MoboReader> Literature > The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain

   Chapter 8 No.8

The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 45750

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

Ne'er readier at alarm-bell's call,

Thy burghers rose to man thy wall,

Than now in danger shall be thine,

Thy dauntless voluntary line.-Marmion

'Drive fast, Will,' said Dr. May, hastily stepping into his carriage in the early darkness of a December evening. 'Five already, and he is to be there by 5.25.'

'He' was no other than Harry May, and 'there' was the station. With the tidings of the terrible fight of Peiho had come a letter from a messmate of Harry's with an account of his serious wound in the chest, describing it as just short of immediately dangerous. Another letter had notified his amendment, and that he was invalided home, a few cheery words from Harry himself scrawled at the end showing that his power was far less than his good-will: and after two months' waiting and suspense, a telegram had come from Plymouth, with the words, 'Stoneborough, 5.25.'

In ignorance as to the state of the traveller, and expecting to find him in a condition requiring great care and watching, Dr. May had laid his injunctions on the eager family not to rush up to the station en masse to excite and overwhelm, but to leave the meeting there entirely to himself and his brougham. He had, therefore, been exceedingly annoyed that one of Henry Ward's pieces of self-assertion had delayed him unnecessarily at a consultation; and when at last he had escaped, he spent most of his journey with his body half out of the window, hurrying Will Adams, and making noises of encouragement to the horse; or else in a strange tumult of sensation between hope and fear, pain and pleasure, suspense and thankfulness, the predominant feeling being vexation at not having provided against this contingency by sending Richard to the station.

After all the best efforts of the stout old chestnut, he and the train were simultaneously at the station, and the passengers were getting out on the opposite platform. The Doctor made a dash to cross in the rear of the train, but was caught and held fast by a porter with the angry exclamation, 'She's backing, sir;' and there he stood in an agony, feeling all Harry's blank disappointment, and the guilt of it besides, and straining his eyes through the narrow gaps between the blocks of carriages.

The train rushed on, and he was across the line the same instant, but the blank was his. Up and down the gas-lighted platform he looked in vain among the crowd, only his eye suddenly lit on a black case close to his feet, with the three letters MAY, and the next moment a huge chest appeared out of the darkness, bearing the same letters, and lifted on a truck by the joint strength of a green porter, and a pair of broad blue shoulders. Too ill to come on-telegraph, mail train-rushed through the poor Doctor's brain as he stepped forward as if to interrogate the chest. The blue shoulders turned, a ruddy sun-burnt face lighted up, and the inarticulate exclamation on either side was of the most intense relief and satisfaction.

'Where are the rest?' said Harry, holding his father's hand in no sick man's grasp.

'At home, I told them not to come up; I thought-'

'Well, we'll walk down together! I've got you all to myself. I thought you had missed my telegram. Hollo, Will, how d'ye do? what, this thing to drive down in?'

'I thought you were an invalid, Harry,' said Dr. May, with a laughing yet tearful ring in his agitated tone, as he packed himself and his son in.

'Ay! I wished I could have let you know sooner how well I had got over it,' said Harry, in the deep full voice of strong healthy manhood. 'I am afraid you have been very anxious.'

'We are used to it, my boy,' said the Doctor huskily, stroking the great firm fingers that were lying lovingly on his knee, 'and if it always ends in this way, it ought to do us more good than harm.'

'It has not done harm, I hope,' said Harry, catching him up quick. 'Not to old Mary?'

'No, Mary works things off, good girl. I flatter myself you will find us all in high preservation.'

'All-all at home! That's right.'

'Yes, those infants from Maplewood and all. You are sure you are all right, Harry?'

'As sure as my own feelings can make me, and the surgeon of the Dexter to back them,' said Harry. 'I don't believe my lungs were touched after all, but you shall all sit upon me when you like-Tom and all. It was a greater escape than I looked for,' he added, in a lower voice. 'I did not think to have had another Christmas here.'

The silence lasted for the few moments till the carriage drew up behind the limes; the doors were thrown open, and the Doctor shouted to the timid anxious figure that alone was allowed to appear in the hall, 'Come and lift him out, Mary.'

The drawing-room was a goodly sight that evening; and the Doctor, as he sat leaning back in weary happiness, might be well satisfied with the bright garland that still clustered round his hearth, though the age of almost all forbade their old title of Daisies. The only one who still asserted her right to that name was perched on the sailor's knee, insisting on establishing that there was as much room for her there as there had been three years ago; though, as he had seated himself on a low foot-stool, her feet were sometimes on the ground, and moreover her throne was subject to sudden earthquakes, which made her, nothing loth, cling to his neck, draw his arm closer round her, and lean on his broad breast, proud that universal consent declared her his likeness in the family; and the two presenting a pleasant contrasting similarity-the open honest features, blue eyes, and smile, expressive of hearty good-will and simple happiness, were so entirely of the same mould in the plump, white-skinned, rosy-cheeked, golden-haired girl, and in the large, powerful, bronzed, ruddy sailor, with the thick mass of curls, at which Tom looked with hostility as fixed, though less declared, than that of his Eton days.

Those were the idle members upon the hearth-rug. On the sofa, with a small table to herself, and a tall embroidery frame before her, nearly hiding her slight person, sat Mrs. Ernescliffe, her pretty head occasionally looking out over the top of her work to smile an answer, and her artistically arranged hair and the crispness of her white dress and broad blue ribbons marking that there was a step in life between her and her sisters; her husband sat beside her on the sofa, with a red volume in his hand, with 'Orders,' the only word visible above the fingers, one of which was keeping his place. Hector looked very happy and spirited, though his visage was not greatly ornamented by a moustache, sandier even than his hair, giving effect to every freckle on his honest face. A little behind was Mary, winding one of Blanche's silks over the back of a chair, and so often looking up to revel in the contemplation of Harry's face, that her skein was in a wild tangle, which she studiously concealed lest the sight should compel Richard to come and unravel it with those wonderful fingers of his.

Richard and Ethel were arranging the 'sick albums' which they had constructed-one of cheap religious prints, with texts and hymns, to be lent in cases of lingering illness; the other, commonly called the 'profane,' of such scraps as might please a sick child, pictures from worn-out books or advertisements, which Ethel was colouring-Aubrey volunteering aid that was received rather distrustfully, as his love of effect caused him to array the model school-children in colours gaudy enough, as Gertrude complained, 'to corrupt a saint.' Nor was his dilettante help more appreciated at a small stand, well provided with tiny drawers, and holding a shaded lamp, according to Gertrude, 'burning something horrible ending in gen, that would kill anybody but Tom, who managed it,' but which threw a beautiful light upon the various glass dishes, tubes, and slides, and the tall brass microscope that Tom was said to love better than all his kith and kin, and which afforded him occupation for his leisure moments.

'I say, Harry,' he asked, 'did you get my letter?'

'Your letter-of what date? I got none since Mary's of the second of May, when every one was down in the fever. Poor old Ward, I never was more shocked; what is become of the young ones?'

'Oh! you must ask Mary, Miss Ward is a bosom friend of hers.'

'What! the girl that sang like the lark? I must hear her again. But she won't be in tune for singing now, poor thing! What are they doing? Henry Ward taken to the practice? He used to be the dirtiest little sneak going, but I hope he is mended now.'

'Ask my father,' said mischievous Tom; and Dr. May answered not, nor revealed his day's annoyance with Henry.

'He is doing his best to make a home for his brother and sisters,' said Richard.

'My letter,' said Tom, 'was written in Whitsun week; I wish you had had it.'

'Ay, it would have been precious from its rarity,' said Harry. 'What commission did it contain, may I ask?'

'You have not by good luck brought me home a Chinese flea?'

'He has all the fleas in creation,' said Daisy confidentially, 'cats' and dogs', and hedgehogs', and human; and you would have been twice as welcome if you had brought one.'

'I've brought no present to nobody. I'd got my eye on a splendid ivory junk, for Blanche's wedding present, at Canton, but I couldn't even speak to send any one after it. You have uncommon bad luck for a sailor's relatives.'

'As long as you bring yourself home we don't care,' said Blanche, treating the loss of the junk with far more resignation than did Tom that of the flea.

'If you only had a morsel of river mud sticking anywhere,' added Tom, 'you don't know the value the infusoria might be.'

'I had a good deal more than a morsel sticking to me once,' said Harry; 'it was owing to my boat's crew that I am not ever so many feet deep in it now, like many better men. They never lost sight of me, and somehow hauled me out.'

Gertrude gave him a hug, and Mary's eyes got so misty, that her skein fell into worse entanglements than ever.

'Were you conscious?' asked Ethel.

'I can't say. I'm clear of nothing but choking and gasping then, and a good while after. It was a treacherous, unlucky affair, and I'm afraid I shall miss the licking of rascally John Chinaman. If all I heard at Plymouth is true, we may have work handy to home.'

'At home you may say,' said his father, 'Dulce et, &c. is our motto. Didn't you know what a nest of heroes we have here to receive you? Let me introduce you to Captain Ernescliffe, of the Dorset Volunteer Rifle Corps; Private Thomas May, of the Cambridge University Corps; and Mr. Aubrey Spencer May, for whom I have found a rifle, and am expected to find a uniform as soon as the wise heads have settled what colour will be most becoming.'

'Becoming! No, papa!' indignantly shouted Aubrey: 'it is the colour that will be most invisible in skirmishing.'

'Gray, faced with scarlet,' said Hector, decidedly.

'Yes, that is the colour of the invincible Dorsets,' said Dr. May. 'There you see our great authority with his military instructions in his hand.'

'No, sir,' replied Hector, 'it's not military instructions, it is Crauford's General Orders.'

'And,' added the Doctor, 'there's his bride working the colours, and Mary wanting to emulate her.'

'I don't think George will ever permit us to have colours,' said Ethel; 'he says that Rifles have no business with them, for that they are of no use to skirmishers.'

'The matter has been taken out of George's hands,' said Aubrey; 'there would not have been a volunteer in the country if he had his way.'

'Yes,' explained Ethel, 'the real soldier can't believe in volunteers, nor cavalry in infantry; but he is thoroughly in for it now.'

'Owing to his Roman matron' quoth Tom. 'It was a wonderful opening for public spirit when Lady Walkinghame insisted on Sir Henry refusing the use of the park for practice, for fear we should make targets of the children. So the Spartan mother at Abbotstoke, gallantly setting Margaret aside, sent for the committee at once to choose the very best place in the park.'

'Papa is chairman of the committee,' added Aubrey, 'he is mayor this year, so we must encourage it.'

'And Aubrey hit four times at a hundred yards,' triumphantly declared Gertrude, 'when Edward Anderson and Henry Ward only got a ball in by accident.'

'Henry Ward ought to be shot at himself,' was Aubrey's sentiment, 'for not letting Leonard be in the corps.'

'The fellow that you brought to Maplewood?' asked Hector. 'I thought he was at school.'

'Didn't you know that old Hoxton has given leave to any of the sixth form to drill and practise? and that trumpery fellow, Henry, says he can't afford the outfit, though his sister would have given the uniform.'

'Let me tell you, young folks,' said the Doctor, 'that you are not to suppose it always hails crack rifles on all sorts of improved systems, as it does when Captain Hector is in the house.'

'They are only on trial, sir,' apologized Hector.

'Very odd then that they all have an eagle and H. E. on them,' observed the Doctor dryly.

'Oh! they'll take them again, or I shall find a use for them,' said Hector.

'Well, if Henry can't afford two,' said Aubrey, holding to his point, 'he ought to give up to his brother; he knows no more how to handle a rifle-'

'That's the very reason,' muttered Tom.

'And Flora is going to give a great party,' proceeded Gertrude, 'as soon as the uniform is settled, and they are enrolled. Blanche and Hector are to stay for it, and you'll have to wear your lieutenant's uniform, Harry.'

'I can't be going to balls till I've been up to report myself fit for service,' said Harry.

'It is not to be a ball,' said Blanche's soft, serious voice over her green silk banner; 'it is to be a breakfast and concert, ending in a dance, such as we had at Maplewood.'

'Hollo!' said Harry, starting, 'now I begin to believe in Mrs. Ernescliffe, when I hear her drawing down herself as an example to Flora.'

'Only a precedent,' said Blanche, blushing a little, but still grave. 'We have had some experience, you know. Our corps was one of the earliest enrolled, and Hector managed it almost entirely. It was the reason we have not been able to come here sooner, but we thought it right to be foremost, as the enemy are sure to attempt our coast first.'

'I believe the enemy are expected on every coast at first,' was Ethel's aside, but it was not heard; for Harry was declaring,

'Your coast! they will never get the length of that. I was talking to an old messmate of mine in the train, who was telling me how we could burn their whole fleet before it could get out of Cherbourg.'

'If they should slip by,' began Hector.

'Slip by!' and Harry had well-nigh dislodged Daisy by his vehemence in demonstrating that they were welcome to volunteer, but that the Channel Fleet would prevent the rifles from being seriously put to the proof-a declaration highly satisfactory to the ladies, and heartily backed up by the Doctor, though Blanche looked rather discomfited, and Hector argued loud for the probability of active service.

'I say, Aubrey,' said Tom, rather tired of the land and sea debate, 'do just reach me a card, to take up some of this sand upon.'

Aubrey obeyed, and reading the black-edged card as he handed it, said, 'Mrs. Pug. What? Pug ought to have been calling upon Mab.'

'Maybe she will, in good earnest,' observed Tom again in Ethel's ear; while the whole room rang with the laughter that always befalls the unlucky wight guilty of a blunder in a name.

'You don't mean that you don't know who she is, Aubrey!' was the cry.

'I-how should I?'

'What, not Mrs. Pugh?' exclaimed Daisy.

'Pew or Pug-I know nothing of either. Is this edge as mourning for all the old pews that have been demolished in the church?'

'For shame, Aubrey,' said Mary seriously. 'You must know it is for her husband.'

Aubrey set up his eyebrows in utter ignorance.

'How true it is that one half the world knows nothing of the other!' exclaimed Ethel. 'Do you really mean you have never found out the great Mrs. Pugh, Mrs. Ledwich's dear suffering Matilda?'

'I've seen a black lady sitting with Mrs. Ledwich in church.'

'Such is life,' said Ethel. 'How little she thought herself living in such an unimpressible world!'

'She is a pretty woman enough,' observed Tom.

'And very desirous of being useful,' added Richard. 'She and Mrs. Ledwich came over to Cocksmoor this morning, and offered any kind of assistance.'

'At Cocksmoor!' cried Ethel, much as if it had been the French.

'Every district is filled up here, you know,' said Richard, 'and Mrs. Ledwich begged me as a personal favour to give her some occupation that would interest her and cheer her spirits, so I asked her to look after those new cottages at Gould's End, quite out of your beat, Ethel, and she seemed to be going about energetically.'

Tom looked unutterable things at Ethel, who replied with a glance between diversion and dismay.

'Who is the lady?' said Blanche. 'She assaulted me in the street with inquiries and congratulations about Harry, declaring she had known me as a child, a thing I particularly dislike:' and Mrs. Ernescliffe looked like a ruffled goldfinch.

'Forgetting her has not been easy to the payers of duty calls,' said Ethel. 'She was the daughter of Mrs. Ledwich's brother, the Colonel of Marines, and used in old times to be with her aunt; there used to be urgent invitations to Flora and me to drink tea there because she was of our age. She married quite young, something very prosperous and rather aged, and the glories of dear Matilda's villa at Bristol have been our staple subject, but Mr. Pugh died in the spring, leaving his lady five hundred a year absolutely her own, and she is come to stay with her aunt, and look for a house.'

'Et cetera,' added Tom.

'What, in the buxom widow line?' asked Harry.

'No, no!' said Richard, rather indignantly.

'No, in the pathetic line,' said Ethel; 'but that requires some self-denial.'

'Our tongues don't lose their venom, you see, Harry,' put in the Doctor.

'No indeed, papa,' said Ethel, really anxious to guard her brothers. 'I was very sorry for her at first, and perhaps I pity her more now than even then. I was taken with her pale face and dark eyes, and I believe she was a good wife, and really concerned for her husband; but I can't help seeing that she knows her grief is an attraction.'

'To simple parsons,' muttered Tom along the tube of his microscope.

'The sound of her voice showed her to be full of pretension,' said Blanche. 'Besides, Mrs. Ledwich's trumpeting would fix my opinion in a moment.'

'Just so,' observed the Doctor.

'No, papa,' said Ethel, 'I was really pleased and touched in spite of Mrs. Ledwich's devotion to her, till I found out a certain manoeuvring to put herself in the foreground, and not let her sorrow hinder her from any enjoyment or display.'

'She can't bear any one to do what she does not.'

'What! Mary's mouth open against her too?' cried Dr. May.

'Well, papa,' insisted Mary, 'nobody wanted her to insist on taking the harmonium at Bankside last Sunday, just because Averil had a cold in her head; and she played so fast, that every one was put out, and then said she would come to the practice that they might understand one another. She is not even in the Bankside district, so it is no business of hers.'

'There, Richard, her favours are equally distributed,' said Aubrey, 'but if she would take that harmonium altogether, one would not mind-it makes Henry Ward as sulky as a bear to have his sister going out all the evening, and he visits it on Leonard. I dare say if she stayed at home he would not have been such a brute about the rifle.'

'I should not wonder,' said Dr. May. 'I sometimes doubt if home is sweetened to my friend Henry.'

'O, papa!' cried Mary, bristling up, 'Ave is very hard worked, and she gives up everything in the world but her church music, and that is her great duty and delight.'

'Miss Ward's music must be a sore trial to the Pug,' said Tom, 'will it be at this affair at Abbotstoke?'

'That's the question,' said Ethel. 'It never goes out, yet is to be met everywhere, just over-persuaded at the last moment. Now Flora, you will see, will think it absolutely improper to ask her; and she will be greatly disappointed not to have the chance of refusing, and then yielding at the last minute.'

'Flora must have her,' said Harry.

'I trust not,' said Blanche, shrinking.

'Flora will not ask her,' said Tom, 'but she will be there.'

'And will dance with me,' said Harry.

'No, with Richard,' said Tom.

'What!' said Richard, looking up at the sound of his name. All laughed, but were ashamed to explain, and were relieved that their father rang the bell.

'At that unhappy skein still, Mary?' said Mrs. Ernescliffe, as the good nights were passing. 'What a horrid state it is in!'

'I shall do it in time,' said Mary, 'when there is nothing to distract my attention. I only hope I shall not hurt it for you.'

'Chuck it into the fire at once; it is not worth the trouble,' said Hector.

Each had a word of advice, but Mary held her purpose, and persevered till all had left the room except Richard, who quietly took the crimson tangle on his wrists, turned and twisted, opened passages for the winder, and by the magic of his dexterous hands, had found the clue to the maze, so that all was proceeding well, though slowly, when the study door opened, and Harry's voice was heard in a last good night to his father. Mary's eyes looked wistful, and one misdirection of her winder tightened an obdurate loop once more.

'Run after Harry,' said Richard, taking possession of the ivory. 'Good night; I can always do these things best alone. I had rather-yes, really-good night:' and his kiss had the elder brother's authority of dismissal.

His Maimouna was too glad and grateful for more than a summary 'Thank you,' and flew up-stairs in time to find Harry turning, baffled, from her empty room. 'What, only just done that interminable yarn?' he said.

'Richard is doing it. I could not help letting him, this first evening of you.'

'Good old Richard! he is not a bit altered since I first went to sea, when I was so proud of that,' said Harry, taking up his midshipman's dirk, which formed a trophy on Mary's mantelshelf.

'Are we altered since you went last?' said Mary.

'The younger ones, of course. I was in hopes that Aubrey would have been more like old June, but he'll never be so much of a fellow.'

'He is a very dear good boy,' said Mary, warmly.

'Of course he is,' said Harry, 'but, somehow, he will always hav

e a woman-bred way about him. Can't be helped, of course; but what a pair of swells Tom and Blanche are come out!' and he laughed good-naturedly.

'Is not Blanche a beautiful dear darling?' cried Mary, eagerly. 'It is so nice to have her. They could not come at first because of the infection, and then because of the rifle corps, and now it is delicious to have all at home.'

'Well, Molly, I'm glad it wasn't you that have married. Mind, you mustn't marry till I do.'

And Harry was really glad that Mary's laugh was perfectly 'fancy free,' as she answered, 'I'm sure I hope not, but I won't promise, because that might be unreasonable, you know.'

'Oh, you prudent, provident Polly! But,' added Harry, recalled to a sense of time by a clock striking eleven, 'I came to bring you something, Mary. You shall have it, if you will give me another.'

Mary recognized, with some difficulty, a Prayer-Book with limp covers that Margaret had given him after his first voyage. Not only was it worn by seven years' use, but it was soiled and stained with dark brownish red, and a straight round hole perforated it from cover to cover.

'Is it too bad to keep?' said Harry. 'Let me just cut out my name in Margaret's hand, and the verse of the 107th Psalm; luckily the ball missed that.'

'The ball?' said Mary, beginning to understand.

'Yes. Every one of those circles that you see cut out there, was in here,' said Harry, laying his hand over his chest, 'before the ball, which I have given to my father.'

'O, Harry!' was all Mary could say, pointing to her own name in a pencil scrawl on the fly-leaf.

'Yes, I set that down because I could not speak to tell what was to be done with it, when we didn't know that that book had really been the saving of my life. That hair's-breadth deviation of the bullet made all the difference.'

Mary was kissing the blood-stained book, and sobbing.

'Why, Mary, what is there to cry for? It is all over now, I tell you. I am as well as man would wish, and there's no more about it but to thank God, and try to deserve His goodness.'

'Yes, yes, I know, Harry; but to think how little we knew, or thought, or felt-going on in our own way when you were in such danger and suffering!'

'Wasn't I very glad you were going on in your own way!' said Harry. 'Why, Mary, it was that which did it-it has been always that thought of you at the Minster every day, that kept me to reading the Psalms, and so having the book about me. And did not it do one good to lie and think of the snug room, and my father's spectacles, and all as usual? When they used to lay me on the deck of the Dexter at night, because I could not breathe below, I used to watch old Orion, who was my great friend in the Loyalty Isles, and wish the heathen name had not stuck to the old fellow, he always seemed so like the Christian warrior, climbing up with his shield before him and his. A home like this is a shield to a man in more ways than one, Mary. Hollo, was that the street door?'

'Yes; Ritchie going home. Fancy his being at the silk all this time! I am so sorry!'

Maugre her sorrow, there were few happier maidens in England than Mary May, even though her service was distracted by the claims of three slave-owners at once, bound as she was, to Ethel, by habitual fidelity, to Harry, by eager adoration, to Blanche, by willing submission. Luckily, their requisitions (for the most part unconscious) seldom clashed, or, if they did, the two elders gave way, and the bride asserted her supremacy in the plenitude of her youthful importance and prosperity.

Thus she carried off Mary in her barouche to support her in the return of bridal calls, while the others were organizing a walk to visit Flora and the rifle target. Gertrude's enthusiasm was not equal to walking with a weapon that might be loaded, nor to being ordered out to admire the practice, so she accompanied the sisters; Tom was reading hard; and Ethel found herself, Aubrey, and the sailor, the only ones ready to start.

This was a decided treat, for Aubrey and she were so nearly one, that it was almost a tete-a-tete with Harry, though it was not his way to enter by daylight, and without strong impulse, on what regarded himself, and there were no such confidences as those to Mary on the previous night; but in talking over home details, it was easier to speak without Tom's ironical ears and caustic tongue.

Among other details, the story of the summer that Ethel and Aubrey had spent at Coombe was narrated, and Aubrey indulged himself by describing what he called Ethel's conquest.

'It is more a conquest of Norman's, and of Melanesia,' said Ethel. 'If it were not nonsense to build upon people's generous visions at seventeen, I should sometimes hope a spark had been lit that would shine some day in your islands, Harry.'

Going up that hill was not the place for Etheldred May to talk of the futility of youthful aspirations, but it did not so strike either of the brothers, to whom Cocksmoor had long been a familiar fact. Harry laughed to hear the old Ethel so like herself; and Aubrey said, 'By the bye, what did you do, the day you walked him to Cocksmoor? he was fuller of those islands than ever after it.'

'I did not mean it,' said Ethel; 'but the first day of the holidays I came on him disconsolate in the street, with nothing to do, and very sore about Henry's refusal to let him volunteer; he walked on with me till we found ourselves close to Cocksmoor, and I found he had never seen the church, and would like to stay for evening service, so I put him into the parsonage while I was busy, and told him to take a book.'

'I know,' said Aubrey; 'the liveliest literature you can get in Richard's parlour are the Missionary Reports.'

'Exactly so; and he got quite saturated with them; and when we walked home, I was so thankful that the rifle grievance should be a little displaced, that I led him on to talk and build castles rather more than according to my resolutions.'

'Hollo, Ethel!' said Harry.

'Yes, I think spontaneous castles are admirable, but I mistrust all timber from other people's woods.'

'But isn't this a horrid shame of Henry?' said Aubrey. 'Such a little prig as he is, to take the place of such a fellow as Leonard, a capital shot already.'

'I wish Henry had been magnanimous,' said Ethel.

'I'd as soon talk of a magnanimous weasel, from what I recollect,' said Harry.

'And he is worse now, Harry,' continued Aubrey. 'So spruce and silky out of doors, and such a regular old tyrannical bachelor indoors. He is jealous of Leonard, any one can see, and that's the reason he won't give him his due.'

'You observe,' said Ethel, 'that this boy thinks the youngest brother's due is always to come first.'

'So it is, in this family,' said Harry. 'No one comes so last as old Ritchie.'

'But of course,' said Aubrey, rather taken aback, 'if I were not youngest, I should have to knock under to some one.'

Ethel and Harry both laughed heartily; one congratulating him on not having carried the principle into the cockpit, the other adding, 'Don't indoctrinate Leonard with it; there is enough already to breed bitterness between those brothers! Leonard ought to be kept in mind that Henry has so much to harass him, that his temper should be borne patiently with.'


'I don't think papa's best endeavours have kept all his father's practice for him, and I am sure their rate of living must make him feel pinched this Christmas.'

'Whew! He will be in a sweeter humour than ever!'

'I have been trying to show Leonard that there's room for magnanimity on his side at least; and don't you go and upset it all by common-place abuse of tutors and governors.'

'I upset it!' cried Aubrey: 'I might as well try to upset the Minster as a word from you to Leonard.'

'Nonsense! What's that?' For they were hailed from behind, and looking round saw two tall figures, weapon in hand, in pursuit. They proved to be Hector Ernescliffe and Leonard Ward, each bearing one of what Dr. May called the H. E. rifles; but Leonard looked half shy, half grim, and so decidedly growled off all Aubrey's attempts at inquiry or congratulation, that Ethel hazarded none, and Aubrey looked discomfited, wearing an expression which Harry took to mean that the weight of his rifle fatigued him, and insisted on carrying it for him, in, spite of his rather insulted protests and declarations that the sailor was an invalid; Ethel had walked forwards, and found Leonard at her side, with a darkening brow as he glanced back at the friendly contest.

'Harry spoils Aubrey as much as all the others do,' said Ethel lightly, deeming it best to draw out the sting of the rankling thought.

'Ay! None of them would leave him to be pitied and offered favours by some chance person,' said Leonard.

'You don't call my brother Hector a chance person?'

'Did you say anything to him, Miss May?' said Leonard, turning on her a flushed face, as if he could almost have been angered with her.

'I said not one word.'

'Nor Aubrey?'

'The volunteer politics were discussed last night, and Henry got abused among us; but papa defended him, and said it did not rain rifles. That's all-whatever Hector may have done was without a word to either of us-very likely on the moment's impulse. Did he go to Bankside after you?'

'No. I was looking in at Shearman's window,' said Leonard, rather sheepishly, 'at the locks of the new lot he has got in, and he came and asked if I were going to choose one, for he had got a couple down from London, and the man had stupidly put his cipher on both, so he would be glad if I would take one off his hands. I didn't accept-I made that clear-but then he begged, as if it was to oblige him, that I would come out to Abbotstoke and help him try the two, for he didn't know which he should keep.'

'Very ingenious of him,' said Ethel laughing.

'Now, Miss May, do tell me what I ought to do. It is such a beauty, better than any Shearman ever dreamt of; just look: at the finish of the lock.'

'By the time you have shot with it-'

'Now don't, pray,' said Leonard, 'I haven't any one to trust for advice but you.'

'Indeed, Leonard, I can see no objection. It is a great boon to you, and no loss to Hector, and he is quite enough my father's son for you to look on him as a friend. I can't but be very glad, for the removal of this vexation ought to make you get on all the better with your brother.'

'Ave would be delighted,' said Leonard; 'but somehow-'

'Somehow' was silenced by a coalescing of the party at a gate; and Hector and Harry were found deep in an argument in which the lieutenant's Indian reminiscences of the Naval Brigade were at issue with the captain's Southdown practice, and the experiences of the one meeting the technicalities of the other were so diverting, that Leonard forgot his scruples till at the entrance of the park he turned off towards the target with Hector and Aubrey, while the other two walked up to the house.

The Grange atmosphere always had a strange weight of tedium in it, such as was specially perceptible after the joyous ease of the house in the High Street. No one was in the drawing-room, and Harry gazed round at the stiff, almost petrified, aspect of the correct and tasteful arrangement of the tables and furniture, put his hands in his pockets, and yawned twice, asking Ethel why she did not go in search of Flora. Ethel shook her head; and in another moment Flora appeared in eager welcome; she had been dressing for a drive to Stoneborough to see her brother, little expecting him to be in a state for walking to her. With her came her little girl, a child whose aspect was always a shock to those who connected her with the two Margarets whose name she bore. She had inherited her father's heavy mould of feature and dark complexion, and the black eyes had neither sparkle in themselves nor relief from the colour of the sallow cheek; the pouting lips were fretful, the whole appearance unhealthy, and the dark bullet-shaped head seemed too large for the thin bony little figure. Worn, fagged, and aged as Flora looked, she had still so much beauty, and far more of refinement and elegance, as to be a painful foil and contrast to the child that clung to her, waywardly refusing all response to her uncle's advances.

Flora made a sign to him to discontinue them, and talked of her husband, who was hunting, and heard the history of Harry's return and recovery. In the midst, little Margaret took heart of grace, crossed the room, and stood by the sailor, and holding up a great India-rubber ball as large as her own head, asked, 'Uncle Harry, were you shot with a cannon-ball as big as this?'

Thereupon she was on his knee, and as he had all his father's fascination for children, he absolutely beguiled her into ten minutes of genuine childish mirth, a sight so rare and precious to her mother, that she could not keep up her feint of talking to Ethel. The elderly dame, part nurse, part nursery governess, presently came to take Miss Rivers out, but Miss Rivers, with a whine in her voice, insisted on going nowhere but to see the shooting, and Uncle Harry must come with her; and come he did, the little bony fingers clasping tight hold of one of his large ones.

'Dear Harry!' said Flora, 'he wins every one! It is like a cool refreshing wind from the sea when he comes in.'

In Flora's whole air, voice, and manner, there was apparent a relaxation and absence of constraint such as she never allowed herself except when alone with Ethel. Then only did she relieve the constant strain, then only did the veritable woman show herself, and the effort, the toil, the weariness, the heart-ache of her life become visible; but close together as the sisters lived, such tete-a-tetes were rare, and perhaps were rather shunned than sought, as perilous and doubtful indulgences. Even now, Flora at once fixed a limit by ordering the carriage to meet her in a quarter of an hour at the nearest point to the rifle-ground, saying she would walk there, and then take home Ethel and any brother who might be tired.

'And see that Margaret does not come to harm,' said Ethel.

'I am not afraid of that,' said Flora, something in her eye belying her; 'but she might be troublesome to Harry, and I had rather he did not see one of her fights with Miss Morton.'

'How has she been? I thought her looking clearer and better to-day,' said Ethel, kindly.

'Yes, she is pretty well just now,' said Flora, allowing herself in one of her long deep sighs, before descending into the particulars of the child's anxiously-watched health. If she had been describing them to her father, there would have been the same minuteness, but the tone would have implied cheerful hope; whereas to Ethel she took no pains to mask her dejection. One of the points of anxiety was whether one shoulder were not outgrowing the other, but it was not easy to discover whether the appearance were not merely owing to the child's feeble and ungainly carriage. 'I cannot torment her about that,' said Flora. 'There are enough miseries for her already without making more, and as long as it does not affect her health, it matters little.'

'No, certainly not,' said Ethel, who had hardly expected this from Flora.

Perhaps her sister guessed her thought, for she said, 'Things are best as they are, Ethel; I am not fit to have a beautiful admired daughter. All the past would too easily come over again, and my poor Margaret's troubles may be the best balance for her.'

'Yes,' said Ethel, 'it is bad enough to be an heiress, but a beautiful heiress is in a worse predicament.'

'Health would improve her looks,' began the maternal instinct of defence, but then breaking off. 'We met Lord H-- yesterday, and the uniform is to be like the northern division. Papa will hear it officially to-morrow.'

'The northern has gray, and green facings.'

'You are more up in it than I. All we begged for was, that it might be inexpensive, for the sake of the townspeople.'

'I hear of little else,' said Ethel, laughing; 'Dr. Spencer is as hot on it as all the boys. Now, I suppose, your party is to come off!'

'Yes, it ought,' said Flora, languidly, 'I waited to see how Harry was, he is a great element towards making it go off well. I will talk it over with Blanche, it will give somebody pleasure if she thinks she manages it.'

'Will it give George no pleasure?'

'I don't know; he calls it a great nuisance, but he would not like not to come forward, and it is quite right that he should.'

'Quite right,' said Ethel; 'it is every one's duty to try to keep it up.'

With these words the sisters came within sight of the targets, and found Margaret under Harry's charge, much interested, and considerably in the way. The tidings of the colour of the uniform were highly appreciated; Aubrey observed that it would choke off the snobs who only wanted to be like the rifle brigade, and Leonard treated its inexpensiveness as a personal matter, having apparently cast off his doubts, under Hector's complimentary tuition. Indeed, before it grew too dark for taking aim, he and the weapon were so thoroughly united, that no further difficulty remained but of getting out his thanks to Mr. Ernescliffe.

Averil was sitting alone over the fire in the twilight, in a somewhat forlorn mood, when the door was pushed ajar, and the muzzle of a gun entered, causing her to start up in alarm, scarcely diminished by the sight of an exultant visage, though the words were, 'Your money or your life.'

'Leonard, don't play with it, pray!'

'It's not loaded.'

'Oh! but one never can tell:' then, half ashamed of her terror, 'Pray put it back, or we shall have an uproar with Henry.'

'This is none of Henry's. He will never own such a beauty as this.'

'Whose is it? Not yours? Is it really a rifle! H. E.? What's that?'

'Hector Ernescliffe! Didn't I tell you he was a princely fellow?'

'Given it to you? Leonard, dear, I am so happy! Now I don't care for anything! What a gallant volunteer you will make!' and she kissed him fondly. We will order the uniform as soon as ever it is settled, and I hope it will be a very handsome one.'

'It will be a cheap one, which is more to the purpose. I could get part myself, only there's the tax for Mab, and the subscription to the cricket club.'

'I would not have you get any of it! You are my volunteer, and I'll not give up my right to any one, except that Minna and Ella want to give your belt.'

'Where are those children?' he asked.

'Henry has taken them to Laburnum Grove, where I am afraid they are being crammed with cake and all sorts of nonsense.'

'What could have made him take them there?'

'Oh! some wish of Mrs. Pugh's to see the poor little dears,' said Averil, the cloud returning that had been for a moment dispelled.

'What's the row?' asked Leonard, kindly. 'Has he been bothering you?'

'He wants me to sound Mary May about an invitation for Mrs. Pugh to Mrs. Rivers's volunteer entertainment. I am glad I did not say no one in mourning ought to go, for I must go now you are a volunteer.'

'But you didn't consent to mention her?'

'No, indeed! I knew very well you would say it was a most improper use to make of the Mays' kindness, and I can't see what business she has there! Then he said, no, she was certain not to go, but the attention would be gratifying and proper.'

'That is Mrs. Rivers's look-out.'

'So I said, but Henry never will hear reason. I did not tell you of our scene yesterday over the accounts; he says that we must contract our expenses, or he shall be ruined; so I told him I was ready to give up the hot-house, or the footman, or the other horse, or anything he would specify; but he would not hear of it-he says it would be fatal to alter our style of living, and that it is all my fault for not being economical! O, Leonard, it is very hard to give up all one cared for to this housekeeping, and then never to please!'

Leonard felt his brother a tyrant. 'Never mind, Ave dear,' said he, 'go on doing right, and then you need not care for his unreasonableness. You are a dear good girl, and I can't think how he can have the heart to vex you.'

'I don't care while I have you, Leonard,' she said, clinging to him.

At that moment the others were heard returning, and an ironical look passed between the brother and sister at certain injunctions that were heard passing about the little India-rubber goloshes; but Henry had returned in high good-humour, was pleased to hear of his brother's good fortune, pronounced it very handsome in Mr. Ernescliffe, and even offered to provide the rest of the equipment; but this was proudly rejected by Averil, with some of the manifestations of exclusive partiality that naturally wounded the elder brother. He then announced an engagement that he had made with Mrs. Ledwich for a musical evening the next week. Averil had her harmonium at her tongue's end, but the evening was a free one, chosen on purpose to accommodate her; she had no excuse, and must submit.

'And practise some of your best pieces, Ave,' said Henry. 'Mrs. Pugh was kind enough to offer to come and get up some duets with yon.'

'I am greatly obliged,' said Averil, dryly, 'but I do not play duets.'

'You would do wisely to accept her kindness, argued Henry. 'It would be a great advantage to you to be intimate with a lady of her opportunities.'

'I do not like patronage,' said Averil.

'Ave! Ave!' cried the children, who had been trying to attract her attention, 'if you will let us go to Laburnum Grove by twelve o'clock to-morrow, Mis. Pugh will show us her book of the pretty devices of letters, and teach us to make one.'

'You will have not finished lessons by twelve.'

'But if we have?'

'No, certainly not, I can't have you bothering every one about that nonsensical fashion.'

'You shall go, my dears,' said Henry. 'I can't think why your sister should be so ill-natured.'

Averil felt that this was the way to destroy her authority, and though she kept silence, the tears were in her eyes, and her champion broke forth, 'How can you be such a brute, Henry?'

'Come away, my dears,' said Averil, rising, and holding out her hands to her sisters, as she recollected how bad the scene was for them, but it was only Minna who obeyed the call, Ella hung about Henry, declaring that Leonard was naughty, and Ave was cross.

'Well,' shouted Leonard, 'I shan't stay to see that child set against her sister! I wonder what you mean her to come to, Henry!'

It was no wonder that Minna and Ella squabbled together as to which was cross, Henry or Averil, and the spirit of party took up its fatal abode in the house of Bankside.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top