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Pitch thy behaviour low, thy projects high, So shalt thou humble and magnanimous be; Sink not in spirit; who aimeth at the sky Shoots higher much than he that means a tree. A grain of glory mixed with humbleness, Cures both a fever and lethargicness. HERBERT.
"Norman, do you feel up to a long day's work?" said Dr. May, on the following morning. "I have to set off after breakfast to see old Mrs. Gould, and to be at Abbotstoke Grange by twelve; then I thought of going to Fordholm, and getting Miss Cleveland to give us some luncheon--there are some poor people on the way to look at; and that girl on Far-view Hill; and there's another place to call in at coming home. You'll have a good deal of sitting in the carriage, holding Whitefoot, so if you think you shall be cold or tired, don't scruple to say so, and I'll take Adams to drive me."
"No, thank you," said Norman briskly. "This frost is famous."
"It will turn to rain, I expect--it is too white," said the doctor, looking out at the window. "How will you get to Cocksmoor, good people?"
"Ethel won't believe it rains unless it is very bad," said Richard.
Norman set out with his father, and prosperously performed the expedition, arriving at Abbotstoke Grange at the appointed hour.
"Ha!" said the doctor, as the iron gates of ornamental scrollwork were swung back, "there's a considerable change in this place since I was here last. Well kept up indeed! Not a dead leaf left under the old walnuts, and the grass looks as smooth as if they had a dozen gardeners rolling it every day."
"And the drive," said Norman, "more like a garden walk than a road! But oh! what a splendid cedar!"
"Isn't it! I remember that as long as I remember anything. All this fine rolling of turf, and trimming up of the place, does not make much difference to you, old fellow, does it? You don't look altered since I saw you last, when old Jervis was letting the place go to rack and ruin. So they have a new entrance--very handsome conservatory--flowers--the banker does things in style. There," as Norman helped him off with his plaid, "wrap yourself up well, don't get cold. The sun is gone in, and I should not wonder if the rain were coming after all. I'll not be longer than I can help."
Dr. May disappeared from his son's sight through the conservatory, where, through the plate-glass, the exotics looked so fresh and perfumy, that Norman almost fancied that the scent reached him. "How much poor Margaret would enjoy one of those camellias," thought he, "and these people have bushels of them for mere show. If I were papa, I should be tempted to be like Beauty's father, and carry off one. How she would admire it!"
Norman had plenty of time to meditate on the camellias, and then to turn and speculate on the age of the cedar, whether it could have been planted by the monks of Stoneborough Abbey, to whom the Grange had belonged, brought from Lebanon by a pilgrim, perhaps; and then he tried to guess at the longevity of cedars, and thought of asking Margaret, the botanist of the family. Then he yawned, moved the horse a little about, opined that Mr. Rivers must be very prosy, or have some abstruse complaint, considered the sky, and augured rain, buttoned another button of his rough coat, and thought of Miss Cleveland's dinner. Then he thought there was a very sharp wind, and drove about till he found a sheltered place on the lee side of the great cedar, looked up at it, and thought it would be a fine subject for verses, if Mr. Wilmot knew of it, and then proceeded to consider what he should make of them.
In the midst he was suddenly roused by the deep-toned note of a dog, and beheld a large black Newfoundland dog leaping about the horse in great indignation. "Rollo! Rollo!" called a clear young voice, and he saw two ladles returning from a walk. Rollo, at the first call, galloped back to his mistress, and was evidently receiving an admonition, and promising good behaviour. The two ladies entered the house, while he lay down on the step, with his lion-like paw hanging down, watching Norman with a brilliant pair of hazel eyes. Norman, after a little more wondering when Mr. Rivers would have done with his father, betook himself to civil demonstrations to the creature, who received them with dignity, and presently, after acknowledging with his tail, various whispers of "Good old fellow," and "Here, old Rollo!" having apparently satisfied himself that the young gentleman was respectable, he rose, and vouchsafed to stand up with his forepaws in the gig, listening amiably to Norman's delicate flatteries. Norman even began to hope to allure him into jumping on the seat: but a great bell rang, and Rollo immediately turned round, and dashed off, at full speed, to some back region of the house. "So, old fellow, you know what the dinner-bell means," thought Norman. "I hope Mr. Rivers is hungry too. Miss Cleveland will have eaten up her whole luncheon, if this old bore won't let my father go soon! I hope he is desperately ill--'tis his only excuse! Heigh ho! I must jump out to warm my feet soon! There, there's a drop of rain! Well, there's no end to it! I wonder what Ethel is doing about Cocksmoor! It is setting in for a wet afternoon!" and Norman disconsolately put up his umbrella.
At last Dr. May and another gentleman were seen in the conservatory, and Norman gladly proceeded to clear the seat; but Dr. May called out, "Jump out, Norman, Mr. Rivers is so kind as to ask us to stay to luncheon."
With boyish shrinking from strangers, Norman privately wished Mr. Rivers at Jericho, as he gave the reins to a servant, and entered the conservatory, where a kindly hand was held out to him by a gentleman of about fifty, with a bald smooth forehead, soft blue eyes, and gentle pleasant face. "Is this your eldest son?" said he, turning to Dr. May--and the manner of both was as if they were already well acquainted. "No, this is my second. The eldest is not quite such a long-legged fellow," said Dr. May. And then followed the question addressed to Norman himself, where he was at school.
"At Stoneborough," said Norman, a little amused at the thought how angry Ethel and Harry would be that the paragraph of the county paper, where "N. W. May" was recorded as prizeman and foremost in the examination, had not penetrated even to Abbotstoke Grange, or rather to its owner's memory.
However, his father could not help adding, "He is the head of the school--a thing we Stoneborough men think much of."
This, and Mr. Rivers's civil answer, made Norman so hot, that he did not notice much in passing through a hall full of beautiful vases, stuffed birds, busts, etc., tastefully arranged, and he did not look up till they were entering a handsome dining-room, where a small square table was laid out for luncheon near a noble fire.
The two ladies were there, and Mr. Rivers introduced them as his daughter and Mrs. Larpent. It was the most luxurious meal that Norman had ever seen, the plate, the porcelain, and all the appointments of the table so elegant, and the viands, all partaking of the Christmas character, and of a recherche delicate description quite new to him. He had to serve as his father's right hand, and was so anxious to put everything as Dr. May liked it, and without attracting notice, that he hardly saw or listened till Dr. May began to admire a fine Claude on the opposite wall, and embarked in a picture discussion. The doctor had much taste for art, and had made the most of his opportunities of seeing paintings during his time of study at Paris, and in a brief tour to Italy. Since that time, few good pictures had come in his way, and these were a great pleasure to him, while Mr. Rivers, a regular connoisseur, was delighted to meet with one who could so well appreciate them. Norman perceived how his father was enjoying the conversation, and was much interested both by the sight of the first fine paintings he had ever seen, and by the talk about their merits; but the living things in the room had more of his attention and observation, especially the young lady who sat at the head of the table; a girl about his own age; she was on a very small scale, and seemed to him like a fairy, in the airy lightness and grace of her movements, and the blithe gladsomeness of her gestures and countenance. Form and features, though perfectly healthful and brisk, had the peculiar finish and delicacy of a miniature painting, and were enhanced by the sunny glance of her dark soft smiling eyes. Her hair was in black silky braids, and her dress, with its gaiety of well-assorted colour, was positively refreshing to his eye, so long accustomed to the deep mourning of his sisters. A little Italian greyhound, perfectly white, was at her side, making infinite variations of the line of beauty and grace, with its elegant outline, and S-like tail, as it raised its slender nose in hopes of a fragment of bread which she from time to time dispensed to it.
Luncheon over, Mr. Rivers asked Dr. May to step into his library, and Norman guessed that they had been talking all this time, and had never come to the medical opinion. However, a good meal and a large fire made a great difference in his toleration, and it was so new a scene, that he had no objection to a prolonged waiting, especially when Mrs. Larpent said, in a very pleasant tone, "Will you come into the drawing-room with us?"
He felt somewhat as if he was walking in enchanted ground as he followed her into the large room, the windows opening into the conservatory, the whole air fragrant with flowers, the furniture and ornaments so exquisite of their kind, and all such a fit scene for the beautiful little damsel, who, with her slender dog by her side, tripped on demurely, and rather shyly, but with a certain skipping lightness in her step. A very tall overgrown schoolboy did Norman feel himself for one bashful moment, when he found himself alone with the two ladies; but he was ready to be set at ease by Mrs. Larpent's good-natured manner, when she said something of Rollo's discourtesy. He smiled, and answered that he had made great friends with the fine old dog, and spoke of his running off to the dinner, at which little Miss Rivers laughed, and looked delighted, and began to tell of Rollo's perfections and intelligence. Norman ventured to inquire the name of the little Italian, and was told it was Nipen, because it had once stolen a cake, much like the wind-spirit in Feats on the Fiord. Its beauty and tricks were duly displayed, and a most beautiful Australian parrot was exhibited, Mrs. Larpent taking full interest in the talk, in so lively and gentle a manner, and she and her pretty pupil evidently on such sister-like terms, that Norman could hardly believe her to be the governess, when he thought of Miss Winter.
Miss Rivers took up some brown leaves which she was cutting out with scissors, and shaping. "Our holiday work," said Mrs. Larpent, in answer to the inquiring look of Norman's eyes. "Meta has been making a drawing for her papa, and is framing it in leather-work. Have you ever seen any?"
"Never!" and Norman looked eagerly, asking questions, and watching while Miss Rivers cut out her ivy leaf and marked its veins, and showed how she copied it from nature. He thanked her, saying, "I wanted to learn all about it, for I thought it would be such nice work for my eldest sister."
A glance of earnest interest from little Meta's bright eyes at her governess, and Mrs. Larpent, in a kind, soft tone that quite gained his heart, asked, "Is she the invalid?"
"Yes," said Norman. "New fancy work is a great gain to her."
Mrs. Larpent's sympathetic questions, and Meta's softening eyes, gradually drew from him a great deal about Margaret's helpless state, and her patience, and capabilities, and how every one came to her with all their cares; and Norman, as he spoke, mentally contrasted the life, untouched by trouble and care, led by the fair girl before him, with that atmosphere of constant petty anxieties round her namesake's couch, at years so nearly the same.
"How very good she must be," said little Meta, quickly and softly; and a tear was sparkling on her eyelashes.
"She is indeed," said Norman earnestly. "I don't know what papa would do but for her."
Mrs. Larpent asked kind questions whether his father's arm was very painful, and the hopes of its cure; and he felt as if she was a great friend already. Thence they came to books. Norman had not read for months past, but it happened that Meta was just now reading Woodstock, with which he was of course familiar; and both grew eager in discussing that and several others. Of one, Meta spoke in such terms of delight, that Norman thought it had been very stupid of him to let it lie on the table for the last fortnight without looking into it.
He was almost sorry to see his father and Mr. Rivers come in, and hear the carriage ordered, but they were not off yet, though the rain was now only Scotch mist. Mr. Rivers had his most choice little pictures still to display, his beautiful early Italian masters, finished like illuminations, and over these there was much lingering and admiring. Meta had whispered something to her governess, who smiled, and advanced to Norman. "Meta wishes to know if your sister would like to have a few flowers?" said she.
No sooner said than done; the door into the conservatory was opened, and Meta, cutting sprays of beautiful geranium, delicious heliotrope, fragrant calycanthus, deep blue tree violet, and exquisite hothouse ferns; perfect wonders to Norman, who, at each addition to the bouquet, exclaimed by turns, "Oh, thank you!" and, "How she will like it!"
Her father reached a magnolia blossom from on high, and the quick warm grateful emotion trembled in Dr. May's features and voice, as he said, "It is very kind in you; you have given my poor girl a great treat. Thank you with all my heart."
Margaret Rivers cast down her eyes, half smiled, and shrank back, thinking she had never felt anything like the left-handed grasp, so full of warmth and thankfulness. It gave her confidence to venture on the one question on which she was bent. Her father was in the hall, showing Norman his Greek nymph; and lifting her eyes to Dr. May's face, then casting them down, she coloured deeper than ever, as she said, in a stammering whisper, "Oh, please--if you would tell me- -do you think--is papa very ill?"
Dr. May answered in his softest, most reassuring tones: "You need not be alarmed about him, I assure you. You must keep him from too much business," he added, smiling; "make him ride with you, and not let him tire himself, and I am sure you can be his best doctor."
"But do you think," said Meta, earnestly looking up--"do you think he will be quite well again?"
"You must not expect doctors to be absolute oracles," said he. "I will tell you what I told him--I hardly think his will ever be sound health again, but I see no reason why he should not have many years of comfort, and there is no cause for you to disquiet yourself on his account--you have only to be careful of him."
Meta tried to say "thank you," but not succeeding, looked imploringly at her governess, who spoke for her. "Thank you, it is a great relief to have an opinion, for we were not at all satisfied about Mr. Rivers."
A few words more, and Meta was skipping about like a sprite finding a basket for the flowers--she had another shake of the hand, another grateful smile, and "thank you," from the doctor; and then, as the carriage disappeared, Mrs. Larpent exclaimed, "What a very nice intelligent boy that was."
"Particularly gentlemanlike," said Mr. Rivers. "Very clever--the head of the school, as his father tells me--and so modest and unassuming-- though I see his father is very proud of him."
"Oh, I am sure they are so fond of each other," said Meta: "didn't you see his attentive ways to his father at luncheon! And, papa, I am sure you must like Dr. May, Mr. Wilmot's doctor, as much as I said you would."
"He is the most superior man I have met with for a long time," said Mr. Rivers. "It is a great acquisition to find a man of such taste and acquirements in this country neighbourhood, when there is not another who can tell a Claude from a Poussin. I declare, when once we began talking, there was no leaving off--I have not met a person of so much conversation since I left town. I thought you would like to see him, Meta."
"I hope I shall know the Miss Mays some time or other."
"That is the prettiest little fairy I ever did see!" was Dr. May's remark, as Norman drove from the door.
"How good-natured they are!" said Norman; "I just said something about Margaret, and she gave me all these flowers. How Margaret will be delighted! I wish the girls could see it all!"
"So you got on well with the ladies, did you?"
"They were very kind to me. It was very pleasant!" said Norman, with a tone of enjoyment that did his father's heart good.
"I was glad you should come in. Such a curiosity shop is a sight, and those pictures were some of them well worth seeing. That was a splendid Titian."
"That cast of the Pallas of the Parthenon--how beautiful it was--I knew it from the picture in Smith's dictionary. Mr. Rivers said he would show me all his antiques if you would bring me again."
"I saw he liked your interest in them. He is a good, kind-hearted dilettante sort of old man; he has got all the talk of the literary, cultivated society in London, and must find it dullish work here."
"You liked him, didn't you?"
"He is very pleasant; I found he knew my old friend, Benson, whom I had not seen since we were at Cambridge together, and we got on that and other matters; London people have an art of conversation not learned here, and I don't know how the time slipped away; but you must have been tolerably tired of waiting."
"Not to signify," said Norman. "I only began to think he must be very ill; I hope there is not much the matter with him."
"I can't say. I am afraid there is organic disease, but I think it may be kept quiet a good while yet, and he may have a pleasant life for some time to come, arranging his prints, and petting his pretty daughter. He has plenty to fall back upon."
"Do you go there again?"
"Yes, next week. I am glad of it. I shall like to have another look at that little Madonna of his--it is the sort of picture that does one good to carry away in one's eye. Whay! Stop. There's an old woman in here. It is too late for Fordholm, but these cases won't wait."
He went into the cottage, and soon returned, saying, "Fine new blankets, and a great kettle of soup, and such praises of the ladies at the Grange!" And, at the next house, it was the same story. "Well, 'tis no mockery now to tell the poor creatures they want nourishing food. Slices of meat and bottles of port wine rain down on Abbotstoke."
A far more talkative journey than usual ensued; the discussion of the paintings and antiques was almost equally delightful to the father and son, and lasted till, about a mile from Stoneborough, they descried three figures in the twilight.
"Ha! How are you, Wilmot? So you braved the rain, Ethel. Jump in," called the doctor, as Norman drew up.
"I shall crowd you--I shall hurt your arm, papa; thank you."
"No, you won't--jump in--there's room for three thread-papers in one gig. Why, Wilmot, your brother has a very jewel of a squire! How did you fare?"
"Very well on the whole," was Mr. Wllmot's answer, while Ethel scrambled in, and tried to make herself small, an art in which she was not very successful; and Norman gave an exclamation of horrified warning, as she was about to step into the flower-basket; then she nearly tumbled out again in dismay, and was relieved to find herself safely wedged in, without having done any harm, while her father called out to Mr. Wilmot, as they started, "I say! You are coming back to tea with us."
That cheerful tone, and the kindness to herself, were a refreshment and revival to Ethel, who was still sobered and shocked by her yesterday's adventure, and by the sense of her father's sorrowful displeasure. Expecting further to be scolded for getting in so awkwardly, she did not venture to volunteer anything, and even when he kindly said, "I hope you were prosperous in your expedition," she only made answer, in a very grave voice, "Yes, papa, we have taken a very nice tidy room."
"What do you pay for it?"
"Fourpence for each time."
"Well, here's for you," said Dr. May. "It is only two guineas to-day; that banker at the Grange beguiled us of our time, but you had better close the bargain for him, Ethel--he will be a revenue for you, for this winter at least."
"Oh, thank you, papa," was all Ethel could say; overpowered by his kindness, and more repressed by what she felt so unmerited, than she would have been by coldness, she said few words, and preferred listening to Norman, who began to describe their adventures at the Grange.
All her eagerness revived, however, as she sprang out of the carriage, full of tidings for Margaret; and it was almost a race between her and Norman to get upstairs, and unfold their separate budgets.
Margaret's lamp had just been lighted, when they made their entrance, Norman holding the flowers on high.
"Oh, how beautiful! how delicious! For me? Where did you get them?"
"From Abbotstoke Grange; Miss Rivers sent them to you."
"How very kind! What a lovely geranium, and oh, that fern! I never saw anything so choice. How came she to think of me?"
"They asked me in because it rained, and she was making the prettiest things, leather leaves and flowers for picture frames. I thought it was work that would just suit you, and learned how to do it. That made them ask about you, and it ended by her sending you this nosegay."
"How very kind everybody is! Well, Ethel, are you come home too?"
"Papa picked me up. Oh, Margaret, we have found such a nice room, a clean sanded kitchen--"
"You never saw such a conservatory--"
"And it is to be let to us for fourpence a time--"
"The house is full of beautiful things, pictures and statues. Only think of a real Titian, and a cast of the Apollo!"
"Twenty children to begin with, and Richard is going to make some forms."
"Mr. Rivers is going to show me all his casts."
"Oh, is he? But only think how lucky we were to find such a nice woman; Mr. Wilmot was so pleased with her."
Norman found one story at a time was enough, and relinquished the field, contenting himself with silently helping Margaret to arrange the flowers, holding the basket for her, and pleased with her gestures of admiration. Ethel went on with her history. "The first place we thought of would not do at all; the woman said she would not take half-a-crown a week to have a lot of children stabbling about, as she called it; so we went to another house, and there was a very nice woman indeed, Mrs. Green, with one little boy, whom she wanted to send to school, only it is too far. She says she always goes to church at Fordholm because it is nearer, and she is quite willing to let us have the room. So we settled it, and next Friday we are to begin. Papa has given us two guineas, and that will pay for, let me see, a hundred and twenty-six times, and Mr. Wilmot is going to give us some books, and Ritchie will print some alphabets. We told a great many of the, people, and they are so glad. Old Granny Hall said, 'Well, I never!' and told the girls they must be as good as gold now the gentlefolks was coming to teach them. Mr. Wilmot is coming with us every Friday as long as the holidays last."
Ethel departed on her father's coming in to ask Margaret if she would like to have a visit from Mr. Wilmot. She enjoyed this very much, and he sat there nearly an hour, talking of many matters, especially the Cocksmoor scheme, on which she was glad to hear his opinion at first hand.
"I am very glad you think well of it," she said. "It is most desirable that something should be done for those poor people, and Richard would never act rashly; but I have longed for advice whether it was right to promote Ethel's undertaking. I suppose Richard told you how bent on it she was, long before papa was told of it."
"He said it was her great wish, and had been so for a long time past."
Margaret, in words more adequate to express the possession the project had gained of Ethel's ardent mind, explained the whole history of it. "I do believe she looks on it as a sort of call," said she, "and I have felt as if I ought not to hinder her, and yet I did not know whether it was right, at her age, to let her undertake so much."
"I understand," said Mr. Wilmot, "but, from what I have seen of Ethel, I should think you had decided rightly. There seems to me to be such a spirit of energy in her, that if she does not act, she will either speculate and theorise, or pine and prey on herself. I do believe that hard homely work, such as this school-keeping, is the best outlet for what might otherwise run to extravagance--more especially as you say the hope of it has already been an incentive to improvement in home duties."
"That I am sure it has," said Margaret.
"Moreover," said Mr. Wilmot, "I think you were quite right in thinking that to interfere with such a design was unsafe. I do believe that a great deal of harm is done by prudent friends, who dread to let young people do anything out of the common way, and so force their aspirations to ferment and turn sour, for want of being put to use."
"Still girls are told they ought to wait patiently, and not to be eager for self-imposed duties."
"I am not saying that it is not the appointed discipline for the girls themselves," said Mr. Wilmot. "If they would submit, and do their best, it would doubtless prove the most beneficial thing for them; but it is a trial in which they often fail, and I had rather not be in the place of such friends."
"It is a great puzzle!" said Margaret, sighing.
"Ah! I dare say you are often perplexed," said her friend kindly.
"Indeed I am. There are so many little details that I cannot be always teasing papa with, and yet which I do believe form the character more than the great events, and I never know whether I act for the best. And there are so many of us, so many duties, I cannot half attend to any. Lately, I have been giving up almost everything to keep this room quiet for Norman in the morning, because he was so much harassed and hurt by bustle and confusion, and I found to-day that things have gone wrong in consequence."
"You must do the best you can, and try to trust that while you work in the right spirit, your failures will be compensated," said Mr. Wilmot. "It is a hard trial."
"I like your understanding it," said Margaret, smiling sadly. "I don't know whether it is silly, but I don't like to be pitied for the wrong thing. My being so helpless is what every one laments over; but, after all, that is made up to me by the petting and kindness I get from all of them; but it is the being mistress of the house, and having to settle for every one, without knowing whether I do right or wrong, that is my trouble."
"I am not sure, however, that it is right to call it a trouble, though it is a trial."
"I see what you mean," said Margaret. "I ought to be thankful. I know it is an honour, and I am quite sure I should be grieved if they did not all come to me and consult me as they do. I had better not have complained, and yet I am glad I did, for I like you to understand my difficulties."
"And, indeed, I wish to enter into them, and do or say anything in my power to help you. But I don't know anything that can be of so much comfort as the knowledge that He who laid the burden on you, will help you to bear it."
"Yes," said Margaret, pausing; and then, with a sweet look, though a heavy sigh, she said, "It is very odd how things turn out! I always had a childish fancy that I would be useful and important, but I little thought how it would be! However, as long as Richard is in the house, I always feel secure about the others, and I shall soon be downstairs myself. Don't you think dear papa in better spirits?"
"I thought so to-day,"--and here the doctor returned, talking of Abbotstoke Grange, where he had certainly been much pleased. "It was a lucky chance," he said, "that they brought Norman in. It was exactly what I wanted to rouse and interest him, and he took it all in so well, that I am sure they were pleased with him. I thought he looked a very lanky specimen of too much leg and arm when I called him in, but he has such good manners, and is so ready and understanding, that they could not help liking him. It was fortunate I had him instead of Richard--Ritchie is a very good fellow, certainly, but he had rather look at a steam-engine, any day, than at Raphael himself."
Norman had his turn by-and-by. He came up after tea, reporting that papa was fast asleep in his chair, and the others would go on about Cocksmoor till midnight, if they were let alone; and made up for his previous yielding to Ethel, by giving, with much animation, and some excitement, a glowing description of the Grange, so graphic, that Margaret said she could almost fancy she had been there.
"Oh, Margaret, I wonder if you ever will! I would give something for you to see the beautiful conservatory. It is a real bower for a maiden of romance, with its rich green fragrance in the midst of winter. It is like a picture in a dream. One could imagine it a fairy land, where no care, or grief, or weariness could come, all choice beauty and sweetness waiting on the creature within. I can hardly believe that it is a real place, and that I have seen it."
"Though you have brought these pretty tokens that your fairy is as good as she is fair!" said Margaret, smiling.
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