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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Children Of Wilton Chase - Chapter 8. Father's Birthday
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The Children Of Wilton Chase - Chapter 8. Father's Birthday Post by :evarley Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :860

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The Children Of Wilton Chase - Chapter 8. Father's Birthday

CHAPTER VIII. FATHER'S BIRTHDAY

The great event of the year at Wilton Chase came in the summer. It came just at the time when all the children could enjoy it--when they were all at home and together.

This event was Mr. Wilton's birthday. It had been his custom, as long as any of the children could remember, to devote this day to them. He was their willing slave, their captive to do what they pleased with during the long hours of that summer day.

Aunt Elizabeth, who hated being brought into close contact with what she termed "unfledged creatures," generally left the house for that occasion. The oak doors which divided the schoolroom from the grown-up portion of the building were thrown open, and happy rioters might have been seen darting about in all directions. In short, during this day Chaos reigned instead of order. Each child did as he or she liked best, with a reckless disregard to all future consequences.

In preparation for the feasting which went on during father's birthday, nurse was wont to see that all the useful unpleasant nursery bottles were well filled. She sent them to the chemist a week before, and when they were returned, put them grimly away in the cupboard.

"These," she would remark, "have nothing to do with father's birthday, but they come in handy the day after."

Miss Nelson also made preparations for the after effects of this day of unrestraint. She laid in a good store of clean manuscript paper, for she knew many impositions would have to be written, and she looked well through the poetry books and books of French selections, to see which on an emergency would be suited to the capacities of the delinquents, who would be certain to have to learn them amidst tears and disgrace.

The children's maid, too, laid in stores of buttons and hooks, and tapes and ribbons, for the repairing of the clothes which must come to grief in the general riot.

Thus all that the careful elders could do was done, but the children cared for none of these things. To the children the day itself stood before them in all its glory, and they gave no thought or heed to any after-time of reckoning.

Mr. Wilton's birthday arrived in the beginning of the second week of the summer holidays. The first exuberance of joy, therefore, at having the boys at home again, was past, and all the young folk could give themselves up to the ecstasy which the day itself afforded.

"Good-by, Roderick," said Miss Elizabeth Wilton to her brother. She came in in her neat traveling-dress, and surprised him over a late breakfast.

"Why, where are you off to?" he asked.

"Where am I off to? I'm going to town, of course."

"To town, in August! What do you mean, Lizzie?"

"You may well shrug your shoulders, and ask me what I mean. _You_, Roderick, are the cause. Your birthday comes to-morrow."

"Good gracious! And I had forgotten all about it."

"Well, the children remember it, and so do I. Good-by, Roderick. I'll be home again on Friday evening. I don't want to stay longer in that stifling London than I can help."

Miss Wilton took her departure, and Mr. Wilton stretched out his hand to the toast-rack, took a piece of toast which he absently broke in two, and once more buried his head in his _Times_. There were a good many interesting items of intelligence this morning, and Mr. Wilton was a keen politician. Between him, however, now, and the clearly printed type of the paper, came the vision of to-morrow. To-morrow--his birthday, and the day when everything was turned topsy-turvey, and the children and Chaos reigned supreme.

Mr. Wilton was a very affectionate father, but no one must think the worse of him for shrinking at this moment from the ordeal which lay before him. When the day came, he would throw himself into the fun, heart and soul--he would be the life of the rioters, the ringleader of the pleasure-seekers. He would do this, and he would enjoy himself, but in anticipation the prospect was not cheerful. He had forgotten all about his birthday; he had further made arrangements for to-morrow--he was to see a friend in the neighboring town; they were to lunch together, and discuss the autumn shooting. Afterward he had intended to ride some miles farther on and visit a lady, a certain Mrs. Gray, who had been a great friend of his wife's, and whom he had rather neglected of late. He had made all his plans; they were none of them vital, of course, and they could be postponed, but it was disagreeable to have to do this.

Mr. Wilton pushed his _Times aside, rose from the breakfast-table and went out. He must order his horse and ride over at once to Quarchester, and put his friend off. How ridiculous if would sound to have to say, "My dear Furniss, the young ones are celebrating my birthday to-morrow, so I can't come."

Mr. Wilton stood on the gravel sweep, called a groom, gave the necessary directions, and looked around him. He was glad none of the children were about--he did not want to discuss the birthday until he felt in a better humor. What a good thing the children were employed elsewhere!

Just then, however, he heard a shrill childish laugh, and the next moment little Lucy, hotly pursued by fat Marjorie, dashed into view. Lucy rushed up to her father, clasped her arms round his legs and looked up into his face.

Marjorie panted up to her. "No, no, Lucy, you are unkind," she said. "It is wrong of you to run away like this, and when Miss Nelson is so sad, too."

"Hullo, Maggie, have you no word of greeting for me?" asked her father.

"Oh, father, I beg your pardon; I wanted to catch Lucy and bring her back to prayers. She's quite wild this morning; I expect it's because of the birthday being so near, but it does tease Miss Nelson so when the children don't come in quietly to prayers."

"Run into the house this moment, Lucy," said Mr. Wilton, in a tone which all the children immediately obeyed. "You stay, Maggie."

Lucy trotted off.

"Was I right in hearing you say, Maggie, that Miss Nelson was ill?"

"Not exactly ill, father, but she's fretting."

"Fretting? What about?"

Marjorie edged up to her father in the confidential way which made people take to her at once.

"It's her little sister's picture," she said. "A miniature, and it's--it's lost. It--it can't be found."

"I never knew Miss Nelson had a sister."

"Oh, yes; only she's dead--a dear little girl--she died a long time ago, and Miss Nelson is very fond of her miniature, and it's--it's lost!"

Just at this moment the groom appeared, leading Mr. Wilton's spirited bay mare.

"What a tragic face, Maggie," said her father, chucking her under the chin. "We must only trust that the picture is mislaid, not lost. Now, good-by, my dear, I am off to Quarchester."

As Mr. Wilton rode down the avenue he thought in a slightly contemptuous way of Marjorie's information.

"I do trust Miss Nelson is not too sentimental," he murmured. "Poor Maggie looked absolutely tragic over her governess's loss. I really was prepared to hear of some recent bereavement; but the loss of a miniature, and of course it is only mislaid! I do trust Miss Nelson is the right person to bring up a tender-hearted little thing like Maggie. Now, Ermengarde----Hullo! there _is Ermengarde!"

Yes, just ahead of him, and quite unconscious that she was observed, walked Ermengarde in close confabulation with Susan Collins.

Mr. Wilton's brow darkened as he saw the two together.

"This is absolute carelessness on Miss Nelson's part," he said to himself. "She knows my wishes, and it is her business to _see that Ermengarde obeys. I must have a very serious talk with Miss Nelson when I return home this afternoon, but I have no time to attend to the matter now. If I don't hurry, I shall miss seeing Furniss."

Mr. Wilton galloped quickly away, found his friend at home, and in conversation with him forgot all home worries. He forgot them so absolutely that he accepted an invitation to spend the day and dine. In consequence it was near midnight when he returned to Wilton Chase, and the fact that to-morrow was his birthday again absolutely escaped his memory.

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