Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Beechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) online

. (page 5 of 14)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


might be useful to them, if they would let her ; but
they are not at all fit for you to associate with.'

Gillian chafed inwardly, but she was beginning to
learn that Aunt Ada was more impenetrable than
Aunt Jane, and, what was worse, Aunt Jane always



iv THE QUEEN OF THE WHITE ANTS 83

stood by her sister's decision, whether she would have
herself originated it or not.

When the elder aunt came home, and heard the
history of their day, and Gillian tried to put in a word,
she said —

' My dear, we all know that rising from the ranks
puts a man's family in a false position, and they
generally fall back again. All this is unlucky, for
they do not seem to be people it is possible to get at,
and now you have paid your kind act of attention,
there is no more to be done till you can hear from Ceylon
about them.'

Gillian was silenced by the united forces of the
aunts.

' It really was a horrid place,' said Aunt Ada, when
alone with her sister ; ' and such a porpoise of a
woman ! Gillian should not have represented her as
a favourite.'

' I do not remember that she did so/ returned
Aunt Jane. ' I wish she had waited for me. I have
seen more of the kind of thing than you have, Ada.'

' I am sure I wish she had. I don't know when I
shall get over the stifling of that den ; but it was just
as if they were her clearest friends.'

' Girls will be silly ! And there's a feeling about
the old regiment too. I can excuse her, though I wish
she had not been so impatient. I fancy that eldest
daughter is really a good girl and the mainstay of the
family.'



84 BEECHCROF? AT ROCKSTONE chap, iv

' But she would have nothing to do with you or
the G.F.S.'

1 If I had known that her father had been an officer,
I might have approached her differently. However, I
will ask Lily about their antecedents, and in six weeks
we shall know what is to be done about them.'



CHAPTEE V

MARBLES

Six weeks seem a great deal longer to sixteen than to
six-and-forty ; and Gillian groaned and sighed to her-
self as she wrote her letters, and assured herself that
so far from her having done enough in the way of
attention to the old soldier's family, she had simply
done enough to mark her neglect and disdain.

1 Grizzling ' (to use an effective family phrase)
under opposition is a grand magnifier ; and it was not
difficult to erect poor Captain White into a hero, his
wife into a patient sufferer, and Alethea's kindness to
his daughter into a bosom friendship ; while the aunts
seemed to be absurdly fastidious and prejudiced. ' I don't
wonder at Aunt Ada/ she said to herself; ' I know she
has always been kept under a glass case ; but I thought
better things of Aunt Jane. It is all because Kalliope
goes to St. Kenelm's, and won't be in the G.F.S.'

And all the time Gillian was perfectly unaware of
her own family likeness to Dolores. Other matters
conduced to a certain spirit of opposition to Aunt
Jane. That the children should have to use the back



86 BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE chap.

instead of the front stair when coming in with dusty
or muddy shoes, and that their possessions should be
confiscated for the rest of the day when left about in
the sitting-rooms and hall, were contingencies she could
accept as natural, though they irritated her ; but she
agreed with Valetta that it was hard to insist on half
an hour's regular work at the cushion, which was not
a lesson, but play. She was angered when Aunt Jane
put a stop to some sportive passes and chatter on the
stairs between Valetta and Alice Mount, and still more
so when her aunt took away Adam Bede from the
former, as not desirable reading at eleven years old.

It was only the remembrance of her mother's
positive orders that withheld Gillian from the declara-
tion that mamma always let them read George Eliot ;
and in a cooler moment of reflection she was glad she
had abstained, for she recollected that always was
limited to mamma's having read most of Romola
aloud to her and Mysie, and to her having had Silas
Maimer to read when she was unwell in lodgings, and
there was a scarcity of books.

Such miffs about her little sister were in the natural
order of things, and really it was the ' all pervadingness,'
as she called it in her own mind, of Aunt Jane that
chiefly worried her, the way that the little lady knew
everything that was done, and everything that was
touched in the house ; but as long as Valetta took refuge
with herself, and grumbled to her, it was bearable.

It was different with Fergus. There had been



v MARBLES $7

offences certainly; Annt Jane had routed him out of
preparing his lessons in Mrs. Mount's room, where he
diversified them with teaching the Sofy to beg, and
inventing new modes of tying down jam pots. More-
over, she had declared that Gillian's exemplary patience
was wasted and harmful when she found that they
had taken three-quarters of an hour over three tenses
of a Greek verb, and that he said it worse on the
seventh repetition than on the first. After an evening,
when Gillian had gone to a musical party with Aunt
Ada, and Fergus did his lessons under Aunt Jane's
superintendence, he utterly cast off his sister's aid.
There was something in Miss Mohun's briskness that
he found inspiring, and she put in apt words or illustra-
tions, instead of only rousing herself from a book to
listen, prompt, and sigh. He found that he did his
tasks more thoroughly in half the time, and rose in
his class ; and busy as his aunt was, she made the
time not only for this, but for looking over with him
those plates of mechanics in the Encyclopcedia, which
were a mere maze to Gillian, but of which she knew
every detail, from ancient studies with her brother
Maurice. As Fergus wrote to his mother, ' Aunt Jane
is the only woman who has any natural scence.'

Gillian could not but see this as she prepared the
letters for the post, and whatever the ambiguous word
might be meant for, she had rather not have seen it,
for she really was ashamed of her secret annoyance at
Fergus's devotion to Aunt Jane, knowiDg how well it



88 BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE chap.

was that Stebbinsj should have a rival in his affections.
Yet she could not help being provoked when the boy
followed his aunt to the doors of her cottages like a
little dog, and waited outside whenever she would let
him, for the sake of holding forth to her about something
which wheels and plugs and screws were to do. Was
it possible that Miss Mohun followed it all ? His
great desire was to go over the marble works, and she
had promised to take him when it could be done ; but,
unfortunately, his half-holiday was on Saturday, when
the workmen struck off early, and when also Aunt
Jane always had the pupil-teachers for something
between instruction and amusement.

Gillian felt lonely, for though she got on better with
her younger than her elder aunt, and had plenty of
surface intercourse of a pleasant kind with both, it
was a very poor substitute for her mother, or her elder
sisters, and Valetta was very far from being a Mysie.

The worst time was Sunday, when the children
had deserted her for Mrs. Hablot, and Aunt Ada was
always lying down in her own room to rest after
morning service. She might have been at the Sunday-
school, but she did not love teaching, nor do it well,
and she did not fancy the town children, or else there
was something of opposition to Aunt Jane.

It was a beautiful afternoon, of the first Sunday in
October, and she betook herself to the garden with the
1 Lyra Innocentium ' in her hand, meaning to learn the
poem for the day. She wandered up to the rail above



v MARBLES 89

the cliff, looking out to the sea. Here, beyond the belt
of tamarisks and other hardy low-growing shrubs which
gave a little protection from the winds, the wall dividing
the garden of Beechcroft Cottage from that of Cliff
House became low, with only the iron-spiked railing
on the top, as perhaps there was a desire not to over-
load the cliff. The sea was of a lovely colour that
day, soft blue, and with exquisite purple shadows of
clouds, with ripples of golden sparkles here and there
near the sun, and Gillian stood leaning against the
rail, gazing out on it, with a longing, yearning feeling
towards the dear ones who had gone out upon it, when
she became conscious that some one was in the other
garden, which she had hitherto thought quite deserted,
and looking round, she saw a figure in black near the
rail. Their eyes met, and both together exclaimed —
' Kalliope !' — 'Miss Gillian ! Oh, I beg your pardon !'
1 How did you come here ? I thought nobody did !'
'Mr. White's gardener lets us walk here. It is so
nice and quiet. Alexis has taken the younger ones
for a walk, but I was too much tired. But I will not

disturb you '

1 Oh ! don't go away. Nobody will disturb us, and
I do so want to know about you all. I had no notion,

nor mamma either, that you were living here, or '

1 Or of my dear father's death ? ' said Kalliope, as
Gillian stopped short, confused. ' I did write to Miss
Merrifield, but the letter was returned.'
' But where did you write ? '



90 BEECHCROFT AT R0CKST0NE chap.

1 To Swanage, where she had written to me last/
' Oh ! we were only there for six weeks, while we
were looking for houses ; I suppose it was just as the
Wardours w T ere gone to Natal too ! '

' Yes ; we knew they were out of reach.'
' But do tell me about it, if you do not mind. My
father will want to hear.'

Kalliope told all in a calm, matter-of-fact way, but
with a strain of deep suppressed feeling. She was about
twenty-three, a girl with a fine outline of features,
beautiful dark eyes, and a clear brown skin, who
would have been very handsome if she had looked
better fed and less hardworked. Her Sunday dress
showed wear and adaptation, but she was altogether
ladylike, and even the fringe that had startled Aunt
Ada only consisted of little wavy curls on the temples,
increasing her classical look.

' It was fever — at Leeds. My father was just going
into a situation in the police that we had been waiting
for ever so long, and there were good schools, and
Richard had got into a lawyer's office, when there
began a terrible fever in our street — the drains were to
blame, they said — and every one of us had it, except
mother and Richard, who did not sleep at home. We
lost poor little Mary first, and then papa seemed to be
getting better ; but he was anxious about expense, and
there was no persuading him to take nourishment
enough. I do believe it was that. And he had a
relapse — and '



v MARBLES 91

1 Oh, poor Kalliope ! And we never heard of it ! '

'I did feel broken down when the letter to Miss
Merrifield came back/ said Kalliope. ' But my father
had made me write to Mr. James White — not that we
had any idea that he had grown so rich. He and my
father were first cousins, sons of two brothers who were
builders ; but there was some dispute, and it ended by
my father going away and enlisting. There was nobody
nearer to him, and he never heard any more of his
home ; but when he was so ill, he thought he would
like to be reconciled to " Jem," as he said, so he made
me write from his dictation. Such a beautiful letter
it was, and he added a line at the end himself. Then
at last, when it was almost too late, Mr. White
answered. I believe it was a mere chance — or rather
Providence — that he ever knew it was meant for him,
but there were kind words enough to cheer up my father
at the last. I believe then the clergyman wrote to him.'

' Did not he come near you ? '

1 No, I have never seen him ; but there was a
correspondence between him and Mr. Moore, the
clergyman, and Eichard, and he said he was willing to
put us in the way of working for ourselves, if — if —
we were not too proud.'

* Then he did it in an unkind way,' said Gillian.

' I try to think he did not mean to be otherwise
than good to us. I told Mr. Moore that I was not fit
to be a governess, and I did not think they could get
on without me at home, but that I could draw better



92 BEECHCROFT AT ROCKS TONE chap.

than I would do anything else, and perhaps I might
get Christmas cards to do, or something like that.
Mr. Moore sent a card or two of my designing, and
then Mr. White said he could find work for me in the
mosaic department here ; and something for my brothers,
if we did not give ourselves airs. So we came.'

■ Not Eichard ? ' said Gillian, who remembered
dimly that Eichard had not been held in great esteem
by her own brothers.

1 No ; Eichard is in a good situation, so it was
settled that he should stay on there.'

'And you '

' I am in the mosaic department. Oh, Miss Gillian,
I am so grateful to Miss Merrifield. Don't you
remember her looking at my little attempts, and
persuading Lady Merrifield to get mother to let me go
to the School of Art ? I began only as the girls do
who are mere hands, and now I have to prepare all
the designs for them, and have a nice little office of
my own for it. Sometimes I get one of my own
designs taken, and then I am paid extra.'

' Then do you maintain them all ? '

' Oh no ; we have lodgers, the organist and his wife,'
said Kalliope, laughing ; ' and Alexis is in the telegraph
office, at the works ; besides, it turned out that this
house and two more belong to us, and we do very
well when the tenants pay their rents.'

'But Maura is not the youngest of you,' said
Gillian, who was rather hazy about the family.



v MARBLES 93

1 No, there are the two little boys. We let them
go to the Xational School for the present. It is a
great trial to my poor mother, but they do learn well
there, and we may be able to do something better for
them by the time they are old enough for further
education.'

Just then the sound of a bell coming up from the
town below was a warning to both that the conversa-
tion must be broken off. A few words — ' I am so glad
to have seen you,' and ' It has been such a pleasure '
— passed, and then each hastened down her separate
garden path.

1 Must I tell of this meeting ? ' Gillian asked herself.
' I shall write it all to mamma and Alethea, of course.
How delightful that those lessons that Kalliope had
have come to be of so much use ! How pleased Alethea
will be. Poor dear thin" ! How much she has "one
through ! But can there be any need to tell the aunts ?
Would it not just make Aunt Ada nervous about any
one looking through her sweet and lovely wall ? And
as to Aunt Jane, I really don't see that I am bound to
gratify her passion for knowing everything. I am not
accountable to her, but to my own mother. My people
know all about Kalliope, and she is prejudiced. Why
should I be unkind and neglectful of an old fellow-
soldier's family, because she cannot or will not under-
stand what they really are ? It would not be the
slightest use to tell her the real story. Mrs. White is
fat, and Kalliope has a fringe, goes to St. Kenelm's,



94 BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE chap.

and won't be in the G.F.S., and that's enough to make
her say she does not believe a word of it. or else to
make it a fresh ground for poking and prying, in the
way that drives one distracted ! It really is quite a
satisfaction to have something that she can't find out,
and it is not underhand while I write every word of it
to mamma.'

So Gillian made her conscience easy, and she did
write a long and full account of the Whites and their
troubles, and of her conversation with Kalliope.

In the course of that week Fergus had a holiday,
asked for by some good-natured visitor of Mrs. Edgar's.
He rushed home on the previous day with the news,
to claim Aunt Jane's promise ; and she undertook so
to arrange matters as to be ready to go with him to
the marble works at three o'clock. Valetta could not
go, as she had her music lesson at that time, and she
did not regret it, for she had an idea that blasting
with powder or dynamite was always going on there.
Gillian was not quite happy about the dynamite, but
she did not like to forego the chance of seeing what
the work of Kalliope and Alexis really was, so she
expressed her willingness to join the party, and in the
meantime did her best to prevent Aunt Ada from
being driven distracted by Fergus's impatience, which
began at half-past two.

Miss Mohun had darted out as soon as dinner was
over, and he was quite certain some horrible cad would
detain her till four o'clock, and then going would be



v MARBLES 95

of no use. Nevertheless he was miserable till Gillian
had put on her hat, and then she could do nothing
that would content him and keep him out of Aunt
Ada's way, but walk him up and down in the little
front court with the copper beeches, while she thought
they must present to the neighbours a lively tableau of
a couple of leopards in a cage.

However, precisely as the clock struck three, Aunt
Jane walked up to the iron gate. She had secured
an order from Mr. Stebbing, the managing partner,
without which they would not have penetrated beyond
the gate where ' No admittance except on business '
was painted.

Mr. Stebbing himself, a man with what Yaletta
was wont to call a grisly beard, met them a little
within the gate, and did the honours of the place with
great politeness. He answered all the boy's questions,
and seemed much pleased with his intelligence and
interest, letting him see what he wished, and even
having the machinery slacked to enable him to perceive
how it acted, and most delightful of all, in the eyes of
Fergus, letting him behold some dynamite, and explain-
ing its downward explosion. He evidently had a great
respect for Miss Mohun, because she entered into it
all, put pertinent questions, and helped her nephew if
he did not understand.

It was all dull work to Gillian, all that blasting
and hewing and polishing, which made the place as
busy as a hive. She only wished she could have seen



96 BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE chap.

the cove as once it was, with the weather-beaten rocks
descending to the sea, overhung with wild thrift and
bramble, and with the shore, the peaceful haunts of the
white sea-birds ; whereas now the fresh-cut rock looked
red and wounded, and all below was full of ugly slated
or iron-roofed sheds, rough workmen, and gratings and
screeches of machinery.

It was the Whites whom she wanted to see, and
she never came upon the brother at all, nor on the
sister, till Mr. Stebbing, perhaps observing her listless
looks, said that they were coming to what would be
more interesting to Miss Merrifield, and took them into
the workrooms, where a number of young women
were busy over the very beautiful work by which
flowers and other devices were represented by inlaying
different coloured marbles and semi-precious stones in
black and white, so as to make tables, slabs, and letter-
weights, and brooches for those who could not aspire to
the most splendid and costly productions.

Miss Mohun shook hands with ' the young ladies '
within the magic circle of the G.F.S., and showed her-
self on friendly terms of interest with all. From a
little inner office Miss White was summoned, came
out, and met an eager greeting from Gillian, but blushed
a little, and perhaps had rather not have had her un-
usual Christian name proclaimed by the explanation —

' This is Kalliope White, Aunt Jane.'

Miss Mohun shook hands with her, and said her
niece had been much pleased at the meeting, and her



v MARBLES 97

sister would be glad to hear of her, explaining to Mr.
Stebbing that Captain White had been a brother-officer
of Sir Jasper Merrifield.

Kalliope had a very prettily-shaped head, with short
hair in little curls and rings all over it. Her whole
manner was very quiet and unassuming, as she explained
and showed whatever Mr. Stebbing wished. It was
her business to make the working drawings for the
others, and to select the stones used, and there could
be no doubt that she was a capable and valuable
worker.

Gillian asked her to show something designed by
herself, and she produced an exquisite table-weight,
bearing a spray of sweet peas. Gillian longed to
secure it for her mother, but it was very expensive,
owing to the uncommon stones used in giving the
tints ; and Mr. Stebbing evidently did not regard it
with so much favour as the jessamines and snowdrops,
which, being of commoner marbles, could be sold at a
rate fitter for the popular purse. Several beautiful
drawings in her office had been laid aside as impractic-
able, ' unless we had a carte blanche wedding order,'
he said, with what Gillian thought a sneer.

She would gladly have lingered longer, but this
was a very dull room in Fergus's estimation, and per-
haps Aunt Jane did not desire a long continuance
of the conversation under Mr. Stebbing's eyes, so
Gillian found herself hurried on.

Mr. Stebbing begged Miss Mohun to come in to his
vol. 1 11



98 BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE chap.

wife, who would have tea ready, and this could not be
avoided without manifest incivility. Fergus hoped to
have been introduced to the haunts of his hero, but
Master George was gone off in attendance on his
brother, who was fishing, and there was nothing to
relieve the polite circle of the drawing-room — a place
most aesthetically correct, from cornice to the little rugs
on the slippery floor. The little teacups and the low
Turkish table were a perfect study to those who did
not — like Fergus — think more of the dainty doll's
muffins on the stand, or the long-backed Dachshund
who looked for them beseechingly.

Mrs. Stebbing was quite in accordance with the
rest, with a little row of curls over her forehead, a
terra-cotta dress, and a chain of watch cocks, altogether
rather youthful for the mother of a grown-up son,
engaged in his father's business.

She was extremely civil and polite, and everything
went well except for a certain stiffness. By and by
the subject of the Whites came up, and Mr. Stebbing
observed that Miss Merrifield seemed to know Miss
White.

' Oh yes/ said Gillian eagerly ; ' her father was
in my father's regiment, the Eoyal Wardours.'

' A non-commissioned officer, I suppose,' said Mrs.
Stebbing.

' Not for a good many years,' said Gillian. • He
was lieutenant for six years, and retired with the rank
of captain.'



v MARBLES 99

' I know they said he was a captain/ said Mrs.
Stebbing ; ' but it is very easy to be called so.'

' Captain White was a real one/ said Gillian, with
a tone of offence. ' Every one in the Eoyal Wardours
thought very highly of him.'

' I am sure no one would have supposed it from
his family/ said Mrs. Stebbing. ' You are aware, Miss
Mohun, that it was under disgraceful circumstances
that he ran away and enlisted.'

' Many a youth who gets into a scrape becomes an
excellent soldier, even an officer/ said Miss Mohun.

' Exactly so/ said Mr. Stebbing. ' Those high-
spirited lads are the better for discipline, and often
turn out well under it. But their promotion is an
awkward thing for their families, who have not been
educated up to the mark.'

1 It is an anomalous position, and I have a great
pity for them/ said Miss Mohun. ' Miss White must
be a very clever girl.'

' Talented, yes/ said Mr. Stebbing. ' She is useful
in her department.'

' That may be/ said Mrs. Stebbing ; ' but it wont
do to encourage her. She is an artful, designing girl,
I know very well '

' Do you know anything against her ? ' asked Miss
Mohun, looking volumes of repression at Gillian, whose
brown eyes showed symptoms of glaring like a cat's,
under her hat.

! I do not speak without warrant, Miss Mohun.



ioo BEECHCROFT AT ROCKSTONE chap.

She is one of those demure, proper-behaved sort that
are really the worst flirts of all, if you'll excuse me.'

Most thankful was Miss Mohun that the door
opened at that moment to admit some more visitors,
for she saw that Gillian might at any moment explode.

'Aunt Jane,' she exclaimed, as soon as they had
accomplished their departure, ' you don't believe it ? '

1 1 do not think Miss White looks like it,' said Miss
Mohun. ' She seemed a quiet, simple girl/

' And you don't believe all that about poor Captain
White ? '

' Not the more for Mrs. Stebbing's saying so.'

' But you will find out and refute her. There must
be people who know.'

' My dear, you had better not try to rake up such
things. You know that the man bore an excellent
character for many years in the army, and you had
better be satisfied with that/ said Miss Jane for once
in her life, as if to provoke Gillian, not on the side of
curiosity.

' Then you do believe it ! ' went on Gillian, feeling


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 14)