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As late, engaged by fancy's dream, I lay beside a rapid stream, I saw my first come gliding by, Its airy form soon caught my eye; Its texture frail, and colour various, Like human hopes, and life precarious. Sudden, my second caught my ear, And filled my soul with constant fear; I quickly rose, and home I ran, My whole was hissing in the pan.--Riddle.
Flora revised the letter to the principal, and the Ladies' Committee approved, after having proposed seven amendments, all of which Flora caused to topple over by their own weakness.
After interval sufficient to render the nine ladies very anxious, the principal wrote from Scotland, where he was spending the Long Vacation, and informed them that their request should he laid before the next college meeting.
After the committee had sat upon this letter, the two sisters walked home in much greater harmony than after the former meeting. Etheldred had recovered her candour, and was willing to own that it was not art, but good sense, that gave her sister so much ascendancy. She began to be hopeful, and to declare that Flora might yet do something even with the ladies. Flora was gratified by the approval that no one in the house could help valuing; "Positively," said Flora, "I believe I may in time. You see there are different ways of acting, as an authority, or as an equal."
"The authority can move from without, the equal must from within," said Ethel.
"Just so. We must circumvent their prejudices, instead of trying to beat them down."
"If you only could have the proper catechising restored!"
"Wait; you will see. Let me feel my ground."
"Or if we could only abdicate into the hands of the rightful power!"
"The rightful power would not be much obliged to you."
"That is the worst of it," said Ethel. "It is sad to hear the sick people say that Dr. May is more to them than any parson; it shows that they have so entirely lost the notion of what their clergyman should be."
"Dr. May is the man most looked up to in this town," said Flora, "and that gives weight to us in the committee, but it is all in the using."
"Yes," said Ethel hesitatingly.
"You see, we have the prestige of better birth, and better education, as well as of having the chief property in the town, and of being the largest subscribers, added to his personal character," said Flora; "so that everything conspires to render us leaders, and our age alone prevented us from assuming our post sooner."
They were at home by this time, and entering the hall, perceived that the whole party were in the lawn. The consolation of the children for the departure of Hector and Tom, was a bowl of soap-suds and some tobacco pipes, and they had collected the house to admire and assist, even Margaret's couch being drawn close to the window.
Bubbles is one of the most fascinating of sports. There is the soft foamy mass, like driven snow, or like whipped cream. Blanche bends down to blow "a honeycomb," holding the bowl of the pipe in the water; at her gurgling blasts there slowly heaves upwards the pile of larger, clearer bubbles, each reflecting the whole scene, and sparkling with rainbow tints, until Aubrey ruthlessly dashes all into fragments with his hand, and Mary pronounces it stiff enough, and presents a pipe to little Daisy, who, drawing the liquid into her mouth, throws it away with a grimace, and declares that she does not like bubbles! But Aubrey stands with swelled cheeks, gravely puffing at the sealing-waxed extremity. Out pours a confused assemblage of froth, but the glassy globe slowly expands the little branching veins, flowing down on either side, bearing an enlarging miniature of the sky, the clouds, the tulip-tree. Aubrey pauses to exclaim! but where is it? Try again! A proud bubble, as Mary calls it, a peacock, in blended pink and green, is this transparent sphere, reflecting and embellishing house, wall, and shrubs! It is too beautiful! It is gone! Mary undertakes to give a lesson, and blows deliberately without the slightest result. Again! She waves her disengaged hand in silent exultation as the airy balls detach themselves, and float off on the summer breeze, with a tardy, graceful, uncertain motion. Daisy rushes after them, catches at them, and looks at her empty fingers with a puzzled "All gone!" as plainly expressed by Toby, who snaps at them, and shakes his head with offended dignity at the shock of his meeting teeth, while the kitten frisks after them, striking at them with her paw, amazed at meeting vacancy.
Even the grave Norman is drawn in. He agrees with Mary that bubbles used to fly over the wall, and that one once went into Mrs. Richardson's garret window, when her housemaid tried to catch it with a pair of tongs, and then ran downstairs screaming that there was a ghost in her room; but that was in Harry's time, the heroic age of the May nursery.
He accepts a pipe, and his greater height raises it into a favourable current of air--the glistening balloon sails off. It flies, it soars; no, it is coming down! The children shout at it, as if to drive it up, but it wilfully descends--they rush beneath, they try to waft it on high with their breath--there is a collision between Mary and Blanche--Aubrey perceives a taste of soapy water--the bubble is no more--it is vanished in his open mouth!
Papa himself has taken a pipe, and the little ones are mounted on chairs, to be on a level with their tall elders. A painted globe is swimming along, hesitating at first, but the dancing motion is tending upwards, the rainbow tints glisten in the sunlight--all rush to assist it; if breath of the lips can uphold it, it should rise, indeed! Up! above the wall! over Mrs. Richardson's elm, over the topmost branch--hurrah! out of sight! Margaret adds her voice to the acclamations. Beat that if you can, Mary! That doubtful wind keeps yours suspended in a graceful minuet; its pace is accelerated--but earthwards! it has committed self-destruction by running foul of a rose-bush. A general blank!
"You here, Ethel?" said Norman, as the elders laughed at each other's baffled faces.
"I am more surprised to find you here," she answered.
"Excitement!" said Norman, smiling; "one cause is as good as another for it."
"Very pretty sport," said Dr. May. "You should write a poem on it, Norman."
"It is an exhausted subject," said Norman; "bubble and trouble are too obvious a rhyme."
"Ha! there it goes! It will be over the house! That's right!" Every one joined in the outcry.
"Whose is it?"
"Hurrah for Blanche! Well done, white Mayflower, there!" said the doctor, "that is what I meant. See the applause gained by a proud bubble that flies! Don't we all bow down to it, and waft it up with the whole force of our lungs, air as it is; and when it fairly goes out of sight, is there any exhilaration or applause that surpasses ours?"
"The whole world being bent on making painted bubbles fly over the house," said Norman, far more thoughtfully than his father. "It is a fair pattern of life and fame."
"I was thinking," continued Dr. May, "what was the most unalloyed exultation I remember."
"Harry's, when you were made dux," whispered Ethel to her brother.
"Not mine," said Norman briefly.
"I believe," said Dr. May, "I never knew such glorification as when Aubrey Spencer climbed the poor old market-cross. We all felt ourselves made illustrious for ever in his person."
"Nay, papa, when you got that gold medal must have been the grandest time?" said Blanche, who had been listening.
Dr. May laughed, and patted her. "I, Blanche? Why, I was excessively amazed, that is all, not in Norman's way, but I had been doing next to nothing to the very last, then fell into an agony, and worked like a horse, thinking myself sure of failure, and that my mother and my uncle would break their hearts."
"But when you heard that you had it?" persisted Blanche.
"Why, then I found I must be a much cleverer fellow than I thought for!" said he, laughing; "but I was ashamed of myself, and of the authorities, for choosing such an idle dog, and vexed that other plodding lads missed it, who deserved it more than I."
"Of course," said Norman, in a low voice, "that is what one always feels. I had rather blow soap-bubbles!"
"Where was Dr. Spencer?" asked Ethel.
"Not competing. He had been ready a year before, and had gained it, or I should have had no chance. Poor Spencer! what would I not give to see him, or hear of him?"
"The last was--how long ago?" said Ethel.
"Six years, when he was setting off, to return from Poonshedagore," said Dr. May, sighing. "I gave him up; his health was broken, and there was no one to look after him. He was the sort of man to have a nameless grave, and a name too blessed for fame."
Ethel would have asked further of her father's dear old friend, but there were sounds, denoting an arrival, and Margaret beckoned to them as Miss Rivers and her brother were ushered into the drawing-room; and Blanche instantly fled away, with her basin, to hide herself in the schoolroom.
Meta skipped out, and soon was established on the grass, an attraction to all the live creatures, as it seemed; for the kitten came, and was caressed till her own graceful Nipen was ready to fight with the uncouth Toby for the possession of a resting-place on the skirt of her habit, while Daisy nestled up to her, as claiming a privilege, and Aubrey kept guard over the dogs.
Meta inquired after a huge doll--Dr. Hoxton's gift to Daisy, at the bazaar.
"She is in Margaret's wardrobe," was the answer, "because Aubrey tied her hands behind her, and was going to offer her up on the nursery grate."
"Oh, Aubrey, that was too cruel!"
"No," returned Aubrey; "she was Iphigenia, going to be sacrificed."
"Mary unconsciously acted Diana," said Ethel, "and bore the victim away."
"Pray, was Daisy a willing Clytemnestra?" asked Meta.
"Oh, yes, she liked it," said Aubrey, while Meta looked discomfited.
"I never could get proper respect paid to dolls," said Margaret; "we deal too much in their natural enemies."
"Yes," said Ethel, "my only doll was like a heraldic lion, couped in all her parts."
"Harry and Tom once made a general execution," said Flora; "there was a doll hanging to every baluster--the number made up with rag."
George Rivers burst out laughing--his first sign of life; and Meta looked as if she had heard of so many murders.
"I can't help feeling for a doll!" she said. "They used to be like sisters to me. I feel as if they were wasted on children, that see no character in them, and only call them Dolly."
"I agree with you," said Margaret. "If there had been no live dolls, Richard and I should have reared our doll family as judiciously as tenderly. There are treasures of carpentry still extant, that he made for them."
"Oh, I am so glad!" cried Meta, as if she had found another point of union. "If I were to confess--there is a dear old Rose in the secret recesses of my wardrobe. I could as soon throw away my sister--"
"Ha!" cried her brother, laying hold of the child, "here, little Daisy, will you give your doll to Meta?"
"My name is Gertrude Margaret May," said the little round mouth. The fat arm was drawn back, with all a baby's dignity, and the rosy face was hidden in Dr. May's breast, at the sound of George Rivers's broad laugh and "Well done, little one!"
Dr. May put his arm round her, turned aside from him, and began talking to Meta about Mr. Rivers.
Flora and Norman made conversation for the brother; and he presently asked Norman to go out shooting with him, but looked so amazed on hearing that Norman was no sportsman that Flora tried to save the family credit by mentioning Hector's love of a gun, which caused their guest to make a general tender of sporting privileges; "Though," added he, with a drawl, "shooting is rather a nuisance, especially alone."
Meta told Ethel, a little apart, that he was so tired of going out alone, that he had brought her here, in search of a companion.
"He comes in at eleven o'clock, poor fellow, quite tired with solitude," said she, "and comes to me to be entertained."
"Indeed," exclaimed Ethel. "What can you do?"
"What I can," said Meta, laughing. "Whatever is not 'a horrid nuisance' to him."
"It would be a horrid nuisance to me," said Ethel bluntly, "if my brothers wanted me to amuse them all the morning."
"Your brothers, oh!" said Meta, as if that were very different; "besides, you have so much more to do. I am only too glad and grateful when George will come to me at all. You see I have always been too young to be his companion, or find out what suited him, and now he is so very kind and good-natured to me."
"But what becomes of your business?"
"I get time, one way or another. There is the evening, very often, when I have sung both him and papa to sleep. I had two hours, all to myself, yesterday night," said Meta, with a look of congratulation, "and I had a famous reading of Thirlwall's 'Greece.'"
"I should think that such evenings were as bad as the mornings."
"Come", Ethel, don't make me naughty. Large families, like yours, may have merry, sociable evenings; but, I do assure you, ours are very pleasant. We are so pleased to have George at home; and we really hope that he is taking a fancy to the dear Grange. You can't think how delighted papa is to have him content to stay quietly with us so long. I must call him to go back now, though, or papa will be kept waiting."
When Ethel had watched the tall, ponderous brother help the bright fairy sister to fly airily into her saddle, and her sparkling glance, and wave of the hand, as she cantered off, contrasting with his slow bend, and immobility of feature, she could not help saying that Meta's life certainly was not too charming, with her fanciful, valetudinarian father, and that stupid, idealess brother.
"He is very amiable and good-natured," interposed Norman.
"Ha! Norman, you are quite won by his invitation to shoot! How he despised you for refusing--as much as you despised him."
"Speak for yourself," said Norman. "You fancy no sensible man likes shooting, but you are all wrong. Some of our best men are capital sportsmen. Why, there is Ogilvie--you know what he is. When I bring him down here, you will see that there is no sort of sport that he is not keen after."
"This poor fellow will never be keen after anything," said Dr. May. "I pity him! Existence seems hard work to him!"
"We shall have baby calling him 'the detestable' next," said Ethel. "What a famous set down she gave him."
"She is a thorough lady, and allows no liberties," said Dr. May.
"Ah!" said Margaret, "it is a proof of what I want to impression you. We really must leave off calling her Daisy when strangers are there."
"It is so much nicer," pleaded Mary.
"The very reason," said Margaret, "fondling names should be kept for our innermost selves, not spread abroad, and made common. I remember when I used to be called Peg-top--and Flora, Flossy--we were never allowed to use the names when any visitor was near; and we were asked if we could not be as fond of each other by our proper names. I think it was felt that there was a want of reserve in publishing our pet words to other people."
"Quite true," said Dr. May; "baby-names never ought to go beyond home. It is the fashion to use them now; and, besides the folly, it seems, to me, an absolute injury to a girl, to let her grow up, with a nickname attached to her."
"Ay!" chimed in Norman, "I hear men talking of Henny, and Loo, and the like; and you can't think how glad I have been that my sisters could not be known by any absurd word!"
"It is a case where self-respect would make others behave properly," said Flora.
"True," said Dr. May; "but if girls won't keep up their own dignity, their friends' duty is to do it for them. The mischief is in the intimate friends, who blazon the words to every one."
"And then they call one formal, for trying to protect the right name," said Flora. "It is, one-half of it, silliness, and, the other, affectation of intimacy."
"Now, I know," said Mary, "why you are so careful to call Meta Miss Rivers, to all the people here."
"I should hope so!" cried Norman indignantly.
"Why, yes, Mary," said Margaret, "I should hope lady-like feelings would prevent you from calling her Meta before--"
"The Andersons!" cried Ethel, laughing. "Margaret was just going to say it. We only want Harry, to exact the forfeit! Poor dear little humming-bird! It gives one an oppression on the chest, to think of her having that great do-nothing brother on her hands all day."
"Thank you," said Norman, "I shall know where I am not to look when I want a sister."
"Ay," said Ethel, "when you come yawning to me to find amusement for you, you will see what I shall do!"
"Stand over me with a stick while I print A B C for Cocksmoor, I suppose," said Norman.
"Well! why not? People are much better doing something than nothing."
"What, you won't even let me blow bubbles!" said Norman.
"That is too intellectual, as papa makes it," said Ethel. "By the bye, Norman," she added, as she had now walked with him a little apart, "it always was a bubble of mine that you should try for the Newdigate prize. Ha!" as the colour rushed into his cheeks, "you really have begun!"
"I could not help it, when I heard the subject given out for next year. Our old friend, Decius Mus."
"Have you finished?"
"By no means, but it brought a world of notions into my head, such as I could not but set down. Now, Ethel, do oblige me, do write another, as we used in old times."
"I had better not," said Ethel, standing thoughtful. "If I throw myself into it, I shall hate everything else, and my wits will be woolgathering. I have neither time nor poetry enough."
"You used to write English verse."
"I was cured of it."
"I wanted money for Cocksmoor, and after persuading papa, I got leave to send a ballad about a little girl and a white rose to that school magazine. I don't think papa liked it, but there were some verses that touched him, and one had seen worse. It was actually inserted, and I was in high feather, till, oh, Norman! imagine Richard getting hold of this unlucky thing, without a notion where it came from! Margaret put it before him, to see what he would say to it."
"I am afraid it was not like a young lady's anonymous composition in a story."
"By no means. Imagine Ritchie picking my poor metaphors to pieces, and weighing every sentimental line! And all in his dear old simplicity, because he wanted to understand it, seeing that Margaret liked it. He had not the least intention of hurting my feelings, but never was I so annihilated! I thought he was doing it on purpose, till I saw how distressed he was when he found it out; and worse than all was, his saying at the end that he supposed it was very fine, but he could not understand it."
"Let me see it."
"Some time or other; but let me see Decius."
"Did you give up verses because Richard could not understand them?"
"No; because I had other fish to fry. And I have not given them up altogether. I do scrabble down things that tease me by running in my head, when I want to clear my brains, and know what I mean; but I can't do it without sitting up at night, and that stupefies me before breakfast. And as to making bubbles of them, Ritchie has cured me of that!"
"It is a pity! " said Norman.
"Nonsense, let me see Decius. I know he is splendid."
"I wish you would have tried, for all my best ideas are stolen from you."
Ethel prevailed by following her brother to his room, and perching herself on the window-sill, while he read his performance from many slips of paper. The visions of those boyish days had not been forgotten, the Vesuvius scenery was much as Ethel had once described it, but with far more force and beauty; there was Decius's impassioned address to the beauteous land he was about to leave, and the remembrances of his Roman hearth, his farm, his children, whom he quitted for the pale shadows of an uncertain Elysium. There was a great hiatus in the middle, and Norman had many more authorities to consult, but the summing-up was nearly complete, and Ethel thought the last lines grand, as they spoke of the noble consul's name living for evermore, added to the examples that nerve ardent souls to devote life, and all that is precious, to the call of duty. Fame is not their object. She may crown their pale brows, but for the good of others, not their own, a beacon light to the world. Self is no object of theirs, and it is the casting self behind that wins--not always the visible earthly strife, but the combat between good and evil. They are the true victors, and, whether chronicled or forgotten, true glory rests on their heads, the sole true glory that man can attain, namely, the reflected beams that crown them as shadowy types of Him whom Decius knew not--the Prince who gave Himself for His people, and thus rendered death, for Truth's sake, the highest boon to mortal man.
"Norman, you must finish it! When will it be given in?"
"Next spring, if at all, but keep the secret, Ethel. I cannot have my father's hopes raised."
"I'll tell you of a motto," said Ethel. "Do you remember Mrs. Hemans' mention of a saying of Sir Walter Scott-- 'Never let me hear that brave blood has been shed in vain. It sends a roaring voice down through all time.'"
"If," said Norman, rather ashamed of the enthusiasm which, almost approaching to the so-called "funny state" of his younger days, had trembled in his voice, and kindled his eye--"if you won't let me put 'nascitur ridiculus mus.'"
"Too obvious," said Ethel. "Depend upon it, every undergraduate has thought of it already."
Ethel was always very happy over Norman's secrets, and went about smiling over Decius, and comparing her brother with such a one as poor Meta was afflicted with; wasting some superfluous pity and contempt on the weary weight that was inflicted on the Grange.
"What do you think of me?" said Margaret, one afternoon. "I have had Mr. George Rivers here for two hours."
"Alone! what could bring him here?"
"I told him that every one was out, but he chose to sit down, and seemed to be waiting."
"How could you get on?"
"Oh! we asked a few questions, and brought out remarks, with great difficulty, at long intervals. He asked me if lying here was not a great nuisance, and, at last, he grew tired of twisting his moustache, and went away."
"I trust it was a call to take leave."
"No, he thinks he shall sell out, for the army is a great nuisance."
"You seem to have got into his confidence."
"Yes, he said he wanted to settle down, but living with one's father was such a nuisance."
"By the bye," cried Ethel, laughing, "Margaret, it strikes me that this is a Dumbiedikes' courtship!"
"Of yourself?" said Margaret slyly.
"No, of Flora. You know, she has often met him at the Grange and other places, and she does contrive to amuse him, and make him almost animated. I should not think he found her a great nuisance."
"Poor man! I am sorry for him!" said Margaret.
"Oh! rejection will be very good for him, and give him something to think of."
"Flora will never let it come to that," said Margaret. "But not one word about it, Ethel!"
Margaret and Etheldred kept their eyes open, and sometimes imagined, sometimes laughed at themselves for their speculations, and so October began; and Ethel laughed, as she questioned whether the Grange would feel the Hussar's return to his quarters, as much as home would the departure of their scholar for Balliol.
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