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

   Chapter 28 No.28

The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 34413

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Tender as woman; manliness and meekness

In him were so allied,

That those who judged him by his strength or weakness,

Knew but a single side.-J. WHITTIER

It promised to be a brilliant Christmas at Stoneborough, though little Dickie regarded the feast coming in winter as a perverse English innovation, and was grand on the superiority of supple jack above holly. Decorations had been gradually making their way into the Minster, and had advanced from being just tolerated to being absolutely delighted in; but Dr. Spencer, with his knack of doing everything, was sorely missed as a head, and Mr. Wilmot insisted that the May forces should come down and work the Minster, on the 23rd, leaving the Eve for the adornment of Cocksmoor, after the return of its incumbent. Mary, always highly efficient in that line, joined them; and Leonard's handiness and dexterity in the arts relating to carpentry were as quietly useful as little Dickie's bright readiness in always handing whatever was wanting.

The work was pretty well over, when Aubrey, who had just arrived with leave for a week, came down, and made it desultory. Dickie, whose imagination had been a good deal occupied by his soldier uncle, wanted to study him, and Gertrude was never steady when Aubrey was near. Presently it was discovered that the door to the tower stair was open. The ascent of the tower was a feat performed two or three times in a lifetime at Stoneborough. Harry had once beguiled Ethel and Mary up, but Gertrude had never gone, and was crazy to go, as was likewise Dickie. Moreover, Aubrey and Gertrude insisted that it was only proper that Ethel should pay her respects to her prototype the gurgoyle, they wanted to compare her with him, and ordered her up; in fact their spirits were too high for them to be at ease within the church, and Ethel, maugre her thirty years, partook of the exhilaration enough to delight in an extraordinary enterprise, and as nothing remained but a little sweeping up, they left this to the superintendence of Mary and Mr. Wilmot, and embarked upon the narrow crumbling steps of the spiral stair, that led up within an unnatural thickening of one of the great piers that supported the tower, at the intersection of nave and transepts. After a long period of dust and darkness, and the monotony of always going with the same leg foremost, came a narrow door, leading to the ringers' region, with all their ropes hanging down. Ethel was thankful when she had got her youngsters past without an essay on them; she doubted if she should have succeeded, but for Leonard's being an element of soberness. Other little doors ensued, leading out to the various elevations of roof, which were at all sorts of different heights, the chancel lower than the nave, and one transept than the other; besides that the nave had both triforium and clerestory. It was a sort of labyrinth, and they wondered whether any one, except perhaps the plumber's foreman knew his way among all the doors. Then there was one leading inwards to the eight bells-from whose fascinations Ethel thought Dickie never would be taken away-and still more charming, to the clock, which clanged a tremendous three, as they were in the act of looking at it, causing Leonard to make a great start, and then colour painfully. It was hard to believe, as Daisy said, that the old tower, that looked so short and squat below, could be so very high when you came to go up it; but the glimpses of the country, through the little loop-hole windows, were most inviting. At last, Aubrey, who was foremost, pushed up the trap-door, and emerged; but, as Dickie followed him, exclaimed, 'Here we are; but you ladies in crinolines will never follow! You'll stick fast for ever, and Leonard can't pass, so there you'll all have to stay.'

'Aunt Daisy will sail away like a balloon,' added Dickie, roguishly, looking back at her, and holding on his cap.

But Gertrude vigorously compressed her hoop, and squeezed through, followed by Ethel and Leonard. There was a considerable space, square, leaded and protected by the battlemented parapet, with a deep moulding round, and a gutter resulting in the pipe smoked by Ethel's likeness, the gurgoyle. Of course the first thing Dickie and Aubrey did was to look for the letters that commemorated the ascent of H. M., E. M., M. M., in 1852; and it was equally needful that R. R. M., if nobody else, should likewise leave a record on the leads. There was an R. M. of 1820, that made it impossible to gainsay him. The view was not grand in itself, but there was a considerable charm in looking down on the rooks in their leafless trees, cawing over their old nests, and in seeing the roofs of the town; far away, too, the gray Welsh hills, and between, the country lying like a map, with rivers traced in light instead of black. Leonard stood still, his face turned towards the greenest of the meadows, and the river where it dashed over the wheel of a mill.

'Have you seen it again?' asked Ethel, as she stood by him, and watched his eye.

'No. I am rather glad to see it first from so far off,' he answered, 'I mean to walk over some day.'

'Ethel,' called Gertrude, 'is this your gurgoyle? His profile, as seen from above, isn't flattering.'

'O, Daisy, don't lean over so far.'

'Quite safe;' but at that instant a gust of wind caught her hat, she grasped at it, but only saved it from whirling away, and made it fall short. 'There, Ethel, your image has put on my hat; and henceforth will appear to the wondering city in a black hat and feather!'

'I'll get it,' exclaimed the ever ready Dickie; and in another moment he had mounted the parapet and was reaching for it. Whether it were Gertrude's shriek, or the natural recoil away from the grasping hand, or that his hold on the side of the adjoining pinnacle was insecure, he lost his balance, and with a sudden cry, vanished from their eyes.

The frightful consternation of that moment none of those four could ever bear to recall; the next, they remembered that he could only fall as far as the roof, but it was Ethel and Leonard alone who durst press to the parapet, and at the same moment a cry came up-

'Oh, come! I'm holding on, but it cuts! Oh, come!'

Ethel saw, some five-and-twenty feet below, the little boy upon the transept roof, a smooth slope of lead, only broken by a skylight, a bit of churchwarden's architecture still remaining. The child had gone crashing against the window, and now lay back clinging to its iron frame. Behind him was the entire height within to the church floor, before him a rapid slope, ended by a course of stone, wide enough indeed to walk on, but too narrow to check the impetus from slipping down the inclination above. Ethel's brain swam; she just perceived that both Aubrey and Leonard had disappeared, and then had barely power to support Gertrude, who reeled against her, giddy with horror. 'Oh look, look, Ethel,' she cried; 'I can't. Where is he?'

'There! Yes, hold on, Dickie, they are coming. Look up-not down-hold on!'

A door opened, and out dashed Aubrey! Alas! it was on the nave clerestory; he might as well have been a hundred, miles off. Another door, and Leonard appeared, and on the right level, but with a giddy unguarded ridge on which to pass round the angle of the tower. She saw his head pass safely round, but, even then, the horror was not over. Could he steady himself sufficiently to reach the child, or might not Dickie lose hold too soon? It was too close below for sight, the moulding and gurgoyle impeded her agonized view, but she saw the child's look of joyful relief, she heard the steady voice, 'Wait, don't let go yet. There,' and after a few more sounds, came up a shout, 'all right!' Infinitely relieved, she had to give her whole attention to poor Gertrude, who, overset by the accident, giddy with the attempt to look over, horrified by the danger, confused and distressed by the hair that came wildly flapping about her head and face, and by the puffs of wind at her hoop, had sunk down in the centre of the little leaden square, clinging with all her might to the staff of the weathercock, and feeling as if the whole tower were rocking with her, absolutely seeing the battlements dance. How was she ever to be safely got down the rickety ladder leading to the crumbling stone stair? Ethel knelt by her, twisted up the fluttering hair, bade her shut her eyes and compose her thoughts, and then called over the battlements to Aubrey, who, confused by the shock, continued to emerge at wrong doors and lose himself on the roofs, and was like one in a bad dream, nearly as much dizzied as his sister, to whose help he came the more readily, as the way up was the only one plain before him.

The detention would have been more dreadful to Ethel had she known all that was passing below, and that when the little boy, at Leonard's sign, lowered himself towards the out-reaching arms of the young man, who was steadying himself against the wall of the tower, it was with a look of great pain, and leaving a trail of blood behind him. When, at length, he stood at the angle, Leonard calmly said, 'Now go before me, round that corner, in at the door. Hold by the wall, I'll hold your shoulder.' The boy implicitly obeyed, the notion of giddiness never seemed to occur to him, and both safely came to the little door, on the threshold of which Leonard sat down, and lifting him on his knee, asked where he was hurt? 'My leg,' said Dickie, 'the glass was running in all the time, and I could not move; but it does not hurt so much now.'

Perhaps not; but a large piece of glass had broken into the slender little calf, and Leonard steadied himself to withdraw it, as, happily, the fragment was large enough to give a hold for his hand. The sensible little fellow, without a word, held up the limb across Leonard's knee, and threw an arm round his neck, to hold himself still, just saying, 'Thank you,' when it was over.

'Did it hurt much, Dickie?'

'Not very much,' he answered; 'but how it bleeds! Where's Aunt Ethel?'

'On the tower. She will come in a moment,' said Leonard, startled by the exceeding flow of blood, and binding the gash round with his handkerchief. 'Now, I'll carry you down.'

The boy did not speak all the weary winding way down the dark stairs; but Leonard heard gasps of oppression, and felt the head lean on his shoulder; moreover, a touch convinced him that the handkerchief was soaking, nay dripping, and when he issued at length into the free air of the church, the face was deadly white. No one was near, and Leonard laid him on a bench. He was still conscious, and looked up with languid eyes. 'Mayn't I go home?' he said, faintly; 'Aunt Ethel!'

'Let me try to stop this bleeding first,' said Leonard. 'My dear little man, if you will only be quiet, I think I can.'

Leonard took the handkerchief from his throat, and wound it to its tightest just above the hurt, Dickie remonstrating for a moment with, 'That's not the place. It is too tight.'

'It will cut off the blood from coming,' said Leonard; and in the same understanding way, the child submitted, feebly asking, 'Shall I bleed to death? Mamma will be so sorry!'

'I trust-I hope not,' said Leonard; he durst utter no encouragement, for the life-blood continued to pour forth unchecked, and the next murmur was, 'I'm so sick. I can't say my prayers. Papa! Mamma!' Already, however, Leonard had torn down a holly bough, and twisted off (he would have given worlds for a knife) a short stout stick, which he thrust into one of the folds of the ligature, and pulled it much tighter, so that his answer was, 'Thank God, Dickie, that will do! the bleeding has stopped. You must not mind if it hurts for a little while.'

An ejaculation of 'Poor little dear,' here made him aware of the presence of the sexton's wife; but in reply to her offer to carry him in to Mrs. Cheviot's, Dickie faintly answered, 'Please let me go home;' and Leonard, 'Yes, I will take him home. Tell Miss May it is a cut from the glass, I am taking him to have it dressed, and will bring him home. Now, my dear little patient fellow, can you put your arms round my neck?'

Sensible, according to both meanings of the word, Dickie clasped his friend's neck, and laid his head on his shoulder, not speaking again till he found Leonard was not turning towards the High Street, when he said, 'That is not the way home.'

'No, Dickie, but we must get your leg bound up directly, and the hospital is the only place where we can be sure of finding any one to do it. I will take you home directly afterwards.'

'Thank you,' said the courteous little gentleman; and in a few minutes more Leonard had rung the bell, and begged the house surgeon would come at once to Dr. May's grandson. A few drops of stimulant much revived Dickie, and he showed perfect trust and composure, only holding Leonard's hands, and now and then begging to know what they were doing, while he was turned over on his face for the dressing of the wound, bearing all without a sound, except an occasional sobbing gasp, accompanied by a squeeze of Leonard's finger. Just as this business had been completed, the surgeon exclaimed, 'There's Dr. May's step,' and Dickie at once sat up, as his grandfather hurried in, nearly as pale as the boy himself. 'O, grandpapa, never mind, it is almost well now; and has Aunt Daisy got her hat?'

'What is it, my dear? what have you been doing?' said the Doctor, looking in amazement from the boy to Leonard, who was covered with blood. 'They told me you had fallen off the Minster tower!'

'Yes I did,' said Dickie; 'I reached after Aunt Daisy's hat, but I fell on the roof, and I was sliding, sliding down to the wall, but there was a window, and the glass broke and cut me, but I got my feet against the bottom of it, and held on by the iron bar, till Leonard came and took me down;' and he lay back on the pillow, quiet and exhausted, but bright-eyed and attentive as ever, listening to Leonard's equally brief version of the adventure.

'Didn't he save my life, grandpapa?' said the boy, at the close.

'Twice over, you may say,' added the surgeon, and his words as to the nature of the injury manifested that all had depended on the immediate stoppage of the haemorrhage. With so young a child, delay from indecision or want of resource would probably have been fatal.

'There would have been no doing anything, if this little man had not been so good and sensible,' said Leonard, leaning over him.

'And I did not cry. You will tell papa I did not cry,' said Dickie, eagerly, but only half gratified by such girlish treatment as that agitated kiss of his grandfather, after being a little bit of a hero; but then Dickie's wondering eyes really beheld such another kiss bestowed over his head upon Leonard, and quite thought there were tears on grandpapa's cheeks. Perhaps old gentlemen could do what was childish in little boys.

Dickie was to be transported home. He wished to be carried by Leonard, but the brougham was at the door, and he had to content himself with being laid on the seat, with his friend to watch over him, the Doctor pointing out that Leonard was a savage spectacle for the eyes of Stoneborough, and hurrying home by the short cut. Ethel met him in extreme alarm. Gertrude's half-restored senses had been totally scattered by the sight of the crimson traces on the spot of Leonard's operations, and she had been left to Mary's care; while Ethel and Aubrey had hastened home, and not finding any one there, the latter had dashed off to Bankside, whilst Ethel waited, arranging the little fellow's bed, and trying to trust to Leonard's message, and not let her mind go back to that fearful day of like waiting, sixteen years ago, nor on to what she might have to write to Norman and Meta of the charge they had sent to her. Her father's cheerful face at first was a pang, and then came the rebound of gladness at the words. 'He is coming. No fear for him, gallant little man-thanks for God's mercy, and to that noble fellow, Leonard.'

At the same moment Aubrey burst in-'No one at Wright's-won't be in no one knows how long! What is to become of us?' And he sank down on a chair.

'Ay, what would become of any of us, if no one had a better pate than yours, sir?' said Dr. May. 'You have one single perfection, and you had better make the most of it-that of knowing how to choose your friends. There's the carriage.'

After a moment's delay, the cushion was lifted out with the little wounded cavalier, still like a picture; for, true to his humming-bird nature, a few scarcely-conscious movements of his hands had done away with looks of disarray-the rich glossy curls were scarcely disordered, and no stains of blood had adhered to the upper part of his small person, whereas Leonard was a ghastly spectacle from head to foot.

'So, Master Dicky-bird,' said Dr. May, as they rested him a moment on the hall-table, 'give me that claw of yours. Yes, you'll do very well, only you must go to bed now; and, mind, whatever you did when you were in Fairy-land, we don't fly here in Stoneborough-and i

t does not answer.'

'I am not to go to bed for being naughty, am I?' said Dickie, his brave white lip for the first time quivering; 'indeed, I did not know it was wrong.'

The poor little man's spirits were so exhausted, that the reassurance on this head absolutely brought the much-dreaded tears into his eyes; and he could only be carried up gently to his bed, and left to be undressed by his aunt, so great an aggravation to the troubles of this small fragment of independence, that it had almost overset his courtesy and self-command. There was no contenting him till he had had all traces of the disaster washed from face and hands, and the other foot; and then, over his tea, though his little clear chirrup was weak, he must needs give a lucid description of Leonard's bandaging, in the midst of which came a knock at the door, and a gasping voice-'I'll be quite quiet-indeed I will! Only just let me come in and kiss him, and see that he is safe.'

'O, Auntie Daisy, have you got your hat?'

Wan, tear-stained, dishevelled, Gertrude bit her lip to save an outburst, gave the stipulated kiss, and retreated to Mary, who stood in the doorway like a dragon.

'Auntie Daisy has been crying,' said Dickie, turning his eyes back to Ethel. 'Please tell her I shall be well very soon, and then I'll go up again and try to get her hat, if I may have a hook and line-I'll tell you how.'

'My dear Dickie, you had better lie down, and settle it as you go to sleep,' said Ethel, her flesh creeping at the notion of his going up again.

'But if I go to sleep now, I shall not know when to say my prayers.'

'Had you not better do so now, Dickie?'

Next came the child's scruple about not kneeling; but at last he was satisfied, if Aunt Ethel would give him his little book out of the drawer-that little delicately-illuminated book with the pointed writing and the twisted cipher, Meta's hand in every touch. Presently he looked up, and said: 'Aunt Ethel, isn't there a verse somewhere about giving the angels charge? I want you to find it for me, for I think they helped me to hold on, and helped Leonard upon the narrow place. You know they are sure to be flying about the church.'

Ethel read the ninety-first Psalm to him. He listened all through, and thanked her; but in a few minutes more he was fast asleep. As she left the room she met Leonard coming down and held out her hands to him with a mute intensity of thanks, telling him, in a low voice, what Dickie had said of the angels' care.

'I am sure it was true,' said Leonard. 'What else could have saved the brave child from dizziness?'

Down-stairs Leonard's reception from Dr. May was, 'Pretty well for a nervous man!'

'Anybody can do what comes to hand.'

'I beg your pardon. Some bodies lose their wits, like your friend Aubrey, who tells me, if he had stood still, he would have fainted away. As long as nerves can do what comes to hand, they need not be blamed, even if they play troublesome tricks at other times, as I suspect they are doing now.'

'Yes; my face is aching a little.'

'Not to say a great deal,' said the Doctor. 'Well, I am not going to pity you; for I think you can feel to-day that most of us would be glad to be in your place!'

'I am very glad,' said Leonard.

'You remember that child's parents? No, you have grown so old, that I am always forgetting what a boy you ought to be; but if you had ever seen the tenderness of his father, and that sunbeam of a Meta, you would know all the more how we bless you for what you have spared them. Leonard, if anything had been needed to do so, you have won to yourself such a brother in Norman as you have in Aubrey!'

Meantime Ethel was soothing Gertrude, to whom the shock had been in proportion to the triumphal heights of her careless gaiety. Charles Cheviot had come in while his wife was restoring her; and he had plainly said what no one else would have intimated to the spoilt darling-that the whole accident had been owing to her recklessness, and that he had always expected some fatal consequences to give her a lesson!

Gertrude had been fairly cowed by such unwonted treatment; and when he would only take her home on condition of composure and self-command, her trembling limbs obliged her to accept his arm, and he subdued her into meek silence, and repression of all agitation, till she was safe in her room, when she took a little bit of revenge upon Mary by crying her heart out, and declaring it was very cruel of Charles, when she did not mean it.

And Mary, on her side, varied between assurances that Charles did not mean it, and that he was quite right-the sister now predominating in her, and now the wife.

'Mean what?' said Ethel, sitting down among them before they were aware.

'That-that it was all my fault!' burst out Gertrude. 'If it was, I don't see what concern it is of his!'

'But, Daisy dear, he is your brother!'

'I've got plenty of brothers of my own! I don't count those people-in-law-'

'She's past reasoning with, Mary,' said Ethel. 'Leave her to me; she will come to her senses by and by!'

'But indeed, Ethel, you won't be hard on her? I am sure dear Charles never thought what he said would have been taken in this way.'

'Why did he say it then?' cried Gertrude, firing up.

'My dear Mary, do please go down, before we get into the pitiable last-word condition!'

That condition was reached already; but in Ethel's own bed-room Mary's implicit obedience revived, and away she went, carrying off with her most of what was naughtiness in Gertrude.

'Ethel-Ethel dear!' cried she at once, 'I know you are coming down on me. I deserve it all, only Charles had no business to say it. And wasn't it very cruel and unkind when he saw the state I was in?'

'I suppose Charles thought it was the only chance of giving a lesson, and therefore true kindness. Come, Daisy, is this terrible fit of pride a proper return for such a mercy as we have had to-day?'

'If I didn't say so to myself a dozen times on the way home!-only Mary came and made me so intolerably angry, by expecting me to take it as if it had come from you or papa.'

'Ah, Daisy, that is the evil! If I had done my duty by you all, this would not have been!'

'Now, Ethel, when you want to be worse, and more cutting than anything, you go and tell me my faults are yours! For pity's sake, don't come to that!'

'But I must, Daisy, for it is true. Oh, if you had only been a naughty little girl!'

'What-and had it out then?' said Daisy, who was lying across the bed, and put her golden head caressingly on Ethel's knee. 'If I had plagued you then, you would have broken me in out of self-defence.'

'Something like it,' said Ethel. 'But you know, Daisy, the little last treasure that mamma left did always seem something we could not make enough of, and it didn't make you fractious or tiresome-at least not to us-till we thought you could not be spoilt. And then I didn't see the little faults so soon as I ought; and I'm only an elder sister, after all, without any authority.'

'No, you're not to say that, Ethel, I mind your authority, and always will. You are never a bother.'

'Ah, that's it, Daisy! If I had only been a bother, you might never have got ahead of yourself.'

'Then you really think, like Charles Cheviot, that it was my doing, Ethel?'

'What do you think yourself?'

Great tears gathered in the corners of the blue eyes. Was it weak in Ethel not to bear the sight?

'My poor Daisy,' she said, 'yours is not all the burden! I ought not to have taken up such a giddy company, or else I should have kept the boy under my hand. But he is so discreet and independent, that it is more like having a gentleman staying in the house, than a child under one's charge; and one forgets how little he is; and I was as much off my balance with spirits as you. It was the flightiness of us all; and we have only to be thankful, and to be sobered for another time. I am afraid the pride about being reproved is really the worse fault.'

'And what do you want me to do?-to go and tell papa all about it? I mean to do that, of course; it is the only way to get comforted.'

'Of course it is; but-'

'You horrid creature, Ethel! I'll never say you aren't a bother again. You really do want me to go and tell Charles Cheviot that he was quite right, and Mary that I'm ready to be trampled on by all my brothers-in-law in a row! Well, there won't be any more. You'll never give me one-that's one comfort!' said Gertrude, wriggling herself up, and flinging an arm round Ethel's neck. 'As long as you don't do that, I'll do anything for you.'

'Not for me.'

'Well, you know that, you old thing! only you might take it as a personal compliment. I really will do it; for, of course, one could not keep one's Christmas otherwise!' It was rather too business-like; but elders are often surprised to find what was a hard achievement in their time a matter of course to their pupils-almost lightly passed over.

Dickie slept till morning, when he was found very pale, but lively and good-humoured as ever. Mr. Wright, coming up to see him, found the hurt going on well, and told Ethel, that if she could keep him in bed and undisturbed for the day, it would be better and safer; but that if he became restless and fretful, there would be no great risk in taking him to a sofa. Restless and fretful! Mr. Wright little knew the discretion, or the happy power of accommodation to circumstances, that had descended to Meta's firstborn.

He was quite resigned as soon as the explanation had been made-perhaps, indeed, there was an instinctive sense, that to be dressed and moved would be fatiguing; but he had plenty of smiles and animation for his visitors, and, when propped up in bed, was full of devices for occupation. Moreover he acquired a slave; he made a regular appropriation of Leonard, whom he quickly perceived to be the most likely person to assist in his great design of constructing a model of the clock in the Minster tower, for the edification of his little brother Harry. Leonard worked away at the table by the bed-side with interest nearly equal to the child's; and when wire and cardboard were wanting, he put aside all his dislike to facing the Stoneborough streets and tradesmen in open day, and, at Dickie's request, sallied forth in quest of the materials. And when the bookseller made inquiries after the boy, Leonard, in the fulness of his heart, replied freely and in detail-nay, he was so happy in the little man's well-doing, that he was by no means disconcerted even by a full encounter of Mrs. Harvey Anderson in the street, but answered all her inquiries, in entire oblivion of all but the general rejoicing in little Dickie's wonderful escape.

'Well,' said Aubrey to his sisters, after a visit to his nephew's room, 'Dickie has the best right to him, certainly, to-day. It is an absolute appropriation! They were talking away with all their might when I came up, but came to a stop when I went in, and Master Dick sent me to the right-about.'

The truth was, that Dickie, who, with eyes and ears all alive, had gathered up some fragments of Leonard's history, had taken this opportunity of catechizing him upon it in a manner that it was impossible to elude, and which the child's pretty tact carried off, as it did many things which would not have been tolerated if done rudely and abruptly. Step by step, in the way of question and remark, he led Leonard to tell him all that had happened; and when once fairly embarked in the reminiscence, there was in it a kind of peace and pleasure. The fresh, loving, wondering sympathy of the little boy was unspeakably comforting; and besides, the bringing the facts in their simple form to the grasp of the childish mind, restored their proportion, which their terrible consequences had a good deal disturbed. They seemed to pass from the present to the historical, and to assume the balance that they took in the child's mind, coming newly upon them. It was like bathing in a clear limpid stream, that washed away the remains of morbid oppression.

'I wish mamma was here,' said the little friend, at last.

'Do you want her? Are you missing her, my dear?'

'I miss her always,' said Dickie. 'But it was not that-only mamma always makes everybody so happy; and she would be so fond of you, because you have had so much trouble.'

'But, Dickie, don't you think I am happy to be with your grandfather and aunt, and hoping to see my own sisters very soon-your aunt, who taught me what bore me through it all?'

'Aunt Ethel?' cried Dickie, considering. 'I like Aunt Ethel very much; but then she is not like mamma!'

There could be no doubt that Leonard was much better and happier after this adventure. Reluctantly, Dickie let him go back to Cocksmoor, where his services in church-decking and in singing had been too much depended on to be dispensed with; but he was to come back with Richard for the family assembly on Christmas evening.

Moreover, Gertrude, who was quite herself again, having made her peace with the Cheviots, and endured the reception of her apologies, seized on him to lay plots for a Christmas-tree, for the delectation of Dickie on his sofa, and likewise of Margaret Rivers, and of the elite of the Cocksmoor schools. He gave in to it heartily, and on the appointed day worked with great spirit at the arrangements in the dining-room, where Gertrude, favoured by the captive state of the little boy, conducted her preparations, relegating the family meals to the schoolroom.

This tree was made the occasion for furnishing Leonard with all the little appliances of personal property that had been swept away from him; and, after all, he was the most delighted of the party. The small Charlie Cheviot had to be carried off shrieking; Margaret Rivers was critical; even Cocksmoor was experienced in Christmas-trees; and Dickie, when placed in the best situation, and asked if such trees grew in New Zealand, made answer that he helped mamma to make one every year for the Maori children. It was very kind in Aunt Daisy, he added, with unfailing courtesy; but he was too zealous for his colony to be dazzled-too utilitarian to be much gratified by any of his gifts, excepting a knife of perilous excellence, which Aubrey, in contempt of Stoneborough productions, had sacrificed from his own pocket at the last moment.

Leonard and Dickie together were in a state of great delight at the little packets handed to the former; studs, purse, pencil-case, writing materials; from Hector Ernescliffe, a watch, with the entreaty that his gifts might not be regarded as unlucky; from Ethel, a photographic book, with the cartes of his own family, whose old negatives had been hunted up for the purpose; also a recent one of Dr. May with his grandson on his knee, the duplicate of which was gone to New Zealand, with the Doctor's inscription, 'The modern Cyropaedia, Astyages confounded.' There was Richard, very good, young and pretty; there was Ethel, exactly like the Doctor, 'only more so;' there was Gertrude, like nobody, not even herself, and her brothers much in the same predicament, there was the latest of Mr. Rivers's many likenesses, with the cockatoo on his wrist, and there was the least truculent and witchlike of the numerous attempts on Flora; there was Mrs. Cheviot, broad-faced and smiling over her son, and Mr. and Mrs. Ernescliffe, pinioning the limbs of their offspring, as in preparation for a family holocaust; there was Dickie's mamma, unspoilable in her loveliness even by photography, and his papa grown very bald and archidiaconal; there was Ethel's great achievement of influence, Dr. Spencer, beautiful in his white hair; there were the vicar and the late and present head-masters. The pleasure excited by all these gifts far exceeded the anticipations of their donors, it seemed as if they had fallen on the very moment when they would convey a sense of home, welcome, and restoration. He did not say much, but looked up with liquid lustrous eyes, and earnest 'thank you's,' and caressingly handled and examined the treasures over and over again, as they lay round him on Dickie's couch. 'I suppose,' said the child to him, 'it is like Job, when all his friends came to see him, and every one gave him a piece of money.'

'He could hardly have enjoyed it more,' murmured Leonard, feeling the restful capacity of happiness in the new possession of the child's ardent love, and of the kind looks of all around, above all, of the one presence that still gave him his chief sense of sunshine. The boyish and romantic touch of passion had, as Ethel had long seen, been burnt and seared away, and yet there was something left, something that, as on this evening she felt, made his voice softer, his eye more deferential, to her than to any one else. Perhaps she had once been his guiding star; and if in the wild tempests of the night he had learnt instead to direct his course by the "Brightest and best of the sons of the morning," still the star would be prized and distinguished, as the first and most honoured among inferior constellations.

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

shares