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A drooping daisy changed into a cup, In which her bright-eyed beauty is shut up. WORDSWORTH.
"So there you are up for the day--really you look very comfortable," said Ethel, coming into the room where Margaret lay on her bed, half- raised by pillows, supported by a wooden frame.
"Yes, is not it a charming contrivance of Richard's? It quite gives me the use of my hands," said Margaret.
"I think he is doing something else for you," said Ethel; "I heard him carpentering at six o'clock this morning, but I suppose it is to be a secret."
"And don't you admire her night-cap?" said Flora.
"Is it anything different?" said Ethel, peering closer. "Oh, I see-- so she has a fine day night-cap. Is that your taste, Flora?"
"Partly," said Margaret, "and partly my own. I put in all these little white puffs, and I hope you think they do me credit. Wasn't it grand of me?"
"She only despises you for them," said Flora.
"I'm very glad you could," said Ethel, gravely; "but do you know? it is rather like that horrid old lady in some book, who had a paralytic stroke, and the first thing she did that showed she had come to her senses was to write, 'Rose-coloured curtains for the doctors.'"
"Well, it was for the doctor," said Margaret, "and it had its effect. He told me I looked much better when he found me trying it on."
"And did you really have the looking-glass and try it on?" cried Ethel.
"Yes, really," said Flora. "Don't you think one may as well be fit to be seen if one is ill? It is no use to depress one's friends by being more forlorn and disconsolate than one can help."
"No--not disconsolate," said Ethel; "but the white puffiness--and the hemming--and the glass!"
"Poor Ethel can't get over it, said Margaret. "But, Ethel, do you think there is nothing disconsolate in untidiness?"
"You could be tidy without the little puffs! Your first bit of work too! Don't think I'm tiresome. If they were an amusement to you, I am sure I am very glad of them, but I can't see the sense of them."
"Poor little things!" said Margaret laughing. "It is only my foible for making a thing look nice. And, Ethel," she added, drawing her down close over her, "I did not think the trouble wasted, if seeing me look fresher cheered up dear papa a moment."
"I spoke to papa about nurse's proposal," said Margaret presently to Flora, "and he quite agrees to it. Indeed it is impossible that Anne should attend properly to all the children while nurse is so much engaged with me."
"I think so," said Flora; "and it does not answer to bring Aubrey into the school-room. It only makes Mary and Blanche idle, and Miss Winter does not like it."
"Then the question is, who shall it be? Nurse has no one in view, and only protests against 'one of the girls out of the school here.'"
"That's a great pity," said Flora. "Don't you think we could make her take to Jane White, she is so very nice."
"I thought of her, but it will never answer if we displease nurse. Besides, I remember at the time Anne came, dear mamma thought there was danger of a girl's having too many acquaintances, especially taking the children out walking. We cannot always be sure of sending her out with Anne."
"Do you remember--" said Ethel, there stopping.
"Well," said both sisters.
"Don't you recollect, Flora, that girl whose father was in the hospital--that girl at Cocksmoor?"
"I do," said Flora. "She was a very nice girl; I wonder whether nurse would approve of her."
"How old?" said Margaret. "Fourteen, and tall. Such a clean cottage!"
The girls went on, and Margaret began to like the idea very much, and consider whether the girl could be brought for inspection, before nurse was prejudiced by hearing of her Cocksmoor extraction. At that moment Richard knocked at the door, and entered with Tom, helping him to bring a small short-legged table, such as could stand on the bed at the right height for Margaret's meals or employments.
There were great exclamations of satisfaction, and gratitude; "it was the very thing wanted, only how could he have contrived it?"
"Don't you" recognise it?" said he.
Oh, I see; it is the old drawing-desk that no one used. And you have put legs to it--how famous! You are the best contriver, Richard!"
Then see, you can raise it up for reading or writing; here's a corner for your ink to stand flat; and there it is down for your dinner."
"Charming, you have made it go so easily, when it used to be so stiff. There--give me my work-basket, please, Ethel; I mean to make some more white puffs."
"What's the matter now, Ethel?" said Flora; "you look as if you did not approve of the table."
"I was only thinking it was as if she was settling herself to lie in bed for a very long time," said Ethel.
"I hope not," said Richard; "but I don't see why she should not be as comfortable as she can, while she is there."
"I am sure I hope you will never be ill, Ethel," said Flora. "You would be horrid to nurse!"
"She will know how to be grateful when she is," said Margaret.
"I say, Richard," exclaimed Ethel, "this is hospital-meeting day, so you won't be wanted to drive papa."
"No, I am at your service; do you want a walk?"
So it was determined that Richard and Ethel should walk together to Cocksmoor.
No two people could be much more unlike than Richard and Etheldred May; but they were very fond of each other. Richard was sometimes seriously annoyed by Ethel's heedlessness, and did not always understand her sublimities, but he had a great deal of admiration for one who partook so much of his father's nature; and Ethel had a due respect for her eldest brother, gratitude and strong affection for many kindnesses, a reverence for his sterling goodness, and his exemption from her own besetting failings, only a little damped by compassionate wonder at his deficiency in talent, and by her vexation at not being always comprehended.
They went by the road, for the plantation gate was far too serious an undertaking for any one not in the highest spirits for enterprise. On the way there was a good deal of that desultory talk, very sociable and interesting, that is apt to prevail between two people, who would never have chosen each other for companions, if they were not of the same family, but who are nevertheless very affectionate and companionable. Ethel was anxious to hear what her brother thought of papa's spirits, and whether he talked in their drives.
"Sometimes," said Richard. "It is just as it happens. Now and then he goes on just like himself, and then at other times he will not speak for three or four miles."
"And he sighs?" said Ethel. "Those sighs are so very sad, and long, and deep! They seem to have whole volumes in them, as if there was such a weight on him."
"Some people say he is not as much altered as they expected," said Richard.
"Oh! do they? Well! I can't fancy any one feeling it more. He can't leave off his old self, of course, but--"Ethel stopped short.
"Margaret is a great comfort to him," said Richard.
"That she is. She thinks of him all day long, and I don't think either of them is ever so happy as in the evening, when he sits with her. They talk about mamma then--"
It was just what Richard could not do, and he made some observation to change the subject, but Ethel returned to it, so far as to beg to know how the arm was going on, for she did not like to say anything about it to papa.
"It will be a long business, I am afraid," said Richard. "Indeed, he said the other day, he thought he should never have the free use of the elbow."
"And do you think it is very painful? I saw the other day, when Aubrey was sitting on his knee and fidgeting, he shrank whenever he even came towards it, and yet it seemed as if he could not bear to put him down."
"Yes it is excessively tender, and sometimes gets very bad at night."
"Ah," said Ethel; "there's a line--here--round his eyes, that there never used to be, and when it deepens, I am sure he is in pain, or has been kept awake."
"You are very odd, Ethel; how do you see things in people's faces, when you miss so much at just the same distance?"
"I look after what I care about," said Ethel. "One sees more with one's mind than one's eyes. The best sight is inside."
"But do you always see the truth?" said Richard gravely.
"Quite enough. What is less common than the ordinary world?" said Ethel.
Richard shook his head, not quite satisfied, but not sure enough that he entered into her meaning to question it.
"I wonder you don't wear spectacles," was the result of his meditation, and it made her laugh by being so inapposite to her own reflections: but the laugh ended in a melancholy look. "Dear mamma did not like me to use them," she said, in a low voice.
Thus they talked till they arrived at Cocksmoor, where poor Mrs. Taylor, inspirited by better reports of her husband and the hopes for her daughter, was like another woman. Richard was very careful not to raise false expectations, saying it all depended on Miss May and nurse, and what they thought of her strength and steadiness, but these cautions did not seem capable of damping the hopes of the smooth-haired Lucy, who stood smiling and curtseying. The twins were grown and improved, and Ethel supposed they would be brought to church on the next christening Sunday, but their mother looked helpless and hopeless about getting them so far, and how was she to get gossips? Ethel began to grow very indignant, but she was always shy of finding fault with poor people to their faces when she would not have done so to persons in her own station, and so she was silent, while Richard hoped they would be able to manage, and said it would be better not to wait another month for still worse weather and shorter days.
As they were coming out of the house, a big, rough-looking, uncivilised boy came up before them, and called out, "I say--ben't you the young doctor up at Stoneborough?"
"I am Dr. May's son," said Richard; while Ethel, startled, clung to his arm, in dread of some rudeness.
Granny's bad," said the boy; proceeding without further explanation to lead the way to another hovel, though Richard tried to explain that the knowledge of medicine was not in his case heredity. A poor old woman sat groaning over the fire, and two children crouched, half-clothed, on the bare floor.
Richard's gentle voice and kind manner drew forth some wonderful descriptions--"her head was all of a goggle, her legs all of a fur, she felt as if some one was cutting right through her."
"Well," said Richard kindly, "I am no doctor myself, but I'll ask my father about you, and perhaps he can give you an order for the hospital."
"No, no, thank ye, sir; I can't go to the hospital, I can't leave these poor children; they've no father nor mother, sir, and no one to do for them but me."
"What do you live on, then?" said Richard, looking round the desolate hut.
"On Sam's wages, sir; that's that boy. He is a good boy to me, sir, and his little sisters; he brings it, all he gets, home to me, rig'lar, but 'tis but six shillings a week, and they makes 'em take half of it out in goods and beer, which is a bad thing for a boy like him, sir."
"How old are you, Sam?"
Sam scratched his head, and answered nothing. His grandmother knew he was the age of her black bonnet, and as he looked about fifteen, Ethel honoured him and the bonnet accordingly, while Richard said he must be very glad to be able to maintain them all, at his age, and, promising to try to bring his father that way, since prescribing at second hand for such curious symptoms was more than could be expected, he took his leave.
"A wretched place," said Richard, looking round. "I don't know what help there is for the people. There's no one to do any thing for them, and it is of no use to tell them to come to church when it it so far off, and there is so little room for them."
"It is miserable," said Ethel; and all her thoughts during her last walk thither began to rush over her again, not effaced, but rather burned in, by all that had subsequently happened. She had said it should be her aim and effort to make Cocksmoor a Christian place. Such a resolve must not pass away lightly; she knew it must be acted on, but how? What would her present means--one sovereign--effect? Her fancies, rich and rare, had nearly been forgotten of late, but she might make them of use in time--in time, and here were hives of children growing up in heathenism. Suddenly an idea struck her-- Richard, when at home, was a very diligent teacher in the Sunday- school at Stoneborough, though it was a thankless task, and he was the only gentleman so engaged, except the two clergymen--the other male teachers being a formal, grave, little baker, and one or two monitors.
"Richard," said Ethel, "I'll tell you what. Suppose we were to get up a Sunday-school at Cocksmoor. We could get a room, and walk there every Sunday afternoon, and go to church in the evening instead."
He was so confounded by the suddenness of the project, that he did not answer, till she had time for several exclamations and "Well, Richard?"
"I cannot tell," he said. "Going to church in the evening would interfere with tea-time--put out all the house--make the evening uncomfortable."
"The evenings are horrid now, especially Sundays," said Ethel.
"But missing two more would make them worse for the others."
"Papa is always with Margaret," said Ethel. "We are of no use to him. Besides these poor children--are not they of more importance?"
"And, then, what is to become of Stoneborough school? "
"I hate it," exclaimed Ethel; then seeing Richard shocked, and finding she had spoken more vehemently than she intended--"It is not as bad for you among the boys, but, while that committee goes on it is not the least use to try to teach the girls right. Oh! the fusses about the books, and one's way of teaching! And fancy how Mrs Ledwich used us. You know I went again last Sunday, for the first time, and there I found that class of Margaret's, that she had just managed to get into some degree of nice order, taken so much pains with, taught so well. She had been telling me what to hear them-- there it is given away to Fanny Anderson, who is no more fit to teach than that stick, and all Margaret's work will be undone. No notice to us--not even the civility to wait and see when she gets better."
"If we left them now for Cocksmoor, would it not look as it we were affronted?"
Ethel was slightly taken aback, but only said, "Papa would be very angry if he knew it."
"I am glad you did not tell him," said Richard.
"I thought it would only tease him," said Ethel, "and that he might call it a petty female squabble; and when Margaret is well, it will come right, if Fanny Anderson has not spoiled the girls in the meantime. It is all Mrs. Ledwich's doing. How I did hate it when every one came up and shook hands with me, and asked after Margaret and papa, only just out of curiosity!"
"Hush, hush, Ethel, what's the use of thinking such things?"
A silence,--then she exclaimed, "But, indeed, Richard, you don't fancy that I want to teach at Cocksmoor, because it is disagreeable at Stoneborough?"
The rendering of full justice conveyed in his tone so opened Ethel's heart that she went on eagerly:--"The history of it is this. Last time we walked here, that day, I said, and I meant it, that I would never put it out of my head; I would go on doing and striving, and trying, till this place was properly cared for, and has a church and a clergyman. I believe it was a vow, Richard, I do believe it was,-- and if one makes one, one must keep it. There it is. So, I can't give money, I have but one pound in the world, but I have time, and I would make that useful, if you would help me."
"I don't see how," was the answer, and there was a fragment of a smile on Richard's face, as if it struck him as a wild scheme, that Ethel should undertake, single handed, to evangelise Cocksmoor.
It was such a damper as to be most mortifying to an enthusiastic girl, and she drew into herself in a moment.
They walked home in silence, and when Richard warned her that she was not keeping her dress out of the dirt, it sounded like a sarcasm on her projects, and, with a slightly pettish manner, she raised the unfortunate skirt, its crape trimmings greatly bespattered with ruddy mud. Then recollecting how mamma would have shaken her head at that very thing, she regretted the temper she had betrayed, and in a larmoyante voice, sighed, "I wish I could pick my way better. Some people have the gift, you have hardly a splash, and I'm up to the ankles in mud."
"It is only taking care," said Richard; "besides your frock is so long, and full. Can't you tuck it up and pin it?"
"My pins always come out," said Ethel, disconsolately, crumpling the black folds into one hand, while she hunted for a pin with the other.
"No wonder, if you stick them in that way," said Richard. "Oh! you'll tear that crape. Here, let me help you. Don't you see, make it go in and out, that way; give it something to pull against."
Ethel laughed. "That's the third thing you have taught me--to thread a needle, tie a bow, and stick in a pin! I never could learn those things of any one else; they show, but don't explain the theory."
They met Dr. May at the entrance of the town, very tired, and saying he had been a long tramp, all over the place, and Mrs. Hoxton had been boring him with her fancies. As he took Richard's arm he gave the long heavy sigh that always fell so painfully on Ethel's ear.
"Dear, dear, dear papa!" thought she, "my work must also be to do all I can to comfort him."
Her reflections were broken off. Dr. May exclaimed, "Ethel, don't make such a figure of yourself. Those muddy ankles and petticoats are not fit to be seen--there, now you are sweeping the pavement. Have you no medium? One would think you had never worn a gown in your life before!"
Poor Ethel stepped on before with mud-encrusted heels, and her father speaking sharply in the weariness and soreness of his heart; her draggle-tailed petticoats weighing down at once her missionary projects at Cocksmoor, and her tender visions of comforting her widowed father; her heart was full to overflowing, and where was the mother to hear her troubles?
She opened the hall door, and would have rushed upstairs, but nurse happened to be crossing the hall. "Miss Ethel! Miss Ethel, you aren't going up with them boots on! I do declare you are just like one of the boys. And your frock!"
Ethel sat submissively down on the lowest step, and pulled off her boots. As she did so, her father and brother came in--the former desiring Richard to come with him to the study, and write a note for him. She hoped that thus she might have Margaret to herself, and hurried into her room. Margaret was alone, maids and children at tea, and Flora dressing. The room was in twilight, with the red gleam of the fire playing cheerfully over it.
"Well, Ethel, have you had a pleasant walk?"
"Yes--no--Oh, Margaret!" and throwing herself across the bottom of the bed, she burst into tears.
"Ethel, dear, what is the matter? Papa--"
"No--no--only I draggled my frock, and Richard threw cold water. And I am good for nothing! Oh! if mamma was but here!"
"Darling Ethel, dear Ethel, I wish I could comfort you. Come a little nearer to me, I can't reach you! Dear Ethel, what has gone wrong?"
"Everything," said Ethel. "No--I'm too dirty to come on your white bed; I forgot, you won't like it," added she, in an injured tone.
"You are wet, you are cold, you are tired," said Margaret. "Stay here and dress, don't go up in the cold. There, sit by the fire pull off your frock and stockings, and we will send for the others. Let me see you look comfortable--there. Now tell me who threw cold water."
"It was figurative cold water," said Ethel, smiling for a moment. "I was only silly enough to tell Richard my plan, and it's horrid to talk to a person who only thinks one high-flying and nonsensical--and then came the dirt."
"But what was the scheme, Ethel?"
"Cocksmoor," said Ethel, proceeding to unfold it.
"I wish we could," said Margaret. "It would be an excellent thing. But how did Richard vex you?"
"I don't know," said Ethel, "only he thought it would not do. Perhaps he said right, but it was coldly, and he smiled."
"He is too sober-minded for our flights," said Margaret. I know the feeling of it, Ethel dear; but you know if he did see that some of your plans might not answer, it is no reason you should not try to do something at once. You have not told me about the girl."
Ethel proceeded to tell the history. "There!" said Margaret cheerfully, "there are two ways of helping Cocksmoor already. Could you not make some clothes for the two grandchildren? I could help you a little, and then, if they were well clothed, you might get them to come to the Sunday-school. And as to the twins, I wonder what the hire of a cart would be to bring the christening party? It is just what Richard could manage."
"Yes," said Ethel; "but those are only little isolated individual things! "
"But one must make a beginning."
"Then, Margaret, you think it was a real vow? You don't think it silly of me?" said Ethel wistfully.
"Ethel, dear, I don't think dear mamma would say we ought to make vows, except what the church decrees for us. I don't think she would like the notion of your considering yourself pledged; but I do think, that, after all you have said and felt about Cocksmoor, and being led there on that day, it does seem as if we might be intended to make it our especial charge."
"Oh, Margaret, I am glad you say so. You always understand."
"But you know we are so young, that now we have not her to judge for us, we must only do little things that we are quite sure of, or we shall get wrong."
"That's not the way great things were done."
"I don't know, Ethel; I think great things can't be good unless they stand on a sure foundation of little ones."
"Well, I believe Richard was right, and it would not do to begin on Sunday, but he was so tame; and then my frock, and the horrid deficiency in those little neatnesses."
"Perhaps that is good for you in one way; you might get very high- flying if you had not the discipline of those little tiresome things, correcting them will help you, and keep your high things trom being all romance. I know dear mamma used to say so; that the trying to conquer them was a help to you. Oh, here's Mary! Mary, will you get Ethel's dressing things? She has come home wet-footed and cold, and has been warming herself by my fire."
Mary was happy to help, and Ethel was dressed and cheered by the time Dr. May came in, for a hurried visit and report of his doings; Flora followed on her way from her room. Then all went to tea, leaving Margaret to have a visit from the little ones under charge of nurse. Two hours' stay with her, that precious time when she knew that sad as the talk often was, it was truly a comfort to him. It ended when ten o'clock struck, and he went down--Margaret hearing the bell, the sounds of the assembling servants, the shutting of the door, the stillness of prayer-time, the opening again, the feet moving off in different directions, then brothers and sisters coming in to kiss her and bid her good-night, nurse and Flora arranging her for the night, Flora coming to sleep in her little bed in the corner of the room, and, lastly, her father's tender good-night, and melancholy look at her, and all was quiet, except the low voices and movements as Richard attended him in his own room.
Margaret could think: "Dear, dear Ethel, how noble and high she is! But I am afraid! It is what people call a difficult, dangerous age, and the grander she is, the greater danger of not managing her rightly. If those high purposes should run only into romance like mine, or grow out into eccentricities and unfemininesses, what a grievous pity it would be! And I, so little older, so much less clever, with just sympathy enough not to be a wise restraint--I am the person who has the responsibility, and oh, what shall I do? Mamma trusted to me to be a mother to them, papa looks to me, and I so unfit, besides this helplessness. But God sent it, and put me in my place. He made me lie here, and will raise me up if it is good, so I trust He will help me with my sisters."
"Grant me to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in Thy holy comfort."
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