Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
At length I got unto the gladsome hill, Where lay my hope; Where lay my heart; and, climbing still, When I had gained the brow and top, A lake of brackish waters on the ground, Was all I found. --GEORGE HERBERT.
Late in the evening of the same snowy 24th of December, a little daughter awoke to life at Abbotstoke Grange, and, not long after, Mrs. Arnott came to summon Dr May from the anxious vigil in the sitting-room. "Come and see if you can do anything to soothe her," she said, with much alarm. "The first sight of the baby has put her into such a state of agitation, that we do not know what to do with her."
It was so, when he came to her bedside; that fixed stony look of despair was gone; the source of tears, so long dried up, had opened again; and there she lay, weeping quietly indeed, but profusely, and with deep heaving sobs. To speak, or to leave her alone, seemed equally perilous, but he chose the first--he kissed and blessed her, and gave her joy. She looked up at him as if his blessing once more brought peace, and said faintly, "Now it is pardon--now I can die!"
"The cloud is gone! Thanks for that above all! said. Dr. May fervently. "Now, my dear, rest in thankful gladness--you are too weak to talk or think."
"I am weak--I am tired of it all," said Flora. "I am glad to be going while I am so happy--there are Margaret--my own darling--rest-- peace--"
"You are not going, dearest," said her father; "at least, I trust not, if you will not give way; here is a darling given to you, instead of the first, who needs you more."
He would have taken the infant from the nurse and held her to her mother, but, recollecting how little Leonora had drawn her last breath in his arms, he feared the association, and signed to Mrs. Arnott to show her the child; but she seemed as yet only able to feel that it was not Leonora, and the long sealed-up grief would have its way. The tears burst out again. "Tell Ethel she will be the best mother to her. Name her Margaret--make her a Daisy of your own-- don't call her after me," she said, with such passionate caresses, that Mrs. Arnott was glad to take the babe away.
Dr. May's next expedient was to speak to her of her husband, who needed her more than all, and to call him in. There seemed to be something tranquillising in his wistful manner of repeating, "Don't cry, Flora;" and she was at last reduced, by her extreme exhaustion, to stillness; but there were still many fears for her.
Dr. May's prediction was accomplished--that she would suffer for having over-exerted herself. Her constitution had been severely tried by the grief and despondency that she had so long endured in silence, and the fresh sorrow for her favourite sister coming at such a crisis. There was a weariness of life, and an unwillingness to resume her ordinary routine, that made her almost welcome her weakness and sinking; and now that the black terror had cleared away from the future, she seemed to long to follow Margaret at once, and to yearn after her lost child; while appeals to the affection that surrounded her often seemed to oppress her, as if there were nothing but weariness and toil in store.
The state of her mind made her father very anxious, though it was but too well accounted for. Poor Flora had voluntarily assumed the trammels that galled her; worldly motives had prompted her marriage, and though she faithfully loved her husband, he was a heavy weight on her hands, and she had made it more onerous by thrusting him into a position for which he was not calculated, and inspiring him with a self-consequence that would not recede from it. The shock of her child's death had taken away the zest and energy which had rejoiced in her chosen way of life, and opened her eyes to see what Master she had been serving; and the perception of the hollowness of all that had been apparently good in her, had filled her with remorse and despair. Her sufferings had been the more bitter because she had not parted with her proud reserve. She had refused council, and denied her confidence to those who could have guided her repentance. Her natural good sense, and the sound principle in which she had been brought up, had taught her to distrust her gloomy feelings as possibly morbid; and she had prayed, keeping her hold of faith in the Infinite Mercy, though she could not feel her own part in it; and thus that faith was beginning at last to clear her path.
It was the harder to deal with her, because her hysterical agitation was so easily excited, that her father hardly dared to let a word be spoken to her; and she was allowed to see no one else except her aunt and the dear old nurse, whose tears for her child Margaret had been checked by the urgent requirements of another of her nurslings; and whom George Rivers would have paid with her weight in gold, for taking care of his new daughter, regarding her as the only woman in the world that could be trusted.
Those were heavy days with every one, though each brought some shade of improvement. They were harder to bear than the peaceful days that had immediately followed the loss of Margaret; and Ethel was especially unhappy and forlorn under the new anxiety, where she could be of no service; and with her precious occupation gone; her father absent, instead of resting upon her; and her room deserted. She was grieved with herself, because her feelings were unable to soar at the Christmas Feast, as erst on St. Andrew's Day; and she was bewildered and distressed by the fear that she had then been only uplifted by vanity and elation.
She told Richard so, and he said, kindly, that he thought a good deal of that she complained of arose from bodily weariness.
This hurt her a little; but when he said, "I think that the blessings of St. Andrew's Day helped us through what was to follow," she owned that it had indeed been so, and added, "I am going to work again! Tell me what will be most useful to you at Cocksmoor."
Sick at heart as she was, she bravely set herself to appropriate the hours now left vacant; and manfully walked with Richard and Harry to church at Cocksmoor on St. Stephen's Day; but the church brought back the sense of contrast. Next, she insisted on fulfilling their intention of coming home by Abbotstoke to hear how Flora was, when the unfavourable account only added lead to the burden that weighed her down. Though they were sent home in the carriage, she was so completely spent, that the effect of returning home to her room, without its dear inhabitant, was quite overwhelming, and she sat on her bed for half an hour, struggling with repinings. She came downstairs without having gained the victory, and was so physically overcome with lassitude, that Richard insisted on her lying on the sofa, and leaving everything to him and Mary.
Richard seemed to make her his object in life, and was an unspeakable help and comforter to her, not only by taking every care for her for her sake, but by turning to her as his own friend and confidante, the best able to replace what they had lost. There were many plans to be put in operation for Cocksmoor, on which much consultation was needed, though every word reminded them sadly of Margaret's ever ready interest in those schemes. It was very unlike Ethel's vision of the first weeks of St. Andrew's Church; but it might be safer for her than that aught should tempt her to say, "See what my perseverance has wrought!" Perhaps her Margaret had begun to admire her too much to be her safest confidante--at any rate, it was good still to sow in tears, rather than on earth to reap in confident joy.
Norman was as brotherly and kind as possible; but it was one of the dreary feelings of those days, that Ethel then first became aware of the difference that his engagement had made, and saw that he resorted elsewhere for sympathy. She was not jealous, and acquiesced submissively and resolutely; but they had been so much to each other, that it was a trial, especially at such a time as this, when freshly deprived of Margaret.
Norman's own prospect was not cheerful. He had received a letter from New Zealand, begging him to hasten his coming out, as there was educational work much wanting him, and, according to his original wish, he could be ordained there in the autumnal Ember Week.
He was in much perplexity, since, according to this request, he ought to sail with his aunt in the last week of February, and he knew not how to reconcile the conflicting claims.
Meta was not long in finding out the whole of his trouble, as they paced up and down the terrace together on a frosty afternoon.
"You will go!" was her first exclamation.
"I ought," said Norman, "I believe I ought, and if it had only been at any other time, it would have been easy. My aunt's company would have been such a comfort for you."
"It cannot be helped," said Meta.
"Considering the circumstances," began Norman, with lingering looks at the little humming-bird on his arm, "I believe I should be justified in waiting till such time as you could go with me. I could see what Mr. Wilmot thinks."
"You don't think so yourself," said Meta. "Nobody else can give a judgment. In a thing like this, asking is, what you once called, seeking opinions as Balaam inquired."
"Turning my words against me?" said Norman, smiling. "Still, Meta, perhaps older heads would be fitter to judge what would be right for a little person not far off."
"She can be the best judge of that herself," said Meta. "Norman," and her dark eyes were steadfastly fixed, "I always resolved that, with God's help, I would not be a stumbling-block in the way of your call to your work. I will not. Go out now--perhaps you will be freer for it without me, and I suppose I have a longer apprenticeship to serve to all sorts of things before I come to help you."
"Oh, Meta, you are a rebuke to me!"
"What? when I am going to stay by my own fireside?" said Meta, trying to laugh, but not very successfully. "Seriously, I have much to do here. When poor Flora gets well, she must be spared all exertion for a long time to come; and I flatter myself that they want me at Stoneborough sometimes. If your father can bear to spare you, there is no doubt that you ought to go."
"My father is as unselfish as you are, Meta. But I cannot speak to him until he is more easy about Flora. We always think the required sacrifice the hardest, but I must own that I could not grieve if he laid his commands on me to wait till the autumn."
"Oh, that would make it a duty and all easy," said Meta, smiling; "but I don't think he will; and Aunt Flora will be only too glad to carry you out without encumbrance."
"Has not Aunt Flora come to her senses about you?"
"I believe she would rather I belonged to any of her nephews but you. She is such a dear, sincere, kind-hearted person, and we are so comfortable together, that it will be quite like home to come out to her! I mean there, to convince her that I can be of something like use."
Meta talked so as to brighten and invigorate Norman when they were together, but they both grew low-spirited when apart. The humming- bird had hardly ever been so downcast as at present--that is, whenever she was not engaged in waiting on her brother, or in cheering up Dr. May, or in any of the many gentle offices that she was ever fulfilling. She was greatly disappointed, and full of fears for Norman, and dread of the separation, but she would not give way; and only now and then, when off her guard, would the sadness reign on her face without an effort. Alone, she fought and prayed for resignation for herself, and protection and strength for him, and chid herself for the foolish feeling that he would be safer with her.
She told Aunt Flora how it was one evening, as they sat over the fire together, speaking with a would-be tone of congratulation.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Arnott. "But that is a great pity!"
Meta looked quite brightened by her saying so. "I thought you would be glad," she rejoined.
"Did you think me so hard-hearted?"
"I thought you believed he would be better without me."
"My dear, we have not kept house and nursed together for a month for nothing," said Mrs. Arnott, smiling.
"Thank you," said Meta, trying to answer the smile. "You have taken a load off me!"
"I don't like it at all," said Mrs. Arnott. "It is a very uncomfortable plan for every one. And yet when I know how great is the want of him out there, I can say nothing against it without high treason. Well, my dear, I'll take all the care I can of Norman, and when you come, I shall be almost as glad as if we were coming home for good. Poor Flora! she is one person who will not regret the arrangement."
"Poor Flora!--you think her really better this evening?"
"Much better, indeed; if we could only raise her spirits, I think she would recover very well; but she is so sadly depressed. I must try to talk to Ethel--she may better understand her."
"I have never understood Flora," said Meta. "She has been as kind to me as possible, and I very soon came to a certain point with her, but I never have known her thoroughly. I doubt whether any one did but dear Margaret."
Flora was, however, much softened and less reserved than she had been. She found great repose in her aunt's attendance, retracing, as it did, her mother's presence, and she responded to her tenderness with increasing reliance and comfort; while as her strength began to revive, and there was more disposition to talk, she became gradually drawn into greater confidence.
The seeing of Ethel was one of the difficult questions. Flora had begun to wish it very much, and yet the bare idea threw her into a nervous tremor, that caused it to be put off again and again. Her aunt found her one day almost faint with agitation--she had heard Ethel's voice in the next room, and had been winding up her expectations, and now was as much grieved as relieved, to find that she had been there seeing the baby, but was now gone.
"How does the dear Ethel look?" asked Flora presently.
"She is looking better to-day; she has looked very worn and harassed, but I thought her brighter to-day. She walked over by Aubrey on his pony, and I think it did her good."
"Dear old Ethel! Aunt, it is a thing that no one has told me yet. Can you tell me how she bore the news of Norman Ogilvie's engagement?"
"Do you mean--" and Mrs. Arnott stopped short in her interrogation.
"Yes," said Flora, answering the pause.
"But I thought young Ogilvie a most unexceptionable person."
"So he is," said Flora. "I was much annoyed at the time, but she was resolute."
"In rejecting him?"
"In running away as soon as she found what was likely to happen;" and Flora, in a few words, told what had passed at Oxford.
"Then it was entirely out of devotion to your father?"
"Entirely," said Flora. "No one could look at her without seeing that she liked him. I had left her to be the only effective one at home, and she sacrificed herself."
"I am glad that I have seen her," said Mrs. Arnott. "I should never have understood her by description. I always said that I must come home to set my correspondence going rightly."
"Aunt Flora," said her niece, "do you remember my dear mother's unfinished letter to you?"
"To be sure I do, my dear."
"Nothing ever was more true," said Flora. "I read it over some little time ago, when I set my papers in order, and understood it then. I never did before. I used to think it very good for the others."
"It is what one generally does with good advice."
"Do you recollect the comparison between Norman, Ethel, and me? It is so curious. Norman, who was ambitious and loved praise, but now dreads nothing so much; Ethel, who never cared for anything of the kind, but went straight on her own brave way; and oh! Aunt Flora--me- -"
"Indeed, my dear, I should have thought you had her most full approbation."
"Ah! don't you see the tone, as if she were not fully satisfied, as if she only could not see surface faults in me," said Flora; "and how she said she dreaded my love of praise, and of being liked. I wonder how it would have been if she had lived. I have looked back so often in the past year, and I think the hollowness began from that time. It might have been there before, but I am not so sure. You see, at that dreadful time, after the accident, I was the eldest who was able to be efficient, and much more useful than poor Ethel. I think the credit I gained made me think myself perfection, and I never did anything afterwards but seek my own honour."
Mrs. Arnott began better to understand Flora's continued depression, but she thought her self-reproach exaggerated, and said something at once soothing and calculated to encourage her to undraw the curtain of reserve.
"You do not know," continued Flora, "how greedy I was of credit and affection. It made me jealous of Ethel herself, as long as we were in the same sphere; and when I felt that she was more to papa than I could be, I looked beyond home for praise. I don't think the things I did were bad in themselves--brought up as I have been, they could hardly be so. I knew what merits praise and blame too well for that- -but oh! the motive. I do believe I cared very much for Cocksmoor. I thought it would be a grand thing to bring about; but, you see, as it has turned out, all I thought I had done for it was in vain; and Ethel has been the real person and does not know it. I used to think Ethel so inferior to me. I left her all my work at home. If it had not been for that, she might have been happy with Norman Ogilvie--for never were two people better matched, and now she has done what I never thought to have left to another--watched over our own Margaret. Oh! how shall I ever bear to see her?"
"My dear, I am sure nothing can be more affectionate than Ethel. She does not think these things."
"She does," said Flora. "She always knew me better than I did myself. Her straightforward words should often have been rebukes to me. I shall see in every look and tone the opinion I have deserved. I have shrunk from her steadfast looks ever since I myself learned what I was. I could not bear them now--and yet--oh, aunt, you must bring her! Ethel! my dear, dear old King--my darling's godmother-- the last who was with Margaret!"
She had fallen into one of those fits of weeping when it was impossible to attempt anything but soothing her; but, though she was so much exhausted that Mrs. Arnott expected to be in great disgrace with Dr. May for having let her talk herself into this condition, she found that he was satisfied to find that she had so far relieved her mind, and declared that she would be better now.
The effect of the conversation was, that the next day, the last of the twelve Christmas days, when Ethel, whose yearning after her sister was almost equally divided between dread and eagerness-- eagerness for her embrace, and dread of the chill of her reserve, came once again in hopes of an interview. Dr. May called her at once. "I shall take you in without any preparation," he said, "that she may not have time to be flurried. Only, be quiet and natural."
Did he know what a mountain there was in her throat when he seemed to think it so easy to be natural?
She found him leading her into a darkened room, and heard his cheerful tones saying, "I have brought Ethel to you!"
"Ethel! oh!" said a low, weak voice, with a sound as of expecting a treat, and Ethel was within a curtain, where she began, in the dimness, to see something white moving, and her hands were clasped by two long thin ones. "There!" said Dr. May, "now, if you will be good, I will leave you alone. Nurse is by to look after you, and you know she always separates naughty children."
Either the recurrence to nursery language, or the mere sisterly touch after long separation, seemed to annihilate all the imaginary mutual dread, and, as Ethel bent lower and lower, and Flora's arms were round her, the only feeling was of being together again, and both at once made the childish gesture of affection, and murmured the old pet names of "Flossy," and "King," that belonged to almost forgotten days, when they were baby sisters, then kissed each other again.
"I can't see you," said Ethel, drawing herself up a little. "Why, Flora, you look like a little white shadow!"
"I have had such weak eyes," said Flora, "and this dim light is comfortable. I see your old sharp face quite plain."
"But what can you do here?"
"Do? Oh, dear Ethel, I have not had much of doing. Papa says I have three years' rest to make up."
"Poor Flora!" said Ethel; "but I should have thought it tiresome, especially for you."
"I have only now been able to think again," said Flora; "and you will say I am taking to quoting poetry. Do you remember some lines in that drama that Norman admired so much?"
"Philip von Artevelde?"
"Yes. I can't recollect them now, though they used to be always running in my head--something about time to mend and time to mourn."
"These?" said Ethel--
"He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.
Eternity mourns that."
"I never had time before for either," said Flora. "You cannot think how I used to be haunted by those, when I was chased from one thing to another, all these long, long eighteen months. I am in no haste to take up work again."
"Mending as well as mourning," said Ethel thoughtfully.
"And now you have that dear little Christmas gift to--" Ethel paused.
"She is not nearly so fine and healthy as her sister was," said Flora, "poor little dear. You know, Ethel, even now, I shall have very little time with her in that London life. Her papa wants me so much, and I must leave her to--to the nurses." Flora's voice trembled again.
"Our own dear old nurse," said Ethel.
"Oh! I wanted to thank you all for sparing her to us," said Flora. "George wished it so much. But how does poor little Daisy bear it?"
"Very magnanimously," said Ethel, smiling. "In fact, nurse has had but little to do with Daisy of late, and would have been very forlorn at home. It is better for Aubrey and for her, not to return to be babies to comfort poor nurse. I have been breaking up the nursery, and taking Gertrude to live with me."
"Have you gone back there again?"
"It would not have been better for waiting," said Ethel; "and Gertrude was so proud to come to me. I could not have done it without her, but papa must not have vacancy next to him."
"It has been hard on you for me to engross him," said Flora; "but oh, Ethel, I could not spare him. I don't think even you can tell what papa is."
"You have found it out," said Ethel, in an odd, dry manner; which in sound, though not in feeling, was a contrast to the soft, whispering, tearful murmurs of her sister.
"And my aunt!" continued Flora-- "that I should have taken up such a great piece of her short visit!"
"Ah! it is coming to an end very fast," said Ethel, sighing; "but you had the best right to her, and she and Meta have seen so much of each other. She tells me she is quite satisfied about Meta now."
"I am sorry to see Meta looking out of spirits," said Flora. "I almost made her cry by saying something about Norman. Is there anything going wrong?"
Ethel, as usual, blundered into the subject. "Only about Norman's going out."
Flora asked further questions, and she was obliged to explain. It roused Flora's energies at once.
"This will never do!" she said. "They must marry, and go with my aunt."
Ethel was aghast. "They would not hear of it now!"
"They must. It is the only reasonable thing. Why, Norman would be miserable, and as to Meta-- Imagine his going out and returning--a year's work, such an expense and loss of time, besides the missing Aunt Flora."
"If it were not wrong--"
"The waste would be the wrong thing. Besides--" and she told of Margaret's wishes.
"But, Flora, think--the last week in February--and you so ill!"
"I am not to marry them," said Flora, smiling. "If it could be in a fortnight, they could go and get their outfit afterwards, and come back to us when I am stronger. Let me see--there need be no fuss about settlements--Mr. Rivers's will arranges everything for her."
"It would be a good thing to get rid of a fine wedding," said Ethel; "but they will never consent!"
"Yes, they will, and be grateful."
"Papa would be happier about Norman," said Ethel; "but I cannot fancy his liking it. And you--you can't spare Meta, for Aunt Flora must go to the Arnotts' in a week or two more."
"Suppose papa was to let me have you," said Flora. "If he wants you, he must come after you."
Ethel gasped at the thought that her occupation at home was gone, but she said, "If I am not too awkward for you, dear Flora. You will miss Meta terribly."
"I can't keep the humming-bird caged, with her heart far away," said Flora.
Dr. May came in to break up the conversation, and Ethel quickly guessed from his manner that Norman had been talking to him. Flora told him that she had been agreeing with Ethel that Meta had much better not miss this opportunity. He was far less startled than Ethel had expected; indeed, the proposal was rather a relief to his mind, and his chief objection was the fear that Flora would be fatigued by the extra bustle; but she promised not to trouble herself about it, otherwise than that if Norman could not persuade Meta, she would. The sisters parted, much more comfortable than before. Ethel felt as if she had found something like a dim reflection of Margaret, and Flora's fear of Ethel had fled away from the mere force of sisterhood.
As to Norman, he declared that he had not the audacity to make the proposal to Meta, though he was only too grateful; so his father carried it to the humming-bird; and, as soon as she found that it was not improper, nor would hurt any one's feelings, she gave ready consent--only begging that it might be as best suited every one, especially Flora; and ending by a whisper to her dear fatherly friend, owning that she was "very glad--she meant she was very glad there would be nobody there."
So Norman and Meta settled their plans as they walked home together from evening service, after listening to the prophecies of the blessings to be spread into the waste and desolate places, which should yet become the heritage of the Chosen, and with the evening star shining on them, like a faint reflex of the Star of the East, Who came to be a Light to lighten the Gentiles.
|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.