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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 7. Shortlands
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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 7. Shortlands Post by :gananathan Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1949

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The Palace Beautiful: A Story For Girls - Chapter 7. Shortlands


"A most extraordinary thing has happened," said Mrs. Ellsworthy that evening to her husband. "We have lived for several years at Shortlands, and except when we have people in the house I have actually been without any society. My dear Joseph, you will forgive my counting you as nobody at all. Well, we have lived here, and I have often been dull beyond words, and yet the nicest creatures have been within a stone's throw of me."

Mr. Ellsworthy was at least twenty years older than his wife--a reserved individual, with a rather long and melancholy face. Mrs. Ellsworthy was plump, and round, and pretty--kittenish some people called her.

She was certainly fond of emphasizing her words, and of going into raptures, and her husband now only raised his eyebrows, and said, "Well, Kate?" in a somewhat lethargic voice.

Mrs. Ellsworthy left her seat, and drew a small easy-chair close to the fire, for though the weather was hot Mrs. Ellsworthy always insisted on indulging in this evening luxury.

Planting herself luxuriously in this chair, the little lady began her narrative.

"Now, Joseph, I will tell you my story. Do you remember that outlandish-looking governess who came up here for a week to try to keep Frankie in order before we sent him to school? Oh, what a blessing it is to have that boy at school! Do you remember Miss Martineau, Joseph?"

"There was an authoress of the name, my love; but surely she died before we came to Shortlands?"

"Joseph, how stupid you are! I mean a dear, obsolete creature in the village. However, it is not the slightest matter whether you remember her or not. She came here again this morning, and begged of me to interest myself in the cause of three destitute orphans who lived in a little house in the village. She spoke most kindly about them, but said they were a little unfinished, and not, in her opinion, very capable; but she described them as pretty and young, and, oh, so appallingly poor! And somehow the good old creature touched my heart, and I said I would certainly help them. I ordered the carriage and drove into the village. I expected to see--well, you know, the sort of girl who is likely to be found in a little village like Rosebury, Joseph--the awkward and shy young miss. I imagined them as being so grateful for my notice; indeed, a little overpowered; for, you know, I don't know the Rosebury folk. Well, my dear, what do you think I found?"

"It is really difficult to tell, Kate. I should judge, however, from your excited manner and your unusual enthusiasm, that you found young ladies."

"Joseph, you are a genius. I did. In the funniest, pokiest, queerest little house that you can possibly imagine; I discovered three charming, well-bred girls. The two youngest made friends with me in their shabby little garden. They greeted me, I assure you, with the most delightful frankness and ease. I told them who I was, and they were not the least impressed; on the contrary, the one they called Jasmine--oh! she is a pretty creature--fancied I was dying for some carnations like hers, and the little one holds out hopes that some day I may possess a kitten similar to the one she thrust into my arms. They were as shabbily dressed as possible, but who could look at them, dear pets, and think twice about their dresses? We got on most pleasantly, and found we had many interests in common, for the little one shared my love for animals, and the elder my passion for flowers. On this scene the eldest sister made her appearance. I assure you, Joseph, it is almost too absurd, but it is a fact; she actually contrived to snub me. I read as plainly as possible in those pretty, serene eyes of hers the question, 'How is it that you, who never condescended to know my mother, intrude upon us now, in our loss?' She was most gentle and most dignified, but I could as soon take liberties with her as with--with--you, Joseph, when you choose to exert your authority. After Miss Mainwaring came, I thought it best to run away; but before I went I extracted a promise from the three darlings to come and spend the day here to-morrow. Really, Joseph, I have had a surprising day; but I remember now that Miss Martineau did say something about these children being well born."

Mr. Ellsworthy again raised his eyebrows.

"I had an acquaintance once of the name," he said, "but I lost sight of him years ago. It is a good name. Well, Kate, you will do what you can for your _protegees_. I am glad you have found some objects of interest close to your own gates."

Here Mrs. Ellsworthy dropped her slightly frivolous tone, and rising from her seat, went up to her husband.

"Joseph," she said, "I want you to contrive to be at home for lunch to-morrow. I want you to see my girls, and to advise me how best to help them. Primrose is so proud and so inexperienced; the two younger ones, of course, know nothing of either poverty or riches; they live as the flowers live, and are happy for the same reason. Do you know, Joseph, that the eldest of these sisters is not seventeen, and the youngest only ten; that they seem to be absolutely without relations, almost without friends, and that between them they have only a Government grant of thirty pounds a year."

Here Mrs. Ellsworthy's pretty bright blue eyes filled with tears, and her husband, stooping down, kissed her.

"I will make a point of seeing those girls to-morrow Kate," he said. "I am glad you have come across them."

Then he went off to his library, where he sat, and read, and lost himself in great thoughts far into the night. It is to be feared that during these hours he forgot the Mainwarings and their troubles.

Mrs. Ellsworthy had appointed noon the next day to receive her young guests, and punctual to the moment the three walked into her drawing-room.

Daisy instantly commented on this fact. "There's the last stroke of twelve striking from the church clock," she exclaimed. "Oh, please! where's the Persian kitten?"

"I have brought you all the carnations that were in flower," said Jasmine. "Smell them; aren't they delicious? Mamma used to love them so--I would not give them to any one but you."

Mrs. Ellsworthy stooped and kissed Jasmine, and taking her hand, gave it a little squeeze. "Thank you, my love," she said--"I value your beautiful flowers--you shall arrange them yourself in this amber vase."

"They are such a vivid crimson, they would look best against white," answered Jasmine, raising her eyes a little anxiously. "I like to arrange flowers to look like a picture. Mamma always allowed me to arrange the flowers, and Primrose will in the future." Here Jasmine went up to Primrose, and took her hand, and the elder sister smiled at her with great affection, and said, looking at Mrs. Ellsworthy, "We call Jasmine our artist at home."

"And our poet--she makes poetry about the Pink at home," said Daisy. "Oh, dear!" she continued, giving a deep sigh, "I can't see the Persian kitten anywhere. I do hope what Miss Martineau said is not true."

"What did she say, my dear?" asked the lady of Shortlands.

"Oh, a lot of nonsense--that this was a great house, and we were to sit on chairs, and not speak unless you spoke to us, and we were not to play with the Persian kitten, nor see the dogs. She said you were a very grand lady, and that was the proper way to go on--we didn't agree with her, did we, Jasmine?"

"No, of course we didn't," said Jasmine; "we knew better."

"We said you were a romp," continued Daisy. "You seemed like it in our garden. I wouldn't have come if I thought you were one of those ladies who wanted little girls to sit on chairs. Oh! do say you are a romp."

Here there was a laugh heard behind them, and Mr. Ellsworthy came up and joined the group. He greeted the girls kindly, and very soon discovered that their father had been the old acquaintance whom he had known of the name. Then he and Primrose went off together, and Mrs. Ellsworthy took the two young girls' hands.

"My darling," she said, "with the single exception of my only son, Frankie, who is at present at school, I am the greatest romp in existence. Now let us come out into the sunshine and enjoy ourselves."

The few hours the girls spent at Shortlands passed only too quickly for Jasmine and Daisy. Mrs. Ellsworthy laid herself out to be charming, and no one could be more charming than she when she chose. She had naturally a good deal of sympathy, and taking her cue from the little ones, she entered into their lives, and became one with them. Jasmine and Daisy became quite merry. An indiscriminating observer would have said: "How shocking to hear such merry laughter--their mother has only been dead a month." But Mrs. Ellsworthy had far too kind a heart to do these children such an injustice. She knew that the dark lines under Jasmine's bright eyes were caused by the passion of a great grief; but she also knew that with such a nature sunshine must follow storm. Daisy in the midst of her play, too, began suddenly to cry.

"What is the matter, my little one?" asked the lady of the house. The child put her arms round her neck, and whispered through sobs: "I am so happy now; but I know I'll be miserable bye-and-bye. I'll want so badly to tell mamma about you, and mamma won't be there."

Primrose was also serenely happy--she was glad to hear her sisters' laughter, and she liked to walk about the beautiful place, and to feel the soft summer air on her cheeks.

The village of Rosebury lay low; but Shortlands stood on rising ground, and the more bracing air did Primrose good. When she saw how happy Mrs. Ellsworthy made her sisters she forgave her for not calling on her mother.

Mr. Ellsworthy took a good deal of notice of Primrose, and showed her some of his pet books, and talked to her in a sensible grown-up way. Jasmine and Daisy were young for their years, but Primrose was old, and she liked to ask practical questions. Had she known Mr. Ellsworthy a little better she might have even consulted him as to the best way of laying out thirty pounds per annum, so as to cover all the expenses of three girls who wished to live as ladies; but she was both shy and reserved; and when Mr. Ellsworthy, goaded on by certain looks from his wife, referred to the subject of money, Primrose started aside from it like any frightened young fawn.

The day, the happy day for all three, passed only too quickly, and it was Mrs. Ellsworthy at last who determined to plunge boldly into the heart of the subject which was uppermost in her thoughts.

"Primrose," she said, taking the elder sister aside, "you must forgive me for speaking plainly to you, dear. I call you Primrose, because you do not seem to me altogether a stranger, and my husband knew your father. I may call you Primrose, may I not, love?"

"Please, do," said Primrose, with that sweet smile which came only rarely to her quiet face; "I like it--it is my name. When people say Miss Mainwaring I feel--lonely."

"You are Primrose, then, to me, dear. Now, Primrose, take my hand, and sit quietly in this chair. I am going to confess something to you. I called to see you and your sisters yesterday morning, intending to patronize you."

"To patronize us--why?" asked Primrose.

Mrs. Ellsworthy laughed in a slightly nervous manner.

"My dear child, we won't go into the whys and the wherefores. I found I could not do it, that is all. I have not, however, half finished my confession. I called to see you because Miss Martineau asked me to."

Here Primrose flushed a very rosy pink, and Mrs. Ellsworthy saw a displeased look fill her eyes.

"You must not be angry with Miss Martineau, Primrose. She loves you three girls very much. She is most anxious about you. She--my dear, she told me of your poverty."

Here Primrose rose from her seat and said, in the quietest tone--

"We are certainly poor, but I don't think that is anybody's concern. We don't mind it ourselves--at least, not much. You see, we have never known riches, and we cannot miss what we have never had. It would be a great pity for people to try to make us discontented. I think it was ill-bred of Miss Martineau to mention our private affairs to you; but still, as we have got to know you through these means, I forgive her. You are a very delightful friend. Mrs. Ellsworthy, I think you must let us go home now--Daisy is not accustomed to being up so late."

"Of all the tiresome, hard-to-be-understood young people I ever came across, Primrose Mainwaring beats them," thought Mrs. Ellsworthy to herself; but aloud she said very sweetly--

"Yes, dear--and you shall drive home in the carriage I could not hear of your walking."

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