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- Modern Broods - 2/47 -
"I am glad you think so, for I have a perfect longing for that little house of my own."
"You will be able to give them a superior kind of society to what they have had access to here. There is a good deal that I should like to talk over with you before they come in."
"Agatha seems to be in despair at her failure."
"So is all the house, for we were very proud of her, and, of course, we all thought it a fad of the examiners, but perhaps our headmistress might not say the same. She is a good, hardworking girl though, and ambitious, and quite worth further training."
"I am glad of being able to secure it to her at least, and by the time her course is finished I shall be able to judge about the others."
"You thought of taking them in hand yourself?"
"Certainly; how nice it will be to teach my own kin, and not endless strangers, lovable as they have been!"
"It will be very good for them all to see something of life and manners superior to what I can give them here. You will take them into a fresh sphere, and--as things were--besides that, I could not-- I did not know whether their lives would not lie among our people here."
"Dear Sophy, don't concern yourself. I am quite certain you would never let them fall in with anything hurtful."
"Why, no! I hope not; but if I had known what was coming, I don't think I should have asked you to consent to Vera and Thekla's spending their holidays at Mr. Waring's country house."
"Very worthy people, you said. I remember Tom Waring, a very nice boy; and Jessie Dale went to school with us--I liked her. Fancy them having a country house."
"Waring Grange they call it. He has got on wonderfully as upholsterer, decorator, and auctioneer. It is a very handsome one, with a garden that gets the prizes at the horticultural shows. They are thoroughly good people, but I was afraid afterwards that there had been a good deal of noisiness among the young folks at Christmas. Hubert Delrio was there, and I fancy there was some nonsense going on."
"Ah, the Delrios! Are they here?"
"Yes, poor Fred did not make his art succeed when he had a family to provide for, and he is the head of the Art School here. His son has a good deal of talent, and very prudently has got taken on by the firm of Eccles and Co., who do a great deal of architectural decoration. The boy is doing very well, but there have been giggles and whispers that make me rejoice that Vera should be out of the neighbourhood."
"Is she not very pretty?"
"You will be very much struck with her, I think; and Paulina is pretty too, and more thoughtful. She would not go with Thekla, because Waring Grange is far from church, and she would not disturb her Christmas and Epiphany. She is the most religious of them all, and puts me in mind of our old missionary castles in the air."
"Ah, what castles they were! And they seem further off than ever! Or perhaps you will fulfil them, and go and teach the Australian blacks!"
"A very unpromising field," said Mrs. Best, "though I hear there is a Sister Angela at the station who does wonders with them. I hear the quarter striking--they will be back directly."
"Ah! before they come, we ought to talk over means! Something is owing for these last holidays. Oh! Sophy, I cannot find words to say how thankful I am to you for having helped me through this time, even to your own loss! It has made our life possible."
"Indeed, I was most thankful to do all I could for poor Agnes' children; and though I did not gain by them like my other boarders, I never LOST, and they have been a great joy to me, yes, and a help, by giving my house a character."
"When I recollect how utterly crushed down I felt, seven years ago, when their mother died, and Aunt Magdalen refused help, and how despairingly I prayed, I feel all the more that there is an answer to even feeble almost worldly prayer."
"That it could not be when it was that you might be enabled to do the duty that was laid on you, my dear."
And with the exchange of a kiss, the two good women set themselves to practical pounds, shillings, and pence, which was just concluded when the patter of feet up the stone steps and voices in the hall announced the return of Mrs. Best's boarders.
Just as Magdalen was opening the door, there darted up, with the air of a privileged favourite, a little person of ten years old, with flying brown hair and round rosy cheeks, exclaiming breathlessly, "Is she come?"
The answer was to take her up with a motherly hug, and "My dear little Thekla!" There was not time for more than a hurried glance and embrace of the three on the steps of the stair, in their sailor hats and blue serge; but when in ten minutes more, the whole party, twenty in number, were seated round the dining table, observation was possible. Agatha, as senior scholar, sat at the foot of the table, fully occupied in dispensing Irish stew. She had a sensible face, to which projecting teeth gave a character, and a brow that would have shown itself finer but for the overhanging mass of hair. Vera and Paulina were so much alike and so nearly of the same age that they were often taken for twins, but on closer inspection Vera proved to be the prettiest, with a more delicately cut nose, clearer complexion, and bluer eyes; but Paulina, with paler cheeks, had softer eyes, and more pencilled brows, as well as a prettier lip and chin, though she would not strike the eye so much as her sister. Little Thekla was a round-faced, rosy little thing, childish for her nearly eleven years, smiling broadly and displaying enough white teeth to make Magdalen forebode that they would need much attention if they were not to be a desight like Agatha's.
She sat between Mrs. Best and Magdalen; and in the first pause, when the first course had just been distributed, she looked up with a great pair of grey eyes, and asked, in a shrill, clear little voice, "Sister, may I have a bicycle?"
"We will see about it, my dear," returned Magdalen, unwilling to pledge herself.
"But haven't you got a fortune?" undauntedly demanded Thekla.
"Something like it, Thekla. You shall hear about it after dinner." And Magdalen felt her colour flushing up under all those young eyes.
"Kitty Best said--"
But here Mrs. Best interposed. "We don't talk over such things at table, Thekla. Take care with the gravy. Did Mr. Jones give a lesson, this morning?"
"Yes, a very long one," said Vera.
"It was about the exact force of the words in the Revised Version," added Agatha, "compared with the Greek."
"That must have been very interesting!" said Magdalen.
Vera and her neighbour looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders; while some one else broke in with the news that another girl had not come back because she was down with influenza; and Magdalen, suspecting that "shop" was not talked at table, and also that the Scripture passage could not well be discussed there, saw that it was wise to let the conversation drift off, by Mrs. Best's leading, into anecdotes of the influenza.
All were glad when grace was chanted, and the five sisters could retreat into the drawing-room, which Mrs. Best let them have to themselves for the half hour before Magdalen's train, and the young ones' return to the High School. She was at once established with Thekla on her lap, and the others perched round on chairs and footstools. Of course the first question was, "And is it really true?"
"It is true, my dears, that my old great aunt has left me a house and some money; but you must not flatter yourselves that it is a great estate."
"Only mayn't I have a bicycle?" began Thekla again.
"Child, I believe you have bicycles on the brain," said Agatha. "But, sister, you do mean that we shall be better off, and I shall be able to go on with my education?"
"Yes, my dear, I think I can promise you so much," said Magdalen, caressing the serge shoulder.
"O thanks! Girton?" cried Agatha.
"There is much that I must inquire about before I decide--"
Again came, "Elsie Warner has a bicycle, and she is no older than me! Please, sister!"
"Hush now, my little Thekla," said the sister kindly; "I will talk to Mrs. Best, and see whether she thinks it will be good for you."
Thekla subsided with a pout, and Magdalen was able to explain her circumstances and plans a little more in detail; seeing however that the girls had no idea of the value of money, Paulina asked whether it meant being as well off as the Colonel and Lady Mary -
"Who keep a carriage and pair, and a butler," interposed Vera.
"Oh no, my dear. If I keep any kind of carriage it will be only a basket or governess cart, and a pony or donkey."
"That's all right," said Agatha. "I would not be rich and stupid for the world."
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