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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 7. But Ann Could Not Help Letting Out Now And Then
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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 7. But Ann Could Not Help Letting Out Now And Then Post by :gademir Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2858

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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 7. But Ann Could Not Help Letting Out Now And Then


The Rectory at Super-Ashton was a large, sunny, cheerful house. It was filled with every modern convenience, and possessed plenty of rooms papered with light, bright-looking papers, and painted also in cheerful colors. The windows were large and let in every scrap of sunshine; the passages and hall and stairs were broad and roomy; the nurseries and the children's rooms were models of comfort; the servants were all well behaved and thoroughly accustomed to their duties; the meals were punctual to a moment; in fact, nothing was left to chance at Super-Ashton Rectory.

Mrs. Dolman was the life and soul of this extremely orderly English home. She was one of the most active little women in the world. She invariably got up, summer and winter, soon after six o'clock, and might be seen bustling about the house, and bustling about the garden, and bustling about the parish from that moment until she retired to rest again, somewhere between ten and eleven at night. She was never exactly cross, but she was very determined. She had strict ideas, and made everyone in the parish not only respect her and look up to her, but live up to her rule of life. She was, as a matter of fact, thought a great deal more of by the parishioners than her husband, the Reverend William Dolman, and the real Rector of Super-Ashton.

Mr. Dolman was a very large man, tall in stature and broad. He was also fat and loosely built. He had a kindly face and a good-humored way of talking. He preached very fair sermons on Sundays, and attended to his duties, but without any of the enthusiasm which his wife displayed.

When Mrs. Dolman wrote to her husband to say that she was returning home with the four little Delaneys, it caused considerable excitement at the breakfast table. Five little hearts beat considerably faster than usual; but so great were the order and regularity of the household that the five little faces to which the hearts belonged remained apparently impassive.

Miss Ramsay, the governess, was presiding at the head of the table. The Dolman girls were neatly dressed in print frocks with white pinafores; the boys wore holland blouses and knickerbockers. The boys happened to be the two youngest of the family, and none of the children had yet gone to school. The name and ages of the five were as follows: First came Lucy, aged twelve; then Mary, aged ten; then Ann, aged nine; then Philip and Conrad, aged respectively seven and a half and six. The faces of the whole five bore a curious resemblance to both father and mother, the eldest girl having the round, black eyes of her mother, and the large, somewhat irregular features of the father. Mary resembled Lucy in being fat and largely built, but her eyes were blue instead of black; while little Ann had a small face, with gray eyes and rather sensitive lips. The complexions of the three were fair, and their good looks were rather above the average. They were proper, neat-looking little girls, and, notwithstanding their inward excitement, they ate their breakfast tidily, and took good care not to express any emotion before Miss Ramsay or their good-natured father.

"Yes," said Mr. Dolman, looking at them, and pushing his spectacles up on his forehead, "yes, that is the news. Your mother returns to-night, and the four Delaneys with her. Let me see what else she says." He replaced his spectacles on his nose and looked over his wife's letter again. "These are the very words," he said; "Observe, Miss Ramsay, that I read from the letter. 'I return by the train which reaches Super-Ashton at six o'clock, and will bring the four Delaneys with me.' Four, you see, Lucy; that is the number. But mamma does not mention the sex of the children. How many boys or how many girls? I really am quite out of date with regard to your cousins, my love."

"But I know all about them, papa," burst from Ann's eager lips.

"You forget your French, Ann," said Miss Ramsay, laying her hand on the little girl's arm. "You will be punished if you speak English again at meals."

Ann colored and dropped her eyes. She began to eat her bread and butter hastily; she longed beyond words to tell the others the knowledge she had secretly acquired about her cousins the Delaneys.

"'Please send the wagonette to the station,'" continued Mr. Dolman, reading his wife's letter, and holding it close to his eyes, "'and--yes, the cart for the luggage, as the children'--um, um, um, that part is private, my dears."

Mr. Dolman dropped his spectacles and nodded at the eager little group round the table.

"Well," he continued, "I am glad mamma is coming home. I have really been quite bothered by the parishioners since she went away. There is always a vast deal of work left undone when mamma is absent, eh, children? eh, Miss Ramsay?"

"I agree with you, Mr. Dolman," said Miss Ramsay. "Mrs. Dolman does not spare herself; she will have her reward some day."

"God grant it!" said Mr. Dolman, with a heavy sigh. "She certainly will need rest whenever she does leave this world, for I never did come across such an active woman."

He left the room, hitching up his huge shoulders as he did so, and slammed the door noisily behind him.

"Papa would not do that if mamma were here," whispered Philip to Ann.

Ann said "Hush!" in a frightened tone, and then Miss Ramsay folded her hands as an intimation to the children that the meal was at an end, and that one of them was to say grace.

Immediately after breakfast they went upstairs to the schoolroom, and lessons began, just as if no four little Delaneys were to arrive to turn everything topsy-turvy that evening.

Lessons proceeded without any interruption until twelve o'clock. Then the three little girls retired to the neat bedroom which they shared together, and put on their sun-bonnets, their white capes, and their washing-gloves, and came back again to Miss Ramsay, equipped for their walk. The boys, with straw hats sticking very far back on their heads, were also waiting Miss Ramsay's pleasure in the hall downstairs. The children and the governess went out walking solemnly two and two, Miss Ramsay and Conrad in front, Lucy and Mary following, with Ann and Philip behind.

It was a hot day; but Miss Ramsay never excused the morning walk on the dusty highroads. The children came in very much flushed and tired at one o'clock for dinner. They assembled again in the big, cool dining room and ate their roast mutton and peas and new potatoes, and rice pudding and stewed fruit with the propriety of children who have been thoroughly well brought up.

At dinner French was again the only language allowed to be spoken. In consequence there was a sad dearth of any conversation at that dinner table.

After dinner Mr. Dolman told Miss Ramsay that he had given orders about the wagonette, and he supposed Simpson knew about the sleeping arrangements, as he was given to understand that she had received a letter from Mrs. Dolman.

"I have spoken to Simpson," replied Miss Ramsay, dropping her eyes as she made the remark, "and she fully understands what is expected of her. The two girls are to have small rooms to themselves, and so is the eldest boy, but the youngest will sleep in the nursery with Philip and Conrad. Those are Mrs. Dolman's directions."

"Quite right, quite right," said Mr. Dolman. "Anything Mrs. Dolman wishes, of course. Miss Ramsay, I shall not be home to tea this evening. I have to go to visit a sick parishioner at the other end of the parish. Good-by, Lucy; good-by, the rest of you children. I hope to see you all before bedtime; if not--"

"But, father," burst from Ann, "the new children will be here about six."

"They cannot arrive before half-past six, my dear," replied Mr. Dolman.

"Ann, you have again spoken English," said Miss Ramsay; "I shall be forced to punish you. You will have to stay in after the others this afternoon, and learn ten lines of your French poetry."

Poor little Ann colored and her lips trembled. She really felt dreadfully excited, and it was terrible to have to bottle up all her thoughts during the long, hot day.

Immediately after dinner the children went up to the schoolroom, where they lay down on the floor for half an hour to learn their lessons.

At three o'clock the ordinary lessons began again, and went on without interruption until five, when there was tea. After tea the children were supposed to have the rest of the day to do what they liked in. But on this occasion, Ann was kept in the schoolroom to learn her French poetry as best she could. The ten lines were difficult, and the little girl felt sleepy, cross, and dissatisfied. Soon her small, curly head fell upon her plump arms, and sleep took possession of her little soul.

Miss Ramsay came in and found her in a state of heavy slumber.

"Ann!" she cried; "Ann!"

Little Ann raised herself with a start.

"Oh, please, Miss Ramsay, won't you excuse the French poetry to-day," she cried; "I am so--"

"So what, Ann? I am surprised at you. What can be the matter?"

"I am _so excited about the little Delaneys," answered Ann. "They are coming so soon, and they are my own first cousins--I seem to see them all the day--they come between me and--and my poetry. Please, Miss Ramsay, if you'll only allow me I'll get up early to-morrow morning and learn it perfectly. Do say I need not finish it this afternoon--do, please."

Miss Ramsay was astonished and annoyed at this rebellion on the part of Ann.

"You surprise me," she said. "You know that lessons have to be done during lesson hours, and that rules are not to be broken. You know what your mother would say if she heard you talking English at meals. Twice to-day you broke through that rule. The first time I pardoned you--the second time it was unpardonable. Now, my dear, apply yourself to your task--get it well over, and you will doubtless be ready to welcome your cousins when they arrive."

Miss Ramsay left the room. Ann shed a few tears, and then, seeing there was no help for it, applied herself with all her might and main to learning her appointed task. She got her poetry by heart after a fashion, and, hastily replacing the book in the bookcase, ran out of the schoolroom. She saw Lucy and Mary pacing up and down the terrace in front of the house. They were in clean white frocks, with sashes round their waists, and their hair was very trimly brushed and curled over their heads. Their faces shone from soap and water, and even at that distance Ann could perceive that their hands were painfully, terribly clean. In her heart of hearts Ann hated clean hands; they meant so much that was unpleasant--they meant that there must be no grubbing in the garden, no searching for dear little weeds and small flowers, and all kinds of delicious, unexpected things in mother earth. In her heart of hearts Ann had a spark of originality of her own, but it had little chance of flourishing under the treatment so carefully pursued at Super-Ashton.

Philip and Conrad might also be seen on the terrace in their clean linen blouses and fresh knickerbockers; their hands were also carefully washed, their hair brushed back from their faces, the faces themselves shining from soap and water.

"Oh, dear! there's no help for it," thought little Ann, "I must go into the nursery and let Simpson pull me about. How she will scrub me and tug at my hair, and put on such a horrid starched dress, and it's so hot to-night! Well, if I hurry I may be in time to tell Philip what I know about their names. Oh, how delicious it will be! He'll be so excited. Yes, I'll be as quick as possible."

Ann ran down the long passage which led from the schoolroom to the nursery, opened the door, and approached a prim old servant with a somewhat cross face, who was busily engaged mending stockings.

"Please, Simpson, here I am. Will you dress me?" said Ann, panting as she spoke.

Simpson laid down her work with deliberation.

"Now, I wonder, Miss Ann," she said, "why I am to be put about for you. I have just finished dressing all the other children. Why didn't you come with the others? There, miss, you must just dress yourself, for I can't and won't be worried; these stockings must be finished before the mistress comes home."

"All right," answered Ann, in a cheerful tone. "I can wash myself beautifully. May I go into the night-nursery, please, Simpson, and do my best?"

"Yes, my dear. You'll find a white frock hanging in the wardrobe. I'll fasten it for you after you have washed yourself and combed out your hair. Now, do be quick. I would help you willingly, Miss Ann, only I really have not a minute to spare; Master Philip and Master Conrad are dreadful with their socks, and when the mistress comes with that fresh family, goodness knows when I shall have a moment to see to your clothes again."

Ann dressed herself, and ran back to Simpson.

"Simpson," she said, as that good woman was fastening the hooks and eyes at the back of her frock, "I know it is wrong to be so much excited, but I am. My heart beats awfully fast at the thought of their coming."

"Well, Miss Ann, it's more than my heart does. And now, miss, if you'll take a word of advice from me, you'll keep your feelin's to yourself, as far as your ma is concerned. Your ma don't wish any of you to give way to excitement. She wants you to grow up steady, well-conducted young ladies."

"I hate being a well-conducted young lady," burst from little Ann.

"Oh, dear me, miss! it's dreadful to hear you talk so unproper. Now stand still and don't fidget."

The frock was fastened, and Ann ran off to join her brothers and sisters on the terrace.

Lucy and Mary were little girls after their mother's own heart. They never questioned her wishes, they never rebelled against her rules, they were as good and well-behaved as any two little English maids of the respective ages of twelve and ten could be. Now, as little Ann approached, they looked at her as if they thought her quite beneath their notice.

"Oh, do go away, Ann!" said Lucy. "Mary and I are talking secrets, and we don't want you."

"You are always talking secrets," said Ann. "It's horrid unfair to me."

"We have got to talk things over. We can't confide in you; you're the youngest. Please don't be disagreeable now. We are having a most important talk. Please run away at once."

Ann looked beseeching, but then, all of a sudden, her eyes fell upon Philip. She turned, ran up to him, clutched him by the arm, and pulled him away from Conrad.

"Phil," she said, "I want to have you all to myself. I have something terribly exciting to say."

Philip looked from Conrad to Ann.

"But you are always getting into hot water, Ann," he replied, "and Con and I were talking about our fishes. We think if we are very careful with our pocket-money we may have enough to buy some gold and silver fish in the holidays."

"Yes, yes," answered Ann impetuously; "buy any kind of fish you like. Only, Con, like a dear, good boy, please go and walk at the other end of the terrace for five minutes. I must speak to someone or I'll burst."

"How awfully vulgar you are, Ann!" said Lucy, who happened to pass by, with Mary leaning on her arm, at that moment.

But Philip felt flattered at Ann's evident anxiety to be alone with him.

"Go and do as you are told, Conrad," he said, in lofty tones; "go to the other end of the terrace at once."

"It's rather hard on me," said Conrad. "I like having secrets as well as anybody else; the air is full of secrets to-day--why shouldn't I have some?"

"I'll have a secret with you by and by," said Ann, "if you'll only go away now."

The little boy looked at her, saw she was in earnest, and obeyed somewhat unwillingly.

"Now then, Ann," said Philip, "speak out; be as quick as ever you can."

"Philip," said Ann, in a solemn voice, "don't you want to know all about the children who are coming to-night?"

"Is that what the secret is about?" said Philip in disgust. "Do you know, Ann, what I heard Miss Ramsay say to Simpson to-day. She said that the new children would be awful bothers, and that _she for one does not know if she is going to stay, and Simpson said she was sure that she would give notice too. Miss Ramsay said it was an awful shame bringing four children to the house, and Simpson threw up her hands. You know how she looks when she throws up her hands. And she said, 'Them's my sentiments, Miss Ramsay.' Do you know what she meant by 'Them's my sentiments,' Ann, 'cos I don't? I never heard such funny words before. Did you, Ann?"

"No," said Ann; "but you ought not to have listened, Phil."

"Oh, I often listen!" replied Philip calmly. "I get to know all kinds of funny things that way, and they turn out no end useful. I know lots of things about Miss Ramsay, and since I just let her know that I did, she is not half so hard on me. That's how I find listening useful."

"Well, it is not right," said Ann, "but I have no time to argue with you now, Phil; I want to talk about the children. Whatever Simpson says, and whatever Miss Ramsay says, I am delighted that they are coming. I think it will be fun. In my heart, you know, Phil, I love fun, and I want to be able to talk English sometimes, and Phil, would, _would you like to know their names?"

"Their names?" said Philip. "I suppose they have names, although I never thought about them."

"Well, of course they have, and I'll tell you what they are. They have got lovely names; once I heard mother say that the whole four of them were called after heathen idols. Isn't it awful and exciting to be called after a heathen idol? Oh, Phil! they have such lovely names!"

Philip was not much interested in heathen idols, but Ann's excited face and her bright blue eyes did strike him as out of the common.

"Well, you are in a state," he said. "What creatures girls are! You'll catch it when mother comes home. You know she never can stand anybody all jumpy, and jerky, and quivery, like you are now. Well, what are the names? Out with them and get them over."

"Iris is the name of the eldest girl," said Ann. "Then comes Apollo--he is a boy."

"I'll never be able to get hold of that name," said Philip. "Apollo! how queer."

"But it is not queer, really," said Ann, delighted at having roused his real interest at last. "Of course, Apollo is very well known indeed. He was a sort of beautiful god long ago."

"But this boy is not a god--horrid little beggar," said Philip. "Well, what are the names of the others?"

"There is a girl called Diana."

"Diana," repeated Philip. "There's nothing in that name. That name is in the Bible. Miss Ramsay read the whole story aloud to us last Sunday when the beastly rain kept dropping and dropping all day long. 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians.' I rather like the sound, but there's nothing at all in a name of that sort, Ann."

"Well, I didn't say there was," answered Ann. "I only think it awfully pretty."

"I don't think much of it for an ordinary girl. Well, now, what is the other name? I'll call Conrad back, if you are not quick."

"I'll tell it to you. Look here, Phil, I bet you never heard a name like it."

"You bet?" said Philip. "Oh, if mamma only heard you!"

"For goodness' sake, don't tell her," said Ann. "I can't help letting out sometimes, and it does relieve me so. The name of the other boy is Orion, and he is called after a cluster of stars. I do know that much. And oh, Phil! Phil! Phil! they are coming! they are coming!"

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