THE PILLARS OF THE HOUSE
UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE
CHARLOTTE M. YONGE
ILLUSTRATED BY HERBERT GANDY
CONTENTS TO VOL. I.
I. THE BIRTH-DAY GIFT
II. THE PICNIC
III. FORTUNATUS' PURSE
IV. TWILIGHT AND DAWN
V. WORKING FOR BREAD
VI. THE CACIQUE
VII. THE CHESS-PLAYER'S BATTLE
VIII. THE HOME
IX. THE THIRTEEN
X. THE FAMILY COBWEB ON THE MOVE
XI. THE CHORAL FESTIVAL
XII. GIANT DESPAIR'S CASTLE
XIII. PEGASUS IN HARNESS
XIV. WHAT IT MAY LEAD TO
XV. WHAT IT LED TO
XVI. THE WINTER OF DISCONTENT
XVII. MIDSUMMER SUN
XVIII. BY THE RIVER
XIX. THE HOUSE WITHOUT PILLARS
XX. VALE LESTON
XXI. A KETTLE OF FISH
XXII. THE REAL THING AND NO MISTAKE
XXIII. SMOKE-JACK ALLEY
THE PILLARS OF THE HOUSE
UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE
CHAPTER I THE BIRTHDAY GIFT
'O I've got a plum-cake, and a feast let us make, Come, school-fellows, come at my call; I assure you 'tis nice, and we'll all have a slice, Here's more than enough for us all.' JANE TAYLOR.
'It is come! Felix, it is come!'
So cried, shouted, shrieked a chorus, as a street door was torn open to admit four boys, with their leathern straps of books over their shoulders. They set up a responsive yell of 'Jolly! Jolly!' which being caught up and re-echoed by at least five voices within, caused a considerable volume of sound in the narrow entry and narrower staircase, up which might be seen a sort of pyramid of children.
'Where is it?' asked the tallest of the four arrivals, as he soberly hung up his hat.
'Mamma has got it in the drawing-room, and Papa has been in ever since dinner,' was the universal cry from two fine-complexioned, handsome girls, from a much smaller girl and boy, and from a creature rolling on the stairs, whose sex and speech seemed as yet uncertain.
'And where's Cherry?' was the further question; 'is she there too?'
'Yes, but—' as he laid his hand on the door— 'don't open the letter there. Get Cherry, and we'll settle what to do with it.'
'O Felix, I've a stunning notion!'
'Felix, promise to do what I want!'
'Felix, do pray buy me some Turkish delight!'
'Felix, I do want the big spotty horse.'
Such shouts and insinuations, all deserving the epithet of the first, pursued Felix as he entered a room, small, and with all the contents faded and worn, but with an air of having been once tasteful, and still made the best of. Contents we say advisedly, meaning not merely the furniture but the inmates, namely, the pale wan fragile mother, working, but with the baby on her knee, and looking as if care and toil had brought her to skin and bone, though still with sweet eyes and a lovely smile; the father, tall and picturesque, with straight handsome features, but with a hectic colour, wasted cheek, and lustrous eye, that were sad earnests of the future. He was still under forty, his wife some years less; and elder than either in its expression of wasted suffering was the countenance of the little girl of thirteen years old who lay on the sofa, with pencil, paper, and book, her face with her mother's features exaggerated into a look at once keen and patient, all three forming a sad contrast to the solid exuberant health on the other side the door.
Truly the boy who entered was a picture of sturdy English vigour, stout-limbed, rosy-faced, clear eyed, open, and straight-forward looking, perhaps a little clumsy with the clumsiness of sixteen, especially when conscience required tearing spirits to be subdued to the endurance of the feeble. It was, however, a bright congratulating look that met him from the trio. The little girl started up, 'Your sovereign's come, Felix!'
The father showed his transparent-looking white teeth in a merry laugh. 'Here are the galleons, you boy named in a lucky hour! How many times have you spent them in fancy?'
The mother held up the letter, addressed to Master Felix Chester Underwood, No. 8 St. Oswald's Buildings, Bexley, and smiled as she said, 'Is it all right, my boy?'
'They want me to open it outside, Mamma!—Come, Whiteheart, we want you at the council.'
And putting his arm round his little sister Geraldine's waist, while she took up her small crutch, Felix disappeared with her, the mother looking wistfully after them, the father giving something between a laugh and a sigh.
'Then you decide against speaking to him,' said Mrs. Underwood.
'Poor children, yes. A little happiness will do them a great deal more good than the pound would do to us. The drops that will fill their little cup will but be lost in our sea.'
'Yes, I like what comes from Vale Leston to be still a festive matter,' said Mrs. Underwood; 'and at least we are sure the dear boy will never spend it selfishly. It only struck me whether he would not enjoy finding himself able to throw something into the common stock.'
'He would, honest lad,' said Mr. Underwood; 'but, Mamma, you are very hard-hearted towards the rabble. Even if this one pound would provide all the shoes and port wine that are pressing on the maternal mind, the stimulus of a day's treat would be much more wholesome.'
'But not for you,' said his wife.
'Yes for me. If the boy includes us old folks in his festivity, it will be as good as a week's port wine. You doubt, my sweet Enid. Has not our long honeymoon at Vale Leston helped us all this time?' Her name was Mary, but having once declared her to be a woman made of the same stuff as Enid, he had made it his pet title for her.
Mrs. Underwood's thoughts went far away into the long ago of Vale Leston. She could hardly believe that nine years only had passed since that seven-years' honeymoon. She was a woman of the fewest possible words, and her husband generally answered her face instead of her voice.
Vale Leston had promised to be an ample provision when Edward Underwood had resigned his fellowship to marry the Rector's niece and adopted daughter, his own distant cousin, with the assurance of being presented to the living hereafter, and acting in the meantime as curate. It was a family living, always held conjointly with a tolerably good estate, enough to qualify the owner for the dangerous position of 'squarson,' as no doubt many a clerical Underwood had been ever since their branch had grown out from the stem of the elder line, which had now disappeared. These comfortable quarters had seemed a matter of certainty, until the uncle died suddenly and with a flaw in his will, so that the undesirable nephew and heir-at-law whom he had desired to exclude, a rich dissipated man, son to a brother older than the father of the favourite niece, had stepped in, and differing in toto from Edward Underwood, had made his own son take orders for the sake of the living, and it had been the effort of the young wife ever since not to disobey her husband by showing that it had been to her the being driven out of paradise.
ASSISTANT CURACY.—A Priest of Catholic opinions is needed at a town parish. Resident Rector and three Curates. Daily Prayers. Choral Service on Sundays and Holy-days. Weekly Communion.—Apply to P. C. B., St. Oswald's Rectory, Bexley.
Every one knows the sort of advertisement which had brought Mr. Underwood to Bexley, as a place which would accord with the doctrines and practices dear to him. Indeed, apart from the advertisement, Bexley had a fame. A great rubrical war had there been fought out by the Rector of St. Oswald's, and when he had become a colonial Bishop, his successor was reported to have carried on his work; and the beauty of the restored church, and the exquisite services, were so generally talked of, that Mr. Underwood thought himself fortunate in obtaining the appointment. Mr. Bevan too, the Rector, was an exceedingly courteous, kindly-mannered man, talking in a soft low voice in the most affectionate and considerate manner, and with good taste and judgment that exceedingly struck and pleased the new curate. It was the more surprise to him to find the congregations thin, and a general languor and indifference about the people who attended the church. There was also a good deal of opposition in the parish, some old sullen seceders who went to a neighbouring proprietary chapel, many more of erratic tastes haunted the places of worship of the numerous sects, who swarmed in the town, and many more were living in a state of town heathenism.
It was not long before the perception of the cause began to grow upon Mr. Underwood. The machinery was perfect, but the spring was failing; the salt was there, but where was the savour? The discourses he heard from his rector were in one point of view faultless, but the old Scottish word 'fushionless' would rise into his thoughts whenever they ended, and something of effect and point was sure to fail; they were bodies without souls, and might well satisfy a certain excellent solicitor, who always praised them as 'just the right medium, sober, moderate, and unexciting.'
In the first pleasure of a strong, active, and enterprising man, at finding his plans unopposed by authority, Mr. Underwood had been delighted with his rectory ready consent to whatever he undertook, and was the last person to perceive that Mr. Bevan, though objecting to nothing, let all the rough and tough work lapse upon his curates, and took nothing but the graceful representative part. Even then, Mr. Underwood had something to say in his defence; Mr. Bevan was valetudinarian in his habits, and besides—he was in the midst of a courtship—after his marriage he would give his mind to his parish.
For Mr. Bevan, hitherto a confirmed and rather precise and luxurious bachelor, to the general surprise, married a certain Lady Price, the young widow of an old admiral, and with her began a new regime.
My Lady, as every one called her, since she retained her title and name, was by no means desirous of altering the ornamental arrangements in church, which she regarded with pride; but she was doubly anxious to guard her husband's health, and she also had the sharpest eye to the main chance. Hitherto, whatever had been the disappointments and shortcomings at the Rectory, there had been free- handed expenditure, and no stint either in charity or the expenses connected with the service; but Lady Price had no notion of taking on her uncalled-for outlay. The parish must do its part, and it was called on to do so in modes that did not add to the Rector's popularity. Moreover, the arrangements were on the principle of getting as much as possible out of everybody, and no official failed to feel the pinch. The Rector was as bland, gentle, and obliging as ever; but he seldom transacted any affairs that he could help; and in the six years that had elapsed since the marriage, every person connected with the church had changed, except Mr. Underwood.
Yet perhaps as senior curate, he had felt the alteration most heavily. He had to be, or to refuse to be, my Lady's instrument in her various appeals; he came in for her indignation at wastefulness, and at the unauthorised demands on the Rector; he had to feel what it was to have no longer unlimited resources of broth and wine to fall back upon at the Rectory; he had to supply the shortcomings of the new staff brought in on lower terms—and all this, moreover, when his own health and vigour were beginning to fail.
Lady Price did not like him or his family. They were poor, and she distrusted the poor; and what was worse, she knew they were better born and better bred than herself, and had higher aims. Gentle Mrs. Underwood, absorbed in household cares, no more thought of rivalry with her than with the Queen; but the soft movement, the low voice, the quiet sweep of the worn garments, were a constant vexation to my Lady, who having once pronounced the curate's wife affected, held to her opinion. With Mr. Underwood she had had a fight or two, and had not conquered, and now they were on terms of perfect respect and civility on his side, and of distance and politeness on hers. She might talk of him half contemptuously, but she never durst show herself otherwise than civil, though she was always longing to bring in some more deferential person in his place, and, whenever illness interfered with his duties, she spoke largely to her friends of the impropriety of a man's undertaking what he could not perform.
One of her reductions had been the economising the third curate, while making the second be always a neophyte, who received his title for Orders, and remained his two years upon a small stipend.
The change last Easter, which had substituted a deacon for a priest, had fallen heavily on Mr. Underwood, and would have been heavier still, but that the new comer, Charles Audley, had attached himself warmly to him. The young man was the son of a family of rank and connection, and Lady Price's vanity was flattered by obtaining his assistance; but her vexation was proportionably excited by his preference for the Underwood household, where, in truth—with all its poverty—he found the only atmosphere thoroughly congenial to him in all the parish of St. Oswald's.
Speedily comprehending the state of things, he put his vigorous young shoulder to the wheel, and, full of affectionate love and admiration for Mr. Underwood, spared himself nothing in the hope of saving him fatigue or exertion, quietly gave up his own holidays, was always at his post, and had hitherto so far lightened Mr. Underwood's toil, that he was undoubtedly getting through this summer better than the last, for his bodily frame had long been affected by the increased amount of toil in an ungenial atmosphere, and every access of cold weather had told on him in throat and chest attacks, which, with characteristic buoyancy, he would not believe serious. He never deemed himself aught but 'better,' and the invalid habits that crept on him by stealth, always seemed to his brave spirit consequent on a day's extra fatigue, or the last attention to a departing cough. Alas! when every day's fatigue was extra, the cough always departing, never departed.
Yet, though it had become a standing order in the house, that for an hour after papa came in from his rounds, no one of the children should be in the drawing-room, except poor little lame Geraldine, who was permanently established there; and that afterwards, even on strong compulsion, they should only come in one by one, as quietly as possible, he never ceased to apologise to them for their banishment when he felt it needful, and when he was at ease, would renew the merriment that sometimes cost him dear.
The children had, for the most part, inherited that precious heirloom of contentment and elasticity, and were as happy in nooks and corners in bedroom, nursery, staircase or kitchen, as they could have been in extensive play-rooms and gardens.
See them in full council upon the expenditure of the annual gift that an old admiral at Vale Leston, who was godfather to Felix, was wont to send the boy on his birthday—that third of July, which had seemed so bright, when birthdays had begun in the family, that no name save Felix could adequately express his parent's feelings.
Mr. and Mrs. Underwood had fancies as to nomenclature; and that staircaseful of children rejoiced in eccentric appellations. To begin at the bottom—here sat on a hassock, her back against the wall, her sharp old fairy's face uplifted, little Geraldine, otherwise Cherry, a title that had suited her round rosiness well, till after the first winter at Bexley, when the miseries of a diseased ancle-joint had set in, and paled her into the tender aliases of White-heart, or Sweet- heart. She was, as might be plainly seen in her grey eyes, a clever child; and teaching her was a great delight to her father, and often interested him when he was unequal to anything else. Her dark eyebrows frowned with anxiety as she lifted up her little pointed chin to watch sturdy frank-faced Felix, who with elaborate slowness dealt with the envelope, tasting slowly of the excitement it created, and edging away from the baluster, on which, causing it to contribute frightful creaks to the general Babel, were perched numbers 4, 6, 7, and 8, to wit, Edgar, Clement, Fulbert, and Lancelot, all three handsome, blue-eyed, fair-faced lads. Indeed Edgar was remarkable, even among this decidedly fine-looking family. He had a peculiarly delicate contour of feature and complexion, though perfectly healthy; and there was something of the same expression, half keen, half dreamy, as in Geraldine, his junior by one year; while the grace of all the attitudes of his slender lissome figure showed to advantage beside Felix's more sturdy form, and deliberate or downright movements; while Clement was paler, slighter, and with rather infantine features, and shining wavy brown hair, that nothing ever seemed to ruffle, looked so much as if he ought to have been a girl, that Tina, short for Clementina, was his school name. Fulbert, stout, square, fat-cheeked, and permanently rough and dusty, looked as if he hardly belonged to the rest.
The four eldest were day-scholars at the city grammar-school; but Lancelot, a bright-faced little fellow in knickerbockers, was a pupil of whoever would or could teach him at home, as was the little girl who was clinging to his leg, and whose name of Robina seemed to have moulded her into some curious likeness to a robin-redbreast, with her brown soft hair, rosy cheeks, bright merry eyes, plump form, and quick loving audacity. Above her sat a girl of fifteen, with the family features in their prettiest development—the chiseled straight profile, the clear white roseately tinted skin, the large well-opened azure eyes, the profuse glossy hair, the long, slender, graceful limbs, and that pretty head leant against the knees of her own very counterpart; for these were Wilmet and Alda, the twin girls who had succeeded Felix, and whose beauty had been the marvel of Vale Leston, their shabby dress the scorn of the day school at Bexley. And forming the apex of the pyramid, perched astride on the very shoulders of much-enduring Wilmet, was three years old Angela—Baby Bernard being quiescent in a cradle near mamma. N.B.—Mrs. Underwood, though her girls had such masculine names, had made so strong a protest against their being called by boyish abbreviations, that only in one case had nature been too strong for her, and Robina had turned into Bobbie. Wilmet's second name being Ursula, she was apt to be known as 'W.'W.
'Make haste, Felix, you intolerable boy! don't be so slow!' cried Alda.
'Is there a letter?' inquired Wilmet.
Yes, more's the pity!' said Felix. 'Now I shall have to answer it.'
'I'll do that, if you'll give me what's inside,' said Edgar.
'Is it there?' exclaimed Cherry, in a tone of doubt, that sent an electric thrill of dismay through the audience; Lance nearly toppling over, to the horror of the adjacent sisters, and the grave rebuke of Clement.
'If it should be a sell!' gasped Fulbert.
'Suppose it were,' said Felix gravely.
'Then, said Edgar, 'you can disown the old rogue Chester.'
'What stuff!' interposed Clement.
'I'd cut him out of my will on the spot,' persisted Edgar.
'But it is all right,' said Cherry, looking with quiet certainty into her brother's face; and he nodded and coloured at the same time.
'But it is not a pretty one,' said little Robina. 'Last year it was green, and before that red; and this is nasty stupid black and white, and all thin crackling paper.'
Felix laughed, and held up the document.
'What!' cried Fulbert. 'Five! Why, 'tisn't only five shillings! the horrid old cheat!'
'It's a five-pound note!' screamed Cherry. 'I saw one when Papa went to the bank! O Felix, Felix!'
A five-pound note! It seemed to take away the breath of those who knew what it meant, and then an exulting shout broke forth.
'Well,' said Edgar solemnly, 'old Chester is a brick! Three cheers for him!'
Which cheers having been perpetrated with due vociferation, the cry began, 'O Felix, what will you do with it?'
'Buy a pony!' cried Fulbert.
'A rocking-horse,' chirped Robina.
'Punch every week,' shouted Lance.
'A knife apiece,' said Fulbert.
'How can you all be so selfish?' pronounced Clement. 'Now a harmonium would be good to us all.'
'Then get some cotton, for our ears into the bargain, if Tina is to play on it,' said Edgar.
'I shall take the note to mother,' said the owner.
'Oh!' screamed all but Wilmet and Cherry, 'that's as bad as not having it at all!'
Maybe Felix thought so, for it was with a certain gravity and solemnity of demeanour that he entered the drawing-room, causing his father to exclaim, 'How now? No slip between cup and lip? Not infelix, Felix?'
'No, papa, but it's this and I thought I ought to bring it.'
The dew at once was in the mother's eyes, as she sprang up and kissed the boy's brow, saying, 'Felix, dear, don't show it to me. You were meant to be happy with it. Go and be so.'
'Stay,' said Mr. Underwood, Felix will really enjoy helping us to this extent more than any private expenditure. Is it not so, my boy? Well then, I propose that the sovereign of old prescriptive right should go to his menus plaisirs, and the rest to something needful; but he shall say to what. Said I well, old fellow?'
'Oh, thank you, thank you!' cried Felix ardently.
'Thank me for permission to do as you will with your own?' smiled Mr. Underwood.
'You will choose, then, Felix?' said his mother wistfully, her desires divided between port wine for papa and pale ale for Geraldine.
'Yes, mamma,' was the prompt answer. 'Then, please, let Wilmet and Alda be rigged out fresh for Sundays.'
'Wilmet and Alda!' exclaimed Mamma.
'Yes, I should like that better than anything, please,' said the boy. 'All our fellows say they would be the prettiest girls in all Bexley, if they were properly dressed; and those horrid girls at Miss Pearson's lead them a life about those old black hats.'
'Poor dears! I have found Alda crying when she was dressing for church,' mused Mrs. Underwood; 'and though I have scolded her, I could have cried too, to think how unlike their girlhood is to mine.'
'And if you went to fetch them home from school, you would know how bad it is, Mamma,' said Felix. 'Wilmet does not mind it, but Alda cries, and the sneaking girls do it the more; and they are girls; so one can't lick them; and they have not all got brothers.'
'To be licked instead!' said Mr. Underwood, unable to help being amused.
'Well, yes, Papa; and so you see it would be no end of a comfort to make them look like the rest.'
'By all means, Felix. The ladies can tell how far your benefaction will go; but as far as it can accomplish, the twins shall be resplendent. Now then, back to your anxious clients. Only tell me first how my kind old friend the Admiral is.'
'Here's his letter, Father; I quite forgot to read it.'
'Some day, I hope, you will know him enough to care for him personally. Now you may be off.—Nay, Enid, love, your daughters could not have lived much longer without clothes to their backs.'
'Oh, yes, it must have been done,' sighed the poor mother; 'but I fancied Felix would have thought of you first.'
'He thought of troubles much more felt than any of mine. Poor children! the hard apprenticeship will serve them all their lives.'
Meantime Felix returned with the words, 'Hurrah! we are to have the sovereign just as usual; and all the rest is to go to turn out Wilmet and Alda like respectable young females.—Hollo, now!'
For Alda had precipitated herself downstairs, to throttle him with her embraces; while Cherry cried out, 'That's right! Oh, do get those dear white hats you told me about;' but the public, even there a many-headed monster thing, was less content.
'What, all in girls' trumpery?' 'That's the stupidest sell I ever heard of!' 'Oh, I did so want a pony!' were the cries of the boys.
Even Robina was so far infected as to cry, 'I wanted a ride.'
And Wilmet reproachfully exclaimed, 'O Felix, you should have got something for Papa. Don't you know, Mr. Rugg said he ought to have a respirator. It is a great shame.'
'I don't think he would have let me, Wilmet,' said Felix, looking up; 'and I never thought of it. Besides, I can't have those girls making asses of themselves at you.'
'Oh no, don't listen to Wilmet!' cried Alda. 'You are the very best brother in all the world! Now we shall be fit to be seen at the break up. I don't think I could have played my piece if I knew every one was looking at my horrid old alpaca.'
'And there'll be hats for Cherry and Bobbie too!' entreated Wilmet.
'Oh, don't put it into their heads!' gasped Alda.
'No, I'll have you two fit to be seen first, said Felix.
'Well, it's a horrid shame,' grumbled Fulbert; 'we have always all gone shares in Felix's Birthday tip.'
'So you do now,' said Felix; 'there's the pound all the same as usual.'
That pound was always being spent in imagination; and the voices broke out again.
'Oh, then Papa can have the respirator!'
'Felix, the rocking-horse!'
'Felix, do get us three little cannon to make a jolly row every birthday!'
'Felix, do you know that Charlie Froggatt says he would sell that big Newfoundland for a pound? and that would be among us all.'
'Nonsense, Fulbert! a big dog is always eating; but there is a concertina at Lake's.'
'Tina—tina—concertina! But, I say, Fee, there's Whiteheart been wishing her heart out all the time for a real good paint-box.'
'Oh, never mind that, Ed; no one would care for one but you and me, and the little ones would spoil all the paints.'
'Yes, resumed Wilmet, from her throne,—'it would be the worry of one's life to keep the little ones off them; and baby would be poisoned to a dead certainty. Now the respirator—'
'Now the concertina—'
'Now the dog—'
'Now the rocking-horse—'
'Now the cannon—'
'I'll tell you what,' said Felix, 'I've settled how it is to be. We'll get John Harper's van, and all go out to the Castle, with a jolly cold dinner—yes, you, Cherry, and all; Ed and I will carry you—and dine on the grass, and—'
A chorus of shouts interrupted him, all ecstatic, and rendered more emphatic by the stamping of feet.
'And Angela will go!' added. Wilmet.
'And Papa,' entreated Cherry.
'And Mamma too, if she will,' said Felix.
'And Mr. Audley,' pronounced Robina, echoed by Clement and Angela. 'Mr. Audley must go!'
'Mr. Audley!' grunted Felix. 'I want nobody but ourselves.'
'Yes, and if he went we could not stay jolly late. My Lady would make no end of a row if both curates cut the evening prayers.'
'For shame, Edgar!' cried the three elder girls.
While Wilmet added, 'We could not stay late, because of Papa and the little ones. But I don't want Mr. Audley, either.'
'No, no! Papa and he will talk to each other, and be of no use,' said Geraldine. 'Oh, how delicious! Will the wild-roses be out? When shall it be, Felix?'
'Well, the first fine day after school breaks up, I should say.'
And there was another dance, in the midst of which Mr. Underwood opened the door, to ask what honourable member was receiving such deafening cheers.
'Here! here he is, Papa!' cried Alda. 'He is going to take us all out to a picnic in the Castle woods; and won't you come, Papa?'
'O Papa, you will come!' said Felix. And the whole staircase bawled in accordance.
'Come! to be sure I will!' said his father; 'and only too glad to be asked! I trust we shall prove to have found the way to get the maximum of pleasure out of Admiral Chester's gift.'
'If Mamma will go,' said Felix. 'I wonder what the van will cost, and what will be left for the dinner.'
'Oh, let us two cook the whole dinner,' entreated the twins.
'Wait now,' said Felix. 'I didn't know it was so late, Father.' And he carefully helped his father on with his coat; and as a church bell made itself heard, set forth with him.
When the service was musical, Felix and his two next brothers both formed part of the choir; and though this was not the case on this evening, Felix knew that his mother was easier when he or Wilmet could watch over Papa's wraps.
And Mamma herself, with one at least of the twins, was busy enough in giving the lesser ones their supper, and disposing of them in bed, so that the discreet alone might remain to the later tea-drinking.
And 'Sibby' must be made a sharer of the good news in her lower region, though she was sure to disbelieve in Alda and Wilmet's amateur cookery.
Sibby was Wilmet's foster-mother. Poor thing! Mr. Underwood had found her in dire need in the workhouse, a child herself of seventeen with a new-born babe, fresh from the discovery that the soldier-husband, as she thought, and who had at least gone before the praste with her,' and brought her from her Kilkenny home, was previously husband to another woman. She was tenderly cared for by Mr. Underwood's mother, who was then alive, and keeping house for the whole party at the Rectory; and having come into the Vale Leston nursery, she never left it. Her own child died in teething, and she clung so passionately to her nursling, that Mrs. Underwood had no heart to separate them, Roman Catholic though she was, and difficult to dispose of. She was not the usual talking merry Irishwoman; if ever she had been such, her heart was broken; and she was always meek, quiet, subdued, and attentive; forgetful sometimes, but tender and trustworthy to the last degree with the children.
She had held fast to the family in their reverses, and no more thought of not sharing their lot than one of their children. Indeed, it would not have been much more possible to send her out to shift for herself in England; and her own people seemed to have vanished in the famine, for her letters, with her savings, came back from the dead-letter office. She put her shoulder to the burthen, and, with one small scrub under her, got through an amazing amount of work: and though her great deep liquid brown eyes looked as pathetic as ever, she certainly was in far better spirits than when she sat in the nursery. To be sure, she was a much better nurse than she was a cook; but as both could not be had, Mrs. Underwood was content and thankful to have a servant so entirely one with themselves in interests and affections; and who had the further perfection of never wanting any society but the children's; shrinking from English gossips, and never showing a weakness, save for Irish tramps. Moreover, she was a prodigious knitter; and it was her boast that not one of the six young gentlemen had yet worn stocking or sock, but what came from her needles, and had been re-footed by her to the last extremity of wear.
Meantime, Felix and Clement walked with their father to the church. There it was, that handsome church; the evening sun in slanting beams coming through the gorgeous west window to the illuminated walls, and the rich inlaid marble and alabaster of the chancel mellowed by the pure evening light. The east window, done before glass-painting had improved, was tame and ill-executed, and there was, even aesthetically, a strange unsatisfactory feeling in looking at the heavy, though handsome, incrustations and arcades of dark marble that formed the reredos. It was all very correct; but it wanted life.
Mr. Bevan was not there, he had gone out to dinner, and the congregation consisted of some young ladies, old men, and three little children. Mr. Audley read all, save the Absolution and the Lessons; and the responses sounded low and feeble in the great church, though there was one voice among them glad and hearty in dedicating and entrusting the new year of his life with its unknown burthen.
Felix had heard sayings and seen looks which, boldly as his sanguine spirit resisted them, would hang in a heavy boding cloud over his mind, and were already casting a grave shadow there.
And if the thought of his fivefold gift swelled the fervour of his 'Amen' to the General Thanksgiving, there was another deep heartfelt Amen, which breathed forth earnest gratitude for the possession of such a first-born son.
'That is a very good boy,' the father could not help saying to Mr. Audley, as, on quitting the churchyard, Felix exclaiming, 'Papa, may I just get it changed and ask about the van?' darted across the street, with Clement, into a large grocer's shop nearly opposite, where a brisk evening traffic was going on in the long daylight of hot July; and he could not but tell of the birthday-gift, and how it was to be spent. 'Res angusta domi,' he said, with a smile, 'is a thing to be thankful for, when it has such effects upon a lad.'
'You must add a small taste of example to the prescription,' said Mr. Audley. 'Is this all the birthday present Felix has had?'
'Well, I believe Cherry gave him one of her original designs; but birthdays are too numerous for us to stand presents.'
The other curate half-sighed. He was a great contrast—a much smaller man than his senior, slight, slim, and pale, but with no look of ill- health about him, brown eyed and haired, and with the indefinable look about all his appointments and dress, that showed he had lived in unconscious luxury and refinement all his days. His thoughts went back to a home, where the only perplexity was how to deal with an absolute glut of presents, and to his own actual doubts what to send that youngest sister, who would feel slighted if Charlie sent nothing, but really could not want anything; a book she would not read, a jewel could seldom get a turn of being worn, a trinket would only be fresh lumber for her room. Then he revolved the possibilities of making Felix a present, without silencing his father's confidences, and felt that it could not be done in any direct manner at present; nay, that it could hardly add to the radiant happiness of the boy, who rushed across the road, almost under the nose of the railway-omnibus horses, and exclaimed—
'He will let us have it for nothing, Father! He says it would be hiring it out, and he can't do that: but he would esteem it a great favour if we would go in it, and not pay anything, except just a shilling to Harris for a pint of beer. Won't it be jolly, Father?'
'Spicy would be more appropriate,' said Mr. Underwood, laughing, as the vehicle in question drew up at the shop door, with Mr. Harper's name and all his groceries inscribed in gold letters upon the awning.
'I'm so glad I thought of Harper's,' continued Felix. 'I asked him instead of Buff, because I knew Mamma would want it to be covered. Now there's lots of room; and we boys will walk up all the hills.'
'I hope there is room for me, Felix,' suggested Mr. Audley.
'Or,' suggested Mr. Underwood, 'you might, like John Gilpin, "ride on horseback after we."'
'Felix looks non-content,' said Mr. Audley. 'I am afraid I was not in his programme. Speak out—let us have it.'
'Why,' said Felix, looking down, 'our little ones all wanted to have you; but then we thought we should all be obliged to come home too soon, unless you took the service for Papa.'
'He certainly ought not to go to church after it,' said Mr. Audley; 'but I can settle that by riding home in good time. What's the day?'
'The day after the girls' break-up, if you please,' said Felix, still not perfectly happy, but unable to help himself; and manifesting quite enough reluctance to make his father ask, as soon as they had parted, what made him so ungracious.
'Only, Papa,' said Felix frankly, 'that we know that you and he will get into some Church talk, and then you'll be of no use; and we wanted to have it all to ourselves.'
'Take care, Felix,' said Mr. Underwood; 'large families are apt to get into a state of savage exclusiveness.'
Felix had to bear the drawback, and the groans it caused from Wilmet, Edgar, and Fulbert: the rest decidedly rejoiced. And Mr. Underwood privately confided the objection to his friend, observing merrily that they would bind themselves by a promise not to talk shop throughout the expedition.
It was a brilliantly, happy week. Pretty hats, bound with dark blue velvet, and fresh black silk jackets, were squeezed out of the four pounds, with the help of a few shillings out of the intended hire of the van, and were the glory of the whole family, both of those who were to wear them and those who were not.
On Saturday evening, just as the four elder young people were about to sally forth to do the marketing for their picnic, a great hamper made its appearance in the passage, addressed to F. C. Underwood, Esq., and with nothing to pay. Only there was a note fastened to the side, saying, 'Dear Felix, pray let the spicy van find room for my contribution to your picnic. I told my mother to send me what was proper from home.—C. S. A.'
Mrs. Underwood was dragged out to superintend the unpacking, which she greatly advised should be merely a surface investigation. That was quite enough, however, to assure her that for Felix to lay in any provision, except the tea and the bread she had already promised, would be entirely superfluous. The girls were disappointed of their cookery; but derived consolation from the long walk with the brothers, in which a cake of good carmine and a lump of gamboge were purchased for Cherry, and two penny dolls for Robina and Angela. What would become of the rest of the pound?
On Sunday, the offertory was, as usual on ordinary occasions, rather scanty; but there was one half-sovereign; and Mr. Underwood was convinced that it had come from under the one white surplice that had still remained on the choir boys' bench.
He stayed in the vestry after the others to count and take care of the offerings, and as he took up the gold, he could not but look at his son, who was waiting for him, and who flushed all over as he met his eye. 'Yes, Papa, I wanted to tell you—I did grudge it at first,' he said hoarsely. 'I knew it was the tithe; but it seemed so much away from them all. I settled that two shillings was the tenth of my own share, and I would give that to-day; and then came Mr. Harper's kindness about the van; and next, when I was thinking how I could save the tenth part without stinting everybody, came all Mr. Audley's hamper. It is very strange and happy, Papa, and I have still something left.'
'I believe,' said Mr. Underwood, 'that you will find the considering the tithe as not your own, is the safest way of keeping poverty from grinding you, or wealth from spoiling you.'
And very affectionately he leant on his son's shoulder all the way home; while Mr. Audley was at luncheon at the Rectory with my Lady, and her twelve years old daughter.
'Mamma,' said Miss Price, 'did you see the Underwoods in new hats?'
'Of course I did, my dear. They were quite conspicuous enough; but when people make a great deal of their poverty, they always do break out in the most unexpected ways.'
'They are pretty girls' said the Rector, rather dreamily, 'and I suppose they must have new clothes sometimes.'
'You will always find,' proceeded Lady Price without regard, 'that people of that sort have a wonderful eye to the becoming—nothing economical for them! I am sorry for Mr. Underwood, his wife is bringing up a set of fine ladies, who will trust to their pretty looks, and be quite above doing anything for themselves.'
'Do you think Wilmet and Alda Underwood so very pretty, Mr. Audley?' inquired Miss Price, turning her precocious eyes upon him.
'Remarkably so,' Mr. Audley replied, with a courteous setting-down tone that was the only thing that ever approached to subduing Miss Price, and which set her pouting without an answer.
'It is a great misfortune to girls in that station of life to have that painted-doll sort of beauty,' added my Lady; 'and what was it I heard about a picnic party?'
'No party, my dear,' replied the Rector, 'only a little fresh air for the family—a day in Centry Park. Felix spends his birthday present from his godfather in taking them.'
Ah! I always was sure they had rich friends, though they keep it so close. Never let me hear of their poverty after this.'
Answers only rendered it worse, so my Lady had it her own way, and not being known to the public in St. Oswald's Buildings, did not trouble them much. Yet there was a certain deference to public opinion there, when Alda was heard pouting, 'Felix, why did you go to that horrid Harper? Just fancy Miss Price seeing us!'
'Who cares for a stuck-up thing like Miss Price!' growled Felix.
'I don't care for her,' said Edgar; 'but it is just as well to have some notion of things, and Felix hasn't a grain. Why, all the fellows will be asking which of us is pepper, and which Souchong! I wouldn't have Froggatt or Bruce see me in it at no price.'
'Very well, stay at home, then,' said Felix.
'You could have had the waggonet from the Fortinbras Arms,' said Alda.
'Ay—for all my money, and not for love.'
'For shame, Alda,' said her twin sister; 'how can you be so ridiculous!'
'You know yourself, Wilmet, it is quite true; if any of the girls see us, we shall be labelled "The Groceries."'
'Get inside far enough, and they will not see you.'
'Ay, but there'll be that disgusting little Bobbie and Lance sitting in the front, making no end of row,' said Edgar; 'and the whole place will know that Mr. Underwood and his family are going out for a spree in old Harper's van! Pah! I shall walk.'
'So shall I,' said Alda, 'at least till we are out of the town; but that won't do any good if those children will make themselves so horridly conspicuous. Could not we have the thing to meet us somewhere out of town, Felix?'
'And how would you get Cherry there, or Mamma! Or Baby!—No, no, if you are too genteel for the van, you may walk.'
'There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid A damask napkin, wrought with horse and hound; Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home, And, half-cut down, a pasty costly made, Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay, Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks Imbedded and injellied; last, with these A flask of cider from his father's vats, Prime which I knew;—and so we sat and ate.' TENNYSON.
No. 8 St. Oswald's Buildings was a roomy house, which owed its cheapness to its situation, this being neither in the genteel nor the busy part of Bexley. It was tall and red, and possessed a good many rooms, and it looked out into a narrow street, the opposite side of which consisted of the long wall of a brewery, which was joined farther on to that of the stable-yard of the Fortinbras Arms, the principal hotel, which had been much frequented in old posting days, and therefore had offices on a large scale. Only their side, however, was presented to St. Oswald's Buildings, the front, with its arched 'porte cochere,' being in the High Street, as it was still called, though it was a good deal outshone by the newer part of the town.
The next-door neighbours of No. 8 were on the one hand a carpenter's yard, the view of which was charming to the children, and the noises not too obnoxious to their parents, and on the other the rectory garden, which separated them from the churchyard, now of course disused. It had no entrance towards their lane, and to reach the church, it was necessary to turn the corner of the wall, and go in through the south porch, which opened close upon the High Street.
In this old street lay the two buildings that chiefly concerned the young Underwoods, i.e. the two schools. That for boys was an old foundation, which had fallen into decay, and had been reformed and revivified in nineteenth-century fashion, to suit the requirements of the town. The place, though in the south of England, had become noted as a pottery, owing partly to the possession of large fields of a peculiar clay, which was so bad for vegetable growth as to proclaim its destiny to become pots and pans, partly to its convenient neighbourhood to the rising seaport of Dearport, which was only an hour from it by railway. The old St. Oswald's school had been moulded under the influence of newcomers, who had upset the rules of the founder, and arranged the terms on the broadest principles of liberality, bringing, instead of the drowsy old clerical master, a very brisk and lively young layman, who had a knack of conveying instruction of multifarious kinds such as had never occurred to his predecessor.
Mr. Underwood had a certain liking for the man, and when tolerably well, enjoyed the breaking a lance with him over his many crude heterodoxies; but he did not love the school, and as long as he was able had taught his boys himself, and likewise taken a few day-pupils of the upper ranks, who were preparing for public schools. But when his failure of health rendered this impracticable, the positive evil of idleness was, he felt greater than any possible ones that might arise from either the teaching or the associations of the town school, and he trusted to home influence to counteract any such dangers. Or perhaps more truly he dreaded lest his own reluctance might partly come from prejudice in favour of gentlemen and public schools: and that where a course seemed of absolute necessity, Providence became a guard in its seeming perils. Indeed, that which he disapproved in Mr. Ryder's school was more of omission than commission. It was that secularity was the system, rather than the substance of that secularity.
So Felix and Edgar went to school, and were in due time followed by Clement and Fulbert; and their bright wits, and the educated atmosphere of their home, made their career brilliant and successful. Mr. Ryder was greatly pleased to have got the sons of a man whom he could not but admire and respect, and was anxious that the boys should be the means of conquering the antiquated prejudices in favour of exclusiveness at school.
Felix and Edgar were neck and neck, carrying off all the prizes of the highest form but one—Felix, those that depended on industry and accuracy; Edgar, those that could be gained by readiness and dexterity. Both were to be promoted to the upper form; and Mr. Ryder called upon their father in great enjoyment of their triumph, and likewise to communicate his confident certainty that they would do him and Bexley credit by obtaining the most notable scholarships of the University. Mr. Underwood was not a little delighted, grateful for the cordial sympathy, and he fully agreed that his own lads had benefited by the clear vigorous teaching they had received; but though he smiled and allowed that they had taken no harm, he said good-humouredly that 'Of course, he must consider that as the proof of his own powers of counteraction.'
'Exactly so,' said the schoolmaster. 'All we wish is, that each home should exercise its powers of counteraction. We do the teaching, you form the opinions.'
'Oh! are we parents still to be allowed to form the opinions?'
'If you will. Your house is your castle, and the dungeons there may be what you will.'
'Well, I cannot have a quarrel with you to-day, Ryder! As long as I can show up my boys as tokens of God's blessing on their home, you are welcome to them as instances of wits well sharpened by thorough good instruction.'
Mrs. Underwood had likewise had a congratulatory visit that was very gratifying. The girls' school, a big old red house, standing back from the road at the quietest end of the town, was kept by two daughters of a former clergyman, well educated and conscientious women, whom she esteemed highly, and who gave a real good grounding to all who came under their hands, going on the opposite principle to Mr. Ryder's and trying to supply that which the homes lacked.
And they did often succeed in supplying it, though their scholars came from a class where there was much to subdue, and just at present their difficulties had been much increased by their having been honoured by the education of Miss Price. Seven governesses in succession had proved incapable of bearing with Lady Price; and the young lady had in consequence been sent to Miss Pearson's, not without an endeavour on her mother's part to obtain an abatement in terms in honour of the eclat of her rank.
There her airs proved so infectious, that, as Miss Pearson said, the only assistance she had in lessening their evil influence was the perfect lady-likeness of the Underwood twins, and the warm affection that Wilmet inspired. Alda headed a sort of counter party against Caroline Price, which went on the principle of requiting scorn with scorn, but Wilmet's motherly nature made her the centre of attraction to all the weak and young, and her uprightness bore many besides herself through the temptation to little arts. Both sisters had prizes, Alda's the first and best, and Miss Pearson further offered to let Wilmet pay for her own studies and those of a sister, by becoming teacher to the youngest class, and supervisor during the mid-day recreation, herself and her sister dining at school.
It was a handsome offer for such a young beginner, and the mother's eyes filled with tears of pleasure; and yet there was a but—
'Not come home to dinner!' cried the children. 'Can't it be Alda instead of Wilmet? We do always want Wilmet so, and Alda would do just as well at school.'
Alda too was surprised; for was not she more regular and more forward than her twin sister, who was always the one to be kept at home when any little emergency made Mamma want the aid of an elder daughter? And the mother would almost have asked that Alda might be the chosen governess pupil, if Mr. Underwood had not said, 'No, my dear, Miss Pearson must have her own choice. It is a great kindness, and must be accepted as such. I suppose Robina must be the new scholar. My little pupil will not leave me.'
Geraldine only heard of the alternative, to say, 'I'll be nobody's pupil but yours, Papa.'
While Robina was proportionably exalted by her preferment, and took to teasing every one in the house to hear her spelling and her tables, that she might not fulfil Edgar's prediction by going down to the bottom of the baby-class; and up and down the stairs she ran, chanting in a sing-song measure—
'Twenty pence are one and eightpence, Thirty pence are two and sixpence,'
and so on, till her father said, smiling, 'Compensations again, Mother: the less you teach them the more they are willing to learn. The mother shook her head, and said the theory was more comfortable than safe, and that she did not find Lancelot an instance of it.
But there was a general sense of having earned the holiday, when the grocery van came to the door, on a morning of glorious sunshine. Edgar and Alda, true to their promise, had walked on so far ahead as to avoid being seen in the town in connection with it; and Fulbert had started with them to exhale his impatience, but then had turned back half-way, that he might not lose the delicious spectacle of the packing of the vehicle. A grand pack it was: first, the precious hamper; then a long sofa cushion, laid along the bottom; then Geraldine lifted in by Sibby and Felix, and folded up with shawls, and propped with cushions by Mamma, whose imagination foresaw more shaking than did the more youthful anticipation; then Mamma herself, not with 'little baby,' but with Angela on her lap, and Angela's feet in all manner of unexpected places; then a roll of umbrellas and wraps; then Wilmet, Fulbert, Lance, and Robina—nowhere in particular, and lastly Papa, making room for Clement between himself and the good-humoured lad of a driver, who had not long ago been a member of the choir, while Felix, whom nothing could tire on that day, dived rapidly down a complication of alleys, declaring he should be up with the walkers long before they were overtaken by the van.
Next appeared Mr. Audley, with his pretty chestnut horse, offering in the plenitude of his good-nature to give Lance a ride, whereupon vociferous 'me toos' resounded from within the curtains; and the matter was compounded on ride and tie principles, in which the Underwood juniors got all the ride, and Mr. Audley all the tie—if that consisted in walking and holding the bridle.
By the time the very long and dull suburbs of Bexley were passed, with their interminable villas and rows of little ten-pound houses— the children's daily country walk, poor things! the two elder boys and their sister were overtaken, the latter now very glad to condescend to the van.
'Oh, how nice to get beyond our tiresome old tether!' she said, arranging herself a peep-hole between the curtains. 'I am so sick of all those dusty black beeches, and formal evergreens. How can you stare at them so, Cherry?'
But Geraldine was in a quiet trance of delight; she had never spoken a word since she had first found a chink in the awning, but had watched with avid eyes the moving panorama of houses, gardens, trees, flowers, carriages, horses, passengers, nursemaids, perambulators, and children. It was all a perfect feast to the long-imprisoned eyes, and the more charming from the dreamy silence in which she gazed. When Felix came up to the slit through which the bright eyes gleamed, and asked whether she were comfortable and liked it, her answer was a long-drawn gasp from the wells of infinite satisfaction, such as set him calculating how many drives in a bathchair the remnant of his birthday gift would yet produce.
But there were greater delights, corn-fields touched with amber, woods sloping up hills, deep lanes edged with luxuriant ferns, greenery that drove the young folk half mad with delight, and made them scream to be let out and gather—gather to their hearts' content. Only Mamma recommended not tiring themselves, but trusting that Centry Park would afford even superior flowers to those they passed.
They reached the lodge gate at last. They were known, for the Castle had been long untenanted, and they, like other inhabitants of Bexley, had from time to time enjoyed themselves in the Park, but to-day there was a shadow of demur. The gentleman who was going to buy the place was looking over it—but surely—
Horror began to spread over the inmates of the van.
'But did you come by appointment, sir?' added the gatekeeper's wife, coming out; 'the gentleman's name is Mr. Underwood.'
Mr. Underwood was obliged to disclaim any appointment; but he looked round at the children's blank faces, and saw lips quivering, and eyes gazing wistfully into the paradise of green shade, and added, 'If the gentleman has not actually bought it, he could not object. We do not wish to go near the house.'
'Maybe Mr. Audley, who was standing near the gate, added another more substantial argument, for 'Oh, certainly, sir,' at once followed; and the van was allowed to turn down a gravelled road, which skirted an extensive plantation.
Every one now left it, except Mrs. Underwood, Cherry, and Angela; and the children began to rush and roll in wild delight on the grassy slope, and to fill their hands with the heather and ling, shrieking with delight. Wilmet had enough to do to watch over Angela in her toddling, tumbling felicity; while Felix, weighted with Robina on his back, Edgar, Fulbert, Clement, and Lance, ran in and out among the turf; and Alda, demurely walking by her papa, opined that it was 'very odd that the gentleman's name should be Underwood.'
'Less odd than if it was Upperwood,' said her father, as if to throw aside the subject; and then, after a few moments' thought, and an odd little smile, as if at some thought within himself, he began to hand in flowers to Cherry, and to play with little Angela. Mr. Audley had gone to put up his horse at the village inn, and did not join the party again till they had reached what the children called Picnic Hollow—a spot where a bank suddenly rose above a bright dimpling stream with a bed of rock, the wood opening an exquisite vista under its beech trees beyond, and a keeper's lodge standing conveniently for the boiling of kettles.
Here the van was disposed of, the horses taken out and provided with food, Cherry carried to a mossy throne under a glorious beech tree, and the hampers unpacked by Mamma and Wilmet, among much capering and dancing of the rest of the family and numerous rejected volunteers of assistance. Felix and Alda were allowed to spread the table-cloth and place the dishes, but Edgar was only entreated to keep the rest out of the way.
Meanwhile, Geraldine sat under the silvery bole of her beech tree, looking up through its delicate light green leaves to the blue sky, not even wanting to speak, lest anything should break that perfection of enjoyment. Her father watched the little pale absorbed countenance, and as Mr. Audley came up, touched him to direct his attention to the child's expression; but the outcry of welcome with which the rest greeted the newcomer was too much for even Cherry's trance, and she was a merry child at once, hungry with unwonted appetite, and so relishing her share of the magnificent standing-pie, that Mrs. Underwood reproved herself for thinking what the poor child would be if she had such fare and such air daily, instead of ill- dressed mutton in the oppressive smoke-laden atmosphere.
And meantime, Lance was crowing like a cock, and the other boys were laughing at Robina for her utter ignorance of the white-fleshed biped she was eating.
'No, Clem, chickens have got feathers and wings, and their long necks hang down! This can't be one of them.'
'Perhaps it is a robin-redbreast,' said Felix.
'No, nobody kills robin-redbreasts, because they covered the poor little children with leaves.'
'Will you cover me with leaves, if I am lost, Bobbie?' said Mr. Audley; but as soon as she found that his attention was gained, she returned to the charge.
'Please, did it come from your own home? and what is it, really?'
'Why, Bobbie, I am hardly prepared to say whether it is a Hamburg or a Houdan, or a more unambitious Dorking. Cannot you eat in comfort without being certified?'
'The species will be enough for her without the varieties,' said her father. 'You have given us a new experience, you see, Audley, and we may make a curious study of contrasts—not of Audley and myself Mother dear, but of the two Underwoods who seem to be in this place together to-day.'
'Who is it?' was of course the cry, and the inquiry was in Mrs. Underwood's eyes, though it did not pass her quiet lips. It was to her that he answered, 'Yes, my dear—Tom; I have little doubt that it is he. He was a very rich man when last I heard of him.'
'Is that the man at Vale Leston?' whispered Alda to Felix.
'Oh, I hope he is not coming here to insult us.'
'Bosh!' said Felix; 'that man's name is Fulbert. Listen, if you want to hear.'
'Twenty years ago,' continued Mr. Underwood, 'I thought myself a prodigiously fine fellow—with my arms full of prizes at Harrow, and my Trinity scholarship—and could just, in the plenitude of my presumption, extend a little conceited patronage to that unlucky dunce, Tom Underwood, the lag of every form, and thankful for a high stool at old Kedge's. And now my children view a cold fowl as an unprecedented monster, while his might, I imagine, revel in 'pates de foie gras.'
'O Papa, but we like you so much better as you are!' cried Geraldine.
'Eh, Cherry!' said Mr. Underwood, 'what say you? Shouldn't you like me better if I were buying that king beech tree, and all the rest of it?'
Cherry edged nearer, mastered his hand, and looked up in his face with a whole soul of negation in her wistful eyes. 'No, no, no—just as you are,' she whispered.
Some mood of curiosity had come over him, and he turned an interrogative look elsewhere.
Alda spoke. 'Of course, it would be horrid not to be a clergyman; but it is a great shame.'
'No,' said Wilmet, 'it can't be a shame for this cousin Tom to have earned a fortune fairly—if he has; but'—and she pressed her hands tightly together as she looked at the thin worn faces of her parents- —'one can't help wishing. Why do things always go hard and wrong?' and the tears dimmed her bright eyes.
'Because—they don't,' said her father, with a half-serious quaintness that vexed her, and forced her to turn away to let the tear drop.
Clement said, in his calm voice, 'How can you be all so repining and foolish!'
And Mr. Underwood, almost in lazy mischief, pursued his experiment. 'Eh, Felix, you are the party most concerned—what say you?'
'Most concerned?' Felix looked up surprised, then recollected himself. 'I don't care,' he said, with an appearance of gruff sullenness; but his father could not content himself without continuing in a semi-teazing tone, 'Don't care—eh? 'Why this Centry Underwood once belonged to our family—that's the reason Tom is after it. If I had not scouted old Kedge, you would be prancing about here, a Harrovian, counting the partridges.'
'Don't!' broke in Felix, with a growl.
'Never fear, Fee'' cried Edgar, with his hand on his brother's shoulder; if one man got on in life, another may. If one only was grown up and had the start——' and his blue eyes sparkled.
'I did not know Care's clutch had been so tight,' sighed Mr. Underwood, half to himself, half to his wife. It is not safe, my gentle Enid, to try such experiments. Eh!' rousing himself, what's that? Have the mob there a right to any sentiments?'
'Only,' cried Clement, shouting with laughter, Lance thought you were wanted to hold a high stool for Jack Ketch.'
'For a green goose!' shouted Lance, indignantly.
'Oh! cried Robina, in the tone of one who had made a scientific discovery, 'did the goose have a high stool to lay the golden eggs?'
'A most pertinent question, Bobbie, and much more reasonable than mine,' said Mr Underwood; while his colleague gravely answered, 'Yes, Bobbie, golden eggs are almost always laid by geese on high stools.'
'I've got a picture of one! It has got a long neck and long legs, quoth Bobbie.
'It is only a flamingo, you little goose yourself,' cried Clement.
'Here is the golden egg of the present,' said Mr. Underwood, replenishing the boy's plate with that delicious pie. 'What's that beverage, Wilmet? Any horrible brew of your own?'
'No, it is out of Mr. Audley's hamper.'
'The universal hamper. It is like the fairy gifts that produced unlimited eatables. I dreaded cowslip wine or periwinkle broth.'
'No, no, Papa,' sighed Alda, 'we only once made cowslip tea at Vale Leston.'
'Vale Leston is prohibited for the day.—Master Felix Chester Underwood, your good health; and the same to the new Underwood of Centry Underwood.'
'Shall we see him, Papa?' asked Alda.
'If either party desires the gratification, no doubt it will come about.'
'Shall not you call on him, Papa?'
'Certainly not before he comes. Mother, some of the wonderful bottle- —ay, you covetous miser of a woman, or I'll make a libation of it all. Audley, it must have wrung your father's butler's heart to have thrown away this port on a picnic. What did you tell him to delude him?'
'Only what was true—that I was to meet a gentleman who was a judge of the article.'
'For shame!' he answered, laughing. 'What right had you to know that I knew the taste of Cape from Roriz?'
But his evident enjoyment of the 'good creature' was no small pleasure to the provider, though it was almost choking to meet the glistening glance of Mrs. Underwood's grateful eyes, knowing, as she did, that there were three more such bottles in the straw at the bottom of the hamper. And when baby Angela had clasped her fat hands, and, as 'youngest at the board,' 'inclined the head and pronounced the solemn word,' her father added, 'Gratias Deo, and Grazie a lei. We must renew our childhood's training, dear Mary—make our bow and curtesy, and say "Thank you for our good dinner."'
'Thank Felix for our pleasant day,' said Mr. Audley. 'Come, boys, have a swing! there's a branch too good not to be used; and Ful has already hung himself up like a two-toed sloth.'
Then began the real festivity—the swinging, the flower and fern hunting, the drawing, the racing and shouting, the merry calls and exchange of gay foolish talk and raillery.
Mr. Underwood lay back on a slope of moss, with a plaid beneath him, and a cushion under his head, and said that the Elysian fields must have been a prevision of this beech-wood. Mrs. Underwood, with Felix and Wilmet, tied up the plates, knives, and forks, and then the mother, taking Angela with her, went to negotiate kettle-boiling at the cottage. Geraldine would fain have sketched, but the glory and the beauty, and the very lassitude of delight and novelty, made her eyes swim with a delicious mist; and Edgar, who had begun when she did, threw down his pencil as soon as he saw Felix at liberty, and the two boys rushed away into the wood for a good tearing scramble and climb, like creatures intoxicated with the freedom of the greenwood.
After a time they came back, dropping armfuls of loose-strife, meadow-sweet, blue vetch, and honey-suckle over delighted Cherry; and falling down by her side, coats off, all gasp and laughter, and breathless narrative of exploits and adventures, which somehow died away into the sleepiness due to their previous five-mile walk. Felix went quite off, lying flat on his back, with his head on Cherry's little spreading lilac cotton frock, and his mouth wide open, much tempting Edgar to pop in a pebble; and this being prevented by tender Cherry in vehement dumb show, Edgar consoled himself by a decidedly uncomplimentary caricature of him as Giant Blunderbore (a name derived from Fee, Fa, Fum) gaping for hasty pudding.
'That's a horrid shame!' remonstrated Geraldine. 'Dear old Fee, when the whole treat is owing to him!'
'It is a tidy little lark for a Blunderbore to have thought of,' said Edgar. 'Tis a good sort of giant after all, poor fellow!'
'Poor!' said Cherry indignantly. 'Oh, you mean what Papa said—that he is the greatest loser of us all. I wonder what made him talk in that way? He never did before.'
'I am sorry for him,' said Edgar, indicating his brother. 'He is famous stuff for a landlord and member of parliament—plenty of wits and brains—only he wants to be put on a shelf to be got at. Wherever he is, he'll go on there! Now, a start is all I want! Give me my one step—and then—O Gerald, some day I'll lift you all up!'
'What's that?' said Felix, waking as the enthusiastic voice was raised. 'Edgar lifting us all! What a bounce we should an come down with!'
We were talking of what Papa said at dinner,' explained Cherry. 'What did you think about it, Fee?'
'I didn't think at all, I wished he hadn't,' said Felix, stretching himself.
'Why not?' said Cherry, a little ruffled at even Felix wishing Papa had not.
'There's no use having things put into one's head.'
'O Felix, you don't want to change?' cried Cherry.
'No,' he said; but it was a 'no' in a tone she did not understand. The change he saw that hardship was working was that from which he recoiled.
'That's like you, Blunderbore,' said Edgar. 'Now, the very reason I am glad not to be born a great swell, but only a poor gentleman, is that so much is open to one; and if one does anything great, it is all the greater and more credit.'
'Yes,' said Felix, sitting up; 'when you have once got a scholarship, there will be the whole world before you.'
'Papa got a scholarship,' said Cherry.
'Oh yes!' said Edgar; 'but every one knows what happens to a man that takes Orders and marries young; and he had the most extraordinary ill-luck besides! Now, as Ryder says, any man with brains can shine. And I am only doubting whether to take to scholarship or art! I love art more than anything, and it is the speediest.'
The conversation was broken, for just then Wilmet was seen peering about with an anxious, careful eye.
'What is it, my deputy Partlet?' asked her father. 'Which of your brood are you looking for!'
'I can't see Robina,' said Wilmet anxiously. 'She was swinging just now, but neither she nor Lance is with the big boys.
'Flown up higher,' said Mr. Underwood, pretending to spy among the branches. 'Flapsy, come down! Bobbie, where are you!'
A voice answered him; and in another moment Robina and Lance stood in the glade, and with them a girl newly come to her teens, whom they pulled forward, crying, 'She says she's our cousin!'
'Indeed,' said Mr. Underwood: 'I am sure you are very much obliged to her.'
'I am Mary Alda Underwood,' said the girl abruptly; 'and I'm sure there must be a very naughty boy here. He had put these poor little things up a tree, and run away.'
'No, no! He only put us up because Tina bothered about it!' screamed Lance and Robina at once; 'he wasn't naughty. We were being monkeys.'
'Black spider-monkeys,' added Robina.
'And I swung about like a real one, Father,' said Lance, 'and was trying to get Bobbie down, only she grew afraid.'
'It was ten feet from the ground,' said Mary Alda, impressively, 'and they had lost their way; but they told me who they were. I'm come down with my father to see the place.'
Mr. Underwood heartily shook hands with her, thanked her, and asked where her father was.
'Gone out with the man to see a farm two miles off,' she said. 'He told me I might stay in the house, or roam where I liked, and I saw you all looking so happy; I've been watching you this long time.'
'Indeed!' said Mr. Underwood, 'till you captured two of us! Well, we are obliged for the introduction, especially if you are to be our neighbour.'
'And my cousins will be friends with me,' continued Mary Alda. 'I'm all alone, you know.'
'No, I did not know,' said Mr. Underwood. 'Are you the only child?'
'Yes,' she said, looking wistfully at the groups around her; 'and it is very horrid—oh dear! who is that pretty one? No, there's another of them!'
Mr. Underwood laughed heartily. 'I suppose you mean Wilmet and Alda,' he said. 'Come, girls, and see your new cousin—Mary, did you say!— Your name backward, Alda Mary.'
'Mary,' she repeated. 'Papa calls me Mary, but Mamma wants it to be Marilda all in one word, because she says it is more distinguished; but I like a sensible name like other people.'
Mr. Underwood was much amused. He felt he had found a character in his newly-discovered cousin. She was Underwood all over in his eyes, used to the characteristic family features, although entirely devoid of that delicacy and refinement of form and complexion that was so remarkable in himself and in most of his children, who were all, except poor little Cherry, a good deal alike, and most of them handsome. There was a sort of clumsiness in the shape of every outline, and a coarseness in the colouring, that made her like a bad drawing of one of his own girls; the eyes were larger, the red of the cheeks was redder, the lips were thicker, the teeth were irregular; the figure, instead of being what the French call elance, was short, high-shouldered, and thick-set, and the head looked too large. She was over-dressed, too, with a smart hat and spangled feather, a womanly silk mantle and much-trimmed skirt, from which a heavy quilling had detached itself, and was trailing on the ground; her hands were ungloved, and showed red stumpy fingers, but her face had a bright open honest heartiness of expression, and a sort of resolute straightforwardness, that attracted and pleased him; and, moreover, there was something in the family likeness, grotesque as it was, that could not but arouse a fellow-feeling in his warm and open heart, which neither neglect nor misfortune had ever chilled.
'I think I should have known you,' he said, smiling. 'Here! let me introduce you; here is our little lame white-hearted Cherry, and the twins, as like as two peas. Wilmet, Alda—here!'
'Shall I mend your frock!' was Wilmet's first greeting, as she put her hand in her pocket, and produced a little housewife.
'Oh, thank you! You've got a needle and thread! What fun!'
'The little ones are very apt to tear themselves, so I like to have it ready.'
'How delicious! And you mend for them? I wish I had any one to mend for. Please show me, and let me do it. I tried to tear the nasty thing off, but it would not come. I wish Mamma would let me wear sensible print like yours.'
'Are you laughing at us?' said Wilmet rather bluntly.
'No, indeed, not a bit,' said Marilda, or Mary Alda, eagerly. 'If you only knew how tiresome it all is.'
'Why, being fine—having a governess, and talking French, and learning to dance, and coming down into the drawing-room. Then Grandmamma Kedge tells me how she used to run about in pattens, and feed the chickens, and scrub the floor, and I do so wish I was her. Can you scrub, and do those nice things?'
'Not a floor,' said Wilmet; 'and we live in the town.'
'So have we done till now; but Papa is going to get this place, because he says it is family property; and I hope he will, for they will never be able to screw me up here as they do at home. I say, which is Fulbert! Won't your father punish him?'
'Oh, no! You should not have told, Marilda. We never tell Papa of little tricks of the boys.'
But the little darling might have broken her neck.'
'Oh! life in a large family is made up of might haves,' said Alda.
'Why, I do declare there's a smaller still! What a little duck!' and she pounced upon Angela.
'We have a smaller than that, said Wilmet—'Bernard, only we left him at home.'
'Tell me all your names!' cried Marilda, delighted.
She was perfectly happy, and chattered on in great delight in her downright voice, as much at ease as if she had known them all her life. She shared their tea, and wanted Mr. Underwood to come and see her father at the house; but as she could not promise his early return, and it was necessary to get the van under weigh before five, this could not be.
However, she would not leave them till they were all packed into the van, and then only parted with repeated kisses and auguries of many future meetings; so that the children looked down a vista of unlimited enjoyment of Gentry Park. Edgar, little gentleman as he was, saw her as far back on the way as he could venture.
'Out, base mechanical churl!'—SHAKESPEARE.
Weeks went on, and nothing more was heard of 'Marilda' except the wishes and wonderings of the children. Alda decided that she was one of the heartless fine ladies one heard of in books—and no wonder, when her father was in trade, and she looked so vulgar; while Wilmet contended against her finery, and Cherry transferred the heartlessness to her cruel father and mother, and Robina never ceased to watch for her from the window, even when Felix and Edgar for very weariness had prohibited the subject from being ever mentioned, and further checked it by declaring that Marilda looked like a cow.
There was plenty besides to think of; and the late summer and early autumn rolled cheerily away. The wonderful remnant of Felix's birthday gift was partly applied to the hire of a chair for Geraldine upon every favourable evening; and as the boys themselves were always ready to act as horses, they obtained it on moderate terms, which made the sum hold out in a marvellous manner. And not only were these drives delight unimaginable to the little maid, but the frequent breaths of pure air seemed to give her vigour; she ate more, smiled more, and moved with less pain and difficulty, so that the thought of a partial recovery began to seem far less impossible.
The children trooping about her, she used to be drawn to the nearest bit of greensward, tree, or copse, and there would occupy herself with the attempt to sketch, often in company with Edgar; and with a few hints from her father, would be busied for days after with the finishing them, or sometimes the idealising them, and filling them with the personages she had read of in books of history or fiction. She was a sensitive little body, who found it hard not to be fretful, when told that it was very ill-natured to object to having her paints daubed over her drawings by Lance, Robina, and Angel—an accusation often brought against her by rough, kindly Sibby, and sometimes even by Wilmet in an extremity: while Mamma's subdued entreaty, that she would do something to please the little ones, if it could be without mischief to herself, always humiliated her more than anything else, and made her ready to leave all to their mercy, save for deference to Edgar, and gratitude to Felix. Robina would look on soberly enough in admiration; but Lance's notions of art were comic, and Fulbert's were arbitrary, and both were imperiously carried out with due contempt for the inferior sex, and were sure to infect both the little sisters.
Then, of course, so many holiday boys were hard to keep in order. Clement had a strong propensity in that direction; he was a grave, quiet boy, without much sense of the absurd, and was generally the victim of Edgar's wit; but, on the other hand, he was much in the habit of objecting to anything Edgar or Fulbert proposed, and thereby giving forbidden or doubtful amusements double zest. He was never in mischief, and yet he was never an element of peace.
All this, however, was mitigated when the holidays ended, and Lance was allowed to follow his brothers to school, while Bobbie importantly trotted in the wake of her sisters. Mamma and Cherry felt it no small comfort to have no one at home who did not sleep away two or three of the morning hours; and the lessons that the little girl delighted to prepare for her father went on in peace—the arithmetic, the French, the Latin, and even the verses of Greek Testament, that he always said rested him.
And he was 'quite well,' he said himself; and though his wife never confirmed this reply, he was everywhere as usual—in church, in schools of all kinds, in parish meetings, by sick-beds, or in cottages, as bright and as popular as ever, perhaps the more so that he was more transparently thin, and every stranger started at the sound of his cough, though the Bexley people had grown weary of repeating the same augury for four or five years, and began, like 'my Lady,' to call it 'constitutional.'
So came the autumn Ember Week; and Mr. Audley had to go to receive Priests' Orders, and afterwards to spend the next fortnight with his parents, who complained that they had not seen him once since he had settled at Bexley. The last week was the break-up of summer weather, and Mr. Bevan caught cold, and was rheumatic, there were two funerals on wet and windy days, and when Mr. Audley, on Lady Price's entreating summons, wrenched himself from a murmuring home, and, starting by an early train, arrived half through the St. Michael's Day Service, it was to see Mr. Underwood looking indeed like some ethereal ascetic saint, with his bright eyes and wasted features, and to hear him preach in extempore—as was his custom—a sermon on the blessedness of angel helps, which in its intense fervour, almost rapture, was to many as if it came from a white-winged angel himself. Mr. Audley glided into his own place, and met Felix's look of relief. The sermon was finished, and the blessing given; but before he could descend the steps, the cough had come on, and with it severe haemorrhage. They had to send one startled boy for Mrs. Underwood, and another for the doctor, and it was an hour before he could be taken home in a chair. No one ever forgot that sermon, for it was the last he ever preached. He was very ill indeed for several days, but still hopeful and cheerful; and as the weather mended, and the calm brightness of October set in, he rallied, and came downstairs again, not looking many degrees more wan and hectic than before, with a mind as alert as usual, and his kind heart much gratified by the many attentions of his parishioners during his illness.
During the worst, Mrs. Underwood had been obliged to keep one of the elder girls at home—Wilmet at first, both by her own desire and that of Alda; but it was soon made a special matter of entreaty by Miss Pearson, that the substitution might not take place; the little class was always naughty under Alda, and something the same effect seemed to be produced on Angela and Bernard. They made so much less disturbance when entrusted to Cherry, that the mother often sent Alda to sit by papa, even though she knew he liked nothing so well as to have his little pupil's soft voice repeating to him the Latin hymns she loved to learn on purpose. Alda read or sang to him very prettily, and they were very happy together; but then Wilmet could do that as well, and also mind the babies, or do invalid cookery, and supplement Sibby's defects, and set the mother free for the one occupation she cared for most—the constant watching of that wasted countenance.
But all was better. He had been able to collect his children for their evening's Bible lesson and Sunday Catechism, and to resume the preparation of Edgar and Geraldine for their Confirmation, though it was at least a year distant, and even had spoken of sending for others of his catechumens. Wilmet and Alda were both at school, the two babies out with Sibby, Mamma at work, Papa dreaming over a Comment on the Epistle to the Philippians, which was very near his heart, and he always called his holiday work, and Geraldine reading on her little couch when there was a sharp ring at the bell, and after an interval, the girl who daily came in to help, announced 'Lady Price.'
Even my Lady had been startled and softened by the reality of Mr. Underwood's illness, and remorseful for having coddled her husband at his expense; she had sent many enquiries, some dainties, and a good many recipes; and she had made no objection to Mr. Bevan's frequent and affectionate visits, nor even to his making it obvious that however little his senior curate might do that winter, he would not accept his resignation for the present.
It was enough to make Mr. Underwood feel absolutely warm and grateful to his old tormentor, as he rose, not without some effort, held out his hand to her, and cheerily answered her inquiries for his cough. She even discussed the berries in the hedges, and the prospects of a mild winter, in a friendly, hesitating tone; and actually commended Mr. Underwood's last pupil-teacher, before she began—'I am afraid I am come upon a disagreeable business.'
Mr. Underwood expected to hear of his own inefficiency; or perhaps that Mr. Audley had adopted some habit my Lady disapproved, or that the schoolmaster was misbehaving, or that some Christmas dole was to be curtailed, and that he would have to announce it because Mr. Bevan would not. He was not prepared to hear, 'Are you aware that—in short—perhaps you can explain it, but has not your son Felix been spending a good deal of money—for him, I mean—lately?'
'Felix had a present from his godfather,' said Mr. Underwood, not at all moved, so secure was he that this must be an exaggeration.
'Last summer, I heard of that. It was laid out on a picnic,' said Lady Price, severely.
'It was intended to be so spent,' said the curate; 'but people were so good-natured, that very little actually went that way, and the remainder was left in his own hands.'
'Yes, Mr. Underwood, but I am afraid that remainder has been made to cover a good deal of which you do not know!'
Mrs. Underwood flushed, and would have started forward. Her husband looked at her with a reassuring smile. My Lady, evidently angered at their blindness, went on, 'It is a painful duty, Mr. Underwood, especially in your present state; but I think it due to you, as the father of a family, to state what I have learned.'
'Thank you. What is it?'
'Have you reckoned the number of times the chair has been hired?' and as he shook his head, 'That alone would amount to more than a pound. Besides which, your daughters have been provided with books and music—fruit has been bought—all amiable ways of spending money, no doubt; but the question is, how was it procured?'
'Indeed,' said Mr. Underwood, still pausing.
'And,' added the lady, 'the means can, I am afraid, be hardly doubted, though possibly the boy may have done it in ignorance. Indeed, one of his sisters allowed as much.'
'What did she allow, Lady Price?'
'That—that it was won at play, Mr. Underwood. You know Mr. Froggatt gives his boy an absurd amount of pocket-money, and when she was taxed with this, your daughter—Alda is her name, I believe—allowed that—'
'Papa, Papa!' breathlessly broke out Cherry, who had been forgotten on her little sofa all this time, but now dashed forward, stumping impetuously with her crutch—'Papa, it's all Alda, how can she be so horrid?'
'What is it, my dear?' said Mr. Underwood. 'You can explain it, I see. Tell Lady Price what you mean, Geraldine,' he added gravely, to compose the child, who was sobbing with excitement and indignation.
'O Lady Price!' she cried, facing about with her hair over her face, 'he earned it—he earned every bit of it! How could any one think he did not?'
'Earned it? What does that mean, little girl!' said Lady Price, still severely. 'If he did the boy's exercises for him—
'No, no, no,' interrupted Geraldine, 'it was old Mr. Froggatt. He asked Felix to look over the papers he had to print for the boys' work at the Grammar School, because it is all Latin and Greek, and Charles Froggatt is so careless and inaccurate, that he can't be trusted.'
The faces of the father and mother had entirely cleared; but Lady Price coughed drily, saying, 'And you did not know of this arrangement?'
Geraldine's eyes began to twinkle with tears. 'I don't know what Felix will say to me for telling now,' she said.
'It must have come to light some time, though concealment is always a proof of shame,' began Lady Price in a consoling tone that filled the little lame girl with a fresh passion, drawing up her head.
'Shame! Nobody's ashamed! Only Mamma and Felix and Wilmet never will bear that Papa should know how terribly we do want things sometimes.'
And Geraldine, overpowered by her own unguarded words, ran into her mother's arms, and hid her face on her shoulder.
'Thank you, Lady Price,' said Mr. Underwood gravely. 'I am glad my little girl has been able to satisfy you that Felix has honestly earned whatever he may have spent.'
'If you are satisfied,' returned the lady, 'it is not my affair; but I must say I should like to know of such transactions among my children.'
'Sometimes one is glad to have a boy to be perfectly trusted,' said Mr. Underwood.
'But you will speak to him!'
'Certainly I shall.'
Lady Price felt that she must go, and rose up with an endeavour to retract. 'Well, it is a relief to Mr. Bevan and me to find your son not consciously in fault, for it would have been a most serious thing. And in such a matter as this, of course you can do as you please.'
To this Mr. Underwood made no reply, as none was necessary, but only saw her out to the door in that extremely polite manner that always made her feel smallest, and then he dropped into his chair again, with a curl of the lip, and the murmur, 'not consciously!'
'O Papa, Papa!' cried Cherry.
'Dear Felix!' said the mother, with tears in her eyes; 'but what can Alda have been saying?'
Cherry was about to speak again, but her father gently put her aside. A little quietness now, if you please, my dear; and send Felix to me when he comes in. Let me have him alone, but don't say anything to him.'
There was no need to send Felix to his father, for he came in of his own accord, radiant, with a paper containing a report of a public meeting on Church matters that his father had been wishing to see.
'Thanks, my boy,' said Mr. Underwood; 'where does this come from?'
'From Froggatt's father. It was only fourpence.'
'But, Felix, repeated fourpences must exhaust even that Fortunatus' purse of Admiral Chester's.'
Felix coloured. 'Yes, Papa, I wanted to tell you; but I waited till you were better.'
'You will hardly find a better time than the present,' said Mr Underwood.
'It is only this,' said Felix, with a little hesitation. 'You know there's a good deal of printing to be done for the school sometimes— the questions in Latin and Greek and Algebra, and even when Mr. Ryder does have the proofs, it wants some one who really understands to see that the corrections are properly done. Old Smith used to do it, by real force of Chinese accuracy, but he has been ill for some time, and Mr. Froggatt can't see to do it himself, and Charlie won't, and can't be trusted either. So one day, when I was reading in the shop, Mr. Froggatt asked me to see if a thing was right; and it went on: he asked me after a time to take anything I liked, and I did get some school books we all wanted; but after that, just when you were ill, I could not help telling him I had rather have the money. O Father!' cried the boy, struck by a certain look of distress, 'did I do wrong?'
'Not in the least, my boy. Go on; what does he give you?'
'Exactly at the rate he gave Smith for doing the same work,' said Felix: 'it always was an extra for being so troublesome. It was seven shillings last week—generally it comes to three or four and sixpence.'
'And when do you do it?'
'I run in after I come out of school for half an hour. Last Saturday I corrected a sheet of the Pursuivant, because Mr. Froggatt had to go out, and that made it more. And, Father, Mr. Froggatt says that poor old Smith will never be fit for work again.'
'Then I suppose these welcome earnings of yours will end when he has a successor?'
Felix came nearer. 'Papa,' he said, 'Mr. Froggatt told me that if Charlie would only have taken to the work, he would have done without another man in Smith's place, and got him gradually into editing the paper too. He said he wished I was not a gentleman's son, for if I had not been so I should have suited him exactly, and should be worth a guinea a week even now. And, Father, do not you really think I had better take it?'
'You, Felix!' Mr. Underwood was exceedingly startled for the moment.
'You see,' said Felix rather grimly, leaning his head on the mantelshelf, and looking into the fire, 'any other way I can only be an expense for years upon years, even if I did get a scholarship.'
His face was crimson, and his teeth set. Mr. Underwood lay back in his chair for some seconds; then said in a low voice, 'I see you know all about it, Felix; and that I am going to leave you as heavy a burthen as ever lad took on willing shoulders.'
Felix knew well enough, but his father had never uttered a word of despondency to him before, and he could only go on gazing steadfastly into the fire with an inarticulate moan.
Mr. Underwood opened the first leaf of a volume of St. Augustine, beside him, a relic of former days, the family shield and motto within—namely, a cross potent, or crutch-shaped, and the old English motto, 'UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE.'
'Under wood, under rood,' he repeated. 'It was once but sing-song to me. Now what a sermon! The load is the Cross. Bear thy cross, and thy cross will bear thee, like little Geraldine's cross potent—Rod and Rood, Cross and Crutch—all the same etymologically and veritably.'
'Don't call them a burthen, pray!' said Felix, with a sense both of deprecation and of being unable to turn to the point.
'My boy, I am afraid I was thinking more of myself than of you. I am an ungrateful fool; and when a crutch is offered to me, I take hold of it as a log instead of a rood. I did not know how much pride there was left in me till I found what a bitter pill this is!'
Felix was more crimson than ever. 'Ought I not—' he began.
'The ought is not on your side, Felix. It is not all folly, I hope; but I had thought you would have been a better parson than your father.'
There were tears in the boy's eyes now. 'There are the others; I may be able to help them.'
'And,' added Mr. Underwood, 'I know that to be a really poor priest, there should be no one dependent on one, or it becomes "Put me into one of the priest's offices, that I may eat a piece of bread." It is lowering! Yes, you are right. Even suppose you could be educated, by the time you were ordained, you would still have half these poor children on your hands, and it would only be my own story over again, and beginning younger. You are right, Felix, but I never saw the possibility so fully before. I am glad some inward doubt held me back from the impulse to dedicate my first-born.'
'It shall be one of the others instead,' said Felix in his throat.
Mr. Underwood smiled a little, and put his finger on the verse in his beloved Epistle—'Look not every man on his own things but every man also on the things of others.'
'You really wish this. Do you consider what it involves?' he said.
'I think I do,' said Felix in a stifled voice.
'This is not as if it were a great publisher,' continued Mr. Underwood, 'with whom there would be no loss of position or real society; but a little bookseller in a country town is a mere tradesman, and though a man like Audley may take you up from time to time, it will never be on an absolute equality; and it will be more and more forgotten who you were. You will have to live in yourself and your home, depending on no one else.'
'I can stand that,' said Felix, smiling. 'Father, indeed I thought of all that. Of course I don't like it, but I don't see how it is to be helped.'
'Sit down, Felix: let us go over it again. I suppose you don't know what our subsistence is at present.'
'I know you have 250 pounds a year from Mr. Bevan.'
'Yes, I had 200 pounds at first, and he added the 50 pounds when the third curate was given up. That goes with me, of course, if not before. On the other hand, my poor good uncle, the wisest thing he ever did, made me insure my life for 5000, pounds so there will be 150 pounds a year to depend on, besides what we had of our own, only 2350 pounds left of it now. I have had to break into it for the doctor's bills, but at least there are no debts. Thank God, we have been saved from debt! I think,' he continued, 'that probably it will have to be brought down to twenty-two hundred before you have done with me. On the whole, then, there will be about 180 pounds a year for you all to live upon. Are you understanding, Felix?'
For the boy's anxious look had gone out of his face, and given place to a stunned expression which was only dispelled with a sudden start by his father's inquiry. 'Yes, yes,' he said recalling himself.
'I have left it all absolutely to your mother,' said Mr. Underwood. 'She will depend more and more on you, Felix; and I have made up my mind to expect that no help will come to you but from yourselves. Except that I hope some of you may be educated by clergy orphan schools, but you are too old for that now. Felix, I believe it may be right, but it is very sore to break off your education.'