The time was July, and the roses were out in great profusion in the rectory garden. The garden was large, somewhat untidily kept, but it abounded in all sweet old-fashioned flowers; there was the invariable tennis-court, empty just now, and a sweet sound of children laughing and playing together, in a hay-field near by. The roses were showering their petals all over the grass, and two girls, sisters evidently, were pacing up the broad walk in the centre of the garden arm-in-arm. They were dark-eyed girls, with chestnut, curling hair, rosy lips full of curves and smiles, and round, good-humored faces. They were talking eagerly and excitedly one to the other, not taking the smallest notice of the scene around them—not even replying when some children in the hay-field shouted their names, but coming at last to a full stand-still before the open window of the old-fashioned rectory study. Two men were standing under the deep-mullioned window; one tall, slightly bent, with silvery-white hair, aquiline features, and dark brown eyes like the girls. He was the Rector of Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and the man he was addressing was his only son, and the brother of the eager bright-looking girls.
“I can’t understand it, Gerald,” he was saying. “No, don’t come in at present, my dears;” he waved his white, delicate hand to his daughters. “We’ll join you in the tennis-court presently. Yes, Gerald, as I was saying, it seems the most incomprehensible and unheard-of arrangement.”
The girls smiled gently, first into their brother’s face, then at one another. They moved away, going through a little shrubbery, and passing out into a large kitchen garden, where Betty, the old cook, was now standing, picking raspberries and currants into a pie-dish.
“Betty,” said Lilias, the eldest girl, “has Martha dusted our trunks and taken them upstairs yet? And has Susan sent up the laces and the frilled things? We want to set to work packing, as soon as ever the children are in bed.”
“Bless your hearts, then,” said old Betty, laying her pie-dish on the ground, and dropping huge ripe raspberries into it with a slow deliberate movement, “if you think that children will go to bed on the finest day of the year any time within reason, you’re fine and mistook, that’s all. Why, Miss Joey, she was round in the garden but now, and they’re all a-going to have tea in the hay-field, and no end of butter they’ll eat, and a whole batch of my fresh cakes. Oh, weary, weary me, but children’s mouths are never full—chattering, restless, untoward things are children. Don’t you never go to get married, Miss Marjory.”
“I’ll follow your example, Betty,” laughed back Marjory Wyndham. “I knew that would fetch the old thing,” she continued, turning to her sister. “She does hate to be reminded that she’s an old maid, but she brings it on herself by abusing matrimony in that ridiculous fashion.”
“It’s all because of Gerald,” answered Lilias—”she is perfectly wild to think of Gerald’s going away from us, and taking up his abode in London with those rich Pagets. I call it odious, too—I almost feel to-night as if I hated Valentine. If Gerald had not fallen in love with her, things would have been different. He’d have taken Holy Orders, and he’d have been ordained for the curacy of Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and then he need never have gone away. Oh. I hate—I detest to think of the rectory without Gerald.”
“Oh, Lilias,” replied Marjory, “you really are—you really—you really are——”
“What, miss? Speak out, or I’ll shake you, or pinch you, or do something malicious. I warn you that I am quite in the mood.”
“Then I’ll stand here,” said Marjory, springing to the other side of a great glowing bed of many-colored sweet-williams. “Here your arm can’t reach across these. I will say of you, Lilias Wyndham, that you are without exception the most contradictory and inconsistent person of my acquaintance. Here were you, a year ago, crying and sobbing on your knees because Gerald couldn’t marry Valentine, and now, when it’s all arranged, and the wedding is to be the day after to-morrow, and we have got our promised trip to London, and those lovely brides-maid dresses—made by Valentine’s own express desire at Elise’s—you turn round and are grumpy and discontented. Don’t you know, you foolish silly Lilias, that if Gerald had never fallen in love with Valentine Paget he’d have met someone else, and if he was father’s curate, those horrid Mortimer girls and those ugly Pelhams would have one and all tried to get him. We can’t keep Gerald to ourselves for ever, so there’s no use fretting about the inevitable, say I.”
Lilias’ full red lips were pouting; she stooped, and recklessly gathering a handful of sweet-williams, flung them at her sister.
“I own to being inconsistent,” she said, “I own to being cross—I own to hating Valentine for this night at least, for it just tears my heart to give Gerald up.”
Marjory shook the sweet-william petals off her dress.
“Come into the house,” she said in a softened tone. “Father and Gerald must have finished that prosy discussion by now. Oh, do hark to those children’s voices; what rampageous, excitable creatures they are. Lilly, did we ever shout in such shrill tones? That must be Augusta: no one else has a voice which sounds like the scraping of a coal-scoop in an empty coal-hod. Oh, of course that high laugh belongs to Joey. Aren’t they feeding, and wrangling, and fighting? I am quite sure, Lil, that Betty is right, and they won’t turn in for hours; we had better go and do our packing now.”
“No, I see Gerald,” exclaimed Lilias. And she flew up the narrow box-lined path to meet her brother.
Categories: English Literature