The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
From Two Points of View
by L. T. Meade,
Any mother might have been proud of them. They looked so nice, so good, so sweet, as they tripped down the garden path on their way to Bessie Douglas's birthday party. Rose and Helen were not gaudily attired; their neat dresses were almost severely plain, but they fitted well, and the whole effect of the two graceful little figures was harmonious and pleasing.
Dick and Archie sighed as they saw them go off, and Archie tried in vain to press some lollipops into Rose's hand when she was leaving the house, as his contribution to Bessie's birthday. But Rose, who was on her best behavior, rejected the sweetmeats, and answered in rather an aggressive whisper that dear mother never liked that sort of thing.
"Good-bye, dear mother," said both little maids as they tripped away.
When Mrs. Meadows turned from the drawing-room window where she had been watching the two children out of sight, she could not help an inward glow of satisfaction. Yes, she had done right to let her treasures go -- young as they were, they were already examples of good manners and good breeding. Tender as were their years, they must even now take up the position for which she was training them; they must teach others by the example of their own sweet ways.
Miss Frere accompanied the little girls as far as the Douglases' hall-door. There she kissed them, gave them a parting word of admonition, and went away.
"'Let you lights shine,' my loves; don't forget your dear mother's words, and take this opportunity to let your lights shine."
Rose looked sweet and serious, Helen a little dogged.
"I wish she wouldn't," she whispered to her sister.
Before Rose could ask for any explanation of this speech, Mrs. Douglas's hall-door was opened from inside with a violent bang, and Bessie and Silky rushed down the steps to welcome there guests.
Mrs. Douglas herself stood just within the doorway, and from the three voices rose a perfect Babel of sound.
"Here you are," said Bessie. " We thought you were never coming. Silky and I watched you down the street ; you did crawl! How do you like my new frock? It's a sort of a ball dress, but I coaxed mother to let me wear it. Isn't it sweet?
"Do you like lollipops?" inquired Silky, " and little sugared frosted buns?" Were going to have sugared buns for tea. And afterwards we are to have ' Blindman's buff."
"Yes, and 'Post' and 'Hunt' the slipper," said Bessie.
"My sweets!" here interposed the mother from the doorway, "do let the darlings in. Don't keep them on the steps while you pour out all your little news. Come in, my loves. Welcome, pets. I am glad to see you. And nice and neat you look. Very nice. What fine brown holland. Now I wonder how much your mother gives a yard for it. Feel it, Bessie, isn't it smooth. I declare, I never felt such fine brown holland. I wonder, Rose, if your mother gets it straight from Belfast. I shouldn't be a bit surprised. I daresay it's a saving in the end. Can you tell me, darling, if she sends for patterns, and then asks her friends to join in making up an order, and they all died the carriage expenses between them? An excellent idea. I'm sure this brown linen comes from Belfast. Is that what your mother does, Rose and Helen?"
"I don't know," replied Rose in a sedate voice. " Mother never talks to us about our clothes. She says we oughtn't to think about our clothes, except just to wish to be neat. Please where are we to take off our hats and jackets, Mrs. Douglas?"
"Oh, in here, loves. Come in here. This is what Bessie and Silky and I call our little snuggery. It isn't very tidy, but you'll excuse us, won't you darlings? Dear, Dear, what a manager your mother is. I admire your dear mother more than words can say. What a training you children are having! What method! Now, I haven't any method. No, I'm frank, I haven't any. Bessie and Silky grow up as best they can. They're a wild little pair, but not unhappy. You are not unhappy, are you, treasures?
"Oh, mother,: exclaimed Bessie, flinging her arms with such violence around Mrs. Douglas's neck that the poor woman almost screamed with pain, "how could we be unhappy when we've got you?"
"You are a sweet mother," said Silky, "a dear, soft little mother. Mother, may we have some lollipops at once? We needn't wait till tea-time, need we? You said we must wait till tea-time, but you'll change your mind, won't you? Bessie, hug mother very tight, and then she'll have to change her mind. Do, mother, say yes; do, mother."
"My darlings, you quite exhaust me. Let me go, Bessie. You really are a little rough, my next positively aches, and what will Rose and Helen say? Well, a lollipop each, then; one each, mind, no more. Yo go and fetch them, Silky. They are on the dining-room table, in the center dish; and be careful, child, not to upset the cream when you are climbing on a chair for them. And so your mother doesn't allow you to think of dress, dear children," continued Mrs. Douglas, turning with an expression of great admiration to the little Meadows girls, and taking a hand of each. "Bessie, what do you say to that? You wouldn't like that plan for yourself, would you?"
"No, mother, I shouldn't like it at all. And I think Helen and Rose are very dowdy in these old brown hollands. I think it was shabby of them to come to my birthday party in brown hollands. I did hope they would wear something smart."
Bessie's pretty face wore a decided pout, and Mrs. Douglas coloured with vexation.
"Bessie, Bessie," she said, shaking her finger at her little daughter, "what will the little Meadowses think of you? But there, they are too sweet-tempered to notice the rude words of a spoilt little girl. Your dresses are sweet, dears -- so are your manners. What hair, Helen! It's just like spun silk. Now I wonder what sort of brushes your mother uses, and if she has any particular wash for strengthening the roots of the hair. I did think my Silky had good hair; that's why we call her Silky; but the quality is nothing to yours, Helen. There, though, I mustn't make you vain, sweet child. I see that you two little sheltered dears are not allowed to be worried with any domestic matters. Bessie, love, take your young friends up to the drawing-room. Tea will be ready n half-an-hour, and afterwards we are all going in for -- for ---"
"High jinks!" said Bessie.
"Oh, Bessie, what a vulgar word. I'm sure I don't know what the little Meadowses will thing. However, darlings, we are going to be quite noisy and unrestrained and free after tea. There's no method in this house, pets, and you must just take us as you find us. Now all four go up to the drawing-room. Silky, you naughty child, I believe after all you have split the cream on the table cloth. Dear, dear, dear, -- I declare I don't know whether I'm on my head or my heels; you are too careless, Silky."
Mrs. Douglas darted into her little dining-room, shutting the door after her, and the four children mounted the stairs to the drawing-room.
Rose and Helen walked up very sedately, but Bessie pirouetted about as she stepped, and Silky annoyed Rose immensely by hanging on the back of her neat holland dress.
Bessie and Silky were both pretty. Bessie was dark, like a little gypsy, with very handsome, laughing brown eyes, piquant features, and quantities of frizzy thick curling black hair. Silky was fair, with long straight golden hair. The two little sisters made a showy contrast, and, however badly they were dressed, they produced wherever they went a picturesque effect.
Helen Meadow was twelve years old; Rose was nine. Bessie Douglas was also nine, but she was a far more precocious child than either Rose or Helen. She delighted in gay dress, and had now rigged herself out, against her mother's better judgment, in a thin pink evening muslin, trimmed with quantities of pink satin ribbon. The dress was absolutely unsuitable, both for the occasion and the hour, but the color suited Bessie's handsome little face to perfection, and when the children reached the shabby drawing-room, she instantly posted herself opposite a long narrow mirror, which occupied the space between two windows, and danced up and down before it in an ecstasy of delight, pointing her toes, and arching her pretty high insteps as she did so.
Silky was some years younger than Bessie, and had not yet come to an age when appearance was of much importance to her. She lay down on the hearthrug, and began to fondle a fat tabby cat which lay curled up there in absolute content.
Rose and Helen walked over to the window, and stood there together, looking out. Rose, who was really a conscientious child, tried hard to think of some way in which she could make her little light shine. It would be so nice to be able to tell dear mother afterwards how she had reproved the little Douglases. She thought Bessie dreadfully vain, and Silky wanting in all good manners, and she began to consider in what way she could best convey her sentiments to the delinquents' ears, so as to give them a tiny lesson.
Helen, however, secretly admired Bessie very much. She had heard Archie and Dick both declare that she was quite the prettiest little girl they had ever seen. They had even quarrelled as to which of them was to propose for her by-an-by; and Helen knew, although dear mother did not, that they had enacted a sham duel in her cause in the large unused attic over the school-room. Helen was obliged to act second to both parties on the occasion, and, Dick having received what was supposed to be a deadly wound in this mortal conflict, Bessie was handed over to Archie as his rightful property.
Bessie Douglas herself knew nothing of this devotion, for Archie and Dick had always only worshipped her from afar; but Helen in her heart envied her, and thought how nice it would if some little boys would fight mock duels on her account.
"Do you learn dancing?" said Bessie, suddenly turning round, and favoring Helen with a bold, bright glance.
Helen replied sedately.
"Madame de Walton teaches us," she said. "We generally join for the autumn term and the term after Christmas. We go once a week. It's rather nice, particularly when the class is held at Grove's Hotel. There's such a beautiful floor there, and a great many children go -- all Madame de Walton's classes."
"How properly you speak," said Bessie. "Why don't you gabble?"
"What do you mean by gabble?"
"Oh, talk very, very, very fast. Silky and I often do it for fun, and we run one word into another. You can't think how funny it sounds. But go on about the dancing. It must be exciting, although you tell it in such a slow way. Mother can't afford to send us to any dancing classes. I wish she could, but she can't; so she teaches us to waltz herself. Mother waltzes beautifully, and she and I often waltz up and down the room, while Silky plays 'Sweethearts' on the musical box. Bt go on about your dancing. What dresses do you wear?"
"We wear," began Helen, whose eyes sparkled as she thought of the lovely Parisian costumes, "we wear -- or I mean we are going to wear, for they have only just come --- " But here Rose interrupted.
"Helen, I think you know what dear mother wishes on the subject of dress."
Helen colored, and Bessie said in a loud voice: "What does she wish -- that you should always wear those ugly brown hollands?"
"No," replied Rose; "but that we should not think about our dress. She says our minds should dwell on higher things."
Bessie made a very saucy face, stared for about half-a-minute full at Rose, and then once more began to pirouette before the mirror.
Helen left her seat by the window, and came and sat near her. Rose took up a very old volume of the Sunday at Home, and tried to interest herself in the pictures. Presently Bessie said in a low, quick voice, moving backwards and forwards as she spoke: "Now, tell me about your dress for the dancing class. Prunes-and-Prism won't hear."
"Who do you mean?"
Bessie flasher her saucy eyes in the direction of Rose.
"Tell me quick," she continued. "I see you are not quite her sort. You are not quite such a muff."
What would dear mother say if she knew that her own Helen felt rather flattered than otherwise by this speech; that she was experiencing a certain sense of spicy enjoyment in hearing her good little sister Rose called "Prunes-and Prism" and "a muff."
"Do speak," said Bessie, "what is the dress like?"
"There can't be any harm in telling you," answered Helen. "Our new dresses have come from Paris."
"Oh!" interrupted Bessie. She stopped dancing, and stood transfixed on one leg, waiting for more. Helen felt as elated as an actress does when she brings down the house.
"They have come from Paris," she continued. "They are pink, but not like yours. The shade is softer, and they have lots of little puffs about them; and they are embroidered all down the skirts, and there are trimmings of soft, real lace, and --- and ---"
"Ribbon --- ribbon --- bows something like mine?" almost panted Bessie.
"No, they haven't any ribbon; they have long sashes made of the same material, trimmed with heaps of embroidery and lace. I can't describe them any better, but they are really very, very beautiful."
"I'm sure they are," said Bessie. "O, Helen, I love you. I wish I could see you dressed in your pink embroidered frock from Paris. Why didn't you wear it today?"
"Dear mother didn't wish it; she thinks we ought always to be dressed suitably. Now, Bessie, I won't talk any more about dress."
"Oh, but you must, just a little more. I want to see you in those Paris dresses. How can I see them? How can you manage it?"
"I don't know, Bessie, I don't really."
"Couldn't you get your mother to ask me to come and see you at your place, the Chestnuts? My mother says you are awfully rich and grand and fine, and that your house is nothing but method, -- and oh, it must be deadly dull; but I shouldn't mind coming just for an hour or two, to see the dresses from Paris, for perhaps mother could copy them in some cheap stuff."
Helen could not help almost shuddering; she had a very shrewd guess that little as her mother apparently cared about outward adorning she would have felt considerable mortification had her children not looked superior to any others. Before she could reply to Bessie tea was announced, and the four children went downstairs.
The little dining-room was of the smallest. It was well crowded with furniture, with odds and ends of needlework, with half-torn books, and a profusion of broken toys. As Rose entered the room she was nearly thrown on her nose by Silky's bricks, and he she seated herself at the table one of the needles from "Puff and Dart" caught in her frock, and even pricked her rather severely. This needle was sticking upright in the chair.
"Naughty Silky!" said the mother, shaking her finger at the little girl, and then flying to Rose's rescue. "Naughty, naughty, careless Silky! My darling Rose, you weren't hurt, were you, love? Oh, fancy if Silky had been the cause of your lovely brown holland dress being torn. But it isn't, dearest, not in the least, and here's the needle. No, though, I've dropped it; it's on the floor somewhere. Well, it must stay there. We are all too hungry to hunt for a tiresome little needle at present. Eh, Bessie; eh, Silky? Oh, but I mustn't ask what you think, my pets -- your little guests are the ones to be considered. Now what would my sweet Nellie there fancy to begin with? This is a delicious chicken, darling; and I can recommend the ham. Shall I help you to some of both, dear Nellie?"
"I'm called Helen, please," was the meek and rather astonished reply.
"Yes, darling; but Helen is a methodical name, and Nellie isn't. Nellie suits this house, Nellie and Rosie. Now, aren't we all free and jolly together? Well, I do enjoy this kind of little gathering. But my Rosie Posie doesn't eat. What is the matter, dear little one?"
"Helen knows," began Rose. "Helen knows that we are not allowed to have meat at tea. I won't have any meat, please. I'll have some bread and butter, and afterwards a piece of cake."
"Oh, what a Prunes-and-Prism," began Bessie under her breath.
Even Mrs. Douglas flushed for a moment. Then she said with a certain assumption of dignity --
"In my house I think your mother will allow Helen to eat what I set before her. No, you shall not put back your nice slice off the breast of the fowl, dear child. Eat it, Nellie, and much good may it do you. And now let us all be merry. Let us forget disagreeables, and be merry.
Away, dull care,
You and I will never agree."
The meal proceeded; certainly it was merry. Even Rose was not proof against the laughter, the mirth, the gay, sunshiny never-me-caredness of the Douglases. As to Helen, she got quite red in the face with laughing, and the charm of this rough, untidy, free-and-easy house -- for with all its crudities it had a charm -- began to take possession of her. Oh, it was a comfort to be able to poke out her chin as much as she liked, and to be allowed to stoop freely and lounge anyhow. It was a comfort too, even though Rose's watchful eyes were on her, to listen to the flattering words which assailed her ears on all sides. And she was quite hungry enough to appreciate the really delicious meal, for the table groaned with far richer and more luxurious food than was ever permitted at the Chestnuts.
Just at the end of tea Bessie left her seat, flew at her mother, threw her arms round her neck, and began whispering vigorously in her ear.
"Helen had got such a dress, mother. Oh, don't let Prunes-and Prism hear. I must see it. Yes, I must. You'll have to take me to the Chestnuts. When will you take me, mother? I must see the dress, and you shall make me one just the same. Nellie is awfully nice and obliging; she'll lend it to us to take the pattern from, I know she will. Do say you'll take me to the Chestnuts tomorrow. Do, mother; do."
"I'll see about it, Bessie. Don't strangle me, my treasure. I'll see about it -- I can't this minute. Dear me" (aloud), "how hot one gets in these small rooms. No, though, you aren't hot, Rose. What a peach-like bloom you keep, my child. Nellie is just a wee bit flushed. But it improves you, my love; it does, really. Now, we'll all go up to the drawing room, and begin our -- "
"High jinks," said Silky, jumping up and down. "Let's begin them at once. I'm off." And she tore upstairs before the others.
Tea was a merry meal, but what was it to the mirth which now ensued. Fast and furious rose the fun, loud grew the voices, high the laughter. Even Rose became excited over post, and when a general post was announced, rushed across the room with such eagerness to secure Mrs. Douglas's vacated seat that they both came plump into each other's arms. It was at this moment, when Mrs. Douglas was mopping her heated face, and Rose (whose brown holland frock had got a good deal torn) was struggling to check her immoderate laughter, that the room door was thrown open by the little maid-of-all-work, and Mrs. Meadows, calm, stately, and dignified, was announced.
"Mrs. Meadows, ma'am," said the maid, pushing in her own untidy head, and vanishing, and accordingly, Mrs. Meadows made her appearance.
Her entrance at this moment produced something of the effect of a huge lump of ice dropped suddenly into a boiling chaldron. The disturbed elements hissed and bubbled in their commotion. Mrs. Douglas sat plump down on a footstool; Rose and Helen wished they could have retired under the sofa; Bessie, who was just securing a seat as the post from York, fell flat forward on her face and hands, and Silky alone remained mistress of the situation.
"What post will you be?" said Silky, running up. "Has you come to be another post? Will you be D -- D -- Dublin? We want some one to be D -- D -- Dublin."
"My dear Helen!" here burst from poor Mrs. Douglas. "I didn't expect you dear." Here she struggled to her feet. "But it's sweet of you -- I mean, sweet of you to come! Take a chair, dear. We were having post. It's a nice lively little game, and wakes one up. And here are your darlings. You see I haven't run away with them, Helen. Ah, what little models they are. Helen, you are much blessed in your children."
"I make it a rule," responded Mrs. Meadows in her most freezing tone, "never to talk about my children in their presence, and I must beg you to observe it, Katie. Now, Helen and Rose, mother has called for you herself; no more excitement for this evening, please. Go away, quietly, and put on your walking things and come back to me when you are dressed."
"I'll come with you," said Bessie, flying up to Helen's side, and putting her arm aggressively round the little girl's waist.
The three went out of the room looking rather limp, although Bessie still tossed her head, and wore her most independent manner.
The moment they were alone, Mrs. Meadows turned to her friend, and said, solemnly --
"Is this the way you bring up those little immortal ones entrusted to you, Katie? Riot was no word for the scene on which I now entered."
"Really, Helen, really, dear Helen, we were only having a jolly game to warm ourselves. There was certainly no harm in it."
"High jinks -- I love high jinks," said Silky, who now planted herself on the center of the rug.
"I did not know your youngest child was in the room; pray send her downstairs, Katie."
"Silky, love, run away. Do, darling. Go down to Bessie, darling. Do now, Silky."
"I won't," said Silky. "I'm going to stay with you, my own pet of a mother."
She went over to Mrs. Douglas, and laid her pretty head on her shoulder.
Poor Mrs. Douglas felt her face getting redder and redder. If only Silky would have had the tact to obey her just on that particular occasion!
"I see how it is," said Mrs. Meadows, rising with great solemnity. "I see how it is, Katie, and I pity you much. Another time I will talk over matters with you, for you are an old friend."
At this moment the two little Meadowses, looking very trim and neat, and with all traces of undue laughter gone, entered the room.
"We must go, my dear children. Say good-bye to your kind hostess. Thank her for doing her best to make you happy. Goodbye, Bessie. So this is your birthday. As you grown in years, may you grow in wisdom."
The hall door was shut, and Mrs. Meadows and her two daughters walked down the street together. She gave an eagle glance at both.
"We will not talk of what has occurred -- at present," she said. "We are just in time for preparation. Afterwards comes the quiet hour in mother's room."
(To be continued)
Typed by bhooma, Sept 2015
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