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- The Spanish Chest - 4/39 -
houses that advertised lodgings," explained Mrs. Thayne. "Well--" she ended helplessly, "I suppose there's no harm done."
"Why, no," Frances agreed. "What could happen? Let me tell you about them. We took the baby cars and got off at St. Aubin's because that especial train didn't go any farther. It's lovely there, Mother, and plenty of lodgings to let. We walked along and saw one house that looked pleasant, so we went up and rang and a maid showed us into a parlor. We knew right off we didn't want to come there, because the place was so dark and stuffy and there were fourteen hundred family photographs and knit woolen mats and such things around. I was going to sit down but just as I got near the chair,--it was rather dark, you see,--something said 'Hello!' and there was a horrid great parrot sitting on the back of the chair. I jumped about a foot."
"You screamed, too," said Roger.
"I may have exclaimed," admitted Frances judicially. "It was not a scream. If I had yelled, you would have known it. Well, a messy old woman came who called me 'dear,' but when I said I didn't believe my mother would care for the rooms, she got huffy and said she was accustomed to rent her rooms to ladies, only she pronounced it _lydies_.
"We left that place," went on Frances, paying no attention to the look of silent endurance on her mother's face, "and walked some distance without seeing anything we liked. But suddenly we came to a tiny street going down to the sea. There were only six houses and one had a card in the window. They faced the bay and just big rocks were on the other side of the street. Now, listen."
Frances went on dramatically. "The house with the card was the dearest thing, all cream-color and green, with a pink rambler rose perfectly enormous, growing 'way up to the eaves, and a rough roof of red tiles and steep gables. The windows were that dinky kind that open outward and had little bits of panes. Everything was clean as clean, the steps and the curtains and the glass. While we were looking, the door opened and a girl came out. She was about my age, Mother, but _so_ pretty, with gray eyes and yellow hair and _such_ a complexion. I'd give anything to look like her."
Frances shook her head with disapproval over her own brown hair and eyes. To be sure the one was curly and the others straightforward and earnest, while her gipsy little face and figure were considered attractive by most people and by those who loved her, very satisfactory indeed.
"Well, this girl came out and we sort of smiled at each other and I asked if that card meant that there were rooms to let. I told her you were seasick, and at the hotel, and my brother and I saw the card and we were looking for lodgings and all the rest, you know. She said yes, there were rooms and she'd call Sister.
"Sister came and she was a love, tall and sweet and just beautiful, only she looked sad and wore a black dress. The younger girl went away but Sister showed us the rooms and they are just what we'd like, I'm sure. There wasn't any messy wool stuff nor ugly vases,--I forgot to mention that in the other place there were eight pair of vases on the mantel, truly, for Roger counted them. These rooms were clean and rather bare, with painted floors and washable rugs and fresh curtains and flowers, just one vase in each room and a clear glass vase at that. The beds had iron frames and good springs and mattresses, for I punched them to see. Aren't you proud to think I knew enough to do that?" Fran interrupted her story.
"Two bedrooms had the furniture painted white and the rest had some old mahogany," she went on.
"How many rooms were there?" inquired Mrs. Thayne, attracted by Fran's enthusiasm and interested by the pleasant picture she was describing.
"On the first floor is the drawing-room, which will be at our disposal," began Frances, evidently quoting "Sister." "It's pretty and sweet, Mother dear, very simple with a little upright piano and quite a number of books and a fireplace. Just behind is a room where we can have our meals. We can use as many bedrooms as we like; there are five and Sister said if we wished, one could be made into an up-stairs-sitting-room. The bathroom was really up- to-date, and looking _very_ clean."
"And how much does Sister expect for all this?" inquired her mother.
"Well," admitted Frances, "I asked and she smiled so sweetly and said it depended upon how much service we required and whether we wanted to do our own marketing and perhaps it would be better to discuss the terms after you saw whether you liked the rooms. I told her we were Americans and she said yes, she had thought so. I don't see why," Frances ended reflectively.
Win gave a chuckle. "Easy enough to guess," he remarked. "I imagine English girls of fourteen don't go around on their own hook, engaging lodgings for the family."
"I am almost fifteen," said his sister severely. "And I understood that Mother wanted me to look for rooms, so I did, but of course she will make the final arrangements. I thanked Sister and said I'd try to bring my mother in the morning, for I felt sure she would like the rooms. And Sister said she'd be very glad to have young people in the house and that if you wanted references, Mother, you could apply to some clergyman,--I forget his name,-- but I know it's all right. You'll think so, too, the minute you see Sister. I fell in love with her. Oh, her name is Pearce, Estelle Pearce. She gave me her card."
Frances produced it. "You will come and see the rooms to-morrow, won't you, Mother? Win can come too, for that tiny train is very comfortable and the walk to the house is short. Rose Villa, Noirmont Terrace. Isn't that a sweet name?"
[Illustration: THE VILLAGE OF ST. AUBIN'S]
The moment she entered Rose Villa, Mrs. Thayne heartily agreed with Frances as to its desirability. To Estelle's amazement, she proceeded to engage all the rooms, offering to pay for the privilege of having the whole house for her family.
This was better fortune than Estelle had dreamed of and scarcely two days passed before she realized that a kindly star was favoring her. Frances and Edith became friends on the spot; Nurse, who might have proved a problem, took an instant fancy to delicate Win and started on a course of coddling that luckily amused Win quite as much as it satisfied Nurse. Blunt, downright Roger appealed especially to Estelle, who also found Mrs. Thayne charming.
"Aren't we in luck, little sister?" she confided to Edith. "Even our wildest expectations couldn't have pictured anything more pleasant than this. If they only stop the winter! But where are you going now?"
"On the sands with the others," said Edith happily. "Fran asked me. The boys have gone ahead to the end of the terrace."
Win was singing softly to himself as he stood looking down upon the sandy beach that stretched for miles towards St. Helier's at the left, and on the right, though showing more warm red granite rocks, to Noirmont Point. "Britannia needs no bulwarks, no towers along the steeps," he hummed just above his breath.
"There's a tower right in front of you," commented Roger, between the throwing of two stones.
Win cast a glance at the deserted castle of St. Aubin's, a miniature Castle Elizabeth on its isolated rock off shore, another at the martello tower on the point.
"I was talking to a man about those little towers," he remarked. "One can be rented for a pound a year, and there are thirty-two of them around the island. But they didn't amount to much when it came to actual fighting. The rocks and tides are what makes Jersey safe. That's what I meant by this place needing no bulwarks."
"One of those martello towers would make a fine wireless station," commented Roger. "Why did they build them if they aren't any use?"
"They thought they were going to be," replied Win, looking to see whether the girls were coming. "About two centuries ago there was a battle down in the Mediterranean that was decided by the possession of one of those little towers, so England built a good many. But they weren't much use after all."
"I never knew that before," said Edith, as she and Frances joined the boys.
"England wasn't the only nation that was taken in by them," Win went on. "Italy has a number on her southern coast. For a long time people supposed they were called martello towers from the man who built them, but I found in a book that the name came from a vine that grew over this one in Corsica. Before many moons pass I'm going to get into one of them. Smugglers must have used them and there may be things left behind."
Frances cast a glance at the tower in question. At first inspection it looked like a stony mushroom sprouting from the rocks. Some distance above the base opened a rough entrance and a low parapet encircled the top. To scramble over the exposed rocks to the base of this especial tower appeared a hard climb, to say nothing of the difficulties of ascending. The feat looked beyond Win's accomplishment but Frances said nothing. To argue with Win about whether he could or ought to attempt anything was never wise. Left to himself he would stop within the bounds of prudence but resented solicitude from others.
"Well, where are we going?" she asked.
"Let's take the train into St. Helier's," suggested Win. "We've scarcely seen the town."
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