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"Tis not enough that Greek or Roman page At stated hours, his freakish thoughts engage, Even in his pastimes he requires a friend To warn and teach him safely to unbend, O'er all his pleasures gently to preside, Watch his emotions, and control their tide."--COWPER.
The misfortunes of that day disheartened and disconcerted Etheldred. To do mischief where she most wished to do good, to grieve where she longed to comfort, seemed to be her fate; it was vain to attempt anything for anyone's good, while all her warm feelings and high aspirations were thwarted by the awkward ungainly hands and heedless eyes that Nature had given her. Nor did the following day, Saturday, do much for her comfort, by giving her the company of her brothers. That it was Norman's sixteenth birthday seemed only to make it worse. Their father had apparently forgotten it, and Norman stopped Blanche when she was going to put him in mind of it; stopped her by such a look as the child never forgot, though there was no anger in it. In reply to Ethel's inquiry what he was going to do that morning, he gave a yawn and stretch, and said, dejectedly, that he had got some Euripides to look over, and some verses to finish.
"I am sorry; this is the first time you ever have not managed so as to make a real holiday of your Saturday!"
"I could not help it, and there's nothing to do," said Norman wearily.
"I promised to go and read to Margaret while Flora does her music," said Ethel; "I shall come after that and do my Latin and Greek with you."
Margaret would not keep her long, saying she liked her to be with Norman, but she found him with his head sunk on his open book, fast asleep. At dinner-time, Harry and Tom, rushing in, awoke him with a violent start.
"Halloo! Norman, that was a jump!" said Harry, as his brother stretched and pinched himself. "You'll jump out of your skin some of these days, if you don't take care!"
"It's enough to startle any one to be waked up with such a noise," said Ethel.
"Then he ought to sleep at proper times," said Harry, "and not be waking me up with tumbling about, and hallooing out, and talking in his sleep half the night."
"Talking in his sleep! why, just now, you said he did not sleep," said Ethel.
"Harry knows nothing about it," said Norman.
"Don't I? Well, I only know, if you slept in school, and were a junior, you would get a proper good licking for going on as you do at night."
"And I think you might chance to get a proper good licking for not holding your tongue," said Norman, which hint reduced Harry to silence.
Dr. May was not come home; he had gone with Richard far into the country, and was to return to tea. He was thought to be desirous of avoiding the family dinners that used to be so delightful. Harry was impatient to depart, and when Mary and Tom ran after him, he ordered them back.
"Where can he be going?" said Mary, as she looked wistfully after him.
"I know," said Tom.
"Where? Do tell me."
"Only don't tell papa. I went down with him to the playground this morning, and there they settled it. The Andersons, and Axworthy, and he, are going to hire a gun, and shoot pee-wits on Cocksmoor."
But they ought not; should they?" said Mary. Papa would be very angry."
Anderson said there was no harm in it, but Harry told me not to tell. Indeed, Anderson would have boxed my ears for hearing, when I could not help it."
"But Harry would not let him?"
"Ay. Harry is quite a match for Harvey Anderson, though he is so much younger; and he said he would not have me bullied."
"That's a good Harry! But I wish he would not go out shooting!" said Mary.
"Mind, you don't tell."
"And where's Hector Ernescliffe? Would not he go?"
"No. I like Hector. He did not choose to go, though Anderson teased him, and said he was a poor Scot, and his brother didn't allow him tin enough to buy powder and shot. If Harry would have stayed at home, he would have come up here, and we might have had some fun in the garden."
"I wish he would. We never have any fun now," said Mary; "but oh! there he is," as she spied Hector peeping over the gate which led from the field into the garden. It was the first time that he had been to Dr. May's since his brother's departure, and he was rather shy, but the joyful welcome of Mary and Tom took off all reluctance, and they claimed him for a good game at play in the wood-house. Mary ran upstairs to beg to be excused the formal walk, and, luckily for her, Miss Winter was in Margaret's room. Margaret asked if it was very wet and dirty, and hearing "not very," gave gracious permission, and off went Mary and Blanche to construct some curious specimens of pottery, under the superintendence of Hector and Tom. There was a certain ditch where yellow mud was attainable, whereof the happy children concocted marbles and vases, which underwent a preparatory baking in the boys' pockets, that they might not crack in the nursery fire. Margaret only stipulated that her sisters should be well fenced in brown holland, and when Miss Winter looked grave, said, "Poor things, a little thorough play will do them a great deal of good."
Miss Winter could not see the good of groping in the dirt; and Margaret perceived that it would be one of her difficulties to know how to follow out her mother's views for the children, without vexing the good governess by not deferring to her.
In the meantime, Norman had disconsolately returned to his Euripides, and Ethel, who wanted to stay with him and look out his words, was ordered out by Miss Winter, because she had spent all yesterday indoors. Miss Winter was going to stay with Margaret, and Ethel and Flora coaxed Norman to come with them, "just one mile on the turnpike road and back again; he would be much fresher for his Greek afterwards."
He came, but he did not enliven his sisters. The three plodded on, taking a diligent constitutional walk, exchanging very few words, and those chiefly between the girls. Flora gathered some hoary clematis, and red berries, and sought in the hedge-sides for some crimson "fairy baths" to carry home; and, at the sight of the amusement Margaret derived from the placing the beauteous little Pezizas in a saucer of damp green moss, so as to hide the brown sticks on which they grew, Ethel took shame to herself for want of perception of little attentions. When she told Norman so, he answered, "There's no one who does see what is the right thing. How horrid the room looks! Everything is nohow!" added he, looking round at the ornaments and things on the tables, which had lost their air of comfort and good taste. It was not disorder, and Ethel could not see what he meant. "What's wrong?" said she.
"Oh, never mind--you can't do it. Don't try--you'll only make it worse. It will never be the same as long as we live."
"I wish you would not be so unhappy!" said Ethel.
"Never mind," again said Norman, but he put his arm round her.
"Have you done your Euripides? Can I help you? Will you construe it with me, or shall I look out your words?"
"Thank you, I don't mind that. It is the verses! I want some sense!" said Norman, running his fingers through his hair till it stood on end. "'Tis such a horrid subject, Coral Islands! As if there was anything to be said about them."
"Dear me, Norman, I could say ten thousand things, only I must not tell you what mine are, as yours are not done."
"No, don't," said Norman decidedly.
"Did you read the description of them in the Quarterly? I am sure you might get some ideas there. Shall I find it for you? It is in an old number."
"Well, do; thank you."
He rested listlessly on the sofa while his sister rummaged in a chiffonier. At last she found the article, and eagerly read him the description of the strange forms of the coral animals, and the beauties of their flower-like feelers and branching fabrics. It would once have delighted him, but his first comment was, "Nasty little brutes!" However, the next minute he thanked her, took the book, and said he could hammer something out of it, though it was too bad to give such an unclassical subject. At dusk he left off, saying he should get it done at night, his senses would come then, and he should be glad to sit up.
"Only three weeks to the holidays," said Ethel, trying to be cheerful; but his assent was depressing, and she began to fear that Christmas would only make them more sad.
Mary did not keep Tom's secret so inviolably, but that, while they were dressing for tea, she revealed to Ethel where Harry was gone. He was not yet returned, though his father and Richard were come in, and the sisters were at once in some anxiety on his account, and doubt whether they ought to let papa know of his disobedience.
Flora and Ethel, who were the first in the drawing-room, had a consultation.
"I should have told mamma directly," said Flora.
"He never did so," sighed Ethel; "things never went wrong then."
"Oh, yes, they did; don't you remember how naughty Harry was about climbing the wall, and making faces at Mrs. Richardson's servants?"
"And how ill I behaved the first day of last Christmas holidays?"
"She knew, but I don't think she told papa."
"Not that we knew of, but I believe she did tell him everything, and I think, Flora, he ought to know everything, especially now. I never could bear the way the Mackenzies used to have of thinking their parents must be like enemies, and keeping secrets from them."
"They were always threatening each other, 'I'll tell mamma,'" said Flora, "and calling us tell-tales because we told our own dear mamma everything. But it is not like that now--I neither like to worry papa, nor to bring Harry into disgrace--besides, Tom and Mary meant it for a secret."
"Papa would not be angry with him if we told him it was a secret," said Ethel; "I wish Harry would come in. There's the door--oh! it is only you."
"Whom did you expect?" said Richard, entering.
The sisters looked at each other, and Ethel, after an interval, explained their doubts about Harry.
"He is come in," said Richard; "I saw him running up to his own room, very muddy."
"Oh, I'm glad! But do you think papa ought to hear it? I don't know what's to be done. 'Tis the children's secret," said Flora.
"It will never do to have him going out with those boys continually," said Ethel--"Harvey Anderson close by all the holidays!"
"I'll try what I can do with him," said Richard. "Papa had better not hear it now, at any rate. He is very tired and sad this evening! and his arm is painful again, so we must not worry him with histories of naughtiness among the children."
"No," said Ethel decidedly, "I am glad you were there, Ritchie; I never should have thought of one time being better than another."
"Just like Ethel!" said Flora, smiling.
"Why should not you learn?" said Richard gently.
"I can't," said Ethel, in a desponding way.
"Why not? You are much sharper than most people, and, if you tried, you would know those things much better than I do, as you know how to learn history."
"It is quite a different sort of cleverness," said Flora. "Recollect Sir Isaac Newton, or Archimedes."
"Then you must have both sorts," said Ethel, "for you can do things nicely, and yet you learn very fast."
"Take care, Ethel, you are singeing your frock! Well, I really don't think you can help those things!" said Flora. "Your short sight is the reason of it, and it is of no use to try to mend it."
"Don't tell her so," said Richard. "It can't be all short sight--it is the not thinking. I do believe that if Ethel would think, no one would do things so well. Don't you remember the beautiful perspective drawing she made of this room for me to take to Oxford? That was very difficult, and wanted a great deal of neatness and accuracy, so why should she not be neat and accurate in other things? And I know you can read faces, Ethel--why don't you look there before you speak?"
"Ah! before instead of after, when I only see I have said something malapropos," said Ethel.
"I must go and see about the children," said Flora; "if the tea comes while I am gone, will you make it, Ritchie?"
"Flora despairs of me," said Ethel.
"I don't," said Richard. "Have you forgotten how to put in a pin yet?"
"No; I hope not."
"Well, then, see if you can't learn to make tea; and, by-the-bye, Ethel, which is the next christening Sunday?"
"The one after next, surely. The first of December is Monday--yes, to-morrow week is the next."
"Then I have thought of something; it would cost eighteenpence to hire Joliffe's spring-cart, and we might have Mrs. Taylor and the twins brought to church in it. Should you like to walk to Cocksmoor and settle it?"
"Oh yes, very much indeed. What a capital thought. Margaret said you would know how to manage."
"Then we will go the first fine day papa does not want me."
"I wonder if I could finish my purple frocks. But here's the tea. Now, Richard, don't tell me to make it. I should do something wrong, and Flora will never forgive you."
Richard would not let her off. He stood over her, counted her shovelfuls of tea, and watched the water into the teapot--he superintended her warming the cups, and putting a drop into each saucer. "Ah!" said Ethel, with a concluding sigh, "it makes one hotter than double equations!"
It was all right, as Flora allowed with a slightly superior smile. She thought Richard would never succeed in making a notable or elegant woman of Ethel, and it was best that the two sisters should take different lines. Flora knew that, though clever and with more accomplishments, she could not surpass Ethel in intellectual attainments, but she was certainly far more valuable in the house, and had been proved to have just the qualities in which her sister was most deficient. She did not relish hearing that Ethel wanted nothing but attention to be more than her equal, and she thought Richard mistaken. Flora's remembrance of their time of distress was less unmixedly wretched than it was with the others, for she knew she had done wonders.
The next day Norman told Ethel that he had got on very well with the verses, and finished them off late at night. He showed them to her before taking them to school on Monday morning, and Ethel thought they were the best he had ever written. There was too much spirit and poetical beauty for a mere schoolboy task, and she begged for the foul copy to show it to her father. "I have not got it," said Norman. "The foul copy was not like these; but when I was writing them out quite late, it was all I don't know how. Flora's music was in my ears, and the room seemed to get larger, and like an ocean cave; and when the candle flickered, 'twas like the green glowing light of the sun through the waves."
"As it says here," said Ethel.
"And the words all came to me of themselves in beautiful flowing Latin, just right, as if it was anybody but myself doing it, and they ran off my pen in red and blue and gold, and all sorts of colours; and fine branching zig-zagging stars, like what the book described, only stranger, came dancing and radiating round my pen and the candle. I could hardly believe the verses would scan by daylight, but I can't find a mistake. Do you try them again."
Ethel scanned. "I see nothing wrong," she said, "but it seems a shame to begin scanning Undine's verses, they are too pretty. I wish I could copy them. It must have been half a dream."
"I believe it was; they don't seem like my own."
"Did you dream afterwards?"
He shivered. "They had got into my head too much; my ears sang like the roaring of the sea, and I thought my feet were frozen on to an iceberg: then came darkness, and sea monsters, and drowning--it was too horrid!" and his face expressed all, and more than all, he said. "But 'tis a quarter to seven--we must go," said he, with a long yawn, and rubbing his eyes. "You are sure they are right, Ethel? Harry, come along."
Ethel thought those verses ought to make a sensation, but all that came of them was a Quam optime, and when she asked Norman if no special notice had been taken of them, he said, in his languid way, "No; only Dr. Hoxton said they were better than usual."
Ethel did not even have the satisfaction of hearing that Mr. Wilmot, happening to meet Dr. May, said to him, "Your boy has more of a poet in him than any that has come in my way. He really sometimes makes very striking verses."
Richard watched for an opportunity of speaking to Harry, which did not at once occur, as the boy spent very little of his time at home, and, as if by tacit consent, he and Norman came in later every evening. At last, on Thursday, in the additional two hours' leisure allowed to the boys, when the studious prepared their tasks, and the idle had some special diversion, Richard encountered him running up to his own room to fetch a newly-invented instrument for projecting stones.
"I'll walk back to school with you," said Richard. "I mean to run," returned Harry.
"Is there so much hurry?" said Richard. "I am sorry for it, for I wanted to speak to you, Harry; I have something to show you."
His manner conveyed that it related to their mother, and the sobering effect was instantaneous. "Very well," said he, forgetting his haste. "I'll come into your room."
The awe-struck, shy, yet sorrowful look on his rosy face showed preparation enough, and Richard's only preface was to say, "It is a bit of a letter that she was in course of writing to Aunt Flora, a description of us all. The letter itself is gone, but here is a copy of it. I thought you would like to read what relates to yourself."
Richard laid before him the sheet of notepaper on which this portion of the letter was written, and left him alone with it, while he set out on the promised walk with Ethel.
They found the old woman, Granny Hall, looking like another creature, smoke-dried and withered indeed, but all briskness and animation.
"Well! be it you, sir, and the young lady?"
"Yes; here we are come to see you again," said Richard. "I hope you are not disappointed that I've brought my sister this time instead of the doctor."
"No, no, sir; I've done with the doctor for this while," said the old woman, to Ethel's great amusement. "He have done me a power of good, and thank him for it heartily; but the young lady is right welcome here--but 'tis a dirty walk for her."
"Never mind that," said Ethel, a little shyly, "I came--where are your grandchildren?"
"Oh, somewhere out among the blocks. They gets out with the other children; I can't be always after them."
"I wanted to know if these would fit them," said Ethel, beginning to undo her basket.
"Well, 'pon my word! If ever I see! Here!" stepping out to the door, "Polly--Jenny! come in, I say, this moment! Come in, ye bad girls, or I'll give you the stick; I'll break every bone of you, that I will!" all which threats were bawled out in such a good-natured, triumphant voice, and with such a delighted air, that Richard and Ethel could not help laughing.
After a few moments, Polly and Jenny made their appearance, extremely rough and ragged, but compelled by their grandmother to duck down, by way of courtesies, and, with finger in mouth, they stood, too shy to show their delight, as the garments were unfolded; Granny talking so fast that Ethel would never have brought in the stipulation, that the frocks should be worn to school and church, if Richard, in his mild, but steady way, had not brought the old woman to listen to it. She was full of asseverations that they should go; she took them to church sometimes herself, when it was fine weather and they had clothes, and they could say their catechiz as well as anybody already; yes, they should come, that they should, and next Sunday. Ethel promised to be there to introduce them to the chief lady, the president of the Committee, Mrs. Ledwich, and, with a profusion of thanks, they took leave.
They found John Taylor, just come out of the hospital, looking weak and ill, as he smoked his pipe over the fire, his wife bustling about at a great rate, and one of the infants crying. It seemed to be a great relief that they were not come to complain of Lucy, and there were many looks of surprise on hearing what their business really was. Mrs. Taylor thanked them, and appeared not to know whether she was glad or sorry; and her husband, pipe in hand, gazed at the young gentleman as if he did not comprehend the species, since he could not be old enough to be a clergyman.
Richard hoped they would find sponsors by that time; and there Mrs. Taylor gave little hope; it was a bad lot--there was no one she liked to ask to stand, she said, in a dismal voice; but there her husband put in, "I'll find some one if that's all; my missus always thinks nobody can't do nothing."
"To be sure," said the lamentable Mrs. Taylor, "all the elder ones was took to church, and I'm loath the little ones shouldn't; but you see, sir, we are poor people, and it's a long way, and they was set down in the gentleman's register book."
"But you know that is not the same, Mrs. Taylor. Surely Lucy could have told you that, when she went to school."
"No, sir, 'tis not the same--I knows that; but this is a bad place to live in--"
"Always the old song, missus!" exclaimed her husband. "Thank you kindly, sir--you have been a good friend to us, and so was Dr. May, when I was up to the hospital, through the thick of his own troubles. I believe you are in the right of it, sir, and thank you. The children shall be ready, and little Jack too, and I'll find gossips, and let 'em christened on Sunday."
"I believe you will be glad of it," said Richard; and he went on to speak of the elder children coming to school on Sunday, thus causing another whining from the wife about distance and bad weather, and no one else going that way. He said the little Halls were coming, but Mrs. Taylor begun saying she disliked their company for the children- -granny let them get about so much, and they said bad words. The father again interfered. Perhaps Mr. Wilmot, who acted as chaplain at the hospital, had been talking to him, for he declared at once that they should come; and Richard suggested that he might see them home when he came from church; then, turning to the boy and girl, told them they would meet their sister Lucy, and asked them if they would not like that.
On the whole, the beginning was not inauspicious, though there might be a doubt whether old Mrs. Hall would keep all her promises. Ethel was so much diverted and pleased as to be convinced she would; Richard was a little doubtful as to her power over the wild girls. There could not be any doubt that John Taylor was in earnest, and had been worked upon just at the right moment; but there was danger that the impression would not last. "And his wife in such a horrible whining dawdle!" said Ethel--"there will be no good to be done if it depends on her."
Richard made no answer, and Ethel presently felt remorseful for her harsh speech about a poor ignorant woman, overwhelmed with poverty, children, and weak health.
"I have been thinking a great deal about what you said last time we took this walk," said Richard, after a considerable interval.
"Oh, have you!" cried Ethel eagerly; and the black peaty pond she was looking at seemed to sparkle with sunlight.
"Do you really mean it?" said Richard deliberately.
"Yes, to be sure;" she said, with some indignation.
"Because I think I see a way to make a beginning, but you must make up your mind to a great deal of trouble, and dirty walks, and you must really learn not to draggle your frock."
"Well, well; but tell me."
"This is what I was thinking. I don't think I can go back to Oxford after Christmas. It is not fit to leave you while papa is so disabled."
"Oh no, he could not get on at all. I heard him tell Mr. Wilmot the other day that you were his right hand."
Ethel was glad she had repeated this, for there was a deepening colour and smiling glow of pleasure on her brother's face, such as she had seldom seen on his delicate, but somewhat impassive features.
"He is very kind!" he said warmly. "No, I am sure I cannot be spared till he is better able to use his arm, and I don't see any chance of that just yet. Then if I stay at home, Friday is always at my own disposal, while papa is at the hospital meeting."
"Yes, yes, and we could go to Cocksmoor, and set up a school. How delightful!"
"I don't think you would find it quite so delightful as you fancy," said Richard; "the children will be very wild and ignorant, and you don't like that at the National School."
"Oh, but they are in such need, besides there will be no Mrs. Ledwich over me. It is just right--I shan't mind anything. You are a capital Ritchie, for having thought of it!"
"I don't think--if I am ever to be what I wish, that is, if I can get through at Oxford--I don't think it can be wrong to begin this, if Mr. Ramsden does not object."
"Oh, Mr. Ramsden never objects to anything."
"And if Mr. Wilmot will come and set us off. You know we cannot begin without that, or without my father's fully liking it."
"Oh! there can be no doubt of that!"
"This one thing, Ethel, I must stipulate. Don't you go and tell it all out at once to him. I cannot have him worried about our concerns."
"But how--no one can question that this is right. I am sure he won't object."
"Stop, Ethel, don't you see, it can't be done for nothing? If we undertake it, we must go on with it, and when I am away it will fall on you and Flora. Well, then, it ought to be considered whether you are old enough and steady enough; and if it can be managed for you to go continually all this way, in this wild place. There will be expense too."
Ethel looked wild with impatience, but could not gainsay these scruples, otherwise than by declaring they ought not to weigh against the good of Cocksmoor.
"It will worry him to have to consider all this," said Richard, "and it must not be pressed upon him."
"No," said Ethel sorrowfully; "but you don't mean to give it up."
"You are always in extremes, Ethel. All I want is to find a good time for proposing it."
She fidgeted and gave a long sigh.
"Mind," said Richard, stopping short, "I'll have nothing to do with it except on condition you are patient, and hold your tongue about it."
"I think I can, if I may talk to Margaret."
"Oh yes, to Margaret of course. We could not settle anything without her help."
"And I know what she will say," said Ethel. "Oh, I am so glad," and she jumped over three puddles in succession.
"And, Ethel, you must learn to keep your frock out of the dirt."
"I'll do anything, if you'll help me at Cocksmoor."
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