The Daisy Chain or Aspirations by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
To thee, dear maid, each kindly wile Was known, that elder sisters know,
To check the unseasonable smile, With warning hand and serious brow.
Like fairy nurse with hermit child;
Teach her to think, to pray, to love,
Make grief less bitter, joy less wild.
LINES ON A MONUMENT AT LICHFIELD.
Sir Matthew Fleet's visit seemed like a turning-point with the May family, rousing and giving them revived hopes. Norman began to shake off his extreme languor and depression, the doctor was relieved from much of the wearing suffering from his hurt, and his despondency as to Margaret's ultimate recovery had been driven away. The experiment of taking her up succeeded so well, that on Sunday she was fully attired, "fit to receive company." As she lay on the sofa there seemed an advance toward recovery. Much sweet coquetry was expended in trying to look her best for her father; and her best was very well, for though the brilliant bloom of health was gone, her cheeks had not lost their pretty rounded contour, and still had some rosiness, while her large bright blue eyes smiled and sparkled. A screen shut out the rest of the room, making a sort of little parlour round the fire, where sundry of the family were visiting her after coming home from church in the afternoon. Ethel was in a vehement state of indignation at what had that day happened at school. "Did you ever hear anything like it! When the point was, to teach the poor things to be Christians, to turn them back, because their hair was not regulation length!""What's that! Who did?" said Dr. May, coming in from his own room, where he had heard a few words. "Mrs. Ledwich. She sent back three of the Cocksmoor children this morning. It seems she warned them last Sunday without saying a word to us." "Sent them back from church!" said the doctor. "Not exactly from church," said Margaret. "It is the same in effect," said Ethel, "to turn them from school; for if they did try to go alone, the pew-openers would drive them out."
"It is a wretched state of things!" said Dr. May, who never wanted much provocation to begin storming about parish affairs. "When I am churchwarden again, I'll see what can be done about the seats; but it's no sort of use, while Ramsden goes on as he does."
"Now my poor children are done for!" said Ethel. "They will never come again. And it's horrid, papa; there are lots of town children who wear immense long plaits of hair, and Mrs. Ledwich never interferes with them. It is entirely to drive the poor Cocksmoor ones away--for nothing else, and all out of Fanny Anderson's chatter.""Ethel, my dear," said Margaret pleadingly.
"Didn't I tell you, Margaret, how, as soon as Flora knew what Mrs. Ledwich was going to do, she went and told her this was the children's only chance, and if we affronted them for a trifle, there would be no hope of getting them back. She said she was sorry, if we were interested for them, but rules must not be broken; and when Flora spoke of all who do wear long hair unmolested, she shuffled and said, for the sake of the teachers, as well as the other children, rags and dirt could not be allowed; and then she brought up the old story of Miss Boulder's pencil, though she has found it again, and ended by saying Fanny Anderson told her it was a serious annoyance to the teachers, and she was sure we should agree with her, that something was due to voluntary assistants and subscribers.""I am afraid there has been a regular set at them," said Margaret, "and perhaps they are troublesome, poor things."
"As if school-keeping were for luxury!" said Dr. May. "It is the worst thing I have heard of Mrs. Ledwich yet! One's blood boils to think of those poor children being cast off because our fine young ladies are too grand to teach them! The clergyman leaving his work to a set of conceited women, and they turning their backs on ignorance, when it comes to their door! Voluntary subscribers, indeed! I've a great mind I'll be one no longer.""Oh, papa, that would not be fair--" began Ethel; but Margaret knew he would not act on this, squeezed her hand, and silenced her.
"One thing I've said, and I'll hold to it," continued Dr. May; "if they outvote Wilmot again in your Ladies' Committee, I'll have no more to do with them, as sure as my name's Dick May. It is a scandal the way things are done here!"
"Papa," said Richard, who had all the time been standing silent, "Ethel and I have been thinking, if you approved, whether we could not do something towards teaching the Cocksmoor children, and breaking them in for the Sunday-school."
What a bound Ethel's heart gave, and how full of congratulation and sympathy was the pressure of Margaret's hand!
"What did you think of doing?" said the doctor. Ethel burned to reply, but her sister's hand admonished her to remember her compact. Richard answered, "We thought of trying to get a room, and going perhaps once or twice a week to give them a little teaching. It would be little enough, but it might do something towards civilising them, and making them wish for more."
"You have worked yourself up to a fine pass," said the doctor, patting the agitated girl fondly as she leaned against his knee. "Remember, slow and steady.""I've got Richard to help me," said Ethel.
"Sufficient guarantee," said her father, smiling archly as he looked up to his son, whose fair face had coloured deep red. "You will keep the Unready in order, Ritchie.""He does," said Margaret; "he has taken her education into his hands, and I really believe he has taught her to hold up her frock and stick in pins." "And to know her right hand from her left, eh, Ethel? Well, you deserve some credit, then. Suppose we ask Mr. Wilmot to tea, and talk it over."
"Oh, thank you, papa! When shall it be? To-morrow?" "Yes, if you like. I have to go to the town-council meeting, and am not going into the country, so I shall be in early.""Thank you. Oh, how very nice!" "And what about cost? Do you expect to rob me?"
"If you would help us," said Ethel, with an odd shy manner; "we meant to make what we have go as far as may be, but mine is only fifteen and sixpence.""Well, you must make interest with Margaret for the turn-out of my pocket tomorrow." "Thank you, we are very much obliged," said the brother and sister earnestly, "that is more than we expected." "Ha! don't thank too soon. Suppose to-morrow should be a blank day!" "Oh, it won't!" said Ethel. "I shall tell Norman to make you go to paying people."
"There's avarice!" said the doctor. "But look you here, Ethel, if you'll take my advice, you'll make your bargain for Tuesday. I have a note appointing me to call at Abbotstoke Grange on Mr. Rivers, at twelve o'clock, on Tuesday. What do you think of that, Ethel? An old banker, rich enough for his daughter to curl her hair in bank- notes. If I were you, I'd make a bargain for him.""If he had nothing the matter with him, and I only got one guinea out of him!" "Prudence! Well, it may be wiser."
Ethel ran up to her room, hardly able to believe that the mighty proposal was made; and it had been so readily granted, that it seemed as if Richard's caution had been vain in making such a delay, that even Margaret had begun to fear that the street of by-and-by was leading to the house of never. Now, however, it was plain that he had been wise. Opportunity was everything; at another moment, their father might have been harassed and oppressed, and unable to give his mind to concerns, which now he could think of with interest, and Richard could not have caught a more favourable conjuncture.
Ethel was in a wild state of felicity all that evening and the next day, very unlike her brother, who, dismayed at the open step he had taken, shrank into himself, and in his shyness dreaded the discussion in the evening, and would almost have been relieved, if Mr. Wilmot had been unable to accept the invitation. So quiet and grave was he, that Ethel could not get him to talk over the matter at all with her, and she was obliged to bestow all her transports and grand projects on Flora or Margaret, when she could gain their ears, besides conning them over to herself, as an accompaniment to her lessons, by which means she tried Miss Winter's patience almost beyond measure. But she cared not--she saw a gathering school and rising church, which eclipsed all thought of present inattentions and gaucheries. She monopolised Margaret in the twilight, and rhapsodised to her heart's content, talking faster and faster, and looking more and more excited. Margaret began to feel a little overwhelmed, and while answering "yes" at intervals, was considering whether Ethel had not been flying about in an absent inconsiderate mood all day, and whether it would seem unkind to damp her ardour, by giving her a hint that she was relaxing her guard over herself. Before Margaret had steeled herself, Ethel was talking of a story she had read, of a place something like Cocksmoor. Margaret was not ready with her recollection, and Ethel, saying it was in a magazine in the drawing- room chiffonier, declared she would fetch it.
Margaret knew what it was to expect her visitors to return "in one moment," and with a "now-or-never" feeling she began, "Ethel, dear, wait," but Ethel was too impetuous to attend. "I'll be back in a twinkling," she called out, and down she flew, in her speed whisking away, without seeing it, the basket with Margaret's knitting and all her notes and papers, which lay scattered on the floor far out of reach, vexing Margaret at first, and then making her grieve at her own impatient feeling.
Ethel was soon in the drawing-room, but the right number of the magazine was not quickly forthcoming, and in searching she became embarked in another story. Just then, Aubrey, whose stout legs were apt to carry him into every part of the house where he was neither expected nor wanted, marched in at the open door, trying by dint of vehement gestures to make her understand, in his imperfect speech, something that he wanted. Very particularly troublesome she thought him, more especially as she could not make him out, otherwise than that he wanted her to do something with the newspaper and the fire. She made a boat for him with an old newspaper, a very hasty and frail performance, and told him to sail it on the carpet, and be Mr. Ernescliffe going away; and she thought him thus safely disposed of. Returning to her book and her search, with her face to the cupboard, and her book held up to catch the light, she was soon lost in her story, and thought of nothing more till suddenly roused by her father's voice in the hall, loud and peremptory with alarm, "Aubrey! put that down!" She looked, and beheld Aubrey brandishing a great flaming paper--he dropped it at the exclamation-it fell burning on the carpet. Aubrey's white pinafore! Ethel was springing up, but in her cramped, twisted position she could not do so quickly, and even as he called, her father strode by her, snatched at Aubrey's merino frock, which he crushed over the scarcely lighted pinafore, and trampled out the flaming paper with his foot. It was a moment of dreadful fright, but the next assured them that no harm was done.
"Ethel!" cried the doctor, "Are you mad? What were you thinking of?" Aubrey, here recollecting himself enough to be frightened at his father's voice and manner, burst into loud cries; the doctor pressed him closer on his breast, caressed and soothed him. Ethel stood by, pale and transfixed with horror. Her father was more angry with her than she had ever seen him, and with reason, as she knew, as she smelled the singeing, and saw a large burnt hole in Aubrey's pinafore, while the front of his frock was scorched and brown. Dr. May's words were not needed, "What could make you let him?""I didn't see--" she faltered.
"Didn't see! Didn't look, didn't think, didn't care! That's it, Ethel. 'Tis very hard one can't trust you in a room with the child any more than the baby himself. His frock perfect tinder! He would have been burned to a cinder, if I had not come in!"
Aubrey roared afresh, and Dr. May, kissing and comforting him, gathered him up in his left arm, and carried him away, looking back at the door to say, "There's no bearing it! I'll put a stop to all schools and Greek, if it is to lead to this, and make you good for nothing!"
Ethel was too much terrified to know where she was, or anything, but that she had let her little brother run into fearful peril, and grievously angered her father; she was afraid to follow him, and stood still, annihilated, and in despair, till roused by his return; then, with a stifled sob, she exclaimed, "Oh, papa!" and could get no further for a gush of tears.
But the anger of the shock of terror was over, and Dr. May was sorry for her tears, though still he could not but manifest some displeasure. "Yes, Ethel," he said, "it was a frightful thing," and he could not but shudder again. "One moment later! It is an escape to be for ever thankful for--poor little fellow!-but, Ethel, Ethel, do let it be a warning to you.""Oh, I hope--I'll try--" sobbed Ethel. "You have said you would try before." "I know I have," said Ethel, choked. "If I could but--"
"Poor child," said Dr. May sadly; then looking earnestly at her, "Ethel, my dear, I am afraid of its being with you as--as it has been with me;" he spoke very low, and drew her close to him. "I grew up, thinking my inbred heedlessness a sort of grace, so to say, rather manly--the reverse of finikin. I was spoiled as a boy, and my Maggie carried on the spoiling, by never letting me feel its effects. By the time I had sense enough to regret this as a fault, I had grown too old for changing of ingrain, long-nurtured habits--perhaps I never wished it really. You have seen," and his voice was nearly inaudible, "what my carelessness has come to--let that suffice at least, as a lesson that may spare you--what your father must feel as long as he lives." He pressed his hand tightly on her shoulder, and left her, without letting her see his face. Shocked and bewildered, she hurried upstairs to Margaret. She threw herself on her knees, felt her arms round her, and heard her kind soothing, and then, in broken words, told how dreadful it had been, and how kind papa had been, and what he had said, which was now the uppermost thought. "Oh, Margaret, Margaret, how very terrible it is! And does papa really think so?""I believe he does," whispered Margaret. "How can he, can he bear it!" said Ethel, clasping her hands. "Oh! it is enough to kill one--I can't think why it did not!"
"He bears it," said Margaret, "because he is so very good, that help and comfort do come to him. Dear papa! He bears up because it is right, and for our sakes, and he has a sort of rest in that perfect love they had for each other. He knows how she would wish him to cheer up and look to the end, and support and comfort are given to him, I know they are; but oh, Ethel! it does make one tremble and shrink, to think what he has been going through this autumn, especially when I hear him moving about late at night, and now and then comes a heavy groan--whenever any especial care has been on his mind."
Ethel was in great distress. "To have grieved him again!" said she, "and just as he seemed better and brighter! Everything I do turns out wrong, and always will; I can't do anything well by any chance.""Yes you can, when you mind what you are about." "But I never can--I'm like him, every one says so, and he says the heedlessness is ingrain, and can't be got rid of." "Ethel, I don't really think he could have told you so." "I'm sure he said ingrain." "Well, I suppose it is part of his nature, and that you have inherited it, but--" Margaret paused, and Ethel exclaimed: "He said his was long-nurtured; yes, Margaret, you guessed right, and he said he could not change it, and no more can I."
"Surely, Ethel, you have not had so many years. You are fifteen instead of forty-six, and it is more a woman's work than a man's to be careful. You need not begin to despair. You were growing much better; Richard said so, and so did Miss Winter."
"What's the use of it, if in one moment it is as bad as ever? And to-day, of all days in the year, just when papa had been so very, very kind, and given me more than I asked."
"Do you know, Ethel, I was thinking whether dear mamma would not say that was the reason. You were so happy, that perhaps you were thrown off your guard."
"I should not wonder if that was it," said Ethel thoughtfully. "You know it was a sort of probation that Richard put me on. I was to learn to be steady before he spoke to papa, and now it seemed to be all settled and right, and perhaps I forgot I was to be careful still.""I think it was something of the kind. I was a little afraid before, and I wish I had tried to caution you, but I did not like to seem unkind."
"I wish you had," said Ethel. "Dear little Aubrey! Oh, if papa had not been there! And I cannot think how, as it was, he could contrive to put the fire out, with his one hand, and not hurt himself. Margaret it was terrible. How could I mind so little! Did you see how his frock was singed?""Yes, papa showed it to me. How can we be thankful enough! One thing I hope, that Aubrey was well frightened, poor little boy."
"I know! I see now!" cried Ethel; "he must have wanted me to make the fire blaze up, as Richard did one evening when we came in and found it low; I remember Aubrey clapping his hands and shouting at the flame; but my head was in that unhappy story, and I never had sense to put the things together, and reflect that he would try to do it himself. I only wanted to get him out of my way, dear little fellow. Oh, dear, how bad it was of me! All from being uplifted, and my head turned, as it used to be when we were happier. Oh! I wish Mr. Wilmot was not coming!"
Ethel sat for a long time with her head hidden in Margaret's pillows, and her hand clasped by her good elder sister. At last she looked up and said, "Oh, Margaret, I am so unhappy. I see the whole meaning of it now. Do you not? When papa gave his consent at last, I was pleased and set up, and proud of my plans. I never recollected what a silly, foolish girl I am, and how unfit. I thought Mr. Wilmot would think great things of it--it was all wrong and selfsatisfied. I never prayed at all that it might turn out well, and so now it won't."
"Dearest Ethel, I don't see that. Perhaps it will do all the better for your being humbled about it now. If you were wild and high flying, it would never go right.""Its hope is in Richard," said Ethel. "So it is," said Margaret. "I wish Mr. Wilmot was not coming to-night," said Ethel again. "It would serve me right if papa were to say nothing about it."
Ethel lingered with her sister till Harry and Mary came up with Margaret's tea, and summoned her, and she crept downstairs, and entered the room so quietly, that she was hardly perceived behind her boisterous brother. She knew her eyes were in no presentable state, and cast them down, and shrank back as Mr. Wilmot shook her hand and greeted her kindly.
Mr. Wilmot had been wont to come to tea whenever he had anything to say to Dr. or Mrs. May, which was about once in ten or twelve days. He was Mary's godfather, and their most intimate friend in the town, and he had often been with them, both as friend and clergyman, through their trouble-no later than Christmas Day, he had come to bring the feast of that day to Margaret in her sick-room. Indeed, it had been chiefly for the sake of the Mays that he had resolved to spend the holidays at Stoneborough, taking the care of Abbotstoke, while his brother, the vicar, went to visit their father. This was, however, the first time he had come in his old familiar way to spend an evening, and there was something in the resumption of former habits that painfully marked the change.
Ethel, on coming in, found Flora making tea, her father leaning back in his great chair in silence, Richard diligently cutting bread, and Blanche sitting on Mr. Wilmot's knee, chattering fast and confidentially. Flora made Harry dispense the cups, and called every one to their places; Ethel timidly glanced at her father's face, as he rose and came into the light. She thought the lines and hollows were more marked than ever, and that he looked fatigued and mournful, and she felt cut to the heart; but he began to exert himself, and to make conversation, not, however, about Cocksmoor, but asking Mr. Wilmot what his brother thought of his new squire, Mr, Rivers.
"He likes him very much," said Mr. Wilmot. "He is a very pleasing person, particularly kind-hearted and gentle, and likely to do a great deal for the parish. They have been giving away beef and blankets at a great rate this Christmas.""What family is there?" asked Flora.
"One daughter, about Ethel's age, is there with her governess. He has been twice married, and the first wife left a son, who is in the Dragoons, I believe. This girl's mother was Lord Cosham's daughter."
So the talk lingered on, without much interest or life. It was rather keeping from saying nothing than conversation, and no one was without the sensation that she was missing, round whom all had been free and joyous--not that she had been wont to speak much herself, but nothing would go on smoothly or easily without her. So long did this last, that Ethel began to think her father meant to punish her by not beginning the subject that night, and though she owned that she deserved it, she could not help being very much disappointed.
At length, however, her father began: "We wanted you to talk over a scheme that these young ones have been concocting. You see, I am obliged to keep Richard at home this next term--it won't do to have no one in the house to carry poor Margaret. We can't do without him anyway, so he and Ethel have a scheme of seeing what can be done for that wretched place, Cocksmoor."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Wilmot, brightening and looking interested. "It is sadly destitute. It would be a great thing if anything could be done for it. You have brought some children to school already, I think. I saw some rough-looking boys, who said they came from Cocksmoor."
This embarked the doctor in the history of the ladies being too fine to teach the poor Cocksmoor girls, which he told with kindling vehemence and indignation, growing more animated every moment, as he stormed over the wonted subject of the bad system of management-- ladies' committee, negligent incumbent, insufficient clergy, misappropriated tithes--while Mr. Wilmot, who had mourned over it, within himself, a hundred times already, and was doing a curate's work on sufferance, with no pay, and little but mistrust from Mr. Ramsden, and absurd false reports among the more foolish part of the town, sat listening patiently, glad to hear the doctor in his old strain, though it was a hopeless matter for discussion, and Ethel dreaded that the lamentation would go on till bedtime, and Cocksmoor be quite forgotten.
After a time they came safely back to the project, and Richard was called on to explain. Ethel left it all to him, and he with rising colour, and quiet, unhesitating, though diffident manner, detailed designs that showed themselves to have been well matured. Mr. Wilmot heard, cordially approved, and, as all agreed that no time was to be lost, while the holidays lasted, he undertook to speak to Mr. Ramsden on the subject the next morning, and if his consent to their schemes could be gained, to come in the afternoon to walk with Richard and Ethel to Cocksmoor, and set their affairs in order. All the time Ethel said not a word, except when referred to by her brother; but when Mr. Wilmot took leave, he shook her hand warmly, as if he was much pleased with her. "Ah!" she thought, "if he knew how ill I have behaved! It is all show and hollowness with me."
She did not know that Mr. Wilmot thought her silence one of the best signs for the plan, nor how much more doubtful he would have thought her perseverance, if he had seen her wild and vehement. As it was, he was very much pleased, and when the doctor came out with him into the hall, he could not help expressing his satisfaction in Richard's well-judged and sensiblydescribed project.
"Ay, ay!" said the doctor, "there's much more in the boy than I used to think. He's a capital fellow, and more like his mother than any of them."
Dr. May gave his hand a squeeze, full of feeling, and went up to tell Margaret. She, on the first opportunity, told Richard, and made him happier than he had been for months, not so much in Mr. Wilmot's words, as in his father's assent to, and pleasure in them.
Pitch thy behaviour low, thy projects high, So shalt thou humble and magnanimous be;
Sink not in spirit; who aimeth at the sky Shoots higher much than he that means a tree. A grain of glory mixed with humbleness, Cures both a fever and lethargicness. HERBERT.
"Norman, do you feel up to a long day's work?" said Dr. May, on the following morning. "I have to set off after breakfast to see old Mrs. Gould, and to be at Abbotstoke Grange by twelve; then I thought of going to Fordholm, and getting Miss Cleveland to give us some luncheon--there are some poor people on the way to look at; and that girl on Far-view Hill; and there's another place to call in at coming home. You'll have a good deal of sitting in the carriage, holding Whitefoot, so if you think you shall be cold or tired, don't scruple to say so, and I'll take Adams to drive me.""No, thank you," said Norman briskly. "This frost is famous." "It will turn to rain, I expect--it is too white," said the doctor, looking out at the window. "How will you get to Cocksmoor, good people?" "Ethel won't believe it rains unless it is very bad," said Richard. Norman set out with his father, and prosperously performed the expedition, arriving at Abbotstoke Grange at the appointed hour.
"Ha!" said the doctor, as the iron gates of ornamental scrollwork were swung back, "there's a considerable change in this place since I was here last. Well kept up indeed! Not a dead leaf left under the old walnuts, and the grass looks as smooth as if they had a dozen gardeners rolling it every day.""And the drive," said Norman, "more like a garden walk than a road! But oh! what a splendid cedar!"
"Isn't it! I remember that as long as I remember anything. All this fine rolling of turf, and trimming up of the place, does not make much difference to you, old fellow, does it? You don't look altered since I saw you last, when old Jervis was letting the place go to rack and ruin. So they have a new entrance
-very handsome conservatory--flowers--the banker does things in style. There," as Norman helped him off with his plaid, "wrap yourself up well, don't get cold. The sun is gone in, and I should not wonder if the rain were coming after all. I'll not be longer than I can help."
Dr. May disappeared from his son's sight through the conservatory, where, through the plate-glass, the exotics looked so fresh and perfumy, that Norman almost fancied that the scent reached him. "How much poor Margaret would enjoy one of those camellias," thought he, "and these people have bushels of them for mere show. If I were papa, I should be tempted to be like Beauty's father, and carry off one. How she would admire it!"
Norman had plenty of time to meditate on the camellias, and then to turn and speculate on the age of the cedar, whether it could have been planted by the monks of Stoneborough Abbey, to whom the Grange had belonged, brought from Lebanon by a pilgrim, perhaps; and then he tried to guess at the longevity of cedars, and thought of asking Margaret, the botanist of the family. Then he yawned, moved the horse a little about, opined that Mr. Rivers must be very prosy, or have some abstruse complaint, considered the sky, and augured rain, buttoned another button of his rough coat, and thought of Miss Cleveland's dinner. Then he thought there was a very sharp wind, and drove about till he found a sheltered place on the lee side of the great cedar, looked up at it, and thought it would be a fine subject for verses, if Mr. Wilmot knew of it, and then proceeded to consider what he should make of them.
In the midst he was suddenly roused by the deep-toned note of a dog, and beheld a large black Newfoundland dog leaping about the horse in great indignation. "Rollo! Rollo!" called a clear young voice, and he saw two ladles returning from a walk. Rollo, at the first call, galloped back to his mistress, and was evidently receiving an admonition, and promising good behaviour. The two ladies entered the house, while he lay down on the step, with his lion-like paw hanging down, watching Norman with a brilliant pair of hazel eyes. Norman, after a little more wondering when Mr. Rivers would have done with his father, betook himself to civil demonstrations to the creature, who received them with dignity, and presently, after acknowledging with his tail, various whispers of "Good old fellow," and "Here, old Rollo!" having apparently satisfied himself that the young gentleman was respectable, he rose, and vouchsafed to stand up with his forepaws in the gig, listening amiably to Norman's delicate flatteries. Norman even began to hope to allure him into jumping on the seat: but a great bell rang, and Rollo immediately turned round, and dashed off, at full speed, to some back region of the house. "So, old fellow, you know what the dinner-bell means," thought Norman. "I hope Mr. Rivers is hungry too. Miss Cleveland will have eaten up her whole luncheon, if this old bore won't let my father go soon! I hope he is desperately ill--'tis his only excuse! Heigh ho! I must jump out to warm my feet soon! There, there's a drop of rain! Well, there's no end to it! I wonder what Ethel is doing about Cocksmoor! It is setting in for a wet afternoon!" and Norman disconsolately put up his umbrella.
At last Dr. May and another gentleman were seen in the conservatory, and Norman gladly proceeded to clear the seat; but Dr. May called out, "Jump out, Norman, Mr. Rivers is so kind as to ask us to stay to luncheon." With boyish shrinking from strangers, Norman privately wished Mr. Rivers at Jericho, as he gave the reins to a servant, and entered the conservatory, where a kindly hand was held out to him by a gentleman of about fifty, with a bald smooth forehead, soft blue eyes, and gentle pleasant face. "Is this your eldest son?" said he, turning to Dr. May--and the manner of both was as if they were already well acquainted. "No, this is my second. The eldest is not quite such a long-legged fellow," said Dr. May. And then followed the question addressed to Norman himself, where he was at school.
"At Stoneborough," said Norman, a little amused at the thought how angry Ethel and Harry would be that the paragraph of the county paper, where "N. W. May" was recorded as prizeman and foremost in the examination, had not penetrated even to Abbotstoke Grange, or rather to its owner's memory.However, his father could not help adding, "He is the head of the school--a thing we Stoneborough men think much of."
This, and Mr. Rivers's civil answer, made Norman so hot, that he did not notice much in passing through a hall full of beautiful vases, stuffed birds, busts, etc., tastefully arranged, and he did not look up till they were entering a handsome dining-room, where a small square table was laid out for luncheon near a noble fire.
The two ladies were there, and Mr. Rivers introduced them as his daughter and Mrs. Larpent. It was the most luxurious meal that Norman had ever seen, the plate, the porcelain, and all the appointments of the table so elegant, and the viands, all partaking of the Christmas character, and of a recherche delicate description quite new to him. He had to serve as his father's right hand, and was so anxious to put everything as Dr. May liked it, and without attracting notice, that he hardly saw or listened till Dr. May began to admire a fine Claude on the opposite wall, and embarked in a picture discussion. The doctor had much taste for art, and had made the most of his opportunities of seeing paintings during his time of study at Paris, and in a brief tour to Italy. Since that time, few good pictures had come in his way, and these were a great pleasure to him, while Mr. Rivers, a regular connoisseur, was delighted to meet with one who could so well appreciate them. Norman perceived how his father was enjoying the conversation, and was much interested both by the sight of the first fine paintings he had ever seen, and by the talk about their merits; but the living things in the room had more of his attention and observation, especially the young lady who sat at the head of the table; a girl about his own age; she was on a very small scale, and seemed to him like a fairy, in the airy lightness and grace of her movements, and the blithe gladsomeness of her gestures and countenance. Form and features, though perfectly healthful and brisk, had the peculiar finish and delicacy of a miniature painting, and were enhanced by the sunny glance of her dark soft smiling eyes. Her hair was in black silky braids, and her dress, with its gaiety of well-assorted colour, was positively refreshing to his eye, so long accustomed to the deep mourning of his sisters. A little Italian greyhound, perfectly white, was at her side, making infinite variations of the line of beauty and grace, with its elegant outline, and S-like tail, as it raised its slender nose in hopes of a fragment of bread which she from time to time dispensed to it.
Luncheon over, Mr. Rivers asked Dr. May to step into his library, and Norman guessed that they had been talking all this time, and had never come to the medical opinion. However, a good meal and a large fire made a great difference in his toleration, and it was so new a scene, that he had no objection to a prolonged waiting, especially when Mrs. Larpent said, in a very pleasant tone, "Will you come into the drawing-room with us?"
He felt somewhat as if he was walking in enchanted ground as he followed her into the large room, the windows opening into the conservatory, the whole air fragrant with flowers, the furniture and ornaments so exquisite of their kind, and all such a fit scene for the beautiful little damsel, who, with her slender dog by her side, tripped on demurely, and rather shyly, but with a certain skipping lightness in her step. A very tall overgrown schoolboy did Norman feel himself for one bashful moment, when he found himself alone with the two ladies; but he was ready to be set at ease by Mrs. Larpent's good-natured manner, when she said something of Rollo's discourtesy. He smiled, and answered that he had made great friends with the fine old dog, and spoke of his running off to the dinner, at which little Miss Rivers laughed, and looked delighted, and began to tell of Rollo's perfections and intelligence. Norman ventured to inquire the name of the little Italian, and was told it was Nipen, because it had once stolen a cake, much like the wind-spirit in Feats on the Fiord. Its beauty and tricks were duly displayed, and a most beautiful Australian parrot was exhibited, Mrs. Larpent taking full interest in the talk, in so lively and gentle a manner, and she and her pretty pupil evidently on such sister-like terms, that Norman could hardly believe her to be the governess, when he thought of Miss Winter.
Miss Rivers took up some brown leaves which she was cutting out with scissors, and shaping. "Our holiday work," said Mrs. Larpent, in answer to the inquiring look of Norman's eyes. "Meta has been making a drawing for her papa, and is framing it in leather-work. Have you ever seen any?"
"Never!" and Norman looked eagerly, asking questions, and watching while Miss Rivers cut out her ivy leaf and marked its veins, and showed how she copied it from nature. He thanked her, saying, "I wanted to learn all about it, for I thought it would be such nice work for my eldest sister."
A glance of earnest interest from little Meta's bright eyes at her governess, and Mrs. Larpent, in a kind, soft tone that quite gained his heart, asked, "Is she the invalid?"
"Yes," said Norman. "New fancy work is a great gain to her." Mrs. Larpent's sympathetic questions, and Meta's softening eyes, gradually drew from him a great deal about Margaret's helpless state, and her patience, and capabilities, and how every one came to her with all their cares; and Norman, as he spoke, mentally contrasted the life, untouched by trouble and care, led by the fair girl before him, with that atmosphere of constant petty anxieties round her namesake's couch, at years so nearly the same."How very good she must be," said little Meta, quickly and softly; and a tear was sparkling on her eyelashes. "She is indeed," said Norman earnestly. "I don't know what papa would do but for her."
Mrs. Larpent asked kind questions whether his father's arm was very painful, and the hopes of its cure; and he felt as if she was a great friend already. Thence they came to books. Norman had not read for months past, but it happened that Meta was just now reading Woodstock, with which he was of course familiar; and both grew eager in discussing that and several others. Of one, Meta spoke in such terms of delight, that Norman thought it had been very stupid of him to let it lie on the table for the last fortnight without looking into it.
He was almost sorry to see his father and Mr. Rivers come in, and hear the carriage ordered, but they were not off yet, though the rain was now only Scotch mist. Mr. Rivers had his most choice little pictures still to display, his beautiful early Italian masters, finished like illuminations, and over these there was much lingering and admiring. Meta had whispered something to her governess, who smiled, and advanced to Norman. "Meta wishes to know if your sister would like to have a few flowers?" said she.
No sooner said than done; the door into the conservatory was opened, and Meta, cutting sprays of beautiful geranium, delicious heliotrope, fragrant calycanthus, deep blue tree violet, and exquisite hothouse ferns; perfect wonders to Norman, who, at each addition to the bouquet, exclaimed by turns, "Oh, thank you!" and, "How she will like it!"
Her father reached a magnolia blossom from on high, and the quick warm grateful emotion trembled in Dr. May's features and voice, as he said, "It is very kind in you; you have given my poor girl a great treat. Thank you with all my heart."
Margaret Rivers cast down her eyes, half smiled, and shrank back, thinking she had never felt anything like the left-handed grasp, so full of warmth and thankfulness. It gave her confidence to venture on the one question on which she was bent. Her father was in the hall, showing Norman his Greek nymph; and lifting her eyes to Dr. May's face, then casting them down, she coloured deeper than ever, as she said, in a stammering whisper, "Oh, please--if you would tell me --do you think--is papa very ill?"
Dr. May answered in his softest, most reassuring tones: "You need not be alarmed about him, I assure you. You must keep him from too much business," he added, smiling; "make him ride with you, and not let him tire himself, and I am sure you can be his best doctor."
"You must not expect doctors to be absolute oracles," said he. "I will tell you what I told him--I hardly think his will ever be sound health again, but I see no reason why he should not have many years of comfort, and there is no cause for you to disquiet yourself on his account--you have only to be careful of him."
Meta tried to say "thank you," but not succeeding, looked imploringly at her governess, who spoke for her. "Thank you, it is a great relief to have an opinion, for we were not at all satisfied about Mr. Rivers."
A few words more, and Meta was skipping about like a sprite finding a basket for the flowers--she had another shake of the hand, another grateful smile, and "thank you," from the doctor; and then, as the carriage disappeared, Mrs. Larpent exclaimed, "What a very nice intelligent boy that was."
"Particularly gentlemanlike," said Mr. Rivers. "Very clever--the head of the school, as his father tells me--and so modest and unassuming-- though I see his father is very proud of him."
"Oh, I am sure they are so fond of each other," said Meta: "didn't you see his attentive ways to his father at luncheon! And, papa, I am sure you must like Dr. May, Mr. Wilmot's doctor, as much as I said you would."
"He is the most superior man I have met with for a long time," said Mr. Rivers. "It is a great acquisition to find a man of such taste and acquirements in this country neighbourhood, when there is not another who can tell a Claude from a Poussin. I declare, when once we began talking, there was no leaving off--I have not met a person of so much conversation since I left town. I thought you would like to see him, Meta.""I hope I shall know the Miss Mays some time or other." "That is the prettiest little fairy I ever did see!" was Dr. May's remark, as Norman drove from the door.
"How good-natured they are!" said Norman; "I just said something about Margaret, and she gave me all these flowers. How Margaret will be delighted! I wish the girls could see it all!"
"So you got on well with the ladies, did you?" "They were very kind to me. It was very pleasant!" said Norman, with a tone of enjoyment that did his father's heart good."I was glad you should come in. Such a curiosity shop is a sight, and those pictures were some of them well worth seeing. That was a splendid Titian."
"That cast of the Pallas of the Parthenon--how beautiful it was--I knew it from the picture in Smith's dictionary. Mr. Rivers said he would show me all his antiques if you would bring me again."
"I saw he liked your interest in them. He is a good, kind-hearted dilettante sort of old man; he has got all the talk of the literary, cultivated society in London, and must find it dullish work here.""You liked him, didn't you?"
"He is very pleasant; I found he knew my old friend, Benson, whom I had not seen since we were at Cambridge together, and we got on that and other matters; London people have an art of conversation not learned here, and I don't know how the time slipped away; but you must have been tolerably tired of waiting.""Not to signify," said Norman. "I only began to think he must be very ill; I hope there is not much the matter with him."
"I can't say. I am afraid there is organic disease, but I think it may be kept quiet a good while yet, and he may have a pleasant life for some time to come, arranging his prints, and petting his pretty daughter. He has plenty to fall back upon.""Do you go there again?"
"Yes, next week. I am glad of it. I shall like to have another look at that little Madonna of his--it is the sort of picture that does one good to carry away in one's eye. Whay! Stop. There's an old woman in here. It is too late for Fordholm, but these cases won't wait."
He went into the cottage, and soon returned, saying, "Fine new blankets, and a great kettle of soup, and such praises of the ladies at the Grange!" And, at the next house, it was the same story. "Well, 'tis no mockery now to tell the poor creatures they want nourishing food. Slices of meat and bottles of port wine rain down on Abbotstoke."
A far more talkative journey than usual ensued; the discussion of the paintings and antiques was almost equally delightful to the father and son, and lasted till, about a mile from Stoneborough, they descried three figures in the twilight.
"Ha! How are you, Wilmot? So you braved the rain, Ethel. Jump in," called the doctor, as Norman drew up.
"Very well on the whole," was Mr. Wllmot's answer, while Ethel scrambled in, and tried to make herself small, an art in which she was not very successful; and Norman gave an exclamation of horrified warning, as she was about to step into the flower-basket; then she nearly tumbled out again in dismay, and was relieved to find herself safely wedged in, without having done any harm, while her father called out to Mr. Wilmot, as they started, "I say! You are coming back to tea with us."
That cheerful tone, and the kindness to herself, were a refreshment and revival to Ethel, who was still sobered and shocked by her yesterday's adventure, and by the sense of her father's sorrowful displeasure. Expecting further to be scolded for getting in so awkwardly, she did not venture to volunteer anything, and even when he kindly said, "I hope you were prosperous in your expedition," she only made answer, in a very grave voice, "Yes, papa, we have taken a very nice tidy room.""What do you pay for it?" "Fourpence for each time."
"Well, here's for you," said Dr. May. "It is only two guineas to-day; that banker at the Grange beguiled us of our time, but you had better close the bargain for him, Ethel--he will be a revenue for you, for this winter at least."
"Oh, thank you, papa," was all Ethel could say; overpowered by his kindness, and more repressed by what she felt so unmerited, than she would have been by coldness, she said few words, and preferred listening to Norman, who began to describe their adventures at the Grange.
All her eagerness revived, however, as she sprang out of the carriage, full of tidings for Margaret; and it was almost a race between her and Norman to get upstairs, and unfold their separate budgets.Margaret's lamp had just been lighted, when they made their entrance, Norman holding the flowers on high. "Oh, how beautiful! how delicious! For me? Where did you get them?"
"From Abbotstoke Grange; Miss Rivers sent them to you." "How very kind! What a lovely geranium, and oh, that fern! I never saw anything so choice. How came she to think of me?"
"They asked me in because it rained, and she was making the prettiest things, leather leaves and flowers for picture frames. I thought it was work that would just suit you, and learned how to do it. That made them ask about you, and it ended by her sending you this nosegay.""How very kind everybody is! Well, Ethel, are you come home too?" "Papa picked me up. Oh, Margaret, we have found such a nice room, a clean sanded kitchen--" "You never saw such a conservatory--" "And it is to be let to us for fourpence a time--" "The house is full of beautiful things, pictures and statues. Only think of a real Titian, and a cast of the Apollo!" "Twenty children to begin with, and Richard is going to make some forms." "Mr. Rivers is going to show me all his casts." "Oh, is he? But only think how lucky we were to find such a nice woman; Mr. Wilmot was so pleased with her."
Norman found one story at a time was enough, and relinquished the field, contenting himself with silently helping Margaret to arrange the flowers, holding the basket for her, and pleased with her gestures of admiration. Ethel went on with her history. "The first place we thought of would not do at all; the woman said she would not take half-a-crown a week to have a lot of children stabbling about, as she called it; so we went to another house, and there was a very nice woman indeed, Mrs. Green, with one little boy, whom she wanted to send to school, only it is too far. She says she always goes to church at Fordholm because it is nearer, and she is quite willing to let us have the room. So we settled it, and next Friday we are to begin. Papa has given us two guineas, and that will pay for, let me see, a hundred and twenty-six times, and Mr. Wilmot is going to give us some books, and Ritchie will print some alphabets. We told a great many of the, people, and they are so glad. Old Granny Hall said, 'Well, I never!' and told the girls they must be as good as gold now the gentlefolks was coming to teach them. Mr. Wilmot is coming with us every Friday as long as the holidays last."
Ethel departed on her father's coming in to ask Margaret if she would like to have a visit from Mr. Wilmot. She enjoyed this very much, and he sat there nearly an hour, talking of many matters, especially the Cocksmoor scheme, on which she was glad to hear his opinion at first hand.
"I am very glad you think well of it," she said. "It is most desirable that something should be done for those poor people, and Richard would never act rashly; but I have longed for advice whether it was right to promote Ethel's undertaking. I suppose Richard told you how bent on it she was, long before papa was told of it."
Margaret, in words more adequate to express the possession the project had gained of Ethel's ardent mind, explained the whole history of it. "I do believe she looks on it as a sort of call," said she, "and I have felt as if I ought not to hinder her, and yet I did not know whether it was right, at her age, to let her undertake so much."
"I understand," said Mr. Wilmot, "but, from what I have seen of Ethel, I should think you had decided rightly. There seems to me to be such a spirit of energy in her, that if she does not act, she will either speculate and theorise, or pine and prey on herself. I do believe that hard homely work, such as this school-keeping, is the best outlet for what might otherwise run to extravagance--more especially as you say the hope of it has already been an incentive to improvement in home duties.""That I am sure it has," said Margaret.
"Moreover," said Mr. Wilmot, "I think you were quite right in thinking that to interfere with such a design was unsafe. I do believe that a great deal of harm is done by prudent friends, who dread to let young people do anything out of the common way, and so force their aspirations to ferment and turn sour, for want of being put to use.""Still girls are told they ought to wait patiently, and not to be eager for selfimposed duties."
"I am not saying that it is not the appointed discipline for the girls themselves," said Mr. Wilmot. "If they would submit, and do their best, it would doubtless prove the most beneficial thing for them; but it is a trial in which they often fail, and I had rather not be in the place of such friends.""It is a great puzzle!" said Margaret, sighing. "Ah! I dare say you are often perplexed," said her friend kindly.
"Indeed I am. There are so many little details that I cannot be always teasing papa with, and yet which I do believe form the character more than the great events, and I never know whether I act for the best. And there are so many of us, so many duties, I cannot half attend to any. Lately, I have been giving up almost everything to keep this room quiet for Norman in the morning, because he was so much harassed and hurt by bustle and confusion, and I found to-day that things have gone wrong in consequence."
"You must do the best you can, and try to trust that while you work in the right spirit, your failures will be compensated," said Mr. Wilmot. "It is a hard trial."
"I like your understanding it," said Margaret, smiling sadly. "I don't know whether it is silly, but I don't like to be pitied for the wrong thing. My being so helpless is what every one laments over; but, after all, that is made up to me by the petting and kindness I get from all of them; but it is the being mistress of the house, and having to settle for every one, without knowing whether I do right or wrong, that is my trouble.""I am not sure, however, that it is right to call it a trouble, though it is a trial."
"I see what you mean," said Margaret. "I ought to be thankful. I know it is an honour, and I am quite sure I should be grieved if they did not all come to me and consult me as they do. I had better not have complained, and yet I am glad I did, for I like you to understand my difficulties."
"And, indeed, I wish to enter into them, and do or say anything in my power to help you. But I don't know anything that can be of so much comfort as the knowledge that He who laid the burden on you, will help you to bear it."
"Yes," said Margaret, pausing; and then, with a sweet look, though a heavy sigh, she said, "It is very odd how things turn out! I always had a childish fancy that I would be useful and important, but I little thought how it would be! However, as long as Richard is in the house, I always feel secure about the others, and I shall soon be downstairs myself. Don't you think dear papa in better spirits?"
"I thought so to-day,"--and here the doctor returned, talking of Abbotstoke Grange, where he had certainly been much pleased. "It was a lucky chance," he said, "that they brought Norman in. It was exactly what I wanted to rouse and interest him, and he took it all in so well, that I am sure they were pleased with him. I thought he looked a very lanky specimen of too much leg and arm when I called him in, but he has such good manners, and is so ready and understanding, that they could not help liking him. It was fortunate I had him instead of Richard--Ritchie is a very good fellow, certainly, but he had rather look at a steam-engine, any day, than at Raphael himself."
Norman had his turn by-and-by. He came up after tea, reporting that papa was fast asleep in his chair, and the others would go on about Cocksmoor till midnight, if they were let alone; and made up for his previous yielding to Ethel, by giving, with much animation, and some excitement, a glowing description of the Grange, so graphic, that Margaret said she could almost fancy she had been there.
"Oh, Margaret, I wonder if you ever will! I would give something for you to see the beautiful conservatory. It is a real bower for a maiden of romance, with its rich green fragrance in the midst of winter. It is like a picture in a dream. One could imagine it a fairy land, where no care, or grief, or weariness could come, all choice beauty and sweetness waiting on the creature within. I can hardly believe that it is a real place, and that I have seen it."
EVANS. Peace your tattlings. What is fair, William? WILLIAM. PULCHER.
QUICKLY. Poulcats! there are fairer things than poulcats sure! EVANS. I pray you have your remembrance, child, accusative
QUICKLY. HANG HOG is Latin for bacon, I warrant you. SHAKESPEARE.
In a large family it must often happen, that since every member of it cannot ride the same hobby, nor at the same time, their several steeds must sometimes run counter to each other; and so Ethel found it, one morning when Miss Winter, having a bad cold, had given her an unwonted holiday.
Mr. Wilmot had sent a large parcel of books for her to choose from for Cocksmoor, but this she could not well do without consultation. The multitude bewildered her, she was afraid of taking too many or too few, and the being brought to these practical details made her sensible that though her schemes were very grand and full for future doings, they passed very lightly over the intermediate ground. The Paulo post fulurum was a period much more developed in her imagination than the future, that the present was flowing into.
Where was her coadjutor, Richard? Writing notes for papa, and not to be disturbed. She had better have waited tranquilly, but this would not suit her impatience, and she ran up to Margaret's room. There she found a great display of ivy leaves, which Norman, who had been turning half the shops in the town upside down in search of materials, was instructing her to imitate in leather-work--a regular mania with him, and apparently the same with Margaret.
In came Ethel. "Oh, Margaret, will you look at these 'First Truths?' Do you think they would be easy enough? Shall I take some of the Parables and Miracles at once, or content myself with the book about 'Jane Sparks?'""There's some very easy reading in 'Jane Sparks', isn't there? I would not make the little books from the New Testament too common." "Take care, that leaf has five points," said Norman. "Shall I bring you up 'Jane Sparks' to see? Because then you can judge," said Ethel. "There, Norman, is that right?--what a beauty! I should like to look over them by-and-by, dear Ethel, very much."
Ethel gazed and went away, more put out than was usual with her. "When Margaret has a new kind of fancy work," she thought, "she cares for nothing else! as if my poor children did not signify more than trumpery leather leaves!" She next met Flora."Oh, Flora, see here, what a famous parcel of books Mr. Wilmot has sent us to choose from." "All those!" said Flora, turning them over as they lay heaped on the drawingroom sofa; "what a confusion!" "See, such a parcel of reading books. I want to know what you think of setting them up with 'Jane Sparks', as it is week-day teaching." "You will be very tired of hearing those spelled over for ever; they have some nicer books at the national school." "What is the name of them? Do you see any of them here?"
"No, I don't think I do, but I can't wait to look now. I must write some letters. You had better put them together a little. If you were to sort them, you would know what is there. Now, what a mess they are in."
Ethel could not deny it, and began to deal them out in piles, looking somewhat more fitting, but still felt neglected and aggrieved, at no one being at leisure but Harry, who was not likely to be of any use to her.
Presently she heard the study door open, and hoped; but though it was Richard who entered the room, he was followed by Tom, and each held various books that boded little good to her. Miss Winter had, much to her own satisfaction, been relieved from the charge of Tom, whose lessons Richard had taken upon himself; and thus Ethel had heard so little about them for a long time past, that even in her vexation and desire to have them over, she listened with interest, desirous to judge what sort of place Tom might be likely to take in school.
She did not perceive that this made Richard nervous and uneasy. He had a great dislike to spectators of Latin lessons; he never had forgotten an unlucky occasion, some years back, when his father was examining him in the Georgics, and he, dull by nature, and duller by confusion and timidity, had gone on rendering word for word--enim for, seges a crop, lini of mud, urit burns, campum the field, avenae a crop of pipe, urit burns it; when Norman and Ethel had first warned him of the beauty of his translation by an explosion of laughing, when his father had shut the book with a bounce, shaken his head in utter despair, and told him to give up all thoughts of doing anything--and when Margaret had cried with vexation. Since that time, he had never been happy when any one was in earshot of a lesson; but to-day he had no escape--Harry lay on the rug reading, and Ethel sat forlorn over her books on the sofa. Tom, however, was bright enough, declined his Greek nouns irreproachably, and construed his Latin so well, that Ethel could not help putting in a word or two of commendation, and auguring the third form. "Do let him off the parsing, Ritchie," said she coaxingly--"he has said it so well, and I want you so much."
"I am afraid I must not," said Richard; who, to her surprise, did not look pleased or satisfied with the prosperous translation; "but come, Tom, you shan't have many words, if you really know them."Tom twisted and looked rather cross, but when asked to parse the word viribus, answered readily and correctly. "Very well, only two more--affuit?"
"Third person singular, praeter perfect tense of the verb affo, affis, affui, affere," gabbled off Tom with such confidence, that though Ethel gave an indignant jump, Richard was almost startled into letting it pass, and disbelieving himself. He remonstrated in a somewhat hesitating voice. "Did you find that in the dictionary?" said he; "I thought affui came from adsum.""Oh, to be sure, stupid fool of a word, so it does!" said Tom hastily. "I had forgot--adsum, ades, affui, adesse." Richard said no more, but proposed the word oppositus. "Adjective."
Ethel was surprised, for she remembered that it was, in this passage, part of a passive verb, which Tom had construed correctly, "it was objected," and she had thought this very creditable to him, whereas he now evidently took it for opposite; however, on Richard's reading the line, he corrected himself and called it a participle, but did not commit himself further, till asked for its derivation."From oppositor."
"Hallo!" cried Harry, who hitherto had been abstracted in his book, but now turned, raised himself on his elbow, and, at the blunder, shook his thick yellow locks, and showed his teeth like a young lion."No, now, Tom, pay attention," said Richard resignedly. "If you found out its meaning, you must have seen its derivation."
"Oppositus," said Tom, twisting his fingers, and gazing first at Ethel, then at Harry, in hopes of being prompted, then at the ceiling and floor, the while he drawled out the word with a whine, "why, oppositus from op-posor."
"A poser! ain't it?" said Harry. "Don't, Harry, you distract him," said Richard. "Come, Tom, say at once whether you know it or not--it is of no use to invent.""From op-" and a mumble. "What? I don't hear--op--"
Tom again looked for help to Harry, who made a mischievous movement of his lips, as if prompting, and, deceived by it, he said boldly, "From oppossum.""That's right! let us hear him decline it!" cried Harry, in an ecstasy. "Oppossum, opottis, opposse, or oh-pottery!" "Harry," said Richard, in a gentle reasonable voice, "I wish you would be so kind as not to stay, if you cannot help distracting him."
And Harry, who really had a tolerable share of forbearance and consideration, actually obeyed, contenting himself with tossing his book into the air and catching it again, while he paused at the door to give his last unsolicited assistance. "Decline oppossum you say. I'll tell you how: O-possum re-poses up a gum tree. O-pot-you-I will, says the O-posse of Yankees, come out to ketch him. Opossum poses them and declines in O-pot-esse by any manner of means of o- potting-di-do-dum, was quite oppositum-oppotitu, in fact, quite contrairy."
Richard, with the gravity of a victim, heard this sally of schoolboy wit, which threw Ethel back on the sofa in fits of laughing, and declaring that the Opossum declined, not that he was declined; but, in the midst of the disturbance thus created, Tom stepped up to her, and whispered, "Do tell me, Ethel!""Indeed I shan't," said she. "Why don't you say fairly if you don't know?"
He was obliged to confess his ignorance, and Richard made him conjugate the whole verb opponor from beginning to end, in which he wanted a good deal of help.Ethel could not help saying, "How did you find out the meaning of that word, Tom, if you didn't look out the verb?" "I--don't know," drawled Tom, in the voice, half sullen, half piteous, which he always assumed when out of sorts.
"It is very odd," she said decidedly; but Richard took no notice, and proceeded to the other lessons, which went off tolerably well, except the arithmetic, where there was some great misunderstanding, into which Ethel did not enter for some time. When she did attend, she perceived that Tom had brought a right answer, without understanding the working of the sum, and that Richard was putting him through it. She began to be worked into a state of dismay and indignation at Tom's behaviour, and Richard's calm indifference, which made her almost forget 'Jane Sparks', and long to be alone with Richard; but all the world kept coming into the room, and going out, and she could not say what was in her mind till after dinner, when, seeing Richard go up into Margaret's room, she ran after him, and entering it, surprised Margaret, by not beginning on her books, but saying at once, "Ritchie, I wanted to speak to you about Tom. I am sure he shuffled about those lessons.""I am afraid he does," said Richard, much concerned. "What, do you mean that it is often so?"
"Much too often," said Richard; "but I have never been able to detect him; he is very sharp, and has some underhand way of preparing his lessons that I cannot make out.""Did you know it, Margaret?" said Ethel, astonished not to see her sister looked shocked as well as sorry. "Yes," said Margaret, "Ritchie and I have often talked it over, and tried to think what was to be done." "Dear me! why don't you tell papa? It is such a terrible thing!" "So it is," said Margaret, "but we have nothing positive or tangible to accuse Tom of; we don't know what he does, and have never caught him out."
"I am sure he must have found out the meaning of that oppositum in some wrong way--if he had looked it out, he would only have found opposite. Nothing but opponor could have shown him the rendering which he made.""That's like what I have said almost every day," said Richard, "but there we are--I can't get any further." "Perhaps he guesses by the context," said Margaret. "It would be impossible to do so always," said both the Latin scholars at once.
"Well, I can't think how you can take it so quietly," said Ethel. "I would have told papa the first moment, and put a stop to it. I have a great mind to do so, if you won't."Ethel, Ethel, that would never do!" exclaimed Margaret, "pray don't. Papa would be so dreadfully grieved and angry with poor Tom." "Well, so he deserves," said Ethel. "You don't know what it is to see papa angry," said Richard.
"Dear me, Richard!" cried Ethel, who thought she knew pretty well what his sharp words were. "I'm sure papa never was angry with me, without making me love him more, and, at least, want to be better.""You are a girl," said Richard. "You are higher spirited, and shake off things faster," said Margaret. "Why, what do you think he would do to Tom?" "I think he would be so very angry, that Tom, who, you know, is timid and meek, would be dreadfully frightened," said Richard. "That's just what he ought to be, frightened out of these tricks."
"I am afraid it would frighten him into them still more," said Richard, "and perhaps give him such a dread of my father as would prevent him from ever being open with him."
"Besides, it would make papa so very unhappy," added Margaret. "Of course, if poor dear Tom had been found out in any positive deceit, we ought to mention it at once, and let him be punished; but while it is all vague suspicion, and of what papa has such a horror of, it would only grieve him, and make him constantly anxious, without, perhaps, doing Tom any good.""I think all that is expediency," said Ethel, in her bluff, abrupt way.
"Besides," said Richard, "we have nothing positive to accuse him of, and if we had, it would be of no use. He will be at school in three weeks, and there he would be sure to shirk, even if he left it off here. Every one does, and thinks nothing of it.""Richard!" cried both sisters, shocked. "You never did?" "No, we didn't, but most others do, and not bad fellows either. It is not the way of boys to think much of those things." "It is mean--it is dishonourable--it is deceitful!" cried Ethel. "I know it is very wrong, but you'll never get the general run of boys to think so," said Richard.
"Then Tom ought not to go to school at all till he is well armed against it," said Ethel.
"That can't be helped," said Richard. "He will get clear of it in time, when he knows better."
"Well," said Ethel, "of course I shan't tell, because it is not my business, but I think papa ought to know everything about us, and I don't like your keeping anything back. It is being almost as bad as Tom himself."With which words, as Flora entered, Ethel marched out of the room in displeasure, and went down, resolved to settle Jane Sparks by herself. "Ethel is out of sorts to-day," said Flora. "What's the matter?"
"We have had a discussion," said Margaret. "She has been terribly shocked by finding out what we have often thought about poor little Tom, and she thinks we ought to tell papa. Her principle is quite right, but I doubt--"
"I know exactly how Ethel would do it!" cried Flora; "blurt out all on a sudden, 'Papa, Tom cheats at his lessons!' then there would be a tremendous uproar, papa would scold Tom till he almost frightened him out of his wits, and then find out it was only suspicion."
"And never have any comfort again," said Margaret. "He would always dread that Tom was deceiving him, and then think it was all for want of--Oh, no, it will never do to speak of it, unless we find out some positive piece of misbehaviour.""Certainly," said Flora. "And it would do Tom no good to make him afraid of papa," said Richard.
"Ethel's rule is right in principle," said Margaret thoughtfully, "that papa ought to know all without reserve, and yet it will hardly do in practice. One must use discretion, and not tease him about every little thing. He takes them so much to heart, that he would be almost distracted; and, with so much business abroad, I think at home he should have nothing but rest, and, as far as we can, freedom from care and worry. Anything wrong about the children brings on the grief so much, that I cannot bear to mention it."
Richard and Flora agreed with her, admiring the spirit which made her, in her weakness and helplessness, bear the whole burden of family cares alone, and devote herself entirely to spare her father. He was, indeed, her first object, and she would have sacrificed anything to give him ease of mind; but, perhaps, she regarded him more as a charge of her own, than as, in very truth, the head of the family. She had the government in her hands, and had never been used to see him exercise it much in detail (she did not know how much her mother had referred to him in private), and had succeeded to her authority at a time when his health and spirits were in such a state as to make it doubly needful to spare him. It was no wonder that she sometimes carried her consideration beyond what was strictly right, and forgot that he was the real authority, more especially as his impulsive nature sometimes carried him away, and his sound judgment was not certain to come into play at the first moment, so that it required some moral courage to excite displeasure, so easy of manifestation; and of such courage there was, perhaps, a deficiency in her character. Nor had she yet detected her own satisfaction in being the first with every one in the family.
Ethel was put out, as Flora had discovered, and when she was downstairs she found it out, and accused herself of having been cross to Margaret, and unkind to Tom--of wishing to be a tell-tale. But still, though displeased with herself, she was dissatisfied with Margaret; it might be right, but it did not agree with her notions. She wanted to see every one uncompromising, as girls of fifteen generally do; she had an intense disgust and loathing of underhand ways, could not bear to think of Tom's carrying them on, and going to a place of temptation with them uncorrected; and she looked up to her father with the reverence and enthusiasm of one like minded.
She was vexed on another score. Norman came home from Abbotstoke Grange without having seen Miss Rivers, but with a fresh basket of choice flowers, rapturous descriptions of Mr. Rivers's prints, and a present of an engraving, in shading, such as to give the effect of a cast, of a very fine head of Alexander. Nothing was to be thought of but a frame for this--olive, bay, laurel, everything appropriate to the conqueror. Margaret and Norman were engrossed in the subject, and, to Ethel, who had no toleration for fancy work, who expected everything to be either useful and intellectual, this seemed very frivolous. She heard her father say how glad he was to see Norman interested and occupied, and certainly, though it was only in leather leaves, it was better than drooping and attending to nothing. She knew, too, that Margaret did it for his sake, but, said Ethel to herself, "It was very odd that people should find amusement in such things. Margaret always had a turn for them, but it was very strange in Norman."
Then came the pang of finding out that this was aggravated by the neglect of herself; she called it all selfishness, and felt that she had had an uncomfortable, unsatisfactory day, with everything going wrong.
Gently supported by the ready aid
Of loving hands, whose little work of toil
Her grateful prodigality repaid
With all the benediction of her smile, She turned her failing feet
To the softly cushioned seat,
Dispensing kindly greetings all the time. R. M. MILNES.
Three great events signalised the month of January. The first was, the opening of the school at Cocksmoor, whither a cart transported half a dozen forms, various books, and three dozen plum-buns, Margaret's contribution, in order that the school might begin with eclat. There walked Mr. Wilmot, Richard, and Flora, with Mary, in a jumping, capering state of delight, and Ethel, not knowing whether she rejoiced. She kept apart from the rest, and hardly spoke, for this long probation had impressed her with a sense of responsibility, and she knew that it was a great work to which she had set her hand-- a work in which she must persevere, and in which she could not succeed in her own strength.
She took hold of Flora's hand, and squeezed it hard, in a fit of shyness, when they came upon the hamlet, and saw the children watching for them; and when they reached the house, she would fain have shrank into nothing; there was a swelling of heart that seemed to overwhelm and stifle her, and the effect of which was to keep her standing unhelpful, when the others were busy bringing in the benches and settling the room.
It was a tidy room, but it seemed very small when they ranged the benches, and opened the door to the seven-and-twenty children, and the four or five women who stood waiting. Ethel felt some dismay when they all came pushing in, without order or civility, and would have been utterly at a loss what to do with her scholars now she had got them, if Richard and Flora had not marshalled them to the benches.
Rough heads, torn garments, staring vacant eyes, and mouths gaping in shy rudeness--it was a sight to disenchant her of visions of pleasure in the work she had set herself. It was well that she had not to take the initiative.
Mr. Wilmot said a few simple words to the mothers about the wish to teach their children what was right, and to do the best at present practicable; and then told the children that he hoped they would take pains to be good, and mind what they were taught. Then he desired all to kneel down; he said the Collect, "Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings," and then the Lord's Prayer. Ethel felt as if she could bear it better, and was more up to the work after this. Next, the children were desired to stand round the room, and Mr. Wilmot tried who could say the Catechism--the two biggest, a boy and a girl, had not an idea of it, and the boy looked foolish, and grinned at being asked what was his name. One child was tolerably perfect, and about half a dozen had some dim notions. Three were entirely ignorant of the Lord's Prayer, and many of the others did not by any means pronounce the words of it. Jane and Fanny Taylor, Rebekah Watts, and Mrs. Green's little boy, were the only ones who, by their own account, used morning and evening prayers, though, on further examination, it appeared that Polly and Jenny Hall, and some others, were accustomed to repeat the old rhyme about "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John," and Una M'Carthy and her little brother Fergus said something that nobody could make out, but which Mr. Wilmot thought had once been an "Ave Maria."
Some few of the children could read, and several more knew their letters. The least ignorant were selected to form a first class, and Mr. Wilmot promised a Prayer-book to the first who should be able to repeat the Catechism without a mistake, and a Bible to the first who could read a chapter in it.
Then followed a setting of tasks, varying from a verse of a Psalm, or the first answer in the Catechism, down to the distinction between A, B, and C; all to be ready by next Tuesday, when, weather permitting, a second lesson was to be given. Afterwards, a piece of advice of Margaret's was followed, and Flora read aloud to the assembly the story of "Margaret Fletcher." To some this seemed to give great satisfaction, especially to Una, but Ethel was surprised to see that many, and those not only little ones, talked and yawned. They had no power of attention even to a story, and the stillness was irksome to such wild colts. It was plain that it was time to leave off, and there was no capacity there which did not find the conclusion agreeable, when the basket was opened, and Ethel and Mary distributed the buns, with instructions to say, "thank you."
The next Tuesday, some of the lessons were learned, Una's perfectly, the big ignorant boy came no more; and some of the children had learned to behave better, while others behaved worse; Ethel began to know what she was about; Richard's gentleness was eminently successful with the little girls, impressing good manners on them in a marvellous way; and Mary's importance and happiness with alphabet scholars, some bigger than herself, were edifying. Cocksmoor was fairly launched.
The next memorable day was that of Margaret's being first carried downstairs. She had been willing to put it off as long as she could, dreading to witness the change below-stairs, and feeling, too, that in entering on the family room, without power of leaving it, she was losing all quiet and solitude, as well as giving up that monopoly of her father in his evenings, which had been her great privilege.
However, she tried to talk herself into liking it; and was rewarded by the happy commotion it caused, though Dr. May was in a state of excitement and nervousness at the prospect of seeing her on the stairs, and his attempts to conceal it only made it worse, till Margaret knew she should be nervous herself, and wished him out of sight and out of the house till it was over, for without him she had full confidence in the coolness and steadiness of Richard, and by him it was safely and quietly accomplished. She was landed on the sofa, Richard and Flora settling her, and the others crowding round and exclaiming, while the newness of the scene and the change gave her a sense of confusion, and she shut her eyes to recover her thoughts, but opened them the next instant at her father's exclamation that she was overcome, smiled to reassure him, and declared herself not tired, and to be very glad to be among them again. But the bustle was oppressive, and her cheerful manner was an effort; she longed to see them all gone, and Flora found it out, sent the children for their walk, and carried off Ethel and the brothers.
Dr. May was called out of the room at the same time, and she was left alone. She gazed round her, at the room where, four months before, she had seen her mother with the babe in her arms, the children clustered round her, her father exulting in his hen-and-chicken daisies, herself full of bright undefined hope, radiant with health and activity, and her one trouble such that she now knew the force of her mother's words, that it only proved her happiness. It was not till that moment that Margaret realised the change; found her eyes filling with tears, as she looked round, and saw the familiar furniture and ornaments.
They were instantly checked as she heard her father returning, but not so that he did not perceive them, and exclaim that it had been too much for her. "Oh, no--it was only the first time," said Margaret, losing the sense of the painful vacancy in her absorbing desire not to distress her father, and thinking only of him as she watched him standing for some minutes leaning on the mantel-shelf with his hand shading his forehead.
She began to speak as soon as she thought he was ready to have his mind turned away: "How nicely Ritchie managed! He carried me so comfortably and easily. It is enough to spoil me to be so deftly waited on.""I'm glad of it," said Dr. May; "I am sure the change is better for you;" but he came and looked at her still with great solicitude.
"Ritchie can take excellent care of me," she continued, most anxious to divert his thoughts. "You see it will do very well indeed for you to take Harry to school."
"I should like to do so. I should like to see his master, and to take Norman with me," said the doctor. "It would be just the thing for him now--we would show him the dockyard, and all those matters, and such a thorough holiday would set him up again."
"He is very much better."
"Much better--he is recovering spirits and tone very fast. That leaf-work of yours came at a lucky time. I like to see him looking out for a curious fern in the hedgerows--the pursuit has quite brightened him up."
"And he does it so thoroughly," said Margaret. "Ethel fancies it is rather frivolous of him, I believe; but it amuses me to see how men give dignity to what women make trifling. He will know everything about the leaves, hunts up my botany books, and has taught me a hundred times more of the construction and wonders of them than I ever learned."
"Ay," said the doctor, "he has been talking a good deal to me about vegetable chemistry. He would make a good scientific botanist, if he were to be nothing else. I should be glad if he sticks to it as a pursuit--'tis pretty work, and I should like to have gone further with it, if I had ever had time for it."
"I dare say he will," said Margaret. "It will be very pleasant if he can go with you. How he would enjoy the British Museum, if there was time for him to see it! Have you said anything to him yet?""No; I waited to see how you were, as it all depends on that." "I think it depends still more on something else; whether Norman is as fit to take care of you as Richard is."
"That's another point. There's nothing but what he could manage now, but I don't like saying anything to him. I know he would undertake anything I wished, without a word, and then, perhaps, dwell on it in fancy, and force himself, till it would turn to a perfect misery, and upset his nerves again. I'm sorry for it. I meant him to have followed my trade, but he'll never do for that. However, he has wits enough to make himself what he pleases, and I dare say he will keep at the head of the school after all.""How very good he has been in refraining from restlessness!"
"It's beautiful!" said Dr. May, with strong emotion. "Poor boy! I trust he'll not be disappointed, and I don't think he will; but I've promised him I won't be annoyed if he should lose his place--so we must take especial care not to show any anxiety. However, for this matter, Margaret, I wish you would sound him, and see whether it would be more pleasure or pain. Only mind you don't let him think that I shall be vexed, if he feels that he can't make up his mind; I would not have him fancy that, for more than I can tell."
This consultation revived the spirits of both; and the others returning, found Margaret quite disposed for companionship. If to her the evening was sad and strange, like a visit in a dream to some old familiar haunt, finding all unnatural, to the rest it was delightful. The room was no longer dreary, now that there was a centre for care and attentions, and the party was no longer broken up--the sense of comfort, cheerfulness, and home-gathering had returned, and the pleasant evening household gossip went round the table almost as it used to do. Dr. May resumed his old habit of skimming a club book, and imparting the cream to the listeners; and Flora gave them some music, a great treat to Margaret, who had long only heard its distant sounds.
Margaret found an opportunity of talking to Norman, and judged favourably. He was much pleased at the prospect of the journey, and of seeing a ship, so as to have a clearer notion of the scene where Harry's life was to be spent, and though the charge of the arm was a drawback, he did not treat it as insurmountable.
A few days' attendance in his father's room gave him confidence in taking Richard's place, and, accordingly, the third important measure was decided on, namely, that he and his father should accompany Harry to the naval school, and be absent three nights. Some relations would be glad to receive them in London, and Alan Ernescliffe, who was studying steam navigation at Woolwich, volunteered to meet them, and go with them to Portsmouth.
It was a wonderful event; Norman and Harry had never been beyond Whitford in their lives, and none of the young ones could recollect their papa's ever going from home for more than one night. Dr. May laughed at Margaret for her anxiety and excitement on the subject, and was more amused at overhearing Richard's precise directions to Norman over the packing up.
"Ay, Ritchie," said the doctor, as he saw his portmanteau locked, and the key given to Norman, "you may well look grave upon it. You won't see it look so tidy when it comes back again, and I believe you are thinking it will be lucky if you see it at all."
There was a very affectionate leave-taking of Harry, who, growing rather soft-hearted, thought it needful to be disdainful, scolded Mary and Blanche for "lugging off his figure-head," and assured them they made as much work about it as if he was going to sea at once. Then, to put an end to any more embraces, he marched off to the station with Tom, and nearly caused the others to be too late, by the search for him that ensued.
In due time, Dr. May and Norman returned, looking the better for the journey. There was, first, to tell of Harry's school and its master, and Alan Ernescliffe's introduction of him to a nice-looking boy of his own age; then they were eloquent on the wonders of the dockyard, the Victory, the block machinery. And London--while Dr. May went to transact some business, Norman had been with Alan at the British Museum, and though he had intended to see half London besides, there was no tearing him away from the Elgin marbles; and nothing would serve him, but bringing Dr. May the next morning to visit the Ninevite bulls. Norman further said, that whereas papa could never go out of his house without meeting people who had something to say to him, it was the same elsewhere. Six acquaintances he had met unexpectedly in London, and two at Portsmouth.
So the conversation went on all the evening, to the great delight of all. It was more about things than people, though Flora inquired after Mr. Ernescliffe, and was told he had met them at the station, had been everywhere with them, and had dined at the Mackenzies' each day. "How was he looking?" Ethel asked; and was told pretty much the same as when he went away; and, on a further query from Flora, it appeared that an old naval friend of his father's had hopes of a ship, and had promised to have him with him, and thereupon warm hopes were expressed that Harry might have a berth in the same."And when is he coming here again, papa?" said Ethel. "Eh! oh! I can't tell. I say, isn't it high time to ring?"
When they went up at night, every one felt that half the say had not been said, and there were fresh beginnings on the stairs. Norman triumphantly gave the key to Richard, and then called to Ethel, "I say, won't you come into my room while I unpack?""Oh, yes, I should like it very much."
Ethel sat on the bed, rolled up in a cloak, while Norman undid his bag, announcing at the same time, "Well, Ethel, papa says I may get to my Euripides to-morrow, if I please, and only work an hour at a time!""Oh, I am so glad. Then he thinks you quite well?" "Yes, I am quite well. I hope I've done with nonsense." "And how did you get on with his arm?"
"Very well--he was so patient, and told me how to manage. You heard that Sir Matthew said it had got much better in these few weeks. Oh, here it is! There's a present for you.""Oh, thank you. From you, or from papa?" "This is mine. Papa has a present for every one in his bag. He said, at last, that a man with eleven children hadn't need to go to London very often."
"And you got this beautiful 'Lyra Innocentium' for me? How very kind of you, Norman. It is just what I wished for. Such lovely binding-- and those embossed edges to the leaves. Oh! they make a pattern as they open! I never saw anything like it."
"I saw such a one on Miss Rivers's table, and asked Ernescliffe where to get one like it. See, here's what my father gave me."
"Look. I begged him to put my name, though he said it was a pity to do it with his left hand; I didn't like to wait, so I asked him at least to write N. W. May, and the date.""And he has added Prov. xxiii. 24, 25. Let me look it out." She did so, and instead of reading it aloud, looked at Norman full of congratulation. "How it ought to make one--" and there Norman broke off from the fullness of his heart. "I'm glad he put both verses" said Ethel presently. "How pleased with you he must be!"
A silence while brother and sister both gazed intently at the crooked characters, till at last Ethel, with a long breath, resumed her ordinary tone, and said, "How well he has come to write with his left hand now.""Yes. Did you know that he wrote himself to tell Ernescliffe Sir Matthew's opinion of Margaret?" "No: did he?"
"Do you know, Ethel," said Norman, as he knelt on the floor, and tumbled miscellaneous articles out of his bag, "it is my belief that Ernescliffe is in love with her, and that papa thinks so.""Dear me!" cried Ethel, starting up. "That is famous. We should always have Margaret at home when he goes to sea!" "But mind, Ethel, for your life you must not say one word to any living creature." "Oh, no, I promise you I won't, Norman, if you'll only tell me how you found it out."
"What first put it in my head was the first evening, while I was undoing the portmanteau; my father leaned on the mantel-shelf, and sighed and muttered, 'Poor Ernescliffe! I wish it may end well.' I thought he forgot that I was there, so I would not seem to notice, but I soon saw it was that he meant.""How?" cried Ethel eagerly. "Oh, I don't know--by Alan's way." "Tell me--I want to know what people do when they are in love." "Nothing particular," said Norman, smiling. "Did you hear him inquire for her? How did he look?"
"I can't tell. That was when he met us at the station before I thought of it, and I had to see to the luggage. But I'll tell you one thing, Ethel; when papa was talking of her to Mrs. Mackenzie, at the other end of the room, all his attention went away in an instant from what he was saying. And once, when Harry said something to me about her, he started, and looked round so earnestly.""Oh, yes--that's like people in books. And did he colour?"
"No; I don't recollect that he did," said Norman; "but I observed he never asked directly after her if he could help it, but always was trying to lead, in some round-about way, to hearing what she was doing.""Did he call her Margaret?"
"I watched; but to me he always said, 'Your sister,' and if he had to speak of her to papa, he said, 'Miss May.' And then you should have seen his attention to papa. I could hardly get a chance of doing anything for papa.""Oh, sure of it!" cried Ethel, clasping her hands. "But, poor man, how unhappy he must have been at having to go away when she was so ill!" "Ay, the last time he saw her was when he carried her upstairs." "Oh, dear! I hope he will soon come here again!" "I don't suppose he will. Papa did not ask him." "Dear me, Norman! Why not? Isn't papa very fond of him? Why shouldn't he come?" "Don't you see, Ethel, that would be of no use while poor Margaret is no better. If he gained her affections, it would only make her unhappy."
"Oh, but she is much better. She can raise herself up now without help, and sat up ever so long this morning, without leaning back on her cushions. She is getting well--you know Sir Matthew said she would.""Yes; but I suppose papa thinks they had better say nothing till she is quite well." "And when she is! How famous it will be." "Then there's another thing; he is very poor, you know." "I am sure papa doesn't care about people being rich." "I suppose Alan thinks he ought not to marry, unless he could make his wife comfortable." "Look here--it would be all very easy: she should stay with us, and be comfortable here, and he go to sea, and get lots of prize money." "And that's what you call domestic felicity!" said Norman, laughing. "He might have her when he was at home," said Ethel. "No, no; that would never do," said Norman. "Do you think Ernescliffe's a man that would marry a wife for her father to maintain her?" "Why, papa would like it very much. He is not a mercenary father in a book." "Hey! what's that?" said a voice Ethel little expected. "Contraband talk at contraband times? What's this!" "Did you hear, papa?" said Ethel, looking down.
"Only your last words, as I came up to ask Norman what he had done with my pocket-book. Mind, I ask no impertinent questions; but, if you have no objection, I should like to know what gained me the honour of that compliment.""Norman?" said Ethel interrogatively, and blushing in emulation of her brother, who was crimson. "I'll find it," said he, rushing off with a sort of nod and sign, that conveyed to Ethel that there was no help for it. So, with much confusion, she whispered into her papa's ear that Norman had been telling her something he guessed about Mr. Ernescliffe.
Her father at first smiled, a pleased amused smile. "Ah! ha! so Master June has his eyes and ears open, has he? A fine bit of gossip to regale you with on his return!""He told me to say not one word," said Ethel.
"Right--mind you don't," said Dr. May, and Ethel was surprised to see how sorrowful his face became. At the same moment Norman returned, still very red, and said, "I've put out the pocket-book, papa. I think I should tell you I repeated what, perhaps, you did not mean me to hear--you talked to yourself something of pitying Ernescliffe." The doctor smiled again at the boy's highminded openness, which must have cost an effort of self-humiliation. "I can't say little pitchers have long ears, to a May-pole like you, Norman," said he; "I think I ought rather to apologise for having inadvertently tumbled in among your secrets; I assure you I did not come to spy you.""Oh, no, no, no, no!" repeated Ethel vehemently. "Then you didn't mind our talking about it?" "Of course not, as long as it goes no further. It is the use of sisters to tell them one's private sentiments. Is not it, Norman?" "And do you really think it is so, papa?" Ethel could not help whispering.
"I'm afraid it is", said Dr. May, sighing; then, as he caught her earnest eyes, "The more I see of Alan, the finer fellow I think him, and the more sorry I am for him. It seems presumptuous, almost wrong, to think of the matter at all while my poor Margaret is in this state; and, if she were well, there are other difficulties which would, perhaps, prevent his speaking, or lead to long years of waiting and wearing out hope.""Money?" said Ethel.
"Ay! Though I so far deserve your compliment, miss, that should be foolish enough, if she were but well, to give my consent to-morrow, because I could not help it; yet one can't live forty-six years in this world without seeing it is wrong to marry without a reasonable dependence--and there won't be much among eleven of you. It makes my heart ache to think of it, come what may, as far as I can see, and without her to judge. The only comfort is, that poor Margaret herself knows nothing of it, and is at peace so far. It will be ordered for them, anyhow. Good-night, my dear."Ethel sought her room, with graver, deeper thoughts of life than she had carried upstairs.
Saw ye never in the meadows, Where your little feet did pass,
Down below, the sweet white daisies Growing in the long green grass?
Saw you never lilac blossoms,
Or acacia white and red,
Waving brightly in the sunshine,
On the tall trees over head?
HYMNS FOR CHILDREN, C. F. A.
"My dear child, what a storm you have had! how wet you must be!" exclaimed Mrs. Larpent, as Meta Rivers came bounding up the broad staircase at Abbotstoke Grange."Oh no; I am quite dry; feel."
"Are you sure?" said Mrs. Larpent, drawing her darling into a luxurious bedroom, lighted up by a glowing fire, and full of pretty things. "Here, come and take off your wet things, my dear, and Bellairs shall bring you some tea."
"I'm dry. I'm warm," said Meta, tossing off her plumy hat, as she established herself, with her feet on the fender. "But where do you think I have been? You have so much to hear. But first--three guesses where we were in the rain!""In the Stoneborough Cloisters, that you wanted to see? My dear, you did not keep your papa in the cold there?" "No, no; we never got there at all; guess again." "At Mr. Edward Wilmot's?" "No!" "Could it have been at Dr. May's? Really, then, you must tell me."
"There! you deserve a good long story; beginning at the beginning," said Meta, clapping her hands, "wasn't it curious? as we were coming up the last hill, we met some girls in deep mourning, with a lady who looked like their governess. I wondered whether they could be Dr. May's daughters, and so it turned out they were.
"Presently there began to fall little square lumps, neither hail, nor snow, nor rain; it grew very cold, and rain came on. It would have been great fun, if I had not been afraid papa would catch cold, and he said we would canter on to the inn. But, luckily, there was Dr. May walking up the street, and he begged us to come into his house. I was so glad! We were tolerably wet, and Dr. May said something about hoping the girls were at home; well, when he opened the drawing-room door, there was the poor daughter lying on the sofa.""Poor girl! tell me of her."
"Oh! you must go and see her; you won't look at her without losing your heart. Papa liked her so much--see if he does not talk of her all the evening. She looks the picture of goodness and sweetness. Only think of her having some of the maidenhair and cape jessamine still in water, that we sent her so long ago. She shall have some flowers every three days. Well, Dr. May said, 'There is one at least, that is sure to be at home.' She felt my habit, and said I must go and change it, and she called to a little thing of six, telling her to show me the way to Flora. She smiled, and said she wished she could go herself, but Flora would take care of me. Little Blanche came and took hold of my hand, chattering away, up we went, up two staircases, and at the top of the last stood a girl about seventeen, so pretty! such deep blue eyes, and such a complexion! 'That's Flora,' little Blanche said; 'Flora, this is Miss Rivers, and she's wet, and Margaret says you are to take care of her.'""So that was your introduction?"
"Yes; we got acquainted in a minute. She took me into her room--such a room! I believe Bellairs would be angry if she had such a one; all up in the roof, no fire, no carpet, except little strips by the beds; there were three beds. Flora used to sleep there till Miss May was ill, and now she dresses there. Yet I am sure they are as much ladies as I am."
"You are an only daughter, my dear, and a petted one," said Mrs. Larpent, smiling. "There are too many of them to make much of, as we do of our Meta."
"I suppose so; but I did not know gentlewomen lived in such a way," said Meta. "There were nice things about, a beautiful inlaid work- box of Flora's, and a rosewood desk, and plenty of books, and a Greek book and dictionary were spread open. I asked Flora if they were hers, and she laughed and said no; and that Ethel would be much discomposed that I had see them. Ethel keeps up with her brother Norman--only fancy! and he at the head of the school. How clever she must be!""But, my dear, were you standing in your wet things all this time!"
"No; I was trying on their frocks, but they trailed on the ground upon me, so she asked if I would come and sit by the nursery fire till my habit was dry; and there was a dear little good-humoured baby, so fair and pretty. She is not a bit shy, will go to anybody, but, they say, she likes no one so well as her brother Norman.""So you had a regular treat of baby-nursing."
"That I had; I could not part with her, the darling. Flora thought we might take her down, and I liked playing with her in the drawing- room and talking to Miss May, till the fly came to take us home. I wanted to have seen Ethel; but, only think, papa has asked Dr. May to bring Flora some day; how I hope he will!"
Little Meta having told her story, and received plenty of sympathy, proceeded to dress, and, while her maid braided her hair, a musing fit fell upon her. "I have seen something of life to-day," thought she. "I had thought of the great difference between us and the poor, but I did not know ladies lived in such different ways. I should be very miserable without Bellairs, or without a fire in my room. I don't know what I should do if I had to live in that cold, shabby den, and do my own hair, yet they think nothing of it, and they are cultivated and ladylike! Is it all fancy, and being brought up to it? I wonder if it is right? Yet dear papa likes me to have these things, and can afford them. I never knew I was luxurious before, and yet I think I must be! One thing I do wish, and that is, that I was of as much use as those girls. I ought to be. I am a motherless girl like them, and I ought to be everything to papa, just as Miss May is, even lying on the sofa there, and only two years older than I am. I don't think I am of any use at all; he is fond of me, of course, dear papa; and if I died, I don't know what would become of him; but that's only because I am his daughter--he has only George besides to care for. But, really and truly, he would get on as well without me. I never do anything for him, but now and then playing to him in the evening, and that not always, I am afraid, when I want to be about anything else. He is always petting me, and giving me all I want, but I never do anything but my lessons, and going to the school, and the poor people, and that is all pleasure. I have so much that I never miss what I give away. I wonder whether it is all right! Leonora and Agatha have not so much money to do as they please with--they are not so idolised. George said, when he was angry, that papa idolises me; but they have all these comforts and luxuries, and never think of anything but doing what they like. They never made me consider as these Mays do. I should like to know them more. I do so much want a friend of my own age. It is the only want I have. I have tried to make a friend of Leonora, but I cannot; she never cares for what I do. If she saw these Mays she would look down on them. Dear Mrs. Larpent is better than any one, but then she is so much older. Flora May shall be my friend. I'll make her call me Meta as soon as she comes. When will it be? The day after tomorrow?"
But little Meta watched in vain. Dr. May always came with either Richard or the groom, to drive him, and if Meta met him and hoped he would bring Flora next time, he only answered that Flora would like it very much, and he hoped soon to do so.
The truth was, it was no such everyday matter as Meta imagined. The larger carriage had been broken, and the only vehicle held only the doctor--his charioteer--and in a very minute appendage behind, a small son of the gardener, to open gates, and hold the horse.
The proposal had been one of those general invitations to be fulfilled at any time, and therefore easily set aside; and Dr. May, though continually thinking he should like to take his girls to Abbotstoke, never saw the definite time for so doing; and Flora herself, though charmed with Miss Rivers, and delighted with the prospect of visiting her, only viewed it as a distant prospect.
There was plenty of immediate interest to occupy them at home, to say nothing of the increasing employment that Cocksmoor gave to thoughts, legs, and needles. There was the commencement of the half-year, when Tom's schoolboy life was to begin, and when it would be proved whether Norman were able to retain his elevation.
Margaret had much anxiety respecting the little boy about to be sent into a scene of temptation. Her great confidence was in Richard, who told her that boys did many more wrong things than were known at home, and yet turned out very well, and that Tom would be sure to right himself in the end. Richard had been blameless in his whole school course, but though never partaking of the other boys' evil practices, he could not form an independent estimate of character, and his tone had been a little hurt, by sharing the school public opinion of morality. He thought Stoneborough and its temptations inevitable, and only wished to make the best of it. Margaret was afraid to harass her father by laying the case before him. All her brothers had gone safely through the school, and it never occurred to her that it was possible that, if her father knew the bias of Tom's disposition, he might choose, for the present, at least, some other mode of education.
She talked earnestly to Tom, and he listened impatiently. There is an age when boys rebel against female rule, and are not yet softened by the chivalry of manhood, and Tom was at this time of life. He did not like to be lectured by a sister, secretly disputed her right, and, proud of becoming a schoolboy, had not the generous deference for her weakness felt by his elder brothers; he was all the time peeling a stick, as if to show that he was not attending, and he raised up his shoulder pettishly whenever she came to a mention of the religious duty of sincerity. She did not long continue her advice, and, much disappointed and concerned, tried to console herself with hoping that he might have heeded more than he seemed to do.
He was placed tolerably high in the school, and Norman, who had the first choice of fags, took him instead of Hector Ernescliffe, who had just passed beyond the part of the school liable to be fagged. He said he liked school, looked bright when he came home in the evenings, and the sisters hoped all was right.
Every one was just now anxiously watching Norman, especially his father, who strove in vain to keep back all manifestation of his earnest desire to see him retain his post. Resolutely did the doctor refrain from asking any questions, when the boys came in, but he could not keep his eyes from studying the face, to see whether it bore marks of mental fatigue, and from following him about the room, to discover whether he found it necessary, as he had done last autumn, to spend the evening in study. It was no small pleasure to see him come in with his hand full of horse-chestnut and hazelbuds, and proceed to fetch the microscope and botany books, throwing himself eagerly into the study of the wonders of their infant forms, searching deeply into them with Margaret, and talking them over with his father, who was very glad to promote the pursuit--one in which he had always taken great interest.
Another night Dr. May was for a moment disturbed by seeing the schoolbooks put out, but Norman had only some notes to compare, and while he did so, he was remarking on Flora's music, and joining in the conversation so freely as to prove it was no labour to him. In truth, he was evidently quite recovered, entirely himself again, except that he was less boyish. He had been very lively and full of merry nonsense; but his ardour for play had gone off with his high spirits, and there was a manliness of manner, and tone of mind, that made him appear above his real age.
At the end of a fortnight he volunteered to tell his father that all was right. "I am not afraid of not keeping my place," he said; "you were quite right, papa. I am more up to my work than I was ever before, and it comes to me quite fresh and pleasant. I don't promise to get the Randall scholarship, if Forder and Cheviot stay on, but I can quite keep up to the mark in school work.""That's right," said Dr. May, much rejoiced. "Are you sure you do it with ease, and without its haunting you at night?"
"Oh, yes; quite sure. I can't think what has made Dr. Hoxton set us on in such easy things this time. It is very lucky for me, for one gets so much less time to oneself as dux.""What! with keeping order?"
"Ay," said Norman. "I fancy they think they may take liberties because I am new and young. I must have my eye in all corners of the hall at once, and do my own work by snatches, as I can.""Can you make them attend to you?"
"Why, yes, pretty well, when it comes to the point--'will you, or will you not?' Cheviot is a great help, too, and has all the weight of being the eldest fellow amongst us."
"But still you find it harder work than learning? You had rather have to master the dead language than the live tongues?"
"A pretty deal," said Norman; then added, "One knows what to be at with the dead, better than with the living; they don't make parties against one. I don't wonder at it. It was very hard on some of those great fellows to have me set before them, but I do not think it is fair to visit it by putting up the little boys to all sorts of mischief."
"Shameful!" said the doctor warmly; "but never mind, Norman, keep your temper, and do your own duty, and you are man enough to put down such petty spite."
"I hope I shall manage rightly," said Norman; "but I shall be glad if I can get the Randall and get away to Oxford; school is not what it used to be, and if you don't think me too young--"
"No, I don't; certainly not. Trouble has made a man of you, Norman, and you are fitter to be with men than boys. In the meantime, if you can be patient with these fellows, you'll be of great use where you are. If there had been any one like you at the head of the school in my time, it would have kept me out of no end of scrapes. How does Tom get on? he is not likely to fall into this set, I trust."
"I am not sure," said Norman; "he does pretty well on the whole. Some of them began by bullying him, and that made him cling to Cheviot and Ernescliffe, and the better party; but lately I have thought Anderson, junior, rather making up to him, and I don't know whether they don't think that tempting him over to them would be the surest way of vexing me. I have an eye over him, and I hope he may get settled into the steadier sort before next half."
After a silence, Norman said, "Papa, there is a thing I can't settle in my own mind. Suppose there had been wrong things done when older boys, and excellent ones too, were at the head of the school, yet they never interfered, do you think I ought to let it go on?""Certainly not, or why is power given to you?"
"So I thought," said Norman; "I can't see it otherwise. I wish I could, for it will be horrid to set about it, and they'll think it a regular shame in me to meddle. Oh! I know what I came into the study for; I want you to be so kind as to lend me your pocket Greek Testament. I gave Harry my little one.""You are very welcome. What do you want it for?"
Norman coloured. "I met with a sermon the other day that recommended reading a bit of it every day, and I thought I should like to try, now the Confirmation is coming. One can always have some quiet by getting away into the cloister.""Bless you, my boy! while you go on in this way, I have not much fear but that you'll know how to manage." Norman's rapid progress affected another of the household in an unexpected way.
"Margaret, my dear, I wish to speak to you," said Miss Winter, reappearing when Margaret thought every one was gone out walking. She would have said, "I am very sorry for it"--so ominous was the commencement--and her expectations were fulfilled when Miss Winter had solemnly seated herself, and taken out her netting. "I wished to speak to you about dear Ethel," said the governess; "you know how unwilling I always am to make any complaint, but I cannot be satisfied with her present way of going on.""Indeed," said Margaret. "I am much grieved to hear this. I thought she had been taking great pains to improve."
"So she was at one time. I would not by any means wish to deny it, and it is not of her learning that I speak, but of a hurried, careless way of doing everything, and an irritability at being interfered with."Margaret knew how Miss Winter often tried Ethel's temper, and was inclined to take her sister's part. "Ethel's time is so fully occupied," she said. "That is the very thing that I was going to observe, my dear. Her time is too much occupied, and my conviction is, that it is hurtful to a girl of her age."
This was a new idea to Margaret, who was silent, longing to prove Miss Winter wrong, and not have to see poor Ethel pained by having to relinquish any of her cherished pursuits.
"You see there is that Cocksmoor," said Miss Winter. "You do not know how far off it is, my dear; much too great a distance for a young girl to be walking continually in all weathers.""That's a question for papa," thought Margaret.
"Besides," continued Miss Winter, "those children engross almost all her time and thoughts. She is working for them, preparing lessons, running after them continually. It takes off her whole mind from her proper occupations, unsettles her, and I do think it is beyond what befits a young lady of her age."
Margaret was silent. "In addition," said Miss Winter, "she is at every spare moment busy with Latin and Greek, and I cannot think that to keep pace with a boy of Norman's age and ability can be desirable for her.""It is a great deal," said Margaret, "but--"
"I am convinced that she does more than is right," continued Miss Winter. "She may not feel any ill effects at present, but you may depend upon it, it will tell on her by-and-by. Besides, she does not attend to anything properly. At one time she was improving in neatness and orderly habits. Now, you surely must have seen how much less tidy her hair and dress have been.""I have thought her hair looking rather rough," said Margaret disconsolately.
"No wonder," said Miss Winter, "for Flora and Mary tell me she hardly spends five minutes over it in the morning, and with a book before her the whole time. If I send her up to make it fit to be seen, I meet with looks of annoyance. She leaves her books in all parts of the school-room for Mary to put away, and her table drawer is one mass of confusion. Her lessons she does well enough, I own, though what I should call much too fast; but have you looked at her work lately?"
"She does not work very well," said Margaret, who was at that moment, though Miss Winter did not know it, re-gathering a poor child's frock that Ethel had galloped through with more haste than good speed.
"She works a great deal worse than little Blanche," said Miss Winter, "and though it may not be the fashion to say so in these days, I consider good needlework far more important than accomplishments. Well, then, Margaret, I should wish you only just to look at her writing."
And Miss Winter opened a French exercise-book, certainly containing anything but elegant specimens of penmanship. Ethel's best writing was an upright, disjointed niggle, looking more like Greek than anything else, except where here and there it made insane efforts to become running-hand, and thereby lost its sole previous good quality of legibility, while the lines waved about the sheet in almost any direction but the horizontal. The necessity she believed herself under of doing what Harry called writing with the end of her nose, and her always holding her pen with her fingers almost in the ink, added considerably to the difficulty of the performance. This being at her best, the worst may be supposed to be indescribable, when dashed off in a violent hurry, and considerably garnished with blots. Margaret thought she had seen the worst, and was sighing at being able to say nothing for it, when Miss Winter confounded her by turning a leaf, and showing it was possible to make a still wilder combination of scramble, niggle, scratch, and crookedness--and this was supposed to be an amended edition! Miss Winter explained that Ethel had, in an extremely short time, performed an exercise in which no fault could be detected except the writing, which was pronounced to be too atrocious to be shown up to M. Ballompre. On being desired to write it over again, she had obeyed with a very bad grace, and some murmurs about Cocksmoor, and produced the second specimen, which, in addition to other defects, had some elisions from arrant carelessness, depriving it of its predecessor's merits of being good French.
Miss Winter had been so provoked that she believed this to be an effect of ill temper, and declared that she should certainly have kept Ethel at home to write it over again, if it had not so happened that Dr. May had proposed to walk part of the way with her and Richard, and the governess was unwilling to bring her into disgrace with him. Margaret was so grateful to her for this forbearance, that it disposed her to listen the more patiently to the same representations put in, what Miss Winter fancied, different forms. Margaret was much perplexed. She could not but see much truth in what Miss Winter said, and yet she could not bear to thwart Ethel, whom she admired with her whole heart; and that dry experience, and prejudiced preciseness, did not seem capable of entering into her sister's thirst for learning and action. When Miss Winter said Ethel would grow up odd, eccentric, and blue, Margaret was ready to answer that she would be superior to every one; and when the governess urged her to insist on Cocksmoor being given up, she felt impatient of that utter want of sympathy for the good work.
All that evening Margaret longed for a quiet time to reflect, but it never came till she was in bed; and when she had made up her mind how to speak to Ethel, it was five times harder to secure her alone. Even when Margaret had her in the room by herself, she looked wild and eager, and said she could not stay, she had some Thucydides to do."Won't you stay with me a little while, quietly?" said Margaret; "we hardly ever have one of our talks." "I didn't mean to vex you, dear Margaret; I like nothing so well, only we are never alone, and I've no time." "Pray do spare me a minute, Ethel, for I have something that I must say to you, and I am afraid you won't like it--so do listen kindly."
"Oh!" said Ethel, "Miss Winter has been talking to you. I know she said she would tell you that she wants me to give up Cocksmoor. You aren't dreaming of it, Margaret?""Indeed, dear Ethel, I should be very sorry, but one thing I am sure of, that there is something amiss in your way of going on." "Did she show you that horrid exercise?"
"Yes." "Well, I know it was baddish writing, but just listen, Margaret. We promised six of the children to print them each a verse of a hymn on a card to learn. Ritchie did three, and then could not go on, for the book that the others were in was lost till last evening, and then he was writing for papa. So I thought I would do them before we went to Cocksmoor, and that I should squeeze time out of the morning; but I got a bit of Sophocles that was so horridly hard it ate up all my time, and I don't understand it properly now; I must get Norman to tell me. And that ran in my head and made me make a mistake in my sum, and have to begin it again. Then, just as I thought I had saved time over the exercise, comes Miss Winter and tells me I must do it over again, and scolds me besides about the ink on my fingers. She would send me up at once to get it off, and I could not find nurse and her bottle of stuff for it, so that wasted ever so much more time, and I was so vexed that, really and truly, my hand shook and I could not write any better.""No, I thought it looked as if you had been in one of your agonies."
"And she thought I did it on purpose, and that made me angry, and so we got into a dispute, and away went all the little moment I might have had, and I was forced to go to Cocksmoor as a promise breaker!""Don't you think you had better have taken pains at first?" "Well, so I did with the sense, but I hadn't time to look at the writing much." "You would have made better speed if you had." "Oh, yes, I know I was wrong, but it is a great plague altogether. Really, Margaret, I shan't get Thucydides done."
"You must wait a little longer, please, Ethel, for I want to say to you that I am afraid you are doing too much, and that prevents you from doing things well, as you were trying to do last autumn.""You are not thinking of my not going to Cocksmoor?" cried Ethel vehemently.
"I want you to consider what is to be done, dear Ethel. You thought, last autumn, a great deal of curing your careless habits, now you seem not to have time to attend. You can do a great deal very fast, I know, but isn't it a pity to be always in a hurry?""It isn't Cocksmoor that is the reason," said Ethel. "No; you did pretty well when you began, but you know that was in the holidays, when you had no Latin and Greek to do."
"Oh, but, Margaret, they won't take so much time when I have once got over the difficulties, and see my way, but just now they have put Norman into such a frightfully difficult play, that I can hardly get on at all with it, and there's a new kind of Greek verses, too, and I don't make out from the book how to manage them. Norman showed me on Saturday, but mine won't be right. When I've got over that, I shan't be so hurried.""But Norman will go on to something harder, I suppose." "I dare say I shall be able to do it."
"Perhaps you might, but I want you to consider if you are not working beyond what can be good for anybody. You see Norman is much cleverer than most boys, and you are a year younger; and besides doing all his work at the head of the school, his whole business of the day, you have Cocksmoor to attend to, and your own lessons, besides reading all the books that come into the house. Now isn't that more than is reasonable to expect any head and hands to do properly?""But if I can do it?" "But can you, dear Ethel? Aren't you always racing from one thing to another, doing them by halves, feeling hunted, and then growing vexed?" "I know I have been cross lately," said Ethel, "but it's the being so bothered." "And why are you bothered? Isn't it that you undertake too much?" "What would you have me do?" said Ethel, in an injured, unconvinced voice. "Not give up my children?" "No," said Margaret; "but don't think me very unkind if I say, suppose you left off trying to keep up with Norman."
"Oh, Margaret! Margaret!" and her eyes filled with tears. "We have hardly missed doing the same every day since the first Latin grammar was put into his hands!"
"I know it would be very hard," said Margaret; but Ethel continued, in a piteous tone, a little sentimental, "From hie haec hoc up to Alcaics and beta Thukididou we have gone on together, and I can't bear to give it up. I'm sure I can--"
"Stop, Ethel, I really doubt whether you can. Do you know that Norman was telling papa the other day that it was very odd Dr. Hoxton gave them such easy lessons."
Ethel looked very much mortified. "You see," said Margaret kindly, "we all know that men have more power than women, and I suppose the time has come for Norman to pass beyond you. He would not be cleverer than any one, if he could not do more than a girl at home.""He has so much more time for it," said Ethel.
"That's the very thing. Now consider, Ethel. His work, after he goes to Oxford, will be doing his very utmost--and you know what an utmost that is. If you could keep up with him at all, you must give your whole time and thoughts to it, and when you had done so--if you could get all the honours in the University--what would it come to? You can't take a first-class.""I don't want one," said Ethel; "I only can't bear not to do as Norman does, and I like Greek so much."
"And for that would you give up being a useful, steady daughter and sister at home? The sort of woman that dear mamma wished to make you, and a comfort to papa."Ethel was silent, and large tears were gathering. "You own that that is the first thing?" "Yes," said Ethel faintly. "And that it is what you fail in most?" "Yes." "Then, Ethel dearest, when you made up your mind to Cocksmoor, you knew those things could not be done without a sacrifice?" "Yes, but I didn't think it would be this."
Margaret was wise enough not to press her, and she sat down and sighed pitifully. Presently she said, "Margaret, if you would only let me leave off that stupid old French, and horrid dull reading with Miss Winter, I should have plenty of time for everything; and what does one learn by hearing Mary read poetry she can't understand?"
"You work, don't you? But indeed, Ethel, don't say that I can let you leave off anything. I don't feel as if I had that authority. If it be done at all, it must be by papa's consent, and if you wish me to ask him about it, I will, only I think it would vex Miss Winter; and I don't think dear mamma would have liked Greek and Cocksmoor to swallow up all the little common ladylike things." Ethel made two or three great gulps; "Margaret, must I give up everything, and forget all my Latin and Greek?"
"I should think that would be a great pity," said Margaret. "If you were to give up the verse-making, and the trying to do as much as Norman, and fix some time in the day--half an hour, perhaps--for your Greek, I think it might do very well."
"Thank you," said Ethel, much relieved; "I'm glad you don't want me to leave it all off. I hope Norman won't be vexed," she added, looking a little melancholy.
But Norman had not by any means the sort of sentiment on the subject that she had. "Of course, you know, Ethel," said he, "it must have come to this some time or other, and if you find those verses too hard, and that they take up too much of your time, you had better give them up."
Ethel did not like anything to be said to be too hard for her, and was very near pleading she only wanted time, but some recollection came across her, and presently she said, "I suppose it is a wrong sort of ambition to want to learn more, in one's own way, when one is told it is not good for one. I was just going to say I hated being a woman, and having these tiresome little trifles--my duty--instead of learning, which is yours, Norman."
"I'm glad you did not," said Norman, "for it would have been very silly of you; and I assure you, Ethel, it is really time for you to stop, or you would get into a regular learned lady, and be good for nothing. I don't mean that knowing more than other people would make you so, but minding nothing else would."
This argument from Norman himself did much to reconcile Ethel's mind to the sacrifice she had made; and when she went to bed, she tried to work out the question in her own mind, whether her eagerness for classical learning was a wrong sort of ambition, to know what other girls did not, and whether it was right to crave for more knowledge than was thought advisable for her. She only bewildered herself, and went to sleep before she had settled anything, but that she knew she must make all give way to papa first, and, secondly, to Cocksmoor.
Meanwhile Margaret had told her father all that had passed. He was only surprised to hear that Ethel had kept up so long with Norman, and thought that it was quite right that she should not undertake so much, agreeing more entirely than Margaret had expected with Miss Winter's view, that it would be hurtful to body as well as mind.
"It is perfectly ridiculous to think of her attempting it!" he said. "I am glad you have put a stop to it."
"I am glad I have," said Margaret; "and dear Ethel behaved so very well. If she had resisted, it would have puzzled me very much, I must have asked you to settle it. But it is very odd, papa, Ethel is the one of them all who treats me most as if I had real authority over her; she lets me scold her, asks my leave, never seems to recollect for a moment how little older I am, and how much cleverer she is. I am sure I never should have submitted so readily. And that always makes it more difficult to me to direct her; I don't like to take upon me with her, because it seems wrong to have her obeying me as if she were a mere child."
"She is a fine creature," said Dr. May emphatically. "It just shows the fact, the higher the mind the readier the submission. But you don't mean that you have any difficulty with the others?"
"Oh, no, no. Flora never could need any interference, especially from me, and Mary is a thorough good girl. I only meant that Ethel lays herself out to be ruled in quite a remarkable way. I am sure, though she does love learning, her real love is for goodness and for you, papa."Ethel would have thought her sacrifice well paid for, had she seen her father's look of mournful pleasure.
O ruthful scene! when from a nook obscure, His little sister doth his peril see,
All playful as she sate, she grows demure, She finds full soon her wonted spirits flee, She meditates a prayer to set him free.
The setting sun shone into the great west window of the school at Stoneborough, on its bare walls, the masters' desks, the forms polished with use, and the square, inky, hacked and hewed chests, carved with the names of many generations of boys.
About six or eight little boys were clearing away the books or papers that they, or those who owned them as fags, had left astray, and a good deal of talk and laughing was going on among them. "Ha!" exclaimed one, "here has Harrison left his book behind him that he was showing us the gladiators in!" and, standing by the third master's desk, he turned over a page or two of Smith's 'Antiquities', exclaiming, "It is full of pictures--here's an old man blowing the bellows--"
"Let me see!" cried Tom May, precipitating himself across the benches and over the desk, with so little caution, that there was an outcry; and, to his horror, he beheld the ink spilled over Mr. Harrison's book, while, "There, August! you've been and done it!" "You'll catch it!" resounded on all sides."What good will staring with your mouth open do!" exclaimed Edward Anderson, the eldest present. "Here! a bit of blotting-paper this moment!" Tom, dreadfully frightened, handed a sheet torn from an old paper- case that he had inherited from Harry, saying despairingly, "It won't take it out, will it?"
"No, little stupid head, but don't you see, I'm stopping it from running down the edges, or soaking in. He won't be the wiser till he opens it again at that place.""When he does, he will," said the bewildered Tom. "Let him. It won't tell tales." "He's coming!" cried another boy, "he is close at the door."
Anderson hastily shut the book over the blotting-paper, which he did not venture to retain in his hand, dragged Tom down from the desk, and was apparently entirely occupied with arranging his own box, when Mr. Harrison came in. Tom crouched behind the raised lid, quaking in every limb, conscious he ought to confess, but destitute of resolution to do so, and, in a perfect agony as the master went to his desk, took up the book, and carried it away, so unconscious, that Larkins, a great wag, only waited till his back was turned, to exclaim, "Ha! old fellow, you don't know what you've got there!"
"Hallo! May junior, will you never leave off staring? you won't see a bit farther for it," said Edward Anderson, shaking him by the ear; "come to your senses, and know your friends.""He'll open it!" gasped Tom.
"So he will, but I'd bet ninety to one, it is not at that page, or if he does, it won't tell tales, unless, indeed, he happened to see you standing there, crouching and shaking. That's the right way to bring him upon you.""But suppose he opens it, and knows who was in school?" "What then? D'ye think we can't stand by each other, and keep our own counsel?" "But the blotting-paper--suppose he knows that!" There was a laugh all round at this, "as if Harrison knew everyone's blottingpaper!" "Yes, but Harry used to write his name all over his--see--and draw Union Jacks on it." "If he did, the date is not there. Do you think the ink is going to say March 2nd? Why should not July have done it last half?" "July would have told if he had," said Larkins. "That's no go."
"Ay! That's the way--the Mays are all like girls--can't keep a secret--not one of them. There, I've done more for you than ever one of them would have done
-own it--and he strode up to Tom, and grasped his wrists, to force the confession from him."
"Let him. We know nothing about it. Don't be coming the good boy over me like your brothers. That won't do--I know whose eyes are not too shortsighted to read upside down."
Tom shrank and looked abject, clinging to the hope that Mr. Harrison would not open the book for weeks, months, or years.
But the next morning his heart died within him, when he beheld the unfortunate piece of blotting-paper, displayed by Mr. Harrison, with the inquiry whether any one knew to whom it belonged, and what made it worse was, that his sight would not reach far enough to assure him whether Harry's name was on it, and he dreaded that Norman or Hector Ernescliffe should recognise the nautical designs. However, both let it pass, and no one through the whole school attempted to identify it. One danger was past, but the next minute Mr. Harrison opened his Smith's 'Antiquities' at the page where stood the black witness. Tom gazed round in despair, he could not see his brother's face, but Edward Anderson, from the second form, returned him a glance of contemptuous encouragement.
"This book," said Mr. Harrison, "was left in school for a quarter of an hour yesterday. When I opened it again, it was in this condition. Do any of you know how it happened?" A silence, and he continued, "Who was in school at this time? Anderson junior, can you tell me anything of it?""No, sir." "You know nothing of it?" "No, sir." Cold chills crept over Tom, as Mr. Harrison looked round to refresh his memory. "Larkins, do you know how this happened?" "No, sir," said Larkins boldly, satisfying his conscience because he had not seen the manner of the overthrow. "Ernescliffe, were you there?" "No, sir."
Tom's timid heart fluttered in dim hope that he had been overlooked, as Mr. Harrison paused, then said, "Remember, it is concealment that is the evil, not the damage to the book. I shall have a good opinion ever after of a boy honest enough to confess, May junior, I saw you," he added, hopefully and kindly. "Don't be afraid to speak out if you did meet with a mischance."
Tom coloured and turned pale. Anderson and Larkins grimaced at him, to remind him that they had told untruths for his sake, and that he must not betray them. It was the justification he wanted; he was relieved to fancy himself obliged to tell the direct falsehood, for which a long course of petty acted deceits had paved the way, for he was in deadly terror of the effects of truth.
"No, sir." He could hardly believe he had said the words, or that they would be so readily accepted, for Mr. Harrison had only the impression that he knew who the guilty person was, and would not tell, and, therefore, put no more questions to him, but, after a few more vain inquiries, was baffled, and gave up the investigation.
Tom thought he should have been very unhappy; he had always heard that deceit was a heavy burden, and would give continual stings, but he was surprised to find himself very comfortable on the whole, and able to dismiss repentance as well as terror. His many underhand ways with Richard had taken away the tenderness of his conscience, though his knowledge of what was right was clear; and he was quite ready to accept the feeling prevalent at Stoneborough, that truth was not made for schoolboys.
The axiom was prevalent, but not universal, and parties were running high. Norman May, who as head boy had, in play-hours, the responsibility, and almost the authority of a master, had taken higher ground than was usual even with the well-disposed; and felt it his duty to check abuses and malpractices that his predecessors had allowed. His friend, Cheviot, and the right-minded set, maintained his authority with all their might; but Harvey Anderson regarded his interference as vexatious, always took the part of the offenders, and opposed him in every possible way, thus gathering as his adherents not only the idle and mischievous, but the weak and mediocre, and, among this set, there was a positive bitterness of feeling to May, and all whom they considered as belonging to him.
In shielding Tom May and leading him to deceive, the younger Anderson had gained a conquest--in him the Mays had fallen from that pinnacle of truth which was a standing reproach to the average Stoneborough code--and, from that time, he was under the especial patronage of his friend. He was taught the most ingenious arts of saying a lesson without learning it, and of showing up other people's tasks; whispers and signs were directed to him to help him out of difficulties, and he was sought out and put forward whenever a forbidden pleasure was to be enjoyed by stealth. These were his stimulants under a heavy bondage; he was teased and frightened, bullied and tormented, whenever it was the fancy of Ned Anderson and his associates to make his timidity their sport; he was scorned and ill-treated, and driven, by bodily terror, into acts alarming to his conscience, dangerous in their consequences, and painful in the perpetration; and yet, among all his sufferings, the little coward dreaded nothing so much as truth, though it would have set him free at once from this wretched tyranny.
Excepting on holidays, and at hours when the town-boys were allowed to go home, there were strict rules confining all except the sixth form to their bounds, consisting of two large courts, and an extensive field bordered by the river and the road. On the opposite side of the bridge was a turnpike gate, where the keeper exposed stalls of various eatables, very popular among the boys, chiefly because they were not allowed to deal there. Ginger-beer could also be procured, and there were suspicions that the bottles so called contained something contraband.
"August," said Norman, as they were coming home from school one evening, "did I see you coming over the bridge?"
"So you have been at Ballhatchet's gate? I can't think what could take you there. If you want tarts, I am sure poor old Betty's are just as good. What made you go there?""Nothing," said Tom.
"Well, mind you don't do it again, or I shall have to take you in hand, which I shall be very sorry to do. That man is a regular bad character, and neither my father nor Dr. Hoxton would have one of us have anything to do with him, as you know."
Tom was in hopes it was over, but Norman went on. "I am afraid you are getting into a bad way. Why won't you mind what I have told you plenty of times before, that no good comes of going after Ned Anderson, and Axworthy, and that set. What were you doing with them to-day?" But, receiving no answer, he went on. "You always sulk when I speak to you. I suppose you think I have no right to row you, but I do it to save you from worse. You can't never be found out." This startled Tom, but Norman had no suspicion. "If you go on, you will get into some awful scrape, and papa will be grieved. I would not, for all the world, have him put out of heart about you. Think of him, Tom, and try to keep straight." Tom would say nothing, only reflecting that his elder brother was harder upon him than any one else would be, and Norman grew warmer. "If you let Anderson junior get hold of you, and teach you his tricks, you'll never be good for anything. He seems goodnatured now, but he will turn against you, as he did with Harry. I know how it is, and you had better take my word, and trust to me and
straightforwardness, when you get into a mess."
"I'm in no scrape," said Tom, so doggedly, that Norman lost patience, and spoke with more displeasure. "You will be then, if you go out of bounds, and run Anderson's errands, and shirk work. You'd better take care. It is my place to keep order, and I can't let you off for being my brother; so remember, if I catch you going to Ballhatchet's again, you may make sure of a licking."
So the warning closed--Tom more alarmed at the aspect of right, which he fancied terrific, and Norman with some compunction at having lost temper and threatened, when he meant to have gained him by kindness.
Norman recollected his threat with a qualm of dismay when, at the end of the week, as he was returning from a walk with Cheviot, Tom darted out of the gate-house. He was flying across the bridge, with something under his arm, when Norman laid a detaining hand on his collar, making a sign at the same time to Cheviot to leave them.
"What are you doing here?" said Norman sternly, marching Tom into the field. "So you've been there again. What's that under your jacket?"
Norman seized it, and gave Tom a fierce angry shake, but the indignation was mixed with sorrow. "Oh, Tom, Tom, these fellows have brought you a pretty pass. Who would have thought of such a thing from us!"Tom cowered, but felt only terror. "Speak truth," said Norman, ready to shake it out of him; "is this for Anderson junior?"
Under those eyes, flashing with generous, sorrowful wrath, he dared not utter another falsehood, but Anderson's threats chained him, and he preferred his thraldom to throwing himself on the mercy of his brother who loved him. He would not speak."I am glad it is not for yourself," said Norman; "but do you remember what I said, in case I found you there again?" "Oh! don't, don't!" cried the boy. "I would never have gone if they had not made me." "Made you?" said Norman, disdainfully, "how?" "They would have thrashed me--they pinched my fingers in the box-- they pulled my ears--oh, don't--"
"Poor little fellow!" said Norman; "but it is your own fault. If you won't keep with me, or Ernescliffe, of course they will bully you. But I must not let you off--I must keep my word!" Tom cried, sobbed, and implored in vain. "I can't help it," he said, "and now, don't howl! I had rather no one knew it. It will soon be over. I never thought to have this to do to one of us." Tom roared and struggled, till, releasing him, he said, "There, that will do. Stop bellowing, I was obliged, and I can't have hurt you much, have I?" he added more kindly, while Tom went on crying, and turning from him. "It is nothing to care about, I am sure; look up;" and he pulled down his hands. "Say you are sorry--speak the truth--keep with me, and no one shall hurt you again."
Very different this from Tom's chosen associates; but he was still obdurate, sullen, and angry, and would not speak, nor open his heart to those kind words. After one more, "I could not help it, Tom, you've no business to be sulky," Norman took up the bottle, opened it, smelled, and tasted, and was about to throw it into the river; when Tom exclaimed, "Oh, don't, don't! what will they do to me? give it to me!""Did they give you the money to pay for it?" "Yes; let me have it." "How much was it?" "Fourpence."
"I'll settle that," and the bottle splashed in the river. "Now then, Tom, don't brood on it any more. Here's a chance for you of getting quit of their errands. If you will keep in my sight. I'll take care no one bullies you, and you may still leave off these disgraceful tricks, and do well."
But Tom's evil spirit whispered that Norman had beaten him, that he should never have any diversion again, and that Anderson would punish him; and there was a sort of satisfaction in seeing that his perverse silence really distressed his brother.
"If you will go on in this way, I can't help it, but you'll be sorry some day," said Norman, and he walked thoughtfully on, looking back to see whether Tom was following, as he did slowly, meditating on the way how he should avert his tyrant's displeasure.
Norman stood for a moment at the door, surveying the court, then walked up to a party of boys, and laid his hand on the shoulder of one, holding a silver fourpence to him. "Anderson Junior," said he, "there's your money. I am not going to let Stoneborough School be turned into a gin palace. I give you notice, it is not to be. Now you are not to bully May junior for telling me. He did not, I found him out."
Leaving Anderson to himself he looked for Tom, but not seeing him, he entered the cloister, for it was the hour when he was used to read there, but he could not fix his mind. He went to the bench where he had lain on the examination day, and kneeling on it, looked out on the green grass where the graves were. "Mother! mother!" he murmured, "have I been harsh to your poor little tender sickly boy? I couldn't help it. Oh! if you were but here! We are all going wrong! What shall I do? How should Tom be kept from this evil?
-it is ruining him! mean, false, cowardly, sullen--all that is worst--and your son--oh! mother! and all I do only makes him shrink more from me. It will break my father's heart, and you will not be there to comfort him."
Norman covered his face with his hands, and a fit of bitter grief came over him. But his sorrow was now not what it had been before his father's resignation had tempered it, and soon it turned to prayer, resolution, and hope.
He would try again to reason quietly with him, when the alarm of detection and irritation should have gone off, and he sought for the occasion; but, alas! Tom had learned to look on all reproof as "rowing," and considered it as an additional injury from a brother, who, according to the Anderson view, should have connived at his offences, and turned a deafened ear and dogged countenance to all he said. The foolish boy sought after the Andersons still more, and Norman became more dispirited about him, greatly missing Harry, that constant companion and follower, who would have shared his perplexities, and removed half of them, in his own part of the school, by the influence of his high, courageous, and truthful spirit.
In the meantime Richard was studying hard at home, with greater hopefulness and vigour than he had ever thrown into his work before. "Suppose," Ethel had once said to him, "that when you are a clergyman, you could be Curate of Cocksmoor, when there is a church there."
"When?" said Richard, smiling at the presumption of the scheme, and yet it formed itself into a sort of definite hope. Perhaps they might persuade Mr. Ramsden to take him as a curate with a view to Cocksmoor, and this prospect, vague as it was, gave an object and hope to his studies. Every one thought the delay of his examination favourable to him, and he now read with a determination to succeed. Dr. May had offered to let him read with Mr. Harrison but Richard thought he was getting on pretty well, with the help Norman gave him; for it appeared that ever since Norman's return from London, he had been assisting Richard, who was not above being taught by a younger brother; while, on the other hand, Norman, much struck by his humility, would not for the world have published that he was fit to act as his elder's tutor.
One evening, when the two boys came in from school, Tom gave a great start, and, pulling Mary by the sleeve, whispered, "How came that book here?""It is Mr. Harrison's." "Yes, I know, but how came it here?" "Richard borrowed it to look out something, and Ethel brought it down." A little reassured, Tom took up an exciting story-book, and ensconced himself by the fire, but his agonies were great during the ensuing conversation. "Norman," Ethel was exclaiming in delight, "do you know this book?"
"Smith? Yes, it is in the school library." "There's everything in it that one wants, I do believe. Here is such an account of ancient galleys--I never knew how they managed their banks of rowers before--oh! and the Greek houses--look at the pictures too.""Some of them are the same as Mr. Rivers's gems," said Norman, standing behind her, and turning the leaves, in search of a favourite. "Oh! what did I see? is that ink?" said Flora, from the opposite side of the table.
"Yes, didn't you hear?" said Ethel. "Mr. Harrison told Ritchie when he borrowed it, that unluckily one day this spring he left it in school, and some of the boys must have upset an inkstand over it; but, though he asked them all round, each denied it. How I should hate for such things to happen! and it was a prize-book too."
While Ethel spoke she opened the marked page, to show the extent of the calamity, and as she did so Mary exclaimed, "Dear me! how funny! why, how did Harry's blotting-paper get in there?"
Tom shrank into nothing, set his teeth, and pinched his fingers, ready to wish they were on Mary's throat, more especially as the words made some sensation. Richard and Margaret exchanged looks, and their father, who had been reading, sharply raised his eyes and said, "Harry's blotting-paper! How do you know that, Mary?""It is Harry's," said she, all unconscious, "because of that anchor up in one corner, and the Union Jack in the other. Don't you see, Ethel?" "Yes," said Ethel; "nobody drew that but Harry."
"Ay, and there are his buttons," said Mary, much amused and delighted with these relics of her beloved Harry. "Don't you remember one day last holidays, papa desired Harry to write and ask Mr. Ernescliffe what clothes he ought to have for the naval school, and all the time he was writing the letter, he was drawing sailors' buttons on his blotting-paper. I wonder how ever it got into Mr. Harrison's book!"
Poor Mary's honest wits did not jump to a conclusion quite so fast as other people's, and she little knew what she was doing when, as a great discovery, she exclaimed, "I know! Harry gave his paper-case to Tom. That's the way it got to school!""Tom!" exclaimed his father, suddenly and angrily, "where are you going?"
"To bed," muttered the miserable Tom, twisting his hands. A dead silence of consternation fell on all the room. Mary gazed from one to the other, mystified at the effect of her words, frightened at her father's loud voice, and at Tom's trembling confusion. The stillness lasted for some moments, and was first broken by Flora, as if she had caught at a probability. "Some one might have used the first blotting-paper that came to hand."
"Come here, Tom," said the doctor, in a voice not loud, but trembling with anxiety; then laying his hand on his shoulder, "Look in my face." Tom hung his head, and his father put his hand under his chin, and raised the pale terrified face. "Don't be afraid to tell us the meaning of this. If any of your friends have done it, we will keep your secret. Look up, and speak out. How did your blotting- paper come there?"
Tom had been attempting his former system of silent sullenness, but there was anger at Mary, and fear of his father to agitate him, and in his impatient despair at thus being held and questioned, he burst out into a violent fit of crying."I can't have you roaring here to distress Margaret," said Dr. May. "Come into the study with me."
But Tom, who seemed fairly out of himself, would not stir, and a screaming and kicking scene took place, before he was carried into the study by his brothers, and there left with his father. Mary, meantime, dreadfully alarmed, and perceiving that, in some way, she was the cause, had thrown herself upon Margaret, sobbing inconsolably, as she begged to know what was the matter, and why papa was angry with Tom--had she made him so?
Margaret caressed and soothed her to the best of her ability, trying to persuade her that, if Tom had done wrong, it was better for him it should be known, and assuring her that no one could think her unkind, nor a tell-tale; then dismissing her to bed, and Mary was not unwilling to go, for she could not bear to meet Tom again, only begging in a whisper to Ethel, "that, if dear Tom had not done it, she would come and tell her.""I am afraid there is no hope of that!" sighed Ethel, as the door closed on Mary. "After all," said Flora, "he has not said anything. If he has only done it, and not confessed, that is not so bad--it is only the usual fashion of boys."
"Has he been asked? Did he deny it?" said Ethel, looking in Norman's face, as if she hardly ventured to put the question, and she only received sorrowful signs as answers. At the same moment Dr. May called him. No one spoke. Margaret rested her head on the sofa, and looked very mournful, Richard stood by the fire without moving limb or feature, Flora worked fast, and Ethel leaned back on an arm-chair, biting the end of a paper-knife. The doctor and Norman came back together. "I have sent him up to bed," said Dr. May. "I must take him to Harrison to-morrow morning. It is a terrible business!""Has he confessed it?" said Margaret. "I can hardly call such a thing a confession--I wormed it out bit by bit--I could not tell whether he was telling truth or not, till I called Norman in." "But he has not said anything more untrue--"
"Yes, he has though!" said Dr. May indignantly. "He said Ned Anderson put the paper there, and had been taking up the ink with it --'twas his doing-then when I came to cross-examine him I found that though Anderson did take up the ink, it was Tom himself who knocked it down--I never heard anything like it--I never could have believed it!""It must all be Ned Anderson's doing!" cried Flora. "They are enough to spoil anybody." "I am afraid they have done him a great deal of harm," said Norman.
"And what have you been about all the time?" exclaimed the doctor, too keenly grieved to be just. "I should have thought that with you at the head of the school, the child might have been kept out of mischief; but there have you been going your own way, and leaving him to be ruined by the very worst set of boys!"
Norman's colour rose with the extreme pain this unjust accusation caused him, and his voice, though low, was not without irritation, "I have tried. I have not done as much as I ought, perhaps, but--""No, I think not, indeed!" interrupted his father. "Sending a boy there, brought up as he had been, without the least tendency to deceit--"
Here no one could see Norman's burning cheeks, and brow bent downwards in the effort to keep back an indignant reply, without bursting out in exculpation; and Richard looked up, while the three sisters all at once began, "Oh, no, no, papa"--and left Margaret to finish--"Poor little Tom had not always been quite sincere.""Indeed! and why was I left to send him to school without knowing it? The place of all others to foster deceit."
"It was my fault, papa," said Margaret. "And mine," put in Richard; and she continued, "Ethel told us we were very wrong, and I wish we had followed her advice. It was by far the best, but we were afraid of vexing you."
"Every one seems to have been combined to hide what they ought not!" said Dr. May, though speaking to her much more softly than to Norman, to whom he turned angrily again. "Pray, how came you not to identify this paper?"
"I did not know it," said Norman, speaking with difficulty. "He ought never to have been sent to school," said the doctor--"that tendency was the very worst beginning.""It was a great pity; I was very wrong," said Margaret, in great concern.
"I did not mean to blame you, my dear," said her father affectionately. "I know you only meant to act for the best, but--" and he put his hand over his face, and then came the sighing groan, which pained Margaret ten thousand times more than reproaches, and which, in an instant, dispersed all the indignation burning within Norman, though the pain remained at his father's thinking him guilty of neglect, but he did not like, at that moment, to speak in self- justification.
After a short space, Dr. May desired to hear what were the deceptions to which Margaret had alluded, and made Norman tell what he knew of the affair of the blotted book. Ethel spoke hopefully when she had heard it. "Well, do you know, I think he will do better now. You see, Edward made him conceal it, and he has been going on with it on his mind, and in that boy's power ever since; but now it is cleared up and confessed, he will begin afresh and do better. Don't you think so, Norman? don't you, papa?"
"I should have more hope if I had seen anything like confession or repentance," said Dr. May; "but that provoked me more than all--I could only perceive that he was sorry to be found out, and afraid of punishment."
"Perhaps, when he has recovered the first fright, he will come to his better self," said Margaret; for she guessed, what indeed was the case, that the doctor's anger on this first shock of the discovery of the fault he most abhorred had been so great, that a fearful cowering spirit would be completely overwhelmed; and, as there had been no sorrow shown for the fault, there had been none of that softening and relenting that won so much love and confidence.
Every one felt that talking only made them more unhappy, they tried to return to their occupations, and so passed the time till night. Then, as Richard was carrying Margaret upstairs, Norman lingered to say, "Papa, I am very sorry you should think I neglected Tom. I dare say I might have done better for him, but, indeed, I have tried."
"I am sure you have, Norman. I spoke hastily, my boy--you will not think more of it. When a thing like this comes on a man, he hardly knows what he says."
"If Harry were here," said Norman, anxious to turn from the real loss and grief, as well as to talk away that feeling of being apologised to, "it would all do better. He would make a link with Tom, but I have so little, naturally, to do with the second form, that it is not easy to keep him in sight."
"Yes, yes, I know that very well. It is no one's fault but my own; I should not have sent him there without knowing him better. But you see how it is, Norman--I have trusted to her, till I have grown neglectful, and it is well if it is not the ruin of him!""Perhaps he will take a turn, as Ethel says," answered Norman cheerfully. "Good-night, papa."
"I have a blessing to be thankful for in you, at least," murmured the doctor to himself. "What other young fellow of that age and spirit would have borne so patiently with my injustice? Not I, I am sure! a fine father I show myself to these poor children--neglect, helplessness, temper--Oh, Maggie!"
Margaret had so bad a headache the next day that she could not come downstairs. The punishment was, they heard, a flogging at the time, and an imposition so long, that it was likely to occupy a large portion of the playhours till the end of the half-year. His father said, and Norman silently agreed, "a very good thing, it will keep him out of mischief;" but Margaret only wished she could learn it for him, and took upon herself all the blame from beginning to end. She said little to her father, for it distressed him to see her grieved; he desired her not to dwell on the subject, caressed her, called her his comfort and support, and did all he could to console her, but it was beyond his power; her sisters, by listening to her, only made her worse. "Dear, dear papa," she exclaimed, "how kind he is! But he can never depend upon me again--I have been the ruin of my poor little Tom.""Well," said Richard quietly, "I can't see why you should put yourself into such a state about it." This took Margaret by surprise. "Have not I done very wrong, and perhaps hurt Tom for life?"
"I hope not," said Richard. "You and I made a mistake, but it does not follow that Tom would have kept out of this scrape, if we had told my father our notion."
"It would not have been on my conscience," said Margaret--"he would not have sent him to school."
"I don't know that," said Richard. "At any rate we meant to do right, and only made a mistake. It was unfortunate, but I can't tell why you go and make yourself ill, by fancying it worse than it is. The boy has done very wrong, but people get cured of such things in time, and it is nonsense to fret as if he were not a mere child of eight years old. You did not teach him deceit."
"But then," said Margaret, "I have grown to think much of it, and not like to be interfered with. I thought I could manage by myself, and when I said I would not worry papa, it was half because I liked the doing and settling all about the children myself. Oh! if it could have been visited in any way but by poor Tom's faults!"
"Well," said Richard, "if you felt so, it was a pity, though I never should have guessed it. But you see you will never feel so again, and as Tom is only one, and there are nine to govern, it is all for the best."
His deliberate common-sense made her laugh a little, and she owned he might be right. "It is a good lesson against my love of being first. But indeed it is difficult--papa can so little bear to be harassed.""He could not at first, but now he is strong and well, it is different." "He looks terribly thin and worn still," sighed Margaret, "so much older!" "Ay, I think he will never get back his young looks; but except his weak arm, he is quite well." "And then his--his quick way of speaking may do harm."
"Yes, that was what I feared for Tom," said Richard, "and there was the mistake. I see it now. My father always is right in the main, though he is apt to frighten one at first, and it is what ought to be that he should rule his own house. But now, Margaret, it is silly to worry about it any more--let me fetch baby, and don't think of it."And Margaret allowed his reasonableness, and let herself be comforted. After all, Richard's solid soberness had more influence over her than anything else.
Think how simple things and lowly, Have a part in Nature's plan,
How the great hath small beginnings, And the child will be a man.
Little efforts work great actions, Lessons in our childhood taught
Mould the spirit of that temper
Whereby blessed deeds are wrought.
Cherish, then, the gifts of childhood, Use them gently, guard them well,
For their future growth and greatness Who can measure, who can tell! MORAL SONGS.
The girls were busily engaged in preparing an Easter feast for Cocksmoor. Mr. Wilmot was to examine the scholars, and buns and tea were provided, in addition to which Ethel designed to make a present to every one--a great task, considering that the Cocksmoor funds were reserved for absolute necessaries, and were at a very low ebb. So that twenty-five gifts were to be composed out of nothing!
There was a grand turn-out of drawers of rubbish, all over Margaret, raising such a cloud of dust as nearly choked her. What cannot rubbish and willing hands effect! Envelopes and wafer boxes were ornamented with pictures, bags, needle-cases, and pincushions, beautiful balls, tippets, both of list and gay print, and even sun- bonnets and pinafores were contrived, to the supreme importance and delight of Mary and Blanche, who found it as good or better than play, and ranged their performances in rows, till the room looked like a bazaar. To provide for boys was more difficult; but Richard mended old toys, and repaired the frames of slates, and Norman's contribution of half-a-crown bought mugs, marbles, and penny knives, and there were even hopes that something would remain for bodkins, to serve as nozzles to the bellows, which were the pride of Blanche's heart.
Never were Easter gifts the source of more pleasure to the givers, especially when the nursery establishment met Dr. Hoxton near the pastrycook's shop, and he bestowed on Blanche a packet of variegated sugar-plums, all of which she literally poured out at Ethel's feet, saying, "I don't want them. Only let me have one for Aubrey, because he is so little. All the rest are for the poor children at Cocksmoor."
After this, Margaret declared that Blanche must be allowed to buy the bodkin, and give her bellows to Jane Taylor, the only Cocksmoor child she knew, and to whom she always destined in turn every gift that she thought most successful.
So Blanche went with Flora to the toy-shop, and there fell in love with a little writing-box, that so eclipsed the bellows, that she tried to persuade Flora to buy it for Jane Taylor, to be kept till she could write, and was much disappointed to hear that it was out of the question. Just then a carriage stopped, and from it stepped the pretty little figure of Meta Rivers.
"Oh! how do you do? How delightful to meet you! I was wondering if we should! Little Blanche too!" kissing her, "and here's Mrs. Larpent--Mrs. Larpent--Miss Flora May. How is Miss May?"
This was all uttered in eager delight, and Flora, equally pleased, answered the inquiries. "I hope you are not in a hurry," proceeded Meta; "I want your advice. You know all about schools, don't you? I am come to get some Easter presents for our children, and I am sure you can help me.""Are the children little or big?" asked Flora.
"Oh! all sorts and sizes. I have some books for the great sensible ones, and some stockings and shoes for the tiresome stupid ones, but there are some dear little pets that I want nice things for. There-- there's a doll that looks just fit for little curly-headed Annie Langley, don't you think so, Mrs. Larpent?"
The price of the doll was a shilling, and there were quickly added to it, boxes of toys, elaborate bead-work pincushions, polished blue and green boxes, the identical writing-case--even a small Noah's ark. Meta hardly asked the prices, which certainly were not extravagant, since she had nearly twenty articles for little more than a pound.
"Papa has given me a benefaction of 5 for my school-gifts," said she, "is not that charming? I wish you would come to the feast. Now, do! It is on Easter Tuesday. Won't you come?""Thank you, I am afraid we can't. I should like it very much." "You never will come to me. You have no compassion." "We should enjoy coming very much. Perhaps, in the summer, when Margaret is better."
"Could not she spare any of you? Well, I shall talk to papa, and make him talk to Dr. May. Mrs. Larpent will tell you I always get my way. Don't I? Good-bye. See if I don't."
She departed, and Flora returned to her own business; but Blanche's interest was gone. Dazzled by the more lavish gifts, she looked listlessly and disdainfully at bodkins, three for twopence. "I wish I might have bought the writing-box for Janet Taylor! Why does not papa give us money to get pretty things for the children?" said she, as soon as they came out.
"Oh! do you visit her? I knew he was a patient of Dr. May." Flora thought there was no need to tell that the only call had been owing to the rain, and continued, "She has been begging us to come to her school feast, but I do not think we can manage it.""Oh, indeed! the Grange is very beautiful, is it not?" "Very," said Flora. "Good-morning."
Flora had a little uneasiness in her conscience, but it was satisfactory to have put down Louisa Anderson, who never could aspire to an intimacy with Miss Rivers. Her little sister looked up--"Why, Flora, have you seen the Grange?""No, but papa and Norman said so."
And Blanche showed that the practical lesson on the pomps of the world was not lost on her, by beginning to wish they were as rich as Miss Rivers. Flora told her it was wrong to be discontented, but the answer was, "I don't want it for myself, I want to have pretty things to give away."
And her mind could not be turned from the thought by any attempt of her sister. Even when they met Dr. May coming out of the hospital, Blanche renewed the subject. She poured out the catalogue of Miss Rivers's purchases, making appealing attempts at looking under his spectacles into his eyes, and he perfectly understood the tenor of her song."I have had a sight, too, of little maidens preparing Easter gifts," said he. "Have you, papa? What were they? Were they as nice as Miss Rivers's?"
"I don't know, but I thought they were the best sort of gifts, for I saw that plenty of kind thought and clever contrivance went to them, ay, and some little self-denial too."
"Papa, you look as if you meant something; but ours are nothing but nasty old rubbish."
"Perhaps some fairy, or something better, has brought a wand to touch the rubbish, Blanche; for I think that the maidens gave what would have been worthless kept, but became precious as they gave it.""Do you mean the list of our flannel petticoats, papa, that Mary has made into a tippet?" "Perhaps I meant Mary's own time and pains, as well as the tippet. Would she have done much good with them otherwise?"
"No, she would have played. Oh! then you like the presents because they are our own making? I never thought of that. Was that the reason you did not give us any of your sovereigns to buy things with?"
"Perhaps I want my sovereigns for the eleven gaping mouths at home, Blanche. But would not it be a pity to spoil your pleasure? You would have lost all the chattering and laughing and buzzing I have heard round Margaret of late, and I am quite sure Miss Rivers can hardly be as happy in the gifts that cost her nothing, as one little girl who gives her sugar-plums out of her own mouth!"Blanche clasped her papa's hand tight, and bounded five or six times. "They are our presents, not yours," said she. "Yes, I see. I like them better now."
"Ay, ay," said the doctor. "Seeing Miss Rivers's must not take the shine out of yours, my little maids; for if you can't give much, you have the pleasure of giving the best of all, your labour of love." Then thinking on, and speaking to Flora, "The longer I live, the more I see the blessing of being born in a state of life where you can't both eat your cake and give it away."
Flora never was at ease in a conversation with her father; she could not follow him, and did not like to show it. She answered aside from the mark, "You would not have Blanche underrate Miss Rivers?"
"No, indeed, she is as good and sweet a creature as ever came across me-most kind to Margaret, and loving to all the world. I like to see one whom care and grief have never set their grip upon. Most likely she would do like Ethel, if she had the opportunity, but she has not.""So she has not the same merit?" said Flora.
"We don't talk of merit. I mean that the power of sacrifice is a great advantage. The habit of small sacrifice that is made necessary in a large family is a discipline that only-children are without: and so, with regard to wealth, I think people are to be pitied who can give extensively out of such abundance that they can hardly feel the want.""In effect, they can do much more," said Flora.
"I am not sure of that. They can, of course, but it must be at the cost of personal labour and sacrifice. I have often thought of the words, 'Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.' And 'such as we have' it is that does the good; the gold, if we have it, but, at any rate, the personal influence; the very proof of sincerity, shown by the exertion and self-denial, tells far more than money lightly come by, lightly spent.""Do you mean that a person who maintained a whole school would do less good than one who taught one child?"
"If the rich person take no pains, and leave the school to take care of itself-nay, if he only visit it now and then, and never let it inconvenience him, has he the least security that the scholars are obtaining any real good from it? If the teacher of the one child is doing his utmost, he is working for himself at least.""Suppose we could build, say our church and school, on Cocksmoor at once, and give our superintendence besides?"
"If things were ripe for it, the means would come. As it is, it is a fine field for Ethel and Richard. I believe it will be the making of them both. I am sure it is training Ethel, or making her train herself, as we could never have done without it. But here, come in and see old Mrs. Robins. A visit from you will cheer her up."
Flora was glad of the interruption, the conversation was uncomfortable to her. She almost fancied her papa was moralising for their good, but that he carried it too far, for wealthy people assuredly had it in their power to do great things, and might work as hard themselves; besides, it was finer in them, there was so much eclat in their stooping to charity. But her knowledge of his character would not allow her to think for a moment that he could say aught but from the bottom of his heart--no, it was one of his one- sided views that led him into paradox. "It was just like papa," and so there was no need to attend to it. It was one of his enthusiasms, he was so very fond of Ethel, probably because of her likeness to himself. Flora thought Ethel put almost too forward--they all helped at Cocksmoor, and Ethel was very queer and unformed, and could do nothing by herself. The only thing Flora did keep in her mind was, that her papa had spoken to her, as if she were a woman compared with Ethel.
Little Blanche made her report of the conversation to Mary, "that it was so nice; and now she did not care about Miss Rivers's fine presents at all, for papa said what one made oneself was better to give than what one bought. And papa said, too, that it was a good thing not to be rich, for then one never felt the miss of what one gave away."
Margaret, who overheard the exposition, thought it so much to Blanche's credit, that she could not help repeating it in the evening, after the little girl was gone to bed, when Mr. Wilmot had come in to arrange the programme for Cocksmoor. So the little fit of discontent and its occasion, the meeting with Meta Rivers, were discussed.
"Yes," said Mr. Wilmot, "those Riverses are open-handed. They really seem to have so much money, that they don't know what to do with it. My brother is ready to complain that they spoil his parish. It is all meant so well, and they are so kind-hearted and excellent, that it is a shame to find fault, and I tell Charles and his wife that their grumbling at such a squire proves them the most spoiled of all.""Indiscriminate liberality?" asked the doctor. "I should guess the old gentleman to be rather soft!"
"That's one thing. The parish is so small, and there are so few to shower all this bounty on, and they are so utterly unused to country people. They seem to think by laying out money they can get a show set of peasants in rustic cottages, just as they have their fancy cows and poultry--all that offends the eye out of the way.""Making it a matter of taste," said the doctor. "I'm sure I would," said Norman aside to Ethel. "What's the use of getting oneself disgusted?" "One must not begin with showing dislike," began Ethel, "or--" "Ay--you like rags, don't you? but hush!"
"That is just what I should expect of Mr. Rivers," said Dr. May; "he has cultivated his taste till it is getting to be a disease, but his daughter has no lack of wit."
"Perhaps not. Charles and Mary are very fond of her, but she is entirely inexperienced, and that is a serious thing with so much money to throw about. She pays people for sending their children to school, and keeping their houses tidy; and there is so much given away, that it is enough to take away all independence and motive for exertion. The people speculate on it, and take it as a right; by- and-by there will be a reaction--she will find out she is imposed upon, take offence, and for the rest of her life will go about saying how ungrateful the poor are!"
"It is a pity good people won't have a little common-sense," said Dr. May. "But there's something so bewitching in that little girl, that I can't give her up. I verily believe she will right herself."
"I have scarcely seen her," said Mr. Wilmot. "She has won papa's heart by her kindness to me," said Margaret, smiling. "You see her beautiful flowers? She seems to me made to lavish pleasures on others wherever she goes."
"Oh, yes, they are most kind-hearted," said Mr. Wilmot. "It is only the excess of a virtue that could be blamed in them, and they are most valuable to the place. She will learn experience in time--I only hope she will not be spoiled."
Flora felt as if her father must be thinking his morning's argument confirmed, and she was annoyed. But she thought there was no reason why wealth should not be used sensibly, and if she were at the head of such an establishment as the Grange, her charity should be so well regulated as to be the subject of general approbation.
She wanted to find some one else on her side, and, as they went to bed, she said to Ethel, "Don't you wish we had some of this superfluity of the Riverses for poor Cocksmoor?"
"I wish we had anything for Cocksmoor! Here's a great hole in my boot, and nurse says I must get a new pair, that is seven-and- sixpence gone! I shall never get the first pound made up towards building!""And pounds seem nothing to them," said Flora.
"Yes, but if they don't manage right with them! I'll tell you, Flora, I got into a fit of wishing the other day; it does seem such a grievous pity to see those children running to waste for want of daily teaching, and Jenny Hall had forgotten everything. I was vexed, and thought it was all no use while we could not do more; but just then I began to look out the texts Ritchie had marked for me to print for them to learn, and the first was, 'Be thou faithful over a few things, and I will make thee ruler over many things,' and then I thought perhaps we were learning to be faithful with a few things. I am sure what they said to-night showed it was lucky we have not more in our hands. I should do wrong for ever with the little we have if it were not for Ritchie and Margaret. By the time we have really got the money together for the school, perhaps I shall have more sense.""Got the money! As if we ever could!"
"Oh, yes! we shall and will. It need not be more than 70, Ritchie says, and I have twelve shillings for certain, put out from the money for hire of the room, and the books and clothes, and, in spite of these horrid boots, I shall save something out of this quarter, half- a-crown at least. And I have another plan besides--"
But Flora had to go down to Margaret's room to bed. Flora was always ready to throw herself into the present, and liked to be the most useful person in all that went forward, so that no thoughts of greatness interfered with her enjoyment at Cocksmoor.
The house seemed wild that Easter Monday morning. Ethel, Mary, and Blanche, flew about in all directions, and in spite of much undoing of their own arrangements, finished their preparations so much too early, that, at half-past eleven, Mary complained that she had nothing to do, and that dinner would never come.
Many were the lamentations at leaving Margaret behind, but she answered them by talking of the treat of having papa all to herself, for he had lent them the gig, and promised to stay at home all the afternoon with her.
The first division started on foot directly after dinner, the real Council of education, as Norman called them, namely, Mr. Wilmot, Richard, Ethel, and Mary; Flora, the other member, waited to take care of Blanche and Aubrey, who were to come in the gig, with the cakes, tea-kettles, and prizes, driven by Norman. Tom and Hector Ernescliffe were invited to join the party, and many times did Mary wish for Harry.
Supremely happy were the young people as they reached the common, and heard the shout of tumultuous joy, raised by their pupils, who were on the watch for them. All was now activity. Everybody tripped into Mrs. Green's house, while Richard and Ethel ran different ways to secure that the fires were burning, which they had hired, to boil their kettles, with the tea in them.
Then when the kitchen was so full that it seemed as if it could hold no more, some kind of order was produced, the children were seated on their benches, and, while the mothers stood behind to listen, Mr. Wilmot began to examine, as well as he could in so crowded an audience.
There was progress. Yes, there was. Only three were as utterly rude and idealess as they used to be at Christmas. Glimmerings had dawned on most, and one--Una M'Carthy--was fit to come forward to claim Mr. Wilmot's promise of a Prayer-book. She could really read and say the Catechism--her Irish wit and love of learning had outstripped all the rest--and she was the pride of Ethel's heart, fit, now, to present herself on equal terms with the Stoneborough set, as far as her sense was concerned--though, alas! neither present nor exhortation had succeeded in making her anything, in looks, but a picturesque tatterdemalion, her sandy elf locks streaming over a pair of eyes, so dancing and gracieuses, that it was impossible to scold her.
With beating heart, as if her own success in life depended for ever on the way her flock acquitted themselves, Ethel stood by Mr. Wilmot, trying to read answers coming out of the dull mouths of her children, and looking exultingly at Richard whenever some good reply was made, especially when Una answered an unexpected question. It was too delightful to hear how well she remembered all the history up to the flood, and how prettily it came out in her Irish accent! That made up for all the atrocious stupidity of others, who, after being told every time since they had begun who gave their names, now chose to forget.
In the midst, while the assembly were listening with admiration to the reading of the scholar next in proficiency to Una, a boy who could read words of five letters without spelling, there was a fresh squeezing at the door, and, the crowd opening as well as it could, in came Flora and Blanche, while Norman's head was seen for a moment in the doorway.
Flora's whisper to Ethel was her first discovery that the closeness and the heat of the room was nearly overpowering. Her excitement had made all be forgotten. "Could not a window be opened?"Mrs. Green interfered--it had been nailed up because her husband had the rheumatiz! "Where's Aubrey?" asked Mary.
"With Norman. Norman said he would not let him go into the black- hole, so he has got him out of doors. Ethel, we must come out! You don't know what an atmosphere it is! Blanche, go out to Norman!""Flora, Flora! you don't consider," said Ethel, in an agony. "Yes, yes. It is not at all cold. Let them have their presents out of doors and eat their buns." Richard and Mr. Wilmot agreed with Flora, and the party were turned out. Ethel did own, when she was in the open air, "that it had been rather hot."
Norman's face was a sight, as he stood holding Aubrey in his arms, to gratify the child's impatience. The stifling den, the uncouth aspect of the children, the head girl so very ragged a specimen, thoroughly revolted his somewhat fastidious disposition. This was Ethel's delight! to this she made so many sacrifices! this was all that her time and labour had effected! He did not wish to vex her but it was more than he could stand.
However, Ethel was too much engrossed to look for sympathy. It was a fine spring day, and on the open space of the common the arrangements were quickly made. The children stood in a long line, and the baskets were unpacked. Flora and Ethel called the names, Mary and Blanche gave the presents, and assuredly the grins, courtesies, and pulls of the forelock they elicited, could not have been more hearty for any of Miss Rivers's treasures. The buns and the kettles of tea followed--it was perfect delight to entertainers and entertained, except when Mary's dignity was cruelly hurt by Norman's authoritatively taking a kettle out of her hands, telling her she would be the death of herself or somebody else, and reducing her to the mere rank of a bun distributor, which Blanche and Aubrey could do just as well; while he stalked along with a grave and resigned countenance, filling up the cups held out to him by timid-looking children. Mary next fell in with Granny Hall, who had gone into such an ecstasy over Blanche and Aubrey, that Blanche did not know which way to look; and Aubrey, in some fear that the old woman might intend to kiss him, returned the compliments by telling her she was "ugly up in her face," at which she laughed heartily, and uttered more vehement benedictions.
Finally, the three best children, boys and girls, were to be made fit to be seen, and recommended by Mr. Wilmot to the Sunday-school and penny club at Stoneborough, and, this being proclaimed and the children selected, the assembly dispersed, Mr. Wilmot rejoicing Ethel and Richard by saying, "Well, really, you have made a beginning. There is an improvement in tone among those children, that is more satisfactory than any progress they may have made."Ethel's eyes beamed, and she hurried to tell Flora. Richard coloured and gave his quiet smile, then turned to put things in order for their return. "Will you drive home, Richard?" said Norman, coming up to him. "Don't you wish it?" said Richard, who had many minor arrangements to make, and would have preferred walking home independently. "No, thank you, I have a headache, and walking may take it off," said Norman, taking off his hat and passing his fingers through his hair. "A headache again--I am sorry to hear it."
"It is only that suffocating den of yours. My head ached from the moment I looked into it. How can you take Ethel into such a hole, Richard? It is enough to kill her to go on with it for ever.""It is not so every day," said the elder brother quietly. "It is a warm day, and there was an unusual crowd."
"I shall speak to my father," exclaimed Norman, with somewhat of the supercilious tone that he had now and then been tempted to address to his brother. "It is not fit that Ethel should give up everything, health and all, to such a set as these. They look as if they had been picked out of the gutter-dirt, squalor, everything disgusting, and summer coming on, too, and that horrid place with no window to open! It is utterly unbearable!"
Richard stooped to pick up a heavy basket, then smiled and said, "You must get over such things as these if you mean to be a clergyman, Norman." "Whatever I am to be, it does not concern the girls being in such a place as this. I am surprised that you could suffer it."
There was no answer--Richard was walking off with his basket, and putting it into the carriage. Norman was not pleased with himself, but thought it his duty to let his father know his opinion of Ethel's weekly resort. All he wished was to avoid Ethel herself, not liking to show her his sentiments, and he was glad to see her put into the gig with Aubrey and Mary.
They rushed into the drawing-room, full of glee, when they came home, all shouting their news together, and had not at first leisure to perceive that Margaret had some tidings for them in return. Mr. Rivers had been there, with a pressing invitation to his daughter's school-feast, and it had been arranged that Flora and Ethel should go and spend the day at the Grange, and their father come to dine, and fetch them home in the evening. Margaret had been much pleased with the manner in which the thing was done. When Dr. May, who seemed reluctant to accept the proposal that related to himself, was called out of the room, Mr. Rivers had, in a most kind manner, begged her to say whether she thought it would be painful to him, or whether it might do his spirits good. She decidedly gave her opinion in favour of the invitation, Mr. Rivers gained his point, and she had ever since been persuading her father to like the notion, and assuring him it need not be made a precedent for the renewal of invitations to dine out in the town. He thought the change would be pleasant for his girls, and had, therefore, consented.
"Oh, papa, papa! thank you!" cried Ethel, enraptured, as soon as he came into the room. "How very kind of you! How I have wished to see the Grange, and all Norman talks about! Oh, dear! I am so glad you are going there too!""Why, what should you do with me?" said Dr. May, who felt and looked depressed at this taking up of the world again.
"Oh, dear! I should not like it at all without you! It would be no fun at all by ourselves. I wish Flora would come home. How pleased she will be! Papa, I do wish you would look as if you didn't mind it! I can't enjoy it if you don't like going.""I shall when I am there, my dear," said the doctor affectionately, putting his arm around her as she stood by him. "It will be a fine day's sport for you." "But can't you like it beforehand, papa?"
"Not just this minute, Ethel," said he, with his bright, sad smile. "All I like just now is my girl's not being able to do without me; but we'll do the best we can. So your flock acquitted themselves brilliantly? Who is your Senior Wrangler?"
Ethel threw herself eagerly into the history of the examination, and had almost forgotten the invitation till she heard the front door open. Then it was not she, but Margaret, who told Flora--Ethel could not, as she said, enjoy what seemed to sadden her father. Flora received it much more calmly. "It will be very pleasant," said she; "it was very kind of papa to consent. You will have Richard and Norman, Margaret, to be with you in the evening."
And, as soon as they went upstairs, Ethel began to write down the list of prizes in her school journal, while Flora took out the best evening frocks, to study whether the crape looked fresh enough.
The invitation was a convenient subject of conversation, for Norman had so much to tell his sisters of the curiosities they must look for at the Grange, that he was not obliged to mention Cocksmoor. He did not like to mortify Ethel by telling her his intense disgust, and he knew he was about to do what she would think a great injury by speaking to his father on the subject; but he thought it for her real welfare, and took the first opportunity of making to his father and Margaret a most formidable description of Ethel's black-hole. It quite alarmed Margaret, but the doctor smiled, saying, "Ay, ay, I know the face Norman puts on if he looks into a cottage.""Well," said Norman, with some mortification, "all I know is, that my head ached all the rest of the day." "Very likely, but your head is not Ethel's, and there were twice as many people as the place was intended to hold." "A stuffy hole, full of peat-smoke, and with a window that can't open at the best of times." "Peat-smoke is wholesome," said Dr. May, looking provoking. "You don't know what it is, papa, or you would never let Ethel spend her life there. It is poisonous!"
"I'll take care of Ethel," said Dr. May, walking off, and leaving Norman in a state of considerable annoyance at being thus treated. He broke out into fresh exclamations against the horrors of Cocksmoor, telling Margaret she had no idea what a den it was."But, Norman, it can't be so very bad, or Richard would not allow it." "Richard is deluded!" said Norman; "but if he chooses to run after dirty brats, why should he take Ethel there?"
"My dear Norman, you know it is all Ethel's doing." "Yes, I know she has gone crazy after them, and given up all her Greek for it. It is past endurance!" said Norman, who had worked himself up into great indignation."Well, but surely, Norman, it is better they should do what they can for those poor creatures, than for Ethel to learn Greek."
"I don't know that. Let those who are fit for nothing else go and drone over A B C with ragged children, if they like. It is just their vocation; but there is an order in everything, Margaret, and minds of a superior kind are intended for higher purposes, not to be wasted in this manner.""I don't know whether they are wasted," said Margaret, not quite liking Norman's tone, though she had not much to say to his arguments.
"Not wasted? Not in doing what any one can do? I know what you'll say about the poor. I grant it, but high ability must be given for a purpose, not to be thrown away. It is common-sense, that some one must be meant to do the dirty work."
"I see what you mean, Norman, but I don't quite like that to be called by such a name. I think--" she hesitated. "Don't you think you dislike such things more than--"
"Any one must abominate dirt and slovenliness. I know what you mean. My father thinks 'tis all nonsense in me, but his profession has made him insensible to such things, and he fancies every one else is the same! Now, Margaret, am I unreasonable?""I am sure I don't know, dear Norman," said Margaret, hesitating, and feeling it her duty to say something; "I dare say it was very disagreeable." "And you think, too, that I made a disturbance for nothing?"
"No, indeed I don't, nor does dear papa. I have no doubt he will see whether it is proper for Ethel. All I think he meant is, that perhaps your not being well last winter has made you a little more sensitive in such things."
Norman paused, and coloured. He remembered the pain it had given him to find himself incapable of being of use to his father, and that he had resolved to conquer the weakness of nerve of which he was ashamed; but he did not like to connect this with his fastidious feelings of refinement. He would not own to himself that they were over nice, and, at the bottom of all this justification, rankled Richard's saying, that he who cared for such things was unfit for a clergyman. Norman's secret thought was, it was all very well for those who could only aspire to parish work in wretched cottages-- people who could distinguish themselves were more useful at the university, forming minds, and opening new discoveries in learning.
Was Norman quite proof against the consciousness of daily excelling all his competitors? His superiority had become even more manifest this Easter, when Cheviot and Forder, the two elder boys whom he had outstripped, left the school, avowedly, because it was not worth while for them to stay, since they had so little chance of the Randall scholarship. Norman had now only to walk over the course, no one even approaching him but Harvey Anderson.
Meta Rivers always said that fine weather came at her call, and so it did-glowing sunshine streaming over the shaven turf, and penetrating even the solid masses of the great cedar.
The carriage was sent for the Misses May, and at two o'clock they arrived. Flora, extremely anxious that Ethel should comport herself discreetly; and Ethel full of curiosity and eagerness, the only drawback her fears that her papa was doing what he disliked. She was not in the least shy, and did not think about her manner enough to be troubled by the consciousness that it had a good deal of abruptness and eagerness, and that her short sight made her awkward. Meta met them with outstretched hands and a face beaming with welcome. "I told you I should get my way!" she said triumphantly, and, after her warm greeting, she looked with some respect at the face of the Miss May who was so very clever. It certainly was not what she expected, not at all like either of the four sisters she had already seen-- brown, sallow, and with that sharp long nose, and the eager eyes, and brow a little knit by the desire to see as far as she could. It was pleasanter to look at Flora.
Ethel left the talk chiefly to Flora--there was wonder and study enough farther in the grounds and garden, and when Mrs. Larpent tried to enter into conversation with her, she let it drop two or three times while she was peering hard at a picture and trying to make out its subject. However, when they all went out to walk to church, Ethel lighted up, and talked, admired, and asked questions in her quick, eager way, which interested Mrs. Larpent greatly. The governess asked after Norman, and no more was wanted to produce a volume of histories of his successes, till Flora turned as she walked before with Meta, saying, "Why, Ethel, you are quite overwhelming Mrs. Larpent."
But some civil answer convinced Ethel that what she said was interesting, and she would not be stopped in her account of their anxieties on the day of the examination. Flora was pleased that Meta, catching some words, begged to hear more, and Flora gave an account of the matter, soberer in terms, but quietly setting Norman at a much greater distance from all his competitors.
After church came the feast in the school. It was a large commodious building. Meta declared it was very tiresome that it was so good inside, it was so ugly, she should never rest till papa had built her a real beauty. They found Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wilmot in the school, with a very nice welldressed set of boys and girls, and--But there is no need to describe the roastbeef and plum-pudding, "the feast ate merrily," and Ethel was brilliantly happy waiting on the children, and so was sunny-hearted Meta. Flora was too busy in determining what the Riverses might be thinking of her and her sister to give herself up to the enjoyment.
Ethel found a small boy looking ready to cry at an untouched slice of beef. She examined him whether he could cut it, and at last discovered that, as had been the case with one or two of her own brothers at the same age, meat was repugnant to him. In her vehement manner she flew off to fetch him some pudding, and hurrying up, as she thought, to Mr. Charles Wilmot, who had been giving it out, she thrust her plate between him and the dish, and had begun her explanation when she perceived it was a stranger, and she stood, utterly discomfited, not saying, "I beg your pardon," but only blushing, awkward and confused, as he spoke to her, in a good- natured, hospitable manner, which showed her it must be Mr. Rivers. She obtained her pudding, and, turning hastily, retreated.
"Meta," said Mr. Rivers, as his daughter came out of the school with him, for, open and airy as it was, the numbers and the dinner made him regard it as Norman had viewed the Cocksmoor room, "was that one of the Miss Mays?""Yes, papa, Ethel, the third, the clever one." "I thought she must be one of them from her dress; but what a difference between her and the others!"
Mr. Rivers was a great admirer of beauty, and Meta, brought up to be the same, was disappointed, but consoled herself by admiring Flora. Ethel, after the awkwardness was over, thought no more of the matter, but went on in full enjoyment f the feast. The eating finished, the making of presents commenced, and choice ones they were. The smiles of Meta and of the children were a pretty sight, and Ethel thought she had never seen anything so like a beneficent fairy. Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot said their words of counsel and encouragement, and, by five o'clock, all was over.
"Oh, I am sorry!" said Meta, "Easter won't come again for a whole year, and it has been so delightful. How that dear little Annie smiled and nursed her doll! I wish I could see her show it to her mother! Oh, how nice it is! I am so glad papa brought me to live in the country. I don't think anything can be so charming in all the world as seeing little children happy!"
Ethel could not think how the Wilmots could have found it in their heart to regret the liberality of this sweet damsel, on whom she began to look with Norman's enthusiastic admiration.
There was time for a walk round the grounds, Meta doing the honours to Flora, and Ethel walking with Mrs. Larpent. Both pairs were very good friends, and the two sisters admired and were charmed with the beauty of the gardens and conservatories--Ethel laying up a rich store of intelligence for Margaret; but still she was not entirely happy; her papa was more and more on her mind. He had looked dispirited at breakfast; he had a long hard day's work before him, and she was increasingly uneasy at the thought that it would be a painful effort to him to join them in the evening. Her mind was full of it when she was conducted, with Flora, to the room where they were to dress; and when Flora began to express her delight, her answer was only that she hoped it was not very unpleasant to papa."It is not worth while to be unhappy about that, Ethel. If it is an effort, it will be good for him when he is once here. I know he will enjoy it." "Yes, I should think he would--I hope he will. He must like you to have such a friend as Miss Rivers. How pretty she is!" "Now, Ethel, it is high time to dress. Pray make yourself look nice --don't twist up your hair in that any-how fashion." Ethel sighed, then began talking fast about some hints on school- keeping which she had picked up for Cocksmoor.
Flora's glossy braids were in full order, while Ethel was still struggling to get her plait smooth, and was extremely beholden to her sister for taking it into her own hands and doing the best with it that its thinness and roughness permitted. And then Flora pinched and pulled and arranged Ethel's frock, in vain attempts to make it sit like her own--those sharp high bones resisted all attempts to disguise them. "Never mind, Flora, it is quite tidy, I am sure, there--do let me be in peace. You are like old nurse.""So those are all the thanks I get?" "Well, thank you very much, dear Flora. You are a famous person. How I wish Margaret could see that lovely mimosa!"
"And, Ethel, do take care. Pray don't poke and spy when you come into the room, and don't frown when you are trying to see. I hope you won't have anything to help at dinner. Take care how you manage."
"I'll try," said Ethel meekly, though a good deal tormented, as Flora went on with half a dozen more injunctions, closed by Meta's coming to fetch them. Little Meta did not like to show them her own bedroom--she pitied them so much when she thought of the contrast. She would have liked to put Flora's arm through her's, but she thought, it would look neglectful of Ethel; so she only showed the way downstairs. Ethel forgot all her sister's orders; for there stood her father, and she looked most earnestly at his face. It was cheerful, and his voice sounded well pleased as he greeted Meta; then resumed an animated talk with Mr. Rivers. Ethel drew as near him as she could; she had a sense of protection, and could open to full enjoyment when she saw him bright. At the first pause in the conversation, the gentlemen turned to the young ladies. Mr. Rivers began talking to Flora, and Dr. May, after a few pleasant words to Meta, went back to Ethel. He wanted her to see his favourite pictures--he led her up to them, made her put on his spectacles to see them better, and showed her their special merits. Mr. Rivers and the others joined them; Ethel said little, except a remark or two in answer to her papa, but she was very happy--she felt that he liked to have her with him; and Meta, too, was struck by the soundness of her few sayings, and the participation there seemed to be in all things between the father and daughter.
At dinner Ethel went on pretty well. She was next to her father, and was very glad to find the dinner so grand, that no side-dish fell to her lot to be carved. There was a great deal of pleasant talk, such as the girls could understand, though they did not join much in it, except that now and then Dr. May turned to Ethel as a reference for names and dates. To make up for silence at dinner, there was a most confidential chatter in the drawing-room. Flora and Meta on one side, hand in hand, calling each other by their Christian names, Mrs. Larpent and Ethel on the other. Flora dreaded only that Ethel was talking too much, and revealing too much in how different style they lived. Then came the gentlemen, Dr. May begging Mr. Rivers to show Ethel one of his prints, when Ethel stooped more than ever, as if her eyelashes were feelers, but she was in transports of delight, and her embarrassment entirely at an end in her admiration, as she exclaimed and discussed with her papa, and by her hearty appreciation made Mr. Rivers for the time forget her plainness. Music followed; Flora played nicely, Meta like a well-taught girl; Ethel went on musing over the engravings. The carriage was announced, and so ended the day in Norman's fairy-land. Ethel went home, leaning hard against her papa, talking to him of Raphael's Madonnas; and looking out at the stars, and thinking how the heavenly beauty of those faces that, in the prints she had been turning over, seemed to be connected with the glories of the dark-blue sky and glowing stars. "As one star differeth from another star in glory," murmured she; "that was the lesson to-day, papa;" and when she felt him press her hand, she knew he was thinking of that last time she had heard the lesson, when he had not been with her, and her thoughts went with his, though not another word was spoken.
Flora hardly knew when they ceased to talk. She had musings equally engrossing of her own. She saw she was likely to be very intimate with Meta Rivers, and she was roaming away into schemes for not letting the intercourse drop, and hopes of being admitted to many a pleasure as yet little within her reach--parties, balls, London, itself, and, above all, the satisfaction of being admired. The certainty that Mr. Rivers thought her pretty and agreeable had gratified her all the evening, and if he, with his refined taste, thought so, what would others think? Her only fear was, that Ethel's awkwardness might make an unfavourable impression, but, at least, she said to herself, it was anything but vulgar awkwardness.
Their reflections were interrupted by the fly stopping. It was at a little shop in the outskirts of the town, and Dr. May, explained that he wanted to inquire for a patient. He went in for a moment, then came back to desire that they would go home, for he should be detained some little time. No one need sit up for him--he would let himself in.
It seemed a comment on Ethel's thoughts, bringing them back to the present hour. That daily work of homely mercy, hoping for nothing again, was surely the true way of doing service.
Chapter I.21WATCHMAN. How, if he will not stand? DOGBERRY. Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go. Much Ado about Nothing.
Dr. May promised Margaret that he would see whether the black-hole of Cocksmoor was all that Norman depicted it, and, accordingly, he came home that way on Tuesday evening the next week, much to the astonishment of Richard, who was in the act of so mending the window that it might let in air when open, and keep it out when shut, neither of which purposes had it ever yet answered.
Dr. May walked in, met his daughter's look of delight and surprise, spoke cheerfully to Mrs. Green, a hospital acquaintance of his, like half the rest of the country, and made her smile and curtsey by asking if she was not surprised at such doings in her house; then looked at the children, and patted the head that looked most fit to pat, inquired who was the best scholar, and offered a penny to whoever could spell copper tea-kettle, which being done by three merry mortals, and having made him extremely popular, he offered Ethel a lift, and carried her off between him and Adams, on whom he now depended for driving him, since Richard was going to Oxford at once.
It was possible to spare him now. Dr. May's arm was as well as he expected it ever would be; he had discarded the sling, and could use his hand again, but the arm was still stiff and weak--he could not stretch it out, nor use it for anything requiring strength; it soon grew tired with writing, and his daughters feared that it ached more than he chose to confess, when they saw it resting in the breast of his waistcoat. Driving he never would have attempted again, even if he could, and he had quite given up carving--he could better bear to sit at the side than at the bottom of the dinner-table.
Means of carrying Margaret safely had been arranged by Richard, and there was no necessity for longer delaying his going to Oxford, but he was so unwillingly spared by all, as to put him quite into good spirits. Ethel was much concerned to lose him from Cocksmoor, and dreaded hindrances to her going thither without his escort; but she had much trust in having her father on her side, and meant to get authority from him for the propriety of going alone with Mary.
She did not know how Norman had jeopardised her projects, but the danger blew over. Dr. May told Margaret that the place was clean and wholesome, and though more smoky than might be preferred, there was nothing to do any one in health any harm, especially when the walk there and back was over the fresh moor. He lectured Ethel herself on opening the window, now that she could; and advised Norman to go and spend an hour in the school, that he might learn how pleasant peat- smoke was--a speech Norman did not like at all. The real touchstone of temper is ridicule on a point where we do not choose to own ourselves fastidious, and if it and been from any one but his father, Norman would not have so entirely kept down his irritation.
Richard passed his examination successfully, and Dr. May wrote himself to express his satisfaction. Nothing went wrong just now except little Tom, who seemed to be justifying Richard's fears of the consequence of exciting his father's anger. At home, he shrank and hesitated at the simplest question if put by his father suddenly; and the appearance of cowardice and prevarication displeasing Dr. May further, rendered his tone louder, and frightened Tom the more, giving his manner an air of sullen reserve that was most unpleasant. At school it was much the same--he kept aloof from Norman, and threw himself more into the opposite faction, by whom he was shielded from all punishment, except what they chose themselves to inflict on him.
Norman's post as head of the school was rendered more difficult by the departure of his friend Cheviot, who had always upheld his authority; Harvey Anderson did not openly transgress, for he had a character to maintain, but it was well known throughout the school that there was a wide difference between the boys, and that Anderson thought it absurd, superfluous, and troublesome in May not to wink at abuses which appeared to be licensed by long standing. When Edward Anderson, Axworthy, and their set, broke through rules, it was with the understanding that the second boy in the school would support them, if he durst.
The summer and the cricket season brought the battle of Ballhatchet's house to issue. The cricket ground was the field close to it, and for the last two or three years there had been a frequent custom of despatching juniors to his house for tarts and ginger-beer bottles. Norman knew of instances last year in which this had led to serious mischief, and had made up his mind that, at whatever loss of popularity, it was his duty to put a stop to the practice.
He was an ardent cricketer himself, and though the game did not, in anticipation, seem to him to have all the charms of last year, he entered into it with full zest when once engaged. But his eye was on all parts of the field, and especially on the corner by the bridge, and the boys knew him well enough to attempt nothing unlawful within the range of that glance. However, the constant vigilance was a strain too great to be always kept up, and he had reason to believe he was eluded more than once.
At last came a capture, something like that of Tom, one which he could not have well avoided making. The victim was George Larkins, the son of a clergyman in the neighbourhood, a wild, merry varlet, who got into mischief rather for the sake of the fun than from any bad disposition. His look of consternation was exaggerated into a most comical caricature, in order to hide how much of it was real."So you are at that trick, Larkins." "There! that bet is lost!" exclaimed Larkins. "I laid Hill half-a- crown that you would not see me when you were mooning over your verses!" "Well, I have seen you. And now--"
"Come, you would not thrash a fellow when you have just lost him half-acrown! Single misfortunes never come alone, they say; so there's my money and my credit gone, to say nothing of Ballhatchet's ginger-beer!"
The boy made such absurd faces, that Norman could hardly help laughing, though he wished to make it a serious affair. "You know, Larkins, I have given out that such things are not to be. It is a melancholy fact."
"Ay, so you must make an example of me!" said Larkins, pretending to look resigned. "Better call all the fellows together, hadn't you, and make it more effective? It would be grateful to one's feelings, you know; and June," added he, with a ridiculous confidential air, "if you'll only lay it on soft, I'll take care it makes noise enough. Great cry, little wool, you know.""Come with me," said Norman. "I'll take care you are example enough. What did you give for those articles?"
"Fifteen-pence halfpenny. Rascally dear, isn't it? but the old rogue makes one pay double for the risk! You are making his fortune, you have raised his prices fourfold.""I'll take care of that." "Why, where are you taking me? Back to him?" "I am going to gratify your wish to be an example."
"A gibbet! a gibbet" cried Larkins. "I'm to be turned off on the spot where the crime took place--a warning to all beholders. Only let me send home for old Neptune's chain, if you please, sir--if you hang me in the combined watchchains of the school, I fear they would give way and defeat the purposes of justice."
They were by this time at the bridge. "Come in," said Norman to his follower, as he crossed the entrance of the little shop, the first time he had ever been there. A little cringing shrivelled old man stood up in astonishment.
"Mr. May! can I have the pleasure, sir?" "Mr. Ballhatchet, you know that it is contrary to the rules that there should be any traffic with the school without special permission?"
"Yes, sir--just nothing, sir--only when the young gentlemen come here, sir-I'm an old man, sir, and I don't like not to oblige a young gentleman, sir," pleaded the old man, in a great fright.
"Very likely," said Norman, "but I am come to give you fair notice. I am not going to allow the boys here to be continually smuggling spirits into the school."
"Spirits! bless you, sir, I never thought of no sich a thing! 'Tis nothing in life but ginger-beer--very cooling drink, sir, of my wife's making she had the receipt from her grandmother up in Leicestershire. Won't you taste a bottle, sir?" and he hastily made a cork bounce, and poured it out.That, of course, was genuine, but Norman was "up to him," in schoolboy phrase. "Give me yours, Larkins." No pop ensued. Larkins, enjoying the detection, put his hands on his knees and looked wickedly up in the old man's face to see what was coming.
"Bless me! it is a little flat. I wonder how that happened? I'll be most happy to change it, sir. Wife! what's the meaning of Mr. Larkins's ginger-pop being so flat?"
"It is very curious ginger-beer indeed, Mr. Ballhatchet," said Norman; "and since it is liable to have such strange properties, I cannot allow it to be used any more at the school.""Very well, sir-as you please, sir. You are the first gentleman as has objected, sir."
"And, once for all, I give you warning," added Norman, "that if I have reason to believe you have been obliging the young gentlemen, the magistrates and the trustees of the road shall certainly hear of it.""You would not hurt a poor man, sir, as is drove to it--you as has such a name for goodness!"
"I have given you warning," said Norman. "The next time I find any of your bottles in the school fields, your licence goes. Now, there are your goods. Give Mr. Larkins back the fifteen-pence. I wonder you are not ashamed of such a charge!"
Having extracted the money, Norman turned to leave the shop. Larkins, triumphant, "Ha! there's Harrison!" as the tutor rode by, and they touched their caps. "How he stared! My eyes! June, you'll be had up for dealing with old Ball!" and he went into an ecstasy of laughing. "You've settled him, I believe. Well, is justice satisfied?"
"It would be no use thrashing you," said Norman, laughing, as he leaned against the parapet of the bridge, and pinched the boy's ear. "There's nothing to be got out of you but chaff."Larkins was charmed with the compliment.
"But I'll tell you what, Larkins, I can't think how a fellow like you can go and give in to these sneaking, underhand tricks that make you ashamed to look one in the face.""It is only for the fun of it."
"Well, I wish you would find your fun some other way. Come, Larkins, recollect yourself a little--you have a home not so far off. How do you think your father and mother would fancy seeing you reading the book you had yesterday, or coming out of Ballhatchet's with a bottle of spirits, called by a false name?"
Larkins pinched his fingers; home was a string that could touch him, but it seemed beneath him to own it. At that moment a carriage approached, the boy's whole face lighted up, and he jumped forward. "Our own!" he cried. "There she is!"
She was, of course, his mother; and Norman, though turning hastily away that his presence might prove no restraint, saw the boy fly over the door of the open carriage, and could have sobbed at the thought of what that meeting was."Who was that with you?" asked Mrs. Larkins, when she had obtained leave to have her boy with her, while she did her shopping. "That was May senior, our dux." "Was it? I am very glad you should be with him, my dear George. He is very kind to you, I hope?"
"He is a jolly good fellow," said Larkins sincerely, though by no means troubling himself as to the appropriateness of the eulogy, nor thinking it necessary to explain to his mother the terms of the conversation.
It was not fruitless; Larkins did avoid mischief when it was not extremely inviting, was more amenable to May senior, and having been put in mind by him of his home, was not ashamed to bring the thought to the aid of his eyes, when, on Sunday, during a long sermon of Mr. Ramsden's, he knew that Axworthy was making the grimace which irresistibly incited him to make a still finer one.
And Ballhatchet was so much convinced of "that there young May" being in earnest, that he assured his persuasive customers that it was as much as his licence was worth to supply them.
Evil and insubordination were more easily kept under than Norman had expected, when he first made up his mind to the struggle. Firmness had so far carried the day, and the power of manful assertion of the right had been proved, contrary to Cheviot's parting auguries, that he would only make himself disliked, and do no good.
The whole of the school was extremely excited this summer by a proceeding of Mr. Tomkins, the brewer, who suddenly closed up the footway called Randall's Alley, declaring that there was no right of passage through a certain field at the back of his brewery. Not only the school, but the town was indignant, and the Mays especially so. It had been the doctor's way to school forty years ago, and there were recollections connected with it that made him regard it with personal affection. Norman, too, could not bear to lose it; he had not entirely conquered his reluctance to pass that spot in the High Street, and the loss of the alley would be a positive deprivation to him. Almost every native of Stoneborough felt strongly the encroachment of the brewer, and the boys, of course, carried the sentiment to exaggeration.
The propensity to public speaking perhaps added to the excitement, for Norman May and Harvey Anderson, for once in unison, each made a vehement harangue in the school-court--Anderson's a fine specimen of the village Hampden style, about Britons never suffering indignities, and free-born Englishmen swelling at injuries.
"That they do, my hearty," interjected Larkins, pointing to an inflamed eye that had not returned to its right dimensions. However, Anderson went on unmoved by the under titter, and demonstrated, to the full satisfaction of all the audience, that nothing could be more illegal and unfounded than the brewer's claims.
Then came a great outburst from Norman, with all his father's headlong vehemence; the way was the right of the town, the walk had been trodden by their forefathers for generations past--it had been made by the good old generous-hearted man who loved his town and townspeople, and would have heard with shame and anger of a stranger, a new inhabitant, a grasping radical, caring, as radicals always did, for no rights, but for their own chance of unjust gains, coming here to Stoneborough to cut them off from their own path. He talk of liberalism and the rights of the poor! He who cut off Randall's poor old creatures in the almshouses from their short way! and then came some stories of his oppression as a poor-law guardian, which greatly aggravated the wrath of the speaker and audience, though otherwise they did not exactly bear on the subject."What would old Nicholas Randall say to these nineteenth-century doings?" finished Norman.
"Down, with them!" cried a voice from the throng, probably Larkins's; but there was no desire to investigate, it was the universal sentiment. "Down with it! Hurrah, we'll have our footpath open again! Down with the fences! Britons never shall be slaves!" as Larkins finally ejaculated."That's the way to bring it to bear!" said Harvey Anderson, "See if he dares to bring an action against us. Hurrah!"
"Yes, that's the way to settle it," said Norman. "Let's have it down. It is an oppressive, arbitrary, shameful proceeding, and we'll show him we won't submit to it!"
Carried along by the general feeling, the whole troop of boys dashed shouting up to the barricade at the entrance of the field, and levelled it with the ground. A handkerchief was fastened to the top of one of the stakes, and waved over the brewhouse wall, and some of the boys were for picking up stones and dirt, and launching them over, in hopes of spoiling the beer; but Norman put a stop to this, and brought them back to the school-yard, still in a noisy state of exultation.
It cooled a little by-and-by under the doubt how their exploit would be taken. At home, Norman found it already known, and his father half glad, half vexed, enjoying the victory over Tomkins, yet a little uneasy on his son's behalf. "What will Dr. Hoxton say to the dux?" said he. "I didn't know he was to be dux in mischief as well as out of it."
"You can't call it mischief, papa, to resent an unwarranted encroachment of our rights by such an old ruffian as that. One's blood is up to think of the things he has done!""He richly deserves it, no doubt," said the doctor, "and yet I wish you had been out of the row. If there is any blame, you will be the first it will light on."
"I am glad of it, that is but just. Anderson and I seem to have stirred it up--if it wanted stirring--for it was in every fellow there; indeed, I had no notion it was coming to this when I began."
"Oratory," said the doctor, smiling. "Ha, Norman! Think a little another time, my boy, before you take the law into your own hands, or, what is worse, into a lot of hands you can't control for good, though you may excite them to harm."
Dr. Hoxton did not come into school at the usual hour, and, in the course of the morning, sent for May senior, to speak to him in his study.
He looked very broad, awful, and dignified, as he informed him that Mr. Tomkins had just been with him to complain of the damage that had been done, and he appeared extremely displeased that the dux should have been no check on such proceedings.
"I am sorry, sir," said Norman, "but I believe it was the general feeling that he had no right to stop the alley, and, therefore, that it could not be wrong to break it down."
"Whether he has a right or not is not a question to be settled by you. So I find that you, whose proper office it is to keep order, have been inflaming the mischievous and aggressive spirit amongst the others. I am surprised at you; I thought you were more to be depended upon, May, in your position."Norman coloured a good deal, and simply answered? "I am sorry, sir." "Take care, then, that nothing of the kind happens again," said Dr. Hoxton, who was very fond of him, and did not find fault with him willingly.
That the first inflammatory discourse had been made by Anderson did not appear to be known--he only came in for the general reprimand given to the school.
It was reported the following evening, just as the town boys turned out to go to their homes, that "old Tomkins had his fence up five times higher than before.""Have at him again, say I!" exclaimed Axworthy. "What business has he coming stopping up ways that were made before he was born?"
"We shall catch it from the doctor if we do," said Edward Anderson, "He looked in no end of a rage yesterday when he talked about the credit of the school."
"Who cares for the credit of the school?" said the elder Anderson; "we are out of the school now--we are townsmen--Stoneborough boys-- citizens not bound to submit to injustice. No, no, the old rogue knew it would not stand if it was brought into court, so he brings down old Hoxton on us instead--a dirty trick he deserves to be punished for."And there was a general shout and yell in reply.
"Anderson," said Norman, "you had better not excite them again, they are ripe for mischief. It will go further than it did yesterday-- don't you see?" Anderson could not afford to get into a scrape without May to stand before him, and rather sulkily he assented.
"It is of no use to rave about old Tomkins," proceeded Norman, in his style of popular oratory. "If it is illegal, some one will go to law about it, and we shall have our alley again. We have shown him our mind once, and that is enough; if we let him alone now, he will see 'tis only because we are ordered, not for his sake. It would be just putting him in the right, and maybe winning his cause for him, to use any more violence. There's law for you, Anderson. So now no more about it--let us all go home like rational fellows. August, where's August?"
Tom was not visible--he generally avoided going home with his brother; and Norman having seen the boys divide into two or three little parties, as their roads lay homewards, found he had an hour of light for an expedition of his own, along the bank of the river. He had taken up botany with much ardour, and sharing the study with Margaret was a great delight to both. There was a report that the rare yellow bog-bean grew in a meadow about a mile and a half up the river, and thither he was bound, extremely enjoying the summer evening walk, as the fresh dewy coolness sunk on all around, and the noises of the town were mellowed by distance, and the sun's last beams slanted on the green meadows, and the May-flies danced, and dragon-flies darted, and fish rose or leaped high in the air, or showed their spotted sides, and opened and shut their gills, as they rested in the clear water, and the evening breeze rustled in the tall reeds, and brought fragrance from the fresh-mown hay.
It was complete enjoyment to Norman after his day's study and the rule and watch over the unruly crowd of boys, and he walked and wandered and collected plants for Margaret till the sun was down, and the grasshoppers chirped clamorously, while the fern-owl purred, and the beetle hummed, and the skimming swallows had given place to the soft-winged bat, and the large white owl floating over the fields as it moused in the long grass.
The summer twilight was sobering every tint, when, as Norman crossed the cricket-field, he heard, in the distance, a loud shout. He looked up, and it seemed to him that he saw some black specks dancing in the forbidden field, and something like the waving of a flag, but it was not light enough to be certain, and he walked quickly home.
The front door was fastened, and, while he was waiting to be let in, Mr. Harrison walked by, and called out, "You are late at home to- night--it is halfpast nine.""I have been taking a walk, sir." A good-night was the answer, as he was admitted. Every one in the drawingroom looked up, and exclaimed as he entered, "Where's Tom?" "What! he is not come home?" "No! Was he not with you?"
"I missed him after school. I was persuaded he was come home. I have been to look for the yellow bog-bean. There, Margaret. Had not I better go and look for him?""Yes, do," said Dr. May. "The boy is never off one's mind."
A sort of instinctive dread directed Norman's steps down the open portion of Randall's Alley, and, voices growing louder as he came nearer, confirmed his suspicions. The fence at this end was down, and, on entering the field, a gleam of light met his eye on the ground--a cloud of smoke, black figures were flitting round it, pushing brands into red places, and feeding the bonfire."What have you been doing?" exclaimed Norman. "You have got yourselves into a tremendous scrape!" A peal of laughter, and shout of "Randall and Stoneborough for ever!" was the reply. "August! May junior! Tom! answer me! Is he here?" asked Norman, not solicitous to identify any one. But gruff voices broke in upon them. "There they are, nothing like 'em for mischief." "Come, young gentlemen," said a policeman, "be off, if you please. We don't want to have none of you at the station to-night."
A general hurry-skurry ensued. Norman alone, strong in innocence, walked quietly away, and, as he came forth from the darkness of the alley, beheld something scouring away before him, in the direction of home. It popped in at the front door before him, but was not in the drawing-room. He strode upstairs, called, but was not answered, and found, under the bedclothes, a quivering mass, consisting of Tom, with all his clothes on, fully persuaded that it was the policeman who was pursuing him.