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Abbeychurch(5)

2006-08-28 14:10

    Chapter V.

    The morning of the twenty-eighth of August was as fine as heart could wish, and the three sisters rose almost as soon as it was light, to fulfil their promise of attending to all the small nondescript matters of arrangement, needful when a large party is expected by a family not much in the habit of receiving company. Katherine, who had quite given up all thoughts of equalling her elder sister in talent, and who prided herself on being the useful member of the family, made herself very busy in the store-room; Helen, arranged the fruit with much taste; and Elizabeth was up-stairs and down, here, there, and everywhere, till it was difficult to find anything which she had not rectified by labour of head or hand.

    'Well,' said she, as she brought Helen a fresh supply of vine leaves from the garden, 'I wonder whether Rupert will come in time. I shall be very sorry if he does not, for he has done a great deal for the church.'

    'Has he indeed?' said Helen, with an air that expressed, 'I should not have thought it.'

    'O Helen, how can you take so little interest in the church?' said Elizabeth; 'do not you remember how much trouble Rupert took to find a pattern for the kneeling-stools, and what a beautiful drawing he sent of those at Magdalen Collegia Chapel? I am sure he would be very much vexed to miss the Consecration.'

    'I suppose he might come if he pleased,' said Helen; 'but perhaps he did not choose to get up early enough.'

    'That is the first time I ever heard Rupert accused of indolence,' said Elizabeth.

    'I do not mean that he does not generally get up in good time,' said Helen; 'he is not lazy; but I do not think he chooses to put himself out of the way; and besides, he rather likes to make people anxious about him.'

    'I know you have never liked Rupert,' said Elizabeth drily.

    'Papa thinks as I do,' said Helen; 'I have heard him say that he is a spoiled child, and thinks too much of himself.'

    'Oh! that was only because Aunt Anne worked that beautiful waistcoat for him,' said Elizabeth; 'that was not Rupert's fault.'

    'And Papa said that he was quite fond enough already of smart waistcoats,' said Helen; 'and he laughed at his wearing a ring.'

    'That is only a blood-stone with his crest,' said Elizabeth, 'and I am sure no one can accuse Rupert of vulgar smartness.'

    'Not of vulgar smartness,' said Helen, 'but you must allow that everything about him has a——kind of——what shall I say?——recherche air, that seems as if he thought a great deal of himself; I am sure you must have heard Papa say something of the kind.'

    'Really, Helen,' said Elizabeth, 'I cannot think why you should be determined to say all that you can against that poor Rupert.'

    Helen made no answer.

    'I do believe,' said Elizabeth, 'that you have had a grudge against him ever since he made you an April fool. Oh! how capital it was,' cried she, sitting down to laugh at the remembrance. 'To make you believe that the beautiful work-box Uncle Edward sent you, was a case of surgical instruments for Mr. Turner, to shew his gratitude for his attendance upon Rupert when he had the fever, and for setting his mouth to rights when his teeth were knocked out at school. Oh! there never was such fun as to see how frightened you looked, and how curious Kate and Horace were, and how Mamma begged him not to open the box and shew her the horrid things.'

    'I wish Rupert would keep to the truth with his jokes,' said Helen.

    'Helen,' said Elizabeth, 'you cannot mean to say that he ever says what is untrue. You are letting yourself be carried much too far by your dislike.'

    'If he does not positively assert what is not true, he often makes people believe it,' said Helen.

    'Only stupid people, who have no perception of a joke,' said Elizabeth; 'he never deceived me with any joke; it is only that you do not understand.'

    'I wonder how such a candid person as you are, can defend the slightest departure from truth for any purpose,' said Helen.

    'I would not defend anyone whom I did not believe to be upright and open,' said Elizabeth; 'but it is only your slowness, and old spite against Rupert because he used to joke you, that puts these fancies into your head. Now I must go to the children; I hope, Helen, you will really enter into the spirit of the day, little as you seem to care about the church.'

    Helen gave a deep sigh as her sister left the room; she was vexed at having been laughed at, at the disregard of her arguments, at the reproach, and perhaps a little at Elizabeth's having taken no notice of the beautiful pyramid of cherries which had cost her half an hour's labour.

    There was some truth in what Helen said of her cousin, though few would have given his faults so much prominence. Rupert Merton was an only son, and very handsome, and this was the history of nearly all his foibles. No one could say that his career at school, and so far at college, had not been everything that could be wished, and most people had nearly as high an opinion of him as he had of himself; but Helen, who had almost always been made a laughing-stock when he was with her, had not quite so agreeable a recollection of his lively, graceful, pleasant manners as her sisters had, and was glad to find that his tormenting ways were not entirely caused by her own querulous temper, as Elizabeth sometimes told her they were.

    When Mrs. Woodbourne came down, Helen's handiwork received its full share of admiration, and Mrs. Woodbourne was much pleased by the girls' forethought and activity, which had saved her from a great deal of fatigue.

    The breakfast was quickly finished, and immediately afterwards the four eldest Miss Woodbournes, together with Anne, went to the school to see if the children were ready to go to church. It was pleasant to see the smiling courtesying row of girls, each with her Prayer- book in her hand, replying to Elizabeth's nods, greetings, and questions, with bright affectionate looks, or a few words, which shewed that they were conscious of the solemnity of the service in which they were about to bear a part.

    Elizabeth left her sisters and Anne to assist the school-mistress in marshalling them on their way to church, and returned home to fetch Edward and Winifred, whom she had engaged to take with her. She found that nearly all the party were gone, and report said that the Bishop had arrived at the house of Mr. Somerville, who was to be curate of St. Austin's. Winifred and Edward were watching for her at the door, in great dread of being forgotten, for they said, 'Papa had come for Mamma, and fetched her away in a great hurry, and then Harriet and Lucy set off after them, and Uncle Edward had taken Aunt Anne long before to look at the church.' Elizabeth was rejoicing in the prospect of a quiet walk with the children, and was only delaying in a vain attempt to reduce the long fingers of Winifred's glove to something more like the length of the short fingers of its owner, when a sharp voice at the top of the stairs cried out, 'Wait for me!' and Mrs. Hazleby appeared, looking very splendid in a short black silk cloak trimmed with scarlet.

    'Where have you been all this time?' said she to Elizabeth, while she caught hold of Winifred's hand, or, more properly speaking, of her wrist; 'we shall all be too late.'

    'I have been at the school,' said Elizabeth.

    'What! do you keep school to-day?' asked Mrs. Hazleby.

    'No,' said Elizabeth, 'but the children are going to the Consecration.'

    'Poor little things!' exclaimed Mrs. Hazleby; 'how will they sit out such a service?'

    'None under seven years old are to be there,' said Elizabeth, 'and of the older ones only those who are tolerably good; and I should think they could join in the service sufficiently to prevent them from finding it tedious.'

    'Well, I hope so,' said Mrs. Hazleby, in a voice which meant, 'What nonsense!' 'How steep the hill is!' added she presently; 'what a fatigue for old people!'

    'It is not nearly so steep on the other side,' replied Elizabeth, 'and the people on this side have the old church.'

    'Why did they choose such an exposed situation?' continued Mrs. Hazleby; 'so hot in summer, and so cold in winter.'

    'There was no other open piece of ground to be had near enough to the new town,' answered Elizabeth, keeping to herself an additional reason, which was, that tradition said that there had once been a little chapel dedicated in the name of St. Augustine, on the site of the new church. Mrs. Hazleby was silent for a few moments, when, as they came in sight of what was passing at the top of the hill, she saw a gentleman hasten across the church-yard, and asked who he was.

    'Mr. Somerville, the new curate,' was the answer.

    'What! another curate? I thought Mr. Walker might have been enough!' exclaimed Mrs. Hazleby.

    'Papa did not think so,' said Elizabeth drily.

    'Well, I suppose that is another hundred a year out of Mr. Woodbourne's pocket,' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'enough to ruin his family.'

    'I am sure,' said Elizabeth, beginning to grow angry, 'Papa had rather do his duty as a clergyman, than lay up thousands for us.'

    'Fine talking for young things,' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'besides, it is nothing to you, you three elder ones will be well enough off with your mother's fortune.'

    Elizabeth was more annoyed and provoked by this speech than by anything Mrs. Hazleby had ever said to her before; her cheeks burnt with indignation, and something which felt very like shame, but her bonnet concealed them, and she attempted no reply. Mrs. Hazleby began talking to Winifred about her new sash, and criticizing Elizabeth's dress; and though Elizabeth could have wished Winifred's mind to have been occupied with other things at such a time, yet she was glad of the opportunity this diversion gave her to compose herself before entering the church.

    Almost everyone who has ever joined in our beautiful Consecration Service, can imagine the feelings of some of the party from the Vicarage——can figure to themselves Mrs. Woodbourne's quiet tears; Dora's happy yet awe-struck face; Anne sympathizing with everyone, rather than feeling on her own account; can think of the choking overwhelming joy with which Elizabeth looked into little Edward's wondering eyes, as the name of their father was read, the first among those who petitioned the Bishop to set that building apart from all ordinary and common uses; can feel, or perhaps have known, the exultation with which she joined in the Psalms, and the swelling of heart as she followed the prayer for a blessing on the families of those who had been the means of the building of that House. But we must go no farther; for, such thoughts and scenes are too high to be more than touched upon in a story of this kind; therefore we will only add, that Winifred and Edward behaved quite as well as Elizabeth had engaged that they should do, only beginning to yawn just before the end of the service.

    After they had returned from the church, the luncheon at the Vicarage gave ample employment to Elizabeth's hands, and nearly enough to her thoughts, in carving cold chicken, and doing the honours of Merton Hall peaches, at the side-table; and she was very glad, when at three o'clock the company adjourned to the quadrangle, to see the school- children's feast.

    The quadrangle was enclosed on the north side by the old church, on the south and west by the alms-houses, and on the east by the low wall of the Vicarage garden; there was a wide gravel path all round the court, and here tables were spread, around which were to be seen the merry faces of all the children of the two schools——the boys, a uniform rank arrayed in King Edward's blue coats and yellow stockings, with but a small proportion of modern-looking youths in brown or blue, and deep white collars——the girls, a long party- coloured line, only resembling each other in the white tippets, which had lately encumbered Elizabeth's room.

    Much activity was called for, from all who chose to take part in supplying the children; the young ladies' baskets of buns were rapidly emptied, and Mr. Somerville's great pitcher of tea frequently drained, although he pretended to be very exclusive, and offer his services to none but the children of St. Austin's, to whom Winifred introduced him. The rest of the company walked round the cloisters, which were covered with dark red roses and honeysuckles, talking to the old people, admiring their flowers, especially Mr. Dillon's dahlias, and watching the troop of children, who looked like a living flower-bed.

    Mrs. Hazleby chanced to be standing near Mrs. Bouverie, a lady who lived at some distance from Abbeychurch, and who was going to stay and dine at the Vicarage. She was tolerably well acquainted with Mr. Woodbourne, but she had not seen the girls since they were quite young children, and now, remarking Elizabeth, she asked Mrs. Hazleby if she was one of Mr. Woodbourne's daughters.

    'Oh yes,' said Mrs. Hazleby, 'the eldest of them.'

    'She has a remarkably fine countenance,' said Mrs. Bouverie.

    'Do you admire her?' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'well, I never could see anything so remarkably handsome in Lizzie Woodbourne. Too thin, too sharp, too high-coloured; Kate is twenty times prettier, to say nothing of the little ones.'

    'I should not call Miss Woodbourne pretty,' said Mrs. Bouverie, 'but I think her brow and eye exceedingly beautiful and full of expression.'

    'Oh yes,' cried Mrs. Hazleby, 'she is thought vastly clever, I assure you, though for my part I never could see anything in her but pertness.'

    'She has not the air of being pert,' said Mrs. Bouverie.

    'Oh! she can give herself airs enough,' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'my poor sister-in-law has had trouble enough with her; just like her mother, they say.'

    'So I was thinking,' said Mrs. Bouverie, looking at Elizabeth, who was stooping down to a little shy girl, and trying to hear her whispered request.

    Mrs. Bouverie spoke in a tone so different from that which Mrs. Hazleby expected, that even she found that she had gone too far, and recollected that it was possible that Mrs. Bouverie might have known the first Mrs. Woodbourne. She changed her note. 'Just like her poor mother, and quite as delicate, poor girl.'

    'Is she indeed?' said Mrs. Bouverie, in a tone of great interest.

    'Yes, that she is, scarcely ever without a cough. Full of spirits, you see——rather too, much of it; but I should not be surprised any day——'

    At this moment Winifred came running up, to cry, 'Look, Aunt Hazleby, at the basket of balls; I have been to the house to fetch them, and now the boys are going away to the cricket-ground, and the girls are to have a famous game at play.'

    Mrs. Hazleby only said, 'Hm,' but the other lady paid more attention to the little girl, who was very little troubled with shyness, and soon was very happy——throwing the balls to the girls, and——at the same time——chattering to Mrs. Bouverie, and saying a great deal about 'Lizzie,' telling how Lizzie said that one little girl was good and another was naughty, that Lizzie said she should soon begin to teach her French; Lizzie taught her all her lessons, Mamma only heard her music; Lizzie had shewn her where to look in her Consecration-book, so that she should not be puzzled at Church to-day; Lizzie said she had behaved very well, and that she should tell Papa so; she had a red ribbon with a medal with Winchester Cathedral upon it, which Lizzie let her wear to shew Papa and Mamma when she was good at her lessons; she hoped she should wear it to-day, though she had not done any lessons, for Lizzie said it was a joyful day, like a Sunday. All this made Mrs. Bouverie desirous of being acquainted with 'Lizzie,' but she could find no opportunity of speaking to her, as Elizabeth never willingly came near strangers, and was fully occupied with the school-children, so that she and Anne were the last to come in-doors to dress.

    They were surprised on coming in to find Helen sitting on the last step of the stairs, with Dora on her lap, the latter crying bitterly, and Helen using all those means of consolation, which, with the best intention, have generally the effect of making matters worse. As soon as Elizabeth appeared, Dora sprang towards her, exclaiming, 'Lizzie, dear Lizzie, do you know, Aunt Hazleby says that my mamma is not your mamma, nor Kate's, nor Helen's, and I do not like it. What does she mean? Lizzie, I do not understand.'

    Elizabeth looked up rather fiercely; but, kissing her little sister, said, gently, 'Yes, Dora, it is really true, my own mother lies in the churchyard. I will shew you where.'

    'And are you, not my sisters?' asked Dora, holding firmly by the hands of Elizabeth, and Helen.

    'Oh yes, yes, Dora!' cried Helen, 'we are your sisters, only not quite, the same as Winifred.'

    'And have you no mamma, really no mamma?' continued Dora looking frightened, although soothed by Elizabeth's manner, and by feeling that the truth was really told her.

    'Not really, Dora; but your mamma is quite the same to us as if she really was our mother,' said. Elizabeth, leading the little girl away, and leaving Anne and Helen looking unutterable things at each other.

    Helen then went into the large, drawing-room, to fetch some, of her out-of-door apparel which she had left there, and Anne followed her. No one was in the room but Mrs. Hazleby, who looked more disconcerted than Helen had ever seen her before. She seemed to think, it necessary to make some apology, and began, 'I am sure I had no notion that, the child did not know it all perfectly at her age.'

    'Mamma has always wished to keep the little ones from knowing of any difference as long as possible,' said Helen, rather indignantly; but recollecting herself, she added, 'I think Dora is rather tired, and perhaps she was the more easily overcome for that reason.'

    'Ah! very likely, poor child,' said Mrs. Hazleby; 'it was folly to take her to such a ceremony.'

    'She seemed to enjoy it, and enter into it as much as any of us,' said Helen.

    'Ah! well, some people's children are vastly clever,' said Mrs. Hazleby. 'Do you know where Fido is, Miss Helen? if one may ask you such a question.'

    Helen replied very courteously, by an offer to go and look for him. He was quickly found, and as soon as she had brought him to his mistress, she followed Anne to Elizabeth's room, where in a short time they were joined by the latter, looking worn and tired, and with the brilliant flush of excitement on her cheeks.

    'Is Dora comforted?' was the first question asked on her entrance.

    'Oh yes,' said Elizabeth, 'that was soon settled; she was only scared, so I took her to Mamma, who kissed us both, told Dora she loved us all the same, and so on; which made her quite happy again.'

    'Dear little affectionate creature!' exclaimed Helen warmly.

    'How very angry with her Mrs. Hazleby seemed!' said Anne.

    'Yes,' said Helen, 'because Dora came to me in her distress, and would not let Mrs. Hazleby kiss her.'

    'How came Mrs. Hazleby to begin upon it?' said Elizabeth; 'was it from her instinctive perception of disagreeable subjects?'

    'I can hardly tell,' said Helen, 'I was not there at first; I rather think——' but here she stopped short, and looked confused.

    'Well, what do you think?'

    'Why, I believe it arose from her seeing Uncle Edward playing with Edward on the green,' began Helen, with a good deal of hesitation, 'saying that he was his godfather, and——and she——she hoped he would be would be as——he would do as much for him, as if he was actually his uncle.'

    'Horrid woman!' said Elizabeth, blushing deeply.

    'My dear Lizzie,' said Anne, laughing, 'do you hope he will not?'

    'Nonsense, Anne,' said Elizabeth, laughing too; 'but I hope you quite give up the Hazlebys after this specimen.'

    'Now, Lizzie,' said Helen, 'that is quite in your unjust sweeping style of censuring. You do not mean to say that Lucy, or the Major, or the boys, are disagreeable.'

    'Root and branch, they are all infected,' said Elizabeth; 'who could help it, living with Mrs. Hazleby?'

    'Pray do not be so unfair, Lizzie,' continued Helen; 'I am sure that Lucy is a most amiable, sensible, gentle creature; the more to be admired for having such a mother and sister.'

    'By way of foil, I suppose,' said Elizabeth; 'still, saving your presence, Helen, I think that if Lucy had all the sense you ascribe to her, she might keep things a little more straight.'

    'Really, Lizzie,' said Helen, 'it is not like you to blame poor Lucy for her misfortunes; but I know very well that you only do it to contradict me.'

    'Well,' said Elizabeth impatiently, 'I do allow that she is a redeeming point, but I do not give her such hyperbolical praise as you do; I may say she is the best of them, without calling her a paragon of perfection.'

    'I never called her any such thing!' exclaimed Helen; 'but you will always wrest my words, and pretend to misunderstand me.'

    'I am sorry I have vexed you, Helen,' said Elizabeth, more kindly; and Helen left the room.

    'Indeed, Lizzie,' said Anne, 'I cannot think why you argued against this poor girl, after what you said yesterday.'

    'Because I cannot bear Helen's sententious decided manner,' said Elizabeth; 'and she exaggerates so much, that I must sometimes take her down.'

    'But,' said Anne, 'do you not exaggerate the exaggeration, and so put her more in the right than yourself?'

    'You mean by turning her string of superlatives into a paragon of perfection,' said Elizabeth; 'I certainly believe I was unjust, but I could not help it.'

    Anne did not see that her cousin might not have helped it, but she thought she had said enough on the subject, and let it pass.

    'Now, Anne,' said Elizabeth, presently after, 'what strange people we are, to stand here abusing Helen and the Hazlebys, instead of talking over such wonderful happiness as it is to think that your father and mine have been allowed to complete such a work as this church.'

    'Indeed it is wonderful happiness,' said Anne, her eyes filling with tears, 'but I do not know whether you feel as I do, that it is too great, too overwhelming, to talk of now it is fresh. We shall enjoy looking back to it more when we are further from it.'

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth; 'this morning I was only fit to laugh or cry, at I did not know what, and now I am vexed with myself for having been too much occupied and annoyed with little things to be happy enough. This Consecration day will be a glorious time to look back to, when it is alone on the horizon, and we have lost sight of all that blemishes it now. I will tell you what it will be like. I once saw the Church, on a misty day, from a great distance. It was about the middle of the day, and the veil of mist was hanging all round the hill, but there stood the Church, clear and bright, and alone in the sunshine, all the scaffold poles and unfinished roughness lost sight of in the distance. I never saw a more beautiful sight.'

    'And do you expect that distance of time will conceal all blemishes as well as distance of place?' said Anne.

    'Yes, unless I take a telescope to look at them with,' answered Elizabeth; 'perhaps, Anne, in thirty years time, if we both live so long, we may meet and talk over this day, and smile, and wonder that we could have been vexed by anything at such a time.'

    'You like looking forward,' said Anne; 'I suppose I am too happy, for I am afraid to look forward; any change of any sort must bring sorrow with it.'

    'I suppose you are right,' said Elizabeth; 'that is, I believe the safest frame of mind to be that which resigns itself to anything that may be appointed for it, rather than that which makes schemes and projects for itself.'

    'Oh! but, Lizzie,' said Anne, 'I did not mean that. Mine is rather an indolent frame, which does not scheme, because my present condition is, I do believe, happier than any I could imagine upon earth. I do not think that is resignation——there are some things under which I do not think I could be resigned, at least not with my present feelings.'

    'Yes, you would, Anne,' said Elizabeth; 'you are just the calm tempered person who would rise up to meet the trial in peace.——But I do not know what I am talking about; and so I shall go on with what I meant to say before——that bright visions are my great delight. I like to fancy what Horace and Edward may be, I like to imagine my own mind grown older, I like to consider what I shall think of the things that occupy us now. But then I am not likely to be disappointed, even if my castles in the air should fall down. You know I am not likely to be a long-lived person.'

    'Oh! do not say so, my dear Lizzie,' cried Anne; 'I cannot bear it.'

    'Indeed, Anne,' said Elizabeth, 'I did not mean to say anything which could shock you. I only touched upon what you must have known half your life, and what Mrs. Hazleby has taken good care that I should not forget. I am perfectly well now, and have nothing the matter with me; but then I know that a little illness has a great effect upon me, and my colds are much sooner caught than cured.'

    Before Anne could answer, there was a knock at the door, and Lady Merton's maid appeared, ready to dress her young lady for the evening; and thus the conversation ended.

    The girls were to drink tea in the inner drawing-room, as soon as the company were gone into the dining-room; and Anne and Elizabeth waited to come down-stairs till dinner had begun.

    As soon as they entered the room, Harriet began to admire the lace trimming of Anne's dress, asking many questions about it, to all of which Anne replied with great good nature. As soon as the lace had been sufficiently discussed, Harriet turned round to Elizabeth, exclaiming, 'Why, Lizzie, why in the world have you taken to that fashion of doing your hair? it makes you look thinner than ever. Such dark hair too! it wants a little colour to relieve it; why do you not wear a red band in it, like mine?'

    'I thought this way of wearing it saved time,' said Elizabeth; 'but I believe I shall curl it again.'

    'Indeed I hope you will; you have no notion how thin it makes you look,' said Harriet.

    'Of course I must look thin if I am thin,' said Elizabeth, a good deal annoyed by Harriet's pertinacity.

    'Thin you are, indeed,' continued Harriet, taking hold of her wrist. Elizabeth drew back hastily, and Harriet relinquished it; conscious perhaps, that however thin the arm might look, her own broad ruddy hand would hardly bear a comparison with Elizabeth's long slender white fingers, and returned to the subject of the hair, shaking her profusion of ringlets.

    'And straight hair is all the fashion now, but I think it gives a terrible dowdy look. Only that does not signify when you are not out.——By-the-bye, Miss Merton, are you out?'

    'I shall not be seventeen these three months,' said Anne.

    'Well, I am not seventeen yet, nor near it,' pursued Harriet; 'but I always dine out, and at home too. Don't I, Lucy?'

    Elizabeth did not think it necessary to make any apology for Harriet's not having been asked to dine with the company, since Mrs. Woodbourne had already settled that matter with Mrs. Hazleby; but Katharine, who, though younger, had more idea of manner, said, after a little hesitation, 'Mamma talked of it, but Papa said that if one dined all must, and there would be too many.'

    'Oh, law! Kate,' said Harriet, 'never mind; I do not mind it a bit, I would just as soon drink tea here, as dine.——You are not out, are you, Lizzie?'

    'If you consider that dining constitutes being out, I generally am,' said Elizabeth, rather coldly and haughtily.

    'Ay, ay,' cried Harriet, laughing, 'you would be out indeed, to go without your dinner.——Capital, is not it, Kate? but I wanted to know whether you are regularly come out?'

    'I do not know,' replied Elizabeth.

    'Oh, then, you are not,' said Harriet; 'everyone knows who is out: I should not have been out now, if it had not been for Frank Hollis, (he is senior lieutenant at last, you know)——well, when our officers gave the grand ball at Hull, Frank Hollis came to Mamma, and said they could do nothing without the Major's daughter, and I must open the ball. Such nonsense he talked——didn't he, Lucy? Well, Mamma gave way, and said she'd persuade the Major. Papa was rather grumpy at first, you know, Lucy, but we coaxed him over at last. Oh, it was such fun! I danced first with Frank Hollis——just out of gratitude, you know, and then with Captain Murphy, and then——O Lucy, do you remember who?——and I had a silk dress which Mamma brought from India, trimmed just like yours, Miss Merton, only with four rows of lace, because I am taller, you know, and a berthe of——'

    Elizabeth could endure this no longer, and broke in, 'And pray, Harriet, did you learn the book of fashions by heart?'

    'Not quite,' said Harriet, with provoking obtuseness, or good humour; 'I did very nearly, though, when I was making my dress. Now, Lizzie, do not you wish you were out?'

    'No, not in the least,' said Elizabeth, by this time quite out of patience; 'I think society a nuisance, and I am glad to be free of it as long as I can.'

    'Lizzie,' said Helen gravely, 'you are talking rhodomontade.'

    'By no means, Helen,' said Elizabeth; 'it is my serious opinion, that, unless you can find real friends, minds that suit you, you should keep to yourself, and let bores and geese keep to themselves.'

    'Becoming yourself one of the interesting tribe of bears, or perhaps of crabs,' whispered Anne.

    'Well, what an odd girl you are!' cried Harriet; 'well, if ever——!'

    'But, Lizzie, what would become of the world if there was no society?' said Katherine.

    'And, Lizzie,' began Helen, very seriously, 'do not you know that it is a duty to take part in society, that——'

    'Oh yes, Helen!' answered Elizabeth; 'I know all that books and wise people say; but what I say is this: if a sumptuary law could decree that wits should be measured by one standard, like the ruffs and rapiers in Queen Elizabeth's time, so that those found wanting might be banished, there might be some use in meeting people; but in the present state of things there is none.'

    'But how would you choose your standard?' said Anne; 'everyone would take their own degree of sense as a measure.'

    'Let them,' said Elizabeth; 'there would be a set of measures like the bolters in a mill, one for the pastry-flour, one for the bread- flour, one for the blues, one for the bran.'

    'I am glad you put the blues after the bread,' said Anne; 'there is hope of you yet, Lizzie.'

    Elizabeth was too far advanced in her career of nonsense to be easily checked, even by Anne; and she continued, 'Sir Walter Scott says in one of his letters, that he wishes there could be a whole village of poets and antiquaries isolated from the rest of the world. That must be like what I mean.'

    'I do not think he meant what he said there,' said Helen.

    'And pray remember,' said Anne, 'that your favourite brown bread is made of all those kinds mixed——bran, and pastry-flour, and all.'

    'Yes,' said Helen, 'all the world would turn idiots if there were not a few sensible people to raise the others.'

    'Well,' said Elizabeth, 'you know the Veillees du Chateau says, there is a village where all the people do turn idiots at fourteen.'

    'You are just the right age, Helen,' said Anne, 'you had better take care, since Lizzie says you live in such a foolish world.'

    Helen had not tact enough to perceive that it was better to turn off the discussion by a joke, and continued, 'And you forget how useful it is to the sensible people to be obliged to bear and forbear.'

    'I should be content, if the foolish people would be raised by the wise, instead of debasing them,' said Elizabeth.

    'If people are really wise, they will not let themselves be debased,' said Anne.

    Helen glanced towards Lucy, Elizabeth caught her eye, and smiled in a way which almost compensated for all her unkindness in their dispute an hour before.

    Harriet and Katherine, who had not been much interested by this argument, now started another subject of conversation, which they had almost entirely to themselves, and which occupied them until tea was over, somewhat to Anne's amusement and Elizabeth's disgust, as they listened to it.

    As soon as the tea-things were removed, Elizabeth and Anne went to fetch the children. Elizabeth let loose her indignation as soon as she was out of the drawing-room.

    'Did you ever hear anything so vulgar?' said she.

    'Indeed it was very ridiculous,' said Anne, beginning to laugh at the remembrance.

    'How can you be diverted with things that enrage me?' said Elizabeth.

    'It is better than taking them to heart, as you do, my poor Lizzie,' said Anne; 'they are but folly after all.'

    'Disgusting provoking folly,' said Elizabeth; 'and then to see Kate looking as if she thought it must be so delectable. Really, Kate is quite spoiled between Harriet and the Abbeychurch riff-raff, and I can do nothing to prevent it.'

    'But,' said Anne diffidently, seeing that her cousin was in a graver mood this evening, 'do not you think that perhaps if you could be a little more companionable to Kate, and not say things so evidently for the sake of contradiction, you might gain a little useful influence ?'

    'Well,' said Elizabeth, smiling, 'I believe I do deserve a good scolding; I fancy I was outrageously rude; but when people talk such stuff, I do not much care what I say, as long as I am on the other side of the question.'

    'Still the reverse of wrong is not always right,' said Anne.

    They now found themselves at the nursery door, and summoned the children from that scene of playthings, and bread and butter. Down- stairs, one of those games at romps arose, for which little children are often made an excuse by great ones, and which was only concluded by the entrance of the ladies from the drawing-room, which caused Harriet hastily to retreat into the inner drawing-room, to smoothe her ruffled lace; while Katherine was re-tying Winifred's loosened sash, and laying a few refractory curls in their right places.

    Mrs. Woodbourne called Elizabeth, and introduced her as 'my eldest daughter,' to Mrs. Bouverie, and to Mrs. Dale, a lady who had lately come to live in the neighbourhood, and who discovered a most striking resemblance between Mrs. Woodbourne and Elizabeth, certainly at the expense of a considerable stretch of imagination, as Mrs. Woodbourne was a very little and very elegant looking person, very fair and pale, and Elizabeth was tall, dark-eyed, dark-haired, her figure much too slender for her height, and her movements too rapid to be graceful, altogether as different a style of person as could well be imagined.

    Not much prepossessed in favour of the party in general by this specimen, Elizabeth, after shaking hands with Miss Maynard and her niece, people whom she seldom saw, and did not much like, retreated to one of the windows, and there began to meditate, as was her usual custom on such occasions. Once, when accompanying Mrs. Woodbourne on a morning visiting expedition, she had translated the Erl King, which she knew by heart, into English, far more literal than Sir Walter Scott's, and with no fault, except that not above half the couplets professed to rhyme, and most of those that did were deficient in metre. Another time she had composed three quarters of a story of a Saxon hero, oppressed by a Norman baron, and going to the Crusades; and at another time she had sent back the whole party to the times of Queen Elizabeth, and fancied what they might be saying about the Spanish Armada. But now, whether because there was too much talking in the room, or because the Consecration had lately left no room for the fancies on which she was accustomed to feed, she could find nothing more sublime to reflect upon than the appearance of her cousin Anne, who was entertaining the young Miss Maynard, a shy girl, yet pleased with notice, by a conversation, which, if not very interesting, saved her from belonging to any of the four agreeable tribes mentioned at tea-time.

    Now, Anne, though she did not posses the tall figure or striking countenance of her cousins, the Woodbournes, or the brilliant complexion of her brother, was one of those people who always look well. She was small and slightly made, and very graceful; and everything she wore was appropriate and becoming, so that, without bestowing much thought on the matter, she never looked otherwise than perfectly well dressed. She was rather pale; her eyes were grey, with long dark lashes; and her hair brown; her features were well formed and animated; and though by no means remarkable, everyone called her nice-looking; some said she was pretty, and a few thought and felt that her countenance was lovely. So much had lately been said about dress——about Elizabeth's curls, and Helen's tails, and Anne's lace——that, wonderful to say, it was the readiest subject Elizabeth could find to meditate upon. As she looked at her cousin's white muslin frock, with its border of handsome Moravian work, and its delicate blue satin ribbons, at her well arranged hair, and pretty mosaic brooch, she entered upon a calculation respecting the portion of a woman's mind which ought to be occupied with her dress—— a mental process, the result of which might perhaps have proved of great benefit to herself, and ultimately to Dora and Winifred, had it not been suddenly cut short in the midst by a piercing scream from the latter young lady, who had been playing on the floor with Edward and Fido.

    Mrs. Woodbourne instantly caught up the little girl in her arms, and sat down on the sofa with her on her lap, while Winifred buried her hand in her pocket-handkerchief, screaming and sobbing violently. Fido slunk away under the sofa; and Elizabeth hastily made her way through the circle of ladies who surrounded Mrs. Woodbourne.

    'That is what comes of teazing him,' said Mrs. Hazleby reproachfully to Edward; who answered in a loud voice, 'I am sure I did not make him do it.'

    Elizabeth knelt down by Mrs. Woodbourne, and began to unroll the handkerchief in which Winifred had wound up her hand; but she was prevented by a fresh scream from the patient.

    'Oh! my dear, never mind, do not cry; come, be a brave woman,' said poor Mrs. Woodbourne, her voice quivering with alarm.

    'Poor little dear!' exclaimed Mrs. Dale, 'she bears it like a little angel; but it is quite a severe bite.'

    'Mamma,' said Elizabeth, rising, 'I think she had better come up- stairs with me. Do not you come, Mamma; I will send for you, if——if it is more than a scratch.'

    She took Winifred in her arms and carried her off, followed by Mrs. Dale, Miss Maynard, Harriet, Katherine, and Dora, the last-mentioned looking quite pale with fright.

    'If you please,' said Elizabeth, turning round at the foot of the stairs, 'I can manage her better alone.'

    She gained her point, though at the expense of politeness. Mrs. Dale and Miss Maynard retreated, and Harriet and Katherine followed in their train. Dora looked inquiringly at her eldest sister.

    'Yes, Dora, you may come,' said she, running up-stairs to her own room, where she shut the door, and set Winifred on her feet again. 'Well, Winifred, let us see,' said she cheerfully, 'are you much hurt?'

    'It bleeds,' said Winifred, withholding her hand.

    'Not very much,' said Elizabeth, removing the handkerchief, and washing off the blood, which had been more the cause of the scream than the pain. She soon satisfied herself and her sisters that the bite was scarcely more than a scratch; and a piece of sticking- plaster, fetched by Dora, whose ready eye and clear thoughtful head had already made her the best finder in the family, had covered the wound before Mrs. Woodbourne came up to satisfy herself as to the extent of the injury. Winifred had by this time been diverted from the contemplation of her misfortunes by the fitting on of the sticking-plaster, and by admiration of Anne's bright rose-wood dressing-box, and was full of the delight of discovering that A. K. M., engraven in silver upon the lid, stood for Anne Katherine Merton, when her mamma came in. It appeared that the little girl and her brother had been playing rather too roughly with Fido, and that he had revenged himself after the usual fashion of little dogs, especially of those not come to years of discretion. Winifred was quite ready to assure her mamma that he had scarcely hurt her, and that she was very sorry she had cried so much. Mrs. Woodbourne and Elizabeth, however, agreed that it would be better for her to appear no more that evening, and Dora undertook to keep her company in the nursery——glad, as Elizabeth could see, to escape from the presence of Aunt Hazleby, who had sunk much in Dora's good graces since her conversation with her in the afternoon.

    'If people would but let children alone,' said Elizabeth, as the two little girls departed hand in hand; 'it puts me out of all patience to see her first made silly by being pitied, and then told she is an angel. Too bad and too silly, I declare.'

    'You should consider a little, my dear, and not speak so hastily,' said gentle Mrs. Woodbourne; 'they mean it kindly.'

    'Mistaken kindness,' said Elizabeth, as she opened the drawing-room door.

    In a moment they were overwhelmed with inquiries for 'the sweet little sufferer,' as Mrs. Dale called her.

    'I only hope there is no fear of the dog's being mad,' observed that lady.

    'Oh! there is no danger of that,' said Elizabeth, knowing how such a terror would dwell on Mrs. Woodbourne's spirits. 'See, he can drink.'

    Mrs. Hazleby had taken possession of the cream-jug, which had accompanied the coffee, and was consoling the offender by pouring some of its contents into a saucer for him.

    'But I thought it was water that mad dogs refuse,' said Mrs. Dale.

    'Mad dog!' cried Mrs. Hazleby, 'he is as mad as I am, I fancy; it was quite enough to make him bite when Edward there was pulling his ears.'

    'I did not pull his ears, Aunt Hazleby; I did not make him bite Winifred,' vociferated Edward; 'I told you so before, Aunt Hazleby, and you will say so.'

    'Fine little fellow,' whispered Mrs. Dale, quite loud enough for Edward to hear her; 'I quite admire his spirit.'

    'Do not be rude, Edward my dear,' said his mother.

    'But Aunt Hazleby will say that I made Fido bite Winifred, Mamma,' said Edward; 'and I did not, he did it of himself.'

    'Never mind now, my love, pray be quiet, my dear boy,' said Mrs. Woodbourne imploringly; and Edward, who was really a very tractable boy, walked off to his sister Katherine.

    Mrs. Dale then seized upon Mrs. Woodbourne, to tell her some horrible stories of hydrophobia; and Elizabeth, in hopes of lessening the impression such stories were likely to make on Mrs. Woodbourne's mind, listened also, sometimes not very courteously correcting evident exaggerations, and at others contradicting certain statements. At last, just as the subject, fertile as it was, was exhausted, Anne's going to the piano, and carrying off a train of listeners, brought Mrs. Bouverie next to Elizabeth, and she took the opportunity of entering into conversation with her.

    'Do you play, Miss Woodbourne?'

    'No, I do not,' replied Elizabeth, who particularly disliked this mode of beginning a conversation.

    'Do not you like music?' continued Mrs. Bouverie.

    'I seldom have heard any I liked,' said Elizabeth shortly.

    'Indeed you have been unfortunate,' said Mrs. Bouverie; 'but perhaps you are not fond of the piano?'

    'No,' said Elizabeth, with rather less of the manner of a suspected criminal examined in sight of the rack; 'I am sick of all the Abbeychurch pianos; I know them all perfectly, and hear nothing else.'

    Mrs. Bouverie laughed, and was glad to obtain something like an answer. 'Your cousin plays very well,' said she.

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth, 'I like her music better than most people's, and she does not make a great fuss about it, she plays when she thinks people like it, and not when they ask only out of politeness, without caring about it.'

    'Do you think many people ask in that manner?' said Mrs. Bouverie.

    'Oh yes, everyone,' said Elizabeth; 'what can they do when they see a disconsolate damsel sitting in a corner with nothing to say, and only longing to be at the piano by way of doing something? It would be too cruel not to ask her.'

    'Did you ever do so?' said Mrs. Bouverie, smiling.

    'No,' said Elizabeth, 'luckily it is no affair of mine yet; but if ever it was, there would be a hard struggle between my politeness and sincerity.'

    'Sincerity would be most likely to gain the day,' thought Mrs. Bouverie. 'Perhaps,' said she, 'you are not a fair judge of other people's sincerity, since you do not like music yourself.'

    'I think,' said Elizabeth, 'that even if I did play, I could see in people's faces whether they meant what they said; that is, if vanity and love of applause did not blind me.'

    Mrs. Bouverie was silent for a moment, and then said, 'Well, I must say, I am disappointed to find that you do not play.'

    Elizabeth remembered how well her mother had, played, and it was plain to her that Mrs. Bouverie was noticing her for her mother's sake. She looked down and coloured as she replied, 'Both my sisters are musical, and Helen is said to be likely to sing very well. I believe the history of my want of music to be,' added she, with a bright smile, 'that I was too naughty to learn; and now, I am afraid ——I am not sorry for it, as it would have taken up a great deal of time, and two singing sisters are surely enough for one family.'

    'I was in hopes of hearing,' said Mrs. Bouverie, 'that you had trained your school-children to sing the sixty-fifth Psalm as nicely as they did to-day. I am sure their teacher must have come from the Vicarage.'

    'No,' said Elizabeth, 'it was the school-master who taught them. Perhaps, if Helen had not been from home so long, she might have helped the girls, but when she came home three weeks ago, it was hardly worth while for her to begin. That is the only reason I ever wished to understand music.'

    Mrs. Bouverie now began talking to her about the church and its architecture, and of the children, in exactly the way that Elizabeth liked, and in half an hour she saw more of Elizabeth's true self than Miss Maynard had ever seen, though she had known her all her life. Miss Maynard had seen only her roughness. Mrs. Bouverie had found her way below it. Elizabeth was as sincere and open as the day, although from seldom meeting with anyone who could comprehend or sympathize with her ideas, her manners had acquired a degree of roughness and reserve, difficult to penetrate, and anything but attractive, suiting ill with her sweet smile and beaming eyes. She was talking quite happily and confidentially to Mrs. Bouverie, when she caught Mrs. Woodbourne's eye, and seeing her look anxious, she remembered Winifred's disaster, and took the first opportunity of hastening up-stairs to see whether the little girl's hand was still in as favourable a state as when she left her.

    A few moments after she had quitted the room, Sir Edward Merton approached Mrs. Bouverie, and took the place beside her, which Elizabeth had lately occupied.

    'I hope Elizabeth has been gracious to you, as I see you have been so kind as to talk to her,' said he, smiling.

    'Oh, I hope we are becoming good friends,' said Mrs. Bouverie; 'I have seldom seen so young a girl shew as much mind as your niece.'

    'I am very glad to hear you say so,' said Sir Edward, 'for she is apt to be rather more reserved with strangers than could be wished.'

    'Perhaps she did not consider me as an entire stranger; I remember seeing her once when a most engaging little child of four or five years old,' said Mrs. Bouverie; 'and now I hope our acquaintance will continue. Shall we see her at Marlowe Court to-morrow, as I believe we meet you there? Of course we shall see Miss Merton?'

    'No, I believe not,' said Sir Edward; 'we are rather too large a number without the girls, who really form quite a troop by themselves.'

    'I like to see your daughter and Miss Woodbourne together,' said Mrs. Bouverie; 'I am sure they must be great allies.'

    'Yes,' said Sir Edward, 'there is a tolerably strong cousinly friendship between them: Anne has a wholesome feeling of inferiority, which makes her rather proud of her cousin's preference.'

    'Do you not think Miss Woodbourne very like her mother?' said Mrs. Bouverie. 'I knew her immediately by the resemblance.'

    'Very——very like her, a little darker certainly,' said Sir Edward, 'but she reminds me of her constantly——there——that smile is my sister's exactly.'

    Elizabeth had just then re-entered the room, and was assuring her mamma that Winifred had been as playful as ever all the remainder of the evening, and was now fast asleep in bed.

    'I am only afraid she is too fragile and delicate a creature,' said Mrs. Bouverie; 'is her health strong?'

    'Strong? no, not very,' said Sir Edward, 'she requires care, but there is nothing much amiss with her; I know most people about here are in the habit of lamenting over her as in a most dangerous state; but I believe the fact is, that Mrs. Woodbourne is a nervous anxious person, and frightens herself more than there is any occasion for.'

    'Then I hope she generally looks less delicate than she does to- night,' said Mrs. Bouverie.

    'Oh! she may well look over-worked to-night,' said Sir Edward; 'she has a spirit in her which would not let her rest on such a day as this.——Come here, Miss Lizzie,' said he, beckoning to her, 'I want you to account for those two red spots upon your cheeks. Do you think they ought to be there ?'

    'Yes, if they come in a good cause, Uncle,' said Elizabeth.

    'Do you mean, then, to wear them any longer than necessary?' said Sir Edward; 'pray have you sat still for five minutes together to-day?'

    'Yes, while I was at tea,' said Elizabeth.

    'And why are not you in bed and asleep at this moment?' asked her uncle.

    'That is the very question Mamma has been asking,' said Elizabeth; 'and I have been promising to depart, as soon as I can make my escape; so good night, Uncle Edward——good night,' said she, giving her hand to her uncle and to Mrs. Bouverie with almost equal cordiality.

    'Good night, Lizzie, get you gone,' said Sir Edward; 'and if you can carry off my girl with you, I shall be all the better pleased.'

    Elizabeth succeeded in touching Anne's arm; and the two cousins flitted away together, and soon forgot the various delights and annoyances of the day in sleep.

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