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Knowledge is second, not the first; A higher Hand must make her mild, If all be not in vain, and guide Her footsteps, moving side by side, With wisdom; like the younger child, For she is earthly of the mind, But knowledge heavenly of the soul.--In Memoriam.
Etheldred had not answered her sister, but she did not feel at all secure that she should have anything to be thankful for, even if the school were built.
The invasion of Cocksmoor was not only interference with her own field of action, but it was dangerous to the improvement of her scholars. Since the departure of Mr. Wilmot, matters at Stoneborough National School had not improved, though the Misses Anderson talked a great deal about progress, science, and lectures.
The Ladies' Committee were constantly at war with the mistresses, and that one was a veteran who endured them, or whom they could endure beyond her first half-year. No mistress had stayed a year within the memory of any girl now at school. Perpetual change prevented any real education, and, as each lady held different opinions and proscribed all books not agreeing thereto, everything "dogmatical" was excluded; and, as Ethel said, the children learned nothing but facts about lions and steam-engines, while their doctrine varied with that of the visitor for the week. If the ten generals could only have given up to Miltiades, but, alas! there was no Miltiades. Mr. Ramsden's health was failing, and his neglect told upon the parish in the dreadful evils reigning unchecked, and engulfing many a child whom more influential teaching might have saved. Mental arithmetic, and the rivers of Africa, had little power to strengthen the soul against temptation.
The scanty attendance at the National School attested the indifference with which it was regarded, and the borderers voluntarily patronised Cherry Elwood, and thus had, perhaps, first aroused the emulation that led Mrs. Ledwich on a visit of inspection, to what she chose to consider as an offshoot of the National School.
The next day she called upon the Misses May. It was well that Ethel was not at home. Margaret received the lady's horrors at the sight of the mere crowded cottage kitchen, the stupid untrained mistress, without an idea of method, and that impertinent woman, her mother! Miss Flora and Miss Ethel must have had a great deal to undergo, and she would lose no time in convening the Ladies' Committee, and appointing a successor to "that Elwood," as soon as a fit room could be erected for her use. If Margaret had not known that Mrs. Ledwich sometimes threatened more than she could accomplish, she would have been in despair. She tried to say a good word for Cherry, but was talked down, and had reason to believe that Mrs. Elwood had mortally offended Mrs. Ledwich.
The sisters had heard the other side of the story at Cocksmoor. Mrs. Elwood would not let them enter the school till she had heard how that there Mrs. Ledwich had come in, and treated them all as if it was her own place--how she had found fault with Cherry before all the children, and as good as said she was not fit to keep a school. She had even laid hands on one of the books, and said that she should take it home, and see whether it were a fit one for them to use; whereupon Mrs. Elwood had burst out in defence--it was Miss Ethel May's book, and should not be taken away--it was Miss Ethel as she looked to; and when it seemed that Mrs. Ledwich had said something disparaging of Miss Ethel, either as to youth, judgment, or doctrine, Mrs. Elwood had fired up into a declaration that "Miss Ethel was a real lady--that she was! and that no real lady would ever come prying into other folk's work and finding fault with what wasn't no business of theirs," with more of a personal nature, which Flora could not help enjoying, even while she regretted it.
Cherry was only too meek, as her mother declared. She had said not a word, except in quiet reply, and being equally terrified by the attack and defence, had probably seemed more dull than was her wont. Her real feelings did not appear till the next Sunday, when, in her peaceful conference with Margaret, far from the sound of storms, she expressed that she well knew that she was a poor scholar, and that she hoped the young ladies would not let her stand in the children's light, when a better teacher could be found for them.
"I am sure!" cried Ethel, as she heard of this, "it would be hard to find such a teacher in humility! Cherry bears it so much better than I, that it is a continual reproof!"
As to the dullness, against which Ethel used to rail, the attacks upon it had made her erect it into a positive merit; she was always comparing the truth, honesty, and respectful demeanour of Cherry's scholars with the notorious faults of the National School girls, as if these defects had been implanted either by Mrs. Ledwich, or by geography. It must be confessed that the violence of partisanship did not make her a pleasant companion.
However, the interest of the bazaar began somewhat to divert the current of the ladies' thoughts, and Ethel found herself walking day after day to Cocksmoor, unmolested by further reports of Mrs. Ledwich's proceedings. Richard was absent, preparing for ordination, but Norman had just returned home for the Long Vacation, and, rather than lose the chance of a conversation with her, had joined her and Mary in a walk to Cocksmoor.
His talk was chiefly of Settlesham, old Mr. Wilmot's parish, where he had been making a visit to his former tutor, and talking over the removal to Eton of Tom, who had well responded to the care taken of him, and with his good principles confirmed, and his character strengthened, might be, with less danger, exposed to trial.
It had been a visit such as to leave a deep impression on Norman's mind. Sixty years ago, old Mr. Wilmot had been what he now was himself--an enthusiastic and distinguished Balliol man, and he had kept up a warm, clear-sighted interest in Oxford throughout his long life. His anecdotes, his recollections, and comments on present opinions had been listened to with great eagerness, and Norman had felt it an infinite honour to give the venerable old man his arm, as to be shown by him his curious collection of books. His parish, carefully watched for so many years, had been a study not lost upon Norman, who detailed particulars of the doings there, which made Ethel sigh to think of the contrast with Stoneborough. In such conversation they came to the entrance of the hamlet, and Mary, with a scream of joy, declared that she really believed that he was going to help them! He did not turn away.
"Thank you!" said Ethel, in a low voice, from the bottom of her heart.
She used him mercifully, and made the lessons shorter than usual, but when they reached the open air again, he drew a long breath; and when Mary eagerly tried for a compliment to their scholars, asked if they could not be taught the use of eyelids.
"Did they stare?" said Ethel. "That's one advantage of being blind. No one can stare me out of countenance."
"Why were you answering all your questions yourself?" asked Mary.
"Because no one else would," said Norman.
"You used such hard words," replied Ethel.
"Indeed! I thought I was very simple."
"Oh!" cried Mary, "there were derive, and instruction, and implicate, and--oh, so many."
"Never mind," said Ethel, seeing him disconcerted. "It is better for them to be drawn up, and you will soon learn their language. If we only had Una M'Carthy here!"
"Then you don't like it?" said Mary, disappointed.
"It is time to learn not to be fastidious," he answered. "So, if you will help me--"
"Norman, I am so glad!" said Ethel.
"Yes," said Norman, "I see now that these things that puff us up, and seem the whole world to us now, all end in nothing but such as this! Think of old Mr. Wilmot, once carrying all before him, but deeming all his powers well bestowed in fifty years' teaching of clowns!"
"Yes," replied Ethel, very low. "One soul is worth--" and she paused from the fullness of thought.
"And these things, about which we are so elated, do not render us so fit to teach--as you, Mary, or as Richard."
"They do," said Ethel. The ten talents were doubled. Strength tells in power. The more learning, the fitter to teach the simplest thing."
"You remind me of old Mr. Wilmot saying that the first thing he learned at his parish was, how little his people knew; the second, how little he himself knew."
So Norman persevered in the homely discipline that he had chosen for himself, which brought out his deficiency in practical work in a manner which lowered him in his own eyes, to a degree almost satisfactory to himself. He was not, indeed, without humility, but his nature was self-contemplative and self-conscious enough to perceive his superiority of talent, and it had been the struggle of his life to abase this perception, so that it was actually a relief not to be obliged to fight with his own complacency in his powers. He had learned not to think too highly of himself--he had yet to learn to "think soberly." His aid was Ethel's chief pleasure through this somewhat trying summer, it might be her last peaceful one at Cocksmoor.
That bazaar! How wild it had driven the whole town, and even her own home!
Margaret herself, between good nature and feminine love of pretty things, had become ardent in the cause. In her unvaried life, it was a great amusement to have so many bright elegant things exhibited to her, and Ethel was often mortified to find her excited about some new device, or drawn off from "rational employments," to complete some trifle.
Mary and Blanche were far worse. From the time that consent had been given to the fancy-work being carried on in the schoolroom, all interest in study was over. Thenceforth, lessons were a necessary form, gone through without heart or diligence. These were reserved for paste-board boxes, beplastered with rice and sealing-wax, for alum baskets, dressed dolls, and every conceivable trumpery; and the governess was as eager as the scholars.
If Ethel remonstrated, she hurt Miss Bracy's feelings, and this was a very serious matter to both parties.
The governess was one of those morbidly sensitive people, who cannot be stopped when once they have begun arguing that they are injured. Two women together, each with the last-word instinct, have no power to cease; and, when the words are spent in explaining--not in scolding--conscience is not called in to silence them, and nothing but dinner or a thunder-storm can check them. All Ethel's good sense was of no avail; she could not stop Miss Bracy, and, though she might resolve within herself that real kindness would be to make one reasonable reply, and then quit the subject, yet, on each individual occasion, such a measure would have seemed mere impatience and cruelty. She found that if Miss Winter had been too dry, Miss Bracy went to the other extreme, and demanded a manifestation of sympathy, and return to her passionate attachment that perplexed Ethel's undemonstrative nature. Poor good Miss Bracy, she little imagined how often she added to the worries of her dear Miss Ethel, all for want of self-command.
Finally, as the lessons were less and less attended to, and the needs of the stall became more urgent, Dr. May and Margaret concurred in a decision, that it was better to yield to the mania, and give up the studies till they could be pursued with a willing mind.
Ethel submitted, and only laughed with Norman at the display of treasures, which the girls went over daily, like the "House that Jack built," always starting from "the box that Mary made." Come when Dr. May would into the drawing-room, there was always a line of penwipers laid out on the floor, bags pendent to all the table-drawers, antimacassars laid out everywhere.
Ethel hoped that the holidays would create a diversion, but Mary was too old to be made into a boy, and Blanche drew Hector over to the feminine party, setting him to gum, gild, and paste all the contrivances which, in their hands, were mere feeble gimcracks, but which now became fairly sound, or, at least, saleable.
The boys also constructed a beautiful little ship from a print of the Alcestis, so successfully, that the doctor promised to buy it; and Ethel grudged the very sight of it to the bazaar.
Tom, who, in person, was growing like a little shadow or model of Norman, had, unlike him, a very dexterous pair of hands, and made himself extremely useful in all such works. On the other hand, the Cleveland stall seemed chiefly to rely for brilliance on the wit of Harvey Anderson, who was prospering at his college, and the pride of his family. A great talker, and extremely gallant, he was considered a far greater acquisition to a Stoneborough drawing-room than was the silent, bashful Norman May, and rather looked down on his brother Edward, who, having gone steadily through the school, was in the attorney's office, and went on quietly and well, colouring up gratefully whenever one of the May family said a kind word to him.
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