Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Beechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) online

. (page 2 of 14)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

packed, rather favoured this naughtiness by observing :
' The old blue merino might stay at home. Miss
Mysie would be too set up to wear that among her
fine folk. Set her up, that she should have all
the treats, while her own Miss Gillian was turned
over to the auld aunties ! '

' Nonsense, nurse,' said Gillian. ' I'm much better
pleased to go and be of some use ! Val, you naughty
child, how dare you make such a fuss ? ' for Yaletta
was crying again.

1 1 hate school, and I hate Eockstone, and I don't
see why Mysie should always go everywhere, and wear
new frocks, and I go to the butchers and bakers and
wear horrid old ones.' .

' I wish you could come too,' said Mysie ; ' but
indeed old frocks are the nicest, because one is not
bothered to take so much care of them ; and lords and
ladies aren't a bit better to play with than other people.
In fact, Ivy is what Japs calls a muff and a stick.'

Valetta, however, cried on, and Mysie went the
length of repairing to her mother, in the midst of her
last notes and packings, to entreat to change with Val,
who followed on tip -toe.

' Certainly not,' was the answer from Lady Merri-


field, who was being worried on all sides ; ' Valetta is
not asked, and she is not behaving so that I could
accept for her if she were.'

And Val had to turn away in floods of tears, which
redoubled on being told by the united voices of her
brothers and sisters that they were ashamed of her for
being so selfish as to cry for herself when all were in
so much trouble about papa.

Lady Merrifield caught some of the last words
1 Xo, my dear,' she said. ' That is not quite just or
kind. It is being unhappy that makes poor Val so
ready to cry about her own grievances. Only, Val,
come here, and remember that fretting is not the way
to meet such things. There is a better way, my child,
and I think you know what I mean. Now, to help
you through the time in an outer way, suppose you
each set yourself some one thing to improve in while
I am away. Don't tell me what it is, but let me find
out when I come home.' With that she obeyed an
urgent summons to speak to the gardener.

1 1 shall ! I shall,' cried little Primrose, ' write a
whole copy-book in single lines ? And won't mamma
be pleased ! What shall you do, Fergus ? and Val ?
and Mysie ? '

' I shall get to spin my peg-top so as it will never
tumble down, and will turn an engine for drawing
water,' was the prompt answer of Fergus.

' What nonsense ! ' said Val ; ' you'd better settle to
get your long division sums right.'


'That's girls' stuff,' replied Fergus; 'you'd better
settle to leave off crying for nothing.'

' That you had ! ' said several voices, and Val very
nearly cried again as she exclaimed : ' Don't be all so
tiresome. I shall make mamma a beautiful crewel
cushion, with all the battles in history on it. And
won't she be surprised 1 '

' I think mamma meant more than that,' said

' Oh, Mysie, what shall you do ? ' asked Primrose.
' I did think of getting to translate one of mamma's
favourite German stories quite through to her without
wanting the dictionary or stumbling one bit,' said
Mysie ; ' but I am sure she meant something better
and better, and I'm thinking what it is — Perhaps it
is making all little Flossie Macklin's clothes, a whole
suit all oneself — Or perhaps it is manners. What do
you think, Gill ? '

' I should say most likely it was manners for you,'
volunteered Harry, * and the extra you are most likely
to acquire at Eotherwood.'
' I'm so glad,' said Mysie.

' And you, Gill,' inquired Primrose, ' what will you
do ? Mine is a copy-book, and Fergus's is the spinning-
top-engines, and rule of three; and Yal's is a crewel
battle cushion and not crying ; and Mysie's is German
stories and manners ; and what's yours, Gill ? '

' Gill is so grown up, she is too good to want an
inside thing,' announced Primrose.


' Oh, Prim, you dear little thing,' cried both elder
brother and sister, as they thought with a sort of pang
of the child's opinion of grown-up impeccability.

' Harry is grown up more,' put in Fergus ; ' why
don't you ask him ? '

' Because I know,' said Primrose, with a pretty
shyness, and as they pressed her, she whispered, c He
is going to be a clergyman.'

There was a call for Mysie and Val from upstairs,
and as the younger population scampered off, Gillian
said to her brother —

' Is not it like " occupy till I come " ? '

' So I was thinking,' said Harry gravely. c But
one must be as young as Mysie to throw one's " inside
things " into the general stock of resolutions.'

1 Yes,' said Gillian, with uplifted eyes. ' I do — I
do hope to do something.'

Some great thing was her unspoken thought — some
great and excellent achievement to be laid before her
mother on her return. There was a tale begun in
imitation of Bessie Merrifield, called Hildas Experi-
ences. Suppose that was finished, printed, published,
splendidly reviewed. Would not that be a great
thing ? But alas, she was under a tacit engagement
never to touch it in the hours of study.



The actual moment of a parting is often softened by
the confusion of departure. That of the Merrifield
family took place at the junction, where Lady Merrifield
with her brother remained in the train, to be carried
on to London.

Gillian, Valetta, and Fergus, with their aunt, changed
into a train for Eockstone, and Harry was to return to
his theological college, after seeing Mysie and Primrose
off with nurse on their way to the ancestral Beechcroft,
whence Mysie was to be fetched to Eotherwood. The
last thing that met Lady Merrifield's eyes was Mrs.
Halfpenny gesticulating wildly, under the impression
that Mysie's box was going off to London.

And Gillian's tears were choked in the scurry to
avoid a smoking-carriage, while Harry could not help
thinking — half blaming himself for so doing — that
Mysie expended more feeling in parting with Sofy, the
kitten, than with her sisters, not perceiving that pussy
was the safety-valve for the poor child's demonstrations
of all the sorrow that was oppressing her.

chap, ii ROCKQUAY 23

Gillian, in the corner of a Eockstone carriage, had
time for the full heart-sickness and tumult of fear that
causes such acute suffering to young hearts. It is
quite a mistake to say that youth suffers less from
apprehension than does age ; indeed, the very inexperi-
ence and novelty add to the alarms, where there is no
background of anxieties that have ended happily, only
a crowd of examples of other people's misfortunes.
The difference is in the greater elasticity and power of
being distracted by outward circumstances ; and thus
lookers-on never guess at the terrific possibilities that
have scared the imagination, and the secret ejaculations
that have met them. How many times on that brief
journey had not Gillian seen her father dying, her
sisters in despair, her mother crushed in the train,
wrecked in the steamer, perishing of the climate, or
arriving to find all over and dying of the shock ; yet
all was varied by speculations on the great thing that
was to offer itself to be done, and the delight it would
give ; and when the train slackened, anxieties were
merged in the care for bags, baskets, and umbrellas.

Eockstone and Eockquay had once been separate
places — a little village perched on a cliff of a promon-
tory, and a small fishing hamlet within the bay ; but
these had become merged in one, since fashion had
chosen them as a winter resort. Speculators blasted
away such of the rocks as they had not covered with
lodging-houses and desirable residences. The inhabit-
ants of the two places had their separate churches, and


knew their own bounds perfectly well; but to the
casual observer, the chief distinction between them
was that Eockstone was the more fashionable, Bockquay
the more commercial, although the one had its shops,
the other its handsome crescents and villas. The
station was at Bockquay, and there was an uphill drive
to reach Bockstone, where the two Miss Mohuns had
been early inhabitants — had named their cottage
Beechcroft after their native home, and, to justify the
title, had flanked the gate with two copper beeches,
which had attained a fair growth, in spite of sea- winds,
perhaps because sheltered by the house on the other

The garden reached out to the verge of the cliff, or
rather to a low wall, with iron rails and spikes at the
top, and a narrow, rather giddy path beyond. There
was a gate in the wall, the key of which Aunt Jane
kept in her own pocket, as it gave near access to
certain rocky steps, about one hundred and thirty
in number, by which, when in haste, the inhabitants
of Bockstone could descend to the lower regions of the

There was a most beautiful sea-view from the
house, which compensated for difficulties in gardening
in such a situation, though a very slight slope inwards
from the verge of the cliff gave some protection to the
flower-beds ; and there was not only a little con-
servatory attached to the drawing-room at the end, but
the verandah had "lass shutters, which served the


purpose of protecting tender plants, and also the
windows, from the full blast of the winter storms.
Miss Mohun was very proud of these shutters, which
made a winter garden of the verandah for Miss Adeline
to take exercise in. The house was their own, and,
though it aimed at no particular beauty, had grown
pleasant and pretty looking by force of being lived in
and made comfortable.

It was a contrast to its neighbours on either side
of its pink and gray limestone wall. On one side
began the grounds of the Great Eockstone Hotel ; on
the other was Cliff House, the big and seldom-inhabited
house of one of the chief partners in the marble works,
which went on on the other side of the promontory, and
some people said would one day consume Eockstone
altogether. It was a very fine house, and the gardens
were reported to be beautifully kept up; but the
owner was almost always in Italy, and had so seldom
been at Eockstone that it was understood that all this
was the ostentation of a man who did not know what
to do with his money.

Aunt Adeline met the travellers at the door with
her charming welcome. Kunz, all snowy white,
wagged his tight -curled tail amid his barks, at sight
of Aunt Jane, but capered wildly about the Sofy's
basket, much to Yaletta's agony ; while growls, as
thunderous as a small kitten could produce, proceeded

' Kunz, be quiet,' said Aunt Jane, in a solemn, to-


be-mincled voice; and he crouched, blinking up with
his dark eye.

' Give me the basket. Now, Kunz, this is our cat.
Do you hear ? You are not to meddle with her.'

Did Kunz really wink assent — a very unwilling
assent ?

' Oh, Aunt Jane !' from Val, as her aunt's fingers
undid the cover of the basket.

' Once for all !' said Aunt Jane.

' M-m-m-m-ps-pss-psss !' from the Sofy, two screams
from Val and Fergus, a buffeting of paws, a couple of
wild bounds, first on a chair-back, then on the mantel-
piece, where, between the bronze candlestick and the
vase, the Persian philosopher stood hissing and swear-
ing, while Kunz danced about and barked.

' Take her down, Gillian,' said Aunt Jane ; and
Gillian, who had some presence of mind, accomplished
it with soothing words, and, thanks to her gloves, only
one scratch.

Meantime Miss Mohun caught up Kunz, held up
her finger to him, stopped his barks ; and then, in spite
of the ' Oh, clon'ts,' and even the tears of Valetta, the
two were held up — black nose to pink nose, with a
resolute ' Now, you are to behave well to each other,'
from Aunt Jane.

Kunz sniffed, the Sofy hissed ; but her claws were
captive. The dog was the elder and more rational, and
when set down again took no more notice of his enemy,
whom Valetta was advised to carry into Mrs. Mount's


quarters to be comforted and made at home there ; the
united voice of the household declaring that the honour
of the Spitz was as spotless as his coat !

Such was the first arrival at Eockstone, preceding-
even Aunt Adeline's inquiries after Mysie, and the full
explanation of the particulars of the family dispersion.
Aunt Ada's welcome was not at all like that of
Kunz. She was very tender and caressing, and re-
joiced that her sister could trust her children to her.
They should all get on most happily together, she had
no doubt.

True-hearted as Gillian was, there was something
hopeful and refreshing in the sight of that fair, smiling
face, and the touch of the soft hand, in the room that
was by no means unfamiliar, though she had never
slept in the house before. It was growing dark, and
the little fire lighted it up in a friendly manner.
Wherever Aunt Jane was, everything was neat ;
wherever Aunt Adeline was, everything was graceful.
Gillian was old enough to like the general prettiness ;
but it somewhat awed Val and Fergus, who stood
straight and shy till they were taken upstairs. The
two girls had a very pretty room and dressing-room —
the guest chamber in fact ; and Fergus was not far oft',
in a small apartment which, as Yal said, ' stood on legs,'
and formed the shelter of the porch.

' But, oh dear ! oh dear !' sighed Val, as Gillian un-
packed their evening garments. ' Isn't there any nice
place at all where one can make a mess ?'


' I don't know whether the aunts will ever let us
make a mess/ said Gillian ; ' they don't look like it.'

At which Valetta's face puckered up in the way
only too familiar to her friends.

' Come, don't be silly, Val. You won't have much
time, you know ; you will go to school, and get some
friends to play with, and not want to make messes

' I hate friends ! '

' Oh, Yal !'

' All but Fly, and Mysie is gone to her. I want

So in truth did Gillian, almost as much as her
mother. Her heart sank as she thought of having Val
and Fergus to save from scrapes without Mysie' s
readiness and good-humour. If Mysie were but there
she should be free for her ' great thing.' And oh ! above
all, Val's hair — the brown bush that Val had a delu-
sion that she ' did ' herself, but which her ' doing ' left
looking rather worse than it did before, and which was
not permitted in public to be in the convenient tail.
Gillian advanced on her with the brush, but she tossed
it and declared it all right !

However, at that moment there was a knock. Mrs.
Mount's kindly face and stout form appeared. She
had dressed Miss Ada, and came to see what she could
do for the young people, being of that delightful class
of old servants who are charmed to have anything young
in the house, especially a boy. She took Valetta's re-


fractory mane in hand, tied her sash, inspected Fergus's
hands, which had succeeded in getting dirty in their
inevitable fashion, and undertook all the unpacking and
arranging. To Val's inquiry whether there was any
place for making 'a dear delightful mess/ she replied
with a curious little friendly smile, never been in the
way of caring for any outsider. I don't reckon Bessie
Merrifield so — nor Fly Devereux, nor Dolores, because
they are cousins.'

' Cousins may be everything or nothing,' asserted
Miss Mohun. ' You have been about so much that
you have hardly had time to form intimacies. But
had you no friends in the officers' families ? '

'People always retired before their children grew
up to be companionable,' said Gillian. ' There was
nobody except the Whites. And that wasn't exactly

' Who were they ? ' said Aunt Jane, who always
liked to know all about everybody.

' He rose from the ranks,' said Gillian. * He was
very much respected, and nobody would have known
that he was not a gentleman to begin with. But his


wife was half a Greek. Papa said she had been very
pretty ; but, oh ! she had grown so awfully fat. We
used to call her the Queen of the White Ants. Then
Kally — her name was really Kalliope — was very nice,
and mamma got them to send her to a good day-
school at Dublin, and Alethea and Phyllis used to
have her in to try to make a lady of her. There used
to be a great deal of fun about their Muse, I remember ;
Claude thought her very pretty, and always stood up
for her, and Alethea was very fond of her. But soon
after we went to Belfast, Mr. White was made to retire
with the rank of captain. I think papa tried to get
something for him to do ; but I am not sure whether
he succeeded, and I don't know any more about them.'

' Not exactly friendship, certainly,' said Aunt Jane,
smiling. 'After all, Gillian, in your short life, you
have had wider experiences than have befallen your
old aunts !'

'Wider, perhaps, not deeper, Jane,' suggested Miss

And Gillian thought — though she felt it would be
too sentimental to say — that in her life, persons and
scenes outside her own family had seemed to ' come like
shadows and so depart ' ; and there was a general sense
of depression at the partings, the anxiety, and the being
unsettled again when she was just beginning to have
a home.



If Fergus had not yet discovered the secret of perpetual
motion, Gillian felt as if Aunt Jane had done so, and
moreover that the greater proportion of parish matters
were one vast machine, of which she was the moving

As she was a small spare woman, able to do with a
very moderate amount of sleep, her day lasted from
6 A.M. to some unnamed time after midnight ; and as
she was also very methodical, she got through an
appalling amount of business, and with such regularity
that those who knew her habits could tell with tolerable
certainty, within reasonable limits, where she would be
found and what she would be doing at any hour of the
seven days of the week Everything she influenced
seemed to recur as regularly as the motions of the great
ruthless-looking engines that Gillian had seen at work
at Belfast ; the only loose cog being apparently her
sister Adeline, who quietly took her own way, seldom
came downstairs before eleven o'clock, went out and
came in, made visits or received them, wrote letters,


read and worked at her own sweet will. Only two
undertakings seemed to belong to her — a mission- work-
ing party, and an Italian class of young ladies ; and even
the presidency of these often lapsed upon her sister,
when she had had one of those ' bad nights ' of asthma,
which were equally sleepless to both sisters. She was
principally useful by her exquisite needlework, both in
church embroidery and for sales ; and likewise as the
recipient of all the messages left for Miss Mohun,
which she never forgot, besides that, having a clear
sensible head, she was useful in consultation.

She was thoroughly interested in all her sister's
doings, and always spoke of herself as the invalid,
precluded from all service except that of being a pivot
for Jane, the stationary leg of the compasses, as she
sometimes called herself. This repose, together with
her prettiness and sweetness of manner, was very
attractive ; especially to Gillian, who had begun to feel
herself in the grip of the great engine which bore her
along without power of independent volition, and with
very little time for Hilda's Experiences.

At home she had gone on harmoniously in full
acquiescence with household arrangements ; but before
the end of the week the very same sensations came
over her which had impelled her and Jasper into
rebellion and disgrace, during the brief reign of a very
strict daily governess, long ago at Dublin. Her reason
and sense approved of all that was set before her, and
much of it was pleasant and amusing ; but this was


tlie more provoking by depriving her of the chance of
resistance or the solace of complaint. Moreover, with
all her time at Aunt Jane's disposal, how was she to
do her ' great thing' ? Valetta's crewel battle cushion
had been reduced to a delicious design of the battle of
the frogs and mice, drawn by Aunt Ada, and which
she delighted in calling at full length ' the Batrachyo-
machia,' sparing none of the syllables which she was to
work below. And it was to be worked at regularly
for half an hour before bed-time. Trust Aunt Jane
for seeing that any one under her dominion did what
had been undertaken ! Only thus the spontaneity
seemed to have departed, and the work became a task.
Fergus meanwhile had set his affections on a big
Japanese top he had seen in a window, and was eagerly
awaiting his weekly threepence, to be able to complete
the purchase, though no one but Valetta was supposed
to understand what it had to do with his ' great tiring.'

It was quite pleasant to Gillian to have a legitimate
cause of opposition when Miss Mohun made known
that she intended Gillian to take a class at the after-
noon Sunday-school, while the two children went to
Mrs. Hablot's drawing-room class at St. Andrew's
Vicarage, all meeting afterwards at church.

'Did mamma wish it?' asked Gillian.

1 There was no time to mention it ; but I knew she

' I don't think so,' said Gillian. ' We don't teach
on Sundays, unless some regular person fails. Mamma


likes to have us all at home to do our Sunday work
with her.'

' Alas, I am not mamma ! Nor could I give you
the time.'

' I have brought the books to go on with Val and
Ferg. I always do some of their work with them, and
I am sure mamma would not wish them to be turned
over to a stranger.'

'The fact is, that young ladies have got beyond
Sunday-schools !'

' No, no, Jane,' said her sister ; ' Gillian is quite
willing to help you ; but it is very nice in her to wish
to take charge of the children/

' They would be much better with Mrs. Hablot than
dawdling about here and amusing themselves in the
new Sunday fashion. Mind, I am not going to have
them racketing about the house and garden, disturbing
you, and worrying the maids.'

' Aunt Jane !' cried Gillian indignantly, ' you don't
think that is the way mamma brought us up to spend
Sunday ?'

' We shall see,' said Aunt Jane ; then more kindly,
'My dear, you are right to use your best judgment, and
you are welcome to do so, as long as the children are
orderly and learn what they ought.'

It was more of a concession than Gillian expected,
though she little knew the effort it cost, since Miss
Mohun had been at much pains to set Mrs. Hablot's
class on foot, and felt it a slight and a bad example


that her niece and nephew should be defaulters. The
motive might have worked on Gillian, but it was a
lower one, therefore not mentioned.

She had seen Mrs. Hablot at the Italian class, and
thought her a mere girl, and an absolute subject of Aunt
Jane's — stumbling pitifully, moreover, in a speech of
Adelchi's ; therefore evidently not at all likely to teach
Sunday subjects half so well as herself !

Nor was there anything amiss on that first Sunday.
The lessons were as well and quietly gone through as
if with mamma, and there was a pleasant little walk
on the esplanade before the children's service at St.
Andrew's ; after which there was a delightful introduc-
tion to some of the old books mamma had told them of.

They were all rather subdued by the strangeness
and newness of their surroundings, as well as by anxiety.
If the younger ones were less anxious about their
parents than was their sister, each had a plunge to
make on the morrow into a very new world, and the
Varleys' information had not been altogether reassuring.
Valetta had learnt how many marks might be lost by
whispering or bad spelling, and how ferociously cross
Fraulein Adler looked at a mistake in a German verb ;
while Fergus had heard a dreadful account of the ordeals
to which Burfield and Stebbing made new boys submit,
and which would be all the worse for him, because he
had a ' rum ' Christian name, and his father was a

Gillian had some experience through her elder


brothers, and suspected Master Varley of being guilty
of heightening the horrors ; so she assured Fergus that
most boys had the same sort of Christian names, but
were afraid to confess them to one another, and so
called each other Bill and Jack. She advised him to
call himself by his surname, not to mention his father's

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 14)