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Any silk, any thread, Any toys for your head, Of the newest and finest wear-a? Come to the pedlar, Money's a medlar. That doth utter all men's ware-a. Winter's Tale.
"This one day and it will be over, and we shall be rational again," thought Ethel, as she awoke.
Flora was sleeping at the Grange, to be ready for action in the morning, and Ethel was to go early with Mary and Blanche, who were frantic to have a share in the selling. Norman and the boys were to walk at their own time, and the children to be brought later by Miss Bracy. The doctor would be bound by no rules.
It was a pattern day, bright, clear, warm, and not oppressive, perfect for an out-of-doors fete; and Ethel had made up her mind to fulfil her promise to Margaret of enjoying herself. In the brilliant sunshine, and between two such happy sisters, it would have been surly, indeed, not to enter into the spirit of the day; and Ethel laughed gaily with them, and at their schemes and hopes; Blanche's heart being especially set on knowing the fate of a watch-guard of her own construction.
Hearing that the ladies were in the gardens, they repaired thither at once. The broad, smooth bowling-green lay before them; a marquee, almost converted into a bower, bounding it on either side, while in the midst arose, gorgeous and delicious, a pyramid of flowers-- contributions from all the hot-houses in the neighbourhood--to be sold for the benefit of the bazaar. Their freshness and fragrance gave a brightness to the whole scene, while shrinking from such light, as only the beauteous works of nature could bear, was the array accomplished by female fingers.
Under the wreathed canopies were the stalls, piled up with bright colours, most artistically arranged. Ethel, with her over-minute knowledge of every article, could hardly believe that yonder glowing Eastern pattern of scarlet, black, and blue, was, in fact, a judicious mosaic of penwipers that she remembered, as shreds begged from the tailor, that the delicate lace-work consisted of Miss Bracy's perpetual antimacassars, and that the potichomanie could look so dignified and Etruscan.
"Here you are!" cried Meta Rivers, springing to meet them. "Good girls, to come early. Where's my little Daisy?"
"Coming in good time," said Ethel. "How pretty it all looks!"
"But where's Flora?--where's my watch-guard?" anxiously asked Blanche.
"She was here just now," said Meta, looking round. "What a genius she is, Ethel! She worked wonders all yesterday, and let the Miss Hoxtons think it was all their own doing, and she was out before six this morning, putting finishing touches."
"Is this your stall?" said Ethel.
"Yes, but it will not bear a comparison with hers. It has a lady's- maid look by the side of hers. In fact, Bellairs and my aunt's maid did it chiefly, for papa was rather ailing yesterday, and I could not be out much."
"How is he now?"
"Better; he will walk round by-and-by. I hope it will not be too much for him."
"Oh, what beautiful things!" cried Mary, in ecstasy, at what she was forced to express by the vague substantive, for her imagination had never stretched to the marvels she beheld.
"Ay, we have been lazy, you see, and so Aunt Leonora brought down all these smart concerns. It is rather like Howell and James's, isn't it?"
In fact, Lady Leonora's marquee was filled with costly knick-knacks, which, as Meta justly said, had not half the grace and appropriate air that reigned where Flora had arranged, and where Margaret had worked, with the peculiar freshness and finish that distinguished everything to which she set her hand.
Miss Cleveland's counter was not ill set-out, but it wanted the air of ease and simplicity, which was even more noticeable than the perfect taste of Flora's wares. If there had been nothing facetious, the effect would have been better, but there was nothing to regret, and the whole was very bright and gay.
Blanche could hardly look; so anxious was she for Flora to tell her the locality of her treasure.
"There she is," said Meta at last. "George is fixing that branch of evergreen for her."
"Flora! I did not know her," cried each sister amazed; while Mary added, "Oh, how nice she looks!"
It was the first time of seeing her in the white muslin, and broad chip hat--which all the younger saleswomen of the bazaar had agreed to wear. It was a most becoming dress, and she did, indeed, look strikingly elegant and well dressed. It occurred to Ethel, for the first time, that Flora was decidedly the reigning beauty of the bazaar--no one but Meta Rivers could be compared to her, and that little lady was on so small a scale of perfect finish, that she seemed fit to act the fairy, where Flora was the enchanted princess.
Flora greeted her sisters eagerly, while Meta introduced her brother- -a great contrast to herself, though not without a certain comeliness, tall and large, with ruddy complexion, deep lustreless black eyes, and a heavy straight bush of black moustache, veiling rather thick lips. Blanche reiterated inquiries for her watch-guard.
"I don't know,"--said Flora. "Somewhere among the rest."
Blanche was in despair.
"You may look for it," said Flora, who, however hurried, never failed in kindness, "if you will touch nothing."
So Blanche ran from place to place in restless dismay, that caused Mr. George Rivers to ask what was the matter.
"The guards! the guards!" cried Blanche; whereupon he fell into a fit of laughter, which disconcerted her, because she could not understand him, and made Ethel take an aversion to him on the spot.
However, he was very good-natured; he took Blanche's reluctant hand, and conducted her all along the stall, even proceeding to lift her up where she could not command a view of the whole, thus exciting her extreme indignation. She shook herself out when he set her down, surveyed her crumpled muslin, and believed he took her for a little girl! She ought to have been flattered when the quest was successful, and he insisted on knowing which was the guard, and declared that he should buy it. She begged him to do no such thing, and he desired to know why--insisting that he would give five shillings--fifteen--twenty-five for that one! till she did not know whether he was in earnest, and she doing an injury to the bazaar.
Meantime, the hour had struck, and Flora had placed Mrs. Hoxton in a sheltered spot, where she could take as much or as little trouble as she pleased. Lady Leonora and Miss Langdale came from the house, and, with the two ladies'-maids in the background, took up their station with Miss Rivers. Miss Cleveland called her party to order, and sounds of carriages were heard approaching.
Mary and Blanche disbursed the first money spent in the "fancy fair;" Mary, on a blotting-book for Harry, to be placed among the presents, to which she added on every birthday, while Blanche bought a sixpenny gift for every one, with more attention to the quantity than the quality. Then came a revival of her anxieties for the guards, and while Mary was simply desirous of the fun of being a shopwoman, and was made happy by Meta Rivers asking her help, Blanche was in despair, till she had sidled up to their neighbourhood, and her piteous looks had caused good-natured Mrs. Hoxton to invite her to assist, when she placed herself close to the precious object.
A great fluttering of heart went to that manoeuvre, but still felicity could not be complete. That great troublesome Mr. George Rivers had actually threatened to buy nothing but that one watch- chain, and Blanche's eye followed him everywhere with fear, lest he should come that way. And there were many other gentlemen--what could they want but watch-guards, and of them--what--save this paragon?
Poor Blanche; what did she not undergo whenever any one cast his eye over her range of goods? and this was not seldom, for there was an attraction in the pretty little eager girl, glowing and smiling. One old gentleman actually stopped, handled the guards themselves, and asked their price.
"Eighteen-pence," said Blanche, colouring and faltering, as she held up one in preference.
"Eh! is not this the best?" said he, to the lady on his arm.
"Oh! please, take that instead?" exclaimed Blanche, in extremity.
"And why?" asked the gentleman, amused.
"I made this," she answered.
"Is that the reason I must not have it?"
"No, don't tease her," the lady said kindly; and the other was taken.
"I wonder for what it is reserved!" the lady could not help saying, as she walked away.
"Let us watch her for a minute or two. What an embellishment children are! Ha! don't you see--the little maid is fluttering and reddening--now! How pretty she looks! Ah! I see! here's the favoured! Don't you see that fine bronzed lad--Eton--one can see at a glance! It is a little drama. They are pretending to be strangers. He is turning over the goods with an air, she trying to look equally careless, but what a pretty carnation it is! Ha! ha! he has come to it--he has it! Now the acting is over, and they are having their laugh out! How joyously! What next! Oh! she begs off from keeping shop--she darts out to him, goes off in his hand--I declare that is the prettiest sight in the whole fair! I wonder who the little demoiselle can be?"
The great event of the day was over now with Blanche, and she greatly enjoyed wandering about with Hector and Tom. There was a post-office at Miss Cleveland's stall, where, on paying sixpence, a letter could be obtained to the address of the inquirer. Blanche had been very anxious to try, but Flora had pronounced it nonsense; however, Hector declared that Flora was not his master, tapped at the sliding panel, and charmed Blanche by what she thought a most witty parody of his name as Achilles Lionsrock, Esquire. When the answer came from within, "Ship letter, sir, double postage," they thought it almost uncanny; and Hector's shilling was requited by something so like a real ship letter, that they had some idea that the real post had somehow transported itself thither. The interior was decidedly oracular, consisting of this one line, "I counsel you to persevere in your laudable undertaking."
Hector said he wished he had any laudable undertaking, and Blanche tried to persuade Tom to try his fortune, but he pronounced that he did not care to hear Harvey Anderson's trash--he knew his writing, though disguised, and had detected his shining boots below the counter. There Mr. George Rivers came up, and began to tease Blanche about the guards, asking her to take his fifteen shillings--or five- and-twenty, and who had got that one, which alone he wanted; till the poor child, after standing perplexed for some moments, looked up with spirit, and said, "You have no business to ask," and, running away, took refuge in the back of Mrs. Hoxton's marquee, where she found Ethel packing up for Miss Hoxton's purchasers, and confiding to her that Mr. George Rivers was a horrid man, she ventured no more from her protection. She did, indeed, emerge, when told that papa was coming with Aubrey and Daisy and Miss Bracy, and she had the pleasure of selling to them some of her wares. Dr. May bargaining with her to her infinite satisfaction; and little Gertrude's blue eyes opened to their full width, not understanding what could have befallen her sisters.
"And what is Ethel doing?" asked the doctor.
"Packing up parcels, papa," and Ethel's face was raised, looking very merry.
"Packing parcels! How long will they last tied up?" said Dr. May, laughing.
"Lasting is the concern of nothing in the fair, papa," answered she, in the same tone.
For Ethel was noted as the worst packer in the house; but, having offered to wrap up a pincushion, sold by a hurried Miss Hoxton, she became involved in the office for the rest of the day--the same which Bellairs and her companion performed at the Langdale counter. Flora was too ready and dexterous to need any such aid, but the Misses Hoxton were glad to be spared the trouble; and Blanche, whose fingers were far neater than Ethel's, made the task much easier, and was kept constant to it by her dread of the dark moustache, which was often visible near their tent, searching, she thought, for her.
Their humble employment was no sinecure; for this was the favourite stall with the purchasers of better style, since the articles were, in general, tasteful, and fairly worth the moderate price set on them. At Miss Cleveland's counter there was much noisy laughter-- many jocular cheats--tricks for gaining money, and refusals to give change; and it seemed to be very popular with the Stoneborough people, and to carry on a brisk trade. The only languor was in Lady Leonora's quarter--the articles were too costly, and hung on hand; nor were the ladies sufficiently well known, nor active enough, to gain custom, excepting Meta, who drove a gay traffic at her end of the stall, which somewhat redeemed the general languor.
Her eyes were, all the time, watching for her father, and, suddenly perceiving him, she left her trade in charge of the delighted and important Mary, and hastened to walk round with him, and show him the humours of the fair.
Mary, in her absence, had the supreme happiness of obtaining Norman as a customer. He wanted a picture for his rooms at Oxford, and water-coloured drawings were, as Tom had observed, suitable staple commodities for Miss Rivers. Mary tried to make him choose a brightly-coloured pheasant, with a pencil background; and, then, a fine foaming sea-piece, by some unknown Lady Adelaide, that much dazzled her imagination; but nothing would serve him but a sketch of an old cedar tree, with Stoneborough Minster in the distance, and the Welsh hills beyond, which Mary thought a remarkable piece of bad taste, since--could he not see all that any day of his life? and was it worth while to give fourteen shillings and sixpence for it? But he said it was all for the good of Cocksmoor, and Mary was only too glad to add to her hoard of coin; so she only marvelled at his extravagance, and offered to take care of it for him; but, to this, he would not consent. He made her pack it up for him, and had just put the whitey-brown parcel under his arm, when Mr. Rivers and his daughter came up, before he was aware. Mary proudly advertised Meta that she had sold something for her.
"Indeed! What was it?"
"Your great picture of Stoneborough!" said Mary.
"Is that gone? I am sorry you have parted with that, my dear; it was one of your best," said Mr. Rivers, in his soft, sleepy, gentle tone.
"Oh, papa, I can do another. But, I wonder! I put that extortionate price on it, thinking no one would give it, and so that I should keep it for you. Who has it, Mary?"
"Norman, there. He would have it, though I told him it was very dear."
Norman, pressed near them by the crowd, had been unable to escape, and stood blushing, hesitating, and doubting whether he ought to restore the prize, which he had watched so long, and obtained so eagerly.
"Oh! it is you?" said Mr. Rivers politely. "Oh, no, do not think of exchanging it. I am rejoiced that one should have it who can appreciate it. It was its falling into the hands of a stranger that I disliked. You think with me, that it is one of her best drawings?"
"Yes, I do," said Norman, still rather hesitating. "She did that with C--, when he was here last year. He taught her very well. Have you that other here, that you took with him, my dear? The view from the gate, I mean."
"No, dear papa. You told me not to sell that."
"Ah! I remember; that is right. But there are some very pretty copies from Prout here."
While he was seeking them, Meta contrived to whisper, "If you could persuade him to go indoors--this confusion of people is so bad for him, and I must not come away. I was in hopes of Dr. May, but he is with the little ones."
Norman signed comprehension, and Meta said, "Those copies are not worth seeing, but you know, papa, you have the originals in the library."
Mr. Rivers looked pleased, but was certain that Norman could not prefer the sketches to this gay scene. However, it took very little persuasion to induce him to do what he wished, and he took Norman's arm, crossed the lawn, and arrived in his own study, where it was a great treat to him to catch any one who would admire his accumulation of prints, drawings, coins, etc.; and his young friend was both very well amused and pleased to be setting Miss Rivers's mind at ease on her father's account. It was not till half-past four that Dr. May knocked at the door, and stood surprised at finding his son there. Mr. Rivers spoke warmly of the young Oxonian's kindness in leaving the fair for an old man, and praised Norman's taste in art. Norman rose to take leave, but still thought it incumbent on him to offer to give up the picture, if Mr. Rivers set an especial value on it. But Mr. Rivers went to the length of being very glad that it was in his possession, and added to it a very pretty drawing of the same size, by a noted master, which had been in the water-colour exhibition, and, while Norman walked away, well pleased, Mr. Rivers began to extol him to his father, as a very superior and sensible young man, of great promise, and began to wish George had the same turn.
Norman, on returning to the fancy fair, found the world in all the ardour of raffles. Lady Leonora's contributions were the chief prizes, which attracted every one, and, of course, the result was delightfully incongruous. Poor Ethel, who had been persuaded to venture a shilling to please Blanche, who had spent all her own, obtained the two jars in potichomanie, and was regarding them with a face worth painting. Harvey Anderson had a doll, George Rivers a wooden monkey, that jumped over a stick; and, if Hector Ernescliffe was enchanted at winning a beautiful mother-of-pearl inlaid workbox, which he had vainly wished to buy for Margaret, Flora only gained a match-box of her own, well known always to miss fire, but which had been decided to be good enough for the bazaar.
Bv fair means or foul, the commodities were cleared off, and, while the sunbeams faded from the trodden grass, the crowds disappeared, and the vague compliment, "a very good bazaar," was exchanged between the lingering sellers and their friends.
Flora was again to sleep at the Grange, and return the next day, for a committee to be held over the gains, which were not yet fully ascertained. So Dr. May gathered his flock together, and packed them, boys and all, into the two conveyances, and Ethel bade Meta good-night, almost wondering to hear her merry voice say, "It has been a delightful day, has it not? It was so kind of your brother to take care of papa."
"Oh, it was delightful!" echoed Mary, "and I took one pound fifteen and sixpence!"
"I hope it will do great good to Cocksmoor," added Meta, "but, if you want real help, you know, you must come to us."
Ethel smiled, but hurried her departure, for she saw Blanche again tormented by Mr. George Rivers, to know what had become of the guard, telling her that, if she would not say, he should be furiously jealous.
Blanche hid her face on Ethel's arm, when they were in the carriage, and almost cried with indignant "shamefastness." That long-desired day had not been one of unmixed happiness to her, poor child, and Ethel doubted whether it had been so to any one, except, indeed, to Mary, whose desires never soared so high but that they were easily fulfilled, and whose placid content was not easily wounded. All she was wishing now was, that Harry were at home to receive his paper- case.
The return to Margaret was real pleasure. The narration of all that had passed was an event to her. She was so charmed with her presents, of every degree; things, unpleasant at the time, could, by drollery in the relating, be made mirthful fun ever after; Dr. May and the boys were so comical in their observations--Mary's wonder and simplicity came in so amazingly--and there was such merriment at Ethel's two precious jars, that she could hardly wish they had not come to her. On one head they were all agreed, in dislike of George Rivers, whom Mary pronounced to be a detestable man, and, when gently called to order by Margaret, defended it, by saying that Miss Bracy said it was better to detest than to hate, while Blanche coloured up to the ears, and hid herself behind the arm-chair; and Dr. May qualified the censure by saying, he believed there was no great harm in the youth, but that he was shallow-brained and extravagant, and, having been born in the days when Mr. Rivers had been working himself up in the world, had not had so good an education as his little half- sister.
"Well, what are you thinking of?" said her father, laying his hand on Ethel's arm, as she was wearily and pensively putting together the scattered purchases before going up to bed.
"I was thinking, papa, that there is a great deal of trouble taken in this world for a very little pleasure."
"The trouble is the pleasure, in most cases, most misanthropical miss!"
"Yes, that is true; but, if so, why cannot it be taken for some good?"
"They meant it to be good," said Dr. May. "Come, I cannot have you severe and ungrateful."
"So I have been telling myself, papa, all along; but, now that the day has come, and I have seen what jealousies, and competitions, and vanities, and disappointments it has produced--not even poor little Blanche allowed any comfort--I am almost sick at heart with thinking Cocksmoor was the excuse!"
"Spectators are more philosophical than actors, Ethel. Others have not been tying parcels all day."
"I had rather do that than-- But that is the 'Fox and the Grapes,'" said Ethel, smiling. "What I mean is, that the real gladness of life is not in these great occasions of pleasure, but in the little side delights that come in the midst of one's work, don't they, papa? Why is it worth while to go and search for a day's pleasuring?"
"Ethel, my child! I don't like to hear you talk so," said Dr. May, looking anxiously at her. "It may be too true, but it is not youthful nor hopeful. It is not as your mother or I felt in our young days, when a treat was a treat to us, and gladdened our hearts long before and after. I am afraid you have been too much saddened with loss and care--"
"Oh, no, papa!" said Ethel, rousing herself, though speaking huskily. "You know I am your merry Ethel. You know I can be happy enough-- only at home--"
And Ethel, though she had tried to be cheerful, leaned against his arm, and shed a few tears.
"The fact is, she is tired out," said Dr. May soothingly, yet half laughing. "She is not a beauty or a grace, and she is thoughtful and quiet, and so she moralises, instead of enjoying, as the world goes by. I dare say a night's rest will make all the difference in the world."
"Ah! but there is more to come. That Ladies' Committee at Cocksmoor!"
"They are not there yet, Ethel. Good-night, you tired little cynic."
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