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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 25986

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


And a heart at leisure from itself

To soothe and sympathize.-Miss Waring

Recovery had fairly set in, and 'better' was the universal bulletin, eating and drinking the prevailing remedy.

Henry Ward had quickly thrown off his illness. The sense that all depended on him, acted as a stimulus to his energies; he was anxious to be up and doing, and in a few days was down-stairs, looking over his father's papers, and making arrangements. He was eager and confident, declaring that his sisters should never want a home while he lived; and, when he first entered his brother's room, his effusion of affection overwhelmed Leonard in his exceeding weakness, and the thought of which during the rest of the day often brought tears to his eyes.

Very grateful to Dr. May, Henry declared himself anxious to abide by his advice; and discussed with him all his plans. There had been no will, but the house and land of course were Henry's. The other property gave about £2000 to each of the family; and Averil had about as much again from the old aunt, from whom she had taken her peculiar name. The home of all should, of course, still be their present one; Averil would teach her sisters, and superintend the house, and Leonard continue at the school, where he had a fair chance of obtaining the Randall scholarship in the course of a year or two. 'And if not,' said Henry, 'he may still not lose his University education. My father was proud of Leonard; and if he would have sent him there, why should not I?'

And when Dr. May thought how his own elder sons had insisted on greater advantages of education for their juniors than they had themselves enjoyed, he felt especially fatherly towards the young surgeon. On only one point was he dissatisfied, and that he could not press. He thought the establishment at Bankside too expensive, and counselled Henry to remove into the town, and let the house; but this was rejected on the argument of the uncertainty of finding a tenant, and the inexpediency of appearing less prosperous; and considering that Mr. and Mrs. Ward had themselves made the place, Dr. May thought his proposal hard-hearted. He went about impressing every one with his confidence in Henry Ward, and fought successfully at the Board of Guardians to have him considered as a continuation of his father, instead of appointing a new union doctor; and he watched with paternal solicitude that the young man's first return to his practice should be neither too soon for his own health or his patients' fears; giving him no exhortation more earnest, nor more thankfully accepted, than that he was to let no scruple prevent his applying to himself in the slightest difficulty; calling him in to pauper patients, and privately consulting in cases which could not be visited gratis. The patronage of Henry Ward was one of the hobbies that Dr. May specially loved, and he cantered off upon it with vehemence such as he had hardly displayed for years.

Aubrey recovered with the tardiness of a weakly constitution, and was long in even arriving at a drive in the brougham; for Dr. May had set up a brougham. As long as Hector Ernescliffe's home was at Stoneborough, driving the Doctor had been his privilege, and the old gig had been held together by diligent repairs; but when Maplewood claimed him, and Adams was laid aside by rheumatism, Flora would no longer be silenced, and preached respectability and necessity. Dr. May did not admit the plea, unless Adams were to sit inside and drive out of window; but then he was told of the impropriety of his daughters going out to dinner in gigs, and the expense of flies. When Flora talked of propriety in that voice, the family might protest and grumble, but were always reduced to obedience; and thus Blanche's wedding had been the occasion of Ethel being put into a hoop, and the Doctor into a brougham. He was better off under the tyranny than she was, in spite of the solitude he had bewailed. Young Adams was not the companion his father had been, and was no loss; and he owned that he now got through a great deal of reading, and at times a great deal of sleep; and mourned for nothing but his moon and stars-so romantic a regret, that Dr. Spencer advised him not to mention it.

After Aubrey's first drives, Dr. Spencer declared that the best way of invigorating him would be to send him for a month to the sea-side, while the house could be thoroughly purified before Gertrude's return. Dr. Spencer and Mary would take care of Dr. May; and Ethel had begun to look forward to a tete-a-tete with Aubrey by the sea, which they had neither of them ever seen, when her anticipations were somewhat dashed by her father's exclaiming, that it would be the best thing for Leonard Ward to go with them. She said something about his not being well enough to travel so soon.

'Oh, yes, he will,' said Dr. May; 'he only wants stimulus to get on fast enough. I declare I'll ask Henry about it; I'm just going to meet him at the hospital.'

And before another word could be said, he let himself out at the back door of the garden, in which they had been meeting Richard, who was now allowed to come thus far, though both for Daisy's sake and his flock's, he had hitherto submitted to a rigorous quarantine; and the entire immunity of Cocksmoor from the malady was constantly adduced by each doctor as a convincing proof of his own theory.

'Well, I do hope that will go off!' exclaimed Ethel, as soon as her father was out of hearing. 'It will be a terrible upset to all one's peace and comfort with Aubrey!'

'Indeed-what harm will the poor boy do?' asked Richard.

'Make Aubrey into the mere shame-faced, sister-hating, commonplace creature that the collective boy thinks it due to himself to be in society,' said Ethel, 'and me from an enjoying sister, into an elderly, care-taking, despised spinster-a burden to myself and the boys.'

'But why, Ethel, can't you enjoy yourself!'

'My dear Richard, just imagine turning loose a lot of boys and girls, with no keeper, to enjoy themselves in some wild sea place! No, no: the only way to give the arrangement any shade of propriety, will be to be elderly, infuse as much vinegar as possible into my countenance, wear my spectacles, and walk at a staid pace up and down the parade, while my two sons disport themselves on the rocks.'

'If you really think it would not be proper,' said Richard, rather alarmed, 'I could run after my father.'

'Stuff, Richard; papa must have his way; and if it is to do the boy good, I can sacrifice a crab-I mean myself-not a crustacean. I am not going to be such a selfish wretch as to make objections.'

'But if it would not be the correct thing? Or could not you get some one to stay with you?'

'I can make it the correct thing. It is only to abstain from the fun I had hoped for. I meant to have been a girl, and now I must be a woman, that's all; and I dare say Aubrey will be the happier for it-boys always are.'

'If you don't like it, I wish you would let me speak to papa.'

'Richard, have you these five years been the safety-valve for my murmurs without knowing what they amount to?'

'I thought no one complained unless to get a thing remedied.'

'Exactly so. That is man! And experience never shows man that woman's growls relieve her soul, and that she dreads nothing more than their being acted on! All I wish is, that this scheme may die a natural death; but I should be miserable, and deserved to be so, if I raised a finger to hinder it. What, must you go? Rule Daisy's lines if she writes to Meta, please.'

'I did so. I have been trying to make her write straighter.'

'Of course you have. I expect I shall find her organ of order grown to a huge bump when she comes home. Oh! when will our poor remnants be once more a united family? and when shall I get into Cocksmoor school again?'

When Dr. May came home, his plan was in full bloom. Henry had gratefully accepted it, and answered for his brother being able to travel by the next Monday; and Dr. May wanted Ethel to walk with him to Bankside, and propose it there-talking it over with the sister, and making it her own invitation. Ethel saw her fate, and complied, her father talking eagerly all the way.

'You see, Ethel, it is quite as much for his spirits as his health that I wish it. He is just the age that our Norman was.'

That was the key to a great deal. Ethel knew that her father had never admitted any of the many excuses for the neglect of Norman's suffering for the three months after his mother's death; but though it thrilled her all over, she was not prepared to believe that any one, far less any Ward, could be of the same sensitive materials as Norman. To avoid answering, she went more than half-way, by saying, 'Don't you think I might ask those poor girls to come with him?'

'By no manner of means,' said the Doctor, stopping short. 'It is just what I want, to get him away from his sister. She minds nothing else; and if it were not for Mary, I don't know what the little ones would do; and as to Henry, he is very good and patient; but it is the way to prevent him from forming domestic tastes to have no mistress to his house. He will get into mischief, or marry, if she does not mind what she is about.'

'That must come to an end when Leonard is well, and goes back to school.'

'And that won't be till after the holidays. No, some break there must be. When he is gone, Mary can put her into the way of doing things; she is anxious to do right; and we shall see them do very well. But this poor boy-you know he has been always living at home, while the others were away; he was very fond of his mother, and the first coming out of his room was more than he could bear. I must have him taken from home till he is well again, and able to turn to other things.'

And before Ethel's eyes came a vision of poor Mrs. Ward leaning on her son's arm, on Saturday afternoon walks, each looking fond and proud of the other. She felt her own hardness of heart, and warmed to the desire of giving comfort.

Bankside was basking in summer sunshine, with small patches of shade round its young shrubs and trees, and a baking heat on the little porch.

The maid believed Miss Ward was in the garden. Mr. Leonard had been taken out to-day; and the Doctor moving on, they found themselves in the cool pretty drawing-room, rather overcrowded with furniture and decoration, fresh and tasteful, but too much of it, and a contrast to the Mays' mixture of the shabby and the curious, in the room that was so decidedly for use, and not for show.

What arrested the attention was, however, the very sweetest singing Ethel had ever heard. The song was low and sad, but so intensely sweet, that Dr. May held up his hand to silence all sound, and stood with restrained breath and moistened eyes. Ethel, far less sensitive to music, was nevertheless touched as she had never before been by sound; and the more, as she looked through the window and saw in the shade of a walnut-tree, a sofa, at the foot of which sat Averil Ward in her deep mourning, her back to the window, so that only her young figure and the braids of her fair hair were to be seen; and beyond, something prostrate, covered with wrappers. The sweet notes ended, Dr. May drew a deep sigh, wiped his spectacles, and went on; Ethel hung back, not to startle the invalid by the sight of a stranger; but as Averil rose, she saw him raising himself, with a brightening smile on his pale face, to hold out his hand to the Doctor. In another minute Averil had come to her, shaken hands, and seated herself where she could best command a view of her brother.

'I am glad to see him out of doors,' said Ethel.

'Henry was bent on it; but I think the air and the glare of everything is too much for him; he is so tired and oppressed.'

'I am sure he must like your singing,' said Ethel.

'It is almost the only thing that answers,' said Averil, her eyes wistfully turning to the sofa; 'he can't read, and doesn't like being read to.'

'It is very difficult to manage a boy's recovery,' said Ethel. 'They don't know how to be ill.'

'It is not that,' replied the sister, as if she fancied censure implied, 'but his spirits. Every new room he goes into seems to beat him down; and he lies and broods. If he could only talk!'

'I know that so well!' said Ethel. But to Averil the May troubles were of old date, involved in the mists of childhood. And Ethel seeing that her words were not taken as sympathy, continued, 'Do not the little girls amuse him?'

'Oh no! they are too much for him; and I am obliged to keep them in the nursery. Poor little things! I don't know what we should do if your sister Mary were not so kind.'

'Mary is very glad,' began Ethel, confusedly. Then rushing into her subject: 'Next week, I am to take Aubrey to the seaside; and we thought if Leonard would join us, the change might be good for him.'

'Thank you,' Aver

il answered, playing with her heavy jet watch-guard. 'You are very good; but I am sure he could not move so soon.'

'Ave,' called Leonard at that moment; and Ethel, perceiving that she likewise was to advance, came forth in time to hear, 'O, Ave! I am to go to the sea next week, with Aubrey May and his sister. Won't it-'

Then becoming aware of the visitor, he stopped short, threw his feet off the sofa, and stood up to receive her.

'I can't let you come if you do like that,' she said, shaking his long thin hand; and he let himself down again, not, however, resuming his recumbent posture, and giving a slight but effective frown to silence his sister's entreaties that he would do so. He sat, leaning back as though exceedingly feeble, scarcely speaking, but his eyes eloquent with eagerness. And very fine eyes they were! Ethel remembered her own weariness, some twelve or fourteen years back, of the raptures of her baby-loving sisters about those eyes; and now in the absence of the florid colouring of health, she was the more struck by the beauty of the deep liquid brown, of the blue tinge of the white, and of the lustrous light that resided in them, but far more by their power of expression, sometimes so soft and melancholy, at other moments earnest, pleading, and almost flashing with eagerness. It was a good mouth too, perhaps a little inclined to sternness of mould about the jaw and chin; but that might have been partly from the absence of all softening roundness, aging the countenance for the time, just as illness had shrunk the usually sturdy figure.

'Has Ethel told you of our plan?' asked Dr. May of the sister.

'Yes,' she hesitated, in evident confusion and distress. 'You are all very kind, but we must see what Henry says.'

'I have spoken to Henry! He answers for our patching Leonard up for next week; and I have great faith in Dr. Neptune.'

Leonard's looks were as bright as Averil's were disturbed.

'Thank you, thank you very much! but can he possibly be well enough for the journey?'

Leonard's eyes said 'I shall.'

'A week will do great things,' said Dr. May, 'and it is a very easy journey-only four hours' railway, and a ten miles' drive.'

Averil's face was full of consternation; and Leonard leant forward with hope dancing in his eyes.

'You know the place,' continued Dr. May, 'Coombe Hole. Quite fresh, and unhackneyed. It is just where Devon and Dorset meet. I am not sure in which county; but there's a fine beach, and beautiful country. The Riverses found it out, and have been there every autumn; besides sending their poor little girl and her governess down when London gets too hot. Flora has written to the woman of the lodgings she always has, and will lend them the maid she sends with little Margaret; so they will be in clover.'

'Is it not a very long way!' said Averil, thinking how long those ten yards of lawn had seemed.

'Not as things go,' said Dr. May. 'You want Dr. Spencer to reproach you with being a Stoneborough fungus. There are places in Wales nearer by the map, but without railway privilege; and as to a great gay place, they would all be sick of it.'

'Do you feel equal to it? as if you should like it, Leonard?' asked his sister, in a trembling would-be grateful voice.

'Of all things,' was the answer.

Ethel thought the poor girl had suffered constraint enough, and that it was time to release the boy from his polite durance, so she rose to take leave, and again Leonard pulled himself upright to shake hands.

'Indeed,' said Ethel, when Averil had followed them into the drawing-room, 'I am sorry for you. It would go very hard with me to make Aubrey over to any one! but if you do trust him with me, I must come and hear all you wish me to do for him.'

'I cannot think that he will be able or glad to go when it comes to the point,' said Averil, with a shaken tone.

Dr. May was nearer than she thought, and spoke peremptorily. 'Take care what you are about! You are not to worry him with discussions. If he can go, he will; if not, he will stay at home; but pros and cons are prohibited. Do you hear, Averil!'

'Yes; very well.'

'Papa you really are very cruel to that poor girl,' were Ethel's first words outside.

'Am I? I wouldn't be for worlds, Ethel. But somehow she always puts me in a rage. I wish I knew she was not worrying her brother at this moment!'

No, Averil was on the staircase, struggling, choking with the first tears she had shed. All this fortnight of unceasing vigilance and exertion, her eyes had been dry, for want of time to realize, for want of time to weep, and now she was ashamed that hurt feeling rather than grief had opened the fountain. She could not believe that it was not a cruel act of kindness, to carry one so weak as Leonard away from home to the care of a stranger. She apprehended all manner of ill consequences; and then nursing him, and regarding his progress as her own work, had been the sedative to her grief, which would come on her 'like an armed man,' in the dreariness of his absence. Above all, she felt herself ill requited by his manifest eagerness to leave her who had nursed him so devotedly-her, his own sister-for the stiff, plain Miss May whom he hardly knew. The blow from the favourite companion brother, so passionately watched and tended, seemed to knock her down; and Dr. May, with medical harshness, forbidding her the one last hope of persuading him out of the wild fancy, filled up the measure.

Oh, those tears! How they would swell up at each throb of the wounded heart, at each dismal foreboding of the desponding spirit. But she had no time for them! Leonard must not be left alone, with no one to cover him up with his wrappers.

The tears were strangled, the eyes indignantly dried. She ran out at the garden door. The sofa was empty! Had Henry come home and helped him in? She hurried on to the window; Leonard was alone in the drawing-room, resting breathlessly on an ottoman within the window.

'Dear Leonard! Why didn't you wait for me!'

'I thought I'd try what I could do. You see I am much stronger than we thought.' And he smiled cheerfully, as he helped himself by the furniture to another sofa. 'I say, Ave, do just give me the map-the one in Bradshaw will do. I want to find this place.'

'I don't think there is a Bradshaw,' said Averil, reluctantly.

'Oh yes, there is-behind the candlestick, on the study chimney-piece.'

'Very well-' There were more tears to be gulped down-and perhaps they kept her from finding the book.

'Where's the Bradshaw?'

'I didn't see it.'

'I tell you I know it was there. The left-hand candlestick, close to the letter-weight. I'll get it myself.'

He was heaving himself up, when Averil prevented him by hastening to a more real search, which speedily produced the book.

Eagerly Leonard unfolded the map, making her steady it for his shaking hand, and tracing the black toothed lines.

'There's Bridport-ten miles from there. Can you see the name, Ave?'

'No, it is not marked.'

'Never mind. I see where it is; and I can see it is a capital place; just in that little jag, with famous bathing. I wonder if they will stay long enough for me to learn to swim?'

'You are a good way from that as yet,' said poor Averil, her heart sinking lower and lower.

'Oh, I shall be well at once when I get away from here!'

'I hope so.'

'Why, Ave!' he cried, now first struck with her tone, 'don't you know I shall?'

'I don't know,' she said, from the soreness of her heart; 'but I can't tell how to trust you with strangers.'

'Strangers! You ungrateful child!' exclaimed Leonard, indignantly. 'Why, what have they been doing for you all this time?'

'I am sure Miss May, at least, never came near us till to-day.'

'I'm very glad of it! I'm sick of everything and everybody I have seen!'

Everybody! That was the climax! Averil just held her tongue; but she rushed to her own room, and wept bitterly and angrily. Sick of her after all her devotion! Leonard, the being she loved best in the world!

And Leonard, distressed and hurt at the reception of his natural expression of the weariness of seven weeks' sickness and sorrow, felt above all the want of his mother's ever-ready sympathy and soothing, and as if the whole world, here, there, and everywhere, would be an equally dreary waste. His moment of bright anticipation passed into heavy despondency, and turning his head from the light, he dropped asleep with a tear on his cheek.

When he awoke it was at the sound of movements in the room, slow and cautious, out of regard to his slumbers-and voices, likewise low-at least one was low, the other that whisper of the inaudibility of which Averil could not be disabused. He lay looking for a few moments through his eyelashes, before exerting himself to move. Averil, her face still showing signs of recent tears, sat in a low chair, a book in her lap, talking to her brother Henry.

Henry was of less robust frame than Leonard promised to be, and though on a smaller scale, was more symmetrically made, and had more regular features than either his brother or sister, but his eyes were merely quick lively black beads, without anything of the clear depths possessed by the others. His hair too was jet black, whereas theirs was a pale nut brown; and his whiskers, long and curling, so nearly met under his chin, as to betray a strong desire that the hirsute movement should extend to the medical profession. Always point-device in apparel, the dust on his boot did not prevent its perfect make from being apparent; and the entire sit of his black suit would have enabled a cursory glance to decide that it never came out of the same shop as Dr. May's.

'O, Henry!' were the words that he first heard distinctly.

'It will be much better for every one-himself and you included.'

'Yes, if-'

'If-nonsense. I tell you he will be quite well enough. See how well I am now, how fast I got on as soon as I took to tonics.-Ha, Leonard, old fellow! what, awake? What do you say to this plan of old May's?'

'It is very kind of him; and I should be very glad if I am well enough; but next week is very soon,' said Leonard, waking in the depression in which he had gone to sleep.

'Oh, next week! That is as good as next year in a matter like this, as May agreed with me, here, let us have your pulse. You have let him get low, Averil. A basin of good soup will put more heart into you, and you will feel ready for anything.'

'I have got on to-day, said Leonard, briskly raising himself, as though the cheerful voice had been cordial in itself.

'Of course you have, now that you have something to look forward to; and you will be in excellent hands; the very thing I wanted for you, though I could not see how to manage it. I am going to dress. I shall tell them to send in dinner; and if I am not down, I shall be in the nursery. You won't come in to dinner, Leonard?'

'No, said Leonard, with a shudder.

'I shall send you in some gravy soup, that you may thank me for. Ave never would order anything but boiled chickens for you, and forgets that other people ever want to eat. There will be a chance of making a housekeeper of her now.'

How selfish, thought Averil, to want to get rid of poor Leonard, that I may attend to his dinners. Yet Henry had spoken in perfect good-humour.

Henry came down with a little sister in each hand. They were his especial darlings; and with a touch of fatherly fondness, he tried to compensate to them for their sequestration from the drawing-room, the consequence of Averil not having established her authority enough to keep their spirits from growing too riotous for Leonard's weakness. Indeed, their chatter was Henry's sole enlivenment, for Averil was constantly making excursions to ask what her patient would eat, and watch its success; and but for his pleasure in the little girls popping about him, he would have had a meal as dull as it was unsettled. As soon as the strawberries were eaten, he walked out through the window with them clinging to him, and Averil returned to her post.

'Some music, Ave,' said Leonard, with an instinctive dread of her conversation.

She knew her voice was past singing, and began one of her most renowned instrumental pieces, which she could play as mechanically as a musical-box.

'Not that jingling airified thing!' cried Leonard, 'I want something quiet and refreshing. There's an evening hymn that the Mays have.'

'The Mays know nothing of music,' said Averil.

'Stay, this is it:' and he whistled a few bars.

'That old thing! Of course I know that. We had it every Sunday at Brighton.'

She began it, but her eyes were full of tears, partly because she hated herself for the irritation she had betrayed. She was a sound, good, honest-hearted girl; but among all the good things she had learned at Brighton, had not been numbered the art of ruling her own spirit.

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