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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Children Of Wilton Chase - Chapter 1. Marjorie's Way
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The Children Of Wilton Chase - Chapter 1. Marjorie's Way Post by :evarley Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :857

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The Children Of Wilton Chase - Chapter 1. Marjorie's Way

CHAPTER I. MARJORIE'S WAY

"I don't care," said Ermengarde. "I won't do it! I won't obey her!"

"What are you saying, Ermie?"

Ermengarde was standing by the dressing-table in her room. She had been talking half to herself; she now turned quickly round, and confronted a plain little girl of between eleven and twelve.

"Is that you, Marjorie? I didn't know you were listening. I had not an idea you were in the room."

"But what _did you say, Ermie? Who is the person you won't obey?"

Marjorie had puckered up her brows. Her small, shrewd, sensible face looked full of anxiety.

"Now, look here," said Ermengarde, speaking with passion, "don't you interfere! You are always poking your finger into everyone's pie. Leave mine alone. I don't want you to meddle, nor to help me. I understand my own affairs. What is the matter? Are you going to cry?"

"No, Ermengarde. I don't cry. I think it's babyish."

Marjorie walked to the other end of the large bedroom, tied on a shabby brown hat, and prepared to leave the room. When she reached the door she turned again, and looked at her sister.

"When Basil comes home----" she began.

"Oh, don't. Why do you talk about Basil?" Ermengarde tossed her hat off her head as she spoke. "And just when I might have been happy! What are you lingering by the door for, Marjorie? Well, if you must know, I am not going to obey Miss Nelson any more. She went a little too far this morning, and I'll show her that I'm Miss Wilton, and that she's only the governess--and--and----Now, where's that child gone to? I do think Marjorie is a perfect nuisance. I don't see anything good in her. Paul Pry, I call her. Paul Pry, and a little busy-body. I suppose she'll go and make up to Miss Nelson now, and tell her what I've said. No, though, that isn't like her. She does try to stick up for one. Poor little plain mite. Well, I don't intend to obey Miss Nelson, Marjorie or no Marjorie. Basil is coming home from school, and I shall go in the carriage to meet him. I don't care what Miss Nelson said. She's not going to keep me from meeting my own Basil. Why, I was fourteen a month ago--a great many girls are grown up at fourteen. I don't mean English girls, of course, but foreigners, and I'm not going to be kept in surveillance, just as if I was an infant."

Ermengarde was quite alone in her nice room. The house was still, for just now the children--there were a good many children at Wilton Chase--were out. The time was the end of July, and on this very day Basil and Eric, the two public-school boys, were coming home. The whole house, that is the nursery and schoolroom part of the house, were in a flutter of expectation and excitement. Nothing ever disturbed the other end of Wilton Chase, where father and Aunt Elizabeth, and the numerous visitors resided. But the nurseries and the schoolrooms were generally noisy apartments, and it was very unusual to have such a stillness as now reigned over the whole of this important portion of the house.

Ermengarde and Marjorie slept in two pretty white beds, side by side, in this nice, large, cheerful bedroom. Ermengarde was completely mistress, but she did not object to Marjorie's company, for Marjorie was very plodding and useful and self-forgetful, and Ermie liked to be waited on, and her complaints listened to, and her worries sympathized with.

In many ways she was a commonplace child. She had a handsome little face, and a proud, overbearing manner. She thought a great deal more highly of herself than she ought, and she was a constant trial to Miss Nelson, who was a most patient, long-suffering woman.

Ermengarde had been directly disobedient that morning, and as a punishment Miss Nelson had decided that she was not to go in the carriage to meet her brothers at the railway station. The little girl had stared, bridled, drawn herself up in her haughtiest style, and determined openly to defy Miss Nelson.

She had never gone to this length of rebellion before, and when the governess went down to the seashore, accompanied by two or three of the children, she imagined that Ermengarde would attend to her neglected lessons, and presently join them on the beach.

"Marjorie," said the governess, as she suddenly met the little girl in the grounds, "I am deeply sorry, but I am forced to punish Ermengarde. She is not to go to meet your brothers; but would you--only, my dear child, you do look so dirty and untidy--would you like to go in the carriage? You are a good little girl; it would be a treat for you."

"I could get cleaned in a minute," said Marjorie. "There's my brown Holland overall, and Hudson could brush my hair, and make it tidy."

Then she flushed, and the wistful, eager expression went out of her eyes.

"Perhaps I had better not," she said.

"Why so, my dear child?"

Marjorie was thinking of Ermengarde. She could not complain of her sister, but to sit by and witness her disobedience would destroy her own pleasure.

"Ermie wouldn't like it, either," she whispered under her breath. "I wish I hadn't got honest eyes; Ermie says they look so horrid when I don't like a thing."

"Well, Marjorie, are you going, or are you not?" said Miss Nelson.

"I think not, Miss Nelson," said Marjorie, in a cheerful voice. "Nurse says Bob is sure to have another teething fit, so of course he'll be fractious, and she'll want me to pick up shells for him."

"Well, dear, you must please yourself," answered Miss Nelson gently.

She never praised Marjorie for being unselfish--no one did--they only said it was her way, and all the people with whom she came in contact took small kindnesses and small services from her as a matter of course.

Ermengarde was alone in her room, and the house was delightfully still. She waited for another moment, and then going over to the fireplace rang a bell. In a few minutes the schoolroom maid, looking very cross and astonished, answered the summons.

"Hudson, I am going out in the carriage. Please help me to dress," said Ermengarde. "And give directions that I am to be told when the carriage is ready."

"Are you going for the young gentlemen, Miss Ermengarde?"

"Yes."

"Then you must be quick, miss, for Macnab is bringing the horses round now."

Ermengarde had thought of making a very effective toilet, but she had only time to put on a shady hat, her best one, snatch up her parasol and gloves, and run downstairs.

Mr. Wilton was going himself to the station to meet his boys. Ermengarde was always a little afraid of her father. She stepped back now when she saw him, and slightly colored.

"Come, Ermie," he said good-naturedly, "jump in! We must be off at once, or we shall not be in time. I suppose you have been a specially good girl this morning, as Miss Nelson has allowed you to come."

Ermengarde murmured something which her father did not quite hear.

"You have--eh?" he repeated. "Miss Nelson knows you are coming? It is all right, I suppose?"

"Yes, father," said Ermengarde. She raised her eyes; then she got into the carriage with a curious sensation of being suddenly very shrunken and small. She was a rebellious, disobedient child, but she had not often sunk to deliberate falsehood.

The drive through the summer country on this delightful afternoon was so invigorating, and Mr. Wilton was so little awe-inspiring, and such a genuinely pleasant, witty, affectionate father that Ermengarde's spirits rose. She forgot her disobedience, that horrible lie which fear had wrung from her lips ceased to trouble her, and she chatted quite gayly to her father.

"Why, Ermie, what a big girl you are growing," he said presently, "and how well you express yourself! You will be quite a companion to me when you come out."

Ermengarde lifted her handsome eyes, They sparkled with pleasure.

"Well, puss, what is it?" said Mr. Wilton.

"Only I do so wish I could come out now."

"Now? How old are you?"

"Fourteen--really, quite----"

"We'll talk about it, Ermie, when you are seventeen. Eighteen is a better age, but as your poor mother is not living, and I--I--want a companion, I--we'll see about it."

"Father, I do hate Aunt Elizabeth."

"Pooh, what harm does she do you? You mustn't have such strong likes and dislikes, Ermie. You are exactly like me. I was awfully headstrong in my time. Your aunt is an excellent woman. I wonder what I should do without her. There must be some woman at the head of a house, you know, puss."

"When I come out, you'll let me take care of your house for you, won't you, father?"

"What a chit it is."

"But won't you? Do say you will, father. I should so love to govern!"

"I daresay. Here we are quite close to the station now. Easy, Macnab, don't force the horses up this steep bit. Well, puss, what are you looking so eagerly at me for? So you'd like to govern, eh?"

"Oh, shouldn't I? Dearly, dearly! I'd send Aunt Elizabeth and Miss Nelson away."

"Indeed! A nice household I'd be likely to have."

"Father, I wish you would not laugh at me!"

Mr. Wilton's face generally wore an expression of somewhat kindly sarcasm. Now a sudden look of tenderness came into his dark eyes. He turned and looked at the handsome, restless, dissatisfied girl at his side.

"I don't want to laugh at you, Ermie," he said, "but the fact is, I don't profess to understand half-fledged creatures. If your mother were alive, all would be different. Well, child, well, I'll see what can be done when the time comes; I want you to help me, of course, when the time comes; that is, if you have the real stuff in you, if you are a true Wilton. All the women of our house are women of honor."

"Honor?" repeated Ermengarde vaguely.

"Yes. Truthful, and above-board, and brave. Marjorie is a Wilton, every inch of her. Hullo! the train is in, and there come my scamps. Well, Basil, here you are, sir--and Master Eric, too! Sorry to be home, eh? I make no doubt you are. Now, look here, you villains, you are not going to tear my place to pieces. How many more pets, I wonder?"

"Only some rabbits, gov--father, I mean," said Basil.

"That's right, Basil--you know I don't allow you to 'governor' me--I like the old-fashioned word best. So there are some rabbits, eh? How are they to get home?"

"Oh, they can go with the pigeons and the ferrets," chimed in Eric, a small boy with a freckled face, and bright ruddy-gold hair.

"Isn't the dogcart here, father?" asked Basil.

"No, you're to come home in state in the family coach. A cart ought to be somewhere round for your luggage. The beasts can go in that."

"Oh, not the ferrets," said Eric. "I think perhaps I had better walk home with the ferrets. They might eat through their basket, and get at my fantails."

"Nonsense! stow them away under this seat, and jump in, lads. Do you see Ermie? She's all in a flutter to kiss you."

"How do, Ermie?" said Eric. "Stick your legs well out in front, or the ferrets may bite 'em."

Basil didn't say anything, but he clasped Ermengarde's slim fingers in his big brown hand. Basil's squeeze signified a good deal, and Ermengarde colored up, and her heart swelled with pride and pleasure.

"Jolly weather, isn't it?" said Basil. "I say, aren't we going to have a time! How are all the others? How's Maggie? Are you going to have holidays, too, while we are having ours, Ermie?"

Ermengarde's face flushed again.

"It is unfair," she said. "I wish you'd speak to father about it, Basil. We are only to have half-holidays. Lessons all the morning, and the afternoons with you. I do call it a shame! It's Aunt Elizabeth's doing. She arranged it with Miss Nelson a week ago. I do wish, father, you'd interfere."

"My dear, I never dream of interfering with your Aunt Elizabeth.--A pretty mess I'd get into if I did (_sotto voce_).--I make no doubt, Ermie, it's a very wise arrangement, and you fellows can have the mornings quite free for long expeditions or anything of that sort."

"Oh, we'll have lots of the girls in the afternoon," said Eric. "I do hope that big ferret isn't making his way out. He _is a stunner, sir; why, he killed--Ermie, keep your legs away--he has teeth like razors, sir, and once he catches on, he never lets go. He'll suck you to death as likely as not. Now, what's up?"

Ermengarde started from her seat. She felt slightly frightened, and very cross.

"You bring home horrid pets, Eric," she said. "And you have no sympathy, not a bit, and you are selfish, too----"

"Oh, he's a scamp," interrupted Basil; "never mind him."

Again he stretched out his hand and took Ermengarde's.

"Tell me all about the young'uns," he said. "How are the bees? Did you make a good sale of the honey? I want to buy out my share--come close, I've a secret to whisper to you."

Ermengarde and Basil talked in low excited tones to one another all the rest of the way home. Eric entertained his father with the exploits of his favorite ferret, and the prodigious feats of prowess performed by a certain pouter-pigeon of rare lineage. Mr. Wilton laughed and encouraged the boy's chatter. The whole party were in high spirits when they drew up at the lodge gates.

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