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Rechauffes are proverbially dangerous, but everyone runs into them sooner or later, and the world has done me the kindness so often to inquire after my first crude attempt, that after it has lain for many years 'out of print,' I have ventured to launch it once more—imperfections and all—though it is guilty of the error of pointing rather to a transient phase of difficulty than to a general principle. The wheels of this world go so quickly round, that I have lived to see that it would have been wiser in the clergyman to have directed rather than obstructed the so-called 'march of intellect.' I have lived also to be somewhat ashamed of the exuberant outpouring of historical allusions, which, however, were perfectly natural among the set of girls from whom my experience was taken: but these defects, as well as the more serious one of tyrannical aversion to vulgarity, are too inherent in this tale to be removed, and the real lesson intended to be conveyed, of obedience and sincerity, of course remains unchanged.
The later story was a rather hasty attempt to parody the modern sensation novel, as Northanger Abbey did the Radclyffe school, but it makes the mistake of having too real a mystery. However, such as they are, the two stories go forth in company, trusting that they may not prove too utterly wearisome to be brought forward this second time.
May 9th, 1872.
One summer afternoon, Helen Woodbourne returned from her daily walk with her sisters, and immediately repaired to the school-room, in order to put the finishing touches to a drawing, with which she had been engaged during the greater part of the morning. She had not been long established there, before her sister Katherine came in, and, taking her favourite station, leaning against the window shutter so as to command a good view of the street, she began, 'Helen, do you know that the Consecration is to be on Thursday the twenty-eighth, instead of the Tuesday after?'
'I know Lizzie wished that it could be so,' said Helen, 'because the twenty-eighth is St. Augustine's day; but I thought that the Bishop had appointed Tuesday.'
'But Papa wrote to him, and he has altered the day as Papa wished; I heard Mamma and Mr. Somerville talking about it just now when I went into the drawing-room,' answered Katherine.
'Will everything be ready in time?' said Helen.
'Dear me!' cried Katherine, 'I wonder if it will. What is to be done if that tiresome Miss Dighten does not send home our dresses in time? We must go and hurry her to-morrow. And I must get Mamma to go to Baysmouth this week to get our ribbons. I looked over all Mr. Green's on Monday, and he has not one bit of pink satin ribbon wide enough, or fit to be seen.'
'Oh! but I meant the things in the church—the cushions and the carving on the Font,' said Helen.
'Oh dear! yes, the Font is very nearly done, we saw to-day, you know; and as to the cushions, Mrs. Webbe may have Sarah to help her, and then they will certainly be finished. I wonder whether there will be any fun!' said Katherine.
'Is a Consecration an occasion for fun?' asked Helen very gravely.
'Why, no, I do not exactly mean that,' replied Katherine, 'but there will be a great many people, and the Mertons staying here, and Rupert is always so full of fun.'
'Hm—m,' said Helen, 'I do not suppose he will be come back from Scotland.'
'And Mrs. Turner says,' continued Katherine, 'that of course as the Bishop is coming to luncheon after Church, Mamma must give an elegant dejeuner a la fourchette to everybody. Next time I go to St. Martin's Street, Mrs. Turner is going to give me a receipt for making blanc-manger with some cheap stuff which looks quite as well as isinglass. It is made on chemical principles, she says, for she heard it all explained at the Mechanics' Institute. And Aunt Anne will be sure to bring us some of their grand fruit from Merton Hall. What a set-out it will be! The old Vicarage will not know itself; how delightful it will be!'
'So you think the happiness of the Consecration day depends upon the party and the luncheon,' said Helen.
'No, no, of course I do not,' said Katherine; 'but we must think about that too, or we should not do what is proper.'
'Someone must,' said Helen, 'but it is happy for us that we are not called upon to do so yet.'
'Why, we must help Mamma,' said Katherine; 'I am sure that is our duty.'
'Certainly,' said Helen; 'but we need not dwell upon such thoughts for our own pleasure.'
'No, I do not, I am sure,' said Katherine; 'I do not care about the grand dejeuner, I am sure I think a great deal more about the Church and the Bishop—I wonder whether he will come by the railroad.'
At this moment, the door was thrown back hastily, and Elizabeth, the elder sister of Katherine and Helen, darted in, looking full of indignation, which she only wanted to pour forth, without much caring whether it was listened to with sympathy or not.
'So have you heard,' she began, 'these Hazlebys are coming. Did you ever hear of such a nuisance? Anything so preposterous? Mrs. Hazleby at a Consecration—I should as soon think of asking Gillespie Grumach.'
'It is for the Major's sake, of course,' said Helen; 'he will like to come.'
'Ay, but he is not coming, he cannot get leave,' said Elizabeth; 'if he was, I should not mind it so much, but it is only Mrs. Hazleby and the girls, for she has the grace to bring Lucy, on Mamma's special invitation. But only think of Mrs. Hazleby, scolding and snapping for ever; and Harriet, with her finery and folly and vulgarity. And that at a time which ought to be full of peace, and glorious feelings. Oh! they will spoil all the pleasure!'
'All?' said Helen.
'All that they can touch, all that depends upon sympathy,' said Elizabeth.
'Well, but I do not see—' said Katherine.
'No, no,' said Elizabeth, 'we all know that you will be happy enough, with your beloved Harriet. How frivolous and silly you will be, by the end of the first evening she has been here!'
'I am sure I think Harriet is very silly indeed,' said Katherine; 'I cannot bear her vulgar ways, bouncing about as she does, and such dress I never did see. Last time she was here, she had a great large artificial rose upon her bonnet; I wonder what Papa would say if he saw me in such a thing!'
'Pray keep the same opinion of her all the time she is here, Kate,' said Elizabeth; 'but I know you too well to trust you. I only know they will keep me in a perpetual state of irritation all the time, and I hope that will not quite spoil my mind for the Service.'
'How can you talk of Mamma's relations in that way, Lizzie?' said Helen.
'I do not care whose relations they are,' said Elizabeth; 'if people will be disagreeable, I must say so.'
'Mrs. Staunton used to say,' replied Helen, 'that people always ought to keep up their connexion with their relations, whether they like them or not. There were some very stupid people, relations of Mr. Staunton's, near Dykelands, whom Fanny and Jane could not endure, but she used to ask them to dinner very often, and always made a point—'
'Well, if I had any disagreeable relations,' said Elizabeth, 'I would make a point of cutting them. I do not see why relations have a right to be disagreeable.'
'I do not see how you could,' said Helen. 'For instance, would you prevent Mamma from ever seeing the Major, her own brother?'
'He cannot be half so well worth seeing since he chose to marry such a horrid wife,' said Elizabeth.
'Would you never see Horace again, if he did such a thing?' said Katherine; 'I am sure I would not give him up. Would you?'
'I could trust Horace, I think,' said Elizabeth; 'I will give him fair warning, and I give you and Helen warning, that if you marry odious people, I will have done with you.'
'When I was at Dykelands,' said Helen, 'everybody was talking about a man who had married—'
'Never mind Dykelands now, Helen,' said Elizabeth, 'and do put down your pencil. That drawing was tolerable before luncheon, but you have been making your tree more like Mr. Dillon's Sunday periwig, every minute since I have been here. And such a shadow! But do not stop to mend it. You will not do any good now, and here is some better work. Mamma wants us to help to finish the cushions. We must do something to earn the pleasure of having St. Austin's Church consecrated on St. Austin's day.'
'What, do you mean that I am to work on that hard velvet?' said Helen, who was a little mortified by the unsparing criticism on her drawing.
'Yes, I undertook that we three should make up the two cushions for the desk and eagle; Mrs. Webbe's hands are full of business already, but she has explained it all to me, and Kate will understand it better than I can.'
'I thought Sarah Webbe was to help,' said Helen.
'She is doing the carpet,' said Elizabeth. 'Oh! if you look so lamentable about it, Helen, we do not want your help. Dora will sew the seams very nicely, and enjoy the work too. I thought you might be glad to turn your handiwork to some account.'
'Really, Lizzie,' said Helen, 'I shall be very glad to be useful, if you want me. What shall I do?'
This was said in no gracious tone, and Elizabeth would not accept such an offer of assistance. 'No, no; never mind,' said she, putting a skein of crimson sewing-silk over Katherine's outstretched hands, and standing with her back to Helen, who took up her pencil again in silence, and made her black shadows much darker.
Elizabeth, who had not been of the walking party, and had thus heard of all the arrangements which had been made that afternoon, went on talking to Katherine. 'As soon as Church is over, the Bishop is coming to luncheon here, and then to settle some business with Papa; then is to be the school-children's feast—in the quadrangle, of course. Oh, how delightful that will be! And Mamma and I have been settling that we will have a little table for the smallest creatures, because the elder sisters get no time to eat if they are attending to them, and if the little ones are all together, everyone will come and help them.'
'The old women in the Alms-houses will,' said Katherine.
'Yes; and Dora will manage that nicely too, the table will not be too high for her to reach, and she will be very happy to be able to wait on her little class. And they are to have tea and cake, instead of dinner, for we do not want to have more cooking than can be helped, that people may not be prevented from going to church, and the children will be thirsty after being in church all the morning.'
'But we have a dinner-party, do not we?' said Katherine.
'Yes, but our youth and innocence will save us from being much plagued by it,' said Elizabeth.
'Oh! I thought you and Anne at least would dine with the company,' said Katherine.
'So Mamma thought,' said Elizabeth; 'but then she recollected that if we did, and not Harriet, Mrs. Hazleby would be mortally offended; and when we came to reckon, it appeared that there would be thirteen without us, and then Papa and I persuaded her, that it would be much less uncivil to leave out all the Misses, than to take one and leave the rest. You know Anne and I are both under seventeen yet, so that nobody will expect to see us.'
'Only thirteen people?' said Katherine; 'I thought the Bishop was to dine and sleep here.'
'Oh no, that was settled long ago; Papa found he had engaged to go to Marlowe Court,' said Elizabeth, 'and so there was room for the Hazlebys; I hoped he would have guarded us from them.'
'But will there be room?' said Katherine; 'I cannot fancy it.'
'Oh! half the rooms can be made Knight's Templar's horses and carry double,' said Elizabeth; 'Mrs. Hazleby and both the girls may very well be in the blue room.'
'And there is the best room for the Mertons, and Horace's for Rupert,' said Katherine.
'Poor Horace! it is a shame that he, who laid the first stone, should not be at the Consecration,' said Elizabeth.
'Well, but where is Anne to be?' said Katherine; 'if we take Dora into our room, and Winifred goes to the nursery, there is their room; but Aunt Anne's maid must have that.'
'Anne shall come to my room—if Aunt Anne will let her, that is to say,' said Elizabeth; 'I wonder I never thought of that before, it will counteract some of the horrors of the Hazlebys. I shall have the comfort of talking things over with the only person who knows what to feel. Yes, I will go and speak to Mamma, and shew her that it is the only way of lodging the world conveniently. Oh, how happy we shall be!'
As soon as Elizabeth had finished winding her skein, she hastened to Mrs. Woodbourne, and found no great difficulty in gaining her consent to the plan; and she then sat down to write to Miss Merton to inform her of the change of day, and invite her to share her room.
Elizabeth Woodbourne and Anne Merton were first cousins, and nearly of the same age. They had spent much of their time together in their childhood, and their early attachment to each other, strengthening as they grew older, was now becoming something more than girlish affection. Anne was an only daughter; and Elizabeth, though the eldest of a large family, had not hitherto found any of her sisters able to enter into her feelings as fully as her cousin; and perhaps there was no one who had so just an appreciation of Elizabeth's character as Anne; who, though hers was of a very different order, had perhaps more influence over her mind than anyone excepting Mr. Woodbourne.
Sir Edward Merton was brother to Mr. Woodbourne's first wife, the mother of Elizabeth, Katherine, and Helen; he had been Mr. Woodbourne's principal assistant in the erection of the new church, and indeed had added all the decorations which the Vicar's limited means, aided by a subscription, could not achieve; and his wife and daughter had taken nearly as much interest in its progress as the ardent Elizabeth herself. Anne eagerly read Elizabeth's note to her mother, and waited her consent to the scheme which it proposed.
'Well, Mamma,' said Anne, 'can you consent to this arrangement, or are you afraid that Lizzie and I should chatter all night?'
'I hope you have outgrown your old habits of gossipping and idling,' said Lady Merton; 'I believe I may trust you; and it may be inconvenient to Mrs. Woodbourne to find room for you elsewhere.'
'I am very much obliged to you, Mamma,' said Anne, at first gravely, then laughing, 'I mean that I shall enjoy it very much. But pray, Mamma, do not trust too much to our age and experience, for I do not know anything more difficult than to stop short in a delightful talk, only just for the sake of going to sleep.'
'Yes, it requires some self-control,' said Lady Merton.
'Self-control!' repeated Anne. 'Mamma, I am sure that "Patient cautious self-control is wisdom's root," must be your motto, for you are sure to tell me of it on every occasion.'
'I hope you are not tired of it, Anne,' said Lady Merton, 'for most probably I shall often tell you of it again.'
'Oh yes, I hope you will,' said Anne; 'there will be more need of it than ever, in this visit to Abbeychurch.'
'Yes,' said Lady Merton, 'you live so quietly here, excepting when Rupert is at home, that you must take care that all the excitement and pleasure there does not make you wild.'
'Indeed I must,' said Anne; 'I cannot fancy enjoying anything much more than the Consecration of a church for which Papa has done so much, and going with Lizzie, and meeting Rupert. Really, Mamma, it is lucky there is that one drawback, to keep it from seeming too pleasant beforehand.'
'You mean the Hazelbys,' said her mother.
'Yes, Mamma,' replied Anne; 'I am rather surprised to hear that they are to be there. I should not think that a vulgar-minded Scotchwoman, such as Lizzie describes Mrs. Hazleby, would take much delight in a Consecration; but I suppose Uncle Woodbourne could not well avoid asking them on such an occasion, I believe she is rather touchy.'
'You must take care what you say to Lizzie about the Hazlebys,' said Lady Merton; 'a very little might make it appear that we wished to set her against her step-mother's relations.'
'Oh! that would never do,' said Anne, 'but I am afraid it will be very difficult to keep from shewing what we think, if Mrs. Hazleby is all that Lizzie says.'
'Your Papa was pleased with what he saw of Major Hazleby last year,' said Lady Merton.
'Oh yes, Lizzie likes him very much,' said Anne; 'it is the lady of whom she has such a horror.'
'I should fancy,' said Lady Merton, 'that Mrs. Woodbourne's horror of her was almost equal to Lizzie's.'
'Kind gentle Aunt Mildred,' said Anne, 'do you think she ever had a horror of anyone?'
'It is certainly rather a strong word,' said Lady Merton, 'but you will allow me to say that she has a great dread of her; I think Mrs. Hazleby scolds and frightens her.'
'What a fury she must be,' said Anne, laughing, 'to be able to scold and frighten such a gentle Desdomona as Mrs. Woodbourne.'
'Do not say too much on that subject,' said Lady Merton, 'or we shall be forced to call your beloved Lizzie a fury.'
'O Mamma!' cried Anne, 'you cannot say that she is impetuous and violent now. She used, I allow, to be rather overbearing to Mrs. Woodbourne; but that was before she was old enough fully to feel and love her gentleness. Then she did take advantage of it, and argue, and dispute, but now—'
'She has her own way without disputing,' said Lady Merton.
'O Mamma, do you think so?' said Anne, as if she thought it a terrible accusation. 'Yes, I really think that she has, but then her way is generally right.'
'Yes,' said Lady Merton, 'she is in some respects more fit to govern herself than most girls of sixteen. Her good sense will keep her from going very far wrong.'
'Very far, Mamma?' repeated Anne.
'Yes, for such an excitable impetuous creature is not likely to escape going wrong, without steady control from herself or from someone else,' said Lady Merton.
'But I can hardly imagine Lizzie's actually doing wrong,' said Anne; 'we were certainly both naughty children, but I think the worst we did, was rather what makes nurses scold, than what would seriously displease you or Papa.'
'Oh! she was always an upright, noble-spirited child,' said Lady Merton.
'And now,' continued Anne, 'when she is much interested in anything, when her brilliant dark eyes are lighted up, and her beautiful smile is on her lips, and her whole face is full of brightness, and she looks slight and airy enough to be a spirit, and when she is talking about some things—I could fancy her some higher kind of creature.'
Lady Merton smiled. 'I think I know what you mean,' said she; 'I used to feel something of the kind with her mother.'
'What a wonderful person Aunt Katherine must have been!' cried Anne. She paused, and presently added, 'Mamma, I do not know whether I ought to say so, but much as I like Mrs. Woodbourne, I do rather wonder that Uncle Woodbourne married again.'
'So did your Papa and I,' said Lady Merton; 'but you must excuse him, when you think of his three little girls, Elizabeth especially, requiring such anxious care of body and mind.'
'But you do not think Mrs. Woodbourne could manage Lizzie?' said Anne.
'No,' said Lady Merton, 'she could not manage her in the least, but her mild influence has, I think, been of great service to her. Lizzie has certainly grown more gentle of late, and I think it is from consideration for her and the little children.'
'And I suppose,' said Anne, 'that Mrs. Woodbourne has done as much for Kate as anyone could.'
'Not quite,' said Lady Merton; 'I think your Aunt Katherine would have made her a little less trifling and silly.'
'But no one could ever have made her like Lizzie,' said Aune.
'No, but I think she might have been rather more than a mere good-natured gossip,' said Lady Merton.
'It is curious to see how much difference expression makes in those two sisters,' said Anne; 'their features are so much alike, that strangers never know them apart; the only difference between them, that I could mention, is that Lizzie is the most delicate looking; yet how exceedingly unlike they are to each other!'
'Yes,' said Lady Merton; 'though Lizzie's whole countenance and air is almost exactly her mother's, yet there is nothing about Kate but her voice, which they have in common, that reminds me of her.'
'Helen is very unlike the others in everything,' said Anne.
'Helen will be the handsomest as far as regularity of features goes,' said Lady Merton.
'Do you think so?' said Anne.
'Certainly,' said Lady Merton; 'her features are less prominent, and her colour has not that fixed hectic look that both the others have, especially Lizzie.'
'But she wants brightness and animation,' said Anne, 'and she so often looks dismal and fretful, that I cannot fancy admiring her.'
'There has never been much sympathy between you and Helen,' said Lady Merton, smiling.
'No,' said Anne, 'I never felt as if I knew or liked her. I believe Rupert and I were very unkind to her in our younger days; but, oh! she was the most tiresome whining child I ever knew.'
'I believe that, though she was too young to know it,' said Lady Merton, 'poor little Helen suffered more from your aunt's death than either of her sisters.'
'How so, Mamma?' said Anne, looking rather alarmed.
'She was a very delicate baby, requiring a great deal of care,' said Lady Merton; 'indeed, we have always thought that your aunt laid the foundation of her illness, by sitting up with her while she was cutting her large teeth, and during your aunt's illness, it was painful to see how the poor child missed her. And after her mother died, though Helen had grown strong and healthy, old Margaret still made her the pet; and uncertain nursery treatment, without her mother's firm kindness, was not the best cure for such a temper as hers.'
'Yes,' said Anne, 'I remember she was always called Baby, and allowed to have her own way, till she was six years old, when Horace was born. How very ill-natured I must have been to her, and how cruel it really was of me. But I wonder my uncle did not prevent Margaret from spoiling her.'
'My dear, a man with a parish of fifteen hundred inhabitants, cannot watch his own nursery very minutely,' said Lady Merton; 'he taught Elizabeth admirably, and that was all that could be expected of him. Besides, with all his perfections, managing little girls is not what he is best fitted for.'
Anne laughed. 'No, he is too grave and cold; I am rather afraid of him still, I do not think he has any toleration for nonsense; but of course he must be different with his own children. And how do you think Mrs. Woodbourne trained Helen?'
'I can hardly tell,' said Lady Merton; 'I used to admire her patience and sweetness of temper, when Helen's fretfulness was most wearisome; at the same time that I thought it might have been better for the child to speak sharply to her, and punish her if she did not leave off whining directly. I believe I should have done so, though I do not know that it would have been the best way, or in accordance with what you call my motto.'
'Well,' said Anne, 'if Dykelands has done such wonders for Helen, as they say, I hope I shall make friends with her, if she will let me, which I do not think I deserve after my ill-usage of her. Last time I saw her, it was but for two days, and she was so odd, and grave, and shy, that I could not get on with her, besides that I wanted to make the most of my time with Lizzie.'
'I hope Rupert will not teaze her as he used to do,' said Lady Merton; 'last time she was here, his teazing and her whining were nearly unbearable.'
'Oh! she must have outgrown whining,' said Anne.
'I am afraid you cannot promise me that he has outgrown teazing,' said Lady Merton.
'The one depends upon the other,' said Anne; 'if she does not whine, he will not teaze. But had I not better finish my letter to him, and tell him he must shorten his stay on the Border?'
'Yes, do so,' said Lady Merton; 'and tell him not to lose his keys as usual.'
'I suppose they are gone by this time,' said Anne, as Lady Merton left the room, and she sat down to her desk to write to her brother.
Abbeychurch St. Mary's was a respectable old town, situated at the foot of St. Austin's Hill, a large green mound of chalk, named from an establishment of Augustine Friars, whose monastery (now converted into alms-houses) and noble old church were the pride of the county. Abbeychurch had been a quiet dull place, scarcely more than a large village, until the days of railroads, when the sober inhabitants, and especially the Vicar and his family, were startled by the news that the line of the new Baysmouth railway was marked out so as to pass exactly through the centre of the court round which the alms-houses were built. Happily, however, the difficulty of gaining possession of the property required for this course, proved too great even for the railway company, and they changed the line, cutting their way through the opposite side of St. Austin's Hill, and spoiling three or four water-meadows by the river. Soon after the completion of this work, the town was further improved, by the erection of various rows of smart houses, which arose on the slope of the hill, once the airy and healthy play-place of the rising generation of Abbeychurch, and the best spot for flying kites in all the neighbourhood. London tradesmen were tempted to retire to 'the beautiful and venerable town of Abbeychurch;' the houses were quickly filled, one street after another was built, till the population of the town was more than doubled. A deficiency in church accommodation was soon felt, for the old church had before been but just sufficient for the inhabitants. Various proposals were made—to fill up the arches with galleries, and to choke the centre aisle with narrow pews; but all were equally distasteful to Mr. Woodbourne, who, placing some benches in the aisle for the temporary accommodation of his new parishioners, made every effort to raise funds to build and endow an additional church. He succeeded, as we have heard; and it was the tall white spire of the now Church of St. Austin's, which greeted Anne Merton's delighted eyes, as on the 27th of August, she, with her father and mother, came to the top of a long hill, about five miles from Abbeychurch. What that sight was to her, only those who have shared in the joys of church-building can know. She had many a time built the church in her fancy; she knew from drawing and description nearly every window, every buttress, every cornice; she had heard by letter of every step in the progress of the building; but now, that narrow white point, in the greyish green of the distance, shewed her, for the first time, what really was the work of her father—yes, of her father, for without him that spire would never have been there; with the best intentions, Mr. Woodbourne could not have accomplished more than a solid well-proportioned building, with capabilities of embellishment. It was not till they had nearly reached the town, that her thoughts turned to the pleasure of seeing her cousins, or even of meeting her brother, whom she expected to find at the Vicarage, on his return from Scotland, where he had been spending the last six weeks.
In this anticipation, however, she was disappointed; he was not among the group who stood in the hall, eager to greet the travellers, and no tidings had been heard of him. After talking over the chances of his arriving in the course of the evening, Sir Edward went with Mr. Woodbourne to see the new church, and the ladies were conducted to their apartments; Mrs. Woodbourne making apologies to Anne for lodging her with Elizabeth, and Anne laughingly declaring that she enjoyed Elizabeth's company much more than solitary grandeur. The two cousins were followed by the whole tribe of children, flaxen-haired and blue-eyed little sprites, the younger of whom capered round Anne in high glee, though with a little shyness, sometimes looking upon her as a stranger, sometimes recollecting former frolics, till Elizabeth declared that it was time to dress; and Dorothea, the eldest, a quiet and considerate little maiden of seven years old, carried off Winifred and Edward to their own domains in the nursery.
Elizabeth's room had been set to rights for the accommodation of the visitor, so that it suited most people's ideas of comfort better just then, than in its usual state. A number of books and papers had been cleared from the table, to leave it free for Anne's toilette apparatus, and a heap of school girls' frocks and tippets, which had originally been piled up on two chairs, but, daily increasing in number, had grown top-heavy, fallen down and encumbered the floor, had that morning been given away, so that there was at least room to sit down. Elizabeth's desk and painting box were banished to the top of her chest-of-drawers, where her looking-glass stood in a dark corner, being by no means interesting to her. Near the window was her book-case, tolerably well supplied with works both English and foreign, and its lower shelf containing a double row of brown-paper covered volumes, and many-coloured and much soiled little books, belonging to the lending library. The walls were hung with Elizabeth's own works, for the most part more useful than ornamental. There were genealogical and chronological charts of Kings and Kaisars, comparisons of historical characters, tables of Christian names and their derivations, botanical lists, maps, and drawings—all in such confusion, that once, when Helen attempted to find the Pope contemporary with Edward the First, she asked Elizabeth why she had written the Pope down as Leo Nonus Cardinal, on which she was informed, with a sufficient quantity of laughter, that the word in question was the name of a flower, Leonurus Cardiaca, looking like anything but what it was intended for in Elizabeth's writing, and that Pope Martin the Fourth was to be found on the other side of the Kings of France and Spain, and the portrait of Charles the First. The chimney-piece was generally used as a place of refuge for all small things which were in danger of being thrown away if left loose on the table; but, often forgotten in their asylum, had accumulated and formed a strange medley, which its mistress jealously defended from all attacks of housemaids. In the middle stood a plaster cast of the statue of the Maid of Orleans, a present from her little brother Horace; above it hung a small Geneva watch, which had belonged to Elizabeth's own mother; and there were besides a few treasures of Horace's, too tender to be trusted in the nursery in his absence at school.
The window looked out upon the empty solitary street of the old town, and though little was to be seen from it which could interest the two girls, yet after the little ones were gone, they stood there talking for some minutes; Elizabeth inquiring after half the people about Merton Hall, a place which she knew almost as well as her own home.
'When does Mrs. Hazleby come?' said Anne, beginning to dress.
'Oh! do not ask me,' said Elizabeth, 'I do not know, and hardly care; quite late, I hope and trust.'
'But, Lizzie,' asked Anne, 'what have these unfortunate Hazlebys done to offend you?'
'Done!' answered Elizabeth, 'oh! a thousand things, all too small to be described, but together they amount to a considerable sum, I can tell you. There has been a natural antipathy, an instinctive dislike, between Mrs. Major Hazleby and me, ever since she paid her first visit here, and, seeing me listening to something she was saying to Mamma, she turned round upon me with that odious proverb, "Little pitchers have long ears."'
'Perhaps she meant it as a compliment,' said Anne; 'you know, Mary of Scotland says, that "Sovereigns ought to have long ears."'
'I suppose her son was of the same opinion,' said Elizabeth, 'when he built his famous lug. As to Mrs. Hazleby, she is never happy but when she is finding fault with someone. It will make you sick to hear her scolding and patronizing poor Mamma.'
'She has been in India, has she not?' said Anne, in order to avoid answering.
'Yes,' replied Elizabeth, 'she married the poor Major there, and the eldest son was born there. I often think I should like to ask old Mrs. Hazleby how she felt on her first meeting with her fair daughter-in-law. They were safe in Ireland when Papa married, and did not burst upon us in full perfection till Horace's christening, when the aforesaid little pitcher speech was made.'
'And her daughters?' said Anne, 'I never heard you mention them.'
'Lucy is a nice quiet girl, and a great ally of Helen's, unless she has cast her off for her new friends at Dykelands,' said Elizabeth; 'she is rather creep-mouse, but has no other fault that I know of. She is like her father's family, something like Mamma. But as for Harriet, the eldest, and her mother's darling, you will soon be sensible of some of her charms. I only hope she will not teaze the children into naughtiness, as she did last year. I do not know what would be done if Horace was at home. One day he had a regular battle with her. It began of course in fun on both sides, but he soon grew angry, and at last tore her frock and trod pretty hard on her foot. I could not be sorry for her, she deserved it so completely; but then poor Horace had to be punished. And another time, she shut Dora up in a dark room, and really it did the poor little girl a great deal of harm; she could not sleep quietly for three nights after. Dora is old enough to take care of herself now; and Edward is quieter than Horace, which is a great comfort; but, oh! I wish the Hazlebys were forty miles off!'
'Now, Lizzie,' said Anne, 'is it not a very strange thing to hear you talk in this manner?—you, the most good-natured person in the world!'
'Thank you,' said Elizabeth; 'that is as much as to say that I am the greatest goose in the world.'
'And you had rather be a goose than ill-natured,' said Anne.
'It does not follow that I should be a goose for want of ill-nature,' said Elizabeth.
'But you say that to be good-natured is to be a goose,' said Anne.
'Yes; but good-nature is too poor a thing to be the reverse of ill-nature,' said Elizabeth, 'it is only a negative quality.'
'I thought good-natured people were those who never used the negative,' said Anne, laughing.
'Do not pun in the middle of a serious argument, Miss Anne,' said Elizabeth, putting on a solemn face.
'Well, I will be quite as grave as the occasion requires,' said Anne. 'I believe I ought to have used the word kindness, as that is as active in good as ill-nature in evil. But pray, Lizzie, do not let us get into any of these abstruse metaphysical discussions, or we shall arrive at conclusions as wise as when we reasoned ourselves into saying, nine years ago, that it was better to be naughty than good, because good people in books were always stupid.'
'Idle as we were,' said Elizabeth, smiling, 'I do not think that we ever intended to act on that maxim. But really, Anne, I do believe that if you had been a prim pattern of perfection, a real good little girl, a true Miss Jenny Meek, who never put her foot in a puddle, never tore her frock, never spoke above her breath, and never laughed louder than a sucking dove, I should never have cared two straws for you.'
'I think little Dora might convince you that goodness and stupidity need not always be united,' said Anne, after a short pause.
'Demure Dolly, as Horace calls her,' said Elizabeth, 'yes, she is a very choice specimen; but, sweet little thing as she is, she would not be half so good a subject for a story as our high-spirited Horace and wild Winifred. Dora is like peaceful times in history—very pleasant to have to do with, but not so entertaining to read about.'
'Poor Dora, I thought she looked disconsolate as well as demure, without Horace,' said Anne.
'She has been very forlorn, poor child,' said Elizabeth; 'there was quite a beautiful chivalrous friendship between the brother and sister, he delighting in her gentleness, and she in his high daring spirit. Edward and Winifred are scarcely companions to her yet, so that she is forced to turn to us and be one of the elders.'
'You think Horace is happy at Sandleford,' said Anne; 'I should hope he would be; Rupert always looks back to his days there with a great deal of pleasure.'
'I hope Horace's teeth will not meet with the same disaster as Rupert's,' said Elizabeth, 'he has not quite so much beauty to spare; but he really is a very fine looking boy, and just the bold merry fellow to get on well at school, so that he is quite happy now that he has recovered the leaving home. But I am afraid my classical lore will die of his departure, for my newly acquired knowledge of Virgil and the Greek declensions will not be of use to Edward these three years. He is only just conquering "Lapis, lapidis."'
'But you can go on with Latin and Greek, alone, as you did with German, cannot you?' said Anne.
'I do sometimes construe a little Virgil,' said Elizabeth; 'but Horace is his natural contemporary, and he is not happy without him. Besides, when I have nothing to oblige me to learn regularly, I do not know when to do it, so Dido has been waiting an unconscionable time upon her funeral pile; for who could think of Jupiter and Venus in the midst of all our preparations for the Consecration?'
'I am glad Helen came home in time for it,' said Anne.
'I began to think we should never see her more,' said Elizabeth; 'there was no gentleman at Dykelands to escort her, and Papa was too busy to fetch her, till at last, Captain Atherley, Mrs. Staunton's brother, took pity upon her, or rather on us, and brought her home.'
'Captain Atherley is the only one of the family whom I have ever seen,' said Anne; 'I have always wished to know something more of them, they were all such friends of Papa's and Mamma's and Aunt Katherine's.'
'If you wish to hear anything of Mrs. Staunton and her daughters,' said Elizabeth, 'you have only to ask Helen; you will open the flood-gates of a stream, which has overwhelmed us all, ever since she came home.'
'Then I hope Helen likes them as well as they seem to like her,' said Anne; 'Mrs. Staunton spoke very highly of her in her letter to Mamma.'
'Oh yes,' said Elizabeth, 'they seem to have done nothing but sit with their mouths open, admiring her; and she really is very much improved, positively grown a reflective creature, and the most graceful as well as the prettiest of the family. She would be almost a beau ideal of a sister, if she had but a few more home feelings, or, as you say, if she did not like the Stauntons quite so much. I wonder what you will think of her. Now are you ready? Let us come down.'
When the two cousins came into the drawing-room, they found the rest of the ladies already there. Katherine and Helen Woodbourne were busy arranging a quantity of beautiful flowers, which had been brought from Merton Hall, to decorate the Vicarage on this occasion. Mrs. Woodbourne was sitting at her favourite little work-table, engaged, as usual, with her delicate Berlin embroidery. A few of the choicest of the flowers had been instantly chosen out for her, and were placed on her table in a slender coloured glass, which she held up to Elizabeth as she entered the room.
'Oh, how beautiful!' cried Elizabeth, advancing to the table, which was strewn with a profusion of flowers. 'What delightful heliotrope and geranium! Oh, Anne! how could you tear off such a branch of Cape jessamine? that must have been your handiwork, you ruthless one.'
'Anne has been more kind to us than to her greenhouse,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'I am afraid she has displeased Mr. Jenkins; but I hope the plants are not seriously damaged.'
'Oh no, indeed,' said Anne, 'you should see the plants before you pity them, Aunt Mildred; we never let Mr. Jenkins scold us for helping ourselves or our friends out of our own garden, for making a great glorious nosegay is a pleasure which I do not know how to forego.'
'Do you call this a nosegay?' said Elizabeth, 'I call it a forest of flowers. Really, a Consecration opens people's hearts;—I do not mean that yours is not open enough on ordinary occasions, Aunt Anne; but when the children took their walk in the alms-house court this morning, they were loaded with flowers from all quarters, beginning with old Mr. Dillon offering Winifred his best variegated dahlia, by name Dod's Mary.'
'Mr. Dillon!' exclaimed Katherine; 'I thought he never gave away his flowers on any account.'
'I know,' said Elizabeth; 'but I have also heard him say that he could not refuse little Miss Winifred if she asked him for the very house over his head.'
'Did she ask him for the dahlia?' said Mrs. Woodbourne.
'No,' said Elizabeth, 'it was a free offer on his part. Dora the discreet tried to make her refuse it, but the dahlia had been gathered long before Winifred could make up her mind to say no; and when the little things came in this morning they looked like walking garlands. Did you see the noble flower-pot in the hall?'
'You must go and look at the fruit which Lady Merton has been so kind as to bring us, Lizzie,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'you never saw such fine grapes and pines.'