A Christmas Posy – Mrs. Molesworth

“YOU won’t be long any way, dear Auntie?” said Sylvia with a little sigh. “I don’t half like your going. Couldn’t you wait till the day after to-morrow?” “Or at least take me with you,” said Molly, Sylvia’s younger sister, eagerly. Auntie hesitated—she glanced up at as much of the sky as could be seen through the lace-shrouded windows of their pretty Paris salon—it was already beginning to grow dusky, for though only halfpast three, it was the thirty-first of December, and a dull day—and then turned with decision towards the door. “No, dears,” she said; “I shall go more quickly alone. Sylvia’s cold would be none the better for going out so late, and I would rather you, Molly, stayed with her. So good-bye, darlings; I shall not be long.” “I should not like to think of poor Sylvia sitting alone in the gloaming, to-day of all days,” said Auntie to herself as she made her way down the three flights of handsome marble stairs which led to their appartement. “I can see she is very sad—remembering how different it was this day last year. And dear Molly’s good spirits are an inestimable blessing. Ah, my darlings, I may do my best, I will do my best, but I cannot make up to you for grandmother;” and with the tears in her eyes, and many a tender thought in her heart, Auntie made her way along the street. The two girls were watching her, though she did not know it. There was a tiny balcony outside the window on to which Molly stepped almost as soon as the door had closed on Auntie. “Come out here for a moment, Sylvia,” she called to her sister; “we can see her as far as the corner”—for the street was one of the wide handsome avenues in the new part of Paris, and there were few passers-by. “As far as the corner,” therefore, it was easy to distinguish Auntie’s figure in its deep mourning dress—not quite so erect or active as it used to be, for Auntie was no longer young, and this year, so nearly ended now, had brought her the greatest sorrow of her life—as she quickly made her way.

“Dear Auntie,” said Sylvia; “I wish she were back again. I am sure we could have done without money for a day.” “Two days it would have been,” corrected Molly; “the bank will be closed to-morrow, you know.” “Of course I know that,” said Sylvia, a little testily. “And there are some people coming to be paid, and Auntie never likes to keep any one waiting,” continued Molly imperturbably. “If Auntie had only taken me with her——” “How absurd you are!” said Sylvia. “You speak as if Auntie were a baby, or as if no one could take care of her but you—no, dear,” she broke off hastily, “I should not speak like that. I don’t mean to be cross—but oh, Molly, how we do miss grandmother,” and the quickly rising tears in the pretty eyes raised to her sister’s face at once subdued any resentment Molly may have felt. She bent her tall figure —for, though nearly two years younger, she was taller than her sister—and enveloped Sylvia in a loving hug. “My darling,” she said—the mass of fair hair, which, even at eighteen, she found it no easy matter to keep in order, mingling with Sylvia’s soft clustering chestnut locks; “my darling—of course we do —but, Sylvia, we must try to be happy.

Think how she always said so. And next year—next year may be happier. Papa and Ralph are almost sure to be with us again by this time next year.” “This year has certainly only brought us sorrow,” said Sylvia mournfully; “I wish Auntie had not gone out. I have a presentiment something will go wrong.” “Don’t be fanciful, dear; Auntie will soon be back. Come in and let us get ready a cosy tea for her, and finish the old year as cheerfully as we can. And oh, Sylvia—your cold!—and you’ve been out on the balcony without even a shawl.” No wonder these girls loved their aunt. Since their infancy their grandmother and she had replaced to them the mother they had never known—and the father who was but seldom able to be with them.

And now the grief, the inexpressible grief of having lost that dearest of grandmothers had deepened and strengthened the affection of the three for each other. Their life was somewhat lonely at present. Grandmother had died in the south, at the pretty villa which, after so many years passed in it, had come to seem “home.” But she had wished her grandchildren to return to England, their real home; there, before long, to be rejoined by their father and elder brother at present in the East. And they were spending this winter in Paris—”on the way,” as it were—for the benefit of Sylvia’s drawing and Molly’s music; and partly, too, perhaps, because the old home in the south, without “grandmother dear,” would have seemed too unbearably desolate. The curtains were drawn, the fire blazed brightly, the lamp on the console at the side of the room threw a soft pleasant glow on the dainty table set out temptingly for “afternoon tea,” which, notwithstanding their long residence in France, Auntie and her nieces were very fond of. And with the little exertion of making all as bright and pretty as they could, the girls’ spirits had come back. “It does look nice,” said Molly approvingly, as she stepped back towards the door to judge of the general effect. “How I do wish dear grandmother were here to see how neat and nice it looks. I really do think, Sylvia, that I am getting to be very ‘handy,’ and to have a good deal of taste in nice little ways—just what grandmother used to wish for me;” and the candour and honesty in her fair face as she innocently expressed her little bit of self-approval made Sylvia turn away so that Molly should not see the smile of amusement it was impossible altogether to repress.

For Molly’s open satisfaction with herself when it seemed to her that she deserved a little encouragement, was one of the funniest things about her still. “Yes, dear, it does look very nice,” said Sylvia. “And——Can that be Auntie’s ring already?” she broke off. “How very quick she has been.” And almost before she had finished the words the door was thrown hastily open, and Auntie was beside them. But what an Auntie! Pale, looking older by ten years than when she had left them, breathless, her lips for a moment trembling so that she could not speak. The girls’ warm words of welcome died away as they gazed at her in terror. “Auntie, Auntie dearest, what is it; oh, what is it?” they exclaimed, while visions of every possible and impossible misfortune—a telegram with bad news of papa or Ralph taking front place as the worst of all—rushed before their imaginations with the inconceivable rapidity with which such speculations picture themselves at such times of excitement. Auntie struggled for self-control. “No, no—not bad news,” she whispered at last, in answer to some all but inaudible breath which had perhaps escaped the poor children’s lips.

“You must—oh, you must forgive me. It was all my own fault. I should not have gone.” “Oh Auntie, Auntie,” cried Molly, by this time in sobs, “what is it then? Have you been run over?” “How could Auntie be here if she had been?” said Sylvia, hardly able to help smiling, even in the midst of her fright, at the Molly-like question. “But oh, Auntie, do try to tell us.” Auntie was a little calmer by now. She looked up with a piteous expression in her still white face. “My dears, my dears,” she said, “you must not be vexed with me, and yet I feel that you have a right to be so. I have had such a misfortune—I have lost—just now, on my way to or from the bank, I don’t know which—I have lost dearest mother’s—your grandmother’s old watch! And with it the locket that was always attached to it, you know—the one with her great-grandfather’s and his daughter’s hair.” “I know,” said Molly, “gray hair on one side and bright brown like Sylvia’s on the other.

Oh, Auntie, Auntie—poor Auntie.” And Sylvia flung herself down beside poor Auntie and burst into tears of sympathy. It was sweet to Aunt Laura, even in the midst of her acute distress, to feel that their first thought was not for the loss itself—much as it could not but touch them—but of sorrow for her. “Grandmother’s old watch—grandmother dear’s old watch,” repeated the two girls, as if they could not believe it. The old watch they remembered all their lives, whose face was almost as familiar to them as that of grandmother herself—the watch and locket which seemed almost a part of her—it was terrible, it was too bad to be true! “How did it happen?” said Sylvia, trying to choke down her tears. “Tell us more, Auntie. Can nothing be done? You don’t think it was stolen?” “No—I feel sure I dropped it. I remember now that it was not securely fastened. That is what vexes me so terribly—to think it was my own fault! Oh, Sylvia—oh, Molly, when I saw it was gone I felt as if I should go out of my mind! It was just as I came out of the bank that I missed it, but it may have dropped some minutes before. I was hesitating as to whether I should have time to walk home, or if I should take a coupé so as to get back to you quicker, my dears——” “And we had made all so cosy for you—such a dear little tea—just look, Auntie;” and herself casting a glance round at their pretty preparations, Molly’s tears flowed afresh.

“I had a presentiment,” said Sylvia. “But go on, Auntie.” “And I looked at my watch—I mean, I was going to do so,” continued Auntie, “and found it was gone. Of course I ran back to the bank, but it was not there. I rushed up and down the street and asked everybody I saw—I even went into some of the shops—I am afraid I must have seemed quite dazed. Then my only idea was to get back to you, so I called a coupé and——” here poor Auntie broke down again. “And is there nothing to be done?” repeated Sylvia. “The coachman,” said Auntie, “the coachman advised me to go to the ‘commissaire de police’ nearest to where I lost it. I have the name of the street. So now that I have seen you, I will go there at once,” and she rose as she spoke.

“Take my bag, Molly dear,” she added, handing it to her. “The money is in it.” “It is a good thing it wasn’t lost too,” said Molly, whose spirits were already beginning to reassert themselves. “But, Auntie, you must have some tea before you go. It is quite ready.” Auntie, whose hand was already on the door, was beginning to refuse when Sylvia interrupted. “Yes, Auntie dear, you must,” she said. “And while you are taking it, it will give me time to get ready.” “You, my child! I will not let you come—with your cold too.” “My cold is very little, Auntie dearest; I must come—I should come,” she added pleadingly.

“You can’t go about by yourself, so upset as you are too. Grandmother told me I was to take care of you. Yes, Molly dear, I know you would go, but I am a year and nine months older,” continued Sylvia, rising to the dignity of her nineteen years. “It is right I should go.” She gained the day, and so did Molly, to the extent of persuading her aunt to swallow a cup of tea, —what a different tea-taking to that they had been looking forward to!—and in five minutes Auntie and Sylvia were driving along the streets which the former had but so lately passed through. “Poor Molly,” said Auntie. “She will be getting up her hopes and expecting us to bring back good news,” said Sylvia. “Well, we may find it, Auntie. They say honest people sometimes take things at once to the nearest policeoffice.” But this small grain of hope was quickly crushed.

The “commissaire de police” was civil, but not encouraging. The ladies would do better to wait a day or two and then apply to the “Préfecture de Police,” in other words, the central office, where waifs and strays of private property, should they chance to fall into honest hands, were pretty sure to be eventually deposited. “A day or two,” repeated Auntie, appalled. “Can I do nothing at once?”

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