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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 5/124 -
'Or,' suggested Mr. Underwood, 'you might, like John Gilpin, "ride on horseback after we."'
'Felix looks non-content,' said Mr. Audley. 'I am afraid I was not in his programme. Speak out--let us have it.'
'Why,' said Felix, looking down, 'our little ones all wanted to have you; but then we thought we should all be obliged to come home too soon, unless you took the service for Papa.'
'He certainly ought not to go to church after it,' said Mr. Audley; 'but I can settle that by riding home in good time. What's the day?'
'The day after the girls' break-up, if you please,' said Felix, still not perfectly happy, but unable to help himself; and manifesting quite enough reluctance to make his father ask, as soon as they had parted, what made him so ungracious.
'Only, Papa,' said Felix frankly, 'that we know that you and he will get into some Church talk, and then you'll be of no use; and we wanted to have it all to ourselves.'
'Take care, Felix,' said Mr. Underwood; 'large families are apt to get into a state of savage exclusiveness.'
Felix had to bear the drawback, and the groans it caused from Wilmet, Edgar, and Fulbert: the rest decidedly rejoiced. And Mr. Underwood privately confided the objection to his friend, observing merrily that they would bind themselves by a promise not to talk shop throughout the expedition.
It was a brilliantly, happy week. Pretty hats, bound with dark blue velvet, and fresh black silk jackets, were squeezed out of the four pounds, with the help of a few shillings out of the intended hire of the van, and were the glory of the whole family, both of those who were to wear them and those who were not.
On Saturday evening, just as the four elder young people were about to sally forth to do the marketing for their picnic, a great hamper made its appearance in the passage, addressed to F. C. Underwood, Esq., and with nothing to pay. Only there was a note fastened to the side, saying, 'Dear Felix, pray let the spicy van find room for my contribution to your picnic. I told my mother to send me what was proper from home.--C. S. A.'
Mrs. Underwood was dragged out to superintend the unpacking, which she greatly advised should be merely a surface investigation. That was quite enough, however, to assure her that for Felix to lay in any provision, except the tea and the bread she had already promised, would be entirely superfluous. The girls were disappointed of their cookery; but derived consolation from the long walk with the brothers, in which a cake of good carmine and a lump of gamboge were purchased for Cherry, and two penny dolls for Robina and Angela. What would become of the rest of the pound?
On Sunday, the offertory was, as usual on ordinary occasions, rather scanty; but there was one half-sovereign; and Mr. Underwood was convinced that it had come from under the one white surplice that had still remained on the choir boys' bench.
He stayed in the vestry after the others to count and take care of the offerings, and as he took up the gold, he could not but look at his son, who was waiting for him, and who flushed all over as he met his eye. 'Yes, Papa, I wanted to tell you--I did grudge it at first,' he said hoarsely. 'I knew it was the tithe; but it seemed so much away from them all. I settled that two shillings was the tenth of my own share, and I would give that to-day; and then came Mr. Harper's kindness about the van; and next, when I was thinking how I could save the tenth part without stinting everybody, came all Mr. Audley's hamper. It is very strange and happy, Papa, and I have still something left.'
'I believe,' said Mr. Underwood, 'that you will find the considering the tithe as not your own, is the safest way of keeping poverty from grinding you, or wealth from spoiling you.'
And very affectionately he leant on his son's shoulder all the way home; while Mr. Audley was at luncheon at the Rectory with my Lady, and her twelve years old daughter.
'Mamma,' said Miss Price, 'did you see the Underwoods in new hats?'
'Of course I did, my dear. They were quite conspicuous enough; but when people make a great deal of their poverty, they always do break out in the most unexpected ways.'
'They are pretty girls' said the Rector, rather dreamily, 'and I suppose they must have new clothes sometimes.'
'You will always find,' proceeded Lady Price without regard, 'that people of that sort have a wonderful eye to the becoming--nothing economical for them! I am sorry for Mr. Underwood, his wife is bringing up a set of fine ladies, who will trust to their pretty looks, and be quite above doing anything for themselves.'
'Do you think Wilmet and Alda Underwood so very pretty, Mr. Audley?' inquired Miss Price, turning her precocious eyes upon him.
'Remarkably so,' Mr. Audley replied, with a courteous setting-down tone that was the only thing that ever approached to subduing Miss Price, and which set her pouting without an answer.
'It is a great misfortune to girls in that station of life to have that painted-doll sort of beauty,' added my Lady; 'and what was it I heard about a picnic party?'
'No party, my dear,' replied the Rector, 'only a little fresh air for the family--a day in Centry Park. Felix spends his birthday present from his godfather in taking them.'
Ah! I always was sure they had rich friends, though they keep it so close. Never let me hear of their poverty after this.'
Answers only rendered it worse, so my Lady had it her own way, and not being known to the public in St. Oswald's Buildings, did not trouble them much. Yet there was a certain deference to public opinion there, when Alda was heard pouting, 'Felix, why did you go to that horrid Harper? Just fancy Miss Price seeing us!'
'Who cares for a stuck-up thing like Miss Price!' growled Felix.
'I don't care for her,' said Edgar; 'but it is just as well to have some notion of things, and Felix hasn't a grain. Why, all the fellows will be asking which of us is pepper, and which Souchong! I wouldn't have Froggatt or Bruce see me in it at no price.'
'Very well, stay at home, then,' said Felix.
'You could have had the waggonet from the Fortinbras Arms,' said Alda.
'Ay--for all my money, and not for love.'
'For shame, Alda,' said her twin sister; 'how can you be so ridiculous!'
'You know yourself, Wilmet, it is quite true; if any of the girls see us, we shall be labelled "The Groceries."'
'Get inside far enough, and they will not see you.'
'Ay, but there'll be that disgusting little Bobbie and Lance sitting in the front, making no end of row,' said Edgar; 'and the whole place will know that Mr. Underwood and his family are going out for a spree in old Harper's van! Pah! I shall walk.'
'So shall I,' said Alda, 'at least till we are out of the town; but that won't do any good if those children will make themselves so horridly conspicuous. Could not we have the thing to meet us somewhere out of town, Felix?'
'And how would you get Cherry there, or Mamma! Or Baby!--No, no, if you are too genteel for the van, you may walk.'
'There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid A damask napkin, wrought with horse and hound; Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home, And, half-cut down, a pasty costly made, Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay, Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks Imbedded and injellied; last, with these A flask of cider from his father's vats, Prime which I knew;--and so we sat and ate.' TENNYSON.
No. 8 St. Oswald's Buildings was a roomy house, which owed its cheapness to its situation, this being neither in the genteel nor the busy part of Bexley. It was tall and red, and possessed a good many rooms, and it looked out into a narrow street, the opposite side of which consisted of the long wall of a brewery, which was joined farther on to that of the stable-yard of the Fortinbras Arms, the principal hotel, which had been much frequented in old posting days, and therefore had offices on a large scale. Only their side, however, was presented to St. Oswald's Buildings, the front, with its arched 'porte cochere,' being in the High Street, as it was still called, though it was a good deal outshone by the newer part of the town.
The next-door neighbours of No. 8 were on the one hand a carpenter's yard, the view of which was charming to the children, and the noises not too obnoxious to their parents, and on the other the rectory garden, which separated them from the churchyard, now of course disused. It had no entrance towards their lane, and to reach the church, it was necessary to turn the corner of the wall, and go in through the south porch, which opened close upon the High Street.
In this old street lay the two buildings that chiefly concerned the young Underwoods, i.e. the two schools. That for boys was an old foundation, which had fallen into decay, and had been reformed and revivified in nineteenth-century fashion, to suit the requirements of
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