The Daisy Chain or Aspirations by Charlotte Mary Yonge - HTML preview
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Oh Life, without thy chequered scene, Of right and wrong, of weal and woe, Success and failure, could a ground For magnanimity be found?WORDSWORTH.
Dr. May was called for late the next day, Friday, and spent some time in one of the houses near the river. It was nearly eight o'clock when he came away, and he lingered, looking towards the school, in hopes of a walk home with his boys.
Presently he saw Norman coming out from under the archway, his cap drawn over his face, and step, gesture, and manner betraying that something was seriously wrong. He came up almost to his father without seeing him, until startled by his exclamation, "Norman--why, Norman, what's the matter?"Norman's lips quivered, and his face was pale--he seemed as if he could not speak. "Where's Tom ?" said the doctor, much alarmed. "Has he got into disgrace about this business of Tomkins? That boy--"
"He has only got an imposition," interrupted Norman. "No, it is not that--it is myself"--and it was only with a gulp and struggle that he brought out the words, "I am turned down in the school."The doctor started back a step or two, aghast. "What-how--speak, Norman. What have you done?" "Nothing!" said Norman, recovering in the desire to reassure his father-"nothing!" "That's right," said the doctor, breathing freely. "What's the meaning of it...a misunderstanding?"
"Yes," said Norman, with bitterness. "It is all Anderson's doing--a word from him would have set all straight--but he would not; I believe, from my heart, he held his tongue to get me down, that he might have the Randall!""We'll see you righted," said the doctor eagerly. "Come, tell me the whole story, Norman. Is it about this unlucky business?"
"Yes. The town-fellows were all up about it last evening, when we came out of school. Anderson senior himself began to put them up to having the fence down again. Yes, that he did--I remember his very words--that Tomkins could not bring it into court, and so set old Hoxton at us. Well, I told them it would not do--thought I had settled them--saw them off home--yes, Simpson, and Benson, and Grey, up the High Street, and the others their way. I only left Axworthy going into a shop when I set off on my walk. What could a fellow do more? How was I to know that that Axworthy would get them together again, and take them to this affair--pull up the stakes--saw them down--for they were hard to get down--shy all sorts of things over into the court-hoot at old Tomkins's man, when he told them to be off--and make a bonfire of the sticks at last?""And Harvey Anderson was there?"
"No--not he. He is too sharp--born and bred attorney as he is--he talked them up to the mischief when my back was turned, and then sneaked quietly home, quite innocent, and out of the scrape.""But Dr. Hoxton can never entertain a suspicion that you had anything to do with it!"
"Yes, he does though. He thinks I incited them, and Tomkins and the policeman declare I was there in the midst of the row--and not one of these fellows will explain how I came at the last to look for Tom.""Not Tom himself?"
"He did try to speak, poor little fellow, but, after the other affair, his word goes for nothing, and so, it seems, does mine. I did think Hoxton would have trusted me!""And did not he?" exclaimed Dr. May.
"He did not in so many words accuse me of--of--but he told me he had serious charges brought against me--Mr. Harrison had seen me at Ballhatchet's, setting an example of disregard to rules--and, again, Mr. Harrison saw me coming in at a late hour last night. 'I know he did,' I said, and I explained where I had been, and they asked for proofs! I could hardly answer, from surprise, at their not seeming to believe me, but I said you could answer for my having come in with the flowers for my sister.""To be sure I will--I'll go this instant--" he was turning. "It is of no use, papa, to-night; Dr. Hoxton has a dinner-party."
"He is always having parties. I wish he would mind them less, and his business more. You disbelieved! but I'll see justice done you, Norman, the first thing to-morrow. Well--"
"Well then, I said, old Ballhatchet could tell that I crossed the bridge at the very time they were doing this pretty piece of work, for he was sitting smoking in his porch when I went home, and, would you believe it? the old rascal would not remember who passed that evening! It is all his malice and revenge--nothing else!"
Norman shortly explained the ginger-beer story, and adding, "Cheviot told me I should get nothing but ill-will, and so I have--all those town fellows turn against me now, and though they know as well as possible how it was, they won't say a word to right me, just out of spite, because I have stopped them from all the mischief I could!""Well, then--"
"They asked me whether--since I allowed that I had been there at last--I had dispersed the boys. I said no, I had no time. Then they desired to know who was there, and that I had not seen; it was all dark, and there had not been a moment, and if I guessed, it was no affair of mine to say. So they ordered me down, and had up Ned Anderson, and one or two more who were known to have been in the riot, and then they consulted a good while, and sent for me; Mr. Wilmot was for me, I am sure, but Harrison was against me. Dr. Hoxton sat there, and made me one of his addresses. He said he would not enter on the question whether I had been present at the repetition of the outrage, as he called it, but what was quite certain was, that I had abused my authority and influence in the school; I had been setting a bad example, and breaking the rules about Ballhatchet, and so far from repressing mischief, I had been the foremost in it, making inflammatory harangues, leading them to commit violence the first time, and the next, if not actually taking part in it personally, at any rate not preventing it. In short, he said it was clear I had not weight enough for my post--it was some excuse I had been raised to it so young--but it was necessary to show that proficiency in studies did not compensate for disregard of discipline, and so he turned me down below the first six! So there's another May in disgrace!"
"It shall not last--it shall not last, my boy," said Dr. May, pressing Norman's arm; "I'll see you righted. Dr. Hoxton shall hear the whole story. I am not for fathers interfering in general, but if ever there was a case, this is! Why, it is almost actionable-- injuring your whole prospects in life, and all because he will not take the trouble to make an investigation! It is a crying shame."
"Every fellow in the school knows how it was," said Norman; "and plenty of them would be glad to tell, if they had only the opportunity; but he asked no one but those two or three worst fellows that were at the fire, and they would not tell, n purpose. The school will go to destruction now--they'll get their way, and all I have been striving for is utterly undone."
"You setting a bad example! Dr. Hoxton little knows what you have been doing. It is a mockery, as I have always said, to see that old fellow sit wrapped up in his pomposity, eating his good dinners, and knowing no more what goes on among his boys than this umbrella! But he will listen to me--and we'll make those boys confess the whole-- ay, and have up Ballhatchet himself, to say what your traffic with him was; and we will see what old Hoxton says to you then, Norman."
Dr. May and his son felt keenly and spoke strongly. There was so much of sympathy and fellow-feeling between them, that there was no backwardness on Norman's part in telling his whole trouble, with more confidence than schoolboys often show towards their fathers, and Dr. May entered into the mortification as if he were still at school. They did not go into the house, but walked long up and down the garden, working themselves up into, if possible, stronger indignation, and concerting the explanation for to-morrow, when Dr. May meant to go at once to the head-master, and make him attend to the true version of the story, appealing to Harvey Anderson himself, Larkins, and many others, for witnesses. There could be hardly a doubt that Norman would be thus exculpated; but, if Dr. Hoxton would not see things in their true light, Dr. May was ready to take him away at once, rather than see him suffer injustice.
Still, though comforted by his father's entire reliance, Norman was suffering severely under the sense of indignity, and grieved that Dr. Hoxton and the other masters should have believed him guilty--that name of May could never again boast of being without reproach. To be in disgrace stung him to the quick, even though undeservedly, and he could not bear to go in, meet his sisters, and be pitied. "There's no need they should know of it," said he, when the Minster clock pealing ten obliged them to go indoors, and his father agreed. They bade each other good-night, with the renewal of the promise that Dr. Hoxton should be forced to hear Norman's vindication the first thing to-morrow, Harvey Anderson be disappointed of what he meanly triumphed in, and Norman be again in his post at the head of the school, in more honour and confidence than ever, putting down evil, and making Stoneborough what it ought to be.
As Dr. May lay awake in the summer's morning, meditating on his address to Dr. Hoxton, he heard the unwelcome sound of a ring at the bell, and, in a few minutes, a note was brought to him."Tell Adams to get the gig ready--I'll let him know whether he is to go with me."
And, in a few minutes, the doctor opened Norman's door, and found him dressed, and standing by the window, reading. "What, up already, Norman? I came to tell you that our affairs must wait till the afternoon. It is very provoking, for Hoxton may be gone out, but Mr. Lake's son, at Groveswood, has an attack on the head, and I must go at once. It is a couple of dozen miles off or more. I have hardly ever been there, and it may keep me all day.""Shall you go in the gig? Shall I drive you?" said Norman, looking rather blank. "That's what I thought of, if you like it. I thought you would sooner be out of the way." "Thank you--yes, papa. Shall I come and help you to finish dressing?" "Yes, do, thank you; it will hasten matters. Only, first order in some breakfast. What makes you up so early? Have not you slept?" "Not much--it has been such a hot night." "And you have a headache. Well, we will find a cure for that before the day is over. I have settled what to say to old Hoxton."
Before another quarter of an hour had passed, they were driving through the deep lanes, the long grass thickly laden with morning dew, which beaded the webs of the spiders and rose in clouds of mist under the influence of the sun's rays. There was stillness in the air at first, then the morning sounds, the labourer going forth, the world wakening to life, the opening houses, the children coming out to school. In spite of the tumult of feeling, Norman could not but be soothed and refreshed by the new and fair morning scene, and both minds quitted the school politics, as Dr. May talked of past enjoyment of walks or drives home in early dawn, the more delicious after a sad watch in a sick-room, and told of the fair sights he had seen at such unwonted hours.
They had far to go, and the heat of the day had come on before they entered the place of their destination. It was a woodland village, built on a nook in the side of the hill, sloping greenly to the river, and shut in by a white gate, which seemed to gather all in one the little old-fashioned church, its yard, shaded with trees, and enclosed by long white rails; the parsonage, covered with climbing plants and in the midst of a gay garden; and one or two cottages. The woods cast a cool shadow, and, in the meadows by the river rose cocks of new-made hay; there was an air of abiding serenity about the whole place, save that there stood an old man by the gate, evidently watching for the physician's carriage; and where the sun fell on that parsonage-house was a bedroom window wide open, with the curtains drawn."Thank Heaven you are come, sir," said the old man; "he is fearfully bad."
Norman knew young Lake, who had been a senior boy when he first went to school, was a Randall scholar, and had borne an excellent character, and highly distinguished himself at the university. And now, by all accounts, he seemed to be dying--in the height of honour and general esteem. Dr. May went into the house, the old man took the horse, and Norman lingered under the trees in the churchyard, watching the white curtains now and then puffed by the fitful summer breeze, as he lay on the turf in the shade, under the influence of the gentle sadness around, resting, mind and body, from the tossing tumultuous passionate sensations that had kept him restless and miserable through the hot night.
He waited long--one hour, two hours had passed away, but he was not impatient, and hardly knew how long the time had been before his father and Mr. Lake came out of the house together, and, after they parted, Dr. May summoned him. He of course asked first for the patient. "Not quite so hopeless as at first," and the reasons for having been kept so long were detailed, with many circumstances of the youth's illness, and the parents' resignation, by which Dr. May was still too deeply touched to have room in his mind for anything besides.They were more than half-way home, and a silence had succeeded the conversation about the Lake family, when Norman spoke: "Papa, I have been thinking about it, and I believe it would be better to let it alone, if you please." "Not apply to Dr. Hoxton!" exclaimed his father.
"Well, I think not. I have been considering it, and it does hardly seem to me the right thing. You see, if I had not you close at hand, this could never be explained, and it seems rather hard upon Anderson, who has no father, and the other fellows, who have theirs farther off--"
"Right, Norman, that is what my father before me always said, and the way I have always acted myself; much better let a few trifles go on not just as one would wish, than be for ever interfering. But I really think this is a case for it, and I don't think you ought to let yourself be influenced by the fear of any party-spirit."
"It is not only that, papa--I have been thinking a good deal to-day, and there are other reasons. Of course I should wish Dr. Hoxton to know that I spoke the truth about that walk, and I hope you will let him know, as I appealed to you. But, on cooler thoughts, I don't believe Dr. Hoxton could seriously suspect me of such a thing as that, and it was not on that ground that I am turned down, but that I did not keep up sufficient discipline, and allowed the outrage, as he calls it. Now, you know, that is, after a fashion, true. If I had not gone on like an ass the other day, and incited them to pull down the fences, they would not have done it afterwards, and perhaps I ought to have kept on guard longer. It was my fault, and we can't deny it."
Dr. May made a restless, reluctant movement. "Well, well, I suppose it was-but it was just as much Harvey Anderson's--and is he to get the scholarship because he has added meanness to the rest?"
"He was not dux," said Norman, with a sigh. "It was more shabby than I thought was even in him. But I don't know that the feeling about him is not one reason. There has always been a rivalry and bitterness between us two, and if I were to get the upper hand now, by means not in the usual course, such as the fellows would think ill of, it would be worse than ever, and I should always feel guilty and ashamed to look at him.""Over-refining, Norman," muttered Dr. May.
"Besides, don't you remember, when his father died, how glad you and everyone were to get him a nomination, and it was said that if he gained a scholarship it would be such a relief to poor Mrs. Anderson? Now he has this chance, it does seem hard to deprive her of it. I should not like to know that I had done so.""Whew!" the doctor gave a considering whistle.
"You could not make it straight, papa, without explaining about the dealing with Ballhatchet, and that would be unfair to them all, even the old rogue himself; for I promised to say nothing about former practices, as long as he did not renew them."
"Well! I don't want to compromise you, Norman. You know your own ground best, but I don't like it at all. You don't know the humiliation of disgrace. Those who have thought highly of you, now thinking you changed--I don't know how to bear it for you.""I don't mind anything while you trust me," said Norman, eagerly; "not much I mean, except Mr. Wilmot. You must judge, papa, and do as you please."
"No, you must judge, Norman. Your confidence in me ought not to be a restraint. It has always been an understood thing that what you say at home is as if it had not been said, as regards my dealings with the masters."
"I know, papa. Well, I'll tell you what brought me to this. I tumbled about all night in a rage, when I thought how they had served me, and of Hoxton's believing it all, and how he might only half give in to your representation, and then I gloried in Anderson's coming down from his height, and being seen in his true colours. So it went on till morning came, and I got up. You know you gave me my mother's little 'Thomas a Kempis'. I always read a bit every morning. To-day it was, 'Of four things that bring much inward peace'. And what do you think they were?-
"'Be desirous, my son, to do the will of another
rather than thine own.
Choose always to have less rather than more. Seek always the lowest place, and to be inferior
"I liked them the more, because it was just like her last reading with us, and like that letter. Well, then I wondered as I lay on the grass at Groveswood, whether she would have thought it best for me to be reinstated, and I found out that I should have been rather afraid of what you might say when she had talked it over with you."
Dr. May smiled a little at the simplicity with which this last was said, but his smile ended in one of his heavy sighs. "So you took her for your counsellor, my boy. That was the way to find out what was right."
"Well, there was something in the place and, in watching poor Lake's windows, that made me not able to dwell so much on getting on, and having prizes and scholarships. I thought that caring for those had been driven out of me, and you know I never felt as if it were my right when I was made dux; but now I find it is all come back. It does not do for me to be first; I have been what she called elated, and been more peremptory than need with the lower boys, and gone on in my old way with Richard, and so I suppose this disgrace has come to punish me. I wish it were not disgrace, because of our name at school, and because it will vex Harry so much; but since it is come, considering all things, I suppose I ought not to struggle to justify myself at other people's expense."
His eyes were so dazzled with tears that he could hardly see to drive, nor did his father speak at first. "I can't say anything against it, Norman, but I am sorry, and one thing more you should consider. If Dr. Hoxton should view this absurd business in the way he seems to do, it will stand in your way for ever in testimonials, if you try for anything else.""Do you think it will interfere with my having a Confirmation ticket?" "Why no, I should not think--such a boyish escapade could be no reason for refusing you one." "Very well then, it had better rest. If there should be any difficulty about my being confirmed, of course we will explain it."
"I wish every one showed themselves as well prepared!" half muttered the doctor; then, after long musing, "Well, Norman, I give up the scholarship. Poor Mrs. Anderson wants it more than we do, and if the boy is a shabby fellow the more he wants a decent education. But what do you say to this? I make Hoxton do you full justice, and reinstate you in your proper place, and then I take you away at once --send you to a tutor--anything, till the end of the long vacation."
"Thank you," said Norman, pausing. "I don't know, papa. I am very much obliged to you, but I think it would hardly do. You would be uncomfortable at seeming to quarrel with Dr. Hoxton, and it would be hardly creditable for me to go off in anger."
"You are right, I believe," said Dr. May. "You judge wisely, though I should not have ventured to ask it of you. But what is to become of the discipline of the school? Is that all to go to the dogs?"
"I could not do anything with them if I were restored in this way; they would be more set against me. It is bad enough as it is, but, even for my own peace, I believe it is better to leave it alone. All my comfort in school is over, I know!" and he sighed deeply.
"It is a most untoward business!" said the doctor. "I am very sorry your schooldays should be clouded--but it can't be helped, and you will work yourself into a character again. You are full young, and can stay for the next Randall."
Norman felt as if, while his father looked at him as he now did, the rest of the world were nothing to him; but, perhaps, the driving past the school brought him to a different mind, for he walked into the house slowly and dejectedly.
He told his own story to Ethel, in the garden, not without much difficulty, so indignant were her exclamations; and it was impossible to make her see that his father's interference would put him in an awkward position among the boys. She would argue vehemently that she could not bear Mr. Wilmot to think ill of him, that it was a great shame of Dr. Hoxton, and that it was dreadful to let such a boy as Harvey Anderson go unpunished. "I really do think it is quite wrong of you to give up your chance of doing good, and leave him in his evil ways!" That was all the comfort she gave Norman, and she walked in to pour out a furious grumbling upon Margaret.
Dr. May had been telling the elder ones, and they were in conversation after he had left them--Margaret talking with animation, and Flora sitting over her drawing, uttering reluctant assents. "Has he told you, poor fellow?" asked Margaret."Yes," said Ethel. "Was there ever such a shame?"
"That is just what I say," observed Flora. "I cannot see why the Andersons are to have a triumph over all of us."
"I used to think Harvey the best of the two," said Ethel. "Now I think he is a great deal the worst. Taking advantage of such a mistake as this! How will he ever look Norman in the face!"
"Papa is so much pleased with dear Norman's behaviour that it quite makes up for all the disappointment," said Margaret. "Besides, he is very much obliged to him in one way; he would not have liked to have to battle the matter with Dr. Hoxton. He spoke of Norman's great good judgment.""Yes, Norman can persuade papa to anything," said Flora. "Yes, I wish papa had not yielded," said Ethel. "It would have been just as noble in dear Norman, and we should not have the apparent disgrace." "Perhaps it is best as it is, after all," said Flora. "Why, how do you mean?" said Ethel.
"I think very likely things might have come out. Now don't look furious, Ethel. Indeed, I can't help it, but really I don't think it is explicable why Norman should wish to hush it up, unless there were something behind!""Flora!" cried Ethel, too much shocked to bring out another word. "If you are unfortunate enough to have such suspicions," said Margaret quietly, "I think it would be better to be silent." "As if you did not know Norman!" stammered Ethel.
"Well," said Flora, "I don't wish to think so. You know I did not hear Norman himself, and when papa gives his vehement accounts of things, it always puzzles us of the cooler-minded sort.""It is as great a shame as ever I heard!" cried Ethel, recovering her utterance. "Who would you trust, if not your own father and brother?"
"Yes, yes," said Flora, not by any means wishing to displease her sisters. "If there is such a thing as an excess of generosity, it is sure to be among ourselves. I only know it does not suit me. It will make us all uncomfortable whenever we meet the Andersons or Mr. Wilmot, or any one else, and as to such tenderness to Harvey Anderson, I think it is thrown away." "Thrown away on the object, perhaps," said Margaret, "but not in Norman."
"To be sure," broke out Ethel. "Better be than seem! Oh, dear! I am sorry I was vexed with dear old June when he told me. I had rather have him now than if he had gained everything, and every one was praising him--that I had! Harvey Anderson is welcome to be dux and Randall scholar for what I care, while Norman is--while he is, just what we thought of the last time we read that Gospel--you know, Margaret?"
"He is--that he is," said Margaret, "and, indeed, it is most beautiful to see how what has happened has brought him at once to what she wished, when, perhaps, otherwise it would have been a work of long time."
Ethel was entirely consoled. Flora thought of the words "tete exaltee" and considered herself alone to have sober sense enough to see things in a true light--not that she went the length of believing that Norman had any underhand motives, but she thought it very discreet in her to think a prudent father would not have been satisfied with such a desire to avoid investigation.Dr. May would not trust himself to enter on the subject with Dr. Hoxton in conversation; he only wrote a note. "June 16th. "Dear Dr. Hoxton,
"My son has appealed to me to confirm his account of himself on Thursday evening last. I therefore distinctly state that he came in at half-past nine, with his hands full of plants from the river, and that he then went out again, by my desire, to look for his little brother.--Yours very truly, R. May."
A long answer came in return, disclaiming all doubt of Norman's veracity, and explaining Dr. Hoxton's grounds for having degraded him. There had been misconduct in the school, he said, for some time past, and he did not consider that it was any very serious reproach, to a boy of Norman's age, that he had not had weight enough to keep up his authority, and had been carried away by the general feeling. It had been necessary to make an example for the sake of principle, and though very sorry it should have fallen on one of such high promise and general good conduct, Dr. Hoxton trusted that it would not be any permanent injury to his prospects, as his talents had raised him to his former position in the school so much earlier than usual.
"The fact was," said Dr. May, "that old Hoxton did it in a passion, feeling he must punish somebody, and now, finding there's no uproar about it, he begins to be sorry. I won't answer this note. I'll stop after church to-morrow and shake hands, and that will show we don't bear malice."
What Mr. Wilmot might think was felt by all to affect them more nearly. Ethel wanted to hear that he declared his complete conviction of Norman's innocence, and was disappointed to find that he did not once allude to the subject. She was only consoled by Margaret's conjecture that, perhaps, he thought the headmaster had been hasty, and could not venture to say so--he saw into people's characters, and it was notorious that it was just what Dr. Hoxton did not.
Tom had spent the chief of that Saturday in reading a novel borrowed from Axworthy, keeping out of sight of every one. All Sunday he avoided Norman more scrupulously than ever, and again on Monday. That day was a severe trial to Norman; the taking the lower place, and the sense that, excel as much as ever he might in his studies, it would not avail to restore him to his former place, were more unpleasant, when it came to the point, than he had expected.
He saw the cold manner, so different from the readiness with which his tasks had always been met, certain as they were of being well done; he found himself among the common herd whom he had passed so triumphantly, and, for a little while, he had no heart to exert himself.
This was conquered by the strong will and self-rebuke for having merely craved for applause, but, in the play-ground, he found himself still alone-the other boys who had been raised by his fall shrank from intercourse with one whom they had injured by their silence, and the Andersons, who were wont to say the Mays carried every tale home, and who still almost expected interference from Dr. May, hardly believed their victory secure, and the younger one, at least, talked spitefully, and triumphed in the result of May's meddling and troublesome over strictness. "Such prigs always come to a downfall," was the sentiment.
Norman found himself left out of everything, and stood dispirited and weary on the bank of the river, wishing for Harry, wishing for Cheviot, wishing that he had been able to make a friend who would stand by him, thinking it could not be worse if he had let his father reinstate him--and a sensation of loneliness and injustice hung heavy at his heart.
His first interruption was a merry voice. "I say, June, there's no end of river cray-fish under that bank," and Larkins's droll face was looking up at him, from that favourite position, half stooping, his hands on his knees, his expression of fun trying to conceal his real anxiety and sympathy.
Norman turned and smiled, and looked for the cray-fish, and, at the same time, became aware of Hector Ernescliffe, watching for an opportunity to say, "I have a letter from Alan." He knew they wanted, as far as little boys ventured to seek after one so much their elder, to show themselves his friends, and he was grateful; he roused himself to hear about Alan's news, and found it was important --his great friend, Captain Gordon, had got a ship, and hoped to be able to take him, and this might lead to Harry's going with him. Then Norman applied himself to the capture of cray-fish, and Larkins grew so full of fun and drollery, that the hours of recreation passed off less gloomily than they had begun.
If only his own brother would have been his adherent! But he saw almost nothing of Tom. Day after day he missed him, he was off before him in going and returning from school, and when he caught a sight of his face, it looked harassed, pale, and miserable, stealing anxious glances after him, yet shrinking from his eye. But, at the same time, Norman did not see him mingling with his former friends, and could not make out how he disposed of himself. To be thus continually shunned by his own brother, even when the general mass were returning to ordinary terms, became so painful, that Norman was always on the watch to seek for one more conversation with him.
He caught him at last in the evening, just as they were going home. "Tom, why are you running away? Come with me," said he authoritatively; and Tom obeyed in trembling.
Norman led the way to the meads. "Tom," said he, "do not let this go on. Why do you serve me in this way? You surely need not turn against me," he said, with pleading melancholy in his voice.It was not needed. Tom had flung himself upon the grass, and was in an agony of crying, even before he had finished the words.
"Tom, Tom! what is the matter? Have they been bullying you again? Look up, and tell me--what is it? You know I can stand by you still, if you'll only let me;" and Norman sat by him on the grass, and raised his face by a sort of force, but the kind words only brought more piteous sobs. It was a long time before they diminished enough to let him utter a word, but Norman went on patiently consoling and inquiring, sure, at least, that here had broken down the sullenness that had always repelled him.At last came the words, "Oh! I cannot bear it. It is all my doing!" "What--how--you don't mean this happening to me? It is not your doing, August--what fancy is this?"
"Oh, yes, it is," said Tom, his voice cut short by gasps, the remains of the sobs. "They would not hear me! I tried to tell them how you told them not, and sent them home. I tried to tell about Ballhatchet--but--but they wouldn't
-they said if it had been Harry, they would have attended--but they would not believe me. Oh! if Harry was but here!"
"I wish he was," said Norman, from the bottom of his heart; "but you see, Tom, if this sets you on always telling truth, I shan't think any great harm done."
"But you would mind," broke in the boy passionately, "if you knew what Anderson junior and Axworthy say! They say it serves you right, and they were going to send me to old Ballhatchet's to get some of his stuff to drink confusion to the mouth of June, and all pragmatical meddlers; and when I said I could not go, they vowed if I did not, I should eat the corks for them! And Anderson junior called me names, and licked me. Look there." He showed a dark blue-and-red stripe raised on the palm of his hand. "I could not write well for it these three days, and Hawes gave me double copies!""The cowardly fellows!" exclaimed Norman indignantly. "But you did not go?" "No, Anderson senior stopped them. He said he would not have the Ballhatchet business begin again."
"That is one comfort," said Norman. "I see he does not dare not to keep order. But if you'll only stay with me, August, I'll take care they don't hurt you."
"Oh, June! June!" and he threw himself across his kind brother. "I am so very sorry! Oh! to see you put down--and hear them! And you to lose the scholarship! Oh, dear! oh, dear! and be in disgrace with them all!""But, Tom, do cheer up. It is nothing to be in such distress at. Papa knows all about it, and while he does, I don't care half so much." "Oh, I wish--I wish--"
"You see, Tom," said Norman, "after all, though it is very kind of you to be sorry for not being able to get me out of this scrape, the thing one wants you to be sorry about is your own affair.""I wish I had never come to school! I wish Anderson would leave me alone! It is all his fault! A mean-spirited, skulking, bullying--"
"Hush, hush, Tom, he is bad enough, but now you know what he is, you can keep clear of him for the future. Now listen. You and I will make a fresh start, and try if we can't get the Mays to be looked on as they were when Harry was here. Let us mind the rules, and get into no more mischief." "You'll keep me from Ned Anderson and Axworthy?" whispered Tom."Yes, that I will. And you'll try and speak the truth, and be straightforward?" "I will, I will," said Tom, worn out in spirits by his long bondage, and glad to catch at the hope of relief and protection. "Then let us come home," and Tom put his hand into his brother's, as a few weeks back would have seemed most unworthy of schoolboy dignity.
Thenceforth Tom was devoted to Norman, and kept close to him, sure that the instant he was from under his wing his former companions would fall on him to revenge his defection, but clinging to him also from real affection and gratitude. Indolence and timidity were the true root of what had for a time seemed like a positively bad disposition; beneath, there was a warm heart, and sense of right, which had been almost stifled for the time, in the desire, from moment to moment, to avoid present trouble or fear. Under Norman's care his better self had freer scope, he was guarded from immediate terror, and kept from the suggestions of the worse sort of boys, as much as was in his brother's power; and the looks they cast towards him, and the sly torments they attempted to inflict, by no means invited him back to them. The lessons, where he had a long inveterate habit of shuffling, came under Norman's eye at the same time. He always prepared them in his presence, instead of in the most secret manner possible, and with all Anderson's expeditious modes of avoiding the making them of any use. Norman sat by, and gave such help as was fair and just, showed him how to learn, and explained difficulties, and the ingenuity hitherto spent in eluding learning being now directed to gaining it, he began to make real progress and find satisfaction in it. The comfort of being good dawned upon him once more, but still there was much to contend with; he had acquired such a habit of prevarication that, if by any means taken by surprise, his impulse was to avoid giving a straightforward answer, and when he recollected his sincerity, the truth came with the air of falsehood. Moreover, he was an arrant coward, and provoked tricks by his manifest and unreasonable terrors. It was no slight exercise of patience that Norman underwent, but this was the interest he had made for himself; and the recovery of the boy's attachment, and his improvement, though slow, were a present recompense.
Ernescliffe, Larkins, and others of the boys, held fast to him, and after the first excitement was past, all the rest returned to their former tone. He was decidedly as much respected as ever, and, at the same time, regarded with more favour than when his strictness was resented. And as for the discipline of the school, that did not suffer. Anderson felt that, for his own credit, he must not allow the rules to be less observed than in May's reign, and he enforced them upon the reluctant and angry boys with whom he had been previously making common cause. Dr. Hoxton boasted to the under- masters that the school had never been in such good order as under Anderson, little guessing that this was but reaping the fruits of a past victory, or that every boy in the whole school gave the highest place in their esteem to the deposed dux.
To Anderson, Norman's cordial manner and ready support were the strangest part of all, only explained by thinking that he deemed it, as he tried to do himself, merely the fortune of war, and was sensible of no injury.
And, for Norman himself, when the first shock was over, and he was accustomed to the change, he found the cessation of vigilance a relief, and carried a lighter heart than any time since his mother's death. His sisters could not help observing that there was less sadness in the expression of his eyes, that he carried his head higher, walked with freedom and elasticity of step, tossed and flourished the Daisy till she shouted and crowed, while Margaret shrank at such freaks; and, though he was not much of a laugher himself, contributed much sport in the way of bright apposite sayings to the home circle.
It was a very unexpected mode of cure for depression of spirits, but there could be no question that it succeeded; and when, a few Saturdays after, he drove Dr. May again to Groveswood to see young Mr. Lake, who was recovering, he brought Margaret home a whole pile of botanical curiosities, and drew his father into an animated battle over natural and Linnaean systems, which kept the whole party merry with the pros and cons every evening for a week.
Chapter I.23Oh! the golden-hearted daisies,
Witnessed there before my youth,
To the truth of things, with praises
Of the beauty of the truth.--E. B. BROWNING.
Mr. Ernescliffe wrote that his father's friend, Captain Gordon, having been appointed to the frigate Alcestis, had chosen him as one of his lieutenants, and offered a nomination as naval cadet for his brother. He had replied that the navy was not Hector's destination, but, as Captain Gordon had no one else in view, had prevailed on him to pass on the proposal to Harry May.
Alan wrote in high terms of his captain, declaring that he esteemed the having sailed with him as one of the greatest advantages he had ever received, and adding that, for his own part, Dr. May needed no promise from him to be assured that he would watch over Harry like his own brother. It was believed that the Alcestis was destined for the South American station."A three years' business," said Dr. May, with a sigh. "But the thing is done, and this is as good as we can hope." "Far better!" said Margaret. "What pleasure it must have given him! Dear Harry could not sail under more favourable circumstances." "No, I would trust to Ernescliffe as I would to Richard. It is kindly done, and I will thank him at once. Where does he date from?" "From Portsmouth. He does not say whether he has seen Harry."
"I suppose he waited for my answer. Suppose I enclose a note for him to give to Harry. There will be rapture enough, and it is a pity he should not have the benefit of it."
The doctor sat down to write, while Margaret worked and mused, perhaps on outfits and new shirts--perhaps on Harry's lion-locks, beneath a blue cap and gold band, or, perchance, on the coral shoals of the Pacific.
It was one of the quiet afternoons, when all the rest were out, and which the doctor and his daughter especially valued, when they were able to spend one together without interruption. Soon, however, a ring at the door brought an impatient exclamation from the doctor; but his smile beamed out at the words, "Miss Rivers." They were great friends; in fact, on terms of some mutual sauciness, though Meta was, as yet, far less at home with his daughters, and came in, looking somewhat shy."Ah, your congeners are gone out!" was the doctor's reception. "You must put up with our sober selves." "Is Flora gone far?" asked Meta. "To Cocksmoor," said Margaret. "I am very sorry she has missed you." "Shall I be in your way?" said Meta timidly. "Papa has several things to do, and said he would call for me here." "Good luck for Margaret," said Dr. May. "So they are gone to Cocksmoor!" said Meta. "How I envy them!" "You would not if you saw the place," said Dr. May. "I believe Norman is very angry with me for letting them go near it." "Ah! but they are of real use there!"
"And Miss Meta is obliged to take to envying the black-hole of Cocksmoor, instead of being content with the eglantine bowers of Abbotstoke! I commiserate her!" said the doctor."If I did any good instead of harm at Abbotstoke!" "Harm!" exclaimed Margaret.
"They went on very well without me," said Meta; "but ever since I have had the class they have been getting naughtier and noisier every Sunday; and, last Sunday, the prettiest of all--the one I liked best, and had done everything for--she began to mimic me--held up her finger, as I did, and made them all laugh!""Well, that is very bad!" said Margaret; "but I suppose she was a very little one."
"No, a quick clever one, who knew much better, about nine years old. She used to be always at home in the week, dragging about a great baby; and we managed that her mother should afford to stay at home and send her to school. It seemed such a pity her cleverness should be wasted."The doctor smiled. "Ah! depend upon it, the tyrant-baby was the best disciplinarian."
Meta looked extremely puzzled. "Papa means," said Margaret, "that if she was inclined to be conceited, the being teased at home might do her more good than being brought forward at school."
"I have done everything wrong, it seems," said Meta, with a shade of what the French call depit. "I thought it must be right and good-- but it has only done mischief; and now papa says they are an ungrateful set, and that, if it vexes me, I had better have no more to do with them!""It does not vex you so much as that, I hope," said Margaret. "Oh, I could not bear that!" said Meta; "but it is so different from what I thought!"
"Ah! you had an Arcadia of good little girls in straw hats, such as I see in Blanche's little books," said the doctor, "all making the young lady an oracle, and doing wrong--if they do it at all--in the simplest way, just for an example to the others.""Dr. May! How can you know so well? But do you really think it is their fault, or mine?" "Do you think me a conjurer?" "Well, but what do you think?" "What do Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wilmot think?"
"I know Mrs. Wilmot thinks I spoil my class. She spoke to me about making favourites, and sometimes has seemed surprised at things which I have done. Last Sunday she told me she thought I had better have a steadier class, and I know whom she will give me--the great big, stupid ones, at the bottom of the first class! I do believe it is only out of good-nature that she does not tell me not to teach at all. I have a great mind I will not; I know I do nothing but harm.""What shall you say if I tell you I think so too?" asked the doctor. "Oh, Dr. May, you don't really? Now, does he, Miss May? I am sure I only want to do them good. I don't know what I can have done."
Margaret made her perceive that the doctor was smiling, and she changed her tone, and earnestly begged to be told what they thought of the case; for if she should show her concern at home, her father and governess would immediately beg her to cease from all connection with the school, and she did not feel at all convinced that Mrs. Wilmot liked to have her there. Feeling injured by the implied accusation of mismanagement, yet, with a sense of its truth, used to be petted, and new to rebuffs, yet with a sincere wish to act rightly, she was much perplexed by this, her first reverse, and had come partly with the view of consulting Flora, though she had fallen on other counsellors.
"Margaret, our adviser general," said the doctor, "what do you say? Put yourself in the place of Mrs. Charles Wilmot, and say, shall Miss Rivers teach or not?""I had rather you would, papa." "Not I--I never kept school."
"Well, then, I being Mrs. Wilmot, should certainly be mortified if Miss Rivers deserted me because the children were naughty. I think, I think I had rather she came and asked me what she had better do.""And you would answer 'teach,' for fear of vexing her," said Meta. "I should, and also for the sake of letting her learn to teach." "The point where only trial shows one's ignorance," said Dr. May. "But I don't want to do it for my own sake," said Meta. "I do everything for my own sake already."
"For theirs, then," said the doctor. "If teaching will not come by nature, you must serve an apprenticeship, if you mean to be of service in that line. Perhaps it was the gift that the fairies omitted.""But will it do any good to them?" "I can't tell; but I am sure it would do them harm for you to give it up, because it is disagreeable."
"Well," said Meta, with a sigh, "I'll go and talk to Mrs. Wilmot. I could not bear to give up anything that seems right just now, because of the Confirmation."
Margaret eagerly inquired, and it appeared that the bishop had given notice for a Confirmation in August, and that Mr. Wilmot was already beginning to prepare his candidates, whilst Mr. Ramsden, always tardy, never gave notice till the last moment possible. The hope was expressed that Harry might be able to profit by this opportunity; and Harry's prospects were explained to Meta; then the doctor, recollecting something that he wished to say to Mr. Rivers, began to ask about the chance of his coming before the time of an engagement of his own.
"He said he should be here at about half-past four," said Meta. "He is gone to the station to inquire about the trains. Do you know what time the last comes in?"
"That is what we were afraid of. It is for Bellairs, my maid. Her mother is very ill, and she is afraid she is not properly nursed. It is about five miles from the Milbury Station, and we thought of letting her go with a day-ticket to see about her. She could go in the morning, after I am up; but I don't know what is to be done, for she could not get back before I dress for dinner."Margaret felt perfectly aghast at the cool tone, especially after what had passed.
"It would be quite impossible," said the doctor. "Even going by the eight o'clock train, and returning by the last, she would only have two hours to spare--short enough measure for a sick mother.""Papa means to give her whatever she wants for any nurse she may get." "Is there no one with her mother now?" "A son's wife, who, they think, is not kind. Poor Bellairs was so grateful for being allowed to go home. I wonder if I could dress for once without her?" "Do you know old Crabbe?" said the doctor. "The dear old man at Abbotstoke? Oh, yes, of course."
"There was a very sad case in his family. The mother was dying of a lingering illness, when the son met with a bad accident. The only daughter was a lady's-maid, and could not be spared, though the brother was half crazy to see her, and there was no one to tend them but a wretch of a woman, paid by the parish. The poor fellow kept calling for his sister in his delirium, and, at last, I could not help writing to the mistress.""Did she let her come?" said Meta, her cheek glowing.
"As a great favour, she let her set out by the mail train, after dressing her for a ball, with orders to return in time for her toilette for an evening party the next day."
"Oh, I remember," said Margaret, "her coming here at five in the morning, and your taking her home."
"And when we got to Abbotstoke the brother was dead. That parish nurse had not attended to my directions, and, I do believe, was the cause of it. The mother had had a seizure, and was in the most precarious state."
"It was as much as her place was worth," said the doctor; "and her wages were the chief maintenance of the family. So she had to go back to dress her mistress, while the old woman lay there, wailing after Betsy. She did give warning then, but, before the month was out, the mother was dead."
Meta did not speak, and Dr. May presently rose, saying he should try to meet Mr. Rivers in the town, and went out. Meta sat thoughtful, and at last, sighing, said, "I wonder whether Bellairs's mother is so very ill? I have a great mind to let Susan try to do my hair, and let Bellairs stay a little longer. I never thought of that.""I do not think you will be sorry," said Margaret.
"Yes, I shall, for if my hair does not look nice, papa will not be pleased, and there is Aunt Leonora coming. How odd it will be to be without Bellairs! I will ask Mrs. Larpent."
"Oh, yes!" said Margaret. "You must not think we meant to advise; but papa has seen so many instances of distress, from servants not spared to their friends in illness, that he feels strongly on the subject."
"And I really might have been as cruel as that woman!" said Meta. "Well, I hope Mrs. Bellairs may be better, and able to spare her daughter. I don't know what will become of me without her.""I think it will have been a satisfaction in one way," said Margaret." "In what way?"
"Don't you remember what you began by complaining of, that you could not be of use? Now, I fancy this would give you the pleasure of undergoing a little personal inconvenience for the good of another."
Meta looked half puzzled, half thoughtful, and Margaret, who was a little uneasy at the style of counsel she found herself giving, changed the conversation.
It was a memorable one to little Miss Rivers, opening out to her, as did almost all her meetings with that family, a new scope for thought and for duty. The code to which she had been brought up taught that servants were the machines of their employer's convenience. Good- nature occasioned much kindliness of manner and intercourse, and every luxury and indulgence was afforded freely; but where there was any want of accordance between the convenience of the two parties, there was no question. The master must be the first object, the servants' remedy was in their own hands.
Amiable as was Mr. Rivers, this, merely from indulgence and want of reflection, was his principle; and his daughter had only been acting on it, though she did not know it, till the feelings that she had never thought of were thus displayed before her. These were her first practical lessons that life was not meant to be passed in pleasing ourselves, and being good-natured at small cost.
It was an effort. Meta was very dependent, never having been encouraged to be otherwise, and Bellairs was like a necessary of life in her estimation; but strength of principle came to aid her naturally kind-hearted feeling, and she was pleased by the idea of voluntarily undergoing a privation so as to test her sincerity.
So when her father told her of the inconvenient times of the trains, and declared that Bellairs must give it up, she answered by proposing to let her sleep a night or two there, gaily promised to manage very well, and satisfied him.
Her maid's grateful looks and thanks recompensed her when she made the offer to her, and inspirited her to an energetic coaxing of Mrs. Larpent, who, being more fully aware than her father of the needfulness of the lady's-maid, and also very anxious that her darling should appear to the best advantage before the expected aunt, Lady Leonora Langdale, was unwilling to grant more than one night at the utmost.Meta carried the day, and her last assurance to Bellairs was that she might stay as long as seemed necessary to make her mother comfortable.
Thereupon Meta found herself more helpful in some matters than she had expected, but at a loss in others. Susan, with all Mrs. Larpent's supervision, could not quite bring her dress to the air that was so peculiarly graceful and becoming; and she often caught her papa's eye looking at her as if he saw something amiss, and could not discover what it was. Then came Aunt Leonora, always very kind to Meta, but the dread of the rest of the household, whom she was wont to lecture on the proper care of her niece. Miss Rivers was likely to have a considerable fortune, and Lady Leonora intended her to be a very fashionable and much admired young lady, under her own immediate protection.
The two cousins, Leonora and Agatha, talked to her; the one of her balls, the other of her music--patronised her, and called her their good little cousin-while they criticised the stiff set of those unfortunate plaits made by Susan, and laughed, as if it was an unheard-of concession, at Bellairs's holiday. Nevertheless, when "Honoured Miss" received a note, begging for three days' longer grace, till a niece should come, in whom Bellairs could place full confidence, she took it on herself to return free consent. Lady Leonora found out what she had done, and reproved her, telling her it was only the way to make "those people" presume, and Mrs. Larpent was also taken to task; but, decidedly, Meta did not regret what she had done, though she felt as if she had never before known how to appreciate comfort, when she once more beheld Bellairs stationed at her toilette table.Meta was asked about her friends. She could not mention any one but Mrs. Charles Wilmot and the Misses May. "Physician's daughters; oh!" said Lady Leonora.
And she proceeded to exhort Mr. Rivers to bring his daughter to London, or its neighbourhood, where she might have masters, and be in the way of forming intimacies suited to her connections.
Mr. Rivers dreaded London--never was well there, and did not like the trouble of moving--while Meta was so attached to the Grange, that she entreated him not to think of leaving it, and greatly dreaded her aunt's influence. Lady Leonora did, indeed, allow that the Grange was a very pretty place; her only complaint was the want of suitable society for Meta; she could not bear the idea of her growing accustomed--for want of something better--to the vicar's wife and the pet doctor's daughters.
Flora had been long desirous to effect a regular call at Abbotstoke, and it was just now that she succeeded. Mrs. Charles Wilmot's little girl was to have a birthday feast, at which Mary, Blanche, and Aubrey were to appear. Flora went in charge of them, and as soon as she had safely deposited them, and appointed Mary to keep Aubrey out of mischief, she walked up to the Grange, not a whit daunted by the report of the very fine ladies who were astonishing the natives of Abbotstoke.
She was admitted, and found herself in the drawing-room, with a quick livelylooking lady, whom she perceived to be Lady Leonora, and who instantly began talking to her very civilly. Flora was never at a loss, and they got on extremely well; her ease and self-possession, without forwardness, telling much to her advantage. Meta came in, delighted to see her, but, of course, the visit resulted in no really intimate talk, though it was not without effect. Flora declared Lady Leonora Langdale to be a most charming person; and Lady Leonora, on her side, asked Meta who was that very elegant conversible girl. "Flora May," was the delighted answer, now that the aunt had committed herself by commendation. And she did not retract it; she pronounced Flora to be something quite out of the common way, and supposed that she had had unusual advantages.
Mr. Rivers took care to introduce to his sister-in-law Dr. May (who would fain have avoided it), but ended by being in his turn pleased and entertained by her brilliant conversation, which she put forth for him, as her instinct showed her that she was talking to a man of high ability. A perfect gentleman she saw him to be, and making out some mutual connections far up in the family tree of the Mackenzies, she decided that the May family were an acquisition, and very good companions for her niece at present, while not yet come out. So ended the visit, with this great triumph for Meta, who had a strong belief in Aunt Leonora's power and infallibility, and yet had not consulted her about Bellairs, nor about the school question.
She had missed one Sunday's school on account of her aunt's visit, but the resolution made beside Margaret's sofa had not been forgotten. She spent her Saturday afternoon in a call on Mrs. Wilmot, ending with a walk through the village; she confessed her ignorance, apologised for her blunders, and put herself under the direction which once she had fancied too strict and harsh to be followed.
And on Sunday she was content to teach the stupid girls, and abstain from making much of the smooth-faced engaging set. She thought it very dull work, but she could feel that it was something not done to please herself; and whereas her father had feared she would be dull when her cousins were gone, he found her more joyous than ever.
There certainly was a peculiar happiness about Margaret Rivers; her vexations were but ripples, rendering the sunny course of her life more sparkling, and each exertion in the way of goodness was productive of so much present joy that the steps of her ladder seemed, indeed, to be of diamonds.
Her ladder--for she was, indeed, mounting upwards. She was very earnest in her Confirmation preparation, most anxious to do right and to contend with her failings; but the struggle at present was easy; and the hopes, joys, and incentives shone out more and more upon her in this blithe stage of her life.She knew there was a dark side, but hope and love were more present to her than was fear. Happy those to whom such young days are granted.
It is the generous spirit, who, when brought Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought Upon the plan that pleased his childish thought, Whose high endeavours are an inward light, Making the path before him always bright.WORDSWORTH. The holidays had commenced about a week when Harry, now duly appointed to H. M. S. Alcestis, was to come home on leave, as he proudly expressed it.
A glad troop of brothers and sisters, with the doctor himself, walked up to the station to meet him, and who was happiest when, from the window, was thrust out the rosy face, with the gold band? Mary gave such a shriek and leap, that two passengers and one guard turned round to look at her, to the extreme discomfiture of Flora and Norman, evidenced by one by a grave "Mary! Mary!" by the other, by walking off to the extreme end of the platform, and trying to look as if he did not belong to them, in which he was imitated by his shadow, Tom.
Sailor already, rather than schoolboy, Harry cared not for spectators; his bound from the carriage, and the hug between him, and Mary would have been worthy of the return from the voyage. The next greeting was for his father, and the sisters had had their share by the time the two brothers thought fit to return from their calm walk on the platform.
Grand was it to see that party return to the town--the naval cadet, with his arm linked in Mary's, and Aubrey clinging to his hand, and the others walking behind, admiring him as he turned his bright face every moment with some glad question or answer, "How was Margaret?" Oh, so much better; she had been able to walk across the room, with Norman's arm round her--they hoped she would soon use crutches--and she sat up more. "And the baby?" More charming than ever--four teeth--would soon walk--such a darling! Then came "my dirk, the ship, our berth." "Papa, do ask Mr. Ernescliffe to come here. I know he could get leave.""Mr. Ernescliffe! You used to call him Alan!" said Mary. "Yes, but that is all over now. You forget what we do on board. Captain Gordon himself calls me Mr. May!" Some laughed, others were extremely impressed. "Ha! There's Ned Anderson coming," cried Mary. "Now! Let him see you,
"What matters Ned Anderson to me?" said Harry; and, with an odd mixture of shamefacedness and cordiality, he marched full up to his old school-fellow, and shook hands with him, as if able, in the plenitude of his officership, to afford plenty of good-humoured superiority. Tom had meantime subsided out of all view. But poor Harry's exultation had a fall.
Harry gave a disturbed, wondering look round, on seeing Edward's air of malignant satisfaction. He saw nothing that reassured him, except the quietness of Norman's own face, but even that altered as their eyes met. Before another word could be said, however, the doctor's hand was on Harry's shoulder."You must not keep him now, Ned," said he--"his sister has not seen him yet."
And he moved his little procession onwards, still resting on Harry's shoulder, while a silence had fallen on all, and even the young sailor ventured no question. Only Tom's lips were quivering, and Ethel had squeezed Norman's hand. "Poor Harry!" he muttered, "this is worst of all! I wish we had written it to him.""So do I now, but we always trusted it would come right. Oh! if I were but a boy to flog that Edward!" "Hush, Ethel, remember what we resolved."
They were entering their own garden, where, beneath the shade of the tuliptree, Margaret lay on her couch. Her arms were held out, and Harry threw himself upon her, but when he rose from her caress, Norman and Tom were gone."What is this?" he now first ventured to ask.
"Come with me," said Dr. May, leading the way to his study, where he related the whole history of the suspicion that Norman had incurred. He was glad that he had done so in private, for Harry's indignation and grief went beyond his expectations; and when at last it appeared that Harvey Anderson was actually Randall-scholar, after opening his eyes with the utmost incredulity, and causing it to be a second time repeated, he gave a gulp or two, turned very red, and ended by laying his head on the table, and fairly sobbing and crying aloud, in spite of dirk, uniform, and manhood.
"Harry! why, Harry, my boy! We should have prepared you for this," said the doctor affectionately. "We have left off breaking our hearts about it. I don't want any comfort now for having gold instead of glitter; though at first I was as bad as you.""Oh, if I had but been there!" said Harry, combating unsuccessfully with his tears.
"Ah! so we all said, Norman and all. Your word would have cleared him--that is, if you had not been in the thick of the mischief. Ha! July, should not you have been on the top of the wall?"
"I would have stood by him, at least. Would not I have given Axworthy and Anderson two such black eyes as they could not have shown in school for a week? They had better look out!" cried Harry savagely."What! An officer in her Majesty's service! Eh, Mr. May?"
"Don't, papa, don't. Oh! I thought it would have been so happy, when I came home, to see Norman Randall-scholar. Oh! now I don't care for the ship, nor anything." Again Harry's face went down on the table.
"Come, come, Harry," said Dr. May, pulling off the spectacles that had become very dewy, "don't let us make fools of ourselves, or they will think we are dying for the scholarship.""I don't care for the scholarship, but to have June turned down--and disgrace -" "What I care for, Harry, is having June what he is, and that I know better now." "He is! he is--he is June himself, and no mistake!" cried Harry, with vehemence.
"The prime of the year, is not it?" said the doctor, smiling, as he stroked down the blue sleeve, as if he thought that generous July did not fall far short of it."That he is!" exclaimed Harry. "I have never met one fellow like him." "It will be a chance if you ever do," said Dr. May. "That is better than scholarships!"
"It should have been both," said Harry. "Norman thinks the disappointment has been very good for him," said the doctor."Perhaps it made him what he is now. All success is no discipline, you know." Harry looked as if he did not know.
"Perhaps you will understand better by-and-by, but this I can tell you, Harry, that the patient bearing of his vexation has done more to renew Norman's spirits than all his prosperity. See if if has not. I believe it is harder to every one of us, than to him. To Ethel, especially, it is a struggle to be in charity with the Andersons."
"In charity!" repeated Harry. "Papa! you don't want us to like a horrid, sneaking, mean-spirited pair like those, that have used Norman in that shameful way?""No, certainly not; I only want you to feel no more personal anger than if it had been Cheviot, or some indifferent person, that had been injured." "I should have hated them all the same!" cried Harry. "If it is all the same, and it is the treachery you hate, I ask no more," said the doctor.
"I can't help it, papa, I can't! If I were to meet those fellows, do you think I could shake hands with them? If I did not lick Ned all down Minster Street, he might think himself lucky."
"Well, Harry, I won't argue any more. I have no right to preach forbearance. Your brother's example is better worth than my precept. Shall we go back to Margaret, or have you anything to say to me?"
Harry made no positive answer, but pressed close to his father, who put his arm round him, while the curly head was laid on his shoulder. Presently he said, with a great sigh, "There's nothing like home.""Was that what you wanted to say?" asked Dr. May, smiling, as he held the boy more closely to him. "No; but it will be a long time before I come back. They think we shall have orders for the Pacific." "You will come home our real lion," said the doctor. "How much you will have to tell!" "Yes," said Harry; "but oh! it is very different from coming home every night, not having any one to tell a thing to." "Do you want to say anything now?" "I don't know. I told you in my letter about the half-sovereign." "Ay, never mind that."
"And there was one night, I am afraid, I did not stand by a little fellow that they bullied about his prayers. Perhaps he would have gone on, if I had helped him!""Does he sail with you?" "No, he was at school. If I had told him that he and I would stand by each other--but he looked so foolish, and began to cry! I am sorry now."
"Weak spirits have much to bear," said the doctor, "and you stronger ones, who don't mind being bullied, are meant, I suppose, to help them, as Norman has been doing by poor little Tommy.""It was thinking of Norman--that made me sorry. I knew there was something else, but you see I forget when I don't see you and Margaret every day." "You have One always near, my boy." "I know, but I cannot always recollect. And there is such a row at night on board, I cannot think or attend as I ought," murmured Harry.
"Yes, your life, sleeping at home in quiet, has not prepared you for that trial," said the doctor. "But others have kept upright habits under the same, you know--and God helps those who are doing their best."Harry sighed.
"I mean to do my best," he added; "and if it was not for feeling bad, I should like it. I do like it"--and his eye sparkled, and his smile beamed, though the tear was undried.
"I know you do!" said Dr. May, smiling, "and for feeling bad, my Harry, I fear you must do that by sea, or land, as long as you are in this world. God be thanked that you grieve over the feeling. But He is ready to aid, and knows the trial, and you will be brought nearer to Him before you leave us.""Margaret wrote about the Confirmation. Am I old enough?" "If you wish it, Harry, under these circumstances." "I suppose I do," said Harry, uneasily twirling a button. "But then, if I've got to forgive the Andersons--" "We won't talk any more of that," said the doctor; "here is poor Mary, reconnoitring, to know why I am keeping you from her."
Then began the scampering up and down the house, round and round the garden, visiting every pet or haunt or contrivance; Mary and Harry at the head, Blanche and Tom in full career after them, and Aubrey stumping and scrambling at his utmost speed, far behind.
Not a word passed between Norman and Harry on the school misadventure, but, after the outbreak of the latter, he treated it as a thing forgotten, and brought all his high spirits to enliven the family party. Richard, too, returned later on the same day, and though not received with the same uproarious joy as Harry, the elder section of the family were as happy in their way as what Blanche called the middle-aged. The Daisy was brought down, and the eleven were again all in the same room, though there were suppressed sighs from some, who reflected how long it might be before they could again assemble.
Tea went off happily in the garden, with much laughing and talking. "Pity to leave such good company!" said the doctor, unwillingly rising at last--"but I must go to the Union--I promised Ward to meet him there.""Oh, let me walk with you!" cried Harry.
"And me!" cried other voices, and the doctor proposed that they should wait for him in the meads, and extend the walk after the visit. Richard and Ethel both expressing their intention of adhering to Margaret--the latter observing how nice it would be to get rid of everybody, and have a talk."What have we been doing all this time?" said Dr. May, laughing. "Chattering, not conversing," said Ethel saucily. "Ay! the Cocksmoor board is going to sit," said Dr. May. "What is a board?" inquired Blanche, who had just come down prepared for her walk. "Richard, Margaret, and Ethel, when they sit upon Cocksmoor," said Dr. May. "But Margaret never does sit on Cocksmoor, papa." "Only allegorically, Blanche," said Norman. "But I don't understand what is a board?" pursued Blanche. "Mr. May in his ship," was Norman's suggestion. Poor Blanche stood in perplexity. "What is it really?" "Something wooden headed," continued the provoking papa. "A board is all wooden, not only its head," said Blanche. "Exactly so, especially at Stoneborough!" said the doctor. "It is what papa is when he comes out of the council-room," added Ethel. "Or what every one is while the girls are rigging themselves," sighed Harry. "Ha! here's Polly--now we only want Flora."
"And my stethoscope! Has any one seen my stethoscope!" exclaimed the doctor, beginning to rush frantically into the study, dining-room, and his own room; but failing, quietly took up a book, and gave up the search, which was vigorously pursued by Richard, Flora, and Mary, until the missing article was detected, where Aubrey had left it in the nook on the stairs, after using it for a trumpet and a telescope.
"Ah! now my goods will have a chance!" said Dr. May, as he took it, and patted Richard's shoulder. "I have my best right hand, and Margaret will be saved endless sufferings.""Papa!"
"Ay! poor dear! don't I see what she undergoes, when nobody will remember that useful proverb, 'A place for everything, and everything in its place.' I believe one use of her brains is to make an inventory of all the things left about the drawing-room; but, beyond it, it is past her power."
"Yes," said Flora, rather aggrieved; "I do the best I can, but, when nobody ever puts anything into its place, what can I do, single- handed? So no one ever goes anywhere without first turning the house upside down for their property; and Aubrey, and now even baby, are always carrying whatever they can lay hands on into the nursery. I can't bear it; and the worst of it is that," she added, finishing her lamentation, after the others were out at the door, "papa and Ethel have neither of them the least shame about it.""No, no, Flora, that is not fair!" exclaimed Margaret--but Flora was gone. "I have shame," sighed Ethel, walking across the room disconsolately, to put a book into a shelf.
"And you don't leave trainants as you used," said Margaret. "That is what I meant."
"I wish I did not," said Ethel; "I was thinking whether I had better not make myself pay a forfeit. Suppose you keep a book for me, Margaret, and make a mark against me at everything I leave about, and if I pay a farthing for each, it will be so much away from Cocksmoor, so I must cure myself!"
"Give them to the Ladies' Committee," said Ethel, making a face. "Oh, Ritchie! they are worse than ever. We are so glad that Flora is going to join it, and see whether she can do any good.""We?" said Margaret, hesitating. "Ah! I know you aren't, but papa said she might--and you know she has so much tact and management--" "As Norman says," observed Margaret doubtfully. "I cannot like the notion of Flora going and squabbling with Mrs. Ledwich and Louisa Anderson!"
"What do you think, Ritchie?" asked Ethel. "Is it not too bad that they should have it all their own way, and spoil the whole female population? Why, the last thing they did was to leave off reading the Prayer-book prayers morning and evening! And it is much expected that next they will attack all learning by heart.""It is too bad," said Richard, "but Flora can hardly hinder them."
"It will be one voice," said Ethel; "but oh! if I could only say half what I have in my mind, they must see the error. Why, these, these-- what they call formal--these the ties--links on to the Church--on to what is good--if they don't learn them soundly--rammed down hard--you know what I mean--so that they can't remember the first--remember when they did not know them-they will never get to learn--know-- understand when they can understand!""My dear Ethel, don't frown so horribly, or it will spoil your eloquence," said Margaret. "I don't understand either," said Richard gravely. "Not understand when they can understand? What do you mean?" "Why, Ritchie, don't you see? If they don't learn them--hard, firm, by rote when they can't--they won't understand when they can."
"If they don't learn when they can't, they won't understand when they can?" puzzled Richard, making Margaret laugh; but Ethel was too much in earnest for amusement.
"If they don't learn them by rote when they have strong memories. Yes, that's it!" she continued; "they will not know them well enough to understand them when they are old enough!"
"Oh, Ritchie, Ritchie! Why the children--the Psalms--the Gospels-- the things. They ought to know them, love them, grow up to them, before they know the meaning, or they won't care. Memory, association, affection, all those come when one is younger than comprehension!""Younger than one's own comprehension?" "Richard, you are grown more tiresome than ever. Are you laughing at me?" "Indeed, I beg your pardon--I did not mean it," said Richard. "I am very sorry to be so stupid." "My dear Ritchie, it was only my blundering-never mind." "But what did you mean? I want to know, indeed, Ethel."
"I mean that memory and association come before comprehension, so that one ought to know all good things--fa--with familiarity before one can understand, because understanding does not make one love. Oh! one does that before, and, when the first little gleam, little bit of a sparklet of the meaning does come, then it is so valuable and so delightful."
"I never heard of a little bit of a sparklet before," said Richard, "but I think I do see what Ethel means; and it is like what I heard and liked in a university sermon some Sundays ago, saying that these lessons and holy words were to be impressed on us here from infancy on earth, that we might be always unravelling their meaning, and learn it fully at last--where we hope to be."
"The very same thought!" exclaimed Margaret, delighted; "but," after a pause, "I am afraid the Ladies' Committee might not enter into it in plain English, far less in Ethel's language.""Now, Margaret! You know I never meant myself. I never can get the right words for what I mean." "And you leave about your faux commencements, as M. Ballompre would call them, for us to stumble over," said Margaret. "But Flora would manage!" said Ethel. "She has power over people, and can influence them. Oh, Ritchie, don't persuade papa out of letting her go."
"Does Mr. Wilmot wish it?" asked Richard. "I have not heard him say, but he was very much vexed about the prayers," said Ethel."Will he stay here for the holidays?" "No, his father has not been well, and he is gone to take his duty. He walked with us to Cocksmoor before he went, and we did so wish for you." "How have you been getting on?" "Pretty well, on the whole," said Ethel, "but, oh, dear! oh, dear, Richard, the M'Carthys are gone!" "Gone, where?"
"Oh, to Wales. I knew nothing of it till they were off. Una and Fergus were missing, and Jane Taylor told me they were all gone. Oh, it is so horrid! Una had really come to be so good and so much in earnest. She behaved so well at school and church, that even Mrs. Ledwich liked her, and she used to read her Testament half the day, and bring her Sunday-school lessons to ask me about! Oh! I was so fond of her, and it really seemed to have done some good with her. And now it is all lost! Oh, I wish I knew what would become of my poor child!""The only hope is that it may not be all lost," said Margaret.
"With such a woman for a mother!" said Ethel; "and going to some heathenish place again! If I could only have seen her first, and begged her to go to church and say her prayers. If I only knew where she is gone! but I don't. I did think Una would have come to wish me good-bye!""I am very sorry to lose her," said Richard. "Mr. Wilmot says it is bread cast on the waters," said Margaret--"he was very kind in consoling Ethel, who came home quite in despair."
"Yes, he said it was one of the trials," said Ethel, "and that it might be better for Una as well as for me. And I am trying to care for the rest still, but I cannot yet as I did for her. There are none of the eyes that look as if they were eating up one's words before they come, and that smile of comprehension! Oh, they all are such stupid little dolts, and so indifferent!""Why, Ethel!"
"Fancy last Friday--Mary and I found only eight there--" "Do you remember what a broiling day Friday was?" interrupted Margaret. "Miss Winter and Norman both told me I ought not to let them go, and I began to think so when they came home. Mary was the colour of a peony!"
"Oh! it would not have signified if the children had been good for anything, but all their mothers were out at work, and, of those that did come, hardly one had learned their lessons--Willy Blake had lost his spelling-card; Anne Harris kicked Susan Pope, and would not say she was sorry; Mary Hale would not know M from N, do all our Mary would; and Jane Taylor, after all the pains I have taken with her, when I asked how the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, seemed never to have heard of them."Margaret could have said that Ethel had come in positively crying with vexation, but with no diminution of the spirit of perseverance.
"I am so glad you are come, Richard!" she continued. "You will put a little new life into them. They all looked so pleased when we told them Mr. Richard was coming.""I hope we shall get on," said Richard. "I want you to judge whether the Popes are civilised enough to be dressed for Sunday-school. Oh, and the money! Here is the account- book--" "How neatly you have kept it, Ethel." "Ah! it was for you, you know. Receipts--see, aren't you surprised?" "Four pounds eighteen and eightpence! That is a great deal!"
"The three guineas were Mr. Rivers's fees, you know; then, Margaret gave us half-a-sovereign, and Mary a shilling, and there was one that we picked up, tumbling about the house, and papa said we might have, and the twopence were little Blanche's savings. Oh, Ritchie!" as a bright coin appeared on the book."That is all I could save this term," he said.
"Oh, it is famous! Now, I do think I may put another whole sovereign away into the purse for the church. See, here is what we have paid. Shoes--those did bring our money very low, and then I bought a piece of print which cost sixteen shillings, but it will make plenty of frocks. So, you see, the balance is actually two pounds nine! That is something. The nine shillings will go on till we get another fee; for I have two frocks ready made for the Popes, so the two pounds are a real nest-egg towards the church."
"The church!" repeated Rlchard, half smiling. "I looked in the paper the other day, and saw that a chapel had been built for nine hundred pounds," said Ethel."And you have two!" "Two in eight months, Ritchie, and more will come as we get older. I have a scheme in my head, but I won't tell you now." "Nine hundred! And a church has to be endowed as well as built, you know, Ethel."
"Oh! never mind that now. If we can begin and build, some good person will come and help. I'll run and fetch it, Ritchie. I drew out a sketch of what I want it to be.""What a girl that is!" said Richard, as Ethel dashed away.
"Is not she?" said Margaret. "And she means all so heartily. Do you know she has spent nothing on her own pleasures, not a book, not a thing has she bought this year, except a present for Blanche's birthday, and some silk to net a purse for Harry.""I cannot help being sometimes persuaded that she will succeed," said Richard.
"Faith, energy, self-denial, perseverance, they go a great way," said Margaret. "And yet when we look at poor dear Ethel, and her queer ungainly ways, and think of her building a church!"Neither Richard nor Margaret could help laughing, but they checked it at once, and the former said, "That brave spirit is a reproof to us all." "Yes," said Margaret; "and so is the resolution to mend her little faults."
Ethel came back, having, of course, mislaid her sketch, and, much vexed, wished to know if it ought to cause her first forfeit, but Margaret thought these should not begin till the date of the agreement, and the three resumed the Cocksmoor discussion.
It lasted till the return of the walking party, so late, that they had been stargazing, and came in, in full dispute as to which was Cygnus and which Aquila, while Blanche was talking very grandly of Taurus Poniatouski, and Harry begging to be told which constellations he should still see in the southern hemisphere. Dr. May was the first to rectify the globe for the southern latitudes, and fingers were affectionately laid on Orion's studded belt, as though he were a friend who would accompany the sailor-boy. Voices grew loud and eager in enumerating the stars common to both; and so came bedtime, and the globe stood on the table in danger of being forgotten. Ethel diligently lifted it up; and while Norman exclaimed at her tidiness, Margaret told how a new leaf was to be turned, and of her voluntary forfeits."A very good plan," cried the doctor. "We can't do better than follow her example." "What you, papa? Oh, what fun!" exclaimed Harry.
"So you think I shall be ruined, Mr. Monkey. How do you know I shall not be the most orderly of all? A penny for everything left about, confiscated for the benefit of Cocksmoor, eh?""And twopence for pocket-handkerchiefs, if you please," said Norman, with a gesture of disgust.
"Very well. From Blanche, upwards. Margaret shall have a book, and set down marks against us--hold an audit every Saturday night. What say you, Blanche?""Oh, I hope Flora will leave something about!" cried Blanche, dancing with glee.
Chapter I.25Oh, no, we never mention her, We never breathe her name.--SONG.
A great deal of merriment had come home with Harry, who never was grave for ten minutes without a strong reaction, and distracted the house with his noise and his antics, in proportion, as it sometimes seemed, to the spaces of serious thought and reading spent in the study, where Dr. May did his best to supply Mr. Ramsden's insufficient attention to his Confirmation candidates, by giving an hour every day to Norman, Ethel, and Harry. He could not lecture, but he read with them, and his own earnestness was very impressive.
The two eldest felt deeply, but Harry often kept it in doubt, whether he were not as yet too young and wild for permanent impressions, so rapid were his transitions, and so overpowering his high spirits. Not that these were objected to; but there was a feeling that there might as well be moderation in all things, and that it would have been satisfactory if, under present circumstances, he had been somewhat more subdued and diligent."There are your decimals not done yet, Harry."
For Harry, being somewhat deficient in arithmetic, had been recommended to work in that line during his visit at home--an operation usually deferred, as at present, to the evening."I am going to do my sums now, Flora," said Harry, somewhat annoyed.
He really fetched his arithmetic, and his voice was soon heard asking how he was ever to put an end to a sum that would turn to nothing but everlasting threes."What have you been doing, young ladies?" asked Dr. May. "Did you call on Miss Walkingham?"
"Flora and Blanche did," said Ethel; "I thought you did not want me to go, and I had not time. Besides, a London grand young lady--oh!" and Ethel shook her head in disgust."That is not the way you treat Meta Rivers." "Oh, Meta is different! She has never been out!"
"I should have been glad for you to have seen Miss Walkingham," said her father. Pretty manners are improving; besides, old Lady Walkingham begged me to send my daughters."
"I should not have seen her," said Ethel, "for she was not well enough to let us in."
"Those Andersons!" exclaimed the doctor; "I am sick of the very sound of the name. As sure as my name is Dick May, I'll include it in Margaret's book of fines."Flora looked dignified.
"They are always harping on that little trumpery girl's nonsense," said Harry. "Aught, aught, eight, that is eight thousandths, eh, Norman! If it was about those two fellows, the boys--""You would harp only on what affects you?" said the doctor. "No, I don't; men never do. That is one hundred and twenty-fifth." "One man does it to an hundred and twenty-five women?" said Dr. May. "It is rather a female defect, indeed," said Margaret. "Defect!" said Flora. "Yes," said Dr. May, "since it is not only irksome to the hearers, but leads to the breaking of the ninth commandment." Many voices declared, in forms of varying severity, that it was impossible to speak worse of the Andersons than they deserved. "Andersons again!" cried Dr. May. "One, two, three, four, five, six forfeits!" "Papa himself, for he said the name," saucily put in Blanche. "I think I should like the rule to be made in earnest," said Ethel. "What! in order to catch Flora's pence for Cocksmoor?" suggested Harry.
"No, but because it is malice. I mean, that is, if there is dislike, or a grudge in our hearts at them--talking for ever of nasty little miserable irritations makes it worse.""Then why do you do it?" asked Flora. "I heard you only on Sunday declaiming about Fanny Anderson." "Ha!" cried out all at once. "There goes Flora." She looked intensely serious and innocent. "I know," said Ethel. "It is the very reason I want the rule to be made, just to stop us, for I am sure we must often say more than is right." "Especially when we come to the pass of declaring that the ninth commandment cannot be broken in regard to them," observed the doctor. "Most likely they are saying much the same of us," said Richard. "Or worse," rejoined Dr. May. "The injured never hates as much as the injurer." "Now papa has said the severest thing of all!" whispered Ethel. "Proving the inexpedience of personalities," said Dr. May, "and in good time enter the evening post.--Why! how now, Mr. May, are you gone mad?"
"Hallo! why ho! ha! hurrah!" and up went Harry's book of decimals to the ceiling, coming down upon a candle, which would have been overturned on Ethel's work, if it had not been dexterously caught by Richard.
"Harry!" indignantly cried Ethel and Flora, "see what you have done;" and the doctor's voice called to order, but Harry could not heed. "Hear! hear! he has a fortune, an estate.""Who? Tell us--don't be so absurd. Who?" "Who, Mr. Ernescliffe. Here is a letter from Hector. Only listen:
"'Did you know we had an old far-away English cousin, one Mr. Halliday? I hardly did, though Alan was named after him, and he belonged to my mother. He was a cross old fellow, and took no notice of us, but within the last year or two, his nephew, or son, or something, died, and now he is just dead, and the lawyer wrote to tell Alan he is heir-at-law. Mr. Ernescliffe of Maplewood! Does it not sound well? It is a beautiful great place in Shropshire, and Alan and I mean to run off to see it as soon as he can have any time on shore.'"
Ethel could not help looking at Margaret, but was ashamed of her impertinence, and coloured violently, whereas her sister did not colour at all, and Norman, looking down, wondered whether Alan would make the voyage."Oh, of course he will; he must!" said Harry. "He would never give up now."
Norman further wondered whether Hector would remain on the Stoneborough foundation, and Mary hoped they should not lose him; but there was no great readiness to talk over the event, and there soon was a silence broken by Flora saying, "He is no such nobody, as Louisa Anderson said, when we--" Another shout, which caused Flora to take refuge in playing waltzes for the rest of the evening. Moreover, to the extreme satisfaction of Mary, she left her crochet-needle on the floor at night. While a tumultuous party were pursuing her with it to claim the penny, and Richard was conveying Margaret upstairs, Ethel found an opportunity of asking her father if he were not very glad of Mr. Ernescliffe's good fortune."Yes, very. He is a good fellow, and will make a good use of it." "And now, papa, does it not make--You won't say now you are sorry he came here."
She had no answer but a sigh, and a look that made her blush for having ventured so far. She was so much persuaded that great events must ensue, that, all the next day, she listened to every ring of the bell, and when one at last was followed by a light, though, to her ears, manly sounding tread, she looked up flushing with expectation.
Behold, she was disappointed. "Miss Walkingham" was announced, and she rose surprised, for the lady in question had only come to Stoneborough for a couple of days with an infirm mother, who, having known Dr. May in old times, had made it her especial request that he would let her see his daughters. She was to proceed on her journey to-day, and the return of the visit had been by no means expected.
Flora went forward to receive her, wondering to see her so young looking, and so unformed. She held out her hand, with a red wrist, and, as far as could be seen under her veil, coloured when presented to the recumbent Margaret. How she got into her chair, they hardly knew, for Flora was at that moment extremely annoyed by hearing an ill-bred peal of Mary's laughter in the garden, close to the window; but she thought it best to appear unconscious, since she had no power to stop it.Margaret thought the stranger embarrassed, and kindly inquired for Lady Walkingham. "Much the same, thank you," mumbled a voice down in the throat.
A silence, until Margaret tried another question, equally briefly answered; and, after a short interval, the young lady contrived to make her exit, with the same amount of gaucherie as had marked her entrance.Expressions of surprise at once began, and were so loud, that when Harry entered the room, his inquiry was, "What's the row?" "Miss Walkingham," said Ethel, "but you won't understand. She seemed half wild! Worse than me!" "How did you like the pretty improving manners?" asked Harry. "Manners! she had none," said Flora. "She, highly connected! used to the best society!" "How do you know what the best society do?" asked Harry. "The poor thing seemed very shy," said Margaret. "I don't know about shyness," said Flora. "She was stifling a laugh all the time, like a rude schoolboy. And I thought papa said she was pretty!" "Ay? Did you think her so?" asked Harry. "A great broad red face--and so awkward!" cried Flora indignantly.
"If one could have seen her face, I think she might have been nice- looking," said Margaret. "She had pretty golden curls, and merry blue eyes, rather like Harry's.""Umph!" said Flora; "beauty and manners seemed to me much on a par. This is one of papa's swans, indeed!" "I can't believe it was Miss Walkingham at all," said Ethel. "It must have been some boy in disguise." "Dear me!" cried Margaret, starting with the painful timidity of helplessness. "Do look whether anything is gone. Where's the silver inkstand?" "You don't think she could put that into her pocket," said Ethel, laughing as she held it up.
"I don't know. Do, Harry, see if the umbrellas are safe in the hall. I wish you would, for now I come to remember, the Walkinghams went at nine this morning. Miss Winter said that she saw the old lady helped into the carriage, as she passed." Margaret's eyes looked quite large and terrified. "She must have been a spy--the whole gang will come at night. I wish Richard was here. Harry, it really is no laughing matter. You had better give notice to the police."
The more Margaret was alarmed, the more Harry laughed. "Never mind, Margaret, I'll take care of you! Here's my dirk. I'll stick all the robbers." "Harry! Harry! Oh, don't!" cried Margaret, raising herself up in an agony of nervous terror. "Oh, where is papa? Will nobody ring the bell, and send George for the police?""Police, police! Thieves! Murder! Robbers! Fire! All hands ahoy!" shouted Harry, his hands making a trumpet over his mouth. "Harry, how can you?" said Ethel, hastily; "don't you see that Margaret is terribly frightened. Can't you say at once that it was you?" "You!" and Margaret sank back, as there was a general outcry of laughter and wonder. "Did you know it, Ethel?" asked Flora severely. "I only guessed at this moment," said Ethel. "How well you did it, Harry!" "Well!" said Flora, "I did think her dress very like Margaret's shot silk. I hope you did not do that any harm." "But how did you manage?" said Ethel. "Where did your bonnet come from?"
"It was a new one of Adams's wife. Mary got it for me. Come in, Polly, they have found it out. Did you not hear her splitting with laughing outside the window? I would not let her come in for fear she should spoil all."
"And I was just going to give her such a scolding for giggling in the garden," said Flora, "and to say we had been as bad as Miss Walkingham. You should not have been so awkward, Harry; you nearly betrayed yourself.""He had nobody to teach him but Mary," said Ethel. "Ah! you should have seen me at my ease in Minster Street. No one suspected me there." "In Minster Street. Oh, Harry, you don't really mean it!" "I do. That was what I did it for. I was resolved to know what the nameless ones said of the Misses May." Hasty and eager inquiries broke out from Flora and Ethel. "Oh, Dr. May was very clever, certainly, very clever. Had I seen the daughters? I said I was going to call there, and they said--"
"What, oh, what, Harry?" "They said Flora was thought pretty, but--and as to Ethel, now, how do you think you came off, Unready?""Tell me. They could not say the same of me, at any rate." "Quite the reverse! They called Ethel very odd, poor girl." "I don't mind," said Ethel. "They may say what they please of me; besides that, I believe it is all Harry's own invention." "Nay, that is a libel on my invention!" exclaimed Harry. "If I had drawn on that, could I not have told you something much droller?" "And was that really all?" said Flora.
"They said--let me see--that all our noses were too long, and, that as to Flora's being a beauty! when their brothers called her--so droll of them--but Harvey called her a stuck-up duchess. In fact, it was the fashion to make a great deal of those Mays.""I hope they said something of the sailor brother," said Ethel. "No; I found if I stayed to hear much more, I should be knocking Ned down, so I thought it time to take leave before he suspected."
All this had passed very quickly, with much laughter, and numerous interjections of amusement, and reprobation, or delight. So excited were the young people, that they did not perceive a step on the gravel, till Dr. May entered by the window, and stood among them. His first exclamation was of consternation. "Margaret, my dear child, what is the matter?"
Only then did her brother and sisters perceive that Margaret was lying back on her cushions, very pale, and panting for breath. She tried to smile and say, "it was nothing," and "she was silly," but the words were faint, from the palpitation of her heart.
"It was Harry's trick," said Flora indignantly, as she flew for the scent-bottle, while her father bent over Margaret. "Harry dressed himself up, and she was frightened.""Oh, no--no--he did not mean it," gasped Margaret; "don't." "Harry, I did not think you could be so cowardly and unfeeling!" and Dr. May's look was even more reproachful than his words.
Harry was dismayed at his sister's condition, but the injustice of the wholesale reproach chased away contrition. "I did nothing to frighten any one," he said moodily.
"Now, Harry, you know how you kept on," said Flora, "and when you saw she was frightened--"
"I can have no more of this," said Dr. May, seeing that the discussion was injuring Margaret more and more. "Go away to my study, sir, and wait till I come to you. All of you out of the room. Flora, fetch the sal volatile.""Let me tell you," whispered Margaret. "Don't be angry with Harry. It was--"
"Not now, not now, my dear. Lie quite still." She obeyed, took the sal volatile, and shut her eyes, while he sat leaning anxiously over, watching her. Presently she opened them, and, looking up, said rather faintly, and trying to smile, "I don't think I can be better till you have heard the rights of it. He did not mean it.""Boys never do mean it," was the doctor's answer. "I hoped better things of Harry." "He had no intention--" began Margaret, but she still was unfit to talk, and her father silenced her, by promising to go and hear the boy's own account.
In the hall, he was instantly beset by Ethel and Mary, the former exclaiming, "Papa, you are quite mistaken! It was very foolish of Margaret to be so frightened. He did nothing at all to frighten any one."Ethel's mode of pleading was unfortunate; the "very foolish of Margaret" were the very words to displease.
"Do not interfere!" said her father sternly. "You only encourage him in his wanton mischief, and no one takes any heed how he torments my poor Margaret.""Papa," cried Harry, passionately bursting open the study door, "tormenting Margaret was the last thing I would do!" "That is not the way to speak, Harry. What have you been doing?"
With rapid agitated utterance, Harry made his confession. At another time the doctor would have treated the matter as a joke carried too far, but which, while it called for censure, was very amusing; but now the explanation that the disguise had been assumed to impose on the Andersons, only added to his displeasure.
"You seem to think you have a licence to play off any impertinent freaks you please, without consideration for any one," he said; "but I tell you it is not so. As long as you are under my roof, you shall feel my authority, and you shall spend the rest of the day in your room. I hope quietness there will bring you to a better mind, but I am disappointed in you. A boy who can choose such a time, and such subjects, for insolent, unfeeling, practical jokes, cannot be in a fit state for Confirmation.""Oh, papa! papa!" cried the two girls, in tones of entreaty--while Harry, with a burning face and hasty step, dashed upstairs without a word.
"You have been as bad!" said Dr. May. "I say nothing to you, Mary, you knew no better; but, to see you, Ethel, first encouraging him in his impertinence, and terrifying Margaret so, that I dare say she may be a week getting over it, and now defending him, and calling her silly, is unbearable. I cannot trust one of you!""Only listen, papa!" "I will have no altercation; I must go back to Margaret, since no one else has the slightest consideration for her." An hour had passed away, when Richard knocked at Ethel's door to tell her that tea was ready. "I have a great mind not to go down," said Ethel, as he looked in, and saw her seated with a book. "What do you mean?" "I cannot bear to go down while poor Harry is so unjustly used." "Hush, Ethel!"
"I cannot hush. Just because Margaret fancies robbers and murderers, and all sorts of nonsense, as she always did, is poor Harry to be accused of wantonly terrifying her, and shut up, and cut off from Confirmation? and just when he is going away, too! It is unkind, and unjust, and--""Ethel, you will be sorry--"
"Papa will be sorry," continued Ethel, disregarding the caution. "It is very unfair, that I will say so. It was all nonsense of Margaret's, but he will always make everything give way to her. And poor Harry just going to sea! No, Ritchie, I cannot come down; I cannot behave as usual.""You will grieve Margaret much more," said Richard. "I can't help that--she should not have made such a fuss."
Richard was somewhat in difficulties how to answer, but at that moment Harry's door, which was next, was slightly opened, and his voice said, "Go down, Ethel. The captain may punish any one he pleases, and it is mutiny in the rest of the crew to take his part.""Harry is in the right," said Richard. "It is our duty not to question our father's judgments. It would be wrong of you to stay up." "Wrong?" said Ethel.
"Of course. It would be against the articles of war," said Harry, opening his door another inch. "But, Ritchie, I say, do tell me whether it has hurt Margaret.""She is better now," said Richard, "but she has a headache, chiefly, I believe, from distress at having brought this on you. She is very sorry for her fright." "I had not the least intention of frightening the most fearsome little tender mouse on earth," said Harry. "No, indeed!" said Ethel.
"And at another time it would not have signified," said Richard; "but, you know, Margaret always was timid, and now, the not being able to move, and the being out of health, has made her nerves weak, so that she cannot help it."
"The fault was in our never heeding her when we were so eager to hear Harry's story," said Ethel. "That was what made the palpitation so bad. But, now papa knows all, does he not understand about Harry?""He was obliged to go out as soon as Margaret was better," said Richard, "and was scarcely come in when I came up." "Go down, Ethel," repeated Harry. "Never mind me. Norman told me that sort of joke never answered, and I might have minded him." The voice was very much troubled, and it brought back that burning sensation of indignant tears to Ethel's eyes. "Oh, Harry! you did not deserve to be so punished for it." "That is what you are not to say," returned Harry. "I ought not to have played the trick, and--and just now too--but I always forget things--"
The door shut, and they fancied they heard sobs. Ethel groaned, but made no opposition to following her brother down to tea. Margaret lay, wan and exhausted, on the sofa--the doctor looked very melancholy and rather stern, and the others were silent. Ethel had begun to hope for the warm reaction she had so often known after a hasty fit, but it did not readily come; Harry was boy instead of girl--the fault and its consequence had been more serious
-and the anxiety for the future was greater. Besides, he had not fully heard the story; Harry, in his incoherent narration, had not excused himself, and Margaret's panic had appeared more as if inspired by him, than, as it was, in fact, the work of her fancy.
Thus the evening passed gloomily away, and it was not till the others had said good-night that Dr. May began to talk over the affair with his eldest son, who then was able to lay before him the facts of the case, as gathered from his sisters. He listened with a manner as though it were a reproof, and then said sadly, "I am afraid I was in a passion.""It was very wrong in Harry," said Richard, "and particularly unlucky it should happen with the Andersons." "Very thoughtless," said the doctor, "no more, even as regarded Margaret; but thoughtlessness should not have been treated as a crime." "I wish we could see him otherwise," said Richard.
"He wants--" and there Dr. May stopped short, and, taking up his candle, slowly mounted the stairs, and looked into Harry's room. The boy was in bed, but started up on hearing his father's step, and exclaimed, "Papa, I am very sorry! Is Margaret better?""Yes, she is; and I understand now, Harry, that her alarm was an accident. I beg your pardon for thinking for a moment that it was otherwise--"
"No," interrupted Harry, "of course I could never mean to frighten her; but I did not leave off the moment I saw she was afraid, because it was so very ridiculous, and I did not guess it would hurt her."
"I see, my honest boy. I do not blame you, for you did not know how much harm a little terror does to a person in her helpless state. But, indeed, Harry, though you did not deserve such anger as mine was, it is a serious thing that you should be so much set on fun and frolic as to forget all considerations, especially at such a time as this. It takes away from much of my comfort in sending you into the world; and for higher things--how can I believe you really impressed and reverent, if the next minute--""I'm not fit! I'm not fit!" sobbed Harry, hiding his face.
"Indeed, I hardly know whether it is not so," said the doctor. "You are under the usual age, and, though I know you wish to be a good boy, yet I don't feel sure that these wild spirits do not carry away everything serious, and whether it is right to bring one so thoughtless to--"
"No, no," and Harry cried bitterly, and his father was deeply grieved; but no more could then be said, and they parted for the night--Dr. May saying, as he went away, "You understand, that it is not as punishment for your trick, if I do not take you to Mr. Ramsden for a ticket, but that I cannot be certain whether it is right to bring you to such solemn privileges while you do not seem to me to retain steadily any grave or deep feelings. Perhaps your mother would have better helped you."
Margaret, especially, felt guilty of the fears which, perhaps, had not been sufficiently combated in her days of health, and now were beyond control, and had occasioned so much pain. Ethel grieved over the words she had yesterday spoken in haste of her father and sister; Mary knew herself to have been an accomplice in the joke; and Norman blamed himself for not having taken the trouble to perceive that Harry had not been talking rhodomontade, when he had communicated "his capital scheme" the previous morning.
The decision as to the Confirmation was a great grief to all. Flora consoled herself by observing that, as he was so young, no one need know it, nor miss him; and Ethel, with a trembling, almost sobbing voice, enumerated all Harry's excellences, his perfect truth, his kindness, his generosity, his flashes of intense feeling--declared that nobody might be confirmed if he were not, and begged and entreated that Mr. Wilmot might be written to, and consulted. She would almost have done so herself, if Richard had not shown her it would be undutiful.
Harry himself was really subdued. He made no question as to the propriety of the decision, but rather felt his own unworthiness, and was completely humbled and downcast. When a note came from Mrs. Anderson, saying that she was convinced that it could not have been Dr. May's wish that she should be exposed to the indignity of a practical joke, and that a young lady of the highest family should have been insulted, no one had spirits to laugh at the terms; and when Dr. May said, "What is to be done?" Harry turned crimson, and was evidently trying to utter something."I see nothing for it but for him to ask their pardon," said Dr. May; and a sound was heard, not very articulate, but expressing full assent. "That is right," said the doctor. "I'll come with you."
"Oh, thank you!" cried Harry, looking up. They set off at once. Mrs. Anderson was neither an unpleasing nor unkind person--her chief defect being a blind admiration of her sons and daughters, which gave her, in speaking of them, a tone of pretension that she would never have shown on her own account.
Her displeasure was pacified in a moment by the sight of the confused contrition of the culprit, coupled with his father's frank and kindly tone of avowal, that it had been a foolish improper frolic, and that he had been much displeased with him for it.
"Say no more--pray, say no more, Dr. May. We all know how to overlook a sailor's frolic, and, I am sure, Master Harry's present behaviour; but you'll take a bit of luncheon," and, as something was said of going home to the early dinner, "I am sure you will wait one minute. Master Harry must have a piece of my cake, and allow me to drink to his success."Poor Mr. May! to be called Master Harry, and treated to sweet cake! But he saw his father thought he ought to endure, and he even said, "Thank you."
The cake stuck in his throat, however, when Mrs. Anderson and her daughters opened their full course of praise on their dear Harvey and dearest Edward, telling all the flattering things Dr. Hoxton had said of the order into which Harvey had brought the school, and insisting on Dr. May's reading the copy of the testimonial that he had carried to Oxford. "I knew you would be kind enough to rejoice," said Mrs. Anderson, "and that you would have no--no feeling about Mr. Norman; for, of course, at his age, a little matter is nothing, and it must be better for the dear boy himself to be a little while under a friend like Harvey, than to have authority while so young."
"I believe it has done him no harm," was all that the doctor could bring himself to say; and thinking that he and his son had endured quite enough, he took his leave as soon as Harry had convulsively bolted the last mouthful.
Not a word was spoken all the way home. Harry's own trouble had overpowered even this subject of resentment. On Sunday, the notice of the Confirmation was read. It was to take place on the following Thursday, and all those who had already given in their names were to come to Mr. Ramsden to apply for their tickets. While this was read, large tear-drops were silently falling on poor Harry's book.
Ethel and Norman walked together in the twilight, in deep lamentation over their brother's deprivation, which seemed especially to humble them; "for," said Norman, "I am sure no one can be more resolved on doing right than July, and he has got through school better than I did."
"Yes," said Ethel; "if we don't get into his sort of scrape, it is only that we are older, not better. I am sure mine are worse, my letting Aubrey be nearly burned--my neglects."
"Papa must be doing right," said Norman, "but for July to be turned back when we are taken, makes me think of man judging only by outward appearance."
"A few outrageous-looking acts of giddiness that are so much grieved over, may not be half so bad as the hundreds of wandering thoughts that one forgets, because no one else can see them!" said Ethel.
Meanwhile, Harry and Mary were sitting twisted together into a sort of bundle, on the same footstool, by Margaret's sofa. Harry had begged of her to hear him say the Catechism once more, and Mary had joined with him in the repetition. There was to be only one more Sunday at home. "And that!" he said, and sighed.Margaret knew what he meant, for the Feast was to be spread for those newly admitted to share it. She only said a caressing word of affection.
"I wonder when I shall have another chance," said Harry. "If we should get to Australia, or New Zealand--but then, perhaps, there would be no Confirmation going on, and I might be worse by that time.""Oh, you must not let that be!" "Why, you see, if I can't be good here, with all this going on, what shall I do among those fellows, away from all?" "You will have one friend!"
"Mr. Ernescliffe! You are always thinking of him, Margaret; but perhaps he may not go, and if he should, a lieutenant cannot do much for a midshipman. No, I thought, when I was reading with my father, that somehow it might help me to do what it called putting away childish things--don't you know? I might be able to be stronger and steadier, somehow. And then, if--if--you know, if I did tumble overboard, or anything of that sort, there is that about the--what they will go to next Sunday, being necessary to salvation."Harry laid down his head and cried; Margaret could not speak for tears; and Mary was incoherently protesting against any notion of his falling overboard. "It is generally necessary, Harry," Margaret said at last--"not in impossible cases."
"Yes if it had been impossible, but it was not; if I had not been a mad goose all this time, but when a bit of fun gets hold of me, I can't think. And if I am too bad for that, I am too bad for--for-- and I shall never see mamma again! Margaret, it almost makes me af-- afraid to sail."
"Harry, don't, don't talk so!" sobbed Mary. "Oh, do come to papa, and let us beg and pray. Take hold of my hand, and Margaret will beg too, and when he sees how sorry you are, I am sure he will forgive, and let you be confirmed." She would have dragged him after her.
"No, Mary," said Harry, resisting her. "It is not that he does not forgive. You don't understand. It is what is right. And he cannot help it, or make it right for me, if I am such a horrid wretch that I can't keep grave thoughts in my head. I might do it again after that, just the same.""You have been grave enough of late," said Mary.
"This was enough to make me so," said Harry; "but even at church, since I came home, I have behaved ill! I kicked Tom, to make him look at old Levitt asleep, and then I went on, because he did not like it. I know I am too idle."
On the Tuesday, Dr. May had said he would take Norman and Etheldred to Mr. Ramsden. Ethel was gravely putting on her walking dress, when she heard her father's voice calling Harry, and she started with a joyful hope.
There, indeed, when she came downstairs, stood Harry, his cap in his hand, and his face serious, but with a look on it that had as much subdued joy as awe."Dear, dear Harry! you are going with us then?" "Yes, papa wrote to ask what Mr. Wilmot thought, and he said--"
Harry broke off as his father advanced, and gave her the letter itself to read. Mr. Wilmot answered that he certainly should not refuse such a boy as Harry, on the proof of such entire penitence and deep feeling. Whether to bring him to the further privilege might be another question; but, as far as the Confirmation was concerned, the opinion was decided.Norman and Ethel were too happy for words, as they went arm in arm along the street, leaving their dear sailor to be leaned on by his father.
Harry's sadness was gone, but he still was guarded and gentle during the few days that followed; he seemed to have learned thought, and in his gratitude for the privileges he had so nearly missed, to rate them more highly than he might otherwise have done. Indeed, the doubt for the Sunday gave him a sense of probation.
The Confirmation day came. Mr. Rivers had asked that his daughter might be with Miss May, and Ethel had therefore to be called for in the Abbotstoke carriage, quite contrary to her wishes, as she had set her heart on the walk to church with her father and brothers. Flora would not come, for fear of crowding Mr. Rivers, who, with Mrs. Larpent, accompanied his darling. "Oh, Margaret," said Flora, after putting her sister into the carriage, "I wish we had put Ethel into a veil! There is Meta all white from head to foot, with such a veil! and Ethel, in her little white cap, looks as if she might be Lucy Taylor, only not so pretty.""Mamma thought the best rule was to take the dress that needs least attention from ourselves, and will be least noticed," said Margaret. "There is Fanny Anderson gone by in the fly with a white veil on!" cried Mary, dashing in.
"Then I am glad Ethel has not one," said Flora. Margaret looked annoyed, but she had not found the means of checking Flora without giving offence; and she could only call Mary and Blanche to order, beg them to think of what the others were doing, and offer to read to them a little tale on Confirmation.
Flora sat and worked, and Margaret, stealing a glance at her, understood that, in her quiet way, she resented the implied reproof. "Making the children think me worldly and frivolous!" she thought; "as if Margaret did not know that I think and feel as much as any reasonable person!"The party came home in due time, and after one kiss to Margaret, given in silence, dispersed, for they could not yet talk of what had passed.
Only Ethel, as she met Richard on the stairs, said, "Ritchie, do you know what the bishop's text was? 'No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'""Yes?" said Richard interrogatively.
"I thought it might be a voice to me," said Ethel; "besides what it says to all, about our Christian course. It seems to tell me not to be out of heart about all those vexations at Cocksmoor. Is it not a sort of putting our hand to the plough?"
Dr. May gave his own history of the Confirmation to Margaret. "It was a beautiful thing to watch," he said, "the faces of our own set. Those four were really like a poem. There was little Meta in her snowy whiteness, looking like innocence itself, hardly knowing of evil, or pain, or struggle, as that soft earnest voice made her vow to be ready for it all, almost as unscathed and unconscious of trial, as when they made it for her at her baptism; pretty little thing--may she long be as happy. And for our own Ethel, she looked as if she was promising on and on, straight into eternity. I heard her 'I do,' dear child, and it was in such a tone as if she meant to be ever doing."
"And for the boys?" "There was Norman grave and steadfast, as if he knew what he was about, and was manfully and calmly ready--he might have been a young knight, watching his armour.""And so he is," said Margaret softly. "And poor Harry?"
The doctor could hardly command voice to tell her. "Poor Harry, he was last of all, he turned his back and looked into the corner of the seat, till all the voices had spoken, and then turned about in haste, and the two words came on the end of a sob.""You will not keep him away on Sunday?" said Margaret. "Far be it from me. I know not who should come, if he should not."
What matter, whether through delight, Or led through vale of tears,
Or seen at once, or hid from sight, The glorious way appears?
If step by step the path we see, That leads, my Saviour, up to Thee!
However, the Roman camp had long been an object of their desires, and Margaret was glad that the last day should have a brilliancy, so she would not hear of any one remaining to keep her company, talked of the profit she should gain by a leisure day, and took ardent interest in every one's preparations and expectations, in Ethel's researches into county histories and classical dictionaries, Flora's sketching intentions, Norman's promises of campanula glomerata, and a secret whispered into her ear by Mary and Harry.
"Meta's weather," as they said, when the August sun rose fresh and joyous; and great was the unnecessary bustle, and happy confusion from six o'clock till eleven, when Dr. May, who was going to visit patients some way farther on the same road, carried off Harry and Mary, to set them down at the place.
The rest were called for by Mr. Rivers's carriage and brake. Mrs. Charles Wilmot and her little girl were the only additions to the party, and Meta, putting Blanche into the carriage to keep company with her contemporary, went herself in the brake. What a brilliant little fairy she was, in her pink summer robes, fluttering like a butterfly, and with the same apparent felicity in basking in joy, all gaiety, glee, and light-heartedness in making others happy. On they went, through honeysuckled lanes, catching glimpses of sunny fields of corn falling before the reaper, and happy knots of harvest folks dining beneath the shelter of their sheaves, with the sturdy old green umbrella sheltering them from the sun.
Snatches of song, peals of laughter, merry nonsense, passed from one to the other; Norman, roused into blitheness, found wit, the young ladies found laughter, and Richard's eyes and mouth looked very pretty, as they smiled their quiet diversion.
At last, his face drawn all into one silent laugh, he directed the eyes of the rest to a high green mound, rising immediately before them, where stood two little figures, one with a spy-glass, intently gazing the opposite way.
At the same time came the halt, and Norman, bounding out, sprang lightly and nimbly up the side of the mound, and, while the spy-glass was yet pointed full at Wales, had hold of a pair of stout legs, and with the words, "Keep a good lockout!" had tumbled Mr. May headforemost down the grassy slope, with Mary rolling after.
Harry's first outcry was for his precious glass--his second was, not at his fall, but that they should have come from the east, when, by the compass, Stoneborough was north-north-west. And then the boys took to tumbling over one another, while Meta frolicked joyously, with Nipen after her, up and down the mounds, chased by Mary and Blanche, who were wild with glee.
By-and-by she joined Ethel, and Norman was summoned to help them to trace out the old lines of encampment, ditch, rampart, and gates-- happy work on those slopes of fresh turf, embroidered with every minute blossom of the moor--thyme, birdsfoot, eyebright, and dwarf purple thistle, buzzed and hummed over by busy, black-tailed, yellow- banded dumbledores, the breezy wind blowing softly in their faces, and the expanse of country--wooded hill, verdant pasture, amber harvest-field, winding river, smoke-canopied town, and brown moor, melting grayly away to the mountain heads.
Now in sun, now in shade, the bright young antiquaries surveyed the old banks, and talked wisely of vallum and fossa, of legion and cohort, of Agricola and Suetonius, and discussed the delightful probability, that this might have been raised in the war with Caractacus, whence, argued Ethel, since Caractacus was certainly Arviragus, it must have been the very spot where Imogen met Posthumus again. Was not yonder the very high-road to Milford Haven, and thus must not "fair Fidele's grassy tomb" be in the immediate neighbourhood?
Then followed the suggestion that the mound in the middle was a good deal like an ancient tomb, where, as Blanche interposed with some of the lore lately caught from Ethel's studies, "they used to bury their tears in wheelbarrows," while Norman observed it was the more probable, as fair Fidele never was buried at all.
The idea of a search enchanted the young ladies. "It was the right sort of vehicle, evidently," said Norman, looking at Harry, who had been particularly earnest in recommending that it should be explored; and Meta declared that if they could but find the least trace, her papa would be delighted to go regularly to work, and reveal all the treasures.
Richard seemed a little afraid of the responsibility of treasure- trove, but he was overruled by a chorus of eager voices, and dispossessed of the trowel, which he had brought to dig up some down- gentians for the garden. While Norman set to work as pioneer, some skipped about in wild ecstasy, and Ethel knelt down to peer into the hole.
Very soon there was a discovery--an eager outcry--some pottery! Roman vessels--a red thing that might have been a lamp, another that might have been a lachrymatory."Well," said Ethel, "you know, Norman, I always told you that the children's pots and pans in the clay ditch were very like Roman pottery." "Posthumus's patty pan!" said Norman, holding it up. "No doubt this was the bottle filled with the old queen's tears when Cloten was killed." "You see it is very small," added Harry; "she could not squeeze out many."
"Come now, I do believe you are laughing at it!" said Meta, taking the derided vessels into her hands. "Now, they really are genuine, and very curious things, are not they, Flora?"
Flora and Ethel admired and speculated till there was a fresh, and still more exciting discovery--a coin, actually a medal, with the head of an emperor upon it--not a doubt of his high nose being Roman. Meta was certain that she knew one exactly like him among her father's gems. Ethel was resolved that he should be Claudius, and began decyphering the defaced inscription THVRVS. She tried Claudius's whole torrent of names, and, at last, made it into a contraction of Tiberius, which highly satisfied her.
Then Meta, in her turn, read D.V.X., which, as Ethel said, was all she could wish--of course it was dux et imperator, and Harry muttered into Norman's ear, "ducks and geese!" and then heaved a sigh, as he thought of the dux no longer. "V.V.," continued Meta; "what can that mean?""Five, five, of course," said Flora. "No, no! I have it, Venus Victrix" said Ethel, "the ancestral Venus! Ha! don't you see? there she is on the other side, crowning Claudius." "Then there is an E."
"Something about Aeneas," suggested Norman gravely. But Ethel was sure that could not be, because there was no diphthong; and a fresh theory was just being started, when Blanche's head was thrust in to know what made them all so busy."Why, Ethel, what are you doing with Harry's old medal of the Duke of Wellington?"
Poor Meta and Ethel, what a downfall! Meta was sure that Norman had known it the whole time, and he owned to having guessed it from Harry's importunity for the search. Harry and Mary had certainly made good use of their time, and great was the mirth over the trap so cleverly set--the more when it was disclosed that Dr. May had been a full participator in the scheme, had suggested the addition of the pottery, had helped Harry to some liquid to efface part of the inscription, and had even come up with them to plant the snare in the most plausible corner for researches.
Meta, enchanted with the joke, flew off to try to take in her governess and Mrs. Wilmot, whom she found completing their leisurely promenade, and considering where they should spread the dinner.
The sight of those great baskets of good fare was appetising, and the company soon collected on the shady turf, where Richard made himself extremely useful, and the feast was spread without any worse mishap than Nipen's running away with half a chicken, of which he was robbed, as Tom reported, by a surly-looking dog that watched in the outskirts of the camp, and caused Tom to return nearly as fast as the poor little white marauder.
Meta "very immorally," as Norman told her, comforted Nipen with a large share of her sandwiches. Harry armed himself with a stick and Mary with a stone, and marched off to the attack, but saw no signs of the enemy, and had begun to believe him a figment of Tom's imagination, when Mary spied him under a bush, lying at the feet of a boy, with whom he was sharing the spoil.Harry called out rather roughly, "Hallo! what are you doing there?"
The boy jumped up, the dog growled, Mary shrank behind her brother, and begged him not to be cross to the poor boy, but to come away. Harry repeated his question."Please, sir, Toby brought it to me." "What, is Toby your dog?" "Yes, sir." "Are you so hungry as to eat dog's meat?" "I have not had nothing before to-day, sir." "Why, where do you live? hereabouts?"
"Oh, no, sir; I lived with grandmother up in Cheshire, but she is dead now, and father is just come home from sea, and he wrote down I was to be sent to him at Portsmouth, to go to sea with him.""How do you live? do you beg your way?"
"No, sir; father sent up a pound in a letter, only Nanny Brooks said I owed some to her for my victuals, and I have not much of it left, and bread comes dear, so when Toby brought me this bit of meat I was glad of it, sir, but I would not have taken it--"The boy was desired to wait while the brother and sister, in breathless excitement, rushed back with their story.
Mrs. Wilmot was at first inclined to fear that the naval part of it had been inspired by Harry's uniform, but the examination of Jem Jennings put it beyond a doubt that he spoke nothing but the truth; and the choicest delight of the feast was the establishing him and Toby behind the barrow, and feeding them with such viands as they had probably never seen before.
The boy could not read writing, but he had his father's letter in his pocket, and Mary capered at the delightful coincidence, on finding that Jem Jennings was actually a quarter-master on board the Alcestis. It gave a sort of property in the boy, and she almost grudged Meta the having been first to say that she would pay for the rest of his journey, instead of doing it by subscription.
However, Mary had a consolation, she would offer to take charge of Toby, who, as Harry observed, would otherwise have been drowned--he could not be taken on board. To be sure, he was a particularly ugly animal, rough, grisly, short-legged, long-backed, and with an apology for a tail--but he had a redeeming pair of eyes, and he and Jem lived on terms of such close friendship, that he would have been miserable in leaving him to the mercy of Nanny Brooks.
So, after their meal, Jem and Toby were bidden to wait for Dr. May's coming, and fell asleep together on the green bank, while the rest either sketched, or wandered, or botanised. Flora acted the grown-up lady with Mrs. Wilmot, and Meta found herself sitting by Ethel, asking her a great many questions about Margaret, and her home, and what it could be like to be one of such a numerous family. Flora had always turned aside from personal matters, as uninteresting to her companion, and, in spite of Meta's admiration, and the mutual wish to be intimate, confidence did not spring up spontaneously, as it had done with the doctor, and, in that single hour, with Margaret. Blunt as Ethel was, her heartiness of manner gave a sense of real progress in friendship. Their Confirmation vows seemed to make a link, and Meta's unfeigned enthusiasm for the doctor was the sure road to Ethel's heart. She was soon telling how glad Margaret was that he had been drawn into taking pleasure in to-day's scheme, since, not only were his spirits tried by the approach of Harry's departure, but he had, within the last few days, been made very sad by reading and answering Aunt Flora's first letter on the news of last October's misfortune."My aunt in New Zealand," explained Ethel. "Have you an aunt in New Zealand?" cried Meta. "I never heard of her!" "Did not you? Oh! she does write such charming long letters!" "Is she Dr. May's sister?"
"No; he was an only child. She is dear mamma's sister. I don't remember her, for she went out when I was a baby, but Richard and Margaret were so fond of her. They say she used to play with them, and tell them stories, and sing Scotch songs to them. Margaret says the first sorrow of her life was Aunt Flora's going away.""Did she live with them?"
"Yes; after grandpapa died, she came to live with them, but then Mr. Arnott came about. I ought not to speak evil of him, for he is my godfather, but we do wish he had not carried off Aunt Flora! That letter of hers showed me what a comfort it would be to papa to have her here.""Perhaps she will come."
"No; Uncle Arnott has too much to do. It was a pretty story altogether. He was an officer at Edinburgh, and fell in love with Aunt Flora, but my grandfather Mackenzie thought him too poor to marry her, and it was all broken off, and they tried to think no more of it. But grandpapa died, and she came to live here, and somehow Mr. Arnott turned up again, quartered at Whitford, and papa talked over my Uncle Mackenzie, and helped them--and Mr. Arnott thought the best way would be to go out to the colonies. They went when New Zealand was very new, and a very funny life they had! Once they had their house burned in Heki's rebellion--and Aunt Flora saw a Maori walking about in her best Sunday bonnet; but, in general, everything has gone on very well, and he has a great farm, besides an office under government.""Oh, so he went out as a settler! I was in hopes it was as a missionary."
"I fancy Aunt Flora has done a good deal that may be called missionary work," said Ethel, "teaching the Maori women and girls. They call her mother, and she has quite a doctor's shop for them, and tries hard to teach them to take proper care of their poor little children when they are ill; and she cuts out clothes for the whole pah, that is, the village.""And are they Christians?"
"Oh! to be sure they are now! They meet in the pah for prayers every morning and evening--they used to have a hoe struck against a bit of metal for a signal, and when papa heard of it, he gave them a bell, and they were so delighted. Now there comes a clergyman every fourth Sunday, and, on the others, Uncle Arnott reads part of the service to the English near, and the Maori teacher to his people."
Meta asked ravenously for more details, and when she had pretty well exhausted Ethel's stock, she said, "How nice it must be! Ethel, did you ever read the 'Faithful Little Girl?'""Yes; it was one of Margaret's old Sunday books. I often recollected it before I was allowed to begin Cocksmoor." "I'm afraid I am very like Lucilla!" said Meta. "What? In wishing to be a boy, that you might be a missionary?" said Ethel. "Not in being quite so cross at home?" she added, laughing. "I am not cross, because I have no opportunity," said Meta. "No opportunity. Oh, Meta, if people wish to be cross, it is easy enough to find grounds for it. There is always the moon to cry for."
"Really and truly," said Meta thoughtfully, "I never do meet with any reasonable trial of temper, and I am often afraid it cannot be right or safe to live so entirely at ease, and without contradictions.""Well, but," said Ethel, "it is the state of life in which you are placed." "Yes; but are we meant never to have vexations?" "I thought you had them," said Ethel. "Margaret told me about your maid. That would have worried some people, and made them horridly cross."
"Oh, no rational person," cried Meta. "It was so nice to think of her being with the poor mother, and I was quite interested in managing for myself; besides, you know, it was just a proof how one learns to be selfish, that it had never occurred to me that I ought to spare her.""And your school children--you were in some trouble about them?" "Oh, that is pleasure." "I thought you had a class you did not like?"
"I like them now--they are such steady plodding girls, so much in earnest, and one, that has been neglected, is so pleased and touched by kindness. I would not give them up for anything now--they are just fit for my capacity.""Do you mean that nothing ever goes wrong with you, or that you do not mind anything--which?" "Nothing goes wrong enough with me to give me a handsome excuse for minding it." "Then it must be all your good temper." "I don't think so," said Meta; "it is that nothing is ever disagreeable to me."
"Stay," said Ethel, "if the ill-temper was in you, you would only be the crosser for being indulged--at least, so books say. And I am sure myself that it is not whether things are disagreeable or not, but whether one's will is with them, that signifies.""I don't quite understand."
"Why--I have seen the boys do for play, and done myself, what would have been a horrid hardship if one had been made to do it. I never liked any lessons as well as those I did without being obliged, and always, when there is a thing I hate very much in itself, I can get up an interest in it, by resolving that I will do it well, or fast, or something--if I can stick my will to it, it is like a lever, and it is done. Now, I think it must be the same with you, only your will is more easily set at it than mine.""What makes me uncomfortable is, that I feel as if I never followed anything but my will."
Ethel screwed up her face, as if the eyes of her mind were pursuing some thought almost beyond her. "If our will and our duty run the same," she said, "that can't be wrong. The better people are, the more they 'love what He commands,' you know. In heaven they have no will but His."
"Oh! but Ethel," cried Meta, distressed, "that is putting it too high. Won't you understand what I mean? We have learned so much lately about self-denial, and crossing one's own inclinations, and enduring hardness. And here I live with two dear kind people, who only try to keep every little annoyance from my path. I can't wish for a thing without getting it--I am waited on all day long, and I feel like one of the women that are at ease--one of the careless daughters."
"I think still papa would say it was your happy contented temper that made you find no vexation."
"But that sort of temper is not goodness. I was born with it; I never did mind anything, not even being punished, they say, unless I knew papa was grieved, which always did make me unhappy enough. I laughed, and went to play most saucily, whatever they did to me. If I had striven for the temper, it would be worth having, but it is my nature. And Ethel," she added, in a low voice, as the tears came into her eyes, "don't you remember last Sunday? I felt myself so vain and petted a thing! as if I had no share in the Cup of suffering, and did not deserve to call myself a member--it seemed ungrateful."
Ethel felt ashamed, as she heard of warmer feelings than her own had been, expressed in that lowered trembling voice, and she sought for the answer that would only come to her mind in sense, not at first in words. "Discipline," said she, "would not that show the willingness to have the part? Taking the right times for refusing oneself some pleasant thing.""Would not that be only making up something for oneself?" said Meta.
"No, the Church orders it. It is in the Prayer-book," said Ethel. "I mean one can do little secret things--not read storybooks on those days, or keep some tiresome sort of work for them. It is very trumpery, but it keeps the remembrance, and it is not so much as if one did not heed."
"I'll think," said Meta, sighing. "If only I felt myself at work, not to please myself, but to be of use. Ha!" she cried, springing up, "I do believe I see Dr. May coming!""Let us run and meet him," said Ethel.
They did so, and he called out his wishes of many happy returns of blithe days to the little birthday queen, then added, "You both look grave, though-have they deserted you?""No, papa, we have been having a talk," said Ethel. "May I tell him, Meta? I want to know what he says." Meta had not bargained for this, but she was very much in earnest, and there was nothing formidable in Dr. May, so she assented. "Meta is longing to be at work--she thinks she is of no use," said Ethel; "she says she never does anything but please herself."
"Pleasing oneself is not the same as trying to please oneself," said Dr. May kindly.
"And she thinks it cannot be safe or right," added Ethel, "to live that happy bright life, as if people without care or trouble could not be living as Christians are meant to live. Is that it, Meta?"
"Ah! my dear," he said, "the rugged path and dark valley will come in His own fit time. Depend upon it, the good Shepherd is giving you what is best for you in the green meadow, and if you lay hold on His rod and staff in your sunny days--" He stopped short, and turned to his daughter. "Ethel, they sang that psalm the first Sunday I brought your mamma home!"
Meta was much affected, and began to put together what the father and daughter had said. Perhaps the little modes of secret discipline, of which Ethel had spoken, might be the true means of clasping the staff--perhaps she had been impatient, and wanting in humility in craving for the strife, when her armour was scarce put on.
Dr. May spoke once again. "Don't let any one long for external trial. The offering of a free heart is the thing. To offer praise is the great object of all creatures in heaven and earth. If the happier we are, the more we praise, then all is well."But the serious discussion was suddenly broken off.
Others had seen Dr. May's approach, and Harry and Mary rushed down in dismay at their story having, as they thought, been forestalled. However, they had it all to themselves, and the doctor took up the subject as keenly as could have been hoped, but the poor boy being still fast asleep, after, probably, much fatigue, he would not then waken him to examine him, but came and sat down in the semicircle, formed by a terraced bank of soft turf, where Mrs. Larpent, Mrs. Wilmot, Richard, and Flora, had for some time taken up their abode. Meta brought him the choice little basket of fruit which she had saved for him, and all delighted in having him there, evidently enjoying the rest and sport very much, as he reposed on the fragrant slope, eating grapes, and making inquiries as to the antiquities lately discovered.
Norman gave an exceedingly droll account of the great Roman Emperor, Tiberius V.V., and Meta correcting it, there was a regular gay skirmish of words, which entertained every one extremely--above all, Meta's indignation when the charge was brought home to her of having declared the "old Duke" exactly like in turns to Domitian and Tiberius--his features quite forbidding.
This lasted till the younger ones, who had been playing and rioting till they were tired, came up, and throwing themselves down on the grass, Blanche petitioned for something that every one could play at.
Meta proposed what she called the story play. One was to be sent out of earshot, and the rest to agree upon a word, which was then to be guessed by each telling a story, and introducing the word into it, not too prominently. Meta volunteered to guess, and Harry whispered to Mary it would be no go, but, in the meantime, the word was found, and Blanche eagerly recalled Meta, and sat in the utmost expectation and delight. Meta turned first to Richard, but he coloured distressfully, and begged that Flora might tell his story for him--he should only spoil the game. Flora, with a little tinge of graceful reluctance, obeyed. "No woman had been to the summit of Mont Blanc," she said, "till one young girl, named Marie, resolved to have this glory. The guides told her it was madness, but she persevered. She took the staff, and everything requisite, and, following a party, began the ascent. She bravely supported every fatigue, climbed each precipice, was undaunted by the giddy heights she attained, bravely crossed the fields of snow, supported the bitter cold, and finally, though suffering severely, arrived at the topmost peak, looked forth where woman had never looked before, felt her heart swell at the attainment of her utmost ambition, and the name of Marie was inscribed as that of the woman who alone has had the glory of standing on the summit of the Giant of the Alps."It was prettily enunciated, and had a pleasing effect. Meta stood conning the words--woman--giant--mountain--glory--and begged for another tale.
"Mine shall not be so stupid as Flora's," said Harry. "We have an old sailor on board the Alcestis--a giant he might be for his voice-- but he sailed once in the Glory of the West, and there they had a monkey that was picked up in Africa, and one day this old fellow found his queer messmate, as he called him, spying through a glass, just like the captain. The captain had a glorious collection of old coins, and the like, dug up in some of the old Greek colonies, and whenever Master Monkey saw him overhauling them, he would get out a brass button, or a card or two, and turn 'em over, and chatter at them, and glory over them, quite knowing," said Harry, imitating the gesture, "and I dare say he saw V.V., and Tiberius Caesar, as well as the best of them." "Thank you, Mr. Harry," said Meta. "I think we are at no loss for monkeys here. But I have not the word yet. Who comes next? Ethel--"
"I shall blunder, I forewarn you," said Ethel, "but this is mine: There was a young king who had an old tutor, whom he despised because he was so strict, so he got rid of him, and took to idle sport. One day, when he was out hunting in a forest, a white hind came and ran before him, till she guided him to a castle, and there he found a lady all dressed in white, with a beamy crown on head, and so nobly beautiful that he fell in love with her at once, and was only sorry to see another prince who was come to her palace too. She told them her name was Gloria, and that she had had many suitors, but the choice did not depend on herself--she could only be won by him who deserved her, and for three years they were to be on their probation, trying for her. So she dismissed them, only burning to gain her, and telling them to come back in three years' time. But they had not gone far before they saw another palace, much finer, all glittering with gold and silver, and their Lady Gloria came out to meet them, not in her white dress, but in one all gay and bright with fine colours, and her crown they now saw was of diamonds. She told them they had only seen her everyday dress and house, this was her best; and she showed them about the castle, and all the pictures of her former lovers. There was Alexander, who had been nearer retaining her than any one, only the fever prevented it; there was Pyrrhus, always seeking her, but slain by a tile; Julius Caesar--Tamerlane-- all the rest, and she hoped that one of these two would really prove worthy and gain her, by going in the same path as these great people.
"So our prince went home; his head full of being like Alexander and all the rest of them, and he sent for his good old tutor to reckon up his armies, and see whom he could conquer in order to win her. But the old tutor told him he was under a mistake; the second lady he had seen was a treacherous cousin of Gloria, who drew away her suitors by her deceits, and whose real name was Vana Gloria. If he wished to earn the true Gloria, he must set to work to do his subjects good, and to be virtuous. And he did; he taught them, and he did justice to them, and he bore it patiently and kindly when they did not understand. But by-and-by the other king, who had no good tutor to help him, had got his armies together, and conquered ever so many people, and drawn off their men to be soldiers; and now he attacked the good prince, and was so strong that he gained the victory, though both prince and subjects fought manfully with heart and hand; but the battle was lost, and the faithful prince wounded and made prisoner, but bearing it most patiently, till he was dragged behind the other's triumphal car with all the rest, when the three years were up, to be presented to Vana Gloria. And so he was carried into the forest, bleeding and wounded, and his enemy drove the car over his body, and stretched out his arms to Vana Gloria, and found her a vain, ugly wretch, who grew frightful as soon as he grasped her. But the good dying prince saw the beautiful beamy face of his lady--love bending over him. 'Oh!' he said, 'vision of my life, hast thou come to lighten my dying eyes? Never--never, even in my best days, did I deem that I could be worthy of thee; the more I strove, the more I knew that Gloria is for none below--for me less than all.'
"And then the lady came and lifted him up, and she said, 'Gloria is given to all who do and suffer truly in a good cause, for faithfulness is glory, and that is thine.'"
Ethel's language had become more flowing as she grew more eager in the tale, and they all listened with suspended interest. Norman asked where she got the story. "Out of an old French book, the 'Magazin des enfans,'" was the answer."But why did you alter the end?" said Flora, "why kill the poor man? He used to be prosperous, why not?"
"Because I thought," said Ethel, "that glory could not properly belong to any one here, and if he was once conscious of it, it would be all spoiled. Well, Meta, do you guess?"
"Oh! the word! I had forgotten all about it. I think I know what it must be, but I should so like another story. May I not have one?" said Meta coaxingly. "Mary, it is you."Mary fell back on her papa, and begged him to take hers. Papa told the best stories of all, she said, and Meta looked beseeching.
"My story will not be as long as Ethel's," said the doctor, yielding with a halfreluctant smile. "My story is of a humming-bird, a little creature that loved its master with all its strength, and longed to do somewhat for him. It was not satisfied with its lot, because it seemed merely a vain and profitless creature. The nightingale sang praise, and the woods sounded with the glory of its strains; the fowl was valued for its flesh, the ostrich for its plume, but what could the little humming-bird do, save rejoice in the glory of the flood of sunbeams, and disport itself over the flowers, and glance in the sunny light, as its bright breastplate flashed from rich purple to dazzling flame-colour, and its wings supported it, fluttering so fast that the eye could hardly trace them, as it darted its slender beak into the deep-belled blossoms. So the little bird grieved, and could not rest, for thinking that it was useless in this world, that it sought merely its own gratification, and could do nothing that could conduce to the glory of its master. But one night a voice spoke to the little bird, 'Why hast thou been placed here,' it said, 'but at the will of thy master? Was it not that he might delight himself in thy radiant plumage, and see thy joy in the sunshine? His gifts are thy buoyant wing, thy beauteous colours, the love of all around, the sweetness of the honey-drop in the flowers, the shade of the palm leaf. Esteem them, then, as his; value thine own bliss, while it lasts, as the token of his care and love; and while thy heart praises him for them, and thy wings quiver and dance to the tune of that praise, then, indeed, thy gladness conduces to no vain-glory of thine own, in beauty, or in graceful flight, but thou art a creature serving--as best thou canst to his glory.'"
"I know the word," half whispered Meta, not without a trembling of the lip. "I know why you told the story, Dr. May, but one is not as good as the humming-birds."
The elder ladies had begun to look at watches, and talk of time to go home; and Jem Jemmings having been seen rearing himself up from behind the barrow, the doctor proceeded to investigate his case, was perfectly satisfied of the boy's truth, and as ready as the young ones to befriend him. A letter should be written at once, desiring his father to look out for him on Friday, when he should go by the same train as Harry, who was delighted at the notion of protecting him so far, and begged to be allowed to drive him home to Stoneborough in the gig.
Consent was given; and Richard being added to give weight and discretion, the gig set out at once--the doctor, much to Meta's delight, took his place in the brake. Blanche, who, in the morning, had been inclined to despise it as something akin to a cart, now finding it a popular conveyance, was urgent to return in it; and Flora was made over to the carriage, not at all unwillingly, for, though it separated her from Meta, it made a senior of her.
Norman's fate conveyed him to the exalted seat beside the driver of the brake, where he could only now and then catch the sounds of mirth from below. He had enjoyed the day exceedingly, with that sort of abandon more than ordinarily delicious to grave or saddened temperaments, when roused or drawn out for a time. Meta's winning grace and sweetness had a peculiar charm for him, and, perhaps, his having been originally introduced to her as ill, and in sorrow, had given her manner towards him a sort of kindness which was very gratifying.
And now he felt as if he was going back to a very dusky dusty world; the last and blithest day of his holidays was past, and he must return to the misapprehensions and injustice that had blighted his school career, be kept beneath boys with half his ability, and without generous feeling, and find all his attainments useless in restoring his position. Dr. Hoxton's dull scholarship would chill all pleasure in his studies--there would be no companionship among the boys--even his supporters, Ernescliffe and Larkins, were gone, and Harry would leave him still under a cloud.
Norman felt it more as disgrace than he had done since the first, and wished he had consented to quit the school when it had been offered-- be made a man, instead of suffering these doubly irksome provocations, which rose before him in renewed force. "And what would that little humming-bird think of me if she knew me disgraced?" thought he. "But it is of no use to think of it. I must go through with it, and as I always am getting vain-glorious, I had better have no opportunity. I did not declare I renounced vain pomp and glory last week, to begin coveting them now again."So Norman repressed the sigh as he looked at the school buildings, which never could give him the pleasures of memory they afforded to others.
The brake had set out before the carriage, so that Meta had to come in and wait for her governess. Before the vehicle had disgorged half its contents, Harry had rushed out to meet them. "Come in, come in, Norman! Only hear. Margaret shall tell you herself! Hurrah!"
Is Mr. Ernescliffe come? crossed Ethel's mind, but Margaret was alone, flushed, and holding out her hands. "Norman! where is he? Dear Norman, here is good news! Papa, Dr. Hoxton has been here, and he knows all about it--and oh! Norman, he is very sorry for the injustice, and you are dux again!"Norman really trembled so much that he could neither speak nor stand, but sat down on the window-seat, while a confusion of tongues asked more.
Dr. Hoxton and Mr. Larkins had come to call--heard no one was at home but Miss May--had, nevertheless, come in--and Margaret had heard that Mr. Larkins, who had before intended to remove his son from Stoneborough, had, in the course of the holidays, made discoveries from him, which he could not feel justified in concealing from Dr. Hoxton.
The whole of the transactions with Ballhatchet, and Norman's part in them, had been explained, as well as the true history of the affray in Randall's Alley
-how Norman had dispersed the boys, how they had again collected, and, with the full concurrence of Harvey Anderson, renewed the mischief, how the Andersons had refused to bear witness in his favour, and how Ballhatchet's illwill had kept back the evidence which would have cleared him.
Little Larkins had told all, and his father had no scruple in repeating it, and causing the investigation to be set on foot. Nay, he deemed that Norman's influence had saved his son, and came, as anxious to thank him, as Dr. Hoxton, warm-hearted, though injudicious, was to repair his injustice. They were much surprised and struck by finding that Dr. May had been aware of the truth the whole time, and had patiently put up with the injustice, and the loss of the scholarship--a loss which Dr. Hoxton would have given anything to repair, so as to have sent up a scholar likely to do him so much credit; but it was now too late, and he had only been able to tell Margaret how dismayed he was at finding out that the boy to whom all the good order in his school was owing had been so ill-used. Kind Dr. May's first feeling really seemed to be pity and sympathy for his old friend, the head-master, in the shock of such a discovery. Harry was vociferously telling his version of the story to Ethel and Mary. Tom stood transfixed in attention. Meta, forgotten and bewildered, was standing near Norman, whose colour rapidly varied, and whose breath came short and quick as he listened. A quick half interrogation passed Meta's lips, heard by no one else."It is only that it is all right," he answered, scarcely audibly; "they have found out the truth." "What?--who?--you?" said Meta, as she heard words that implied the past suspicion. "Yes," said Norman, "I was suspected, but never at home." "And is it over now?" "Yes, yes," he whispered huskily, "all is right, and Harry will not leave me in disgrace."
Meta did not speak, but she held out her hand in hearty congratulation; Norman, scarce knowing what he did, grasped and wrung it so tight that it was positive pain, as he turned away his head to the window to struggle with those irrepressible tears. Meta's colour flushed into her cheek as she found it still held, almost unconsciously, perhaps, in his agitation, and she heard Margaret's words, that both gentlemen had said Norman had acted nobly, and that every revelation made in the course of their examination had only more fully established his admirable conduct.
"Oh, Norman, Norman, I am so glad!" cried Mary's voice in the first pause, and, Margaret asking where he was, he suddenly turned round, recollected himself, and found it was not the back of the chair that he had been squeezing, blushed intensely, but made no attempt at apology, for indeed he could not speak--he only leaned down over Margaret, to receive her heartfelt embrace; and, as he stood up again, his father laid his hand on his shoulder, "My boy, I am glad;" but the words were broken, and, as if neither could bear more, Norman hastily left the room, Ethel rushing after him."Quite overcome!" said the doctor, "and no wonder. He felt it cruelly, though he bore up gallantly. Well, July?"
"I'll go down to school with him to-morrow, and see him dux again! I'll have three-times-three!" shouted Harry; "hip! hip! hurrah!" and Tom and Mary joined in chorus."What is all this?" exclaimed Flora, opening the door, "--is every one gone mad?" Many were the voices that answered.
"Well, I am glad, and I hope the Andersons will make an apology. But where is poor Meta? Quite forgotten?"
"Meta would not wonder if she knew all," said the doctor, turning, with a sweet smile that had in it something, nevertheless, of apology.
The doctor gave her his arm to take her to the carriage, and, on the way, his quick warm words filled up the sketch of Norman's behaviour; Meta's eyes responded better than her tongue, but, to her good-bye, she could not help adding, "Now I have seen true glory."
His answer was much such a grip as her poor little fingers had already received, but though they felt hot and crushed all the way home, the sensation seemed to cause such throbs of joy, that she would not have been without it.
Chapter I.27And full of hope, day followed day, While that stout ship at anchor lay
Beside the shores of Wight.
The May had then made all things green, And floating there, in pomp serene, That ship was goodly to be seen,
In more than happy mood.
To your abodes, bright daisy flowers, He then would steal at leisure hours, And loved you, glittering in your bowers,
Harry's last home morning was brightened by going to the school to see full justice done to Norman, and enjoying the scene for him. It was indeed a painful ordeal to Norman himself, who could, at the moment, scarcely feel pleasure in his restoration, excepting for the sake of his father, Harry, and his sisters. To find the head-master making apologies to him was positively painful and embarrassing, and his countenance would have been fitter for a culprit receiving a lecture. It was pleasanter when the two other masters shook hands with him, Mr. Harrison with a free confession that he had done him injustice, and Mr. Wilmot with a glad look of congratulation, that convinced Harry he had never believed Norman to blame.
Harry himself was somewhat of a hero; the masters all spoke to him, bade him good speed, and wished him a happy voyage, and all the boys were eager to admire his uniform, and wish themselves already men and officers like Mr. May. He had his long-desired three cheers for "May senior!" shouted with a thorough goodwill by the united lungs of the Whichcote foundation, and a supplementary cheer arose for the good ship Alcestis, while hands were held out on every side; and the boy arrived at such a pitch of benevolence and good humour, as actually to volunteer a friendly shake of the hand to Edward Anderson, whom he encountered skulking apart.
"Never mind, Ned, we have often licked each other before now, and don't let us bear a grudge now I am going away. We are Stoneborough fellows both, you know, after all."
Edward did not refuse the offered grasp, and though his words were only, "Good-bye, I hope you will have plenty of fun!" Harry went away with a lighter heart.
The rest of the day Harry adhered closely to his father, though chiefly in silence; Dr. May had intended much advice and exhortation for his warmhearted, wild-spirited son, but words would not come, not even when in the still evening twilight they walked down alone together to the cloister, and stood over the little stone marked M. M. After standing there for some minutes, Harry knelt to collect some of the daisies in the grass."Are those to take with you?" "Margaret is going to make a cross of them for my Prayerbook." "Ay, they will keep it in your mind--say it all to you, Harry. She may be nearer to you everywhere, though you are far from us. Don't put yourself from her."
That was all Dr. May contrived to say to his son, nor could Margaret do much more than kiss him, while tears flowed one by one over her cheeks, as she tried to whisper that he must remember and guard himself, and that he was sure of being thought of, at least, in every prayer; and then she fastened into his book the cross, formed of flattened daisies, gummed upon a framework of paper. He begged her to place it at the Baptismal Service, for he said, "I like that about fighting--and I always did like the church being like a ship--don't you? I only found that prayer out the day poor little Daisy was christened."
Margaret had indeed a thrill of melancholy pleasure in this task, when she saw how it was regarded. Oh, that her boy might not lose these impressions amid the stormy waves he was about to encounter!
That last evening of home good-nights cost Harry many a choking sob ere he could fall asleep; but the morning of departure had more cheerfulness; the pleasure of patronising Jem Jennings was as consoling to his spirits, as was to Mary the necessity of comforting Toby.
Toby's tastes were in some respects vulgar, as he preferred the stable, and Will Adams, to all Mary's attentions; but he attached himself vehemently to Dr. May, followed him everywhere, and went into raptures at the slightest notice from him. The doctor said it was all homage to the master of the house. Margaret held that the dog was a physiognomist.
The world was somewhat flat after the loss of Harry--that element of riot and fun; Aubrey was always playing at "poor Harry sailing away," Mary looked staid and sober, and Norman was still graver, and more devoted to books, while Ethel gave herself up more completely to the thickening troubles of Cocksmoor.
Jealousies had arisen there, and these, with some rebukes for failures in sending children to be taught, had led to imputations on the character of Mrs. Green, in whose house the school was kept. Ethel was at first vehement in her defence; then when stronger evidence was adduced of the woman's dishonesty, she was dreadfully shocked, and wanted to give up all connection with her, and in both moods was equally displeased with Richard for pausing, and not going all lengths with her.
Mr. Wilmot was appealed to, and did his best to investigate, but the only result was to discover that no one interrogated had any notion of truth, except John Taylor, and he knew nothing of the matter. The mass of falsehood, spite, violence, and dishonesty, that became evident, was perfectly appalling, and not a clue was to be found to the truth--scarcely a hope that minds so lost to honourable feeling were open to receive good impressions. It was a great distress to Ethel--it haunted her night and day--she lay awake pondering on the vain hopes for her poor children, and slept to dream of the angry faces and rude accusations. Margaret grew quite anxious about her, and her elders were seriously considering the propriety of her continuing her labours at Cocksmoor.
Mr. Wilmot would not be at Stoneborough after Christmas. His father's declining health made him be required at home, and since Richard was so often absent, it became matter of doubt whether the Misses May ought to be allowed to persevere, unassisted by older heads, in such a locality.
This doubt put Ethel into an agony. Though she had lately been declaring that it made her very unhappy to go--she could not bear the sight of Mrs. Green, and that she knew all her efforts were vain while the poor children had such homes; she now only implored to be allowed to go on; she said that the badness of the people only made it more needful to do their utmost for them; there were no end to the arguments that she poured forth upon her ever kind listener, Margaret."Yes, dear Ethel, yes, but pray be calm; I know papa and Mr. Wilmot would not put a stop to it if they could possibly help it, but if it is not proper--" "Proper! that is as bad as Miss Winter!" "Ethel, you and I cannot judge of these things--you must leave them to our elders--" "And men always are so fanciful about ladies--" "Indeed, if you speak in that way, I shall think it is really hurting you."
"I did not mean it, dear Margaret," said Ethel, "but if you knew what I feel for poor Cocksmoor, you would not wonder that I cannot bear it." "I do not wonder, dearest; but if this trial is sent you, perhaps it is to train you for better things."
"Perhaps it is for my fault," said Ethel. "Oh, oh, if it be that I am too unworthy! And it is the only hope; no one will do anything to teach these poor creatures if I give it up. What shall I do, Margaret?"
Margaret drew her down close to her, and whispered, "Trust them Ethel, dear. The decision will be whatever is the will of God. If He thinks fit to give you the work, it will come; if not, He will give you some other, and provide for them.""If I have been too neglectful of home, too vain of persevering when no one but Richard would!" sighed Ethel.
"I cannot see that you have, dearest," said Margaret fondly, "but your own heart must tell you that. And now, only try to be calm and patient. Getting into these fits of despair is the very thing to make people decide against you."
"I will! I will! I will try to be patient," sobbed Ethel; "I know to be wayward and set on it would only hurt. I might only do more harm--I'll try. But oh, my poor children!"
Margaret gave a little space for the struggle with herself, then advised her resolutely to fix her attention on something else. It was a Saturday morning, and time was more free than usual, so Margaret was able to persuade her to continue a half-forgotten drawing, while listening to an interesting article in a review, which opened to her that there were too many Cocksmoors in the world.
The dinner-hour sounded too soon, and as she was crossing the hall to put away her drawing materials, the front door gave the click peculiar to Dr. May's left-handed way of opening it. She paused, and saw him enter, flushed, and with a look that certified her that something had happened."Well, Ethel, he is come." "Oh, papa, Mr. Ernes--"
He held up his finger, drew her into the study, and shut the door. The expression of mystery and amusement gave way to sadness and gravity as he sat down in his arm-chair, and sighed as if much fatigued. She was checked and alarmed, but she could not help asking, "Is he here?""At the Swan. He came last night, and watched for me this morning as I came out of the hospital. We have been walking over the meadows to Fordholm." No wonder Dr. May was hot and tired. "But is he not coming?" asked Ethel.
"Yes, poor fellow; but hush, stop, say nothing to the others. I must not have her agitated till she has had her dinner in peace, and the house is quiet. You know she cannot run away to her room as you would.""Then he is really come for that?" cried Ethel breathlessly; and, perceiving the affirmative, added, "But why did he wait so long?" "He wished to see his way through his affairs, and also wanted to hear of her from Harry. I am afraid poor July's colours were too bright." "And why did he come to the Swan instead of to us?"
"That was his fine, noble feeling. He thought it right to see me first, that if I thought the decision too trying for Margaret, in her present state, or if I disapproved of the long engagement, I might spare her all knowledge of his coming.""Oh, papa, you won't!"
"I don't know but that I ought; but yet, the fact is, that I cannot. With that fine young fellow so generously, fondly attached I cannot find it in my heart to send him away for four years without seeing her, and yet, poor things, it might be better for them both. Oh, Ethel, if your mother were but here!"
He rested his forehead on his hands, and Ethel stood aghast at his unexpected reception of the addresses for which she had so long hoped. She did not venture to speak, and presently he roused himself as the dinner-bell rang. "One comfort is," he said, "that Margaret has more composure than I. Do you go to Cocksmoor this afternoon?""I wished it."
"Take them all with you. You may tell them why when you are out. I must have the house quiet. I shall get Margaret out into the shade, and prepare her, as best I can, before he comes at three o'clock."
It was not flattering to be thus cleared out of the way, especially when full of excited curiosity, but any such sensation was quite overborne by sympathy in his great anxiety, and Ethel's only question was, "Had not Flora better stay to keep off company?"
"No, no," said Dr. May impatiently, "the fewer the better;" and hastily passing her, he dashed up to his room, nearly running over the nursery procession, and, in a very few seconds, was seated at table, eating and speaking by snatches, and swallowing endless draughts of cold water.
"You are going to Cocksmoor!" said he, as they were finishing.
Her movements were quickened, however, by her father, who, finding her with Margaret in the drawing-room, ordered her upstairs in a peremptory manner, which she resented, as treating her like a child, and therefore proceeded in no amiable mood to the room, where Ethel awaited her in wild tumultuous impatience."Well, Ethel, what is this grand secret?" "Oh, Flora! Mr. Ernescliffe is at the Swan! He has been speaking to papa about Margaret." "Proposing for her, do you mean?" said Flora. "Yes, he is coming to see her this afternoon, and that is the reason that papa wants us to be all out of the way." "Did papa tell you this?"
"Yes," said Ethel, beginning to perceive the secret of her displeasure, "but only because I was the first person he met; and Norman guessed it long ago. Do put on your things! I'll tell you all I know when we are out. Papa is so anxious to have the coast clear.""I understand," said Flora; "but I shall not go with you. Do not be afraid of my interfering with any one. I shall sit here." "But papa said you were to go."
"If he had done me the favour of speaking to me himself," said Flora, "I should have shown him that it is not right that Margaret should be left without any one at hand in case she should be overcome. He is of no use in such cases, only makes things worse. I should not feel justified in leaving Margaret with no one else, but he is in one of those hand-over-head moods, when it is not of the least use to say a word to him.""Flora, how can you, when he expressly ordered you?"
"All he meant was, do not be in the way, and I shall not show myself unless I am needed, when he would be glad enough of me. I am not bound to obey the very letter, like Blanche or Mary."Ethel looked horrified by the assertion of independence, but Richard called her from below, and, with one more fruitless entreaty, she ran downstairs.
Richard had been hearing all from his father, and it was comfortable to talk the matter over with him, and hear explained the anxiety which frightened her, while she scarcely comprehended it; how Dr. May could not feel certain whether it was right or expedient to promote an engagement which must depend on health so uncertain as poor Margaret's, and how he dreaded the effect on the happiness of both.
Ethel's romance seemed to be turning to melancholy, and she walked on gravely and thoughtfully, though repeating that there could be no doubt of Margaret's perfect recovery by the time of the return from the voyage.
Her lessons were somewhat nervous and flurried, and even the sight of two very nice neat new scholars, of very different appearance from the rest, and of much superior attainments, only half interested her. Mary was enchanted at them as a pair of prodigies, actually able to read! and had made out their names, and their former abodes, and how they had been used to go to school, and had just come to live in the cottage deserted by the lamented Una.
Ethel thought it quite provoking in her brother to accede to Mary's entreaties that they should go and call on this promising importation. Even the children's information that they were taught now by "Sister Cherry" failed to attract her; but Richard looked at his watch, and decided that it was too soon to go home, and she had to submit to her fate.
Very different was the aspect of the house from the wild Irish cabin appearance that it had in the M'Carthy days. It was the remains of an old farm-house that had seen better days, somewhat larger than the general run of the Cocksmoor dwellings. Respectable furniture had taken up its abode against the walls, the kitchen was well arranged, and, in spite of the wretched flooring and broken windows, had an air of comfort. A very tidy woman was bustling about, still trying to get rid of the relics of her former tenants, who might, she much feared, have left a legacy of typhus fever. The more interesting person was, however, a young woman of three or four and twenty, pale, and very lame, and with the air of a respectable servant, her manners particularly pleasing. It appeared that she was the daughter of a first wife, and, after the period of schooling, had been at service, but had been lamed by a fall downstairs, and had been obliged to come home, just as scarcity of work had caused her father to leave his native parish, and seek employment at other quarries. She had hoped to obtain plain work, but all the family were dismayed and disappointed at the wild spot to which they had come, and anxiously availed themselves of this introduction to beg that the elder boy and girl might be admitted into the town school, distant as it was. At another time, the thought of Charity Elwood would have engrossed Ethel's whole mind, now she could hardly attend, and kept looking eagerly at Richard as he talked endlessly with the good mother. When, at last, they did set off, he would not let her gallop home like a steam-engine, but made her take his arm, when he found that she could not otherwise moderate her steps. At the long hill a figure appeared, and, as soon as Richard was certified of its identity, he let her fly, like a bolt from a crossbow, and she stood by Dr. May's side.
A little ashamed, she blushed instead of speaking, and waited for Richard to come up and begin. Neither did he say anything, and they paused till, the silence disturbing her, she ventured a "Well, papa!"
"Well, poor things. She was quite overcome when first I told her-- said it would be hard on him, and begged me to tell him that he would be much happier if he thought no more of her.""Did Margaret?" cried Ethel. "Oh! could she mean it?"
"She thought she meant it, poor dear, and repeated such things again and again; but when I asked whether I should send him away without seeing her, she cried more than ever, and said, 'You are tempting me! It would be selfishness.'"
"Oh, dear! she surely has seen him!" "I told her that I would be the last person to wish to tempt her to selfishness, but that I did not think that either could be easy in settling such a matter through a third person.""It would have been very unkind," said Ethel; "I wonder she did not think so."
"She did at last. I saw it could not be otherwise, and she said, poor darling, that when he had seen her, he would know the impossibility; but she was so agitated that I did not know how it could be.""Has she?"
"Ay, I told him not to stay too long, and left him under the tulip- tree with her. I found her much more composed--he was so gentle and considerate. Ah! he is the very man! Besides, he has convinced her now that affection brings him, not mere generosity, as she fancied.""Oh, then it is settled!" cried Ethel joyously.
"I wish it were! She has owned that if--if she were in health--but that is all, and he is transported with having gained so much! Poor fellow. So far, I trust, it is better for them to know each other's minds, but how it is to be--""But, papa, you know Sir Matthew Fleet said she was sure to get well; and in three years' time--"
"Yes, yes, that is the best chance. But it is a dreary lookout for two young things. That is in wiser hands, however! If only I saw what was right to do! My miserable carelessness has undone you all!" he concluded, almost inaudibly.
It was indeed, to him, a time of great distress and perplexity, wishing to act the part of father and mother both towards his daughter, acutely feeling his want of calm decision, and torn to pieces at once by sympathy with the lovers, and by delicacy that held him back from seeming to bind the young man to an uncertain engagement, above all, tortured by self-reproach for the commencement of the attachment, and for the misfortune that had rendered its prosperity doubtful.
Ethel could find no words of comfort in the bewildered glimpse at his sorrow and agitation. Richard spoke with calmness and good sense, and his replies, though brief and commonplace, were not without effect in lessening the excitement and despondency which the poor doctor's present mood had been aggravating.
At the door, Dr. May asked for Flora, and Ethel explained. If Flora had obtruded herself, he would have been irritated, but, as it was, he had no time to observe the disobedience, and saying that he hoped she was with Margaret, sent Ethel into the drawing-room.
Flora was not there, only Margaret lay on her sofa, and Ethel hesitated, shy, curious, and alarmed; but, as she approached, she was relieved to see the blue eyes more serene even than usual, while a glow of colour spread over her face, making her like the blooming Margaret of old times; her expression was full of peace, but became somewhat amused at Ethel's timid, awkward pauses, as she held out her hands, and said, "Come, dear Ethel.""Oh, Margaret, Margaret!"
And Ethel was drawn into her sister's bosom. Presently she drew back, gazed at her sister inquiringly, and said in an odd, doubtful voice, "Then you are glad?"Margaret nearly laughed at the strange manner, but spoke with a sorrowful tone, "Glad in one way, dearest, almost too glad, and grateful." "Oh, I am so glad!" again said Ethel; "I thought it was making everybody unhappy."
"I don't believe I could be that, now he has come, now I know;" and her voice trembled. "There must be doubt and uncertainty," she added, "but I cannot dwell on them just yet. They will settle what is right, I know, and, happen what may, I have always this to remember.""Oh, that is right! Papa will be so relieved! He was afraid it had only been distress." "Poor papa! Yes, I did not command myself at first; I was not sure whether it was right to see him at all." "Oh, Margaret, that was too bad!"
"It did not seem right to encourage any such--such," the word was lost, "to such a poor helpless thing as I am. I did not know what to do, and I am afraid I behaved like a silly child, and did not think of dear papa's feelings. But I will try to be good, and leave it all to them.""And you are going to be happy?" said Ethel wistfully.
"For the present, at least. I cannot help it," said Margaret. "Oh, he is so kind, and so unselfish, and so beautifully gentle--and to think of his still caring! But there, dear Ethel, I am not going to cry; do call papa, or he will think me foolish again. I want him to be quite at ease about me before he comes.""Then he is coming?" "Yes, at tea-time--so run, dear Ethel, and tell Jane to get his room ready."
The message quickened Ethel, and after giving it, and reporting consolingly to her father, she went up to Flora, who had been a voluntary prisoner upstairs all this time, and was not peculiarly gratified at such tidings coming only through the medium of Ethel. She had before been sensible that, superior in discretion and effectiveness as she was acknowledged to be, she did not share so much of the confidence and sympathy as some of the others, and she felt mortified and injured, though in this case it was entirely her own fault. The sense of alienation grew upon her.
She dressed quickly, and hurried down, that she might see Margaret alone; but the room was already prepared for tea, and the children were fast assembling. Ethel came down a few minutes after, and found Blanche claiming Alan Ernescliffe as her lawful property, dancing round him, chattering, and looking injured if he addressed a word to any one else.
How did lovers look? was a speculation which had, more than once, occupied Ethel, and when she had satisfied herself that her father was at ease, she began to study it, as soon as a shamefaced consciousness would allow her, after Alan's warm shake of the hand.
Margaret looked much as usual, only with more glow and brightness-- Mr. Ernescliffe, not far otherwise; he was as pale and slight as on his last visit, with the same soft blue eyes, capable, however, of a peculiar, keen, steady glance when he was listening, and which now seemed to be attending to Margaret's every word or look, through all the delighted uproar which Aubrey, Blanche, and Mary kept up round him, or while taking his share in the general conversation, telling of Harry's popularity and good conduct on board the Alcestis, or listening to the history of Norman's school adventures, which he had heard, in part, from Harry, and how young Jennings was entered in the flag-ship, as a boy, though not yet to sail with his father.
After the storm of the day the sky seemed quite clear, and Ethel could not see that being lovers made much difference; to be sure papa displeased Blanche, by calling her away to his side, when she would squeeze her chair in between Alan's and the sofa; and Alan took all the waiting on Margaret exclusively to himself. Otherwise, there was nothing remarkable, and he was very much the same Mr. Ernescliffe whom they had received a year ago.
In truth, the next ten days were very happy. The future was left to rest, and Alan spent his mornings in the drawing-room alone with Margaret, and looked ever more brightly placid, while, with the rest, he was more than the former kind playfellow, for he now took his place as the affectionate elder brother, entering warmly into all their schemes and pleasures, and winning for himself a full measure of affection from all; even his little god-daughter began to know him, and smile at his presence. Margaret and Ethel especially delighted in the look of enjoyment with which their father sat down to enter on the evening's conversation after the day's work; and Flora was well pleased that Mrs. Hoxton should find Alan in the drawing-room, and ask afterwards about his estate; and that Meta Rivers, after being certified that this was their Mr. Ernescliffe, pronounced that her papa thought him particularly pleasing and gentlemanlike. There was something dignified in having a sister on the point of being engaged.
Sail forth into the sea, thou ship,
Through breeze and cloud, right onward steer;
The moistened eye, the trembling lip,
Are not the signs of doubt or fear!--LONGFELLOW.
Tranquility only lasted until Mr. Ernescliffe found it necessary to understand on what terms he was to stand. Every one was tender of conscience, anxious to do right, and desirous to yield to the opinion that nobody could, or would give. While Alan begged for a positive engagement, Margaret scrupled to exchange promises that she might never be able to fulfil, and both agreed to leave all to her father, who, in every way, ought to have the best ability to judge whether there was unreasonable presumption in such a betrothal; but this very ability only served to perplex the poor doctor more and more. It is far easier for a man to decide when he sees only one bearing of a case, than when, like Dr. May, he not only sees them, but is rent by them in his inmost heart. Sympathising in turn with each lover, bitterly accusing his own carelessness as the cause of all their troubles, his doubts contending with his hopes, his conviction clashing with Sir Matthew Fleet's opinion, his conscientious sincerity and delicacy conflicting with his affection and eagerness, he was perfectly incapable of coming to a decision, and suffered so cruelly, that Margaret was doubly distressed for his sake, and Alan felt himself guilty of having rendered everybody miserable.
Dr. May could not conceal his trouble, and rendered Ethel almost as unhappy as himself, after each conversation with her, though her hopes usually sprang up again, and she had a happy conviction that this was only the second volume of the novel. Flora was not often called into his councils; confidence never came spontaneously from Dr. May to her; there was something that did not draw it forth towards her, whether it resided in that half-sarcastic corner of her steady blue eye, or in the grave common-sense of her gentle voice. Her view of the case was known to be that there was no need for so much perplexity--why should not Alan be the best judge of his own happiness? If Margaret were to be delicate for life, it would be better to have such a home to look to; and she soothed and comforted Margaret, and talked in a strain of unmixed hope and anticipation that often drew a smile from her sister, though she feared to trust to it.
Flora's tact and consideration in keeping the children away when the lovers could best be alone, and letting them in when the discussion was becoming useless and harassing, her cheerful smiles, her evening music that covered all sounds, her removal of all extra annoyances, were invaluable, and Margaret appreciated them, as, indeed, Flora took care that she should. Margaret begged to know her eldest brother's judgment, but had great difficulty in dragging it out. Diffidently as it was proposed, it was clear and decided. He thought that his father had better send Sir Matthew Fleet a statement of Margaret's present condition, and abide by his answer as to whether her progress warranted the hope of her restoration.
Never was Richard more surprised than by the gratitude with which his suggestion was hailed, simple as it was, so that it seemed obvious that others should have already thought of it. After the tossings of uncertainty, it was a positive relief to refer the question to some external voice, and only Ethel and Norman expressed strong dislike to Sir Matthew becoming the arbiter of Margaret's fate, and were scarcely pacified by Dr. May's assurance that he had not revealed the occasion of his inquiry. The letter was sent, and repose returned, but hearts beat high on the morning when the answer was expected.
Dr. May watched the moment when his daughter was alone, carried the letter to her, and kissing her, said, with an oppressed voice, "I give you joy, my dear."
She read with suspended breath and palpitating heart. Sir Matthew thought her improvement sure, though slow, and had barely a doubt that, in a year, she would have regained her full strength and activity."You will show it to Alan," said Dr. May, as Margaret lifted her eyes to his face inquiringly. "Will not you?" she said.
"I cannot," he answered. "I wish I was more helpful to you, my child," he added wistfully, "but you will rest on him, and be happy together while he stays, will you not?""Indeed I will, dear papa." Mr. Ernescliffe was with her as the doctor quitted her. She held the letter to him, "But," she said slowly, "I see that papa does not believe it." "You promised to abide by it!" he exclaimed, between entreaty and authority. "I do; if you choose so to risk your hopes."
"But," cried he, as he glanced hastily over the letter, "there can be no doubt! These words are as certain as language can make them. Why will you not trust them?"
"I see that papa does not." "Despondency and self-reproach made him morbidly anxious. Believe so, my Margaret! You know he is no surgeon!"
"His education included that line," said Margaret. "I believe he has all but the manual dexterity. However, I would fain have faith in Sir Matthew," she added, smiling, "and perhaps I am only swayed by the habit of thinking that papa must know best."
"He does in indifferent cases; but it is an old axiom, that a medical man should not prescribe for his own family; above all, in such a case, where it is but reasonable to believe an unprejudiced stranger, who alone is cool enough to be relied on. I absolutely depend on him!"
Margaret absolutely depended on the bright cheerful look of conviction. "Yes," she said, "we will try to make papa take pleasure in the prospect. Perhaps I could do more if I made the attempt.""I am sure you could, if you would let me give you more support. If I were but going to remain with you!"
"Don't let us be discontented," said Margaret, smiling, "when so much more has been granted than I dare to hope. Be it as it may, let us be happy in what we have."
"It makes you happy?" said he, archly reading her face to draw out the avowal, but he only made her hide it, with a mute caress of the hand that held hers. She was glad enough to rest in the present, now that everything concurred to satisfy her conscience in so doing, and come what might, the days now spent together would be a possession of joy for ever.
Captain Gordon contrived to afford his lieutenant another fortnight's leave, perhaps because he was in dread of losing him altogether, for Alan had some doubts, and many longings to remain. Had it been possible to marry at once, he would have quitted the navy immediately; and he would have given worlds to linger beside Margaret's couch, and claim her the first moment possible, believing his care more availing than all. He was, however, so pledged to Captain Gordon, that, without strong cause, he would not have been justified in withdrawing; besides, Harry was under his charge, and Dr. May and Margaret both thought, with the captain, that an active life would be a better occupation for him than watching her. He would never be able to settle down at his new home comfortably without her, and he would be more in the way of duty while pursuing his profession, so Margaret nerved herself against using her influence to detain him, and he thanked her for it.
Though hope and affection could not an once repair an injured spine, they had wonderful powers in inciting Margaret to new efforts. Alan was as tender and ready of hand as Richard, and more clever and enterprising; and her unfailing trust in him prevented all alarms and misgivings, so that wonders were effected, and her father beheld her standing with so little support, looking so healthful and so blithe, that his forebodings melted away, and he talked joyously of the future.
The great achievement was taking her round the garden. She could not bear the motion of wheels, but Alan adopted the hammock principle, and, with the aid of Richard and his crony, the carpenter, produced a machine in which no other power on earth could have prevailed on her to trust herself, but in which she was carried round the garden so successfully, that there was even a talk of next Sunday, and of the Minster.
It was safely accomplished, and tired as she was, Margaret felt, as she whispered to Alan, that he had now crowned all the joy that he had brought to her.
Ethel used to watch them, and think how beautiful their countenances were, and talk them over with her father, who was quite happy about them now. She gave assistance, which Alan never once called unhandy, to all his contrivances, and often floundered in upon his conferences with Margaret, in a way that would have been very provoking, if she had not always blushed and looked so excessively discomfited, and they had only to laugh and reassure her.
Alan was struck by finding that the casual words spoken on the way from Cocksmoor had been so strenuously acted on, and he brought on himself a whole torrent of Ethel's confused narratives, which Richard and Flora would fain have checked; but Margaret let them continue, as she saw him a willing listener, and was grateful to him for comprehending the ardent girl.
He declared himself to have a share in the matter, reminding Ethel of her appeal to him to bind himself to the service of Cocksmoor. He sent a sovereign at once, to aid in a case of the sudden death of a pig; and when securely established in his brotherly right, he begged Ethel to let him know what would help her most. She stood colouring, twisting her hands, and wondering what to say, whereupon he relieved her by a proposal to leave an order for ten pounds, to be yearly paid into her hands, as a fixed income for her school.
A thousand a year could hardly have been so much to Ethel. "Thank you! Oh, this is charming! We could set up a regular school! Cherry Elwood is the very woman! Alan, you have made our fortune! Oh, Margaret, Margaret! I must go and tell Ritchie and Mary! This is the first real step to our church and all!"
"May I do it?" said Alan, turning to Margaret, as Ethel frantically burst out of the room; "perhaps I should have asked leave?"
"I was going to thank you," said Margaret. "It is the very kindest thing you could have done by dear Ethel! the greatest comfort to us. She will be at peace now, when anything hinders her from going to Cocksmoor."
"I wonder," said Alan, musing, "whether we shall ever be able to help her more substantially. I cannot do anything hastily, for you know Maplewood is still in the hands of the executors, and I cannot tell what claims there may be upon me; but by-and-by, when I return, if I find no other pressing duty, might not a church at Cocksmoor be a thankoffering for all I have found here?""Oh, Alan, what joy it would be!" "It is a long way off," he said sadly; "and perhaps her force of perseverance will have prevailed alone." "I suppose I must not tell her, even as a vision."
"It is too uncertain; I do not know the wants of the Maplewood people, and I must provide for Hector. I would not let these vague dreams interfere with her resolute work; but, Margaret, what a vision it is! I can see you laying the first stone on that fine heathy brow.""Oh, your godchild should lay the first stone!"
"She shall, and you shall lead her. And there shall be Ethel's sharp face full of indescribable things as she marshals her children, and Richard shall be curate, and read in his steady soft tone, and your father shall look sunny with his boys around him, and you--""Oh, Alan," said Margaret, who had been listening with a smile, "it is, indeed, a long way off!" "I shall look to it as the haven where I would be," said the sailor.
They often spoke together of this scheme, ever decking it in brighter colours. The topic seemed to suit them better than their own future, for there was no dwelling on that without an occasional misgiving, and the more glad the anticipation, the deeper the sigh that followed on Margaret's part, till Mr. Ernescliffe followed her lead, and they seldom spoke of these uncertainties, but outwardly smiled over the present, inwardly dwelt on the truly certain hopes. There were readings shared together, made more precious than all, by the conversations that ensued.
The hour for parting came at last. Ethel never knew what passed in the drawing-room, whence every one was carefully excluded. Dr. May wandered about, keeping guard over the door, and watching the clock, till, at the last moment, he knocked, and called in a trembling voice, "Ernescliffe! Alan! it is past the quarter! You must not stay!"
The other farewells were hurried; Alan seemed voiceless, only nodding in reply to Mary's vociferous messages to Harry, and huskily whispering to Ethel, "Good luck to Cocksmoor!"The next moment the door had shut on him, and Dr. May and Flora had gone to her sister, whom she found not tearful, but begging to be left alone.
When they saw her again, she was cheerful; she kept up her composure and animation without flagging, nor did she discontinue her new exertions, but seemed decidedly the happier for all that had passed.
Letters came every day for her, and presents to every one. Ethel had a gold chain and eyeglass, which, it was hoped, might cure her of frowning and stooping, though her various ways of dangling her new possession caused her to be so much teased by Flora and Norman, that, but for regard to Margaret's feelings, she would not have worn it for three days.
To Mary was sent a daguerreotype of Harry, her glory and delight. Say, who would, that it had pig's eyes, a savage frown, a pudding chin, there were his own tight rings of hair, his gold-banded cap, his bright buttons, how could she prize it enough? She exhibited it to the little ones ten times a day, she kissed it night and morning, and registered her vow always to sleep with it under her "pilow," in a letter of thanks, which Margaret defended and despatched, in spite of Miss Winter's horrors at its disregard of orthography.
It was nearly the last letter before the Alcestis was heard of at Spithead. Then she sailed; she sent in her letters to Plymouth, and her final greetings by a Falmouth cutter--poor Harry's wild scrawl in pencil looking very sea-sick."Dear papa and all, good-bye. We are out of sight of land. Three years, and keep up a good heart. I shall soon be all right. "Your H. MAY."
It was enclosed in Mr. Ernescliffe's envelope, and with it came tidings that Harry's brave spirit was not failing, even under untoward circumstances, but he had struggled on deck, and tried to write, when all his contemporaries had given in; in fact, he was a fine fellow--every one liked him, and Captain Gordon, though chary of commendation, had held him up to the other youngsters as an example of knowing what a sailor was meant to be like.
Margaret smiled, and cried over the news when she imparted it--but all serenely--and though she was glad to be alone, and wrote journals for Alan, when she could not send letters, she exerted herself to be the same sister as usual to the rest of the household, and not to give way to her wandering musings.
From one subject her attention never strayed. Ethel had never found any lack of sympathy in her for her Cocksmoor pursuits; but the change now showed that, where once Margaret had been interested merely as a kind sister, she now had a personal concern, and she threw herself into all that related to it as her own chief interest and pursuit--becoming the foremost in devising plans, and arranging the best means of using Mr. Ernescliffe's benefaction.
The Elwood family had grown in the good opinion of the Mays. Charity had hobbled to church, leaning on her father's arm, and being invited to dinner in the kitchen, the acquaintance had been improved, and nurse herself had pronounced her such a tidy, good sort of body, that it was a pity she had met with such a misfortune. If Miss Ethel brought in nothing but the like of her, they should be welcome; poor thing, how tired she was!
Nurse's opinions were apt to be sagacious, especially when in the face of her prejudices, and this gave Margaret confidence. Cherry proved to have been carefully taught by a good clergyman and his wife, and to be of very different stamp from the persons to whom the girls were accustomed. They were charmed with her, and eagerly offered to supply her with books--respecting her the more when they found that Mr. Hazlewood had already lent her their chief favourites. Other and greater needs they had no power to fill up.
"It is so lone without the church bells, you see, miss," said Mrs. Elwood. "Our tower had a real fine peal, and my man was one of the ringers. I seems quite lost without them, and there was Cherry, went a'most every day with the children.""Every day!" cried Mary, looking at her with respect. "It was so near," said Cherry, "I could get there easy, and I got used to it when I was at school." "Did it not take up a great deal of time?" said Ethel. "Why, you see, ma'am, it came morning and night, out of working times, and I can't be stirring much." "Then you miss it sadly?" said Ethel.
"Yes, ma'am, it made the day go on well like, and settled a body's mind, when I fretted for what could not be helped. But I try not to fret after it now, and Mr. Hazlewood said, if I did my best wherever I was, the Lord would still join our prayers together."
Mr. Hazlewood was recollected by Mr. Wilmot as an old college friend, and a correspondence with him fully confirmed the favourable estimate of the Elwoods, and was decisive in determining that the day-school, with Alan's ten pounds as salary, and a penny a week from each child, should be offered to Cherry.
Mr. Hazlewood answered for her sound excellence, and aptitude for managing little children, though he did not promise genius, such as should fulfil the requirements of modern days. With these Cocksmoor could dispense at present; Cherry was humbly gratified, and her parents delighted with the honour and profit; there was a kitchen which afforded great facilities, and Richard and his carpenter managed the fitting to admiration; Margaret devised all manner of useful arrangements, settled matters with great earnestness, saw Cherry frequently, discussed plans, and learned the history and character of each child, as thoroughly as Ethel herself. Mr. Ramsden himself came to the opening of the school, and said so much of the obligations of Cocksmoor to the young ladies, that Ethel would not have known which way to look, if Flora had not kindly borne the brunt of his compliments.
Every one was pleased, except Mrs. Green, who took upon herself to set about various malicious reports of Cherry Elwood; but nobody cared for them, except Mrs. Elwood, who flew into such passions, that Ethel was quite disappointed in her, though not in Cherry, who meekly tried to silence her mother, begged the young ladies not to be vexed, and showed a quiet dignity that soon made the shafts of slander fall inoffensively.
All went well; there was a school instead of a hubbub, clean faces instead of dirty, shining hair instead of wild elf-locks, orderly children instead of little savages. The order and obedience that Ethel could not gain in six months, seemed impressed in six days by Cherry; the neat work made her popular with the mothers, her firm gentleness won the hearts of the children, and the kitchen was filled not only with boys and girls from the quarry, but with some little ones from outlying cottages of Fordholm and Abbotstoke, and there was even a smart little farmer, who had been unbearable at home.
Margaret's unsuccessful bath-chair was lent to Cherry, and in it her scholars drew her to Stoneborough every Sunday, and slowly began to redeem their character with the ladies, who began to lose the habit of shrinking out of their way--the Stoneborough children did so instead; and Flora and Ethel were always bringing home stories of injustice to their scholars, fancied or real, and of triumphs in their having excelled any national school girl. The most stupid children at Cocksmoor always seemed to them wise in comparison with the Stoneborough girls, and the Sunday-school might have become to Ethel a school of rivalry, if Richard had not opened her eyes by a quiet observation, that the town girls seemed to fare as ill with her, as the Cocksmoor girls did with the town ladies. Then she caught herself up, tried to be candid, and found that she was not always impartial in her judgments. Why would competition mingle even in the best attempts?
Cherry did not so bring forward her scholars that Ethel could have many triumphs of this dangerous kind. Indeed, Ethel was often vexed with her; for though she taught needlework admirably, and enforced correct reading, and reverent repetition, her strong provincial dialect was a stumbling-block; she could not put questions without book, and nothing would teach her Ethel's rational system of arithmetic. That she was a capital dame, and made the children very good, was allowed; but now and then, when mortified by hearing what was done at Stoneborough, Fordholm, or Abbotstoke, Ethel would make vigorous efforts, which resulted only in her coming home fuming at Cherry's "outrageous dullness."
These railings always hurt Margaret, who had made Cherry almost into a friend, and generally liked to have a visit from her during the Sunday, when she always dined with the servants. Then school questions, Cocksmoor news, and the tempers of the children, were talked over, and Cherry was now and then drawn into home reminiscences, and descriptions of the ways of her former school. There was no fear of spoiling her--notice from her superiors was natural to her, and she had the lady-likeness of womanly goodness, so as never to go beyond her own place. She had had many trials too, and Margaret learned the true history of them, as she won Cherry's confidence, and entered into them, feeling their likeness, yet dissimilarity, to her own.
Cherry had been a brisk happy girl in a good place, resting in one of the long engagements that often extend over half the life of a servant, enjoying the nod of her baker as he left his bread, and her walk from church with him on alternate Sundays. But poor Cherry had been exposed to the perils of window-cleaning; and, after a frightful fall, had wakened to find herself in a hospital, and her severe sufferings had left her a cripple for life.
And the baker had not been an Alan Ernescliffe! She did not complain of him
-he had come to see her, and had been much grieved, but she had told him she could never be a useful wife; and, before she had used her crutches, he was married to her pretty fellow-servant.
Cherry spoke very simply; she hoped it was better for Long, and believed Susan would make him a good wife. Ethel would have thought she did not feel, but Margaret knew better.
She stroked the thin slight fingers, and gently said, "Poor Cherry!" and Cherry wiped away a tear, and said, "Yes, ma'am, thank you, it is best for him. I should not have wished him to grieve for what cannot be helped."
"Resignation is the great comfort." "Yes, ma'am. I have a great deal to be thankful for. I don't blame no one, but I do see how some, as are married, seem to get to think more of this world; and now and then I fancy I can see how it is best for me as it is."Margaret sighed, as she remembered certain thoughts before Alan's return.
"Then, ma'am, there has been such goodness! I did vex at being a poor helpless thing, nothing but a burden on father; and when we had to go from home, and Mr. and Mrs. Hazlewood and all, I can't tell you how bad it was, ma'am.""Then you are comforted now?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Cherry, brightening. "It seems as if He had given me something to do, and there are you, and Mr. Richard, and Miss Ethel, to help. I should like, please God, to be of some good to those poor children.""I am sure you will, Cherry; I wish I could do as much."
Cherry's tears had come again. "Ah! ma'am, you--" and she stopped short, and rose to depart. Margaret held out her hand to wish her good-bye. "Please, miss, I was thinking how Mr. Hazlewood said that God fits our place to us, and us to our place.""Thank you, Cherry, you are leaving me something to remember."
And Margaret lay questioning with herself, whether the schoolmistress had not been the most self-denying of the two; but withal gazing on the hoop of pearls which Alan had chosen as the ring of betrothal.
"The pearl of great price," murmured she to herself; "if we hold that, the rest will soon matter but little. It remaineth that both they that have wives, be as they that have none, and they that weep, as though they wept not, and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not! If ever Alan and I have a home together upon earth, may all too confident joy be tempered by the fears that we have begun with! I hope this probation may make me less likely to be taken up with the cares and pleasures of his position than I might have been last year. He is one who can best help the mind to go truly upward. But oh, that voyage!"