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Castle BlairA Story of Youthful DaysByFlora L. Shaw
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A Story of Youthful Days
Flora L. Shaw
Commentator: Mary A. Livermore
Illustrator: I. Whitney
"There is quite a lovely little book just come out about children, 'Castle Blair.'... The book is good and lovely and true, having the best description of a noble child in it that I ever read, and nearly the best description of the next best thing—a noble dog."—John Ruskin.
"Mrs. Daly's Cottage."
I find "Castle Blair" a bright, breezy story for children, most entertainingly told. The scenes are laid in Ireland. A bachelor uncle makes a home at Castle Blair for the children of his brother in India, in the English service, and for an orphaned niece from France, older than her cousins, who becomes the mistress of the house. She is educated and is altogether charming, possesses French tact and adaptability, is very fond of children, and lives out her motto, "Peace on earth, and good will toward men." The children from India are utterly untrained, high-spirited, and lawless, but are good-hearted, very capable, and innately noble. These, with the benignant bachelor uncle, absorbed in making collections of antiques and curios, and his disagreeable agent, Plunkett, who manages the estate, and is hard and unlovely, are the main characters of the story. Everything ends happily, the tone of the story is uplifting, and the young people who read "Castle Blair" will not only be charmed with it, but will be made happier and better for having read it.
MARY A. LIVERMORE.
Melrose, September 22, 1902.
Night had closed in round Castle Blair. In the park the great trees, like giant ghosts, loomed gloomily indistinct through the dim atmosphere. Not a sound was to be heard but the steady down-pour of rain, and, from time to time, a long, low shudder of trees as the night wind swept over the park. But there was one spot of light in the landscape. The hall door of the castle stood open, and behind it, in hospitable Irish fashion, there blazed a fire from which the warm rays streamed out and illumined the very rain itself; for the dampness caught the pleasant glow and reflected it back again, till all round about the doorway there was a halo of golden mist. The stone arch was hidden by it, but it formed a beautiful framework of light for certain little figures, who, dark and ruddy against the glowing background, were to be seen dancing backwards and forwards as though impatiently waiting for something. They were only children, and there were three of them, two fair-haired girls, and a boy.
"When will she come, I wonder?" said the elder of the girls, looking anxiously through the darkness in the direction of the avenue. "The train must have been ever so late."
"Of course it was!" replied the boy; "and besides it would take half the day to get from Ballyboden in this weather. We ought to have sent a sailing vessel for her instead of the carriage."
"I say, Murtagh, I wonder what she will be like. It's very funny having French cousins one doesn't know anything about."
"Oh, she's sure to be all right; Uncle Harry was papa's favorite brother! But I wish Bobbo and Winnie had got in in time. Hark! What's that?"
"That" was the sound the little listeners expected. It drew nearer and nearer; the wet gravel crunched under the wheels, and at last out of the darkness emerged a heavy old carriage drawn by a pair of heavy old horses.
"I say, David, look sharp!" called Murtagh, from the doorway, and the next instant the carriage stopped at the bottom of the steps.
The boy who had spoken dashed down to open the door, but a sudden shyness seemed to fall upon his companions, and they shrank back into the hall. There was, however, little to be afraid of in the girl who in another moment stood upon the threshold. She seemed to be about eighteen or nineteen. There was a quiet grace in the slight figure; and the face in its setting of ruffled gold hair, was as soft as it was sparkling. Her most remarkable feature was a pair of large, dark gray eyes, which were looking out just now with a half-interested, half-wistful expression, that seemed to say this was no common arriving.
And indeed for her it was not. An absolute stranger, she was arriving for the first time at Castle Blair, to make a new home in a new country amongst relations she did not know. She had been told she was to live with an old bachelor uncle. She was not even aware of the children's existence.
The elder little girl seemed quite to understand that upon her devolved the duties of hostess, for she came forward now, and holding out her hand, said shyly, "How do you do?"
The new-comer took the hand and kept it in hers, drawing the child nearer to her as she answered in a sweet, clear voice: "I am very well, thank you, only a little tired with traveling. A long journey is very tiring."
"Yes, very," said the little girl, blushing; and there the conversation would have been likely to stop, but the boy, having taken the stranger's wraps from her, had now followed her into the hall and exclaimed heartily:
"Awfully tiring, and that drive from Ballyboden is so long. You must be very cold; come over to the fire."
As he spoke he dropped her rug and bag on the floor, and ran and pulled forward a wooden arm-chair. "Did you see the fire as you came up?" he added; "the door had got shut somehow, but we opened it on purpose."
"Yes, I saw it just now," she replied, as after a minute's hesitation she seated herself in the chair. "It looked so pleasant and cheerful through the rain, it made me wish to get to it."
"A fire's rather a jolly thing to see after a long drive in the dark," said the boy; "and we do know how to make fires here if we don't know anything else."
The children evidently expected their guest to stay in the hall, so she unfastened her gloves, and drawing them off, held out two white hands to the blaze in quiet enjoyment of the warmth. Then, after a pause, she turned again to the boy and said:
"We have not any one to introduce us to each other, so we must introduce ourselves; I daresay you know my name is Adrienne. Will you tell me your name, and the names of your sisters?"
The boy replied at once:
"I'm Murtagh. That tallest one is Rosamond Mary; Rosie we call her. She's twelve years old."
"No, Murtagh, you always make mistakes; I'm thirteen, very nearly!" exclaimed Rosie, suddenly forgetting her shyness.
"Oh, well! It's all the same. Of course, girls always like to be thought old," he explained, with a funny little chuckle. "Besides, you won't be thirteen till the winter.
"And that little thing is Eleanor Grace," he continued; "Ellie, she's called. She's only three. Winnie's the best of them; but she and Bobbo are out in the garden."
"Out! In this pouring rain?" said Adrienne, looking towards the open door.
"What does that matter?" returned Murtagh. "We don't mind rain. We're little barbarians; you needn't expect to find us like fussy French children."
A merry twinkle woke in Adrienne's eyes. Already she was forgetting the fear of strange bachelor uncles.
"No," she replied, with a significant glance at the disheveled state of the children's toilettes. "I did not think you were fussy."
Murtagh blushed in spite of himself, and looked deprecatingly at the knees of his somewhat worn knickerbockers, while his sister hastened to excuse herself.
"It is impossible to keep tidy with the boys," she explained; "they do pull one about so."
"Come now, the boys didn't tear that dress; you tore it yourself, coming down a tree," said Murtagh.
A contemptuous reply from Rosie seemed likely to lead to a sharp answer, but Adrienne interposed a question.
"Do you always live here?" she asked.
"Of course we do!" answered both the children at once. "There's nowhere else where we could live since we came back from India."
"Are there any more of you besides Winnie and Bobbo?"
"No," said Murtagh, "that's all. And quite enough, I expect you'll think before long," he added, looking into the fire, and suddenly ceasing from his flippant manner.
"Who else is there in the house? Who takes care of you?"
"Oh!" said Rosie, "there's Mrs. Donegan. She takes care of everything, and cooks the dinner and all that. Then there's Peggy Murphy. She does the schoolroom, and mends our clothes; and there is Kate Murphy; and there's the new housemaid, and Uncle Blair's man, Brown; and that's all except Mr. Plunkett."
"Mr. Plunkett!" repeated Murtagh, in a tone of disgust.
"Oh, he is so horrible," continued Rosie. "He settles all about everything, and gives us our pocket-money on Saturdays, and gives Mrs. Donegan money to buy our clothes, and orders everybody about, and interferes. Mrs. Plunkett says his mother was a second cousin of Uncle Blair's mother, but I don't believe she was. But he doesn't live in this house; he lives in a house in the park."
"He's dot such a nice ickle baby," put in Ellie, who had been following the conversation with wide-open eyes and ears.
"Has he?" said Adrienne, encircling the child with her arm. "What is it like?"
"It's dot two dreat big eyes and—"
"It's got a nose, Ellie, don't forget that," interrupted Murtagh, mockingly.
Little Ellie was silenced; she flushed up, and tears came into her eyes. But without paying any attention to her, Rosie continued:
"And that's all the people there are in the house."
"Except—Monsieur Blair," suggested Adrienne, comforting Ellie as she spoke by hanging her watch round the child's neck.
"Oh! Uncle Blair! Yes, of course he's here, only I forgot all about him."
"You don't see much of him?"
"No," said Murtagh, with a chuckle; "he thinks we're perfect savages. He has breakfast with us, because he thinks he ought to; but you should see how funny he looks. I believe he's always expecting us to set upon him and eat him, or do something of that kind."
"Hullo, Mrs. Donegan!" he called out suddenly, as a good-humored, shrewd-looking woman entered the hall. "There you are! And it's high time you came, too. Here's a poor lady freezing just for want of some one to show her to her room. Allow me to introduce Mrs. Bridget Donegan Esquire of Tipperary."
Adrienne acknowledged the introduction with a smile, and Mrs. Donegan, curtseying, began at once to apologize for not having met her at the door.
"It's very sorry I am, Ma'am, that you should have been kept sitting out here. I've been waiting this last half-hour to hear the bell go," she began with much respectful dignity. And then suddenly turning round upon the children: "It's you, Master Murtagh, might ha' thought to ring it; and where's your manners, Miss Rose, to keep Miss Blair sitting out here in the cold instead of taking her into the drawing-room?"
"It's not very cold," said Adrienne, with a smiling glance at the fire. And Mrs. Donegan continued: "Mr. Blair desired his compliments, Ma'am, and he was sorry he was engaged to dine out the evening you arrived, but he hoped the young ladies and gentlemen would make you comfortable. And, if you please, Ma'am, I've boiled a couple of fowls for you, and there's a nice little drop o' soup; and will you have dinner served in the dining-room, or wouldn't it be more comfortable, if I sent it up with the children's tea into the schoolroom?"
"Oh, I should like that much the best, please," said Adrienne.
"Then it's no use going to that smelly old drawing-room!" exclaimed Murtagh. "Come along to the schoolroom."
He turned round as he spoke, and led the way across the hall. He told Ellie to run on and open the door, so that there might be some light in the passage; but her little fingers not proving strong enough to turn the handle, the whole party had to grope their way in the dark. At the end of a long passage Rosie threw open a door, saying: "Here's the schoolroom! It's not particularly tidy. We did make it neat this morning, but somehow it always gets wrong again."
It was a good-sized room, with a large window at one end and another smaller one at the side. But the curtains were not drawn before either of them, and one was open, letting the rain beat in upon the carpet. The fire had burnt low, and the fender was full of ashes and chestnut-husks. The rest of the room was so strewn with toys, books, cooking-utensils, and rubbish of every description, that there was some difficulty in distinguishing any article of furniture: only the tea-table, clean and white in the midst, stood out against the general disorder like an ark in a second deluge.
"Deed faith, it's time ye had some one to see after yez," muttered Mrs. Donegan to herself. "Where's Miss Winnie and Master Bobbo?" she added aloud.
"Gone to the garden to get some apples," answered Murtagh. "I wish they'd look sharp."
"Well, when they do come in there isn't a dress for Miss Winnie to put on. All the print dresses are gone to the wash-tub, and she soaked her old black one through and through this morning."
"Oh, well, she can dry herself all right. Don't you bother her about it and she won't bother you," replied Murtagh, good-humoredly, sitting down to the piano as he spoke, and beginning to play "St. Patrick's Day in the Morning."
"That's just the way it is with them all; there's no getting them to listen to reason; an' it isn't that they don't have frocks enough," explained poor Mrs. Donegan, in despair, "but you might just every bit as well try to keep clean pinafores on the ducks and chickens out in the yard as try to keep them tidy."
Murtagh's only answer was to crow like a cock, and then he fell into the more meditative quacking of ducks as he began an elaborate variation upon his air.
Their guest began to look just a little forlorn. After traveling for three or four days people are apt to be tired, and it did not seem to occur to any one that she might like to be shown to a room where she could rest a little and wash away the dust of her long journey. There was apparently no chair disengaged either, upon which she might sit down, so she stood leaning against the chimney-piece, while Rosie tried hurriedly to make the room tidier, and Ellie sat down upon the floor, delighted with the treasure that had been left hanging round her neck.
But Rosie had some idea of the duties of a hostess, and she soon noticed how white the girl looked.
"You look dreadfully tired," she said in a voice so gentle that Adrienne was quite surprised. "Wait a minute, here's a comfortable chair; I'll clear the music out of it." As she spoke she tipped up an arm-chair and wheeled it to the fireplace.
"Thank you," said Adrienne; "but if you would show me where my room is—I am so tired."
"Oh, yes," said Rosie; "and I'll get you some—" but the end of her sentence was lost as she ran out of the room.
The variation of "St. Patrick's Day" was growing so intricate that Murtagh was completely absorbed by it. Mrs. Donegan was picking up books and toys from the floor; there was nothing for Adrienne to do but to sit down and wait.
"You do look tired, Ma'am," said Mrs. Donegan, presently, pausing with a broken Noah's ark in her hand. "I think, Master Murtagh, I'll go and send the tea in at once. There's no use waitin' for Miss Winnie and Master Bobbo."
"Fire away," grunted Murtagh, from the piano. His music was very good, and Adrienne began to think it pleasant to listen to as she lay back in the big chair.
But in another moment the music was interrupted by a collision of some kind, and then a confusion of voices in the hall.
"Whatever are you thinking of, Master Bobbo?" came out in Donnie's energetic tones.
"I do wish you'd look where you're going, Donnie; you've nearly knocked me into the middle of next week!" retorted a hearty boy's voice.
"Hurrah! Here they are," cried Murtagh; and he started up and dashed into the hall. There was some whispering outside the door; and then Bobbo and Murtagh entered the room, followed by Winnie.
Bobbo was a pleasant, strong-looking boy, with clear eyes, rosy cheeks, and a turned-up nose.
Winnie was a little elf-like thing; her scarlet cloak twisted all crooked with the wind, the skirt of her brown dress gathered up to hold the apples, her hair beaten down over her forehead by the rain, her great dark eyes dancing, her cheeks glowing, the merry mouth ready to break into smiles, she seemed the very incarnation of life and brightness.
"The Queen of robin redbreasts!" flashed through Adrienne's mind, and she sat up with revived animation to greet the new-comers.
Bobbo walked up to her and said, "How do you do?" with a decidedly Irish intonation, retiring then behind her chair and entering into a whispered conversation with little Ellie.
Winnie dropped all her apples upon the hearth-rug, saying, "Fetch the dishes, Bobbo, from the pantry." Then she shook hands with Adrienne, looking at her with clear, intelligent eyes.
"You have your apples," said Adrienne. "Your brother said you did not mind being wet."
"Mind being wet!" said Winnie, with a bright look of amusement, "of course we don't. Are you fond of apples?" she continued, looking down at the rosy fruit and wet leaves. "We thought we'd have some for tea as you were coming, so Bobbo and I went to fetch them. We meant to have been in by the time you came, only it was so dark it made us longer. See, here's a beauty!" she added, picking out a fine pippin. "Do try this; I'm sure it's good."
She held it up towards Adrienne, large and rich-colored, still wet with rain, the cluster of leaves under which it had ripened yet crisp upon its stalk, and Adrienne could not help taking it, and answered smilingly:
"I will have it for dessert after the chickens."
But with a sudden change of expression, forgetting all about Adrienne, Winnie turned to Murtagh, and exclaimed eagerly:
"Oh, it has been such fun getting these; I must tell you all about it. Well, we got past Bland's cottage all safe enough; the rain and the wind were making such a noise there wasn't a chance of our being heard."
"Bland's the gardener," explained Murtagh to Adrienne, "and he always tries to catch us when we bag the fruit."
"But just as we were nearly in the garden," continued Winnie, "what should we hear but Bland coming, tramp, tramp, along the gravel; and Bobbo called out, 'I say, he's got a lantern, an' he's sure to see us.' And, of course, that made him hear us, and it would be all up if we couldn't get hid quick enough; so I jumped down and squeezed in under a bush, but when Bobbo tried to get down, one of the spikes of the gate went through his knickerbockers, and there he stuck. On came Bland, and called out, 'Ha! ye good-for-nothing vagabones; it's caught ye are this time!' and, lo and behold! it wasn't Bland at all, but a great big policeman. He pulled Bobbo down off the gate, and didn't he tear a fine hole in the back of his knickerbockers! Poor Bobbo got in such a fright he couldn't say a word, so I jumped out from under the bush, and I said: 'We're not stealing! We're only going to take some apples for tea. We're ladies and gentlemen.' So he looked at the hole in Bobbo's clothes as if he wasn't quite sure, so I said, 'You tore that, taking him off the gate!' Bobbo did look awfully untidy though, with the light of the lantern shining full on the raggy part of him. Then he turned the lantern on to my face, and laughed, and said, 'I'm sure I beg your pardon, Miss; I hadn't an idea it would be any one but ragamuffins out o' the village about this wild night.'
"So I said, very politely, you know: 'Please would you just help us over the gate? It's so very high to climb when the bars are slippery with rain.' So he helped us both over, and then I said: 'Would you mind just standing about here till we come back? And if you hear Bland coming, give a good loud whistle, will you?' So he said he would, and we ran off and got the apples, and then he helped us back over the gate again, and we gave him some apples, and here we are. By the bye, Bobbo, I've left my hat up in that first apple tree. But wasn't it fun making the policeman keep watch for us?"
"Awfully jolly!" said Murtagh. "What's his number? We'll make him do it to-morrow night, too. No, no, Winnie; that's not the way to settle those apples. Put the streaked one next the rosy one. So. Now put a yellow one, and a Virginia creeper leaf. There; that's it! You've no more eye for color than a steam-engine."
Just as Winnie stopped speaking, the schoolroom door was pushed slowly open, and Rosie entered, carefully holding in both hands a salver with some refreshment. "You look so tired," she said to Adrienne, "that I thought you'd better have this without waiting for tea."
"Thank you," said Adrienne. It was just what she needed, and as she put the glass back upon the salver, she added gratefully, "You are accustomed to be mistress of a house, I see."
Rosie flushed with pleasure, and replied: "There's nobody but me except when Cousin Jane's here. I'll go and see now about hurrying tea; I can't think what they're taking such a time for."
"But my room," suggested Adrienne again; "if I might go to it first, I am so dusty."
"Oh, yes!" said Rosie, "I'll be back in a minute;" and she departed on her errand to the kitchen.
"I'll show you your room, if you like," said Winnie, jumping up from the floor. "Come along!"
But the fire was drawing clouds of steam from the child's wet clothes, and as Adrienne looked towards her she perceived it.
"Do you know," she exclaimed in dismay, "your dress must be quite wet through? Please do not mind about my room, but go and change it quickly."
"Oh, it doesn't hurt me being wet," laughed Winnie.
"Besides," said Murtagh, "she hasn't got anything to change into. Didn't you hear Donnie say all her clothes were in the wash-tub?"
"Haven't you a dressing-gown?" she asked at length. "I think it must be very bad to stay so wet as that."
"Oh, yes!" said Winnie, "I'll go and undress and put on my dressing-gown, then I'll be ready to jump into bed; that'll be rather fun. Do you know where my dressing-gown is, Murtagh?" she added, as she danced off towards the door. "You had it last, the day we were dressing up."
"I'm sure I don't know where we left it," replied Murtagh.
"Oh, well, never mind. I'll get Rosie's. Don't finish settling those apples till I come down."
Murtagh dropped the apples which he held, and jumped up.
"Shall I show you your room?" he asked, taking a candle from the chimney-piece and turning to Adrienne. "You really must want to get your things off. Let me carry your umbrella. And you would like to have your bag. We left it in the hall, I think."
He led the way, as he spoke, out again into the hall, and crossing over to the other end began to mount a broad oak staircase.
It was dark with age, and the candle sufficed to show that in places bits of carving had dropped or been broken from the high wainscot and massive balustrade; doors were let into the wainscoting, and two of them stood open, but they only disclosed dark distances that seemed to tell of long passages or descending flights of steps.
Murtagh was quite silent at first, preceding Adrienne by a few steps, but when they reached the corridor above he fell back so as to walk beside her.
She said something about the house being very large.
"Yes, and it seems lonely to you now; doesn't it?" he said, in a tone different from any he had used before. "I did feel so dreary at first when we came from India. But you must cheer up, you know; you won't think us so bad, I expect, when you get accustomed to us, and it's a dear old place. There's a beautiful river full of rocks, and real wild mountains with heather on them."
"I'm sure I shall like everything," she replied warmly.
"Well, you know," said Murtagh, thoughtfully, "we're awfully rampageous and everything. That's why people don't like us. You see we can't help it exactly, we're always that way." There was a half-sad undertone in the boy's voice, and his companion turned her sweet eyes kindly upon him as she answered, "You've been very kind to me."
He looked gratified, but he put an end to the conversation by throwing open a door and exclaiming, "This is your room."
It was a large, comfortable room with old-fashioned, faded furniture, and a great four-post bed; the big fire that blazed cheerily at one end filling it all with warm light and dancing shadows.
"Have you water, and all that kind of thing?" he inquired with a look round the room.
"Yes, thank you. Will you unfasten that little box for me?"
Murtagh, having unfastened the box and poked the fire, retired, saying that he would come and fetch her as soon as tea was ready; and the girl was left alone to realize that her new life had actually begun.
At eight o'clock next morning, Murtagh and Rosie set off together from the schoolroom to fetch their guest, both of them anxious for the glory of introducing her to their uncle.
Adrienne had already left her room, and was standing in the strip of sunlight that streamed through her open door, looking doubtfully down the corridor. She wore a rough gray woolen dress, fastened at the throat with a knot of bright blue ribbon, and in her belt she had put two or three red leaves from the Virginia creeper that clustered round her window. The sunlight, shining full upon her golden hair, made of the whole a picture that was extremely satisfactory to Murtagh's eye.
"I say, Rosie!" he exclaimed, standing still in the dark end of the corridor, "doesn't she look jolly like that?"
"Yes, isn't she pretty? I expect she's had all her clothes made in Paris, too," Rosie replied in an enthusiastic whisper.
"Paris!" retorted Murtagh, contemptuously. But at that moment Adrienne perceived them, and came forward with a bright "Good morning."
"I guessed that the bell meant breakfast," she continued, "and I was wondering how I should find my way to the dining-room."
"That's why we came," said Rosie; "and then there's Uncle Blair, you know, you haven't seen him yet."
"No," said Adrienne. "And the others," she continued after a little pause, "where are they? Are they in the dining-room?"
"Oh, Bobbo's in bed, I think," replied Rosie, "but he'll be down in a minute or two; and Winnie's—out," she added, letting her voice drop mysteriously at the last word.
"Then she did go?" asked Murtagh, eagerly.
"Yes, quite early, while it was dark, about three o'clock, I think; the stable clock struck, but I was so sleepy I couldn't count."
"Is it a secret?" asked Adrienne.
"Well, it's not exactly—at least it's a sort of a secret," replied Rose, doubtfully.
"I think you might know," she continued. "She's gone to the Liss of Voura to see if she can see the—Fairies." The last word came out with a vivid blush.
"They say they dance there every morning when the sun rises. But I daresay it's not true," she added.
"Why shouldn't it be true, I should like to know?" asked Murtagh. But they had reached the dining-room, and Rosie gladly avoided the necessity for answering by throwing open the door and ushering Adrienne into the presence of Mr. Blair.
He had been sitting reading the newspaper, but as they entered he rose and stretched out both hands to Adrienne, saying in a warm, gentle voice, "My dear child, you are very welcome."
As Adrienne advanced, to lay her hands in his, he gazed at her with something of surprised tenderness in his face, and murmured, "Rénée!" Then he added aloud: "What is your name, my dear?"
"Adrienne," she answered.
"Ah, yes, yes. That was her name, too," he said dreamily to himself. Then drawing out a chair from the table he continued, "Sit down and make the tea; I shan't have to do it for myself any more now."
She sat down as she was bid. Her uncle stood beside her some little time in silence, watching her movements.
"Why didn't they tell me you were so like your mother?" he asked presently.
"My mother!" exclaimed Adrienne. "Am I like her? She died so long ago I don't remember her at all," she added sadly.
"Yes, yes; only two years after she married him. It's a long time ago now. How old are you, my dear?"
"I was eighteen my last birthday," replied Adrienne; but her uncle did not seem to hear. He walked away to his place at the bottom of the table, and his next remark was to ask Rosie where the other children were. Rosie answered sedately that she thought they were coming presently, all except Winnie; and breakfast proceeded in silence till Bobbo came tumbling into the room with little Ellie following upon his heels.
He did not speak to any one, and would have taken his place at once at the breakfast table; but as Adrienne naturally held out her hand and said "Good morning," he came around and shook hands with her, asking with a hearty look out of his frank blue eyes, whether she had rested well. Then, though the children kept up a half-whispered conversation between themselves at their end of the table, they did not speak either to their uncle or to Adrienne. Mr. Blair maintained complete silence, and Adrienne devoted herself to Ellie, whose high chair was placed beside her.
The little thing was too shy to speak much, but she looked her surprise and delight at the nicely cut fingers of bread and butter which Adrienne built up into castles on her blue plate, and watched with almost solemn interest the important, and, to her, altogether novel operation of sifting sugary snow upon the roofs of them. Then, as she grew bolder, a little rosy finger was put out, and when some of the snow fell upon it there came such a merry peal of baby laughter that Adrienne laughed too, and Mr. Blair looked up in benign astonishment.
Mr. Blair had finished his breakfast, and apparently was absorbed again in the reading of his newspaper, so Adrienne quietly prepared to follow the children. But as she moved across the room her uncle looked up.
"You have had a sorry welcome, I am afraid, my dear," he said; "but I hope you will be able soon to feel that, for all that, we are none the less glad to have you amongst us." He rose, as he spoke, and walked towards the fireplace where Adrienne stood. "You understand, of course," he continued, "that so long as you live with me you are mistress here. Donegan is very anxious to make you comfortable, but I daresay she may not know everything you require. So you must order anything you want. May I trust you to do this?"
"You are very kind," Adrienne replied gratefully. Then as she looked up at the kind, dreamy face that was turned towards her she was encouraged to add, "But I had a very kind welcome; the children were watching for me, and they took charge of me."
"Ah, yes, the children," replied her uncle. "You must try and put up with them as well as you can. Mr. Plunkett tells me that they are very unruly; but they are the children of my brother Launcelot, and till he sends for them they will remain here. Who knows," he added in the tone of one struck by a sudden idea, "perhaps you will not mind having them; they may serve as a sort of companion for you, my poor child. I am afraid you will be very lonely here."
"Do you mean," said Adrienne, puzzled, "you thought I would not like to have the children? Oh, but I am so glad!" And there was no questioning the sudden lighting up of her face. "I love children very much."
figure that stood before him on the h"They are very lucky," said her uncle, with a glance of admiration at the pretty earth-rug.
"I did not mean—" she began.
"My dear child," he interrupted, "you did not mean anything but what was perfectly natural,—that you dreaded the dullness of living alone with a worn-out old man. And I am right glad to find that the children are likely to be a pleasure to you instead of a worry; indeed, I wonder I did not think of that before, for there is only just enough difference of age between you," he added, smiling, "to make you delightful to me; while the others!—" An expression of comic despair finished the sentence.
"But now," he continued, "you will be a Godsend to all of us. Since you care about children, you will look after them a little for me. And now, my dear, I will not keep you any longer."
He bent forward, as he spoke, and touched her forehead with his lips. Then with a kindly pressure of the hand he walked to the door, and held it open while she passed out. Adrienne, after crossing the hall and wandering about a little among smaller passages, was guided by the sound of voices to a door which she recognized at once, thanks to a crooked brass handle and the letters "L. B." cut with a penknife in the brown wood above the lock.
She opened it, and found herself straightway in the presence of all the children. The large window at the end of the room was open wide, and Winnie seated side-ways on the window-sill, with her head resting against the gray stone framework, was eating a large hunch of bread. A flock of pigeons and white ducks clamored for scraps on the terrace outside; curled up in her lap lay four small kittens, and the big mother cat sat sunning herself upon the window-sill; but Winnie seemed to be paying only a mechanical attention to her pets. She was white from want of food, and there was a general air of preoccupation and disappointment in her attitude,—disappointment which seemed to have communicated itself in a measure to the other children, who stood grouped around her.
"No," she was saying as Adrienne entered; "it's just Peggy's rubbish, and there's an end of it."
"Well, but," said Murtagh, doubtfully, "they might be there another day and not be there to-day."
"No," returned Winnie, decidedly; "I don't believe they're ever there. It was quite dark when I got up on the Liss, and I hid under a bush and watched with my eyes wide open till it was blazing light all over everywhere, and I didn't see a single thing, and there—there's an end of it." She flung a piece of crust out on the grass as she spoke, so that the poor ill-used ducks had to turn round and waddle quite a journey before they got it. But perhaps even ducks can look reproachful, for she broke almost immediately another bit from her hunch of bread, and threw it to a fat laggard, with a compassionate—"There, poor old Senior, that's for you." And then, turning more gently to Murtagh, she said, "Never mind, Myrrh, you know it wasn't any use believing it if it wasn't true."
Murtagh did not answer. But suddenly an idea crossed Bobbo's mind, and he exclaimed, half-doubtfully, "Win, do you think—they might have known you were coming, and perhaps they didn't choose you to see them?"
The notion seemed to find some favor with the other children. Winnie glanced at Murtagh to see what he thought; but Murtagh, who had been aware of Adrienne's entrance, was looking to her, so Winnie's eyes followed his.
"No, I do not think that exactly," said Adrienne. She seated herself on the window-sill, opposite Winnie, and began to stroke the old cat. Then she continued in the same slow, thoughtful tone: "Once I used to believe in fairies, as you do, and I used to want to see them, but I never did. I used to think I did sometimes, but I never did. Then I began to think they could not be true, and that made me very unhappy, for I loved them so. Everything that happened to me I used to think the fairies were there; I was all alone, and hadn't anybody but the fairies. When it was fine I thought the fairies were in the sun; when it rained I thought they were in the rain. I thought they were in the flowers, in the moon,—everywhere, in everything. But still I began to be afraid they could not be true.
"I do not know how long that lasted, but I remember the day when it was all finished—the very last day when I ever believed in them.
"It was when I was eight years old. I had been alone nearly all day, and I had been standing a long time by the window watching the rain beat down upon the pavement. It was growing dark, but still I did not go away; for I always used to think the little splashes were water-fairies dancing, and I liked to watch them. I was thinking about them, and half-dreaming, I think, when suddenly I seemed to know that they were not fairies at all—nothing but water-splashes. I felt almost frightened, and I went away from the window and sat down on the hearth-rug in front of the fire. But then the sight of the fire reminded me that there were no fire-fairies either; no fairies anywhere all over the world. It seemed such a dreadful thing to know; and I couldn't help it,—I just hid my face in the hearth-rug, and cried like a little baby."
The children had fixed their eyes with interest and sympathy on Adrienne, but her attention was apparently concentrated on stroking old Griffin, who purred in the sunshine.
"I never shall forget that afternoon," she continued, "I was so very unhappy; and it wasn't only that afternoon; for months afterwards I couldn't bear to think of a fairy. But the reason I tell you about it," she added, raising her eyes and looking towards the children, "is because afterwards it went away. One of my uncles came to live with us, and he told me about the true fairies; I mean the angels; and I have believed in them ever since. And so you need not be disappointed because the fairies do not really dance where Winnie went to look, because the angels are better, and they are true. Some people don't think the angels are all round us everywhere as the fairies were, but I do. I think it is so beautiful to believe that they are everywhere, in everything; sent down from heaven to make the flowers sweet, and the fruit ripe, and to put good into us."
She looked out, as she finished speaking, to the sunny park, where the great trees stood in all their autumn glory. The children looked out too and were silent. Just for the moment they were all feeling, as it were, the presence of angels.
But suddenly Bobbo was struck by another idea. "Why, you're talking English!" he exclaimed. "But you know you're French! I'd forgotten all about it!" He seemed quite excited by his discovery, and Adrienne began to laugh.
"Oh, yes!" cried Winnie, "of course you are, and Murtagh and I had got some things ready to say. Hadn't we, Murtagh? 'Comment-vous portez-vous,' and 'Parlez-vous Anglais.'"
"I am very well, thank you," said Adrienne, with a little mock bow. "And I speak English just as easily as I do French. We lived for years in England, you know, and then I always had English governesses. Grand'mère knew, of course, that I was coming here, so she paid particular attention to my English."
"Oh!" said all the children in chorus; and then Rosie, coloring violently, asked a question which it had evidently been agreed beforehand that she should ask.
"What did you say your name was? Murtagh says it's Adrenne; but that isn't a name exactly at all, is it?"
"Yes," said Adrienne, smiling. "He is quite right; Adrienne Marie Véronique Erstein Blair!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Bobbo, doubling himself up as though the very sound gave him a pain. "Do you expect us to say all that every time we want the door shut?"
The faces of the other children were so full of genuine dismay that Adrienne laughed outright.
"Grand'mère used to call me Reine," she said, "that's a little shorter, isn't it?"
"Yes, but," said Murtagh, doubtfully, "'Rain!' It's not pretty, or anything. You're not a bit rainy-looking."
"Pitter, patter! Drip, drop, dropsy!" exclaimed Bobbo, his blue eyes lighting up impudently.
"Hush, Bobbo, be quiet; you're behaving very rudely," said Rosie, with a little anxious glance at Adrienne. "We can't call you by any of those names," she added in her pleasantest voice; "they are not pretty enough."
"Would you mind saying your name again, please," said Murtagh, looking puzzled; "the first one, I mean, that we'll have to call you by."
Adrienne repeated it slowly once or twice, and the children said it after her. But they didn't seem satisfied with their own pronunciation.
"It will never be the same as yours," exclaimed Bobbo, after two ineffectual attempts. "I'll call you Topsy; it's much easier!"
"I'll tell you what," said Winnie, who had been silently finishing her piece of bread. "Suppose we call her Nessa, after poor Nessa that died." They hesitated, and a grave silence fell for a moment on the little group. Adrienne regretted that she had been the means of saddening them.
"Who was Nessa?" she asked at length, gently.
"She was so pretty," said Winnie, "with long soft brown hair and beautiful big eyes."
"I think she was a little bit like you," said Murtagh; "only her hair was browner than yours."
"Oh, Murtagh!" exclaimed Rosie.
"Was she as old as I am?" asked Adrienne.
"Oh, no," said Murtagh, "she was quite young; but she did bark so beautifully."
"She did what?" exclaimed Adrienne.
"Bark! bark at all the strangers that came near the place."
"Oh!" said Adrienne, completely taken aback. "Then—then—she must have been a dog!"
"Yes," said Rosie, hurriedly. "It's ridiculous Murtagh saying she was like you; she was only a little dog that we found in the road."
"Why, what else did you suppose she was?" asked Murtagh, in surprise.
"I—I thought," said Adrienne, blushing, and then brimming over with laughter,—"I thought she was your elder sister."
The children greeted her speech with such peals of laughter that the sadness connected with Nessa was effectually dispersed, and no further hesitation was entertained as to Adrienne's name. Nothing could she be now but "Nessa";—"Our elder sister Nessa," as Murtagh half-impudently, half-admiringly called her.
"And it's perfect nonsense, Rosie," said Murtagh, "to say that the other Nessa wasn't like her. Her hair was darker, and so were her eyes; but there was a sort of likeness about them all the same,—a sort of golden look in their faces; wasn't there, Winnie?"
"How silly you are, Murtagh!" replied Rosie, contemptuously, "just as if a dog could be like a real grown-up person."
"Yes, they can," replied Murtagh; "and I heard papa saying one day to a gentleman at one of the big dinner-parties, that everybody has a sort of a likeness to some animal. There!"
"Then if they have, you're like a little black monkey," replied Rosie, hotly and inconsequently; "but it's nonsense all the same, silly nonsense, to say that a little brown dog out on the road is like this Nessa!"
"But it isn't nonsense, Rosie, when I see—" began Murtagh.
Rosie contemptuously turned her back upon him, and Winnie remarked quietly:
"It's no use arguing with Rosie, you know, Myrrh."
Murtagh paid no attention, but followed Rosie, exclaiming eagerly: "Can't you understand if I see a likeness—" Rosie never listened to what her opponent said. She pushed him away so violently that he lost his balance and fell over little Ellie, who was sitting upon the floor. The child began to scream; Adrienne sprang forward to pick her up; in the midst of the confusion the door opened, and Peggy's voice made itself heard, saying, "Whisht, Miss Ellie; get up, Mr. Murtagh, dear; here's Mr. Plunkett."
"Rosie pushed him so violently that he lost his Balance."
"Hang Mr. Plunkett!" muttered Murtagh, getting up slowly, and pulling his jacket straight. Adrienne had already picked up Ellie, and carried her in her arms back to the window-sill, but the child had been hurt; and, nothing abashed by the sight of the correct-looking person who appeared in the doorway, she continued to roar with all her might, her little red face puckered up, and bright salt tears dropping on Adrienne's shoulder.
Mr. Plunkett stood in the doorway surveying the scene.
"Is this the best specimen, sir, that you can give Miss Blair of your behavior?" he inquired sternly, addressing Murtagh.
Murtagh made no answer.
"And you are not content," continued Mr. Plunkett, looking at Rosie's hot, angry face, "with displaying such unruliness yourself, but you draw all your brothers and sisters after you."
Murtagh walked over to the piano and began to arrange the music humming, "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe."
"Incorrigible boy!" said Mr. Plunkett, in an undertone. Then turning to Adrienne he saluted her with a bow and a respectfully polite, "Miss Blair, I presume."
Adrienne, engaged in soothing Ellie, replied to his remarks with a certain gracious gentleness peculiar to her. Presently the child forgot her grief in a sudden curiosity as to the method of buttoning and unbuttoning Adrienne's dress, and with the tears still glistening on her cheeks she began to smile with pleasure as she poked her little fingers through the button-holes. Then Adrienne wiped away the tears, and the conversation with Mr. Plunkett grew into a more animated discussion of the beauties of the surrounding country.
"I hope," said Mr. Plunkett at length, "that you will be kind enough to let me know if there is anything you desire. It is Mr. Blair's wish that I should do everything in my power to make you comfortable. As for the children, when they trouble you, pray have no hesitation in applying to me for assistance. And I hope," he added, raising his voice a little, and addressing the children without looking at them, "that common hospitality will induce you to inflict as little as possible of your wildness upon your cousin."
Adrienne thanked him, but looking across at the children, she said, "I think we are going to be friends; aren't we?"
The children's faces, more or less expressive, showed their acceptance of the treaty. Mr. Plunkett looked as though he felt somehow vaguely disapprobatory; and then, turning round to Murtagh, he changed the subject by saying severely:
"I hear, sir, that you have been at your old tricks again, stealing fruit from the garden."
"You heard wrong, then," returned Murtagh, his brow lowering.
"Don't add untruth to your other misdeeds; you were seen by one of the policemen. It is useless to deny it."
"Gentlemen don't tell lies," returned Murtagh, with a sneering accentuation of the words that made them nothing less than insulting. Adrienne was shocked and astonished at the scene. From where she sat on the window-sill behind Mr. Plunkett, she looked across at Murtagh, while Mr. Plunkett answered angrily:
"What do you mean by speaking to me in such a manner?"
Murtagh's eyes met Adrienne's, and perhaps the expression that he found there made some impression on him. His features relaxed a little, and he remained silent.
Mr. Plunkett continued: "I am tired of speaking of this robbing of the garden. I see nothing but strong measures are of any use, and I give you fair warning that the next time any of you are caught in the garden you shall be severely punished." Mr. Plunkett evidently intended his words to end the conversation, but Murtagh looked blacker than ever, and some answer as bitter as the last trembled on his lips. Before he had time to speak, however, Adrienne exclaimed innocently:
"Why, how the time is going! Don't let me keep you all indoors. I must unpack a little, and write a letter; but if you will go out now, I will join you as soon as I am ready."
Murtagh looked perversely inclined to stay where he was, but an appealing glance from Adrienne persuaded him to follow the others, who rushed at once into the passage.
"Those children are running perfectly wild," said Mr. Plunkett; "they make their own laws, and are the annoyance of every one in the place. It is little short of madness to keep them here under the present conditions; but Winnie and Murtagh suffered severely from fever in India, and Mr. Launcelot Blair refuses to send them to school. It is mistaken treatment. The discipline of school would be far better for them than the riotous life they lead. But it is, of course, for their parents to decide."
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