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The Palace Beautiful: A Story for Girls, Page 2

L. T. Meade



  There are mothers and mothers. Mrs. Mainwaring was the kind of motherwho could not possibly say a harsh word to her children--she could notbe severe to them, she could never do anything but consider them thesweetest and best of human beings. The girls ruled her, and she likedto be ruled by them. After her husband's death, and after the firstagony of his loss had passed away, she sank into a sort of subduedstate--she began to live in the present, to be content with the littleblessings of each day, to look upon the sunshine as an unmitigatedboon, and on the girls' laughter as the sweetest music. She had beenrich in her early married life, but Captain Mainwaring had lost hismoney, had lost all his large private means, through a bank failure,and before Daisy came into the world Mrs. Mainwaring knew that she wasa very poor woman indeed. Before the captain went to India he insuredhis life for L1000, and after his death Mrs. Mainwaring lived veryplacidly on her small pension, and for any wants which she requiredover and above what the pension could supply she drew upon the L1000.She did not care, as a more sensible woman would have done, to investthis little sum as so much capital; no, she preferred to let it lie inthe bank, and to draw upon it from time to time, as necessity arose.She had no business friends to advise her, for the few acquaintancesshe made at Rosebury knew nothing whatever of the value of money. Likemany another woman who has been brought up in affluence, neither hadMrs. Mainwaring the faintest idea of how fast a small sum like L1,000can dwindle. She felt comfortable during the latter years of her lifeat the knowledge that she had a good balance in the bank. It neveroccurred to her as a possibility that she who was still fairly youngcould die suddenly and without warning. This event, however, tookplace, and the girls were practically unprovided for.

  Mrs. Mainwaring had never really worked for her children, but a motherwho had worked hard for them, and toiled, and exerted all her strengthto provide adequately for their future, might not perhaps have beenloved so well. She died and her children were broken-hearted. Theymourned for her each after her own fashion, and each according to herindividual character. Primrose retained her calmness and her commonsense in the midst of all her grief; Jasmine was tempestuous andhysterical, bursting into laughter one minute and sobbing wildly thenext. Little Daisy felt frightened in Jasmine's presence--she did notquite believe that mother would never come back, and she clung toPrimrose, who protected and soothed her; in short, took a mother'splace to her, and felt herself several years older on the spot.

  For a month the girls grieved and shut themselves away from theirneighbors, and refused to go out, or to be in any measure comforted. Amonth in the ordinary reckoning is really a very short period of time,but to these girls, in their grief and misery, it seemed almostendless. One night Jasmine lay awake from the time she laid her headon the pillow till the first sun had dawned; then Primrose tookfright, and began to resume her old gentle, but still firm authority.

  "Jasmine," she said, "we have got our black dresses--they are madevery neatly, and we have done them all ourselves. Staying in the housethis lovely weather won't bring dear mamma back again; we will havetea a little earlier than usual, and go for a walk this evening."

  Jasmine, whenever she could stop crying, had been longing for a walk,but had crushed down the desire as something unnatural, anddisrespectful to dear mamma, but of course if Primrose suggested it itwas all right. Her face brightened visibly, and as to Daisy, she satdown and began to play with the kitten on the spot.

  That evening the three desolate young creatures put on their new blackdresses, and went down a long, rambling, charming country lane. Theair was delicious--Jasmine refused to cover her hot little face with acrape veil--they came back after their ramble soothed and refreshed.As they were walking up the village street a girl of the name ofPoppy, their laundress's child, stepped out of a little cottage,dropped a courtesy, and said, in a tone of delight--

  "Oh, Miss Mainwaring, I'm glad to see you out; and Miss Jasmine,darling, the little canary is all reared and ready for you. I took asight of pains with him, and he'll sing beautiful before long. Shall Ibring him round in the morning, Miss Jasmine?"

  "Yes, of course, Poppy; and I'm greatly obliged to you," answeredJasmine, in her old bright tones. Then she colored high, felt a gooddeal ashamed of herself, and hurried after Primrose, who had pulleddown her crape veil, and was holding Daisy's hand tightly.

  That night the sisters all slept well; they were the better for thefresh air, and also for the thought of seeing Poppy and the canarywhich she had reared for Jasmine in the morning.

  Sharp to the hour Poppy arrived with her gift; she was a pretty littlevillage girl, who adored the Misses Mainwaring.

  "The bird will want a heap of sunshine," she said; "he's young, and mymother says that all young things want lots and lots of sun. May Ipull up the blind in the bay window, Miss Primrose; and may I hangJimmy's cage just here?"

  Primrose nodded. She forgot, in her interest over Jimmy, to rememberthat the bay window looked directly on to the village street.

  "And please, miss," said Poppy, as she was preparing to return home,"Miss Martineau says she'll look in this evening, and that she wasglad when she saw you out last night, young ladies, and actingsensible again."

  Primrose had always a very faint color; at Poppy's words it deepenedslightly.

  "We've tried to act in a sensible way all through," she said, withgentle dignity. "Perhaps Miss Martineau does not quite understand. Welove one another very much; we are not going to be foolish, but wecannot help grieving for our mother."

  At these words Jasmine rushed out of the room and Poppy's round eyesfilled with tears.

  "Oh, Miss Primrose--," she began.

  "Never mind, Poppy," said Primrose; "we'll see Miss Martineauto-night. I am glad you told us she was coming."

  The neighbors at Rosebury were all of the most sociable type; theMainwaring girls knew every soul in the place, and when their motherdied there was quite a rush of sympathy for them, and the littlecottage might have been full from morning till night. Primrose,however, would not have it; even Miss Martineau, who was theirteacher, and perhaps their warmest friend, was refused admittance. Theneighbors wondered, and thought the girls very extraordinary and alittle stuck-up, and their sympathy, thrown back on themselves, beganto cool.

  The real facts of the case, however, were these: Primrose, Jasmine andDaisy would have been very pleased to see Poppy Jenkins, or old Mrs.Jones, who sometimes came in to do choring, or even the nice littleMisses Price, who kept a grocery shop at the other end of the villagestreet; they would also have not objected to a visit from good, heartyMrs. Fry, the doctor's wife, but had they admitted any of theseneighbors they must have seen Miss Martineau, and Miss Martineau, onceshe got a footing in the house, would have been there morning, noonand night.

  Poor Jasmine would not have at all objected to crying away some of hersorrow on kind Mrs. Fry's motherly breast; Primrose could have hadsome really interesting talk which would have done her good with theMisses Price; they were very religious people, and their brother was aclergyman, and they might have said some things which would comfortthe sore hearts of the young girls. Little Daisy could have asked someof her unceasing questions of Poppy Jenkins, and the three wouldreally have been the better for the visits and the sympathy of theneighbors did not these visits and sympathy also mean Miss Martineau.But Miss Martineau at breakfast, dinner, and tea--Miss Martineau, withher never-ending advice, her good-natured but still unceasinglycorrecting tone, was felt just at first to be unendurable. She wassincerely fond of the girls, whom she had taught to play incorrectly,and to read French with an accent unrecognized in Paris, but MissMartineau was a worry, was a great deal too officious, and so thegirls shut themselves away from her and from all other neighbors forthe first month after their mother's death.