Chapter XXI. Beauty and the Beast
In the search for a new abode Mrs. Lee was in much difficulty, for it was needful to be near St. Kenelm's, and the only vacant houses within her means were not desirable for the reception of a feeble convalescent; moreover, Mr. Gudgeon grumbled and inquired, and was only withheld by warnings enhanced by the police from carrying the whole charivari of the Salvation Army along Ivinghoe Terrace on Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps it was this, perhaps it was the fact of having discussed the situation with the two Miss Mohuns, that made Mr. White say to Alexis, 'There are two rooms ready for your sister, as soon as Dagger says she can be moved safely. The person who nurses her had better come with her, and you may as well come back to your old quarters.'
Alexis could hardly believe his ears, but Mr. White waved off all thanks. The Mohun sisters were delighted and triumphant, and Jane came down to talk it over with her elder sister, auguring great things from that man who loved to deal in surprises.
'That is true,' said Sir Jasper.
'What does that mean, Jasper?' said his wife. 'It sounds significant.'
'I certainly should not be amazed if he did further surprise us all. Has it never struck you how that noontide turn of Adeline's corresponds with his walk home from the reading-room?'
Lady Merrifield looked rather startled, but Jane only laughed, and said, 'My dear Jasper, if you only knew Ada as well as I do! Yes, I have seen far too many of those little affairs to be taken in by them. Poor Ada! I know exactly how she looks, but she is only flattered, like a pussy-cat waggling the end of its tail---it means nothing, and never comes to anything. The thing that is likely and hopeful is, that he may adopt those young people as nephews and nieces.'
'Might it not spoil them?' said Lady Merrifield.
'Oh! I did not mean that. They might work with him still. However, there is no use in settling about that. The only thing to be expected of him is the unexpected!'
'And the thing to be done,' added her sister, 'is to see how and when that poor girl can be got up to Cliff House.'
To the general surprise, Dr. Dagger wished the transit to take place without loss of time. A certain look of resigned consternation crossed Kalliope's face on being informed of her destiny, but she justified Mrs. Halfpenny's commendation of her as the maist douce and conformable patient in the world, for she had not energy enough even to plead against anything so formidable, and she had not yet been told that Ivinghoe Terrace was her home no longer.
The next day she was wrapped in cloaks and carried downstairs between her brother and Mrs. Halfpenny, laid on a mattress in the Merrifield waggonette, which went up the hill at a foot's pace, and by the same hands, with her old friend the caretaker's wife going before, was taken upstairs to a beautiful large room, with a window looking out on vernal sky and sea. She was too much exhausted on her arrival to know anything but the repose on the fresh comfortable bed, whose whiteness was almost rivalled by her cheek, and Mrs. Halfpenny ordered off Alexis, who was watching her in great anxiety. However, when he came back after his afternoon's work, it was to find that she had eaten and slept, and now lay, with her eyes open, in quiet interested admiration of a spacious and pleasant bedroom, such as to be a great novelty to one whose life had been spent in cheap lodging houses. The rooms had been furnished twenty years before as a surprise intended for the wife who never returned to occupy them, and though there was nothing extraordinary in them, there was much to content the eyes accustomed to something very like squalidness, for had not Kalliope's lot always been the least desirable chamber in the family quarters?
At any rate, from that moment she began to recover, ate with appetite, slept and woke to be interested, and to enjoy Theodore's letter of description of St. Wulstan's, and even to ask questions. Alexis was ready to dance for joy when she first began really to talk to him; and could not forbear imparting his gladness to the Miss Mohuns that very evening, as well as to Mr. White, and running down after dinner with the good news to Maura, Mrs. Lee, and Lady Merrifield. Dinners with Mr. White had, on his first sojourn in that house, been a great penance, though there were no supercilious servants, for all the waiting was by the familiar housekeeper, Mrs. Osborne, who had merely added an underling to her establishment on her master's return; but Alexis then had been utterly miserable, feeling guilty and ashamed, as one only endured on sufferance out of compassion, because his brother cast him out, and fresh from the sight of his mother's dying bed; a terrible experience altogether, which had entirely burnt out and effaced his foolish fit of romantic calf-love, and rendered him much more of a man. Now, though not a month had passed, he seemed to be on a different footing. He was doing his work steadily, and the hope of his sister's recovery had brightened him. Mr. White had begun to talk to him, to ask him questions about the doings of the day, and to tell him in return some of his own experiences in Italy, and in the earlier days of the town. Maura came up to see her sister every day, and tranquillised her mind when the move was explained, and anxiety as to the transport of all their worldly goods began to set in. Mrs. Lee had found a house where she could place two bedrooms and a sitting-room at the disposal of the Whites if things were to continue as before, and no hint had been given of any change, or of what was to happen when the three months' notice given to Kalliope and Alexis should have expired.
By the Easter holidays Mrs. Halfpenny began to get rather restless as to the overlooking of the boys' wardrobes; and, indeed, she thought so well of her patient's progress as to suggest to Mr. White that the lassie would do very well if she had her sister to be with her in the holidays, and she herself would come up every day to help at the getting up, for Kalliope was now able to be dressed and to lie on a couch in the dressing-room, where she could look out over the bay, and she had even asked for some knitting.
'And really, Miss Gillian, you could not do her much harm if you came up to see her,' said the despot. 'So you may come this very afternoon, if ye'll be douce, and not fash her with any of your cantrips.'
Gillian did not feel at all in a mood for cantrips as she slowly walked up the broad staircase, and was ushered into the dressing- room, cheerful with bright fire and April sunshine, and with a large comfortable sofa covered with a bright rug, where Kalliope could enjoy both window and fire without glare. The beauty of her face so much depended on form and expression that her illness had not lessened it. Gillian had scarcely seen her since the autumn, and the first feeling was what an air of rest and peace had succeeded the worn, harassed look then almost perpetual. There was a calmness now that far better suited the noble forehead, dark pencilled eyebrows, and classical features in their clear paleness; and with a sort of reverence Gillian bent over her, to kiss her and give her a bunch of violets. Then, when the thanks had passed, Gillian relieved her own shyness by exclaiming with admiration at a beautiful water-coloured copy of an early Italian fresco, combining the Nativity and Adoration of the Magi, that hung over the mantelpiece.
'Is it not exquisite?' returned Kalliope. 'I do so much enjoy making out each head and dwelling on them! Look at that old shepherd's simple wonder and reverence, and the little child with the lamb, and the contrast with the Wise Man from the East, whose eyes look as if he saw so much by faith.'
'Can you see it from there?' asked Gillian, who had got up to look at these and further details dwelt on by Kalliope.
'Yes. Not at first; but they come out on me by degrees. It is such a pleasure, and so kind of Mr. White to have put it there. He had it hung there, Mrs. Halfpenny told me, instead of his own picture just before I came in here.'
'Well, he is not a bad-looking man, but it is no harm to him or his portrait to say that this is better to look at!'
'It quite does me good! And see,' pointing to a photograph of the Arch of Titus hung on the screen that shielded her from the door, 'he sends in a fresh one by Alexis every other day.
'How very nice! He really seems to be a dear old man. Don't you think so?'
'I am sure he is wonderfully kind, but I have only seen him that once when he came with Sir Jasper, and then I knew nothing but that when Sir Jasper was come things must go right.'
'Of course; but has he never been to see you now that you are up and dressed?'
'No, he lavishes anything on me that I can possibly want, but I have only seen him once---never here.'
'It is like Beauty and the Beast!'
'Oh no, no ; don't say that!'
'Well, George Stebbing really taught Fergus to call him a beast, and you---Kally---I won't tease you with saying what you are.'
'I wish I wasn't, it would be all so much easier.'
'Never mind! I do believe the Stebbings are going away! Does Maura never see him?'
'She has met him on the stairs and in the garden, but she has her meals here. I trust by the time her Easter holidays are over I may be fit to go back with her. But I do hope I may be able to copy a bit of that picture first, though, any way, I can never forget it.'
'To go on as before?' exclaimed Gillian, with an interrogative sigh of wonder.
'If that notice of dismissal can be revoked,' said Kalliope.
But would you like it---must you?'
'I should like to go back to my girls,' said Kalliope; 'and things come into my head, now I am doing nothing, that I want to work out, if I might. So, you see, it is not at all a pity that I must.'
And why is it must?' said Gillian wistfully. 'You have to get well first.'
Yes, I know that; but, you see, there are Maura and Petros. They must not be thrown on Alexis, poor dear fellow! And if he could only be set free, he might go on with what he once hoped for, though he thinks it is his duty to give all that entirely up now and work obediently on. But I know the longing will revive, and if I only could improve myself, and be worth more, it might still be possible.'
'Only you must not begin too soon and work yourself to death.'
'Hardly after such a rest,' said Kalliope. 'It is not work I mind, but worry'---and then a sadder look crossed her for a moment, and she added, 'I am so thankful.'
'Thankful?' echoed Gillian.
'Yes, indeed! For Sir Jasper's coming and saving us at that dreadful moment, and my being able to keep up as long as dear mamma wanted me, and then Mrs. Halfpenny being spared by dear Lady Merrifield to give me such wonderful care and kindness, and little Theodore being so happily placed, and this rest---such a strange quiet rest as I never knew before. Oh! it is all so thankworthy'---and the great tears came to dim her eyes. 'It seems sent to help me to take strength and courage for the future. "He hath helped me hitherto."'
'And you are better?'
'Yes, much better. Quite comfortable as long as I am quite still.'
'And content to be still?'
'Yes, I'm very lazy.'
It was a tired voice, and Gillian feared her half-hour was nearly over, but she could not help saying---
'Do you know, I think it will be all nicer now. Mr. White is doing so much, and Mr. Stebbing hates it so, that Mrs. Stebbing says he is going to dissolve the partnership and go away.'
'Then it would all be easier. It seems too good to be true.'
'And that man Mr. White. He must do something for you! He ought.'
'Oh no! He has done a great deal already, and has not been well used. Don't talk of that.'
'I believe he is awfully rich. You know he is building an Institute for the workmen, and a whole row of model cottages.'
'Yes, Alexis told me. What a difference it will make! I hope he will build a room where the girls can dine and rest and read, or have a piano; it would be so good for them.'
'You had better talk to him about it.'
'I never see him, and I should not dare.'
'I'll tell my aunts. He always does what Aunt Ada tells him. Is that really all you wish?'
'Oh! I don't wish for anything much---I don't seem able to care now dear mamma is where they cease from troubling, and I have Alec again.'
'Well, I can't help having great hopes. I can't see why that man should not make a daughter of you! Then you would travel and see mountains and pictures and everything. Oh, should you not like that?'
'Like? Oh, one does not think about liking things impossible! And for the rest, it is nonsense. I should not like to be dependent, and I ought not.'
'You don't think what is to come next?'
'No, it would be taking thought for the morrow, would it not? I don't want to, while I can't do anything, it would only make me fret, and I am glad I am too stupid still to begin vexing myself over it. I suppose energy and power of considering will come when my heart does not flutter so. In the meantime, I only want to keep quiet, and I hope that's not all laziness, but some trust in Him who has helped me all this time.'
'Miss Gillian, you've clavered as long as is good for Miss White, and here are the whole clanjamfrie waiting in the road for you. Now be douce, my bairn, and mind you are not in the woods at home, and don't let the laddies play their tricks with Miss Primrose.'
'I must go,' said Gillian, hastily kissing Kalliope. 'The others were going to call for me. When Lady Phyllis was riding with her father she spied a wonderful field of daffodils and a valley full of moss at a place called Clipston, two miles off, and we are all going to get some for the decorations. I'll send you some. Good-bye.'
The clanjamfrie, as Mrs. Halfpenny called it, mustered strong, and Gillian's heart leapt at the resumption of the tumultuous family life, as she beheld the collection of girls, boys, dogs, and donkeys awaiting her in the approach; and, in spite of the two governesses' presence, her mind misgave her as to the likelihood of regard to the hint that her mother had given that she hoped the elder ones would try to be sober in their ways, and not quite forget what week it was. It was in their favour that Jasper, now in his last term at school, was much more of a man and less of a boy than hitherto, and was likely to be on the side of discretion, so that he might keep in order that always difficult element, Wilfred, whose two years of preparatory school as yet made him only more ingenious in the arts of teasing, and more determined to show his superiority to petticoat government. He had driven Fergus nearly distracted by threatening to use all his mineralogical specimens to make ducks and drakes, and actually confusing them together, so that Fergus repented of having exhibited them, and rejoiced that Aunt Jane had let them continue in her lumber-room till they could find a permanent home.
Wilfred had a shot for Mrs. Halfpenny, when she came down with Gillian and looked for Primrose to secure that there were no interstices between the silk handkerchief and fur collar.
'Ha, ha, old Small Change, don't you wish you may get it?'---as Primrose proved to be outside the drive on one of the donkeys. 'You've got nothing to do but gnaw your fists at us like old Giant Pope.'
'For shame, Wilfred!' said Jasper. 'My mother did Primrose's throat, nurse, so she is all right.'
'Bad form,' observed Lord Ivinghoe, shaking his head.
'I'm not going to Eton,' replied Wilfred audaciously.
'I should hope not!'---in a tone of ineffable contempt, not for Wilfred's person, but his manners, and therewith his Lordship exclaimed, 'Who's that?' as Maura came flying down with Gillian's forgotten basket.
'Oh, that's Maura White!' said Valetta.
'I say, isn't she going with us?'
'Oh no, she has to look after her sister!'
'Don't you think we might take her, Gill?' said Fly. 'She never gets any fun.'
'I don't think she ought to leave Kalliope to-day, Fly, for nurse is going down to Il Lido; and besides, Aunt Jane said we must not take all Rockquay with us.'
'No, they would not let us ask Kitty and Clement Varley, said Fergus disconsolately.
'I am sure she is five times as pretty as your Kitty!' returned Ivinghoe. 'She is a regular stunner.' Whereby it may be perceived that a year at Eton had considerably modified his Lordship's correctness of speech, if not of demeanour. Be it further observed that, in spite of the escort of the governesses, the young people were as free as if those ladies had been absent, for, as Jasper observed, the donkeys neutralised them. Miss Elbury, being a bad walker, rode one, and Miss Vincent felt bound to keep close to Primrose upon the other; and as neither animal could be prevailed on to moderate its pace, they kept far ahead of all except Valetta, who was mounted on the pony intended for Lady Phyllis, but disdained by her until she should be tired. Lord Ivinghoe's admiration of Maura was received contemptuously by Wilfred, who was half a year younger than his cousin, and being already, in his own estimation, a Wykehamist, had endless rivalries with him.
'She! She's nothing but a cad! Her sister is a shop-girl, and her brother is a quarryman.'
'She does not look like it,' observed Ivinghoe, while Mysie and Fly, with one voice, exclaimed that her father was an officer in the Royal Wardours.
'A private first,' said Wilfred, with boyhood's reiteration. 'Cads and quarrymen all of them---the whole boiling, old White and all, though he has got such a stuck-up house!'
'Nonsense, Will,' said Fly. 'Why, Mr. White has dined with us.'
'A patent of nobility, said Jasper, smiling.
'I don't care,' said Wilfred; 'if other people choose to chum with old stonemasons and convicts, I don't.'
'Wilfred, that is too bad,' said Gillian. 'It is very wrong to talk in that way.'
'Oh!' said the audacious Wilfred, 'we all know who is Gill's Jack!'
'Shut up, Will!' cried Fergus, flying at him. 'I told you not to--'
But Wilfred bounded up a steep bank, and from that place of vantage went on---
'Didn't she teach him Greek, and wasn't he spoony; and didn't she send back his valentine, so that---'
Fergus was scrambling up the bank after him, enraged at the betrayal of his confidence, and shouting inarticulately, while poor Gillian moved on, overwhelmed with confusion, and Fly uttered the cutting words, 'Perfectly disgusting!'
'Ay, so it was!' cried the unabashed Wilfred, keeping on at the top of the bank, and shaking the bushes at every pause. 'So he broke down the rocks, and ran away with the tin, and enlisted, and went to prison. Such a sweet young man for Gill!'
Poor Gillian! was her punishment never to end? That scrape of hers, hitherto so tenderly and delicately hinted at, and which she would have given worlds to have kept from her brothers, now shouted all over the country! Sympathy, however, she had, if that would do her any good. Mysie and Fly came on each side of Ivinghoe, assuring him, in low eager voices, of the utter nonsense of the charge, and explaining ardently; and Jasper, with one bound, laid hold of the tormentor, dragged him down, and, holding his stick over him, said---
'Now, Wilfred, if you don't hold your tongue, and not behave like a brute, I shall send you straight home.'
'It's quite true,' growled Wilfred. 'Ask her.'
'What does that signify? I'm ashamed of you! I've a great mind to thrash you this instant. If you speak another word of that sort, I shall. Now then, there are the governesses trying to stop to see what's the row. I shall give you up to Miss Vincent, if you choose to behave so like a spiteful girl.'
A sixth-form youth was far too great a man to be withstood by one who was not yet a public schoolboy at all; and Wilfred actually obeyed, while Jasper added to Fergus---
'How could you be such a little ass as to go and tell him all that rot?'
'It was true,' grumbled Fergus.
'The more reason not to go cackling about it like an old hen, or a girl! Your own sister! I'm ashamed of you both. Mind, I shall thrash you if you mention it again.'
Poor Fergus felt the accusation of cackling unjust, since he had only told Wilfred in confidence, and that had been betrayed, but he had got his lesson on family honour, and he subsided into his wonted look-out for curious stones, while Gillian was overtaken by Jasper--- whether willingly or not, she hardly knew---but his first word was, 'Little beast!'
'You didn't hurt him, I hope,' said Gill, accepting the invitation to take his arm.
'Oh no! I only threatened to make him walk with the governesses and the donkeys.'
'Asses and savants to the centre,' said Gillian; 'like the orders to the French army in Egypt.'
'But what's all this about? You wanted me to look after you! Is it that Alexis?'
'Oh, Japs! Mamma knows all about it and papa. It was only that he was ridiculous because I was so silly as to think I could help him with his Greek.'
'You! With his Greek! I pity him!'
'Yes. I found he soon knew too much for me,' said Gillian meekly; 'but, indeed, Japs, it wasn't very bad! He only sent me a valentine, and Aunt Jane says I need not have been so angry.'
'A cat may look at a king,' said Jasper loftily. 'It is a horrid bad thing for a girl to be left to herself without a brother worth having.'
So Gillian got off pretty easily, and after all the walk was not greatly spoilt. They coalesced again with the other three, who were tolerably discreet, and found the debate on the White gentility had been resumed. Ivinghoe was philosophically declaring 'that in these days one must take up with everybody, so it did not matter if one was a little more of a cad than another; he himself was fag at Eton to a fellow whose father was an oilman, and who wasn't half a bad lot.'
'An oilman, Ivy,' said his sister; 'I thought he imported petroleum.'
'Well, it's all the same. I believe he began as an oilman.'
'We shall have Fergus reporting that he's a petroleuse,' put in Jasper.
'No, a petroleuse is a woman.'
'I like Mr. White,' said Fly; 'but, Gillian, you don't think it is true that he is going to marry your Aunt Jane?'
There was a great groan, and Japs observed---
'Some one told us Rockquay was a hotbed of gossip, and we seem to have got it strong.'
'Where did this choice specimen come from, Fly!' demanded Ivinghoe, in his manner most like his mother.
Fly nodded her head towards her governess in the advanced guard.
'She had a cousin to tea with her, and they thought I didn't know whom they meant, and they said that he was always up at Rockstone.'
'Well, he is; and Aunt Jane always stands up for him,' said Gillian; 'but that was because he is so good to the workpeople, and Aunt Ada took him for some grand political friend of Cousin Rotherwood's.'
'Aunt Jane!' said Jasper. 'Why, she is the very essence and epitome of old maids.'
'Yes,' said Gillian. 'If it came to that, she would quite as soon marry the postman.'
'That's lucky' said Ivinghoe. 'One can swallow a good deal, but not quite one's own connections.'
'In fact,' said Jasper, 'you had rather be an oilman's fag than a quarryman's---what is it?---first cousin once removed in law?'
'It is much more likely,' said Gillian, as they laughed over this, 'that Kalliope and Maura will be his adopted daughters, only he never comes near them.'
Wherewith there was a halt. Miss Elbury insisted that Phyllis should ride, the banks began to show promise of flowers, and, in the search for violets, dangerous topics were forgotten, and Wilfred was forgiven. They reached the spot marked by Fly, a field with a border of sloping broken ground and brushwood, which certainly fulfilled all their desires, steeply descending to a stream full of rocks, the ground white with wood anemones, long evergreen trails of periwinkles and blue flowers between, primroses clustering under the roots of the trees, daffodils gilding the grass above, and the banks verdant with exquisite feather-moss. Such a springtide wood was joy to all, especially as the first cuckoo of the season came to add to their delights and set them counting for the augury of happy years, which proved so many that Mysie said they would not know what to do with them.
'I should,' said Ivinghoe. 'I should like to live to be a great old statesman, as Lord Palmerston did, and have it all my own way. Wouldn't I bring things round again!'
'Perhaps they would have gone too far,' suggested Jasper, 'and then you would have to gnaw your hand like Giant Pope, as Wilfred says.'
'Catch me, while I could do something better.'
'If one only lived long enough,' speculated Fergus, 'one might find out what everything was made of, and how to do everything.'
'I wonder if the people did before the Flood, when they lived eight or nine hundred years,' said Fly.
'Perhaps that is the reason there is nothing new under the sun,' suggested Valetta, as many a child has before suggested.
'But then,' said Mysie, they got wicked.'
'And then after the Flood it had all to be begun over again,' said Ivinghoe. 'Let me see, Methuselah lived about as long as from William the Conqueror till now. I think he might have got to steam and electricity.'
'And dynamite,' said Gillian. 'Oh, I don't wonder they had to be swept away, if they were clever and wicked both!'
'And I suppose they were,' said Jasper. 'At least the giants, and that they handed on some of their ability through Ham, to the Egyptians, and all those queer primeval coons, whose works we are digging up.'
'From the Conquest till now,' repeated Gillian. 'I'm glad we don't live so long now. It tires one to think of it.'
'But we shall,' said Fly.
'Yes,' said Mysie, 'but then we shall be rid of this nasty old self that is always getting wrong.'
'That little lady's nasty old self does so as little as any one's,' Jasper could not help remarking to his sister; and Fly, pouncing on the first purple orchis spike amid its black-spotted leaves, cried---
'At any rate, these dear things go on the same, without any tiresome inventing.'
'Except God's just at first,' whispered Mysie.
'And the gardeners do invent new ones,' said Valetta.
'Invent! No; they only fuss them and spoil them, and make ridiculous names for them,' said Fly. These darling creatures are ever so much better. Look at Primrose there.'
'Yes,' said Gillian, as she saw her little sister in quiet ecstasy over the sparkling bells of the daffodils; 'one would not like to live eight hundred years away from that experience.'
'But mamma cares just as much still as Primrose does,' said Mysie. 'We must get some for her own self as well as for the church.'
'Mine are all for mamma,' proclaimed Primrose; and just then there was a shout that a bird's nest had been found---a ring-ousel's nest on the banks. Fly and her brother shared a collection of birds' eggs, and were so excited about robbing the ousels of a single egg, that Gillian hoped that Fergus would not catch the infection and abandon minerals for eggs, which would be ever so much worse---only a degree better than butterflies, towards which Wilfred showed a certain proclivity.
'I shall be thirteen before next holidays,' he observed, after making a vain dash with his hat at a sulphur butterfly, looking like a primrose flying away.
'Mamma won't allow any "killing collection" before thirteen years old,' explained Mysie.
'She says,' explained Gillian, 'by that time one ought to be old enough to discriminate between the lawfulness of killing the creatures for the sake of studying their beauty and learning them, and the mere wanton amusement of hunting them down under the excuse of collecting.'
'I say,' exclaimed Valetta, who had been exploring above, 'here is such a funny old house.'
There was a rush in that direction, and at the other end of the wide home-field was perceived a picturesque gray stone house, with large mullioned windows, a dilapidated low stone wall, with what had once been a handsome gateway, overgrown with ivy, and within big double daffodils and white narcissus growing wild.
'It's like the halls of Ivor,' said Mysie, awestruck by the loneliness; 'no dog, nor horse, nor cow, not even a goose,'
'And what a place to sketch!' cried Miss Vincent. 'Oh, Gillian, we must come here another day.'
'Oh, may we gather the flowers?' exclaimed the insatiable Primrose.
'Those poetic narcissuses would be delicious for the choir screen,' added Gillian.
'Poetic narcissus---poetic grandmother,' said Wilfred. 'It's old butter and eggs.'
'I say!' cried Mysie. 'Look, Ivy---I know that pair of fighting lions---ain't these some of your arms over the door?'
'By which you mean a quartering of our shield,' said Ivinghoe. 'Of course it is the Clipp bearing. Or, two lions azure, regardant combatant, their tails couped.'
'Two blue Kilkenny cats, who have begun with each other's tails,' commented Jasper.
'Ivinghoe glared a little, but respected the sixth form, and Gillian added---
'They clipped them! Then did this place belong to our ancestors?'
'Poetic grandmother, really!' said Mysie.
'Great grandmother,' corrected Ivinghoe. 'To be sure. It was from the Clipps that we got all this Rockstone estate!'
'And I suppose this was their house? What a shame to have deserted it!'
'Oh, it has been a farmhouse,' said Fly. 'I heard something about farms that wouldn't let.'
'Then is it yours?' cried Valetta, 'and may we gather the flowers?'
'And mayn't we explore?' asked Mysie. 'Oh, what fun!'
'Holloa!' exclaimed Wilfred, transfixed, as if he had seen the ghosts of all the Clipps. For just as Valetta and Mysie threw themselves on the big bunches of hepatica and the white narcissus, a roar, worthy of the clip-tailed lions, proceeded from the window, and the demand, 'Who is picking my roses?'
Primrose in terror threw herself on Gillian with a little scream. Wilfred crept behind the walls, but after the general start there was an equally universal laugh, for between the stout mullions of the oriel window Lord Rotherwood's face was seen, and Sir Jasper's behind him.
Great was the jubilation, and there was a rush to the tall door, up the dilapidated steps, where curls of fern were peeping out; but the gentlemen called out that only the back-door could be opened, and the intention of a 'real grand exploration' was cut short by Miss Elbury's declaring that she was bound not to let Phyllis stay out till six o'clock.
Fly, in her usual good-humoured way, suppressed her sighs and begged the others to explore without her, but the general vote declared this to be out of the question. Fly had too short a time to remain with her cousins to be forsaken even for the charms of 'the halls of Ivor,' or the rival Beast's Castle, as Gillian called it, which, after all, would not run away.
'But it might be let,' said Mysie.
'Yes, I've got a tenant in agitation,' said Lord Rotherwood mischievously. 'Never mind, I dare say he won't inquire what you have done with his butter and eggs.'
So with a parting salute to the ancestral halls, the cavalry was set in order, big panniers full of moss and flowers disposed on the donkeys, Fly placed on her pony, and every maiden taking her basket of flowers, Jasper and Ivinghoe alone being amiable, or perhaps trustworthy enough to assist in carrying. Fly's pony demurred to the extra burthen, so Jasper took hers; and when Gillian declared herself too fond of her flowers to part with them, Ivinghoe astonished Miss Vincent, on whom some stones of Fergus's, as well as her own share of flowers, had been bestowed, by taking one handle of her most cumbrous basket.
Sir Jasper and Lord Rotherwood rode together through the happy young troop on the homeward way. Perhaps Ivinghoe was conscious of a special nod of approval from his father.
On passing Rock House, the youthful public was rather amused at his pausing, and saying---
'Aren't you going to leave some flowers there?'
'Oh yes!' said Gillian. 'I have a basket on purpose.'
'And I have some for Maura,' said Valetta.
Valetta's was an untidy bunch; Gillian's a dainty basket, where white violets reposed on moss within a circle of larger blossoms.
'That's something like!' quoth Ivinghoe.
He lingered with them as if he wanted to see that vision again, but only the caretaker appeared, and promised to take the flowers upstairs.
Maura afterwards told how they were enjoyed, and they knew of Kalliope's calm restfulness in Holy Week thoughts and Paschal Joys.
It was on Easter Tuesday that Mr. White first sent a message asking to see his guest, now of nearly three weeks.
He came in very quietly and gently---perhaps the sight of the room he had prepared for his young wife was in itself a shock to him, and he had lived so long without womankind that he had all a lonely man's awe of an invalid. He took with a certain respect the hand that Kalliope held out, as she said, with a faint flush in her cheeks---
'I am glad to thank you, sir. You have been very good to me.'
'I am glad to see you better,' he said, with a little embarrassment.
'I ought to be, in this beautiful air, and with these lovely things to look at,' and she pointed to the reigning photograph on the stand- --the facade of St. Mark's.
'You should see it as I did.' And he began to describe it to her, she putting in a question or two here and there, which showed her appreciation.
'You know something about it already,' he said.
'Yes; when I was quite a little girl one of the officers in the Royal Wardours brought some photographs to Malta, and told me about them.'
'But,' he said, recalling himself, that is not my object now. Your brother says he does not feel competent to decide without you.' And he laid before her two or three prospectuses of grammar schools. 'It is time to apply,' he added, 'if that little fellow---Peter, you call him, don't you?---is to begin next term.'
'Petros! Oh, sir, this is kindness!'
'I desired that the children's education should be attended to,' said Mr. White. 'I did not intend their being sent to an ordinary National school.'
'Indeed,' said Kalliope; 'I do not think much time has been lost, for they have learnt a good deal there; but I am particularly glad that Petros should go to a superior school just now that he has been left alone, for he is more lively and sociable than Theodore, and it might be less easy for him to keep from bad companions.'
The pros and cons of the several schools were discussed, and Hurstpierpoint finally fixed on.
'Never mind about his outfit,' added Mr. White. 'I'll give that fellow down in Bellevue an order to rig him out. He is a sharp little sturdy fellow, who will make his way in the world.'
'Indeed, I trust so, now that his education is secured. It is another load off my mind,' said Kalliope, with a smile of exceeding sweetness and gratitude, her hands clasped, and her eyes raised for a moment in higher thankfulness,---a look that so enhanced her beauty that Mr. White gazed for a moment in wonder. The next moment, however, the dark eyes turned on him with a little anxiety, and she said---
'One thing more, sir. Perhaps you will be so kind as to relieve my mind again. That notice of dismissal at the quarter's end. Was it not in some degree from a mistake?'
'An utter mistake, my dear,' he said hastily. 'Never trouble your head about it.'
'Then it does not hold?'
'And I may go back to my office as soon as I am well enough?'
'Is that your wish?'
'Yes, sir. I love my work and my assistants, and I think I could do better if a little more scope could be allowed me.'
'Very well, we will see about that---you have to get well first of all.'
'I am so much better that I ought to go home. Mr. Lee is quite ready for me.'
Nonsense! You must be much stronger before Dagger would hear of your going.'
After this Mr. White came to sit with Kalliope for a time in the course of each day, bringing with him something that would interest her, and seeming gratified by her responsiveness, quiet as it was, for she was still very feeble, and exertion caused a failure of breath and fluttering of heart that were so distressing that ten days more passed before she was brought downstairs and drawn out in the garden in a chair, where she could sit on the sheltered terrace enjoying the delicious spring air and soft sea-breezes, sometimes alone, sometimes with the company of one friend or another. Gillian and Aunt Jane had, with the full connivance of Mr. White, arranged a temporary entrance from one garden to the other for the convenience of attending to Kalliope, and here one afternoon Miss Mohun was coming in when she heard through the laurels two voices speaking to the girl. As she moved forward she saw they were the elder and younger Stebbings, and that Kalliope had risen to her feet, and was leaning on the back of her chair. While she was considering whether to advance Kalliope heard her, and called in a breathless voice, 'Miss Mohun! oh, Miss Mohun, come!'
'Miss Mohun! You will do us the justice---' began Mr. Stebbing, speaking more to her indignant face and gesture than to any words.
'Miss White is not well,' she said. 'You had better leave her to me.'
And as they withdrew through the house, Kalliope sank back in her chair in one of those alarming attacks of deadly faintness that had been averted for many days past. Happily an electric bell was always at hand, and the housekeeper knew what remedies to bring. Kalliope did not attempt a word for many long minutes, though the colour came back gradually to her lips. Her first words were,
'Thank you! Oh, I did hope that persecution was over!'
'My poor child! Don't tell me unless you like! Only---it wasn't about your work?'
'Oh no, the old story! But he brought his father---to say he consented---and wished it---now.'
There was no letting her say any more at that time, but it was all plain enough. This had been one more attempt of the Stebbing family to recover their former power; Kalliope was assumed to be Mr. White's favoured niece; Frank could make capital of having loved her when poor and neglected, and his parents were ready to back his suit. The father and son had used their familiarity with the house to obtain admittance to the garden without announcement or preparation, and had pressed the siege, with a confidence that could only be inspired by their own self-opinion. Kalliope had been kept up by her native dignity and resolution, and had at first gently, then firmly, declined the arguments, persuasions, promises, and final reproaches with which they beset her--even threatening to disclose what they called encouragement, and assuring her that she need not reckon on Mr. White, for the general voice declared him likely to marry again, and then where would she be?'
'I don't know what would have become of me, if you had not come,' she said.
And when she had rested long enough, and crept into the house, and Alexis had come home to carry her upstairs, it was plain that she had been seriously thrown back, and she was not able to leave her room for two or three days.
Mr. White was necessarily told what had been the cause of the mischief. He smiled grimly. 'Ay! ay! Master Frank thought he would come round the old man, did he? He will find himself out. Ha, ha! a girl like that in the house is like a honey-pot near a wasps' nest, and the little sister will be as bad. Didn't I see the young lord, smart little prig as he looks, holding an umbrella over her with a smile on his face, as much as to say, "I know who is a pretty girl! No one to look after them either!" But maybe they will all find themselves mistaken,' and his grim smile relaxed into a highly amiable one.
Miss Mohun was not at all uneasy as to the young lord. An Eton boy's admiration of a pretty face did not amount to much, even if Ivinghoe had not understood 'Noblesse oblige' too well to leave a young girl unsheltered. Besides, he and all the rest were going away the next day. But what did that final hint mean?