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Sisters three


TheProjectGutenbergEBookofSistersThree,byMrs.GeorgedeHorneVaizey
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Title:SistersThree
Author:Mrs.GeorgedeHorneVaizey
Illustrator:StanleyLloyd
ReleaseDate:April16,2007[EBook#21103]
Language:English

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ProducedbyNickHodsonofLondon,England


MrsGeorgedeHorneVaizey



"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.

ChapterTwo.


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.


“It’sveryniceforHilary,thisgoinguptoLondon;butitdoesn’tdousany
good.Whenissomethinggoingtohappenforus?”
“Isupposeweshallhavetowaitforourturn,”sighedLetticedolefully;but
thatverysameeveninganunexpectedexcitementtookplaceinthequiet
household,andthoughtheMouse’sprophecywasfulfilled,inasmuchas
itcouldhardlybecalledanincidentofacheerfulnature,itwasyetfated
toleadtogreatandfar-reachingresults.

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


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