Obrazy na stronie

not say that it is in the very words in which Gratian used to tell it, for it was not till long, long after those boyish days that it came to be written down. But all the same it is his story.

How long ago it was I cannot say, nor can I tell you exactly where it was. This is not a story for which you will require an atlas, nor a history of England or of any other country, nor a dictionary of dates. All those wise and clever and useful things you may put out of your heads for a bit. I am just going to tell you a story. It was somewhere and somewhen, and I think that will do.

The 'it' was a castle-and something else. But first about the castle. It was really worthy of the name, for it was very old and very strong, and in ancient days it had been used as a place of defence, and had a look about it of not having forgotten this. (I am afraid this sounds a very little historical. I must take care.) It was very big too, towering over the sea-washed cliffs on which it stood as if defying the winds and the waves to do their worst, frowning at them with the little round window-eyes of its turrets, like a cross old ogre. castle; it was only on one

But it was a two-faced side-the rocky side,


where the cliffs went down precipitously to the water -that it looked grim and forbidding. Inland, you could scarcely have believed it was the same castle at all. For here, towards the sunny south, it seemed to change into a gracious, comfortable, hospitablyinviting mansion; it did not look nearly so high on this side, for the ivy-covered turrets had more the effect of dimly dark trees in the background, and the bright wide-windowed rooms opened on to trim lawns and terraces gay with flowers. That was the case in summer-time at least. The whole look of things varied a good deal according to the seasons. winter, grim as it was, I don't know but that the fortress-front, so to speak, of the great building had the best of it. For it was grand to watch the waves breaking down below when you knew you were safe and cosy behind the barred panes of the turret windows, those windows pierced in the walls through such a thickness of stone that each was like a little room within a room. And even in winter there were wonderful sunsets to be seen from the children's favourite turret-room- the one which had two windows to the west and only one to the cold north.

For the something else' was the children. Much more interesting than the castle-indeed, what would

any castle or any house be without them? Not that the castle was not a very interesting place to live in, as you will hear, but all places, I think, need people to bring out their interest. People who have been, sometimes, and sometimes, people that still are. There was a mixture of both in my castle. But first and foremost I will tell you of the children, whose home it was, and perhaps is yet.

There were only two of them, only two, that is to say, who lived there regularly; they were girls, twinsisters, Ruby and Mavis were their names, and at this time they were nearly twelve years old. I will not say much in description of them, it is best to let you find out about them for yourselves. They were almost exactly the same size; Ruby perhaps a very little the taller, and at first sight every one thought them exceedingly like each other. And so they were, so far as the colour of their hair, the shape of their features, their eyes and complexions went. They were pretty little girls, and they made a pretty pair. But the more you got to know them the less alike you got to think them, till at last you began to wonder how you ever could have thought them like at all! And even almost at the first glance some differences were to be seen. Ruby was certainly the

prettier. Her eyes were brighter, her colour more brilliant, her way of walking and holding herself more graceful, even her very manner of talking was more interesting and attractive.

What a charming child she is,' said strangers always. Such pretty winning ways, so sweet and unselfish, so clever and intelligent! What a pity that dull little Mavis is not more like her-why, I thought them the image of each other at first, and now I can scarcely believe they are sisters. I am sure poor Ruby must find Mavis very trying, she is so stupid; but Ruby is so good and patient with her -it quite adds another charm to the dear child.'

This opinion or one like it was always the first expressed-well, perhaps not always, but almost always. Now I will let you judge for yourselves.

It was late autumn. So late, that one felt inclined to wish it were already winter, without any thought or talk of a milder season. For it was very cold, and thick-walled though the castle was, it needed any amount of huge fires and curtains in front of the doorways and double windows, and, in the modern rooms, hot air or water-pipes to make it comfortable in severe weather. And all these things in winter it had. But the housekeeper had rather old-fashioned

and stiff ideas. She did everything by rule. On a certain day in the autumn the winter arrangements were begun, on a certain day in the spring they came to an end. And this, whatever the weather was,-not a very good plan, for as everybody knows, the weather itself is not so formal and particular. There are quite warm, mild days sometimes in late November, and really bitterly cold ones in April and May. But there would have been no manner of use in trying to make old Bertha see this. Winter should stop on a certain day, and summer should come, and vice versa. It had always been so in her time, and Bertha did not like new-fangled ways.

So everybody shivered, and the more daring ones, of whom Ruby was the foremost, scolded and grumbled. But it was no use.

'You may as well try to bear it patiently, my dear,' said cousin Hortensia, 'the mild weather must come soon. I will lend you one of my little shawls if you like. You will feel warmer when you have been out for a run.'

Cousin Hortensia was the lady who lived at the castle to teach and take care of the two little girls. For their mother was dead and their father was often away. He had some appointment at the court.

« PoprzedniaDalej »