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As soon as dinner was over, Elizabeth went up to her own room, and was followed in a few moments by Anne, who found her putting on her bonnet and cloak. 'Can you be going out in such weather as this?' exclaimed she.
'Yes,' said Elizabeth; 'I must
"Let content with my fortunes fit, Though the rain it raineth every day."'
'But what are the fortunes which oblige you to go out?' said Anne.
'The fortunes of an old woman to whom Kate or I read every Friday,' said Elizabeth, 'and the fortunes of various young school-children, who must be prepared for Papa or Mr. Walker to catechize in Church on Sunday.'
'Why do not you send Kate or Helen, instead of murdering yourself in the wet?' said Anne.
'Miss Kitty is three inches deep in the mysteries of a spencer, (I do not mean Edmund,)' said Elizabeth, 'and it will not be out of her head these three days, at least not till she has made Mamma's old black satin gown into one after Harriet's pattern; I heard her asking for it as I came up-stairs.'
'And would not Helen go?' said Anne; 'she does not catch cold as easily as you do.'
'Helen has contrived, somehow or other,' said Elizabeth, 'to know no more about the school-children than if they were so many Esquimaux; besides, anyone with any experience of Helen's ways, had rather walk ninety miles in the rain, than be at the pains of routing her out of the corner of the sofa to do anything useful.'
'Indeed,' said Anne, 'I think Helen does wish to make herself useful.'
'I dare say she sits still and wishes it in the abstract, for I think it must be a very disagreeable thing to reflect that she might as well be that plaster statue for any good that she does,' said Elizabeth; 'but she grumbles at every individual thing you propose for her to do, just as she says she wishes to be a companion to Dora and Winifred, yet whenever they wish her to play with them or tell them a story, which is all the companionship children of their age understand, she is always too much at her ease to be disturbed. And now, as she is the only person in the house with whom poor Lucy is tolerably at her ease, it would be cruel to take her away.'
'That is more of a reason,' said Anne; 'what a pity it is that Lucy is so shy!'
'Excessive shyness and reserve is what prevents her mother from being able to spoil her,' said Elizabeth; 'so do not regret it.'
'Still I do not like to see you going out in this way,' said Anne.
'I may truly say that rain never hurts me,' said Elizabeth; 'and if I once let one trifle stop me in these parish matters, I shall be stopped for ever, and never do anything. Perhaps I shall not come back this hour and a half, for old Mrs. Clayton must be dying to hear all about our Consecration, luncheon, dinner, &c., and as she is the widow of the last Vicar, we are in duty bound to be civil to her, and I must go and call upon her. Oh! you poor thing, I forgot how deserted you will be, and really the drawing-room is almost uninhabitable with that Bengal tiger in it. Here is that delightful Norman Conquest for you to read; pray look at the part about Hereward the Saxon.'
Elizabeth would not trust herself to stay with Anne any longer, and ran down-stairs, and might soon be heard putting up her umbrella and shutting the front door after her.
Anne found the afternoon pass rather heavily, in spite of the companionship of William the Conqueror and Hereward the Saxon, of assisting the children in a wet day game of romps, and of shewing Dora and Winifred the contents of the box they had admired the day before. Helen and Lucy were sitting at work very comfortably in the corner of the sofa in the inner drawing-room; Harriet and Katherine very busy contriving the spencer in the front drawing-room, keeping up a whispering accompaniment to the conversation of the elder ladies—if conversation it could be called, when Mrs. Hazleby had it all to herself, while giving Lady Merton and Mrs. Woodbourne an account of the discomforts she had experienced in country quarters in Ireland.
Sir Edward and Mr. Woodbourne were engaged in looking over the accounts of the church in the study, and Fido was trying to settle his disputes with Meg Merrilies, who, with arching back, tail erect, and eyes like flaming green glass, waged a continual war with him over her basket in the hall.
Anne was very glad to hear her cousin's footstep in the hall as she returned. Coming straight to the drawing-room, Elizabeth exclaimed, 'Mamma, did you tell Mrs. Clarke that she might have a frock for Susan?'
'Yes, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'she asked me yesterday when you were not near, and I told her you would give her one. I thought the child looked very ragged.'
'I suppose she must have it,' said Elizabeth, looking much vexed; 'I told her she should not, a month ago, unless she sent the children to school regularly, and they have scarcely been there five days in the last fortnight.'
'I wish I had known it, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'you know I am always very sorry to interfere with any of your plans.'
'O Mamma, there is no great harm done,' said Elizabeth. She then went to fetch the frock, and gave it to the woman with a more gentle and sensible rebuke than could have been expected from the vehemence of her manner towards Mrs. Woodbourne a minute before. When this was done, and she had taken off her bonnet, she came to beckon Anne up-stairs.
'So you have finished your labours,' said Anne, taking up her work, while Elizabeth sat down to rule a copy-book for Winifred.
'Yes,' said Elizabeth, '"we are free to sport and play;" I have read to the old woman, and crammed the children, and given old Mrs. Clayton a catalogue raisonnee of all the company and all their dresses, and a bill of fare of our luncheon and dinner, and where everything came from.'
'And yet you profess to hold gossip in abomination,' said Anne.
'Oh! but this is old gossip, regular legitimate amusement for the poor old lady,' said Elizabeth. 'She really is a lady, but very badly off, and most of the Abbeychurch gentility are too fine to visit her, so that a little quiet chat with her is by no means of the common-place kind. Besides, she knows and loves us all like her own children. It was one of the first pleasures I can remember, to gather roses for her, and carry them to her from her own old garden here.'
'Well, in consideration of all that you say,' said Anne, 'I suppose I must forgive her for keeping you away all this afternoon.'
'And what did you do all that time?' said Elizabeth. 'Have you read Hereward, and do not you delight in him?'
'Yes,' said Anne, 'and I want to know whether he is not the father of Cedric of Rotherwood.'
'He must have been his grandfather,' said Elizabeth; 'Cedric lived a hundred years after.'
'But Cedric remembered Torquilstone before the Normans came,' said Anne.
'No, no, he could not, though he had been told what it had been before Front-de-Boeuf altered it,' said Elizabeth.
'And old Ulrica was there when Front-de-Boeuf's father took it,' said Anne.
'I cannot tell how long a hag may live,' said Elizabeth, 'but she could not have been less than a hundred and thirty years old in the time of Richard Coeur-de-Lion.'
'Coeur-de-Lion came to the throne in 1189,' said Anne. 'No, I suppose Torquil Wolfganger could not have been dispossessed immediately after the Conquest. But then you know Ulrica calls Cedric the son of the great Hereward.'
'Her wits were a little out of order,' said Elizabeth; 'either she meant his grandson, or Sir Walter Scott made as great an anachronism as when he made that same Ulrica compare Rebecca's skin to paper. If she had said parchment, it would not have been such a compliment.'
'How much interest Ivanhoe makes us take in the Saxons and Normans!' said Anne.
'And what nonsense it is to say that works of fiction give a distaste for history,' said Elizabeth.
'You are an instance to the contrary,' said Anne; 'no one loves stories so well, and no one loves history better.'
'I believe such stories as Ivanhoe were what taught me to like history,' said Elizabeth.
'In order to find out the anachronisms in them?' said Anne; 'I think it is very ungrateful of you.'
'No indeed,' said Elizabeth; 'why, they used to be the only history I knew, and almost the only geography. Do not you remember Aunt Anne's laughing at me for arguing that Bohemia was on the Baltic, because Perdita was left on its coast? And now, I believe that Coeur de Lion feasted with Robin Hood and his merry men, although history tells me that he disliked and despised the English, and the only sentence of their language history records of his uttering was, "He speaks like a fool Briton." I believe that Queen Margaret of Anjou haunted the scenes of grandeur that once were hers, and that she lived to see the fall of Charles of Burgundy, and die when her last hope failed her, though I know that it was not so.'
'Then I do not quite see how such stories have taught you to like history,' said Anne.
'They teach us to realize and understand the people whom we find in history,' said Elizabeth.
'Oh yes,' said Anne; 'who would care for Louis the eleventh if it was not for Quentin Durward? and Shakespeare makes us feel as if we had been at the battle of Shrewsbury.'
'Yes,' said Elizabeth; 'and they have done even more for history. They have taught us to imagine other heroes whom they have not mentioned. Cannot you see the Black Prince, his slight graceful figure, his fair delicate face full of gentleness and kindness—fierce warrior as he is—his black steel helmet, and tippet of chain-mail, his clustering white plume, his surcoat with England's leopards and France's lilies? Cannot you make a story of his long constant attachment to his beautiful cousin, the Fair Maid of Kent? Cannot you imagine his courteous conference with Bertrand du Guesclin, the brave ugly Breton?—Edward lying almost helpless on his couch, broken down with suffering and disappointment, and the noble affectionate Captal de Buch, who died of grief for him, thinking whether he will ever be able to wear his black armour again, and carry terror and dismay to the stoutest hearts of France.'
'Give Froissart some of the credit of your picture,' said Anne.
'Froissart is in some places like Sir Walter himself,' said Elizabeth; 'but now I will tell you of a person who lived in no days of romance, and has not had the advantage of a poetical historian to light him up in our imagination. I mean the great Prince of Conde. Now, though he is very unlike Shakespeare's Coriolanus, yet there is resemblance enough between them to make the comparison very amusing. There was much of Coriolanus' indomitable pride and horror of mob popularity when he offended Beaufort and his kingdom in the halles, when, though as 'Louis de Bourbon' he refused to do anything to shake the power of the throne, he would not submit to be patronized by the mean fawning Mazarin. Not that the hard-hearted Conde would have listened to his wife and mother, even if he had loved them as Coriolanus did, or that his arrogance did not degenerate into wonderful meanness at last, such as Coriolanus would have scorned; but the parallel was very amusing, and gave me a great interest in Conde. And did you ever observe what a great likeness there is in the characters of the two apostates, Julian and Frederick the Great?'
'Then you like history for the sake of comparing the characters mentioned in it?' said Anne.
'I think so,' said Elizabeth; 'and that is the reason I hate abridgements, the mere bare bones of history. I cannot bear dry facts, such as that Charles the Fifth beat Francis the First, at Pavia, in a war for the duchy of Milan, and nothing more told about them. I am always ready to say, as the Grand Seignior did about some such great battle among the Christians, that I do not care whether the dog bites the hog, or the hog bites the dog.'
'What a kind interest in your fellow-creatures you display!' said Anne. 'I think one reason why I like history is because I am searching out all the characters who come up to my notion of perfect chivalry, or rather of Christian perfection. I am making a book of true knights. I copy their portraits when I can find them, and write the names of those whose likenesses I cannot get. I paint their armorial bearings over them when I can find out what they are, and I have a great red cross in the first page.'