This is Cailsham. The narrow High Street and the miniature Exchange, the square of the market-place and the stone fountain that stands with such an effort of nobility in the centre, bearing upon one of its rough slabs the name of the munificent donor, and the occasion on which the townspeople were presented with its cherished possession—these are nothing. They are only accessories. The real Cailsham is to be found in the apple, the plum, and the cherry orchards. From these, either as owners or as labourers, all the inhabitants draw their source of life, with the exception of those few shopkeepers whose premises extend in a disorderly fashion down the High Street; the Rector, who has his interest in the fruit season as well as the rest; and lastly, Mrs. Bishop, headmistress of that little school in Wyatt Street, where the sons of gentlemen are fitted for such exigencies of life as are to be met with between the ages of four and eight.
With the name of Lady Bray to conjure popularity, she had set up her establishment immediately after her husband’s death. Then the old lady herself had fallen asleep—in her case a literal description of her disease. One night they had put her quietly to bed as usual, and in the morning she was still asleep—a slumber which really must be rest.
Fortunately for Mrs. Bishop the school was planted then. Twenty pupils sat round the cheap kitchen tables in the schoolroom—all sons of gentlemen—whose mothers paid occasional visits to the house and peeped into the schoolroom, after they had partaken of tea with Mrs. Bishop in the drawing-room. Whenever this incident occurred, the little boys rose electrically from their forms in courteous deference to the visitor; and the boy, whose mother it was, would blush with pride and look away, or he would frankly smile up to his mother’s eyes. Then Mrs. Bishop would inevitably eulogize his progress as she sped the parting guest, making inquiries from her daughters afterwards to ascertain how near she had gone to the truth. One boarder only she accepted into the establishment. It had not been her intention to have any. But one day a lady had written from Winchester to say that through a friend of a friend of Lady Bray’s, she had heard of Mrs. Bishop’s preparatory school for the sons of gentlemen. She was compelled, she concluded in her letter, to go for some little time to live in London and, though she knew that Mrs. Bishop only accepted day pupils at her house, she would consider it a great favour if, for a term or so, she would consent to the admission of her son as a boarder. If such an arrangement were possible, she would be glad to know the terms which Mrs. Bishop would deem most reasonable.
For the rest of that day there had been unprecedented excitement at No. 17, Wyatt Street. Until late that evening Elsie and Dora Bishop, in consultation with their mother, went into all the financial details of the undertaking. Little Maurice Priestly could sleep in the small room at the top of the house, used then as a box room. The smallness of the window in the sloping ceiling could easily be disguised by lace curtains at six three-farthings a yard.