The Daisy Chain or Aspirations by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview
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Chapter I.7Something between a hindrance and a help. WORDSWORTH.
Etheldred awoke long before time for getting up, and lay pondering over her visions. Margaret had sympathised, and therefore they did not seem entirely aerial. To earn money by writing was her favourite plan, and she called her various romances in turn before her memory, to judge which might be brought down to sober pen and ink. She considered till it became not too unreasonably early to get up. It was dark, but there was a little light close to the window: she had no writing-paper, but she would interline her old exercise-book. Down she ran, and crouching in the school-room window-seat, she wrote on in a trance of eager composition, till Norman called her, as he went to school, to help him to find a book.
This done, she went up to visit Margaret, to tell her the story, and consult her. But this was not so easy. She found Margaret with little Daisy lying by her, and Tom sitting by the fire over his Latin."Oh, Ethel, good-morning, dear! you are come just in time." "To take baby?" said Ethel, as the child was fretting a little. "Yes, thank you, she has been very good, but she was tired of lying here, and I can't move her about," said Margaret. "Oh, Margaret, I have such a plan," said Ethel, as she walked about with little Gertrude; but Tom interrupted.
"Margaret, will you see if I can say my lesson?" and the thumbed Latin grammar came across her just as Dr. May's door opened, and he came in exclaiming, "Latin grammar! Margaret, this is really too much for you. Goodmorning, my dears. Ha! Tommy, take your book away, my boy. You must not inflict that on sister now. There's your regular master, Richard, in my room, if it is fit for his ears yet. What, the little one here too?""How is your arm, papa?" said Margaret. "Did it keep you awake?" "Not long--it set me dreaming though, and a very romantic dream it was, worthy of Ethel herself." "What was it, papa?"
"Oh, it was an odd thing, joining on strangely enough with one I had three or four and twenty years ago, when I was a young man, hearing lectures at Edinburgh, and courting--" he stopped, and felt Margaret's pulse, asked her a few questions, and talked to the baby. Ethel longed to hear his dream, but thought he would not like to go on; however, he did presently.
"The old dream was the night after a picnic on Arthur's Seat with the Mackenzies; mamma and Aunt Flora were there. 'Twas a regular boy's dream, a tournament, or something of that nature, where I was victor, the queen-you know who she was--giving me her token--a Daisy Chain.""That is why you like to call us your Daisy Chain," said Ethel. "Did you write it in verse?" said Margaret. "I think I once saw some verses like it in her desk."
"I was in love, and three-and-twenty," said the doctor, looking drolly guilty in the midst of his sadness. "Ay, those fixed it in my memory, perhaps my fancy made it more distinct than it really was. An evening or two ago I met with them, and that stirred it up I suppose. Last night came the tournament again, but it was the melee, a sense of being crushed down, suffocated by the throng of armed knights and horses--pain and wounds--and I looked in vain through the opposing overwhelming host for my--my Maggie. Well, I got the worst of it, my sword arm was broken--I fell, was stifled--crushed--in misery-all I could do was to grasp my token--my Daisy Chain," and he pressed Margaret's hand as he said so. "And, behold, the tumult and despair were passed. I lay on the grass in the cloisters, and the Daisy Chain hung from the sky, and was drawing me upwards. There--it is a queer dream for a sober old country doctor. I don't know why I told you, don't tell any one again."
And he walked away, muttering. "For he told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking," leaving Margaret with her eyes full of tears, and Ethel vehemently caressing the baby."How beautiful!" said Ethel. "It has been a comfort to him, I am sure," said Margaret. "You don't think it ominous," said Ethel with a slight tremulous voice. "More soothing than anything else. It is what we all feel, is it not? that this little daisy bud is the link between us and heaven?" "But about him. He was victor at first--vanquished the next time."
"I think--if it is to have an interpretation, though I am not sure we ought to take it so seriously, it would only mean that in younger days people care for victory and distinction in this world, like Norman, or as papa most likely did then; but, as they grow older, they care less, and others pass them, and they know it does not signify, for in our race all may win."
"But he has a great name. How many people come from a distance to consult him! he is looked upon, too, in other ways! he can do anything with the corporation."
"Shall I tell you what mamma told me he said about it, when Uncle Mackenzie said he ought? He answered that he thought health and happy home attachments were a better provision for us to set out in life with than thousands."
"I am sure he was right!" said Ethel earnestly. "Then you don't think the dream meant being beaten, only that our best things are not gained by successes in this world?""Don't go and let it dwell on your mind as a vision," said Margaret. "I think dear mamma would call that silly."
An interruption occurred, and Ethel had to go down to breakfast with a mind floating between romance, sorrow, and high aspirations, very unlike the actual world she had to live in. First, there was a sick man walking into the study, and her father, laying down his letters, saying, "I must despatch him before prayers, I suppose. I've a great mind to say I never will see any one who won't keep to my days."
"I can't imagine why they don't," said Flora, as he went. "He is always saying so, but never acting on it. If he would once turn one away, the rest would mind."Richard went on in silence, cutting bread and butter. "There's another ring," said Mary. "Yes, he is caught now, they'll go on in a stream. I shall not keep Margaret waiting for her breakfast, I shall take it up."
The morning was tiresome; though Dr. May had two regular days for seeing poor people at his house, he was too good-natured to keep strictly to them, and this day, as Flora had predicted, there was a procession of them not soon got rid of, even by his rapid queries and the talismanic figures made by his left hand on scraps of paper, with which he sent them off to the infirmary. Ethel tried to read; the children lingered about; it was a trial of temper to all but Tom, who obtained Richard's attention to his lessons. He liked to say them to his brother, and was an incentive to learn them quickly, that none might remain for Miss Winter when Richard went out with his father. If mamma had been there, she would have had prayers; but now no one had authority enough, though they did at last even finish breakfast. Just as the gig came to the door, Dr. May dismissed his last patient, rang the bell in haste, and as soon as prayers were over, declared he had an appointment, and had no time to eat. There was a general outcry that it was bad enough when he was well, and now he must not take liberties; Flora made him drink some tea; and Richard placed morsels in his way, while he read his letters. He ran up for a final look at Margaret, almost upset the staid Miss Winter as he ran down again, called Richard to take the reins, and was off.
It was French day, always a trial to Ethel. M. Ballompre, the master, knew what was good and bad French, but could not render a reason, and Ethel, being versed in the principles of grammar, from her Latin studies, chose to know the why and wherefore of his corrections--she did not like to see her pages defaced, and have no security against future errors; while he thought her a troublesome pupil, and was put out by her questions. They wrangled, Miss Winter was displeased, and Ethel felt injured.
Mary's inability to catch the pronunciation, and her hopeless dull look when she found that coeur must not be pronounced cour, nor cur, but something between, to which her rosy English lips could never come--all this did not tease M. Ballompre, for he was used to it.His mark for Ethel's lesson was "de l'humeur." "I am sorry," said Miss Winter, when he was gone. "I thought you had outgrown that habit of disputing over every phrase." "I can't tell how a language is to be learned without knowing the reasons of one's mistakes," said Ethel.
"That is what you always say, my dear. It is of no use to renew it all, but I wish you would control yourself. Now, Mary, call Blanche, and you and Ethel take your arithmetic."
So Flora went to read to Margaret, while Blanche went lightly and playfully through her easy lessons, and Mary floundered piteously over the difficulties of Compound Long Division. Ethel's mind was in too irritated and tumultuous a state for her to derive her usual solace from Cube Root. Her sum was wrong, and she wanted to work it right, but Miss Winter, who had little liking for the higher branches of arithmetic, said she had spent time enough over it, and summoned her to an examination such as the governess was very fond of and often practised. Ethel thought it useless, and was teased by it; and though her answers were chiefly correct, they were given in an irritated tone. It was of this kind:-
What is the date of the invention of paper? What is the latitude and longitude of Otaheite? What are the component parts of brass? Whence is cochineal imported?
When this was over, Ethel had to fetch her mending-basket, and Mary her book of selections; the piece for to-day's lesson was the quarrel of Brutus and Cassius; and Mary's dull droning tone was a trial to her ears; she presently exclaimed, "Oh, Mary, don't murder it!""Murder what?" said Mary, opening wide her light blue eyes. "That use of exaggerated language,--" began Miss Winter. "I've heard papa say it," said Ethel, only wanting to silence Miss Winter. In a cooler moment she would not have used the argument. "All that a gentleman may say, may not be a precedent for a young lady; but you are interrupting Mary." "Only let me show her. I can't bear to hear her, listen, Mary. "What shall one of us That struck the foremost"- "That is declaiming," said Miss Winter. "It is not what we wish for in a lady. You are neglecting your work and interfering."
Ethel made a fretful contortion, and obeyed. So it went on all the morning, Ethel's eagerness checked by Miss Winter's dry manner, producing pettishness, till Ethel, in a state between self-reproach and a sense of injustice, went up to prepare for dinner, and to visit Margaret on the way.
She found her sister picking a merino frock to pieces. "See here," she said eagerly, "I thought you would like to make up this old frock for one of the Cocksmoor children; but what is the matter?" as Ethel did not show the lively interest that she expected."Oh, nothing, only Miss Winter is so tiresome." "What was it?"
"Everything, it was all horrid. I was cross, I know, but she and M. Ballompre made me so;" and Ethel was in the midst of the narration of her grievances, when Norman came in. The school was half a mile off, but he had not once failed to come home, in the interval allowed for play after dinner, to inquire for his sister."Well, Norman, you are out of breath, sit down and rest. What is doing at school; are you dux of your class?" "Yes," said the boy wearily. "What mark for the verses?" said Ethel. "Quam bene." "Not optime?" "No, they were tame," Dr. Hoxton said. "What is Harry doing?" said Margaret. "He is fourth in his form. I left him at football." "Dinner!" said Flora at the door. "What will you have, Margaret?"
"I'll fetch it," said Norman, who considered it his privilege to wait on Margaret at dinner. When he had brought the tray, he stood leaning against the bedpost, musing. Suddenly, there was a considerable clatter of fire-irons, and his violent start surprised Margaret.
"Ethel has been poking the fire," she said, as if no more was needed to account for their insecurity. Norman put them up again, but a ringing sound betrayed that it was not with a firm touch, and when, a minute after, he came to take her plate, she saw that he was trying with effort to steady his hand."Norman, dear, are you sure you are well?" "Yes, very well," said he, as if vexed that she had taken any notice. "You had better not come racing home. I'm not worth inquiries now, I am so much better," said she, smiling. He made no reply, but this was not consenting silence. "I don't like you to lose your football," she proceeded. "I could not--" and he stopped short.
"It would be much better for you," said she, looking up in his face with anxious affectionate eyes, but he shunned her glance and walked away with her plate.
Flora had been in such close attendance upon Margaret, that she needed some cheerful walks, and though she had some doubts how affairs at home would go on without her, she was overruled, and sent on a long expedition with Miss Winter and Mary, while Ethel remained with Margaret. The only delay before setting out, was that nurse came in, saying, "If you please, Miss Margaret, there is a girl come to see about the place."The sisters looked at each other and smiled, while Margaret asked whence she came, and who she was. "Her name is Taylor, and she comes from Cocksmoor, but she is a nice, tidy, strong-looking girl, and she says she has been used to children."
Nurse had fallen into the trap most comfortably, and seemed bent upon taking this girl as a choice of her own. She wished to know if Miss Margaret would like to see her."If you please, nurse, but if you think she will do, that is enough." "Yes, Miss, but you should look to them things yourself. If you please, I'll bring her up." So nurse departed. "Charming!" cried Ethel, "that's your capital management, Flora; nurse thinks she has done it all herself." "She is your charge though," said Flora, "coming from your own beloved Cocksmoor."
Lucy Taylor came in, looking very nice, and very shy, curtseying low, in extreme awe of the pale lady in bed. Margaret was much pleased with her, and there was no more to be done but to settle that she should come on Saturday, and to let nurse take her into the town to invest her with the universal blackness of the household, where the two Margarets were the only white things.
This arranged, and the walking party set forth, Ethel sat down by her sister's bed, and began to assist in unpicking the merino, telling Margaret how much obliged she was to her for thinking of it, and how grieved at having been so ungrateful in the morning. She was very happy over her contrivances, cutting out under her sister's superintendence. She had forgotten the morning's annoyance, till Margaret said, "I have been thinking of what you said about Miss Winter, and really I don't know what is to be done.""Oh, Margaret, I did not mean to worry you," said Ethel, sorry to see her look uneasy. "I like you to tell me everything, dear Ethel; but I don't see clearly the best course. We must go on with Miss Winter."
"Of course," said Ethel, shocked at her murmurs having even suggested the possibility of a change, and having, as well as all the others, a great respect and affection for her governess.
"We could not get on without her even if I were well," continued Margaret; and dear mamma had such perfect trust in her, and we all know and love her so well--it would make us put up with a great deal."
"Yes, it does seem wrong even to think of it," said Margaret, "when she has been so very kind. It is a blessing to have any one to whom Mary and Blanche may so entirely be trusted. But for you--""It is my own fault," repeated Ethel.
"I don't think it is quite all your own fault," said Margaret, "and that is the difficulty. I know dear mamma thought Miss Winter an excellent governess for the little ones, but hardly up to you, and she saw that you worried and fidgeted each other, so, you know, she used to keep the teaching of you a good deal in her own hands."
"I did not know that was the reason," said Ethel, overpowered by the recollection of the happy morning's work she had often done in that very room, when her mother had not been equal to the bustle of the whole schoolroom. That watchful, protecting, guarding, mother's love, a shadow of Providence, had been round them so constantly on every side, that they had been hardly conscious of it till it was lost to them.
"Was it not like her?" said Margaret, "but now, my poor Ethel, I don't think it would be right by you or by Miss Winter, to take you out of the school-room. I think it would grieve her.""I would not do that for the world."
"Especially after her kind nursing of me, and even, with more reason, it would not be becoming in us to make changes. Besides, King Etheldred," said Margaret, smiling, "we all know you are a little bit of a sloven, and, as nurse says, some one must be always after you, and do you know? even if I were well, I had rather it was Miss Winter than me.""Oh, no, you would not be formal and precise--you would not make me cross."
"Perhaps you might make me so," said Margaret, "or I should let you alone, and leave you a slattern. We should both hate it so! No, don't make me your mistress, Ethel dear--let me be your sister and play-fellow still, as well as I can."
"You are, you are. I don't care half so much when I have got you." "And will you try to bear with her, and remember it is right in the main, though it is troublesome?""That I will. I won't plague you again. I know it is bad for you, you look tired." "Pray don't leave off telling me," said Margaret--"it is just what I wish on my own account, and I know it is comfortable to have a good grumble." "If it does not hurt you, but I am sure you are not easy now--are you?" "Only my back," said Margaret. "I have been sitting up longer than usual, and it is tired. Will you call nurse to lay me flat again?"
The nursery was deserted--all were out, and Ethel came back in trepidation at the notion of having to do it herself, though she knew it was only to put one arm to support her sister, while, with the other, she removed the pillows; but Ethel was conscious of her own awkwardness and want of observation, nor had Margaret entire trust in her. Still she was too much fatigued to wait, so Ethel was obliged to do her best. She was careful and frightened, and therefore slow and unsteady. She trusted that all was right, and Margaret tried to believe so, though still uneasy.
Ethel began to read to her, and Dr. May came home. She looked up smiling, and asked where he had been, but it was vain to try to keep him from reading her face. He saw in an instant that something was amiss, and drew from her a confession that her back was aching a little. He knew she might have said a great deal--she was not in a comfortable position--she must be moved. She shook her head--she had rather wait--there was a dread of being again lifted by Ethel that she could not entirely hide. Ethel was distressed, Dr. May was angry, and, no wonder, when he saw Margaret suffer, felt his own inability to help, missed her who had been wont to take all care from his hands, and was vexed to see a tall strong girl of fifteen, with the full use of both arms, and plenty of sense, incapable of giving any assistance, and only doing harm by trying.
"It is of no use," said he. "Ethel will give no attention to anything but her books! I've a great mind to put an end to all the Latin and Greek! She cares for nothing else."Ethel could little brook injustice, and much as she was grieving, she exclaimed, "Papa, papa, I do care--now don't I, Margaret? I did my best!"
"Don't talk nonsense. Your best, indeed! If you had taken the most moderate care--"
"I believe Ethel took rather too much care," said Margaret, much more harassed by the scolding than by the pain. "It will be all right presently. Never mind, dear papa."
But he was not only grieved for the present, but anxious for the future; and, though he knew it was bad for Margaret to manifest his displeasure, he could not restrain it, and continued to blame Ethel with enough of injustice to set her on vindication, whereupon he silenced her, by telling her she was making it worse by self- justification when Margaret ought to be quiet. Margaret tried to talk of other things, but was in too much discomfort to exert herself enough to divert his attention.
At last Flora returned, and saw in an instant what was wanted. Margaret was settled in the right posture, but the pain would not immediately depart, and Dr. May soon found out that she had a headache, of which he knew he was at least as guilty as Etheldred could be.
Nothing could be done but keep her quiet, and Ethel went away to be miserable; Flora tried to comfort her by saying it was unfortunate, but no doubt there was a knack, and everyone could not manage those things; Margaret was easier now, and as to papa's anger, he did not always mean all he said.
But consolation came at bedtime; Margaret received her with open arms when she went to wish her goodnight. "My poor Ethel," she said, holding her close, "I am sorry I have made such a fuss.""Oh, you did not, it was too bad of me--I am grieved; are you quite comfortable now?"
"Yes, quite, only a little headache, which I shall sleep off. It has been so nice and quiet. Papa took up George Herbert, and has been reading me choice bits. I don't think I have enjoyed anything so much since I have been ill.""I am glad of that, but I have been unhappy all the evening. I wish I knew what to do. I am out of heart about everything!" "Only try to mind and heed, and you will learn. It will be a step if you will only put your shoes side by side when you take them off."
Ethel smiled and sighed, and Margaret whispered, "Don't grieve about me, but put your clever head to rule your hands, and you will do for home and Cocksmoor too. Good-night, dearest.""I've vexed papa," sighed Ethel--and just then he came into the room.
"Papa," said Margaret, "here's poor Ethel, not half recovered from her troubles."
He was now at ease about Margaret, and knew he had been harsh to another of his motherless girls.
"Yes, you must, Ethel. I believe I was hasty with you, my poor girl. I was vexed, and we have no one to smooth us down. I am sorry, my dear, but you must bear with me, for I never learned her ways with you when I might. We will try to have more patience with each other."
What could Ethel do but hang round his neck and cry, till he said, but tenderly, that they had given Margaret quite disturbance enough to-day, and sent her to bed, vowing to watch each little action, lest she should again give pain to such a father and sister.
"Tis not enough that Greek or Roman page
At stated hours, his freakish thoughts engage, Even in his pastimes he requires a friend
To warn and teach him safely to unbend,
O'er all his pleasures gently to preside,
Watch his emotions, and control their tide."--COWPER.
The misfortunes of that day disheartened and disconcerted Etheldred. To do mischief where she most wished to do good, to grieve where she longed to comfort, seemed to be her fate; it was vain to attempt anything for anyone's good, while all her warm feelings and high aspirations were thwarted by the awkward ungainly hands and heedless eyes that Nature had given her. Nor did the following day, Saturday, do much for her comfort, by giving her the company of her brothers. That it was Norman's sixteenth birthday seemed only to make it worse. Their father had apparently forgotten it, and Norman stopped Blanche when she was going to put him in mind of it; stopped her by such a look as the child never forgot, though there was no anger in it. In reply to Ethel's inquiry what he was going to do that morning, he gave a yawn and stretch, and said, dejectedly, that he had got some Euripides to look over, and some verses to finish."I am sorry; this is the first time you ever have not managed so as to make a real holiday of your Saturday!" "I could not help it, and there's nothing to do," said Norman wearily. "I promised to go and read to Margaret while Flora does her music," said Ethel; "I shall come after that and do my Latin and Greek with you."
Margaret would not keep her long, saying she liked her to be with Norman, but she found him with his head sunk on his open book, fast asleep. At dinner-time, Harry and Tom, rushing in, awoke him with a violent start.
"Halloo! Norman, that was a jump!" said Harry, as his brother stretched and pinched himself. "You'll jump out of your skin some of these days, if you don't take care!""It's enough to startle any one to be waked up with such a noise," said Ethel.
"Then he ought to sleep at proper times," said Harry, "and not be waking me up with tumbling about, and hallooing out, and talking in his sleep half the night.""Talking in his sleep! why, just now, you said he did not sleep," said Ethel. "Harry knows nothing about it," said Norman. "Don't I? Well, I only know, if you slept in school, and were a junior, you would get a proper good licking for going on as you do at night." "And I think you might chance to get a proper good licking for not holding your tongue," said Norman, which hint reduced Harry to silence.
Dr. May was not come home; he had gone with Richard far into the country, and was to return to tea. He was thought to be desirous of avoiding the family dinners that used to be so delightful. Harry was impatient to depart, and when Mary and Tom ran after him, he ordered them back."Where can he be going?" said Mary, as she looked wistfully after him. "I know," said Tom. "Where? Do tell me."
"Only don't tell papa. I went down with him to the playground this morning, and there they settled it. The Andersons, and Axworthy, and he, are going to hire a gun, and shoot pee-wits on Cocksmoor.""But they ought not; should they?" said Mary. "Papa would be very angry." Anderson said there was no harm in it, but Harry told me not to tell. Indeed, Anderson would have boxed my ears for hearing, when I could not help it." "But Harry would not let him?" "Ay. Harry is quite a match for Harvey Anderson, though he is so much younger; and he said he would not have me bullied." "That's a good Harry! But I wish he would not go out shooting!" said Mary. "Mind, you don't tell." "And where's Hector Ernescliffe? Would not he go?"
"No. I like Hector. He did not choose to go, though Anderson teased him, and said he was a poor Scot, and his brother didn't allow him tin enough to buy powder and shot. If Harry would have stayed at home, he would have come up here, and we might have had some fun in the garden."
"I wish he would. We never have any fun now," said Mary; "but oh! there he is," as she spied Hector peeping over the gate which led from the field into the garden. It was the first time that he had been to Dr. May's since his brother's departure, and he was rather shy, but the joyful welcome of Mary and Tom took off all reluctance, and they claimed him for a good game at play in the wood-house. Mary ran upstairs to beg to be excused the formal walk, and, luckily for her, Miss Winter was in Margaret's room. Margaret asked if it was very wet and dirty, and hearing "not very," gave gracious permission, and off went Mary and Blanche to construct some curious specimens of pottery, under the superintendence of Hector and Tom. There was a certain ditch where yellow mud was attainable, whereof the happy children concocted marbles and vases, which underwent a preparatory baking in the boys' pockets, that they might not crack in the nursery fire. Margaret only stipulated that her sisters should be well fenced in brown holland, and when Miss Winter looked grave, said, "Poor things, a little thorough play will do them a great deal of good."
Miss Winter could not see the good of groping in the dirt; and Margaret perceived that it would be one of her difficulties to know how to follow out her mother's views for the children, without vexing the good governess by not deferring to her.
In the meantime, Norman had disconsolately returned to his Euripides, and Ethel, who wanted to stay with him and look out his words, was ordered out by Miss Winter, because she had spent all yesterday indoors. Miss Winter was going to stay with Margaret, and Ethel and Flora coaxed Norman to come with them, "just one mile on the turnpike road and back again; he would be much fresher for his Greek afterwards."
He came, but he did not enliven his sisters. The three plodded on, taking a diligent constitutional walk, exchanging very few words, and those chiefly between the girls. Flora gathered some hoary clematis, and red berries, and sought in the hedge-sides for some crimson "fairy baths" to carry home; and, at the sight of the amusement Margaret derived from the placing the beauteous little Pezizas in a saucer of damp green moss, so as to hide the brown sticks on which they grew, Ethel took shame to herself for want of perception of little attentions. When she told Norman so, he answered, "There's no one who does see what is the right thing. How horrid the room looks! Everything is nohow!" added he, looking round at the ornaments and things on the tables, which had lost their air of comfort and good taste. It was not disorder, and Ethel could not see what he meant. "What's wrong?" said she."Oh, never mind--you can't do it. Don't try--you'll only make it worse. It will never be the same as long as we live." "I wish you would not be so unhappy!" said Ethel. "Never mind," again said Norman, but he put his arm round her.
"Have you done your Euripides? Can I help you? Will you construe it with me, or shall I look out your words?"
"Thank you, I don't mind that. It is the verses! I want some sense!" said Norman, running his fingers through his hair till it stood on end. "'Tis such a horrid subject, Coral Islands! As if there was anything to be said about them."
He rested listlessly on the sofa while his sister rummaged in a chiffonier. At last she found the article, and eagerly read him the description of the strange forms of the coral animals, and the beauties of their flower-like feelers and branching fabrics. It would once have delighted him, but his first comment was, "Nasty little brutes!" However, the next minute he thanked her, took the book, and said he could hammer something out of it, though it was too bad to give such an unclassical subject. At dusk he left off, saying he should get it done at night, his senses would come then, and he should be glad to sit up.
"Only three weeks to the holidays," said Ethel, trying to be cheerful; but his assent was depressing, and she began to fear that Christmas would only make them more sad.
Mary did not keep Tom's secret so inviolably, but that, while they were dressing for tea, she revealed to Ethel where Harry was gone. He was not yet returned, though his father and Richard were come in, and the sisters were at once in some anxiety on his account, and doubt whether they ought to let papa know of his disobedience.Flora and Ethel, who were the first in the drawing-room, had a consultation. "I should have told mamma directly," said Flora. "He never did so," sighed Ethel; "things never went wrong then." "Oh, yes, they did; don't you remember how naughty Harry was about climbing the wall, and making faces at Mrs. Richardson's servants?" "And how ill I behaved the first day of last Christmas holidays?" "She knew, but I don't think she told papa." "Not that we knew of, but I believe she did tell him everything, and I think,
Flora, he ought to know everything, especially now. I never could bear the way the Mackenzies used to have of thinking their parents must be like enemies, and keeping secrets from them."
"They were always threatening each other, 'I'll tell mamma,'" said Flora, "and calling us tell-tales because we told our own dear mamma everything. But it is not like that now--I neither like to worry papa, nor to bring Harry into disgrace--besides, Tom and Mary meant it for a secret.""Papa would not be angry with him if we told him it was a secret," said Ethel; "I wish Harry would come in. There's the door--oh! it is only you." "Whom did you expect?" said Richard, entering. The sisters looked at each other, and Ethel, after an interval, explained their doubts about Harry. "He is come in," said Richard; "I saw him running up to his own room, very muddy." "Oh, I'm glad! But do you think papa ought to hear it? I don't know what's to be done. 'Tis the children's secret," said Flora. "It will never do to have him going out with those boys continually," said Ethel--"Harvey Anderson close by all the holidays!"
"I'll try what I can do with him," said Richard. "Papa had better not hear it now, at any rate. He is very tired and sad this evening! and his arm is painful again, so we must not worry him with histories of naughtiness among the children.""No," said Ethel decidedly, "I am glad you were there, Ritchie; I never should have thought of one time being better than another." "Just like Ethel!" said Flora, smiling. "Why should not you learn?" said Richard gently. "I can't," said Ethel, in a desponding way.
"Why not? You are much sharper than most people, and, if you tried, you would know those things much better than I do, as you know how to learn history.""It is quite a different sort of cleverness," said Flora. "Recollect Sir Isaac Newton, or Archimedes."
"Then you must have both sorts," said Ethel, "for you can do things nicely, and yet you learn very fast."
"Take care, Ethel, you are singeing your frock! Well, I really don't think you can help those things!" said Flora. "Your short sight is the reason of it, and it is of no use to try to mend it."
"Don't tell her so," said Richard. "It can't be all short sight--it is the not thinking. I do believe that if Ethel would think, no one would do things so well. Don't you remember the beautiful perspective drawing she made of this room for me to take to Oxford? That was very difficult, and wanted a great deal of neatness and accuracy, so why should she not be neat and accurate in other things? And I know you can read faces, Ethel--why don't you look there before you speak?""Ah! before instead of after, when I only see I have said something malapropos," said Ethel. "I must go and see about the children," said Flora; "if the tea comes while I am gone, will you make it, Ritchie?" "Flora despairs of me," said Ethel. "I don't," said Richard. "Have you forgotten how to put in a pin yet?" "No; I hope not." "Well, then, see if you can't learn to make tea; and, by-the-bye, Ethel, which is the next christening Sunday?" "The one after next, surely. The first of December is Monday--yes, to-morrow week is the next."
"Then I have thought of something; it would cost eighteenpence to hire Joliffe's spring-cart, and we might have Mrs. Taylor and the twins brought to church in it. Should you like to walk to Cocksmoor and settle it?""Oh yes, very much indeed. What a capital thought. Margaret said you would know how to manage." "Then we will go the first fine day papa does not want me."
"I wonder if I could finish my purple frocks. But here's the tea. Now, Richard, don't tell me to make it. I should do something wrong, and Flora will never forgive you."
Richard would not let her off. He stood over her, counted her shovelfuls of tea, and watched the water into the teapot--he superintended her warming the cups, and putting a drop into each saucer. "Ah!" said Ethel, with a concluding sigh, "it makes one hotter than double equations!" It was all right, as Flora allowed with a slightly superior smile. She thought Richard would never succeed in making a notable or elegant woman of Ethel, and it was best that the two sisters should take different lines. Flora knew that, though clever and with more accomplishments, she could not surpass Ethel in intellectual attainments, but she was certainly far more valuable in the house, and had been proved to have just the qualities in which her sister was most deficient. She did not relish hearing that Ethel wanted nothing but attention to be more than her equal, and she thought Richard mistaken. Flora's remembrance of their time of distress was less unmixedly wretched than it was with the others, for she knew she had done wonders.
The next day Norman told Ethel that he had got on very well with the verses, and finished them off late at night. He showed them to her before taking them to school on Monday morning, and Ethel thought they were the best he had ever written. There was too much spirit and poetical beauty for a mere schoolboy task, and she begged for the foul copy to show it to her father. "I have not got it," said Norman. "The foul copy was not like these; but when I was writing them out quite late, it was all I don't know how. Flora's music was in my ears, and the room seemed to get larger, and like an ocean cave; and when the candle flickered, 'twas like the green glowing light of the sun through the waves.""As it says here," said Ethel.
"And the words all came to me of themselves in beautiful flowing Latin, just right, as if it was anybody but myself doing it, and they ran off my pen in red and blue and gold, and all sorts of colours; and fine branching zig-zagging stars, like what the book described, only stranger, came dancing and radiating round my pen and the candle. I could hardly believe the verses would scan by daylight, but I can't find a mistake. Do you try them again."
Ethel scanned. "I see nothing wrong," she said, "but it seems a shame to begin scanning Undine's verses, they are too pretty. I wish I could copy them. It must have been half a dream.""I believe it was; they don't seem like my own." "Did you dream afterwards?"
He shivered. "They had got into my head too much; my ears sang like the roaring of the sea, and I thought my feet were frozen on to an iceberg: then came darkness, and sea monsters, and drowning--it was too horrid!" and his face expressed all, and more than all, he said. "But 'tis a quarter to seven--we must go," said he, with a long yawn, and rubbing his eyes. "You are sure they are right, Ethel? Harry, come along."
Ethel thought those verses ought to make a sensation, but all that came of them was a Quam optime, and when she asked Norman if no special notice had been taken of them, he said, in his languid way, "No; only Dr. Hoxton said they were better than usual."
Ethel did not even have the satisfaction of hearing that Mr. Wilmot, happening to meet Dr. May, said to him, "Your boy has more of a poet in him than any that has come in my way. He really sometimes makes very striking verses."
Richard watched for an opportunity of speaking to Harry, which did not at once occur, as the boy spent very little of his time at home, and, as if by tacit consent, he and Norman came in later every evening. At last, on Thursday, in the additional two hours' leisure allowed to the boys, when the studious prepared their tasks, and the idle had some special diversion, Richard encountered him running up to his own room to fetch a newly-invented instrument for projecting stones."I'll walk back to school with you," said Richard. "I mean to run," returned Harry. "Is there so much hurry?" said Richard. "I am sorry for it, for I wanted to speak to you, Harry; I have something to show you."
His manner conveyed that it related to their mother, and the sobering effect was instantaneous. "Very well," said he, forgetting his haste. "I'll come into your room."
The awe-struck, shy, yet sorrowful look on his rosy face showed preparation enough, and Richard's only preface was to say, "It is a bit of a letter that she was in course of writing to Aunt Flora, a description of us all. The letter itself is gone, but here is a copy of it. I thought you would like to read what relates to yourself."
Richard laid before him the sheet of notepaper on which this portion of the letter was written, and left him alone with it, while he set out on the promised walk with Ethel.They found the old woman, Granny Hall, looking like another creature, smoke-dried and withered indeed, but all briskness and animation. "Well! be it you, sir, and the young lady?" "Yes; here we are come to see you again," said Richard. "I hope you are not disappointed that I've brought my sister this time instead of the doctor."
"No, no, sir; I've done with the doctor for this while," said the old woman, to Ethel's great amusement. "He have done me a power of good, and thank him for it heartily; but the young lady is right welcome here--but 'tis a dirty walk for her."
"Never mind that," said Ethel, a little shyly, "I came--where are your grandchildren?"
"Well, 'pon my word! If ever I see! Here!" stepping out to the door, "Polly-Jenny! come in, I say, this moment! Come in, ye bad girls, or I'll give you the stick; I'll break every bone of you, that I will!" all which threats were bawled out in such a good-natured, triumphant voice, and with such a delighted air, that Richard and Ethel could not help laughing.
After a few moments, Polly and Jenny made their appearance, extremely rough and ragged, but compelled by their grandmother to duck down, by way of courtesies, and, with finger in mouth, they stood, too shy to show their delight, as the garments were unfolded; Granny talking so fast that Ethel would never have brought in the stipulation, that the frocks should be worn to school and church, if Richard, in his mild, but steady way, had not brought the old woman to listen to it. She was full of asseverations that they should go; she took them to church sometimes herself, when it was fine weather and they had clothes, and they could say their catechiz as well as anybody already; yes, they should come, that they should, and next Sunday. Ethel promised to be there to introduce them to the chief lady, the president of the Committee, Mrs. Ledwich, and, with a profusion of thanks, they took leave.
They found John Taylor, just come out of the hospital, looking weak and ill, as he smoked his pipe over the fire, his wife bustling about at a great rate, and one of the infants crying. It seemed to be a great relief that they were not come to complain of Lucy, and there were many looks of surprise on hearing what their business really was. Mrs. Taylor thanked them, and appeared not to know whether she was glad or sorry; and her husband, pipe in hand, gazed at the young gentleman as if he did not comprehend the species, since he could not be old enough to be a clergyman.
Richard hoped they would find sponsors by that time; and there Mrs. Taylor gave little hope; it was a bad lot--there was no one she liked to ask to stand, she said, in a dismal voice; but there her husband put in, "I'll find some one if that's all; my missus always thinks nobody can't do nothing."
"To be sure," said the lamentable Mrs. Taylor, "all the elder ones was took to church, and I'm loath the little ones shouldn't; but you see, sir, we are poor people, and it's a long way, and they was set down in the gentleman's register book."
"But you know that is not the same, Mrs. Taylor. Surely Lucy could have told you that, when she went to school."
"Always the old song, missus!" exclaimed her husband. "Thank you kindly, sir
-you have been a good friend to us, and so was Dr. May, when I was up to the hospital, through the thick of his own troubles. I believe you are in the right of it, sir, and thank you. The children shall be ready, and little Jack too, and I'll find gossips, and let 'em christened on Sunday."
"I believe you will be glad of it," said Richard; and he went on to speak of the elder children coming to school on Sunday, thus causing another whining from the wife about distance and bad weather, and no one else going that way. He said the little Halls were coming, but Mrs. Taylor begun saying she disliked their company for the children --granny let them get about so much, and they said bad words. The father again interfered. Perhaps Mr. Wilmot, who acted as chaplain at the hospital, had been talking to him, for he declared at once that they should come; and Richard suggested that he might see them home when he came from church; then, turning to the boy and girl, told them they would meet their sister Lucy, and asked them if they would not like that.
On the whole, the beginning was not inauspicious, though there might be a doubt whether old Mrs. Hall would keep all her promises. Ethel was so much diverted and pleased as to be convinced she would; Richard was a little doubtful as to her power over the wild girls. There could not be any doubt that John Taylor was in earnest, and had been worked upon just at the right moment; but there was danger that the impression would not last. "And his wife in such a horrible whining dawdle!" said Ethel--"there will be no good to be done if it depends on her."
Richard made no answer, and Ethel presently felt remorseful for her harsh speech about a poor ignorant woman, overwhelmed with poverty, children, and weak health."I have been thinking a great deal about what you said last time we took this walk," said Richard, after a considerable interval. "Oh, have you!" cried Ethel eagerly; and the black peaty pond she was looking at seemed to sparkle with sunlight. "Do you really mean it?" said Richard deliberately.
"Yes, to be sure;" she said, with some indignation. "Because I think I see a way to make a beginning, but you must make up your mind to a great deal of trouble, and dirty walks, and you must really learn not to draggle your frock.""Well, well; but tell me." "This is what I was thinking. I don't think I can go back to Oxford after Christmas. It is not fit to leave you while papa is so disabled." "Oh no, he could not get on at all. I heard him tell Mr. Wilmot the other day that you were his right hand."
Ethel was glad she had repeated this, for there was a deepening colour and smiling glow of pleasure on her brother's face, such as she had seldom seen on his delicate, but somewhat impassive features.
"He is very kind!" he said warmly. "No, I am sure I cannot be spared till he is better able to use his arm, and I don't see any chance of that just yet. Then if I stay at home, Friday is always at my own disposal, while papa is at the hospital meeting.""Yes, yes, and we could go to Cocksmoor, and set up a school. How delightful!"
"I don't think you would find it quite so delightful as you fancy," said Richard; "the children will be very wild and ignorant, and you don't like that at the National School."
"Oh, but they are in such need, besides there will be no Mrs. Ledwich over me. It is just right--I shan't mind anything. You are a capital Ritchie, for having thought of it!"
"I don't think--if I am ever to be what I wish, that is, if I can get through at Oxford--I don't think it can be wrong to begin this, if Mr. Ramsden does not object.""Oh, Mr. Ramsden never objects to anything." "And if Mr. Wilmot will come and set us off. You know we cannot begin without that, or without my father's fully liking it." "Oh! there can be no doubt of that!" "This one thing, Ethel, I must stipulate. Don't you go and tell it all out at once to him. I cannot have him worried about our concerns."
"But how--no one can question that this is right. I am sure he won't object." "Stop, Ethel, don't you see, it can't be done for nothing? If we undertake it, we must go on with it, and when I am away it will fall on you and Flora. Well, then, it ought to be considered whether you are old enough and steady enough; and if it can be managed for you to go continually all this way, in this wild place. There will be expense too."
Ethel looked wild with impatience, but could not gainsay these scruples, otherwise than by declaring they ought not to weigh against the good of Cocksmoor."It will worry him to have to consider all this," said Richard, "and it must not be pressed upon him." "No," said Ethel sorrowfully; "but you don't mean to give it up." "You are always in extremes, Ethel. All I want is to find a good time for proposing it." She fidgeted and gave a long sigh. "Mind," said Richard, stopping short, "I'll have nothing to do with it except on condition you are patient, and hold your tongue about it." "I think I can, if I may talk to Margaret." "Oh yes, to Margaret of course. We could not settle anything without her help." "And I know what she will say," said Ethel. "Oh, I am so glad," and she jumped over three puddles in succession. "And, Ethel, you must learn to keep your frock out of the dirt." "I'll do anything, if you'll help me at Cocksmoor."
For the structure that we raise, Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays, Are the blocks which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these,
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.--LONGFELLOW.
When Ethel came home, burning with the tidings of the newly-excited hopes for Cocksmoor, they were at once stopped by Margaret eagerly saying, "Is Richard come in? pray call him;" then on his entrance, "Oh, Richard, would you be so kind as to take this to the bank. I don't like to send it by any one else--it is so much;" and she took from under her pillows a velvet bag, so heavy, that it weighed down her slender white hand."What, he has given you the care of his money?" said Ethel.
"Yes; I saw him turning something out of his waistcoat-pocket into the drawer of the looking-glass, and sighing in that very sad way. He said his fees had come to such an accumulation that he must see about sending them to the bank; and then he told me of the delight of throwing his first fee into dear mamma's lap, when they were just married, and his old uncle had given up to him, and how he had brought them to her ever since; he said she had spoiled him by taking all trouble off his hands. He looked at it, as if it was so sorrowful to him to have to dispose of it, that I begged him not to plague himself any more, but let me see about it, as dear mamma used to do; so he said I was spoiling him too, but he brought me the drawer, and emptied it out here: when he was gone, I packed it up, and I have been waiting to ask Richard to take it all to the bank, out of his sight.""You counted it?" said Richard. "Yes--there's fifty--I kept seventeen towards the week's expenses. Just see that it is right," said Margaret, showing her neat packets.
"Oh, Ritchie," said Ethel, "what can expense signify, when all that has been kicking about loose in an open drawer? What would not one of those rolls do?"
"I think I had better take them out of your way," said Richard quietly. "Am I to bring back the book to you, Margaret?"
"Yes, do," said Margaret; "pray do not tease him with it." And as her brother left the room, she continued, "I wish he was better. I think he is more oppressed now than even at first. The pain of his arm, going on so long, seems to me to have pulled him down; it does not let him sleep, and, by the end of the day, he gets worn and fagged by seeing so many people, and exerting himself to talk and think; and often, when there is something that must be asked, I don't know how to begin, for it seems as if a little more would be too much for him."
"He did not sleep last night, and he is always worse when he does not drive out into the country; the fresh air, and being alone with Richard, are a rest for him. To-day is especially trying; he does not think poor old Mr. Southern will get through the evening, and he is so sorry for the daughter.""Is he there now?"
"Yes; he thought of something that might be an alleviation, and he would go, though he was tired. I am afraid the poor daughter will detain him, and he is not fit to go through such things now."
"No, I hope he will soon come; perhaps Richard will meet him. But, oh, Margaret, what do you think Richard and I have been talking of?" and, without perception of fit times and seasons, Ethel would have told her story, but Margaret, too anxious to attend to her, said, "Hark! was not that his step?" and Dr. May came in, looking mournful and fatigued."Well," said he, "I was just too late. He died as I got there, and I could not leave the daughter till old Mrs. Bowers came." "Poor thing," said Margaret. "He was a good old man."
"Yes," said Dr. May, sitting wearily down, and speaking in a worn-out voice. "One can't lightly part with a man one has seen at church every Sunday of one's life, and exchanged so many friendly words with over his counter. 'Tis a strong bond of neighbourliness in a small place like this, and, as one grows old, changes come heavier--'the clouds return again after the rain.' Thank you, my dear," as Ethel fetched his slippers, and placed a stool for his feet, feeling somewhat ashamed of thinking it an achievement to have, unbidden, performed a small act of attention which would have come naturally from any of the others.
"Papa, you will give me the treat of drinking tea with me?" said Margaret, who saw the quiet of her room would suit him better than the bustle of the children downstairs. "Thank you," as he gave a smile of assent. That Margaret could not be made to listen this evening was plain, and all that Ethel could do, was to search for some books on schools. In seeking for them, she displayed such confusion in the chiffonier, that Flora exclaimed, "Oh, Ethel, how could you leave it so?"
"I was in a hurry, looking for something for Norman. I'll set it to rights," said Ethel, gulping down her dislike of being reproved by Flora, with the thought that mamma would have said the same.
"My dear!" cried Flora presently, jumping up, "what are you doing? piling up those heavy books on the top of the little ones; how do you think they will ever stand? let me do it.""No, no, Flora;" and Richard, in a low voice, gave Ethel some advice, which she received, seated on the floor, in a mood between temper and despair. "He is going to teach her to do it on the principles of gravitation," said Flora.
Richard did not do it himself, but, by his means, Ethel, without being in the least irritated, gave the chiffonier a thorough dusting and setting-to-rights, sorting magazines, burning old catalogues, and finding her own long-lost 'Undine', at which she was so delighted that she would have forgotten all; in proceeding to read it, curled up on the floor amongst the heaps of pamphlets, if another gentle hint from Richard had not made her finish her task so well, as to make Flora declare it was a pleasure to look in, and Harry pronounce it to be all neat and ship-shape.
There was no speaking to Margaret the next morning--it was French day--and Ethel had made strong resolutions to behave better; and whether there were fewer idioms, or that she was trying to understand, instead of carping at the master's explanations, they came to no battle; Flora led the conversation, and she sustained her part with credit, and gained an excellent mark.
Flora said afterwards to Margaret, "I managed nicely for her. I would not let M. Ballompre blunder upon any of the subjects Ethel feels too deeply to talk of in good French, and really Ethel has a great talent for languages. How fast she gets on with Italian!"
"That she does," said Margaret. "Suppose you send her up, Flora--you must want to go and draw or practice, and she may do her arithmetic here, or read to me."
It was the second time Margaret had made this proposal, and it did not please Flora, who had learned to think herself necessary to her sister, and liked to be the one to do everything for her. She was within six weeks of seventeen, and surely she need not be sent down again to the school-room, when she had been so good a manager of the whole family. She was fond of study and of accomplishments, but she thought she might be emancipated from Miss Winter; and it was not pleasant to her that a sister, only eighteen months older, and almost dependant on her, should have authority to dispose of her time."I practise in the evening," she said, "and I could draw here, if I wished, but I have some music to copy."
Margaret was concerned at the dissatisfaction, though not understanding the whole of it: "You know, dear Flora," she said, "I need not take up all your time now.""Don't regret that," said Flora. "I like nothing so well as waiting on you, and I can attend to my own affairs very well here." "I'll tell you why I proposed it," said Margaret. "I think it would be a relief for Ethel to escape from Miss Winter's beloved Friday questions." "Great nonsense they are," said Flora. "Why don't you tell Miss Winter they are of no use?"
"Mamma never interfered with them," said Margaret. "She only kept Ethel in her own hands, and if you would be so kind as to change sometimes and sit in the school-room, we could spare Ethel, without hurting Miss Winter's feelings."
"Well, I'll call Ethel, if you like, but I shall go and practise in the drawingroom. The old school-room piano is fit for nothing but Mary to hammer upon."
Flora went away, evidently annoyed, and Margaret's conjectures on the cause of it were cut short by Ethel running in with a slate in one hand and two books in the other, the rest having all tumbled down on the stairs.
"Oh, Margaret, I am so glad to come to you. Miss Winter has set Mary to read 'To be, or not to be,' and it would have driven me distracted to have stayed there. I have got a most beautiful sum in Compound Proportion, about a lion, a wolf, and a bear eating up a carcase, and as soon as they have done it, you shall hear me say my ancient geography, and then we will do a nice bit of Tasso; and if we have any time after that, I have got such a thing to tell you-only I must not tell you now, or I shall go on talking and not finish my lessons."
It was not till all were done, that Ethel felt free to exclaim, "Now for what I have been longing to tell you--Richard is going to--" But the fates were unpropitious. Aubrey trotted in, expecting to be amused; next came Norman, and Ethel gave up in despair; and, after having affronted Flora in the morning, Margaret was afraid of renewing the offence, by attempting to secure Ethel as her companion for the afternoon; so not till after the walk could Margaret contrive to claim the promised, communication, telling Ethel to come and settle herself cosily by her."I should have been very glad of you last evening," said she, "for papa went to sleep, and my book was out of reach." "Oh, I am sorry; how I pity you, poor Margaret!" "I suppose I have grown lazy," said Margaret, "for I don't mind those things now. I am never sorry for a quiet time to recollect and consider." "It must be like the waiting in the dark between the slides of a magic lantern," said Ethel; "I never like to be quiet. I get so unhappy."
"I am glad of resting and recollecting," said Margaret. "It has all been so like a dream, that merry morning, and then, slowly waking to find myself here in dear mamma's place, and papa watching over me. Sometimes I think I have not half understood what it really is, and that I don't realise, that if I was up and about, I should find the house without her."
"Yes; that is the aching part!" said Ethel. "I am happy, sitting on her bed here with you. You are a little of her, besides being my own dear Peg-top! You are very lucky to miss the mealtimes and the evenings."
"That is the reason I don't feel it wrong to like to have papa sitting with me all the evening," said Margaret, "though it may make it worse for you to have him away. I don't think it selfish in me to keep him. He wants quiet so much, or to talk a little when it suits him; we are too many now, when he is tired."
"Oh, it is best," said Ethel. "Nothing that you do is selfish--don't talk of it, dear Margaret. It will be something like old times when you come down again.""But all this time you are not telling me what I want so much to hear," said Margaret, "about Cocksmoor. I am so glad Richard has taken it up."
"That he has. We are to go every Friday, and hire a room, and teach the children. Once a week will do a great deal, if we can but make them wish to learn. It is a much better plan than mine; for if they care about it, they can come to school here on Sunday."
"It is excellent," said Margaret, "and if he is at home till Easter, it will give it a start, and put you in the way of it, and get you through the short days and dark evenings, when you could not so well walk home without him."
"Yes, and then we can all teach; Flora, and Mary, and you, when you are well again. Richard says it will be disagreeable, but I don't think so--they are such unsophisticated people. That Granny Hall is such a funny old woman; and the whole place wants nothing but a little care, to do very well.""You must prepare for disappointments, dear Ethel." "I know; I know nothing is done without drawbacks; but I am so glad to make some beginning."
"So am I. Do you know, mamma and I were one day talking over those kind of things, and she said she had always regretted that she had so many duties at home, that she could not attend as much to the poor as she would like; but she hoped now we girls were growing up, we should be able to do more."Did she?" was all Ethel said, but she was deeply gratified. "I've been wanting to tell you. I knew you would like to hear it. It seems to set us to work so happily."
"I only wish we could begin," said Ethel, "but Richard is so slow! Of course we can't act without papa's consent and Mr. Wilmot's help, and he says papa must not be worried about it, he must watch for his own time to speak about it.""Yes" said Margaret.
I know--I would not have it otherwise; but what is tiresome is this. Richard is very good, but he is so dreadfully hard to stir up, and what's worse, so very much afraid of papa, that while he is thinking about opportunities, they will all go by, and then it will be Easter, and nothing done!"
"He is not so much afraid of papa as he was," said Margaret. "He has felt himself useful and a comfort, and papa is gentler; and that has cheered him out of the desponding way that kept him back from proposing anything.""Perhaps," said Ethel; "but I wish it was you. Can't you? you always know how to manage."
"No; it is Richard's affair, and he must do as he thinks fit. Don't sigh, dear Ethel--perhaps he may soon speak, and, if not, you can be preparing in a quiet way all the time. Don't you remember how dear mamma used to tell us that things, hastily begun, never turn out well?"
"But this is not hasty. I've been thinking about it these six weeks," said Ethel. "If one does nothing but think, it is all no better than a vision. I want to be doing."
"Well, you can be doing--laying a sound foundation," said Margaret. "The more you consider, and the wiser you make yourself, the better it will be when you do set to work."
"I don't know that I was exactly thinking of that," said Margaret, "but that ought to be the way. If we are not just the thing in our niche at home, I don't think we can do much real good elsewhere."
"It would be hollow, show-goodness," said Ethel. "Yes, that is true; and it comes across me now, and then what a horrid wretch I am, to be wanting to undertake so much, when I leave so much undone. But, do you know, Margaret, there's no one such a help in those ways as Richard. Though he is so precise, he is never tiresome. He makes me see things, and do them neatly, without plaguing me, and putting me in a rage. I'm not ready to bite off my own fingers, or kick all the rattle-traps over and leave them, as I am when Miss Winter scolds me, or nurse, or even Flora sometimes; but it is as if I was gratifying him, and his funny little old bachelor tidyisms divert me; besides, he teaches me the theory, and never lays hold of my poor fingers, and, when they won't bend the wrong way, calls them frogs."
"He is a capital master for you," said Margaret, much amused and pleased, for Richard was her especial darling, and she triumphed in any eulogy from those who ordinarily were too apt to regard his dullness with superior compassion.
"If he would only read our books, and enter into poetry and delight in it; but it is all nonsense to him," said Ethel. "I can't think how people can be so different; but, oh! here he comes. Ritchie, you should not come upon us before we are aware.""What? I should have heard no good of myself?" "Great good," said Margaret--"she was telling me you would make a neathanded woman of her in time." "I don't see why she should not be as neat as other people," said Richard gravely. "Has she been telling you our plan?"
And it was again happily discussed; Ethel, satisfied by finding him fully set upon the design, and Margaret giving cordial sympathy and counsel. When Ethel was called away, Margaret said, "I am so glad you have taken it up, not only for the sake of Cocksmoor, but of Ethel. It is good for her not to spend her high soul in dreams."
"I am afraid she does not know what she undertakes," said Richard. "She does not; but you will keep her from being turned back. It is just the thing to prevent her energies from running to waste, and her being so much with you, and working under you, is exactly what one would have chosen."
"By contraries!" said Richard, smiling. "That is what I was afraid of. I don't half understand or follow her, and when I think a thing nonsense, I see you all calling it very fine, and I don't know what to make of it--""You are making yourself out more dull than you are," said Margaret affectionately.
"I know I am stupid, and seem tame and cold," said Richard, "and you are the only one that does not care about it. That is what makes me wish Norman was the eldest. If I were as clever as he, I could do so much with Ethel, and be so much more to papa."
"No, you would not. You would have other things in your head. You would not be the dear, dear old Ritchie that you are. You would not be a calm, cautious, steady balance to the quicksilver heads some of us have got. No, no, Norman's a very fine fellow, a very dear fellow, but he would not do half so well for our eldest--he is too easily up, and down again."
"And I am getting into my old way of repining," said Richard. "I don't mind so much, since my father has at least one son to be proud of, and I can be of some use to him now."
"Of the greatest, and to all of us. I am so glad you can stay after Christmas, and papa was pleased at your offering, and said he could not spare you at all, though he would have tried, if it had been any real advantage to you.""Well, I hope he will approve. I must speak to him as soon as I can find him with his mind tolerably disengaged."
The scene that ensued that evening in the magic lantern before Margaret's bed, did not promise much for the freedom of her father's mind. Harry entered with a resolute manner. "Margaret, I wanted to speak to you," said he, spreading himself out, with an elbow on each arm of the chair. "I want you to speak to papa about my going to sea. It is high time to see about it--I shall be thirteen on the fourth of May.""And you mean it seriously, Harry?" "Yes, of course I do, really and truly; and if it is to come to pass, it is time to take measures. Don't you see, Margaret?"
"It is time, as you say," answered Margaret reflectingly, and sadly surveying the bright boy, rosy cheeked, round faced, and blue eyed, with the childish gladsomeness of countenance, that made it strange that his lot in life should be already in the balance.
"I know what you will all tell me, that it is a hard life, but I must get my own living some way or other, and I should like that way the best," said he earnestly."Should you like to be always far from home?"
"I should come home sometimes, and bring such presents to Mary, and baby, and all of you; and I don't know what else to be, Margaret. I should hate to be a doctor--I can't abide sick people; and I couldn't write sermons, so I can't be a clergyman; and I won't be a lawyer, I vow, for Harvey Anderson is to be a lawyer--so there's nothing left but soldiers and sailors, and I mean to be a sailor!""Well, Harry, you may do your duty, and try to do right, if you are a sailor, and that is the point." "Ay, I was sure you would not set your face against it, now you know Alan Ernescliffe." "If you were to be like him--" Margaret found herself blushing, and broke off. "Then you will ask papa about it?"
"You had better do so yourself. Boys had better settle such serious affairs with their fathers, without setting their sisters to interfere. What's the matter, Harry--you are not afraid to speak to papa?"
"Only for one thing," said Harry. "Margaret, I went out to shoot pee- wits last Saturday with two fellows, and I can't speak to papa while that's on my mind.""Then you had better tell him at once." "I knew you would say so; but it would be like a girl, and it would be telling of the two fellows." "Not at all; papa would not care about them."
"You see," said Harry, twisting a little, "I knew I ought not; but they said I was afraid of a gun, and that I had no money. Now I see that was chaff, but I didn't then, and Norman wasn't there."
"I am so glad you have told me all this, Harry dear, for I knew you had been less at home of late, and I was almost afraid you were not going on quite well."
"That's what it is," said Harry. "I can't stand things at all, and I can't go moping about as Norman does. I can't live without fun, and now Norman isn't here, half the time it turns to something I am sorry for afterwards."
"I am afraid," said Margaret, smiling, "that would not make much difference inside, though it might outside. You must get the self- control, and leave off being afraid to be said to be afraid."
Harry fidgeted. "I should start fresh, and be out of the way of the Andersons," he said. "That Anderson junior is a horrid fellow--he spites Norman, and he bullied me, till I was big enough to show him that it would not do--and though I am so much younger, he is afraid of me. He makes up to me, and tries to get me into all the mischief that is going.""And you know that, and let him lead you? Oh, Harry!" "I don't let him lead me," said Harry indignantly, "but I won't have them say I can't do things."
Margaret laughed, and Harry presently perceived what she meant, but instead of answering, he began to boast, "There never was a May in disgrace yet, and there never shall be."
"That is a thing to be very thankful for," said Margaret, "but you know there may be much harm without public disgrace. I never heard of one of the Andersons being in disgrace yet."
"No--shabby fellows, that just manage to keep fair with old Hoxton, and make a show," said Harry. "They look at translations, and copy old stock verses. Oh, it was such fun the other day. What do you think? Norman must have been dreaming, for he had taken to school, by mistake, Richard's old Gradus that Ethel uses, and there were ever so many rough copies of hers sticking in it.""Poor Ethel! What consternation she would be in! I hope no one found it out."
"Why, Anderson junior was gaping about in despair for sense for his verses-he comes on that, and slyly copies a whole set of her old ones, done when she--Norman, I mean--was in the fifth form. His subject was a river, and hers Babylon; but, altering a line or two, it did just as well. He never guessed I saw him, and thought he had done it famously. He showed them up, and would have got some noted good mark, but that, by great good luck, Ethel had made two of her pentameters too short, which he hadn't the wit to find out, thinking all Norman did must be right. So he has shown up a girl's verses-- isn't that rare?" cried Harry, dancing on his chair with triumph."I hope no one knows they were hers?"
"Bless you, no!" said Harry, who regarded Ethel's attainments as something contraband. "D'ye think I could tell? No, that's the only pity, that he can't hear it; but, after all, I don't care for anything he does, now I know he has shown up a girl's verses.""Are these verses of poor Ethel's safe at home?" "Yes, I took care of that. Mind you don't tell anyone, Margaret; I never told even Norman." "But all your school-fellows aren't like these? You have Hector Ernescliffe."
"He's a nice fellow enough, but he is little, and down in the school. 'Twould be making a fourth form of myself to be after him. The fact is, Margaret, they are a low, ungentlemanly lot just now, about sixth and upper fifth form," said Harry, lowering his voice into an anxious confidential tone; "and since Norman has been less amongst them, they've got worse; and you see, now home is different, and he isn't like what he was, I'm thrown on them, and I want to get out of it. I didn't know that was it before, but Richard showed me what set me on thinking of it, and I see she knew all about it."
"That she did! There is a great deal in what you say, Harry, but you know she thought nothing would be of real use but changing within. If you don't get a root of strength in yourself, your ship will be no better to you than school-there will be idle midshipmen as well as idle school-boys.""Yes, I know," said Harry; "but do you think papa will consent? She would not have minded." "I can't tell. I should think he would; but if any scheme is to come to good, it must begin by your telling him of the going out shooting."
Harry sighed. "I'd have done it long ago if she was here," he said. "I never did anything so bad before without telling, and I don't like it at all. It seems to come between him and me when I wish him good- night.""Then, Harry, pray do tell him. You'll have no comfort if you don't."
"I know I shan't; but then he'll be so angry! And, do you know, Margaret, 'twas worse than I told you, for a covey of partridges got up, and unluckily I had got the gun, and I fired and killed one, and that was regular poaching, you know! And when we heard some one coming, how we did cut! Ax--the other fellow, I mean, got it, and cooked it in his bedroom, and ate it for supper; and he laughs about it, but I have felt so horrid all the week! Suppose a keeper had got a summons!""I can only say again, the only peace will be in telling."
"Yes; but he will be so angry. When that lot of fellows a year or two ago did something like it, and shot some of the Abbotstoke rabbits, don't you remember how much he said about its being disgraceful, and ordering us never to have anything to do with their gunnery? And he will think it so very bad to have gone out on a lark just now! Oh, I wish I hadn't done it.""So do I, indeed, Harry! but I am sure, even it he should be angry at first, he will he pleased with your confessing."
Harry looked very reluctant and disconsolate, and his sister did not wonder for Dr. May's way of hearing of a fault was never to be calculated on. "Come, Harry," said she, "if he is ever so angry, though I don't think he will be, do you think that will be half as bad as this load at your heart? Besides, if you are not bold enough to speak to him, do you think you can ever be brave enough for a sailor?"
"I will," said Harry, and the words were hardly spoken, before his father's hand was on the door. He was taken by surprise at the moment of trial coming so speedily, and had half a mind to retreat by the other door; he was stayed by the reflection that Margaret would think him a coward, unfit for a sailor, and he made up his mind to endure whatever might betide."Harry here? This is company I did not expect." "Harry has something to say to you, papa." "Eh! my boy, what is it?" said he kindly.
"Papa, I have killed a partridge. Two fellows got me to hire a gun, and go out shooting with them last Saturday," said Harry, speaking firmly and boldly now he had once begun. "We meant only to go after pee-wits, but a partridge got up, and I killed it."
Then came a pause. Harry stopped, and Dr. May waited, half expecting to hear that the boy was only brought to confession by finding himself in a scrape. Margaret spoke. "And he could not be happy till he had told you."
"Is it so? Is that the whole?" said the doctor, looking at his son with a keen glance, between affection and inquiry, as if only waiting to be sure the confession was free, before he gave his free forgiveness.
"Yes, papa," said Harry, his voice and lip losing their firmness, as the sweetness of expression gained the day on his father's face. "Only that I know--'twas very wrong--especially now--and I am very sorry--and I beg your pardon."
The latter words came between sighs, fast becoming sobs, in spite of Harry's attempts to control them, as his father held out his arm, and drew him close to him.
"That's mamma's own brave boy," he said in his ear--in a voice which strong feeling had reduced to such a whisper, that even Margaret could not hear-she only saw how Harry, sobbing aloud, clung tighter and tighter to him, till he said "Take care of my arm!" and Harry sprang back at least a yard, with such a look of dismay, that the doctor laughed. "No harm done!" said he. "I was only a little in dread of such a young lion! Comeback, Harry," and he took his hand. "It was a bad piece of work, and it will never do for you to let yourself be drawn into every bit of mischief that is on foot; I believe I ought to give you a good lecture on it, but I can't do it, after such a straightforward confession. You must have gone through enough in the last week, not to be likely to do it again.""Yes, papa--thank you." "I suppose I must not ask you any questions about it, for fear of betraying the fellows," said Dr. May, half smiling.
"Thank you, papa," said Harry, infinitely relieved and grateful, and quite content for some space to lean in silence against the chair, with that encircling arm round him, while some talk passed between his father and Margaret.
What a world of thought passed through the boy's young soul in that space! First, there was a thrill of intense, burning love to his father, scarcely less fondness to his sweet motherly sister; a clinging feeling to every chair and table of that room, which seemed still full of his mother's presence; a numbering over of all the others with ardent attachment, and a flinging from him with horror the notion of asking to be far away from that dearest father, that loving home, that arm that was round him. Anything rather than be without them in the dreary world! But then came the remembrance of cherished visions, the shame of relinquishing a settled purpose, the thought of weary morrows, with the tempters among his playmates, and his home blank and melancholy; and the roaming spirit of enterprise stirred again, and reproached him with being a baby, for fancying he could stay at home for ever. He would come back again with such honours as Allan Ernescliffe had brought, and oh! if his father so prized them in a stranger, what would it be in his own son? Come home to such a greeting as would make up for the parting! Harry's heart throbbed again for the boundless sea, the tall ship, and the wondrous foreign climes, where he had so often lived in fancy. Should he, could he speak: was this the moment? and he stood gazing at the fire, oppressed with the weighty reality of deciding his destiny. At last Dr. May looked in his face, "Well, what now, boy? You have your head full of something--what's coming next?"Out it came, "Papa will you let me be a sailor?" "Oh!" said Dr. May, "that is come on again, is it? I thought that you had forgotten all that."
"No, papa," said Harry, with the manly coolness that the sense of his determination gave him--"it was not a mere fancy, and I have never had it out of my head. I mean it quite in earnest--I had rather be a sailor. I don't wish to get away from Latin and Greek, I don't mind them; but I think I could be a better sailor than anything. I know it is not all play, but I am willing to rough it; and I am getting so old, it is time to see about it, so will you consent to it, papa?""Well! there's some sense in your way of putting it," said Dr. May. "You have it strong in your head then, and you know 'tis not all fair-weather work!"
"That I do; Alan told me histories, and I've read all about it; but one must rough it anywhere, and if I am ever so far away, I'll try not to forget what's right. I'll do my duty, and not care for danger.""Well said, my man; but remember 'tis easier talking by one's own fireside than doing when the trial comes." "And will you let me, papa?"
"I'll think about it. I can't make up my mind as 'quick as directly,' you know, Harry," said his father, smiling kindly, "but I won't treat it as a boy's fancy, for you've spoken in a manly way, and deserve to be attended to. Now run down, and tell the girls to put away their work, for I shall come down in a minute to read prayers."
Harry went, and his father sighed and mused! "That's a fine fellow! So this is what comes of bringing sick sailors home--one's own boys must be catching the infection. Little monkey, he talks as wisely as if he were forty! He is really set on it, do you think, Margaret? I'm afraid so!""I think so," said Margaret; "I don't think he ever has it out of his mind!" "And when the roving spirit once lays hold of a lad, he must have his way--he is good for nothing else," said Dr. May.
"I suppose a man may keep from evil in that profession as well as in any other," said Margaret.
"Aha! you are bit too, are you?" said the doctor; "'tis the husbandman and viper, is it?" Then his smile turned into a heavy sigh, as he saw he had brought colour to Margaret's pale cheek, but she answered calmly, "Dear mamma did not think it would be a bad thing for him."
"I wish he had chosen something else; but--" and Margaret thought it right to lay before her father some part of what he had said of the temptations of the school at Stoneborough. The doctor listened and considered at last he rose, and said, "Well, I'll set Ritchie to write to Ernescliffe, and hear what he says. What must be, must be. 'Tis only asking me to give up the boy, that's all;" and as he left the room, his daughter again heard his sigh and half-uttered words, "Oh, Maggie, Maggie!"
Would rouse adventurous courage in a boy, And make him long to be a mariner, That he might rove the main.--SOUTHEY.
Etheldred had the satisfaction of seeing the Taylors at school on Sunday, but no Halls made their appearance, and, on inquiry, she was told, "Please ma'am, they said they would not come;" so Ethel condemned Granny Hall as "a horrid, vile, false, hypocritical old creature! It was no use having anything more to do with her.""Very well," said Richard; "then I need not speak to my father." "Ritchie now! you know I meant no such thing!" "You know, it is just what will happen continually."
"Of course there will be failures, but this is so abominable, when they had those nice frocks, and those two beautiful eighteen-penny shawls! There are three shillings out of my pound thrown away!""Perhaps there was some reason to prevent them. We will go and see."
"We shall only hear some more palavering. I want to have no more to say to
-" but here Ethel caught herself up, and began to perceive what a happiness it was that she had not the power of acting on her own impulses.
The twins and their little brother of two years old were christened in the afternoon, and Flora invited the parents to drink tea in the kitchen, and visit Lucy, while Ethel and Mary each carried a baby upstairs to exhibit to Margaret.
Richard, in the meantime, had a conversation with John Taylor, and learned a good deal about the district, and the number of the people. At tea, he began to rehearse his information, and the doctor listened with interest, which put Ethel in happy agitation, believing that the moment was come, and Richard seemed to be only waiting for the conclusion of a long tirade against those who ought to do something for the place, when behold! Blanche was climbing on her father's knee, begging for one of his Sunday stories.
Etheldred was cruelly disappointed, and could not at first rejoice to see her father able again to occupy himself with his little girl. The narration, in his low tones, roused her from her mood of vexation. It was the story of David, which he told in language scriptural and poetical, so pretty and tender in its simplicity, that she could not choose but attend. Ever and anon there was a glance towards Harry, as if he were secretly likening his own "yellow-haired laddie" to the "shepherd boy, ruddy, and of a fair countenance.""So Tom and Blanche," he concluded, "can you tell me how we may be like the shepherd-boy, David?" "There aren't giants now," said Tom. "Wrong is a giant," said his little sister. "Right, my white May-flower, and what then?" "We are to fight," said Tom. "Yes, and mind, the giant with all his armour may be some great thing we have to do: but what did David begin with when he was younger?" "The lion and the bear."
"Ay, and minding his sheep. Perhaps little things, now you are little children, may be like the lion and the bear--so kill them off-- get rid of them--cure yourself of whining or dawdling, or whatever it be, and mind your sheep well," said he, smiling sweetly in answer to the children's earnest looks as they caught his meaning, "and if you do, you will not find it near so hard to deal with your great giant struggle when it comes."
Ah! thought Ethel, it suits me as well as the children. I have a great giant on Cocksmoor, and here I am, not allowed to attack him, because, perhaps, I am not minding my sheep, and letting my lion and my bear run loose about the house.
She was less impatient this week, partly from the sense of being on probation, and partly because she, in common with all the rest, was much engrossed with Harry's fate. He came home every day at dinner- time with Norman to ask if Alan Ernescliffe's letter had come; and at length Mary and Tom met them open-mouthed with the news that Margaret had it in her room.
Thither they hastened. Margaret held it out with a smile of congratulation. "Here it is, Harry; papa said you were to have it, and consider it well, and let him know, when you had taken time. You must do it soberly. It is once for all."
Harry's impetuosity was checked, and he took the letter quietly. His sister put her hand on his shoulder, "Would you mind my kissing you, dear Harry?" and as he threw his arms round her neck, she whispered, "Pray that you may choose right."
He went quietly away, and Norman begged to know what had been Alan Ernescliffe's advice.
"I can scarcely say he gave any direct advice," said Margaret; "He would not have thought that called for. He said, no doubt there were hardships and temptations, more or less, according to circumstances; but weighing one thing with another, he thought it gave as fair a chance of happiness as other professions, and the discipline and regularity had been very good for himself, as well as for many others he had known. He said, when a man is willing to go wrong there is much to help him, but when he is resolved on doing right, he need not be prevented.""That is what you may say of anything," said Norman.
"Just so; and it answered papa's question, whether it was exposing Harry to more temptation than he must meet with anywhere. That was the reason it was such a comfort to have anyone to write to, who understands it so well.""Yes, and knows Harry's nature."
"He said he had been fortunate in his captains, and had led, on the whole, a happy life at sea; and he thought if it was so with him, Harry was likely to enjoy it more, being of a hardy adventurous nature, and a sailor from choice, not from circumstances.""Then he advised for it? I did not think he would; you know he will not let Hector be a sailor."
"He told me he thought only a strong natural bent that way made it desirable, and that he believed Hector only wished it from imitation of him. He said too, long ago, that he thought Harry cut out for a sailor.
"A spirited fellow!" said Norman, with a look of saddened pride and approval, not at all like one so near the same age. "He is up to anything, afraid of nothing, he can lick any boy in the school already. It will be worse than ever without him!"
"Yes, you will miss your constant follower. He has been your shadow ever since he could walk. But there's the clock, I must not keep you any longer; good-bye, Norman."
Harry gave his brother the letter as soon as they were outside the house, and, while he read it, took his arm and guided him. "Well," said Norman as he finished.
"It is all right," said Harry; and the two brothers said no more; there was something rising up in their throats at the thought that they had very few more walks to take together to Bishop Whichcote's school; Norman's heart was very full at the prospect of another vacancy in his home, and Harry's was swelling between the ardour of enterprise and the thought of bidding goodbye to each familiar object, and, above all, to the brother who had been his model and admiration from babyhood."June!" at length he broke out, "I wish you were going too. I should not mind it half so much if you were." "Nonsense, Harry! you want to be July after June all your life, do you? You'll be much more of a man without me."
That evening Dr. May called Harry into his study to ask him if his mind was made up; he put the subject fairly before him, and told him not to be deterred from choosing what he thought would be for the best by any scruples about changing his mind. "We shall not think a bit the worse of you; better now, than too late."There was that in his face and tone that caused Harry to say, in a stifled voice, "I did not think you would care so much, papa; I won't go, if you do."
Dr. May put his hand on his shoulder, and was silent. Harry felt a strange mixture of hope and fear, joy and grief, disappointment and relief. "You must not give it up on that account, my dear," he said at length; "I should not let you see this, if it did not happen at a time when I can't command myself as I ought. If you were an only son, it might be your duty to stay; being one of many, 'tis nonsense to make a rout about parting with you. If it is better for you, it is better for all of us; and we shall do very well when you are once fairly gone. Don't let that influence you for a moment."Harry paused, not that he doubted, but he was collecting his energies--"Then, papa, I choose the navy."
"Then it is done, Harry. You have chosen in a dutiful, unselfish spirit, and I trust it will prosper with you; for I am sure your father's blessing--aye, and your mother's too, go with you! Now then," after a pause, "go and call Richard. I want him to write to Ernescliffe about that naval school. You must take your leave of the Whichcote foundation on Friday. I shall go and give Dr. Hoxton notice tomorrow, and get Tom's name down instead."
And when the name of Thomas May was set down, Dr. Hoxton expressed his trust that it would pass through the school as free from the slightest blemish as those of Richard, Norman, and Harry May.
Now that Harry's destiny was fixed, Ethel began to think of Cocksmoor again, and she accomplished another walk there with Richard, Flora, and Mary, to question Granny Hall about the children's failure.
The old woman's reply was a tissue of contradictions: the girls were idle hussies, all contrary: they plagued the very life out of her, and she represented herself as using the most frightful threats, if they would not go to school. Breaking every bone in their skin was the least injury she promised them; till Mary, beginning to think her a cruel old woman, took hold of her brother's coat-tails for protection.
"But I am afraid, Mrs. Hall," said Richard, in that tone which might be either ironical or simple, "if you served them so, they would never be able to get to school at all, poor things.""Bless you, sir, d'ye think I'd ever lay a finger near them; it's only the way one must talk to children, you see," said she, patronising his inexperience.
"Perhaps they have found that out," said Richard. Granny looked much entertained, and laughed triumphantly and shrewdly, "ay, ay, that they have, the lasses--they be sharp enough for anything, that they be. Why, when I tell little Jenny that there's the black man coming after her, what does she do but she ups and says, 'Granny, I know 'tis only the wind in the chimney.'"
"Then I don't think it seems to answer," said Richard. "Just suppose you were to try for once, really punishing them when they won't obey you, perhaps they would do it next time.""Why, sir, you see I don't like to take the stick to them; they've got no mother, you see, sir." Mary thought her a kind grandmother, and came out from behind her brother. "I think it would be kinder to do it for once. What do you think they will do as they grow older, if you don't keep them in order when they are little?"
This was foresight beyond Granny Hall, who began to expatiate on the troubles she had undergone in their service, and the excellence of Sam. There was certainly a charm in her manners, for Ethel forgot her charge of ingratitude, the other sisters were perfectly taken with her, nor could they any of them help giving credence to her asseverations that Jenny and Polly should come to school next Sunday.
They soon formed another acquaintance; a sharp-faced woman stood in their path, with a little girl in her hand, and arrested them with a low curtsey, and not a very pleasant voice, addressing herself to Flora, who was quite as tall as Richard, and appeared the person of most consequence.
"If you please, miss, I wanted to speak to you. I have got a little girl here, and I want to send her to school, only I have no shoes for her." "Why, surely, if she can run about here on the heath, she can go to school," said Flora.
"Oh! but there is all the other children to point at her. The poor thing would be daunted, you see, miss; if I could but get some friend to give her a pair of shoes, I'd send her in a minute. I want her to get some learning; as I am always saying, I'd never keep her away, if I had but got the clothes to send her in. I never lets her be running on the common, like them Halls, as it's a shame to see them in nice frocks, as Mrs. Hall got by going hypercriting about.""What is your name?" said Richard, cutting her short.
"Watts, if you please, sir; we heard there was good work up here, sir, and so we came; but I'd never have set foot in it if I had known what a dark heathenish place it is, with never a Gospel minister to come near it," and a great deal more to the same purpose.
Mary whispered to Flora something about having outgrown her boots, but Flora silenced her by a squeeze of the hand, and the two friends of Cocksmoor felt a good deal puzzled.
At last Flora said, "You will soon get her clothed if she comes regularly to school on Sundays, for she will be admitted into the club; I will recommend her if she has a good character and comes regularly. Good-morning, Mrs. Watts. Now we must go, or it will be dark before we get home." And they walked hastily away."Horrid woman!" was Ethel's exclamation. "But Flora," said innocent Mary, "why would you not let me give the little girl my boots?" "Perhaps I may, if she is good and comes to school, said Flora. "I think Margaret ought to settle what you do with your boots," said Richard, not much to Flora's satisfaction. "It is the same," she said. "If I approve, Margaret will not object." "How well you helped us out, Flora," said Ethel; "I did not know in the least what to say."
"It will be the best way of testing her sincerity, said Flora; and at least it will do the child good; but I congratulate you on the promising aspect of Cocksmoor."
"We did not expect to find a perfect place," said Ethel; "if it were, it would be of no use to go to it."
Ethel could answer with dignity, but her heart sank at the aspect of what she had undertaken. She knew there would be evil, but she had expected it in a more striking and less disagreeable form.
That walk certainly made her less impatient, though it did not relax her determination, nor the guard over her lion and bear, which her own good feeling, aided by Margaret's council, showed her were the greatest hindrances to her doing anything good and great.
Though she was obliged to set to work so many principles and reflections to induce herself to wipe a pen, or to sit straight on her chair, that it was like winding up a steam-engine to thread a needle; yet the work was being done-she was struggling with her faults, humbled by them, watching them, and overcoming them.
Flora, meanwhile, was sitting calmly down in the contemplation of the unexpected services she had rendered, confident that her character for energy and excellence was established, believing it herself, and looking back on her childish vanity and love of domineering as long past and conquered. She thought her grown-up character had begun, and was too secure to examine it closely.
One thing is wanting in the beamy cup
Of my young life! one thing to be poured in;
Ay, and one thing is wanting to fill up
The measure of proud joy, and make it sin.--F. W. F.
Hopes that Dr. May would ever have his mind free, seemed as fallacious as mamma's old promise to Margaret, to make doll's clothes for her whenever there should be no live dolls to be worked for in the nursery.
Richard and Ethel themselves had their thoughts otherwise engrossed. The last week before the holidays was an important one. There was an examination, by which the standing of the boys in the school was determined, and this time it was of more than ordinary importance, as the Randall scholarship of 100 a year for three years would be open in the summer to the competition of the first six boys. Richard had never come within six of the top, but had been past at every examination by younger boys, till his father could bear it no longer; and now Norman was too young to be likely to have much chance of being of the number. There were eight decidedly his seniors, and Harvey Anderson, a small, quick-witted boy, half a year older, who had entered school at the same time, and had always been one step below him, had, in the last three months, gained fast upon him.
Harry, however, meant Norman to be one of the six, and declared all the fellows thought he would be, except Andersen's party. Mr. Wilmot, in a call on Ethel and Flora, told them that he thought their brother had a fair chance, but he feared he was over-working himself, and should tell the doctor so, whenever he could catch him; but this was difficult, as there was a great deal of illness just then, and he was less at home than usual.
All this excited the home party, but Norman only seemed annoyed by talk about it, and though always with a book in his hand, was so dreamy and listless, that Flora declared that there was no fear of his doing too much--she thought he would fail for want of trying."I mean to try," said Norman; "say no more about it, pray."
The great day was the 20th of December, and Ethel ran out, as the boys went to school, to judge of Norman's looks, which were not promising. "No wonder," said Harry, since he had stayed up doing Euripides and Cicero the whole length of a candle that had been new at bedtime. "But never mind, Ethel, if he only beats Anderson, I don't care for anything else.""Oh, it will be unbearable if he does not! Do try, Norman, dear."
"Never you mind." "He'll light up at the last moment," said Ethel, consolingly, to Harry; but she was very uneasy herself, for she had set her heart on his surpassing Harvey Anderson. No more was heard all day. Tom went at dinner-time to see if he could pick up any news; but he was shy, or was too late, and gained no intelligence. Dr. May and Richard talked of going to hear the speeches and viva voce examination in the afternoon--objects of great interest to all Stoneborough men--but just as they came home from a long day's work, Dr. May was summoned to the next town, by an electric telegraph, and, as it was to a bad case, he did not expect to be at home till the mail-train came in at one o'clock at night. Richard begged to go with him, and he consented, unwillingly, to please Margaret, who could not bear to think of his "fending for himself" in the dark on the rail-road.
Very long did the evening seem to the listening sisters. Eight, and no tidings; nine, the boys not come; Tom obliged to go to bed by sheer sleepiness, and Ethel unable to sit still, and causing Flora demurely to wonder at her fidgeting so much, it would be so much better to fix her attention to some employment; while Margaret owned that Flora was right, but watched, and started at each sound, almost as anxiously as Ethel.
It was ten, when there was a sharp pull at the bell, and down flew the sisters; but old James was beforehand, and Harry was exclaiming, "Dux! James, he is Dux! Hurrah! Flossy, Ethel, Mary! There stands the Dux of Stoneborough! Where's papa?""Sent for to Whitford. But oh! Norman, Dux! Is he really?"
"To be sure, but I must tell Margaret," and up he rushed, shouted the news to her, but could not stay for congratulation; broke Tom's slumber by roaring it in his ear, and dashed into the nursery, where nurse for once forgave him for waking the baby. Norman, meanwhile, followed his eager sisters into the drawing-room, putting up his hand as if the light dazzled him, and looking, by no means, as it he had just achieved triumphant success.Ethel paused in her exultation: "But is it, is it true, Norman?" "Yes," he said wearily, making his way to his dark corner. "But what was it for? How is it?" "I don't know," he answered. "What's the matter?" said Flora. "Are you tired, Norman, dear, does your head ache?"
"Yes;" and the pain was evidently severe. "Won't you come to Margaret?" said Ethel, knowing what was the greater suffering; but he did not move, and they forbore to torment him with questions. The next moment Harry came down in an ecstacy, bringing in, from the hall, Norman's beautiful prize books, and showing off their Latin inscription.
"Ah!" said he, looking at his brother, "he is regularly done for. He ought to turn in at once. That Everard is a famous fellow for an examiner. He said he never had seen such a copy of verses sent up by a school-boy, and could hardly believe June was barely sixteen. Old Hoxton says he is the youngest Dux they have had these fifty years that he has known the school, and Mr. Wilmot said 'twas the most creditable examination he had ever known, and that I might tell papa so. What did possess that ridiculous old landlubber at Whitford, to go and get on the sick-list on this, of all the nights of the year? June, how can you go on sitting there, when you know you ought to be in your berth?""I wish he was," said Flora, "but let him have some tea first." "And tell us more, Harry," said Ethel. "Oh! it is famous! I knew he would come light at last. It is too delightful, if papa was but here!" "Isn't it? You should have seen how Anderson grinned--he is only fourth-down below Forder, and Cheviot, and Ashe." "Well, I did not think Norman would have been before Forder and Cheviot. That is grand."
"It was the verses that did it," said Harry; "they had an hour to do Themistocles on the hearth of Admetus, and there he beat them all to shivers. 'Twas all done smack, smooth, without a scratch, in Alcaics, and Cheviot heard Wilmot saving, 'twas no mere task, but had poetry, and all that sort of thing in it. But I don't know whether that would have done, if he had not come out so strong in the recitation; they put him on in Priam's speech to Achilles, and he said it--Oh it was too bad papa did not hear him! Every one held their breath and listened."
"How you do go on!" muttered Norman; but no one heeded, and Harry continued. "He construed a chorus in Sophocles without a blunder, but what did the business was this, I believe. They asked all manner of out-of-the-way questions--history and geography, what no one expected, and the fellows who read nothing they can help, were thoroughly posed. Forder had not a word to say, and the others were worse, for Cheviot thought Queen Elizabeth's Earl of Leicester was Simon de Montfort; and didn't know when that battle was, beginning with an E.--was it Evesham, or Edgehill?"
"O Harry, you are as bad yourself?" "But any one would know Leicester, because of Kenilworth," said Harry; "and I'm not sixth form. If papa had but been there! Every one was asking for him, and wishing it. For Dr. Hoxton called me-- they shook hands with me, and wished me joy of it, and told me to tell my father how well Norman had done.""I suppose you looked so happy, they could not help it," said Flora, smiling at that honest beaming face of joy. "Ay," said Norman, looking up; "they had something to say to him on his own score, which he has forgotten."
"I should think not," said Harry. "Why, what d'ye think they said? That I had gone on as well as all the Mays, and they trusted I should still, and be a credit to my profession."
"Oh! Harry! why didn't you tell us?" "Oh! that is grand!" and, as the two elder girls made this exclamation, Mary proceeded to a rapturous embrace. "Get along, Mary, you are throttling one. Mr. Everard inquired for my father and Margaret, and said he'd call to-morrow, and Hoxton and Wilmot kept on wishing he was there."
"I wish he had been!" said Ethel; "he would have taken such delight in it; but, even if he could have gone, he doubted whether it would not have made Norman get on worse from anxiety."
"Well, Cheviot wanted me to send up for him at dinner-time," said Harry; "for as soon as we sat down in the hall, June turned off giddy, and could not stay, and looked so horrid, we thought it was all over with him, and he would not be able to go up at all.""And Cheviot thought you ought to send for papa!" "Yes, I knew he would not be in, and so we left him lying down on the bench in the cloister till dinner was over." "What a place for catching cold!" said Flora.
"So Cheviot said, but I couldn't help it; and when we went to call him afterwards, he was all right. Wasn't it fun, when the names were called over, and May senior at the head! I don't think it will be better when I am a postcaptain myself! But Margaret has not heard half yet."
After telling it once in her room, once in the nursery, in whispers like gusts of wind, and once in the pantry, Harry employed himself in writing--"Norman is Dux!" in immense letters, on pieces of paper, which he disposed all over the house, to meet the eyes of his father and Richard on their return. Ethel's joy was sadly damped by Norman's manner. He hardly spoke-- only just came in to wish Margaret good-night, and shrank from her affectionate sayings, departing abruptly to his own room."Poor fellow! he is sadly overdone," said she, as he went. "Oh!" sighed Ethel, nearly ready to cry, "'tis not like what I used to fancy it would be when he came to the head of the school!"
"It will be different to-morrow," said Margaret, trying to console herself as well as Ethel. "Think how he has been on the strain this whole day, and long before, doing so much more than older boys. No wonder he is tired and worn out."Ethel did not understand what mental fatigue was, for her active, vigorous spirit had never been tasked beyond its powers. "I hope he will be like himself to-morrow!" said she disconsolately. "I never saw him rough and hasty before. It was even with you, Margaret."
"No, no, Ethel you aren't going to blame your own Norman for unkindness on this of all days in the year. You know how it was; you love him better; just as I do, for not being able to bear to stay in this room, where--"
"Yes," said Ethel, mournfully; "it was a great shame of me! How could I? Dear Norman! how he does grieve--what love his must have been! But yet, Margaret," she said impatiently, and the hot tears breaking out, "I cannot-cannot bear it! To have him not caring one bit for all of us! I want him to triumph! I can't without him!"
"What, Ethel, you, who said you didn't care for mere distinction and praise? Don't you think dear mamma would say it was safer for him not to be delighted and triumphant?""It is very tiresome," said Ethel, nearly convinced, but in a slightly petulant voice.
"And does not one love those two dear boys to-night!" said Margaret. "Norman not able to rejoice in his victory without her, and Harry in such an ecstacy with Norman's honours. I don't think I ever was so fond of my two brothers."
Ethel smiled, and drew up her head, and said no boys were like them anywhere, and papa would be delighted, and so went to bed happier in her exultation, and in hoping that the holidays would make Norman himself again.
Nothing could be better news for Dr. May, who had never lost a grain of the ancient school-party-loyalty that is part of the nature of the English gentleman. He was a thorough Stoneborough boy, had followed the politics of the Whichcote foundation year by year all his life, and perhaps, in his heart, regarded no honour as more to be prized than that of Dux and Randall scholar. Harry was in his room the next morning as soon as ever he was stirring, a welcome guest--teased a little at first, by his pretending to take it all as a sailor's prank to hoax him and Richard, and then free to pour out to delighted ears the whole history of the examination, and of every one's congratulations.
Norman himself was asleep when Harry went to give this narration. He came down late, and his father rose to meet him as he entered. "My boy," he said, "I had not expected this of you. Well done, Norman!" and the whole tone and gesture had a heartfelt approval and joy in them, that Ethel knew her brother was deeply thrilled by, for his colour deepened, and his lips quivered into something like a smile, though he did not lift his eyes.
Then came Richard's warm greeting and congratulation, he, too, showing himself as delighted as if the honours were his own; and then Dr. May again, in lively tones, like old times, laughing at Norman for sleeping late, and still not looking well awake, asking him if he was quite sure it was not all a dream."Well," said Norman, "I should think it was, if it were not that you all believe it."
"Harry had better go to sleep next," said Dr. May, "and see what dreaming will make him. If it makes Dux of Norman, who knows but it may make Drakes of him? Ha! Ethel-"Oh, give us for our Kings such Queens, And for our Ducks such Drakes."
There had not been such a merry breakfast for months. There was the old confusion of voices; the boys, Richard, and the doctor had much to talk over of the school doings of this week, and there was nearly as much laughing as in days past. Ethel wondered whether any one but herself observed that the voice most seldom heard was Norman's.
The promised call was made by Dr. Hoxton, and Mr. Everard, an old friend, and after their departure Dr. May came to Margaret's room with fresh accounts, corroborating what Harry had said of the clear knowledge and brilliant talent that Norman had displayed, to a degree that surprised his masters, almost as much as the examiners. The copy of verses Dr. May brought with him, and construed them to Margaret, commenting all the way on their ease, and the fullness of thought, certainly remarkable in a boy of sixteen.
They were then resigned to Ethel's keeping, and she could not help imparting her admiration to their author, with some apology for vexing him again.
"I don't want to be cross," said Norman, whom these words roused to a sense that he had been churlish last night; "but I cannot help it. I wish people would not make such a fuss about it.""I don't think you can be well, Norman." "Nonsense. There's nothing the matter with me." "But I don't understand your not caring at all, and not being the least pleased."
"It only makes it worse," said Norman; "I only feel as if I wanted to be out of the way. My only comfortable time yesterday was on that bench in the cool quiet cloister. I don't think I could have got through without that, when they left me in peace, till Cheviot and Harry came to rout me up, and I knew it was all coming."
"Ah! you have overworked yourself, but it was for something. You have given papa such pleasure and comfort, as you can't help being glad of. That is very different from us foolish young ones and our trumpeting."
"What comfort can it be? I've not been the smallest use all this time. When he was ill, I left him to Ernescliffe, and lay on the floor like an ass; and if he were to ask me to touch his arm, I should be as bad again. A fine thing for me to have talked all that arrogant stuff about Richard! I hate the thought of it; and, as if to make arrows and barbs of it, here's Richard making as much of this as if it was a double first class! He afraid to be compared with me, indeed!"
"Norman, indeed, this is going too far. We can't be as useful as the elder ones; and when you know how papa was vexed about Richard, you must be glad to have pleased him.""If I were he, it would only make me miss her more. I believe he only makes much of me that he may not disappoint me."
"I don't think so. He is really glad, and the more because she would have been so pleased. He said it would have been a happy day for her, and there was more of the glad look than the sorry one. It was the glistening look that comes when he is watching baby, or hearing Margaret say pretty things to her. You see it is the first bright morning we have had.""Yes," said Norman; "perhaps it was, but I don't know. I thought half of it was din." "Oh, Norman!"
"And another thing, Ethel, I don't feel as if I had fairly earned it. Forder or Cheviot ought to have had it. They are both more really good scholars than I am, and have always been above me. There was nothing I really knew better, except those historical questions that no one reckoned on; and not living at home with their sisters and books, they had no such chance, and it is very hard on them, and I don't like it.""Well, but you really and truly beat them in everything."
"Ay, by chance. There were lots of places in construing, where I should have broken down if I had happened to be set on in them; it was only a wonder I did not in that chorus, for I had only looked at it twice; but Everard asked me nothing but what I knew; and now and then I get into a funny state, when nothing is too hard for me, and that was how it was yesterday evening. Generally, I feel as dull as a post," said Norman, yawning and stretching; "I could not make a nonsense hexameter this minute, if I was to die for it.""A sort of Berserkar fury!" said Ethel, "like that night you did the coral-worm verses. It's very odd. Are you sure you are well, dear Norman?"
To which he answered, with displeasure, that he was as well as possible, ordered her not to go and make any more fuss, and left her hastily. She was unhappy, and far from satisfied; she had never known his temper so much affected, and was much puzzled; but she was too much afraid of vexing him, to impart her perplexity even to Margaret. However, the next day, Sunday, as she was reading to Margaret after church, her father came in, and the first thing he said was, "I want to know what you think of Norman.""How do you mean?" said Margaret; "in health or spirits?"
"Both," said Dr. May. "Poor boy! he has never held up his head since October, and, at his age, that is hardly natural. He goes moping about, has lost flesh and appetite, and looks altogether out of older, shooting up like a Maypole too."
"Mind and body," said Margaret, while Ethel gazed intently at her father, wondering whether she ought to speak, for Margaret did not know half what she did; nothing about the bad nights, nor what he called the "funny state."
"Yes, both. I fancied it was only his rapid growth, and the excitement of this examination, and that it would go off, but I think there's more amiss. He was lounging about doing nothing, when the girls were gone to school after dinner, and I asked him to walk down with me to the Almshouses. He did not seem very willing, but he went, and presently, as I had hold of his arm, I felt him shivering, and saw him turn as pale as a sheet. As soon as I noticed it, he flushed crimson, and would not hear of turning back, stoutly protesting he was quite well, but I saw his hand was quivering even when I got into church. Why, Ethel, you have turned as red as he did.""Then he has done it!" exclaimed Ethel, in a smothered voice. "What do you mean? Speak, Ethel." "He has gone past it--the place," whispered she. The doctor made a sound of sorrowful assent, as if much struck; then said, "you don't mean he has never been there since?" "Yes," said Ethel, "he has always gone round Randall's alley or the garden; he has said nothing, but has contrived to avoid it." "Well," said Dr. May, after a pause, "I hoped none of us knew the exact spot." "We don't; he never told us, but he was there." "Was he?" exclaimed her father; "I had no notion of that. How came he there?"
"He went on with Mr. Ernescliffe, and saw it all," said Ethel, as her father drew out her words, apparently with his eye; "and then came up to my room so faint that he was obliged to lie on the floor ever so long.""Faint--how long did it last?" said her father, examining her without apparent emotion, as if it had been an indifferent patient.
"I don't know, things seemed so long that evening. Till after dark at least, and it came on in the morning--no, the Monday. I believe it was your arm--for talking of going to see you always brought it on, till Mr. Ward gave him a dose of brandy-and-water, and that stopped it."
"I wish I had known this before. Derangement of the nervous system, no doubt--a susceptible boy like that--I wonder what sort of nights he has been having."
"Terrible ones," said Ethel; "I don't think he ever sleeps quietly till morning; he has dreams, and he groans and talks in his sleep; Harry can tell you all that.""Bless me!" cried Dr. May, in some anger; "what have you all been thinking about to keep this to yourselves all this time?"
"He could not bear to have it mentioned," said Ethel timidly; "and I didn't know that it signified so much; does it?"
"It signifies so much, that I had rather have given a thousand pounds than have let him go on all this time, to be overworked at school, and wound up to that examination!"
"Oh, dear! I am sorry!" said Ethel, in great dismay. "If you had but been at home when Cheviot wanted Harry to have sent for you--because he did not think him fit for it!" And Ethel was much relieved by pouring out all she knew, though her alarm was by no means lessened by the effect it produced on her father, especially when he heard of the "funny state."
"A fine state of things," he said; "I wonder it has not brought on a tremendous illness by this time. A boy of that sensitive temperament meeting with such a shock--never looked after--the quietest and most knocked down of all, and therefore the most neglected--his whole system disordered--and then driven to school to be harassed and overworked; if we had wanted to occasion brain fever we could not have gone a better way to set about it. I should not wonder if health and nerves were damaged for life!""Oh! papa, papa!" cried Ethel, in extreme distress, "what shall I do! I wish I had told you, but--"
"I'm not blaming you, Ethel, you knew no better, but it has been grievous neglect. It is plain enough there is no one to see after you," said the doctor, with a low groan."We may be taking it in time," said Margaret's soft voice--"it is very well it has gone on no longer." "Three months is long enough," said Dr. May. "I suppose," continued Margaret, "it will be better not to let dear Norman know we are uneasy about him."
"No, no, certainly not. Don't say a word of this to him. I shall find Harry, and ask about these disturbed nights, and then watch him, trusting it may not have gone too far; but there must be dreadful excitability of brain!"
He went away, leaving Margaret to comfort Ethel as well as she could, by showing her that he had not said the mischief was done, putting her in mind that he was wont to speak strongly; and trying to make her thankful that her brother would now have such care as might avert all evil results."But, oh," said Ethel, "his success has been dearly purchased!"
"It hath do me mochil woe."
"Yea hath it? Use," quod he, "this medicine; Every daie this Maie or that thou dine, Go lokin in upon the freshe daisie,
And though thou be for woe in poinct to die, That shall full gretly lessen thee of thy pine."
That night Norman started from, what was not so much sleep, as a trance of oppression and suffering, and beheld his father's face watching him attentively."Papa! What's the matter?" said he, starting up. "Is any one ill?" "No; no one, lie down again," said Dr. May, possessing himself of a hand, with a burning spot in the palm, and a throbbing pulse. "But what made you come here? Have I disturbed any one? Have I been talking?" "Only mumbling a little, but you looked very uncomfortable." "But I'm not ill--what are you feeling my pulse for?" said Norman uneasily. "To see whether that restless sleep has quickened it." Norman scarcely let his father count for a moment, before he asked, "What o'clock is it?" "A little after twelve." "What does make you stay up so late, papa?" "I often do when my arm seems likely to keep me awake. Richard has done all I want." "Pray don't stay here in the cold," said Norman, with feverish impatience, as he turned upwards the cool side of his pillow. "Good-night!" "No hurry," said his father, still watching him. "There's nothing the matter," repeated the boy.
"Do you often have such unquiet nights?" "Oh, it does not signify. Good-night," and he tried to look settled and comfortable.
"Norman," said his father, in a voice betraying much grief, "it will not do to go on in this way. If your mother was here, you would not close yourself against her."
Norman interrupted him in a voice strangled with sobs: "It is no good saying it--I thought it would only make it worse for you; but that's it. I cannot bear the being without her."Dr. May was glad to see that a gush of tears followed this exclamation, as Norman hid his face under the coverings.
"My poor boy," said he, hardly able to speak, "only One can comfort you truly; but you must not turn from me; you must let me do what I can for you, though it is not the same.""I thought it would grieve you more," said Norman, turning his face towards him again. "What, to find my children, feeling with me, and knowing what they have lost? Surely not, Norman." "And it is of no use," added Norman, hiding his face again, "no one can comfort--"
"There you are wrong," said Dr. May, with deep feeling, "there is much comfort in everything, in everybody, in kindness, in all around, if one can only open one's mind to it. But I did not come to keep you awake with such talk: I saw you were not quite well, so I came up to see about you; and now, Norman, you will not refuse to own that something is the matter."
"I did not know it," said Norman, "I really believe I am well, if I could get rid of these horrible nights. I either lie awake, tumbling and tossing, or I get all sorts of unbearable dreams."
"Ay, when I asked master Harry about you, all the answer I could get was, that he was quite used to it, and did not mind it at all. As if I asked for his sake! How fast that boy sleeps--he is fit for a midshipman's berth!""But do you think there is anything amiss with me?"
"I shall know more about that to-morrow morning. Come to my room as soon as you are up, unless I come to you. Now, I have something to read before I go to bed, and I may as well try if it will put you to sleep."
Norman's last sight that night was of the outline of his father's profile, and he was scarcely awake the next morning before Dr. May was there again.
Unwilling as he had been to give way, it was a relief to relinquish the struggle to think himself well, and to venture to lounge and dawdle, rest his heavy head, and stretch his inert limbs without fear of remark. His father found him after breakfast lying on the sofa in the drawing-room with a Greek play by his side, telling Ethel what words to look out."At it again!" exclaimed Dr. May. "Carry it away, Ethel. I will have no Latin or Greek touched these holidays." "You know," said Norman, "if I don't sap, I shall have no chance of keeping up." "You'll keep nowhere if you don't rest." "It is only Euripides, and I can't do anything else," said Norman languidly.
"Very likely, I don't care. You have to get well first of all, and the Greek will take care of itself. Go up to Margaret. I put you in her keeping, while I am gone to Whitford. After that, I dare say Richard will be very glad to have a holiday, and let you drive me to Abbotstoke."
Norman rose, and wearily walked upstairs, while his sister lingered to excuse herself. "Papa, I did not think Euripides would hurt him-- he knows it all so well, and he said he could not read anything else."
"Just so, Ethel. Poor fellow, he has not spirits or energy for anything: his mind was forced into those classicalities when it wanted rest, and now it has not spring enough to turn back again.""Do you think him so very ill?"
"Not exactly, but there's low fever hanging about him, and we must look after him well, and I hope we may get him right. I have told Margaret about him; I can't stop any longer now."
Norman found the baby in his sister's room, and this was just what suited him. The Daisy showed a marked preference for her brothers; and to find her so merry and good with him, pleased and flattered him far more than his victory at school. He carried her about, danced her, whistled to her, and made her admire her pretty blue eyes in the glass more successfully, till nurse carried her off. But perhaps he had been sent up rather too soon, for as he sat in the great chair by the fire, he was teased by the constant coming and going, all the petty cares of a large household transacted by Margaret--orders to butcher and cook--Harry racing in to ask to take Tom to the river-- Tom, who was to go when his lesson was done, coming perpetually to try to repeat the same unhappy bit of 'As in Proesenti', each time in a worse whine.
"How can you bear it, Margaret?" said Norman, as she finally dismissed Tom, and laid down her account-book, taking up some delicate fancy work. "Mercy, here's another," as enter a message about lamp oil, in the midst of which Mary burst in to beg Margaret to get Miss Winter to let her go to the river with Harry and Tom."No, indeed, Mary, I could not think of such a thing. You had better go back to your lessons, and don't be silly," as she looked much disposed to cry.
"No one but a Tom-boy would dream of it," added Norman; and Mary departed disconsolate, while Margaret gave a sigh of weariness, and said, as she returned to her work, "There, I believe I have done. I hope I was not cross with poor Mary, but it was rather too much to ask.""I can't think how you can help being cross to every one," said Norman, as he took away the books she had done with. "I am afraid I am," said Margaret sadly. "It does get trying at times." "I should think so! This eternal worrying must be more than any one can bear, always lying there too."
"It is only now and then that it grows tiresome," said Margaret. "I am too happy to be of some use, and it is too bad to repine, but sometimes a feeling comes of its being always the same, as if a little change would be such a treat.""Aren't you very tired of lying in bed?"
"Yes, very, sometimes. I fancy, but it is only fancy, that I could move better if I was up and dressed. It has seemed more so lately, since I have been stronger.""When do you think they will let you get up?"
"There's the question. I believe papa thinks I might be lifted to the sofa now-and oh! how I long for it--but then Mr. Ward does not approve of my sitting up, even as I am doing now, and wants to keep me flat. Papa thinks that of no use, and likely to hurt my general health, and I believe the end of it will be that he will ask Sir Matthew Fleet's opinion.""Is that the man he calls Mat?" "Yes, you know they went through the university together, and were at
Edinburgh and Paris, but they have never met since he set up in London, and grew so famous. I believe it would be a great treat to papa to have him, and it would be a good thing for papa too; I don't think his arm is going on right-he does not trust to Mr. Ward's treatment, and I am sure some one else ought to see it.""Did you know, Margaret, that he sits up quite late, because he cannot sleep for it?" "Yes, I hear him moving about, but don't tell him so; I would not have him guess for the world, that it kept me awake." "And does it?"
"Why, if I think he is awake and in pain I cannot settle myself to sleep; but that is no matter; having no exercise, of course I don't sleep so much. But I am very anxious about him--he looks so thin, and gets so fagged--and no wonder.""Ah! Mr. Everard told me he was quite shocked to see him, and would hardly have known him," and Norman groaned from the bottom of his heart. "Well, I shall hope much from Sir Matthew's taking him in hand," said Margaret cheerfully; "he will mind him, though he will not Mr. Ward." "I wish the holidays were over!" said Norman, with a yawn, as expressive as a sigh. "That's not civil, on the third day," said Margaret, smiling, "when I am so glad to have you to look after me, so as to set Flora at liberty." "What, can I do you any good?" said Norman, with a shade of his former alacrity.
"To be sure you can, a great deal. Better not come near me otherwise, for I make every one into a slave. I want my morning reading now--that book on Advent, there.""Shall I read it to you?" "Thank you, that's nice, and I shall get on with baby's frock."
Norman read, but, ere long, took to yawning; Margaret begged for the book, which he willingly resigned, saying, however, that he liked it, only he was stupid. She read on aloud, till she heard a succession of heavy breathings, and saw him fast asleep, and so he continued till waked by his father's coming home.
Richard and Ethel were glad of a walk, for Margaret had found them a pleasant errand. Their Cocksmoor children could not go home to dinner between service and afternoon school, and Margaret had desired the cook to serve them up some broth in the back kitchen, to which the brother and sister were now to invite them. Mary was allowed to take her boots to Rebekah Watts, since Margaret held that goodness had better be profitable, at least at the outset; and Harry and Tom joined the party.
Norman, meantime, was driving his father--a holiday preferment highly valued in the days when Dr. May used only to assume the reins, when his spirited horses showed too much consciousness that they had a young hand over them, or when the old hack took a fit of laziness. Now, Norman needed Richard's assurance that the bay was steady, so far was he from being troubled with his ancient desire, that the steed would rear right up on his hind legs.
He could neither talk nor listen till he was clear out of the town, and found himself master of the animal, and even then the words were few, and chiefly spoken by Dr. May, until after going along about three miles of the turnpike road, he desired Norman to turn down a cross-country lane."Where does this lead?" "It comes out at Abbotstoke, but I have to go to an outlying farm." "Papa," said Norman, after a few minutes, "I wish you would let me do my Greek." "Is that what you have been pondering all this time? What, may not the bonus Homerus slumber sometimes?" "It is not Homer, it is Euripides. I do assure you, papa, it is no trouble, and I get much worse without it." "Well, stop here, the road grows so bad that we will walk, and let the boy lead the horse to meet us at Woodcote."
Norman followed his father down a steep narrow lane, little better than a stony water-course, and began to repeat, "If you would but let me do my work! I've got nothing else to do, and now they have put me up, I should not like not to keep my place."
"Very likely, but--hollo--how swelled this is!" said Dr. May, as they came to the bottom of the valley, where a stream rushed along, coloured with a turbid creamy yellow, making little whirlpools where it crossed the road, and brawling loudly just above where it roared and foamed between two steep banks of rock, crossed by a foot-bridge of planks, guarded by a handrail of rough poles. The doctor had traversed it, and gone a few paces beyond, when, looking back, he saw Norman very pale, with one foot on the plank, and one hand grasping the rail. He came back, and held out his hand, which Norman gladly caught at, but no sooner was the other side attained, than the boy, though he gasped with relief, exclaimed, "This is too bad! Wait one moment, please, and let me go back."
He tried, but the first touch of the shaking rail, and glance at the chasm, disconcerted him, and his father, seeing his white cheeks and rigid lips, said, "Stop, Norman, don't try it. You are not fit," he added, as the boy came to him reluctantly.
"I can't bear to be such a wretch!" said he. "I never used to be. I will not--let me conquer it;" and he was turning back, but the doctor took his arm, saying decidedly, "No, I won't have it done. You are only making it worse by putting a force on yourself." But the farther Norman was from the bridge, the more displeased he was with himself, and more anxious to dare it again. "There's no bearing it," he muttered; "let me only run back. I'll overtake you. I must do it if no one looks on.""No such thing," said the doctor, holding him fast. "If you do, you'll have it all over again at night." "That's better than to know I am worse than Tom."
"I tell you, Norman, it is no such thing. You will recover your tone if you will only do as you are told, but your nerves have had a severe shock, and when you force yourself in this way, you only increase the mischief.""Nerves," muttered Norman disdainfully. "I thought they were only fit for fine ladies." Dr. May smiled. "Well, will it content you if I promise that as soon as I see fit, I'll bring you here, and let you march over that bridge as often as you like?" "I suppose I must be contented, but I don't like to feel like a fool." "You need not, while the moral determination is sound." "But my Greek, papa." "At it again--I declare, Norman, you are the worst patient I ever had!"
Norman made no answer, and Dr. May presently said, "Well, let me hear what you have to say about it. I assure you it is not that I don't want you to get on, but that I see you are in great need of rest."
"Thank you, papa. I know you mean it for my good, but I don't think you do know how horrid it is. I have got nothing on earth to do or care for--the school work comes quite easy to me, and I'm sure thinking is worse; and then"--Norman spoke vehemently--"now they have put me up, it will never do to be beaten, and all the four others ought to be able to do it. I did not want or expect to be dux, but now I am, you could not bear me not to keep my place, and to miss the Randall scholarship, as I certainly shall, if I do not work these whole holidays."
"Norman, I know it," said his father kindly. "I am very sorry for you, and I know I am asking of you what I could not have done at your age--indeed, I don't believe I could have done it for you a few months ago. It is my fault that you have been let alone, to have an overstrain and pressure on your mind, when you were not fit for it, and I cannot see any remedy but complete freedom from work. At the same time, if you fret and harass yourself about being surpassed, that is, as you say, much worse for you than Latin and Greek. Perhaps I may be wrong, and study might not do you the harm I think it would; at any rate, it is better than tormenting yourself about next half year, so I will not positively forbid it, but I think you had much better let it alone. I don't want to make it a matter of duty. I only tell you this, that you may set your mind at rest as far as I am concerned. If you do lose your place, I will consider it as my own doing, and not be disappointed. I had rather see you a healthy, vigorous, useful man, than a poor puling nervous wretch of a scholar, if you were to get all the prizes in the university."
Norman made a little murmuring sound of assent, and both were silent for some moments, then he said, "Then you will not be displeased, papa, if I do read, as long as I feel it does me no harm.""I told you I don't mean to make it a matter of obedience. Do as you please-I had rather you read than vexed yourself." "I am glad of it. Thank you, papa," said Norman, in a much cheered voice.
They had, in the meantime, been mounting a rising ground, clothed with stunted wood, and came out on a wide heath, brown with dead bracken; a hollow, traced by the tops of leafless trees, marked the course of the stream that traversed it, and the inequalities of ground becoming more rugged in outlines and grayer in colouring as they receded, till they were closed by a dark fir wood, beyond which rose in extreme distance the grand mass of Welsh mountain heads, purpled against the evening sky, except where the crowning peaks bore a veil of snow. Behind, the sky was pure gold, gradually shading into pale green, and then into clear light wintry blue, while the sun sitting behind two of the loftiest, seemed to confound their outlines, and blend them in one flood of soft hazy brightness. Dr. May looked at his son, and saw his face clear up, his brow expand, and his lips unclose with admiration.
"Yes," said the doctor, "it is very fine, is it not? I used to bring mamma here now and then for a treat, because it put her in mind of her Scottish hills. Well, your's are the golden hills of heaven, now, my Maggie!" he added, hardly knowing that he spoke aloud. Norman's throat swelled, as he looked up in his face, then cast down his eyes hastily to hide the tears that had gathered on his eyelashes.
"I'll leave you here," said Dr. May; "I have to go to a farmhouse close by, in the hollow behind us; there's a girl recovering from a fever. I'll not be ten minutes, so wait here."
When he came back, Norman was still where he had left him, gazing earnestly, and the tears standing on his cheeks. He did not move till his father laid his hand on his shoulder--they walked away together without a word, and scarcely spoke all the way home.
Dr. May went to Margaret and talked to her of Norman's fine character, and intense affection for his mother, the determined temper, and quietly borne grief, for which the doctor seemed to have worked himself into a perfect enthusiasm of admiration; but lamenting that he could not tell what to do with him--study or no study hurt him alike--and he dreaded to see health and spirits shattered for ever. They tried to devise change of scene, but it did not seem possible just at present; and Margaret, besides her fears for Norman, was much grieved to see this added to her father's troubles.
At night Dr. May again went up to see whether Norman, whom he had moved into Margaret's former room, were again suffering from fever. He found him asleep in a restless attitude, as if he had just dropped off, and waking almost at the instant of his entrance, he exclaimed, "Is it you? I thought it was mamma. She said it was all ambition."
Then starting, and looking round the room, and at his father, he collected himself, and said, with a slight smile, "I didn't know I had been asleep. I was awake just now, thinking about it. Papa, I'll give it up. I'll try to put next half out of my head, and not mind if they do pass me.""That's right, my boy," said the doctor. "At least if Cheviot and Forder do, for they ought. I only hope Anderson won't. I can stand anything but that. But that is nonsense too." "You are quite right, Norman," said the doctor, "and it is a great relief to me that you see the thing so sensibly."
"No, I don't see it sensibly at all, papa. I hate it all the time, and I don't know whether I can keep from thinking of it, when I have nothing to do; but I see it is wrong; I thought all ambition and nonsense was gone out of me, when I cared so little for the examination; but now I see, though I did not want to be made first, I can't bear not to be first; and that's the old story, just as she used to tell me to guard against ambition. So I'll take my chance, and if I should get put down, why, 'twas not fair that I should be put up, and it is what I ought to be, and serves me right into the bargain--"
"Well, that's the best sort of sense, your mother's sense," said the doctor, more affected than he liked to show. "No wonder she came to you in your dream, Norman, my boy, if you had come to such a resolution. I was half in hopes you had some such notion when I came upon you, on Far-view down.""I think that sky did it," said Norman, in a low voice; "it made me think of her in a different way--and what you said too." "What did I say? I don't remember." But Norman could not repeat the words, and only murmured, "Golden hills." It was enough. "I see," said the doctor, "you had dwelt on the blank here, not taken home what it is to her."
"Ay," almost sobbed Norman, "I never could before--that made me," after a long silence, "and then I know how foolish I was, and how she would say it was wrong to make this fuss, when you did not like it, about my place, and that it was not for the sake of my duty, but of ambition. I knew that, but till I went to bed to-night, I could not tell whether I could make up my mind, so I would say nothing."
Chapter I.13The days are sad, it is the Holy tide, When flowers have ceased to blow and birds to sing. F. TENNYSON.
It had been a hard struggle to give up all thoughts of study, and Norman was not at first rewarded for it, but rather exemplified the truth of his own assertion, that he was worse without it; for when this sole occupation for his mind was taken away, he drooped still more. He would willingly have shown his father that he was not discontented, but he was too entirely unnerved to be either cheerful or capable of entering with interest into any occupation. If he had been positively ill, the task would have been easier, but the low intermittent fever that hung about him did not confine him to bed, only kept him lounging, listless and forlorn, through the weary day, not always able to go out with his father, and on Christmas Day unfit even for church.
All this made the want of his mother, and the vacancy in his home, still more evident, and nothing was capable of relieving his sadness but his father's kindness, which was a continual surprise to him. Dr. May was a parent who could not fail to be loved and honoured; but, as a busy man, trusting all at home to his wife, he had only appeared to his children either as a merry playfellow, or as a stern paternal authority, not often in the intermediate light of guiding friend, or gentle guardian; and it affected Norman exceedingly to find himself, a tall schoolboy, watched and soothed with motherly tenderness and affection; with complete comprehension of his feelings, and delicate care of them. His father's solicitude and sympathy were round him day and night, and this, in the midst of so much toil, pain, grief, and anxiety of his own, that Norman might well feel overwhelmed with the swelling, inexpressible feelings of grateful affection.
How could his father know exactly what he would like--say the very things he was thinking--see that his depression was not wilful repining--find exactly what best soothed him! He wondered, but he could not have said so to any one, only his eye brightened, and, as his sisters remarked, he never seemed half so uncomfortable when papa was in the room. Indeed, the certainty that his father felt the sorrow as acutely as himself, was one reason of his opening to him. He could not feel that his brothers and sisters did so, for, outwardly, their habits were unaltered, their spirits not lowered, their relish for things around much the same as before, and this had given Norman a sense of isolation. With his father it was different. Norman knew he could never appreciate what the bereavement was to him--he saw its traces in almost every word and look, and yet perceived that something sustained and consoled him, though not in the way of forgetfulness. Now and then Norman caught at what gave this comfort, and it might be hoped he would do so increasingly; though, on this Christmas Day, Margaret felt very sad about him, as she watched him sitting over the fire, cowering with chilliness and headache, while every one was gone to church, and saw that the reading of the service with her had been more of a trouble than a solace.
She tried to think it bodily ailment, and strove hard not to pine for her mother, to comfort them both, and say the fond words of refreshing cheering pity that would have made all light to bear. Margaret's home Christmas was so spent in caring for brother, father, and children, that she had hardly time to dwell on the sad change that had befallen herself.
Christmas was a season that none of them knew well how to meet: Blanche was overheard saying to Mary that she wished it would not come, and Mary, shaking her head, and answering that she was afraid that was naughty, but it was very tiresome to have no fun. Margaret did her best upstairs, and Richard downstairs, by the help of prints and hymns, to make the children think of the true joy of Christmas, and in the evening their father gathered them round, and told them the stories of the Shepherds and of the Wise Men, till Mary and Blanche agreed, as they went up to bed, that it had been a very happy evening.
The next day Harry discomfited the schoolroom by bursting in with the news that "Louisa and Fanny Anderson were bearing down on the front door." Ethel and Flora were obliged to appear in the drawing-room, where they were greeted by two girls, rather older than themselves. A whole shower of inquiries for Dr. May, for Margaret, and for the dear little baby, were first poured out; then came hopes that Norman was well, as they had not seen him at church yesterday."Thank you, he was kept at home by a bad headache, but it is better to-day." "We came to congratulate you on his success--we could not help it-- it must have been such a pleasure to you." "That it was!" exclaimed Ethel, pleased at participation in her rejoicing. "We were so surprised."
Flora gave a glance of warning, but Ethel's short-sighted eyes were beyond the range of correspondence, and Miss Anderson continued. "It must have been a delightful surprise. We could hardly believe it when Harvey came in and told us. Every one thought Forder was sure, but they all were put out by the questions of general information-- those were all Mr. Everard's doing.""Mr. Everard was very much struck with Norman's knowledge and scholarship too," said Flora.
"So every one says. It was all Mr. Everard's doing. Miss Harrison told mamma, but, for my part, I am very glad for the sake of Stoneborough; I like a town boy to be at the head."
"Norman was sorry for Forder and Cheviot," began Ethel. Flora tried to stop her, but Louisa Anderson caught at what she said, and looked eagerly for more. "He felt," said she, only thinking of exalting her generous brother, "as if it was hardly right, when they are so much his seniors, that he could scarcely enjoy it."
"Ah! that is just what people say," replied Louisa. "But it must be very gratifying to you, and it makes him certain of the Randal scholarship too, I suppose. It is a great thing for him! He must have worked very hard.""Yes, that he has," said Flora; "he is so fond of study, and that goes halfway."
"So is dear Harvey. How earnest he is over his books! Mamma sometimes says, 'Now Harvey, dear, you'll be quite stupified, you'll be ill; I really shall get Dr. May to forbid you.' I suppose Norman is very busy too; it is quite the fashion for boys not to be idle now.""Poor Norman can't help it," said Ethel piteously. "Papa will not hear of his doing any Latin or Greek these whole holidays." "He thinks he will come to it better again for entire rest," said Flora, launching another look at her sister, which again fell short. A great deal of polite inquiry whether they were uneasy about him followed, mixed with a little boasting of dear Harvey's diligence. "By-the-bye, Ethel, it is you that are the great patroness of the wild Cocksmoor children--are not you?"
Ethel coloured, and mumbled, and Flora answered for her, "Richard and Ethel have been there once or twice. You know our under nursery-maid is a Cocksmoor girl."
"Well, mamma said she could not think how Miss May could take one from thence. The whole place is full of thieves, and do you know, Bessie Boulder has lost her gold pencil-case.""Has she?" said Flora. "And she had it on Sunday when she was teaching her class." "Oh!" cried Ethel vehemently; "surely she does not suspect any of those poor children!" "I only know such a thing never happened at school before," said Fanny, "and I shall never take anything valuable there again."
"But is she sure she lost it at school?" "Oh, yes, quite certain. She will not accuse any one, but it is not comfortable. And how those children do behave at church!""Poor things! they have been sadly neglected," said Flora. "They are quite spoiling the rest, and they are such figures! Why don't you, at least, make them cut their hair? You know it is the rule of the school." "I know, but half the girls in the first class wear it long." "Oh, yes, but those are the superior people, that one would not be strict with, and they dress it so nicely too. Now these are like little savages." "Richard thinks it might drive them away to insist at first," said Ethel; "we will try to bring it about in time."
"Well, Mrs. Ledwich is nearly resolved to insist, so you had better be warned, Ethel. She cannot suffer such untidiness and rags to spoil the appearance of the school, and, I assure you, it is quite unpleasant to the teachers.""I wish they would give them all to me!" said Ethel. "But I do hope Mrs. Ledwich will have patience with them, for they are only to be gained gently."
The visitors took their leave, and the two sisters began exclaiming-- Ethel at their dislike of her proteges, and Flora at what they had said of Norman. "And you, Ethel, how could you go and tell them we were surprised, and Norman thought it was hard on the other boys? They'll have it all over the town that he got it unjustly, and knows it, as they say already it was partiality of Mr. Everard's.""Oh, no, no, they never can be so bad!" cried Ethel; "they must have understood better that it was his noble humility and generosity."
"They understand anything noble! No, indeed! They think every one like their own beautiful brother! I knew what they came for all the time; they wanted to know whether Norman was able to work these holidays, and you told them the very thing they wanted to hear. How they will rejoice with that Harvey, and make sure of the Randall!""Oh, no, no!" cried Ethel; "Norman must get that!" "I don't think he will," said Flora, "losing all this time, while they are working. It cannot be helped, of course, but it is a great pity."
"I almost wish he had not been put up at all, if it is to end in this way," said Ethel. "It is very provoking, and to have them triumphing as they will! There's no bearing it!"
"Norman, certainly, is not at all well, poor fellow," said Flora, "and I suppose he wants rest, but I wish papa would let him do what he can. It would be much better for him than moping about as he is always doing now; and the disappointment of losing his place will be grievous, though now he fancies he does not care for it."
"There is a strange apathy about him," said Flora, "but I believe it is chiefly for want of exertion. I should like to rouse him if papa would let me; I know I could, by telling him how these Andersons are reckoning on his getting down. If he does, I shall be ready to run away, that I may never meet any one here again."
Ethel was very unhappy till she was able to pour all this trouble out to Margaret, and worked herself almost into crying about Norman's being passed by "that Harvey," and his sisters exulting, and papa being vexed, and Norman losing time and not caring.
"There you are wrong," said Margaret, "Norman did care very much, and it was not till he had seen clearly that it was a matter of duty to do as papa thought right, and not agitate his mind about his chances of keeping up, that he could bear to give up his work;" and she told Ethel a little of what had passed.Ethel was much struck. "But oh, Margaret, it is very hard, just to have him put up for the sake of being put down, and pleasing the Andersons!" "Dear Ethel, why should you mind so much about the Andersons? May they not care about their brother as we do for ours?" "Such a brother to care about!" said Ethel. "But I suppose they may like him the best," said Margaret, smiling. "I suppose they do," said Ethel grudgingly; "but still I cannot bear to see Norman doing nothing, and I know Harvey Anderson will beat him." "Surely you had rather he did nothing than made himself ill!" "To be sure, but I wish it wasn't so." "Yes; but, Ethel, whose doing is his getting into this state?"
Ethel looked grave. "It was wrong of me," said she, "but then papa is not sure that Greek would hurt him."
"Not sure, but he thinks it not wise to run the risk. But, Ethel, dear, why are you so bent on his being dux at all costs?"
"Don't you remember you used to say that outward praise or honour was not to be cared for as long as one did one's duty, and that it might be a temptation?""Yes, I know I did," said Ethel, faltering, "but that was for oneself."
"It is harder, I think, to feel so about those we care for," said Margaret; "but after all, this is just what will show whether our pride in Norman is the right true loving pride, or whether it is only the family vanity of triumphing over the Andersons."Ethel hung her head. "There's some of that," she said, "but it is not all. No--I don't want to triumph over them, nobody would do that." "Not outwardly perhaps, but in their hearts." "I can't tell," said Ethel, "but it is the being triumphed over that I cannot bear."
"Perhaps this is all a lesson in humility for us," said Margaret "It is teaching us, 'Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.'"Ethel was silent for some little space, then suddenly exclaimed, "And you think he will really be put down?"
Margaret seemed to have been talking with little effect, but she kept her patience, and answered, "I cannot guess, Ethel, but I'll tell you one thing--I think there's much more chance if he comes to his work fresh and vigorous after a rest, than if he went on dulling himself with it all this time."
With which Ethel was so far appeased that she promised to think as little as she could of the Andersons, and a walk with Richard to Cocksmoor turned the current of her thoughts. They had caught some more Sunday-school children by the help of Margaret's broth, but it was uphill work; the servants did not like such guests in the kitchen, and they were still less welcome at school.
"What do you think I heard, Ethel?" said Flora, the next Sunday, as they joined each other in the walk from school to church; "I heard Miss Graves say to Miss Boulder, 'I declare I must remonstrate. I undertook to instruct a national, not a ragged school;' and then Miss Boulder shook out her fine watered silk and said, 'It positively is improper to place ladies in contact with such squalid objects.'"
"Ladies!" cried Ethel. "A stationer's daughter and a banker's clerk's! Why do they come to teach at school at all?"
The Tuesday of this week was appointed for the visit of the London surgeon, Sir Matthew Fleet, and the expectation caused Dr. May to talk much to Margaret of old times, and the days of is courtship, when it had been his favourite project that his friend and fellow- student should marry Flora Mackenzie, and there had been a promising degree of liking, but "Mat" had been obliged to be prudent, and had ended by never marrying at all. This the doctor, as well as his daughters, believed was for the sake of Aunt Flora, and thus the girls were a good deal excited about his coming, almost as much on his own account, as because they considered him as the arbiter of Margaret's fate. He only came in time for a seven o'clock dinner, and Margaret did not see him that night, but heard enough from her sisters, when they came up to tell the history of their guest, and of the first set dinner when Flora had acted as lady of the house. The dinner it appeared had gone off very well. Flora had managed admirably, and the only mishap was some awkward carving of Ethel's which had caused the dish to be changed with Norman. As to the guest, Flora said he was very good-looking and agreeable. Ethel abruptly pronounced, "I am very glad Aunt Flora married Uncle Arnott instead.""I can't think why," said Flora. "I never saw a person of pleasanter manners." "Did they talk of old times?" said Margaret.
"No," said Ethel; "that was the thing." "You would not have them talk of those matters in the middle of dinner," said Flora."No," again said Ethel; "but papa has a way--don't you know, Margaret, how one can tell in a moment if it is company talk." "What was the conversation about?" said Margaret. "They talked over some of their fellow-students," said Flora.
"Yes," said Ethel; "and then when papa told him that beautiful history of Dr. Spencer going to take care of those poor emigrants in the fever, what do you think he said? 'Yes, Spencer was always doing extravagant things.' Fancy that to papa, who can hardly speak of it without having to wipe his spectacles, and who so longs to hear of Dr. Spencer.""And what did he say?" "Nothing; so Flora and Sir Matthew got to pictures and all that sort of thing, and it was all company talk after that." "Most entertaining in its kind," said Flora: "but--oh, Norman!" as he entered-"why, they are not out of the dining-room yet!" "No; they are talking of some new invention, and most likely will not come for an hour." "Are you going to bed?" "Papa followed me out of the dining-room to tell me to do so after tea." "Then sit down there, and I'll go and make some, and let it come up with Margaret's. Come, Ethel. Good-night, Norman. Is your head aching to-night?" "Not much, now I have got out of the dining-room." "It would have been wiser not to have gone in," said Flora, leaving the room.
"It was not the dinner, but the man," said Norman. "It is incomprehensible to me how my father could take to him. I'd as soon have Harvey Anderson for a friend!""You are like me," said Ethel, "in being glad he is not our uncle."
"He presume to think of falling in love with Aunt Flora!" cried Norman indignantly.
"Why, what is the matter with him?" asked Margaret. "I can't find much ground for Ethel's dislike, and Flora is pleased."
"She did not hear the worst, nor you either, Ethel," said Norman. "I could not stand the cold hard way he spoke of hospital patients. I am sure he thinks poor people nothing but a study, and rich ones nothing but a profit. And his half sneers! But what I hated most was his way of avoiding discussions. When he saw he had said what would not go down with papa, he did not honestly stand up to the point, and argue it out, but seemed to have no mind of his own, and to be only talking to please papa--but not knowing how to do it. He understand my father indeed!"
Norman's indignation had quite revived him, and Margaret was much entertained with the conflicting opinions. The next was Richard's, when he came in late to wish her good-night, after he had been attending on Sir Matthew's examination of his father's arm. He did nothing but admire the surgeon's delicacy of touch and understanding of the case, his view agreeing much better with Dr. May's own than that with Mr. Ward's. Dr. May had never been entirely satisfied with the present mode of treatment, and Richard was much struck by hearing him say, in answer to Sir Matthew, that he knew his recovery might have been more speedy and less painful if he had been able to attend to it at first, or to afford time for being longer laid up. A change of treatment was now to be made, likely soon to relieve the pain, to be less tedious and troublesome, and to bring about a complete cure in three or four months at latest. In hearing such tidings, there could be little thought of the person who brought them, and Margaret did not, till the last moment, learn that Richard thought Sir Matthew very clever and sensible, and certain to understand her case. Her last visitor was her father: "Asleep, Margaret? I thought I had better go to Norman first in case he should be awake.""Was he?" "Yes, but his pulse is better to-night. He was lying awake to hear what Fleet thought of me. I suppose Richard told you?" "Yes, dear papa; what a comfort it is!"
"Those fellows in London do keep up to the mark! But I would not be there for something. I never saw a man so altered. However, if he can only do for you as well--but it is of no use talking about it. I may trust you to keep yourself calm, my dear?"
"I am trying--indeed I am, dear papa. If you could help being anxious for me
-though I know it is worse for you, for I only have to lie still, and you have to settle for me. But I have been thinking how well off I am, able to enjoy so much, and be employed all day long. It is nothing to compare with that poor girl you told me of, and you need not be unhappy for me. I have some verses to say over to myself to-night:
"O Lord my God, do Thou Thy holy will, I will lie still, I
will not stir, lest I forsake Thine arm And break the
charm That lulls me, clinging to my Father's breast In perfect rest.
"My child--my dear child--I will say no more, lest I should break your sweet peace with my impatience. I will strive for the same temper, my Margaret. Bless you, dearest, good-night."
After a night spent in waking intervals of such thoughts, Margaret found the ordinary morning, and the talk she could not escape, somewhat oppressive. Her brothers and sisters disturbed her by their open expressions of hope and anxiety; she dreaded to have the balance of tranquillity overset; and then blamed herself for selfishness in not being as ready to attend to them as usual. Ethel and Norman came up after breakfast, their aversion by no means decreased by further acquaintance. Ethel was highly indignant at the tone in which he had exclaimed, "What, May, have you one as young as this?" on discovering the existence of the baby; and when Norman observed that was not so atrocious either, she proceeded, "You did not hear the contemptuous, compassionate tone when he asked papa what he meant to do with all these boys.""I'm glad he has not to settle," said Norman. "Papa said Harry was to be a sailor, and he said it was a good way to save expenses of education--a good thing." "No doubt," said Norman, "he thinks papa only wants to get rid of us, or if not, that it is an amiable weakness." "But I can't see anything so shocking in this," said Margaret.
"It is not the words," said Norman, "the look and tone convey it; but there are different opinions. Flora is quite smitten with him, he talks so politely to her."
"And Blanche!" said Ethel. "The little affected pussy-cat made a set at him, bridled and talked in her mincing voice, with all her airs, and made him take a great deal of notice of her."Nurse here came to prepare for the surgeon's visit.
It was over, and Margaret awaited the judgment. Sir Matthew had spoken hopefully to her, but she feared to fasten hopes on what might have no meaning, and could rely on nothing, till she had seen her father, who never kept back his genuine pinion, and would least of all from her. She found her spirits too much agitated to talk to her sisters, and quietly begged them to let her be quite alone till the consultation was over, and she lay trying to prepare herself to submit thankfully, whether she might be bidden to resign herself to helplessness, or to let her mind open once more to visions of joyous usefulness. Every step she hoped would prove to be her father's approach, and the longest hour of her life was that before he entered her room. His face said that the tidings were good, and yet she could not ask."Well, Margaret, I am glad we had him down. He thinks you may get about again, though it may be a long time first." "Does he?--oh, papa!" and the colour spread over her face, as she squeezed his hand very fast.
"He has known the use of the limbs return almost suddenly after even a year or two," and Dr. May gave her the grounds of the opinion, and an account of other like cases, which he said had convinced him, "though, my poor child," he said, "I feared the harm I had done you was irremediable, but thanks--" He turned away his face, and the clasp of their hands spoke the rest.
Presently he told Margaret that she was no longer to be kept prostrate, but she was to do exactly as was most comfortable to her, avoiding nothing but fatigue. She might be lifted to the sofa the next day, and if that agreed with her, she might be carried downstairs.
This, in itself, after she had been confined to her bed for three months, was a release from captivity, and all the brothers and sisters rejoiced as if she was actually on her feet again. Richard betook himself to constructing a readingframe for the sofa; Harry tormented Miss Winter by insisting on a holiday for the others, and gained the day by an appeal to his father; then declared he should go and tell Mr. Wilmot the good news; and Norman, quite enlivened, took up his hat, and said he would come too.
In all his joy, however, Dr. May could not cease bewailing the alteration in his old friend, and spent half the evening in telling Margaret how different he had once been, in terms little less measured than Ethel's: "I never saw such a change. Mat Fleet was one of the most warm, open-hearted fellows in the world, up to anything. I can hardly believe he is the same--turned into a mere machine, with a moving spring of self-interest! I don't believe he cares a rush for any living thing! Except for your sake, Margaret, I wish I had never seen him again, and only remembered him as he was at Edinburgh, as I remembered dear old Spencer. It is a grievous thing! Ruined entirely! No doubt that London life must be trying--the constant change and bewilderment of patients preventing much individual care and interest. It must be very hardening. No family ties either, nothing to look to but pushing his way. Yes! there's great excuse for poor Mat. I never knew fully till now the blessing it was that your dear mother was willing to take me so early, and that this place was open to me with all its home connections and interests. I am glad I never had anything to do with London!"
And when he was alone with Norman, he could not help saying, "Norman, my boy, I'm more glad than ever you yielded to me about your Greek these holidays, and for the reason you did. Take care the love of rising and pushing never gets hold of you; there's nothing that faster changes a man from his better self."Meanwhile, Sir Matthew Fleet had met another old college friend in London, and was answering his inquiries for the Dick May of ancient times.
"Poor May! I never saw a man so thrown away. With his talent and acuteness, he might be the most eminent man of his day, if he had only known how to use them. But he was always the same careless, soft-hearted fellow, never knowing how to do himself any good, and he is the same still, not a day older nor wiser. It was a fatal thing for him that there was that country practice ready for him to step into, and even of that he does not make as good a thing as he might. Of course, he married early, and there he is, left a widower with a house full of children--screaming babies, and great tall sons growing up, and he without a notion what he shall do with them, as heedless as ever--saving nothing, of course. I always knew it was what he would come to, if he would persist in burying himself in that wretched little country town, but I hardly thought, after all he has gone through, to find him such a mere boy still. And yet he is one of the cleverest men I ever met--with such talent, and such thorough knowledge of his profession, that it does one good to hear him talk. Poor May! I am sorry for him, he might have been anything, but that early marriage and country practice were the ruin of him."