Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP.

XXXII.

schoolroom arose that peculiar hushed choked giggle, that no one ever ascribed to any cause but some prank of Angela's, more especially on the mornings devoted to her natural enemy, 'the professor of the exact sciences,' as he called himself; who was in fact a stop-gap in the absence of the University man usually employed.

Robina knew that the more concerned she showed herself the more madcap tricks were played, and she disturbed herself little about the commotion, aware that she should only too soon learn the cause, if it were anything out of the common way. So she did. In the quarter of an hour of clearance and recreation before dinner, plenty of information reached her, couched in boardingschool lingua franca.

• Une

Et

"Ah! Rouge Gorge, vous ne savez pas ce qu'elle a fait.' fille delicieuse.'Une Alouette superbe, tout a fait Angélique ! M. le professeur! Comme il etait dans un cire!' (These phrases being chiefly the original coinage of Angela herself.)

'Mais qu'est ce que c'est qu'elle a fait?' demanded the elder sister, with small sympathy with these ecstasies.

As a

'Le plus exquis!' and with volubility far outrunning composition, and resulting in a wonderful compromise of languages, that a new book had been produced out of which the class had been required to work what was described as 'un somme dans le règle detrois tout à tort et a travers; detestable, horrible, vilain,' to which a chorus chimed in, 'vilain, vilain vilainissimo.' The question was, If twelve reapers cut a field in thirty hours, how long would it take sixteen? matter of course, all but a few mathematical geniuses at the head of the class had multiplied by 16 and divided by 12, and made the result 40; but Angela, having wit enough to see that this 'n'avait pas le sens commun,' instead of trying to make out the difficulty, had written at the bottom of her slate, what was hastily transcribed for Robina's edification

Forty, by the best time-keepers.

Reapers? I should call them sleepers,

Lazy heapers, idle creepers,

And their peepers should be weepers!

All who obtained a sight of this stanza became forthwith weepers

with suppressed giggle, and there was a stern, ' Your slate, if you please, Miss Angela Underwood.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The effects were expressed with all the force the language could convey. Il etait comme un lion enragé―il écumait à la bouche-il disait qu'il appellerait Mlle. Fennimore'-a far greater climax, but after all he only sentenced her to read the rule aloud to the class. No sooner had she touched the book than she dashed it from her, Comme la poison'-' comme un couleuvre, declaring it to be a shocking one, unfit to touch, so that of course the sums came wrong. Most of her audience, all girls under thirteen, for she was the arithmetical lag of the school, had no notion why the title' Colenso's Arithmetic' so excited her—the master had none at all; and while Angela, who was not for nothing sister to a church candle or to a gentleman of the press, declaimed about heresy and false doctrine, he thought it all idleness and wilfulness, and fulfilled the threat of a summons to the authorities. By them the matter was a little better understood; but the disobedience was unpardonable, even if the testification against the author were not merely a veil for dislike to the problem, and the sentence had been solitary confinement until submission. From this Angela was so far distant, that as the young ladies marched in to dinner her voice might be heard singing the Ten Little Niggers.

It was an unlucky time, for the next day was Marilda's twentyfifth birth-day, and she was going to keep it in a way of her own, namely, by taking the whole family of children of a struggling young doctor, over the Zoological Gardens. It was not a very good time of year, and Marilda's first proposition had been the pantomime, but the mamma had religious scruples about theatres, and it turned out that the Zoo was the subject of their aspirations; so Marilda, securing her two young cousins to help her in the care and entertainment of her party, hoped for fine weather.

From this party of pleasure Angela must of course be debarred, unless she yielded; and her sister was sent to reason with her, but this had no better effect than usual. Robina was a thoroughly good industrious girl, who neither read the papers nor listened to controversy; she cared most for heresies as possible subjects for her examinations in Church history, and had worked problems

CHAP.

XXXII.

CHAP. XXXII.

innumerable out of Colenso. So all she gained was a scolding for consenting to the latitudinarianism that caused correctly-done sums to make sixteen reapers tardier than twelve; and the assurance that no allurement, no imprisonment, should make the young martyr consent to truckle to a heretic. Angela looked exactly like Clement as she spoke, except for an odd twinkle in her eye, as if she were quizzing herself.

Robina knew herself to be too much wanted to give up the expedition, and was sent for by Marilda in time to assist in giving the five children the good dinner that was an essential part of the programme, and which reminded Robin of Mr. Audley's picnic. One little boy, however, seemed bewildered and frightened by the good things, and more inclined to cry than to eat; but he would not hear of being left behind, though, when arrived at the Gardens, he could give but feeble interest even to the bears, and soon fretted and flagged so much that Marilda thankfully accepted Robin's offer of taking him home in a cab, and waiting for her till her rounds with the other children should be finished.

It turned out that he had had a headache and a 'bone in his throat' all the morning, but had kept them a secret of misplaced fortitude; and when Robina had taken him home, wrapped up in her cloak, trembling, shivering, and moaning, she found the mother with the yearling child much in the same condition on her lap ; and she was rendering kindly help in putting them to bed (for of course the nurse had a holiday), when the father came home, driven in by a sore throat and headache of his own, and forced to pronounce, as best he could, that they were in for an attack of scarlatina.

Here was a predicament! Robina had never had the fever, nor had any of her home brothers and sisters in any unimpeachable manner. She could not stay where she was, and what would either the school or Mrs. Underwood do with her? After such consideration as the little boy allowed her to give, she wrote a note of warning to Marilda, to be handed to her at the door, and another to be sent on to Miss Fennimore. The note was handed to the frightened hurried maid, and duly given. There was a moment's pause, and then the children were left in the carriage, and Marilda walked into the house. Then there took place what could only be described as a scrimmage. Marilda was deter

of

CHAP.

mined on carrying all the four home with her, out of the way the infection, but the mother was persuaded that they must have it already, and would not part with them. If they were ill in another house she would not be able to go to them, and the thought distracted her. The father was appealed to, and between the same dread of separation and scruples about carrying infection farther, he gave sentence the same way, and Marilda was most unwillingly defeated.

She could only take away Robina; and Robina submitted pretty quietly to her decision that her quarantine must be spent at Kensington Palace Gardens. In the first place, Marilda protested that she had had 'it;' and though 'it' turned out only to have been a rash, and it was nearly certain that Mrs. Underwood would be in despair, yet Robin really knew not where else to go, and Marilda was quite as old as the constituted authorities at home. All Robin could insist on was on remaining in the carriage till Mrs. Underwood had heard the state of the case; but considering the rule that Marilda exercised, this precaution was of little use. In five minutes she was called upstairs, a note was sent to Brompton, and she had to make up her mind to a full fortnight of quarantine-and what was worse, of lack of appliances for preparing for the Cambridge examination, her great subject of ambition.

Neither Mrs. Underwood nor Marilda could suppose that it was not a treat and consolation to a schoolgirl to get a holiday; they were as kind as possible, but oh! the dullness of the place! It was much more dull than in Cherry's visits, for she had her own study and her own purpose, and Alda and Edgar enlivened the house; but now Marilda had no pursuits save business and charity, and was out many hours of the day, there was hardly a book to be found, and Mrs. Underwood expected her to sit in the drawing-room and do fancy-work. Meantime she was losing precious time, her chances of marks and prizes at Brompton were vanishing, to say nothing of her preparation for the Cambridge examination, on which her whole start in life might depend.

The doctor's family were all very ill; but she could not think nearly so much about them as of the music she tried to practise, and the equations she set herself, while she reckoned the extra

XXXII.

CHAP. XXXII.

work by which she could make up for lost time. Alas! on the very last day of this weary fortnight, conscience constrained her to mention an ominous harshness of throat; and by the evening she was wishing for nothing but that Wilmet were not in Egypt.

However, Marilda proved herself far superior as a nurse to what she was as a companion. She would not be kept out of her cousin's room, and with Cherry's old friend, Mrs. Stokes, took such good and enlightened care, that the infection did not spread, and Robina, though ill enough to be tolerably franked for life, was in due time recovering so favourably as to be very miserable and wretched about everything, from the Cambridge examination to her own ingratitude. She never had felt so like Cherry in her life.

It was hard to say which was worst, her banishment from school or from home, or the doleful idea presented to her by that kind promise of carrying her to be aired at Brighton for six weeks! It was the loss of the whole term, and all the prizes she had set her heart upon, nor was there any one to sympathise with her, as she turned her head away and hoped no one would find out the tears in her eyes.

It was just as it had been with Lance, she thought; prevented from sharing in the competition that might have won him success in life. And how sweetly and brightly Lance had borne it; but then he had never reckoned on the success she had hoped for, and besides, her nature had not the surface insouciance that had helped him. She had more industry, more ambition, more fixity of purpose, and the disappointment was proportionably severer.

[ocr errors]

Poor child! she lay on the sofa, as Mrs. Underwood supposed, fast asleep, but really trying to work out in her brain puzzling questions, why it was good to be disappointed when one does one's best, why the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, trying to accept her failure as wholesome mortification to ambition, recalling Under Wode under Rode;' but rebelliously feeling that this did not comfort her greatly in the very unnecessary picture her fancy proceeded to draw of herself, with attainments fit for nothing but a nursery governess or school drudge, or a companion to some one duller still than Mrs. Underwood, magnanimously releasing William Harewood from all ties to so inferior

« PreviousContinue »