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- Scenes and Characters - 10/54 -
Mrs. Eden looked quite relieved, and Alethea proceeded to appoint the day for her coming to Broom Hill, and arrange some small matters, during which Lily not only settled what to say, but worked herself into a fit of impatience at the length of Alethea's instructions. When they were concluded, however, and there was a pause, her words failed her, and she wished that she was miles from the cottage, or that she had never mentioned her intentions. At last she stammered out, 'Oh! Mrs. Eden--I wanted to speak to you about--about Mr. Devereux and your brother.'
Mrs. Eden bent over her wash-tub, Miss Weston examined the shells on the chimney-piece, Marianne and Phyllis listened with all their ears, and poor Lily was exceedingly uncomfortable.
'I wished to tell you--I do not think--I do not mean--It was not his saying. Indeed, he did not say those things about the Gages.'
'I told my brother I did not think Mr. Devereux would go for to say such a thing,' said Mrs. Eden, as much confused as Lily.
'Oh! that was right, Mrs. Eden. The mischief was all my making and Jane's. We said those foolish things, and they were repeated as if it was he. Oh! do tell your brother so, Mrs. Eden. It was very good of you to think it was not Cousin Robert. Pray tell Tom Naylor. I cannot bear that things should go on in this dreadful way.'
'Indeed, Miss, I am very sorry,' said Mrs. Eden.
'But, Mrs Eden, I am sure that would set it right again,' said Lily, 'are not you? I would do anything to have that poor baby christened.'
Lily's confidence melted away as she saw that Mrs. Eden's tears were falling fast, and she ended with, 'Only tell them, and we shall see what will happen.'
'Very well, Miss Lilias,' said Mrs. Eden. 'I am very sorry.'
'Let us hope that time and patience will set things right,' said Miss Weston, to relieve the embarrassment of both parties. 'Your brother must soon see that Mr. Devereux only wishes to do his duty.'
Alethea skilfully covered Lily's retreat, and the party took leave of Mrs. Eden, and turned into their homeward path.
Lily at first seemed disposed to be silent, and Miss Weston therefore amused herself with listening to the chatter of the little girls as they walked on before them.
'There are only thirty-six days to the holidays,' said Phyllis; 'Ada and I keep a paper in the nursery with the account of the number of days. We shall be so glad when Claude, and Maurice, and Redgie come home.'
'Are they not very boisterous?' said Marianne.
'Not Maurice,' said Phyllis.
'No, indeed,' said Lily, 'Maurice is like nobody else. He takes up some scientific pursuit each time he comes home, and cares for nothing else for some time, and then quite forgets it. He is an odd- looking boy too, thick and sturdy, with light flaxen hair, and dark, overhanging eyebrows, and he makes the most extraordinary grimaces.'
'And Reginald?' said Alethea.
'Oh! Redgie is a noble-looking fellow. But just eleven, and taller than Jane. His complexion so fair, yet fresh and boyish, and his eyes that beautiful blue that Ada's are--real blue. Then his hair, in dark brown waves, with a rich auburn shine. The old knights must have been just like Redgie. And Claude--Oh! Miss Weston, have you ever seen Claude?'
'No, but I have seen your eldest brother.'
'William? Why, he has been in Canada these three years. Where could you have seen him?'
'At Brighton, about four years ago.'
'Ah! the year before he went. I remember that his regiment was there. Well, it is curious that you should know him; and did you ever hear of Harry, the brother that we lost?'
'I remember Captain Mohun's being called away to Oxford by his illness,' said Alethea.
'Ah, yes! William was the only one of us who was with him, even papa was not there. His illness was so short.'
'Yes,' said Alethea, 'I think it was on a Tuesday that Captain Mohun left Brighton, and we saw his death in the paper on Saturday.'
'William only arrived the evening that he died. Papa was gone to Ireland to see about Cousin Rotherwood's property. Robert, not knowing that, wrote to him at Beechcroft; Eleanor forwarded the letter without opening it, and so we knew nothing till Robert came to tell us that all was over.'
'Without any preparation?'
'With none. Harry had left home about ten days before, quite well, and looking so handsome. You know what a fine-looking person William is. Well, Harry was very like him, only not so tall and strong, with the same clear hazel eyes, and more pink in his cheeks--fairer altogether. Then Harry wrote, saying that he had caught one of his bad colds. We did not think much of it, for he was always having coughs. We heard no more for a week, and then one morning Eleanor was sent for out of the schoolroom, and there was Robert come to tell us. Oh! it was such a thunderbolt. This was what did the mischief. You know papa and mamma being from home so long, the elder boys had no settled place for the holidays; sometimes they stayed with one friend, sometimes with another, and so no one saw enough of them to find out how delicate poor Harry really was. I think papa had been anxious the only winter they were at home together, and Harry had been talked to and advised to take care; but in the summer and autumn he was well, and did not think about it. He went to Oxford by the coach--it was a bitterly cold frosty day--there was a poor woman outside, shivering and looking very ill, and Harry changed places with her. He was horribly chilled, but thinking he had only a common cold, he took no care. Robert, coming to Oxford about a week after, found him very ill, and wrote to papa and William, but William scarcely came in time. Harry just knew him, and that was all. He could not speak, and died that night. Then William stayed at Oxford to receive papa, and Robert came to tell us.'
'It must have been a terrible shock.'
'Such a loss--he was so very good and clever. Every one looked up to him--William almost as much as the younger ones. He never was in any scrape, had all sorts of prizes at Eton, besides getting his scholarship before he was seventeen.'
Whenever Lily could get Miss Weston alone, it was her way to talk in this manner. She loved the sound of her own voice so well, that she was never better satisfied than when engrossing the whole conversation. Having nothing to talk of but her books, her poor people, and her family, she gave her friend the full benefit of all she could say on each subject, while Alethea had kindness enough to listen with real interest to her long rambling discourses, well pleased to see her happy.
The next time they met, Lilias told her all she knew or imagined respecting Eleanor, and of her own debate with Claude, and ended, 'Now, Miss Weston, tell me your opinion, which would you choose for a sister, Eleanor or Emily?'
'I have some experience of Miss Mohun's delightful manners, and none of Mrs. Hawkesworth's, so I am no fair judge,' said Alethea.
'I really have done justice to Eleanor's sterling goodness,' said Lily. 'Now what should you think?'
'I can hardly imagine greater proofs of affection than Mrs. Hawkesworth has given you,' said Miss Weston, smiling.
'It was because it was her duty,' said Lilias. 'You have only heard the facts, but you cannot judge of her ways and looks. Now only think, when Frank came home, after seven years of perils by field and flood--there she rose up to receive him as if he had been Mr. Nobody making a morning call. And all the time before they were married, I do believe she thought more of showing Emily how much tea we were to use in a week than anything else.'
'Perhaps some people might have admired her self-command,' said Alethea.
'Self-command, the refuge of the insensible? And now, I told you about dear Harry the other day. He was Eleanor's especial brother, yet his death never seemed to make any difference to her. She scarcely cried: she heard our lessons as usual, talked in her quiet voice--showed no tokens of feeling.'
'Was her health as good as before?' asked Miss Weston.
'She was not ill,' said Lily; 'if she had, I should have been satisfied. She certainly could not take long walks that winter, but she never likes walking. People said she looked ill, but I do not know.'
'Shall I tell you what I gather from your history?'
'Then do not think me very perverse, if I say that perhaps the grief she then repressed may have weighed down her spirits ever since, so that you can hardly remember any alteration.'
'That I cannot,' said Lily. 'She is always the same, but then she ought to have been more cheerful before his death.'
'Did not you lose him soon after your mother?' said Alethea.
'Two whole years,' said Lily. 'Oh! and aunt, Robert too, and Frank went to India the beginning of that year; yes, there was enough to depress her, but I never thought of grief going on in that quiet dull way for so many years.'
'You would prefer one violent burst, and then forgetfulness?'
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