The male convalescents were under the discipline of Sergeant O’Brien and the whole was to be superintended by Colonel and Mrs. Keith. Ermine undertook to hear a class of the girls two or three times a week, and lower rooms had been constructed with a special view to her being wheeled into them, so as to visit the convalescents, and give them her attention and sympathy. Mary Morris was head girl, most of the others were from Avonmouth, but two pale Londoners came from Mr. Touchett’s district, and a little motherless lassie from the —th Highlanders was brought down with the nursery establishment, on which Mrs. Alexander Keith now practised the “Hints on the management of Infants.”
May was unusually propitious, and after an orthodox tea-drinking, the new pupils and all the Sunday-schools were turned out to play on the Homestead slopes, with all the world to look on at them. It was a warm, brilliant day, of joyous blossom and lively green, and long laughing streaks of sunlight on the sea, and no one enjoyed it more than did Ermine, as she sat in her chair delighting in the fresh sweetness of the old thorns, laughing at the freaks of the scampering groups of children, gaily exchanging pleasant talk with one friend after another, and most of all with Rachel, who seemed to gravitate back to her whenever any summons had for a time interrupted their affluence of conversation.
And all the time Ermine’s footstool was serving as a table for the various flowers that two children were constantly gathering in the grass and presenting to her, to Rachel, or to each other, with a constant stream of not very comprehensible prattle, full of pretty gesticulation that seemed to make up for the want of distinctness. The yellow-haired, slenderly-made, delicately-featured boy, whose personal pronouns were just developing, and his consonants very scanty, though the elder of the two, dutifully and admiringly obeyed the more distinct, though less connected, utterances of the little dark-eyed girl, eked out by pretty imperious gestures, that seemed already to enchain the little white-frocked cavalier to her service. All the time it was droll to see how the two ladies could pay full attention to the children, while going on with their own unbroken stream of talk.
“I am not overwhelming you,” suddenly exclaimed Rachel, checking herself in mid-career about the mothers’ meetings for the soldiers’ wives.
“Far from it. Was I inattentive—?”
“Oh no—(Yes, Una dear, very pretty)—but I found myself talking in the voice that always makes Alick shut his eyes."-
“I should not think he often had to do so,” said Ermine, much amused by this gentle remedy—("Mind, Keith, that is a nettle. It will sting—“)