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- Modern Broods - 6/47 -
"What flowers grow in my field wherewith to dress thee." - E. BARRETT BROWNING.
Mrs. Best departed early the next morning. It was probably a parting for life between the two old friends; and Magdalen keenly felt the severance from the one person whom she had always known, and on whose sympathy she could rely. Their conversations had been very precious to her, and she felt desolate without the entire companionship. Yet, on the other hand, she felt as if she could have begun better with her sisters if Sophy Best had not come with them, to hand them over, as it were, when she wanted to start on the same level with them, and be more like their contemporary than their authority.
They all stood on the terrace, watching the fly go down the hill, and she turned to them and said -
"We will all settle ourselves this morning, and you will see how the land lies, so that to-morrow we can arrange our day and see what work to do. Thekla, when you have had a run round the garden, you might bring your books to the dining-room and let me see how far you have gone."
"Oh, sister, it is holidays!"
"Well, my dear, you have had a week, and your holiday time cannot last for ever. Looking at your books cannot spoil it."
"Yes, it will; they are so nasty."
"Perhaps you will not always think so; but now you had better put on your hat and your thick boots, for the grass is still very wet, and explore the country. The same advice to you," she added, turning to the others; "it is warm here, but the dew lies long on the slopes."
"We have got a great deal too much to do," said Agatha, "for dawdling about just now."
Really, she was chiefly prompted by the satisfaction of not being ordered about; and the other two followed suit, while Magdalen turned away to her household business.
They found the housemaid in possession of the bedrooms, so that the unpacking plans could not conveniently be begun; and while Agatha was struggling with the straps of a book box, Thekla burst in upon them.
"Oh, Nag, Nag, there is the loveliest angel of a bicycle in the stable, and a dear little pony besides! 'New tyre wheels,' he says."
"A bicycle! Well, if she has got it for us, she is an angel indeed," said Vera.
"It is a big one," said Thekla, "but the pony is a dear little thing; Pixy is his name, and I can ride him! Do come, Flapsy, and see! Earwaker will show you. It is he that does the oiling of Pixy and harnessing the bicycle. I mean--"
"Tick, Tick, which does he oil and which does he harness?" said Paula.
"That little tongue wants both," said Agatha.
"But do, do come and see," said Thekla, not at all disconcerted by being laughed at; and Vera came, only asserting her independence by not putting on either hat or boots.
Thekla led the way to the stable, tucked under the hill at the back, and presiding over a linhay, as she had already learnt to call the tiny farm-court, containing accommodation for two cows, a pig, and sundry fowls. There was a shed attached with a wicker pony carriage and the bicycle, a handsome modern one, with all the newest appendages, including the "Nevertires," as Thekla had translated them.
But disappointment was in store for Vera. Magdalen came out during the inspection, and was received with -
"Sister, you never told us of this beauty."
"It was a parting present from General Mansell," she said, "and he took great pains to get me a very good one."
"And you bike!"
"Oh, yes; I learnt to go out with the Colvins. But I do not venture to use it much here, unless the road is good. Those rocks, freshly laid towards Rockstone, would make regular havoc of the pneumatic tyres."
Vera saw that this was prohibitive, and felt too much vexed to mention Thekla's version of the same; but Magdalen asked, "Have you learnt?"
"They were always going to teach me at Warner Grange, but it always snowed, or rained, or skated, I mean we skated, or something, whenever Hubert had time; but I am perfectly dying to learn."
"Well, before you expire, we may teach you a little on these smoother paths; and hire one perhaps, by the time the stones are passable. Just at present, I think our own legs and Pixy's are safer for that descent."
Vera was pacified enough to look on with a certain degree of complacency, while Thekla was enraptured at being set to take out the eggs from the hens' nests.
But the conclave in the sitting-room on Vera's report decided, "Selfish old thing, it is only an excuse! Of course we should take care not to spoil it. It shows what will be the way with everything."
No one knew of a still more secret conclave within Magdalen's own breast, one of those held at times by many an elder, between the claims of loyalty to the keepsakes of affection and old association and the gratification of present desires. Magdalen thought of the rules of convents forbidding the appropriation of personal trifles, and wondered if it were wise, if stern; but for the present she decided that it could not be her duty to risk what had been carefully and kindly selected for her in unpractised and careless hands; and she further compromised the matter by reckoning whether her funds, which were not excessive, would admit of the hire or purchase of machines that might allay the burning aspirations of her young people.
The upshot of her reckoning was that when they all met at the early dinner, she announced, "I think we might go to Rock Quay this afternoon, between the pony carriage and Shanks's mare. I want to ask about some lessons, and we could see about the hire of a bicycle for you to learn upon."
It was only Agatha who answered, "Thank you, but it is not worth while for me, I shall be away so soon."
Thekla cried out, "Me too!"--and Paulina mumbled something. In truth, besides the thought of the bicycle in the stable, the other two had lived enough in the country-town atmosphere to be foolishly disgusted at being obliged to dine early. That they had always been used to it made them only think it beneath their age as well as their dignity, and, "What a horrid nuisance!" had been on their tongues when the bell was ringing.
Moreover, they had enough of silly prejudice about them to feel aggrieved at the sight of hash, nice as it was with fresh vegetables, and they were not disposed to good temper when they sat down to their meal. "They" perhaps properly means the middle pair, for Agatha had more notion of manners and of respect, and Thekla had an endless store of chatter about her discoveries.
The pony-carriage was brought round in due time, but just then another vehicle of the same kind, only prettier and with two ponies, was seen at the gate, too late for the barbarian instinct of rushing away to hide from morning visitors to be carried out, before Lady Merrifield and a daughter, were up the slope and on the levelled road before the verandah.
"I think this is an old acquaintance," said Lady Merrifield as she shook hands, "though perhaps Mysie is grown out of remembrance."
"Oh, yes," said an honest open-faced maiden, eagerly putting out her hand. "Don't you remember, Miss Prescott, our all staying at Castle Towers? I came with Phyllis Devereux, and she and I took poor Betty Bernard out after blackberries, and she thought it was a mad bull when it was a railway whistle, and ran into a cow-pond, and Cousin Rotherwood came and Captain Grantley and got her out."
Magdalen was smiling and nodding recollection, and added, "It was really one of the boys."
"I thought it was a crazy bull Firing a blunderbuss--"
She paused for recollection, and Magdalen went on -
"I thought it was a crazy bull Firing a blunderbuss; I looked again, and, lo, it was A water polypus. 'Oh, guard my life,' I said, 'for she Will make an awful fuss.'"
"Ah! do you remember that?" cried Mysie. "I have so often tried to recollect what it really was when she looked again. Captain Grantley made it, you know, when we were trying to comfort Betty."
"I remember you and Lady Phyllis said you would go and confess to Mrs. Bernard and take all the blame, and Lord Rotherwood said he would escort you!"
"Yes, and Betty said it was no good, for if her mother forgave her ten times over, still that spiteful French maid would put her to bed
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