Susan closed the door after her, and Miss Martineau took up her knitting. Knitting woollen mittens is an occupation which harmonizes very well with reflection and while the old lady’s active fingers moved her thoughts were busy.
“Thirty pounds a year,” she said softly to herself, “thirty pounds certain, and a lump sum of two hundred in the bank. Doubtless they owe some of that for their mother’s funeral and their own mourning. They probably owe quite thirty pounds of that, and to make it safe, I had better say forty. That leaves a balance of one hundred and sixty; just enough to put away for emergencies, illness, and so forth. My dear girls, my dear Primrose, and Jasmine, and my pretty little pet Daisy, you cannot touch your little capital; you may get a few pounds a year for it, or you may not—Mr. Danesfield must decide that—but all the money you can certainly reckon on for your expenses is thirty pounds per annum, and on that you cannot live.”
Here Miss Martineau threw down her knitting, and began with some agitation to pace up and down her tiny room.
“What was to be done with these lonely and defenceless girls? how were they to meet the world? how were they to earn their living?”
Miss Martineau had never before found herself propounding so painful and interesting a problem; her mind worked round it, and tried to grapple with it, but though she stayed up far into the night, and even had recourse to figures, and marked down on paper the very lowest sum a girl could possibly exist on, she went to bed, having found no solution to this vexed question.
Even Miss Martineau, ignorant and narrow-minded as she was, could scarcely pronounce Primrose fit to do much in the educational world; Jasmine’s, of course, was only a little giddy pate, and she required a vast amount of teaching herself; and pretty Daisy was still but a young child.
Miss Martineau went to bed and to sleep; she dreamed troubled dreams, but in the morning she awoke strengthened and restored, even by such restless slumbers, and quite resolved to do something.
“Sophia Martineau,” she said—for living quite alone she was fond of holding conversations with herself—“Sophia Martineau, those girls are placed, to put it figuratively, at your door, and take them up you must. Gold you have none to bestow, but you can give interest; you can, in short, rouse others to help the helpless. This is your bounden duty, and you had better see to it at once.”
Miss Martineau went briskly downstairs, ate her frugal breakfast, and then made her plans. These plans were decisive enough. At Rosebury no one thought of being so silly as to be over-educated. None of the young brains of the rising generation were over-forced or over-stimulated, and Miss Martineau felt no compunction whatever in writing a short note to each of six little pupils, and telling them that they need not come to her that morning, for she meant to give them a holiday.