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Something between a hindrance and a help. WORDSWORTH.
Etheldred awoke long before time for getting up, and lay pondering over her visions. Margaret had sympathised, and therefore they did not seem entirely aerial. To earn money by writing was her favourite plan, and she called her various romances in turn before her memory, to judge which might be brought down to sober pen and ink. She considered till it became not too unreasonably early to get up. It was dark, but there was a little light close to the window: she had no writing-paper, but she would interline her old exercise-book. Down she ran, and crouching in the school-room window-seat, she wrote on in a trance of eager composition, till Norman called her, as he went to school, to help him to find a book.
This done, she went up to visit Margaret, to tell her the story, and consult her. But this was not so easy. She found Margaret with little Daisy lying by her, and Tom sitting by the fire over his Latin.
"Oh, Ethel, good-morning, dear! you are come just in time."
"To take baby?" said Ethel, as the child was fretting a little.
"Yes, thank you, she has been very good, but she was tired of lying here, and I can't move her about," said Margaret.
"Oh, Margaret, I have such a plan," said Ethel, as she walked about with little Gertrude; but Tom interrupted.
"Margaret, will you see if I can say my lesson?" and the thumbed Latin grammar came across her just as Dr. May's door opened, and he came in exclaiming, "Latin grammar! Margaret, this is really too much for you. Good-morning, my dears. Ha! Tommy, take your book away, my boy. You must not inflict that on sister now. There's your regular master, Richard, in my room, if it is fit for his ears yet. What, the little one here too?"
"How is your arm, papa?" said Margaret. "Did it keep you awake?"
"Not long--it set me dreaming though, and a very romantic dream it was, worthy of Ethel herself."
"What was it, papa?"
"Oh, it was an odd thing, joining on strangely enough with one I had three or four and twenty years ago, when I was a young man, hearing lectures at Edinburgh, and courting--"he stopped, and felt Margaret's pulse, asked her a few questions, and talked to the baby. Ethel longed to hear his dream, but thought he would not like to go on; however, he did presently.
"The old dream was the night after a picnic on Arthur's Seat with the Mackenzies; mamma and Aunt Flora were there. 'Twas a regular boy's dream, a tournament, or something of that nature, where I was victor, the queen--you know who she was--giving me her token--a Daisy Chain."
"That is why you like to call us your Daisy Chain," said Ethel.
"Did you write it in verse?" said Margaret. "I think I once saw some verses like it in her desk."
"I was in love, and three-and-twenty," said the doctor, looking drolly guilty in the midst of his sadness. "Ay, those fixed it in my memory, perhaps my fancy made it more distinct than it really was. An evening or two ago I met with them, and that stirred it up I suppose. Last night came the tournament again, but it was the melee, a sense of being crushed down, suffocated by the throng of armed knights and horses--pain and wounds--and I looked in vain through the opposing overwhelming host for my--my Maggie. Well, I got the worst of it, my sword arm was broken--I fell, was stifled--crushed--in misery--all I could do was to grasp my token--my Daisy Chain," and he pressed Margaret's hand as he said so. "And, behold, the tumult and despair were passed. I lay on the grass in the cloisters, and the Daisy Chain hung from the sky, and was drawing me upwards. There--it is a queer dream for a sober old country doctor. I don't know why I told you, don't tell any one again."
And he walked away, muttering. "For he told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking," leaving Margaret with her eyes full of tears, and Ethel vehemently caressing the baby.
"How beautiful!" said Ethel.
"It has been a comfort to him, I am sure," said Margaret.
"You don't think it ominous," said Ethel with a slight tremulous voice.
"More soothing than anything else. It is what we all feel, is it not? that this little daisy bud is the link between us and heaven?"
"But about him. He was victor at first--vanquished the next time."
"I think--if it is to have an interpretation, though I am not sure we ought to take it so seriously, it would only mean that in younger days people care for victory and distinction in this world, like Norman, or as papa most likely did then; but, as they grow older, they care less, and others pass them, and they know it does not signify, for in our race all may win."
"But he has a great name. How many people come from a distance to consult him! he is looked upon, too, in other ways! he can do anything with the corporation."
Margaret smiled. "All this does not sound grand--it is not as if he had set up in London."
"Oh, dear, I am so glad he did not."
"Shall I tell you what mamma told me he said about it, when Uncle Mackenzie said he ought? He answered that he thought health and happy home attachments were a better provision for us to set out in life with than thousands."
"I am sure he was right!" said Ethel earnestly. "Then you don't think the dream meant being beaten, only that our best things are not gained by successes in this world?"
"Don't go and let it dwell on your mind as a vision," said Margaret. "I think dear mamma would call that silly."
An interruption occurred, and Ethel had to go down to breakfast with a mind floating between romance, sorrow, and high aspirations, very unlike the actual world she had to live in. First, there was a sick man walking into the study, and her father, laying down his letters, saying, "I must despatch him before prayers, I suppose. I've a great mind to say I never will see any one who won't keep to my days."
"I can't imagine why they don't," said Flora, as he went. "He is always saying so, but never acting on it. If he would once turn one away, the rest would mind."
Richard went on in silence, cutting bread and butter.
"There's another ring," said Mary.
"Yes, he is caught now, they'll go on in a stream. I shall not keep Margaret waiting for her breakfast, I shall take it up."
The morning was tiresome; though Dr. May had two regular days for seeing poor people at his house, he was too good-natured to keep strictly to them, and this day, as Flora had predicted, there was a procession of them not soon got rid of, even by his rapid queries and the talismanic figures made by his left hand on scraps of paper, with which he sent them off to the infirmary. Ethel tried to read; the children lingered about; it was a trial of temper to all but Tom, who obtained Richard's attention to his lessons. He liked to say them to his brother, and was an incentive to learn them quickly, that none might remain for Miss Winter when Richard went out with his father. If mamma had been there, she would have had prayers; but now no one had authority enough, though they did at last even finish breakfast. Just as the gig came to the door, Dr. May dismissed his last patient, rang the bell in haste, and as soon as prayers were over, declared he had an appointment, and had no time to eat. There was a general outcry that it was bad enough when he was well, and now he must not take liberties; Flora made him drink some tea; and Richard placed morsels in his way, while he read his letters. He ran up for a final look at Margaret, almost upset the staid Miss Winter as he ran down again, called Richard to take the reins, and was off.
It was French day, always a trial to Ethel. M. Ballompre, the master, knew what was good and bad French, but could not render a reason, and Ethel, being versed in the principles of grammar, from her Latin studies, chose to know the why and wherefore of his corrections--she did not like to see her pages defaced, and have no security against future errors; while he thought her a troublesome pupil, and was put out by her questions. They wrangled, Miss Winter was displeased, and Ethel felt injured.
Mary's inability to catch the pronunciation, and her hopeless dull look when she found that coeur must not be pronounced cour, nor cur, but something between, to which her rosy English lips could never come--all this did not tease M. Ballompre, for he was used to it.
His mark for Ethel's lesson was "de l'humeur."
"I am sorry," said Miss Winter, when he was gone. "I thought you had outgrown that habit of disputing over every phrase."
"I can't tell how a language is to be learned without knowing the reasons of one's mistakes," said Ethel.
"That is what you always say, my dear. It is of no use to renew it all, but I wish you would control yourself. Now, Mary, call Blanche, and you and Ethel take your arithmetic."
So Flora went to read to Margaret, while Blanche went lightly and playfully through her easy lessons, and Mary floundered piteously over the difficulties of Compound Long Division. Ethel's mind was in too irritated and tumultuous a state for her to derive her usual solace from Cube Root. Her sum was wrong, and she wanted to work it right, but Miss Winter, who had little liking for the higher branches of arithmetic, said she had spent time enough over it, and summoned her to an examination such as the governess was very fond of and often practised. Ethel thought it useless, and was teased by it; and though her answers were chiefly correct, they were given in an irritated tone. It was of this kind:--
What is the date of the invention of paper?
What is the latitude and longitude of Otaheite?
What are the component parts of brass?
Whence is cochineal imported?
When this was over, Ethel had to fetch her mending-basket, and Mary her book of selections; the piece for to-day's lesson was the quarrel of Brutus and Cassius; and Mary's dull droning tone was a trial to her ears; she presently exclaimed, "Oh, Mary, don't murder it!"
"Murder what?" said Mary, opening wide her light blue eyes.
"That use of exaggerated language,--"began Miss Winter.
"I've heard papa say it," said Ethel, only wanting to silence Miss Winter. In a cooler moment she would not have used the argument.
"All that a gentleman may say, may not be a precedent for a young lady; but you are interrupting Mary."
"Only let me show her. I can't bear to hear her, listen, Mary.
"What shall one of us
That struck the foremost"--
"That is declaiming," said Miss Winter. "It is not what we wish for in a lady. You are neglecting your work and interfering."
Ethel made a fretful contortion, and obeyed. So it went on all the morning, Ethel's eagerness checked by Miss Winter's dry manner, producing pettishness, till Ethel, in a state between self-reproach and a sense of injustice, went up to prepare for dinner, and to visit Margaret on the way.
She found her sister picking a merino frock to pieces. "See here," she said eagerly, "I thought you would like to make up this old frock for one of the Cocksmoor children; but what is the matter?" as Ethel did not show the lively interest that she expected.
"Oh, nothing, only Miss Winter is so tiresome."
"What was it?"
"Everything, it was all horrid. I was cross, I know, but she and M. Ballompre made me so;" and Ethel was in the midst of the narration of her grievances, when Norman came in. The school was half a mile off, but he had not once failed to come home, in the interval allowed for play after dinner, to inquire for his sister.
"Well, Norman, you are out of breath, sit down and rest. What is doing at school; are you dux of your class?"
"Yes," said the boy wearily.
"What mark for the verses?" said Ethel.
"No, they were tame," Dr. Hoxton said.
"What is Harry doing?" said Margaret.
"He is fourth in his form. I left him at football."
"Dinner!" said Flora at the door. "What will you have, Margaret?"
"I'll fetch it," said Norman, who considered it his privilege to wait on Margaret at dinner. When he had brought the tray, he stood leaning against the bed-post, musing. Suddenly, there was a considerable clatter of fire-irons, and his violent start surprised Margaret.
"Ethel has been poking the fire," she said, as if no more was needed to account for their insecurity. Norman put them up again, but a ringing sound betrayed that it was not with a firm touch, and when, a minute after, he came to take her plate, she saw that he was trying with effort to steady his hand.
"Norman, dear, are you sure you are well?"
"Yes, very well," said he, as if vexed that she had taken any notice.
"You had better not come racing home. I'm not worth inquiries now, I am so much better," said she, smiling.
He made no reply, but this was not consenting silence.
"I don't like you to lose your football," she proceeded.
"I could not--" and he stopped short.
"It would be much better for you," said she, looking up in his face with anxious affectionate eyes, but he shunned her glance and walked away with her plate.
Flora had been in such close attendance upon Margaret, that she needed some cheerful walks, and though she had some doubts how affairs at home would go on without her, she was overruled, and sent on a long expedition with Miss Winter and Mary, while Ethel remained with Margaret.
The only delay before setting out, was that nurse came in, saying, "If you please, Miss Margaret, there is a girl come to see about the place."
The sisters looked at each other and smiled, while Margaret asked whence she came, and who she was.
"Her name is Taylor, and she comes from Cocksmoor, but she is a nice, tidy, strong-looking girl, and she says she has been used to children."
Nurse had fallen into the trap most comfortably, and seemed bent upon taking this girl as a choice of her own. She wished to know if Miss Margaret would like to see her.
"If you please, nurse, but if you think she will do, that is enough."
"Yes, Miss, but you should look to them things yourself. If you please, I'll bring her up." So nurse departed.
"Charming!" cried Ethel, "that's your capital management, Flora; nurse thinks she has done it all herself."
"She is your charge though," said Flora, "coming from your own beloved Cocksmoor."
Lucy Taylor came in, looking very nice, and very shy, curtseying low, in extreme awe of the pale lady in bed. Margaret was much pleased with her, and there was no more to be done but to settle that she should come on Saturday, and to let nurse take her into the town to invest her with the universal blackness of the household, where the two Margarets were the only white things.
This arranged, and the walking party set forth, Ethel sat down by her sister's bed, and began to assist in unpicking the merino, telling Margaret how much obliged she was to her for thinking of it, and how grieved at having been so ungrateful in the morning. She was very happy over her contrivances, cutting out under her sister's superintendence. She had forgotten the morning's annoyance, till Margaret said, "I have been thinking of what you said about Miss Winter, and really I don't know what is to be done."
"Oh, Margaret, I did not mean to worry you," said Ethel, sorry to see her look uneasy.
"I like you to tell me everything, dear Ethel; but I don't see clearly the best course. We must go on with Miss Winter."
"Of course," said Ethel, shocked at her murmurs having even suggested the possibility of a change, and having, as well as all the others, a great respect and affection for her governess.
"We could not get on without her even if I were well," continued Margaret; and dear mamma had such perfect trust in her, and we all know and love her so well--it would make us put up with a great deal."
"It is all my own fault," said Ethel, only anxious to make amends to Miss Winter. "I wish you would not say anything about it."
"Yes, it does seem wrong even to think of it," said Margaret, "when she has been so very kind. It is a blessing to have any one to whom Mary and Blanche may so entirely be trusted. But for you--"
"It is my own fault," repeated Ethel.
"I don't think it is quite all your own fault," said Margaret, "and that is the difficulty. I know dear mamma thought Miss Winter an excellent governess for the little ones, but hardly up to you, and she saw that you worried and fidgeted each other, so, you know, she used to keep the teaching of you a good deal in her own hands."
"I did not know that was the reason," said Ethel, overpowered by the recollection of the happy morning's work she had often done in that very room, when her mother had not been equal to the bustle of the whole school-room. That watchful, protecting, guarding, mother's love, a shadow of Providence, had been round them so constantly on every side, that they had been hardly conscious of it till it was lost to them.
"Was it not like her?" said Margaret, "but now, my poor Ethel, I don't think it would be right by you or by Miss Winter, to take you out of the school-room. I think it would grieve her."
"I would not do that for the world."
"Especially after her kind nursing of me, and even, with more reason, it would not be becoming in us to make changes. Besides, King Etheldred," said Margaret, smiling, "we all know you are a little bit of a sloven, and, as nurse says, some one must be always after you, and do you know? even if I were well, I had rather it was Miss Winter than me."
"Oh, no, you would not be formal and precise--you would not make me cross."
"Perhaps you might make me so," said Margaret, "or I should let you alone, and leave you a slattern. We should both hate it so! No, don't make me your mistress, Ethel dear--let me be your sister and play-fellow still, as well as I can."
"You are, you are. I don't care half so much when I have got you."
"And will you try to bear with her, and remember it is right in the main, though it is troublesome? "
"That I will. I won't plague you again. I know it is bad for you, you look tired."
"Pray don't leave off telling me," said Margaret--"it is just what I wish on my own account, and I know it is comfortable to have a good grumble."
"If it does not hurt you, but I am sure you are not easy now--are you?"
"Only my back," said Margaret. "I have been sitting up longer than usual, and it is tired. Will you call nurse to lay me flat again?
The nursery was deserted--all were out, and Ethel came back in trepidation at the notion of having to do it herself, though she knew it was only to put one arm to support her sister, while, with the other, she removed the pillows; but Ethel was conscious of her own awkwardness and want of observation, nor had Margaret entire trust in her. Still she was too much fatigued to wait, so Ethel was obliged to do her best. She was careful and frightened, and therefore slow and unsteady. She trusted that all was right, and Margaret tried to believe so, though still uneasy.
Ethel began to read to her, and Dr. May came home. She looked up smiling, and asked where he had been, but it was vain to try to keep him from reading her face. He saw in an instant that something was amiss, and drew from her a confession that her back was aching a little. He knew she might have said a great deal--she was not in a comfortable position--she must be moved. She shook her head--she had rather wait--there was a dread of being again lifted by Ethel that she could not entirely hide. Ethel was distressed, Dr. May was angry, and, no wonder, when he saw Margaret suffer, felt his own inability to help, missed her who had been wont to take all care from his hands, and was vexed to see a tall strong girl of fifteen, with the full use of both arms, and plenty of sense, incapable of giving any assistance, and only doing harm by trying.
"It is of no use," said he. "Ethel will give no attention to anything but her books! I've a great mind to put an end to all the Latin and Greek! She cares for nothing else."
Ethel could little brook injustice, and much as she was grieving, she exclaimed, "Papa, papa, I do care--now don't I, Margaret? I did my best!"
"Don't talk nonsense. Your best, indeed! If you had taken the most moderate care--"
"I believe Ethel took rather too much care," said Margaret, much more harassed by the scolding than by the pain. "It will be all right presently. Never mind, dear papa."
But he was not only grieved for the present, but anxious for the future; and, though he knew it was bad for Margaret to manifest his displeasure, he could not restrain it, and continued to blame Ethel with enough of injustice to set her on vindication, whereupon he silenced her, by telling her she was making it worse by self- justification when Margaret ought to be quiet. Margaret tried to talk of other things, but was in too much discomfort to exert herself enough to divert his attention.
At last Flora returned, and saw in an instant what was wanted. Margaret was settled in the right posture, but the pain would not immediately depart, and Dr. May soon found out that she had a headache, of which he knew he was at least as guilty as Etheldred could be.
Nothing could be done but keep her quiet, and Ethel went away to be miserable; Flora tried to comfort her by saying it was unfortunate, but no doubt there was a knack, and everyone could not manage those things; Margaret was easier now, and as to papa's anger, he did not always mean all he said.
But consolation came at bedtime; Margaret received her with open arms when she went to wish her goodnight. "My poor Ethel," she said, holding her close, "I am sorry I have made such a fuss."
"Oh, you did not, it was too bad of me--I am grieved; are you quite comfortable now?"
"Yes, quite, only a little headache, which I shall sleep off. It has been so nice and quiet. Papa took up George Herbert, and has been reading me choice bits. I don't think I have enjoyed anything so much since I have been ill."
"I am glad of that, but I have been unhappy all the evening. I wish I knew what to do. I am out of heart about everything!"
"Only try to mind and heed, and you will learn. It will be a step if you will only put your shoes side by side when you take them off."
Ethel smiled and sighed, and Margaret whispered, "Don't grieve about me, but put your clever head to rule your hands, and you will do for home and Cocksmoor too. Good-night, dearest."
"I've vexed papa," sighed Ethel--and just then he came into the room.
"Papa," said Margaret, "here's poor Ethel, not half recovered from her troubles."
He was now at ease about Margaret, and knew he had been harsh to another of his motherless girls.
"Ah! we must send her to the infant-school, to learn 'this is my right hand, and this is my left,'" said he, in his half-gay, half-sad manner.
"I was very stupid," said Ethel.
"Poor child!" said her papa, "she is worse off than I am. If I have but one hand left, she has two left hands."
"I do mean to try, papa."
"Yes, you must, Ethel. I believe I was hasty with you, my poor girl. I was vexed, and we have no one to smooth us down. I am sorry, my dear, but you must bear with me, for I never learned her ways with you when I might. We will try to have more patience with each other."
What could Ethel do but hang round his neck and cry, till he said, but tenderly, that they had given Margaret quite disturbance enough to-day, and sent her to bed, vowing to watch each little action, lest she should again give pain to such a father and sister.
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