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- In the Year of Jubilee - 2/87 -
had learnt to support themselves, Beatrice in the postal service, and Fanny, sweet blossom! by mingling her fragrance with that of a florist's shop in Brixton; but on their father's death both forsook their employment, and came to live with Mrs. Peachey. Between them, these two were the owners of house-property, which produced L140 a year. They disbursed, together, a weekly sum of twenty-four shillings for board and lodging, and spent or saved the rest as their impulses dictated.
Ada brooded over her wrongs; Beatrice glanced over _The Referee_. Fanny, after twirling awhile in maiden meditation, turned to the piano and jingled a melody from 'The Mikado.' She broke off suddenly, and, without looking round, addressed her companions.
'You can give the third seat at the Jubilee to somebody else. I'm provided for.'
'Who are you going with?' asked Ada.
'My masher,' the girl replied with a giggle.
'Shop-windows in the Strand, I think.'
She resumed her jingling; it was now 'Queen of my Heart.' Beatrice, dropping her paper, looked fixedly at the girl's profile, with an eyelid droop which signified calculation.
'How much is he really getting?' she inquired all at once.
'Seventy-five pounds a year. "_Oh where, oh where, is my leetle dog gone?_"'
'Does he say,' asked Mrs. Peachey, 'that his governor will stump up?'
They spoke a peculiar tongue, the product of sham education and mock refinement grafted upon a stock of robust vulgarity. One and all would have been moved to indignant surprise if accused of ignorance or defective breeding. Ada had frequented an 'establishment for young ladies' up to the close of her seventeenth year; the other two had pursued culture at a still more pretentious institute until they were eighteen. All could 'play the piano;' all declared--and believed--that they 'knew French.' Beatrice had 'done' Political Economy; Fanny had 'been through' Inorganic Chemistry and Botany. The truth was, of course, that their minds, characters, propensities had remained absolutely proof against such educational influence as had been brought to bear upon them. That they used a finer accent than their servants, signified only that they had grown up amid falsities, and were enabled, by the help of money, to dwell above-stairs, instead of with their spiritual kindred below.
Anticipating Fanny's reply, Beatrice observed, with her air of sagacity:
'If you think you're going to get anything out of an old screw like Lord, you'll jolly soon find your mistake.'
'Don't you go and make a fool of yourself, Fanny,' said Mrs. Peachey. 'Why, he can't be more than twenty-one, is he?'
'He's turned twenty-two.'
The others laughed scornfully.
'Can't I have who I like for a masher?' cried Fanny, reddening a little. 'Who said I was going to marry him? I'm in no particular hurry to get married. You think everybody's like yourselves.'
'If there was any chance of old Lord turning up his toes,' said Beatrice thoughtfully. 'I dare say he'll leave a tidy handful behind him, but then he may live another ten years or more.'
'And there's Nancy,' exclaimed Ada. 'Won't she get half the plunder?'
'May be plenty, even then,' said Beatrice, her head aside. 'The piano business isn't a bad line. I shouldn't wonder if he leaves ten or fifteen thousand.'
'Haven't you got anything out of Horace?' asked Ada of Fanny. 'What has he told you?'
'He doesn't know much, that's the fact.'
'Silly! There you are. His father treats him like a boy; if he talked about marrying, he'd get a cuff on the ear. Oh, I know all about old Lord,' Ada proceeded. 'He's a regular old tyrant. Why, you've only to look at him. And he thinks no small beer of himself, either, for all he lives in that grubby little house; I shouldn't wonder if he thinks us beneath him.'
She stared at her sisters, inviting their comment on this_ ludicrous state of things.
'I quite believe Nancy does,' said Fanny, with a point of malice.
'She's a stuck-up thing,' declared Mrs. Peachey. 'And she gets worse as she gets older. I shall never invite her again; it's three times she has made an excuse--all lies, of course.
'Who will _she_ marry?' asked Beatrice, in a tone of disinterested speculation.
Mrs. Peachey answered with a sneer:
'She's going to the Jubilee to pick up a fancy Prince.'
'As it happens,' objected Fanny, 'she isn't going to the Jubilee at all. At least she says she isn't. She's above it--so her brother told me.'
'I know who _wants_ to marry her,' Ada remarked, with a sour smile.
'Who is that?' came from the others.
With a significant giggle, Fanny glanced at the more sober of her sisters; she, the while, touched her upper lip with the point of her tongue, and looked towards the window.
'Does he?' Fanny asked of the ceiling.
'He wants money to float his teetotal drink,' said Beatrice. 'Hasn't he been at Arthur about it?'
'Not that I know,' answered the wife.
'He tried to get round me, but I--'
A scream of incredulity from Fanny, and a chuckle from Mrs. Peachey, covered the rest of the sentence. Beatrice gazed at them defiantly.
'Well, idiots! What's up now?'
'There's nobody knows Luckworth Crewe better than I do,' Beatrice pursued disdainfully, 'and I think he knows _me_ pretty well. He'll make a fool of himself when he marries; I've told him so, and he as good as said I was right. If it wasn't for that, I should feel a respect for him. He'll have money one of these days.'
'And he'll marry Nancy Lord,' said Ada tauntingly.
'Not just yet.'
Ada rolled herself from the sofa, and stood yawning.
'Well, I shall go and dress. What are you people going to do? You needn't expect any dinner. I shall have mine at a restaurant.'
'Who have you to meet?' asked Fanny, with a grimace.
Her sister disregarded the question, yawned again, and turned to Beatrice.
'Who shall we ask to take Fan's place on Tuesday? Whoever it 15, they'll have to pay. Those seats are selling for three guineas, somebody told me.'
Conversation lingered about this point for a few minutes, till Mrs. Peachey went upstairs. When the door was open, a child's crying could be heard, but it excited no remark. Presently the other two retired, to make themselves ready for going out. Fanny was the first to reappear, and, whilst waiting for her sister, she tapped out a new music-hall melody on the piano.
As they left the house, Beatrice remarked that Ada really meant to have her dinner at Gatti's or some such place; perhaps they had better indulge themselves in the same way.
'Suppose you give Horace Lord a hint that we've no dinner at home? He might take us, and stand treat.'
Fanny shook her head.
'I don't think he could get away. The guv'nor expects him home to dinner on Sundays.'
The other laughed her contempt.
'You see! What good is he? Look here, Fan, you just wait a bit, and you'll do much better than that. Old Lord would cut up rough as soon as ever such a thing was mentioned; I know he would. There's something I have had in my mind for a long time. Suppose I could show you a way of making a heap of money--no end of money--? Shouldn't you like it better,--to live as you pleased, and be
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