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Think how simple things and lowly, Have a part in Nature's plan, How the great hath small beginnings, And the child will be a man. Little efforts work great actions, Lessons in our childhood taught Mould the spirit of that temper Whereby blessed deeds are wrought. Cherish, then, the gifts of childhood, Use them gently, guard them well, For their future growth and greatness Who can measure, who can tell! MORAL SONGS.
The first shock of Tom's misdemeanour passed away, though it still gave many an anxious thought to such of the family as felt responsible for him.
The girls were busily engaged in preparing an Easter feast for Cocksmoor. Mr. Wilmot was to examine the scholars, and buns and tea were provided, in addition to which Ethel designed to make a present to every one--a great task, considering that the Cocksmoor funds were reserved for absolute necessaries, and were at a very low ebb. So that twenty-five gifts were to be composed out of nothing!
There was a grand turn-out of drawers of rubbish, all over Margaret, raising such a cloud of dust as nearly choked her. What cannot rubbish and willing hands effect! Envelopes and wafer boxes were ornamented with pictures, bags, needle-cases, and pincushions, beautiful balls, tippets, both of list and gay print, and even sun- bonnets and pinafores were contrived, to the supreme importance and delight of Mary and Blanche, who found it as good or better than play, and ranged their performances in rows, till the room looked like a bazaar. To provide for boys was more difficult; but Richard mended old toys, and repaired the frames of slates, and Norman's contribution of half-a-crown bought mugs, marbles, and penny knives, and there were even hopes that something would remain for bodkins, to serve as nozzles to the bellows, which were the pride of Blanche's heart.
Never were Easter gifts the source of more pleasure to the givers, especially when the nursery establishment met Dr. Hoxton near the pastrycook's shop, and he bestowed on Blanche a packet of variegated sugar-plums, all of which she literally poured out at Ethel's feet, saying, "I don't want them. Only let me have one for Aubrey, because he is so little. All the rest are for the poor children at Cocksmoor."
After this, Margaret declared that Blanche must be allowed to buy the bodkin, and give her bellows to Jane Taylor, the only Cocksmoor child she knew, and to whom she always destined in turn every gift that she thought most successful.
So Blanche went with Flora to the toy-shop, and there fell in love with a little writing-box, that so eclipsed the bellows, that she tried to persuade Flora to buy it for Jane Taylor, to be kept till she could write, and was much disappointed to hear that it was out of the question. Just then a carriage stopped, and from it stepped the pretty little figure of Meta Rivers.
"Oh! how do you do? How delightful to meet you! I was wondering if we should! Little Blanche too!" kissing her, "and here's Mrs. Larpent--Mrs. Larpent--Miss Flora May. How is Miss May?"
This was all uttered in eager delight, and Flora, equally pleased, answered the inquiries. "I hope you are not in a hurry," proceeded Meta; "I want your advice. You know all about schools, don't you? I am come to get some Easter presents for our children, and I am sure you can help me."
"Are the children little or big?" asked Flora.
"Oh! all sorts and sizes. I have some books for the great sensible ones, and some stockings and shoes for the tiresome stupid ones, but there are some dear little pets that I want nice things for. There-- there's a doll that looks just fit for little curly-headed Annie Langley, don't you think so, Mrs. Larpent?"
The price of the doll was a shilling, and there were quickly added to it, boxes of toys, elaborate bead-work pincushions, polished blue and green boxes, the identical writing-case--even a small Noah's ark. Meta hardly asked the prices, which certainly were not extravagant, since she had nearly twenty articles for little more than a pound.
"Papa has given me a benefaction of £5 for my school-gifts," said she, "is not that charming? I wish you would come to the feast. Now, do! It is on Easter Tuesday. Won't you come?"
"Thank you, I am afraid we can't. I should like it very much."
"You never will come to me. You have no compassion."
"We should enjoy coming very much. Perhaps, in the summer, when Margaret is better."
"Could not she spare any of you? Well, I shall talk to papa, and make him talk to Dr. May. Mrs. Larpent will tell you I always get my way. Don't I? Good-bye. See if I don't."
She departed, and Flora returned to her own business; but Blanche's interest was gone. Dazzled by the more lavish gifts, she looked listlessly and disdainfully at bodkins, three for twopence. "I wish I might have bought the writing-box for Janet Taylor! Why does not papa give us money to get pretty things for the children?" said she, as soon as they came out.
"Because he is not so rich as Miss Rivers's papa."
Flora was interrupted by meeting the Misses Anderson, who asked, "Was not that carriage Mr. Rivers's of Abbotstoke Grange?"
"Yes. We like Miss Rivers very much," said Flora, resolved to show that she was acquainted.
"Oh! do you visit her? I knew he was a patient of Dr. May." Flora thought there was no need to tell that the only call had been owing to the rain, and continued, "She has been begging us to come to her school feast, but I do not think we can manage it."
"Oh, indeed! the Grange is very beautiful, is it not?"
"Very," said Flora. "Good-morning."
Flora had a little uneasiness in her conscience, but it was satisfactory to have put down Louisa Anderson, who never could aspire to an intimacy with Miss Rivers. Her little sister looked up--"Why, Flora, have you seen the Grange?"
"No, but papa and Norman said so."
And Blanche showed that the practical lesson on the pomps of the world was not lost on her, by beginning to wish they were as rich as Miss Rivers. Flora told her it was wrong to be discontented, but the answer was, "I don't want it for myself, I want to have pretty things to give away."
And her mind could not be turned from the thought by any attempt of her sister. Even when they met Dr. May coming out of the hospital, Blanche renewed the subject. She poured out the catalogue of Miss Rivers's purchases, making appealing attempts at looking under his spectacles into his eyes, and he perfectly understood the tenor of her song.
"I have had a sight, too, of little maidens preparing Easter gifts," said he.
"Have you, papa? What were they? Were they as nice as Miss Rivers's?"
"I don't know, but I thought they were the best sort of gifts, for I saw that plenty of kind thought and clever contrivance went to them, ay, and some little self-denial too."
"Papa, you look as if you meant something; but ours are nothing but nasty old rubbish."
"Perhaps some fairy, or something better, has brought a wand to touch the rubbish, Blanche; for I think that the maidens gave what would have been worthless kept, but became precious as they gave it."
"Do you mean the list of our flannel petticoats, papa, that Mary has made into a tippet?"
"Perhaps I meant Mary's own time and pains, as well as the tippet. Would she have done much good with them otherwise?"
"No, she would have played. Oh! then you like the presents because they are our own making? I never thought of that. Was that the reason you did not give us any of your sovereigns to buy things with?"
"Perhaps I want my sovereigns for the eleven gaping mouths at home, Blanche. But would not it be a pity to spoil your pleasure? You would have lost all the chattering and laughing and buzzing I have heard round Margaret of late, and I am quite sure Miss Rivers can hardly be as happy in the gifts that cost her nothing, as one little girl who gives her sugar-plums out of her own mouth!"
Blanche clasped her papa's hand tight, and bounded five or six times. "They are our presents, not yours," said she. "Yes, I see. I like them better now."
"Ay, ay," said the doctor. "Seeing Miss Rivers's must not take the shine out of yours, my little maids; for if you can't give much, you have the pleasure of giving the best of all, your labour of love." Then thinking on, and speaking to Flora, "The longer I live, the more I see the blessing of being born in a state of life where you can't both eat your cake and give it away."
Flora never was at ease in a conversation with her father; she could not follow him, and did not like to show it. She answered aside from the mark, "You would not have Blanche underrate Miss Rivers?"
"No, indeed, she is as good and sweet a creature as ever came across me--most kind to Margaret, and loving to all the world. I like to see one whom care and grief have never set their grip upon. Most likely she would do like Ethel, if she had the opportunity, but she has not."
"So she has not the same merit?" said Flora.
"We don't talk of merit. I mean that the power of sacrifice is a great advantage. The habit of small sacrifice that is made necessary in a large family is a discipline that only-children are without: and so, with regard to wealth, I think people are to be pitied who can give extensively out of such abundance that they can hardly feel the want."
"In effect, they can do much more," said Flora.
"I am not sure of that. They can, of course, but it must be at the cost of personal labour and sacrifice. I have often thought of the words, 'Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.' And 'such as we have' it is that does the good; the gold, if we have it, but, at any rate, the personal influence; the very proof of sincerity, shown by the exertion and self-denial, tells far more than money lightly come by, lightly spent."
"Do you mean that a person who maintained a whole school would do less good than one who taught one child?"
"If the rich person take no pains, and leave the school to take care of itself--nay, if he only visit it now and then, and never let it inconvenience him, has he the least security that the scholars are obtaining any real good from it? If the teacher of the one child is doing his utmost, he is working for himself at least."
"Suppose we could build, say our church and school, on Cocksmoor at once, and give our superintendence besides?"
"If things were ripe for it, the means would come. As it is, it is a fine field for Ethel and Richard. I believe it will be the making of them both. I am sure it is training Ethel, or making her train herself, as we could never have done without it. But here, come in and see old Mrs. Robins. A visit from you will cheer her up."
Flora was glad of the interruption, the conversation was uncomfortable to her. She almost fancied her papa was moralising for their good, but that he carried it too far, for wealthy people assuredly had it in their power to do great things, and might work as hard themselves; besides, it was finer in them, there was so much eclat in their stooping to charity. But her knowledge of his character would not allow her to think for a moment that he could say aught but from the bottom of his heart--no, it was one of his one- sided views that led him into paradox. "It was just like papa," and so there was no need to attend to it. It was one of his enthusiasms, he was so very fond of Ethel, probably because of her likeness to himself. Flora thought Ethel put almost too forward--they all helped at Cocksmoor, and Ethel was very queer and unformed, and could do nothing by herself. The only thing Flora did keep in her mind was, that her papa had spoken to her, as if she were a woman compared with Ethel.
Little Blanche made her report of the conversation to Mary, "that it was so nice; and now she did not care about Miss Rivers's fine presents at all, for papa said what one made oneself was better to give than what one bought. And papa said, too, that it was a good thing not to be rich, for then one never felt the miss of what one gave away."
Margaret, who overheard the exposition, thought it so much to Blanche's credit, that she could not help repeating it in the evening, after the little girl was gone to bed, when Mr. Wilmot had come in to arrange the programme for Cocksmoor. So the little fit of discontent and its occasion, the meeting with Meta Rivers, were discussed.
"Yes," said Mr. Wilmot, "those Riverses are open-handed. They really seem to have so much money, that they don't know what to do with it. My brother is ready to complain that they spoil his parish. It is all meant so well, and they are so kind-hearted and excellent, that it is a shame to find fault, and I tell Charles and his wife that their grumbling at such a squire proves them the most spoiled of all."
"Indiscriminate liberality?" asked the doctor. "I should guess the old gentleman to be rather soft!"
"That's one thing. The parish is so small, and there are so few to shower all this bounty on, and they are so utterly unused to country people. They seem to think by laying out money they can get a show set of peasants in rustic cottages, just as they have their fancy cows and poultry--all that offends the eye out of the way."
"Making it a matter of taste," said the doctor.
"I'm sure I would," said Norman aside to Ethel. "What's the use of getting oneself disgusted?"
"One must not begin with showing dislike," began Ethel, "or--"
"Ay--you like rags, don't you? but hush!"
"That is just what I should expect of Mr. Rivers," said Dr. May; "he has cultivated his taste till it is getting to be a disease, but his daughter has no lack of wit."
"Perhaps not. Charles and Mary are very fond of her, but she is entirely inexperienced, and that is a serious thing with so much money to throw about. She pays people for sending their children to school, and keeping their houses tidy; and there is so much given away, that it is enough to take away all independence and motive for exertion. The people speculate on it, and take it as a right; by- and-by there will be a reaction--she will find out she is imposed upon, take offence, and for the rest of her life will go about saying how ungrateful the poor are!"
"It is a pity good people won't have a little common-sense," said Dr. May. "But there's something so bewitching in that little girl, that I can't give her up. I verily believe she will right herself."
"I have scarcely seen her," said Mr. Wilmot. "She has won papa's heart by her kindness to me," said Margaret, smiling. "You see her beautiful flowers? She seems to me made to lavish pleasures on others wherever she goes."
"Oh, yes, they are most kind-hearted," said Mr. Wilmot. "It is only the excess of a virtue that could be blamed in them, and they are most valuable to the place. She will learn experience in time--I only hope she will not be spoiled."
Flora felt as if her father must be thinking his morning's argument confirmed, and she was annoyed. But she thought there was no reason why wealth should not be used sensibly, and if she were at the head of such an establishment as the Grange, her charity should be so well regulated as to be the subject of general approbation.
She wanted to find some one else on her side, and, as they went to bed, she said to Ethel, "Don't you wish we had some of this superfluity of the Riverses for poor Cocksmoor?"
"I wish we had anything for Cocksmoor! Here's a great hole in my boot, and nurse says I must get a new pair, that is seven-and- sixpence gone! I shall never get the first pound made up towards building!"
"And pounds seem nothing to them," said Flora.
"Yes, but if they don't manage right with them! I'll tell you, Flora, I got into a fit of wishing the other day; it does seem such a grievous pity to see those children running to waste for want of daily teaching, and Jenny Hall had forgotten everything. I was vexed, and thought it was all no use while we could not do more; but just then I began to look out the texts Ritchie had marked for me to print for them to learn, and the first was, 'Be thou faithful over a few things, and I will make thee ruler over many things,' and then I thought perhaps we were learning to be faithful with a few things. I am sure what they said to-night showed it was lucky we have not more in our hands. I should do wrong for ever with the little we have if it were not for Ritchie and Margaret. By the time we have really got the money together for the school, perhaps I shall have more sense."
"Got the money! As if we ever could!"
"Oh, yes! we shall and will. It need not be more than £70, Ritchie says, and I have twelve shillings for certain, put out from the money for hire of the room, and the books and clothes, and, in spite of these horrid boots, I shall save something out of this quarter, half- a-crown at least. And I have another plan besides--"
But Flora had to go down to Margaret's room to bed. Flora was always ready to throw herself into the present, and liked to be the most useful person in all that went forward, so that no thoughts of greatness interfered with her enjoyment at Cocksmoor.
The house seemed wild that Easter Monday morning. Ethel, Mary, and Blanche, flew about in all directions, and in spite of much undoing of their own arrangements, finished their preparations so much too early, that, at half-past eleven, Mary complained that she had nothing to do, and that dinner would never come.
Many were the lamentations at leaving Margaret behind, but she answered them by talking of the treat of having papa all to herself, for he had lent them the gig, and promised to stay at home all the afternoon with her.
The first division started on foot directly after dinner, the real Council of education, as Norman called them, namely, Mr. Wilmot, Richard, Ethel, and Mary; Flora, the other member, waited to take care of Blanche and Aubrey, who were to come in the gig, with the cakes, tea-kettles, and prizes, driven by Norman. Tom and Hector Ernescliffe were invited to join the party, and many times did Mary wish for Harry.
Supremely happy were the young people as they reached the common, and heard the shout of tumultuous joy, raised by their pupils, who were on the watch for them. All was now activity. Everybody tripped into Mrs. Green's house, while Richard and Ethel ran different ways to secure that the fires were burning, which they had hired, to boil their kettles, with the tea in them.
Then when the kitchen was so full that it seemed as if it could hold no more, some kind of order was produced, the children were seated on their benches, and, while the mothers stood behind to listen, Mr. Wilmot began to examine, as well as he could in so crowded an audience.
There was progress. Yes, there was. Only three were as utterly rude and idealess as they used to be at Christmas. Glimmerings had dawned on most, and one--Una M'Carthy--was fit to come forward to claim Mr. Wilmot's promise of a Prayer-book. She could really read and say the Catechism--her Irish wit and love of learning had outstripped all the rest--and she was the pride of Ethel's heart, fit, now, to present herself on equal terms with the Stoneborough set, as far as her sense was concerned--though, alas! neither present nor exhortation had succeeded in making her anything, in looks, but a picturesque tatterdemalion, her sandy elf locks streaming over a pair of eyes, so dancing and gracieuses, that it was impossible to scold her.
With beating heart, as if her own success in life depended for ever on the way her flock acquitted themselves, Ethel stood by Mr. Wilmot, trying to read answers coming out of the dull mouths of her children, and looking exultingly at Richard whenever some good reply was made, especially when Una answered an unexpected question. It was too delightful to hear how well she remembered all the history up to the flood, and how prettily it came out in her Irish accent! That made up for all the atrocious stupidity of others, who, after being told every time since they had begun who gave their names, now chose to forget.
In the midst, while the assembly were listening with admiration to the reading of the scholar next in proficiency to Una, a boy who could read words of five letters without spelling, there was a fresh squeezing at the door, and, the crowd opening as well as it could, in came Flora and Blanche, while Norman's head was seen for a moment in the doorway.
Flora's whisper to Ethel was her first discovery that the closeness and the heat of the room was nearly overpowering. Her excitement had made all be forgotten. "Could not a window be opened?"
Mrs. Green interfered--it had been nailed up because her husband had the rheumatiz!
"Where's Aubrey?" asked Mary.
"With Norman. Norman said he would not let him go into the black- hole, so he has got him out of doors. Ethel, we must come out! You don't know what an atmosphere it is! Blanche, go out to Norman!"
"Flora, Flora! you don't consider," said Ethel, in an agony.
"Yes, yes. It is not at all cold. Let them have their presents out of doors and eat their buns."
Richard and Mr. Wilmot agreed with Flora, and the party were turned out. Ethel did own, when she was in the open air, "that it had been rather hot."
Norman's face was a sight, as he stood holding Aubrey in his arms, to gratify the child's impatience. The stifling den, the uncouth aspect of the children, the head girl so very ragged a specimen, thoroughly revolted his somewhat fastidious disposition. This was Ethel's delight! to this she made so many sacrifices! this was all that her time and labour had effected! He did not wish to vex her but it was more than he could stand.
However, Ethel was too much engrossed to look for sympathy. It was a fine spring day, and on the open space of the common the arrangements were quickly made. The children stood in a long line, and the baskets were unpacked. Flora and Ethel called the names, Mary and Blanche gave the presents, and assuredly the grins, courtesies, and pulls of the forelock they elicited, could not have been more hearty for any of Miss Rivers's treasures. The buns and the kettles of tea followed--it was perfect delight to entertainers and entertained, except when Mary's dignity was cruelly hurt by Norman's authoritatively taking a kettle out of her hands, telling her she would be the death of herself or somebody else, and reducing her to the mere rank of a bun distributor, which Blanche and Aubrey could do just as well; while he stalked along with a grave and resigned countenance, filling up the cups held out to him by timid-looking children. Mary next fell in with Granny Hall, who had gone into such an ecstasy over Blanche and Aubrey, that Blanche did not know which way to look; and Aubrey, in some fear that the old woman might intend to kiss him, returned the compliments by telling her she was "ugly up in her face," at which she laughed heartily, and uttered more vehement benedictions.
Finally, the three best children, boys and girls, were to be made fit to be seen, and recommended by Mr. Wilmot to the Sunday-school and penny club at Stoneborough, and, this being proclaimed and the children selected, the assembly dispersed, Mr. Wilmot rejoicing Ethel and Richard by saying, "Well, really, you have made a beginning. There is an improvement in tone among those children, that is more satisfactory than any progress they may have made."
Ethel's eyes beamed, and she hurried to tell Flora. Richard coloured and gave his quiet smile, then turned to put things in order for their return.
"Will you drive home, Richard?" said Norman, coming up to him.
"Don't you wish it?" said Richard, who had many minor arrangements to make, and would have preferred walking home independently.
"No, thank you, I have a headache, and walking may take it off," said Norman, taking off his hat and passing his fingers through his hair.
"A headache again--I am sorry to hear it."
"It is only that suffocating den of yours. My head ached from the moment I looked into it. How can you take Ethel into such a hole, Richard? It is enough to kill her to go on with it for ever."
"It is not so every day," said the elder brother quietly. "It is a warm day, and there was an unusual crowd."
"I shall speak to my father," exclaimed Norman, with somewhat of the supercilious tone that he had now and then been tempted to address to his brother. "It is not fit that Ethel should give up everything, health and all, to such a set as these. They look as if they had been picked out of the gutter--dirt, squalor, everything disgusting, and summer coming on, too, and that horrid place with no window to open! It is utterly unbearable!"
Richard stooped to pick up a heavy basket, then smiled and said, "You must get over such things as these if you mean to be a clergyman, Norman."
"Whatever I am to be, it does not concern the girls being in such a place as this. I am surprised that you could suffer it."
There was no answer--Richard was walking off with his basket, and putting it into the carriage. Norman was not pleased with himself, but thought it his duty to let his father know his opinion of Ethel's weekly resort. All he wished was to avoid Ethel herself, not liking to show her his sentiments, and he was glad to see her put into the gig with Aubrey and Mary.
They rushed into the drawing-room, full of glee, when they came home, all shouting their news together, and had not at first leisure to perceive that Margaret had some tidings for them in return. Mr. Rivers had been there, with a pressing invitation to his daughter's school-feast, and it had been arranged that Flora and Ethel should go and spend the day at the Grange, and their father come to dine, and fetch them home in the evening. Margaret had been much pleased with the manner in which the thing was done. When Dr. May, who seemed reluctant to accept the proposal that related to himself, was called out of the room, Mr. Rivers had, in a most kind manner, begged her to say whether she thought it would be painful to him, or whether it might do his spirits good. She decidedly gave her opinion in favour of the invitation, Mr. Rivers gained his point, and she had ever since been persuading her father to like the notion, and assuring him it need not be made a precedent for the renewal of invitations to dine out in the town. He thought the change would be pleasant for his girls, and had, therefore, consented.
"Oh, papa, papa! thank you!" cried Ethel, enraptured, as soon as he came into the room. "How very kind of you! How I have wished to see the Grange, and all Norman talks about! Oh, dear! I am so glad you are going there too!"
"Why, what should you do with me?" said Dr. May, who felt and looked depressed at this taking up of the world again.
"Oh, dear! I should not like it at all without you! It would be no fun at all by ourselves. I wish Flora would come home. How pleased she will be! Papa, I do wish you would look as if you didn't mind it! I can't enjoy it if you don't like going."
"I shall when I am there, my dear," said the doctor affectionately, putting his arm around her as she stood by him. "It will be a fine day's sport for you."
"But can't you like it beforehand, papa?"
"Not just this minute, Ethel," said he, with his bright, sad smile. "All I like just now is my girl's not being able to do without me; but we'll do the best we can. So your flock acquitted themselves brilliantly? Who is your Senior Wrangler?"
Ethel threw herself eagerly into the history of the examination, and had almost forgotten the invitation till she heard the front door open. Then it was not she, but Margaret, who told Flora--Ethel could not, as she said, enjoy what seemed to sadden her father. Flora received it much more calmly. "It will be very pleasant," said she; "it was very kind of papa to consent. You will have Richard and Norman, Margaret, to be with you in the evening."
And, as soon as they went upstairs, Ethel began to write down the list of prizes in her school journal, while Flora took out the best evening frocks, to study whether the crape looked fresh enough.
The invitation was a convenient subject of conversation, for Norman had so much to tell his sisters of the curiosities they must look for at the Grange, that he was not obliged to mention Cocksmoor. He did not like to mortify Ethel by telling her his intense disgust, and he knew he was about to do what she would think a great injury by speaking to his father on the subject; but he thought it for her real welfare, and took the first opportunity of making to his father and Margaret a most formidable description of Ethel's black-hole. It quite alarmed Margaret, but the doctor smiled, saying, "Ay, ay, I know the face Norman puts on if he looks into a cottage."
"Well," said Norman, with some mortification, "all I know is, that my head ached all the rest of the day."
"Very likely, but your head is not Ethel's, and there were twice as many people as the place was intended to hold."
"A stuffy hole, full of peat-smoke, and with a window that can't open at the best of times."
"Peat-smoke is wholesome," said Dr. May, looking provoking.
"You don't know what it is, papa, or you would never let Ethel spend her life there. It is poisonous!"
"I'll take care of Ethel," said Dr. May, walking off, and leaving Norman in a state of considerable annoyance at being thus treated. He broke out into fresh exclamations against the horrors of Cocksmoor, telling Margaret she had no idea what a den it was.
"But, Norman, it can't be so very bad, or Richard would not allow it."
"Richard is deluded!" said Norman; "but if he chooses to run after dirty brats, why should he take Ethel there?"
"My dear Norman, you know it is all Ethel's doing."
"Yes, I know she has gone crazy after them, and given up all her Greek for it. It is past endurance!" said Norman, who had worked himself up into great indignation.
"Well, but surely, Norman, it is better they should do what they can for those poor creatures, than for Ethel to learn Greek."
"I don't know that. Let those who are fit for nothing else go and drone over A B C with ragged children, if they like. It is just their vocation; but there is an order in everything, Margaret, and minds of a superior kind are intended for higher purposes, not to be wasted in this manner."
"I don't know whether they are wasted," said Margaret, not quite liking Norman's tone, though she had not much to say to his arguments.
"Not wasted? Not in doing what any one can do? I know what you'll say about the poor. I grant it, but high ability must be given for a purpose, not to be thrown away. It is common-sense, that some one must be meant to do the dirty work."
"I see what you mean, Norman, but I don't quite like that to be called by such a name. I think--" she hesitated. "Don't you think you dislike such things more than--"
"Any one must abominate dirt and slovenliness. I know what you mean. My father thinks 'tis all nonsense in me, but his profession has made him insensible to such things, and he fancies every one else is the same! Now, Margaret, am I unreasonable?"
"I am sure I don't know, dear Norman," said Margaret, hesitating, and feeling it her duty to say something; "I dare say it was very disagreeable."
"And you think, too, that I made a disturbance for nothing?"
"No, indeed I don't, nor does dear papa. I have no doubt he will see whether it is proper for Ethel. All I think he meant is, that perhaps your not being well last winter has made you a little more sensitive in such things."
Norman paused, and coloured. He remembered the pain it had given him to find himself incapable of being of use to his father, and that he had resolved to conquer the weakness of nerve of which he was ashamed; but he did not like to connect this with his fastidious feelings of refinement. He would not own to himself that they were over nice, and, at the bottom of all this justification, rankled Richard's saying, that he who cared for such things was unfit for a clergyman. Norman's secret thought was, it was all very well for those who could only aspire to parish work in wretched cottages-- people who could distinguish themselves were more useful at the university, forming minds, and opening new discoveries in learning.
Was Norman quite proof against the consciousness of daily excelling all his competitors? His superiority had become even more manifest this Easter, when Cheviot and Forder, the two elder boys whom he had outstripped, left the school, avowedly, because it was not worth while for them to stay, since they had so little chance of the Randall scholarship. Norman had now only to walk over the course, no one even approaching him but Harvey Anderson.
Meta Rivers always said that fine weather came at her call, and so it did--glowing sunshine streaming over the shaven turf, and penetrating even the solid masses of the great cedar.
The carriage was sent for the Misses May, and at two o'clock they arrived. Flora, extremely anxious that Ethel should comport herself discreetly; and Ethel full of curiosity and eagerness, the only drawback her fears that her papa was doing what he disliked. She was not in the least shy, and did not think about her manner enough to be troubled by the consciousness that it had a good deal of abruptness and eagerness, and that her short sight made her awkward. Meta met them with outstretched hands and a face beaming with welcome. "I told you I should get my way!" she said triumphantly, and, after her warm greeting, she looked with some respect at the face of the Miss May who was so very clever. It certainly was not what she expected, not at all like either of the four sisters she had already seen-- brown, sallow, and with that sharp long nose, and the eager eyes, and brow a little knit by the desire to see as far as she could. It was pleasanter to look at Flora.
Ethel left the talk chiefly to Flora--there was wonder and study enough farther in the grounds and garden, and when Mrs. Larpent tried to enter into conversation with her, she let it drop two or three times while she was peering hard at a picture and trying to make out its subject. However, when they all went out to walk to church, Ethel lighted up, and talked, admired, and asked questions in her quick, eager way, which interested Mrs. Larpent greatly. The governess asked after Norman, and no more was wanted to produce a volume of histories of his successes, till Flora turned as she walked before with Meta, saying, "Why, Ethel, you are quite overwhelming Mrs. Larpent."
But some civil answer convinced Ethel that what she said was interesting, and she would not be stopped in her account of their anxieties on the day of the examination. Flora was pleased that Meta, catching some words, begged to hear more, and Flora gave an account of the matter, soberer in terms, but quietly setting Norman at a much greater distance from all his competitors.
After church came the feast in the school. It was a large commodious building. Meta declared it was very tiresome that it was so good inside, it was so ugly, she should never rest till papa had built her a real beauty. They found Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wilmot in the school, with a very nice well-dressed set of boys and girls, and-- But there is no need to describe the roast-beef and plum-pudding, "the feast ate merrily," and Ethel was brilliantly happy waiting on the children, and so was sunny-hearted Meta. Flora was too busy in determining what the Riverses might be thinking of her and her sister to give herself up to the enjoyment.
Ethel found a small boy looking ready to cry at an untouched slice of beef. She examined him whether he could cut it, and at last discovered that, as had been the case with one or two of her own brothers at the same age, meat was repugnant to him. In her vehement manner she flew off to fetch him some pudding, and hurrying up, as she thought, to Mr. Charles Wilmot, who had been giving it out, she thrust her plate between him and the dish, and had begun her explanation when she perceived it was a stranger, and she stood, utterly discomfited, not saying, "I beg your pardon," but only blushing, awkward and confused, as he spoke to her, in a good- natured, hospitable manner, which showed her it must be Mr. Rivers. She obtained her pudding, and, turning hastily, retreated.
"Meta," said Mr. Rivers, as his daughter came out of the school with him, for, open and airy as it was, the numbers and the dinner made him regard it as Norman had viewed the Cocksmoor room, "was that one of the Miss Mays?"
"Yes, papa, Ethel, the third, the clever one."
"I thought she must be one of them from her dress; but what a difference between her and the others!"
Mr. Rivers was a great admirer of beauty, and Meta, brought up to be the same, was disappointed, but consoled herself by admiring Flora. Ethel, after the awkwardness was over, thought no more of the matter, but went on in full enjoyment f the feast. The eating finished, the making of presents commenced, and choice ones they were. The smiles of Meta and of the children were a pretty sight, and Ethel thought she had never seen anything so like a beneficent fairy. Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot said their words of counsel and encouragement, and, by five o'clock, all was over.
"Oh, I am sorry!" said Meta, "Easter won't come again for a whole year, and it has been so delightful. How that dear little Annie smiled and nursed her doll! I wish I could see her show it to her mother! Oh, how nice it is! I am so glad papa brought me to live in the country. I don't think anything can be so charming in all the world as seeing little children happy!"
Ethel could not think how the Wilmots could have found it in their heart to regret the liberality of this sweet damsel, on whom she began to look with Norman's enthusiastic admiration.
There was time for a walk round the grounds, Meta doing the honours to Flora, and Ethel walking with Mrs. Larpent. Both pairs were very good friends, and the two sisters admired and were charmed with the beauty of the gardens and conservatories--Ethel laying up a rich store of intelligence for Margaret; but still she was not entirely happy; her papa was more and more on her mind. He had looked dispirited at breakfast; he had a long hard day's work before him, and she was increasingly uneasy at the thought that it would be a painful effort to him to join them in the evening. Her mind was full of it when she was conducted, with Flora, to the room where they were to dress; and when Flora began to express her delight, her answer was only that she hoped it was not very unpleasant to papa.
"It is not worth while to be unhappy about that, Ethel. If it is an effort, it will be good for him when he is once here. I know he will enjoy it."
"Yes, I should think he would--I hope he will. He must like you to have such a friend as Miss Rivers. How pretty she is!"
"Now, Ethel, it is high time to dress. Pray make yourself look nice- -don't twist up your hair in that any-how fashion."
Ethel sighed, then began talking fast about some hints on school- keeping which she had picked up for Cocksmoor.
Flora's glossy braids were in full order, while Ethel was still struggling to get her plait smooth, and was extremely beholden to her sister for taking it into her own hands and doing the best with it that its thinness and roughness permitted. And then Flora pinched and pulled and arranged Ethel's frock, in vain attempts to make it sit like her own--those sharp high bones resisted all attempts to disguise them. "Never mind, Flora, it is quite tidy, I am sure, there--do let me be in peace. You are like old nurse."
"So those are all the thanks I get?"
"Well, thank you very much, dear Flora. You are a famous person. How I wish Margaret could see that lovely mimosa!"
"And, Ethel, do take care. Pray don't poke and spy when you come into the room, and don't frown when you are trying to see. I hope you won't have anything to help at dinner. Take care how you manage."
"I'll try," said Ethel meekly, though a good deal tormented, as Flora went on with half a dozen more injunctions, closed by Meta's coming to fetch them. Little Meta did not like to show them her own bedroom--she pitied them so much when she thought of the contrast. She would have liked to put Flora's arm through her's, but she thought, it would look neglectful of Ethel; so she only showed the way downstairs. Ethel forgot all her sister's orders; for there stood her father, and she looked most earnestly at his face. It was cheerful, and his voice sounded well pleased as he greeted Meta; then resumed an animated talk with Mr. Rivers. Ethel drew as near him as she could; she had a sense of protection, and could open to full enjoyment when she saw him bright. At the first pause in the conversation, the gentlemen turned to the young ladies. Mr. Rivers began talking to Flora, and Dr. May, after a few pleasant words to Meta, went back to Ethel. He wanted her to see his favourite pictures--he led her up to them, made her put on his spectacles to see them better, and showed her their special merits. Mr. Rivers and the others joined them; Ethel said little, except a remark or two in answer to her papa, but she was very happy--she felt that he liked to have her with him; and Meta, too, was struck by the soundness of her few sayings, and the participation there seemed to be in all things between the father and daughter.
At dinner Ethel went on pretty well. She was next to her father, and was very glad to find the dinner so grand, that no side-dish fell to her lot to be carved. There was a great deal of pleasant talk, such as the girls could understand, though they did not join much in it, except that now and then Dr. May turned to Ethel as a reference for names and dates. To make up for silence at dinner, there was a most confidential chatter in the drawing-room. Flora and Meta on one side, hand in hand, calling each other by their Christian names, Mrs. Larpent and Ethel on the other. Flora dreaded only that Ethel was talking too much, and revealing too much in how different style they lived. Then came the gentlemen, Dr. May begging Mr. Rivers to show Ethel one of his prints, when Ethel stooped more than ever, as if her eyelashes were feelers, but she was in transports of delight, and her embarrassment entirely at an end in her admiration, as she exclaimed and discussed with her papa, and by her hearty appreciation made Mr. Rivers for the time forget her plainness. Music followed; Flora played nicely, Meta like a well-taught girl; Ethel went on musing over the engravings. The carriage was announced, and so ended the day in Norman's fairy-land. Ethel went home, leaning hard against her papa, talking to him of Raphael's Madonnas; and looking out at the stars, and thinking how the heavenly beauty of those faces that, in the prints she had been turning over, seemed to be connected with the glories of the dark-blue sky and glowing stars. "As one star differeth from another star in glory," murmured she; "that was the lesson to-day, papa;" and when she felt him press her hand, she knew he was thinking of that last time she had heard the lesson, when he had not been with her, and her thoughts went with his, though not another word was spoken.
Flora hardly knew when they ceased to talk. She had musings equally engrossing of her own. She saw she was likely to be very intimate with Meta Rivers, and she was roaming away into schemes for not letting the intercourse drop, and hopes of being admitted to many a pleasure as yet little within her reach--parties, balls, London, itself, and, above all, the satisfaction of being admired. The certainty that Mr. Rivers thought her pretty and agreeable had gratified her all the evening, and if he, with his refined taste, thought so, what would others think? Her only fear was, that Ethel's awkwardness might make an unfavourable impression, but, at least, she said to herself, it was anything but vulgar awkwardness.
Their reflections were interrupted by the fly stopping. It was at a little shop in the outskirts of the town, and Dr. May, explained that he wanted to inquire for a patient. He went in for a moment, then came back to desire that they would go home, for he should be detained some little time. No one need sit up for him--he would let himself in.
It seemed a comment on Ethel's thoughts, bringing them back to the present hour. That daily work of homely mercy, hoping for nothing again, was surely the true way of doing service.
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