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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 6. Many Visitors
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 6. Many Visitors Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1458

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 6. Many Visitors

CHAPTER VI. MANY VISITORS

Miss Martineau's plans had been full of directness. Having made up her mind, she wasted no precious moments. The girls must be helped; she could only give them counsel, but others could do more. Miss Martineau determined to go at once to the fountainhead. In short, she would attack the one and only rich person who lived in the neighborhood of Rosebury. Shortlands was a big place, and the Ellsworthys were undoubtedly big people. Money with them was plentiful. They considered themselves county folk; they lived in what the Rosebury people believed to be royal style.

Miss Martineau had for one short blissful week of her life spent the time at Shortlands. She had been sent for in an emergency, to take the place of a nursery governess who was ill. Her French had been of little account in this great house, and her music had not been tolerated. The poor old lady had indeed been rather snubbed. But what of that? She was able to go back to her own intimate friends, and entertain them with accounts of powdered footmen, of richly-dressed London ladies, of a world of fashion which these people believed to be Paradise.

Twice during her week's sojourn she had been addressed by Mrs. Ellsworthy. No matter; from that day she considered herself one of the great lady's acquaintances. Miss Martineau could be heroic when she pleased, and there was certainly something of the heroic element about her when she ventured to storm so mighty a citadel at eleven o'clock in the morning.

Her very boldness, however, won her cause. The footman who opened the door might look as supercilious as he pleased, but he was obliged to deliver her messages, and Mrs. Ellsworthy, with a good-humored smile, consented to see her.

Their interview was short, but Miss Martineau, when she launched on her theme, quite forgot that she was poor and her auditor rich. Mrs. Ellsworthy, too, after a few glances into the thin and earnest face of the governess, ceased to think of that antiquated poke bonnet, or the absurdly old-fashioned cut of that ugly mantle.

The two who talked so earnestly were women--women with kind and large hearts, and their theme was engrossing.

Mrs. Ellsworthy bound herself by no promises, but she contrived to send the governess away with a heart full of hope.

Mrs. Ellsworthy had never yet called on any of the people who lived in the straggling village of Rosebury. Therefore, when her carriage, with its prancing horses and perfect appointments, drew up at the Mainwarings' door, the old-fashioned little place felt quite a flutter through its heart.

Poppy Jenkins, the laundress's pretty daughter, came out into the street, and stared with all her eyes. The doctor's wife, who lived at the opposite side of the street, gazed furtively and enviously from behind her muslin blinds. The baker and the butcher neglected their usual morning orders; and Hannah, the Mainwarings' servant, felt herself, as she expressed it, all of a tremble from top to toe.

"Let me brush your hair, Miss Primrose," she said, when she had at last succeeded in inducing her young lady to dry her tears; "and are your hands nice and clean, Miss Primrose? and your collar, is it neat? It's very condescending of Mrs. Ellsworthy to call."

"I wonder what she has come about," said Primrose; "she never knew my mother."

Primrose felt at that moment the great lady's visit to be an intrusion.

"I'll just run into the garden and stop Miss Jasmine and Miss Daisy rushing into the drawing-room all in a mess," said Hannah. "Oh! sakes alive! why, the young ladies will be seen anyhow from the French window."

Hannah hurried off, wondering if she could smuggle these troublesome members of her flock out of sight through the kitchen.

Alas! she was too late--when Primrose, slim and graceful, and with her pretty eyes only slightly reddened by her crying fit, entered the drawing-room, she saw the French doors open, and her guest pacing tranquilly round the garden, hold the Pink in her arms, while Daisy danced in front of her, and Jasmine, chattering volubly, walked by her side.

"I'm so glad you like those carnations," Jasmine was saying. "Mamma was very fond of them. Shall I set some slips for you? I will with pleasure."

"If Pink ever has a kitten you shall have it," said Daisy solemnly.

At this moment Primrose joined her sisters.

"Oh, Primrose--something so delightful!" began Jasmine.

"She thinks the Pink a perfect beauty. She wants another pussy just like it," burst from Daisy's pretty dimpled lips.

Mrs. Ellsworthy, still keeping the Pink in her arms, held out her other hand to Primrose.

"I have introduced myself to your sisters, dear Miss Mainwaring. I am Mrs. Ellsworthy, of Shortlands--a near neighbor. You must not consider my visit an intrusion."

Before Primrose could reply Jasmine exclaimed volubly--

"Indeed we don't--we are quite delighted; we were feeling ourselves awfully dull. Miss Martineau said every one would call now she had been. We did not want to see every one, but you are different."

"You are delightful," echoed Daisy.

Primrose felt herself almost cross. "Girls, do stop chattering," she said. "Mrs. Ellsworthy, I hope you will excuse my sisters; and won't you come into the drawing-room?"

"I am charmed with your sisters," answered the great lady--"they are fresh, they are original. Dear Miss Mainwaring, why need we leave this delightful garden? can we not have our little talk here?"

"With pleasure," said Primrose, but her stiffness did not disappear; she still had a slightly sore feeling at the bottom of her heart, and the thought that Mrs. Ellsworthy never took the trouble to know dear mamma kept recurring.

Mrs. Ellsworthy was quite woman of the world enough to read Primrose, and to guess what was in her heart. She saw at a glance that the girls were ladies, and would not be patronized. Her task had seemed easy enough when she assured Miss Martineau that the poor young Mainwarings must be helped. When she ordered her carriage and drove into Rosebury she made up her mind to discuss their affairs boldly with them, and to offer them practical advice, and, if necessary, substantial assistance. The eldest girl, if she was at all presentable, might be got into some family as a nursery governess or companion, and she felt quite sure that she had sufficient interest to procure admissions for Jasmine and Daisy into some of the schools especially started to educate the orphan daughters of army men.

But in the garden, although it was a very shabby little garden, this programme did not seem quite so easy. Jasmine and Daisy were delightful children; they hailed her instantly as a comrade; they thought nothing whatever of her wealth or her position. Shortlands conveyed no meaning to their unsophisticated minds; they fully believed that Mrs. Ellsworthy envied them their carnations, and would have been made happy by the possession of a kitten similar to the Pink. Primrose, on the contrary, was proud and shy, and had no idea of treating any stranger in a confidential manner.

Mrs. Ellsworthy chatted on, but she never got beyond commonplaces; she invited the girls to visit her at Shortlands, and Primrose, reading a great desire in Daisy's blue eyes, answered simply, "Thank you; we shall like to come very much."

"I'll manage it when I get them to my own house," thought Mrs. Ellsworthy; "it's quite absurd to be baffled by three little chits, but I'll settle everything in a satisfactory fashion when I get them to Shortlands."

Aloud she said, "My dears, I shall be very glad to see you--and can you come to-morrow? To-morrow I shall be quite alone."

"Primrose," burst from Daisy, "there's a Newfoundland dog, and a mastiff, and two English terriers at Shortlands. The Newfoundland is black and woolly and the mastiff is tawny, like a lion."

"Will you really show us over your beautiful conservatories?" asked Jasmine. "Primrose, she was telling us about her flowers; and they must be lovely."

"I'll show you everything, and take you everywhere," responded Mrs. Ellsworthy, stooping down to kiss Jasmine's upturned face. "You'll bring your sisters to-morrow, Miss Mainwaring," she continued, turning to the grave Primrose.

"Thank you--yes. It is kind of you to ask us," answered Primrose.

Mrs. Ellsworthy drove away in state, and the sisters saw her off from their door-steps. They made a pretty group as they stood together--Daisy's arms clasped her elder sister's waist, and Jasmine shaded her dark eyes from the full blaze of the sun with her little white dimpled hand.

As the great lady drove away Jasmine had actually the audacity to blow a kiss to her.

The neighbors at the opposite side of the street felt quite scandalized, and said to themselves that surely the poor young ladies had seen the last of Mrs. Ellsworthy, after such a piece of impertinence. But the lady of Shortlands was really delighted.

"To think of my being here all these years, and never knowing those charming creatures," she soliloquized. Just then she saw Miss Martineau crossing the street, and she ordered her coachman to draw up.

"I have been with them, dear Miss Martineau--they are delightful--so fresh--and so--so pretty! They are coming to Shortlands to-morrow. Good-bye--warm morning, is it not? Home, Tomlinson."

The girls had entered the little house, cheered by Mrs. Ellsworthy's visit. Primrose, it is true, did not share her younger sisters' enthusiasm, but even she was pleased, and owned to herself that Mrs. Ellsworthy was a very different neighbor from the village folk.

Primrose's mind, however, was a good deal absorbed by what she had discovered in her mother's little old-fashioned cabinet. A letter directed to herself lay there unopened. She longed to break the seal, and to acquaint herself with the contents of this message from the dead. She longed to read the letter, but she knew she could only do so at some quiet moment. She must peruse those beloved words when she was alone and quite sure of being undisturbed. She thought she might slip away into a little glade at the back of the house that afternoon, and there read her letter, and ponder over its contents.

Events, however, were to occur which would prevent Primrose carrying out this scheme.

Immediately after dinner Miss Martineau's well-known knock was heard at the hall-door, and Miss Martineau herself, bristling with excitement and curiosity, invaded the girls in their drawing-room.

"Now, my dears, tell me all about her. Is she not fascinating? She is greatly pleased with you three--you have made a most proper impression; and you are to go to spend the day at Shortlands to-morrow. Now, my loves, tell me what arrangements she has come to--I am so _deeply interested, my poor darlings."

Miss Martineau, as she spoke, kept her eyes fixed on Primrose; but that young lady only gave her a puzzled look, and, after a short pause, said quietly--

"I don't understand you. We have made no special arrangements. Mrs. Ellsworthy was friendly, and she asked us to come and see her at Shortlands; and we are going. Miss Martineau, I am so very busy this afternoon; will you forgive me if I run away?"

Primrose left the room, and Miss Martineau, turning to Jasmine, clasped her hands in some excitement.

"Oh, my dear!" she exclaimed, "I do hope Primrose won't spoil everything by those little proud airs of hers; they really are--yes, I am grieved to be obliged to say it--but they really are affected. Now, Jasmine darling, a great deal depends on this visit--yes, a great deal. You and Daisy must be on your very best behavior. You have never been in a great house like Shortlands, and it is only right that I, your instructress, should tell you how you are to behave. You must take no liberties, dear; and you must not speak too much, or too fast; and you must look _very grateful when Mrs. Ellsworthy notices you, loves. Oh, my poor dears! I feel over anxious, for so much depends on to-morrow."

It was now Jasmine's turn to stare, and to begin to say--"I don't understand you." But Daisy burst out volubly--

"We are going up to Shortlands to run about--she said so. She said we were to see the dogs--the black woolly Newfoundland and the tawny mastiff; and she has got a snow-white Persian kitten, only she likes the Pink best; and I promised her that if ever the Pink had a little kit of her own she should have it. Mrs. Ellsworthy didn't say a word about being horrid, and proper, and waiting until you are spoken to. I won't go to Shortlands if I have to behave like that, I won't," concluded spoiled Daisy, pouting her lips.

Jasmine bent forward and kissed her. "You may do just what you like, darling little Eyebright," she said.

"Oh, Miss Martineau, really Mrs. Ellsworthy is not at all what you picture her. I should say she was the kind of lady who likes a real romp. Anyhow, she does not at all want people to be stiff with her. Daisy, and she, and I were as jolly as possible until Primrose came downstairs, and I suppose Primrose agreed with you, and thought it was manners to be formal. But, poor dear, she did not like it a bit. We three were having such a chatter before Primrose came. She is going to show me all her conservatories to-morrow, and she took a great fancy to my carnations. I promised her some slips. Oh dear! oh dear! who is that knocking at the hall door? Daisy, run and peep from behind the curtain, and let me know."

Daisy started off on the instant, and returned in a moment with the intelligence that Mr. Danesfield, the manager of the bank, was standing on the steps, and that his face was very red.

On hearing this intelligence poor Miss Martineau's face also became suffused with a deep flush, and she pushed her poke bonnet a little backward in her excitement. An awful idea had suddenly darted through her brain.

Perhaps Mr. Danesfield had called to announce some misfortune. Perhaps the two hundred pounds was lost; perhaps there was no balance at the bank!

When the good gentleman was ushered into the room she glanced at him mysteriously, and even while he was shaking hands with Jasmine and Daisy, began letting fall short, but mysterious sentences--

"Mrs. Ellsworthy has called--_much pleased--inclined to take them up. They are to spend to-morrow at Shortlands." Mr. Danesfield raised his eyebrows, pulled Daisy to stand between his knees; and, staring at Miss Martineau over his gold-rimmed glasses, said--

"Eh! eh!--Shortlands--Ellsworthy's--worthy folk!" here he laughed, pleased with his pun; "yes, Miss Martineau, a good opportunity, undoubtedly!"

At this moment Primrose came into the room, and Miss Martineau, judging that she might best serve her cause by retiring from the scene of action, went away.

Mr. Danesfield did not pay a long visit. He had known the Mainwarings, although not very intimately, for years. He was a good-hearted, kind, and very busy man, and during their mother's lifetime he had taken but little notice of the girls.

To-day, however, he seemed to regard them with fresh interest. He assured Primrose that if he could assist her in any business capacity he would only be too pleased to do so. "Our good friend Miss Martineau assures me that your means are likely to be a little straitened, my dear. I am sincerely sorry, although there are worse troubles--yes, assuredly, far worse troubles. It cannot do a healthy girl any harm to work. Yes, come to me for advice if you care to, and look on me as an old friend. And hark ye, Miss Primrose, I am glad Mrs. Ellsworthy has called. Make the most of your opportunity at Shortlands, my dears. Yes; I'll look in another day with pleasure. Good-bye, good-bye."

When Mr. Danesfield went away the two elder sisters looked at each other. What did it all mean? What mystery was there in the air? Jasmine thought both Miss Martineau and Mr. Danesfield very disagreeable but Primrose pondered these things and felt anxious.

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