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- Modern Broods - 3/47 -


"Small fear of that!" said Magdalen, laughing. "Our home, the Goyle, is not more than a cottage, in a beautiful Devonshire valley--"

"What's the name of it?"

"The Goyle. I believe it is a diminutive of Gully, a narrow ravine. It is lovely even now, and will be delightful when you come to me in April--"

"Shall I leave school?" asked Vera. "I shall be seventeen in May."

"You will all leave school. Mrs. Best has made it easy to me by her wonderful goodness in keeping you on cheaper terms; but if Agatha goes to the University you must be content to work for a time with me."

"Oh!" cried Thekla. "Shall I have always holidays? My bicycle!"

Everybody burst out laughing at this--not a very trained cachinnation, but more of the giggle, even in Agatha; and Magdalen answered:

"You will have plenty of time for bicycling if the hills are not too steep, but I hope to make your lessons pleasant to you." She did not know whether to mention Mrs. Best's intention of soon giving up her house, which would have much increased her difficulties but for her legacy; and Agatha said, "You know, I think, that Vera and Polly both ought to make a real study of music. They both have talent, and cultivation would do a great deal for it."

Agatha spoke in a dogmatic way that amused Magdalen, and she said, "Well, I shall be able to judge when we are at the Goyle. Vera, I think you sing--"

Vera looked shy, and Agatha said, "She has a good voice, and Madame Lardner thinks it would answer to send her to some superior Conservatoire in process of time."

Vera did not commit herself as to her wishes, and Mrs. Best returned to say that if Miss Prescott wished to see the headmistress it was time to set out for the school; and accordingly the whole party walked up together to the school, Magdalen with Agatha, who was chiefly occupied in explaining how entirely it was owing to the one- sidedness of the examiners that she had not gained the scholarship. Magdalen had heard of such examiners before from the mothers of her pupils.

She had to wish her sisters good-bye for the next three months, not having gathered very much about them, except their personal appearance. She administered a sovereign to each of them as they parted. Agatha thanked her in a tone as if afraid to betray what a boon it was; Vera, with an eager kiss, asking if she could spend it as she liked; Paulina, with a certain grave propriety; and Thekla, of course, wanted to know whether it would buy a bicycle, or, if not, how many rides could be purchased from it.

When they were absorbed in the routine of the day, the interview with the head mistress disclosed, what Magdalen had expected, that Agatha, was an industrious, ambitious girl, with very good abilities quite worth cultivating, though not extraordinary; that Vera had a certain sort of cleverness, but no application and not much taste for anything but music; and that Paulina was a good, dutiful, plodding girl, who surpassed brighter powers by dint of diligence. The little one was a mere child, who had not yet come much under notice from the higher authorities.

On the whole, Magdalen went away with pleasant hopes, and the affectionate impulses of kindred blood rising within her, to complete her term with Lady Milsom, by whom she could not well be spared till towards Easter; while, in the meantime, her house was being repaired.

CHAPTER II--THE GOYLE

"A poor thing, but mine own."--SHAKESPEARE.

"Thaay stwuns, thaay stwuns, thaay stwuns, thaay stwuns." --T. HUGHES, Scouring of the White Horse.

Magdalen Prescott stood on her own little terrace. Her house was, like many Devonian ones, built high on the slope of a steep hill, running down into a narrow valley, and her abode was almost at the narrowest part, where a little lively brawling stream descended from the moor amid rocks and brushwood. If the history of the place were told, it had been built for a shooting box, then inherited by a lawyer who had embellished and spent his holidays there, and afterwards, his youngest daughter, a lonely and retiring woman, had spent her latter years there.

The house was low, stone built, and roofed with rough slate, with a narrow verandah in front, and creepers in bud covering it. Then came a terrace just wide enough for a carriage to drive up; and below, flower-beds bordered with stones found what vantage ground they could between the steep slopes of grass that led almost precipitously down to the stream, where the ground rose equally rapidly on the other side. Moss, ivy, rhododendrons, primroses, anemones, and the promise of ferns were there, and the adjacent beds had their full share of hepaticas and all the early daffodil kinds. Behind and on the southern side, lay the kitchen garden, also a succession of steps, and beyond as the ravine widened were small meadows, each with a big stone in the midst. The gulley, (or goyle) narrowed as it rose, and there was a disused limestone quarry, all wreathed over with creeping plants, a birch tree growing up all white and silvery in the middle, and above the house and garden was wood, not of fine trees, and interspersed with rocks, but giving shade and shelter. The opposite side had likewise fields below, with one grey farm house peeping in sight, and red cattle feeding in one, and above the same rocky woodland, meeting the other at the quarry; and then after a little cascade had tumbled down from the steeper ground, giving place to the heathery peaty moor, which ended, more than two miles off in a torr like a small sphinx. This could not be seen from Magdalen's territory, but from the highest walk in her kitchen garden, she could see the square tower of Arnscombe, her parish church; and on a clear day, the glittering water of Rockstone bay.

To Magdalen it was a delightful view, and delightful too had been the arranging of her house, and preparing for her sisters. All the furniture and contents of the abode had been left to her. It was solid and handsome of its kind, belonging to the days of the retired Q.C., and some of it would have been displaced for what was more fresh and tasteful if Magdalen had not consulted economy. So she depended on basket-chairs, screens, brackets and drapery to enliven the ancient mahagony and rosewood, and she had accumulated a good many water colours, vases and knick-knacks. The old grand piano was found to be past its work, so that she went the length of purchasing a cottage one for the drawing-room, and another for the sitting-room that was to be the girls' own property, and on which she expended much care and contrivance. It opened into the drawing-room, and like it, had glass doors into the verandah, as well as another door into the little hall. The drawing-room had a bow window looking over the fields towards the South, and this way too looked the dining-room, in which Magdalen bestowed whatever was least interesting, such as the "Hume and Smollett" and "Gibbon" of her grandfather's library and her own school books, from which she hoped to teach Thekla.

Her upstairs arrangements had for the moment been rather disturbed by Mrs. Best's wishing to come with her pupils; but she decided that Agatha should at once take possession of her own pretty room, and the two next sisters of theirs, while she herself would sleep in the dressing room which she destined to Thekla, giving up her own chamber to Mrs. Best for these few days, and sending Thekla's little bed to Agatha's room.

And there she stood, on the little terrace, thinking how lovely the purple light on the moor was, and how all the newcomers would enjoy such a treat.

She had abstained from meeting them at the station, having respect to the capacities of the horse, even upon his native hills, and she had hired a farmer's cart to meet them and bring their luggage. Already she had a glimpse of the carriage, toiling up one hill, then disappearing between the hedges, and it was long before her gate, already open, was reached, and at her own OWN door, she received her little sister, followed by the others. And the first word she heard even before she had time to pay the driver was, "My dear Magdalen, what a road!"

Poor Mrs. Best! as the payment was put into the man's hand, Magdalen looked round and saw she looked quite worn out.

"Yes," said Paulina, "bumped to pieces and tired to death."

"I was afraid they had been mending the roads," said Magdalen.

"Mending! Strewing them with rocks, if you please," said Agatha.

"And such a distance!" added Paulina.

"Not quite three miles," replied Magdalen. "Here is some tea to repair you."

"My dear Magdalen"--in a chorus--"that really is quite impossible. It must be five, at least."

"Your nearest town ten miles off!" sighed Vera.

"Your nearest church," cried Paulina.

"Up in the wilds," said Agatha.

Magdalen felt as if these speeches were so many drops of water in her face and that of her beautiful Goyle, but she rose in its defence.

"It actually is less than three miles," she said. "I have walked it several times, and the cabs only charge three."

"That is testimony," said Mrs. Best, smiling; "but hills, perhaps, reckon for miles in one's feelings!"

"Particularly before you are rested," said Magdalen, setting her down in a comfortable wicker chair. "You will think little of it on your own feet, Vera, and the church is much nearer, Paulina, only on the other side of the hill."

"May I have a bicycle of my own?" burst in Thekla, again; while every one began laughing, and Agatha told her that Sister would think her brains were cycling.


Modern Broods - 3/47

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