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Abbeychurch(7)

2006-08-28 14:13

    Chapter VII.

    As soon as dinner was over, Elizabeth went up to her own room, and was followed in a few moments by Anne, who found her putting on her bonnet and cloak. 'Can you be going out in such weather as this?' exclaimed she.

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth; 'I must

    "Let content with my fortunes fit,Though the rain it raineth every day."' 'But what are the fortunes which oblige you to go out?' said Anne.

    'The fortunes of an old woman to whom Kate or I read every Friday,' said Elizabeth, 'and the fortunes of various young school-children, who must be prepared for Papa or Mr. Walker to catechize in Church on Sunday.'

    'Why do not you send Kate or Helen, instead of murdering yourself in the wet?' said Anne.

    'Miss Kitty is three inches deep in the mysteries of a spencer, (I do not mean Edmund,)' said Elizabeth, 'and it will not be out of her head these three days, at least not till she has made Mamma's old black satin gown into one after Harriet's pattern; I heard her asking for it as I came up-stairs.'

    'And would not Helen go?' said Anne; 'she does not catch cold as easily as you do.'

    'Helen has contrived, somehow or other,' said Elizabeth, 'to know no more about the school-children than if they were so many Esquimaux; besides, anyone with any experience of Helen's ways, had rather walk ninety miles in the rain, than be at the pains of routing her out of the corner of the sofa to do anything useful.'

    'Indeed,' said Anne, 'I think Helen does wish to make herself useful.'

    'I dare say she sits still and wishes it in the abstract, for I think it must be a very disagreeable thing to reflect that she might as well be that plaster statue for any good that she does,' said Elizabeth; 'but she grumbles at every individual thing you propose for her to do, just as she says she wishes to be a companion to Dora and Winifred, yet whenever they wish her to play with them or tell them a story, which is all the companionship children of their age understand, she is always too much at her ease to be disturbed. And now, as she is the only person in the house with whom poor Lucy is tolerably at her ease, it would be cruel to take her away.'

    'That is more of a reason,' said Anne; 'what a pity it is that Lucy is so shy!'

    'Excessive shyness and reserve is what prevents her mother from being able to spoil her,' said Elizabeth; 'so do not regret it.'

    'Still I do not like to see you going out in this way,' said Anne.

    'I may truly say that rain never hurts me,' said Elizabeth; 'and if I once let one trifle stop me in these parish matters, I shall be stopped for ever, and never do anything. Perhaps I shall not come back this hour and a half, for old Mrs. Clayton must be dying to hear all about our Consecration, luncheon, dinner, &c., and as she is the widow of the last Vicar, we are in duty bound to be civil to her, and I must go and call upon her. Oh! you poor thing, I forgot how deserted you will be, and really the drawing-room is almost uninhabitable with that Bengal tiger in it. Here is that delightful Norman Conquest for you to read; pray look at the part about Hereward the Saxon.'

    Elizabeth would not trust herself to stay with Anne any longer, and ran down-stairs, and might soon be heard putting up her umbrella and shutting the front door after her.

    Anne found the afternoon pass rather heavily, in spite of the companionship of William the Conqueror and Hereward the Saxon, of assisting the children in a wet day game of romps, and of shewing Dora and Winifred the contents of the box they had admired the day before. Helen and Lucy were sitting at work very comfortably in the corner of the sofa in the inner drawing-room; Harriet and Katherine very busy contriving the spencer in the front drawing-room, keeping up a whispering accompaniment to the conversation of the elder ladies——if conversation it could be called, when Mrs. Hazleby had it all to herself, while giving Lady Merton and Mrs. Woodbourne an account of the discomforts she had experienced in country quarters in Ireland.

    Sir Edward and Mr. Woodbourne were engaged in looking over the accounts of the church in the study, and Fido was trying to settle his disputes with Meg Merrilies, who, with arching back, tail erect, and eyes like flaming green glass, waged a continual war with him over her basket in the hall.

    Anne was very glad to hear her cousin's footstep in the hall as she returned. Coming straight to the drawing-room, Elizabeth exclaimed, 'Mamma, did you tell Mrs. Clarke that she might have a frock for Susan?'

    'Yes, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'she asked me yesterday when you were not near, and I told her you would give her one. I thought the child looked very ragged.'

    'I suppose she must have it,' said Elizabeth, looking much vexed; 'I told her she should not, a month ago, unless she sent the children to school regularly, and they have scarcely been there five days in the last fortnight.'

    'I wish I had known it, my dear,' said Mrs. Woodbourne; 'you know I am always very sorry to interfere with any of your plans.'

    'O Mamma, there is no great harm done,' said Elizabeth. She then went to fetch the frock, and gave it to the woman with a more gentle and sensible rebuke than could have been expected from the vehemence of her manner towards Mrs. Woodbourne a minute before. When this was done, and she had taken off her bonnet, she came to beckon Anne up- stairs.

    'So you have finished your labours,' said Anne, taking up her work, while Elizabeth sat down to rule a copy-book for Winifred.

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth, '"we are free to sport and play;" I have read to the old woman, and crammed the children, and given old Mrs. Clayton a catalogue raisonnee of all the company and all their dresses, and a bill of fare of our luncheon and dinner, and where everything came from.'

    'And yet you profess to hold gossip in abomination,' said Anne.

    'Oh! but this is old gossip, regular legitimate amusement for the poor old lady,' said Elizabeth. 'She really is a lady, but very badly off, and most of the Abbeychurch gentility are too fine to visit her, so that a little quiet chat with her is by no means of the common-place kind. Besides, she knows and loves us all like her own children. It was one of the first pleasures I can remember, to gather roses for her, and carry them to her from her own old garden here.'

    'Well, in consideration of all that you say,' said Anne, 'I suppose I must forgive her for keeping you away all this afternoon.'

    'And what did you do all that time?' said Elizabeth. 'Have you read Hereward, and do not you delight in him?'

    'Yes,' said Anne, 'and I want to know whether he is not the father of Cedric of Rotherwood.'

    'He must have been his grandfather,' said Elizabeth; 'Cedric lived a hundred years after.'

    'But Cedric remembered Torquilstone before the Normans came,' said Anne.

    'No, no, he could not, though he had been told what it had been before Front-de-Boeuf altered it,' said Elizabeth.

    'And old Ulrica was there when Front-de-Boeuf's father took it,' said Anne.

    'I cannot tell how long a hag may live,' said Elizabeth, 'but she could not have been less than a hundred and thirty years old in the time of Richard Coeur-de-Lion.'

    'Coeur-de-Lion came to the throne in 1189,' said Anne. 'No, I suppose Torquil Wolfganger could not have been dispossessed immediately after the Conquest. But then you know Ulrica calls Cedric the son of the great Hereward.'

    'Her wits were a little out of order,' said Elizabeth; 'either she meant his grandson, or Sir Walter Scott made as great an anachronism as when he made that same Ulrica compare Rebecca's skin to paper. If she had said parchment, it would not have been such a compliment.'

    'How much interest Ivanhoe makes us take in the Saxons and Normans!' said Anne.

    'And what nonsense it is to say that works of fiction give a distaste for history,' said Elizabeth.

    'You are an instance to the contrary,' said Anne; 'no one loves stories so well, and no one loves history better.'

    'I believe such stories as Ivanhoe were what taught me to like history,' said Elizabeth.

    'In order to find out the anachronisms in them?' said Anne; 'I think it is very ungrateful of you.'

    'No indeed,' said Elizabeth; 'why, they used to be the only history I knew, and almost the only geography. Do not you remember Aunt Anne's laughing at me for arguing that Bohemia was on the Baltic, because Perdita was left on its coast? And now, I believe that Coeur de Lion feasted with Robin Hood and his merry men, although history tells me that he disliked and despised the English, and the only sentence of their language history records of his uttering was, "He speaks like a fool Briton." I believe that Queen Margaret of Anjou haunted the scenes of grandeur that once were hers, and that she lived to see the fall of Charles of Burgundy, and die when her last hope failed her, though I know that it was not so.'

    'Then I do not quite see how such stories have taught you to like history,' said Anne.

    'They teach us to realize and understand the people whom we find in history,' said Elizabeth.

    'Oh yes,' said Anne; 'who would care for Louis the eleventh if it was not for Quentin Durward? and Shakespeare makes us feel as if we had been at the battle of Shrewsbury.'

    'Yes,' said Elizabeth; 'and they have done even more for history. They have taught us to imagine other heroes whom they have not mentioned. Cannot you see the Black Prince, his slight graceful figure, his fair delicate face full of gentleness and kindness—— fierce warrior as he is——his black steel helmet, and tippet of chain- mail, his clustering white plume, his surcoat with England's leopards and France's lilies? Cannot you make a story of his long constant attachment to his beautiful cousin, the Fair Maid of Kent? Cannot you imagine his courteous conference with Bertrand du Guesclin, the brave ugly Breton?——Edward lying almost helpless on his couch, broken down with suffering and disappointment, and the noble affectionate Captal de Buch, who died of grief for him, thinking whether he will ever be able to wear his black armour again, and carry terror and dismay to the stoutest hearts of France.'

    'Give Froissart some of the credit of your picture,' said Anne.

    'Froissart is in some places like Sir Walter himself,' said Elizabeth; 'but now I will tell you of a person who lived in no days of romance, and has not had the advantage of a poetical historian to light him up in our imagination. I mean the great Prince of Conde. Now, though he is very unlike Shakespeare's Coriolanus, yet there is resemblance enough between them to make the comparison very amusing. There was much of Coriolanus' indomitable pride and horror of mob popularity when he offended Beaufort and his kingdom in the halles, when, though as 'Louis de Bourbon' he refused to do anything to shake the power of the throne, he would not submit to be patronized by the mean fawning Mazarin. Not that the hard-hearted Conde would have listened to his wife and mother, even if he had loved them as Coriolanus did, or that his arrogance did not degenerate into wonderful meanness at last, such as Coriolanus would have scorned; but the parallel was very amusing, and gave me a great interest in Conde. And did you ever observe what a great likeness there is in the characters of the two apostates, Julian and Frederick the Great?'

    'Then you like history for the sake of comparing the characters mentioned in it?' said Anne.

    'I think so,' said Elizabeth; 'and that is the reason I hate abridgements, the mere bare bones of history. I cannot bear dry facts, such as that Charles the Fifth beat Francis the First, at Pavia, in a war for the duchy of Milan, and nothing more told about them. I am always ready to say, as the Grand Seignior did about some such great battle among the Christians, that I do not care whether the dog bites the hog, or the hog bites the dog.'

    'What a kind interest in your fellow-creatures you display!' said Anne. 'I think one reason why I like history is because I am searching out all the characters who come up to my notion of perfect chivalry, or rather of Christian perfection. I am making a book of true knights. I copy their portraits when I can find them, and write the names of those whose likenesses I cannot get. I paint their armorial bearings over them when I can find out what they are, and I have a great red cross in the first page.'

    'And I will tell you of something else to put at the beginning,' said Elizabeth, 'a branch of laurel entwined with the beautiful white bind-weed. One of our laurels was covered with wreaths of it last year, and I thought it was a beautiful emblem of a pure-hearted hero. The glaring sun, which withers the fair white spotless flower, is like worldly prosperity spoiling the pure simple mind; and you know how often it is despised and torn away from the laurel to which it is so bright an ornament.'

    'Yes,' said Anne, 'it clings more safely and fearlessly round the simplest and most despised of plants. And would you call the little pink bindweed childish innocence?'

    'No, I do not think I should,' said Elizabeth, 'it is not sufficiently stainless. But then innocence, from not seeing or knowing what is wrong, is not like the guilelessness which can use the world as not abusing it.'

    'Yet Adam and Eve fell when they gained the knowledge of good and evil,' said Anne.

    'Yes, because they gained their knowledge by doing evil,' said Elizabeth, 'but you must allow that what is tried and not found wanting is superior to what has failed only because it has had no trial. St. John's Day is placed nearer Christmas than that of the Holy Innocents.'

    'And St. John knew what evil was,' said Anne; 'yes you are right there.'

    'You speak as if you still had some fault to find with me, Anne,' said Elizabeth.

    'No, indeed I have not,' said Anne, 'I quite agree with you; it was only your speaking of knowledge of evil us a kind of advantage, that startled me.'

    'Because you think knowledge and discernment my idol,' said Elizabeth; 'but we have wandered far away from my white convolvulus, and I have not done with it yet. When autumn came, and the leaves turned bright yellow, it was a golden crown.'

    'But there your comparison ends,' said Anne; 'the laurel ought to vanish away, and leave the golden wreath behind.'

    'No,' said Elizabeth; 'call the golden wreath the crown of glory on the brow of the old saint-like hero, and remember that when he dies, the immortality the world prizes is that of the coarse evergreen laurel, and no one dreams of his white wreath.'

    'I wish you would make a poem of your comparison, for the beginning of my book of chivalry,' said Anne.

    'It will not do,' said Elizabeth, 'I am no poet; besides, if I wished to try, just consider what a name the flower has——con-vol-vu-lus, a prosaic, dragging, botanical term, a mile long. Then bindweed only reminds me of smothered and fettered raspberry bushes, and a great hoe. Lily, as the country people call it, is not distinguishing enough, besides that no one ever heard of a climbing lily. But, Anne, do tell me whom you have in your book of knights. I know of a good many in the real heroic age, but tell me some of the later ones.'

    'Lord Exmouth,' said Anne; 'I am sure he was a true knight.'

    'And the Vendeen leaders, I suppose,' said Elizabeth.

    'Yes, I have written the names of M. de Lescure and of Henri de la Rochejaquelein; I wish I knew where to find their pictures, and I want a Prussian patriot. I think the Baron de la Motte Fouque, who was a Knight of St. John, and who thought so much of true chivalry, would come in very well.'

    'I do not know anything about himself,' said Elizabeth, 'though, certainly, no one but a true knight could have written Sintram. I am afraid there was no leader good enough for you among the Spanish patriots in the Peninsular war.'

    'I do not know,' said Anne; 'I admire Don Jose Palafox for his defence of Zaragoza, but I know nothing more of him, and there is no chance of my getting his portrait. I am in great want of Cameron of Lochiel, or Lord Nithsdale, or Derwentwater; for Claverhouse is the only Jacobite leader I can find a portrait of, and I am afraid the blood of the Covenanters is a blot on his escutcheon, a stain on his white wreath.'

    'I am sorry you have nothing to say to bonnie Dundee,' said Elizabeth, 'for really, between the Whiggery and stupidity of England, and the wickedness of France, good people are scarce from Charles the Martyr to George the Third. How I hate that part of history! Oh! but there were Prince Eugene and the Vicomte de Turenne.'

    'Prince Eugene behaved very well to Marlborough in his adversity,' said Anne: 'but I do not like people to take affront and abandon their native country.'

    'Oh! but Savoy was more his country than France,' said Elizabeth, 'however, I do not know enough about him to make it worth while to fight for him.'

    'And as to Turenne,' said Anne, 'I do not like the little I know of him; he was horribly cruel, was he not?'

    'Oh! every soldier was cruel in those days,' said Elizabeth; 'it was the custom of their time, and they could not help it.'

    Anne shook her head.

    'Then you will be forced to give up my beloved Black Prince,' continued Elizabeth piteously; 'you know he massacred the people at Limoges.'

    'I cannot do without him,' said Anne; 'he was ill and very much exasperated at the time, and I choose to believe that the massacre was commanded by John of Gaunt.'

    'And I choose to believe that all the cruelties of the French were by the express order of Louis Quatorze,' said Elizabeth; 'you cannot be hard on a man who gave all his money and offered to pawn his plate to bring Charles the Second back to England.'

    'I must search and consider,' said Anne; 'I will hunt him out when I go home, and if we have a print of him, and if he is tolerably good- looking, I will see what I can do with him.'

    'You have Lodge's portraits,' said Elizabeth, 'so you are well off for Cavaliers; do you mean to take Prince Rupert in compliment to your brother?'

    'No, he is not good enough, I am afraid,' said Anne, 'though besides our own Vandyke there is a most tempting print of him, in Lodge, with a buff coat and worked ruffles; but though I used to think him the greatest of heroes, I have given him up, and mean to content myself with Charles himself, the two Lindsays, Ormond and Strafford, Derby and Capel, and Sir Ralph Hopton.'

    'And Montrose, and the Marquis of Winchester,' said Elizabeth; 'you must not forget the noblest of all.'

    'I only forgot to mention them,' said Anne, 'I could not leave them out. The only difficulty is whom to choose among the Cavaliers.'

    'And who comes next?' said Elizabeth.

    'Gustavus Adolphus and Sir Philip Sydney.'

    'Do not mention them together, they are no pair,' said Elizabeth. 'What a pity it was that Sir Philip was a euphuist.'

    'Forgive him for that failing, in consideration of his speech at Zutphen,' said Anne.

    'Only that speech is so hackneyed and commonplace,' said Elizabeth, 'I am tired of it.'

    'The deed was not common-place,' said Anne.

    'No, and dandyism was as entirely the fault of his time as cruelty was of Turenne's,' said Elizabeth; 'Sir Walter Raleigh was worse than Sydney, and Surrey quite as bad, to judge by his picture.'

    'It is not quite as bad a fault as cruelty,' said Anne, 'little as you seem to think of the last.'

    'Now comes the chivalric age,' said Elizabeth; 'never mind telling me all the names, only say who is the first of your heroes——neither Orlando nor Sir Galahad, I suppose.'

    'No, nor Huon de Bordeaux,' said Anne.

    'The Cid, then, I suppose,' said Elizabeth, 'unless he is too fierce for your tender heart.'

    'Ruy, mi Cid Campeador?' said Anne, 'I must have him in consideration of his noble conduct to the King who banished him, and the speech the ballad gives him:

    "For vassals' vengeance on their lord,Though just, is treason still;The noblest blood is his, who best Bears undeserved ill." And the loyalty he shewed in making the King clear himself of having any share in his brother's death, even though Alphonso was silly enough to be affronted.'

    'Like Montrose's feeling towards his lady-love,' said Elizabeth; 'not bearing the least stain on what he loved or honoured.'

    'But he is not our earliest knight,' said Anne; 'I begin with our own Alfred, with his blue shield and golden cross.'

    'King Alfred!' exclaimed Elizabeth, 'do you consider him a knight?'

    'Certainly,' said Anne; 'besides that I care more for the spirit of chivalry than for the etiquette of the accolade and golden spurs; we know that Alfred knighted his grandson Athelstane, so that he must have been a knight himself.'

    'By-the-bye,' said Elizabeth, 'I think I have found out the origin of the golden spurs being part of a knight's equipment. Do you remember when the Cid's beloved king Don Sancho was killed, that Rodrigo could not overtake the traitor Bellido Dolfos, because he had no spurs on, whereupon he cursed every knight who should for the future ride without them. Now that was at the time when the laws of chivalry were attaining their perfection, but——'

    'Not so fast,' said Anne; 'I have a much earlier pair of golden spurs for you. Do not you remember Edmund, the last King of East Anglia, being betrayed to the Danish wedding-party at Hoxne, by the glitter of his golden spurs, and cursing every new married pair who should ever pass over the bridge where he was found. I think that makes for my side of the question. Here is Edmund, a knight in golden spurs when Alfred was a child. Ah ha, Miss Lizzie!'

    Before Elizabeth could answer, Winifred came to tell her that her mamma wanted her, and she was forced to leave the question of King Alfred's and King Edmund's chivalry undecided; for, to her praise be it spoken, she was much too useful a person ever to be able to pursue her own peculiar diversions for many minutes together. She had to listen to some directions, and undertake some messages, so that she could not return to her own room till after Anne had gone down- stairs. She herself was not ready till just as the elders were setting off to the dinner-party at Marlowe Court, and rejoicing in the cessation of the rain and the fineness of the evening.

    About half an hour afterwards, the young ladies assembled in the inner drawing-room to drink tea. Helen, however, remained in the outer drawing-room, practising her music, regardless of the sounds of mirth that proceeded from the other room, until Elizabeth opened the door, calling out,

    '"Sweet bird, that shunnest the noise of folly,Most musical, most melancholy," come in to tea, so please your highness.'

    'What can you mean?' said Helen; 'I am sure I am not melancholy.'

    'I am sure you shun the noise of folly,' said Elizabeth.

    'I am sorry you consider all our merriment as folly,' said Anne, hoping to save Helen.

    'Indeed I do not,' said Elizabeth; 'it was no more folly than a kitten's play, and quite as much in the natural course of things.'

    'Helen's occupation being out of the natural course of things,' said Anne, 'I should think she was better employed than we were.'

    'In making a noise,' said Elizabeth; 'so were we, I do not see much difference.'

    'O Lizzie, it was not the same thing!' said Helen, exceedingly mortified at being laughed at for what she considered as a heroic piece of self-denial, and so it was, though perhaps not so great in her as it would have been in one who was less musical, and more addicted to the noise of folly.

    'How touchy Helen is this evening!' thought Elizabeth; 'I had better let her alone, both for her sake and my own.'

    'How foolish I was to interfere!' thought Anne; 'it was the most awkward thing I ever did; I only roused the spirit of contradiction, and did Helen more harm than good; I never will meddle between sisters again.'

    Presently after, Elizabeth asked Harriet Hazleby whether she had ever been at Winchester.

    'Yes,' was the answer, 'and a duller place I would not wish to see.'

    'It is a handsome old town, is it not?' inquired Anne, turning to Lucy; but Harriet caught up the word, and exclaimed, 'Handsome, indeed! I do not think there is one tolerable new looking street in the whole place, except one or two houses just up by the railroad station.'

    Anne still looked towards Lucy, as if awaiting her answer; Lucy replied, 'The Cathedral and College and the old gateways are very beautiful, but there are not so many old looking houses as you would expect.'

    'It must be badly off indeed,' said Elizabeth, 'if it has neither old houses nor new; but I wanted to know whether William Rufus' monument is in a tolerable state of preservation.'

    'Oh! the monuments are very grand indeed,' said Harriet; 'everyone admired them. There are the heads of some of the old kings most beautifully painted, put away in a dark corner. They are very curious things indeed; I wonder they do not bring them out.'

    'Those are the heads of the Stuart kings,' whispered Lucy.

    'Why, Harriet,' exclaimed Dora, 'William Rufus was not a Stuart, he was the second of the Normans.'

    'Very likely, very likely, Dora, my dear,' answered Harriet; 'I have done with all those things now, thank goodness; I only know that seeing the Cathedral was good fun; I did not like going into the crypts, I said I would not go, when I saw how dark it was; and Frank Hollis said I should, and it was such fun!'

    Dora opened her eyes very wide, and Elizabeth said, 'There could certainly never be a better time or place.'

    Looking up, she saw poor Lucy's burning cheeks, and was sorry she had not been silent. No one spoke for a few moments, but presently Anne said, 'Alfred the Great is not buried in the Cathedral, is he?'

    No one could tell; at last Helen said, 'I remember reading that he was buried in Hyde Abbey, which is now pulled down.'

    'There is a street at Winchester, called Hyde Street,' said Lucy.

    'Yes, I know,' said Harriet, 'where the Bridewell is, I remember——'

    'By-the-bye, Anne,' said Elizabeth, anxious to cut short Harriet's reminiscences, 'I never answered what you said about Alfred and Athelstane. I do not think that Alfred did more than present him with his sword, which was always solemnly done, even to squires, before they were allowed to fight, and might be done by a priest.'

    'But when Athelstane is called a knight, and the ceremony of presenting him with his weapons is mentioned,' said Anne, 'I cannot see why we should not consider him to have been really knighted.'

    'Because,' said Elizabeth, 'I do not think that the old Saxon word, knight, meant the sworn champion, the devoted warrior of noble birth, which it now expresses. You know Canute's old rhyme says, "Row to the shore, knights," as if they were boatmen, and not gentlemen.'

    'I do not think it could have been beneath the dignity of a knight to row Canute,' said Anne, 'considering that eight kings rowed Edgar the Peaceable.'

    'Other things prove that Knight meant a servant, in Saxon,' said Elizabeth.

    'I know it does sometimes, as in German now,' said Anne; 'but the question is, when it acquired a meaning equivalent in dignity to the French Chevalier.'

    'Though it properly means anything but a horseman,' said Elizabeth; 'we ought to have a word answering to the German Ritter.'

    'Yes, our language was spoilt by being mixed with French before it had come to its perfection,' said Anne; 'but still you have not proved that King Alfred was not a knight in the highest sense of the word, a preux chevalier.'

    'I never heard of Alfred on horseback, nor did I ever know him called Sir Alfred of Wessex.'

    'Sir is French, and short for seigneur or senior,' said Anne; 'besides, I suppose, you never heard Coeur-de-Lion called Sir Richard Plantagenet.'

    'I will tell you how you may find out all about it,' interrupted Katherine; 'Mrs. Turner's nephew, Mr. Augustus Mills, is going to give a lecture this evening, at seven o'clock, upon chivalry, and all that. Mrs. Turner has been telling us all day how much she wishes us to go.'

    'Mr. Augustus Mills!' said Elizabeth; 'is he the little red-haired wretch who used to pester me about dancing all last year?'

    'No, no,' said Katherine, 'that was Mr. Adolphus Mills, his brother, who is gone to be clerk to an attorney somewhere. This is Mr. Augustus, a very fine young man, and so clever, Willie says, and he has most beautiful curling black hair.'

    'It wants a quarter to seven now,' said Elizabeth, 'and the sky is most beautifully clear, at last. Do you like the thoughts of this lecture, Anne?'

    'I should like to go very much indeed,' said Anne; 'but first I must go and seal and send some letters for Mamma, so I must depart while you finish your tea.' So saying, she left the room.

    'Pray, Kate,' said Helen, as Anne closed the door, 'where is this lecture to be given?'

    'At the Mechanics' Institute, of course,' said Katherine.

    'So we cannot go,' said Helen.

    'And pray why not, my sapient sister?' said Elizabeth; 'what objection has your high mightiness?'

    'My dear Lizzie,' said Helen, 'I wish you had heard all that I have heard, at Dykelands, about Mechanics' Institutes.'

    'My dear Helen,' said Elizabeth, 'I wish you would learn that Dykelands is no Delphos to me.'

    'Nay, but my dearest sister,' exclaimed Helen, clasping her hands, 'do but listen to me; I am sure that harm will come of your going.'

    'Well, ope your lips, Sir Oracle,' said Elizabeth impatiently, 'no dog shall bark, only make haste about it, or we shall be too late.'

    'Do you not know, Lizzie,' said Helen, 'that Socialists often hold forth in Mechanics' Institutes?'

    'The abuse of a thing does not cancel its use,' said Elizabeth, 'and I do not suppose that Mr. Mills preaches Socialism.'

    'Captain Atherley says,' persisted Helen, 'that all sorts of people ought not to mix themselves up together on equal terms.'

    'Oh! then he never goes to church,' retorted Elizabeth.

    'No, no, that was only my foolish way of expressing myself,' said Helen; 'I meant that he says that it is wrong for Church people to put themselves on a level with Dissenters, or Infidels, or Socialists, for aught they know to the contrary.'

    'Since you have been in the north, Helen,' said Elizabeth, 'you have thought every third man you met a Chartist or a Socialist; but as I do not believe there are specimens of either kind in Abbeychurch, I see no harm in taking our chance of the very few Dissenters there are here, and sitting to hear a lecture in company with our own townspeople.'

    'Really, I think we had better not go without asking leave first,' said Katherine.

    'In the first place,' said Elizabeth, 'there is no one to ask; and next, I know that Mrs. Turner has offered hundreds of times to take us there, and I suppose Papa would have refused once for all, if he had been so very much afraid of our turning Chartists as Helen seems to be. I can see no reason why we should not go.'

    'Then you consider my opinion as utterly worthless,' cried Helen, losing all command of temper, which indeed she had preserved longer than could have been expected. 'I might have known it; you never care for one word I say. You will repent it at last, I know you will.'

    'It is not that I never care for what you say, Helen,' said Elizabeth, 'it is only when you give me Dykelands opinions instead of your own, and talk of what you do not understand. I suppose no one has any objection to a walk, at least. Shall we get ready?'

    Everyone consented, and they went to prepare. It should be said, in excuse for Elizabeth, that both she and Helen had been absent from home at the time of the establishment of the Mechanics' Institute at Abbeychurch, so that they had not known of their father's opposition to it. Helen, who, when at Dykelands, had been nearer the manufacturing districts, had heard more of the follies and mischiefs committed by some of the favourers of these institutions. Unfortunately, however, her temper had prevented her from reasoning calmly, and Elizabeth had wilfully blinded herself, and shut her ears to conviction, being determined to follow her own course. Anne, who had always lived at Merton Hall, excepting two months of each year, which she spent in London, knew nothing of country town cabals, and thinking the lecture was of the same nature as those she had heard in London, asked no questions, as she had not heard the debate between Elizabeth and Helen. Katherine, however, hesitated to go without the permission of her father and mother; or, in other words, she was afraid they would reprove her, and she was not unwilling to listen to Helen's representations on the subject, while they were putting on their bonnets.

    'It is not only,' said Helen, 'that we are sure that it is not right to go anywhere without leave from Papa or Mamma, but that I know that these Mechanics' Institutes are part of a system of——'

    'Oh yes, I know,' said Katherine, 'of Chartism, and Socialism, and all that is horrible. I cannot imagine how Lizzie can think of going.'

    'Then you will not go,' said Helen.

    'Oh, I do not know,' said Katherine; 'it will seem so odd and so particular if Anne and Lizzie and the Hazlebys go, and we do not. It would be like setting ourselves up against our elders.'

    'You do not always think much of that, Kate,' said Helen; 'besides, if our eldest sister thinks proper to do wrong, I do not see that we are forced to do so too.'

    'Well, but Lizzie said it was not wrong, and she is the eldest,' argued Katherine.

    'Lizzie said it was not wrong, that she might have her own way, and contradict me,' said Helen.

    'We shall see what Anne says,' said Katherine; 'but if they go, I must, you know. It was to me that Mrs. Turner gave the invitation, and she and Willie would think it so odd to see the others without me; and Mr. Mills too, he said so very politely that he hoped that he should be honoured with my presence and Harriet's, it would be an additional stimulus to his exertions, he said.'

    'My dear Kate,' exclaimed Helen, 'how could you listen to such affected nonsense?'

    'Why, Lizzie says everybody talks nonsense,' said Katherine, 'but we must listen and be civil, you know; I am sure I wish people would not be so silly, it is very disagreeable to hear it; but I cannot help it, and after this I really think I ought to go, it would be very odd if I did not.'

    'Better do what is odd than what is wrong,' said Helen.

    In her secret soul, Katherine had been of the same opinion the whole time, and now that she thought she had made a sufficient merit of giving up the expedition, she was about to promise to follow Helen's advice, when she was interrupted by the entrance of Harriet, with her shawl and bonnet in her hand, coming to gossip with Katherine, and thus escape from Lucy, who had been quietly suggesting that in a doubtful case, such as the present seemed to be, it was always best to keep to the safe side. Harriet had laughed at Lucy for not being able to give any reasons, told her that it was plain that Helen knew nothing about the matter, and declared that she thanked goodness that if Mr. Woodbourne was ever so angry, he was not her master, and her own mamma never minded what she did. Lucy could make no answer in words, but her silent protest against her sister's conduct made Harriet so uneasy that she quitted her as soon as she could.

    Helen still hoped that Anne would see the folly of the scheme, and persuade Elizabeth to give it up, and content herself with taking a walk, or that her sister's better sense would prevail; but she was disappointed, when, as they left the house, Anne asked where the lecture was to be given, Elizabeth replied, 'At the Mechanics' Institute;' and no further observation was made, Anne's silence confirming Elizabeth in her idea that Helen had been talking nonsense. Still, as St. Martin's Street, where Mr. Turner lived, was their way out of the town, Helen remained in doubt respecting her sister's intentions until they reached Mr. Turner's house, and Elizabeth walked up the steps, and knocked at the door.

    Helen immediately wheeled round, and walked indignantly homewards, too full of her own feelings to make any attempt to persuade Katherine to follow her example, and every step shewing how grieved and affronted she was.

    Lucy laid her hand on her sister's arm, and looked up imploringly in her face.

    'Pooh!' said Harriet pettishly, jerking the ribbon by which she was leading Fido: 'give me one reason, Lucy, and I will come.'

    'What Helen said,' answered Lucy.

    'Stuff and nonsense!' said Harriet; 'that was no reason at all.'

    'What did Helen say?' asked Anne, who had been rather startled by her departure.

    'Only some Dykelands fancies about Socialists,' said Elizabeth; 'that is the reason she has gone off like a tragedy queen. I did not think all Abbeychurch was ready for the French Revolution——that was all.'

    'There, Lucy, you see,' said Harriet; 'come along, there's a good girl.'

    Here Mrs. Turner's page opened the door, and answered that his mistress was at home.

    'Dora, my dear,' said Elizabeth, 'this is too late an affair for you; we shall not be at home till after you are gone to bed. Good-night—— run after Helen.'

    Dora obeyed, and Lucy also turned away; Katherine lingered. 'Come, Kate,' said Harriet, mounting the steps. ——'Lucy, you nonsensical girl, come back; everyone can see you out of the window; it is very rude, now; if Mrs. Turner sees you, what will she think? Mamma would be very angry to see you so silly. Come back, I tell you!'

    Lucy only looked back, and shook her head, and then hastened away; but Katherine, fearing that her friends would be irrecoverably offended if she turned away from their house, thinking that she had gone too far to recede, and trusting to Elizabeth to shield her from blame, followed the others up-stairs.

    Helen turned back, much surprised, as Lucy and Dora overtook her; and they hastened to give explanations.

    'Lizzie said I had better come home,' said Dora.

    'And I thought it would be the safest thing to do,' said Lucy.

    'I am very glad of it,' said Helen; 'I am sure it is not right to go, but when Lizzie has once set her mind on anything, she will listen to no one.'

    'Then do you think Papa and Mamma will be displeased?' said Dora; 'I do not think Lizzie thinks so.'

    'I cannot be quite sure,' said Helen; 'but I do not think Lizzie chooses to believe that they will.'

    'But let me understand you, Helen,' said Lucy; 'I only know that you think that Uncle Woodbourne would not approve of your going. What are your reasons for thinking so? I did not clearly understand you. Church-people and Dissenters put themselves on a level in almost every public place.'

    'They do not meet in every public place on what they agree to call neutral ground,' said Helen, 'or profess to lay aside all such distinctions, and to banish religion in order to avoid raising disputes. You know that no subject can be safely treated of, except with reference to the Christian religion.'

    'How do you mean?' said Lucy.

    'Why,' said Helen, hesitating a little, 'how many people run wild, and adopt foolish and wicked views of politics, for want of reading history religiously! And the astronomers and geologists, without faith, question the possibility of the first chapter of Genesis; and some people fancy that the world was peopled with a great tribe of wild savages, instead of believing all about Adam and Eve and the Patriarchs. Now if you turn religion out, you see, you are sure to fall into false notions; and that is what these Mechanics' Institute people do.'

    'Yes,' said Lucy, 'I have heard what you say about those things before, but I never saw them in connection with each other.'

    'Nor should I have seen them in this light, if it had not been for a conversation between Captain Atherly and another gentleman, one day at Dykelands,' said Helen. 'But, Lucy, did you leave this party, then, only because I said it was wrong, or because you thought so yourself?'

    'Indeed, I can hardly tell,' answered Lucy; 'I scarcely know what to think right and what wrong, but I thought I might be certain that it was safer to go home.'

    'I do not see,' said Helen, drawing herself up, and feeling as if she had done a very wise thing, and known her reasons for doing it, too, 'I do not see that it is so very hard to know what is right from what is wrong. It is the easiest way to think what Papa and Mamma would approve, and then try to recollect what reasons they would give.'

    'But then you are not always sure of what they would say,' replied Lucy; 'at least I am not, and it is not always possible to ask them. What did you do all the time you were at Dykelands?'

    'Oh! dear Mrs. Staunton was quite a mother to me,' said Helen; 'and besides, it was as easy to think what would please Papa there as it is here. You were from home for some time last year, were you not, Lucy?'

    'Yes,' replied Lucy, 'I spent several months at Hastings, with Grandmamma; and I am almost ashamed to say that I felt more comfortable there than anywhere else. I liked being by the sea, and having a garden, and being out of the way of the officers. Papa and Grandmamma talked of my always living there, and I hoped I should; but then I should not have liked to leave Papa and the rest, and not to be at home in my brothers' holidays, so I believe things are best as they are.'

    'How you must wish to have a home!' said Helen.

    'Do not you think that home is wherever your father and mother and brothers and sisters are, Helen?' said Lucy.

    'Oh yes, certainly,' said Helen, quickly; 'but I meant a settled home.'

    'I do sometimes wish we were settled,' said Lucy; 'but I have been used to wandering all my life, and do not mind it as much as you would, perhaps. We scarcely stay long enough in one place to get attached to it; and some places are so disagreeable, that it is a pleasure to leave them.'

    'Such as those in Ireland, that Mrs. Hazleby was talking of yesterday?' said Helen.

    'I did not mind those half so much as I do some others,' said Lucy; 'we could easily get into the country, and I used to walk with Papa every day, or ride when Harriet did not want the horse. It was rather uncomfortable, for we were very much crowded when George and Allan were at home; but then they had leave to shoot and fish, and enjoyed themselves very much.'

    'Really, Lucy,' said Helen, 'I cannot think how you can be so very contented.'

    'I did not know there was anything to be discontented with,' said Lucy, smiling; 'I am sure I am very happy.'

    'But what did you say just now you disliked?' said Helen.

    'Did I say I disliked anything?' said Lucy. 'Oh! I know what it was. I do not like going to a large town, where we can only walk in the streets, and go out shopping every day, and the boys have nothing to amuse them. And it is worst of all to go to a place where Papa and Mamma have been before, and know all the people; we go out to tea half the days we are there, or to dinner, or have company at home, and I never get a quiet evening's reading with Papa, and Allan has a very great dislike to company.'

    As Lucy finished her speech they came to the Vicarage; and as they opened the door, Meg Merrilies came purring out to meet Dora. They looked round for Fido, in order to keep the peace between the two enemies, but he was nowhere to be seen, and Dora remembered to have seen him with Harriet, just as they left the rest of the party at Mr. Turner's door; so dismissing him from their minds, they went to finish their walk in the garden, where Helen gave Lucy a full description of all the beauties of Dykelands, and the perfections of its inhabitants; and finding her an attentive and obliging listener, talked herself into a state of most uncommon good humour and amiability for the rest of the evening. On her side, Lucy, though she had no particular interest in the Stauntons, and indeed had never heard their name before Helen's visit to them, was really pleased and amused, for she had learnt to seek her pleasures in the happiness of other people.

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