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Let none, henceforward, shrink from daring dreams, For earnest hearts shall find their dreams fulfilled.--FOUQUE.
"I have it!" began Harry, as he came down to breakfast. "I don't know how I came to forget it. The will was to be sent home to Mr. Mackintosh's English partner. I'll go and overhaul him this very morning. They won't mind my coming by a later train, when there is such a reason."
"What is his name? Where shall you find him?" asked Flora.
"I can't be sure; but you've a navy list of that sort of cattle, have not you, Flora? I'll hunt him up."
Flora supposed he meant a directory; and all possible South American merchants having been overlooked, and the Mackintoshes selected, he next required a chart of London, and wanted to attempt self- navigation, but was forced to accept of George's brougham and escort; Flora would not trust him otherwise; and Norman was obliged to go to Oxford at once, hurrying off to his train before breakfast was over.
Flora might have trusted Harry alone. George contributed no more than the dignity of his presence; and, indeed, would have resigned the pursuit at the first blunder about the firm; and still more when the right one had been found, but the partner proved crusty, and would not believe that any such document was in his hands. George was consenting to let it rest till Mr. Mackintosh could be written to; but Harry, outrunning his management, and regardless of rebuffs, fairly teased the old gentleman into a search, as the only means of getting rid of the troublesome sailor.
In the midst of George's civil regrets at the fruitless trouble they were causing, forth came a bundle of papers, and forth from the bundle fell a packet, on which Harry pounced as he read, "Will of Alan Halliday Ernescliffe, Esquire, of Maplewood, Yorkshire, Lieutenant in H. M. S. Alcestis," and, in the corner, the executors' names, Captain John Gordon, of H. M. S. Alcestis; and Richard May, Esquire, M. D., Market Stoneborough.
As if in revenge, the prudent merchant would not be induced to entrust him with the document, saying he could not give it up till he had heard from the executors, and had been certified of the death of the testator. He withstood both the angry gentlemen, who finally departed in a state of great resentment--Harry declaring that the old land-lubber would not believe that he was his own father's son; and Mr. Rivers, no less incensed, that the House of Commons had been insulted in his person, because he did not carry all before him.
Flora laughed at their story, and told them that she suspected that the old gentleman was in the right; and she laid plans for having Harry to teach them yachting at Ryde, while Harry declared he would have nothing to do with such trumpery.
Harry found his home in a sort of agony of expectation, for his non- arrival at the time expected had made his first appearance seem like an unsubstantial illusion, though Dr. May, or Mary and Aubrey, had been at the station at the coming in of each train. Margaret had recovered the effects of the first shock, and the welcome was far more joyous than the first had been, with the mixed sensations that were now composed, and showed little, outwardly, but gladness.
Dr. May took Flora's view of the case, and declared that, if Harry had brought home the will, he should not have opened it without his co-executor. So he wrote to the captain, while Harry made the most of his time in learning his sisters over again. He spent a short time alone with Margaret every morning, patiently and gently allowing himself to be recalled to the sad recollections that were all the world to her. He kept Ethel and Mary merry with his droll desultory comments; he made Blanche keep up her dancing; and taught Gertrude to be a thorough little romp. As to Dr. May, his patients never were so well or so cheerful, till Dr. Spencer and Ethel suspected that the very sight of his looks brightened them--how could they help it? Dr. Spencer was as happy as a king in seeing his friend freed from the heavy weight on his spirits; and, truly, it was goodly to watch his perfect look of content, as he leaned on his lion-faced boy's arm, and walked down to the minster, whither it seemed to have become possible to go on most evenings. Good Dr. May was no musician, but Mr. Wilmot could not regret certain tones that now and then burst out in the chanting, from the very bottom of a heart that assuredly sang with the full melody of thankfulness, whatever the voice might do.
Captain Gordon not only wrote but came to Stoneborough, whence Harry was to go with him to the court-martial at Portsmouth.
The girls wondered that, after writing with so much warmth and affection, both of and to Harry, he met him without any demonstration of feeling; and his short peremptory manner removed all surprise that poor Hector had been so forlorn with him at Maplewood, and turned, with all his heart, to Dr. May. They were especially impressed at the immediate subsidence of all Harry's noise and nonsense, as if the drawing-room had been the quarter-deck of the Alcestis.
"And yet," said Margaret, "Harry will not hear a single word in dispraise of him. I do believe he loves him with all his heart."
"I think," said Ethel, "that in a strong character, there is an exulting fear in looking up to a superior, in whose justice there is perfect reliance. It is a germ of the higher feeling."
"I believe you are right," said Margaret; "but it is a serious thing for a man to have so little sympathy with those below him. You see how Hector feels it, and I now understand how it told upon Alan, and how papa's warmth was like a surprise to him."
"Because Captain Gordon had to be a father to them, and that is more than a captain. I should not wonder if there were more similarity and fellow-feeling between him and Harry than there could be with either of them. Harry, though he has all papa's tenderness, is of a rougher sort that likes to feel itself mastered. Poor Hector! I wonder if he is to be given back to us."
"Do you know--when--whether they will find out this morning?" said Margaret, catching her dress nervously, as she was moving away.
"Yes, I believe so. I was not to have told you, but--"
"There is no reason that it should do me any harm," said Margaret, almost smiling, and looking as if she was putting a restraint on something she wished to say. "Go down, dear Ethel--Aubrey will be waiting for you."
Ethel went down to the difficult task of hearing Aubrey's lessons, while Harry was pretending to write to Mrs. Arnott, but, in reality, teaching Gertrude the parts of a ship, occasionally acting mast, for her to climb.
By and by Dr. May came in. "Margaret not downstairs yet?" he said.
"She is dressed, but will not come down till the evening," said Ethel.
"I'll go to her. She will be pleased. Come up presently, Ethel. Or, where's Richard?"
"Gone out," said Harry. "What, is it anything left to her?"
"The best, the best!" said Dr. May. "Ethel, listen--twenty thousand, to build and endow a church for Cocksmoor!"
No need to bid Ethel listen. She gave a sort of leap in her chair, then looked almost ready to faint.
"My dear child," said her father, "This is your wish. I give you joy, indeed I do!"
Ethel drew his arm round her, and leaned against him. "My wish! my wish!" she repeated, as if questioning the drift of the words.
"I'm glad it is found!" cried Harry. "Now I know why he talked of Cocksmoor, and seemed to rest in planning for it. You will mind the roof is as he said."
"You must talk to Dr. Spencer about that," said Dr. May. "The captain means to leave it entirely in our hands."
"Dear Alan!" exclaimed Ethel. "My wish! Oh, yes, but how gained? Yet, Cocksmoor with a church! I don't know how to be glad enough, and yet--"
"You shall read the sentence," said Dr. May. "'In testimony of thankfulness for mercy vouchsafed to him here--' poor dear boy!"
"What does the captain say?" asked Harry.
"He is rather astounded, but he owns that the estate can bear it, for old Halliday had saved a great deal, and there will be more before Hector comes of age."
"Yes, we get him back. I am fellow-trustee with Captain Gordon, and as to personal guardianship, I fancy the captain found he could not make the boy happy, and thinks you no bad specimen of our training."
"Famous!" cried Harry. "Hector will hurrah now! Is that all?"
"Except legacies to Captain Gordon, and some Scottish relations. But poor Margaret ought to hear it. Ethel, don't be long in coming."
With all Ethel's reputation for bluntness, it was remarkable how her force of character made her always called for whenever there was the least dread of a scene.
She turned abruptly from Harry; and, going outside the window, tried to realise and comprehend the tidings, but all she could have time to discover was that Alan's memory was dearer to her than ever, and she was obliged to hasten upstairs.
Her father quitted the room by one door, as she entered by the other; she believed that it was to hide his emotion, but Margaret's fair wan face was beaming with the sweetest of congratulating smiles.
"I thought so," she said, as Ethel came in. "Dear Ethel, are you not glad?"
"I think I am," said Ethel, putting her hands to her brow.
"You think!" exclaimed Margaret, as if disappointed.
"I beg your pardon," said Ethel, with quivering lip. "Dear Margaret, I am glad--don't you believe I am, but somehow, it is harder to deal with joy than grief. It confuses one! Dear Alan--and then to have been set on it so long--to have prayed so for it, and to have it come in this way--by your--"
"Nay, Ethel, had he come home, it was his great wish to have done it. He used to make projects when he was here, but he would not let me tell you, lest he should find duties at Maplewood--whereas this would have been his pleasure."
"Dear Alan!" repeated Ethel. "If you are so kind, so dear as to be glad, Margaret, I think I shall be so presently."
Margaret almost grudged the lack of the girlish outbreak of rejoicing which would once have forgotten everything in the ecstasy of the fulfilled vision. It did not seem to be what Alan had intended; he had figured to himself unmixed joy, and she wanted to see it, and something of the wayward impatience of weakness throbbed at her heart, as Ethel paced the room, and disappeared in her own curtained recess.
Presently she came back saying, "You are sure you are glad?"
"It would be strange if I were not," said Margaret. "See, Ethel, here are blessings springing up from what I used to think had served for nothing but to bring him pain and grief. I am so thankful that he could express his desire, and so grateful to dear Harry for bringing it to light. How much better it is than I ever thought it could be! He has been spared disappointment, and surely the good that he will have done will follow him."
"And you?" said Ethel sadly.
"I shall lie here and wait," said Margaret. "I shall see the plans, and hear all about it, and oh!"--her eyes lighted up--"perhaps some day, I may hear the bell."
Richard's tap interrupted them. "Had he heard?"
"I have." The deepened colour in his cheek betrayed how much he felt, as he cast an anxious glance towards Margaret--an inquiring one on Ethel.
"She is so pleased," was all Ethel could say.
"I thought she would be," said Richard, approaching. "Captain Gordon seemed quite vexed that no special token of remembrance was left to her."
Margaret smiled in a peculiar way. "If he only knew how glad I am there was not." And Ethel knew that the church was his token to Margaret, and that any "fading frail memorial" would have lessened the force of the signification.
Ethel could speak better to her brother than to her sister. "Oh, Richard! Richard! Richard!" she cried, and a most unusual thing with both, she flung her arms round his neck. "It is come at last! If it had not been for you, this would never have been. How little likely it seemed, that dirty day, when I talked wildly, and you checked me!"
"You had faith and perseverance," said Richard, "or--"
"You are right," said Margaret, as Ethel was about to disclaim. "It was Ethel's steadiness that brought it before Alan's mind. If she had yielded when we almost wished it, in the time of the distress about Mrs. Green, I do believe that all would have died away!"
"I didn't keep steady--I was only crazy. You and Ritchie and Mr. Wilmot--" said Ethel, half crying; then, as if unable to stay, she exclaimed with a sort of petulance, "And there's Harry playing all sorts of rigs with Aubrey! I shan't get any more sense out of him to-day!"
And away she rushed to the wayfaring dust of her life of labour, to find Aubrey and Daisy half-way up the tulip tree, and Harry mischievously unwilling to help them down again, assuring her that such news deserved a holiday, and that she was growing a worse tartar than Miss Winter. She had better let the poor children alone, put on her bonnet, and come with him to tell Mr. Wilmot.
Whereat Ethel was demurring, when Dr. May came forth, and declared he should take her himself.
Poor Mr. Wilmot laboured under a great burden of gratitude, which no one would receive from him. Dr. May and Ethel repudiated thanks almost with terror; and, when he tried them with the captain, he found very doubtful approval of the whole measure, so that Harry alone was a ready acceptant of a full meed of acknowledgments for his gallant extraction of the will.
No one was more obliged to him than Hector Ernescliffe, who wrote to Margaret that it would be very jolly to come home again, and that he was delighted that the captain could not hinder either that or Cocksmoor Church. "And as to Maplewood, I shall not hate it so much, if that happens which I hope will happen." Of which oracular sentence, Margaret could make nothing.
The house of May felt more at their ease when the uncongenial captain had departed, although he carried off Harry with him. There was the better opportunity for a tea-drinking consultation with Dr. Spencer and Mr. Wilmot, when Margaret lay on her sofa, looking better than for months past, and taking the keenest interest in every arrangement.
Dr. Spencer, whose bright eyes glittered at every mention of the subject, assumed that he was to be the architect, while Dr. May was assuring him that it was a maxim that no one unpaid could be trusted; and when he talked of beautiful German churches with pierced spires, declared that the building must not make too large a hole in the twenty thousand, at the expense of future curates, because Richard was the first.
"I'll be prudent, Dick," said Dr. Spencer. "Trust me not to rival the minster."
"We shall find work next for you there," said Mr. Wilmot.
"Ay, we shall have May out of his family packing-box before many years are over his head."
"Don't mention it," said Dr. May; "I know what I exposed myself to in bringing Wilmot here."
"Yes," said Dr. Spencer, "we shall put you in the van when we attack the Corporation pen."
"I shall hold by the good old cause. As if the galleries had not been there before you were born!"
"As if poor people had a right to sit in their own church!" said Ethel.
"Sit, you may well say," said Mr. Wilmot. "As if any one could do otherwise, with those ingenious traps for hindering kneeling."
"Well, well, I know the people must have room," said Dr. May, cutting short several further attacks which he saw impending.
"Yes, you would like to build another blue gallery, blocking up another window, and with Richard May and Christopher Tomkins, Churchwardens, on it, in orange-coloured letters--the Rivers' colours. No disrespect to your father, Miss May, but, as a general observation, it is a property of Town Councillors to be conservative only where they ought not."
"I brought you here to talk of building a church, not of pulling one to pieces."
Poor Dr. May, he knew it was inevitable and quite right, but his affectionate heart and spirit of perpetuity, which had an association connected with every marble cloud, green baize pew, and square-headed panel, anticipated tortures in the general sweep, for which his ecclesiastical taste and sense of propriety would not soon compensate.
Margaret spared his feelings by bringing the Cocksmoor subject back again; Dr. Spencer seemed to comprehend the ardour with which she pressed it on, as if it were very near her heart that there should be no delay. He said he could almost promise her that the first stone should be laid before the end of the summer, and she thanked him in her own warm sweet way, hoping that it would be while Hector and Harry were at home.
Harry soon returned, having gone through the court-martial with the utmost credit, been patronised by Captain Gordon in an unheard-of manner, asked to dine with the admiral, and promised to be quickly afloat again. Ere many days had passed, he was appointed to one of the finest vessels in the fleet, commanded by a captain to whom Captain Gordon had introduced him, and who "seemed to have taken a fancy to him," as he said. The Bucephalus, now the object of his pride, was refitting, and his sisters hoped to see a good deal of him before he should again sail. Besides, Flora would be at Ryde before the end of July.
It was singular that Ethel's vision should have been fulfilled simultaneously with Flora's having obtained a position so far beyond what could have been anticipated.
She was evidently extremely happy and valuable, much admired and respected, and with full exercise for the energy and cleverness, which were never more gratified than by finding scope for action. Her husband was devotedly attached to her, and was entirely managed by her, and though her good judgment kept her from appearing visibly in matters not pertaining to her own sphere, she as, in fact, his understanding. She read, listened, and thought for him, imbued him with her own views, and composed his letters for him; ruling his affairs, both political and private, and undeniably making him fill a position which, without her, he would have left vacant; nor was there any doubt that he was far happier for finding himself of consequence, and being no longer left a charge upon his own hands. He seemed fully to suffice to her as a companion, although she was so far superior in power; for it was, perhaps, her nature to love best that which depended upon her, and gave her a sense of exercising protection; as she had always loved Margaret better than Ethel.
"Mrs. Rivers was an admirable woman." So every one felt, and her youthful beauty and success in the fashionable world made her qualities, as a wife and mistress of a household, the more appreciated. She never set aside her religious habits or principles, was an active member of various charitable associations, and found her experience of the Stoneborough Ladies' Committee applicable among far greater names. Indeed, Lady Leonora thought dear Flora Rivers's only fault, her over-strictness, which encouraged Meta in the same, but there were points that Flora could not have yielded on any account, without failing in her own eyes.
She made time for everything, and though, between business and fashion, she seemed to undertake more than mortal could accomplish, it was all effected, and excellently. She did, indeed, sigh over the briefness of the time that she could bestow on her child or on home correspondence, and declared that she should rejoice in rest; but, at the same time, her achievements were a positive pleasure to her.
Meta, in the meantime, had been living passively on the most affectionate terms with her brother and sister, and though often secretly yearning after the dear old father, whose darling she had been, and longing for power of usefulness, she took it on trust that her present lot had been ordered for her, and was thankful, like the bird of Dr. May's fable, for the pleasures in her path--culling sweet morals, and precious thoughts out of book, painting or concert, occasions for Christian charities in each courtesy of society, and opportunities for cheerful self-denial and submission, whenever any little wish was thwarted.
So Norman said she had turned into a fine lady! It was a sudden and surprising intimation, and made a change in the usually bright and calm current of her thoughts. She was not aware that there had been any alteration in herself, and it was a revelation that set her to examine where she had changed--poor little thing! She was not angry, she did not resent the charge, she took it for granted that, coming from such a source, it must be true and reasonable--and what did it mean? Did they think her too gay, or neglectful of old friends? What had they been saying to Harry about her?
"Ah!" thought Meta, "I understand it. I am living a life of ease and uselessness, and with his higher aims and nobler purposes, he shrinks from the frivolities among which I am cast. I saw his saddened countenance among our gaieties, and I know that to deep minds there is heaviness in the midst of display. He withdraws from the follies that have no charms for him, and I--ought I to be able to help being amused? I don't seek these things, but, perhaps, I ought to avoid them more than I do. If I could be quite clear what is right, I should not care what effort I made. But I was born to be one of those who have trial of riches, and such blessed tasks are not my portion. But if he sees the vanities creeping into my heart, I should be grateful for that warning."
So meditated Meta, as she copied one of her own drawings of the Grange, for her dear old governess, Mrs. Larpent, while each line and tint recalled the comments of her fond amateur father, and the scenery carried her home, in spite of the street sounds, and the scratching of Flora's pen, coursing over note-paper. Presently Sir Henry Walkinghame called, bringing a beautiful bouquet.
"Delicious," cried Meta. "See, Flora, it is in good time, for those vases were sadly shabby."
She began at once to arrange the flowers, a task that seemed what she was born for, and the choice roses and geraniums acquired fresh grace as she placed them in the slender glasses and classic vases; but Flora's discerning eyes perceived some mortification on the part of the gentleman, and, on his departure, playfully reproached Meta for ingratitude.
"Did we not thank him? I thought I did them all due honour, actually using the Dresden bowl."
"You little wretch! quite insensible to the sentiment of the thing."
"Sentiment! One would think you had been reading about the language of flowers!"
"Whatever there was, poor Sir Henry did not mean it for the Dresden bowl or Bohemian glass."
"Flora! do pray tell me whether you are in fun?"
"You ridiculous child!" said Flora, kissing her earnest forehead, ringing the bell, and gathering up her papers, as she walked out of the room, and gave her notes to the servant.
"What does she mean? Is it play? Oh, no, a hint would be far more like her. But I hope it is nonsense. He is very kind and pleasant, and I should not know what to do."
Instances of his complaisance towards herself rose before her, so as to excite some warmth and gratitude. Her lonely heart thrilled at the idea of being again the best beloved, and her energetic spirit bounded at the thought of being no longer condemned to a life of idle ease. Still it was too new a light to her to be readily accepted, after she had looked on him so long, merely as a familiar of the house, attentive to her, because she fell to his share, when Flora was occupied. She liked him, decidedly; she could possibly do more; but she was far more inclined to dread, than to desire, any disturbance of their present terms of intercourse.
"However," thought she, "I must see my way. If he should have any such thing in his head, to go on as we do now would be committing myself, and I will not do that, unless I am sure it is right. Oh, papa, you would settle it for me! But I will have it out with Flora. She will find out what I cannot--how far he is a man for whom one ought to care. I do not think Norman liked him, but then Norman has so keen a sense of the world-touched. I suppose I am that! If any other life did but seem appointed for me, but one cannot tell what is thwarting providential leading, and if this be as good a man as-- What would Ethel say? If I could but talk to Dr. May! But Flora I will catch, before I see him again, that I may know how to behave."
Catching Flora was not the easiest thing in the world, among her multifarious occupations; but Meta was not the damsel to lose an opportunity for want of decision.
Flora saw what was coming, and was annoyed with herself for having given the alarm; but, after all, it must have come some time or other, though she had rather that Meta had been more involved first.
It should be premised that Mrs. Rivers had no notion of the degree of attachment felt by her brother for Meta; she only knew that Lady Leonora had a general distrust of her family, and she felt it a point of honour to promote no dangerous meetings, and to encourage Sir Henry--a connection who would be most valuable, both as conferring importance upon George in the county, and as being himself related to persons of high influence, whose interest might push on her brothers. Preferment for Richard; promotion for Harry; nay, diplomatic appointments for Tom, came floating before her imagination, even while she smiled at her Alnaschar visions.
But the tone of Meta, as she drew her almost forcibly into her room, showed her that she had given a great shock to her basket.
"Flora, if you would only give me a minute, and would tell me--"
"What?" asked Flora, not inclined to spare her blushes.
"Whether, whether you meant anything in earnest?"
"My dear little goose, did no one ever make an innocent joke in their lives before?"
"It was very silly of me," said Meta; "but you gave me a terrible fright."
"Was it so very terrible, poor little bird?" said Flora, in commiseration. "Well then, you may safely think of him as a man tame about the house. It was much prettier of you not to appropriate the flowers, as any other damsel would have done."
"Do you really and truly think--" began Meta; but, from the colour of her cheek and the timid resolution of her tone, Flora thought it safest not to hear the interrogation, and answered, "I know what he comes here for--it is only as a refuge from his mother's friend, old Lady Drummond, who would give the world to catch him for her daughters--that's all. Put my nonsense out of your head, and be yourself, my sweet one."
Flora had never gone so near an untruth, as when she led Meta to believe this was the sole reason. But, after all, what did Flora herself know to the contrary?
Meta recovered her ease, and Flora marked, as weeks passed on, that she grew more accustomed to Sir Henry's attentions. A little while, and she would find herself so far bound by the encouragement she had given, that she could not reject him.
"My dear," said George, "when do you think of going down to take the baby to the Grange? She looks dull, I think."
"Really, I think it is hardly worth while to go down en masse," said Flora. "These last debates may be important, and it is a bad time to quit one's post. Don't you think so?"
"As you please--the train is a great bore."
"And we will send the baby down the last day before we go to Ryde, with Preston and Butts to take care of her. We can't spare him to take them down, till we shut up the house. It is so much easier for us to go to Portsmouth from hence."
The lurking conviction was that one confidential talk with Ethel would cause the humming-bird to break the toils that were being wound invisibly round her. Ethel and her father knew nothing of the world, and were so unreasonable in their requirements! Meta would consult them all, and all her scruples would awaken, and perhaps Dr. Spencer might be interrogated on Sir Henry's life abroad, where Flora had a suspicion that gossip had best not be raked up.
Not that she concealed anything positively known to her, or that she was not acting just as she would have done by her own child. She found herself happily married to one whom home notions would have rejected, and she believed Meta would be perfectly happy with a man of decided talent, honour, and unstained character, even though he should not come up to her father's or Ethel's standard.
If Meta were to marry as they would approve, she would have far to seek among "desirable connections." Meantime, was not Flora acting with exemplary judgment and self-denial?
So she wrote that she could not come home; Margaret was much disappointed, and so was Meta, who had looked to Ethel to unravel the tangles of her life.
"No, no, little miss," said Flora to herself; "you don't talk to Ethel till your fate is irrevocable. Why, if I had listened to her, I should be thankful to be singing at Mrs. Hoxton's parties at this minute! and, as for herself, look at Norman Ogilvie! No, no, after six weeks' yachting--moonlight, sea, and sympathy--I defy her to rob Sir Henry of his prize! And, with Meta lady of Cocksmoor, even Ethel herself must be charmed!"
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