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The Carroll Girls   By: (1866-1924)

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Up and down, to and fro, backwards and for wards over the sunny garden the butterflies, white, sulphur, and brown, flitted and fluttered, lightly poising on currant bush or flower, loving life as they basked in the sunshine; and Penelope lay and watched them. What did it matter to them that the garden was neglected, the grass rank and uncut, the currant bushes barren from neglect, the lilacs old and blossomless? It mattered no more to them than it did to Penelope, lying so lazy and happy in the coarse grass.

Penelope had never known the garden other than it was now, except, perhaps, at very far distant intervals when a visitor was expected usually Aunt Julia, when a shilling or so had to be found to pay a gardener to come and 'tidy up.' She herself was always better pleased when he did not come, for almost invariably he charged too much, or Lydia said he did, and would tell him of it, not too politely, and tell her mistress that she was encouraging robbery; and Mrs. Carroll who would far rather pay too much and hear no more about it than be bothered would be worried, and Lydia would be cross; and to Penelope it seemed a pity to be made so uncomfortable for the sake of sixpence or a shilling. She could not bear jars and discords. These, though, were troubles that occurred but seldom to ruffle the surface of her usually happy life. As a rule, like the butterflies, she saw only the sunshine, and the green things growing, and nothing of the sordidness and neglect of everything about her. If she did, if things jarred or fretted her, she just walked away, far out into the country and the woods where everything was peaceful, and nothing seemed to matter; and out there she would very soon recover again and become her old happy self.

There were three other Carroll children Esther, the eldest, Angela, and Poppy, the baby of them all. Penelope was the second, aged nearly twelve.

"Four girls! isn't it dreadful?" Esther sometimes sighed. "But there, I suppose it is better than some of us being boys, for now we can hand our clothes down from one to the other, and if we couldn't I am afraid the younger ones would often have to go without."

In the thirteen short years of her life poor Esther had grown to know all the shifts and economies and discomforts of poverty only too well. She had seen, so to speak, the rise and fall of her family, and at last had become almost the only prop which kept it from falling altogether. She could remember when the house was always full of company and life and laughter, when her mother always wore pretty frocks and beautiful jewels, and drove everywhere in their own carriage. She could remember gay dinner parties, when she used to creep out of bed and sit on the stairs to listen to the singing in the drawing room.

The scent of certain flowers still brought back the memory of those days, when she and Penelope used to go down in their prettiest frocks to dessert, and were given dainty sweets and fruits, and were made much of.

Then there came a dark time when, although she was so young, she felt vaguely that there was trouble overshadowing them, and saw it, too, reflected in her father's face; and the darkest day of all was when Grandpa Carroll came, and with scarcely a word or a glance for the children, went at once to the library with her father, and departed again that same night, leaving gloom and misery behind him. All the rest of the day, she remembered, her father remained shut up in the library, and her mother locked herself, weeping, in her bedroom; and Esther and Penelope went to bed that night without any good night kiss from either; and worse than that, Esther heard nurse and Jane, the housemaid, talking in low, mysterious tones, and knew that they were talking of her parents' and their affairs; and, as any child would, bitterly resented it.

"Why don't you go downstairs, Jane?" she said at last, when she could endure it no longer; "you know mother doesn't allow gossiping in the nursery... Continue reading book >>

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