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- The Spanish Chest - 2/39 -
neat and attractive than its neighbors.
So Mr. Angus thought, as he turned from his puzzled survey of its exterior, to walk slowly down the short street at the end of which glittered the waters of the English Channel.
The tide was on the turn but the expanse of sandy beach lay yet broad. Far toward St. Helier's the curve of the port showed the high sea-wall, for this same innocent-looking tide that ebbs and leaves behind miles of sandy stretches and rocks, can return with force sufficient to dash over even the lofty breakwater and surprise the placid Jerseymen at times, by scattering large stones in the esplanade.
But here at St. Aubin's the curve of Noirmont Point sheltered the little town from the full force of the waves. Dr. Angus looked from the end of Noirmont Terrace straight down to the sands and saw in the distance the sunset air filled with wheeling gulls, a group of boys playing football on the wide level, and somewhat nearer, a slender girl of fourteen, dressed in black, with long fair hair floating over her shoulders.
She was walking slowly and the kind clergyman attributed her leisurely pace to dejection, but as a matter of fact, Edith was feeling quite happy and much interested in the tiny bright yellow snail shells the beach was providing for entertainment. She had been spared all that was possible of the depression and sorrow of the past weeks. Daddy had been poorly for years and Edith could not remember him as ever well and strong. His loss affected her more because it grieved Estelle, the only mother she had known.
There had been a few sad confused days when nothing seemed real, and strangers had been kind in a way that Estelle accepted with a sort of resentful patience, plain even to Edith. But since then, life had been rather cheerful, with a great deal of attention from Nurse, and Estelle's time almost wholly given to her. It was gratifying to share Sister's confidence and to help arrange the rooms attractively for the possible delightful people who ought to come to lodge with them.
That they might not be delightful, Sister would not admit for a moment, so of course they would be. St. Aubin's itself was far more desirable as a place of residence than the noisy Exeter street where Edith had spent much of her life. Far back in the past she could just remember a charming Surrey village with a pretty vine-covered church where Daddy used to preach. She could recall exactly how her fat legs dangled helplessly from the high pew seat. Directly behind sat a stout farmer with four sons. The boys made faces at Edith on the sly; their mother sometimes gave her peppermints.
Edith's thoughts had wandered rather far afield, though still alert for any gleam of the yellow shells, when she arrived opposite Noirmont Terrace and reluctantly left the sands. A light shone from the drawing-room and she knew that Annette would be bringing in supper, and Sister would be found poring over a little account book with a "don't speak just now" look in her eyes.
But Estelle proved to be waiting at the open door and as Edith began to run on catching sight of her, she thought that Sister somehow looked happier.
"Did you meet Mr. Angus?" Estelle inquired. "He went toward the sands."
"I saw him in the distance," replied Edith. "Why, Star, you look like--like a star," she ended laughing. "Was Mr. Angus agreeable? Did he say you oughtn't to take people?"
"I think he doesn't wholly disapprove now," answered Estelle gently. "And he is going to do what he can toward sending pleasant lodgers. Wouldn't it be nice if some dear old ladies should come and want to stay with us all winter?"
"Just ladies?" queried Edith. "Do they have to be old?"
"I shouldn't take gentlemen," said Estelle. "Nurse wouldn't approve, and ladies would be pleasanter. Perhaps there might be a young mother and some ducky little children. How would you like that?"
"Much better," responded Edith. "I don't want any fussy old freaks with false fronts and shawls. They'd expect to be read aloud to and waited on within an inch of their lives. I'd like some babies to take down to dig and paddle. Do say you'll have children, Sister."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I think we'll have to take the people who want to come," replied Estelle sensibly. "Let's just hope that somebody very nice will think we'd be nice to stay with. Come in now, Edith. Annette has shrimps for supper and after we are finished, we will put a card in the window and see what happens next."
But the little white card that most modestly announced "Lodgings" remained in the drawing-room casement for a week, and every day as Edith came from school, she looked anxiously to see whether it was gone. Its absence would mean that some one had looked at the rooms with approval.
One afternoon as she came up the Terrace, the sight of an unknown face at an upper window sent a thrill down her back. The card was yet in evidence but the presence of strangers indicated that some one had felt attracted by Rose Villa. Yes, there was a cab at the door.
As Edith entered quietly a voice struck her ear, struck it unpleasantly, an English voice, high-pitched and rather supercilious.
"I should require to see your kitchen, Miss Pearce, and your servants. I am most particular. In fact, I must be free at any time to inspect the scullery. There must be a definite arrangement about Marmaduke's meals. He likes a light breakfast with plenty of cream, and for dinner a chop or a bit of chicken. His dinner must be served with my luncheon. Then for tea--"
"I am afraid my servants would be unwilling to cook especially for a dog," interposed Estelle's voice, courteous but with a chilling tone Edith had never suspected it possessed. "It is useless for you to consider the lodgings."
"Oh, your rooms are very passable," said the voice. "Small, of course, and underfurnished, but some pictures and antimacassars would take off that bare look. And Marmaduke is adorable. Your cook would soon be devotion itself. Why, at my last lodgings--"
"I really cannot undertake the care of a pet animal," said Estelle firmly. "I hope to have other lodgers and his presence might be objectionable to them. You will excuse me now, as I have an engagement. I will ring for Nurse to show you out."
"Well, really, Miss Pearce," began the voice, but Nurse appeared on the scene so promptly that one might have suspected her of being all the time within hearing distance. Edith scuttled into the drawing-room, just avoiding a very large, over-dressed person, who came ponderously down the stairs, a moppy white dog festooned over one arm. Her face was red and perspiring and she seemed to be indignantly struggling with feelings too strong for words. Edith could not suppress a stifled laugh as she was ushered from the house in Nurse's grandest manner.
Emerging from her refuge, Edith saw Estelle on the landing, her face pale except for a tiny red spot on either cheek, her eyes unnaturally bright.
"My word, Star!" said Edith, giggling, "didn't you get rid of her finely? What a fearful person!"
"She was impossible," said Estelle. "Oh, Nurse," she exclaimed impetuously, seeing the old family servant still lingering in the hall, "do you suppose only people like that will want lodgings?"
"No, indeed, my lamb," replied Nurse, casting a glance of satisfaction after the cab disappearing from the terrace. "Don't you fret, Miss Star, and don't you take the first people who come. Just bide your time, and there'll be some quality who will be what you ought to have."
"Mr. Angus thought Americans might be rather desirable," said Estelle hesitatingly. To prepare Nurse for such a possibility might be wise.
Nurse pursed her lips significantly. "Well, it's not for me to disagree with the reverend gentleman," she remarked. "And I haven't been in contact with Americans. No doubt they're well enough in their country, but I hope, Miss Star, it'll be some of our people that want to come. Now an elderly couple or some middle-aged ladies would be quite suitable and proper, but Americans--Well, I don't know."
Nurse shook her head dubiously as she left the room. Edith came to put her arms about Estelle.
"What a fearful woman that was!" she repeated, drawing her sister toward the window. "Poor Star, I'm sorry you had to talk to her. Rooms underfurnished, indeed! And you tried so hard not to have them crowded and messed with frightful crocheted wool things. She'd want a tidy on every chair and extra ones for Sunday. And you've made things so pretty, Star!"
"We think so, don't we!" replied Estelle, kissing her little comforter. "Somebody may yet come who will agree with us. We won't give up hope."
Estelle was silent for a moment. She did not want Edith to suspect how very necessary it was that those rooms should prove attractive to somebody.
"Is that the Southampton boat just rounding the point?" she added. "She's extremely late."
"They must have had a rough passage," agreed Edith, looking at the steamer ploughing into the smooth water of St. Aubin's bay. "Let's put a wish on her, Star. Let's wish, _hard_, that she has on board the nicest people that ever were and that they're coming straight out here and say they'd like to spend the winter with us!"
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