Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

A Fluttered Dovecote, Page 2

George Manville Fenn

very day; for it did seem such ahorrid shame to treat me in so childish a way.

  And while I was writing--or rather, while I was sitting at the window,thinking of what to say, and biting the end of my pen--who should comeby but the new curate, Mr Saint Purre, of Saint Sympathetica's, andwhen he saw how mournful I looked, he raised his hat with such a sadsmile, and passed on.

  By the way, what an improvement it is, the adoption of the beard in thechurch. Mr Saint Purre's is one of the most beautiful black, glossy,silky beards ever seen; and I'm sure I thought so then, when I waswriting about going back to school--a horrible, hateful place! How Ibit my lips and shook my head! I could have cried with vexation, but Iwould not let a soul see it; for there are some things to which I couldnot stoop. In fact, after the first unavailing remonstrance, if it hadbeen to send me to school for life, I would not have said another word.

  For only think of what mamma said, and she must have told papa what shethought. Such dreadful ideas.

  "You are becoming too fond of going to church, Laura," she said with ameaning look. "I'm afraid we did wrong in letting you go to thesisters."

  "Absurd, mamma!" I cried. "No one can be too religious."

  "Oh, yes, my dear, they can," said mamma, "when they begin to worshipidols."

  "What do you mean, mamma?" I cried, blushing, for there was a curiousmeaning in her tone.

  "Never mind, my dear," she said, tightening her lips. "Your papa quiteagreed with me that you wanted a change."

  "But I don't, mamma," I pleaded.

  "Oh yes you do, my dear," she continued, "you are getting wasted andwan, and too fond of morning services. What do you think papa said?"

  "I don't know, mamma."

  "He said, `That would cure it.'"

  She pronounced the last word as if it was spelt "ate," and I felt theblood rush to my cheeks, feeling speechless for a time, but I recoveredsoon after, as I told myself that most likely mamma had no_arriere-pensee_.

  If it had been a ball, or a party, or fete, the time would have gone ondrag, drag, dawdle, dawdle, for long enough. But because I was goingback to school it must rush along like an express train. First, therewere the answers back to mamma's letters, written upon such stiff thickpaper that it broke all along the folds; scented, and with a twisty,twirly monogram-thing done in blue upon paper and envelope; while thewriting--supposed to be Mrs de Blount's, though it was not, for I soonfound that out, and that it was written, like all the particularletters, by Miss Furness--was of the finest and most delicate, so finethat it seemed as if it was never meant to be read, but only to belooked at, like a great many more ornamental things we see every daydone up in the disguise of something useful.

  Well, there were the letters answered, mamma had been, and declared topapa that she was perfectly satisfied, for everything was as it shouldbe, and nothing seemed _outre_--that being a favourite word of mamma's,and one out of the six French expressions she remembers, while ittumbles into all sorts of places in conversation where it has nobusiness.

  I did tell her, though, it seemed _outre_ to send me back to one ofthose terrible child prisons, crushing down my young elastic soul in socruel a way; but she only smiled, and said that it was all for my good.

  Then came the day all in a hurry; and I'm sure, if it was possible, thatday had come out of its turn, and pushed and elbowed its way into thefront on purpose to make me miserable.

  But there it was, whether or no; and I'd been packing my boxes--first adress, then a tear, then another dress, and then another tear, and soon, until they were full--John said too full, and that I must takesomething out or they would not lock. But there was not a single thingthat I could possibly have done without, so Mary and Eliza both had tocome and stand upon the lid, and then it would not go quite close, whenmamma came fussing in to say how late it was, and she stood on it aswell; so that there were three of them, like the Graces upon a squarepedestal. But we managed to lock it then; and John was cording it withsome new cord, only he left that one, because mamma said perhaps theyhad all better stand on the other box, in case it would not lock; whilewhen they were busy about number two, if number one did not go off"bang," like a great wooden shell, and burst the lock off, when we hadto be content with a strap.

  Nobody minded my tears--not a bit; and there was the cab at the door atlast, and the boxes lumbered down into the hall, and then bumped up, asif they wanted to break them, on to the roof of the cab; and mamma allthe while in a regular knot trying to understand "Bradshaw" and thetable of the Allsham and Funnleton Railway. Papa had gone to the City,and said good-bye directly after breakfast; and when mamma and I wentout, the first thing mamma must do was to take out her little chinatablets and pencil, and put down the cabman's number; if the odious, lowwretch did not actually wink at me--such insolence.

  When we reached the station, if my blood did not quite boil when mammawould stop and haggle with the horrible tobaccoey wretch about sixpenceof the fare, till there was quite a little crowd, when the money waspaid, and the tears brought into my eyes by being told that the expensesof my education necessitated such parsimony; and that, too, at a timewhen I did not wish for a single fraction of a penny to go down to thatdreadful woman at Allsham. But that was always the way; and some peopleare only too glad to make excuses and lay their meannesses upon some oneelse. Of course, I am quite aware that it is very shocking to speak ofmamma in this manner; but then some allowance must be made for mywretched feelings, and besides, I don't mean any harm.



  I sincerely hope the readers of all this do not expect to find any plotor exciting mystery; because, if they do, they will be most terriblydisappointed, since I am not leading them into the realms of fiction.No lady is going to be poisoned; there is no mysterious murder; neitherbigamy, trigamy, nor quadrigamy; in fact, not a single gamy in the book,though once bordering upon that happy state. Somebody does not turn outto be somebody else, and anybody is not kept out of his rightfulproperty by a false heir, any more than a dreadfully good man's wiferuns away from him with a very wicked _roue_, gets injured in a railwayaccident, and then comes back to be governess to her own children, whileher husband does not know her again.

  Oh, no! there is no excitement of that kind, nothing but a twelvemonth'sromance of real life; the spreading of the clouds of sorrow where allwas sunshine; the descent of a bitter blight, to eat into and canker ayoung rose-bud. But there, I won't be poetical, for I am not making analbum.

  I was too much out of humour, and too low-spirited, to be much amusedwith the country during my journey down; while as to reading the sort ofcircular thing about the Cedars and the plan of operations during thecoming session, now about to commence, I could not get through the firstparagraph; for every time I looked up, there was a dreadfulforeign-looking man with his eyes fixed upon me, though he pretended tobe reading one of those Windsor-soap-coloured paper-covered_Chemin-de-Fer_ novels, by Daudet, that one buys on the French railways.

  Of course we should not have been subjected to that annoyance--shall Icall it so?--only mamma must throw the expenses of my education at myhead, and more; and say it was necessary we should travel second-class,though I'm sure papa would have been terribly angry had he known.

  I had my tatting with me, and took it out when I laid the circularaside; but it was always the same--look up when I would, there were hissharp, dark, French-looking eyes fixed upon me; while I declare if itdid not seem that in working my pattern I was forming a littlecotton-lace framework to so many bright, dark eyes, which kept onpeering out at me, till the porter shouted out "'sham, All--sham," wherethe stranger also descended and watched us into the station fly.

  Mamma said that if we came down second-class, we would go up to theCedars in a decent form; and we did, certainly, in one of the nastiest,stably-smelling, dusty, jangling old flys I was ever in. The windowwould not stop up on the dusty side, while on the other it would not letdown; and I told mamm
a we might just as well have brought the trunkswith us, and not left them for the station people to send, for all thedifference it would have made. But mamma knew best, of course, and itwas no use for me to speak.

  But I wish to be just; and I must say that the Cedars was a very prettyplace to look at, just outside Allsham town; though of course itsprettiness was only for an advertisement, and not to supply home comfortto the poor little prisoners within. We entered by a pair of large irongates, where upon the pillars on either side were owls, withoutstretched wings--put there, of course, to remind parents of thegoddess Minerva; but we all used to say that they were likenesses ofMrs Blount and the Fraulein. There was a broad gravel sweep up to theportico, while in front was a beautiful velvet lawn with a couple ofcedar trees, whose graceful branches swept the