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- Modern Broods - 5/47 -


"There is a lovely little chapel there, beautifully fitted up by Lord Rotherwood and Sir Jasper Merrifield, for the hamlet," she said.

"How far?" asked Mrs. Best.

"About a mile and a half across the fields; further by the road. You will find your bicycles available when you know the way."

"Don't we go to Rockstone?" asked Paulina. "I am sure there is a really satisfactory church there."

"St. Kenelm's, do you mean? That is not so near as St. Andrew's Church, but that is very satisfactory, and I go to one or other of them on week-days. It is too late to come back on these spring Sundays."

"I should not like to live among so many churches," said Mrs. Best, "and so far from them all!"

"You love your old parish church, like a faithful old churchwoman," said Magdalen. "Well, you see, I am faithful enough to go to my parish in the morning, but I think we may be discursive afterwards. There is a Sunday school in which I was waiting to offer help till our party was made up."

Magdalen had looked twice for a responding smile, first from Agatha, and then from Paulina, but none was awakened. The girls clustered together in the bedroom, and the word "Goody" passed between them.

"Tempered by respect for my Lord and Sir Jasper," added Agatha.

"And avoiding St. Kenelm's because it is the real correct church," said Paulina.

"Oh, yes!" cried Vera. "Mr. Hubert Delrio went to see it in case Eccles and Beamster should have an order. We must go there."

"Of course," said Paulina, with a sympathetic nod.

"But," said Agatha, "there will be an embargo on all acquaintance except the grandees at Clipstone."

"I shall never drop old friends," cried Vera. "I am a rock of crystal as regards them, whatever swells may require, if they burst themselves like the frog and the ox."

"Well done, crystal rock; but suppose the old friends slide off and drop you?" laughed Agatha.

Vera tossed her head; and Thekla ran in to say that Sister was ready.

The walk was shorter and pleasanter than that in the morning, over moorland, but with a good road; but all Magdalen discovered on the walk was that though the girls had attended botanical classes, they did not recognise spear-wort when they saw it, and Agatha thought the old catalogue fashions of botany were quite exploded. This was a sentiment, and it gave hopes of something like an argument and a conversation, but they were at that moment overtaken by the neighbouring farmer's wife, who wanted to give Miss Prescott some information about a setting of eggs, which she did at some length, and with a rapid utterance of dialect that amused, while it puzzled, Magdalen, and her inquiries and comments were decided to be "thoroughly good-wife" by all save Thekla, who hailed the possible ownership of a hen and chicken as almost equal to that of a bicycle.

Magdalen further discovered that Thekla's name in common use was "Tickle," or else "Tick-tick"; Paulina was, of course, Paula or Polly; Vera had her old baby title of Flapsy, which somehow suited her restless nervous motions, and Agatha had become Nag. Well, it was the fashion of the day, though not a pretty one; but Magdalen recollected, with some pain, her father's pleasure in the selection of saintly names for his little daughters, and she wondered how he would have liked to hear them thus transmuted. There had been something bordering on sentiment in her father's character, and something in Paulina's expression made her hope to see it repeated by inheritance. She saw the countenance brighten out of the morning's antagonistic air when they entered the little chapel at Clipstone, and saw the altar adorned and carefully decked with white narcissus and golden daffodils.

The little chapel was old and plain, very small, but reverently cared for. There was no choir, but the chairs of those who could sing were placed near the harmonium, which was played by one of the young ladies from the large gabled house to which the chapel was attached, and the singing had the refined tones that belong to the music of cultivated people. The congregation was evidently of poor folks from the hamlet, dependants of the great house, and the family itself, a grey-haired, fine-looking general, a tall dark-eyed lady, a tall youth, a schoolboy, and four girls--one of whom was musician, and the other presided over the school children. The service was reverent, the catechising good and effective, the sermon brief, and summing up in a spiritual and devotional manner; Magdalen was happy, and trusted that Paulina was so likewise.

She expected to hear some commendation as they walked home, but Vera alone kept with her, to examine her on the names and standing of the persons she had seen, on which there was as yet little to tell, for the first move towards acquaintance had not yet been made. All that was known was that there were Sir Jasper and Lady Merrifield, connections of Lord Rotherwood, who owned most of the Rockstone property, and who with his family had once been staying in the country house where Magdalen had been governess; but it was a long time ago, and she only recollected that there were some nice little girls. At least she said no more, but her friend thought the more.

"I suppose they will call?" said Vera.

"Most likely they will."

"Has nobody called?"

"Mr. Earl, the Vicar of Arnscombe. He has promised to tell me how we can be of use here. I believe there is great want of a lady at the Sunday school."

This did not interest Vera--and she went on asking questions about the neighbourhood, and whether any of the Rockstone people had left cards, and whether there were any parties, garden or evening, at Rockstone--more than Magdalen could yet answer, though she was glad to promote any sort of conversation with either of the girls who did not stand aloof from her.

"I say, the M.A. (maiden aunt) knows nobody but that old clergyman, who wants her to teach his Sunday school."

"I'm out of that, thank goodness," said Agatha.

"And Sunday schools are a delusion, only hindering the children from going to church with their parents," said Paulina.

"And if nobody calls, and they all think her no better than an old governess, how awfully slow it will be," continued Vera.

"I do not suppose that will last," said Agatha. "There is Rockstone, remember."

"Ten miles off," said Vera disconsolately. "Oh, Nag, Nag, isn't it horrid! We shall be just smart enough to be taken for swells, and know nobody; and the swells won't have us because she is a governess. We might as well be upon a desert island at once."

Agatha could not help laughing and repeating -

"I am out of humanity's reach, I must finish my journey alone - Never hear the sweet music of speech, I start at the sound of my own."

"But really, Nag," broke in Paulina, "it is horrid. Here we are equidistant from three or four churches, and condemned to the most behind the world of them all, and then to the one where there is this distant fragrance of swells, instead of the only Catholic one."

Agatha had a little more common sense than the other two, and she responded -

"After all, you know, you are better off than if you were still at school; and the M.A. is a good old soul at the bottom, and you may manage her, depend on it. Though I wish she had let me go to Girton."

Magdalen and Mrs. Best meantime were going over future prospects and old times. Mrs. Best's destination was Albertstown, in Queensland, where her son George had a good practice as a doctor, and where he assured her she would find church privileges--even a cathedral, so- called, and a bishop--though Bishop Fulmort was always out on some expedition among the colonists or the natives, but among his clergy there was always Sunday service. In fact, Magdalen thought the good old lady expected to find a town more like Filsted than the Goyle. There was a sisterhood located there too, which tried, mostly in vain, to train the wild native women--an attempt at which George Best laughed, though he allowed that the sisters were splendid nurses, especially Sister Angela, who had a wonderful way of bringing cases round.

Magdalen could feel secure that her old friend would be near kind people; and presently Mrs. Best, returning to the actual neighbourhood, observed -

"Merrifield! It is not a common name."

"No; but I do not think this is the same family. This is a retired general, living in a house of Lord Rotherwood's. I once met one of his little girls, who came to Castle Towers with the Rotherwood party, and though she had a brother of the name, he was evidently not the same person."

Mrs. Best asked no more, for tell-tale colour had arisen in Magdalen's cheeks; and she had been the confidante of an engagement with a certain Henry Merrifield, who had been employed in the bank at Filsted when Magdalen was a very young girl. His father had come down suddenly, had found debt and dissipation, had broken all off decidedly, and no more had been heard of the young man. It was many years previously; but those cheeks and the tone of the reply made her suspect that there was still poignancy in the remembrance.


Modern Broods - 5/47

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