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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 22623

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

We twa hae wandered o'er the braes,

And pu'ed the gowans fine;

I've wandered many a weary foot

Sin auld lang syne.

These years had passed quietly at Stoneborough, with little change since Mary's marriage. She was the happy excellent wife that she was made to be; and perhaps it was better for Ethel that the first severance had been so decisive that Mary's attentions to her old home were received as favours, instead of as the mere scanty relics of her former attachment.

Mr. Cheviot, as the family shook down together, became less afraid of Ethel, and did not think it so needful to snub her either by his dignity or jocularity; though she still knew that she was only on terms of sufferance, and had been, more than once, made to repent of unguarded observations. He was admirable; and the school was so rapidly improving that Norman had put his father into ecstasies by proposing to send home little Dickie to begin his education there. Moreover, the one element wanting, to accomplish the town improvements, had been supplied by a head-master on the side of progress, and Dr. Spencer's victory had been won at last. There was a chance that Stoneborough might yet be clean, thanks to his reiteration of plans for purification, apropos to everything. Baths and wash-houses were adroitly carried as a monument to Prince Albert; and on the Prince of Wales's marriage, his perseverance actually induced the committee to finish up the drains with all the contributions that were neither eaten up nor fired away! Never had he been more happy and triumphant; and Dr. May used to accuse him of perambulating the lower streets snuffing the deodorized air.

One autumn evening, contrary to his wont, he allowed himself to be drawn into the May drawing-room, and there fell into one of the bright bantering talks in which the two old friends delighted, quizzing each other, and bringing up stories of their life; while Ethel and Gertrude listened to and laughed at the traditions of a sunnier, gayer, and more reckless age than their own; and Ethel thought how insufficient are those pictures of life that close with the fever-dream of youthful passion, and leave untold those years of the real burthen of manhood, and still more the tranquil brightness when toil has been overlived, and the setting sun gilds the clouds that are drifting away.

Ethel's first knowledge of outer life the next morning was the sound of voices in her father's adjoining room, which made her call out, 'Are you sent for, papa?'

'Yes,' he answered, and in an agitated tone, 'Spencer; I'll send word.'

Should she mention what she had two years ago heard from Tom? There was no time, for the next moment she heard him hurrying down-stairs, she saw him speeding up the garden. There was nothing for her to do but to dress as fast as possible, and as she was finishing she heard his tread slowly mounting, the very footfall warning her what to expect. She opened the door and met him. 'Thank God,' he said, as he took her hand into his own, 'it has been very merciful.'

'Is it-?'

'Yes. It must have been soon after he lay down at night. As calm as sleep. The heart. I am very thankful. I had thought he would have had much to suffer.'

And then it appeared that his own observations had made him sure of what Ethel had learnt from Tom; but as long as it was unavowed by his friend, he had thought himself bound to ignore it, and had so dreaded the protracted suffering, that the actual stroke was accepted as a loving dispensation.

Still, as the close of a life-long friendship, the end of a daily refreshing and sustaining intimacy, the loss was very great, and would be increasingly felt after the first stimulus was over. It would make Tom's defection a daily grievance, since much detail of hospital care, and, above all, town work, his chief fatigue, would now again fall upon him. But this was not his present thought. His first care was, that his friend's remains should rest with those with whom his lot in life had been cast, in the cloister of the old Grammar-school; but here Mr. Cheviot looked concerned, and with reluctance, but decision, declared it to be his duty not to consent, cited the funeral of one of his scholars at the cemetery, and referred to recent sanatory measures.

Dr. May quickly exclaimed that he had looked into the matter, and that the cloister did not come under the Act.

'Not technically, sir,' said Mr. Cheviot; 'but I am equally convinced of my duty, however much I may regret it.' And then, with a few words about Mary's presently coming up, he departed; while 'That is too bad,' was the general indignant outburst, even from Richard; from all but Dr. May himself.

'He is quite right,' he said. 'Dear Spencer would be the first to say so. Richard, your church is his best monument, and you'll not shut him out of your churchyard nor me either.'

'Cheviot could not have meant-' began Richard.

'Yes, he did, I understood him, and I am glad you should have had it out now,' said Dr. May, though not without a quivering lip. 'Your mother has one by her side, and we'll find each other out just as well as if we were in the cloister. I'll walk over to Cocksmoor with you, Ritchie, and mark the place.'

Thus sweetly did he put aside what might have been so severe a shock; and he took extra pains to show his son-in-law his complete acquiescence both for the present and the future. Charles Cheviot expressed to Richard his great satisfaction in finding sentiment thus surmounted by sense, not perceiving that it was faith and love surmounting both.

Dr. Spencer's only surviving relation was a brother's son, who, on his arrival, proved to be an underbred, shrewd-looking man, evidently with strong prepossessions against the May family, whose hospitality he did not accept, consorting chiefly with 'Bramshaw and Anderson.' His disposition to reverse the arrangement for burying his uncle in 'an obscure village churchyard,' occasioned a reference to the will, drawn up two years previously. The executors were Thomas and Etheldred May, and it was marked on the outside that they were to have the sole direction of the funeral. Ethel, greatly astonished, but as much bewildered as touched, was infinitely relieved that this same day had brought a hurried note from Paris, announcing Tom's intention of coming to attend the funeral. He would be able to talk to the angry and suspicious nephew, without, like his father, betraying either indignation or disgust.

Another person was extremely anxious for Tom's arrival, namely, Sir Matthew Fleet, who, not a little to Dr. May's gratification, came to show his respect to his old fellow-student; and arriving the evening before Tom, was urgent to know the probabilities of his appearance. An appointment in London was about to be vacant, so desirable in itself, and so valuable an introduction, that there was sure to be a great competition; but Sir Matthew was persuaded that with his own support, and an early canvass, Tom might be certain of success. Dr. May could not help being grateful and gratified, declaring that the boy deserved it, and that dear Spencer would have been very much pleased; and then he told Ethel that it was wonderful to see the blessing upon Maggie's children; and went back, as usual, to his dear old Tate and Brady, with-

'His house the seat of wealth shall be,

An inexhausted treasury;

His justice, free from all decay,

Shall blessings to his heirs convey.'

And Ethel, within herself, hoped it was no disrespect to smile at his having so unconsciously turned away the blessing from the father's to the mother's side.

It was his great pride and pleasure that so many of Maggie's children were round him to do honour to her old friend's burial-three sons, and four daughters, and three sons-in-law. They all stood round the grave, as near as might be to the stone that Gertrude, as a child, had laid under his care, when his silver hair had mingled with her golden locks; and with them was a concourse that evidently impressed the nephew with a new idea of the estimation in which his uncle had been held.

Tom had travelled all night, and had arrived only just in time. Nobody was able to say a word to him before setting off; and almost immediately after the return, Sir Matthew Fleet seized upon him to walk up to the station with him, and, to the infinite disgust of the nephew, the reading of the will was thus delayed until the executor came back, extremely grave and thoughtful.

After all, Mr. Spencer had no available grievance. His uncle's property was very little altogether, amounting scarcely to a thousand pounds, but the bulk was bequeathed to the nephew; to Aubrey May was left his watch, and a piece of plate presented to him on his leaving India; to Dr. May a few books; to Tom the chief of his library, his papers, notes, and instruments, and the manuscript of a work upon diseases connected with climate, on which he had been engaged for many years, but had never succeeded in polishing to his own fastidious satisfaction, or in coming to the end of new discoveries. To Etheldred, his only legacy was his writing-desk, with all its contents. And Mr. Spencer looked so suspicious of those contents, that Tom made her open it before him, and show that they were nothing but letters.

It had been a morning of the mixture of feelings and restless bustle, so apt to take place where the affection is not explained by relationship; and when the strangers were gone, and the family were once again alone, there was a drawing of freer breath, and the Doctor threw himself back in his chair, and indulged in a long, heavy sigh, with a weary sound in it.

'Can I go anywhere for you, father?' said Tom, turning to him with a kind and respectful manner.

'Oh no-no, thank you,' he said, rousing himself, and laying his hand on the bell, 'I must go over to Overfield; but I shall be glad of the drive. Well, Dr. Tom, what did you say to Fleet's proposal?'

'I said I would come up to town and settle about it when I had got through this executor business.'

'You always were a lucky fellow, Tom,' said Dr. May, trying to be interested and sympathetic. 'You would not wish for anything better.'

'I don't know, I have not had time to think about it yet,' said Tom, pulling off his spectacles and pushing back his hair, with an action of sadness and fatigue.

'Ah! it was not the best of times to choose for the communication; but it was kindly meant. I never expected to see Fleet take so much trouble for any one. But you are done up, Tom, with your night journey.'

'Not at all,' he answered, briskly, 'if I can do anything for you. Could not I go down to the hospital?'

'Why, if I were not to be back till five,' began Dr. May, considering, and calling him into the hall to receive directions, from which he came back, saying, 'There! now then, Ethel, we had better look over things, and get them in train.'

'You are so tired, Tom.'

'Not too much for that,' he said. But it was a vain boast; he was too much fatigued to turn his mind to business requiring thought, though capable of slow, languid reading and sorting of papers.

Aubrey's legacy was discovered with much difficulty. In fact, it had never been heard of

, nor seen the light, since its presentation, and was at last found in a lumber closet, in a strong box, in Indian packing. It was a compromise between an epergne and a candelabrum, growing out of the howdah of an unfortunate elephant, pinning one tiger to the ground, and with another hanging on behind, in the midst of a jungle of palm-trees and cobras; and beneath was an elaborate inscription, so laudatory of Aubrey Spencer, M. D., that nobody wondered he had never unpacked it, and that it was yellow with tarnish-the only marvel was, that he had never disposed of it; but that it was likely to wait for the days when Aubrey might be a general and own a side-board.

The other bequests were far more appreciated. Tom had known of the book in hand, was certain of its value to the faculty, and was much gratified by the charge of it, both as a matter of feeling and of interest. But while he looked over and sorted the mass of curious notes, his attention was far more set on the desk, that reverently, almost timidly, Ethel examined, well knowing why she had been selected as the depositary of these relics. There they were, some embrowned by a burn in the corner, as though there had been an attempt to destroy them, in which there had been no heart to persevere. It was but little, after all, two formal notes in which Professor Norman Mackenzie asked the honour of Mr. Spencer's company to dinner, but in handwriting that was none of the professor's-writing better known to Ethel than to Tom-and a series of their father's letters, from their first separation till the traveller's own silence had caused their correspondence to drop. Charming letters they were, such as people wrote before the penny-post had spoilt the epistolary art-long, minute, and overflowing with brilliant happiness. Several of them were urgent invitations to Stoneborough, and one of these was finished in that other hand-the delicate, well-rounded writing that would not be inherited-entreating Dr. Spencer to give a few days to Stoneborough, 'it would be such a pleasure to Richard to show him the children.'

Ethel did not feel sure whether to see these would give pain or pleasure to her father. He would certainly be grieved to see how much suffering he must have inflicted in the innocence of his heart, and in the glory of his happiness; and Tom, with a sort of shudder, advised her to keep them to herself, he was sure they would give nothing but pain.

She had no choice just then, for it was a time of unusual occupation, and the difference made by their loss told immediately-the more, perhaps, because it was the beginning of November, and there was much municipal business to be attended to.

However it might be for the future, during the ensuing week Dr. May never came in for a meal with the rest of the family; was too much fagged for anything but sleep when he came home at night; and on the Sunday morning, when they all had reckoned on going to Cocksmoor together, he was obliged to give it up, and only come into the Minster at the end of the prayers. Every one knew that he was not a good manager of his time, and this made things worse; and he declared that he should make arrangements for being less taken up; but it was sad to see him overburthened, and Tom, as only a casual visitor, could do little to lessen his toil, though that little was done readily and attentively. There were no rubs between the two, and scarcely any conversation. Tom would not discuss his prospects; and it was not clear whether he meant to avail himself of Sir Matthew's patronage; he committed himself to nothing but his wish that it were possible to stay in Paris; and he avoided even talking to his sister.

Not till a week after he had left home for London came a letter

'Dear Ethel,

'I have told Fleet that I am convinced of my only right course. I could never get the book finished properly if I got into his line, and I must have peaceable evenings for it at home. I suppose my father would not like to let Dr. Spencer's house. If I might have it, and keep my own hours and habits, I think it would conduce to our working better together. I am afraid I kept you in needless distress about him, but I wanted to judge for myself of the necessity, and to think over the resignation of that quest. I must commit it to Brown. I hope it is not too great a risk; but it can't be helped. It is a matter of course that I should come home now the helper is gone; I always knew it would come to that. Manage it as quietly as you can. I must go to Paris for a fortnight, to bring home my things, and by that time my father had better get me appointed to the hospital.

'Yours ever,

'TH. MAY.'

Ethel was not so much surprised as her father, who thought she must have been working upon Tom's feelings; but this she disavowed, except that it had been impossible not to growl at patients sending at unreasonable hours. Then he hoped that Fleet had not been disappointing the lad; but this notion was nullified by a remonstrance from the knight, on the impolicy of burying such talents for the sake of present help; and even proposing to send a promising young man in Tom's stead. 'Not too good for poor Stoneborough,' said Dr. May, smiling. 'No, no, I'm not so decrepit as that, whatever he and Tom may have thought me; I fancy I could tire out both of them. I can't have the poor boy giving up all his prospects for my sake, Ethel. I never looked for it, and I shall write and tell him so! Mind, Ethel, I shall write, not you! I know you would only stroke him down, and bring him home to regret it. No, no, I won't always be treated like Karl, in "Debit and Credit", who the old giant thought could neither write nor be written to, because his finger was off.'

And Dr. May's letter was the first which this son had ever had from him.

'My Dear Tom,

'I feel your kind intentions to the heart; it is like all the rest of your dear mother's children; but the young ought not to be sacrificed to the old, and I won't have it done. The whole tone of practice has altered since my time, and I do not want to bind you down to the routine. I had left off thinking of it since I knew of your distaste. I have some years of work in me yet, that will see out most of my old patients; and for the rest, Wright is a great advance on poor Ward, and I will leave more to him as I grow older. I mean to see you a great man yet, and I think you will be the greater and happier for the sacrifice you have been willing to make. His blessing on you.

'Your loving father,

'R. M.'

What was Tom's answer, but one of his cool 'good letters,' a demonstration that he was actuated by the calmest motives of convenience and self-interest, in preferring the certainties of Stoneborough to the contingencies of London, and that he only wanted time for study and the completion of Dr. Spencer's book, enforcing his request for the house.

His resolution was, as usual, too evident to be combated, and it was also plain that he chose to keep on the mask of prudent selfishness, which he wore so naturally that it was hard to give him credit for any other features; but this time Dr. May was not deceived. He fully estimated the sacrifice, and would have prevented it if he could; but he never questioned the sincerity of the motive, as it was not upon the surface; and the token of dutiful affection, as coming from the least likely quarter of his family, touched and comforted him. He dwelt on it with increasing satisfaction, and answered all hurries and worries with, 'I shall have time when Tome is come;' re-opened old schemes that had died away when he feared to have no successor, and now and then showed a certain comical dread of being drilled into conformity with Tom's orderly habits.

There was less danger of their clashing, as the son had outgrown the presumptions of early youth, and a change had passed over his nature which Ethel had felt, rather than seen, during his fleeting visits at home, more marked by negatives than positives, and untraced by confidences. The bitterness and self-assertion had ceased to tinge his words, the uncomfortable doubt that they were underlaid by satire had passed away, and methodical and self-possessed as he always was, the atmosphere of 'number one' was no longer apparent round all his doings. He could be out of spirits and reserved without being either ill-tempered or ironical; and Ethel, with this as the upshot of her week's observations, was reassured as to the hopes of the father and son working together without collisions. As soon as the die was cast, and there was no danger of undue persuasion in 'stroking him down,' she indulged herself by a warmly-grateful letter, and after she had sent it, was tormented by the fear that it would be a great offence. The answer was much longer than she had dared to expect, and alarmed her lest it should be one of his careful ways of making the worst of himself; but there was a large 'Private,' scored in almost menacing letters on the top of the first sheet, and so much blotted in the folding, that it was plain that he had taken alarm at the unreserve of his own letter.

'My Dear Ethel,

'I have been to Portland. Really my father ought to make a stir and get Ward's health attended to; he looks very much altered, but will not own to anything being amiss. They say he has been depressed ever since he heard of Minna's death. I should say he ought to be doing out-of-doors work-perhaps at Gibraltar, but then he would be out of our reach. I could not get much from him, but that patient, contented look is almost more than one can bear. It laid hold of me when I saw him the first time, and has haunted me ever since. Verily I believe it is what is bringing me home! You need not thank me, for it is sober calculation that convinces me that no success on earth would compensate for the perpetual sense that my father was wearing himself out, and you pining over the sight. Except just at first, I always meant to come and see how the land lay before pledging myself to anything; and nothing can be clearer than that, in the state of things my father has allowed to spring up, he must have help. I am glad you have got me the old house, for I can be at peace there till I have learnt to stand his unmethodical ways. Don't let him expect too much of me, as I see he is going to do. It is not in me to be like Norman or Harry, and he must not look for it, least of all now. If you did not understand, and know when to hold your tongue, I do not think I could come home at all; as it is, you are all the comfort I look for. I cross to Paris to-morrow. That is a page I am very sorry to close. I had a confidence that I should have hunted down that fellow, and the sight of Portland and the accounts from Massissauga alike make one long to have one's hands on his throat; but that hope is ended now, and to loiter about Paris in search of him, when it it a plain duty to come away, would be one of the presumptuous acts that come to no good. Let them discuss what they will, there's nothing so hard to believe in as Divine Justice! And yet that uncomplaining face accepts it! You need say nothing about this letter. I will talk about Leonard with my father when I get home.

'Ever yours,

'Thomas May.'

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