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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 38899

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

The stream was deeper than I thought

When first I ventured here,

I stood upon its sloping edge

Without a rising fear.-H. BONAR

It was a comfort to find that the brothers parted on good terms. The elder was beholden to the younger for the acquiescence that removed the odium of tyranny from the expulsion, and when the one great disturbance had silenced the ephemeral dissensions that had kept both minds in a constant state of irritation, Henry wanted, by kindness and consideration, to prove to himself and the world that Leonard's real interests were his sole object; and Leonard rejoiced in being at peace, so long as his pride and resolution were not sacrificed. He went off as though his employment had been the unanimous choice of the family, carrying with him his dog, his rifle, his fishing-rod, his fossils, and all his other possessions, but with the understanding that his Sundays were to be passed at home, by way of safeguard to his religion and morals, bespeaking the care and consideration of his senior, as Henry assured himself and Mrs. Pugh, and tried to persuade his sister and Dr. May.

But Dr. May was more implacable than all the rest. He called Henry's action the deed of Joseph's brethren, and viewed the matter as the responsible head of a family; he had a more vivid contemporaneous knowledge of the Axworthy antecedents, and he had been a witness to Henry's original indignant repudiation of such a destiny for his brother. He was in the mood of a man whose charity had endured long, and refused to condemn, but whose condemnation, when forced from him, was therefore doubly strong. The displeasure of a loving charitable man is indeed a grave misfortune.

Never had he known a more selfish and unprincipled measure, deliberately flying in the face of his parents' known wishes before they had been a year in their graves, exposing his brother to ruinous temptation with his eyes open. The lad was destroyed body and soul, as much as if he had been set down in Satan's own clutches; and if they did not mind what they were about, he would drag Aubrey after him! As sure as his name was Dick May, he would sooner have cut his hand off than have sent the boys to Coombe together, could he have guessed that this was to be the result.

Such discourses did not tend to make Ethel comfortable. If she had been silly enough to indulge in a dream of her influence availing to strengthen Leonard against temptation, she must still have refrained from exerting it through her wonted medium, since it was her father's express desire that Aubrey, for his own sake, should be detached from his friend as much as possible.

Aubrey was the greatest present difficulty. Long before their illness the boys had been the resource of each other's leisure, and Coombe had made their intimacy a friendship of the warmest nature. Aubrey was at an age peculiarly dependent on equal companionship, and in the absence of his brothers, the loss of his daily intercourse with Leonard took away all the zest of life. Even the volunteer practice lost its charm without the rival with whom he chiefly contended, yet whose success against others was hotter to him than his own; his other occupations all wanted partnership, and for the first time in his life he showed weariness and contempt of his sisters' society and pursuits. He rushed off on Sunday evenings for a walk with Leonard; and though Dr. May did not interfere, the daughters saw that the abstinence was an effort of prudence, and were proportionately disturbed when one day at dinner, in his father's absence, Aubrey, who had been overlooking his fishing-flies with some reviving interest, refused all his sisters' proposals for the afternoon, and when they represented that it was not a good fishing-day, owned that it was not, but that he was going over to consult Leonard Ward about some gray hackles.

'But you mustn't, Aubrey,' cried Gertrude, aghast.

Aubrey made her a low mocking bow.

'I am sure papa would be very much vexed,' added she, conclusively.

'I believe it was luckless Hal that the mill-wheel tore in your nursery rhymes, eh, Daisy,' said Aubrey.

'Nursery rhymes, indeed!' returned the offended young lady; 'you know it is a very wicked place, and papa would be very angry at your going there.' She looked at Ethel, extremely shocked at her not having interfered, and disregarding all signs to keep silence.

'Axworthy-worthy of the axe,' said Aubrey, well pleased to retort a little teasing by the way; 'young Axworthy baiting the trap, and old Axworthy sitting up in his den to grind the unwary limb from limb!'

'Ethel, why don't you tell him not?' exclaimed Gertrude.

'Because he knows papa's wishes as well as I do,' said Ethel; 'and it is to them that he must attend, not to you or me.'

Aubrey muttered something about his father having said nothing to him; and Ethel succeeded in preventing Daisy from resenting this answer. She herself hoped to catch him in private, but he easily contrived to baffle this attempt, and was soon marching out of Stoneborough in a state of rampant independence, manhood, and resolute friendship, which nevertheless chose the way where he was least likely to encounter a little brown brougham.

Otherwise he might have reckoned three and a half miles of ploughed field, soppy lane, and water meadow, as more than equivalent to five miles of good turnpike road.

Be that as it might, he was extremely glad when, after forcing his way through a sticky clayey path through a hazel copse, his eye fell on a wide reach of meadow land, the railroad making a hard line across it at one end, and in the midst, about half a mile off, the river meandering like a blue ribbon lying loosely across the green flat, the handsome buildings of the Vintry Mill lying in its embrace.

Aubrey knew the outward aspect of the place, for the foreman at the mill was a frequent patient of his father's, and he had often waited in the old gig at the cottage door at no great distance; but he looked with more critical eyes at the home of his friend.

It was a place with much capacity, built, like the Grange, by the monks of the convent, which had been the germ of the cathedral, and showing the grand old monastic style in the solidity of its stone barns and storehouses, all arranged around a court, whereof the dwelling-house occupied one side, the lawn behind it with fine old trees, and sloping down to the water, which was full of bright ripples after its agitation around the great mill-wheel. The house was of more recent date, having been built by a wealthy yeoman of Queen Anne's time, and had long ranges of square-headed sash windows, surmounted by a pediment, carved with emblems of Ceres and Bacchus, and a very tall front door, also with a pediment, and with stone stops leading up to it. Of the same era appeared to be the great gateway, and the turret above it, containing a clock, the hands of which pointed to 3.40.

Aubrey had rather it had been four, at which time the office closed. He looked round the court, which seemed very dean and rather empty-stables, barns, buildings, and dwelling-house not showing much sign of life, excepting the ceaseless hum and clack of the mill, and the dash of the water which propelled it. The windows nearest to him were so large and low, that he could look in and see that the first two or three belonged to living rooms, and the next two showed him business fittings, and a back that he took to be Leonard's; but he paused in doubt how to present himself, and whether this were a welcome moment, and he was very glad to see in a doorway of the upper story of the mill buildings, the honest floury face of his father's old patient-the foreman.

Greeting him in the open cordial way common to all Dr. May's children, Aubrey was at once recognized, and the old man came down a step-ladder in the interior to welcome him, and answer his question where he should find Mr. Ward.

'He is in the office, sir, there, to the left hand as you go in at the front door, but-' and he looked up at the clock, 'maybe, you would not mind waiting a bit till it strikes four. I don't know whether master might be best pleased at young gentlemen coming to see him in office hours.'

'Thank you,' said Aubrey. 'I did not mean to be too soon, Hardy, but I did not know how long the walk would be.'

Perhaps it would have been more true had he said that he had wanted to elude his sisters, but he was glad to accept a seat on a bundle of sacks tremulous with the motion of the mill, and to enter into a conversation with the old foreman, one of those good old peasants whose integrity and skill render them privileged persons, worth their weight in gold long after their bodily strength has given way.

'Well, Hardy, do you mean to make a thorough good miller of Mr. Ward?'

'Bless you, Master May, he'll never stay here long enough.'

'Why not?'

'No, nor his friends didn't ought to let him stay!' added Hardy.

'Why?' said Aubrey. 'Do you think so badly of your own trade, Hardy?'

But he could not get an answer from the oracle on this head. Hardy continued, 'He's a nice young gentleman, but he'll never put up with it.'

'Put up with what?' asked Aubrey, anxiously; but at that instant a carter appeared at the door with a question for Master Hardy, and Aubrey was left to his own devices, and the hum and clatter of the mill, till the clock had struck four; and beginning to think that Hardy had forgotten him, he was about to set out and reconnoitre, when to his great joy Leonard himself came hurrying up, and heartily shook him by the hand.

'Hardy told me you were here,' he said. 'Well done, old fellow, I didn't think they would have let you come and see me.'

'The girls did make a great row about it,' said Aubrey, triumphantly, 'but I was not going to stand any nonsense.'

Leonard looked a little doubtful; then said, 'Well, will you see the place, or come and sit in my room? There is the parlour, but we shall not be so quiet there.'

Aubrey decided for Leonard's room, and was taken through the front door into a vestibule paved with white stone, with black lozenges at the intersections. 'There,' said Leonard, 'the office is here, you see, and my uncle's rooms beyond, all on the ground floor, he is too infirm to go up-stairs. This way is the dining-room, and Sam has got a sitting-room beyond, then there are the servants' rooms. It is a great place, and horridly empty.'

Aubrey thought so, as his footsteps echoed up the handsome but ill-kept stone staircase, with its fanciful balusters half choked with dust, and followed Leonard along a corridor, with deep windows overlooking the garden and river, and great panelled doors opposite, neither looking as if they were often either cleaned or opened, and the passage smelling very fusty.

'Pah!' said Aubrey; 'it puts me in mind of the wings of houses in books that get shut up because somebody has been murdered! Are you sure it is not haunted, Leonard?'

'Only by the rats,' he answered, laughing; 'they make such an intolerable row, that poor little Mab is frightened out of her wits, and I don't know whether they would not eat her up if she did not creep up close to me. I'm tired of going at them with the poker, and would poison every man Jack of them if it were not for the fear of her getting the dose by mistake.'

'Is that what Hardy says you will never put up with?' asked Aubrey; but instead of answering, Leonard turned to one of the great windows, saying,

'There now, would not this be a charming place if it were properly kept?' and Aubrey looked out at the great cedar, spreading out its straight limbs and flakes of dark foliage over the sloping lawn, one branch so near the window as to invite adventurous exits, and a little boat lying moored in the dancing water below.

'Perfect!' said Aubrey. 'What fish there must lie in the mill tail!'

'Ay, I mean to have a try at them some of these days, I should like you to come and help, but perhaps-Ha, little Mab, do you wonder what I'm after so long? Here's a friend for you: as the little dog danced delighted round him, and paid Aubrey her affectionate respects. Her delicate drawing-room beauty did not match with the spacious but neglected-looking room whence she issued. It had three great uncurtained windows looking into the court, with deep window-seats, olive-coloured painted walls, the worse for damp and wear, a small amount of old-fashioned solid furniture, and all Leonard's individual goods, chiefly disposed of in a cupboard in the wall, but Averil's beautiful water-coloured drawings hung over the chimney. To Aubrey's petted home-bred notions it was very bare and dreary, and he could not help exclaiming, 'Well, they don't lodge you sumptuously!'

'I don't fancy many clerks in her Majesty's dominions have so big and airy an apartment to boast of,' said Leonard. 'Let's see these flies of yours.'

Their mysteries occupied the boys for some space; but Aubrey returned to the charge. 'What is it that Hardy says you'll never put up with, Leonard?'

'What did the old fellow say?' asked Leonard, laughing; and as Aubrey repeated the conversation, ending with the oracular prediction, he laughed again, but said proudly, 'He'll see himself wrong then. I'll put up with whatever I've undertaken.'

'But what does he mean?'

'Serving one's apprenticeship, I suppose,' said Leonard; 'they all think me a fine gentleman, and above the work, I know, though I've never stuck at anything yet. If I take to the business, I suppose it is capable of being raised up to me-it need not pull me down to it, eh?'

'There need be no down in the case,' said Aubrey. 'My father always says there is no down except in meanness and wrong. But,' as if that mention brought a recollection to his mind, 'what o'clock is it? I must not stay much longer.'

'I'll walk a bit of the way home with you,' said Leonard, 'but I must be back by five for dinner. I go to rifle practice two days in the week, and I don't like to miss the others, for Sam's often out, and the poor old man does not like being left alone at meals.'

The two boys were at the room door, when Aubrey heard a step, felt the fustiness enlivened by the odour of a cigar, and saw a figure at the top of the stairs.

'I say, Ward,' observed Mr. Sam, in a rude domineering voice, 'Spelman's account must be all looked over to-night; he says that there is a blunder. D'ye hear?'

'Very well.'

'Who have you got there?'

'It is Aubrey May.'

'Oh! good morning to you,' making a kind of salutation; 'have you been looking at the water? We've got some fine fish there, if you like to throw a line any day.-Well, that account must be done to-night, and if you can't find the error, you'll only have to do it over again.'

Leonard's colour had risen a good deal, but he said nothing, and his cousin ran down-stairs and drove off in his dog-cart.

'Is it much of a business?' said Aubrey, feeling extremely indignant.

'Look here,' said Leonard, leading the way down-stairs and into the office, where he pointed to two huge account books. 'Every page in that one must I turn over this blessed night; and if he had only told me three hours ago, I could have done the chief of it, instead of kicking my heels all the afternoon.'

'Has he any right to order you about, out of office hours, and without a civil word either? Why do you stand it?'

'Because I can stand anything better than being returned on Henry's hands,' said Leonard, 'and he has spite enough for that. The thing must be done, and if he won't do it, I must, that's all. Come along.'

As they went out the unwieldy figure of the elder Mr. Axworthy was seen, leaning out of his open window, smoking a clay pipe. He spoke in a much more friendly tone, as he said, 'Going out, eh? Mind the dinner-time.'

'Yes, sir,' said Leonard, coming nearer, 'I'm not going far.'

'Who have you got there?' was again asked.

'One of the young Mays, sir. I was going to walk part of the way back.'

Aubrey thought the grunt not very civil; and as the boys and Mab passed under the gateway, Leonard continued, 'There's not much love lost between him and your father; he hates the very name.'

'I should expect he would,' said Aubrey, as if his hatred were an honour.

'I fancy there's some old grievance,' said Leonard, 'where he was wrong of course. Not that that need hinder your coming over, Aubrey; I've a right to my own friends, but-'

'And so have I to mine,' said Aubrey eagerly.

'But you see,' added Leonard, 'I wouldn't have you do it-if-if it vexes your sister. I can see you every Sunday, you know, and we can have some fun together on Saturdays when the evenings get longer.'

Aubrey's face fell; he had a strong inclination for Leonard's company, and likewise for the trout in the mill tail, and he did not like his independence to be unappreciated.

'You see,' said Leonard, laying his hand kindly on his shoulder, 'it is very jolly of you, but I know they would hate it in the High Street if you were often here, and it is not worth that. Besides, Aubrey, to tell the plain truth, Sam's not fit company for any decent fellow.'

'I can't think how he came to ask me to fish.'

'Just to show he is master, because he knew the poor old man would not like it! It is one reason he is so savage with me, because his uncle took me without his consent.'

'But, Leonard, it must be worse than the living at home ever was.'

Leonard laughed. 'It's different being jawed in the way of business and at one's own home. I'd go through a good deal more than I do here in the week to have home what it is now on Sunday. Why, Henry really seems glad to see me, and we have not had the shadow of a row since I came over here. Don't you tell Ave all this, mind, and you may just as well not talk about it at home, you know, or they will think I'm going to cry off.'

Aubrey was going to ask what he looked to; but Leonard saw, or thought he saw, a weasel in the hedge, and the consequent charge and pursuit finished the dialogue, the boys parted, and Aubrey walked home, his satisfaction in his expedition oozing away at every step, though his resolve to assert his liberty grew in proportion.

Of course it had not been possible to conceal from Dr. May where Aubrey was gone, and his annoyance had burst out vehemently, the whole round of objurgations against the Wards, the Vintry Mill, and his own folly in fostering the friendship, were gone through, and Ethel had come in for more than she could easily bear, for not having prevented the escapade. Gertrude had hardly ever seen her father so angry, and sat quaking for her brother; and Ethel meekly avoided answering again, with the happy trustfulness of experienced love.

At last, as the tea was nearly over, Aubrey walked in, quite ready for self-defence. Nobody spoke for a little while, except to supply him with food; but presently Dr. May said, not at all in the tone in which he had talked of his son's journey, 'You might as well have told me of your intentions, Aubrey.'

'I didn't think they mattered to anybody,' said Aubrey; 'we generally go our own way in the afternoon.'

'Oh!' said Dr. May. 'Interference with the liberty of the subject?'

Aubrey coloured, and felt he had not quite spoken truth. 'I could not give him up, father,' he

said, less defiantly.

'No, certainly not; but I had rather you only saw him at home. It will be more for our peace of mind.'

'Well, father,' said Aubrey, 'I am not going there any more. He told me not himself:' and then with laughing eyes he added, 'He said you would not like it, Ethel.'

'Poor boy!' said Ethel, greatly touched.

'Very right of him,' said Dr. May, well pleased. 'He is a fine lad, and full of proper feeling. What sort of a berth has the old rogue given him, Aubrey?'

Much relieved that matters had taken this course, Aubrey tried to tell only as much as his friend would approve, but the medium was not easily found, and pretty nearly the whole came out. Dr. May was really delighted to hear how Sam treated him.

'If that fellow takes the oppressive line, there may be some hope,' he said. 'His friendship is the worse danger than his enmity.'

When the sisters had bidden good night, the Doctor detained Aubrey to say very kindly, 'My boy, I do not like to hear of your running counter to your sister.

'I'm not going there again,' said Aubrey, willing to escape.

'Wait a minute, Aubrey,' said Dr. May; 'I want to tell you that I feel for you in this matter more than my way of talking may have made it seem to you. I have a great regard for your friend Leonard, and think he has been scandalously used, and I don't want to lessen your attachment to him. Far be it from me to think lightly of a friendship, especially of one formed at your age. Your very name, my boy, shows that I am not likely to do that!'

Aubrey smiled frankly, his offended self-assertion entirely melted.

'I know it is very hard on you, but you can understand that the very reasons that made me so averse to Leonard's taking this situation, would make me anxious to keep you away from his relations there, not necessarily from him. As long as he is what he is now, I would not lift a finger to keep you from him. Have I ever done so, Aubrey?'

'No, papa.'

'Nor will I, as long as he is what I see him now. After this, Aubrey, is it too much to ask of you to keep out of the way of the persons with whom he is thrown?'

'I will do so, papa. He wishes it himself.' Then with an effort, he added, 'I am sorry I went to-day; I ought not, but-' and he looked a little foolish.

'You did not like taking orders from the girls? No wonder, Aubrey; I have been very thankful to you for bearing it as you have done. It is the worst of home education that these spirits of manliness generally have no vent but mischief. But you are old enough now to be thankful for such a friend and adviser as Ethel, and I don't imagine that she orders you.'

'No,' said Aubrey, smiling and mumbling; 'but Daisy-'

'Oh, I can quite understand the aggravation of Daisy happening to be right; but you must really be man enough to mind your own conscience, even if Daisy is imprudent enough to enforce it.'

'It was not only that,' said Aubrey, 'but I could not have Ward thinking I turned up my nose at his having got into business.'

'No, Aubrey, he need never fancy it is the business that I object to, but the men. Make that clear to him, and ask him to this house as much as you please. The more "thorough" he is in his business, the more I shall respect him.'

Aubrey smiled, and thanked his father with a cleared brow, wondering at himself for having gone without consulting him.

'Good night, my boy. May this friendship of yours be a lifelong stay and blessing to you both, even though it may cost you some pain and self-command, as all good things must, Aubrey.'

That evening Ethel had been writing to Cambridge. Tom had passed his examination with great credit, and taken an excellent degree, after which he projected a tour in Germany, for which he had for some time been economizing, as a well-earned holiday before commencing his course of hospitals and lectures. Tom was no great correspondent, and had drilled his sisters into putting nothing but the essential into their letters, instead, as he said, of concealing it in flummery. This is a specimen of the way Tom liked to be written to.

'Stoneborough, Feb. 20th.

'My Dear Tom,

'Dr. Spencer says nothing answers so well as a knapsack. Get one at --. The price is L. s. d. Order extra fittings as required, including a knife and fork. Letters from N. Z. of the 1st of November, all well. I wish Aubrey was going with you; he misses Leonard Ward so sorely, as to be tempted to follow him to the Vintry Mill. I suspect your words are coming true, and the days of petticoat government ending. However, even if he would not be in your way, he could not afford to lose six months' study before going into residence.

'Your affectionate sister,

'Etheldred May.'

Tom wrote that he should spend a night in London and come home. When he came, the family exclaimed that his microscope, whose handsome case he carried in his hand, was much grown. 'And improved too, I hope' said Tom, proceeding to show off various new acquisitions and exchanges in the way of eye-pieces, lenses, and other appliances of the most expensive order, till his father exclaimed,

'Really, Tom, I wish I had the secret of your purse.'

'The fact is,' said Tom, 'that I thought more would be gained by staying at home, so I turned my travels into a binocular tube,' &C.

Aubrey and Gertrude shouted that Tom certainly did love the microscope better than any earthly thing; and he coolly accepted the inference.

Somewhat later, he announced that he had decided that he should be better able to profit by the London lectures and hospitals, if he first studied for half a year at the one at Stoneborough, under the direction of his father and Dr. Spencer.

Dr. May was extremely gratified, and really esteemed this one of the greatest compliments his science had ever received; Dr. Spencer could not help observing, 'I did not think it was in him to do such a wise thing. I never can fathom the rogue. I hope he was not bitten during his benevolent exertions last winter.'

Meantime, Tom had observed that he had time to see that Aubrey was decently prepared for Cambridge, and further promoted the boy to be his out-of-door companion, removing all the tedium and perplexity of the last few weeks, though apparently merely indulging his own inclinations. Ethel recognized the fruit of her letter, and could well forgive the extra care in housekeeping required for Tom's critical tastes, nay, the cool expulsion of herself and Gertrude from her twenty years' home, the schoolroom, and her final severance from Aubrey's studies, though at the cost of a pang that reminded her of her girlhood's sorrow at letting Norman shoot ahead of her. She gave no hint; she knew that implicit reserve was the condition of his strange silent confidence in her, and that it would be utterly forfeited unless she allowed his fraternal sacrifice to pass for mere long-headed prudence.

Aubrey's Saturday and Sunday meetings with his friend were not yielded, even to Tom, who endeavoured to interfere with them, and would fain have cut the connection with the entire family, treating Miss Ward with the most distant and supercilious bows on the unpleasantly numerous occasions of meeting her in the street, and contriving to be markedly scornful in his punctilious civility to Henry Ward when they met at the hospital. His very look appeared a sarcasm, to the fancy of the Wards; and he had a fashion of kindly inquiring after Leonard, that seemed to both a deliberate reproach and insult.

Disputes had become less frequent at Bankside since Leonard's departure, and few occasions of actual dissension arose; but the spirit of party was not extinguished, and the brother and sister had adopted lines that perhaps clashed less because they diverged more.

Averil had, in reply to the constant exhortations to economize, resolved to decline all invitations, and this kept her constantly at home, or with her harmonium, whereas Henry made such constant engagements, that their dining together was the exception, not the rule. After conscientiously teaching her sisters in the morning, she devoted the rest of her day to their walk, and to usefulness in the parish. She liked her tasks, and would have been very happy in them, but for the constant anxiety that hung over her lest her home should soon cease to be her home.

Henry's devotion to Mrs. Pugh could no longer be mistaken. The conviction of his intentions grew upon his sister, first from a mere absurd notion, banished from her mind with derision, then from a misgiving angrily silenced, to a fixed expectation, confirmed by the evident opinion of all around her, and calling for decision and self-command on her own part.

Perhaps her feelings were unnecessarily strong, and in some degree unjust to Mrs. Pugh; but she had the misfortune to be naturally proud and sensitive, as well as by breeding too refined in tone for most of those who surrounded her. She had taken a personal dislike to Mrs. Pugh from the first; she regarded pretension as insincerity, and officiousness as deliberate insult, and she took the recoil of her taste for the judgment of principle. To see such a woman ruling in her mother's, her own, home would be bad enough; but to be ruled by her, and resign to her the management of the children, would be intolerable beyond measure. Too unhappy to speak of her anticipations even to Leonard or to Mary May, she merely endeavoured to throw them off from day to day, till one evening, when the days had grown so long that she could linger in the twilight in the garden before her singing practice, she was joined by Henry, with the long apprehended 'I want to speak to you, Ave.'

Was it coming? Her heart beat so fast, that she could hardly hear his kind commencement about her excellent endeavours, and the house's unhappy want of a mistress, the children's advantage, and so on. She knew it could only tend to one point, and longed to have it reached and passed. Of course she would be prepared to hear who was the object of his choice, and she could not but murmur 'Yes,' and 'Well.'

'And, Ave, you will, I hope, be gratified to hear that I am not entirely rejected. The fact is, that I spoke too soon.' Averil could have jumped for joy, and was glad it was too dusk for her face to be seen. 'I do not believe that her late husband could have had any strong hold on her affections; but she has not recovered the shock of his loss, and entreated, as a favour granted to her sentiments of respect for his memory, not to hear the subject mentioned for at least another year. I am permitted to visit at the house as usual, and no difference is to be made in the terms on which we stand. Now, Ave, will you-may I ask of you, to do what you can to remove any impression that she might not be welcome in the family?'

'I never meant-' faltered Averil, checked by sincerity.

'You have always been-so-so cold and backward in cultivating her acquaintance, that I cannot wonder if she should think it disagreeable to you; but, Ave, when you consider my happiness, and the immense advantage to all of you, I am sure you will do what is in your power in my behalf.' He spoke more affectionately and earnestly than he had done for months; and Averil was touched, and felt that to hang back would be unkind.

'I will try,' she said. 'I do hope it may turn out for your happiness, Henry.'

'For all our happiness,' said Henry, walking down to the gate and along the road with her, proving all the way that he was acting solely for the good of the others, and that Averil and the children would find their home infinitely happier.

A whole year-a year's reprieve-was the one thought in Averil's head, that made her listen so graciously, and answer so amiably, that Henry parted with her full of kind, warm feeling.

As the sage said, who was to be beheaded if he could not in a year teach the king's ass to speak-what might not happen in a year; the king might die, the ass might die, or he might die-any way there was so much gained: and Averil, for the time, felt as light-hearted as if Mrs. Pugh had vanished into empty air. To be sure, her own life had, of late, been far from happy; but this extension of it was bailed with suppressed ecstasy-almost as an answer to her prayers. Ah, Ave, little did you know what you wished in hoping for anything to prevent the marriage!

She did obey her brother so far as to call upon Mrs. Pugh, whom she found in ordinary mourning, and capless-a sign that dismayed her; but, on the other hand, the lady, though very good-natured and patronizing, entertained her with the praises of King John, and showed her a copy of Magna Charta in process of illumination. Also, during her call, Tom May walked in with a little book on drops of water; and Averil found the lady had become inspired with a microscopic furore, and was thinking of setting up a lens, and preparing objects for herself, under good tuition.

Though Averil was very desirous that Mrs. Pugh should refuse her brother, yet this was the last service she wished the May family to render her. She was sure Tom May must dislike and despise the widow as much as she did; and since the whole town was unluckily aware of Henry's intentions, any interference with them was base and malicious, if in the way of mere amusement and flirtation. She was resolved to see what the game was, but only did see that her presence greatly disconcerted 'Mr. Thomas May.'

Henry was wretched and irritable in the velvet paws of the widow, who encouraged him enough to give him hope, and then held him aloof, or was equally amiable to some one else. Perhaps the real interpretation was, that she loved attention. She was in all sincerity resolved to observe a proper period of widowhood, and not determined whether, when, or how, it should terminate: courtship amused her, and though attracted by Henry and his good house, the evidences of temper and harshness had made her unwilling to commit herself; besides that, she was afraid of Averil, and she was more flattered by the civilities of a lioncel like Harvey Anderson; or if she could be sure of what Mr. Thomas May's intentions were, she would have preferred an embryo physician to a full-grown surgeon-at any rate, it was right by her poor dear Mr. Pugh to wait.

She need not have feared having Averil as an inmate. Averil talked it over with Leonard, and determined that no power on earth should make her live with Mrs. Pugh. If that were necessary to forward his suit, she would make it plain that she was ready to depart.

'Oh, Leonard, if my uncle were but a nice sort of person, how pleasant it would be for me and the children to live there, and keep his house; and I could make him so comfortable, and nurse him!'

'Never, Ave!' cried Leonard; 'don't let the thing be talked of.'

'Oh no, I know it would not do with Samuel there; but should we be too young for your old scheme of having a cottage together near?'

'I did not know what the Axworthys were like,' returned Leonard.

'But need we see them much?'

'I'll tell you what, Ave, I've heard them both-yes, the old man the worst of the two-say things about women that made my blood boil.' Leonard was quite red as he spoke. 'My father never let my mother see any of the concern, and now I know why. I'll never let you do so.'

'Then there is only one other thing to be done,' said Averil; 'and that is for me to go back to school as a parlour boarder, and take the children with me. It would be very good for them, and dear Mrs. Wood would be very glad to have me.'

'Yes,' said Leonard, 'that is the only right thing, Ave; and the Mays will say so, too. Have you talked it over with them!'

'No. I hate talking of this thing.'

'Well, you had better get their advice. It is the best thing going!' said Leonard, with a sigh that sounded as if he wished he had taken it.

But it was not to Averil that he said so. To her he spoke brightly of serving the time for which he was bound to his uncle; then of making a fresh engagement, that would open a home to her; or, better still, suppose Sam did not wish to go on with the business, he might take it, and make the mill the lovely place it might be. It was to Aubrey May that the boy's real feelings came out, as, on the Sunday evening, they slowly wandered along the bank of the river. Aubrey had seen a specimen of his life at the mill, and had been kept up to the knowledge of its events, and he well knew that Leonard was heartily sick of it. That the occupation was uncongenial and tedious in the extreme to a boy of good ability and superior education-nay, that the drudgery was made unnecessarily oppressive, was not the point he complained of, though it was more trying than he had expected, that was the bed that he had made, and that he must lie upon. It was the suspicion of frauds and tricks of the trade, and, still worse, the company that he lived in. Sam Axworthy hated and tyrannized over him too much to make dissipation alluring; and he was only disgusted by the foul language, coarse manners, and the remains of intemperance worked on in violent temper.

The old man, though helpless and past active vice, was even more coarse in mind and conversation than his nephew; and yet his feebleness, and Sam's almost savage treatment of him, enlisted Leonard's pity on his side. In general, the old man was kind to Leonard, but would abuse him roundly when the evidences of his better principles and training, or his allegiance to Dr. May, came forward, and Leonard, though greatly compassionating him, could not always bear his reproaches with patience, and was held back from more attention to him than common humanity required, by an unlucky suggestion that he was currying favour in the hope of supplanting Sam.

'Old Hardy is the only honest man in the place, I do believe,' said Leonard. 'I'll tell you what, Aubrey, I have made up my mind, there is one thing I will not do. If ever they want to make me a party to any of their cheatings, I'll be off. That window and the cedar-tree stand very handy. I've been out there to bathe in the early summer mornings, plenty of times already, so never you be surprised if some fine day you hear-non est inventus.'

'And where would you go?'

'Get up to London, and see if my quarter's salary would take me out in the steerage to some diggings or other. What would your brother say to me if I turned up at the Grange-New Zealand?'

'Say! Mention Ethel, and see what he would not say.'

And the two boys proceeded to arrange the details of the evasion in such vivid colouring, that they had nearly forgotten all present troubles, above all when Leonard proceeded to declare that New Zealand was too tame and too settled for him, he should certainly find something to do in the Feejee Isles, where the high spirit of the natives, their painted visages, and marvellous head-dresses, as depicted in Captain Erskine's voyage, had greatly fired his fancy, and they even settled how the gold fields should rebuild the Market Cross.

'And when I'm gone, Aubrey, mind you see to Mab,' he said, laughing.

'Oh! I thought Mab was to act Whittington's cat.'

'I'm afraid they would eat her up; besides, there's the voyage. No, you must keep her till I come home, even if she is to end like Argus. Would you die of joy at seeing me, eh, little black neb?'

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