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They stwons, they stwons, they stwons, they stwons.--Scouring of the White Horse
'So' (wrote Ethel in her daily letter to her father) 'mine is at present a maternal mission to Leonard, and it is highly gratifying. I subscribe to all your praise of him, and repent of my ungracious murmurs at his society. You had the virtue, and I have the reward (the usual course of this world), for his revival is a very fresh and pleasant spectacle, burning hot with enthusiasm. Whatever we do, he overdoes, till I recollect how Wilkes said he had never been a Wilkite. Three days ago, a portentous-looking ammonite attracted his attention; and whereas he started from the notion that earth was dirt, and stones were stones, the same all over the world, he has since so far outstripped his instructors, that as I write this he is drawing a plan of the strata, with the inhabitants dramatically arranged, Aubrey suggesting tragic scenes and uncomplimentary likenesses. His talent for drawing shows that Averil's was worth culture. If our geology alarm Richard, tell him that I think it safer to get it over young, and to face apparent discrepancies with revelation, rather than leave them to be discovered afterwards as if they had been timidly kept out of sight. And whether Hugh Miller's theory be right or wrong, his grand fervid language leaves the conviction that undoubting confidence in revelation consists with the clearest and most scientific mind.'
* * * * * * *
'June 30th.--I consider my boys as returned to their normal relations. I descended on them as they were sparring like lion-cubs at play, Leonard desisted in confusion at my beholding such savage doings, but cool and easy, not having turned a hair; Aubrey, panting, done up, railing at him as first cousin to Hercules, all as a delicate boast to me of his friend's recovered strength. Aubrey's forte is certainly veneration. His first class of human beings is a large one, though quizzing is his ordinary form of adoration. For instance, he teases Mab and her devoted slave some degrees more than the victim can bear, and then relieves his feelings in my room by asseverations that the friendship with Leonard will be on the May and Spencer pattern. The sea is the elixir of life to both; Leonard looks quite himself again, "only more so," and Aubrey has a glow never seen since his full moon visage waned, and not all tan, though we are on the high road to be coffee-berries. Aubrey daily entertains me with heroic tales of diving and floating, till I tell them they will become enamoured of some "lady of honour who lives in the sea," grow fishes' tails, and come home no more. And really, as the time wanes, I feel that such a coast is Elysium--above all, the boating. The lazy charm, the fresh purity of air, the sights and sounds, the soft summer wave when one holds one's hand over the tide, the excitement of sea-weed catching, and the nonsense we all talk, are so delicious and such new sensations, (except the nonsense, which loses by your absence, O learned doctor!) that I fully perceive how pleasures untried cannot even be conceived. But ere the lotos food has entirely depraved my memory, I give you warning to come and fetch us home, now that the boys are in full repair. Come yourself, and be feasted on shrimps and mackerel, and take one sail to the mouth of the bay. I won't say who shall bring you; it would be fun to have Daisy, and Mary ought to have a holiday, but then Richard would take better care of you, and Tom would keep you in the best order. Could you not all come? only if you don't yourself, I won't promise not to take up with a merman.'
* * * * * * *
'July 4th.--Very well. If this is to make a strong man of Aubrey, tant mieux, and even home and Cocksmoor yearnings concern me little in this Castle of Indolence, so don't flatter yourself that I shall grumble at having had to take our house on again. Let us keep Leonard; we should both miss him extremely, and Aubrey would lose half the good without some one to swim, scramble, and fight with. Indeed, for the poor fellow's own sake, he should stay, for though he is physically as strong as a young megalosaur, and in the water or on the rocks all day, I don't think his head is come to application, nor his health to bearing depression; and I see he dreads the return, so that he had better stay away till school begins again.'
* * * * * * *
'July 7th.--Oh! you weak-minded folks! Now I know why you wanted to keep me away--that you might yield yourselves a prey to Flora. Paper and chintz forsooth! All I have to say is this, Miss Mary--as to my room, touch it if you dare! I leave papa to protect his own study, but for the rest, think, Mary, what your feelings would be if Harry were to come home, and not know what room he was in! If I am to choose between the patterns of chintz, I prefer the sea-weed variety, as in character with things in general, and with the present occasion; and as to the carpet, I hope that Flora, touched with our submission, will not send us anything distressing.'
* * * * * * *
'July 17th.--Can you send me any more of the New Zealand letters? I have copied out the whole provision I brought with me for the blank book, and by the way have inoculated Leonard with such a missionary fever as frightens me. To be sure, he is cut out for such work. He is intended for a clergyman (on grounds of gentility, I fear), and is too full of physical energy and enterprise to take readily to sober parochial life. His ardour is a gallant thing, and his home ties not binding; but it is not fair to take advantage of his present inflammable state of enthusiasm, and the little we have said has been taken up so fervently, that I have resolved on caution for the future. It is foolish to make so much of a boy's eagerness, especially when circumstances have brought him into an unnatural dreamy mood; and probably these aspirations will pass away with the sound of the waves, but they are pretty and endearing while they last in their force and sincerity.
'"Just at the age 'twixt boy and youth, When thought is speech, and speech is truth;"
'and one's heart beats at the thought of what is possible to creatures of that age.'
* * * * * * *
'July 21st.--You, who taught us to love our Walter Scott next to our "Christian Year," and who gave us half-crowns for rehearsing him when other children were learning the Robin's Petition, what think you of this poor boy Leonard knowing few of the novels and none of the poems? No wonder the taste of the day is grovelling lower and lower, when people do not begin with the pure high air of his world! To take up one of his works after any of our present school of fiction is like getting up a mountain side after a feverish drawing-room or an offensive street. If it were possible to know the right moment for a book to be really tasted--not thrust aside because crammed down--no, it would not be desirable, as I was going to say, we should only do double mischief. We are not sent into the world to mould people, but to let them mould themselves; and the internal elasticity will soon unmake all the shapes that just now seem to form under my fingers like clay.
'At any rate, the introduction of such a congenial spirit to Sir Walter was a real treat; Leonard has the very nature to be fired by him, and Aubrey being excessively scandalized at his ignorance, routed a cheap "Marmion" out of the little bookshop, and we beguiled a wet afternoon with it; Aubrey snatching it from me at all the critical passages, for fear I should not do them justice, and thundering out the battle, which stirred the other boy like a trumpet sound. Indeed, Leonard got Mab into a corner, and had a very bad cold in the head when De Wilton was re-knighted; and when "the hand of Douglas was his own," he jumped up and shouted out, "Well done, old fellow!" Then he took it to himself and read it all over again, introductions and all, and has raved ever since. I wish you could see Aubrey singing out some profane couplet of "midnight and not a nose," or some more horrible original parody, and then dodging apparently in the extremity of terror, just as Leonard furiously charges him.
'But you would have been struck with their discussions over it. Last night, at tea, they began upon the woeful result of the Wager of Battle, which seemed to oppress them as if it had really happened. Did I believe in it? Was I of the Lady Abbess's opinion, that
'"Perchance some form was unobserved, Perchance in prayer or faith he swerved"?
'This from Aubrey, while Leonard rejoined that even if De Wilton had so done, it was still injustice that he should be so cruelly ruined, and Marmion's baseness succeed. It would be like a king wilfully giving wrong judgment because the right side failed in some respectful observance. He was sure such a thing could never be. Did I ever know of a real case where Heaven did not show the right? It was confusing and alarming, for both those boys sat staring at me as if I could answer them; and those wonderful searching eyes of Leonard's were fixed, as if his whole acquiescence in the dealings of Providence were going to depend on the reply, that could but be unsatisfactory. I could only try plunging deep. I said it was Job's difficulty, and it was a new light to Leonard that Job was about anything but patience. He has been reading the Book all this Sunday evening; and is not De Wilton a curious introduction to it? But Aubrey knew that I meant the bewilderment of having yet to discover that Divine Justice is longer-sighted than human justice, and he cited the perplexities of high-minded heathen. Thence we came to the Christian certainty that "to do well and suffer for it is thankworthy;" and that though no mortal man can be so innocent as to feel any infliction wholly unmerited and disproportioned, yet human injustice at its worst may be working for the sufferer an exceeding weight of glory, or preparing him for some high commission below. Was not Ralph de Wilton far nobler and purer as the poor palmer, than as Henry the Eighth's courtier! And if you could but have heard our sequel, arranging his orthodoxy, his Scripture reading, and his guardianship of distressed monks and nuns, you would have thought he had travelled to some purpose, only he would certainly have been burnt by one party, and beheaded by the other. On the whole, I think Leonard was a little comforted, and I cannot help hoping that the first apparently cruel wrong that comes before him may be the less terrible shock to his faith from his having been set to think out the question by "but half a robber and but half a knight."'
* * * * * * *
'August 1st.--Yesterday afternoon we three were in our private geological treasury, Leonard making a spread-eagle of himself in an impossible place on the cliff side, trying to disinter what hope, springing eternal in the human breast, pronounced to be the paddle of a saurian; Aubrey, climbing as high as he durst, directing operations and making discoveries; I, upon a ledge half-way up, guarding Mab and poking in the debris, when one of the bridal pairs, with whom the place is infested, was seen questing about as if disposed to invade our premises. Aubrey, reconnoitring in high dudgeon, sarcastically observed that all red-haired men are so much alike, that he should have said yonder was Hec--. The rest ended in a view halloo from above and below, and three bounds to the beach, whereon I levelled my glass, and perceived that in very deed it was Mr. and Mrs. Ernescliffe who were hopping over the shingle. Descending, I was swung off the last rock in a huge embrace, and Hector's fiery moustache was scrubbing both my cheeks before my feet touched the ground, and Blanche with both arms round my waist. They were ready to devour us alive in their famine for a Stoneborough face; and as Flora and Mary are keeping home uninhabitable, found themselves obliged to rush away from Maplewood in the middle of their county welcomes for a little snatch of us, and to join us in vituperating the new furniture. If Mary could only hear Hector talk of a new sofa that he can't put his boots upon--he says it is bad enough at Maplewood, but that he did hope to be still comfortable at home. They have to get back to dine out to-morrow, but meantime the fun is more fast and furious than ever, and as soon as the tide serves, we are to fulfil our long-cherished desire of boating round to Lyme. I won't answer for the quantity of discretion added to our freight, but at least there is six feet more of valour, and Mrs. Blanche for my chaperon. Bonnie Blanche is little changed by her four months' matrimony, and only looks prettier and more stylish, but she is painfully meek and younger-sisterish, asking my leave instead of her husband's, and distressed at her smartness in her pretty shady hat and undyed silk, because I was in trim for lias-grubbing. Her appearance ought to be an example to all the brides in the place with skirts in the water, and nothing on to keep off eyes, sun, or wind from their faces. I give Flora infinite credit for it. Blanche and Aubrey walk arm in arm in unceasing talk, and that good fellow, Hector, has included Leonard in the general fraternity. They are highly complimentary, saying they should have taken Aubrey for Harry, he is so much stouter and rosier, and that Leonard is hugely grown. Here come these three boys shouting that the boat is ready; I really think Hector is more boyish and noisy than ever.
"Five precious souls, and all agog To dash through thick or thin."
I'll take the best care of them in my power. Good-bye.'
* * * * * * *
'August 2nd.--Safe back, without adventure, only a great deal of enjoyment, for which I am doubly thankful, as I almost fancied we were fey, one of the many presentiments that come to nothing, but perhaps do us rather good than harm for all that. I hope I did not show it in my letter, and communicate it to you. Even when safe landed, I could not but think of the Cobb and Louisa Musgrove, as I suppose every one does. We slept at the inn; drove with the Ernescliffes to the station this morning, and came back to this place an hour ago, after having been steeped in pleasure. I shall send the description of Lyme to Daisy to-morrow, having no time for it now, as I want an answer from you about our going to Maplewood. The "married babies" are bent upon it, and Hector tries to demonstrate that it is the shortest way home, to which I can't agree; but as it may save another journey, and it will be nice to see them in their glory, I told them that if you could spare us, we would go from the 29th to the 4th of September. This will bring Leonard home four days before the end of the holidays, for he has been most warmly invited, Hector adopting him into the brotherhood of papa's pets. I am glad he is not left out; and Mary had better prove to Averil that he will be much happier for having no time at home before the half year begins. He still shrinks from the very name being brought before him. Let me know, if you please, whether this arrangement will suit, as I am to write to Blanche. Dear little woman, I hope Hector won't make a spoilt child of her, they are so very young, and their means seem so unlimited to them both, Hector wanting to make her and us presents of whatever we admired, and when she civilly praised Mab, vehemently declaring that she should have just such another if money could purchase, or if not, he would find a way. "Thank you, Hector dear, I had rather not," placidly responds Blanche, making his vehemence fall so flat, and Leonard's almost exulting alarm glide into such semi- mortification, that I could have laughed, though I remain in hopes that her "rather not" may always be as prudent, for I believe it is the only limit to Hector's gifts.'
* * * * * * *
'29th, 8 A. M.--Farewell to the Coombe of Coombes. I write while waiting for the fly, and shall post this at Weymouth, where we are to be met. We have been so happy here, that I could be sentimental, if Leonard were not tete-a-tete with me, and on the verge of that predicament. "Never so happy in his life," quoth he, "and never will be again--wonders when he shall gee this white cliff again." But, happily, in tumbles Aubrey with the big claw of a crab, which he insists on Leonard's wearing next his heart as a souvenir of Mrs. Gisborne; he is requited with an attempt to pinch his nose therewith, and-- 2.30. P. M. Weymouth.--The result was the upset of my ink, whereof you see the remains; and our last moments were spent in reparations and apologies. My two squires are in different plight from what they were ten weeks ago, racing up hills that it then half killed them to come down, and lingering wistfully on the top for last glimpses of our bay. I am overwhelmed with their courtesies, and though each is lugging about twenty pounds weight of stones, and Mab besides in Leonard's pocket, I am seldom allowed to carry my own travelling bag. Hector has been walking us about while his horses are resting after their twenty miles, but we think the parade and pier soon seen, and are tantalized by having no time for Portland Island, only contenting ourselves with an inspection of shop fossils, which in company with Hector is a sort of land of the "Three Wishes," or worse; for on my chancing to praise a beautiful lump of Purbeck stone, stuck as full of paludinae as a pudding with plums, but as big as my head and much heavier, he brought out his purse at once; and when I told him he must either enchant it on to my nose, or give me a negro slave as a means of transport, Leonard so earnestly volunteered to be the bearer, that I was thankful for my old rule against collecting curiosities that I do not find and carry myself. 'August 30th. Maplewood.--I wonder whether these good children can be happier, unless it may be when they receive you! How much they do make of us! and what a goodly sight at their own table they are! They are capable in themselves of making any place charming, though the man must have been enterprising who sat down five-and-twenty years ago to reclaim this park from irreclaimable down. I asked where were the maples? and where was the wood? and was shown five stunted ones in a cage to defend them from the sheep, the only things that thrive here, except little white snails, with purple lines round their shells. "There now, isn't it awfully bleak?" says Hector, with a certain comical exultation. "How was a man ever to live here without her?" And the best of it is, that Blanche thinks it beautiful--delicious free air, open space, view over five counties, &c. Inside, one traces Flora's presiding genius, Hector would never have made the concern so perfect without her help; and Blanche is no child in her own house, but is older and more at home than Hector, so that one would take her for the heiress, making him welcome and at ease. Not that it is like the Grange, Blanche is furious if I remark any little unconscious imitation or similarity--"As if we could be like Flora and George indeed!" Nor will they. If Blanche rules, it will be unawares to herself. And where Hector is, there will always be a genial house, overflowing with good-humour and good-nature. He has actually kept the 1st of September clear of shooting parties that he may take these two boys out, and give them a thorough day's sport in his turnip-fields. "License? Nonsense, he thought of that before, and now Aubrey may get some shooting out of George Rivers." After such good-nature my mouth is shut, though, ay di me, all the world and his wife are coming here on Monday evening, and unless I borrow of Blanche, Mrs. Ernescliffe's sister will "look like ane scrub."'
* * * * * * *
'September 2nd.--Train at Stoneborough, 6.30. That's the best news I have to give. Oh, it has been a weary while to be out of sight of you all, though it has been pleasant enough, and the finale is perfectly brilliant. Blanche, as lady of the house, is a sight to make a sister proud; she looks as if she were born to nothing else, and is a model of prettiness and elegance. Hector kept coming up to me at every opportunity to admire her. "Now, old Ethel, look at her? Doesn't she look like a picture? I chose that gown, you know;" then again after dinner, "Well, old Ethel, didn't it go off well? Did you ever see anything like her? There, just watch her among the old ladies. I can't think where she learnt it all, can you?" And it certainly was too perfect to have been learnt. It was not the oppression that poor dear Flora gives one by doing everything so well, as if she had perfectly balanced what was due to herself and everybody else; it was just Blanche, simple and ready, pleasing herself by doing what people liked, and seeing what they did like. It was particularly pretty to see how careful both she and Hector were not to put Leonard aside--indeed, they make more of him than of Aubrey, who is quite able to find his own level. Even his tender feelings as to Mab are respected, and Blanche always takes care to invite her to a safe seat on a fat scarlet cushion on the sofa (Mrs. Ledwich's wedding present), when the footmen with the tea might be in danger of demolishing her. Leonard, and his fine eyes, and his dog, were rather in fashion yesterday evening. Blanche put out his Coombe sketches for a company trap, and people talked to him about them, and he was set to sing with Blanche, and then with some of the young ladies. He seemed to enjoy it, and his nice, modest, gentlemanlike manner told. The party was not at all amiss in itself. I had a very nice clerical neighbour, and it is a very different thing to see and hear Hector at the bottom of the table from having poor dear George there. But oh! only one dinner more before we see our own table again, and Tom at the bottom of it. Hurrah! I trust this is the last letter you will have for many a day, from
'Your loving and dutiful daughter,
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