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   Chapter 16 CANARIES AND GREYCOATS.

Brother Copas By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 10501

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


So Corona was sent to school; but not, as it befell, to Miss Dickinson's.

Brother Copas, indeed, paid a visit to Miss Dickinson, and, warned by some wise instinct, took the child with him.

Miss Dickinson herself opened the front door, and explained with an accent of high refinement that her house-parlourmaid was indisposed that morning, and her cook busy for the moment.

"You have some message for me?" she asked graciously; for the Brethren of St. Hospital pick up a little business as letter-carriers or commissionaires.

On learning her visitor's errand, of a sudden she stiffened in demeanour. Corona, watching her face intently, noted the change.

"Dear me, what a very unusual application!" said Miss Dickinson, but nevertheless invited them to step inside.

"We can discuss matters more freely without the child," she suggested.

"As you please, ma'am," said Copas, "provided you don't ask her to wait in the street."

Corona was ushered into an apartment at the back-the boudoir, its mistress called it-and was left there amid a din of singing canaries, while Miss Dickinson carried off Brother Copas to the drawing-room.

The boudoir contained some scholastic furniture and a vast number of worthless knick-knacks in poker-work, fret-work, leathern appliqué-work, gummed shell-work, wool-work, tambour-work, with crystoleum paintings and drawings in chalk and water-colour. On a table in front of the window stood a cage with five canaries singing in it. Corona herself felt a sense of imprisonment, but no desire to sing. The window looked upon a walled yard, in which fifteen girls of various ages were walking through some kind of drill under an instructress whose appearance puzzled her until she remembered that Miss Dickinson's cook was "busy for the moment."

Corona watched their movements with an interest begotten of pity. The girls whispered and prinked, and exchanged confidences with self-conscious airs. They paid but a perfunctory attention to the drill. It was clear they despised their instructress. Yet they seemed happy enough in a way.

"I wonder why?" thought Corona. "I don't like Miss Dickinson; first, because she has the nose of a witch, and next because she is afraid of us. I think she is afraid of us because we're poor. Well, I'm not afraid of her-not really; but I'd feel mighty uncomfortable if she had dear old daddy in there alone instead of Uncle Copas."

Meanwhile in the drawing-room-likewise resonant with canaries-Miss Dickinson was carefully helping Brother Copas to understand that as a rule she excluded all but children of the upper classes.

"It is not-if you will do me so much credit-that I look down upon the others; but I find that the children themselves are not so happy when called upon to mix with those of a different station. The world, after all, is the world, and we must face facts as they are."

"You mean, ma'am, that your young ladies-or some of them-might twit Corona for having a father who wears the Beauchamp robe."

"I would not say that.… In fact I have some influence over them, it is to be hoped, and should impress upon them beforehand that the-er-subject is not to be alluded to."

"That would be extremely tactful," said Brother Copas.

He rose.

"Pray be seated.… As I dare say you know, Mr.-"

"Copas."

"-As I dare say you know, Mr. Copas, higher education in England just now is passing through a-er-phase: it is (to use a forcible, if possibly vulgar, expression) in a state of flux. I do not conceal from myself that this must be largely attributed to the Education Act of 1902."

"Ah!"

Brother Copas dived finger and thumb into his waistcoat pocket in search of his snuff-box, but, recollecting himself, withdrew them hastily.

"Mr Balfour, whether he meant it or no, hit the private-venture schools beyond a doubt."

"One may trust that it is but a temporary blow. I have, let me say, the utmost confidence in Mr. Balfour's statesmanship. I believe- far-sighted man that he is, and with his marvellous apprehension of the English character-"

"'Tis a Scotchman's first aptitude," murmured Brother Copas, nodding assent.

"-I believe Mr. Balfour looked beyond the immediate effect of the Act and saw that, after the Municipalities' and County Councils' first success in setting up secondary schools of their own, each with its quota of poor, non-paying children, our sturdy British independence would rise against the-er-contact. The self-respecting parent is bound to say in time, 'No, I will not have my son, still less my daughter, sitting with Tom, Dick and Harry.' Indeed, I see signs of this already-most encouraging signs. I have two more pupils this term than last, both children of respectable station."

"I congratulate you, ma'am, and I feel sure that Mr. Balfour would congratulate himself, could he hear. But meantime the private-venture schools have been hit, especially those not fortunate enough to be 'recognised' by the Board of Education."

"I seek no such recognition, sir," said Miss Dickinson stiffly.

Brother Copas bowed.

"Forgive, ma'am, the intrusive ghost of a professional interest. I myself once kept a private school for boys. A precarious venture always, and it requ

ired no Education Act to wreck mine."

"Indeed?" Miss Dickinson raised her eyebrows in faint surprise, and anon contracted them. "Had I known that you belonged to the scholastic profession-" she began, but leaving the sentence unfinished, appeared to relapse into thought.

"Believe me, ma'am," put in Brother Copas, "I mentioned it casually, not as hinting at any remission of your fees."

"No, no. But I was thinking that it might considerably soften the-er-objection. You are not the child's parent, you say? Nor grandparent?"

"Her godparent only, and that by adoption. In so much as I make myself responsible for her school fees, you may consider me her guardian. Her father, Brother Bonaday, is a decayed gentleman, sometime of independent means, who married late in life, and, on top of this, was indiscreet enough to confide his affairs to a trusted family solicitor."

"Dear, dear! Why did you not tell me all this to begin with?" demanded Miss Dickinson, rising. "Shall we consider it agreed, then?-the child to come to me as soon as you wish."

"I think we must first discover if she's willing," answered Brother Copas, rubbing his chin.

"We will go to her."

They found Corona at the window of the boudoir. As the door opened she turned, ran to Brother Copas, and clung to him.

"Take me home! Oh, please take me home!"

"Hey?" Brother Copas soothed her, patting the back of her head. "Why, what is the matter, little maid? Who has been frightening you?"

"She turns them all into canaries-I know she does!" the child asserted, still shaking pitiably, but facing Miss Dickinson with accusation in her eyes. "You can tell it by her nose and chin. I-I thought you had gone away and left me with her."

"You did not tell me she was hysterical," said Miss Dickinson.

"It's news to me, ma'am. I'd best get her out into the fresh air at once."

Without waiting for permission, he swept Corona out into the passage, and forth into the street. It is a question which felt the happier when they gained it, and stood drawing long breaths; but, of course, Brother Copas had to put on a severe face.

"All very well, little maid!"

"Oh, I know you're disappointed with me," gasped Corona. "I'm disappointed with myself. But it was all just like Jorinda and Jorindel; and if she's not a witch, and doesn't turn them into canaries, why does she keep all those cages?" She halted suddenly. "I hate to be a coward," she said. "If you'll come with me, Uncle Copas, I'll start back right here, and we'll go in and rescue them. It was the waiting I couldn't stand."

"Canaries?" Brother Copas stood and looked down on her. Some apprehension of the absurd fancy broke on him, and he chuckled. "Now you come to mention it, I dare say she does turn 'em into canaries."

"Then we ought to go straight back and set them free," insisted Corona. "If only we had the magic flower!"

"I think I know who has it.… Yes, you may take it from me, little one, that there's someone charged to put an end to Miss Dickinson's enchantments, and we may safely leave it to him."

"Who is he?"

"The deliverer's name is County Council.… But look here, child- if you make a fuss like this whenever I try to find a school for you-"

"I won't make a fuss. And I do want to go to school," interrupted Corona. "I want to go to the Greycoats."

"The Greycoats?" This was an ancient foundation in the city, in origin a charity-school, but now distinguished from the ordinary Elementary Schools in that its pupils paid twopence a week, and wore a grey uniform provided per contra from the funds of the charity. "The Greycoats?" repeated Brother Copas. "But I had a mind for you to fly higher, if you understand-"

Corona nodded.

"And so I shall; that is, uncle, if you'll teach me Latin, as you promised."

She was easy in mind, since Miss Dickinson's canaries would be delivered. The name "County Council" meant nothing to her, but it had affinity with other names and titles of romance-Captain Judgment, for instance, in The Holy War, and County Guy in the poetry book-

Ah! County Guy, the hour is nigh-

Since Uncle Copas had said it, Miss Dickinson's hour was assuredly nigh.

"This is not the way, though," Corona protested. "We are walking right away from the Greycoats!"

Brother Copas halted.

"I supposed that I was taking you back to St. Hospital."

"But you came out to put me to school, and I want to go to the Greycoats."

He pondered a moment.

"Ah, well, have it your own way!"

They turned back toward the city. The Greycoats inhabited a long, single-storeyed building on the eastern boundary of the Cathedral Close, the boys and girls in separate schools under the same high-pitched roof. As our two friends came in sight of it, Corona- who had been running ahead in her impatience-hesitated of a sudden and turned about.

"Uncle Copas, before we go in I want to tell you something.… I was really frightened-yes, really-in that wicked house. But I wanted to be a Greycoat all the time. I want to wear a cloak that means I belong to Merchester, same as you and daddy."

"Lord forgive me, she's proud of us!" murmured Brother Copas. "And I set out this morning to get her taught to despise us!"

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