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"Oh, dear!" sighed Etheldred, as she fastened her white muslin, "I'm afraid it is my nature to hate my neighbour."
"My dear Ethel, what is coming next?" said Margaret.
"I like my neighbour at home, and whom I have to work for, very much," said Ethel, "but oh! my neighbour that I have to be civil to!"
"Poor old King! I am afraid your day will be spoiled with all your toils as lady of the house. I wish I could help you."
"Let me have my grumble out, and you will!" said Ethel.
"Indeed I am sorry you have this bustle, and so many to entertain, when I know you would rather have the peaceful feelings belonging to the day undisturbed. I should like to shelter you up here."
"It is very ungrateful of me," said Ethel, "when Dr. Spencer works so hard for us, not to be willing to grant anything to him."
"And--but then I have none of the trouble of it--I can't help liking the notion of sending out the Church to the island whence the Church came home to us."
"Yes--" said Ethel, "if we could do it without holding forth!"
"Come, Ethel, it is much better than the bazaar--it is no field for vanity."
"Certainly not," said Ethel. "What a mess every one will make! Oh, if I could but stay away, like Harry! There will be Dr. Hoxton being sonorous and prosy, and Mr. Lake will stammer, and that will be nothing to the misery of our own people's work. George will flounder, and look at Flora, and she will sit with her eyes on the ground, and Dr. Spencer will come out of his proper self, and be complimentary to people who deserve it no more!-- And Norman! I wish I could run away!"
"Richard says we do not guess how well Norman speaks."
"Richard thinks Norman can do anything he can't do himself! It is all chance--he may do very well, if he gets into his 'funny state', but he always suffers for that, and he will certainly put one into an agony at the outset. I wish Dr. Spencer would have let him alone! And then there will be that Sir Henry, whom I can't abide! Oh, I wish I were more charitable, like Miss Bracy and Mary, who will think all so beautiful!"
"So will you, when you come home," said Margaret.
"If I could only be talking to Cherry, and Dame Hall! I think the school children enter into it very nicely, Margaret. Did I tell you how nicely Ellen Reid answered about the hymn, 'From Greenland's icy mountains'? She did not seem to have made it a mere geographical lesson, like Fanny Grigg--"
Ethel's misanthropy was happily conducted off via the Cocksmoor children, and any lingering remains were dissipated by her amusement at Dr. Spencer's ecstasy on seeing Dr. May assume his red robe of office, to go to the minster in state, with the Town Council. He walked round and round his friend, called him Nicholas Randall redivivus, quoted Dogberry, and affronted Gertrude, who had a dim idea that he was making game of papa.
Ethel was one of those to whom representation was such a penance, that a festival, necessitating hospitality to guests of her own rank, was burden enough seriously to disturb the repose of thankfulness for the attainment of her object, and to render difficult the recueillement which she needed for the praise and prayer that she felt due from her, and which seemed to oppress her heart, by a sense of inadequacy of her partial expression. It was well for her that the day began with the calm service in the minster, where it was her own fault if cares haunted her, and she could confess the sin of her irritated sensations, and wishes to have all her own way, and then, as ever, be led aright into thanksgiving for the unlooked-for crowning of her labours.
The archdeacon's sermon amplified what Margaret had that morning expressed, so as to carry on her sense of appropriateness in the offerings of the day being bestowed on distant lands.
But the ordeal was yet to come, and though blaming herself, she was anything but comfortable, as the world repaired to the Town Hall, the room where the same faces so often met for such diverse purposes--now an orrery displayed by a conceited lecturer, now a ball, now a magistrates' meeting, a concert or a poultry show, where rival Hamburg and Dorking uplifted their voices in the places of Mario and Grisi, all beneath the benignant portrait of Nicholas Randall, ruffed, robed, square-toed, his endowment of the scholarship in his hand, and a chequered pavement at his feet.
Who knows not an S. P. G. meeting? --the gaiety of the serious, and the first public spectacle to the young, who, like Blanche and Aubrey, gaze with admiration at the rows of bonnets, and with awe at the black coats on the platform, while the relations of the said black coats suffer, like Ethel, from nervous dread of the public speaking of their best friends.
Her expectations were realised by the archdeacon's speech, which went round in a circle, as if he could not find his way out of it. Lord Cosham was fluent, but a great many words went to very small substance; and no wonder, thought Ethel, when all they had to propose and second was the obvious fact that missions were very good things.
Dr. Hoxton pompously, Sir Henry Walkinghame creditably, assisted the ladies and gentlemen to resolve that the S. P. G. wanted help; Mr. Lake made a stammering, and Mr. Rivers, with his good-natured face, hearty manner, and good voice, came in well after him with a straightforward, speech, so brief, that Ethel gave Flora credit for the best she had yet heard.
Mr. Wilmot said something which the sharpest ears in the front row might, perhaps, have heard, and which resulted in Dr. Spencer standing up. Ethel hardly would have known who was speaking had her eyes been shut. His voice was so different, when raised and pitched, so as to show its power and sweetness; the fine polish of his manner was redoubled, and every sentence had the most graceful turn. It was like listening to a well-written book, so smooth and so fluent, and yet so earnest--his pictures of Indian life so beautiful, and his strong affection for the converts he described now and then making his eyes fill, and his voice falter, as if losing the thread of his studied composition--a true and dignified work of art, that made Dr. May whisper to Flora, "You see what he can do. They would have given anything to have had him for a lecturer."
With half a sigh, Ethel saw Norman rise, and step forward. He began, with eyes fixed on the ground, and in a low modest tone, to speak of the islands that Harry had visited; but gradually the poetic nature, inherent in him, gained the mastery; and though his language was strikingly simple, in contrast with Dr. Spencer's ornate periods, and free from all trace of "the lamp," it rose in beauty and fervour at every sentence. The feelings that had decided his lot gave energy to his discourse, and repressed as they had been by reserve and diffidence, now flowed forth, and gave earnestness to natural gifts of eloquence of the highest order. After his quiet, unobtrusive beginning, there was the more wonder to find how he seemed to raise up the audience with him, in breathless attention, as to a strain of sweet music, carrying them without thought of the scene, or of the speaker, to the lovely isles, and the inhabitants of noble promise, but withering for lack of knowledge; and finally closing his speech, when they were wrought up to the highest pitch, by an appeal that touched them all home; "for well did he know," said he, "that the universal brotherhood was drawn closest in circles nearer home, that beneath the shadow of their own old minster, gladness and mourning floated alike for all; and that all those who had shared in the welcome to one, given back as it were from the grave, would own the same debt of gratitude to the hospitable islanders."
He ceased. His father wiped his spectacles, and almost audibly murmured, "Bless him!" Ethel, who had sat like one enchanted, forgetting who spoke, forgetting all save the islanders, half turned, and met Richard's smiling eyes, and his whisper, "I told you so."
The impress of a man of true genius and power had been made throughout the whole assembly; the archdeacon put Norman out of countenance by the thanks of the meeting for his admirable speech, and all the world, except the Oxford men, were in a state of as much surprise as pleasure.
"Splendid speaker, Norman May, if he would oftener put himself out," Harvey Anderson commented. "Pity he has so many of the good doctor's prejudices!"
"Well, to be sure!" quoth Mrs. Ledwich. "I knew Mr. Norman was very clever, but I declare I never thought of such as this! I will try my poor utmost for those interesting natives."
"That youth has first-rate talents," said Lord Cosham. "Do you know what he is designed for? I should like to bring him forward."
"Ah!" said Dr. Hoxton. "The year I sent off May and Anderson was the proudest year of my life!"
"Upon my word!" declared Mrs. Elwood. "That Dr. Spencer is as good as a book, but Mr. Norman-- I say, father, we will go without the new clock, but we'll send somewhat to they men that built up the church, and has no minister."
"A good move that," said Dr. Spencer. "Worth at least twenty pounds. That boy has the temperament of an orator, if the morbid were but a grain less."
"Oh, Margaret," exclaimed Blanche. "Dr. Spencer made the finest speech you ever heard, only it was rather tiresome; and Norman made everybody cry--and Mary worse than all!"
"There is no speaking of it. One should live such things, not talk over them," said Meta Rivers.
Margaret received the reports of the select few, who visited her upstairs, where she was kept quiet, and only heard the hum of the swarm, whom Dr. May, in vehement hospitality, had brought home to luncheon, to Ethel's great dread, lest there should not be enough for them to eat.
Margaret pitied her sisters, but heard that all was going well; that Flora was taking care of the elders, and Harry and Mary were making the younger fry very merry at the table on the lawn. Dr. May had to start early to see a sick gardener at Drydale before coming on to Cocksmoor, and came up to give his daughter a few minutes.
"We get on famously," he said. "Ethel does well when she is in for it, like Norman. I had no notion what was in the lad. They are perfectly amazed with his speech. It seems hard to give such as he is up to those outlandish places; but there, his speech should have taught me better--one's best--and, now and then, he seems my best."
"One comfort is," said Margaret, smiling, you would miss Ethel more."
"Gallant old King! I am glad she has had her wish. Good-bye, my Margaret, we will think of you. I wish--"
"I am very happy," was Margaret's gentle reassurance. "The dear little Daisy looks just as her godfather imagined her;" and happy was her face when her father quitted her.
Margaret's next visitor was Meta, who came to reclaim her bonnet, and, with a merry smile, to leave word that she was walking on to Cocksmoor. Margaret remonstrated on the heat.
"Let me alone," said she, making her pretty wilful gesture. "Ethel and Mary ought to have a lift, and I have had no walking to-day."
"My dear, you don't know how far it is. You can't go alone."
"I am lying in wait for Miss Bracy, or something innocent," said Meta. "In good time--here comes Tom."
Tom entered, declaring that he had come to escape from the clack downstairs.
"I'll promise not to clack if you will be so kind as to take care of me to Cocksmoor," said Meta.
"Do you intend to walk?"
"If you will let me be your companion."
"I shall be most happy," said Tom, colouring with gratification, such as he might not have felt, had he known that he was chosen for his innocence.
He took a passing glimpse at his neck-tie, screwed up the nap of his glossy hat to the perfection of its central point, armed himself with a knowing little stick, and hurried his fair companion out by the back door, as much afraid of losing the glory of being her sole protector as she was of falling in with an escort of as much consequence, in other eyes, as was Mr. Thomas in his own.
She knew him less than any of the rest, and her first amusement was keeping silence to punish him for complaining of clack; but he explained that he did not mean quiet, sensible conversation--he only referred to those foolish women's raptures over the gabble they had been hearing at the Town Hall.
She exclaimed, whereupon he began to criticise the speakers with a good deal of acuteness, exposing the weak points, but magnanimously owning that it was tolerable for the style of thing, and might go down at Stoneborough.
"I wonder you did not stay away as Harry did."
"I thought it would be marked," observed the thread-paper Tom, as if he had been at least county member.
"You did quite right," said Meta, really thinking so.
"I wished to hear Dr. Spencer, too," said Tom. "There is a man who does know how to speak! He has seen something of the world, and knows what he is talking of."
"But he did not come near Norman."
"I hated listening to Norman," said Tom. "Why should he go and set his heart on those black savages?"
"They are not savages in New Zealand."
"They are all niggers together," said Tom vehemently. "I cannot think why Norman should care for them more than for his own brothers and sisters. All I know is, that if I were my father, I would never give my consent."
"It is lucky you are not," said Meta, smiling defiance, though a tear shone in her eye. "Dr. May makes the sacrifice with a free heart and willing mind."
"Everybody goes and sacrifices somebody else," grumbled Tom.
"Who are the victims now?"
"All of us. What are we to do without Norman? He is worth all of us put together; and I--" Meta was drawn to the boy as she had never been before, as he broke off short, his face full of emotion, that made him remind her of his father.
"You might go out and follow in his steps," said she, as the most consoling hope she could suggest.
"Not I. Don't you know what is to happen to me? Ah! Flora has not told you. I thought she would not think it grand enough. She talked about diplomacy--"
"But what?" asked Meta anxiously.
"Only that I am to stick to the old shop," said Tom. "Don't tell any one; I would not have the fellows know it."
"Do you mean your father's profession?"
"Oh, Tom! you don't talk of that as if you despised it?"
"If it is good enough for him, it is good enough for me, I suppose," said Tom. "I hate everything when I think of my brothers going over the world, while I, do what I will, must be tied down to this slow place all the rest of my days."
"If you were away, you would be longing after it."
"Yes; but I can't get away."
"Surely, if the notion is so unpleasant to you, Dr. May would never insist?"
"It is my free choice, and that's the worst of it."
"I don't understand."
"Don't you see? Norman told me it would be a great relief to him if I would turn my mind that way--and I can't go against Norman. I found he thought he must if I did not; and, you know, he is fit for all sorts of things that-- Besides, he has a squeamishness about him, that makes him turn white, if one does but cut one's finger, and how he would ever go through the hospitals--"
Meta suspected that Tom was inclined to launch into horrors. "So you wanted to spare him," she said.
"Ay! and papa was so pleased by my offering that I can't say a word of the bore it is. If I were to back out, it would come upon Aubrey, and he is weakly, and so young, that he could not help my father for many years."
Meta was much struck at the motives that actuated the self-sacrifice, veiled by the sullen manner which she almost began to respect. "What is done for such reasons must make you happy," she said; "though there may be much that is disagreeable."
"Not the study," said Tom. "The science is famous work. I like what I see of it in my father's books, and there's a splendid skeleton at the hospital that I long to be at. If it were not for Stoneborough, it would be all very well; but, if I should get on ever so well at the examinations, it all ends there! I must come back, and go racing about this miserable circuit, just like your gold pheasant rampaging in his cage, seeing the same stupid people all my days."
"I think," said Meta, in a low, heartfelt voice, "it is a noble, beautiful thing to curb down your ambition for such causes. Tom, I like you for it."
The glance of those beautiful eyes was worth having. Tom coloured a little, but assumed his usual gruffness. "I can't bear sick people," he said.
"It has always seemed to me," said Meta, "that few lives could come up to Dr. May's. Think of going about, always watched for with hope, often bringing gladness and relief; if nothing else, comfort and kindness, his whole business doing good."
"One is paid for it," said Tom.
"Nothing could ever repay Dr. May," said Meta. "Can any one feel the fee anything but a mere form? Besides, think of the numbers and numbers that he takes nothing from; and oh! to how many he has brought the most real good, when they would have shut their doors against it in any other form! Oh, Tom, I think none of you guess how every one feels about your father. I recollect one poor woman saying, after he had attended her brother, 'He could not save his body, but, surely, ma'am, I think he was the saving of his soul.'"
"It is of no use to talk of my being like my father," said Tom.
Meta thought perhaps not, but she was full of admiration of his generosity, and said, "You will make it the same work of love, and charity is the true glory."
Any inroad on Tom's reserved and depressed nature was a benefit; and he was of an age to be susceptible of the sympathy of one so pretty and so engaging. He had never been so much gratified or encouraged, and, wishing to prolong the tete-a-tete, he chose to take the short cut through the fir-plantations, unfrequented on account of the perpendicular, spiked railings that divided it from the lane.
Meta was humming-bird enough to be undismayed. She put hand and foot wherever he desired, flattered him by letting him handily help her up, and bounded light as a feather down on the other side, congratulating herself on the change from the dusty lane to the whispering pine woods, between which wound the dark path, bestrewn with brown slippery needle-leaves, and edged with the delicate feathering ling and tufts of soft grass.
Tom had miscalculated the chances of interruption. Meta was lingering to track the royal highway of some giant ants to their fir- leaf hillock, when they were hailed from behind, and her squire felt ferocious at the sight of Norman and Harry closing the perspective of fir-trunks.
"Hallo! Tom, what a guide you are!" exclaimed Norman. "That fence which even Ethel and Mary avoid!"
"Mary climbs like a cow, and Ethel like a father-long-legs," said Tom. "Now Meta flies like a bird."
"And Tom helped me so cleverly," said Meta. "It was an excellent move, to get into the shade and this delicious pine tree fragrance."
"Halt!" said Norman--"this is too fast for Meta."
"I cannot," said Harry. "I must get there in time to set Dr. Spencer's tackle to rights. He is tolerably knowing about knots, but there is a dodge beyond him. Come on, Tom."
He drew on the reluctant Etonian, who looked repiningly back at the increasing distance between him and the other pair, till a turn in the path cut off his view.
"I am afraid you do not know what you have undertaken," said Norman.
"I am a capital walker. And I know, or do not know, how often Ethel takes the same walk."
"Ethel is no rule."
"She ought to be," said Meta. "To be like her has always been my ambition."
"Circumstances have formed Ethel."
"Circumstances! What an ambiguous word! Either Providence pointing to duty, or the world drawing us from it."
"Stepping-stones, or stumbling-blocks."
"And, oh! the difficult question, when to bend them, or to bend to them!"
"There must be always some guiding," said Norman.
"I believe there is," said Meta, "but when trumpet-peals are ringing around, it is hard to know whether one is really 'waiting beside the tent,' or only dawdling."
"It is great self-denial in the immovable square not to join the charge," said Norman.
"Yes; but they, being shot at, are not deceiving themselves."
"I suppose self-deception on those points is very common."
"Especially among young ladies," said Meta. "I hear so much of what girls would do, if they might, or could, that I long to see them like Ethel--do what they can. And then it strikes me that I am doing the same, living wilfully in indulgence, and putting my trust in my own misgivings and discontent."
"I should have thought that discontent had as little to do with you as with any living creature."
"You don't know how I could growl!" said Meta, laughing. "Though less from having anything to complain of, than from having nothing to complain of."
"You mean," he said, pausing, with a seriousness and hesitation that startled her--"do you mean that this is not the course of life that you would choose?"
A sort of bashfulness made her put her answer playfully--
"All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.
"Toys have a kindly mission, and I may be good for nothing else; but I would have rather been a coffee-pot than a china shepherdess."
The gaiety disconcerted him, and he seemed to try to be silent, or to reply in the same tone, but he could not help returning to the subject. "Then you find no charm in the refinements to which you have been brought up?"
"Only too much," said Meta.
He was silent, and fearing to have added to his fine-lady impression, she resumed. "I mean that I never could dislike anything, and kindness gives these things a soul; but, of course, I should be better satisfied, if I lived harder, and had work to do."
"Meta!" he exclaimed, "you tempt me very much! Would you? --No, it is too unreasonable. Would you share--share the work that I have undertaken?"
He turned aside and leaned against a tree, as if not daring to watch the effect of the agitated words that had broken from him. She had little imagined whither his last sayings had been tending, and stood still, breathless with the surprise.
"Forgive me," he said hastily. "It was very wrong. I never meant to have vexed you by the betrayal of my vain affection."
He seemed to be going, and this roused her. "Stay, Norman," exclaimed she. "Why should it vex me? I should like it very much indeed."
He faced suddenly towards her-- "Meta, Meta! is it possible? Do you know what you are saying?"
"I think I do."
"You must understand me," said Norman, striving to speak calmly. "You have been--words will not express what you have been to me for years past, but I thought you too far beyond my hopes. I knew I ought to be removed from you--I believed that those who are debarred from earthly happiness are marked for especial tasks. I never intended you to know what actuated me, and now the work is undertaken, and-- and I cannot turn back," he added quickly, as if fearing himself.
"No indeed," was her steady reply.
"Then I may believe it!" cried Norman. "You do--you will--you deliberately choose to share it with me?"
"I will try not to be a weight on you," answered the young girl, with a sweet mixture of resolution and humility. "It would be the greatest possible privilege. I really do not think I am a fine lady ingrain, and you will teach me not to be too unworthy."
"I? Oh, Meta, you know not what I am! Yet with you, with you to inspire, to strengthen, to cheer--Meta, Meta, life is so much changed before me, that I cannot understand it yet--after the long dreary hopelessness--"
"I can't think why--" Meta had half said, when feminine dignity checked the words, consciousness and confusion suddenly assailed her, dyed her cheeks crimson, and stifled her voice.
It was the same with Norman, and bashfulness making a sudden prey of both--on they went under its dominion, in a condition partaking equally of discomfort and felicity; dreading the sound of their own voices, afraid of each other's faces, feeling they were treating each other very strangely and ungratefully, yet without an idea what to say next, or the power of speaking first; and therefore pacing onwards, looking gravely straight along the path, as if to prevent the rabbits and foxgloves from guessing that anything had been passing between them.
Dr. May had made his call at Drydale, and was driving up a rough lane, between furzy banks, leading to Cocksmoor, when he was aware of a tall gentleman on one side of the road and a little lady on the other, with the whole space of the cart-track between them, advancing soberly towards him.
"Hallo! Why, Meta! Norman! what brings you here? Where are you going?"
Norman perceived that he had turned to the left instead of to the right, and was covered with shame.
"That is all your wits are good for. It is well I met you, or you would have led poor Meta a pretty dance! You will know better than to trust yourself to the mercies of a scholar another time. Let me give you a lift."
The courteous doctor sprang out to hand Meta in, but something made him suddenly desire Adams to drive on, and then turning round to the two young people, he said, "Oh!"
"Yes," said Norman, taking her hand, and drawing her towards him.
"What, Meta, my pretty one, is it really so? Is he to be happy after all? Are you to be a Daisy of my own?"
"If you will let me," murmured Meta, clinging to her kind old friend.
"No flower on earth could come so naturally to us," said Dr. May. "And, dear child, at last I may venture to tell you that you have a sanction that you will value more than mine. Yes, my dear, on the last day of your dear father's life, when some foreboding hung upon him, he spoke to me of your prospects, and singled out this very Norman as such as he would prefer."
Meta's tears prevented all, save the two little words, "thank you;" but she put out her hand to Norman, as she still rested on the doctor's arm, more as if he had been her mother than Norman's father.
"Did he?" from Norman, was equally inexpressive of the almost incredulous gratitude and tenderness of his feeling.
It would not bear talking over at that moment, and Dr. May presently broke the silence in a playful tone. "So, Meta, good men don't like heiresses?"
"Quite true," said Meta, "it was very much against me."
"Or it may be the other way," said Norman.
"Eh? Good men don't like heiresses--here's a man who likes an heiress--therefore here's a man that is not good? Ah, ha! Meta, you can see that is false logic, though I've forgotten mine. And pray, miss, what are we to say to your uncle?"
"He cannot help it," said Meta quickly.
"Ha!" said the doctor, laughing, "we remember our twenty-one years, do we?"
"I did not mean--I hope I said nothing wrong," said Meta, in blushing distress. "Only after what you said, I can care for nothing else."
"If I could only thank him," said Norman fervently.
"I believe you know how to do that, my boy," said Dr. May, looking tenderly at the fairy figure between them, and ending with a sigh, remembering, perhaps, the sense of protection with which he had felt another Margaret lean on his arm.
The clatter of horses' hoofs caused Meta to withdraw her hand, and Norman to retreat to his own side of the lane, as Sir Henry Walkinghame and his servant overtook them.
"We will be in good time for the proceedings," called out the doctor. "Tell them we are coming."
"I did not know you were walking," said Sir Henry to Meta.
"It is pleasant in the plantations," Dr. May answered for her; "but I am afraid we are late, and our punctual friends will be in despair. Will you kindly say we are at hand?"
Sir Henry rode on, finding that he was not to be allowed to walk his horse with them, and that Miss Rivers had never looked up.
"Poor Sir Henry!" said Dr. May.
"He has no right to be surprised," said Meta, very low.
"And so you were marching right upon Drydale!" continued Dr. May, not able to help laughing. "It was a happy dispensation that I met you."
"Oh, I am so glad of it!" said Meta.
"Though to be sure you were disarming suspicion by so cautiously keeping the road between you. I should never have guessed what you had been at."
There was a little pause, then Meta said, rather tremulously, "Please--I think it should be known at once."
"Our idle deeds confessed without loss of time, miss?"
Norman came across the path, saying, "Meta is right--it should be known."
"I don't think Uncle Cosham would object, especially hearing it while he is here," said Meta-- "and if he knew what you told us."
"He goes to-morrow, does he not?" said Dr. May.
A silence of perplexity ensued. Meta, brave as she was, hardly knew her uncle enough to volunteer, and Norman was privately devising a beginning by the way of George, when Dr. May said, "Well, since it is not a case for putting Ethel in the forefront, I must e'en get it over for you, I suppose."
"Oh, thank you," they cried both at once, feeling that he was the proper person in every way, and Norman added, "The sooner the better, if Meta--"
"Oh, yes, yes, the sooner the better," exclaimed Meta. "And let me tell Flora--poor dear Flora--she is always so kind."
A testimony that was welcome to Dr. May, who had once, at least, been under the impression that Flora courted Sir Henry's attentions to her sister-in-law.
Further consultation was hindered by Tom and Blanche bursting upon them from the common, both echoing Norman's former reproach of "A pretty guide!" and while Blanche explained the sufferings of all the assembly at their tardiness, Tom, without knowing it, elucidated what had been a mystery to the doctor, namely, how they ever met, by his indignation at Norman's having assumed the guidance for which he was so unfit.
"A shocking leader; Meta will never trust him again," said Dr. May.
Still Blanche thought them not nearly sufficiently sensible of their enormities, and preached eagerly about their danger of losing standing-room, when they emerged on the moor, and beheld a crowd, above whose heads rose the apex of a triangle, formed by three poles, sustaining a rope and huge stone.
"Here comes Dr. Spencer," she said. "I hope he will scold you."
Whatever Dr. Spencer might have suffered, he was far too polite to scold, and a glance between the two physicians ended in a merry twinkle of his bright eyes.
"This way," he said; "we are all ready."
"But where's my little Daisy?" said Dr. May.
"You'll see her in a minute. She is as good as gold."
He drew them on up the bank--people making way for them--till he had stationed them among the others of their own party, beside the deep trench that traced the foundation, around a space that seemed far too small.
Nearly at the same moment began the soft clear sound of chanting wafted upon the wind, then dying away--carried off by some eddying breeze, then clear, and coming nearer and nearer.
I will not suffer mine eyes to sleep,
Nor mine eye-lids to slumber:
Neither the temples of my head to take any rest;
Until I find out a place for the temple of the Lord:
An habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.
Few, who knew the history of Cocksmoor, could help glancing towards the slight girl, who stood, with bent head, her hand clasped over little Aubrey's; while, all that was not prayer and thanksgiving in her mind, was applying the words to him, whose head rested in the Pacific isle, while, in the place which he had chosen, was laid the foundation of the temple that he had given unto the Lord.
There came forth the procession: the minster choristers, Dr. Spencer as architect, and, in her white dress, little Gertrude, led between Harry and Hector, Margaret's special choice for the occasion, and followed by the Stoneborough clergy.
Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness.
It came in well with the gentle, meek, steadfast face of the young curate of Cocksmoor, as he moved on in his white robe, and the sunlight shone upon his fair hair, and calm brow, thankful for the past, and hoping, more than fearing, for the future.
The prayers were said, and there was a pause, while Dr. Spencer and the foreman advanced to the machine and adjusted it. The two youths then led forward the little girl, her innocent face and large blue eyes wearing a look of childish obedient solemnity, only half understanding what she did, yet knowing it was something great.
It was very pretty to see her in the midst of the little gathering round the foundation, the sturdy workman smiling over his hod of mortar, Dr. Spencer's silver locks touching her flaxen curls as he held the shining trowel to her, and Harry's bright head and hardy face, as he knelt on one knee to guide the little soft hand, while Hector stood by, still and upright, his eyes fixed far away, as if his thoughts were roaming to the real founder.
The Victoria coins were placed--Gertrude scooped up the mass of mortar, and spread it about with increasing satisfaction, as it went so smoothly and easily, prolonging the operation, till Harry drew her back, while, slowly down creaked the ponderous corner-stone into the bed that she had prepared for it, and, with a good will, she gave three taps on it with her trowel.
Harry had taken her hand, when, at the sight of Dr. May, she broke from him, and, as if taking sudden fright at her own unwonted part, ran, at full speed, straight up to her father, and clung to him, hiding her face as he raised her in his arms and kissed her.
Meanwhile the strain arose:
Thou heavenly, new Jerusalem,
Vision of peace, in Prophet's dream;
With living stones, built up on high,
And rising to the starry sky--
The blessing of peace seemed to linger softly and gently in the fragrant summer breeze, and there was a pause ere the sounds of voices awoke again.
"Etheldred--" Mr. Wilmot stood beside her, ere going to unrobe in the school-- "Etheldred, you must once let me say, God bless you for this."
As she knelt beside her sister's sofa, on her return home, Margaret pressed something into her hand. "If you please, dearest, give this to Dr. Spencer, and ask him to let it be set round the stem of the chalice," she whispered.
Ethel recognised Alan Ernescliffe's pearl hoop, the betrothal ring, and looked at her sister without a word.
"I wish it," said Margaret gently. "I shall like best to know it there."
So Margaret joined in Alan's offering, and Ethel dared say no more, as she thought how the "relic of a frail love lost" was becoming the "token of endless love begun." There was more true union in this, than in clinging to the mere tangible emblem--for broken and weak is all affection that is not knit together above in the One Infinite Love.
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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.
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