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قراءة كتاب About Peggy Saville

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About Peggy Saville

About Peggy Saville

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 1

Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey

"About Peggy Saville"

Chapter One.

A New Inmate.

The afternoon post had come in, and the Vicar of Renton stood in the bay window of his library reading his budget of letters. He was a tall, thin man, with a close-shaven face, which had no beauty of feature, but which was wonderfully attractive all the same. It was not an old face, but it was deeply lined, and those who knew and loved him best could tell the meaning of each of those eloquent tracings. The deep vertical mark running up the forehead meant sorrow. It had been stamped there for ever on the night when Hubert, his first-born, had been brought back, cold and lifeless, from the river to which he had hurried forth but an hour before, a picture of happy boyhood. The vicar’s brow had been smooth enough before that day. The furrow was graven to the memory of Teddy, the golden-haired lad who had first taught him the joys of fatherhood. The network of lines about the eyes were caused by the hundred and one little worries of everyday life, and the strain of working a delicate body to its fullest pitch; and the two long, deep streaks down the cheeks bore testimony to that happy sense of humour which showed the bright side of a question, and helped him out of many a slough of despair. This afternoon, as he stood reading his letters one by one, the different lines deepened, or smoothed out, according to the nature of the missive. Now he smiled, now he sighed, anon he crumpled up his face in puzzled thought, until the last letter of all was reached, when he did all three in succession, ending up with a low whistle of surprise—

“Edith! This is from Mrs Saville. Just look at this!”

Instantly there came a sound of hurried rising from the other end of the room; a work-basket swayed to and fro on a rickety gipsy-table, and the vicar’s wife walked towards him, rolling half a dozen reels of thread in her wake with an air of fine indifference.

“Mrs Saville!” she exclaimed eagerly. “How is my boy?” and without waiting for an answer she seized the letter, and began to devour its contents, while her husband went stooping about over the floor picking up the contents of the scattered basket and putting them carefully back in their places. He smiled to himself as he did so, and kept turning amused, tender glances at his wife as she stood in the uncarpeted space in the window, with the sunshine pouring in on her eager face. Mrs Asplin had been married for twenty years, and was the mother of three big children; but such was the buoyancy of her Irish nature and the irrepressible cheeriness of her heart, that she was in good truth the youngest person in the house, so that her own daughters were sometimes quite shocked at her levity of behaviour, and treated her with gentle, motherly restraint. She was tall and thin, like her husband, and he, at least, considered her every whit as beautiful as she had been a score of years before. Her hair was dark and curly; she had deep-set grey eyes, and a pretty fresh complexion. When she was well, and rushing about in her usual breathless fashion, she looked like the sister of her own tall girls; and when she was ill, and the dark lines showed under her eyes, she looked like a tired, wearied girl, but never for a moment as if she deserved such a title as an old, or elderly, woman. Now, as she read, her eyes glowed, and she uttered ecstatic little exclamations of triumph from time to time; for Arthur Saville, the son of the lady who was the writer of the letter, had been the first pupil whom her husband had taken into his house to coach, and as such had a special claim on her affection. For the first dozen years of their marriage all had gone smoothly with Mr and Mrs Asplin, and the vicar had had more work than he could manage in his busy city parish; then, alas, lung trouble had threatened; he had been obliged to take a year’s rest, and to exchange his living for a sleepy little parish, where he could breathe fresh air, and take life at a slower pace. Illness, the doctor’s bills, the year’s holiday, ran away with a large sum of money; the stipend of the country church was by no means generous, and the vicar was lamenting the fact that he was shortest of money just when his children were growing up and he needed it most, when an old college friend requested, as a favour, that he would undertake the education of his only son, for a year at least, so that the boy might be well grounded in his studies before going on to the military tutor who was to prepare him for Sandhurst. Handsome terms were quoted, the vicar looked upon the offer as a leading of Providence, and Arthur Saville’s stay at the vicarage proved a success in every sense of the word. He was a clever boy who was not afraid of work, and the vicar discovered in himself an unsuspected genius for teaching. Arthur’s progress not only filled him with delight, but brought the offer of other pupils, so that he was but the forerunner of a succession of bright, handsome boys, who came from far and wide to be prepared for college, and to make their home at the vicarage. They were honest, healthy-minded lads, and Mrs Asplin loved them all, but no one had ever taken Arthur Saville’s place. During the year which he had spent under her roof he had broken his collar-bone, sprained his ankle, nearly chopped off the top of one of his fingers, scalded his foot, and fallen crash through a plate-glass window. There had never been one moment’s peace or quietness; she had gone about from morning to night in chronic fear of a disaster; and, as a matter of course, it followed that Arthur was her darling, ensconced in a little niche of his own, from which subsequent pupils tried in vain to oust him.

Mrs Saville dwelt upon the latest successes of her clever son with a mother’s pride, and his second mother beamed, and smiled, and cried, “I told you so!”

“Dear boy!”

“Of course he did!” in delighted echo. But when she came to the second half of the letter her face changed, and she grew grave and anxious. “And now, dear Mr Asplin,” Mrs Saville wrote, “I come to the real burden of my letter. I return to India in autumn, and am most anxious to see Peggy happily settled before I leave. She has been at this Brighton school for four years, and has done well with her lessons, but the poor child seems so unhappy at the thought of returning, that I am sorely troubled about her. Like most Indian children, she has had very little home life, and after being with me for the last six months she dreads the prospect of school, and I cannot bear the thought of sending her back against her will. I was puzzling over the question yesterday, when it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps you, dear Mr Asplin, could help me out of my difficulty. Could you—would you, take her in hand for the next three years, letting her share the lessons of your own two girls? I cannot tell you what a relief and joy it would be to feel that she was under your care. Arthur always looks back on the year spent with you as one of the brightest of his life; and I am sure Peggy would be equally happy. I write to you from force of habit, but really I think this letter should have been addressed to Mrs Asplin, for it is she who would be most concerned. I know her heart is large enough to mother my dear girl during my absence; and if strength and time will allow her to undertake this fresh charge, I think she will be glad to help another mother by doing so. Peggy is bright and clever, like her brother, and strong on the whole, though her throat needs care. She is nearly fifteen—the age, I think, of your youngest girl—and we should be pleased to pay the same terms as we did for Arthur. Now, please, dear Mr Asplin, talk the matter over with your wife, and let me know your decision as soon as possible.”

Mrs Asplin dropped the letter on the