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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 90/124 -
patient, so she only protested by a reproving look and shake of the head; while Clement stood disconcerted, but less surprised than if he had not been familiar with the part of the family Cassandra.
BY THE RIVER
'And Lancelot look'd, and was perplext in mind; And being weak in body, said no more.' TENNYSON.
It was a lovely afternoon, and the sun shone outside the green tracery of a hornbeam alley in the Deanery garden, leading from the cloister to the river. Here lay Lancelot, on the long cushion of a sofa, while Wilmet sat stitching at the last of the set of collars that would always bring so many recollections. For this was a Saturday afternoon, and on the Monday Lance was to go to Ewmouth to join Felix, who was to have his holiday extended another month on that account. Alda, who had had a quarter's allowance from her uncle, had made this possible; and Wilmet was doubly gratified by its having been her twin's gift and thought.
Wilmet would of course go home, and she found herself almost regretting the close of a time that had of late been very pleasant. She had not felt, as Geraldine would have done, the romance of living in the old monastic buildings, in the calm shadow of the grand old minster; yet something of the soothing of the great solemn quiet rested upon the spirit that had--since six years old--never known freedom from responsibility, and--since fifteen--had borne the burthen of household economies and of school teaching. It was a strange novelty to have meals provided without care of her own, no shortcomings of servants to make up, no claimant for her attention save a solitary patient, and that one with Lance's temper. Wilmet had undergone a good deal from Alda's clashes with the rest, even Felix's was only a temper well in hand, and alternate fretfulness and penitence were regarded by her as part and parcel of Geraldine's ailments; so that it was almost a surprise that her present convalescent never visited his discomforts upon her, but was always patient and good-humoured, smiling whenever he could, like his father before him, as if, according to the pretty Spanish saying, the sun had shone on his cradle at his birth. His unselfish nature had made him a little uneasy when with cooler senses he remembered Clement's hint, while love and instinct alike made him feel utterly unable to dispense with his motherly sister, but when she had assured him that nothing could make him leave him as yet, and when Sister Constance was known to be at Bexley, he threw it from his mind, and was perfectly happy and contented.
He could still exert no attention, could neither read nor be read to, nor occupy himself in any way; but he was amused by talk around him, and companionship was never lacking. Wilmet, whose forte had never been conversation, found herself in a stream of small talk with inquiring friends of all degrees in the hierarchy; but was most at her ease when the female Harewoods were prattling good-humoured inconsequent chatter. Willie lying on the grass murmuring with Lance, or John lured into stories of Indian surveying adventures in the cause of the Ordnance Map. And when she was carried off to have her meals with the family, she had put herself so entirely at the mercy of circumstances, that she never seemed scandalised by their crazy unpunctuality, their wonderful free and easy ways, and customs of putting things to every use but the right, did not censure Grace or Lucy for dawdling and gossiping whole mornings away, and took it naturally when their mother inquired after her eldest brother by the alternate names of Festus and Frank, and when she mentioned Lance's disaster as his coup d'etat. And here was the last of these pleasant afternoons, full of still sweet sounds, midsummer hum above, the soft ripple of the water close by, the cawing of the rooks in the Close-- all such peace, that her heart quailed as she looked forward to the din of the High Street at Bexley, and she strangled a sigh half way up her throat.
The click of the cloister door was heard, and Lance awoke from a doze, saying, 'Is that Bill?--You've not been here since morning, you vagabone.'
'See what I've got for you,' said Bill. 'What do you say for that, now?'
For Lance, with sparkling eyes, was rising to his feet. 'Hurrah! Robin herself! O Robin a Bobbin, isn't this jolly?' and Robina was entangled in that wonderful embrace peculiar to their own two selves, too ecstatic for a word between them, though as she received her sister's kiss, she spoke rather pleadingly--'Cherry and Sister Constance said I might, Wilmet; and Mrs. Harewood was so very kind as to send Willie to fetch me to spend Sunday. Do you mind, Wilmet?'
'Mind! Of course she doesn't,' said Lance. 'I was hungry to see you, Bob.'
'It was very kind in Mrs. Harewood,' said Wilmet. 'I must go and thank her. Only, first, how is Cherry?'
'Much better. She has been out for a drive with Mr. Froggatt. It will be all right now you are coming home, Mettie! Oh! and Dr. Lee is delighted to hear of Lance's going to Ewmouth to make Felix stay longer there. Oh! if ever anything was so delightful as this place! only I must see your prize, Lancey.'
As the two children linked their arms round one another's waists to walk along the alley, all-sufficient to one another, maybe there shot a little pang across Wilmet's breast. No one had raptures for her. She was Felix's housekeeper, and represented mother to all; but since Alda had been taken from her, she had ceased to be any one's perfect equal and delight. She might be valued, but only like air, or bread, or any other necessary of life, but she was foremost with no one. Lance had been everything to her, and she to Lance, for full four weeks; but she should never awaken the look on his face she had seen for Robin. Such thoughts as these had never troubled her before; it had been quite enough to know herself indispensable to all, and there was no time for sentiment; but this strange time of nursing had inspired a new sensation of yearning, a softness and melancholy, that she strove against vainly as weak and unnatural.
The change had not been unperceived by Lance; for as his little sister, looking at his sunken cheeks, and feeling his thin bony hand, poured out her pity, he answered, 'I've had rather a jolly time of it of late; Mettie is so delicious, you can't think how her very voice and eyes seemed to do me good. I'm sure that the bella-donna lily, cold hard painted thing, was a mistake; she must have been something much sweeter. What do you think of a honeysuckle? That's bright red and white, and its leaves come out when nothing else does.'
'But it trails about, and doesn't stand alone.'
'It has got a good stout hard stem, that can make a bush of its own when it hasn't anything to twine upon. I say, Robin, that's just what you women-folk should be, always ready to twine, and yet able to stick up for yourselves when you've got nothing to hang upon.'
'Well, if Wilmet was the honeysuckle, I'm sure Alda wasn't. O Lance, it has been so horrid coming home without any one I wanted, and all so queer and uncomfortable. I would as soon have been at school, or sooner, for there I had home to think about.'
'The last holidays weren't first-rate,' said Lance.
'No; but then I'd got you!'
'I wish Dr. Manby would prescribe you to come with me,' said Lance.
'It's something to have this little sight! And here! I wanted to give this back, Lance.'
'Ah!' as he took the key of the violin-case, 'We'll take a look at her, Robin, to see if she's quite well; but I couldn't make her speak, it would be like sticking daggers through my head.'
'Poor little key! I looked at it so often when you were so bad, and grieved to think you had missed all that pleasure. Only it was a comfort to know you had been so good about it.'
'I am glad you took it, Robin; I know I should have grown idle if I had had it. Depend on it, 'twas that gave me this year of grace and the Bishop's prize.'
'Oh! come and show me that! I hope it is not packed up.'
'No; I wanted to take it to show Felix, but Mettie says it is too big, and would come to grief. What prizes have you, Robin?'
'Three. General good marks, catechism, and history--beautiful books.'
'Then the avenging harpies have forgiven you?'
'Pretty well; and they were very kind when you were ill, and the girls are much nicer; I am glad we stayed on, except for Angel's sake. Do you know, Lance, I really am afraid she is going in for naughtiness.'
'Give a dog an ill name--' quoted Lance. 'Is that it?'
'I do believe it is that! She is such a Tom-boy! Fancy! One afternoon, there was an awful uproar, and her class were all found playing at races, some riding astride with handkerchiefs round the forms, which they had named after the real horses; and the others pretending to bet on them, with their books in their hands, shouting out at the top of their voices.'
'Go it, Angel,' said Lance, laughing; 'that's the way Clem's sisters improve the tone of the school.'
Robina still looked distressed, but that was soon forgotten in visiting Lance's quarters, and admiring his books, peeping respectfully at his silent violin, and being lionised as far as his strength would permit. They were hand in hand the whole evening, till be was sent to bed, and his sisters were claimed by the Harewoods.
The Cathedral was resuming its usual voices on the Sunday morning, and when the early bell brought Wilmet from her room, she found Lance up and dressed, his little black gown on, and his trencher cap in his hand.
'That's nice!' he said in admiration, as she advanced in her fresh
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