Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Beechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) online

. (page 4 of 14)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

house, and a space round it well walled in.

The various classes of students did not see much of
each other, except those who were day boarders and
spent the midday recreation time together. Even those
in the same form were only together in school, as the
dressing-room of those who dined there was separate
from that of the others, and they did not come in and
out at the same time. Valetta had thus only really made
friends with two or three more Eockstone girls of about
her own age besides Kitty Varley, with whom she went
backwards and forwards every day, under the escort
provided in turn by the families of the young ladies.

Gillian's studies were for three hours in the week
at the High School, and on two afternoons she learnt
from the old organist at Eockstone Church. She went

VOL. i f


and came alone, except when Miss Mohun happened to
join her, and that was not often, ' For,' said that lady
to her sister, ' Gillian always looks as if she thought I
was acting spy upon her. I wish I could get on with
that girl ; I begin to feel almost as poor Lily did with

' She is a very good girl,' said Miss Adeline.

' So she is ; and that makes it all the more trying
to be treated like the Grand Inquisitor.'

' Shall I speak to her ? She is always as pleasant
as possible with me.'

' Oh no, don't. It would only make it worse, and
prevent you from having her confidence.'

'Ah, Jane, I have often thought your one want
was gentleness,' said Miss Ada, with the gesture of
her childhood — her head a little on one side. ' And,
besides, don't you know what Eeggie used to call
your ferret look ? Well, I suppose you can't help
it, but when you want to know a thing and are re-
fraining from asking questions, you always have it
more or less.'

' Thank you, Ada. There's nothing like brothers
and sisters for telling one home-truths. I suppose it
is the penalty of having been a regular Paul Pry in my
childhood, in spite of poor Eleanor making me learn
" Meddlesome Matty " as soon as I could speak. I
always do and always shall have ringing in my ears —

' " Oil ! what a pretty box is tins,
I'll open it," said little Miss.'


'Well, you know you always do know or find out
everything about everybody, and it is very useful.'

' Useful as a bloodhound is, eh V

' Oh no, not that, Jenny.'

'As a ferret, or a terrier, perhaps. I suppose I
cannot help that, though,' she added, rather sadly. ' I
have tried hard to cure the slander and gossip that goes
with curiosity. I am sorry it results in repulsion with
that girl ; but I suppose I can only go on and let her
find out that my bark, or my eye, is worse than
my bite.'

' You are so good, so everything, Jenny,' said Adeline,
' that I am sure you will have her confidence in time,
if only you w r on't poke after it.'

Which made Miss Mohun laugh, though her heart
was heavy, for she had looked forward to having a
friend and companion in the young generation.

Gillian meantime went her way.

One morning, after her mathematical class was over,
she was delayed for about ten minutes by the head
mistress, to whom she had brought a message from her
aunt, and thus did not come out at noon at the same
time as the day scholars. On issuing into the street,
where as yet there was hardly any traffic, except what
was connected with the two schools, she perceived that
a party of boys were besetting a little girl who was
trying to turn down the cross road to Bellevue, barring
her way, and executing a derisive war-dance around
her, and when she, almost crying, made an attempt to


dash by, pulling at her plaited tail, with derisive shouts,
even Gillian's call, ' Boys, boys, how can you be so dis-
graceful ! ' did not check them. One made a face and
put his tongue out, while the biggest called out, ' Thank
you, teacher,' and Gillian perceived, to her horror, that
they were no street boys, but Mrs. Edgar's, and that
Fergus was one of them. That he cried in dismay,
' Don't, St ebbing ! It's my sister,' was no consolation,
as she charged in among them, catching hold of her
brother, as she said —

' I could not believe that you could behave in such
a disgraceful manner ! '

All the other tormentors rushed away headlong,
except Stebbing, who, in some compunction, said —

' I beg your pardon, Miss Merrifield ; I had no
notion it was you.'

' You are making it no better,' said Gillian. ' The
gentlemen I am used to know how to behave properly
to any woman or girl. My father would be very sorry
that my brother has been thrown into such company.'

And she walked away with her head extremely
high, having certainly given Master Stebbing a good

Fergus ran after her. ' Gill, Gill, you won't tell.'

' I don't think I ever was more shocked in my life,'
returned Gillian.

' But, Gill, she's a nasty, stuck-up, conceited little
ape, that Maura White, or whatever her ridiculous
name is. They pretend her father was an officer, but


he was really a bad cousin of old Mr. White's that ran
away; and her mother is not a lady — a great fat
disgusting woman, half a nigger; and Mr. White let
her brother and sister be in the marble works out of
charity, because they have no father, and she hasn't
any business to be at the High School.'

' White, did you say ? Maura White ! ' exclaimed
Gillian. ' Captain White dead ! Oh, Fergus ! it must
be Captain White. He was in the dear old Eoyal
Wardours, and papa thought so much of him ! To
think of your going and treating his daughter in that
shocking way 1'

' It was what Stebbing said,' gruffly answered

' If you let yourself be led by these horrid cads '

' He is no such thing ! He is the crack bat of
Edgar's '

' A boy is a cad who can't behave himself to a girl
because she is poor. I really think the apology to me
was the worst part of the matter. He only treats
people well when he sees they can take care of them-

* I'll tell him about Captain White,' said Fergus, a
little abashed.

' Yes. And I will get the aunts to call on Mrs.
White, and that may help them to a better level among
these vulgar folk.'

' But you won't ' said Fergus, with an express-
ive pause.


' I won't get you into trouble, for I think you are
sorry you treated one of our own in such a manner.'

' I wouldn't, indeed, if I had known.'

' I shall only explain that I have found out whom
Maura belongs to. I should go and see them at once,
only I must make Val find out where she lives.'

So Gillian returned home, communicating the
intelligence with some excitement that she had dis-
covered that Valetta's schoolmate, Maura White, was
none other than the daughter of her father's old
fellow-soldier, whose death shocked her greatly; and
she requested to go and call on Mrs. White as soon as
she could learn her abode.

However, it seemed to be impossible that any one
should live in Eockstone unknown to Aunt Jane.

1 White ? ' she said. ' It can't be the Whites down
by Cliffside. No ; there's a father there, though he
generally only comes down for Sunday.'

' I am sure there are some Whites on the Library
list,' said Miss Ada.

' Oh yes ; but she washes ! I know who they
must be. I know in Bellevue there are some ; but
they go to the Kennel Church. Didn't you come home,
Ada, from that function you went to with Florence,
raving about the handsome youth in the choir ? '

' Oh yes, we thought it such an uncommon, foreign
face, and he looked quite inspired when he was singing
his solo.'

' Yes ; I found out that his name was White, a


clerk or something in the marble works, and that he
had a mother and sister living at Bellevue. I did see
the sister when I went to get the marble girls into the
G.F.S., but she said something foolish about her mother
not liking it.'

' Yes ; nobody under the St. Kenelm influence ever
will come into the G.F.S.'

'■ But what is she doing ? ' asked Gillian. ' Do you
mean Kalliope ? '

' I suppose I do. I saw a rather nice-looking
young woman in the department where they make
Florentine mosaic, and I believe they said she was
Miss White ; but she cut me off very short with her
mother, so I had no more to do with her.'

1 1 am sure mamma would wish me to call on Mrs.
White,' said Gillian.

' There's no reason against it,' said Aunt Jane. ' I
will go with you the first day I can.'

When would that be, wondered Gillian. She told
Valetta to talk to Maura and learn the name of the
house ; and this was ascertained to be 3 Ivinghoe
Terrace, Bellevue Road ; but Val had very little
opportunity of cultivating the acquaintance of town
girls, who did not stay to dinner, as she had to go home
immediately after school, under Emma Norton's escort,
and perhaps she was not very ardent in the cause, for
Kitty Varley and her other friends did not like the
child, and she was more swayed by them than perhaps
she liked to confess to her sister.


Each morning at breakfast Gillian hoped that Aunt
Jane would lay out her day so as to call on Mrs. White ;
but first there was the working party, then came the
mothers' meeting, followed by afternoon tea at Mrs.
Hablot's for some parish council. On the third day,
which might have been clear, ' a miserable creature,' as
Gillian mentally called her, wrote to beg the Misses
Mohun to bring themselves and her niece to make up
a lawn-tennis set, since some one had failed. Gillian
vainly protested that she did not care about lawn
tennis, and could not play unless Jasper was her
partner ; and Aunt Jane so far sided with her as to
say it was very inconvenient, and on such short notice
they ought not to be expected. But Aunt Ada clearly
wanted to go ; and so they went. It was a beautiful
place, but Gillian could not enjoy herself, partly because
she knew so few of the people, but more because she
was vexed and displeased about the Whites. She
played very badly ; but Aunt Jane, when pressed into
the service, skipped about with her little light figure
and proved herself such a splendid player, doing it so
entirely con amore, that Gillian could not but say to
herself, 'She was bent on going; it was all humbug
her pretending to want to refuse.'

That afternoon's dissipation had made it needful
to do double work the next day, and Gillian was again
disappointed. Then came Saturday, when Miss Mohun
was never available, nor was she on Monday; and
when it appeared that she had to go to a meeting at


the Cathedral town on Tuesday, Gillian grew desperate,
and at her tete-a-Ute meal with Aunt Ada, related the
whole history of the Whites, and her great desire to
show kindness to her father's old brother -officer's
family, and how much she was disappointed.

Miss Adeline was touched, and indeed, fond as she
was of her sister, she could not help being nattered by
Gillian's preference and confidence.

1 Well, my clear, this is a nice day, not too hot or
too cold ; I do not see why I should not walk down
with you and call. If I find it too far, we can take
a cab to go back.'

' Oh, thank you, Aunt Ada ; it is very very kind of
you, and there is no knowing when Aunt Jane may be
able to go. I don't like to close up my Indian letter
till I can say I have seen them.'

Gillian fidgeted a good deal lest, before her aunt's
post -prandial repose was over, visitors should come
and put a stop to everything, and she looked ready to
cut the throat of a poor lady in a mushroom hat, who
came up to leave a message for Miss Mohun about a
possible situation for one of her class of boys.

However, at last they started, Kunz and all, Miss
Adeline quite infected by Gillian's excitement.

1 So your father and mother were very fond of

' Papa thought very highly of him, and was very
sorry he had to return,' said Gillian.

' And she was a beautiful Greek.'


Gillian began to be quite afraid of what she might
have said.

' I don't think she is more than half Greek/ she
said. c I believe her mother was a Corfiote, but her
father was English or Irish. I believe he kept a shop
in Malta.'

' Quite a mixture of nationalities then, and no
wonder she is beautiful. That youth had a very strik-
ing profile ; it quite reminded me of a gem as I saw it
against the dark pillar.'

' I did not say she was very beautiful now,' said
Gillian, feeling a qualm as she recollected the Queen
of the White Ants, and rather oddly divided between
truthfulness, fear of alarming her aunt into turning
back, and desire of giving her a little preparation.

' Ah ! those southern beauties soon go off. Some
one told me that Lord Byron's " Maid of Athens,"
whose portrait I used to think- the loveliest thing in
the world, became a great stout woman, but was quite
a mother to all the young Englishmen about. I
remember I used to try to hold my head and keep my
eyelids down like the engraving in an old book that
had been my mother's.'

1 Oh ! I think I have seen it at Beechcroft,' said
Gillian, very much amused, for she now perceived
whence arose Aunt Ada's peculiar turn of the head
and droop of the eyelashes, and how the conscious
affectation of childhood had become unconsciously


She grew more and more anxious as they found
some difficulty in making out Ivinghoe Terrace, and
found it at last to be a row of rather dilapidated little
houses, apparently built of lath and stucco, and of that
peculiar meanness only attained by the modern suburb.
Aunt Ada evidently did not like it at all, and owned
herself almost ready to turn back, being sure that
Valetta must have made some mistake. Gillian re-
peated that she had always said the Whites were very
poor, but she began to feel that her impatience had
misled her, and that she would have been better off
with the aunt who was used to such places, and whose
trim browns and crimsons were always appropriate
everywhere, rather than this dainty figure in delicate
hues that looked only fit for the Esplanade or the
kettledrum, and who was becoming seriously uneasy,
as Kunz, in his fresh snowiness, was disposed to make
researches among vulgar remains of crabs and hakes,
and was with difficulty restrained from disputing them
with a very ignoble and spiteful yellow cur of low

No. 3, with its blistered wall and rusty rail, was
attained, Kunz was brought within the enclosure, and
Gillian knocked as sharply and fast as she could, in
the fear that her aunt might yet turn about and

The door was opened with a rapidity that gave
the impression that they had been watched, but it
was by a very untidy -looking small maid, and the


parlour into which they were turned had most mani-
festly been lately used as the family dining-room, and
was redolent of a mixture of onion, cabbage, and other
indescribable odours.

Nobody was there, except a black and white cat,
who showed symptoms of flying at Kunz, but thought
better of it, and escaped by the window, which for-
tunately was open, though the little maid would have
shut it, but for Miss Adeline's gasping and peremptory
entreaty to the contrary. She sat on the faded sofa,
looking as if she just existed by the help of her fan
and scent-bottle, and when Gillian directed her atten-
tion to the case of clasps and medals and the photo-
graph of the fine-looking officer, she could only sigh
out, ' Oh, my dear ! '

There was a certain air of taste in the arrangement
of the few chimney-piece ornaments, and Gillian was
pleased to see the two large photographs of her father
and mother which Captain White had so much valued
as parting gifts. A few drawings reminded her of the
School of Art at Belfast, and there was a vase of wild
flowers and ferns prettily arranged, but otherwise every-
thing was wretchedly faded and dreary.

Then came the opening of the door, and into the
room rolled, rather than advanced, something of
stupendous breadth, which almost took Gillian's breath
away, as she durst not look to see the effect on her
aunt. If the Queen of the White Ants had been stout
before, what was she now ? Whatever her appearance


had been in the days of comparative prosperity, with a
husband to keep her up to the mark, and a desire to
rank with the officers' wives, she had let everything go
in widowhood, poverty, and neglect ; and as she stood
panting in her old shiny black alpaca, the only thing
Gillian recalled about her like old times was the black
lace veil thrown mantilla fashion over her head ; but
now it was over a widow's cap, and a great deal rustier
than of old. Of the lovely foreigner nothing else re-
mained except the dark eyes, and that sort of pasty
sallow whiteness that looks as if for generations past
cold water and fresh air had been unknown. There
was no accent more interesting in her voice than a
soiqigon of her Irish father as she began, ' I am sorry
to have kept the lady so long waiting. Was it about
the girl's character that you came ? '

' Oh no, Mrs. White,' interrupted Gillian, her shy-
ness overpowered by the necessity of throwing herself
into the breach. c Don't you remember me ? I am
Gillian Merrifleld, and this is my aunt, Miss Adeline

The puffy features lighted up into warmth. ' Little
Miss Gillian ! And I am proud to see you ! My little
Maura did tell me that Miss Valetta was in her class
at the High School ; but I thought there was no one
now who would come near the poor widow. And is
your dear mamma here, Miss Gillian, and are she and
your papa quite well ? '

Gillian could hardly believe in such dense remote-


ness that her father's accident should be unknown, but
she explained all, and met with abundant sympathy ;
the dark eyes filled with tears, and the voice broke into
sobs, as Mrs. White declared that Sir Jasper and Lady
Merrifield had been the best friends she ever had in
her life.

But oh ! that the handkerchief had been less grimy
with which she mopped her eyes, as she spoke of the
happy days that were gone ! Gillian saw that poor
Aunt Ada was in an agony to get away, and hurried
out her questions for fear of being stopped. ' How was
Kalliope — was she at home ? '

' Oh no, poor Kally, she is the best girl in the world.
I always say that, with all my sorrows, no one ever
was more blest in their children than poor little me.
Eichard, my eldest, is in a lawyer's office at Leeds.
Kally is employed in the art department, just as a com-
pliment to her relation, Mr. White. Quite genteel,
superior work, though I must say he does not do as
much for us as he might. Such a youth as my Alexis
now was surely worthy of the position of a gentle-

The good lady was quite disposed to talk ; but there
was no making out, through her cloud of confused
complaints, what her son and daughter were actually
doing ; and Aunt Ada, while preserving her courtesy,
was very anxious to be gone, and rose to take leave at
the first moment possible, though after she was on her
feet Mrs. White detained her for some time with apolo-


gies about not returning her visit. She was in such weak
health, so unequal to walking up the cliff, that she was
sure Miss Mohun would excuse her, though Alexis and
Kally would be perfectly delighted to hear of Miss
Gillian's kindness.

Gillian had not made out half what she wanted to
know, nor effected any arrangement for seeing Kalliope,
when she found herself out in the street, and her aunt
panting with relief. ' My dear, that woman ! You
don't mean that your mother was fond of her.'

' I never said mamma was fond of her.'

' My dear, excuse me. It was the only reason for
letting you drag me here. I was almost stifled. What
a night I shall have ! '

' I am very sorry, Aunt Ada ; but, indeed, I never
said that mamma was fond of her, only that papa
thought very highly of her husband, and wished us to
be kind to her.'

1 Well, you gave me that impression, whether you
wished it or not ! Such a hole ; and I'm sure she
drinks gin !'

' Oh no, aunt !'

' I can't be mistaken ! I really was afraid she was
going to kiss you !'

' I do wish I could have made out about Alexis and

1 Oh, my dear, just working like all the lot, though
she shuffled about it. I see what they are like, and
the less you see of them the better. I declare I am


more tired than if I had walked a mile. How am I
ever to get up the hill again V

' I am sorry, aunt/ said Gillian. ' Will you take
my arm? Perhaps we may meet Kalliope, if the marble
people come out at four or five. What's that bell V
as a little tinkle was heard.

' That's St. Kenelm's ! Oh ! you would like to go
there, and it would rest me ; only there's Kunz.'

' I should like to see it very much,' said Gillian.

' Well,' said Aunt Ada, who certainly seemed to have
something of the ' cat's away ' feeling about her, and,
moreover, trusted to avoid meeting Kalliope. 'Just
round the corner here is Mrs. Webb's, who used to
live with us before she married. Kunz will be happy
with her. Won't he, my doggie, like to go and see his
old Jessie ? '

So Kunz was disposed of with a very pleasant, neat-
looking woman, who begged Miss Adeline to come and
have some tea after the service.

It was really a beautiful little church — ' a little gem '
was exactly the term that suggested itself — very ornate,
and the chief lack being of repose, for there seemed
not an inch devoid of colour or carving. There was a
choir of boys in short surplices and blue cassocks, and
a very musical service, in the course of which it was
discovered to be the Feast of St. Eemigius, for after
the Lesson a short discourse was given on the Conver-
sion of Clovis, not forgetting the sacred ampulla.

There were about five ladies present and six old


women, belonging to a home maintained by Lady
Flight. The young priest, her son, had a beautiful
voice, and Gillian enjoyed all very much, and thought
the St. Andrew's people very hard and unjust ; but all
this went out of her head in the porch, for while Lady
Flight was greeting Miss Mohun with empressement,
and inviting her to come in to tea, Gillian had seen
a young woman who had come in late and had been
kneeling behind them.

Turning back and holding out her hands, she
exclaimed —

' Kalliope ! I so wanted to see you.'
' Miss Gillian M errifield,' was the response. ' Maura
told me you were here, but I hardly hoped to see you.'
' How can I see you ? Where are you ? Busy ? '
' I am at the marble works all day — in the mosaic
department. Oh, Miss Gillian, I owe it all to Miss
Merrifi eld's encouraging me to go to the School of Art.
How is she ? And I hope you have good accounts of
Sir Jasper ?'

' He is better, and I hope my mother is just arriving.
That's why we are here ; and Alethea and Phyllis are
out there. They will want to know all about you.'

At that moment Aunt Adeline looked round, having
succeeded in persuading Lady Flight that she had
another engagement. She saw a young woman in a
shabby black dress, with a bag in her hand, and a
dark fringe over a complexion of clear brown, straight
features, to whom Gillian was eagerly talking



' Ah ! ' she said, as Mr. Flight now came up from
the vestry ; ' do you know anything of that girl ? '

' Second-rate people, somewhere in Bellevue,' said
the lady.

' The brother is my best tenor,' said Mr. Flight.
' She is very often at St. Kenelm's, but I do not know
any more of her. The mother either goes to Bellevue
or nowhere. They are in Bellevue Parish.'

This was quite sufficient answer, for any interfer-
ence with parochial visiting in the Bellevue district
was forbidden.

Aunt Ada called to Gillian, and when she eagerly
said, ' This is Kalliope, aunt,' only responded with a
stiff bow.

' I do not know what these people might have been,
Gillian,' she said, as they pursued their way to Mrs.
Webb's ; \ but they must have sunk so low that I do
not think your mother can wish you to have anything
to do with them.'

' Oh, Aunt Ada ! Kalliope was always such a good

' She has a fringe. And she would not belong to
the G.F.S.,' said Aunt Ada. ' No, my dear, I see
exactly the sort of people they are. Your aunt Jane

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 14)