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All bright hopes and hues of day
Have faded into twilight gray.--Christian Year
'No fear of Aubrey's failing,' said Tom; 'he has a better foundation than nine-tenths of the lads that go up, and he is working like a man.'
'He always did work heartily,' said Ethel, 'and with pleasure in his work.'
'Ay, like a woman.'
'Like a scholar.'
'A scholar is a kind of woman. A man, when he's a boy, only works because he can't help it, and afterwards for what he can get by it.'
'For what he can do with it would have a worthier sound.'
'Sound or sense, it is all the same.'
'Scaffolding granted, what is the building?'
Tom apparently thought it would be working like a woman to give himself the trouble of answering; and Ethel went on in her own mind, 'For the work's own sake--for what can be got by it--for what can be done with it--because it can't be helped--are--these all the springs of labour here? Then how is work done in that solitary cell? Is it because it can't be helped, or is it 'as the Lord's freeman'? And when he can hear of Aubrey's change, will he take it as out of his love, or grieve for having been the cause?'
For the change had been working in Aubrey ever since Leonard had altered his career. The boy was at a sentimental age, and had the susceptibility inseparable from home breeding; his desire to become a clergyman had been closely connected with the bright visions of the happy days at Coombe, and had begun to wane with the first thwarting of Leonard's plans; and when the terrible catastrophe of the one friend's life occurred, the other became alienated from all that they had hoped to share together. Nor could even Dr. May's household be so wholly exempt from the spirit of the age, that Aubrey was not aware of the strivings and trials of faith at the University. He saw what Harvey Anderson was, and knew what was passing in the world; and while free from all doubts, shrank boyishly from the investigations that he fancied might excite them. Or perhaps these fears of possible scruples were merely his self-justification for gratifying his reluctance.
At any rate, he came home from his two months' tour, brown, robust, with revived spirits, but bent on standing an examination for the academy at Woolwich. He had written about it several times before his return, and his letters were, as his father said, 'so appallingly sensible that perhaps he would change his mind.' But it was not changed when he came home; and Ethel, though sorely disappointed, was convinced by her own sense as well as by Richard's prudence, that interference was dangerous. No one in Israel was to go forth to the wars of the Lord save those who 'willingly offered themselves;' and though grieved that her own young knight should be one of the many champions unwilling to come forth in the Church's cause, she remembered the ordeal to Norman's faith, and felt that the exertion of her influence was too great a responsibility.
'You don't like this,' said Tom, after a pause. 'It is not my doing, you know.'
'No, I did not suppose it was,' said Ethel. 'You would not withhold any one in these days of exceeding want of able clergymen.'
'I told him it would be a grief at home,' added Tom, 'but when a lad gets into that desperate mood, he always may be a worse grief if you thwart him; and I give you credit, Ethel, you have not pulled the curb.'
'Richard told me not.'
'Richard represents the common sense of the family when I am not at home.'
Tom was going the next day to his course of study at the London hospitals, and this--the late afternoon--was the first time that he and his sister had been alone together. He had been for some little time having these short jerks of conversation, beginning and breaking off rather absently. At last he said, 'Do those people ever write?'
'Prisoners, do you mean? Not for three months.'
'Mary has heard twice.'
He held out Mary's little leathern writing-case to her.
'It is only Mary.'
Ethel accepted the plea, aware that there could be no treason between herself and Mary, and moreover that the letters had been read by all the family. She turned the key, looked them out, and standing by the window to catch the light, began to read--
'You need not be afraid, kind Mary,' wrote Averil, on the first days of her voyage; 'I am quite well, as well as a thing can be whose heart is dried up. I am hardened past all feeling, and seem to be made of India-rubber. Even my colour has returned--how I hate to see it, and to hear people say my roses will surprise the delicate Americans. Fancy, in a shop in London I met an old school-fellow, who was delighted to see me, talked like old times, and insisted on knowing where we were staying. I used to be very fond of her, but it was as if I had been dead and was afraid she would find out I was a ghost, yet I talked quite indifferently, and never faltered in my excuses. When we embarked, it was no use to know it was the last of England, where he and you and home and life were left. How I envied the poor girl, who was crying as if her heart would break!'
On those very words, broke the announcement of Mr. Cheviot. Tom coolly held out his hand for the letters, so much as a matter of course, that Ethel complied with his gesture, and he composedly pocketed them, while she felt desperately guilty. Mary's own entrance would have excited no compunction, Ethel would have said that Tom wanted to hear of the voyage; but in the present case, she could only blush, conscious that the guest recognized her sister's property, and was wondering what business she had with it, and she was unwilling to explain, not only on Tom's account, but because she knew that Mr. Cheviot greatly disapproved of petitioning against the remission of capital sentences, and thought her father under a delusion.
After Tom's departure the next day, she found the letters in her work-basket, and restored them to Mary, laughing over Mr. Cheviot's evident resentment at the detection of her doings.
'I think it looked rather funny,' said Mary.
'I beg your pardon,' said Ethel, much astonished; 'but I thought, as every one else had seen them--'
'Tom always laughed at poor Ave.'
'He is very different now; but indeed, Mary, I am sorry, since you did not like it.'
'Oh!' cried Mary, discomfited by Ethel's apology, 'indeed I did not mean that, I wish I had not said anything. You know you are welcome to do what you please with all I have. Only,' she recurred, 'you can't wonder that Mr. Cheviot thought it funny.'
'If he had any call to think at all,' said Ethel, who was one of those who thought that Charles Cheviot had put a liberal interpretation on Dr. May's welcome to Stoneborough. He had arrived after the summer holidays as second master of the school, and at Christmas was to succeed Dr. Hoxton, who had been absolutely frightened from his chair by the commissions of inquiry that had beset the Whichcote foundation; and in compensation was at present perched on the highest niche sacred to conservative martyrdom in Dr. May's loyal heart.
Charles Cheviot was a very superior man, who had great influence with young boys, and was admirably fitted to bring about the much required reformation in the school. He came frequently to discuss his intentions with Dr. May, and his conversation was well worth being listened to; but even the Doctor found three evenings in a week a large allowance for good sense and good behaviour--the evenings treated as inviolable even by old friends like Dr. Spencer and Mr. Wilmot, the fast waning evenings of Aubrey's home life.
The rest were reduced to silence, chess, books, and mischief, except when a treat of facetious small talk was got up for their benefit. Any attempt of the ladies to join in the conversation was replied to with a condescending levity that reduced Ethel to her girlhood's awkward sense of forwardness and presumption; Mary was less disconcerted, because her remarks were never so aspiring, and Harry's wristbands sufficed her; but the never-daunted Daisy rebelled openly, related the day's events to her papa, fearless of any presence, and when she had grown tired of the guest's regular formula of expecting to meet Richard, she told him that the adult school always kept Richard away in the winter evenings; 'But if you want to see him, he is always to be found at Cocksmoor, and he would be very glad of help.'
'Did he express any such wish?' said Mr. Cheviot, looking rather puzzled.
'Oh dear, no; only I thought you had so much time on your hands.'
'Oh no--oh no!' exclaimed Mary, in great confusion, 'Gertrude did not mean--I am sure I don't know what she was thinking of.'
And at the first opportunity, Mary, for once in her life, administered to Gertrude a richly-deserved reproof for sauciness and contempt of improving conversation; but the consequence was a fancy of the idle younglings to make Mary accountable for the 'infesting of their evenings,' and as she was always ready to afford sport to the household, they thus obtained a happy outlet for their drollery and discontent, and the imputation was the more comical from his apparent indifference and her serene composure; until one evening when, as the bell rung, and mutterings passed between Aubrey and Gertrude, of 'Day set,' and 'Cheviot's mountains lone,' the head of the family, for the first time, showed cognizance of the joke, and wearily taking down his slippered feet from their repose, said, 'Lone! yes, there's the rub! I shall have to fix days of reception if Mary will insist on being so attractive.'
Mary, with an instinct that she was blamed, began to be very sorry, but broke off amid peals of merriment, and blushes that were less easily extinguished; and which caused Ethel to tell each of the young ones privately, that their sport was becoming boy and frog work, and she would have no more of it. The Daisy was inclined to be restive; but Ethel told her that many people thought this kind of fun could never be safe or delicate. 'I have always said that it might be quite harmless, if people knew where to stop--now show me that I am right.'
And to Aubrey she put the question, whether he would like to encourage Daisy in being a nineteenth-century young lady without reticence?
However, as Mary heard no more of their mischievous wit, Ethel was quite willing to let them impute to herself a delusion that the schoolmaster was smitten with Mary, and to laugh with them in private over all the ridiculous things they chose to say.
At last Flora insisted on Ethel's coming with her to make a distant call, and, as soon as they were in the carriage, said, 'It was not only for the sake of Mrs. Copeland, though it is highly necessary you should go, but it is the only way of ever speaking to you, and I want to know what all this is about Mary?'
'The children have not been talking their nonsense to you!'
'No one ever talks nonsense to me--intentionally, I mean--not even you, Ethel; I wish you did. But I hear it is all over the town. George has been congratulated, and so have I, and one does not like contradicting only to eat it up again.'
'You always did hear everything before it was true, Flora.'
'Then is it going to be true?'
'O, Flora, can it be possible?' said Ethel, with a startled, astonished look.
'Possible! Highly obvious and proper, as it seems to me. The only doubt in my mind was whether it were not too obvious to happen.'
'He is always coming in,' said Ethel, 'but I never thought it was really for that mischief! The children only laugh about it as the most preposterous thing they can think of, for he never speaks to a woman if he can help it.'
'That may not prevent him from wanting a good wife.'
'Wanting a wife--ay, as he would want a housekeeper, just because he has got to the proper position for it; but is he to go and get our bonny Mary in that way, just for an appendage to the mastership?'
'Well done, old Ethel! I'm glad to see you so like yourself. I remember when we thought Mrs. Hoxton's position very sublime.'
'I never thought of positions!'
'Never! I know that very well; and I am not thinking of it now, except as an adjunct to a very worthy man, whom Mary will admire to the depths of her honest heart, and who will make her very happy.'
'Yes, I suppose if she once begins to like him, that he will,' said Ethel, slowly; 'but I can't bring myself to swallow it yet. She has never given in to his being a bore, but I thought that was her universal benevolence; and he says less to her than to any one.'
'Depend upon it, he thinks he is proceeding selon les regles.'
'Then he ought to be flogged! Has he any business to think of my Mary, without falling red-hot in love with her? Why, Hector was regularly crazy that last half-year; and dear old Polly is worth ever so much more than Blanche.'
'I must say you have fulfilled my desire of hearing you talk nonsense, Ethel. Mary would never think of those transports.'
'She deserves them all the more.'
'Well, she is the party most concerned, though she will be a cruel loss to all of us.'
'She will not go far, if--'
'Yes, but she will be the worse loss. You simple Ethel, you don't think that Charles Cheviot will let her be the dear family fag we have always made of her?'
'Oh no--that always was wrong.'
'And living close by, she will not come on a visit, all festal, to resume home habits. No, you must make up your mind, Ethel--if, as you say, if--he will be a man for monopolies, and he will resent anything that he thinks management from you. I suspect it is a real sign of the love that you deny, that he has ventured on the sister of a clever woman, living close by, and a good deal looked up to.'
'Flora, Flora, you should not make one wicked. If she is to be happy, why can't you let me rejoice freely, and only have her drawn off from me bit by bit, in the right way of nature?'
'I did not tell you to make you dislike it--of course not. Only I thought that a little tact, a little dexterity, might prevent Charles Cheviot from being so much afraid of you, as if he saw at once how really the head of the family you are.'
'Nonsense, Flora, I am no such thing. If I am domineering, the sooner any one sees it and takes me down the better. If this does come, I will try to behave as I ought, and not to mind so Mary is happy; but I can't act, except just as the moment leads me. I hope it will soon be over, now you have made me begin to believe in it. I am afraid it will spoil Harry's pleasure at home! Poor dear Harry, what will he do?'
'When does he come?'
'Any day now; he could not quite tell when he could get away.
When they came back, and Dr. May ran out to say, 'Can you come in. Flora? we want you,' the sisters doubted whether his excitement were due to the crisis, or to the arrival. He hurried them into the study, and shut the door, exulting and perplexed. 'You girls leave one no rest,' he said. 'Here I have had this young Cheviot telling me that the object of his attentions has been apparent. I'm sure I did not know if it were Mab or one of you. I thought he avoided all alike; and poor Mary was so taken by surprise that she will do nothing but cry, and say, "No, never;" and when I tell her she shall do as she pleases, she cries the more; or if I ask her if I am to say Yes, she goes into ecstasies of crying! I wish one of you would go up, and see if you can do anything with her.'
'Is he about the house?' asked Flora, preparing to obey.
'No--I was obliged to tell him that she must have time, and he is gone home. I am glad he should have a little suspense--he seemed to make so certain of her. Did he think he was making love all the time he was boring me with his gas in the dormitories? I hope she will serve him out!'
'He will not be the worse for not being a lady's man,' said Flora, at the door.
But in ten minutes, Flora returned with the same report of nothing but tears; and she was obliged to leave the party to their perplexity, and drive home; while Ethel went in her turn to use all manner of pleas to her sister to cheer up, know her own mind, and be sure that they only wished to guess what would make her happiest. To console or to scold were equally unsuccessful, and after attempting all varieties of treatment, bracing or tender, Ethel found that the only approach to calm was produced by the promise that she should be teased no more that evening, but be left quite alone to recover, and cool her burning eyes and aching head. So, lighting her fire, shaking up a much-neglected easy-chair, bathing her eves, desiring her not to come down to tea, and engaging both that Gertrude should not behold her, and that papa would not be angry, provided that she tried to know what she really wished, and be wiser on the morrow, Ethel left her. The present concern was absolutely more to persuade her to give an answer of some sort, than what that answer should be. Ethel would not wish; Dr. May had very little doubt; and Gertrude, from whom there was no concealing the state of affairs, observed, 'If she cries so much the first time she has to know her own mind, it shows she can't do without some one to do it for her.'
The evening passed in expeditions of Ethel's to look after her patient, and in desultory talk on all that was probable and improbable between Dr. May and the younger ones, until just as Ethel was coming down at nine o'clock with the report that she had persuaded Mary to go to bed, she was startled by the street door being opened as far as the chain would allow, and a voice calling, 'I say, is any one there to let me in?'
'Harry! O, Harry! I'm coming;' and she had scarcely had time to shut the door previous to taking down the chain, before the three others were in the hall, the tumult of greetings breaking forth.
'But where's Polly?' he asked, as soon as he was free to look round them all.
'Going to bed with a bad headache,' was the answer, with which Daisy had sense enough not to interfere; and the sailor had been brought into the drawing-room, examined on his journey, and offered supper, before he returned to the charge.
'Nothing really the matter with Mary, I hope?'
'Can't I go up and see her?'
'Not just at present,' said Ethel. 'I will see how she is when she is in bed, but if she is going to sleep, we had better not disturb her.'
'Harry thinks she must sleep better for the sight of him,' said the Doctor; 'but it is a melancholy business.--Harry, your nose is out of joint.'
'Who is it?' said Harry, gravely.
'Ah! you have chosen a bad time to come home. We shall know no comfort till it is over.'
'Who?' cried Harry; 'no nonsense, Gertrude, I can't stand guessing.'
This was directed to Gertrude, who was only offending by pursed lips and twinkling eyes, because he could not fall foul of his father. Dr. May took pity, and answered at once.
'Cheviot!' cried Harry. 'Excellent! He always did know how to get the best of everything. Polly turning into a Mrs. Hoxton. Ha! ha! Well, that is a relief to my mind.'
'You did look rather dismayed, certainly. What were you afraid of?'
'Why, when that poor young Leonard Ward's business was in the papers, a messmate of mine was asked if we were not all very much interested, because of some attachment between some of us. I thought he must mean me or Tom, for I was tremendously smitten with that sweet pretty girl, and I used to be awfully jealous of Tom, but when I heard of Mary going to bed with a headache, and that style of thing, I began to doubt, and I couldn't stand her taking up with such a dirty little nigger as Henry Ward was at school.'
'I think you might have known Mary better!' exclaimed Gertrude.
'And it's not Tom either?' he asked.
'Exactly the reverse,' laughed his father.
'Well, Tom is a sly fellow, and he had a knack of turning up whenever one wanted to do a civil thing by that poor girl. Where is she now?'
'At New York.'
'They'd better take care how they send me to watch the Yankees, then.'
'Your passion does not alarm me greatly,' laughed the Doctor. 'I don't think it ever equalled that for the reigning ship. I hope there's a vacancy in that department for the present, and that we may have you at home a little.'
'Indeed, sir, I'm afraid not,' said Harry. 'I saw Captain Gordon at Portsmouth this morning, and he tells me he is to go out in the Clio to the Pacific station, and would apply for me as his first lieutenant, if I liked to look up the islands again. So, if you have any commissions for Norman, I'm your man.
'And how soon?'
'Uncertain--but Cheviot and Mary must settle their affairs in good time; I've missed all the weddings in the family hitherto, and won't be balked of Polly's. I say, Ethel, you can't mean me not to go and wish her joy.'
'We are by no means come to joy yet,' said Ethel; 'poor Mary is overset by the suddenness of the thing.'
'Why, I thought it was all fixed.'
'Nothing less so,' said the Doctor. 'One would think it was a naiad that had had an offer from the mountains next, for she has been shedding a perfect river of tears ever since; and all that the united discernment of the family has yet gathered is, that she cries rather more when we tell her she is right to say No than when we tell her she is right to say Yes.'
'I declare, Ethel, you must let me go up to her.'
'But, Harry, I promised she should hear no more about it to-night. You must say nothing unless she begins.'
And thinking a quiet night's rest, free from further excitement, the best chance of a rational day, Ethel was glad that her mission resulted in the report, 'Far too nearly asleep to be disturbed;' but on the way up to bed, soft as Harry's foot-falls always were, a voice came down the stairs, 'That's Harry! Oh, come!' and with a face of triumph turned back to meet Ethel's glance of discomfited warning, he bounded up, to be met by Mary in her dressing-gown. 'O, Harry, why didn't you come?' as she threw her arms round his neck.
'They wouldn't let me.'
'I did think I heard you; but when no one came I thought it was only Richard, till I heard the dear old step, and then I knew. O, Harry!' and still she gasped, with her head on his shoulder.
'They said you must be quiet.'
'O Harry! did you hear?'
'Yes, indeed,' holding her closer, 'and heartily glad I am; I know him as well as if I had sailed with him, and I could not wish you in better hands.'
'But--O, Harry dear--' and there was a struggle with a sob between each word, 'indeed--I won't--mind if you had rather not.'
'Do you mean that you don't like him?'
'I should see him, you know, and perhaps he would not mind--he could always come and talk to papa in the evenings.'
'And is that what you want to put a poor man off with, Mary?'
'Only--only--if you don't want me to--'
'I not want you to--? Why, Mary, isn't it the very best thing I could want for you? What are you thinking about?'
'Don't you remember, when you came home after your wound, you said I--I mustn't--' and she fell into such a paroxysm of crying that he had quite to hold her up in his arms, and though his voice was merry, there was a moisture on his eyelashes. 'Oh, you Polly! You're a caution against deluding the infant mind! Was that all? Was that what made you distract them all? Why not have said so?'
'Oh, never! They would have said you were foolish.'
'As I was for not knowing that you wouldn't understand that I only meant you were to wait till the right one turned up. Why, if I had been at Auckland, would you have cried till I came home?'
'Oh, I'm sorry I was silly! But I'm glad you didn't mean it, dear Harry!' squeezing him convulsively.
'There! And now you'll sleep sound, and meet them as fresh as a fair wind to-morrow. Eh?'
'Only please tell papa I'm sorry I worried him.'
'And how about somebody else, Mary, whom you've kept on tenter-hooks ever so long? Are you sure he is not walking up and down under the limes on the brink of despair?'
'Oh, do you think--? But he would not be so foolish!'
'There now, go to sleep. I'll settle it all for you, and I shan't let any one say you are a goose but myself. Only sleep, and get those horrid red spots away from under your eyes, or perhaps he'll repent his bargain, said Harry, kissing each red spot. 'Promise you'll go to bed the instant I'm gone.'
'Well,' said Dr. May, looking out of his room, 'I augur that the spirit of the flood has something to say to the spirit of the fell.'
'I should think so! Genuine article--no mistake.'
'Then what was all this about?'
'All my fault. Some rhodomontade of mine about not letting her marry had cast anchor in her dear little ridiculous heart, and it is well I turned up before she had quite dissolved herself away.'
'Is that really all?'
'The sum total of the whole, as sure as--' said Harry, pausing for an asseveration, and ending with 'as sure as your name is Dick May;' whereat they both fell a-laughing, though they were hardly drops of laughter that Harry brushed from the weather-marked pucker in the comer of his eyes; and Dr. May gave a sigh of relief, and said, 'Well, that's right!'
'Where's the latch-key? I must run down and put Cheviot out of his misery.'
'It is eleven o'clock, he'll be gone to bed.'
'Then I would forbid the banns. Where does he hang out? Has he got into old Hoxton's?'
'No, it is being revivified. He is at Davis's lodgings. But I advise you not, a little suspense will do him good.'
'One would think you had never been in love,' said Harry, indignantly. 'At least, I can't sleep till I've shaken hands with the old fellow. Good night, father. I'll not be long.'
He kept his word, and the same voice greeted him out of the dressing- room: 'How was the spirit of the fell? Sleep'st thou, brother?'
'Brother, nay,' answered Harry, 'he was only looking over Latin verses! He always was a cool hand.'
'The spirit of the Fell--Dr. Fell, with a vengeance,' said Dr. May. 'I say, Harry, is this going to be a mere business transaction on his part? Young folks have not a bit of romance in these days, and one does not know where to have them; but if I thought--'
'You may be sure of him, sir,' said Harry, speaking the more eagerly because he suspected the impression his own manner had made; 'he is thoroughly worthy, and feels Mary's merits pretty nearly as much as I do. More, perhaps, I ought to say. There's more warmth in him than shows. I don't know that Norman ever could have gone through that terrible time after the accident, but for the care he took of him. And that little brother of his that sailed with me in the Eurydice, and died at Singapore--I know how he looked to his brother Charles, and I do assure you, father, you could not put the dear Mary into safer, sounder hands, or where she could be more prized or happier. He is coming up to-morrow morning, and you'll see he is in earnest in spite of all his set speeches. Good night, father; I am glad to be in time for the last of my Polly.'
This was almost the only moment at which Harry betrayed a consciousness that his Polly was less completely his own. And yet it seemed as if it must have been borne in on him again and again, for Mary awoke the next morning as thoroughly, foolishly, deeply in love as woman could be, and went about comporting herself in the most comically commonplace style, forgetting and neglecting everything, not hearing nor seeing, making absurd mistakes, restless whenever Mr. Cheviot was not present, and then perfectly content if he came to sit by her, as he always did; for his courtship--now it had fairly begun--was equally exclusive and determined. Every day they walked or rode together, almost every evening he came and sat by her, and on each holiday they engrossed the drawing-room, Mary looking prettier than she had ever been seen before; Aubrey and Gertrude both bored and critical; Harry treating the whole as a pantomime got up for his special delectation, and never betokening any sense that Mary was neglecting him. It was the greatest help to Ethel in keeping up the like spirit, under the same innocent unconscious neglect from the hitherto devoted Mary, who was only helpful in an occasional revival of mechanical instinct in lucid intervals, and then could not be depended on. To laugh good-naturedly and not bitterly, to think the love-making pretty and not foolish, to repress Gertrude's saucy scorn, instead of encouraging it, would have been far harder without the bright face of the brother who generously surrendered instead of repining.
She never told herself that there was no proportion between the trials, not only because her spirits still suffered from the ever- present load of pity at her heart, nor because the loss would be hourly to her, but also because Charles Cheviot drew Harry towards him, but kept her at a distance, or more truly laughed her down. She was used to be laughed at; her ways had always been a matter of amusement to her brothers, and perhaps it was the natural assumption of brotherhood to reply to any suggestion or remark of hers with something intended for drollery, and followed with a laugh, which, instead of as usual stirring her up to good-humoured repartee, suppressed her, and made her feel foolish and awkward. As to Flora's advice, to behave with tact, she could not if she would, she would not if she could; in principle she tried to acquiesce in a man's desire to show that he meant to have his wife to himself, and in practice she accepted his extinguisher because she could not help it.
Mr. Cheviot was uneasy about the chances of Aubrey's success in the examination at Woolwich, and offered assistance in the final preparation; but though Aubrey willingly accepted the proposal, two or three violent headaches from over-study and anxiety made Dr. May insist on his old regimen of entire holiday and absence of work for the last week; to secure which repose, Aubrey was sent to London with Harry for a week's idleness and the society of Tom, who professed to be too busy to come home even for Christmas. Mr. Cheviot's opinion transpired through Mary, that it was throwing away Aubrey's only chance.
In due time came the tidings that Aubrey had the second largest number of marks, and had been highly commended for the thoroughness of his knowledge, so different from what had been only crammed for the occasion. He had been asked who had been his tutor, and had answered, 'His brother,' fully meaning to spare Ethel publicity; and she was genuinely thankful for having been shielded under Tom's six months of teaching. She heartily wished the same shield would have availed at home, when Charles Cheviot gave that horrible laugh, and asked her if she meant to stand for a professor's chair. She faltered something about Tom and mathematics. 'Ay, ay,' said Charles; 'and these military examinations are in nothing but foreign languages and trash;' and again he laughed his laugh, and Mary followed his example. Ethel would fain have seen the fun.
'Eh, Cheviot, what two of a trade never agree?' asked Dr. May, in high glory and glee.
'Not my trade, papa,' said Ethel, restored by his face and voice, 'only the peculiarity of examiners, so long ago remarked by Norman, of only setting questions that one can answer.'
'Not your trade, but your amateur work!' said Mr. Cheviot, again exploding, and leaving Ethel to feel demolished. Why, she wondered presently, had she not held up her knitting, and merrily owned it for her trade--why, but because those laughs took away all merriment, all presence of mind, all but the endeavour not to be as cross as she felt. Was this systematic, or was it only bad taste?
The wedding was fixed for Whitsuntide; the repairs and drainage necessitating early and long holidays; and the arrangements gave full occupation. Mary was the first daughter who had needed a portion, since Mr. Cheviot was one of a large family, and had little of his own. Dr. May had inherited a fair private competence, chiefly in land in and about the town, and his professional gains, under his wife's prudent management, had been for the most part invested in the like property. The chief of his accumulation of ready money had been made over to establish Richard at Cocksmoor; and though living in an inexpensive style, such as that none of the family knew what it was to find means lacking for aught that was right or reasonable, there was no large amount of capital available. The May custom had always been that the physician should inherit the landed estate; and though this was disproportionately increased by the Doctor's own acquisitions, yet the hold it gave over the town was so important, that he was unwilling it should be broken up at his death, and wished to provide for his other children by charges on the rents, instead of by sale and division. All this he caused Richard to write to Tom, for though there was no absolute need of the young man's concurrence in arranging Mary's settlements, it was a good opportunity for distinctly stating his prospects, and a compliment to consult him.
Feeling that Tom had thus been handsomely dealt with, his letter to his father was the greater shock, when, after saying that he doubted whether he could come home for the wedding, he expressed gratitude for the opening held out to him, but begged that precedents applicable to very different circumstances might not be regarded as binding. He was distressed at supplanting Richard, and would greatly prefer the property taking its natural course. It would be so many years, he trusted, before there would be room for his services, even as an assistant, at Stoneborough, that he thought it would be far more advisable to seek some other field; and his own desire would be at once to receive a younger son's share, if it were but a few hundreds, and be free to cut out his own line.
'What is he driving at, Ethel?' asked the Doctor, much vexed. 'I offer him what any lad should jump at; and he only says, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me." What does that mean?'
'Not prodigality,' said Ethel. 'Remember what Sir Matthew Fleet said to Dr. Spencer--"Dick's ability and common sense besides."'
'Exactly what makes me suspicious of his coming the disinterested over me. There's something behind! He is running into debt and destruction among that precious crew about the hospitals.'
'Harry saw nothing wrong, and thought his friends in good style.'
'Every one is in good style with Harry, happy fellow! He is no more a judge than a child of six years old--carries too much sunshine to see shades.'
'A lieutenant in the navy can hardly be the capital officer that our Harry is without some knowledge of men and discipline.'
'I grant you, on his own element; but on shore he goes about in his holiday spectacles, and sees a bird of paradise in every cock- sparrow.'
'Isn't there a glass house that can sometimes make a swan?' said Ethel, slyly touching her father's spectacles; 'but with you both, there's always a something to attract the embellishing process; and between Harry and Aubrey, Dr. Spencer and Sir Matthew, we could hardly fail to have heard of anything amiss.'
'I don't like it.'
'Then it is hard,' said Ethel, with spirit. 'So steady as he has always been, he ought to have the benefit of a little trust.'
'He was never like the others; I don't know what to be at with him! I should not have minded but for that palaver about elder brothers.'
Defend as Ethel might, it was still with a misgiving lest disappointment should have taken a wrong course. It was hard to trust where correspondence was the merest business scrap, and neither Christmas nor the sister's marriage availed to call Tom home; and though she had few fears as to dissipation, she did dread hardening and ambition, all the more since she had learnt that Sir Matthew Fleet was affording to him a patronage unprecedented from that quarter.
No year of Etheldred May's life had been so trying as this last. It seemed like her first step away from the aspirations of youth, into the graver fears of womanhood. With all the self-restraint that she had striven to exercise at Coombe, it had been a time of glorious dreams over the two young spirits who seemed to be growing up by her side to be faithful workers, destined to carry out her highest visions; and the boyish devotion of the one, the fraternal reverence of the other, had made her very happy. And now? The first disappointment in Leonard had led--not indeed to less esteem for him, but to that pitying veneration that could only be yielded by a sharing in spirit of the like martyrdom; a continued thankfulness and admiration, but a continual wringing of the heart. And her own child and pupil, Aubrey, had turned aside from the highest path; and in the unavowed consciousness that he was failing in the course he had so often traced out with her, and that all her aid and ready participation in his present interests were but from her outward not her inward heart, he had never argued the point with her, never consulted her on his destination. He had talked only to his father of his alteration of purpose, and had at least paid her the compliment of not trying to make her profess that she was gratified by the change. In minor matters, he depended on her as much as ever; but Harry was naturally his chief companion, and the prime of his full and perfect confidence had departed, partly in the step from boy to man, but more from the sense that he was not fulfilling the soldiership he had dreamt of with her, and that he had once led her to think his talents otherwise dedicated. She had few fears for his steadiness, but she had some for his health, and he was something taken away from her--a brightness had faded from his image.
And this marriage--with every effort at rejoicing and certainty of Mary's present bliss and probability of future happiness, it was the loss of a sister, and not the gain of a brother, and Mr. Cheviot did his utmost to render the absence of repining a great effort of unselfishness. And even with her father, her possession of Tom's half-revealed secret seemed an impairing of absolute confidence; she could not but hope that her father did her brother injustice, and in her tenderness towards them both this was a new and painful sensation. Her manner was bright and quaint as ever, her sayings perhaps less edged than usual, because the pain at her heart made her guard her tongue; but she had begun to feel middle-aged, and strangely lonely. Richard, though always a comfort, would not have entered into her troubles; Harry, in his atmosphere of sailor on shore, had nothing of the confidant, and engrossed his father; Mary and Aubrey were both gone from her, and Gertrude was still a child. She had never so longed after Margaret or Norman. But at least her corner in the Minster, her table at home with her Bible and Prayer- Book, were still the same, and witnessed many an outpouring of her anxiety, many a confession of the words or gestures that she had felt to have been petulant, whether others had so viewed them or not.
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