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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 3/124 -

counterpart; for these were Wilmet and Alda, the twin girls who had succeeded Felix, and whose beauty had been the marvel of Vale Leston, their shabby dress the scorn of the day school at Bexley. And forming the apex of the pyramid, perched astride on the very shoulders of much-enduring Wilmet, was three years old Angela--Baby Bernard being quiescent in a cradle near mamma. N.B.--Mrs. Underwood, though her girls had such masculine names, had made so strong a protest against their being called by boyish abbreviations, that only in one case had nature been too strong for her, and Robina had turned into Bobbie. Wilmet's second name being Ursula, she was apt to be known as 'W.'W.

'Make haste, Felix, you intolerable boy! don't be so slow!' cried Alda.

'Is there a letter?' inquired Wilmet.

Yes, more's the pity!' said Felix. 'Now I shall have to answer it.'

'I'll do that, if you'll give me what's inside,' said Edgar.

'Is it there?' exclaimed Cherry, in a tone of doubt, that sent an electric thrill of dismay through the audience; Lance nearly toppling over, to the horror of the adjacent sisters, and the grave rebuke of Clement.

'If it should be a sell!' gasped Fulbert.

'Suppose it were,' said Felix gravely.

'Then, said Edgar, 'you can disown the old rogue Chester.'

'What stuff!' interposed Clement.

'I'd cut him out of my will on the spot,' persisted Edgar.

'But it is all right,' said Cherry, looking with quiet certainty into her brother's face; and he nodded and coloured at the same time.

'But it is not a pretty one,' said little Robina. 'Last year it was green, and before that red; and this is nasty stupid black and white, and all thin crackling paper.'

Felix laughed, and held up the document.

'What!' cried Fulbert. 'Five! Why, 'tisn't only five shillings! the horrid old cheat!'

'It's a five-pound note!' screamed Cherry. 'I saw one when Papa went to the bank! O Felix, Felix!'

A five-pound note! It seemed to take away the breath of those who knew what it meant, and then an exulting shout broke forth.

'Well,' said Edgar solemnly, 'old Chester is a brick! Three cheers for him!'

Which cheers having been perpetrated with due vociferation, the cry began, 'O Felix, what will you do with it?'

'Buy a pony!' cried Fulbert.

'A rocking-horse,' chirped Robina.

'Punch every week,' shouted Lance.

'A knife apiece,' said Fulbert.

'How can you all be so selfish?' pronounced Clement. 'Now a harmonium would be good to us all.'

'Then get some cotton, for our ears into the bargain, if Tina is to play on it,' said Edgar.

'I shall take the note to mother,' said the owner.

'Oh!' screamed all but Wilmet and Cherry, 'that's as bad as not having it at all!'

Maybe Felix thought so, for it was with a certain gravity and solemnity of demeanour that he entered the drawing-room, causing his father to exclaim, 'How now? No slip between cup and lip? Not infelix, Felix?'

'No, papa, but it's this and I thought I ought to bring it.'

The dew at once was in the mother's eyes, as she sprang up and kissed the boy's brow, saying, 'Felix, dear, don't show it to me. You were meant to be happy with it. Go and be so.'

'Stay,' said Mr. Underwood, Felix will really enjoy helping us to this extent more than any private expenditure. Is it not so, my boy? Well then, I propose that the sovereign of old prescriptive right should go to his menus plaisirs, and the rest to something needful; but he shall say to what. Said I well, old fellow?'

'Oh, thank you, thank you!' cried Felix ardently.

'Thank me for permission to do as you will with your own?' smiled Mr. Underwood.

'You will choose, then, Felix?' said his mother wistfully, her desires divided between port wine for papa and pale ale for Geraldine.

'Yes, mamma,' was the prompt answer. 'Then, please, let Wilmet and Alda be rigged out fresh for Sundays.'

'Wilmet and Alda!' exclaimed Mamma.

'Yes, I should like that better than anything, please,' said the boy. 'All our fellows say they would be the prettiest girls in all Bexley, if they were properly dressed; and those horrid girls at Miss Pearson's lead them a life about those old black hats.'

'Poor dears! I have found Alda crying when she was dressing for church,' mused Mrs. Underwood; 'and though I have scolded her, I could have cried too, to think how unlike their girlhood is to mine.'

'And if you went to fetch them home from school, you would know how bad it is, Mamma,' said Felix. 'Wilmet does not mind it, but Alda cries, and the sneaking girls do it the more; and they are girls; so one can't lick them; and they have not all got brothers.'

'To be licked instead!' said Mr. Underwood, unable to help being amused.

'Well, yes, Papa; and so you see it would be no end of a comfort to make them look like the rest.'

'By all means, Felix. The ladies can tell how far your benefaction will go; but as far as it can accomplish, the twins shall be resplendent. Now then, back to your anxious clients. Only tell me first how my kind old friend the Admiral is.'

'Here's his letter, Father; I quite forgot to read it.'

'Some day, I hope, you will know him enough to care for him personally. Now you may be off.--Nay, Enid, love, your daughters could not have lived much longer without clothes to their backs.'

'Oh, yes, it must have been done,' sighed the poor mother; 'but I fancied Felix would have thought of you first.'

'He thought of troubles much more felt than any of mine. Poor children! the hard apprenticeship will serve them all their lives.'

Meantime Felix returned with the words, 'Hurrah! we are to have the sovereign just as usual; and all the rest is to go to turn out Wilmet and Alda like respectable young females.--Hollo, now!'

For Alda had precipitated herself downstairs, to throttle him with her embraces; while Cherry cried out, 'That's right! Oh, do get those dear white hats you told me about;' but the public, even there a many-headed monster thing, was less content.

'What, all in girls' trumpery?' 'That's the stupidest sell I ever heard of!' 'Oh, I did so want a pony!' were the cries of the boys.

Even Robina was so far infected as to cry, 'I wanted a ride.'

And Wilmet reproachfully exclaimed, 'O Felix, you should have got something for Papa. Don't you know, Mr. Rugg said he ought to have a respirator. It is a great shame.'

'I don't think he would have let me, Wilmet,' said Felix, looking up; 'and I never thought of it. Besides, I can't have those girls making asses of themselves at you.'

'Oh no, don't listen to Wilmet!' cried Alda. 'You are the very best brother in all the world! Now we shall be fit to be seen at the break up. I don't think I could have played my piece if I knew every one was looking at my horrid old alpaca.'

'And there'll be hats for Cherry and Bobbie too!' entreated Wilmet.

'Oh, don't put it into their heads!' gasped Alda.

'No, I'll have you two fit to be seen first, said Felix.

'Well, it's a horrid shame,' grumbled Fulbert; 'we have always all gone shares in Felix's Birthday tip.'

'So you do now,' said Felix; 'there's the pound all the same as usual.'

That pound was always being spent in imagination; and the voices broke out again.

'Oh, then Papa can have the respirator!'

'Felix, the rocking-horse!'

'Felix, do get us three little cannon to make a jolly row every birthday!'

'Felix, do you know that Charlie Froggatt says he would sell that big Newfoundland for a pound? and that would be among us all.'

'Nonsense, Fulbert! a big dog is always eating; but there is a concertina at Lake's.'

The Pillars of the House, V1 - 3/124

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