Charlotte M. Yonge. Magnum Bonum
This Etext was prepared by Sandra Laythorpe, firstname.lastname@example.org, from the 1882 edition. A web page about Charlotte M Yonge may be found at www.menorot.com/cmyonge.htm.
Magnum Bonum or Mother Carey's Brood
CHAPTER I. JOE BROWNLOW'S FANCY.
The lady said, 'An orphan's fate
Is sad and hard to bear.'-Scott.
'Mother, you could do a great kindness.'
'If you would have the little teacher at the Miss Heath's here for the holidays. After all the rest, she has had the measles last and worst, and they don't know what to do with her, for she came from the asylum for officers' daughters, and has no home at all, and they must go away to have the house purified. They can't take her with them, for their sister has children, and she will have to roam from room to room before the whitewashers, which is not what I should wish in the critical state of chest left by measles.'
'What is her name?'
'Allen. The cry was always for Miss Allen when the sick girls wanted to be amused.'
'Allen! I wonder if it can be the same child as the one Robert was interested about. You don't remember, my dear. It was the year you were at Vienna, when one of Robert's brother-officers died on the voyage out to China, and he sent home urgent letters for me to canvass right and left for the orphan's election. You know Robert writes much better than he speaks, and I copied over and over again his account of the poor young man to go with the cards. 'Caroline Otway Allen, aged seven years, whole orphan, daughter of Captain Allen, l07th Regiment;' yes, that's the way it ran.'
'The year I was at Vienna, and Robert went out to China. That was eleven years ago. She must be the very child, for she is only eighteen. They sent her to Miss Heath's to grow a little older, for though she was at the head of everything at the asylum, she looks so childish that they can't send her out as a governess. Did you see her, mother?'
'Oh, no! I never had anything to do with her; but if she is daughter to a friend of Robert's-'
Mother and son looked at each other in congratulation. Robert was the stepson, older by several years, and was viewed as the representative of sober common sense in the family. Joe and his mother did like to feel a plan quite free from Robert's condemnation for enthusiasm or impracticability, and it was not the worse for his influence, that he had been generally with his regiment, and when visiting them was a good deal at the United Service Club. He had lately married an heiress in a small way, retired from the army, and settled in a house of hers in a country town, and thus he could give his dicta with added weight.
Only a parent or elder brother would, however, have looked on 'Joe' as a youth, for he was some years over thirty, with a mingled air of keenness, refinement, and alacrity about his slight but active form, altogether with the air of some implement, not meant for ornament but for use, and yet absolutely beautiful, through perfection of polish, finish, applicability, and a sharpness never meant to wound, but deserving to be cherished in a velvet case.
This case might be the pretty drawing-room, full of the choice artistic curiosities of a man of cultivation, and presided over by his mother, a woman of much the same bright, keen, alert sweetness of air and countenance: still under sixty, and in perfect health and spirits-as well she might be, having preserved, as well as deserved, the exclusive devotion of her only child during all the years in which her early widowhood had made them all in all to each other. Ten years ago, on his election to a lectureship at one of the London hospitals, the son had set up his name on the brass plate of the door of a comfortable house in a once fashionable quarter of London; she had joined him there, and they had been as happy as affection and fair success could make them. He became lecturer at a hospital, did much for the poor, both within and without its walls, and had besides a fair practice, both among the tradespeople, and also among the literary, scientific, and artistic world, where their society was valued as much as his skill. Mrs. Brownlow was well used to being called on to do the many services suggested by a kind heart in the course of a medical man's practice, and there was very little within, or beyond, reason that she would not have done at her Joe's bidding. So she made the arrangement, exciting much gratitude in the heads of the Pomfret House Establishment for Young Ladies; though without seeing little Miss Allen, till, from the Doctor's own brougham, but escorted only by an elderly maid-servant, there came climbing up the stairs a little heap of shawls and cloaks, surmounted by a big brown mushroom hat.
'Very proper of Joe. He can't be too particular,-but such a child!' thought Mrs. Brownlow as the mufflings disclosed a tiny creature, angular in girlish sort, with an odd little narrow wedge of a face, sallow and wan, rather too much of teeth and mouth, large greenish- hazel eyes, and a forehead with a look of expansion, partly due to the crisp waves of dark hair being as short as a boy's. The nose was well cut, and each delicate nostril was quivering involuntarily with emotion-or fright, or both.
Mrs. Brownlow kissed her, made her rest on the sofa, and talked to her, the shy monosyllabic replies lengthening every time as the motherliness drew forth a response, until, when conducted to the cheerful little room which Mrs. Brownlow had carefully decked with little comforts for the convalescent, and with the ornaments likely to please a girl's eye, she suddenly broke into a little irrepressible cry of joy and delight. 'Oh! oh! how lovely! Am I to sleep here? Oh! it is just like the girls' rooms I always _did_ long to see! Now I shall always be able to think about it.'
'My poor child, did you never even see such a room ?'
'No; I slept in the attic with the maid at old Aunt Mary's, and always in a cubicle after I went to the asylum. Some of the girls who went home in the holidays used to describe such rooms to us, but they could never have been so nice as this! Oh! oh! Mrs. Brownlow, real lilies of the valley! Put there for me! Oh! you dear, delicious, pearly things! I never saw one so close before!'
'Never before.' That was the burthen of the song of the little bird with wounded wing who had been received into this nest. She had the dimmest remembrance of home or mother, something a little clearer of her sojourn at her aunt's, though there the aunt had been an invalid who kept her in restraint in her presence, and her pleasures had been in the kitchen and in a few books, probably 'Don Quixote' and 'Evelina,' so far as could be gathered from her recollection of them. The week her father had spent with her, before his last voyage, had been the one vivid memory of her life, and had taught her at least how to love. Poor child, that happy week had had to serve her ever since, through eleven years of unbroken school! Not that she pitied herself. Everybody had been kind to her- governesses, masters, girls, and all. She had been happy and successful, and had made numerous friends, about whom, as she grew more at home, she freely chatted to Mrs. Brownlow, who was always ready to hear of Mary Ogilvie and Clara Cartwright, and liked to draw out the stories of the girl-world, in which it was plain that Caroline Allen had been a bright, good, clever girl, getting on well, trusted and liked. She had been half sorry to leave her dear old school, half glad to go on to something new. She was evidently not so comfortable, while Miss Heath's lowest teacher, as she had been while she was the asylum's senior pupil. Yet when on Sunday evening the Doctor was summoned and the ladies were left tete-a-tete, she laughed rather than complained. But still she owned, with her black head on Mrs. Brownlow's lap, that she had always craved for something-something, and she had found it now!
Everything was a fresh joy to her, every print on the walls, every ornament on the brackets, seemed to speak to her eye and to her soul both at once, and the sense of comfort and beauty and home, after the bareness of school, seemed to charm her above all. 'I always did want to know what was inside people's windows,' she said.
And in the same way it was a feast to her to get hold of 'a real book,' as she called it, not only the beginnings of everything, and selections that always broke off just as she began to care about them. She had been thoroughly well grounded, and had a thirst for knowledge too real to have been stifled by the routine she had gone through- though, said she, 'I do want time to get on further, and to learn what won't be of any use!'
'Of no use!' said Mr. Brownlow laughing-having just found her trying to make out the Old English of King Alfred's 'Boethius'-'such as this?'