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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 20. Getting Lost
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 20. Getting Lost Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2638

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 20. Getting Lost

CHAPTER XX. GETTING LOST

Primrose's scheme had, of course, been considered most wild and most foolish by all her friends at Rosebury but even they were not prepared for her crowning act of folly. She, Jasmine and Daisy had a consultation together. This consultation was really nothing but a matter of form, for Primrose, quiet as she appeared could lead her two sisters as she willed--her slightest word was law to them, and the most outrageous plan proposed by her would have been delightful in their eyes. Her suggestion to them was as follows:

"We will go to London," she said--"we will try to be independent, and to earn our own living, and in order to do so really, and to prevent ourselves being tempted by Mrs. Ellsworthy's riches, or by Miss Martineau's advice, we will not give our address. We will stay for a short time at Penelope Mansion, and then we will go away. We will find those nice, clean, cheap lodgings, where we can hang up our muslin curtains, and keep things lovely and fresh, even though we are in London, and we will stay there without troubling our friends about us until we have succeeded. The moment we have succeeded in earning enough to live on we will write home."

Jasmine, and of course little Daisy, approved of this idea--Jasmine said it was both romantic and strong--Daisy said she only wanted to be with her own Primrose and her own Jasmine, and if the Pink might always stay with her too she would be quite happy.

Accordingly, when the girls' week of pleasure had quite come to an end, Primrose reminded her sisters that it was time for them to begin to get lost.

"We are not really lost here," she said. "Mrs. Ellsworthy thinks nothing of coming to town, and she could come to us at the Mansion any moment; and now that we have met that friend of hers, that Mr. Noel, she may be sending him to see about us--so you see it is more important than ever that we should find a place where we can really commence our work."

"I don't dislike Mr. Noel at all," said Jasmine. "It is a great pity he is related to our darling Mrs. Ellsworthy, for we might have had the comfort of his advice without being considered dependent. Oh, Primrose! is it possible that we are too independent--I can't help it, Primrose; I do feel lonely. I must cry just for a minute. I'd rather do a page of the 'Analogy' to-night than not cry for a minute."

"My darling," said Primrose, putting her arms round Jasmine, "I am sure that girls like us cannot be too independent, but I won't go on with it if it really breaks your heart, Jasmine."

"Oh, but it doesn't really," said Jasmine; "I think it's a noble plan; I wouldn't give in for the world. I have had my cry now, and I'm better--but, Rose, how are we to look out for these nice, clean, cheap lodgings if we aren't to consult any one?"

"We can consult people, and find out the locality we want, but we need never tell the people we consult what number in the street we really choose. Oh, there are lots of ways of finding out what we really want to know."

"I'll talk to Mrs. Dredge to-night," said Jasmine. "I think Mrs. Dredge is very practical and kind, and I don't know why Miss Slowcum should dislike her so much. I'll get her all by myself this evening, and talk to her."

Accordingly that evening, after the inmates of Penelope Mansion had, as Mrs. Flint styled it, "tea'd," Jasmine sat down on a footstool at Mrs. Dredge's feet, and laid herself out to be bewitching. No one could be more charming than this little maiden when she chose, and she had tact enough to adapt herself on most occasions to her company.

"I'm sure you have lots of experience, Mrs. Dredge," she began; "you look as if you had--your face tells me that you have gone through many episodes"--(Jasmine was rather proud of this expression; she began to consider that her style was forming).

"Episodes, my dear, and experiences?" answered Mrs. Dredge. "Well, well, I'm not to say over young, and years bring knowledge; but if you mean, Miss Jasmine, that I'm up to the acquirements of the present day, that I'm not, and I never will be,--no, thank Heaven! that I never will be."

"Do you mean with regard to education?" remarked Jasmine. "Is the education of the present day wrong?--is that why you're so thankful you are not up to it?"

"My dear Miss Jasmine," answered Mrs. Dredge, with great solemnity, "the education of the present day is to the heart hardening, and to the mind demoralizing. No, no; none of it for me. Miss Slowcum, now! Miss Jasmine, between you and me I don't admire Miss Slowcum."

"Oh, she's very kind," answered Jasmine; "but look here, Mrs. Dredge, what I want to consult you about has nothing at all to say to education, and it has a great deal to say to experience. It's a great secret, Mrs. Dredge, but we want to find cheap lodgings."

"Oh, my dear! and don't you want to abide at the Mansion--all things considered, it's a respectable and safe quarter--you are all three young and attractive, my dears, and you have the advantage of being guarded here by women who have years on their shoulders. Yes, my dear Miss Jasmine, with the exception of your three selves and the maid Sarah, there is no one in Penelope Mansion who will ever see fifty again. Don't talk to me of Miss Slowcum being younger than that--I know better."

"Dear Mrs. Dredge, it is a secret, but we are really not going to stay here long, and we want, if possible, to find very cheap lodgings."

"Very cheap, love; and you think I can guide you? Well, well, I have had, as you wisely say, my experiences. About what figure would you be inclined to go to, my dear?"

"I don't know," answered Jasmine. "Our house in the country was twelve pounds a year--I don't think we ought to pay as much as that, for of course we should not want a whole house, only two rooms. A nice, large, airy bedroom, and a cheerful sitting-room. We should not mind how plain the furniture was, if only it was very, very clean. You know the kind of place, with snow-white boards--the sort of boards you could eat off--and little plain beds with dimity frills round them, and very white muslin blinds to the windows--we have got our own white muslin curtains; Hannah washed them for us, and they are as white as snow. Oh! the place we want might be very humble, and very inexpensive. Do tell us if you know of any rooms that would suit us."

While Jasmine was speaking Mrs. Dredge kept on gazing at her, her round face growing long, and her full blue eyes becoming extended to their largest size.

"My dear child," she said, "wherever were you brought up? Don't you know that the kind of lodgings you want are just the hardest of all to get? Yes, my dear, I have experience in London apartments, and about them, and with regard to them, there is one invariable and unbroken rule--cheapness and dirt--expense and cleanliness. Bless you! you innocent child, you had better give up the notion of the cheap lodgings, and stay on contented and happy at the Mansion."

Jasmine smiled faintly--said "Thank you, Mrs. Dredge," in a pretty gentle voice, and a moment or two later, with a deeper carnation than usual in her cheeks, she quietly left the room.

"Primrose," she said upstairs to her sister, "we mustn't ask advice about our lodgings; we must take the map with us, and go and look for them all by ourselves. Mrs. Dredge says that clean lodgings are very, very dear, and it is only dirty lodgings that are cheap."

When Jasmine ran into the room Primrose was standing by the dressing-table, and in her usual methodical fashion was putting tidily away her own things and her sisters'; now she faced Jasmine with a little smile on her face.

"There is just one thing," she said, "that we can do--we can with our own hands make the dirty lodgings clean. Never mind, Jasmine darling, we won't ask anybody's advice; we'll go out and look round us to-morrow."

Early the next morning the three sisters set out--Daisy having first locked the Pink in their room. It may be remarked in parenthesis that the Pink did not like her new quarters, and had already made herself notorious by breaking two saucers and a cup, by upsetting a basin of milk, and by disappearing with the leg of a chicken. In consequence, she was in great disgrace, and Mrs. Flint had been heard to speak of her as "that odious cat!" The Pink, however, was safe for the present, and the girls set out on their little pilgrimage of discovery.

"London," said Primrose, in a somewhat sententious voice, has "points of the compass, like any other place. It has its north and its south, its east and its west. The west, I have been told, is the aristocratic and expensive quarter, so of course we won't go there. In the east, the miserably poor and dirty people live--we won't trouble them--therefore our choice must lie between the south and the north. On the whole, I am inclined to try the north side of London."

"For dark and true and tender is the North,"

quoted Jasmine with enthusiasm. "By all means, Rose, we will go northwards, but how shall we go?"

"We'll inquire at the post-office just round this corner," answered Primrose, with decision.

Accordingly, having received some rather lucid instructions the girls found themselves in a few moments in an omnibus going towards Holloway. About noon they were landed there, and then their search began. Oh, the weariness of that long day! Oh, the painful experience of the three! They knew nothing about London prices--they had not an idea whether they were being imposed upon or not.

"On one point we have quite made up our minds," said Jasmine, sturdily; "we won't go back to the Mansion until we have found rooms."

The truth of Mrs. Dredge's prophecy became only too apparent. All the apartments that were bright and clean and cheery were quite too expensive for Primrose's slender purse. At last she came to a resolution.

"Girls," she said, "we must take rooms that look dirty, and make them clean. We have at least been taught how to polish, and how to scrub, and how to clean. You know, Jasmine, how shocked Miss Martineau was when she saw you one day with a pair of gloves on down on your knees polishing the drawing-room grate at Rosebury. You said you liked to do it. How distressed she was! and how that grate did shine!"

"Don't let us talk about Rosebury just now," said Jasmine, with a quiver in her voice. "Yes, Primrose darling, of course we can make our own rooms clean--we can even re-paper the walls, and we can whitewash the ceilings. Now we know exactly what to do. At the very next house where we see 'Apartments to Let,' we'll ask for dirty rooms, then of course we'll get them cheap."

"Those attics that we saw at that last house?" questioned Primrose, thoughtfully. "They were rather large, and not very dark. If we took down that paper, and put up a fresh one, and if we whitened the ceilings and scrubbed the floors, why, those rooms might do. They were not very expensive for London--only twelve shillings a week."

"A frightful rent!" said Jasmine. "No wonder the people here look careworn, and pinched, and old. We'll go back to that house, Primrose. On the whole, the rooms may suit us. What is the landlady's name?--Oh, Mrs. Dove. We'll go back to Mrs. Dove and take her rooms."

Accordingly, in a funny little street off the Junction Road, the three Mainwaring girls found a nest. It was a queer nest, up at the top of a tall and rambling house; but Mrs. Dove appeared good-natured, and had no objection to the young ladies doing their own papering and white-washing, and as Primrose took the rooms on the spot, and paid a week's rent in advance, she became quite gracious. Every morning, as soon as ever breakfast was over at Penelope Mansion, the girls started off to the new home they were preparing for themselves. There they worked hard, papering, white-washing, and, finally, even painting. By the end of a week Mrs. Dove scarcely knew her attic apartments--elegant she now called them--a charming suite. The enthusiasm of the three young workers even infected Mrs. Dove, who condescended to clean the windows, and to rub up the shabby furniture, so that when, at the end of the week, the attics were ready for occupation, they were by no means so unlike Jasmine's ideal London rooms as might have been expected. The girls kept their own counsel, and during the week they were preparing for their flight to Eden Street--for No. 10 Eden Street would be their future address--they told no one at Penelope Mansion of their little plans. The good ladies of the Mansion, Mrs. Flint excepted, were very curious about them; they wondered why the girls disappeared every day immediately after breakfast, and came back looking hot and tired, and yet with bright and contented faces, at night; but Jasmine had ceased to confide in Mrs. Dredge; and Primrose, when she chose to be dignified, had quite power enough to keep even Miss Slowcum at a distance. Mrs. Mortlock, who was stout, and rich, and good-tempered, tried the effect of a little bribery on Daisy, but the sweet, staunch little maid would not be corrupted.

"Oh, thank you so much for those delicious chocolate creams," she said. "Yes, I _do love chocolate creams, and you are so kind to give them to me. Where do we spend our day?--but that is Primrose's secret--you would not have me so naughty as to tell!"

So the week drew to an end, and the nest, as the girls called their rooms, was finally ready for its inmates. The snowy-white muslin curtains were really put up to the now clean windows--the walls, covered with a delicate paper, had a soft, rosy glow about them--some of the pretty home ornaments were judiciously scattered about, and the rather small bedroom had three very small, but very white, little beds in it.

"We'll go in for lots of flowers, you know," said Jasmine. "I don't suppose even in London flowers are very dear."

At last there came a morning when the girls went away from Penelope Mansion as usual, and only Mrs. Flint and Poppy knew that they were not returning in the evening. Mrs. Flint felt rather indignant with the young ladies for deserting her--not that she said anything for she always made it a rule not to wear herself out with unnecessary words, or with fretting, or with undue excitement; nevertheless, on this occasion she was a little indignant, for surely, what place could compare with the Mansion? Poor Poppy bade the young ladies, whom she loved, good-bye with an almost breaking heart.

"It's all one, Miss Jasmine," she exclaimed; "if it was my dying breath, I'd have to own that London is not what we pictered it--vanities there is, and troubles there is, and disappointments most numerous and most biting. But for the one happy day I spent out with you dear young ladies, I hasn't known no happiness in London. Oh, Miss Jasmine," drawing up short and looking her young lady full in the face--"what dreadful lies them novels tells! I read them afore I came, and I made up such wonderful picters; but I will own that what with the ladies in this mansion, as worrit me almost past bearing, and what with you going away all secret like, and what with me being no longer Poppy the tare, but Sarah Jane the drudge, even if I was to get one of the bonnets that they show in the shop windows in Bond Street, why, it wouldn't draw a smile from me Miss Jasmine!"

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