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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 70/124 -
fortunately been born. A letter to the parish clerk of Vale Leston, to ask for the baptismal register of Edward Clement Underwood, produced a reply from a well-remembered old Abednego Tripp, who declared himself 'horned and rejoiced' at hearing from Master Felix, and at being able to do anything for one of the Reverend Mr. Edward's sons. The competition was not very severe; Clement obtained the scholarship, and therewith his maintenance for three years to come; and he was at the same time able to exercise a bit of patronage on his sisters' behalf, more gratifying to his own feelings than theirs. Mr. Fulmort's unmarried sisters had lived in the country with a former governess, until on the death of the elder, the survivor decided on employing her very considerable fortune in establishing a school where girls of small means might be prepared for becoming first-rate governesses, with special openings for the daughters of poor clergy and of missionaries.
One of the first families thought of was that of the favourite chorister; so Angela, now ten years old, was nominated at once, to the relief of Wilmet, who did not think her romping intimacies with the girls at Miss Pearson's very desirable. Moreover, after a correspondence between Miss Fulmort and Miss Lyveson, it was decided that Robina should be transferred to the new school at Brompton with her sister, partly by way of infusing a trustworthy element, and partly that her studies might be perfected by London masters. Robina, whose allegiance to Miss Lyveson was most devoted, was greatly grieved, but she was a reasonable, womanly little being, aware that governess-ship was her profession, and resolute to qualify herself; so though she came home with tell-tale spots under her eyes, she replied to all condolences with, 'I know it's right what must be must;' and her spirits rose when Lance came home, bound only to return during the holidays on two or three special days when his voice was indispensable at the cathedral.
Edgar and he together kept the house in continual merriment, so that the sober pillars of the house found themselves carried along, they knew not whither.
'I have had a serious application,' said Felix one evening. 'A solemn knock came to the office door, and an anxious voice came in--"Please, brother, I want to speak to you." There stood the little Star! I thought at least she had broken the chandelier, but no such thing. It was, "Please, brother, mayn't I have a birthday?"'
'Poor little darling!' cried some voices.
'What could have put it into her head?' said Wilmet.
'She said all little girls had birthdays, and Ellen Bruce had told Angel all about the dance in honour of hers.'
'Ah!' said Wilmet, 'we'll have Angel out of the way of that kind of chatter.'
'Poor little maid! of course I had to quench her,' said Felix, as far as her own day was concerned. I told her more about it than she had ever heard, but then she took me aback by saying Father was happy, and she thought he would like her to be happy.'
'You didn't consent!' exclaimed Wilmet.
'I represented that it was Theodore's birthday as well, and that strangers would make him miserable. She was really very good, and I want you just to consider whether we could not do something--of course on a different day--but in the course of the holidays, by way of treat. Surely you could invite some of Miss Pearson's pupils.'
'I don't like to begin, Felix,' said Wilmet; 'there would be reciprocity, and no one knows where it might lead to.'
'A few white muslin frocks--eh, W. W.? I think we could stand them.'
'That is not all I mean,' said Wilmet; 'it is the sort of style of thing. It would be all very well to have a few little girls here, but they would all ask us again, and I could not answer for what might happen at their homes.'
'It is out!' said Edgar. 'Now we know the sort of style of thing it might lead to. Minerva under a mistletoe bough.'
'Hurrah!' burst out Lance, in convulsions of mirth, which infected Felix and Cherry; while Wilmet, as simple as she was discreet, blushed up to the tips of her ears, and tried to defend herself.
'They tell me of doings at their parties that are what I should not like for our little girls, and I don't think you would, Felix.'
'Forfeits, to wit?' asked Edgar. 'Or cards, or waltzing. You may as well be explicit, Mettie.'
'No, no,' said Felix, 'Mettie shall not be teased: she is right in the main.' But his tone was that he always used when her prudence was too much for him.
'And the family refinement is to be secured by sitting in ashes all Christmas,' said Edgar. 'Slightly unchristian, it strikes me.'
'But,' continued Felix, 'out of these domestic ashes, we must get up some sport for the children. I stand committed to Stella.'
'Shall I get Bill Harewood, and do Box and Cox?' suggested Lance.
'Might we not get up something they could take part in themselves?' said Cherry; 'Cinderella, or some such little play?--Edgar, you know how to manage such things.
'Wilmet doesn't know where they would lead to,' gravely responded Edgar.
'To Lance's going off with a circus,' said Felix.
'I always had a great mind to do so,' responded Lance. 'To sing comic songs on one leg on a spotted horse's back, and go about day and night in a yellow van drawn by elephants--I call that life!'
'Secure a berth for me as scene-painter!' cried Edgar. 'See how I'd draw a house by the very outline of Mazeppa outside!'
'And Felix will print all our advertisements gratis!'
'Oh!' broke in Cherry, 'I have a notion. Couldn't we make a play of the conjuror in disguise? It is Dr. Knowall in German popular tales, Robin the Conjuror in English.'
'Nothing foolish, I hope?' seriously asked Wilmet.
'Oh no. Don't you recollect? The story is, that a set of thieves steal a jewel, a man comes shamming conjuror and offering to find it for the owner, intending to trust to chance, and feast at her expense as long as he is not found out.'
'I remember!' exclaimed Lance, you used to tell us the story. Somebody suspects him, and brings a creature shut up in a covered dish to ask him to tell what it was--and it happens to be a robin; so when he cries out, "Oh, poor Robin!" thinking himself done for, out hops the bird, and the enemy is sold.'
'Yes; and then he counts his dinners every day, and the thieves who have come to look on think he is counting them, and throw themselves on his mercy.'
'It has capabilities,' said Edgar.
'But the moral!' said Wilmet.
'What! Not the lesson against dealing with conjurors? demanded Edgar. 'I'll undertake to arm your pupils against spirit-rapping for ever.'
'In that point of view--' said Wilmet doubtfully.
'In that point of view,' said Felix, laughing, 'it has my vote.'
'I don't like deception to succeed,' said Wilmet; 'but at least there's none of the worst sort of nonsense.'
Lance leapt up and performed a pas seul, insisting that Bill Harewood must come and be a robber; and Edgar and Cherry instantly had their heads together as playwrights and managers.
'Never mind, Wilmet,' said Felix at their bedroom doors that night. 'Remember, Father never was a man for all work and no play.'
'I don't mind play, but I don't know what this may lead to;' then, as Felix laughed merrily at the repetition, she followed him into his room, saying, 'I mean, I have no trust in Edgar's discretion, or Lance's either, and all sorts of things may be put into the children's heads.'
'You can't keep children's heads a blank,' said Felix, 'and Edgar's good taste ought to be trusted in his own home, for his own sisters. Even you might stretch a few points to keep him happy and occupied with Cherry. Besides, I believe we do live a duller life than can be really good for any one. It can't be right to shut up all these young things all their holidays without any pleasure.'
'I thought,' said Wilmet, her eyes growing moist, 'it was pleasure enough to be all at home together.'
'So it is, to staid old fogies like you and me,' said Felix, kissing her; 'but the young ones want a lark now and then, and I confess I should be immensely disappointed if this fun didn't come off. No, no, W. W., I can't have you an old cat; you are much too young and pretty.'
The levity of this conclusion shocked Wilmet beyond remonstrance. Was Felix falling from his height of superiority, or was her strictness wearisome?
Meantime, Geraldine's brain was ringing with doggrel rhymes, and whirling with stage contrivances, in the delight of doing something with Edgar, whether versifying or drawing; and as Felix said, to keep him happy at home for Christmas was no small gain, even though it brought a painful realisation that their feast was not his feast.
Geraldine suffered in silence, for a word from her was always put down by some tender jest, avowing as much inferiority in goodness as superiority in intellect. As to Clement, Edgar's sport was to startle him with jokes, dilemmas, and irreverences, and then to decline discussion on the ground that he never argued with _sisters_, and that Clement would understand when he went to Cambridge. Otherwise, the subject was avoided at home, but Edgar consorted a good deal with
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