CHARLOTTE MARY YONGE
CHAPTER I--TORTOISES AND HARES
"Whate'er is good to wish ask that of Heaven
Though it be what thou canst not hope to see."
- HARTLEY COLERIDGE.
The scene was a drawing-room with old-fashioned heavy sash windows
opening on a narrow brick-walled town-garden sloping down to a river
and neatly kept. The same might be said of the room where heavy
old-fashioned furniture handsome but not new was concealed by
various flimsy modernisms knicknacks fans brackets china
photographs and water-colours a canary singing loud in the window in
the winter sunshine.
"Miss Prescott" announced the maid; but finding no auditor save the
canary she retreated and Miss Prescott looked round her with a half
sigh of recognition of the surroundings. She was herself a quiet-
looking gentle lady rather small with a sweet mouth and eyes of
hazel in a rather worn face dressed in a soft woollen and grey fur
with headgear to suit and there was an air of glad expectation a
little flush that did not look permanent on her thin cheeks.
"Is it you my dear Miss Prescott?" was the greeting of the older
hostess as she entered her grey hair rough and uncovered and her
dress of well-used black silk her complexion of the red that shows
wear and care. "Then it is true?" she asked as the kiss and double
shake of the hand was exchanged.
"May I ask? Is it true? May I congratulate you?"
"Oh yes it is true!" said Miss Prescott breathlessly. "I suppose
the girls are at the High School?"
"Yes they will be at home at one. Or shall I send for them?"
"No thank you Mrs. Best. I shall like to have a little time with
you first. I can stay till a quarter-past three."
"Then come and take off your things. I do not know when I have been
"Do the girls know?" asked Miss Prescott following upstairs to a
comfortable bedroom evidently serving also the purposes of a private
room for writing table and account books stood near the fire.
"They know something; Kate Bell heard a report from her cousins and
they have been watching anxiously for news from you."
"I would not write till I knew more. I hope they have not raised
their expectations too high; for though it is enough to be an immense
relief it is not exactly affluence. I have been with Mr. Bell going
into the matter and seeing the place" said Miss Prescott sitting
comfortably down in the arm-chair Mrs. Best placed for her while she
herself sat down in another disposing themselves for a talk over the
"Mr. Bell reckons it at about 600 pounds a year."
"And an estate?"
"A very pretty cottage in a Devonshire valley with the furniture and
three acres of land."
"Oh! I believe the girls fancy that it is at least as large as Lord
"Yes I was in hopes that they would have heard nothing about it."
"It came through some of their schoolfellows; one cannot help things
getting into the air."
"And there getting inflated like bubbles" said Miss Prescott
smiling. "Well their expectations will have a fall poor dears!"
"And it does not come from their side of the family" said Mrs. Best.
"Of course not! And it was wholly unexpected was it not?"
"Yes I had my name of Magdalen from my great aunt Tremlett; but she
had never really forgiven my mother's marriage though she consented
to be my godmother. She offered to adopt me on my mother's death
and once when my father married again and when we lost him she
wrote to propose my coming to live with her; but there would have
been no payment and so--"
"Yes you dear good thing you thought it your duty to go and work
for your poor little stepmother and her children!"
"What else was my education good for which has been a costly thing
to poor father? And then the old lady was affronted for good and
never took any more notice of me nor answered my letters. I did not
even know she was dead till I heard from Mr. Bell who had learnt it
from his lawyers!"
"It was quite right of her. Dear Magdalen I am so glad" said Mrs.
Best crossing over to kiss her; for the first stiffness had worn
off and they were together again as had been the solicitor's
daughter and the chemist's daughter who went to the same school till
Magdalen had been sent away to be finished in Germany.
"Dear Sophy I wish you had the good fortune too!"
"Oh! my galleons are coming when George has prospered a little more
in Queensland and comes to fetch me. Sophia and he say they shall
fight for me" said Mrs. Best who had been bravely presiding over a
high-school boarding-house ever since her husband a railway
engineer had been killed by an accident and left her with two
children to bring up. "Dear children they are very good to me."
"I am sure you have been goodness itself to us" said Magdalen "in
taking the care of these poor little ones when their mother died. I
don't know how to be thankful enough to you and for all the blessings
we have had! And that this should have come just now especially
when my life with Lady Milsom is coming to an end."
"Yes the little boys are old enough for school and the Colonel is
going to take a house at Shrewsbury where his mother will live with
them and want me no longer."
"You have been there seven years."
"Yes and very happy. When Fanny married Lady Milsom was left
alone and would not part with me and then came the two little boys
from India so that she had an excuse for retaining me; but that is
over now or will be in a few weeks time. I had been trying for an
engagement and finding that beside your high-school diploma young
ladies I am considered quite passee--"
"My dear! With your art and music and all!"
"Too true! And while I was digesting a polite hint that my terms
were too high and therewith Agatha's earnest appeal to be sent to
Girton there comes this inheritance! Taking my burthen off my back
and making me ready to throw up my heels like a young colt."
"Ah! you will be taking another burthen perhaps."
"No doubt I suppose so but let me find it out by degrees. I can
only think as yet of having my dear girls to myself moi as the
French would say after having seen so little of them."
"It has been very unfortunate. Epidemics have been strangely
"Yes. First there was whooping cough here to destroy the summer
holidays; then came the Milsoms' measles and I could not go and
carry infection. Oh! and then Freddy broke his leg and his
grandmother was too nervous to be left with him. And by and by some
one told her the scarlatina was in the town."
"It really was you know."
"Any way it would have been sheer selfish inhumanity to leave her
and then she had a real illness which frightened us all very much.
Next came influenza to every one. And these last holidays! What
should the newly-come little one from India do but catch a fever in
the Red Sea and I had to keep guard over the brothers at Weymouth
till she was reported safe and I don't believe it was infectious
after all! Still I am tired of 'other people's stairs.'"
"It is nearly five years since you have been with them except for
that one peep you took at Weston."
"And that is a great deal at their age. Agatha was a vehement
reader; she would hardly look at me so absorbed was she in 'The York
and Lancaster Rose' which I had brought her."
"She is rather like that now. I conclude that you will wish to take
"Not this time at any rate till the house is fit to put over their
heads. Besides you have so mothered them dear Sophy that I could
not bear to make a sudden parting."
"There will be pain especially over little Thekla and Polly. But if
George comes home this spring and I go out to Queensland with him
perhaps I should have asked you to take this house off my hands. May
be it would be prudent in you to do so even now considering all
things; only I believe that transplanting would be good for them
"I am glad you think so for I have a perfect longing for that little
house of my own."
"You will be able to give them a superior kind of society to what
they have had access to here. There is a good deal that I should
like to talk over with you before they come in."
"Agatha seems to be in despair at her failure."
"So is all the house for we were very proud of her and of course
we all thought it a fad of the examiners but perhaps our
headmistress might not say the same. She is a good hardworking girl
though and ambitious and quite worth further training."
"I am glad of being able to secure it to her at least and by the
time her course is finished I shall be able to judge about the
"You thought of taking them in hand yourself?"
"Certainly; how nice it will be to teach my own kin and not endless
strangers lovable as they have been!"
"It will be very good for them all to see something of life and
manners superior to what I can give them here. You will take them
into a fresh sphere and--as things were--besides that I could not--
I did not know whether their lives would not lie among our people
"Dear Sophy don't concern yourself. I am quite certain you would
never let them fall in with anything hurtful."
"Why no! I hope not; but if I had known what was coming I don't
think I should have asked you to consent to Vera and Thekla's
spending their holidays at Mr. Waring's country house."
"Very worthy people you said. I remember Tom Waring a very nice
boy; and Jessie Dale went to school with us--I liked her. Fancy them
having a country house."
"Waring Grange they call it. He has got on wonderfully as
upholsterer decorator and auctioneer. It is a very handsome one
with a garden that gets the prizes at the horticultural shows. They
are thoroughly good people but I was afraid afterwards that there
had been a good deal of noisiness among the young folks at Christmas.
Hubert Delrio was there and I fancy there was some nonsense going
"Ah the Delrios! Are they here?"
"Yes poor Fred did not make his art succeed when he had a family to
provide for and he is the head of the Art School here. His son has
a good deal of talent and very prudently has got taken on by the
firm of Eccles and Co. who do a great deal of architectural
decoration. The boy is doing very well but there have been giggles
and whispers that make me rejoice that Vera should be out of the
"Is she not very pretty?"
"You will be very much struck with her I think; and Paulina is
pretty too and more thoughtful. She would not go with Thekla
because Waring Grange is far from church and she would not disturb
her Christmas and Epiphany. She is the most religious of them all
and puts me in mind of our old missionary castles in the air."
"Ah what castles they were! And they seem further off than ever!
Or perhaps you will fulfil them and go and teach the Australian
"A very unpromising field" said Mrs. Best "though I hear there is a
Sister Angela at the station who does wonders with them. I hear the
quarter striking--they will be back directly."
"Ah! before they come we ought to talk over means! Something is
owing for these last holidays. Oh! Sophy I cannot find words to say
how thankful I am to you for having helped me through this time even
to your own loss! It has made our life possible."
"Indeed I was most thankful to do all I could for poor Agnes'
children; and though I did not gain by them like my other boarders I
never LOST and they have been a great joy to me yes and a help by
giving my house a character."
"When I recollect how utterly crushed down I felt seven years ago
when their mother died and Aunt Magdalen refused help and how
despairingly I prayed I feel all the more that there is an answer to
even feeble almost worldly prayer."
"That it could not be when it was that you might be enabled to do the
duty that was laid on you my dear."
And with the exchange of a kiss the two good women set themselves to
practical pounds shillings and pence which was just concluded when
the patter of feet up the stone steps and voices in the hall
announced the return of Mrs. Best's boarders.
Just as Magdalen was opening the door there darted up with the air
of a privileged favourite a little person of ten years old with
flying brown hair and round rosy cheeks exclaiming breathlessly "Is
The answer was to take her up with a motherly hug and "My dear
little Thekla!" There was not time for more than a hurried glance
and embrace of the three on the steps of the stair in their sailor
hats and blue serge; but when in ten minutes more the whole party
twenty in number were seated round the dining table observation was
possible. Agatha as senior scholar sat at the foot of the table
fully occupied in dispensing Irish stew. She had a sensible face to
which projecting teeth gave a character and a brow that would have
shown itself finer but for the overhanging mass of hair. Vera and
Paulina were so much alike and so nearly of the same age that they
were often taken for twins but on closer inspection Vera proved to
be the prettiest with a more delicately cut nose clearer
complexion and bluer eyes; but Paulina with paler cheeks had
softer eyes and more pencilled brows as well as a prettier lip and
chin though she would not strike the eye so much as her sister.
Little Thekla was a round-faced rosy little thing childish for her
nearly eleven years smiling broadly and displaying enough white
teeth to make Magdalen forebode that they would need much attention
if they were not to be a desight like Agatha's.
She sat between Mrs. Best and Magdalen; and in the first pause when
the first course had just been distributed she looked up with a
great pair of grey eyes and asked in a shrill clear little voice
"Sister may I have a bicycle?"
"We will see about it my dear" returned Magdalen unwilling to
"But haven't you got a fortune?" undauntedly demanded Thekla.
"Something like it Thekla. You shall hear about it after dinner."
And Magdalen felt her colour flushing up under all those young eyes.
"Kitty Best said--"
But here Mrs. Best interposed. "We don't talk over such things at
table Thekla. Take care with the gravy. Did Mr. Jones give a
lesson this morning?"
"Yes a very long one" said Vera.
"It was about the exact force of the words in the Revised Version"
added Agatha "compared with the Greek."
"That must have been very interesting!" said Magdalen.
Vera and her neighbour looked at one another and shrugged their
shoulders; while some one else broke in with the news that another
girl had not come back because she was down with influenza; and
Magdalen suspecting that "shop" was not talked at table and also
that the Scripture passage could not well be discussed there saw
that it was wise to let the conversation drift off by Mrs. Best's
leading into anecdotes of the influenza.
All were glad when grace was chanted and the five sisters could
retreat into the drawing-room which Mrs. Best let them have to
themselves for the half hour before Magdalen's train and the young
ones' return to the High School. She was at once established with
Thekla on her lap and the others perched round on chairs and
footstools. Of course the first question was "And is it really
"It is true my dears that my old great aunt has left me a house and
some money; but you must not flatter yourselves that it is a great
"Only mayn't I have a bicycle?" began Thekla again.
"Child I believe you have bicycles on the brain" said Agatha.
"But sister you do mean that we shall be better off and I shall be
able to go on with my education?"
"Yes my dear I think I can promise you so much" said Magdalen
caressing the serge shoulder.
"O thanks! Girton?" cried Agatha.
"There is much that I must inquire about before I decide--"
Again came "Elsie Warner has a bicycle and she is no older than me!
"Hush now my little Thekla" said the sister kindly; "I will talk to
Mrs. Best and see whether she thinks it will be good for you."
Thekla subsided with a pout and Magdalen was able to explain her
circumstances and plans a little more in detail; seeing however that
the girls had no idea of the value of money Paulina asked whether it
meant being as well off as the Colonel and Lady Mary -
"Who keep a carriage and pair and a butler" interposed Vera.
"Oh no my dear. If I keep any kind of carriage it will be only a
basket or governess cart and a pony or donkey."
"That's all right" said Agatha. "I would not be rich and stupid for
"Small fear of that!" said Magdalen laughing. "Our home the Goyle
is not more than a cottage in a beautiful Devonshire valley--"
"What's the name of it?"
"The Goyle. I believe it is a diminutive of Gully a narrow ravine.
It is lovely even now and will be delightful when you come to me in
"Shall I leave school?" asked Vera. "I shall be seventeen in May."
"You will all leave school. Mrs. Best has made it easy to me by her
wonderful goodness in keeping you on cheaper terms; but if Agatha
goes to the University you must be content to work for a time with
"Oh!" cried Thekla. "Shall I have always holidays? My bicycle!"
Everybody burst out laughing at this--not a very trained
cachinnation but more of the giggle even in Agatha; and Magdalen
"You will have plenty of time for bicycling if the hills are not too
steep but I hope to make your lessons pleasant to you." She did not
know whether to mention Mrs. Best's intention of soon giving up her
house which would have much increased her difficulties but for her
legacy; and Agatha said "You know I think that Vera and Polly both
ought to make a real study of music. They both have talent and
cultivation would do a great deal for it."
Agatha spoke in a dogmatic way that amused Magdalen and she said
"Well I shall be able to judge when we are at the Goyle. Vera I
think you sing--"
Vera looked shy and Agatha said "She has a good voice and Madame
Lardner thinks it would answer to send her to some superior
Conservatoire in process of time."
Vera did not commit herself as to her wishes and Mrs. Best returned
to say that if Miss Prescott wished to see the headmistress it was
time to set out for the school; and accordingly the whole party
walked up together to the school Magdalen with Agatha who was
chiefly occupied in explaining how entirely it was owing to the one-
sidedness of the examiners that she had not gained the scholarship.
Magdalen had heard of such examiners before from the mothers of her
She had to wish her sisters good-bye for the next three months not
having gathered very much about them except their personal
appearance. She administered a sovereign to each of them as they
parted. Agatha thanked her in a tone as if afraid to betray what a
boon it was; Vera with an eager kiss asking if she could spend it
as she liked; Paulina with a certain grave propriety; and Thekla of
course wanted to know whether it would buy a bicycle or if not
how many rides could be purchased from it.
When they were absorbed in the routine of the day the interview with
the head mistress disclosed what Magdalen had expected that Agatha
was an industrious ambitious girl with very good abilities quite
worth cultivating though not extraordinary; that Vera had a certain
sort of cleverness but no application and not much taste for