"SistersThree" ChapterOne. NewYear’sDay. “Iwishsomethingwouldhappen!”sighedNorah. “If it were something nice,” corrected Lettice. “Lots of things happen everyday,buttheyaremostlydisagreeable.Gettingup,forinstance,in the cold, dark mornings—and practising—and housework, and getting readyforstupidoldclasses—Idon’tcomplainofhavingtoolittletodo.I wanttodoless,andtobeabletoamusemyselfmore.” “Wewantachange,thatisthetruth,”saidHilary,bendingforwardonher seat, and sending the poker into the heart of the fire with a vigorous shove. “Our lives jog-trot along in the same way year after year, and it grows monotonous. I declare, when I think that this is the first day of another January it makes me ill! Fifty-two more Mondays to sit in the morning-roomanddarnstockings.Fifty-twoSaturdaystogiveoutstores. Threehundredandsixty-fivedaystodustornaments,interviewthecook, and say, ‘Well, let me see! The cold mutton had better be used up for lunch’—Oh,dearme!” “I’lltellyouwhat—let’shaveanicelonggrumble,”saidLettice,givingher chair a hitch nearer the fire, and bending forward with a smile of enjoyment. “Let’s hold an Indignation Meeting on our own account, and discussourgrievances.Womenalwayshavegrievancesnowadays—it’s thefashionablething,andIliketobeinthefashion.Threecharmingand beauteousmaidensshutupinthedepthsofthecountryintheveryflower of their youth, with nothing to do—I mean with far too much to do, but withnoamusement,nofriends,novariety!Weareliketheprincessesin thefairytales,shutupinthemoatedtower;onlythentherewerealways fairygodmotherstocometotherescue,andbeautifulprincesingolden chariots.Weshallhavetowaitalongtimebeforeanysuchvisitorscome tramping along the Kendal high-road. I am sure it sounds melancholy
enoughtomakeanyonesorryforus!” “Fatheristhedearestmanintheworld,buthedoesn’tunderstandhowa girlofseventeenfeels.Iwasseventeenonmylastbirthday,soit’sworse formethanforyou,forIamreallygrown-up.”Hilarysighed,andrested her sleek little head upon her hand in a pensive, elderly fashion. “I believehethinksthatifwehaveacomfortablehomeandenoughtoeat, andmoderatelydecentclothes,weoughttobecontent;butIwantever somuchmorethanthat.Ifmotherhadlived—”
Therewasashortsilence,andthenNorahtookupthestraininhercrisp, decidedaccents.“Iamfifteenandahalf,andIlookverynearlyasoldas youdo,Hilary,andI’maninchtaller.Idon’tseewhyIneedgoonwith these stupid old classes. If I could go to a good school, it would be anotherthing,forIsimplyadoremusicandpainting,andshouldloveto work hard, and become celebrated; but I don’t believe Miss Briggs can teachmeanymorethanIknowmyself,andthereisnobetterteacherfor milesaround.Iffatherwouldonlyletmegoabroadforayear;butheis afraidoftrustingmeoutofhissight.IfIhadsevenchildren,I’dbegladto get rid of some of them, if only to get a little peace and quietness at home.” “Motherlikedtheideaofgirlsbeingeducatedathome,thatisthereason why father objects to sending us away. The boys must go to boardingschools,ofcourse,becausethereisnooneherewhocantakethemin hand.Asforpeaceandquietness,fatherenjoyshavingthehousefull.He grumblesatthenoisesometimes,butIbelievehelikesitatthebottomof his heart. If we do happen to be quiet for a change in the evening, he peersoverhisbookandsays,‘Whatisthematter;hassomethinggone wrong?Whyareyouallsoquiet?’Helovestoseeusfriskingabout.” “Yes, but I can’t frisk any longer—I’m too dull—I want something to happen,”repeatedNorah,obstinately.“OtherpeoplehavepartiesonNew Year’sDay,oraChristmas-tree,orcrowdsofvisitorscomingtocall.We have been sitting here sewing from ten o’clock this morning—nasty, uninterestingmending—whichisn’thalfdoneyet,thoughitisnearlyfour o’clock. And you never think of me! I’m fifteen, and I feel it more than eitherofyou.Youseeitislikethis.SometimesIfeelquiteyoung,likea child,andthenyoutwoaretoopropertorunaboutandplaywithme,soI
amallalone;andthenIfeelquiteoldandgrown-up,andamjustasbadly offasyou,andworse,becauseI’mtheyoungest,andhavetotakethird turnofeverything,andwearyourwashed-outribbons!Ifonlysomething wouldhappenthatwasreallystartlingandexciting—!” “Isinkit’sverynaughtytowishlikethat!”Atiny,reed-likevoiceburstinto the conversation with an unexpectedness which made the three sisters startintheirseats;asmallfigureinawhitepinaforecreptforwardintothe firelight,andraisedapairofreproachfuleyestoNorah’sface.“Isinkit’s very naughty to wish like that, ’cause it’s discontented, and you don’t know what it might be like. Pr’aps the house might be burned, or the wallsfalldown,oryoumightallbeillanddeadyourselves,andthenyou wouldn’tlikeit!” The three girls looked at each other, undecided between laughter and remorse. “Mouse!”saidHilary,severely,“whatareyoudoinghere?Littlegirlshave no business to listen to what big people are saying. You must never sit hereagainwithoutlettingusknow,orthatwillbenaughtytoo.Wedon’t mean to be discontented, Mouse. We felt rather low in our spirits, and wererelievingourselvesbyalittlegrumble,that’sall.Ofcourse,weknow thatwehavereallymany,manythingstobethankfulfor—anicehouse, and—ah—garden,andsuchbeautifulcountryallround,and—ah—good health,and—” “And the bunnies, and the pigeons, and the new carpet in the diningroom, and because the puppy didn’t die—and—and—Me!” said the Mouse, severely; and when her sisters burst into a roar of laughter she proceededtojustifyherselfwithindignantprotest.“Well,it’sthetrufh!The bunnies are pretty, and you said, ‘Thank goodness! we’ve got a respectablecarpetatlast!’AndLetticecriedwhenthelittlepuprolledits eyesandsquealed,andyousaidtoMissBriggsthatIwasonlyfive,and ifIwasspoiledshecouldn’twonder,’causeIwasthelittlestofseven,and no one could help it! And it’s ‘Happy New Year’ and plum pudding for dinner,soIdon’tsinkyououghttobediscontented!” “Youarequiteright,dear,it’sverynaughtyofus.Justrunupstairstothe schoolroom, and get tidy for tea, there’s a good little Mouse. Shut the
doorbehindyou,forthere’safearfuldraught.”Hilarynoddedtothechild over her shoulder, and then turned to her sisters with an expressive shrug.“Whatafunnylittlemitesheis!Wereallymustbecarefulhowwe speakbeforeher.Sheunderstandsfartoowell,andshehassuchstern ideas of her own. Well, perhaps after all we are wrong to be discontented. I hated coming to live in this quiet place, but I have been ever so much stronger; I never have that wretched, breathless feeling now that I had in town, and I can run upstairs to the very top without stopping.Youcan’tenjoyanythingwithouthealth,soIoughttobe—Iam! —verythankfulthatIamsomuchbetter.” “IamthankfulthatIhavemytwodearhobbies,andcanforgeteverything in playing and drawing. The hours fly when I can sit out of doors and sketch,andmypreciousoldviolinknowsallmysecrets.Itcrieswithme, andsingswithme,andshrieksaloudjustasIwoulddoifIdaredtomake allthenoiseIwant,whenIaminatemper.IdobelieveIcouldbeoneof the best players in the world if I had the chance. I feel it in me! It is aggravating to know that I make mistakes from want of proper lessons, butitisglorioustofeelsuchpoweroveraninstrumentasIdowhenIam properly worked up! I would not change places with any girl who is not musical!” Letticesaidnothing,butsheliftedhereyestotheovalmirrorwhichhung abovethemantelpiece,andinherheartshethought,“AndIamgladthat Iamsopretty.Ifoneispretty,everyoneispoliteandattentive;andIdo likepeopletobekind,andmakeafuss!Whenwewereatthestationthe otherdaythepeoplenudgedeachotherandbentoutofthewindowsof the train as I passed. I saw them, though I pretended I didn’t. And I shouldlookfarnicerifIhadproperclothes.IfIcouldonlyhavehadthat furboa,andthefeatherformyhat!ButwhatdoesitmatterwhatIwearin thiswretchedplace?Thereisnoonetoseeme.” The firelight played on three thoughtful faces as the girls sat in silence, each occupied with her special train of thought. The room looked grey and colourless in the waning light, and the glimpse of wintry landscape seen through the window did not add to the general cheeriness. Hilary shivered,andpickingupalogfromthecornerofthegratedroppeditinto thefire.
“Well,thereisnouserepining!Wehavehadourgrumble,andwemight as well make the best of circumstances. It’s New Year’s Day, so I shall makearesolutiontotrytolikemywork.IknowIdoitwell,becauseIam naturally a good housekeeper; but I ought to take more interest in it. That’s the way the good people do in books, and in the end they dote upontheverythingstheyusedtohate.There’snosaying—Imaycome to adore darning stockings and wending linen before the year is out! At anyrateIshallhavethesatisfactionofhavingdonemybest.” “Well, if you try to like your work, I’ll try to remember mine—that’s a bargain,” said Lettice solemnly. “There always seems to be something I want particularly to do for myself, just when I ought to be at my ‘avocations,’ as Miss Briggs has it. It’s a bad plan, because I have to exert myself to finish in time, and get a scolding into the bargain. So here’sforpunctualityandreform!” Norah held her left hand high in the air, and began checking off the fingers with ostentatious emphasis. “I resolve always to get up in the morningassoonasIamcalled,andwithoutasinglegrumble;alwaysto beamiablewhenannoyed;alwaystodowhatotherpeoplelike,andwhat I dislike myself; always to be good-tempered with the boys, and smile uponthemwhentheypullmyhairandplaytrickswithmythings;always becheerful,contented,ladylikeindeportment,andagreeableinmanner. What do you say? Silly! I am not silly at all. If you are going to make resolutionsatall,yououghttodoitproperly.Aimatthesky,andyoumay reachthetopofthetree;aimatthetopofthetree,andyouwillgrovelon theground.Youaretoomodestinyouraspirations,andtheywon’tcome to any good; but as for me—with a standard before me of absolute perfection—” “Whoistalkingofperfection?Andwhereisthetea,andwhyareyoustill indarkness,withnoneofthelampslighted?Itisfiveo’clock,andIhave been in my study waiting for the bell to ring for the last half-hour. What areyoualldoingovertherebythefire?”criedamasculinevoice,anda man’stallfigurestoodoutlinedinthedoorway.
HilaryinLuck. Therewasasimultaneousexclamationofdismayasthethreegirlsleapt from their seats, and flew round the room in different directions. Hilary lighted the lamps, Norah drew the curtains across the windows, while Lettice first gave a peal to the bell, and then ran forward to escort her fathertoachairbythefire. “Teawillbehereinamoment,father;comeandsitdown.It’sNewYear’s Day,youknow,andwehavebeensobusymakinggoodresolutionsthat we have had no time for anything practical. Why didn’t you come down before?Youarearegularoldwomanaboutafternoontea;Ibelieveyou wouldmissitmorethananyothermeal.” “IbelieveIshould.Inevergetonwellwithmywritinginthefirstpartof theafternoon,andteaseemstogivemeafreshstart.Soyougirlshave been making good resolutions? That’s good hearing. Tell me about them.”AndMrBertrandleantbackinhischair,claspinghishandsbehind hishead,andlookingupathisyoungdaughterswithaquizzicalsmile.A photographerwouldhavebeenhappyifhecouldhavetakenaportraitat this moment, for Mr Bertrand was a well-known author, and the books whichwerewritteninthestudyinWestmorelandwentfarandwideover the world, and made his name a household word. He had forgotten his belovedworkatthismoment,however,atthesightofsomethingdearer still—histhreeyoungdaughtersstandinggroupedtogetherfacinghimat theothersideoftheold-fashionedgrate,theirfacesflushedfromtheheat ofthefire,theireyesdazzledbythesuddenlight.Howtallandwomanlike theylookedintheirdarksergedresses!Lettice’shairframedherfaceina halo of mist-like curls; Hilary held up her head in her dignified little fashion;mischievousNorahsmiledinthebackground.Theyweredearer to him than all his heroines; but, alas, far less easy to manage, for the heroines did as they were bid, while the three girls were developing strongwillsoftheirown. “Ibelieveyouhavebeenplottingmischief,andthatisthebeginningand theendofyourgoodresolutions!” “Indeed,no,father;wewereinearnest.Butitwasareaction,forbefore that we had been grumbling about— Wait a moment, here comes tea.
We’ll tell you later on. Miss Briggs says we should never talk about disagreeabletopicsatameal,andteaisthenicestmealoftheday,so we can’t afford to spoil it. Well, and how is Mr Robert getting on this afternoon?” MrBertrand’sfacetwitchedinacomicalmanner.Helivedsoentirelyin thebookwhichhewaswritingatthetimethathefounditimpossibleto keep silent on the subject; but he could never rid himself of a comical feelingofembarrassmentindiscussinghisnovelsinthepresenceofhis daughters. “Robert,eh?WhatdoyouknowaboutRobert?” “Weknowallabouthim,ofcourse.HewasintroubleonWednesday,and you came down to tea with your hair ruffled, and as miserable as you couldbe.Hemustbehappyagainto-day,foryourhairisquitesmooth. WhenishegoingtomarryLadyMary?” “HeisnotgoingtomarryLadyMaryatall.Whatnonsense!LadyMary, indeed! You don’t know anything about it! Give me another cup of tea, and tell me what you have been grumbling about. It doesn’t sound a cheerfultopicforNewYear’sDay,butIwouldratherhaveeventhatthan hearsuchridiculousremarks!Grumbling!Whatcanyouhavetogrumble about,Ishouldliketoknow?” “Oh,father!”Thethreeyoungfacesraisedthemselvestohisinwide-eyed protest.Theexclamationwasunanimous;butwhenitwasovertherewas amoment’ssilencebeforeHilarytookupthestrain. “We are dull, father! We are tired of ourselves. You are all day long in your study, the boys spend their time out of doors, and we have no friends.Insummertimewedon’tfeelit,forweliveinthegarden,anditis brightandsunny;butinwinteritisdarkandcold.Noonecomestosee us,thedaysaresolong,andeverydayislikethelast.” “Mydear,youhavethehousework,andtheothertwohavetheirlessons. You are only children as yet, and your school days are not over. Most childrenaresenttoboarding-schools,andhavetoworkalldaylong.You have liberty and time to yourselves. I don’t see why you should complain.”
“Father,Ishouldliketogotoschool—Ilongtogo—Iwanttogetonwith mymusic,andMissBriggscan’tteachmeanymore.” “Father, when girls are at boarding-schools they have parties and theatricals,andgotoconcerts,andhaveallsortsoffun.Weneverhave anythinglikethat.” “Father,Iamnotachild;Iamnearlyeighteen.ChrystabelMaynardwas onlyseventeenatthebeginningofthebook?” Mr Bertrand stirred uneasily, and brushed the hair from his forehead. Chrystabel Maynard was one of his own heroines, and the allusion broughthometherealityofhisdaughter’sageasnothingelsecouldhave done.HisglancepassedbyNorahandLetticeandlingeredmusinglyon Hilary’sface. “Ha,what’sthis?Therevoltofthedaughters!”hecried.“Well,dears,you are quite right to be honest. If you have any grievances on your little minds, speak out for goodness’ sake, and let me hear all about them. I am not an ogre of a father, who does not care what happens to his childrensolongashegetshisownway.Iwanttoseeyouhappy.—So youareseventeen,Hilary!Ineverrealiseditbefore.Youareoldenough tohearmyreasonforkeepingyoudownhere,andtojudgeifIamright. Whenyourmotherdied,threeyearsago,IwasleftinLondonwithseven children on my hands. You were fourteen then, a miserable, anaemic creature,withafacelikeatallowcandle,andlipsaswhiteaspaper.The boyscamehomefromschoolandranwildaboutthestreets.Icouldnot getonwithmyworkforworryingaboutyouall,andamanmustworkto keepsevenchildren.Isawanadvertisementofthishouseinthepapers oneday,andtookitontheimpulseofthemoment.Itseemedtomethat youwouldallgrowstronginthisfine,mountainair,andthatIcouldwork inpeace,knowingthatyouwereoutofthewayofmischief.Sofarasthe boysandmyselfareconcerned,theplanhasworkedwell.Igetonwith mywork,andtheyenjoyrunningwildintheirholidays;butthelittlelasses have pined, have they? Poor little lasses! I am sorry to hear that. Now come—the post brought me some cheques this morning, and I am inclined to be generous. Next week, or the week after, I must run up to London on business, and I will bring you each a nice present on my return.Choosewhatitshallbe,andIwillgetitforyouifitistobefound
in the length and breadth of the city. Now then, wish in turns. What will youhave?” “It’s exactly like the father in Beauty and the Beast, before he starts on histravels!IamsureLetticewouldlikeawhitemossrose!”criedNorah roguishly. “As for me, I am afraid it’s no use. There is only one thing I want—lessonsfromtheverybestviolinmasterinLondon!” “Threeservantswhocouldworkbyelectricity,andnotkeepmerunning afterthemalldaylong!” “Halfadozenbigcountryhousesneartous,withsonsanddaughtersin each,whowouldbeourfriends.” They were all breathless with eagerness, and Mr Bertrand listened with wrinkled brow. He had expected to be asked for articles of jewellery or finery,andtherepliesdistressedhim,asshowingthatthediscontentwas moredeepseatedthanhehadimagined.Forseveralmomentshesatin silence,asthoughpuzzlingoutadifficultproblem.Thenhisbrowcleared, andhesmiled,hisown,cheerysmile. “Hilary, pack your boxes, and get ready to go up to London with me on Monday week. If you are seventeen, you are old enough to pay visits, and we will stay for a fortnight with my old friend Miss Carr, in Kensington. She is a clever woman, and I will talk to her and see what canbedone.Ican’tworkmiracles,butIwilldowhatIcantopleaseyou. MayIbeallowedtohaveanothercupoftea,MissSeventeen?” “Poor,dear,oldfather!Don’tlooksosubdued.Youmayhaveadozenif you like. Monday next! How lovely! You are the dearest father in all the world!” MrBertrandshruggedhisshoulders. “WhenIgiveyouyourownway,”hesaiddrily.“Passthecake,Lettice.IfI havethreegrown-updaughtersonmyhands,Imustmakeeveryeffortto keepupmystrength.” Lettice and Norah had a little conversation on the stairs as they went upstairstochangetheirdressesfordinner.
ChapterThree. AnUnexpectedGuest. The old grandfather’s clock was just striking six o’clock when Raymond and Bob, the two public schoolboys, came home from their afternoon excursion.Theywalkedslowlyupthedrive,supportingbetweenthemthe figureofayoungfellowafewyearsolderthanthemselves,whohopped painfullyononefoot,andwasnosoonerseatedontheoakbenchinthe hall, than he rested his head against the rails, and went off into a dead faint. The boys shouted at the pitch of their voices, whereupon Mr Bertrandrushedoutofhissanctum,followedbyeveryothermemberof hishousehold. “Goodgracious!Whoisit?Whatisthematter?Wheredidhecomefrom? Hashehadanaccident?”criedthegirlsinchorus,whileMissBriggsran offforsalvolatileandotherremedies. The stranger was a tall, lanky youth, about eighteen years of age, with curly brown hair and well-cut features, and he made a pathetic figure leaningbackinthebigoakseat. “He’sthesonofoldFreer,theSquireofBrantmere,”explainedRaymond, ashebusiedhimselfunloosingthelad’scollarandtie.“Wehavemethim several times when we have been walking. Decent fellow—Harrow— readingathomeforcollege,andhatesitlikepoison.Wewerecominga shortcutoverthemountains,whenheslippedonabitofice,andtwisted hisankletryingtokeepup.Wehadanawfultimegettinghimback.He meanttostayattheinnto-night,ashispeopleareaway,anditwastoo
darktogoon,buthelookspreciousbad.Couldn’tweputhimuphere?” “Yes, yes, of course. Better carry him straight to bed and get off that boot,”saidMrBertrandcordially.“Itwillbeapainfuljob,andifwecanget itdonebeforehecomesround,somuchthebetter.Here,youboys,we’ll carry him upstairs between us, and be careful not to trip as you go. Someone bring up hot water, and bandages from the medicine chest. I willdoctorhimmyself.Ihavehadafairexperienceofsprainedanklesin myday,anddon’tneedanyonetoshowmewhattodo.” Theprocessionwendeditswayupthestaircase,andforthegreaterpart oftheeveningfatherandbrotherswerealikeinvisible.Fomentationsand doucheswerecarriedonwithgustobyMrBertrand,whowasnevermore happythanwhenhewasplayingthepartofamateursurgeon;thenMiss Briggs had her innings, and carried a tray upstairs laden with all the daintiesthehousecouldsupply,afterpartakingofwhichtheinvalidwas sofarrecoveredthathewasgladofhisfriends’company,andkeptthem laughingandchattinginhisroomuntilitwastimetogotobed. Thenextmorningtheanklewasmuchbetter,but,athishost’sinstigation, the young fellow despatched a note to his mother, telling her not to expecthimhomeforafewdays,asMrBertrandwishedhimtostayuntil hewasbetterabletobearthelong,hillydrive. Thegirlsdiscussedthesituationastheysettleddowntofinishthemuch dislikedmendingintheafternoon.“It’sveryannoying,”Hilarysaid.“Ido hope he won’t be long in getting better. We were going to London on Monday week, but if he is still here we shall have to wait, and I hate havingthingspostponed.” “Iwishhehadbeenagirl,”saidNorah,whocameinforsomuchteasing from her two brothers during the holidays that she did not welcome the idea of having another boy in the house. “We could have had such fun together, and perhaps she might have asked us to stay with her some day.Ishouldlovetopayvisits!IwonderiffatherwilltakeusuptoLondon inturns,nowthathehasbegun.Idohopehewill,foritwouldbegreat fun staying in Kensington. I remember Miss Carr when we were in London;shewasafunnyoldthing,butIlikedherawfully.Shewasoften cross, but after she had scolded for about five minutes, she used to
repent, and give us apples. She will give you apples, Hilary, if you are verygood!” Hilary screwed up her little nose with an expression of disdain. Apples werenotmuchofatreattopeoplewhohadanorchardathome,andshe hadoutgrowntheageofchildishjoyatthegiftofsuchtrifles.Beforeshe could speak, however, the door burst open, and Raymond precipitated himselfintotheroom.Hewasabig,broadfellowofsixteen,forheand Letticeweretwins,thoughwidelydifferinginappearance.Raymondhad aflatface,thicklyspeckledoverwithfreckles,reddishbrownhair,anda pair of brown eyes which fairly danced with mischief. It was safe to prophesythatinlessthantwominutesfromthetimethatheenteredthe room where his sisters were sitting, they would all three be shrieking aloudinconsternation,andthepresentinstancewasnoexceptiontothe rule. It was very simply managed. He passed one hand over the table where lay the socks and stockings which had been paired by Hilary’s industrious fingers, and swept them, helter-skelter, on the floor. He nudgedNorah’selbow,sothattheneedlewhichshewasthreadingwent deepintoherfingers,andchuckedLetticeunderthechin,sothatshebit her tongue with a violence which was really painful. This done, he plunged both hands into his pockets and danced a hornpipe on the hearthrug,whilethegirlsabusedhimatthepitchoftheirvoices. “RaymondBertrand,youarethemosthorrid,ungentlemanly,nasty,rude boyIeverknew!” “Ifyouwereolderyou’dbeashamedofyourself.Itisonlybecauseyou areastupid,ignorantlittleschoolboythatyouthinkitfunnytobeunkind togirls.” “Verywell,then!Youhavegivenmeallmyworktodooveragain;nowI won’tmaketoffeethisafternoon,asIpromised!” “I don’t want your old toffee. I can buy toffee in the village if I want it,” retorted Raymond cheerfully. “Besides, I’m going out to toboggan with Bob,andIshan’tbehomeuntildark.Yougirlswillhavetogoandamuse Freer.Heisup,andwantssomethingtodo.I’mnotgoingtostayindoors onajollyafternoontotalktothefellow,soyou’llhavetodoitinstead.”
“Indeed, we’ll do nothing of the kind; we have our work to do, and it is badenoughtohavetwotiresomeboysonourhandswithoutlookingafter athird.Heisyourfriend,andifyouwon’tamusehim,hewillhavetostay byhimself.” “Allright!Nice,hospitablepeopleyouare!Leavehimalonetobeasdull ashelikes—it’snomattertome.Itoldhimthatyouwouldlookafterhim, sotheresponsibilityisoffmyshoulders.”Raymondpaused,pointedina meaning manner towards a curtained doorway at the end of the room, tiptoeduptothetable,andfinishedhisreplyinatragicwhisper.“AndI’ve settled him on the couch in the drawing-room, so you had better not speaksoloudly,becausehecanheareverywordyousay!” Withthispartingshot,MrRaymondtookhisdeparture,bangingthedoor after him, while his sisters sat paralysed, staring at each other with distendedeyes. “How awful! What must he think? We can’t leave him alone after this. Hilary,youaretheeldest,goandtalktohim.” “Iwon’t—Idon’tknowwhattosay.Norah,yougo!Perhapsheismusical. Youcanplaytohimonyourviolin!” “Thankyou,verymuch.I’lldonothingofthekind.Lettice,yougo;youare notshy.Talktohimprettily,andshowhimthephotographs.” “Idaren’t;Iamhorriblyshy.Iwouldn’tgointothatroomnow,afterwhat hehasheard,forfiftythousandpounds!” “Norah,lookhere,ifyouwillgoandsitwithhimuntilfouro’clock,Lettice andIwillfinishyourworkbetweenus,andwewillallcomeandhavetea inthedrawing-room,andhelpyououtfortherestoftheafternoon!” “Yes, Norah, we will; and I’ll give you that pink ribbon for your hair. Do, Norah!there’sagoodgirl.Youwon’tmindabitafterthefirstmoment.” “It’s all very well,” grumbled Norah; but she was plainly softening, and afteramoment’shesitation,shepushedbackherchairandsaidslowly, “Allright,I’llgo;butmindyouarepunctualwithtea,forIdon’tbargainto stay a moment after four o’clock.” She brushed the ends of cotton from
her dress, walked across to the door, and disappeared through the doorway with a pantomimic gesture of distaste. At the other side she paused and stood facing the invalid in silent embarrassment, for his cheekswereflushed,andhelookedsosupremelyuncomfortablethatit was evident he had overheard the loud-toned conversation which had been carried on between the brother and sisters. Norah looked at him and saw a young fellow who looked much older and more formidable than he had done in his unconsciousness the night before, for his grey eyes had curious, dilating pupils, and a faint mark on the upper lip showed where the moustache of the future was to be. The stranger lookedatNorah,andsawatall,slimgirl,withmassesofdarkhairfalling downherback,heavilymarkedeyebrows,andabright,sharplycutlittle face,whichwasveryattractive,ifitcouldnotstrictlybecalledpretty. “Howdoyoudo?”saidNorahdesperately.“Ihopeyouarequite—Imean, Ihopeyourfootisbetter.Iamgladyouareabletogetup.” “Thankyouverymuch.It’sallrightsolongasIliestill.It’sverygoodof youtoletmestayhere.IhopeI’mnotagreatnuisance.” “Oh,notatall.I’msureyouarenot.I’mnottheeldest,youknow,I’monly thethird,soIhavenothingtodowiththehousekeeping,butthereareso many of us that one more doesn’t make any difference. My name is Norah.” “AndmineisReginald,butIamalwayscalledRex.Pleasedon’ttrouble aboutmeifyouhaveanythingelsetodo.Ifyouwouldgivemeabook,I’d amusemyself.” “Areyoufondofreading?” “No,Ihateit—thatistosay,Ilikeitverymuch,ofcourse,butIhavehad somuchofitforthelasttwoyearsthatIsometimesfeelthatIhatethe sightofabook.Butit’sdifferenthere,forafewhours.” “I think I’ll stay and talk to you, if you don’t mind,” said Norah, seating herselfonanoakstoolbythefire,andholdingoutathin,brownhandto shade her face from the blaze. “I’m very fond of talking when I get to knowpeoplealittlebit.Raymondtoldusthatyouwerereadingathome toprepareforcollege,andthatyoudidn’tlikeit.Isupposethatiswhyyou
aretiredofbooks.IwishIwereinyourplace!I’dgiveanythingtogotoa town,andgetonwithmystudies,butIhavetostayathomeandlearn from a governess. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could change places? Then weshouldbothbepleased,andgetwhatweliked.” Theyoungfellowgavealaughofamusement.“Idon’tthinkIshouldcare for the governess,” he said, “though she seems awfully kind and jolly, if sheistheladywholookedaftermelastnight.I’vehadenoughlessonsto lastmefortherestofmylife,andIwanttogettowork,butmyfatheris bent on having a clever son, and can’t make up his mind to be disappointed.” “Andaren’tyouclever?Idon’tthinkyoulookexactlystupid!”saidNorah, soinnocently,thatRexburstintoaheartylaugh. “Oh,IhopeI’mnotsobadasthat.Iamwhatiscalled‘intelligent,’don’t you know, but I shall never make a scholar, and it is waste of time and moneytosendmetocollege.Itisnotinme.Iamnotfondofstayingin thehouseandporingoverbooksandpapers.Icouldn’tbeadoctorand spendmylifeinsick-rooms;thelawwoulddrivemecrazy,andIcouldas soonjumpoveramountainaswritetwonewsermonsaweek.Iwantto go abroad—to India or Ceylon, or one of those places—and get into a berth where I can be all day walking about in the open air, and looking afterthenatives.” “Oh,Isee.Youdon’tliketoworkyourself,butyoufeelthatitis‘inyou’to makeotherpeopleexertthemselves!Youwouldliketohavealotofpoor coolies under you, and order them about from morning till night—that’s what you mean. I think you must be very lazy to talk like that!” said Norah,noddingherheadinsuchameaningfashionthattheyoungfellow flushedinembarrassment. “Indeed, I’m nothing of the kind. I am very energetic—in my own way. Thereareallsortsofgifts,andeveryoneknowswhichonehasfallento hisshare.It’sstupidtopretendthatyoudon’t,IknowIamnotintellectual, butIalsoknowthatIhaveanaturalgiftofmanagement.AtschoolIhad thearrangementofallthegamesandsports,andthefellowswouldobey mewhennooneelsecoulddoanythingwiththem.Ishouldliketohavea crowd of workmen under me—and I’ll tell you this! they would do more
work, and do it better, and be more contented over it, than any other workmeninthedistrict!” “Gracious!” cried Norah, “you are conceited! But I believe you are right. It’ssomethinginyoureyes—InoticeditassoonasIsawyou—asortof commandinglook,andaflasheverynowandthenwhenyouaren’tquite pleased.Theyflashedlikeanythingjustnow,whenIsaidyouwerelazy! Thepoorcoolieswouldbefrightenedoutoftheirsenses.Butyouneedn’t goabroadunlessyoulike.Youcouldstayathomeandkeepaschool.” “No,thankyou.Iknowtoomuchaboutit.Idon’twantthelifeworriedout ofmebyalotofboys.Icouldmanagethemquitewellthough,ifIchose.” “You couldn’t manage me!” Norah brought her black brows together in defiant fashion, but the challenge was not taken up, for Master Rex simply ejaculated, “Oh, girls! I wasn’t talking about girls,” and laid his head against the cushions in such an indifferent fashion that Norah felt snubbed; and the next question came in a very subdued little voice —“Don’tyou—er—likegirls?” “Ye–es—prettywell—theonesIknow.Ilikemysister,ofcourse,butwe have only seen each other in the holidays for the last six years. She is sixteennow,andhastoleaveschoolbecauseherchestisdelicate,and shehascomehometobecoddled.Shedon’tlikeitabit—leavingschool, I mean—so it seems that none of us are contented. She’s clever, in musicespecially;playsbothviolinandpianouncommonlywellforagirl ofherage.” “Oh, does she? That’s my gift. I play the violin beautifully,” cried Norah modestly,andwhenRexlaughedaloudshegrewangry,andprotestedin snappishmanner,“Well,yousaidyourselfthatwecouldnothelpknowing our own talents. It’s quite true, I do play well. Everyone says so. If you don’tbelieveit,I’llgetmyviolinandletyouhear.” “I wish you would! Please forgive me for laughing, I didn’t mean to be rude,butitsoundedsocuriousthatIforgotwhatIwasdoing.Doplay!I shouldlovetohearyou.” Norahwalkedacrosstheroomandliftedthebelovedviolinfromitscase. Hercheekswereflushed,andshewastinglingwiththeremembranceof
thatincredulouslaugh,butherangeronlymadeherthemoreresolvedto prove the truth of her words. She stood before Rex in the firelight, her slim figure drawn up to its full height, and the first sweep of the bow brought forth a sound so sweet and full, that he started in amazement. The two sisters in the adjoining room stopped their work to listen, and whisperedtooneanotherthattheyhadneverheardNorahplaysowell; andwhenatlastshedroppedherarms,andstoodwaitingforRextogive hisverdict,hecouldonlygaspinastonishment. “Isay,it’swonderful!Youcanplay,andnomistake!Whatisthepiece?I neverhearditbefore.It’sbeautiful.Ilikeitawfully.” “Oh,nothing.Itisn’tapiece.ImadeitupasIwentalong.Itistoodarkto seethemusic,andIlovewanderingalongjustasIlike.I’llplayyousome pieceslateronwhenthelampsarelit.” “I say, you know, you are most awfully clever! If you play like that now, you could do as well as any of those professional fellows if you had a chance. And to be able to compose as well! You are a genius—it isn’t talent—it’sreal,true,genuinegenius!” “Oh,doyouthinkso?Doyoureally,trulythinkso?”criedNorahpitifully. “Oh,Iwishyouwouldsaysotofather!Hewon’tletusgoawaytoschool, andIdosolongandpinetohavemorelessons.IlearntinLondonever since I was a tiny little girl, and from a very good master, but the last three years I have had to struggle on by myself. Father is not musical himself, and so he doesn’t notice my playing, but if you would tell him whatyouthink—” “I’lltellhimwithpleasure;butifhewon’tallowyoutoleavehome,Idon’t see what is to be done—unless—look here! I’ve got an idea. My sister maywanttotakelessons,andifthereweretwopupilsitmightbeworth whilegettingamandownfromPrestonorLancaster.Ellacouldn’tcome here,becauseshecanonlygooutonfinedays,butyoucouldcometo us,youknow.Itwouldmakeitsomuchmoredifficultifthefellowhadto drivesixmilesoverthemountains,andwearenearerastationthanyou are here. I should think it could be managed easily enough. I’ll write to themateraboutitifyoulike.”
“Willyou,really?Howlovelyofyou!Oh,itwouldbequitetoodelightfulif itcouldbemanaged.I’dblessyouforever.Oh,isn’titagoodthingyou sprainedyourankle?”criedNorahinaglowofenthusiasm,andtheburst oflaughterwhichfollowedstartledtheoccupantsofthenextroombyits ringofgoodfellowship. “Really,” said Hilary, “the strange boy must be nicer than we thought. Norahandheseemtobegettingquitegoodfriends.Letushurryup,and goandjointhem.”
ChapterFour. RoundtheFire. Mrs Freer wrote a grateful letter to Mr Bertrand, thanking him for his hospitalitytoherson,andarrangingtodriveoverforRexonthefollowing Saturdayafternoon,sothatHilary’sanxietywasatanend,andshecould enjoy the strange boy’s society with an easy mind. After Norah had broken the ice, there was no further feeling of shyness. When Rex hobbleddownstairsatteno’clockinthemorning,heensconcedhimself on the old-fashioned sofa in the sewing-room, and remained there until he adjourned into the drawing-room for the evening. The boys came in andoutastheypleased,MissBriggscoddledhimandbroughthimcups of beef-tea, but it was upon the girls that he chiefly depended for amusement.Inthemorningtheywerebusywiththeirhouseholdduties; but, as regular lessons had not begun, afternoon was a free time, and while Norah drew, Lettice carved, and Hilary occupied herself manufacturingfineriesfortheLondonvisit,abriskclatteroftongueswas kept up, in which the invalid took his full part. The sound of five-finger exercises would come from the schoolroom overhead, but so soon as fouro’clockstruck,theMousewouldstealin,inherlittlewhitepinafore, and creep on to the corner of the sofa. She and the “strange boy” had madefriendsatonce,andwereonthebestofterms. “I wish you lived with us for ever!” she said one afternoon, looking lovinglyinhisface,ashestrokedherwavylocks.
“AndIwishyoulivedwithme,Mouse,”heanswered.“Ishouldlikealittle sisterlikeyou,withatinypointedchin,andatinylittlenose,andbigdark eyes.Youareareallittlemouse.Itisexactlytherightnameforyou.” “No,it’smywrongname.MytruenameisGeraldineAudrey.It’swritten thatwayintheBible.” “Dearme!that’sabignameforasmallperson.Andwhogaveyouthat name?” asked Rex, laughing. But the child’s face did not relax from its characteristicgravityasshereplied— “My godfathers and my godmothers, and a silver mug, and a knife and forkinacase,with‘GAB’writtenonthehandles.OnlyImayn’tusethem tillI’mseven,incaseIcutmyfingers.” Dear little Geraldine Audrey! Everyone loved her. She was always so desperately in earnest, so unsuspicious of fraud, that her little life was madeaburdentoherintheholidaysbyreasonofthepranksofherbig brothers.Theysentherintovillageshopstodemand“ahalfpenny-worth ofpennies,”theykepthershiveringinthedrivestaringatthelionsonthe top of the gate-posts, to see them wag their tails when they heard the clock strike twelve; they despatched her into the garden with neat little packets of salt to put on the birds’ tails, and watched the poor mite’s efforts in contortions of laughter from behind the window curtains. The Mouse was more sorrowful than angry when the nature of these tricks wasexplainedtoher.“Ifoughtyoutoldthetrufh,”shewouldsayquietly, and then Raymond and Bob would pick her up in their arms, and try to makeamendsfortheirwickednessbypettingherfortherestoftheday. On the third day of Rex’s visit, the weather was so tempestuous that even Raymond and Bob did not stir from the house. They spent the morning over chemical experiments in the schoolroom, but when afternooncametheyweariedoftheunusualconfinementandwereglad to join the cosy party downstairs. Norah had a brilliant inspiration, and suggested“Chestnuts,”andMasterRaymondsatincomfort,directingthe efforts of poor red-faced Bob, as he bent over the fire and roasted his fingers as well as the nuts. When half a dozen young people are gathered round a fire, catching hot nuts in outstretched hands, and promptly dropping them with shrieks of dismay, the last remnants of
shynessmustneedsdisappear;andRexwassoonasuproariousasany other member of the family, complaining loudly when his “turn” was forgotten, and abusing the unfortunate Bob for presenting him with a cinderinsteadoftheexpecteddainty.Theclatteroftongueswaskeptup without a moment’s intermission, and, as is usual under such circumstances, the conversation was chiefly concerned with the past exploitsofthefamily. “You can’t have half as many jokes in the country as you can in town,” Raymonddeclared.“WhenwewereinLondon,twooldladieslivedinthe houseoppositeours,whousedtositsewinginthewindowbythehour together. One day, when the sun was shining, Bob and I got hold of a mirror and flashed it at them from our window so that the light dazzled theireyesandmadethemjump.Theycouldn’tseeus,becausewewere hidingbehindthecurtains,butitwasasgoodasaplaytowatchfirstone, thentheother,dropherworkandputupherhandtohereye?Thenthey began shaking their fists across the road, for they knew it was us, becausewehadplayedsomefinetricksonthembefore.Onwetdayswe usedtomakeupashamparcel,tieathreadtotheend,andputitonthe sideofthepavement.Everyonewhocamealongstoopeddowntopickit up,wegaveajerktothestringandmoveditonalittlefurther,thenthey gave another grab, and once or twice a man overbalanced himself and felldown,butitdidn’talwayscomeoffsowellasthat—oh,itwascapital sport!” “You got into trouble yourselves sometimes. You didn’t always get the best of it,” Norah reminded him. “Do you remember the day when you found a ladder leaning against the area railings of a house in the white terrace? Father had forbidden you to climb ladders, but you were a naughtyboy,asusual,andbegantodoit,andwhenyougottothetop, theladderoverbalanced,andyoufellheadoverheelsintothearea.Itis awonderyouwerenotkilledthattime!” Raymond chuckled softly, as if at a pleasant remembrance. “But I was not,yousee,andthecookgotajollyfright.Shewasmakingpastryata tablebythewindow,anddownwecame,ladderandI,thefinestsmash intheworld.Therewasmoreglassthanflourinthepiesthatday!” “But father had to pay for new windows, and you were all over bruises
fromheadtofoot—” “Thatdidn’tmatter.Itwasjolly.Icouldhaveexhibitedmyselfinashowas a ‘boy leopard,’ and made no end of money. And I wasn’t the only one whomadefatherpayfornewwindows.WhenBobwasalittlefellow,he brokethenurserywindowbymistake,andaglaziercametomendit.Bob sat on a stool watching him do it, and snored all the time—Bob always snoreswhenheisinterested—andassoonasthemanhadpickeduphis toolsandlefttheroom,whatdidhedobutjumpupandsendatoyhorse smashingthroughthepaneagain.Hewantedtowatchtheglazierputin another,buthehadn’tthepleasureofseeingitmendedthattime.Hewas whippedandsenttobed.” “We–w–w–well,” cried Bob, who was afflicted with a stammer when he wasexcited,“Ididn’tc–c–utoffmyeyelashes,anyway!Norahwentupto herroomonedayandp–playedbarber’sshop.Shecutlumpsoffherhair wherever she could get at it, till she looked like an Indian squaw, and then she s–s–snipped off her eyelashes till there wasn’t a hair left. She wassenttobedasw–wellasme.” “Theyhavegrownagainsincethen,”saidNorah,shuttingoneeye,and screwingupherfaceinavainefforttoprovethetruthofherwords.“Ihad been to see Lettice have her hair cut that day, and I was longing to try what it felt like. I knew it was naughty, but I couldn’t stop, it was too fascinating. ... Oh, Lettice, do you remember when you sucked your thumb?” Letticethrewupherhandswithalittleshriekoflaughter.“Oh,howfunny itwas!Iusedtosuckmythumb,Rex,untilIwasquiteabiggirl,sixyears old,Ithink,andonedaymotherspoketomeseriously,andsaidIreally must give it up. If I didn’t I was to be punished; if I did, I was to get a prize.Isaid,‘Well,mayIsuckmythumbaslongaseverIliketo-day,for theverylasttime?’MothersaidImight,soIsatonthestairsoutsidethe nursery door and sucked my thumb all day long—hours, hours, and hours, and after that I was never seen to suck it again. I had had enough!” “It must be awfully nice to belong to a large family,” said Rex wistfully. “You can have such fun together. Edna and I were very quiet at home,
butIhadsplendidtimesatschool,andsometimesIusedtobringsome ofthefellowsdowntostaywithmeintheholidays.OnenightIremember —hallo,here’stheMouse!Ithoughtyouwerehavinganicelittlesleepon theschoolroomsofa,Mouse.Comehereandsitbyme.” Geraldineadvancedtothefireplaceinherusualdeliberatefashion.She wasquitecalmandunruffled,andfoundtimetosmileateachmemberof thepartybeforeshespoke. “So I was asleep, only they’s a fire burning on the carpet of the schoolroom,anditwakedmeup.” “Wh–at?” “They’safireburninginthemiggleofthecarpet—abluefire,jestlikea plumpudding!” There was a simultaneous shriek of dismay, as work, scissors, and chestnutswerethrownwildlyonthefloor,andtheBertrandfamilyrushed upstairsinastampedeofexcitement.Theschoolroomdoorstoodopen, therugthrownbackfromthecouchonwhichtheMousehadbeenlying, andinthecentreofthewell-worncarpet,littleblueflamesweredancing upanddown,exactlyastheydoonaChristmaspuddingwhichhasbeen previouslybaptisedwithspirit.Bobcastaguiltylookathisbrother,who stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at the conflagration with smilingpatronage. “PhosphoruspentoxideP2O5,”heremarkedcoolly.“Whatalark!” “Itwouldn’thavebeenalarkiftheMousehadbeenstifledbythenasty, horridfumes,”saidLetticeangrily.“Getsomewateratonceandhelpus putitout,beforethewholehouseisonfire.” “Water, indeed! Don’t do anything so foolish. You mustn’t touch it with water.Here,it’sonlyasquare,pullthethingupandthrowitthroughthe windowintothegarden.That’sthebestthingwecando,”saidRaymond, dropping on his knees and setting himself to pull and tear with all his strength.Bobandthegirlsdidtheirbesttoassisthim,fortheBertrands were accustomed to help themselves, and in a very few minutes the carpet was lifted, folded hurriedly in two, and sent flying through the