Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
While I, thy dearest, sat apart, And felt thy triumphs were as mine, And lov'd them more than they were thine. TENNYSON.
That was a week of weeks; the most memorable week in Ethel's life, spent in indefatigable sight-seeing. College Chapels, Bodleian Library, Taylor Gallery, the Museum, all were thoroughly studied, and, if Flora had not dragged the party on, in mercy to poor George's patience, Ethel would never have got through a day's work.
Indeed, Mr. Ogilvie, when annoyed at being hurried in going over Merton Chapel with her, was heard to whisper that he acted the part of policeman, by a perpetual "move on"; and as Ethel recollected the portly form and wooden face of the superintendent at Stoneborough, she was afraid that the comparison would not soon be forgotten. Norman Ogilvie seemed to consider himself bound to their train as much as his namesake, or, as on the second morning, Norman reported his reasoning, it was that a man must walk about with somebody on Commemoration week, and that it was a comfort to do so with ladies who wore their bonnets upon their heads, instead of, like most of those he met, remind him of what Cock Robin said to Jenny Wren in that matrimonial quarrel, when
Robin, he grew angry,
Hopped upon a twig--
Flora was extremely delighted, and, in matronly fashion, told her sister that people were always respected and admired who had the strength of mind to resist unsuitable customs. Ethel laughed in answer, and said she thought it would take a great deal more strength of mind to go about with her whole visage exposed to the universal gaze; and, woman-like, they had a thorough gossip over the evils of the "backsliding" head-gear.
Norman had retreated from it into the window, when Flora returned to the charge about Harvey Anderson. She had been questioning their old friend Mr. Everard, and had learned from him that the cause of the hesitation with which his name had been received was that he had become imbued with some of the Rationalistic ideas current in some quarters. He seldom met Norman May without forcing on him debates, which were subjects of great interest to the hearers, as the two young men were considered as the most distinguished representatives of their respective causes, among their own immediate contemporaries. Norman's powers of argument, his eloquence, readiness, and clearness, were thought to rank very high, and, in the opinion of Mr. Everard, had been of great effect in preventing other youths from being carried away by the specious brilliancy of his rival.
Ethel valued this testimony far above the Newdigate prize, and she was extremely surprised by hearing Flora declare her intention of still asking Mr. Anderson to dinner, only consulting her brother as to the day.
"Why, Flora! ask him! Norman--"
Norman had turned away with the simple answer, "any day."
"Norman is wiser than you are, Ethel," said Flora. "He knows that Stoneborough would be up in arms at any neglect from us to one of the Andersons, and, considering the rivalship, it is the more graceful, and becoming."
"I do not think it right," said Ethel stoutly; "I believe that a line ought to be drawn, and that we ought not to associate with people who openly tamper with their faith."
"Never fear," smiled Flora; "I promise you that there shall be no debates at my table."
Ethel felt the force of the pronoun, and, as Flora walked out of the room, she went up to Norman, who had been resting his brow against the window.
"It is vain to argue with her," she said; "but, Norman, do not you think it is clearly wrong to seek after men who desert and deny--"
She stopped short, frightened at his pale look.
He spoke in a low clear tone that seemed to thrill her with a sort of alarm. "If the secrets of men's hearts were probed, who could cast the first stone?"
"I don't want to cast stones," she began; but he made a gesture as if he would not hear, and, at the same moment, Mr. Ogilvie entered the room.
Had Ethel been at home, she would have pondered much over her brother's meaning--here she had no leisure. Not only was she fully occupied with the new scenes around her, but her Scottish cousin took up every moment open to conversation. He was older than Norman, and had just taken his degree, and he talked with that superior aplomb, which a few years bestow at their time of life, without conceit, but more hopeful and ambitious, and with higher spirits than his cousin.
Though industrious and distinguished, he had not avoided society or amusement, was a great cricketer and tennis-player, one of the "eight" whose success in the boat races was one of Norman's prime interests, and he told stories of frolics that reminded Ethel of her father's old Cambridge adventures.
He was a new variety in her eyes, and entertained her greatly. Where the bounds of banter ended, was not easy to define, but whenever he tried a little mystification, she either entered merrily into the humour, or threw it over with keen wit that he kept constantly on the stretch. They were always discovering odd, unexpected bits of knowledge in each other, and a great deal more accordance in views and opinions than appealed on the surface, for his enthusiasm usually veiled itself in persiflage on hers, though he was too good and serious to carry it too far.
At Blenheim, perhaps he thought he had given an overdose of nonsense, and made her believe, as Meta really did, that the Duchess Sarah was his model woman; for as they walked in the park in search of Phoebe Mayflower's well, he gathered a fern leaf, to show her the Glenbracken badge, and talked to her of his home, his mother, and his sister Marjorie, and the little church in the rocky glen. He gave the history of the stolen meetings of the little knot of churchmen during the days of persecution, and showed a heart descended straight from the Ogilvie who was "out with Montrose," now that the upper structure of young England was for a little while put aside.
After this, she took his jokes much more coolly, and made thrusts beneath them, which he seemed to enjoy, and caused him to unfold himself the more. She liked him all the better for finding that he thought Norman had been a very good friend to him, and that he admired her brother heartily, watching tenderly over his tendencies to make himself unhappy. He confided to her that, much as he rejoiced in the defeats of Anderson, he feared that the reading and thought consequent on the discussions, had helped to overstrain Norman's mind, and he was very anxious to carry him away from all study, and toil, and make his brains rest, and his eyes delight themselves upon Scottish mountains.
Thereupon came vivid descriptions of the scenery, especially his own glen with the ruined tower, and ardent wishes that his cousin Ethel could see them also, and know Marjorie. She could quite echo the wish, Edinburgh and Loch Katrine had been the visions of her life, and now that she had once taken the leap and left home, absence did not seem impossible, and, with a start of delight, she hailed her own conviction that he intended his mother to invite the party to Glenbracken.
After Norman's visit, Mr. Ogilvie declared that he must come home with him and pay his long-promised visit to Stoneborough. He should have come long ago. He had been coming last winter, but the wedding had prevented him; he had always wished to know Dr. May, whom his father well remembered, and now nothing should keep him away!
Flora looked on amused and pleased at Ethel's development--her abruptness softened into piquancy, and her countenance so embellished, that the irregularity only added to the expressiveness. There was no saying what Ethel would come to! She had not said that she would not go to the intended ball, and her grimaces at the mention of it were growing fainter every day.
The discussion about Harvey Anderson was never revived; Flora sent the invitation without another word--he came with half a dozen other gentlemen--Ethel made him a civil greeting, but her head was full of boats and the procession day, about which Mr. Ogilvie was telling her, and she thought of him no more.
"A lucky step!" thought Flora. "A grand thing for Ethel--a capital connection for us all. Lady Glenbracken will not come too much into my sphere either. Yes, I am doing well by my sisters."
It would make stay-at-home people giddy to record how much pleasure, how much conversation and laughter were crowded into those ten days, and with much thought and feeling beside them, for these were not girls on whom grave Oxford could leave no impression but one of gaiety.
The whole party was very full of merriment. Norman May, especially, on whom Flora contrived to devolve that real leadership of conversation that should rightly have belonged to George Rivers, kept up the ball with wit and drollery far beyond what he usually put forth; enlivened George into being almost an agreeable man, and drew out little Meta's vivacity into sunny sparkles.
Meta generally had Norman for her share, and seemed highly contented with his lionisings, which were given much more quietly and copiously than those which his cousin bestowed upon his sister. Or if there were anything enterprising to be done, any tower to be mounted, or anything with the smallest spice of danger in it, Meta was charmed, and with her lightness and airiness of foot and figure, and perfectly feminine ways, showed a spirit of adventure that added to the general diversion. But if she were to be helped up or down anywhere, she certainly seemed to find greater security in Norman May's assistance, though it was but a feather-like touch that she ever used to aid her bounding step.
Both as being diffident, and, in a manner at home, Norman was not as constantly her cavalier as was Mr. Ogilvie to his sister; and, when supplanted, his wont was either to pioneer for Flora, or, if she did not need him, to walk alone, grave and abstracted. There was a weight on his brow, when nothing was going on to drive it away, and whether it were nervousness as to the performance in store for him, anxiety about Harry, or, as Mr. Ogilvie said, too severe application; some burden hung upon him, that was only lightened for the time by his participation in the enjoyment of the party.
On Sunday evening, when they had been entering into the almost vision-like delight of the choicest of music, and other accompaniments of church service, they went to walk in Christchurch Meadows. They had begun altogether by comparing feelings--Ethel wondering whether Stoneborough Minster would ever be used as it might be, and whether, if so, they should be practically the better for it; and proceeding with metaphysics on her side, and satire on Norman Ogilvie's, to speculate whether that which is, is best, and the rights and wrongs of striving for change and improvements, what should begin from above, and what from beneath--with illustrations often laughter-moving, though they were much in earnest, as the young heir of Glenbracken looked into his future life.
Flora had diverged into wondering who would have the living after poor old Mr. Ramsden, and walked, keeping her husband amused with instances of his blunders.
Meta, as with Norman she parted from the rest, thought her own dear Abbotstoke church, and Mr Charles Wilmot, great subjects for content and thanksgiving, though it was a wonderful treat to see and hear such as she had enjoyed to-day; and she thought it was a joy, to carry away abidingly, to know that praise and worship, as near perfection as this earth could render them, were being offered up.
Norman understood her thought, but responded by more of a sigh than was quite comfortable.
Meta went on with her own thoughts, on the connection between worship and good works, how the one leads to the other, and how praise with pure lips is, after all, the great purpose of existence.-- Her last thought she spoke aloud.
"I suppose everything, our own happiness and all, are given to us to turn into praise," she said.
"Yes--" echoed Norman; but as if his thoughts were not quite with hers, or rather in another part of the same subject; then recalling himself, "Happy such as can do so."
"If one only could--" said Meta.
"You can--don't say otherwise," exclaimed Norman; "I know, at least, that you and my father can."
"Dr. May does so, more than any one I know," said Meta.
"Yes," said Norman again; "it is his secret of joy. To him, it is never, I am half sick of shadows."
"To him they are not shadows, but foretastes," said Meta. Silence again; and when she spoke, she said, "I have always thought it must be such a happiness to have power of any kind that can be used in direct service, or actual doing good."
"No," said Norman. "Whatever becomes a profession, becomes an unreality."
"Surely not, in becoming a duty," said Meta.
"Not for all," he answered; "but where the fabric erected by ourselves, in the sight of the world, is but an outer case, a shell of mere words, blown up for the occasion, strung together as mere language; then, self-convicted, we shrink within the husk, and feel our own worthlessness and hypocrisy."
"As one feels in reproving the school children for behaving ill at church?" said Meta.
"You never felt anything approaching to it!" said Norman. "To know oneself to be such a deception, that everything else seems a delusion too!"
"I don't know whether that is metaphysical," said Meta, "but I am sure I don't understand it. One must know oneself to be worse than one knows any one else to be."
"I could not wish you to understand," said Norman; and yet he seemed impelled to go on; for, after a hesitating silence, he added, "When the wanderer in the desert fears that the spring is but a mirage; or when all that is held dear is made hazy or distorted by some enchanter, what do you think are the feelings, Meta?"
"It must be dreadful," she said, rather bewildered; "but he may know it is a delusion, if he can but wake. Has he not always a spell, a charm?--"
"What is the spell?" eagerly said Norman, standing still.
"Believe--" said Meta, hardly knowing how she came to choose the words.
"I believe!" he repeated. "What--when we go beyond the province of reason--human, a thing of sense after all! How often have I so answered. But Meta, when a man has been drawn, in self-sufficient security, to look into a magic mirror, and cannot detach his eyes from the confused, misty scene--where all that had his allegiance appears shattered, overthrown, like a broken image, or at least unable to endure examination, then--"
"Oh, Norman, is that the trial to any one here? I thought old Oxford was the great guardian nurse of truth! I am sure she cannot deal in magic mirrors or such frightful things. Do you know you are talking like a very horrible dream?"
"I believe I am in one," said Norman.
"To be sure you are. Wake!" said Meta, looking up, smiling in his face. "You have read yourself into a maze, that's all--what Mary calls, muzzling your head; you don't really think all this, and when you get into the country, away from books, you will forget it. One look at our dear old purple Welsh hills will blow away all the mists!"
"I ought not to have spoken in this manner," said Norman sadly. "Forget it, Meta."
"Forget it! Of course I will. It is all nonsense, and meant to be forgotten," said Meta, laughing. "You will own that it is by-and- by."
He gave a deep sigh.
"Don't think I am unfeeling," she said; "but I know it is all a fog up from books, books, books--I should like to drive it off with a good fresh gust of wind! Oh! I wish those yellow lilies would grow in our river!"
Meta talked away gaily for the rest of the walk. She was anything but unfeeling, but she had a confidence in Norman that forbade her to see anything here but one of his variations of spirits, which always sank in the hour of triumph. She put forth her brightness to enliven him, and, in their subsequent tete-a-tetes, she avoided all that could lead to a renewal of this conversation. Ethel would not have rested till it had been fought out. Meta thought it so imaginary, that it had better die for want of the aliment of words; certainly, hers could not reach an intellect like his, and she would only soothe and amuse him. Dr. May, mind-curer as well as body-curer, would soon be here, to put the climax to the general joy and watch his own son.
He did arrive; quite prepared to enjoy, giving an excellent account of both homes; Mr. Rivers very well, and the Wilmots taking care of him, and Margaret as comfortable as usual, Mary making a most important and capable little housekeeper, Miss Bracy as good as possible. He talked as if they had all nourished the better for Ethel's absence, but he had evidently missed her greatly, as he showed, without knowing it, by his instant eagerness to have her to himself. Even Norman, prizeman as he was, was less wanted. There was proud affection, eager congratulation, for him, but it was Ethel to whom he wanted to tell everything that had passed during her absence--whom he treated as if they were meeting after a tedious separation.
They dined rather early, and went out afterwards, to walk down the High Street to Christchurch Meadow. Norman and Ethel had been anxious for this; they thought it would give their father the best idea of the tout ensemble of Oxford, and were not without hopes of beating him by his own confession, in that standing fight between him and his sons, as to the beauties of Oxford and Cambridge--a fight in which, hitherto, they had been equally matched--neither partisan having seen the rival University.
Flora stayed at home; she owned herself fairly tired by her arduous duties of following the two young ladies about, and was very glad to give her father the keeping of them. Dr. May held out his arm to Ethel--Norman secured his peculiar property. Ethel could have preferred that it should be otherwise--Norman would have no companion but George Rivers; how bored he would be!
All through the streets, while she was telling her father the names of the buildings, she was not giving her whole attention; she was trying to guess, from the sounds behind, whether Mr. Ogilvie were accompanying them. They entered the meadows--Norman turned round, with a laugh, to defy the doctor to talk of the Cam, on the banks of the Isis. The party stood still--the other two gentlemen came up. They amalgamated again--all the Oxonians conspiring to say spiteful things of the Cam, and Dr. May making a spirited defence, in which Ethel found herself impelled to join.
In the wide gravelled path, they proceeded in threes; George attached himself to his sister and Norman. Mr. Ogilvie came to Ethel's other side, and began to point out all the various notabilities. Ethel was happy again; her father was so much pleased and amused, with him, and he with her father, that it was a treat to look on.
Presently Dr. May, as usual, always meeting with acquaintances, fell in with a county neighbour, and Ethel had another pleasant aside, until her father claimed her, and Mr. Ogilvie was absorbed among another party, and lost to her sight.
He came to tea, but, by that time, Dr. May had established himself in the chair which had hitherto been appropriated to her cousin, a chair that cut her nook off from the rest of the world, and made her the exclusive possession of the occupant. There was a most interesting history for her to hear, of a meeting with the Town Council, which she had left pending, when Dr. May had been battling to save the next presentation of the living from being sold.
Few subjects could affect Ethel more nearly, yet she caught herself missing the thread of his discourse, in trying to hear what Mr. Ogilvie was saying to Flora about a visit to Glenbracken.
The time came for the two Balliol men to take their leave. Norman May had been sitting very silent all the evening, and Meta, who was near him, respected his mood. When he said good-night, he drew Ethel outside the door. "Ethel," he said, "only one thing: do ask my father not to put on his spectacles to-morrow."
"Very well," said Ethel, half smiling; "Richard did not mind them."
"Richard has more humility--I shall break down if he looks at me! I wish you were all at home."
The other Norman came out of the sitting-room at the moment, and heard the last words.
"Never mind," said he to Ethel, "I'll take care of him. He shall comport himself as if you were all at Nova Zembla. A pretty fellow to talk of despising fame, and then get a fit of stage-fright!"
"Well, good-night," said Norman, sighing. "It will be over to- morrow; only remember the spectacles."
Dr. May laughed a good deal at the request, and asked if the rest of the party were to be blindfolded. Meta wondered that Ethel should have mentioned the request so publicly; she was a good deal touched by it, and she thought Dr. May ought to be so.
Good-night was said, and Dr. May put his arm round Ethel, and gave her the kiss that she had missed for seven nights. It was very homelike, and it brought a sudden flash of thought across Ethel! What had she been doing? She had been impatient of her father's monopoly of her!
She parted with Flora, and entered the room she shared with Meta, where Bellairs waited to attend her little mistress. Few words passed between the two girls, and those chiefly on the morrow's dress. Meta had some fixed ideas--she should wear pink. Norman had said he liked her pink bonnet, and then she could put down her white veil, so that he could be certain that she was not looking; Ethel vaguely believed Flora meant to wear--something--
Bellairs went away, and Meta gave expression to her eager hope that Norman would go through it well. If he would only read it as he did last Easter to her and Ethel.
"He will," said Ethel. "This nervousness always wears off when it comes to the point, and he warms with his subject."
"Oh! but think of all the eyes looking at him!"
"Our's are all that he really cares for, and he will think of none of them, when he begins. No, Meta, you must not encourage him in it. Papa says, if he did not think it half morbid--the result of the shock to his nerves--he should be angry with it as a sort of conceit!"
"I should have thought that the last thing to be said of Norman!" said Meta, with a little suppressed indignation.
"It was once in his nature," said Ethel; "and I think it is the fault he most beats down. There was a time, before you knew him, when he would have been vain and ambitious."
"Then it is as they say, conquered faults grow to be the opposite virtues!" said Meta. "How very good he is, Ethel; one sees it more when he is with other people, and one hears all these young men's stories!"
"Everything Norman does not do, is not therefore wrong," said Ethel, with her usual lucidity of expression.
"Don't you like him the better for keeping out of all these follies?"
"Norman does not call them so, I am sure."
"No, he is too good to condemn--"
"It is not only that," said Ethel. "I know papa thinks that the first grief, coming at his age, and in the manner it did, checked and subdued his spirits, so that he has little pleasure in those things. And he always meant to be a clergyman, which acted as a sort of consecration on him; but many things are innocent; and I do believe papa would like it better, if Norman were less grave."
"Yes," said Meta, remembering the Sunday talk, "but still, he would not be all he is--so different from others--"
"Of course, I don't mean less good, only, less grave," said Ethel, "and certainly less nervous. But, perhaps, it is a good thing; dear mamma thought his talents would have been a greater temptation than they seem to be, subdued as he has been. I only meant that you must not condemn all that Norman does not do. Now, goodnight."
Very different were the feelings with which those two young girls stretched themselves in their beds that night. Margaret Rivers's innocent, happy little heart was taken up in one contemplation. Admiration, sympathy, and the exultation for him, which he would not feel for himself, drew little Meta entirely out of herself--a self that never held her much. She was proud of the slender thread of connection between them; she was confident that his vague fancies were but the scruples of a sensitive mind, and, as she fell sound asleep, she murmured broken lines of Decius, mixed with promises not to look.
Etheldred heard them, for there was no sleep for her. She had a parley to hold with herself, and to accuse her own feelings of having been unkind, ungrateful, undutiful towards her father. What had a fit of vanity brought her to? that she should have been teased by what would naturally have been her greatest delight! her father's pleasure in being with her. Was this the girl who had lately vowed within herself that her father should be her first earthly object?
At first, Ethel blamed herself for her secret impatience, but another conviction crossed her, and not an unpleasing one, though it made her cheeks tingle with maidenly shame, at having called it up. Throughout this week, Norman Ogilvie had certainly sought her out. He had looked disappointed this evening--there was no doubt that he was attracted by her--by her, plain, awkward Ethel! Such a perception assuredly never gave so much pleasure to a beauty as it did to Ethel, who had always believed herself far less good-looking than she really was. It was a gleam of delight, and, though she set herself to scold it down, the conviction was elastic, and always leaped up again.
That resolution came before her, but it had been unspoken; it could not be binding, and, if her notion were really right, the misty brilliant future of mutual joy dazzled her! But there was another side: her father oppressed and lonely, Margaret ill and pining, Mary, neither companion nor authority, the children running wild; and she, who had mentally vowed never to forsake her father, far away, enjoying her own happiness. "Ah! that resolve had seemed easy enough when it was made, when," thought Ethel, "I fancied no one could care for me! Shame on me! Now is the time to test it! I must go home with papa."
It was a great struggle--on one side there was the deceitful guise of modesty, telling her it was absurd to give so much importance to the kindness of the first cousin with whom she had ever been thrown; there was the dislike to vex Flora to make a discussion, and break up the party. There was the desire to hear the concert, to go to the breakfast at -- College, to return round by Warwick Castle, and Kenilworth, as designed. Should she lose all this for a mere flattering fancy? She, who had laughed at Miss Boulder, for imagining every one who spoke to her was smitten. What reason could she assign? It would be simply ridiculous, and unkind--and it was so very pleasant. Mr. Ogilvie would be too wise to think of so incongruous a connection, which would be so sure to displease his parents. It was more absurd than ever to think of it. The heir of Glenbracken, and a country physician's daughter!
That was a candid heart which owned that its own repugnance to accept this disparity as an objection, was an additional evidence that she ought to flee from further intercourse. She believed that no harm was done yet; she was sure that she loved her father better than anything else in the world, and whilst she did so, it was best to preserve her heart for him. Widowed as he was, she knew that he would sorely miss her, and that for years to come, she should be necessary at home. She had better come away while it would cost only a slight pang, for that it was pain to leave Norman Ogilvie, was symptom enough of the need of not letting her own silly heart go further. However it might be with him, another week would only make it worse with her.
"I will go home with papa!" was the ultimatum reached by each chain of mental reasonings, and borne in after each short prayer for guidance, as Ethel tossed about listening to the perpetual striking of all the Oxford clocks, until daylight had begun to shine in; when she fell asleep, and was only waked by Meta, standing over her with a sponge, looking very mischievous, as she reminded her of their appointment with Dr. May, to go to the early service in New College Chapel.
The world looked different that morning with Ethel, but the determination was fixed, and the service strengthened it. She was so silent during the walk, that her companions rallied her, and they both supposed she was anxious about Norman; but taking her opportunity, when Meta was gone to prepare for breakfast, she rushed, in her usual way, into the subject. "Papa! if you please, I should like to go home to-morrow with you."
"Eh?" said the doctor, amazed. "How is this? I told you that Miss Bracy and Mary are doing famously."
"Yes, but I had rather go back."
"Indeed!" and Dr. May looked at the door, and spoke low. "They make you welcome, I hope--"
"Oh, yes! nothing can be kinder."
"I am glad to hear it. This Rivers is such a lout, that I could not tell how it might be. I did not look to see you turn homesick all at once."
Ethel smiled. "Yes, I have been very happy; but please, papa, ask no questions--only take me home."
"Come! it is all a homesick fit, Ethel--never fear the ball. Think of the concert. If it were not for that poor baby of Mrs. Larkins, I should stay myself to hear Sonntag again. You won't have such another chance."
"I know, but I think I ought to go--"
George came in, and they could say no more. Both were silent on the subject at breakfast, but when afterwards Flora seized on Ethel, to array her for the theatre, she was able to say, "Flora, please don't be angry with me--you have been very kind to me, but I mean to go home with papa to-morrow."
"I declare!" said Flora composedly, "you are as bad as the children at the infant school, crying to go home the instant they see their mothers!"
"No, Flora, but I must go. Thank you for all this pleasure, but I shall have heard Norman's poem, and then I must go."
Flora turned her round, looked in her face kindly, kissed her, and said, "My dear, never mind, it will all come right again--only, don't run away."
"What will come right?"
"Any little misunderstanding with Norman Ogilvie."
"I don't know what you mean," said Ethel, becoming scarlet.
"My dear, you need not try to hide it. I see that you have got into a fright. You have made a discovery, but that is no reason for running away."
"Yes it is!" said Ethel firmly, not denying the charge, though reddening more than ever at finding her impression confirmed.
"Poor child! she is afraid!" said Flora tenderly; "but I will take care of you, Ethel. It is everything delightful. You are the very girl for such a heros de Roman, and it has embellished you more than all my Paris fineries."
"Hush, Flora! We ought not to talk in this way, as if--"
"As if he had done more than walk with, and talk with, nobody else! How he did hate papa last night. I had a great mind to call papa off, in pity to him."
"Don't, Flora. If there were anything in it, it would not be proper to think of it, so I am going home to prevent it." The words were spoken with averted face and heaving breath.
"Proper?" said Flora. "The Mays are a good old family, and our own grandmother was an honourable Ogilvie herself. A Scottish baron, very poor too, has no right to look down--"
"They shall not look down. Flora, it is of no use to talk. I cannot be spared from home, and I will not put myself in the way of being tempted to forsake them all."
"Tempted!" said Flora, laughing. "Is it such a wicked thing?"
"Not in others, but it would be wrong in me, with such a state of things as there is at home."
"I do not suppose he would want you for some years to come. He is only two-and-twenty. Mary will grow older."
"Margaret will either be married, or want constant care. Flora, I will not let myself be drawn from them."
"You may think so now; but it would be for their real good to relieve papa of any of us. If we were all to think as you do, how should we live? I don't know--for papa told me there will be barely ten thousand pounds, besides the houses, and what will that be among ten? I am not talking of yourself, but think of the others!"
"I know papa will not be happy without me, and I will not leave him," repeated Ethel, not answering the argument.
Flora changed her ground, and laughed. "We are getting into the heroics," she said, "when it would be very foolish to break up our plans, only because we have found a pleasant cousin. There is nothing serious in it, I dare say. How silly of us to argue on such an idea!"
Meta came in before Flora could say more, but Ethel, with burning cheeks, repeated, "It will be safer!"
Ethel had, meantime, been dressed by her sister; and, as Bellairs came to adorn Meta, and she could have no solitude, she went downstairs, thinking she heard Norman's step, and hoping to judge of his mood.
She entered the room with an exclamation, "Oh, Norman!"
"At your service!" said the wrong Norman, looking merrily up from behind a newspaper.
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I thought--"
"Your thoughts were quite right," he said, smiling. "Your brother desires me to present his respects to his honoured family, and to inform them that his stock of assurance is likely to be diminished by the pleasure of their company this morning."
"How is he?" asked Ethel anxiously.
"Pretty fair. He has blue saucers round his eyes, as he had before he went up for his little go."
"Oh, I know them," said Ethel.
"Very odd," continued her cousin; "when the end always is, that he says he has the luck of being set on in the very place he knows best. But I think it has expended itself in a sleepless night, and I have no fears, when he comes to the point."
"What is he doing?"
"Writing to his brother Harry. He said it was the day for the Pacific mail, and that Harry's pleasure would be the best of it."
"Ah!" said Ethel, glancing towards the paper, "is there any naval intelligence?"
He looked; and while she was thinking whether she ought not to depart, he exclaimed, in a tone that startled her, "Ha! No. Is your brother's ship the Alcestis?"
"Yes! Oh, what?"
"Nothing then, I assure you. See, it is merely this--she has not come into Sydney so soon as expected, which you knew before. That is all."
"Let me see," said the trembling Ethel.
It was no more than an echo of their unconfessed apprehensions, yet it seemed to give them a body; and Ethel's thoughts flew to Margaret. Her going home would be absolutely necessary now. Mr. Ogilvie kindly began to talk away her alarm, saying that there was still no reason for dread, mentioning the many causes that might have delayed the ship, and reassuring her greatly.
"But Norman!" she said.
"Ah! true. Poor May! He will break down to a certainty if he hears it. I will go at once, and keep guard over him, lest he should meet with this paper. But pray, don't be alarmed. I assure you there is no cause. You will have letters to-morrow."
Ethel would fain have thrown off her finery and hurried home at once, but no one regarded the matter as she did. Dr. May agreed with Flora that it was no worse than before, and though they now thought Ethel's return desirable, on Margaret's account, it would be better not to add to the shock by a sudden arrival, especially as they took in no daily paper at home. So the theatre was not to be given up, nor any of the subsequent plans, except so far as regarded Ethel; and, this agreed, they started for the scene of action.
They were hardly in the street before they met the ubiquitous Mr. Ogilvie, saying that Cheviot, Norman's prompter, was aware of the report, and was guarding him, while he came to escort the ladies, through what he expressively called "the bear fight." Ethel resolutely adhered to her father, and her cousin took care of Meta, who had been clinging in a tiptoe manner to the point of her brother's high elbow, looking as if the crowd might easily brush off such a little fly, without his missing her.
Inch by inch, a step at a time, the ladies were landed in a crowd of their own sex, where Flora bravely pioneered; they emerged on their benches, shook themselves out, and seated themselves. There was the swarm of gay ladies around them, and beneath the area, fast being paved with heads, black, brown, gray, and bald, a surging living sea, where Meta soon pointed out Dr. May and George; the mere sight of such masses of people was curious and interesting, reminding Ethel of Cherry Elwood having once shocked her by saying the Whit-Monday club was the most beautiful sight in the whole year. And above! that gallery of trampling undergraduates, and more than trampling! Ethel and Meta could, at first, have found it in their hearts to be frightened at those thundering shouts, but the young ladies were usually of opinions so similar, that the louder grew the cheers, the more they laughed and exulted, so carried along that no cares could be remembered.
Making a way through the thronged area, behold the procession of scarlet doctors, advancing through the midst, till the red and black vice-chancellor sat enthroned in the centre, and the scarlet line became a semicircle, dividing the flower-garden of ladies from the black mass below.
Then came the introduction of the honorary doctors, one by one, with the Latin speech, which Ethel's companions unreasonably required her to translate to them, while she was using all her ears to catch a word or two, and her eyes to glimpse at the features of men of note.
By-and-by a youth made his appearance in the rostrum, and a good deal of Latin ensued, of which Flora hoped Ethel was less tired than she was. In time, however, Meta saw the spectacles removed, and George looking straight up, and she drew down her veil, and took hold of Flora's hand, and Ethel flushed like a hot coal. Nevertheless, all contrived to see a tall figure, with face much flushed, and hands moving nervously. The world was tired, and people were departing, so that the first lines were lost, perhaps a satisfaction to Norman; but his voice soon cleared and became louder, his eyes lighted, and Ethel knew the "funny state" had come to his relief--people's attention was arrested--there was no more going away.
It was well that Norman was ignorant of the fears for Harry, for four lines had been added since Ethel had seen the poem, saying how self- sacrifice sent forth the sailor-boy from home, to the lone watch, the wave and storm, his spirit rising high, ere manhood braced his form.
Applause did not come where Ethel had expected it, and, at first, there was silence at the close, but suddenly the acclamations rose with deafening loudness, though hardly what greets some poems with more to catch the popular ear.
Ethel's great excitement was over, and presently she found herself outside of the theatre, a shower falling, and an umbrella held over her by Mr. Ogilvie, who was asking her if it was not admirable, and declaring the poem might rank with Heber's 'Palestine', or Milman's 'Apollo'.
They were bound for a great luncheon at one of the colleges, where Ethel might survey the Principal with whom Miss Rich had corresponded. Mr. Ogilvie sat next to her, told her all the names, and quizzed the dignitaries, but she had a sense of depression, and did not wish to enter into the usual strain of banter. He dropped his lively tone, and drew her out about Harry, till she was telling eagerly of her dear sailor brother, and found him so sympathising and considerate, that she did not like him less; though she felt her intercourse with him a sort of intoxication, that would only make it the worse for her by-and-by.
During that whole luncheon, and their walk through the gardens, where there was a beautiful horticultural show, something was always prompting her to say, while in this quasi-privacy, that she was on the eve of departure, but she kept her resolution against it--she thought it would have been an unwarrantable experiment. When they returned to their inn they found Norman looking fagged, but relieved, half asleep on the sofa, with a novel in his hand. He roused himself as they came in, and, to avoid any compliments on his own performance, began, "Well, Ethel, are you ready for the ball?"
"We shall spare her the ball," said Dr. May; "there is a report about the Alcestis in the newspaper that may make Margaret uncomfortable, and this good sister will not stay away from her."
Norman started up crying, "What, papa?"
"It is a mere nothing in reality," said Dr. May, "only what we knew before;" and he showed his son the paragraph, which Norman read as a death warrant; the colour ebbed from his lips and cheeks; he trembled so that he was obliged to sit down, and, without speaking, he kept his eyes fixed on the words, "Serious apprehensions are entertained with regard to H. M. S. Alcestis, Captain Gordon--"
"If you had seen as many newspaper reports come to nothing, as I have, you would not take this so much to heart," said Dr. May. "I expect to hear that this very mail has brought letters."
And Meta added that, at luncheon, she had been seated next to one of the honorary doctors--a naval captain--who had been making discoveries in the South Sea, and that he had scouted the notion of harm befalling the Alcestis, and given all manner of reassuring suppositions as to her detention, adding besides, that no one believed the Australian paper whence the report was taken. He had seen the Alcestis, knew Captain Gordon, and spoke of him as one of the safest people in the world. Had his acquaintance extended to lieutenants and midshipmen, it would have been perfect; as it was, the tidings brought back the blood to Norman's cheek, and the light to his eye.
"When do we set off?" was Norman's question.
"At five," said Ethel. "You mean it, papa?"
"I did intend it, if I had gone alone, but I shall not take you till eight; nor you, Norman, at all."
Norman was bent on returning, but his father and Flora would not hear of it. Flora could not spare him, and Dr. May was afraid of the effect of anxiety on nerves and spirits so sensitive. While this was going on, Mr. Ogilvie looked at Ethel in consternation, and said, "Are you really going home?"
"Yes, my eldest sister must not be left alone when she hears this."
He looked down--Ethel had the resolution to walk away. Flora could not give up the ball, and Meta found that she must go; but both the Normans spent a quiet evening with Dr. May and Ethel. Norman May had a bad headache, which he was allowed to have justly earned; Dr. May was very happy reviving all his Scottish recollections, and talking to young Ogilvie about Edinburgh. Once, there was a private consultation. Ethel was provoked and ashamed at the throbs that it would excite. What! on a week's acquaintance?
When alone with her father, she began to nerve herself for something heroic, and great was her shame when she heard only of her cousin's kind consideration for her brother, whom he wished to take home with him, and thence to see the Highlands, so as to divert his anxiety for Harry, as well as to call him off from the studies with which he had this term overworked himself even more than usual. Dr. May had given most grateful consent, and he spoke highly in praise of the youth; but there was no more to come, and Ethel could have beaten herself for the moment of anticipation.
Meta came home, apologising for wakening Ethel; but Ethel had not been asleep. The ball had not, it seemed, been as charming to her as most events were, and Ethel heard a sigh as the little lady lay down in her bed.
Late as it was when she went to rest, Meta rose to see the travellers off; she sent hosts of messages to her father, and wished she might go with them. George and Flora were not visible, and Dr. May was leaving messages for them, and for Norman, in her charge, when the two Balliol men walked in.
Ethel had hoped it was over, yet she could not be sorry that the two youths escorted them to the station, and, as Ethel was placed in the carriage, she believed that she heard something of never forgetting-- happiest week--but in the civilities which the other occupant of the carriage was offering for the accommodation of their lesser luggage, she lost the exact words, and the last she heard were, "Good-bye; I hope you will find letters at home."
|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.