Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 6/The Admiral's daughters - Part 1

THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTERS.

A STORY OF FIFTY YEARS AGO, IN SEVEN CHAPTERS.
BY A. STEWART HARRISON.

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CHAPTER I.

Whom do you think I’ve seen to-day, Ellen?”

“Who? How can I tell? Dozens of people, I suppose.”

“But it was some one you know and like.”

“Mrs. Lake?”

“Yes, Susan and I met her on the Hoe and who do you think was with her?”

“Captain Boyd?”

“No. Oh, you’ll never guess! It was papa. They looked so confused; but she soon recovered, and asked papa whether he was not proud of two such fine girls. Papa said that he thought there was one still more handsome at home. Mrs. Lake laughed, and said she knew his opinions on that point."

"You do surprise me—Mrs. Lake with papa! I can hardly believe it. Where are they now—coming here?"

"No. Papa told us to come home, and he would come to dinner after seeing Mrs. Lake home."

"I'm afraid my window friend is going to bring us some trouble, Mary," said Ellen, ignoring the fact of Susan's presence, as did everybody else in that house.

"Trouble!—what trouble? She'll be only one more dinner on Wednesday."

"No, no, Mary; I'm afraid she's likely to be the one more at dinner every day soon."

"Why? Do you think papa will ask her often."

"Stupid child! She's a widow, and will only need asking once when the question is put by an admiral."

"What question, Ellen? Do speak clearly?"

"Why, the question that you hope will some day be put to you by that handsome Lieutenant Blackwood."

"Ellen, that's not kind. I never said that I wanted any one to put such a question to me—least of all, that solemn, sedate Mr. Blackwood. But, surely, you don't mean that my papa is likely to ask Mrs. Lake to be his wife?"

"I do, indeed. I've wondered what took him out so much of an evening for the last three weeks—indeed ever since she came here—while you girls were out. Your meeting them together explains all; you'll have a stepmother, girls, as sure as my name's Ellen Newton."

"What do you say to that, Susan?" said Mary.

"I'm sure I don't know. She's a very pretty woman, and was very kind in her manner to us to-day. I dare say papa will be happier if he marries her."

"Ah!" said both the other girls, looking at each other, and reading each in the other's face a profound pity for poor Susan, for whom the idea of a stepmother had no terrors. "You'd like it, too, Susan?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. If she's kind and pleasant, perhaps I should. I don't think we girls can be quite the same to papa as a wife. I wonder what Henry will say when he hears of it?"

"That's Susan all over," said Ellen. "I wonder what Henry will say!"

The three girls left the room to dress for dinner, and Susan having been told to make haste down so as to be there when their father came in, the two girls, the oldest and youngest of the admiral's family, were left alone.

"I wish you wouldn't say anything about Lieutenant Balckwood, Ellen; he's not been here half a dozen times, and you're always teasing me about him. I don't care—"

"How old are you, Mary—twenty, I believe?"

"Yes."

"And I am twenty-six. You see that makes all the difference. I see—you don't. A woman learns a great dal from twenty to twenty-six."

"Whatever you've learnt, you mustn't do this. I don't like it."

"And why? Didn't I joke about Captain Boyd and Colonel Griffin, and I don't know how many more? You never winced then—you did not feel; you joked yourself about those admirers; but now you do feel when I joke you about Mr. Blackwood: therefore, being six years older than my little sister, I say she has thought how pleasant it would be if—There, Mary, I need not picture the future for you; I'll end here. About papa, though, I don't know what to do; he's fifty-six in April, and to marry at his time of life it's very absurd, and such a girl as Mrs. Lake! Why she was at school with me before she married Captain Lake—she's not thirty yet. I little thought what I was about when I asked her to come and stay with me the week you girls were in London. Good use of her time she has made, too, to get your papa to walk with her on the Hoe already."

"But we must do something to prevent it," said Mary, suggestively.

"I don't know what we can do; we can say something, but it will be no use—none. Mrs. Lake's a very pleasant companion, but I can't think of her being here in authority without some fear. You girls will marry and go away, but an old thing like me there's no hope for."

"Don't talk so, Ellen, I don't like it. Papa said, to-day, you were the handsomest of us all."

"My tongue's too sharp a great deal, Polly, and a step-mamma will give it a keener edge; so I say Good-bye to hope for myself, but I mean to take better care of you helpless little chicks."

"If you please, Miss, masters says will you come down—Mrs. Lake is in the drawing-room."

"Say I'll come directly, Fanny. There, Mary, I told you so. They're going to confess to me; you and Susan are of no account in these matters—children—poor children!"

And here Ellen clasped her sister in her arms, and kissed her passionately.

"Let us go together, Nelly."

"Oh, certainly! and be told to go away like a child."

"Papa won't do that."

"Very well—let's try, then."

"I know I shall say something spiteful, Mary; you'd better go away, and let me go in alone."

"No, Ellen, we'll go together. Wipe your eyes, dear, don't let her see you've been crying."

And, just outside the drawing-room door, Mary wipes her sister's eyes and smoothes her hair, and they enter together.

"Mary, I sent for Ellen; you can retire."

And exit Mary, painfully red and indignant; for the admiral, good man as he was, rather gave in a way of speaking that commanded obedience. It is a way that saves its possessor a great deal of trouble, albeit it is marvellously unpleasant to those who are its victims. Mary felt that her power against the new-comer was gone altogether already—if fight there was to be, her father's favourite, Ellen, and Mrs. Lake would be the only combatants.

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