Chapter II.1 ................................................................................................................363
Chapter II.2 ................................................................................................................376
Chapter II.3 ................................................................................................................382
Chapter II.4 ................................................................................................................392
Chapter II.5 ................................................................................................................406
Chapter II.6 ................................................................................................................417
Chapter II.7 ................................................................................................................426
Chapter II.8 ................................................................................................................441
Chapter II.9 ................................................................................................................453
Chapter II.10 ..............................................................................................................471
Chapter II.11 ..............................................................................................................486
Chapter II.12 ..............................................................................................................499
Chapter II.13 ..............................................................................................................516
Chapter II.14 ..............................................................................................................529
Chapter II.15 ..............................................................................................................537
Chapter II.16 ..............................................................................................................545
Chapter II.17 ..............................................................................................................555
Chapter II.18 ..............................................................................................................571
Chapter II.19 ..............................................................................................................588
Chapter II.20 ..............................................................................................................600
Chapter II.21 ..............................................................................................................617
Chapter II.22 ..............................................................................................................629
Chapter II.23 ..............................................................................................................645
Chapter II.24 ..............................................................................................................659
Chapter II.25 ..............................................................................................................677
Chapter II.26 ..............................................................................................................686
Chapter II.27 ..............................................................................................................698
"Very well"--with an impatient twist--"I beg your pardon. Good- morning, Miss Winter," said a thin, lank, angular, sallow girl, just fifteen, trembling from head to foot with restrained eagerness, as she tried to curb her tone into the requisite civility.
"Good-morning, Ethel, good-morning, Flora," said the prim, middle- aged daily governess, taking off her bonnet, and arranging the stiff little rolls of curl at the long, narrow looking-glass, the border of which distorted the countenance."Good-morning," properly responded Flora, a pretty, fair girl, nearly two years older than her sister. "Will you--" began to burst from Etheldred's lips again, but was stifled by Miss Winter's inquiry, "Is your mamma pretty well to-day?" "Oh! very well," said both at once; "she is coming to the reading." And Flora added, "Papa is going to drive her out to-day." "I am very glad. And the baby?"
"I do believe she does it on purpose!" whispered Ethel to herself, wriggling fearfully on the wide window-seat on which she had precipitated herself, and kicking at the bar of the table, by which manifestation she of course succeeded in deferring her hopes, by a reproof which caused her to draw herself into a rigid, melancholy attitude, a sort of penance of decorum, but a rapid motion of the eyelids, a tendency to crack the joints of the fingers, and an unquietness at the ends of her shoes, betraying the restlessness of the digits therein contained.
It was such a room as is often to be found in old country town houses, the two large windows looking out on a broad old-fashioned street, through heavy framework, and panes of glass scratched with various names and initials. The walls were painted blue, the skirting almost a third of the height, and so wide at the top as to form a narrow shelf. The fireplace, constructed in the days when fires were made to give as little heat as possible, was ornamented with blue and white Dutch tiles bearing marvellous representations of Scripture history, and was protected by a very tall green guard; the chairs were much of the same date, solid and heavy, the seats in faded carpet-work, but there was a sprinkling of lesser ones and of stools; a piano; a globe; a large table in the middle of the room, with three desks on it; a small one, and a light cane chair by each window; and loaded book-cases. Flora began, "If you don't want this afternoon to yourself--"Ethel was on her feet, and open-mouthed. "Oh, Miss Winter, if you would be so kind as to walk to Cocksmoor with us!" "To Cocksmoor, my dear!" exclaimed the governess in dismay. "Yes, yes, but hear," cried Ethel. "It is not for nothing. Yesterday--" "No, the day before," interposed Flora.
"There was a poor man brought into the hospital. He had been terribly hurt in the quarry, and papa says he'll die. He was in great distress, for his wife has just got twins, and there were lots of children before. They want everything-food and clothes--and we want to walk and take it."
"We had a collection of clothes ready, luckily," said Flora; "and we have a blanket, and some tea and some arrowroot, and a bit of bacon, and mamma says she does not think it too far for us to walk, if you will be so kind as to go with us."Miss Winter looked perplexed. "How could you carry the blanket, my dear?" "Oh, we have settled that," said Ethel, "we mean to make the donkey a sumpter-mule, so, if you are tired, you may ride home on her." "But, my dear, has your mamma considered? They are such a set of wild people at Cocksmoor; I don't think we could walk there alone." "It is Saturday," said Ethel, "we can get the boys." "If you would reflect a little! They would be no protection. Harry would be getting into scrapes, and you and Mary running wild." "I wish Richard was at home!" said Flora. "I know!" cried Ethel. "Mr. Ernescliffe will come. I am sure he can walk so far now. I'll ask him."
Ethel had clapped after her the heavy door with its shining brass lock, before Miss Winter well knew what she was about, and the governess seemed annoyed. "Ethel does not consider," said she. "I don't think your mamma will be pleased.""Why not?" said Flora. "My dear--a gentleman walking with you, especially if Margaret is going!"
"I don't think he is strong enough," said Flora; "but I can't think why there should be any harm. Papa took us all out walking with him yesterday--little Aubrey and all, and Mr. Ernescliffe went.""But, my dear--"
She was interrupted by the entrance of a fine tall blooming girl of eighteen, holding in her hand a pretty little maid of five. "Good- morning. Miss Winter. I suppose Flora has told you the request we have to make to you?""Yes, my dear Margaret, but did your mamma consider what a lawless place Cocksmoor is?" "That was the doubt," said Margaret, "but papa said he would answer for it nothing would happen to us, and mamma said if you would be so kind."
"It is unlucky," began the governess, but stopped at the incursion of some new-comers, nearly tumbling over each other, Ethel at the head of them. "Oh, Harry!" as the gathers of her frock gave way in the rude grasp of a twelve-year-old boy. "Miss Winter, 'tis all right-- Mr. Ernescliffe says he is quite up to the walk, and will like it very much, and he will undertake to defend you from the quarrymen.""Is Miss Winter afraid of the quarrymen?" hallooed Harry. "Shall I take a club?"
"I'll take my gun and shoot them," valiantly exclaimed Tom; and while threats were passing among the boys, Margaret asked, in a low voice, "Did you ask him to come with us?"
"Yes, he said he should like it of all things. Papa was there, and said it was not too far for him--besides, there's the donkey. Papa says it, so we must go, Miss Winter."
Miss Winter glanced unutterable things at Margaret, and Ethel began to perceive she had done something wrong. Flora was going to speak, when Margaret, trying to appear unconscious of a certain deepening colour in her own cheeks, pressed a hand on her shoulder, and whispering, "I'll see about it. Don't say any more, please," glided out of the room.
"What's in the wind?" said Harry. "Are many of your reefs out there, Ethel?" "Harry can talk nothing but sailors' language," said Flora, "and I am sure he did not learn that of Mr. Ernescliffe. You never hear slang from him.""But aren't we going to Cocksmoor?" asked Mary, a blunt downright girl of ten. "We shall know soon," said Ethel. "I suppose I had better wait till after the reading to mend that horrid frock?"
"I think so, since we are so nearly collected," said Miss Winter; and Ethel, seating herself on the corner of the window-seat, with one leg doubled under her, took up a Shakespeare, holding it close to her eyes, and her brother Norman, who, in age, came between her and Flora, kneeling on one knee on the window-seat, and supporting himself with one arm against the shutter, leaned over her, reading it too, disregarding a tumultuous skirmish going on in that division of the family collectively termed "the boys," namely, Harry, Mary, and Tom, until Tom was suddenly pushed down, and tumbled over into Ethel's lap, thereby upsetting her and Norman together, and there was a general downfall, and a loud scream, "The sphynx!""You've crushed it," cried Harry, dealing out thumps indiscriminately. "No, here 'tis," said Mary, rushing among them, and bringing out a green sphynx caterpillar on her finger--"'tis not hurt."
"Pax! Pax!" cried Norman, over all, with the voice of an authority, as he leaped up lightly and set Tom on his legs again. "Harry! you had better do that again," he added warningly. "Be off, out of this window, and let Ethel and me read in peace.""Here's the place," said Ethel--"Crispin, Crispian's day. How I do like Henry V." "It is no use to try to keep those boys in order!" sighed Miss Winter. "Saturnalia, as papa calls Saturday," replied Flora.
"Is not your eldest brother coming home to-day?" said Miss Winter in a low voice to Flora, who shook her head, and said confidentially, "He is not coming till he has passed that examination. He thinks it better not."
Here entered, with a baby in her arms, a lady with a beautiful countenance of calm sweetness, looking almost too young to be the mother of the tall Margaret, who followed her. There was a general hush as she greeted Miss Winter, the girls crowding round to look at their little sister, not quite six weeks old.
"Now, Margaret, will you take her up to the nursery?" said the mother, while the impatient speech was repeated, "Mamma, can we go to Cocksmoor?" "You don't think it will be too far for you?" said the mother to Miss Winter as Margaret departed."Oh, no, not at all, thank you, that was not--But Margaret has explained."
"Yes, poor Margaret," said Mrs. May, smiling. "She has settled it by choosing to stay at home with me. It is no matter for the others, and he is going on Monday, so that it will not happen again.""Margaret has behaved very well," said Miss Winter. "She has indeed," said her mother, smiling. "Well, Harry, how is the caterpillar?" "They've just capsized it, mamma," answered Harry, "and Mary is making all taut."
Mrs. May laughed, and proceeded to advise Ethel and Norman to put away Henry V., and find the places in their Bibles, "or you will have the things mixed together in your heads," said she.
In the meantime Margaret, with the little babe, to-morrow to be her godchild, lying gently in her arms, came out into the matted hall, and began to mount the broad shallow-stepped staircase, protected by low stout balusters, with a very thick, flat, and solid mahogany hand-rail, polished by the boys' constant riding up and down upon it. She was only on the first step, when the diningroom door opened, and there came out a young man, slight, and delicatelooking, with bright blue eyes, and thickly-curling light hair. "Acting nurse?" he said, smiling. "What an odd little face it is! I didn't think little white babies were so pretty! Well, I shall always consider myself as the real godfather--the other is all a sham."
"I think so," said Margaret; "but I must not stand with her in a draught," and on she went, while he called after her. "So we are to have an expedition today."
She did not gainsay it, but there was a little sigh of disappoint- ment, and when she was out of hearing, she whispered, "Oh! lucky baby, to have so many years to come before you are plagued with troublesome propriety!"
Then depositing her little charge with the nurse, and trying to cheer up a solemn-looking boy of three, who evidently considered his deposition from babyhood as a great injury, she tripped lightly down again, to take part in the Saturday's reading and catechising.
It was pleasant to see that large family in the hush and reverence of such teaching, the mother's gentle power preventing the outbreaks of restlessness to which even at such times the wild young spirits were liable. Margaret and Miss Winter especially rejoiced in it on this occasion, the first since the birth of the baby, that she had been able to preside. Under her, though seemingly without her taking any trouble, there was none of the smothered laughing at the little mistakes, the fidgeting of the boys, or Harry's audacious impertinence to Miss Winter; and no less glad was Harry to have his mother there, and be guarded from himself.
The Catechism was repeated, and a comment on the Sunday Services read aloud. The Gospel was that on the taking the lowest place, and when they had finished, Ethel said, "I like the verse which explains that:"They who now sit lowest here, When their Master shall appear, He shall bid them higher rise, And be highest in the skies." "I did not think of that being the meaning of 'when He that bade thee cometh,'" said Norman thoughtfully. "It seemed to be only our worldly advantage that was meant before," said Ethel. "Well, it means that too," said Flora.
"I suppose it does," said Mrs. May; "but the higher sense is the one chiefly to be dwelt on. It is a lesson how those least known and regarded here, and humblest in their own eyes, shall be the highest hereafter."And Margaret looked earnestly at her mother, but did not speak. "May we go, mamma?" said Mary. "Yes, you three--all of you, indeed, unless you wish to say any more."
The "boys" availed themselves of the permission. Norman tarried to put his books into a neat leather case, and Ethel stood thinking. "It means altogether--it is a lesson against ambition," said she."True," said her mother, "the love of eminence for its own sake." "And in so many different ways!" said Margaret. "Ay, worldly greatness, riches, rank, beauty," said Flora.
"All sorts of false flash and nonsense, and liking to be higher than one ought to be," said Norman. "I am sure there is nothing lower, or more mean and shabby, than getting places and praise a fellow does not deserve.""Oh, yes!" cried Ethel, "but no one fit to speak to would do that!" "Plenty of people do, I can tell you," said Norman.
"Then I hope I shall never know who they are!" exclaimed Ethel. "But I'll tell you what I was thinking of, mamma. Caring to be clever, and get on, only for the sake of beating people.""I think that might be better expressed."
"I know," said Ethel, bending her brow, with the fullness of her thought--"I mean caring to do a thing only because nobody else can do it--wanting to be first more than wanting to do one's best."
"You are quite right, my dear Ethel," said her mother; "and I am glad you have found in the Gospel a practical lesson, that should be useful to you both. I had rather you did so than that you read it in Greek, though that is very nice too," she added, smiling, as she put her hand on a little Greek Testament, in which Ethel had been reading it, within her English Bible. "Now, go and mend that deplorable frock, and if you don't dream over it, you won't waste too much of your holiday."
"I'll get it done in no time!" cried Ethel, rushing headlong upstairs, twice tripping in it before she reached the attic, where she slept, as well as Flora and Mary--a large room in the roof, the windows gay with bird-cages and flowers, a canary singing loud enough to deafen any one but girls to whom headaches were unknown, plenty of books and treasures, and a very fine view, from the dormer window, of the town sloping downwards, and the river winding away, with some heathy hills in the distance. Poking and peering about with her short-sighted eyes, Ethel lighted on a work-basket in rare disorder, pulled off her frock, threw on a shawl, and sat down cross-legged on her bed, stitching vigorously, while meantime she spouted with great emphasis an ode of Horace, which Norman having learned by heart, she had followed his example; it being her great desire to be even with him in all his studies, and though eleven months younger, she had never yet fallen behind him. On Saturday, he showed her what were his tasks for the week, and as soon as her rent was repaired, she swung herself downstairs in search of him for this purpose. She found him in the drawing-room, a pretty, pleasant room--its only fault that it was rather too low. It had windows opening down to the lawn, and was full of pretty things, works and knick-knacks. Ethel found the state of affairs unfavourable to her. Norman was intent on a book on the sofa, and at the table sat Mr. Ernescliffe, hard at work with calculations and mathematical instruments. Ethel would not for the world that any one should guess at her classical studies--she scarcely liked to believe that even her father knew of them, and to mention them before Mr. Ernescliffe would have been dreadful. So she only shoved Norman, and asked him to come.
"Presently," he said. "What have you here?" said she, poking her head into the book. "Oh! no wonder you can't leave off. I've been wanting you to read it all the week."She read over him a few minutes, then recoiled: "I forgot, mamma told me not to read those stories in the morning. Only five minutes, Norman." "Wait a bit, I'll come." She fidgeted, till Mr. Ernescliffe asked Norman if there was a table of logarithms in the house.
"Oh, yes," she answered; "don't you know, Norman? In a brown book on the upper shelf in the dining-room. Don't you remember papa's telling us the meaning of them, when we had the grand book-dusting?"
He was conscious of nothing but his book; however, she found the logarithms, and brought them to Mr. Ernescliffe, staying to look at his drawing, and asking what he was making out. He replied, smiling at the impossibility of her understanding, but she wrinkled her brown forehead, hooked her long nose, and spent the next hour in amateur navigation.
Market Stoneborough was a fine old town. The Minster, grand with the architecture of the time of Henry III., stood beside a broad river, and round it were the buildings of a convent, made by a certain good Bishop Whichcote, the nucleus of a grammar school, which had survived the Reformation, and trained up many good scholars; among them, one of England's princely merchants, Nicholas Randall, whose effigy knelt in a niche in the chancel wall, scarlet-cloaked, white-ruffed, and black doubletted, a desk bearing an open Bible before him, and a twisted pillar of Derbyshire spar on each side. He was the founder of thirteen almshouses, and had endowed two scholarships at Oxford, the object of ambition of the Stoneborough boys, every eighteen months.
There were about sixty or seventy boarders, and the town boys slept at home, and spent their weekly holiday there on Saturday--the happiest day in the week to the May family, when alone, they had the company at dinner of Norman and Harry, otherwise known by their school names of June and July, given them because their elder brother had begun the series of months as May.
Some two hundred years back, a Dr. Thomas May had been headmaster, but ever since that time there had always been an M. D., not a D. D., in the family, owning a comfortable demesne of spacious garden, and field enough for two cows, still green and intact, among modern buildings and improvements.
The present Dr. May stood very high in his profession, and might soon have made a large fortune in London, had he not held fast to his home attachments. He was extremely skilful and clever, with a boyish character that seemed as if it could never grow older; ardent, sensitive, and heedless, with a quickness of sympathy and tenderness of heart that was increased, rather than blunted, by exercise in scenes of suffering.At the end of the previous summer holidays, Dr. May had been called one morning to attend a gentleman who had been taken very ill, at the Swan Inn.
He was received by a little boy of ten years old, in much grief, explaining that his brother had come two days ago from London, to bring him to school here; he had seemed unwell ever since they met, and last night had become much worse. And extremely ill the doctor found him; a youth of two or three and twenty, suffering under a severe attack of fever, oppressed, and scarcely conscious, so as quite to justify his little brother's apprehensions. He advised the boy to write to his family, but was answered by a look that went to his heart--"Alan" was all he had in the world--father and mother were dead, and their relations lived in Scotland, and were hardly known to them."Where have you been living, then?"
"Alan sent me to school at Miss Lawler's when my mother died, and there I have been ever since, while he has been these three years and a half on the African station.""What, is he in the navy?"
"Yes," said the boy proudly, "Lieutenant Ernescliffe. He got his promotion last week. My father was in the battle of Trafalgar; and Alan has been three years in the West Indies, and then he was in the Mediterranean, and now on the coast of Africa, in the Atalantis. You must have heard about him, for it was in the newspaper, how, when he was mate, he had the command of the Santa Isabel, the slaver they captured."
The boy would have gone on for ever, if Dr. May had not recalled him to his brother's present condition, and proceeded to take every measure for the welfare and comfort of the forlorn pair. He learned from other sources that the Ernescliffes were well connected. The father had been a distinguished officer, but had been ill able to provide for his sons; indeed, he died, without ever having seen little Hector, who was born during his absence on a voyage
-his last, and Alan's first. Alan, the elder by thirteen years, had been like a father to the little boy, showing judgment and self-denial that marked him of a high cast of character. He had distinguished himself in encounters with slave ships, and in command of a prize that he had had to conduct to Sierra Leone, he had shown great coolness and seamanship, in several perilous conjunctures, such as a sudden storm, and an encounter with another slaver, when his Portuguese prisoners became mutinous, and nothing but his steadiness and intrepidity had saved the lives of himself and his few English companions. He was, in fact, as Dr. May reported, pretty much of a hero. He had not, at the time, felt the effects of the climate, but, owing to sickness and death among the other officers, he had suffered much fatigue and pressure of mind and body. Immediately on his return, had followed his examination, and though he had passed with great credit, and it had been at once followed by well-earned promotion, his nervous excitable frame had been overtasked, and the consequence was a long and severe illness.
The Swan Inn was not forty yards from Dr. May's back gate, and, at every spare moment, he was doing the part of nurse as well as doctor, professionally obliged to Alan Ernescliffe for bringing him a curious exotic specimen of fever, and requiting him by the utmost care and attention, while, for their own sakes, he delighted in the two boys with all the enthusiasm of his warm heart. Before the first week was at an end, they had learned to look on the doctor as one of the kindest friends it had been their lot to meet with, and Alan knew that if he died, he should leave his little brother in the hands of one who would comfort him as a father.
No sooner was young Ernescliffe able to sit up, than Dr. May insisted on conveying him to his own house, as his recovery was likely to be tedious in solitude at the Swan. It was not till he had been drawn in a chair along the sloping garden, and placed on the sofa to rest, that he discovered that the time the good doctor had chosen for bringing a helpless convalescent to his house, was two days after an eleventh child had been added to his family.
Mrs. May was too sorry for the solitary youth, and too sympathising with her husband, to make any objection, though she was not fond of strangers, and had some anxieties. She had the utmost dependence on Margaret's discretion, but there was a chance of awkward situations, which papa was not likely to see or guard against. However, all seemed to do very well, and no one ever came into her room without some degree of rapture about Mr. Ernescliffe. The doctor reiterated praises of his excellence, his principle, his ability and talent, his amusing talk; the girls were always bringing reports of his perfections; Norman retracted his grumbling at having his evenings spoiled; and "the boys" were bursting with the secret that he was teaching them to rig a little ship that was to astonish mamma on her first coming downstairs, and to be named after the baby; while Blanche did all the coquetry with him, from which Margaret abstained. The universal desire was for mamma to see him, and when the time came, she owned that papa's swan had not turned out a goose.
There were now no grounds for prolonging his stay; but it was very hard to go, and he was glad to avail himself of the excuse of remaining for the christening, when he was to represent the absent godfather. After that, he must go; he had written to his Scottish cousins to offer a visit, and he had a promise that he should soon be afloat again. No place would ever seem to him so like home as Market Stoneborough. He was quite like one of themselves, and took a full share in the discussions on the baby's name, which, as all the old family appellations had been used up, was an open question. The doctor protested against Alice and Edith, which he said were the universal names in the present day. The boys hissed every attempt of their sisters at a romantic name, and then Harry wanted it to be Atalantis! At last Dr. May announced that he should have her named Dowsabel if they did not agree, and Mrs. May advised all the parties concerned to write their choice on a slip of paper, and little Aubrey should draw two out of her bag, trusting that Atalantis Dowsabel would not come out, as Harry confidently predicted.
However, it was even worse, Aubrey's two lots were Gertrude and Margaret. Ethel and Mary made a vehement uproar to discover who could have written Margaret, and at last traced it home to Mr. Ernescliffe, who replied that Flora, without saying why, had desired him to set down his favourite name. He was much disconcerted, and did not materially mend the matter by saying it was the first name that came into his head.
Ethel's navigation lesson was interrupted by the dinner-bell. That long table was a goodly sight. Few ever looked happier than Dr. and Mrs. May, as they sat opposite to each other, presenting a considerable contrast in appearance as in disposition. She was a little woman, with that smooth pleasant plumpness that seems to belong to perfect content and serenity, her complexion fair and youthful, her face and figure very pretty, and full of quiet grace and refinement, and her whole air and expression denoting a serene, unruffled, affectionate happiness, yet with much authority in her mildness-warm and open in her own family, but reserved beyond it, and shrinking from general society.
The doctor, on the contrary, had a lank, bony figure, nearly six feet high, and looking more so from his slightness; a face sallow, thin, and strongly marked, an aquiline nose, highly developed forehead, and peculiar temples, over which the hair strayed in thin curling flakes. His eyes were light coloured, and were seldom seen without his near- sighted spectacles, but the expressions of the Mouth were everything --so varying, so bright, and so sweet were his smiles that showed beautiful white teeth--moreover, his hand was particularly well made, small and delicate; and it always turned out that no one ever recollected that Dr. May was plain, who had heard his kindly greeting.
The sons and daughters were divided in likeness to father and mother; Ethel was almost an exaggeration of the doctor's peculiarities, especially at the formed, but unsoftened age of fifteen; Norman had his long nose, sallow complexion, and tall figure, but was much improved by his mother's fine blue eyes, and was a very pleasant- looking boy, though not handsome; little Tom was a thin, white, delicate edition of his father; and Blanche contrived to combine great likeness to him with a great deal of prettiness. Of those that, as nurse said, favoured their mamma, Margaret was tall and blooming, with the same calm eyes, but with the brilliance of her father's smile; Flora had greater regularity of feature, and was fast becoming a very pretty girl, while Mary and Harry could not boast of much beauty, but were stout sturdy pictures of health; Harry's locks in masses of small tight yellow curls, much given to tangling and matting, unfit to be seen all the week, till nurse put him to torture every Saturday, by combing them out so as, at least, to make him for once like, she said, a gentleman, instead of a young lion.
Little Aubrey was said by his papa to be like nothing but the full moon. And there he shone on them, by his mamma's side, announcing in language few could understand, where he had been with papa.
"He has been a small doctor," said his father, beginning to cut the boiled beef as fast as if his hands had been moved by machinery. "He has been with me to see old Mrs. Robins, and she made so much of him, that if I take him again he'll be regularly spoiled."
"Her sons bully her," said the doctor, too intent on carving to perceive certain deprecatory glances of caution cast at him by his wife, to remind him of the presence of man and maid--"and that smart daughter is worse still. She never comes to see the old lady but she throws her into an agitated state, fit to bring on another attack. A meek old soul, not fit to contend with them!""Why do they do it?" said Ethel.
"For the cause of all evil! That daughter marries a grazier, and wants to set up for gentility; she comes and squeezes presents out of her mother, and the whole family are distrusting each other, and squabbling over the spoil before the poor old creature is dead! It makes one sick! I gave that Mrs. Thorn a bit of my mind at last; I could not stand the sight any longer. Madam, said I, you'll have to answer for your mother's death, as sure as my name's Dick May--a harpy dressed up in feathers and lace."
There was a great laugh, and an entreaty to know whether this was really his address--Ethel telling him she knew he had muttered it to himself quite audibly, for which she was rewarded by a pretended box on the ear. It certainly was vain to expect order at dinner on Saturday, for the doctor was as bad as the boys, and Mrs. May took it with complete composure, hardly appearing sensible of the Babel which would sometimes almost deafen its promoter, papa; and yet her interference was all-powerful, as now when Harry and Mary were sparring over the salt, with one gentle "Mary!" and one reproving glance, they were reduced to quiescence.
Meanwhile Dr. May, in a voice above the tumult, was telling "Maggie," as he always called his wife, some piece of news about Mr. Rivers, who had bought Abbotstoke Grange; and Alan Ernescliffe, in much lower tones, saying to Margaret how he delighted in the sight of these home scenes, and this free household mirth.
"It is the first time you have seen us in perfection," said Margaret, "with mamma at the head of the table--no, not quite perfection either, without Richard."
"I am very glad to have seen it," repeated Alan. "What a blessing it must be to your brothers to have such a home!"
"You can't think how often I shall remember it, or how rejoiced I--" He broke off, for the noise subsided, and his speech was not intended for the public ear, so he dashed into the general conversation, and catching his own name, exclaimed, "What's that base proposal, Ethel?""To put you on the donkey," said Norman. "They want to see a sailor riding," interposed the doctor. "Dr. May!" cried the indignant voice of Hector Ernescliffe, as his honest Scottish face flushed like a turkey cock, "I assure you that Alan rides like--" "Like a horse marine," said Norman.
Hector and Harry both looked furious, but "June" was too great a man in their world for them to attempt any revenge, and it was left for Mary to call out, "Why, Norman, nonsense! Mr. Ernescliffe rode the new black kicking horse till he made it quite steady.""Made it steady! No, Mary, that is saying too much for it," said Mr. Ernescliffe. "It has no harm in it--capital horse--splendid," said the doctor; "I shall take you out with it this afternoon, Maggie." "You have driven it several times?" said Alan.
"Yes, I drove him to Abbotstoke yesterday--never started, except at a fool of a woman with an umbrella, and at the train--and we'll take care not to meet that.""It is only to avoid the viaduct at half-past four," said Mrs. May, and that is easily done."
"So you are bound for Cocksmoor?" said the doctor. "I told the poor fellow you were going to see his wife, and he was so thankful, that it did one's heart good."
"Is he better? I should like to tell his wife," said Flora.
The doctor screwed up his face. "A bad business," he said; he is a shade better to-day; he may get through yet; but he is not my patient. I only saw him because I happened to be there when he was brought in, and Ward was not in the way.""And what's his name?" "I can't tell--don't think I ever heard." "We ought to know," said Miss Winter; "it would be awkward to go without." "To go roaming about Cocksmoor asking where the man in the hospital lives!" said Flora. "We can't wait till Monday." "I've done," said Norman; "I'll run down to the hospital and find out. May I, mamma?" "Without your pudding, old fellow?" "I don't want pudding," said Norman, slipping back his chair. "May I, mamma?" "To be sure you may;" and Norman, with a hand on the back of Ethel's chair, took a flying leap over his own, that set all the glasses ringing.
"Stop, stop! know what you are going after, sir," cried his father. "What will they know there of Cocksmoor, or the man whose wife has twins? You must ask for the accident in number five.""And oh, Norman, come back in time!" said Ethel.
"I'll be bound I'm back before Etheldred the Unready wants me," he answered, bounding off with an elasticity that caused his mother to say the boy was made of india-rubber; and then putting his head in by the window to say, "By-the-bye, if there's any pudding owing to me, that little chorister fellow of ours, Bill Blake, has got a lot of voracious brothers that want anything that's going. Tom and Blanche might take it down to 'em; I'm off! Hooray!" and he scampered headlong up the garden, prolonging his voice into a tremendous shout as he got farther off, leaving every one laughing, and his mother tenderly observing that he was going to run a quarter of a mile and back, and lose his only chance of pudding for the week--old Bishop Whichcote's rules contemplating no fare but daily mutton, to be bought at a shilling per sheep. A little private discussion ensued between Harry and Hector on the merits of the cakes at Ballhatchet's gate, and old Nelly's pies, which led the doctor to mourn over the loss of the tarts of the cranberries, that used to grow on Cocksmoor, before it was inhabited, and to be the delight of the scholars of Stoneborough, when he was one of them--and then to enchant the boys by relations of ancient exploits, especially his friend Spencer climbing up, and engraving a name on the top of the market cross, now no more--swept away by the Town Council in a fit of improvement, which had for the last twenty years enraged the doctor at every remembrance of it. Perhaps at this moment his wife could hardly sympathise, when she thought of her boys emulating such deeds."Papa," said Ethel, "will you lend me a pair of spectacles for the walk?" "And make yourself one, Ethel," said Flora. "I don't care--I want to see the view." "It is very bad for you, Ethel," further added her mother; "you will make your sight much shorter if you accustom your eyes to them." "Well, mamma, I never do wear them about the house." "For a very good reason," said Margaret; "because you haven't got them." "No, I believe Harry stole them in the holidays." "Stole them!" said the doctor; "as if they weren't my property, unjustifiably appropriated by her!" "They were that pair that you never could keep on, papa," said Ethel--"no use at all to you. Come, do lend me them." "I'm sure I shan't let you wear them," said Harry. "I shan't go, if you choose to make yourself such an object." "Ah!" said the father, "the boys thought it time to put a stop to it when it came to a caricature of the little doctor in petticoats." "Yes, in Norman's Lexicon," said Ethel, "a capital likeness of you, papa; but I never could get him to tell me who drew it."
Nor did Ethel know that that caricature had been the cause of the black eye that Harry had brought home last summer. Harry returned, to protest that he would not join the walk, if she chose to be seen in the spectacles, while she undauntedly continued her petition, though answered that she would attract the attacks of the quarrymen, who would take her for an attenuated owl.
"I wish you were obliged to go about without them yourself, papa!" cried Ethel, "and then you would know how tiresome it is not to see twice the length of your own nose."
"Not such a very short allowance either," said the doctor quaintly, and therewith the dinner concluded. There was apt to be a race between the two eldest girls for the honour of bringing down the baby; but this time their father strode up three steps at once, turned at the top of the first flight, made his bow to them, and presently came down with his little daughter in his arms, nodded triumphantly at the sisters, and set her down on her mother's lap.
"And I may have the spectacles?" said Ethel, running after him; "you know I am an injured individual, for mamma won't let me carry baby about the house because I am so blind.""You are welcome to embellish yourself, as far as I am concerned." A general dispersion ensued, and only Mrs. May, Margaret, and the baby, remained.
"Oh, no!" sighed Margaret; "you can't be the hen-and-chicken daisy properly, without all your chickens. It is the first christening we ever had without our all being there."
"It was best not to press it, my dear," said her mother. "Your papa would have had his thoughts turned to the disappointment again and it makes Richard himself so unhappy to see his vexation, that I believe it is better not to renew it."
"But to miss him for so long!" said Margaret. "Perhaps it is best, for it is very miserable when papa is sarcastic and sharp, and he cannot understand it, and takes it as meaning so much more than it really does, and grows all the more frightened and diffident. I cannot think what he would do without you to encourage him."
"Or you, you good sister," said her mother, smiling. "If we could only teach him not to mind being laughed at, and to have some confidence in himself, he and papa would get on together."
"It is very hard," cried Margaret, almost indignantly, "that papa won't believe it, when he does his best."
"He is too clever himself to see how other people can be slow," said Margaret; "and yet"--the tears came into her eyes--"I cannot bear to think of his telling Richard it was no use to think of being a clergyman, and he had better turn carpenter at once, just because he failed in his examination."
"My dear, I wish you would forget that," said Mrs. May. "You know papa sometimes says more than he means, and he was excessively vexed and disappointed. I know he was pleased with Ritchie's resolve not to come home again till he had passed, and it is best that it should not be broken."
"The whole vacation, studying so hard, and this christening!" said Margaret; "it is treating him as if he had done wrong. I do believe Mr. Ernescliffe thinks he has--for papa always turns away the conversation if his name is mentioned! I wish you would explain it, mamma; I can't bear that."
"If I can," said Mrs. May, rather pleased that Margaret had taken on herself this vindication of her favourite brother her father's expense. "But, after all, Margaret, I never feel quite sure that poor Ritchie does exert himself to the utmost, he is too desponding to make the most of himself."
"And the more vexed papa is, the worse it grows!" said Margaret. "It is provoking, though. How I do wish sometimes to give Ritchie a jog, when there is some stumbling-block that he sticks fast at. Don't you remember those sums, and those declensions? When he is so clear and sensible about practical matters too--anything but learning--I cannot think why--and it is very mortifying!"
"I dare say it is very good for us not to have our ambition gratified," said her mother. "There are so many troubles worse than these failures, that it only shows how happy we are that we should take them so much to heart."
"They are a very real trouble!" said Margaret. "Don't smile, mamma. Only remember how wretched his schooldays were, when papa could not see any difficulty in what to him was so hard, and how all papa's eagerness only stupified him the more."
"They are a comfort not to have that over again! Yet," said the mother, "I often think there is more fear for Norman. I dread his talent and success being snares."
"There is no self-sufficiency about him," said Margaret. "I hope not, and he is so transparent, that it would be laughed down at the first bud: but the universal good report, and certainty of success, and being so often put in comparison with Richard, is hardly safe. I was very glad he heard what Ethel said to-day.""Ethel spoke very deeply," said Margaret; "I was a good deal struck by it--she often comes out with such solid thoughts." "She is an excellent companion for Norman."
"The desire of being first!" said Margaret, "I suppose that is a form of caring for oneself! It set me thinking a good deal, mamma, how many forms of ambition there are. The craving for rank, or wealth, or beauty, are so clearly wrong, that one does not question about them; but I suppose, as Ethel said, the caring to be first in attainments is as bad.""Or in affection," said Mrs. May.
"In affection--oh, mamma, there is always some one person with whom one is first!" said Margaret eagerly; and then, her colour deepening, as she saw her mother looking at her, she said hastily, "Ritchie--I never considered it-but I know--it is my great pleasure--oh, mamma!"
"Well, my dear, I do not say but that you are the first with Richard, and that you well deserve to be so; but is the seeking to be the first even in that way safe? Is it not self-seeking again?""Well, perhaps it is. I know it is what makes jealousy."
"The only plan is not to think about ourselves at all," said Mrs. May. "Affection is round us like sunshine, and there is no use in measuring and comparing. We must give it out freely ourselves, hoping for nothing again.""Oh, mamma, you don't mean that!"
"Perhaps I should have said, bargaining for nothing again. It will come of itself, if we don't exact it; but rivalry is the sure means of driving it away, because that is trying to get oneself worshipped.""I suppose, then, you have never thought of it," said Margaret, smiling.
"Why, it would have been rather absurd," said Mrs. May, laughing, "to begin to torment myself whether you were all fond of me! You all have just as much affection for me, from beginning to end, as is natural, and what's the use of thinking about it? No, no, Margaret, don't go and protest that you love me, more than is natural," as Margaret looked inclined to say something very eager, "that would be in the style of Regan and Goneril. It will be natural byand-by that you should, some of you, love some one else better, and if I cared for being first, what should I do then?"
"Oh, mamma! But," said Margaret suddenly, "you are always sure of papa."
"In one way, yes," said Mrs. May; "but how do I know how long--" Calm as she was, she could not finish that sentence. "No, Margaret, depend upon it, the only security is not to think about ourselves at all, and not to fix our mind on any affection on earth. The least share of the Love above is the fullness of all blessing, and if we seek that first, all these things will be added unto us, and are," she whispered, more to herself than to Margaret.
Wee modest crimson-tipped flower, Thou'st met me in an evil hour, For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem.
To spare thee now is past my power,
Thou bonnie gem.
"Harry won't go because of Ethel's spectacles," answered Flora; "and Mary and he are inseparable, so they are gone with Hector to have a shipwreck in the field.""And your other sisters?" "Margaret has ratted--she is going to drive out with mamma," said Norman; "as to Etheldred the Unready, I'll run up and hurry her." In a moment he was at her door. "Oh! Norman, come in. Is it time?" "I should think so! You're keeping every one waiting." "Oh, dear! go on; only just tell me the past participle of 'offero', and I'll catch you up." "'Oblatus.'"
"Oh, yes, how stupid. The 'a' long or short? Then that's right. I had such a line in my head, I was forced to write it down. Is not it a capital subject this time?"
"The devotion of Decius? Capital. Let me see!" said Norman, taking up a paper scribbled in pencil, with Latin verses. "Oh, you have taken up quite a different line from mine. I began with Mount Vesuvius spouting lava like anything.""But Mount Vesuvius didn't spout till it overthrew Pompeii."
"Murder!" cried Norman, "I forgot! It's lucky you put me in mind. I must make a fresh beginning. There go my six best lines! However, it was an uncanny place, fit for hobgoblins, and shades, and funny customers, which will do as well for my purpose. Ha! that's grand about its being so much better than the vana gloria triumphalis--only take care of the scanning there--" "If it was but English. Something like this:"For what is equal to the fame Of forgetting self in the aim? That's not right, but--" "Ethel, Norman, what are you about?" cried Flora. "Do you mean to go to Cocksmoor to-day?" "Oh, yes!" cried Ethel, flying into vehement activity; "only I've lost my blueedged handkerchief--Flora, have you seen it?" "No; but here is your red scarf." "Thank you, there is a good Flora. And oh! I finished a frock all but two stitches. Where is it gone? Go on, all of you, I'll overtake you: "Purer than breath of earthly fame, Is losing self in a glorious aim. "Is that better, Norman?"
"You'll drive us out of patience," said Flora, tying the handkerchief round Ethel's throat, and pulling out the fingers of her gloves, which, of course, were inside out; "are you ready?"
"Oh, my frock! my frock! There 'tis--three stitches--go on, and I'll come," said Ethel, seizing a needle, and sewing vehemently at a little pink frock. "Go on, Miss Winter goes slowly up the hill, and I'll overtake you.""Come, Norman, then; it is the only way to make her come at all."
"I shall wait for her," said Norman. "Go on, Flora, we shall catch you up in no time;" and, as Flora went, he continued, "Never mind your aims and fames and trumpery English rhymes. Your verses will be much the best, Ethel; I only went on a little about Mount Vesuvius and the landscape, as Alan described it the other day, and Decius taking a last look, knowing he was to die. I made him beg his horse's pardon, and say how they will both be remembered, and their self-devotion would inspire Romans to all posterity, and shout with a noble voice!" said Norman, repeating some of his lines, correcting them as he proceeded.
"Oh! yes; but oh, dear, I've done! Come along," said Ethel, crumpling her work into a bundle, and snatching up her gloves; then, as they ran downstairs, and emerged into the street, "It is a famous subject."
"Yes, you have made a capital beginning. If you won't break down somewhere, as you always do, with some frightful false quantity, that you would get an imposition for, if you were a boy. I wish you were. I should like to see old Hoxton's face, if you were to show him up some of these verses."
"I'll tell you what, Norman, if I was you, I would not make Decius flatter himself with the fame he was to get--it is too like the stuff every one talks in stupid books. I want him to say--Rome--my country--the eagles--must win, if they do--never mind what becomes of me.""But why should he not like to get the credit of it, as he did? Fame and glory-they are the spirit of life, the reward of such a death."
"Oh, no, no," said Ethel. "Fame is coarse and vulgar--blinder than ever they draw Love or Fortune--she is only a personified newspaper, trumpeting out all that is extraordinary, without minding whether it is good or bad. She misses the delicate and lovely--I wished they would give us a theme to write about her. I should like to abuse her well."
"It would make a very good theme, in a new line," said Norman; "but I don't give into it, altogether. It is the hope and the thought of fame, that has made men great, from first to last. It is in every one that is not good for nothing, and always will be! The moving spirit of man's greatness!"
"I'm not sure," said Ethel; "I think looking for fame is like wanting a reward at once. I had rather people forgot themselves. Do you think Arnold von Winkelried thought about fame when he threw himself on the spears?""He got it," said Norman. "Yes; he got it for the good of other people, not to please himself. Fame does those that admire it good, not those that win it."
"But!" said Norman, and both were silent for some short interval, as they left the last buildings of the town, and began to mount a steep hill. Presently Norman slackened his pace, and driving his stick vehemently against a stone, exclaimed, "It is no use talking, Ethel, it is all a fight and a race. One is always to try to be foremost. That's the spirit of the thing--that's what the great, from first to last, have struggled, and fought, and lived, and died for."
"I know it is a battle, I know it is a race. The Bible says so," replied Ethel; "but is not there the difference, that here all may win--not only one? One may do one's best, not care whether one is first or last. That's what our reading to-day said."
"That was against trumpery vanity--false elevation--not what one has earned for oneself, but getting into other people's places that one never deserved. That every one despises!"
"Of course! That they do. I say, Norman, didn't you mean Harvey Anderson?" Instead of answering, Norman exclaimed, "It is pretension that is hateful-true excelling is what one's life is for. No, no, I'll never be beat, Ethel--I never have been beat by any one, except by you, when you take pains," he added, looking exultingly at his sister, "and I never will be.""Oh, Norman!" "I mean, of course, while I have senses. I would not be like Richard for all the world." "Oh, no, no, poor Richard!"
"He is an excellent fellow in everything else," said Norman; "I could sometimes wish I was more like him--but how he can be so amazingly slow, I can't imagine. That examination paper he broke down in--I could have done it as easily as possible.""I did it all but one question," said Ethel, "but so did he, you know, and we can't tell whether we should have it done well enough." "I know I must do something respectable when first I go to Oxford, if I don't wish to be known as the man whose brother was plucked," said Norman. "Yes," said Ethel; "if papa will but let you try for the Randall scholarship next year, but he says it is not good to go to Oxford so young."
"And I believe I had better not be there with Richard," added Norman. "I don't like coming into contrast with him, and I don't think he can like it, poor fellow, and it isn't his fault. I had rather stay another year here, get one of the open scholarships, and leave the Stoneborough ones for those who can do no better."
In justice to Norman, we must observe that this was by no means said as a boast. He would scarcely have thus spoken to any one but Etheldred, to whom, as well as to himself, it seemed mere matter-of- fact. The others had in the meantime halted at the top of the hill, and were looking back at the town--the great old Minster, raising its twin towers and long roof, close to the river, where rich green meadows spread over the valley, and the town rising irregularly on the slope above, plentifully interspersed with trees and gardens, and one green space on the banks of the river, speckled over with a flock of little black dots in rapid motion."Here you are!" exclaimed Flora. "I told them it was of no use to wait when you and Norman had begun a dissertation."
"Now, Mr. Ernescliffe, I should like you to say," cried Ethel, "which do you think is the best, the name of it, or the thing?" Her eloquence always broke down with any auditor but her brother, or, perhaps, Margaret. "Ethel!" said Norman, "how is any one to understand you? The argument is this: Ethel wants people to do great deeds, and be utterly careless of the fame of them; I say, that love of glory is a mighty spring.""A mighty one!" said Alan: "but I think, as far as I understand the question, that Ethel has the best of it." "I don't mean that people should not serve the cause first of all," said Norman, "but let them have their right place and due honour." "They had better make up their minds to do without it," said Alan. "Remember-- "The world knows nothing of its greatest men." "Then it is a great shame," said Norman. "But do you think it right," said Ethel, "to care for distinction? It is a great thing to earn it, but I don't think one should care for the outer glory."
"I believe it is a great temptation," said Alan. "The being over- elated or overdepressed by success or failure in the eyes of the world, independently of the exertion we have used.""You call it a temptation?" said Ethel. "Decidedly so." "But one can't live or get on without it," said Norman.
There they were cut short. There was a plantation to be crossed, with a gate that would not open, and that seemed an effectual barrier against both Miss Winter and the donkey, until by persuasive eloquence and great gallantry, Mr. Ernescliffe performed the wonderful feat of getting the former over the tall fence, while Norman conducted the donkey a long way round, undertaking to meet them at the other side of the plantation.
The talk became desultory, as they proceeded for at least a mile along a carttrack through soft-tufted grass and heath and young fir- trees. It ended in a broad open moor, stony; and full of damp boggy hollows, forlorn and desolate under the autumn sky. Here they met Norman again, and walked on along a very rough and dirty road, the ground growing more decidedly into hills and valleys as they advanced, till they found themselves before a small, but very steep hillock, one side of which was cut away into a slate quarry. Round this stood a colony of roughly-built huts, of mud, turf, or large blocks of the slate. Many workmen were engaged in splitting up the slates, or loading wagons with them, rude wild-looking men, at the sight of whom the ladies shrank up to their protectors, but who seemed too busy even to spare time for staring at them.
They were directed to John Taylor's house, a low mud cottage, very wretched looking, and apparently so smoky that Mr. Ernescliffe and Norman were glad to remain outside and survey the quarry, while the ladies entered.
Inside they found more cleanliness and neatness than they had expected, but there was a sad appearance of poverty, insufficient furniture, and the cups and broken tea-pot on the table, holding nothing but toast and water, as a substitute for their proper contents. The poor woman was sitting by the fire with one twin on her lap, and the other on a chair by her side, and a larger child was in the corner by the fire, looking heavy and ill, while others of different ages lounged about listlessly. She was not untidy, but very pale, and she spoke in a meek, subdued way, as if the ills of life were so heavy on her that she had no spirit even to complain. She thanked them for their gifts but languidly, and did not visibly brighten when told that her husband was better.Flora asked when the babes would be christened. "I can't hardly tell, Miss--'tis so far to go."
"I suppose none of the children can go to school? I don't know their faces there," said Flora, looking at a nice tall, smooth-haired girl of thirteen or fourteen.
"No, Miss--'tis so far. I am sorry they should not, for they always was used to it where we lived before, and my oldest girl she can work very nicely. I wish I could get a little place for her.""You would hardly know what to do without her," said Miss Winter.
"No, ma'am; but she wants better food than I can give her, and it is a bad wild place for a girl to grow up. It is not like what I was used to, ma'am; I was always used to keep to my school and to my church--but it is a bad place to live in here."
No one could deny it, and the party left the cottage gravely. Alan and Norman joined them, having heard a grievous history of the lawlessness of the people from a foreman with whom they had met. There seemed to be no visible means of improvement. The parish church was Stoneborough, and there the living was very poor, the tithes having been appropriated to the old Monastery, and since its dissolution having fallen into possession of a Body that never did anything for the town. The incumbent, Mr. Ramsden, had small means, and was not a high stamp of clergyman, seldom exerting himself, and leaving most of his parish work to the two under masters of the school, Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Harrison, who did all they had time and strength for, and more too, within the town itself. There was no hope for Cocksmoor! "There would be a worthy ambition!" said Etheldred, as they turned their steps homeward. "Let us propose that aim to ourselves, to build a church on Cocksmoor!""How many years do you give us to do it in?" said Norman. "Few or many, I don't care. I'll never leave off thinking about it till it is done." "It need not be long," said Flora, "if one could get up a subscription." "A penny subscription?" said Norman. "I'd rather have it my own doing." "You agree then," said Ethel; "do you, Mr. Ernescliffe?"
"I may safely do so," he answered, smiling. Miss Winter looked at Etheldred reprovingly, and she shrank into herself, drew apart, and indulged in a reverie. She had heard in books of girls writing poetry, romance, history-gaining fifties and hundreds. Could not some of the myriads of fancies floating in her mind thus be made available? She would compose, publish, earn money--some day call papa, show him her hoard, beg him to take it, and, never owning whence it came, raise the building. Spire and chancel, pinnacle and buttress, rose before her eyes, and she and Norman were standing in the porch with an orderly, religious population, blessing the unknown benefactor, who had caused the news of salvation to be heard among them.
They were almost at home, when the sight of a crowd in the main street checked them. Norman and Mr. Ernescliffe went forward to discover the cause, and spoke to some one on the outskirts--then Mr. Ernescliffe hurried back to the ladies."There's been an accident," he said hastily--"you had better go down the lane and in by the garden."
He was gone in an instant, and they obeyed in silence. Whence came Ethel's certainty that the accident concerned themselves? In an agony of apprehension, though without one outward sign of it, she walked home. They were in the garden--all was apparently as usual, but no one was in sight. Ethel had been first, but she held back, and let Miss Winter go forward into the house. The front door was open--servants were standing about in confusion, and one of the maids, looking dreadfully frightened, gave a cry, "Oh! Miss--Miss-- have you heard?""No--what? What has happened? Not Mrs. May--" exclaimed Miss Winter. "Oh, ma'am! it is all of them. The carriage is overturned, and--" "Who's hurt? Mamma! papa! Oh, tell me!" cried Flora. "There's nurse," and Ethel flew up to her. "What is it? Oh, nurse!" "My poor, poor children," said old nurse, passionately kissing Ethel. Harry and Mary were on the stairs behind her, clinging together. A stranger looked into the house, followed by Adams, the stableman. "They are going to bring Miss May in," some one said. Ethel could bear it no longer. As if she could escape, she fled upstairs into her room, and, falling on her knees, hid her face on her bed.
There were heavy steps in the house, then a sound of hasty feet coming up to her. Norman dashed into the room, and threw himself on a chair. He was ghastly pale, and shuddered all over.
"Oh, Norman, Norman, speak! What is it?" He groaned, but could not speak; he rested his head against her, and gasped. She was terribly frightened. "I'll call--" and she would have gone, but he held her. "No--no--they can't!" He was prevented from saying more, by chattering teeth and deadly faintness. She tried to support him, but could only guide him as he sank, till he lay at full length on the floor, where she put a pillow under his head, and gave him some water. "Is it--oh, tell me! Are they much hurt? Oh, try to say!""They say Margaret is alive," said Norman, in gasps; "but--And papa--he stood up--sat--walked--was better-" "Is he hurt--much hurt?" "His arm--" and the tremor and fainting stopped him again. "Mamma?" whispered Ethel; but Norman only pressed his face into the pillow.
She was so bewildered as to be more alive to the present distress of his condition than to the vague horrors downstairs. Some minutes passed in silence, Norman lying still, excepting a nervous trembling that agitated his whole frame. Again was heard the strange tread, doors opening and shutting, and suppressed voices, and he turned his face upwards, and listened with his hand pressed to his forehead, as if to keep himself still enough to listen."Oh! what is the matter? What is it?" cried Ethel, startled and recalled to the sense of what was passing. "Oh, Norman!" Then springing up, with a sudden thought, "Mr. Ward! Oh! is he there?" "Yes," said Norman, in a low hopeless tone, "he was at the place. He said it--" "What?" Again Norman's face was out of sight.
"Mamma?" Ethel's understanding perceived, but her mind refused to grasp the extent of the calamity. There was no answer, save a convulsive squeezing of her hand.Fresh sounds below recalled her to speech and action. "Where is she? What are they doing for her? What--" "There's nothing to be done. She--when they lifted her up, she was--" "Dead?" "Dead."
The boy lay with his face hidden, the girl sat by him on the floor, too much crushed for even the sensations belonging to grief, neither moving nor looking. After an interval Norman spoke again, "The carriage turned right over--her head struck on the kerb stone--""Did you see?" said Ethel presently.
"I saw them lift her up." He spoke at intervals, as he could get breath and bear to utter the words. "And papa--he was stunned--but soon he sat up, said he would go to her--he looked at her--felt her pulse, and then--sank down over her!""And did you say--I can't remember--was he hurt?"
The shuddering came again, "His arm--all twisted--broken," and his voice sank into a faint whisper; Ethel was obliged to sprinkle him again with water. "But he won't die?" said she, in a tone calm from its bewilderment."Oh! no, no, no--" "And Margaret?"
"They were bringing her home. I'll go and see. Oh! what's the meaning of this?" exclaimed he, scolding himself, as, sitting up, he was forced to rest his head on his shaking hand."You are still faint, dear Norman; you had better lie still, and I'll go and see."
"Faint--stuff--how horridly stupid!" but he was obliged to lay his head down again; and Ethel, scarcely less trembling, crept carefully towards the stairs, but a dread of what she might meet came over her, and she turned towards the nursery.
The younger ones sat there in a frightened huddle. Mary was on a low chair by the infant's cot, Blanche in her lap, Tom and Harry leaning against her, and Aubrey almost asleep. Mary held up her finger as Ethel entered, and whispered, "Hush! don't wake baby for anything!"
The first true pang of grief shot through Ethel like a dart, stabbing and taking away her breath, "Where are they?" she said; "how is papa? who is with him?""Mr. Ward and Alan Ernescliffe," said Harry. "Nurse came up just now, and said they were setting his arm." "Where is he?" "On the bed in his dressing-room," said Harry. "Has he come to himself--is he better?"
They did not seem to know, and Ethel asked where to find Flora. "With Margaret," she was told, and she was thinking whether she could venture to seek her, when she herself came fast up the stairs. Ethel and Harry both darted out. "Don't stop me," said Flora--"they want some handkerchiefs.""What, is not she in her own room?"
"No," said Harry, "in mamma's;" and then his face quivered all over, and he turned away. Ethel ran after her sister, and pulling out drawers without knowing what she sought, begged to hear how papa and Margaret were.
"We can't judge of Margaret--she has moved, and made a little moaning-there are no limbs broken, but we are afraid for her head. Oh! if papa could but--""And papa?" "Mr. Ward is with him now--his arm is terribly hurt." "But oh! Flora--one moment--is he sensible?" "Hardly; he does not take any notice--but don't keep me." "Can I do anything?" following her to the head of the stairs. "No; I don't see what you can do. Miss Winter and I are with Margaret; there's nothing to do for her."
It was a relief. Etheldred shrank from what she might have to behold, and Flora hastened down, too busy and too useful to have time to think. Harry had gone back to his refuge in the nursery, and Ethel returned to Norman. There they remained for a long time, both unwilling to speak or stir, or even to observe to each other on the noises that came in to them, as their door was left ajar, though in those sounds they were so absorbed, that they did not notice the cold of a frosty October evening, or the darkness that closed in on them.
They heard the poor babe crying, one of the children going down to call nurse, and nurse coming up; then Harry, at the door of the room where the boys slept, calling Norman in a low voice. Norman, now nearly recovered, went and brought him into his sister's room, and his tidings were, that their father's arm had been broken in two places, and the elbow frightfully injured, having been crushed and twisted by the wheel. He was also a good deal bruised, and though Mr. Ward trusted there was no positive harm to the head, he was in an unconscious state, from which the severe pain of the operation had only roused him, so far as to evince a few signs of suffering. Margaret was still insensible.
The piteous sound of the baby's wailing almost broke their hearts. Norman walked about the room in the dark, and said he should go down, he could not bear it; but he could not make up his mind to go, and after about a quarter of an hour, to their great relief, it ceased.Next Mary opened the door, saying, "Norman, here's Mr. Wilmot come to ask if he can do anything--Miss Winter sent word that you had better go to him." "How is baby?" asked Harry. "Nurse has fed her, and is putting her to bed; she is quiet now," said Mary; "will you go down, Norman?" "Where is he?" "In the drawing-room." Norman paused to ask what he was to say. "Nothing," said Mary, "nobody can do anything. Make haste. Don't you want a candle?" "No, thank you, I had rather be in the dark. Come up as soon as you have seen him," said Etheldred.
Norman went slowly down, with failing knees, hardly able to conquer the shudder that came over him, as he passed those rooms. There were voices in the drawing-room, and he found a sort of council there, Alan Ernescliffe, the surgeon, and Mr. Wilmot. They turned as he came in, and Mr. Wilmot held out his hand with a look of affection and kindness that went to his heart, making room for him on the sofa, while going on with what he was saying. "Then you think it would be better for me not to sit up with him."
"I should decidedly say so," replied Mr. Ward. "He has recognised Mr. Ernescliffe, and any change might excite him, and lead him to ask questions. The moment of his full consciousness is especially to be dreaded.""But you do not call him insensible?" "No, but he seems stunned--stupified by the shock, and by pain. He spoke to Miss Flora when she brought him some tea."
"And admirably she managed," said Alan Ernescliffe. "I was much afraid of some answer that would rouse him, but she kept her self- possession beautifully, and seemed to compose him in a moment."
"She is valuable indeed--so much judgment and activity," said Mr. Ward. "I don't know what we should have done without her. But we ought to have Mr. Richard--has no one sent to him?"Alan Ernescliffe and Norman looked at each other. "Is he at Oxford, or at his tutor's?" asked Mr. Wilmot. "At Oxford; he was to be there to-day, was he not, Norman?" "What o'clock is it? Is the post gone--seven--no; it is all safe," said Mr. Ward.
Poor Norman! he knew he was the one who ought to write, but his icy trembling hand seemed to shake more helplessly than ever, and a piteous glance fell upon Mr. Wilmot.
"The best plan would be," said Mr. Wilmot, "for me to go to him at once and bring him home. If I go by the mail-train, I shall get to him sooner than a letter could."
"And it will be better for him," said Mr. Ward. "He will feel it dreadfully, poor boy. But we shall all do better when we have him. You can get back tomorrow evening.""Sunday," said Mr. Wilmot, "I believe there is a train at four." "Oh! thank you, sir," said Norman.
"Since that is settled, perhaps I had better go up to the doctor," said Alan; "I don't like leaving Flora alone with him," and he was gone.
"How fortunate that that youth is here," said Mr. Wilmot--"he seems to be quite taking Richard's place."
"Tell him there is no reason his father should not do very well, if we can keep him from agitation--but there's the point. He is of so excitable a constitution, that his faculties being so far confused is the best thing, perhaps, that could be. Mr. Ernescliffe manages him very well--used to illness on that African coast, and the doctor is very fond of him. As to Miss May, one can't tell what to say about her yet--there's no fracture, at least--it must be a work of time to judge."
Flora at that moment half-opened the door, and called Mr. Ward, stopping for a moment to say it was for nothing of any consequence. Mr. Wilmot and Norman were left together. Norman put his hands over his face and groaned
-his master looked at him with kind anxiety, but did not feel as if it were yet time to speak of consolation.
"God bless and support you, and turn this to your good, my dear boy," said he affectionately, as he pressed his hand; "I hope to bring your brother tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir," was all Norman could say; and as Mr. Wilmot went out by the front door, he slowly went up again, and, lingering on the landing-place, was met by Mr. Ward, who told him to his relief--for the mere thinking of it renewed the faint sensation--that he had better not go to his father's room.
There was nothing to be done but to return to Ethel and Harry, and tell them all; with some humiliation at being helpless, where Flora was doing so much, and to leave their father to be watched by a stranger. If he had been wanted, Norman might have made the effort, but being told that he would be worse than useless, there was nothing for him but to give way.
They sat together in Ethel's room till somewhere between eight and nine o'clock, when good old nurse, having put her younger ones to bed, came in search of them. "Dear, dear! poor darlings," said she, as she found them sitting in the dark; she felt their cold hands, and made them all come into the nursery, where Mary was already, and, fondling them, one by one, as they passively obeyed her, she set them down on their little old stools round the fire, took away the high fender, and gave them each a cup of tea. Harry and Mary ate enough to satisfy her, from a weary craving feeling, and for want of employment; Norman sat with his elbow on his knee, and a very aching head resting on his hand, glad of drink, but unable to eat; Ethel could be persuaded to do neither, till she found old nurse would let her have no peace. The nurse sent them all to bed, taking the two girls to their own room, undressing them, and never leaving them until Mary was in a fair way of crying herself to sleep--for saying her prayers had brought the tears; while Ethel lay so wide awake that it was of no use to wait for her, and then she went to the boys, tucked them each in, as when they were little children, and saying, "Bless your dear hearts!" bestowed on each of them a kiss which came gratefully to Norman's burning brow, and which even Harry's boyish manliness could not resist.Flora was in Margaret's room, too useful to be spared. So ended that dreadful Saturday.
They may not mar the deep repose Of that immortal flower:
Though only broken hearts are found To watch her cradle by,
No blight is on her slumbers found,
No touch of harmful eye.
Such a strange sad Sunday! No going to church, but all the poor children moving in awe and oppression about the house, speaking under their breath, as they gathered in the drawing-room. Into the study they might not go, and when Blanche would have asked why, Tom pressed her hand and shuddered.
Etheldred was allowed to come and look at Margaret, and even to sit in the room for a little while, to take the place of Miss Winter; but she was not sensible of sufficient usefulness to relieve the burden of fear and bewilderment in the presence of that still, pale form; and, what was almost worse, the sight of the familiar objects, the chair by the fire, the sofa, the books, the work-basket, the letter- case, the dressing things, all these were too oppressive. She sat crouched up, with her face hidden in her hands, and the instant she was released, hastened back to Norman. She was to tell him that he might go into the room, but he did not move, and Mary alone went in and out with messages.
Dr. May was not to be visited, for he was in the same half-conscious state, apparently sensible only of bodily suffering, though he answered when addressed, and no one was trusted to speak to him but Flora and Ernescliffe.
The rest wore through the day as best they might. Harry slept a good deal, Ethel read to herself, and tried to get Norman to look at passages which she liked, Mary kept the little ones from being troublesome, and at last took them to peep behind the school-room blinds for Richard's coming.
There was a simultaneous shout when, at four o'clock, they caught sight of him, and though, at Ethel's exclamation of wonder, Mary and Tom hung their heads at having forgotten themselves, the association of gladness in seeing Richard was refreshing; the sense of being desolate and forsaken was relieved, and they knew that now they had one to rely on and to comfort them.
Harry hastened to open the front door, and Richard, with his small trim figure, and fresh, fair young face, flushed, though not otherwise agitated, was among them, almost devoured by the younger ones, and dealing out quiet caresses to them, as he caught from the words and looks of the others that at least his father and sister were no worse. Mr. Wilmot had come with him, but only stayed to hear the tidings."Can I see papa?" were Richard's first audible words--all the rest had been almost dumb show.
Ethel thought not, but took him to Margaret's room, where he stood for many minutes without speaking; then whispered to Flora that he must go to the others, she should call him if--and went down, followed by Ethel.
Tom and Blanche had fallen into teasing tricks, a sort of melancholy play to relieve the tedium. They grew cross. Norman was roused to reprove sharply, and Blanche was beginning to cry. But Richard's entrance set all at peace--he sat down among them, and, with soft voice and arm round Blanche, as she leaned against him, made her good in a moment; and she listened while he talked over with Norman and Ethel all they could bear to speak of.
Late in the day Flora came into her father's room, and stood gazing at him, as he lay with eyes closed, breathing heavily, and his brows contracted by pain. She watched him with piteous looks, as if imploring him to return to his children. Poor girl, to-day's quiet, after the last evening's bustle, was hard to bear. She had then been distracted from thought by the necessity of exertion, but it now repaid itself, and she knew not how to submit to do nothing but wait and watch."No change?" enquired Alan Ernescliffe; looking kindly in her face. "No," replied she in a low, mournful tone. "She only once said, thank you."
A voice which she did not expect, asked inquiringly, "Margaret?" and her heart beat as if it would take away her breath, as she saw her father's eyes intently fixed on her. "Did you speak of her?" he repeated.
"Yes, dear papa," said Flora, not losing presence of mind, though in extreme fear of what the next question might be. "She is quiet and comfortable, so don't be uneasy, pray.""Let me hear," he said, and his whole voice and air showed him to be entirely roused. "There is injury? What is it--"
He continued his inquiries till Flora was obliged fully to explain her sister's condition, and then he dismayed her by saying he would get up and go to see her. Much distressed, she begged him not to think of it, and appealed to Alan, who added his entreaties that he would at least wait for Mr. Ward; but the doctor would not relinquish his purpose, and sent her to give notice that he was coming.
Mr. Ernescliffe followed her out of the room, and tried to console her, as she looked at him in despair.
"I will try, but I think he is in a state to judge for himself. I do, upon my word; and I believe trying to prevent him would be more likely to do him harm than letting him satisfy himself. I really think you need not be alarmed."
"But you know," said Flora, coming nearer, and almost gasping as she whispered and signed towards the door, "she is there--it is mamma's room, that will tell all."
"I believe he knows," said Alan. "It was that which made him faint after the accident, for he had his perceptions fully at first. I have suspected all day that he was more himself than he seemed, but I think he could not bear to awaken his mind to understand it, and that he was afraid to hear about her-your sister, so that our mention of her was a great relief, and did him good. I am convinced he knows the rest. Only go on, be calm, as you have been, and we shall do very well."
Flora went to prepare. Ethel eagerly undertook to send to Mr. Ward, and hastened from the room, as if in a sort of terror, shrinking perhaps from what might lead to an outburst of grief. She longed to have seen her father, but was frightened at the chance of meeting him. When she had sent her message, and told her brothers what was passing, she went and lingered on the stairs and in the passage for tidings. After what seemed a long time, Flora came out, and hastened to the nursery, giving her intelligence on the way.
"Better than could be hoped, he walked alone into the room, and was quite calm and composed. Oh! if this will not hurt him, if the seeing baby was but over!""Does he want her?" "Yes, he would have come up here himself, but I would not let him. Nurse, do you hear? Papa wants baby; let me have her." "Bless me, Miss Flora, you can't hold her while you are all of a tremble! And he has been to Miss Margaret?" "Yes, nurse, and he was only rather stiff and lame."
"Did Margaret seem to know him?" said Ethel. "She just answered in that dreamy way when he spoke to her. He says he thinks it is as Mr. Ward believes, and that she will soon come to herself. He is quite able to consider--""And he knows all?"
"I am sure he does. He desired to see baby, and he wants you, nurse. Only mind you command yourself--don't say a word you can help--do nothing to agitate him."
Nurse promised, but the tears came so fast, and sobs with them, as she approached her master's room, that Flora saw no composure could be expected from her; and taking the infant from her, carried it in, leaving the door open for her to follow when wanted. Ethel stood by listening. There was silence at first, then some sounds from the baby, and her father's voice soothing it, in his wonted caressing phrases and tones, so familiar that they seemed to break the spell, drive away her vague terrors, and restore her father. Her heart bounded, and a sudden impulse carried her to the bedside, at once forgetting all dread of seeing him, and chance of doing him harm. He lay, holding the babe close to him, and his face was not altered, so that there was nothing in the sight to impress her with the need of caution, and, to the consternation of the anxious Flora, she exclaimed, abruptly and vehemently, "Papa! should not she be christened?"Dr. May looked up at Ethel, then at the infant; "Yes," he said, "at once." Then added feebly and languidly, "Some one must see to it."
There was a pause, while Flora looked reproachfully at her sister, and Ethel became conscious of her imprudence, but in a few moments Dr. May spoke again, first to the baby, and then asking, "Is Richard here?""Yes, papa." "Send him up presently. Where's nurse?"
Ethel retreated, much alarmed at her rash measure, and when she related it she saw that Richard and Mr. Ernescliffe both thought it had been a great hazard.
"Papa wants you," was a welcome sound to the ears of Richard, and brought a pink glow into his face. He was never one who readily showed his feelings, and there was no danger of his failing in self- command, though grievously downcast, not only at the loss of the tender mother, who had always stood between him and his father's impatience, but by the dread that he was too dull and insignificant to afford any help or comfort in his father's dire affliction.
Yet there was something in the gentle sad look that met him, and in the low tone of the "How d'ye do, Ritchie?" that drove off a thought of not being loved; and when Dr. May further added, "You'll see about it all--I am glad you are come," he knew he was of use, and was encouraged and cheered. That his father had full confidence and reliance in him, and that his presence was a satisfaction and relief he could no longer doubt; and this was a drop of balm beyond all his hopes; for loving and admiring his father intensely, and with depressed spirits and a low estimate of himself, he had begun to fancy himself incapable of being anything but a vexation and burden.
He sat with his father nearly all the evening, and was to remain with him at night. The rest were comforted by the assurance that Dr. May was still calm, and did not seem to have been injured by what had passed. Indeed, it seemed as if the violence and suddenness of the shock, together with his state of suffering, had deadened his sensations; for there was far less agitation about him than could have been thought possible in a man of such strong, warm affections and sensitive temperament.Ethel and Norman went up arm-in-arm at bedtime. "I am going to ask if I may wish papa good-night," said Ethel. "Shall I say anything about your coming?"
Norman hesitated, but his cheeks blanched; he shuddered, shook his head without speaking, ran up after Harry, and waved her back when she would have followed.
Richard told her that she might come in, and, as she slowly advanced, she thought she had never seen anything so ineffably mournful as the affectionate look on her father's face. She held his hand and ventured--for it was with difficulty she spoke--to hope he was not in pain."Better than it was, thank you, my dear," he said, in a soft weak tone: then, as she bent down to kiss his brow; "you must take care of the little ones."
"Yes, papa," she could hardly answer, and a large drop gathered slowly in each eye, long in coming, as if the heart ached too much for them to flow freely."Are they all well?" "Yes, papa." "And good?" He held her hand, as if lengthening the interview. "Yes, very good all day."
A long deep sigh. Ethel's two tears stood on her cheeks. "My love to them all. I hope I shall see them to-morrow. God bless you, my dear, good-night."
Ethel went upstairs, saddened and yet soothed. The calm silent sorrow, too deep for outward tokens, was so unlike her father's usually demonstrative habits, as to impress her all the more, yet those two tears were followed by no more; there was much strangeness and confusion in her mind in the newness of grief.
She found poor Flora, spent with exertion, under the reaction of all she had undergone, lying on her bed, sobbing as if her heart would break, calling in gasps of irrepressible agony on "mamma! mamma!" yet with her face pressed down on the pillow that she might not be heard. Ethel, terrified and distressed, timidly implored her to be comforted, but it seemed as if she were not even heard; she would have fetched some one, but whom? Alas! alas! it brought back the sense that no mother would ever soothe them--Margaret, papa, both so ill, nurse engaged with Margaret! Ethel stood helpless and despairing, and Flora sobbed on, so that Mary awakened to burst out in a loud frightened fit of crying; but in a few moments a step was at the door, a knock, and Richard asked, "Is anything the matter?"
He was in the room in a moment, caressing and saying affectionate things with gentleness and fondling care, like his mother, and which recalled the days when he had been proud to be left for a little while the small nurse and guardian of the lesser ones. Mary was hushed in a moment, and Flora's exhausted weeping was gradually soothed, when she was able to recollect that she was keeping him from her father; with kind good-nights, he left Ethel to read to her till she could sleep. Long did Ethel read, after both her sisters were slumbering soundly; she went on in a sort of dreamy grief, almost devoid of pain, as if all this was too terrible to be true: and she had imagined herself into a story, which would give place at dawn to her ordinary life.
At last she went to bed, and slept till wakened by the return of Flora, who had crept down in her dressing-gown to see how matters were going. Margaret was in the same state, papa was asleep, after a restless distressing night, with much pain and some fever; and whenever Richard had begun to hope from his tranquillity, that he was falling asleep, he was undeceived by hearing an almost unconsciously uttered sigh of "Maggie, my Maggie!" and then the head turned wearily on the pillow, as if worn out with the misery from which there was no escape. Towards morning the pain had lessened, and, as he slept, he seemed much less feverish than they could have ventured to expect.
Norman looked wan and wretched, and could taste no breakfast; indeed Harry reported that he had been starting and talking in his sleep half the night, and had proceeded to groaning and crying out till, when it could be borne no longer, Harry waked him, and finished his night's rest in peace. The children were kept in the drawing-room that morning, and there were strange steps in the house; but only Richard and Mr. Ernescliffe knew the reason. Happily there had been witnesses enough of the overturn to spare any reference to Dr. May--the violent start of the horses had been seen, and Adams and Mr. Ernescliffe agreed, under their breath, that the new black one was not fit to drive, while the whole town was so used to Dr. May's headlong driving, that every one was recollecting their own predictions of accidents. There needed little to account for the disaster--the only wonder was that it had not happened sooner.
"I say," announced Harry, soon after they were released again, "I've been in to papa. His door was open, and he heard me, and called me. He says he should like any of us to come in and see him. Hadn't you better go, Norman?"
Norman started up, and walked hastily out of the room, but his hand shook so, that he could hardly open the door; and Ethel, seeing how it was with him, followed him quickly, as he dashed, at full speed, up the stairs. At the top, however, he was forced to cling to the rail, gasping for breath, while the moisture started on his forehead.
"Dear Norman," she said, "there's nothing to mind. He looks just as usual. You would not know there was anything the matter." But he rested his head on his hand, and looked as if he could not stir. "I see it won't do," said Ethel-"don't try--you will be better by-and- by, and he has not asked for you in particular."
"I won't be beat by such stuff," said Norman, stepping hastily forwards, and opening the door suddenly. He got through the greeting pretty well, there was no need for him to speak, he only gave his hand and looked away, unable to bring himself to turn his eyes on his father, and afraid of letting his own face be seen. Almost at the same moment, nurse came to say something about Margaret, and he seized the opportunity of withdrawing his hand, and hurrying away, in good time, for he was pale as death, and was obliged to sit down on the head of the stairs, and lean his head against Etheldred."What does make me so ridiculous?" he exclaimed faintly, but very indignantly.
The first cure was the being forced to clear out of Mr. Ward's way, which he could not effect without being seen; and Ethel though she knew that he would be annoyed, was not sorry to be obliged to remain, and tell what was the matter with him. "Oh," said Mr. Ward, turning and proceeding to the dining-room, "I'll set that to rights in a minute, if you will ask for a tumbler of hot water Miss Ethel."
And armed with the cordial he had prepared, Ethel hunted up her brother, and persuaded him, after scolding her a little, to swallow it, and take a turn in the garden; after which he made a more successful attempt at visiting his father.
There was another room whither both Norman and Etheldred wished to go, though they dared not hint at their desire. At last Richard came to them, as they were wandering in the garden, and, with his usual stillness of manner, shaded with additional seriousness, said, "Would you like to come into the study?"
Etheldred put one hand into his, Norman took the other, and soon they stood in that calm presence. Fair, cold, white, and intensely still --that face brought home to them the full certainty that the warm brightening look would never beam on them, the soft blue eyes never guide, check, and watch them, the smile never approve or welcome them. To see her unconscious of their presence was too strange and sad, and all were silent, till, as they left the room, Ethel looked out at Blanche and Aubrey in the garden. "They will never remember her! Oh! why should it be?"
Richard would fain have moralised and comforted, but she felt as if she knew it all before, and heard with languid attention. She had rather read than talk, and he sat down to write letters.
There were no near relations to be sent for. Dr. May was an only son, and his wife's sister, Mrs. Arnott, was in New Zealand; her brother had long been dead, and his widow, who lived in Edinburgh, was scarcely known to the May family. Of friends there were many, fast bound by affection and gratitude, and notes, inquiries, condolences, and offers of service came in thickly, and gave much occupation to Flora, Richard, and Alan Ernescliffe, in turn. No one from without could do anything for them--they had all the help they wanted in Miss Winter and in Alan, who was invaluable in sharing with Richard the care of the doctor, as well as in giving him the benefit of his few additional years' experience, and relieving him of some of his tasks. He was indeed like one of themselves, and a most valuable help and comforter. Mr. Wilmot gave them all the time he could, and on this day saw the doctor, who seemed to find some solace in his visit, though saying very little.
On this day the baby was to be baptized. The usual Stoneborough fashion was to collect all the christenings for the month into one Sunday, except those for such persons as thought themselves too refined to see their children christened before the congregation, and who preferred an empty church and a week-day. The little one had waited till she was nearly six weeks old for "a Christening Sunday," and since that had been missed, she could not be kept unbaptized for another month; so, late in the day, she was carried to church.
Richard had extremely gratified old nurse, by asking her to represent poor Margaret; Mrs. Hoxton stood for the other godmother, and Alan Ernescliffe was desired to consider himself absolutely her sponsor, not merely a proxy. The younger children alone were to go with them: it was too far off, and the way lay too much through the town for it to be thought proper for the others to go. Ethel wished it very much, and thought it nonsense to care whether people looked at her; and in spite of Miss Winter's seeming shocked at her proposing it, had a great mind to persist. She would even have appealed to her papa, if Flora had not stopped her, exclaiming, "Really, Ethel, I think there never was a person so entirely without consideration as you are."
Much abashed, Ethel humbly promised that if she might go into papa's room, she would not say one word about the christening, unless he should begin, and, to her great satisfaction, he presently asked her to read the service to him. Flora came to the doorway of Margaret's room, and listened; when she had finished, all were silent.
"How shall we, how can we virtuously bring up our motherless little sister?" was the thought with each of the girls. The answers were, in one mind, "I trust we shall do well by her, dear little thing. I see, on an emergency, that I know how to act. I never thought I was capable of being of so much use, thanks to dear, dear mamma's training. I shall manage, I am sure, and so they will all depend on me, and look up to me. How nice it was to hear dear papa say what he did about the comfort of my being able to look after Margaret."
In the other, "Poor darling, it is saddest of all for her, because she knows nothing, and will never remember her mamma! But if Margaret is but better, she will take care of her, and oh how we ought to try--and I, such a naughty wild thing--if I should hurt the dear little ones by carelessness, or by my bad example! Oh! what shall I do, for want of some one to keep me in order? If I should vex papa by any of my wrong ways!"They heard the return of the others, and the sisters both sprang up, "May we bring her to you?" said Flora. "Yes, do, my dears."
The sisters all came down together with the little one, and Flora put her down within the arm her father stretched out for her. He gazed into the baby face, which, in its expressionless placidity, almost recalled her mother's tranquil sweetness."Gertrude Margaret," said Flora, and with a look that had more of tenderness than grief, he murmured, "My Daisy blossom, my little Maggie." "Might we?" said Ethel, when Flora took her again, "might we take her to her godmother to see if she would notice her?"
He looked as if he wished it; but said, "No, I think not, better not rouse her," and sighed heavily; then, as they stood round his bed, unwilling to go, he added, "Girls, we must learn carefulness and thoughtfulness. We have no one to take thought for us now."
Flora pressed the babe in her arms, Ethel's two reluctant tears stood on her cheeks, Mary exclaimed, "I'll try not to be naughty;" and Blanche climbed up to kiss him, saying, "I will be always good papa."
"Daisy--papa's Daisy--your vows are made," whispered Ethel, gaining sole possession of the babe for a minute. "You have promised to be good and holy. We have the keeping of you, mamma's precious flower, her pearl of truth! Oh, may God guard you to be an unstained jewel, till you come back to her again--and a blooming flower, till you are gathered into the wreath that never fades--my own sweet poor little motherless Daisy!"
"Through lawless camp, through ocean wild, Her prophet eye pursues her child;
Scans mournfully her poet's strain,
Fears for her merchant, loss alike and gain."
Dr. May took the management of himself into his own hands, and paid so little attention to Mr. Ward's recommendations that his sons and daughters were in continual dread of his choosing to do something that might cause injurious agitation.
However, he did not go further than Margaret's bedroom where he sat hour after hour his eyes fixed upon her, as she continued in a state bordering on insensibility. He took little notice of anything else, and hardly spoke. There were heavy sighs now and then, but Richard and Flora, one or other of whom were always watching him, could hardly tell whether to ascribe them to the oppression of sorrow or of suffering. Their great fear was of his insisting on seeing his wife's face, and it was a great relief that he never alluded to her, except once, to desire Richard to bring him her ring. Richard silently obeyed, and, without a word, he placed it on his little finger. Richard used to read the Psalms to him in the morning, before he was up, and Flora would bring little Daisy and lay her by his side.
To the last moment they dreaded his choosing to attend the funeral, and Flora had decided on remaining at home, though trembling at the thought of what there might be to go through. They tried to let him hear nothing about it, but he seemed to know everything; and when Flora came into Margaret's room without her bonnet, he raised his head, and said, "I thought you were all going.""The others are--but may I not stay with you and her, papa?" "I had rather be alone, my dears. I will take care of her. I should wish you all to be there."
They decided that his wishes ought to be followed, and that the patients must be entrusted to old nurse. Richard told Flora, who looked very pale, that she would be glad of it afterwards, and she had his arm to lean upon.
The grave was in the cloister attached to the minster, a smooth green square of turf, marked here and there with small flat lozenges of stone, bearing the date and initials of those who lay there, and many of them recording former generations of Mays, to whom their descent from the headmaster had given a right of burial there. Dr. Hoxton, Mr. Wilmot, and the surgeon, were the only friends whom Richard had asked to be with them, but the minster was nearly full, for there was a very strong attachment and respect for Dr. and Mrs. May throughout the neighbourhood, and every one's feelings were strongly excited.
"In the midst of life, we are in death--" There was a universal sound as of a sort of sob, that Etheldred never disconnected from those words. Yet hardly one tear was shed by the young things who stood as close as they could round the grave. Harry and Mary did indeed lock their hands together tightly, and the shoulders of the former shook as he stood, bowing down his head, but the others were still and quiet, in part from awe and bewilderment, but partly, too, from a sense that it was against her whole nature that there should be clamorous mourning for her. The calm still day seemed to tell them the same, the sun beaming softly on the gray arches and fresh grass, the sky clear and blue, and the trees that showed over the walls bright with autumn colouring, all suitable to the serenity of a life unclouded to its last moment. Some of them felt as if it were better to be there than in their saddened desolate home.
But home they must go, and, before going upstairs, as Flora and Etheldred stood a moment or two with Norman, Ethel said in a tone of resolution, and of some cheerfulness, "Well, we have to begin afresh.""Yes," said Flora, "it is a great responsibility. I do trust we may be enabled to do as we ought." "And now Margaret is getting better, she will be our stay," said Ethel. "I must go to her," and Flora went upstairs. "I wish I could be as useful as Flora," said Ethel; but I mean to try, and if I can but keep out of mischief, it will be something. "There is an object for all one does, in trying to be a comfort to papa." "That's no use," said Norman, listlessly. "We never can." "Oh, but, Norman, he won't be always as he is now--I am sure he cares for us enough to be pleased, if we do right and get on." "We used to be so happy!" said Norman. Ethel hesitated a little, and presently answered, "I don't think it can be right to lament for our own sakes so much, is it?" "I don't want to do so," said Norman, in the same dejected way.
"I suppose we ought not to feel it either." Norman only shook his head. "We ought to think of her gain. You can't? Well, I am glad, for no more can I. I can't think of her liking for papa and baby and all of us to be left to ourselves. But that's not right of me, and of course it all comes right where she is; so I always put that out of my head, and think what is to come next in doing, and pleasing papa, and learning.""That's grown horrid," said Norman. "There's no pleasure in getting on, nor in anything." "Don't you care for papa and all of us being glad, Norman?" As Norman could not just then say that he did, he would not answer.
"I wish--" said Ethel, disappointed, but cheering up the next minute. "I do believe it is having nothing to do. You will be better when you get back to school on Monday.""That is worst of all!"
"You don't like going among the boys again? But that must be done some time or other. Or shall I get Richard to speak to Dr. Hoxton to let you have another week's leave?""No, no, don't be foolish. It can't be helped." "I am very sorry, but I think you will be better for it."
She almost began to fancy herself unfeeling, when she found him so much more depressed than she was herself, and unable to feel it a relief to know that the time of rest and want of occupation was over. She thought it lightminded, though she could not help it, to look forward to the daily studies where she might lose her sad thoughts and be as if everything were as usual. But suppose she should be to blame, where would now be the gentle discipline? Poor Ethel's feelings were not such as to deserve the imputation of levity, when this thought came over her; but her buoyant mind, always seeking for consolation, recurred to Margaret's improvement, and she fixed her hopes on her.
Margaret was more alive to surrounding objects, and, when roused, she knew them all, answered clearly when addressed, had even, more than once, spoken of her own accord, and shown solicitude at the sight of her father's bandaged, helpless arm, but he soon soothed this away. He was more than ever watchful over her, and could scarcely be persuaded to leave her for one moment, in his anxiety to be at hand to answer, when first she should speak of her mother, a moment apprehended by all the rest, almost as much for his sake as for hers.
So clear had her perceptions been, and so much more awake did she appear, on this evening, that he expected the inquiry to come every moment, and lingered in her room; till she asked the hour, and begged him to go to bed. As he bent over her, she looked up in his face, and said softly, "Dear papa."There was that in her tone which showed she perceived the truth, and he knelt by her side kissing her, but not daring to relax his restraint of feeling. "Dear papa," she said again, "I hope I shall soon be better, and be some comfort to you." "My best--my own--my comfort," he murmured, all he could say without giving way." "Baby--is she well?" "Yes, thank Heaven, she has not suffered at all."
"I heard her this morning, I must see her to-morrow. But don't stay, dear, dear papa, it is late, and I am sure you are not at all well. Your arm--is it very much hurt?""It is nothing you need think about, my dear. I am much better than I could have imagined possible."
"And you have been nursing me all the time! Papa, you must let me take care of you now. Do pray go to bed at once, and get up late. Nurse will take good care of me. Good-night, dear papa."
When Dr. May had left her, and tried to tell Richard how it had been, the tears cut him short, and had their free course; but there was much of thankfulness, for it might be looked on as the restoration of his daughter; the worst was over, and the next day he was able to think of other things, had more attention to spare for the rest, and when the surgeon came, took some professional interest in the condition of his own arm, inquired after his patients, and even talked of visiting them.
In the meantime, Margaret sent for her eldest brother, begging him to tell her the whole, and it was heard as calmly and firmly as it was told. Her bodily state lulled her mind; and besides it was not new; she had observed much while her faculties were still too much benumbed for her to understand all, or to express her feelings. Her thoughts seemed chiefly occupied with her father. She made Richard explain to her the injury he had suffered, and begged to know whether his constant attendance on her could do him harm. She was much rejoiced when her brother assured her that nothing could be better for him, and she began to say, with a smile, that very likely her being hurt had been fortunate. She asked who had taken care of him before Richard's arrival, and was pleased to hear that it was Mr. Ernescliffe. A visit from the little Gertrude Margaret was happily accomplished, and, on the whole, the day was most satisfactory--she herself declaring that she could not see that there was anything the matter with her, except that she felt lazy, and did not seem able to move.
Thus the next Sunday morning dawned with more cheerfulness. Dr. May came downstairs for the first time, in order to go to church with his whole flock, except the two Margarets. He looked very wan and shattered, but they clustered gladly round him, when he once more stood among them, little Blanche securing his hand, and nodding triumphantly to Mr. Ernescliffe, as much as to say, "Now I have him, I don't want you."
Norman alone was missing; but he was in his place at church among the boys. Again, in returning, he slipped out of the party, and was at home the first, and when this recurred in the afternoon Ethel began to understand his motive. The High Street led past the spot where the accident had taken place, though neither she nor any of the others knew exactly where it was, except Norman, on whose mind the scene was branded indelibly; she guessed that it was to avoid it that he went along what was called Randall's Alley, his usual short cut to school.
The Sunday brought back to the children that there was no one to hear their hymns; but Richard was a great comfort, watching over the little ones more like a sister than a brother. Ethel was ashamed of herself when she saw him taking thought for them, tying Blanche's bonnet, putting Aubrey's gloves on, teaching them to put away their Sunday toys, as if he meant them to be as neat and precise as himself.
Dr. May did not encounter the family dinner, nor attempt a second going to church; but Blanche was very glorious as she led him down to drink tea, and, before going up again, he had a conversation with Alan Ernescliffe, who felt himself obliged to leave Stoneborough early on the morrow."I can endure better to go now," said he, "and I shall hear of you often; Hector will let me know, and Richard has promised to write." "Ay, you must let us often have a line. I should guess you were a letterwriting man." "I have hitherto had too few friends who cared to hear of me to write much, but the pleasure of knowing that any interest is taken in me here--"
"Well," said the doctor, "mind that a letter will always be welcome, and when you are coming southwards, here are your old quarters. We cannot lose sight of you anyway, especially"--and his voice quivered-- "after the help you gave my poor boys and girls in their distress."
"It would be the utmost satisfaction to think I had been of the smallest use," said Alan, hiding much under these commonplace words.
"More than I know," said Dr. May; "too much to speak of. Well, we shall see you again, though it is a changed place, and you must come and see your god-daughter--poor child--may she only be brought up as her sisters were! They will do their best, poor things, and so must I, but it is sad work!"
Both were too much overcome for words, but the doctor was the first to continue, as he took off his dimmed spectacles. He seemed to wish to excuse himself for giving way; saying, with a look that would fain have been a smile, "The world has run so light and easy with me hitherto, that you see I don't know how to bear with trouble. All thinking and managing fell to my Maggie's share, and I had as little care on my hands as one of my own boys--poor fellows. I don't know how it is to turn out, but of all the men on earth to be left with eleven children, I should choose myself as the worst."Alan tried to say somewhat of "Confidence--affection--daughters," and broke down, but it did as well as if it had been connected. "Yes, yes," said the doctor, "they are good children every one of them. There's much to be thankful for, if one could only pluck up heart to feel it." "And you are convinced that Marga--that Miss May is recovering."
"She has made a great advance today. The head is right, at least," but the doctor looked anxious and spoke low as he said, "I am not satisfied about her yet. That want of power over the limbs, is more than the mere shock and debility, as it seems to me, though Ward thinks otherwise, and I trust he is right, but I cannot tell yet as to the spine. If this should not soon mend I shall have Fleet to see her. He was a fellow-student of mine very clever, and I have more faith in him than in any one else in that line.""By all means--Yes," said Alan, excessively shocked. "But you will let me know how she goes on--Richard will be so kind."
"We will not fail," said Dr May more and more touched at the sight of the young sailor struggling in vain to restrain his emotion, "you shall hear. I'll write myself as soon as I can use my hand, but I hope she may be all right long before that is likely to be."
"Your kindness--" Alan attempted to say, but began again. "Feeling as I must
-" then interrupting himself. "I beg your pardon, 'tis no fit time, nor fit--But you'll let me hear."
"That I will," said Dr May, and as Alan hastily left the room, he continued, half aloud, to himself, "Poor boy! poor fellow. I see. No wonder! Heaven grant I have not been the breaking of their two young hearts, as well as my own! Maggie looked doubtful--as much as she ever did when my mind was set on a thing, when I spoke of bringing him here. But after all, she liked him as much as the rest of us did--she could not wish it otherwise--he is one of a thousand, and worthy of our Margaret. That he is! and Maggie thinks so. If he gets on in his profession, why then we shall see--" but the sigh of anguish of mind here showed that the wound had but been forgotten for one moment."Pshaw! What am I running on to? I'm all astray for want of her! My poor girl -"
Mr Ernescliffe set out before sunrise. The boys were up to wish him good-bye, and so were Etheldred and Mary, and some one else, for while the shaking of hands was going on in the hall there was a call, "Mr Ernthcliffe," and over the balusters peeped a little rough curly head, a face glowing with carnation deepened by sleep, and a round, plump, bare arm and shoulder, and down at Alan's feet there fell a construction of white and pink paper, while a voice lisped out, "Mr Ernthcliffe, there's a white rothe for you."
An indignant "Miss Blanche!" was heard behind and there was no certainty that any thanks reached the poor little heroine, who was evidently borne off summarily to the nursery, while Ethel gave way to a paroxysm of suppressed laughter, joined in, more or less, by all the rest, and thus Alan, promising faithfully to preserve the precious token, left Dr May's door, not in so much outward sorrow as he had expected.
Even their father laughed at the romance of the white "rothe," and declared Blanche was a dangerous young lady; but the story was less successful with Miss Winter, who gravely said it was no wonder since Blanche's elder sister had been setting her the example of forwardness in coming down in this way after Mr. Ernescliffe. Ethel was very angry, and was only prevented from vindicating herself by remembering there was no peacemaker now, and that she had resolved only to think of Miss Winter's late kindness, and bear with her tiresome ways.
Etheldred thought herself too sorrowful to be liable to her usual faults which would seem so much worse now; but she found herself more irritable than usual, and doubly heedless, because her mind was preoccupied. She hated herself, and suffered more from sorrow than even at the first moment, for now she felt what it was to have no one to tame her, no eye over her; she found herself going a tort et a travers all the morning, and with no one to set her right. Since it was so the first day, what would follow?
Mary was on the contrary so far subdued, as to be exemplary in goodness and diligence, and Blanche was always steady. Flora was too busy to think of the school-room, for the whole house was on her hands, besides the charge of Margaret, while Dr. May went to the hospital, and to sundry patients, and they thought he seemed the better for the occupation, as well as gratified and affected by the sympathy he everywhere met with from high and low.
The boys were at school, unseen except when at the dinner play-hour Norman ran home to ask after his father and sister; but the most trying time was at eight in the evening, when they came home. That was wont to be the merriest part of the whole day, the whole family collected, papa at leisure and ready for talk or for play, mamma smiling over her work-basket, the sisters full of chatter, the brothers full of fun, all the tidings of the day discussed, and nothing unwelcome but bedtime. How different now! The doctor was with Margaret, and though Richard tried to say something cheerful as his brothers entered, there was no response, and they sat down on the opposite sides of the fire, forlorn and silent, till Richard, who was printing some letters on cardboard to supply the gaps in Aubrey's ivory Alphabet, called Harry to help him; but Ethel, as she sat at work, could only look at Norman, and wish she could devise anything likely to gratify him.
After a time Flora came down, and laying some sheets of closely written notepaper before her sister, said, "Here is dear mamma's unfinished letter to Aunt Flora. Papa says we elder ones are to read it. It is a description of us all, and very much indeed we ought to learn from it. I shall keep a copy of it."
Flora took up her work, and began to consult with Richard, while Ethel moved to Norman's side, and kneeling so as to lean against his shoulder, as he sat on a low cushion, they read their mother's last letter by the fire-light, with indescribable feelings, as they went through the subjects that had lately occupied them, related by her who would never be among them again. After much of this kind, for her letters to Mrs. Arnott were almost journals, came,
"You say it is long since you had a portrait gallery of the chicken daisies, and if I do not write in these leisure days, you will hardly get it after I am in the midst of business again. The new Daisy is like Margaret at the same age--may she continue like her! Pretty creature, she can hardly be more charming than at present. Aubrey, the moon-faced, is far from reconciled to his disposition from babyhood; he is a sober, solemn gentleman, backward in talking, and with such a will of his own, as will want much watching; very different from Blanche, who is Flora over again, perhaps prettier and more fairy-like, unless this is only one's admiration for the buds of the present season. None of them has ever been so winning as this little maid, who even attracts Dr. Hoxton himself, and obtains sugar- plums and kisses. 'Rather she than I,' says Harry, but notice is notice to the white Mayflower, and there is my anxiety--I am afraid it is not wholesome to be too engaging ever to get a rebuff. I hope having a younger sister, and outgrowing baby charms may be salutary. Flora soon left off thinking about her beauty, and the fit of vanity does less harm at five than fifteen. My poor Tom has not such a happy life as Blanche, he is often in trouble at lessons, and bullied by Harry at play, in spite of his champion, Mary; and yet I cannot interfere, for it is good for him to have all this preparatory teasing before he goes into school. He has good abilities, but not much perseverance or energy, and I must take the teaching of him into my own hands till his school-days begin, in hopes of instilling them. The girlishness and timidity will be knocked out of him by the boys, I suppose; Harry is too kind and generous to do more than tease him moderately, and Norman will see that it does not go too far. It is a common saying that Tom and Mary made a mistake, that he is the girl, and she the boy, for she is a rough, merry creature, the noisiest in the house, always skirmishing with Harry in defence of Tom, and yet devoted to him, and wanting to do everything he does. Those two, Harry and Mary, are exactly alike, except for Harry's curly mane of lion-coloured wig. The yellow-haired laddie, is papa's name for Harry, which he does not mind from him, though furious if the girls attempt to call him so. Harry is the thorough boy of the family, all spirit, recklessness, and mischief, but so true, and kind, and noble- hearted, that one loves him the better after every freely confessed scrape. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to my boy for his perfect confidence, the thing that chiefly lessens my anxiety for him in his half-school, half-home life, which does not seem to me to work quite well with him. There are two sons of Mrs. Anderson's at the school, who are more his friends than I like, and he is too easily led by the desire not to be outdone, and to show that he fears nothing. Lately, our sailor-guest has inspired him with a vehement wish to go to sea; I wish it was not necessary that the decision should be made so early in life, for this fault is just what would make us most fear to send him into the world very young, though in some ways it might not do amiss for him.
"So much for the younger bairns, whom you never beheld, dear Flora. The three whom you left, when people used to waste pity on me for their being all babies together, now look as if any pair of them were twins, for Norman is the tallest, almost outgrowing his strength, and Ethel's sharp face, so like her papa's, makes her look older than Flora. Norman and Ethel do indeed take after their papa, more than any of the others, and are much alike. There is the same brilliant cleverness, the same strong feeling, not easy of demonstration, though impetuous in action; but poor Ethel's old foibles, her harum- scarum nature, quick temper, uncouth manners, and heedlessness of all but one absorbing object, have kept her back, and caused her much discomfort; yet I sometimes think these manifest defects have occasioned a discipline that is the best thing for the character in the end. They are faults that show themselves, and which one can tell how to deal with, and I have full confidence that she has the principle within her that will conquer them.""If--" mournfully sighed Ethel; but her brother pointed on further.
"My great hope is her entire indifference to praise--not approval, but praise. If she has not come up to her own standard, she works on, not always with good temper, but perseveringly, and entirely, unheeding of commendation till she has satisfied herself, only thinking it stupid not to see the faults. It is this independence of praise that I want to see in her brother and sister. They justly earn it, and are rightly pleased with it; but I cannot feel sure whether they do not depend on it too much. Norman lives, like all school-boys, a life of emulation, and has never met with anything but success. I do believe Dr. Hoxton and Mr. Wilmot are as proud of him as we are; and he has never shown any tendency to conceit, but I am afraid he has the love of being foremost, and pride in his superiority, caring for what he is, compared with others, rather than what he is himself."
"I know," said Norman; "I have done so, but that's over. I see what it is worth. I'd give all the quam optimes I ever got in my life to be the help Richard is to papa."
"Your sweet goddaughter. I almost feel as if I had spoken in disparagement of her, but I meant no such thing, dear girl. It would be hard to find a fault in her, since the childish love of admiration was subdued. She is so solid and steady, as to be very valuable with the younger ones, and is fast growing so lovely, that I wish you could behold her. I do not see any vanity, but there lies my dread, not of beauty--vanity, but that she will find temptation in the being everywhere liked and sought after. As to Margaret, my precious companion and friend, you have heard enough of her to know her, and, as to telling you what she is like, I could as soon set about describing her papa. When I thought of not being spared to them this time, it was happiness indeed to think of her at their head, fit to be his companion, with so much of his own talent as to be more up to conversation with him, than he could ever have found his stupid old Maggie. It was rather a trial of her discretion to have Mr. Ernescliffe here while I was upstairs, and very well she seems to have come out of it. Poor Richard's last disappointment is still our chief trouble. He has been working hard with a tutor all through the vacation, and has not even come home to see his new sister, on his way to Oxford. He had made a resolution that he would not come to us till he had passed, and his father thought it best that it should be kept. I hope he will succeed next time, but his nervousness renders it still more doubtful. With him it is the very reverse of Norman. He suffers too much for want of commendation, and I cannot wonder at it, when I see how much each failure vexes his father, and Richard little knows how precious is our perfect confidence in him, how much more valuable than any honours he could earn. You would be amused to see how little he is altered from the pretty little fair fellow, that you used to say was so like my old portrait, even the wavy rings of light glossy hair sit on his forehead, just as you liked to twist them; and his small trim figure is a fine contrast to Norman's long legs and arms, which--"
There the letter broke off, the playful affection of the last words making it almost more painful to think that the fond hand would never finish the sentence.
"So there you are up for the day--really you look very comfortable," said Ethel, coming into the room where Margaret lay on her bed, half- raised by pillows, supported by a wooden frame."Yes, is not it a charming contrivance of Richard's? It quite gives me the use of my hands," said Margaret. "I think he is doing something else for you," said Ethel; "I heard him carpentering at six o'clock this morning, but I suppose it is to be a secret." "And don't you admire her night-cap?" said Flora. "Is it anything different?" said Ethel, peering closer. "Oh, I see-- so she has a fine day night-cap. Is that your taste, Flora?" "Partly," said Margaret, "and partly my own. I put in all these little white puffs, and I hope you think they do me credit. Wasn't it grand of me?" "She only despises you for them," said Flora.
"I'm very glad you could," said Ethel, gravely; "but do you know? it is rather like that horrid old lady in some book, who had a paralytic stroke, and the first thing she did that showed she had come to her senses was to write, 'Rose-coloured curtains for the doctors.'""Well, it was for the doctor," said Margaret, "and it had its effect. He told me I looked much better when he found me trying it on." "And did you really have the looking-glass and try it on?" cried Ethel.
"Yes, really," said Flora. "Don't you think one may as well be fit to be seen if one is ill? It is no use to depress one's friends by being more forlorn and disconsolate than one can help.""No--not disconsolate," said Ethel; "but the white puffiness--and the hemming--and the glass!"
"Poor Ethel can't get over it," said Margaret. "But, Ethel, do you think there is nothing disconsolate in untidiness?"
"You could be tidy without the little puffs! Your first bit of work too! Don't think I'm tiresome. If they were an amusement to you, I am sure I am very glad of them, but I can't see the sense of them."
"Poor little things!" said Margaret laughing. "It is only my foible for making a thing look nice. And, Ethel," she added, drawing her down close over her, "I did not think the trouble wasted, if seeing me look fresher cheered up dear papa a moment."
"I spoke to papa about nurse's proposal," said Margaret presently to Flora, "and he quite agrees to it. Indeed it is impossible that Anne should attend properly to all the children while nurse is so much engaged with me."
"I think so," said Flora; "and it does not answer to bring Aubrey into the school-room. It only makes Mary and Blanche idle, and Miss Winter does not like it.""Then the question is, who shall it be? Nurse has no one in view, and only protests against 'one of the girls out of the school here.'" "That's a great pity," said Flora. "Don't you think we could make her take to Jane White, she is so very nice."
"I thought of her, but it will never answer if we displease nurse. Besides, I remember at the time Anne came, dear mamma thought there was danger of a girl's having too many acquaintances, especially taking the children out walking. We cannot always be sure of sending her out with Anne.""Do you remember--" said Ethel, there stopping. "Well," said both sisters. "Don't you recollect, Flora, that girl whose father was in the hospital--that girl at Cocksmoor?" "I do," said Flora. "She was a very nice girl; I wonder whether nurse would approve of her." "How old?" said Margaret. "Fourteen, and tall. Such a clean cottage!"
The girls went on, and Margaret began to like the idea very much, and consider whether the girl could be brought for inspection, before nurse was prejudiced by hearing of her Cocksmoor extraction. At that moment Richard knocked at the door, and entered with Tom, helping him to bring a small short-legged table, such as could stand on the bed at the right height for Margaret's meals or employments.
There were great exclamations of satisfaction, and gratitude; "it was the very thing wanted, only how could he have contrived it?"
"Charming, you have made it go so easily, when it used to be so stiff. There-give me my work-basket, please, Ethel; I mean to make some more white puffs.""What's the matter now, Ethel?" said Flora; "you look as if you did not approve of the table." "I was only thinking it was as if she was settling herself to lie in bed for a very long time," said Ethel. "I hope not," said Richard; "but I don't see why she should not be as comfortable as she can, while she is there." "I am sure I hope you will never be ill, Ethel," said Flora. "You would be horrid to nurse!" "She will know how to be grateful when she is," said Margaret. "I say, Richard," exclaimed Ethel, "this is hospital-meeting day, so you won't be wanted to drive papa." "No, I am at your service; do you want a walk?" So it was determined that Richard and Ethel should walk together to Cocksmoor.
No two people could be much more unlike than Richard and Etheldred May; but they were very fond of each other. Richard was sometimes seriously annoyed by Ethel's heedlessness, and did not always understand her sublimities, but he had a great deal of admiration for one who partook so much of his father's nature; and Ethel had a due respect for her eldest brother, gratitude and strong affection for many kindnesses, a reverence for his sterling goodness, and his exemption from her own besetting failings, only a little damped by compassionate wonder at his deficiency in talent, and by her vexation at not being always comprehended.
They went by the road, for the plantation gate was far too serious an undertaking for any one not in the highest spirits for enterprise. On the way there was a good deal of that desultory talk, very sociable and interesting, that is apt to prevail between two people, who would never have chosen each other for companions, if they were not of the same family, but who are nevertheless very affectionate and companionable. Ethel was anxious to hear what her brother thought of papa's spirits, and whether he talked in their drives.
"Sometimes," said Richard. "It is just as it happens. Now and then he goes on just like himself, and then at other times he will not speak for three or four miles."
"And he sighs?" said Ethel. "Those sighs are so very sad, and long, and deep! They seem to have whole volumes in them, as if there was such a weight on him.""Some people say he is not as much altered as they expected," said Richard. "Oh! do they? Well! I can't fancy any one feeling it more. He can't leave off his old self, of course, but--" Ethel stopped short. "Margaret is a great comfort to him," said Richard.
"That she is. She thinks of him all day long, and I don't think either of them is ever so happy as in the evening, when he sits with her. They talk about mamma then--"
It was just what Richard could not do, and he made some observation to change the subject, but Ethel returned to it, so far as to beg to know how the arm was going on, for she did not like to say anything about it to papa."It will be a long business, I am afraid," said Richard. "Indeed, he said the other day, he thought he should never have the free use of the elbow."
"And do you think it is very painful? I saw the other day, when Aubrey was sitting on his knee and fidgeting, he shrank whenever he even came towards it, and yet it seemed as if he could not bear to put him down.""Yes it is excessively tender, and sometimes gets very bad at night." "Ah," said Ethel; "there's a line--here--round his eyes, that there never used to be, and when it deepens, I am sure he is in pain, or has been kept awake."
"You are very odd, Ethel; how do you see things in people's faces, when you miss so much at just the same distance?"
"I look after what I care about," said Ethel. "One sees more with one's mind than one's eyes. The best sight is inside."
"I wonder you don't wear spectacles," was the result of his meditation, and it made her laugh by being so inapposite to her own reflections: but the laugh ended in a melancholy look. "Dear mamma did not like me to use them," she said, in a low voice.
Thus they talked till they arrived at Cocksmoor, where poor Mrs. Taylor, inspirited by better reports of her husband and the hopes for her daughter, was like another woman. Richard was very careful not to raise false expectations, saying it all depended on Miss May and nurse, and what they thought of her strength and steadiness, but these cautions did not seem capable of damping the hopes of the smooth-haired Lucy, who stood smiling and curtseying. The twins were grown and improved, and Ethel supposed they would be brought to church on the next christening Sunday, but their mother looked helpless and hopeless about getting them so far, and how was she to get gossips? Ethel began to grow very indignant, but she was always shy of finding fault with poor people to their faces when she would not have done so to persons in her own station, and so she was silent, while Richard hoped they would be able to manage, and said it would be better not to wait another month for still worse weather and shorter days.
As they were coming out of the house, a big, rough-looking, uncivilised boy came up before them, and called out, "I say--ben't you the young doctor up at Stoneborough?""I am Dr. May's son," said Richard; while Ethel, startled, clung to his arm, in dread of some rudeness.
"Granny's bad," said the boy; proceeding without further explanation to lead the way to another hovel, though Richard tried to explain that the knowledge of medicine was not in his case hereditary. A poor old woman sat groaning over the fire, and two children crouched, half-clothed, on the bare floor.
Richard's gentle voice and kind manner drew forth some wonderful descriptions--"her head was all of a goggle, her legs all of a fur, she felt as if some one was cutting right through her."
"Well," said Richard kindly, "I am no doctor myself, but I'll ask my father about you, and perhaps he can give you an order for the hospital." "No, no, thank ye, sir; I can't go to the hospital, I can't leave these poor children; they've no father nor mother, sir, and no one to do for them but me.""What do you live on, then?" said Richard, looking round the desolate hut.
"On Sam's wages, sir; that's that boy. He is a good boy to me, sir, and his little sisters; he brings it, all he gets, home to me, rig'lar, but 'tis but six shillings a week, and they makes 'em take half of it out in goods and beer, which is a bad thing for a boy like him, sir.""How old are you, Sam?"
Sam scratched his head, and answered nothing. His grandmother knew he was the age of her black bonnet, and as he looked about fifteen, Ethel honoured him and the bonnet accordingly, while Richard said he must be very glad to be able to maintain them all, at his age, and, promising to try to bring his father that way, since prescribing at second hand for such curious symptoms was more than could be expected, he took his leave.
"A wretched place," said Richard, looking round. "I don't know what help there is for the people. There's no one to do any thing for them, and it is of no use to tell them to come to church when it it so far off, and there is so little room for them."
"It is miserable," said Ethel; and all her thoughts during her last walk thither began to rush over her again, not effaced, but rather burned in, by all that had subsequently happened. She had said it should be her aim and effort to make Cocksmoor a Christian place. Such a resolve must not pass away lightly; she knew it must be acted on, but how? What would her present means--one sovereign--effect? Her fancies, rich and rare, had nearly been forgotten of late, but she might make them of use in time--in time, and here were hives of children growing up in heathenism. Suddenly an idea struck her-- Richard, when at home, was a very diligent teacher in the Sunday- school at Stoneborough, though it was a thankless task, and he was the only gentleman so engaged, except the two clergymen--the other male teachers being a formal, grave, little baker, and one or two monitors.
"Richard," said Ethel, "I'll tell you what. Suppose we were to get up a Sundayschool at Cocksmoor. We could get a room, and walk there every Sunday afternoon, and go to church in the evening instead."He was so confounded by the suddenness of the project, that he did not answer, till she had time for several exclamations and "Well, Richard?" "I cannot tell," he said. "Going to church in the evening would interfere with tea-time--put out all the house--make the evening uncomfortable." "The evenings are horrid now, especially Sundays," said Ethel. "But missing two more would make them worse for the others." "Papa is always with Margaret," said Ethel. "We are of no use to him. Besides these poor children--are not they of more importance?" "And, then, what is to become of Stoneborough school?"
"I hate it," exclaimed Ethel; then seeing Richard shocked, and finding she had spoken more vehemently than she intended--"It is not as bad for you among the boys, but, while that committee goes on it is not the least use to try to teach the girls right. Oh! the fusses about the books, and one's way of teaching! And fancy how Mrs Ledwich used us. You know I went again last Sunday, for the first time, and there I found that class of Margaret's, that she had just managed to get into some degree of nice order, taken so much pains with, taught so well. She had been telling me what to hear them-- there it is given away to Fanny Anderson, who is no more fit to teach than that stick, and all Margaret's work will be undone. No notice to us--not even the civility to wait and see when she gets better.""If we left them now for Cocksmoor, would it not look as it we were affronted?" Ethel was slightly taken aback, but only said, "Papa would be very angry if he knew it." "I am glad you did not tell him," said Richard.
"I thought it would only tease him," said Ethel, "and that he might call it a petty female squabble; and when Margaret is well, it will come right, if Fanny Anderson has not spoiled the girls in the meantime. It is all Mrs. Ledwich's doing. How I did hate it when every one came up and shook hands with me, and asked after Margaret and papa, only just out of curiosity!""Hush, hush, Ethel, what's the use of thinking such things?" A silence,--then she exclaimed, "But, indeed, Richard, you don't fancy that I want to teach at Cocksmoor, because it is disagreeable at Stoneborough?" "No, indeed."
The rendering of full justice conveyed in his tone so opened Ethel's heart that she went on eagerly:--"The history of it is this. Last time we walked here, that day, I said, and I meant it, that I would never put it out of my head; I would go on doing and striving, and trying, till this place was properly cared for, and has a church and a clergyman. I believe it was a vow, Richard, I do believe it was,-- and if one makes one, one must keep it. There it is. So, I can't give money, I have but one pound in the world, but I have time, and I would make that useful, if you would help me."
"I don't see how," was the answer, and there was a fragment of a smile on Richard's face, as if it struck him as a wild scheme, that Ethel should undertake, single handed, to evangelise Cocksmoor.It was such a damper as to be most mortifying to an enthusiastic girl, and she drew into herself in a moment.
They walked home in silence, and when Richard warned her that she was not keeping her dress out of the dirt, it sounded like a sarcasm on her projects, and, with a slightly pettish manner, she raised the unfortunate skirt, its crape trimmings greatly bespattered with ruddy mud. Then recollecting how mamma would have shaken her head at that very thing, she regretted the temper she had betrayed, and in a larmoyante voice, sighed, "I wish I could pick my way better. Some people have the gift, you have hardly a splash, and I'm up to the ankles in mud.""It is only taking care," said Richard; "besides your frock is so long, and full. Can't you tuck it up and pin it?" "My pins always come out," said Ethel, disconsolately, crumpling the black folds into one hand, while she hunted for a pin with the other.
"No wonder, if you stick them in that way," said Richard. "Oh! you'll tear that crape. Here, let me help you. Don't you see, make it go in and out, that way; give it something to pull against."
Ethel laughed. "That's the third thing you have taught me--to thread a needle, tie a bow, and stick in a pin! I never could learn those things of any one else; they show, but don't explain the theory."
They met Dr. May at the entrance of the town, very tired, and saying he had been a long tramp, all over the place, and Mrs. Hoxton had been boring him with her fancies. As he took Richard's arm he gave the long heavy sigh that always fell so painfully on Ethel's ear."Dear, dear, dear papa!" thought she, "my work must also be to do all I can to comfort him."
Her reflections were broken off. Dr. May exclaimed, "Ethel, don't make such a figure of yourself. Those muddy ankles and petticoats are not fit to be seen-there, now you are sweeping the pavement. Have you no medium? One would think you had never worn a gown in your life before!"
Poor Ethel stepped on before with mud-encrusted heels, and her father speaking sharply in the weariness and soreness of his heart; her draggletailed petticoats weighing down at once her missionary projects at Cocksmoor, and her tender visions of comforting her widowed father; her heart was full to overflowing, and where was the mother to hear her troubles?
She opened the hall door, and would have rushed upstairs, but nurse happened to be crossing the hall. "Miss Ethel! Miss Ethel, you aren't going up with them boots on! I do declare you are just like one of the boys. And your frock!"
Ethel sat submissively down on the lowest step, and pulled off her boots. As she did so, her father and brother came in--the former desiring Richard to come with him to the study, and write a note for him. She hoped that thus she might have Margaret to herself, and hurried into her room. Margaret was alone, maids and children at tea, and Flora dressing. The room was in twilight, with the red gleam of the fire playing cheerfully over it."Well, Ethel, have you had a pleasant walk?" "Yes--no--Oh, Margaret!" and throwing herself across the bottom of the bed, she burst into tears. "Ethel, dear, what is the matter? Papa--" "No--no--only I draggled my frock, and Richard threw cold water. And I am good for nothing! Oh! if mamma was but here!" "Darling Ethel, dear Ethel, I wish I could comfort you. Come a little nearer to me, I can't reach you! Dear Ethel, what has gone wrong?" "Everything," said Ethel. "No--I'm too dirty to come on your white bed; I forgot, you won't like it," added she, in an injured tone.
"You are wet, you are cold, you are tired," said Margaret. "Stay here and dress, don't go up in the cold. There, sit by the fire pull off your frock and stockings, and we will send for the others. Let me see you look comfortable-there. Now tell me who threw cold water."
"It was figurative cold water," said Ethel, smiling for a moment. "I was only silly enough to tell Richard my plan, and it's horrid to talk to a person who only thinks one high-flying and nonsensical--and then came the dirt.""But what was the scheme, Ethel?" "Cocksmoor," said Ethel, proceeding to unfold it. "I wish we could," said Margaret. "It would be an excellent thing. But how did
Richard vex you?"
"I don't know," said Ethel, "only he thought it would not do. Perhaps he said right, but it was coldly, and he smiled."
"He is too sober-minded for our flights," said Margaret. "I know the feeling of it, Ethel dear; but you know if he did see that some of your plans might not answer, it is no reason you should not try to do something at once. You have not told me about the girl."
Ethel proceeded to tell the history. "There!" said Margaret cheerfully, "there are two ways of helping Cocksmoor already. Could you not make some clothes for the two grandchildren? I could help you a little, and then, if they were well clothed, you might get them to come to the Sunday-school. And as to the twins, I wonder what the hire of a cart would be to bring the christening party? It is just what Richard could manage.""Yes," said Ethel; "but those are only little isolated individual things!" "But one must make a beginning." "Then, Margaret, you think it was a real vow? You don't think it silly of me?" said Ethel wistfully.
"Ethel, dear, I don't think dear mamma would say we ought to make vows, except what the church decrees for us. I don't think she would like the notion of your considering yourself pledged; but I do think, that, after all you have said and felt about Cocksmoor, and being led there on that day, it does seem as if we might be intended to make it our especial charge.""Oh, Margaret, I am glad you say so. You always understand."
"But you know we are so young, that now we have not her to judge for us, we must only do little things that we are quite sure of, or we shall get wrong.""That's not the way great things were done." "I don't know, Ethel; I think great things can't be good unless they stand on a sure foundation of little ones."
"Well, I believe Richard was right, and it would not do to begin on Sunday, but he was so tame; and then my frock, and the horrid deficiency in those little neatnesses."
"Perhaps that is good for you in one way; you might get very high- flying if you had not the discipline of those little tiresome things, correcting them will help you, and keep your high things from being all romance. I know dear mamma used to say so; that the trying to conquer them was a help to you. Oh, here's Mary! Mary, will you get Ethel's dressing things? She has come home wet-footed and cold, and has been warming herself by my fire."
Mary was happy to help, and Ethel was dressed and cheered by the time Dr. May came in, for a hurried visit and report of his doings; Flora followed on her way from her room. Then all went to tea, leaving Margaret to have a visit from the little ones under charge of nurse. Two hours' stay with her, that precious time when she knew that sad as the talk often was, it was truly a comfort to him. It ended when ten o'clock struck, and he went down-Margaret hearing the bell, the sounds of the assembling servants, the shutting of the door, the stillness of prayer-time, the opening again, the feet moving off in different directions, then brothers and sisters coming in to kiss her and bid her good-night, nurse and Flora arranging her for the night, Flora coming to sleep in her little bed in the corner of the room, and, lastly, her father's tender good-night, and melancholy look at her, and all was quiet, except the low voices and movements as Richard attended him in his own room.
Margaret could think: "Dear, dear Ethel, how noble and high she is! But I am afraid! It is what people call a difficult, dangerous age, and the grander she is, the greater danger of not managing her rightly. If those high purposes should run only into romance like mine, or grow out into eccentricities and unfemininesses, what a grievous pity it would be! And I, so little older, so much less clever, with just sympathy enough not to be a wise restraint--I am the person who has the responsibility, and oh, what shall I do? Mamma trusted to me to be a mother to them, papa looks to me, and I so unfit, besides this helplessness. But God sent it, and put me in my place. He made me lie here, and will raise me up if it is good, so I trust He will help me with my sisters.""Grant me to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in Thy holy comfort."