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Little specks of daily trouble--
Petty grievance, petty strife--
Filling up with drops incessant
To the brim the cup of life.
Deeper import have these trifles
Than we think or care to know:
In the air a feather floating,
Tells from whence the breezes blow.--REV. G. MONSELL
The first brightening of the orphaned house of Bankside had been in Leonard's return. The weeks of his absence had been very sore ones to Averil, while she commenced the round of duties that were a heavy burthen for one so young, and became, instead of the petted favourite, the responsible head of the house.
She was willing and glad to accept the care of her little sisters-- docile bright children--who were pleased to return to the orderly habits so long interrupted, and were so intelligent, that her task of teaching was a pleasant one; and almost motherly love towards them grew up as she felt their dependence on her, and enjoyed their caresses.
With Henry she had less in common. He expected of her what she had not learnt, and was not willing to acquire. A man interfering in the woman's province meets little toleration; and Henry was extremely precise in his requirements of exact order, punctuality, and excellence, in all the arrangements of his house. While breaking her in to housekeeping, he made himself appear almost in the light of a task-master--and what was worse, of a despised task-master. Averil thought she could not respect a brother whose displeasure was manifested by petulance, not sternness, and who cared not only about his dinner, but about the tidy appearance of the drawing-room--nay, who called that tasty which she thought vulgar, made things stiff where she meant them to be easy and elegant, and prepared the place to be the butt of Tom May's satire.
Henry was not a companion to her. His intellect was lower, his education had not been of the same order, and he had not the manly force of character that makes up for everything in a woman's eyes. Where she had talents, he had pretensions--just enough to make his judgments both conceited and irritating; and where her deeper thoughts and higher aspirations were concerned, she met either a blank or a growing jealousy of the influence of the clergy and of the May family.
Yet Henry Ward was really a good brother, sacrificing much to his orphan sisters, and living a moral and religious life--such as gained for him much credit, and made Mrs. Ledwich congratulate Averil on the great excellence and kindness of her incomparable brother.
Averil assented, and felt it a dreary thing to have an incomparable brother.
But when Leonard came home, the face of the house was changed. Now she had something to look forward to. Now there was something to hear that stirred her deeper feelings--some one who would understand and respond--some one to make common cause with. Little as she saw of the schoolboy, there was life in her day, for sympathy and comprehension had come home with him.
After all, there were recesses in Leonard's confidence to which Ave did not penetrate; but there was quite enough to be very happy upon, especially those visions that had been built on the Melanesian letters. They were not near enough to terrify her with the thought of separation, and she was sufficiently imbued with Mary May's sentiments to regard mission-work as the highest ambition. Leonard's strong will and manly disposition would have obtained her homage and affection, even without the lofty sentiments and the lesser graces that made the brother and sister thoroughly suited to one another; and the bond of union was unfortunately cemented by equal annoyance at Henry's peculiarities.
It certainly was rather hard on a young head of a family to have a younger brother his superior in every respect, and with an inseparable sister. That Henry had not found out Leonard's superiority was no reason that it should not gall him; and his self- assertions were apt to be extremely irritating. Even in the first flush of welcome, he had made it plain that he meant to be felt as master of the house, and to enforce those petty regulations of exact order that might be easily borne from a mother, or played with in a sister--would be obeyed grudgingly from a father, but could be intolerable in a brother.
The reception of Mab and the ammonites was but an earnest of similar ungracious acts on the one hand, and aggressions on the other, often unintentional. Averil did, indeed, smooth matters, but she shared Leonard's resentment, and outward submission was compensated by murmur and mockery in private.
Still the household worked on fairly; and Mrs. Ledwich was heard to declare, with tears in her eyes, that it was beautiful to see such a happy family of love as those dear young Wards!
'The happy family--in Trafalgar Square!' muttered Dr. Spencer.
The confidence of the happy family was on this wise. When Leonard came home with his unpresentable face, he baffled all Ave's anxious questions, and she was only enlightened by Henry's lamentations, in his absence, over the hopelessness of a brother who was so low and vulgar as to box! Her defence being met by a sneer, she flew to tell Leonard of the calumny, and was laughed at for her innocence, but extorted that he had fought with a fellow that talked impudently of some of the Mays--cause fully sufficient in her eyes; nor did Henry utter any open reproof, though he contrived to exasperate his brother into fierce retort and angry gesture by an unnecessary injunction not to show that ungentlemanly face.
Full consciousness of the difficulties presented by the characters of the two brothers would have been far too oppressive; and perhaps it was better for Averil that she had it not, but had her own engrossing interests and employments drawing off her attention and enlivening her spirits. Her church music was her object in life--the dedication of the talent that had been cultivated at so much time and cost, and the greatest honour and enjoyment she could imagine, and she had full participation from Leonard, who had a hearty love for sacred music, readily threw himself into her plans, and offered voice and taste to assist her experiments. Nor had her elder brother any objection to her being thus brought forward: he was proud of her performance, and gratified with the compliments it elicited; and all went well till the new hymnals arrived, and books upon books, full of new tunes, anthems, and chants, were accumulating on the music-stand.
'What are you about there all the evening, not opening your lips?'
'Leonard is writing out his verses, and I am copying music.'
'I wonder you neither of you will remember that that table was never meant to be littered over with all sorts of rubbish!'
'I thought tables were to put things on,' returned Leonard coolly.
'Drawing-room tables were not made to be inked! That cover will be ruined in a day or two!'
'Very well--then we'll pay for it!' said Leonard, in the same aggravating tone.
'Here are newspapers spread between it and the ink,' said Averil, displaying them with an air of injured innocence that made Henry subside; but he presently exclaimed:
'Is that copying to go on all night? Can't you speak, nor play anything, to send one off to sleep?'
With a martyr look, yet a satirical glance, Averil opened the piano; and Henry settled himself in the master's arm-chair, as one about to enjoy well-earned rest and entertainment after a hard day's work.
'I say, what doleful drone have you there!'
'I am trying a new chant for the "Nunc Dimittis".'
'Nothing but that day and night! Give us something worth hearing.'
'I thought you only wanted to go to sleep.'
'I don't want to dream myself into church, listening to Scudamour's proses: I've quite enough of that on Sunday.'
Ave began to play one of her school waltzes; and the touch of her fingers on the keys had so sharp-edged and petulant a tone, that Leonard smiled to himself as he ran his fingers through his hair over his books. Nor was it soothing to Henry, who, instead of going to sleep, began to survey the room, and get food for annoyance.
'I say,' said he, looking across at a little brass-barred bookcase of ornamental volumes on the opposite chiffonniere, 'what book is out there?'
'Scott's "Lay",' said Leonard; 'it is up in my room.'
'I told you, Ave, not to let the drawing-room books be carried about the house to be spoilt!' said Henry, who seldom reproved his brother direct, but generally through Ave.
'You'd better get some made of wood then,' said Leonard.
'Remember then, Ave, I say I will not have my books taken out, and left about over the house.'
Leonard dashed out of the room passionately, and presently came thundering down again, every step audible the whole way, and threw the book on the table, bringing in a whirlwind, and a flaring sloping candle dropping upon the precious cloth. Henry started up and pointed.
'I'm glad of it!' exclaimed Leonard; 'it will be a little amusement for you. Good night, Ave! I'm going to finish up-stairs, since one can't read, write, or touch a book without your being rowed!'
He was gone, and Averil, though rather frightened, gave him infinite credit for keeping his temper; and perhaps he deserved it, considering the annoyance and the nature of the provocation; but she did not reflect how much might have been prevented by more forethought and less pre-occupation. She said not a word, but quietly returned to her copying; and when Henry came with paper and poker to remove the damage, she only shoved back her chair, and sat waiting, pen in hand, resigned and ironical.
'I declare,' grumbled Henry, as he examined the remaining amount of damage, 'these day-schools are a great inconvenience; there's no keeping a place fit to be seen with a great uncivilized lad always hanging about!'
'Leonard is considered particularly gentlemanlike,' said Ave, with lips compressed, to keep back something about old bachelors.
'Now, I should have thought a lady would have some regard to her own drawing-room, and object to slovenliness--elbows on table, feet everywhere!'
'Nothing is in worse taste than constraint,' said Ave from the corners of her mouth--'at least for those that can trust their manners without it.'
'I tell you, Ave, you are spoiling the boy. He is more conceited than ever since the Mays noticed him.'
'Yes; he is getting as stuck up as Tom May himself--your model I believe!'
'I thought he was yours!'
'Yes; you always seem to aim at a poor imitation of him.'
There was a blushing angry stammer in reply; and she suppressed her smile, but felt triumphant in having hit the mark. Unready at retort, he gathered himself up, and said: 'Well, Ave, I have only this to say, that if you choose to support that boy in his impertinences, there will be no bearing it; and I shall see what I shall do.'
Seeing what shall be done is a threat stimulating to some, but appalling to others; and Averil was of the latter class, with no desire for such a spectacle, be it what it might. She did not apologize for the trifle--possible ink, a spot of wax, a borrowed book, were far beneath an apology; but she made up her mind to humour Henry's follies magnanimously, and avoid collisions, like an admirable peace-maker. As soon as bed-time came, she repaired to Leonard's room; and Henry, as he went along the passage, heard the two young voices ringing with laughter! Her retort had been particularly delightful to Leonard. 'That's right, Ave! I'm glad you set him down, for I thought afterwards whether I ought not to have stood by you, only his way of pitching into me through you puts me into such a rage: I shall do something desperate some day!'
'Never mind it, Leonard; it does not hurt me; and if it did, I should like to bear a great deal for you.'
'That's all the wrong way,' said Leonard, smiling affectionately.
'No; men do and women suffer.'
'That's trite!' said Leonard, patting her fondly. 'I like you to do--as you call it--Miss May does, and every one that is worth anything. I say, Ave, when I go out to the islands, you are coming too?'
'Oh yes! I know I could do a great deal. If nothing else, I could sing; and they have a great aptitude for singing, Mary was telling me. But that reminds me I must finish copying the hymn for next Sunday; Henry hindered me, and I have six copies more to do.'
'I'll do some of them,' said Leonard. 'Let us go down now the coast is clear, if the fire is not out.'
They went down softly, Mab and all, nursed up the fire that Henry had raked out; and if Saturnalia could be held over the writing out of a hymn tune, they did it! At any rate, it had the charm of an assertion of independence; and to Averil it was something like a midnight meeting of persecuted Christians--to Leonard it was 'great fun.'
That evening was not a solitary specimen.
Averil and Leonard intended to obviate causes of offence; but they were young and heedless, and did not feel bound to obedience. A very little temptation made them forget or defy Henry's fancies; and Leonard was easily lashed into answers really unbecoming and violent, for which he could not bring himself to be sorry, when he thought over the petty interference and annoyance that had caused them.
These small tyrannies and frets made Averil the more devoted to the music, which was her rest, her delight, and not only exalted her above cares, but sanctioned her oblivion of them. The occupation grew upon her, never ending, still beginning, with fresh occasions for practice and new lessons, but though Bankside boys were willing to be taught, yet it was chiefly in hope of preferment as choristers at the Minster; and she soon found that a scholar no sooner proved his voice good for anything, than he went off to be trained for the choir on the foundation, which fed, clothed, and apprenticed its young singers. She found she must betake herself to an elder race if she wanted a reliable staff of voices; and some young men and women showing themselves willing, a practice, with Mr. Scudamour to keep order, was organized for late evenings, twice in the week. This was rather much! Henry opposed at first, on the ground that the evening would be broken up; to which she answered that for such a purpose they ought to be willing to sacrifice a little domestic comfort; and when he muttered a petulant 'Pshaw,' looked at him in reproof for sacrilege. She was not going to be one of the womankind sitting up in a row till their lords and masters should be pleased to want them!
Next, he insisted that he would not have her going about the place after dark, but she was fortified by the curate's promise to escort her safely, and reduced him to a semi-imprecation which she again viewed as extremely wicked. The existence of that meek little helpless Mrs. Scudamour, always shut up in a warm room with her delicate baby, cut off Henry from any other possible objection, and he was obliged to submit.
Leonard would gladly have been his sister's companion on her expeditions, but he must remain at home and prepare for the morrow's school-work, and endure the first hour of dreariness unenlivened by her smile and greeting, and, what was worse, without the scanty infusion of peace produced by her presence. Her rapid departure after dinner always discomposed Henry; and the usual vent for his ill-humour was either a murmur against the clergy and all their measures, or the discovery of some of Leonard's transgressions of his code. Fretted and irritable at the destruction of evening comfort, he in his turn teased the fiery temper of his brother. If there were nothing worse, his grumbling remarks interrupted, and too often they were that sort of censure that is expressively called nagging. Leonard would reply angrily, and the flashes of his passion generally produced silence. Neither brother spoke to Averil of these evening interludes, which were becoming almost habitual, but they kept Leonard in a constant sore sense of injury, yet of uneasy conscience. He looked to the Randall scholarship as his best hope of leaving home and its torments, but his illness had thrown him back: he had not only lost the last quarter, but the acquirements of the one before it were obscured; and the vexations themselves so harassed and interrupted his evening studies, that he knew it was unreasonable to hope for it at the next examination, which, from various causes, was to come after the Christmas holidays; and it would be well if he could even succeed in the summer.
Innocent as the Mays were of the harmonium business, Henry included them in the annoyance it gave. It was the work of the curate--and was not Dr. May one in everything with the clergy? had he not been instrumental in building the chapel? was it not the Mays and the clergy who had made Ave inconveniently religious and opinionative, to say nothing of Leonard? The whole town was priest--led and bigoted; and Dr. May was the despot to whom all bowed down.
This was an opinion Henry would hardly have originated: it was the shaft of an abler man than he--no other than Harvey Anderson, who had lately become known to the world by a book proving King John to have been the most enlightened and patriotic of English sovereigns, enduring the Interdict on a pure principle of national independence, and devising Magna Charta from his own generous brain--in fact, presenting a magnificent and misunderstood anticipation of the most advanced theories of the nineteenth century. The book had made so much noise in the world, that the author had been induced to quit his college tutorship, and become editor of a popular magazine. He lived in London, but often came down to spend Sunday with his mother, and had begun to be looked on as rather the lion of the place. Henry took in his magazine, and courted his notice, often bringing him into Averil's way that she might hear her heroes treated with irony more effectual than home-made satire; but Ave was staunch. She hated the sight of Mr. Anderson; never cut the leaves of his magazine; and if driven to sing to him, took as little pains as her musical nature would let her do. But the very strength of her dislike gave it an air of prejudice, and it was set down less to principle than to party spirit and May influence.
There was another cause for Henry's being soured. He was not of the nature to be filial with Dr. May; and therefore gratitude oppressed, and patronage embittered him. The first months of warm feeling at an end, the old spirit of independence revived, and he avoided consulting the physician as much as possible. More than once his management of a case was not approved by Dr. May; and the strong and hasty language, and the sharp reproofs that ensued, were not taken as the signs of the warm heart and friendly interest, but as the greatest offences--sullenly, but not the less bitterly endured.
Moreover, one of the Whitford surgeons had been called in by a few of the out-lying families who had hitherto been patients of the Wards; and worse than all, Mrs. Rivers took her child up to London for three days in November, and it became known--through a chain of tongues-- that it was for the enlargement of tonsils, on which Mr. Ward had operated a year before.
'Old May was playing him false!' was Henry's cry. 'His professions were humbug. He would endure no one who did not submit to his dictation; and he would bring in a stranger to ruin them all!'
Little did Henry know of Dr. May's near approach to untruth in denying that he had a house to let to the opposition surgeon--of his attestations to his daughter that young Ward was a skilful operator-- or of his vexation when she professed herself ready to undergo anything for his pleasure, but said that little Margaret's health was another thing.
Yet even this might have been forgiven, but for that worst rub of all--Tom May's manners. His politeness was intense--most punctilious and condescending in form--and yet provoking beyond measure to persons who, like Henry and Averil, had not playfulness enough to detect with certainty whether they were being made game of or not, nor whether his smoothly-uttered compliments were not innuendoes. Henry was certain of being despised, and naturally chafed against the prospect of the future connection between the two medical men of the town; and though Tom was gone back to Cambridge, it was the rankling remembrance of his supercilious looks that, more than any present offence or independence of spirit, made the young surgeon kick against direction from the physician. Here, too, Averil was of the same mind. She had heard Tom May observe that his sister Gertrude would play quite well enough for a lady; for the mission of a lady's music was to put one to sleep at home, and cover conversation at a party; as to the rest--unprofessionals were a mistake!
After that, the civil speeches with which Tom would approach the piano only added insult to injury.
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