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- Modern Broods - 10/47 -
the ancien regime, and how they will introduce her as the kindly old goody who mends my little lady's frock!"
"The girl had not any airs," said Paula. "She told me about the churches down there in the town--not the ones we went to on Sunday; but there's one that is very low indeed, and St. Andrew's, which is their parish church, was suiting the moderate high church folk; and there is St. Kenelm's, very high indeed, Mr. Flight's, I think I have heard of him, and it is just the right thing, I am sure."
"Don't flatter yourself that the M.A. will let you have much pleasure in it. It is just what people of her sort think dangerous."
"But do you know, Nag, I do believe that it is the church that Hubert Delrio was sent down to study and make a design for."
"Whew! There will be a pretty kettle of fish if he comes down about it! That is, if he and Flapsy have not forgotten all about the ice and the forfeits at Warner's Grange, as is devoutly to be hoped."
"Do you hope it really, Nag, for Flapsy really was very much--did care very much."
"I have no great faith in Flapsy's affections surviving the contact with greater swells."
"Perhaps his will not survive common sense. I am sure I hope not for both their sakes."
"But, Nag, it would be very horrid of them if they had no constancy," declared the more romantic Paula.
"It will be a regular mess if they do have it, and bring on horrid scrapes with the M.A. Just think. It is all very well to say she has known Hubert all his life; but she can't treat him as a gentleman, or she won't. She has a position to keep up with all these swells, and he will be only the man who paints the church! I only hope he will not come. There will be nothing but bother if he does, unless they both have more sense and less constancy than you expect. Well, this really is a splendid view. Old Mr. Delrio would be wild about it."
Here the steep and stony hill brought them into contact with the pony carriage, nor were there any more confidential conversations. The pony was put up at the top of the hill leading from Rockstone to Rockquay, and thence the party walked down for Miss Prescott to make a few purchases, and, moreover, to begin by gratifying Thekla's reiterated entreaty for a bicycle, though, as she was unpractised and growing so fast, it was decided to be better to hire a tricycle for practice, and one bicycle on which Vera and Paula might learn the art.
The choice was a long one, and left only just time for a peep into the two churches and a study of the hours of their services. St. Kenelm's was decided to be a "perfect gem," ornaments, beauty, and all, a little overdone, perhaps, in Magdalen's opinion, but perfectly "the thing" in her sisters'.
This St. Andrew's fulfilled to her mind, being handsome, reverent, and decorous in all the arrangements, while to the younger folk it was "all very well," but quite of the old times. Little did they know of "old times" beyond the quarter century of their birth! Poor old Arnscombe might feebly represent them, but even that had struggled out of the modern "dark ages." Magdalen had decided on talking to Agatha and seeing how far she understood the situation, and she came to her room to put her in possession now that Mrs. Best had left the guest chamber free.
"This is your home when you are here. You must put up any belongings that you do not want to take to St. Robert's."
"Thank you; it is a nice pleasant room."
"And, my dear, may I stay a few minutes? I think we had better have a talk, and quite understand one another."
It was not quite encouraging, but Agatha really wished to hear, and she advanced a wicker chair for her elder sister, and sat down on the window seat.
"Thank you, my dear; I do not know how much Mrs. Best has told you."
"She told us that you had always been very good to us, and that you had been our guardian ever since we lost our mother."
"Did she tell you what we have of our own that our father could leave us?"
"What amounts to about 40 pounds a year apiece. Mrs. Best in her very great goodness has taken you four for that amount, though her proper charge is eighty."
"And she never let any one guess it," said Agatha, more warmly, "for fear we might feel the difference. How very good of her."
She seemed more impressed by Mrs. Best's bounty than by Magdalen's, but probably she took the latter as a matter of course and obligation; besides, the sense of it involved a sum in subtraction. However, this was not observed by her sister, who did not want to feel obliged.
"Now that this property has come in," continued Magdalen, "we can live comfortably together upon it for the present, and your expenses at Oxford can be paid, as well as masters in what may be needful for the others, and an allowance for dress. I suppose you will want the 40 pounds while you are at St. Robert's, besides the regular expenses?"
"Thank you," warmly said.
"But I want you to understand, as I think you do, about the future, for you must be prepared to be independent."
"I should have wished for a career if I had been a millionaire," said Agatha.
"I believe you would, and it is well that you should have every advantage. But the others. If I left you all this property, it would not be a comfortable maintenance divided among four; and you would not like to be dependent, or to leave the last who might not marry to a pittance alone."
"Certainly not," said Agatha, with flashing eyes.
"Then you see that it is needful that you should be able to do something for yourselves. I can give one of you at a time the power of going to the University."
"I don't think Vera or Polly would wish for that," said Agatha.
"Well, what would they wish for? I can do something towards preparing them, and I can teach Thekla, but I should like to know what you think would be best for them."
"Vera's strong point is music," said Agatha. "She cares for that more than anything else, and Mr. Selby thought she had talent and might sing, only she must not strain her voice. I don't believe she will do much in any other line. And Polly--she is very good, and always does her best because it is right, but I don't think anything is any particular pleasure to her, except needlework. She is always wanting to make things for the church. She really has a better voice than Flapsy, and can play better, but that is because she is so much steadier."
"Seventeen and sixteen, are they not?"
"Yes; but Polly seems ever so much older than Flapsy."
"Mrs. Best showed me that she had higher marks. She must be a thoroughly good girl."
"That she is," cried Agatha, warmly. "She never had any task for getting into mischief."
"Well, they are both so young that a little study with me will be good for them, and there will be time to judge what they are fit for. In art I think they are not much interested."
"Paula draws pretty well, but Vera hates it. Old Mr. Delrio is always cross to her now; but--" Agatha stopped short, remembering that there might be a reason why the drawing master no longer made her a favourite pupil.
"Do you think him a good judge?"
"Yes; Mrs. Best thinks much of him. He had an artist's education, and sometimes has a picture in the Water Colour Exhibition; but I believe he did not find it answer, and so he took our school of art."
Agatha had talked sensibly throughout the conference, but not confidentially; much, in fact, as she would have discussed her sisters with Mrs. Best. She was glad that at the moment the sound of the piano set them listening. She did not feel bound to mention to "sister" any more than she would to the head mistress, that when staying at Mr. Waring's country house a sort of semi-flirtation had begun with Hubert Delrio, a young man to whose education his father had sacrificed a great deal, and who was a well-informed and intelligent gentleman in all his ways. He had engaged himself to the great firm of Eccles and Beamster, ecclesiastical decorators, and might be employed upon the intended frescoes of St. Kenelm's Church.
Ought "Sister" to be told?
But Agatha thought it would be betraying confidence to "set on the dragon"; and besides nobody ever could tell how much Vera's descriptions meant. She knew already that the sweetest countenance in the world and the loveliest dark eyes belonged to a fairly good- looking young man, and she could also suspect that the "squeeze of my hand" might be an ordinary shake, and the kneeling before the one he loved best might have been only the customary forfeit. On the whole, it would be better to let things take their course; it was not likely that either was seriously smitten, and it was more than probable that Hubert Delrio would be too busy to look after a young lady now in a different stratum, and that Vera would have found another sweetest
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