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Abbeychurch(13)

2006-08-28 14:26

    Chapter XIII.

    On Monday morning, as soon as breakfast was over, Elizabeth and Katherine went to the school to receive the penny-club money, and to change the lending library books. They were occupied in this manner for about half an hour; and on their return, Elizabeth went to Mrs. Woodbourne's dressing-room, to put away the money, and to give her an account of her transactions. While she was so employed, her father came into the room with a newspaper in his hand.

    'Look here, Mildred,' said he, laying it down on the table before his wife, 'this is what Walker has just brought me.'

    Mrs. Woodbourne glanced at the paragraph he pointed out, and exclaimed, 'O Lizzie! this is a sad thing!'

    Elizabeth advanced, she grew giddy with dismay as she read as follows:

    'On Friday last, a most interesting and instructive lecture on the Rise and Progress of the Institution of Chivalry was delivered at the Mechanics' Institute, in this city, by Augustus Mills, Esq. This young gentleman, from whose elegant talents and uncommon eloquence we should augur no ordinary career in whatever profession may be honoured with his attention, enlarged upon the barbarous manners of the wild untutored hordes among whom the proud pageantry of pretended faith, false honour, and affected punctilio, had its rise. He traced it through its gilded course of blood and carnage, stripped of the fantastic and delusive mantle which romance delights to fling over its native deformity, to the present time, when the general civilization and protection enjoyed in this enlightened age, has left nought but the grim shadow of the destructive form which harassed and menaced our trembling ancestors. We are happy to observe that increasing attendance at the Mechanics' Institute of Abbeychurch, seems to prove that the benefits of education are becoming more fully appreciated by all classes. We observed last Friday, at the able lecture of Mr. Mills, among a numerous assemblage of the distinguished inhabitants and visitors of Abbeychurch, Miss Merton, daughter of Sir Edward Merton, of Merton Hall, Baronet, together with the fair and accomplished daughters of the Rev. H. Woodbourne, our respected Vicar.'

    'I shall certainly contradict it,' continued Mr. Woodbourne, while Elizabeth was becoming sensible of the contents of the paragraph; 'I did not care what Higgins chose to any of my principles, but this is a plain fact, which may be believed if it is not contradicted.'

    'O Mamma, have not you told him?' said Elizabeth faintly.

    'What, do you mean to say that this is true?' exclaimed Mr. Woodbourne, in a voice which sounded to Elizabeth like a clap of thunder.

    'Indeed, Papa,' said she, once looking up in his face, and then bending her eyes on the ground, while the colour in her checks grew deeper and deeper; 'I am sorry to say that it is quite true, that we did so very wrong and foolishly as to go. Helen and Lucy alone were sensible and strong-minded enough to refuse to go.'

    Mr. Woodbourne paced rapidly up and down the room, and Elizabeth plainly saw that his displeasure was great.

    'But, Mr. Woodbourne,' said her mamma, 'she did not know that it was wrong. Do you not remember that she was not at home at the time that Socialist was here? and I never told her of all that passed then. You see it was entirely my fault.'

    'Oh! no, no, Mamma, do not say so!' said Elizabeth; 'it was entirely mine. I was led away by my foolish eagerness and self-will, I was bent on my own way, and cast aside all warnings, and now I see what mischief I have done. Cannot you do anything to repair it, Papa? cannot you say that it was all my doing, my wilfulness, my carelessness of warning, my perverseness?'

    'I wish I had known it before,' said Mr. Woodbourne, 'I could at least have spoken to Mr. Turner on Saturday, and prevented the Mertons' name from appearing.'

    'I did not tell you because I had no opportunity,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'Lizzie came and told me all, the instant she knew that she had done wrong; but I thought it would harass you, and you were so much occupied that I had better wait till all this bustle was over, but she told me everything most candidly, and would have come to you, but that Mr. Roberts was with you at the time.——My dear Lizzie, do not distress yourself so much, I am sure you have suffered a great deal.'

    'O Mamma,' said Elizabeth, 'how can I ever suffer enough for such a tissue of ill-conduct? you never will see how wrong it was in me.'

    'Yet, Lizzie,' said her father kindly, 'we may yet rejoice over the remembrance of this unpleasant affair, if it has made you reflect upon the faults that have led to it.'

    'But what is any small advantage to my own character compared with the injury I have done?' said Elizabeth; 'I have made it appear as if you had granted the very last thing you would ever have thought of; I have led Kate and Anne into disobedience. Oh! I have done more wrongly than I ever thought I could.'

    At this moment Katherine came into the room with some message for Mrs. Woodbourne.

    'Come here, Kate,' said her father; 'read this.'

    Katherine cast a frightened glance upon Elizabeth, who turned away from her. She read on, and presently exclaimed, 'Fair and accomplished daughters! dear me! that is ourselves.' Then catching Elizabeth by the arm, she whispered, 'Does he know it?'

    'Yes, Katherine,' said Mr. Woodbourne sternly; 'your sister has shewn a full conviction that she has done wrong, a feeling of which I am sorry to see that you do not partake.'

    'Indeed, indeed, Papa,' cried Katherine, bursting into tears, 'I am very sorry; I should never have gone if it had not been for the others.'

    'No excuses, if you please, Katherine,' said Mr. Woodbourne; 'I wish to hear exactly how it happened.'

    'First, Papa,' said Elizabeth, 'let me beg one thing of you, do not tell Mrs. Hazleby that Harriet went with us, for she could not know that it was wrong of us to go, and she is very much afraid of her mother's anger.'

    Mr. Woodbourne made a sign of assent; and Elizabeth proceeded to give a full account of the indiscreet expedition, taking the blame so entirely upon herself, that although Katherine was on the watch to contradict anything that might tell unfavourably for her, she could not find a word to gainsay——speaking very highly of Helen, not attempting to make the slightest excuse, or to plead her sorrow for what had happened as a means of averting her father's displeasure, and ending by asking permission to go to Mrs. Turner the instant the Hazlebys had left Abbeychurch, to tell her that the excursion had been entirely without Mr. Woodbourne's knowledge or consent. 'For,' said she, 'that is the least I can do towards repairing what can never be repaired.'

    'I am not sure that that would be quite a wise measure, my dear Lizzie,' said Mrs. Woodbourne.

    'Certainly not,' said Mr. Woodbourne; 'it would put Lizzie in a very unsuitable situation, and in great danger of being impertinent.'

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth; 'I see that I do wrong whichever way I turn.'

    'Come, Lizzie,' said her father, 'I see that I cannot be as much displeased with you as you are with yourself. I believe you are sincerely sorry for what has passed, and now we will do our best to make it useful to you, and prevent it from having any of the bad consequences to my character which distress you so much.'

    Elizabeth was quite overcome by Mr. Woodbourne's kindness, she sprung up, threw her arms round his neck, kissed him, and taking one more look to see that his eyes no longer wore the expression which she dreaded, she darted off to her own room, to give a free course to the tears with which she had long been struggling.

    Katherine, who had been studying the newspaper all this time, seeing Elizabeth's case so easily dismissed, and not considering herself as nearly so much to blame, now giggled out, 'Mamma, did you ever see anyone so impertinent as this man? "Fair and accomplished daughters," indeed! was there ever anything so impertinent?'

    'Yes, Katherine,' said Mr. Woodbourne, 'there is something far more impertinent in a young lady who thinks proper to defy my anger, and to laugh at the consequences of her giddy disobedience.'

    'Indeed, Papa,' said Katherine, 'I am very sorry, but I am sure it was not disobedience. I did not know we were not to go.'

    'Not when you had heard all that was said on the subject last year?' said Mr. Woodbourne; 'I am ashamed to see you resort to such a foolish subterfuge.'

    'I did not remember it,' said Katherine; 'I am sure I should never have gone if I had, but Lizzie was so bent upon it.'

    'Again throwing the blame upon others,' said Mr. Woodbourne; 'your sister has set you a far better example. She forbore from saying what I believe she might have said with perfect truth, that had you not chosen to forget my commands when they interfered with your fancies, she would not have thought of going; and this is the return which you make to her kindness.'

    'Well,' sobbed Katherine, 'I never heard you say we should not go, I do not remember it. You know Mamma says I have a very bad memory.'

    'Your memory is good enough for what pleases yourself,' said Mr. Woodbourne; 'you have been for some time past filling your head with vanity and gossipping, without making the slightest attempt to improve yourself or strengthen your mind, and this is the consequence. However, this you will remember if you please, that it is my desire that you associate no more with that silly chattering girl, Miss Turner, than your sisters do. You know that I never approved of your making a friend of her, but you did not choose to listen to any warnings.'

    Katherine well knew that her father had often objected to her frequently going to drink tea with the Turners, and had checked her for talking continually of her friend; and anyone not bent on her own way would have thought these hints enough, but as they were not given with a stern countenance, or in a peremptory manner, she had paid no attention to them. Now, she could not be brought to perceive what her fault really had been, but only sobbed out something about its being very hard that she should have all the scolding, when it was Lizzie's scheme, not hers. Again forgetting that she had been the original proposer of the expedition.

    'Pray, my dear, do not go on defending yourself,' said Mrs. Woodbourne, 'you see it does no good.'

    'But, Mamma,' whined Katherine, in such a tone that Mr. Woodbourne could bear it no longer, and ordered her instantly to leave the room, and not to appear again till she could shew a little more submission. She obeyed, after a little more sobbing and entreating; and as she closed the door behind her, Harriet came out of the opposite room.

    'What is the matter?' whispered she; 'has it all come out?'

    'Yes, it is in the paper, and Papa is very angry,' sighed Katherine.

    'Is there anything about me?' asked Harriet eagerly, paying no regard to poor Katherine's woful appearance and streaming eyes.

    'Oh no, nothing,' said Katherine, hastening away, as Mrs. Hazleby and Lucy came into the passage.

    'Hey-day! what is all this about?' exclaimed the former, encountering Mr. Woodbourne, as he came out of his wife's dressing-room; 'what is the matter now?'

    'I believe your daughter can explain it better than I can,' answered Mr. Woodbourne, giving her the paper, and walking away to his study as soon as he came to the bottom of the stairs.

    As soon as Mrs. Hazleby found herself in the drawing-room she called upon her eldest daughter to explain to her the meaning of what she saw in the newspaper.

    'Why, Mamma,' Harriet began, 'you know Miss Merton and Lizzie Woodbourne care for nothing but history and all that stuff, and do not mind what they do, as long as they can talk, talk, talk of nothing else all day long. So they were at it the day you dined out, and they had some question or other, whether King Arthur's Round Table were knights or not, till at last Kate said something about the Institute, and they were all set upon going, though Helen told them they had better not, so out we went, we walked all together to Mrs. Turner's, and she took them. I suppose Fido must have fallen into the river while they were at the Institute.'

    'Poor dear little fellow, I dare say that was the way he was lost,' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'when once young people take that kind of nonsense into their head, there is an end of anything else. Well, and how was it we never heard of it all this time?'

    'I think no one would wish to tell of it,' said Harriet; 'you would not have heard of it now, if it had not been in the paper.'

    'Well, I hope Miss Lizzie will have enough of it,' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'it will open her papa's eyes to all her conceit, if anything will.'

    'I am sure it is time,' said Harriet; 'she thinks herself wiser than all the world, one cannot speak a word for her.'

    'O Harriet!' said Lucy, looking up from her work with some indignation in her eyes.

    'I believe you think it all very grand, Lucy,' said her mother; 'you care for nothing as long as you can dawdle about with Helen. Pray did you go to this fine place?'

    'No, Mamma,' said Lucy.

    'H——m,' said Mrs. Hazleby, rather disappointed at losing an opportunity of scolding her.

    Anne had gone to write a letter in her mother's room, whilst Elizabeth was busy. She had just finished it, and was thinking of going to see whether anyone was ready to read in the school-room, when Rupert came in, and making a low bow, addressed her thus: 'So, Miss Nancy, I congratulate you.'

    'What is the matter now?' said Anne.

    'Pray, Anne,' said he, 'did you ever experience the satisfaction of feeling how pleasant it is to see one's name in print?'

    'You were very near having something like that pleasure yourself,' said Anne; 'it was only your arrival on Friday that saved the expense of an advertisement at the head of a column in the Times——

    "R. M., return, return, return to your sorrowing friends."' 'Pray be more speedy next time,' said Rupert, 'for then I shall be even with you.'

    'I am sure you have some wickedness in your head, or all your speeches would not begin with "Pray,"' said Anne; 'what do you mean?'

    'What I say,' answered Rupert; 'I have just read Miss Merton's name in the paper.'

    'Some other Miss Merton, you foolish boy!' said Anne.

    'No, no, yourself, Anne Katherine Merton, daughter of Sir Edward,' said Rupert.

    'My dear Rupert, you do not mean it!' said Anne, somewhat alarmed.

    'I saw it with my eyes,' said Rupert.

    'But where?'

    'In the Abbeychurch Reporter, or whatever you call it.'

    'Oh!' said Anne, looking relieved, 'we are probably all there, as having been at the Consecration.'

    'The company there present, are, I believe, honoured with due mention of Sir Edward Merton and family,' said Rupert; 'but I am speaking of another part of the paper where Miss Merton is especially noted, alone in her glory.'

    'In what paper did you say, Rupert?' said Lady Merton.

    'The Abbeychurch Reporter,' said he.

    'Mr. Higgins's paper!' said Anne. 'O Mamma, I see it all——that horrible Mechanics' Institute!'

    'Why, Anne,' said her brother, 'I thought you would be charmed with your celebrity.'

    'But where have you seen it, Rupert?' said Anne; 'poor Lizzie, has she heard it?'

    'Mr. Walker came in just now in great dismay, to shew it to Mr. Woodbourne,' said Rupert; 'and they had a very long discussion on the best means of contradicting it, to which I listened with gravity, quite heroic, I assure you, considering all things. Then my uncle carried it off to shew it to his wife, and I came up to congratulate you.'

    'I am sure it is no subject of congratulation,' said Anne; 'where was Papa all the time?'

    'Gone to call on Mr. Somerville,' said Rupert.

    'But I thought Lizzie had told her father,' said Lady Merton.

    'She told Mrs. Woodbourne directly,' said Anne; 'but she could not get at my uncle, and I suppose Mrs. Woodbourne had not told him. What an annoyance for them all! I hope Mr. Woodbourne is not very much displeased.'

    'He was more inclined to laugh than to be angry, said Rupert; 'and it is indeed a choice morceau, worthy of Augustus Mills, Esquire, himself. I hope Mr. Woodbourne will bring it down-stairs, that you may explain to me the rare part which describes the decrepid old Giant Chivalry, sitting in his den, unable to do any mischief, only biting his nails at the passers by, like the Giant Pope in the Pilgrim's Progress.'

    Anne could not help laughing. 'But, Rupert,' said she, 'pray do not say too much about it in the evening. I am not at all sure that Papa will not be very much displeased to see his name figuring in the paper as if he was a supporter of this horrid place. I wish, as Lizzie says, that I had cut my head off before I went, for it has really come to be something serious. Papa's name will seem to sanction their proceedings.'

    'My dear,' said Lady Merton, 'you may comfort yourself by remembering that your Papa's character is too well known to be affected by such an assertion as this; most people will not believe it, and those who do, can only think that his daughter is turning radical, not himself.'

    'Ay, this is the first public decisive act of Miss Merton's life,' said Rupert; 'no wonder so much is made of it.'

    'But, Rupert,' said Anne, 'I only beg of you not to say anything about it to Lizzie.'

    'You cut me off from everything diverting,' said Rupert; 'you are growing quite impertinent, but I will punish you some day when you do not expect it.'

    'I do not care what you do when we are at home,' said Anne; 'I defy you to do your worst then; only spare Lizzie and me while we are here.'

    'Spare Lizzie, indeed!' said Rupert; 'she does not want your protection, she is able enough to take care of herself.'

    'I believe Rupert's five wits generally go off halting, from the sharp encounter of hers,' said Lady Merton.

    'And therefore he wants to gain a shabby advantage over a wounded enemy,' said Anne; 'I give you up, you recreant; your name should have been Oliver, instead of Rupert.'

    'There is an exemplification of the lecture,' said Rupert; 'impotent chivalry biting its nails with disdain and despite.'

    'Well, Mamma,' said Anne, 'since chivalry is impotent, I shall leave you to tame that foul monster with something else; I will have no more to do with him.'

    She went to fetch her work out of her bed-room, but on seeing Elizabeth there, her pocket-handkerchief in her hand, and traces of tears on her face, was hastily retreating, when her cousin said, 'Come in,' and added, 'So, Anne, you have heard, the murder is out.'

    'The Mechanics' Institute, you mean,' said Anne, 'not Fido.'

    'Not Fido,' said Elizabeth; 'but the rest of the story is out; I mean, it is not known who killed Cock Robin, and I do not suppose it ever will be; but the Mechanics' Institute affair is in the newspaper, and it is off my mind, for I have had it all out with Papa. And, Anne, he was so very kind, that I do not know how to think of it. He made light of the annoyance to himself on purpose to console me, and——but,' added she, smiling, while the tears came into her eyes again, 'I must not talk of him, or I shall go off into another cry, and not be fit for the reading those unfortunate children have been waiting for so long. Tell me, are my eyes very unfit to be seen?'

    'Not so very bad,' said Anne.

    'Well, I cannot help it if they are,' said Elizabeth; 'come down and let us read.'

    They found Helen alone in the school-room, where she had been sitting ever since breakfast-time, thinking that the penny club was occupying Elizabeth most unusually long this morning.

    'Helen,' said Elizabeth, as she came into the room, 'Papa knows the whole story, and I can see that he is as much pleased with your conduct as I am sure you deserve.'

    All was explained in a few words. Helen was now by no means inclined to triumph in her better judgement, for, while she had been waiting, alone with her drawing, she had been thinking over all that had passed since the unfortunate Friday evening, wondering that she could ever have believed that Elizabeth was not overflowing with affection, and feeling very sorry for the little expression of triumph which she had allowed to escape her in her ill-temper on Saturday. 'Lizzie,' said she, 'will you forgive me for that very unkind thing I said to you?'

    Elizabeth did not at first recollect what it was, and when she did, she only said, 'Nonsense, Helen, I never consider what people say when they are cross, any more than when they are drunk.'

    Anne was very much diverted by the idea of Elizabeth's experience of what drunken people said, or of drunkenness and ill-temper being allied, and her merriment restored the spirits of her cousins, and took off from what Elizabeth called the 'awfulness of a grand pardoning scene.' Helen was then sent to summon the children to their lessons, which were happily always supposed to begin later on a Monday than on any other day of the week.

    The study door was open, and as she passed by, her father called her into the room. 'Helen,' said he, 'Elizabeth tells me that you acted the part of a sensible and obedient girl the other evening, and I am much pleased to hear it.'

    Helen stood for a few moments, too much overcome with delight and surprise to be able to speak. Mr. Woodbourne went on writing, and she bounded upstairs with something more of a hop, skip, and jump, than those steps had known from her foot since she had been an inhabitant of the nursery herself, thinking 'What would he say if he knew that I only refused to go, out of a spirit of opposition?' yet feeling the truth of what Anne had said, that her father's praise, rarely given, and only when well earned, was worth all the Stauntons' admiration fifty times over.

    When Mrs. Woodbourne came down, she advised Helen not to call Katherine, saying that she thought it would be better for her to be left to herself, so that she was seen no more till just before the Hazlebys departed, when she came down to take leave of them, looking very pale, her eyes very red, and her voice nearly choking, but still there was no appearance of submission about her.

    'Helen,' said Lucy, as they were standing in the window of the inner drawing-room, 'I should like you to tell Aunt Mildred how very much I have enjoyed this visit.'

    'I wish you would tell her so yourself,' said Helen; 'I am sure you cannot be afraid of her, Lucy.'

    'Oh no, I am not afraid of her,' said Lucy, 'only I do not like to say this to her. It is putting myself too forward almost, to say it to you even, Helen; but I have been wishing all the time I have been here, to thank her for having been so very kind as to mention me especially, in her letter to Papa.'

    'But have you really enjoyed your visit here?' said Helen, thinking how much she had felt for Lucy on several occasions.

    'Oh! indeed I have, Helen,' answered she; 'to say nothing of the Consecration, such a sight as I may never see again in all my life, and which must make everyone very happy who has anything to do with your Papa, and Aunt Mildred; it has been a great treat to be with you all again, and to see your uncle and aunt, and Miss Merton. I hardly ever saw such a delightful person as Miss Merton, so clever and so sensible, and now I shall like to hear all you have to say about her in your letters.'

    'Yes, I suppose Anne is clever and sensible,' said Helen musingly.

    'Do not you think her so?' said Lucy, with some surprise.

    'Why, yes, I do not know,' said Helen, hesitating; 'but then, she does laugh so very much.'

    Lucy could not make any answer, for at this moment her mother called her to make some arrangement about the luggage; but she pondered a little on the proverb which declares that it is well to be merry and wise.

    Mrs. Hazleby had been condoling with Mr. Woodbourne upon his daughter's misbehaviour, and declaring that her dear girls would never dream of taking a single step without her permission, but that learning was the ruin of young ladies.

    Mr. Woodbourne listened to all this discourse very quietly, without attempting any remark, but as soon as the Hazlebys had gone up-stairs to put on their bonnets, he said, 'Well, I wish Miss Harriet joy of her conscience.'

    'I wish Barbara had been more gentle with those girls,' replied Mrs. Woodbourne, with a sigh. And this was all that passed between the elders on the subject of the behaviour of Miss Harriet Hazleby.

    Mr. Woodbourne and Rupert accompanied Mrs. Hazleby and her daughters to the railroad station, Rupert shewing himself remarkably polite to Mrs. Hazleby's pet baskets, and saving Lucy from carrying the largest and heaviest of them, which generally fell to her share.

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