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   Chapter 3 EDINBURGH CRESCENT.

Salome By Emma Marshall Characters: 13265

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


R. WILTON was too busy all the day after his return to Roxburgh to think much about his nieces and nephews at Maplestone. The incessant calls on a medical man in the full swing of practice in a place like Roxburgh are urgent and cannot be put aside. He came in to dinner at half-past seven, and the scene of his home comfort and his elder children seated round him brought back to him forcibly the condition of his brother's widow and his family.

When the servant had left the room, Dr. Wilton said,-

"I have advised these poor things to come here for the winter anyhow, Anna. Can you look for lodgings for them to-morrow? I think there may be some to be had cheap down by St. Luke's Church."

"Come here, Loftus! You surely are not going to bring Emily and the children here, the most expensive place to decide upon."

"Well, I don't know what else to advise. You see we might show them some attention, and help them on a little. The boys could go to the college, and the girls get advantages which will fit them for teaching. Poor things! it makes my heart ache when I think of them, I can tell you."

"Papa!" exclaimed Louise Wilton, "I am sure we don't want them here. I never could get on with Salome and Ada. I am sure I hated being at Maplestone that summer; and Aunt Emily was so grand and stuck-up."

"Nonsense, Louise!" said her father sharply. "Grand and stuck-up indeed! Poor thing! she will only just be able to pull through with all those children. Hans and Carl are quite little things."

"Well, I must say," said Mrs. Loftus Wilton, "I do think it is a mistake to bring them all here; and I don't believe for an instant you will get lodgings for them at a low price."

"I am not going to try," said Dr. Wilton. "I leave that to you; and to-morrow morning you had better take the carriage and drive about till you find some at thirty shillings or two pounds a week. Four bed-rooms and two sitting-rooms will do."

Mrs. Wilton leaned back in her chair and said, "I shall send Betha; she is a far better judge than I am of lodgings. But I feel sure you will be disappointed. It will be utterly impossible to get lodgings in Roxburgh for two pounds a week to accommodate a family like poor Emily's."

"I should have thought," said Dr. Wilton, "you might have troubled yourself to help these poor people. It is not unlikely that you may find yourself in the same position one day; and then I don't know how you will manage. My poor brother had far less reason than I have to look forward to leaving his wife and children unprovided for."

With these words Dr. Wilton left the dining-room; and Louise said,-

"What shall we do with all the Maplestone people, mother? it will be so awkward to have them in lodgings here. Just the last place for people to come to who are poor."

"Your father seems to be of a different opinion, my dear Louise, and we must abide by his decision."

"Really," exclaimed Kate, the second sister, "Roxburgh does not belong to us. I suppose our cousins may come here if they like."

"You have not practised to-day, Kate," Mrs. Wilton said sharply. "Go into the school-room at once."

Dr. Wilton had a large family, of whom Louise and Kate were the eldest girls. Then came three boys, who were at the college; and then three more little girls. A daily governess had educated Louise and Kate, who at seventeen and eighteen were supposed to have finished with the school-room except for music and a little German. The trio of little girls-Edith, Maude, and Hilda-were under Miss Browne, as their sisters had been. And in the nursery there was a little delicate, fragile boy of four years old, who was the especial care of the kind aunt of Mrs. Wilton, who lived in her house as a poor relation, and performed an unlimited number of services small and great for the whole family. Her presence in the doctor's household obviated the necessity of an experienced nurse, an experienced cook, or an experienced housemaid. A staff of young girls under Aunt Betha's management got through the onerous duties of the doctor's household, and thus Mrs. Wilton practised economy by her help.

Like many people who love a showy outside of things and sacrifice much to attain their object, Mrs. Wilton was very mean in small matters. An extra quarter a pound of butter used in the house, or a shilling expended on little Guy over and above the sum she thought right for his beef tea and other nourishment, caused her real concern. She would fly off to Aunt Betha to inquire into the matter, and would inveigh upon her want of management with some asperity. But she did not grudge anything in her drawing-room which kept it up with the fashion of the day, and encouraged her eldest girl to dress, as she did herself, with excellent taste and prettiness.

Mrs. Wilton went up to the nursery after dinner, where Aunt Betha was sitting by little Guy. He had been very feverish and ailing all day, and his father had paid him several visits. Aunt Betha raised her head as Mrs. Wilton rustled in.

"He has just gone off to sleep," she whispered.

His tall graceful mother went up to the little bed where Guy lay.

"Loftus does not think there is much amiss," she said. "Poor little man!" Then she sat down by the fire and said, "I want you, auntie, to go out lodging-hunting to-morrow for me. It is for Emily Wilton and her children. They are almost penniless, and it is necessary that they should leave Maplestone at once, for the creditors are in possession of the place. Shall I wake him?" Mrs. Wilton asked, as Aunt Betha turned her head towards Guy's bed.

"No, I think not; he is really sound now. But, oh, I am so sorry for those poor children; I am indeed."

"It is a pitiable case, and I don't see myself the wisdom of bringing them to Roxburgh. However, as Loftus wishes it to be done, I must look for the lodgings, or get you to look for them. I think down by St. Luke's Church is the most likely locality, or behind Connaught Crescent. They want four bed-rooms and two sitting-rooms for two pounds a week."

"I fear we shall not succeed at that price; but I will go directly after breakfast to-morrow,-if Susan can be trusted here. Guy must be kept quiet till after his luncheon, and the children are so apt to rush in."

"Poor little man!" the mother repeated. "He has but small enjoyment in his life; but we shall see him a strong man yet. Oh, those boys!" And Mrs. Wilton hastily left the nursery as sounds of boisterous mirth ascended from the boys' study, a small room on the ground floor where they got through their evening preparations. Three voci

ferous young voices were raised at their highest pitch, while Edith's shrill treble was heard.

Down went Mrs. Wilton, and at the sound of her footstep there was a lull.

"Edith, have I not forbidden you to interrupt your brothers at their work? Go up to bed immediately."

"Mamma," sobbed Edith,-"mamma, it is all Ralph's fault. He says-he says that Uncle Arthur's children are all paupers, and that if papa-if-"

"She is such a baby," Ralph exclaimed; "she says pauper is a bad word."

"Yes," laughed Cyril, "the silly baby. I believe she thinks pauper is swearing."

"No, she does not," said Digby, the eldest of the three brothers. "No, poor little thing. It is a shame to tease her as you have done. Come on upstairs, Edith. I will take you," and Digby took his little sister by the hand and was leading her away when his mother interposed.

"Don't encourage her in naughtiness, Digby. She is very disobedient to come here at all.-Now, Edith."

Poor Edith obeyed at once, sobbing out, "I only said I was glad we were not so poor as our cousins; and they all laughed at me-at least Ralph and Cyril did-and said if papa died-"

"That will do, Edith. You are not to go down to disturb your brothers again. The next time I find you in this room of an evening, I shall punish you severely. Run away to bed. Aunt Betha ought to have called you by this time; and what can Sarah be thinking of?"

Then Mrs. Wilton kissed her little girl, and returned to the drawing-room, where Louise was reading by the bright gaslight.

"You have four burners lighted, Louise. It is quite unnecessary," and Mrs. Wilton's height made it easy for her to turn down two of the burners in the glass chandelier.

"What a noise the boys have been making downstairs!" Louise said. "I am sure I hope we shall not have them here all the holidays. Are we not going to Torquay or Ilfracombe?"

"Decidedly not en masse," Mrs. Wilton said. "Lodgings by the sea are so fearfully expensive."

"Well," said Louise, "I think it is very dull staying in Roxburgh all the summer, and the boys are so tiresome. If we had only a proper tennis-court; playing in the square is so disagreeable."

"You are very discontented, Louise," said her mother. "Pray, do not grumble any more."

Mrs. Wilton sat down to write a letter, and no more was said till Kate came in with Digby. They were great friends, and Digby was the generally acknowledged good-temper of the family. I am afraid it was too much the motto of each of the doctor's children, "Every one for himself." There could not be said to be one really unselfish person of that household. But Digby and Kate had more thought for others than the rest of the brothers and sisters, and were naturally better tempered and contented.

"Are you going to look for lodgings for Aunt Emily, mother?" Digby asked.

Mrs. Wilton looked up from her writing as if the idea were a new one to her.

"No, my dear, I shall not have time to do so. I am engaged to take Louise and Kate to a tennis-party at Cawfield to-morrow."

"Digby, I wish you would not sit on that sofa. Look what you have done to the cover."

Digby changed his seat from the sofa to a straw chair, one of those half-circular ones with cushions which creak at every movement.

"O Digby, do pray be quiet," said Louise irritably. "It does fidget me to hear that noise."

"You will be an old maid to a certainty, Louise," said her brother, "if you are so cantankerous,-another Aunt Betha, only not half as good.-Come on, Kate; let us have a game of backgammon."

"Not in here!" exclaimed Louise. "I hate the rattling of the dice. Pray go into the back drawing-room."

"Yes, let us go there," said Kate, "in peace."

"Peace! There is none in this house," said Digby as he followed Kate, who jumped up on a chair to light the gas, and came down with a thud on the floor, when she had achieved her object, which shook the glass-drops of both chandeliers ominously.

"I say, Kate, what a clumsy elephant you are. You'll bring down the chandelier and a torrent of abuse from a certain person at the same time."

"Where are Ralph and Cyril?" Kate asked.

"Downstairs. We have all been 'preparing a lesson,' doing a holiday task. Such humbug, as if fellows of our age ought not to dine late."

"Well, the Barrington boys always have school-room tea."

"They are younger. Ned isn't fifteen, and I am sixteen."

"No, not quite; not till next week," Kate said. "You are younger than Raymond. Are you not sorry for them at Maplestone?"

"Awfully," said Digby; "and I think every one so unfeeling. You girls ought to be in mourning."

"Mamma said it would be too expensive," said Kate; "but then she never expected they would all come here and see us. I believe she is going to get up something if they do come; but they may not get lodgings. Isn't it odd, Digby, to think of our visit to Maplestone a year and a half ago, when we felt them so much better off than we were, and envied the house and the gardens, and the ponies and the carriages? And Raymond talked so much of his swell Eton friends; and Reginald was at Rugby; and you grumbled because you could not go to school, but had to be a day boy at the college here."

"Yes, I remember," said Digby. "And how pretty Ada looked when she went to church on Sunday. And that quiet one, they say, is clever, with the queer name."

"Salome! ah, yes," said Kate. "She was odd-so dreamy, and unlike other girls. Dear me, it is very sad for them all. I wish they were not coming here all the same, for I know they will be disappointed; and Roxburgh is not a place to be poor in. I am sick of all the talking about who this person is, and where they come from, and what they wear; and that 'residents' can't know 'lodgers' for fear of getting mixed up with what is not quite the thing. I do hate it," said Kate vehemently; "and yet what is one to do?"

"Play backgammon now," said Digby; "and go to bed and forget it. With slow holidays like these, one had better lie there half the day."

"Pray don't be late to-morrow, Digby; it does make such a fuss. Now then-sixes as a start. What luck for me!"

So the cousins in Edinburgh Terrace talked of the cousins at Maplestone. So small a part of the lives of others do griefs and sorrows make. That evening, while Digby and Kate were so lightly discussing the coming of Ada and Raymond, of Aunt Emily and Reginald, Salome was standing in the fading light by her father's grave in the quiet churchyard of Maplestone, with some freshly-gathered flowers in her hand, and crying as if her heart would break!

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