Meanwhile, what could girls at home do, but watch and wait and make home as pretty as possible, and, by the aid of books and pictures, reflect as much light from a larger world into their lives as might be.
On Henry’s going away, the three girls had promptly bespoken the reversion of his study as a little sitting-room for themselves. Here they concentrated their books, and some few pictures that appealed to tastes in revolt against Atlantic liners, but not yet developed to the appreciation of those true classics of art—to which indeed they had yet to be introduced. Such half-way masters as Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Sant, and Dicksee were as yet to them something of what Rossetti and Burne-Jones, and certain old Italian masters, were soon to become. In books, they had already learnt from Henry a truer, or at all events a more strenuous, taste; and they would grapple manfully with Carlyle and Browning, and presently Meredith, long before their lives had use or understanding for such tremendous nourishment.
One evening, as they were all three sitting cosily in Henry’s study,—as they still faithfully called it,—Esther was reading “Pride and Prejudice” aloud, while Dot and Mat busied themselves respectively with “macrame” work and a tea-cosy against a coming bazaar. Esther’s tasks in the house were somewhat illustrated by her part in the trio this evening. Her energies were mainly devoted to “the higher nights” of housekeeping, to the aesthetic activities of the home,—arranging flowers, dusting vases and pictures, and so on,—and the lightness of these employments was, it is to be admitted, an occasionally raised grievance among the sisters. To Dot and Mat fell much more arduous and manual spheres of labour. Yet all were none the less grateful for the decorative innovations which Esther, acting on occasional hints from her friend Myrtilla Williamson, was able to make; and if it were true that she hardly took her fair share of bed-making and pastry-cooking, it was equally undeniable that to her was due the introduction of Liberty silk curtains and cushions in two or three rooms. She too—alas, for the mistakes of young taste!—had also introduced painted tambourines, and swathed the lamps in wonderful turbans of puffed tissue paper. Was she to receive no credit for these services? Then it was she who had dared to do battle with her mother’s somewhat old-fashioned taste in dress; and whenever the Mesurier sisters came out in something specially pretty or fashionable, it was due to Esther.