Jasper and Gillian would then repair to Brompton for two or three days before going down with Mr. and Mrs. Grinstead to Vale Leston, and they were to take care to pay their respects to old Mrs. Merrifield, who had become too infirm to spend Christmas at Stokesley.
What was to happen later was uncertain, whether they were to go to Stokesley, or whether Jasper would join his brothers at Coalham, or come down to Rockstone with his sister for the rest of the holidays. Valetta must remain there, and it did not seem greatly to distress her; and whereas nothing had been said about children, she was better satisfied to stay within reach of Kitty and mamma, and the Christmas-trees that began to dawn on the horizon, than to be carried into an unknown region of ‘grown-ups.’
While Gillian was not only delighted at the prospect of meeting Jasper, her own especial brother, but was heartily glad to make a change, and defer the entire question of lessons, confessions, and G.F.S. for six whole weeks. She might get a more definite answer from her parents, or something might happen to make explanation to her aunt either unnecessary or much more easy—–and she was safe from discovery. But examinations had yet to be passed.
Examinations were the great autumn excitement. Gillian was going up for the higher Cambridge, and Valetta’s form was under preparation for competition for a prize in languages. The great Mr. White, on being asked to patronise the High School at its first start, four years ago, had endowed it with prizes for each of the four forms for the most proficient in two tongues.
As the preparation became more absorbing, brows were puckered and looks were anxious, and the aunts were doubtful as to the effect upon the girls’ minds or bodies. It was too late, however, to withdraw them, and Miss Mohun could only insist on air and exercise, and permit no work after the seven-o’clock tea.
She was endeavouring to chase cobwebs from the brains of the students by the humours of Mrs. Nickleby, when a message was brought that Miss Leverett, the head-mistress of the High School, wished to speak to her in the dining-room. This was no unusual occurrence, as Miss Mohun was secretary to the managing committee of the High School. But on the announcement Valetta began to fidget, and presently said that she was tired and would go to bed. The most ordinary effect of fatigue upon this young lady was to make her resemble the hero of the nursery poem—–
’I do not want to go
Sleepy little Harry said.’
Nevertheless, this willingness excited no suspicion, till Miss Mohun came to the door to summon Valetta.
‘Is there anything wrong!’ exclaimed sister and niece together.
’Gone to bed! Oh! I’ll tell you presently. Don’t you come, Gillian.’
She vanished again, leaving Gillian in no small alarm and vexation.