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The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 25214

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Quand on veut dessecher un marais, on ne fait pas voter les grenouilles.-Mme. EMILE. DE GIRADIN

'Richard? That's right! Here's a tea-cup waiting for you,' as the almost thirty-year-old Incumbent of Cocksmoor, still looking like a young deacon, entered the room with his quiet step, and silent greeting to its four inmates.

'Thank you, Ethel. Is papa gone out?'

'I have not seen him since dinner-time. You said he was gone out with Dr. Spencer, Aubrey?'

'Yes, I heard Dr. Spencer's voice-"I say, Dick"-like three notes of consternation,' said Aubrey; 'and off they went. I fancy there's some illness about in the Lower Pond Buildings, that Dr. Spencer has been raging so long to get drained.'

'The knell has been ringing for a little child there,' added Mary; 'scarlatina, I believe-'

'But, Richard,' burst forth the merry voice of the youngest, 'you must see our letters from Edinburgh.'

'You have heard, then? It was the very thing I came to ask.'

'Oh yes! there were five notes in one cover,' said Gertrude. 'Papa says they are to be laid up in the family archives, and labelled "The Infants' Honeymoon."'

'Papa is very happy with his own share,' said Ethel. 'It was signed, "Still his own White Flower," and it had two Calton Hill real daisies in it. I don't know when I have seen him more pleased.'

'And Hector's letter-I can say that by heart,' continued Gertrude. '"My dear Father, This is only to say that she is the darlint, and for the pleasure of subscribing myself-Your loving SON,"-the son as big as all the rest put together.'

'I tell Blanche that he only took her for the pleasure of being my father's son,' said Aubrey, in his low lazy voice.

'Well,' said Mary, 'even to the last, I do believe he had as soon drive papa out as walk with Blanche. Flora was quite scandalized at it.'

'I should not imagine that George had often driven my father out,' said Aubrey, again looking lazily up from balancing his spoon.

Ethel laughed; and even Richard smiled; then recovering herself, she said, 'Poor Hector, he never could call himself son to any one before.'

'He has not been much otherwise here,' said Richard.

'No,' said Ethel; 'it is the peculiar hardship of our weddings to break us up by pairs, and carry off two instead of one. Did you ever see me with so shabby a row of tea-cups? When shall I have them come in riding double again?'

The recent wedding was the third in the family; the first after a five years' respite. It ensued upon an attachment that had grown up with the young people, so that they had been entirely one with each other; and there had been little of formal demand either of the maiden's affection or her father's consent; but both had been implied from the first. The bridegroom was barely of age, the bride not seventeen, and Dr. May had owned it was very shocking, and told Richard to say nothing about it! Hector had coaxed and pleaded, pathetically talked of his great empty house at Maplewood, and declared that till he might take Blanche away, he would not leave Stoneborough; he would bring down all sorts of gossip on his courtship, he would worry Ethel, and take care she finished nobody's education. What did Blanche want with more education? She knew enough for him. Couldn't Ethel be satisfied with Aubrey and Gertrude? or he dared say she might have Mary too, if she was insatiable. If Dr. May was so unnatural as to forbid him to hang about the house, why, he would take rooms at the Swan. In fact, as Dr. May observed, he treated him to a modern red-haired Scotch version of 'Make me a willow cabin at your gate;' and as he heartily loved Hector and entirely trusted him, and Blanche's pretty head was a wise and prudent one, what was the use of keeping the poor lad unsettled?

So Mrs. Rivers, the eldest sister and the member's wife, had come to arrange matters and help Ethel, and a very brilliant wedding it had been. Blanche was too entirely at home with Hector for flutterings or agitations, and was too peacefully happy for grief at the separation, which completed the destiny that she had always seen before her. She was a picture of a bride; and when she and Hector hung round the Doctor, insisting that Edinburgh should be the first place they should visit, and calling forth minute directions for their pilgrimage to the scenes of his youth, promising to come home and tell him all, no wonder he felt himself rather gaining a child than losing one. He was very bright and happy; and no one but Ethel understood how all the time there was a sensation that the present was but a strange dreamy parody of that marriage which had been the theme of earlier hopes.

The wedding had taken place shortly after Easter; and immediately after, the Rivers family had departed for London, and Tom May had returned to Cambridge, leaving the home party at the minimum of four, since, Cocksmoor Parsonage being complete, Richard had become only a daily visitor instead of a constant inhabitant.

There he sat, occupying his never idle hands with a net that he kept for such moments, whilst Ethel sat behind her urn, now giving out its last sighs, profiting by the leisure to read the county newspaper, while she continually filled up her cup with tea or milk as occasion served, indifferent to the increasing pallor of the liquid.

Mary, a 'fine young woman,' as George Rivers called her, of blooming face and sweet open expression, had begun, at Gertrude's entreaty, a game of French billiards. Gertrude had still her childish sunny face and bright hair, and even at the trying age of twelve was pleasing, chiefly owing to the caressing freedom of manner belonging to an unspoilable pet. Her request to Aubrey to join the sport had been answered with a half petulant shake of the head, and he flung himself into his father's chair, his long legs hanging over one arm-an attitude that those who had ever been under Mrs. May's discipline thought impossible in the drawing-room; but Aubrey was a rival pet, and with the family characteristics of aquiline features, dark gray eyes, and beautiful teeth, had an air of fragility and easy languor that showed his exercise of the immunities of ill-health. He had been Ethel's pupil till Tom's last year at Eton, when he was sent thither, and had taken a good place; but his brother's vigilant and tender care could not save him from an attack on the chest, that settled his public-school education for ever, to his severe mortification, just when Tom's shower of honours was displaying to him the sweets of emulation and success. Ethel regained her pupil, and put forth her utmost powers for his benefit, causing Tom to examine him at each vacation, with adjurations to let her know the instant he discovered that her task of tuition was getting beyond her. In truth, Tom fraternally held her cheap, and would have enjoyed a triumph over her scholarship; but to this he had not attained, and in spite of his desire to keep his brother in a salutary state of humiliation, candour wrung from him the admission that, even in verses, Aubrey did as well as other fellows of his standing.

Conceit was not Aubrey's fault. His father was more guarded than in the case of his elder sons, and the home atmosphere was not such as to give the boy a sense of superiority, especially when diligently kept down by his brother. Even the half year at Eton had not produced superciliousness, though it had given Eton polish to the home-bred manners; it had made sisters valuable, and awakened a desire for masculine companionship. He did not rebel against his sister's rule; she was nearly a mother to him, and had always been the most active president of his studies and pursuits; and he was perfectly obedient and dutiful to her, only asserting his equality, in imitation of Harry and Tom, by a little of the good-humoured raillery and teasing that treated Ethel as the family butt, while she was really the family authority.

'All gone, Ethel,' he said, with a lazy smile, as Ethel mechanically, with her eyes on the newspaper, tried all her vessels round, and found cream-jug, milk-jug, tea-pot, and urn exhausted; 'will you have in the river next?'

'What a shame!' said Ethel, awakening and laughing. 'Those are the tea-maker's snares.'

'Do send it away then,' said Aubrey, 'the urn oppresses the atmosphere.'

'Very well, I'll make a fresh brew when papa comes home, and perhaps you'll have some then. You did not half finish to-night.'

Aubrey yawned; and after some speculation about their father's absence, Gertrude went to bed; and Aubrey, calling himself tired, stood up, stretched every limb portentously, and said he should go off too. Ethel looked at him anxiously, felt his hand, and asked if he were sure he had not a cold coming on. 'You are always thinking of colds,' was all the satisfaction she received.

'What has he been doing?' said Richard.

'That is what I was thinking. He was about all yesterday afternoon with Leonard Ward, and perhaps may have done something imprudent in the damp. I never know what to do. I can't bear him to be a coddle; yet he is always catching cold if I let him alone. The question is, whether it is worse for him to run risks, or to be thinking of himself.'

'He need not be doing that,' said Richard; 'he may be thinking of your wishes and papa's.'

'Very pretty of him and you, Ritchie; but he is not three parts of a boy or man who thinks of his womankind's wishes when there is anything spirited before him.'

'Well, I suppose one may do one's duty without being three parts of a boy,' said Richard, gravely.

'I know it is true that some of the most saintly characters have been the more spiritual because their animal frame was less vigorous; but still it does not content me.'

'No, the higher the power, the better, of course, should the service be. I was only putting you in mind that there is compensation. But I must be off. I am sorry I cannot wait for papa. Let me know what is the matter to-morrow, and how Aubrey is.'

Richard went; and the sisters took up their employments-Ethel writing to the New Zealand sister-in-law her history of the wedding, Mary copying parts of a New Zealand letter for her brother, the lieutenant in command of a gun-boat on the Chinese coast. Those letters, whether from Norman May or his wife, were very delightful, they were so full of a cheerful tone of trustful exertion and resolution, though there had been perhaps more than the natural amount of disappointments. Norman's powers were not thought of the description calculated for regular mission work, and some of the chief aspirations of the young couple had had to be relinquished at the voice of authority without a trial. They had received the charge of persons as much in need of them as unreclaimed savages, but to whom there was less apparent glory in ministering. A widespread district of very colonial colonists, and the charge of a college for their uncultivated sons, was quite as troublesome as the most ardent self-devotion could desire; and the hardships and disagreeables, though severe, made no figure in history-nay, it required ingenuity to gather their existence from Meta's bright letters, although, from Mrs. Arnott's accounts, it was clear that the wife took a quadruple share. Mrs. Rivers had been heard to say that Norman need not have gone so far, and sacrificed so much, to obtain an under-bred English congregation; and even the Doctor had sighed once or twice at having relinquished his favourite son to what was dull and distasteful; but Ethel could trust that this unmurmuring acceptance of the less striking career, might be another step in the discipline of her brother's ardent and ambitious nature. It is a great thing to sacrifice, but a greater to consent not to sacrifice in one's own way.

Ethel sat up for her father, and Mary would not go to bed and leave her, so the two sisters waited till they heard the latch-key. Ethel ran out, but her father was already on the stairs, and waved her back.

'Here is some tea. Are you not coming, papa?-it is all here.'

'Thank you, I'll just go and take off this coat;' and he passed on to his room.

'I don't like that,' said Ethel, returning to the drawing-room, where Mary was boiling up the kettle, and kneeling down to make some toast.

'Why, what's the matter?'

'I have never known him go and change his coat but when some infectious thing has been about. Besides, he did not wait to let me help him off with it.'

In a few seconds the Doctor came down in his dressing-gown, and let himself

be put into his easy-chair; his two daughters waiting on him with fond assiduity, their eyes questioning his fagged weary face, but reading there fatigue and concern that made them-rather awe-struck-bide their time till it should suit him to speak. Mary was afraid he would wait till she was gone; dear old Mary, who at twenty-two never dreamt of regarding herself as on the same footing with her three years' senior, and had her toast been browner, would have relieved them of her presence at once. However, her father spoke after his first long draught of tea.

'Well! How true it is that judgments are upon us while we are marrying and giving in marriage!'

'What is it, papa? Not the scarlatina?'

'Scarlatina, indeed!' he said contemptuously. 'Scarlet fever in the most aggravated form. Two deaths in one house, and I am much mistaken if there will not be another before morning.'

'Who, papa?' asked Mary.

'Those wretched Martins, in Lower Pond Buildings, are the worst. No wonder, living in voluntary filth; but it is all over the street-will be all over the town unless there's some special mercy on the place.'

'But how has it grown so bad,' said Ethel, 'without our having even heard of it!'

'Why-partly I take shame to myself-this business of Hector and Blanche kept Spencer and me away last dispensary day; and partly it was that young coxcomb, Henry Ward, thought it not worth while to trouble me about a simple epidemic. Simple epidemic indeed!' repeated Dr. May, changing his tone from ironical mimicry to hot indignation. 'I hope he will be gratified with its simplicity! I wonder how long he would have gone on if it had not laid hold on him.'

'You don't mean that he has it?'

'I do. It will give him a practical lesson in simple epidemics.'

'And Henry Ward has it!' repeated Mary, looking so much dismayed that her father laughed, saying-

'What, Mary thinks when it comes to fevers being so audacious as to lay hold of the doctors, it is time that they should be put a stop to.'

'He seems to have petted it and made much of it,' said Ethel; 'so no wonder! What could have possessed him?'

'Just this, Ethel; and it is only human nature after all. This young lad comes down, as Master Tom will do some day, full of his lectures and his hospitals, and is nettled and displeased to find his father content to have Spencer or me called in the instant anything serious is the matter.'

'But you are a physician, papa,' said Mary.

'No matter for that, to Mr. Henry I'm an old fogie, and depend upon it, if it were only the giving a dose of salts, he would like to have the case to himself. These poor creatures were parish patients, and I don't mean that his treatment was amiss. Spencer is right, it was an atmosphere where there was no saving anyone, but if he had not been so delighted with his own way, and I had known what was going on, I'd have got the Guardians and the Town Council and routed out the place. Seventeen cases, and most of them the worst form!'

'But what was Mr. Ward about?

'"Says I to myself, here's a lesson for me;

This man's but a picture of what I shall be,"

'when Master Tom gets the upper hand of me,' returned Dr. May. 'Poor Ward, who has run to me in all his difficulties these thirty years, didn't like it at all; but Mr. Henry was so confident with his simple epidemic, and had got him in such order, that he durst not speak.'

'And what brought it to light at last?'

'Everything at once. First the clerics go to see about the family where the infant died, and report to Spencer; he comes after me, and we start to reconnoitre. Then I am called in to see Shearman's daughter-a very ugly case that-and coming out I meet poor Ward himself, wanting me to see Henry, and there's the other boy sickening too. Then I went down and saw all those cases in the Lower Ponds, and have been running about the town ever since to try what can be done, hunting up nurses, whom I can't get, stirring dishes of skim milk, trying to get the funerals over to-morrow morning by daybreak. I declare I have hardly a leg to stand on.'

'Where was Dr. Spencer?'

'I've nearly quarrelled with Spencer. Oh! he is in high feather! he will have it that the fever rose up bodily, like Kuhleborn, out of that unhappy drain he is always worrying about, when it is a regular case of scarlet fever, brought in by a girl at home from service; but he will have it that his theory is proved. Then I meant him to keep clear of it. He has always been liable to malaria and all that sort of thing, and has not strength for an illness. I told him to mind the ordinary practice for me; and what do I find him doing the next thing, but operating upon one of the worst throats he could find! I told him he was as bad as young Ward; I hate his irregular practice. I'll tell you what,' he said, vindictively, as if gratified to have what must obey him, 'you shall all go off to Cocksmoor to-morrow morning at seven o'clock.'

'You forget that we two have had it,' said Mary.

'Which of you?'

'All down to Blanche.'

'Never mind for that. I shall have enough to do without a sick house at home. You can perform quarantine with Richard, and then go to Flora, if she will have you. Well, what are you dawdling about? Go and pack up.'

'Papa,' said Ethel, who had been abstracted through all the latter part of the conversation, 'if you please, we had better not settle my going till to-morrow morning.'

'Come, Ethel, you have too much sense for panics. Don't take nonsense into your head. The children can't have been in the way of it.'

'Stay, papa,' said Ethel, her serious face arresting the momentary impatience of fatigue and anxiety, 'I am afraid Aubrey was a good while choosing fishing-tackle at Shearman's yesterday with Leonard Ward; and it may be nothing, but he did seem heavy and out of order to-night; I wish you would look at him as you go up.'

Dr. May stood still for a few moments, then gave one long gasp, made a few inquiries, and went up to Aubrey's room. The boy was fast asleep; but there was that about him which softened the weary sharpness of his father's manner, and caused him to desire Ethel to look from the window whence she could see whether the lights were out in Dr. Spencer's house. Yes, they were.

'Never mind. It will make no real odds, and he has had enough on his hands to-day. The boy will sleep quietly enough to-night, so let us all go to bed.'

'I think I can get a mattress into his room without waking him, if you will help me, Mary,' said Ethel.

'Nonsense,' said her father, decidedly. 'Mary is not to go near him before she takes Gertrude to Cocksmoor; and you, go to your own bed and get a night's rest while you can.'

'You won't stay up, papa.'

'I-why, it is all I can do not to fall asleep on my feet. Good night, children.'

'He does not trust himself to think or to fear,' said Ethel. 'Too much depends on him to let himself be unstrung.'

'But, Ethel, you will not leave, dear Aubrey.'

'I shall keep his door open and mine; but papa is right, and it will not do to waste one's strength. In case I should not see you before you go-'

'Oh, but, Ethel, I shall come back! Don't, pray don't tell me to stay away. Richard will have to keep away for Daisy's sake, and you can't do all alone-nurse Aubrey and attend to papa. Say that I may come back.'

Well, Mary, I think you might,' said Ethel, after a moment's thought. 'If it were only Aubrey, I could manage for him; but I am more anxious about papa.'

'You don't think he is going to have it?'

'Oh no, no,' said Ethel, 'he is what he calls himself, a seasoned vessel; but he will be terribly overworked, and unhappy, and he must not come home and find no one to talk to or to look cheerful. So, Mary, unless he gives any fresh orders, or Richard thinks it will only make things worse, I shall be very glad of you.'

Mary had never clung to her so gratefully, nor felt so much honoured. 'Do you think he will have it badly?' she asked timidly.

'I don't think at all about it,' said Ethel, something in her father's manner. 'If we are to get through all this, Mary, it must not be by riding out on perhapses. Now let us put Daisy's things together, for she must have as little communication with home as possible.'

Ethel silently and rapidly moved about, dreading to give an interval for tremblings of heart. Five years of family prosperity had passed, and there had been that insensible feeling of peace and immunity from care which is strange to look back upon when one hour has drifted from smooth water to turbid currents. There was a sort of awe in seeing the mysterious gates of sorrow again unclosed; yet, darling of her own as Aubrey was, Ethel's first thoughts and fears were primarily for her father. Grief and alarm seemed chiefly to touch her through him, and she found herself praying above all that he might be shielded from suffering, and might be spared a renewal of the pangs that had before wrung his heart.

By early morning every one was astir; and Gertrude, bewildered and distressed, yet rather enjoying the fun of staying with Richard, was walking off with Mary.

Soon after, Dr. Spencer was standing by the bedside of his old patient, Aubrey, who had been always left to his management.

'Ah, I see,' he said, with a certain tone of satisfaction, 'for once there will be a case properly treated. Now, Ethel, you and I will show what intelligent nursing can do.'

'I believe you are delighted,' growled Aubrey.

'So should you be, at the valuable precedent you will afford.'

'I've no notion of being experimented on to prove your theory,' said Aubrey, still ready for lazy mischief.

For be it known that the roving-tempered Dr. Spencer had been on fire to volunteer to the Crimean hospitals, and had unwillingly sacrificed the project, not to Dr. May's conviction that it would be fatal in his present state of health, but to Ethel's private entreaty that he would not add to her father's distress in the freshness of Margaret's death, and the parting with Norman. He had never ceased to mourn over the lost opportunity, and to cast up to his friend the discoveries he might have made; while Dr. May declared that if by any strange chance he had come back at all, he would have been so rabid on improved nursing and sanatory measures, that there would have been no living with him.

It must be owned that Dr. May was not very sensible to what his friend called Stoneborough stinks. The place was fairly healthy, and his 'town councillor's conservatism,' and hatred of change, as well as the amusement of skirmishing, had always made him the champion of things as they were; and in the present emergency the battle whether the enemy had travelled by infection, or was the product of the Pond Buildings' miasma, was the favourite enlivenment of the disagreeing doctors, in their brief intervals of repose in the stern conflict which they were waging with the fever-a conflict in which they had soon to strive by themselves, for the disease not only seized on young Ward, but on his father; and till medical assistance was sent from London, they had the whole town on their hands, and for nearly a week lived without a night's rest.

The care of the sick was a still greater difficulty. Though Aubrey was never in danger, and Dr. Spencer's promise of the effects of 'intelligent nursing' was fully realized, Ethel and Mary were so occupied by him, that it was a fearful thing to guess how it must fare with those households where the greater number were laid low, and in want of all the comforts that could do little.

The clergy worked to the utmost; and a letter of Mr. Wilmot's obtained the assistance of two ladies from a nursing sisterhood, who not only worked incredible wonders with their own hands among the poor, but made efficient nurses of rough girls and stupid old women. Dr. May, who had at first, in his distrust of innovation, been averse to the importation-as likely to have no effect but putting nonsense into girls' heads, and worrying the sick poor-was so entirely conquered, that he took off his hat to them across the street, importuned them to drink tea with his daughters, and never came home without dilating on their merits for the few minutes that intervened between his satisfying himself about Aubrey and dropping asleep in his chair. The only counter demonstration he reserved to himself was that he always called them 'Miss What-d'ye-call-her,' and 'Those gems of women,' instead of Sister Katherine and Sister Frances.

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