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inherit it from my mother, who used to say it always called up in her imagination pictures of tradesmen's snug little tea-tables, in small back-parlours behind the shop, where a bright kettle was singing on the hob, and a sleek cat sleeping on the clean hearth.
"Come, we'll have some muffins," said I munificently, as Hawkins spread the table-cover.
"Don't launch into extravagances already,
Isabella," said Jacintha; "it will do us much more good to begin self-denial. I don't care for muffins."
"Then where's the self-denial?" said I, laughing. "I do, and so does Marian, I know. Here's a sixpence, Hawkins, to invest for us in muffins and crumpets. See that you make a good bargain."
"Isabella reminds me of Moore's lines," said Marian, humming them playfully, not sentimentally
"Come, chase that starting tear away,
"Ergo, eat muffins, and put an extra spoonful of tea into the teapot," said I, laughing, as Marian proceeded to measure the tea, not with a spoon, but a little silver shell, out of a small silver caddy, engraven, not embossed, and worn exceeding thin by the plate-leathers of three generations.
I observed Hawkins give a puzzled, halfpeevish, half-pleased look, as she took the money, and eyed us one after the other.
"Well, Hawkins, what is it?" said I. "Oh, there, I'm glad to see your spirits mending," said she, with a little jerk of the chin; "but, sure enough, I do wonder sometimes what the ladies is laughing at!"
"One of the Miss Middlemasses' wonderful
jokes, you dull old Hawkins!" said Marian, with a pat on her shoulder.
"The Misses Middlemass," said I.
"Oh no, for pity's sake, no!" cried Jacintha. "Rather, set grammar at defiance such a blue-board academy phrase! Seminary for young ladies, by the Misses Middlemass.'Horrible!"
Suppose we ignore seminaries and academies, and prohibit the words horrible and horrid till after tea," said I: "otherwise, I must say, 'Miss Marian, pass the mark!""
We all laughed.
"Another of the ladies' queer jokes,' Hawkins will think," said Marian, merrily. "Poor old soul! she can't imagine what we find in them to laugh at, nor how we can laugh at all."
"Family jokes," said Jacintha. "Few out of the magic circle can see the point of them."
They are excellent things, though," said I: "a good stock in hand of familiar, harmless mirth."
"Dear me, how people will open their eyes when they hear what we are going to do!" said Jacintha.
"If they do nothing worse than that, we need not mind it much," said I.
I hope and expect they'll do 'a deal better,' as Hawkins says!" cried Marian. "Opening their eyes would not get us any pupils: I expect them to open their ears, and hearts, and purses. Depend on it, we shall soon be obliged to say a limited number only is taken!""
"Ah, that's a professional fiction," said Jacintha. "Schoolmasters and schoolmistresses generally limit themselves to as many as they can get."
"Or their houses can hold," suggested I.
Only bachelors' houses are elastic. Come, Marian, dispense the herb that cheers but Here come the muffins."
"The idea!" presently exclaimed Jacintha; "the idea that pupils will pour in! How do we know we shall get even one? I dare say we shall not.”
"One would be worse than none," said I; "for there would be all the routine, with very little return."
"On the contrary, I should very gladly begin with only one," said Marian; "and rather prefer it, because it would be some one to practice on, before we committed any blunders on a magnified scale. What ought the routine to be, I wonder?"
We were all profoundly ignorant. Not one of us had ever been at school. My mother had educated me, with the assistance of masters; and I, with the assistance of masters, had educated my sisters.