't waste time worrying over them."
"That's the reason they always look like a gardener's prize bouquet at a country horticultural show," said Gerald.
"What does it signify? They are only a testimony to Sir Gorgias Midas' riches. I do hate orchids."
"I wish them on their native rocks, poor things," said Gerald. "But poor Fernan, you do him an injustice."
"Oh, yes, he does quantities of good works, and so does Marilda, till I am quite sick of hearing of them! The piles of begging letters they get! And then they want them read and explained, and answered sometimes."
"A means of good works," observed Gerald.
"How would you like it? Docketing the crumbs from Dives' table," exclaimed Emilia.
"A clerk or secretary could do it," said Anna.
"Of course. Now if you have finished those flowers, do come out with me. I want to go into Ponter's Court, and Fernan won't let me go alone."
"Have you any special object?" said Gerald lazily, "or is it to refresh yourself with the atmosphere?"
"That dear boy-—that Silky-—has been taken up, and they've sent him to a reformatory."
"What a good thing!"
"Yes, only I don't believe he did it! It was that nasty little Bill Nosey. I am sure that he got hold of the lady's parcel, and stuffed it into Silky's cap."
Emilia spoke with a vehemence that made them both laugh, and Gerald said—-
"But if he is in a reformatory, what then? Are we to condole with his afflicted family, or bring Bill Nosey to confess?"
"I thought I would see about it," said Emilia vaguely.
"Well, I decline to walk in the steps of the police as an amateur! How about the Dicksons?"
"Drifted away no one knows where. That's the worst of it. Those poor things do shift about so."
"Yes. I thought we had got hold of those boys with the gymnasium. But work wants regulating."
"Oh, Gerald, I am glad you are coming. Now I am free!" Just fancy, they had a horrid, stupid, slow dinner-party on Easter Monday, of all the burgomasters and great One-eyers, and would not let me go down and sing to the match-girls!"
"You had the pleasure of a study of the follies of wealth instead of the follies of poverty."
"Oh, to hear Mrs. Brown discourse on her troubles with her first, second, and third coachman!"
"Was the irresistible Ferdinand Brown there?"
"Yes, indeed, with diamond beetle studs and a fresh twist to his moustache. It has grown long enough to be waxed."
"How happy that fellow would be if he were obliged to dig! I should like to scatter his wardrobe over Ponter's Court."
"There, Nan, have you finished?" as Anna swept the scattered leaves into a basket. "Are you coming?"
"I don't think I shall. You would only talk treason-—well-—social treason all the way, and you don't want me, and Aunt Cherry would have to lunch alone, unless you wait till after."
"Oh no, I know a scrumptious place for lunch," said Gerald. "You are right, Annie, one lady is quite enough on one's hands in such regions. You have no jewellery, Emmie?"
"Do you see any verdure about me?" she retorted.
So when Gerald's tardy movements had been overcome, off they started to their beloved slum, Emilia looking as if she were setting forth for Elysium, and they were seen no more, even when five o'clock tea was spread, and Anna making it for her Uncle Lance and his wife, who had just returned, full of political news; and likewise Lance said that he had picked up some intelligence for his sister. He had met General Mohun and Sir Jasper Merrifield, both connections of the Underwoods.
General Mohun lived with his sister at Rockstone, Sir Jasper, his brother-in-law, at Clipstone, not far off, and they both recommended Rockquay and its bay "with as much praise," said Lance, "as the inhabitants ever give of a sea place."
"Very good, except for the visitors," said Geraldine.
"Exactly so. Over-built, over-everythinged, but still tolerable. The General lives there with his sister, and promises to write to me about houses, and Sir Jasper in a house a few miles off."
"He is Bernard's father-in-law?"
"Yes," said Gertrude; "and my brother Harry married a sister of Lady Merrifield, a most delightful person as ever I saw. We tell my father that if she were not out in New Zealand we should all begin to be jealous, he is so enthusiastic about Phyllis."
"You have never told us how Dr. May is."
"It is not easy to persuade him that he is not as young as he was," said Gertrude.
"I should say he was," observed Lance.
"In heart-—that's true," said Gertrude; "but he does get tired, and goes to sleep a good deal, but he likes to go and see his old patients, as much as they like to have him, and Ethel is always looking after him. It is just her life now that Cocksmoor has grown so big and wants her less. Things do settle themselves. If any one had told her twenty years ago that Richard would have a great woollen factory living, and Cocksmoor and Stoneborough meet, and a separate parish be made, with a disgusting paper-mill, two churches, and a clergyman's wife-—(what's the female of whipper-snapper, Lance?)-—who treats her as—-"
"As an extinct volcano," murmured Lance.
"She would have thought her heart would be broken," pursued Gertrude. "Whereas now she owns that it is the best thing, and a great relief, for she could not attend to Cocksmoor and my father both. We want her to take a holiday, but she never will. Once she did when Blanche and Hector came to stay, but he was not happy, hardly well, and I don't think she will ever leave him again."
"Mrs. Rivers is working still in London?"
"Oh yes; I don't know what the charities of all kinds and descriptions would do without her."
"No," said Clement from his easy-chair. "She is a most valuable person. She has such good judgment."
"It has been her whole life ever since poor George Rivers' fatal accident," said Gertrude. "I hardly remember her before she was married, except a sense that I was naughty with her, and then she was
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