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   Chapter 6 LOSSES AND GAINS.

Salome By Emma Marshall Characters: 15425

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


NE really sunny, good-tempered person has a wonderful effect in a household. Ruth Pryor was the sunny element in the two days of rain outside, and discomforts of unpacking inside the house, which followed the arrival of the first instalment of the party from Maplestone. She smoothed down difficulties; she laughed at her mother-in-law's melancholy forebodings that "the party was too grand for her," and that she, who had lived for so many years with a lady of title-her dear, departed mistress-was not going to put up with "airs" from a young man like Mr. Raymond.

"It takes a time to get used to everything," Ruth said; "they'll settle down right enough, and so Mrs. Stevens thinks. She says her mistress, poor thing, is too broken down to grumble; and I am sure Miss Wilton is a little angel."

"Very untidy, very careless-dropping things here and there; and she has spilled some ink on the tablecloth."

"A mere speck," said Ruth; "you'd need to put on your spectacles to see it; and a green and black cloth does not show spots."

"Not to your eyes, Ruth; you are far too easy. It's a good thing you have no family."

"There now, mother, don't say that," said Ruth, a shadow coming over her round, rosy face. "You know how I fretted when I lost my baby; and Frank, he fretted enough."

"Well, well, you may have a baby yet, only you would find you'd have to be more particular as to bits and pieces strewed everywhere," and Mrs. Pryor stooped to pick up some leaves which Salome had dropped as she filled the two stiff white vases with the Maplestone flowers.

Mrs. Wilton and the boys were expected that evening. Raymond and Reginald were to meet them at the station; and Salome had been following Stevens about the house, giving finishing touches here and there, and trying to hope her mother would be pleased. The "parlour," now called the drawing-room, was wonderfully improved by pushing the table back against the wall, and covering it with books and a little flower-basket from the old home. Then there was a "nest" of small tables, which Salome and Stevens separated, and covered two of them with some bits of scarlet cloth, round which some lace was run by Stevens. On these tables some photographs were set in little frames, and two brackets were nailed up with a book-shelf. Salome looked round with some satisfaction as the sun struggled through the clouds and seemed to smile on her efforts. Reginald enjoyed all the wrenching of nails from boxes and running out on messages; and altogether things assumed a brighter aspect.

Raymond had been out the greater part of the two days, and only came in to meals. He was moody and disagreeable: selfish and discontented in the days of prosperity, he naturally made no effort to sweeten the days of adversity.

"Have you got any money, Salome?" he asked his sister, as she sat down in the dining-room with ink and pens before her and a large blotting-case, which had once been a music portfolio, and was now filled with a great variety of scribbled paper, the beginnings of many stories which had been read to her little brothers by the nursery fire at Maplestone, and were considered, by them at least, the "jolliest tales that were ever told-much jollier than printed books."

Out of this chaotic heap Salome thought of forming a story for children, of which visions floated before her, bound in olive green, and embossed with gold, and illustrated with pictures, and advertised in the papers! Only Reginald was to be in the secret. And then the joy of giving her mother the money she should get for her book. The little heap of gold was already rising from ten to twenty, nay, to thirty sovereigns, when Raymond's question broke in on her dream,-

"I say, Salome, have you got any money?"

"Money! No, Raymond, only a few shillings; but mother will have some this afternoon."

"Well, you see, I spent nearly a pound of my own for the tickets, and the omnibus, and cab, and porters."

"Not for the omnibus and cab. I gave Reginald seven shillings for them. And as to the tickets, you ought not to have taken first class tickets. One was a waste, because Reginald did not use it."

"A lucky thing I had the sense to take first class tickets. Fancy St. Clair finding me in a third class carriage-and you, worse still! If Reginald was such a fool, I can't help it, it was not my concern; but I have a right to look after you, and I know my father would never have allowed you or Ada to travel third class with a lot of half-tipsy navvies, for all I could tell."

Raymond said this with a grandly magnanimous air, as if he were to be commended for brotherly attention.

Salome bit the end of her pen-holder, and could scarcely repress a smile, but she only said,-

"What do you want money for, Raymond?"

"What do I want it for? That's my business. I am not going into Roxburgh without a penny in my pocket. It's not likely."

"Well," Salome said, "I hope you will not tease mother for money. I hope you will spare her as much as you can. I believe I have some money of my own,-ten or twelve shillings,-and I can let you have it, or some of it." Salome put her hand in her pocket to get out her purse. Alas! no purse was there. "I must have left it upstairs," she said.

And Raymond exclaimed,-

"A nice hand you'll make of keeping money for the family."

"Stevens," Salome said, rushing up to Stevens, "have you seen my purse?"

"No; you've never lost it?"

"I can't have lost it.-Reginald,-I say, Reginald, have you seen my purse? I thought it was in my pocket."

Reginald called out from his mother's bed-room, where he was fastening up a bracket for her little clock,-

"What do you say you've lost?"

"Oh, my purse, Reginald! what shall I do?" and Salome wildly turned out a drawer in the room which she was to share with Ada, and left it in dire confusion.

"Dear me, Miss Salome, pray don't make work like that," said Stevens. "I do wish you would learn to take care of your own things at least. You never was fit to look after money."

Salome was in despair, when Reginald came out of his mother's room holding the lost purse on high.

"O Reginald, where did you find it? You might have told me before. It was a shame. Where did you find it?"

"Under the table in the dining-room last evening," and he tossed the purse to her, saying, "It's not very heavy. But you should be careful, Salome; you are awfully careless."

"Don't be rude, Reginald; it's not for you to take me to task. Mind your own business, please."

"Hallo! there's a carriage. It's Uncle Loftus; yes, that it is," exclaimed Reginald. "He has not hurried himself to look after us, I must say."

Salome felt a nervous fear of her uncle, and stood irresolute at the top of the narrow stairs.

"Come down with me, Reginald," she said; "do come."

"Oh no, you'll get on better alone," Reginald said; "and Raymond is downstairs."

"The doctor, Miss Wilton," said Mrs. Pryor, in a tone which seemed to imply that some one was very ill. "The doctor," she repeated, looking up from the narrow hall at Salome.

Salome went down slowly, and her heart beat so loud she could almost hear it. Her Uncle Loftus brought back the memory of her father so vividly. He resembled him, as brothers do often resemble each other-a family likeness, which starts out always more forcibly when one of that family is gone.

"Well, my dear child," Dr. Wilton said, advancing to Salome when at last she opened the door, "how are you getting on? You are quite comfortable here, I hope. It really looks very nice and home-like. It was the best we could do for you. I heard from your mother yesterday, and she says she is coming

this afternoon with the children and-and-" (Dr. Wilton could not fit the sister with a name) "your sister. I will try to meet your mother, and bring her up in the carriage. I have to be at the hospital in Harstone at four o'clock, and I think I can just manage to get to the Elm Fields Station at five. The boys must meet the train too, and they and the children and the luggage can come up in the omnibus."

"Thank you, Uncle Loftus," Salome said gently. "I am very glad mamma should drive up in the carriage."

"What a quiet, demure little thing she is," thought Dr. Wilton. "Where are your brothers?" he asked.

"I thought Raymond was here," Salome said, rising as if to call him.

"No; do not call him now. I wanted to tell you that I have, I hope, succeeded in getting him into a merchant's office in Harstone. It really is a most difficult thing to provide for boys in these days, as I shall find. All professions need so much outlay to begin with-articles for the law, and so on. But Mr. Warde, out of respect to your poor father's memory, says he will take your brother on, at a nominal salary of twenty pounds, just to keep him in clothes; and considering the calamity at Fairchester, I think it is better the boy should start clear here. Reginald must have another year at school, I suppose, and I will speak to Dr. Stracey about it. The term does not begin till the middle of September. The little boys you and Ada can manage between you, I daresay."

"Oh yes," Salome said; "I can do their lessons at present."

"That's right. You know your poor father's affairs are in such a fearful mess that it is impossible to tell yet how things stand. The liquidation of the Central Bank will go on for years. A heavy overdraft there is the ugliest part of the matter."

"An overdraft!" poor Salome exclaimed; "I don't understand!"

"No, my dear, you can't understand, I daresay. But, as I told you, your poor mother's income is secure, and on that you must all make up your minds to live till better times. It is just three hundred a year."

Three hundred a year conveyed a very hazy idea to Salome.

"How much had we a year at Maplestone, Uncle Loftus?"

"How much?-my dear, your father was living at the rate of four or five thousand a year!"

"Four thousand!" This at least was a help to a clear understanding. Four thousand did stand out in sharp contrast to three hundred. Salome was speechless.

"Your Aunt Anna will be calling on your mother to-morrow, and she will settle about your coming to see your cousins. You must be about Kate's age-seventeen."

"I am not quite sixteen," Salome said. "Ada is just fifteen, and Raymond seventeen. Reginald is nearly fourteen."

"Only a year between each of you, then!"

"The little ones are much younger. Carl is nine, and Hans eight. They were born on the same day of the month."

Family records of births and ages were not in Dr. Wilton's line. He looked at his watch, and said,-

"Well, I must be off. I will speak to your mother about the situation for Raymond, and other matters, as we drive up from the station. Good-bye, my dear." And Dr. Wilton was gone, leaving Salome standing in the middle of the room. She would have liked to kiss him, to cry a little, and be comforted. But there was something in her uncle's professional manner, kind though it was, which threw her back. He would do his duty, she felt; he would not give up his brother's children; but he would do it as shortly as possible, and waste neither time nor words over it.

He had smiled, and looked kind; he had spoken pleasantly and cheerfully; he had even put his arm round her when she first went into the room, and there was real feeling in the words, "Well, my dear child," as he kissed her forehead; but for all that, Salome felt like a sensitive plant, touched by the gentlest hand, which draws in, and cannot unfold in response.

"If only father were here!" the girl exclaimed, covering her face with her hands. "Oh, that he were here! Oh, that we had all thought more of him when we had him! And what a life he must have had the last year; never telling us, and yet in such trouble!" Vain regrets for our dead; vain longings to be what we can never be again! Let us all take care, as the daily life rolls swiftly on, that we lay up happy memories, or at least pleasant memories, when that daily life has become the past,-the past which, when it was the present, was, alas! so often sown with the seeds of unkindness, harshness of word and judgment, ill-temper, selfish disregard for the feelings of others, which yield such a bitter harvest when those we love are hidden from our sight, and we can never more lighten a burden, or help to make the way easy by smiles and good-temper, by tenderness and forbearance, by the love which covereth a multitude of faults.

Salome was roused by Raymond's entrance.

"Why did you not come and see Uncle Loftus?"

"He did not ask for me."

"Yes, he asked where you were; but he told me not to call you."

"I did not want to see him. I hate his patronizing ways. Have you found your purse?"

"Yes, Reg had picked it up; but you are not going out before dinner, are you, Ray?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Raymond, stretching and yawning. "I should have thought we had better have dined at seven, when mamma comes."

"I-I don't think Mrs. Pryor would like a late dinner."

"Well, I can get a little luncheon somewhere in Roxburgh. It is so fine, and it is so slow being cooped up here."

"You have to go with Reg to the Elm Fields Station to meet mamma-don't forget that-at five o'clock."

"All right." But Raymond lingered. "The money, Sal; I'll pay you back." Salome opened the purse and took out two half-crowns. "Thanks!" said Raymond; "it is a come down to want a paltry five shillings."

"O Raymond!" Salome said passionately,-"O Ray, do try to make the best of things to mother! It will make her so dreadfully sad if you grumble. Dear Raymond, I will do all I can, only please do try to make the best of everything."

"You are a kind little thing," said Raymond; "but I wish we were all at the bottom of the Red Sea. There is nothing left to live for or care about; no pleasure, and no fun; nothing but to be looked down upon!"

"I believe Uncle Loftus has heard of something for you, and perhaps you will make money and be a rich merchant." Raymond whistled and shrugged his shoulders, and strolled off, lighting a cigar in the porch.

Then Salome went to find Reginald, and make her peace with him.

"Reg, let us go out. It is so fine; and I am so sorry I was so careless about the purse. It was very good of you to pick it up, Reg; I was horridly cross to you."

"Never mind, Sal. Yes, let's go out and look about the place till dinner."

"I don't see that we want any dinner to-day, Reg. We can have the cutlets at tea, when the others come; and Stevens won't mind-she can have eggs and bacon. And we'll find a shop and have some buns and ginger-beer. I'll get ready at once, and tell Stevens to tell Mrs. Pryor. It will be fun, and save expense, you know."

Poor child! she was soon ready; and Reginald and she set off in better spirits than they had known since their troubles had fallen on them.

When Salome was outside the gate, and had nodded to Ruth, who was behind the counter of the shop, she discovered she had got both left-hand gloves. "But it will spoil all if I tell Reg, and go back, and keep him waiting while I hunt for the right-hand glove. He will say I am incorrigible." So by a little skilful man?uvring Salome persuaded her right hand to accommodate itself to circumstances, and tripped almost gaily by her brother's side.

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