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Her playful smile, her buoyance wild, Bespeak the gentle, mirthful child; But in her forehead's broad expanse, Her chastened tones, her thoughtful glance, Is mingled, with the child's light glee, The modest maiden's dignity.
One summer's day, two years after the ball and review, Mary Ross and her father were finishing their early dinner, when she said,--
'If you don't want me this afternoon, papa, I think I shall walk to Hollywell. You know Eveleen de Courcy is there.'
'No, I did not. What has brought her?'
'As Charles expresses it, she has over-polked herself in London, and is sent here for quiet and country air. I want to call on her, and to ask Sir Guy to give me some idea as to the singing the children should practise for the school-feast?'
'Then you think Sir Guy will come to the feast?'
'I reckon on him to conceal all the deficiencies in the children's singing.'
'He won't desert you, as he did Mrs. Brownlow?'
'0 papa! you surely did not think him to blame in that affair?'
'Honestly, Mary, if I thought about the matter at all, I thought it a pity he should go so much to the Brownlows.'
'I believe I could tell you the history, if you thought it worth while; and though it may be gossip, I should like you to do justice to Sir Guy.'
'Very well; though I don't think there is much danger of my doing otherwise. I only wondered he should become intimate there at all.'
'I believe Mrs. Edmonstone thinks it right he should see as much of the world as possible, and not be always at home in their own set.'
'Fair and proper.'
'You know she has shown him all the people she could,--had Eveleen staying there, and the Miss Nortons, and hunted him out to parties, when he had rather have been at home.'
'I thought he was fond of society. I remember your telling me how amused you were with his enjoyment of his first ball.'
'Ah! he was two years younger then, and all was new. He seems to me too deep and sensitive not to find more pain than pleasure in commonplace society. I have sometimes seen that he cannot speak either lightly or harshly of what he disapproves, and people don't understand him. I was once sitting next him, when there was some talking going on about an elopement; he did not laugh, looked almost distressed, and at last said in a very low voice, to me, "I wish people would not laugh about such things."'
'He is an extraordinary mixture of gaiety of heart, and seriousness.'
'Well, when Mrs. Brownlow had her nieces with her, and was giving those musical parties, his voice made him valuable; and Mrs. Edmonstone told him he ought to go to them. I believe he liked it at first, but he found there was no end to it; it took up a great deal of time, and was a style of thing altogether that was not desirable. Mrs Edmonstone thought at first his reluctance was only shyness and stay-at-home nonsense, that ought to be overcome; but when she had been there, and saw how Mrs. Brownlow beset him, and the unpleasant fuss they made about his singing, she quite came round to his mind, and was very sorry she had exposed him to so much that was disagreeable.'
'Well, Mary, I am glad to hear your account. My impression arose from something Philip Morville said.'
'Captain Morville never can approve of anything Sir Guy does! It is not like Charles.'
'How improved Charles Edmonstone is. He has lost that spirit of repining and sarcasm, and lives as if he had an object.'
'Yes; he employs himself now, and teaches Amy to do the same. You know, after the governess went, we were afraid little Amy would never do anything but wait on Charles, and idle in her pretty gentle way; but when he turned to better things so did she, and her mind has been growing all this time. Perhaps you don't see it, for she has not lost her likeness to a kitten, and looks all demure silence with the elders, but she takes in what the wise say.'
'She is a very good little thing; and I dare say will not be the worse for growing up slowly.'
'Those two sisters are specimens of fast and slow growth. Laura has always seemed to be so much more than one year older than Amy, especially of late. She is more like five-and-twenty than twenty. I wonder if she overworks herself. But how we have lingered over our dinner!'
By half-past three, Mary was entering a copse which led into Mr. Edmonstone's field, when she heard gay tones, and a snatch of one of the sweetest of old songs,--
Weep no more, lady; lady, weep no more, Thy sorrow is in vain; For violets pluck'd, the sweetest showers Will ne'er make grow again.
A merry, clear laugh followed, and a turn in the path showed her Guy, Amy, and Charlotte, busy over a sturdy stock of eglantine. Guy, little changed in these two years,--not much taller, and more agile than robust,--was lopping vigorously with his great pruning-knife, Amabel nursing a bundle of drooping rose branches, Charlotte, her bonnet in a garland of wild sweet-brier, holding the matting and continually getting entangled in the long thorny wreaths.
'And here comes the "friar of orders gray," to tell you so,' exclaimed Guy, as Mary, in her gray dress, came on them.
'Oh, that is right, dear good friar,' cried Amy.
'We are so busy,' said Charlotte; 'Guy has made Mr. Markham send all these choice buds from Redclyffe.'
'Not from the park,' said Guy, 'we don't deal much in gardening; but Markham is a great florist, and these are his bounties.'
'And are you cutting that beautiful wild rose to pieces?'
'Is it not a pity?' said Amy. 'We have used up all the stocks in the garden, and this is to be transplanted in the autumn.'
'She has been consoling it all the time by telling it it is for its good,' said Guy; 'cutting off wild shoots, and putting in better things.'
'I never said anything so pretty; and, after all, I don't know that the grand roses will be equal to these purple shoots and blushing buds with long whiskers.'
'So Sir Guy was singing about the violets plucked to comfort you. But you must not leave off, I want to see how you do it. I am gardener enough to like to look on.'
'We have only two more to put in.'
Knife and fingers were busy, and Mary admired the dexterity with which the slit was made in the green bark, well armed with firm red thorns, and the tiny scarlet gem inserted, and bound with cotton and matting. At the least critical parts of the work, she asked after the rest of the party, and was answered that papa had driven Charles out in the pony carriage, and that Laura and Eveleen were sitting on the lawn, reading and working with mamma. Eveleen was better, but not strong, or equal to much exertion in the heat. Mary went on to speak of her school feast and ask her questions.
'0 Guy, you must not go before that!' cried Charlotte.
'Are you going away?'
'He is very naughty, indeed,' said Charlotte. 'He is going, I don't know where all, to be stupid, and read mathematics.'
'A true bill, I am sorry to say,' said Guy; 'I am to join a reading- party for the latter part of the vacation.'
'I hope not before Thursday week, though we are not asking you to anything worth staying for.'
'Oh, surely you need not go before that!' said Amy, 'need you?'
'No; I believe I may stay till Friday, and I should delight in the feast, thank you, Miss Ross,--I want to study such things. A bit more matting, Amy, if you please. There, I think that will do.'
'Excellently. Here is its name. See how neatly Charlie has printed it, Mary. Is it not odd, that he prints so well when he writes so badly?'
'"The Seven Sisters." There, fair sisterhood, grow and thrive, till I come to transplant you in the autumn. Are there any more?'
'No, that is the last. Now, Mary, let us come to mamma.'
Guy waited to clear the path of the numerous trailing briery branches, and the others walked on, Amy telling how sorry they were to lose Guy's vacation, but that he thought he could not give time enough to his studies here, and had settled, at Oxford, to make one of a reading- party, under the tutorship of his friend, Mr. Wellwood.
'Where do they go?'
'It is not settled. Guy wished it to be the sea-side; but Philip has been recommending a farmhouse in Stylehurst parish, rather nearer St. Mildred's Wells than Stylehurst, but quite out in the moor, and an immense way from both.'
'Do you think it will be the place?'
'Yes; Guy thinks it would suit Mr. Wellwood, because he has friends at St. Mildred's, so he gave his vote for it. He expects to hear how it is settled to-day or to-morrow.'
Coming out on the lawn, they found the three ladies sitting under the acacia, with their books and work. Laura did, indeed, look older than her real age, as much above twenty as Amy looked under nineteen. She was prettier than ever; her complexion exquisite in delicacy, her fine figure and the perfect outline of her features more developed; but the change from girl to woman had passed over her, and set its stamp on the anxious blue eye, and almost oppressed brow. Mary thought it would be hard to define where was that difference. It was not want of bloom, for of that Laura had more than any of the others, fresh, healthy, and bright, while Amy was always rather pale, and Lady Eveleen was positively wan and faded by London and late hours; nor was it loss of animation, for Laura talked and laughed with interest and eagerness; nor was it thought, for little Amy, when at rest, wore a meditative, pensive countenance; but there was something either added or taken away, which made it appear that the serenity and carelessness of early youth had fled from her, and the air of the cares of life had come over her.
Mary told her plans,--Church service at four, followed by a tea- drinking in the fields; tea in the garden for the company, and play for the school children and all who liked to join them. Every one likes such festivals, which have the recommendation of permitting all to do as they please, bringing friends together in perfect ease and freedom, with an object that raises them above the rank of mere gatherings for the pleasure of rich neighbours.
Mrs. Edmonstone gladly made the engagement and Lady Eveleen promised to be quite well, and to teach the children all manner of new games, though she greatly despised the dullness of English children, and had many droll stories of the stupidity of Laura's pupils, communicated to her, with perhaps a little exaggeration, by Charles, and still further embellished by herself, for the purpose of exciting Charlotte's indignation.
Mary proceeded to her consultation about the singing, and was conducted by Guy and Amy to the piano, and when her ears could not be indoctrinated by their best efforts, they more than half engaged to walk to East-hill, and have a conversation with the new school-master, whom Mary pitied for having fallen on people so unable to appreciate his musical training as herself and her father. The whole party walked back with her as far as the shade lasted; and at the end of the next field she turned, saw them standing round the stile, thought what happy people they were, and then resumed her wonder whither Laura's youthfulness had flown.
The situation of Philip and Laura had not changed. His regiment had never been at any great distance from Hollywell, and he often came, venturing more as Laura learnt to see him with less trepidation. He seldom or never was alone with her; but his influence was as strong as ever, and look, word, and gesture, which she alone could understand, told her what she was to him, and revealed his thoughts. To him she was devoted, all her doings were with a view to please him, and deserve his affection; he was her world, and sole object. Indeed, she was sometimes startled by perceiving that tenderly as she loved her own family, all were subordinate to him. She had long since known the true name of her feelings for him; she could not tell when or how the certainty had come, but she was conscious that it was love that they had acknowledged for one another and that she only lived in the light of his love. Still she did not realize the evil of concealment; it was so deep a sensation of her innermost heart, that she never could imagine revealing it to any living creature, and she had besides so surrendered her judgment to her idol, that no thought could ever cross her that he had enjoined what was wrong. Her heart and soul were his alone, and she left the future to him without an independent desire or reflection. All the embarrassments and discomforts which her secret occasioned her were met willingly for his sake, and these were not a few, though time had given her more self-command, or, perhaps, more properly speaking, had hardened her.
She always had a dread of tete-a-tetes and conversations over novels, and these were apt to be unavoidable when Eveleen was at Hollywell. The twilight wanderings on the terrace were a daily habit, and Eveleen almost always paired with her. On this evening in particular, Laura was made very uncomfortable by Eveleen's declaring that it was positively impossible and unnatural that the good heroine of some novel should have concealed her engagement from her parents. Laura could not help saying that there might be many excuses; then afraid that she was exciting suspicion, changed the subject in great haste, and tried to make Eveleen come indoors, telling her she would tire herself to death, and vexed by her cousin's protestations that the fresh cool air did her good. Besides, Eveleen was looking with attentive eyes at another pair who were slowly walking up and down the shady walk that bordered the grass-plot, and now and then standing still to enjoy the subdued silence of the summer evening, and the few distant sounds that marked the perfect lull.
'How calm--how beautiful!' murmured Amabel.
'It only wants the low solemn surge and ripple of the tide, and its dash on the rocks,' said Guy. 'If ever there was music, it is there; but it makes one think what the ear must be that can take in the whole of those harmonics.'
'How I should like to hear it!'
'And see it. 0 Amy! to show you the sunny sea,--the sense of breadth and vastness in that pale clear horizon line, and the infinite number of fields of light between you and it,--and the free feelings as you stand on some high crag, the wind blowing in your face across half the globe, and the waves dashing far below! I am growing quite thirsty for the sea.'
'You know, papa said something about your taking your reading-party to Redclyffe.'
'True, but I don't think Markham would like it, and it would put old Mrs. Drew into no end of a fuss.'
'Not like to have you?'
'0 yes, I should be all very well; but if they heard I was bringing three or four men with me, they would think them regular wild beasts. They would be in an awful fright. Besides, it is so long since I have been at home, that I don't altogether fancy going there till I settle there for good.'
'Ah! it will be sad going there at first.'
'And it has not been my duty yet.'
'But you will be glad when you get there?'
'Sha'n't I? I wonder if any one has been to shoot the rabbits on the shag rock. They must have quite overrun it by this time. But I don't like the notion of the first day. There is not only the great change, but a stranger at the vicarage.'
'Do you know anything about the new clergyman? I believe Mrs. Ashford is a connection of Lady Thorndale's?'
'Yes; Thorndale calls them pattern people, and I have no doubt they will do great good in the parish. I am sure we want some enlightenment, for we are a most primitive race, and something beyond Jenny Robinson's dame school would do us no harm.'
Here Mr. Edmonstone called from the window that they must come in.
Mrs. Edmonstone thought deeply that night. She had not forgotten her notion that Eveleen was attracted by Guy's manners, and had been curious to see what would happen when Eveleen was sent to Hollywell for country air.
She had a very good opinion of Lady Eveleen. Since the former visit, she had shown more spirit of improvement, and laid aside many little follies; she had put herself under Laura's guidance, and tamed down into what gave the promise of a sensible woman, more than anything that had hitherto been observed in her; and little addicted to match-making as Mrs. Edmonstone was, she could not help thinking that Eva was almost worthy of her dear Guy (she never could expect to find anyone she should think quite worthy of him, he was too like one of her own children for that), and on the other hand, how delighted Lord and Lady Kilcoran would be. It was a very pretty castle in the air; but in the midst of it, the notion suddenly darted into Mrs. Edmonstone's head, that while she was thinking of it, it was Amy, not Eveleen, who was constantly with Guy. Reading and music, roses, botany, and walks on the terrace! She looked back, and it was still the same. Last Easter vacation, how they used to study the stars in the evening, to linger in the greenhouse in the morning nursing the geraniums, and to practise singing over the school-room piano; how, in a long walk, they always paired together; and how they seemed to share every pursuit or pleasure.
Now Mrs. Edmonstone was extremely fond of Guy, and trusted him entirely; but she thought she ought to consider how far this should be allowed. Feeling that he ought to see more of the world, she had sent him as much as she could into society, but it had only made him cling closer to home. Still he was but twenty, it was only a country neighbourhood, and there was much more for him to see before he could fairly be supposed to know his own mind. She knew he would act honourably; but she had a horror of letting him entangle himself with her daughter before he was fairly able to judge of his own feelings. Or, if this was only behaving with a brother's freedom and confidence, Mrs. Edmonstone felt it was not safe for her poor little Amy, who might learn so to depend on him as to miss him grievously when this intimacy ceased, as it must when he settled at his own home. It would be right, while it was still time, to make her remember that they were not brother and sister, and by checking their present happy, careless, confidential intercourse, to save her from the chill which seemed to have been cast on Laura. Mrs. Edmonstone was the more anxious, because she deeply regretted not having been sufficiently watchful in Laura's case, and perhaps she felt an unacknowledged conviction that if there was real love on Guy's part, it would not be hurt by a little reserve on Amy's. Yet to have to speak to her little innocent daughter on such a matter disturbed her so much, that she could hardly have set about it, if Amy had not, at that very moment, knocked at her door.
'My dear, what has kept you up so late?'
'We have been sitting in Eveleen's room, mamma, hearing about her London life; and then we began to settle our plans for to-morrow, and I came to ask what you think of them. You know Guy has promised to go and hear the East-hill singing, and we were proposing, if you did not mind it, to take the pony-carriage and the donkey, and go in the morning to East-hill, have luncheon, and get Mary to go with us to the top of the great down, where we have never been. Guy has been wanting us, for a long time past, to go and see the view, and saying there is a track quite smooth enough to drive Charlie to the top.'
Amy wondered at her mother's look of hesitation. In fact, the scheme was so accordant with their usual habits that it was impossible to find any objection; yet it all hinged on Guy, and the appointment at East- hill might lead to a great many more.
'Do you wish us to do anything else, mamma? We don't care about it.'
'No, my dear,' said Mrs. Edmonstone, 'I see no reason against it. But- -' and she felt as if she was making a desperate plunge, 'there is something I want to say to you.'
Amy stood ready to hear, but Mrs. Edmonstone paused. Another effort, and she spoke:-
'Amy, my dear, I don't wish to find fault, but I thought of advising you to take care. About Guy--'
The very brilliant pink which instantly overspread Amy's face made her mother think her warning more expedient.
'You have been spending a great deal of time with him of late, very sensibly and pleasantly, I know; I don't blame you at all, my dear, so you need not look distressed. I only want you to be careful. You know, though we call him cousin, he is scarcely a relation at all.'
'0 mamma, don't go on,' said poor little Amy, hurriedly; 'indeed I am very sorry!'
For Amy understood that it was imputed to her that she had been forward and unmaidenly. Mrs. Edmonstone saw her extreme distress, and, grieved at the pain she had inflicted, tried to reassure her as much as might be safe.
'Indeed, my dear, you have done nothing amiss. I only intended to tell you to be cautious for fear you should get into a way of going on which might not look well. Don't make any great difference, I only meant that there should not be quite so much singing and gardening alone with him, or walking in the garden in the evening. You can manage to draw back a little, so as to keep more with me or with Laura, and I think that will be the best way.'
Every word, no matter what, increased the burning of poor Amy's cheeks. A broad accusation of flirting would have been less distressing to many girls than this mild and delicate warning was to one of such shrinking modesty and maidenly feeling. She had a sort of consciousness that she enjoyed partaking in his pursuits, and this made her sense of confusion and shame overwhelming. What had she been thoughtlessly doing? She could not speak, she could not look. Her mother put her arm round her, and Amy hid her head on her shoulder, and held her fast. Mrs. Edmonstone kissed and caressed the little fluttering bird, then saying, 'Good night, my own dear child,' unloosed her embrace.
'Good night, dear mamma,' whispered Amy. 'I am very sorry.'
'You need not be sorry, my dear, only be careful. Good night.' And it would be hard to say whether the mother or the daughter had the hottest cheeks.
Poor little Amy! what was her dismay as she asked herself, again and again, what she had been doing and what she was to do? The last was plain,--she knew what was right, and do it she must. There would be an end of much that was pleasant, and a fresh glow came over her as she owned how very, very pleasant; but if it was not quite the thing,--if mamma did not approve, so it must be. True, all her doings received their zest from Guy,--her heart bounded at the very sound of his whistle, she always heard his words through all the din of a whole party,--nothing was complete without him, nothing good without his without his approval,--but so much the more shame for her. It was a kind of seeking him which was of all things the most shocking. So there should be an end of it,--never mind the rest! Amy knelt down, and prayed that she might keep her resolution.
She did not know how much of her severity towards herself was learned from the example that had been two years before her. Nor did she think whether the seeking had been mutual; she imagined it all her own doing, and did not guess that she would give pain to Guy by withdrawing herself from him.
The morning gave vigour to her resolution, and when Laura came to ask what mamma thought of their project, Amy looked confused--said she did not know--she believed it would not do. But just then in came her mother, to say she had been considering of the expedition, and meant to join it herself. Amy understood, blushed, and was silently grateful.
When Laura wanted to alter her demeanour towards Guy, being perfectly cool, and not in the least conscious, she had acted with great judgment, seen exactly what to do, and what to leave undone, so as to keep up appearances. But it was not so with Amy. She was afraid of herself, and was in extremes. She would not come down till the last moment, that there might be no talking in the window. She hardly spoke at breakfast-time, and adhered closely to Laura and Eveleen when they wandered in the garden. Presently Charles looked out from the dressing-room window, calling,--
'Amy, Guy is ready to read.'
'I can't come. Read without me,' she answered, hoping Charlie would not be vexed, and feeling her face light up again.
The hour for the expedition came, and Amy set off walking with Laura, because Guy was with Mrs. Edmonstone; but presently, after holding open a gate for Charlotte, who was on the donkey, he came up to the sisters, and joined in the conversation. Amy saw something in the hedge--a foxglove, she believed--it would have done as well if it had been a nettle--she stopped to gather it, hoping to fall behind them, but they waited for her. She grew silent, but Guy appealed to her. She ran on to Charlotte and her donkey, but at the next gate Guy had joined company again. At last she put herself under her mother's wing, and by keeping with her did pretty well all the time she was at East-hill. But when they went on, she was riding the donkey, and it, as donkeys always are, was resolved on keeping a-head of the walkers, so that as Guy kept by her side, it was a more absolute tete-a-tete than ever.
At the top of the hill they found a fine view, rich and extensive, broad woods, fields waving with silvery barley, trim meadows, fair hazy blue distance, and a dim line of sea beyond. This, as Amy knew, was Guy's delight, and further, what she would not tell herself, was that he chiefly cared for showing it to her. It was so natural to call him to admire everything beautiful, and ask if it was equal to Redclyffe, that she found herself already turning to him to participate in his pleasure, as he pointed out all that was to be seen; but she recollected, blushed, and left her mother to speak. He had much to show. There was a hanging wood on one side of the hill, whence he had brought her more than one botanical prize, and she must now visit their native haunts. It was too great a scramble for Mrs. Edmonstone, with all her good will; Eveleen was to be kept still, and not to tire herself; Laura did not care for botany, nor love brambles, and Amy was obliged to stand and look into the wood, saying, 'No, thank you, I don't think I can,' and then run back to Mary and Charles; while Charlotte was loudly calling out that it was delightful fun, and that she was very stupid. In another minute Guy had overtaken her, and in his gentle, persuasive voice, was telling her it was very easy, and she must come and see the bird's-nest orchises. She would have liked it above all things, but she thought it very kind of Guy not to seem angry when she said, 'No, thank you.'
Mary, after what she had seen yesterday, could not guess at the real reason, or she would have come with her; but she thought Amy was tired, and would rather not. Poor Amy was tired, very tired, before the walk was over, but her weary looks made it worse, for Guy offered her his arm. 'No thank you,' she said, 'I am getting on very well;' and she trudged on resolutely, for her mother was in the carriage, and to lag behind the others would surely make him keep with her.
Mrs. Edmonstone was very sorry for her fatigue, but Amy found it a good excuse for not wandering in the garden, or joining in the music. It had been a very uncomfortable day; she hoped she had done right; at any rate, she had the peaceful conviction of having tried to do so.
The next day, Amy was steady to her resolution. No reading with the two youths, though Charles scolded her; sitting in her room till Guy was gone out, going indoors as soon as she heard him return, and in the evening staying with Charles when her sisters and cousins went out; but this did not answer, for Guy came and sat by them. She moved away as soon as possible, but the more inclined she was to linger, the more she thought she ought to go; so murmuring something about looking for Laura, she threw on her scarf, and sprung to the window. Her muslin caught on the bolt, she turned, Guy was already disentangling it, and she met his eye. It was full of anxious, pleading inquiry, which to her seemed upbraiding, and, not knowing what to do, she exclaimed, hurriedly, 'Thank you; no harm done!' and darted into the garden, frightened to feel her face glowing and her heart throbbing. She could not help looking back to see if he was following. No, he was not attempting it; he was leaning against the window, and on she hastened, the perception dawning on her that she was hurting him; he might think her rude, unkind, capricious, he who had always been so kind to her, and when he was going away so soon. 'But it is right; it must be done,' said little Amy to herself, standing still, now that she was out of sight. 'If I was wrong before, I must bear it now, and he will see the rights of it sooner or later. The worst of all would be my not doing the very most right to please any body. Besides he can't really care for missing silly little Amy when he has mamma and Charlie. And he is going away, so it will be easier to begin right when he comes back. Be that as it may, it must be done. I'll get Charlie to tell me what he was saying about the painted glass.'
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