'Yes, we are too tired now,' said Miss Livesay, answering for her niece; 'we want to take off our wraps, and have some tea. Besides, you forget, my good woman,' added her mistress, 'that the chickens are now all hidden under their mother's wing, and she wouldn't suffer us to disturb them.'
'Dear me, I quite forgot that,' said Bridget, as she busied herself in assisting in the removal of cloaks and shawls, and carrying off trunks and band-boxes; one of the latter of which her kind mistress told her was for her, and contained a new cap and bonnet.
'Oh, ma'am, you are so kind,' said the pleased domestic; 'you never forget anyone.' And she hurried away with her load, with a glad tear glistening in her eye.
It was quite true what Bridget had said about Aunt Mary—she was indeed kind-hearted and open-handed: but with all this she was not foolishly indulgent. Her judgment was correct, and having made up her mind as to what was the right course to pursue, she took pains to see her plans carried out. Often and often had she remonstrated with her sister, Mrs. Ellis, on her laxity of discipline, both with her children and servants; and sometimes she had ventured, though that perhaps was not very wise, to set their mutual friend Mrs. Maitland before her as a pattern for mothers and mistresses. This, however, invariably produced some angry retort, or at least a flood of tears, and ended with a secret determination on the part of the elder sister to say no more on the subject, but permit things to take their course; though she had made up her mind on coming home to do as Mr. Ellis had once suggested to her, that was, to receive Mabel as one of her pupils.
This was entirely with the idea of relieving her sister, and effecting a reformation, if possible, in the character of her niece; though she almost dreaded the introduction of such an element of discord into their peaceful and happy household. Mabel, we have seen, had a great dislike to her gentle cousin Clara, perhaps because she had heard her praises often sounded; and she disliked her Aunt Mary quite as much, though it would have been difficult for her to have given a 'reason why,' if it had been asked for.
'I shall hate them both, I know I shall,' said Mabel to her sister Julia, on the morning of the day on which Miss Livesay was expected to come to Camden Terrace. 'There will be lessons and work, lessons and work, all the day long. I shall be miserable, I know I shall; and I'll tell mamma so, and beg of her not to let me go.'
'No, don't do that, Mabel; you will only make poor mamma unhappy, and papa angry,' said the wise younger sister; and she added, 'I wish I could go to Oak Villa. I like Cousin Clara very much, and Dora and Annie Maitland too; I am sure you will find them very nice companions, all of them.'
'Oh yes, it's all very fine what you are saying,' said Mabel; 'but I know very well that you only want to get rid of me, and so does papa, for I heard him say so; and I think it's unkind and cruel of you both,' exclaimed the angry girl.
'Well, at any rate, you are not going very far away from us,' said Julia; 'it is only a nice walk from Oak Villa to our house, so I and Freddy can come and see you often, and you can come to see us.'
Just then a cab was heard to stop at the door, and the dreaded lady and her niece Clara alighted, each with parcels in their hands; presents, no doubt, to the small fry who had climbed up to the window to see who was coming.
'Now don't look so cross, Mabel; don't let Aunt Mary see that you don't like to go to Oak Villa,' entreated Julia.
'But I shall let her see!' replied the perverse girl; 'and I shall tell her so, too—see if I don't,' she added, nodding her head; though, when she came into the presence of that good lady, she had not a word to say for herself, such a charm is there in the manner of some people to overawe presumption.
Mabel and Julia made their appearance in the dining-room, just after the first kindly greetings and affectionate salutations of the sisters had been exchanged, and the same process had to be gone over with cousins and aunt, the latter showing no difference whatever in the warm embrace of Mabel and Julia, though we well know the great difference there was in her estimate of the character of the two girls.
'Well, my dear Mabel,' said Miss Livesay, after a little conference had been held, 'so it appears your papa and mamma wish that we should become better acquainted with each other. Shall you like to pay me a visit at Oak Villa?'
Here was a grand opportunity for Mabel to display her boasted courage, and to speak her mind; instead of which, she only looked very sad, hung down her head, and, rudely enough, made no reply; while her aunt said, with a smile:
'That is well; silence gives consent. So you had better go, my dear, and get ready, for I do not wish to keep the cabman waiting; and I have just a few words to say to your mamma. Clara and Julia will therefore go upstairs with you.'
All this was said kindly, but very decidedly: it was evident that there was no appeal to be made, no authority to be questioned; and with hardly suppressed passion and tears, the vanquished girl quitted the room with her sister and cousin.
'And now, my dear Ada,' said Miss Livesay to her sister, 'see what are the fruits of your over-indulgence, or want of firmness! They are not very lovely, are they? Will you not take your good husband's advice, and strive against this constitutional weakness, which is so detrimental to your happiness, to your husband's comfort, and to your children's welfare?'
'I can't be always scolding the children, Mary,' replied Mrs. Ellis, peevishly. 'It isn't my fault, surely, that Mabel is so ill-tempered and disobedient, and yet you and Arthur just talk to me as if it were.'
'And in a great measure, I think, it is your fault, my sister,' said the kind monitor. 'Children should be watched from infancy; tenderly cared for in mind as well as body. Good seed must be sown then, and the little weeds which we are apt to disregard, or what is worse, cherish, in our folly, must be rooted out while the soil is moist, and the root is not deep in the ground. Never laugh at childish exhibitions of temper, nor for the sake of peace give way to the doctrine of expediency, injurious alike to nations and to families.'
Here poor Mrs. Ellis interposed; she could never sit out a long sermon, especially one that she really could not understand. So she interrupted Aunt Mary's profitable discourse by promising to try, when Mabel had gone away, to be more careful for the future, though she candidly admitted that she did not know how to begin to make any change, as Mabel was the only one of the children who gave her any trouble. And yet the weeds were growing up thick and strong in Master Freddy, who just then put his head in at the door, the little ones being behind him, and all running to salute their aunt, and receiving from her a loving embrace, as well as the very pretty playthings which were spread out on the table for their acceptance and admiration. Nor had Mabel and Julia been forgotten by their aunt; both a workbox and a writing-case were laid aside for the latter: those intended for her sister Miss Livesay had not brought, thinking it unnecessary, as Mabel was to return with her to Oak Villa.
'Well, my dear Mabel,' said Aunt Mary, as the two girls entered the room; 'so you are equipped and ready for a start, I see. I do hope you will like your new mode of life, and your young companion's society. Clara, I know, will be delighted to have a companion in her visits to our poor people: and you, I trust, will soon learn to take an interest in them.'
There was no response to this kind speech from the unamiable girl; and with the somewhat painful feeling on the part of Miss Livesay that she was going to introduce into her hitherto peaceful household the apple of discord, she rose to take leave, with the promise, however, of renewing her visit in the next week if all things went on well.
Mabel was quick enough to notice this speech: she would have known that it had reference to herself, even if it had not been accompanied by a smile and a nod from her aunt; and the naughty pride in her heart made her resent it, though she felt obliged to submit.
There were loving adieus from all but Master Freddy, who said to his sister, as she shook hands with him:
'Good-bye, Mabel; I'm glad you're going, you are always so cross with us.'
NIGHT AND MORNING.
And now an entirely new mode of life was presented to Mabel; and Miss Livesay found, as, indeed, she had expected to find, a fruitful source of trouble in her newly adopted pupil. Of course, on the first day of Mabel's arrival at Oak Villa there were no lessons talked about, and the young ladies next door were not expected to resume their school duties, until the Monday following Miss Livesay's return home; so there was a little time afforded for breaking out, and breaking in. We shall see how it was employed.
This afternoon had been a very pleasant one; the chickens had been looked at and greatly admired; flowers, the great favourites both of aunt and niece, Mabel did not care for, though she liked, as we have seen, to deck herself in gay colours. In the house they had plenty of amusement, with books and pretty specimens of work of various kinds from the ready fingers and artistic taste of Aunt Mary and Clara; indeed, what had been produced by their skill, industry, and steady perseverance, was worthy of admiration. To Mabel's astonishment, nine o'clock struck, and she had not yet finished her pleasant occupation of examining, when her aunt said:
'Now, my dears, it is your bed-time.'
Clara instantly began to put away books and work, but Mabel exclaimed:
'Oh, aunt! must we go to bed so soon? I never go till ten, at home!'
'Perhaps you never rise at six in the morning?' replied Miss Livesay; 'we do. And I dare say you have heard the old proverb—
'"Early to bed, and early to rise, Is the way to be healthy, wealthy, and wise."'
'I go to bed when I like, and I get up when I like, at home,' said Mabel, without noticing the unwelcome quotation.
'We have no likes and dislikes here, my dear Mabel,' said her aunt. 'We do what we know to be our duty, and you will have to do the same. Good-night!'
An affectionate kiss accompanied the good-night; Mabel saw that it was a decided one; there was no room for further parley, and the short time spent by the proud and petulant girl at Oak Villa gave signs of an authority, to which she must of necessity submit, as from it there could be no appeal.
'Mabel dear, it is time to get up; don't you hear the bell ringing?' said Clara, as she jumped out of bed and began to dress. The sleepy-headed girl turned lazily round, but did not seem to be at all disposed to attend to the summons.
'You must get up; indeed you must!' urged Clara, gently shaking her cousin by the shoulder. 'I shall not have done all I have to do before prayers, if we don't make haste.'
'Why, what have we to do before breakfast? And what time do you have breakfast?' drowsily inquired Mabel, rising, however, at this second appeal of her cousin's.
'We have prayers at eight, then breakfast; but I have my chickens to feed, and my lessons to prepare before that time,' said Clara.
'Lessons before breakfast! Oh, I shall hate that!' exclaimed Mabel. 'I hope they are not hard ones, for I shall never learn them if they are.'
'Well, I don't know what you call hard,' replied her cousin. 'I find mine rather difficult sometimes, but Aunt Mary is so kind in explaining everything, that it is quite a pleasure to learn with her.'
'I'm sure I shouldn't think her kind,' said the ungrateful Mabel. 'I can't bear people that are so prim and stiff as Aunt Mary is, always seeming determined to make you do just what they like, whether you wish it or not.'
'Oh, Mabel!' said her cousin, 'I wonder how you can speak so disrespectfully of dear Aunt Mary; and what you are saying is quite untrue.'
'And I suppose,' retorted the ill-conditioned girl, 'you will go and tell her what I have said, and we shall have a row.'
Clara was so astonished at hearing this speech from her cousin, that she suspended the operation of dressing for a moment.
Then she said quickly:
'Mabel, we don't tell tales here; and I never before heard anyone speak unkindly of our aunt, nor did I ever hear her speak unkindly to anyone. Don't let us talk any more,' she added; 'I am going to say my prayers. Come, kneel down with me, and let us thank our Father in heaven for taking care of us through the night, and ask Him to bless us before we begin our day's work.'
Mabel knelt down beside the bed with her cousin. She had always been accustomed to repeat a set form of words; whether they were the utterances of the 'soul's sincere desire,' we cannot say: but we do know that if we pray in sincerity against sin, we shall strive against it, and Mabel was not doing this. Clara's first occupation on going down stairs was to look after her feathered family; and in this she had a ready seconder in Mabel, whose delight in seeing the pretty chickens was unbounded.
'Oh, do let me take one out, Clara! I won't hurt it; dear, sweet little thing!' she exclaimed, as she was just putting out her hand to take one of them up, but was held back by her cousin, and so prevented from receiving the meditated peck which the old hen was evidently preparing for her.
'Just in time,' said Clara; 'old Netty would have made you repent of your boldness, had you taken hold of one of her pets.'
'Why, I shouldn't have hurt it by just holding it in my hand,' replied Mabel.
'Netty doesn't know that; and I'm sure she would have hurt you, so it is very well I held you back,' said Clara. 'Now we had better go in; I hear Aunt Mary's voice. I must go and say good-morning to her, as usual.'
'Good-morning, my dears,' said Miss Livesay, in her usual genial, happy tone of voice, for she was always bright and cheerful, though her niece Mabel chose to take such a distorted view of her. 'I hope you have slept well, and are refreshed for another day's work, my children; you both look the picture of health, and health is one of our greatest blessings, is it not?'
'Yes, dear aunt, indeed it is,' replied Clara. 'I think we both slept well; and I was so glad to see, when I woke, that the morning was fine, for I thought perhaps you would wish us to go and see how poor Mr. Simmons is, when we have done our lessons.'
'That is just what I wish you to do,' said Aunt Mary. 'The lessons I intend to postpone, except that you may show your cousin what you and your school-fellows are learning. I shall be delighted to find that you can all study together; it will save much time and trouble, and be much more agreeable. Now ring for Bridget; after prayers and breakfast, we must cut out our work, dear Clara. You know we have a great deal to do,' said the lady.
THE FIRST DAY'S WORK.
IN the pleasant breakfast-room, which was also a schoolroom, the two girls were left by Aunt Mary, while she gave some orders on household matters. Everything was arranged here with order and neatness, but there was nothing superfluous; there was a place for everything, and everything seemed to be in its place, if we except a large quantity of unbleached calico, which had been unrolled, and had spread itself upon the floor.
'What is all that coarse stuff for?' inquired Mabel of her cousin. 'You surely don't call that your work, do you, Clara? I brought some embroidery with me, for I hate plain work. I hope aunt will not set me to do any.'
'I am quite sure she will, though,' replied Clara; 'and this very day, too; for she is going to cut out two night-shirts for the poor man we are going to see, and we shall have to make them, as well as pinafores for the children, and flannel petticoats for two old women who are in Aunt Mary's district. Oh, such nice old dames they are, Mabel! I am sure you will like them, dear; and they are so thankful for any little kindness we do for them.'
'Such stupid, humdrum work!' exclaimed Mabel. 'I'm sure I shall be miserable here. Hard lessons, coarse work, and looking after old and sick people! I wonder you are not moped to death, Clara; it's even worse than I thought it would be.'
'Well, wait a little while,' said patient Clara; 'you have had no experience yet. I know very well you will alter your mind before six months are over.'
'Six months!' exclaimed Mabel; 'why, I should be dead in that time, if mamma suffers me to remain here. But I shall tell her all about it, and beg her to let me go home.'
The entrance of Aunt Mary broke off the dialogue of the cousins, and soon the obnoxious calico was spread out, and fashioned into useful articles of wearing apparel.
'Here is your new workbox, my dear Mabel,' said her aunt; 'you will find it stocked with all necessary things—thimble, and scissors, and needles, and cotton—and all that I require of you is to keep it tidy.'
It was impossible for Mabel not to dismiss some, at least, of her foolish prejudice against this kind friend, and the thanks she returned for the really handsome present were hearty and genuine; and on fitting on her thimble, and examining the bright scissors and the very pretty needle, even her feelings respecting the coarse work on which they were expected to be employed appeared to undergo a wonderful change.
'I can't do plain work very quickly, aunt,' said Mabel, when that lady had given her a pair of sleeves to make; 'I never did much at home.'
'All right, my child; if you do your best, I promise you I shall be satisfied. I know you will improve in time,' said Aunt Mary, kindly.
There was no reading this morning, because Clara and Aunt Mary, who were both rapid seamstresses, had agreed, if possible, to finish the night-shirt that had been cut out, and take it with them in the evening, when they went to call at the cottage of poor Simmons, whom they had not seen since their return home, but of whom they had learned from Bridget a pretty satisfactory account. The good woman had taken them under her especial care while her mistress was away.
There was no lack of pleasant conversation when Aunt Mary was in the room, and the work progressed well during the morning hours; but, unfortunately, about three o'clock in the afternoon some friends came to call, and as it was evident to Miss Livesay that this would prevent their visit to the cottage that evening, she bade the young people put away their work, and try to find some amusement in the garden. Clara felt sorry and disappointed at this postponement, though she said nothing, but prepared to obey her aunt. With Mabel, however, this was quite an unexpected pleasure, and so rapidly did she gather up her work, without folding it neatly together, that the needle ran into her finger, and brought the blood so quickly that two or three large spots were deposited on the sleeves.
'Oh, aunt will be so cross when she sees what I have done!' said the too hasty Mabel. 'Must I try to wash the spots out, Clara?' she inquired.
'No, no!' replied her cousin; 'Bridget will do that for you with a little brush. But I wonder, Mabel,' she added, 'at your thinking dear aunt would be cross because you have had an accident. You seem to have some very strange ideas in your head; you will know better soon, I hope.'
The room was quickly cleared, and Clara, taking the soiled sleeve in her hand, went with her cousin into the kitchen, where they found the tidy servant-of-all-work already clean, and sitting comfortably with her knitting in hand, and the cat on her knee. Bridget readily undertook the task required of her; and the young people, having obtained the food for the poultry, ran off to distribute it.
A capital house Clara's feathered family had, with no rent nor taxes to pay. It was a long shed under the tall trees at the bottom of the garden, boarded over at the top, but with wire-work all across the front, where a door was made to go in at, in order to clean out the floor.
Inside, it was the picture of comfort, and of cleanliness too, for careful Bridget took care of that. Old Netty and her chicks had a place to themselves—a house within a house—so that the little ones could not make an escape.
'Oh, I see there are two new-laid eggs,' said Clara. 'I am so glad; we can take them to poor Simmons when we go to-morrow. I dare say there are two or three more in the house that I may have.'
'I thought you said the fowls were your own, to do what you liked with,' said Mabel. 'If I were you, I should sell the eggs, and not give them away,' she added.
'And what should I do with the money?' inquired Clara. 'I have everything I want; aunt takes care of that.'
'But you might buy nice gloves and neckties with the money you would get for the eggs,' urged Mabel. 'I don't see that you have much of that sort of thing.'
'I have all that I want in that way,' replied her cousin. 'I would ten times rather give away the eggs than take money for them. When I first came to live with dear aunt, she had this place fitted up on purpose for me; and she bought the fowls, and food, and everything that was wanted,' said Clara. 'In three months' time I had a beautiful brood of chickens; and when they were grown, aunt asked me what I meant to do with my surplus stock. I said that I really did not know; so she suggested that I should sell the chickens, and give the money to the poor. "Sell that ye have, and give alms," said my aunt. "This, dear Clara, is our Saviour's advice," she added, and I was only too glad and thankful to follow her advice. So I made a purse, in which I save up my egg-and-chicken money, and we buy calico, and print, and flannel, and provide other things,' said Clara, in great glee, for it was, indeed, one of her chief sources of pleasure to give to the poor.
'I'm sure you would not catch me doing in that way,' said Mabel. 'I see no fun in keeping fowls only for the sake of giving to other people.'
'No fun, perhaps,' replied her cousin; 'but you would find real pleasure, Mabel, in being able to relieve the wants of the sick and the afflicted. Oh, I know,' she added, 'you will—you must change your mind when you go with us to some of the neighbouring cottages. I do hope we shall not be prevented from going to-morrow.'
Whatever effect time and scenes were to have on our young friend Mabel, certainly her cousin's arguments and declarations produced none at the present; so we must close the chapter of the first day, and begin another.
VISIT TO THE COTTAGE.
The evening of this first day at Oak Villa had been very pleasantly spent by Aunt Mary and her nieces at Mr. Maitland's, where the young people engaged themselves on the lawn, while the elders talked over the various events of the very eventful times, without being able to come to any conclusion as to how they were to be mended.
Mabel either really was in a very gracious humour this evening, or the fact of a young gentleman being of their party made her careful not to give way to temper; though it must be confessed that Harry tried it two or three times. However, all went on smoothly enough, and at nine o'clock the friends separated.
The gorgeous sunset gave token of a fine day on the morrow, when Clara anticipated the pleasure of finishing her labour of love, and taking a most acceptable present to her poor friends the Simmonses. The bell rang at the usual time in the morning, and after breakfast the work of the day before was resumed.
'Two hours, I think, will finish what you want to take with you to-day,' said Aunt Mary, 'so you will have time to go before dinner. You can take poor Simmons some eggs, and Bridget has a rice pudding in the oven for the children.'
'How delighted they will be to see us again; only I wish you could have gone with us, aunt,' said Clara.
'I wish I could have done so, but I expect a person to call on business this morning, so I must not be out of the way,' said the lady.
Steadily the work progressed; even Mabel, by the aid of her bright silver thimble and sharp needle, seemed to get on better than she had done the day before: so that not only was the night-shirt finished, but a little pinafore had been cut out and completed in less than the two hours. And now all had been packed up, the two girls were ready for their walk; and the careful Bridget had placed the pudding and the eggs in an oval basket for Clara to carry, while they were preparing for their walk.
'It will be frightfully hot walking this morning, I know,' said Mabel. 'I wish our visit to the cottage could be put off until the evening; go and ask Aunt Mary if it may, Clara,' she added.
'No, I couldn't do that,' replied her cousin. 'Aunt never tells us to do anything that is unreasonable, and I know that she wishes very much that the children should have the pudding for their dinner, and that the poor sick man should have the new-laid eggs. Come, Mabel dear, be quick,' she added; 'we shall be under the shade of the trees great part of the way.'
'And who is to carry the basket and this parcel?' inquired Mabel, giving a rather contemptuous look at the rolled-up work.
'You may carry whichever you like,' said Clara; 'it does not matter to me which I take. Indeed, I shouldn't mind if I had to carry both, neither of them are heavy.'
'Perhaps not,' said the proud girl, 'but it is so servant-like to be carrying parcels and baskets; I wonder Aunt Mary likes you to do it.'
'Oh, Mabel!' cried her cousin, 'I can't help laughing at you. Why, you should see what bundles aunt and I do carry sometimes. I suppose you would be quite shocked.'
'I shouldn't wish to be seen with you,' replied the silly girl. 'I don't think, either, that it is any laughing matter.' And Clara, knowing that it was a waste of time to argue the case any further, took up the obnoxious bundle, and ran downstairs; while Mabel followed, to find on the hall-table her share of the disagreeable, in the closely-packed basket.
It really was a very hot walk that the cousins had before them, in spite of the occasional shade of the tall trees, and they were not at all sorry when they reached the small cottage of James Simmons, and were invited to sit and rest on the chairs, which the good wife dusted and put ready for them.
The cottage was very poorly supplied with furniture—one table, and four chairs, and a stool, on which stood the washing-tub, out of which Mrs. Simmons was wringing some clothes from very hot water, when her visitors entered. If, however, there was but little furniture, there was no lack of children, and three of them were rolling about the floor, while a girl, it might be of the age of seven, was making an attempt to wash some stockings. Her small fingers did not seem to be equal to the task of rubbing and wringing, yet she was evidently proud of her occupation—a great deal more so than her brother appeared of his, in trying to take care of the youngest child, a chubby infant of six months old, who would persist in rolling off his knee, and making towards the fireplace, there to become a regular Cinderella.
This scene, I need hardly say, was anything but delightful to the new visitor, though she did not refuse to seat herself on the offered chair; while poor Mrs. Simmons, with many apologies for being found in such a rough state, wiped her hot face with her apron, and took the little one up from the floor, to the great relief of her brother Johnny, who appeared particularly interested in the contents of the basket, which Clara was proceeding to set upon the table.
'Let me take the baby, Mrs. Simmons, while you put the eggs into a basin; I am afraid of their rolling off the table,' said Clara, as she held out her arms to take the very pretty, but certainly not very clean little one.
'Oh, miss! she is not in a fit state for you to nurse,' replied the woman; 'I am quite ashamed that you should have found us all so dirty, but indeed I cannot help it. What with my husband being ill so long, and the washing, which must be done, I don't know sometimes which way to turn.'
'My aunt wants much to know how your husband is,' said Clara; 'she would have come with us this morning, but she had an engagement.'
'The doctor thinks, miss, that my husband may get well, though he says it may be many weeks yet before he will be able to walk. He has had a weary time of it, and if it had not been for Miss Livesay's kindness, and that of our good vicar and his wife, I think he could not have lived; for he required more nourishment than I could obtain for him, if I worked ever so hard.'
'I know how glad my aunt will be to hear this good news,' said Clara; 'and she has sent one of the night-shirts that we have made; I dare say she will bring the other herself. And now let me try on the pinafore for baby; I want to see whether it will fit.' Baby, however, stoutly resisted this trial, using arms and legs with marvellous dexterity, and almost twisting herself out of mother's arms; so the contest was given up for fear of creating a noise, which would have disturbed the invalid: while Clara's second suggestion, that baby should have some pudding, appeared to give entire satisfaction, and produced perfect calm, under which state of things the visitors rose to go, Mabel not having exchanged a word either with mother or children the whole time, and standing on the threshold of the door, waiting for her cousin, who was shaking hands with Mrs. Simmons, and bestowing a parting kiss on the red round cheeks of the now smiling baby.
The young people walked on a short distance in silence; each had their own peculiar thoughts of the other. Mabel was the first to break calm. Then she said: 'How you could kiss that dirty little thing and offer to nurse it, I can't conceive, Clara; it quite sickens me to think of it,' said Mabel, with something like a shudder. 'I wonder Aunt Mary sends us to such places; it is work for Bridget to do, and not for us,' she continued. 'I don't think my mamma would approve of my going.'
'Oh, you are mistaken there, I know,' said Clara; 'for I have often heard aunt tell of the poor people your mamma and she used to visit, before Aunt Ada married—yes, and for a long time after she was married, until she was poorly, and then of course she was obliged to give up; but I'm quite sure she will be glad to hear of your doing the same. Now we must make haste, for fear we should be too late for dinner.'
It was not a very pleasant trio that sat at the table the morning after the visit to the cottage. If Mabel had disliked the coarse work on which she had been employed the day before, her repugnance to the examination to which she was subjected by Aunt Mary, in order to test the capabilities of her niece, and to find out what lessons would be most appropriate for her, showed itself so plainly in fits of sullenness, or tears of vexation, that even Miss Livesay herself could not help feeling-dispirited; while Clara, though she tried to think only of her lessons, felt very much disposed to shed tears on her aunt's account. More than once, indeed, a subdued expression of rage escaped from the irritated Mabel; but it was so instantly and authoritatively checked by her aunt, that Mabel was made to feel that it would be useless for her to contend: so she sat and pored over her book in sullen silence.
This lasted until near dinner-time, so that the results of this morning's work, so far as Mabel was concerned, had been anything but satisfactory when the books were put away; and it was with very painful feelings that Miss Livesay contemplated not only the drudgery she would be subjected to, in having to go through early lessons with this refractory niece of hers (who was far, very far behind both Clara and the Maitlands in her learning), but the conflict she was likely to encounter with pride and obstinacy, evils she never before had to contend with.
Aunt Mary, however, was not one to give way to despondency, and at the dinner-table she had resumed all her usual cheerfulness; nor did she make the least difference in her manners to her nieces, but chatted with them both, as if nothing had occurred to disturb her serenity.
The mornings at Oak Villa were always devoted to lessons; in the afternoon there were two hours spent in work and reading; then the day's duties were finished, if we except the looking over the lessons for the following day, which Clara never omitted doing. And on this day she had a scheme in her head, both for doing Mabel good, and saving her dear aunt trouble.
In short, she determined, if possible, to induce her cousin to exert herself in learning extra lessons, in order to overtake the young Maitlands and herself.
She thought, perhaps, that the very pride in the young girl's composition would aid her in this task, and in this she was not mistaken. Mabel this afternoon was permitted to do some of the work she had brought from home; and what with this indulgence, and the clever and amusing book her aunt had been reading to them, she had quite recovered her spirits, and was as lively and cheerful as possible.
'Isn't it time to feed the fowls, Clara?' inquired Mabel, when work and books were laid aside.
'Yes, dear, it is,' replied her cousin; 'but I should be obliged if you would feed them for me to-day, as Aunt Mary wants me to write a letter to dear mamma before post-time.'
'Oh, I shall be glad to do so, very glad!' said Mabel, who had her own motives for the alacrity she displayed.
'Must I ask Bridget for the corn?' she inquired.
'I dare say you will find it set ready on the kitchen table; Bridget never forgets,' said Clara, as she arranged her desk and writing materials.
Mabel ran off in great glee, and was soon busily engaged in her very agreeable task; yet in spite of her endeavours, she found that it was impossible to give satisfaction to all her feathered friends. Some were too greedy, and would insist upon having more than their share, while others were not courageous enough to stand up for their rights, and so were easily repulsed, and came very badly off in the general scramble, notwithstanding Mabel's spirited attempts to make an equitable distribution. At last she got tired of trying to teach manners to the cock and hens, so she went to look after the pets, as she called the chickens. These, as we have before stated, had with their mother a separate establishment, and so they were permitted to peck their grains in peace, being in no danger of losing their share; though even among these tiny things there were contentions for a single grain, which perhaps three or four would strive after. As Mabel stood watching and admiring the little downy creatures, the desire came strongly over her, as it had done before, to take one up in her hand.
'What harm could I do the little creature by just holding it in my hand for a minute?' said Mabel. 'And as to the old hen pecking at me, I don't care for that; and I dare say,' she added, 'Clara only told me this to frighten me.'
As Mabel made this very unjust remark concerning her cousin, she opened the small door in the wire-work, and put her hand in to seize one of the chicks; but she was saluted with such a terribly hard peck from Dame Netty, that, had she not been very determined in the matter, she would have let the little chick go. Unfortunately for the little creature, her captor was very determined, and in spite of the hard peck, and the struggles of the bird, she took it out, and was in the act of shutting to the door, when the soft trembling thing slipped out of her hand, and fluttered away to its own destruction.
Yes, there on the wall, slyly watching all that had been going on, and with as great a desire after the chicken as Mabel herself had, though for a vastly different purpose, sat the fine sleek cat, to whom my young readers have before been introduced, and quick as lightning she pounced down upon the poor chick, and carried it off.
This was a terrible catastrophe, and Mabel stood for a moment in bitter dismay; she did not know what to do—how should she? The cat had disappeared, and by this time the poor chicken was killed, and perhaps eaten. Should she tell Clara? no, that would never do, for it would be sure to come to Aunt Mary's ears. It was not the first scrape that Mabel had got into, and we are sorry to add got out of by dissimulation; and now, after a little further consideration, she came to the unwise conclusion that it would be better to say nothing about the matter. After all, it was only one chick out of twelve; it perhaps would not be missed. And though she was sorry that the poor little thing had been killed, she solaced herself with the idea that there would soon be a fresh brood to attract her cousin's attention.
Comforting herself with this idea, she walked into the dining-room, where she found the tea ready, and was soon joined by her aunt and cousin, who had finished their correspondence, and were now at liberty to take their evening walk as soon as the pleasant meal was ended.
A VISIT TO THE VICARAGE.
During tea-time, Aunt Mary proposed a walk to the vicarage, as she wanted to ask Mr. Newlove's opinion of the state of poor Simmons, as well as to inquire after the welfare of some of her pensioners, whom she had not yet had time to visit since her return home. The proposal pleased Clara, with whom the gentle Newlove was an especial favourite; though Mabel had conceived a dislike that she could give no reason for, to this quiet, sensible, and affectionate girl.
It was with very different feelings that the cousins went upstairs to dress. Mabel, we must suppose, thought that as she was going to a clergyman's house, she should have to listen to a sermon; or if not that, to sit still, and say nothing, while the seniors talked about sick folks, and old men and women, till she should be quite wearied out; and this was certainly no pleasant prospect for a lively young lady. But Mabel said nothing of all this; as usual, her conversation turned on what she should wear.
'Are you not going to change your dress, Clara?' said her cousin; 'you are surely not going to the vicarage in that dowdy-looking frock? Why, it is only fit to wear in the mornings, or to go visiting to dirty cottages, such as we went to yesterday.'
'Now don't let us talk about dress,' said Clara; 'my frock is what Aunt Mary bought for me, and if she thinks it good enough for me to wear, I'm sure I do too. Besides, Mabel, you are very much mistaken if you think that Mr. or Mrs. Newlove would notice your dress, unless, indeed, it were a very smart one, such as I know they wouldn't like.'
'Then I shan't care for their likes, but I shall just put on what I like myself,' said the graceless girl, as she took from her drawer a very pretty printed muslin, and proceeded to array herself in it, finishing off by donning a little black hat with a white feather in it.
'Now, suppose it should rain,' suggested Clara, 'what becomes of your pretty frock and your white feather?'
'There is not the least likelihood of rain,' replied Mabel; 'I never saw a finer evening;' and away she ran downstairs, but taking care to avoid a meeting with her aunt until they were all ready to start.
It was indeed a lovely evening for a walk. It had been very hot at one time of the day, but there had been a thunder-shower in the afternoon, which had cooled the air, and given freshness of colouring to the surrounding vegetation, deepening the tints on flower and shrub and tree, while,
'The ling'ring sun seem'd loth to leave Landskip so fair, to gentle eve.'
Aunt Mary, though of course she noticed the difference in the dresses of her nieces, said nothing about it; but kept up, as she usually did, a conversation both amusing and instructive. Even Mabel forgot her fine clothes in listening to her aunt, and for the present seemed to be thrown out of self. Such a charm is there in wise teaching.
Nor when they reached the pretty, secluded vicarage, and were heartily welcomed by its inmates, were the fears of Mabel at all likely to be realised, as instead of having to listen to a sermon, or details of old and sick people, she and Clara were walked off by Robert and Edith Newlove, to see the rabbits, and the ringdoves, and the poultry in their respective habitations.
'How beautiful they are—- how very beautiful!' said Clara, speaking of the ringdoves; 'and so gentle too—they don't fight and squabble like my hens do over a few grains of wheat.'
'Oh, they can peck one another sometimes,' said Edith; 'but they are not noisy about it like the fowls.'
'And my rabbits are not at all noisy either,' said Robert; 'but the buck can be very cruel, for if we don't take care he makes nothing of eating up one or two of the little ones.'
'Horrid creatures!' said Mabel. 'I shall never like rabbits again; it is quite shocking.'
'It would indeed be quite shocking if they knew better,' replied Robert; 'but they don't, so we must try to prevent them from acting cruelly. And after all,' he added, 'it is not half so bad as boys and girls doing wrong when they know better; yet we should not say of them that we should never like them again, should we, Miss Mabel?'
'No, I suppose not,' said the conscience stricken girl, as she found herself standing before the fowls' house, which was the very model of Clara's, and indeed had been made by the same industrious hands, namely those of poor Simmons, who was now, and had been for months, lying on the bed of languishing.
'You see the fowls are all gone to roost,' said Edith; 'the dear little chicks are under their mother's wing. I do wish you could have seen them; there are ten such beauties!'
'Oh, I have got twelve,' cried Clara; 'and in a few days' time I expect we shall have twelve more, if Dame Partlet is as fortunate as Netty. Do come and see them, Edith dear, next week. Think what a family I, or rather Aunt, will have to provide for—twenty-four!'
This was indeed not only counting the chickens before they were hatched, but not counting on misfortunes to those that were already hatched, and Mabel did not feel at all comfortable at the turn the conversation had taken; she was not sorry, therefore, when the servant came to say that Miss Livesay thought it time to go home.
Of course the summons was immediately obeyed, and with very kind adieus, the friends, old and young, separated; Aunt Mary observing that 'they must walk rather quicker in returning home than they had in coming, as there were some stormy-looking clouds hanging overhead.'
The mention of clouds and showers turned Mabel's attention to her dress, which, to say the truth, she had forgotten; and no wonder, as no one had taken the slightest notice of it, though the foolish girl had been at such trouble to make herself attractive. The mention of clouds and rain brought back Mabel's thoughts to the delicate frock and the new hat. She and Clara were a little in advance of their aunt, who had stopped for a moment to place a trifle in Mr. Newlove's hand for a very poor parishioner of his, of whom they had been talking.
'Oh, do let us run!' cried Mabel, as she looked up, and noticed the gathering clouds; 'perhaps we may get home before it begins to rain, if we make haste.'
'But Aunt Mary can't run,' replied Clara, 'and I am sure I shall not leave her; so you will have to run by yourself, Mabel, if you do go.'
'I'm not going to have my dress spoiled,' said the excited girl, as she gathered up her pretty skirt, and commenced to walk very rapidly at first; but as her fears increased from feeling, as she thought, a drop of rain, the rapid walking turned into a run, not quick enough, however, to bring her to the desired haven before the threatened shower descended, and, in spite of her exertion, seemed likely to drench her to the skin before she could arrive at Oak Villa. There had been trees in the way home, under which she might have found shelter if she had not been in such a violent hurry. Now it was too late for Mabel, though Clara and her aunt were actually at the time standing secure beneath the leafy screen; not certainly in a very comfortable state of mind, for Miss Livesay knew that her niece could not have reached home before the drenching shower descended, and she felt very uneasy on her account.
'I do hope that Bridget will take care that Mabel changes all her clothes,' said Aunt Mary; 'she must be wet through if she has been out in the rain. The showers are so very heavy, though they do not last long.'
'I think this shower is nearly over now; do you think we may venture to go, aunt?' inquired Clara, who partook of her aunt's anxiety respecting her cousin.
'Yes, dear; we have nothing on to spoil. A few drops will not do us any harm, and I fancy we shall have another downpour if we wait longer.'
This was Aunt Mary's decided opinion, and on the strength of it, the anxious pair set forward on their way home, which place they certainly would not have reached with dry clothing, had not careful Bridget suddenly made her appearance with cloaks and umbrellas.
This was rather an uncomfortable ending to a pleasant evening, but life has ever its ups and downs, its sunlight and its shadows, for the young as well as for the old. So it has ever been, and so it will ever be to the end of time.
It would have been well for Mabel Ellis if the spoiling of her dress had been the worst result of her foolish pride. And yet, perhaps, I ought not to say that it would not have been well had the trouble ended there. Adversity is a very stern, but a very wise teacher. We may not always see this to be so, and we may be very loth to acknowledge it, but it is a fact nevertheless. Aunt Mary's first thought, when she entered the house, was for Mabel, whom she found by the kitchen fire drying her petticoat, the muslin dress having been taken off, and hung over a chair.
'Have you changed shoes and stockings, my dear?' was the first question, which was answered in the negative. But we will leave further details for the next chapter.
A SERIOUS ILLNESS.
As we have before stated, Mabel had only changed her upper garments. Stockings and shoes, though soaked through in coming along the wet grass, she had not thought of, and her wet petticoat steamed and smoked as she stood drying it by the kitchen fire.
'Dear me! dear me!' exclaimed Aunt Mary; 'why did you not immediately take off all your wet clothes? Clara dear, go with Mabel upstairs, help her to undress and get into bed, and I will bring some warm tea up as soon as possible. I am quite distressed to see the state you are in, my dear,' she added.
Mabel, though of course obliged to obey, went off very reluctantly, declaring all the time that she should be no worse for the wetting, and feeling far more concerned about the spoiling of her dress and her hat, than fearful of any consequence that might ensue from keeping on her wet clothes.
The room in which the cousins slept opened into one that was occupied by their aunt, so that she could easily communicate with them if anything was the matter. Strict in requiring obedience to her commands, and in not permitting any of her rules to be disregarded, Miss Livesay was still a most loving and unselfish relative and friend, untiring in the kind attentions to the sick, ever glad and ready to relieve the needy, or to give a word of advice or sympathy when it was likely to be well received. All the household had retired to rest but herself; she had seen her dear children, as she often called Clara and Mabel, fast asleep in their separate little white beds, but she still felt anxiety on Mabel's account.
'Poor, foolish girl,' said the kind aunt to herself, 'I wonder whether I shall ever be able to convince her of her folly. I cannot change her heart, but I will pray that it may be changed; and I will do everything in my power, both by example and precept, to show her that "Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and her paths peace."' As Miss Livesay said this, she once more went to look at the sleepers in the adjoining room. Clara lay pale, peaceful, and soundly asleep; but Mabel, though also asleep, looked flushed, and appeared restless.
This, Aunt Mary thought, might arise from the hurry and agitation of running home so quickly; she did not wish to meet evils half-way, yet, on retiring from the room, she made up her mind to take another look at the sleeping girl during the night. This she accordingly did, but observing no fresh symptoms for alarm, she lay down again, and only waked when Clara came to tell her that Mabel complained of great pains in her limbs. This sad news completely awed the kind aunt, for she dreaded an attack of rheumatic fever, as Mabel's mamma had been a dreadful sufferer two years before from that very serious malady. As soon as possible, the doctor was sent for. Aunt Mary was no alarmist, and could herself have dealt with any ordinary complaint; but she wished to have the doctor's opinion, and, if possible, his decision, on the real nature of the illness from which her niece was suffering, in order that she might act with befitting caution, if there were any likelihood of infection.
Clara sat disconsolate by the side of the pretty white bed, where her poor cousin lay with feverish head and aching limbs. The stricken girl was very quiet, except when she made an attempt to move, and then the pain caused her to utter a faint cry, which thrilled through Clara's kind heart; for she had never before been called upon to watch by a sick-bed.
'Oh, dear Mabel, I am so sorry for you,' said the affectionate child-nurse; 'I wish I could do anything to give you relief from your pains.'
'Thank you, dear Clara,' said the poor girl, in a quiet, subdued tone, very unlike that of the preceding day; even in this short time reflection had been at work, conscience had not been inactive, for retribution seemed to have come so suddenly as a necessary consequence of wrongdoing.
But the doctor is here now; we must not keep him waiting. A kind, fatherly, benevolent-looking man stands beside the bed of pain, on one side, and the loving, anxious aunt and cousin on the other.
'You are quite right in your idea as to the nature of the complaint, dear madam,' said Dr. Madox. 'Your niece is suffering from an attack of rheumatic fever; a very sharp attack it appears to be, but it need not on that account be a long one, though, just now, it is impossible to predict. However, we will do all we can for her,' added the doctor, cheerfully; 'in the meantime, you know, of course, that there is no danger of infection, though I should advise the patient to be kept perfectly quiet.'
This was indeed a very painful trial for all parties; but Aunt Mary felt that the hand that afflicts can also sustain. She knew, also, that pain and suffering and sorrow are often antidotes to the much more serious evils of pride and vanity and sinful tempers, and that, when they are submitted to patiently, they bring forth excellent fruits.
'Let me nurse dear Mabel myself, aunt,' said Clara; 'I will do everything I can do for her night and day. Oh, I do hope she will soon be well again!'
'And I hope so too, my dear Clara,' replied her aunt; 'but you must not think that you can attend to your cousin without help. You may of course remain with her for company; and this need not perhaps hinder your lessons, unless she should become very impatient, as is often the case with sufferers in this severe malady. But health, your health, my child, must be attended to; you must have air and exercise. And I fear that we shall all be required to lend a helping hand to the poor invalid should the fever greatly increase. I am just going to write to my sister, Mabel's mamma. I must be careful not to alarm her, in her weak state, as she is very nervous. You can return now to your cousin,' continued Aunt Mary, 'and be sure you do not leave her alone until I come to you. Ring for anything that is wanted.'
And now for weeks and weeks, this same selfish, self-willed girl, Mabel Ellis, lay on the bed of pain and languishing, and I may add, I am rejoiced to say, on the bed of sincere repentance. Yes, the salutary lessons of adversity had not been taught in vain, for they were not transitory ones, they had taken deep root; while the Divine precepts and heavenly counsels, which she had heard daily from her most loving and tender nurses, sank deep into a heart out of which had been weeded, to make room for them, the rank and bitter weeds of pride and passion.
Mabel Ellis was indeed an altered character, when able once more to sit up in the arm-chair; though so weak that she could scarcely speak above her breath, her looks of love and thankfulness, and the soft eyes often filled with glad tears, spoke most expressively to the hearts of her aunt and cousin, for they felt that their labour of love had not been in vain; and though all Aunt Mary's usual routine had been put aside, and for a time a new phase of life had been set before her, in this trial she could feel thankful.
'The seeds of affliction and pain, When the soil has been moistened with rain That flow'd from a penitent heart, Into beauty, and fragrance will start.
'Oh flowers of celestial birth! Though springing from clods of the earth, How rich are the odours ye shed O'er the couch where the languishing head
'Is pillow'd in gentle repose, Forgetting awhile its past woes; Then waking, the incense of praise, With your odorous breathings, to raise.'
None but those who are recovering from a serious illness can conceive the feelings of gratitude and love which take possession of the heart when it is rightly disposed, what time the rod of affliction is removed. Mabel seemed to feel herself a new creature, and as she threw her arms round her cousin's neck, she gave expression to feelings of thankfulness and love for the kind attention she had received from her and from her aunt. She did not fail to lament bitterly the pride and sinful temper, which now appeared to her to have been the principal cause of all her trouble.
It was while she was thus bitterly lamenting the past, and weeping on Clara's shoulder, that Aunt Mary came rather suddenly into the room and surprised them.
'Come, my children,' said the kind lady, 'this will never do! Nurse and convalescent both in tears,' she added, for Clara was also weeping; 'I am afraid, dear Mabel, I shall have to dismiss your young attendant, and engage one with more judgment and with less sympathy.'
'Oh no, no, dear aunt,' was the ready response. 'I will behave better, I assure you,' said Clara. 'Poor Mabel is weak, and a little thing makes her cry. She is only sorrowing now for the past; you will teach her, I know, to hope for the future.'
'Yes, even while we sorrow, we must hope; hope is the great lightener of all trouble. Come, cheer up, my child,' said Aunt Mary; 'I have some pleasant news for you to-day. I have just had a letter from Camden Terrace, to say that your papa and mamma and Freddy are coming to see you this afternoon, and to drink tea with me. Ah, I see you can smile, and be glad. We must have no more tears to-day; entertain only thoughts of love and thankfulness.'
A FAMILY PARTY.
What a blessing it is to be possessed of a happy and cheerful disposition!
And who so likely to have such blessing as those who not only say 'Our Father which art in Heaven,' but believing what they say, 'try to walk with Him in love, as dear children.' Such persons diffuse cheerfulness all around them; while on the contrary, those who are selfish and passionate, sow the seeds of trouble and discontent broadcast around them. And pride—oh, that hateful sin—what have children to do with pride? Helpless and dependent as they are on parents or friends, what have they to be proud of? Nothing!
Look at that curly-headed little boy, Freddy Ellis, who would be beautiful were it not for the disdainful curl on his upper lip, and the indignant expression in his eye when he has received some supposed affront. Listen to the passionate vehemence of his words when he is refused some indulgence which he has been teasing his mamma to grant him, though it would surely try your patience, as it has done mine, to hear the stamping and screaming that is going on just outside the parlour-door; and yet, for all this, Freddy receives no punishment. Oh no! 'It would break his spirit.' What absurd reasoning!
Do we inquire from whom is this spirit, which has more of the serpent than the dove? The answer will be, 'It is not from the meek and lowly Saviour!'
Oh parents, whoever you be, take care lest you foster the serpent that will diffuse its subtle poison over the cherished blossoms which you are, or ought to be, training for heaven, and leave a sting which may pierce your own hearts. One thing we may be sure of, that the faults which we, through negligence or weak indulgence, leave unchecked in our children in early life, a wiser though severer hand than ours will use the rod of correction to eradicate. And can this really be love, that puts off the proper time of chastisement, knowing that it is likely to be doubled on that account? Alas, no!
But I must crave pardon for sermonising, and return to the sick chamber, for Mabel's papa and mamma have come to pay their promised visit. Poor girl, she is so thin and pale that papa, who has only seen her twice during her illness, is quite shocked, and sitting down beside the arm-chair, declares that he can scarcely believe she is his once plump, rosy girl. Mamma has seen her often, and has shed many a tear over her suffering child; but still it was a comfort to her to know that Mabel was in such good hands. Sister Julia is also here, looking very sorrowful; but Aunt Mary says:
'Now I am not going to permit anybody who draws a long face to remain in my nursery; so those who look as if they were preparing to cry, instead of to smile, must please take a walk in the garden, till they have recovered themselves. What say you, Freddy, to this?' inquired Aunt Mary of her little nephew, who stood looking on, not knowing seemingly whether he was expected to smile or to cry, though on hearing his aunt's cheery address, he came to the conclusion that it was not necessary for him to commence the disagreeable alternative, although it must be confessed he was a ready practitioner in yelling bouts.
'I should like to go into the garden, aunt,' responded Freddy. 'I want to see Clara's hens and chickens; may I go now?'
'No, not just now, dear,' replied his aunt; 'your cousin will go with you presently; she is engaged just at present, so you will have to wait.'
This waiting, however, did not at all suit the impatient spirit of Master Fred, and on Aunt Mary's going out of the room he gave expression to his vexation.
'Why can't I go into the garden by myself, I wonder?' he exclaimed passionately to his mamma, by whose chair he was standing. 'Aunt needn't think that I should hurt the fowls; it is very unkind of her.'
All this was said in a subdued tone, that papa, who was talking with Mabel, might not hear.
'Hush, hush, Freddy!' said his mother; 'your Aunt Mary is never unkind: you should not say such things of her.'
'But I think she is very unkind,' repeated the boy emphatically, as if what he said must settle the point; but it only drew the attention of his papa, who inquired what the vehement talking was about, and threatened severe punishment if any of Fred's tempers were exhibited at Oak Villa.
'Don't check the poor child so harshly,' said unwise mamma; 'he only wants his aunt to let him go and see the fowls. And really I think she might let him go, for he could do no harm.'
Mr. Ellis had a strong inclination to reply to this ill-advised speech, but he looked at the pale face beside him, and prudently forbore any further remark.
A nicely spread tea-table, on which there were plenty of cakes, smoothed down the ruffled temper of the spoilt boy; yet he did not forget what had all along been uppermost in his mind, namely, that he was to go and see the chickens as soon as tea was over. Had Mr. Ellis not been afraid of creating a disturbance at Oak Villa, he would certainly have prevented Fred's going into the garden, after his display of temper in his sister's room. He, however, made no opposition when the impatient boy, having despatched his tea and cake, made the announcement to his cousin Clara, that he was ready to go with her to see the fowls; and she good-naturedly rose from the table to attend him—not, however, without asking her aunt's leave.
Freddy of course was delighted with all he saw, though he said he thought the chickens were very large ones, and inquired after those he had seen a month ago, being very difficult to be persuaded that those he was now looking at were really the very identical chickens.
Like his sister Mabel, Freddy wanted to nurse one of the chickens; nor did he ask if he might do so, but while Clara went for the corn he opened the wire door and boldly thrust his hand in: only, however, to receive, as she had done, a severe peck from the hen, which sent him stamping and screaming up and down, no doubt to the great astonishment of the cock and hens, and the immediate disarrangement of the family party, who all rushed out to know what was the matter. It certainly was a severe peck that the old hen had given, and a very great fright that the household had been put into by the screams and the roaring of the cowardly boy, which continued as he clung to his mamma's dress, until he accidentally caught sight of his papa, and then the storm ceased as if by magic; and so much of sham had there been in the affair, that the tempest calmed down without leaving trace of sob or tear.
Mr. Ellis saw that his presence had been effectual, so he only said a few words to the young rebel, but he cast a half-sorrowful, half-angry glance at his wife; and Aunt Mary could not help whispering, 'Ada, what troubles you are making for yourself!'
It was months before Mabel could really be said to have regained her health and strength. The dreary winter had passed away, and the tender leaves, and blossoms of April, had put forth their signs of returning spring.
It must not however be supposed that the cold and dark season had been an unprofitable one; far from it. Though Mabel had been an occasional sufferer, during all that time, she and Clara had diligently attended to their studies, and had, Aunt Mary said, made rapid advance; while the inward change which had been experienced by the invalid left no room for regret either to herself or her friends.
Mabel knew and felt that she had been healed of a far worse malady than any bodily one, and though, as in the case of rheumatic pains, hidden evils still gave occasional inward spasms, she had learned at whose hands she was to receive the healing draught, and she never failed to apply for it in the hour of need.
I ought perhaps to have informed my readers, that soon after Mabel had been taken ill, Mr. and Mrs. Maitland, with their two daughters, Dora and Annie, had gone to spend the winter months in the west of England, with that lady's mother, who was now far advanced in years, and very desirous of having the company of this her last surviving child, and to feel the cheering influence of lively girlhood in the society of her truly loving and attentive granddaughters.
And now, as I have before said, the winter had gone, and dewy April, with its smiles and tears, its soft green, tender leaves, its embryo buds and blossoms, its morning salutations which blithe birds sang in the half-clothed trees or in the air, made fragrant by the breath of primrose pale, or violet blue, or polyanthus bright—yes, dewy April, notwithstanding all these delights, was about to take its departure, in order to make way for the pleasant month of May, whose praises Aunt Mary celebrated in rhyme. Oak Villa was indeed a highly privileged home; no young girl, whose mind was properly balanced, could have considered it otherwise. Its owner was cheerful as the lark, industrious as the bee, thoughtful and provident as the ant, benevolent as!—well, I won't liken her to any of our four-footed friends; indeed, just at this moment, I must confess that no comparison occurs to me: but Aunt Mary loved her nieces, delighted to impart to them those stores of knowledge to which she was herself constantly adding, and which a very retentive memory enabled her to draw on for almost any occasion.
Master Freddy, who, in his visit to the truly happy home I have been speaking of, had contrived to make himself as disagreeable as possible, had been punished for his conduct by being prevented from going with his sister Julia in her occasional visits to Oak Villa; this, of course, was by papa's order, and the prohibition was almost as grievous to mamma as it was to Freddy, but there was no redress. Julia had enjoyed many a pleasant walk with her sister and cousin, and she was particularly fond of going to see the poor people, especially Mrs. Simmons, whose husband had in a great measure regained his strength, and was now able to do at least some little towards the maintaining of his family. It had been very dull at home for Julia, after her sister had gone to Oak Villa; but she had her mamma to attend to, and to teach the children, though to say the truth this latter was almost an impossibility where Freddy was concerned, so he was often sent down to stay with mamma, being pronounced incorrigible.
But May morning has come at last; it is Aunt Mary's birthday, and such a lovely day! The cousins have a great deal of work to do before breakfast-time: may-blossoms to gather, garlands to twine, vases to fill with the sweet-scented early flowers, the breakfast-table to arrange with the best possible taste. As to Bridget, she had the day before been preparing for this special holiday; and even now she is very busy with her hot cakes and buns, which bid fair to be of the very best quality. Nine o'clock was the appointed hour for breakfast, and as Aunt Mary was not permitted by the young decorators to see what had been done in the way of preparation, it had been agreed that prayers were to be read in her bedroom, where, at half-past eight, Clara and Mabel, and Bridget, made their appearance; the former clasping Aunt Mary's neck, kissing her, and offering their most sincere and loving good wishes, the latter looking on the while, with no less kindly feeling, and with the honest tears of a faithful and devoted heart in her eyes.
Punctually at nine, a cab drove up to the garden-gate of Oak Villa, which Bridget stood ready to open, while Clara and Mabel waited at the hall-door, to receive the joyful little party, and Aunt Mary formed the background of the scene.
'How smart you are, Freddy,' remarked Clara, as she handed that young gentleman out of the cab; 'why, I never saw you in that dress before.'
'We were kept waiting some time,' said his mamma, 'because he would not have his other clothes on. I was afraid we should be too late, so I let him have his own way.'
'As usual, my dear sister,' said Aunt Mary, smiling, as she kissed and welcomed her sister. 'I'm afraid Freddy's light clothes will come to grief before the day is over, but he must take care.'
'Oh, how beautifully you have set out the table!' was the general exclamation as they all entered the breakfast-room together; and really, it was a very imposing sight, and the juveniles thought a very appetising sight, for ham, and eggs, and tongue, and chicken, and cakes, and buns, make a strong appeal for their share of commendation, even where the more delicate and refined tastes are attracted by beautiful colours and delicious odours.
It is really a very pleasant party that sits round this well-appointed table, though the kind and hospitable hostess regrets much that her brother-in-law, Mr. Ellis, was not able to be of the company. Aunt Mary knew who it was that kept order at home, and much, very much did she wish that her sister would be guided by her husband in the management of their children. But now there is nothing but bright looks and smiling happy faces, if we except that of Master Fred, who is looking round at the several dainties, apparently considering which he shall choose from first.
Unfortunately for the peace of society, Aunt Mary helped Freddy to some ham without being asked, and before that young gentleman had made up his mind as to what he should choose. This was indeed a sad mistake, though done without the slightest suspicion of giving offence; but the offence was very quickly manifested.
'I didn't want ham,' said the rude boy, as he pushed his plate from him; 'I wanted some tongue.'
'That is not a proper way to speak, my dear,' said his aunt; 'and you must eat what I have given you first, then you shall have some tongue.'
This was strange language to the wayward boy; he resented it by another push of his plate, and leaning back in his chair with the determination of a martyr.
Wonderful, he thought it, that no one at the breakfast-table, not even mamma, took the slightest notice of him, or seemed to care whether he had any breakfast or not. The fact was that a very significant look from Aunt Mary had imposed silence upon mamma, and sisters, and cousins, and the little ones were far too busy on their own account to give heed to Freddy, who was quarrelling with his bread and butter. In short, neither by word nor look had any effort been made to soothe the perturbed spirit of the really hungry boy.
This state of things, however, was not to be endured; so thought Fred, when, after waiting a considerable time, and casting furtive glances around to see if there were any signs in his favour, but perceiving none, he pushed his chair away from the table and rushed out of the room, quite unable longer to suppress his passion or his tears. This was the signal for Mrs. Ellis to remonstrate, which she had all along wished to do.
'Really, Mary, you are too severe on the poor boy,' she began, but was immediately, though kindly, silenced by Miss Livesay.
'Not now, if you please, dear,' said Aunt Mary; 'we will not discuss this point before the juveniles, we will talk it over by-and-by. In the meantime, Freddy has, I hear, gone into the garden, where he can amuse himself without getting into mischief.'
The latter part of this speech might have been omitted with propriety, but we must not forestall. The absence of the high-spirited young gentleman did not seem at all to lessen the enjoyment of the little people, who really behaved remarkably well, being for the most part under the management of a good nursery-maid, except when they were having their little lessons with Julia. Mrs. Ellis did not like the trouble of children herself, but through her weak-mindedness she certainly did what she could to make them a trouble to other people. The breakfast-party were just on the eve of breaking up, when a violent screaming in the back garden seemed to upset Aunt Mary's idea that Freddy could not get into any mischief there, and soon the whole party were in the back garden to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. There, at the large rain-water barrel, covered with wet and dirt, yet holding fast by the top, stood the unfortunate Fred, his face crimson with fear and excitement, while he still tried with all his might to turn back the tap which he had so unluckily loosened, and which now, like himself, refused to submit to a weak hand, but was readily reduced to order by a strong one; for Bridget was at the scene of action, and set free the boy, now completely shamed, if not subdued, by having to appear before the whole party as an object of commiseration, if not ridicule.
Of course there were no boy's habiliments at Oak Villa, and Fred had to undergo the further humiliation of being put into his sister's bed in one of her nightdresses, while his own clothes were drying.
It must be confessed that a great reaction had taken place since the cold water had been thrown on the fiery young spirit, for there had been more than the mere wetting of the body. Fasting also had done its beneficial work; the craving stomach seemed to be resisting the defiant will. And when Freddy found himself quietly between the sheets, with only his sister Mabel—who had brought some breakfast up—to witness his humiliation, he very gladly, I might almost say thankfully, turned to the tempting viands which he had so short a time ago turned from with disgust. Yes, the piece of ham was there, and this time it was not pushed back; but there was no tongue, which had been desired and denied before. Aunt Mary never did things by halves.
Here we will leave this graceless Freddy; he will have no lack of amusement while his clothes are drying, for Mabel and Clara have brought him books and pictures, and some old toys which had been put by: but Aunt Mary insists that Freddy is to be left to himself, after she has seen him, and kindly, but forcibly, shown him the foolishness, as well as the wickedness, of indulging in pride and evil temper. After all, May Day was at Oak Villa a very happy day to all who were there.
Though the cold-water system had acted as a sedative with Master Fred, during the afternoon and evening of May Day, and though every precaution had been used to prevent any serious effects afterwards from the wetting, yet the boy did take cold; and so feverish and restless did he become, that the good Dr. Maddox, who had attended Mabel, was sent for without delay. His prescription, however, was not a very alarming one: namely, castor oil and some spirits of sweet nitre.
'Don't frighten yourself, dear madam,' said the doctor: 'this is not a case of rheumatic fever; nothing but a slight influenza cold. But you must take care to give him the medicine.' The doctor laid great stress on this.
Of course the medicine was procured, but, alas! papa was not at home, and no amount of persuasion or coaxing would induce the obstinate little fellow to take it. It was in vain that mamma promised all sorts of toys, and produced preserves and lumps of sugar to take the taste out of his mouth, or threatened him with severe illness and more nauseous stuff, if this were not taken. It was no use, poor Mrs. Ellis was obliged to give it up; and heartily did she wish that her good sister Mary would call in the course of the day, for she dreaded her husband's coming home, and finding that the doctor's advice had not been followed. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when the anxiously-expected visitor arrived at Camden Terrace. Of course she knew nothing about Fred being poorly; she had merely come to make general inquiries, and to see that Mrs. Ellis was no worse for the fatigue of May Day.
'Oh, I am better than usual, dear Mary,' she replied to the kind inquiry; 'but I am troubled about Fred now. He is very poorly, in bed, and the doctor has ordered medicine for him, which I cannot get him to take. I have been longing for you to come; will you try if you can induce him to take it?'
Aunt Mary smiled, as she said: 'Do you remember, dear, a former trial that I had with this young tyrant of yours, when, being very determined myself, I held him fast and pressed the glass to his mouth, whereupon he actually bit a great piece out of it, at the same time kicking me so violently that I was fain to let him go, with, I believe, a mental promise that I would never again subject myself to such an indignity?'
Mrs. Ellis could not help laughing; she had not forgotten the circumstance, but she pleaded now that Fred was two years older, and was not likely to repeat his exploit.
'I know he is two years older,' said Aunt Mary, 'but I don't feel at all certain that he is two years better than he was; though he may be so much stronger as to increase my difficulty.'
'Oh, do try, Mary dear,' urged Mrs. Ellis; 'I must get him to take it before his papa comes home.'
'Oh, Ada, Ada!' exclaimed her sister, 'how is it that you have allowed this boy to gain the mastery over you, to your own great sorrow, and to his great disadvantage? But, come,' added the kind friend, 'give me the medicine, and I will try what I can do.'
'Now, Freddy,' said his aunt, as she came into the bedroom, cup in hand, 'I am come to see you, and to make you better if I can. I suppose you are not fond of lying in bed this fine day,' she added.
'Oh no, aunt; I want to get up, but mamma won't let me.'
'Well, dear, you know, you must always try to do as mamma wishes you, because she knows what is best for you; but I have brought something from the doctor that is sure to do you good, and it is to be taken immediately.'
'I can't take it, aunt, it is such nasty stuff,' said the boy, with disgust.
'I know it is very nasty stuff, Freddy, and, like you, I can't bear to take medicine; but when I know that it is to make me well, I am not so foolish as to refuse it. So now sit up like a man, and take the cup in one hand, and this little mint-drop in the other; drink off the nasty stuff in a moment, and pop the mint-drop into your mouth at once; you will never feel the taste of the medicine after that.'
Whether it was the decisive manner in which Aunt Mary spoke, or the belief in the efficacy of the mint-drop, or the appeal to the manliness of the patient, we cannot say, but a magical effect had been produced, for the contents of the cup had been swallowed; and Fred, greatly relieved in mind, if not yet in body, laid down his head on the pillow and listened, evidently with much pleasure, to his aunt's commendations.
This short illness of Freddy's was followed by a much more serious one of his mamma's. It had been a long time coming on, and it was the doctor's opinion that it might be of some months' continuance; rest and quiet were ordered, but they are not easily obtained where there are refractory children at Freddy's age. It would be easy enough to keep the little ones quiet, but Mrs. Ellis had permitted this turbulent boy of hers to make appeals to her on every trifling occasion, and to stand and whine and cry until he obtained what he wanted, because mamma was worn out with his teasing. Now that she was really so ill as to be more than usually affected by any disturbance, it became a question with Aunt Mary (though it was to her a very painful one) whether it would not be expedient, and the right thing to do, to make an exchange in favour of the invalid, and to substitute Mabel for her brother Fred, taking the responsibility of that rather notorious rebel upon herself, and giving her dear sister the benefit of a tender nurse, who had grown wise beyond her years, through much suffering and good teaching.
If there had been the shadow of a doubt on the kind lady's mind as to what course she should pursue, her visit to Camden Terrace the day after the doctor had given his opinion respecting Mrs. Ellis, would have determined her; for on the front-door being opened, she heard a violent screaming and kicking, sufficient to disturb the nerves of a much less sensitive person than Mrs. Ellis.
'Oh, that is Fred making that noise,' said Mabel, who had come with her aunt to visit mamma. 'Shall I go up to him?' she inquired.
'No, my dear; go to the sick-room. I will myself encounter the rebel;' and Aunt Mary went straight upstairs, just as nurse opened the room-door to remonstrate with the unruly boy, who was quickly and unceremoniously caught up from the floor, and made to stand on his feet.
'Let me not hear another sound from you while I am here,' said his aunt. 'And, Jane,' she added, speaking to the nurse, 'please to put up in a small basket this young gentleman's night-clothes. I intend to take him home with me; he must not remain here to make his poor mamma worse than she is.' So saying, Miss Livesay left the nursery, and proceeded to her sister's bedroom, where she found Mabel arranging the pillows, and making the bed rather more comfortable for her poor mamma.
Master Freddy had been completely taken by surprise, and he seemed at a loss at first how to give vent to the suppressed passion that was swelling within; but when nurse said, 'I am very glad indeed that your aunt is going to take you away, for then we shall have some peace in the house,' he jumped off the stool on which he had been sitting, and would have struck her with a brush which he took from the table, had she not forcibly held both his hands, and threatened to take him at once to the room where Aunt Mary was.
'You needn't put up my night-shirt,' said passionate Fred, 'for I shan't go with that nasty old thing!' This was, however, uttered in a subdued tone, and elicited 'Shame, shame!' from nurse, and even from little Gerty.
'I think,' added Jane, 'you are the very worst boy I ever did see, and I wouldn't stop here if you was obliged to be kept in the nursery, which I suppose you would be, now your mamma's so poorly, for it isn't to be expected that you will be allowed to go teasing her about every little thing. I am glad, very glad, you are going away; and I hope Miss Livesay will keep you a very long time,' added nurse, while Fred, not daring to explode, on account of his aunt's being so near, vented his passion on the poor kitten by kicking it violently from under the stool, where he had again seated himself.
'Ada dear,' said Aunt Mary to her sister, 'I am going to propose a transfer, which, though I must confess it will be a very painful one to me, yet perhaps may in the end be good for all parties; and, I think, will prove for your especial benefit now you are so unwell. It is my intention—if you do not object,' continued Miss Livesay, 'to leave dear Mabel with you, and to take that refractory young gentleman, whose kicking and shouting, as I came to the door, must have disturbed you, home with me to Oak Villa. I intend to remain with you this afternoon, while Mabel goes to our house to tell Bridget to prepare a bed for Fred. I dare say, before I want to leave, Mr. Ellis will be home, and then I shall have no fear of a scene with Master Freddy: he will not venture on opposition when his papa is here.'
'Oh, dear Mary!' said Mrs. Ellis, 'how kind it is of you to care for me and mine so much! I can never thank you enough for what you have done for dear Mabel; but she, poor girl, won't like to stay in a sick-room.'
'Mamma dear, don't say that!' exclaimed the now affectionate Mabel; 'I will nurse you day and night. I shall only be doing for you what dear aunt and Clara did for me, when I was so ill.'
'Well now, you must give me some work to do,' said Aunt Mary; 'I will sit with your mamma while you go down and tell Bridget to prepare a bed in my dressing-room for your brother. I shall take care to keep him near me day and night.' This speech was addressed to Mabel, who was very glad to find that it was her aunt's intention to remain till the evening; she soon set off on her errand, though she feared she should be the bearer of no very pleasant news to Bridget, who would certainly not at all like the advent of such an unruly boy at their peaceful home.
'I'm sure our mistress will not let him have the lamp lighted in his bedroom all night, as nurse says he has at home,' said Bridget; 'so most likely that will be the first row he will make.'
'Oh, leave aunt to settle all that, Bridget,' said Mabel; 'you know how well she manages these matters.'
''Deed I do, Miss Mabel; and who knows,' said the honest, plain-spoken servant, 'but what she may make as great a change in Fred as she did in you!'
Bridget did not take into account the severe illness and mental suffering that had helped, with Aunt Mary's wise efforts, to work this reformation. She attributed all to her kind mistress. While Bridget attended to the commands of her mistress, Mabel went into the garden to gather some flowers for her mamma, as her aunt had requested her; and after bidding good-morning to the faithful servant, she wended her way quickly to her early home, thinking, as she went, what a blessing it was to have so kind a friend as Aunt Mary. During the time that Mrs. Ellis had been so unwell, the children had all dined together in the nursery at two o'clock; and Aunt Mary insisted that there should be no departure from this rule on her account, as she intended to make one of the party. At the hour appointed, the bell rang for dinner, and soon all were seated at the table but Fred; that young gentleman had chosen to make himself scarce, and notwithstanding the ringing of the bell, out of doors and in, a second time, he did not make his appearance.
Great was the consternation of nurse at not being able to find Freddy; she began to fear that he had run away from home to avoid going to Oak Villa. He had once played such a trick, and made everybody miserable until he was found in the evening, and brought home by a woman who washed for his mamma. Mabel and Julia did not feel at all comfortable, though Aunt Mary would not let them leave the table to go in search of the truant.