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'Take care! Oh, take care!'
Whisk, swish, click, click, through the little crowd at Stokesley on a fine April afternoon, of jocund children just let loose from school, and mothers emerging from their meeting, collecting their progeny after the fashion of old ewes with their lambs; Susan Merrifield in a huge, carefully preserved brown mushroom hat, with a big basket under one arm, and a roll of calico under the other; her sister Elizabeth with a book in one hand, and a packet of ambulance illustrations; the Vicar, Mr. Doyle, and his sister likewise loaded, talking to them about the farmer's wedding of the morning, for which the bells had been ringing fitfully all day, and had just burst out again. Such was the scene, through which, like a flash, spun a tricycle, from which a tiny curly-haired being in knickerbockers was barely saved by his mother's seizing him by one arm.
'A tricycle!' exclaimed the Vicar.
'A woman! Oh!' cried Susan in horror, 'and she's stopping--at the Gap. Oh!'
'My dear Susie, you must have seen ladies on tricycles before,' whispered her sister.
'No, indeed, I am thankful to say I have not! If it should be Miss Arthuret!' said Susan, with inexpressible tones in her voice.
'She was bowing right and left,' said the Vicar, a little maliciously; 'depend upon it, she thought this was a welcome from the rural population.'
'Hark! here's something coming.'
The Bonchamp fly came rattling up, loaded with luggage, and with a quiet lady in black seated in it, which stopped at the same gate.
'The obedient mother, no doubt,' said Elizabeth. 'She looks like a lady.'
There had been a good deal of excitement at Stokesley about the property known by the pleasing name of the Gap. An old gentleman had lived there for many years, always in a secluded state, and latterly imbecile, and on his death in the previous year no one had for some time appeared as heir; but it became known that the inheritrix was a young lady, a great-niece, living with a widowed mother in one of the large manufacturing towns in the north of England. Her father had been a clergyman and had died when she was an infant. That was all that was known, and as the house had become almost uninhabitable, the necessary repairs had prevented the heiress from taking possession all this time. It was not a very large inheritance, only comprising a small farm, the substantial village shop, four or five cottages, and a moderate-sized house and grounds, where the neglected trees had grown to strange irregular proportions, equally with the income, which, owing to the outgoings being small, had increased to about 800 or 900 pounds a year, and of course it was a subject of much anxiety with Admiral Merrifield's family to know what sort of people the newcomers would prove.
Of the large family only the two eldest daughters were at home; Susan, now nearly forty, had never left it, but had been the daughter-of-all-work at home and lady-of-all-work to the parish ever since she had emerged from the schoolroom; her apricot complexion showing hardly any change, and such as there was never perceived by her parents. The Admiral, still a light, wiry, hale man, as active as ever, with his hands full of county, parish, and farming business; an invalid for many years, but getting into that health which is LA JEUNESSE DE LA VIEILLESSE.
Elizabeth had, from twenty-five to thirty-two, been spared from home by her father to take care of his stepmother in London, where she had beguiled her time with a certain amount of authorship under a NOM DE PLUME, and had been introduced to some choice society both through her literary abilities and her family connections.
Four years previous the old lady had died, leaving her a legacy, which, together with her gains, would have enabled her to keep such a home in town as to remain in touch with the world to which she had been introduced; but she had never lost her Stokesley heart enough for the temptation to outweigh the disappointment she would have caused at home, and the satisfaction and rest of being among her own people. So she only went up for an occasional visit, and had become the brightness of the house, and Susan's beloved partner in all her works.
Her father, who understood better than did her mother and sister what she had given up, had insisted on her having a sitting-room to herself, which she embellished with the personal possessions she had accumulated, and where she pursued her own avocations in the forenoon, often indeed interrupted, but never showing, and not often feeling, that it was to her hindrance, and indeed the family looked on her work sufficiently as a profession, not only to acquiesce, but to have a certain complacency in it, though it was a kind of transparent fiction that MESA was an anagram of her initials and that of Stokesley. Her mother at any rate believed that none of the neighbours guessed at any such thing.
Stokesley was a good deal out of the world, five miles from the station at Bonchamp, over hilly, stony roads, so that the cyclist movement had barely reached it; the neighbourhood was sparse, and Mrs. Merrifield's health had not been conducive to visiting, any more than was her inclination, so that there was a little agitation about first calls.
The newcomers appeared at church on Sunday at all the services. A bright-faced girl of one-and-twenty, with little black eyes like coals of fire, a tight ulster, like a riding habit, and a small billycock hat, rather dismayed those who still held that bonnets ought to be the Sunday gear of all beyond childhood; but the mother, in rich black silk, was unexceptionable.
Refusing to be marshalled up the aisle to the seat which persistent tradition assigned to the Gap in the aristocratic quarter, daughter and mother (it was impossible not thus to call them) sat themselves down on the first vacant place, close to a surviving white smock- frock, and blind to the bewildered glances of his much-bent friend in velveteen, who, hobbling in next after, found himself displaced and separated alike from his well-thumbed prayer and hymn book and the companion who found the places for him.
'It ain't fitty like,' said the old man confidentially to Susan, 'nor the ladies wouldn't like it when we comes in with our old coats all of a muck with wet.'
'The principle is right,' said Bessie, when this was repeated to her; 'but practice ought to wait till native manners and customs are learnt.'
The two sisters offered to save their mother the first visit--leave her card, or make her excuses; but Mrs. Merrifield held that a card thus left savoured of deceit, and that the deed must be womanfully done in person. But she would not wait till the horses could be spared, saying that for near village neighbours it was more friendly to go down in her donkey-chair; and so she did, Bessie driving her, and the Admiral walking with them.
The Gap had, ever since Bessie could remember, been absolutely shrouded in trees, its encircling wall hidden in ivy bushes, over which laburnums, lilacs, pink thorns, and horse chestnuts towered; and the drive from the seldom-opened gate was almost obstructed by the sweeping arms of laurels and larches.
It was obstructed now, but by these same limbs lying amputated; and 'chop, chop!' was heard in the distance.
'Oh, the Arbutus!' sighed Bessie.
'Clearing was much needed,' said her father, with a man's propensity for the axe.
The donkey, however, thought it uncanny, 'upon the pivot of his skull, turned round his long left ear,' and planted his feet firmly. Mrs. Merrifield, deprecating the struggle by which her husband would on such occasions enforce discipline, begged to get out; and while this was going on, the ulstered young lady, with a small axe in hand, came, as it were, to the rescue, and, while the donkey was committed to a small boy, explained hastily, 'So overgrown, there is nothing to be done but to let in light and air. My mother is at home,' she added; 'she will be happy to see you,' and, conducting them in with complete self-possession--rather, as it occurred to Bessie, as the Queen might have led the way to the Duchess of Kent, though there was a perfect simplicity and evident enjoyment about her that was very prepossessing, and took off the edge of the sense of conceit. Besides, the palace was, to London eyes at least, so little to boast of, with the narrow little box of a wooden porch, the odd, one-sided vestibule, and the tiny anteroom with the worn carpet; but the drawing-room, in spite of George IV furniture, was really pretty, with French windows opening on a well-mown lawn, and fresh importations of knick-knacks, and vases of wild flowers, which made it look inhabited and pleasant. There was no one there, and the young lady proceeded to fetch her mother; and the unguarded voice was caught by Bessie's quick ears from the window.
'Here are Admiral and Mrs. Merrifield, and one daughter. Come along, little mammy! Worthy, homely old folks--just in your line.'
To Bessie's relief, she perceived that this was wholly unheard by her father and mother. And there was no withstanding the eager, happy, shy looks of the mother, whose whole face betrayed that after many storms she had come into a haven of peace, and that she was proud to owe it to her daughter.
A few words showed that mother and daughter were absolutely enchanted with Stokesley, their own situation, and one another--the young lady evidently all the more because she perceived so much to be done.
'Everything wants improving. It is so choked up,' she said, 'one wants to let in the light.'
'There are a good many trees,' said the Admiral, while Bessie suspected that she meant figuratively as well as literally; and as the damsel was evidently burning to be out at her clearing operations again, and had never parted with her axe, the Admiral offered to go with her and tell her about the trees, for, as he observed, she could hardly judge of those not yet out in leaf.
She accepted him, though Bessie shrewdly suspected that the advice would be little heeded, and, not fancying the wet grass and branches, nor the demolition of old friends, she did not follow the pair, but effaced herself, and listened with much interest to the two mothers, who sat on the sofa with their heads together. Either Mrs. Merrifield was wonderful in inspiring confidence, or it was only too delightful to Mrs. Arthuret to find a listener of her own standing to whom to pour forth her full heart of thankfulness and delight in her daughter. 'Oh, it is too much!' occurred so often in her talk that, if it had not been said with liquid eyes, choking voice, and hands clasped in devout gratitude, it would have been tedious; but Mrs. Merrifield thoroughly went along with it, and was deeply touched.
The whole story, as it became known, partly in these confidences, partly afterwards, was this. The good lady, who had struck the family at first as a somewhat elderly mother for so young a daughter, had been for many years a governess, engaged all the time to a curate, who only obtained a small district incumbency in a town, after wear and tear, waiting and anxiety, had so exhausted him that the second winter brought on bronchitis, and he scarcely lived to see his little daughter, Arthurine. The mother had struggled on upon a pittance eked out with such music teaching as she could procure, with her little girl for her sole care, joy, and pride--a child who, as she declared, had never given her one moment's pang or uneasiness.
'Poor mamma, could she say that of any one of her nine?' thought Bessie; and Mrs. Merrifield made no such attempt.
Arthurine had brought home all prizes, all distinctions at the High School, but--here was the only disappointment of her life--a low fever had prevented her trying for a scholarship at Girton. In consideration, however, of her great abilities and high qualities, as well as out of the great kindness of the committee, she had been made an assistant to one of the class mistresses, and had worked on with her own studies, till the wonderful tidings came of the inheritance that had fallen to her quite unexpectedly; for since her husband's death Mrs. Arthuret had known nothing of his family, and while he was alive there were too many between him and the succession for the chance to occur to him as possible. The relief and blessing were more than the good lady could utter. All things are comparative, and to one whose assured income had been 70 pounds a year, 800 pounds was unbounded wealth; to one who had spent her life in schoolrooms and lodgings, the Gap was a lordly demesne.
'And what do you think was the first thing my sweet child said?' added Mrs. Arthuret, with her eyes glittering through tears. 'Mammy, you shall never hear the scales again, and you shall have the best Mocha coffee every day of your life.'
Bessie felt that after this she must like the sweet child, though sweetness did not seem to her the predominant feature in Arthurine.
After the pathos to which she had listened there was somewhat of a comedy to come, for the ladies had spent the autumn abroad, and had seen and enjoyed much. 'It was a perfect feast to see how Arthurine entered into it all,' said the mother. 'She was never at a loss, and explained it all to me. Besides, perhaps you have seen her article?'
'I beg your pardon.'
'Her article in the KENSINGTON. It attracted a great deal of attention, and she has had many compliments.'
'Oh! the KENSINGTON MAGAZINE,' said Mrs. Merrifield, rather uneasily, for she was as anxious that Bessie should not be suspected of writing in the said periodical as the other mother was that Arthurine should have the fame of her contributions.
'Do you take it?' asked Mrs. Arthuret, 'for we should be very glad to lend it to you.'
A whole pile was on the table, and Mrs. Merrifield looked at them with feeble thanks and an odd sort of conscious dread, though she could with perfect truth have denied either 'taking it' or reading it.
Bessie came to her relief. 'Thank you,' she said; 'we do; some of us have it. Is your daughter's article signed A. A., and doesn't it describe a boarding-house on the Italian lakes? I thought it very clever and amusing.'
Mrs. Arthuret's face lighted up. 'Oh yes, my dear,' slipped out in her delight. 'And do you know, it all came of her letter to one of the High School ladies, who is sister to the sub-editor, such a clever, superior girl! She read it to the headmistress and all, and they agreed that it was too good to be lost, and Arthurine copied it out and added to it, and he--Mr. Jarrett--said it was just what he wanted--so full of information and liveliness--and she is writing some more for him.'
Mrs. Merrifield was rather shocked, but she felt that she herself was in a glass house, was, in fact, keeping a literary daughter, so she only committed herself to, 'She is very young.'
'Only one-and-twenty,' returned Mrs. Arthuret triumphantly; 'but then she has had such advantages, and made such use of them. Everything seems to come at once, though, perhaps, it is unthankful to say so. Of course, it is no object now, but I could not help thinking what it would have been to us to have discovered this talent of hers at the time when we could hardly make both ends meet.'
'She will find plenty of use for it,' said Mrs. Merrifield, who, as the wife of a country squire and the mother of nine children, did not find it too easy to make her ends meet upon a larger income.
'Oh yes! indeed she will, the generous child. She is full of plans for the regeneration of the village.'
Poor Mrs. Merrifield! this was quite too much for her. She thought it irreverent to apply the word in any save an ecclesiastical sense; nor did she at all desire to have the parish, which was considered to be admirably worked by the constituted authorities, 'regenerated,' whatever that might mean, by a young lady of one-and- twenty. She rose up and observed to her daughter that she saw papa out upon the lawn, and she thought it was time to go home.
Mrs. Arthuret came out with them, and found what Bessie could only regard as a scene of desolation. Though gentlemen, as a rule, have no mercy on trees, and ladies are equally inclined to cry, 'Woodman, spare that tree,' the rule was reversed, for Miss Arthuret was cutting, and ordering cutting all round her ruthlessly with something of the pleasure of a child in breaking a new toy to prove that it is his own, scarcely listening when the Admiral told her what the trees were, and how beautiful in their season; while even as to the evergreens, she did not know a yew from a cedar, and declared that she must get rid of this horrid old laurustinus, while she lopped away at a Portugal laurel. Her one idea seemed to be that it was very unwholesome to live in a house surrounded with trees; and the united influence of the Merrifields, working on her mother by representing what would be the absence of shade in a few months' time, barely availed to save the life of the big cedar; while the great rhododendron, wont to present a mountain of shining leaves and pale purple blossoms every summer, was hewn down without remorse as an awful old laurel, and left a desolate brown patch in its stead.
'Is it an emblem,' thought Bessie, 'of what she would like to do to all of us poor old obstructions?'
After all, Mrs. Merrifield could not help liking the gentle mother, by force of sympathy; and the Admiral was somewhat fascinated by the freshness and impetuosity of the damsel, as elderly men are wont to be with young girls who amuse them with what they are apt to view as an original form of the silliness common to the whole female world except their own wives, and perhaps their daughters; and Bessie was extremely amused, and held her peace, as she had been used to do in London. Susan was perhaps the most annoyed and indignant. She was presiding over seams and button-holes the next afternoon at school, when the mother and daughter walked in; and the whole troop started to their feet and curtsied.
'Don't make them stand! I hate adulation. Sit down, please. Where's the master?'
'In the boys' school, ma'am,' said the mistress, uncomfortably indicating the presence of Miss Merrifield, who felt herself obliged to come forward and shake hands.
'Oh! so you have separate schools. Is not that a needless expense?'
'It has always been so,' returned Susan quietly.
'Board? No? Well, no doubt you are right; but I suppose it is at a sacrifice of efficiency. Have you cookery classes?'
'We have not apparatus, and the girls go out too early for it to be of much use.'
'Ah, that's a mistake. Drawing?'
'The boys draw.'
'I shall go and see them. Not the girls? They look orderly enough; but are they intelligent? Well, I shall look in and examine them on their special subjects, if they have any. I suppose not.'
'Only class. Grammar and needlework.'
'I see, the old routine. Quite the village school.'
'It is very nice work,' put in Mrs. Arthuret, who had been looking at it.
'Oh yes, it always is when everything is sacrificed to it. Good- morning, I shall see more of you, Mrs.--ahem.'
'Please, ma'am, should I tell her that she is not a school manager?' inquired the mistress, somewhat indignantly, when the two ladies had departed.
'You had better ask the Vicar what to do,' responded Susan.
The schoolmaster, on his side, seemed to have had so much advice and offers of assistance in lessons on history, geography, and physical science, that he had been obliged to refer her to the managers, and explain that till the next inspection he was bound to abide by the time-table.
'Ah, well, I will be one of the managers another year.'
So she told the Vicar, who smiled, and said, 'We must elect you.'
'I am sure much ought to be done. It is mere waste to have two separate schools, when a master can bring the children on so much better in the higher subjects.'
'Mrs. Merrifield and the rest of us are inclined to think that what stands highest of all with us is endangered by mixed schools,' said Mr. Doyle.
'Oh!' Arthurine opened her eyes; 'but education does all THAT!'
'Education does, but knowledge is not wisdom. Susan Merrifield's influence has done more for our young women than the best class teaching could do.'
'Oh, but the Merrifields are all so BORNES and homely; they stand in the way of all culture.'
'Indeed,' said the Vicar, who had in his pocket a very favourable review of MESA's new historical essay.
'Surely an old-fashioned squire and Lady Bountiful and their very narrow daughters should not be allowed to prevent improvement, pauperise the place, and keep it in its old grooves.'
'Well, we shall see what you think by the time you have lived here long enough to be eligible for--what?'
'School manager, guardian of the poor!' cried Arthurine.
'We shall see,' repeated the Vicar. 'Good-morning.'
He asked Bessie's leave to disclose who MESA was.
'Oh, don't!' she cried, 'it would spoil the fun! Besides, mamma would not like it, which is a better reason.'
There were plenty of books, old and new, in Bessie's room, magazines and reviews, but they did not come about the house much, unless any of the Rockstone cousins or the younger generation were staying there, or her brother David had come for a rest of mind and body. Between housekeeping, gardening, parish work, and pottering, Mrs. Merrifield and Susan never had time for reading, except that Susan thought it her duty to keep something improving in hand, which generally lasted her six weeks on a moderate average. The Admiral found quite reading enough in the newspapers, pamphlets, and business publications; and their neighbours, the Greville family, were chiefly devoted to hunting and lawn tennis, so that there was some reason in Mrs. Arthuret's lamentation to the Vicar that dear Arthurine did so miss intellectual society, such as she had been used to with the High School mistresses--two of whom had actually been at Girton!
'Does she not get on with Bessie Merrifield?' he asked.
'Miss Bessie has a very sweet face; Arthurine did say she seemed well informed and more intelligent than her sister. Perhaps Arthurine might take her up. It would be such an advantage to the poor girl.'
'Which?' was on Mr. Doyle's tongue, but he restrained it, and only observed that Bessie had lived for a good many years in London.
'So I understood,' said Arthurine, 'but with an old grandmother, and that is quite as bad as if it was in the country; but I will see about it. I might get up a debating society, or one for studying German.'
In the meantime Arthurine decided on improving and embellishing the parish with a drinking fountain, and meeting Bessie one afternoon in the village, she started the idea.
'But,' said Bessie, 'there is a very good supply. Papa saw that good water was accessible to all the houses in the village street ten years ago, and the outlying ones have wells, and there's the brook for the cattle.'
'I am sure every village should have a fountain and a trough, and I shall have it here instead of this dirty corner.'
'Can you get the ground?'
'Oh, any one would give ground for such a purpose! Whose is it?'
'Mr. Grice's, at Butter End.'
The next time Susan and Bessie encountered Arthurine, she began--
'Can you or Admiral Merrifield do nothing with that horrid old Grice! Never was any one so pigheaded and stupid.'
'What? He won't part with the land you want?'
'No; I wrote to him and got no answer. Then I wrote again, and I got a peaked-hand sort of note that his wife wrote, I should think. "Mr. Grice presented his compliments" (compliments indeed!), "and had no intention of parting with any part of Spragg's portion." Well, then I called to represent what a benefit it would be to the parish and his own cattle, and what do you think the old brute said?--that "there was a great deal too much done for the parish already, and he wouldn't have no hand in setting up the labourers, who were quite impudent enough already." Well, I saw it was of no use to talk to an old wretch like that about social movements and equal rights, so I only put the question whether having pure water easily accessible would not tend to make them better behaved and less impudent as he called it, upon which he broke out into a tirade. "He didn't hold with cold water and teetotal, not he. Why, it had come to THAT--that there was no such thing as getting a fair day's work out of a labouring man with their temperance, and their lectures, and their schools, and their county councils and what not!" Really I had read of such people, but I hardly believed they still existed.'
'Grice is very old, and the regular old sort of farmer,' said Bessie.
'But could not the Admiral persuade him, or Mr. Doyle?'
'Oh no,' said Susan, 'it would be of no use. He was just as bad about a playground for the boys, though it would have prevented their being troublesome elsewhere.'
'Besides,' added Bessie, 'I am sure papa would say that there is no necessity. He had the water analysed, and it is quite good, and plenty of it.'
'Well, I shall see what can be done.'
'She thinks us as bad as old Grice,' said Susan, as they saw her walking away in a determined manner.
The next thing that was heard was the Admiral coming in from the servants' hall, whither he had been summoned by 'Please, sir, James Hodd wishes to speak to you.'
'What is this friend of yours about, Bessie?'
'What friend, papa?'
'Why, this Miss Arthur--what d'ye call her?' said the Admiral (who on the whole was much more attracted by her than were his daughters). 'Here's a deputation from her tenant, James Hodd, with "Please, sir, I wants to know if 'tis allowed to turn folks out of their houses as they've paid rent for reg'lar with a week's notice, when they pays by the year."'
'You don't mean it!' exclaimed Mrs. Merrifield and Susan together.
'Poor old Mrs. West,' said the mother.
'And all the Tibbinses!' exclaimed Susan. 'She can't do it, can she, papa?'
'Certainly not, without the proper notice, and so I told James, and that the notice she had sent down to him was so much waste-paper.'
'So at least she has created a village Hampden,' said Bessie, 'though, depend upon it, she little supposes herself to be the petty tyrant.'
'I must go and explain to her, I suppose, to-morrow morning,' said the Admiral.
However, he had scarcely reached his own gate before the ulstered form was seen rushing up to him.
'Oh! Admiral Merrifield, good-morning; I was coming to ask you--'
'And I was coming to you.'
'Oh! Admiral, is it really so--as that impudent man told me--that those horrid people can't be got out of those awful tumbledown, unhealthy places for all that immense time?'
'Surely he was not impudent to you? He was only asserting his right. The cottages were taken by the year, and you have no choice but to give six months' notice. I hope he was not disrespectful.'
'Well, no--I can't say that he was, though I don't care for those cap-in-hand ways of your people here. But at any rate, he says he won't go--no, not any of them, though I offered to pay them up to the end of the time, and now I must put off my beautiful plans. I was drawing them all yesterday morning--two model cottages on each side, and the drinking fountain in the middle. I brought them up to show you. Could you get the people to move out? I would promise them to return after the rebuilding.'
'Very nice drawings. Yes--yes--very kind intentions.'
'Then can't you persuade them?'
'But, my dear young lady, have you thought what is to become of them in the meantime?'
'Why, live somewhere else! People in Smokeland were always shifting about.'
'Yes--those poor little town tenements are generally let on short terms and are numerous enough. But here--where are the vacant cottages for your four families? Hodd with his five children, Tibbins with eight or nine, Mrs. West and her widow daughter and three children, and the Porters with a bedridden father?'
'They are dreadfully overcrowded. Is there really no place?'
'Probably not nearer than those trumpery new tenements at Bonchamp. That would be eight miles to be tramped to the men's work, and the Wests would lose the washing and charing that maintains them.'
'Then do you think it can never be done? See how nice my plans are!'
'Oh yes! very pretty drawings, but you don't allow much outlet.'
'I thought you had allotments, and that they would do, and I mean to get rid of the pig-sties.'
'A most unpopular proceeding, I warn you.'
'There's nothing more unsanitary than a pig-sty.'
'That depends on how it is kept. And may I ask, do you mean also to dispense with staircases?'
'Oh! I forgot. But do you really mean to say that I can never carry out my improvements, and that these people must live all herded together till everybody is dead?'
'Not quite that,' said the Admiral, laughing; 'but most improvements require patience and a little experience of the temper and habits of the people. There are cottages worse than these. I think two of them have four rooms, and the Wests and Porters do not require so much. If you built one or two elsewhere, and moved the people into them, or waited for a vacant one, you might carry out some of your plans--gradually.'
'And my fountain?'
'I am not quite sure, but I am afraid your cottages are on that stratum where you could not bring the water without great expense.'
Arthurine controlled herself enough for a civil 'Good-morning!' but she shed tears as she walked home and told her pitying mother that she was thwarted on every side, and that nobody could comprehend her.
The meetings for German reading were, however, contrived chiefly-- little as Arthurine guessed it--by the influence of Bessie Merrifield. The two Greville girls and Mr. Doyle's sister, together with the doctor's young wife, two damsels from the next parish, and a friend or two that the Arthurets had made at Bonchamp, formed an imposing circle--to begin.
'Oh, not on WILHELM TELL!' cried Arthurine. 'It might as well be the alphabet at once.'
However, the difficulties in the way of books, and consideration for general incompetency, reduced her to WILHELM TELL, and she began with a lecture first on Schiller, and then upon Switzerland, and on the legend; but when Bessie Merrifield put in a word of such history and criticisms as were not in the High School Manual, she was sure everything else must be wrong--'Fraulein Blumenbach never said so, and she was an admirable German scholar.'
Miss Doyle went so far as to declare she should not go again to see Bessie Merrifield so silenced, sitting by after the first saying nothing, but only with a little laugh in her eyes.
'But,' said Bessie, 'it is such fun to see any person having it so entirely her own way--like Macaulay, so cock-sure of everything--and to see those Bonchamp girls--Mytton is their name--so entirely adoring her.'
'I am sorry she has taken up with those Myttons,' said Miss Doyle.
'So am I,' answered Susan.
'You too, Susie!' exclaimed Bessie--'you, who never have a word to say against any one!'
'I daresay they are very good girls,' said Susan; 'but they are--'
'Underbred,' put in Miss Doyle in the pause. 'And how they flatter!'
'I think the raptures are genuine gush,' said Bessie; 'but that is so much the worse for Arthurine. Is there any positive harm in the family beyond the second-rate tone?'
'It was while you were away,' said Susan; 'but their father somehow behaved very ill about old Colonel Mytton's will--at least papa thought so, and never wished us to visit them.'
'He was thought to have used unfair influence on the old gentleman,' said Miss Doyle; 'but the daughters are so young that probably they had no part in it. Only it gives a general distrust of the family; and the sons are certainly very undesirable young men.'
'It is unlucky,' said Bessie, 'that we can do nothing but inflict a course of snubbing, in contrast with a course of admiration.'
'I am sure I don't want to snub her,' said good-natured Susan. 'Only when she does want to do such queer things, how can it be helped?'
It was quite true, Mrs. and Miss Arthuret had been duly called upon and invited about by the neighbourhood; but it was a scanty one, and they had not wealth and position enough to compensate for the girl's self-assertion and literary pretensions. It was not a superior or intellectual society, and, as the Rockstone Merrifields laughingly declared, it was fifty years behindhand, and where Bessie Merrifield, for the sake of the old stock and her meek bearing of her success--nay, her total ignoring of her literary honours--would be accepted. Arthurine, half her age, and a newcomer, was disliked for the pretensions which her mother innocently pressed on the world. Simplicity and complacency were taken for arrogance, and the mother and daughter were kept upon formal terms of civility by all but the Merrifields, who were driven into discussion and opposition by the young lady's attempts at reformations in the parish.
It was the less wonder that they made friends where their intimacy was sought and appreciated. There was nothing underbred about themselves; both were ladies ingrain, though Arthurine was abrupt and sometimes obtrusive, but they had not lived a life such as to render them sensitive to the lack of fine edges in others, and were quite ready to be courted by those who gave the meed of appreciation that both regarded as Arthurine's just portion.
Mr. Mytton had been in India, and had come back to look after an old relation; to whom he and his wife had paid assiduous attention, and had been so rewarded as to excite the suspicion and displeasure of the rest of the family. The prize had not been a great one, and the prosperity of the family was further diminished by the continual failures of the ne'er-do-well sons, so that they had to make the best of the dull, respectable old house they had inherited, in the dull, respectable old street of the dull, respectable old town. Daisy and Pansy Mytton were, however, bright girls, and to them Arthurine Arthuret was a sort of realised dream of romance, raised suddenly to the pinnacle of all to which they had ever durst aspire.
After meeting her at a great OMNIUM GATHERUM garden party, the acquaintance flourished. Arthurine was delighted to give the intense pleasure that the freedom of a country visit afforded to the sisters, and found in them the contemporaries her girl nature had missed.
They were not stupid, though they had been poorly educated, and were quite willing to be instructed by her and to read all she told them. In fact, she was their idol, and a very gracious one. Deeply did they sympathise in all her sufferings from the impediments cast in her way at Stokesley.
Indeed, the ladies there did not meet her so often on their own ground for some time, and were principally disturbed by reports of her doings at Bonchamp, where she played at cricket, and at hockey, gave a course of lectures on physiology, presided at a fancy-dress bazaar for the schools as Lady Jane Grey, and was on two or three committees. She travelled by preference on her tricycle, though she had a carriage, chiefly for the sake of her mother, who was still in a state of fervent admiration, even though perhaps a little worried at times by being hurried past her sober paces.
The next shock that descended on Stokesley was that, in great indignation, a cousin sent the Merrifields one of those American magazines which are read and contributed to by a large proportion of English. It contained an article called 'The Bide-as-we-bes and parish of Stick-stodge-cum-Cadgerley,' and written with the same sort of clever, flippant irony as the description of the mixed company in the boarding-house on the Lago Maggiore.
There was the parish embowered, or rather choked, in trees, the orderly mechanical routine, the perfect self-satisfaction of all parties, and their imperviousness to progress,--the two squires, one a fox-hunter, the other a general reposing on his laurels,--the school where everything was subordinated to learning to behave oneself lowly and reverently to all one's betters, and to do one's duty in that state of life to which it HAS pleased Heaven to call one,--the horror at her tricycle, the impossibility of improvement, the predilection for farmyard odours, the adherence to tumbledown dwellings, the contempt of drinking fountains,--all had their meed of exaggeration not without drollery.
The two ancient spinsters, daughters to the general, with their pudding-baskets, buttonholes, and catechisms, had their full share-- dragooning the parish into discipline,--the younger having so far marched with the century as to have indited a few little tracts of the Goody Two-Shoes order, and therefore being mentioned by her friends with bated breath as something formidable, 'who writes,' although, when brought to the test, her cultivation was of the vaguest, most discursive order. Finally, there was a sketch of the heavy dinner party which had welcomed the strangers, and of the ponderous county magnates and their wives who had been invited, and the awe that their broad and expansive ladies expected to impress, and how one set talked of their babies, and the other of G.F.S. girls, and the gentlemen seemed to be chiefly occupied in abusing their M.P. and his politics. Altogether, it was given as a lesson to Americans of the still feudal and stationary state of country districts in poor old England.
'What do you think of this, Bessie?' exclaimed Admiral Merrifield. 'We seem to have got a young firebrand in the midst of us.'
'Oh, papa! have you got that thing? What a pity!'
'You don't mean that you have seen it before?'
'Yes; one of my acquaintances in London sent it to me.'
'And you kept it to yourself?'
'I thought it would only vex you and mamma. Who sent it to you?'
'Anne did, with all the passages marked. What a horrid little treacherous baggage!'
'I daresay we are very tempting. For once we see ourselves as others see us! And you see 'tis American.'
'All the worse, holding us, who have done our best to welcome her hospitably, up to the derision of the Yankees!'
'But you won't take any notice.'
'Certainly not, ridiculous little puss, except to steer as clear of her as possible for fear she should be taking her observations. "Bide as we be"; why, 'tis the best we can do. She can't pick a hole in your mother though, Bess. It would have been hard to have forgiven her that! You're not such an aged spinster.'
'It is very funny, though,' said Bessie; 'just enough exaggeration to give it point! Here is her interview with James Hodd.'
Whereat the Admiral could not help laughing heartily, and then he picked himself out as the general, laughed again, and said: 'Naughty girl! Bess, I'm glad that is not your line. Little tracts--Goody Two-Shoes! Why, what did that paper say of your essay, Miss Bess? That it might stand a comparison with Helps, wasn't it?'
'And I wish I was likely to enjoy such lasting fame as Goody Two- Shoes,' laughed Bessie, in a state of secret exultation at this bit of testimony from her father.
Mrs. Merrifield, though unscathed, was much more hurt and annoyed than either her husband or her daughter, especially at Susan and Bessie being termed old maids. She DID think it very ungrateful, and wondered how Mrs. Arthuret could have suffered such a thing to be done. Only the poor woman was quite foolish about her daughter-- could have had no more authority than a cat. 'So much for modern education.'
But it was not pleasant to see the numbers of the magazine on the counters at Bonchamp, and to know there were extracts in the local papers, and still less to be indignantly condoled with by neighbours who expressed their intention of 'cutting' the impertinent girl. They were exactly the 'old fogies' Arthurine cared for the least, yet whose acquaintance was the most creditable, and the home party at Stokesley were unanimous in entreating others to ignore the whole and treat the newcomers as if nothing had happened.
They themselves shook hands, and exchanged casual remarks as if nothing were amiss, nor was the subject mentioned, except that Mrs. Arthuret contrived to get a private interview with Mrs. Merrifield.
'Oh! dear Mrs. Merrifield, I am so grieved, and so is Arthurine. We were told that the Admiral was so excessively angry, and he is so kind. I could not bear for him to think Arthurine meant anything personal.'
'Indeed,' said Mrs. Merrifield, rather astonished.
'But is he so very angry?--for it is all a mistake.'
'He laughs, and so does Bessie,' said the mother.
'Laughs! Does he? But I do assure you Arthurine never meant any place in particular; she only intended to describe the way things go on in country districts, don't you understand? She was talking one day at the Myttons, and they were all so much amused that they wanted her to write it down. She read it one evening when they were with us, and they declared it was too good not to be published--and almost before she knew it, Fred Mytton's literary friend got hold of it and took it to the agency of this paper. But indeed, indeed, she never thought of its being considered personal, and is as vexed as possible at the way in which it has been taken up. She has every feeling about your kindness to us, and she was so shocked when Pansy Mytton told us that the Admiral was furious.'
'Whoever told Miss Mytton so made a great mistake. The Admiral only is--is--amused--as you know gentlemen will be at young girls' little--little scrapes,' returned Mrs. Merrifield, longing to say 'impertinences,' but refraining, and scarcely believing what nevertheless was true, that Arthurine did not know how personal she had been, although her mother said it all over again twice. Bessie, however, did believe it, from experience of resemblances where she had never intended direct portraiture; and when there was a somewhat earnest invitation to a garden party at the Gap, the Merrifields not only accepted for themselves, but persuaded as many of their neighbours as they could to countenance the poor girl. 'There is something solid at the bottom in spite of all the effervescence,' said Bessie.
It was late in the year for a garden party, being on the 2d of October, but weather and other matters had caused delays, and the Indian summer had begun with warm sun and exquisite tints. 'What would not the maple and the liquid amber have been by this time,' thought the sisters, 'if they had been spared.' Some of the PETITE NOBLESSE, however, repented of their condescension when they saw how little it was appreciated. Mrs. Arthuret, indeed, was making herself the best hostess that a lady who had served no apprenticeship could be to all alike, but Arthurine or 'Atty,' as Daisy and Pansy were heard shouting to her--all in white flannels, a man all but the petticoats--seemed to be absorbed in a little court of the second-rate people of Bonchamp, some whom, as Mrs. Greville and Lady Smithson agreed, they had never expected to meet. She was laughing and talking eagerly, and by and by ran up to Bessie, exclaiming in a patronising tone--
'Oh! my dear Miss Bessie, let me introduce you to Mr. Foxholm--such a clever literary man. He knows everybody--all about everybody and everything. It would be such an advantage! And he has actually made me give him my autograph! Only think of that!'
Bessie thought of her own good luck in being anonymous, but did not express it, only saying, 'Autograph-hunters are a great nuisance. I know several people who find them so.'
'Yes, he said it was one of the penalties of fame that one must submit to,' returned Miss Arthuret, with a delighted laugh of consciousness.
Bessie rejoiced that none of her own people were near to see the patronising manner in which Arthurine introduced her to Mr. Foxholm, a heavily-bearded man, whose eyes she did not at all like, and who began by telling her that he felt as if he had crossed the Rubicon, and entering an Arcadia, had found a Parnassus.
Bessie looked to see whether the highly-educated young lady detected the malaprop for the Helicon, but Arthurine was either too well-bred or too much exalted to notice either small slips, or even bad taste, and she stood smiling and blushing complacently. However, just then Susan hurried up. 'Bessie, you are wanted. Here's a card. The gentleman sent it in, and papa asked me to find you.'
Bessie opened her eyes. The card belonged to the editor of one of the most noted magazines of the day, but one whose principles she did not entirely approve. What could be coming?
Her father was waiting for her.
'Well, Miss Bessie,' he said, laughing, 'Jane said the gentleman was very urgent in wanting to know when you would be in. An offer, eh?'
'Perhaps it is an offer, but not of THAT sort,' said Bessie, and she explained what the unliterary Admiral had not understood. He answered with a whistle.
'Shall you do it, Bessie?'
'I think not,' she said quietly.
The editor was found waiting for her, with many apologies for bringing her home, and the Admiral was so delighted with his agreeableness as hardly to be able to tear himself away to bring home his wife.
The offer was, as Bessie expected, of excellent terms for a serial story--terms that proved to her what was her own value, and in which she saw education for her sister Anne's eldest boy.
'Of course, there would be a certain adaptation to our readers.'
She knew what that meant, and there was that in her face which drew forth the assurance.
'Of course nothing you would not wish to say would be required, but it would be better not to press certain subjects.'
'I understand,' said Bessie. 'I doubt--'
'Perhaps you will think it over.'
Bessie's first thought was, 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, then let my right hand forget her cunning.' That had been the inward motto of her life. Her second was, 'Little Sam! David's mission room!' There was no necessity to answer at once, and she knew the periodical rather by report than by reading, so she accepted the two numbers that were left with her, and promised to reply in a week. It was a question on which to take counsel with her father, and with her own higher conscience and heavenly Guide.
The Admiral, though not much given to reading for its own sake, and perhaps inclined to think ephemeral literature the more trifling because his little daughter was a great light there, was anything but a dull man, and had an excellent judgment. So Bessie, with all the comfort of a woman still with a wise father's head over her, decided to commit the matter to him. He was somewhat disappointed at finding her agreeable guest gone, and wished that dinner and bed had been offered.
Mrs. Merrifield and Susan were still a good deal excited about Arthurine's complimentary friend, who they said seemed to belong to Fred Mytton, of whom some of the ladies had been telling most unpleasant reports, and there was much lamentation over the set into which their young neighbour had thrown herself.
'Such a dress too!' sighed Mrs. Merrifield.
'And her headmistress has just arrived,' said Susan, 'to make her worse than ever!'
'How comes a headmistress to be running about the country at this time of year?' asked Bessie.
'She has been very ill,' said Mrs. Merrifield, 'and they wrote to her to come down as soon as she could move. There was a telegram this morning, and she drove up in the midst of the party, and was taken to her room at once to rest. That was the reason Miss Arthuret was away so long. I thought it nice in her.'
'Perhaps she will do good,' said Bessie.
Dinner was just over, and the Admiral had settled down with his shaded lamp to read and judge of the article that Bessie had given him as a specimen, when in came the message, 'Mrs. Rudden wishes to speak to you, sir.'
Mrs. Rudden was the prosperous widow who continued the business in the village shop, conjointly with the little farm belonging to the Gap property. She was a shrewd woman, had been able to do very well by her family, and was much esteemed, paying a rent which was a considerable item in the Gap means. The ladies wondered together at the summons. Susan hoped 'that girl' did not want to evict her, and Bessie suggested that a co-operative store was a more probable peril. Presently the Admiral came back. 'Do any of you know Miss Arthuret's writing?' he said.
'Bessie knows it best,' said Susan.
He showed a letter. 'That is hers--the signature,' said Bessie. 'I are not sure about the rest. Why--what does it mean?'
For she read--
'The Gap, 2D OCT.
'MRS. RUDDEN,--You are requested to pay over to the bearer, Mr. Foxholm, fifty pounds of the rent you were about to bring me to- morrow.--I remain, etc.,
'What does it mean?' asked Bessie again. 'That's just what Mrs. Rudden has come up to me to ask,' said the Admiral. 'This fellow presented it in her shop about a quarter of an hour ago. The good woman smelt a rat. What do you think she did? She looked at it and him, asked him to wait a bit, whipped out at her back door, luckily met the policeman starting on his rounds, bade him have an eye to the customer in her shop, and came off to show it to me. That young woman is demented enough for anything, and is quite capable of doing it--for some absurd scheme. But do you think it is hers, or a swindle?'
'Didn't she say she had given her autograph?' exclaimed Susan.
'And see here,' said Bessie, 'her signature is at the top of the sheet of note-paper--small paper. And as she always writes very large, it would be easy to fill up the rest, changing the first side over.'
'I must take it up to her at once,' said the Admiral. 'Even if it be genuine, she may just as well see that it is a queer thing to have done, and not exactly the way to treat her tenants.'
'It is strange too that this man should have known anything about Mrs. Rudden,' said Mrs. Merrifield.
'Mrs. Rudden says she had a message this morning, when she had come up with her rent and accounts, to say that Miss Arthuret was very much engaged, and would be glad if she would come to-morrow! Could this fellow have been about then?'
No one knew, but Bessie breathed the word, 'Was not that young Mytton there?'
It was not taken up, for no one liked to pronounce the obvious inference. Besides, the Admiral was in haste, not thinking it well that Mr. Foxholm should be longer kept under surveillance in the shop, among the bread, bacon, cheeses, shoes, and tins of potted meat.
He was then called for; and on his loudly exclaiming that he had been very strangely treated, the Admiral quietly told him that Mrs. Rudden had been disturbed at so unusual a way of demanding her rent, and had come for advice on the subject; and to satisfy their minds that all was right, Mr. Foxholm would, no doubt, consent to wait till the young lady could be referred to. Mr. Foxholm did very decidedly object; he said no one had any right to detain him when the lady's signature was plain, and Admiral Merrifield had seen him in her society, and he began an account of the philanthropical purpose for which he said the money had been intended, but he was cut short.
'You must be aware,' said the Admiral, 'that this is not an ordinary way of acting, and whatever be your purpose, Mrs. Rudden must ascertain your authority more fully before paying over so large a sum. I give you your choice, therefore, either of accompanying us to the Gap, or of remaining in Mrs. Rudden's parlour till we return.'
The furtive eye glanced about, and the parlour was chosen. Did he know that the policeman stationed himself in the shop outside?
The dinner at the Gap was over, and Miss Elmore, the headmistress, was established in an arm-chair, listening to the outpouring of her former pupil and the happy mother about all the felicities and glories of their present life, the only drawback being the dullness and obstructiveness of the immediate neighbours. 'I thought Miss Merrifield was your neighbour--Mesa?'
'Oh no--quite impossible! These are Merrifields, but the daughters are two regular old goodies, wrapped up in Sunday schools and penny clubs.'
'Well, that is odd! The editor of the --- came down in the train with me, and said he was going to see Mesa--Miss Elizabeth Merrifield.'
'I do think it is very unfair,' began Arthurine; but at that moment the door-bell rang. 'How strange at this time!'
'Oh! perhaps the editor is coming here!' cried Arthurine. 'Did you tell him I lived here, Miss Elmore?'
'Admiral Merrifield,' announced the parlour-maid.
He had resolved not to summon the young lady in private, as he thought there was more chance of common-sense in the mother.
'You are surprised to see me at this time,' he said; 'but Mrs. Rudden is perplexed by a communication from you.'
'Mrs. Rudden!' exclaimed Arthurine. 'Why, I only sent her word that I was too busy to go through her accounts to-day, and asked her to come to-morrow. That isn't against the laws of the Medes and Persians, is it?'
'Then did you send her this letter?'
'I?' said Arthurine, staring at it, with her eyes at their fullest extent. 'I! fifty pounds! Mr. Foxholm! What does it mean?'
'Then you never wrote that order?'
'No! no! How should I?'
'That is not your writing?'
'No, not that.'
'Look at the signature.'
'Oh! oh! oh!'--and she dropped into a chair. 'The horrible man! That's the autograph I gave him this afternoon.'
'You are sure?'
'Quite; for my pen spluttered in the slope of the A. Has she gone and given it to him?'
'No. She brought it to me, and set the policeman to watch him.'
'What a dear, good woman! Shall you send him to prison, Admiral Merrifield? What can be done to him?' said Arthurine, not looking at all as if she would like to abrogate capital punishment.
'Well, I had been thinking,' said the Admiral. 'You see he did not get it, and though I could commit him for endeavouring to obtain money on false pretences, I very much doubt whether the prosecution would not be worse for you than for him.'
'That is very kind of you, Admiral!' exclaimed the mother. 'It would be terribly awkward for dear Arthurine to stand up and say he cajoled her into giving her autograph. It might always be remembered against her!'
'Exactly so,' said the Admiral; 'and perhaps there may be another reason for not pushing the matter to extremity. The man is a stranger here, I believe.'
'He has been staying at Bonchamp,' said Mrs. Arthuret. 'It was young Mr. Mytton who brought him over this afternoon.'
'Just so. And how did he come to be aware that Mrs. Rudden owed you any money?'
There was a pause, then Arthurine broke out--
'Oh, Daisy and Pansy can't have done anything; but they were all three there helping me mark the tennis-courts when the message came.'
'Including the brother?'
'He is a bad fellow, and I would not wish to shield him in any way, but that such a plot should be proved against him would be a grievous disgrace to the family.'
'I can't ever feel about them as I have done,' said Arthurine, in tears. 'Daisy and Pansy said so much about poor dear Fred, and every one being hard on him, and his feeling my good influence--and all the time he was plotting this against me, with my chalk in his hand marking my grass,' and she broke down in child-like sobs.
The mortification was terrible of finding her pinnacle of fame the mere delusion of a sharper, and the shock of shame seemed to overwhelm the poor girl.
'Oh, Admiral!' cried her mother, 'she cannot bear it. I know you will be good, and manage it so as to distress her as little as possible, and not have any publicity.'
'1 will do my best,' said the Admiral. 'I will try and get a confession out of him, and send him off, though it is a pity that such a fellow should get off scot-free.'
'Oh, never mind, so that my poor Arthurine's name is not brought forward! We can never be grateful enough for your kindness.'
It was so late that the Admiral did not come back that night, and the ladies were at breakfast when he appeared again. Foxholm had, on finding there was no escape, confessed the fraud, but threw most of the blame on Fred Mytton, who was in debt, not only to him but to others. Foxholm himself seemed to have been an adventurer, who preyed on young men at the billiard-table, and had there been in some collusion with Fred, though the Admiral had little doubt as to which was the greater villain. He had been introduced to the Mytton family, who were not particular; indeed, Mr. Mytton had no objection to increasing his pocket-money by a little wary, profitable betting and gambling on his own account. However, the associates had no doubt brought Bonchamp to the point of being too hot to hold them, and Fred, overhearing the arrangement with Mrs. Rudden, had communicated it to him--whence the autograph trick. Foxholm was gone, and in the course of the day it was known that young Mytton was also gone.
The Admiral promised that none of his family should mention the matter, and that he would do his best to silence Mrs. Rudden, who for that matter probably believed the whole letter to have been forged, and would not enter into the enthusiasm of autographs.
'Oh, thank you! It is so kind,' said the mother; and Arthurine, who looked as if she had not slept all night, and was ready to burst into tears on the least provocation, murmured something to the same effect, which the Admiral answered, half hearing--
'Never mind, my dear, you will be wiser another time; young people will be inexperienced.'
'Is that the cruellest cut of all?' thought Miss Elmore, as she beheld her former pupil scarcely restraining herself enough for the farewell civilities, and then breaking down into a flood of tears.
Her mother hovered over her with, 'What is it? Oh! my dear child, you need not be afraid; he is so kind!'
'I hate people to be kind, that is the very thing,' said Arthurine,-- 'Oh! Miss Elmore, don't go!--while he is meaning all the time that I have made such a fool of myself! And he is glad, I know he is, he and his hateful, stupid, stolid daughters.'
'My dear! my dear!' exclaimed her mother.
'Well, haven't they done nothing but thwart me, whatever I wanted to do, and aren't they triumphing now in this abominable man's treachery, and my being taken in? I shall go away, and sell the place, and never come back again.'
'I should think that was the most decided way of confessing a failure,' said Miss Elmore; and as Mrs. Arthuret was called away by the imperative summons to the butcher, she spoke more freely. 'Your mother looks terrified at being so routed up again.'
'Oh, mother will be happy anywhere; and how can I stay with these stick-in-the-mud people, just like what I have read about?'
'And have gibbeted! Really, Arthurine, I should call them very generous!'
'It is their thick skins,' muttered she; 'at least so the Myttons said; but, indeed, I did not mean to be so personal as it was thought.'
'But tell me. Why did you not get on with Mesa?'
'That was a regular take-in. Not to tell one! When I began my German class, she put me out with useless explanations.'
'What kind of explanations?'
'Oh, about the Swiss being under the Empire, or something, and she WOULD go into parallels of Saxon words, and English poetry, such as our Fraulein never troubled us with. But I showed her it would not DO.'
'So instead of learning what you had not sense to appreciate, you wanted to teach your old routine.'
'But, indeed, she could not pronounce at all well, and she looked ever so long at difficult bits, and then she even tried to correct ME.'
'Did she go on coming after you silenced her?'
'Yes, and never tried to interfere again.'
'I am afraid she drew her own conclusions about High Schools.'
'Oh, Miss Elmore, you used to like us to be thorough and not discursive, and how could anybody brought up in this stultifying place, ages ago, know what will tell in an exam?'
'Oh! Arthurine. How often have I told you that examinations are not education. I never saw so plainly that I have not educated you.'
'I wanted to prepare Daisy and Pansy, and they didn't care about her prosing when we wanted to get on with the book.'
'Which would have been the best education for them, poor girls, an example of courtesy, patience, and humility, or GETTING ON, as you call it?'
'Oh! Miss Elmore, you are very hard on me, when I have just been so cruelly disappointed.'
'My dear child, it is only because I want you to discover why you have been so cruelly disappointed.'
It would be wearisome to relate all that Arthurine finally told of those thwartings by the Merrifields which had thrown her into the arms of the Mytton family, nor how Miss Elmore brought her to confess that each scheme was either impracticable, or might have been injurious, and that a little grain of humility might have made her see things very differently. Yet it must be owned that the good lady felt rather like bending a bow that would spring back again.
Bessie Merrifield had, like her family, been inclined to conclude that all was the fault of High Schools. She did not see Miss Elmore at first, thinking the Arthurets not likely to wish to be intruded upon, and having besides a good deal to think over. For she and her father had talked over the proposal, which pecuniarily was so tempting, and he, without prejudice, but on principle, had concurred with her in deciding that it was her duty not to add one touch of attractiveness to aught which supported a cause contrary to their strongest convictions. Her father's approbation was the crowning pleasure, though she felt the external testimony to her abilities, quite enough to sympathise with such intoxication of success as to make any compliment seem possible. Miss Elmore had one long talk with her, beginning by saying--
'I wish to consult you about my poor, foolish child.'
'Ah! I am afraid we have not helped her enough!' said Bessie. 'If we had been more sympathetic she might have trusted us more.'
'Then you are good enough to believe that it was not all folly and presumption.'
'I am sure it was not,' said Bessie. 'None of us ever thought it more than inexperience and a little exaltation, with immense good intention at the bottom. Of course, our dear old habits did look dull, coming from life and activity, and we rather resented her contempt for them; but I am quite sure that after a little while, every one will forget all about this, or only recollect it as one does a girlish scrape.'
'Yes. To suppose all the neighbourhood occupied in laughing at her is only another phase of self-importance. You see, the poor child necessarily lived in a very narrow world, where examinations came, whatever I could do, to seem everything, and she only knew things beyond by books. She had success enough there to turn her head, and not going to Cambridge, never had fair measure of her abilities. Then came prosperity--'
'Quite enough to upset any one's balance,' said Bessie. 'In fact, only a very sober, not to say stolid, nature would have stood it.'
'Poor things! They were so happy--so open-hearted. I did long to caution them. "Pull cup, steady hand."'
'It will all come right now,' said Bessie. 'Mrs Arthuret spoke of their going away for the winter; I do not think it will be a bad plan, for then we can start quite fresh with them; and the intimacy with the Myttons will be broken, though I am sorry for the poor girls. They have no harm in them, and Arthurine was doing them good.'
'A whisper to you, Miss Merrifield--they are going back with me, to be prepared for governesses at Arthurine's expense. It is the only thing for them in the crash that young man has brought on the family.'
'Dear, good Arthurine! She only needed to learn how to carry her cup.'
FATHER AND DAUGHTER
SCENE.--THE DRAWING-ROOM OF DARKGLADE VICARAGE. MR. AVELAND, AN ELDERLY CLERGYMAN. MRS. MOLDWARP, WIDOW ON THE VERGE OF MIDDLE AGE.
MR. A. So, my dear good child, you will come back to me, and do what you can for the lonely old man!
MRS. M. I know nothing can really make up--
MR. A. Ah! my dear, you know only too well by your own experience, but if any one could, it would be you. And at least you will let nothing drop in the parish work. You and Cicely together will be able to take that up when Euphrasia is gone too.
MRS. M. It will be delightful to me to come back to it! You know I was to the manner born. Nothing seems to be so natural!
MR. A. I am only afraid you are giving up a great deal. I don't know that I could accept it--except for the parish and these poor children.
MRS. M. Now, dear father, you are not to talk so! Is not this my home, my first home, and though it has lost its very dearest centre, what can be so dear to me when my own has long been broken?
MR. A. But the young folks--young Londoners are apt to feel such a change a great sacrifice.
MRS. M. Lucius always longs to be here whenever he is on shore, and Cicely. Oh! it will be so good for Cicely to be with you, dear father. I know some day you will be able to enjoy her. And I do look forward to having her to myself, as I have never had before since she was a little creature in the nursery. It is so fortunate that I had not closed the treaty for the house at Brompton, so that I can come whenever Phrasie decides on leaving you.
MR. A. And she must not be long delayed. She and Holland have waited for each other quite long enough. Your dear mother begged that there should be no delay; and neither you nor I, Mary, could bear to shorten the time of happiness together that may be granted them. She will have no scruple about leaving George's children now you and Cicely will see to them--poor little things!
MRS. M. Cicely has always longed for a sphere, and between the children and the parish she will be quite happy. You need have no fears for her, father!
BROTHER AND SISTER
SCENE--THE BROAD WALK UNDER THE VICARAGE GARDEN WALL, LUCIUS MOLDWARP, A LIEUTENANT IN THE NAVY. CICELY MOLDWARP.
C. Isn't it disgusting, Lucius?
L. What is?
C. This proceeding of the mother's.
L. Do you mean coming down here to live?
C. Of course I do! Without so much as consulting me.
L. The captain does not ordinarily consult the crew.
C. Bosh, Lucius. That habit of discipline makes you quite stupid. Now, haven't I the right to be consulted?
L. (A WHISTLE)
C. (A STAMP)
L. Pray, what would your sagacity have proposed for grandpapa and the small children?
L. (A SLIGHT LAUGH.)
C. I do think it is quite shocking of Aunt Phrasie to be in such haste to marry!
L. After eleven years--eh? or twelve, is it?
C. I mean of course so soon after her mother's death.
L. You know dear granny herself begged that the wedding might not be put off on that account.
C. Mr. Holland might come and live here.
L. Perhaps he thinks he has a right to be consulted.
C. Then she might take those children away with her.
L. Leaving grandpapa alone.
C. The Curate might live in the house.
L. Lively and satisfactory to mother. Come now, Cis, why are you so dead set against this plan? It is only because your august consent has not been asked?
C. I should have minded less if the pros and cons had been set before me, instead of being treated like a chattel; but I do not think my education should be sacrificed.
L. Not educated! At twenty!
C. Don't be so silly, Lucius. This is the time when the most important brain work is to be done. There are the art classes at the Slade, and the lectures I am down for, and the Senior Cambridge and cookery and nursing. Yes, I see you make faces! You sailors think women are only meant for you to play with when you are on shore; but I must work.
L. Work enough here!
C. Goody-goody! Babies, school-children, and old women! I'm meant for something beyond that, or what are intellect and artistic faculty given for?
L. You could read for Cambridge exam. all the same. Here are tons of books, and grandpapa would help you. Why not? He is not a bit of a dull man. He is up to everything.
C. So far as YOU know. Oh no, he is not naturally dense. He is a dear old man; but you know clerics of his date, especially when they have vegetated in the country, never know anything but the Fathers and church architecture.
L. Hum! I should have said the old gentleman had a pretty good intelligence of his own. I know he set me on my legs for my exam. as none of the masters at old Coade's ever did. What has made you take such a mortal aversion to the place? We used to think it next door to Paradise when we were small children.
C. Of course, when country freedom was everything, and we knew nothing of rational intercourse; but when all the most intellectual houses are open to me, it is intolerable to be buried alive here with nothing to talk of but clerical shop, and nothing to do but read to old women, and cram the unfortunate children with the catechism. And mother and Aunt Phrasie expect me to be in raptures!
L. Whereas you seem to be meditating a demonstration.
C. I shall tell mother that if she must needs come down to wallow in her native goodiness, it is due to let me board in Kensington till my courses are completed.
L. Since she won't be an unnatural daughter, she is to leave the part to you. Well, I suppose it will be for the general peace.
C. Now, Lucius, you speak out of the remains of the old tyrannical barbarism, when the daughters were nothing but goods and chattels.
L. Goods, yes, indeed, and betters.
C. No doubt the men liked it! But won't you stand by me, Lucius? You say it would be for the general peace.
L. I only said you would be better away than making yourself obnoxious. I can't think how you can have the heart, Cis, such a pet as you always were.
C. I would not hurt their feelings for the world, only my improvement is too important to be sacrificed, and if no one else will stand up for me, I must stand up for myself.
BRIDE-ELECT AND FATHER
SCENE.--THREE WEEKS LATER. BREAKFAST TABLE AT DARKGLADE VICARAGE, MR. AVELAND AND EUPHRASIA READING THEIR LETTERS. THREE LITTLE CHILDREN EATING BREAD AND MILK.
E. There! Mary has got the house at Brompton off her hands and can come for good on the 11th. That is the greatest possible comfort. She wants to bring her piano; it has a better tone than ours.
MR. A. Certainly! Little Miss Hilda there will soon be strumming her scales on the old one, and Mary and Cis will send me to sleep in the evening with hers.
MR. A. Why, Phrasie, what's the matter?
E. This is a blow! Cicely is only coming to be bridesmaid, and then going back to board at Kensington and go on with her studies.
MR. A. To board? All alone?
E. Oh! that's the way with young ladies!
MR. A. Mary cannot have consented.
E. Have you done, little folks? Then say grace, Hilda, and run out till the lesson bell rings. Yes, poor Mary, I am afraid she thinks all that Cecilia decrees is right; or if she does not naturally believe so, she is made to.
MR. A. Come, come, Phrasie, I always thought Mary a model mother.
E. So did I, and so she was while the children were small, except that they were more free and easy with her than was the way in our time. And I think she is all that is to be desired to her son; but when last I was in London, I cannot say I was satisfied, I thought Cissy had got beyond her.
MR. A. For want of a father?
E. Not entirely. You know I could not think Charles Moldwarp quite worthy of Mary, though she never saw it.
MR. A. Latterly we saw so little of him! He liked to spend his holiday in mountain climbing, and Mary made her visits here alone.
E. Exactly so. Sympathy faded out between them, though she, poor dear, never betrayed it, if she realised it, which I doubt. And as Cissy took after her father, this may have weakened her allegiance to her mother. At any rate, as soon as she was thought to have outgrown her mother's teaching, those greater things, mother's influence and culture, were not thought of, and she went to school and had her companions and interests apart; while Mary, good soul, filled up the vacancy with good works, and if once you get into the swing of that sort of thing in town, there's no end to the demands upon your time. I don't think she ever let them bore her husband. He was out all day, and didn't want her; but I am afraid they do bore her daughter, and absorb attention and time, so as to hinder full companionship, till Cissy has grown up an extraneous creature, not formed by her. Mary thinks, in her humility, dear old thing, that it is a much superior creature; but I don't like it as well as the old sort.
MR. A. The old barndoor hen hatched her eggs and bred up her chicks better than the fine prize fowl. Eh?
E. So that incubator-hatched chicks, with a hot-bed instead of a hovering wing and tender cluck-cluck, are the fashion! I was in hopes that coming down to the old coop, with no professors to run after, and you to lead them both, all would right itself, but it seems my young lady wants more improving.
MR. A. Well, my dear, it must be mortifying to a clever girl to have her studies cut short.
E. Certainly; but in my time we held that studies were subordinate to duties; and that there were other kinds of improvement than in model-drawing and all the rest of it.
MR. A. It will not be for long, and Cissy will find the people, or has found them, and Mary will accept them.
E. If her native instinct objects, she will be cajoled or bullied into seeing with Cissy's eyes.
MR. A. Well, Euphrasia, my dear, let us trust that people are the best judges of their own affairs, and remember that the world has got beyond us. Mary was always a sensible, right-minded girl, and I cannot believe her as blind as you would make out.
E. At any rate, dear papa, you never have to say to her as to me, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.'
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
SCENE.--DARKGLADE VICARAGE DRAWING-ROOM.
MRS. M. So, my dear, you think it impossible to be happy here?
C. Little Mamsey, why WILL you never understand? It is not a question of happiness, but of duty to myself.
MRS. M. And that is--
C. Not to throw away all my chances of self-improvement by burrowing into this hole.
MRS. M. Oh, my dear, I don't like to hear you call it so.
C. Yes, I know you care for it. You were bred up here, and know nothing better, poor old Mamsey, and pottering suits you exactly; but it is too much to ask me to sacrifice my wider fields of culture and usefulness.
MRS. M. Grandpapa would enjoy nothing so much as reading with you. He said so.
C. Oxford half a century old and wearing off ever since. No, I thank you! Besides, it is not only physical science, but art.
MRS. M. There's the School of Art at Holbrook.
C. My dear mother, I am far past country schools of art!
MRS. M. It is not as if you intended to take up art as a profession.
C. Mother! will nothing ever make you understand? Nothing ought to be half-studied, merely to pass away the time as an ACCOMPLISHMENT (UTTERED WITH INFINITE SCORN, ACCENTUATED ON THE SECOND SYLLABLE), just to do things to sell at bazaars. No! Art with me means work worthy of exhibition, with a market-price, and founded on a thorough knowledge of the secrets of the human frame.
MRS. M. Those classes! I don't like all I hear of them, or their attendants.
C. If you WILL listen to all the gossip of all the old women of both sexes, I can't help it! Can't you trust to innocence and earnestness?
MRS. M. I wish it was the Art College at Wimbledon. Then I should be quite comfortable about you.
C. Have not we gone into all that already? You know I must go to the fountain-head, and not be put off with mere feminine, lady-like studies! Pah! Besides, in lodgings I can be useful. I shall give two evenings in the week to the East End, to the Society for the Diversion and Civilisation of the Poor.
MRS. M. Surely there is room for usefulness here! Think of the children! And for diversion and civilisation, how glad we should be of your fresh life and brightness among poor people!
C. Such poor! Why, even if grandpapa would let me give a lecture on geology, or a reading from Dickens, old Prudence Blake would go about saying it hadn't done nothing for her poor soul.
MRS. M. Grandpapa wanted last winter to have penny readings, only there was nobody to do it. He would give you full scope for that, or for lectures.
C. Yes; about vaccination and fresh air! or a reading of John Gilpin or the Pied Piper. Mamsey, you know a model parish stifles me. I can't stand your prim school-children, drilled in the Catechism, and your old women who get out the Bible and the clean apron when they see you a quarter of a mile off. Free air and open minds for me! No, I won't have you sighing, mother. You have returned to your native element, and you must let me return to mine.
MRS. M. Very well, my dear. Perhaps a year or two of study in town may be due to you, though this is a great disappointment to grandpapa and me. I know Mrs. Payne will make a pleasant and safe home for you, if you must be boarded.
C. Too late for that. I always meant to be with Betty Thurston at Mrs. Kaye's. In fact, I have written to engage my room. So there's an end of it. Come, come, don't look vexed. It is better to make an end of it at once. There are things that one must decide for oneself.
SCENE--OVER THE FIRE IN MRS. KAYE'S BOARDING-HOUSE. CECILIA MOLDWARP AND BETTY THURSTON.
C. So I settled the matter at once.
B. Quite right, too, Cis.
C. The dear woman was torn every way. Grandpapa and Aunt Phrasie wanted her to pin me down into the native stodge; and Lucius, like a true man, went in for subjection: so there was nothing for it but to put my foot down. And though little mother might moan a little to me, I knew she would stand up stoutly for me to all the rest, and vindicate my liberty.
B. To keep you down there. Such a place is very well to breathe in occasionally, like a whale; but as to living in them--
C. Just hear how they spend the day. First, 7.30, prayers in church. The dear old man has hammered on at them these forty years, with a congregation averaging 4 to 2.5.
B. You are surely not expected to attend at that primitive Christian hour! Cruelty to animals!
C. If I don't, the absence of such an important unit hurts folks' feelings, and I am driven to the fabrication of excuses. After breakfast, whatever is available trots off to din the Catechism and Genesis into the school-children's heads--the only things my respected forefather cares about teaching them. Of course back again to the children's lessons.
B. What children?
C. Didn't I explain? Three Indian orphans of my uncle's, turned upon my grandfather--jolly little kids enough, as long as one hasn't to teach them.
B. Are governesses unknown in those parts?
C. Too costly; and besides, my mother was designed by nature for a nursery-governess. She has taught the two elder ones to be wonderfully good when she is called off. 'The butcher, ma'am'; or, 'Mrs. Tyler wants to speak to you, ma'am'; or, 'Jane Cox is come for a hospital paper, ma'am.' Then early dinner, of all things detestable, succeeded by school needlework, mothers' meeting, and children's walk, combined with district visiting, or reading to old women. Church again, high tea, and evenings again pleasingly varied by choir practices, night schools, or silence, while grandpapa concocts his sermon.
B. Is this the easy life to which Mrs. Moldwarp has retired?
C. It is her native element. People of her generation think it their vocation to be ladies-of-all-work to the parish of Stickinthemud cum-Humdrum.
B. All-work indeed!
C. I did not include Sundays, which are one rush of meals, schools, and services, including harmonium.
B. No society or rational conversation, of course?
C. Adjacent clergy and clergy woman rather less capable of aught but shop than the natives themselves! You see, even if I did offer myself as a victim, I couldn't do the thing! Fancy my going on about the six Mosaic days, and Jonah's whale, and Jael's nail, and doing their duty in that state of life where it HAS pleased Heaven to place them.
B. Impossible, my dear! Those things can't be taught--if they are to be taught--except by those who accept them as entirely as ever; and it is absurd to think of keeping you where you would be totally devoid of all intellectual food!
SCENE.--ART STUDENT AND DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR A YEAR LATER.
SOIREE IN A LONDON DRAWING-ROOM. PROFESSOR DUNLOP AND CECILIA.
PROF. D. Miss Moldwarp? Is your mother here?
C. No; she is not in town.
PROF. D. Not living there?
C. She lives with my grandfather at Darkglade.
PROF. D. Indeed! I hope Mr. and Mrs. Aveland are well?
C. Thank you, HE is well; but my grandmother is dead.
PROF. D. Oh, I am sorry! I had not heard of his loss. How long ago did it happen?
C. Last January twelvemonth. My aunt is married, and my mother has taken her place at home.
PROF. D. Then you are here on a visit. Where are you staying?
C. No, I live here. I am studying in the Slade schools.
PROF. D. This must have greatly changed my dear old friend's life!
C. I did not know that you were acquainted with my grandfather.
PROF. D. I was one of his pupils. I may say that I owe everything to him. It is long since I have been at Darkglade, but it always seemed to me an ideal place.
C. Rather out of the world.
PROF. D. Of one sort of world perhaps; but what a beautiful combination is to be seen there of the highest powers with the lowliest work! So entirely has he dedicated himself that he really feels the guidance of a ploughman's soul a higher task than the grandest achievement in science or literature. By the bye, I hope he will take up his pen again. It is really wanted. Will you give him a message from me?
C. How strange! I never knew that he was an author.
PROF. D. Ah! you are a young thing, and these are abstruse subjects.
C. Oh! the Fathers and Ritual, I suppose?
PROF. D. No doubt he is a great authority there, as a man of his ability must be; but I was thinking of a course of scientific papers he put forth ten years ago, taking up the arguments against materialism as no one could do who is not as thoroughly at home as he is in the latest discoveries and hypotheses. He ought to answer that paper in the CRITICAL WORLD.
C. I was so much interested in that paper.
PROF. D. It has just the speciousness that runs away with young people. I should like to talk it over with him. Do you think I should be in the way if I ran down?
C. I should think a visit from you would be an immense pleasure to him; and I am sure it would be good for the place to be stirred up.
PROF. D. You have not learnt to prize that atmosphere in which things always seem to assume their true proportion, and to prompt the cry of St. Bernard's brother--'All earth for me, all heaven for you.'
C. That was surely an outcome of the time when people used to sacrifice certainties to uncertainties, and spoil life for the sake of they knew not what.
PROF. D. For eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.
STRANGER. Mr. Dunlop! This is an unexpected pleasure!
C. (ALONE). Well, wonders will never cease. The great Professor Dunlop talking to me quite preachy and goody; and of all people in the world, the old man at Darkglade turning out to be a great physiologist!
TWO OLD FRIENDS
SCENE.--DARKGLADE VICARAGE STUDY. MR. AVELAND AND PROFESSOR DUNLOP.
PROF. D. Thank you, sir. It has been a great pleasure to talk over these matters with you; I hope a great benefit.
MR. A. I am sure it is a great benefit to us to have a breath from the outer world. I hope you will never let so long a time go by without our meeting. Remember, as iron sharpeneth iron, so doth a man's countenance that of his friend.
PROF. D. I shall be only too thankful. I rejoice in the having met your grand-daughter, who encouraged me to offer myself. Is she permanently in town?
MR. A. She shows no inclination to return. I hoped she would do so after the last competition; but there is always another stage to be mounted. I wish she would come back, for her mother ought not to be left single-handed; but young people seem to require so much external education in these days, instead of being content to work on at home, that I sometimes question which is more effectual, learning or being taught.
PROF. D. Being poured-upon versus imbibing?
MR. A. It may depend on what amount there is to imbibe; and I imagine that the child views this region as an arid waste; as of course we are considerably out of date.
PROF. D. The supply would be a good deal fresher and purer!
MR. A. Do you know anything of her present surroundings?
PROF. D. I confess that I was surprised to meet her with Mrs. Eyeless, a lady who is active in disseminating Positivism, and all tending that way. She rather startled me by some of her remarks; but probably it was only jargon and desire to show off. Have you seen her lately?
MR. A. At Christmas, but only for a short time, when it struck me that she treated us with the patronage of precocious youth; and I thought she made the most of a cold when church or parish was concerned. I hinted as much; but her mother seemed quite satisfied. Poor girl! Have I been blind? I did not like her going to live at one of those boarding-houses for lady students. Do you know anything of them?
PROF. D. Of course all depends on the individual lady at the head, and the responsibility she undertakes, as well as on the tone of the inmates. With some, it would be only staying in a safe and guarded home. In others, there is a great amount of liberty, the girls going out without inquiry whether, with whom, or when they return.
MR. A. American fashion! Well, they say young women are equal to taking care of themselves. I wonder whether my daughter understands this, or whether it is so at Cecilia's abode. Do you know?
PROF. D. I am afraid I do. The niece of a friend of mine was there, and left it, much distressed and confused by the agnostic opinions that were freely broached there. How did your grand- daughter come to choose it?
MR. A. For the sake of being with a friend. I think Thurston is the name.
PROF. D. I know something of that family; clever people, but bred up--on principle, if it can be so called, with their minds a blank as to religion. I remember seeing one of the daughters at the party where I met Miss Moldwarp.
MR. A. So this is the society into which we have allowed our poor child to run! I blame myself exceedingly for not having made more inquiries. Grief made me selfishly passive, or I should have opened my eyes and theirs to the danger. My poor Mary, what a shock it will be to her!
PROF. D. Was not she on the spot?
MR. A. True; but, poor dear, she is of a gentle nature, easily led, and seeing only what her affection lets her perceive. And now, she is not strong.
PROF. D. She is not looking well.
MR. A. You think so! I wonder whether I have been blind, and let her undertake too much.
PROF. D. Suppose you were to bring her to town for a few days. We should be delighted to have you, and she could see the doctor to whom she is accustomed. Then you can judge for yourself about her daughter.
MR. A. Thank you, Dunlop! It will be a great comfort if it can be managed.
AUNT AND NIECE
SCENE.--IN A HANSOM CAB. MRS. HOLLAND AND CECILIA.
MRS. H. I wanted to speak to you, Cissy.
C. I thought so!
MRS. H. What do you think of your mother?
C. Poor old darling. They have been worrying her till she has got hipped and nervous about herself.
MRS. H. Do you know what spasms she has been having?
C. Oh! mother has had spasms as long as I can remember; and the more she thinks of them the worse they are. I have often heard her say so.
MRS. H. Yes; she has gone on much too long overworking herself, and not letting your grandfather suspect anything amiss.
C. Nerves. That is what it always is.
MRS. H. Dr. Brownlow says there is failure of heart, not dangerous or advanced at present, but that there is an overstrain of all the powers, and that unless she keeps fairly quiet, and free from hurry and worry, there may be very serious, if not fatal attacks.
C. I never did think much of Dr. Brownlow. He told me my palpitations were nothing but indigestion, and I am sure they were not!
MRS. H. Well, Cissy, something must be done to relieve your mother of some of her burthens.
C. I see what you are driving at, Aunt Phrasie; but I cannot go back till I have finished these courses. There's my picture, there's the cookery school, the ambulance lectures, and our sketching tour in August. Ever so many engagements. I shall be free in the autumn, and then I will go down and see about it. I told mother so.
MRS. H. All the hot trying months of summer without help!
C. I never can understand why they don't have a governess.
MRS. H. Can't you? Is there not a considerable outgoing on your behalf?
C. That is my own. I am not bound to educate my uncle's children at my expense.
MRS. H. No; but if you contributed your share to the housekeeping, you would make a difference, and surely you cannot leave your mother to break down her health by overworking herself in this manner.
C. Why does grandpapa let her do so?
MRS. H. Partly he does not see, partly he cannot help it. He has been so entirely accustomed to have all those family and parish details taken off his hands, and borne easily as they were when your dear grandmamma and I were both there at home, that he cannot understand that they can be over much--especially as they are so small in themselves. Besides, he is not so young as he was, and your dear mother cannot bear to trouble him.
C. Well, I shall go there in September and see about it. It is impossible before.
MRS. H. In the hopping holidays, when the stress of work is over! Cannot you see with your own eyes how fagged and ill your mother looks, and how much she wants help?
C. Oh! she will be all right again after this rest. I tell you, Aunt Phrasie, it is IMPOSSIBLE at present--(CAB STOPS).
THE TWO SISTERS
SCENE.--A ROOM IN PROFESSOR DUNLOP'S HOUSE. MRS. MOLDWARP AND MRS. HOLLAND.
MRS. H. I have done my best, but I can't move her an inch.
MRS. M. Poor dear girl! Yet it seems hardly fair to make my health the lever, when really there is nothing serious the matter.
MRS. H. I can't understand the infatuation. Can there be any love affair?
MRS. M. Oh no, Phrasie; it is worse!
MRS. H. Worse! Mary, what can you mean?
MRS. M. Yes, it IS worse. I got at the whole truth yesterday. My poor child's faith has gone! Oh, how could I let her go and let her mingle among all those people, all unguarded!
MRS. H. Do you mean that this is the real reason that she will not come home?
MRS. M. Yes; she told me plainly at last that she could not stand our round of services. They seem empty and obsolete to her, and she could not feign to attend them or vex us, and cause remarks by staying away, and of course she neither could nor would teach anything but secular matters. 'My coming would be nothing but pain to everybody,' she said.
MRS H. You did not tell me this before my drive with her.
MRS. M. No, I never saw you alone; besides, I thought you would speak more freely without the knowledge. And, to tell the truth, I did think it possible that consideration for me might bring my poor Cissy down to us, and that when once under my father's influence, all these mists might clear away. But I do not deserve it. I have been an unfaithful parent, shutting my eyes in feeble indulgence, and letting her drift into these quicksands.
MRS. H. Fashion and imitation, my dear Mary; it will pass away. Now, you are not to talk any more.
MRS. M. I can't-- (A SPASM COMES ON.)
AUNT AND NEPHEW
SCENE.--SIX MONTHS LATER, DARKGLADE VICARAGE, A DARKENED ROOM. MRS. HOLLAND AND LUCIUS.
MRS. H. Yes, Lucius, we have all much to reproach ourselves with; even poor grandpapa is heart-broken at having been too much absorbed to perceive how your dear mother was overtasked.
L. You did all you could, aunt; you took home one child, and caused the other to be sent to school.
MRS. H. Yes, too late to be of any use.
L. And after all, I don't think it was overwork that broke the poor dear one down, so much as grief at that wretched sister of mine.
MRS. H. Don't speak of her in that way, Lucius.
L. How can I help it? I could say worse!
MRS. H. She is broken-hearted, poor thing.
L. Well she may be.
MRS. H. Ah, the special point of sorrow to your dear mother was that she blamed herself, for--
L. How could she? How can you say so, aunt?
MRS. H. Wait a moment, Lucius. What grieved her was the giving in to Cissy's determination, seeing with her eyes, and not allowing herself to perceive that what she wished might not be good for her.
L. Cissy always did domineer over mother.
MRS. H. Yes; and your mother was so used to thinking Cissy's judgment right that she never could or would see when it was time to make a stand, and prevent her own first impressions from being talked down as old-fashioned,--letting her eyes be bandaged, in fact.
L. So she vexed herself over Cissy's fault; but did not you try to make Cissy see what she was about?
MRS. H. True; but if love had blinded my dear sister, Cissy was doubly blinded--
L. By conceit and self-will.
MRS. H. Poor girl, I am too sorry for her now to use those hard words, but I am afraid it is true. First she could or would not see either that her companions might be undesirable guides, or that her duty lay here, and then nothing would show her that her mother's health was failing. Indeed, by that time the sort of blindness had come upon her which really broke your mother's heart.
L. You mean her unbelief, agnosticism, or whatever she chooses to call it. I thought at least women were safe from that style of thing. It is all fashion and bad company, I suppose?
MRS. H. I hope and pray that it may be so; but I am afraid that it goes deeper than you imagine. Still, I see hope in her extreme unhappiness, and in the remembrance of your dear mother's last words and prayers.
GRANDFATHER AND GRAND-DAUGHTER
A MONTH LATER. MR. AVELAND AND CECILIA.
MR. A. My dear child, I wish I could do anything for you.
C. You had better let me go back to London, grandpapa.
MR. A. Do you really wish it?
C. I don't know. I hate it all; but if I were in the midst of everything again, it might stifle the pain a little.
MR. A. I am afraid that is not the right way of curing it.
C. Oh, I suppose it will wear down in time.
MR. A. Is that well?
C. I don't know. It is only unbearable as it is; and yet when I think of my life in town, the din and the chatter and the bustle, and the nobody caring, seem doubly intolerable; but I shall work off that. You had better let me go, grandpapa. The sight of me can be nothing but a grief and pain to you.
MR. A. No; it gives me hope.
C. Hope of what?
MR. A. That away from the whirl you will find your way to peace.
C. I don't see how. Quiet only makes me more miserable.
MR. A. My poor child, if you can speak out and tell me exactly how it is with you, I think it might be comfortable to you. If it is the missing your mother, and blaming yourself for having allowed her to overdo herself, I may well share with you in that. I feel most grievously that I never perceived how much she was undertaking, nor how she flagged under it. Unselfish people want others to think for them, and I did not.
C. Dear grandpapa, it would not have been too much if I had come and helped. I know that; but it is not the worst. You can't feel as I do--that if my desertion led to her overworking herself, Aunt Phrasie and Lucius say that what really broke her down was the opinions I cannot help having. Say it was not, grandpapa.
MR. A. I wish I could, my dear; but I cannot conceal that unhappiness about you, and regret for having let you expose yourself to those unfortunate arguments, broke her spirits so that her energies were unequal to the strain that I allowed to be laid on her.
C. Poor dear mother! And you and she can feel in that way about the importance of what to me seems--pardon me, grandpapa--utterly unproved.
MR. A. You hold everything unproved that you cannot work out like a mathematical demonstration.
C. I can't help it, grandpapa. I read and read, till all the premises become lost in the cloud of myths that belong to all nations. I don't want to think such things. I saw dear mother rest on her belief, and grow peaceful. They were perfect realities to her; but I cannot unthink. I would give anything to think that she is in perfect happiness now, and that we shall meet again; but nothing seems certain to me. All is extinguished.
MR. A. How do you mean?
C. They--Betty and her set, I mean--laughed at and argued one thing after another, till they showed me that there were no positive grounds to go on.
MR. A. No material grounds.
C. And what else is certain?
MR. A. Do you think your mother was not certain?
C. I saw she was; I see you are certain. But what am I to do? I cannot unthink.
MR. A. Poor child, they have loosed you from the shore, because you could not see it, and left you to flounder in the waves.
C. Well, so I feel it sometimes; but if I could only feel that there was a shore, I would try to get my foothold. Oh, with all my heart!
MR. A. Will you take my word, dear child--the word of one who can dare humbly to say he has proved it, so as to be as sure as of the floor we are standing on, that that Rock exists; and God grant that you may, in prayer and patience, be brought to rest on it once more.
C. Once more! I don't think I ever did so really. I only did not think, and kept away from what was dull and tiresome. Didn't you read something about 'If thou hadst known--'
MR. A. 'If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.' But oh, my dear girl, it is my hope and prayer, not for ever. If you will endure to walk in darkness for a while, till the light be again revealed to you.
C. At any rate, dear grandfather, I will do what mother entreated, and not leave you alone.
TWO YEARS LATER. ST. THOMAS'S DAY.
C. Grandpapa, may I come with you on Christmas morning?
MR. A. You make me a truly happy Christmas, dear child.
C. I think I feel somewhat as St. Thomas did, in to-day's Gospel. It went home to my heart
MR. A. Ah, child, to us that 'Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed,' must mean those who are ready to know by faith instead of material tangible proof.
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