Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Beechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) online

. (page 9 of 14)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


' Oh, Miss Merrifield, do not your aunts know V

' No. Why should they ? Mamma does.'

' Not yet. And she is so far off ! I wish Miss
Mohun knew ! I made sure that she did,' said Kalliope,
much distressed.

' But why ? It would only make a fuss.'

' I should be much happier about it.'

' And perhaps have it all upset.'

' That is the point. I felt that it must be all right
as long as Miss Mohun sanctioned it; but I could not
bear that we should be the means of bringing you into
a scrape, by doing what she might disapprove while
you are under her care.'

' Don't you think you can trust me to know my
own relations ? ' said Gillian somewhat haughtily.

' Indeed, I did not mean that we are not infinitely
obliged to you,' said Kalliope. ' It has made Alexis
another creature to have some hope, and feel himself
making progress.'

'Then why do you want to have a fuss, and a
bother, and a chatter ? If my father and mother don't
approve, they can telegraph.'


With which argument she appeased or rather
silenced Kalliope, who could not but feel the task of
objecting alike ungracious and ungrateful towards the
instructor, and absolutely cruel and unkind towards
her brother, and who spoke only from a sense of the
treachery of allowing a younger girl to transgress in
ignorance. Still she was conscious of not understand-
ing on what terms the niece and aunts might be, and
the St. Kenelni's estimate of the Beechcroft ladies was
naturally somewhat different from that of the St.
Andrew's congregation. Miss Mohun was popularly
regarded in those quarters as an intolerable busybody,
and Miss Adeline as a hypochondriacal fine lady, so
that Gillian might perhaps reasonably object to put
herself into absolute subjection ; so, though Kalliope
might have a presentiment of breakers ahead, she could
say no more, and Gillian, feeling that she had been
cross, changed the subject by admiring the pretty short
curly hair that was being tied back at the glass.

' I wish it would grow long,' said Kalliope. ' But
it always was rather short and troublesome, and ever
since it was cut short in the fever, I have been obliged
to keep it like this.'

' But it suits you/ said Gillian. ' And it is exactly
the thing now.'

' That is the worst of it. It looks as if I wore it
so on purpose. However, all our hands know that I
cannot help it, and so does Lady Flight.'

The girl looked exceedingly well, though little Alice,


the maid, would not have gone out to tea in such an
ancient black dress, with no relief save a rim of white
at neck and hands, and a tiny silver Maltese cross at
the throat. Maura had a comparatively new gray
dress, picked out with black. She was a pretty
creature, the Irish beauty predominating over the
Greek, in her great long -lashed brown eyes, which
looked radiant with shy happiness. Miss Adeline was
perfectly taken by surprise at the entrance of two such
uncommon forms and faces, and the quiet dignity of
the elder made her for a moment suppose that her sister
must have invited some additional guest of undoubted

Valetta, who had grown fond of Maura in their
school life, and who dearly loved patronising, pounced
upon her guest to show her all manner of treasures and
curiosities, at which she looked in great delight; and
Fergus was so well satisfied with her comprehension
of the principles of the letter balance, that he would
have taken her upstairs to be introduced to all his
mechanical inventions, if the total darkness and cold of
his den had not been prohibitory.

Kalliope looked to perfection, but was more silent
than her sister, though, as Miss Mohun's keen eye
noted, it was not the shyness of a conscious inferior in
an unaccustomed world, but rather that of a grave,
reserved nature, not chattering for the sake of mere

Gillian's photograph -book was well looked over,


with all the brothers and sisters at different stages, and
the group of officers. Miss Mohun noted the talk that
passed over these, as they were identified one by one,
sometimes with little reminiscences, childishly full on
Gillian's part, betraying on Kalliope's side friendly
acquaintance, but all in as entirely ladylike terms as
would have befitted Phyllis or Alethea. She could
well believe in the words with which Miss White rather
hastened the turning of the page, ' Those were happy
days — I dare not dwell on them too much !'

' Oh, I like to do so,' cried Gillian. ' I don't want
the little ones ever to forget them.'

'Yes — you! But with you it would not be

This was for Gillian's ear alone, as at that moment
both the aunts were, at the children's solicitation,
engaged on the exhibition of a wonderful musical-box
— Aunt Adeline's share of her mother's wedding
presents — containing a bird that hovered and sung, the
mechanical contrivance of which was the chief merit in
Fergus's eyes, and which had fascinated generations of
young people for the last sixty years. Aunt Jane,
however, could hear through anything — even through
the winding-up of what the family called ' Aunt Ada's
Jackdaw,' and she drew her conclusions, with increasing
respect and pity for the young girl over whose life such
a change had come.

But it was not this, but what she called common
humanity, which prompted her, on hearing a heavy


gust of rain against the windows, to go into the lower
regions in quest of a messenger boy to order a
brougham to take the guests home at the end of the

The meal went off pleasantly on the whole, though
there loomed a storm as to the ritual of St. Kenelm's ;
but this chiefly was owing to the younger division of
the company, when Valetta broke into an unnecessary
inquiry why they did not have as many lights on the
altar at St. Andrew's as at St. Kenelm's, and Fergus
put her down with unceremoniously declaring that
Stebbing said Flight was a donkey.

Gillian came down with what she meant for a
crushing rebuke, and the indignant colour rose in the
cheeks of the guests ; but Fergus persisted, ' But he
makes a guy of himself and a mountebank.'

Aunt Jane thought it time to interfere. 'Fergus,'
she said, ' you had better not repeat improper sayings,
especially about a clergyman.'

Fergus wriggled.

' And,' added Aunt Ada, with equal severity, ' you
know Mr. Flight is a very kind friend to little Maura
and her sister.'

* Indeed he is,' said Kalliope earnestly ; and Maura,
feeling herself addressed, added, ' Nobody but he ever
called on poor mamma, till Miss Mohun did ; no, not
Lady Flight.'

' We are very grateful for his kindness/ put in
Kalliope, in a repressive tone.


1 But/ said Gillian, ' I thought you said he had
seemed to care less of late/

' I do not know/ said Miss White, blushing ; ' music
seems to be his chief interest, and there has not been
anything fresh to get up since the concert.'

' I suppose there will be for the winter/ said Miss
Mohun, and therewith the conversation was safely
conducted away to musical subjects, in which some of
the sisters' pride and affection for their brothers peeped
out ; but Gillian was conscious all the time that Kal-
liope was speaking with some constraint when she men-
tioned Alexis, and that she was glad rather to dwell on
little Theodore, who had good hopes of the drawing prize,
and she seriously consulted Miss Mohun on the pupil-
teachership for him, as after he had passed the seventh
standard he could not otherwise go on with his education,
though she did not think he had much time for teaching.

'Would not Mr. White help him further?' asked
Miss Mohun.

1 I do not know. I had much rather not ask/ said
Kalliope. ' We are too many to throw ourselves on a
person who is no near relation, and he has not seemed
greatly disposed to help.'

1 Your elder brother V

' Oh, poor Eichard, he is not earning anything yet.
I can't ask him. If I only knew of some school I could
be sure was safe and good and not too costly, Alexis
and I would try to manage for Theodore after the
examination in the spring.'


The Woodward schools were a new light to her, and
she was eagerly interested in Miss Mohun's explanations
and in the scale of terms.

Meantime Miss Adeline got on excellently with the
younger ones, and when the others were free, proposed
for their benefit a spelling game. All sat round the
table, made words, and abstracted one another's with
increasing animation, scarcely heeding the roaring of
the wind outside, till there was a ring at the belL
' My brother is come for us/ said Kalliope.
1 Oh, but it is not fit for you to walk home,' said
Miss Mohun. ' The brougham is coming by and by ;
ask Mr. White to come in,' she added, as the maid
appeared with the message that he was come for his

There was a confusion of acknowledgments and
disclaimers, and word was brought back that Mr. White
was too wet to come in. Miss Mohun, who was not
playing, but prompting Fergus, jumped up and went
out to investigate, when she found a form in an ancient
military cloak, trying to keep himself from dripping
where wet could do mischief. She had to explain her
regret at his having had such a walk in vain ; but she
had taken alarm on finding that rain was setting in for
the night, and had sent word by the muffin-boy that
the brougham would be wanted, contriving to convey
that it was not to be paid for.

Nothing remained to be said except thanks, and
Alexis emerged from the cloak, which looked as if it


had gone through, all his father's campaigns, took off his
gaiters, did his best for his boots, and, though not in
evening costume, looked very gentleman -like and
remarkably handsome in the drawing-room, with no
token of awkward embarrassment save a becoming

Gillian began to tremble inwardly again, but the
game had just ended in her favour, owing to Fergus
having lost all his advantages in Aunt Jane's absence,
besides signalising himself by capturing Maura's ' bury,'
under the impression that an additional E would
combine that and straw into a fruit.

So the coast being cleared, Miss Adeline greatly
relieved her niece's mind by begging, as a personal
favour, to hear the song whose renown at the concert
had reached her; and thus the time was safely spent
in singing till the carriage w T as announced, and good-
nights exchanged.

Maura's eyes grew round with delight, and she
jumped for joy at the preferment.

'Oh!' she said, as she fervently kissed Valetta, 'it
is the most delightful evening I ever spent in the whole
course of my life, except at Lady Merrifield's Christmas-
tree ! And now to go home in a carriage ! I never
went in one since I can remember !'

And Kalliope's ' Thank you, we have enjoyed our-
selves very much,' was very fervent.

' Those young people are very superior to what I
expected,' said Aunt Adeline. 'What fine creatures,


all so handsome ; and that little Maura is a perfect

' The Muse herself is very superior/ said Miss Mohun.
' One of those home heroines who do the work of Atlas
without knowing it. I do not wonder that the marble
girls speak of her so enthusiastically/

How Gillian might have enjoyed all this, and yet
she could not, except so far that she told herself that
thus there could be no reasonable objection made by
her aunts to intercourse with those whom they so much

Yet perhaps even then she would have told all, but
that, after having bound over Kalliope to secrecy, it
would be awkward to confess that she had told all.
It would be like owning herself in the wrong, and for
that she was not prepared. Besides, where would be
the secrecy of her ' great thing ' ?



Without exactly practising to deceive, Gillian began
to find that concealment involved her in a tangled
web ; all the more since Aunt Jane had become thor-
oughly interested in the Whites, and was inquiring
right and left about schools and scholarships for the
little boys.

She asked their master about them, and heard that
they were among his best scholars, and that their home
lessons had always been carefully attended to by their
elder brother and sister. In fact, he was most anxious
to retain Theodore, to be trained for a pupil- teacher,
the best testimony to his value ! Aunt Jane came
home full of the subject, relating what the master said
of Alexis White, and that he had begun by working
with him at Latin and mathematics ; but that they had
not had time to go on with what needed so much study
and preparation.

' In fact,' said Miss Mohun, ' I have a suspicion
that if a certificated schoolmaster could own any such
thing, the pupil knew more than the teacher. When

chap, ix GAUGING AJEE 165

your father comes home, I hope he will find some way
of helping that lad.'

Gillian began to crimson, but bethought herself of
the grandeur of its being found that she was the
youth's helper. ' I am glad you have been lending
him books,' added Aunt Jane.

What business had she to know what had not been
told her ? The sense of offence drove back any disposi-
tion to consult her. Yet to teach Alexis was no slight
task, for, though he had not gone far in Greek, his
inquiries were searching, and explaining to him was
a different thing from satisfying even Mr. Pollock.
Besides, Gillian had her own studies on hand. The
Cambridge examinations were beginning to assume
larger proportions in the Bockquay mind, and ' the
General Screw Company,' as Mr. Grant observed, was

Gillian's knowledge was rather discursive, and the
concentration required by an examination was hard
work to her, and the time for it was shortened by the
necessity of doing all Alexis's Greek exercises and
translations beforehand, and of being able to satisfy
him why an error was not right, for, in all politeness,
he always would know why it did not look right. And
there was Valetta, twisting and groaning. The screw
was on her form, who, unless especially exempted, were
to compete for a prize for language examination.

Yaletta had begun by despising Kitty Varley for
being excepted by her mother's desire, and for not


learning Latin ; but now she envied any one who had
not to work double tides at the book of Csesar that was
to be taken up, and Vercingetorix and his Arverni got
vituperated in a way that would have made the hair of
her hero-worshipping mother fairly stand on end.

But then Lilias Mohun had studied him for love of
himself, not for dread of failure.

Gillian had been displeased when Fergus deserted
her for Aunt Jane as an assistant, but she would not
have been sorry if Valetta had been off her hands,
when it was interrupted in researches after an idiom
in St. John's Gospel by the sigh that ' this abominable
dictionary had no verb oblo' or in the intricacies of a
double equation by despair at this horrid Caesar always
hiding away his nominatives out of spite.

Valetta, like the American child, evidently regarded
the Great Julius in no other light than as writer of
a book for beginners in Latin, and, moreover, a very
unkind one ; and she fully reciprocated the sentiment
that it was no wonder that the Eomans conquered the
world, since they knew the Latin grammar by nature.

Nor was Gillian's hasty and sometimes petulant
assistance very satisfactory to the poor child, since it
often involved hearing ' Wait a minute,' and a very
long one, ' How can you be so stupid ? ' 'I told you
so long ago ' ; and sometimes consisted of a gabbling
translation, with rapidly pointed finger, very hard to
follow, and not quite so painstaking as when Alexis
ideferenally and politely pointed out the difficulties,


with a strong sense of the favour that she was doin£

Not that these personal lessons often took place.
Kalliope never permitted them without dire necessity,
and besides, there was always an uncertainty when
Gillian might come down, or when Alexis might be
able to come in.

One day when Aunt Jane had come home with a
story of how one of her ' business girls ' had confessed to
Miss White's counsel having only just saved her from
an act of folly, it occurred to Aunt Adeline to say —

' It is a great pity you have not her help in the

' I did not understand enough about her before,
and mixed her up with the ordinary class of business
girls. I had rather have her a member for the sake
of example ; but if not, she would be a valuable
associate. Could not you explain this to her without
hurting her feelings, as I am afraid I did, Gill ? I
did not understand enough about her when I spoke
to her before.'

Gillian started. The conversation that should have
been so pleasant to her was making her strangely un-

' I do not see how Gill is to get at her,' objected

the other aunt. ' It would be of no great use to call

on her in the nest of the Queen of the White Ants.

I can't help recollecting the name, it was so descriptive.'

' Yes ; it was on her mother's account that she


refused, and of course her office must not be invaded
in business hours.'

'I might call on her there before she goes home/
suggested Gillian, seeing daylight.

' You cannot be walking down there at dusk, just
as the workmen come away/ exclaimed Aunt Ada,
making the colour so rush into Gillian's cheeks that
she was glad to catch up a screen.

1 No/ said Miss Mohun emphatically ; ' but I could
leave her there at five o'clock, and go to Tideshole to
take old Jemmy Burnet his jersey, and call for her on
the way back.'

' Or she could walk home with me/ murmured the
voice behind the screen.

Gillian felt with dismay that all these precautions
as to her escort would render her friend more scrupu-
lous than ever as to her visits. To have said, ' I have
several times been at the office/ would have been a
happy clearance of the ground, but her pride would
not bend to possible blame, nor would she run the risk
of a prohibition. ' It would be the ruin of hope to
Alexis, and mamma knows all/ said she to herself.

It was decided that she should trust to Kalliope to
go back with her, for when once Aunt Jane got into
the very fishy hamlet of Tideshole, which lay beyond
the quarries, there was no knowing when she might
get away, since

' Alike to her were time and tide,
November's snow or July's pride.'


So after a few days, too wet and tempestuous for
any expedition, they set forth, accompanied by Fergus,
who rushed in from school in time to treat his aunt
as a peripatetic ' Joyce's scientific dialogues.' Valetta
had not arrived, and Gillian was in haste to elude her,
knowing that her aunt would certainly not take her on
to Tideshole, and that there would be no comfort in
talking before her ; but it was a new thing to have to
regard her little sister in the light of a spy, and again
she had to reason down a sense of guiltiness. How-
ever, her aunt wanted Yaletta as little as she did ; and
she had never so rejoiced in Fergus's monologue, ' Then
this small fly-wheel catches into the large one, and

so Don't you see ? ' — only pausing for a sound

of assent.

Unacquainted with the private door, Miss Mohun
entered the office through the showroom, exchanging
greetings with the young saleswomen, and finding Miss
White putting away her materials.

Shaking hands, Miss Mohun said —

' 1 have brought your friend to make a visit to you
while I go on to Tideshole. She tells me that you
will be kind enough to see her on her way home, if
you are going back at the same time.'

1 1 shall be delighted,' said Kalliope, with eyes as
well as tongue, and no sooner were she and Gillian
alone together than she joyfully exclaimed —

1 Then Miss Mohun knows ! You have told her.'

' No '


1 Oh !' and there were volumes in the intonation.
' I was alarmed when she came in, and then so glad if
it was all over. Dear Miss Merrifield '

I Call me Gillian ; I have told you to do so before !
Phyllis is Miss Merrifield, and I wont be so before my
time,' said Gillian, interrupting in a tone more cross
than affectionate.

I I was going to say,' pursued Kalliope, ' that the
shock her entrance gave to me proved all the more
that we cannot be treating her properly.'

' Never mind that ! I did not come about that.
She is quite taken with you, Kally, and wants you
more than ever to be a Friendly Girl, because she
thinks it would be so good for the others who are
under you.'

'They have told me something about it/ said
Kalliope thoughtfully.

' She fancied,' added Gillian, ' that perhaps she did
not make you understand the rights of it, not knowing
that you were different from the others.'

' Oh no, it was not that,' said Kalliope. ' Indeed,
I hope there is no such nonsense in me. It was what
my dear father always warned us against ; only poor
mamma always gets vexed if she does not think we
are keeping ourselves up, and she had just been
annoyed at — something, and we did not know then
that it was Lady Merrifield's sister.'

This was contradictory, but it was evident that,
while Kalliope disowned conceit of station for herself,


she could not always cross her mother's wishes. It
was further elicited that if Lady Flight had taken up
the matter there would have been no difficulty. Half
a year ago the Flights had seemed to the young Whites
angelic and infallible, and perhaps expectations had
been founded on their patronage; but there had since been
a shadow of disappointment, and altogether Kalliope
was less disposed to believe that my Lady was correct
in pronouncing Miss Mohun's cherished society as
' dissentish,' and only calculated for low servant girls
and ladies who wished to meddle in families.

Clanship made Gillian's indignation almost bring
down the office, and her eloquence w T as scarcely needed,
since Kalliope had seen the value to some of her ' hands '
from the class, the library, the recreation-room, and the
influence of the ladies ; above all, the showing them
that it was possible to have variety and amusement
free from vulgar and perilous dissipation ; but still she
hesitated. She had no time, she said ; she could not
attend classes, and she was absolutely necessary at
home in the evenings ; but Gillian assured her that
nothing was expected from her but a certain influence
in the right direction, and the showing the younger
and giddier that she did not think the Society beneath

' I see all that/ said Kalliope ; ' I wish I had not
been mistaken at first; but, Miss Mer — Gillian, I do
not see how I can join it now.'

1 Why not ? What do you mean V


Kalliope was very unwilling to speak, but at last it

' How can I do this to please your aunt, who thinks

better of me than I deserve, when Oh ! excuse

me — I know it is all your kindness — but when I am
allowing you to deceive her — almost, I mean '

4 Deceive ! I never spoke an untrue word to my
aunt in my life,' said Gillian, in proud anger ; ' but if
you think so, Miss White, I had better have no more
to do with it.'

1 I feel,' said Kalliope, with tears in her eyes, l as if
it might be better so, unless Miss Mohun knew all
about it.'

' Well, if you think so, and like to upset all your
brother's hopes '

' It would be a terrible grief to him, I know, and I
don't undervalue your kindness, indeed I don't ; but I
cannot be happy about it while Miss Mohun does not
know. I don't understand why you do not tell her.'

' Because I know there would be a worry and a fuss.
Either she would say we must wait for letters from
mamma, or else that Alexis must come to Beechcroft,
and all the comfort would be over, and it would be
gossiped about all over the place. Can't you trust
me, when I tell you I have written it all to my own
father and mother, and surely I know my own family
best ?'

Kalliope looked half convinced, but she persisted —

' I suppose you do ; only please, till there is a letter


from Lady Merrifield, I had rather not go into this

' But, Kally, you don't consider. What am I to
say to my aunt ? What will she think of you ? '

' I can't help that ! I cannot do this while she
could feel I was conniving at what she might not like.
Indeed, I cannot. I beg your pardon, but it goes

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeBeechcroft at Rockstone (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 14)