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- Modern Broods - 1/47 -
Transcribed from the 1900 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
MODERN BROODS, or DEVELOPMENTS UNLOOKED FOR
CHAPTER I--TORTOISES AND HARES
"Whate'er is good to wish, ask that of Heaven, Though it be what thou canst not hope to see." - HARTLEY COLERIDGE.
The scene was a drawing-room, with old-fashioned heavy sash windows opening on a narrow brick-walled town-garden sloping down to a river, and neatly kept. The same might be said of the room, where heavy old-fashioned furniture, handsome but not new, was concealed by various flimsy modernisms, knicknacks, fans, brackets, china photographs and water-colours, a canary singing loud in the window in the winter sunshine.
"Miss Prescott," announced the maid; but, finding no auditor save the canary, she retreated, and Miss Prescott looked round her with a half sigh of recognition of the surroundings. She was herself a quiet- looking, gentle lady, rather small, with a sweet mouth and eyes of hazel, in a rather worn face, dressed in a soft woollen and grey fur, with headgear to suit, and there was an air of glad expectation, a little flush, that did not look permanent, on her thin cheeks.
"Is it you, my dear Miss Prescott?" was the greeting of the older hostess as she entered, her grey hair rough and uncovered, and her dress of well-used black silk, her complexion of the red that shows wear and care. "Then it is true?" she asked, as the kiss and double shake of the hand was exchanged.
"May I ask? Is it true? May I congratulate you?"
"Oh, yes, it is true!" said Miss Prescott, breathlessly. "I suppose the girls are at the High School?"
"Yes, they will be at home at one. Or shall I send for them?"
"No, thank you, Mrs. Best. I shall like to have a little time with you first. I can stay till a quarter-past three."
"Then come and take off your things. I do not know when I have been so glad!"
"Do the girls know?" asked Miss Prescott, following upstairs to a comfortable bedroom, evidently serving also the purposes of a private room, for writing table and account books stood near the fire.
"They know something; Kate Bell heard a report from her cousins, and they have been watching anxiously for news from you."
"I would not write till I knew more. I hope they have not raised their expectations too high; for though it is enough to be an immense relief, it is not exactly affluence. I have been with Mr. Bell going into the matter and seeing the place," said Miss Prescott, sitting comfortably down in the arm-chair Mrs. Best placed for her, while she herself sat down in another, disposing themselves for a talk over the fire.
"Mr. Bell reckons it at about 600 pounds a year."
"And an estate?"
"A very pretty cottage in a Devonshire valley, with the furniture and three acres of land."
"Oh! I believe the girls fancy that it is at least as large as Lord Coldhurst's."
"Yes, I was in hopes that they would have heard nothing about it."
"It came through some of their schoolfellows; one cannot help things getting into the air."
"And there getting inflated like bubbles," said Miss Prescott, smiling. "Well, their expectations will have a fall, poor dears!"
"And it does not come from their side of the family," said Mrs. Best. "Of course not! And it was wholly unexpected, was it not?"
"Yes, I had my name of Magdalen from my great aunt Tremlett; but she had never really forgiven my mother's marriage, though she consented to be my godmother. She offered to adopt me on my mother's death, and once when my father married again, and when we lost him, she wrote to propose my coming to live with her; but there would have been no payment, and so--"
"Yes, you dear good thing, you thought it your duty to go and work for your poor little stepmother and her children!"
"What else was my education good for, which has been a costly thing to poor father? And then the old lady was affronted for good, and never took any more notice of me, nor answered my letters. I did not even know she was dead, till I heard from Mr. Bell, who had learnt it from his lawyers!"
"It was quite right of her. Dear Magdalen, I am so glad," said Mrs. Best, crossing over to kiss her; for the first stiffness had worn off, and they were together again, as had been the solicitor's daughter and the chemist's daughter, who went to the same school till Magdalen had been sent away to be finished in Germany.
"Dear Sophy, I wish you had the good fortune, too!"
"Oh! my galleons are coming when George has prospered a little more in Queensland, and comes to fetch me. Sophia and he say they shall fight for me," said Mrs. Best, who had been bravely presiding over a high-school boarding-house ever since her husband, a railway engineer, had been killed by an accident, and left her with two children to bring up. "Dear children, they are very good to me."
"I am sure you have been goodness itself to us," said Magdalen, "in taking the care of these poor little ones when their mother died. I don't know how to be thankful enough to you and for all the blessings we have had! And that this should have come just now, especially when my life with Lady Milsom is coming to an end."
"Yes, the little boys are old enough for school, and the Colonel is going to take a house at Shrewsbury, where his mother will live with them, and want me no longer."
"You have been there seven years."
"Yes, and very happy. When Fanny married, Lady Milsom was left alone, and would not part with me, and then came the two little boys from India, so that she had an excuse for retaining me; but that is over now, or will be in a few weeks time. I had been trying for an engagement, and finding that beside your high-school diploma young ladies I am considered quite passee--"
"My dear! With your art, and music, and all!"
"Too true! And while I was digesting a polite hint that my terms were too high, and therewith Agatha's earnest appeal to be sent to Girton, there comes this inheritance! Taking my burthen off my back, and making me ready to throw up my heels like a young colt."
"Ah! you will be taking another burthen, perhaps."
"No doubt, I suppose so, but let me find it out by degrees. I can only think as yet of having my dear girls to myself, moi, as the French would say, after having seen so little of them."
"It has been very unfortunate. Epidemics have been strangely inconvenient."
"Yes. First there was whooping cough here to destroy the summer holidays; then came the Milsoms' measles, and I could not go and carry infection. Oh! and then Freddy broke his leg, and his grandmother was too nervous to be left with him. And by and by some one told her the scarlatina was in the town."
"It really was, you know."
"Any way, it would have been sheer selfish inhumanity to leave her, and then she had a real illness, which frightened us all very much. Next came influenza to every one. And these last holidays! What should the newly-come little one from India do, but catch a fever in the Red Sea, and I had to keep guard over the brothers at Weymouth till she was reported safe, and I don't believe it was infectious after all! Still, I am tired of 'other people's stairs.'"
"It is nearly five years since you have been with them, except for that one peep you took at Weston."
"And that is a great deal at their age. Agatha was a vehement reader; she would hardly look at me, so absorbed was she in 'The York and Lancaster Rose' which I had brought her."
"She is rather like that now. I conclude that you will wish to take them away?"
"Not this time, at any rate till the house is fit to put over their heads. Besides, you have so mothered them, dear Sophy, that I could not bear to make a sudden parting."
"There will be pain, especially over little Thekla and Polly. But if George comes home this spring, and I go out to Queensland with him, perhaps I should have asked you to take this house off my hands. May be it would be prudent in you to do so even now, considering all things; only I believe that transplanting would be good for them all."
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