The Rectory Children
THE RECTORY CHILDREN
BY MRS MOLESWORTH
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
MY NIECE AND GOD-DAUGHTER
Helen Louisa Delves Walthall
Shrove Tuesday, 1889.
|The Parlour behind the Shop||1|
|Those Young Ladies||18|
|A Trying Child||34|
|Biddy has some New Thoughts||51|
|The Window in the Wall||83|
|On the Seashore||99|
|A Nice Plan||117|
|And its Consequences||169|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|'——and—oh, Alie, I have so torn my frock, and it's my afternoon one—my new merino'||27|
|'Little girl,' she called, when she got close to the other child||75|
|'It's like a magic-lantern; no, I mean a peep-show'||89|
|'I would like to go there,' she said||115|
|——carrying between them a little dripping figure, with streaming hair, white face, and closed eyes||161|
|'Now, Biddy. Open your eyes'||195|
|'O little hearts! that throb and beat,|
|With such impatient, feverish heat,|
|Such limitless and strong desires.'—Longfellow.|
THE RECTORY CHILDREN
THE PARLOUR BEHIND THE SHOP
|'I was very solitary indeed.'|
|(Visit to the Cousins).—Mary Lamb.|
The blinds had been drawn down for some time in the back parlour behindMr. Fairchild's shop in Pier Street, the principal street in the littletown of Seacove. And the gas was lighted, though it was not turned upvery high. It was a great thing to have gas; it had not been known atSeacove till recently. For the time of which I am writing is now a goodmany years ago, thirty or forty at least.
Seacove, though a small place, was not so out-of-the-way in somerespects as many actually larger towns, for it was a seaport, though nota very important one. Ships came in from all parts of the globe, andsailed away again in due course to the far north, and still farther offsouth; to the great other world of America, too, no doubt, and to theancient eastern lands. But it was the vessels going to or coming fromthe strange mysterious north—the land of everlasting snow, where thereindeer and, farther north still, the white bear have their home, andwhere the winter is one long, long night—it was somehow the thought ofthe north that had the most fascination for the little girl who wassitting alone in the dull parlour behind the shop this late Novemberevening. And among the queer outlandish-looking sailors who from time totime were to be seen on the wharf or about the Seacove streets, now andthen looking in to buy a sheet of paper and an envelope in her father'sshop, it was the English ones belonging to the whalers or to the herringsmacks bound for the north who interested Celestina by far the most.
This evening she was not thinking of sailors or ships or anything likethat; her mind was full of her own small affairs. She had got two newdolls, quite tiny ones—Celestina did not care for big dolls—and longas the daylight lasted she had been perfectly happy dressing them. Butthe daylight was gone now—it was always rather in a hurry to saygood-night to the back parlour—and the gas was too dim for her to seeclearly by, even if she had had anything else to do, which she had not,till mother could give her a scrap or two for the second dolly's frock.It was mother she was longing for. She wanted to show her the hats andcloaks she had made out of some tiny bits for both the dollies—thecloaks, that is to say, for the hats were crochet-work, crocheted inpink cotton. Celestina's little fingers were very clever at crochet.
'Oh, mother, mother,' she said half aloud, 'do come.'
She had drawn back the little green baize curtain which hung before thesmall window between the shop and the parlour, and was peering in, hernose flattened against the glass. She was allowed to do this, but shewas not allowed to run out and in of the shop without leave, and at thistime of the day, or evening, even when there were few customers, sheknew that her father and mother were generally busy. There were lateparcels to put up for the little errand-boy to leave on his way home;there was the shop to tidy, and always a good many entries to make inthe big ledger. Very often there were letters to write and send off,ordering supplies needed for the shop, or books not in stock, which somecustomer had asked for.
It was a bookseller's and stationer's shop; the only one worthy of thename at Seacove. And Mr. Fairchild did a pretty good business, thoughcertainly, as far as the actual book part of it was concerned, peopleread and bought far fewer books thirty years ago than now. And bookswere much dearer. People wrote fewer letters too; paper and envelopeswere dearer also. Still, one way and another it was not a bad businessof its kind in a modest way, though strict economy and care wererequired to make a livelihood out of it. And some things had made thismore difficult than would otherwise have been the case. Delicate healthperhaps most of all. Mr. Fairchild was not very strong, and littleCelestina had been fragile enough as a baby and a tiny girl, though nowshe was growing stronger. No wonder that a great share of both work andcare fell on Celestina's mother, and this the little girl alreadyunderstood, and tried always to remember.
But it was dull and lonely sometimes. She had few companions, and forsome months past she had not gone to school, as a rather serious illnesshad made her unable to go out in bad weather. She did not mind thismuch; she liked to do lessons by herself, for father or mother tocorrect when they had time, and there was no child at school she caredfor particularly. Still poor Celestina was pining for companionshipwithout knowing it. Perhaps, though mother said little, she understoodmore about it than appeared.
And 'Oh, mother, mother, do come,' the child repeated, as she peeredthrough the glass.
There were one or two customers in the shop still. One of them Celestinaknew by sight. It was Mr. Redding, the organist of the church. He waschoosing some music-paper, and talking as he did so, but the pair ofears behind the window could not hear what he said, though by his mannerit seemed something not only of interest to himself but to his hearersalso.
'I wish I could hear what he's saying,' thought the little maiden, 'ormost of all, I wish he'd go and that other man too—oh, he's going,but Mr. Redding is asking for something else now! Oh, if only motherwould come, or if I might turn on the gas higher. I think it would benicer to have candles, like Fanny Wells has in her house. Gas is onlynice when it's very high turned on, and mother says it costs such a lotthen. I do so want to show mother the cloaks and hats.'
She turned back at last, wearied of waiting and watching. The fire wasburning brightly, that was some comfort, and Celestina sat down on therug in front of it, propping her two little dolls against the fender.
'To-morrow,' she said to herself, 'as soon as I've made a frock forEleanor, I'll have a tea-party. Eleanor and Amy shall be new friendscoming to tea for the first time—if only the parlour chairs weren'ttoo big for the table!' she sighed deeply. 'They can't look nice andreal, when they're so high up that their legs won't go underneath.People don't make our tables and chairs like that—I don't see why theycan't make doll-house ones properly. Now, if I was a carpenter I'd makea doll-house just like a real house—I could make it so nice.'
She began building doll-houses—her favourite castles in the air—inimagination. But now and then she wanted another opinion, there wereknotty points to decide. As 'all roads,' according to the old proverb,'lead to Rome,' so all Celestina's meditations ended in the old cry, 'Ifonly mother would come.'
The door opened at last—gently, so gently that the little girl knew itcould be no one else but mother. She sprang up.
'Oh, mother, I am so glad you've come. I've been so tired waiting. I doso want to show you the cloaks and hats, and can you give me a bit tomake Amy's frock? She looks so funny with a cloak and hat and no frock.'
'I will try to find you a scrap of something when I go upstairs,' motherreplied. 'But just now I must see about getting tea ready. Father istired already, and he has a good deal to do this evening still. Yes, youhave made the cloaks very nice, and the little hats too. I'll turn upthe gas so as to see better.'
Celestina gave in without a murmur to waiting till after tea for thepiece of stuff she longed for so ardently, and she set to work in aneat, handy way to help her mother with the tea-table. They understoodeach other perfectly, these two, though few words of endearment passedbetween them, and caresses were rare. People were somewhat colder inmanner at that time than nowadays perhaps; much petting of children wasnot thought good for them, and especially in the case of an only child,parents had great fear of 'spoiling.' But no one who looked at Mrs.Fairchild's sweet face as her eyes rested lovingly on her little girlcould have doubted for a moment her intense affection. She had a verysweet face; Celestina thought there never could be anybody prettier thanmother, and I don't know that she was far wrong. If she ever thought ofherself at all—of her looks especially—it was to hope that some dayshe might grow up to be 'like mother.'
Tea was ready—neatly arranged on the table, though all was of theplainest, a little carefully-made toast to tempt father's uncertainappetite the only approach to luxury—when Mr. Fairchild came in and satdown in the one arm-chair rather wearily. He was a tall thin man, and hestooped a good deal. He had a kindly though rather nervous and carewornface and bright intelligent eyes.
'Redding is full of news as usual,' he said, as Mrs. Fairchild handedhim his tea. 'He is a good-natured man, but I wish he wouldn't talkquite so much.'
'He had some excuse for talking this evening,' said Celestina's mother;'it is news of importance for every one at Seacove, and of course itmust affect Mr. Redding a good deal. I shall be glad if the newclergyman is more hearty about improving the music.'
Celestina so far had heard without taking in the drift of theconversation, but at the last words she pricked up her ears.
'Is there going to be a new clergyman—is old Dr. Bunton going away,mother?' she asked eagerly, though the moment after she reddenedslightly, not at all sure that she was not going to be told that 'littlegirls should not ask questions.' But both Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild wereinterested in the subject—I think for once they forgot that Celestinawas only