« AnteriorContinuar »
In complete contrast was the interior of the large drawing-room at Beechwood Rectory. It was essentially a room that was lived in and worked in, "full of girls and litter,” said some of the neighbouring clergywomen, who sat uncomfortably in their dining-rooms when alone, and had a smart drawing-room with a central polished table bearing photograph albums, round which they and their visitors sat with their company manners and talk, both equally stiff and uninteresting.
Mrs. Trevor had her own views about her children and her duties, and the result was a bright and happy home. There were cabinets of china, and treasures round the walls of the room, plenty of tables with books, papers, and varied occupations and handicrafts all going on. Any inveterate mess was relegated to the schoolroom upstairs, where the boys were generally busy in the holidays, with carpentering and model engines, according to whatever was the reigning mania. The one care of the house was the delicate health of Agnes; some tenderness of lungs had developed during the last two years, and now at nineteen she was constantly shut up for weeks together, and suffering much from lassitude. It was only strong good sense and principle that kept her from giving way to depression at the prospect of becoming a hopeless invalid.
The probability was that a mild winter or two near the sea, instead of the cold of an ordinary inland county, might check and cure the mischief, but such a change was not as easily secured as prescribed. Her parents were anxiously revolving the matter, hoping it might be attainable for the next winter, if not for the end of that one. In the meantime Agnes herself did her best to be bright and cheerful by being always occupied. She had regular work for each day of a useful nature; garments for their own poor, for a struggling London Mission, and for a distant one in Newfoundland, making a variety of interests, and withal “ art needlework” as a relaxation; this Sibyl generally designed. Then the sisters all studied together for some time each morning, history or Italian being the alternate subjects. The parish was but a small one, and their parents only allowed some carefully chosen work to be done by their daughters, not approving of young girls being the mainspring of its organisation, or making it their one topic of conversation.
Agnes had not had time for a long survey of the falling snow, before their father appeared with an announcement that was not unexpected.
“ If this goes on an hour or two longer, I don't see how any one is to get to High Cliff to-night."
“I thought you would say so, papa, and it appears to be getting worse instead of better," answered Kate, “I am sorry for the poor boys, as it will be their last party before the holidays end.”
“Where are they?” asked her father.
" They went after breakfast to Crossfield, to skate, before the snow began to fall, but they said they should be back early in the afternoon.”
Well,” said Mr. Trevor, “I think I shall just go and see old Hall, but I shall go no further, only don't wait lunch."
High Cliff, as the family said, did duty as the squire's house. Mr. Shirley owned some amount of acres in Beechwood, and made them an excuse for contributing largely to the schools and various charities, and helping Mr. Trevor in any of the difficulties that fall upon a clergyman who is the only gentleman in the place. It was about three miles off, but the road went up and down short steep hills, and it was useless to hope that the one pony would be able to drag them there through such snow as was descending. So the sisters debated whether the boys should be invited to bring their carving down to the drawingroom, and read a story out loud, or whether Sibyl and they should coalesce, and get nurse to help them to have a great cooking of toffee upstairs, to take back to school. There still was a nursery establishment, for a little black-eyed dark-haired sister had arrived ten years after the last brother, and was the spoiled darling of the whole house ; her name of Dorothy had for the present turned into Dottie.
Luncheon was just over when Mr. Trevor with the two boys appeared passing the window, all looking much excited, and at once joined the party who were leaving the dining-roon
om. “Such fun,” said Rupert ; "what do you think, a train is coming to be snowed
!” “Won't it be jolly !" shouted Douglas.
At last in the tumult of questions and answers Mr. Trevor was able to make himself heard. After seeing old Hall, he had come home passing the station which lay in his way, and there outside he had met Gresford, the station-master, in much perplexity and anxiety. He had received a message from Fording, a large station between Beechwood and London, to say that the lines were already so blocked with snow that no train would be despatched after the message left; and that he, Gresford, was ordered to try if possible to stop from starting, a train likely to reach Beechwood about four o'clock on a branch line from Allington.
But the violent gusts of wind had already damaged the telegraph wires within sight of his own station, and as it was 2 o'clock when the message arrived, and the train was to start at 3.30 he knew it was useless to try to prevent its departure, since fifteen miles could not be accomplished by any one, even riding swiftly, by road within that time. The only intermediate station was Sutton,-a mere ticket-giving shed about four miles from Beechwood, -and nothing would be gained by detaining the train there for the night, as it was quite without resources. So Mr. Trevor and Gresford had had a consultation and settled to give what help they could to the expected victims, who were not likely to be very numerous. There was a fair-sized waiting-room at the station, and Mr. Trevor promised to send down some forms from the school, in addition to its own chairs, while the fire was well heaped up in readiness. Food was the difficulty, and a family council was held. A great supply of village soup was in course of making for the next day, and this must be appropriated to the “unknowns," as the boys called the expected travellers. There was a big round of cold salt beef in the larder and a ham ready cooked, in view of irregular meals during skating, and besides these a leg of mutton and a couple of fowls were hanging up. Groceries were not a difficulty, as a “ Civil Service” box had not long arrived. It was settled that Mr. Trevor should go to “the shop,” which was near the station, and tell them to be in readiness to send down bacon and bread, and to give a vent to the boys, who were wild with delight,—they were sent to help to carry the benches from the school, the violent storm having almost emptied it as to children. As to sleeping quarters, if there arrived any amount of
passengers, the men must make the best of it at the station, and the women be brought up to the Rectory. At the school there was one room more than those used by the mistress, and several beds at least might be found in some of the bettermost cottages; but Mr. Trevor resolved if possible not to quarter unknown travellers on his parishioners. When he and the boys were gone, Mrs. Trevor told the maids what was before them : they rose to the occasion, and set to work vigorously. The spare room would hold two in its large bed, and one on the sofa ; two inattresses could be spared and put on the floor in the old schoolroom for the boys, whose beds would thus be available, while a sofa in the study, and some tighter packing amongst the maids, might take in more if wanted. So sheets were aired, fires lit, the village factotum,
Mrs. Scrubbs, was summoned to the scene and appeared to be in every room at once, cleaning, dusting, &c., and all declared it was much better fun than the lost ball. Mrs. Trevor said they all reminded her of a French play she had seen in her youth, called “ Les voitures versées," where the owner of a chateau of the ancien régime keeps the roads near him purposely in bad repair, that his dulness may be enlivened by those whose carriages break down, and who are forced to be his guests.
Poor Agnes alone lay useless, but was the recipient of everybody's ideas and difficulties. Did not she think Rupert had better get some lanterns ready, used in general for evening church-going, in order to go up and down to the station ? Would it not be a good thing to borrow some milk-pails from Mrs. Lambton, the nearest farmer's wife, to carry the soup there? Then came her mother, wondering what sort of meal had better be organised. “You see, my dear, a late dinner may really be absurd, for people who perhaps have dined already, and a meat-tea we all agree in thinking a poor repast, what shall it be?”
Agnes' advice was given in favour of their own Sunday arrangement, tea in the drawing-room on the arrival of the shivering guests, and a solid “spread” later in the dining-room, meat, cake, bread and cheese, &c. Then came wonderings who the passengers were likely to be.
Allington was a large growing town, and had two stations,-one that was the beginning of the little line to Beechwood, where it ran into the Great Midland, and one that was a terminus from a line ending at Blackton, which had lately been made a military centre. So that mechanics, soldiers, county people, were all possibilities. And a wretched journey they must be having, for never did the snow and wind cease for one single moment. Moreover the boys brought word from the station that a drift in a cutting near Beechwood was already so deep, that if the snow continued through the night, no train would be able to leave next day, and Mr. Gresford was telegraphing on to Smokington to beg that men might if possible be sent out at once to dig a passage. Smokington was ten miles off-a great railway town
— -and luckily the wires on that part of the line seemed to have been protected by the deep sides of the cutting, and were as yet uninjured.
Four o'clock was the time for the Allington train to arrive. In such weather it was sure to be late, and it was settled to Rupert's great delight that he and Douglas should go back to the station, wait
there till the warning signal-whistle was heard, and that he should remain to watch the arrival, sending his brother home to give notice to Mr. Trevor and the parish clerk who were to walk down together and help to receive the travellers. Not till a quarter to five did Douglas appear, breathless with excitement. He was a handsome boy of twelve, longing for some outlet to his high spirits, and full of a sort of headlong talent, always contriving things which he did not completely carry out, surprising his elders at times with his intelligence, worrying them with his untidyness, and charming them with his sweet temper, which no scolding ever ruffled. Rupert, though less outwardly brilliant, was a true comfort as an elder son, truthful almost to nervousness, steady, methodical and unselfish, never envying Douglas his small school successes, and always ready to help him out of his scrapes. His father found him acting porter, and opening the doors of the carriages as he stepped out upon the little platform. Such a sight! The engine was coated with ice and snow, and another ten minutes of such a “run," said the stoker, and the fires would have been all out. The snow had drifted into the carriages, and the windows were sheets of ice. Gresford was going from one compartment to another with his powerful lantern, informing the occupants with a few words that the train could go no further, and that all that could be done should be done for them.
Mr. Trevor's ears were greeted with a loud angry woman's voice, calling, “Station-master, porter, come here directly!” and as he made
, his way to the door, “Here, you man, come and explain the meaning of all this; I shall complain to the directors."
“I fear, madam," said Mr. Trevor, " the directors can do nothing for you to-night.”
“A most unjustifiable delay; why was our train allowed to start if the line was blocked ? Mr. De Hoggyns will take good care the people here are prosecuted. Now, then, bestir yourself; get us a fly, and tell the man to take us to the nearest hotel.”
By this time Rupert had come up and found his father being well rated by a red-faced lady in a bonnet waving with feathers, held by a large gilt brooch, and a dress of the colour the British public have agreed to call “ Cardinal,” being as like the hue of the silk worn by those dignitaries as English skies are like Italian.
The dress was profusely trimmed with gold braid, and Rupert described her afterwards to Agnes, as "all wrath and glitter." Very mildly did poor Mr. Trevor