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Title: The Daisy chain, or Aspirations
Author: Yonge, Charlotte M. (Charlotte Mary)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Daisy chain, or Aspirations" ***

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THE DAISY CHAIN, OR ASPIRATIONS

By Charlotte Yonge



PREFACE.


No one can be more sensible than is the Author that the present is an
overgrown book of a nondescript class, neither the “tale” for the young,
nor the novel for their elders, but a mixture of both.

Begun as a series of conversational sketches, the story outran both
the original intention and the limits of the periodical in which it was
commenced; and, such as it has become, it is here presented to those who
have already made acquaintance with the May family, and may be willing
to see more of them. It would beg to be considered merely as what it
calls itself, a Family Chronicle--a domestic record of home events,
large and small, during those years of early life when the character
is chiefly formed, and as an endeavour to trace the effects of those
aspirations which are a part of every youthful nature. That the young
should take one hint, to think whether their hopes and upward-breathings
are truly upwards, and founded in lowliness, may be called the moral of
the tale.

For those who may deem the story too long, and the characters too
numerous, the Author can only beg their pardon for any tedium that they
may have undergone before giving it up. Feb. 22nd, 1856.



THE DAISY CHAIN



PART 1.



CHAPTER I.



     Si douce est la Marguerite.--CHAUCER.



“Miss Winter, are you busy? Do you want this afternoon? Can you take a
good long walk?”

“Ethel, my dear, how often have I told you of your impetuosity--you have
forgotten.”

“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 dining-room door opened, and there came out
a young man, slight, and delicate-looking, 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 to-day.”

She did not gainsay it, but there was a little sigh of disappointment,
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.



CHAPTER II.



    Meadows trim with daisies pied.--MILTON.


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.”

“Poor old woman, it must have been a pleasure to her,” said Mrs.
May--“it is so seldom she has any change.”

“Who is she?” asked Mr. Ernescliffe.

“The butcher’s old mother,” said Margaret, who was next to him. “She
is one of papa’s pet patients, because he thinks her desolate and
ill-used.”

“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!”

“Yes, indeed,” said Margaret earnestly.

“I cannot fancy any advantage in life equal to it. Your father and
mother so entirely one with you all.”

Margaret smiled, too much pleased to speak, and glanced at her mother’s
sweet face.

“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.

“There, Maggie, you are complete, you old hen-and-chicken daisy. Can’t
you take her portrait in the character, Margaret?”

“With her pink cap, and Blanche and Aubrey as they are now, on each
side?” said Flora.

“Margaret ought to be in the picture herself,” said Ethel. “Fetch the
artist in Norman’s Lexicon, Harry.”

“Since he has hit off one of us so well,” said the doctor. “Well! I’m
off. I must see old Southern. You’ll be ready by three? Good-bye, hen
and chicken.”

“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.”

“I don’t think papa can bear to bring himself to believe that it is 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 by-and-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.



CHAPTER III.



     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.
                               BURNS.


“Is this all the walking party?” exclaimed Mr. Ernescliffe, as Miss
Winter, Flora, and Norman gathered in the hall.

“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 blue-edged 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 over-depressed 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 cart-track 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 to-morrow 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.”

“And to feel it as much,” said Mr. Ward. “He has been invaluable with
his sailor’s resources and handiness.”

“Well, what shall I tell poor Richard?” asked Mr. Wilmot.

“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 to-morrow.”

“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.



CHAPTER IV.



     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.
                                    LYRA INNOCENTIUM.


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.

“You see he is quite himself, quite collected,” he said; “you heard now
clear and coherent his questions were.”

“Can’t it be helped? Do try to stop him till I can send to Mr. Ward.”

“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!”



CHAPTER V.



     “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.”
                                           LYRA INNOCENTIUM.


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 light-minded, 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
letter-writing 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 card-board 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
note-paper 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.”

“You would if you were his age.”

“Not I, I’m not the sort. I’m not like her. But are we to go on about
the elders?”

“Oh! yes, don’t let us miss a word. There can’t be anything but praise
of them.”


“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.



CHAPTER VI.



     A drooping daisy changed into a cup,
     In which her bright-eyed beauty is shut up.
                                          WORDSWORTH.


“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?”

“Don’t you recognise it?” said he.

“Oh, I see; it is the old drawing-desk that no one used. And you have
put legs to it--how famous! You are the best contriver, Richard!”

“Then see, you can raise it up for reading or writing; here’s a corner
for your ink to stand flat; and there it is down for your dinner.”

“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.”

“But do you always see the truth?” said Richard gravely.

“Quite enough. What is less common than the ordinary world?” said Ethel.

Richard shook his head, not quite satisfied, but not sure enough that he
entered into her meaning to question it.

“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 Sunday-school 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
draggle-tailed 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.”



CHAPTER VII.



     Something between a hindrance and a help.
                                    WORDSWORTH.


Etheldred awoke long before time for getting up, and lay pondering over
her visions. Margaret had sympathised, and therefore they did not seem
entirely aerial. To earn money by writing was her favourite plan, and
she called her various romances in turn before her memory, to judge
which might be brought down to sober pen and ink. She considered till it
became not too unreasonably early to get up. It was dark, but there was
a little light close to the window: she had no writing-paper, but she
would interline her old exercise-book. Down she ran, and crouching
in the school-room window-seat, she wrote on in a trance of eager
composition, till Norman called her, as he went to school, to help him
to find a book.

This done, she went up to visit Margaret, to tell her the story, and
consult her. But this was not so easy. She found Margaret with little
Daisy lying by her, and Tom sitting by the fire over his Latin.

“Oh, Ethel, good-morning, dear! you are come just in time.”

“To take baby?” said Ethel, as the child was fretting a little.

“Yes, thank you, she has been very good, but she was tired of lying
here, and I can’t move her about,” said Margaret.

“Oh, Margaret, I have such a plan,” said Ethel, as she walked about with
little Gertrude; but Tom interrupted.

“Margaret, will you see if I can say my lesson?” and the thumbed Latin
grammar came across her just as Dr. May’s door opened, and he came in
exclaiming, “Latin grammar! Margaret, this is really too much for you.
Good-morning, my dears. Ha! Tommy, take your book away, my boy. You must
not inflict that on sister now. There’s your regular master, Richard, in
my room, if it is fit for his ears yet. What, the little one here too?”

“How is your arm, papa?” said Margaret. “Did it keep you awake?”

“Not long--it set me dreaming though, and a very romantic dream it was,
worthy of Ethel herself.”

“What was it, papa?”

“Oh, it was an odd thing, joining on strangely enough with one I had
three or four and twenty years ago, when I was a young man, hearing
lectures at Edinburgh, and courting--” he stopped, and felt Margaret’s
pulse, asked her a few questions, and talked to the baby. Ethel longed
to hear his dream, but thought he would not like to go on; however, he
did presently.

“The old dream was the night after a picnic on Arthur’s Seat with the
Mackenzies; mamma and Aunt Flora were there. ‘Twas a regular boy’s
dream, a tournament, or something of that nature, where I was victor,
the queen--you know who she was--giving me her token--a Daisy Chain.”

“That is why you like to call us your Daisy Chain,” said Ethel.

“Did you write it in verse?” said Margaret. “I think I once saw some
verses like it in her desk.”

“I was in love, and three-and-twenty,” said the doctor, looking drolly
guilty in the midst of his sadness. “Ay, those fixed it in my memory,
perhaps my fancy made it more distinct than it really was. An evening
or two ago I met with them, and that stirred it up I suppose. Last
night came the tournament again, but it was the melee, a sense of being
crushed down, suffocated by the throng of armed knights and horses--pain
and wounds--and I looked in vain through the opposing overwhelming
host for my--my Maggie. Well, I got the worst of it, my sword arm was
broken--I fell, was stifled--crushed--in misery--all I could do was to
grasp my token--my Daisy Chain,” and he pressed Margaret’s hand as he
said so. “And, behold, the tumult and despair were passed. I lay on the
grass in the cloisters, and the Daisy Chain hung from the sky, and was
drawing me upwards. There--it is a queer dream for a sober old country
doctor. I don’t know why I told you, don’t tell any one again.”

And he walked away, muttering. “For he told me his dreams, talked of
eating and drinking,” leaving Margaret with her eyes full of tears, and
Ethel vehemently caressing the baby.

“How beautiful!” said Ethel.

“It has been a comfort to him, I am sure,” said Margaret.

“You don’t think it ominous,” said Ethel with a slight tremulous voice.

“More soothing than anything else. It is what we all feel, is it not?
that this little daisy bud is the link between us and heaven?”

“But about him. He was victor at first--vanquished the next time.”

“I think--if it is to have an interpretation, though I am not sure we
ought to take it so seriously, it would only mean that in younger days
people care for victory and distinction in this world, like Norman, or
as papa most likely did then; but, as they grow older, they care less,
and others pass them, and they know it does not signify, for in our race
all may win.”

“But he has a great name. How many people come from a distance to
consult him! he is looked upon, too, in other ways! he can do anything
with the corporation.”

Margaret smiled. “All this does not sound grand--it is not as if he had
set up in London.”

“Oh, dear, I am so glad he did not.”

“Shall I tell you what mamma told me he said about it, when Uncle
Mackenzie said he ought? He answered that he thought health and happy
home attachments were a better provision for us to set out in life with
than thousands.”

“I am sure he was right!” said Ethel earnestly. “Then you don’t think
the dream meant being beaten, only that our best things are not gained
by successes in this world?”

“Don’t go and let it dwell on your mind as a vision,” said Margaret. “I
think dear mamma would call that silly.”

An interruption occurred, and Ethel had to go down to breakfast with a
mind floating between romance, sorrow, and high aspirations, very unlike
the actual world she had to live in. First, there was a sick man walking
into the study, and her father, laying down his letters, saying, “I must
despatch him before prayers, I suppose. I’ve a great mind to say I never
will see any one who won’t keep to my days.”

“I can’t imagine why they don’t,” said Flora, as he went. “He is always
saying so, but never acting on it. If he would once turn one away, the
rest would mind.”

Richard went on in silence, cutting bread and butter.

“There’s another ring,” said Mary.

“Yes, he is caught now, they’ll go on in a stream. I shall not keep
Margaret waiting for her breakfast, I shall take it up.”

The morning was tiresome; though Dr. May had two regular days for seeing
poor people at his house, he was too good-natured to keep strictly to
them, and this day, as Flora had predicted, there was a procession of
them not soon got rid of, even by his rapid queries and the talismanic
figures made by his left hand on scraps of paper, with which he sent
them off to the infirmary. Ethel tried to read; the children lingered
about; it was a trial of temper to all but Tom, who obtained Richard’s
attention to his lessons. He liked to say them to his brother, and was
an incentive to learn them quickly, that none might remain for Miss
Winter when Richard went out with his father. If mamma had been there,
she would have had prayers; but now no one had authority enough, though
they did at last even finish breakfast. Just as the gig came to the
door, Dr. May dismissed his last patient, rang the bell in haste, and
as soon as prayers were over, declared he had an appointment, and had no
time to eat. There was a general outcry that it was bad enough when he
was well, and now he must not take liberties; Flora made him drink some
tea; and Richard placed morsels in his way, while he read his letters.
He ran up for a final look at Margaret, almost upset the staid Miss
Winter as he ran down again, called Richard to take the reins, and was
off.

It was French day, always a trial to Ethel. M. Ballompre, the master,
knew what was good and bad French, but could not render a reason,
and Ethel, being versed in the principles of grammar, from her Latin
studies, chose to know the why and wherefore of his corrections--she did
not like to see her pages defaced, and have no security against future
errors; while he thought her a troublesome pupil, and was put out by
her questions. They wrangled, Miss Winter was displeased, and Ethel felt
injured.

Mary’s inability to catch the pronunciation, and her hopeless dull look
when she found that coeur must not be pronounced cour, nor cur, but
something between, to which her rosy English lips could never come--all
this did not tease M. Ballompre, for he was used to it.

His mark for Ethel’s lesson was “de l’humeur.”

“I am sorry,” said Miss Winter, when he was gone. “I thought you had
outgrown that habit of disputing over every phrase.”

“I can’t tell how a language is to be learned without knowing the
reasons of one’s mistakes,” said Ethel.

“That is what you always say, my dear. It is of no use to renew it all,
but I wish you would control yourself. Now, Mary, call Blanche, and you
and Ethel take your arithmetic.”

So Flora went to read to Margaret, while Blanche went lightly and
playfully through her easy lessons, and Mary floundered piteously over
the difficulties of Compound Long Division. Ethel’s mind was in too
irritated and tumultuous a state for her to derive her usual solace from
Cube Root. Her sum was wrong, and she wanted to work it right, but Miss
Winter, who had little liking for the higher branches of arithmetic,
said she had spent time enough over it, and summoned her to an
examination such as the governess was very fond of and often practised.
Ethel thought it useless, and was teased by it; and though her answers
were chiefly correct, they were given in an irritated tone. It was of
this kind:--


        What is the date of the invention of paper?
        What is the latitude and longitude of Otaheite?
        What are the component parts of brass?
        Whence is cochineal imported?


When this was over, Ethel had to fetch her mending-basket, and Mary her
book of selections; the piece for to-day’s lesson was the quarrel of
Brutus and Cassius; and Mary’s dull droning tone was a trial to her
ears; she presently exclaimed, “Oh, Mary, don’t murder it!”

“Murder what?” said Mary, opening wide her light blue eyes.

“That use of exaggerated language,--” began Miss Winter.

“I’ve heard papa say it,” said Ethel, only wanting to silence Miss
Winter. In a cooler moment she would not have used the argument.

“All that a gentleman may say, may not be a precedent for a young lady;
but you are interrupting Mary.”

“Only let me show her. I can’t bear to hear her, listen, Mary.


        “What shall one of us
         That struck the foremost”--


“That is declaiming,” said Miss Winter. “It is not what we wish for in a
lady. You are neglecting your work and interfering.”

Ethel made a fretful contortion, and obeyed. So it went on all the
morning, Ethel’s eagerness checked by Miss Winter’s dry manner,
producing pettishness, till Ethel, in a state between self-reproach
and a sense of injustice, went up to prepare for dinner, and to visit
Margaret on the way.

She found her sister picking a merino frock to pieces. “See here,” she
said eagerly, “I thought you would like to make up this old frock for
one of the Cocksmoor children; but what is the matter?” as Ethel did not
show the lively interest that she expected.

“Oh, nothing, only Miss Winter is so tiresome.”

“What was it?”

“Everything, it was all horrid. I was cross, I know, but she and M.
Ballompre made me so;” and Ethel was in the midst of the narration of
her grievances, when Norman came in. The school was half a mile off, but
he had not once failed to come home, in the interval allowed for play
after dinner, to inquire for his sister.

“Well, Norman, you are out of breath, sit down and rest. What is doing
at school; are you dux of your class?”

“Yes,” said the boy wearily.

“What mark for the verses?” said Ethel.

“Quam bene.”

“Not optime?”

“No, they were tame,” Dr. Hoxton said.

“What is Harry doing?” said Margaret.

“He is fourth in his form. I left him at football.”

“Dinner!” said Flora at the door. “What will you have, Margaret?”

“I’ll fetch it,” said Norman, who considered it his privilege to wait
on Margaret at dinner. When he had brought the tray, he stood leaning
against the bed-post, musing. Suddenly, there was a considerable clatter
of fire-irons, and his violent start surprised Margaret.

“Ethel has been poking the fire,” she said, as if no more was needed to
account for their insecurity. Norman put them up again, but a ringing
sound betrayed that it was not with a firm touch, and when, a minute
after, he came to take her plate, she saw that he was trying with effort
to steady his hand.

“Norman, dear, are you sure you are well?”

“Yes, very well,” said he, as if vexed that she had taken any notice.

“You had better not come racing home. I’m not worth inquiries now, I am
so much better,” said she, smiling.

He made no reply, but this was not consenting silence.

“I don’t like you to lose your football,” she proceeded.

“I could not--” and he stopped short.

“It would be much better for you,” said she, looking up in his face with
anxious affectionate eyes, but he shunned her glance and walked away
with her plate.

Flora had been in such close attendance upon Margaret, that she needed
some cheerful walks, and though she had some doubts how affairs at
home would go on without her, she was overruled, and sent on a long
expedition with Miss Winter and Mary, while Ethel remained with
Margaret.

The only delay before setting out, was that nurse came in, saying, “If
you please, Miss Margaret, there is a girl come to see about the place.”

The sisters looked at each other and smiled, while Margaret asked whence
she came, and who she was.

“Her name is Taylor, and she comes from Cocksmoor, but she is a nice,
tidy, strong-looking girl, and she says she has been used to children.”

Nurse had fallen into the trap most comfortably, and seemed bent upon
taking this girl as a choice of her own. She wished to know if Miss
Margaret would like to see her.

“If you please, nurse, but if you think she will do, that is enough.”

“Yes, Miss, but you should look to them things yourself. If you please,
I’ll bring her up.” So nurse departed.

“Charming!” cried Ethel, “that’s your capital management, Flora; nurse
thinks she has done it all herself.”

“She is your charge though,” said Flora, “coming from your own beloved
Cocksmoor.”

Lucy Taylor came in, looking very nice, and very shy, curtseying low, in
extreme awe of the pale lady in bed. Margaret was much pleased with her,
and there was no more to be done but to settle that she should come on
Saturday, and to let nurse take her into the town to invest her with the
universal blackness of the household, where the two Margarets were the
only white things.

This arranged, and the walking party set forth, Ethel sat down by her
sister’s bed, and began to assist in unpicking the merino, telling
Margaret how much obliged she was to her for thinking of it, and how
grieved at having been so ungrateful in the morning. She was very happy
over her contrivances, cutting out under her sister’s superintendence.
She had forgotten the morning’s annoyance, till Margaret said, “I have
been thinking of what you said about Miss Winter, and really I don’t
know what is to be done.”

“Oh, Margaret, I did not mean to worry you,” said Ethel, sorry to see
her look uneasy.

“I like you to tell me everything, dear Ethel; but I don’t see clearly
the best course. We must go on with Miss Winter.”

“Of course,” said Ethel, shocked at her murmurs having even suggested
the possibility of a change, and having, as well as all the others, a
great respect and affection for her governess.

“We could not get on without her even if I were well,” continued
Margaret; “and dear mamma had such perfect trust in her, and we all know
and love her so well--it would make us put up with a great deal.”

“It is all my own fault,” said Ethel, only anxious to make amends to
Miss Winter. “I wish you would not say anything about it.”

“Yes, it does seem wrong even to think of it,” said Margaret, “when she
has been so very kind. It is a blessing to have any one to whom Mary and
Blanche may so entirely be trusted. But for you--”

“It is my own fault,” repeated Ethel.

“I don’t think it is quite all your own fault,” said Margaret, “and that
is the difficulty. I know dear mamma thought Miss Winter an excellent
governess for the little ones, but hardly up to you, and she saw that
you worried and fidgeted each other, so, you know, she used to keep the
teaching of you a good deal in her own hands.”

“I did not know that was the reason,” said Ethel, overpowered by the
recollection of the happy morning’s work she had often done in that
very room, when her mother had not been equal to the bustle of the
whole school-room. That watchful, protecting, guarding, mother’s love,
a shadow of Providence, had been round them so constantly on every side,
that they had been hardly conscious of it till it was lost to them.

“Was it not like her?” said Margaret, “but now, my poor Ethel, I don’t
think it would be right by you or by Miss Winter, to take you out of the
school-room. I think it would grieve her.”

“I would not do that for the world.”

“Especially after her kind nursing of me, and even, with more reason, it
would not be becoming in us to make changes. Besides, King Etheldred,”
 said Margaret, smiling, “we all know you are a little bit of a sloven,
and, as nurse says, some one must be always after you, and do you know?
even if I were well, I had rather it was Miss Winter than me.”

“Oh, no, you would not be formal and precise--you would not make me
cross.”

“Perhaps you might make me so,” said Margaret, “or I should let you
alone, and leave you a slattern. We should both hate it so! No, don’t
make me your mistress, Ethel dear--let me be your sister and play-fellow
still, as well as I can.”

“You are, you are. I don’t care half so much when I have got you.”

“And will you try to bear with her, and remember it is right in the
main, though it is troublesome?”

“That I will. I won’t plague you again. I know it is bad for you, you
look tired.”

“Pray don’t leave off telling me,” said Margaret--“it is just what I
wish on my own account, and I know it is comfortable to have a good
grumble.”

“If it does not hurt you, but I am sure you are not easy now--are you?”

“Only my back,” said Margaret. “I have been sitting up longer than
usual, and it is tired. Will you call nurse to lay me flat again?”

The nursery was deserted--all were out, and Ethel came back in
trepidation at the notion of having to do it herself, though she knew
it was only to put one arm to support her sister, while, with the other,
she removed the pillows; but Ethel was conscious of her own awkwardness
and want of observation, nor had Margaret entire trust in her. Still she
was too much fatigued to wait, so Ethel was obliged to do her best. She
was careful and frightened, and therefore slow and unsteady. She trusted
that all was right, and Margaret tried to believe so, though still
uneasy.

Ethel began to read to her, and Dr. May came home. She looked up
smiling, and asked where he had been, but it was vain to try to keep him
from reading her face. He saw in an instant that something was amiss,
and drew from her a confession that her back was aching a little. He
knew she might have said a great deal--she was not in a comfortable
position--she must be moved. She shook her head--she had rather
wait--there was a dread of being again lifted by Ethel that she could
not entirely hide. Ethel was distressed, Dr. May was angry, and, no
wonder, when he saw Margaret suffer, felt his own inability to help,
missed her who had been wont to take all care from his hands, and was
vexed to see a tall strong girl of fifteen, with the full use of both
arms, and plenty of sense, incapable of giving any assistance, and only
doing harm by trying.

“It is of no use,” said he. “Ethel will give no attention to anything
but her books! I’ve a great mind to put an end to all the Latin and
Greek! She cares for nothing else.”

Ethel could little brook injustice, and much as she was grieving, she
exclaimed, “Papa, papa, I do care--now don’t I, Margaret? I did my
best!”

“Don’t talk nonsense. Your best, indeed! If you had taken the most
moderate care--”

“I believe Ethel took rather too much care,” said Margaret, much
more harassed by the scolding than by the pain. “It will be all right
presently. Never mind, dear papa.”

But he was not only grieved for the present, but anxious for the future;
and, though he knew it was bad for Margaret to manifest his displeasure,
he could not restrain it, and continued to blame Ethel with enough
of injustice to set her on vindication, whereupon he silenced her, by
telling her she was making it worse by self-justification when Margaret
ought to be quiet. Margaret tried to talk of other things, but was in
too much discomfort to exert herself enough to divert his attention.

At last Flora returned, and saw in an instant what was wanted. Margaret
was settled in the right posture, but the pain would not immediately
depart, and Dr. May soon found out that she had a headache, of which he
knew he was at least as guilty as Etheldred could be.

Nothing could be done but keep her quiet, and Ethel went away to be
miserable; Flora tried to comfort her by saying it was unfortunate, but
no doubt there was a knack, and everyone could not manage those things;
Margaret was easier now, and as to papa’s anger, he did not always mean
all he said.

But consolation came at bedtime; Margaret received her with open arms
when she went to wish her goodnight. “My poor Ethel,” she said, holding
her close, “I am sorry I have made such a fuss.”

“Oh, you did not, it was too bad of me--I am grieved; are you quite
comfortable now?”

“Yes, quite, only a little headache, which I shall sleep off. It has
been so nice and quiet. Papa took up George Herbert, and has been
reading me choice bits. I don’t think I have enjoyed anything so much
since I have been ill.”

“I am glad of that, but I have been unhappy all the evening. I wish I
knew what to do. I am out of heart about everything!”

“Only try to mind and heed, and you will learn. It will be a step if you
will only put your shoes side by side when you take them off.”

Ethel smiled and sighed, and Margaret whispered, “Don’t grieve about me,
but put your clever head to rule your hands, and you will do for home
and Cocksmoor too. Good-night, dearest.”

“I’ve vexed papa,” sighed Ethel--and just then he came into the room.

“Papa,” said Margaret, “here’s poor Ethel, not half recovered from her
troubles.”

He was now at ease about Margaret, and knew he had been harsh to another
of his motherless girls.

“Ah! we must send her to the infant-school, to learn ‘this is my right
hand, and this is my left,’” said he, in his half-gay, half-sad manner.

“I was very stupid,” said Ethel.

“Poor child!” said her papa, “she is worse off than I am. If I have but
one hand left, she has two left hands.”

“I do mean to try, papa.”

“Yes, you must, Ethel. I believe I was hasty with you, my poor girl. I
was vexed, and we have no one to smooth us down. I am sorry, my dear,
but you must bear with me, for I never learned her ways with you when I
might. We will try to have more patience with each other.”

What could Ethel do but hang round his neck and cry, till he said, but
tenderly, that they had given Margaret quite disturbance enough to-day,
and sent her to bed, vowing to watch each little action, lest she should
again give pain to such a father and sister.



CHAPTER VIII.



     “Tis not enough that Greek or Roman page
      At stated hours, his freakish thoughts engage,
      Even in his pastimes he requires a friend
      To warn and teach him safely to unbend,
      O’er all his pleasures gently to preside,
      Watch his emotions, and control their tide.”--COWPER.


The misfortunes of that day disheartened and disconcerted Etheldred. To
do mischief where she most wished to do good, to grieve where she longed
to comfort, seemed to be her fate; it was vain to attempt anything for
anyone’s good, while all her warm feelings and high aspirations were
thwarted by the awkward ungainly hands and heedless eyes that Nature had
given her. Nor did the following day, Saturday, do much for her
comfort, by giving her the company of her brothers. That it was Norman’s
sixteenth birthday seemed only to make it worse. Their father had
apparently forgotten it, and Norman stopped Blanche when she was going
to put him in mind of it; stopped her by such a look as the child never
forgot, though there was no anger in it. In reply to Ethel’s inquiry
what he was going to do that morning, he gave a yawn and stretch, and
said, dejectedly, that he had got some Euripides to look over, and some
verses to finish.

“I am sorry; this is the first time you ever have not managed so as to
make a real holiday of your Saturday!”

“I could not help it, and there’s nothing to do,” said Norman wearily.

“I promised to go and read to Margaret while Flora does her music,” said
Ethel; “I shall come after that and do my Latin and Greek with you.”

Margaret would not keep her long, saying she liked her to be with
Norman, but she found him with his head sunk on his open book, fast
asleep. At dinner-time, Harry and Tom, rushing in, awoke him with a
violent start.

“Halloo! Norman, that was a jump!” said Harry, as his brother stretched
and pinched himself. “You’ll jump out of your skin some of these days,
if you don’t take care!”

“It’s enough to startle any one to be waked up with such a noise,” said
Ethel.

“Then he ought to sleep at proper times,” said Harry, “and not be waking
me up with tumbling about, and hallooing out, and talking in his sleep
half the night.”

“Talking in his sleep! why, just now, you said he did not sleep,” said
Ethel.

“Harry knows nothing about it,” said Norman.

“Don’t I? Well, I only know, if you slept in school, and were a junior,
you would get a proper good licking for going on as you do at night.”

“And I think you might chance to get a proper good licking for not
holding your tongue,” said Norman, which hint reduced Harry to silence.

Dr. May was not come home; he had gone with Richard far into the
country, and was to return to tea. He was thought to be desirous of
avoiding the family dinners that used to be so delightful. Harry was
impatient to depart, and when Mary and Tom ran after him, he ordered
them back.

“Where can he be going?” said Mary, as she looked wistfully after him.

“I know,” said Tom.

“Where? Do tell me.”

“Only don’t tell papa. I went down with him to the playground this
morning, and there they settled it. The Andersons, and Axworthy, and he,
are going to hire a gun, and shoot pee-wits on Cocksmoor.”

“But they ought not; should they?” said Mary. “Papa would be very
angry.”

“Anderson said there was no harm in it, but Harry told me not to tell.
Indeed, Anderson would have boxed my ears for hearing, when I could not
help it.”

“But Harry would not let him?”

“Ay. Harry is quite a match for Harvey Anderson, though he is so much
younger; and he said he would not have me bullied.”

“That’s a good Harry! But I wish he would not go out shooting!” said
Mary.

“Mind, you don’t tell.”

“And where’s Hector Ernescliffe? Would not he go?”

“No. I like Hector. He did not choose to go, though Anderson teased him,
and said he was a poor Scot, and his brother didn’t allow him tin enough
to buy powder and shot. If Harry would have stayed at home, he would
have come up here, and we might have had some fun in the garden.”

“I wish he would. We never have any fun now,” said Mary; “but oh! there
he is,” as she spied Hector peeping over the gate which led from the
field into the garden. It was the first time that he had been to Dr.
May’s since his brother’s departure, and he was rather shy, but the
joyful welcome of Mary and Tom took off all reluctance, and they claimed
him for a good game at play in the wood-house. Mary ran upstairs to beg
to be excused the formal walk, and, luckily for her, Miss Winter was
in Margaret’s room. Margaret asked if it was very wet and dirty, and
hearing “not very,” gave gracious permission, and off went Mary and
Blanche to construct some curious specimens of pottery, under the
superintendence of Hector and Tom. There was a certain ditch where
yellow mud was attainable, whereof the happy children concocted marbles
and vases, which underwent a preparatory baking in the boys’ pockets,
that they might not crack in the nursery fire. Margaret only stipulated
that her sisters should be well fenced in brown holland, and when Miss
Winter looked grave, said, “Poor things, a little thorough play will do
them a great deal of good.”

Miss Winter could not see the good of groping in the dirt; and Margaret
perceived that it would be one of her difficulties to know how to
follow out her mother’s views for the children, without vexing the good
governess by not deferring to her.

In the meantime, Norman had disconsolately returned to his Euripides,
and Ethel, who wanted to stay with him and look out his words, was
ordered out by Miss Winter, because she had spent all yesterday indoors.
Miss Winter was going to stay with Margaret, and Ethel and Flora coaxed
Norman to come with them, “just one mile on the turnpike road and back
again; he would be much fresher for his Greek afterwards.”

He came, but he did not enliven his sisters. The three plodded on,
taking a diligent constitutional walk, exchanging very few words, and
those chiefly between the girls. Flora gathered some hoary clematis,
and red berries, and sought in the hedge-sides for some crimson “fairy
baths” to carry home; and, at the sight of the amusement Margaret
derived from the placing the beauteous little Pezizas in a saucer of
damp green moss, so as to hide the brown sticks on which they grew,
Ethel took shame to herself for want of perception of little attentions.
When she told Norman so, he answered, “There’s no one who does see what
is the right thing. How horrid the room looks! Everything is nohow!”
 added he, looking round at the ornaments and things on the tables, which
had lost their air of comfort and good taste. It was not disorder, and
Ethel could not see what he meant. “What’s wrong?” said she.

“Oh, never mind--you can’t do it. Don’t try--you’ll only make it worse.
It will never be the same as long as we live.”

“I wish you would not be so unhappy!” said Ethel.

“Never mind,” again said Norman, but he put his arm round her.

“Have you done your Euripides? Can I help you? Will you construe it with
me, or shall I look out your words?”

“Thank you, I don’t mind that. It is the verses! I want some sense!”
 said Norman, running his fingers through his hair till it stood on end.
“‘Tis such a horrid subject, Coral Islands! As if there was anything to
be said about them.”

“Dear me, Norman, I could say ten thousand things, only I must not tell
you what mine are, as yours are not done.”

“No, don’t,” said Norman decidedly.

“Did you read the description of them in the Quarterly? I am sure you
might get some ideas there. Shall I find it for you? It is in an old
number.”

“Well, do; thank you.”

He rested listlessly on the sofa while his sister rummaged in a
chiffonier. At last she found the article, and eagerly read him the
description of the strange forms of the coral animals, and the beauties
of their flower-like feelers and branching fabrics. It would once
have delighted him, but his first comment was, “Nasty little brutes!”
 However, the next minute he thanked her, took the book, and said he
could hammer something out of it, though it was too bad to give such an
unclassical subject. At dusk he left off, saying he should get it done
at night, his senses would come then, and he should be glad to sit up.

“Only three weeks to the holidays,” said Ethel, trying to be cheerful;
but his assent was depressing, and she began to fear that Christmas
would only make them more sad.

Mary did not keep Tom’s secret so inviolably, but that, while they were
dressing for tea, she revealed to Ethel where Harry was gone. He was
not yet returned, though his father and Richard were come in, and the
sisters were at once in some anxiety on his account, and doubt whether
they ought to let papa know of his disobedience.

Flora and Ethel, who were the first in the drawing-room, had a
consultation.

“I should have told mamma directly,” said Flora.

“He never did so,” sighed Ethel; “things never went wrong then.”

“Oh, yes, they did; don’t you remember how naughty Harry was about
climbing the wall, and making faces at Mrs. Richardson’s servants?”

“And how ill I behaved the first day of last Christmas holidays?”

“She knew, but I don’t think she told papa.”

“Not that we knew of, but I believe she did tell him everything, and I
think, Flora, he ought to know everything, especially now. I never could
bear the way the Mackenzies used to have of thinking their parents must
be like enemies, and keeping secrets from them.”

“They were always threatening each other, ‘I’ll tell mamma,’” said
Flora, “and calling us tell-tales because we told our own dear mamma
everything. But it is not like that now--I neither like to worry papa,
nor to bring Harry into disgrace--besides, Tom and Mary meant it for a
secret.”

“Papa would not be angry with him if we told him it was a secret,” said
Ethel; “I wish Harry would come in. There’s the door--oh! it is only
you.”

“Whom did you expect?” said Richard, entering.

The sisters looked at each other, and Ethel, after an interval,
explained their doubts about Harry.

“He is come in,” said Richard; “I saw him running up to his own room,
very muddy.”

“Oh, I’m glad! But do you think papa ought to hear it? I don’t know
what’s to be done. ‘Tis the children’s secret,” said Flora.

“It will never do to have him going out with those boys continually,”
 said Ethel--“Harvey Anderson close by all the holidays!”

“I’ll try what I can do with him,” said Richard. “Papa had better not
hear it now, at any rate. He is very tired and sad this evening! and
his arm is painful again, so we must not worry him with histories of
naughtiness among the children.”

“No,” said Ethel decidedly, “I am glad you were there, Ritchie; I never
should have thought of one time being better than another.”

“Just like Ethel!” said Flora, smiling.

“Why should not you learn?” said Richard gently.

“I can’t,” said Ethel, in a desponding way.

“Why not? You are much sharper than most people, and, if you tried, you
would know those things much better than I do, as you know how to learn
history.”

“It is quite a different sort of cleverness,” said Flora. “Recollect Sir
Isaac Newton, or Archimedes.”

“Then you must have both sorts,” said Ethel, “for you can do things
nicely, and yet you learn very fast.”

“Take care, Ethel, you are singeing your frock! Well, I really don’t
think you can help those things!” said Flora. “Your short sight is the
reason of it, and it is of no use to try to mend it.”

“Don’t tell her so,” said Richard. “It can’t be all short sight--it is
the not thinking. I do believe that if Ethel would think, no one would
do things so well. Don’t you remember the beautiful perspective drawing
she made of this room for me to take to Oxford? That was very difficult,
and wanted a great deal of neatness and accuracy, so why should she not
be neat and accurate in other things? And I know you can read faces,
Ethel--why don’t you look there before you speak?”

“Ah! before instead of after, when I only see I have said something
malapropos,” said Ethel.

“I must go and see about the children,” said Flora; “if the tea comes
while I am gone, will you make it, Ritchie?”

“Flora despairs of me,” said Ethel.

“I don’t,” said Richard. “Have you forgotten how to put in a pin yet?”

“No; I hope not.”

“Well, then, see if you can’t learn to make tea; and, by-the-bye, Ethel,
which is the next christening Sunday?”

“The one after next, surely. The first of December is Monday--yes,
to-morrow week is the next.”

“Then I have thought of something; it would cost eighteenpence to hire
Joliffe’s spring-cart, and we might have Mrs. Taylor and the twins
brought to church in it. Should you like to walk to Cocksmoor and settle
it?”

“Oh yes, very much indeed. What a capital thought. Margaret said you
would know how to manage.”

“Then we will go the first fine day papa does not want me.”

“I wonder if I could finish my purple frocks. But here’s the tea. Now,
Richard, don’t tell me to make it. I should do something wrong, and
Flora will never forgive you.”

Richard would not let her off. He stood over her, counted her shovelfuls
of tea, and watched the water into the teapot--he superintended her
warming the cups, and putting a drop into each saucer. “Ah!” said Ethel,
with a concluding sigh, “it makes one hotter than double equations!”

It was all right, as Flora allowed with a slightly superior smile. She
thought Richard would never succeed in making a notable or elegant woman
of Ethel, and it was best that the two sisters should take different
lines. Flora knew that, though clever and with more accomplishments,
she could not surpass Ethel in intellectual attainments, but she was
certainly far more valuable in the house, and had been proved to have
just the qualities in which her sister was most deficient. She did not
relish hearing that Ethel wanted nothing but attention to be more than
her equal, and she thought Richard mistaken. Flora’s remembrance of
their time of distress was less unmixedly wretched than it was with the
others, for she knew she had done wonders.

The next day Norman told Ethel that he had got on very well with the
verses, and finished them off late at night. He showed them to her
before taking them to school on Monday morning, and Ethel thought
they were the best he had ever written. There was too much spirit and
poetical beauty for a mere schoolboy task, and she begged for the foul
copy to show it to her father. “I have not got it,” said Norman. “The
foul copy was not like these; but when I was writing them out quite
late, it was all I don’t know how. Flora’s music was in my ears, and the
room seemed to get larger, and like an ocean cave; and when the candle
flickered, ‘twas like the green glowing light of the sun through the
waves.”

“As it says here,” said Ethel.

“And the words all came to me of themselves in beautiful flowing Latin,
just right, as if it was anybody but myself doing it, and they ran off
my pen in red and blue and gold, and all sorts of colours; and fine
branching zig-zagging stars, like what the book described, only
stranger, came dancing and radiating round my pen and the candle. I
could hardly believe the verses would scan by daylight, but I can’t find
a mistake. Do you try them again.”

Ethel scanned. “I see nothing wrong,” she said, “but it seems a shame to
begin scanning Undine’s verses, they are too pretty. I wish I could copy
them. It must have been half a dream.”

“I believe it was; they don’t seem like my own.”

“Did you dream afterwards?”

He shivered. “They had got into my head too much; my ears sang like the
roaring of the sea, and I thought my feet were frozen on to an iceberg:
then came darkness, and sea monsters, and drowning--it was too horrid!”
 and his face expressed all, and more than all, he said. “But ‘tis a
quarter to seven--we must go,” said he, with a long yawn, and rubbing
his eyes. “You are sure they are right, Ethel? Harry, come along.”

Ethel thought those verses ought to make a sensation, but all that
came of them was a Quam optime, and when she asked Norman if no special
notice had been taken of them, he said, in his languid way, “No; only
Dr. Hoxton said they were better than usual.”

Ethel did not even have the satisfaction of hearing that Mr. Wilmot,
happening to meet Dr. May, said to him, “Your boy has more of a poet
in him than any that has come in my way. He really sometimes makes very
striking verses.”

Richard watched for an opportunity of speaking to Harry, which did not
at once occur, as the boy spent very little of his time at home, and, as
if by tacit consent, he and Norman came in later every evening. At last,
on Thursday, in the additional two hours’ leisure allowed to the boys,
when the studious prepared their tasks, and the idle had some special
diversion, Richard encountered him running up to his own room to fetch a
newly-invented instrument for projecting stones.

“I’ll walk back to school with you,” said Richard. “I mean to run,”
 returned Harry.

“Is there so much hurry?” said Richard. “I am sorry for it, for I wanted
to speak to you, Harry; I have something to show you.”

His manner conveyed that it related to their mother, and the sobering
effect was instantaneous. “Very well,” said he, forgetting his haste.
“I’ll come into your room.”

The awe-struck, shy, yet sorrowful look on his rosy face showed
preparation enough, and Richard’s only preface was to say, “It is a
bit of a letter that she was in course of writing to Aunt Flora, a
description of us all. The letter itself is gone, but here is a copy of
it. I thought you would like to read what relates to yourself.”

Richard laid before him the sheet of notepaper on which this portion of
the letter was written, and left him alone with it, while he set out on
the promised walk with Ethel.

They found the old woman, Granny Hall, looking like another creature,
smoke-dried and withered indeed, but all briskness and animation.

“Well! be it you, sir, and the young lady?”

“Yes; here we are come to see you again,” said Richard. “I hope you are
not disappointed that I’ve brought my sister this time instead of the
doctor.”

“No, no, sir; I’ve done with the doctor for this while,” said the old
woman, to Ethel’s great amusement. “He have done me a power of good, and
thank him for it heartily; but the young lady is right welcome here--but
‘tis a dirty walk for her.”

“Never mind that,” said Ethel, a little shyly, “I came--where are your
grandchildren?”

“Oh, somewhere out among the blocks. They gets out with the other
children; I can’t be always after them.”

“I wanted to know if these would fit them,” said Ethel, beginning to
undo her basket.

“Well, ‘pon my word! If ever I see! Here!” stepping out to the door,
“Polly--Jenny! come in, I say, this moment! Come in, ye bad girls, or
I’ll give you the stick; I’ll break every bone of you, that I will!” all
which threats were bawled out in such a good-natured, triumphant voice,
and with such a delighted air, that Richard and Ethel could not help
laughing.

After a few moments, Polly and Jenny made their appearance, extremely
rough and ragged, but compelled by their grandmother to duck down, by
way of courtesies, and, with finger in mouth, they stood, too shy to
show their delight, as the garments were unfolded; Granny talking so
fast that Ethel would never have brought in the stipulation, that the
frocks should be worn to school and church, if Richard, in his mild, but
steady way, had not brought the old woman to listen to it. She was full
of asseverations that they should go; she took them to church sometimes
herself, when it was fine weather and they had clothes, and they could
say their catechiz as well as anybody already; yes, they should come,
that they should, and next Sunday. Ethel promised to be there to
introduce them to the chief lady, the president of the Committee, Mrs.
Ledwich, and, with a profusion of thanks, they took leave.

They found John Taylor, just come out of the hospital, looking weak and
ill, as he smoked his pipe over the fire, his wife bustling about at
a great rate, and one of the infants crying. It seemed to be a great
relief that they were not come to complain of Lucy, and there were many
looks of surprise on hearing what their business really was. Mrs. Taylor
thanked them, and appeared not to know whether she was glad or sorry;
and her husband, pipe in hand, gazed at the young gentleman as if he
did not comprehend the species, since he could not be old enough to be a
clergyman.

Richard hoped they would find sponsors by that time; and there Mrs.
Taylor gave little hope; it was a bad lot--there was no one she liked to
ask to stand, she said, in a dismal voice; but there her husband put in,
“I’ll find some one if that’s all; my missus always thinks nobody can’t
do nothing.”

“To be sure,” said the lamentable Mrs. Taylor, “all the elder ones was
took to church, and I’m loath the little ones shouldn’t; but you see,
sir, we are poor people, and it’s a long way, and they was set down in
the gentleman’s register book.”

“But you know that is not the same, Mrs. Taylor. Surely Lucy could have
told you that, when she went to school.”

“No, sir, ‘tis not the same--I knows that; but this is a bad place to
live in--”

“Always the old song, missus!” exclaimed her husband. “Thank you kindly,
sir--you have been a good friend to us, and so was Dr. May, when I was
up to the hospital, through the thick of his own troubles. I believe you
are in the right of it, sir, and thank you. The children shall be ready,
and little Jack too, and I’ll find gossips, and let ‘em christened on
Sunday.”

“I believe you will be glad of it,” said Richard; and he went on to
speak of the elder children coming to school on Sunday, thus causing
another whining from the wife about distance and bad weather, and no
one else going that way. He said the little Halls were coming, but Mrs.
Taylor begun saying she disliked their company for the children--granny
let them get about so much, and they said bad words. The father again
interfered. Perhaps Mr. Wilmot, who acted as chaplain at the hospital,
had been talking to him, for he declared at once that they should come;
and Richard suggested that he might see them home when he came from
church; then, turning to the boy and girl, told them they would meet
their sister Lucy, and asked them if they would not like that.

On the whole, the beginning was not inauspicious, though there might be
a doubt whether old Mrs. Hall would keep all her promises. Ethel was so
much diverted and pleased as to be convinced she would; Richard was a
little doubtful as to her power over the wild girls. There could not be
any doubt that John Taylor was in earnest, and had been worked upon just
at the right moment; but there was danger that the impression would
not last. “And his wife in such a horrible whining dawdle!” said
Ethel--“there will be no good to be done if it depends on her.”

Richard made no answer, and Ethel presently felt remorseful for her
harsh speech about a poor ignorant woman, overwhelmed with poverty,
children, and weak health.

“I have been thinking a great deal about what you said last time we took
this walk,” said Richard, after a considerable interval.

“Oh, have you!” cried Ethel eagerly; and the black peaty pond she was
looking at seemed to sparkle with sunlight.

“Do you really mean it?” said Richard deliberately.

“Yes, to be sure;” she said, with some indignation.

“Because I think I see a way to make a beginning, but you must make
up your mind to a great deal of trouble, and dirty walks, and you must
really learn not to draggle your frock.”

“Well, well; but tell me.”

“This is what I was thinking. I don’t think I can go back to Oxford
after Christmas. It is not fit to leave you while papa is so disabled.”

“Oh no, he could not get on at all. I heard him tell Mr. Wilmot the
other day that you were his right hand.”

Ethel was glad she had repeated this, for there was a deepening colour
and smiling glow of pleasure on her brother’s face, such as she had
seldom seen on his delicate, but somewhat impassive features.

“He is very kind!” he said warmly. “No, I am sure I cannot be spared
till he is better able to use his arm, and I don’t see any chance
of that just yet. Then if I stay at home, Friday is always at my own
disposal, while papa is at the hospital meeting.”

“Yes, yes, and we could go to Cocksmoor, and set up a school. How
delightful!”

“I don’t think you would find it quite so delightful as you fancy,” said
Richard; “the children will be very wild and ignorant, and you don’t
like that at the National School.”

“Oh, but they are in such need, besides there will be no Mrs. Ledwich
over me. It is just right--I shan’t mind anything. You are a capital
Ritchie, for having thought of it!”

“I don’t think--if I am ever to be what I wish, that is, if I can get
through at Oxford--I don’t think it can be wrong to begin this, if Mr.
Ramsden does not object.”

“Oh, Mr. Ramsden never objects to anything.”

“And if Mr. Wilmot will come and set us off. You know we cannot begin
without that, or without my father’s fully liking it.”

“Oh! there can be no doubt of that!”

“This one thing, Ethel, I must stipulate. Don’t you go and tell it all
out at once to him. I cannot have him worried about our concerns.”

“But how--no one can question that this is right. I am sure he won’t
object.”

“Stop, Ethel, don’t you see, it can’t be done for nothing? If we
undertake it, we must go on with it, and when I am away it will fall on
you and Flora. Well, then, it ought to be considered whether you are
old enough and steady enough; and if it can be managed for you to go
continually all this way, in this wild place. There will be expense
too.”

Ethel looked wild with impatience, but could not gainsay these scruples,
otherwise than by declaring they ought not to weigh against the good of
Cocksmoor.

“It will worry him to have to consider all this,” said Richard, “and it
must not be pressed upon him.”

“No,” said Ethel sorrowfully; “but you don’t mean to give it up.”

“You are always in extremes, Ethel. All I want is to find a good time
for proposing it.”

She fidgeted and gave a long sigh.

“Mind,” said Richard, stopping short, “I’ll have nothing to do with it
except on condition you are patient, and hold your tongue about it.”

“I think I can, if I may talk to Margaret.”

“Oh yes, to Margaret of course. We could not settle anything without her
help.”

“And I know what she will say,” said Ethel. “Oh, I am so glad,” and she
jumped over three puddles in succession.

“And, Ethel, you must learn to keep your frock out of the dirt.”

“I’ll do anything, if you’ll help me at Cocksmoor.”



CHAPTER IX.



     For the structure that we raise,
       Time is with materials filled;
     Our to-days and yesterdays,
       Are the blocks which we build.

     Truly shape and fashion these,
       Leave no yawning gaps between;
     Think not, because no man sees,
       Such things will remain unseen.--LONGFELLOW.


When Ethel came home, burning with the tidings of the newly-excited
hopes for Cocksmoor, they were at once stopped by Margaret eagerly
saying, “Is Richard come in? pray call him;” then on his entrance, “Oh,
Richard, would you be so kind as to take this to the bank. I don’t like
to send it by any one else--it is so much;” and she took from under her
pillows a velvet bag, so heavy, that it weighed down her slender white
hand.

“What, he has given you the care of his money?” said Ethel.

“Yes; I saw him turning something out of his waistcoat-pocket into the
drawer of the looking-glass, and sighing in that very sad way. He said
his fees had come to such an accumulation that he must see about sending
them to the bank; and then he told me of the delight of throwing his
first fee into dear mamma’s lap, when they were just married, and his
old uncle had given up to him, and how he had brought them to her ever
since; he said she had spoiled him by taking all trouble off his hands.
He looked at it, as if it was so sorrowful to him to have to dispose
of it, that I begged him not to plague himself any more, but let me see
about it, as dear mamma used to do; so he said I was spoiling him too,
but he brought me the drawer, and emptied it out here: when he was gone,
I packed it up, and I have been waiting to ask Richard to take it all to
the bank, out of his sight.”

“You counted it?” said Richard.

“Yes--there’s fifty--I kept seventeen towards the week’s expenses. Just
see that it is right,” said Margaret, showing her neat packets.

“Oh, Ritchie,” said Ethel, “what can expense signify, when all that has
been kicking about loose in an open drawer? What would not one of those
rolls do?”

“I think I had better take them out of your way,” said Richard quietly.
“Am I to bring back the book to you, Margaret?”

“Yes, do,” said Margaret; “pray do not tease him with it.” And as her
brother left the room, she continued, “I wish he was better. I think he
is more oppressed now than even at first. The pain of his arm, going on
so long, seems to me to have pulled him down; it does not let him sleep,
and, by the end of the day, he gets worn and fagged by seeing so many
people, and exerting himself to talk and think; and often, when there is
something that must be asked, I don’t know how to begin, for it seems as
if a little more would be too much for him.”

“Yes, Richard is right,” said Ethel mournfully; “it will not do to press
him about our concerns; but do you think him worse to-day?”

“He did not sleep last night, and he is always worse when he does not
drive out into the country; the fresh air, and being alone with Richard,
are a rest for him. To-day is especially trying; he does not think poor
old Mr. Southern will get through the evening, and he is so sorry for
the daughter.”

“Is he there now?”

“Yes; he thought of something that might be an alleviation, and he would
go, though he was tired. I am afraid the poor daughter will detain him,
and he is not fit to go through such things now.”

“No, I hope he will soon come; perhaps Richard will meet him. But, oh,
Margaret, what do you think Richard and I have been talking of?” and,
without perception of fit times and seasons, Ethel would have told her
story, but Margaret, too anxious to attend to her, said, “Hark! was not
that his step?” and Dr. May came in, looking mournful and fatigued.

“Well,” said he, “I was just too late. He died as I got there, and I
could not leave the daughter till old Mrs. Bowers came.”

“Poor thing,” said Margaret. “He was a good old man.”

“Yes,” said Dr. May, sitting wearily down, and speaking in a worn-out
voice. “One can’t lightly part with a man one has seen at church every
Sunday of one’s life, and exchanged so many friendly words with over
his counter. ‘Tis a strong bond of neighbourliness in a small place like
this, and, as one grows old, changes come heavier--‘the clouds return
again after the rain.’ Thank you, my dear,” as Ethel fetched his
slippers, and placed a stool for his feet, feeling somewhat ashamed of
thinking it an achievement to have, unbidden, performed a small act of
attention which would have come naturally from any of the others.

“Papa, you will give me the treat of drinking tea with me?” said
Margaret, who saw the quiet of her room would suit him better than the
bustle of the children downstairs. “Thank you,” as he gave a smile of
assent.

That Margaret could not be made to listen this evening was plain, and
all that Ethel could do, was to search for some books on schools. In
seeking for them, she displayed such confusion in the chiffonier, that
Flora exclaimed, “Oh, Ethel, how could you leave it so?”

“I was in a hurry, looking for something for Norman. I’ll set it to
rights,” said Ethel, gulping down her dislike of being reproved by
Flora, with the thought that mamma would have said the same.

“My dear!” cried Flora presently, jumping up, “what are you doing?
piling up those heavy books on the top of the little ones; how do you
think they will ever stand? let me do it.”

“No, no, Flora;” and Richard, in a low voice, gave Ethel some advice,
which she received, seated on the floor, in a mood between temper and
despair.

“He is going to teach her to do it on the principles of gravitation,”
 said Flora.

Richard did not do it himself, but, by his means, Ethel, without being
in the least irritated, gave the chiffonier a thorough dusting and
setting-to-rights, sorting magazines, burning old catalogues, and
finding her own long-lost ‘Undine’, at which she was so delighted that
she would have forgotten all; in proceeding to read it, curled up on
the floor amongst the heaps of pamphlets, if another gentle hint from
Richard had not made her finish her task so well, as to make Flora
declare it was a pleasure to look in, and Harry pronounce it to be all
neat and ship-shape.

There was no speaking to Margaret the next morning--it was French
day--and Ethel had made strong resolutions to behave better; and whether
there were fewer idioms, or that she was trying to understand, instead
of carping at the master’s explanations, they came to no battle; Flora
led the conversation, and she sustained her part with credit, and gained
an excellent mark.

Flora said afterwards to Margaret, “I managed nicely for her. I would
not let M. Ballompre blunder upon any of the subjects Ethel feels too
deeply to talk of in good French, and really Ethel has a great talent
for languages. How fast she gets on with Italian!”

“That she does,” said Margaret. “Suppose you send her up, Flora--you
must want to go and draw or practice, and she may do her arithmetic
here, or read to me.”

It was the second time Margaret had made this proposal, and it did not
please Flora, who had learned to think herself necessary to her sister,
and liked to be the one to do everything for her. She was within six
weeks of seventeen, and surely she need not be sent down again to the
school-room, when she had been so good a manager of the whole family.
She was fond of study and of accomplishments, but she thought she might
be emancipated from Miss Winter; and it was not pleasant to her that a
sister, only eighteen months older, and almost dependant on her, should
have authority to dispose of her time.

“I practise in the evening,” she said, “and I could draw here, if I
wished, but I have some music to copy.”

Margaret was concerned at the dissatisfaction, though not understanding
the whole of it: “You know, dear Flora,” she said, “I need not take up
all your time now.”

“Don’t regret that,” said Flora. “I like nothing so well as waiting on
you, and I can attend to my own affairs very well here.”

“I’ll tell you why I proposed it,” said Margaret. “I think it would be a
relief for Ethel to escape from Miss Winter’s beloved Friday questions.”

“Great nonsense they are,” said Flora. “Why don’t you tell Miss Winter
they are of no use?”

“Mamma never interfered with them,” said Margaret. “She only kept Ethel
in her own hands, and if you would be so kind as to change sometimes
and sit in the school-room, we could spare Ethel, without hurting Miss
Winter’s feelings.”

“Well, I’ll call Ethel, if you like, but I shall go and practise in the
drawing-room. The old school-room piano is fit for nothing but Mary to
hammer upon.”

Flora went away, evidently annoyed, and Margaret’s conjectures on the
cause of it were cut short by Ethel running in with a slate in one hand
and two books in the other, the rest having all tumbled down on the
stairs.

“Oh, Margaret, I am so glad to come to you. Miss Winter has set Mary to
read ‘To be, or not to be,’ and it would have driven me distracted
to have stayed there. I have got a most beautiful sum in Compound
Proportion, about a lion, a wolf, and a bear eating up a carcase, and as
soon as they have done it, you shall hear me say my ancient geography,
and then we will do a nice bit of Tasso; and if we have any time after
that, I have got such a thing to tell you--only I must not tell you now,
or I shall go on talking and not finish my lessons.”

It was not till all were done, that Ethel felt free to exclaim, “Now
for what I have been longing to tell you--Richard is going to--” But the
fates were unpropitious. Aubrey trotted in, expecting to be amused; next
came Norman, and Ethel gave up in despair; and, after having affronted
Flora in the morning, Margaret was afraid of renewing the offence, by
attempting to secure Ethel as her companion for the afternoon; so not
till after the walk could Margaret contrive to claim the promised,
communication, telling Ethel to come and settle herself cosily by her.

“I should have been very glad of you last evening,” said she, “for papa
went to sleep, and my book was out of reach.”

“Oh, I am sorry; how I pity you, poor Margaret!”

“I suppose I have grown lazy,” said Margaret, “for I don’t mind
those things now. I am never sorry for a quiet time to recollect and
consider.”

“It must be like the waiting in the dark between the slides of a magic
lantern,” said Ethel; “I never like to be quiet. I get so unhappy.”

“I am glad of resting and recollecting,” said Margaret. “It has all been
so like a dream, that merry morning, and then, slowly waking to find
myself here in dear mamma’s place, and papa watching over me. Sometimes
I think I have not half understood what it really is, and that I don’t
realise, that if I was up and about, I should find the house without
her.”

“Yes; that is the aching part!” said Ethel. “I am happy, sitting on her
bed here with you. You are a little of her, besides being my own dear
Peg-top! You are very lucky to miss the mealtimes and the evenings.”

“That is the reason I don’t feel it wrong to like to have papa sitting
with me all the evening,” said Margaret, “though it may make it worse
for you to have him away. I don’t think it selfish in me to keep him. He
wants quiet so much, or to talk a little when it suits him; we are too
many now, when he is tired.”

“Oh, it is best,” said Ethel. “Nothing that you do is selfish--don’t
talk of it, dear Margaret. It will be something like old times when you
come down again.”

“But all this time you are not telling me what I want so much to hear,”
 said Margaret, “about Cocksmoor. I am so glad Richard has taken it up.”

“That he has. We are to go every Friday, and hire a room, and teach the
children. Once a week will do a great deal, if we can but make them wish
to learn. It is a much better plan than mine; for if they care about it,
they can come to school here on Sunday.”

“It is excellent,” said Margaret, “and if he is at home till Easter, it
will give it a start, and put you in the way of it, and get you through
the short days and dark evenings, when you could not so well walk home
without him.”

“Yes, and then we can all teach; Flora, and Mary, and you, when you
are well again. Richard says it will be disagreeable, but I don’t think
so--they are such unsophisticated people. That Granny Hall is such a
funny old woman; and the whole place wants nothing but a little care, to
do very well.”

“You must prepare for disappointments, dear Ethel.”

“I know; I know nothing is done without drawbacks; but I am so glad to
make some beginning.”

“So am I. Do you know, mamma and I were one day talking over those kind
of things, and she said she had always regretted that she had so many
duties at home, that she could not attend as much to the poor as she
would like; but she hoped now we girls were growing up, we should be
able to do more.

“Did she?” was all Ethel said, but she was deeply gratified.

“I’ve been wanting to tell you. I knew you would like to hear it. It
seems to set us to work so happily.”

“I only wish we could begin,” said Ethel, “but Richard is so slow! Of
course we can’t act without papa’s consent and Mr. Wilmot’s help, and he
says papa must not be worried about it, he must watch for his own time
to speak about it.”

“Yes” said Margaret.

“I know--I would not have it otherwise; but what is tiresome is this.
Richard is very good, but he is so dreadfully hard to stir up, and
what’s worse, so very much afraid of papa, that while he is thinking
about opportunities, they will all go by, and then it will be Easter,
and nothing done!”

“He is not so much afraid of papa as he was,” said Margaret. “He has
felt himself useful and a comfort, and papa is gentler; and that has
cheered him out of the desponding way that kept him back from proposing
anything.”

“Perhaps,” said Ethel; “but I wish it was you. Can’t you? you always
know how to manage.”

“No; it is Richard’s affair, and he must do as he thinks fit. Don’t
sigh, dear Ethel--perhaps he may soon speak, and, if not, you can be
preparing in a quiet way all the time. Don’t you remember how dear mamma
used to tell us that things, hastily begun, never turn out well?”

“But this is not hasty. I’ve been thinking about it these six weeks,”
 said Ethel. “If one does nothing but think, it is all no better than a
vision. I want to be doing.”

“Well, you can be doing--laying a sound foundation,” said Margaret. “The
more you consider, and the wiser you make yourself, the better it will
be when you do set to work.”

“You mean by curing myself of my slovenly ways and impatient temper?”

“I don’t know that I was exactly thinking of that,” said Margaret, “but
that ought to be the way. If we are not just the thing in our niche at
home, I don’t think we can do much real good elsewhere.”

“It would be hollow, show-goodness,” said Ethel. “Yes, that is true;
and it comes across me now, and then what a horrid wretch I am, to be
wanting to undertake so much, when I leave so much undone. But, do you
know, Margaret, there’s no one such a help in those ways as Richard.
Though he is so precise, he is never tiresome. He makes me see things,
and do them neatly, without plaguing me, and putting me in a rage. I’m
not ready to bite off my own fingers, or kick all the rattle-traps over
and leave them, as I am when Miss Winter scolds me, or nurse, or even
Flora sometimes; but it is as if I was gratifying him, and his funny
little old bachelor tidyisms divert me; besides, he teaches me the
theory, and never lays hold of my poor fingers, and, when they won’t
bend the wrong way, calls them frogs.”

“He is a capital master for you,” said Margaret, much amused and
pleased, for Richard was her especial darling, and she triumphed in any
eulogy from those who ordinarily were too apt to regard his dullness
with superior compassion.

“If he would only read our books, and enter into poetry and delight
in it; but it is all nonsense to him,” said Ethel. “I can’t think how
people can be so different; but, oh! here he comes. Ritchie, you should
not come upon us before we are aware.”

“What? I should have heard no good of myself?”

“Great good,” said Margaret--“she was telling me you would make a
neat-handed woman of her in time.”

“I don’t see why she should not be as neat as other people,” said
Richard gravely. “Has she been telling you our plan?”

And it was again happily discussed; Ethel, satisfied by finding him
fully set upon the design, and Margaret giving cordial sympathy and
counsel. When Ethel was called away, Margaret said, “I am so glad you
have taken it up, not only for the sake of Cocksmoor, but of Ethel. It
is good for her not to spend her high soul in dreams.”

“I am afraid she does not know what she undertakes,” said Richard.

“She does not; but you will keep her from being turned back. It is just
the thing to prevent her energies from running to waste, and her being
so much with you, and working under you, is exactly what one would have
chosen.”

“By contraries!” said Richard, smiling. “That is what I was afraid of. I
don’t half understand or follow her, and when I think a thing nonsense,
I see you all calling it very fine, and I don’t know what to make of
it--”

“You are making yourself out more dull than you are,” said Margaret
affectionately.

“I know I am stupid, and seem tame and cold,” said Richard, “and you
are the only one that does not care about it. That is what makes me wish
Norman was the eldest. If I were as clever as he, I could do so much
with Ethel, and be so much more to papa.”

“No, you would not. You would have other things in your head. You would
not be the dear, dear old Ritchie that you are. You would not be a calm,
cautious, steady balance to the quicksilver heads some of us have got.
No, no, Norman’s a very fine fellow, a very dear fellow, but he would
not do half so well for our eldest--he is too easily up, and down
again.”

“And I am getting into my old way of repining,” said Richard. “I don’t
mind so much, since my father has at least one son to be proud of, and I
can be of some use to him now.”

“Of the greatest, and to all of us. I am so glad you can stay after
Christmas, and papa was pleased at your offering, and said he could not
spare you at all, though he would have tried, if it had been any real
advantage to you.”

“Well, I hope he will approve. I must speak to him as soon as I can find
him with his mind tolerably disengaged.”

The scene that ensued that evening in the magic lantern before
Margaret’s bed, did not promise much for the freedom of her father’s
mind. Harry entered with a resolute manner. “Margaret, I wanted to speak
to you,” said he, spreading himself out, with an elbow on each arm of
the chair. “I want you to speak to papa about my going to sea. It is
high time to see about it--I shall be thirteen on the fourth of May.”

“And you mean it seriously, Harry?”

“Yes, of course I do, really and truly; and if it is to come to pass, it
is time to take measures. Don’t you see, Margaret?”

“It is time, as you say,” answered Margaret reflectingly, and sadly
surveying the bright boy, rosy cheeked, round faced, and blue eyed, with
the childish gladsomeness of countenance, that made it strange that his
lot in life should be already in the balance.

“I know what you will all tell me, that it is a hard life, but I must
get my own living some way or other, and I should like that way the
best,” said he earnestly.

“Should you like to be always far from home?”

“I should come home sometimes, and bring such presents to Mary, and
baby, and all of you; and I don’t know what else to be, Margaret. I
should hate to be a doctor--I can’t abide sick people; and I couldn’t
write sermons, so I can’t be a clergyman; and I won’t be a lawyer, I
vow, for Harvey Anderson is to be a lawyer--so there’s nothing left but
soldiers and sailors, and I mean to be a sailor!”

“Well, Harry, you may do your duty, and try to do right, if you are a
sailor, and that is the point.”

“Ay, I was sure you would not set your face against it, now you know
Alan Ernescliffe.”

“If you were to be like him--” Margaret found herself blushing, and
broke off.

“Then you will ask papa about it?”

“You had better do so yourself. Boys had better settle such serious
affairs with their fathers, without setting their sisters to interfere.
What’s the matter, Harry--you are not afraid to speak to papa?”

“Only for one thing,” said Harry. “Margaret, I went out to shoot
pee-wits last Saturday with two fellows, and I can’t speak to papa while
that’s on my mind.”

“Then you had better tell him at once.”

“I knew you would say so; but it would be like a girl, and it would be
telling of the two fellows.”

“Not at all; papa would not care about them.”

“You see,” said Harry, twisting a little, “I knew I ought not; but they
said I was afraid of a gun, and that I had no money. Now I see that was
chaff, but I didn’t then, and Norman wasn’t there.”

“I am so glad you have told me all this, Harry dear, for I knew you had
been less at home of late, and I was almost afraid you were not going on
quite well.”

“That’s what it is,” said Harry. “I can’t stand things at all, and I
can’t go moping about as Norman does. I can’t live without fun, and now
Norman isn’t here, half the time it turns to something I am sorry for
afterwards.”

“But, Harry, if you let yourself be drawn into mischief here for want of
Norman, what would you do at sea?”

“I should be an officer!”

“I am afraid,” said Margaret, smiling, “that would not make much
difference inside, though it might outside. You must get the
self-control, and leave off being afraid to be said to be afraid.”

Harry fidgeted. “I should start fresh, and be out of the way of the
Andersons,” he said. “That Anderson junior is a horrid fellow--he spites
Norman, and he bullied me, till I was big enough to show him that it
would not do--and though I am so much younger, he is afraid of me.
He makes up to me, and tries to get me into all the mischief that is
going.”

“And you know that, and let him lead you? Oh, Harry!”

“I don’t let him lead me,” said Harry indignantly, “but I won’t have
them say I can’t do things.”

Margaret laughed, and Harry presently perceived what she meant, but
instead of answering, he began to boast, “There never was a May in
disgrace yet, and there never shall be.”

“That is a thing to be very thankful for,” said Margaret, “but you know
there may be much harm without public disgrace. I never heard of one of
the Andersons being in disgrace yet.”

“No--shabby fellows, that just manage to keep fair with old Hoxton, and
make a show,” said Harry. “They look at translations, and copy old stock
verses. Oh, it was such fun the other day. What do you think? Norman
must have been dreaming, for he had taken to school, by mistake,
Richard’s old Gradus that Ethel uses, and there were ever so many rough
copies of hers sticking in it.”

“Poor Ethel! What consternation she would be in! I hope no one found it
out.”

“Why, Anderson junior was gaping about in despair for sense for his
verses--he comes on that, and slyly copies a whole set of her old ones,
done when she--Norman, I mean--was in the fifth form. His subject was
a river, and hers Babylon; but, altering a line or two, it did just as
well. He never guessed I saw him, and thought he had done it famously.
He showed them up, and would have got some noted good mark, but that, by
great good luck, Ethel had made two of her pentameters too short, which
he hadn’t the wit to find out, thinking all Norman did must be right. So
he has shown up a girl’s verses--isn’t that rare?” cried Harry, dancing
on his chair with triumph.

“I hope no one knows they were hers?”

“Bless you, no!” said Harry, who regarded Ethel’s attainments as
something contraband. “D’ye think I could tell? No, that’s the only
pity, that he can’t hear it; but, after all, I don’t care for anything
he does, now I know he has shown up a girl’s verses.”

“Are these verses of poor Ethel’s safe at home?”

“Yes, I took care of that. Mind you don’t tell anyone, Margaret; I never
told even Norman.”

“But all your school-fellows aren’t like these? You have Hector
Ernescliffe.”

“He’s a nice fellow enough, but he is little, and down in the school.
‘Twould be making a fourth form of myself to be after him. The fact is,
Margaret, they are a low, ungentlemanly lot just now, about sixth
and upper fifth form,” said Harry, lowering his voice into an anxious
confidential tone; “and since Norman has been less amongst them, they’ve
got worse; and you see, now home is different, and he isn’t like what he
was, I’m thrown on them, and I want to get out of it. I didn’t know that
was it before, but Richard showed me what set me on thinking of it, and
I see she knew all about it.”

“That she did! There is a great deal in what you say, Harry, but you
know she thought nothing would be of real use but changing within.
If you don’t get a root of strength in yourself, your ship will be no
better to you than school--there will be idle midshipmen as well as idle
school-boys.”

“Yes, I know,” said Harry; “but do you think papa will consent? She
would not have minded.”

“I can’t tell. I should think he would; but if any scheme is to come to
good, it must begin by your telling him of the going out shooting.”

Harry sighed. “I’d have done it long ago if she was here,” he said. “I
never did anything so bad before without telling, and I don’t like it at
all. It seems to come between him and me when I wish him good-night.”

“Then, Harry, pray do tell him. You’ll have no comfort if you don’t.”

“I know I shan’t; but then he’ll be so angry! And, do you know,
Margaret, ‘twas worse than I told you, for a covey of partridges got up,
and unluckily I had got the gun, and I fired and killed one, and that
was regular poaching, you know! And when we heard some one coming, how
we did cut! Ax--the other fellow, I mean, got it, and cooked it in his
bedroom, and ate it for supper; and he laughs about it, but I have felt
so horrid all the week! Suppose a keeper had got a summons!”

“I can only say again, the only peace will be in telling.”

“Yes; but he will be so angry. When that lot of fellows a year or two
ago did something like it, and shot some of the Abbotstoke rabbits,
don’t you remember how much he said about its being disgraceful, and
ordering us never to have anything to do with their gunnery? And he will
think it so very bad to have gone out on a lark just now! Oh, I wish I
hadn’t done it.”

“So do I, indeed, Harry! but I am sure, even it he should be angry at
first, he will be pleased with your confessing.”

Harry looked very reluctant and disconsolate, and his sister did
not wonder for Dr. May’s way of hearing of a fault was never to be
calculated on. “Come, Harry,” said she, “if he is ever so angry, though
I don’t think he will be, do you think that will be half as bad as this
load at your heart? Besides, if you are not bold enough to speak to him,
do you think you can ever be brave enough for a sailor?”

“I will,” said Harry, and the words were hardly spoken, before his
father’s hand was on the door. He was taken by surprise at the moment
of trial coming so speedily, and had half a mind to retreat by the other
door; he was stayed by the reflection that Margaret would think him a
coward, unfit for a sailor, and he made up his mind to endure whatever
might betide.

“Harry here? This is company I did not expect.”

“Harry has something to say to you, papa.”

“Eh! my boy, what is it?” said he kindly.

“Papa, I have killed a partridge. Two fellows got me to hire a gun, and
go out shooting with them last Saturday,” said Harry, speaking firmly
and boldly now he had once begun. “We meant only to go after pee-wits,
but a partridge got up, and I killed it.”

Then came a pause. Harry stopped, and Dr. May waited, half expecting to
hear that the boy was only brought to confession by finding himself in
a scrape. Margaret spoke. “And he could not be happy till he had told
you.”

“Is it so? Is that the whole?” said the doctor, looking at his son with
a keen glance, between affection and inquiry, as if only waiting to be
sure the confession was free, before he gave his free forgiveness.

“Yes, papa,” said Harry, his voice and lip losing their firmness, as the
sweetness of expression gained the day on his father’s face. “Only that
I know--‘twas very wrong--especially now--and I am very sorry--and I beg
your pardon.”

The latter words came between sighs, fast becoming sobs, in spite of
Harry’s attempts to control them, as his father held out his arm, and
drew him close to him.

“That’s mamma’s own brave boy,” he said in his ear--in a voice which
strong feeling had reduced to such a whisper, that even Margaret could
not hear--she only saw how Harry, sobbing aloud, clung tighter and
tighter to him, till he said “Take care of my arm!” and Harry sprang
back at least a yard, with such a look of dismay, that the doctor
laughed. “No harm done!” said he. “I was only a little in dread of such
a young lion! Comeback, Harry,” and he took his hand. “It was a bad
piece of work, and it will never do for you to let yourself be drawn
into every bit of mischief that is on foot; I believe I ought to
give you a good lecture on it, but I can’t do it, after such a
straightforward confession. You must have gone through enough in the
last week, not to be likely to do it again.”

“Yes, papa--thank you.”

“I suppose I must not ask you any questions about it, for fear of
betraying the fellows,” said Dr. May, half smiling.

“Thank you, papa,” said Harry, infinitely relieved and grateful, and
quite content for some space to lean in silence against the chair, with
that encircling arm round him, while some talk passed between his father
and Margaret.

What a world of thought passed through the boy’s young soul in that
space! First, there was a thrill of intense, burning love to his father,
scarcely less fondness to his sweet motherly sister; a clinging feeling
to every chair and table of that room, which seemed still full of
his mother’s presence; a numbering over of all the others with ardent
attachment, and a flinging from him with horror the notion of asking to
be far away from that dearest father, that loving home, that arm that
was round him. Anything rather than be without them in the dreary
world! But then came the remembrance of cherished visions, the shame of
relinquishing a settled purpose, the thought of weary morrows, with the
tempters among his playmates, and his home blank and melancholy; and
the roaming spirit of enterprise stirred again, and reproached him with
being a baby, for fancying he could stay at home for ever. He would come
back again with such honours as Allan Ernescliffe had brought, and oh!
if his father so prized them in a stranger, what would it be in his
own son? Come home to such a greeting as would make up for the parting!
Harry’s heart throbbed again for the boundless sea, the tall ship,
and the wondrous foreign climes, where he had so often lived in fancy.
Should he, could he speak: was this the moment? and he stood gazing at
the fire, oppressed with the weighty reality of deciding his destiny.
At last Dr. May looked in his face, “Well, what now, boy? You have your
head full of something--what’s coming next?”

Out it came, “Papa will you let me be a sailor?”

“Oh!” said Dr. May, “that is come on again, is it? I thought that you
had forgotten all that.”

“No, papa,” said Harry, with the manly coolness that the sense of his
determination gave him--“it was not a mere fancy, and I have never had
it out of my head. I mean it quite in earnest--I had rather be a sailor.
I don’t wish to get away from Latin and Greek, I don’t mind them; but
I think I could be a better sailor than anything. I know it is not all
play, but I am willing to rough it; and I am getting so old, it is time
to see about it, so will you consent to it, papa?”

“Well! there’s some sense in your way of putting it,” said Dr. May. “You
have it strong in your head then, and you know ‘tis not all fair-weather
work!”

“That I do; Alan told me histories, and I’ve read all about it; but one
must rough it anywhere, and if I am ever so far away, I’ll try not to
forget what’s right. I’ll do my duty, and not care for danger.”

“Well said, my man; but remember ‘tis easier talking by one’s own
fireside than doing when the trial comes.”

“And will you let me, papa?”

“I’ll think about it. I can’t make up my mind as ‘quick as directly,’
you know, Harry,” said his father, smiling kindly, “but I won’t treat
it as a boy’s fancy, for you’ve spoken in a manly way, and deserve to
be attended to. Now run down, and tell the girls to put away their work,
for I shall come down in a minute to read prayers.”

Harry went, and his father sighed and mused! “That’s a fine fellow! So
this is what comes of bringing sick sailors home--one’s own boys must be
catching the infection. Little monkey, he talks as wisely as if he were
forty! He is really set on it, do you think, Margaret? I’m afraid so!”

“I think so,” said Margaret; “I don’t think he ever has it out of his
mind!”

“And when the roving spirit once lays hold of a lad, he must have his
way--he is good for nothing else,” said Dr. May.

“I suppose a man may keep from evil in that profession as well as in any
other,” said Margaret.

“Aha! you are bit too, are you?” said the doctor; “‘tis the husbandman
and viper, is it?” Then his smile turned into a heavy sigh, as he saw
he had brought colour to Margaret’s pale cheek, but she answered calmly,
“Dear mamma did not think it would be a bad thing for him.”

“I know,” said the doctor, pausing; “but it never came to this with
her.”

“I wish he had chosen something else; but--” and Margaret thought it
right to lay before her father some part of what he had said of the
temptations of the school at Stoneborough. The doctor listened and
considered at last he rose, and said, “Well, I’ll set Ritchie to write
to Ernescliffe, and hear what he says. What must be, must be. ‘Tis only
asking me to give up the boy, that’s all;” and as he left the room,
his daughter again heard his sigh and half-uttered words, “Oh, Maggie,
Maggie!”



CHAPTER X.



                                   A tale
     Would rouse adventurous courage in a boy,
     And make him long to be a mariner,
     That he might rove the main.--SOUTHEY.


Etheldred had the satisfaction of seeing the Taylors at school on
Sunday, but no Halls made their appearance, and, on inquiry, she was
told, “Please ma’am, they said they would not come;” so Ethel condemned
Granny Hall as “a horrid, vile, false, hypocritical old creature! It was
no use having anything more to do with her.”

“Very well,” said Richard; “then I need not speak to my father.”

“Ritchie now! you know I meant no such thing!”

“You know, it is just what will happen continually.”

“Of course there will be failures, but this is so abominable, when they
had those nice frocks, and those two beautiful eighteen-penny shawls!
There are three shillings out of my pound thrown away!”

“Perhaps there was some reason to prevent them. We will go and see.”

“We shall only hear some more palavering. I want to have no more to say
to--” but here Ethel caught herself up, and began to perceive what
a happiness it was that she had not the power of acting on her own
impulses.

The twins and their little brother of two years old were christened
in the afternoon, and Flora invited the parents to drink tea in the
kitchen, and visit Lucy, while Ethel and Mary each carried a baby
upstairs to exhibit to Margaret.

Richard, in the meantime, had a conversation with John Taylor, and
learned a good deal about the district, and the number of the people. At
tea, he began to rehearse his information, and the doctor listened with
interest, which put Ethel in happy agitation, believing that the moment
was come, and Richard seemed to be only waiting for the conclusion of a
long tirade against those who ought to do something for the place, when
behold! Blanche was climbing on her father’s knee, begging for one of
his Sunday stories.

Etheldred was cruelly disappointed, and could not at first rejoice to
see her father able again to occupy himself with his little girl. The
narration, in his low tones, roused her from her mood of vexation.
It was the story of David, which he told in language scriptural and
poetical, so pretty and tender in its simplicity, that she could not
choose but attend. Ever and anon there was a glance towards Harry, as
if he were secretly likening his own “yellow-haired laddie” to the
“shepherd boy, ruddy, and of a fair countenance.”

“So Tom and Blanche,” he concluded, “can you tell me how we may be like
the shepherd-boy, David?”

“There aren’t giants now,” said Tom.

“Wrong is a giant,” said his little sister.

“Right, my white May-flower, and what then?”

“We are to fight,” said Tom.

“Yes, and mind, the giant with all his armour may be some great thing we
have to do: but what did David begin with when he was younger?”

“The lion and the bear.”

“Ay, and minding his sheep. Perhaps little things, now you are little
children, may be like the lion and the bear--so kill them off--get rid
of them--cure yourself of whining or dawdling, or whatever it be,
and mind your sheep well,” said he, smiling sweetly in answer to the
children’s earnest looks as they caught his meaning, “and if you do,
you will not find it near so hard to deal with your great giant struggle
when it comes.”

Ah! thought Ethel, it suits me as well as the children. I have a great
giant on Cocksmoor, and here I am, not allowed to attack him, because,
perhaps, I am not minding my sheep, and letting my lion and my bear run
loose about the house.

She was less impatient this week, partly from the sense of being on
probation, and partly because she, in common with all the rest, was much
engrossed with Harry’s fate. He came home every day at dinner-time with
Norman to ask if Alan Ernescliffe’s letter had come; and at length Mary
and Tom met them open-mouthed with the news that Margaret had it in her
room.

Thither they hastened. Margaret held it out with a smile of
congratulation. “Here it is, Harry; papa said you were to have it, and
consider it well, and let him know, when you had taken time. You must do
it soberly. It is once for all.”

Harry’s impetuosity was checked, and he took the letter quietly. His
sister put her hand on his shoulder, “Would you mind my kissing you,
dear Harry?” and as he threw his arms round her neck, she whispered,
“Pray that you may choose right.”

He went quietly away, and Norman begged to know what had been Alan
Ernescliffe’s advice.

“I can scarcely say he gave any direct advice,” said Margaret; “He would
not have thought that called for. He said, no doubt there were hardships
and temptations, more or less, according to circumstances; but weighing
one thing with another, he thought it gave as fair a chance of happiness
as other professions, and the discipline and regularity had been very
good for himself, as well as for many others he had known. He said, when
a man is willing to go wrong there is much to help him, but when he is
resolved on doing right, he need not be prevented.”

“That is what you may say of anything,” said Norman.

“Just so; and it answered papa’s question, whether it was exposing Harry
to more temptation than he must meet with anywhere. That was the reason
it was such a comfort to have anyone to write to, who understands it so
well.”

“Yes, and knows Harry’s nature.”

“He said he had been fortunate in his captains, and had led, on the
whole, a happy life at sea; and he thought if it was so with him, Harry
was likely to enjoy it more, being of a hardy adventurous nature, and a
sailor from choice, not from circumstances.”

“Then he advised for it? I did not think he would; you know he will not
let Hector be a sailor.”

“He told me he thought only a strong natural bent that way made it
desirable, and that he believed Hector only wished it from imitation of
him. He said too, long ago, that he thought Harry cut out for a sailor.

“A spirited fellow!” said Norman, with a look of saddened pride and
approval, not at all like one so near the same age. “He is up to
anything, afraid of nothing, he can lick any boy in the school already.
It will be worse than ever without him!”

“Yes, you will miss your constant follower. He has been your shadow
ever since he could walk. But there’s the clock, I must not keep you any
longer; good-bye, Norman.”

Harry gave his brother the letter as soon as they were outside the
house, and, while he read it, took his arm and guided him. “Well,” said
Norman as he finished.

“It is all right,” said Harry; and the two brothers said no more; there
was something rising up in their throats at the thought that they had
very few more walks to take together to Bishop Whichcote’s school;
Norman’s heart was very full at the prospect of another vacancy in his
home, and Harry’s was swelling between the ardour of enterprise and the
thought of bidding good-bye to each familiar object, and, above all, to
the brother who had been his model and admiration from babyhood.

“June!” at length he broke out, “I wish you were going too. I should not
mind it half so much if you were.”

“Nonsense, Harry! you want to be July after June all your life, do you?
You’ll be much more of a man without me.”

That evening Dr. May called Harry into his study to ask him if his mind
was made up; he put the subject fairly before him, and told him not to
be deterred from choosing what he thought would be for the best by any
scruples about changing his mind. “We shall not think a bit the worse of
you; better now, than too late.”

There was that in his face and tone that caused Harry to say, in a
stifled voice, “I did not think you would care so much, papa; I won’t
go, if you do.”

Dr. May put his hand on his shoulder, and was silent. Harry felt a
strange mixture of hope and fear, joy and grief, disappointment and
relief. “You must not give it up on that account, my dear,” he said at
length; “I should not let you see this, if it did not happen at a time
when I can’t command myself as I ought. If you were an only son, it
might be your duty to stay; being one of many, ‘tis nonsense to make a
rout about parting with you. If it is better for you, it is better for
all of us; and we shall do very well when you are once fairly gone.
Don’t let that influence you for a moment.”

Harry paused, not that he doubted, but he was collecting his
energies--“Then, papa, I choose the navy.”

“Then it is done, Harry. You have chosen in a dutiful, unselfish spirit,
and I trust it will prosper with you; for I am sure your father’s
blessing--aye, and your mother’s too, go with you! Now then,” after a
pause, “go and call Richard. I want him to write to Ernescliffe about
that naval school. You must take your leave of the Whichcote foundation
on Friday. I shall go and give Dr. Hoxton notice tomorrow, and get Tom’s
name down instead.”

And when the name of Thomas May was set down, Dr. Hoxton expressed his
trust that it would pass through the school as free from the slightest
blemish as those of Richard, Norman, and Harry May.

Now that Harry’s destiny was fixed, Ethel began to think of Cocksmoor
again, and she accomplished another walk there with Richard, Flora, and
Mary, to question Granny Hall about the children’s failure.

The old woman’s reply was a tissue of contradictions: the girls were
idle hussies, all contrary: they plagued the very life out of her, and
she represented herself as using the most frightful threats, if they
would not go to school. Breaking every bone in their skin was the least
injury she promised them; till Mary, beginning to think her a cruel old
woman, took hold of her brother’s coat-tails for protection.

“But I am afraid, Mrs. Hall,” said Richard, in that tone which might be
either ironical or simple, “if you served them so, they would never be
able to get to school at all, poor things.”

“Bless you, sir, d’ye think I’d ever lay a finger near them; it’s only
the way one must talk to children, you see,” said she, patronising his
inexperience.

“Perhaps they have found that out,” said Richard. Granny looked much
entertained, and laughed triumphantly and shrewdly, “ay, ay, that they
have, the lasses--they be sharp enough for anything, that they be. Why,
when I tell little Jenny that there’s the black man coming after her,
what does she do but she ups and says, ‘Granny, I know ‘tis only the
wind in the chimney.’”

“Then I don’t think it seems to answer,” said Richard. “Just suppose you
were to try for once, really punishing them when they won’t obey you,
perhaps they would do it next time.”

“Why, sir, you see I don’t like to take the stick to them; they’ve got
no mother, you see, sir.”

Mary thought her a kind grandmother, and came out from behind her
brother.

“I think it would be kinder to do it for once. What do you think they
will do as they grow older, if you don’t keep them in order when they
are little?”

This was foresight beyond Granny Hall, who began to expatiate on the
troubles she had undergone in their service, and the excellence of Sam.
There was certainly a charm in her manners, for Ethel forgot her charge
of ingratitude, the other sisters were perfectly taken with her, nor
could they any of them help giving credence to her asseverations that
Jenny and Polly should come to school next Sunday.

They soon formed another acquaintance; a sharp-faced woman stood in
their path, with a little girl in her hand, and arrested them with a low
curtsey, and not a very pleasant voice, addressing herself to Flora,
who was quite as tall as Richard, and appeared the person of most
consequence.

“If you please, miss, I wanted to speak to you. I have got a little girl
here, and I want to send her to school, only I have no shoes for her.”

“Why, surely, if she can run about here on the heath, she can go to
school,” said Flora.

“Oh! but there is all the other children to point at her. The poor thing
would be daunted, you see, miss; if I could but get some friend to give
her a pair of shoes, I’d send her in a minute. I want her to get some
learning; as I am always saying, I’d never keep her away, if I had
but got the clothes to send her in. I never lets her be running on the
common, like them Halls, as it’s a shame to see them in nice frocks, as
Mrs. Hall got by going hypercriting about.”

“What is your name?” said Richard, cutting her short.

“Watts, if you please, sir; we heard there was good work up here, sir,
and so we came; but I’d never have set foot in it if I had known what a
dark heathenish place it is, with never a Gospel minister to come near
it,” and a great deal more to the same purpose.

Mary whispered to Flora something about having outgrown her boots, but
Flora silenced her by a squeeze of the hand, and the two friends of
Cocksmoor felt a good deal puzzled.

At last Flora said, “You will soon get her clothed if she comes
regularly to school on Sundays, for she will be admitted into the club;
I will recommend her if she has a good character and comes regularly.
Good-morning, Mrs. Watts. Now we must go, or it will be dark before we
get home.” And they walked hastily away.

“Horrid woman!” was Ethel’s exclamation.

“But Flora,” said innocent Mary, “why would you not let me give the
little girl my boots?”

“Perhaps I may, if she is good and comes to school, said Flora.

“I think Margaret ought to settle what you do with your boots,” said
Richard, not much to Flora’s satisfaction.

“It is the same,” she said. “If I approve, Margaret will not object.”

“How well you helped us out, Flora,” said Ethel; “I did not know in the
least what to say.”

“It will be the best way of testing her sincerity, said Flora; and at
least it will do the child good; but I congratulate you on the promising
aspect of Cocksmoor.”

“We did not expect to find a perfect place,” said Ethel; “if it were, it
would be of no use to go to it.”

Ethel could answer with dignity, but her heart sank at the aspect of
what she had undertaken. She knew there would be evil, but she had
expected it in a more striking and less disagreeable form.

That walk certainly made her less impatient, though it did not relax her
determination, nor the guard over her lion and bear, which her own
good feeling, aided by Margaret’s council, showed her were the greatest
hindrances to her doing anything good and great.

Though she was obliged to set to work so many principles and reflections
to induce herself to wipe a pen, or to sit straight on her chair, that
it was like winding up a steam-engine to thread a needle; yet the work
was being done--she was struggling with her faults, humbled by them,
watching them, and overcoming them.

Flora, meanwhile, was sitting calmly down in the contemplation of the
unexpected services she had rendered, confident that her character for
energy and excellence was established, believing it herself, and looking
back on her childish vanity and love of domineering as long past and
conquered. She thought her grown-up character had begun, and was too
secure to examine it closely.



CHAPTER XI.



     One thing is wanting in the beamy cup
       Of my young life! one thing to be poured in;
     Ay, and one thing is wanting to fill up
       The measure of proud joy, and make it sin.--F. W. F.


Hopes that Dr. May would ever have his mind free, seemed as fallacious
as mamma’s old promise to Margaret, to make doll’s clothes for her
whenever there should be no live dolls to be worked for in the nursery.

Richard and Ethel themselves had their thoughts otherwise engrossed.
The last week before the holidays was an important one. There was
an examination, by which the standing of the boys in the school was
determined, and this time it was of more than ordinary importance, as
the Randall scholarship of £100 a year for three years would be open in
the summer to the competition of the first six boys. Richard had never
come within six of the top, but had been past at every examination by
younger boys, till his father could bear it no longer; and now Norman
was too young to be likely to have much chance of being of the number.
There were eight decidedly his seniors, and Harvey Anderson, a small,
quick-witted boy, half a year older, who had entered school at the same
time, and had always been one step below him, had, in the last three
months, gained fast upon him.

Harry, however, meant Norman to be one of the six, and declared all the
fellows thought he would be, except Andersen’s party. Mr. Wilmot, in a
call on Ethel and Flora, told them that he thought their brother had a
fair chance, but he feared he was over-working himself, and should tell
the doctor so, whenever he could catch him; but this was difficult, as
there was a great deal of illness just then, and he was less at home
than usual.

All this excited the home party, but Norman only seemed annoyed by talk
about it, and though always with a book in his hand, was so dreamy and
listless, that Flora declared that there was no fear of his doing too
much--she thought he would fail for want of trying.

“I mean to try,” said Norman; “say no more about it, pray.”

The great day was the 20th of December, and Ethel ran out, as the boys
went to school, to judge of Norman’s looks, which were not promising.
“No wonder,” said Harry, since he had stayed up doing Euripides and
Cicero the whole length of a candle that had been new at bedtime. “But
never mind, Ethel, if he only beats Anderson, I don’t care for anything
else.”

“Oh, it will be unbearable if he does not! Do try, Norman, dear.”

“Never you mind.”

“He’ll light up at the last moment,” said Ethel, consolingly, to Harry;
but she was very uneasy herself, for she had set her heart on his
surpassing Harvey Anderson. No more was heard all day. Tom went at
dinner-time to see if he could pick up any news; but he was shy, or
was too late, and gained no intelligence. Dr. May and Richard talked
of going to hear the speeches and viva voce examination in the
afternoon--objects of great interest to all Stoneborough men--but just
as they came home from a long day’s work, Dr. May was summoned to the
next town, by an electric telegraph, and, as it was to a bad case, he
did not expect to be at home till the mail-train came in at one o’clock
at night. Richard begged to go with him, and he consented, unwillingly,
to please Margaret, who could not bear to think of his “fending for
himself” in the dark on the rail-road.

Very long did the evening seem to the listening sisters. Eight, and
no tidings; nine, the boys not come; Tom obliged to go to bed by sheer
sleepiness, and Ethel unable to sit still, and causing Flora demurely to
wonder at her fidgeting so much, it would be so much better to fix her
attention to some employment; while Margaret owned that Flora was right,
but watched, and started at each sound, almost as anxiously as Ethel.

It was ten, when there was a sharp pull at the bell, and down flew the
sisters; but old James was beforehand, and Harry was exclaiming, “Dux!
James, he is Dux! Hurrah! Flossy, Ethel, Mary! There stands the Dux of
Stoneborough! Where’s papa?”

“Sent for to Whitford. But oh! Norman, Dux! Is he really?”

“To be sure, but I must tell Margaret,” and up he rushed, shouted the
news to her, but could not stay for congratulation; broke Tom’s slumber
by roaring it in his ear, and dashed into the nursery, where nurse for
once forgave him for waking the baby. Norman, meanwhile, followed his
eager sisters into the drawing-room, putting up his hand as if the
light dazzled him, and looking, by no means, as it he had just achieved
triumphant success.

Ethel paused in her exultation: “But is it, is it true, Norman?”

“Yes,” he said wearily, making his way to his dark corner.

“But what was it for? How is it?”

“I don’t know,” he answered.

“What’s the matter?” said Flora. “Are you tired, Norman, dear, does your
head ache?”

“Yes;” and the pain was evidently severe.

“Won’t you come to Margaret?” said Ethel, knowing what was the greater
suffering; but he did not move, and they forbore to torment him with
questions. The next moment Harry came down in an ecstacy, bringing in,
from the hall, Norman’s beautiful prize books, and showing off their
Latin inscription.

“Ah!” said he, looking at his brother, “he is regularly done for.
He ought to turn in at once. That Everard is a famous fellow for an
examiner. He said he never had seen such a copy of verses sent up by a
school-boy, and could hardly believe June was barely sixteen. Old Hoxton
says he is the youngest Dux they have had these fifty years that he
has known the school, and Mr. Wilmot said ‘twas the most creditable
examination he had ever known, and that I might tell papa so. What did
possess that ridiculous old landlubber at Whitford, to go and get on the
sick-list on this, of all the nights of the year? June, how can you go
on sitting there, when you know you ought to be in your berth?”

“I wish he was,” said Flora, “but let him have some tea first.”

“And tell us more, Harry,” said Ethel. “Oh! it is famous! I knew he
would come light at last. It is too delightful, if papa was but here!”

“Isn’t it? You should have seen how Anderson grinned--he is only
fourth--down below Forder, and Cheviot, and Ashe.”

“Well, I did not think Norman would have been before Forder and Cheviot.
That is grand.”

“It was the verses that did it,” said Harry; “they had an hour to do
Themistocles on the hearth of Admetus, and there he beat them all to
shivers. ‘Twas all done smack, smooth, without a scratch, in Alcaics,
and Cheviot heard Wilmot saving, ‘twas no mere task, but had poetry, and
all that sort of thing in it. But I don’t know whether that would have
done, if he had not come out so strong in the recitation; they put him
on in Priam’s speech to Achilles, and he said it--Oh it was too bad papa
did not hear him! Every one held their breath and listened.”

“How you do go on!” muttered Norman; but no one heeded, and Harry
continued. “He construed a chorus in Sophocles without a blunder, but
what did the business was this, I believe. They asked all manner of
out-of-the-way questions--history and geography, what no one expected,
and the fellows who read nothing they can help, were thoroughly posed.
Forder had not a word to say, and the others were worse, for Cheviot
thought Queen Elizabeth’s Earl of Leicester was Simon de Montfort; and
didn’t know when that battle was, beginning with an E.--was it Evesham,
or Edgehill?”

“O Harry, you are as bad yourself?”

“But any one would know Leicester, because of Kenilworth,” said Harry;
“and I’m not sixth form. If papa had but been there! Every one was
asking for him, and wishing it. For Dr. Hoxton called me--they shook
hands with me, and wished me joy of it, and told me to tell my father
how well Norman had done.”

“I suppose you looked so happy, they could not help it,” said Flora,
smiling at that honest beaming face of joy.

“Ay,” said Norman, looking up; “they had something to say to him on his
own score, which he has forgotten.”

“I should think not,” said Harry. “Why, what d’ye think they said? That
I had gone on as well as all the Mays, and they trusted I should still,
and be a credit to my profession.”

“Oh! Harry! why didn’t you tell us?”

“Oh! that is grand!” and, as the two elder girls made this exclamation,
Mary proceeded to a rapturous embrace. “Get along, Mary, you are
throttling one. Mr. Everard inquired for my father and Margaret, and
said he’d call to-morrow, and Hoxton and Wilmot kept on wishing he was
there.”

“I wish he had been!” said Ethel; “he would have taken such delight in
it; but, even if he could have gone, he doubted whether it would not
have made Norman get on worse from anxiety.”

“Well, Cheviot wanted me to send up for him at dinner-time,” said Harry;
“for as soon as we sat down in the hall, June turned off giddy, and
could not stay, and looked so horrid, we thought it was all over with
him, and he would not be able to go up at all.”

“And Cheviot thought you ought to send for papa!”

“Yes, I knew he would not be in, and so we left him lying down on the
bench in the cloister till dinner was over.”

“What a place for catching cold!” said Flora.

“So Cheviot said, but I couldn’t help it; and when we went to call him
afterwards, he was all right. Wasn’t it fun, when the names were called
over, and May senior at the head! I don’t think it will be better when I
am a post-captain myself! But Margaret has not heard half yet.”

After telling it once in her room, once in the nursery, in whispers
like gusts of wind, and once in the pantry, Harry employed himself in
writing--“Norman is Dux!” in immense letters, on pieces of paper, which
he disposed all over the house, to meet the eyes of his father and
Richard on their return.

Ethel’s joy was sadly damped by Norman’s manner. He hardly spoke--only
just came in to wish Margaret good-night, and shrank from her
affectionate sayings, departing abruptly to his own room.

“Poor fellow! he is sadly overdone,” said she, as he went.

“Oh!” sighed Ethel, nearly ready to cry, “‘tis not like what I used to
fancy it would be when he came to the head of the school!”

“It will be different to-morrow,” said Margaret, trying to console
herself as well as Ethel. “Think how he has been on the strain this
whole day, and long before, doing so much more than older boys. No
wonder he is tired and worn out.”

Ethel did not understand what mental fatigue was, for her active,
vigorous spirit had never been tasked beyond its powers.

“I hope he will be like himself to-morrow!” said she disconsolately. “I
never saw him rough and hasty before. It was even with you, Margaret.”

“No, no, Ethel you aren’t going to blame your own Norman for unkindness
on this of all days in the year. You know how it was; you love him
better; just as I do, for not being able to bear to stay in this room,
where--”

“Yes,” said Ethel, mournfully; “it was a great shame of me! How could I?
Dear Norman! how he does grieve--what love his must have been! But yet,
Margaret,” she said impatiently, and the hot tears breaking out, “I
cannot--cannot bear it! To have him not caring one bit for all of us! I
want him to triumph! I can’t without him!”

“What, Ethel, you, who said you didn’t care for mere distinction and
praise? Don’t you think dear mamma would say it was safer for him not to
be delighted and triumphant?”

“It is very tiresome,” said Ethel, nearly convinced, but in a slightly
petulant voice.

“And does not one love those two dear boys to-night!” said Margaret.
“Norman not able to rejoice in his victory without her, and Harry in
such an ecstacy with Norman’s honours. I don’t think I ever was so fond
of my two brothers.”

Ethel smiled, and drew up her head, and said no boys were like them
anywhere, and papa would be delighted, and so went to bed happier in her
exultation, and in hoping that the holidays would make Norman himself
again.

Nothing could be better news for Dr. May, who had never lost a grain
of the ancient school-party-loyalty that is part of the nature of the
English gentleman. He was a thorough Stoneborough boy, had followed
the politics of the Whichcote foundation year by year all his life, and
perhaps, in his heart, regarded no honour as more to be prized than that
of Dux and Randall scholar. Harry was in his room the next morning as
soon as ever he was stirring, a welcome guest--teased a little at first,
by his pretending to take it all as a sailor’s prank to hoax him and
Richard, and then free to pour out to delighted ears the whole history
of the examination, and of every one’s congratulations.

Norman himself was asleep when Harry went to give this narration. He
came down late, and his father rose to meet him as he entered. “My boy,”
 he said, “I had not expected this of you. Well done, Norman!” and the
whole tone and gesture had a heartfelt approval and joy in them, that
Ethel knew her brother was deeply thrilled by, for his colour deepened,
and his lips quivered into something like a smile, though he did not
lift his eyes.

Then came Richard’s warm greeting and congratulation, he, too, showing
himself as delighted as if the honours were his own; and then Dr. May
again, in lively tones, like old times, laughing at Norman for sleeping
late, and still not looking well awake, asking him if he was quite sure
it was not all a dream.

“Well,” said Norman, “I should think it was, if it were not that you all
believe it.”

“Harry had better go to sleep next,” said Dr. May, “and see what
dreaming will make him. If it makes Dux of Norman, who knows but it may
make Drakes of him? Ha! Ethel--


       “Oh, give us for our Kings such Queens,
          And for our Ducks such Drakes.”


There had not been such a merry breakfast for months. There was the old
confusion of voices; the boys, Richard, and the doctor had much to talk
over of the school doings of this week, and there was nearly as much
laughing as in days past. Ethel wondered whether any one but herself
observed that the voice most seldom heard was Norman’s.

The promised call was made by Dr. Hoxton, and Mr. Everard, an old
friend, and after their departure Dr. May came to Margaret’s room with
fresh accounts, corroborating what Harry had said of the clear knowledge
and brilliant talent that Norman had displayed, to a degree that
surprised his masters, almost as much as the examiners. The copy
of verses Dr. May brought with him, and construed them to Margaret,
commenting all the way on their ease, and the fullness of thought,
certainly remarkable in a boy of sixteen.

They were then resigned to Ethel’s keeping, and she could not help
imparting her admiration to their author, with some apology for vexing
him again.

“I don’t want to be cross,” said Norman, whom these words roused to a
sense that he had been churlish last night; “but I cannot help it. I
wish people would not make such a fuss about it.”

“I don’t think you can be well, Norman.”

“Nonsense. There’s nothing the matter with me.”

“But I don’t understand your not caring at all, and not being the least
pleased.”

“It only makes it worse,” said Norman; “I only feel as if I wanted to be
out of the way. My only comfortable time yesterday was on that bench in
the cool quiet cloister. I don’t think I could have got through without
that, when they left me in peace, till Cheviot and Harry came to rout me
up, and I knew it was all coming.”

“Ah! you have overworked yourself, but it was for something. You have
given papa such pleasure and comfort, as you can’t help being glad of.
That is very different from us foolish young ones and our trumpeting.”

“What comfort can it be? I’ve not been the smallest use all this time.
When he was ill, I left him to Ernescliffe, and lay on the floor like
an ass; and if he were to ask me to touch his arm, I should be as bad
again. A fine thing for me to have talked all that arrogant stuff about
Richard! I hate the thought of it; and, as if to make arrows and barbs
of it, here’s Richard making as much of this as if it was a double first
class! He afraid to be compared with me, indeed!”

“Norman, indeed, this is going too far. We can’t be as useful as the
elder ones; and when you know how papa was vexed about Richard, you must
be glad to have pleased him.”

“If I were he, it would only make me miss her more. I believe he only
makes much of me that he may not disappoint me.”

“I don’t think so. He is really glad, and the more because she would
have been so pleased. He said it would have been a happy day for her,
and there was more of the glad look than the sorry one. It was the
glistening look that comes when he is watching baby, or hearing Margaret
say pretty things to her. You see it is the first bright morning we have
had.”

“Yes,” said Norman; “perhaps it was, but I don’t know. I thought half of
it was din.”

“Oh, Norman!”

“And another thing, Ethel, I don’t feel as if I had fairly earned it.
Forder or Cheviot ought to have had it. They are both more really good
scholars than I am, and have always been above me. There was nothing
I really knew better, except those historical questions that no one
reckoned on; and not living at home with their sisters and books, they
had no such chance, and it is very hard on them, and I don’t like it.”

“Well, but you really and truly beat them in everything.”

“Ay, by chance. There were lots of places in construing, where I should
have broken down if I had happened to be set on in them; it was only a
wonder I did not in that chorus, for I had only looked at it twice; but
Everard asked me nothing but what I knew; and now and then I get into
a funny state, when nothing is too hard for me, and that was how it was
yesterday evening. Generally, I feel as dull as a post,” said Norman,
yawning and stretching; “I could not make a nonsense hexameter this
minute, if I was to die for it.”

“A sort of Berserkar fury!” said Ethel, “like that night you did the
coral-worm verses. It’s very odd. Are you sure you are well, dear
Norman?”

To which he answered, with displeasure, that he was as well as possible,
ordered her not to go and make any more fuss, and left her hastily. She
was unhappy, and far from satisfied; she had never known his temper
so much affected, and was much puzzled; but she was too much afraid of
vexing him, to impart her perplexity even to Margaret. However, the next
day, Sunday, as she was reading to Margaret after church, her father
came in, and the first thing he said was, “I want to know what you think
of Norman.”

“How do you mean?” said Margaret; “in health or spirits?”

“Both,” said Dr. May. “Poor boy! he has never held up his head since
October, and, at his age, that is hardly natural. He goes moping about,
has lost flesh and appetite, and looks altogether out of older, shooting
up like a Maypole too.”

“Mind and body,” said Margaret, while Ethel gazed intently at her
father, wondering whether she ought to speak, for Margaret did not know
half what she did; nothing about the bad nights, nor what he called the
“funny state.”

“Yes, both. I fancied it was only his rapid growth, and the excitement
of this examination, and that it would go off, but I think there’s more
amiss. He was lounging about doing nothing, when the girls were gone
to school after dinner, and I asked him to walk down with me to the
Almshouses. He did not seem very willing, but he went, and presently, as
I had hold of his arm, I felt him shivering, and saw him turn as pale as
a sheet. As soon as I noticed it, he flushed crimson, and would not hear
of turning back, stoutly protesting he was quite well, but I saw his
hand was quivering even when I got into church. Why, Ethel, you have
turned as red as he did.”

“Then he has done it!” exclaimed Ethel, in a smothered voice.

“What do you mean? Speak, Ethel.”

“He has gone past it--the place,” whispered she.

The doctor made a sound of sorrowful assent, as if much struck; then
said, “you don’t mean he has never been there since?”

“Yes,” said Ethel, “he has always gone round Randall’s alley or the
garden; he has said nothing, but has contrived to avoid it.”

“Well,” said Dr. May, after a pause, “I hoped none of us knew the exact
spot.”

“We don’t; he never told us, but he was there.”

“Was he?” exclaimed her father; “I had no notion of that. How came he
there?”

“He went on with Mr. Ernescliffe, and saw it all,” said Ethel, as her
father drew out her words, apparently with his eye; “and then came up to
my room so faint that he was obliged to lie on the floor ever so long.”

“Faint--how long did it last?” said her father, examining her without
apparent emotion, as if it had been an indifferent patient.

“I don’t know, things seemed so long that evening. Till after dark at
least, and it came on in the morning--no, the Monday. I believe it was
your arm--for talking of going to see you always brought it on, till Mr.
Ward gave him a dose of brandy-and-water, and that stopped it.”

“I wish I had known this before. Derangement of the nervous system, no
doubt--a susceptible boy like that--I wonder what sort of nights he has
been having.”

“Terrible ones,” said Ethel; “I don’t think he ever sleeps quietly till
morning; he has dreams, and he groans and talks in his sleep; Harry can
tell you all that.”

“Bless me!” cried Dr. May, in some anger; “what have you all been
thinking about to keep this to yourselves all this time?”

“He could not bear to have it mentioned,” said Ethel timidly; “and I
didn’t know that it signified so much; does it?”

“It signifies so much, that I had rather have given a thousand pounds
than have let him go on all this time, to be overworked at school, and
wound up to that examination!”

“Oh, dear! I am sorry!” said Ethel, in great dismay. “If you had but
been at home when Cheviot wanted Harry to have sent for you--because he
did not think him fit for it!” And Ethel was much relieved by pouring
out all she knew, though her alarm was by no means lessened by the
effect it produced on her father, especially when he heard of the “funny
state.”

“A fine state of things,” he said; “I wonder it has not brought on a
tremendous illness by this time. A boy of that sensitive temperament
meeting with such a shock--never looked after--the quietest and most
knocked down of all, and therefore the most neglected--his whole system
disordered--and then driven to school to be harassed and overworked; if
we had wanted to occasion brain fever we could not have gone a better
way to set about it. I should not wonder if health and nerves were
damaged for life!”

“Oh! papa, papa!” cried Ethel, in extreme distress, “what shall I do! I
wish I had told you, but--”

“I’m not blaming you, Ethel, you knew no better, but it has been
grievous neglect. It is plain enough there is no one to see after you,”
 said the doctor, with a low groan.

“We may be taking it in time,” said Margaret’s soft voice--“it is very
well it has gone on no longer.”

“Three months is long enough,” said Dr. May.

“I suppose,” continued Margaret, “it will be better not to let dear
Norman know we are uneasy about him.”

“No, no, certainly not. Don’t say a word of this to him. I shall
find Harry, and ask about these disturbed nights, and then watch him,
trusting it may not have gone too far; but there must be dreadful
excitability of brain!”

He went away, leaving Margaret to comfort Ethel as well as she could, by
showing her that he had not said the mischief was done, putting her in
mind that he was wont to speak strongly; and trying to make her thankful
that her brother would now have such care as might avert all evil
results.

“But, oh,” said Ethel, “his success has been dearly purchased!”



CHAPTER XII.



                      “It hath do me mochil woe.”
      “Yea hath it?  Use,” quod he, “this medicine;
      Every daie this Maie or that thou dine,
      Go lokin in upon the freshe daisie,
      And though thou be for woe in poinct to die,
      That shall full gretly lessen thee of thy pine.”
                                                    CHAUCER.


That night Norman started from, what was not so much sleep, as a trance
of oppression and suffering, and beheld his father’s face watching him
attentively.

“Papa! What’s the matter?” said he, starting up. “Is any one ill?”

“No; no one, lie down again,” said Dr. May, possessing himself of a
hand, with a burning spot in the palm, and a throbbing pulse.

“But what made you come here? Have I disturbed any one? Have I been
talking?”

“Only mumbling a little, but you looked very uncomfortable.”

“But I’m not ill--what are you feeling my pulse for?” said Norman
uneasily.

“To see whether that restless sleep has quickened it.”

Norman scarcely let his father count for a moment, before he asked,
“What o’clock is it?”

“A little after twelve.”

“What does make you stay up so late, papa?”

“I often do when my arm seems likely to keep me awake. Richard has done
all I want.”

“Pray don’t stay here in the cold,” said Norman, with feverish
impatience, as he turned upwards the cool side of his pillow.
“Good-night!”

“No hurry,” said his father, still watching him.

“There’s nothing the matter,” repeated the boy.

“Do you often have such unquiet nights?”

“Oh, it does not signify. Good-night,” and he tried to look settled and
comfortable.

“Norman,” said his father, in a voice betraying much grief, “it will not
do to go on in this way. If your mother was here, you would not close
yourself against her.”

Norman interrupted him in a voice strangled with sobs: “It is no good
saying it--I thought it would only make it worse for you; but that’s it.
I cannot bear the being without her.”

Dr. May was glad to see that a gush of tears followed this exclamation,
as Norman hid his face under the coverings.

“My poor boy,” said he, hardly able to speak, “only One can comfort you
truly; but you must not turn from me; you must let me do what I can for
you, though it is not the same.”

“I thought it would grieve you more,” said Norman, turning his face
towards him again.

“What, to find my children, feeling with me, and knowing what they have
lost? Surely not, Norman.”

“And it is of no use,” added Norman, hiding his face again, “no one can
comfort--”

“There you are wrong,” said Dr. May, with deep feeling, “there is much
comfort in everything, in everybody, in kindness, in all around, if one
can only open one’s mind to it. But I did not come to keep you awake
with such talk: I saw you were not quite well, so I came up to see about
you; and now, Norman, you will not refuse to own that something is the
matter.”

“I did not know it,” said Norman, “I really believe I am well, if I
could get rid of these horrible nights. I either lie awake, tumbling and
tossing, or I get all sorts of unbearable dreams.”

“Ay, when I asked master Harry about you, all the answer I could get
was, that he was quite used to it, and did not mind it at all. As if
I asked for his sake! How fast that boy sleeps--he is fit for a
midshipman’s berth!”

“But do you think there is anything amiss with me?”

“I shall know more about that to-morrow morning. Come to my room as
soon as you are up, unless I come to you. Now, I have something to read
before I go to bed, and I may as well try if it will put you to sleep.”

Norman’s last sight that night was of the outline of his father’s
profile, and he was scarcely awake the next morning before Dr. May was
there again.

Unwilling as he had been to give way, it was a relief to relinquish the
struggle to think himself well, and to venture to lounge and dawdle,
rest his heavy head, and stretch his inert limbs without fear of
remark. His father found him after breakfast lying on the sofa in the
drawing-room with a Greek play by his side, telling Ethel what words to
look out.

“At it again!” exclaimed Dr. May. “Carry it away, Ethel. I will have no
Latin or Greek touched these holidays.”

“You know,” said Norman, “if I don’t sap, I shall have no chance of
keeping up.”

“You’ll keep nowhere if you don’t rest.”

“It is only Euripides, and I can’t do anything else,” said Norman
languidly.

“Very likely, I don’t care. You have to get well first of all, and the
Greek will take care of itself. Go up to Margaret. I put you in her
keeping, while I am gone to Whitford. After that, I dare say
Richard will be very glad to have a holiday, and let you drive me to
Abbotstoke.”

Norman rose, and wearily walked upstairs, while his sister lingered
to excuse herself. “Papa, I did not think Euripides would hurt him--he
knows it all so well, and he said he could not read anything else.”

“Just so, Ethel. Poor fellow, he has not spirits or energy for anything:
his mind was forced into those classicalities when it wanted rest, and
now it has not spring enough to turn back again.”

“Do you think him so very ill?”

“Not exactly, but there’s low fever hanging about him, and we must look
after him well, and I hope we may get him right. I have told Margaret
about him; I can’t stop any longer now.”

Norman found the baby in his sister’s room, and this was just what
suited him. The Daisy showed a marked preference for her brothers; and
to find her so merry and good with him, pleased and flattered him far
more than his victory at school. He carried her about, danced her,
whistled to her, and made her admire her pretty blue eyes in the glass
more successfully, till nurse carried her off. But perhaps he had been
sent up rather too soon, for as he sat in the great chair by the fire,
he was teased by the constant coming and going, all the petty cares of
a large household transacted by Margaret--orders to butcher and
cook--Harry racing in to ask to take Tom to the river--Tom, who was to
go when his lesson was done, coming perpetually to try to repeat the
same unhappy bit of ‘As in Proesenti’, each time in a worse whine.

“How can you bear it, Margaret?” said Norman, as she finally dismissed
Tom, and laid down her account-book, taking up some delicate fancy work.
“Mercy, here’s another,” as enter a message about lamp oil, in the midst
of which Mary burst in to beg Margaret to get Miss Winter to let her go
to the river with Harry and Tom.

“No, indeed, Mary, I could not think of such a thing. You had better go
back to your lessons, and don’t be silly,” as she looked much disposed
to cry.

“No one but a Tom-boy would dream of it,” added Norman; and Mary
departed disconsolate, while Margaret gave a sigh of weariness, and
said, as she returned to her work, “There, I believe I have done. I hope
I was not cross with poor Mary, but it was rather too much to ask.”

“I can’t think how you can help being cross to every one,” said Norman,
as he took away the books she had done with.

“I am afraid I am,” said Margaret sadly. “It does get trying at times.”

“I should think so! This eternal worrying must be more than any one can
bear, always lying there too.”

“It is only now and then that it grows tiresome,” said Margaret. “I am
too happy to be of some use, and it is too bad to repine, but sometimes
a feeling comes of its being always the same, as if a little change
would be such a treat.”

“Aren’t you very tired of lying in bed?”

“Yes, very, sometimes. I fancy, but it is only fancy, that I could move
better if I was up and dressed. It has seemed more so lately, since I
have been stronger.”

“When do you think they will let you get up?”

“There’s the question. I believe papa thinks I might be lifted to the
sofa now--and oh! how I long for it--but then Mr. Ward does not approve
of my sitting up, even as I am doing now, and wants to keep me flat.
Papa thinks that of no use, and likely to hurt my general health, and
I believe the end of it will be that he will ask Sir Matthew Fleet’s
opinion.”

“Is that the man he calls Mat?”

“Yes, you know they went through the university together, and were at
Edinburgh and Paris, but they have never met since he set up in London,
and grew so famous. I believe it would be a great treat to papa to have
him, and it would be a good thing for papa too; I don’t think his arm is
going on right--he does not trust to Mr. Ward’s treatment, and I am sure
some one else ought to see it.”

“Did you know, Margaret, that he sits up quite late, because he cannot
sleep for it?”

“Yes, I hear him moving about, but don’t tell him so; I would not have
him guess for the world, that it kept me awake.”

“And does it?”

“Why, if I think he is awake and in pain I cannot settle myself to
sleep; but that is no matter; having no exercise, of course I don’t
sleep so much. But I am very anxious about him--he looks so thin, and
gets so fagged--and no wonder.”

“Ah! Mr. Everard told me he was quite shocked to see him, and would
hardly have known him,” and Norman groaned from the bottom of his heart.

“Well, I shall hope much from Sir Matthew’s taking him in hand,” said
Margaret cheerfully; “he will mind him, though he will not Mr. Ward.”

“I wish the holidays were over!” said Norman, with a yawn, as expressive
as a sigh.

“That’s not civil, on the third day,” said Margaret, smiling, “when I am
so glad to have you to look after me, so as to set Flora at liberty.”

“What, can I do you any good?” said Norman, with a shade of his former
alacrity.

“To be sure you can, a great deal. Better not come near me otherwise,
for I make every one into a slave. I want my morning reading now--that
book on Advent, there.”

“Shall I read it to you?”

“Thank you, that’s nice, and I shall get on with baby’s frock.”

Norman read, but, ere long, took to yawning; Margaret begged for the
book, which he willingly resigned, saying, however, that he liked it,
only he was stupid. She read on aloud, till she heard a succession of
heavy breathings, and saw him fast asleep, and so he continued till
waked by his father’s coming home.

Richard and Ethel were glad of a walk, for Margaret had found them a
pleasant errand. Their Cocksmoor children could not go home to dinner
between service and afternoon school, and Margaret had desired the cook
to serve them up some broth in the back kitchen, to which the brother
and sister were now to invite them. Mary was allowed to take her boots
to Rebekah Watts, since Margaret held that goodness had better be
profitable, at least at the outset; and Harry and Tom joined the party.

Norman, meantime, was driving his father--a holiday preferment highly
valued in the days when Dr. May used only to assume the reins, when his
spirited horses showed too much consciousness that they had a young
hand over them, or when the old hack took a fit of laziness. Now, Norman
needed Richard’s assurance that the bay was steady, so far was he from
being troubled with his ancient desire, that the steed would rear right
up on his hind legs.

He could neither talk nor listen till he was clear out of the town, and
found himself master of the animal, and even then the words were few,
and chiefly spoken by Dr. May, until after going along about three miles
of the turnpike road, he desired Norman to turn down a cross-country
lane.

“Where does this lead?”

“It comes out at Abbotstoke, but I have to go to an outlying farm.”

“Papa,” said Norman, after a few minutes, “I wish you would let me do my
Greek.”

“Is that what you have been pondering all this time? What, may not the
bonus Homerus slumber sometimes?”

“It is not Homer, it is Euripides. I do assure you, papa, it is no
trouble, and I get much worse without it.”

“Well, stop here, the road grows so bad that we will walk, and let the
boy lead the horse to meet us at Woodcote.”

Norman followed his father down a steep narrow lane, little better than
a stony water-course, and began to repeat, “If you would but let me do
my work! I’ve got nothing else to do, and now they have put me up, I
should not like not to keep my place.”

“Very likely, but--hollo--how swelled this is!” said Dr. May, as they
came to the bottom of the valley, where a stream rushed along, coloured
with a turbid creamy yellow, making little whirlpools where it crossed
the road, and brawling loudly just above where it roared and foamed
between two steep banks of rock, crossed by a foot-bridge of planks,
guarded by a handrail of rough poles. The doctor had traversed it, and
gone a few paces beyond, when, looking back, he saw Norman very pale,
with one foot on the plank, and one hand grasping the rail. He came
back, and held out his hand, which Norman gladly caught at, but no
sooner was the other side attained, than the boy, though he gasped with
relief, exclaimed, “This is too bad! Wait one moment, please, and let me
go back.”

He tried, but the first touch of the shaking rail, and glance at the
chasm, disconcerted him, and his father, seeing his white cheeks and
rigid lips, said, “Stop, Norman, don’t try it. You are not fit,” he
added, as the boy came to him reluctantly.

“I can’t bear to be such a wretch!” said he. “I never used to be. I will
not--let me conquer it;” and he was turning back, but the doctor took
his arm, saying decidedly, “No, I won’t have it done. You are only
making it worse by putting a force on yourself.” But the farther Norman
was from the bridge, the more displeased he was with himself, and more
anxious to dare it again. “There’s no bearing it,” he muttered; “let me
only run back. I’ll overtake you. I must do it if no one looks on.”

“No such thing,” said the doctor, holding him fast. “If you do, you’ll
have it all over again at night.”

“That’s better than to know I am worse than Tom.”

“I tell you, Norman, it is no such thing. You will recover your tone
if you will only do as you are told, but your nerves have had a severe
shock, and when you force yourself in this way, you only increase the
mischief.”

“Nerves,” muttered Norman disdainfully. “I thought they were only fit
for fine ladies.”

Dr. May smiled. “Well, will it content you if I promise that as soon as
I see fit, I’ll bring you here, and let you march over that bridge as
often as you like?”

“I suppose I must be contented, but I don’t like to feel like a fool.”

“You need not, while the moral determination is sound.”

“But my Greek, papa.”

“At it again--I declare, Norman, you are the worst patient I ever had!”

Norman made no answer, and Dr. May presently said, “Well, let me hear
what you have to say about it. I assure you it is not that I don’t want
you to get on, but that I see you are in great need of rest.”

“Thank you, papa. I know you mean it for my good, but I don’t think
you do know how horrid it is. I have got nothing on earth to do or care
for--the school work comes quite easy to me, and I’m sure thinking is
worse; and then”--Norman spoke vehemently--“now they have put me up, it
will never do to be beaten, and all the four others ought to be able to
do it. I did not want or expect to be dux, but now I am, you could not
bear me not to keep my place, and to miss the Randall scholarship, as I
certainly shall, if I do not work these whole holidays.”

“Norman, I know it,” said his father kindly. “I am very sorry for
you, and I know I am asking of you what I could not have done at your
age--indeed, I don’t believe I could have done it for you a few months
ago. It is my fault that you have been let alone, to have an overstrain
and pressure on your mind, when you were not fit for it, and I cannot
see any remedy but complete freedom from work. At the same time, if you
fret and harass yourself about being surpassed, that is, as you say,
much worse for you than Latin and Greek. Perhaps I may be wrong, and
study might not do you the harm I think it would; at any rate, it is
better than tormenting yourself about next half year, so I will not
positively forbid it, but I think you had much better let it alone. I
don’t want to make it a matter of duty. I only tell you this, that you
may set your mind at rest as far as I am concerned. If you do lose your
place, I will consider it as my own doing, and not be disappointed. I
had rather see you a healthy, vigorous, useful man, than a poor puling
nervous wretch of a scholar, if you were to get all the prizes in the
university.”

Norman made a little murmuring sound of assent, and both were silent for
some moments, then he said, “Then you will not be displeased, papa, if I
do read, as long as I feel it does me no harm.”

“I told you I don’t mean to make it a matter of obedience. Do as you
please--I had rather you read than vexed yourself.”

“I am glad of it. Thank you, papa,” said Norman, in a much cheered
voice.

They had, in the meantime, been mounting a rising ground, clothed with
stunted wood, and came out on a wide heath, brown with dead bracken; a
hollow, traced by the tops of leafless trees, marked the course of the
stream that traversed it, and the inequalities of ground becoming more
rugged in outlines and grayer in colouring as they receded, till they
were closed by a dark fir wood, beyond which rose in extreme distance
the grand mass of Welsh mountain heads, purpled against the evening sky,
except where the crowning peaks bore a veil of snow. Behind, the sky was
pure gold, gradually shading into pale green, and then into clear light
wintry blue, while the sun sitting behind two of the loftiest, seemed
to confound their outlines, and blend them in one flood of soft hazy
brightness. Dr. May looked at his son, and saw his face clear up, his
brow expand, and his lips unclose with admiration.

“Yes,” said the doctor, “it is very fine, is it not? I used to bring
mamma here now and then for a treat, because it put her in mind of her
Scottish hills. Well, your’s are the golden hills of heaven, now, my
Maggie!” he added, hardly knowing that he spoke aloud. Norman’s throat
swelled, as he looked up in his face, then cast down his eyes hastily to
hide the tears that had gathered on his eyelashes.

“I’ll leave you here,” said Dr. May; “I have to go to a farmhouse close
by, in the hollow behind us; there’s a girl recovering from a fever.
I’ll not be ten minutes, so wait here.”

When he came back, Norman was still where he had left him, gazing
earnestly, and the tears standing on his cheeks. He did not move till
his father laid his hand on his shoulder--they walked away together
without a word, and scarcely spoke all the way home.

Dr. May went to Margaret and talked to her of Norman’s fine character,
and intense affection for his mother, the determined temper, and quietly
borne grief, for which the doctor seemed to have worked himself into a
perfect enthusiasm of admiration; but lamenting that he could not tell
what to do with him--study or no study hurt him alike--and he dreaded to
see health and spirits shattered for ever. They tried to devise change
of scene, but it did not seem possible just at present; and Margaret,
besides her fears for Norman, was much grieved to see this added to her
father’s troubles.

At night Dr. May again went up to see whether Norman, whom he had moved
into Margaret’s former room, were again suffering from fever. He found
him asleep in a restless attitude, as if he had just dropped off, and
waking almost at the instant of his entrance, he exclaimed, “Is it you?
I thought it was mamma. She said it was all ambition.”

Then starting, and looking round the room, and at his father, he
collected himself, and said, with a slight smile, “I didn’t know I had
been asleep. I was awake just now, thinking about it. Papa, I’ll give
it up. I’ll try to put next half out of my head, and not mind if they do
pass me.”

“That’s right, my boy,” said the doctor.

“At least if Cheviot and Forder do, for they ought. I only hope Anderson
won’t. I can stand anything but that. But that is nonsense too.”

“You are quite right, Norman,” said the doctor, “and it is a great
relief to me that you see the thing so sensibly.”

“No, I don’t see it sensibly at all, papa. I hate it all the time, and
I don’t know whether I can keep from thinking of it, when I have nothing
to do; but I see it is wrong; I thought all ambition and nonsense was
gone out of me, when I cared so little for the examination; but now
I see, though I did not want to be made first, I can’t bear not to be
first; and that’s the old story, just as she used to tell me to guard
against ambition. So I’ll take my chance, and if I should get put down,
why, ‘twas not fair that I should be put up, and it is what I ought to
be, and serves me right into the bargain--”

“Well, that’s the best sort of sense, your mother’s sense,” said the
doctor, more affected than he liked to show. “No wonder she came to you
in your dream, Norman, my boy, if you had come to such a resolution.
I was half in hopes you had some such notion when I came upon you, on
Far-view down.”

“I think that sky did it,” said Norman, in a low voice; “it made me
think of her in a different way--and what you said too.”

“What did I say? I don’t remember.”

But Norman could not repeat the words, and only murmured, “Golden
hills.” It was enough.

“I see,” said the doctor, “you had dwelt on the blank here, not taken
home what it is to her.”

“Ay,” almost sobbed Norman, “I never could before--that made me,” after
a long silence, “and then I know how foolish I was, and how she would
say it was wrong to make this fuss, when you did not like it, about my
place, and that it was not for the sake of my duty, but of ambition. I
knew that, but till I went to bed to-night, I could not tell whether I
could make up my mind, so I would say nothing.”



CHAPTER XIII.



     The days are sad, it is the Holy tide,
     When flowers have ceased to blow and birds to sing.
                                               F. TENNYSON.


It had been a hard struggle to give up all thoughts of study, and Norman
was not at first rewarded for it, but rather exemplified the truth of
his own assertion, that he was worse without it; for when this sole
occupation for his mind was taken away, he drooped still more. He would
willingly have shown his father that he was not discontented, but he was
too entirely unnerved to be either cheerful or capable of entering with
interest into any occupation. If he had been positively ill, the task
would have been easier, but the low intermittent fever that hung about
him did not confine him to bed, only kept him lounging, listless and
forlorn, through the weary day, not always able to go out with his
father, and on Christmas Day unfit even for church.

All this made the want of his mother, and the vacancy in his home, still
more evident, and nothing was capable of relieving his sadness but his
father’s kindness, which was a continual surprise to him. Dr. May was a
parent who could not fail to be loved and honoured; but, as a busy man,
trusting all at home to his wife, he had only appeared to his children
either as a merry playfellow, or as a stern paternal authority, not
often in the intermediate light of guiding friend, or gentle guardian;
and it affected Norman exceedingly to find himself, a tall schoolboy,
watched and soothed with motherly tenderness and affection; with
complete comprehension of his feelings, and delicate care of them. His
father’s solicitude and sympathy were round him day and night, and this,
in the midst of so much toil, pain, grief, and anxiety of his own, that
Norman might well feel overwhelmed with the swelling, inexpressible
feelings of grateful affection.

How could his father know exactly what he would like--say the very
things he was thinking--see that his depression was not wilful
repining--find exactly what best soothed him! He wondered, but he
could not have said so to any one, only his eye brightened, and, as his
sisters remarked, he never seemed half so uncomfortable when papa was
in the room. Indeed, the certainty that his father felt the sorrow as
acutely as himself, was one reason of his opening to him. He could not
feel that his brothers and sisters did so, for, outwardly, their habits
were unaltered, their spirits not lowered, their relish for things
around much the same as before, and this had given Norman a sense of
isolation. With his father it was different. Norman knew he could never
appreciate what the bereavement was to him--he saw its traces in almost
every word and look, and yet perceived that something sustained and
consoled him, though not in the way of forgetfulness. Now and then
Norman caught at what gave this comfort, and it might be hoped he would
do so increasingly; though, on this Christmas Day, Margaret felt very
sad about him, as she watched him sitting over the fire, cowering with
chilliness and headache, while every one was gone to church, and saw
that the reading of the service with her had been more of a trouble than
a solace.

She tried to think it bodily ailment, and strove hard not to pine for
her mother, to comfort them both, and say the fond words of refreshing
cheering pity that would have made all light to bear. Margaret’s home
Christmas was so spent in caring for brother, father, and children,
that she had hardly time to dwell on the sad change that had befallen
herself.

Christmas was a season that none of them knew well how to meet: Blanche
was overheard saying to Mary that she wished it would not come, and
Mary, shaking her head, and answering that she was afraid that was
naughty, but it was very tiresome to have no fun. Margaret did her best
upstairs, and Richard downstairs, by the help of prints and hymns, to
make the children think of the true joy of Christmas, and in the evening
their father gathered them round, and told them the stories of the
Shepherds and of the Wise Men, till Mary and Blanche agreed, as they
went up to bed, that it had been a very happy evening.

The next day Harry discomfited the schoolroom by bursting in with the
news that “Louisa and Fanny Anderson were bearing down on the front
door.” Ethel and Flora were obliged to appear in the drawing-room, where
they were greeted by two girls, rather older than themselves. A whole
shower of inquiries for Dr. May, for Margaret, and for the dear little
baby, were first poured out; then came hopes that Norman was well, as
they had not seen him at church yesterday.

“Thank you, he was kept at home by a bad headache, but it is better
to-day.”

“We came to congratulate you on his success--we could not help it--it
must have been such a pleasure to you.”

“That it was!” exclaimed Ethel, pleased at participation in her
rejoicing. “We were so surprised.”

Flora gave a glance of warning, but Ethel’s short-sighted eyes were
beyond the range of correspondence, and Miss Anderson continued. “It
must have been a delightful surprise. We could hardly believe it when
Harvey came in and told us. Every one thought Forder was sure, but they
all were put out by the questions of general information--those were all
Mr. Everard’s doing.”

“Mr. Everard was very much struck with Norman’s knowledge and
scholarship too,” said Flora.

“So every one says. It was all Mr. Everard’s doing. Miss Harrison told
mamma, but, for my part, I am very glad for the sake of Stoneborough; I
like a town boy to be at the head.”

“Norman was sorry for Forder and Cheviot,” began Ethel. Flora tried
to stop her, but Louisa Anderson caught at what she said, and looked
eagerly for more. “He felt,” said she, only thinking of exalting her
generous brother, “as if it was hardly right, when they are so much his
seniors, that he could scarcely enjoy it.”

“Ah! that is just what people say,” replied Louisa. “But it must be very
gratifying to you, and it makes him certain of the Randal scholarship
too, I suppose. It is a great thing for him! He must have worked very
hard.”

“Yes, that he has,” said Flora; “he is so fond of study, and that goes
halfway.”

“So is dear Harvey. How earnest he is over his books! Mamma sometimes
says, ‘Now Harvey, dear, you’ll be quite stupified, you’ll be ill; I
really shall get Dr. May to forbid you.’ I suppose Norman is very busy
too; it is quite the fashion for boys not to be idle now.”

“Poor Norman can’t help it,” said Ethel piteously. “Papa will not hear
of his doing any Latin or Greek these whole holidays.”

“He thinks he will come to it better again for entire rest,” said Flora,
launching another look at her sister, which again fell short.

A great deal of polite inquiry whether they were uneasy about him
followed, mixed with a little boasting of dear Harvey’s diligence.

“By-the-bye, Ethel, it is you that are the great patroness of the wild
Cocksmoor children--are not you?”

Ethel coloured, and mumbled, and Flora answered for her, “Richard and
Ethel have been there once or twice. You know our under nursery-maid is
a Cocksmoor girl.”

“Well, mamma said she could not think how Miss May could take one from
thence. The whole place is full of thieves, and do you know, Bessie
Boulder has lost her gold pencil-case.”

“Has she?” said Flora.

“And she had it on Sunday when she was teaching her class.”

“Oh!” cried Ethel vehemently; “surely she does not suspect any of those
poor children!”

“I only know such a thing never happened at school before,” said Fanny,
“and I shall never take anything valuable there again.”

“But is she sure she lost it at school?”

“Oh, yes, quite certain. She will not accuse any one, but it is not
comfortable. And how those children do behave at church!”

“Poor things! they have been sadly neglected,” said Flora.

“They are quite spoiling the rest, and they are such figures! Why don’t
you, at least, make them cut their hair? You know it is the rule of the
school.”

“I know, but half the girls in the first class wear it long.”

“Oh, yes, but those are the superior people, that one would not be
strict with, and they dress it so nicely too. Now these are like little
savages.”

“Richard thinks it might drive them away to insist at first,” said
Ethel; “we will try to bring it about in time.”

“Well, Mrs. Ledwich is nearly resolved to insist, so you had better be
warned, Ethel. She cannot suffer such untidiness and rags to spoil the
appearance of the school, and, I assure you, it is quite unpleasant to
the teachers.”

“I wish they would give them all to me!” said Ethel. “But I do hope Mrs.
Ledwich will have patience with them, for they are only to be gained
gently.”

The visitors took their leave, and the two sisters began
exclaiming--Ethel at their dislike of her proteges, and Flora at what
they had said of Norman. “And you, Ethel, how could you go and tell them
we were surprised, and Norman thought it was hard on the other boys?
They’ll have it all over the town that he got it unjustly, and knows it,
as they say already it was partiality of Mr. Everard’s.”

“Oh, no, no, they never can be so bad!” cried Ethel; “they must have
understood better that it was his noble humility and generosity.”

“They understand anything noble! No, indeed! They think every one like
their own beautiful brother! I knew what they came for all the time;
they wanted to know whether Norman was able to work these holidays, and
you told them the very thing they wanted to hear. How they will rejoice
with that Harvey, and make sure of the Randall!”

“Oh, no, no!” cried Ethel; “Norman must get that!”

“I don’t think he will,” said Flora, “losing all this time, while they
are working. It cannot be helped, of course, but it is a great pity.”

“I almost wish he had not been put up at all, if it is to end in this
way,” said Ethel. “It is very provoking, and to have them triumphing as
they will! There’s no bearing it!”

“Norman, certainly, is not at all well, poor fellow,” said Flora, “and I
suppose he wants rest, but I wish papa would let him do what he can.
It would be much better for him than moping about as he is always doing
now; and the disappointment of losing his place will be grievous, though
now he fancies he does not care for it.”

“I wonder when he will ever care for anything again. All I read and tell
him only seems to tease him, though he tries to thank me.”

“There is a strange apathy about him,” said Flora, “but I believe it is
chiefly for want of exertion. I should like to rouse him if papa would
let me; I know I could, by telling him how these Andersons are reckoning
on his getting down. If he does, I shall be ready to run away, that I
may never meet any one here again.”

Ethel was very unhappy till she was able to pour all this trouble out
to Margaret, and worked herself almost into crying about Norman’s being
passed by “that Harvey,” and his sisters exulting, and papa being vexed,
and Norman losing time and not caring.

“There you are wrong,” said Margaret, “Norman did care very much, and it
was not till he had seen clearly that it was a matter of duty to do
as papa thought right, and not agitate his mind about his chances of
keeping up, that he could bear to give up his work;” and she told Ethel
a little of what had passed.

Ethel was much struck. “But oh, Margaret, it is very hard, just to have
him put up for the sake of being put down, and pleasing the Andersons!”

“Dear Ethel, why should you mind so much about the Andersons? May they
not care about their brother as we do for ours?”

“Such a brother to care about!” said Ethel.

“But I suppose they may like him the best,” said Margaret, smiling.

“I suppose they do,” said Ethel grudgingly; “but still I cannot bear to
see Norman doing nothing, and I know Harvey Anderson will beat him.”

“Surely you had rather he did nothing than made himself ill!”

“To be sure, but I wish it wasn’t so.”

“Yes; but, Ethel, whose doing is his getting into this state?”

Ethel looked grave. “It was wrong of me,” said she, “but then papa is
not sure that Greek would hurt him.”

“Not sure, but he thinks it not wise to run the risk. But, Ethel, dear,
why are you so bent on his being dux at all costs?”

“It would be horrid if he was not.”

“Don’t you remember you used to say that outward praise or honour was
not to be cared for as long as one did one’s duty, and that it might be
a temptation?”

“Yes, I know I did,” said Ethel, faltering, “but that was for oneself.”

“It is harder, I think, to feel so about those we care for,” said
Margaret; “but after all, this is just what will show whether our pride
in Norman is the right true loving pride, or whether it is only the
family vanity of triumphing over the Andersons.”

Ethel hung her head. “There’s some of that,” she said, “but it is not
all. No--I don’t want to triumph over them, nobody would do that.”

“Not outwardly perhaps, but in their hearts.”

“I can’t tell,” said Ethel, “but it is the being triumphed over that I
cannot bear.”

“Perhaps this is all a lesson in humility for us,” said Margaret “It is
teaching us, ‘Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that
humbleth himself shall be exalted.’”

Ethel was silent for some little space, then suddenly exclaimed, “And
you think he will really be put down?”

Margaret seemed to have been talking with little effect, but she kept
her patience, and answered, “I cannot guess, Ethel, but I’ll tell you
one thing--I think there’s much more chance if he comes to his work
fresh and vigorous after a rest, than if he went on dulling himself with
it all this time.”

With which Ethel was so far appeased that she promised to think as
little as she could of the Andersons, and a walk with Richard to
Cocksmoor turned the current of her thoughts. They had caught some
more Sunday-school children by the help of Margaret’s broth, but it was
uphill work; the servants did not like such guests in the kitchen, and
they were still less welcome at school.

“What do you think I heard, Ethel?” said Flora, the next Sunday, as
they joined each other in the walk from school to church; “I heard Miss
Graves say to Miss Boulder, ‘I declare I must remonstrate. I undertook
to instruct a national, not a ragged school;’ and then Miss Boulder
shook out her fine watered silk and said, ‘It positively is improper to
place ladies in contact with such squalid objects.’”

“Ladies!” cried Ethel. “A stationer’s daughter and a banker’s clerk’s!
Why do they come to teach at school at all?”

“Because our example makes it genteel,” said Flora.

“I hope you did something more in hopes of making it genteel.”

“I caught one of your ragged regiment with her frock gaping behind, and
pinned it up. Such rags as there were under it! Oh, Ethel!”

“Which was it?”

“That merry Irish-looking child. I don’t know her name.”

“Oh! it is a real charming Irish name, Una M’Carthy. I am so glad you
did it, Flora. I hope they were ashamed.”

“I doubt whether it will do good. We are sure of our station and can do
anything--they are struggling to be ladies.”

“But we ought not to talk of them any more, Flora; here we are almost at
the churchyard.”

The Tuesday of this week was appointed for the visit of the London
surgeon, Sir Matthew Fleet, and the expectation caused Dr. May to talk
much to Margaret of old times, and the days of is courtship, when it
had been his favourite project that his friend and fellow-student should
marry Flora Mackenzie, and there had been a promising degree of liking,
but “Mat” had been obliged to be prudent, and had ended by never
marrying at all. This the doctor, as well as his daughters, believed was
for the sake of Aunt Flora, and thus the girls were a good deal excited
about his coming, almost as much on his own account, as because they
considered him as the arbiter of Margaret’s fate. He only came in time
for a seven o’clock dinner, and Margaret did not see him that night, but
heard enough from her sisters, when they came up to tell the history of
their guest, and of the first set dinner when Flora had acted as lady
of the house. The dinner it appeared had gone off very well. Flora
had managed admirably, and the only mishap was some awkward carving of
Ethel’s which had caused the dish to be changed with Norman. As to the
guest, Flora said he was very good-looking and agreeable. Ethel abruptly
pronounced, “I am very glad Aunt Flora married Uncle Arnott instead.”

“I can’t think why,” said Flora. “I never saw a person of pleasanter
manners.”

“Did they talk of old times?” said Margaret.

“No,” said Ethel; “that was the thing.”

“You would not have them talk of those matters in the middle of dinner,”
 said Flora.

“No,” again said Ethel; “but papa has a way--don’t you know, Margaret,
how one can tell in a moment if it is company talk.”

“What was the conversation about?” said Margaret.

“They talked over some of their fellow-students,” said Flora.

“Yes,” said Ethel; “and then when papa told him that beautiful history
of Dr. Spencer going to take care of those poor emigrants in the fever,
what do you think he said? ‘Yes, Spencer was always doing extravagant
things.’ Fancy that to papa, who can hardly speak of it without having
to wipe his spectacles, and who so longs to hear of Dr. Spencer.”

“And what did he say?”

“Nothing; so Flora and Sir Matthew got to pictures and all that sort of
thing, and it was all company talk after that.”

“Most entertaining in its kind,” said Flora: “but--oh, Norman!” as he
entered--“why, they are not out of the dining-room yet!”

“No; they are talking of some new invention, and most likely will not
come for an hour.”

“Are you going to bed?”

“Papa followed me out of the dining-room to tell me to do so after tea.”

“Then sit down there, and I’ll go and make some, and let it come up
with Margaret’s. Come, Ethel. Good-night, Norman. Is your head aching
to-night?”

“Not much, now I have got out of the dining-room.”

“It would have been wiser not to have gone in,” said Flora, leaving the
room.

“It was not the dinner, but the man,” said Norman. “It is
incomprehensible to me how my father could take to him. I’d as soon have
Harvey Anderson for a friend!”

“You are like me,” said Ethel, “in being glad he is not our uncle.”

“He presume to think of falling in love with Aunt Flora!” cried Norman
indignantly.

“Why, what is the matter with him?” asked Margaret. “I can’t find much
ground for Ethel’s dislike, and Flora is pleased.”

“She did not hear the worst, nor you either, Ethel,” said Norman. “I
could not stand the cold hard way he spoke of hospital patients. I am
sure he thinks poor people nothing but a study, and rich ones nothing
but a profit. And his half sneers! But what I hated most was his way
of avoiding discussions. When he saw he had said what would not go down
with papa, he did not honestly stand up to the point, and argue it out,
but seemed to have no mind of his own, and to be only talking to please
papa--but not knowing how to do it. He understand my father indeed!”

Norman’s indignation had quite revived him, and Margaret was much
entertained with the conflicting opinions. The next was Richard’s, when
he came in late to wish her good-night, after he had been attending on
Sir Matthew’s examination of his father’s arm. He did nothing but admire
the surgeon’s delicacy of touch and understanding of the case, his view
agreeing much better with Dr. May’s own than that with Mr. Ward’s.
Dr. May had never been entirely satisfied with the present mode of
treatment, and Richard was much struck by hearing him say, in answer to
Sir Matthew, that he knew his recovery might have been more speedy and
less painful if he had been able to attend to it at first, or to afford
time for being longer laid up. A change of treatment was now to be made,
likely soon to relieve the pain, to be less tedious and troublesome,
and to bring about a complete cure in three or four months at latest.
In hearing such tidings, there could be little thought of the person
who brought them, and Margaret did not, till the last moment, learn that
Richard thought Sir Matthew very clever and sensible, and certain to
understand her case. Her last visitor was her father: “Asleep, Margaret?
I thought I had better go to Norman first in case he should be awake.”

“Was he?”

“Yes, but his pulse is better to-night. He was lying awake to hear what
Fleet thought of me. I suppose Richard told you?”

“Yes, dear papa; what a comfort it is!”

“Those fellows in London do keep up to the mark! But I would not be
there for something. I never saw a man so altered. However, if he can
only do for you as well--but it is of no use talking about it. I may
trust you to keep yourself calm, my dear?”

“I am trying--indeed I am, dear papa. If you could help being anxious
for me--though I know it is worse for you, for I only have to lie still,
and you have to settle for me. But I have been thinking how well off I
am, able to enjoy so much, and be employed all day long. It is nothing
to compare with that poor girl you told me of, and you need not be
unhappy for me. I have some verses to say over to myself to-night:


        “O Lord my God, do Thou Thy holy will,
                I will lie still,
        I will not stir, lest I forsake Thine arm
                And break the charm
        That lulls me, clinging to my Father’s breast
                In perfect rest.


“Is not that comfortable?”

“My child--my dear child--I will say no more, lest I should break your
sweet peace with my impatience. I will strive for the same temper, my
Margaret. Bless you, dearest, good-night.”

After a night spent in waking intervals of such thoughts, Margaret
found the ordinary morning, and the talk she could not escape, somewhat
oppressive. Her brothers and sisters disturbed her by their open
expressions of hope and anxiety; she dreaded to have the balance of
tranquillity overset; and then blamed herself for selfishness in not
being as ready to attend to them as usual. Ethel and Norman came
up after breakfast, their aversion by no means decreased by further
acquaintance. Ethel was highly indignant at the tone in which he had
exclaimed, “What, May, have you one as young as this?” on discovering
the existence of the baby; and when Norman observed that was not so
atrocious either, she proceeded, “You did not hear the contemptuous,
compassionate tone when he asked papa what he meant to do with all these
boys.”

“I’m glad he has not to settle,” said Norman.

“Papa said Harry was to be a sailor, and he said it was a good way to
save expenses of education--a good thing.”

“No doubt,” said Norman, “he thinks papa only wants to get rid of us, or
if not, that it is an amiable weakness.”

“But I can’t see anything so shocking in this,” said Margaret.

“It is not the words,” said Norman, “the look and tone convey it; but
there are different opinions. Flora is quite smitten with him, he talks
so politely to her.”

“And Blanche!” said Ethel. “The little affected pussy-cat made a set
at him, bridled and talked in her mincing voice, with all her airs, and
made him take a great deal of notice of her.”

Nurse here came to prepare for the surgeon’s visit.

It was over, and Margaret awaited the judgment. Sir Matthew had spoken
hopefully to her, but she feared to fasten hopes on what might have no
meaning, and could rely on nothing, till she had seen her father, who
never kept back his genuine pinion, and would least of all from her. She
found her spirits too much agitated to talk to her sisters, and quietly
begged them to let her be quite alone till the consultation was over,
and she lay trying to prepare herself to submit thankfully, whether she
might be bidden to resign herself to helplessness, or to let her mind
open once more to visions of joyous usefulness. Every step she hoped
would prove to be her father’s approach, and the longest hour of her
life was that before he entered her room. His face said that the tidings
were good, and yet she could not ask.

“Well, Margaret, I am glad we had him down. He thinks you may get about
again, though it may be a long time first.”

“Does he?--oh, papa!” and the colour spread over her face, as she
squeezed his hand very fast.

“He has known the use of the limbs return almost suddenly after even a
year or two,” and Dr. May gave her the grounds of the opinion, and an
account of other like cases, which he said had convinced him, “though,
my poor child,” he said, “I feared the harm I had done you was
irremediable, but thanks--” He turned away his face, and the clasp of
their hands spoke the rest.

Presently he told Margaret that she was no longer to be kept prostrate,
but she was to do exactly as was most comfortable to her, avoiding
nothing but fatigue. She might be lifted to the sofa the next day, and
if that agreed with her, she might be carried downstairs.

This, in itself, after she had been confined to her bed for three
months, was a release from captivity, and all the brothers and sisters
rejoiced as if she was actually on her feet again. Richard betook
himself to constructing a reading-frame for the sofa; Harry tormented
Miss Winter by insisting on a holiday for the others, and gained the
day by an appeal to his father; then declared he should go and tell Mr.
Wilmot the good news; and Norman, quite enlivened, took up his hat, and
said he would come too.

In all his joy, however, Dr. May could not cease bewailing the
alteration in his old friend, and spent half the evening in telling
Margaret how different he had once been, in terms little less measured
than Ethel’s: “I never saw such a change. Mat Fleet was one of the most
warm, open-hearted fellows in the world, up to anything. I can hardly
believe he is the same--turned into a mere machine, with a moving spring
of self-interest! I don’t believe he cares a rush for any living thing!
Except for your sake, Margaret, I wish I had never seen him again, and
only remembered him as he was at Edinburgh, as I remembered dear old
Spencer. It is a grievous thing! Ruined entirely! No doubt that London
life must be trying--the constant change and bewilderment of patients
preventing much individual care and interest. It must be very hardening.
No family ties either, nothing to look to but pushing his way. Yes!
there’s great excuse for poor Mat. I never knew fully till now the
blessing it was that your dear mother was willing to take me so early,
and that this place was open to me with all its home connections and
interests. I am glad I never had anything to do with London!”

And when he was alone with Norman, he could not help saying, “Norman,
my boy, I’m more glad than ever you yielded to me about your Greek these
holidays, and for the reason you did. Take care the love of rising and
pushing never gets hold of you; there’s nothing that faster changes a
man from his better self.”

Meanwhile, Sir Matthew Fleet had met another old college friend in
London, and was answering his inquiries for the Dick May of ancient
times.

“Poor May! I never saw a man so thrown away. With his talent and
acuteness, he might be the most eminent man of his day, if he had only
known how to use them. But he was always the same careless, soft-hearted
fellow, never knowing how to do himself any good, and he is the same
still, not a day older nor wiser. It was a fatal thing for him that
there was that country practice ready for him to step into, and even of
that he does not make as good a thing as he might. Of course, he
married early, and there he is, left a widower with a house full of
children--screaming babies, and great tall sons growing up, and he
without a notion what he shall do with them, as heedless as ever--saving
nothing, of course. I always knew it was what he would come to, if he
would persist in burying himself in that wretched little country town,
but I hardly thought, after all he has gone through, to find him such a
mere boy still. And yet he is one of the cleverest men I ever met--with
such talent, and such thorough knowledge of his profession, that it does
one good to hear him talk. Poor May! I am sorry for him, he might have
been anything, but that early marriage and country practice were the
ruin of him.”



CHAPTER XIV.



     To thee, dear maid, each kindly wile
       Was known, that elder sisters know,
     To check the unseasonable smile,
       With warning hand and serious brow.

     From dream to dream with her to rove,
       Like fairy nurse with hermit child;
     Teach her to think, to pray, to love,
       Make grief less bitter, joy less wild.
                          LINES ON A MONUMENT AT LICHFIELD.


Sir Matthew Fleet’s visit seemed like a turning-point with the May
family, rousing and giving them revived hopes. Norman began to shake off
his extreme languor and depression, the doctor was relieved from much
of the wearing suffering from his hurt, and his despondency as to
Margaret’s ultimate recovery had been driven away. The experiment of
taking her up succeeded so well, that on Sunday she was fully attired,
“fit to receive company.” As she lay on the sofa there seemed an advance
toward recovery. Much sweet coquetry was expended in trying to look
her best for her father; and her best was very well, for though the
brilliant bloom of health was gone, her cheeks had not lost their pretty
rounded contour, and still had some rosiness, while her large bright
blue eyes smiled and sparkled. A screen shut out the rest of the room,
making a sort of little parlour round the fire, where sundry of the
family were visiting her after coming home from church in the afternoon.
Ethel was in a vehement state of indignation at what had that day
happened at school. “Did you ever hear anything like it! When the point
was, to teach the poor things to be Christians, to turn them back,
because their hair was not regulation length!”

“What’s that! Who did?” said Dr. May, coming in from his own room, where
he had heard a few words.

“Mrs. Ledwich. She sent back three of the Cocksmoor children this
morning. It seems she warned them last Sunday without saying a word to
us.”

“Sent them back from church!” said the doctor.

“Not exactly from church,” said Margaret.

“It is the same in effect,” said Ethel, “to turn them from school; for
if they did try to go alone, the pew-openers would drive them out.”

“It is a wretched state of things!” said Dr. May, who never wanted
much provocation to begin storming about parish affairs. “When I am
churchwarden again, I’ll see what can be done about the seats; but it’s
no sort of use, while Ramsden goes on as he does.”

“Now my poor children are done for!” said Ethel. “They will never come
again. And it’s horrid, papa; there are lots of town children who wear
immense long plaits of hair, and Mrs. Ledwich never interferes with
them. It is entirely to drive the poor Cocksmoor ones away--for nothing
else, and all out of Fanny Anderson’s chatter.”

“Ethel, my dear,” said Margaret pleadingly.

“Didn’t I tell you, Margaret, how, as soon as Flora knew what Mrs.
Ledwich was going to do, she went and told her this was the children’s
only chance, and if we affronted them for a trifle, there would be no
hope of getting them back. She said she was sorry, if we were interested
for them, but rules must not be broken; and when Flora spoke of all who
do wear long hair unmolested, she shuffled and said, for the sake of
the teachers, as well as the other children, rags and dirt could not be
allowed; and then she brought up the old story of Miss Boulder’s pencil,
though she has found it again, and ended by saying Fanny Anderson told
her it was a serious annoyance to the teachers, and she was sure we
should agree with her, that something was due to voluntary assistants
and subscribers.”

“I am afraid there has been a regular set at them,” said Margaret, “and
perhaps they are troublesome, poor things.”

“As if school-keeping were for luxury!” said Dr. May. “It is the worst
thing I have heard of Mrs. Ledwich yet! One’s blood boils to think of
those poor children being cast off because our fine young ladies are
too grand to teach them! The clergyman leaving his work to a set of
conceited women, and they turning their backs on ignorance, when it
comes to their door! Voluntary subscribers, indeed! I’ve a great mind
I’ll be one no longer.”

“Oh, papa, that would not be fair--” began Ethel; but Margaret knew he
would not act on this, squeezed her hand, and silenced her.

“One thing I’ve said, and I’ll hold to it,” continued Dr. May; “if they
outvote Wilmot again in your Ladies’ Committee, I’ll have no more to do
with them, as sure as my name’s Dick May. It is a scandal the way things
are done here!”

“Papa,” said Richard, who had all the time been standing silent, “Ethel
and I have been thinking, if you approved, whether we could not do
something towards teaching the Cocksmoor children, and breaking them in
for the Sunday-school.”

What a bound Ethel’s heart gave, and how full of congratulation and
sympathy was the pressure of Margaret’s hand!

“What did you think of doing?” said the doctor. Ethel burned to reply,
but her sister’s hand admonished her to remember her compact. Richard
answered, “We thought of trying to get a room, and going perhaps once or
twice a week to give them a little teaching. It would be little enough,
but it might do something towards civilising them, and making them wish
for more.”

“How do you propose to get a room?”

“I have reconnoitred, and I think I know a cottage with a tolerable
kitchen, which I dare say we might hire for an afternoon for sixpence.”

Ethel, unable to bear it any longer, threw herself forward, and sitting
on the ground at her father’s feet, exclaimed, “Oh, papa! papa! do say
we may!”

“What’s all this about?” said the doctor, surprised.

“Oh! you don’t know how I have thought of it day and night these two
months!”

“What! Ethel, have a fancy for two whole months, and the whole house
not hear of it!” said her father, with a rather provoking look of
incredulity.

“Richard was afraid of bothering you, and wouldn’t let me. But do speak,
papa. May we?”

“I don’t see any objection.”

She clasped her hands in ecstasy. “Thank you! thank you, papa! Oh,
Ritchie! Oh, Margaret!” cried she, in a breathless voice of transport.

“You have worked yourself up to a fine pass,” said the doctor, patting
the agitated girl fondly as she leaned against his knee. “Remember, slow
and steady.”

“I’ve got Richard to help me,” said Ethel.

“Sufficient guarantee,” said her father, smiling archly as he looked up
to his son, whose fair face had coloured deep red. “You will keep the
Unready in order, Ritchie.”

“He does,” said Margaret; “he has taken her education into his hands,
and I really believe he has taught her to hold up her frock and stick in
pins.”

“And to know her right hand from her left, eh, Ethel? Well, you deserve
some credit, then. Suppose we ask Mr. Wilmot to tea, and talk it over.”

“Oh, thank you, papa! When shall it be? To-morrow?”

“Yes, if you like. I have to go to the town-council meeting, and am not
going into the country, so I shall be in early.”

“Thank you. Oh, how very nice!”

“And what about cost? Do you expect to rob me?”

“If you would help us,” said Ethel, with an odd shy manner; “we meant
to make what we have go as far as may be, but mine is only fifteen and
sixpence.”

“Well, you must make interest with Margaret for the turn-out of my
pocket to-morrow.”

“Thank you, we are very much obliged,” said the brother and sister
earnestly, “that is more than we expected.”

“Ha! don’t thank too soon. Suppose to-morrow should be a blank day!”

“Oh, it won’t!” said Ethel. “I shall tell Norman to make you go to
paying people.”

“There’s avarice!” said the doctor. “But look you here, Ethel, if you’ll
take my advice, you’ll make your bargain for Tuesday. I have a note
appointing me to call at Abbotstoke Grange on Mr. Rivers, at twelve
o’clock, on Tuesday. What do you think of that, Ethel? An old banker,
rich enough for his daughter to curl her hair in bank-notes. If I were
you, I’d make a bargain for him.”

“If he had nothing the matter with him, and I only got one guinea out of
him!”

“Prudence! Well, it may be wiser.”

Ethel ran up to her room, hardly able to believe that the mighty
proposal was made; and it had been so readily granted, that it seemed
as if Richard’s caution had been vain in making such a delay, that even
Margaret had begun to fear that the street of by-and-by was leading to
the house of never. Now, however, it was plain that he had been wise.
Opportunity was everything; at another moment, their father might have
been harassed and oppressed, and unable to give his mind to concerns,
which now he could think of with interest, and Richard could not have
caught a more favourable conjuncture.

Ethel was in a wild state of felicity all that evening and the next day,
very unlike her brother, who, dismayed at the open step he had taken,
shrank into himself, and in his shyness dreaded the discussion in the
evening, and would almost have been relieved, if Mr. Wilmot had been
unable to accept the invitation. So quiet and grave was he, that Ethel
could not get him to talk over the matter at all with her, and she was
obliged to bestow all her transports and grand projects on Flora or
Margaret, when she could gain their ears, besides conning them over to
herself, as an accompaniment to her lessons, by which means she tried
Miss Winter’s patience almost beyond measure. But she cared not--she
saw a gathering school and rising church, which eclipsed all thought
of present inattentions and gaucheries. She monopolised Margaret in the
twilight, and rhapsodised to her heart’s content, talking faster and
faster, and looking more and more excited. Margaret began to feel
a little overwhelmed, and while answering “yes” at intervals, was
considering whether Ethel had not been flying about in an absent
inconsiderate mood all day, and whether it would seem unkind to damp
her ardour, by giving her a hint that she was relaxing her guard over
herself. Before Margaret had steeled herself, Ethel was talking of a
story she had read, of a place something like Cocksmoor. Margaret was
not ready with her recollection, and Ethel, saying it was in a magazine
in the drawing-room chiffonier, declared she would fetch it.

Margaret knew what it was to expect her visitors to return “in one
moment,” and with a “now-or-never” feeling she began, “Ethel, dear,
wait,” but Ethel was too impetuous to attend. “I’ll be back in a
twinkling,” she called out, and down she flew, in her speed whisking
away, without seeing it, the basket with Margaret’s knitting and all
her notes and papers, which lay scattered on the floor far out of
reach, vexing Margaret at first, and then making her grieve at her own
impatient feeling.

Ethel was soon in the drawing-room, but the right number of the magazine
was not quickly forthcoming, and in searching she became embarked in
another story. Just then, Aubrey, whose stout legs were apt to carry him
into every part of the house where he was neither expected nor wanted,
marched in at the open door, trying by dint of vehement gestures to make
her understand, in his imperfect speech, something that he wanted. Very
particularly troublesome she thought him, more especially as she could
not make him out, otherwise than that he wanted her to do something
with the newspaper and the fire. She made a boat for him with an old
newspaper, a very hasty and frail performance, and told him to sail it
on the carpet, and be Mr. Ernescliffe going away; and she thought him
thus safely disposed of. Returning to her book and her search, with her
face to the cupboard, and her book held up to catch the light, she was
soon lost in her story, and thought of nothing more till suddenly roused
by her father’s voice in the hall, loud and peremptory with alarm,
“Aubrey! put that down!” She looked, and beheld Aubrey brandishing a
great flaming paper--he dropped it at the exclamation--it fell burning
on the carpet. Aubrey’s white pinafore! Ethel was springing up, but in
her cramped, twisted position she could not do so quickly, and even as
he called, her father strode by her, snatched at Aubrey’s merino frock,
which he crushed over the scarcely lighted pinafore, and trampled out
the flaming paper with his foot. It was a moment of dreadful fright, but
the next assured them that no harm was done.

“Ethel!” cried the doctor, “Are you mad? What were you thinking of?”

Aubrey, here recollecting himself enough to be frightened at his
father’s voice and manner, burst into loud cries; the doctor pressed him
closer on his breast, caressed and soothed him. Ethel stood by, pale and
transfixed with horror. Her father was more angry with her than she
had ever seen him, and with reason, as she knew, as she smelled the
singeing, and saw a large burnt hole in Aubrey’s pinafore, while the
front of his frock was scorched and brown. Dr. May’s words were not
needed, “What could make you let him?”

“I didn’t see--” she faltered.

“Didn’t see! Didn’t look, didn’t think, didn’t care! That’s it, Ethel.
‘Tis very hard one can’t trust you in a room with the child any more
than the baby himself. His frock perfect tinder! He would have been
burned to a cinder, if I had not come in!”


Aubrey roared afresh, and Dr. May, kissing and comforting him, gathered
him up in his left arm, and carried him away, looking back at the door
to say, “There’s no bearing it! I’ll put a stop to all schools and
Greek, if it is to lead to this, and make you good for nothing!”

Ethel was too much terrified to know where she was, or anything,
but that she had let her little brother run into fearful peril, and
grievously angered her father; she was afraid to follow him, and stood
still, annihilated, and in despair, till roused by his return; then,
with a stifled sob, she exclaimed, “Oh, papa!” and could get no further
for a gush of tears.

But the anger of the shock of terror was over, and Dr. May was sorry
for her tears, though still he could not but manifest some displeasure.
“Yes, Ethel,” he said, “it was a frightful thing,” and he could not
but shudder again. “One moment later! It is an escape to be for ever
thankful for--poor little fellow!--but, Ethel, Ethel, do let it be a
warning to you.”

“Oh, I hope--I’ll try--” sobbed Ethel.

“You have said you would try before.”

“I know I have,” said Ethel, choked. “If I could but--”

“Poor child,” said Dr. May sadly; then looking earnestly at her, “Ethel,
my dear, I am afraid of its being with you as--as it has been with me;”
 he spoke very low, and drew her close to him. “I grew up, thinking
my inbred heedlessness a sort of grace, so to say, rather manly--the
reverse of finikin. I was spoiled as a boy, and my Maggie carried on the
spoiling, by never letting me feel its effects. By the time I had sense
enough to regret this as a fault, I had grown too old for changing of
ingrain, long-nurtured habits--perhaps I never wished it really. You
have seen,” and his voice was nearly inaudible, “what my carelessness
has come to--let that suffice at least, as a lesson that may spare
you--what your father must feel as long as he lives.”

He pressed his hand tightly on her shoulder, and left her, without
letting her see his face. Shocked and bewildered, she hurried upstairs
to Margaret. She threw herself on her knees, felt her arms round
her, and heard her kind soothing, and then, in broken words, told how
dreadful it had been, and how kind papa had been, and what he had said,
which was now the uppermost thought. “Oh, Margaret, Margaret, how very
terrible it is! And does papa really think so?”

“I believe he does,” whispered Margaret.

“How can he, can he bear it!” said Ethel, clasping her hands. “Oh! it is
enough to kill one--I can’t think why it did not!”

“He bears it,” said Margaret, “because he is so very good, that help and
comfort do come to him. Dear papa! He bears up because it is right, and
for our sakes, and he has a sort of rest in that perfect love they had
for each other. He knows how she would wish him to cheer up and look to
the end, and support and comfort are given to him, I know they are; but
oh, Ethel! it does make one tremble and shrink, to think what he has
been going through this autumn, especially when I hear him moving
about late at night, and now and then comes a heavy groan--whenever any
especial care has been on his mind.”

Ethel was in great distress. “To have grieved him again!” said she, “and
just as he seemed better and brighter! Everything I do turns out wrong,
and always will; I can’t do anything well by any chance.”

“Yes you can, when you mind what you are about.”

“But I never can--I’m like him, every one says so, and he says the
heedlessness is ingrain, and can’t be got rid of.”

“Ethel, I don’t really think he could have told you so.”

“I’m sure he said ingrain.”

“Well, I suppose it is part of his nature, and that you have inherited
it, but--” Margaret paused, and Ethel exclaimed:

“He said his was long-nurtured; yes, Margaret, you guessed right, and he
said he could not change it, and no more can I.”

“Surely, Ethel, you have not had so many years. You are fifteen instead
of forty-six, and it is more a woman’s work than a man’s to be careful.
You need not begin to despair. You were growing much better; Richard
said so, and so did Miss Winter.”

“What’s the use of it, if in one moment it is as bad as ever? And
to-day, of all days in the year, just when papa had been so very, very
kind, and given me more than I asked.”

“Do you know, Ethel, I was thinking whether dear mamma would not say
that was the reason. You were so happy, that perhaps you were thrown off
your guard.”

“I should not wonder if that was it,” said Ethel thoughtfully. “You know
it was a sort of probation that Richard put me on. I was to learn to be
steady before he spoke to papa, and now it seemed to be all settled and
right, and perhaps I forgot I was to be careful still.”

“I think it was something of the kind. I was a little afraid before, and
I wish I had tried to caution you, but I did not like to seem unkind.”

“I wish you had,” said Ethel. “Dear little Aubrey! Oh, if papa had not
been there! And I cannot think how, as it was, he could contrive to put
the fire out, with his one hand, and not hurt himself. Margaret it was
terrible. How could I mind so little! Did you see how his frock was
singed?”

“Yes, papa showed it to me. How can we be thankful enough! One thing I
hope, that Aubrey was well frightened, poor little boy.”

“I know! I see now!” cried Ethel; “he must have wanted me to make the
fire blaze up, as Richard did one evening when we came in and found it
low; I remember Aubrey clapping his hands and shouting at the flame;
but my head was in that unhappy story, and I never had sense to put the
things together, and reflect that he would try to do it himself. I only
wanted to get him out of my way, dear little fellow. Oh, dear, how bad
it was of me! All from being uplifted, and my head turned, as it used to
be when we were happier. Oh! I wish Mr. Wilmot was not coming!”

Ethel sat for a long time with her head hidden in Margaret’s pillows,
and her hand clasped by her good elder sister. At last she looked up and
said, “Oh, Margaret, I am so unhappy. I see the whole meaning of it now.
Do you not? When papa gave his consent at last, I was pleased and set
up, and proud of my plans. I never recollected what a silly, foolish
girl I am, and how unfit. I thought Mr. Wilmot would think great things
of it--it was all wrong and self-satisfied. I never prayed at all that
it might turn out well, and so now it won’t.”

“Dearest Ethel, I don’t see that. Perhaps it will do all the better for
your being humbled about it now. If you were wild and high flying, it
would never go right.”

“Its hope is in Richard,” said Ethel.

“So it is,” said Margaret.

“I wish Mr. Wilmot was not coming to-night,” said Ethel again. “It would
serve me right if papa were to say nothing about it.”

Ethel lingered with her sister till Harry and Mary came up with
Margaret’s tea, and summoned her, and she crept downstairs, and entered
the room so quietly, that she was hardly perceived behind her boisterous
brother. She knew her eyes were in no presentable state, and cast them
down, and shrank back as Mr. Wilmot shook her hand and greeted her
kindly.

Mr. Wilmot had been wont to come to tea whenever he had anything to say
to Dr. or Mrs. May, which was about once in ten or twelve days. He was
Mary’s godfather, and their most intimate friend in the town, and he
had often been with them, both as friend and clergyman, through their
trouble--no later than Christmas Day, he had come to bring the feast of
that day to Margaret in her sick-room. Indeed, it had been chiefly
for the sake of the Mays that he had resolved to spend the holidays
at Stoneborough, taking the care of Abbotstoke, while his brother, the
vicar, went to visit their father. This was, however, the first time
he had come in his old familiar way to spend an evening, and there was
something in the resumption of former habits that painfully marked the
change.

Ethel, on coming in, found Flora making tea, her father leaning back
in his great chair in silence, Richard diligently cutting bread,
and Blanche sitting on Mr. Wilmot’s knee, chattering fast and
confidentially. Flora made Harry dispense the cups, and called every one
to their places; Ethel timidly glanced at her father’s face, as he rose
and came into the light. She thought the lines and hollows were more
marked than ever, and that he looked fatigued and mournful, and she
felt cut to the heart; but he began to exert himself, and to make
conversation, not, however, about Cocksmoor, but asking Mr. Wilmot what
his brother thought of his new squire, Mr. Rivers.

“He likes him very much,” said Mr. Wilmot. “He is a very pleasing
person, particularly kind-hearted and gentle, and likely to do a great
deal for the parish. They have been giving away beef and blankets at a
great rate this Christmas.”

“What family is there?” asked Flora.

“One daughter, about Ethel’s age, is there with her governess. He
has been twice married, and the first wife left a son, who is in the
Dragoons, I believe. This girl’s mother was Lord Cosham’s daughter.”

So the talk lingered on, without much interest or life. It was rather
keeping from saying nothing than conversation, and no one was without
the sensation that she was missing, round whom all had been free and
joyous--not that she had been wont to speak much herself, but nothing
would go on smoothly or easily without her. So long did this last, that
Ethel began to think her father meant to punish her by not beginning the
subject that night, and though she owned that she deserved it, she could
not help being very much disappointed.

At length, however, her father began: “We wanted you to talk over a
scheme that these young ones have been concocting. You see, I am obliged
to keep Richard at home this next term--it won’t do to have no one in
the house to carry poor Margaret. We can’t do without him anyway, so
he and Ethel have a scheme of seeing what can be done for that wretched
place, Cocksmoor.”

“Indeed!” said Mr. Wilmot, brightening and looking interested. “It is
sadly destitute. It would be a great thing if anything could be done
for it. You have brought some children to school already, I think. I saw
some rough-looking boys, who said they came from Cocksmoor.”

This embarked the doctor in the history of the ladies being too fine to
teach the poor Cocksmoor girls, which he told with kindling vehemence
and indignation, growing more animated every moment, as he stormed over
the wonted subject of the bad system of management--ladies’ committee,
negligent incumbent, insufficient clergy, misappropriated tithes--while
Mr. Wilmot, who had mourned over it, within himself, a hundred times
already, and was doing a curate’s work on sufferance, with no pay, and
little but mistrust from Mr. Ramsden, and absurd false reports among the
more foolish part of the town, sat listening patiently, glad to hear
the doctor in his old strain, though it was a hopeless matter for
discussion, and Ethel dreaded that the lamentation would go on till
bedtime, and Cocksmoor be quite forgotten.

After a time they came safely back to the project, and Richard was
called on to explain. Ethel left it all to him, and he with rising
colour, and quiet, unhesitating, though diffident manner, detailed
designs that showed themselves to have been well matured. Mr. Wilmot
heard, cordially approved, and, as all agreed that no time was to be
lost, while the holidays lasted, he undertook to speak to Mr. Ramsden on
the subject the next morning, and if his consent to their schemes could
be gained, to come in the afternoon to walk with Richard and Ethel to
Cocksmoor, and set their affairs in order. All the time Ethel said not
a word, except when referred to by her brother; but when Mr. Wilmot took
leave, he shook her hand warmly, as if he was much pleased with her.
“Ah!” she thought, “if he knew how ill I have behaved! It is all show
and hollowness with me.”

She did not know that Mr. Wilmot thought her silence one of the best
signs for the plan, nor how much more doubtful he would have thought her
perseverance, if he had seen her wild and vehement. As it was, he was
very much pleased, and when the doctor came out with him into the hall,
he could not help expressing his satisfaction in Richard’s well-judged
and sensibly-described project.

“Ay, ay!” said the doctor, “there’s much more in the boy than I used
to think. He’s a capital fellow, and more like his mother than any of
them.”

“He is,” said Mr. Wilmot; “there was a just, well-weighed sense and
soberness in his plans that put me in mind of her every moment.”

Dr. May gave his hand a squeeze, full of feeling, and went up to tell
Margaret. She, on the first opportunity, told Richard, and made him
happier than he had been for months, not so much in Mr. Wilmot’s words,
as in his father’s assent to, and pleasure in them.



CHAPTER XV.



     Pitch thy behaviour low, thy projects high,
       So shalt thou humble and magnanimous be;
     Sink not in spirit; who aimeth at the sky
       Shoots higher much than he that means a tree.
         A grain of glory mixed with humbleness,
         Cures both a fever and lethargicness.
                                             HERBERT.


“Norman, do you feel up to a long day’s work?” said Dr. May, on the
following morning. “I have to set off after breakfast to see old Mrs.
Gould, and to be at Abbotstoke Grange by twelve; then I thought of going
to Fordholm, and getting Miss Cleveland to give us some luncheon--there
are some poor people on the way to look at; and that girl on Far-view
Hill; and there’s another place to call in at coming home. You’ll have a
good deal of sitting in the carriage, holding Whitefoot, so if you think
you shall be cold or tired, don’t scruple to say so, and I’ll take Adams
to drive me.”

“No, thank you,” said Norman briskly. “This frost is famous.”

“It will turn to rain, I expect--it is too white,” said the doctor,
looking out at the window. “How will you get to Cocksmoor, good people?”

“Ethel won’t believe it rains unless it is very bad,” said Richard.

Norman set out with his father, and prosperously performed the
expedition, arriving at Abbotstoke Grange at the appointed hour.

“Ha!” said the doctor, as the iron gates of ornamental scrollwork were
swung back, “there’s a considerable change in this place since I was
here last. Well kept up indeed! Not a dead leaf left under the old
walnuts, and the grass looks as smooth as if they had a dozen gardeners
rolling it every day.”

“And the drive,” said Norman, “more like a garden walk than a road! But
oh! what a splendid cedar!”

“Isn’t it! I remember that as long as I remember anything. All this
fine rolling of turf, and trimming up of the place, does not make much
difference to you, old fellow, does it? You don’t look altered since I
saw you last, when old Jervis was letting the place go to rack and ruin.
So they have a new entrance--very handsome conservatory--flowers--the
banker does things in style. There,” as Norman helped him off with his
plaid, “wrap yourself up well, don’t get cold. The sun is gone in, and I
should not wonder if the rain were coming after all. I’ll not be longer
than I can help.”

Dr. May disappeared from his son’s sight through the conservatory,
where, through the plate-glass, the exotics looked so fresh and perfumy,
that Norman almost fancied that the scent reached him. “How much poor
Margaret would enjoy one of those camellias,” thought he, “and these
people have bushels of them for mere show. If I were papa, I should be
tempted to be like Beauty’s father, and carry off one. How she would
admire it!”

Norman had plenty of time to meditate on the camellias, and then to
turn and speculate on the age of the cedar, whether it could have been
planted by the monks of Stoneborough Abbey, to whom the Grange had
belonged, brought from Lebanon by a pilgrim, perhaps; and then he tried
to guess at the longevity of cedars, and thought of asking Margaret, the
botanist of the family. Then he yawned, moved the horse a little
about, opined that Mr. Rivers must be very prosy, or have some abstruse
complaint, considered the sky, and augured rain, buttoned another button
of his rough coat, and thought of Miss Cleveland’s dinner. Then he
thought there was a very sharp wind, and drove about till he found a
sheltered place on the lee side of the great cedar, looked up at it, and
thought it would be a fine subject for verses, if Mr. Wilmot knew of it,
and then proceeded to consider what he should make of them.

In the midst he was suddenly roused by the deep-toned note of a dog, and
beheld a large black Newfoundland dog leaping about the horse in great
indignation. “Rollo! Rollo!” called a clear young voice, and he saw two
ladles returning from a walk. Rollo, at the first call, galloped back to
his mistress, and was evidently receiving an admonition, and promising
good behaviour. The two ladies entered the house, while he lay down on
the step, with his lion-like paw hanging down, watching Norman with a
brilliant pair of hazel eyes. Norman, after a little more wondering
when Mr. Rivers would have done with his father, betook himself to civil
demonstrations to the creature, who received them with dignity, and
presently, after acknowledging with his tail, various whispers of “Good
old fellow,” and “Here, old Rollo!” having apparently satisfied himself
that the young gentleman was respectable, he rose, and vouchsafed to
stand up with his forepaws in the gig, listening amiably to Norman’s
delicate flatteries. Norman even began to hope to allure him into
jumping on the seat: but a great bell rang, and Rollo immediately turned
round, and dashed off, at full speed, to some back region of the house.
“So, old fellow, you know what the dinner-bell means,” thought Norman.
“I hope Mr. Rivers is hungry too. Miss Cleveland will have eaten up her
whole luncheon, if this old bore won’t let my father go soon! I hope he
is desperately ill--‘tis his only excuse! Heigh ho! I must jump out to
warm my feet soon! There, there’s a drop of rain! Well, there’s no end
to it! I wonder what Ethel is doing about Cocksmoor! It is setting in
for a wet afternoon!” and Norman disconsolately put up his umbrella.

At last Dr. May and another gentleman were seen in the conservatory, and
Norman gladly proceeded to clear the seat; but Dr. May called out, “Jump
out, Norman, Mr. Rivers is so kind as to ask us to stay to luncheon.”

With boyish shrinking from strangers, Norman privately wished Mr.
Rivers at Jericho, as he gave the reins to a servant, and entered the
conservatory, where a kindly hand was held out to him by a gentleman
of about fifty, with a bald smooth forehead, soft blue eyes, and gentle
pleasant face. “Is this your eldest son?” said he, turning to Dr.
May--and the manner of both was as if they were already well acquainted.
“No, this is my second. The eldest is not quite such a long-legged
fellow,” said Dr. May. And then followed the question addressed to
Norman himself, where he was at school.

“At Stoneborough,” said Norman, a little amused at the thought how angry
Ethel and Harry would be that the paragraph of the county paper, where
“N. W. May” was recorded as prizeman and foremost in the examination,
had not penetrated even to Abbotstoke Grange, or rather to its owner’s
memory.

However, his father could not help adding, “He is the head of the
school--a thing we Stoneborough men think much of.”

This, and Mr. Rivers’s civil answer, made Norman so hot, that he did not
notice much in passing through a hall full of beautiful vases, stuffed
birds, busts, etc., tastefully arranged, and he did not look up till
they were entering a handsome dining-room, where a small square table
was laid out for luncheon near a noble fire.

The two ladies were there, and Mr. Rivers introduced them as his
daughter and Mrs. Larpent. It was the most luxurious meal that Norman
had ever seen, the plate, the porcelain, and all the appointments of
the table so elegant, and the viands, all partaking of the Christmas
character, and of a recherche delicate description quite new to him.
He had to serve as his father’s right hand, and was so anxious to put
everything as Dr. May liked it, and without attracting notice, that he
hardly saw or listened till Dr. May began to admire a fine Claude on the
opposite wall, and embarked in a picture discussion. The doctor had
much taste for art, and had made the most of his opportunities of seeing
paintings during his time of study at Paris, and in a brief tour to
Italy. Since that time, few good pictures had come in his way, and these
were a great pleasure to him, while Mr. Rivers, a regular connoisseur,
was delighted to meet with one who could so well appreciate them. Norman
perceived how his father was enjoying the conversation, and was much
interested both by the sight of the first fine paintings he had ever
seen, and by the talk about their merits; but the living things in the
room had more of his attention and observation, especially the young
lady who sat at the head of the table; a girl about his own age; she
was on a very small scale, and seemed to him like a fairy, in the airy
lightness and grace of her movements, and the blithe gladsomeness of her
gestures and countenance. Form and features, though perfectly healthful
and brisk, had the peculiar finish and delicacy of a miniature painting,
and were enhanced by the sunny glance of her dark soft smiling eyes.
Her hair was in black silky braids, and her dress, with its gaiety of
well-assorted colour, was positively refreshing to his eye, so long
accustomed to the deep mourning of his sisters. A little Italian
greyhound, perfectly white, was at her side, making infinite variations
of the line of beauty and grace, with its elegant outline, and S-like
tail, as it raised its slender nose in hopes of a fragment of bread
which she from time to time dispensed to it.

Luncheon over, Mr. Rivers asked Dr. May to step into his library, and
Norman guessed that they had been talking all this time, and had never
come to the medical opinion. However, a good meal and a large fire made
a great difference in his toleration, and it was so new a scene, that
he had no objection to a prolonged waiting, especially when Mrs. Larpent
said, in a very pleasant tone, “Will you come into the drawing-room with
us?”

He felt somewhat as if he was walking in enchanted ground as he followed
her into the large room, the windows opening into the conservatory,
the whole air fragrant with flowers, the furniture and ornaments so
exquisite of their kind, and all such a fit scene for the beautiful
little damsel, who, with her slender dog by her side, tripped on
demurely, and rather shyly, but with a certain skipping lightness in her
step. A very tall overgrown schoolboy did Norman feel himself for one
bashful moment, when he found himself alone with the two ladies; but he
was ready to be set at ease by Mrs. Larpent’s good-natured manner, when
she said something of Rollo’s discourtesy. He smiled, and answered
that he had made great friends with the fine old dog, and spoke of his
running off to the dinner, at which little Miss Rivers laughed,
and looked delighted, and began to tell of Rollo’s perfections and
intelligence. Norman ventured to inquire the name of the little Italian,
and was told it was Nipen, because it had once stolen a cake, much like
the wind-spirit in Feats on the Fiord. Its beauty and tricks were duly
displayed, and a most beautiful Australian parrot was exhibited, Mrs.
Larpent taking full interest in the talk, in so lively and gentle a
manner, and she and her pretty pupil evidently on such sister-like
terms, that Norman could hardly believe her to be the governess, when he
thought of Miss Winter.

Miss Rivers took up some brown leaves which she was cutting out with
scissors, and shaping. “Our holiday work,” said Mrs. Larpent, in answer
to the inquiring look of Norman’s eyes. “Meta has been making a drawing
for her papa, and is framing it in leather-work. Have you ever seen
any?”

“Never!” and Norman looked eagerly, asking questions, and watching while
Miss Rivers cut out her ivy leaf and marked its veins, and showed how
she copied it from nature. He thanked her, saying, “I wanted to learn
all about it, for I thought it would be such nice work for my eldest
sister.”

A glance of earnest interest from little Meta’s bright eyes at her
governess, and Mrs. Larpent, in a kind, soft tone that quite gained his
heart, asked, “Is she the invalid?”

“Yes,” said Norman. “New fancy work is a great gain to her.”

Mrs. Larpent’s sympathetic questions, and Meta’s softening eyes,
gradually drew from him a great deal about Margaret’s helpless state,
and her patience, and capabilities, and how every one came to her with
all their cares; and Norman, as he spoke, mentally contrasted the life,
untouched by trouble and care, led by the fair girl before him, with
that atmosphere of constant petty anxieties round her namesake’s couch,
at years so nearly the same.

“How very good she must be,” said little Meta, quickly and softly; and a
tear was sparkling on her eyelashes.

“She is indeed,” said Norman earnestly. “I don’t know what papa would do
but for her.”

Mrs. Larpent asked kind questions whether his father’s arm was very
painful, and the hopes of its cure; and he felt as if she was a great
friend already. Thence they came to books. Norman had not read for
months past, but it happened that Meta was just now reading Woodstock,
with which he was of course familiar; and both grew eager in discussing
that and several others. Of one, Meta spoke in such terms of delight,
that Norman thought it had been very stupid of him to let it lie on the
table for the last fortnight without looking into it.

He was almost sorry to see his father and Mr. Rivers come in, and hear
the carriage ordered, but they were not off yet, though the rain was now
only Scotch mist. Mr. Rivers had his most choice little pictures
still to display, his beautiful early Italian masters, finished like
illuminations, and over these there was much lingering and admiring.
Meta had whispered something to her governess, who smiled, and advanced
to Norman. “Meta wishes to know if your sister would like to have a few
flowers?” said she.

No sooner said than done; the door into the conservatory was opened,
and Meta, cutting sprays of beautiful geranium, delicious heliotrope,
fragrant calycanthus, deep blue tree violet, and exquisite hothouse
ferns; perfect wonders to Norman, who, at each addition to the bouquet,
exclaimed by turns, “Oh, thank you!” and, “How she will like it!”

Her father reached a magnolia blossom from on high, and the quick warm
grateful emotion trembled in Dr. May’s features and voice, as he said,
“It is very kind in you; you have given my poor girl a great treat.
Thank you with all my heart.”

Margaret Rivers cast down her eyes, half smiled, and shrank back,
thinking she had never felt anything like the left-handed grasp, so full
of warmth and thankfulness. It gave her confidence to venture on the
one question on which she was bent. Her father was in the hall, showing
Norman his Greek nymph; and lifting her eyes to Dr. May’s face, then
casting them down, she coloured deeper than ever, as she said, in a
stammering whisper, “Oh, please--if you would tell me--do you think--is
papa very ill?”

Dr. May answered in his softest, most reassuring tones: “You need not
be alarmed about him, I assure you. You must keep him from too much
business,” he added, smiling; “make him ride with you, and not let him
tire himself, and I am sure you can be his best doctor.”

“But do you think,” said Meta, earnestly looking up--“do you think he
will be quite well again?”

“You must not expect doctors to be absolute oracles,” said he. “I will
tell you what I told him--I hardly think his will ever be sound health
again, but I see no reason why he should not have many years of comfort,
and there is no cause for you to disquiet yourself on his account--you
have only to be careful of him.”

Meta tried to say “thank you,” but not succeeding, looked imploringly
at her governess, who spoke for her. “Thank you, it is a great relief to
have an opinion, for we were not at all satisfied about Mr. Rivers.”

A few words more, and Meta was skipping about like a sprite finding
a basket for the flowers--she had another shake of the hand, another
grateful smile, and “thank you,” from the doctor; and then, as the
carriage disappeared, Mrs. Larpent exclaimed, “What a very nice
intelligent boy that was.”

“Particularly gentlemanlike,” said Mr. Rivers. “Very clever--the head of
the school, as his father tells me--and so modest and unassuming--though
I see his father is very proud of him.”

“Oh, I am sure they are so fond of each other,” said Meta: “didn’t you
see his attentive ways to his father at luncheon! And, papa, I am
sure you must like Dr. May, Mr. Wilmot’s doctor, as much as I said you
would.”

“He is the most superior man I have met with for a long time,” said
Mr. Rivers. “It is a great acquisition to find a man of such taste and
acquirements in this country neighbourhood, when there is not another
who can tell a Claude from a Poussin. I declare, when once we began
talking, there was no leaving off--I have not met a person of so much
conversation since I left town. I thought you would like to see him,
Meta.”

“I hope I shall know the Miss Mays some time or other.”

“That is the prettiest little fairy I ever did see!” was Dr. May’s
remark, as Norman drove from the door.

“How good-natured they are!” said Norman; “I just said something about
Margaret, and she gave me all these flowers. How Margaret will be
delighted! I wish the girls could see it all!”

“So you got on well with the ladies, did you?”

“They were very kind to me. It was very pleasant!” said Norman, with a
tone of enjoyment that did his father’s heart good.

“I was glad you should come in. Such a curiosity shop is a sight, and
those pictures were some of them well worth seeing. That was a splendid
Titian.”

“That cast of the Pallas of the Parthenon--how beautiful it was--I knew
it from the picture in Smith’s dictionary. Mr. Rivers said he would show
me all his antiques if you would bring me again.”

“I saw he liked your interest in them. He is a good, kind-hearted
dilettante sort of old man; he has got all the talk of the literary,
cultivated society in London, and must find it dullish work here.”

“You liked him, didn’t you?”

“He is very pleasant; I found he knew my old friend, Benson, whom I had
not seen since we were at Cambridge together, and we got on that and
other matters; London people have an art of conversation not learned
here, and I don’t know how the time slipped away; but you must have been
tolerably tired of waiting.”

“Not to signify,” said Norman. “I only began to think he must be very
ill; I hope there is not much the matter with him.”

“I can’t say. I am afraid there is organic disease, but I think it may
be kept quiet a good while yet, and he may have a pleasant life for some
time to come, arranging his prints, and petting his pretty daughter. He
has plenty to fall back upon.”

“Do you go there again?”

“Yes, next week. I am glad of it. I shall like to have another look at
that little Madonna of his--it is the sort of picture that does one good
to carry away in one’s eye. Whay! Stop. There’s an old woman in here. It
is too late for Fordholm, but these cases won’t wait.”

He went into the cottage, and soon returned, saying, “Fine new blankets,
and a great kettle of soup, and such praises of the ladies at the
Grange!” And, at the next house, it was the same story. “Well, ‘tis no
mockery now to tell the poor creatures they want nourishing food. Slices
of meat and bottles of port wine rain down on Abbotstoke.”

A far more talkative journey than usual ensued; the discussion of the
paintings and antiques was almost equally delightful to the father and
son, and lasted till, about a mile from Stoneborough, they descried
three figures in the twilight.

“Ha! How are you, Wilmot? So you braved the rain, Ethel. Jump in,”
 called the doctor, as Norman drew up.

“I shall crowd you--I shall hurt your arm, papa; thank you.”

“No, you won’t--jump in--there’s room for three thread-papers in one
gig. Why, Wilmot, your brother has a very jewel of a squire! How did you
fare?”

“Very well on the whole,” was Mr. Wllmot’s answer, while Ethel scrambled
in, and tried to make herself small, an art in which she was not very
successful; and Norman gave an exclamation of horrified warning, as she
was about to step into the flower-basket; then she nearly tumbled out
again in dismay, and was relieved to find herself safely wedged in,
without having done any harm, while her father called out to Mr. Wilmot,
as they started, “I say! You are coming back to tea with us.”

That cheerful tone, and the kindness to herself, were a refreshment and
revival to Ethel, who was still sobered and shocked by her yesterday’s
adventure, and by the sense of her father’s sorrowful displeasure.
Expecting further to be scolded for getting in so awkwardly, she did not
venture to volunteer anything, and even when he kindly said, “I hope
you were prosperous in your expedition,” she only made answer, in a very
grave voice, “Yes, papa, we have taken a very nice tidy room.”

“What do you pay for it?”

“Fourpence for each time.”

“Well, here’s for you,” said Dr. May. “It is only two guineas to-day;
that banker at the Grange beguiled us of our time, but you had better
close the bargain for him, Ethel--he will be a revenue for you, for this
winter at least.”

“Oh, thank you, papa,” was all Ethel could say; overpowered by his
kindness, and more repressed by what she felt so unmerited, than she
would have been by coldness, she said few words, and preferred listening
to Norman, who began to describe their adventures at the Grange.

All her eagerness revived, however, as she sprang out of the carriage,
full of tidings for Margaret; and it was almost a race between her and
Norman to get upstairs, and unfold their separate budgets.

Margaret’s lamp had just been lighted, when they made their entrance,
Norman holding the flowers on high.

“Oh, how beautiful! how delicious! For me? Where did you get them?”

“From Abbotstoke Grange; Miss Rivers sent them to you.”

“How very kind! What a lovely geranium, and oh, that fern! I never saw
anything so choice. How came she to think of me?”

“They asked me in because it rained, and she was making the prettiest
things, leather leaves and flowers for picture frames. I thought it was
work that would just suit you, and learned how to do it. That made them
ask about you, and it ended by her sending you this nosegay.”

“How very kind everybody is! Well, Ethel, are you come home too?”

“Papa picked me up. Oh, Margaret, we have found such a nice room, a
clean sanded kitchen--”

“You never saw such a conservatory--”

“And it is to be let to us for fourpence a time--”

“The house is full of beautiful things, pictures and statues. Only think
of a real Titian, and a cast of the Apollo!”

“Twenty children to begin with, and Richard is going to make some
forms.”

“Mr. Rivers is going to show me all his casts.”

“Oh, is he? But only think how lucky we were to find such a nice woman;
Mr. Wilmot was so pleased with her.”

Norman found one story at a time was enough, and relinquished the
field, contenting himself with silently helping Margaret to arrange the
flowers, holding the basket for her, and pleased with her gestures of
admiration. Ethel went on with her history. “The first place we thought
of would not do at all; the woman said she would not take half-a-crown a
week to have a lot of children stabbling about, as she called it; so
we went to another house, and there was a very nice woman indeed, Mrs.
Green, with one little boy, whom she wanted to send to school, only it
is too far. She says she always goes to church at Fordholm because it is
nearer, and she is quite willing to let us have the room. So we settled
it, and next Friday we are to begin. Papa has given us two guineas, and
that will pay for, let me see, a hundred and twenty-six times, and
Mr. Wilmot is going to give us some books, and Ritchie will print some
alphabets. We told a great many of the people, and they are so glad.
Old Granny Hall said, ‘Well, I never!’ and told the girls they must be
as good as gold now the gentlefolks was coming to teach them. Mr. Wilmot
is coming with us every Friday as long as the holidays last.”

Ethel departed on her father’s coming in to ask Margaret if she would
like to have a visit from Mr. Wilmot. She enjoyed this very much, and
he sat there nearly an hour, talking of many matters, especially the
Cocksmoor scheme, on which she was glad to hear his opinion at first
hand.

“I am very glad you think well of it,” she said. “It is most desirable
that something should be done for those poor people, and Richard would
never act rashly; but I have longed for advice whether it was right to
promote Ethel’s undertaking. I suppose Richard told you how bent on it
she was, long before papa was told of it.”

“He said it was her great wish, and had been so for a long time past.”

Margaret, in words more adequate to express the possession the project
had gained of Ethel’s ardent mind, explained the whole history of it.
“I do believe she looks on it as a sort of call,” said she, “and I have
felt as if I ought not to hinder her, and yet I did not know whether it
was right, at her age, to let her undertake so much.”

“I understand,” said Mr. Wilmot, “but, from what I have seen of Ethel,
I should think you had decided rightly. There seems to me to be such
a spirit of energy in her, that if she does not act, she will either
speculate and theorise, or pine and prey on herself. I do believe that
hard homely work, such as this school-keeping, is the best outlet for
what might otherwise run to extravagance--more especially as you say the
hope of it has already been an incentive to improvement in home duties.”

“That I am sure it has,” said Margaret.

“Moreover,” said Mr. Wilmot, “I think you were quite right in thinking
that to interfere with such a design was unsafe. I do believe that a
great deal of harm is done by prudent friends, who dread to let young
people do anything out of the common way, and so force their aspirations
to ferment and turn sour, for want of being put to use.”

“Still girls are told they ought to wait patiently, and not to be eager
for self-imposed duties.”

“I am not saying that it is not the appointed discipline for the girls
themselves,” said Mr. Wilmot. “If they would submit, and do their best,
it would doubtless prove the most beneficial thing for them; but it is a
trial in which they often fail, and I had rather not be in the place of
such friends.”

“It is a great puzzle!” said Margaret, sighing.

“Ah! I dare say you are often perplexed,” said her friend kindly.

“Indeed I am. There are so many little details that I cannot be always
teasing papa with, and yet which I do believe form the character more
than the great events, and I never know whether I act for the best. And
there are so many of us, so many duties, I cannot half attend to any.
Lately, I have been giving up almost everything to keep this room quiet
for Norman in the morning, because he was so much harassed and hurt by
bustle and confusion, and I found to-day that things have gone wrong in
consequence.”

“You must do the best you can, and try to trust that while you work in
the right spirit, your failures will be compensated,” said Mr. Wilmot.
“It is a hard trial.”

“I like your understanding it,” said Margaret, smiling sadly. “I don’t
know whether it is silly, but I don’t like to be pitied for the wrong
thing. My being so helpless is what every one laments over; but, after
all, that is made up to me by the petting and kindness I get from all
of them; but it is the being mistress of the house, and having to settle
for every one, without knowing whether I do right or wrong, that is my
trouble.”

“I am not sure, however, that it is right to call it a trouble, though
it is a trial.”

“I see what you mean,” said Margaret. “I ought to be thankful. I know
it is an honour, and I am quite sure I should be grieved if they did
not all come to me and consult me as they do. I had better not have
complained, and yet I am glad I did, for I like you to understand my
difficulties.”

“And, indeed, I wish to enter into them, and do or say anything in my
power to help you. But I don’t know anything that can be of so much
comfort as the knowledge that He who laid the burden on you, will help
you to bear it.”

“Yes,” said Margaret, pausing; and then, with a sweet look, though a
heavy sigh, she said, “It is very odd how things turn out! I always
had a childish fancy that I would be useful and important, but I little
thought how it would be! However, as long as Richard is in the house,
I always feel secure about the others, and I shall soon be downstairs
myself. Don’t you think dear papa in better spirits?”

“I thought so to-day,”--and here the doctor returned, talking of
Abbotstoke Grange, where he had certainly been much pleased. “It was
a lucky chance,” he said, “that they brought Norman in. It was exactly
what I wanted to rouse and interest him, and he took it all in so well,
that I am sure they were pleased with him. I thought he looked a very
lanky specimen of too much leg and arm when I called him in, but he has
such good manners, and is so ready and understanding, that they
could not help liking him. It was fortunate I had him instead of
Richard--Ritchie is a very good fellow, certainly, but he had rather
look at a steam-engine, any day, than at Raphael himself.”

Norman had his turn by-and-by. He came up after tea, reporting that papa
was fast asleep in his chair, and the others would go on about Cocksmoor
till midnight, if they were let alone; and made up for his previous
yielding to Ethel, by giving, with much animation, and some excitement,
a glowing description of the Grange, so graphic, that Margaret said she
could almost fancy she had been there.

“Oh, Margaret, I wonder if you ever will! I would give something for you
to see the beautiful conservatory. It is a real bower for a maiden of
romance, with its rich green fragrance in the midst of winter. It is
like a picture in a dream. One could imagine it a fairy land, where no
care, or grief, or weariness could come, all choice beauty and sweetness
waiting on the creature within. I can hardly believe that it is a real
place, and that I have seen it.”

“Though you have brought these pretty tokens that your fairy is as good
as she is fair!” said Margaret, smiling.



CHAPTER XVI.



   EVANS.   Peace your tattlings. What is fair, William?
   WILLIAM. PULCHER.
   QUICKLY. Poulcats! there are fairer things than poulcats sure!
   EVANS.   I pray you have your remembrance, child, accusative
            HING HANG HOG.
   QUICKLY. HANG HOG is Latin for bacon, I warrant you.
                                                   SHAKESPEARE.


In a large family it must often happen, that since every member of it
cannot ride the same hobby, nor at the same time, their several steeds
must sometimes run counter to each other; and so Ethel found it, one
morning when Miss Winter, having a bad cold, had given her an unwonted
holiday.

Mr. Wilmot had sent a large parcel of books for her to choose from for
Cocksmoor, but this she could not well do without consultation. The
multitude bewildered her, she was afraid of taking too many or too few,
and the being brought to these practical details made her sensible that
though her schemes were very grand and full for future doings, they
passed very lightly over the intermediate ground. The Paulo post fulurum
was a period much more developed in her imagination than the future,
that the present was flowing into.

Where was her coadjutor, Richard? Writing notes for papa, and not to
be disturbed. She had better have waited tranquilly, but this would not
suit her impatience, and she ran up to Margaret’s room. There she found
a great display of ivy leaves, which Norman, who had been turning
half the shops in the town upside down in search of materials, was
instructing her to imitate in leather-work--a regular mania with him,
and apparently the same with Margaret.

In came Ethel. “Oh, Margaret, will you look at these ‘First Truths?’ Do
you think they would be easy enough? Shall I take some of the Parables
and Miracles at once, or content myself with the book about ‘Jane
Sparks?’”

“There’s some very easy reading in ‘Jane Sparks’, isn’t there? I would
not make the little books from the New Testament too common.”

“Take care, that leaf has five points,” said Norman.

“Shall I bring you up ‘Jane Sparks’ to see? Because then you can judge,”
 said Ethel.

“There, Norman, is that right?--what a beauty! I should like to look
over them by-and-by, dear Ethel, very much.”

Ethel gazed and went away, more put out than was usual with her. “When
Margaret has a new kind of fancy work,” she thought, “she cares for
nothing else! as if my poor children did not signify more than trumpery
leather leaves!” She next met Flora.

“Oh, Flora, see here, what a famous parcel of books Mr. Wilmot has sent
us to choose from.”

“All those!” said Flora, turning them over as they lay heaped on the
drawing-room sofa; “what a confusion!”

“See, such a parcel of reading books. I want to know what you think of
setting them up with ‘Jane Sparks’, as it is week-day teaching.”

“You will be very tired of hearing those spelled over for ever; they
have some nicer books at the national school.”

“What is the name of them? Do you see any of them here?”

“No, I don’t think I do, but I can’t wait to look now. I must write some
letters. You had better put them together a little. If you were to sort
them, you would know what is there. Now, what a mess they are in.”

Ethel could not deny it, and began to deal them out in piles, looking
somewhat more fitting, but still felt neglected and aggrieved, at no one
being at leisure but Harry, who was not likely to be of any use to her.

Presently she heard the study door open, and hoped; but though it was
Richard who entered the room, he was followed by Tom, and each held
various books that boded little good to her. Miss Winter had, much
to her own satisfaction, been relieved from the charge of Tom, whose
lessons Richard had taken upon himself; and thus Ethel had heard so
little about them for a long time past, that even in her vexation and
desire to have them over, she listened with interest, desirous to judge
what sort of place Tom might be likely to take in school.

She did not perceive that this made Richard nervous and uneasy. He had a
great dislike to spectators of Latin lessons; he never had forgotten an
unlucky occasion, some years back, when his father was examining him
in the Georgics, and he, dull by nature, and duller by confusion and
timidity, had gone on rendering word for word--enim for, seges a crop,
lini of mud, urit burns, campum the field, avenae a crop of pipe, urit
burns it; when Norman and Ethel had first warned him of the beauty of
his translation by an explosion of laughing, when his father had shut
the book with a bounce, shaken his head in utter despair, and told him
to give up all thoughts of doing anything--and when Margaret had cried
with vexation. Since that time, he had never been happy when any one was
in earshot of a lesson; but to-day he had no escape--Harry lay on the
rug reading, and Ethel sat forlorn over her books on the sofa. Tom,
however, was bright enough, declined his Greek nouns irreproachably, and
construed his Latin so well, that Ethel could not help putting in a word
or two of commendation, and auguring the third form. “Do let him off the
parsing, Ritchie,” said she coaxingly--“he has said it so well, and I
want you so much.”

“I am afraid I must not,” said Richard; who, to her surprise, did not
look pleased or satisfied with the prosperous translation; “but come,
Tom, you shan’t have many words, if you really know them.”

Tom twisted and looked rather cross, but when asked to parse the word
viribus, answered readily and correctly.

“Very well, only two more--affuit?”

“Third person singular, praeter perfect tense of the verb affo, affis,
affui, affere,” gabbled off Tom with such confidence, that though Ethel
gave an indignant jump, Richard was almost startled into letting it
pass, and disbelieving himself. He remonstrated in a somewhat hesitating
voice. “Did you find that in the dictionary?” said he; “I thought affui
came from adsum.”

“Oh, to be sure, stupid fool of a word, so it does!” said Tom hastily.
“I had forgot--adsum, ades, affui, adesse.”

Richard said no more, but proposed the word oppositus.

“Adjective.”

Ethel was surprised, for she remembered that it was, in this passage,
part of a passive verb, which Tom had construed correctly, “it was
objected,” and she had thought this very creditable to him, whereas he
now evidently took it for opposite; however, on Richard’s reading the
line, he corrected himself and called it a participle, but did not
commit himself further, till asked for its derivation.

“From oppositor.”

“Hallo!” cried Harry, who hitherto had been abstracted in his book, but
now turned, raised himself on his elbow, and, at the blunder, shook his
thick yellow locks, and showed his teeth like a young lion.

“No, now, Tom, pay attention,” said Richard resignedly. “If you found
out its meaning, you must have seen its derivation.”

“Oppositus,” said Tom, twisting his fingers, and gazing first at Ethel,
then at Harry, in hopes of being prompted, then at the ceiling and
floor, the while he drawled out the word with a whine, “why, oppositus
from op-posor.”

“A poser! ain’t it?” said Harry.

“Don’t, Harry, you distract him,” said Richard. “Come, Tom, say at once
whether you know it or not--it is of no use to invent.”

“From op-” and a mumble.

“What? I don’t hear--op--”

Tom again looked for help to Harry, who made a mischievous movement of
his lips, as if prompting, and, deceived by it, he said boldly, “From
op-possum.”

“That’s right! let us hear him decline it!” cried Harry, in an ecstasy.
“Oppossum, opottis, opposse, or oh-pottery!”

“Harry,” said Richard, in a gentle reasonable voice, “I wish you would
be so kind as not to stay, if you cannot help distracting him.”

And Harry, who really had a tolerable share of forbearance and
consideration, actually obeyed, contenting himself with tossing his book
into the air and catching it again, while he paused at the door to give
his last unsolicited assistance. “Decline oppossum you say. I’ll tell
you how: O-possum re-poses up a gum tree. O-pot-you-I will, says the
O-posse of Yankees, come out to ketch him. Opossum poses them and
declines in O-pot-esse by any manner of means of o-potting-di-do-dum,
was quite oppositum-oppotitu, in fact, quite contrairy.”

Richard, with the gravity of a victim, heard this sally of schoolboy
wit, which threw Ethel back on the sofa in fits of laughing, and
declaring that the Opossum declined, not that he was declined; but, in
the midst of the disturbance thus created, Tom stepped up to her, and
whispered, “Do tell me, Ethel!”

“Indeed I shan’t,” said she. “Why don’t you say fairly if you don’t
know?”

He was obliged to confess his ignorance, and Richard made him conjugate
the whole verb opponor from beginning to end, in which he wanted a good
deal of help.

Ethel could not help saying, “How did you find out the meaning of that
word, Tom, if you didn’t look out the verb?”

“I--don’t know,” drawled Tom, in the voice, half sullen, half piteous,
which he always assumed when out of sorts.

“It is very odd,” she said decidedly; but Richard took no notice, and
proceeded to the other lessons, which went off tolerably well, except
the arithmetic, where there was some great misunderstanding, into which
Ethel did not enter for some time. When she did attend, she perceived
that Tom had brought a right answer, without understanding the working
of the sum, and that Richard was putting him through it. She began to
be worked into a state of dismay and indignation at Tom’s behaviour, and
Richard’s calm indifference, which made her almost forget ‘Jane Sparks’,
and long to be alone with Richard; but all the world kept coming into
the room, and going out, and she could not say what was in her mind till
after dinner, when, seeing Richard go up into Margaret’s room, she ran
after him, and entering it, surprised Margaret, by not beginning on her
books, but saying at once, “Ritchie, I wanted to speak to you about Tom.
I am sure he shuffled about those lessons.”

“I am afraid he does,” said Richard, much concerned.

“What, do you mean that it is often so?”

“Much too often,” said Richard; “but I have never been able to detect
him; he is very sharp, and has some underhand way of preparing his
lessons that I cannot make out.”

“Did you know it, Margaret?” said Ethel, astonished not to see her
sister looked shocked as well as sorry.

“Yes,” said Margaret, “Ritchie and I have often talked it over, and
tried to think what was to be done.”

“Dear me! why don’t you tell papa? It is such a terrible thing!”

“So it is,” said Margaret, “but we have nothing positive or tangible
to accuse Tom of; we don’t know what he does, and have never caught him
out.”

“I am sure he must have found out the meaning of that oppositum in some
wrong way--if he had looked it out, he would only have found opposite.
Nothing but opponor could have shown him the rendering which he made.”

“That’s like what I have said almost every day,” said Richard, “but
there we are--I can’t get any further.”

“Perhaps he guesses by the context,” said Margaret.

“It would be impossible to do so always,” said both the Latin scholars
at once.

“Well, I can’t think how you can take it so quietly,” said Ethel. “I
would have told papa the first moment, and put a stop to it. I have a
great mind to do so, if you won’t.

“Ethel, Ethel, that would never do!” exclaimed Margaret, “pray don’t.
Papa would be so dreadfully grieved and angry with poor Tom.”

“Well, so he deserves,” said Ethel.

“You don’t know what it is to see papa angry,” said Richard.

“Dear me, Richard!” cried Ethel, who thought she knew pretty well what
his sharp words were. “I’m sure papa never was angry with me, without
making me love him more, and, at least, want to be better.”

“You are a girl,” said Richard.

“You are higher spirited, and shake off things faster,” said Margaret.

“Why, what do you think he would do to Tom?”

“I think he would be so very angry, that Tom, who, you know, is timid
and meek, would be dreadfully frightened,” said Richard.

“That’s just what he ought to be, frightened out of these tricks.”

“I am afraid it would frighten him into them still more,” said Richard,
“and perhaps give him such a dread of my father as would prevent him
from ever being open with him.”

“Besides, it would make papa so very unhappy,” added Margaret. “Of
course, if poor dear Tom had been found out in any positive deceit, we
ought to mention it at once, and let him be punished; but while it is
all vague suspicion, and of what papa has such a horror of, it would
only grieve him, and make him constantly anxious, without, perhaps,
doing Tom any good.”

“I think all that is expediency,” said Ethel, in her bluff, abrupt way.

“Besides,” said Richard, “we have nothing positive to accuse him of, and
if we had, it would be of no use. He will be at school in three weeks,
and there he would be sure to shirk, even if he left it off here. Every
one does, and thinks nothing of it.”

“Richard!” cried both sisters, shocked. “You never did?”

“No, we didn’t, but most others do, and not bad fellows either. It is
not the way of boys to think much of those things.”

“It is mean--it is dishonourable--it is deceitful!” cried Ethel.

“I know it is very wrong, but you’ll never get the general run of boys
to think so,” said Richard.

“Then Tom ought not to go to school at all till he is well armed against
it,” said Ethel.

“That can’t be helped,” said Richard. “He will get clear of it in time,
when he knows better.”

“I will talk to him,” said Margaret, “and, indeed, I think it would be
better than worrying papa.”

“Well,” said Ethel, “of course I shan’t tell, because it is not my
business, but I think papa ought to know everything about us, and I
don’t like your keeping anything back. It is being almost as bad as Tom
himself.”

With which words, as Flora entered, Ethel marched out of the room in
displeasure, and went down, resolved to settle Jane Sparks by herself.

“Ethel is out of sorts to-day,” said Flora. “What’s the matter?”

“We have had a discussion,” said Margaret. “She has been terribly
shocked by finding out what we have often thought about poor little Tom,
and she thinks we ought to tell papa. Her principle is quite right, but
I doubt--”

“I know exactly how Ethel would do it!” cried Flora; “blurt out all on
a sudden, ‘Papa, Tom cheats at his lessons!’ then there would be a
tremendous uproar, papa would scold Tom till he almost frightened him
out of his wits, and then find out it was only suspicion.”

“And never have any comfort again,” said Margaret. “He would always
dread that Tom was deceiving him, and then think it was all for want
of--Oh, no, it will never do to speak of it, unless we find out some
positive piece of misbehaviour.”

“Certainly,” said Flora.

“And it would do Tom no good to make him afraid of papa,” said Richard.

“Ethel’s rule is right in principle,” said Margaret thoughtfully, “that
papa ought to know all without reserve, and yet it will hardly do in
practice. One must use discretion, and not tease him about every
little thing. He takes them so much to heart, that he would be almost
distracted; and, with so much business abroad, I think at home he should
have nothing but rest, and, as far as we can, freedom from care and
worry. Anything wrong about the children brings on the grief so much,
that I cannot bear to mention it.”

Richard and Flora agreed with her, admiring the spirit which made her,
in her weakness and helplessness, bear the whole burden of family cares
alone, and devote herself entirely to spare her father. He was, indeed,
her first object, and she would have sacrificed anything to give him
ease of mind; but, perhaps, she regarded him more as a charge of
her own, than as, in very truth, the head of the family. She had the
government in her hands, and had never been used to see him exercise it
much in detail (she did not know how much her mother had referred to
him in private), and had succeeded to her authority at a time when his
health and spirits were in such a state as to make it doubly needful to
spare him. It was no wonder that she sometimes carried her consideration
beyond what was strictly right, and forgot that he was the real
authority, more especially as his impulsive nature sometimes carried him
away, and his sound judgment was not certain to come into play at
the first moment, so that it required some moral courage to excite
displeasure, so easy of manifestation; and of such courage there was,
perhaps, a deficiency in her character. Nor had she yet detected her own
satisfaction in being the first with every one in the family.

Ethel was put out, as Flora had discovered, and when she was downstairs
she found it out, and accused herself of having been cross to Margaret,
and unkind to Tom--of wishing to be a tell-tale. But still, though
displeased with herself, she was dissatisfied with Margaret; it might
be right, but it did not agree with her notions. She wanted to see every
one uncompromising, as girls of fifteen generally do; she had an intense
disgust and loathing of underhand ways, could not bear to think of
Tom’s carrying them on, and going to a place of temptation with them
uncorrected; and she looked up to her father with the reverence and
enthusiasm of one like minded.

She was vexed on another score. Norman came home from Abbotstoke Grange
without having seen Miss Rivers, but with a fresh basket of choice
flowers, rapturous descriptions of Mr. Rivers’s prints, and a present
of an engraving, in shading, such as to give the effect of a cast, of
a very fine head of Alexander. Nothing was to be thought of but a frame
for this--olive, bay, laurel, everything appropriate to the conqueror.
Margaret and Norman were engrossed in the subject, and, to Ethel, who
had no toleration for fancy work, who expected everything to be either
useful and intellectual, this seemed very frivolous. She heard her
father say how glad he was to see Norman interested and occupied, and
certainly, though it was only in leather leaves, it was better than
drooping and attending to nothing. She knew, too, that Margaret did it
for his sake, but, said Ethel to herself, “It was very odd that people
should find amusement in such things. Margaret always had a turn for
them, but it was very strange in Norman.”

Then came the pang of finding out that this was aggravated by the
neglect of herself; she called it all selfishness, and felt that she had
had an uncomfortable, unsatisfactory day, with everything going wrong.



CHAPTER XVII.



     Gently supported by the ready aid
       Of loving hands, whose little work of toil
     Her grateful prodigality repaid
       With all the benediction of her smile,
         She turned her failing feet
         To the softly cushioned seat,
       Dispensing kindly greetings all the time.
                                             R. M. MILNES.


Three great events signalised the month of January. The first was, the
opening of the school at Cocksmoor, whither a cart transported half
a dozen forms, various books, and three dozen plum-buns, Margaret’s
contribution, in order that the school might begin with eclat. There
walked Mr. Wilmot, Richard, and Flora, with Mary, in a jumping, capering
state of delight, and Ethel, not knowing whether she rejoiced. She
kept apart from the rest, and hardly spoke, for this long probation had
impressed her with a sense of responsibility, and she knew that it was
a great work to which she had set her hand--a work in which she must
persevere, and in which she could not succeed in her own strength.

She took hold of Flora’s hand, and squeezed it hard, in a fit of
shyness, when they came upon the hamlet, and saw the children watching
for them; and when they reached the house, she would fain have shrank
into nothing; there was a swelling of heart that seemed to overwhelm and
stifle her, and the effect of which was to keep her standing unhelpful,
when the others were busy bringing in the benches and settling the room.

It was a tidy room, but it seemed very small when they ranged the
benches, and opened the door to the seven-and-twenty children, and the
four or five women who stood waiting. Ethel felt some dismay when they
all came pushing in, without order or civility, and would have been
utterly at a loss what to do with her scholars now she had got them, if
Richard and Flora had not marshalled them to the benches.

Rough heads, torn garments, staring vacant eyes, and mouths gaping in
shy rudeness--it was a sight to disenchant her of visions of pleasure in
the work she had set herself. It was well that she had not to take the
initiative.

Mr. Wilmot said a few simple words to the mothers about the wish to
teach their children what was right, and to do the best at present
practicable; and then told the children that he hoped they would take
pains to be good, and mind what they were taught. Then he desired all
to kneel down; he said the Collect, “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our
doings,” and then the Lord’s Prayer.

Ethel felt as if she could bear it better, and was more up to the work
after this. Next, the children were desired to stand round the room, and
Mr. Wilmot tried who could say the Catechism--the two biggest, a boy and
a girl, had not an idea of it, and the boy looked foolish, and grinned
at being asked what was his name. One child was tolerably perfect, and
about half a dozen had some dim notions. Three were entirely ignorant of
the Lord’s Prayer, and many of the others did not by any means pronounce
the words of it. Jane and Fanny Taylor, Rebekah Watts, and Mrs. Green’s
little boy, were the only ones who, by their own account, used morning
and evening prayers, though, on further examination, it appeared that
Polly and Jenny Hall, and some others, were accustomed to repeat the old
rhyme about “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” and Una M’Carthy and her
little brother Fergus said something that nobody could make out, but
which Mr. Wilmot thought had once been an “Ave Maria.”

Some few of the children could read, and several more knew their
letters. The least ignorant were selected to form a first class, and Mr.
Wilmot promised a Prayer-book to the first who should be able to repeat
the Catechism without a mistake, and a Bible to the first who could read
a chapter in it.

Then followed a setting of tasks, varying from a verse of a Psalm, or
the first answer in the Catechism, down to the distinction between A,
B, and C; all to be ready by next Tuesday, when, weather permitting,
a second lesson was to be given. Afterwards, a piece of advice of
Margaret’s was followed, and Flora read aloud to the assembly the story
of “Margaret Fletcher.” To some this seemed to give great satisfaction,
especially to Una, but Ethel was surprised to see that many, and those
not only little ones, talked and yawned. They had no power of attention
even to a story, and the stillness was irksome to such wild colts. It
was plain that it was time to leave off, and there was no capacity there
which did not find the conclusion agreeable, when the basket was opened,
and Ethel and Mary distributed the buns, with instructions to say,
“thank you.”

The next Tuesday, some of the lessons were learned, Una’s perfectly, the
big ignorant boy came no more; and some of the children had learned to
behave better, while others behaved worse; Ethel began to know what she
was about; Richard’s gentleness was eminently successful with the little
girls, impressing good manners on them in a marvellous way; and Mary’s
importance and happiness with alphabet scholars, some bigger than
herself, were edifying. Cocksmoor was fairly launched.

The next memorable day was that of Margaret’s being first carried
downstairs. She had been willing to put it off as long as she could,
dreading to witness the change below-stairs, and feeling, too, that in
entering on the family room, without power of leaving it, she was losing
all quiet and solitude, as well as giving up that monopoly of her father
in his evenings, which had been her great privilege.

However, she tried to talk herself into liking it; and was rewarded
by the happy commotion it caused, though Dr. May was in a state of
excitement and nervousness at the prospect of seeing her on the stairs,
and his attempts to conceal it only made it worse, till Margaret knew
she should be nervous herself, and wished him out of sight and out of
the house till it was over, for without him she had full confidence in
the coolness and steadiness of Richard, and by him it was safely and
quietly accomplished. She was landed on the sofa, Richard and Flora
settling her, and the others crowding round and exclaiming, while the
newness of the scene and the change gave her a sense of confusion, and
she shut her eyes to recover her thoughts, but opened them the next
instant at her father’s exclamation that she was overcome, smiled to
reassure him, and declared herself not tired, and to be very glad to be
among them again. But the bustle was oppressive, and her cheerful manner
was an effort; she longed to see them all gone, and Flora found it
out, sent the children for their walk, and carried off Ethel and the
brothers.

Dr. May was called out of the room at the same time, and she was left
alone. She gazed round her, at the room where, four months before, she
had seen her mother with the babe in her arms, the children clustered
round her, her father exulting in his hen-and-chicken daisies, herself
full of bright undefined hope, radiant with health and activity, and her
one trouble such that she now knew the force of her mother’s words, that
it only proved her happiness. It was not till that moment that Margaret
realised the change; found her eyes filling with tears, as she looked
round, and saw the familiar furniture and ornaments.

They were instantly checked as she heard her father returning, but not
so that he did not perceive them, and exclaim that it had been too much
for her. “Oh, no--it was only the first time,” said Margaret, losing the
sense of the painful vacancy in her absorbing desire not to distress her
father, and thinking only of him as she watched him standing for some
minutes leaning on the mantel-shelf with his hand shading his forehead.

She began to speak as soon as she thought he was ready to have his mind
turned away: “How nicely Ritchie managed! He carried me so comfortably
and easily. It is enough to spoil me to be so deftly waited on.”

“I’m glad of it,” said Dr. May; “I am sure the change is better for
you;” but he came and looked at her still with great solicitude.

“Ritchie can take excellent care of me,” she continued, most anxious
to divert his thoughts. “You see it will do very well indeed for you to
take Harry to school.”

“I should like to do so. I should like to see his master, and to take
Norman with me,” said the doctor. “It would be just the thing for him
now--we would show him the dockyard, and all those matters, and such a
thorough holiday would set him up again.”

“He is very much better.”

“Much better--he is recovering spirits and tone very fast. That
leaf-work of yours came at a lucky time. I like to see him looking out
for a curious fern in the hedgerows--the pursuit has quite brightened
him up.”

“And he does it so thoroughly,” said Margaret. “Ethel fancies it is
rather frivolous of him, I believe; but it amuses me to see how men give
dignity to what women make trifling. He will know everything about the
leaves, hunts up my botany books, and has taught me a hundred times more
of the construction and wonders of them than I ever learned.”

“Ay,” said the doctor, “he has been talking a good deal to me about
vegetable chemistry. He would make a good scientific botanist, if
he were to be nothing else. I should be glad if he sticks to it as a
pursuit--‘tis pretty work, and I should like to have gone further with
it, if I had ever had time for it.”

“I dare say he will,” said Margaret. “It will be very pleasant if he can
go with you. How he would enjoy the British Museum, if there was time
for him to see it! Have you said anything to him yet?”

“No; I waited to see how you were, as it all depends on that.”

“I think it depends still more on something else; whether Norman is as
fit to take care of you as Richard is.”

“That’s another point. There’s nothing but what he could manage now, but
I don’t like saying anything to him. I know he would undertake anything
I wished, without a word, and then, perhaps, dwell on it in fancy, and
force himself, till it would turn to a perfect misery, and upset his
nerves again. I’m sorry for it. I meant him to have followed my trade,
but he’ll never do for that. However, he has wits enough to make himself
what he pleases, and I dare say he will keep at the head of the school
after all.”

“How very good he has been in refraining from restlessness!”

“It’s beautiful!” said Dr. May, with strong emotion. “Poor boy! I trust
he’ll not be disappointed, and I don’t think he will; but I’ve promised
him I won’t be annoyed if he should lose his place--so we must take
especial care not to show any anxiety. However, for this matter,
Margaret, I wish you would sound him, and see whether it would be more
pleasure or pain. Only mind you don’t let him think that I shall be
vexed, if he feels that he can’t make up his mind; I would not have him
fancy that, for more than I can tell.”

This consultation revived the spirits of both; and the others returning,
found Margaret quite disposed for companionship. If to her the evening
was sad and strange, like a visit in a dream to some old familiar haunt,
finding all unnatural, to the rest it was delightful. The room was no
longer dreary, now that there was a centre for care and attentions, and
the party was no longer broken up--the sense of comfort, cheerfulness,
and home-gathering had returned, and the pleasant evening household
gossip went round the table almost as it used to do. Dr. May resumed
his old habit of skimming a club book, and imparting the cream to the
listeners; and Flora gave them some music, a great treat to Margaret,
who had long only heard its distant sounds.

Margaret found an opportunity of talking to Norman, and judged
favourably. He was much pleased at the prospect of the journey, and of
seeing a ship, so as to have a clearer notion of the scene where Harry’s
life was to be spent, and though the charge of the arm was a drawback,
he did not treat it as insurmountable.

A few days’ attendance in his father’s room gave him confidence in
taking Richard’s place, and, accordingly, the third important measure
was decided on, namely, that he and his father should accompany Harry
to the naval school, and be absent three nights. Some relations would be
glad to receive them in London, and Alan Ernescliffe, who was studying
steam navigation at Woolwich, volunteered to meet them, and go with them
to Portsmouth.

It was a wonderful event; Norman and Harry had never been beyond
Whitford in their lives, and none of the young ones could recollect
their papa’s ever going from home for more than one night. Dr. May
laughed at Margaret for her anxiety and excitement on the subject, and
was more amused at overhearing Richard’s precise directions to Norman
over the packing up.

“Ay, Ritchie,” said the doctor, as he saw his portmanteau locked, and
the key given to Norman, “you may well look grave upon it. You won’t see
it look so tidy when it comes back again, and I believe you are thinking
it will be lucky if you see it at all.”

There was a very affectionate leave-taking of Harry, who, growing rather
soft-hearted, thought it needful to be disdainful, scolded Mary and
Blanche for “lugging off his figure-head,” and assured them they made
as much work about it as if he was going to sea at once. Then, to put
an end to any more embraces, he marched off to the station with Tom,
and nearly caused the others to be too late, by the search for him that
ensued.

In due time, Dr. May and Norman returned, looking the better for the
journey. There was, first, to tell of Harry’s school and its master, and
Alan Ernescliffe’s introduction of him to a nice-looking boy of his
own age; then they were eloquent on the wonders of the dockyard, the
Victory, the block machinery. And London--while Dr. May went to transact
some business, Norman had been with Alan at the British Museum, and
though he had intended to see half London besides, there was no tearing
him away from the Elgin marbles; and nothing would serve him, but
bringing Dr. May the next morning to visit the Ninevite bulls. Norman
further said, that whereas papa could never go out of his house
without meeting people who had something to say to him, it was the same
elsewhere. Six acquaintances he had met unexpectedly in London, and two
at Portsmouth.

So the conversation went on all the evening, to the great delight of
all. It was more about things than people, though Flora inquired after
Mr. Ernescliffe, and was told he had met them at the station, had been
everywhere with them, and had dined at the Mackenzies’ each day. “How
was he looking?” Ethel asked; and was told pretty much the same as when
he went away; and, on a further query from Flora, it appeared that an
old naval friend of his father’s had hopes of a ship, and had promised
to have him with him, and thereupon warm hopes were expressed that Harry
might have a berth in the same.

“And when is he coming here again, papa?” said Ethel.

“Eh! oh! I can’t tell. I say, isn’t it high time to ring?”

When they went up at night, every one felt that half the say had
not been said, and there were fresh beginnings on the stairs. Norman
triumphantly gave the key to Richard, and then called to Ethel, “I say,
won’t you come into my room while I unpack?”

“Oh, yes, I should like it very much.”

Ethel sat on the bed, rolled up in a cloak, while Norman undid his bag,
announcing at the same time, “Well, Ethel, papa says I may get to my
Euripides to-morrow, if I please, and only work an hour at a time!”

“Oh, I am so glad. Then he thinks you quite well?”

“Yes, I am quite well. I hope I’ve done with nonsense.”

“And how did you get on with his arm?”

“Very well--he was so patient, and told me how to manage. You heard that
Sir Matthew said it had got much better in these few weeks. Oh, here it
is! There’s a present for you.”

“Oh, thank you. From you, or from papa?”

“This is mine. Papa has a present for every one in his bag. He said, at
last, that a man with eleven children hadn’t need to go to London very
often.”

“And you got this beautiful ‘Lyra Innocentium’ for me? How very kind
of you, Norman. It is just what I wished for. Such lovely binding--and
those embossed edges to the leaves. Oh! they make a pattern as they
open! I never saw anything like it.”

“I saw such a one on Miss Rivers’s table, and asked Ernescliffe where to
get one like it. See, here’s what my father gave me.”

“‘Bishop Ken’s Manual’. That is in readiness for the Confirmation.”

“Look. I begged him to put my name, though he said it was a pity to do
it with his left hand; I didn’t like to wait, so I asked him at least to
write N. W. May, and the date.”

“And he has added Prov. xxiii. 24, 25. Let me look it out.” She did
so, and instead of reading it aloud, looked at Norman full of
congratulation.

“How it ought to make one--” and there Norman broke off from the
fullness of his heart.

“I’m glad he put both verses” said Ethel presently. “How pleased with
you he must be!”

A silence while brother and sister both gazed intently at the crooked
characters, till at last Ethel, with a long breath, resumed her ordinary
tone, and said, “How well he has come to write with his left hand now.”

“Yes. Did you know that he wrote himself to tell Ernescliffe Sir
Matthew’s opinion of Margaret?”

“No: did he?”

“Do you know, Ethel,” said Norman, as he knelt on the floor, and tumbled
miscellaneous articles out of his bag, “it is my belief that Ernescliffe
is in love with her, and that papa thinks so.”

“Dear me!” cried Ethel, starting up. “That is famous. We should always
have Margaret at home when he goes to sea!”

“But mind, Ethel, for your life you must not say one word to any living
creature.”

“Oh, no, I promise you I won’t, Norman, if you’ll only tell me how you
found it out.”

“What first put it in my head was the first evening, while I was undoing
the portmanteau; my father leaned on the mantel-shelf, and sighed and
muttered, ‘Poor Ernescliffe! I wish it may end well.’ I thought he
forgot that I was there, so I would not seem to notice, but I soon saw
it was that he meant.”

“How?” cried Ethel eagerly.

“Oh, I don’t know--by Alan’s way.”

“Tell me--I want to know what people do when they are in love.”

“Nothing particular,” said Norman, smiling.

“Did you hear him inquire for her? How did he look?”

“I can’t tell. That was when he met us at the station before I thought
of it, and I had to see to the luggage. But I’ll tell you one thing,
Ethel; when papa was talking of her to Mrs. Mackenzie, at the other end
of the room, all his attention went away in an instant from what he was
saying. And once, when Harry said something to me about her, he started,
and looked round so earnestly.”

“Oh, yes--that’s like people in books. And did he colour?”

“No; I don’t recollect that he did,” said Norman; “but I observed he
never asked directly after her if he could help it, but always was
trying to lead, in some round-about way, to hearing what she was doing.”

“Did he call her Margaret?”

“I watched; but to me he always said, ‘Your sister,’ and if he had to
speak of her to papa, he said, ‘Miss May.’ And then you should have seen
his attention to papa. I could hardly get a chance of doing anything for
papa.”

“Oh, sure of it!” cried Ethel, clasping her hands. “But, poor man, how
unhappy he must have been at having to go away when she was so ill!”

“Ay, the last time he saw her was when he carried her upstairs.”

“Oh, dear! I hope he will soon come here again!”

“I don’t suppose he will. Papa did not ask him.”

“Dear me, Norman! Why not? Isn’t papa very fond of him? Why shouldn’t he
come?”

“Don’t you see, Ethel, that would be of no use while poor Margaret is no
better. If he gained her affections, it would only make her unhappy.”

“Oh, but she is much better. She can raise herself up now without
help, and sat up ever so long this morning, without leaning back on her
cushions. She is getting well--you know Sir Matthew said she would.”

“Yes; but I suppose papa thinks they had better say nothing till she is
quite well.”

“And when she is! How famous it will be.”

“Then there’s another thing; he is very poor, you know.”

“I am sure papa doesn’t care about people being rich.”

“I suppose Alan thinks he ought not to marry, unless he could make his
wife comfortable.”

“Look here--it would be all very easy: she should stay with us, and be
comfortable here, and he go to sea, and get lots of prize money.”

“And that’s what you call domestic felicity!” said Norman, laughing.

“He might have her when he was at home,” said Ethel.

“No, no; that would never do,” said Norman. “Do you think Ernescliffe’s
a man that would marry a wife for her father to maintain her?”

“Why, papa would like it very much. He is not a mercenary father in a
book.”

“Hey! what’s that?” said a voice Ethel little expected. “Contraband talk
at contraband times? What’s this!”

“Did you hear, papa?” said Ethel, looking down.

“Only your last words, as I came up to ask Norman what he had done with
my pocket-book. Mind, I ask no impertinent questions; but, if you have
no objection, I should like to know what gained me the honour of that
compliment.”

“Norman?” said Ethel interrogatively, and blushing in emulation of her
brother, who was crimson.

“I’ll find it,” said he, rushing off with a sort of nod and sign, that
conveyed to Ethel that there was no help for it.

So, with much confusion, she whispered into her papa’s ear that Norman
had been telling her something he guessed about Mr. Ernescliffe.

Her father at first smiled, a pleased amused smile. “Ah! ha! so Master
June has his eyes and ears open, has he? A fine bit of gossip to regale
you with on his return!”

“He told me to say not one word,” said Ethel.

“Right--mind you don’t,” said Dr. May, and Ethel was surprised to see
how sorrowful his face became. At the same moment Norman returned,
still very red, and said, “I’ve put out the pocket-book, papa. I think
I should tell you I repeated what, perhaps, you did not mean me to
hear--you talked to yourself something of pitying Ernescliffe.” The
doctor smiled again at the boy’s high-minded openness, which must have
cost an effort of self-humiliation. “I can’t say little pitchers have
long ears, to a May-pole like you, Norman,” said he; “I think I ought
rather to apologise for having inadvertently tumbled in among your
secrets; I assure you I did not come to spy you.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no!” repeated Ethel vehemently. “Then you didn’t mind
our talking about it?”

“Of course not, as long as it goes no further. It is the use of sisters
to tell them one’s private sentiments. Is not it, Norman?”

“And do you really think it is so, papa?” Ethel could not help
whispering.

“I’m afraid it is”, said Dr. May, sighing; then, as he caught her
earnest eyes, “The more I see of Alan, the finer fellow I think him,
and the more sorry I am for him. It seems presumptuous, almost wrong, to
think of the matter at all while my poor Margaret is in this state; and,
if she were well, there are other difficulties which would, perhaps,
prevent his speaking, or lead to long years of waiting and wearing out
hope.”

“Money?” said Ethel.

“Ay! Though I so far deserve your compliment, miss, that should be
foolish enough, if she were but well, to give my consent to-morrow,
because I could not help it; yet one can’t live forty-six years in
this world without seeing it is wrong to marry without a reasonable
dependence--and there won’t be much among eleven of you. It makes my
heart ache to think of it, come what may, as far as I can see, and
without her to judge. The only comfort is, that poor Margaret herself
knows nothing of it, and is at peace so far. It will be ordered for
them, anyhow. Good-night, my dear.”

Ethel sought her room, with graver, deeper thoughts of life than she had
carried upstairs.



CHAPTER XVIII.



     Saw ye never in the meadows,
       Where your little feet did pass,
     Down below, the sweet white daisies
       Growing in the long green grass?

     Saw you never lilac blossoms,
       Or acacia white and red,
     Waving brightly in the sunshine,
       On the tall trees over head?
                           HYMNS FOR CHILDREN, C. F. A.


“My dear child, what a storm you have had! how wet you must be!”
 exclaimed Mrs. Larpent, as Meta Rivers came bounding up the broad
staircase at Abbotstoke Grange.

“Oh no; I am quite dry; feel.”

“Are you sure?” said Mrs. Larpent, drawing her darling into a luxurious
bedroom, lighted up by a glowing fire, and full of pretty things. “Here,
come and take off your wet things, my dear, and Bellairs shall bring you
some tea.”

“I’m dry. I’m warm,” said Meta, tossing off her plumy hat, as she
established herself, with her feet on the fender. “But where do you
think I have been? You have so much to hear. But first--three guesses
where we were in the rain!”

“In the Stoneborough Cloisters, that you wanted to see? My dear, you did
not keep your papa in the cold there?”

“No, no; we never got there at all; guess again.”

“At Mr. Edward Wilmot’s?”

“No!”

“Could it have been at Dr. May’s? Really, then, you must tell me.”

“There! you deserve a good long story; beginning at the beginning,” said
Meta, clapping her hands, “wasn’t it curious? as we were coming up the
last hill, we met some girls in deep mourning, with a lady who looked
like their governess. I wondered whether they could be Dr. May’s
daughters, and so it turned out they were.

“Presently there began to fall little square lumps, neither hail, nor
snow, nor rain; it grew very cold, and rain came on. It would have been
great fun, if I had not been afraid papa would catch cold, and he said
we would canter on to the inn. But, luckily, there was Dr. May walking
up the street, and he begged us to come into his house. I was so glad!
We were tolerably wet, and Dr. May said something about hoping the girls
were at home; well, when he opened the drawing-room door, there was the
poor daughter lying on the sofa.”

“Poor girl! tell me of her.”

“Oh! you must go and see her; you won’t look at her without losing your
heart. Papa liked her so much--see if he does not talk of her all the
evening. She looks the picture of goodness and sweetness. Only think
of her having some of the maidenhair and cape jessamine still in water,
that we sent her so long ago. She shall have some flowers every three
days. Well, Dr. May said, ‘There is one at least, that is sure to be
at home.’ She felt my habit, and said I must go and change it, and
she called to a little thing of six, telling her to show me the way to
Flora. She smiled, and said she wished she could go herself, but Flora
would take care of me. Little Blanche came and took hold of my hand,
chattering away, up we went, up two staircases, and at the top of the
last stood a girl about seventeen, so pretty! such deep blue eyes, and
such a complexion! ‘That’s Flora,’ little Blanche said; ‘Flora, this is
Miss Rivers, and she’s wet, and Margaret says you are to take care of
her.’”

“So that was your introduction?”

“Yes; we got acquainted in a minute. She took me into her room--such a
room! I believe Bellairs would be angry if she had such a one; all up
in the roof, no fire, no carpet, except little strips by the beds; there
were three beds. Flora used to sleep there till Miss May was ill, and
now she dresses there. Yet I am sure they are as much ladies as I am.”

“You are an only daughter, my dear, and a petted one,” said Mrs.
Larpent, smiling. “There are too many of them to make much of, as we do
of our Meta.”

“I suppose so; but I did not know gentlewomen lived in such a way,”
 said Meta. “There were nice things about, a beautiful inlaid work-box of
Flora’s, and a rosewood desk, and plenty of books, and a Greek book and
dictionary were spread open. I asked Flora if they were hers, and she
laughed and said no; and that Ethel would be much discomposed that I had
see them. Ethel keeps up with her brother Norman--only fancy! and he at
the head of the school. How clever she must be!”

“But, my dear, were you standing in your wet things all this time!”

“No; I was trying on their frocks, but they trailed on the ground upon
me, so she asked if I would come and sit by the nursery fire till my
habit was dry; and there was a dear little good-humoured baby, so fair
and pretty. She is not a bit shy, will go to anybody, but, they say, she
likes no one so well as her brother Norman.”

“So you had a regular treat of baby-nursing.”

“That I had; I could not part with her, the darling. Flora thought we
might take her down, and I liked playing with her in the drawing-room
and talking to Miss May, till the fly came to take us home. I wanted to
have seen Ethel; but, only think, papa has asked Dr. May to bring Flora
some day; how I hope he will!”

Little Meta having told her story, and received plenty of sympathy,
proceeded to dress, and, while her maid braided her hair, a musing fit
fell upon her. “I have seen something of life to-day,” thought she. “I
had thought of the great difference between us and the poor, but I did
not know ladies lived in such different ways. I should be very miserable
without Bellairs, or without a fire in my room. I don’t know what I
should do if I had to live in that cold, shabby den, and do my own hair,
yet they think nothing of it, and they are cultivated and ladylike! Is
it all fancy, and being brought up to it? I wonder if it is right? Yet
dear papa likes me to have these things, and can afford them. I never
knew I was luxurious before, and yet I think I must be! One thing I do
wish, and that is, that I was of as much use as those girls. I ought to
be. I am a motherless girl like them, and I ought to be everything to
papa, just as Miss May is, even lying on the sofa there, and only two
years older than I am. I don’t think I am of any use at all; he is fond
of me, of course, dear papa; and if I died, I don’t know what would
become of him; but that’s only because I am his daughter--he has only
George besides to care for. But, really and truly, he would get on as
well without me. I never do anything for him, but now and then playing
to him in the evening, and that not always, I am afraid, when I want
to be about anything else. He is always petting me, and giving me all I
want, but I never do anything but my lessons, and going to the school,
and the poor people, and that is all pleasure. I have so much that I
never miss what I give away. I wonder whether it is all right! Leonora
and Agatha have not so much money to do as they please with--they are
not so idolised. George said, when he was angry, that papa idolises
me; but they have all these comforts and luxuries, and never think of
anything but doing what they like. They never made me consider as these
Mays do. I should like to know them more. I do so much want a friend of
my own age. It is the only want I have. I have tried to make a friend of
Leonora, but I cannot; she never cares for what I do. If she saw these
Mays she would look down on them. Dear Mrs. Larpent is better than any
one, but then she is so much older. Flora May shall be my friend. I’ll
make her call me Meta as soon as she comes. When will it be? The day
after tomorrow?”

But little Meta watched in vain. Dr. May always came with either Richard
or the groom, to drive him, and if Meta met him and hoped he would bring
Flora next time, he only answered that Flora would like it very much,
and he hoped soon to do so.

The truth was, it was no such everyday matter as Meta imagined. The
larger carriage had been broken, and the only vehicle held only the
doctor--his charioteer--and in a very minute appendage behind, a small
son of the gardener, to open gates, and hold the horse.

The proposal had been one of those general invitations to be fulfilled
at any time, and therefore easily set aside; and Dr. May, though
continually thinking he should like to take his girls to Abbotstoke,
never saw the definite time for so doing; and Flora herself, though
charmed with Miss Rivers, and delighted with the prospect of visiting
her, only viewed it as a distant prospect.

There was plenty of immediate interest to occupy them at home, to say
nothing of the increasing employment that Cocksmoor gave to thoughts,
legs, and needles. There was the commencement of the half-year, when
Tom’s schoolboy life was to begin, and when it would be proved whether
Norman were able to retain his elevation.

Margaret had much anxiety respecting the little boy about to be sent
into a scene of temptation. Her great confidence was in Richard, who
told her that boys did many more wrong things than were known at home,
and yet turned out very well, and that Tom would be sure to right
himself in the end. Richard had been blameless in his whole school
course, but though never partaking of the other boys’ evil practices,
he could not form an independent estimate of character, and his tone had
been a little hurt, by sharing the school public opinion of morality. He
thought Stoneborough and its temptations inevitable, and only wished to
make the best of it. Margaret was afraid to harass her father by laying
the case before him. All her brothers had gone safely through the
school, and it never occurred to her that it was possible that, if her
father knew the bias of Tom’s disposition, he might choose, for the
present, at least, some other mode of education.

She talked earnestly to Tom, and he listened impatiently. There is an
age when boys rebel against female rule, and are not yet softened by the
chivalry of manhood, and Tom was at this time of life. He did not like
to be lectured by a sister, secretly disputed her right, and, proud of
becoming a schoolboy, had not the generous deference for her weakness
felt by his elder brothers; he was all the time peeling a stick, as
if to show that he was not attending, and he raised up his shoulder
pettishly whenever she came to a mention of the religious duty of
sincerity. She did not long continue her advice, and, much disappointed
and concerned, tried to console herself with hoping that he might have
heeded more than he seemed to do.

He was placed tolerably high in the school, and Norman, who had the
first choice of fags, took him instead of Hector Ernescliffe, who had
just passed beyond the part of the school liable to be fagged. He said
he liked school, looked bright when he came home in the evenings, and
the sisters hoped all was right.

Every one was just now anxiously watching Norman, especially his father,
who strove in vain to keep back all manifestation of his earnest desire
to see him retain his post. Resolutely did the doctor refrain from
asking any questions, when the boys came in, but he could not keep his
eyes from studying the face, to see whether it bore marks of mental
fatigue, and from following him about the room, to discover whether he
found it necessary, as he had done last autumn, to spend the evening in
study. It was no small pleasure to see him come in with his hand full of
horse-chestnut and hazel-buds, and proceed to fetch the microscope and
botany books, throwing himself eagerly into the study of the wonders
of their infant forms, searching deeply into them with Margaret, and
talking them over with his father, who was very glad to promote the
pursuit--one in which he had always taken great interest.

Another night Dr. May was for a moment disturbed by seeing the
school-books put out, but Norman had only some notes to compare, and
while he did so, he was remarking on Flora’s music, and joining in the
conversation so freely as to prove it was no labour to him. In truth,
he was evidently quite recovered, entirely himself again, except that he
was less boyish. He had been very lively and full of merry nonsense; but
his ardour for play had gone off with his high spirits, and there was
a manliness of manner, and tone of mind, that made him appear above his
real age.

At the end of a fortnight he volunteered to tell his father that all
was right. “I am not afraid of not keeping my place,” he said; “you were
quite right, papa. I am more up to my work than I was ever before, and
it comes to me quite fresh and pleasant. I don’t promise to get the
Randall scholarship, if Forder and Cheviot stay on, but I can quite keep
up to the mark in school work.”

“That’s right,” said Dr. May, much rejoiced. “Are you sure you do it
with ease, and without its haunting you at night?”

“Oh, yes; quite sure. I can’t think what has made Dr. Hoxton set us on
in such easy things this time. It is very lucky for me, for one gets so
much less time to oneself as dux.”

“What! with keeping order?”

“Ay,” said Norman. “I fancy they think they may take liberties because I
am new and young. I must have my eye in all corners of the hall at once,
and do my own work by snatches, as I can.”

“Can you make them attend to you?”

“Why, yes, pretty well, when it comes to the point--‘will you, or will
you not?’ Cheviot is a great help, too, and has all the weight of being
the eldest fellow amongst us.”

“But still you find it harder work than learning? You had rather have to
master the dead language than the live tongues?”

“A pretty deal,” said Norman; then added, “One knows what to be at with
the dead, better than with the living; they don’t make parties against
one. I don’t wonder at it. It was very hard on some of those great
fellows to have me set before them, but I do not think it is fair to
visit it by putting up the little boys to all sorts of mischief.”

“Shameful!” said the doctor warmly; “but never mind, Norman, keep your
temper, and do your own duty, and you are man enough to put down such
petty spite.”

“I hope I shall manage rightly,” said Norman; “but I shall be glad if I
can get the Randall and get away to Oxford; school is not what it used
to be, and if you don’t think me too young--”

“No, I don’t; certainly not. Trouble has made a man of you, Norman, and
you are fitter to be with men than boys. In the meantime, if you can
be patient with these fellows, you’ll be of great use where you are. If
there had been any one like you at the head of the school in my time, it
would have kept me out of no end of scrapes. How does Tom get on? he is
not likely to fall into this set, I trust.”

“I am not sure,” said Norman; “he does pretty well on the whole. Some
of them began by bullying him, and that made him cling to Cheviot and
Ernescliffe, and the better party; but lately I have thought Anderson,
junior, rather making up to him, and I don’t know whether they don’t
think that tempting him over to them would be the surest way of vexing
me. I have an eye over him, and I hope he may get settled into the
steadier sort before next half.”

After a silence, Norman said, “Papa, there is a thing I can’t settle in
my own mind. Suppose there had been wrong things done when older boys,
and excellent ones too, were at the head of the school, yet they never
interfered, do you think I ought to let it go on?”

“Certainly not, or why is power given to you?”

“So I thought,” said Norman; “I can’t see it otherwise. I wish I could,
for it will be horrid to set about it, and they’ll think it a regular
shame in me to meddle. Oh! I know what I came into the study for; I
want you to be so kind as to lend me your pocket Greek Testament. I gave
Harry my little one.”

“You are very welcome. What do you want it for?”

Norman coloured. “I met with a sermon the other day that recommended
reading a bit of it every day, and I thought I should like to try, now
the Confirmation is coming. One can always have some quiet by getting
away into the cloister.”

“Bless you, my boy! while you go on in this way, I have not much fear
but that you’ll know how to manage.”

Norman’s rapid progress affected another of the household in an
unexpected way.

“Margaret, my dear, I wish to speak to you,” said Miss Winter,
reappearing when Margaret thought every one was gone out walking.
She would have said, “I am very sorry for it”--so ominous was the
commencement--and her expectations were fulfilled when Miss Winter had
solemnly seated herself, and taken out her netting. “I wished to speak
to you about dear Ethel,” said the governess; “you know how unwilling
I always am to make any complaint, but I cannot be satisfied with her
present way of going on.”

“Indeed,” said Margaret. “I am much grieved to hear this. I thought she
had been taking great pains to improve.”

“So she was at one time. I would not by any means wish to deny it, and
it is not of her learning that I speak, but of a hurried, careless way
of doing everything, and an irritability at being interfered with.”

Margaret knew how Miss Winter often tried Ethel’s temper, and was
inclined to take her sister’s part. “Ethel’s time is so fully occupied,”
 she said.

“That is the very thing that I was going to observe, my dear. Her time
is too much occupied, and my conviction is, that it is hurtful to a girl
of her age.”

This was a new idea to Margaret, who was silent, longing to prove
Miss Winter wrong, and not have to see poor Ethel pained by having to
relinquish any of her cherished pursuits.

“You see there is that Cocksmoor,” said Miss Winter. “You do not know
how far off it is, my dear; much too great a distance for a young girl
to be walking continually in all weathers.”

“That’s a question for papa,” thought Margaret.

“Besides,” continued Miss Winter, “those children engross almost all her
time and thoughts. She is working for them, preparing lessons, running
after them continually. It takes off her whole mind from her proper
occupations, unsettles her, and I do think it is beyond what befits a
young lady of her age.”

Margaret was silent.

“In addition,” said Miss Winter, “she is at every spare moment busy
with Latin and Greek, and I cannot think that to keep pace with a boy of
Norman’s age and ability can be desirable for her.”

“It is a great deal,” said Margaret, “but--”

“I am convinced that she does more than is right,” continued Miss
Winter. “She may not feel any ill effects at present, but you may depend
upon it, it will tell on her by-and-by. Besides, she does not attend to
anything properly. At one time she was improving in neatness and orderly
habits. Now, you surely must have seen how much less tidy her hair and
dress have been.”

“I have thought her hair looking rather rough,” said Margaret
disconsolately.

“No wonder,” said Miss Winter, “for Flora and Mary tell me she hardly
spends five minutes over it in the morning, and with a book before her
the whole time. If I send her up to make it fit to be seen, I meet with
looks of annoyance. She leaves her books in all parts of the school-room
for Mary to put away, and her table drawer is one mass of confusion. Her
lessons she does well enough, I own, though what I should call much too
fast; but have you looked at her work lately?”

“She does not work very well,” said Margaret, who was at that moment,
though Miss Winter did not know it, re-gathering a poor child’s frock
that Ethel had galloped through with more haste than good speed.

“She works a great deal worse than little Blanche,” said Miss Winter,
“and though it may not be the fashion to say so in these days, I
consider good needlework far more important than accomplishments. Well,
then, Margaret, I should wish you only just to look at her writing.”

And Miss Winter opened a French exercise-book, certainly containing
anything but elegant specimens of penmanship. Ethel’s best writing was
an upright, disjointed niggle, looking more like Greek than anything
else, except where here and there it made insane efforts to become
running-hand, and thereby lost its sole previous good quality of
legibility, while the lines waved about the sheet in almost any
direction but the horizontal. The necessity she believed herself under
of doing what Harry called writing with the end of her nose, and
her always holding her pen with her fingers almost in the ink, added
considerably to the difficulty of the performance. This being at her
best, the worst may be supposed to be indescribable, when dashed off in
a violent hurry, and considerably garnished with blots. Margaret thought
she had seen the worst, and was sighing at being able to say nothing for
it, when Miss Winter confounded her by turning a leaf, and showing it
was possible to make a still wilder combination of scramble, niggle,
scratch, and crookedness--and this was supposed to be an amended
edition! Miss Winter explained that Ethel had, in an extremely short
time, performed an exercise in which no fault could be detected except
the writing, which was pronounced to be too atrocious to be shown up to
M. Ballompre. On being desired to write it over again, she had obeyed
with a very bad grace, and some murmurs about Cocksmoor, and produced
the second specimen, which, in addition to other defects, had some
elisions from arrant carelessness, depriving it of its predecessor’s
merits of being good French.

Miss Winter had been so provoked that she believed this to be an effect
of ill temper, and declared that she should certainly have kept Ethel at
home to write it over again, if it had not so happened that Dr. May had
proposed to walk part of the way with her and Richard, and the governess
was unwilling to bring her into disgrace with him. Margaret was so
grateful to her for this forbearance, that it disposed her to listen
the more patiently to the same representations put in, what Miss Winter
fancied, different forms. Margaret was much perplexed. She could not but
see much truth in what Miss Winter said, and yet she could not bear
to thwart Ethel, whom she admired with her whole heart; and that dry
experience, and prejudiced preciseness, did not seem capable of entering
into her sister’s thirst for learning and action. When Miss Winter said
Ethel would grow up odd, eccentric, and blue, Margaret was ready to
answer that she would be superior to every one; and when the governess
urged her to insist on Cocksmoor being given up, she felt impatient of
that utter want of sympathy for the good work.

All that evening Margaret longed for a quiet time to reflect, but it
never came till she was in bed; and when she had made up her mind how to
speak to Ethel, it was five times harder to secure her alone. Even when
Margaret had her in the room by herself, she looked wild and eager, and
said she could not stay, she had some Thucydides to do.

“Won’t you stay with me a little while, quietly?” said Margaret; “we
hardly ever have one of our talks.”

“I didn’t mean to vex you, dear Margaret; I like nothing so well, only
we are never alone, and I’ve no time.”

“Pray do spare me a minute, Ethel, for I have something that I must say
to you, and I am afraid you won’t like it--so do listen kindly.”

“Oh!” said Ethel, “Miss Winter has been talking to you. I know she said
she would tell you that she wants me to give up Cocksmoor. You aren’t
dreaming of it, Margaret?”

“Indeed, dear Ethel, I should be very sorry, but one thing I am sure of,
that there is something amiss in your way of going on.”

“Did she show you that horrid exercise?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I know it was baddish writing, but just listen, Margaret. We
promised six of the children to print them each a verse of a hymn on a
card to learn. Ritchie did three, and then could not go on, for the
book that the others were in was lost till last evening, and then he
was writing for papa. So I thought I would do them before we went to
Cocksmoor, and that I should squeeze time out of the morning; but I got
a bit of Sophocles that was so horridly hard it ate up all my time, and
I don’t understand it properly now; I must get Norman to tell me. And
that ran in my head and made me make a mistake in my sum, and have
to begin it again. Then, just as I thought I had saved time over the
exercise, comes Miss Winter and tells me I must do it over again, and
scolds me besides about the ink on my fingers. She would send me up at
once to get it off, and I could not find nurse and her bottle of stuff
for it, so that wasted ever so much more time, and I was so vexed that,
really and truly, my hand shook and I could not write any better.”

“No, I thought it looked as if you had been in one of your agonies.”

“And she thought I did it on purpose, and that made me angry, and so
we got into a dispute, and away went all the little moment I might have
had, and I was forced to go to Cocksmoor as a promise breaker!”

“Don’t you think you had better have taken pains at first?”

“Well, so I did with the sense, but I hadn’t time to look at the writing
much.”

“You would have made better speed if you had.”

“Oh, yes, I know I was wrong, but it is a great plague altogether.
Really, Margaret, I shan’t get Thucydides done.”

“You must wait a little longer, please, Ethel, for I want to say to
you that I am afraid you are doing too much, and that prevents you from
doing things well, as you were trying to do last autumn.”

“You are not thinking of my not going to Cocksmoor?” cried Ethel
vehemently.

“I want you to consider what is to be done, dear Ethel. You thought,
last autumn, a great deal of curing your careless habits, now you seem
not to have time to attend. You can do a great deal very fast, I know,
but isn’t it a pity to be always in a hurry?”

“It isn’t Cocksmoor that is the reason,” said Ethel.

“No; you did pretty well when you began, but you know that was in the
holidays, when you had no Latin and Greek to do.”

“Oh, but, Margaret, they won’t take so much time when I have once got
over the difficulties, and see my way, but just now they have put Norman
into such a frightfully difficult play, that I can hardly get on at all
with it, and there’s a new kind of Greek verses, too, and I don’t make
out from the book how to manage them. Norman showed me on Saturday, but
mine won’t be right. When I’ve got over that, I shan’t be so hurried.”

“But Norman will go on to something harder, I suppose.”

“I dare say I shall be able to do it.”

“Perhaps you might, but I want you to consider if you are not working
beyond what can be good for anybody. You see Norman is much cleverer
than most boys, and you are a year younger; and besides doing all his
work at the head of the school, his whole business of the day, you have
Cocksmoor to attend to, and your own lessons, besides reading all the
books that come into the house. Now isn’t that more than is reasonable
to expect any head and hands to do properly?”

“But if I can do it?”

“But can you, dear Ethel? Aren’t you always racing from one thing to
another, doing them by halves, feeling hunted, and then growing vexed?”

“I know I have been cross lately,” said Ethel, “but it’s the being so
bothered.”

“And why are you bothered? Isn’t it that you undertake too much?”

“What would you have me do?” said Ethel, in an injured, unconvinced
voice. “Not give up my children?”

“No,” said Margaret; “but don’t think me very unkind if I say, suppose
you left off trying to keep up with Norman.”

“Oh, Margaret! Margaret!” and her eyes filled with tears. “We have
hardly missed doing the same every day since the first Latin grammar was
put into his hands!”

“I know it would be very hard,” said Margaret; but Ethel continued, in a
piteous tone, a little sentimental, “From hie haec hoc up to Alcaics and
beta Thukididou we have gone on together, and I can’t bear to give it
up. I’m sure I can--”

“Stop, Ethel, I really doubt whether you can. Do you know that Norman
was telling papa the other day that it was very odd Dr. Hoxton gave them
such easy lessons.”

Ethel looked very much mortified.

“You see,” said Margaret kindly, “we all know that men have more power
than women, and I suppose the time has come for Norman to pass beyond
you. He would not be cleverer than any one, if he could not do more than
a girl at home.”

“He has so much more time for it,” said Ethel.

“That’s the very thing. Now consider, Ethel. His work, after he goes to
Oxford, will be doing his very utmost--and you know what an utmost that
is. If you could keep up with him at all, you must give your whole time
and thoughts to it, and when you had done so--if you could get all
the honours in the University--what would it come to? You can’t take a
first-class.”

“I don’t want one,” said Ethel; “I only can’t bear not to do as Norman
does, and I like Greek so much.”

“And for that would you give up being a useful, steady daughter and
sister at home? The sort of woman that dear mamma wished to make you,
and a comfort to papa.”

Ethel was silent, and large tears were gathering.

“You own that that is the first thing?”

“Yes,” said Ethel faintly.

“And that it is what you fail in most?”

“Yes.”

“Then, Ethel dearest, when you made up your mind to Cocksmoor, you knew
those things could not be done without a sacrifice?”

“Yes, but I didn’t think it would be this.”

Margaret was wise enough not to press her, and she sat down and sighed
pitifully. Presently she said, “Margaret, if you would only let me leave
off that stupid old French, and horrid dull reading with Miss Winter,
I should have plenty of time for everything; and what does one learn by
hearing Mary read poetry she can’t understand?”

“You work, don’t you? But indeed, Ethel, don’t say that I can let you
leave off anything. I don’t feel as if I had that authority. If it be
done at all, it must be by papa’s consent, and if you wish me to ask
him about it, I will, only I think it would vex Miss Winter; and I don’t
think dear mamma would have liked Greek and Cocksmoor to swallow up all
the little common ladylike things.”

Ethel made two or three great gulps; “Margaret, must I give up
everything, and forget all my Latin and Greek?”

“I should think that would be a great pity,” said Margaret. “If you were
to give up the verse-making, and the trying to do as much as Norman, and
fix some time in the day--half an hour, perhaps--for your Greek, I think
it might do very well.”

“Thank you,” said Ethel, much relieved; “I’m glad you don’t want me to
leave it all off. I hope Norman won’t be vexed,” she added, looking a
little melancholy.

But Norman had not by any means the sort of sentiment on the subject
that she had. “Of course, you know, Ethel,” said he, “it must have come
to this some time or other, and if you find those verses too hard, and
that they take up too much of your time, you had better give them up.”

Ethel did not like anything to be said to be too hard for her, and was
very near pleading she only wanted time, but some recollection came
across her, and presently she said, “I suppose it is a wrong sort of
ambition to want to learn more, in one’s own way, when one is told it
is not good for one. I was just going to say I hated being a woman,
and having these tiresome little trifles--my duty--instead of learning,
which is yours, Norman.”

“I’m glad you did not,” said Norman, “for it would have been very silly
of you; and I assure you, Ethel, it is really time for you to stop, or
you would get into a regular learned lady, and be good for nothing. I
don’t mean that knowing more than other people would make you so, but
minding nothing else would.”

This argument from Norman himself did much to reconcile Ethel’s mind to
the sacrifice she had made; and when she went to bed, she tried to work
out the question in her own mind, whether her eagerness for classical
learning was a wrong sort of ambition, to know what other girls did not,
and whether it was right to crave for more knowledge than was thought
advisable for her. She only bewildered herself, and went to sleep before
she had settled anything, but that she knew she must make all give way
to papa first, and, secondly, to Cocksmoor.

Meanwhile Margaret had told her father all that had passed. He was
only surprised to hear that Ethel had kept up so long with Norman, and
thought that it was quite right that she should not undertake so much,
agreeing more entirely than Margaret had expected with Miss Winter’s
view, that it would be hurtful to body as well as mind.

“It is perfectly ridiculous to think of her attempting it!” he said. “I
am glad you have put a stop to it.”

“I am glad I have,” said Margaret; “and dear Ethel behaved so very well.
If she had resisted, it would have puzzled me very much, I must have
asked you to settle it. But it is very odd, papa, Ethel is the one of
them all who treats me most as if I had real authority over her; she
lets me scold her, asks my leave, never seems to recollect for a moment
how little older I am, and how much cleverer she is. I am sure I
never should have submitted so readily. And that always makes it more
difficult to me to direct her; I don’t like to take upon me with her,
because it seems wrong to have her obeying me as if she were a mere
child.”

“She is a fine creature,” said Dr. May emphatically. “It just shows the
fact, the higher the mind the readier the submission. But you don’t mean
that you have any difficulty with the others?”

“Oh, no, no. Flora never could need any interference, especially from
me, and Mary is a thorough good girl. I only meant that Ethel lays
herself out to be ruled in quite a remarkable way. I am sure, though she
does love learning, her real love is for goodness and for you, papa.”

Ethel would have thought her sacrifice well paid for, had she seen her
father’s look of mournful pleasure.



CHAPTER XIX.



     O ruthful scene! when from a nook obscure,
     His little sister doth his peril see,
     All playful as she sate, she grows demure,
     She finds full soon her wonted spirits flee,
     She meditates a prayer to set him free.
                                          SHENSTONE.


The setting sun shone into the great west window of the school at
Stoneborough, on its bare walls, the masters’ desks, the forms polished
with use, and the square, inky, hacked and hewed chests, carved with the
names of many generations of boys.

About six or eight little boys were clearing away the books or papers
that they, or those who owned them as fags, had left astray, and a good
deal of talk and laughing was going on among them. “Ha!” exclaimed one,
“here has Harrison left his book behind him that he was showing us the
gladiators in!” and, standing by the third master’s desk, he turned
over a page or two of Smith’s ‘Antiquities’, exclaiming, “It is full of
pictures--here’s an old man blowing the bellows--”

“Let me see!” cried Tom May, precipitating himself across the benches
and over the desk, with so little caution, that there was an outcry;
and, to his horror, he beheld the ink spilled over Mr. Harrison’s book,
while, “There, August! you’ve been and done it!” “You’ll catch it!”
 resounded on all sides.

“What good will staring with your mouth open do!” exclaimed Edward
Anderson, the eldest present. “Here! a bit of blotting-paper this
moment!”

Tom, dreadfully frightened, handed a sheet torn from an old paper-case
that he had inherited from Harry, saying despairingly, “It won’t take it
out, will it?”

“No, little stupid head, but don’t you see, I’m stopping it from running
down the edges, or soaking in. He won’t be the wiser till he opens it
again at that place.”

“When he does, he will,” said the bewildered Tom.

“Let him. It won’t tell tales.”

“He’s coming!” cried another boy, “he is close at the door.”

Anderson hastily shut the book over the blotting-paper, which he did not
venture to retain in his hand, dragged Tom down from the desk, and
was apparently entirely occupied with arranging his own box, when Mr.
Harrison came in. Tom crouched behind the raised lid, quaking in every
limb, conscious he ought to confess, but destitute of resolution to do
so, and, in a perfect agony as the master went to his desk, took up the
book, and carried it away, so unconscious, that Larkins, a great wag,
only waited till his back was turned, to exclaim, “Ha! old fellow, you
don’t know what you’ve got there!”

“Hallo! May junior, will you never leave off staring? you won’t see a
bit farther for it,” said Edward Anderson, shaking him by the ear; “come
to your senses, and know your friends.”

“He’ll open it!” gasped Tom.

“So he will, but I’d bet ninety to one, it is not at that page, or if
he does, it won’t tell tales, unless, indeed, he happened to see you
standing there, crouching and shaking. That’s the right way to bring him
upon you.”

“But suppose he opens it, and knows who was in school?”

“What then? D’ye think we can’t stand by each other, and keep our own
counsel?”

“But the blotting-paper--suppose he knows that!”

There was a laugh all round at this, “as if Harrison knew everyone’s
blotting-paper!”

“Yes, but Harry used to write his name all over his--see--and draw Union
Jacks on it.”

“If he did, the date is not there. Do you think the ink is going to say
March 2nd? Why should not July have done it last half?”

“July would have told if he had,” said Larkins. “That’s no go.”

“Ay! That’s the way--the Mays are all like girls--can’t keep a
secret--not one of them. There, I’ve done more for you than ever one of
them would have done--own it--and he strode up to Tom, and grasped his
wrists, to force the confession from him.”

“But--but he’ll ask when he finds it out--”

“Let him. We know nothing about it. Don’t be coming the good boy over
me like your brothers. That won’t do--I know whose eyes are not too
short-sighted to read upside down.”

Tom shrank and looked abject, clinging to the hope that Mr. Harrison
would not open the book for weeks, months, or years.

But the next morning his heart died within him, when he beheld the
unfortunate piece of blotting-paper, displayed by Mr. Harrison, with the
inquiry whether any one knew to whom it belonged, and what made it worse
was, that his sight would not reach far enough to assure him whether
Harry’s name was on it, and he dreaded that Norman or Hector Ernescliffe
should recognise the nautical designs. However, both let it pass, and
no one through the whole school attempted to identify it. One danger was
past, but the next minute Mr. Harrison opened his Smith’s ‘Antiquities’
at the page where stood the black witness. Tom gazed round in despair,
he could not see his brother’s face, but Edward Anderson, from the
second form, returned him a glance of contemptuous encouragement.

“This book,” said Mr. Harrison, “was left in school for a quarter of an
hour yesterday. When I opened it again, it was in this condition. Do any
of you know how it happened?” A silence, and he continued, “Who was in
school at this time? Anderson junior, can you tell me anything of it?”

“No, sir.”

“You know nothing of it?”

“No, sir.”

Cold chills crept over Tom, as Mr. Harrison looked round to refresh his
memory. “Larkins, do you know how this happened?”

“No, sir,” said Larkins boldly, satisfying his conscience because he had
not seen the manner of the overthrow.

“Ernescliffe, were you there?”

“No, sir.”

Tom’s timid heart fluttered in dim hope that he had been overlooked, as
Mr. Harrison paused, then said, “Remember, it is concealment that is the
evil, not the damage to the book. I shall have a good opinion ever after
of a boy honest enough to confess, May junior, I saw you,” he added,
hopefully and kindly. “Don’t be afraid to speak out if you did meet with
a mischance.”

Tom coloured and turned pale. Anderson and Larkins grimaced at him, to
remind him that they had told untruths for his sake, and that he must
not betray them. It was the justification he wanted; he was relieved
to fancy himself obliged to tell the direct falsehood, for which a long
course of petty acted deceits had paved the way, for he was in deadly
terror of the effects of truth.

“No, sir.” He could hardly believe he had said the words, or that they
would be so readily accepted, for Mr. Harrison had only the impression
that he knew who the guilty person was, and would not tell, and,
therefore, put no more questions to him, but, after a few more vain
inquiries, was baffled, and gave up the investigation.

Tom thought he should have been very unhappy; he had always heard that
deceit was a heavy burden, and would give continual stings, but he was
surprised to find himself very comfortable on the whole, and able to
dismiss repentance as well as terror. His many underhand ways with
Richard had taken away the tenderness of his conscience, though his
knowledge of what was right was clear; and he was quite ready to accept
the feeling prevalent at Stoneborough, that truth was not made for
schoolboys.

The axiom was prevalent, but not universal, and parties were
running high. Norman May, who as head boy had, in play-hours, the
responsibility, and almost the authority of a master, had taken higher
ground than was usual even with the well-disposed; and felt it his duty
to check abuses and malpractices that his predecessors had allowed. His
friend, Cheviot, and the right-minded set, maintained his authority
with all their might; but Harvey Anderson regarded his interference as
vexatious, always took the part of the offenders, and opposed him in
every possible way, thus gathering as his adherents not only the idle
and mischievous, but the weak and mediocre, and, among this set,
there was a positive bitterness of feeling to May, and all whom they
considered as belonging to him.

In shielding Tom May and leading him to deceive, the younger Anderson
had gained a conquest--in him the Mays had fallen from that pinnacle
of truth which was a standing reproach to the average Stoneborough
code--and, from that time, he was under the especial patronage of his
friend. He was taught the most ingenious arts of saying a lesson without
learning it, and of showing up other people’s tasks; whispers and signs
were directed to him to help him out of difficulties, and he was sought
out and put forward whenever a forbidden pleasure was to be enjoyed by
stealth. These were his stimulants under a heavy bondage; he was teased
and frightened, bullied and tormented, whenever it was the fancy of Ned
Anderson and his associates to make his timidity their sport; he
was scorned and ill-treated, and driven, by bodily terror, into acts
alarming to his conscience, dangerous in their consequences, and painful
in the perpetration; and yet, among all his sufferings, the little
coward dreaded nothing so much as truth, though it would have set him
free at once from this wretched tyranny.

Excepting on holidays, and at hours when the town-boys were allowed to
go home, there were strict rules confining all except the sixth form
to their bounds, consisting of two large courts, and an extensive field
bordered by the river and the road. On the opposite side of the
bridge was a turnpike gate, where the keeper exposed stalls of various
eatables, very popular among the boys, chiefly because they were not
allowed to deal there. Ginger-beer could also be procured, and
there were suspicions that the bottles so called contained something
contraband.

“August,” said Norman, as they were coming home from school one evening,
“did I see you coming over the bridge?”

Tom would not answer.

“So you have been at Ballhatchet’s gate? I can’t think what could take
you there. If you want tarts, I am sure poor old Betty’s are just as
good. What made you go there?”

“Nothing,” said Tom.

“Well, mind you don’t do it again, or I shall have to take you in hand,
which I shall be very sorry to do. That man is a regular bad character,
and neither my father nor Dr. Hoxton would have one of us have anything
to do with him, as you know.”

Tom was in hopes it was over, but Norman went on. “I am afraid you are
getting into a bad way. Why won’t you mind what I have told you plenty
of times before, that no good comes of going after Ned Anderson, and
Axworthy, and that set. What were you doing with them to-day?” But,
receiving no answer, he went on. “You always sulk when I speak to you.
I suppose you think I have no right to row you, but I do it to save you
from worse. You can’t never be found out.” This startled Tom, but Norman
had no suspicion. “If you go on, you will get into some awful scrape,
and papa will be grieved. I would not, for all the world, have him put
out of heart about you. Think of him, Tom, and try to keep straight.”
 Tom would say nothing, only reflecting that his elder brother was harder
upon him than any one else would be, and Norman grew warmer. “If you let
Anderson junior get hold of you, and teach you his tricks, you’ll
never be good for anything. He seems good-natured now, but he will turn
against you, as he did with Harry. I know how it is, and you had better
take my word, and trust to me and straightforwardness, when you get into
a mess.”

“I’m in no scrape,” said Tom, so doggedly, that Norman lost patience,
and spoke with more displeasure. “You will be then, if you go out of
bounds, and run Anderson’s errands, and shirk work. You’d better take
care. It is my place to keep order, and I can’t let you off for being my
brother; so remember, if I catch you going to Ballhatchet’s again, you
may make sure of a licking.”

So the warning closed--Tom more alarmed at the aspect of right, which he
fancied terrific, and Norman with some compunction at having lost temper
and threatened, when he meant to have gained him by kindness.

Norman recollected his threat with a qualm of dismay when, at the end of
the week, as he was returning from a walk with Cheviot, Tom darted out
of the gate-house. He was flying across the bridge, with something under
his arm, when Norman laid a detaining hand on his collar, making a sign
at the same time to Cheviot to leave them.

“What are you doing here?” said Norman sternly, marching Tom into the
field. “So you’ve been there again. What’s that under your jacket?”

“Only--only what I was sent for,” and he tried to squeeze it under the
flap.

“What is it? a bottle--”

“Only--only a bottle of ink.”

Norman seized it, and gave Tom a fierce angry shake, but the indignation
was mixed with sorrow. “Oh, Tom, Tom, these fellows have brought you a
pretty pass. Who would have thought of such a thing from us!”

Tom cowered, but felt only terror.

“Speak truth,” said Norman, ready to shake it out of him; “is this for
Anderson junior?”

Under those eyes, flashing with generous, sorrowful wrath, he dared
not utter another falsehood, but Anderson’s threats chained him, and he
preferred his thraldom to throwing himself on the mercy of his brother
who loved him. He would not speak.

“I am glad it is not for yourself,” said Norman; “but do you remember
what I said, in case I found you there again?”

“Oh! don’t, don’t!” cried the boy. “I would never have gone if they had
not made me.”

“Made you?” said Norman, disdainfully, “how?”

“They would have thrashed me--they pinched my fingers in the box--they
pulled my ears--oh, don’t--”

“Poor little fellow!” said Norman; “but it is your own fault. If you
won’t keep with me, or Ernescliffe, of course they will bully you. But
I must not let you off--I must keep my word!” Tom cried, sobbed, and
implored in vain. “I can’t help it,” he said, “and now, don’t howl! I
had rather no one knew it. It will soon be over. I never thought to have
this to do to one of us.” Tom roared and struggled, till, releasing
him, he said, “There, that will do. Stop bellowing, I was obliged, and I
can’t have hurt you much, have I?” he added more kindly, while Tom went
on crying, and turning from him. “It is nothing to care about, I am
sure; look up;” and he pulled down his hands. “Say you are sorry--speak
the truth--keep with me, and no one shall hurt you again.”

Very different this from Tom’s chosen associates; but he was still
obdurate, sullen, and angry, and would not speak, nor open his heart to
those kind words. After one more, “I could not help it, Tom, you’ve no
business to be sulky,” Norman took up the bottle, opened it, smelled,
and tasted, and was about to throw it into the river; when Tom
exclaimed, “Oh, don’t, don’t! what will they do to me? give it to me!”

“Did they give you the money to pay for it?”

“Yes; let me have it.”

“How much was it?”

“Fourpence.”

“I’ll settle that,” and the bottle splashed in the river. “Now then,
Tom, don’t brood on it any more. Here’s a chance for you of getting quit
of their errands. If you will keep in my sight. I’ll take care no one
bullies you, and you may still leave off these disgraceful tricks, and
do well.”

But Tom’s evil spirit whispered that Norman had beaten him, that he
should never have any diversion again, and that Anderson would punish
him; and there was a sort of satisfaction in seeing that his perverse
silence really distressed his brother.

“If you will go on in this way, I can’t help it, but you’ll be sorry
some day,” said Norman, and he walked thoughtfully on, looking back to
see whether Tom was following, as he did slowly, meditating on the way
how he should avert his tyrant’s displeasure.

Norman stood for a moment at the door, surveying the court, then walked
up to a party of boys, and laid his hand on the shoulder of one, holding
a silver fourpence to him. “Anderson Junior,” said he, “there’s your
money. I am not going to let Stoneborough School be turned into a gin
palace. I give you notice, it is not to be. Now you are not to bully May
junior for telling me. He did not, I found him out.”

Leaving Anderson to himself he looked for Tom, but not seeing him,
he entered the cloister, for it was the hour when he was used to read
there, but he could not fix his mind. He went to the bench where he had
lain on the examination day, and kneeling on it, looked out on the green
grass where the graves were. “Mother! mother!” he murmured, “have I been
harsh to your poor little tender sickly boy? I couldn’t help it. Oh! if
you were but here! We are all going wrong! What shall I do? How should
Tom be kept from this evil?--it is ruining him! mean, false, cowardly,
sullen--all that is worst--and your son--oh! mother! and all I do only
makes him shrink more from me. It will break my father’s heart, and you
will not be there to comfort him.”

Norman covered his face with his hands, and a fit of bitter grief
came over him. But his sorrow was now not what it had been before his
father’s resignation had tempered it, and soon it turned to prayer,
resolution, and hope.

He would try again to reason quietly with him, when the alarm of
detection and irritation should have gone off, and he sought for the
occasion; but, alas! Tom had learned to look on all reproof as “rowing,”
 and considered it as an additional injury from a brother, who, according
to the Anderson view, should have connived at his offences, and turned
a deafened ear and dogged countenance to all he said. The foolish boy
sought after the Andersons still more, and Norman became more dispirited
about him, greatly missing Harry, that constant companion and follower,
who would have shared his perplexities, and removed half of them, in his
own part of the school, by the influence of his high, courageous, and
truthful spirit.

In the meantime Richard was studying hard at home, with greater
hopefulness and vigour than he had ever thrown into his work before.
“Suppose,” Ethel had once said to him, “that when you are a clergyman,
you could be Curate of Cocksmoor, when there is a church there.”

“When?” said Richard, smiling at the presumption of the scheme, and
yet it formed itself into a sort of definite hope. Perhaps they might
persuade Mr. Ramsden to take him as a curate with a view to Cocksmoor,
and this prospect, vague as it was, gave an object and hope to his
studies. Every one thought the delay of his examination favourable
to him, and he now read with a determination to succeed. Dr. May had
offered to let him read with Mr. Harrison but Richard thought he was
getting on pretty well, with the help Norman gave him; for it appeared
that ever since Norman’s return from London, he had been assisting
Richard, who was not above being taught by a younger brother; while, on
the other hand, Norman, much struck by his humility, would not for the
world have published that he was fit to act as his elder’s tutor.

One evening, when the two boys came in from school, Tom gave a great
start, and, pulling Mary by the sleeve, whispered, “How came that book
here?”

“It is Mr. Harrison’s.”

“Yes, I know, but how came it here?”

“Richard borrowed it to look out something, and Ethel brought it down.”

A little reassured, Tom took up an exciting story-book, and ensconced
himself by the fire, but his agonies were great during the ensuing
conversation.

“Norman,” Ethel was exclaiming in delight, “do you know this book?”

“Smith? Yes, it is in the school library.”

“There’s everything in it that one wants, I do believe. Here is such an
account of ancient galleys--I never knew how they managed their banks of
rowers before--oh! and the Greek houses--look at the pictures too.”

“Some of them are the same as Mr. Rivers’s gems,” said Norman, standing
behind her, and turning the leaves, in search of a favourite.

“Oh! what did I see? is that ink?” said Flora, from the opposite side of
the table.

“Yes, didn’t you hear?” said Ethel. “Mr. Harrison told Ritchie when he
borrowed it, that unluckily one day this spring he left it in school,
and some of the boys must have upset an inkstand over it; but, though he
asked them all round, each denied it. How I should hate for such things
to happen! and it was a prize-book too.”

While Ethel spoke she opened the marked page, to show the extent of the
calamity, and as she did so Mary exclaimed, “Dear me! how funny! why,
how did Harry’s blotting-paper get in there?”

Tom shrank into nothing, set his teeth, and pinched his fingers, ready
to wish they were on Mary’s throat, more especially as the words made
some sensation. Richard and Margaret exchanged looks, and their father,
who had been reading, sharply raised his eyes and said, “Harry’s
blotting-paper! How do you know that, Mary?”

“It is Harry’s,” said she, all unconscious, “because of that anchor up
in one corner, and the Union Jack in the other. Don’t you see, Ethel?”

“Yes,” said Ethel; “nobody drew that but Harry.”

“Ay, and there are his buttons,” said Mary, much amused and delighted
with these relics of her beloved Harry. “Don’t you remember one day
last holidays, papa desired Harry to write and ask Mr. Ernescliffe what
clothes he ought to have for the naval school, and all the time he
was writing the letter, he was drawing sailors’ buttons on his
blotting-paper. I wonder how ever it got into Mr. Harrison’s book!”

Poor Mary’s honest wits did not jump to a conclusion quite so fast as
other people’s, and she little knew what she was doing when, as a great
discovery, she exclaimed, “I know! Harry gave his paper-case to Tom.
That’s the way it got to school!”

“Tom!” exclaimed his father, suddenly and angrily, “where are you
going?”

“To bed,” muttered the miserable Tom, twisting his hands. A dead silence
of consternation fell on all the room. Mary gazed from one to the other,
mystified at the effect of her words, frightened at her father’s loud
voice, and at Tom’s trembling confusion. The stillness lasted for
some moments, and was first broken by Flora, as if she had caught at
a probability. “Some one might have used the first blotting-paper that
came to hand.”

“Come here, Tom,” said the doctor, in a voice not loud, but trembling
with anxiety; then laying his hand on his shoulder, “Look in my face.”
 Tom hung his head, and his father put his hand under his chin, and
raised the pale terrified face. “Don’t be afraid to tell us the meaning
of this. If any of your friends have done it, we will keep your secret.
Look up, and speak out. How did your blotting-paper come there?”

Tom had been attempting his former system of silent sullenness, but
there was anger at Mary, and fear of his father to agitate him, and in
his impatient despair at thus being held and questioned, he burst out
into a violent fit of crying.

“I can’t have you roaring here to distress Margaret,” said Dr. May.
“Come into the study with me.”

But Tom, who seemed fairly out of himself, would not stir, and a
screaming and kicking scene took place, before he was carried into the
study by his brothers, and there left with his father. Mary, meantime,
dreadfully alarmed, and perceiving that, in some way, she was the cause,
had thrown herself upon Margaret, sobbing inconsolably, as she begged to
know what was the matter, and why papa was angry with Tom--had she made
him so?

Margaret caressed and soothed her to the best of her ability, trying
to persuade her that, if Tom had done wrong, it was better for him it
should be known, and assuring her that no one could think her unkind,
nor a tell-tale; then dismissing her to bed, and Mary was not unwilling
to go, for she could not bear to meet Tom again, only begging in a
whisper to Ethel, “that, if dear Tom had not done it, she would come and
tell her.”

“I am afraid there is no hope of that!” sighed Ethel, as the door closed
on Mary.

“After all,” said Flora, “he has not said anything. If he has only done
it, and not confessed, that is not so bad--it is only the usual fashion
of boys.”

“Has he been asked? Did he deny it?” said Ethel, looking in Norman’s
face, as if she hardly ventured to put the question, and she only
received sorrowful signs as answers. At the same moment Dr. May called
him. No one spoke. Margaret rested her head on the sofa, and looked
very mournful, Richard stood by the fire without moving limb or feature,
Flora worked fast, and Ethel leaned back on an arm-chair, biting the end
of a paper-knife.

The doctor and Norman came back together. “I have sent him up to bed,”
 said Dr. May. “I must take him to Harrison to-morrow morning. It is a
terrible business!”

“Has he confessed it?” said Margaret.

“I can hardly call such a thing a confession--I wormed it out bit by
bit--I could not tell whether he was telling truth or not, till I called
Norman in.”

“But he has not said anything more untrue--”

“Yes, he has though!” said Dr. May indignantly. “He said Ned Anderson
put the paper there, and had been taking up the ink with it--‘twas
his doing--then when I came to cross-examine him I found that though
Anderson did take up the ink, it was Tom himself who knocked it down--I
never heard anything like it--I never could have believed it!”

“It must all be Ned Anderson’s doing!” cried Flora. “They are enough to
spoil anybody.”

“I am afraid they have done him a great deal of harm,” said Norman.

“And what have you been about all the time?” exclaimed the doctor, too
keenly grieved to be just. “I should have thought that with you at the
head of the school, the child might have been kept out of mischief; but
there have you been going your own way, and leaving him to be ruined by
the very worst set of boys!”

Norman’s colour rose with the extreme pain this unjust accusation caused
him, and his voice, though low, was not without irritation, “I have
tried. I have not done as much as I ought, perhaps, but--”

“No, I think not, indeed!” interrupted his father. “Sending a boy there,
brought up as he had been, without the least tendency to deceit--”

Here no one could see Norman’s burning cheeks, and brow bent downwards
in the effort to keep back an indignant reply, without bursting out in
exculpation; and Richard looked up, while the three sisters all at once
began, “Oh, no, no, papa”--and left Margaret to finish--“Poor little Tom
had not always been quite sincere.”

“Indeed! and why was I left to send him to school without knowing it?
The place of all others to foster deceit.”

“It was my fault, papa,” said Margaret.

“And mine,” put in Richard; and she continued, “Ethel told us we were
very wrong, and I wish we had followed her advice. It was by far the
best, but we were afraid of vexing you.”

“Every one seems to have been combined to hide what they ought not!”
 said Dr. May, though speaking to her much more softly than to Norman, to
whom he turned angrily again. “Pray, how came you not to identify this
paper?”

“I did not know it,” said Norman, speaking with difficulty. “He ought
never to have been sent to school,” said the doctor--“that tendency was
the very worst beginning.”

“It was a great pity; I was very wrong,” said Margaret, in great
concern.

“I did not mean to blame you, my dear,” said her father affectionately.
“I know you only meant to act for the best, but--” and he put his hand
over his face, and then came the sighing groan, which pained Margaret
ten thousand times more than reproaches, and which, in an instant,
dispersed all the indignation burning within Norman, though the pain
remained at his father’s thinking him guilty of neglect, but he did not
like, at that moment, to speak in self-justification.

After a short space, Dr. May desired to hear what were the deceptions
to which Margaret had alluded, and made Norman tell what he knew of the
affair of the blotted book. Ethel spoke hopefully when she had heard it.
“Well, do you know, I think he will do better now. You see, Edward made
him conceal it, and he has been going on with it on his mind, and in
that boy’s power ever since; but now it is cleared up and confessed, he
will begin afresh and do better. Don’t you think so, Norman? don’t you,
papa?”

“I should have more hope if I had seen anything like confession or
repentance,” said Dr. May; “but that provoked me more than all--I
could only perceive that he was sorry to be found out, and afraid of
punishment.”

“Perhaps, when he has recovered the first fright, he will come to his
better self,” said Margaret; for she guessed, what indeed was the case,
that the doctor’s anger on this first shock of the discovery of the
fault he most abhorred had been so great, that a fearful cowering spirit
would be completely overwhelmed; and, as there had been no sorrow shown
for the fault, there had been none of that softening and relenting that
won so much love and confidence.

Every one felt that talking only made them more unhappy, they tried to
return to their occupations, and so passed the time till night. Then, as
Richard was carrying Margaret upstairs, Norman lingered to say, “Papa, I
am very sorry you should think I neglected Tom. I dare say I might have
done better for him, but, indeed, I have tried.”

“I am sure you have, Norman. I spoke hastily, my boy--you will not think
more of it. When a thing like this comes on a man, he hardly knows what
he says.”

“If Harry were here,” said Norman, anxious to turn from the real loss
and grief, as well as to talk away that feeling of being apologised to,
“it would all do better. He would make a link with Tom, but I have so
little, naturally, to do with the second form, that it is not easy to
keep him in sight.”

“Yes, yes, I know that very well. It is no one’s fault but my own; I
should not have sent him there without knowing him better. But you see
how it is, Norman--I have trusted to her, till I have grown neglectful,
and it is well if it is not the ruin of him!”

“Perhaps he will take a turn, as Ethel says,” answered Norman
cheerfully. “Good-night, papa.”

“I have a blessing to be thankful for in you, at least,” murmured the
doctor to himself. “What other young fellow of that age and spirit would
have borne so patiently with my injustice? Not I, I am sure! a fine
father I show myself to these poor children--neglect, helplessness,
temper--Oh, Maggie!”

Margaret had so bad a headache the next day that she could not come
downstairs. The punishment was, they heard, a flogging at the time, and
an imposition so long, that it was likely to occupy a large portion
of the play-hours till the end of the half-year. His father said, and
Norman silently agreed, “a very good thing, it will keep him out of
mischief;” but Margaret only wished she could learn it for him, and took
upon herself all the blame from beginning to end. She said little to her
father, for it distressed him to see her grieved; he desired her not to
dwell on the subject, caressed her, called her his comfort and support,
and did all he could to console her, but it was beyond his power; her
sisters, by listening to her, only made her worse. “Dear, dear papa,”
 she exclaimed, “how kind he is! But he can never depend upon me again--I
have been the ruin of my poor little Tom.”

“Well,” said Richard quietly, “I can’t see why you should put yourself
into such a state about it.”

This took Margaret by surprise. “Have not I done very wrong, and perhaps
hurt Tom for life?”

“I hope not,” said Richard. “You and I made a mistake, but it does not
follow that Tom would have kept out of this scrape, if we had told my
father our notion.”

“It would not have been on my conscience,” said Margaret--“he would not
have sent him to school.”

“I don’t know that,” said Richard. “At any rate we meant to do right,
and only made a mistake. It was unfortunate, but I can’t tell why you go
and make yourself ill, by fancying it worse than it is. The boy has
done very wrong, but people get cured of such things in time, and it is
nonsense to fret as if he were not a mere child of eight years old. You
did not teach him deceit.”

“No, but I concealed it--papa is disappointed, when he thought he could
trust me.”

“Well! I suppose no one could expect never to make mistakes,” said
Richard, in his sober tone.

“Self-sufficiency!” exclaimed Margaret, “that has been the root of all!
Do you know, Ritchie, I believe I was expecting that I could always
judge rightly.”

“You generally do,” said Richard; “no one else could do half what you
do.”

“So you have said, papa, and all of you, till you have spoilt me. I have
thought it myself, Ritchie.”

“It is true,” said Richard.

“But then,” said Margaret, “I have grown to think much of it, and not
like to be interfered with. I thought I could manage by myself, and when
I said I would not worry papa, it was half because I liked the doing
and settling all about the children myself. Oh! if it could have been
visited in any way but by poor Tom’s faults!”

“Well,” said Richard, “if you felt so, it was a pity, though I never
should have guessed it. But you see you will never feel so again, and as
Tom is only one, and there are nine to govern, it is all for the best.”

His deliberate common-sense made her laugh a little, and she owned he
might be right. “It is a good lesson against my love of being first. But
indeed it is difficult--papa can so little bear to be harassed.”

“He could not at first, but now he is strong and well, it is different.”

“He looks terribly thin and worn still,” sighed Margaret, “so much
older!”

“Ay, I think he will never get back his young looks; but except his weak
arm, he is quite well.”

“And then his--his quick way of speaking may do harm.”

“Yes, that was what I feared for Tom,” said Richard, “and there was the
mistake. I see it now. My father always is right in the main, though
he is apt to frighten one at first, and it is what ought to be that he
should rule his own house. But now, Margaret, it is silly to worry about
it any more--let me fetch baby, and don’t think of it.”

And Margaret allowed his reasonableness, and let herself be comforted.
After all, Richard’s solid soberness had more influence over her than
anything else.



CHAPTER XX.



     Think how simple things and lowly,
       Have a part in Nature’s plan,
     How the great hath small beginnings,
       And the child will be a man.
     Little efforts work great actions,
       Lessons in our childhood taught
     Mould the spirit of that temper
       Whereby blessed deeds are wrought.
     Cherish, then, the gifts of childhood,
       Use them gently, guard them well,
     For their future growth and greatness
       Who can measure, who can tell!
                                    MORAL SONGS.


The first shock of Tom’s misdemeanour passed away, though it still gave
many an anxious thought to such of the family as felt responsible for
him.

The girls were busily engaged in preparing an Easter feast for
Cocksmoor. Mr. Wilmot was to examine the scholars, and buns and tea were
provided, in addition to which Ethel designed to make a present to every
one--a great task, considering that the Cocksmoor funds were reserved
for absolute necessaries, and were at a very low ebb. So that
twenty-five gifts were to be composed out of nothing!

There was a grand turn-out of drawers of rubbish, all over Margaret,
raising such a cloud of dust as nearly choked her. What cannot rubbish
and willing hands effect! Envelopes and wafer boxes were ornamented with
pictures, bags, needle-cases, and pincushions, beautiful balls, tippets,
both of list and gay print, and even sun-bonnets and pinafores were
contrived, to the supreme importance and delight of Mary and Blanche,
who found it as good or better than play, and ranged their performances
in rows, till the room looked like a bazaar. To provide for boys was
more difficult; but Richard mended old toys, and repaired the frames of
slates, and Norman’s contribution of half-a-crown bought mugs, marbles,
and penny knives, and there were even hopes that something would remain
for bodkins, to serve as nozzles to the bellows, which were the pride of
Blanche’s heart.

Never were Easter gifts the source of more pleasure to the givers,
especially when the nursery establishment met Dr. Hoxton near the
pastrycook’s shop, and he bestowed on Blanche a packet of variegated
sugar-plums, all of which she literally poured out at Ethel’s feet,
saying, “I don’t want them. Only let me have one for Aubrey, because he
is so little. All the rest are for the poor children at Cocksmoor.”

After this, Margaret declared that Blanche must be allowed to buy the
bodkin, and give her bellows to Jane Taylor, the only Cocksmoor child
she knew, and to whom she always destined in turn every gift that she
thought most successful.

So Blanche went with Flora to the toy-shop, and there fell in love with
a little writing-box, that so eclipsed the bellows, that she tried to
persuade Flora to buy it for Jane Taylor, to be kept till she could
write, and was much disappointed to hear that it was out of the
question. Just then a carriage stopped, and from it stepped the pretty
little figure of Meta Rivers.

“Oh! how do you do? How delightful to meet you! I was wondering if we
should! Little Blanche too!” kissing her, “and here’s Mrs. Larpent--Mrs.
Larpent--Miss Flora May. How is Miss May?”

This was all uttered in eager delight, and Flora, equally pleased,
answered the inquiries. “I hope you are not in a hurry,” proceeded Meta;
“I want your advice. You know all about schools, don’t you? I am come
to get some Easter presents for our children, and I am sure you can help
me.”

“Are the children little or big?” asked Flora.

“Oh! all sorts and sizes. I have some books for the great sensible ones,
and some stockings and shoes for the tiresome stupid ones, but there are
some dear little pets that I want nice things for. There--there’s a doll
that looks just fit for little curly-headed Annie Langley, don’t you
think so, Mrs. Larpent?”

The price of the doll was a shilling, and there were quickly added to
it, boxes of toys, elaborate bead-work pincushions, polished blue and
green boxes, the identical writing-case--even a small Noah’s ark. Meta
hardly asked the prices, which certainly were not extravagant, since she
had nearly twenty articles for little more than a pound.

“Papa has given me a benefaction of £5 for my school-gifts,” said she,
“is not that charming? I wish you would come to the feast. Now, do! It
is on Easter Tuesday. Won’t you come?”

“Thank you, I am afraid we can’t. I should like it very much.”

“You never will come to me. You have no compassion.”

“We should enjoy coming very much. Perhaps, in the summer, when Margaret
is better.”

“Could not she spare any of you? Well, I shall talk to papa, and make
him talk to Dr. May. Mrs. Larpent will tell you I always get my way.
Don’t I? Good-bye. See if I don’t.”

She departed, and Flora returned to her own business; but Blanche’s
interest was gone. Dazzled by the more lavish gifts, she looked
listlessly and disdainfully at bodkins, three for twopence. “I wish I
might have bought the writing-box for Janet Taylor! Why does not papa
give us money to get pretty things for the children?” said she, as soon
as they came out.

“Because he is not so rich as Miss Rivers’s papa.”

Flora was interrupted by meeting the Misses Anderson, who asked, “Was
not that carriage Mr. Rivers’s of Abbotstoke Grange?”

“Yes. We like Miss Rivers very much,” said Flora, resolved to show that
she was acquainted.

“Oh! do you visit her? I knew he was a patient of Dr. May.” Flora
thought there was no need to tell that the only call had been owing to
the rain, and continued, “She has been begging us to come to her school
feast, but I do not think we can manage it.”

“Oh, indeed! the Grange is very beautiful, is it not?”

“Very,” said Flora. “Good-morning.”

Flora had a little uneasiness in her conscience, but it was satisfactory
to have put down Louisa Anderson, who never could aspire to an intimacy
with Miss Rivers. Her little sister looked up--“Why, Flora, have you
seen the Grange?”

“No, but papa and Norman said so.”

And Blanche showed that the practical lesson on the pomps of the world
was not lost on her, by beginning to wish they were as rich as Miss
Rivers. Flora told her it was wrong to be discontented, but the answer
was, “I don’t want it for myself, I want to have pretty things to give
away.”

And her mind could not be turned from the thought by any attempt of her
sister. Even when they met Dr. May coming out of the hospital, Blanche
renewed the subject. She poured out the catalogue of Miss Rivers’s
purchases, making appealing attempts at looking under his spectacles
into his eyes, and he perfectly understood the tenor of her song.

“I have had a sight, too, of little maidens preparing Easter gifts,”
 said he.

“Have you, papa? What were they? Were they as nice as Miss Rivers’s?”

“I don’t know, but I thought they were the best sort of gifts, for I saw
that plenty of kind thought and clever contrivance went to them, ay, and
some little self-denial too.”

“Papa, you look as if you meant something; but ours are nothing but
nasty old rubbish.”

“Perhaps some fairy, or something better, has brought a wand to touch
the rubbish, Blanche; for I think that the maidens gave what would have
been worthless kept, but became precious as they gave it.”

“Do you mean the list of our flannel petticoats, papa, that Mary has
made into a tippet?”

“Perhaps I meant Mary’s own time and pains, as well as the tippet. Would
she have done much good with them otherwise?”

“No, she would have played. Oh! then you like the presents because they
are our own making? I never thought of that. Was that the reason you did
not give us any of your sovereigns to buy things with?”

“Perhaps I want my sovereigns for the eleven gaping mouths at home,
Blanche. But would not it be a pity to spoil your pleasure? You would
have lost all the chattering and laughing and buzzing I have heard round
Margaret of late, and I am quite sure Miss Rivers can hardly be as happy
in the gifts that cost her nothing, as one little girl who gives her
sugar-plums out of her own mouth!”

Blanche clasped her papa’s hand tight, and bounded five or six times.
“They are our presents, not yours,” said she. “Yes, I see. I like them
better now.”

“Ay, ay,” said the doctor. “Seeing Miss Rivers’s must not take the shine
out of yours, my little maids; for if you can’t give much, you have the
pleasure of giving the best of all, your labour of love.” Then thinking
on, and speaking to Flora, “The longer I live, the more I see the
blessing of being born in a state of life where you can’t both eat your
cake and give it away.”

Flora never was at ease in a conversation with her father; she could
not follow him, and did not like to show it. She answered aside from the
mark, “You would not have Blanche underrate Miss Rivers?”

“No, indeed, she is as good and sweet a creature as ever came across
me--most kind to Margaret, and loving to all the world. I like to see
one whom care and grief have never set their grip upon. Most likely she
would do like Ethel, if she had the opportunity, but she has not.”

“So she has not the same merit?” said Flora.

“We don’t talk of merit. I mean that the power of sacrifice is a great
advantage. The habit of small sacrifice that is made necessary in a
large family is a discipline that only-children are without: and so,
with regard to wealth, I think people are to be pitied who can give
extensively out of such abundance that they can hardly feel the want.”

“In effect, they can do much more,” said Flora.

“I am not sure of that. They can, of course, but it must be at the cost
of personal labour and sacrifice. I have often thought of the words,
‘Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.’ And ‘such
as we have’ it is that does the good; the gold, if we have it, but, at
any rate, the personal influence; the very proof of sincerity, shown by
the exertion and self-denial, tells far more than money lightly come by,
lightly spent.”

“Do you mean that a person who maintained a whole school would do less
good than one who taught one child?”

“If the rich person take no pains, and leave the school to take care
of itself--nay, if he only visit it now and then, and never let it
inconvenience him, has he the least security that the scholars are
obtaining any real good from it? If the teacher of the one child is
doing his utmost, he is working for himself at least.”

“Suppose we could build, say our church and school, on Cocksmoor at
once, and give our superintendence besides?”

“If things were ripe for it, the means would come. As it is, it is a
fine field for Ethel and Richard. I believe it will be the making of
them both. I am sure it is training Ethel, or making her train herself,
as we could never have done without it. But here, come in and see old
Mrs. Robins. A visit from you will cheer her up.”

Flora was glad of the interruption, the conversation was uncomfortable
to her. She almost fancied her papa was moralising for their good, but
that he carried it too far, for wealthy people assuredly had it in their
power to do great things, and might work as hard themselves; besides, it
was finer in them, there was so much eclat in their stooping to charity.
But her knowledge of his character would not allow her to think for a
moment that he could say aught but from the bottom of his heart--no, it
was one of his one-sided views that led him into paradox. “It was just
like papa,” and so there was no need to attend to it. It was one of
his enthusiasms, he was so very fond of Ethel, probably because of her
likeness to himself. Flora thought Ethel put almost too forward--they
all helped at Cocksmoor, and Ethel was very queer and unformed, and
could do nothing by herself. The only thing Flora did keep in her mind
was, that her papa had spoken to her, as if she were a woman compared
with Ethel.

Little Blanche made her report of the conversation to Mary, “that it was
so nice; and now she did not care about Miss Rivers’s fine presents at
all, for papa said what one made oneself was better to give than what
one bought. And papa said, too, that it was a good thing not to be rich,
for then one never felt the miss of what one gave away.”

Margaret, who overheard the exposition, thought it so much to Blanche’s
credit, that she could not help repeating it in the evening, after the
little girl was gone to bed, when Mr. Wilmot had come in to arrange
the programme for Cocksmoor. So the little fit of discontent and its
occasion, the meeting with Meta Rivers, were discussed.

“Yes,” said Mr. Wilmot, “those Riverses are open-handed. They really
seem to have so much money, that they don’t know what to do with it. My
brother is ready to complain that they spoil his parish. It is all meant
so well, and they are so kind-hearted and excellent, that it is a shame
to find fault, and I tell Charles and his wife that their grumbling at
such a squire proves them the most spoiled of all.”

“Indiscriminate liberality?” asked the doctor. “I should guess the old
gentleman to be rather soft!”

“That’s one thing. The parish is so small, and there are so few to
shower all this bounty on, and they are so utterly unused to country
people. They seem to think by laying out money they can get a show set
of peasants in rustic cottages, just as they have their fancy cows and
poultry--all that offends the eye out of the way.”

“Making it a matter of taste,” said the doctor.

“I’m sure I would,” said Norman aside to Ethel. “What’s the use of
getting oneself disgusted?”

“One must not begin with showing dislike,” began Ethel, “or--”

“Ay--you like rags, don’t you? but hush!”

“That is just what I should expect of Mr. Rivers,” said Dr. May; “he
has cultivated his taste till it is getting to be a disease, but his
daughter has no lack of wit.”

“Perhaps not. Charles and Mary are very fond of her, but she is entirely
inexperienced, and that is a serious thing with so much money to throw
about. She pays people for sending their children to school, and keeping
their houses tidy; and there is so much given away, that it is enough to
take away all independence and motive for exertion. The people speculate
on it, and take it as a right; by-and-by there will be a reaction--she
will find out she is imposed upon, take offence, and for the rest of her
life will go about saying how ungrateful the poor are!”

“It is a pity good people won’t have a little common-sense,” said Dr.
May. “But there’s something so bewitching in that little girl, that I
can’t give her up. I verily believe she will right herself.”

“I have scarcely seen her,” said Mr. Wilmot. “She has won papa’s heart
by her kindness to me,” said Margaret, smiling. “You see her beautiful
flowers? She seems to me made to lavish pleasures on others wherever she
goes.”

“Oh, yes, they are most kind-hearted,” said Mr. Wilmot. “It is only
the excess of a virtue that could be blamed in them, and they are most
valuable to the place. She will learn experience in time--I only hope
she will not be spoiled.”

Flora felt as if her father must be thinking his morning’s argument
confirmed, and she was annoyed. But she thought there was no reason why
wealth should not be used sensibly, and if she were at the head of such
an establishment as the Grange, her charity should be so well regulated
as to be the subject of general approbation.

She wanted to find some one else on her side, and, as they went to bed,
she said to Ethel, “Don’t you wish we had some of this superfluity of
the Riverses for poor Cocksmoor?”

“I wish we had anything for Cocksmoor! Here’s a great hole in my boot,
and nurse says I must get a new pair, that is seven-and-sixpence gone! I
shall never get the first pound made up towards building!”

“And pounds seem nothing to them,” said Flora.

“Yes, but if they don’t manage right with them! I’ll tell you, Flora,
I got into a fit of wishing the other day; it does seem such a grievous
pity to see those children running to waste for want of daily teaching,
and Jenny Hall had forgotten everything. I was vexed, and thought it was
all no use while we could not do more; but just then I began to look out
the texts Ritchie had marked for me to print for them to learn, and the
first was, ‘Be thou faithful over a few things, and I will make thee
ruler over many things,’ and then I thought perhaps we were learning to
be faithful with a few things. I am sure what they said to-night showed
it was lucky we have not more in our hands. I should do wrong for ever
with the little we have if it were not for Ritchie and Margaret. By the
time we have really got the money together for the school, perhaps I
shall have more sense.”

“Got the money! As if we ever could!”

“Oh, yes! we shall and will. It need not be more than £70, Ritchie says,
and I have twelve shillings for certain, put out from the money for hire
of the room, and the books and clothes, and, in spite of these horrid
boots, I shall save something out of this quarter, half-a-crown at
least. And I have another plan besides--”

But Flora had to go down to Margaret’s room to bed. Flora was always
ready to throw herself into the present, and liked to be the most
useful person in all that went forward, so that no thoughts of greatness
interfered with her enjoyment at Cocksmoor.

The house seemed wild that Easter Monday morning. Ethel, Mary, and
Blanche, flew about in all directions, and in spite of much undoing of
their own arrangements, finished their preparations so much too early,
that, at half-past eleven, Mary complained that she had nothing to do,
and that dinner would never come.

Many were the lamentations at leaving Margaret behind, but she answered
them by talking of the treat of having papa all to herself, for he had
lent them the gig, and promised to stay at home all the afternoon with
her.

The first division started on foot directly after dinner, the real
Council of education, as Norman called them, namely, Mr. Wilmot,
Richard, Ethel, and Mary; Flora, the other member, waited to take care
of Blanche and Aubrey, who were to come in the gig, with the cakes,
tea-kettles, and prizes, driven by Norman. Tom and Hector Ernescliffe
were invited to join the party, and many times did Mary wish for Harry.

Supremely happy were the young people as they reached the common, and
heard the shout of tumultuous joy, raised by their pupils, who were on
the watch for them. All was now activity. Everybody tripped into Mrs.
Green’s house, while Richard and Ethel ran different ways to secure that
the fires were burning, which they had hired, to boil their kettles,
with the tea in them.

Then when the kitchen was so full that it seemed as if it could hold no
more, some kind of order was produced, the children were seated on their
benches, and, while the mothers stood behind to listen, Mr. Wilmot began
to examine, as well as he could in so crowded an audience.

There was progress. Yes, there was. Only three were as utterly rude
and idealess as they used to be at Christmas. Glimmerings had dawned
on most, and one--Una M’Carthy--was fit to come forward to claim Mr.
Wilmot’s promise of a Prayer-book. She could really read and say the
Catechism--her Irish wit and love of learning had outstripped all the
rest--and she was the pride of Ethel’s heart, fit, now, to present
herself on equal terms with the Stoneborough set, as far as her sense
was concerned--though, alas! neither present nor exhortation had
succeeded in making her anything, in looks, but a picturesque
tatterdemalion, her sandy elf locks streaming over a pair of eyes, so
dancing and gracieuses, that it was impossible to scold her.

With beating heart, as if her own success in life depended for ever
on the way her flock acquitted themselves, Ethel stood by Mr. Wilmot,
trying to read answers coming out of the dull mouths of her children,
and looking exultingly at Richard whenever some good reply was made,
especially when Una answered an unexpected question. It was too
delightful to hear how well she remembered all the history up to the
flood, and how prettily it came out in her Irish accent! That made up
for all the atrocious stupidity of others, who, after being told every
time since they had begun who gave their names, now chose to forget.

In the midst, while the assembly were listening with admiration to the
reading of the scholar next in proficiency to Una, a boy who could read
words of five letters without spelling, there was a fresh squeezing at
the door, and, the crowd opening as well as it could, in came Flora and
Blanche, while Norman’s head was seen for a moment in the doorway.

Flora’s whisper to Ethel was her first discovery that the closeness and
the heat of the room was nearly overpowering. Her excitement had made
all be forgotten. “Could not a window be opened?”

Mrs. Green interfered--it had been nailed up because her husband had the
rheumatiz!

“Where’s Aubrey?” asked Mary.

“With Norman. Norman said he would not let him go into the black-hole,
so he has got him out of doors. Ethel, we must come out! You don’t know
what an atmosphere it is! Blanche, go out to Norman!”

“Flora, Flora! you don’t consider,” said Ethel, in an agony.

“Yes, yes. It is not at all cold. Let them have their presents out of
doors and eat their buns.”

Richard and Mr. Wilmot agreed with Flora, and the party were turned out.
Ethel did own, when she was in the open air, “that it had been rather
hot.”

Norman’s face was a sight, as he stood holding Aubrey in his arms, to
gratify the child’s impatience. The stifling den, the uncouth aspect
of the children, the head girl so very ragged a specimen, thoroughly
revolted his somewhat fastidious disposition. This was Ethel’s delight!
to this she made so many sacrifices! this was all that her time and
labour had effected! He did not wish to vex her but it was more than he
could stand.

However, Ethel was too much engrossed to look for sympathy. It was a
fine spring day, and on the open space of the common the arrangements
were quickly made. The children stood in a long line, and the baskets
were unpacked. Flora and Ethel called the names, Mary and Blanche gave
the presents, and assuredly the grins, courtesies, and pulls of the
forelock they elicited, could not have been more hearty for any of Miss
Rivers’s treasures. The buns and the kettles of tea followed--it was
perfect delight to entertainers and entertained, except when Mary’s
dignity was cruelly hurt by Norman’s authoritatively taking a kettle out
of her hands, telling her she would be the death of herself or somebody
else, and reducing her to the mere rank of a bun distributor, which
Blanche and Aubrey could do just as well; while he stalked along with a
grave and resigned countenance, filling up the cups held out to him by
timid-looking children. Mary next fell in with Granny Hall, who had gone
into such an ecstasy over Blanche and Aubrey, that Blanche did not know
which way to look; and Aubrey, in some fear that the old woman might
intend to kiss him, returned the compliments by telling her she was
“ugly up in her face,” at which she laughed heartily, and uttered more
vehement benedictions.

Finally, the three best children, boys and girls, were to be made fit
to be seen, and recommended by Mr. Wilmot to the Sunday-school and
penny club at Stoneborough, and, this being proclaimed and the children
selected, the assembly dispersed, Mr. Wilmot rejoicing Ethel and
Richard by saying, “Well, really, you have made a beginning. There is an
improvement in tone among those children, that is more satisfactory than
any progress they may have made.”

Ethel’s eyes beamed, and she hurried to tell Flora. Richard coloured
and gave his quiet smile, then turned to put things in order for their
return.

“Will you drive home, Richard?” said Norman, coming up to him.

“Don’t you wish it?” said Richard, who had many minor arrangements to
make, and would have preferred walking home independently.

“No, thank you, I have a headache, and walking may take it off,” said
Norman, taking off his hat and passing his fingers through his hair.

“A headache again--I am sorry to hear it.”

“It is only that suffocating den of yours. My head ached from the moment
I looked into it. How can you take Ethel into such a hole, Richard? It
is enough to kill her to go on with it for ever.”

“It is not so every day,” said the elder brother quietly. “It is a warm
day, and there was an unusual crowd.”

“I shall speak to my father,” exclaimed Norman, with somewhat of the
supercilious tone that he had now and then been tempted to address to
his brother. “It is not fit that Ethel should give up everything, health
and all, to such a set as these. They look as if they had been picked
out of the gutter--dirt, squalor, everything disgusting, and summer
coming on, too, and that horrid place with no window to open! It is
utterly unbearable!”

Richard stooped to pick up a heavy basket, then smiled and said, “You
must get over such things as these if you mean to be a clergyman,
Norman.”

“Whatever I am to be, it does not concern the girls being in such a
place as this. I am surprised that you could suffer it.”

There was no answer--Richard was walking off with his basket, and
putting it into the carriage. Norman was not pleased with himself, but
thought it his duty to let his father know his opinion of Ethel’s weekly
resort. All he wished was to avoid Ethel herself, not liking to show her
his sentiments, and he was glad to see her put into the gig with Aubrey
and Mary.

They rushed into the drawing-room, full of glee, when they came home,
all shouting their news together, and had not at first leisure to
perceive that Margaret had some tidings for them in return. Mr.
Rivers had been there, with a pressing invitation to his daughter’s
school-feast, and it had been arranged that Flora and Ethel should go
and spend the day at the Grange, and their father come to dine, and
fetch them home in the evening. Margaret had been much pleased with the
manner in which the thing was done. When Dr. May, who seemed reluctant
to accept the proposal that related to himself, was called out of the
room, Mr. Rivers had, in a most kind manner, begged her to say whether
she thought it would be painful to him, or whether it might do
his spirits good. She decidedly gave her opinion in favour of the
invitation, Mr. Rivers gained his point, and she had ever since been
persuading her father to like the notion, and assuring him it need not
be made a precedent for the renewal of invitations to dine out in the
town. He thought the change would be pleasant for his girls, and had,
therefore, consented.

“Oh, papa, papa! thank you!” cried Ethel, enraptured, as soon as he
came into the room. “How very kind of you! How I have wished to see the
Grange, and all Norman talks about! Oh, dear! I am so glad you are going
there too!”

“Why, what should you do with me?” said Dr. May, who felt and looked
depressed at this taking up of the world again.

“Oh, dear! I should not like it at all without you! It would be no fun
at all by ourselves. I wish Flora would come home. How pleased she will
be! Papa, I do wish you would look as if you didn’t mind it! I can’t
enjoy it if you don’t like going.”

“I shall when I am there, my dear,” said the doctor affectionately,
putting his arm around her as she stood by him. “It will be a fine day’s
sport for you.”

“But can’t you like it beforehand, papa?”

“Not just this minute, Ethel,” said he, with his bright, sad smile. “All
I like just now is my girl’s not being able to do without me; but we’ll
do the best we can. So your flock acquitted themselves brilliantly? Who
is your Senior Wrangler?”

Ethel threw herself eagerly into the history of the examination, and had
almost forgotten the invitation till she heard the front door open. Then
it was not she, but Margaret, who told Flora--Ethel could not, as she
said, enjoy what seemed to sadden her father. Flora received it much
more calmly. “It will be very pleasant,” said she; “it was very kind of
papa to consent. You will have Richard and Norman, Margaret, to be with
you in the evening.”

And, as soon as they went upstairs, Ethel began to write down the list
of prizes in her school journal, while Flora took out the best evening
frocks, to study whether the crape looked fresh enough.

The invitation was a convenient subject of conversation, for Norman had
so much to tell his sisters of the curiosities they must look for at the
Grange, that he was not obliged to mention Cocksmoor. He did not like
to mortify Ethel by telling her his intense disgust, and he knew he
was about to do what she would think a great injury by speaking to his
father on the subject; but he thought it for her real welfare, and
took the first opportunity of making to his father and Margaret a most
formidable description of Ethel’s black-hole. It quite alarmed Margaret,
but the doctor smiled, saying, “Ay, ay, I know the face Norman puts on
if he looks into a cottage.”

“Well,” said Norman, with some mortification, “all I know is, that my
head ached all the rest of the day.”

“Very likely, but your head is not Ethel’s, and there were twice as many
people as the place was intended to hold.”

“A stuffy hole, full of peat-smoke, and with a window that can’t open at
the best of times.”

“Peat-smoke is wholesome,” said Dr. May, looking provoking.

“You don’t know what it is, papa, or you would never let Ethel spend her
life there. It is poisonous!”

“I’ll take care of Ethel,” said Dr. May, walking off, and leaving Norman
in a state of considerable annoyance at being thus treated. He broke
out into fresh exclamations against the horrors of Cocksmoor, telling
Margaret she had no idea what a den it was.

“But, Norman, it can’t be so very bad, or Richard would not allow it.”

“Richard is deluded!” said Norman; “but if he chooses to run after dirty
brats, why should he take Ethel there?”

“My dear Norman, you know it is all Ethel’s doing.”

“Yes, I know she has gone crazy after them, and given up all her Greek
for it. It is past endurance!” said Norman, who had worked himself up
into great indignation.

“Well, but surely, Norman, it is better they should do what they can for
those poor creatures, than for Ethel to learn Greek.”

“I don’t know that. Let those who are fit for nothing else go and
drone over A B C with ragged children, if they like. It is just their
vocation; but there is an order in everything, Margaret, and minds of a
superior kind are intended for higher purposes, not to be wasted in this
manner.”

“I don’t know whether they are wasted,” said Margaret, not quite liking
Norman’s tone, though she had not much to say to his arguments.

“Not wasted? Not in doing what any one can do? I know what you’ll
say about the poor. I grant it, but high ability must be given for a
purpose, not to be thrown away. It is common-sense, that some one must
be meant to do the dirty work.”

“I see what you mean, Norman, but I don’t quite like that to be called
by such a name. I think--” she hesitated. “Don’t you think you dislike
such things more than--”

“Any one must abominate dirt and slovenliness. I know what you mean. My
father thinks ‘tis all nonsense in me, but his profession has made him
insensible to such things, and he fancies every one else is the same!
Now, Margaret, am I unreasonable?”

“I am sure I don’t know, dear Norman,” said Margaret, hesitating,
and feeling it her duty to say something; “I dare say it was very
disagreeable.”

“And you think, too, that I made a disturbance for nothing?”

“No, indeed I don’t, nor does dear papa. I have no doubt he will see
whether it is proper for Ethel. All I think he meant is, that perhaps
your not being well last winter has made you a little more sensitive in
such things.”

Norman paused, and coloured. He remembered the pain it had given him to
find himself incapable of being of use to his father, and that he had
resolved to conquer the weakness of nerve of which he was ashamed;
but he did not like to connect this with his fastidious feelings of
refinement. He would not own to himself that they were over nice, and,
at the bottom of all this justification, rankled Richard’s saying, that
he who cared for such things was unfit for a clergyman. Norman’s secret
thought was, it was all very well for those who could only aspire
to parish work in wretched cottages--people who could distinguish
themselves were more useful at the university, forming minds, and
opening new discoveries in learning.

Was Norman quite proof against the consciousness of daily excelling
all his competitors? His superiority had become even more manifest
this Easter, when Cheviot and Forder, the two elder boys whom he had
outstripped, left the school, avowedly, because it was not worth
while for them to stay, since they had so little chance of the Randall
scholarship. Norman had now only to walk over the course, no one even
approaching him but Harvey Anderson.

Meta Rivers always said that fine weather came at her call, and so it
did--glowing sunshine streaming over the shaven turf, and penetrating
even the solid masses of the great cedar.

The carriage was sent for the Misses May, and at two o’clock they
arrived. Flora, extremely anxious that Ethel should comport herself
discreetly; and Ethel full of curiosity and eagerness, the only drawback
her fears that her papa was doing what he disliked. She was not in the
least shy, and did not think about her manner enough to be troubled by
the consciousness that it had a good deal of abruptness and eagerness,
and that her short sight made her awkward. Meta met them with
outstretched hands and a face beaming with welcome. “I told you I should
get my way!” she said triumphantly, and, after her warm greeting, she
looked with some respect at the face of the Miss May who was so very
clever. It certainly was not what she expected, not at all like either
of the four sisters she had already seen--brown, sallow, and with that
sharp long nose, and the eager eyes, and brow a little knit by the
desire to see as far as she could. It was pleasanter to look at Flora.

Ethel left the talk chiefly to Flora--there was wonder and study enough
farther in the grounds and garden, and when Mrs. Larpent tried to enter
into conversation with her, she let it drop two or three times while
she was peering hard at a picture and trying to make out its subject.
However, when they all went out to walk to church, Ethel lighted up,
and talked, admired, and asked questions in her quick, eager way, which
interested Mrs. Larpent greatly. The governess asked after Norman, and
no more was wanted to produce a volume of histories of his successes,
till Flora turned as she walked before with Meta, saying, “Why, Ethel,
you are quite overwhelming Mrs. Larpent.”

But some civil answer convinced Ethel that what she said was
interesting, and she would not be stopped in her account of their
anxieties on the day of the examination. Flora was pleased that Meta,
catching some words, begged to hear more, and Flora gave an account
of the matter, soberer in terms, but quietly setting Norman at a much
greater distance from all his competitors.

After church came the feast in the school. It was a large commodious
building. Meta declared it was very tiresome that it was so good inside,
it was so ugly, she should never rest till papa had built her a real
beauty. They found Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wilmot in the school, with a
very nice well-dressed set of boys and girls, and--But there is no need
to describe the roast-beef and plum-pudding, “the feast ate merrily,”
 and Ethel was brilliantly happy waiting on the children, and so was
sunny-hearted Meta. Flora was too busy in determining what the Riverses
might be thinking of her and her sister to give herself up to the
enjoyment.

Ethel found a small boy looking ready to cry at an untouched slice of
beef. She examined him whether he could cut it, and at last discovered
that, as had been the case with one or two of her own brothers at the
same age, meat was repugnant to him. In her vehement manner she flew
off to fetch him some pudding, and hurrying up, as she thought, to Mr.
Charles Wilmot, who had been giving it out, she thrust her plate between
him and the dish, and had begun her explanation when she perceived it
was a stranger, and she stood, utterly discomfited, not saying, “I beg
your pardon,” but only blushing, awkward and confused, as he spoke to
her, in a good-natured, hospitable manner, which showed her it must be
Mr. Rivers. She obtained her pudding, and, turning hastily, retreated.

“Meta,” said Mr. Rivers, as his daughter came out of the school with
him, for, open and airy as it was, the numbers and the dinner made him
regard it as Norman had viewed the Cocksmoor room, “was that one of the
Miss Mays?”

“Yes, papa, Ethel, the third, the clever one.”

“I thought she must be one of them from her dress; but what a difference
between her and the others!”

Mr. Rivers was a great admirer of beauty, and Meta, brought up to be the
same, was disappointed, but consoled herself by admiring Flora. Ethel,
after the awkwardness was over, thought no more of the matter, but went
on in full enjoyment f the feast. The eating finished, the making of
presents commenced, and choice ones they were. The smiles of Meta and of
the children were a pretty sight, and Ethel thought she had never seen
anything so like a beneficent fairy. Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot said their
words of counsel and encouragement, and, by five o’clock, all was over.

“Oh, I am sorry!” said Meta, “Easter won’t come again for a whole year,
and it has been so delightful. How that dear little Annie smiled and
nursed her doll! I wish I could see her show it to her mother! Oh, how
nice it is! I am so glad papa brought me to live in the country. I don’t
think anything can be so charming in all the world as seeing little
children happy!”

Ethel could not think how the Wilmots could have found it in their heart
to regret the liberality of this sweet damsel, on whom she began to look
with Norman’s enthusiastic admiration.

There was time for a walk round the grounds, Meta doing the honours to
Flora, and Ethel walking with Mrs. Larpent. Both pairs were very good
friends, and the two sisters admired and were charmed with the beauty
of the gardens and conservatories--Ethel laying up a rich store of
intelligence for Margaret; but still she was not entirely happy;
her papa was more and more on her mind. He had looked dispirited
at breakfast; he had a long hard day’s work before him, and she was
increasingly uneasy at the thought that it would be a painful effort to
him to join them in the evening. Her mind was full of it when she was
conducted, with Flora, to the room where they were to dress; and when
Flora began to express her delight, her answer was only that she hoped
it was not very unpleasant to papa.

“It is not worth while to be unhappy about that, Ethel. If it is an
effort, it will be good for him when he is once here. I know he will
enjoy it.”

“Yes, I should think he would--I hope he will. He must like you to have
such a friend as Miss Rivers. How pretty she is!”

“Now, Ethel, it is high time to dress. Pray make yourself look
nice--don’t twist up your hair in that any-how fashion.”

Ethel sighed, then began talking fast about some hints on school-keeping
which she had picked up for Cocksmoor.

Flora’s glossy braids were in full order, while Ethel was still
struggling to get her plait smooth, and was extremely beholden to her
sister for taking it into her own hands and doing the best with it that
its thinness and roughness permitted. And then Flora pinched and pulled
and arranged Ethel’s frock, in vain attempts to make it sit like her
own--those sharp high bones resisted all attempts to disguise them.
“Never mind, Flora, it is quite tidy, I am sure, there--do let me be in
peace. You are like old nurse.”

“So those are all the thanks I get?”

“Well, thank you very much, dear Flora. You are a famous person. How I
wish Margaret could see that lovely mimosa!”

“And, Ethel, do take care. Pray don’t poke and spy when you come into
the room, and don’t frown when you are trying to see. I hope you won’t
have anything to help at dinner. Take care how you manage.”

“I’ll try,” said Ethel meekly, though a good deal tormented, as Flora
went on with half a dozen more injunctions, closed by Meta’s coming to
fetch them. Little Meta did not like to show them her own bedroom--she
pitied them so much when she thought of the contrast. She would have
liked to put Flora’s arm through her’s, but she thought, it would look
neglectful of Ethel; so she only showed the way downstairs. Ethel forgot
all her sister’s orders; for there stood her father, and she looked
most earnestly at his face. It was cheerful, and his voice sounded
well pleased as he greeted Meta; then resumed an animated talk with
Mr. Rivers. Ethel drew as near him as she could; she had a sense of
protection, and could open to full enjoyment when she saw him bright. At
the first pause in the conversation, the gentlemen turned to the young
ladies. Mr. Rivers began talking to Flora, and Dr. May, after a few
pleasant words to Meta, went back to Ethel. He wanted her to see
his favourite pictures--he led her up to them, made her put on his
spectacles to see them better, and showed her their special merits. Mr.
Rivers and the others joined them; Ethel said little, except a remark
or two in answer to her papa, but she was very happy--she felt that he
liked to have her with him; and Meta, too, was struck by the soundness
of her few sayings, and the participation there seemed to be in all
things between the father and daughter.

At dinner Ethel went on pretty well. She was next to her father, and was
very glad to find the dinner so grand, that no side-dish fell to her lot
to be carved. There was a great deal of pleasant talk, such as the girls
could understand, though they did not join much in it, except that now
and then Dr. May turned to Ethel as a reference for names and dates. To
make up for silence at dinner, there was a most confidential chatter in
the drawing-room. Flora and Meta on one side, hand in hand, calling each
other by their Christian names, Mrs. Larpent and Ethel on the other.
Flora dreaded only that Ethel was talking too much, and revealing too
much in how different style they lived. Then came the gentlemen, Dr. May
begging Mr. Rivers to show Ethel one of his prints, when Ethel stooped
more than ever, as if her eyelashes were feelers, but she was in
transports of delight, and her embarrassment entirely at an end in her
admiration, as she exclaimed and discussed with her papa, and by her
hearty appreciation made Mr. Rivers for the time forget her plainness.
Music followed; Flora played nicely, Meta like a well-taught girl; Ethel
went on musing over the engravings. The carriage was announced, and
so ended the day in Norman’s fairy-land. Ethel went home, leaning hard
against her papa, talking to him of Raphael’s Madonnas; and looking out
at the stars, and thinking how the heavenly beauty of those faces that,
in the prints she had been turning over, seemed to be connected with the
glories of the dark-blue sky and glowing stars. “As one star differeth
from another star in glory,” murmured she; “that was the lesson to-day,
papa;” and when she felt him press her hand, she knew he was thinking of
that last time she had heard the lesson, when he had not been with her,
and her thoughts went with his, though not another word was spoken.

Flora hardly knew when they ceased to talk. She had musings equally
engrossing of her own. She saw she was likely to be very intimate with
Meta Rivers, and she was roaming away into schemes for not letting the
intercourse drop, and hopes of being admitted to many a pleasure as yet
little within her reach--parties, balls, London, itself, and, above all,
the satisfaction of being admired. The certainty that Mr. Rivers thought
her pretty and agreeable had gratified her all the evening, and if he,
with his refined taste, thought so, what would others think? Her
only fear was, that Ethel’s awkwardness might make an unfavourable
impression, but, at least, she said to herself, it was anything but
vulgar awkwardness.

Their reflections were interrupted by the fly stopping. It was at a
little shop in the outskirts of the town, and Dr. May, explained that he
wanted to inquire for a patient. He went in for a moment, then came back
to desire that they would go home, for he should be detained some little
time. No one need sit up for him--he would let himself in.

It seemed a comment on Ethel’s thoughts, bringing them back to the
present hour. That daily work of homely mercy, hoping for nothing again,
was surely the true way of doing service.



CHAPTER XXI.


    WATCHMAN. How, if he will not stand?
    DOGBERRY. Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go.
                                          Much Ado about Nothing.


Dr. May promised Margaret that he would see whether the black-hole of
Cocksmoor was all that Norman depicted it, and, accordingly, he came
home that way on Tuesday evening the next week, much to the astonishment
of Richard, who was in the act of so mending the window that it might
let in air when open, and keep it out when shut, neither of which
purposes had it ever yet answered.

Dr. May walked in, met his daughter’s look of delight and surprise,
spoke cheerfully to Mrs. Green, a hospital acquaintance of his, like
half the rest of the country, and made her smile and curtsey by asking
if she was not surprised at such doings in her house; then looked at the
children, and patted the head that looked most fit to pat, inquired who
was the best scholar, and offered a penny to whoever could spell copper
tea-kettle, which being done by three merry mortals, and having made him
extremely popular, he offered Ethel a lift, and carried her off between
him and Adams, on whom he now depended for driving him, since Richard
was going to Oxford at once.

It was possible to spare him now. Dr. May’s arm was as well as he
expected it ever would be; he had discarded the sling, and could use his
hand again, but the arm was still stiff and weak--he could not stretch
it out, nor use it for anything requiring strength; it soon grew tired
with writing, and his daughters feared that it ached more than he chose
to confess, when they saw it resting in the breast of his waistcoat.
Driving he never would have attempted again, even if he could, and he
had quite given up carving--he could better bear to sit at the side than
at the bottom of the dinner-table.

Means of carrying Margaret safely had been arranged by Richard, and
there was no necessity for longer delaying his going to Oxford, but he
was so unwillingly spared by all, as to put him quite into good spirits.
Ethel was much concerned to lose him from Cocksmoor, and dreaded
hindrances to her going thither without his escort; but she had much
trust in having her father on her side, and meant to get authority from
him for the propriety of going alone with Mary.

She did not know how Norman had jeopardised her projects, but the danger
blew over. Dr. May told Margaret that the place was clean and wholesome,
and though more smoky than might be preferred, there was nothing to do
any one in health any harm, especially when the walk there and back was
over the fresh moor. He lectured Ethel herself on opening the window,
now that she could; and advised Norman to go and spend an hour in the
school, that he might learn how pleasant peat-smoke was--a speech Norman
did not like at all. The real touchstone of temper is ridicule on a
point where we do not choose to own ourselves fastidious, and if it and
been from any one but his father, Norman would not have so entirely kept
down his irritation.

Richard passed his examination successfully, and Dr. May wrote himself
to express his satisfaction. Nothing went wrong just now except little
Tom, who seemed to be justifying Richard’s fears of the consequence of
exciting his father’s anger. At home, he shrank and hesitated at the
simplest question if put by his father suddenly; and the appearance of
cowardice and prevarication displeasing Dr. May further, rendered his
tone louder, and frightened Tom the more, giving his manner an air
of sullen reserve that was most unpleasant. At school it was much
the same--he kept aloof from Norman, and threw himself more into the
opposite faction, by whom he was shielded from all punishment, except
what they chose themselves to inflict on him.

Norman’s post as head of the school was rendered more difficult by the
departure of his friend Cheviot, who had always upheld his authority;
Harvey Anderson did not openly transgress, for he had a character to
maintain, but it was well known throughout the school that there was a
wide difference between the boys, and that Anderson thought it absurd,
superfluous, and troublesome in May not to wink at abuses which appeared
to be licensed by long standing. When Edward Anderson, Axworthy, and
their set, broke through rules, it was with the understanding that the
second boy in the school would support them, if he durst.

The summer and the cricket season brought the battle of Ballhatchet’s
house to issue. The cricket ground was the field close to it, and
for the last two or three years there had been a frequent custom of
despatching juniors to his house for tarts and ginger-beer bottles.
Norman knew of instances last year in which this had led to serious
mischief, and had made up his mind that, at whatever loss of popularity,
it was his duty to put a stop to the practice.

He was an ardent cricketer himself, and though the game did not, in
anticipation, seem to him to have all the charms of last year, he
entered into it with full zest when once engaged. But his eye was on all
parts of the field, and especially on the corner by the bridge, and the
boys knew him well enough to attempt nothing unlawful within the range
of that glance. However, the constant vigilance was a strain too great
to be always kept up, and he had reason to believe he was eluded more
than once.

At last came a capture, something like that of Tom, one which he could
not have well avoided making. The victim was George Larkins, the son
of a clergyman in the neighbourhood, a wild, merry varlet, who got into
mischief rather for the sake of the fun than from any bad disposition.

His look of consternation was exaggerated into a most comical
caricature, in order to hide how much of it was real.

“So you are at that trick, Larkins.”

“There! that bet is lost!” exclaimed Larkins. “I laid Hill half-a-crown
that you would not see me when you were mooning over your verses!”

“Well, I have seen you. And now--”

“Come, you would not thrash a fellow when you have just lost him
half-a-crown! Single misfortunes never come alone, they say; so
there’s my money and my credit gone, to say nothing of Ballhatchet’s
ginger-beer!”

The boy made such absurd faces, that Norman could hardly help laughing,
though he wished to make it a serious affair. “You know, Larkins, I have
given out that such things are not to be. It is a melancholy fact.”

“Ay, so you must make an example of me!” said Larkins, pretending to
look resigned. “Better call all the fellows together, hadn’t you, and
make it more effective? It would be grateful to one’s feelings, you
know; and June,” added he, with a ridiculous confidential air, “if
you’ll only lay it on soft, I’ll take care it makes noise enough. Great
cry, little wool, you know.”

“Come with me,” said Norman. “I’ll take care you are example enough.
What did you give for those articles?”

“Fifteen-pence halfpenny. Rascally dear, isn’t it? but the old rogue
makes one pay double for the risk! You are making his fortune, you have
raised his prices fourfold.”

“I’ll take care of that.”

“Why, where are you taking me? Back to him?”

“I am going to gratify your wish to be an example.”

“A gibbet! a gibbet” cried Larkins. “I’m to be turned off on the spot
where the crime took place--a warning to all beholders. Only let me send
home for old Neptune’s chain, if you please, sir--if you hang me in
the combined watch-chains of the school, I fear they would give way and
defeat the purposes of justice.”

They were by this time at the bridge. “Come in,” said Norman to his
follower, as he crossed the entrance of the little shop, the first time
he had ever been there. A little cringing shrivelled old man stood up in
astonishment.

“Mr. May! can I have the pleasure, sir?”

“Mr. Ballhatchet, you know that it is contrary to the rules that there
should be any traffic with the school without special permission?”

“Yes, sir--just nothing, sir--only when the young gentlemen come
here, sir--I’m an old man, sir, and I don’t like not to oblige a young
gentleman, sir,” pleaded the old man, in a great fright.

“Very likely,” said Norman, “but I am come to give you fair notice. I
am not going to allow the boys here to be continually smuggling spirits
into the school.”

“Spirits! bless you, sir, I never thought of no sich a thing! ‘Tis
nothing in life but ginger-beer--very cooling drink, sir, of my wife’s
making she had the receipt from her grandmother up in Leicestershire.
Won’t you taste a bottle, sir?” and he hastily made a cork bounce, and
poured it out.

That, of course, was genuine, but Norman was “up to him,” in schoolboy
phrase.

“Give me yours, Larkins.”

No pop ensued. Larkins, enjoying the detection, put his hands on his
knees and looked wickedly up in the old man’s face to see what was
coming.

“Bless me! it is a little flat. I wonder how that happened? I’ll be
most happy to change it, sir. Wife! what’s the meaning of Mr. Larkins’s
ginger-pop being so flat?”

“It is very curious ginger-beer indeed, Mr. Ballhatchet,” said Norman;
“and since it is liable to have such strange properties, I cannot allow
it to be used any more at the school.”

“Very well, sir-as you please, sir. You are the first gentleman as has
objected, sir.”

“And, once for all, I give you warning,” added Norman, “that if I
have reason to believe you have been obliging the young gentlemen, the
magistrates and the trustees of the road shall certainly hear of it.”

“You would not hurt a poor man, sir, as is drove to it--you as has such
a name for goodness!”

“I have given you warning,” said Norman. “The next time I find any of
your bottles in the school fields, your licence goes. Now, there are
your goods. Give Mr. Larkins back the fifteen-pence. I wonder you are
not ashamed of such a charge!”

Having extracted the money, Norman turned to leave the shop. Larkins,
triumphant, “Ha! there’s Harrison!” as the tutor rode by, and they
touched their caps. “How he stared! My eyes! June, you’ll be had up for
dealing with old Ball!” and he went into an ecstasy of laughing. “You’ve
settled him, I believe. Well, is justice satisfied?”

“It would be no use thrashing you,” said Norman, laughing, as he leaned
against the parapet of the bridge, and pinched the boy’s ear. “There’s
nothing to be got out of you but chaff.”

Larkins was charmed with the compliment.

“But I’ll tell you what, Larkins, I can’t think how a fellow like you
can go and give in to these sneaking, underhand tricks that make you
ashamed to look one in the face.”

“It is only for the fun of it.”

“Well, I wish you would find your fun some other way. Come, Larkins,
recollect yourself a little--you have a home not so far off. How do you
think your father and mother would fancy seeing you reading the book you
had yesterday, or coming out of Ballhatchet’s with a bottle of spirits,
called by a false name?”

Larkins pinched his fingers; home was a string that could touch him, but
it seemed beneath him to own it. At that moment a carriage approached,
the boy’s whole face lighted up, and he jumped forward. “Our own!” he
cried. “There she is!”

She was, of course, his mother; and Norman, though turning hastily away
that his presence might prove no restraint, saw the boy fly over the
door of the open carriage, and could have sobbed at the thought of what
that meeting was.

“Who was that with you?” asked Mrs. Larkins, when she had obtained leave
to have her boy with her, while she did her shopping.

“That was May senior, our dux.”

“Was it? I am very glad you should be with him, my dear George. He is
very kind to you, I hope?”

“He is a jolly good fellow,” said Larkins sincerely, though by no means
troubling himself as to the appropriateness of the eulogy, nor thinking
it necessary to explain to his mother the terms of the conversation.

It was not fruitless; Larkins did avoid mischief when it was not
extremely inviting, was more amenable to May senior, and having been put
in mind by him of his home, was not ashamed to bring the thought to the
aid of his eyes, when, on Sunday, during a long sermon of Mr. Ramsden’s,
he knew that Axworthy was making the grimace which irresistibly incited
him to make a still finer one.

And Ballhatchet was so much convinced of “that there young May” being in
earnest, that he assured his persuasive customers that it was as much as
his licence was worth to supply them.

Evil and insubordination were more easily kept under than Norman had
expected, when he first made up his mind to the struggle. Firmness had
so far carried the day, and the power of manful assertion of the right
had been proved, contrary to Cheviot’s parting auguries, that he would
only make himself disliked, and do no good.

The whole of the school was extremely excited this summer by a
proceeding of Mr. Tomkins, the brewer, who suddenly closed up the
footway called Randall’s Alley, declaring that there was no right of
passage through a certain field at the back of his brewery. Not only the
school, but the town was indignant, and the Mays especially so. It
had been the doctor’s way to school forty years ago, and there were
recollections connected with it that made him regard it with personal
affection. Norman, too, could not bear to lose it; he had not entirely
conquered his reluctance to pass that spot in the High Street, and the
loss of the alley would be a positive deprivation to him. Almost every
native of Stoneborough felt strongly the encroachment of the brewer, and
the boys, of course, carried the sentiment to exaggeration.

The propensity to public speaking perhaps added to the excitement, for
Norman May and Harvey Anderson, for once in unison, each made a vehement
harangue in the school-court--Anderson’s a fine specimen of the village
Hampden style, about Britons never suffering indignities, and free-born
Englishmen swelling at injuries.

“That they do, my hearty,” interjected Larkins, pointing to an inflamed
eye that had not returned to its right dimensions. However, Anderson
went on unmoved by the under titter, and demonstrated, to the full
satisfaction of all the audience, that nothing could be more illegal and
unfounded than the brewer’s claims.

Then came a great outburst from Norman, with all his father’s headlong
vehemence; the way was the right of the town, the walk had been trodden
by their forefathers for generations past--it had been made by the good
old generous-hearted man who loved his town and townspeople, and would
have heard with shame and anger of a stranger, a new inhabitant, a
grasping radical, caring, as radicals always did, for no rights, but
for their own chance of unjust gains, coming here to Stoneborough to cut
them off from their own path. He talk of liberalism and the rights of
the poor! He who cut off Randall’s poor old creatures in the almshouses
from their short way! and then came some stories of his oppression as a
poor-law guardian, which greatly aggravated the wrath of the speaker and
audience, though otherwise they did not exactly bear on the subject.

“What would old Nicholas Randall say to these nineteenth-century
doings?” finished Norman.

“Down, with them!” cried a voice from the throng, probably Larkins’s;
but there was no desire to investigate, it was the universal sentiment.
“Down with it! Hurrah, we’ll have our footpath open again! Down with the
fences! Britons never shall be slaves!” as Larkins finally ejaculated.

“That’s the way to bring it to bear!” said Harvey Anderson, “See if he
dares to bring an action against us. Hurrah!”

“Yes, that’s the way to settle it,” said Norman. “Let’s have it down. It
is an oppressive, arbitrary, shameful proceeding, and we’ll show him we
won’t submit to it!”

Carried along by the general feeling, the whole troop of boys dashed
shouting up to the barricade at the entrance of the field, and levelled
it with the ground. A handkerchief was fastened to the top of one of the
stakes, and waved over the brewhouse wall, and some of the boys were
for picking up stones and dirt, and launching them over, in hopes of
spoiling the beer; but Norman put a stop to this, and brought them back
to the school-yard, still in a noisy state of exultation.

It cooled a little by-and-by under the doubt how their exploit would be
taken. At home, Norman found it already known, and his father half glad,
half vexed, enjoying the victory over Tomkins, yet a little uneasy on
his son’s behalf. “What will Dr. Hoxton say to the dux?” said he. “I
didn’t know he was to be dux in mischief as well as out of it.”

“You can’t call it mischief, papa, to resent an unwarranted encroachment
of our rights by such an old ruffian as that. One’s blood is up to think
of the things he has done!”

“He richly deserves it, no doubt,” said the doctor, “and yet I wish you
had been out of the row. If there is any blame, you will be the first it
will light on.”

“I am glad of it, that is but just. Anderson and I seem to have stirred
it up--if it wanted stirring--for it was in every fellow there; indeed,
I had no notion it was coming to this when I began.”

“Oratory,” said the doctor, smiling. “Ha, Norman! Think a little another
time, my boy, before you take the law into your own hands, or, what is
worse, into a lot of hands you can’t control for good, though you may
excite them to harm.”

Dr. Hoxton did not come into school at the usual hour, and, in the
course of the morning, sent for May senior, to speak to him in his
study.

He looked very broad, awful, and dignified, as he informed him that Mr.
Tomkins had just been with him to complain of the damage that had been
done, and he appeared extremely displeased that the dux should have been
no check on such proceedings.

“I am sorry, sir,” said Norman, “but I believe it was the general
feeling that he had no right to stop the alley, and, therefore, that it
could not be wrong to break it down.”

“Whether he has a right or not is not a question to be settled by you.
So I find that you, whose proper office it is to keep order, have been
inflaming the mischievous and aggressive spirit amongst the others. I am
surprised at you; I thought you were more to be depended upon, May, in
your position.”

Norman coloured a good deal, and simply answered? “I am sorry, sir.”

“Take care, then, that nothing of the kind happens again,” said Dr.
Hoxton, who was very fond of him, and did not find fault with him
willingly.

That the first inflammatory discourse had been made by Anderson did not
appear to be known--he only came in for the general reprimand given to
the school.

It was reported the following evening, just as the town boys turned
out to go to their homes, that “old Tomkins had his fence up five times
higher than before.”

“Have at him again, say I!” exclaimed Axworthy. “What business has he
coming stopping up ways that were made before he was born?”

“We shall catch it from the doctor if we do,” said Edward Anderson, “He
looked in no end of a rage yesterday when he talked about the credit of
the school.”

“Who cares for the credit of the school?” said the elder Anderson; “we
are out of the school now--we are townsmen--Stoneborough boys--citizens
not bound to submit to injustice. No, no, the old rogue knew it would
not stand if it was brought into court, so he brings down old Hoxton on
us instead--a dirty trick he deserves to be punished for.”

And there was a general shout and yell in reply.

“Anderson,” said Norman, “you had better not excite them again, they are
ripe for mischief. It will go further than it did yesterday--don’t you
see?”

Anderson could not afford to get into a scrape without May to stand
before him, and rather sulkily he assented.

“It is of no use to rave about old Tomkins,” proceeded Norman, in his
style of popular oratory. “If it is illegal, some one will go to law
about it, and we shall have our alley again. We have shown him our mind
once, and that is enough; if we let him alone now, he will see ‘tis only
because we are ordered, not for his sake. It would be just putting
him in the right, and maybe winning his cause for him, to use any more
violence. There’s law for you, Anderson. So now no more about it--let us
all go home like rational fellows. August, where’s August?”

Tom was not visible--he generally avoided going home with his brother;
and Norman having seen the boys divide into two or three little parties,
as their roads lay homewards, found he had an hour of light for an
expedition of his own, along the bank of the river. He had taken up
botany with much ardour, and sharing the study with Margaret was a great
delight to both. There was a report that the rare yellow bog-bean grew
in a meadow about a mile and a half up the river, and thither he was
bound, extremely enjoying the summer evening walk, as the fresh dewy
coolness sunk on all around, and the noises of the town were mellowed by
distance, and the sun’s last beams slanted on the green meadows, and the
May-flies danced, and dragon-flies darted, and fish rose or leaped high
in the air, or showed their spotted sides, and opened and shut their
gills, as they rested in the clear water, and the evening breeze rustled
in the tall reeds, and brought fragrance from the fresh-mown hay.

It was complete enjoyment to Norman after his day’s study and the rule
and watch over the unruly crowd of boys, and he walked and wandered
and collected plants for Margaret till the sun was down, and the
grasshoppers chirped clamorously, while the fern-owl purred, and
the beetle hummed, and the skimming swallows had given place to the
soft-winged bat, and the large white owl floating over the fields as it
moused in the long grass.

The summer twilight was sobering every tint, when, as Norman crossed the
cricket-field, he heard, in the distance, a loud shout. He looked
up, and it seemed to him that he saw some black specks dancing in the
forbidden field, and something like the waving of a flag, but it was not
light enough to be certain, and he walked quickly home.

The front door was fastened, and, while he was waiting to be let in, Mr.
Harrison walked by, and called out, “You are late at home to-night--it
is half-past nine.”

“I have been taking a walk, sir.”

A good-night was the answer, as he was admitted. Every one in the
drawing-room looked up, and exclaimed as he entered, “Where’s Tom?”

“What! he is not come home?”

“No! Was he not with you?”

“I missed him after school. I was persuaded he was come home. I have
been to look for the yellow bog-bean. There, Margaret. Had not I better
go and look for him?”

“Yes, do,” said Dr. May. “The boy is never off one’s mind.”

A sort of instinctive dread directed Norman’s steps down the open
portion of Randall’s Alley, and, voices growing louder as he came
nearer, confirmed his suspicions. The fence at this end was down, and,
on entering the field, a gleam of light met his eye on the ground--a
cloud of smoke, black figures were flitting round it, pushing brands
into red places, and feeding the bonfire.

“What have you been doing?” exclaimed Norman. “You have got yourselves
into a tremendous scrape!”

A peal of laughter, and shout of “Randall and Stoneborough for ever!”
 was the reply.

“August! May junior! Tom! answer me! Is he here?” asked Norman, not
solicitous to identify any one.

But gruff voices broke in upon them. “There they are, nothing like ‘em
for mischief.”

“Come, young gentlemen,” said a policeman, “be off, if you please. We
don’t want to have none of you at the station to-night.”

A general hurry-skurry ensued. Norman alone, strong in innocence, walked
quietly away, and, as he came forth from the darkness of the alley,
beheld something scouring away before him, in the direction of home. It
popped in at the front door before him, but was not in the drawing-room.
He strode upstairs, called, but was not answered, and found, under the
bedclothes, a quivering mass, consisting of Tom, with all his clothes
on, fully persuaded that it was the policeman who was pursuing him.



CHAPTER XXII.



     Oh Life, without thy chequered scene,
     Of right and wrong, of weal and woe,
     Success and failure, could a ground
     For magnanimity be found?
                                   WORDSWORTH.


Dr. May was called for late the next day, Friday, and spent some time
in one of the houses near the river. It was nearly eight o’clock when
he came away, and he lingered, looking towards the school, in hopes of a
walk home with his boys.

Presently he saw Norman coming out from under the archway, his cap drawn
over his face, and step, gesture, and manner betraying that something
was seriously wrong. He came up almost to his father without seeing
him, until startled by his exclamation, “Norman--why, Norman, what’s the
matter?”

Norman’s lips quivered, and his face was pale--he seemed as if he could
not speak.

“Where’s Tom?” said the doctor, much alarmed. “Has he got into disgrace
about this business of Tomkins? That boy--”

“He has only got an imposition,” interrupted Norman. “No, it is not
that--it is myself”--and it was only with a gulp and struggle that he
brought out the words, “I am turned down in the school.”

The doctor started back a step or two, aghast. “What-how--speak, Norman.
What have you done?”

“Nothing!” said Norman, recovering in the desire to reassure his
father--“nothing!”

“That’s right,” said the doctor, breathing freely. “What’s the meaning
of it...a misunderstanding?”

“Yes,” said Norman, with bitterness. “It is all Anderson’s doing--a word
from him would have set all straight--but he would not; I believe, from
my heart, he held his tongue to get me down, that he might have the
Randall!”

“We’ll see you righted,” said the doctor eagerly. “Come, tell me the
whole story, Norman. Is it about this unlucky business?”

“Yes. The town-fellows were all up about it last evening, when we came
out of school. Anderson senior himself began to put them up to having
the fence down again. Yes, that he did--I remember his very words--that
Tomkins could not bring it into court, and so set old Hoxton at us.
Well, I told them it would not do--thought I had settled them--saw them
off home--yes, Simpson, and Benson, and Grey, up the High Street, and
the others their way. I only left Axworthy going into a shop when I set
off on my walk. What could a fellow do more? How was I to know that
that Axworthy would get them together again, and take them to this
affair--pull up the stakes--saw them down--for they were hard to get
down--shy all sorts of things over into the court-hoot at old Tomkins’s
man, when he told them to be off--and make a bonfire of the sticks at
last?”

“And Harvey Anderson was there?”

“No--not he. He is too sharp--born and bred attorney as he is--he
talked them up to the mischief when my back was turned, and then sneaked
quietly home, quite innocent, and out of the scrape.”

“But Dr. Hoxton can never entertain a suspicion that you had anything to
do with it!”

“Yes, he does though. He thinks I incited them, and Tomkins and the
policeman declare I was there in the midst of the row--and not one of
these fellows will explain how I came at the last to look for Tom.”

“Not Tom himself?”

“He did try to speak, poor little fellow, but, after the other affair,
his word goes for nothing, and so, it seems, does mine. I did think
Hoxton would have trusted me!”

“And did not he?” exclaimed Dr. May.

“He did not in so many words accuse me of--of--but he told me he
had serious charges brought against me--Mr. Harrison had seen me at
Ballhatchet’s, setting an example of disregard to rules--and, again, Mr.
Harrison saw me coming in at a late hour last night. ‘I know he did,’
I said, and I explained where I had been, and they asked for proofs! I
could hardly answer, from surprise, at their not seeming to believe me,
but I said you could answer for my having come in with the flowers for
my sister.”

“To be sure I will--I’ll go this instant--” he was turning.

“It is of no use, papa, to-night; Dr. Hoxton has a dinner-party.”

“He is always having parties. I wish he would mind them less, and his
business more. You disbelieved! but I’ll see justice done you, Norman,
the first thing to-morrow. Well--”

“Well then, I said, old Ballhatchet could tell that I crossed the bridge
at the very time they were doing this pretty piece of work, for he was
sitting smoking in his porch when I went home, and, would you believe
it? the old rascal would not remember who passed that evening! It is all
his malice and revenge--nothing else!”

“Why--what have you been doing to him?”

Norman shortly explained the ginger-beer story, and adding, “Cheviot
told me I should get nothing but ill-will, and so I have--all those town
fellows turn against me now, and though they know as well as possible
how it was, they won’t say a word to right me, just out of spite,
because I have stopped them from all the mischief I could!”

“Well, then--”

“They asked me whether--since I allowed that I had been there at last--I
had dispersed the boys. I said no, I had no time. Then they desired to
know who was there, and that I had not seen; it was all dark, and there
had not been a moment, and if I guessed, it was no affair of mine to
say. So they ordered me down, and had up Ned Anderson, and one or two
more who were known to have been in the riot, and then they consulted
a good while, and sent for me; Mr. Wilmot was for me, I am sure, but
Harrison was against me. Dr. Hoxton sat there, and made me one of his
addresses. He said he would not enter on the question whether I had been
present at the repetition of the outrage, as he called it, but what was
quite certain was, that I had abused my authority and influence in the
school; I had been setting a bad example, and breaking the rules
about Ballhatchet, and so far from repressing mischief, I had been the
foremost in it, making inflammatory harangues, leading them to commit
violence the first time, and the next, if not actually taking part in
it personally, at any rate not preventing it. In short, he said it was
clear I had not weight enough for my post--it was some excuse I had been
raised to it so young--but it was necessary to show that proficiency in
studies did not compensate for disregard of discipline, and so he turned
me down below the first six! So there’s another May in disgrace!”

“It shall not last--it shall not last, my boy,” said Dr. May, pressing
Norman’s arm; “I’ll see you righted. Dr. Hoxton shall hear the whole
story. I am not for fathers interfering in general, but if ever there
was a case, this is! Why, it is almost actionable--injuring your whole
prospects in life, and all because he will not take the trouble to make
an investigation! It is a crying shame.”

“Every fellow in the school knows how it was,” said Norman; “and plenty
of them would be glad to tell, if they had only the opportunity; but he
asked no one but those two or three worst fellows that were at the fire,
and they would not tell, on purpose. The school will go to destruction
now--they’ll get their way, and all I have been striving for is utterly
undone.”

“You setting a bad example! Dr. Hoxton little knows what you have been
doing. It is a mockery, as I have always said, to see that old fellow
sit wrapped up in his pomposity, eating his good dinners, and knowing no
more what goes on among his boys than this umbrella! But he will listen
to me--and we’ll make those boys confess the whole--ay, and have up
Ballhatchet himself, to say what your traffic with him was; and we will
see what old Hoxton says to you then, Norman.”

Dr. May and his son felt keenly and spoke strongly. There was so much of
sympathy and fellow-feeling between them, that there was no backwardness
on Norman’s part in telling his whole trouble, with more confidence than
schoolboys often show towards their fathers, and Dr. May entered into
the mortification as if he were still at school. They did not go into
the house, but walked long up and down the garden, working themselves up
into, if possible, stronger indignation, and concerting the explanation
for to-morrow, when Dr. May meant to go at once to the head-master, and
make him attend to the true version of the story, appealing to Harvey
Anderson himself, Larkins, and many others, for witnesses. There could
be hardly a doubt that Norman would be thus exculpated; but, if Dr.
Hoxton would not see things in their true light, Dr. May was ready to
take him away at once, rather than see him suffer injustice.

Still, though comforted by his father’s entire reliance, Norman was
suffering severely under the sense of indignity, and grieved that Dr.
Hoxton and the other masters should have believed him guilty--that
name of May could never again boast of being without reproach. To be in
disgrace stung him to the quick, even though undeservedly, and he could
not bear to go in, meet his sisters, and be pitied. “There’s no need
they should know of it,” said he, when the Minster clock pealing ten
obliged them to go indoors, and his father agreed. They bade each other
good-night, with the renewal of the promise that Dr. Hoxton should be
forced to hear Norman’s vindication the first thing to-morrow, Harvey
Anderson be disappointed of what he meanly triumphed in, and Norman
be again in his post at the head of the school, in more honour and
confidence than ever, putting down evil, and making Stoneborough what it
ought to be.

As Dr. May lay awake in the summer’s morning, meditating on his address
to Dr. Hoxton, he heard the unwelcome sound of a ring at the bell, and,
in a few minutes, a note was brought to him.

“Tell Adams to get the gig ready--I’ll let him know whether he is to go
with me.”

And, in a few minutes, the doctor opened Norman’s door, and found him
dressed, and standing by the window, reading. “What, up already, Norman?
I came to tell you that our affairs must wait till the afternoon. It
is very provoking, for Hoxton may be gone out, but Mr. Lake’s son, at
Groveswood, has an attack on the head, and I must go at once. It is a
couple of dozen miles off or more. I have hardly ever been there, and it
may keep me all day.”

“Shall you go in the gig? Shall I drive you?” said Norman, looking
rather blank.

“That’s what I thought of, if you like it. I thought you would sooner be
out of the way.”

“Thank you--yes, papa. Shall I come and help you to finish dressing?”

“Yes, do, thank you; it will hasten matters. Only, first order in some
breakfast. What makes you up so early? Have not you slept?”

“Not much--it has been such a hot night.”

“And you have a headache. Well, we will find a cure for that before the
day is over. I have settled what to say to old Hoxton.”

Before another quarter of an hour had passed, they were driving through
the deep lanes, the long grass thickly laden with morning dew, which
beaded the webs of the spiders and rose in clouds of mist under the
influence of the sun’s rays. There was stillness in the air at first,
then the morning sounds, the labourer going forth, the world wakening to
life, the opening houses, the children coming out to school. In spite of
the tumult of feeling, Norman could not but be soothed and refreshed
by the new and fair morning scene, and both minds quitted the school
politics, as Dr. May talked of past enjoyment of walks or drives home
in early dawn, the more delicious after a sad watch in a sick-room, and
told of the fair sights he had seen at such unwonted hours.

They had far to go, and the heat of the day had come on before they
entered the place of their destination. It was a woodland village, built
on a nook in the side of the hill, sloping greenly to the river, and
shut in by a white gate, which seemed to gather all in one the little
old-fashioned church, its yard, shaded with trees, and enclosed by long
white rails; the parsonage, covered with climbing plants and in the
midst of a gay garden; and one or two cottages. The woods cast a cool
shadow, and, in the meadows by the river rose cocks of new-made hay;
there was an air of abiding serenity about the whole place, save
that there stood an old man by the gate, evidently watching for the
physician’s carriage; and where the sun fell on that parsonage-house was
a bedroom window wide open, with the curtains drawn.

“Thank Heaven you are come, sir,” said the old man; “he is fearfully
bad.”

Norman knew young Lake, who had been a senior boy when he first went to
school, was a Randall scholar, and had borne an excellent character,
and highly distinguished himself at the university. And now, by all
accounts, he seemed to be dying--in the height of honour and general
esteem. Dr. May went into the house, the old man took the horse, and
Norman lingered under the trees in the churchyard, watching the white
curtains now and then puffed by the fitful summer breeze, as he lay on
the turf in the shade, under the influence of the gentle sadness
around, resting, mind and body, from the tossing tumultuous passionate
sensations that had kept him restless and miserable through the hot
night.

He waited long--one hour, two hours had passed away, but he was not
impatient, and hardly knew how long the time had been before his father
and Mr. Lake came out of the house together, and, after they parted, Dr.
May summoned him. He of course asked first for the patient. “Not quite
so hopeless as at first,” and the reasons for having been kept so long
were detailed, with many circumstances of the youth’s illness, and the
parents’ resignation, by which Dr. May was still too deeply touched to
have room in his mind for anything besides.

They were more than half-way home, and a silence had succeeded the
conversation about the Lake family, when Norman spoke:

“Papa, I have been thinking about it, and I believe it would be better
to let it alone, if you please.”

“Not apply to Dr. Hoxton!” exclaimed his father.

“Well, I think not. I have been considering it, and it does hardly seem
to me the right thing. You see, if I had not you close at hand, this
could never be explained, and it seems rather hard upon Anderson, who
has no father, and the other fellows, who have theirs farther off--”

“Right, Norman, that is what my father before me always said, and the
way I have always acted myself; much better let a few trifles go on not
just as one would wish, than be for ever interfering. But I really think
this is a case for it, and I don’t think you ought to let yourself be
influenced by the fear of any party-spirit.”

“It is not only that, papa--I have been thinking a good deal to-day, and
there are other reasons. Of course I should wish Dr. Hoxton to know that
I spoke the truth about that walk, and I hope you will let him know, as
I appealed to you. But, on cooler thoughts, I don’t believe Dr. Hoxton
could seriously suspect me of such a thing as that, and it was not on
that ground that I am turned down, but that I did not keep up sufficient
discipline, and allowed the outrage, as he calls it. Now, you know, that
is, after a fashion, true. If I had not gone on like an ass the other
day, and incited them to pull down the fences, they would not have done
it afterwards, and perhaps I ought to have kept on guard longer. It was
my fault, and we can’t deny it.”

Dr. May made a restless, reluctant movement. “Well, well, I suppose it
was--but it was just as much Harvey Anderson’s--and is he to get the
scholarship because he has added meanness to the rest?”

“He was not dux,” said Norman, with a sigh. “It was more shabby than I
thought was even in him. But I don’t know that the feeling about him is
not one reason. There has always been a rivalry and bitterness between
us two, and if I were to get the upper hand now, by means not in the
usual course, such as the fellows would think ill of, it would be worse
than ever, and I should always feel guilty and ashamed to look at him.”

“Over-refining, Norman,” muttered Dr. May.

“Besides, don’t you remember, when his father died, how glad you and
everyone were to get him a nomination, and it was said that if he gained
a scholarship it would be such a relief to poor Mrs. Anderson? Now he
has this chance, it does seem hard to deprive her of it. I should not
like to know that I had done so.”

“Whew!” the doctor gave a considering whistle.

“You could not make it straight, papa, without explaining about the
dealing with Ballhatchet, and that would be unfair to them all, even the
old rogue himself; for I promised to say nothing about former practices,
as long as he did not renew them.”

“Well! I don’t want to compromise you, Norman. You know your own ground
best, but I don’t like it at all. You don’t know the humiliation
of disgrace. Those who have thought highly of you, now thinking you
changed--I don’t know how to bear it for you.”

“I don’t mind anything while you trust me,” said Norman, eagerly; “not
much I mean, except Mr. Wilmot. You must judge, papa, and do as you
please.”

“No, you must judge, Norman. Your confidence in me ought not to be a
restraint. It has always been an understood thing that what you say
at home is as if it had not been said, as regards my dealings with the
masters.”

“I know, papa. Well, I’ll tell you what brought me to this. I tumbled
about all night in a rage, when I thought how they had served me, and
of Hoxton’s believing it all, and how he might only half give in to your
representation, and then I gloried in Anderson’s coming down from his
height, and being seen in his true colours. So it went on till morning
came, and I got up. You know you gave me my mother’s little ‘Thomas
a Kempis’. I always read a bit every morning. To-day it was, ‘Of four
things that bring much inward peace’. And what do you think they were?--


    “‘Be desirous, my son, to do the will of another
        rather than thine own.
     Choose always to have less rather than more.
     Seek always the lowest place, and to be inferior
        to everyone.
     Wish always and pray that the will of God may be
        wholly fulfilled in thee.’


“I liked them the more, because it was just like her last reading with
us, and like that letter. Well, then I wondered as I lay on the grass
at Groveswood, whether she would have thought it best for me to be
reinstated, and I found out that I should have been rather afraid of
what you might say when she had talked it over with you.”

Dr. May smiled a little at the simplicity with which this last was said,
but his smile ended in one of his heavy sighs. “So you took her for your
counsellor, my boy. That was the way to find out what was right.”

“Well, there was something in the place and, in watching poor Lake’s
windows, that made me not able to dwell so much on getting on, and
having prizes and scholarships. I thought that caring for those had been
driven out of me, and you know I never felt as if it were my right when
I was made dux; but now I find it is all come back. It does not do
for me to be first; I have been what she called elated, and been more
peremptory than need with the lower boys, and gone on in my old way with
Richard, and so I suppose this disgrace has come to punish me. I wish
it were not disgrace, because of our name at school, and because it
will vex Harry so much; but since it is come, considering all things,
I suppose I ought not to struggle to justify myself at other people’s
expense.”

His eyes were so dazzled with tears that he could hardly see to drive,
nor did his father speak at first. “I can’t say anything against it,
Norman, but I am sorry, and one thing more you should consider. If Dr.
Hoxton should view this absurd business in the way he seems to do, it
will stand in your way for ever in testimonials, if you try for anything
else.”

“Do you think it will interfere with my having a Confirmation ticket?”

“Why no, I should not think--such a boyish escapade could be no reason
for refusing you one.”

“Very well then, it had better rest. If there should be any difficulty
about my being confirmed, of course we will explain it.”

“I wish every one showed themselves as well prepared!” half muttered
the doctor; then, after long musing, “Well, Norman, I give up the
scholarship. Poor Mrs. Anderson wants it more than we do, and if the boy
is a shabby fellow the more he wants a decent education. But what do
you say to this? I make Hoxton do you full justice, and reinstate you
in your proper place, and then I take you away at once--send you to a
tutor--anything, till the end of the long vacation.”

“Thank you,” said Norman, pausing. “I don’t know, papa. I am very
much obliged to you, but I think it would hardly do. You would be
uncomfortable at seeming to quarrel with Dr. Hoxton, and it would be
hardly creditable for me to go off in anger.”

“You are right, I believe,” said Dr. May. “You judge wisely, though I
should not have ventured to ask it of you. But what is to become of the
discipline of the school? Is that all to go to the dogs?”

“I could not do anything with them if I were restored in this way; they
would be more set against me. It is bad enough as it is, but, even for
my own peace, I believe it is better to leave it alone. All my comfort
in school is over, I know!” and he sighed deeply.

“It is a most untoward business!” said the doctor. “I am very sorry your
schooldays should be clouded--but it can’t be helped, and you will work
yourself into a character again. You are full young, and can stay for
the next Randall.”

Norman felt as if, while his father looked at him as he now did, the
rest of the world were nothing to him; but, perhaps, the driving past
the school brought him to a different mind, for he walked into the house
slowly and dejectedly.

He told his own story to Ethel, in the garden, not without much
difficulty, so indignant were her exclamations; and it was impossible to
make her see that his father’s interference would put him in an awkward
position among the boys. She would argue vehemently that she could not
bear Mr. Wilmot to think ill of him, that it was a great shame of Dr.
Hoxton, and that it was dreadful to let such a boy as Harvey Anderson go
unpunished. “I really do think it is quite wrong of you to give up your
chance of doing good, and leave him in his evil ways!” That was all
the comfort she gave Norman, and she walked in to pour out a furious
grumbling upon Margaret.

Dr. May had been telling the elder ones, and they were in conversation
after he had left them--Margaret talking with animation, and Flora
sitting over her drawing, uttering reluctant assents. “Has he told you,
poor fellow?” asked Margaret.

“Yes,” said Ethel. “Was there ever such a shame?”

“That is just what I say,” observed Flora. “I cannot see why the
Andersons are to have a triumph over all of us.”

“I used to think Harvey the best of the two,” said Ethel. “Now I think
he is a great deal the worst. Taking advantage of such a mistake as
this! How will he ever look Norman in the face!”

“Really,” said Margaret, “I see no use in aggravating ourselves by
talking of the Andersons.”

“I can’t think how papa can consent,” proceeded Flora. “I am sure, if I
were in his place, I should not!”

“Papa is so much pleased with dear Norman’s behaviour that it quite
makes up for all the disappointment,” said Margaret. “Besides, he is
very much obliged to him in one way; he would not have liked to have
to battle the matter with Dr. Hoxton. He spoke of Norman’s great good
judgment.”

“Yes, Norman can persuade papa to anything,” said Flora.

“Yes, I wish papa had not yielded,” said Ethel. “It would have been just
as noble in dear Norman, and we should not have the apparent disgrace.”

“Perhaps it is best as it is, after all,” said Flora.

“Why, how do you mean?” said Ethel.

“I think very likely things might have come out. Now don’t look
furious, Ethel. Indeed, I can’t help it, but really I don’t think it
is explicable why Norman should wish to hush it up, unless there were
something behind!”

“Flora!” cried Ethel, too much shocked to bring out another word.

“If you are unfortunate enough to have such suspicions,” said Margaret
quietly, “I think it would be better to be silent.”

“As if you did not know Norman!” stammered Ethel.

“Well,” said Flora, “I don’t wish to think so. You know I did not hear
Norman himself, and when papa gives his vehement accounts of things, it
always puzzles us of the cooler-minded sort.”

“It is as great a shame as ever I heard!” cried Ethel, recovering her
utterance. “Who would you trust, if not your own father and brother?”

“Yes, yes,” said Flora, not by any means wishing to displease her
sisters. “If there is such a thing as an excess of generosity, it is
sure to be among ourselves. I only know it does not suit me. It will
make us all uncomfortable whenever we meet the Andersons or Mr. Wilmot,
or any one else, and as to such tenderness to Harvey Anderson, I think
it is thrown away.”

“Thrown away on the object, perhaps,” said Margaret, “but not in
Norman.”

“To be sure,” broke out Ethel. “Better be than seem! Oh, dear! I am
sorry I was vexed with dear old June when he told me. I had rather have
him now than if he had gained everything, and every one was praising
him--that I had! Harvey Anderson is welcome to be dux and Randall
scholar for what I care, while Norman is--while he is, just what we
thought of the last time we read that Gospel--you know, Margaret?”

“He is--that he is,” said Margaret, “and, indeed, it is most beautiful
to see how what has happened has brought him at once to what she wished,
when, perhaps, otherwise it would have been a work of long time.”

Ethel was entirely consoled. Flora thought of the words “tete exaltee”
 and considered herself alone to have sober sense enough to see things in
a true light--not that she went the length of believing that Norman had
any underhand motives, but she thought it very discreet in her to think
a prudent father would not have been satisfied with such a desire to
avoid investigation.

Dr. May would not trust himself to enter on the subject with Dr. Hoxton
in conversation; he only wrote a note.


                                “June 16th.

“Dear Dr. Hoxton,

“My son has appealed to me to confirm his account of himself on Thursday
evening last. I therefore distinctly state that he came in at half-past
nine, with his hands full of plants from the river, and that he then
went out again, by my desire, to look for his little brother.

                              --Yours very truly,
                                   R. May.”


A long answer came in return, disclaiming all doubt of Norman’s
veracity, and explaining Dr. Hoxton’s grounds for having degraded him.
There had been misconduct in the school, he said, for some time past,
and he did not consider that it was any very serious reproach, to a
boy of Norman’s age, that he had not had weight enough to keep up his
authority, and had been carried away by the general feeling. It had been
necessary to make an example for the sake of principle, and though very
sorry it should have fallen on one of such high promise and general good
conduct, Dr. Hoxton trusted that it would not be any permanent injury to
his prospects, as his talents had raised him to his former position in
the school so much earlier than usual.

“The fact was,” said Dr. May, “that old Hoxton did it in a passion,
feeling he must punish somebody, and now, finding there’s no uproar
about it, he begins to be sorry. I won’t answer this note. I’ll stop
after church to-morrow and shake hands, and that will show we don’t bear
malice.”

What Mr. Wilmot might think was felt by all to affect them more nearly.
Ethel wanted to hear that he declared his complete conviction of
Norman’s innocence, and was disappointed to find that he did not once
allude to the subject. She was only consoled by Margaret’s conjecture
that, perhaps, he thought the headmaster had been hasty, and could not
venture to say so--he saw into people’s characters, and it was notorious
that it was just what Dr. Hoxton did not.

Tom had spent the chief of that Saturday in reading a novel borrowed
from Axworthy, keeping out of sight of every one. All Sunday he avoided
Norman more scrupulously than ever, and again on Monday. That day was a
severe trial to Norman; the taking the lower place, and the sense that,
excel as much as ever he might in his studies, it would not avail to
restore him to his former place, were more unpleasant, when it came to
the point, than he had expected.

He saw the cold manner, so different from the readiness with which his
tasks had always been met, certain as they were of being well done; he
found himself among the common herd whom he had passed so triumphantly,
and, for a little while, he had no heart to exert himself.

This was conquered by the strong will and self-rebuke for having merely
craved for applause, but, in the play-ground, he found himself still
alone-the other boys who had been raised by his fall shrank from
intercourse with one whom they had injured by their silence, and the
Andersons, who were wont to say the Mays carried every tale home, and
who still almost expected interference from Dr. May, hardly believed
their victory secure, and the younger one, at least, talked spitefully,
and triumphed in the result of May’s meddling and troublesome over
strictness. “Such prigs always come to a downfall,” was the sentiment.

Norman found himself left out of everything, and stood dispirited and
weary on the bank of the river, wishing for Harry, wishing for Cheviot,
wishing that he had been able to make a friend who would stand by
him, thinking it could not be worse if he had let his father reinstate
him--and a sensation of loneliness and injustice hung heavy at his
heart.

His first interruption was a merry voice. “I say, June, there’s no
end of river cray-fish under that bank,” and Larkins’s droll face was
looking up at him, from that favourite position, half stooping, his
hands on his knees, his expression of fun trying to conceal his real
anxiety and sympathy.

Norman turned and smiled, and looked for the cray-fish, and, at the same
time, became aware of Hector Ernescliffe, watching for an opportunity to
say, “I have a letter from Alan.” He knew they wanted, as far as little
boys ventured to seek after one so much their elder, to show themselves
his friends, and he was grateful; he roused himself to hear about Alan’s
news, and found it was important--his great friend, Captain Gordon, had
got a ship, and hoped to be able to take him, and this might lead to
Harry’s going with him. Then Norman applied himself to the capture of
cray-fish, and Larkins grew so full of fun and drollery, that the hours
of recreation passed off less gloomily than they had begun.

If only his own brother would have been his adherent! But he saw almost
nothing of Tom. Day after day he missed him, he was off before him in
going and returning from school, and when he caught a sight of his face,
it looked harassed, pale, and miserable, stealing anxious glances after
him, yet shrinking from his eye. But, at the same time, Norman did not
see him mingling with his former friends, and could not make out how he
disposed of himself. To be thus continually shunned by his own brother,
even when the general mass were returning to ordinary terms, became
so painful, that Norman was always on the watch to seek for one more
conversation with him.

He caught him at last in the evening, just as they were going home.
“Tom, why are you running away? Come with me,” said he authoritatively;
and Tom obeyed in trembling.

Norman led the way to the meads. “Tom,” said he, “do not let this go on.
Why do you serve me in this way? You surely need not turn against me,”
 he said, with pleading melancholy in his voice.

It was not needed. Tom had flung himself upon the grass, and was in an
agony of crying, even before he had finished the words.

“Tom, Tom! what is the matter? Have they been bullying you again? Look
up, and tell me--what is it? You know I can stand by you still, if
you’ll only let me;” and Norman sat by him on the grass, and raised his
face by a sort of force, but the kind words only brought more piteous
sobs. It was a long time before they diminished enough to let him utter
a word, but Norman went on patiently consoling and inquiring, sure, at
least, that here had broken down the sullenness that had always repelled
him.

At last came the words, “Oh! I cannot bear it. It is all my doing!”

“What--how--you don’t mean this happening to me? It is not your doing,
August--what fancy is this?”

“Oh, yes, it is,” said Tom, his voice cut short by gasps, the remains
of the sobs. “They would not hear me! I tried to tell them how you
told them not, and sent them home. I tried to tell about
Ballhatchet--but--but they wouldn’t--they said if it had been Harry,
they would have attended--but they would not believe me. Oh! if Harry
was but here!”

“I wish he was,” said Norman, from the bottom of his heart; “but you
see, Tom, if this sets you on always telling truth, I shan’t think any
great harm done.”

A fresh burst, “Oh, they are all so glad! They say such things! And the
Mays were never in disgrace before. Oh, Norman, Norman!”

“Never mind about that--” began Norman.

“But you would mind,” broke in the boy passionately, “if you knew what
Anderson junior and Axworthy say! They say it serves you right, and they
were going to send me to old Ballhatchet’s to get some of his stuff to
drink confusion to the mouth of June, and all pragmatical meddlers; and
when I said I could not go, they vowed if I did not, I should eat the
corks for them! And Anderson junior called me names, and licked me. Look
there.” He showed a dark blue-and-red stripe raised on the palm of his
hand. “I could not write well for it these three days, and Hawes gave me
double copies!”

“The cowardly fellows!” exclaimed Norman indignantly. “But you did not
go?”

“No, Anderson senior stopped them. He said he would not have the
Ballhatchet business begin again.”

“That is one comfort,” said Norman. “I see he does not dare not to keep
order. But if you’ll only stay with me, August, I’ll take care they
don’t hurt you.”

“Oh, June! June!” and he threw himself across his kind brother. “I am so
very sorry! Oh! to see you put down--and hear them! And you to lose the
scholarship! Oh, dear! oh, dear! and be in disgrace with them all!”

“But, Tom, do cheer up. It is nothing to be in such distress at. Papa
knows all about it, and while he does, I don’t care half so much.”

“Oh, I wish--I wish--”

“You see, Tom,” said Norman, “after all, though it is very kind of you
to be sorry for not being able to get me out of this scrape, the thing
one wants you to be sorry about is your own affair.”

“I wish I had never come to school! I wish Anderson would leave me
alone! It is all his fault! A mean-spirited, skulking, bullying--”

“Hush, hush, Tom, he is bad enough, but now you know what he is, you
can keep clear of him for the future. Now listen. You and I will make
a fresh start, and try if we can’t get the Mays to be looked on as they
were when Harry was here. Let us mind the rules, and get into no more
mischief.”

“You’ll keep me from Ned Anderson and Axworthy?” whispered Tom.

“Yes, that I will. And you’ll try and speak the truth, and be
straightforward?”

“I will, I will,” said Tom, worn out in spirits by his long bondage, and
glad to catch at the hope of relief and protection.

“Then let us come home,” and Tom put his hand into his brother’s, as a
few weeks back would have seemed most unworthy of schoolboy dignity.

Thenceforth Tom was devoted to Norman, and kept close to him, sure that
the instant he was from under his wing his former companions would fall
on him to revenge his defection, but clinging to him also from real
affection and gratitude. Indolence and timidity were the true root of
what had for a time seemed like a positively bad disposition; beneath,
there was a warm heart, and sense of right, which had been almost
stifled for the time, in the desire, from moment to moment, to avoid
present trouble or fear. Under Norman’s care his better self had
freer scope, he was guarded from immediate terror, and kept from the
suggestions of the worse sort of boys, as much as was in his brother’s
power; and the looks they cast towards him, and the sly torments they
attempted to inflict, by no means invited him back to them. The lessons,
where he had a long inveterate habit of shuffling, came under Norman’s
eye at the same time. He always prepared them in his presence,
instead of in the most secret manner possible, and with all Anderson’s
expeditious modes of avoiding the making them of any use. Norman sat by,
and gave such help as was fair and just, showed him how to learn, and
explained difficulties, and the ingenuity hitherto spent in eluding
learning being now directed to gaining it, he began to make real
progress and find satisfaction in it. The comfort of being good dawned
upon him once more, but still there was much to contend with; he had
acquired such a habit of prevarication that, if by any means taken by
surprise, his impulse was to avoid giving a straightforward answer,
and when he recollected his sincerity, the truth came with the air of
falsehood. Moreover, he was an arrant coward, and provoked tricks by his
manifest and unreasonable terrors. It was no slight exercise of patience
that Norman underwent, but this was the interest he had made for
himself; and the recovery of the boy’s attachment, and his improvement,
though slow, were a present recompense.

Ernescliffe, Larkins, and others of the boys, held fast to him, and
after the first excitement was past, all the rest returned to their
former tone. He was decidedly as much respected as ever, and, at the
same time, regarded with more favour than when his strictness was
resented. And as for the discipline of the school, that did not suffer.
Anderson felt that, for his own credit, he must not allow the rules
to be less observed than in May’s reign, and he enforced them upon the
reluctant and angry boys with whom he had been previously making common
cause. Dr. Hoxton boasted to the under-masters that the school had never
been in such good order as under Anderson, little guessing that this was
but reaping the fruits of a past victory, or that every boy in the whole
school gave the highest place in their esteem to the deposed dux.

To Anderson, Norman’s cordial manner and ready support were the
strangest part of all, only explained by thinking that he deemed it, as
he tried to do himself, merely the fortune of war, and was sensible of
no injury.

And, for Norman himself, when the first shock was over, and he was
accustomed to the change, he found the cessation of vigilance a relief,
and carried a lighter heart than any time since his mother’s death.
His sisters could not help observing that there was less sadness in the
expression of his eyes, that he carried his head higher, walked with
freedom and elasticity of step, tossed and flourished the Daisy till she
shouted and crowed, while Margaret shrank at such freaks; and, though he
was not much of a laugher himself, contributed much sport in the way of
bright apposite sayings to the home circle.

It was a very unexpected mode of cure for depression of spirits, but
there could be no question that it succeeded; and when, a few Saturdays
after, he drove Dr. May again to Groveswood to see young Mr. Lake,
who was recovering, he brought Margaret home a whole pile of botanical
curiosities, and drew his father into an animated battle over natural
and Linnaean systems, which kept the whole party merry with the pros and
cons every evening for a week.



CHAPTER XXIII.



     Oh! the golden-hearted daisies,
       Witnessed there before my youth,
     To the truth of things, with praises
       Of the beauty of the truth.--E. B. BROWNING.


“Margaret, see here.”

The doctor threw into her lap a letter, which made her cheeks light up.

Mr. Ernescliffe wrote that his father’s friend, Captain Gordon, having
been appointed to the frigate Alcestis, had chosen him as one of his
lieutenants, and offered a nomination as naval cadet for his brother. He
had replied that the navy was not Hector’s destination, but, as Captain
Gordon had no one else in view, had prevailed on him to pass on the
proposal to Harry May.

Alan wrote in high terms of his captain, declaring that he esteemed the
having sailed with him as one of the greatest advantages he had ever
received, and adding that, for his own part, Dr. May needed no promise
from him to be assured that he would watch over Harry like his own
brother. It was believed that the Alcestis was destined for the South
American station.

“A three years’ business,” said Dr. May, with a sigh. “But the thing is
done, and this is as good as we can hope.”

“Far better!” said Margaret. “What pleasure it must have given him! Dear
Harry could not sail under more favourable circumstances.”

“No, I would trust to Ernescliffe as I would to Richard. It is kindly
done, and I will thank him at once. Where does he date from?”

“From Portsmouth. He does not say whether he has seen Harry.”

“I suppose he waited for my answer. Suppose I enclose a note for him to
give to Harry. There will be rapture enough, and it is a pity he should
not have the benefit of it.”

The doctor sat down to write, while Margaret worked and mused, perhaps
on outfits and new shirts--perhaps on Harry’s lion-locks, beneath a blue
cap and gold band, or, perchance, on the coral shoals of the Pacific.

It was one of the quiet afternoons, when all the rest were out, and
which the doctor and his daughter especially valued, when they were able
to spend one together without interruption. Soon, however, a ring at
the door brought an impatient exclamation from the doctor; but his smile
beamed out at the words, “Miss Rivers.” They were great friends; in
fact, on terms of some mutual sauciness, though Meta was, as yet, far
less at home with his daughters, and came in, looking somewhat shy.

“Ah, your congeners are gone out!” was the doctor’s reception. “You must
put up with our sober selves.”

“Is Flora gone far?” asked Meta.

“To Cocksmoor,” said Margaret. “I am very sorry she has missed you.”

“Shall I be in your way?” said Meta timidly. “Papa has several things to
do, and said he would call for me here.”

“Good luck for Margaret,” said Dr. May.

“So they are gone to Cocksmoor!” said Meta. “How I envy them!”

“You would not if you saw the place,” said Dr. May. “I believe Norman is
very angry with me for letting them go near it.”

“Ah! but they are of real use there!”

“And Miss Meta is obliged to take to envying the black-hole of
Cocksmoor, instead of being content with the eglantine bowers of
Abbotstoke! I commiserate her!” said the doctor.

“If I did any good instead of harm at Abbotstoke!”

“Harm!” exclaimed Margaret.

“They went on very well without me,” said Meta; “but ever since I have
had the class they have been getting naughtier and noisier every Sunday;
and, last Sunday, the prettiest of all--the one I liked best, and had
done everything for--she began to mimic me--held up her finger, as I
did, and made them all laugh!”

“Well, that is very bad!” said Margaret; “but I suppose she was a very
little one.”

“No, a quick clever one, who knew much better, about nine years old. She
used to be always at home in the week, dragging about a great baby; and
we managed that her mother should afford to stay at home and send her to
school. It seemed such a pity her cleverness should be wasted.”

The doctor smiled. “Ah! depend upon it, the tyrant-baby was the best
disciplinarian.”

Meta looked extremely puzzled.

“Papa means,” said Margaret, “that if she was inclined to be conceited,
the being teased at home might do her more good than being brought
forward at school.”

“I have done everything wrong, it seems,” said Meta, with a shade of
what the French call depit. “I thought it must be right and good--but
it has only done mischief; and now papa says they are an ungrateful set,
and that, if it vexes me, I had better have no more to do with them!”

“It does not vex you so much as that, I hope,” said Margaret.

“Oh, I could not bear that!” said Meta; “but it is so different from
what I thought!”

“Ah! you had an Arcadia of good little girls in straw hats, such as I
see in Blanche’s little books,” said the doctor, “all making the young
lady an oracle, and doing wrong--if they do it at all--in the simplest
way, just for an example to the others.”

“Dr. May! How can you know so well? But do you really think it is their
fault, or mine?”

“Do you think me a conjurer?”

“Well, but what do you think?”

“What do Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wilmot think?”

“I know Mrs. Wilmot thinks I spoil my class. She spoke to me about
making favourites, and sometimes has seemed surprised at things which
I have done. Last Sunday she told me she thought I had better have a
steadier class, and I know whom she will give me--the great big, stupid
ones, at the bottom of the first class! I do believe it is only out
of good-nature that she does not tell me not to teach at all. I have a
great mind I will not; I know I do nothing but harm.”

“What shall you say if I tell you I think so too?” asked the doctor.

“Oh, Dr. May, you don’t really? Now, does he, Miss May? I am sure I only
want to do them good. I don’t know what I can have done.”

Margaret made her perceive that the doctor was smiling, and she changed
her tone, and earnestly begged to be told what they thought of the case;
for if she should show her concern at home, her father and governess
would immediately beg her to cease from all connection with the school,
and she did not feel at all convinced that Mrs. Wilmot liked to have her
there. Feeling injured by the implied accusation of mismanagement, yet,
with a sense of its truth, used to be petted, and new to rebuffs, yet
with a sincere wish to act rightly, she was much perplexed by this, her
first reverse, and had come partly with the view of consulting Flora,
though she had fallen on other counsellors.

“Margaret, our adviser general,” said the doctor, “what do you say? Put
yourself in the place of Mrs. Charles Wilmot, and say, shall Miss Rivers
teach or not?”

“I had rather you would, papa.”

“Not I--I never kept school.”

“Well, then, I being Mrs. Wilmot, should certainly be mortified if Miss
Rivers deserted me because the children were naughty. I think, I think I
had rather she came and asked me what she had better do.”

“And you would answer ‘teach,’ for fear of vexing her,” said Meta.

“I should, and also for the sake of letting her learn to teach.”

“The point where only trial shows one’s ignorance,” said Dr. May.

“But I don’t want to do it for my own sake,” said Meta. “I do everything
for my own sake already.”

“For theirs, then,” said the doctor. “If teaching will not come by
nature, you must serve an apprenticeship, if you mean to be of service
in that line. Perhaps it was the gift that the fairies omitted.”

“But will it do any good to them?”

“I can’t tell; but I am sure it would do them harm for you to give it
up, because it is disagreeable.”

“Well,” said Meta, with a sigh, “I’ll go and talk to Mrs. Wilmot. I
could not bear to give up anything that seems right just now, because of
the Confirmation.”

Margaret eagerly inquired, and it appeared that the bishop had given
notice for a Confirmation in August, and that Mr. Wilmot was already
beginning to prepare his candidates, whilst Mr. Ramsden, always tardy,
never gave notice till the last moment possible. The hope was expressed
that Harry might be able to profit by this opportunity; and Harry’s
prospects were explained to Meta; then the doctor, recollecting
something that he wished to say to Mr. Rivers, began to ask about the
chance of his coming before the time of an engagement of his own.

“He said he should be here at about half-past four,” said Meta. “He is
gone to the station to inquire about the trains. Do you know what time
the last comes in?”

“At nine forty-five,” said the doctor.

“That is what we were afraid of. It is for Bellairs, my maid. Her mother
is very ill, and she is afraid she is not properly nursed. It is about
five miles from the Milbury Station, and we thought of letting her go
with a day-ticket to see about her. She could go in the morning, after
I am up; but I don’t know what is to be done, for she could not get back
before I dress for dinner.”

Margaret felt perfectly aghast at the cool tone, especially after what
had passed.

“It would be quite impossible,” said the doctor. “Even going by the
eight o’clock train, and returning by the last, she would only have two
hours to spare--short enough measure for a sick mother.”

“Papa means to give her whatever she wants for any nurse she may get.”

“Is there no one with her mother now?”

“A son’s wife, who, they think, is not kind. Poor Bellairs was so
grateful for being allowed to go home. I wonder if I could dress for
once without her?”

“Do you know old Crabbe?” said the doctor.

“The dear old man at Abbotstoke? Oh, yes, of course.”

“There was a very sad case in his family. The mother was dying of
a lingering illness, when the son met with a bad accident. The only
daughter was a lady’s-maid, and could not be spared, though the brother
was half crazy to see her, and there was no one to tend them but a
wretch of a woman, paid by the parish. The poor fellow kept calling for
his sister in his delirium, and, at last, I could not help writing to
the mistress.”

“Did she let her come?” said Meta, her cheek glowing.

“As a great favour, she let her set out by the mail train, after
dressing her for a ball, with orders to return in time for her toilette
for an evening party the next day.”

“Oh, I remember,” said Margaret, “her coming here at five in the
morning, and your taking her home.”

“And when we got to Abbotstoke the brother was dead. That parish nurse
had not attended to my directions, and, I do believe, was the cause of
it. The mother had had a seizure, and was in the most precarious state.”

“Surely she stayed!”

“It was as much as her place was worth,” said the doctor; “and her wages
were the chief maintenance of the family. So she had to go back to dress
her mistress, while the old woman lay there, wailing after Betsy. She
did give warning then, but, before the month was out, the mother was
dead.”

Meta did not speak, and Dr. May presently rose, saying he should try to
meet Mr. Rivers in the town, and went out. Meta sat thoughtful, and at
last, sighing, said, “I wonder whether Bellairs’s mother is so very ill?
I have a great mind to let Susan try to do my hair, and let Bellairs
stay a little longer. I never thought of that.”

“I do not think you will be sorry,” said Margaret.

“Yes, I shall, for if my hair does not look nice, papa will not be
pleased, and there is Aunt Leonora coming. How odd it will be to be
without Bellairs! I will ask Mrs. Larpent.”

“Oh, yes!” said Margaret. “You must not think we meant to advise; but
papa has seen so many instances of distress, from servants not spared to
their friends in illness, that he feels strongly on the subject.”

“And I really might have been as cruel as that woman!” said Meta. “Well,
I hope Mrs. Bellairs may be better, and able to spare her daughter. I
don’t know what will become of me without her.”

“I think it will have been a satisfaction in one way,” said Margaret.

“In what way?”

“Don’t you remember what you began by complaining of, that you could not
be of use? Now, I fancy this would give you the pleasure of undergoing a
little personal inconvenience for the good of another.”

Meta looked half puzzled, half thoughtful, and Margaret, who was a
little uneasy at the style of counsel she found herself giving, changed
the conversation.

It was a memorable one to little Miss Rivers, opening out to her, as did
almost all her meetings with that family, a new scope for thought and
for duty. The code to which she had been brought up taught that
servants were the machines of their employer’s convenience. Good-nature
occasioned much kindliness of manner and intercourse, and every luxury
and indulgence was afforded freely; but where there was any want of
accordance between the convenience of the two parties, there was no
question. The master must be the first object, the servants’ remedy was
in their own hands.

Amiable as was Mr. Rivers, this, merely from indulgence and want of
reflection, was his principle; and his daughter had only been acting
on it, though she did not know it, till the feelings that she had
never thought of were thus displayed before her. These were her first
practical lessons that life was not meant to be passed in pleasing
ourselves, and being good-natured at small cost.

It was an effort. Meta was very dependent, never having been encouraged
to be otherwise, and Bellairs was like a necessary of life in her
estimation; but strength of principle came to aid her naturally
kind-hearted feeling, and she was pleased by the idea of voluntarily
undergoing a privation so as to test her sincerity.

So when her father told her of the inconvenient times of the trains, and
declared that Bellairs must give it up, she answered by proposing to let
her sleep a night or two there, gaily promised to manage very well, and
satisfied him.

Her maid’s grateful looks and thanks recompensed her when she made
the offer to her, and inspirited her to an energetic coaxing of Mrs.
Larpent, who, being more fully aware than her father of the needfulness
of the lady’s-maid, and also very anxious that her darling should appear
to the best advantage before the expected aunt, Lady Leonora Langdale,
was unwilling to grant more than one night at the utmost.

Meta carried the day, and her last assurance to Bellairs was that she
might stay as long as seemed necessary to make her mother comfortable.

Thereupon Meta found herself more helpful in some matters than she
had expected, but at a loss in others. Susan, with all Mrs. Larpent’s
supervision, could not quite bring her dress to the air that was so
peculiarly graceful and becoming; and she often caught her papa’s eye
looking at her as if he saw something amiss, and could not discover what
it was. Then came Aunt Leonora, always very kind to Meta, but the dread
of the rest of the household, whom she was wont to lecture on the
proper care of her niece. Miss Rivers was likely to have a considerable
fortune, and Lady Leonora intended her to be a very fashionable and much
admired young lady, under her own immediate protection.

The two cousins, Leonora and Agatha, talked to her; the one of her
balls, the other of her music--patronised her, and called her their good
little cousin--while they criticised the stiff set of those unfortunate
plaits made by Susan, and laughed, as if it was an unheard-of
concession, at Bellairs’s holiday.

Nevertheless, when “Honoured Miss” received a note, begging for three
days’ longer grace, till a niece should come, in whom Bellairs could
place full confidence, she took it on herself to return free consent.
Lady Leonora found out what she had done, and reproved her, telling her
it was only the way to make “those people” presume, and Mrs. Larpent
was also taken to task; but, decidedly, Meta did not regret what she had
done, though she felt as if she had never before known how to appreciate
comfort, when she once more beheld Bellairs stationed at her toilette
table.

Meta was asked about her friends. She could not mention any one but Mrs.
Charles Wilmot and the Misses May.

“Physician’s daughters; oh!” said Lady Leonora.

And she proceeded to exhort Mr. Rivers to bring his daughter to London,
or its neighbourhood, where she might have masters, and be in the way of
forming intimacies suited to her connections.

Mr. Rivers dreaded London--never was well there, and did not like the
trouble of moving--while Meta was so attached to the Grange, that she
entreated him not to think of leaving it, and greatly dreaded her aunt’s
influence. Lady Leonora did, indeed, allow that the Grange was a very
pretty place; her only complaint was the want of suitable society for
Meta; she could not bear the idea of her growing accustomed--for want of
something better--to the vicar’s wife and the pet doctor’s daughters.

Flora had been long desirous to effect a regular call at Abbotstoke, and
it was just now that she succeeded. Mrs. Charles Wilmot’s little girl
was to have a birthday feast, at which Mary, Blanche, and Aubrey were
to appear. Flora went in charge of them, and as soon as she had safely
deposited them, and appointed Mary to keep Aubrey out of mischief, she
walked up to the Grange, not a whit daunted by the report of the very
fine ladies who were astonishing the natives of Abbotstoke.

She was admitted, and found herself in the drawing-room, with a quick
lively-looking lady, whom she perceived to be Lady Leonora, and who
instantly began talking to her very civilly. Flora was never at a loss,
and they got on extremely well; her ease and self-possession, without
forwardness, telling much to her advantage. Meta came in, delighted to
see her, but, of course, the visit resulted in no really intimate talk,
though it was not without effect. Flora declared Lady Leonora Langdale
to be a most charming person; and Lady Leonora, on her side, asked
Meta who was that very elegant conversible girl. “Flora May,” was
the delighted answer, now that the aunt had committed herself by
commendation. And she did not retract it; she pronounced Flora to be
something quite out of the common way, and supposed that she had had
unusual advantages.

Mr. Rivers took care to introduce to his sister-in-law Dr. May (who
would fain have avoided it), but ended by being in his turn pleased and
entertained by her brilliant conversation, which she put forth for
him, as her instinct showed her that she was talking to a man of high
ability. A perfect gentleman she saw him to be, and making out some
mutual connections far up in the family tree of the Mackenzies,
she decided that the May family were an acquisition, and very good
companions for her niece at present, while not yet come out. So ended
the visit, with this great triumph for Meta, who had a strong belief in
Aunt Leonora’s power and infallibility, and yet had not consulted her
about Bellairs, nor about the school question.

She had missed one Sunday’s school on account of her aunt’s visit, but
the resolution made beside Margaret’s sofa had not been forgotten. She
spent her Saturday afternoon in a call on Mrs. Wilmot, ending with a
walk through the village; she confessed her ignorance, apologised for
her blunders, and put herself under the direction which once she had
fancied too strict and harsh to be followed.

And on Sunday she was content to teach the stupid girls, and abstain
from making much of the smooth-faced engaging set. She thought it very
dull work, but she could feel that it was something not done to please
herself; and whereas her father had feared she would be dull when her
cousins were gone, he found her more joyous than ever.

There certainly was a peculiar happiness about Margaret Rivers; her
vexations were but ripples, rendering the sunny course of her life more
sparkling, and each exertion in the way of goodness was productive of so
much present joy that the steps of her ladder seemed, indeed, to be of
diamonds.

Her ladder--for she was, indeed, mounting upwards. She was very earnest
in her Confirmation preparation, most anxious to do right and to contend
with her failings; but the struggle at present was easy; and the hopes,
joys, and incentives shone out more and more upon her in this blithe
stage of her life.

She knew there was a dark side, but hope and love were more present to
her than was fear. Happy those to whom such young days are granted.



CHAPTER XXIV.



     It is the generous spirit, who, when brought
     Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
     Upon the plan that pleased his childish thought,
     Whose high endeavours are an inward light,
     Making the path before him always bright.
                                          WORDSWORTH.


The holidays had commenced about a week when Harry, now duly appointed
to H. M. S. Alcestis, was to come home on leave, as he proudly expressed
it.

A glad troop of brothers and sisters, with the doctor himself, walked up
to the station to meet him, and who was happiest when, from the window,
was thrust out the rosy face, with the gold band? Mary gave such a
shriek and leap, that two passengers and one guard turned round to look
at her, to the extreme discomfiture of Flora and Norman, evidenced by
one by a grave “Mary! Mary!” by the other, by walking off to the extreme
end of the platform, and trying to look as if he did not belong to them,
in which he was imitated by his shadow, Tom.

Sailor already, rather than schoolboy, Harry cared not for spectators;
his bound from the carriage, and the hug between him, and Mary would
have been worthy of the return from the voyage. The next greeting was
for his father, and the sisters had had their share by the time the two
brothers thought fit to return from their calm walk on the platform.

Grand was it to see that party return to the town--the naval cadet,
with his arm linked in Mary’s, and Aubrey clinging to his hand, and the
others walking behind, admiring him as he turned his bright face every
moment with some glad question or answer, “How was Margaret?” Oh, so
much better; she had been able to walk across the room, with Norman’s
arm round her--they hoped she would soon use crutches--and she sat up
more. “And the baby?” More charming than ever--four teeth--would soon
walk--such a darling! Then came “my dirk, the ship, our berth.” “Papa,
do ask Mr. Ernescliffe to come here. I know he could get leave.”

“Mr. Ernescliffe! You used to call him Alan!” said Mary.

“Yes, but that is all over now. You forget what we do on board. Captain
Gordon himself calls me Mr. May!”

Some laughed, others were extremely impressed.

“Ha! There’s Ned Anderson coming,” cried Mary. “Now! Let him see you,
Harry.”

“What matters Ned Anderson to me?” said Harry; and, with an odd
mixture of shamefacedness and cordiality, he marched full up to his old
school-fellow, and shook hands with him, as if able, in the plenitude of
his officership, to afford plenty of good-humoured superiority. Tom had
meantime subsided out of all view. But poor Harry’s exultation had a
fall.

“Well!” graciously inquired ‘Mr. May’, “and how is Harvey?”

“Oh, very well. We are expecting him home to-morrow.”

“Where has he been?”

“To Oxford, about the Randall.”

Harry gave a disturbed, wondering look round, on seeing Edward’s air of
malignant satisfaction. He saw nothing that reassured him, except the
quietness of Norman’s own face, but even that altered as their eyes met.
Before another word could be said, however, the doctor’s hand was on
Harry’s shoulder.

“You must not keep him now, Ned,” said he--“his sister has not seen him
yet.”

And he moved his little procession onwards, still resting on Harry’s
shoulder, while a silence had fallen on all, and even the young sailor
ventured no question. Only Tom’s lips were quivering, and Ethel had
squeezed Norman’s hand. “Poor Harry!” he muttered, “this is worst of
all! I wish we had written it to him.”

“So do I now, but we always trusted it would come right. Oh! if I were
but a boy to flog that Edward!”

“Hush, Ethel, remember what we resolved.”

They were entering their own garden, where, beneath the shade of the
tulip-tree, Margaret lay on her couch. Her arms were held out, and Harry
threw himself upon her, but when he rose from her caress, Norman and Tom
were gone.

“What is this?” he now first ventured to ask.

“Come with me,” said Dr. May, leading the way to his study, where he
related the whole history of the suspicion that Norman had incurred.
He was glad that he had done so in private, for Harry’s indignation and
grief went beyond his expectations; and when at last it appeared that
Harvey Anderson was actually Randall-scholar, after opening his
eyes with the utmost incredulity, and causing it to be a second time
repeated, he gave a gulp or two, turned very red, and ended by laying
his head on the table, and fairly sobbing and crying aloud, in spite of
dirk, uniform, and manhood.

“Harry! why, Harry, my boy! We should have prepared you for this,” said
the doctor affectionately. “We have left off breaking our hearts about
it. I don’t want any comfort now for having gold instead of glitter;
though at first I was as bad as you.”

“Oh, if I had but been there!” said Harry, combating unsuccessfully with
his tears.

“Ah! so we all said, Norman and all. Your word would have cleared
him--that is, if you had not been in the thick of the mischief. Ha!
July, should not you have been on the top of the wall?”

“I would have stood by him, at least. Would not I have given Axworthy
and Anderson two such black eyes as they could not have shown in school
for a week? They had better look out!” cried Harry savagely.

“What! An officer in her Majesty’s service! Eh, Mr. May?”

“Don’t, papa, don’t. Oh! I thought it would have been so happy, when I
came home, to see Norman Randall-scholar. Oh! now I don’t care for the
ship, nor anything.” Again Harry’s face went down on the table.

“Come, come, Harry,” said Dr. May, pulling off the spectacles that had
become very dewy, “don’t let us make fools of ourselves, or they will
think we are dying for the scholarship.”

“I don’t care for the scholarship, but to have June turned down--and
disgrace--”

“What I care for, Harry, is having June what he is, and that I know
better now.”

“He is! he is--he is June himself, and no mistake!” cried Harry, with
vehemence.

“The prime of the year, is not it?” said the doctor, smiling, as he
stroked down the blue sleeve, as if he thought that generous July did
not fall far short of it.

“That he is!” exclaimed Harry. “I have never met one fellow like him.”

“It will be a chance if you ever do,” said Dr. May. “That is better than
scholarships!”

“It should have been both,” said Harry.

“Norman thinks the disappointment has been very good for him,” said the
doctor.

“Perhaps it made him what he is now. All success is no discipline, you
know.”

Harry looked as if he did not know.

“Perhaps you will understand better by-and-by, but this I can tell you,
Harry, that the patient bearing of his vexation has done more to renew
Norman’s spirits than all his prosperity. See if if has not. I believe
it is harder to every one of us, than to him. To Ethel, especially, it
is a struggle to be in charity with the Andersons.”

“In charity!” repeated Harry. “Papa! you don’t want us to like a horrid,
sneaking, mean-spirited pair like those, that have used Norman in that
shameful way?”

“No, certainly not; I only want you to feel no more personal anger
than if it had been Cheviot, or some indifferent person, that had been
injured.”

“I should have hated them all the same!” cried Harry.

“If it is all the same, and it is the treachery you hate, I ask no
more,” said the doctor.

“I can’t help it, papa, I can’t! If I were to meet those fellows, do
you think I could shake hands with them? If I did not lick Ned all down
Minster Street, he might think himself lucky.”

“Well, Harry, I won’t argue any more. I have no right to preach
forbearance. Your brother’s example is better worth than my precept.
Shall we go back to Margaret, or have you anything to say to me?”

Harry made no positive answer, but pressed close to his father, who
put his arm round him, while the curly head was laid on his shoulder.
Presently he said, with a great sigh, “There’s nothing like home.”

“Was that what you wanted to say?” asked Dr. May, smiling, as he held
the boy more closely to him.

“No; but it will be a long time before I come back. They think we shall
have orders for the Pacific.”

“You will come home our real lion,” said the doctor. “How much you will
have to tell!”

“Yes,” said Harry; “but oh! it is very different from coming home every
night, not having any one to tell a thing to.”

“Do you want to say anything now?”

“I don’t know. I told you in my letter about the half-sovereign.”

“Ay, never mind that.”

“And there was one night, I am afraid, I did not stand by a little
fellow that they bullied about his prayers. Perhaps he would have gone
on, if I had helped him!”

“Does he sail with you?”

“No, he was at school. If I had told him that he and I would stand by
each other--but he looked so foolish, and began to cry! I am sorry now.”

“Weak spirits have much to bear,” said the doctor, “and you stronger
ones, who don’t mind being bullied, are meant, I suppose, to help them,
as Norman has been doing by poor little Tommy.”

“It was thinking of Norman--that made me sorry. I knew there was
something else, but you see I forget when I don’t see you and Margaret
every day.”

“You have One always near, my boy.”

“I know, but I cannot always recollect. And there is such a row at night
on board, I cannot think or attend as I ought,” murmured Harry.

“Yes, your life, sleeping at home in quiet, has not prepared you for
that trial,” said the doctor. “But others have kept upright habits under
the same, you know--and God helps those who are doing their best.”

Harry sighed.

“I mean to do my best,” he added; “and if it was not for feeling bad,
I should like it. I do like it”--and his eye sparkled, and his smile
beamed, though the tear was undried.

“I know you do!” said Dr. May, smiling, “and for feeling bad, my Harry,
I fear you must do that by sea, or land, as long as you are in this
world. God be thanked that you grieve over the feeling. But He is ready
to aid, and knows the trial, and you will be brought nearer to Him
before you leave us.”

“Margaret wrote about the Confirmation. Am I old enough?”

“If you wish it, Harry, under these circumstances.”

“I suppose I do,” said Harry, uneasily twirling a button.

“But then, if I’ve got to forgive the Andersons--”

“We won’t talk any more of that,” said the doctor; “here is poor Mary,
reconnoitring, to know why I am keeping you from her.”

Then began the scampering up and down the house, round and round the
garden, visiting every pet or haunt or contrivance; Mary and Harry at
the head, Blanche and Tom in full career after them, and Aubrey stumping
and scrambling at his utmost speed, far behind.

Not a word passed between Norman and Harry on the school misadventure,
but, after the outbreak of the latter, he treated it as a thing
forgotten, and brought all his high spirits to enliven the family party.
Richard, too, returned later on the same day, and though not received
with the same uproarious joy as Harry, the elder section of the family
were as happy in their way as what Blanche called the middle-aged. The
Daisy was brought down, and the eleven were again all in the same room,
though there were suppressed sighs from some, who reflected how long it
might be before they could again assemble.

Tea went off happily in the garden, with much laughing and talking.
“Pity to leave such good company!” said the doctor, unwillingly rising
at last--“but I must go to the Union--I promised Ward to meet him
there.”

“Oh, let me walk with you!” cried Harry.

“And me!” cried other voices, and the doctor proposed that they should
wait for him in the meads, and extend the walk after the visit. Richard
and Ethel both expressing their intention of adhering to Margaret--the
latter observing how nice it would be to get rid of everybody, and have
a talk.

“What have we been doing all this time?” said Dr. May, laughing.

“Chattering, not conversing,” said Ethel saucily.

“Ay! the Cocksmoor board is going to sit,” said Dr. May.

“What is a board?” inquired Blanche, who had just come down prepared for
her walk.

“Richard, Margaret, and Ethel, when they sit upon Cocksmoor,” said Dr.
May.

“But Margaret never does sit on Cocksmoor, papa.”

“Only allegorically, Blanche,” said Norman.

“But I don’t understand what is a board?” pursued Blanche.

“Mr. May in his ship,” was Norman’s suggestion.

Poor Blanche stood in perplexity. “What is it really?”

“Something wooden headed,” continued the provoking papa.

“A board is all wooden, not only its head,” said Blanche.

“Exactly so, especially at Stoneborough!” said the doctor.

“It is what papa is when he comes out of the council-room,” added Ethel.

“Or what every one is while the girls are rigging themselves,” sighed
Harry. “Ha! here’s Polly--now we only want Flora.”

“And my stethoscope! Has any one seen my stethoscope!” exclaimed the
doctor, beginning to rush frantically into the study, dining-room,
and his own room; but failing, quietly took up a book, and gave up the
search, which was vigorously pursued by Richard, Flora, and Mary, until
the missing article was detected, where Aubrey had left it in the nook
on the stairs, after using it for a trumpet and a telescope.

“Ah! now my goods will have a chance!” said Dr. May, as he took it, and
patted Richard’s shoulder. “I have my best right hand, and Margaret will
be saved endless sufferings.”

“Papa!”

“Ay! poor dear! don’t I see what she undergoes, when nobody will
remember that useful proverb, ‘A place for everything, and everything in
its place.’ I believe one use of her brains is to make an inventory of
all the things left about the drawing-room; but, beyond it, it is past
her power.”

“Yes,” said Flora, rather aggrieved; “I do the best I can, but, when
nobody ever puts anything into its place, what can I do, single-handed?
So no one ever goes anywhere without first turning the house upside down
for their property; and Aubrey, and now even baby, are always carrying
whatever they can lay hands on into the nursery. I can’t bear it; and
the worst of it is that,” she added, finishing her lamentation, after
the others were out at the door, “papa and Ethel have neither of them
the least shame about it.”

“No, no, Flora, that is not fair!” exclaimed Margaret--but Flora was
gone.

“I have shame,” sighed Ethel, walking across the room disconsolately, to
put a book into a shelf.

“And you don’t leave trainants as you used,” said Margaret. “That is
what I meant.”

“I wish I did not,” said Ethel; “I was thinking whether I had better not
make myself pay a forfeit. Suppose you keep a book for me, Margaret,
and make a mark against me at everything I leave about, and if I pay
a farthing for each, it will be so much away from Cocksmoor, so I must
cure myself!”

“And what shall become of the forfeits?” asked Richard.

“Oh, they won’t be enough to be worth having, I hope,” said Margaret.

“Give them to the Ladies’ Committee,” said Ethel, making a face. “Oh,
Ritchie! they are worse than ever. We are so glad that Flora is going to
join it, and see whether she can do any good.”

“We?” said Margaret, hesitating.

“Ah! I know you aren’t, but papa said she might--and you know she has so
much tact and management--”

“As Norman says,” observed Margaret doubtfully. “I cannot like the
notion of Flora going and squabbling with Mrs. Ledwich and Louisa
Anderson!”

“What do you think, Ritchie?” asked Ethel. “Is it not too bad that they
should have it all their own way, and spoil the whole female population?
Why, the last thing they did was to leave off reading the Prayer-book
prayers morning and evening! And it is much expected that next they will
attack all learning by heart.”

“It is too bad,” said Richard, “but Flora can hardly hinder them.”

“It will be one voice,” said Ethel; “but oh! if I could only say half
what I have in my mind, they must see the error. Why, these, these--what
they call formal--these the ties--links on to the Church--on to what is
good--if they don’t learn them soundly--rammed down hard--you know what
I mean--so that they can’t remember the first--remember when they did
not know them--they will never get to learn--know--understand when they
can understand!”

“My dear Ethel, don’t frown so horribly, or it will spoil your
eloquence,” said Margaret.

“I don’t understand either,” said Richard gravely. “Not understand when
they can understand? What do you mean?”

“Why, Ritchie, don’t you see? If they don’t learn them--hard, firm, by
rote when they can’t--they won’t understand when they can.”

“If they don’t learn when they can’t, they won’t understand when they
can?” puzzled Richard, making Margaret laugh; but Ethel was too much in
earnest for amusement.

“If they don’t learn them by rote when they have strong memories. Yes,
that’s it!” she continued; “they will not know them well enough to
understand them when they are old enough!”

“Who won’t learn and understand what?” said Richard.

“Oh, Ritchie, Ritchie! Why the children--the Psalms--the Gospels--the
things. They ought to know them, love them, grow up to them, before they
know the meaning, or they won’t care. Memory, association, affection,
all those come when one is younger than comprehension!”

“Younger than one’s own comprehension?”

“Richard, you are grown more tiresome than ever. Are you laughing at
me?”

“Indeed, I beg your pardon--I did not mean it,” said Richard. “I am very
sorry to be so stupid.”

“My dear Ritchie, it was only my blundering-never mind.”

“But what did you mean? I want to know, indeed, Ethel.”

“I mean that memory and association come before comprehension, so that
one ought to know all good things--fa--with familiarity before one can
understand, because understanding does not make one love. Oh! one does
that before, and, when the first little gleam, little bit of a sparklet
of the meaning does come, then it is so valuable and so delightful.”

“I never heard of a little bit of a sparklet before,” said Richard, “but
I think I do see what Ethel means; and it is like what I heard and liked
in a university sermon some Sundays ago, saying that these lessons and
holy words were to be impressed on us here from infancy on earth, that
we might be always unravelling their meaning, and learn it fully at
last--where we hope to be.”

“The very same thought!” exclaimed Margaret, delighted; “but,” after
a pause, “I am afraid the Ladies’ Committee might not enter into it in
plain English, far less in Ethel’s language.”

“Now, Margaret! You know I never meant myself. I never can get the right
words for what I mean.”

“And you leave about your faux commencements, as M. Ballompre would call
them, for us to stumble over,” said Margaret.

“But Flora would manage!” said Ethel. “She has power over people, and
can influence them. Oh, Ritchie, don’t persuade papa out of letting her
go.”

“Does Mr. Wilmot wish it?” asked Richard.

“I have not heard him say, but he was very much vexed about the
prayers,” said Ethel.

“Will he stay here for the holidays?”

“No, his father has not been well, and he is gone to take his duty. He
walked with us to Cocksmoor before he went, and we did so wish for you.”

“How have you been getting on?”

“Pretty well, on the whole,” said Ethel, “but, oh, dear! oh, dear,
Richard, the M’Carthys are gone!”

“Gone, where?”

“Oh, to Wales. I knew nothing of it till they were off. Una and Fergus
were missing, and Jane Taylor told me they were all gone. Oh, it is so
horrid! Una had really come to be so good and so much in earnest. She
behaved so well at school and church, that even Mrs. Ledwich liked
her, and she used to read her Testament half the day, and bring her
Sunday-school lessons to ask me about! Oh! I was so fond of her, and it
really seemed to have done some good with her. And now it is all lost!
Oh, I wish I knew what would become of my poor child!”

“The only hope is that it may not be all lost,” said Margaret.

“With such a woman for a mother!” said Ethel; “and going to some
heathenish place again! If I could only have seen her first, and begged
her to go to church and say her prayers. If I only knew where she is
gone! but I don’t. I did think Una would have come to wish me good-bye!”

“I am very sorry to lose her,” said Richard.

“Mr. Wilmot says it is bread cast on the waters,” said Margaret--“he was
very kind in consoling Ethel, who came home quite in despair.”

“Yes, he said it was one of the trials,” said Ethel, “and that it might
be better for Una as well as for me. And I am trying to care for the
rest still, but I cannot yet as I did for her. There are none of the
eyes that look as if they were eating up one’s words before they come,
and that smile of comprehension! Oh, they all are such stupid little
dolts, and so indifferent!”

“Why, Ethel!”

“Fancy last Friday--Mary and I found only eight there--”

“Do you remember what a broiling day Friday was?” interrupted Margaret.
“Miss Winter and Norman both told me I ought not to let them go, and I
began to think so when they came home. Mary was the colour of a peony!”

“Oh! it would not have signified if the children had been good for
anything, but all their mothers were out at work, and, of those that
did come, hardly one had learned their lessons--Willy Blake had lost his
spelling-card; Anne Harris kicked Susan Pope, and would not say she was
sorry; Mary Hale would not know M from N, do all our Mary would; and
Jane Taylor, after all the pains I have taken with her, when I asked how
the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, seemed never to have heard of them.”

Margaret could have said that Ethel had come in positively crying with
vexation, but with no diminution of the spirit of perseverance.

“I am so glad you are come, Richard!” she continued. “You will put a
little new life into them. They all looked so pleased when we told them
Mr. Richard was coming.”

“I hope we shall get on,” said Richard.

“I want you to judge whether the Popes are civilised enough to
be dressed for Sunday-school. Oh, and the money! Here is the
account-book--”

“How neatly you have kept it, Ethel.”

“Ah! it was for you, you know. Receipts--see, aren’t you surprised?”

“Four pounds eighteen and eightpence! That is a great deal!”

“The three guineas were Mr. Rivers’s fees, you know; then, Margaret
gave us half-a-sovereign, and Mary a shilling, and there was one that
we picked up, tumbling about the house, and papa said we might have, and
the twopence were little Blanche’s savings. Oh, Ritchie!” as a bright
coin appeared on the book.

“That is all I could save this term,” he said.

“Oh, it is famous! Now, I do think I may put another whole sovereign
away into the purse for the church. See, here is what we have paid.
Shoes--those did bring our money very low, and then I bought a piece of
print which cost sixteen shillings, but it will make plenty of frocks.
So, you see, the balance is actually two pounds nine! That is something.
The nine shillings will go on till we get another fee; for I have two
frocks ready made for the Popes, so the two pounds are a real nest-egg
towards the church.”

“The church!” repeated Rlchard, half smiling.

“I looked in the paper the other day, and saw that a chapel had been
built for nine hundred pounds,” said Ethel.

“And you have two!”

“Two in eight months, Ritchie, and more will come as we get older. I
have a scheme in my head, but I won’t tell you now.”

“Nine hundred! And a church has to be endowed as well as built, you
know, Ethel.”

“Oh! never mind that now. If we can begin and build, some good person
will come and help. I’ll run and fetch it, Ritchie. I drew out a sketch
of what I want it to be.”

“What a girl that is!” said Richard, as Ethel dashed away.

“Is not she?” said Margaret. “And she means all so heartily. Do you know
she has spent nothing on her own pleasures, not a book, not a thing has
she bought this year, except a present for Blanche’s birthday, and some
silk to net a purse for Harry.”

“I cannot help being sometimes persuaded that she will succeed,” said
Richard.

“Faith, energy, self-denial, perseverance, they go a great way,” said
Margaret. “And yet when we look at poor dear Ethel, and her queer
ungainly ways, and think of her building a church!”

Neither Richard nor Margaret could help laughing, but they checked it at
once, and the former said, “That brave spirit is a reproof to us all.”

“Yes,” said Margaret; “and so is the resolution to mend her little
faults.”

Ethel came back, having, of course, mislaid her sketch, and, much vexed,
wished to know if it ought to cause her first forfeit, but Margaret
thought these should not begin till the date of the agreement, and the
three resumed the Cocksmoor discussion.

It lasted till the return of the walking party, so late, that they had
been star-gazing, and came in, in full dispute as to which was Cygnus
and which Aquila, while Blanche was talking very grandly of Taurus
Poniatouski, and Harry begging to be told which constellations he should
still see in the southern hemisphere. Dr. May was the first to rectify
the globe for the southern latitudes, and fingers were affectionately
laid on Orion’s studded belt, as though he were a friend who would
accompany the sailor-boy. Voices grew loud and eager in enumerating the
stars common to both; and so came bedtime, and the globe stood on the
table in danger of being forgotten. Ethel diligently lifted it up; and
while Norman exclaimed at her tidiness, Margaret told how a new leaf was
to be turned, and of her voluntary forfeits.

“A very good plan,” cried the doctor. “We can’t do better than follow
her example.”

“What you, papa? Oh, what fun!” exclaimed Harry.

“So you think I shall be ruined, Mr. Monkey. How do you know I shall
not be the most orderly of all? A penny for everything left about,
confiscated for the benefit of Cocksmoor, eh?”

“And twopence for pocket-handkerchiefs, if you please,” said Norman,
with a gesture of disgust.

“Very well. From Blanche, upwards. Margaret shall have a book, and set
down marks against us--hold an audit every Saturday night. What say you,
Blanche?”

“Oh, I hope Flora will leave something about!” cried Blanche, dancing
with glee.



CHAPTER XXV.



     Oh, no, we never mention her,
     We never breathe her name.--SONG.


A great deal of merriment had come home with Harry, who never was grave
for ten minutes without a strong reaction, and distracted the house with
his noise and his antics, in proportion, as it sometimes seemed, to the
spaces of serious thought and reading spent in the study, where Dr.
May did his best to supply Mr. Ramsden’s insufficient attention to his
Confirmation candidates, by giving an hour every day to Norman, Ethel,
and Harry. He could not lecture, but he read with them, and his own
earnestness was very impressive.

The two eldest felt deeply, but Harry often kept it in doubt, whether he
were not as yet too young and wild for permanent impressions, so rapid
were his transitions, and so overpowering his high spirits. Not that
these were objected to; but there was a feeling that there might as well
be moderation in all things, and that it would have been satisfactory
if, under present circumstances, he had been somewhat more subdued and
diligent.

“There are your decimals not done yet, Harry.”

For Harry, being somewhat deficient in arithmetic, had been recommended
to work in that line during his visit at home--an operation usually
deferred, as at present, to the evening.

“I am going to do my sums now, Flora,” said Harry, somewhat annoyed.

He really fetched his arithmetic, and his voice was soon heard asking
how he was ever to put an end to a sum that would turn to nothing but
everlasting threes.

“What have you been doing, young ladies?” asked Dr. May. “Did you call
on Miss Walkingham?”

“Flora and Blanche did,” said Ethel; “I thought you did not want me to
go, and I had not time. Besides, a London grand young lady--oh!” and
Ethel shook her head in disgust.

“That is not the way you treat Meta Rivers.”

“Oh, Meta is different! She has never been out!”

“I should have been glad for you to have seen Miss Walkingham,” said
her father. “Pretty manners are improving; besides, old Lady Walkingham
begged me to send my daughters.”

“I should not have seen her,” said Ethel, “for she was not well enough
to let us in.”

“Was it not pushing?” said Flora. “There were the Andersons leaving
their card!”

“Those Andersons!” exclaimed the doctor; “I am sick of the very sound of
the name. As sure as my name is Dick May, I’ll include it in Margaret’s
book of fines.”

Flora looked dignified.

“They are always harping on that little trumpery girl’s nonsense,” said
Harry. “Aught, aught, eight, that is eight thousandths, eh, Norman! If
it was about those two fellows, the boys--”

“You would harp only on what affects you?” said the doctor.

“No, I don’t; men never do. That is one hundred and twenty-fifth.”

“One man does it to an hundred and twenty-five women?” said Dr. May.

“It is rather a female defect, indeed,” said Margaret.

“Defect!” said Flora.

“Yes,” said Dr. May, “since it is not only irksome to the hearers, but
leads to the breaking of the ninth commandment.”

Many voices declared, in forms of varying severity, that it was
impossible to speak worse of the Andersons than they deserved.

“Andersons again!” cried Dr. May. “One, two, three, four, five, six
forfeits!”

“Papa himself, for he said the name,” saucily put in Blanche.

“I think I should like the rule to be made in earnest,” said Ethel.

“What! in order to catch Flora’s pence for Cocksmoor?” suggested Harry.

“No, but because it is malice. I mean, that is, if there is dislike,
or a grudge in our hearts at them--talking for ever of nasty little
miserable irritations makes it worse.”

“Then why do you do it?” asked Flora. “I heard you only on Sunday
declaiming about Fanny Anderson.”

“Ha!” cried out all at once. “There goes Flora.”

She looked intensely serious and innocent.

“I know,” said Ethel. “It is the very reason I want the rule to be made,
just to stop us, for I am sure we must often say more than is right.”

“Especially when we come to the pass of declaring that the ninth
commandment cannot be broken in regard to them,” observed the doctor.

“Most likely they are saying much the same of us,” said Richard.

“Or worse,” rejoined Dr. May. “The injured never hates as much as the
injurer.”

“Now papa has said the severest thing of all!” whispered Ethel.

“Proving the inexpedience of personalities,” said Dr. May, “and in good
time enter the evening post.--Why! how now, Mr. May, are you gone mad?”

“Hallo! why ho! ha! hurrah!” and up went Harry’s book of decimals to the
ceiling, coming down upon a candle, which would have been overturned on
Ethel’s work, if it had not been dexterously caught by Richard.

“Harry!” indignantly cried Ethel and Flora, “see what you have done;”
 and the doctor’s voice called to order, but Harry could not heed. “Hear!
hear! he has a fortune, an estate.”

“Who? Tell us--don’t be so absurd. Who?”

“Who, Mr. Ernescliffe. Here is a letter from Hector. Only listen:

“‘Did you know we had an old far-away English cousin, one Mr. Halliday?
I hardly did, though Alan was named after him, and he belonged to my
mother. He was a cross old fellow, and took no notice of us, but within
the last year or two, his nephew, or son, or something, died, and now he
is just dead, and the lawyer wrote to tell Alan he is heir-at-law. Mr.
Ernescliffe of Maplewood! Does it not sound well? It is a beautiful
great place in Shropshire, and Alan and I mean to run off to see it as
soon as he can have any time on shore.’”

Ethel could not help looking at Margaret, but was ashamed of her
impertinence, and coloured violently, whereas her sister did not colour
at all, and Norman, looking down, wondered whether Alan would make the
voyage.

“Oh, of course he will; he must!” said Harry. “He would never give up
now.”

Norman further wondered whether Hector would remain on the Stoneborough
foundation, and Mary hoped they should not lose him; but there was no
great readiness to talk over the event, and there soon was a silence
broken by Flora saying, “He is no such nobody, as Louisa Anderson said,
when we--”

Another shout, which caused Flora to take refuge in playing waltzes for
the rest of the evening. Moreover, to the extreme satisfaction of Mary,
she left her crochet-needle on the floor at night. While a tumultuous
party were pursuing her with it to claim the penny, and Richard was
conveying Margaret upstairs, Ethel found an opportunity of asking her
father if he were not very glad of Mr. Ernescliffe’s good fortune.

“Yes, very. He is a good fellow, and will make a good use of it.”

“And now, papa, does it not make--You won’t say now you are sorry he
came here.”

She had no answer but a sigh, and a look that made her blush for having
ventured so far. She was so much persuaded that great events must ensue,
that, all the next day, she listened to every ring of the bell, and when
one at last was followed by a light, though, to her ears, manly sounding
tread, she looked up flushing with expectation.

Behold, she was disappointed. “Miss Walkingham” was announced, and she
rose surprised, for the lady in question had only come to Stoneborough
for a couple of days with an infirm mother, who, having known Dr. May
in old times, had made it her especial request that he would let her see
his daughters. She was to proceed on her journey to-day, and the return
of the visit had been by no means expected.

Flora went forward to receive her, wondering to see her so young
looking, and so unformed. She held out her hand, with a red wrist, and,
as far as could be seen under her veil, coloured when presented to the
recumbent Margaret. How she got into her chair, they hardly knew, for
Flora was at that moment extremely annoyed by hearing an ill-bred peal
of Mary’s laughter in the garden, close to the window; but she thought
it best to appear unconscious, since she had no power to stop it.

Margaret thought the stranger embarrassed, and kindly inquired for Lady
Walkingham.

“Much the same, thank you,” mumbled a voice down in the throat.

A silence, until Margaret tried another question, equally briefly
answered; and, after a short interval, the young lady contrived to make
her exit, with the same amount of gaucherie as had marked her entrance.

Expressions of surprise at once began, and were so loud, that when Harry
entered the room, his inquiry was, “What’s the row?”

“Miss Walkingham,” said Ethel, “but you won’t understand. She seemed
half wild! Worse than me!”

“How did you like the pretty improving manners?” asked Harry.

“Manners! she had none,” said Flora. “She, highly connected! used to the
best society!”

“How do you know what the best society do?” asked Harry.

“The poor thing seemed very shy,” said Margaret.

“I don’t know about shyness,” said Flora.

“She was stifling a laugh all the time, like a rude schoolboy. And I
thought papa said she was pretty!”

“Ay? Did you think her so?” asked Harry.

“A great broad red face--and so awkward!” cried Flora indignantly.

“If one could have seen her face, I think she might have been
nice-looking,” said Margaret. “She had pretty golden curls, and merry
blue eyes, rather like Harry’s.”

“Umph!” said Flora; “beauty and manners seemed to me much on a par. This
is one of papa’s swans, indeed!”

“I can’t believe it was Miss Walkingham at all,” said Ethel. “It must
have been some boy in disguise.”

“Dear me!” cried Margaret, starting with the painful timidity of
helplessness.

“Do look whether anything is gone. Where’s the silver inkstand?”

“You don’t think she could put that into her pocket,” said Ethel,
laughing as she held it up.

“I don’t know. Do, Harry, see if the umbrellas are safe in the hall. I
wish you would, for now I come to remember, the Walkinghams went at nine
this morning. Miss Winter said that she saw the old lady helped into
the carriage, as she passed.” Margaret’s eyes looked quite large and
terrified. “She must have been a spy--the whole gang will come at night.
I wish Richard was here. Harry, it really is no laughing matter. You had
better give notice to the police.”

The more Margaret was alarmed, the more Harry laughed. “Never mind,
Margaret, I’ll take care of you! Here’s my dirk. I’ll stick all the
robbers.”

“Harry! Harry! Oh, don’t!” cried Margaret, raising herself up in an
agony of nervous terror. “Oh, where is papa? Will nobody ring the bell,
and send George for the police?”

“Police, police! Thieves! Murder! Robbers! Fire! All hands ahoy!”
 shouted Harry, his hands making a trumpet over his mouth.

“Harry, how can you?” said Ethel, hastily; “don’t you see that Margaret
is terribly frightened. Can’t you say at once that it was you?”

“You!” and Margaret sank back, as there was a general outcry of laughter
and wonder.

“Did you know it, Ethel?” asked Flora severely.

“I only guessed at this moment,” said Ethel. “How well you did it,
Harry!”

“Well!” said Flora, “I did think her dress very like Margaret’s shot
silk. I hope you did not do that any harm.”

“But how did you manage?” said Ethel. “Where did your bonnet come from?”

“It was a new one of Adams’s wife. Mary got it for me. Come in, Polly,
they have found it out. Did you not hear her splitting with laughing
outside the window? I would not let her come in for fear she should
spoil all.”

“And I was just going to give her such a scolding for giggling in the
garden,” said Flora, “and to say we had been as bad as Miss Walkingham.
You should not have been so awkward, Harry; you nearly betrayed
yourself.”

“He had nobody to teach him but Mary,” said Ethel.

“Ah! you should have seen me at my ease in Minster Street. No one
suspected me there.”

“In Minster Street. Oh, Harry, you don’t really mean it!”

“I do. That was what I did it for. I was resolved to know what the
nameless ones said of the Misses May.”

Hasty and eager inquiries broke out from Flora and Ethel.

“Oh, Dr. May was very clever, certainly, very clever. Had I seen the
daughters? I said I was going to call there, and they said--”

“What, oh, what, Harry?”

“They said Flora was thought pretty, but--and as to Ethel, now, how do
you think you came off, Unready?”

“Tell me. They could not say the same of me, at any rate.”

“Quite the reverse! They called Ethel very odd, poor girl.”

“I don’t mind,” said Ethel. “They may say what they please of me;
besides that, I believe it is all Harry’s own invention.”

“Nay, that is a libel on my invention!” exclaimed Harry. “If I had drawn
on that, could I not have told you something much droller?”

“And was that really all?” said Flora.

“They said--let me see--that all our noses were too long, and, that as
to Flora’s being a beauty! when their brothers called her--so droll
of them--but Harvey called her a stuck-up duchess. In fact, it was the
fashion to make a great deal of those Mays.”

“I hope they said something of the sailor brother,” said Ethel.

“No; I found if I stayed to hear much more, I should be knocking Ned
down, so I thought it time to take leave before he suspected.”

All this had passed very quickly, with much laughter, and numerous
interjections of amusement, and reprobation, or delight. So excited were
the young people, that they did not perceive a step on the gravel,
till Dr. May entered by the window, and stood among them. His first
exclamation was of consternation. “Margaret, my dear child, what is the
matter?”

Only then did her brother and sisters perceive that Margaret was lying
back on her cushions, very pale, and panting for breath. She tried to
smile and say, “it was nothing,” and “she was silly,” but the words were
faint, from the palpitation of her heart.

“It was Harry’s trick,” said Flora indignantly, as she flew for the
scent-bottle, while her father bent over Margaret. “Harry dressed
himself up, and she was frightened.”

“Oh, no--no--he did not mean it,” gasped Margaret; “don’t.”

“Harry, I did not think you could be so cowardly and unfeeling!” and Dr.
May’s look was even more reproachful than his words.

Harry was dismayed at his sister’s condition, but the injustice of the
wholesale reproach chased away contrition. “I did nothing to frighten
any one,” he said moodily.

“Now, Harry, you know how you kept on,” said Flora, “and when you saw
she was frightened--”

“I can have no more of this,” said Dr. May, seeing that the discussion
was injuring Margaret more and more. “Go away to my study, sir, and wait
till I come to you. All of you out of the room. Flora, fetch the sal
volatile.”

“Let me tell you,” whispered Margaret. “Don’t be angry with Harry. It
was--”

“Not now, not now, my dear. Lie quite still.” She obeyed, took the
sal volatile, and shut her eyes, while he sat leaning anxiously over,
watching her. Presently she opened them, and, looking up, said rather
faintly, and trying to smile, “I don’t think I can be better till you
have heard the rights of it. He did not mean it.”

“Boys never do mean it,” was the doctor’s answer. “I hoped better things
of Harry.”

“He had no intention--” began Margaret, but she still was unfit to talk,
and her father silenced her, by promising to go and hear the boy’s own
account.

In the hall, he was instantly beset by Ethel and Mary, the former
exclaiming, “Papa, you are quite mistaken! It was very foolish of
Margaret to be so frightened. He did nothing at all to frighten any
one.”

Ethel’s mode of pleading was unfortunate; the “very foolish of Margaret”
 were the very words to displease.

“Do not interfere!” said her father sternly. “You only encourage him in
his wanton mischief, and no one takes any heed how he torments my poor
Margaret.”

“Papa,” cried Harry, passionately bursting open the study door,
“tormenting Margaret was the last thing I would do!”

“That is not the way to speak, Harry. What have you been doing?”

With rapid agitated utterance, Harry made his confession. At another
time the doctor would have treated the matter as a joke carried too far,
but which, while it called for censure, was very amusing; but now
the explanation that the disguise had been assumed to impose on the
Andersons, only added to his displeasure.

“You seem to think you have a licence to play off any impertinent freaks
you please, without consideration for any one,” he said; “but I tell
you it is not so. As long as you are under my roof, you shall feel my
authority, and you shall spend the rest of the day in your room. I hope
quietness there will bring you to a better mind, but I am disappointed
in you. A boy who can choose such a time, and such subjects, for
insolent, unfeeling, practical jokes, cannot be in a fit state for
Confirmation.”

“Oh, papa! papa!” cried the two girls, in tones of entreaty--while
Harry, with a burning face and hasty step, dashed upstairs without a
word.

“You have been as bad!” said Dr. May. “I say nothing to you, Mary, you
knew no better; but, to see you, Ethel, first encouraging him in his
impertinence, and terrifying Margaret so, that I dare say she may be a
week getting over it, and now defending him, and calling her silly, is
unbearable. I cannot trust one of you!”

“Only listen, papa!”

“I will have no altercation; I must go back to Margaret, since no one
else has the slightest consideration for her.”

An hour had passed away, when Richard knocked at Ethel’s door to tell
her that tea was ready.

“I have a great mind not to go down,” said Ethel, as he looked in, and
saw her seated with a book.

“What do you mean?”

“I cannot bear to go down while poor Harry is so unjustly used.”

“Hush, Ethel!”

“I cannot hush. Just because Margaret fancies robbers and murderers, and
all sorts of nonsense, as she always did, is poor Harry to be accused of
wantonly terrifying her, and shut up, and cut off from Confirmation? and
just when he is going away, too! It is unkind, and unjust, and--”

“Ethel, you will be sorry--”

“Papa will be sorry,” continued Ethel, disregarding the caution. “It is
very unfair, that I will say so. It was all nonsense of Margaret’s,
but he will always make everything give way to her. And poor Harry
just going to sea! No, Ritchie, I cannot come down; I cannot behave as
usual.”

“You will grieve Margaret much more,” said Richard.

“I can’t help that--she should not have made such a fuss.”

Richard was somewhat in difficulties how to answer, but at that moment
Harry’s door, which was next, was slightly opened, and his voice said,
“Go down, Ethel. The captain may punish any one he pleases, and it is
mutiny in the rest of the crew to take his part.”

“Harry is in the right,” said Richard. “It is our duty not to question
our father’s judgments. It would be wrong of you to stay up.”

“Wrong?” said Ethel.

“Of course. It would be against the articles of war,” said Harry,
opening his door another inch. “But, Ritchie, I say, do tell me whether
it has hurt Margaret.”

“She is better now,” said Richard, “but she has a headache, chiefly, I
believe, from distress at having brought this on you. She is very sorry
for her fright.”

“I had not the least intention of frightening the most fearsome little
tender mouse on earth,” said Harry.

“No, indeed!” said Ethel.

“And at another time it would not have signified,” said Richard; “but,
you know, Margaret always was timid, and now, the not being able to
move, and the being out of health, has made her nerves weak, so that she
cannot help it.”

“The fault was in our never heeding her when we were so eager to hear
Harry’s story,” said Ethel. “That was what made the palpitation so bad.
But, now papa knows all, does he not understand about Harry?”

“He was obliged to go out as soon as Margaret was better,” said Richard,
“and was scarcely come in when I came up.”

“Go down, Ethel,” repeated Harry. “Never mind me. Norman told me that
sort of joke never answered, and I might have minded him.”

The voice was very much troubled, and it brought back that burning
sensation of indignant tears to Ethel’s eyes.

“Oh, Harry! you did not deserve to be so punished for it.”

“That is what you are not to say,” returned Harry. “I ought not to have
played the trick, and--and just now too--but I always forget things--”

The door shut, and they fancied they heard sobs. Ethel groaned, but made
no opposition to following her brother down to tea. Margaret lay, wan
and exhausted, on the sofa--the doctor looked very melancholy and rather
stern, and the others were silent. Ethel had begun to hope for the
warm reaction she had so often known after a hasty fit, but it did
not readily come; Harry was boy instead of girl--the fault and its
consequence had been more serious--and the anxiety for the future
was greater. Besides, he had not fully heard the story; Harry, in his
incoherent narration, had not excused himself, and Margaret’s panic had
appeared more as if inspired by him, than, as it was, in fact, the work
of her fancy.

Thus the evening passed gloomily away, and it was not till the others
had said good-night that Dr. May began to talk over the affair with his
eldest son, who then was able to lay before him the facts of the case,
as gathered from his sisters. He listened with a manner as though it
were a reproof, and then said sadly, “I am afraid I was in a passion.”

“It was very wrong in Harry,” said Richard, “and particularly unlucky it
should happen with the Andersons.”

“Very thoughtless,” said the doctor, “no more, even as regarded
Margaret; but thoughtlessness should not have been treated as a crime.”

“I wish we could see him otherwise,” said Richard.

“He wants--” and there Dr. May stopped short, and, taking up his candle,
slowly mounted the stairs, and looked into Harry’s room. The boy was in
bed, but started up on hearing his father’s step, and exclaimed, “Papa,
I am very sorry! Is Margaret better?”

“Yes, she is; and I understand now, Harry, that her alarm was an
accident. I beg your pardon for thinking for a moment that it was
otherwise--”

“No,” interrupted Harry, “of course I could never mean to frighten her;
but I did not leave off the moment I saw she was afraid, because it was
so very ridiculous, and I did not guess it would hurt her.”

“I see, my honest boy. I do not blame you, for you did not know how
much harm a little terror does to a person in her helpless state. But,
indeed, Harry, though you did not deserve such anger as mine was, it is
a serious thing that you should be so much set on fun and frolic as to
forget all considerations, especially at such a time as this. It takes
away from much of my comfort in sending you into the world; and for
higher things--how can I believe you really impressed and reverent, if
the next minute--”

“I’m not fit! I’m not fit!” sobbed Harry, hiding his face.

“Indeed, I hardly know whether it is not so,” said the doctor. “You are
under the usual age, and, though I know you wish to be a good boy, yet
I don’t feel sure that these wild spirits do not carry away everything
serious, and whether it is right to bring one so thoughtless to--”

“No, no,” and Harry cried bitterly, and his father was deeply grieved;
but no more could then be said, and they parted for the night--Dr. May
saying, as he went away, “You understand, that it is not as punishment
for your trick, if I do not take you to Mr. Ramsden for a ticket, but
that I cannot be certain whether it is right to bring you to such solemn
privileges while you do not seem to me to retain steadily any grave or
deep feelings. Perhaps your mother would have better helped you.”

And Dr. May went away to mourn over what he viewed as far greater sins
than those of his son.

Anger had, indeed, given place to sorrow, and all were grave the next
morning, as if each had something to be forgiven.

Margaret, especially, felt guilty of the fears which, perhaps, had not
been sufficiently combated in her days of health, and now were beyond
control, and had occasioned so much pain. Ethel grieved over the words
she had yesterday spoken in haste of her father and sister; Mary knew
herself to have been an accomplice in the joke; and Norman blamed
himself for not having taken the trouble to perceive that Harry had not
been talking rhodomontade, when he had communicated “his capital scheme”
 the previous morning.

The decision as to the Confirmation was a great grief to all. Flora
consoled herself by observing that, as he was so young, no one need know
it, nor miss him; and Ethel, with a trembling, almost sobbing voice,
enumerated all Harry’s excellences, his perfect truth, his kindness, his
generosity, his flashes of intense feeling--declared that nobody might
be confirmed if he were not, and begged and entreated that Mr. Wilmot
might be written to, and consulted. She would almost have done so
herself, if Richard had not shown her it would be undutiful.

Harry himself was really subdued. He made no question as to the
propriety of the decision, but rather felt his own unworthiness, and was
completely humbled and downcast. When a note came from Mrs. Anderson,
saying that she was convinced that it could not have been Dr. May’s wish
that she should be exposed to the indignity of a practical joke, and
that a young lady of the highest family should have been insulted, no
one had spirits to laugh at the terms; and when Dr. May said, “What is
to be done?” Harry turned crimson, and was evidently trying to utter
something.

“I see nothing for it but for him to ask their pardon,” said Dr. May;
and a sound was heard, not very articulate, but expressing full assent.

“That is right,” said the doctor. “I’ll come with you.”

“Oh, thank you!” cried Harry, looking up.

They set off at once. Mrs. Anderson was neither an unpleasing nor
unkind person--her chief defect being a blind admiration of her sons
and daughters, which gave her, in speaking of them, a tone of pretension
that she would never have shown on her own account.

Her displeasure was pacified in a moment by the sight of the confused
contrition of the culprit, coupled with his father’s frank and kindly
tone of avowal, that it had been a foolish improper frolic, and that he
had been much displeased with him for it.

“Say no more--pray, say no more, Dr. May. We all know how to overlook a
sailor’s frolic, and, I am sure, Master Harry’s present behaviour; but
you’ll take a bit of luncheon,” and, as something was said of going home
to the early dinner, “I am sure you will wait one minute. Master Harry
must have a piece of my cake, and allow me to drink to his success.”

Poor Mr. May! to be called Master Harry, and treated to sweet cake! But
he saw his father thought he ought to endure, and he even said, “Thank
you.”

The cake stuck in his throat, however, when Mrs. Anderson and her
daughters opened their full course of praise on their dear Harvey and
dearest Edward, telling all the flattering things Dr. Hoxton had said of
the order into which Harvey had brought the school, and insisting on Dr.
May’s reading the copy of the testimonial that he had carried to Oxford.
“I knew you would be kind enough to rejoice,” said Mrs. Anderson, “and
that you would have no--no feeling about Mr. Norman; for, of course, at
his age, a little matter is nothing, and it must be better for the dear
boy himself to be a little while under a friend like Harvey, than to
have authority while so young.”

“I believe it has done him no harm,” was all that the doctor could
bring himself to say; and thinking that he and his son had endured quite
enough, he took his leave as soon as Harry had convulsively bolted the
last mouthful.

Not a word was spoken all the way home. Harry’s own trouble had
overpowered even this subject of resentment. On Sunday, the notice
of the Confirmation was read. It was to take place on the following
Thursday, and all those who had already given in their names were to
come to Mr. Ramsden to apply for their tickets. While this was read,
large tear-drops were silently falling on poor Harry’s book.

Ethel and Norman walked together in the twilight, in deep lamentation
over their brother’s deprivation, which seemed especially to humble
them; “for,” said Norman, “I am sure no one can be more resolved on
doing right than July, and he has got through school better than I did.”

“Yes,” said Ethel; “if we don’t get into his sort of scrape, it is only
that we are older, not better. I am sure mine are worse, my letting
Aubrey be nearly burned--my neglects.”

“Papa must be doing right,” said Norman, “but for July to be turned
back when we are taken, makes me think of man judging only by outward
appearance.”

“A few outrageous-looking acts of giddiness that are so much grieved
over, may not be half so bad as the hundreds of wandering thoughts that
one forgets, because no one else can see them!” said Ethel.

Meanwhile, Harry and Mary were sitting twisted together into a sort of
bundle, on the same footstool, by Margaret’s sofa. Harry had begged of
her to hear him say the Catechism once more, and Mary had joined with
him in the repetition. There was to be only one more Sunday at home.
“And that!” he said, and sighed.

Margaret knew what he meant, for the Feast was to be spread for those
newly admitted to share it. She only said a caressing word of affection.

“I wonder when I shall have another chance,” said Harry. “If we should
get to Australia, or New Zealand--but then, perhaps, there would be no
Confirmation going on, and I might be worse by that time.”

“Oh, you must not let that be!”

“Why, you see, if I can’t be good here, with all this going on, what
shall I do among those fellows, away from all?”

“You will have one friend!”

“Mr. Ernescliffe! You are always thinking of him, Margaret; but perhaps
he may not go, and if he should, a lieutenant cannot do much for a
midshipman. No, I thought, when I was reading with my father, that
somehow it might help me to do what it called putting away childish
things--don’t you know? I might be able to be stronger and steadier,
somehow. And then, if--if--you know, if I did tumble overboard, or
anything of that sort, there is that about the--what they will go to
next Sunday, being necessary to salvation.”

Harry laid down his head and cried; Margaret could not speak for tears;
and Mary was incoherently protesting against any notion of his falling
overboard.

“It is generally necessary, Harry,” Margaret said at last--“not in
impossible cases.”

“Yes if it had been impossible, but it was not; if I had not been a
mad goose all this time, but when a bit of fun gets hold of me, I can’t
think. And if I am too bad for that, I am too bad for--for--and I shall
never see mamma again! Margaret, it almost makes me af--afraid to sail.”

“Harry, don’t, don’t talk so!” sobbed Mary. “Oh, do come to papa, and
let us beg and pray. Take hold of my hand, and Margaret will beg too,
and when he sees how sorry you are, I am sure he will forgive, and let
you be confirmed.” She would have dragged him after her.

“No, Mary,” said Harry, resisting her. “It is not that he does not
forgive. You don’t understand. It is what is right. And he cannot help
it, or make it right for me, if I am such a horrid wretch that I can’t
keep grave thoughts in my head. I might do it again after that, just the
same.”

“You have been grave enough of late,” said Mary.

“This was enough to make me so,” said Harry; “but even at church, since
I came home, I have behaved ill! I kicked Tom, to make him look at old
Levitt asleep, and then I went on, because he did not like it. I know I
am too idle.”

On the Tuesday, Dr. May had said he would take Norman and Etheldred to
Mr. Ramsden. Ethel was gravely putting on her walking dress, when she
heard her father’s voice calling Harry, and she started with a joyful
hope.

There, indeed, when she came downstairs, stood Harry, his cap in his
hand, and his face serious, but with a look on it that had as much
subdued joy as awe.

“Dear, dear Harry! you are going with us then?”

“Yes, papa wrote to ask what Mr. Wilmot thought, and he said--”

Harry broke off as his father advanced, and gave her the letter itself
to read. Mr. Wilmot answered that he certainly should not refuse such
a boy as Harry, on the proof of such entire penitence and deep feeling.
Whether to bring him to the further privilege might be another question;
but, as far as the Confirmation was concerned, the opinion was decided.

Norman and Ethel were too happy for words, as they went arm in arm along
the street, leaving their dear sailor to be leaned on by his father.

Harry’s sadness was gone, but he still was guarded and gentle during the
few days that followed; he seemed to have learned thought, and in his
gratitude for the privileges he had so nearly missed, to rate them more
highly than he might otherwise have done. Indeed, the doubt for the
Sunday gave him a sense of probation.

The Confirmation day came. Mr. Rivers had asked that his daughter
might be with Miss May, and Ethel had therefore to be called for in the
Abbotstoke carriage, quite contrary to her wishes, as she had set her
heart on the walk to church with her father and brothers. Flora would
not come, for fear of crowding Mr. Rivers, who, with Mrs. Larpent,
accompanied his darling.

“Oh, Margaret,” said Flora, after putting her sister into the carriage,
“I wish we had put Ethel into a veil! There is Meta all white from head
to foot, with such a veil! and Ethel, in her little white cap, looks as
if she might be Lucy Taylor, only not so pretty.”

“Mamma thought the best rule was to take the dress that needs least
attention from ourselves, and will be least noticed,” said Margaret.

“There is Fanny Anderson gone by in the fly with a white veil on!” cried
Mary, dashing in.

“Then I am glad Ethel has not one,” said Flora. Margaret looked annoyed,
but she had not found the means of checking Flora without giving
offence; and she could only call Mary and Blanche to order, beg them to
think of what the others were doing, and offer to read to them a little
tale on Confirmation.

Flora sat and worked, and Margaret, stealing a glance at her, understood
that, in her quiet way, she resented the implied reproof. “Making the
children think me worldly and frivolous!” she thought; “as if Margaret
did not know that I think and feel as much as any reasonable person!”

The party came home in due time, and after one kiss to Margaret, given
in silence, dispersed, for they could not yet talk of what had passed.

Only Ethel, as she met Richard on the stairs, said, “Ritchie, do you
know what the bishop’s text was? ‘No man having put his hand to the
plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’”

“Yes?” said Richard interrogatively.

“I thought it might be a voice to me,” said Ethel; “besides what it says
to all, about our Christian course. It seems to tell me not to be out
of heart about all those vexations at Cocksmoor. Is it not a sort of
putting our hand to the plough?”

Dr. May gave his own history of the Confirmation to Margaret. “It was
a beautiful thing to watch,” he said, “the faces of our own set.
Those four were really like a poem. There was little Meta in her snowy
whiteness, looking like innocence itself, hardly knowing of evil, or
pain, or struggle, as that soft earnest voice made her vow to be ready
for it all, almost as unscathed and unconscious of trial, as when they
made it for her at her baptism; pretty little thing--may she long be as
happy. And for our own Ethel, she looked as if she was promising on and
on, straight into eternity. I heard her ‘I do,’ dear child, and it was
in such a tone as if she meant to be ever doing.”

“And for the boys?”

“There was Norman grave and steadfast, as if he knew what he was about,
and was manfully and calmly ready--he might have been a young knight,
watching his armour.”

“And so he is,” said Margaret softly. “And poor Harry?”

The doctor could hardly command voice to tell her. “Poor Harry, he was
last of all, he turned his back and looked into the corner of the seat,
till all the voices had spoken, and then turned about in haste, and the
two words came on the end of a sob.”

“You will not keep him away on Sunday?” said Margaret.

“Far be it from me. I know not who should come, if he should not.”



CHAPTER XXVI.



     What matter, whether through delight,
       Or led through vale of tears,
     Or seen at once, or hid from sight,
       The glorious way appears?
     If step by step the path we see,
       That leads, my Saviour, up to Thee!


“I could not help it,” said Dr. May; “that little witch--”

“Meta Rivers? Oh! what, papa?”

“It seems that Wednesday is her birthday, and nothing will serve her but
to eat her dinner in the old Roman camp.”

“And are we to go? Oh, which of us?”

“Every one of anything like rational years. Blanche is especially
invited.”

There were transports till it was recollected that on Thursday morning
school would recommence, and that on Friday Harry must join his ship.

However, the Roman camp had long been an object of their desires, and
Margaret was glad that the last day should have a brilliancy, so she
would not hear of any one remaining to keep her company, talked of the
profit she should gain by a leisure day, and took ardent interest in
every one’s preparations and expectations, in Ethel’s researches
into county histories and classical dictionaries, Flora’s sketching
intentions, Norman’s promises of campanula glomerata, and a secret
whispered into her ear by Mary and Harry.

“Meta’s weather,” as they said, when the August sun rose fresh and
joyous; and great was the unnecessary bustle, and happy confusion from
six o’clock till eleven, when Dr. May, who was going to visit patients
some way farther on the same road, carried off Harry and Mary, to set
them down at the place.

The rest were called for by Mr. Rivers’s carriage and brake. Mrs.
Charles Wilmot and her little girl were the only additions to the party,
and Meta, putting Blanche into the carriage to keep company with her
contemporary, went herself in the brake. What a brilliant little fairy
she was, in her pink summer robes, fluttering like a butterfly, and
with the same apparent felicity in basking in joy, all gaiety, glee,
and light-heartedness in making others happy. On they went, through
honeysuckled lanes, catching glimpses of sunny fields of corn falling
before the reaper, and happy knots of harvest folks dining beneath the
shelter of their sheaves, with the sturdy old green umbrella sheltering
them from the sun.

Snatches of song, peals of laughter, merry nonsense, passed from one to
the other; Norman, roused into blitheness, found wit, the young ladies
found laughter, and Richard’s eyes and mouth looked very pretty, as they
smiled their quiet diversion.

At last, his face drawn all into one silent laugh, he directed the eyes
of the rest to a high green mound, rising immediately before them, where
stood two little figures, one with a spy-glass, intently gazing the
opposite way.

At the same time came the halt, and Norman, bounding out, sprang lightly
and nimbly up the side of the mound, and, while the spy-glass was yet
pointed full at Wales, had hold of a pair of stout legs, and with the
words, “Keep a good lockout!” had tumbled Mr. May headforemost down the
grassy slope, with Mary rolling after.

Harry’s first outcry was for his precious glass--his second was, not
at his fall, but that they should have come from the east, when, by the
compass, Stoneborough was north-north-west. And then the boys took to
tumbling over one another, while Meta frolicked joyously, with Nipen
after her, up and down the mounds, chased by Mary and Blanche, who were
wild with glee.

By-and-by she joined Ethel, and Norman was summoned to help them to
trace out the old lines of encampment, ditch, rampart, and gates--happy
work on those slopes of fresh turf, embroidered with every minute
blossom of the moor--thyme, birdsfoot, eyebright, and dwarf purple
thistle, buzzed and hummed over by busy, black-tailed, yellow-banded
dumbledores, the breezy wind blowing softly in their faces, and the
expanse of country--wooded hill, verdant pasture, amber harvest-field,
winding river, smoke-canopied town, and brown moor, melting grayly away
to the mountain heads.

Now in sun, now in shade, the bright young antiquaries surveyed the old
banks, and talked wisely of vallum and fossa, of legion and cohort, of
Agricola and Suetonius, and discussed the delightful probability, that
this might have been raised in the war with Caractacus, whence, argued
Ethel, since Caractacus was certainly Arviragus, it must have been the
very spot where Imogen met Posthumus again. Was not yonder the very
high-road to Milford Haven, and thus must not “fair Fidele’s grassy
tomb” be in the immediate neighbourhood?

Then followed the suggestion that the mound in the middle was a good
deal like an ancient tomb, where, as Blanche interposed with some of the
lore lately caught from Ethel’s studies, “they used to bury their tears
in wheelbarrows,” while Norman observed it was the more probable, as
fair Fidele never was buried at all.

The idea of a search enchanted the young ladies. “It was the right sort
of vehicle, evidently,” said Norman, looking at Harry, who had been
particularly earnest in recommending that it should be explored; and
Meta declared that if they could but find the least trace, her
papa would be delighted to go regularly to work, and reveal all the
treasures.

Richard seemed a little afraid of the responsibility of treasure-trove,
but he was overruled by a chorus of eager voices, and dispossessed of
the trowel, which he had brought to dig up some down-gentians for the
garden. While Norman set to work as pioneer, some skipped about in wild
ecstasy, and Ethel knelt down to peer into the hole.

Very soon there was a discovery--an eager outcry--some pottery! Roman
vessels--a red thing that might have been a lamp, another that might
have been a lachrymatory.

“Well,” said Ethel, “you know, Norman, I always told you that the
children’s pots and pans in the clay ditch were very like Roman
pottery.”

“Posthumus’s patty pan!” said Norman, holding it up. “No doubt this was
the bottle filled with the old queen’s tears when Cloten was killed.”

“You see it is very small,” added Harry; “she could not squeeze out
many.”

“Come now, I do believe you are laughing at it!” said Meta, taking the
derided vessels into her hands. “Now, they really are genuine, and very
curious things, are not they, Flora?”

Flora and Ethel admired and speculated till there was a fresh, and still
more exciting discovery--a coin, actually a medal, with the head of
an emperor upon it--not a doubt of his high nose being Roman. Meta was
certain that she knew one exactly like him among her father’s gems.
Ethel was resolved that he should be Claudius, and began decyphering the
defaced inscription THVRVS. She tried Claudius’s whole torrent of names,
and, at last, made it into a contraction of Tiberius, which highly
satisfied her.

Then Meta, in her turn, read D.V.X., which, as Ethel said, was all she
could wish--of course it was dux et imperator, and Harry muttered into
Norman’s ear, “ducks and geese!” and then heaved a sigh, as he thought
of the dux no longer. “V.V.,” continued Meta; “what can that mean?”

“Five, five, of course,” said Flora.

“No, no! I have it, Venus Victrix” said Ethel, “the ancestral Venus! Ha!
don’t you see? there she is on the other side, crowning Claudius.”

“Then there is an E.”

“Something about Aeneas,” suggested Norman gravely. But Ethel was sure
that could not be, because there was no diphthong; and a fresh theory
was just being started, when Blanche’s head was thrust in to know what
made them all so busy.

“Why, Ethel, what are you doing with Harry’s old medal of the Duke of
Wellington?”

Poor Meta and Ethel, what a downfall! Meta was sure that Norman had
known it the whole time, and he owned to having guessed it from Harry’s
importunity for the search. Harry and Mary had certainly made good
use of their time, and great was the mirth over the trap so cleverly
set--the more when it was disclosed that Dr. May had been a full
participator in the scheme, had suggested the addition of the pottery,
had helped Harry to some liquid to efface part of the inscription, and
had even come up with them to plant the snare in the most plausible
corner for researches.

Meta, enchanted with the joke, flew off to try to take in her governess
and Mrs. Wilmot, whom she found completing their leisurely promenade,
and considering where they should spread the dinner.

The sight of those great baskets of good fare was appetising, and the
company soon collected on the shady turf, where Richard made himself
extremely useful, and the feast was spread without any worse mishap than
Nipen’s running away with half a chicken, of which he was robbed, as Tom
reported, by a surly-looking dog that watched in the outskirts of the
camp, and caused Tom to return nearly as fast as the poor little white
marauder.

Meta “very immorally,” as Norman told her, comforted Nipen with a large
share of her sandwiches. Harry armed himself with a stick and Mary with
a stone, and marched off to the attack, but saw no signs of the enemy,
and had begun to believe him a figment of Tom’s imagination, when Mary
spied him under a bush, lying at the feet of a boy, with whom he was
sharing the spoil.

Harry called out rather roughly, “Hallo! what are you doing there?”

The boy jumped up, the dog growled, Mary shrank behind her brother,
and begged him not to be cross to the poor boy, but to come away. Harry
repeated his question.

“Please, sir, Toby brought it to me.”

“What, is Toby your dog?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you so hungry as to eat dog’s meat?”

“I have not had nothing before to-day, sir.”

“Why, where do you live? hereabouts?”

“Oh, no, sir; I lived with grandmother up in Cheshire, but she is dead
now, and father is just come home from sea, and he wrote down I was to
be sent to him at Portsmouth, to go to sea with him.”

“How do you live? do you beg your way?”

“No, sir; father sent up a pound in a letter, only Nanny Brooks said I
owed some to her for my victuals, and I have not much of it left, and
bread comes dear, so when Toby brought me this bit of meat I was glad of
it, sir, but I would not have taken it--”

The boy was desired to wait while the brother and sister, in breathless
excitement, rushed back with their story.

Mrs. Wilmot was at first inclined to fear that the naval part of it had
been inspired by Harry’s uniform, but the examination of Jem Jennings
put it beyond a doubt that he spoke nothing but the truth; and the
choicest delight of the feast was the establishing him and Toby behind
the barrow, and feeding them with such viands as they had probably never
seen before.

The boy could not read writing, but he had his father’s letter in his
pocket, and Mary capered at the delightful coincidence, on finding that
Jem Jennings was actually a quarter-master on board the Alcestis. It
gave a sort of property in the boy, and she almost grudged Meta the
having been first to say that she would pay for the rest of his journey,
instead of doing it by subscription.

However, Mary had a consolation, she would offer to take charge of Toby,
who, as Harry observed, would otherwise have been drowned--he could not
be taken on board. To be sure, he was a particularly ugly animal, rough,
grisly, short-legged, long-backed, and with an apology for a tail--but
he had a redeeming pair of eyes, and he and Jem lived on terms of such
close friendship, that he would have been miserable in leaving him to
the mercy of Nanny Brooks.

So, after their meal, Jem and Toby were bidden to wait for Dr. May’s
coming, and fell asleep together on the green bank, while the rest
either sketched, or wandered, or botanised. Flora acted the grown-up
lady with Mrs. Wilmot, and Meta found herself sitting by Ethel, asking
her a great many questions about Margaret, and her home, and what it
could be like to be one of such a numerous family. Flora had always
turned aside from personal matters, as uninteresting to her companion,
and, in spite of Meta’s admiration, and the mutual wish to be intimate,
confidence did not spring up spontaneously, as it had done with the
doctor, and, in that single hour, with Margaret. Blunt as Ethel was, her
heartiness of manner gave a sense of real progress in friendship. Their
Confirmation vows seemed to make a link, and Meta’s unfeigned enthusiasm
for the doctor was the sure road to Ethel’s heart. She was soon telling
how glad Margaret was that he had been drawn into taking pleasure in
to-day’s scheme, since, not only were his spirits tried by the approach
of Harry’s departure, but he had, within the last few days, been made
very sad by reading and answering Aunt Flora’s first letter on the news
of last October’s misfortune.

“My aunt in New Zealand,” explained Ethel.

“Have you an aunt in New Zealand?” cried Meta. “I never heard of her!”

“Did not you? Oh! she does write such charming long letters!”

“Is she Dr. May’s sister?”

“No; he was an only child. She is dear mamma’s sister. I don’t remember
her, for she went out when I was a baby, but Richard and Margaret were
so fond of her. They say she used to play with them, and tell them
stories, and sing Scotch songs to them. Margaret says the first sorrow
of her life was Aunt Flora’s going away.”

“Did she live with them?”

“Yes; after grandpapa died, she came to live with them, but then Mr.
Arnott came about. I ought not to speak evil of him, for he is my
godfather, but we do wish he had not carried off Aunt Flora! That letter
of hers showed me what a comfort it would be to papa to have her here.”

“Perhaps she will come.”

“No; Uncle Arnott has too much to do. It was a pretty story altogether.
He was an officer at Edinburgh, and fell in love with Aunt Flora, but my
grandfather Mackenzie thought him too poor to marry her, and it was all
broken off, and they tried to think no more of it. But grandpapa died,
and she came to live here, and somehow Mr. Arnott turned up again,
quartered at Whitford, and papa talked over my Uncle Mackenzie, and
helped them--and Mr. Arnott thought the best way would be to go out to
the colonies. They went when New Zealand was very new, and a very funny
life they had! Once they had their house burned in Heki’s rebellion--and
Aunt Flora saw a Maori walking about in her best Sunday bonnet; but,
in general, everything has gone on very well, and he has a great farm,
besides an office under government.”

“Oh, so he went out as a settler! I was in hopes it was as a
missionary.”

“I fancy Aunt Flora has done a good deal that may be called missionary
work,” said Ethel, “teaching the Maori women and girls. They call her
mother, and she has quite a doctor’s shop for them, and tries hard to
teach them to take proper care of their poor little children when
they are ill; and she cuts out clothes for the whole pah, that is, the
village.”

“And are they Christians?”

“Oh! to be sure they are now! They meet in the pah for prayers every
morning and evening--they used to have a hoe struck against a bit of
metal for a signal, and when papa heard of it, he gave them a bell, and
they were so delighted. Now there comes a clergyman every fourth Sunday,
and, on the others, Uncle Arnott reads part of the service to the
English near, and the Maori teacher to his people.”

Meta asked ravenously for more details, and when she had pretty well
exhausted Ethel’s stock, she said, “How nice it must be! Ethel, did you
ever read the ‘Faithful Little Girl?’”

“Yes; it was one of Margaret’s old Sunday books. I often recollected it
before I was allowed to begin Cocksmoor.”

“I’m afraid I am very like Lucilla!” said Meta.

“What? In wishing to be a boy, that you might be a missionary?” said
Ethel. “Not in being quite so cross at home?” she added, laughing.

“I am not cross, because I have no opportunity,” said Meta.

“No opportunity. Oh, Meta, if people wish to be cross, it is easy enough
to find grounds for it. There is always the moon to cry for.”

“Really and truly,” said Meta thoughtfully, “I never do meet with any
reasonable trial of temper, and I am often afraid it cannot be right or
safe to live so entirely at ease, and without contradictions.”

“Well, but,” said Ethel, “it is the state of life in which you are
placed.”

“Yes; but are we meant never to have vexations?”

“I thought you had them,” said Ethel. “Margaret told me about your maid.
That would have worried some people, and made them horridly cross.”

“Oh, no rational person,” cried Meta. “It was so nice to think of her
being with the poor mother, and I was quite interested in managing for
myself; besides, you know, it was just a proof how one learns to be
selfish, that it had never occurred to me that I ought to spare her.”

“And your school children--you were in some trouble about them?”

“Oh, that is pleasure.”

“I thought you had a class you did not like?”

“I like them now--they are such steady plodding girls, so much in
earnest, and one, that has been neglected, is so pleased and touched by
kindness. I would not give them up for anything now--they are just fit
for my capacity.”

“Do you mean that nothing ever goes wrong with you, or that you do not
mind anything--which?”

“Nothing goes wrong enough with me to give me a handsome excuse for
minding it.”

“Then it must be all your good temper.”

“I don’t think so,” said Meta; “it is that nothing is ever disagreeable
to me.”

“Stay,” said Ethel, “if the ill-temper was in you, you would only be the
crosser for being indulged--at least, so books say. And I am sure myself
that it is not whether things are disagreeable or not, but whether one’s
will is with them, that signifies.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“Why--I have seen the boys do for play, and done myself, what would have
been a horrid hardship if one had been made to do it. I never liked any
lessons as well as those I did without being obliged, and always, when
there is a thing I hate very much in itself, I can get up an interest in
it, by resolving that I will do it well, or fast, or something--if I can
stick my will to it, it is like a lever, and it is done. Now, I think it
must be the same with you, only your will is more easily set at it than
mine.”

“What makes me uncomfortable is, that I feel as if I never followed
anything but my will.”

Ethel screwed up her face, as if the eyes of her mind were pursuing some
thought almost beyond her. “If our will and our duty run the same,” she
said, “that can’t be wrong. The better people are, the more they ‘love
what He commands,’ you know. In heaven they have no will but His.”

“Oh! but Ethel,” cried Meta, distressed, “that is putting it too high.
Won’t you understand what I mean? We have learned so much lately about
self-denial, and crossing one’s own inclinations, and enduring hardness.
And here I live with two dear kind people, who only try to keep every
little annoyance from my path. I can’t wish for a thing without getting
it--I am waited on all day long, and I feel like one of the women that
are at ease--one of the careless daughters.”

“I think still papa would say it was your happy contented temper that
made you find no vexation.”

“But that sort of temper is not goodness. I was born with it; I never
did mind anything, not even being punished, they say, unless I knew papa
was grieved, which always did make me unhappy enough. I laughed, and
went to play most saucily, whatever they did to me. If I had striven for
the temper, it would be worth having, but it is my nature. And Ethel,”
 she added, in a low voice, as the tears came into her eyes, “don’t you
remember last Sunday? I felt myself so vain and petted a thing! as if I
had no share in the Cup of suffering, and did not deserve to call myself
a member--it seemed ungrateful.”

Ethel felt ashamed, as she heard of warmer feelings than her own had
been, expressed in that lowered trembling voice, and she sought for the
answer that would only come to her mind in sense, not at first in words.
“Discipline,” said she, “would not that show the willingness to have the
part? Taking the right times for refusing oneself some pleasant thing.”

“Would not that be only making up something for oneself?” said Meta.

“No, the Church orders it. It is in the Prayer-book,” said Ethel. “I
mean one can do little secret things--not read storybooks on those days,
or keep some tiresome sort of work for them. It is very trumpery, but it
keeps the remembrance, and it is not so much as if one did not heed.”

“I’ll think,” said Meta, sighing. “If only I felt myself at work, not
to please myself, but to be of use. Ha!” she cried, springing up, “I do
believe I see Dr. May coming!”

“Let us run and meet him,” said Ethel.

They did so, and he called out his wishes of many happy returns of
blithe days to the little birthday queen, then added, “You both look
grave, though--have they deserted you?”

“No, papa, we have been having a talk,” said Ethel. “May I tell him,
Meta? I want to know what he says.”

Meta had not bargained for this, but she was very much in earnest, and
there was nothing formidable in Dr. May, so she assented.

“Meta is longing to be at work--she thinks she is of no use,” said
Ethel; “she says she never does anything but please herself.”

“Pleasing oneself is not the same as trying to please oneself,” said Dr.
May kindly.

“And she thinks it cannot be safe or right,” added Ethel, “to live that
happy bright life, as if people without care or trouble could not be
living as Christians are meant to live. Is that it, Meta?”

“Yes, I think it is,” said Meta. “I seem to be only put here to be made
much of!”

“What did David say, Meta?” returned Dr. May.


              “My Shepherd is the living Lord,
                 Nothing therefore I need;
               In pastures fair, near pleasant streams,
                 He setteth me to feed.”


“Then you think,” said Meta, much touched, “that I ought to look on this
as ‘the pastures fair,’ and be thankful. I hope I was not unthankful.”

“Oh, no,” said Ethel. “It was the wish to bear hardness, and be a good
soldier, was it not?”

“Ah! my dear,” he said, “the rugged path and dark valley will come in
His own fit time. Depend upon it, the good Shepherd is giving you what
is best for you in the green meadow, and if you lay hold on His rod
and staff in your sunny days--” He stopped short, and turned to his
daughter. “Ethel, they sang that psalm the first Sunday I brought your
mamma home!”

Meta was much affected, and began to put together what the father and
daughter had said. Perhaps the little modes of secret discipline,
of which Ethel had spoken, might be the true means of clasping the
staff--perhaps she had been impatient, and wanting in humility in
craving for the strife, when her armour was scarce put on.

Dr. May spoke once again. “Don’t let any one long for external trial.
The offering of a free heart is the thing. To offer praise is the great
object of all creatures in heaven and earth. If the happier we are, the
more we praise, then all is well.”

But the serious discussion was suddenly broken off.

Others had seen Dr. May’s approach, and Harry and Mary rushed down
in dismay at their story having, as they thought, been forestalled.
However, they had it all to themselves, and the doctor took up the
subject as keenly as could have been hoped, but the poor boy being still
fast asleep, after, probably, much fatigue, he would not then waken him
to examine him, but came and sat down in the semicircle, formed by a
terraced bank of soft turf, where Mrs. Larpent, Mrs. Wilmot, Richard,
and Flora, had for some time taken up their abode. Meta brought him
the choice little basket of fruit which she had saved for him, and all
delighted in having him there, evidently enjoying the rest and sport
very much, as he reposed on the fragrant slope, eating grapes, and
making inquiries as to the antiquities lately discovered.

Norman gave an exceedingly droll account of the great Roman Emperor,
Tiberius V.V., and Meta correcting it, there was a regular gay skirmish
of words, which entertained every one extremely--above all, Meta’s
indignation when the charge was brought home to her of having declared
the “old Duke” exactly like in turns to Domitian and Tiberius--his
features quite forbidding.

This lasted till the younger ones, who had been playing and rioting till
they were tired, came up, and throwing themselves down on the grass,
Blanche petitioned for something that every one could play at.

Meta proposed what she called the story play. One was to be sent out of
earshot, and the rest to agree upon a word, which was then to be guessed
by each telling a story, and introducing the word into it, not too
prominently. Meta volunteered to guess, and Harry whispered to Mary it
would be no go, but, in the meantime, the word was found, and Blanche
eagerly recalled Meta, and sat in the utmost expectation and delight.
Meta turned first to Richard, but he coloured distressfully, and begged
that Flora might tell his story for him--he should only spoil the game.
Flora, with a little tinge of graceful reluctance, obeyed. “No woman had
been to the summit of Mont Blanc,” she said, “till one young girl, named
Marie, resolved to have this glory. The guides told her it was madness,
but she persevered. She took the staff, and everything requisite,
and, following a party, began the ascent. She bravely supported every
fatigue, climbed each precipice, was undaunted by the giddy heights she
attained, bravely crossed the fields of snow, supported the bitter cold,
and finally, though suffering severely, arrived at the topmost peak,
looked forth where woman had never looked before, felt her heart swell
at the attainment of her utmost ambition, and the name of Marie was
inscribed as that of the woman who alone has had the glory of standing
on the summit of the Giant of the Alps.”

It was prettily enunciated, and had a pleasing effect. Meta stood
conning the words--woman--giant--mountain--glory--and begged for another
tale.

“Mine shall not be so stupid as Flora’s,” said Harry. “We have an old
sailor on board the Alcestis--a giant he might be for his voice--but he
sailed once in the Glory of the West, and there they had a monkey that
was picked up in Africa, and one day this old fellow found his queer
messmate, as he called him, spying through a glass, just like the
captain. The captain had a glorious collection of old coins, and the
like, dug up in some of the old Greek colonies, and whenever Master
Monkey saw him overhauling them, he would get out a brass button, or
a card or two, and turn ‘em over, and chatter at them, and glory over
them, quite knowing,” said Harry, imitating the gesture, “and I dare say
he saw V.V., and Tiberius Caesar, as well as the best of them.”

“Thank you, Mr. Harry,” said Meta. “I think we are at no loss for
monkeys here. But I have not the word yet. Who comes next? Ethel--”

“I shall blunder, I forewarn you,” said Ethel, “but this is mine: There
was a young king who had an old tutor, whom he despised because he was
so strict, so he got rid of him, and took to idle sport. One day, when
he was out hunting in a forest, a white hind came and ran before him,
till she guided him to a castle, and there he found a lady all dressed
in white, with a beamy crown on head, and so nobly beautiful that he
fell in love with her at once, and was only sorry to see another prince
who was come to her palace too. She told them her name was Gloria,
and that she had had many suitors, but the choice did not depend on
herself--she could only be won by him who deserved her, and for three
years they were to be on their probation, trying for her. So she
dismissed them, only burning to gain her, and telling them to come back
in three years’ time. But they had not gone far before they saw another
palace, much finer, all glittering with gold and silver, and their Lady
Gloria came out to meet them, not in her white dress, but in one all
gay and bright with fine colours, and her crown they now saw was of
diamonds. She told them they had only seen her everyday dress and house,
this was her best; and she showed them about the castle, and all the
pictures of her former lovers. There was Alexander, who had been nearer
retaining her than any one, only the fever prevented it; there
was Pyrrhus, always seeking her, but slain by a tile; Julius
Caesar--Tamerlane--all the rest, and she hoped that one of these two
would really prove worthy and gain her, by going in the same path as
these great people.

“So our prince went home; his head full of being like Alexander and all
the rest of them, and he sent for his good old tutor to reckon up his
armies, and see whom he could conquer in order to win her. But the old
tutor told him he was under a mistake; the second lady he had seen was a
treacherous cousin of Gloria, who drew away her suitors by her deceits,
and whose real name was Vana Gloria. If he wished to earn the true
Gloria, he must set to work to do his subjects good, and to be virtuous.
And he did; he taught them, and he did justice to them, and he bore it
patiently and kindly when they did not understand. But by-and-by the
other king, who had no good tutor to help him, had got his armies
together, and conquered ever so many people, and drawn off their men to
be soldiers; and now he attacked the good prince, and was so strong that
he gained the victory, though both prince and subjects fought manfully
with heart and hand; but the battle was lost, and the faithful prince
wounded and made prisoner, but bearing it most patiently, till he was
dragged behind the other’s triumphal car with all the rest, when the
three years were up, to be presented to Vana Gloria. And so he was
carried into the forest, bleeding and wounded, and his enemy drove the
car over his body, and stretched out his arms to Vana Gloria, and found
her a vain, ugly wretch, who grew frightful as soon as he grasped her.
But the good dying prince saw the beautiful beamy face of his lady--love
bending over him. ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘vision of my life, hast thou come to
lighten my dying eyes? Never--never, even in my best days, did I deem
that I could be worthy of thee; the more I strove, the more I knew that
Gloria is for none below--for me less than all.’

“And then the lady came and lifted him up, and she said, ‘Gloria is
given to all who do and suffer truly in a good cause, for faithfulness
is glory, and that is thine.’”

Ethel’s language had become more flowing as she grew more eager in the
tale, and they all listened with suspended interest. Norman asked
where she got the story. “Out of an old French book, the ‘Magazin des
enfans,’” was the answer.

“But why did you alter the end?” said Flora, “why kill the poor man? He
used to be prosperous, why not?”

“Because I thought,” said Ethel, “that glory could not properly belong
to any one here, and if he was once conscious of it, it would be all
spoiled. Well, Meta, do you guess?”

“Oh! the word! I had forgotten all about it. I think I know what it must
be, but I should so like another story. May I not have one?” said Meta
coaxingly. “Mary, it is you.”

Mary fell back on her papa, and begged him to take hers. Papa told the
best stories of all, she said, and Meta looked beseeching.

“My story will not be as long as Ethel’s,” said the doctor, yielding
with a half-reluctant smile. “My story is of a humming-bird, a little
creature that loved its master with all its strength, and longed to do
somewhat for him. It was not satisfied with its lot, because it seemed
merely a vain and profitless creature. The nightingale sang praise, and
the woods sounded with the glory of its strains; the fowl was valued
for its flesh, the ostrich for its plume, but what could the little
humming-bird do, save rejoice in the glory of the flood of sunbeams, and
disport itself over the flowers, and glance in the sunny light, as its
bright breastplate flashed from rich purple to dazzling flame-colour,
and its wings supported it, fluttering so fast that the eye could hardly
trace them, as it darted its slender beak into the deep-belled blossoms.
So the little bird grieved, and could not rest, for thinking that it was
useless in this world, that it sought merely its own gratification, and
could do nothing that could conduce to the glory of its master. But
one night a voice spoke to the little bird, ‘Why hast thou been placed
here,’ it said, ‘but at the will of thy master? Was it not that he might
delight himself in thy radiant plumage, and see thy joy in the sunshine?
His gifts are thy buoyant wing, thy beauteous colours, the love of all
around, the sweetness of the honey-drop in the flowers, the shade of the
palm leaf. Esteem them, then, as his; value thine own bliss, while it
lasts, as the token of his care and love; and while thy heart praises
him for them, and thy wings quiver and dance to the tune of that praise,
then, indeed, thy gladness conduces to no vain-glory of thine own, in
beauty, or in graceful flight, but thou art a creature serving--as best
thou canst to his glory.’”

“I know the word,” half whispered Meta, not without a trembling of the
lip. “I know why you told the story, Dr. May, but one is not as good as
the humming-birds.”

The elder ladies had begun to look at watches, and talk of time to go
home; and Jem Jemmings having been seen rearing himself up from behind
the barrow, the doctor proceeded to investigate his case, was perfectly
satisfied of the boy’s truth, and as ready as the young ones to befriend
him. A letter should be written at once, desiring his father to look out
for him on Friday, when he should go by the same train as Harry, who
was delighted at the notion of protecting him so far, and begged to be
allowed to drive him home to Stoneborough in the gig.

Consent was given; and Richard being added to give weight and
discretion, the gig set out at once--the doctor, much to Meta’s delight,
took his place in the brake. Blanche, who, in the morning, had been
inclined to despise it as something akin to a cart, now finding it a
popular conveyance, was urgent to return in it; and Flora was made over
to the carriage, not at all unwillingly, for, though it separated her
from Meta, it made a senior of her.

Norman’s fate conveyed him to the exalted seat beside the driver of the
brake, where he could only now and then catch the sounds of mirth from
below. He had enjoyed the day exceedingly, with that sort of abandon
more than ordinarily delicious to grave or saddened temperaments, when
roused or drawn out for a time. Meta’s winning grace and sweetness had
a peculiar charm for him, and, perhaps, his having been originally
introduced to her as ill, and in sorrow, had given her manner towards
him a sort of kindness which was very gratifying.

And now he felt as if he was going back to a very dusky dusty world; the
last and blithest day of his holidays was past, and he must return to
the misapprehensions and injustice that had blighted his school career,
be kept beneath boys with half his ability, and without generous
feeling, and find all his attainments useless in restoring his
position. Dr. Hoxton’s dull scholarship would chill all pleasure in
his studies--there would be no companionship among the boys--even his
supporters, Ernescliffe and Larkins, were gone, and Harry would leave
him still under a cloud.

Norman felt it more as disgrace than he had done since the first, and
wished he had consented to quit the school when it had been offered--be
made a man, instead of suffering these doubly irksome provocations,
which rose before him in renewed force. “And what would that little
humming-bird think of me if she knew me disgraced?” thought he. “But it
is of no use to think of it. I must go through with it, and as I always
am getting vain-glorious, I had better have no opportunity. I did not
declare I renounced vain pomp and glory last week, to begin coveting
them now again.”

So Norman repressed the sigh as he looked at the school buildings, which
never could give him the pleasures of memory they afforded to others.

The brake had set out before the carriage, so that Meta had to come in
and wait for her governess. Before the vehicle had disgorged half its
contents, Harry had rushed out to meet them. “Come in, come in, Norman!
Only hear. Margaret shall tell you herself! Hurrah!”

Is Mr. Ernescliffe come? crossed Ethel’s mind, but Margaret was alone,
flushed, and holding out her hands. “Norman! where is he? Dear Norman,
here is good news! Papa, Dr. Hoxton has been here, and he knows all
about it--and oh! Norman, he is very sorry for the injustice, and you
are dux again!”

Norman really trembled so much that he could neither speak nor stand,
but sat down on the window-seat, while a confusion of tongues asked
more.

Dr. Hoxton and Mr. Larkins had come to call--heard no one was at home
but Miss May--had, nevertheless, come in--and Margaret had heard
that Mr. Larkins, who had before intended to remove his son from
Stoneborough, had, in the course of the holidays, made discoveries from
him, which he could not feel justified in concealing from Dr. Hoxton.

The whole of the transactions with Ballhatchet, and Norman’s part in
them, had been explained, as well as the true history of the affray in
Randall’s Alley--how Norman had dispersed the boys, how they had again
collected, and, with the full concurrence of Harvey Anderson, renewed
the mischief, how the Andersons had refused to bear witness in his
favour, and how Ballhatchet’s ill-will had kept back the evidence which
would have cleared him.

Little Larkins had told all, and his father had no scruple in repeating
it, and causing the investigation to be set on foot. Nay, he deemed that
Norman’s influence had saved his son, and came, as anxious to thank
him, as Dr. Hoxton, warm-hearted, though injudicious, was to repair his
injustice. They were much surprised and struck by finding that Dr. May
had been aware of the truth the whole time, and had patiently put up
with the injustice, and the loss of the scholarship--a loss which Dr.
Hoxton would have given anything to repair, so as to have sent up a
scholar likely to do him so much credit; but it was now too late, and he
had only been able to tell Margaret how dismayed he was at finding out
that the boy to whom all the good order in his school was owing had been
so ill-used. Kind Dr. May’s first feeling really seemed to be pity and
sympathy for his old friend, the head-master, in the shock of such a
discovery. Harry was vociferously telling his version of the story to
Ethel and Mary. Tom stood transfixed in attention. Meta, forgotten and
bewildered, was standing near Norman, whose colour rapidly varied,
and whose breath came short and quick as he listened. A quick half
interrogation passed Meta’s lips, heard by no one else.

“It is only that it is all right,” he answered, scarcely audibly; “they
have found out the truth.”

“What?--who?--you?” said Meta, as she heard words that implied the past
suspicion.

“Yes,” said Norman, “I was suspected, but never at home.”

“And is it over now?”

“Yes, yes,” he whispered huskily, “all is right, and Harry will not
leave me in disgrace.”

Meta did not speak, but she held out her hand in hearty congratulation;
Norman, scarce knowing what he did, grasped and wrung it so tight
that it was positive pain, as he turned away his head to the window to
struggle with those irrepressible tears. Meta’s colour flushed into her
cheek as she found it still held, almost unconsciously, perhaps, in his
agitation, and she heard Margaret’s words, that both gentlemen had said
Norman had acted nobly, and that every revelation made in the course of
their examination had only more fully established his admirable conduct.

“Oh, Norman, Norman, I am so glad!” cried Mary’s voice in the first
pause, and, Margaret asking where he was, he suddenly turned round,
recollected himself, and found it was not the back of the chair that he
had been squeezing, blushed intensely, but made no attempt at apology,
for indeed he could not speak--he only leaned down over Margaret, to
receive her heartfelt embrace; and, as he stood up again, his father
laid his hand on his shoulder, “My boy, I am glad;” but the words were
broken, and, as if neither could bear more, Norman hastily left the
room, Ethel rushing after him.

“Quite overcome!” said the doctor, “and no wonder. He felt it cruelly,
though he bore up gallantly. Well, July?”

“I’ll go down to school with him to-morrow, and see him dux again! I’ll
have three-times-three!” shouted Harry; “hip! hip! hurrah!” and Tom and
Mary joined in chorus.

“What is all this?” exclaimed Flora, opening the door, “--is every one
gone mad?”

Many were the voices that answered.

“Well, I am glad, and I hope the Andersons will make an apology. But
where is poor Meta? Quite forgotten?”

“Meta would not wonder if she knew all,” said the doctor, turning, with
a sweet smile that had in it something, nevertheless, of apology.

“Oh, I am so glad--so glad!” said Meta, her eyes full of tears, as she
came forward.

And there was no helping it; the first kiss between Margaret May
and Margaret Rivers was given in that overflowing sympathy of
congratulation.

The doctor gave her his arm to take her to the carriage, and, on the
way, his quick warm words filled up the sketch of Norman’s behaviour;
Meta’s eyes responded better than her tongue, but, to her good-bye, she
could not help adding, “Now I have seen true glory.”

His answer was much such a grip as her poor little fingers had already
received, but though they felt hot and crushed all the way home, the
sensation seemed to cause such throbs of joy, that she would not have
been without it.



CHAPTER XXVII.



     And full of hope, day followed day,
     While that stout ship at anchor lay
        Beside the shores of Wight.
     The May had then made all things green,
     And floating there, in pomp serene,
     That ship was goodly to be seen,
        His pride and his delight.

     Yet then when called ashore, he sought
     The tender peace of rural thought,
        In more than happy mood.
     To your abodes, bright daisy flowers,
     He then would steal at leisure hours,
     And loved you, glittering in your bowers,
        A starry multitude.
                                         WORDSWORTH.


Harry’s last home morning was brightened by going to the school to see
full justice done to Norman, and enjoying the scene for him. It was
indeed a painful ordeal to Norman himself, who could, at the moment,
scarcely feel pleasure in his restoration, excepting for the sake of his
father, Harry, and his sisters. To find the head-master making apologies
to him was positively painful and embarrassing, and his countenance
would have been fitter for a culprit receiving a lecture. It was
pleasanter when the two other masters shook hands with him, Mr. Harrison
with a free confession that he had done him injustice, and Mr. Wilmot
with a glad look of congratulation, that convinced Harry he had never
believed Norman to blame.

Harry himself was somewhat of a hero; the masters all spoke to him, bade
him good speed, and wished him a happy voyage, and all the boys were
eager to admire his uniform, and wish themselves already men and
officers like Mr. May. He had his long-desired three cheers for “May
senior!” shouted with a thorough goodwill by the united lungs of the
Whichcote foundation, and a supplementary cheer arose for the good ship
Alcestis, while hands were held out on every side; and the boy arrived
at such a pitch of benevolence and good humour, as actually to volunteer
a friendly shake of the hand to Edward Anderson, whom he encountered
skulking apart.

“Never mind, Ned, we have often licked each other before now, and don’t
let us bear a grudge now I am going away. We are Stoneborough fellows
both, you know, after all.”

Edward did not refuse the offered grasp, and though his words were only,
“Good-bye, I hope you will have plenty of fun!” Harry went away with a
lighter heart.

The rest of the day Harry adhered closely to his father, though chiefly
in silence; Dr. May had intended much advice and exhortation for his
warm-hearted, wild-spirited son, but words would not come, not even when
in the still evening twilight they walked down alone together to the
cloister, and stood over the little stone marked M. M. After standing
there for some minutes, Harry knelt to collect some of the daisies in
the grass.

“Are those to take with you?”

“Margaret is going to make a cross of them for my Prayerbook.”

“Ay, they will keep it in your mind--say it all to you, Harry. She
may be nearer to you everywhere, though you are far from us. Don’t put
yourself from her.”

That was all Dr. May contrived to say to his son, nor could Margaret do
much more than kiss him, while tears flowed one by one over her cheeks,
as she tried to whisper that he must remember and guard himself, and
that he was sure of being thought of, at least, in every prayer; and
then she fastened into his book the cross, formed of flattened daisies,
gummed upon a framework of paper. He begged her to place it at the
Baptismal Service, for he said, “I like that about fighting--and I
always did like the church being like a ship--don’t you? I only found
that prayer out the day poor little Daisy was christened.”

Margaret had indeed a thrill of melancholy pleasure in this task, when
she saw how it was regarded. Oh, that her boy might not lose these
impressions amid the stormy waves he was about to encounter!

That last evening of home good-nights cost Harry many a choking sob
ere he could fall asleep; but the morning of departure had more
cheerfulness; the pleasure of patronising Jem Jennings was as consoling
to his spirits, as was to Mary the necessity of comforting Toby.

Toby’s tastes were in some respects vulgar, as he preferred the stable,
and Will Adams, to all Mary’s attentions; but he attached himself
vehemently to Dr. May, followed him everywhere, and went into raptures
at the slightest notice from him. The doctor said it was all homage to
the master of the house. Margaret held that the dog was a physiognomist.

The world was somewhat flat after the loss of Harry--that element of
riot and fun; Aubrey was always playing at “poor Harry sailing away,”
 Mary looked staid and sober, and Norman was still graver, and more
devoted to books, while Ethel gave herself up more completely to the
thickening troubles of Cocksmoor.

Jealousies had arisen there, and these, with some rebukes for failures
in sending children to be taught, had led to imputations on the
character of Mrs. Green, in whose house the school was kept. Ethel
was at first vehement in her defence; then when stronger evidence was
adduced of the woman’s dishonesty, she was dreadfully shocked, and
wanted to give up all connection with her, and in both moods was equally
displeased with Richard for pausing, and not going all lengths with her.

Mr. Wilmot was appealed to, and did his best to investigate, but the
only result was to discover that no one interrogated had any notion of
truth, except John Taylor, and he knew nothing of the matter. The mass
of falsehood, spite, violence, and dishonesty, that became evident,
was perfectly appalling, and not a clue was to be found to the
truth--scarcely a hope that minds so lost to honourable feeling were
open to receive good impressions. It was a great distress to Ethel--it
haunted her night and day--she lay awake pondering on the vain hopes
for her poor children, and slept to dream of the angry faces and rude
accusations. Margaret grew quite anxious about her, and her elders were
seriously considering the propriety of her continuing her labours at
Cocksmoor.

Mr. Wilmot would not be at Stoneborough after Christmas. His father’s
declining health made him be required at home, and since Richard was so
often absent, it became matter of doubt whether the Misses May ought to
be allowed to persevere, unassisted by older heads, in such a locality.

This doubt put Ethel into an agony. Though she had lately been declaring
that it made her very unhappy to go--she could not bear the sight of
Mrs. Green, and that she knew all her efforts were vain while the poor
children had such homes; she now only implored to be allowed to go on;
she said that the badness of the people only made it more needful to
do their utmost for them; there were no end to the arguments that she
poured forth upon her ever kind listener, Margaret.

“Yes, dear Ethel, yes, but pray be calm; I know papa and Mr. Wilmot
would not put a stop to it if they could possibly help it, but if it is
not proper--”

“Proper! that is as bad as Miss Winter!”

“Ethel, you and I cannot judge of these things--you must leave them to
our elders--”

“And men always are so fanciful about ladies--”

“Indeed, if you speak in that way, I shall think it is really hurting
you.”

“I did not mean it, dear Margaret,” said Ethel, “but if you knew what I
feel for poor Cocksmoor, you would not wonder that I cannot bear it.”

“I do not wonder, dearest; but if this trial is sent you, perhaps it is
to train you for better things.”

“Perhaps it is for my fault,” said Ethel. “Oh, oh, if it be that I am
too unworthy! And it is the only hope; no one will do anything to teach
these poor creatures if I give it up. What shall I do, Margaret?”

Margaret drew her down close to her, and whispered, “Trust them Ethel,
dear. The decision will be whatever is the will of God. If He thinks fit
to give you the work, it will come; if not, He will give you some other,
and provide for them.”

“If I have been too neglectful of home, too vain of persevering when no
one but Richard would!” sighed Ethel.

“I cannot see that you have, dearest,” said Margaret fondly, “but your
own heart must tell you that. And now, only try to be calm and patient.
Getting into these fits of despair is the very thing to make people
decide against you.”

“I will! I will! I will try to be patient,” sobbed Ethel; “I know to be
wayward and set on it would only hurt. I might only do more harm--I’ll
try. But oh, my poor children!”

Margaret gave a little space for the struggle with herself, then advised
her resolutely to fix her attention on something else. It was a Saturday
morning, and time was more free than usual, so Margaret was able to
persuade her to continue a half-forgotten drawing, while listening to an
interesting article in a review, which opened to her that there were too
many Cocksmoors in the world.

The dinner-hour sounded too soon, and as she was crossing the hall to
put away her drawing materials, the front door gave the click peculiar
to Dr. May’s left-handed way of opening it. She paused, and saw him
enter, flushed, and with a look that certified her that something had
happened.

“Well, Ethel, he is come.”

“Oh, papa, Mr. Ernes--”

He held up his finger, drew her into the study, and shut the door. The
expression of mystery and amusement gave way to sadness and gravity as
he sat down in his arm-chair, and sighed as if much fatigued. She was
checked and alarmed, but she could not help asking, “Is he here?”

“At the Swan. He came last night, and watched for me this morning as
I came out of the hospital. We have been walking over the meadows to
Fordholm.”

No wonder Dr. May was hot and tired.

“But is he not coming?” asked Ethel.

“Yes, poor fellow; but hush, stop, say nothing to the others. I must not
have her agitated till she has had her dinner in peace, and the house is
quiet. You know she cannot run away to her room as you would.”

“Then he is really come for that?” cried Ethel breathlessly; and,
perceiving the affirmative, added, “But why did he wait so long?”

“He wished to see his way through his affairs, and also wanted to hear
of her from Harry. I am afraid poor July’s colours were too bright.”

“And why did he come to the Swan instead of to us?”

“That was his fine, noble feeling. He thought it right to see me first,
that if I thought the decision too trying for Margaret, in her present
state, or if I disapproved of the long engagement, I might spare her all
knowledge of his coming.”

“Oh, papa, you won’t!”

“I don’t know but that I ought; but yet, the fact is, that I cannot.
With that fine young fellow so generously, fondly attached I cannot find
it in my heart to send him away for four years without seeing her, and
yet, poor things, it might be better for them both. Oh, Ethel, if your
mother were but here!”

He rested his forehead on his hands, and Ethel stood aghast at his
unexpected reception of the addresses for which she had so long hoped.
She did not venture to speak, and presently he roused himself as the
dinner-bell rang. “One comfort is,” he said, “that Margaret has more
composure than I. Do you go to Cocksmoor this afternoon?”

“I wished it.”

“Take them all with you. You may tell them why when you are out. I
must have the house quiet. I shall get Margaret out into the shade, and
prepare her, as best I can, before he comes at three o’clock.”

It was not flattering to be thus cleared out of the way, especially when
full of excited curiosity, but any such sensation was quite overborne by
sympathy in his great anxiety, and Ethel’s only question was, “Had not
Flora better stay to keep off company?”

“No, no,” said Dr. May impatiently, “the fewer the better;” and hastily
passing her, he dashed up to his room, nearly running over the nursery
procession, and, in a very few seconds, was seated at table, eating and
speaking by snatches, and swallowing endless draughts of cold water.

“You are going to Cocksmoor!” said he, as they were finishing.

“It is the right day,” said Richard. “Are you coming, Flora?”

“Not to-day, I have to call on Mrs. Hoxton.”

“Never mind Mrs. Hoxton,” said the doctor; “you had better go to-day, a
fine cool day for a walk.”

He did not look as if he had found it so.

“Oh, yes, Flora, you must come,” said Ethel, “we want you.”

“I have engagements at home,” replied Flora.

“And it really is a trying walk,” said Miss Winter.

“You must,” reiterated Ethel. “Come to our room, and I will tell you
why.”

“I do not mean to go to Cocksmoor till something positive is settled. I
cannot have anything to do with that woman.”

“If you would only come upstairs,” implored Ethel, at the door, “I have
something to tell you alone.”

“I shall come up in due time. I thought you had outgrown closetings and
foolish secrets,” said Flora.

Her movements were quickened, however, by her father, who, finding her
with Margaret in the drawing-room, ordered her upstairs in a peremptory
manner, which she resented, as treating her like a child, and therefore
proceeded in no amiable mood to the room, where Ethel awaited her in
wild tumultuous impatience.

“Well, Ethel, what is this grand secret?”

“Oh, Flora! Mr. Ernescliffe is at the Swan! He has been speaking to papa
about Margaret.”

“Proposing for her, do you mean?” said Flora.

“Yes, he is coming to see her this afternoon, and that is the reason
that papa wants us to be all out of the way.”

“Did papa tell you this?”

“Yes,” said Ethel, beginning to perceive the secret of her displeasure,
“but only because I was the first person he met; and Norman guessed it
long ago. Do put on your things! I’ll tell you all I know when we are
out. Papa is so anxious to have the coast clear.”

“I understand,” said Flora; “but I shall not go with you. Do not be
afraid of my interfering with any one. I shall sit here.”

“But papa said you were to go.”

“If he had done me the favour of speaking to me himself,” said Flora, “I
should have shown him that it is not right that Margaret should be left
without any one at hand in case she should be overcome. He is of no use
in such cases, only makes things worse. I should not feel justified
in leaving Margaret with no one else, but he is in one of those
hand-over-head moods, when it is not of the least use to say a word to
him.”

“Flora, how can you, when he expressly ordered you?”

“All he meant was, do not be in the way, and I shall not show myself
unless I am needed, when he would be glad enough of me. I am not bound
to obey the very letter, like Blanche or Mary.”

Ethel looked horrified by the assertion of independence, but Richard
called her from below, and, with one more fruitless entreaty, she ran
downstairs.

Richard had been hearing all from his father, and it was comfortable
to talk the matter over with him, and hear explained the anxiety which
frightened her, while she scarcely comprehended it; how Dr. May could
not feel certain whether it was right or expedient to promote an
engagement which must depend on health so uncertain as poor Margaret’s,
and how he dreaded the effect on the happiness of both.

Ethel’s romance seemed to be turning to melancholy, and she walked on
gravely and thoughtfully, though repeating that there could be no
doubt of Margaret’s perfect recovery by the time of the return from the
voyage.

Her lessons were somewhat nervous and flurried, and even the sight of
two very nice neat new scholars, of very different appearance from the
rest, and of much superior attainments, only half interested her. Mary
was enchanted at them as a pair of prodigies, actually able to read! and
had made out their names, and their former abodes, and how they had been
used to go to school, and had just come to live in the cottage deserted
by the lamented Una.

Ethel thought it quite provoking in her brother to accede to Mary’s
entreaties that they should go and call on this promising importation.
Even the children’s information that they were taught now by “Sister
Cherry” failed to attract her; but Richard looked at his watch, and
decided that it was too soon to go home, and she had to submit to her
fate.

Very different was the aspect of the house from the wild Irish cabin
appearance that it had in the M’Carthy days. It was the remains of
an old farm-house that had seen better days, somewhat larger than the
general run of the Cocksmoor dwellings. Respectable furniture had taken
up its abode against the walls, the kitchen was well arranged, and,
in spite of the wretched flooring and broken windows, had an air of
comfort. A very tidy woman was bustling about, still trying to get rid
of the relics of her former tenants, who might, she much feared, have
left a legacy of typhus fever. The more interesting person was, however,
a young woman of three or four and twenty, pale, and very lame, and with
the air of a respectable servant, her manners particularly pleasing.
It appeared that she was the daughter of a first wife, and, after the
period of schooling, had been at service, but had been lamed by a fall
downstairs, and had been obliged to come home, just as scarcity of work
had caused her father to leave his native parish, and seek employment at
other quarries. She had hoped to obtain plain work, but all the family
were dismayed and disappointed at the wild spot to which they had come,
and anxiously availed themselves of this introduction to beg that the
elder boy and girl might be admitted into the town school, distant as it
was. At another time, the thought of Charity Elwood would have engrossed
Ethel’s whole mind, now she could hardly attend, and kept looking
eagerly at Richard as he talked endlessly with the good mother. When,
at last, they did set off, he would not let her gallop home like a
steam-engine, but made her take his arm, when he found that she could
not otherwise moderate her steps. At the long hill a figure appeared,
and, as soon as Richard was certified of its identity, he let her fly,
like a bolt from a crossbow, and she stood by Dr. May’s side.

A little ashamed, she blushed instead of speaking, and waited for
Richard to come up and begin. Neither did he say anything, and they
paused till, the silence disturbing her, she ventured a “Well, papa!”

“Well, poor things. She was quite overcome when first I told her--said
it would be hard on him, and begged me to tell him that he would be much
happier if he thought no more of her.”

“Did Margaret?” cried Ethel. “Oh! could she mean it?”

“She thought she meant it, poor dear, and repeated such things again and
again; but when I asked whether I should send him away without seeing
her, she cried more than ever, and said, ‘You are tempting me! It would
be selfishness.’”

“Oh, dear! she surely has seen him!”

“I told her that I would be the last person to wish to tempt her to
selfishness, but that I did not think that either could be easy in
settling such a matter through a third person.”

“It would have been very unkind,” said Ethel; “I wonder she did not
think so.”

“She did at last. I saw it could not be otherwise, and she said, poor
darling, that when he had seen her, he would know the impossibility; but
she was so agitated that I did not know how it could be.”

“Has she?”

“Ay, I told him not to stay too long, and left him under the tulip-tree
with her. I found her much more composed--he was so gentle and
considerate. Ah! he is the very man! Besides, he has convinced her now
that affection brings him, not mere generosity, as she fancied.”

“Oh, then it is settled!” cried Ethel joyously.

“I wish it were! She has owned that if--if she were in health--but that
is all, and he is transported with having gained so much! Poor fellow.
So far, I trust, it is better for them to know each other’s minds, but
how it is to be--”

“But, papa, you know Sir Matthew Fleet said she was sure to get well;
and in three years’ time--”

“Yes, yes, that is the best chance. But it is a dreary lookout for two
young things. That is in wiser hands, however! If only I saw what
was right to do! My miserable carelessness has undone you all!” he
concluded, almost inaudibly.

It was indeed, to him, a time of great distress and perplexity, wishing
to act the part of father and mother both towards his daughter, acutely
feeling his want of calm decision, and torn to pieces at once by
sympathy with the lovers, and by delicacy that held him back from
seeming to bind the young man to an uncertain engagement, above all,
tortured by self-reproach for the commencement of the attachment, and
for the misfortune that had rendered its prosperity doubtful.

Ethel could find no words of comfort in the bewildered glimpse at his
sorrow and agitation. Richard spoke with calmness and good sense, and
his replies, though brief and commonplace, were not without effect in
lessening the excitement and despondency which the poor doctor’s present
mood had been aggravating.

At the door, Dr. May asked for Flora, and Ethel explained. If Flora had
obtruded herself, he would have been irritated, but, as it was, he had
no time to observe the disobedience, and saying that he hoped she was
with Margaret, sent Ethel into the drawing-room.

Flora was not there, only Margaret lay on her sofa, and Ethel hesitated,
shy, curious, and alarmed; but, as she approached, she was relieved to
see the blue eyes more serene even than usual, while a glow of colour
spread over her face, making her like the blooming Margaret of old
times; her expression was full of peace, but became somewhat amused
at Ethel’s timid, awkward pauses, as she held out her hands, and said,
“Come, dear Ethel.”

“Oh, Margaret, Margaret!”

And Ethel was drawn into her sister’s bosom. Presently she drew back,
gazed at her sister inquiringly, and said in an odd, doubtful voice,
“Then you are glad?”

Margaret nearly laughed at the strange manner, but spoke with a
sorrowful tone, “Glad in one way, dearest, almost too glad, and
grateful.”

“Oh, I am so glad!” again said Ethel; “I thought it was making everybody
unhappy.”

“I don’t believe I could be that, now he has come, now I know;” and her
voice trembled. “There must be doubt and uncertainty,” she added, “but
I cannot dwell on them just yet. They will settle what is right, I know,
and, happen what may, I have always this to remember.”

“Oh, that is right! Papa will be so relieved! He was afraid it had only
been distress.”

“Poor papa! Yes, I did not command myself at first; I was not sure
whether it was right to see him at all.”

“Oh, Margaret, that was too bad!”

“It did not seem right to encourage any such--such,” the word was lost,
“to such a poor helpless thing as I am. I did not know what to do, and I
am afraid I behaved like a silly child, and did not think of dear papa’s
feelings. But I will try to be good, and leave it all to them.”

“And you are going to be happy?” said Ethel wistfully.

“For the present, at least. I cannot help it,” said Margaret. “Oh, he
is so kind, and so unselfish, and so beautifully gentle--and to think of
his still caring! But there, dear Ethel, I am not going to cry; do call
papa, or he will think me foolish again. I want him to be quite at ease
about me before he comes.”

“Then he is coming?”

“Yes, at tea-time--so run, dear Ethel, and tell Jane to get his room
ready.”

The message quickened Ethel, and after giving it, and reporting
consolingly to her father, she went up to Flora, who had been a
voluntary prisoner upstairs all this time, and was not peculiarly
gratified at such tidings coming only through the medium of Ethel. She
had before been sensible that, superior in discretion and effectiveness
as she was acknowledged to be, she did not share so much of the
confidence and sympathy as some of the others, and she felt mortified
and injured, though in this case it was entirely her own fault. The
sense of alienation grew upon her.

She dressed quickly, and hurried down, that she might see Margaret
alone; but the room was already prepared for tea, and the children were
fast assembling. Ethel came down a few minutes after, and found Blanche
claiming Alan Ernescliffe as her lawful property, dancing round him,
chattering, and looking injured if he addressed a word to any one else.

How did lovers look? was a speculation which had, more than once,
occupied Ethel, and when she had satisfied herself that her father was
at ease, she began to study it, as soon as a shamefaced consciousness
would allow her, after Alan’s warm shake of the hand.

Margaret looked much as usual, only with more glow and brightness--Mr.
Ernescliffe, not far otherwise; he was as pale and slight as on his last
visit, with the same soft blue eyes, capable, however, of a peculiar,
keen, steady glance when he was listening, and which now seemed to be
attending to Margaret’s every word or look, through all the delighted
uproar which Aubrey, Blanche, and Mary kept up round him, or while
taking his share in the general conversation, telling of Harry’s
popularity and good conduct on board the Alcestis, or listening to the
history of Norman’s school adventures, which he had heard, in part, from
Harry, and how young Jennings was entered in the flag-ship, as a boy,
though not yet to sail with his father.

After the storm of the day the sky seemed quite clear, and Ethel
could not see that being lovers made much difference; to be sure papa
displeased Blanche, by calling her away to his side, when she would
squeeze her chair in between Alan’s and the sofa; and Alan took all the
waiting on Margaret exclusively to himself. Otherwise, there was nothing
remarkable, and he was very much the same Mr. Ernescliffe whom they had
received a year ago.

In truth, the next ten days were very happy. The future was left
to rest, and Alan spent his mornings in the drawing-room alone with
Margaret, and looked ever more brightly placid, while, with the rest, he
was more than the former kind playfellow, for he now took his place as
the affectionate elder brother, entering warmly into all their schemes
and pleasures, and winning for himself a full measure of affection from
all; even his little god-daughter began to know him, and smile at
his presence. Margaret and Ethel especially delighted in the look of
enjoyment with which their father sat down to enter on the evening’s
conversation after the day’s work; and Flora was well pleased that Mrs.
Hoxton should find Alan in the drawing-room, and ask afterwards about
his estate; and that Meta Rivers, after being certified that this was
their Mr. Ernescliffe, pronounced that her papa thought him particularly
pleasing and gentlemanlike. There was something dignified in having a
sister on the point of being engaged.



CHAPTER XXVIII.



     Sail forth into the sea, thou ship,
       Through breeze and cloud, right onward steer;
     The moistened eye, the trembling lip,
       Are not the signs of doubt or fear!--LONGFELLOW.


Tranquility only lasted until Mr. Ernescliffe found it necessary to
understand on what terms he was to stand. Every one was tender of
conscience, anxious to do right, and desirous to yield to the opinion
that nobody could, or would give. While Alan begged for a positive
engagement, Margaret scrupled to exchange promises that she might never
be able to fulfil, and both agreed to leave all to her father, who, in
every way, ought to have the best ability to judge whether there was
unreasonable presumption in such a betrothal; but this very ability only
served to perplex the poor doctor more and more. It is far easier for a
man to decide when he sees only one bearing of a case, than when, like
Dr. May, he not only sees them, but is rent by them in his inmost
heart. Sympathising in turn with each lover, bitterly accusing his own
carelessness as the cause of all their troubles, his doubts contending
with his hopes, his conviction clashing with Sir Matthew Fleet’s
opinion, his conscientious sincerity and delicacy conflicting with
his affection and eagerness, he was perfectly incapable of coming to a
decision, and suffered so cruelly, that Margaret was doubly distressed
for his sake, and Alan felt himself guilty of having rendered everybody
miserable.

Dr. May could not conceal his trouble, and rendered Ethel almost as
unhappy as himself, after each conversation with her, though her hopes
usually sprang up again, and she had a happy conviction that this was
only the second volume of the novel. Flora was not often called into his
councils; confidence never came spontaneously from Dr. May to her; there
was something that did not draw it forth towards her, whether it resided
in that half-sarcastic corner of her steady blue eye, or in the grave
common-sense of her gentle voice. Her view of the case was known to be
that there was no need for so much perplexity--why should not Alan be
the best judge of his own happiness? If Margaret were to be delicate for
life, it would be better to have such a home to look to; and she soothed
and comforted Margaret, and talked in a strain of unmixed hope and
anticipation that often drew a smile from her sister, though she feared
to trust to it.

Flora’s tact and consideration in keeping the children away when the
lovers could best be alone, and letting them in when the discussion was
becoming useless and harassing, her cheerful smiles, her evening music
that covered all sounds, her removal of all extra annoyances, were
invaluable, and Margaret appreciated them, as, indeed, Flora took care
that she should.

Margaret begged to know her eldest brother’s judgment, but had great
difficulty in dragging it out. Diffidently as it was proposed, it
was clear and decided. He thought that his father had better send Sir
Matthew Fleet a statement of Margaret’s present condition, and abide
by his answer as to whether her progress warranted the hope of her
restoration.

Never was Richard more surprised than by the gratitude with which his
suggestion was hailed, simple as it was, so that it seemed obvious
that others should have already thought of it. After the tossings of
uncertainty, it was a positive relief to refer the question to some
external voice, and only Ethel and Norman expressed strong dislike to
Sir Matthew becoming the arbiter of Margaret’s fate, and were scarcely
pacified by Dr. May’s assurance that he had not revealed the occasion of
his inquiry. The letter was sent, and repose returned, but hearts beat
high on the morning when the answer was expected.

Dr. May watched the moment when his daughter was alone, carried the
letter to her, and kissing her, said, with an oppressed voice, “I give
you joy, my dear.”

She read with suspended breath and palpitating heart. Sir Matthew
thought her improvement sure, though slow, and had barely a doubt that,
in a year, she would have regained her full strength and activity.

“You will show it to Alan,” said Dr. May, as Margaret lifted her eyes to
his face inquiringly.

“Will not you?” she said.

“I cannot,” he answered. “I wish I was more helpful to you, my child,”
 he added wistfully, “but you will rest on him, and be happy together
while he stays, will you not?”

“Indeed I will, dear papa.”

Mr. Ernescliffe was with her as the doctor quitted her. She held the
letter to him, “But,” she said slowly, “I see that papa does not believe
it.”

“You promised to abide by it!” he exclaimed, between entreaty and
authority.

“I do; if you choose so to risk your hopes.”

“But,” cried he, as he glanced hastily over the letter, “there can be
no doubt! These words are as certain as language can make them. Why will
you not trust them?”

“I see that papa does not.”

“Despondency and self-reproach made him morbidly anxious. Believe so, my
Margaret! You know he is no surgeon!”

“His education included that line,” said Margaret. “I believe he has
all but the manual dexterity. However, I would fain have faith in Sir
Matthew,” she added, smiling, “and perhaps I am only swayed by the habit
of thinking that papa must know best.”

“He does in indifferent cases; but it is an old axiom, that a medical
man should not prescribe for his own family; above all, in such a case,
where it is but reasonable to believe an unprejudiced stranger, who
alone is cool enough to be relied on. I absolutely depend on him!”

Margaret absolutely depended on the bright cheerful look of conviction.
“Yes,” she said, “we will try to make papa take pleasure in the
prospect. Perhaps I could do more if I made the attempt.”

“I am sure you could, if you would let me give you more support. If I
were but going to remain with you!”

“Don’t let us be discontented,” said Margaret, smiling, “when so much
more has been granted than I dare to hope. Be it as it may, let us be
happy in what we have.”

“It makes you happy?” said he, archly reading her face to draw out the
avowal, but he only made her hide it, with a mute caress of the hand
that held hers. She was glad enough to rest in the present, now that
everything concurred to satisfy her conscience in so doing, and come
what might, the days now spent together would be a possession of joy for
ever.

Captain Gordon contrived to afford his lieutenant another fortnight’s
leave, perhaps because he was in dread of losing him altogether, for
Alan had some doubts, and many longings to remain. Had it been possible
to marry at once, he would have quitted the navy immediately; and he
would have given worlds to linger beside Margaret’s couch, and claim her
the first moment possible, believing his care more availing than all. He
was, however, so pledged to Captain Gordon, that, without strong cause,
he would not have been justified in withdrawing; besides, Harry was
under his charge, and Dr. May and Margaret both thought, with the
captain, that an active life would be a better occupation for him than
watching her. He would never be able to settle down at his new home
comfortably without her, and he would be more in the way of duty while
pursuing his profession, so Margaret nerved herself against using her
influence to detain him, and he thanked her for it.

Though hope and affection could not an once repair an injured spine,
they had wonderful powers in inciting Margaret to new efforts. Alan
was as tender and ready of hand as Richard, and more clever and
enterprising; and her unfailing trust in him prevented all alarms and
misgivings, so that wonders were effected, and her father beheld her
standing with so little support, looking so healthful and so blithe,
that his forebodings melted away, and he talked joyously of the future.

The great achievement was taking her round the garden. She could not
bear the motion of wheels, but Alan adopted the hammock principle, and,
with the aid of Richard and his crony, the carpenter, produced a machine
in which no other power on earth could have prevailed on her to trust
herself, but in which she was carried round the garden so successfully,
that there was even a talk of next Sunday, and of the Minster.

It was safely accomplished, and tired as she was, Margaret felt, as
she whispered to Alan, that he had now crowned all the joy that he had
brought to her.

Ethel used to watch them, and think how beautiful their countenances
were, and talk them over with her father, who was quite happy about them
now. She gave assistance, which Alan never once called unhandy, to all
his contrivances, and often floundered in upon his conferences with
Margaret, in a way that would have been very provoking, if she had not
always blushed and looked so excessively discomfited, and they had only
to laugh and reassure her.

Alan was struck by finding that the casual words spoken on the way from
Cocksmoor had been so strenuously acted on, and he brought on himself
a whole torrent of Ethel’s confused narratives, which Richard and Flora
would fain have checked; but Margaret let them continue, as she saw him
a willing listener, and was grateful to him for comprehending the ardent
girl.

He declared himself to have a share in the matter, reminding Ethel of
her appeal to him to bind himself to the service of Cocksmoor. He sent
a sovereign at once, to aid in a case of the sudden death of a pig; and
when securely established in his brotherly right, he begged Ethel to
let him know what would help her most. She stood colouring, twisting
her hands, and wondering what to say, whereupon he relieved her by a
proposal to leave an order for ten pounds, to be yearly paid into her
hands, as a fixed income for her school.

A thousand a year could hardly have been so much to Ethel. “Thank you!
Oh, this is charming! We could set up a regular school! Cherry Elwood is
the very woman! Alan, you have made our fortune! Oh, Margaret, Margaret!
I must go and tell Ritchie and Mary! This is the first real step to our
church and all!”

“May I do it?” said Alan, turning to Margaret, as Ethel frantically
burst out of the room; “perhaps I should have asked leave?”

“I was going to thank you,” said Margaret. “It is the very kindest thing
you could have done by dear Ethel! the greatest comfort to us. She will
be at peace now, when anything hinders her from going to Cocksmoor.”

“I wonder,” said Alan, musing, “whether we shall ever be able to help
her more substantially. I cannot do anything hastily, for you know
Maplewood is still in the hands of the executors, and I cannot tell what
claims there may be upon me; but by-and-by, when I return, if I find no
other pressing duty, might not a church at Cocksmoor be a thankoffering
for all I have found here?”

“Oh, Alan, what joy it would be!”

“It is a long way off,” he said sadly; “and perhaps her force of
perseverance will have prevailed alone.”

“I suppose I must not tell her, even as a vision.”

“It is too uncertain; I do not know the wants of the Maplewood people,
and I must provide for Hector. I would not let these vague dreams
interfere with her resolute work; but, Margaret, what a vision it is! I
can see you laying the first stone on that fine heathy brow.”

“Oh, your godchild should lay the first stone!”

“She shall, and you shall lead her. And there shall be Ethel’s sharp
face full of indescribable things as she marshals her children, and
Richard shall be curate, and read in his steady soft tone, and your
father shall look sunny with his boys around him, and you--”

“Oh, Alan,” said Margaret, who had been listening with a smile, “it is,
indeed, a long way off!”

“I shall look to it as the haven where I would be,” said the sailor.

They often spoke together of this scheme, ever decking it in brighter
colours. The topic seemed to suit them better than their own future, for
there was no dwelling on that without an occasional misgiving, and
the more glad the anticipation, the deeper the sigh that followed on
Margaret’s part, till Mr. Ernescliffe followed her lead, and they seldom
spoke of these uncertainties, but outwardly smiled over the present,
inwardly dwelt on the truly certain hopes. There were readings shared
together, made more precious than all, by the conversations that ensued.

The hour for parting came at last. Ethel never knew what passed in the
drawing-room, whence every one was carefully excluded. Dr. May wandered
about, keeping guard over the door, and watching the clock, till, at the
last moment, he knocked, and called in a trembling voice, “Ernescliffe!
Alan! it is past the quarter! You must not stay!”

The other farewells were hurried; Alan seemed voiceless, only nodding in
reply to Mary’s vociferous messages to Harry, and huskily whispering to
Ethel, “Good luck to Cocksmoor!”

The next moment the door had shut on him, and Dr. May and Flora had gone
to her sister, whom she found not tearful, but begging to be left alone.

When they saw her again, she was cheerful; she kept up her composure and
animation without flagging, nor did she discontinue her new exertions,
but seemed decidedly the happier for all that had passed.

Letters came every day for her, and presents to every one. Ethel had a
gold chain and eyeglass, which, it was hoped, might cure her of frowning
and stooping, though her various ways of dangling her new possession
caused her to be so much teased by Flora and Norman, that, but for
regard to Margaret’s feelings, she would not have worn it for three
days.

To Mary was sent a daguerreotype of Harry, her glory and delight. Say,
who would, that it had pig’s eyes, a savage frown, a pudding chin,
there were his own tight rings of hair, his gold-banded cap, his bright
buttons, how could she prize it enough? She exhibited it to the little
ones ten times a day, she kissed it night and morning, and registered
her vow always to sleep with it under her “pilow,” in a letter of
thanks, which Margaret defended and despatched, in spite of Miss
Winter’s horrors at its disregard of orthography.

It was nearly the last letter before the Alcestis was heard of at
Spithead. Then she sailed; she sent in her letters to Plymouth, and her
final greetings by a Falmouth cutter--poor Harry’s wild scrawl in pencil
looking very sea-sick.


“Dear papa and all, good-bye. We are out of sight of land. Three years,
and keep up a good heart. I shall soon be all right.

                                       “Your H. MAY.”


It was enclosed in Mr. Ernescliffe’s envelope, and with it came
tidings that Harry’s brave spirit was not failing, even under untoward
circumstances, but he had struggled on deck, and tried to write,
when all his contemporaries had given in; in fact, he was a fine
fellow--every one liked him, and Captain Gordon, though chary of
commendation, had held him up to the other youngsters as an example of
knowing what a sailor was meant to be like.

Margaret smiled, and cried over the news when she imparted it--but all
serenely--and though she was glad to be alone, and wrote journals for
Alan, when she could not send letters, she exerted herself to be the
same sister as usual to the rest of the household, and not to give way
to her wandering musings.

From one subject her attention never strayed. Ethel had never found any
lack of sympathy in her for her Cocksmoor pursuits; but the change now
showed that, where once Margaret had been interested merely as a kind
sister, she now had a personal concern, and she threw herself into all
that related to it as her own chief interest and pursuit--becoming the
foremost in devising plans, and arranging the best means of using Mr.
Ernescliffe’s benefaction.

The Elwood family had grown in the good opinion of the Mays. Charity
had hobbled to church, leaning on her father’s arm, and being invited
to dinner in the kitchen, the acquaintance had been improved, and nurse
herself had pronounced her such a tidy, good sort of body, that it was
a pity she had met with such a misfortune. If Miss Ethel brought in
nothing but the like of her, they should be welcome; poor thing, how
tired she was!

Nurse’s opinions were apt to be sagacious, especially when in the face
of her prejudices, and this gave Margaret confidence. Cherry proved to
have been carefully taught by a good clergyman and his wife, and to
be of very different stamp from the persons to whom the girls were
accustomed. They were charmed with her, and eagerly offered to supply
her with books--respecting her the more when they found that Mr.
Hazlewood had already lent her their chief favourites. Other and greater
needs they had no power to fill up.

“It is so lone without the church bells, you see, miss,” said Mrs.
Elwood. “Our tower had a real fine peal, and my man was one of the
ringers. I seems quite lost without them, and there was Cherry, went
a’most every day with the children.”

“Every day!” cried Mary, looking at her with respect.

“It was so near,” said Cherry, “I could get there easy, and I got used
to it when I was at school.”

“Did it not take up a great deal of time?” said Ethel.

“Why, you see, ma’am, it came morning and night, out of working times,
and I can’t be stirring much.”

“Then you miss it sadly?” said Ethel.

“Yes, ma’am, it made the day go on well like, and settled a body’s mind,
when I fretted for what could not be helped. But I try not to fret after
it now, and Mr. Hazlewood said, if I did my best wherever I was, the
Lord would still join our prayers together.”

Mr. Hazlewood was recollected by Mr. Wilmot as an old college friend,
and a correspondence with him fully confirmed the favourable estimate of
the Elwoods, and was decisive in determining that the day-school, with
Alan’s ten pounds as salary, and a penny a week from each child, should
be offered to Cherry.

Mr. Hazlewood answered for her sound excellence, and aptitude for
managing little children, though he did not promise genius, such as
should fulfil the requirements of modern days. With these Cocksmoor
could dispense at present; Cherry was humbly gratified, and her parents
delighted with the honour and profit; there was a kitchen which afforded
great facilities, and Richard and his carpenter managed the fitting to
admiration; Margaret devised all manner of useful arrangements, settled
matters with great earnestness, saw Cherry frequently, discussed plans,
and learned the history and character of each child, as thoroughly as
Ethel herself. Mr. Ramsden himself came to the opening of the school,
and said so much of the obligations of Cocksmoor to the young ladies,
that Ethel would not have known which way to look, if Flora had not
kindly borne the brunt of his compliments.

Every one was pleased, except Mrs. Green, who took upon herself to set
about various malicious reports of Cherry Elwood; but nobody cared for
them, except Mrs. Elwood, who flew into such passions, that Ethel was
quite disappointed in her, though not in Cherry, who meekly tried to
silence her mother, begged the young ladies not to be vexed, and showed
a quiet dignity that soon made the shafts of slander fall inoffensively.

All went well; there was a school instead of a hubbub, clean faces
instead of dirty, shining hair instead of wild elf-locks, orderly
children instead of little savages. The order and obedience that Ethel
could not gain in six months, seemed impressed in six days by Cherry;
the neat work made her popular with the mothers, her firm gentleness
won the hearts of the children, and the kitchen was filled not only with
boys and girls from the quarry, but with some little ones from outlying
cottages of Fordholm and Abbotstoke, and there was even a smart little
farmer, who had been unbearable at home.

Margaret’s unsuccessful bath-chair was lent to Cherry, and in it her
scholars drew her to Stoneborough every Sunday, and slowly began to
redeem their character with the ladies, who began to lose the habit of
shrinking out of their way--the Stoneborough children did so instead;
and Flora and Ethel were always bringing home stories of injustice
to their scholars, fancied or real, and of triumphs in their having
excelled any national school girl. The most stupid children at Cocksmoor
always seemed to them wise in comparison with the Stoneborough girls,
and the Sunday-school might have become to Ethel a school of rivalry,
if Richard had not opened her eyes by a quiet observation, that the town
girls seemed to fare as ill with her, as the Cocksmoor girls did with
the town ladies. Then she caught herself up, tried to be candid, and
found that she was not always impartial in her judgments. Why would
competition mingle even in the best attempts?

Cherry did not so bring forward her scholars that Ethel could have many
triumphs of this dangerous kind. Indeed, Ethel was often vexed with
her; for though she taught needlework admirably, and enforced correct
reading, and reverent repetition, her strong provincial dialect was a
stumbling-block; she could not put questions without book, and nothing
would teach her Ethel’s rational system of arithmetic. That she was a
capital dame, and made the children very good, was allowed; but now and
then, when mortified by hearing what was done at Stoneborough, Fordholm,
or Abbotstoke, Ethel would make vigorous efforts, which resulted only in
her coming home fuming at Cherry’s “outrageous dullness.”

These railings always hurt Margaret, who had made Cherry almost into a
friend, and generally liked to have a visit from her during the
Sunday, when she always dined with the servants. Then school questions,
Cocksmoor news, and the tempers of the children, were talked over, and
Cherry was now and then drawn into home reminiscences, and descriptions
of the ways of her former school. There was no fear of spoiling
her--notice from her superiors was natural to her, and she had the
lady-likeness of womanly goodness, so as never to go beyond her own
place. She had had many trials too, and Margaret learned the true
history of them, as she won Cherry’s confidence, and entered into them,
feeling their likeness, yet dissimilarity, to her own.

Cherry had been a brisk happy girl in a good place, resting in one of
the long engagements that often extend over half the life of a servant,
enjoying the nod of her baker as he left his bread, and her walk from
church with him on alternate Sundays. But poor Cherry had been exposed
to the perils of window-cleaning; and, after a frightful fall, had
wakened to find herself in a hospital, and her severe sufferings had
left her a cripple for life.

And the baker had not been an Alan Ernescliffe! She did not complain of
him--he had come to see her, and had been much grieved, but she had
told him she could never be a useful wife; and, before she had used her
crutches, he was married to her pretty fellow-servant.

Cherry spoke very simply; she hoped it was better for Long, and believed
Susan would make him a good wife. Ethel would have thought she did not
feel, but Margaret knew better.

She stroked the thin slight fingers, and gently said, “Poor Cherry!” and
Cherry wiped away a tear, and said, “Yes, ma’am, thank you, it is best
for him. I should not have wished him to grieve for what cannot be
helped.”

“Resignation is the great comfort.”

“Yes, ma’am. I have a great deal to be thankful for. I don’t blame no
one, but I do see how some, as are married, seem to get to think more of
this world; and now and then I fancy I can see how it is best for me as
it is.”

Margaret sighed, as she remembered certain thoughts before Alan’s
return.

“Then, ma’am, there has been such goodness! I did vex at being a poor
helpless thing, nothing but a burden on father; and when we had to go
from home, and Mr. and Mrs. Hazlewood and all, I can’t tell you how bad
it was, ma’am.”

“Then you are comforted now?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Cherry, brightening. “It seems as if He had given me
something to do, and there are you, and Mr. Richard, and Miss Ethel,
to help. I should like, please God, to be of some good to those poor
children.”

“I am sure you will, Cherry; I wish I could do as much.”

Cherry’s tears had come again. “Ah! ma’am, you--” and she stopped short,
and rose to depart. Margaret held out her hand to wish her good-bye.
“Please, miss, I was thinking how Mr. Hazlewood said that God fits our
place to us, and us to our place.”

“Thank you, Cherry, you are leaving me something to remember.”

And Margaret lay questioning with herself, whether the schoolmistress
had not been the most self-denying of the two; but withal gazing on the
hoop of pearls which Alan had chosen as the ring of betrothal.

“The pearl of great price,” murmured she to herself; “if we hold that,
the rest will soon matter but little. It remaineth that both they that
have wives, be as they that have none, and they that weep, as though
they wept not, and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not! If
ever Alan and I have a home together upon earth, may all too confident
joy be tempered by the fears that we have begun with! I hope this
probation may make me less likely to be taken up with the cares and
pleasures of his position than I might have been last year. He is one
who can best help the mind to go truly upward. But oh, that voyage!”



CHAPTER XXIX.



     Heart affluence in household talk,
     From social fountains never dry.--TENNYSON.


“What a bore!”

“What’s the matter now?”

“Here has this old fellow asked me to dinner again!”

“A fine pass we are come to!” cried Dr. May, half amused, half irate.
“I should like to know what I should have said at your age if the
head-master had asked me to dinner.”

“Papa is not so very fond of dining at Dr. Hoxton’s,” said Ethel. “A
whipper-snapper schoolboy, who might be thankful to dine anywhere!”
 continued Dr. May, while the girls burst out laughing, and Norman looked
injured.

“It is very ungrateful of Norman,” said Flora; “I cannot see what he
finds to complain of.”

“You would know,” said Norman, “if, instead of playing those perpetual
tunes of yours, you had to sit it out in that perfumy drawing-room,
without anything to listen to worth hearing. If I have looked over that
court album once, I have a dozen times, and there is not another book in
the place.”

“I am glad there is not,” said Flora. “I am quite ashamed to see you for
ever turning over those old pictures. You cannot guess how stupid you
look. I wonder Mrs. Hoxton likes to have you,” she added, patting his
shoulders between jest and earnest.

“I wish she would not, then. It is only to escort you.”

“Nonsense, Norman, you know better,” cried Ethel. “You know it is for
your own sake, and to make up for their injustice, that he invites you,
or Flora either.”

“Hush, Ethel! he gives himself quite airs enough already,” said the
doctor.

“Papa!” said Ethel, in vexation, though he gave her a pinch to show it
was all in good humour, while he went on, “I am glad to hear they do
leave him to himself in a corner. A very good thing too! Where else
should a great gawky schoolboy be?”

“Safe at home, where I wish he would let me be,” muttered Norman, though
he contrived to smile, and followed Flora out of the room, without
subjecting himself to the imputation of offended dignity.

Ethel was displeased, and began her defence: “Papa, I wish--” and there
she checked herself.

“Eh! Miss Ethel’s bristles up!” said her father, who seemed in a
somewhat mischievous mood of teasing.

“How could you, papa?” cried she.

“How could I what, Miss Etheldred?”

“Plague Norman,”--the words would come. “Accuse him of airs.”

“I hate to see young fellows above taking an honour from their elders,”
 said Dr. May.

“Now, papa, papa, you know it is no such thing. Dr. Hoxton’s parties are
very dull--you know they are, and it is not fair on Norman. If he
was set up and delighted at going so often, then you would call him
conceited.”

“Conceit has a good many lurking-places,” said Dr. May. “It is harder to
go and be overlooked, than to stay at home.”

“Now, papa, you are not to call Norman conceited,” cried Ethel. “You
don’t believe that he is any such thing.”

“Why, not exactly,” said Dr. May, smiling. “The boy has missed it
marvellously; but, you see, he has everything that subtle imp would wish
to feed upon, and it is no harm to give him a lick with the rough side
of the tongue, as your canny Scots grandfather used to say.”

“Ah! if you knew, papa--” began Ethel.

“If I knew?”

“No, no, I must not tell.”

“What, a secret, is there?”

“I wish it was not; I should like to tell you very much, but then, you
see, it is Norman’s, and you are to be surprised.”

“Your surprise is likely to be very much like Blanche’s birthday
presents, a stage aside.”

“No, I am going to keep it to myself.”

Two or three days after, as Ethel was going to the schoolroom after
breakfast, Dr. May beckoned her back to the dining-room, and, with his
merry look of significance, said, “Well, ma’am, I have found out your
mystery!”

“About Norman? Oh, papa! Did he tell you?”

“When I came home from the hospital last night, at an hour when all
respectable characters, except doctors and police, should be in their
warm beds, I beheld a light in Norman’s window, so methought I would see
what Gravity was doing out of his bed at midnight--”

“And you found him at his Greek--”

“So that was the meaning of his looking so lank and careworn, just as he
did last year, and he the prince of the school! I could have found it in
my heart to fling the books at his head!”

“But you consent, don’t you, to his going up for the scholarship?”

“I consent to anything, as long as he keeps within due bounds, and does
not work himself to death. I am glad of knowing it, for now I can put a
moderate check upon it.”

“And did he tell you all about it?”

“He told me he felt as if he owed it to us to gain something for
himself, since I had given up the Randall to gratify him--a pretty sort
of gratification.”

“Yes, and he will be glad to get away from school. He says he knows it
is bad for him--as it is uncomfortable to be singled out in the way Dr.
Hoxton does now. You know,” pleaded Ethel, “it is not ingratitude or
elation, but it is, somehow, not nice to be treated as he is, set apart
from the rest.”

“True; Dr. Hoxton never had taste or judgment. If Norman were not a
lusus naturae,” said Dr. May, hesitating for a word, “his head would
have been turned long ago. And he wants companions too--he has been
forced out of boyhood too soon, poor fellow--and Harry gone too. He
does not get anything like real relaxation, and he will be better among
youths than boys. Stoneborough will never be what it was in my time!”
 added the doctor mournfully. “I never thought to see the poor old place
come to this; but there--when all the better class send their sons to
the great public schools, and leave nothing but riff-raff here, one is
forced, for a boy’s own sake, to do the same.”

“Oh, I am so glad! Then you have consented to the rest of Norman’s
scheme, and will not keep poor little Tom at school here without him?”

“By what he tells me it would be downright ruin to the boy. I little
thought to have to take a son of mine away from Stoneborough; but Norman
is the best judge, and he is the only person who seems to have made
any impression on Tom, so I shall let it be. In fact,” he added, half
smiling, “I don’t know what I could refuse old June.”

“That’s right!” cried Ethel. “That is so nice! Then, if Norman gets the
scholarship, Tom is to go to Mr. Wilmot first, and then to Eton!”

“If Norman gains the scholarship, but that is an if,” said Dr. May, as
though hoping for a loop-hole to escape offending the shade of Bishop
Whichcote.

“Oh, papa, you cannot doubt of that!”

“I cannot tell, Ethel. He is facile princeps here in his own world, but
we do not know how it may be when he is measured with public schoolmen,
who have had more first-rate tutorship than poor old Hoxton’s.”

“Ah! he says so, but I thought that was all his humility.”

“Better he should be prepared. If he had had all those advantages--but
it may be as well after all. I always had a hankering to have sent him
to Eton, but your dear mother used to say it was not fair on the others.
And now, to see him striving in order to give the advantage of it to his
little brother! I only hope Master Thomas is worthy of it--but it is a
boy I can’t understand.”

“Nor I,” said Ethel; “he never seems to say anything he can help, and
goes after Norman without talking to any one else.”

“I give him up to Norman’s management,” said Dr. May. “He says the
boy is very clever, but I have not seen it; and, as to more serious
matters--However, I must take it on Norman’s word that he is wishing to
learn truth. We made an utter mistake about him; I don’t know who is to
blame for it.”

“Have you told Margaret about Norman’s plan?” asked Ethel.

“No; he desired me to say nothing. Indeed, I should not like Tom’s
leaving school to be talked of beforehand.”

“Norman said he did not want Flora to hear, because she is so much with
the Hoxton’s, and he said they would all watch him.”

“Ay, ay, and we must keep his secret. What a boy it is! But it is not
safe to say conceited things. We shall have a fall yet, Ethel. Not
seventeen, remember, and brought up at a mere grammar-school.”

“But we shall still have the spirit that made him try,” said Ethel, “and
that is the thing.”

“And, to tell the truth,” said the doctor, lingering, “for my own part,
I don’t care a rush for it!” and he dashed off to his work, while Ethel
stood laughing.

“Papa was so very kind,” said Norman tremulously, when Ethel followed
him to his room, to congratulate him on having gained his father’s
assent, of which he had been more in doubt than she.

“And you see he quite approves of the scheme for Tom, except for
thinking it disrespect to Bishop Whichcote. He said he only hoped Tom
was worthy of it.”

“Tom!” cried Norman. “Take my word for it, Ethel, Tom will surprise you
all. He will beat us all to nothing, I know!”

“If only he can be cured of--”

“He will,” said Norman, “when once he has outgrown his frights, and that
he may do at Mr. Wilmot’s, apart from those fellows. When I go up for
this scholarship, you must look after his lessons, and see if you are
not surprised at his construing!”

“When you go. It will be in a month!”

“He has told no one, I hope.”

“No; but I hardly think he will bear not telling Margaret.”

“Well--I hate a thing being out of one’s own keeping. I should not so
much dislike Margaret’s knowing, but I won’t have Flora know--mind that,
Ethel,” he said, with disproportionate vehemence.

“I only hope Flora will not be vexed. But oh, dear! how nice it will be
when you have it, telling Meta Rivers, and all!”

“And this is a fine way of getting it, standing talking here. Not that I
shall--you little know what public schools can do! But that is no reason
against trying.”

“Good-night, then. Only one thing more. You mean that, till further
orders, Margaret should not know?”

“Of course,” said Norman impatiently. “She won’t take any of Flora’s
silly affronts, and, what is more, she would not care half so much as
before Alan Ernescliffe came.”

“Oh, Norman, Norman! I’m sure--”

“Why, it is what they always say. Everybody can’t be first, and
Ernescliffe has the biggest half of her, I can see.”

“I am sure I did not,” said Ethel, in a mortified voice.

“Why, of course, it always comes of people having lovers.”

“Then I am sure I won’t!” exclaimed Ethel.

Norman went into a fit of laughing.

“You may laugh, Norman, but I will never let papa or any of you be
second to any one!” she cried vehemently.

A brotherly home-truth followed: “Nobody asked you, sir, she said!” was
muttered by Norman, still laughing heartily.

“I know,” said Ethel, not in the least offended, “I am very ugly, and
very awkward, but I don’t care. There never can be anybody in all the
world that I shall like half as well as papa, and I am glad no one is
ever likely to make me care less for him and Cocksmoor.”

“Stay till you are tried,” said Norman.

Ethel squeezed up her eyes, curled up her nose, showed her teeth in
a horrible grimace, and made a sort of snarl: “Yah! That’s the face I
shall make at them!” and then, with another good-night, ran to her own
room.

Norman was, to a certain extent, right with regard to Margaret--her
thoughts and interest had been chiefly engrossed by Alan Ernescliffe,
and so far drawn away from her own family, that when the Alcestis was
absolutely gone beyond all reach of letters for the present, Margaret
could not help feeling somewhat of a void, and as if the home concerns
were not so entire an occupation for her mind as formerly.

She would fain have thrown herself into them again, but she became
conscious that there was a difference. She was still the object of her
father’s intense tenderness and solicitude, indeed she could not be
otherwise, but it came over her sometimes that she was less necessary
to him than in the first year. He was not conscious of any change, and,
indeed, it hardly amounted to a change, and yet Margaret, lying inactive
and thoughtful, began to observe that the fullness of his confidence was
passing to Ethel. Now and then it would appear that he fancied he had
told Margaret little matters, when he had really told them to Ethel;
and it was Ethel who would linger with him in the drawing-room after
the others had gone up at night, or who would be late at the morning’s
reading, and disarm Miss Winter, by pleading that papa had been talking
to her. The secret they shared together was, of course, the origin of
much of this; but also Ethel was now more entirely the doctor’s own than
Margaret could be after her engagement; and there was a likeness of mind
between the father and daughter that could not but develop more in
this year, than in all Ethel’s life, when she had made the most rapid
progress. Perhaps, too, the doctor looked on Margaret rather as
the authority and mistress of his house, while Ethel was more of a
playfellow; and thus, without either having the least suspicion that
the one sister was taking the place of the other, and without any actual
neglect of Margaret, Ethel was his chief companion.

“How excited and anxious Norman looks!” said Margaret, one day, when he
had rushed in at the dinner-hour, asking for his father, and, when he
could not find him, shouting out for Ethel. “I hope there is nothing
amiss. He has looked thin and worn for some time, and yet his work at
school is very easy to him.”

“I wish there maybe nothing wrong there again,” said Flora. “There!
there’s the front door banging! He is off! Ethel!--” stepping to the
door, and calling in her sister, who came from the street door, her hair
blowing about with the wind. “What did Norman want?”

“Only to know whether papa had left a note for Dr. Hoxton,” said Ethel,
looking very confused and very merry.

“That was not all,” said Flora. “Now don’t be absurd, Ethel--I hate
mysteries.”

“Last time I had a secret you would not believe it,” said Ethel,
laughing.

“Come!” exclaimed Flora, “why cannot you tell us at once what is going
on?”

“Because I was desired not,” said Ethel. “You will hear it soon enough,”
 and she capered a little.

“Let her alone, Flora,” said Margaret. “I see there is nothing wrong.”

“If she is desired to be silent, there is nothing to be said,” replied
Flora, sitting down again, while Ethel ran away to guard her secret.

“Absurd!” muttered Flora. “I cannot imagine why Ethel is always making
mysteries!”

“She cannot help other people having confidence in her,” said Margaret
gently.

“She need not be so important, then,” said Flora--“always having private
conferences with papa! I do not think it is at all fair on the rest.”

“Ethel is a very superior person,” said Margaret, with half a sigh.

Flora might toss her head, but she attempted no denial in words. “And,”
 continued Margaret, “if papa does find her his best companion and friend
we ought to be glad of it.”

“I do not call it just,” said Flora.

“I do not think it can be helped,” said Margaret: “the best must be
preferred.

“As to that, Ethel is often very ridiculous and silly.”

“She is improving every day; and you know dear mamma always thought her
the finest character amongst us.”

“Then you are ready to be left out, and have your third sister always
put before you?”

“No, Flora, that is not the case. Neither she nor papa would ever be
unfair; but, as she would say herself, what they can’t help, they can’t
help; and, as she grows older, she must surpass me more and more.”

“And you like it?”

“I like it--when--when I think of papa, and of his dear, noble Ethel. I
do like it, when I am not selfish.”

Margaret turned away her head, but presently looked up again.

“Only, Flora,” she said, “pray do not say one word of this, on any
account, to Ethel. She is so happy with papa, and I would not for
anything have her think I feel neglected, or had any jealousy.”

“Ah,” thought Flora, “you can give up sweetly, but you have Alan to fall
back upon. Now I, who certainly have the best right, and a great deal
more practical sense--”

Flora took Margaret’s advice, and did not reproach Ethel, for a little
reflection convinced her that she should make a silly figure in so
doing, and she did not like altercations.

It was the same evening that Norman came in from school with his hands
full of papers, and, with one voice, his father and Ethel exclaimed,
“You have them?”

“Yes;” and he gave the letter to his father, while Blanche, who had a
very inquisitive pair of eyes, began to read from a paper he placed on
the table.

“‘Norman Walter, son of Richard and Margaret May, High Street, Doctor of
Medicine, December 21st, 18--. Thomas Ramsden.’”

“What is that for, Norman?” and, as he did not attend, she called Mary
to share her speculations, and spell out the words.

“Ha!” cried Dr. May, “this is capital! The old doctor seems not to know
how to say enough for you. Have you read it?”

“No, he only told me he had said something in my favour, and wished me
all success.”

“Success!” cried Mary. “Oh, Norman, you are not going to sea too?”

“No, no!” interposed Blanche knowingly--“he is going to be married.
I heard nurse wish her brother success when he was going to marry the
washerwoman with a red face.”

“No,” said Mary, “people never are married till they are twenty.”

“But I tell you,” persisted Blanche, “people always write like this, in
a great book in church, when they are married. I know, for we always go
into church with Lucy and nurse when there is a wedding.”

“Well, Norman, I wish you success with the bride you are to court,” said
Dr. May, much diverted with the young ladies’ conjectures.

“But is it really?” said Mary, making her eyes as round as full moons.

“Is it really?” repeated Blanche. “Oh, dear! is Norman going to be
married? I wish it was to be Meta Rivers, for then I could always ride
her dear little white pony.”

“Tell them,” whispered Norman, a good deal out of countenance, as he
leaned over Ethel, and quitted the room.

Ethel cried, “Now then!” and looked at her father, while Blanche and
Mary reiterated inquiries--marriage, and going to sea, being the only
events that, in their imagination, the world could furnish. Going to
try for a Balliol scholarship! It was a sad falling off, even if they
understood what it meant. The doctor’s explanations to Margaret had a
tone of apology for having kept her in ignorance, and Flora said few
words, but felt herself injured; she had nearly gone to Mrs. Hoxton that
afternoon, and how strange it would have been if anything had been said
to her of her own brother’s projects, when she was in ignorance.

Ethel slipped away to her brother, who was in his own room, surrounded
with books, flushed and anxious, and trying to glance over each subject
on which he felt himself weak.

“I shall fail! I know I shall!” was his exclamation. “I wish I had never
thought of it!”

“What? did Dr. Hoxton think you not likely to succeed?” cried Ethel, in
consternation.

“Oh! he said I was certain, but what is that? We Stoneborough men only
compare ourselves with each other. I shall break down to a certainty,
and my father will be disappointed.”

“You will do your best?”

“I don’t know that. My best will all go away when it comes to the
point.”

“Surely not. It did not go away last time you were examined, and why
should it now?”

“I tell you, Ethel, you know nothing about it. I have not got up half
what I meant to have done. Here, do take this book--try me whether I
know this properly.”

So they went on, Ethel doing her best to help and encourage, and Norman
in an excited state of restless despair, which drove away half his
senses and recollection, and his ideas of the superior powers of public
schoolboys magnifying every moment. They were summoned downstairs to
prayers, but went up again at once, and more than an hour subsequently,
when their father paid one of his domiciliary visits, there they still
were, with their Latin and Greek spread out, Norman trying to strengthen
all doubtful points, but in a desperate desultory manner, that only
confused him more and more, till he was obliged to lay his head down on
the table, shut his eyes, and run his fingers through his hair, before
he could recollect the simplest matter; his renderings alternated with
groans, and, cold as was the room, his cheeks and brow were flushed and
burning.

The doctor checked all this, by saying, gravely and sternly, “This is
not right, Norman. Where are all your resolutions?”

“I shall never do it. I ought never to have thought of it! I shall never
succeed!”

“What if you do not?” said Dr. May, laying his hand on his shoulder.

“What? why, Tom’s chance lost--you will all be mortified,” said Norman,
hesitating in some confusion.

“I will take care of Tom,” said Dr. May.

“And he will have been foiled!” said Ethel

“If he is?”

The boy and girl were both silent.

“Are you striving for mere victory’s sake, Norman?” continued his
father.

“I thought not,” murmured Norman.

“Successful or not, you will have done your utmost for us. You would
not lose one jot of affection or esteem, and Tom shall not suffer. Is it
worth this agony?”

“No, it is foolish,” said Norman, with trembling voice, almost as if he
could have burst into tears. He was quite unnerved by the anxiety
and toil with which he had overtasked himself, beyond his father’s
knowledge.

“Oh, papa!” pleaded Ethel, who could not bear to see him pained.

“It is foolish,” continued Dr. May, who felt it was the moment for
bracing severity. “It is rendering you unmanly. It is wrong.”

Again Ethel made an exclamation of entreaty.

“It is wrong, I know,” repeated Norman; “but you don’t know what it is
to get into the spirit of the thing.”

“Do you think I do not?” said the doctor; “I can tell exactly what you
feel now. If I had not been an idle dog, I should have gone through it
all many more times.”

“What shall I do?” asked Norman, in a worn-out voice.

“Put all this out of your mind, sleep quietly, and don’t open another
book.”

Norman moved his head, as if sleep were beyond his power.

“I will read you something to calm your tone,” said Dr. May, and he took
up a Prayer-book. “‘Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all,
but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain. And every man
that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do
it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.’ And, Norman,
that is not the struggle where the race is not to the swift, nor the
battle to the strong; nor the contest, where the conqueror only wins
vanity and vexation of spirit.”

Norman had cast down his eyes, and hardly made answer, but the words
had evidently taken effect. The doctor only further bade him good-night,
with a whispered blessing, and, taking Ethel by the hand, drew her away.
When they met the next morning, the excitement had passed from Norman’s
manner, but he looked dejected and resigned. He had made up his mind
to lose, and was not grateful for good wishes; he ought never to have
thought, he said, of competing with men from public schools, and he knew
his return of love of vain-glory deserved that he should fail. However,
he was now calm enough not to be likely to do himself injustice by
nervousness, and Margaret hid hopes that Richard’s steady equable mind
would have a salutary influence. So, commending Tom’s lessons to Ethel,
and hearing, but not marking, countless messages to Richard, he set
forth upon his emprise, while his anxiety seemed to remain as a legacy
for those at home.

Poor Dr. May confessed that his practice by no means agreed with his
precept, for he could think of nothing else, and was almost as bad as
Norman, in his certainty that the boy would fail from mere nervousness.
Margaret was the better companion for him now, attaching less intensity
of interest to Norman’s success than did Ethel; she was the more able to
compose him, and cheer his hopes.



CHAPTER XXX.



     Weary soul, and burdened sore,
       Labouring with thy secret load,
     Fear not all thy griefs to pour
       In this heart, love’s true abode.
                                   Lyra Innocentium.


Tea had just been brought in on the eighth evening from Norman’s
departure, when there was a ring at the bell. There was a start, and
look of expectation. “Only a patient,” said the doctor; but it surely
was not for that reason that he rose with so much alacrity and opened
the door, nor was “Well, old fellow?” the greeting for his patients--so
everybody sprang after him, and beheld something tall taking off a coat,
while a voice said, “I have got it.”

The mass of children rushed back to Margaret, screaming, “He has got
it!” and then Aubrey trotted out into the hall again to see what Norman
had got.

“A happy face at least,” said Margaret, as he came to her. And that was
not peculiar to Norman. The radiance had shone out upon every one
in that moment, and it was one buzz of happy exclamation, query, and
answer--the only tone of regret when Mary spoke of Harry, and all
at once took up the strain--how glad poor Harry would be. As to the
examination, that had been much less difficult than Norman had expected;
in fact, he said, it was lucky for him that the very subjects had been
chosen in which he was most up--luck which, as the doctor could not help
observing, generally did attend Norman. And Norman had been so happy
with Richard; the kind, wise elder brother had done exactly what was
best for him in soothing his anxiety, and had fully shared his feelings,
and exulted in his success. Margaret had a most triumphant letter,
dwelling on the abilities of the candidates whom Norman had outstripped,
and the idea that every one had conceived of his talent. “Indeed,” wrote
Richard, “I fancy the men had never believed that I could have a clever
brother. I am glad they have seen what Norman can do.”

Margaret could not help reading this aloud, and it made Norman blush
with the compunction that Richard’s unselfish pride in him always
excited. He had much to tell of his ecstasy with Oxford. Stoneborough
Minster had been a training in appreciation of its hoary beauty, but the
essentially prosaic Richard had never prepared him for the impression
that the reverend old university made on him, and he was already, heart
and soul, one of her most loyal and loving sons, speaking of his college
and of the whole university as one who had a right of property in them,
and looking, all the time, not elated, but contented, as if he had found
his sphere and was satisfied. He had seen Cheviot, too, and had been
very happy in the renewed friendship; and had been claimed as a cousin
by a Balliol man, a certain Norman Ogilvie, a name well known among the
Mays. “And how has Tom been getting on?” he asked, when he returned to
home affairs.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Ethel. “He will not have my help.”

“Not let you help him!” exclaimed Norman.

“No. He says he wants no girls,” said Ethel, laughing.

“Foolish fellow!” said Norman. “I wonder what sort of work he has made!”

“Very funny, I should think,” said Ethel, “judging by the verses I could
see.”

The little, pale, rough-haired Tom, in his perpetual coating of dust,
softly crept into the room, as if he only wanted to elude observation;
but Mary and Blanche were at once vociferating their news in his ears,
though with little encouragement--he only shook them off abruptly, and
would not answer when they required him to be glad.

Norman stretched out his arm, intercepting him as he was making for his
hiding-place behind Dr. May’s arm-chair.

“Come, August, how have things gone on?”

“Oh! I don’t know.”

“What’s your place?”

“Thirteenth!” muttered Tom in his throat, and well he might, for two
or three voices cried out that was too bad, and that it was all his own
fault, for not accepting Ethel’s help. He took little heed, but crept to
his corner without another word, and Mary knew she should be thumped if
she should torment him there.

Norman left him alone, but the coldness of the little brother for whom
he had worked gave a greater chill to his pleasure than he could have
supposed possible. He would rather have had some cordiality on Tom’s
part, than all the congratulations that met him the next day.

He could not rest contented while Tom continued to shrink from him, and
he was the more uneasy when, on Saturday morning, no calls from Mary
availed to find the little boy, and bring him to the usual reading and
Catechism.

Margaret decided that they must begin without him, and poor Mary’s verse
was read, in consequence, with a most dolorous tone. As soon as the
books were shut, she ran off, and a few words passed among the elder
ones about the truant--Flora opining that the Andersons had led him
away; Ethel suggesting that his gloom must arise from his not being
well; and Margaret looking wistfully at Norman, and saying she feared
they had judged much amiss last spring. Norman heard in silence, and
walked thoughtfully into the garden. Presently he caught Mary’s voice in
expostulation: “How could you not come to read?”

“Girls’ work!” growled another voice, out of sight.

“But Norman, and Richard, and Harry, always come to the reading.
Everybody ought.”

Norman, who was going round the shrubs that concealed the speakers from
him, here lost their voices, but, as he emerged in front of the old
tool-house, he heard a little scream from Mary, and, at the same moment,
she darted back, and fell over a heap of cabbage-stumps in front of the
old tool-house. It was no small surprise to her to be raised by him, and
tenderly asked whether she were hurt. She was not hurt, but she could
not speak without crying, and when Norman begged to hear what was the
matter, and where Tom was, she would only plead for him--that he did not
intend to hurt her, and that she had been teasing him. What had he done
to frighten her? Oh! he had only run at her with a hoe, because she was
troublesome; she did not mind it, and Norman must not--and she clung
to him as if to keep him back, while he pursued his researches in the
tool-house, where, nearly concealed by a great bushel-basket, lurked
Master Thomas, crouching down, with a volume of Gil Bias in his hand.

“You here, Tom! What have you hidden yourself here for? What can make
you so savage to Mary?”

“She should not bother me,” said Tom sulkily.

Norman sent Mary away, pacifying her by promises that he would not
revenge her quarrel upon Tom, and then, turning the basket upside down,
and perching himself astride on it, he began: “That is the kindest, most
forgiving little sister I ever did see. What possesses you to treat her
so ill?”

“I wasn’t going to hurt her.”

“But why drive her away? Why don’t you come to read?” No answer;
and Norman, for a moment, felt as if Tom were really hopelessly
ill-conditioned and sullen, but he persevered in restraining his
desire to cuff the ill-humour out of him, and continued, “Come! there’s
something wrong, and you will never be better till it is out. Tell
me--don’t be afraid. Those fellows have been at you again?”

He took Tom by the arm to draw him nearer, but a cry and start of pain
were the result. “So they have licked you? Eh? What have they been
doing?”

“They said they would spiflicate me if I told!” sighed Tom.

“They shall never do anything to you;” and, by-and-by, a sobbing
confession was drawn forth, muttered at intervals, as low as if Tom
expected the strings of onions to hear and betray him to his foes.
Looking on him as a deserter, these town-boys had taken advantage of his
brother’s absence to heap on him every misery they could inflict. There
had been a wager between Edward Anderson and Sam Axworthy as to what
Tom could be made to do, and his personal timidity made him a miserable
victim, not merely beaten and bruised, but forced to transgress every
rule of right and wrong that had been enforced on his conscience.
On Sunday, they had profited by the absence of their dux to have a
jollification at a little public-house, not far from the playing-fields;
and here had Tom been dragged in, forced to partake with them, and
frightened with threats that he had treated them all, and was liable
to pay the whole bill, which, of course, he firmly believed, as well
as that he should be at least half murdered if he gave his father any
suspicion that the whole had not been consumed by himself. Now, though
poor Tom’s conscience had lost many scruples during the last spring,
the offence, into which he had been forced, was too heinous to a child
brought up as he had been to be palliated even in his own eyes. The
profanation of Sunday, and the carousal in a public-house, had combined
to fill him with a sense of shame and degradation, which was the real
cause that he felt himself unworthy to come and read with his sisters.
His grief and misery were extreme, and Norman’s indignation was such
as could find no utterance. He sat silent, quivering with anger, and
clenching his fingers over the handle of the hoe.

“I knew it!” sighed Tom. “None of you will ever speak to me again!”

“You! Why, August, man, I have better hopes of you than ever. You are
more really sorry now than ever you were before.”

“I had never been at the Green Man before,” said poor Tom, feeling his
future life stained.

“You never will again!”

“When you are gone--” and the poor victim’s voice died away.

“Tom, you will not stay after me. It is settled that when I go to
Balliol, you leave Stoneborough, and go to Mr. Wilmot as pupil. Those
scamps shall never have you in their clutches again.”

It did not produce the ecstasy Norman had expected. The boy still sat
on the ground, staring at his brother, as if the good news hardly
penetrated the gloom; and, after a disappointing silence, recurred to
the most immediate cause of distress: “Eight shillings and tenpence
halfpenny! Norman, if you would only lend it to me, you shall have all
my tin till I have made it up--sixpence a week, and half-a-crown on New
Year’s Day.”

“I am not going to pay Mr. Axworthy’s reckoning,” said Norman, rather
angrily. “You will never be better till you have told my father the
whole.”

“Do you think they will send in the bill to my father?” asked Tom, in
alarm.

“No, indeed! that is the last thing they will do,” said Norman; “but I
would not have you come to him only for such a sneaking reason.”

“But the girls would hear it. Oh, if I thought Mary and Margaret would
ever hear it--Norman, I can’t--”

Norman assured him that there was not the slightest reason that these
passages should ever come to the knowledge of his sisters. Tom was
excessively afraid of his father, but he could not well be more wretched
than he was already; and he was brought to assent when Norman showed
him that he had never been happy since the affair of the blotting-paper,
when his father’s looks and tones had become objects of dread to his
guilty conscience. Was not the only means of recovering a place in
papa’s esteem to treat him with confidence?

Tom answered not, and would only shudder when his brother took upon him
to declare that free confession would gain pardon even for the doings at
the Green Man.

Tom had grown stupefied and passive, and his sole dependence was on
Norman, so, at last, he made no opposition when his brother offered to
conduct him to his father and speak for him. The danger now was that
Dr. May should not be forthcoming, and the elder brother was as much
relieved, as the younger was dismayed, to see, through the drawing-room
window, that he was standing beside Margaret.

“Papa, can you come and speak to me,” said Norman, “at the door?”

“Coming! What now?” said the doctor, entering the hall. “What, Tom, my
boy, what is it?” as he saw the poor child, white, cold, almost sick
with apprehension, with every pulse throbbing, and looking positively
ill. He took the chilly, damp hand, which shook nervously, and would
fain have withdrawn itself.

“Come, my dear, let us see what is amiss;” and before Tom knew what he
was doing, he had seated him on his knee, in the arm-chair in the study,
and was feeling his pulse. “There, rest your head! Has it not been
aching all day?”

“I do not think he is ill,” said Norman; “but there is something he
thinks I had better tell you.”

Tom would fain have been on his feet, yet the support of that shoulder
was inexpressibly comfortable to his aching temples, and he could not
but wait for the shock of being roughly shaken and put down. So, as his
brother related what had occurred, he crouched and trembled more and
more on his father’s breast, till, to his surprise, he found the other
arm passed round him in support, drawing him more tenderly close.

“My poor little fellow!” said Dr. May, trying to look into the drooping
face, “I grieve to have exposed you to such usage as this! I little
thought it of Stoneborough fellows!”

“He is very sorry,” said Norman, much distressed by the condition of the
culprit.

“I see it--I see it plainly,” said Dr. May. “Tommy, my boy, why should
you tremble when you are with me?”

“He has, been in great dread of your being displeased.”

“My boy, do you not know how I forgive you?” Tom clung round his neck,
as if to steady himself.

“Oh, papa! I thought you would never--”

“Nay, you need never have thought so, my boy! What have I done that you
should fear me?”

Tom did not speak, but nestled up to him with more confidence. “There!
that’s better! Poor child! what he must have suffered! He was not fit
for the place! I had thought him looking ill. Little did I guess the
cause.”

“He says his head has ached ever since Sunday,” said Norman; “and I
believe he has hardly eaten or slept properly since.”

“He shall never be under their power again! Thanks to you, Norman. Do
you hear that, Tommy?”

The answer was hardly audible. The little boy was already almost asleep,
worn out with all he had undergone. Norman began to clear the sofa, that
they might lay him down, but his father would not hear of disturbing
him, and, sending Norman away, sat still for more than an hour, until
the child slowly awoke, and scarcely recalling what had happened, stood
up between his father’s knees, rubbing his eyes, and looking bewildered.

“You are better now, my boy?”

“I thought you would be very angry,” slowly murmured Tom, as the past
returned on him.

“Never, while you are sorry for your faults, and own them freely.”

“I’m glad I did,” said the boy, still half asleep. “I did not know you
would be so kind.”

“Ah! Tom, I fear it was as much my fault as yours that you did not know
it. But, my dear, there is a pardon that can give you better peace than
mine.”

“I think,” muttered Tom, looking down--“I think I could say my prayers
again now, if--”

“If what, my dear?”

“If you would help me, as mamma used--”

There could be but one response to this speech.

Tom was still giddy and unwell, his whole frame affected by the troubles
of the last week, and Dr. May arranged him on the sofa, and desired
him to be quiet, offering to send Mary to be his companion. Tom was
languidly pleased, but renewed his entreaty, that his confession
might be a secret from his sisters. Dr. May promised, and Mary, quite
satisfied at being taken into favour, asked no questions, but spent
the rest of the morning in playing at draughts with him, and in having
inflicted on her the history of the Bloody Fire King’s Ghost--a work
of Tom’s imagination, which he was wont to extemporise, to the extreme
terror of much enduring Mary.

When Dr. May had called Mary, he next summoned Norman, who found him in
the hall, putting on his hat, and looking very stern and determined.

“Norman!” said he hastily, “don’t say a word--it must be done--Hoxton
must hear of this.”

Norman’s face expressed utter consternation.

“It is not your doing. It is no concern of yours,” said Dr. May,
walking impetuously into the garden. “I find my boy ill, broken down,
shattered--it is the usage of this crew of fellows--what right have I to
conceal it--leave other people’s sons to be so served?”

“I believe they did so to Tom out of ill-will to me,” said Norman, “and
because they thought he had ratted.”

“Hush! don’t argue against it,” said Dr. May, almost petulantly. “I have
stood a great deal to oblige you, but I cannot stand this. When it is
a matter of corruption, base cruelty--no, Norman, it is not right--not
another word!”

Norman’s words had not been many, but he felt a conviction that, in
spite of the dismay and pain to himself, Dr. May ought to meet with
submission to his judgment, and he acquiesced by silence.

“Don’t you see,” continued the doctor, “if they act thus, when your back
is turned, what is to happen next half? ‘Tis not for Tom’s sake, but how
could we justify it to ourselves, to expose other boys to this usage?”

“Yes,” said Norman, not without a sigh. “I suppose it must be.”

“That is right,” said Dr. May, as if much relieved. “I knew you must see
it in that light. I do not mean to abuse your confidence.”

“No, indeed,” answered Norman warmly.

“But you see yourself, that where the welfare of so many is at stake,
it would be wickedness--yes, wickedness--to be silent. Could I see
that little fellow prostrated, trembling in my arms, and think of those
scamps inflicting the same on other helpless children--away from their
homes!”

“I see, I see!” said Norman, carried along by the indignation and
tenderness that agitated his father’s voice in his vehemence--“it is the
only thing to be done.”

“It would be sharing the guilt to hide it,” said Dr. May.

“Very well,” said Norman, still reluctantly. “What do you wish me to do?
You see, as dux, I know nothing about it. It happened while I was away.”

“True, true,” said his father. “You have learned it as brother, not as
senior boy. Yes, we had better have you out of the matter. It is I who
complain of their usage of my son.”

“Thank you,” said Norman, with gratitude.

“You have not told me the names of these fellows! No, I had best not
know them.”

“I think it might make a difference,” hesitated Norman.

“No, no, I will not hear them. It ought to make none. The fact is the
same, be they who they may.”

The doctor let himself out at the garden gate, and strode off at a rapid
pace, conscious perhaps, in secret, that if he did not at once yield
to the impulse of resentment, good nature would overpower the sense of
justice. His son returned to the house with a heavy sigh, yet honouring
the generosity that had respected his scruples, when merely his own
worldly loss was involved, but set them aside when the good of others
was concerned. By-and-by Dr. May reappeared. The head-master had been
thoroughly roused to anger, and had begged at once to examine May
junior, for whom his father was now come.

Tom was quite unprepared for such formidable consequences of his
confession, and began by piteous tears and sobs, and when these had,
with some difficulty, been pacified, he proved to be really so unwell
and exhausted, that his father could not take him to Minster Street, and
was obliged to leave him to his brother’s keeping, while he returned to
the school.

Upon this, Dr. Hoxton came himself, and the sisters were extremely
excited and alarmed by the intelligence that he was in the study with
papa and Tom.

Then away went the gentlemen; and Mary was again called to comfort Tom,
who, broken down into the mere longing for sympathy, sobbed out all his
troubles to her, while her eyes expanded more and more in horror, and
her soft heart giving way, she cried quite as pitifully, and a great
deal more loudly; and so the other sisters learned the whole, and
Margaret was ready for her father when he came in, in the evening,
harassed and sorrowful. His anger was all gone now, and he was
excessively grieved at finding that the ringleaders, Samuel Axworthy and
Edward Anderson, could, in Dr. Hoxton’s opinion, receive no sentence but
expulsion, which was to be pronounced on them on Monday.

Sam Axworthy was the son of a low, uneducated man, and his best chance
had been the going to this school; but he was of a surly, obstinate
temper, and showed so little compunction, that even such superabundant
kindness as Dr. May’s could not find compassion for him; especially
since it had appeared that Tom had been by no means the only victim, and
that he had often been the promoter of the like malpractices, which many
boys were relieved to be forced to expose.

For Edward Anderson, however, or rather for his mother, Dr. May was very
sorry, and had even interceded for his pardon; but Dr. Hoxton, though
slow to be roused, was far less placable than the other doctor, and
would not hear of anything but the most rigorous justice.

“Poor Mrs. Anderson, with her pride in her children!” Flora spoke it
with a shade of contemptuous pity, but it made her father groan.

“I shall never be able to look in her face again! I shall never see that
boy without feeling that I have ruined him!”

“He needed nobody to do that for him,” said Flora.

“With every disadvantage!” continued Dr. May; “unable even to remember
his father! Why could I not be more patient and forbearing?”

“Oh, papa!” was the general cry--Norman’s voice giving decision to the
sisters’ exclamation.

“Perhaps,” said Margaret, “the shock may be the best thing for him.”

“Right, Margaret,” said her father. “Sometimes such a thing is the first
that shows what a course of evil really is.”

“They are an affectionate family too,” said Margaret, “and his mother’s
grief may have an effect on him.”

“If she does not treat him as an injured hero,” said Flora; “besides, I
see no reason for regret. These are but two, and the school is not to be
sacrificed to them.”

“Yes,” said Norman; “I believe that Ashe will be able to keep much
better order without Axworthy. It is much better as it is, but Harry
will be very sorry to hear it, and I wish this half was over.”

Poor Mrs. Anderson! her shower of notes rent the heart of the one
doctor, but were tossed carelessly aside by the other. On that Sunday,
Norman held various conversations with his probable successor, Ashe,
a gentle, well-disposed boy, hitherto in much dread of the post of
authority, but owning that, in Axworthy’s absence, the task would be
comparatively easy, and that Anderson would probably originate far less
mischief.

Edward Anderson himself fell in Norman’s way in the street, and was
shrinking aside, when a word, of not unfriendly greeting, caused him to
quicken his steps, and say, hesitatingly, “I say, how is August?”

“Better, thank you; he will be all right in a day or two.”

“I say, we would not have bullied him so, if he had not been in such a
fright at nothing.”

“I dare say not.”

“I did not mean it all, but that sort of thing makes a fellow go on,”
 continued Edward, hanging down his head, very sorrowful and downcast.

“If it had only been fair bullying; but to take him to that place--to
teach him falsehood--” said Norman.

Edward’s eyes were full of tears; he almost owned the whole. He had
not thought of such things, and then Axworthy--It was more evident from
manner than words that the boy did repent and was greatly overcome,
both by his own disgrace and his mother’s distress, wishing earnestly to
redeem his character, and declaring, from the bottom of his heart, that
he would avoid his former offences. He was emboldened at last to say,
with hesitation, “Could not you speak to Dr. Hoxton for me?”

“My father has said all he could in your behalf.”

Edward’s eye glanced towards Norman in wonder, as he recollected that
the Mays must know that a word from him would have saved Norman
from unjust punishment and the loss of the scholarship, and he said,
“Good-night,” and turned aside to his own home, with a heavy sigh.

Norman took another turn, looked up at the sky, twisted his hands
together in perplexity, mumbled something about hating to do a thing
when it was all for no use, and then marched off towards Minster Street,
with a pace like his father’s the day before.

When he came forth again from Dr. Hoxton’s study, he did not believe
that his intercession had produced the least effect, and there was a
sense of vexation at the position which he had assumed. He went home,
and said nothing on the subject; but when, on Monday, the school was
assembled, and the judgment announced, it was Axworthy alone whose
friends had been advised to remove him.

Anderson received a severe punishment, as did all those who had shared
in the revel at the Green Man. Even Tom, and another little boy, who had
been likewise drawn in, were obliged to stay within narrow bounds, and
to learn heavy impositions; and a stern reprimand and exhortation were
given to the school collectively. Anderson, who had seen from the window
that turn towards Minster Street, drew his own conclusions, and was not
insensible to the generosity that had surpassed his hopes, though to his
faltering attempt at thanks, Norman replied that he did not believe
it was owing to him, and never exposed himself to Flora’s wonder by
declaring at home what he had done.

So the last weeks of the half-year passed away with the boys in a
subdued, but hopeful manner, and the reformation, under Norman’s
auspices, progressed so well, that Ashe might fairly expect to reap the
benefit of the discipline, established at so much cost.

Mr. Wilmot had looked on, and given his help, but he was preparing to
leave Stoneborough, and there was great concern at the parting with such
a friend. Ethel, especially, mourned the loss to Cocksmoor, and, for
though hers had been the executive part, his had been the head, and he
was almost equally grieved to go from the newly-begun work.

Margaret lamented the loss of her kind counsellor, and the ready hearer
of her anxieties for the children. Writing could ill supply the place of
their conversations, and she feared likewise that her father would
feel the want of his companionship. The promise of visits, and
the intercourse kept up by Tom’s passing to and fro, was the best
consolation.

Poor Margaret had begun to flag, both in strength and spirits, as winter
approached, but there came a revival in the shape of “Ship Letters!”
 Alan wrote cheerfully and graphically, with excellent accounts of Harry,
who, on his side, sent very joyous and characteristic despatches, only
wishing that he could present Mary with all the monkeys and parrots he
had seen at Rio, as well as the little ruby-crested humming-birds, that
always reminded him of Miss Rivers.

With the Christmas holidays, Hector Ernescliffe came from Eton, as to a
home, and was received by Margaret as a sort of especial charge. It was
pretty to see how he turned to her as something peculiarly his own,
and would sit on a footstool by her, letting himself be drawn into
confidence, and dwelling on his brother’s past doings, and on future
schemes for Maplewood. For the rest, he restored to the house the
atmosphere of boy, which had somewhat departed with Harry. Mary, who had
begun to be tamed down, ran more wild than ever, to the utter despair
of Miss Winter; and Tom, now that his connection with the Whichcote
foundation was over, and he was no more cowed by the sight of his
tyrants, came out in a new light. He put on his boy-nature, rioted
like the rest, acquired colour in his cheeks, divested his jacket of
perpetual dust, had his hair cut, brushed up a crest on his head, and
ran about no longer a little abject, but a merry lad.

Ethel said it was a change from Horrid-locks to Harfagre; Margaret said
little, but, like her father, she blessed Norman in her heart for having
given back the boy to his father’s confidence, and saved him so far from
the terrible course of deceit and corruption. She could not much take
to heart the mad exploits of the so-called boys, even though she spent
three hours in heart-beatings on Christmas Eve, when Hector, Mary, Tom,
Blanche, and the dog Toby, were lost the whole day. However, they did
come back at six o’clock, having been deluded by an old myth of George
Larkins, into starting for a common, three miles beyond Cocksmoor, in
search of mistletoe, with scarlet berries, and yellow holly, with
leaves like a porcupine! Failing these wonders, they had been contenting
themselves with scarlet holly, in the Drydale plantations, when a rough
voice exclaimed, “Who gave you leave to take that?” whereupon Tom had
plunged into a thicket, and nearly “scratched out both his eyes”; but
Hector boldly standing his ground, with Blanche in his hand, the woodman
discovered that here was the Miss Mary, of whom his little girls talked
so much, thereupon cut down the choicest boughs, and promised to leave
a full supply at Dr. May’s. Margaret could have been angry at the taking
the young ladies on so mad a scheme, but then Mary was so happy, and as
to Hector, how scold him, when he had lifted Blanche over every
ditch, and had carried her home one mile on his back, and another,
queen’s-cushion fashion, between him and Mary?

Flora, meanwhile, went her own way. The desire of compensating for
what had passed with Norman, led to great civilities from Dr. and Mrs.
Hoxton, which nobody was at liberty to receive except Flora. Pretty,
graceful, and pleasing, she was a valuable companion to a gentle little,
inane lady, with more time and money than she knew what to do with; and
Mrs. Hoxton, who was of a superior grade to the Stoneborough ladies in
general, was such a chaperon as Flora was glad to secure. Dr. May’s old
loyal feelings could not help regarding her notice of his daughter as a
favour and kindness, and Margaret could find no tangible objections, nor
any precedent from her mother’s conduct, even had any one had the power
to interfere with one so quiet, reasonable, and determined as Flora.

So the intimacy became closer and closer, and as the winter passed on,
Flora gradually became established as the dear friend and assistant,
without whom Mrs. Hoxton could give no party. Further, Flora took the
grand step of setting up a copper-plate and cards of “Miss Flora May,”
 went out frequently on morning calls with Mrs. Hoxton and her bay
horses, and when Dr. May refused his share of invitations to dinner with
the neighbours in the county, Flora generally found that she could go
under the Hoxtons’ guardianship.



PART II



CHAPTER I.



     Now have I then eke this condicion
     That above all the flouris in the mede;
     Then love I most these flouris white and rede,
     Soche that men callin daisies in our town.
     To them have I so great affection,
     As I said erst, when comin is the Maie,
     That in my bed there dawith me no daie
     That I am up and walking in the mede,
     To see this floure agenst the sunne sprede.--CHAUCER.


“That is better!” said Margaret, contemplating a butterfly of the
penwiper class, whose constitution her dexterous needle had been
rendering less rickety than Blanche had left it.

Margaret still lay on the sofa, and her complexion had assumed the dead
white of habitual ill-health. There was more languor of manner, and her
countenance, when at rest, and not under the eye of her father, had
a sadness of expression, as if any hopes that she might once have
entertained were fading away. The years of Alan Ernescliffe’s absence
that had elapsed had rather taken from her powers than added to them.
Nevertheless, the habit of cheerfulness and sympathy had not deserted
her, and it was with a somewhat amused glance that she turned towards
Ethel, as she heard her answer by a sigh.

These years had dealt more kindly with Etheldred’s outward appearance.
They had rounded her angles, softened her features, and tinged
her cheeks with a touch of red, that took off from the surrounding
sallowness. She held herself better, had learned to keep her hair in
order, and the more womanly dress, plain though it was, improved her
figure more than could have been hoped in the days of her lank,
gawky girlhood. No one could call her pretty, but her countenance
had something more than ever pleasing in the animated and thoughtful
expression on those marked features. She was sitting near the window,
with a book, a dictionary, and pencil, as she replied to Margaret, with
the sigh that made her sister smile.

“Poor Ethel! I condole with you.”

“And I wonder at you!” said Ethel, “especially as Flora and Mrs. Hoxton
say it is all for your sake;” then, nettled by Margaret’s laugh, “Such a
nice occupation for her, poor thing, as if you were Mrs. Hoxton, and had
no resource but fancy-work.”

“You know I am base enough to be so amused,” said Margaret; “but,
seriously, Ethel dear, I cannot bear to see you so much hurt by it. I
did not know you were really grieved.”

“Grieved! I am ashamed--sickened!” cried Ethel vehemently. “Poor
Cocksmoor! As soon as anything is done there, Flora must needs go
about implying that we have set some grand work in hand, and want only
means--”

“Stop, Ethel; Flora does not boast.”

“No, she does not boast. I wish she did! That would be straightforward
and simple; but she has too good taste for that--so she does worse--she
tells a little, and makes that go a long way, as if she were keeping
back a great deal! You don’t know how furious it makes me!”

“Ethel!”

“So,” said Ethel, disregarding, “she stirs up all Stoneborough to hear
what the Miss Mays are doing at Cocksmoor. So the Ladies’ Committee must
needs have their finger in! Much they cared for the place when it was
wild and neglected! But they go to inspect Cherry and her school--Mrs.
Ledwich and all--and, back they come, shocked--no system, no order, the
mistress untrained, the school too small, with no apparatus! They all
run about in despair, as if we had ever asked them to help us. And so
Mrs. Hoxton, who cares for poor children no more than for puppy-dogs,
but who can’t live without useless work, and has filled her house as
full of it as it can hold, devises a bazaar--a field for her trumpery,
and a show-off for all the young ladies; and Flora treats it like an
inspiration! Off they trot, to the old Assembly Rooms. I trusted that
the smallness of them would have knocked it on the head; but, still
worse, Flora’s talking of it makes Mr. Rivers think it our pet scheme;
so, what does he do but offer his park, and so we are to have a
regular fancy fair, and Cocksmoor School will be founded in vanity and
frivolity! But I believe you like it!”

“I am not sure of my own feeling,” said Margaret. “It has been settled
without our interposition, and I have never been able to talk it over
calmly with you. Papa does not seem to disapprove.”

“No,” said Ethel. “He will only laugh, and say it will spare him a great
many of Mrs. Hoxton’s nervous attacks. He thinks of it nearly as I do,
at the bottom, but I cannot get him to stop it, nor even to say he does
not wish Flora to sell.”

“I did not understand that you really had such strong objections,” said
Margaret. “I thought it was only as a piece of folly, and--”

“And interference with my Cocksmoor?” said Ethel. “I had better own to
what may be wrong personal feeling at first.”

“I can hardly call it wrong,” said Margaret tenderly, “considering what
Cocksmoor is to you, and what the Ladies’ Committee is.”

“Oh, Margaret, if the lawful authority--if a good clergyman would only
come, how willingly would I work under him! But Mrs. Ledwich and--it
is like having all the Spaniards and savages spoiling Robinson Crusoe’s
desert island!”

“It is not come to that yet,” said Margaret; “but about the fancy fair.
We all know that the school is very much wanted.”

“Yes, but I hoped to wait in patience and perseverance, and do it at
last.”

“All yourself?”

“Now, Margaret! you know I was glad of Alan’s help.”

“I should think so!” said Margaret. “You need not make a favour of
that!”

“Yes, but, don’t you see, that came as almsgiving, in the way which
brings a blessing. We want nothing to make us give money and work to
Cocksmoor. We do all we can already; and I don’t want to get a fine bag
or a ridiculous pincushion in exchange!”

“Not you, but--”

“Well, for the rest. If they like to offer their money, well and good,
the better for them; but why must they not give it to Cocksmoor--but for
that unnatural butterfly of Blanche’s, with black pins for horns, that
they will go and sell at an extortionate rate.”

“The price will be given for Cocksmoor’s sake!”

“Pooh! Margaret. Do you think it is for Cocksmoor’s sake that Lady
Leonora Langdale and her fine daughter come down from London? Would Mrs.
Hoxton spend the time in making frocks for Cocksmoor children that
she does in cutting out paper, and stuffing glass bottles with it? Let
people be honest--alms, or pleasure, or vanity! let them say which they
mean; but don’t make charity the excuse for the others; and, above all,
don’t make my poor Cocksmoor the victim of it.”

“This is very severe,” said Margaret, pausing, almost confounded. “Do
you think no charity worth having but what is given on unmixed motives?
Who, then, could give?”

“Margaret--we see much evil arise in the best-planned institutions; nay,
in what are not human. Don’t you think we ought to do our utmost to have
no flaw in the foundation? Schools are not such perfect places that we
can build them without fear, and, if the means are to be raised by a
bargain for amusement--if they are to come from frivolity instead of
self-denial, I am afraid of them. I do not mean that Cocksmoor has not
been the joy of my life, and of Mary’s, but that was not because we did
it for pleasure.”

“No!” said Margaret, sighing, “you found pleasure by the way. But why
did you not say all this to Flora?”

“It is of no use to talk to Flora,” said Ethel; “she would say it was
high-flown and visionary. Oh! she wants it for the bazaar’s own sake,
and that is one reason why I hate it.”

“Now, Ethel!”

“I do believe it was very unfortunate for Flora that the Hoxtons took to
patronising her, because Norman would not be patronised. Ever since
it began, her mind has been full of visitings, and parties, and county
families, and she has left off the home usefulness she used to care
about.”

“But you are old enough for that,” said Margaret. “It would be hard to
keep Flora at home, now that you can take her place, and do not care for
going out. One of us must be the representative Miss May, you know, and
keep up the civilities; and you may think yourself lucky it is not you.”

“If it was only that, I should not care, but I may as well tell you,
Margaret, for it is a weight to me. It is not the mere pleasure in
gaieties--Flora cares for them, in themselves, as little as I do--nor
is it neighbourliness, as a duty to others, for, you may observe, she
always gets off any engagement to the Wards, or any of the town folk, to
whom it would be a gratification to have her--she either eludes them, or
sends me. The thing is, that she is always trying to be with the great
people, the county set, and I don’t think that is the safe way of going
on.”

Margaret mused sadly. “You frighten me, Ethel! I cannot say it is not
so, and these are so like the latent faults that dear mamma’s letter
spoke of--”

Ethel sat meditating, and at last said, “I wish I had not told you! I
don’t always believe it myself, and it is so unkind, and you will make
yourself unhappy too. I ought not to have thought it of her! Think of
her ever-ready kindness and helpfulness; her pretty courteous ways to
the very least; her obligingness and tact!”

“Yes,” said Margaret, “she is one of the kindest people there is, and
I am sure that she thought the gaining funds for Cocksmoor was the
best thing to be done, that you would be pleased, and a great deal of
pleasant occupation provided for us all.”

“That is the bright side, the surface side,” said Ethel.

“And not an untrue one,” said Margaret; “Meta will not be vain, and will
work the more happily for Cocksmoor’s sake. Mary and Blanche, poor Mrs.
Boulder, and many good ladies who hitherto have not known how to help
Cocksmoor, will do so now with a good will, and though it is not what we
should have chosen, I think we had better take it in good part.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, indeed I do. If you go about with that dismal face and strong
disapproval, it will really seem as if it was the having your dominion
muddled with that you dislike. Besides, it is putting yourself forward
to censure what is not absolutely wrong in itself, and that cannot be
desirable.”

“No,” said Ethel, “but I cannot help being sorry for Cocksmoor. I
thought patience would prepare the way, and the means be granted in good
time, without hastiness--only earnestness.”

“You had made a picture for yourself,” said Margaret gently. “Yes, we
all make pictures for ourselves, and we are the foremost figures in
them; but they are taken out of our hands, and we see others putting
in rude touches, and spoiling our work, as it seems; but, by-and-by, we
shall see that it is all guided.”

Ethel sighed. “Then having protested to my utmost against this concern,
you think I ought to be amiable about it.”

“And to let poor Mary enjoy it. She would be so happy, if you would not
bewilder her by your gloomy looks, and keep her to the hemming of your
endless glazed calico bonnet strings.”

“Poor old Mary! I thought that was by her own desire.”

“Only her dutiful allegiance to you; and, as making pincushions is
nearly her greatest delight, it is cruel to make her think it, in some
mysterious way, wrong and displeasing to you.”

Ethel laughed, and said, “I did not think Mary was in such awe of me.
I’ll set her free, then. But, Margaret, do you really think I ought to
give up my time to it?”

“Could you not just let them have a few drawings, or a little bit of
your company work--just enough for you not to annoy every one, and seem
to be testifying against them? You would not like to vex Meta.”

“It will go hard, if I do not tell Meta my mind. I cannot bear to see
her deluded.”

“I don’t think she is,” said Margaret; “but she does not set her face
against what others wish. As papa says of his dear little humming-bird,
she takes the honey, and leaves the poison.”

“Yes; amid all that enjoyment, she is always choosing the good, and
leaving the evil; always sacrificing something, and then being happy in
the sacrifice!”

“No one would guess it was a sacrifice, it is so joyously done--least of
all Meta herself.”

“Her coming home from London was exactly a specimen of that
sacrifice--and no sacrifice,” said Ethel.

“What was that?” said Norman, who had come up to the window unobserved,
and had been listening to their few last sentences.

“Did not you hear of it? It was a sort of material turning away from
vanity that made me respect the little rival Daisy, as much as I always
admired her.

“Tell me,” said Norman. “When was it?”

“Last spring. You know Mr. Rivers is always ill in London: indeed, papa
says it would be the death of him; but Lady Leonora Langdale thinks it
dreadful that Meta should not go to all the gaieties; and last year,
when Mrs. Larpent was gone, she insisted on her coming to stay with her
for the season. Now Meta thought it wrong to leave her father alone, and
wanted not to have gone at all, but, to my surprise, Margaret advised
her to yield, and go for some short fixed time.”

“Yes,” said Margaret; “as all her elders thought it right, I did not
think we could advise her to refuse absolutely. Besides, it was a
promise.”

“She declared she would only stay three weeks, and the Langdales were
satisfied, thinking that, once in London, they should keep her. They
little knew Meta, with her pretty ways of pretending that her resolution
is only spoiled-child wilfulness. None of you quite trusted her, did
you, Margaret? Even papa was almost afraid, though he wanted her very
much to be at home; for poor Mr. Rivers was so low and forlorn without
her, though he would not let her know, because Lady Leonora had
persuaded him to think it was all for her good.”

“What did they do with her in London?” asked Norman.

“They did their utmost,” said Ethel. “They made engagements for her, and
took her to parties and concerts--those she did enjoy very much and she
had lessons in drawing and music, but whenever she wanted to see any
exhibitions, or do anything, they always said there was time to spare. I
believe it was very charming, and she would have been very glad to stay,
but she never would promise, and she was always thinking of her positive
duty at home. She seemed afterwards to think of her wishes to remain
almost as if they had been a sin; but she said--dear little Meta--that
nothing had ever helped her so much as that she used to say to herself,
whenever she was going out, ‘I renounce the world.’ It came to a crisis
at last, when Lady Leonora wanted her to be presented--the Drawing-Room
was after the end of her three weeks--and she held out against it;
though her aunt laughed at her, and treated her as if she was a silly,
shy child. At last, what do you think Meta did? She went to her uncle,
Lord Cosham, and appealed to him to say whether there was the least
necessity for her to go to court.”

“Then she gained the day?” said Norman.

“He was delighted with that spirited, yet coaxing way of hers, and
admired her determination. He told papa so himself--for you must know,
when he heard all Meta had to say, he called her a very good girl, and
said he would take her home himself on the Saturday she had fixed, and
spend Sunday at Abbotstoke. Oh! he was perfectly won by her sweet
ways. Was not it lucky? for before this Lady Leonora had written to Mr.
Rivers, and obtained from him a letter, which Meta had the next day,
desiring her to stay for the Drawing-Room. But Meta knew well enough how
it was, and was not to be conquered that way; so she said she must go
home to entertain her uncle, and that if her papa really wished it, she
would return on Monday.”

“Knowing well that Mr. Rivers would be only too glad to keep her.”

“Just so. How happy they both did look, when they came in here on their
way from the station where he had met her! How she danced in, and how
she sparkled with glee!” said Margaret, “and poor Mr. Rivers was quite
tremulous with the joy of having her back, hardly able to keep from
fondling her every minute, and coming again into the room after they had
taken leave, to tell me that his little girl had preferred her home, and
her poor old father, to all the pleasures in London. Oh, I was so glad
they came! That was a sight that did one good! And then, I fancy Mr.
Rivers is a wee bit afraid of his brother-in-law, for he begged papa
and Flora to come home and dine with them, but Flora was engaged to Mrs.
Hoxton.”

“Ha! Flora!” said Norman, as if he rather enjoyed her losing something
through her going to Mrs. Hoxton. “I suppose she would have given the
world to go!”

“I was so sorry,” said Ethel; “but I had to go instead, and it was
delightful. Papa made great friends with Lord Cosham, while Mr. Rivers
went to sleep after dinner, and I had such a delightful wandering with
Meta, listening to the nightingales, and hearing all about it. I never
knew Meta so well before.”

“And there was no more question of her going back?” said Norman.

“No, indeed! She said, when her uncle asked in joke, on Monday morning,
whether she had packed up to return with him, Mr. Rivers was quite
nervously alarmed the first moment, lest she should intend it.”

“That little Meta,” said Margaret. “Her wishes for substantial use have
been pretty well realised!”

“Um!” said Ethel.

“What do you mean?” said Norman sharply. “I should call her present
position the perfection of feminine usefulness.”

“So perhaps it is,” said Ethel; “but though she does it beautifully,
and is very valuable, to be the mistress of a great luxurious house like
that does not seem to me the subject of aspirations like Meta’s.”

“Think of the contrast with what she used to be,” said Margaret gently,
“the pretty, gentle, playful toy that her father brought her up to
be, living a life of mere accomplishments and self-indulgence; kind
certainly, but never so as to endure any disagreeables, or make any
exertion. But as soon as she entered into the true spirit of our
calling, did she not begin to seek to live the sterner life, and train
herself in duty? The quiet way she took always seemed to me the great
beauty of it. She makes duties of her accomplishments by making them
loving obedience to her father.”

“Not that they are not pleasant to her?” interposed Norman.

“Certainly,” said Margaret, “but it gives them the zest, and confidence
that they are right, which one could not have in such things merely for
one’s own amusement.”

“Yes,” said Ethel, “she does more; she told me one day that one reason
she liked sketching was, that looking into nature always made psalms and
hymns sing in her ears, and so with her music and her beautiful copies
from the old Italian devotional pictures. She says our papa taught her
to look at them so as to see more than the mere art and beauty.”

“Think how diligently she measures out her day,” said Margaret; “getting
up early, to be sure of time for reading her serious books, and working
hard at her tough studies.”

“And what I care for still more,” said Ethel, “her being bent on
learning plain needlework and doing it for her poor people. She is so
useful amongst the cottagers at Abbotstoke!”

“And a famous little mistress of the house,” added Margaret. “When the
old housekeeper went away two years ago, she thought she ought to know
something about the government of the house; so she asked me about
it, and proposed to her father that the new one should come to her for
orders, and that she should pay the wages and have the accounts in
her hands. Mr. Rivers thought it was only a freak, but she has gone on
steadily; and I assure you, she has had some difficulties, for she has
come to me about them. Perhaps Ethel does not believe in them?”

“No, I was only thinking how I should hate ordering those fanciful
dinners for Mr. Rivers. I know what you mean, and how she had
difficulties about sending the maids to church, and in dealing with the
cook, who did harm to the other servants, and yet sent up dinners that
he liked, and how puzzled she was to avoid annoying him. Oh! she has got
into a peck of troubles by making herself manager.”

“And had she not been the Meta she is, she would either have fretted, or
thrown it all up, instead of humming briskly through all. She never
was afraid to speak to any one,” said Margaret, “that is one thing; I
believe every difficulty makes the spirit bound higher, till she springs
over it, and finds it, as she says, only a pleasure.”

“She need not be afraid to speak,” said Ethel, “for she always does it
well and winningly. I have seen her give a reproof in so firm and kind a
way, and so bright in the instant of forgiveness.”

“Yes,” said Margaret, “she does those disagreeable things as well as
Flora does in her way.”

“And yet,” said Ethel, “doing things well does not seem to be a snare to
her.”

“Because,” whispered Margaret, “she fulfils more than almost any
one--the--‘Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.’”

“Do you know,” said Norman suddenly, “the derivation of Margarita?”

“No further than those two pretty meanings, the pearl and the daisy,”
 said Ethel.

“It is from the Persian Mervarid, child of light,” said Norman; and,
with a sudden flush of colour, he returned to the garden.

“A fit meaning for one who carries sunshine with her,” said Margaret.
“I feel in better tune for a whole day after her bright eyes have been
smiling on me.”

“You want no one to put you in tune,” said Ethel fondly--“you, our own
pearl of light.”

“No, call me only an old faded daisy,” said Margaret sadly.

“Not a bit, only our moon, la gran Margarita” said Ethel.

“I hear the real Daisy coming!” exclaimed Margaret, her face lighting up
with pleasure as the two youngest children entered, and, indeed, little
Gertrude’s golden hair, round open face, fresh red and white complexion,
and innocent looks, had so much likeness to the flower, as to promote
the use of the pet name, though protests were often made in favour
of her proper appellation. Her temper was daisy-like too, serene and
loving, and able to bear a great deal of spoiling, and resolve as they
might, who was not her slave?

Miss Winter no longer ruled the schoolroom. Her sway had been brought
to a happy conclusion by a proposal from a widowed sister to keep house
with her; and Ethel had reason to rejoice that Margaret had kept her
submissive under authority, which, if not always judicious, was both
kind and conscientious.

Upon the change, Ethel had thought that the lessons could easily
be managed by herself and Flora; while Flora was very anxious for a
finishing governess, who might impart singing to herself, graces to
Ethel, and accomplishments to Mary and Blanche.

Dr. May, however, took them both by surprise. He met with a family of
orphans, the eldest of whom had been qualifying herself for a governess,
and needed nothing but age and finish; and in ten minutes after the
project had been conceived, he had begun to put it in execution, in
spite of Flora’s prudent demurs.

Miss Bracy was a gentle, pleasing young person, pretty to look at,
with her soft olive complexion, and languid pensive eyes, obliging and
intelligent; and the change from the dry, authoritative Miss Winter was
so delightful, that unedifying contrasts were continually being drawn.
Blanche struck up a great friendship for her at once; Mary, always
docile, ceased to be piteous at her lessons, and Ethel moralised on the
satisfaction of having sympathy needed instead of repelled, and did her
utmost to make Miss Bracy feel at home--and like a friend--in her new
position.

For herself, Ethel had drawn up a beautiful time-table, with all her
pursuits and duties most carefully balanced, after the pattern of that
which Margaret Rivers had made by her advice, on the departure of Mrs.
Larpent, who had been called away by the ill-health of her son. Meta had
adhered to hers in an exemplary manner, but she was her own mistress in
a manner that could hardly be the lot of one of a large family.

Margaret had become subject to languor and palpitations, and the head
of the household had fallen entirely upon Flora, who, on the other hand,
was a person of multifarious occupations, and always had a great number
of letters to write, or songs to copy and practise, which, together with
her frequent visits to Mrs. Hoxton, made her glad to devolve, as much as
she could, upon her younger sister; and, “Oh, Ethel, you will not mind
just doing this for me,” was said often enough to be a tax upon her
time.

Moreover, Ethel perceived that Aubrey’s lessons were in an
unsatisfactory state. Margaret could not always attend to them, and
suffered from them when she did; and he was bandied about between his
sisters and Miss Bracy in a manner that made him neither attentive nor
obedient.

On her own principle, that to embrace a task heartily renders it no
longer irksome, she called on herself to sacrifice her studies and
her regularity, as far as was needful, to make her available for home
requirements. She made herself responsible for Aubrey, and, after a
few battles with his desultory habits, made him a very promising
pupil, inspiring so much of herself into him, that he was, if anything,
overfull of her classical tastes. In fact, he had such an appetite for
books, and dealt so much in precocious wisdom, that his father was heard
to say, “Six years old! It is a comfort that he will soon forget the
whole.”

Gertrude was also Ethel’s pupil, but learning was not at all in her
line; and the sight of “Cobwebs to catch Flies,” or of the venerated
“Little Charles,” were the most serious clouds, that made the Daisy
pucker up her face, and infuse a whine into her voice.

However, to-day, as usual, she was half dragged, half coaxed, through
her day’s portion of the discipline of life, and then sent up for her
sleep, while Aubrey’s two hours were spent in more agreeable work, such
as Margaret could not but enjoy hearing--so spirited was Ethel’s mode of
teaching--so eager was her scholar.

His play afterwards consisted in fighting o’er again the siege of Troy
on the floor, with wooden bricks, shells, and the survivors of a Noah’s
ark, while Ethel read to Margaret until Gertrude’s descent from the
nursery, when the only means of preventing a dire confusion in Aubrey’s
camp was for her elder sisters to become her playfellows, and so spare
Aubrey’s temper. Ethel good-humouredly gave her own time, till their
little tyrant trotted out to make Norman carry her round the garden on
his back.

So sped the morning till Flora came home, full of the intended bazaar,
and Ethel would fain have taken refuge in puzzling out her Spanish, had
she not remembered her recent promise to be gracious.

The matter had been much as she had described it. Flora had a way of
hinting at anything she thought creditable, and thus the Stoneborough
public had become aware of the exertions of the May family on behalf of
Cocksmoor.

The plan of a fancy fair was started. Mrs. Hoxton became more interested
than was her wont, and Flora was enchanted at the opening it gave for
promoting the welfare of the forlorn district. She held a position which
made her hope to direct the whole. As she had once declared, with truth,
it only had depended on themselves, whether she and her sisters should
sink to the level of the Andersons and their set, or belong to the
county society; and her tact had resulted in her being decidedly--as the
little dressmaker’s apprentice amused Ethel by saying--“One of our most
distinguished patronesses”--a name that had stuck by her ever since.

Margaret looked on passively, inclined to admire Flora in everything,
yet now and then puzzled; and her father, in his simple-hearted way,
felt only gratitude and exultation in the kindness that his daughter
met with. As to the bazaar, if it had been started in his own family, he
might have weighed the objections, but, as it was not his daughter’s own
concern, he did not trouble himself about it, only regarding it as one
of the many vagaries of the ladies of Stoneborough.

So the scheme had been further developed, till now Flora came in with
much to tell. The number of stalls had been finally fixed. Mrs. Hoxton
undertook one, with Flora as an aide-de-camp, and some nieces to assist;
Lady Leonora was to chaperon Miss Rivers; and a third, to Flora’s
regret, had been allotted to Miss Cleveland, a good-natured, merry,
elderly heiress, who would, Flora feared, bring on them the whole
“Stoneborough crew.” And then she began to reckon up the present
resources--drawings, bags, and pincushions. “That chip hat you plaited
for Daisy, Margaret, you must let us have that. It will be lovely,
trimmed with pink.”

“Do you wish for this?” said Ethel, heaving up a mass of knitting.

“Thank you,” said Flora; “so ornamental, especially the original
performance in the corner, which you would perpetrate, in spite of my
best efforts.”

“I shall not be offended if you despise it. I only thought you might
have no more scruple in robbing Granny Hall than in robbing Daisy.”

“Pray, send it. Papa will buy it as your unique performance.”

“No; you shall tell me what I am to do.”

“Does she mean it?” said Flora, turning to Margaret. “Have you converted
her? Well done! Then, Ethel, we will get some pretty batiste, and you
and Mary shall make some of those nice sun-bonnets, which you really do
to perfection.”

“Thank you. That is a more respectable task than I expected. People may
have something worth buying,” said Ethel, who, like all the world, felt
the influence of Flora’s tact.

“I mean to study the useful,” said Flora. “The Cleveland set will be
sure to deal in frippery, and I have been looking over Mrs. Hoxton’s
stores, where I see quite enough for mere decoration. There are two
splendid vases in potichomanie, in an Etruscan pattern, which are coming
for me to finish.”

“Mrs. Taylor, at Cocksmoor, could do that for you,” said Ethel. “Her two
phials, stuffed with chintz patterns and flour, are quite as original
and tasteful.”

“Silly work,” said Flora, “but it makes a fair show.”

“The essence of Vanity Fair,” said Ethel.

“It won’t do to be satirical over much,” said Flora. “You won’t get on
without humouring your neighbours’ follies.”

“I don’t want to get on.”

“But you want--or, at least, I want--Cocksmoor to get on.”

Ethel saw Margaret looking distressed, and, recalling her resolution
she said, “Well, Flora, I don’t mean to say any more about it. I see it
can’t be helped, and you all think you intend it for good; so there’s an
end of the matter, and I’ll do anything for you in reason.”

“Poor old King Ethel!” said Flora, smiling in an elder-sisterly
manner. “You will see, my dear, your views are very pretty, but very
impracticable, and it is a work-a-day world after all--even papa would
tell you so. When Cocksmoor school is built, then you may thank me. I do
not look for it before.”



CHAPTER II.



     Knowledge is second, not the first;
     A higher Hand must make her mild,
     If all be not in vain, and guide
     Her footsteps, moving side by side,
     With wisdom; like the younger child,
     For she is earthly of the mind,
     But knowledge heavenly of the soul.--In Memoriam.


Etheldred had not answered her sister, but she did not feel at all
secure that she should have anything to be thankful for, even if the
school were built.

The invasion of Cocksmoor was not only interference with her own field
of action, but it was dangerous to the improvement of her scholars.
Since the departure of Mr. Wilmot, matters at Stoneborough National
School had not improved, though the Misses Anderson talked a great deal
about progress, science, and lectures.

The Ladies’ Committee were constantly at war with the mistresses, and
that one was a veteran who endured them, or whom they could endure
beyond her first half-year. No mistress had stayed a year within the
memory of any girl now at school. Perpetual change prevented any real
education, and, as each lady held different opinions and proscribed all
books not agreeing thereto, everything “dogmatical” was excluded; and,
as Ethel said, the children learned nothing but facts about lions and
steam-engines, while their doctrine varied with that of the visitor for
the week. If the ten generals could only have given up to Miltiades,
but, alas! there was no Miltiades. Mr. Ramsden’s health was failing,
and his neglect told upon the parish in the dreadful evils reigning
unchecked, and engulfing many a child whom more influential teaching
might have saved. Mental arithmetic, and the rivers of Africa, had
little power to strengthen the soul against temptation.

The scanty attendance at the National School attested the indifference
with which it was regarded, and the borderers voluntarily patronised
Cherry Elwood, and thus had, perhaps, first aroused the emulation that
led Mrs. Ledwich on a visit of inspection, to what she chose to consider
as an offshoot of the National School.

The next day she called upon the Misses May. It was well that Ethel was
not at home. Margaret received the lady’s horrors at the sight of the
mere crowded cottage kitchen, the stupid untrained mistress, without an
idea of method, and that impertinent woman, her mother! Miss Flora and
Miss Ethel must have had a great deal to undergo, and she would lose no
time in convening the Ladies’ Committee, and appointing a successor to
“that Elwood,” as soon as a fit room could be erected for her use. If
Margaret had not known that Mrs. Ledwich sometimes threatened more than
she could accomplish, she would have been in despair. She tried to say
a good word for Cherry, but was talked down, and had reason to believe
that Mrs. Elwood had mortally offended Mrs. Ledwich.

The sisters had heard the other side of the story at Cocksmoor. Mrs.
Elwood would not let them enter the school till she had heard how that
there Mrs. Ledwich had come in, and treated them all as if it was her
own place--how she had found fault with Cherry before all the children,
and as good as said she was not fit to keep a school. She had even laid
hands on one of the books, and said that she should take it home, and
see whether it were a fit one for them to use; whereupon Mrs. Elwood had
burst out in defence--it was Miss Ethel May’s book, and should not be
taken away--it was Miss Ethel as she looked to; and when it seemed that
Mrs. Ledwich had said something disparaging of Miss Ethel, either as
to youth, judgment, or doctrine, Mrs. Elwood had fired up into a
declaration that “Miss Ethel was a real lady--that she was! and that
no real lady would ever come prying into other folk’s work and finding
fault with what wasn’t no business of theirs,” with more of a personal
nature, which Flora could not help enjoying, even while she regretted
it.

Cherry was only too meek, as her mother declared. She had said not a
word, except in quiet reply, and being equally terrified by the attack
and defence, had probably seemed more dull than was her wont. Her real
feelings did not appear till the next Sunday, when, in her peaceful
conference with Margaret, far from the sound of storms, she expressed
that she well knew that she was a poor scholar, and that she hoped the
young ladies would not let her stand in the children’s light, when a
better teacher could be found for them.

“I am sure!” cried Ethel, as she heard of this, “it would be hard to
find such a teacher in humility! Cherry bears it so much better than I,
that it is a continual reproof!”

As to the dullness, against which Ethel used to rail, the attacks upon
it had made her erect it into a positive merit; she was always comparing
the truth, honesty, and respectful demeanour of Cherry’s scholars with
the notorious faults of the National School girls, as if these defects
had been implanted either by Mrs. Ledwich, or by geography. It must be
confessed that the violence of partisanship did not make her a pleasant
companion.

However, the interest of the bazaar began somewhat to divert the current
of the ladies’ thoughts, and Ethel found herself walking day after
day to Cocksmoor, unmolested by further reports of Mrs. Ledwich’s
proceedings. Richard was absent, preparing for ordination, but Norman
had just returned home for the Long Vacation, and, rather than lose the
chance of a conversation with her, had joined her and Mary in a walk to
Cocksmoor.

His talk was chiefly of Settlesham, old Mr. Wilmot’s parish, where
he had been making a visit to his former tutor, and talking over the
removal to Eton of Tom, who had well responded to the care taken of him,
and with his good principles confirmed, and his character strengthened,
might be, with less danger, exposed to trial.

It had been a visit such as to leave a deep impression on Norman’s mind.
Sixty years ago, old Mr. Wilmot had been what he now was himself--an
enthusiastic and distinguished Balliol man, and he had kept up a
warm, clear-sighted interest in Oxford throughout his long life. His
anecdotes, his recollections, and comments on present opinions had been
listened to with great eagerness, and Norman had felt it an infinite
honour to give the venerable old man his arm, as to be shown by him his
curious collection of books. His parish, carefully watched for so many
years, had been a study not lost upon Norman, who detailed particulars
of the doings there, which made Ethel sigh to think of the contrast
with Stoneborough. In such conversation they came to the entrance of
the hamlet, and Mary, with a scream of joy, declared that she really
believed that he was going to help them! He did not turn away.

“Thank you!” said Ethel, in a low voice, from the bottom of her heart.

She used him mercifully, and made the lessons shorter than usual, but
when they reached the open air again, he drew a long breath; and when
Mary eagerly tried for a compliment to their scholars, asked if they
could not be taught the use of eyelids.

“Did they stare?” said Ethel. “That’s one advantage of being blind. No
one can stare me out of countenance.”

“Why were you answering all your questions yourself?” asked Mary.

“Because no one else would,” said Norman.

“You used such hard words,” replied Ethel.

“Indeed! I thought I was very simple.”

“Oh!” cried Mary, “there were derive, and instruction, and implicate,
and--oh, so many.”

“Never mind,” said Ethel, seeing him disconcerted. “It is better for
them to be drawn up, and you will soon learn their language. If we only
had Una M’Carthy here!”

“Then you don’t like it?” said Mary, disappointed.

“It is time to learn not to be fastidious,” he answered. “So, if you
will help me--”

“Norman, I am so glad!” said Ethel.

“Yes,” said Norman, “I see now that these things that puff us up, and
seem the whole world to us now, all end in nothing but such as this!
Think of old Mr. Wilmot, once carrying all before him, but deeming all
his powers well bestowed in fifty years’ teaching of clowns!”

“Yes,” replied Ethel, very low. “One soul is worth--” and she paused
from the fullness of thought.

“And these things, about which we are so elated, do not render us so fit
to teach--as you, Mary, or as Richard.”

“They do,” said Ethel. “The ten talents were doubled. Strength tells in
power. The more learning, the fitter to teach the simplest thing.”

“You remind me of old Mr. Wilmot saying that the first thing he learned
at his parish was, how little his people knew; the second, how little he
himself knew.”

So Norman persevered in the homely discipline that he had chosen for
himself, which brought out his deficiency in practical work in a manner
which lowered him in his own eyes, to a degree almost satisfactory
to himself. He was not, indeed, without humility, but his nature was
self-contemplative and self-conscious enough to perceive his superiority
of talent, and it had been the struggle of his life to abase this
perception, so that it was actually a relief not to be obliged to fight
with his own complacency in his powers. He had learned not to think too
highly of himself--he had yet to learn to “think soberly.” His aid was
Ethel’s chief pleasure through this somewhat trying summer, it might be
her last peaceful one at Cocksmoor.

That bazaar! How wild it had driven the whole town, and even her own
home!

Margaret herself, between good nature and feminine love of pretty
things, had become ardent in the cause. In her unvaried life, it was a
great amusement to have so many bright elegant things exhibited to her,
and Ethel was often mortified to find her excited about some new device,
or drawn off from “rational employments,” to complete some trifle.

Mary and Blanche were far worse. From the time that consent had been
given to the fancy-work being carried on in the schoolroom, all interest
in study was over. Thenceforth, lessons were a necessary form, gone
through without heart or diligence. These were reserved for paste-board
boxes, beplastered with rice and sealing-wax, for alum baskets, dressed
dolls, and every conceivable trumpery; and the governess was as eager as
the scholars.

If Ethel remonstrated, she hurt Miss Bracy’s feelings, and this was a
very serious matter to both parties.

The governess was one of those morbidly sensitive people, who cannot
be stopped when once they have begun arguing that they are injured.
Two women together, each with the last-word instinct, have no power
to cease; and, when the words are spent in explaining--not in
scolding--conscience is not called in to silence them, and nothing but
dinner or a thunder-storm can check them. All Ethel’s good sense was of
no avail; she could not stop Miss Bracy, and, though she might resolve
within herself that real kindness would be to make one reasonable reply,
and then quit the subject, yet, on each individual occasion, such a
measure would have seemed mere impatience and cruelty. She found that if
Miss Winter had been too dry, Miss Bracy went to the other extreme,
and demanded a manifestation of sympathy, and return to her passionate
attachment that perplexed Ethel’s undemonstrative nature. Poor good Miss
Bracy, she little imagined how often she added to the worries of her
dear Miss Ethel, all for want of self-command.

Finally, as the lessons were less and less attended to, and the needs
of the stall became more urgent, Dr. May and Margaret concurred in a
decision, that it was better to yield to the mania, and give up the
studies till they could be pursued with a willing mind.

Ethel submitted, and only laughed with Norman at the display of
treasures, which the girls went over daily, like the “House that Jack
built,” always starting from “the box that Mary made.” Come when Dr. May
would into the drawing-room, there was always a line of penwipers laid
out on the floor, bags pendent to all the table-drawers, antimacassars
laid out everywhere.

Ethel hoped that the holidays would create a diversion, but Mary was too
old to be made into a boy, and Blanche drew Hector over to the feminine
party, setting him to gum, gild, and paste all the contrivances which,
in their hands, were mere feeble gimcracks, but which now became fairly
sound, or, at least, saleable.

The boys also constructed a beautiful little ship from a print of the
Alcestis, so successfully, that the doctor promised to buy it; and Ethel
grudged the very sight of it to the bazaar.

Tom, who, in person, was growing like a little shadow or model of
Norman, had, unlike him, a very dexterous pair of hands, and made
himself extremely useful in all such works. On the other hand, the
Cleveland stall seemed chiefly to rely for brilliance on the wit of
Harvey Anderson, who was prospering at his college, and the pride of his
family. A great talker, and extremely gallant, he was considered a far
greater acquisition to a Stoneborough drawing-room than was the silent,
bashful Norman May, and rather looked down on his brother Edward, who,
having gone steadily through the school, was in the attorney’s office,
and went on quietly and well, colouring up gratefully whenever one of
the May family said a kind word to him.



CHAPTER III.



       Any silk, any thread,
       Any toys for your head,
     Of the newest and finest wear-a?
       Come to the pedlar,
       Money’s a medlar.
     That doth utter all men’s ware-a.
                                Winter’s Tale.


“This one day and it will be over, and we shall be rational again,”
 thought Ethel, as she awoke.

Flora was sleeping at the Grange, to be ready for action in the morning,
and Ethel was to go early with Mary and Blanche, who were frantic to
have a share in the selling. Norman and the boys were to walk at their
own time, and the children to be brought later by Miss Bracy. The doctor
would be bound by no rules.

It was a pattern day, bright, clear, warm, and not oppressive, perfect
for an out-of-doors fete; and Ethel had made up her mind to fulfil her
promise to Margaret of enjoying herself. In the brilliant sunshine, and
between two such happy sisters, it would have been surly, indeed, not to
enter into the spirit of the day; and Ethel laughed gaily with them,
and at their schemes and hopes; Blanche’s heart being especially set on
knowing the fate of a watch-guard of her own construction.

Hearing that the ladies were in the gardens, they repaired thither at
once. The broad, smooth bowling-green lay before them; a marquee, almost
converted into a bower, bounding it on either side, while in the midst
arose, gorgeous and delicious, a pyramid of flowers--contributions from
all the hot-houses in the neighbourhood--to be sold for the benefit of
the bazaar. Their freshness and fragrance gave a brightness to the whole
scene, while shrinking from such light, as only the beauteous works of
nature could bear, was the array accomplished by female fingers.

Under the wreathed canopies were the stalls, piled up with bright
colours, most artistically arranged. Ethel, with her over-minute
knowledge of every article, could hardly believe that yonder glowing
Eastern pattern of scarlet, black, and blue, was, in fact, a judicious
mosaic of penwipers that she remembered, as shreds begged from the
tailor, that the delicate lace-work consisted of Miss Bracy’s perpetual
antimacassars, and that the potichomanie could look so dignified and
Etruscan.

“Here you are!” cried Meta Rivers, springing to meet them. “Good girls,
to come early. Where’s my little Daisy?”

“Coming in good time,” said Ethel. “How pretty it all looks!”

“But where’s Flora?--where’s my watch-guard?” anxiously asked Blanche.

“She was here just now,” said Meta, looking round. “What a genius she
is, Ethel! She worked wonders all yesterday, and let the Miss Hoxtons
think it was all their own doing, and she was out before six this
morning, putting finishing touches.”

“Is this your stall?” said Ethel.

“Yes, but it will not bear a comparison with hers. It has a lady’s-maid
look by the side of hers. In fact, Bellairs and my aunt’s maid did it
chiefly, for papa was rather ailing yesterday, and I could not be out
much.”

“How is he now?”

“Better; he will walk round by-and-by. I hope it will not be too much
for him.”

“Oh, what beautiful things!” cried Mary, in ecstasy, at what she was
forced to express by the vague substantive, for her imagination had
never stretched to the marvels she beheld.

“Ay, we have been lazy, you see, and so Aunt Leonora brought down all
these smart concerns. It is rather like Howell and James’s, isn’t it?”

In fact, Lady Leonora’s marquee was filled with costly knick-knacks,
which, as Meta justly said, had not half the grace and appropriate air
that reigned where Flora had arranged, and where Margaret had worked,
with the peculiar freshness and finish that distinguished everything to
which she set her hand.

Miss Cleveland’s counter was not ill set-out, but it wanted the air of
ease and simplicity, which was even more noticeable than the perfect
taste of Flora’s wares. If there had been nothing facetious, the effect
would have been better, but there was nothing to regret, and the whole
was very bright and gay.

Blanche could hardly look; so anxious was she for Flora to tell her the
locality of her treasure.

“There she is,” said Meta at last. “George is fixing that branch of
evergreen for her.”

“Flora! I did not know her,” cried each sister amazed; while Mary added,
“Oh, how nice she looks!”

It was the first time of seeing her in the white muslin, and broad chip
hat--which all the younger saleswomen of the bazaar had agreed to wear.
It was a most becoming dress, and she did, indeed, look strikingly
elegant and well dressed. It occurred to Ethel, for the first time, that
Flora was decidedly the reigning beauty of the bazaar--no one but Meta
Rivers could be compared to her, and that little lady was on so small
a scale of perfect finish, that she seemed fit to act the fairy, where
Flora was the enchanted princess.

Flora greeted her sisters eagerly, while Meta introduced her brother--a
great contrast to herself, though not without a certain comeliness,
tall and large, with ruddy complexion, deep lustreless black eyes, and
a heavy straight bush of black moustache, veiling rather thick lips.
Blanche reiterated inquiries for her watch-guard.

“I don’t know,”--said Flora. “Somewhere among the rest.”

Blanche was in despair.

“You may look for it,” said Flora, who, however hurried, never failed in
kindness, “if you will touch nothing.”

So Blanche ran from place to place in restless dismay, that caused Mr.
George Rivers to ask what was the matter.

“The guards! the guards!” cried Blanche; whereupon he fell into a fit of
laughter, which disconcerted her, because she could not understand him,
and made Ethel take an aversion to him on the spot.

However, he was very good-natured; he took Blanche’s reluctant hand, and
conducted her all along the stall, even proceeding to lift her up where
she could not command a view of the whole, thus exciting her extreme
indignation. She shook herself out when he set her down, surveyed her
crumpled muslin, and believed he took her for a little girl! She ought
to have been flattered when the quest was successful, and he insisted
on knowing which was the guard, and declared that he should buy it. She
begged him to do no such thing, and he desired to know why--insisting
that he would give five shillings--fifteen--twenty-five for that one!
till she did not know whether he was in earnest, and she doing an injury
to the bazaar.

Meantime, the hour had struck, and Flora had placed Mrs. Hoxton in a
sheltered spot, where she could take as much or as little trouble as she
pleased. Lady Leonora and Miss Langdale came from the house, and, with
the two ladies’-maids in the background, took up their station with
Miss Rivers. Miss Cleveland called her party to order, and sounds of
carriages were heard approaching.

Mary and Blanche disbursed the first money spent in the “fancy fair;”
 Mary, on a blotting-book for Harry, to be placed among the presents, to
which she added on every birthday, while Blanche bought a sixpenny gift
for every one, with more attention to the quantity than the quality.
Then came a revival of her anxieties for the guards, and while Mary was
simply desirous of the fun of being a shopwoman, and was made happy by
Meta Rivers asking her help, Blanche was in despair, till she had sidled
up to their neighbourhood, and her piteous looks had caused good-natured
Mrs. Hoxton to invite her to assist, when she placed herself close to
the precious object.

A great fluttering of heart went to that manoeuvre, but still felicity
could not be complete. That great troublesome Mr. George Rivers had
actually threatened to buy nothing but that one watch-chain, and
Blanche’s eye followed him everywhere with fear, lest he should come
that way. And there were many other gentlemen--what could they want but
watch-guards, and of them--what--save this paragon?

Poor Blanche; what did she not undergo whenever any one cast his eye
over her range of goods? and this was not seldom, for there was an
attraction in the pretty little eager girl, glowing and smiling. One
old gentleman actually stopped, handled the guards themselves, and asked
their price.

“Eighteen-pence,” said Blanche, colouring and faltering, as she held up
one in preference.

“Eh! is not this the best?” said he, to the lady on his arm.

“Oh! please, take that instead?” exclaimed Blanche, in extremity.

“And why?” asked the gentleman, amused.

“I made this,” she answered.

“Is that the reason I must not have it?”

“No, don’t tease her,” the lady said kindly; and the other was taken.

“I wonder for what it is reserved!” the lady could not help saying, as
she walked away.

“Let us watch her for a minute or two. What an embellishment
children are! Ha! don’t you see--the little maid is fluttering and
reddening--now! How pretty she looks! Ah! I see! here’s the favoured!
Don’t you see that fine bronzed lad--Eton--one can see at a glance! It
is a little drama. They are pretending to be strangers. He is turning
over the goods with an air, she trying to look equally careless, but
what a pretty carnation it is! Ha! ha! he has come to it--he has it! Now
the acting is over, and they are having their laugh out! How joyously!
What next! Oh! she begs off from keeping shop--she darts out to him,
goes off in his hand--I declare that is the prettiest sight in the whole
fair! I wonder who the little demoiselle can be?”

The great event of the day was over now with Blanche, and she greatly
enjoyed wandering about with Hector and Tom. There was a post-office
at Miss Cleveland’s stall, where, on paying sixpence, a letter could be
obtained to the address of the inquirer. Blanche had been very anxious
to try, but Flora had pronounced it nonsense; however, Hector declared
that Flora was not his master, tapped at the sliding panel, and charmed
Blanche by what she thought a most witty parody of his name as Achilles
Lionsrock, Esquire. When the answer came from within, “Ship letter, sir,
double postage,” they thought it almost uncanny; and Hector’s shilling
was requited by something so like a real ship letter, that they had
some idea that the real post had somehow transported itself thither. The
interior was decidedly oracular, consisting of this one line, “I counsel
you to persevere in your laudable undertaking.”

Hector said he wished he had any laudable undertaking, and Blanche tried
to persuade Tom to try his fortune, but he pronounced that he did
not care to hear Harvey Anderson’s trash--he knew his writing, though
disguised, and had detected his shining boots below the counter. There
Mr. George Rivers came up, and began to tease Blanche about the guards,
asking her to take his fifteen shillings--or five-and-twenty, and who
had got that one, which alone he wanted; till the poor child, after
standing perplexed for some moments, looked up with spirit, and said,
“You have no business to ask,” and, running away, took refuge in the
back of Mrs. Hoxton’s marquee, where she found Ethel packing up for Miss
Hoxton’s purchasers, and confiding to her that Mr. George Rivers was a
horrid man, she ventured no more from her protection. She did, indeed,
emerge, when told that papa was coming with Aubrey and Daisy and Miss
Bracy, and she had the pleasure of selling to them some of her wares.
Dr. May bargaining with her to her infinite satisfaction; and little
Gertrude’s blue eyes opened to their full width, not understanding what
could have befallen her sisters.

“And what is Ethel doing?” asked the doctor.

“Packing up parcels, papa,” and Ethel’s face was raised, looking very
merry.

“Packing parcels! How long will they last tied up?” said Dr. May,
laughing.

“Lasting is the concern of nothing in the fair, papa,” answered she, in
the same tone.

For Ethel was noted as the worst packer in the house; but, having
offered to wrap up a pincushion, sold by a hurried Miss Hoxton, she
became involved in the office for the rest of the day--the same which
Bellairs and her companion performed at the Langdale counter. Flora was
too ready and dexterous to need any such aid, but the Misses Hoxton
were glad to be spared the trouble; and Blanche, whose fingers were far
neater than Ethel’s, made the task much easier, and was kept constant
to it by her dread of the dark moustache, which was often visible near
their tent, searching, she thought, for her.

Their humble employment was no sinecure; for this was the favourite
stall with the purchasers of better style, since the articles were, in
general, tasteful, and fairly worth the moderate price set on them. At
Miss Cleveland’s counter there was much noisy laughter--many jocular
cheats--tricks for gaining money, and refusals to give change; and it
seemed to be very popular with the Stoneborough people, and to carry
on a brisk trade. The only languor was in Lady Leonora’s quarter--the
articles were too costly, and hung on hand; nor were the ladies
sufficiently well known, nor active enough, to gain custom, excepting
Meta, who drove a gay traffic at her end of the stall, which somewhat
redeemed the general languor.

Her eyes were, all the time, watching for her father, and, suddenly
perceiving him, she left her trade in charge of the delighted and
important Mary, and hastened to walk round with him, and show him the
humours of the fair.

Mary, in her absence, had the supreme happiness of obtaining Norman as
a customer. He wanted a picture for his rooms at Oxford, and
water-coloured drawings were, as Tom had observed, suitable staple
commodities for Miss Rivers. Mary tried to make him choose a
brightly-coloured pheasant, with a pencil background; and, then, a fine
foaming sea-piece, by some unknown Lady Adelaide, that much dazzled her
imagination; but nothing would serve him but a sketch of an old cedar
tree, with Stoneborough Minster in the distance, and the Welsh hills
beyond, which Mary thought a remarkable piece of bad taste, since--could
he not see all that any day of his life? and was it worth while to give
fourteen shillings and sixpence for it? But he said it was all for the
good of Cocksmoor, and Mary was only too glad to add to her hoard of
coin; so she only marvelled at his extravagance, and offered to take
care of it for him; but, to this, he would not consent. He made her pack
it up for him, and had just put the whitey-brown parcel under his arm,
when Mr. Rivers and his daughter came up, before he was aware. Mary
proudly advertised Meta that she had sold something for her.

“Indeed! What was it?”

“Your great picture of Stoneborough!” said Mary.

“Is that gone? I am sorry you have parted with that, my dear; it was one
of your best,” said Mr. Rivers, in his soft, sleepy, gentle tone.

“Oh, papa, I can do another. But, I wonder! I put that extortionate
price on it, thinking no one would give it, and so that I should keep it
for you. Who has it, Mary?”

“Norman, there. He would have it, though I told him it was very dear.”

Norman, pressed near them by the crowd, had been unable to escape, and
stood blushing, hesitating, and doubting whether he ought to restore the
prize, which he had watched so long, and obtained so eagerly.

“Oh! it is you?” said Mr. Rivers politely. “Oh, no, do not think of
exchanging it. I am rejoiced that one should have it who can appreciate
it. It was its falling into the hands of a stranger that I disliked. You
think with me, that it is one of her best drawings?”

“Yes, I do,” said Norman, still rather hesitating. “She did that with
C--, when he was here last year. He taught her very well. Have you that
other here, that you took with him, my dear? The view from the gate, I
mean.”

“No, dear papa. You told me not to sell that.”

“Ah! I remember; that is right. But there are some very pretty copies
from Prout here.”

While he was seeking them, Meta contrived to whisper, “If you could
persuade him to go indoors--this confusion of people is so bad for him,
and I must not come away. I was in hopes of Dr. May, but he is with the
little ones.”

Norman signed comprehension, and Meta said, “Those copies are not worth
seeing, but you know, papa, you have the originals in the library.”

Mr. Rivers looked pleased, but was certain that Norman could not prefer
the sketches to this gay scene. However, it took very little persuasion
to induce him to do what he wished, and he took Norman’s arm, crossed
the lawn, and arrived in his own study, where it was a great treat
to him to catch any one who would admire his accumulation of prints,
drawings, coins, etc.; and his young friend was both very well amused
and pleased to be setting Miss Rivers’s mind at ease on her father’s
account. It was not till half-past four that Dr. May knocked at the
door, and stood surprised at finding his son there. Mr. Rivers spoke
warmly of the young Oxonian’s kindness in leaving the fair for an old
man, and praised Norman’s taste in art. Norman rose to take leave, but
still thought it incumbent on him to offer to give up the picture,
if Mr. Rivers set an especial value on it. But Mr. Rivers went to the
length of being very glad that it was in his possession, and added to
it a very pretty drawing of the same size, by a noted master, which had
been in the water-colour exhibition, and, while Norman walked away, well
pleased, Mr. Rivers began to extol him to his father, as a very superior
and sensible young man, of great promise, and began to wish George had
the same turn.

Norman, on returning to the fancy fair, found the world in all the
ardour of raffles. Lady Leonora’s contributions were the chief prizes,
which attracted every one, and, of course, the result was delightfully
incongruous. Poor Ethel, who had been persuaded to venture a shilling
to please Blanche, who had spent all her own, obtained the two jars in
potichomanie, and was regarding them with a face worth painting. Harvey
Anderson had a doll, George Rivers a wooden monkey, that jumped over a
stick; and, if Hector Ernescliffe was enchanted at winning a beautiful
mother-of-pearl inlaid workbox, which he had vainly wished to buy for
Margaret, Flora only gained a match-box of her own, well known always to
miss fire, but which had been decided to be good enough for the bazaar.

By fair means or foul, the commodities were cleared off, and, while the
sunbeams faded from the trodden grass, the crowds disappeared, and
the vague compliment, “a very good bazaar,” was exchanged between the
lingering sellers and their friends.

Flora was again to sleep at the Grange, and return the next day, for
a committee to be held over the gains, which were not yet fully
ascertained. So Dr. May gathered his flock together, and packed them,
boys and all, into the two conveyances, and Ethel bade Meta good-night,
almost wondering to hear her merry voice say, “It has been a delightful
day, has it not? It was so kind of your brother to take care of papa.”

“Oh, it was delightful!” echoed Mary, “and I took one pound fifteen and
sixpence!”

“I hope it will do great good to Cocksmoor,” added Meta, “but, if you
want real help, you know, you must come to us.”

Ethel smiled, but hurried her departure, for she saw Blanche again
tormented by Mr. George Rivers, to know what had become of the guard,
telling her that, if she would not say, he should be furiously jealous.

Blanche hid her face on Ethel’s arm, when they were in the carriage, and
almost cried with indignant “shamefastness.” That long-desired day had
not been one of unmixed happiness to her, poor child, and Ethel doubted
whether it had been so to any one, except, indeed, to Mary, whose
desires never soared so high but that they were easily fulfilled, and
whose placid content was not easily wounded. All she was wishing now
was, that Harry were at home to receive his paper-case.

The return to Margaret was real pleasure. The narration of all that had
passed was an event to her. She was so charmed with her presents, of
every degree; things, unpleasant at the time, could, by drollery in the
relating, be made mirthful fun ever after; Dr. May and the boys were so
comical in their observations--Mary’s wonder and simplicity came in so
amazingly--and there was such merriment at Ethel’s two precious jars,
that she could hardly wish they had not come to her. On one head they
were all agreed, in dislike of George Rivers, whom Mary pronounced to be
a detestable man, and, when gently called to order by Margaret, defended
it, by saying that Miss Bracy said it was better to detest than to
hate, while Blanche coloured up to the ears, and hid herself behind
the arm-chair; and Dr. May qualified the censure by saying, he believed
there was no great harm in the youth, but that he was shallow-brained
and extravagant, and, having been born in the days when Mr. Rivers had
been working himself up in the world, had not had so good an education
as his little half-sister.

“Well, what are you thinking of?” said her father, laying his hand
on Ethel’s arm, as she was wearily and pensively putting together the
scattered purchases before going up to bed.

“I was thinking, papa, that there is a great deal of trouble taken in
this world for a very little pleasure.”

“The trouble is the pleasure, in most cases, most misanthropical miss!”

“Yes, that is true; but, if so, why cannot it be taken for some good?”

“They meant it to be good,” said Dr. May. “Come, I cannot have you
severe and ungrateful.”

“So I have been telling myself, papa, all along; but, now that the
day has come, and I have seen what jealousies, and competitions, and
vanities, and disappointments it has produced--not even poor little
Blanche allowed any comfort--I am almost sick at heart with thinking
Cocksmoor was the excuse!”

“Spectators are more philosophical than actors, Ethel. Others have not
been tying parcels all day.”

“I had rather do that than--But that is the ‘Fox and the Grapes,’” said
Ethel, smiling. “What I mean is, that the real gladness of life is not
in these great occasions of pleasure, but in the little side delights
that come in the midst of one’s work, don’t they, papa? Why is it worth
while to go and search for a day’s pleasuring?”

“Ethel, my child! I don’t like to hear you talk so,” said Dr. May,
looking anxiously at her. “It may be too true, but it is not youthful
nor hopeful. It is not as your mother or I felt in our young days, when
a treat was a treat to us, and gladdened our hearts long before and
after. I am afraid you have been too much saddened with loss and care--”

“Oh, no, papa!” said Ethel, rousing herself, though speaking huskily.
“You know I am your merry Ethel. You know I can be happy enough--only at
home--”

And Ethel, though she had tried to be cheerful, leaned against his arm,
and shed a few tears.

“The fact is, she is tired out,” said Dr. May soothingly, yet half
laughing. “She is not a beauty or a grace, and she is thoughtful and
quiet, and so she moralises, instead of enjoying, as the world goes by.
I dare say a night’s rest will make all the difference in the world.”

“Ah! but there is more to come. That Ladies’ Committee at Cocksmoor!”

“They are not there yet, Ethel. Good-night, you tired little cynic.”



CHAPTER IV.



     Back then, complainer...
     Go, to the world return, nor fear to cast
     Thy bread upon the waters, sure at last
        In joy to find it after many days.--Christian Year.


The next day Ethel had hoped for a return to reason, but behold, the
world was cross! The reaction of the long excitement was felt, Gertrude
fretted, and was unwell; Aubrey was pettish at his lessons; and Mary and
Blanche were weary, yawning and inattentive; every straw was a burden,
and Miss Bracy had feelings.

Ethel had been holding an interminable conversation with her in the
schoolroom, interrupted at last by a summons to speak to a Cocksmoor
woman at the back door, and she was returning from the kitchen, when the
doctor called her into his study.

“Ethel! what is all this? Mary has found Miss Bracy in floods of tears
in the schoolroom, because she says you told her she was ill-tempered.”

“I am sure you will be quite as much surprised,” said Ethel, somewhat
exasperated, “when you hear that you lacerated her feelings yesterday.”

“I? Why, what did I do?” exclaimed Dr. May.

“You showed your evident want of confidence in her.”

“I? What can I have done?”

“You met Aubrey and Gertrude in her charge, and you took them away at
once to walk with you.”

“Well?”

“Well, that was it. She saw you had no confidence in her.”

“Ethel, what on earth can you mean? I saw the two children dragging on
her, and I thought she would see nothing that was going on, and would be
glad to be released; and I wanted them to go with me and see Meta’s gold
pheasants.”

“That was the offence. She has been breaking her heart all this time,
because she was sure, from your manner, that you were displeased to see
them alone with her--eating bon-bons, I believe, and therefore took them
away.”

“Daisy is the worse for her bon-bons, I believe, but the overdose of
them rests on my shoulders. I do not know how to believe you, Ethel. Of
course you told her nothing of the kind crossed my mind, poor thing!”

“I told her so, over and over again, as I have done forty times before
but her feelings are always being hurt.”

“Poor thing, poor thing! no doubt it is a trying situation, and she is
sensitive. Surely you are all forbearing with her?”

“I hope we are,” said Ethel; “but how can we tell what vexes her?”

“And what is this, of your telling her she was ill-tempered?” asked Dr.
May incredulously.

“Well, papa,” said Ethel, softened, yet wounded by his thinking it
so impossible. “I had often thought I ought to tell her that these
sensitive feelings of hers were nothing but temper; and perhaps--indeed
I know I do--I partake of the general fractiousness of the house to-day,
and I did not bear it so patiently as usual. I did say that I thought it
wrong to foster her fancies; for if she looked at them coolly, she would
find they were only a form of pride and temper.”

“It did not come well from you, Ethel,” said the doctor, looking vexed.

“No, I know it did not,” said Ethel meekly; “but oh! to have these
janglings once a week, and to see no end to them!”

“Once a week?”

“It is really as often, or more often,” said Ethel. “If any of us
criticise anything the girls have done, if there is a change in any
arrangement, if she thinks herself neglected--I can’t tell you what
little matters suffice; she will catch me, and argue with me, till--oh,
till we are both half dead, and yet cannot stop ourselves.”

“Why do you argue?”

“If I could only help it!”

“Bad management,” said the doctor, in a low, musing tone. “You want a
head!” and he sighed.

“Oh, papa, I did not mean to distress you. I would not have told you if
I had remembered--but I am worried to-day, and off my guard--”

“Ethel, I thought you were the one on whom I could depend for bearing
everything.”

“These were such nonsense!”

“What may seem nonsense to you is not the same to her. You must
be forbearing, Ethel. Remember that dependence is prone to morbid
sensitiveness, especially in those who have a humble estimate of
themselves.”

“It seems to me that touchiness is more pride than humility,” said
Ethel, whose temper, already not in the smoothest state, found it hard
that, after having long borne patiently with these constant arguments,
she should find Miss Bracy made the chief object of compassion.

Dr. May’s chivalrous feeling caused him to take the part of the weak,
and he answered, “You know nothing about it. Among our own kith and kin
we can afford to pass over slights, because we are sure the heart is
right--we do not know what it is to be among strangers, uncertain of
any claim to their esteem or kindness. Sad! sad!” he continued, as the
picture wrought on him. “Each trifle seems a token one way or the other!
I am very sorry I grieved the poor thing yesterday. I must go and tell
her so at once.”

He put Ethel aside, and knocked at the schoolroom door, while Ethel
stood, mortified. “He thinks I have been neglecting, or speaking harshly
to her! For fifty times that I have borne with her maundering, I have,
at last, once told her the truth; and for that I am accused of want of
forbearance! Now he will go and make much of her, and pity her, till she
will think herself an injured heroine, and be worse than ever; and he
will do away with all the good of my advice, and want me to ask her
pardon for it--but that I never will. It was only the truth, and I will
stick to it.”

“Ethel!” cried Mary, running up to her, then slackening her pace, and
whispering, “you did not tell Miss Bracy she was ill-tempered.”

“No--not exactly. How could you tell papa I did?”

“She said so. She was crying, and I asked what was the matter, and she
said my sister Ethel said she was ill-tempered.”

“She made a great exaggeration then,” said Ethel.

“I am sure she was very cross all day,” said Mary.

“Well, that is no business of yours,” said Ethel pettishly. “What now?
Mary, don’t look out at the street window.”

“It is Flora--the Grange carriage,” whispered Mary, as the two sisters
made a precipitate retreat into the drawing-room.

Meanwhile, Dr. May had been in the schoolroom. Miss Bracy had ceased her
tears before he came--they had been her retort on Ethel, and she had not
intended the world to know of them. Half disconcerted, half angry, she
heard the doctor approach. She was a gentle, tearful woman, one of
those who are often called meek, under an erroneous idea that meekness
consists in making herself exceedingly miserable under every kind
of grievance; and she now had a sort of melancholy satisfaction in
believing that the young ladies had fabricated an exaggerated complaint
of her temper, and that she was going to become injured innocence. To
think herself accused of a great wrong, excused her from perceiving
herself guilty of a lesser one.

“Miss Bracy,” said Dr. May, entering with his frank, sweet look, “I
am concerned that I vexed you by taking the children to walk with me
yesterday. I thought such little brats would be troublesome to any but
their spoiling papa, but they would have been in safer hands with you.
You would not have been as weak as I was, in regard to sugar-plums.”
 Such amends as these confused Miss Bracy, who found it pleasanter to be
lamentable with Ethel, than to receive a full apology for her imagined
offence from the master of the house. Feeling both small and absurd,
she murmured something of “oh, no,” and “being sure,” and hoped he
was going, so that she might sit down to pity herself, for those girls
having made her appear so ridiculous.

No such thing! Dr. May put a chair for her, and sat down himself,
saying, with a smile, “You see, you must trust us sometimes, and
overlook it, if we are less considerate than we might be. We have rough,
careless habits with each other, and forget that all are not used to
them.”

Miss Bracy exclaimed, “Oh, no, never, they were most kind.”

“We wish to be,” said Dr. May, “but there are little neglects--or
you think there are. I will not say there are none, for that would be
answering too much for human nature, or that they are fanciful--for that
would be as little comfort as to tell a patient that the pain is only
nervous--”

Miss Bracy smiled, for she could remember instances when, after
suffering much at the time, she had found the affront imaginary.

He was glad of that smile, and proceeded. “You will let me speak to
you, as to one of my own girls? To them, I should say, use the only true
cure. Don’t brood over vexations, small or great, but think of them as
trials that, borne bravely, become blessings.”

“Oh! but Dr. May!” she exclaimed, shocked; “nothing in your house could
call for such feelings.”

“I hope we are not very savage,” he said, smiling; “but, indeed, I still
say it is the safest rule. It would be the only one if you were really
among unkind people; and, if you take so much to heart an unlucky
neglect of mine, what would you do if the slight were a true one?”

“You are right; but my feelings were always over-sensitive;” and this
she said with a sort of complacency.

“Well, we must try to brace them,” said Dr. May, much as if prescribing
for her. “Will not you believe in our confidence and esteem, and harden
yourself against any outward unintentional piece of incivility?”

She felt as if she could at that moment.

“Or at least, try to forgive and forget them. Talking them over only
deepens the sense of them, and discussions do no good to any one. My
daughters are anxious to be your best friends, as I hope you know.”

“Oh! they are most kind--”

“But, you see, I must say this,” added Dr. May, somewhat hesitating, “as
they have no mother to--to spare all this,” and then, growing clearer,
he proceeded, “I must beg you to be forbearing with them, and not
perplex yourself and them with arguing on what cannot be helped.
They have not the experience that could enable them to finish such a
discussion without unkindness; and it can only waste the spirits, and
raise fresh subjects of regret. I must leave you--I hear myself called.”

Miss Bracy began to be sensible that she had somewhat abused
Ethel’s patience; and the unfortunate speech about the source of her
sensitiveness did not appear to her so direfully cruel as at first.
She hoped every one would forget all about it, and resolved not to take
umbrage so easily another time, or else be silent about it, but she was
not a person of much resolution.

The doctor found that Meta Rivers and her brother had brought Flora
home, and were in the drawing-room, where Margaret was hearing another
edition of the history of the fair, and a by-play was going on, of
teasing Blanche about the chain.

George Rivers was trying to persuade her to make one for him; and her
refusal came out at last, in an almost passionate key, in the midst of
the other conversation--“No! I say-no!”

“Another no, and that will be yes.”

“No! I won’t! I don’t like you well enough!”

Margaret gravely sent Blanche and the other children away to take their
walk, and the brother and sister soon after took leave, when Flora
called Ethel to hasten to the Ladies’ Committee, that they might arrange
the disposal of the one hundred and fifty pounds, the amount of their
gains.

“To see the fate of Cocksmoor,” said Ethel.

“Do you think I cannot manage the Stoneborough folk?” said Flora,
looking radiant with good humour, and conscious of power. “Poor Ethel!
I am doing you good against your will! Never mind, here is wherewith to
build the school, and the management will be too happy to fall into
our hands. Do you think every one is as ready as you are, to walk three
miles and back continually?”

There was sense in this; there always was sense in what Flora said, but
it jarred on Ethel; and it seemed almost unsympathising in her to be so
gay, when the rest were wearied or perturbed. Ethel would have been very
glad of a short space to recollect herself, and recover her good temper;
but it was late, and Flora hurried her to put on her bonnet, and come to
the committee. “I’ll take care of your interests,” she said, as they
set out. “You look as doleful as if you thought you should be robbed of
Cocksmoor; but that is the last thing that will happen, you will see.”

“It would not be acting fairly to let them build for us, and then for us
to put them out of the management,” said Ethel.

“My dear, they want importance, not action. They will leave the real
power to us of themselves.”

“You like to build Cocksmoor with such instruments,” said Ethel, whose
ruffled condition made her forget her resolution not to argue with
Flora.

“Bricks are made of clay!” said Flora. “There, that was said like Norman
himself! On your plan, we might have gone on for forty years, saving
seven shillings a year, and spending six, whenever there was an illness
in the place.”

“You, who used to dislike these people more than even I did!” said
Ethel.

“That was when I was an infant, my dear, and did not know how to deal
with them. I will take care--I will even save Cherry Elwood for you, if
I can. Alan Ernescliffe’s ten pounds is a noble weapon.”

“You always mean to manage everything, and then you have no time!” said
Ethel, sensible all the time of her own ill-humour, and of her sister’s
patience and amiability, yet propelled to speak the unpleasant truths
that in her better moods were held back.

Still Flora was good-tempered, though Ethel would almost have preferred
her being provoked; “I know,” she said, “I have been using you ill, and
leaving the world on your shoulders, but it was all in your service and
Cocksmoor’s; and now we shall begin to be reasonable and useful again.”

“I hope so,” said Ethel.

“Really, Ethel, to comfort you, I think I shall send you with Norman to
dine at Abbotstoke Grange on Wednesday. Mr. Rivers begged us to come; he
is so anxious to make it lively for his son.”

“Thank you, I do not think Mr. George Rivers and I should be likely to
get on together. What a bad style of wit! You heard what Mary said about
him? and Ethel repeated the doubt between hating and detesting.

“Young men never know how to talk to little girls,” was Flora’s reply.

At this moment they came up with one of the Miss Andersons, and Flora
began to exchange civilities, and talk over yesterday’s events with
great animation. Her notice always gave pleasure, brightened as it was
by the peculiarly engaging address which she had inherited from her
father, and which, therefore, was perfectly easy and natural. Fanny
Anderson was flattered and gratified, rather by the manner than the
words, and, on excellent terms, they entered the committee-room, namely,
the schoolmistress’s parlour.

There were nine ladies on the committee--nine muses, as the doctor
called them, because they produced anything but harmony. Mrs. Ledwich
was in the chair; Miss Rich was secretary, and had her pen and ink, and
account-book ready. Flora came in, smiling and greeting; Ethel, grave,
earnest, and annoyed, behind her, trying to be perfectly civil, but not
at all enjoying the congratulations on the successful bazaar. The ladies
all talked and discussed their yesterday’s adventures, gathering in
little knots, as they traced the fate of favourite achievements of their
skill, while Ethel, lugubrious and impatient, beside Flora, the only
one not engaged, and, therefore, conscious of the hubbub of clacking
tongues.

At last Mrs. Ledwich glanced at the mistress’s watch, in its pasteboard
tower, in Gothic architecture, and insisted on proceeding to business.
So they all sat down round a circular table, with a very fine red, blue,
and black oilcloth, whose pattern was inseparably connected, in Ethel’s
mind, with absurdity, tedium, and annoyance.

The business was opened by the announcement of what they all knew
before, that the proceeds of the fancy fair amounted to one hundred and
forty-nine pounds fifteen shillings and tenpence.

Then came a pause, and Mrs. Ledwich said that next they had to consider
what was the best means of disposing of the sum gained in this most
gratifying manner. Every one except Flora, Ethel, and quiet Mrs.
Ward, began to talk at once. There was a great deal about Elizabethan
architecture, crossed by much more, in which normal, industrial,
and common things, most often met Ethel’s ear, with some stories,
second-hand, from Harvey Anderson, of marvellous mistakes; and, on the
opposite side of the table, there was Mrs. Ledwich, impressively saying
something to the silent Mrs. Ward, marking her periods with emphatic
beats with her pencil, and each seemed to close with “Mrs. Perkinson’s
niece,” whom Ethel knew to be Cherry’s intended supplanter. She looked
piteously at Flora, who only smiled and made a sign with her hand to her
to be patient. Ethel fretted inwardly at that serene sense of power; but
she could not but admire how well Flora knew how to bide her time, when,
having waited till Mrs. Ledwich had nearly wound up her discourse on
Mrs. Elwood’s impudence, and Mrs. Perkinson’s niece, she leaned towards
Miss Boulder, who sat between, and whispered to her, “Ask Mrs. Ledwich
if we should not begin with some steps for getting the land.”

Miss Boulder, having acted as conductor, the president exclaimed, “Just
so, the land is the first consideration. We must at once take steps
for obtaining it.” Thereupon Mrs. Ledwich, who “always did things
methodically,” moved, and Miss Anderson seconded, that the land
requisite for the school must be obtained, and the nine ladies held up
their hands, and resolved it.

Miss Rich duly recorded the great resolution, and Miss Boulder suggested
that, perhaps, they might write to the National Society, or Government,
or something; whereat Miss Rich began to flourish one of the very long
goose quills which stood in the inkstand before her, chiefly as insignia
of office, for she always wrote with a small, stiff metal pen.

Flora here threw in a query, whether the National Society, or
Government, or something, would give them a grant, unless they had the
land to build upon?

The ladies all started off hereupon, and all sorts of instances of
hardness of heart were mentioned, the most relevant of which was, that
the Church Building Society would not give a grant to Mr. Holloway’s
proprietary chapel at Whitford, when Mrs. Ledwich was suddenly struck
with the notion that dear Mr. Holloway might be prevailed on to come
to Stoneborough to preach a sermon in the Minster, for the benefit of
Cocksmoor, when they would all hold plates at the door. Flora gave Ethel
a tranquillising pat, and, as Mrs. Ledwich turned to her, asking whether
she thought Dr. May, or Dr. Hoxton, would prevail on him to come, she
said, with her winning look, “I think that consideration had better wait
till we have some more definite view. Had we not better turn to this
land question?”

“Quite true!” they all agreed, but to whom did the land belong?--and
what a chorus arose! Miss Anderson thought it belonged to Mr. Nicolson,
because the wagons of slate had James Nicolson on them, and, if so, they
had no chance, for he was an old miser--and six stories illustrative
thereof ensued. Miss Rich was quite sure some Body held it, and
Bodies were slow of movement. Mrs. Ledwich remembered some question of
enclosing, and thought all waste lands were under the Crown; she knew
that the Stoneborough people once had a right to pasture their cattle,
because Mr. Southron’s cow had tumbled down a loam-pit when her mother
was a girl. No, that was on Far-view down, out the other way! Miss
Harrison was positive that Sir Henry Walkinghame had some right there,
and would not Dr. May apply to him? Mrs. Grey thought it ought to
be part of the Drydale estate, and Miss Boulder was certain that Mr.
Bramshaw knew all about it.

Flora’s gentle voice carried conviction that she knew what she was
saying, when, at last, they left a moment for her to speak--(Ethel would
have done so long ago). “If I am not mistaken, the land is a copyhold of
Sir Henry Walkinghame, held under the manor of Drydale, which belongs to
M---- College, and is underlet to Mr. Nicolson.”

Everybody, being partially right, was delighted, and had known it all
before; Miss Boulder agreed with Miss Anderson that Miss May had stated
it as lucidly as Mr. Bramshaw could. The next question was, to whom to
apply? and, after as much as was expedient had been said in favour of
each, it was decided that, as Sir Henry Walkinghame was abroad, no one
knew exactly where, it would be best to go to the fountain-head, and
write at once to the principal of the college. But who was to write?
Flora proposed Mr. Ramsden as the fittest person, but this was
negatived. Every one declared that he would never take the trouble, and
Miss Rich began to agitate her pens. By this time, however, Mrs. Ward,
who was opposite to the Gothic clock-tower, began to look uneasy, and
suggested, in a nervous manner, that it was half-past five, and she was
afraid Mr. Ward would be kept waiting for his dinner. Mrs. Grey began
to have like fears, that Mr. Grey would be come in from his ride after
banking hours. The other ladies began to think of tea, and the meeting
decided on adjourning till that day next week, when the committee would
sit upon Miss Rich’s letter.

“My dear Miss Flora!” began Miss Rich, adhering to her as they parted
with the rest at the end of the street, “how am I to write to a
principal? Am I to begin Reverend Sir, or My Lord, or is he Venerable,
like an archdeacon? What is his name, and what am I to say?”

“Why, it is not a correspondence much in my line,” said Flora, laughing.

“Ah! but you are so intimate with Dr. Hoxton, and your brothers at
Oxford! You must know--”

“I’ll take advice,” said Flora good-naturedly. “Shall I come, and call
before Friday, and tell you the result?”

“Oh, pray! It will be a real favour! Good-morning--”

“There,” said Flora, as the sisters turned homewards, “Cherry is not
going to be turned out just yet!”

“How could you, Flora? Now they will have that man from Whitford, and
you said not a word against it!”

“What was the use of adding to the hubbub? A little opposition would
make them determined on having him. You will see, Ethel, we shall get
the ground on our own terms, and then it will be time to settle about
the mistress. If the harvest holidays were not over, we would try to
send Cherry to a training-school, so as to leave them no excuse.”

“I hate all this management and contrivance. It would be more honest to
speak our minds, and not pretend to agree with them.”

“My dear Ethel! have I spoken a word contrary to my opinion? It is not
fit for me, a girl of twenty, to go disputing and dragooning as you
would have me; but a little savoir faire, a grain of common sense,
thrown in among the babble, always works. Don’t you remember how Mrs.
Ward’s sister told us that a whole crowd of tottering Chinese ladies
would lean on her, because they felt her firm support, though it was out
of sight?”

Ethel did not answer; she had self-control enough left not to retort
upon Flora’s estimate of herself, but the irritation was strong; she
felt as if her cherished views for Cocksmoor were insulted, as well as
set aside, by the place being made the occasion of so much folly and
vain prattle, the sanctity of her vision of self-devotion destroyed
by such interference, and Flora’s promises did not reassure her. She
doubted Flora’s power, and had still more repugnance to the means
by which her sister tried to govern; they did not seem to her
straightforward, and she could not endure Flora’s complacency in their
success. Had it not been for her real love for the place and people, as
well as the principle which prompted that love, she could have found
it in her heart to throw up all concern with it, rather than become a
fellow-worker with such a conclave.

Such were Ethel’s feelings as the pair walked down the street; the one
sister bright and smiling with the good humour that had endured many
shocks all that day, all good nature and triumph, looking forward to
success, great benefit to Cocksmoor, and plenty of management, with
credit and praise to herself; the other, downcast and irritable, with
annoyance at the interference with her schemes, at the prospects of her
school, and at herself for being out of temper, prone to murmur or to
reply tartly, and not able to recover from her mood, but only, as she
neared the house, lapsing into her other trouble, and preparing to
resist any misjudged, though kind attempt of her father, to make her
unsay her rebuke to Miss Bracy. Pride and temper! Ah! Etheldred! where
were they now?

Dr. May was at his study door as his daughters entered the hall, and
Ethel expected the order which she meant to question; but, instead of
this, after a brief inquiry after the doings of the nine muses, which
Flora answered, so as to make him laugh, he stopped Ethel, as she
was going upstairs, by saying, “I do not know whether this letter is
intended for Richard, or for me. At any rate, it concerns you most.”

The envelope was addressed to the Reverend Richard May, D. D., Market
Stoneborough, and the letter began, “Reverend Sir.” So far Ethel saw,
and exclaimed, with amusement, then, with a long-drawn “Ah!” and
an interjection, “My poor dear Una!” she became absorbed, the large
tears--yes, Ethel’s reluctant tears gathering slowly and dropping.

The letter was from a clergyman far away in the north of England, who
said he could not, though a stranger, resist the desire to send to
Dr. May an account of a poor girl, who seemed to have received great
benefits from him, or from some of his family, especially as she had
shown great eagerness on his proposing to write.

He said it was nearly a year since there had come into his parish a
troop of railwaymen and their families. For the most part, they were
completely wild and rude, unused to any pastoral care; but, even on
the first Sunday, he had noticed a keen-looking, freckled, ragged,
unmistakably Irish girl, creeping into church with a Prayer-book in her
hand, and had afterwards found her hanging about the door of the school.
“I never saw a more engaging, though droll, wild expression, than that
with which she looked up to me.” (Ethel’s cry of delight was at that
sentence--she knew that look too well, and had yearned after it so
often!) “I found her far better instructed than her appearance had led
me to expect, and more truly impressed with the spirit of what she had
learned than it has often been my lot to find children. She was perfect
in the New Testament history”--(“Ah! that she was not, when she went
away!”)--“and was in the habit of constantly attending church, and using
morning and evening prayers.” (“Oh! how I longed, when she went away, to
beg her to keep them up! Dear Una.”) “On my questions, as to how she had
been taught, she always replied, ‘Mr. Richard May,’ or ‘Miss Athel.’ You
must excuse me if I have not correctly caught the name from her Irish
pronunciation.” (“I am afraid he thinks my name is Athaliah! But oh!
this dear girl! How I have wished to hear of her!”) “Everything was
answered with ‘Mr. Richard,’ or ‘Miss Athel’; and, if I inquired
further, her face would light up with a beam of gratitude, and she would
run on, as long as I could listen, with instances of their kindness. It
was the same with her mother, a wild, rude specimen of an Irishwoman,
whom I never could bring to church herself, but who ran on loudly with
their praises, usually ending with ‘Heavens be their bed,’ and saying
that Una had been quite a different girl since the young ladies and
gentleman found her out, and put them parables in her head.

“For my own part, I can testify that, in the seven months that she
attended my school, I never had a serious fault to find with her, but
far more often to admire the earnestness and devout spirit, as well as
the kindness and generosity apparent in all her conduct. Bad living, and
an unwholesome locality, have occasioned a typhus fever among the poor
strangers in this place, and Una was one of the first victims. Her
mother, almost from the first, gave her up, saying she knew she was one
marked for glory; and Una has been lying, day after day, in a sort
of half-delirious state, constantly repeating hymns and psalms, and
generally, apparently very happy, except when one distress occurred
again and again, whether delirious or sensible, namely, that she had
never gone to wish Miss May good-bye, and thank her; and that maybe she
and Mr. Richard thought her ungrateful; and she would sometimes beg, in
her phraseology, to go on her bare knees to Stoneborough, only to see
Miss Athel again.

“Her mother, I should say, told me the girl had been half mad at not
being allowed to go and take leave of Miss May; and she had been sorry
herself, but her husband had come home suddenly from the search for
work, and, having made his arrangements, removed them at once, early the
next morning--too early to go to the young lady; though, she said, Una
did--as they passed through Stoneborough--run down the street before she
was aware, and she found her sobbing, fit to break her heart, before the
house.” (“Oh, why, why was I not up, and at the window! Oh, my Una! to
think of that!”) “When I spoke of writing to let Miss May hear how
it was, the poor girl caught at the idea with the utmost delight. Her
weakness was too great to allow her to utter many words distinctly,
when I asked her what she would have me say, but these were as well as
I could understand:--‘The blessing of one, that they have brought peace
unto. Tell them I pray, and will pray, that they may walk in the robe
of glory--and tell Mr. Richard that I mind what he said to me, of taking
hold on the sure hope. God crown all their crosses unto them, and fulfil
all their desires unto everlasting life.’ I feel that I am not rendering
her words with all their fervour and beauty of Irish expression, but I
would that I could fully retain and transmit them, for those who have so
led her must, indeed, be able to feel them precious. I never saw a
more peaceful frame of penitence and joy. She died last night, sleeping
herself away, without more apparent suffering, and will be committed
to the earth on Sunday next, all her fellow-scholars attending; and, I
hope, profiting by the example she has left.

“I have only to add my most earnest congratulations to those whose
labour of love has borne such blessed fruit; and, hoping you will pardon
the liberty, etc.”

Etheldred finished the letter through blinding tears, while rising sobs
almost choked her. She ran away to her own room, bolted the door, and
threw herself on her knees, beside her bed--now confusedly giving thanks
for such results--now weeping bitterly over her own unworthiness. Oh!
what was she in the sight of Heaven, compared with what this poor girl
had deemed her--with what this clergyman thought her? She, the teacher,
taught, trained, and guarded, from her infancy, by her wise mother, and
by such a father! She, to have given way all day to pride, jealousy,
anger, selfish love of her own will; when this poor girl had embraced,
and held fast, the blessed hope, from the very crumbs they had brought
her! Nothing could have so humbled the distrustful spirit that had been
working in Ethel, which had been scotched into silence--not killed--when
she endured the bazaar, and now had been indemnifying itself by repining
at every stumbling-block. Her own scholar’s blessing was the rebuke that
went most home to her heart, for having doubted whether good could be
worked in any way, save her own.

She was interrupted by Mary trying to open the door, and, admitting
her, heard her wonder at the traces of her tears, and ask what there
was about Una. Ethel gave her the letter, and Mary’s tears showered very
fast--they always came readily. “Oh, Ethel, how glad Richard will be!”

“Yes; it is all Richard’s doing. So much more good, and wise, and
humble, as he is. No wonder his teaching--” and Ethel sat down and cried
again.

Mary pondered. “It makes me very glad,” she said; “and yet I don’t know
why one cries. Ethel, do you think”--she came near, and whispered--“that
Una has met dear mamma there?”

Ethel kissed her. It was almost the first time Mary had spoken of her
mother; and she answered, “Dear Mary, we cannot tell--we may think. It
is all one communion, you know.”

Mary was silent, and, next time she spoke, it was to hope that Ethel
would tell the Cocksmoor children about Una.

Ethel was obliged to dress, and go downstairs to tea. Her father seemed
to have been watching for her, with his study door open, for he came
to meet her, took her hand, and said, in a low voice, “My dear child, I
wish you joy. This will be a pleasant message, to bid poor Ritchie good
speed for his ordination, will it not?”

“That it will, papa--”

“Why, Ethel, have you been crying over it all this time?” said he,
struck by the sadness of her voice.

“Many other things, papa. I am so unworthy--but it was not our
doing--but the grace--”

“No, but thankful you may be, to have been the means of awakening the
grace!”

Ethel’s lips trembled. “And oh, papa! coming to-day, when I have been
behaving so ill to you, and Miss Bracy, and Flora, and all.

“Have you? I did not know you had behaved ill to me.”

“About Miss Bracy--I thought wrong things, if I did not say them. To
her, I believe, I said what was true, though it was harsh of me to say
it, and--”

“What? about pride and temper? It was true, and I hope it will do her
good. Cure a piping turkey with a peppercorn sometimes. I have spoken to
her, and told her to pluck up a little spirit; not fancy affronts, and
not to pester you with them. Poor child! you have been sadly victimised
to-day and yesterday. No wonder you were bored past patience, with that
absurd rabble of women!”

“It was all my own selfish, distrustful temper, wanting to have
Cocksmoor taken care of in my own way, and angry at being interfered
with. I see it now--and here this poor girl, that I thought thrown
away--”

“Ay, Ethel, you will often see the like. The main object may fail or
fall short, but the earnest painstaking will always be blessed some way
or other, and where we thought it most wasted, some fresh green shoot
will spring up, to show it is not we that give the increase. I suppose
you will write to Richard with this?”

“That I shall.”

“Then you may send this with it. Tell him my arm is tired and stiff
to-day, or I would have said more. He must answer the clergyman’s
letter.”

Dr. May gave Ethel his sheet not folded. His written words were now so
few as to be cherished amongst his children.


“Dear Richard,--

“May all your ministerial works be as blessed as this, your first labour
of love. I give you hearty joy of this strengthening blessing. Mine goes
with it--‘Only be strong and of a good courage!’

                    “Your affectionate father,
                             R. May.

“PS.--Margaret does not gain ground this summer; you must soon come home
and cheer her.”



CHAPTER V.



     As late, engaged by fancy’s dream,
     I lay beside a rapid stream,
     I saw my first come gliding by,
     Its airy form soon caught my eye;
     Its texture frail, and colour various,
     Like human hopes, and life precarious.
     Sudden, my second caught my ear,
     And filled my soul with constant fear;
     I quickly rose, and home I ran,
     My whole was hissing in the pan.--Riddle.


Flora revised the letter to the principal, and the Ladies’ Committee
approved, after having proposed seven amendments, all of which Flora
caused to topple over by their own weakness.

After interval sufficient to render the nine ladies very anxious, the
principal wrote from Scotland, where he was spending the Long Vacation,
and informed them that their request should be laid before the next
college meeting.

After the committee had sat upon this letter, the two sisters walked
home in much greater harmony than after the former meeting. Etheldred
had recovered her candour, and was willing to own that it was not art,
but good sense, that gave her sister so much ascendancy. She began to be
hopeful, and to declare that Flora might yet do something even with the
ladies. Flora was gratified by the approval that no one in the house
could help valuing; “Positively,” said Flora, “I believe I may in time.
You see there are different ways of acting, as an authority, or as an
equal.”

“The authority can move from without, the equal must from within,” said
Ethel.

“Just so. We must circumvent their prejudices, instead of trying to beat
them down.”

“If you only could have the proper catechising restored!”

“Wait; you will see. Let me feel my ground.”

“Or if we could only abdicate into the hands of the rightful power!”

“The rightful power would not be much obliged to you.”

“That is the worst of it,” said Ethel. “It is sad to hear the sick
people say that Dr. May is more to them than any parson; it shows that
they have so entirely lost the notion of what their clergyman should
be.”

“Dr. May is the man most looked up to in this town,” said Flora, “and
that gives weight to us in the committee, but it is all in the using.”

“Yes,” said Ethel hesitatingly.

“You see, we have the prestige of better birth, and better education,
as well as of having the chief property in the town, and of being the
largest subscribers, added to his personal character,” said Flora;
“so that everything conspires to render us leaders, and our age alone
prevented us from assuming our post sooner.”

They were at home by this time, and entering the hall, perceived that
the whole party were in the lawn. The consolation of the children
for the departure of Hector and Tom, was a bowl of soap-suds and some
tobacco pipes, and they had collected the house to admire and assist,
even Margaret’s couch being drawn close to the window.

Bubbles is one of the most fascinating of sports. There is the soft
foamy mass, like driven snow, or like whipped cream. Blanche bends down
to blow “a honeycomb,” holding the bowl of the pipe in the water; at her
gurgling blasts there slowly heaves upwards the pile of larger, clearer
bubbles, each reflecting the whole scene, and sparkling with rainbow
tints, until Aubrey ruthlessly dashes all into fragments with his hand,
and Mary pronounces it stiff enough, and presents a pipe to little
Daisy, who, drawing the liquid into her mouth, throws it away with a
grimace, and declares that she does not like bubbles! But Aubrey stands
with swelled cheeks, gravely puffing at the sealing-waxed extremity.
Out pours a confused assemblage of froth, but the glassy globe slowly
expands the little branching veins, flowing down on either side, bearing
an enlarging miniature of the sky, the clouds, the tulip-tree. Aubrey
pauses to exclaim! but where is it? Try again! A proud bubble, as Mary
calls it, a peacock, in blended pink and green, is this transparent
sphere, reflecting and embellishing house, wall, and shrubs! It is
too beautiful! It is gone! Mary undertakes to give a lesson, and
blows deliberately without the slightest result. Again! She waves
her disengaged hand in silent exultation as the airy balls detach
themselves, and float off on the summer breeze, with a tardy, graceful,
uncertain motion. Daisy rushes after them, catches at them, and looks
at her empty fingers with a puzzled “All gone!” as plainly expressed by
Toby, who snaps at them, and shakes his head with offended dignity at
the shock of his meeting teeth, while the kitten frisks after them,
striking at them with her paw, amazed at meeting vacancy.

Even the grave Norman is drawn in. He agrees with Mary that bubbles
used to fly over the wall, and that one once went into Mrs. Richardson’s
garret window, when her housemaid tried to catch it with a pair of
tongs, and then ran downstairs screaming that there was a ghost in her
room; but that was in Harry’s time, the heroic age of the May nursery.

He accepts a pipe, and his greater height raises it into a favourable
current of air--the glistening balloon sails off. It flies, it soars;
no, it is coming down! The children shout at it, as if to drive it up,
but it wilfully descends--they rush beneath, they try to waft it on high
with their breath--there is a collision between Mary and Blanche--Aubrey
perceives a taste of soapy water--the bubble is no more--it is vanished
in his open mouth!

Papa himself has taken a pipe, and the little ones are mounted on
chairs, to be on a level with their tall elders. A painted globe is
swimming along, hesitating at first, but the dancing motion is tending
upwards, the rainbow tints glisten in the sunlight--all rush to assist
it; if breath of the lips can uphold it, it should rise, indeed!
Up! above the wall! over Mrs. Richardson’s elm, over the topmost
branch--hurrah! out of sight! Margaret adds her voice to the
acclamations. Beat that if you can, Mary! That doubtful wind keeps yours
suspended in a graceful minuet; its pace is accelerated--but earthwards!
it has committed self-destruction by running foul of a rose-bush. A
general blank!

“You here, Ethel?” said Norman, as the elders laughed at each other’s
baffled faces.

“I am more surprised to find you here,” she answered.

“Excitement!” said Norman, smiling; “one cause is as good as another for
it.”

“Very pretty sport,” said Dr. May. “You should write a poem on it,
Norman.”

“It is an exhausted subject,” said Norman; “bubble and trouble are too
obvious a rhyme.”

“Ha! there it goes! It will be over the house! That’s right!” Every one
joined in the outcry.

“Whose is it?”

“Blanche’s--”

“Hurrah for Blanche! Well done, white Mayflower, there!” said the
doctor, “that is what I meant. See the applause gained by a proud bubble
that flies! Don’t we all bow down to it, and waft it up with the whole
force of our lungs, air as it is; and when it fairly goes out of sight,
is there any exhilaration or applause that surpasses ours?”

“The whole world being bent on making painted bubbles fly over the
house,” said Norman, far more thoughtfully than his father. “It is a
fair pattern of life and fame.”

“I was thinking,” continued Dr. May, “what was the most unalloyed
exultation I remember.”

“Harry’s, when you were made dux,” whispered Ethel to her brother.

“Not mine,” said Norman briefly.

“I believe,” said Dr. May, “I never knew such glorification as when
Aubrey Spencer climbed the poor old market-cross. We all felt ourselves
made illustrious for ever in his person.”

“Nay, papa, when you got that gold medal must have been the grandest
time?” said Blanche, who had been listening.

Dr. May laughed, and patted her. “I, Blanche? Why, I was excessively
amazed, that is all, not in Norman’s way, but I had been doing next to
nothing to the very last, then fell into an agony, and worked like a
horse, thinking myself sure of failure, and that my mother and my uncle
would break their hearts.”

“But when you heard that you had it?” persisted Blanche.

“Why, then I found I must be a much cleverer fellow than I thought for!”
 said he, laughing; “but I was ashamed of myself, and of the authorities,
for choosing such an idle dog, and vexed that other plodding lads missed
it, who deserved it more than I.”

“Of course,” said Norman, in a low voice, “that is what one always
feels. I had rather blow soap-bubbles!”

“Where was Dr. Spencer?” asked Ethel.

“Not competing. He had been ready a year before, and had gained it, or
I should have had no chance. Poor Spencer! what would I not give to see
him, or hear of him?”

“The last was--how long ago?” said Ethel.

“Six years, when he was setting off, to return from Poonshedagore,” said
Dr. May, sighing. “I gave him up; his health was broken, and there was
no one to look after him. He was the sort of man to have a nameless
grave, and a name too blessed for fame.”

Ethel would have asked further of her father’s dear old friend, but
there were sounds, denoting an arrival, and Margaret beckoned to them
as Miss Rivers and her brother were ushered into the drawing-room; and
Blanche instantly fled away, with her basin, to hide herself in the
schoolroom.

Meta skipped out, and soon was established on the grass, an attraction
to all the live creatures, as it seemed; for the kitten came, and was
caressed till her own graceful Nipen was ready to fight with the uncouth
Toby for the possession of a resting-place on the skirt of her habit,
while Daisy nestled up to her, as claiming a privilege, and Aubrey kept
guard over the dogs.

Meta inquired after a huge doll--Dr. Hoxton’s gift to Daisy, at the
bazaar.

“She is in Margaret’s wardrobe,” was the answer, “because Aubrey tied
her hands behind her, and was going to offer her up on the nursery
grate.”

“Oh, Aubrey, that was too cruel!”

“No,” returned Aubrey; “she was Iphigenia, going to be sacrificed.”

“Mary unconsciously acted Diana,” said Ethel, “and bore the victim
away.”

“Pray, was Daisy a willing Clytemnestra?” asked Meta.

“Oh, yes, she liked it,” said Aubrey, while Meta looked discomfited.

“I never could get proper respect paid to dolls,” said Margaret; “we
deal too much in their natural enemies.”

“Yes,” said Ethel, “my only doll was like a heraldic lion, couped in all
her parts.”

“Harry and Tom once made a general execution,” said Flora; “there was a
doll hanging to every baluster--the number made up with rag.”

George Rivers burst out laughing--his first sign of life; and Meta
looked as if she had heard of so many murders.

“I can’t help feeling for a doll!” she said. “They used to be like
sisters to me. I feel as if they were wasted on children, that see no
character in them, and only call them Dolly.”

“I agree with you,” said Margaret. “If there had been no live dolls,
Richard and I should have reared our doll family as judiciously as
tenderly. There are treasures of carpentry still extant, that he made
for them.”

“Oh, I am so glad!” cried Meta, as if she had found another point of
union. “If I were to confess--there is a dear old Rose in the secret
recesses of my wardrobe. I could as soon throw away my sister--”

“Ha!” cried her brother, laying hold of the child, “here, little Daisy,
will you give your doll to Meta?”

“My name is Gertrude Margaret May,” said the little round mouth. The
fat arm was drawn back, with all a baby’s dignity, and the rosy face was
hidden in Dr. May’s breast, at the sound of George Rivers’s broad laugh
and “Well done, little one!”

Dr. May put his arm round her, turned aside from him, and began talking
to Meta about Mr. Rivers.

Flora and Norman made conversation for the brother; and he presently
asked Norman to go out shooting with him, but looked so amazed on
hearing that Norman was no sportsman that Flora tried to save the family
credit by mentioning Hector’s love of a gun, which caused their guest to
make a general tender of sporting privileges; “Though,” added he, with a
drawl, “shooting is rather a nuisance, especially alone.”

Meta told Ethel, a little apart, that he was so tired of going out
alone, that he had brought her here, in search of a companion.

“He comes in at eleven o’clock, poor fellow, quite tired with solitude,”
 said she, “and comes to me to be entertained.”

“Indeed,” exclaimed Ethel. “What can you do?”

“What I can,” said Meta, laughing. “Whatever is not ‘a horrid nuisance’
to him.”

“It would be a horrid nuisance to me,” said Ethel bluntly, “if my
brothers wanted me to amuse them all the morning.”

“Your brothers, oh!” said Meta, as if that were very different;
“besides, you have so much more to do. I am only too glad and grateful
when George will come to me at all. You see I have always been too young
to be his companion, or find out what suited him, and now he is so very
kind and good-natured to me.”

“But what becomes of your business?”

“I get time, one way or another. There is the evening, very often, when
I have sung both him and papa to sleep. I had two hours, all to myself,
yesterday night,” said Meta, with a look of congratulation, “and I had a
famous reading of Thirlwall’s ‘Greece.’”

“I should think that such evenings were as bad as the mornings.”

“Come, Ethel, don’t make me naughty. Large families, like yours, may
have merry, sociable evenings; but, I do assure you, ours are very
pleasant. We are so pleased to have George at home; and we really
hope that he is taking a fancy to the dear Grange. You can’t think how
delighted papa is to have him content to stay quietly with us so long. I
must call him to go back now, though, or papa will be kept waiting.”

When Ethel had watched the tall, ponderous brother help the bright fairy
sister to fly airily into her saddle, and her sparkling glance, and wave
of the hand, as she cantered off, contrasting with his slow bend,
and immobility of feature, she could not help saying that Meta’s life
certainly was not too charming, with her fanciful, valetudinarian
father, and that stupid, idealess brother.

“He is very amiable and good-natured,” interposed Norman.

“Ha! Norman, you are quite won by his invitation to shoot! How he
despised you for refusing--as much as you despised him.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Norman. “You fancy no sensible man likes
shooting, but you are all wrong. Some of our best men are capital
sportsmen. Why, there is Ogilvie--you know what he is. When I bring him
down here, you will see that there is no sort of sport that he is not
keen after.”

“This poor fellow will never be keen after anything,” said Dr. May. “I
pity him! Existence seems hard work to him!”

“We shall have baby calling him ‘the detestable’ next,” said Ethel.
“What a famous set down she gave him.”

“She is a thorough lady, and allows no liberties,” said Dr. May.

“Ah!” said Margaret, “it is a proof of what I want to impression you. We
really must leave off calling her Daisy when strangers are there.”

“It is so much nicer,” pleaded Mary.

“The very reason,” said Margaret, “fondling names should be kept for our
innermost selves, not spread abroad, and made common. I remember when I
used to be called Peg-top--and Flora, Flossy--we were never allowed to
use the names when any visitor was near; and we were asked if we could
not be as fond of each other by our proper names. I think it was felt
that there was a want of reserve in publishing our pet words to other
people.”

“Quite true,” said Dr. May; “baby-names never ought to go beyond home.
It is the fashion to use them now; and, besides the folly, it seems, to
me, an absolute injury to a girl, to let her grow up, with a nickname
attached to her.”

“Ay!” chimed in Norman, “I hear men talking of Henny, and Loo, and the
like; and you can’t think how glad I have been that my sisters could not
be known by any absurd word!”

“It is a case where self-respect would make others behave properly,”
 said Flora.

“True,” said Dr. May; “but if girls won’t keep up their own dignity,
their friends’ duty is to do it for them. The mischief is in the
intimate friends, who blazon the words to every one.”

“And then they call one formal, for trying to protect the right
name,” said Flora. “It is, one-half of it, silliness, and, the other,
affectation of intimacy.”

“Now, I know,” said Mary, “why you are so careful to call Meta Miss
Rivers, to all the people here.”

“I should hope so!” cried Norman indignantly.

“Why, yes, Mary,” said Margaret, “I should hope lady-like feelings would
prevent you from calling her Meta before--”

“The Andersons!” cried Ethel, laughing. “Margaret was just going to
say it. We only want Harry, to exact the forfeit! Poor dear little
humming-bird! It gives one an oppression on the chest, to think of her
having that great do-nothing brother on her hands all day.”

“Thank you,” said Norman, “I shall know where I am not to look when I
want a sister.”

“Ay,” said Ethel, “when you come yawning to me to find amusement for
you, you will see what I shall do!”

“Stand over me with a stick while I print A B C for Cocksmoor, I
suppose,” said Norman.

“Well! why not? People are much better doing something than nothing.”

“What, you won’t even let me blow bubbles!” said Norman.

“That is too intellectual, as papa makes it,” said Ethel. “By the bye,
Norman,” she added, as she had now walked with him a little apart, “it
always was a bubble of mine that you should try for the Newdigate prize.
Ha!” as the colour rushed into his cheeks, “you really have begun!”

“I could not help it, when I heard the subject given out for next year.
Our old friend, Decius Mus.”

“Have you finished?”

“By no means, but it brought a world of notions into my head, such as I
could not but set down. Now, Ethel, do oblige me, do write another, as
we used in old times.”

“I had better not,” said Ethel, standing thoughtful. “If I throw
myself into it, I shall hate everything else, and my wits will be
woolgathering. I have neither time nor poetry enough.”

“You used to write English verse.”

“I was cured of it.”

“How?”

“I wanted money for Cocksmoor, and after persuading papa, I got leave
to send a ballad about a little girl and a white rose to that school
magazine. I don’t think papa liked it, but there were some verses that
touched him, and one had seen worse. It was actually inserted, and I was
in high feather, till, oh, Norman! imagine Richard getting hold of this
unlucky thing, without a notion where it came from! Margaret put it
before him, to see what he would say to it.”

“I am afraid it was not like a young lady’s anonymous composition in a
story.”

“By no means. Imagine Ritchie picking my poor metaphors to pieces, and
weighing every sentimental line! And all in his dear old simplicity,
because he wanted to understand it, seeing that Margaret liked it. He
had not the least intention of hurting my feelings, but never was I
so annihilated! I thought he was doing it on purpose, till I saw how
distressed he was when he found it out; and worse than all was, his
saying at the end that he supposed it was very fine, but he could not
understand it.”

“Let me see it.”

“Some time or other; but let me see Decius.”

“Did you give up verses because Richard could not understand them?”

“No; because I had other fish to fry. And I have not given them up
altogether. I do scrabble down things that tease me by running in my
head, when I want to clear my brains, and know what I mean; but I
can’t do it without sitting up at night, and that stupefies me before
breakfast. And as to making bubbles of them, Ritchie has cured me of
that!”

“It is a pity!” said Norman.

“Nonsense, let me see Decius. I know he is splendid.”

“I wish you would have tried, for all my best ideas are stolen from
you.”

Ethel prevailed by following her brother to his room, and perching
herself on the window-sill, while he read his performance from many
slips of paper. The visions of those boyish days had not been forgotten,
the Vesuvius scenery was much as Ethel had once described it, but with
far more force and beauty; there was Decius’s impassioned address to the
beauteous land he was about to leave, and the remembrances of his Roman
hearth, his farm, his children, whom he quitted for the pale shadows of
an uncertain Elysium. There was a great hiatus in the middle, and Norman
had many more authorities to consult, but the summing-up was nearly
complete, and Ethel thought the last lines grand, as they spoke of the
noble consul’s name living for evermore, added to the examples that
nerve ardent souls to devote life, and all that is precious, to the call
of duty. Fame is not their object. She may crown their pale brows, but
for the good of others, not their own, a beacon light to the world. Self
is no object of theirs, and it is the casting self behind that wins--not
always the visible earthly strife, but the combat between good and evil.
They are the true victors, and, whether chronicled or forgotten, true
glory rests on their heads, the sole true glory that man can attain,
namely, the reflected beams that crown them as shadowy types of Him whom
Decius knew not--the Prince who gave Himself for His people, and thus
rendered death, for Truth’s sake, the highest boon to mortal man.

“Norman, you must finish it! When will it be given in?”

“Next spring, if at all, but keep the secret, Ethel. I cannot have my
father’s hopes raised.”

“I’ll tell you of a motto,” said Ethel. “Do you remember Mrs. Hemans’
mention of a saying of Sir Walter Scott--‘Never let me hear that brave
blood has been shed in vain. It sends a roaring voice down through all
time.’”

“If,” said Norman, rather ashamed of the enthusiasm which, almost
approaching to the so-called “funny state” of his younger days, had
trembled in his voice, and kindled his eye--“if you won’t let me put
‘nascitur ridiculus mus.’”

“Too obvious,” said Ethel. “Depend upon it, every undergraduate has
thought of it already.”

Ethel was always very happy over Norman’s secrets, and went about
smiling over Decius, and comparing her brother with such a one as poor
Meta was afflicted with; wasting some superfluous pity and contempt on
the weary weight that was inflicted on the Grange.

“What do you think of me?” said Margaret, one afternoon. “I have had Mr.
George Rivers here for two hours.”

“Alone! what could bring him here?”

“I told him that every one was out, but he chose to sit down, and seemed
to be waiting.”

“How could you get on?”

“Oh! we asked a few questions, and brought out remarks, with great
difficulty, at long intervals. He asked me if lying here was not a great
nuisance, and, at last, he grew tired of twisting his moustache, and
went away.”

“I trust it was a call to take leave.”

“No, he thinks he shall sell out, for the army is a great nuisance.”

“You seem to have got into his confidence.”

“Yes, he said he wanted to settle down, but living with one’s father was
such a nuisance.”

“By the bye,” cried Ethel, laughing, “Margaret, it strikes me that this
is a Dumbiedikes’ courtship!”

“Of yourself?” said Margaret slyly.

“No, of Flora. You know, she has often met him at the Grange and
other places, and she does contrive to amuse him, and make him almost
animated. I should not think he found her a great nuisance.”

“Poor man! I am sorry for him!” said Margaret.

“Oh! rejection will be very good for him, and give him something to
think of.”

“Flora will never let it come to that,” said Margaret. “But not one word
about it, Ethel!”

Margaret and Etheldred kept their eyes open, and sometimes imagined,
sometimes laughed at themselves for their speculations, and so October
began; and Ethel laughed, as she questioned whether the Grange would
feel the Hussar’s return to his quarters, as much as home would the
departure of their scholar for Balliol.



CHAPTER VI.



     So, Lady Flora, take my lay,
       And if you find a meaning there,
     Oh! whisper to your glass, and say,
       What wonder, if he thinks me fair.--Tennyson.


Flora and Norman were dining with one of their county acquaintance, and
Dr. May had undertaken to admit them on their return. The fire shone red
and bright, as it sank calmly away, and the timepiece and clock on the
stairs had begun their nightly duet of ticking, the crickets chirped in
the kitchen, and the doctor sat alone. His book lay with unturned pages,
as he sat musing, with eyes fixed on the fire, living over again his own
life, the easy bright days of his youth, when, without much pains on his
own part, the tendencies of his generous affectionate disposition,
and the influences of a warm friendship, and an early attachment, had
guarded him from evil--then the period when he had been perfectly happy,
and the sobering power of his position had been gradually working
on him; but though always religious and highly principled, the very
goodness of his natural character preventing him from perceiving the
need of self-control, until the shock that changed the whole tenor
of his life, and left him, for the first time, sensible of his own
responsibility, but with inveterate habits of heedlessness and hastiness
that love alone gave him force to combat. He was now a far gentler man.
His younger children had never seen, his elder had long since forgotten,
his occasional bursts of temper, but he suffered keenly from their
effects, especially as regarded some of his children. Though Richard’s
timidity had been overcome, and Tom’s more serious failures had been
remedied, he was not without anxiety, and had a strange unsatisfactory
feeling as regarded Flora. He could not feel that he fathomed her! She
reminded him of his old Scottish father-in-law, Professor Mackenzie,
whom he had never understood, nor, if the truth were known, liked. Her
dealings with the Ladies’ Committee were so like her grandfather’s canny
ways in a public meeting, that he laughed over them--but they were
not congenial to him. Flora was a most valuable person; all that she
undertook prospered, and he depended entirely on her for household
affairs, and for the care of Margaret; but, highly as he esteemed her,
he was a little afraid of her cool prudence; she never seemed to be
in any need of him, nor to place any confidence in him, and seemed
altogether so much older and wiser than he could feel himself--pretty
girl as she was--and very pretty were her fine blue eyes and clear skin,
set off by her dark brown hair. There arose the vision of eyes as blue,
skin as clear, but of light blonde locks, and shorter, rounder, more
dove-like form, open, simple, loving face, and serene expression, that
had gone straight to his heart, when he first saw Maggie Mackenzie
making tea.

He heard the wheels, and went out to unbolt the door. Those were a pair
for a father to be proud of--Norman, of fine stature and noble looks,
with his high brow, clear thoughtful eye, and grave intellectual eagle
face, lighting into animation with his rare, sweet smile; and Flora, so
tall and graceful, and in her white dress, picturesquely half concealed
by her mantle, with flowers in her hair, and a deepened colour in her
cheek, was a fair vision, as she came in from the darkness.

“Well! was it a pleasant party?”

Norman related the circumstances, while his sister remained silently
leaning against the mantel-piece, looking into the fire, until he took
up his candle, and bade them good-night. Dr. May was about to do the
same, when she held out her hand. “One moment, if you please, dear
papa,” she said; “I think you ought to know it.”

“What, my dear?”

“Mr. George Rivers, papa--”

“Ha!” said Dr. May, beginning to smile. “So that is what he is at, is
it? But what an opportunity to take.”

“It was in the conservatory,” said Flora, a little hurt, as her father
discovered by her tone. “The music was going on, and I don’t know that
there could have been--”

“A better opportunity, eh?” said Dr. May, laughing; “well, I should have
thought it awkward; was he very much discomposed?”

“I thought,” said Flora, looking down and hesitating, “that he had
better come to you.”

“Indeed! so you shifted the ungracious office to me. I am very glad to
spare you, my dear; but it was hard on him to raise his hopes.”

“I thought,” faltered Flora, “that you could not disapprove--”

“Flora--” and he paused, completely confounded, while his daughter was
no less surprised at the manner in which her news was received. Each
waited for the other to speak, and Flora turned away, resting her head
against the mantel-piece.

“Surely,” said he, laying his hand on her shoulder, “you do not mean
that you like this man?”

“I did not think that you would be against it,” said Flora, in a choked
voice, her face still averted.

“Heaven knows, I would not be against anything for your happiness, my
dear,” he answered; “but have you considered what it would be to spend
your life with a man that has not three ideas! not a resource for
occupying himself--a regular prey to ennui--one whom you could never
respect!” He had grown more and more vehement, and Flora put her
handkerchief to her eyes, for tears of actual disappointment were
flowing.

“Come, come,” he said, touched, but turning it off by a smile, “we will
not talk of it any more to-night. It is your first offer, and you are
flattered, but we know

             “‘Colours seen by candle-light,
              Will not bear the light of day.’

“There, good-night, Flora, my dear--we will have a-tete-a-tete in the
study before breakfast, when you have had time to look into your own
mind.”

He kissed her affectionately, and went upstairs with her, stopping at
her door to give her another embrace, and to say “Bless you, my dear
child, and help you to come to a right decision--”

Flora was disappointed. She had been too highly pleased at her conquest
to make any clear estimation of the prize, individually considered. Her
vanity magnified her achievement, and she had come home in a flutter of
pleasure, at having had such a position in society offered to her, and
expecting that her whole family would share her triumph. Gratified
by George Rivers’s admiration, she regarded him with favour and
complacency; and her habit of considering herself as the most sensible
person in her sphere made her so regard his appreciation of her, that
she was blinded to his inferiority. It must be allowed that he was less
dull with her than with most others.

And, in the midst of her glory, when she expected her father to be
delighted and grateful--to be received as a silly girl, ready to accept
any proposal, her lover spoken of with scorn, and the advantages of the
match utterly passed over, was almost beyond endurance. A physician,
with eleven children dependent on his practice, to despise an offer
from the heir of such a fortune! But that was his customary romance!
She forgave him, when it occurred to her that she was too important, and
valuable, to be easily spared; and a tenderness thrilled through her,
as she looked at the sleeping Margaret’s pale face, and thought of
surrendering her and little Daisy to Ethel’s keeping. And what would
become of the housekeeping? She decided, however, that feelings must not
sway her--out of six sisters some must marry, for the good of the rest.
Blanche and Daisy should come and stay with her, to be formed by the
best society; and, as to poor dear Ethel, Mrs. Rivers would rule the
Ladies’ Committee for her with a high hand, and, perhaps, provide
Cocksmoor with a school at her sole expense. What a useful, admirable
woman she would be! The doctor would be the person to come to his senses
in the morning, when he remembered Abbotstoke, Mr. Rivers, and Meta.

So Flora met her father, the next morning, with all her ordinary
composure, in which he could not rival her, after his sleepless, anxious
night. His looks of affectionate solicitude disconcerted what she had
intended to say, and she waited, with downcast eyes, for him to begin.

“Well, Flora,” he said at last, “have you thought?”

“Do you know any cause against it?” said Flora, still looking down.

“I know almost nothing of him. I have never heard anything of his
character or conduct. Those would be a subject of inquiry, if you wish
to carry this on--”

“I see you are averse,” said Flora. “I would do nothing against your
wishes--”

“My wishes have nothing to do with it,” said Dr. May. “The point
is--that I must do right, as far as I can, as well as try to secure your
happiness; and I want to be sure that you know what you are about.”

“I know he is not clever,” said Flora; “but there may be many solid
qualities without talent.”

“I am the last person to deny it; but where are these solid qualities? I
cannot see the recommendation!”

“I place myself in your hands,” said Flora, in a submissive tone, which
had the effect of making him lose patience.

“Flora, Flora! why will you talk as if I were sacrificing you to some
dislike or prejudice of my own! Don’t you think I should only rejoice
to have such a prosperous home offered to you, if only the man were
worthy?”

“If you do not think him so, of course there is an end of it,” said
Flora, and her voice showed suppressed emotion.

“It is not what I think, in the absence of proof, but what you think,
Flora. What I want you to do is this--to consider the matter fairly.
Compare him with--I’ll not say with Norman--but with Richard, Alan, Mr.
Wilmot. Do you think you could rely on him--come to him for advice?”
 (Flora never did come to any one for advice.) “Above all--do you think
him likely to be a help, or a hindrance, in doing right?”

“I think you underrate him,” said Flora steadily; “but, of course, if
you dislike it--though, I think, you would change your mind if you knew
him better--”

“Well,” he said, as if to himself, “it is not always the most worthy;”
 then continued, “I have no dislike to him. Perhaps I may find that you
are right. Since your mind is made up, I will do this: first, we must be
assured of his father’s consent, for they may very fairly object, since
what I can give you is a mere nothing to them. Next, I shall find out
what character he bears in his regiment, and watch him well myself; and,
if nothing appear seriously amiss, I will not withhold my consent. But,
Flora, you should still consider whether he shows such principle and
right feeling as you can trust to.”

“Thank you, papa. I know you will do all that is kind.”

“Mind, you must not consider it an engagement, unless all be
satisfactory.”

“I will do as you please.”

Ethel perceived that something was in agitation, but the fact did not
break upon her till she came to Margaret, after the schoolroom reading,
and heard Dr. May declaiming away in the vehement manner that always
relieved him.

“Such a cub!” These were the words that met her ear; and she would have
gone away, but he called her. “Come in, Ethel; Margaret says you guessed
at this affair!”

“At what affair!” exclaimed Ethel. “Oh, it is about Flora. Poor man; has
he done it?”

“Poor! He is not the one to be pitied!” said her father.

“You don’t mean that she likes him?”

“She does though! A fellow with no more brains than a turnip lantern!”

“She does not mean it?” said Ethel.

“Yes, she does! Very submissive, and proper spoken, of course, but bent
on having him; so there is nothing left for me but to consent--provided
Mr. Rivers does, and he should turn out not to have done anything
outrageous; but there’s no hope of that--he has not the energy. What can
possess her? What can she see to admire?”

“He is good-natured,” said Margaret, “and rather good-looking--”

“Flora has more sense. What on earth can be the attraction?”

“I am afraid it is partly the grandeur--” said Ethel. She broke off
short, quite dismayed at the emotion she had excited. Dr. May stepped
towards her, almost as if he could have shaken her.

“Ethel,” he cried, “I won’t have such motives ascribed to your sister!”

Ethel tried to recollect what she had said that was so shocking, for the
idea of Flora’s worldly motives was no novelty to her. They had appeared
in too many instances; and, though frightened at his anger, she stood
still, without unsaying her words.

Margaret began to explain away. “Ethel did not mean, dear papa--”

“No,” said Dr. May, his passionate manner giving way to dejection. “The
truth is, that I have made home so dreary, that my girls are ready to
take the first means of escaping.”

Poor Margaret’s tears sprang forth, and, looking up imploringly, she
exclaimed, “Oh, papa, papa! it was no want of happiness! I could not
help it. You know he had come before--”

Any reproach to her had been entirely remote from his thoughts, and he
was at once on his knee beside her, soothing and caressing, begging
her pardon, and recalling whatever she could thus have interpreted.
Meanwhile, Ethel stood unnoticed and silent, making no outward
protestation, but with lips compressed, as in her heart of hearts she
passed the resolution--that her father should never feel this pain on
her account. Leave him who might, she would never forsake him;
nothing but the will of Heaven should part them. It might be hasty and
venturesome. She knew not what it might cost her; but, where Ethel had
treasured her resolve to work for Cocksmoor, there she also laid up her
secret vow--that no earthly object should be placed between her and her
father.

The ebullition of feeling seemed to have restored Dr. May’s calmness,
and he rose, saying, “I must go to my work; the man is coming here this
afternoon.”

“Where shall you see him?” Margaret asked.

“In my study, I suppose. I fear there is no chance of Flora’s changing
her mind first. Or do you think one of you could talk to her, and get
her fairly to contemplate the real bearings of the matter?” And, with
these words, he left the room.

Margaret and Ethel glanced at each other; and both felt the
impenetrability of Flora’s nature, so smooth, that all thrusts glided
off.

“It will be of no use,” said Ethel; “and, what is more, she will not
have it done.”

“Pray try; a few of your forcible words would set it in a new light.”

“Why! Do you think she will attend to me, when she has not chosen to
heed papa?” said Ethel, with an emphasis of incredulity. “No; whatever
Flora does, is done deliberately, and unalterably.”

“Still, I don’t know whether it is not our duty,” said Margaret.

“More yours than mine,” said Ethel.

Margaret flushed up. “Oh, no, I cannot!” she said, always timid, and
slightly defective in moral courage. She looked so nervous and shaken by
the bare idea of a remonstrance with Flora, that Ethel could not press
her; and, though convinced that her representation would be useless, she
owned that her conscience would rest better after she had spoken. “But
there is Flora, walking in the garden with Norman,” she said. “No doubt
he is doing it.”

So Ethel let it rest, and attended to the children’s lessons, during
which Flora came into the drawing-room, and practised her music, as if
nothing had happened.

Before the morning was over, Ethel contrived to visit Norman in the
dining-room, where he was wont to study, and asked him whether he had
made any impression on Flora.

“What impression do you mean?”

“Why, about this concern,” said Ethel; “this terrible man, that makes
papa so unhappy.”

“Papa unhappy! Why, what does he know against him? I thought the
Riverses were his peculiar pets.”

“The Riverses! As if, because one liked the sparkling stream, one must
like a muddy ditch.”

“What harm do you know of him?” said Norman, with much surprise and
anxiety, as if he feared that he had been doing wrong, in ignorance.

“Harm! Is he not a regular oaf?”

“My dear Ethel, if you wait to marry till you find some one as clever as
yourself, you will wait long enough.”

“I don’t think it right for a woman to marry a man decidedly her
inferior.”

“We have all learned to think much too highly of talent,” said Norman
gravely.

“I don’t care for mere talent--people are generally more sensible
without it; but, one way or other, there ought to be superiority on the
man’s side.”

“Well, who says there is not?”

“My dear Norman! Why, this George Rivers is really below the average!
you cannot deny that! Did you ever meet any one so stupid?”

“Really!” said Norman, considering; and, speaking very innocently, “I
cannot see why you think so. I do not see that he is at all less capable
of sustaining a conversation than Richard.”

Ethel sat down, perfectly breathless with amazement and indignation.

Norman saw that he had shocked her very much. “I do not mean,” he said,
“that we have not much more to say to Richard; all I meant to say was,
merely as to the intellect.”

“I tell you,” said Ethel, “it is not the intellect. Richard! why, you
know how we respect, and look up to him. Dear old Ritchie! with his
goodness, and earnestness, and right judgment--to compare him to that
man! Norman, Norman, I never thought it of you!”

“You do not understand me, Ethel. I only cited Richard, as a person who
proves how little cleverness is needed to insure respect.”

“And, I tell you, that cleverness is not the point.”

“It is the only objection you have put forward.”

“I did wrong,” said Ethel. “It is not the real one. It is earnest
goodness that one honours in Richard. Where do we find it in this man,
who has never done anything but yawn over his self indulgence?”

“Now, Ethel, you are working yourself up into a state of foolish
prejudice. You and papa have taken a dislike to him; and you are
overlooking a great deal of good safe sense and right thinking. I
know his opinions are sound, and his motives right. He has been
undereducated, we all see, and is not very brilliant or talkative; but I
respect Flora for perceiving his solid qualities.”

“Very solid and weighty, indeed!” said Ethel ironically. “I wonder if
she would have seen them in a poor curate.”

“Ethel, you are allowing yourself to be carried, by prejudice, a
great deal too far. Are such imputations to be made, wherever there is
inequality of means? It is very wrong! very unjust!”

“So papa said,” replied Ethel, as she looked sorrowfully down. “He was
very angry with me for saying so. I wish I could help feeling as if that
were the temptation.”

“You ought,” said Norman. “You will be sorry, if you set yourself, and
him, against it.”

“I only wish you to know what I feel; and, I think, Margaret and papa
do,” said Ethel humbly; “and then you will not think us more unjust than
we are. We cannot see anything so agreeable or suitable in this man as
to account for Flora’s liking, and we do not feel convinced of his being
good for much. That makes papa greatly averse to it, though he does not
know any positive reason for refusing; and we cannot feel certain that
she is doing quite right, or for her own happiness.”

“You will be convinced,” said Norman cheerfully. “You will find out the
good that is under the surface when you have seen more of him. I have
had a good deal of talk with him.”

A good deal of talk to him would have been more correct, if Norman
had but been aware of it. He had been at the chief expense of the
conversation with George Rivers, and had taken the sounds of assent,
which he obtained, as evidences of his appreciation of all his views.
Norman had been struggling so long against his old habit of looking down
on Richard, and exalting intellect; and had seen, in his Oxford life, so
many ill-effects of the knowledge that puffeth up, that he had come
to have a certain respect for dullness, per se, of which George Rivers
easily reaped the benefit, when surrounded by the halo, which everything
at Abbotstoke Grange bore in the eyes of Norman.

He was heartily delighted at the proposed connection, and his genuine
satisfaction not only gratified Flora, and restored the equanimity that
had been slightly disturbed by her father, but it also reassured Ethel
and Margaret, who could not help trusting in his judgment, and began to
hope that George might be all he thought him.

Ethel, finding that there were two ways of viewing the gentleman,
doubted whether she ought to express her opinion. It was Flora’s
disposition, and the advantages of the match, that weighed most upon
her, and, in spite of her surmise having been treated as so injurious,
she could not rid herself of the burden.

Dr. May was not so much consoled by Norman’s opinion as Ethel expected.
The corners of his mouth curled up a little with diversion, and though
he tried to express himself glad, and confident in his son’s judgment,
there was the same sort of involuntary lurking misgiving with which he
had accepted Sir Matthew Fleet’s view of Margaret’s case.

There was no danger that Dr. May would not be kind and courteous to the
young man himself. It was not his fault if he were a dunce, and Dr. May
perceived that his love for Flora was real, though clumsily expressed.
He explained that he could not sanction the engagement till he should
be better informed of the young gentleman’s antecedents; this was, as
George expressed it, a great nuisance, but his father agreed that it
was quite right, in some doubt, perhaps, as to how Dr. May might be
satisfied.



CHAPTER VII.



     Ye cumbrous fashions, crowd not on my head.
     Mine be the chip of purest white,
     Swan-like; and, as her feathers light,
     When on the still wave spread;
     And let it wear the graceful dress
     Of unadorned simpleness.
                            Catherine Fanshaw’s ‘Parody on Grey’.


Nothing transpired to the discredit of Lieutenant Rivers. He had spent a
great deal of money, but chiefly for want of something else to do,
and, though he was not a subject for high praise, there was no vice
in him--no more than in an old donkey--as Dr. May declared, in his
concluding paroxysm of despair, on finding that, though there was little
to reconcile him to the engagement, there was no reasonable ground for
thwarting his daughter’s wishes. He argued the matter once more with
her, and, finding her purpose fixed, he notified his consent, and the
rest of the family were admitted to a knowledge of the secret which they
had never suspected.

Etheldred could not help being gratified with the indignation it
excited. With one voice, Mary and Blanche declared that they would
never give up the title of “the detestable,” and would not make him
any presents; certainly not watch-chains! Miss Bracy, rather alarmed,
lectured them just enough to make them worse; and Margaret, overhearing
Blanche instructing Aubrey in her own impertinences, was obliged to call
her to her sofa, and assure her that she was unkind to Flora, and that
she must consider Mr. George Rivers as her brother.

“Never my brother like Harry!” exclaimed Mary indignantly.

“No, indeed; nor like Alan!” exclaimed Blanche. “And I won’t call him
George, I am determined, if it is ever so!”

“It will not matter to him what such little girls call him,” said
Margaret.

Blanche was so annihilated, that the sound of a carriage, and of the
door bell, was a great satisfaction to her.

Meta Rivers came flying into the room, her beautiful eyes dancing,
and her cheeks glowing with pleasure, as, a little timidly, she kissed
Margaret; while Ethel, in a confused way, received Mr. Rivers, in
pain for her own cold, abrupt manner, in contrast with his gentle,
congratulating politeness.

Meta asked, blushing, and with a hesitating voice, for their dear Flora;
Mary offered to call her, but Meta begged to go herself, and thus was
spared the awkwardness that ensued. Ethel was almost vexed with herself,
as ungrateful, when she saw Mr. Rivers so mildly kind, and so delighted,
with the bland courtesy that seemed fully conscious of the favour that
Flora had conferred on his son, and thankful to the Mays for accepting
him.

Margaret answered with more expression of gratification than would have
been sincere in Ethel; but it was a relief when Flora and Meta came in
together, as pretty a contrast as could be seen; the little dark-eyed
fairy, all radiant with joy, clinging to the slender waist of Flora,
whose quiet grace and maidenly dignity were never more conspicuous than
as, with a soft red mantling in her fair cheek, her eyes cast down, but
with a simple, unaffected warmth of confidence and gratitude, she came
forward to receive Mr. Rivers’s caressing affectionate greeting.

Stiffness was over when she came in, and Dr. May, who presently made his
appearance, soon was much more at his ease than could have been hoped,
after his previous declarations that he should never be able to be
moderately civil about it to Mr. Rivers. People of ready sympathy, such
as Dr. May and Margaret, have a great deal of difficulty with their
sincerity spared them, by being carried along with the feelings of
others. Ethel could not feel the same, and was bent on avoiding any
expression of opinion; she hoped that Meta’s ecstasies would all be
bestowed upon her future sister-in-law; but Meta was eager for an
interview with Ethel herself, and, as usual, gained her point.

“Now then, you are property of my own!” she cried. “May I not take you
all for sisters?”

Ethel had not thought of this as a convenience of the connection, and
she let Meta kiss her, and owned that it was very nice.

“Ethel,” said Meta, “I see, and I wanted to talk to you. You don’t think
poor George good enough for Flora.”

“I never meant to show it,” said Ethel.

“You need not mind,” said Meta, smiling. “I was very much surprised
myself, and thought it all a mistake. But I am so very glad, for I know
it will make such a difference to him, poor fellow. I should like to
tell you all about him, for no one else can very well, and you will like
him better, perhaps. You know my grandfather made his own fortune, and
you would think some of our relations very queer. My Aunt Dorothy once
told me all about it--papa was made to marry the partner’s daughter, and
I fancy she could not have been much of a lady. I don’t think he could
have been very happy with her, but she soon died, and left him with this
one son, whom those odd old aunts brought up their own way. By and by,
you know, papa came to be in quite another line of society, but when he
married again, poor George had been so spoiled by these aunts, and was
so big, and old, that my mother did not know what to make of him.”

“A great lubberly boy,” Ethel said, rather repenting the next moment.

“He is thirteen years older than I am,” said Meta, “and you see it has
been hard on him altogether; he had not the education that papa would
have given him if he had been born later: and he can’t remember his
mother, and has always been at a loss when with clever people. I never
understood it till within the last two or three years, nor knew
how trying it must be to see such a little chit as me made so much
of--almost thrusting him aside. But you cannot think what a warm-hearted
good fellow he is--he has never been otherwise than so very kind to
me, and he was so very fond of his old aunt. Hitherto, he has had such
disadvantages, and no real, sensible woman has taken him in hand; he
does not care for papa’s tastes, and I am so much younger, that I never
could get on with him at all, till this time; but I do know that he has
a real good temper, and all sorts of good qualities, and that he only
needs to be led right, to go right. Oh! Flora may make anything of him,
and we are so thankful to her for having found it out!”

“Thank you for telling me,” said Ethel. “It is much more satisfactory to
have no shamming.”

Meta laughed, for Ethel’s sham was not too successful; she continued,
“Dear Dr. May, I thought he would think his beautiful Flora not exactly
matched--but tell him, Ethel, for if he once is sorry for poor George,
he will like him. And it will really be the making of George, to be
thrown with him and your brothers. Oh! we are so glad! But I won’t tease
you to be so.”

“I can like it better now,” said Ethel. “You know Norman thinks very
highly of your brother, and declares that it will all come out by and
by.”

Meta clapped her hands, and said that she should tell her father, and
Ethel parted with her, liking her, at least, better than ever. There
was a comical scene between her and the doctor, trying to define what
relations they should become to each other, which Ethel thought did a
good deal to mollify her father.

The history of George’s life did more; he took to pitying him, and pity
was, indeed, akin to love in the good doctor’s mind. In fact, George
was a man who could be liked, when once regarded as a belonging--a
necessity, not a choice; for it was quite true that there was no harm in
him, and a great deal of good nature. His constant kindness, and evident
liking for Margaret, stood him in good stead; he made her a sort of
confidante, bestowing on her his immeasurable appreciation of Flora’s
perfections, and telling her how well he was getting on with “the old
gentleman”--a name under which she failed to recognise her father.

As to Tom, he wrote his congratulations to Ethel, that she might make
a wedding present of her Etruscan vases, the Cupids on which must have
been put there by anticipation. Richard heard none of the doubts,
and gave kind, warm congratulations, promising to return home for
the wedding; and Mary and Blanche no sooner heard a whisper about
bride’s-maids than all their opposition faded away, in a manner that
quite scandalised Ethel, while it set Margaret on reminiscences of
her having been a six-year-old bride’s-maid to Flora’s godmother, Mrs.
Arnott.

As to the gossip in the town, Ethel quite dreaded the sight of every one
without Flora to protect her, and certainly, Flora’s unaffected, quiet
manner was perfection, and kept off all too forward congratulations,
while it gratified those whom she was willing to encourage.

There was no reason for waiting, and Mr. Rivers was as impatient as his
son, so an understanding arose that the wedding, should take place near
the end of the Christmas holidays.

Flora showed herself sensible and considerate. Always open-handed, her
father was inclined to do everything liberally, and laid no restrictions
on her preparations, but she had too much discretion to be profuse, and
had a real regard for the welfare of the rest. She laughed with Ethel at
the anticipations of the Stoneborough ladies that she must be going
to London, and, at the requests, as a great favour, that they might be
allowed the sight of her trousseau. Her wedding-dress, white silk,
with a white cashmere mantle, was, indeed, ordered from Meta’s London
dressmaker; but, for the rest, she contented herself with an expedition
to Whitford, accompanied by Miss Bracy and her two enchanted pupils,
and there laid in a stock of purchases, unpretending and in good
taste, aiming only at what could be well done, and not attempting the
decorative wardrobe of a great lady. Ethel was highly amused when
the Misses Anderson came for their inspection, to see their concealed
disappointment at finding no under garments trimmed with Brussels lace,
nor pocket-handkerchiefs all open-work, except a centre of the size of
a crown-piece, and the only thing remarkable was Margaret’s beautiful
marking in embroidery. There was some compensation in the costly wedding
presents--Flora had reaped a whole harvest from friends of her own,
grateful patients of her father, and the whole Rivers and Langdale
connection; but, in spite of the brilliant uselessness of most of these,
the young ladies considered themselves ill-used, thought Dr. May never
would have been shabby, and were of opinion that when Miss Ward had
married her father’s surgical pupil, her outfit had been a far more
edifying spectacle.

The same moderation influenced Flora’s other arrangements. Dr. May was
resigned to whatever might be thought most proper, stipulating only
that he should not have to make a speech; but Flora felt that, in their
house, a grand breakfast would be an unsuccessful and melancholy affair.
If the bride had been any one else, she could have enjoyed making all
go off well, but, under present circumstances, it would be great pain to
her father and Margaret, a misery to Ethel, and something she dared not
think of to the guests. She had no difficulty in having it dispensed
with. George was glad to avoid “a great nuisance.” Mr. Rivers feared the
fatigue, and, with his daughter, admired Flora for her amiability, and,
as to the home party, no words could express their gratitude to her for
letting them off. Mary and Blanche did, indeed, look rather blank, but
Blanche was consoled, by settling with Hector the splendours in store
for Alan and Margaret, and Mary cared the less, as there would be no
Harry to enjoy the fun.

The bride-maiden’s glory was theirs by right, though Ethel was an
unsatisfactory chief for such as desired splendour. She protested
against anything incongruous with January, or that could not be useful
afterwards, and Meta took her part, laughing at the cruel stroke they
were preparing for Bellairs. Ethel begged for dark silks and straw
bonnets, and Flora said that she had expected to hear of brown stuff
and gray duffle, but owned that they had better omit the ordinary muslin
garb in the heart of winter. The baby bride’s-maid was, at last, the
chief consideration. Margaret suggested how pretty she and Blanche would
look in sky-blue merino, trimmed with swan’s-down. Meta was charmed with
the idea, and though Ethel stuck out her shoulder-blades and poked
out her head, and said she should look like the ugly duckling, she was
clamorously reminded that the ugly duckling ended by being a swan,
and promised that she should be allowed a bonnet of a reasonable size,
trimmed with white, for Mr. Rivers’s good taste could endure, as little
as Dr. May’s sense of propriety, the sight of a daughter without shade
to her face, Ethel, finally, gave in, on being put in mind that her papa
had a penchant for swan’s-down, and on Margaret’s promising to wear a
dress of the same as theirs.

Ethel was pleased and satisfied by Flora’s dislike of parade, and
attention to the feelings of all. Passing over the one great fact,
the two sisters were more of one mind than usual, probably because all
latent jealousy of Ethel had ceased in Flora’s mind. Hitherto, she had
preferred the being the only practically useful person in the family,
and had encouraged the idea of Ethel’s gaucherie but now she desired to
render her sister able to take her place, and did all in her power to
put her in good heart.

For Etheldred was terrified at the prospect of becoming responsible
housekeeper. Margaret could only serve as an occasional reference. Her
morning powers became too uncertain to be depended on for any regular,
necessary duty, and it would have oppressed her so much to order the
dinners, which she never saw, that, though she offered to resume the
office, Flora would not hear of Ethel’s consenting. If it were her
proper business, Ethel supposed she could do it, but another hour of her
leisure was gone, and what would become of them all, with her, a proverb
for heedlessness, and ignorance of ordinary details. She did not know
that these were more proverbial than actual, and, having a bad name, she
believed in it herself. However, Flora made it her business to persuade
her that her powers were as good for household matters, as for books, or
Cocksmoor; instructed her in her own methodical plans, and made her
keep house for a fortnight, with so much success that she began to be
hopeful.

In the attendance on Margaret, the other great charge, old nurse was
the security; and Ethel, who had felt her self much less unhandy
than before, was, to succeed to the abode, in her room--Blanche
being promoted from the nursery to the old attic. “And,” said Flora
consolingly, “if dear Margaret ever should be ill, you may reckon on
me.”

Miss Flora May made her last appearance at the Ladies’ Committee to hear
the reply from the principal of the college. It was a civil letter,
but declined taking any steps in the matter without more certain
intelligence of the wishes of the incumbent of the parish or of the
holders of the land in question.

The ladies abused all colleges--as prejudiced old Bodies, and feared
that it would be impossible to ask Mrs. Perkinson’s niece to take the
school while there was neither room nor lodging. So Miss Rich recorded
the correspondence, and the vote of censure, by which it was to be hoped
the Ladies’ Committee of Market Stoneborough inflicted a severe blow on
the principal and fellows of M---- College.

“Never mind, Ethel,” said Flora. “I shall meet Sir Henry Walkinghame in
London, and will talk to him. We shall yet astonish the muses. If we can
get the land without them, we shall be able to manage it our own way,
without obligations.”

“You forget the money!”

“We will keep them from dissipating it--or that might be no harm! A
hundred pounds will be easily found, and we should then have it in our
own hands. Besides, you know, I don’t mean to give up. I shall write a
polite note to Mrs. Ledwich, begging to subscribe on my own account, and
to retain my seat! and you will see what we shall do.”

“You mean to come down with the external authority,” said Ethel,
smiling.

“True! and though my driving in with a pair of horses may make little
difference to you, Ethel, depend upon it, Mrs. Ledwich will be the more
amenable. Whenever I want to be particularly impressive, I shall bring
in that smelling-bottle, with the diamond stopper that won’t come out,
and you will find that carries all before it.”

“A talisman!” said Ethel, laughing. “But I had rather they yielded to a
sense of right!”

“So had I,” said Flora. “Perhaps you will rule them that way?”

“Not I!” cried Ethel, terrified.

“Then you must come to me, and secondary motives. Seriously--I do mean
that George should do something for Stoneborough; and, in a position of
influence, I hope to be able to be useful to my poor old town. Perhaps
we shall have the minster restored.”

Flora did wish it. She did love Stoneborough, and was sincerely
interested for Cocksmoor. She thought she worked earnestly for them,
and that her situation would be turned to their profit; but there was
something for which she worked more earnestly. Had Flora never heard of
the two masters whom we cannot serve at the same time?

Richard came home for “a parson’s week,” so as to include the wedding.
He looked very fresh and youthful; but his manner, though still gentle
and retiring, had lost all that shrinking diffidence, and had, now, a
very suitable grave composure. Everybody was delighted to have him;
and Ethel, more than any one, except Margaret. What floods of Cocksmoor
histories were poured upon him; and what comparing of notes about his
present school-children! He could not enter into the refinements of her
dread of the La