Chapter 5




THE SUMMONS.

    But when the King knew that the thing must be,
    And that no help there was in this distress,
    He bade them have all things in readiness
    To take the maiden out.--MORRIS.


The second Sunday of suspense had come. The Sundays of good young ladies little resembled those of a century later, though they were not devoid of a calm peacefulness, worthy of the "sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright." The inhabited rooms of the old house looked bright and festal; there were fresh flowers in the pots, honey as well as butter on the breakfast table. The Major and Palmer were both in full uniform, wonderfully preserved. Eugene, a marvel of prettiness, with his curled hair and little velvet coat, contrived by his sisters out of some ancestral hoard. Betty wore thick silk brocade from the same store; Harriet a fresh gay chintz over a crimson skirt, and Aurelia was in spotless white, with a broad blue sash and blue ribbons in her hat, for her father liked to see her still a child; so her hair was only tied with blue, while that of her sisters was rolled over a cushion, and slightly powdered.

The church was so near that the Major could walk thither, leaning on his stout crutch-handled stick, and aided by his daughter's arm, as he proceeded down the hawthorn lane, sweet with the breath of May, exchanging greetings with whole families of the poor, the fathers in smock frocks wrought with curious needlework on the breast and back, the mothers in high-crowned hats and stout dark blue woollen gowns, the children, either patched or ragged, and generally barefooted, but by no means ill-fed.

No Sunday school had been invented. The dame who hobbled along in spectacles, dropping a low curtsey to the "quality," taught the hornbook and the primer to a select few of the progeny of the farmers and artisans, and the young ladies would no more have thought of assisting her labours than the blacksmith's. They only clubbed their pocket money to clothe and pay the schooling of one little orphan, who acknowledged them by a succession of the lowest bobs as she trotted past, proud as Margery Twoshoes herself of the distinction of being substantially shod.

The church was small, and with few pretensions to architecture at the best. It had been nearly a ruin, when, stirred by the Major, the church-wardens had taken it in hand, so that, owing to Richard Stokes and John Ball, as they permanently declared in yellow letters on a blue ground, the congregation were no longer in danger of the roof admitting the rain or coming down on the congregation. They had further beautified the place with a huge board of the royal arms, and with Moses and Aaron in white cauliflower wigs presiding over the tables of the Commandments. Four long dark, timber pews and numerous benches, ruthlessly constructed out of old carvings, occupied the aisle, and the chancel was more than half filled with the lofty "closet" of the Great House family. Hither the Delavie family betook themselves, and on her way Betty was startled by the recognition, in the seat reserved for the servants, of a broad back and curled wig that could belong to no one but Jonah Dove. She did her utmost to keep her mind from dwelling on what this might portend, though she followed the universal custom by exchanging nods and curtsies with the Duckworth family as she sailed up the aisle at the head of the little procession.

There was always a little doubt as to who would serve the church. One of the Canons was the incumbent, and the curate was Mr. Arden, the scientific minor canon, but when his services were required at the cathedral, one of his colleagues would supply his place, usually in a sadly perfunctory manner. However, he was there in person, as his voice, a clear and pleasant one, showed the denizens of the "closet," for they could not see out of it, except where Eugene had furtively enlarged a moth-eaten hole in the curtain, through which, when standing on the seat, he could enjoy an oblique view of the back of an iron-moulded surplice and a very ill-powdered wig. This was a comfort to him. It would have been more satisfactory to have been able to make out whence came the stentorian A-men, that responded to the parson, totally unaccompanied save by the good Major, who always read his part almost as loud as the clerk, from a great octavo prayer- book, bearing on the lid the Delavie arms with coronet, supporters, and motto, "Ma Vie et ma Mie." It would have been thought unladylike, if not unscriptural, to open the lips in church; yet, for all her silence, good Betty was striving to be devout and attentive, praying earnestly for her little sister's safety, and hailing as a kind of hopeful augury this verse from the singers--

"At home, abroad, in peace, in war Thy God shall thee defend, Conduct thee through life's pilgrimage Safe to the journey's end."

Much cannot be said for the five voices that sang, nor for the two fiddles that accompanied them. Eugene had scarcely outgrown his terror at the strains, and still required Aurelia to hold his hand, under pretext of helping him to follow the words, not an easy thing, since the last lines were always repeated three or four times.

Somehow the repetition brought them the more home to Betty's heart, and they rang consolingly in her ears, all through the sermon, of which she took in so little that she never found out that it was an elaborate exposition of the Newtonian philosophy, including Mr. Arden's views of the miracle at the battle Beth-horon, in the Lesson for the day.

The red face and Belamour livery looked doubly ominous when she came out of church, but she had to give her arm to her father till they were overtaken by Mr. Arden, who always shared the Sunday roast beef and plum pudding. Betty feared it was the best meal he had in the week, for he lived in lodgings, and his landlady was not too careful of his comforts, while he was wrapped up in his books and experiments. There was a hole singed in the corner of his black gown, which Eugene pointed out with great awe to Aurelia as they walked behind him.

"See there, Aura. Don't you think he has been raising spirits, like Friar Bacon?"

"What do you know about Friar Bacon?" asked Harriet.

"He is in a little book that I bought of the pedlar. He had a brazen head that said--

'Time is, Time was, Time will be.'

I wonder if Mr. Arden would show me one like it."

"You ridiculous little fellow to believe such trash!" said Harriet.

"But, Hatty, he can really light a candle without a tinder-box," said Eugene. "His landlady told Palmer so; and Palmer says the Devil flew away with Friar Bacon; but my book says he burnt all his books and gave himself to the study of divinity, and dug his grave with his own nails."

"Little boys should not talk of such things on Sundays," said Harriet, severely.

"One does talk of the Devil on Sunday, for he is in the catechism," returned Eugene. "If he carries Mr. Arden off, do you think there will be a great smoke, and that folk will see it?"

Aurelia's silvery peal of laughter fell sadly upon Betty's ears in front, and her father and Mr. Arden turned to ask what made them so merry. Aurelia blushed in embarrassment, but Harriet was ready.

"You will think us very rude, Sir, but my little brother has been reading the life of Friar Bacon, and he thinks you an equally great philosopher."

"Indeed, my little master, you do me too much honour. You will soon be a philosopher yourself. I did not expect so much attention in so young an auditor," said mr. Arden, thinking this the effect of his sermon on the solar system.

Whereupon Eugene begged to inspect the grave he was digging with his own nails.

They were at home by this time, and Betty was aware that they had been followed at a respectful distance by Palmer and the coachman. Anxious as she was, she could not bear that her father's dinner should be spoilt, or that he, in his open-hearted way, should broach the matter with Mr. Arden; so she repaired to the garden gate, and on being told that Mr. Dove had a packet from my Lady for the Major, she politely invited him to dinner with the servants, and promised that her father should see him afterwards.

This gave a long respite, since the servants had the reversion of the beef, so the Mr. Arden had taken leave, and gone to see a bedridden pauper, and the Major had time for his forty winks, while Betty, though her heart throbbed hard beneath her tightly-laced boddice, composed herself to hear Eugene's catechism, and the two sisters, each with a good book, slipped out to the honeysuckle arbour in the garden behind the house. Harriet had Sherlock in Death, her regular Sunday study, though she never got any further than the apparition of Mrs. Veal, over which she gloated in a dreamy state; Aurelia's study was a dark-covered, pale-lettered copy of the Ikon Basilike, with the strange attraction that youth has to pain and sorrow, and sat musing over the resigned outpourings of the perplexed and persecuted king, with her bright eyes fixed on the deep blue sky, and the honeysuckle blossoms gently waving against it, now and then visited by bee or butterfly, while through the silence came the throbbing notes of the nightingale, followed by its jubilant burst of glee, and the sweet distant chime of the cathedral bells rose and fell upon the wind. What peace and repose there was in all the air, even in the gentle breeze, and the floating motions of the swallows skimming past.

The stillness was first broken by the jangle of their own little church bell, for Mr. Arden was a more than usually diligent minister, and always gave two services when he was not in course at the cathedral. The young ladies always attended both, but as Harriet and Aurelia crossed the lawn, their brother ran to meet them, saying, "We are not to wait for sister."

"I hope my papa is well," said Aurelia.

"Oh yes," said Eugene, "but the man in the gold-laced hat has been speaking with him. Palmer says it is Mrs. Dove's husband, and he is going to take Lively Tom and Brown Bet and the two other colts to London. He asked if I should like to ride a-cockhorse there with him. 'Dearly,' I said, and then he laughed and said it was not my turn, but he should take Miss Aurelia instead."

Aurelia laughed, and Harriet said, "Extremely impudent."

Little she guessed what Betty was at that moment reading.

"I am astonished," wrote Lady Belamour to her cousin, "that you should decline so highly advantageous an Offer for your Daughter. I can only understand it as a Token that you desire no further Connection with, nor Favour from me; and I shall therefore require of you to give up the Accounts, and vacate the House by Michaelmas next ensuing. However, as I am willing to allow some excuse for the Weakness of parental Affection, if you change your Mind within the next Week and send up your Daughter with Dove and his Wife, I will overlook your first hasty and foolish Refusal, ungrateful as it was, and will receive your Daughter and give her all the Advantages I promised. Otherwise your Employment is at an end, and you had better prepare your Accounts for Hargrave's Inspection."

"There is no help for it then," said Betty.

"And if it be for the child's advantage, we need not make our moan," said her father. "'Tis like losing the daylight out of our house, but we must not stand in the way of her good."

"If I were only sure it is for her good!"

"Why, child, there's scarce a wench in the county who would not go down on her knees for such a chance. See what Madam Duckworth would say to it for Miss Peggy!"

Betty said no more. The result of her cogitations had been that since Aurelia must be yielded for the sake of her father and Eugene, it was better not to disturb him with fears, which would only anger him at the moment and disquiet him afterwards. She was likewise reassured by Mrs. Dove's going with her, since that good woman had been nurse to the little Belamour cousins now deceased, and was well known as an excellent and trustworthy person, so that, if she were going to act in the same capacity to my Lady's second family, Aurelia would have a friend at hand. So the Major cheated his grief by greeting the church-goers with the hilarious announcement--

"Here's great news! What says my little Aura to going London to my Lady's house."

"O Sir! are you about to take us."

"Not I! My Lady wants pretty young maidens, not battered old soldiers."

"Nor my sisters? O then, if you please, Sir, I would rather not go!"

"Silly children cannot choose! No, no, Aura, you must go out and see the world, and come back to us such a belle that your poor old father will scarce know you."

"I do not wish to be a belle," said the girl. "O Sir, let me stay with you and sister."

"Do not be so foolish, Aura," put in Harriet. "It will be the making of you. I wish I had the offer."

"O Harriet, could not you go instead?"

"No, Aurelia," said Betty. "There is no choice, and you must be a good girl and not vex my father."

The gravity of her eldest sister convinced Aurelia that entreaties would be vain, and there was soon a general outburst of assurances that she would see all that was delightful in London, the lions in the Tower, the new St. Paul's, the monuments, Ranelagh, the court ladies, may be, the King and Queen themselves; until she began to feel exhilarated and pleased at the prospect and the distinction.

Then came Monday and the bustle of preparing her wardrobe. The main body of it was to be sent in the carrier's waggon, for she was to ride on a pillion behind Mr. Dove, and could only take a valise upon a groom's horse. There was no small excitement in the arrangement, and in the farewells to the neighbours, who all agreed with Harriet in congratulating the girl on her promotion. Betty did her part with all her might, washed lace, and trimmed sleeves, and made tuckers, giving little toilette counsels, while her heart ached sorely all the time.

When she could speak to Mrs. Dove alone, she earnestly besought that old friend to look after the child, her health, her dress, and above all to supply here lack of experience and give her kind counsel and advice.

"I will indeed, ma'am, as though she were my own," promised Mrs. Dove.

"O nurse, I give my sweet jewel to your care; you know what a great house in London is better than I do. You will warn her of any danger."

"I will do my endeavour, ma'am. We servants see and hear much, and if any harm should come nigh the sweet young miss, I'll do my best for her."

"Thank you, nurse, I shall never, never see her more in her free artless childishness," said Betty, sobbing as if her heart would break; "but oh, nurse, I can bear the thought better since I have known that you would be near her."

And at night, when her darling nestled for the last time in her arms, the elder sister whispered her warnings. Her knowledge of the great world was limited, but she believed it to be a very wicked place, and she profoundly distrusted her brilliant kinswoman; yet her warnings took no shape more definite than--"My dearest sister will never forget her prayers nor her Bible." There was a soft response and fresh embrace at each pause. "Nor play cards of a Sunday, nor ever play high. And my Aura must be deaf to rakish young beaux and their compliments. They never mean well by poor pretty maids. If you believe them, they will only mock, flout, and jeer you in the end. And if the young baronet should seek converse with you, promise me, oh, promise me, Aurelia, to grant him no favour, no, not so much as to hand him a flower, or stand chatting with him unknown to his mother. Promise me again, child, for naught save evil can come of any trifling between you. And, Aurelia, go to Nurse Dove in all your difficulties. She can advise you where your poor sister cannot. It will ease my heart if I know that my child will attend to her. You will not let yourself be puffed up with flattery, nor be offended if she be open and round with you. Think that your poor sister Betty speaks in her. Pray our old prayers, go to church, and read your Psalms and Lessons daily, and oh! never, never cheat your conscience. O may God, in His mercy, keep my darling!"

So Aurelia cried herself to sleep, while Betty lay awake till the early hour in the morning when all had to be prepared for the start. There was to be a ride of an hour and a half before breakfast so as to give the horses a rest. It was a terrible separation, in many respects more complete than if Aurelia had been going, in these days, to America; for communication by letter was almost as slow, and infinitely more expensive.

No doubt the full import of what he had done had dawned even on Major Delavie during the watches of that last sorrowful night, for he came out a pale, haggard man, looking as if his age had doubled since he went to bed, wrapped in his dressing gown, his head covered with his night-cap, and leaning heavily on his staff. He came charged with one of the long solemn discourses which parents were wont to bestow on their children as valedictions, but when Aurelia, in her camlet riding cloak and hood, brought her tear-stained face to crave his blessing, he could only utter broken fragments. "Bless thee my child! Take heed to yourself and your ways. It is a bad world, beset with temptations. Oh! heaven forgive me for sending my innocent lamb out into it. Oh! what would your blessed mother say?"

"Dear sir," said Betty, who had wept out her tears, and was steadily composed now, "this is no time to think of that. We must only cheer up our darling, and give her good counsel. If she keep to what her Bible, her catechism and her conscience tell her, she will be a good girl, and God will protect her."

"True, true, your sister is right; Aura, my little sweetheart, I had much to say to you, but it is all driven out of my poor old head."

"Aura! Aura! the horses are coming! Ten of them!" shouted Eugene. "Come along! Oh! if I were but going! How silly of you to cry; I don't."

"There! there! Go my child, and God in His mercy protect you!"

Aurelia in speechless grief passed from the arms of one sister to the embrace of the other, hugged Eugene, was kissed by Nannerl, who forced a great piece of cake into her little bag, and finally was lifted to her pillion cushion by Palmer, who stole a kiss of her hand before Dove put his horse in motion, while Betty was still commending her sister to his wife's care, and receiving reiterated promises of care.




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