Part 3 out of 8
But Kalliope looked doubtful, and began a hesitating 'But---'
'I'll tell you of a better way!' exclaimed Gillian. 'I always go
once a week to read to this Lilian Giles, and if I come down
afterwards to Kalliope's office after you have struck work, I could
see to anything you wanted to ask.'
Alexis broke out into the most eager thanks. Kalliope said hardly
anything, and as they had reached the place where the roads diverged,
they bade one another good-evening.
Gillian looked after the brother and sister just as the gas was being
lighted, and could almost guess what Alexis was saying, by his
gestures of delight. She did not hear, and did not guess how
Kalliope answered, 'Don't set your heart on it too much, dear fellow,
for I should greatly doubt whether Miss Gillian's aunts will consent.
Oh yes, of course, if they permit her, it will be all right.
So Gillian went her way feeling that she had found her 'great thing.'
Training a minister for the Church! Was not that a 'great thing'?
CHAPTER VIII. GILLIAN'S PUPIL
Gillian was not yet seventeen, and had lived a home life totally
removed from gossip, so that she had no notion that she was doing a
more awkward or remarkable thing than if she had been teaching a
drummer-boy. She even deliberated whether she should mention her
undertaking to her mother, or produce the grand achievement of Alexis
White, prepared for college, on the return from India; but a sense
that she had promised to tell everything, and that, while she did so,
she could defy any other interference, led her to write the design in
a letter to Ceylon, and then she felt ready to defy any censure or
obstructions from other Quarters.
Mystery has a certain charm. Infinite knowledge of human nature was
shown in the text, 'Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in
secret is pleasant'; and it would be hard to define how much
Gillian's satisfaction was owing to the sense of benevolence, or to
the pleasure of eluding Aunt Jane, when, after going through her
chapter of Katharine Ashton, in a somewhat perfunctory manner, she
hastened away to Miss White's office. This, being connected with the
showroom, could be entered without passing through the gate with the
inscription---'No admittance except on business.' Indeed, the office
had a private door, which, at Gillian's signal, was always opened to
her. There, on the drawing-desk, lay a Greek exercise and a
translation, with queries upon the difficulties for Gillian to
correct, or answer in writing. Kalliope had managed to make that
little room a pleasant place, bare as it was, by pinning a few of her
designs on the walls, and always keeping a terracotta vase of flowers
or coloured leaves upon the table. The lower part of the window she
had blocked with transparencies delicately cut and tinted in
cardboard---done, as she told Gillian, by her little brother Theodore,
who learnt to draw at the National School, and had the same turn for
art as herself. Altogether, the perfect neatness and simplicity of
the little room gave it an air of refinement, which rendered it by no
means an unfit setting for the grave beauty of Kalliope's countenance
The enjoyment of the meeting was great on both sides, partly from the
savour of old times, and partly because there was really much that
was uncommon and remarkable about Kalliope herself. Her father's
promotion had come exactly when she and her next brother were at the
time of life when the changes it brought would tell most on their
minds and manners. They had both been sent to schools where they had
associated with young people of gentle breeding, which perhaps their
partly foreign extraction, and southern birth and childhood, made it
easier for them to assimilate. Their beauty and brightness had led
to a good deal of kindly notice from the officers and ladies of the
regiment, and they had thus acquired the habits and ways of the class
to which they had been raised. Their father, likewise, had been a
man of a chivalrous nature, whose youthful mistakes had been the
outcome of high spirit and romance, and who, under discipline,
danger, suffering, and responsibility, had become earnestly
religious. There had besides been his Colonel's influence on him,
and on his children that of Lady Merrifield and Alethea.
It had then been a piteous change and darkening of life when, after
the crushing grief of his death, the young people found themselves in
such an entirely different stratum of society. They were ready to
work, but they could not help feeling the mortification of being
relegated below the mysterious line of gentry, as they found
themselves at Rockquay, and viewed as on a level with the clerks and
shop-girls of the place. Still more, as time went on, did they miss
the companionship and intercourse to which they had been used. Mr.
Flight, the only person in a higher rank who took notice of them, and
perceived that there was more in them than was usual, was after all
only a patron---not a friend, and perhaps was not essentially enough
of a gentleman to be free from all airs of condescension even with
Alexis, while he might be wise in not making too much of an approach
to so beautiful a girl as Kalliope. Besides, after a fit of
eagerness, and something very like promises, he had apparently let
Alexis drop, only using him for his musical services, and not doing
anything to promote the studies for which the young man thirsted, nor
proposing anything for the younger boys, who would soon outgrow the
Alexis had made a few semi-friends among the musical youth of the
place; but there was no one to sympathise with him in his studious
tastes, and there was much in his appearance and manners to cause the
accusation of being 'stuck-up'---music being really the only point of
contact with most of his fellows of the lower professional class.
Kalliope had less time, but she had, on principle, cultivated kindly
terms with the young women employed under her. Her severe style of
beauty removed her from any jealousy of her as a rival, and she was
admired---almost worshipped---by them as the glory of the workshop.
They felt her superiority, and owned her ability; but nobody there
was capable of being a companion to her. Thus the sister and brother
had almost wholly depended upon one another; and it was like a breath
from what now seemed the golden age of their lives when Gillian
Merrifield walked into the office, treating Kalliope with all the
freedom of an equal and the affection of an old friend. There was
not very much time to spare after Gillian had looked at the
exercises, noted and corrected the errors, and explained the
difficulties or mistakes in the translation from Testament and
Delectus, feeling all the time how much more mastery of the subject
her pupil had than Mr. Pollock's at home had ever attained to.
However, Kalliope always walked home with her as far as the opening
of Church Cliff Road, and they talked of the cleverness and goodness
of the brothers, except Richard at Leeds, who never seemed to be
mentioned; how Theodore kept at the head of the school, and had hopes
of the drawing prize, and how little Petros devoured tales of
battles, and would hear of nothing but being a soldier. Now and
then, too, there was a castle in the air of a home for little Maura
at Alexis's future curacy. Kalliope seemed to look to working for
life for poor mother, while Theodore should cultivate his art.
Oftener the two recalled old adventures and scenes of their
regimental days, and discussed the weddings of the two Indian
Once, however, Kalliope was obliged to suggest, with a blushing
apology, that she feared Gillian must go home alone, she was not
'Can't I help you? what have you to do?'
Kalliope attempted some excuse of putting away designs, but presently
peeped from the window, and Gillian, with excited curiosity, imitated
her, and beheld, lingering about, a young man in the pink of fashion,
with a tea-rose in his buttonhole and a cane in his hand.
'Oh, Kally,' she cried, 'does he often hang about like this waiting
'Not often, happily. There! old Mr. Stebbing has come out, and they
are walking away together. We can go now.'
'So he besets you, and you have to keep out of his way,' exclaimed
Gillian, much excited. 'Is that the reason you come to the garden
all alone on Sunday?'
'Yes, though I little guessed what awaited me there,' returned
Kalliope; 'but we had better make haste, for it is late for you to be
It was disappointing that Kalliope would not discuss such an
interesting affair; but Gillian was sensible of the danger of being
so late as to cause questions, and she allowed herself to be hurried
on too fast for conversation, and passing the two Stebbings, who, no
doubt, took her for a 'hand.'
'Does this often happen?' asked Gillian.
'No; Alec walks home with me, and the boys often come and meet me.
Oh, did I tell you that the master wants Theodore to be a pupil-
teacher? I wish I knew what was best for him.'
'Could not he be an artist?'
'I should like some one to tell me whether he really has talent worth
cultivating, dear boy, or if he would be safer and better in an
honourable occupation like a school-master.'
'Do you call it honourable?'
'Oh yes, to be sure. I put it next to a clergyman's or a doctor's
'Not a soldier's?'
'That depends,' said Kalliope.
'On the service he is sent upon, you mean? But that is his
sovereign's look-out. He "only has to obey, to do or die."'
'Yes, it is the putting away of self, and possible peril of life,
that makes all those grandest,' said Kalliope, 'and I think the
schoolmaster is next in opportunities of doing good.'
Gillian could not help thinking that none of all these could put away
self more entirely than the girl beside her, toiling away her beauty
and her youth in this dull round of toil, not able to exercise the
instincts of her art to the utmost, and with no change from the
monotonous round of mosaics, which were forced to be second rate, to
the commonest household works, and the company of the Queen of the
Gillian perceived enough of the nobleness of such a life to fill her
with a certain enthusiasm, and make her feel a day blank and
uninteresting if she could not make her way to the little office.
One evening, towards the end of the first fortnight, Alexis himself
came in with a passage that he wanted to have explained. His sister
looked uneasy all the time, and hurried to put on her hat, and stand
demonstratively waiting, telling Gillian that they must go, the
moment the lesson began to tend to discursive talk, and making a most
decided sign of prohibition to her brother when he showed a
disposition to accompany them.
'I think you are frightfully particular, Kally,' said Gillian, when
they were on their way up the hill. 'Such an old friend, and you
'It would never do here! It would be wrong,' answered Kalliope, with
the authority of an older woman. 'He must not come to the office.'
'Oh, but how could I ever explain to him? One can't do everything in
writing. I might as well give up the lessons as never speak to him
There was truth in this, and perhaps Alexis used some such arguments
on his side, for at about every third visit of Gillian's he dropped
in with some important inquiry necessary to his progress, which was
rapid enough to compel Gillian to devote some time to preparation, in
order to keep ahead of him.
Kalliope kept diligent guard, and watched against lengthening the
lessons into gossip, and they were always after hours when the hands
had gone away. The fear of being detected kept Gillian ready to
shorten the time.
'How late you are!' were the first words she heard one October
evening on entering Beechcroft Cottage; but they were followed by
'Here's a pleasure for you!'
'It's from papa himself! Open it! Open it quick,' cried Valetta,
dancing round her in full appreciation of the honour and delight.
Sir Jasper said that his daughter must put up with him for a
correspondent, since two brides at once were as much as any mother
could be supposed to undertake. Indeed, as mamma would not leave
him, Phyllis was actually going to Calcutta, chaperoned by one of the
matrons of the station, to make purchases for both outfits, since
Alethea would not stir from under the maternal wing sooner than she
At the end came, 'We are much shocked at poor White's death. He was
an excellent officer, and a good and sensible man, though much
hampered with his family. I am afraid his wife must be a very
helpless being. He used to talk about the good promise of one of his
sons---the second, I think. We will see whether anything can be done
for the children when we come home. I say we, for I find I shall
have to be invalided before I can be entirely patched up, so that
mamma and I shall have a sort of postponed silver wedding tour, a new
variety for the old folks "from home."'
'Oh, is papa coming home?' cried Valetta.
'For good! Oh, I hope it will be for good,' added Gillian.
'Then we shall live at dear Silverfold all the days of our life,'
'And I shall get back to Rigdum.'
'And I shall make a telephone down to the stables,' were the cries of
The transcendent news quite swallowed up everything else for some
time; but at last Gillian recurred to her father's testimony as to
the White family.
'Is the second son the musical one?' she was asked, and on her
affirmative, Aunt Jane remarked, 'Well, though the Rev. Augustine
Flight is not on a pinnacle of human wisdom, his choir practices,
etc., will keep the lad well out of harm's way till your father can
see about him.'
This would have been an opportunity of explaining the youth's aims
and hopes, and her own share in forwarding them; but it had become
difficult to avow the extent of her intercourse with the brother and
sister, so entirely without the knowledge of her aunts. Even Miss
Mohun, acute as she was, had no suspicions, and only thought with
much satisfaction that her niece was growing more attentive to poor
Lilian Giles, even to the point of lingering.
'I really think, she said, in consultation with Miss Adeline, 'that
we might gratify that damsel by having the White girls to drink tea.'
'Well, we can add them to your winter party of young ladies in
'Hardly. These stand on different ground, and I don't want to hurt
their feelings or Gillian's by mixing them up with the shopocracy.'
'Have you seen the Queen of the White Ants?'
'Not yet; but I mean to reconnoitre, and if I see no cause to the
contrary, I shall invite them for next Tuesday.'
'The mother? You might as well ask her namesake.'
'Probably; but I shall be better able to judge when I have seen her.'
So Miss Mohun trotted off, made her visit, and thus reported, 'Poor
woman! she certainly is not lovely now, whatever she may have been;
but I should think there was no harm in her, and she is effusive in
her gratitude to all the Merrifield family. It is plain that the
absent eldest son is the favourite, far more so than the two useful
children at the marble works; and Mr. White is spoken of as a sort of
tyrant, whereas I should think they owed a good deal to his kindness
in giving them employment.'
'I always thought he was an old hunks.'
'The town thinks so because he does not come and spend freely here;
but I have my doubts whether they are right. He is always ready to
do his part in subscriptions; and the employing these young people as
he does is true kindness.'
'Yes, by the mother who would expect to be kept like a lady in
idleness, but perhaps not so by her daughter. From all I can pick
up, I think she must be a very worthy person, so I have asked her and
the little schoolgirl for Tuesday evening, and I hope it will not be
a great nuisance to you, Ada.'
'Oh no,' said Miss Adeline, good humouredly, 'it will please Gillian,
and I shall be interested in seeing the species, or rather the
'Var Musa Groeca Hibernica Militaris,' laughed Aunt Jane.
'By the bye, I further found out what made the Captain enlist.'
'Trust you for doing that!' laughed her sister.
'Really it was not on purpose, but old Zack Skilly was indulging me
with some of his ancient smuggling experiences, in what he evidently
views as the heroic age of Rockquay. "Men was men, then," he says.
"Now they be good for nought, but to row out the gentlefolks when the
water is as smooth as glass." You should hear the contempt in his
voice. Well, a promising young hero of his was Dick White, what used
to work for his uncle, but liked a bit of a lark, and at last hit one
of the coastguard men in a fight, and ran away, and folks said he had
gone for a soldier. Skilly had heard he was dead, and his wife had
come to live in these parts, but there was no knowing what was true
and what wasn't. Folks would talk! Dick was a likely chap, with
more life about him than his cousin Jem, as was a great man now, and
owned all the marble works, and a goodish bit of the town. There was
a talk as how the two lads had both been a courting of the same maid,
that was Betsy Polwhele, and had fallen out about her, but how that
might be he could not tell. Anyhow, she was not wed to one nor
t'other of them, but went into a waste and died.'
'I wonder if it was for Dick's sake. So Jem was not constant
'Except to his second love. That was a piteous little story too.'
'You mean his young wife's health failing as soon as he brought her
to that house which he was building for her, and then his taking her
to Italy, and never enduring to come back here again after she and
her child died. But he made a good thing of it with his quarries in
'You sordid person, do you think that was all he cared for!'
'Well, I always thought of him as a great, stout, monied man, quite
incapable of romance and sensitiveness.'
'If so, don't you think he would have let that house instead of
keeping it up in empty state! There is a good deal of character in
'The Captain is certainly the most marked man, except Jasper, in that
group of officers in Gillian's photograph-book.'
'Partly from the fact that a herd of young officers always look so
exactly alike---at least in the eyes of elderly spinsters.'
'Let us hope so, now that it is all over. This same Dick must have
had something remarkable about him, to judge by the impression he
seems to have left on all who came in his way, and I shall like to
see his children.'
'You always do like queer people.'
'It is plain that we ought to take notice of them,' said Miss Mohun,
'and it is not wholesome for Gillian to think us backward in kindness
to friends about whom she plainly has a little romance.'
She refrained from uttering a suspicion inspired by her visit that
there had been more 'kindnesses' on her niece's part than she could
quite account for. Yet she believed that she knew how all the girl's
days were spent; was certain that the Sunday wanderings never went
beyond the garden, and, moreover, she implicitly trusted Lily's
Gillian did not manifest as much delight and gratitude at the
invitation as her aunts expected. In point of fact, she resented
Aunt Jane's making a visit of investigation without telling her, and
she was uneasy lest there should have been or yet should be a dis-
closure that should make her proceedings appear clandestine. 'And
they are not!' said she to herself with vehemence. 'Do I not write
them all to my own mother? And did not Miss Vincent allow that one
is not bound to treat aunts like parents?'
Even the discovery of Captain White's antecedents was almost an
offence, for if her aunt would not let her inquire, why should she do
so herself, save to preserve the choice morceau for her own superior
intelligence? Thus all the reply that Gillian deigned was, 'Of
course I knew that Captain White could never have done anything to be
The weather was too wet for any previous meetings, and it was on a
wild stormy evening that the two sisters appeared at seven o'clock at
Beechcroft Cottage. While hats and waterproofs were being taken off
upstairs, Gillian found opportunity to give a warning against
mentioning the Greek lessons. It was received with consternation.
'Oh, Miss Merrifield, do not your aunts know?'
'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 understanding on what terms the niece and aunts
might be, and the St. Kenelm'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
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 station.
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 talk.
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 repining.'
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 evening.
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.'
'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
'But,' said Gillian, 'I thought you said he had seemed to care less
'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
'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
Kalliope was speaking with some constraint when she mentioned 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.
'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.'
'Your elder brother?'
'Oh, poor Richard, 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 has come for us,' said Kalliope.
'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 blush.
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 R 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 was announced, and good-nights exchanged.
Maura's eyes grew round with delight, and she jumped for joy at the
'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 ourselves very much,' was
'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 darling.'
'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 admired.
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'?
CHAPTER IX. GAUGING AJEE
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 thoroughly interested in the Whites, and was
inquiring right and left about schools and scholarships for the
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
'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 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 disposition 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 Rockquay mind, and 'the General Screw
Company,' as Mr. Grant observed, was prevailing.
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.
Valetta 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 Caesar 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 she 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
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 Romans 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 deferentially and politely pointed out the
difficulties, with a strong sense of the favour that she was doing
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
'It is a great pity you have not her help in the G.F.S.'
'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 uncomfortable.
'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
'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,
'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.
'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
Gillian felt with dismay that all these precautions as to her escort
would render her friend more scrupulous 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
It was decided that she should trust to Kalliope to go back with her,
for when once Aunt Jane get 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.
However, her aunt wanted Valetta as little as she did; and she had
never so rejoiced in Fergus's monologue, 'Then this small fly-wheel
catches into the Targe 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---
'I 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.'
'I shall be delighted,' said Kalliope, with eyes as well as tongue,
and no sooner were she and Gillian alone together than she joyfully
'Then Miss Mohun knows! You have told her.
'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
'Call me Gillian; I have told you to do so before! Phyllis is Miss
Merrifield, and I won't be so before my time,' said Gillian,
interrupting in a tone more cross than affectionate.
'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
'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
'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
'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
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 was 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 her.
'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.'
'Why not? What do you mean?'
Kalliope was very unwilling to speak, but at last it came.
'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---'
'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.'
'I feel,' said Kalliope, with tears in her eyes, '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
'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 Society.'
'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 against me. When shall you be able to hear from
'I wrote three weeks ago. I suppose I shall hear about half-way
through December, and you know they could telegraph if they wanted to
stop it, so I think you might be satisfied.'
Still Kalliope could not be persuaded, and finally, as a sort of
compromise, Gillian decided on saying that she would think about it
and give her answer at Christmas; to which she gave a reluctant
assent, with one more protest that if there were no objection to the
lessons, she could not see why Miss Mohun should not know of them.
Peace was barely restored before voices were heard, and in came
Fergus, bringing Alexis with him. They had met on the beach road in
front of the works, and Fergus, being as usual full of questions
about a crane that was swinging blocks of stone into a vessel close
to the little pier, his aunt had allowed him to stay to see the work
finished, after which Alexis would take him to join his sister.
So it came about that they all walked home together very cheerfully,
though Gillian was still much vexed under the surface at Kalliope's
However, the aunts were not as annoyed at the delay as she expected.
Miss Mohun said she would look out some papers that would be
convincing and persuasive, and that it might be as well not to enrol
Miss White too immediately before the Christmas festivities, but to
wait till the books were begun next year. Plans began to prevail for
the Christmas diversions and entertainments, but the young
Merrifields expected to have nothing to do with these, as they were
to meet the rest of the family at their eldest uncle's house at
Beechcroft; all except Harry, who was to be ordained in the Advent
Ember week, and at once begin work with his cousin David Merrifield
in the Black Country. Their aunts would not go with them, as
Beechcroft breezes, though her native air, were too cold for Adeline
in the winter, and Jane could leave neither her, nor her various
occupations, and the festivities of all Rockstone.
It is not easy to say which Gillian most looked forward to: Mysie's
presence, or the absence of the supervision which she imagined
herself to suffer from, because she had set herself to shirk it. She
knew she should feel more free. But behold! a sudden change,
produced by one morning's letters.
'It is a beastly shame!'
'Oh, Fergus! That's not a thing to say,' cried Valetta.
'I don't care! It is a beastly shame not to go to Beechcroft, and be
poked up here all the holidays.'
'But you can't when Primrose has got the whooping-cough.'
'Bother the whooping-cough.'
'And welcome; but you would find it bother you, I believe.'
'I shouldn't catch it. I want Wilfred, and to ride the pony, and see
the sluice that Uncle Maurice made.'
'You couldn't if you had the cough.'
'Then I should stay there instead of coming back to school! I say it
is horrid, and beastly, and abominable, and---'
'Come, come, Fergus,' here put in Gillian, 'that is very wrong.'
'You don't hear Gill and me fly out in that way,' added Valetta,
'though we are so sorry about Mysie and Fly.'
'Oh, you are girls, and don't know what is worth doing. I _will_ say
it is beast---'
'Now don't, Fergus; it is very rude and ungrateful to the aunts.
None of us like having to stay here and lose our holiday; but it is
very improper to say so in their own house, and I thought you were so
fond of Aunt Jane.'
'Aunt Jane knows a thing or two, but she isn't Wilfred.'
'And Wilfred is always teasing you.'
'Fergus is quite right,' said Miss Mohun, who had been taking off her
galoshes in the vestibule while this colloquy was ending in the
dining-room; 'it is much better to be bullied by a brother than made
much of by an aunt, and you know I am very sorry for you all under
'Oh, Aunt Jane, we know you are very kind, and---' began Gillian.
'Never mind, my dear; I know you are making the best of us, and I am
very much obliged to you for standing up for us. It is a great
disappointment, but I was going to give Fergus a note that I think
will console him.'
And out of an envelope which she had just taken from the letter-box
she handed him a note, which he pulled open and then burst out,
'Cousin David! Hurrah! Scrumptious!' commencing a war-dance at the
'What is it? Has David asked you?' demanded both his sisters at the
'Hurrah! Yes, it is from him. "My dear Fergus, I hope"---hurrah---
"Harry, mm---mm---mm---brothers, 20th mm---mm. Your affectionate cousin,
'Let me read it to you,' volunteered Gillian.
'Wouldn't you like it?'
'How can you be so silly, Ferg? You can't read it yourself. You
don't know whether he really asks you.'
Fergus made a face, and bolted upstairs to gloat, and perhaps peruse
the letter, while Valetta rushed after him, whether to be teased or
permitted to assist might be doubtful.
'He really does ask him,' said Aunt Jane. 'Your cousin David, I
mean. He says that he and Harry can put up all the three boys
between them, and that they will be very useful in the Christmas
festivities of Coalham.'
'It is very kind of him,' said Gillian in a depressed tone.
'Fergus will be very happy.'
'I only hope he will not be bent on finding a coal mine in the garden
when he comes back,' said Aunt Jane, smiling; 'but it is rather
dreary for you, my dear. I had been hoping to have Jasper here for
at least a few days. Could he not come and fetch Fergus?'
Gillian's eyes sparkled at the notion; but they fell at once, for
Jasper would be detained by examinations until so late that he would
only just be able to reach Coalham before Christmas Day. Harry was
to be ordained in a fortnight's time to work under his cousin, Mr.
David Merrifield, and his young brothers were to meet him immediately
'I wish I could go too,' sighed Gillian, as a hungry yearning for
Jasper or for Mysie took possession of her.
'I wish you could,' said Miss Mohun sympathetically; 'but I am afraid
you must resign yourself to helping us instead.'
'Oh, Aunt Jane, I did not mean to grumble. It can't be helped, and
you are very kind.'
'Oh, dear!' said poor Miss Jane afterwards in private to her sister,
'how I hate being told I am very kind! It just means, "You are a not
quite intolerable jailor and despot," with fairly good intentions.'
'I am sure you are kindness itself, dear Jenny,' responded Miss
Adeline. 'I am glad they own it! But it is very inconvenient and
unlucky that that unjustifiable mother should have sent her child to
the party to carry the whooping-cough to poor little Primrose, and
Mysie, and Phyllis.'
'All at one fell swoop! As for Primrose, the worthy Halfpenny is
quite enough for her, and Lily is well out of it; but Fly is a little
shrimp, overdone all round, and I don't like the notion of it for
'And Rotherwood is so wrapped up in her. Poor dear fellow, I hope
all will go well with her.'
'There is no reason it should not. Delicate children often have it
the most lightly. But I am sorry for Gillian, though, if she would
let us, I think we could make her happy.'
Gillian meantime, after her first fit of sick longing for her brother
and sister, and sense of disappointment, was finding some consolation
in the reflection that had Jasper discovered her instructions to
Alexis White, he would certainly have 'made no end of a row about
it,' and have laughed to scorn the bare notion of her teaching Greek
to a counting-house clerk! But then Jasper was wont to grumble and
chafe at all employments---especially beneficent ones---that interfered
with devotion to his lordly self, and on the whole, perhaps he was
safer out of the way, as he might have set on the aunts to put a stop
to her proceedings. Of Mysie's sympathy she was sure, yet she would
have her scruples about the aunts, and she was a sturdy person, hard
to answer---poor Mysie, whooping away helplessly in the schoolroom at
Rotherwood! Gillian felt herself heroically good-humoured and
resigned. Moreover, here was the Indian letter so long looked for,
likely by its date to be an answer to the information as to Alexis
White's studies. Behold, it did not appear to touch on the subject
at all! It was all about preparations for the double wedding,
written in scraps by different hands, at different times, evidently
snatched from many avocations and much interruption. Of mamma there
was really least of all; but squeezed into a corner, scarcely
legible, Gillian read, 'As to lessons, if At. J. approves.' It was
evidently an afterthought; and Gillian _could_, and chose to refer it
to a certain inquiry about learning the violin, which had never been
answered---for the confusion that reigned at Columbo was plainly
unfavourable to attending to minute details in home letters.
The longest portions of the despatch were papa's, since he was still
unable to move about. He wrote:---'Our two "young men" think it
probable you will have invitations from their kith and kin. If this
comes to pass, you had better accept them, though you will not like
to break up the Christmas party at Beechcroft Court.'
There being no Christmas party at Beechcroft Court, Gillian, in spite
of her distaste to new people, was not altogether sorry to receive a
couple of notes by the same post, the first enclosed in the second,
both forwarded from thence.
'VALE LESTON PRIORY,
'MY DEAR MISS MERRIFIELD---We are very anxious to make acquaintance
with my brother Bernard's new belongings, since we cannot greet our
new sister Phyllis ourselves. We always have a family gathering at
Christmas between this house and the Vicarage, and we much hope that
you and your brother will join it. Could you not meet my sister,
Mrs. Grinstead, in London, and travel down with her on the 23rd? I
am sending this note to her, as I think she has some such proposal to
make.---Yours very sincerely,
'WILMET U. HAREWOOD.'
The other letter was thus---
'BROMPTON, 10th December.
'MY DEAR GILLIAN---It is more natural to call you thus, as you are
becoming a sort of relation---very unwillingly, I dare say---for "in
this storm I too have lost a brother." However, we will make the
best of it, and please don't hate us more than you can help. Since
your own home is dispersed for the present, it seems less outrageous
to ask you to spend a Christmas Day among new people, and I hope we
may make you feel at home with us, and that you will enjoy our
beautiful church at Vale Leston. We are so many that we may be less
alarming if you take us by driblets, so perhaps it will be the best
way if you will come up to us on the 18th or 19th, and go down with
us on the 23rd. You will find no one with us but my nephew---almost
son---Gerald Underwood, and my niece, Anna Vanderkist, who will be
delighted to make friends with your brother Jasper, who might perhaps
meet you here. You must tell me all about Phyllis, and what she
would like best for her Cingalese home.---Yours affectionately,
Thus then affairs shaped themselves. Gillian was to take Fergus to
London, where Jasper would meet them at the station, and put the
little boy into the train for Coalham, whither his brother Wilfred
had preceded him by a day or two.
Jasper and Gillian would then repair to Brompton for two or three
days before going down with Mr. and Mrs. Grinstead to Vale Leston,
and they were to take care to pay their respects to old Mrs.
Merrifield, who had become too infirm to spend Christmas at
What was to happen later was uncertain, whether they were to go to
Stokesley, or whether Jasper would join his brothers at Coalham, or
come down to Rockstone with his sister for the rest of the holidays.
Valetta must remain there, and it did not seem greatly to distress
her; and whereas nothing had been said about children, she was better
satisfied to stay within reach of Kitty and mamma, and the Christmas-
trees that began to dawn on the horizon, than to be carried into an
unknown region of 'grown-ups.'
While Gillian was not only delighted at the prospect of meeting
Jasper, her own especial brother, but was heartily glad to make a
change, and defer the entire question of lessons, confessions, and
G.F.S. for six whole weeks. She might get a more definite answer
from her parents, or something might happen to make explanation to
her aunt either unnecessary or much more easy---and she was safe from
discovery. But examinations had yet to be passed.
CHAPTER X. AUT CAESAR AUT NIHIL
Examinations were the great autumn excitement. Gillian was going up
for the higher Cambridge, and Valetta's form was under preparation
for competition for a prize in languages. The great Mr. White, on
being asked to patronise the High School at its first start, four
years ago, had endowed it with prizes for each of the four forms for
the most proficient in two tongues.
As the preparation became more absorbing, brows were puckered and
looks were anxious, and the aunts were doubtful as to the effect upon
the girls' minds or bodies. It was too late, however, to withdraw
them, and Miss Mohun could only insist on air and exercise, and
permit no work after the seven-o'clock tea.
She was endeavouring to chase cobwebs from the brains of the students
by the humours of Mrs. Nickleby, when a message was brought that Miss
Leverett, the head-mistress of the High School, wished to speak to
her in the dining-room. This was no unusual occurrence, as Miss
Mohun was secretary to the managing committee of the High School.
But on the announcement Valetta began to fidget, and presently said
that she was tired and would go to bed. The most ordinary effect of
fatigue upon this young lady was to make her resemble the hero of the
'I do not want to go to bed,
Sleepy little Harry said.'
Nevertheless, this willingness excited no suspicion, till Miss Mohun
came to the door to summon Valetta.
'Is there anything wrong!' exclaimed sister and niece together.
'Gone to bed! Oh! I'll tell you presently. Don't you come,
She vanished again, leaving Gillian in no small alarm and vexation.
'I wonder what it can be,' mused Aunt Ada.
'I shall go and find out!' said Gillian, jumping up, as she heard a
door shut upstairs.
'No, don't,' said Aunt Ada, 'you had much better not interfere.'
'It is my business to see after my own sister,' returned Gillian
'I see what you mean, my dear,' said her aunt, stretching out her
hand, kindly; 'but I do not think you can do any good. If she is in
a scrape, you have nothing to do with the High School management, and
for you to burst in would only annoy Miss Leverett and confuse the
affair. Oh, I know your impulse of defence, dear Gillian; but the
time has not come yet, and you can't have any reasonable doubt that
Jane will be just, nor that your mother would wish that you should be
quiet about it.'
'But suppose there is some horrid accusation against her!' said
'But, dear child, if you don't know anything about it, how can you
'I ought to know!'
'So you will in time; but the more people there are present, the more
confusion there is, and the greater difficulty in getting at the
rights of anything.''
More by her caressing tone of sympathy than by actual arguments,
Adeline did succeed in keeping Gillian in the drawing-room, though
not in pacifying her, till doors were heard again, and something so
like Valetta crying as she went upstairs, that Gillian was neither to
have nor to hold, and made a dash out of the room, only to find her
aunt and the head-mistress exchanging last words in the hall, and as
she was going to brush past them, Aunt Jane caught her hand, and
'Wait a moment, Gillian; I want to speak to you.'
There was no getting away, but she was very indignant. She tugged at
her aunt's hand more than perhaps she knew, and there was something
of a flouncing as she flung into the drawing-room and demanded---
'Well, what have you been doing to poor little Val?'
'We have done nothing,' said Miss Mohun quietly. 'Miss Leverett
wanted to ask her some questions. Sit down, Gillian. You had
better hear what I have to say before going to her. Well, it appears
that there has been some amount of cribbing in the third form.'
'I'm sure Val never would,' broke out Gillian. And her aunt
'So was I; but---'
'My dear, do hush,' pleaded Adeline. 'You must let yourself listen.'
Gillian gave a desperate twist, but let her aunt smooth her hand.
'All the class---almost---seem to have done it in some telegraphic way,
hard to understand,' proceeded Aunt Jane. 'There must have been some
stupidity on the part of the class-mistress, Miss Mellon, or it could
not have gone on; but there has of late been a strong suspicion of
cribbing in Caesar in Valetta's class. They had got rather
behindhand, and have been working up somewhat too hard and fast to
get through the portion for examination. Some of them translated too
well--used terms for the idioms that were neither literal, nor could
have been forged by their small brains; so there was an examination,
and Georgie Purvis was detected reading off from the marks on the
margin of her notebook.'
'But what has that to do with Val?'
'Georgie, being had up to Miss Leverett, made the sort of confession
that implicates everybody.'
'Then why believe her?' muttered Gillian. But her aunt went on---
'She said that four or five of them did it, from the notes that
Valetta Merrifield brought to school.'
'Never!' interjected Gillian.
'She said,' continued Miss Mohun, 'it was first that they saw her
helping Maura White, and they thought that was not fair, and insisted
on her doing the same for them.'
'It can't be true! Oh, don't believe it!' cried the sister.
'I grieve to remind you that I showed you in the drawer in the
dining-room chiffonier a translation of that very book of Caesar that
your mother and I made years ago, when she was crazy upon
'But was that reason enough for laying it upon poor Val?'
'She owned it.'
There was a silence, and then Gillian said---
'She must have been frightened, and not known what she was saying.'
'She was frightened, but she was very straightforward, and told
without any shuffling. She saw the old copy-books when I was showing
you those other remnants of our old times, and one day it seems she
was in a great puzzle over her lessons, and could get no help or
advice, because none of us had come in. I suppose you were with
Lilian, and she thought she might just look at the passage. She
found Maura in the same difficulty, and helped her; and then Georgie
Purvis and Nelly Black found them out, and threatened to tell unless
she showed them her notes; but the copying whole phrases was only
done quite of late in the general over-hurry.'
'She must have been bullied into it,' cried Gillian. 'I shall go and
see about her.'
Aunt Ada made a gesture as of deprecation; but Aunt Jane let her go
without remonstrance, merely saying as the door closed---
'Poor child! Esprit de famille!'
'Will it not be very bad for Valetta to be petted and pitied?'
'I don't know. At any rate, we cannot separate them at night, so it
is only beginning it a little sooner; and whatever I say only
exasperates Gillian the more. Poor little Val, she had not a formed
character enough to be turned loose into a High School without Mysie
to keep her in order.'
'I am not so sure of Gillian. There's something amiss, though I
can't make out whether it is merely that I rub her down the wrong
way. I wonder whether this holiday time will do us good or harm!
At any rate, I know how Lily felt about Dolores.'
'It must have been that class-mistress's fault.'
'To a great degree; but Miss Leverett has just discovered that her
cleverness does not compensate for a general lack of sense and
discipline. Poor little Val---perhaps it is her turning-point!'
Gillian, rushing up in a boiling state of indignation against
everybody, felt the family shame most acutely of all; and though, as
a Merrifield, she defended her sister below stairs, on the other hand
she was much more personally shocked and angered at the disgrace than
were her aunts, and far less willing to perceive any excuse for the
There was certainly no petting or pitying in her tone as she stood
over the little iron bed, where the victim was hiding her head on her
'Oh, Valetta, how could you do such a thing? The Merrifields have
never been so disgraced before!'
'Oh, don't, Gill! Aunt Jane and Miss Leverett were---not so angry---
when I said---I was sorry.'
'But what will papa and mamma say?'
'Must they---must they hear?'
'You would not think of deceiving them, I hope.'
'Not deceiving, only not telling.'
'That comes to much the same.'
'You can't say anything, Gill, for you are always down at Kal's
office, and nobody knows.'
This gave Gillian a great shock, but she rallied, and said with
dignity, 'Do you think I do not write to mamma everything I do?'
It sufficed for the immediate purpose of annihilating Valetta, who
had just been begging off from letting mamma hear of her proceedings;
but it left Gillian very uneasy as to how much the child might know
or tell, and this made her proceed less violently, and more
persuasively, 'Whatever I do, I write to mamma; and besides, it is
different with a little thing like you, and your school work. Come,
tell me how you got into this scrape.'
'Oh, Gill, it was so hard! All about those tiresome Gauls, and there
were bits when the nominative case would go and hide itself, and
those nasty tenses one doesn't know how to look out, and I knew I was
making nonsense, and you were out of the way, and there was nobody to
help; and I knew mamma's own book was there---the very part too---
because Aunt Jane had shown it to us, so I did not think there was
any harm in letting her help me out of the muddle.'
'Ah! that was the beginning.'
'If you had been in, I would not have done it. You know Aunt Jane
said there was no harm in giving a clue, and this was mamma.'
'But that was not all.'
'Well, then, there was Maura first, as much puzzled, and her brother
is so busy he hasn't as much time for her as he used to have, and it
does signify to her, for perhaps if she does not pass, Mr. White may
not let her go on at the High School, and that would be too dreadful,
for you know you said I was to do all I could for Maura. So I marked
down things for her and she copied them off, and then Georgie and
Nelly found it out, and, oh! they were dreadful! I never knew it was
wrong till they went at me. And they were horrid to Maura, and said
she was a Greek and I a Maltese, and so we were both false, and
cheaty, and sly, and they should tell Miss Leverett unless I would
'Oh! Valetta, why didn't you tell me?'
'I never get to speak to you, said Val. 'I did think I would that
first time, and ask you what to do, but then you came in late, and
when I began something, you said you had your Greek to do, and told
me to hold my tongue.'
'I am very sorry,' said Gillian, feeling convicted of having
neglected her little sister in the stress of her own work and of the
preparation for that of her pupil, who was treading on her heels;
'but indeed, Val, if you had told me it was important, I should have
'Ah I but when one is half-frightened, and you are always in a
hurry,' sighed the child. And, indeed, I did do my best over my own
work before ever I looked; only those two are so lazy and stupid,
they would have ever so much more help than Maura or I ever wanted;
and at last I was so worried and hurried with my French and all the
rest, that I did scramble a whole lot down, and that was the way it
was found out. And I am glad now it is over, whatever happens.'
'Yes, that is right,' said Gillian, 'and I am glad you told no
stories; but I wonder Emma Norton did not see what was going on.'
'Oh, she is frightfully busy about her own.'
'And Kitty Varley?'
'Kitty is only going up for French and German. Miss Leverett is so
angry. What do you think she will do to me, Gill? Expel me?'
'I don't know---I can't guess. I don't know High School ways.'
It would be so dreadful for papa and mamma and the boys to know,'
sobbed Valetta. 'And Mysie! oh, if Mysie was but here!'
'Mysie would have been a better sister to her,' said Gillian's
conscience, and her voice said, 'You would never have done it if
Mysie had been here.'
'And Mysie would be nice,' said the poor child, who longed after her
companion sister as much for comfort as for conscience. 'Is Aunt
Jane very very angry?' she went on; 'do you think I shall be
'I can't tell. If it were I, I should think you were punished enough
by having disgraced the name of Merrifield by such a dishonourable
'I---I didn't know it was dishonourable.'
'Well,' said Gillian, perhaps a little tired of the scene, or mayhap
dreading another push into her own quarters, 'I have been saying what
I could for you, and I should think they would feel that no one but
our father and mother had a real right to punish you, but I can't
tell what the School may do. Now, hush, it is of no use to talk any
more. Good-night; I hope I shall find you asleep when I come to
Valetta would have detained her, but off she went, with a
consciousness that she had been poor comfort to her little sister,
and had not helped her to the right kind of repentance. But then
that highest ground---the strict rule of perfect conscientious
uprightness---was just what she shrank from bringing home to herself,
in spite of those privileges of seniority by which she had impressed
The worst thing further that was said that night, when she had
reported as much of Valetta's confidence as she thought might soften
displeasure, was Aunt Ada's observation: 'Maura! That's the White
child, is it not? No doubt it was the Greek blood.'
'The English girls were much worse,' hastily said Gillian, with a
flush of alarm, as she thought of her own friends being suspected.
'Yes; but it began with the little Greek,' said Aunt Ada. 'What a
pity, for she is such an engaging child! I would take the child away
from the High School, except that it would have the appearance of her
'We must consider of that,' said Aunt Jane. 'There will hardly be
time to hear from Lilias before the next term begins. Indeed, it
will not be so very long to wait before the happy return, I hope.'
'Only two months,' said Gillian; 'but it would be happier but for
'No,' said Aunt Jane. 'If we made poor little Val write her
confession, and I do the same for not having looked after her better,
it will be off our minds, and need not cloud the meeting.'
'The disgrace!' sighed Gillian; 'the public disgrace!'
'My dear, I don't want to make you think lightly of such a thing. It
was very wrong in a child brought up as you have all been, with a
sense of honour and uprightness; but where there has been no such
training, the attempt to copy is common enough, for it is not to be
looked on as an extraordinary and indelible disgrace. Do you
remember Primrose saying she had broken mamma's heart when she had
knocked down a china vase? You need not be in that state of mind
over what was a childish fault, made worse by those bullying girls.
It is of no use to exaggerate. The sin is the thing---not the outward
'And Valetta told at once when asked,' added Aunt Ada.
'That makes a great difference.'
'In fact, she was relieved to have it out,' said Miss Mohun. 'It is
not at all as if she were in the habit of doing things underhand.'
Everything struck on Gillian like a covert reproach. It was pain and
shame to her that a Merrifield should have lowered herself to the
common herd so as to need these excuses of her aunts, and then in the
midst of that indignation came that throb of self-conviction which
she was always confuting with the recollection of her letter to her
She was glad to bid good-night and rest her head.
The aunts ended by agreeing that it was needful to withdraw Valetta
from the competition. It would seem like punishment to her, but it
would remove her from the strain that certainly was not good for her.
Indeed, they had serious thoughts of taking her from the school
altogether, but the holidays would not long be ended before her
'I am sorry we ever let her try for the prize,' said Ada.
'Yes,' said Aunt Jane, 'I suppose it was weakness; but having opposed
the acceptance of the system of prizes by competition at first, I
thought it would look sullen if I refused to let Valetta try.
Stimulus is all very well, but competition leads to emulation, wrath,
strife, and a good deal besides.'
'Valetta wished it too, and she knew so much Latin to begin with that
I thought she would easily get it, and certainly she ought not to get
'After the silken rein and easy amble of Silverfold, the spur and the
race have come severely.'
'It is, I suppose, the same with Gillian, though there it is not
competition. Do you expect her to succeed?'
'No. She has plenty of intelligence, and a certain sort of
diligence, but does not work to a point. She wants a real hand over
her! She will fail, and it will be very good for her.'
'I should say the work was overmuch for her, and had led her to
'Work becomes overmuch when people don't know how to set about it,
and resent being told--- No, not in words, but by looks and shoulders.
Besides, I am not sure that it is her proper work that oppresses her.
I think she has some other undertaking in hand, probably for
Christmas, or for her mother's return; but as secrecy is the very
soul of such things, I shut my eyes.'
'Somehow, Jane, I think you have become so much afraid of giving way
to curiosity that you sometimes shut your eyes rather too much.'
'Well, perhaps in one's old age one suffers from the reaction of
one's bad qualities. I will think about it, Ada. I certainly never
before realised how very different school supervision of young folks
is from looking after them all round. Moreover, Gillian has been
much more attentive to poor Lily Giles of late, in spite of her
Valetta was not at first heartbroken on hearing that she was not to
go in for the language examination. It was such a relief from the
oppression of the task, and she had so long given up hopes of having
the prize to show to her mother, that she was scarcely grieved,
though Aunt Jane was very grave while walking down to school with her
in the morning to see Miss Leverett, and explain the withdrawal.
That lady came to her private room as soon as she had opened the
school. From one point of view, she said, she agreed with Miss Mohun
that it would be better that her niece should not go up for the
'But,' she said, 'it may be considered as a stigma upon her, since
none of the others are to give up.'
'Indeed! I had almost thought it a matter of course.'
'On the contrary, two of the mothers seem to think nothing at all of
the matter. Mrs. Black---'
'The Surveyor's wife, isn't she?'
'Yes, she writes a note saying that all children copy, if they can,
and she wonders that I should be so severe upon such a frequent
occurrence, which reflects more discredit on the governesses than the
'Polite that! And Mrs. Purvis? At least, she is a lady!'
'She is more polite, but evidently has no desire to be troubled. She
hopes that if her daughter has committed a breach of school
discipline, I will act as I think best.'
'No feeling of the real evil in either! How about Maura White?'
'That is very different. It is her sister who writes, and so nicely
that I must show it to you.'
'MY DEAR MADAM---I am exceedingly grieved that Maura should have acted
in a dishonourable manner, though she was not fully aware how wrongly
she was behaving. We have been talking to her, and we think she is
so truly sorry as not to be likely to fall into the same temptation
again. As far as we can make out, she has generally taken pains with
her tasks, and only obtained assistance in unusually difficult
passages, so that we think that she is really not ill-prepared. If
it is thought right that all the pupils concerned should abstain from
the competition, we would of course readily acquiesce in the justice
of the sentence; but to miss it this year might make so serious a
difference to her prospects, that I hope it will not be thought a
necessary act of discipline, though we know that we have no right to
plead for any exemption for her. With many thanks for the
consideration you have shown for her, I remain, faithfully yours,
'A very different tone indeed, and it quite agrees with Valetta's
account,' said Miss Mohun.
'Yes, the other two girls were by far the most guilty.'
'And morally, perhaps, Maura the least; but I retain my view that,
irrespective of the others, Valetta's parents had rather she missed
this examination, considering all things.'
Valetta came home much more grieved when she had found she was the
only one left out, and declared it was unjust.
No,' said Gillian, 'for you began it all. None of the others would
have got into the scrape but for you.'
'It was all your fault for not minding me!'
'As if I made you do sly things.'
'You made me. You were so cross if I only asked a question,' and Val
prepared to cry.
'I thought people had to do their own work and not other folks'!
Don't be so foolish.'
'Oh dear! oh dear! how unkind you are! I wish---I wish Mysie was
here; every one is grown cross! Oh, if mamma would but come home!'
'Now, Val, don't be such a baby! Stop that!'
And Valetta went into one of her old agonies of crying and sobbing,
which brought Aunt Jane in to see what was the matter. She instantly
stopped the scolding with which Gillian was trying to check the
outburst, and which only added to its violence.
'It is the only thing to stop those fits,' said Gillian. 'She can if
she will! It is all temper.'
'Leave her to me!' commanded Aunt Jane. 'Go!'
Gillian went away, muttering that it was not the way mamma or Nurse
Halfpenny treated Val, and quite amazed that Aunt Jane, of all
people, should have the naughty child on her lap and in her arms,
soothing her tenderly.
The cries died away, and the long heaving sobs began to subside, and
at last a broken voice said, on Aunt Jane's shoulder, 'It's---a---
little bit---like mamma.'
For Aunt Jane's voice had a ring in it like mamma's, and this little
bit of tenderness was inexpressibly comforting.
'My poor dear child,' she said, 'mamma will soon come home, and then
you will be all right.'
'I shouldn't have done it if mamma had been there!'
'No, and now you are sorry.'
'Will mamma be very angry?'
'She will be grieved that you could not hold out when you were
tempted; but I am sure she will forgive you if you write it all to
her. And, Val, you know you can have God's forgiveness at once if
you tell Him.'
'Yes,' said Valetta gravely; then, 'I did not before, because I
thought every one made so much of it, and were so cross. And Georgie
and Nellie don't care at all.'
'Oh, Maura does, because of Kalliope.'
'How do you mean?'
Valetta sat up on her aunt's lap, and told.
'Maura told me! She said Kally and Alec both were at her, but her
mamma was vexed with them, and said she would not have her scolded at
home as well as at school about nothing; and she told Theodore to go
and buy her a tart to make up to her, but Theodore wouldn't, for he
said he was ashamed of her. So she sent the maid. But when Maura
had gone to bed and to sleep, she woke up, and there was Kally crying
over her prayers, and whispering half aloud, "Is she going too? My
poor child! Oh, save her! Give her the Spirit of truth--"'
'Poor Kalliope! She is a good sister.'
'Yes; Maura says Kally is awfully afraid of their telling stories
because of Richard---the eldest, you know. He does it dreadfully. I
remember nurse used to tell us not to fib like Dick White. Maura
said he used to tell his father stories about being late and getting
money, and their mother never let him be punished. He was her pet.
And Maura remembers being carried in to see poor Captain White just
before he died, when she was getting better, but could not stand, and
he said, "Truth before all, children. Be true to God and man."
Captain White did care so much, but Mrs. White doesn't. Isn't that
very odd, for she isn't a Roman Catholic?' ended Valetta, obviously
believing that falsehood was inherent in Romanists, and pouring out
all this as soon as her tears were assuaged, as if, having heard it,
she must tell.
'Mrs. White is half a Greek, you know,' said Aunt Jane, 'and the
Greeks are said not to think enough about truth.'
'Epaminondas did,' said Valetta, who had picked up a good deal from
the home atmosphere, 'but Ulysses didn't.'
'No; and the Greeks have been enslaved and oppressed for a great many
years, and that is apt to make people get cowardly and false. But
that is not our concern, Val, and I think with such a recollection of
her good father, and such a sister to help her, Maura will not fall
into the fault again. And, my dear, I quite see that neither you nor
she entirely realised that what you did was deception, though you
never spoke a word of untruth.'
'No, we did not,' said Valetta.
'And so, my dear child, I do forgive you, quite and entirely, as we
used to say, though I have settled with Miss Leverett that you had
better not go up for the examination, since you cannot be properly up
to it. And you must write the whole history to your mother. Yes; I
know it will be very sad work, but it will be much better to have it
out and done with, instead of having it on your mind when she comes
'Shall you tell her!'
'Yes, certainly,' said the aunt, well knowing that this would clench
the matter. 'But I shall tell her how sorry you are, and that I
really think you did not quite understand what you were about at
first. And I shall write to Miss White, and try to comfort her about
'You won't say I told!'
'Oh no; but I shall have quite reason enough for writing in telling
her that I am sorry my little niece led her sister into crooked
Gillian knew that this letter was written and sent, and it did not
make her more eager for a meeting with Kalliope. So that she was not
sorry that the weather was a valid hindrance, though a few weeks ago
she would have disregarded such considerations. Besides, there was
her own examination, which for two days was like a fever, and kept
her at her little table, thinking of nothing but those questions, and
dreaming and waking over them at night.
It was over; and she was counselled on all sides to think no more
about it till she should hear of success or failure. But this was
easier said than done, and she was left in her tired state with a
general sense of being on a wrong tack, and of going on amiss,
whether due to her aunt's want of assimilation to herself, or to her
mother's absence, she did not know, and with the further sense that
she had not been the motherly sister she had figured to herself, but
that both the children should show a greater trust and reliance on
Aunt Jane than on herself grieved her, not exactly with jealousy, but
with sense of failure and dissatisfaction with herself. She had a
universal distaste to her surroundings, and something very like dread
of the Whites, and she rejoiced in the prospect of quitting Rockstone
for the present.
She felt bound to run down to the office to wish Kalliope good-bye.
There she found an accumulation of exercises and translations waiting
'Oh, what a quantity! It shows how long it is since I have been
'And indeed,' began Kalliope, 'since your aunt has been so very kind
about poor little Maura---'
'Oh, please don't talk to me! There's such a lot to do, and I have
no time. Wait till I have done.'
And she nervously began reading out the Greek exercise, so as
effectually to stop Kalliope's mouth. Moreover, either her own
uneasy mind, or the difficulty of the Greek, brought her into a
dilemma. She saw that Alexis's phrase was wrong, but she did not
clearly perceive what the sentence ought to be, and she perplexed
herself over it till he came in, whether to her satisfaction or not
she could not have told, for she had not wanted to see him on the one
hand, though, on the other, it silenced Kalliope.
She tried to clear her perceptions by explanations to him, but he did
not seem to give his mind to the grammar half as much as to the
cessation of the lessons and her absence.
'You must do the best you can,' she said, 'and I shall find you gone
quite beyond me.'
'I shall never do that, Miss Merrifield.'
'Nonsense!' she said, laughing uncomfortably 'a pretty clergyman you
would be if you could not pass a girl. There! good-bye. Make a list
of your puzzles and I will do my best with them when I come back.'
'Thank you,' and he wrung her hand with an earnestness that gave her
a sense of uneasiness.
CHAPTER XI. LADY MERRIFIELD'S CHRISTMAS LETTER-BAG
'MY DEAR MAMMA---I wish you a merry Christmas, and papa and sisters
and Claude too. I only hooped once to-day, and Nurse says I may go
out when it gets fine. Fly is better. She sent me her dolls' house
in a big box in a cart, and Mysie sent a new frock of her own making
for Liliana, and Uncle William gave me a lovely doll, with waxen arms
and legs, that shuts her eyes and squeals, and says Mamma; but I do
not want anything but my own dear mamma, and all the rest. I am
mamma's own little PRIMROSE.'
'MY DEAR MAMMA---I wish you and papa, and all, a happy Crismas, and I
send a plan of the great coal mine for a card. It is much jollier
here than at Rockquay, for it is all black with cinders, and there
are little fires all night, and there are lots of oars and oxhide and
fossils and ferns and real curiozitys, and nobody minds noises nor
muddy boots, and they aren't at one to wash your hands, for they
can't be clean ever; and there was a real row in the street last
night just outside. We are to go down a mine some day when Cousin
David has time. I mean to be a great jeologist and get lots of
specimens, and please bring me home all the minerals in Ceylon.
Harry gave me a hammer.---I am, your affectionate son,
'MY DEAREST MAMMA---I hope you will like my card. Aunt Ada did none
of it, only showed me how, and Aunt Jane says I may tell you I am
really trying to be good. I am helping her gild fir-cones for a
Christmas-tree for the quire, and they will sing carols. Macrae
brought some for us the day before yesterday, and a famous lot of
holly and ivy and mistletoe and flowers, and three turkeys and some
hams and pheasants and partridges. Aunt Jane sent the biggest turkey
and ham in a basket covered up with holly to Mrs. White, and another
to Mrs. Hablot, and they are doing the church with the holly and ivy.
We are to eat the other the day after to-morrow, and Mr. Grant and
Miss Burne, who teaches the youngest form, are coming. It was only
cold beef to-day, to let Mrs. Mount go to church; but we had mince
pies, and I am going to Kitty's Christmas party to-morrow, and we
shall dance---so Aunt Ada has given me a new white frock and a lovely
Roman sash of her own. Poor old Mrs. Vincent is dead, and Fergus's
great black rabbit, and poor little Mary Brown with dip---(blot). I
can't spell it, and nobody is here to tell me how, but the thing in
people's throats, and poor Anne has got it, and Dr. Ellis says it was
a mercy we were all away from home, for we should have had it too,
and that would have been ever so much worse than the whooping-cough.
'I have lots of cards, but my presents are waiting for my birthday,
when Maura is to come to tea. It is much nicer than I thought the
holidays would be. Maura White has got the prize for French and
Latin. It is a lovely Shakespeare. I wish I had been good, for I
think I should have got it. Only she does want more help than I do---
so perhaps it is lucky I did not. No, I don't mean lucky either.---
Your affectionate little daughter, VAL.'
'DEAR MOTHER---Fergus is such a little ape that he will send you that
disgusting coal mine on his card, as if you would care for it. I
know you will like mine much better---that old buffer skating into a
hole in the ice. I don't mind being here, for though Harry and Davy
get up frightfully early to go to church, they don't want us down
till they come back, and we can have fun all day, except when Harry
screws me down to my holiday task, which is a disgusting one, about
the Wars of the Roses. Harry does look so rum now that he is got up
for a parson that we did not know him when he met us at the station.
There was an awful row outside here last night between two sets of
Waits. David went out and parted them, and I thought he would have
got a black eye. All the choir had supper here, for there was a
service in the middle of the night; but they did not want us at it,
and on Tuesday we are to have a Christmas ship, and a magic-lantern,
and Rollo and Mr. Bowater are coming to help---he is the clergyman at
the next place---and no end of fun, and the biggest dog you ever saw.
Fergus has got one of his crazes worse than ever about old stones,
and is always in the coal hole, poking after ferns and things.
Wishing you a merry Christmas.---Your affectionate son,