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- Modern Broods - 30/47 -
"Won't you just write to Hubert first?"
"Oh, bother, how can I now? Don't worry so!"
"But, Flapsy, he really needs it without loss of time."
"I'm sure he has no right to make me his clerk in that horrid peremptory way, as if one had nothing else to do but wait on his fads."
"Flapsy, how can you?" broke out even Thekla.
"Surely it is the greatest honour," said Paula.
"Well, do it yourself then, I'm not going to be bothered for ever."
Thekla went off, in great indignation, to beg "sister" to speak to Flapsy, and beg her not to use dear Hubert so very very badly, which of course Magdalen refused to do, and Thekla had her first lesson on the futility of interfering with engaged folk; Paula meanwhile sent off the despatch, with one line to say that Vera was too busy to write that day.
There had been two or three letters from Hubert, over which Vera had looked cross, but had said nothing; and at last she came down from her own room, and announced passionately, "There! I have done with Mr. Hubert Delrio, and have written to tell him so!"
"Vera, what have you done?"
"Written to tell him I have no notion of a man being so tiresome and dictatorial! I don't want a schoolmaster to lecture me, and expect me to drudge over his work as if I was his clerk."
"My dear," said Magdalen, "have you had a letter that vexed you? Had you not better wait a little to think it over?"
"No! Nonsense, Maidie! He has been provoking ever so long, and I won't bear it any longer!" and she flounced into a chair.
"Provoking! Hubert!" was all Paulina could utter, in her amazement and horror.
"Oh, I daresay you would like it well enough! Always at me to slave for him with stupid architectural drawings and stuff, as if I was only a sort of clerk or fag! And boring me to read great dull books, and preaching to me about them, expecting to know what I think! Dear me!"
"Those nice letters!" sighed Paula.
"Nice! As if any one that was one bit in love would write such as that! No, I don't want to marry a schoolmaster or a tyrant!"
"How can you, Flapsy?" went on Paula, so vehemently that Magdalen left the defence thus far to her; "when he only wishes for your sympathy and improvement."
The worst plea she could have used, thought the elder sister, as Vera broke out with, "Improvement, indeed! If he cared for me, he would not think I wanted any IMPROVING! But he never did! Or he would have taken Pratt and Povis' offer, and I should have been living in London and keeping my carriage! Or he would have taken me to Italy! But that horrid home of his, and his mother just like a half-starved hare! I might have seen then it was not fit for me; but I was a child, and over-persuaded among you all! But I know better now, and I know my own mind, as I didn't then. So you need not talk! I have done with him."
"Oh, Flapsy, Flapsy, how can you grieve him so? You don't know what you are throwing away!" incoherently cried Paula, collapsing in a burst of tears. "Maidie, Maidie, why don't you speak to her, and tell her how wicked it is--and--and--and--"
The rest was cut short by sobs.
"No, Paula, authority or reasoning of mine would not touch such a mood as this. We must leave it to Hubert himself. If she really cares for him, she will have recovered from her fit of temper by the time his letter can come, and it may have an effect upon her, if our tongues have not increased her spirit of opposition. I strongly advise you to say nothing."
Paula tried to take her sister's advice, and would have adhered to it, but that Vera would talk and try to make her declare the rupture to have been justified; and this produced an amount of wrangling which did good to no one. Magdalen really rejoiced when the frequent golf and tennis parties carried Vera on her bicycle out of reach of arguing, even if it took her into the alternative of flirtation.
Thekla cried bitterly, and declared that she should never speak to Flapsy again; but in half an hour's time was heard chattering about the hedgehog's meal of cockroaches. In another week the excitement was over. The Bishop of Onomootka had come and gone, after holding meetings and preaching sermons at Rock Quay and all the villages round, and had carried off Alexis White with him.
Nothing had come of the intercourse of the latter with his rich uncle, nor of the varieties of encounters with the damsels of Rock Quay, except that society was declared by more than one to have become horridly flat and slow.
Vera was one of these, and the letters received from Hubert Delrio did not stir up a fresh excitement. There were no persuasions to revoke her decision, no urgent entreaties, no declaration of being heart-broken. He acquiesced in her assurance that the engagement had been a mistake; and he wrote at more length to Magdalen, avowing that he had for some time past traced discontent in Vera's letters, and fearing that he had been too didactic and peremptory in writing to her. He relinquished the engagement with much regret, and should always regard it as having been a fair summer dream--but, though undeserving, he hoped still to retain Miss Prescott's kindness and friendship, which had been of untold value to him.
A little more zeal and distress would have been much more pleasing to Vera; and she began to be what Agatha and Thekla called cross, and Paula called drooping, and even excited alarm in her, lest Flapsy should be going into a decline. But a note came to the Goyle which Magdalen read alone, and likewise she cycled alone to Rockstone.
"Miss Mohun, can you give me a few minutes?" said she, as the trim little figure emerged from beneath the copper beeches, basket in hand.
"By all means; I shall not be due at the cutting-out meeting till three o'clock."
"I wanted to consult you about an invitation that Mrs. White has been so very kind as to give my little sister, Vera."
"Oh!" quoth Jane Mohun, in a dry sort of tone.
"I know that she had wished to take out one of her own nieces to Rocca Marina, but that Sir Jasper did not wish it, and I thought perhaps it would be easier for you than for Lady Merrifield to tell me whether there is any objection that would apply to Vera."
"I suppose Vera wishes to go?"
"She is so wild with delight that it would be a serious thing to disappoint her. Mrs. White is very kind and good, and has thought that she has flagged of late, and has supposed it might be due to poor Hubert Delrio, but, indeed, it was no fault of his."
"None at all, except for out-growing her."
"The offer was hinted at to go with Valetta even before we knew it was declined at Clipstone, and that made me anxious to know whether it would be well for me to send Vera. I suppose she would pick up pronunciation of languages, which would be a great advantage, as she will have to earn her own living, and Mrs. White is so good as to promise lessons in arts and music. I hear, too, it is quite an English colony, with a church and schools."
"Oh, yes, Mr. White is a very good and careful man about his workmen. I have been there at the Henderson's wedding, and it is a charming place, a castle fit for Mrs. Radclyffe, with English comforts, and an Italian garden and an English village on the mountain side. My sister would do all that she promises, and would look after any young girl very well; you may quite trust her."
"Then is there any fear of Italian society?--not that poor Vera has any attraction OF THAT KIND," hesitated Magdalen.
"None at all. All the society they have is of English travellers coming with introductions. I fancy it is very dull at times, and that Adeline wants a young person about her. You need have no fears. Ah! I see you still want to know why the Merrifields don't consent. It is not their way. They would not let the Rotherwoods have Mysie to bring up with Phyllis, and--and Val is just the being that needs a mother's eye over her. But I really and honestly think that your Vera may quite safely be put under Adeline's care, and that she is likely to be all the better for it."
"One thing more, added Magdalen, with a little hesitation; "is your nephew, Wilfred, likely to be one of the party?"
"None at all. His father wants to keep him under his own eye, and his mother is anxious about his health; nor do I think Mr. White wants him, having his own two nephews, who are useful, so he will remain under Captain Henderson here."
"Thank you! That settles it in my mind. I am sure the change to a fresh home will be an excellent thing for my poor Vera, and that the training of imitation of one to whom she looks up is what she most needs."
"Very true," said Miss Mohun.
And as she afterwards said to Lady Merrifield, "It was in all sincerity and honesty that I gave the advice to Magdalen, who is very sensible in the matter. In plain English, Ada can't do without a lady in waiting, and Vera probably fancies that Lords, young or old, start from every wave like the spirits of our fathers, at Rocca Marina, in which she will probably be disappointed; but Ada will be a very dragon as to her manners and discretion, and not being his own niece, old Tom White will not be deluded by his ambition and any blandishments of hers. As people go, they are very safe guardians, and Vera--Flapsy as they call her--is just of the composition to be improved, and not disimproved, by living with Ada."
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