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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 31. A "Continual Reader"
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 31. A 'Continual Reader' Post by :dmindia Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3400

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 31. A "Continual Reader"

CHAPTER XXXI. A "CONTINUAL READER"

A few days after the girls were comfortably settled in their new quarters Primrose went out. She went out all alone, for by this time London streets and London ways were familiar to her. Neatly and very quietly dressed, with the usual serene light on her sweet face, and that dignity about her whole bearing which prevented any one from ever being rude to her, she went, not to her china-painting as usual, but simply to take exercise in the London streets.

The fact was, Primrose wanted to be alone--she wanted to think out a problem. She was beginning to be perplexed, and even slightly alarmed. Her alarm was not caused at present by anything in connection with Daisy, for Daisy seemed almost bright and well again; but money matters were not too prosperous with the young housekeeper, the life of independence she had hoped to attain for herself and her sisters seemed to recede from her view day by day--the china-painting brought in no apparent results; Mr. Jones never did anything except "all but" get customers--the quarter's allowance from Mr. Danesfield looked smaller and more inadequate to Primrose the more her experience in expenses grew, and now something about Miss Egerton added to her cares. It seemed to Primrose that Miss Egerton was holding back something--she had always been frank and open with the girls, but when Primrose asked her how much their furniture had cost, and whether she had opened Mr. Danesfield's letter to pay for it the good lady's brow had grown troubled, and she had replied--

"I am busy to-day--I will go fully into the matter presently, Primrose;" but when morning after morning Miss Egerton was still too busy to go into the question, Primrose began to have nameless little fears, and had to scold herself for being fanciful and nervous.

On this afternoon she walked quickly, and without being herself aware of it she presently found herself in the neighborhood of Regent's Park, and at last not very far from Penelope Mansion. She was thinking hard, and paying little attention to any of the objects that met her eyes, when she was suddenly pulled up short by a round and hearty voice, a fat hand was laid on her shoulder, and she found herself face to face with Mrs. Dredge.

"Well, my dear, how are you, Miss Mainwaring? Oh, yes, I'm delighted to see you. You did give us the slip, you and your pretty sisters. I don't think Mrs. Flint quite liked it; we all questioned her, me, and Miss Slowcum, and Mrs. Mortlock, and we said, 'At any rate give us their address, Mrs. Flint--we take an interest in them--they are pretty-spoken young ladies, and they were a credit to the establishment.' But Mrs. Flint only frowned and bit her lips, and colored. Then Mrs. Mortlock put her foot in it as far as Miss Slowcum was concerned, for she said 'I'm sorry the girls from the country have departed, and that they found us so disagreeable that they had to do it unbeknown and quiet, for it was a real pleasure for ancient females like ourselves to have young and bonny creatures about us.'

"Miss Slowcum got very stiff at this, for she apes youth, my dear, in a way that's past belief, and Mrs. Mortlock had her little fling on purpose. Well, dear, and how are you? You look thin to what you were, and a bit pale. How is that pretty little sister of yours who wanted the cheap lodgings, that was to be so clean you might eat on the floor?"

"We are all fairly well, Mrs. Dredge," replied Primrose, when she could edge in a word--for Mrs. Dredge was extremely voluble--"we are fairly well, only Daisy has been suffering from cold. We have got clean rooms too, thank you, Mrs. Dredge."

"Well now, dear, I'm glad to hear it; that pretty child amused me when she spoke of cheapness and cleanliness going hand in hand. Bless her little heart! little she knew.

"We have learned a great many things we knew nothing about six months ago Mrs. Dredge," answered Primrose, a tinge of sadness in her voice. "Yes, I am very glad to see you again--please, remember me to all the ladies at Penelope Mansion."

"Oh, my dear, they'll be glad to hear I met you--even Miss Slowcum will, though she's a little bitter on the subject of age; and as to that poor Sarah Maria, or Sarah Martha--I forget which she is, only I know she's Sarah, with something tacked to the end of it--why, she'll be fairly skipping with delight. That poor girl, she just worships the ground you three young ladies walk on."

"Oh, do give our dear love to Poppy," said Primrose tears springing to her eyes.

Those sudden tears did not escape the notice of fat, good-humored Mrs. Dredge.

"I hope you're getting on comfortably in every way, dear," she said, "money matters and all. I had sore worries myself in the money line until poor Dredge made his fortune in the chandlery business. My dear, I was almost forgetting to tell you that we've had an affliction at the Mansion."

"I'm very sorry," began Primrose.

"Yes, dear, and it's an affliction which is likely to continue, and to grow heavier. It's poor Mrs. Mortlock, dear--I'm afraid she's losing her sight, and very troublesome she'll be, and a worry to us all when it's gone, for poor woman, she has a passion for politics that's almost past bearing. Miss Slowcum and me, we take turns to read her the papers now, but though our throats ache, and we're as hoarse as ravens, we don't content her. Mrs. Mortlock is looking out for what she is pleased to call a 'continual reader,' dear, and what I'm thinking is that perhaps you or your sister would like to try for the post--I believe you'd suit her fine, and she can pay well, for she's fairly made of money."

Primrose colored. To read to Mrs. Mortlock was about the last occupation she would have chosen, but the thought of the purse at home which was getting so sadly light, and the feeling that after all her efforts she might never do much in the china-painting line, caused her to reflect anxiously.

"May I think about it and let you know, Mrs. Dredge?"

"No, no, my dear, not by any means, for she has advertised, and they are pouring in. Poor Sarah Susan is almost off her head answering the door to them. Stout readers and thin readers, old readers and young readers, they're all flying to the post, as if there were nothing in life so delightful as being 'continual reader' of politics to poor Mrs. Mortlock. She ought to have been suited long ago, but I've a strong hope that she isn't, for she's as fidgety and particular as if she were a countess. Your best chance, dear, is to come straight home with me--we'll see Mrs. Mortlock on the spur of the moment, and try and arrange it all."

In this way Primrose obtained her first situation, for Mrs. Mortlock was glad to feel her soft young hand, and her gentle and refined tones had an instant and soothing effect on the poor lady's irritable nerves.

"My dear," she said, "what with rasping voices, and piping voices, and droning voices, to say nothing of voices that were more like growls than anything else, I felt nearly demented. Yes, Miss Mainwaring, this is a sore affliction that has befallen me, and I knew there was nothing before me but the services of a 'continual reader,' for poor Mrs. Dredge, though she did her best, was decidedly thick in her utterance; and Miss Slowcum, oh dear! the affectations of Miss Slowcum were quite beyond me, besides our differing altogether in politics--me holding for Gladstone, and she fairly hating the poor man. You'll do very well, Miss Mainwaring, and I hope you'll study your papers well while you're at home, so that you may know what you are reading about, and read intelligent accordingly. I always like both sides of the question, which was my poor husband's habit, for he was a very intelligent man, Miss Mainwaring. And then I like my bit of gossip and my Court news. I adore my Queen, Miss Mainwaring, and it is a real _bona fide pleasure to learn when and where she drives abroad. You'll come, please, in the morning, and set to work at your continual reading. Salary, fifteen shillings a week certain. Now, now, you needn't hesitate at taking what I call a lofty salary, for it always was my way to pay down handsome. There now, that's settled. Shake hands, dear; good-bye till the morning. Sarah Maria, you needn't show up no more of the 'continual readers,' for I believe I have made a bargain with this young lady."

"Oh, Miss Primrose!" said poor Poppy, as she showed her out, "I am more than thankful that you are coming here, miss--that's for my sake, miss, though I'm dreadful afraid you'll suffer yourself. I'm awful afraid you'll get muddled in your head, miss, for as to mine, it has swam away long ago. I begin not to know in the least who I am, miss. Poppy, why it ain't nowhere! only I'm Sarah, with all the other words in the dictionary tacked on to it. I don't mind it now; they say folks can get accustomed to anything, so I don't mind being Sarah, and everything else too, only it has a very swimming effect on the head, Miss Primrose. Oh, my darling young lady! do ask Miss Jasmine and Miss Daisy to let me come and see them."

"Yes, Poppy, you shall come and see us all again, if you will only keep our little secret, for just at present we don't want the people at home to know where we are; and remember, Poppy dear, that you are always Poppy to us three girls."

"I'll hold on to that," said poor Poppy, "when my head's fairly reeling. I'll clutch on to it, and hold firm. Poppy, which means a tare, I am, to my own dear young ladies. Oh dear! oh dear! they're calling me--it's Sarah Matilda this time. Good-bye until to-morrow, dear Miss Primrose."

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