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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSix To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 27. Matilda...
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Six To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 27. Matilda... Post by :fmode Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1597

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Six To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 27. Matilda...


The Bullers came home again. Colonel St. Quentin had retired, and when Major Buller got the regiment, he also left the army and settled in a pleasant neighbourhood in the south of England. As soon as Aunt Theresa was fairly established in her new house she sent for Eleanor and me. There was no idea of my remaining permanently. It was only a visit.

The Major (but he was a colonel now) and his wife were very little changed. The girls, of course, had altered greatly, and so had I. Matilda was a fashionably-dressed young lady, with a slightly frail appearance at times, as if Nature were still revenging the old mismanagement and neglect.

It did not need Aunt Theresa to tell us that she was her father's favourite daughter. But it was no capricious favouritism, I am sure. I believe Colonel Buller to have been one of those people whose hearts have depths of tenderness that are never sounded. The Bush House catastrophe had long ago been swept into the lumber-room of Aunt Theresa's memory, but the tender self-reproach of Matilda's father was still to be seen in all his care and indulgence of her.

"He'll take me anywhere," said Matilda, with affectionate pride. "He even goes shopping with me."

We liked Matilda by far the best of the girls. Partly, no doubt, because she was our old friend, but partly, I think, because intimacy with her father had developed the qualities she inherited from him, and softened others.

To our great satisfaction we discovered that gores were no enigma to Matilda, and she and Aunt Theresa good-naturedly undertook to initiate us into the mysteries of dressmaking.

There was an excellent opportunity. Eleanor was now eighteen, and Matilda seventeen years old. Matilda was to "come out" at a county ball that was to take place whilst we were with the Bullers, and Mrs. Arkwright consented to let Eleanor go also. Hence ball dresses, and hence also our opportunity for learning how to make them. For they were to be made by a dressmaker in the house, and she did not reject our assistance.

The Bullers' drawing-room was divided by folding-doors, and both divisions now overflowed with tarlatan and trimmings; but at every fresh inroad of callers (and they were hardly less frequent than of old) we young ones, and yards of flounces and finery with us, were swept by Aunt Theresa into the back drawing-room, like autumn leaves before a breeze.

The dresses were very successful, and so was the ball. I was so anxious to hear how Eleanor had sped, that I felt quite sure that I could not go to sleep, and that it was a farce to go to bed just when she was beginning to dance. I went, however, at last, and had had half a night's sound sleep before rustling, and chattering, and the light from bed-candles woke me to hear the news.

Matilda was looking pale, and somewhat dishevelled, and a great deal of the costume at which we had laboured was reduced to rags. Eleanor's dress was intact, and she herself looked perfectly fresh, partly because she had resisted, with great difficulty, the extreme length of train then fashionable, and partly from a sort of general compactness which seems a natural gift with some people. Poor Matilda had nearly fainted after one of the dances, and had brought away a violent headache; but she declared that she had enjoyed herself, and would have stayed to relate her adventures, but Colonel Buller would not allow it, and sent her to bed. Eleanor slept with me, so our gossip was unopposed, except by warnings.

I set fire to my hair in the effort to decipher the well-filled ball card, but we put it out, and the candle also, and chatted in bed.

"You must have danced every dance," I said, admiringly.

"We sat out one or two that are down," said Eleanor; "and No. 21 was supper, but I danced all the rest."

"There was one man you danced several times with," I said, "but I couldn't make out his name. It looks as if it began with a G."

"Oh, it's not his real name," said Eleanor. "It's the one he says you used to call him by. One reason why I liked him, Margery dear, was because he said he had been so fond of you. You were such a dear little thing, he said. I told him the locket and chain were in good preservation."

"Was it Mr. George?" I cried, with so much energy that Aunt Theresa (who slept next door) heard us, and knocked on the wall to bid us go to sleep.

"We're just going to," Eleanor shouted, and added in lower tones, to me, "Yes, it was Captain Abercrombie. Colonel Buller introduced him to me. He is so nice, and so delightfully fond of dogs and of you, Margery."

"Shall I see him?" I asked. "I should like to see him again. He was very good to me when I was little."

"Oh yes," said Eleanor. "It was curious his being in the neighbourhood; for the 202nd is in Dublin, you know. And, Margery, he says he has an uncle in Yorkshire. He----"

"Girls! girls!" cried Aunt Theresa; and we went to sleep.

Soon after we returned from our visit to the Bullers, Eleanor and I resolved to prove the benefit we had reaped from Aunt Theresa's instructions by making ourselves some dresses of an inexpensive stuff that we bought for the purpose.

How well I remember the pattern! A flowering creeper, which followed a light stem upwards through yard after yard of the material. We had picked to pieces certain old bodies which fitted us fairly, and our first work was to lay these patterns upon the new stuff, with weights on them, and so to cut out our new bodies as easily as Matilda (whose directions we were following) had prophesied that we should. When these and the sleeves were accomplished (and they looked most business-like), we began upon the skirts. We cut the back and the front breadths, and duly "sloped" the latter. Then came the gores. We folded the breadths into three parts; we took a third at one end, and two-thirds at the other, and folded the slope accordingly. It became quite exciting.

"Who would have thought it was so easy?" said I.

Eleanor was almost prone upon the table, cutting the gores with large scissors which made a thoroughly sempstress-like squeak.

"The higher education fades from my view with every snip," she said, laughing. "Upon my word, Margery, I begin to believe this sort of thing _is our vocation. It is great fun, and there is absolutely no brain wear and tear."

The gores were parted as she spoke, and (to do us justice) were exactly the shape of the tarlatan ones Aunt Theresa had cut. But when we came to put them together, they wouldn't fit without turning one of them the wrong side out. Eleanor had boasted too soon. We got headaches and backaches with stooping and puzzling. We cut up all our stuff, but the gores remained obstinate. By no ingenuity could we combine them so as to be at once in proper order, the right side out, and the right side (of the pattern) up. I really think we cried over them with weariness and disappointment.

"Algebra's a trifle to it," was poor Eleanor's conclusion.

I went out to clear my brain by a walk, and happening, as I returned, to meet Jack, I confided our woes to him. One could tell Jack anything.

"You've got it wrong somehow," said Jack, "linking" me. "Come to Miss Lining's."

Miss Lining was our village dressmaker. A very bad one certainly, but still she could gore a skirt. She was not a native of the village, and signified her superior gentility by a mincing pronunciation. She had also a hiss with the sibilants peculiar to herself. Before I could remonstrate, Jack was knocking at the door.

"Good-afternoon, Miss Lining. Miss Margery has been making a dress, and she's got into a muddle with the gores. Now, how do you manage with gores, Miss Lining?" Jack confidentially inquired, taking his hat off, and accepting a well-dusted chair.

There was now nothing for it but to explain my difficulties, which I did, Miss Lining saying, "Yisss, misss," at every two or three words. When I had said my say, she sucked the top of her brass thimble thoughtfully for some moments, and then spoke as an oracle.

"There's a hinside and a hout to the stuff? Yisss, misss. And a hup and a down? Yisss, misss."

"And quite half the gores won't fit in anywhere," I desperately interposed.

Miss Lining took another taste of the brass thimble, and then said:

"In course, misss, with a patterned thing there's as many gores to throw hout as to huse. Yisss, misss."

"_Are there?_" said I. "But what a waste!"

"Ho no, misss! you cuts the body out of the gores you throws hout, misss----"

"Well, if you get the body out of them, there must be a waist!" Jack broke in, as he sat fondling Miss Lining's tom-cat.

"Ho no, sir!" said Miss Lining, who couldn't have seen a joke to save her dignity. "They cuts to good add-vantage, sir."

The mystery was now clear to me, and Jack saw this by my face.

"You understand?" said he briefly, setting down the cat.

"Quite," said I. "Our mistake was beginning with the bodies. But we can get some more stuff."

"An odd bit always comes in," said Miss Lining, speaking, I fear, from an experience of bits saved from the dresses of village patrons. "Yisss, misss."

"Well, good-afternoon, Miss Lining," said Jack, who never suffered, as Eleanor and I sometimes did, from a difficulty in getting away from a cottage. "Thank you very much. Have you heard from your sister at Buxton lately?"

"Last week, sir," said Miss Lining.

"And how is she?" said Jack urbanely.

He never forgot any one, and he never grudged sympathy--two qualities which made him beloved of the village.

"Quite well, thank you, sir, and the same to you," said Miss Lining, beaming; "except that she do suffer a deal in her inside, sir."

"Chamomile tea is very good for the inside, I believe," said Jack, putting on his hat with perfect gravity.

"So I've 'eerd--yisss, sir," said Miss Lining; "and there's something of the same in them pills that's spoke so well of in your magazine, sir, I think. I sent by the carrier for a box, sir, on Saturday last, and would have done sooner, but for waiting for Mrs. Barker to pay for the pelerine I made out of her uncle's funeral scarf. Yisss, misss."

Jack was very seldom at a loss, but on this occasion he seemed puzzled.

"Pills recommended in our magazine?" he said, as we strolled up towards the Vicarage. "It's those medical tracts you and Eleanor have been taking round lately."

"There's nothing about pills in them," said I. "They're about drains, and fresh air, and cleanliness. Besides, she said our magazine."

"We don't give them any magazine but the _Parishioner's Pennyworth and the missionary one," said Jack. "I'm stumped, Margery."

But in a few minutes I was startled by his seizing me by the shoulders and leaning against me in a paroxysm of laughter.

"Oh, Margery, I've got it! It _is the _Parishioner's Pennyworth_. There's been an advertisement at the end of it for months, like a fly-leaf, of Norton's chamomile pills."

And as I unravelled to Eleanor the mystery of our dressmaking difficulties, we could hear Jack convulsing Mrs. Arkwright with a perfect reproduction of Miss Lining's accent--"Them pills that's spoke so well of in your magazine. Yisss, m'm."

We got some more material, and finished the dresses triumphantly. By the next summer we were skilful enough to use our taste with some freedom and good success.

I was then fifteen, and in long dresses. I remember some most tasteful costumes which we produced; and as we contemplated them as they hung, flounced, furbelowed, and finished, upon pegs, Eleanor said:

"I wonder where we shall display these this year?"

How little we knew! We had made the dresses alike, to the nicety of a bow, because we thought it ladylike that the costumes of sisters should be so. How far we were from guessing that they would not be worn together after all!

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