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A tale Would rouse adventurous courage in a boy, And make him long to be a mariner, That he might rove the main.--SOUTHEY.
Etheldred had the satisfaction of seeing the Taylors at school on Sunday, but no Halls made their appearance, and, on inquiry, she was told, "Please ma'am, they said they would not come;" so Ethel condemned Granny Hall as "a horrid, vile, false, hypocritical old creature! It was no use having anything more to do with her."
"Very well," said Richard; "then I need not speak to my father."
"Ritchie now! you know I meant no such thing!"
"You know, it is just what will happen continually."
"Of course there will be failures, but this is so abominable, when they had those nice frocks, and those two beautiful eighteen-penny shawls! There are three shillings out of my pound thrown away!"
"Perhaps there was some reason to prevent them. We will go and see."
"We shall only hear some more palavering. I want to have no more to say to--" but here Ethel caught herself up, and began to perceive what a happiness it was that she had not the power of acting on her own impulses.
The twins and their little brother of two years old were christened in the afternoon, and Flora invited the parents to drink tea in the kitchen, and visit Lucy, while Ethel and Mary each carried a baby upstairs to exhibit to Margaret.
Richard, in the meantime, had a conversation with John Taylor, and learned a good deal about the district, and the number of the people. At tea, he began to rehearse his information, and the doctor listened with interest, which put Ethel in happy agitation, believing that the moment was come, and Richard seemed to be only waiting for the conclusion of a long tirade against those who ought to do something for the place, when behold! Blanche was climbing on her father's knee, begging for one of his Sunday stories.
Etheldred was cruelly disappointed, and could not at first rejoice to see her father able again to occupy himself with his little girl. The narration, in his low tones, roused her from her mood of vexation. It was the story of David, which he told in language scriptural and poetical, so pretty and tender in its simplicity, that she could not choose but attend. Ever and anon there was a glance towards Harry, as if he were secretly likening his own "yellow-haired laddie" to the "shepherd boy, ruddy, and of a fair countenance."
"So Tom and Blanche," he concluded, "can you tell me how we may be like the shepherd-boy, David?"
"There aren't giants now," said Tom.
"Wrong is a giant," said his little sister.
"Right, my white May-flower, and what then?"
"We are to fight," said Tom.
"Yes, and mind, the giant with all his armour may be some great thing we have to do: but what did David begin with when he was younger?"
"The lion and the bear."
"Ay, and minding his sheep. Perhaps little things, now you are little children, may be like the lion and the bear--so kill them off- -get rid of them--cure yourself of whining or dawdling, or whatever it be, and mind your sheep well," said he, smiling sweetly in answer to the children's earnest looks as they caught his meaning, "and if you do, you will not find it near so hard to deal with your great giant struggle when it comes."
Ah! thought Ethel, it suits me as well as the children. I have a great giant on Cocksmoor, and here I am, not allowed to attack him, because, perhaps, I am not minding my sheep, and letting my lion and my bear run loose about the house.
She was less impatient this week, partly from the sense of being on probation, and partly because she, in common with all the rest, was much engrossed with Harry's fate. He came home every day at dinner- time with Norman to ask if Alan Ernescliffe's letter had come; and at length Mary and Tom met them open-mouthed with the news that Margaret had it in her room.
Thither they hastened. Margaret held it out with a smile of congratulation. "Here it is, Harry; papa said you were to have it, and consider it well, and let him know, when you had taken time. You must do it soberly. It is once for all."
Harry's impetuosity was checked, and he took the letter quietly. His sister put her hand on his shoulder, "Would you mind my kissing you, dear Harry?" and as he threw his arms round her neck, she whispered, "Pray that you may choose right."
He went quietly away, and Norman begged to know what had been Alan Ernescliffe's advice.
"I can scarcely say he gave any direct advice," said Margaret; "He would not have thought that called for. He said, no doubt there were hardships and temptations, more or less, according to circumstances; but weighing one thing with another, he thought it gave as fair a chance of happiness as other professions, and the discipline and regularity had been very good for himself, as well as for many others he had known. He said, when a man is willing to go wrong there is much to help him, but when he is resolved on doing right, he need not be prevented."
"That is what you may say of anything," said Norman.
"Just so; and it answered papa's question, whether it was exposing Harry to more temptation than he must meet with anywhere. That was the reason it was such a comfort to have anyone to write to, who understands it so well."
"Yes, and knows Harry's nature."
"He said he had been fortunate in his captains, and had led, on the whole, a happy life at sea; and he thought if it was so with him, Harry was likely to enjoy it more, being of a hardy adventurous nature, and a sailor from choice, not from circumstances."
"Then he advised for it? I did not think he would; you know he will not let Hector be a sailor."
"He told me he thought only a strong natural bent that way made it desirable, and that he believed Hector only wished it from imitation of him. He said too, long ago, that he thought Harry cut out for a sailor.
"A spirited fellow!" said Norman, with a look of saddened pride and approval, not at all like one so near the same age. "He is up to anything, afraid of nothing, he can lick any boy in the school already. It will be worse than ever without him!"
"Yes, you will miss your constant follower. He has been your shadow ever since he could walk. But there's the clock, I must not keep you any longer; good-bye, Norman."
Harry gave his brother the letter as soon as they were outside the house, and, while he read it, took his arm and guided him. "Well," said Norman as he finished.
"It is all right," said Harry; and the two brothers said no more; there was something rising up in their throats at the thought that they had very few more walks to take together to Bishop Whichcote's school; Norman's heart was very full at the prospect of another vacancy in his home, and Harry's was swelling between the ardour of enterprise and the thought of bidding good-bye to each familiar object, and, above all, to the brother who had been his model and admiration from babyhood.
"June!" at length he broke out, "I wish you were going too. I should not mind it half so much if you were."
"Nonsense, Harry! you want to be July after June all your life, do you? You'll be much more of a man without me."
That evening Dr. May called Harry into his study to ask him if his mind was made up; he put the subject fairly before him, and told him not to be deterred from choosing what he thought would be for the best by any scruples about changing his mind. "We shall not think a bit the worse of you; better now, than too late."
There was that in his face and tone that caused Harry to say, in a stifled voice, "I did not think you would care so much, papa; I won't go, if you do."
Dr. May put his hand on his shoulder, and was silent. Harry felt a strange mixture of hope and fear, joy and grief, disappointment and relief. "You must not give it up on that account, my dear," he said at length; "I should not let you see this, if it did not happen at a time when I can't command myself as I ought. If you were an only son, it might be your duty to stay; being one of many, 'tis nonsense to make a rout about parting with you. If it is better for you, it is better for all of us; and we shall do very well when you are once fairly gone. Don't let that influence you for a moment."
Harry paused, not that he doubted, but he was collecting his energies--"Then, papa, I choose the navy."
"Then it is done, Harry. You have chosen in a dutiful, unselfish spirit, and I trust it will prosper with you; for I am sure your father's blessing--aye, and your mother's too, go with you! Now then," after a pause, "go and call Richard. I want him to write to Ernescliffe about that naval school. You must take your leave of the Whichcote foundation on Friday. I shall go and give Dr. Hoxton notice tomorrow, and get Tom's name down instead."
And when the name of Thomas May was set down, Dr. Hoxton expressed his trust that it would pass through the school as free from the slightest blemish as those of Richard, Norman, and Harry May.
Now that Harry's destiny was fixed, Ethel began to think of Cocksmoor again, and she accomplished another walk there with Richard, Flora, and Mary, to question Granny Hall about the children's failure.
The old woman's reply was a tissue of contradictions: the girls were idle hussies, all contrary: they plagued the very life out of her, and she represented herself as using the most frightful threats, if they would not go to school. Breaking every bone in their skin was the least injury she promised them; till Mary, beginning to think her a cruel old woman, took hold of her brother's coat-tails for protection.
"But I am afraid, Mrs. Hall," said Richard, in that tone which might be either ironical or simple, "if you served them so, they would never be able to get to school at all, poor things."
"Bless you, sir, d'ye think I'd ever lay a finger near them; it's only the way one must talk to children, you see," said she, patronising his inexperience.
"Perhaps they have found that out," said Richard. Granny looked much entertained, and laughed triumphantly and shrewdly, "ay, ay, that they have, the lasses--they be sharp enough for anything, that they be. Why, when I tell little Jenny that there's the black man coming after her, what does she do but she ups and says, 'Granny, I know 'tis only the wind in the chimney.'"
"Then I don't think it seems to answer," said Richard. "Just suppose you were to try for once, really punishing them when they won't obey you, perhaps they would do it next time."
"Why, sir, you see I don't like to take the stick to them; they've got no mother, you see, sir."
Mary thought her a kind grandmother, and came out from behind her brother.
"I think it would be kinder to do it for once. What do you think they will do as they grow older, if you don't keep them in order when they are little?"
This was foresight beyond Granny Hall, who began to expatiate on the troubles she had undergone in their service, and the excellence of Sam. There was certainly a charm in her manners, for Ethel forgot her charge of ingratitude, the other sisters were perfectly taken with her, nor could they any of them help giving credence to her asseverations that Jenny and Polly should come to school next Sunday.
They soon formed another acquaintance; a sharp-faced woman stood in their path, with a little girl in her hand, and arrested them with a low curtsey, and not a very pleasant voice, addressing herself to Flora, who was quite as tall as Richard, and appeared the person of most consequence.
"If you please, miss, I wanted to speak to you. I have got a little girl here, and I want to send her to school, only I have no shoes for her."
"Why, surely, if she can run about here on the heath, she can go to school," said Flora.
"Oh! but there is all the other children to point at her. The poor thing would be daunted, you see, miss; if I could but get some friend to give her a pair of shoes, I'd send her in a minute. I want her to get some learning; as I am always saying, I'd never keep her away, if I had but got the clothes to send her in. I never lets her be running on the common, like them Halls, as it's a shame to see them in nice frocks, as Mrs. Hall got by going hypercriting about."
"What is your name? " said Richard, cutting her short.
"Watts, if you please, sir; we heard there was good work up here, sir, and so we came; but I'd never have set foot in it if I had known what a dark heathenish place it is, with never a Gospel minister to come near it," and a great deal more to the same purpose.
Mary whispered to Flora something about having outgrown her boots, but Flora silenced her by a squeeze of the hand, and the two friends of Cocksmoor felt a good deal puzzled.
At last Flora said, "You will soon get her clothed if she comes regularly to school on Sundays, for she will be admitted into the club; I will recommend her if she has a good character and comes regularly. Good-morning, Mrs. Watts. Now we must go, or it will be dark before we get home." And they walked hastily away.
"Horrid woman!" was Ethel's exclamation.
"But Flora," said innocent Mary, "why would you not let me give the little girl my boots?"
"Perhaps I may, if she is good and comes to school, said Flora.
"I think Margaret ought to settle what you do with your boots," said Richard, not much to Flora's satisfaction.
"It is the same," she said. "If I approve, Margaret will not object."
"How well you helped us out, Flora," said Ethel; "I did not know in the least what to say."
"It will be the best way of testing her sincerity, said Flora; and at least it will do the child good; but I congratulate you on the promising aspect of Cocksmoor."
"We did not expect to find a perfect place," said Ethel; if it were, it would be of no use to go to it."
Ethel could answer with dignity, but her heart sank at the aspect of what she had undertaken. She knew there would be evil, but she had expected it in a more striking and less disagreeable form.
That walk certainly made her less impatient, though it did not relax her determination, nor the guard over her lion and bear, which her own good feeling, aided by Margaret's council, showed her were the greatest hindrances to her doing anything good and great.
Though she was obliged to set to work so many principles and reflections to induce herself to wipe a pen, or to sit straight on her chair, that it was like winding up a steam-engine to thread a needle; yet the work was being done--she was struggling with her faults, humbled by them, watching them, and overcoming them.
Flora, meanwhile, was sitting calmly down in the contemplation of the unexpected services she had rendered, confident that her character for energy and excellence was established, believing it herself, and looking back on her childish vanity and love of domineering as long past and conquered. She thought her grown-up character had begun, and was too secure to examine it closely.
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