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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 4/124 -


'Tina--tina--concertina! But, I say, Fee, there's Whiteheart been wishing her heart out all the time for a real good paint-box.'

'Oh, never mind that, Ed; no one would care for one but you and me, and the little ones would spoil all the paints.'

'Yes, resumed Wilmet, from her throne,--'it would be the worry of one's life to keep the little ones off them; and baby would be poisoned to a dead certainty. Now the respirator--'

'Now the concertina--'

'Now Punch--'

'Now the dog--'

'Now the rocking-horse--'

'Now the cannon--'

'I'll tell you what,' said Felix, 'I've settled how it is to be. We'll get John Harper's van, and all go out to the Castle, with a jolly cold dinner--yes, you, Cherry, and all; Ed and I will carry you--and dine on the grass, and--'

A chorus of shouts interrupted him, all ecstatic, and rendered more emphatic by the stamping of feet.

'And Angela will go!' added. Wilmet.

'And Papa,' entreated Cherry.

'And Mamma too, if she will,' said Felix.

'And Mr. Audley,' pronounced Robina, echoed by Clement and Angela. 'Mr. Audley must go!'

'Mr. Audley!' grunted Felix. 'I want nobody but ourselves.'

'Yes, and if he went we could not stay jolly late. My Lady would make no end of a row if both curates cut the evening prayers.'

'For shame, Edgar!' cried the three elder girls.

While Wilmet added, 'We could not stay late, because of Papa and the little ones. But I don't want Mr. Audley, either.'

'No, no! Papa and he will talk to each other, and be of no use,' said Geraldine. 'Oh, how delicious! Will the wild-roses be out? When shall it be, Felix?'

'Well, the first fine day after school breaks up, I should say.'

'Hurrah! hurrah!'

And there was another dance, in the midst of which Mr. Underwood opened the door, to ask what honourable member was receiving such deafening cheers.

'Here! here he is, Papa!' cried Alda. 'He is going to take us all out to a picnic in the Castle woods; and won't you come, Papa?'

'O Papa, you will come!' said Felix. And the whole staircase bawled in accordance.

'Come! to be sure I will!' said his father; 'and only too glad to be asked! I trust we shall prove to have found the way to get the maximum of pleasure out of Admiral Chester's gift.'

'If Mamma will go,' said Felix. 'I wonder what the van will cost, and what will be left for the dinner.'

'Oh, let us two cook the whole dinner,' entreated the twins.

'Wait now,' said Felix. 'I didn't know it was so late, Father.' And he carefully helped his father on with his coat; and as a church bell made itself heard, set forth with him.

When the service was musical, Felix and his two next brothers both formed part of the choir; and though this was not the case on this evening, Felix knew that his mother was easier when he or Wilmet could watch over Papa's wraps.

And Mamma herself, with one at least of the twins, was busy enough in giving the lesser ones their supper, and disposing of them in bed, so that the discreet alone might remain to the later tea-drinking.

And 'Sibby' must be made a sharer of the good news in her lower region, though she was sure to disbelieve in Alda and Wilmet's amateur cookery.

Sibby was Wilmet's foster-mother. Poor thing! Mr. Underwood had found her in dire need in the workhouse, a child herself of seventeen with a new-born babe, fresh from the discovery that the soldier-husband, as she thought, and who had at least gone before the praste with her,' and brought her from her Kilkenny home, was previously husband to another woman. She was tenderly cared for by Mr. Underwood's mother, who was then alive, and keeping house for the whole party at the Rectory; and having come into the Vale Leston nursery, she never left it. Her own child died in teething, and she clung so passionately to her nursling, that Mrs. Underwood had no heart to separate them, Roman Catholic though she was, and difficult to dispose of. She was not the usual talking merry Irishwoman; if ever she had been such, her heart was broken; and she was always meek, quiet, subdued, and attentive; forgetful sometimes, but tender and trustworthy to the last degree with the children.

She had held fast to the family in their reverses, and no more thought of not sharing their lot than one of their children. Indeed, it would not have been much more possible to send her out to shift for herself in England; and her own people seemed to have vanished in the famine, for her letters, with her savings, came back from the dead-letter office. She put her shoulder to the burthen, and, with one small scrub under her, got through an amazing amount of work: and though her great deep liquid brown eyes looked as pathetic as ever, she certainly was in far better spirits than when she sat in the nursery. To be sure, she was a much better nurse than she was a cook; but as both could not be had, Mrs. Underwood was content and thankful to have a servant so entirely one with themselves in interests and affections; and who had the further perfection of never wanting any society but the children's; shrinking from English gossips, and never showing a weakness, save for Irish tramps. Moreover, she was a prodigious knitter; and it was her boast that not one of the six young gentlemen had yet worn stocking or sock, but what came from her needles, and had been re-footed by her to the last extremity of wear.

Meantime, Felix and Clement walked with their father to the church. There it was, that handsome church; the evening sun in slanting beams coming through the gorgeous west window to the illuminated walls, and the rich inlaid marble and alabaster of the chancel mellowed by the pure evening light. The east window, done before glass-painting had improved, was tame and ill-executed, and there was, even aesthetically, a strange unsatisfactory feeling in looking at the heavy, though handsome, incrustations and arcades of dark marble that formed the reredos. It was all very correct; but it wanted life.

Mr. Bevan was not there, he had gone out to dinner, and the congregation consisted of some young ladies, old men, and three little children. Mr. Audley read all, save the Absolution and the Lessons; and the responses sounded low and feeble in the great church, though there was one voice among them glad and hearty in dedicating and entrusting the new year of his life with its unknown burthen.

Felix had heard sayings and seen looks which, boldly as his sanguine spirit resisted them, would hang in a heavy boding cloud over his mind, and were already casting a grave shadow there.

And if the thought of his fivefold gift swelled the fervour of his 'Amen' to the General Thanksgiving, there was another deep heartfelt Amen, which breathed forth earnest gratitude for the possession of such a first-born son.

'That is a very good boy,' the father could not help saying to Mr. Audley, as, on quitting the churchyard, Felix exclaiming, 'Papa, may I just get it changed and ask about the van?' darted across the street, with Clement, into a large grocer's shop nearly opposite, where a brisk evening traffic was going on in the long daylight of hot July; and he could not but tell of the birthday-gift, and how it was to be spent. 'Res angusta domi,' he said, with a smile, 'is a thing to be thankful for, when it has such effects upon a lad.'

'You must add a small taste of example to the prescription,' said Mr. Audley. 'Is this all the birthday present Felix has had?'

'Well, I believe Cherry gave him one of her original designs; but birthdays are too numerous for us to stand presents.'

The other curate half-sighed. He was a great contrast--a much smaller man than his senior, slight, slim, and pale, but with no look of ill- health about him, brown eyed and haired, and with the indefinable look about all his appointments and dress, that showed he had lived in unconscious luxury and refinement all his days. His thoughts went back to a home, where the only perplexity was how to deal with an absolute glut of presents, and to his own actual doubts what to send that youngest sister, who would feel slighted if Charlie sent nothing, but really could not want anything; a book she would not read, a jewel could seldom get a turn of being worn, a trinket would only be fresh lumber for her room. Then he revolved the possibilities of making Felix a present, without silencing his father's confidences, and felt that it could not be done in any direct manner at present; nay, that it could hardly add to the radiant happiness of the boy, who rushed across the road, almost under the nose of the railway-omnibus horses, and exclaimed--

'He will let us have it for nothing, Father! He says it would be hiring it out, and he can't do that: but he would esteem it a great favour if we would go in it, and not pay anything, except just a shilling to Harris for a pint of beer. Won't it be jolly, Father?'

'Spicy would be more appropriate,' said Mr. Underwood, laughing, as the vehicle in question drew up at the shop door, with Mr. Harper's name and all his groceries inscribed in gold letters upon the awning.

'I'm so glad I thought of Harper's,' continued Felix. 'I asked him instead of Buff, because I knew Mamma would want it to be covered. Now there's lots of room; and we boys will walk up all the hills.'

'I hope there is room for me, Felix,' suggested Mr. Audley.


The Pillars of the House, V1 - 4/124

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