Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Scenes and Characters online

. (page 10 of 20)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeScenes and Characters → online text (page 10 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


'Yes, she sings very well. I cannot think why you never told me they
were living here.'

'Because you never honour us with your correspondence,' said Emily;
'if you had vouchsafed to write to your sisters you could not have
escaped hearing of the Westons.'

'And has Mr. Weston given up the law?'

'No, he only came home in the vacation,' said Emily. 'Did you know
they had lost two daughters?'

'I saw it in the paper. Emma and Lucy were nice girls, but not equal
to Miss Weston. What a shock to Mrs. Weston!'

'Yes, she quite lost her health, and the doctors said she must move
into the country directly. Mrs. Carrington, who is some distant
connection, told them of this place, and they took it rather
hastily.'

'Do they like it?'

'Oh yes, very much!' said Emily. 'Mrs. Weston is very fond of the
garden, and drives about in the pony-carriage, and it is quite
pleasant to see how she admires the views.'

'And,' added Lily, 'Alethea walks with us, and sings with me, and
teaches at school, and knows all the poor people.'

'I must go and see those children to-morrow,' said William.

The evening passed very pleasantly; and perhaps, in truth, Captain
Mohun and his sisters were surprised to find each other so agreeable;
for, in the eyes of the young ladies, he was by far the most awful
person in the family.

When he had been last at home Harry's recent death had thrown a gloom
over the whole family, and he had especially missed him. Himself
quick, sensible, clever, and active, he was intolerant of opposite
qualities, and the principal effect of that visit to Beechcroft was
to make all the younger ones afraid of him, to discourage poor
Claude, and to give to himself a gloomy remembrance of that home
which had lost its principal charms in his mother and Harry.

He had now come home rather from a sense of duty than an expectation
of pleasure, and he was quite surprised to find how much more
attractive the New Court had become. Emily and Lilias were now
conversible and intelligent companions, better suited to him than
Eleanor had ever been, and he had himself in these four years
acquired a degree of gentleness and consideration which prevented him
from appearing so unapproachable as in days of old. This was
especially the case with regard to Claude, whose sensitive and rather
timid nature had in his childhood suffered much from William's boyish
attempts to make him manly, and as he grew older, had almost felt
himself despised; but now William appreciated his noble qualities,
and was anxious to make amends for his former unkindness.

Claude came home from Oxford, not actually ill, but in the ailing
condition in which he often was, just weak enough to give his sisters
a fair excuse for waiting upon him, and petting him all day long.
About the same time Phyllis and Adeline came back from Broomhill, and
there was great joy at the New Court at the news that Mrs.
Hawkesworth was the happy mother of a little boy.

Claude was much pleased by being asked by Eleanor to be godfather to
his little nephew, whose name was to be Henry. Perhaps he hoped,
what Lilias was quite sure of, that Eleanor did not think him
unworthy to stand in Harry's place.

The choice of the other sponsors did not meet with universal
approbation. Emily thought it rather hard that Mr. Hawkesworth's
sister, Mrs. Ridley, should have been chosen before herself, and both
she and Ada would have greatly preferred either Lord Rotherwood, Mr.
Devereux, or William, to Mr. Ridley, while Phyllis had wanderings of
her own how Claude could be godfather without being present at the
christening.

One evening Claude was writing his answer to Eleanor, sitting at the
sofa table where a small lamp was burning. Jane, attracted by its
bright and soft radiance, came and sat down opposite to him with her
work.

'What a silence!' said Lily, after about a quarter of an hour.

'What made you start, Jane?' said William.

'Did I?' said Jane.

'My speaking, I suppose,' said Lily, 'breaking the awful spell of
silence.'

'How red you look, Jane. What is the matter?' said William.

'Do I?' asked Jane, becoming still redder.

'It is holding your face down over that baby's hood,' said Emily,
'you will sacrifice the colour of your nose to your nephew.'

Claude now asked Jane for the sealing-wax, folded up his letter,
sealed it, put on a stamp, and as Jane was leaving the room at
bedtime, said, 'Jenny, my dear, as you go by, just put that letter in
the post-bag.'

Jane obeyed, and left the room. Claude soon after took the letter
out of the bag, went to Emily's door, listened to ascertain that Jane
was not there, and then knocked and was admitted.

'I could not help coming,' said he, 'to tell you of the trap in which
Brownie has been caught.'

'Ah!' said Lily, 'I fancied I saw her peeping slyly at your letter.'

'Just so,' said Claude, 'and I hope she has experienced the truth of
an old proverb.'

'Oh! tell us what you have said,' cried the sisters.

Claude read, 'Jane desires me to say that a hood for the baby shall
be sent in the course of a week, and she hopes that it may be worn at
the christening. I should rather say I hope it may be lost in the
transit, for assuredly the head that it covers must be infected with
something far worse than the scarlet fever - the fever of curiosity,
the last quality which I should like my godson to possess. My only
consolation is, that he will see the full deformity of the vice, as,
poor little fellow, he becomes acquainted with "that worst of
plagues, a prying maiden aunt." If Jane was simply curious, I should
not complain, but her love of investigation is not directed to what
ought to be known, but rather to find out some wretched subject for
petty scandal, to blacken every action, and to add to the weight of
every misdeed, and all for the sake of detailing her discoveries in
exchange for similar information with Mrs. Appleton, or some equally
suitable confidante.'

'Is that all?' said Lily.

'And enough, too, I hope,' said Claude.

'It ought to cure her!' cried Emily.

'Cure her!' said Claude, 'no such thing; cures are not wrought in
this way; this is only a joke, and to keep it up, I will tell you a
piece of news, which Jane must have spied out in my letter, as I had
just written it when I saw her eyes in a suspicious direction. It
was settled that Messieurs Maurice and Redgie are to go for two hours
a day, three times a week, to Mr. Stevens, during the holidays.'

'The new Stoney Bridge curate?' said Emily.

'I am very glad you are not to be bored by them,' said Lily, 'but how
they will dislike it!'

'It is very hard upon them,' said Claude, 'and I tried to prevent it,
but the Baron was quite determined. Now I will begin to talk about
this plan, and see whether Jenny betrays any knowledge of it.'

'Oh! it will be rare!' cried Lily; 'but do not speak of it before the
Baron or William.'

'Let it be at luncheon,' said Emily, 'you know they never appear. Do
you mean to send the letter?'

'Not that part of it,' said Claude, 'you see I can tear off the last
page, and it is only to add a new conclusion. Good-night.'

Jane had certainly not spent the evening in an agreeable manner; she
had not taken her seat at Claude's table with any evil designs
towards his letter, but his writing was clear and legible, and her
eye caught the word 'Maurice;' she wished to know what Claude could
be saying about him, and having once begun, she could not leave off,
especially when she saw her own name. When aware of the compliments
he was paying her, she looked at him, but his eyes were fixed on his
pen, and no smile, no significant expression betrayed that he was
aware of her observations; and even when he gave her the letter to
put into the post-bag he looked quite innocent and unconcerned. On
the other hand, she did not like to think that he had been sending
such a character of her to Eleanor in sober sadness; it was
impossible to find out whether he had sent the letter; she could not
venture to beg him to keep it back, she could only trust to his good-
nature.

At luncheon, as they had agreed, Lily began by asking where her papa
and William were gone? Claude answered, 'To Stoney Bridge, to call
upon Mr. Stevens; they mean to ask him to dine one day next week, to
be introduced to his pupils.'

'Is he an Oxford or Cambridge man?' asked Lily.

'Oxford,' exclaimed Jane, quite forgetting whence she had derived her
information, 'he is a fellow of - '

'Indeed?' said Lily; 'how do you know that?'

'Why, we have all been talking of him lately,' said Jane.

'Not I,' said Emily, 'why should he interest us?'

'Because he is to tutor the boys,' said Jane.

'When did you hear that he is to tutor the boys?' asked Lily.

'When you did, I suppose,' said Jane, blushing.

'You did, did you?' said Claude. 'I feel convinced, if so, that you
must really be what you are so often called, a changeling. I heard
it, or rather read it first at Oxford, where the Baron desired me to
make inquiries about him. You were, doubtless, looking over my
shoulder at the moment. This is quite a discovery. We shall have to
perform a brewery of egg-shells this evening, and put the elf to
flight with a red-hot poker, and what a different sister Jane we
shall recover, instead of this little mischief-making sprite, so
quiet, so reserved, never intruding her opinion, showing constant
deference to all her superiors - yes, and to her inferiors, shutting
her eyes to the faults of others, and when they come before her,
trying to shield the offender from those who regard them as merely
exciting news.'

Claude's speech had become much more serious than he intended, and he
felt quite guilty when he had finished, so that it was not at all an
undesirable interruption when Phyllis and Adeline asked for the story
of the brewery of egg-shells.

Emily and Lilias kindly avoided looking at Jane, who, after fidgeting
on her chair and turning very red, succeeded in regaining outward
composure. She resolved to let the matter die away, and think no
more about it.

When Mr. Mohun and William came home, they brought the news that Lady
Rotherwood had invited the whole party to dinner.

'I am very glad we are allowed to see them,' said Emily, 'I am quite
tired of being shut up.'

'If it was not for the Westons we might as well live in Nova Zembla,'
said Jane.

'I am glad you damsels should know a little more of Florence,' said
Mrs. Mohun.

'Yes,' said Claude, 'cousins were made to be friends.'

'In that case one ought to be able to choose them,' said William.

'And know them,' said Emily. 'We have not seen Florence since she
was eleven years old.'

'Cousin or not,' said Lilias, 'Florence can hardly be so much my
friend as Alethea.'

'Right, Lily,' said William, 'stand up for old friends against all
the cousins in the universe.'

'Has Alethea a right to be called an old friend?' said Emily; 'does
three quarters of a year make friendship venerable?'

'No one can deny that she is a tried friend,' said Lilias.

'But pray, good people,' said Claude, 'what called forth those vows
of eternal constancy? why was my innocent general observation
construed into an attack upon Miss Weston?'

'Because there is something invidious in your tone,' said Lily.

'What kind of girl is that Florence?' asked William.

'Oh! a nice, lively, pleasant girl,' said Claude.

'I cannot make out what her pursuits are,' said Lily; 'Rotherwood
never talks of her reading anything.'

'She has been governessed and crammed till she is half sick of all
reading,' said Claude, 'of all study - ay, and all accomplishments.'

'So that is the friend you recommend, Lily!' said William.

'Well, Claude, that is what I call a great shame,' said Emily.

'Stay,' said Claude, 'you have heard but half my story, I say that
this is the reaction. Florence has no lack of sense, and if you
young ladies are wise, you may help her to find the use of it.'

Claude's further opinion did not transpire, as dinner was announced,
and nothing more was said about Lady Florence till the girls had an
opportunity of judging for themselves. She had a good deal of her
brother's vivacity, with gentleness and grace, which made her very
engaging, and her perfect recollection of the New Court, and of
childish days, charmed her cousins. Lady Rotherwood was very kind
and affectionate, and held out hopes of many future meetings. The
next day Maurice and Reginald came home from school, bringing a
better character for diligence than usual, on which they founded
hopes that the holidays would be left to their own disposal. They
were by no means pleased with the arrangement made with Mr. Stevens
and most unwillingly did they undertake the expedition to Stony
Bridge, performing the journey in a very unsociable manner. Maurice
was no horseman, and chose to jog on foot through three miles of
lane, while Reginald's pony cantered merrily along, its master's head
being intent upon the various winter sports in which William and Lord
Rotherwood allowed him to share. Little did Maurice care for such
diversions; he was, as Adeline said, studying another 'apology.'
This time it was phrenology, for which the cropped heads of Lilias
and Jane afforded unusual facility. There was, however, but a
limited supply of heads willing to be fingered, and Maurice returned
to the most abiding of his tastes, and in an empty room at the Old
Court laboured assiduously to find the secret of perpetual motion.

A few days before Christmas Rachel Harvey again took leave of
Beechcroft, with a promise that she would make them another visit
when Eleanor came home. Before she went she gave Emily a useful
caution, telling her it was not right to trust her keys out of her
own possession. It was what Miss Mohun never would have done, she
had never once committed them even to Rachel.

'With due deference to Eleanor,' said Emily, with her winning smile,
'we must allow that that was being over cautious.'

Rachel smiled, but her lecture was not averted by the compliment.

'It might have been very well since you have known me, Miss Emily,
but I do not know what would have come of it, if I had been too much
trusted when I was a giddy young thing like Esther; that girl comes
of a bad lot, and if anything is to be made of her, it is by keeping
temptation out of her way, and not letting her be with that mother of
hers.'

Rachel had rather injured the effect of her advice by behaving too
like a mistress during her visit; Emily had more than once wished
that all servants were not privileged people, and she was more
offended than convinced by the remonstrance.



CHAPTER XIV - CHRISTMAS



'Slee, sla, slud,
Stuck in the mud,
O! it is pretty to wade through a flood,
Come, wheel round,
The dirt we have found,
Would he an estate at a farthing a pound.'

Lily's illness interrupted her teaching at the village school for
many weeks, and she was in no great haste to resume it. Alethea
Weston seemed to enjoy doing all that was required, and Lily left it
in her hands, glad to shut her eyes as much as possible to the
disheartening state the parish had been in ever since her former
indiscretion.

The approach of Christmas, however, made it necessary for her to
exert herself a little more, and her interest in parish matters
revived as she distributed the clothing-club goods, and in private
conference with each good dame, learnt the wants of her family. But
it was sad to miss several names struck out of the list for non-
attendance at church; and when Mrs. Eden came for her child's
clothing, Lily remarked that the articles she chose were unlike those
of former years, the cheapest and coarsest she could find.

St. Thomas's day was marked by the custom, called at Beechcroft
'gooding.' Each mother of a family came to all the principal houses
in the parish to receive sixpence, towards providing a Christmas
dinner, and it was Lily's business to dispense this dole at the New
Court. With a long list of names and a heap of silver before her,
she sat at the oaken table by the open chimney in the hall, returning
a nod or a smiling greeting to the thanks of the women as they came,
one by one, to receive the little silver coins, and warm themselves
by the glowing wood fire.

Pleasant as the task was at first, it ended painfully. Agnes Eden
appeared, in order to claim the double portion allotted to her
mother, as a widow. This was the first time that Mrs. Eden had asked
for the gooding-money, and Lily knew that it was a sign that she must
be in great distress. Agnes made her a little courtesy, and crept
away again as soon as she had received her shilling; but Mrs. Grey,
who was Mrs. Eden's neighbour, had not quite settled her penny-club
affairs, and remained a little longer. An unassuming and lightly-
principled person was Mrs. Grey, and Lily enjoyed a talk with her,
while she was waiting for the purple stuff frock which Jane was
measuring off for Kezia. They spoke of the children, and of a few
other little matters, and presently something was said about Mrs.
Eden; Lily asked if the blacksmith helped her.

'Oh! no, Miss Lilias, he will do nothing for her while she sends her
child to school and to church. He will not speak to her even. Not a
bit of butter, nor a morsel of bacon, has been in her house since
Michaelmas, and what she would have done if it was not for Mr.
Devereux and Mrs. Weston, I cannot think.'

Lilias, much shocked by this account of the distress into which she
and Jane had been the means of bringing the widow, reported it to her
father and to the Rector; entreating the former to excuse her rent,
which he willingly promised to do, and also desired his daughters to
give her a blanket, and tell her to come to dine house whenever any
broth was to be given away. Mr. Devereux, who already knew of her
troubles, and allowed her a small sum weekly, now told his cousins
how much the Greys had assisted her. Andrew Grey had dug up and
housed her winter's store of potatoes, he had sought work for her,
and little Agnes often shared the meals of his children. The Greys
had a large family, very young, so that all that they did for her was
the fruit of self-denial. Innumerable were the kindnesses which they
performed unknown to any but the widow and her child. More, by a
hundred times, did they assist her, than the thoughtless girls who
had occasioned her sufferings, though Lily was not the only one who
felt that nothing was too much for them to do. Nothing, perhaps,
would have been too much, except to bear her in mind and steadily aid
her in little things; but Lily took no account of little things,
talked away her feelings, and thus all her grand resolutions produced
almost nothing. Lord Rotherwood sent Mrs. Eden a sovereign, the
girls newly clothed little Agnes, Phyllis sometimes carried her the
scraps of her dinner, Mrs. Eden once came to work at the New Court,
and a few messes of broth were given to her, but in general she was
forgotten, and when remembered, indolence or carelessness too often
prevented the Miss Mohuns from helping her. In Emily's favourite
phrase, each individual thing was 'not worth while.'

When Lilias did think it 'worth while,' she would do a great deal
upon impulse, sometimes with more zeal than discretion, as she proved
by an expedition which she took on Christmas Eve. Mr. Mohun did not
allow the poor of the village to depend entirely on the gooding for
their Christmas dinner, but on the 24th of December a large mess of
excellent beef broth was prepared at the New Court, and distributed
to all his own labourers, and the most respectable of the other
cottagers.

In the course of the afternoon Lily found that one portion had not
been given out. It was that which was intended for the Martins, a
poor old rheumatic couple, who lived at South End, the most distant
part of the parish. Neither of them could walk as far as the New
Court, and most of their neighbours had followed Farmer Gage, and had
therefore been excluded from the distribution, so that there was no
one to send. Lily, therefore, resolved herself to carry the broth to
them, if she could find an escort, which was not an easy matter, as
the frost had that morning broken up, and a good deal of snow and
rain had been falling in the course of the day. In the hall she met
Reginald, just turned out of Maurice's workshop, and much at a loss
for employment.

'Redgie,' said she, 'you can do me a great kindness.'

'If it is not a bore,' returned Reginald.

'I only want you to walk with me to South End.'

'Eh?' said Reginald; 'I thought the little Misses were too delicate
to put their dear little proboscises outside the door.'

'That is the reason I ask you; I do not think Emily or Jane would
like it, and it is too far for Claude. Those poor old Martins have
not got their broth, and there is no one to fetch it for them.'

'Then do not be half an hour putting on your things.'

'Thank you; and do not run off, and make me spend an hour in hunting
for you, and then say that I made you wait.'

'I will wait fast enough. You are not so bad as Emily,' said
Reginald, while Lily ran upstairs to equip herself. When she came
down, she was glad to find her escort employed in singeing the end of
the tail of the old rocking-horse at the fire in the hall, so that
she was not obliged to seek him in the drawing-room, where her plans
would probably have met with opposition. She had, however,
objections to answer from an unexpected quarter. Reginald was much
displeased when she took possession of the pitcher of broth.

'I will not walk with such a thing as that,' said he, 'it makes you
look like one of the dirty girls in the village.'

'Then you ought, like the courteous Rinaldo, to carry it for me,'
said Lily.

'I touch the nasty thing! Faugh! Throw it into the gutter, Lily.'

He made an attempt to dispose of it in that manner, which it required
all Lily's strength to withstand, as well as an imploring 'Now,
Redgie, think of the poor old people. Remember, you have promised.'

'Promised! I never promised to walk with a greasy old pitcher. What
am I to do if we meet Miss Weston?'

Lily contrived to overcome Reginald's refined notions sufficiently to
make him allow her to carry the pitcher; and when he had whistled up
two of the dogs, they proceeded merrily along the road, dirty and wet
though it was. Their walk was not entirely without adventures;
first, they had to turn back in the path by the river side, which
would have saved them half a mile, but was now flooded. Then, as
they were passing through a long lane, which led them by Edward
Gage's farm, a great dog rushed out of the yard, and fell upon the
little terrier, Viper. Old Neptune flew to the rescue, and to the
great alarm of Lily, Reginald ran up with a stick; happily, however,
a labourer at the same time came out with a pitchfork, and beat off
the enemy. These two delays, together with Reginald's propensity for
cutting sticks, and for breaking ice, made it quite late when they
arrived at South End. When there, they found that a kind neighbour
had brought the old people their broth in the morning, and intended
to go for her own when she came home from her work in the evening.
It was not often that Lily went to South End; the old people were
delighted to see her, and detained her for some time by a long story
about their daughter at service, while Reginald looked the picture of
impatience, drumming on his knee, switching the leg of the table, and
tickling Neptune's ears. When they left the cottage it was much
later and darker than they had expected; but Lily was unwilling again
to encounter the perils of the lane, and consulted her brother
whether there was not some other way. He gave notice of a cut across
some fields, which would take them into the turnpike road, and Lily
agreeing, they climbed over a gate into a pathless turnip field.
Reginald strode along first, calling to the dogs, while Lily
followed, abstaining from dwelling on the awkward circumstance that
every step she took led her farther from home, and rejoicing that it
was so dark that she could not see the mud which plastered the edge
of her petticoats. After plodding through three very long fields,
they found themselves shut in by a high hedge and tall ditch.

'That fool of a farmer!' cried Reginald.

'What is to be done?' said Lily, disconsolately.

'There is the road,' said Reginald. 'How do you propose to get into
it?'

'There was a gap here last summer,' said the boy.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeScenes and Characters → online text (page 10 of 20)