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Through lawless camp, through ocean wild, Her prophet eye pursues her child; Scans mournfully her poet's strain, Fears for her merchant, loss alike and gain." LYRA INNOCENTIUM.
Dr. May took the management of himself into his own hands, and paid so little attention to Mr. Ward's recommendations that his sons and daughters were in continual dread of his choosing to do something that might cause injurious agitation.
However, he did not go further than Margaret's bedroom where he sat hour after hour his eyes fixed upon her, as she continued in a state bordering on insensibility. He took little notice of anything else, and hardly spoke. There were heavy sighs now and then, but Richard and Flora, one or other of whom were always watching him, could hardly tell whether to ascribe them to the oppression of sorrow or of suffering. Their great fear was of his insisting on seeing his wife's face, and it was a great relief that he never alluded to her, except once, to desire Richard to bring him her ring. Richard silently obeyed, and, without a word, he placed it on his little finger. Richard used to read the Psalms to him in the morning, before he was up, and Flora would bring little Daisy and lay her by his side.
To the last moment they dreaded his choosing to attend the funeral, and Flora had decided on remaining at home, though trembling at the thought of what there might be to go through. They tried to let him hear nothing about it, but he seemed to know everything; and when Flora came into Margaret's room without her bonnet, he raised his head, and said, "I thought you were all going."
"The others are--but may I not stay with you and her, papa?"
"I had rather be alone, my dears. I will take care of her. I should wish you all to be there."
They decided that his wishes ought to be followed, and that the patients must be entrusted to old nurse. Richard told Flora, who looked very pale, that she would be glad of it afterwards, and she had his arm to lean upon.
The grave was in the cloister attached to the minster, a smooth green square of turf, marked here and there with small flat lozenges of stone, bearing the date and initials of those who lay there, and many of them recording former generations of Mays, to whom their descent from the headmaster had given a right of burial there. Dr. Hoxton, Mr. Wilmot, and the surgeon, were the only friends whom Richard had asked to be with them, but the minster was nearly full, for there was a very strong attachment and respect for Dr. and Mrs. May throughout the neighbourhood, and every one's feelings were strongly excited.
"In the midst of life, we are in death--" There was a universal sound as of a sort of sob, that Etheldred never disconnected from those words. Yet hardly one tear was shed by the young things who stood as close as they could round the grave. Harry and Mary did indeed lock their hands together tightly, and the shoulders of the former shook as he stood, bowing down his head, but the others were still and quiet, in part from awe and bewilderment, but partly, too, from a sense that it was against her whole nature that there should be clamorous mourning for her. The calm still day seemed to tell them the same, the sun beaming softly on the gray arches and fresh grass, the sky clear and blue, and the trees that showed over the walls bright with autumn colouring, all suitable to the serenity of a life unclouded to its last moment. Some of them felt as if it were better to be there than in their saddened desolate home.
But home they must go, and, before going upstairs, as Flora and Etheldred stood a moment or two with Norman, Ethel said in a tone of resolution, and of some cheerfulness, "Well, we have to begin afresh."
"Yes," said Flora, "it is a great responsibility. I do trust we may be enabled to do as we ought."
"And now Margaret is getting better, she will be our stay," said Ethel.
"I must go to her," and Flora went upstairs.
"I wish I could be as useful as Flora," said Ethel; but I mean to try, and if I can but keep out of mischief, it will be something.
"There is an object for all one does, in trying to be a comfort to papa."
"That's no use," said Norman, listlessly. "We never can."
"Oh, but, Norman, he won't be always as he is now--I am sure he cares for us enough to be pleased, if we do right and get on."
"We used to be so happy!" said Norman.
Ethel hesitated a little, and presently answered, "I don't think it can be right to lament for our own sakes so much, is it?"
"I don't want to do so," said Norman, in the same dejected way.
"I suppose we ought not to feel it either." Norman only shook his head. "We ought to think of her gain. You can't? Well, I am glad, for no more can I. I can't think of her liking for papa and baby and all of us to be left to ourselves. But that's not right of me, and of course it all comes right where she is; so I always put that out of my head, and think what is to come next in doing, and pleasing papa, and learning."
"That's grown horrid," said Norman. "There's no pleasure in getting on, nor in anything."
"Don't you care for papa and all of us being glad, Norman?" As Norman could not just then say that he did, he would not answer.
"I wish--" said Ethel, disappointed, but cheering up the next minute. "I do believe it is having nothing to do. You will be better when you get back to school on Monday."
"That is worst of all!"
"You don't like going among the boys again? But that must be done some time or other. Or shall I get Richard to speak to Dr. Hoxton to let you have another week's leave?"
"No, no, don't be foolish. It can't be helped."
"I am very sorry, but I think you will be better for it."
She almost began to fancy herself unfeeling, when she found him so much more depressed than she was herself, and unable to feel it a relief to know that the time of rest and want of occupation was over. She thought it light-minded, though she could not help it, to look forward to the daily studies where she might lose her sad thoughts and be as if everything were as usual. But suppose she should be to blame, where would now be the gentle discipline? Poor Ethel's feelings were not such as to deserve the imputation of levity, when this thought came over her; but her buoyant mind, always seeking for consolation, recurred to Margaret's improvement, and she fixed her hopes on her.
Margaret was more alive to surrounding objects, and, when roused, she knew them all, answered clearly when addressed, had even, more than once, spoken of her own accord, and shown solicitude at the sight of her father's bandaged, helpless arm, but he soon soothed this away. He was more than ever watchful over her, and could scarcely be persuaded to leave her for one moment, in his anxiety to be at hand to answer, when first she should speak of her mother, a moment apprehended by all the rest, almost as much for his sake as for hers.
So clear had her perceptions been, and so much more awake did she appear, on this evening, that he expected the inquiry to come every moment, and lingered in her room; till she asked the hour, and begged him to go to bed.
As he bent over her, she looked up in his face, and said softly, "Dear papa."
There was that in her tone which showed she perceived the truth, and he knelt by her side kissing her, but not daring to relax his restraint of feeling.
"Dear papa," she said again, "I hope I shall soon be better, and be some comfort to you."
"My best--my own--my comfort," he murmured, all he could say without giving way."
"Baby--is she well?"
"Yes, thank Heaven, she has not suffered at all."
"I heard her this morning, I must see her to-morrow. But don't stay, dear, dear papa, it is late, and I am sure you are not at all well. Your arm--is it very much hurt?"
"It is nothing you need think about, my dear. I am much better than I could have imagined possible."
"And you have been nursing me all the time! Papa, you must let me take care of you now. Do pray go to bed at once, and get up late. Nurse will take good care of me. Good-night, dear papa."
When Dr. May had left her, and tried to tell Richard how it had been, the tears cut him short, and had their free course; but there was much of thankfulness, for it might be looked on as the restoration of his daughter; the worst was over, and the next day he was able to think of other things, had more attention to spare for the rest, and when the surgeon came, took some professional interest in the condition of his own arm, inquired after his patients, and even talked of visiting them.
In the meantime, Margaret sent for her eldest brother, begging him to tell her the whole, and it was heard as calmly and firmly as it was told. Her bodily state lulled her mind; and besides it was not new; she had observed much while her faculties were still too much benumbed for her to understand all, or to express her feelings. Her thoughts seemed chiefly occupied with her father. She made Richard explain to her the injury he had suffered, and begged to know whether his constant attendance on her could do him harm. She was much rejoiced when her brother assured her that nothing could be better for him, and she began to say, with a smile, that very likely her being hurt had been fortunate. She asked who had taken care of him before Richard's arrival, and was pleased to hear that it was Mr. Ernescliffe. A visit from the little Gertrude Margaret was happily accomplished, and, on the whole, the day was most satisfactory--she herself declaring that she could not see that there was anything the matter with her, except that she felt lazy, and did not seem able to move.
Thus the next Sunday morning dawned with more cheerfulness. Dr. May came downstairs for the first time, in order to go to church with his whole flock, except the two Margarets. He looked very wan and shattered, but they clustered gladly round him, when he once more stood among them, little Blanche securing his hand, and nodding triumphantly to Mr. Ernescliffe, as much as to say, "Now I have him, I don't want you."
Norman alone was missing; but he was in his place at church among the boys. Again, in returning, he slipped out of the party, and was at home the first, and when this recurred in the afternoon Ethel began to understand his motive. The High Street led past the spot where the accident had taken place, though neither she nor any of the others knew exactly where it was, except Norman, on whose mind the scene was branded indelibly; she guessed that it was to avoid it that he went along what was called Randall's Alley, his usual short cut to school.
The Sunday brought back to the children that there was no one to hear their hymns; but Richard was a great comfort, watching over the little ones more like a sister than a brother. Ethel was ashamed of herself when she saw him taking thought for them, tying Blanche's bonnet, putting Aubrey's gloves on, teaching them to put away their Sunday toys, as if he meant them to be as neat and precise as himself.
Dr. May did not encounter the family dinner, nor attempt a second going to church; but Blanche was very glorious as she led him down to drink tea, and, before going up again, he had a conversation with Alan Ernescliffe, who felt himself obliged to leave Stoneborough early on the morrow.
"I can endure better to go now," said he, "and I shall hear of you often; Hector will let me know, and Richard has promised to write."
"Ay, you must let us often have a line. I should guess you were a letter-writing man."
"I have hitherto had too few friends who cared to hear of me to write much, but the pleasure of knowing that any interest is taken in me here--"
"Well," said the doctor, "mind that a letter will always be welcome, and when you are coming southwards, here are your old quarters. We cannot lose sight of you anyway, especially"--and his voice quivered- -"after the help you gave my poor boys and girls in their distress."
"It would be the utmost satisfaction to think I had been of the smallest use," said Alan, hiding much under these commonplace words.
"More than I know," said Dr. May; "too much to speak of. Well, we shall see you again, though it is a changed place, and you must come and see your god-daughter--poor child--may she only be brought up as her sisters were! They will do their best, poor things, and so must I, but it is sad work!"
Both were too much overcome for words, but the doctor was the first to continue, as he took off his dimmed spectacles. He seemed to wish to excuse himself for giving way; saying, with a look that would fain have been a smile, "The world has run so light and easy with me hitherto, that you see I don't know how to bear with trouble. All thinking and managing fell to my Maggie's share, and I had as little care on my hands as one of my own boys--poor fellows. I don't know how it is to turn out, but of all the men on earth to be left with eleven children, I should choose myself as the worst."
Alan tried to say somewhat of "Confidence--affection--daughters," and broke down, but it did as well as if it had been connected.
"Yes, yes," said the doctor, "they are good children every one of them. There's much to be thankful for, if one could only pluck up heart to feel it."
"And you are convinced that Marga--that Miss May is recovering."
"She has made a great advance today. The head is right, at least," but the doctor looked anxious and spoke low as he said, "I am not satisfied about her yet. That want of power over the limbs, is more than the mere shock and debility, as it seems to me, though Ward thinks otherwise, and I trust he is right, but I cannot tell yet as to the spine. If this should not soon mend I shall have Fleet to see her. He was a fellow-student of mine very clever, and I have more faith in him than in any one else in that line."
"By all means-- Yes," said Alan, excessively shocked. "But you will let me know how she goes on--Richard will be so kind."
"We will not fail," said Dr May more and more touched at the sight of the young sailor struggling in vain to restrain his emotion, "you shall hear. I'll write myself as soon as I can use my hand, but I hope she may be all right long before that is likely to be."
"Your kindness--" Alan attempted to say, but began again. "Feeling as I must--" then interrupting himself. "I beg your pardon, 'tis no fit time, nor fit-- But you'll let me hear."
"That I will," said Dr May, and as Alan hastily left the room, he continued, half aloud, to himself, "Poor boy! poor fellow. I see. No wonder! Heaven grant I have not been the breaking of their two young hearts, as well as my own! Maggie looked doubtful--as much as she ever did when my mind was set on a thing, when I spoke of bringing him here. But after all, she liked him as much as the rest of us did--she could not wish it otherwise--he is one of a thousand, and worthy of our Margaret. That he is! and Maggie thinks so. If he gets on in his profession, why then we shall see--" but the sigh of anguish of mind here showed that the wound had but been forgotten for one moment.
"Pshaw! What am I running on to? I'm all astray for want of her! My poor girl--"
Mr Ernescliffe set out before sunrise. The boys were up to wish him good-bye, and so were Etheldred and Mary, and some one else, for while the shaking of hands was going on in the hall there was a call, "Mr Ernthcliffe," and over the balusters peeped a little rough curly head, a face glowing with carnation deepened by sleep, and a round, plump, bare arm and shoulder, and down at Alan's feet there fell a construction of white and pink paper, while a voice lisped out, "Mr Ernthcliffe, there's a white rothe for you."
An indignant "Miss Blanche!" was heard behind and there was no certainty that any thanks reached the poor little heroine, who was evidently borne off summarily to the nursery, while Ethel gave way to a paroxysm of suppressed laughter, joined in, more or less, by all the rest, and thus Alan, promising faithfully to preserve the precious token, left Dr May's door, not in so much outward sorrow as he had expected.
Even their father laughed at the romance of the white "rothe," and declared Blanche was a dangerous young lady; but the story was less successful with Miss Winter, who gravely said it was no wonder since Blanche's elder sister had been setting her the example of forwardness in coming down in this way after Mr. Ernescliffe. Ethel was very angry, and was only prevented from vindicating herself by remembering there was no peacemaker now, and that she had resolved only to think of Miss Winter's late kindness, and bear with her tiresome ways.
Etheldred thought herself too sorrowful to be liable to her usual faults which would seem so much worse now; but she found herself more irritable than usual, and doubly heedless, because her mind was preoccupied. She hated herself, and suffered more from sorrow than even at the first moment, for now she felt what it was to have no one to tame her, no eye over her; she found herself going a tort et a travers all the morning, and with no one to set her right. Since it was so the first day, what would follow?
Mary was on the contrary so far subdued, as to be exemplary in goodness and diligence, and Blanche was always steady. Flora was too busy to think of the school-room, for the whole house was on her hands, besides the charge of Margaret, while Dr. May went to the hospital, and to sundry patients, and they thought he seemed the better for the occupation, as well as gratified and affected by the sympathy he everywhere met with from high and low.
The boys were at school, unseen except when at the dinner play-hour Norman ran home to ask after his father and sister; but the most trying time was at eight in the evening, when they came home. That was wont to be the merriest part of the whole day, the whole family collected, papa at leisure and ready for talk or for play, mamma smiling over her work-basket, the sisters full of chatter, the brothers full of fun, all the tidings of the day discussed, and nothing unwelcome but bedtime. How different now! The doctor was with Margaret, and though Richard tried to say something cheerful as his brothers entered, there was no response, and they sat down on the opposite sides of the fire, forlorn and silent, till Richard, who was printing some letters on card-board to supply the gaps in Aubrey's ivory Alphabet, called Harry to help him; but Ethel, as she sat at work, could only look at Norman, and wish she could devise anything likely to gratify him.
After a time Flora came down, and laying some sheets of closely written note-paper before her sister, said, "Here is dear mamma's unfinished letter to Aunt Flora. Papa says we elder ones are to read it. It is a description of us all, and very much indeed we ought to learn from it. I shall keep a copy of it."
Flora took up her work, and began to consult with Richard, while Ethel moved to Norman's side, and kneeling so as to lean against his shoulder, as he sat on a low cushion, they read their mother's last letter by the fire-light, with indescribable feelings, as they went through the subjects that had lately occupied them, related by her who would never be among them again. After much of this kind, for her letters to Mrs. Arnott were almost journals, came,
"You say it is long since you had a portrait gallery of the chicken daisies, and if I do not write in these leisure days, you will hardly get it after I am in the midst of business again. The new Daisy is like Margaret at the same age--may she continue like her! Pretty creature, she can hardly be more charming than at present. Aubrey, the moon-faced, is far from reconciled to his disposition from babyhood; he is a sober, solemn gentleman, backward in talking, and with such a will of his own, as will want much watching; very different from Blanche, who is Flora over again, perhaps prettier and more fairy-like, unless this is only one's admiration for the buds of the present season. None of them has ever been so winning as this little maid, who even attracts Dr. Hoxton himself, and obtains sugar- plums and kisses. 'Rather she than I,' says Harry, but notice is notice to the white Mayflower, and there is my anxiety--I am afraid it is not wholesome to be too engaging ever to get a rebuff. I hope having a younger sister, and outgrowing baby charms may be salutary. Flora soon left off thinking about her beauty, and the fit of vanity does less harm at five than fifteen. My poor Tom has not such a happy life as Blanche, he is often in trouble at lessons, and bullied by Harry at play, in spite of his champion, Mary; and yet I cannot interfere, for it is good for him to have all this preparatory teasing before he goes into school. He has good abilities, but not much perseverance or energy, and I must take the teaching of him into my own hands till his school-days begin, in hopes of instilling them. The girlishness and timidity will be knocked out of him by the boys, I suppose; Harry is too kind and generous to do more than tease him moderately, and Norman will see that it does not go too far. It is a common saying that Tom and Mary made a mistake, that he is the girl, and she the boy, for she is a rough, merry creature, the noisiest in the house, always skirmishing with Harry in defence of Tom, and yet devoted to him, and wanting to do everything he does. Those two, Harry and Mary, are exactly alike, except for Harry's curly mane of lion-coloured wig. The yellow-haired laddie, is papa's name for Harry, which he does not mind from him, though furious if the girls attempt to call him so. Harry is the thorough boy of the family, all spirit, recklessness, and mischief, but so true, and kind, and noble- hearted, that one loves him the better after every freely confessed scrape. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to my boy for his perfect confidence, the thing that chiefly lessens my anxiety for him in his half-school, half-home life, which does not seem to me to work quite well with him. There are two sons of Mrs. Anderson's at the school, who are more his friends than I like, and he is too easily led by the desire not to be outdone, and to show that he fears nothing. Lately, our sailor-guest has inspired him with a vehement wish to go to sea; I wish it was not necessary that the decision should be made so early in life, for this fault is just what would make us most fear to send him into the world very young, though in some ways it might not do amiss for him.
"So much for the younger bairns, whom you never beheld, dear Flora. The three whom you left, when people used to waste pity on me for their being all babies together, now look as if any pair of them were twins, for Norman is the tallest, almost outgrowing his strength, and Ethel's sharp face, so like her papa's, makes her look older than Flora. Norman and Ethel do indeed take after their papa, more than any of the others, and are much alike. There is the same brilliant cleverness, the same strong feeling, not easy of demonstration, though impetuous in action; but poor Ethel's old foibles, her harum- scarum nature, quick temper, uncouth manners, and heedlessness of all but one absorbing object, have kept her back, and caused her much discomfort; yet I sometimes think these manifest defects have occasioned a discipline that is the best thing for the character in the end. They are faults that show themselves, and which one can tell how to deal with, and I have full confidence that she has the principle within her that will conquer them."
"If--"mournfully sighed Ethel; but her brother pointed on further.
"My great hope is her entire indifference to praise--not approval, but praise. If she has not come up to her own standard, she works on, not always with good temper, but perseveringly, and entirely, unheeding of commendation till she has satisfied herself, only thinking it stupid not to see the faults. It is this independence of praise that I want to see in her brother and sister. They justly earn it, and are rightly pleased with it; but I cannot feel sure whether they do not depend on it too much. Norman lives, like all school-boys, a life of emulation, and has never met with anything but success. I do believe Dr. Hoxton and Mr. Wilmot are as proud of him as we are; and he has never shown any tendency to conceit, but I am afraid he has the love of being foremost, and pride in his superiority, caring for what he is, compared with others, rather than what he is himself."
"I know," said Norman; "I have done so, but that's over. I see what it is worth. I'd give all the quam optimes I ever got in my life to be the help Richard is to papa."
"You would if you were his age."
"Not I, I'm not the sort. I'm not like her. But are we to go on about the elders?"
"Oh! yes, don't let us miss a word. There can't be anything but praise of them."
"Your sweet goddaughter. I almost feel as if I had spoken in disparagement of her, but I meant no such thing, dear girl. It would be hard to find a fault in her, since the childish love of admiration was subdued. She is so solid and steady, as to be very valuable with the younger ones, and is fast growing so lovely, that I wish you could behold her. I do not see any vanity, but there lies my dread, not of beauty--vanity, but that she will find temptation in the being everywhere liked and sought after. As to Margaret, my precious companion and friend, you have heard enough of her to know her, and, as to telling you what she is like, I could as soon set about describing her papa. When I thought of not being spared to them this time, it was happiness indeed to think of her at their head, fit to be his companion, with so much of his own talent as to be more up to conversation with him, than he could ever have found his stupid old Maggie. It was rather a trial of her discretion to have Mr. Ernescliffe here while I was upstairs, and very well she seems to have come out of it. Poor Richard's last disappointment is still our chief trouble. He has been working hard with a tutor all through the vacation, and has not even come home to see his new sister, on his way to Oxford. He had made a resolution that he would not come to us till he had passed, and his father thought it best that it should be kept. I hope he will succeed next time, but his nervousness renders it still more doubtful. With him it is the very reverse of Norman. He suffers too much for want of commendation, and I cannot wonder at it, when I see how much each failure vexes his father, and Richard little knows how precious is our perfect confidence in him, how much more valuable than any honours he could earn. You would be amused to see how little he is altered from the pretty little fair fellow, that you used to say was so like my old portrait, even the wavy rings of light glossy hair sit on his forehead, just as you liked to twist them; and his small trim figure is a fine contrast to Norman's long legs and arms, which--"
There the letter broke off, the playful affection of the last words making it almost more painful to think that the fond hand would never finish the sentence.
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