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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 50/124 -


'I see he wanted to cheer her spirits, not by saying "stuff and nonsense," but reminding her that there are worse things than death. Have you an omen on your mind, Cherry? Have it out; don't let it sink in.'

'Only please don't laugh at me. Indeed, it was not my own doing, but Stella's fancy to have a boat for each of us, when she was launching them; and I could not help recollecting how we are all starting out and away from our first home.'

'Stella's was not a very perilous ocean.'

'That was a comfort at first; and Stella tried to draw all the thirteen lines together, but they tangled, and one thread broke, and that boat was left behind; and one poor crooked ill-made thing fell over, and was left at home because hindering all the rest, and even Stella knew that was me, and--'her voice quivered, 'one was caught on a nail, and torn into a wreck! Now, can I help thinking, though you'll just call them newspaper-boats, dragged by a baby on a dry dusty floor?'

'Watched by a weary fanciful damsel,' said Mr. Audley, sitting down by her, 'who does not know a bit more than she did before, that all are launching on a sea, and if it is a rougher one, there's a better Guiding Star than Stella Eudora to lead them, and they have compasses of their own--ay, and a Pilot. And if there are times when He seems to be asleep in the ship--why, even the owner of the unseaworthy boat left at home can show the Light, and pray on till the others are roused to awaken Him.

'I wish there had not been that wreck,' she sighed.

'What seems a wreck need not be really one,' said Mr. Audley. 'It may be the very way of returning to the right course. And by and by we shall see our Master standing on the shore in the morning light.'

At that moment there was a sound at the door--Felix had accompanied Cherry's chair, to bring her and Theodore to the new home. There was too much haste for the wistful last looks she intended: she was deposited in the chair with Theodore on her knee, Stella trotting after, with Felix and Mr. Audley who was coming to see the inauguration. St. Oswald's Buildings were left behind, and she was drawn up to the green private door, beside the shop window; Wilmet hurried down and took Theodore from her; Felix helped her out, and up the narrow steep staircase, which certainly was not a gain, but when landed in the drawing-room, the space seemed to her magnificent. And their own furniture, the two or three cherished portraits brought from Vale Leston, their father's chair, their mother's sofa, the silk patchwork table-cover that had been the girl's birthday present to Mamma, the bookcase with Papa's precious books, made it seem home- like.

'The mantelpiece is just the same!' cried Cherry, delighted, as she recognised all the old ornaments.

The next moment her delight was great at the flower-stands, which Mr. Froggatt had kindly left full of primulas, squills, and crocuses; and when she looked out from the back room into the little garden, where Mr. Froggatt's horticultural tastes had long found their sole occupation, and saw turf, green laurels, and bunches of snowdrops and crocuses, she forgot all Stella's launch!

CHAPTER XI

THE CHORAL FESTIVAL

'And with ornaments and banners, As becomes gintale good manners, We made the loveliest tay-room upon Shannon shore.' THACKERAY.

'Of course, after _this_,' said Lady Price, 'Miss Underwood did not expect to be visited.'

Otherwise the gain was great. The amusement of looking out of window into the High Street was alone a perpetual feast to the little ones, and saved Geraldine worlds of anxiety; and the garden, where they could be turned out to play, was prized as it only could be by those who had never had any outlet before. It was a pleasant little long narrow nook, between the printing-house on the west, and such another garden on the east, a like slip, with a wall masked by ivy and lilacs, and overshadowed by a horse-chestnut meeting it on the south. It was not smoky, and was quite quiet, save for the drone and stamp of the steam-press; there was grass, a gum-cistus and some flower- beds in the centre, and a gravel-walk all round, bordered by narrow edgings of flowers, and with fruit trees against the printing-house wall, and a Banksia and Wisteria against that of the house. Mr. Froggatt was quite touched at the reverence with which Angela and Stella regarded even the daisies that had eluded his perpetual spud; and when he found out the delight it was to Cherry to live with flowers for the first time in her life, he seldom failed to send her a bunch of violets or some other spring beauty as soon as he arrived in the morning, and kept the windows constantly supplied with plants.

The old bookseller was at first very much afraid of his new inmates. To Felix he was used, but he looked on the sisters as ladies, and to ladies, except on business-terms, he was much less accustomed than to gentlemen. Besides, being a thorough gentleman himself at heart, he had so much delicacy as to be afraid of hurting their feelings by seeming at home in his own house, and he avoided being there at luncheon for a whole week, until one afternoon Felix ran up to say that he was sure Mr. Froggatt had a cold, and would be glad if a cup of tea appeared in his parlour. Gratitude brought him in to face the enemy; and after he had been kept at home for a day or two by the cold, his wife's injunctions and Felix's entreaties brought him to the dinner.

It happened to be one of Wilmet's favourite economical stews; but these were always popular in the family, though chiefly composed of scraps, pot-liquor, rice, and vegetables, and both for its excellence and prudence it commanded Mr. Froggatt's unqualified approbation. All that distressed his kind heart was to see no liquor but water, except Cherry's thimbleful of port; he could not enjoy his glass of porter, and shook his head--perhaps not without reason--when he found that his young assistant's diet was on no more generous scale, and was not satisfied by Felix's laughing argument that it was impossible to be more than perfectly healthy and strong. 'False economy,' said the old man in private; but Felix was not to be persuaded into what he believed to be an unnecessary drain on the family-finances, and was still more stout against the hint that if Redstone discovered this prudential abstinence, it might make him 'disagreeable.' Felix had gone his way regardless of far too many sneers for poverty and so- called meanness to make any concession on their account, though the veiled jealousy and guarded insolence of that smart 'gent' the foreman had been for the last three years the greatest thorn in his side. And at least he made this advance, that the errand-boy cleaned the shoes!

Geraldine, though shy at first from the utter seclusion in which she had lived, put forth a pretty bashful graciousness that perfectly enchanted Mr. Froggatt, who was besides much touched by her patient helplessness. He became something between her grandfather and her knight, loading her with flowers, giving her the run of the circulating library, and whenever it was fine enough, taking her for a mile or two in his low basket-carriage either before or after his day's business in the shop. It was not exactly like being with her only other friend, Mr. Audley; but he was a thoroughly kind, polite, and by no means unlettered old man; and Geraldine enjoyed and was grateful, while the children were his darlings, and were encouraged to take all manner of liberties with him.

Among the advantages of the change was the having Felix always at hand; and though she really did not see him oftener in the course of the day than at St. Oswald's Buildings, still the knowing him to be within reach gave great contentment to Cherry. The only disadvantage was that he lost his four daily walks to and fro, and hardly ever had sufficient fresh air and exercise. He was indeed on his feet for the most of the day, but not exerting his muscles; and all taste for the active sports in which his kind old master begged him to join seemed to have passed away from him when care fell upon him. He tried not to hold his head above the young men of his adopted rank, many of whom had been his school-fellows; but, except with the members of the choir and choral society, he had no common ground, and there were none with whom he could form a friendship. Thus he never had any real relaxation, except music, and his Sunday walks, besides his evenings with his sisters and of play with the children. It was not a natural life for a youth, but it seemed to suit with his disposition; for though not given to outbursts of animal spirits, he was always full of a certain strong and supporting cheerfulness.

Indeed, though they did not like to own it to themselves, the young people had left behind them much of the mournfulness of the widowed household, which had borne down their youthful spirits; and though the three elders could never be as those who had grown up without care or grief, yet their sunshine could beam forth once more, and helped them through the parting with their best friend. For Mr. Audley's sister-in-law died in the beginning of June, and his father entreated him to go abroad with his brother, so that he was hurried away directly after midsummer, after having left his books in Felix's charge, and provided for the reception of the dividends in his absence.

His successor was a quiet amiable young Mr. Bisset, not at all disinclined to cultivate Felix as a link with the tradesfolk; only he had brought with him a mother, a very nice, prim, gentle-mannered, black-eyed lady, who viewed all damsels of small means as perilous to her son. Had she been aware that Bexley contained anything so white and carnation, so blue-eyed and straight-featured, so stately, and so penniless as Wilmet Underwood, he would never have taken the Curacy. She was a kind woman, who would have taken infinite pains to serve the orphan girls; and she often called on them; but when the Rector's wife had told her that such a set had been made at Mr. Audley that he could bear it no longer, it was but a natural instinct to cherish her son's bashfulness.

That autumn Wilmet came home elevated by the news that the head teacher was going to retire at Christmas, and that she was to be promoted to her place of forty pounds a year. Her successor was coming immediately to be trained, being in fact the daughter of Miss Pearson's sister, who had married an officer in the army. She had been dead about three years, and the girl had been living in London with her father, now on half pay, and had attended a day-school until he married again, and finding his means inadequate to his expenses,


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