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Abbeychurch(3)

2006-08-28 14:07

    Chapter III.

    As soon as dinner was over, the girls proposed to walk to the new church, that Anne might see it at her leisure before the Consecration. The younger children were very urgent to be allowed to accompany them, but Mrs. Woodbourne would only consent to Dora's doing so, on her eldest sister's promise to return before her bed- time.

    'And, Mamma,' said Elizabeth, as soon as this question was decided, and the other two children had taken out their basket of bricks at the other end of the room, 'have you settled whether Edward is to go to the Consecration to-morrow?'

    'I really think he is almost too young, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'you know it is a very long service.'

    'Oh! Mamma,' said Dora, 'he is five years old now, and he says he will be very good, and he will be very much disappointed if he has to stay at home, now he has had his new frock and trousers; and Winifred and I are going.'

    'Really, Dora,' said Elizabeth, 'I think he had better not go, unless he has some reason for wishing to do so, better than what you have mentioned.'

    'I believe he understands it all as well as we do,' said Dora; 'we have all been talking about it in the nursery, this evening, at supper:——and you know, Mamma, he has quite left off being naughty in church.'

    'Still, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne, 'I scarcely think that we can take him; I cannot have him sitting with me, among the people whom we have invited, and he will certainly grow tired and restless.'

    'I do not think his being tired just at last will signify,' said Elizabeth; 'he will attend at first, I am sure, and it is a thing he must never forget all his life. I will take care of him and Winifred, and Dora can behave well without being watched.'

    'Very well, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne in her plaintive voice, 'I shall be glad for him to go, if you can undertake to keep him in order, but you must take care you do not tire yourself. You will have almost too much to do afterwards, and you must not let yourself be harassed by his restlessness.'

    'Oh no, Mamma, thank you,' said Elizabeth, 'he will not fidget, and I am not afraid of anything in the summer, and on such a great day as to-morrow. I could walk to Johnny Groat's house, and take care of fifty children, if need were.'

    Edward was called, examined as to his reasons for wishing to go to the Consecration, made to promise to behave well, and sent back in high glee to play with Winifred. Elizabeth and Dorothea then followed the others up-stairs to prepare for the walk.

    'It is very strange,' remarked Mrs. Woodbourne, as they left the room, 'that Elizabeth can manage the children so much better than anyone else can; they always like best to be with her, though she always makes them mind her, and Kate is much more what people would call good-natured.'

    'Do you not think Lizzie good-natured?' said Lady Merton, rather surprised.

    'Oh yes, indeed I do,' said Mrs. Woodbourne, 'she is a most kind- hearted creature. I really believe there is nothing she would not do for the children or me, I do not know what would become of me without her: but you know her way of speaking, she does not mean any harm; but still when people are not used to her, it vexes them; indeed I did not mean to say anything against her, she is a most excellent creature, quite her Papa's right hand.'

    'Horace grew almost too much for her to manage before he went to school, did not he?' said Lady Merton.

    'Poor little boy!' said Mrs. Woodbourne, 'we miss him sadly, with his merry face and droll ways. You know, he was always a very high- spirited child, but Lizzie could always make him mind her in the end, and he was very obedient to his papa and me. Edward is a quiet meek boy, he has not his brother's high spirits, and I hope we shall keep him at home longer.'

    'Horace is certainly very young for a school-boy,' said Lady Merton; 'Rupert was ten years old when he went to Sandleford, but Sir Edward afterwards regretted that he had not gone there earlier, and the little boys are very well taken care of there.'

    'Yes, Mr. Woodbourne said everything looked very comfortable,' said Mrs. Woodbourne, sighing; 'and I suppose he must rough it some time or other, poor little fellow, so that it may be as well to begin early.'

    'And he has taken a good place,' said Lady Merton; 'Lizzie wrote in high glee to tell Anne of it.'

    'Yes,' said Mrs. Woodbourne, 'she had brought him on wonderfully; I am sure I wonder how she could, with only a little occasional assistance from her papa; but then, Horace is certainly a very clever child, and few have Lizzie's spirits and patience, to be able to bear with a little boy's idleness and inattention so good-humouredly. And I do believe she enjoyed playing with him and the others as much as the children themselves; I used to say it was no use to send Lizzie to keep the children in order, she only promoted the fun and noise.'

    'She is a merry creature,' said Lady Morton, 'her spirits never seem to flag, and I think she is looking stronger than when I saw her last.'

    'Indeed, I am very glad to hear you say so,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'she has seemed very well and strong all the summer, but she still has that constant cough, and we must always be anxious about her, I wish she would take a little more care of herself, but she will not understand how necessary precautions are; she goes out in all sorts of weather, and never allows that anything will give her cold; indeed, I let Dora go out with them this evening, because I knew that Lizzie would stay out of doors too long, unless she had her to make her come in for her sake.'

    'How bright and well Helen looks!' said Lady Merton; 'she seems to have been very happy at Dykelands.'

    'Very happy indeed,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'I am sure we are exceedingly obliged to Mrs. Staunton for asking her. She has come back quite a different creature, and can speak of nothing but the kindness of her friends at Dykelands.'

    Here the conversation dropped for a minute or two, for Lady Morton found it difficult to reply. Mrs. Staunton had lived in the village where Merton Hall was situated, and where both Lady Merton and her sister-in-law had spent their childhood. She had been much attached to Mrs. Woodbourne, and was Helen's godmother; but having settled in a distant county, had scarcely kept up any intercourse with the Woodbourne family since her friend's death, though constantly corresponding with Lady Merton, and occasionally writing and sending presents to her little god-daughter. Chancing however to come to London on business, she had written to Mr. Woodbourne to beg him to bring Helen to meet her there, and allow her to take her back with her into Lincolnshire to spend some time with her and her daughters. Mr. Woodbourne, knowing that his wife had esteemed her very highly, complied after a little deliberation. Helen's visit had lasted longer than at first proposed, and she only returned home, after an absence of five months, just in time to wish her little brother farewell, on his departure for school, a few weeks before the Consecration of St. Austin's. Lady Merton would have been glad to read Mrs. Woodbourne all the admiration of Helen, which Mrs. Staunton had poured forth to her in a letter written a short time before; but the terms in which it was expressed were more exaggerated than Lady Merton liked to shew to one who was not acquainted with Mrs. Staunton, and besides, her praise of Helen was full of comparison with her mother.

    Visiting Abbeychurch was always painful to Lady Merton, and her manner, usually rather cold, was still more constrained when she was there; for, although both she and Sir Edward had been very careful not to shew any want of cordiality towards Mr. and Mrs. Woodbourne, they could not but feel that the Vicarage never could be to them what it once had been. It was certainly quite impossible not to have an affection for its present gentle kind-hearted mistress; and Lady Merton felt exceedingly grateful to her, for having, some years ago, nursed Rupert through a dangerous attack of scarlet-fever, with which he had been seized at Abbeychurch, when on his way from school, when she herself had been prevented by illness from coming to him; and Mrs. Woodbourne, making light of her anxiety for her own children, had done all that the most affectionate mother could have done for him, and had shewn more energy than almost anyone had believed her to possess, comforting Sir Edward with hopes and cheerful looks, soothing the boy's waywardness, and bearing with his fretfulness in his recovery, as none but a mother, or a friend as gentle as Mrs. Woodbourne, could have done. Still, much as she loved Mrs. Woodbourne for her own sake, Lady Merton could not help missing Katherine, her first play-fellow, the bright friend of her youth, her sister-in-law; Mrs. Woodbourne, a shy timid person, many years younger, felt that such must be the case, and always feared that she was thinking that the girls would have been in better order under their own mother; so that the two ladies were never quite at their ease when alone together.

    In the mean time, Elizabeth, quite unconscious that Dora was intended to act as a clog round her neck, to keep her from straying too far, was mounting the hill, the merriest of the merry party.

    'It is certainly an advantage to the world in general to have the church on a hill,' said Anne, 'both for the poetry and beauty of the sight; but I should think that the world in particular would be glad if the hill were not quite so steep.'

    'Oh!' said Elizabeth, 'on the side towards the new town it is fair and soft enough to suit the laziest, it is only on our side that it resembles the mountain of fame or of happiness; and St. Austin's, as the new town is now to be called, is all that has any concern with it.'

    'I wish it was not so steep on our side,' said Katherine; 'I do not think I ever was so hot in all my life, as I was yesterday, when we carried up all the cushions ourselves, and Papa sent me all the way back to the Vicarage, only just to fetch a needle and thread for Mamma to sew on a little bit of fringe.'

    'Really, Kate,' said Elizabeth, 'you might have thought yourself very happy to have anything to do for the Church.'

    'All! it was all very well for you to say so,' said Katherine; 'you were sitting in the cool at home, only hearing Edward read, not toiling in the sun as I was.'

    'That is not fair, Kate,' said Helen; 'you know it is sometimes very hard work to hear Edward read; and besides, Mamma had desired Lizzie to sit still in the house, because she had been at the church ever since five, helping Papa to settle the velvet on the pulpit after the people had put it on wrong.'

    'You would not imagine, Anne,' said Elizabeth, 'how fearfully deficient the world is, in common sense. Would you believe it, the workmen actually put the pulpit-cloth on with the embroidery upside- down, and I believe we were five hours setting it right again.'

    'Without any breakfast?' said Anne.

    'Oh! we had no time to think of breakfast till Mr. Somerville came in at ten o'clock to see what was going on, and told us how late it was,' said Elizabeth.

    By this time, they had reached the brow of the hill, from whence they had a fine view of Abbeychurch, old and new. Anne observed upon the difference between the two divisions of the town.

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth, 'our town consists of the remains of old respectable England, and the beginning of the new great work-shop of all nations, met together in tolerably close companionship. I could almost grudge that beautiful Gothic church to those regular red-brick uniform rows of deformity.'

    'I do not think even the new church can boast of more beauty than St. Mary's,' said Anne.

    'No, and it wants the handiwork of that best artist, old Time,' said Elizabeth; 'it will be long before Queen Victoria's head on the corbel at the new church is of as good a colour as Queen Eleanor's at the old one, and we never shall see anything so pretty at St. Austin's as the yellow lichen cap, and plume of spleen-wort feathers, which Edward the First wears.'

    'How beautiful the old church tower is!' said Anne, turning round to look at it; 'and the gable ends of your house, and the tall trees of the garden, with the cloistered alms-houses, have still quite a monastic air.'

    'If you only look at the tower with its intersecting arches and their zig-zag mouldings,' said Elizabeth, 'and shut your eyes to our kitchen chimney, on which rests all the fame of the Vicar before last.'

    'What can you mean?' said Anne.

    'That when anyone wishes to distinguish the Reverend Hugh Puddington from all other Vicars of Abbeychurch, his appellation is "The man that built the kitchen chimney."'

    'That being, I suppose, the only record he has left behind him,' said Anne.

    'The only one now existing,' said Elizabeth, 'since Papa has made his great horrid pew in the chancel into open seats.——Do not you remember it, Kate? and how naughty you used to be, when Margaret left off sitting there with us, and there was no one to see what we were about——oh! and there is a great fat Patience on a monument on the wall over our heads, and a very long inscription, recording things quite as unsuitable to a clergyman.'

    'I do not understand you, Lizzie,' said Helen; 'unsuitable as what? Patience, or building chimneys, or making pews?'

    'Patience is a virtue when she is not on a monument,' said Elizabeth.

    'And neither pews nor chimneys can be unsuitable to a clergyman,' said little Dora; 'there are four pews in the new church, and Papa built a chimney for the school.'

    Everyone laughed, much to Dora's surprise, and somewhat to Helen's, and Elizabeth was forced to explain, for Dora's edification, that what she intended by the speech in question, was only that it was unsuitable to a clergyman to leave no record behind him, but what had been intended to gratify his own love of luxury.

    'I am sorry I said anything about him,' said she to Anne; 'it was scarcely right to laugh at him, especially before Dora; I am afraid she will never see the monument without thinking of the chimney.'

    At this moment they arrived at the church, and all their attention was bestowed upon it. It was built in the Early English style, and neither pains nor expense had been spared. Anne, who had not been there since the wall had been four feet above the ground, was most eager to see it; and Elizabeth, who had watched it from day to day, was equally eager to see whether Anne would think of everything in it as she did herself.

    As the door opened, a flood of golden light poured in upon the pure white stone Font, while the last beams of the evening sun were streaming through the western window, shining on the edges of the carved oak benches, and glancing upon the golden embroidery of the crimson velvet on the Altar, above which, the shadows on the groined roof of the semi-octagonal chancel were rapidly darkening, and the deep tints of the five narrow lancet windows within five arches, supported and connected by slender clustered shafts with capitals of richly carved foliage, were full of solemn richness when contrasted with the glittering gorgeous hues of the west window.

    'Oh! Anne,' whispered Elizabeth, as they stood together in the porch, giving a parting look before she closed the door, 'it is "all glorious within," even now; and think what it will be to-morrow!'

    Nothing more was said till they had left the churchyard, when Anne exclaimed, looking wistfully towards the railroad, 'Then there is but one chance of Rupert's coming to-night.'

    'When the eight o'clock train comes in,' said Katherine; 'it is that which is to bring the Hazlebys.'

    'I really think,' said Helen, 'that the gas manufactory and the union poor-house grow more frightful every day. I thought they looked worse than ever when I came home, and saw the contrast with Lincolnshire. I hope the old and new towns will long be as different as they are now.'

    'I am afraid they hardly will,' said Anne; 'the old town will soon begin to rival the new one. You must already find new notions creeping into it.'

    'Creeping!' cried Elizabeth, 'they gallop along the railroad as fast as steam can carry them. However, we are happily a quiet dull race, and do not take them in; we only open our eyes and stare at all the wonders round. I do not know what we may come to in time, we may be as genteel as Kate's friend, Willie Turner, says the people are in Aurelia Place——that perked-up row of houses, whose windows and doors give them such a comical expression of countenance, more like butterflies than aurelias.'

    'Who is Kate's friend?' asked Anne, in a wondering tone.

    'Willie Turner!' said Elizabeth; 'oh! the apothecary's daughter, Wilhelmina. You must have heard of Mr. Turner. Rupert has made a standing joke of him, ever since the scarlet-fever.'

    'Oh yes!' said Anne, 'I know Mr. Turner's name very well; but I never knew that Miss Turner was a friend of Kate's.'

    'She was not,' said Elizabeth, 'till Helen went to Dykelands, and poor Kitty was quite lonely for want of someone to gossip with, and so she struck up a most romantic friendship with Willie Turner; and really, it has done us one most important service.——May I mention it, Kate, without betraying your confidence?'

    'Nonsense, Lizzie,' said Katherine.

    'Oh! you do not object,' said Elizabeth; 'then be it known to you, Anne, that once upon a time, Kitty confided to me, what I forthwith confided to Papa, that Mrs. Turner was working in cross-stitch a picture of St. Augustine preaching to the Saxons, which she intended to present as a cushion for one of the chairs of St. Austin's Church.'

    'Oh! dreadful!' cried Anne.

    'Papa walked up and down the room for full ten minutes after he heard of it,' said Elizabeth; 'but Mamma came to our rescue. She, the mild-spoken, (Mildred, you know,) set off with the Saxon Winifred, the peace-maker, to reject the Saint of the Saxons, more civilly than the British bishops did. She must have managed most beautifully, so as to satisfy everybody. I believe that she lamented that the Austin Friars who named our hill were not called after the converter of our forefathers, looking perfectly innocent of Kitty's secret all the time; and Winifred eat Mrs. Turner's plum-cake, and stared at her curiosities, so as to put her into good humour. Thus far is certain, from that day to this no more has been heard of St. Augustine or King Ethelbert.'

    'Oh! her work is made up into a screen now,' said Katharine, 'and is very pretty.'

    'And last time Mrs. Turner called at the Vicarage, she was very learned about the Bishop of Hippo,' said Elizabeth; 'she is really very clever in concealing her ignorance, when she does not think herself learned.'

    'I thought they were not likely to promote the decoration of the new church,' said Anne.

    'Oh! she does not trouble herself about consistency,' said Elizabeth; 'anything which attracts notice pleases her. She thinks our dear papa has done more for the living than nine out of ten would have thought of; and if there was any talk of presenting him with some small testimonial of respect, her mite would be instantly forthcoming; and Sir Edward Merton, he is the most munificent gentleman she ever heard of; if all of his fortune were like him now!——"Only, my dear Miss Lizzie, does not your papa think of having a lightning conductor attached to the spire? such an elevation, it quite frightens me to think of it! and the iron of the railroad, too——"'

    'Oh! is she scientific, too?' aaid Anne.

    'Yes; you see how the march of intellect has reached us,' said Elizabeth; 'poor Kate is so much afraid of the electric fluid, that she cannot venture to wear a steel buckle. You have no idea of the efforts we are making to keep up with the rest of the world. We have a wicked Radical newspaper all to ourselves; I wonder it has the face to call itself the Abbeychurch Reporter.'

    'Your inns are on the move,' said Anne; 'I see that little beer-shop near the Station calls itself "The Locomotive Hotel."'

    'I wish it were really locomotive,' said Elizabeth, 'so that it would travel out of Abbeychurch; it is ruining half the young men here.'

    'Well, perhaps the new town will mend,' said Anne; 'it will have a Christian name to-morrow, and perhaps the influence of the old town will improve it.'

    'I think Papa has little hope of that kind,' said Elizabeth; 'if the new town does grow a little better, the old will still grow worse. It is grievous to see how much less conformable Papa finds the people of the old town, than even I can remember them. But come, we must be locomotive, or Dora will not be at home in time.'

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