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The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 27890

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Long among them was seen a maiden, who waited and wondered,

Lowly and meek in spirit, and patiently suffering all things;

Fair was she, and young, but alas! before her extended,

Dreary and vast and silent, the desert of life.-Evangeline.

LONGFELLOW

'Sister, sister! who is it? Going to be married! Oh, do tell us!' cried Ella Warden-as she now was called-capering round her elder sister, who stood beneath a gas-burner, in a well-furnished bed-room, reading a letter, its enclosure clasped within a very trembling hand.

'Mary May, dear Mary,' answered Averil, still half absently.

'And who?'

'Mr. Cheviot,' said Averil, thoroughly rousing herself, and, with a quick movement, concealing the enclosure in her bosom. 'I remember him; he was very good, when-'

And there she paused; while Ella chattered on: 'Oh, sister, if you were but at home, you would be a bridesmaid now, and perhaps we should. Little Miss Rivers was Mrs. Ernescliffe's bridesmaid. Don't you remember, Minna, how we saw her in her little cashmere cloak?'

'Oh, don't, Ella!' escaped from Minna, like a cry of pain, as she leant back in a rocking-chair, and recollected who had held her up in his arms to watch Blanche May's wedding procession.

'And how soon will she be married, sister, and where will she live?' asked the much-excited Ella.

'She will be married in Whitsun week, and as he is headmaster, they will live in Dr. Hoxton's house. Dear, good Mary, how glad I am that she is so full of happiness-her letter quite brims over with it! I wonder if I may work anything to send her.'

'I should like to send her some very beautiful thing indeed,' cried Ella, with emphasis, and eyes dilating at some visionary magnificence.

'Ah, I have nothing to send her but my love! And I may send her that still,' said Minna, looking up wistfully at Averil, who bent down and kissed her.

'And Ave won't let me send mine to Mr. Tom, though I'm sure I do love him the best of them all,' said Ella.

'That wasn't-' half whispered Minna, but turned her head away, with a sigh of oppression and look of resignation, sad in so young a child, though, indeed, the infantine form was fast shooting into tall, lank girlhood. Ella went on: 'I shall send him the objects for his microscope, when I get into the country; for I promised, so sister can't prevent me.'

'Oh, the country!-when shall we go there?' sighed Minna.

'Your head aches to-night, my dear,' said Averil, looking anxiously at her listless attitude, half-opened eyes, and the deep hollows above her collar-bones.

'It always does after the gas is lighted,' said the child, patiently, 'it is always so hot here.'

'It is just like being always in the conservatory at the Grange,' added Ella. 'I do hate this boarding-house. It is very unkind of Henry to keep us here-fifteen weeks now.'

'Oh, Ella,' remonstrated Minna, 'you mustn't say that!'

'But I shall say it,' retorted Ella. 'Rosa Willis says what she pleases, and so shall I. I don't see the sense of being made a baby of, when every one else of our age eats all they like, and is consulted about arrangements, and attends classes. And sister owns she does not know half so much as Cora!'

This regular declaration of American independence confounded the two sisters, and made Averil recall the thoughts that had been wandering: 'No, Ella, in some things I have not learnt so much as Cora; but I believe I know enough to teach you, and it has been a comfort to me to keep my two little sisters with me, and not send them to be mixed up among strange girls. Besides, I have constantly hoped that our present way of life would soon be over, and that we should have a home of our own again.'

'And why can't we!' asked Ella, in a much more humble and subdued voice.

'Because Henry cannot hear of anything to do. He thought he should soon find an opening in this new country; but there seem to be so many medical men everywhere that no one will employ or take into partnership a man that nothing is known about; and he cannot produce any of his testimonials, because they are all made out in his old name, except one letter that Dr. May gave him. It is worse for Henry than for us, Ella, and all we can do for him is not to vex him with our grievances.

Poor Averil! her dejected, patient voice, sad soft eyes, and gentle persuasive manner, were greatly changed from those of the handsome, accomplished girl, who had come home to be the family pride and pet; still more, perhaps, from the wilful mistress of the house and the wayward sufferer of last summer.

'And shan't we go to live in the dear beautiful forest, as Cora Muller wishes?'

There was a tap at the door, and the children's faces brightened, though a shade passed over Averil's face, as if everything at that moment were oppressive; but she recovered a smile of greeting for the pretty creature who flew up to her with a fervent embrace-a girl a few years her junior, with a fair, delicate face and figure, in a hot-house rose style of beauty.

'Father's come!' she cried.

'How glad you must be!'

'And now,' whispered the children, 'we shall know about going to Indiana.'

'He says Mordaunt is as tall as he is, and that the house is quite fixed for me; but I told him I must have one more term, and then I will take you with me. Ah! I am glad to see the children in white. If you would only change that plain black silk, you would receive so much more consideration.'

'I don't want it, Cora, thank you,' said Averil, indifferently; and, indeed, the simple mourning she still wore was a contrast to her friend's delicate, expensive silk.

'But I want it for you,' pleaded Cora. 'I don't want to hear my Averil censured for English hauteur, and offend my country's feelings, so that she keeps herself from seeing the best side.'

'I see a very good, very dear side of one,' said Averil, pressing the eager hand that was held out to her, 'and that is enough for me. I was not a favourite in my own town, and I have not spirits to make friends here.'

'Ah! you will have spirits in our woods,' she said. 'You shall show me how you go gipsying in England.'

'The dear, dear woods! Oh, we must go!' cried the little girls.

'But it is going to be a town,' said Minna, gravely.

Cora laughed. 'Ah, there will be plenty of bush this many a day, Minna! No lack of butternuts and hickories, I promise you, nor of maples to paint the woods gloriously.'

'You have never been there?' said Averil, anxiously.

'No; I have been boarding here these two years, since father and brothers located there, but we had such a good time when we lived at my grandfather's farm, in Ohio, while father was off on the railway business.'

A gong resounded through the house, and Averil, suppressing a disappointed sigh, allowed Cora to take possession of her arm, and, followed by the two children, became parts of a cataract of people who descended the great staircase, and flowed into a saloon, where the dinner was prepared.

Henry, with a tall, thin, wiry-looking gentleman, was entering at the same time, and Averil found herself shaking hands with her brother's companion, and hearing him say, 'Good evening, Miss Warden; I'm glad to meet my daughter's friend. I hope you feel at home in our great country.'

It was so exactly the ordinary second-rate American style, that Averil, who had expected something more in accordance with the refinement of everything about Cora, except a few of her tones, was a little disappointed, and responded with difficulty; then, while Mr. Muller greeted her sisters, she hastily laid her hand on Henry's arm, and said, under her breath, 'I've a letter from him.'

'Hush!' Henry looked about with a startled eye and repressing gesture. Averil drew back, and, one hand on her bosom, pressing the letter, and almost holding down a sob, she took her accustomed seat at the meal. Minna, too languid for the rapidity of the movements, hardly made the exertion of tasting food. Ella, alert and brisk, took care of herself as effectually as did Rosa Willis, on the opposite side of the table. Averil, all one throb of agitation, with the unread letter lying at her heart, directed all her efforts to look, eat, and drink, as usual; happily, talking was the last thing that was needed.

Averil had been greatly indebted to Miss Muller, who had taken pity on the helpless strangers-interested, partly by her own romance about England, partly by their mourning dresses, dark melancholy eyes, and retiring, bewildered manner. A beautiful motherless girl, under seventeen-left, to all intents and purposes, alone in New York-attending a great educational establishment, far more independent and irresponsible than a young man at an English University, yet perfectly trustworthy-never subject to the bevues of the 'unprotected female,' but self-reliant, modest, and graceful, in the heterogeneous society of the boarding-house-she was a constant marvel to Averil, and a warm friendship soon sprang up. The advances were, indeed, all on one side; for Ave was too sad, and oppressed with too heavy a secret, to be readily accessible; but there was an attraction to the younger, fresher, freer nature, even in the mystery of her mournful reserve; and the two drew nearer together from gratitude, and many congenial feelings, that rendered Cora the one element of comfort in the boarding-house life; while Henry in vain sought for occupation.

Cora had been left under the charge of the lady of the boarding-house, a distant connection, while her father, who had been engaged in more various professions than Averil could ever conceive of or remember, had been founding a new city in Indiana, at once as farmer and land-agent, and he had stolen a little time, in the dead season, to hurry up to New York, partly on business, and partly to see his daughter, who had communicated to him her earnest desire that her new friends might be induced to settle near their future abode.

American meals were too serious affairs for conversation; but such as there was, was political, in all the fervid heat of the first commencements of disunion and threatenings of civil war. After the ladies had repaired to their saloon, with its grand ottomans, sofas, rocking-chairs, and piano, the discussion continued among them; Cora talking with the utmost eagerness of the tariff and of slavery, and the other topics of the day, intensely interesting, and of terrible moment, to her country; but that country Averil had not yet learnt to feel her own, and to her all was one dreary whirl of words, in which she longed to escape to her room, and read her letter. Ella had joined Rosa Willis, and the other children; but Minna, as usual, kept under her sister's wing, and Averil could not bear to shake herself free of the gentle child. The ladies of the boarding-house-some resident in order to avoid the arduous duties of housekeeping, others temporarily brought thither in an interregnum of servants, others spending a winter in the city-had grown tired of asking questions that met with the scantiest response, took melancholy for disdain, and were all neglectful, some uncivil, to the grave, silent English girl, and she was sitting alone, with Minna's hand in hers, as she had sat for many a weary evening, when her brother and Mr. Muller came up together, and, sitting down on either side of her, began to talk of the rising city of Massissauga-admirably situated-excellent water privilege, communicating with Lake Michigan-glorious primeval forest-healthy situation-fertile land-where a colossal fortune might be realized in maize, eighties, sections, speculations. It was all addressed to her, and it was a hard task to give attention, so as to return a rational answer, while her soul would fain have been clairvoyante, to read the letter in her breast. She did perceive, at last, though not till long after the children had gone to bed, that the project was, that the family should become the purchasers of shares, which would give them a right to a portion of the soil, excellent at present for growing corn, and certain hereafter to be multiplied in value for building; that Henry might, in the meantime, find an opening for practice, but might speedily be independent of it. It sounded promising, and it was escape-escape from forced inaction, from an uncongenial life, from injury to the children, and it would be with Cora, her one friend. What was the demur, and why were they consulting her, who, as Henry knew, was ready to follow him wherever he chose to carry her? At last came a gleam of understanding: 'Then, Doctor, you will talk it over with your sister, and give me your ultimatum;' and therewith Mr. Muller walked away to mingle in other conversation, and Henry coming closer to his sister, she again eagerly said, 'I have it here; you shall see it to-morrow, when I have read it.'

'It-'

'The letter.'

'How can you be so unguarded? You have not let the children know? Take care then, I will not have the subject revived with them.'

'But Minna-'

'It is this heated stove atmosphere. She will soon forget if you don't keep it up, and she will be herself when we leave this place, and it depends on you when we do that, Ave.'

'On me!' she said, with bewildered face.

And Henry, marvelling at her slowness of comprehension, made her understand that the advance of money, for the purchase at Massissauga, must come from her means. His own had been heavily drained by the removal, the long period of inaction, and moreover what remained had been embarked in shares in a company, absolutely certain to succeed, but where they were not at once available for sale. Averil was now of age, her property was in her own power, and could not, her brother assured her, be better invested, than on ground certain to increase in value. She looked at him, confused and distressed, aware tha

t it was too important a step to be taken without consideration, yet unable to compose her thoughts, or recollect objections.

'Must I answer to-night?' she said.

'No, there is no need for that. But we must close to-morrow with Muller, for it is not a chance that will long go begging.'

'Then let me go, please, Henry,' she said, imploringly. 'I will tell you to-morrow, but I can't now. I don't seem to understand anything.'

It was late, and he released her, with a kind good night, though still with a sign of caution. Cora, however, hastened to join her, and walk up the stairs with her, eagerly inquiring into the success of the negotiation, and detailing what she had gathered from her father as to the improvements he had been making. She would fain have made Averil come into her bedroom to build castles there; but this was more than could be borne, and breaking from her at last, Averil reached her own room, not to think of Mr. Muller's project, but to cast an anxious glance at each of the little beds, to judge whether the moment had come when that famishing hunger might be appeased by the crumb which for these mortal hours had lain upon her craving heart-the very first since the one on the arrival at Milbank.

Each brown head was shrouded in the coverings, the long dark fringes rested safely on the cheeks, and Averil at length drew out the treasure, and laid it on her hand to dwell on its very sight. The address needed to be looked at with lingering earnestness, as if it had indeed been a missive from another world; she looked, and was tardy to unfold it, as though, now the moment was come, the sense of being in communication with her brother must be tasted to the utmost, ere entering on the utterances that must give pain; and when she did open the envelope, perhaps the first sensation was disappointment-the lines were not near enough together, the writing not small enough, to satisfy even the first glance of the yearning eye. It was cheerful, it spoke of good health, and full occupation, with the use of books, daily exercise, the chaplain's visits, schooling and attendance at chapel, and of the great pleasure of having heard from her. 'And that good Dr. May inclosed your letter in one written to me with his own hand, a kindness I never dared to think of as possible, but which he promises to repeat. Your letter and his are the continual food of my thoughts, and are valued beyond all power of words. I only hope you knew that I have not been allowed to write sooner, and have not expected letters.' Then came a few brief comments on her last inquiries, and entreaties that she would give him full information of all details of their present life: 'It will carry me along with you, and I shall live with you, both as I read, and as I dwell on it afterwards. Do not indulge in a moment's uneasiness about me, for I am well, and busy; every one is as kind to me as duty permits, and Dr. May is always ready to do all in his power for me.' There were a few affectionate words for Henry, and 'I long to send a message to the children, but I know it is better for them to let me drop from their minds, only you must tell me all about them; I want to know that the dear little Minna is bright and happy again.'

No confidences, only generalities; not even any reference to the one unbroken bond of union, the one support, except in the three scanty final words, the simplest of blessings. It was not satisfying; but Averil recalled, with a start, that no wonder the letter was meagre, since it was necessarily subject to inspection; and how could the inner soul be expressed when all must pass under strangers' eyes, who would think such feelings plausible hypocrisy in a convicted felon. Again she took it up, to suck to the utmost all that might be conveyed in the short commonplace sentences, and to gaze at them as if intensity of study could reveal whether the cheerfulness were real or only assumed. Be they what they might, the words had only three weeks back been formed by Leonard's hand, and she pressed her lips upon them in a fervent agony of affection.

When she roused herself and turned her head, she perceived on Minna's pillow two eyes above the bed-clothes, intently fixed on her. Should she see, or should she not see? She believed that the loving heart was suffering a cruel wrong, she yearned to share all with the child, but she was chained by the command of one brother, and by that acquiescence of the other which to her was more than a command. She would not see, she turned away, and made her preparations for the night without betraying that she knew that the little one was awake, resuming the tedious guard on the expression of her face. But when her long kneeling had ended, and with it that which was scarcely so much conscious intercession as the resting an intolerable load on One who alone knew its weight, just as she darkened the room for the night, the low voice whispered, 'Ave, is it?'-

And Averil crept up to the little bed: 'Yes, Minna; he is well! He hopes you are bright and happy, but he says it is best you should forget him.' The brow was cold and clammy, the little frame chill and trembling, the arms clasped her neck convulsively. She lifted the child into her own bed, pressed tight to her own bosom, and though no other word passed between the sisters, that contact seemed to soothe away the worst bitterness; and Averil slept from the stillness enforced on her by the heed of not disturbing Minna's sleep.

Little that night had she recked of the plan needing so much deliberation! When she awoke it was to the consciousness that besides the arrival of Leonard's letter, something had happened-there was some perplexity-what was it? And when it came back she was bewildered. Her own fortune had always appeared to her something to fall back on in case of want of success, and to expend it thus was binding the whole family down at a perilous moment, to judge by the rumours of battle and resistance. And all she had ever heard at home, much that she daily heard at New York, inclined her to distrust and dislike of American speculations. It was Cora's father! Her heart smote her for including him in English prejudice, when Henry liked and trusted him! And she had disobeyed and struggled against Henry too long. She had promised to be submissive and yielding. But was this the time? And the boarding-house life-proverbially the worst for children-was fast Americanizing Ella, while Minna drooped like a snowdrop in a hot-house, and idleness might be mischievous to Henry.

Oh, for some one to consult! for some one to tell her whether the risk was a foolish venture, or if the terms were safe! But not a creature did she know well enough to seek advice from! Even the clergyman, whose church she attended, was personally unknown to her; Cora Muller was her sole intimate; there was a mutual repulsion between her and the other ladies, and still more with the gentlemen. A boarding-house was not the scene in which to find such as would inspire confidence, and they had no introductions. There was no one to turn to; and in the dreary indifference that had grown over her, she did not even feel capable of exerting her own judgment to the utmost, even if she had been able to gather certain facts, or to know prudent caution from blind prejudice-often woman's grievous difficulty. What could a helpless girl of one-and-twenty, in a land of strangers, do, but try to think that by laying aside the use of her own judgment she was trusting all to Providence, and that by leaving all to her brother she was proving her repentance for her former conduct.

There, too, were her sisters, clamorous with hopes of the forest life; and there was Cora, urging the scheme with all the fervour of girlish friendship, and in herself no small element in its favour, engaging for everything, adducing precedents for every kind of comfort and success, and making Ave's consent a test of her love. One question Averil asked of her-whether they should be utterly out of reach of their Church? Cora herself had been bred up to liberal religious ways, and was ready to attend whatever denomination of public worship came first to hand, though that which had descended from the Pilgrim Fathers came most naturally. She had been at various Sunday schools, and was a good conscientious girl, but had never gone through the process of conversion, so that Rosa Willis had horrified Ella by pronouncing her 'not a Christian.' She had no objection to show her English friends the way to the favourite Episcopal Church, especially as it was esteemed fashionable; and her passion for Averil had retained her there, with growing interest, drawn on by Averil's greater precision of religious knowledge, and the beauty of the Church system, displayed to her as the one joy and relief left to one evidently crushed with suffering. The use of Averil's books, conversations with her, and the teaching she heard, disposed her more and more to profess herself a member of the Episcopal Church, and she was unable to enter into Averil's scruples at leading her to so decided a step without her father's sanction. 'Father would be satisfied whatever profession she made. Did people in England try to force their children's consciences?' Cora, at Averil's desire, ascertained that Massissauga had as yet no place of worship of its own; but there was a choice of chapels within a circuit of five miles, and an Episcopal Church seven miles off, at the chief town of the county. Moreover, her father declared that the city of Massissauga would soon be considerable enough to invite every variety of minister to please every denomination of inhabitant. Averil felt that the seven miles off church was all she could reasonably hope for, and her mind was clear on that score, when Henry came to take her out walking for the sake of being able to talk more freely.

No longer afraid of being overheard, he gave kind attention to Leonard's letter; and though he turned away from the subject sooner than she wished, she was not exacting. Again he laid before her the advantages of their migration, and assured her that if there were the slightest risk he would be the last to make the proposal. She asked if it were safe to invest money in a country apparently on the eve of civil war?

He laughed the idea to scorn. How could the rebel states make war, with a population of negroes sure to rise against their masters? Where should their forces come from? Faction would soon be put down, and the union be stronger than ever. It was what Averil had been hearing morning, noon, and night, so no wonder she believed it, and was ashamed of a futile girlish fear.

And was Henry sure it was a healthy place? Had she not heard of feverish swamps in Indiana?

Oh yes, in new unsettled places; but there had hardly been an ailment in the Muller family since they had settled at Massissauga.

And Averil's last murmur was-Could he find out anything about other people's opinion of the speculation? did they know enough about Mr. Muller to trust themselves entirely in his hands?

Henry was almost angry-Could not his sister trust him to take all reasonable precaution? It was the old story of prejudice against whatever he took up.

Poor Averil was disarmed directly. The combats of will and their consequences rose up before her, and with them Leonard's charges to devote herself to Henry. She could but avow herself willing to do whatever he pleased. She only hoped he would be careful.

All thenceforth was pleasant anticipation and hope. Averil's property had to be transferred to America, and invested in shares of the land at Massissauga; but this was to cause no delay in arranging for the removal, they were only to wait until the winter had broken up, and the roads become passable after the melting of the snows; and meantime Mr. Muller was to have their house prepared. Cora would remain and accompany them, and in the intervening time promised to assist Averil with her judgment in making the necessary purchases for 'stepping westward.'

When Averil wrote their plans to her English friends, she felt the difficulty of pleading for them. She was sensible that at Stoneborough the risking of her property would be regarded as folly on her part, and something worse on that of her brother; and she therefore wrote with every effort to make the whole appear her own voluntary act-though the very effort made her doubly conscious that the sole cause for her passive acquiescence was, that her past self-will in trifles had left her no power to contend for her own opinion in greater matters-the common retribution on an opinionative woman of principle.

Moreover, it was always with an effort that she wrote to Mary May. A rejected offer from a brother is a rock in a correspondence with a sister, and Averil had begun to feel greatly ashamed of the manner of her own response. Acceptance would have been impossible; but irritating as had been Tom May's behaviour, insulting as had been his explanation, and provoking, his pertinacity, she had begun to feel that the impulse had been too generous and disinterested to deserve such treatment, and that bitterness and ill-temper had made her lose all softness and dignity, so that he must think that his pitying affection had been bestowed on an ungrateful vixen, and be as much disgusted with the interview as she was herself. She did not wish him to love her; but she regretted the form of the antidote, above all, since he was of the few who appreciated Leonard; and the more she heard of Ella's narrations of his kindness, the more ashamed she grew. Every letter to or from Mary renewed the uncomfortable sense, and she would have dropped the correspondence had it not been her sole medium of communication with her imprisoned brother, since Henry would not permit letters to be posted with the Milbank address.

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