On one side of him sat a little figure, not quite so thin, some angles smoothed away, the black hair coiled, but still in resolute little mutinous tendrils on the brow, not ill set off by a tuft of carnation ribbon on one side, agreeing with the colour that touched up her gauzy black dress; the face, not beautiful indeed-but developed, softened, brightened with more of sweetness and tenderness-as well as more of thought-added to the fresh responsive intelligence it had always possessed.
On the opposite side of the dinner-table were a girl of fourteen and a boy of twelve; the former, of a much larger frame than her mother, and in its most awkward and uncouth stage, hardly redeemed by the keen ardour and inquiry that glowed in the dark eyes, set like two hot coals beneath the black overhanging brows of the massive forehead, on which the dark smooth hair was parted. The features were large, the complexion dark but not clear, and the look of resolution in the square-cut chin and closely shutting mouth was more boy-like than girl-like. Janet Brownlow was assuredly a very plain girl, but the family habit was to regard their want of beauty as rather a mark of distinction, capable of being joked about, if not triumphed in.
Nor was Allen, the boy, wanting in good looks. He was fairer, clearer, better framed in every way than his sister, and had a pleasant, lively countenance, prepossessing to all. He had a well-grown, upright figure, his father’s ready suppleness of movement, and his mother’s hazel eyes and flashing smile, and there was a look of success about him, as well there might be, since he had come out triumphantly from the examination for Eton College, and had been informed that morning that there were vacancies enough for his immediate admission.
There was a pensiveness mixed with the satisfaction in his mother’s eyes as she looked at him, for it was the first break into the home. She had been the only teacher of her children till two years ago, when Allen had begun to attend a day school a few streets off, and the first boy’s first flight from under her wing, for ever so short a space, is generally a sharp wound to the mother’s heart.
Not that Allen would leave an empty house behind him. Lying at full length on the carpet, absorbed in a book, was Robert, a boy on whom the same capacious brow as Janet’s sat better than on the feminine creature. He was reading on, undisturbed by the pranks of three younger children, John Lucas, a lithe, wiry, restless elf of nine, with a brown face and black curly head, and Armine and Barbara, young persons of seven and six, on whom nature had been more beneficent in the matter of looks, for though brown was their prevailing complexion, both had well-moulded, childish features, and really fine eyes. The hubbub of voices, as they tumbled and rushed about the window and balcony, was the regular accompaniment of dinner, though on the first plaintive tone from the little girl, the mother interrupted a “Well, but papa,” from Janet, with “Babie, Babie.”