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J -

" Margaret, I came first, please look at my exer-
cise," said a little fretful voice, whilst a slate Avas
thrust forward at the imminent risk of knocking
down a well-filled, but rather unsteady, inkstand,

" Hush, Grace, be quiet ; you know I can't at-
tend to two at once. This sum is quite wrono^,
^v Harriet; very careless! — go to your room, and do
it again."

The command was given sharply, and Harriet
Percival, a meek child of about eleven years of age,
who had been vainly striving for the last half-hour
to understand Avhat was meant by " multiplying the
second and third terms together, and dividing the
product by the first," retired in despair, a few tears
falling upon her slate as she left the apartment,
and cfi'acing the only figiu-es which did not require

"Now, Grace, let me see," continued Margaret,
and she breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of
having escaped for the present from the mysteries
of the " Kul(j of Three." Grace leant ovei- the hack
of her sister's chair, and began jtlaying with lier
watch-chain ; but a sudden jerk, and an exclama-
tion of impatience, rccalii'<l her to <nder.

vor.. I. jj


" Look, just look, Margaret, Philip has made such
a great blot," she whispered.

Margaret threw down the exercise, and going up
to the cliild took the pen out of his hand, and
signed to him to go into the corner. But Philip
had a will of his own — a very strong one — and
on the present occasion it urged him to remain
where he was. Margaret ordered, but equally in
vain ; she even proceeded to take hold of him, but
her hand w^as delicate, and her strength slight.
Philip was capable of making a very fair resistance,
and a passionate burst of tears with some desperate
struggles succeeded, during which Grace amused
herself by entangling her sister's netting silk, and
scribbling on the cover of an atlas. Margaret felt
herself acting a very undignified part, but she had
no choice ; and, besides, her temper was roused, and
she was resolved to gain the victory. Philip was
at length captured ; his arms were put behind him,
and tied together, and he was lifted up on a chair
in the middle of the room as a public warning.

Margaret had not even time to smooth her collar
and arrange her hair, and her cheek was still flushed
and her eye sparkling, -when the door opened, and
a tall, very elegant girl, apparently about nineteen,
entered. That they were sisters might be seen at
once ; the family likeness was strongly marked ; but
Margaret's figure was scarcely of the middle heiglit,
and her dark complexion and rather foreign-looking
features formed a strong contrast to Agatha's
transparent skin, and fair hair. It was strange
after a minute's compai'ison that any resemblance
should be traced between them ; but there was an
,;5xpression — a curl of the lip, a turn of the liead,
which could not be mistaken. It was the Percival
manner, the stock upon which all other differences
had been grafted.


" Why are the children so noisy ? " enquired
Agatha, in a reproachful tone ; " really, Margaret,
you ought to know better than to allow them to be
so troublesome."

Margaret looked up sarcastically. "Perhaps,"
she said, " you will do me the favour to assist in
keeping order."

It did not appear that the observation was heeded,
for Agatha put up her eye-glass, and gazed round
the room in search of a book ; and when it was
found, took it and retired without offering another
word. A cloud passed over Margaret's brow ;
but it was not from ill-temper : it was from weari-
ness and self-discontent. There was a book lying
before her, and, though Grace's exercise remained
uncorrected, and Philip, in a subdued voice, asked
to be forgiven, she threw herself back in her
chair, and, yielding to a train of thought, suggested
by the words which met her eye, gave herself up
to the luxury of f\incy. It required but a short
reverie, the exercise of a faculty constantly exerted,
and Margaret was in a new world. How different
was it from the world in which she lived ! How
pure and noble even in its scenes of trial — how
raised above the reach of petty sufferings — how
blest in its recollections of the past — how bright in
its anticipations of the future ! It was earth — but
earth exalted and refined ; once more a garden of
Eden, a paradise where the peacefulness of nature
was but the type of the harmony of the spirits who
inhabited it. Margaret's heart thrilled within her —
she had not yet reached the age wlicn hope and
imagination are crushed by life's weight of care ;
she knew that it was a dream, but it was her re-
freshment, her repose, and she felt no hesitation in
indulging it. Harriet's voice was the first to break
the spell.

B 2


" Margaret, I have tried so very mneh, it will
not come right."

Margaret's exclamation was little suited to the
ideal world in which she had been dwelling. The
little girl's slate was hastily scanned ; a long line
was drawn across it nearly from the commencement
of the sum ; and, without further explanation, she
was again sent to her room.

" Shall we put the books away now, Margaret ?"
said Grace, covering the tangled netting silk with
her hand.

" Yes, directly. Be quick ; the sei^Muts will be
here to lay the cloth in a minute. Philip, you may
get dow^n : I shall give you a black mark."

Margaret wrote a large, awful looking B against
Philip*s name in the conduct book, and then, un-
tying his hands, bade him go up-stairs and make
himself tidy before dinner.

Grace busied herself in clearing the table, and in
so doing left the silk open to inspection.

" Oh, Grace ! you naughty, very naughty child ! "
w^as Margaret's exclamation, as she discovered the
difficulty in which the little girl's miscliievous habits
had placed her. " I shall speak to mamma, really
I shall : I never knew any one so tiresome."

Grace did not appear much overcome by this
threat ; she was her mother's favourite, and she
knew that she could easily make her story good
against any thing which her sister might tell.
" Mamma is coming," she said archly, and in a
lone of defiance.

Margaret gathered up the silk, and, holding it up
to view, addressed her mother, wlien slie cnme in,
with a series of complaints. Not in the aiiair of
the silk merely was Grace in fault, but in every
thing. Exercise, reading, lessons, music, all had


been badly done ; she was more trouble than all the
rest ; she was trying, quite trying.

"Hush, hush, my dear, command yourself, you
are so excitable. What is it, Grace ? what have
you been doing ? "

Grace threw her arm coaxingly around her
mamma, and pointed to the silk. " It is only that,
mamma. But you know she is cross."

"Well, don't be teazing, there's a good child.
Margaret, my love, you must learn to be more
forbearing : you can't expect such little things
to be perfect."

IVIrs. Percival delivered the injunction in an ora-
cular tone, and when Margaret disappeared, hope-,
less of justice, and vexed with herself for having
attempted to obtain it, she kissed Grace and called
her a darling, and, without taking any more notice
of what had passed, rang the bell to reprimand the
servant for being ten minutes after time in pre-
paring the children's dinner.

Mi-s. Percival was emphatically a good manager ;
good in the worldly sense of the term. She was
the wife of a physician, high in practice, and with
an income yearly increasing. She was a lady by
birth and education ; and she was a lady also in
mind, as ftir as understanding and scrupulously
acting upon the acknowledged tenets and practices
of the world could constitute her such. She never
omitted a civility, or was guilty of any breach of
etiquette. She dressed always in good taste ; her
house was furnislied elegantly, without pretension ;
her children were neat and interesting ; her ser-
vants were patterns of punctuality ; or, if they
Were not, tlicy were dischai'ged. Slie was busy,
constantly ; morning, noon, and night, her eye was
on the watcli to i>erceive and correct delV*cts ; and
if this perpetual interference [)artook of tlie natur«
1$ li


of {I petty tyranny, it was a fault known only to
her family. She was too well bred to obtrude her
domestic grievances upon her friends ; and, no one
seeing any thing of the machinery by which so per-
fect an establishment was regulated, Mrs. Per-
cival's household was universally held up as a
pattern for imitation in the town of Staunton and
the adjoining neighbourhood. And Mxs. Percival
was not an unamiable woman ; she had a kind heart,
and never turned aside from any cases of distress.
She did not trouble herself to seek them out ; that
was the duty of the rector and the curate, and the
district visitors ; and when they were found, she
did not exert herself to make personal enquiries;
but her purse was always open to those who ap-
plied to her for relief. She was liberal by nature
and habit, and to give was far more easy than
to refuse. Of these points of character IMi's. Per-
cival was fully conscious ; yet she was not what
would be called conceited. She did not in general
over estimate her judgment and common sense, nor
believe herself a pattern of benevolence. Her self-
confidence was merely that which enabled her to
decide quickly for her own family, and authorita-
tively for others. But there was one thing on which
she prided herself — a plan for the education of her
children. Siie had persuaded her hu;<band to lavish
upon her eldest girl every advantage which the de-
mands of modern refinement might require. Agatha
was sent to an expensive school, and allowed mas-
ters for drawing, and singing, the i>iano, the
harp, French, Italian, German, mathematics : there
was nothing that any one of her acquaintance had
ever learnt which Agatha Percival did not learn
also. It was an outlay at first, but it was to be anqily
repaid in the end ; for when her education was


finished, Agatha was to return to be the Instructress
of the remainder of the family.

No scheme couhl have been devised more pru-
dently; but, unhappily for its success, Mrs. Pcrcival
never made any enquiries into that very essential
requisite, Agatha's own qualifications. Agatha had
learnt, and of course she must be able to tcacli.
And Agatha had indeed learnt, and not super-
ficially. She was well read, a fair linguist, an ex-
cellent musician ; her good natural abilities had
been carefully cultivated, and at eighteen slie was
considered not merely elegant and beautiful, but a
very superior person in mind. Mrs. Pcrcival was
proud of her daughter, and her husband was still
more so. lie was engrossed in his profession, en-
gaged without a single day of entire rest ; and, with
such constant and harassing occupations, his life
would have been irksome beyond endurance but for
his delight in his family. Altliough there were few
hours in which he could enjoy their society, and
those liable to frequent interruption, yet the stolen
intervals were full of refreshment to his wearied
spirits ; and to hear that Agatha had been called
lovely, or that Philip had been thought a fine little
fellow, or indeed that praise had been bestowed
upon any one of his children, gave him strength to
endure all fatigue, whether mental or physical. lie
agreed entirely with his wife in believing that
Agatha was more than competent to take charge of
her brothers and sisters. Margaret, who was then
seventeen, would, it was imagined, require but little
attention. She was uncommonly clever, and had
profited wonderfully by country masters ; and a
little advice, a few hints, would be all tliat could be
necessary for her. As to her mind, INIargaret had
managed, no one knew how, to read, and think, and
study by licrself, so as almost to rival Agatha in


some persons' opinion. As a child her mother had
taught her, as she did all the rest ; but from the
age of fourteen, Margaret had outstripped her
teacher. She read history and made notes ; she
dived into the mysteries of Dante, and spent her
leisure hours in mastering the difficulties of Ger-
man ; she was even occasionally seen with a Latin
Testament in her hand ; and though her father
laiiglied at her, and called her a smatterer and a
blue-stocking, and her mother wished that she
would pay a little more attention to work ; still,
both were in their hearts well pleased. Margaret
was no common character, and it was possible that
she might some day excite as much admiration by
her learning as Agatha did by her beauty and
showy accomplishments. Agatha's instructions,
therefore, would not be required by her ; and there
were two sons, one in the army and another at
Eton, who were equally beyond the need of home-
tuition ; but Harriet, and Grace, and Philip, and
little Juliet, when she was old enough, might be
expected to make rapid progress. Agatha heard of
the plan, and offered no objection to it. It was not
worth while when it was only an idea, and might,
like many other of her mother's projects, come to
nothing ; but when, on the morning after she had
finally left school, IVIi'S. Percival addressed Iier
with —

" Well ! my dear, when do you intend to begin ?
I suppose you will require about a week to make
arrangements, and then you can take possession of
the school -room " —

her declaration, that she had neither the power nor
the inclination to undertake the office assigned her,
was made so decidedly, that even Mrs. Percival's
will was obliged in a degree to give way. She
insisted, entreated, threatened ; but she did not


know the character with which she had to deal.
Agatha Percival was weak and vacillating in prin-
ciple, but obstinate to immovability. She had
quickness of intellect, but no depth ; her temper was
considered good, because her feelings were not easily
roused ; and the S3'stem under which she had been
educated had rendered her selfish, by teaching her
that she was to be the centre of admiration. Hers
was a disposition which nothing but high religious
motives would ever have stimulated to real energy
and usefulness, and, instead of religion, she had
heard only of the world, — v,liat would be said and
thought — what was considered etiquette — what was
the general fashion ; — she had not an idea beyond^
The vain dream of this mortal life was to her a
vivid reality; and the one object of her existence,
for which every other consideration was to be sacri-
ficed, was a fortunate marriage, including, of course,
a handsome house and establishment of servants
and carriages ; rank superior to her own ; money to
gratify every wish ; and, as the last desideratum, a
husband. AVith such views it was hopeless to talk
to her of the value of time, the necessity of employ-
ing her talents, the advantages that might accrue to
herself, as well as to her sisters, from the plan pro-
posed. To spend her days in the school-room would
be banishment from all that could give her happi-
ness ; her home would be a prison, her life a burden ;
— she was excited even to eloquence upon the occa-
sion, and Mrs. Percival shrank back, alarmed at the
unexpected torrent of words she had encountered
fr(<m her usually quiet daughter. In great disap-
jjointment she consented to waive the question till
Dr. Percival's return home, and Agatha resumed her
book as placidly as if notliing had occurred ; whilst
Mrs. Percival, vexed and indignant, proceeded to the
Bchool- room, to fulfil lierself the task which she had


SO unsuccessfully endeavoured to devolve upon ano-
ther. Dr. Percival's surprise at the refusal was not
as great as his wife's. The project had never made
much impression upon him; and as long as his
children were educated, he cared little by wliom.

*' Well, my love, well ! " he said, stroking his
chin complacently, when Mrs. Percival had finished
her recital of the morning scene ; " I have no doubt
you are right ; you must know best ; a great pity,
certainly, it is, but natural, — very naturah Agatha
doesn't like teaching, so don't a great many people."

" But, my dear Dr. Percival, after her education,
— after the sums of money we have spent, — so un-
grateful it is ! "

"He — hem ; no, not ungrateful exactly ; she
doesn't like it, that's all."

" Not like it ! — to be sure she does not ; but that
is what I say, that Agatha is extremely ungrateful."

" Harsh, my dear ; you should remember what
you felt when you were young."

Yes, indeed, I do remember what I felt. I vras
made to do every thing in the house — a perfect
slave. Agatha's life, if she had twenty children to
teach, would be Paradise to what mine was."

" Well, it may be ; we will hope it will be so."

Dr. Percival poured out a glass of wine, held it
up to the light, sipped it with evident zest, and then
threw himself back in his chair, preparatory to a

"Now, Dr. Percival, indeed you must listen.
What are we to do? Are you prepared to pay
a hundred a year to a governess, — and masters
besides ?"

Dr. Percival roused himself and smiled ; and the
smile upset the remainder of his wife's equanimity.

" Really you are most provoking ; you tell me
every day that wc are living too expensively, that


you must put by something for your girls ; and yet,
you would give a hundred a year to suit Agatha's
whims, and only smile about it."

"You mistake me, my dear; I would not give a
hundred a year."

" Then what would you give ? — what would you
do ? How are we to manage ? "

" As we have done before," was the quiet answer.

" But, indeed, I assure you, Dr. Percival, this is
not a subject upon which you are competent to
judge. How can I possibly continue to bear such
a burden ? I have not been at all well latelj'', I am
not in the least equal to it ; and, you know, when
we parted with the nursery governess, and sent
Agatha to the Miss Robinsons', it was with the full ■
belief that I should only be obliged to teach the
younger ones for two or three years. It is hard
upon me, — very hard."

Mrs. Percival's temper was in general good, and
her husband was surprised at the tone in which the
last w^ords were said.

" Julia, my dear, you vex me ; no one dreams of
being hard upon you ; but as to giving an addi-
tional hundred a year to a governess, it is out of the
question. You know Craven costs me three hun-
dred at least, and tJiere is George nearly ready to

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellMargaret Percival (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 37)