The Daisy Chain, or Aspirations
by Charlotte Yonge
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
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 disappoint- ment, and when she was out of hearing, she whispered, "Oh! lucky baby, to have so many years to come before you are plagued with troublesome propriety!"
Then depositing her little charge with the nurse, and trying to cheer up a solemn-looking boy of three, who evidently considered his deposition from babyhood as a great injury, she tripped lightly down again, to take part in the Saturday's reading and catechising.
It was pleasant to see that large family in the hush and reverence of such teaching, the mother's gentle power preventing the outbreaks of restlessness to which even at such times the wild young spirits were liable. Margaret and Miss Winter especially rejoiced in it on this occasion, the first since the birth of the baby, that she had been able to preside. Under her, though seemingly without her taking any trouble, there was none of the smothered laughing at the little mistakes, the fidgeting of the boys, or Harry's audacious impertinence to Miss Winter; and no less glad was Harry to have his mother there, and be guarded from himself.
The Catechism was repeated, and a comment on the Sunday Services read aloud. The Gospel was that on the taking the lowest place, and when they had finished, Ethel said, "I like the verse which explains that:
"They who now sit lowest here, When their Master shall appear, He shall bid them higher rise, And be highest in the skies."
"I did not think of that being the meaning of 'when He that bade thee cometh,'" said Norman thoughtfully.
"It seemed to be only our worldly advantage that was meant before," said Ethel.
"Well, it means that too," said Flora.
"I suppose it does," said Mrs. May; "but the higher sense is the one chiefly to be dwelt on. It is a lesson how those least known and regarded here, and humblest in their own eyes, shall be the highest hereafter."
And Margaret looked earnestly at her mother, but did not speak.
"May we go, mamma?" said Mary.
"Yes, you three—all of you, indeed, unless you wish to say any more."
The "boys" availed themselves of the permission. Norman tarried to put his books into a neat leather case, and Ethel stood thinking. "It means altogether—it is a lesson against ambition," said she.
"True," said her mother, "the love of eminence for its own sake."
"And in so many different ways!" said Margaret.
"Ay, worldly greatness, riches, rank, beauty," said Flora.
"All sorts of false flash and nonsense, and liking to be higher than one ought to be," said Norman. "I am sure there is nothing lower, or more mean and shabby, than getting places and praise a fellow does not deserve."
"Oh, yes!" cried Ethel, "but no one fit to speak to would do that!"
"Plenty of people do, I can tell you," said Norman.
"Then I hope I shall never know who they are!" exclaimed Ethel. "But I'll tell you what I was thinking of, mamma. Caring to be clever, and get on, only for the sake of beating people."
"I think that might be better expressed."
"I know," said Ethel, bending her brow, with the fullness of her thought—"I mean caring to do a thing only because nobody else can do it—wanting to be first more than wanting to do one's best."
"You are quite right, my dear Ethel," said her mother; "and I am glad you have found in the Gospel a practical lesson, that should be useful to you both. I had rather you did so than that you read it in Greek, though that is very nice too," she added, smiling, as she put her hand on a little Greek Testament, in which Ethel had been reading it, within her English Bible. "Now, go and mend that deplorable frock, and if you don't dream over it, you won't waste too much of your holiday."
"I'll get it done in no time!" cried Ethel, rushing headlong upstairs, twice tripping in it before she reached the attic, where she slept, as well as Flora and Mary—a large room in the roof, the windows gay with bird-cages and flowers, a canary singing loud enough to deafen any one but girls to whom headaches were unknown, plenty of books and treasures, and a very fine view, from the dormer window, of the town sloping downwards, and the river winding away, with some heathy hills in the distance. Poking and peering about with her short-sighted eyes, Ethel lighted on a work-basket in rare disorder, pulled off her frock, threw on a shawl, and sat down cross-legged on her bed, stitching vigorously, while meantime she spouted with great emphasis an ode of Horace, which Norman having learned by heart, she had followed his example; it being her great desire to be even with him in all his studies, and though eleven months younger, she had never yet fallen behind him. On Saturday, he showed her what were his tasks for the week, and as soon as her rent was repaired, she swung herself downstairs in search of him for this purpose. She found him in the drawing-room, a pretty, pleasant room—its only fault that it was rather too low. It had windows opening down to the lawn, and was full of pretty things, works and knick-knacks. Ethel found the state of affairs unfavourable to her. Norman was intent on a book on the sofa, and at the table sat Mr. Ernescliffe, hard at work with calculations and mathematical instruments. Ethel would not for the world that any one should guess at her classical studies—she scarcely liked to believe that even her father knew of them, and to mention them before Mr. Ernescliffe would have been dreadful. So she only shoved Norman, and asked him to come.
"Presently," he said.
"What have you here?" said she, poking her head into the book. "Oh! no wonder you can't leave off. I've been wanting you to read it all the week."
She read over him a few minutes, then recoiled: "I forgot, mamma told me not to read those stories in the morning. Only five minutes, Norman."
"Wait a bit, I'll come."
She fidgeted, till Mr. Ernescliffe asked Norman if there was a table of logarithms in the house.
"Oh, yes," she answered; "don't you know, Norman? In a brown book on the upper shelf in the dining-room. Don't you remember papa's telling us the meaning of them, when we had the grand book-dusting?"
He was conscious of nothing but his book; however, she found the logarithms, and brought them to Mr. Ernescliffe, staying to look at his drawing, and asking what he was making out. He replied, smiling at the impossibility of her understanding, but she wrinkled her brown forehead, hooked her long nose, and spent the next hour in amateur navigation.
Market Stoneborough was a fine old town. The Minster, grand with the architecture of the time of Henry III., stood beside a broad river, and round it were the buildings of a convent, made by a certain good Bishop Whichcote, the nucleus of a grammar school, which had survived the Reformation, and trained up many good scholars; among them, one of England's princely merchants, Nicholas Randall, whose effigy knelt in a niche in the chancel wall, scarlet-cloaked, white-ruffed, and black doubletted, a desk bearing an open Bible before him, and a twisted pillar of Derbyshire spar on each side. He was the founder of thirteen almshouses, and had endowed two scholarships at Oxford, the object of ambition of the Stoneborough boys, every eighteen months.
There were about sixty or seventy boarders, and the town boys slept at home, and spent their weekly holiday there on Saturday—the happiest day in the week to the May family, when alone, they had the company at dinner of Norman and Harry, otherwise known by their school names of June and July, given them because their elder brother had begun the series of months as May.
Some two hundred years back, a Dr. Thomas May had been headmaster, but ever since that time there had always been an M. D., not a D. D., in the family, owning a comfortable demesne of spacious garden, and field enough for two cows, still green and intact, among modern buildings and improvements.
The present Dr. May stood very high in his profession, and might soon have made a large fortune in London, had he not held fast to his home attachments. He was extremely skilful and clever, with a boyish character that seemed as if it could never grow older; ardent, sensitive, and heedless, with a quickness of sympathy and tenderness of heart that was increased, rather than blunted, by exercise in scenes of suffering.
At the end of the previous summer holidays, Dr. May had been called one morning to attend a gentleman who had been taken very ill, at the Swan Inn.
He was received by a little boy of ten years old, in much grief, explaining that his brother had come two days ago from London, to bring him to school here; he had seemed unwell ever since they met, and last night had become much worse. And extremely ill the doctor found him; a youth of two or three and twenty, suffering under a severe attack of fever, oppressed, and scarcely conscious, so as quite to justify his little brother's apprehensions. He advised the boy to write to his family, but was answered by a look that went to his heart—"Alan" was all he had in the world—father and mother were dead, and their relations lived in Scotland, and were hardly known to them.
"Where have you been living, then?"
"Alan sent me to school at Miss Lawler's when my mother died, and there I have been ever since, while he has been these three years and a half on the African station."
"What, is he in the navy?"
"Yes," said the boy proudly, "Lieutenant Ernescliffe. He got his promotion last week. My father was in the battle of Trafalgar; and Alan has been three years in the West Indies, and then he was in the Mediterranean, and now on the coast of Africa, in the Atalantis. You must have heard about him, for it was in the newspaper, how, when he was mate, he had the command of the Santa Isabel, the slaver they captured."
The boy would have gone on for ever, if Dr. May had not recalled him to his brother's present condition, and proceeded to take every measure for the welfare and comfort of the forlorn pair. He learned from other sources that the Ernescliffes were well connected. The father had been a distinguished officer, but had been ill able to provide for his sons; indeed, he died, without ever having seen little Hector, who was born during his absence on a voyage—his last, and Alan's first. Alan, the elder by thirteen years, had been like a father to the little boy, showing judgment and self-denial that marked him of a high cast of character. He had distinguished himself in encounters with slave ships, and in command of a prize that he had had to conduct to Sierra Leone, he had shown great coolness and seamanship, in several perilous conjunctures, such as a sudden storm, and an encounter with another slaver, when his Portuguese prisoners became mutinous, and nothing but his steadiness and intrepidity had saved the lives of himself and his few English companions. He was, in fact, as Dr. May reported, pretty much of a hero. He had not, at the time, felt the effects of the climate, but, owing to sickness and death among the other officers, he had suffered much fatigue and pressure of mind and body. Immediately on his return, had followed his examination, and though he had passed with great credit, and it had been at once followed by well-earned promotion, his nervous excitable frame had been overtasked, and the consequence was a long and severe illness.
The Swan Inn was not forty yards from Dr. May's back gate, and, at every spare moment, he was doing the part of nurse as well as doctor, professionally obliged to Alan Ernescliffe for bringing him a curious exotic specimen of fever, and requiting him by the utmost care and attention, while, for their own sakes, he delighted in the two boys with all the enthusiasm of his warm heart. Before the first week was at an end, they had learned to look on the doctor as one of the kindest friends it had been their lot to meet with, and Alan knew that if he died, he should leave his little brother in the hands of one who would comfort him as a father.
No sooner was young Ernescliffe able to sit up, than Dr. May insisted on conveying him to his own house, as his recovery was likely to be tedious in solitude at the Swan. It was not till he had been drawn in a chair along the sloping garden, and placed on the sofa to rest, that he discovered that the time the good doctor had chosen for bringing a helpless convalescent to his house, was two days after an eleventh child had been added to his family.
Mrs. May was too sorry for the solitary youth, and too sympathising with her husband, to make any objection, though she was not fond of strangers, and had some anxieties. She had the utmost dependence on Margaret's discretion, but there was a chance of awkward situations, which papa was not likely to see or guard against. However, all seemed to do very well, and no one ever came into her room without some degree of rapture about Mr. Ernescliffe. The doctor reiterated praises of his excellence, his principle, his ability and talent, his amusing talk; the girls were always bringing reports of his perfections; Norman retracted his grumbling at having his evenings spoiled; and "the boys" were bursting with the secret that he was teaching them to rig a little ship that was to astonish mamma on her first coming downstairs, and to be named after the baby; while Blanche did all the coquetry with him, from which Margaret abstained. The universal desire was for mamma to see him, and when the time came, she owned that papa's swan had not turned out a goose.
There were now no grounds for prolonging his stay; but it was very hard to go, and he was glad to avail himself of the excuse of remaining for the christening, when he was to represent the absent godfather. After that, he must go; he had written to his Scottish cousins to offer a visit, and he had a promise that he should soon be afloat again. No place would ever seem to him so like home as Market Stoneborough. He was quite like one of themselves, and took a full share in the discussions on the baby's name, which, as all the old family appellations had been used up, was an open question. The doctor protested against Alice and Edith, which he said were the universal names in the present day. The boys hissed every attempt of their sisters at a romantic name, and then Harry wanted it to be Atalantis! At last Dr. May announced that he should have her named Dowsabel if they did not agree, and Mrs. May advised all the parties concerned to write their choice on a slip of paper, and little Aubrey should draw two out of her bag, trusting that Atalantis Dowsabel would not come out, as Harry confidently predicted.
However, it was even worse, Aubrey's two lots were Gertrude and Margaret. Ethel and Mary made a vehement uproar to discover who could have written Margaret, and at last traced it home to Mr. Ernescliffe, who replied that Flora, without saying why, had desired him to set down his favourite name. He was much disconcerted, and did not materially mend the matter by saying it was the first name that came into his head.
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.
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."
"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."
"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.
"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—"
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—"
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—"
"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—"
"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.
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?"
"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?"
"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?"