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"What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle's speed,
Or urge the flying ball." - GRAY.
The afternoon at Clipstone was a success. Gillian was at home, and every one found congeners. Lady Merrifield's sister, Miss Mohun, pounced upon Miss Prescott as a coadjutor in the alphabet of good works needed in the neglected district of Arnscombe, where Mr. Earl was wifeless, and the farm ladies heedless; but they were interrupted by Mysie running up to claim Miss Prescott for a game at croquet. "Uncle Redgie was so glad to see the hoops come into fashion again," and Vera and Paula hardly knew the game, they had always played at lawn tennis; but they were delighted to learn, for Uncle Redgie proved to be a very fine-looking retired General, and there was a lad besides, grown to manly height; and one boy, at home for Easter, who, caring not for croquet, went with Primrose to exhibit to Thekla the tame menagerie, where a mungoose, called of course Raki raki, was the last acquisition. She was also shown the kittens of the beloved Begum, and presented with Phoebus, a tabby with a wise face and a head marked like a Greek lyre, to be transplanted to the Goyle in due time.
"If Sister will let me have it," said Thekla.
"Of course she will," said Primrose. "Mysie says she is so jolly."
"Dear me! all the girls at our school said she was a regular Old Maid."
"What shocking bad form!" exclaimed Primrose. "Just like cads of girls," muttered Fergus, unheard; for Thekla continued--"Why, they said she must be our maiden aunt, instead of our sister."
"The best thing going!" said Fergus.
"Maiden aunts in books are always horrid," said Thekla.
"Then the books ought to be hung, drawn, and quartered, and spifflicated besides," said Fergus.
"Fergus doesn't like anybody so well as Aunt Jane," said Primrose, "because nobody else understands his machines."
Thekla made a grimace.
"Ah!" said Primrose. "I see it is just as mamma and Mysie said when they came home, that Miss Prescott was very nice indeed, and it was famous that she should make a home for you all, only they were afraid you seemed as if--you might be--tiresome," ended Primrose, looking for a word.
"Well, you know she wants to be our governess," said Thekla.
"Well?" repeated Primrose.
"And of course no one ever likes their governess."
This aphorism, so uttered by Thekla, provoked a yell from Primrose, echoed by Fergus; and Primrose, getting her breath, declared that dear Miss Winter was a great darling, and since she had gone away, more's the pity, mamma was real governess to herself, Valetta, and Mysie, and she always looked at their translations and heard their reading if Gillian was not at home.
"And they are quite grown-up young ladies!"
"Mysie is; but I don't know about Val. Only I don't see why any one should be silly and do nothing if one is grown up ever so much," said Primrose.
"As the Eiffel Tower," put in Fergus.
"Nonsense!" said Primrose, bent on being improving. "Don't you know what that old book of mamma's says, 'When will Miss Rosamond's education be finished?' She answered 'Never.'"
Thekla gave a groan, whether of pity for Rosamond or for herself might be doubted; and a lop-eared rabbit was a favourable diversion.
There was a triad who seemed to be of Rosamond's opinion regarding education, for Agatha was eagerly availing herself of the counsel of Gillian, and the books shown to her; with the further assistance of the cousin, Dolores Mohun, now an accredited lecturer in technical classes, though making her home and headquarters at Clipstone.
Thekla's views of young ladyhood were a good deal more fulfilled by the lessons on cycling which were going on among the other young people after the game of croquet had ended. Every size and variety seemed to exist among the Clipstone population, under certain regulations of not coasting down the hills, the girls not going out alone, and never into the town, but always "putting up" at Aunt Jane's.
Vera and Paulina were in ecstasy, and there was a continual mounting, attempting and nearly falling, or turning anywhere but the right, little screams, and much laughter, Jasper attending upon Vera, who, in spite of her failures, looked remarkably pretty and graceful upon Valetta's machine; while Paula, whom Mysie and Valetta were both assisting, learnt more easily and steadily, but looked on with a few qualms as to the entire crystal rock constancy that Vera had professed, more especially when Jasper volunteered to come over to the Goyle and give another lesson.
Magdalen, after her game at croquet, had spent a very pleasant time with Lady Merrifield and her brother and sister, till they were imperiously summoned by Primrose to come and give consent to the transfer of Phoebus, or to choose between him and the Mufti, to whom Thekla had begun to incline.
The whole party adjourned to the back settlements, where Magdalen was edified by the antics of the mungoose, and admired the Begum and her progeny with a heartiness that would have won Thekla's heart, save that she remembered hearing Vera say, over the domestic cat in the morning, that M.A.'s were always devoted to cats. But, on the whole, the visit had done much to reconcile the young sisters to their new surroundings; books, bicycles, and kitten had reconciled them even to the intimacy with "swells."
The hired bicycle and tricycle had arrived in their absence, and the moment breakfast was over the next morning, the three younger ones all rushed off to the enjoyment, and, at ten minutes past the appointed hour for the early reading and study, Agatha felt obliged to go out and tell them that the M.A. was sitting like Patience on a monument, waiting for them; on which three tongues said "Bother," and "She ought to let us off till the proper end of the holidays."
"Then you should have propitiated her by asking leave after the Scripture was done," said Agatha; "you might have known she would not let you off that."
"Bother," said Vera again; "just like an M.A."
"I did forget," said Paula; "and you know it was only just going through a lesson for form's sake, like the old superlative."
They had, in fact, read the day before; when Thekla had made such frightful work of every unaccustomed word, and the elders by one or two observations had betrayed so much ignorance alike of Samuel's history and of the Gospel of St. Luke, that she had resolved to endeavour at a thorough teaching of the Old and New Testaments for the first hour on alternate days, giving one day in the week to Catechism and Prayer Book.
She asked what they had done before.
"Mrs. Best always read something at prayers."
"Something out of the Bible."
"No, the Testament."
"I am sure it was the Bible, it was so fat."
"And Saul was in it, and we had him yesterday."
"That was St. Paul before he was converted," said Paula.
There their knowledge seemed to end, and it further appeared that Mrs. Best heard the Catechism and Collect on Sundays from the unconfirmed, and had tried to get the Gospel repeated by heart, but had not succeeded.
"We did not think it fair," said Vera. "None of the other houses did."
"Yes," said Agatha, "Miss Ferris's did."
"Oh, she is a regular old Prot," said Paula, "almost a Dissenter, and it is not the Gospel either, only texts out of her own head."
"Polly!" said Agatha. "Texts out of her own head!"
"It is Bible, of course, only what she fancies; and they have to work out the sermon, and if they can't do the sermon, a text. They might as well be Dissenters at once!" said Paula.
"Janet M'Leod is," said Vera. "It was really Dissentish."
Magdalen could not help saying, "So you would not learn the Gospel because Dissenters learnt pieces of Scripture! You seem to me like the Roman Catholic child, who said there were five sacraments, there ought to be seven, but the Protestants had got two of them."
She was sorry she had said it, for though Agatha laughed, the other two drew into themselves, as if their feelings were hurt. "These are the boarding-house habits," she said. "What is done at the High School itself?"
"The Vicar comes when he has time, and gives a lecture on an Epistle," said Agatha, "or a curate, if he doesn't; but I was working for the exam., and didn't go this last term. What was it, Polly?"
"On the--on the Apollonians," answered Paulina, hesitating.
"My dear, where did he find it?"
"I know it was something about Apollo," said Vera.
"It was Corinthians," said Paula. "I ought to have recollected, but the lectures are very dull and disjointed; you said so yourself, Nag, and the Rector is very low church."
"So you could not learn from him!"
"Really, sister," said Agatha, "the lectures are not well managed, they are in too many hands, and too uncertain, and it is not easy to learn much from them."
"Well, that being the case, I think we had better begin at the beginning. Suppose I ask you to say the first answer in the Catechism."
On which Vera said they had all been confirmed except Thekla, and passed it on to her.
However, the endeavours of that half-hour need not be recounted, and the moment half-past ten chimed out the young ladies jumped up, and would have been off to the bicycles, if Magdalen had not felt that the time was come for asserting authority, and said, "Not yet, if you please. We cannot waste whole days. You know Herr Gnadiger is coming to-morrow, and it would be well to practise that sonata beforehand; you ought each to practise it; Paula, you had better begin, and Vera, you prepare this first scene of Marie Stuart to read with me when Thekla's lessons are over. Change over when Paula has done."
"It is of no use my doing anything while anyone is playing," said Vera.
"Nonsense," Agatha muttered; but Magdalen said, "You can sit in the drawing-room or your own room. Come, Tick-tick, where's your slate? Come along."
"Don't sulk, Flapsy," said the elder sister, "it is of no use. The M.A. means to be minded, and will be, and you know it is all for your good."
"I hate my good," said naughty Vera.
"So does every one when it is against the grain," said Agatha; "but remember it is a preparation for a free life of our own."
"It is our cross," said Paula, as she placed herself on the music stool with a look of resignation almost comical.
Nor did her performance interfere with the equations which Agatha was diligently working out; but Vera, though refusing to take refuge from the piano, to which, in fact, she was perfectly inured, worried her elder as much as she durst, by inquiries after the meaning of words, or what horrid verb to look out in the dictionary; and it was a pleasing change when Paula proceeded to work the same scene out for herself without having recourse to explanations, so that Agatha was undisturbed except by the careless notes, which almost equally worried Magdalen in the more distant dining-room.
This was really the crisis of the battle of study. As the girls were accustomed to it, and knew that they were of an age to be ground down, they followed Agatha's advice, and submitted without further open struggle, though there was a good deal of low murmur, and the foreman's work was not essentially disagreeable, even while Vera maintained, what she believed to be an axiom, that governesses were detestable, and that the M.A. must incur the penalty of acting as such.
Very soon after luncheon appeared three figures on bicycles. Wilfred Merrifield, with Mysie and Valetta, come to give another lesson on the "flying circle's speed."
Magdalen came out with her young people to enjoy their amusement, as well as to watch over her own precious machine, as Vera said. It was admired, as became connoisseurs in the article; and she soon saw that Wilfred was to be trusted with the care of it, so she consented to its being ridden in the practice, provided it was not taken out into the lanes.
Mysie turned off from the practising, where she was not wanted, and joined Miss Prescott in walking through the garden terraces, and planning what would best adorn them, talking over favourite books, and enjoying themselves very much; then going on to the quarry, where Mysie looked about with a critical eye to see if it displayed any fresh geological treasures to send Fergus in quest of. She began eagerly to pour forth the sister's never-ending tale of her brother's cleverness, and thus they came down the outside lane to the lower gate, seeing beforehand the sparkle of bicycles in its immediate proximity.
It was not open, but Vera might be seen standing with one hand on the latch, the other on Magdalen's bicycle, her face lifted with imploring, enticing smiles to Wilfred, who had fallen a little back, while Paula had decidedly drawn away.
None of them had seen Magdalen and Mysie till they were round the low stone wall and close upon them. There was a general start, and Vera exclaimed, "We haven't been outside! No, we haven't! And it is not the Rockquay Road either, sister! I only wanted a run down that lane up above."
Wilfred laughed a little oddly. It was quite plain that he had been withstanding the temptress, only how long would the resistance have lasted?
Downright Mysie exclaimed, "It would have been a great shame if you had, and I am glad Wilfred hindered you."
"Thank you," said Magdalen, smiling to him. "You know better than my sisters what Devon lanes and pneumatic tyres are!"
Perhaps Wilfred was a little vexed, though he had resisted, for he was ready to agree with Mysie that they could not stay and drink tea.
But he did not escape his sister's displeasure, for Mysie began at once, "How lucky it was that we came in time. I do believe that naughty little thing was just going to talk you over into doing what her sister had forbidden."
"A savage, old, selfish bear. It was only the lane."
"Full of crystals as sharp as needles, enough to cut any tyre in two," said Mysie.
"Like your tongue, eh, Mysie?"
"Well, you did not do it! That is a comfort. You would not let her transgress, and ruin her sister's good bicycle."
"She is an uncommonly pretty little sprite, and the selfish hag of a sister only left orders that I was to take care of the bike! I could see where there was a stone as well as anybody else."
"Hag!" angrily cried Mysie, "she is the only nice one of the whole lot. Vera is a nasty little thing, or she would never think of meddling with what does not belong to her, or trying to persuade you to allow it."
"I call it abominable selfishness, dog in the mangerish, to shut up such a machine as that, and condemn her sisters to one great lumbering one."
"That's one account," said Valetta. "Paula said it was only till they had learnt to ride properly, and till the stones have a little worn in."
"Yes," said Mysie, "I could see Vera is an exaggerating monkey, just talking over and deluding Will, just as men like when they get a silly fit."
By this time Wilfred had thought it expedient to put his bicycle to greater speed, and indulge in a long whistle to show how contemptible he thought his sisters as he went out of hearing.
"Paulina is nice and good," said Valetta, "she has heard all about St. Kenelm's, and wants to go there. Yes, and she means to be a Sister of Charity, only she is afraid her sister is narrow and low church."
"That is stuff and nonsense," said Mysie. "I have had a great deal of talk with Miss Prescott. She loves all the same books that we do. She is going to have G. F. S. and Mothers' Union, and all at poor Arnscombe, and she told me to call her Magdalen."
With which proofs of congeniality Valetta could not choose but be impressed.
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