Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
So, Lady Flora, take my lay, And if you find a meaning there, Oh! whisper to your glass, and say, What wonder, if he thinks me fair.--Tennyson.
Flora and Norman were dining with one of their county acquaintance, and Dr. May had undertaken to admit them on their return. The fire shone red and bright, as it sank calmly away, and the timepiece and clock on the stairs had begun their nightly duet of ticking, the crickets chirped in the kitchen, and the doctor sat alone. His book lay with unturned pages, as he sat musing, with eyes fixed on the fire, living over again his own life, the easy bright days of his youth, when, without much pains on his own part, the tendencies of his generous affectionate disposition, and the influences of a warm friendship, and an early attachment, had guarded him from evil--then the period when he had been perfectly happy, and the sobering power of his position had been gradually working on him; but though always religious and highly principled, the very goodness of his natural character preventing him from perceiving the need of self-control, until the shock that changed the whole tenor of his life, and left him, for the first time, sensible of his own responsibility, but with inveterate habits of heedlessness and hastiness that love alone gave him force to combat. He was now a far gentler man. His younger children had never seen, his elder had long since forgotten, his occasional bursts of temper, but he suffered keenly from their effects, especially as regarded some of his children. Though Richard's timidity had been overcome, and Tom's more serious failures had been remedied, he was not without anxiety, and had a strange unsatisfactory feeling as regarded Flora. He could not feel that he fathomed her! She reminded him of his old Scottish father-in-law, Professor Mackenzie, whom he had never understood, nor, if the truth were known, liked. Her dealings with the Ladies' Committee were so like her grandfather's canny ways in a public meeting, that he laughed over them--but they were not congenial to him. Flora was a most valuable person; all that she undertook prospered, and he depended entirely on her for household affairs, and for the care of Margaret; but, highly as he esteemed her, he was a little afraid of her cool prudence; she never seemed to be in any need of him, nor to place any confidence in him, and seemed altogether so much older and wiser than he could feel himself--pretty girl as she was--and very pretty were her fine blue eyes and clear skin, set off by her dark brown hair. There arose the vision of eyes as blue, skin as clear, but of light blonde locks, and shorter, rounder, more dove-like form, open, simple, loving face, and serene expression, that had gone straight to his heart, when he first saw Maggie Mackenzie making tea.
He heard the wheels, and went out to unbolt the door. Those were a pair for a father to be proud of--Norman, of fine stature and noble looks, with his high brow, clear thoughtful eye, and grave intellectual eagle face, lighting into animation with his rare, sweet smile; and Flora, so tall and graceful, and in her white dress, picturesquely half concealed by her mantle, with flowers in her hair, and a deepened colour in her cheek, was a fair vision, as she came in from the darkness.
"Well! was it a pleasant party?"
Norman related the circumstances, while his sister remained silently leaning against the mantel-piece, looking into the fire, until he took up his candle, and bade them good-night. Dr. May was about to do the same, when she held out her hand. "One moment, if you please, dear papa," she said; "I think you ought to know it." "
What, my dear?"
"Mr. George Rivers, papa--"
"Ha!" said Dr. May, beginning to smile. "So that is what he is at, is it? But what an opportunity to take."
"It was in the conservatory," said Flora, a little hurt, as her father discovered by her tone. "The music was going on, and I don't know that there could have been--"
"A better opportunity, eh?" said Dr. May, laughing; "well, I should have thought it awkward; was he very much discomposed?"
"I thought," said Flora, looking down and hesitating, "that he had better come to you."
"Indeed! so you shifted the ungracious office to me. I am very glad to spare you, my dear; but it was hard on him to raise his hopes."
"I thought," faltered Flora, "that you could not disapprove--"
"Flora--" and he paused, completely confounded, while his daughter was no less surprised at the manner in which her news was received. Each waited for the other to speak, and Flora turned away, resting her head against the mantel-piece.
"Surely," said he, laying his hand on her shoulder, "you do not mean that you like this man?"
"I did not think that you would be against it," said Flora, in a choked voice, her face still averted.
"Heaven knows, I would not be against anything for your happiness, my dear," he answered; "but have you considered what it would be to spend your life with a man that has not three ideas! not a resource for occupying himself--a regular prey to ennui--one whom you could never respect!" He had grown more and more vehement, and Flora put her handkerchief to her eyes, for tears of actual disappointment were flowing.
"Come, come," he said, touched, but turning it off by a smile, "we will not talk of it any more to-night. It is your first offer, and you are flattered, but we know
'Colours seen by candle-light,
Will not bear the light of day.'
There, good-night, Flora, my dear--we will have a-tete-a-tete in the study before breakfast, when you have had time to look into your own mind."
He kissed her affectionately, and went upstairs with her, stopping at her door to give her another embrace, and to say "Bless you, my dear child, and help you to come to a right decision--"
Flora was disappointed. She had been too highly pleased at her conquest to make any clear estimation of the prize, individually considered. Her vanity magnified her achievement, and she had come home in a flutter of pleasure, at having had such a position in society offered to her, and expecting that her whole family would share her triumph. Gratified by George Rivers's admiration, she regarded him with favour and complacency; and her habit of considering herself as the most sensible person in her sphere made her so regard his appreciation of her, that she was blinded to his inferiority. It must be allowed that he was less dull with her than with most others.
And, in the midst of her glory, when she expected her father to be delighted and grateful--to be received as a silly girl, ready to accept any proposal, her lover spoken of with scorn, and the advantages of the match utterly passed over, was almost beyond endurance. A physician, with eleven children dependent on his practice, to despise an offer from the heir of such a fortune! But that was his customary romance! She forgave him, when it occurred to her that she was too important, and valuable, to be easily spared; and a tenderness thrilled through her, as she looked at the sleeping Margaret's pale face, and thought of surrendering her and little Daisy to Ethel's keeping. And what would become of the housekeeping? She decided, however, that feelings must not sway her--out of six sisters some must marry, for the good of the rest. Blanche and Daisy should come and stay with her, to be formed by the best society; and, as to poor dear Ethel, Mrs. Rivers would rule the Ladies' Committee for her with a high hand, and, perhaps, provide Cocksmoor with a school at her sole expense. What a useful, admirable woman she would be! The doctor would be the person to come to his senses in the morning, when he remembered Abbotstoke, Mr. Rivers, and Meta.
So Flora met her father, the next morning, with all her ordinary composure, in which he could not rival her, after his sleepless, anxious night. His looks of affectionate solicitude disconcerted what she had intended to say, and she waited, with downcast eyes, for him to begin.
"Well, Flora," he said at last, "have you thought?"
"Do you know any cause against it?" said Flora, still looking down.
"I know almost nothing of him. I have never heard anything of his character or conduct. Those would be a subject of inquiry, if you wish to carry this on--"
"I see you are averse," said Flora. "I would do nothing against your wishes--"
"My wishes have nothing to do with it," said Dr. May. "The point is- -that I must do right, as far as I can, as well as try to secure your happiness; and I want to be sure that you know what you are about."
"I know he is not clever," said Flora; "but there may be many solid qualities without talent."
"I am the last person to deny it; but where are these solid qualities? I cannot see the recommendation!"
"I place myself in your hands," said Flora, in a submissive tone, which had the effect of making him lose patience.
"Flora, Flora! why will you talk as if I were sacrificing you to some dislike or prejudice of my own! Don't you think I should only rejoice to have such a prosperous home offered to you, if only the man were worthy?"
"If you do not think him so, of course there is an end of it," said Flora, and her voice showed suppressed emotion.
"It is not what I think, in the absence of proof, but what you think, Flora. What I want you to do is this--to consider the matter fairly. Compare him with--I'll not say with Norman--but with Richard, Alan, Mr. Wilmot. Do you think you could rely on him--come to him for advice?" (Flora never did come to any one for advice.) "Above all-- do you think him likely to be a help, or a hindrance, in doing right?"
"I think you underrate him," said Flora steadily; "but, of course, if you dislike it--though, I think, you would change your mind if you knew him better--"
"Well," he said, as if to himself, "it is not always the most worthy;" then continued, "I have no dislike to him. Perhaps I may find that you are right. Since your mind is made up, I will do this: first, we must be assured of his father's consent, for they may very fairly object, since what I can give you is a mere nothing to them. Next, I shall find out what character he bears in his regiment, and watch him well myself; and, if nothing appear seriously amiss, I will not withhold my consent. But, Flora, you should still consider whether he shows such principle and right feeling as you can trust to."
"Thank you, papa. I know you will do all that is kind."
"Mind, you must not consider it an engagement, unless all be satisfactory."
"I will do as you please."
Ethel perceived that something was in agitation, but the fact did not break upon her till she came to Margaret, after the schoolroom reading, and heard Dr. May declaiming away in the vehement manner that always relieved him.
"Such a cub!" These were the words that met her ear; and she would have gone away, but he called her. "Come in, Ethel; Margaret says you guessed at this affair!"
"At what affair!" exclaimed Ethel. "Oh, it is about Flora. Poor man; has he done it?"
"Poor! He is not the one to be pitied!" said her father.
"You don't mean that she likes him?"
"She does though! A fellow with no more brains than a turnip lantern!"
"She does not mean it?" said Ethel.
"Yes, she does! Very submissive, and proper spoken, of course, but bent on having him; so there is nothing left for me but to consent-- provided Mr. Rivers does, and he should turn out not to have done anything outrageous; but there's no hope of that--he has not the energy. What can possess her? What can she see to admire?"
"He is good-natured," said Margaret, "and rather good-looking--"
"Flora has more sense. What on earth can be the attraction?"
"I am afraid it is partly the grandeur--" said Ethel. She broke off short, quite dismayed at the emotion she had xcited. Dr. May stepped towards her, almost as if he could have shaken her.
"Ethel," he cried, "I won't have such motives ascribed to your sister!"
Ethel tried to recollect what she had said that was so shocking, for the idea of Flora's worldly motives was no novelty to her. They had appeared in too many instances; and, though frightened at his anger, she stood still, without unsaying her words.
Margaret began to explain away. "Ethel did not mean, dear papa--"
"No," said Dr. May, his passionate manner giving way to dejection. "The truth is, that I have made home so dreary, that my girls are ready to take the first means of escaping."
Poor Margaret's tears sprang forth, and, looking up imploringly, she exclaimed, "Oh, papa, papa! it was no want of happiness! I could not help it. You know he had come before--"
Any reproach to her had been entirely remote from his thoughts, and he was at once on his knee beside her, soothing and caressing, begging her pardon, and recalling whatever she could thus have interpreted. Meanwhile, Ethel stood unnoticed and silent, making no outward protestation, but with lips compressed, as in her heart of hearts she passed the resolution--that her father should never feel this pain on her account. Leave him who might, she would never forsake him; nothing but the will of Heaven should part them. It might be hasty and venturesome. She knew not what it might cost her; but, where Ethel had treasured her resolve to work for Cocksmoor, there she also laid up her secret vow--that no earthly object should be placed between her and her father.
The ebullition of feeling seemed to have restored Dr. May's calmness, and he rose, saying, "I must go to my work; the man is coming here this afternoon."
"Where shall you see him?" Margaret asked.
"In my study, I suppose. I fear there is no chance of Flora's changing her mind first. Or do you think one of you could talk to her, and get her fairly to contemplate the real bearings of the matter?" And, with these words, he left the room.
Margaret and Ethel glanced at each other; and both felt the impenetrability of Flora's nature, so smooth, that all thrusts glided off.
"It will be of no use," said Ethel; "and, what is more, she will not have it done."
"Pray try; a few of your forcible words would set it in a new light."
"Why! Do you think she will attend to me, when she has not chosen to heed papa?" said Ethel, with an emphasis of incredulity. "No; whatever Flora does, is done deliberately, and unalterably."
"Still, I don't know whether it is not our duty," said Margaret.
"More yours than mine," said Ethel.
Margaret flushed up. "Oh, no, I cannot!" she said, always timid, and slightly defective in moral courage. She looked so nervous and shaken by the bare idea of a remonstrance with Flora, that Ethel could not press her; and, though convinced that her representation would be useless, she owned that her conscience would rest better after she had spoken. "But there is Flora, walking in the garden with Norman," she said. "No doubt he is doing it."
So Ethel let it rest, and attended to the children's lessons, during which Flora came into the drawing-room, and practised her music, as if nothing had happened.
Before the morning was over, Ethel contrived to visit Norman in the dining-room, where he was wont to study, and asked him whether he had made any impression on Flora.
"What impression do you mean?"
"Why, about this concern," said Ethel; "this terrible man, that makes papa so unhappy."
"Papa unhappy! Why, what does he know against him? I thought the Riverses were his peculiar pets."
"The Riverses! As if, because one liked the sparkling stream, one must like a muddy ditch."
"What harm do you know of him?" said Norman, with much surprise and anxiety, as if he feared that he had been doing wrong, in ignorance.
"Harm! Is he not a regular oaf?"
"My dear Ethel, if you wait to marry till you find some one as clever as yourself, you will wait long enough."
"I don't think it right for a woman to marry a man decidedly her inferior."
"We have all learned to think much too highly of talent," said Norman gravely.
"I don't care for mere talent--people are generally more sensible without it; but, one way or other, there ought to be superiority on the man's side."
"Well, who says there is not?"
"My dear Norman! Why, this George Rivers is really below the average! you cannot deny that! Did you ever meet any one so stupid?"
"Really!" said Norman, considering; and, speaking very innocently, "I cannot see why you think so. I do not see that he is at all less capable of sustaining a conversation than Richard."
Ethel sat down, perfectly breathless with amazement and indignation.
Norman saw that he had shocked her very much. "I do not mean," he said, "that we have not much more to say to Richard; all I meant to say was, merely as to the intellect."
"I tell you," said Ethel, "it is not the intellect. Richard! why, you know how we respect, and look up to him. Dear old Ritchie! with his goodness, and earnestness, and right judgment--to compare him to that man! Norman, Norman, I never thought it of you!"
"You do not understand me, Ethel. I only cited Richard, as a person who proves how little cleverness is needed to insure respect."
"And, I tell you, that cleverness is not the point."
"It is the only objection you have put forward."
"I did wrong," said Ethel. "It is not the real one. It is earnest goodness that one honours in Richard. Where do we find it in this man, who has never done anything but yawn over his self indulgence?"
"Now, Ethel, you are working yourself up into a state of foolish prejudice. You and papa have taken a dislike to him; and you are overlooking a great deal of good safe sense and right thinking. I know his opinions are sound, and his motives right. He has been undereducated, we all see, and is not very brilliant or talkative; but I respect Flora for perceiving his solid qualities."
"Very solid and weighty, indeed!" said Ethel ironically. "I wonder if she would have seen them in a poor curate."
"Ethel, you are allowing yourself to be carried, by prejudice, a great deal too far. Are such imputations to be made, wherever there is inequality of means? It is very wrong! very unjust!"
"So papa said," replied Ethel, as she looked sorrowfully down. "He was very angry with me for saying so. I wish I could help feeling as if that were the temptation."
"You ought," said Norman. "You will be sorry, if you set yourself, and him, against it."
"I only wish you to know what I feel; and, I think, Margaret and papa do," said Ethel humbly; "and then you will not think us more unjust than we are. We cannot see anything so agreeable or suitable in this man as to account for Flora's liking, and we do not feel convinced of his being good for much. That makes papa greatly averse to it, though he does not know any positive reason for refusing; and we cannot feel certain that she is doing quite right, or for her own happiness."
"You will be convinced," said Norman cheerfully. "You will find out the good that is under the surface when you have seen more of him. I have had a good deal of talk with him."
A good deal of talk to him would have been more correct, if Norman had but been aware of it. He had been at the chief expense of the conversation with George Rivers, and had taken the sounds of assent, which he obtained, as evidences of his appreciation of all his views. Norman had been struggling so long against his old habit of looking down on Richard, and exalting intellect; and had seen, in his Oxford life, so many ill-effects of the knowledge that puffeth up, that he had come to have a certain respect for dullness, per se, of which George Rivers easily reaped the benefit, when surrounded by the halo, which everything at Abbotstoke Grange bore in the eyes of Norman.
He was heartily delighted at the proposed connection, and his genuine satisfaction not only gratified Flora, and restored the equanimity that had been slightly disturbed by her father, but it also reassured Ethel and Margaret, who could not help trusting in his judgment, and began to hope that George might be all he thought him.
Ethel, finding that there were two ways of viewing the gentleman, doubted whether she ought to express her opinion. It was Flora's disposition, and the advantages of the match, that weighed most upon her, and, in spite of her surmise having been treated as so injurious, she could not rid herself of the burden.
Dr. May was not so much consoled by Norman's opinion as Ethel expected. The corners of his mouth curled up a little with diversion, and though he tried to express himself glad, and confident in his son's judgment, there was the same sort of involuntary lurking misgiving with which he had accepted Sir Matthew Fleet's view of Margaret's case.
There was no danger that Dr. May would not be kind and courteous to the young man himself. It was not his fault if he were a dunce, and Dr. May perceived that his love for Flora was real, though clumsily expressed. He explained that he could not sanction the engagement till he should be better informed of the young gentleman's antecedents; this was, as George expressed it, a great nuisance, but his father agreed that it was quite right, in some doubt, perhaps, as to how Dr. May might be satisfied.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.