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Oh, no, we never mention her, We never breathe her name.--SONG.
A great deal of merriment had come home with Harry, who never was grave for ten minutes without a strong reaction, and distracted the house with his noise and his antics, in proportion, as it sometimes seemed, to the spaces of serious thought and reading spent in the study, where Dr. May did his best to supply Mr. Ramsden's insufficient attention to his Confirmation candidates, by giving an hour every day to Norman, Ethel, and Harry. He could not lecture, but he read with them, and his own earnestness was very impressive.
The two eldest felt deeply, but Harry often kept it in doubt, whether he were not as yet too young and wild for permanent impressions, so rapid were his transitions, and so overpowering his high spirits. Not that these were objected to; but there was a feeling that there might as well be moderation in all things, and that it would have been satisfactory if, under present circumstances, he had been somewhat more subdued and diligent.
"There are your decimals not done yet, Harry."
For Harry, being somewhat deficient in arithmetic, had been recommended to work in that line during his visit at home--an operation usually deferred, as at present, to the evening.
"I am going to do my sums now, Flora," said Harry, somewhat annoyed.
He really fetched his arithmetic, and his voice was soon heard asking how he was ever to put an end to a sum that would turn to nothing but everlasting threes.
"What have you been doing, young ladies?" asked Dr. May. "Did you call on Miss Walkingham?"
"Flora and Blanche did," said Ethel; "I thought you did not want me to go, and I had not time. Besides, a London grand young lady--oh!" and Ethel shook her head in disgust.
"That is not the way you treat Meta Rivers."
"Oh, Meta is different! She has never been out!"
"I should have been glad for you to have seen Miss Walkingham," said her father. Pretty manners are improving; besides, old Lady Walkingham begged me to send my daughters."
"I should not have seen her," said Ethel, "for she was not well enough to let us in."
"Was it not pushing?" said Flora. "There were the Andersons leaving their card!"
"Those Andersons!" exclaimed the doctor; "I am sick of the very sound of the name. As sure as my name is Dick May, I'll include it in Margaret's book of fines."
Flora looked dignified.
"They are always harping on that little trumpery girl's nonsense," said Harry. "Aught, aught, eight, that is eight thousandths, eh, Norman! If it was about those two fellows, the boys--"
"You would harp only on what affects you?" said the doctor.
"No, I don't; men never do. That is one hundred and twenty-fifth."
"One man does it to an hundred and twenty-five women?" said Dr. May.
"It is rather a female defect, indeed," said Margaret.
"Defect!" said Flora.
"Yes," said Dr. May, "since it is not only irksome to the hearers, but leads to the breaking of the ninth commandment."
Many voices declared, in forms of varying severity, that it was impossible to speak worse of the Andersons than they deserved.
"Andersons again!" cried Dr. May. "One, two, three, four, five, six forfeits!"
"Papa himself, for he said the name," saucily put in Blanche.
"I think I should like the rule to be made in earnest," said Ethel.
"What! in order to catch Flora's pence for Cocksmoor?" suggested Harry.
"No, but because it is malice. I mean, that is, if there is dislike, or a grudge in our hearts at them--talking for ever of nasty little miserable irritations makes it worse."
"Then why do you do it?" asked Flora. "I heard you only on Sunday declaiming about Fanny Anderson."
"Ha!" cried out all at once. "There goes Flora."
She looked intensely serious and innocent.
"I know," said Ethel. "It is the very reason I want the rule to be made, just to stop us, for I am sure we must often say more than is right."
"Especially when we come to the pass of declaring that the ninth commandment cannot be broken in regard to them," observed the doctor.
"Most likely they are saying much the same of us," said Richard.
"Or worse," rejoined Dr. May. "The injured never hates as much as the injurer."
"Now papa has said the severest thing of all!" whispered Ethel.
"Proving the inexpedience of personalities," said Dr. May, "and in good time enter the evening post.--Why! how now, Mr. May, are you gone mad?"
"Hallo! why ho! ha! hurrah!" and up went Harry's book of decimals to the ceiling, coming down upon a candle, which would have been overturned on Ethel's work, if it had not been dexterously caught by Richard.
"Harry!" indignantly cried Ethel and Flora, "see what you have done;" and the doctor's voice called to order, but Harry could not heed. "Hear! hear! he has a fortune, an estate."
"Who? Tell us--don't be so absurd. Who?"
"Who, Mr. Ernescliffe. Here is a letter from Hector. Only listen:
"'Did you know we had an old far-away English cousin, one Mr. Halliday? I hardly did, though Alan was named after him, and he belonged to my mother. He was a cross old fellow, and took no notice of us, but within the last year or two, his nephew, or son, or something, died, and now he is just dead, and the lawyer wrote to tell Alan he is heir-at-law. Mr. Ernescliffe of Maplewood! Does it not sound well? It is a beautiful great place in Shropshire, and Alan and I mean to run off to see it as soon as he can have any time on shore.'"
Ethel could not help looking at Margaret, but was ashamed of her impertinence, and coloured violently, whereas her sister did not colour at all, and Norman, looking down, wondered whether Alan would make the voyage.
"Oh, of course he will; he must!" said Harry. "He would never give up now."
Norman further wondered whether Hector would remain on the Stoneborough foundation, and Mary hoped they should not lose him; but there was no great readiness to talk over the event, and there soon was a silence broken by Flora saying, "He is no such nobody, as Louisa Anderson said, when we--"
Another shout, which caused Flora to take refuge in playing waltzes for the rest of the evening. Moreover, to the extreme satisfaction of Mary, she left her crochet-needle on the floor at night. While a tumultuous party were pursuing her with it to claim the penny, and Richard was conveying Margaret upstairs, Ethel found an opportunity of asking her father if he were not very glad of Mr. Ernescliffe's good fortune.
"Yes, very. He is a good fellow, and will make a good use of it."
"And now, papa, does it not make--You won't say now you are sorry he came here."
She had no answer but a sigh, and a look that made her blush for having ventured so far. She was so much persuaded that great events must ensue, that, all the next day, she listened to every ring of the bell, and when one at last was followed by a light, though, to her ears, manly sounding tread, she looked up flushing with expectation.
Behold, she was disappointed. "Miss Walkingham" was announced, and she rose surprised, for the lady in question had only come to Stoneborough for a couple of days with an infirm mother, who, having known Dr. May in old times, had made it her especial request that he would let her see his daughters. She was to proceed on her journey to-day, and the return of the visit had been by no means expected.
Flora went forward to receive her, wondering to see her so young looking, and so unformed. She held out her hand, with a red wrist, and, as far as could be seen under her veil, coloured when presented to the recumbent Margaret. How she got into her chair, they hardly knew, for Flora was at that moment extremely annoyed by hearing an ill-bred peal of Mary's laughter in the garden, close to the window; but she thought it best to appear unconscious, since she had no power to stop it.
Margaret thought the stranger embarrassed, and kindly inquired for Lady Walkingham.
"Much the same, thank you," mumbled a voice down in the throat.
A silence, until Margaret tried another question, equally briefly answered; and, after a short interval, the young lady contrived to make her exit, with the same amount of gaucherie as had marked her entrance.
Expressions of surprise at once began, and were so loud, that when Harry entered the room, his inquiry was, "What's the row?"
"Miss Walkingham," said Ethel, "but you won't understand. She seemed half wild! Worse than me!"
"How did you like the pretty improving manners?" asked Harry.
"Manners! she had none," said Flora. "She, highly connected! used to the best society!"
"How do you know what the best society do?" asked Harry.
"The poor thing seemed very shy," said Margaret.
"I don't know about shyness," said Flora.
"She was stifling a laugh all the time, like a rude schoolboy. And I thought papa said she was pretty!"
"Ay? Did you think her so? " asked Harry.
"A great broad red face--and so awkward!" cried Flora indignantly.
"If one could have seen her face, I think she might have been nice- looking," said Margaret. "She had pretty golden curls, and merry blue eyes, rather like Harry's."
"Umph! said Flora; "beauty and manners seemed to me much on a par. This is one of papa's swans, indeed!"
"I can't believe it was Miss Walkingham at all," said Ethel. "It must have been some boy in disguise."
"Dear me!" cried Margaret, starting with the painful timidity of helplessness.
"Do look whether anything is gone. Where's the silver inkstand?"
"You don't think she could put that into her pocket," said Ethel, laughing as she held it up.
"I don't know. Do, Harry, see if the umbrellas are safe in the hall. I wish you would, for now I come to remember, the Walkinghams went at nine this morning. Miss Winter said that she saw the old lady helped into the carriage, as she passed." Margaret's eyes looked quite large and terrified. "She must have been a spy--the whole gang will come at night. I wish Richard was here. Harry, it really is no laughing matter. You had better give notice to the police."
The more Margaret was alarmed, the more Harry laughed. "Never mind, Margaret, I'll take care of you! Here's my dirk. I'll stick all the robbers."
"Harry! Harry! Oh, don't!" cried Margaret, raising herself up in an agony of nervous terror. "Oh, where is papa? Will nobody ring the bell, and send George for the police?"
"Police, police! Thieves! Murder! Robbers! Fire! All hands ahoy!" shouted Harry, his hands making a trumpet over his mouth.
"Harry, how can you?" said Ethel, hastily; "don't you see that Margaret is terribly frightened. Can't you say at once that it was you?"
"You!" and Margaret sank back, as there was a general outcry of laughter and wonder.
"Did you know it, Ethel?" asked Flora severely.
"I only guessed at this moment," said Ethel. "How well you did it, Harry!"
"Well!" said Flora, "I did think her dress very like Margaret's shot silk. I hope you did not do that any harm."
"But how did you manage?" said Ethel. "Where did your bonnet come from?"
"It was a new one of Adams's wife. Mary got it for me. Come in, Polly, they have found it out. Did you not hear her splitting with laughing outside the window? I would not let her come in for fear she should spoil all."
"And I was just going to give her such a scolding for giggling in the garden," said Flora, "and to say we had been as bad as Miss Walkingham. You should not have been so awkward, Harry; you nearly betrayed yourself."
"He had nobody to teach him but Mary," said Ethel.
"Ah! you should have seen me at my ease in Minster Street. No one suspected me there."
"In Minster Street. Oh, Harry, you don't really mean it!"
"I do. That was what I did it for. I was resolved to know what the nameless ones said of the Misses May."
Hasty and eager inquiries broke out from Flora and Ethel.
"Oh, Dr. May was very clever, certainly, very clever. Had I seen the daughters? I said I was going to call there, and they said--"
"What, oh, what, Harry?"
"They said Flora was thought pretty, but--and as to Ethel, now, how do you think you came off, Unready?"
"Tell me. They could not say the same of me, at any rate."
"Quite the reverse! They called Ethel very odd, poor girl."
"I don't mind," said Ethel. "They may say what they please of me; besides that, I believe it is all Harry's own invention."
"Nay, that is a libel on my invention!" exclaimed Harry. "If I had drawn on that, could I not have told you something much droller?"
"And was that really all?" said Flora.
"They said--let me see--that all our noses were too long, and, that as to Flora's being a beauty! when their brothers called her--so droll of them--but Harvey called her a stuck-up duchess. In fact, it was the fashion to make a great deal of those Mays."
"I hope they said something of the sailor brother," said Ethel.
"No; I found if I stayed to hear much more, I should be knocking Ned down, so I thought it time to take leave before he suspected."
All this had passed very quickly, with much laughter, and numerous interjections of amusement, and reprobation, or delight. So excited were the young people, that they did not perceive a step on the gravel, till Dr. May entered by the window, and stood among them. His first exclamation was of consternation. "Margaret, my dear child, what is the matter?"
Only then did her brother and sisters perceive that Margaret was lying back on her cushions, very pale, and panting for breath. She tried to smile and say, "it was nothing," and "she was silly," but the words were faint, from the palpitation of her heart.
"It was Harry's trick," said Flora indignantly, as she flew for the scent-bottle, while her father bent over Margaret. "Harry dressed himself up, and she was frightened."
"Oh, no--no--he did not mean it," gasped Margaret; "don't."
"Harry, I did not think you could be so cowardly and unfeeling!" and Dr. May's look was even more reproachful than his words.
Harry was dismayed at his sister's condition, but the injustice of the wholesale reproach chased away contrition. "I did nothing to frighten any one," he said moodily.
"Now, Harry, you know how you kept on," said Flora, "and when you saw she was frightened--"
"I can have no more of this," said Dr. May, seeing that the discussion was injuring Margaret more and more. "Go away to my study, sir, and wait till I come to you. All of you out of the room. Flora, fetch the sal volatile."
"Let me tell you," whispered Margaret. "Don't be angry with Harry. It was--"
"Not now, not now, my dear. Lie quite still." She obeyed, took the sal volatile, and shut her eyes, while he sat leaning anxiously over, watching her. Presently she opened them, and, looking up, said rather faintly, and trying to smile, "I don't think I can be better till you have heard the rights of it. He did not mean it."
"Boys never do mean it," was the doctor's answer. "I hoped better things of Harry."
"He had no intention--" began Margaret, but she still was unfit to talk, and her father silenced her, by promising to go and hear the boy's own account.
In the hall, he was instantly beset by Ethel and Mary, the former exclaiming, "Papa, you are quite mistaken! It was very foolish of Margaret to be so frightened. He did nothing at all to frighten any one."
Ethel's mode of pleading was unfortunate; the "very foolish of Margaret" were the very words to displease.
"Do not interfere!" said her father sternly. "You only encourage him in his wanton mischief, and no one takes any heed how he torments my poor Margaret."
"Papa," cried Harry, passionately bursting open the study door, "tormenting Margaret was the last thing I would do!"
"That is not the way to speak, Harry. What have you been doing?"
With rapid agitated utterance, Harry made his confession. At another time the doctor would have treated the matter as a joke carried too far, but which, while it called for censure, was very amusing; but now the explanation that the disguise had been assumed to impose on the Andersons, only added to his displeasure.
"You seem to think you have a licence to play off any impertinent freaks you please, without consideration for any one," he said; "but I tell you it is not so. As long as you are under my roof, you shall feel my authority, and you shall spend the rest of the day in your room. I hope quietness there will bring you to a better mind, but I am disappointed in you. A boy who can choose such a time, and such subjects, for insolent, unfeeling, practical jokes, cannot be in a fit state for Confirmation."
"Oh, papa! papa!" cried the two girls, in tones of entreaty--while Harry, with a burning face and hasty step, dashed upstairs without a word.
"You have been as bad!" said Dr. May. "I say nothing to you, Mary, you knew no better; but, to see you, Ethel, first encouraging him in his impertinence, and terrifying Margaret so, that I dare say she may be a week getting over it, and now defending him, and calling her silly, is unbearable. I cannot trust one of you!"
"Only listen, papa!"
"I will have no altercation; I must go back to Margaret, since no one else has the slightest consideration for her."
An hour had passed away, when Richard knocked at Ethel's door to tell her that tea was ready.
"I have a great mind not to go down," said Ethel, as he looked in, and saw her seated with a book.
"What do you mean?"
"I cannot bear to go down while poor Harry is so unjustly used."
"I cannot hush. Just because Margaret fancies robbers and murderers, and all sorts of nonsense, as she always did, is poor Harry to be accused of wantonly terrifying her, and shut up, and cut off from Confirmation? and just when he is going away, too! It is unkind, and unjust, and--"
"Ethel, you will be sorry--"
"Papa will be sorry," continued Ethel, disregarding the caution. "It is very unfair, that I will say so. It was all nonsense of Margaret's, but he will always make everything give way to her. And poor Harry just going to sea! No, Ritchie, I cannot come down; I cannot behave as usual."
"You will grieve Margaret much more," said Richard.
"I can't help that--she should not have made such a fuss."
Richard was somewhat in difficulties how to answer, but at that moment Harry's door, which was next, was slightly opened, and his voice said, "Go down, Ethel. The captain may punish any one he pleases, and it is mutiny in the rest of the crew to take his part."
"Harry is in the right," said Richard. "It is our duty not to question our father's judgments. It would be wrong of you to stay up."
"Wrong?" said Ethel.
"Of course. It would be against the articles of war," said Harry, opening his door another inch. "But, Ritchie, I say, do tell me whether it has hurt Margaret."
"She is better now," said Richard, "but she has a headache, chiefly, I believe, from distress at having brought this on you. She is very sorry for her fright."
"I had not the least intention of frightening the most fearsome little tender mouse on earth," said Harry.
"No, indeed!" said Ethel.
"And at another time it would not have signified," said Richard; "but, you know, Margaret always was timid, and now, the not being able to move, and the being out of health, has made her nerves weak, so that she cannot help it."
"The fault was in our never heeding her when we were so eager to hear Harry's story," said Ethel. "That was what made the palpitation so bad. But, now papa knows all, does he not understand about Harry?"
"He was obliged to go out as soon as Margaret was better," said Richard, "and was scarcely come in when I came up."
"Go down, Ethel," repeated Harry. "Never mind me. Norman told me that sort of joke never answered, and I might have minded him."
The voice was very much troubled, and it brought back that burning sensation of indignant tears to Ethel's eyes.
"Oh, Harry! you did not deserve to be so punished for it."
"That is what you are not to say," returned Harry. "I ought not to have played the trick, and--and just now too--but I always forget things--"
The door shut, and they fancied they heard sobs. Ethel groaned, but made no opposition to following her brother down to tea. Margaret lay, wan and exhausted, on the sofa--the doctor looked very melancholy and rather stern, and the others were silent. Ethel had begun to hope for the warm reaction she had so often known after a hasty fit, but it did not readily come; Harry was boy instead of girl--the fault and its consequence had been more serious--and the anxiety for the future was greater. Besides, he had not fully heard the story; Harry, in his incoherent narration, had not excused himself, and Margaret's panic had appeared more as if inspired by him, than, as it was, in fact, the work of her fancy.
Thus the evening passed gloomily away, and it was not till the others had said good-night that Dr. May began to talk over the affair with his eldest son, who then was able to lay before him the facts of the case, as gathered from his sisters. He listened with a manner as though it were a reproof, and then said sadly, "I am afraid I was in a passion."
"It was very wrong in Harry," said Richard, "and particularly unlucky it should happen with the Andersons."
"Very thoughtless," said the doctor, "no more, even as regarded Margaret; but thoughtlessness should not have been treated as a crime."
"I wish we could see him otherwise," said Richard.
"He wants--" and there Dr. May stopped short, and, taking up his candle, slowly mounted the stairs, and looked into Harry's room. The boy was in bed, but started up on hearing his father's step, and exclaimed, "Papa, I am very sorry! Is Margaret better?"
"Yes, she is; and I understand now, Harry, that her alarm was an accident. I beg your pardon for thinking for a moment that it was otherwise--"
"No," interrupted Harry, "of course I could never mean to frighten her; but I did not leave off the moment I saw she was afraid, because it was so very ridiculous, and I did not guess it would hurt her."
"I see, my honest boy. I do not blame you, for you did not know how much harm a little terror does to a person in her helpless state. But, indeed, Harry, though you did not deserve such anger as mine was, it is a serious thing that you should be so much set on fun and frolic as to forget all considerations, especially at such a time as this. It takes away from much of my comfort in sending you into the world; and for higher things--how can I believe you really impressed and reverent, if the next minute--"
"I'm not fit! I'm not fit!" sobbed Harry, hiding his face.
"Indeed, I hardly know whether it is not so," said the doctor. "You are under the usual age, and, though I know you wish to be a good boy, yet I don't feel sure that these wild spirits do not carry away everything serious, and whether it is right to bring one so thoughtless to--"
"No, no," and Harry cried bitterly, and his father was deeply grieved; but no more could then be said, and they parted for the night--Dr. May saying, as he went away, "You understand, that it is not as punishment for your trick, if I do not take you to Mr. Ramsden for a ticket, but that I cannot be certain whether it is right to bring you to such solemn privileges while you do not seem to me to retain steadily any grave or deep feelings. Perhaps your mother would have better helped you."
And Dr. May went away to mourn over what he viewed as far greater sins than those of his son.
Anger had, indeed, given place to sorrow, and all were grave the next morning, as if each had something to be forgiven.
Margaret, especially, felt guilty of the fears which, perhaps, had not been sufficiently combated in her days of health, and now were beyond control, and had occasioned so much pain. Ethel grieved over the words she had yesterday spoken in haste of her father and sister; Mary knew herself to have been an accomplice in the joke; and Norman blamed himself for not having taken the trouble to perceive that Harry had not been talking rhodomontade, when he had communicated "his capital scheme" the previous morning.
The decision as to the Confirmation was a great grief to all. Flora consoled herself by observing that, as he was so young, no one need know it, nor miss him; and Ethel, with a trembling, almost sobbing voice, enumerated all Harry's excellences, his perfect truth, his kindness, his generosity, his flashes of intense feeling--declared that nobody might be confirmed if he were not, and begged and entreated that Mr. Wilmot might be written to, and consulted. She would almost have done so herself, if Richard had not shown her it would be undutiful.
Harry himself was really subdued. He made no question as to the propriety of the decision, but rather felt his own unworthiness, and was completely humbled and downcast. When a note came from Mrs. Anderson, saying that she was convinced that it could not have been Dr. May's wish that she should be exposed to the indignity of a practical joke, and that a young lady of the highest family should have been insulted, no one had spirits to laugh at the terms; and when Dr. May said, "What is to be done?" Harry turned crimson, and was evidently trying to utter something.
"I see nothing for it but for him to ask their pardon," said Dr. May; and a sound was heard, not very articulate, but expressing full assent.
"That is right," said the doctor. "I'll come with you."
"Oh, thank you!" cried Harry, looking up.
They set off at once. Mrs. Anderson was neither an unpleasing nor unkind person--her chief defect being a blind admiration of her sons and daughters, which gave her, in speaking of them, a tone of pretension that she would never have shown on her own account.
Her displeasure was pacified in a moment by the sight of the confused contrition of the culprit, coupled with his father's frank and kindly tone of avowal, that it had been a foolish improper frolic, and that he had been much displeased with him for it.
"Say no more--pray, say no more, Dr. May. We all know how to overlook a sailor's frolic, and, I am sure, Master Harry's present behaviour; but you'll take a bit of luncheon," and, as something was said of going home to the early dinner, "I am sure you will wait one minute. Master Harry must have a piece of my cake, and allow me to drink to his success."
Poor Mr. May! to be called Master Harry, and treated to sweet cake! But he saw his father thought he ought to endure, and he even said, "Thank you."
The cake stuck in his throat, however, when Mrs. Anderson and her daughters opened their full course of praise on their dear Harvey and dearest Edward, telling all the flattering things Dr. Hoxton had said of the order into which Harvey had brought the school, and insisting on Dr. May's reading the copy of the testimonial that he had carried to Oxford. "I knew you would be kind enough to rejoice," said Mrs. Anderson, "and that you would have no--no feeling about Mr. Norman; for, of course, at his age, a little matter is nothing, and it must be better for the dear boy himself to be a little while under a friend like Harvey, than to have authority while so young."
"I believe it has done him no harm," was all that the doctor could bring himself to say; and thinking that he and his son had endured quite enough, he took his leave as soon as Harry had convulsively bolted the last mouthful.
Not a word was spoken all the way home. Harry's own trouble had overpowered even this subject of resentment. On Sunday, the notice of the Confirmation was read. It was to take place on the following Thursday, and all those who had already given in their names were to come to Mr. Ramsden to apply for their tickets. While this was read, large tear-drops were silently falling on poor Harry's book.
Ethel and Norman walked together in the twilight, in deep lamentation over their brother's deprivation, which seemed especially to humble them; "for," said Norman, "I am sure no one can be more resolved on doing right than July, and he has got through school better than I did."
"Yes," said Ethel; "if we don't get into his sort of scrape, it is only that we are older, not better. I am sure mine are worse, my letting Aubrey be nearly burned--my neglects."
"Papa must be doing right," said Norman, "but for July to be turned back when we are taken, makes me think of man judging only by outward appearance."
"A few outrageous-looking acts of giddiness that are so much grieved over, may not be half so bad as the hundreds of wandering thoughts that one forgets, because no one else can see them!" said Ethel.
Meanwhile, Harry and Mary were sitting twisted together into a sort of bundle, on the same footstool, by Margaret's sofa. Harry had begged of her to hear him say the Catechism once more, and Mary had joined with him in the repetition. There was to be only one more Sunday at home. "And that!" he said, and sighed.
Margaret knew what he meant, for the Feast was to be spread for those newly admitted to share it. She only said a caressing word of affection.
"I wonder when I shall have another chance," said Harry. "If we should get to Australia, or New Zealand--but then, perhaps, there would be no Confirmation going on, and I might be worse by that time."
"Oh, you must not let that be!"
"Why, you see, if I can't be good here, with all this going on, what shall I do among those fellows, away from all?"
"You will have one friend!"
"Mr. Ernescliffe! You are always thinking of him, Margaret; but perhaps he may not go, and if he should, a lieutenant cannot do much for a midshipman. No, I thought, when I was reading with my father, that somehow it might help me to do what it called putting away childish things--don't you know? I might be able to be stronger and steadier, somehow. And then, if--if--you know, if I did tumble overboard, or anything of that sort, there is that about the--what they will go to next Sunday, being necessary to salvation."
Harry laid down his head and cried; Margaret could not speak for tears; and Mary was incoherently protesting against any notion of his falling overboard.
"It is generally necessary, Harry," Margaret said at last--"not in impossible cases."
"Yes if it had been impossible, but it was not; if I had not been a mad goose all this time, but when a bit of fun gets hold of me, I can't think. And if I am too bad for that, I am too bad for--for-- and I shall never see mamma again! Margaret, it almost makes me af-- afraid to sail."
"Harry, don't, don't talk so!" sobbed Mary. "Oh, do come to papa, and let us beg and pray. Take hold of my hand, and Margaret will beg too, and when he sees how sorry you are, I am sure he will forgive, and let you be confirmed." She would have dragged him after her.
"No, Mary," said Harry, resisting her. "It is not that he does not forgive. You don't understand. It is what is right. And he cannot help it, or make it right for me, if I am such a horrid wretch that I can't keep grave thoughts in my head. I might do it again after that, just the same."
"You have been grave enough of late," said Mary.
"This was enough to make me so," said Harry; "but even at church, since I came home, I have behaved ill! I kicked Tom, to make him look at old Levitt asleep, and then I went on, because he did not like it. I know I am too idle."
On the Tuesday, Dr. May had said he would take Norman and Etheldred to Mr. Ramsden. Ethel was gravely putting on her walking dress, when she heard her father's voice calling Harry, and she started with a joyful hope.
There, indeed, when she came downstairs, stood Harry, his cap in his hand, and his face serious, but with a look on it that had as much subdued joy as awe.
"Dear, dear Harry! you are going with us then?"
"Yes, papa wrote to ask what Mr. Wilmot thought, and he said--"
Harry broke off as his father advanced, and gave her the letter itself to read. Mr. Wilmot answered that he certainly should not refuse such a boy as Harry, on the proof of such entire penitence and deep feeling. Whether to bring him to the further privilege might be another question; but, as far as the Confirmation was concerned, the opinion was decided.
Norman and Ethel were too happy for words, as they went arm in arm along the street, leaving their dear sailor to be leaned on by his father.
Harry's sadness was gone, but he still was guarded and gentle during the few days that followed; he seemed to have learned thought, and in his gratitude for the privileges he had so nearly missed, to rate them more highly than he might otherwise have done. Indeed, the doubt for the Sunday gave him a sense of probation.
The Confirmation day came. Mr. Rivers had asked that his daughter might be with Miss May, and Ethel had therefore to be called for in the Abbotstoke carriage, quite contrary to her wishes, as she had set her heart on the walk to church with her father and brothers. Flora would not come, for fear of crowding Mr. Rivers, who, with Mrs. Larpent, accompanied his darling.
"Oh, Margaret," said Flora, after putting her sister into the carriage, "I wish we had put Ethel into a veil! There is Meta all white from head to foot, with such a veil! and Ethel, in her little white cap, looks as if she might be Lucy Taylor, only not so pretty."
"Mamma thought the best rule was to take the dress that needs least attention from ourselves, and will be least noticed," said Margaret.
"There is Fanny Anderson gone by in the fly with a white veil on!" cried Mary, dashing in.
"Then I am glad Ethel has not one," said Flora. Margaret looked annoyed, but she had not found the means of checking Flora without giving offence; and she could only call Mary and Blanche to order, beg them to think of what the others were doing, and offer to read to them a little tale on Confirmation.
Flora sat and worked, and Margaret, stealing a glance at her, understood that, in her quiet way, she resented the implied reproof. "Making the children think me worldly and frivolous!" she thought; "as if Margaret did not know that I think and feel as much as any reasonable person!"
The party came home in due time, and after one kiss to Margaret, given in silence, dispersed, for they could not yet talk of what had passed.
Only Ethel, as she met Richard on the stairs, said, "Ritchie, do you know what the bishop's text was? 'No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"
"Yes?" said Richard interrogatively.
"I thought it might be a voice to me," said Ethel; "besides what it says to all, about our Christian course. It seems to tell me not to be out of heart about all those vexations at Cocksmoor. Is it not a sort of putting our hand to the plough?"
Dr. May gave his own history of the Confirmation to Margaret. "It was a beautiful thing to watch," he said, "the faces of our own set. Those four were really like a poem. There was little Meta in her snowy whiteness, looking like innocence itself, hardly knowing of evil, or pain, or struggle, as that soft earnest voice made her vow to be ready for it all, almost as unscathed and unconscious of trial, as when they made it for her at her baptism; pretty little thing--may she long be as happy. And for our own Ethel, she looked as if she was promising on and on, straight into eternity. I heard her 'I do,' dear child, and it was in such a tone as if she meant to be ever doing."
"And for the boys?"
"There was Norman grave and steadfast, as if he knew what he was about, and was manfully and calmly ready--he might have been a young knight, watching his armour."
"And so he is," said Margaret softly. "And poor Harry?"
The doctor could hardly command voice to tell her. "Poor Harry, he was last of all, he turned his back and looked into the corner of the seat, till all the voices had spoken, and then turned about in haste, and the two words came on the end of a sob."
"You will not keep him away on Sunday?" said Margaret.
"Far be it from me. I know not who should come, if he should not."
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