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- Scenes and Characters - 30/54 -

to go. Another of the party seemed likely to fail. On the 5th of January Claude came down to breakfast later even than usual; but he had no occasion to make excuses, for his heavy eyes, the dark lines under them, his pale cheeks, and the very sit of his hair, were sure signs that he had a violent headache. He soon betook himself to the sofa in the drawing-room, attended by Lily, with pillows, cushions, ether, and lavender. Late in the afternoon the pain diminished a little, and he fell asleep, to the great joy of his sister, who sat watching him, scarcely daring to move.

Suddenly a frightful scream and loud crash was heard in the room above them. Claude started up, and Lily, exclaiming, 'Those tiresome children!' hurried to the room whence the noise had come.

Reginald, Phyllis, and Ada, all stood there laughing. Reginald and Phyllis had been climbing to the top of a great wardrobe, by means of a ladder of chairs and tables. While Phyllis was descending her brother had made some demonstration that startled her, and she fell with all the chairs over her, but without hurting herself.

'You naughty troublesome child,' cried Lily, in no gentle tone. 'How often have you been told to leave off such boyish tricks! And you choose the very place for disturbing poor Claude, with his bad headache, making it worse than ever.'

Phyllis tried to speak, but only succeeded in giving a dismal howl. She went on screaming, sobbing, and roaring so loud that she could not hear Lily's attempts to quiet her. The next minute Claude appeared, looking half distracted. Reginald ran off, and as he dashed out of the room, came full against William, who caught hold of him, calling out to know what was the matter.

'Only Phyllis screaming,' said Lily. 'Oh, Claude, I am very sorry!'

'Is that all?' said Claude. 'I thought some one was half killed!'

He sank into a chair, pressing his hand on his temples, and looking very faint. William supported him, and Lily stood by, repeating, 'I am very sorry--it was all my fault--my scolding--'

'Hush,' said William, 'you have done mischief enough. Go away, children.'

Phyllis had already gone, and the next moment thrust into Lily's hand the first of the medicaments which she had found in the drawing-room. The faintness soon went off, but Claude thought he had better not struggle against the headache any longer, but go to bed, in hopes of being better the next day. William went with him to his room, and Lilias lingered on the stairs, very humble, and very wretched. William soon came forth again, and asked the meaning of the uproar.

'It was all my fault,' said she; 'I was vexed at Claude's being waked, and that made me speak sharply to Phyllis, and set her roaring.'

'I do not know which is the most inconsiderate of you,' said William.

'You cannot blame me more than I deserve,' said Lily. 'May I go to poor Claude?'

'I suppose so; but I do not see what good you are to do. Quiet is the only thing for him.'

Lily, however, went, and Claude gave her to understand that he liked her to stay with him. She arranged his blinds and curtains comfortably, and then sat down to watch him. William went to the drawing-room to write a letter. Just as he had sat down he heard a strange noise, a sound of sobbing, which seemed to come from the corner where the library steps stood. Looking behind them, he beheld Phyllis curled up, her head on her knees, crying bitterly.

'You there! Come out. What is the matter now?'

'I am so very sorry,' sighed she.

'Well, leave off crying.' She would willingly have obeyed, but her sobs were beyond her own control; and he went on, 'If you are sorry, there is no more to be said. I hope it will be a lesson to you another time. You are quite old enough to have more consideration for other people.'

'I am very sorry,' again said Phyllis, in a mournful note.

'Be sorry, only do not roar. You make that noise from habit, I am convinced, and you may break yourself off it if you choose.'

Phyllis crept out of the room, and in a few minutes more the door was softly opened by Emily, returning from her walk.

'I thought Claude was here. Is he gone to bed? Is his head worse?'

'Yes, the children have been doing their best to distract him. Emily, I want to know why it is that those children are for ever in mischief and yelling in all parts of the house.'

'I wish I could help it,' said Emily, with a sigh; 'they are very troublesome.'

'There must be great mismanagement,' said her brother.

'Oh, William! Why do you think so?'

'Other children do not go on in this way, and it was not so in Eleanor's time.'

'It is only Phyllis,' said Emily.

'Phyllis or not, it ought not to be. What will that child grow up, if you let her be always running wild with the boys?'

'Consider, William, that you see us at a disadvantage; we are all unsettled by this illness, and the children have been from home.'

'As if they learnt all these wild tricks at Broomhill! That excuse will not do, Emily.'

'And then they are always worse in the holidays,' pleaded Emily.

'Yes, there are reasons to be found for everything that goes wrong; but if you were wise you would look deeper. Now, Emily, I do not wish to be hard upon you, for I know you are in a very difficult position, and very young for such a charge, but I am sure you might manage better. I do not think you use your energies. There is no activity, nor regularity, nor method, about this household. I believe that my father sees that this is the case, but it is not his habit to find fault with little things. You may think that, therefore, I need not interfere, but--'

'Oh, William! I am glad--'

'But remember that comfort is made up of little things. And, Emily, when you consider how much my father has suffered, and how desolate his home must be at the best, I think you will be inclined to exert yourself to prevent him from being anxious about the children or harassed by your negligence.'

'Indeed, William,' returned Emily, with many tears, 'it is my most earnest wish to make him comfortable. Thank you for what you have said. Now that I am stronger, I hope to do more, and I will really do my best.'

At this moment Emily was sincere; but the good impulse of one instant was not likely to endure against long cherished habits of selfish apathy.

Claude did not appear again till the middle of the next day. His headache was nearly gone, but he was so languid that he gave up all thoughts of Devereux Castle that evening. Lord Rotherwood, who always seemed to know what was going on at Beechcroft, came to inquire for him, and very unwillingly allowed that it would be better for him to stay at home. Lilias wished to remain with him; but this her cousin would not permit, saying that he could not consent to lose three of the party, and Florence would be disappointed in all her plans. Neither would Claude hear of keeping her at home, and she was obliged to satisfy herself with putting his arm-chair in his favourite corner by the fire, with the little table before it, supplied with books, newspaper, inkstand, paper-knife, and all the new periodicals, and he declared that he should enjoy the height of luxury.

Phyllis considered it to be entirely her fault that he could not go, and was too much grieved on that account to have many regrets to spare for herself. She enjoyed seeing Adeline dressed, and hearing Esther's admiration of her. And having seen the party set off, she made her way into the drawing-room, opening the door as gently as possible, just wide enough to admit her little person, then shutting it as if she was afraid of hurting it, she crept across the room on tiptoe. She started when Claude looked up and said, 'Why, Phyl, I have not seen you to-day.'

'Good morning,' she mumbled, advancing in her sidelong way.

Claude suspected that she had been more blamed the day before than the occasion called for, and wishing to make amends he kissed her, and said something good-natured about spending the evening together.

Phyllis, a little reassured, went to her own occupations. She took out a large heavy volume, laid it on the window-seat, and began to read. Claude was interested in his own book, and did not look up till the light failed him. He then, closing his book, gave a long yawn, and looked round for his little companion, almost thinking, from the stillness of the room, that she must have gone to seek for amusement in the nursery.

She was, however, still kneeling against the window-seat, her elbows planted on the great folio, and her head between her hands, reading intently.

'Little Madam,' said he, 'what great book have you got there?'

'As You Like It,' said Phyllis.

'What! are you promoted to reading Shakspeare?'

'I have not read any but this,' said Phyllis. 'Ada and I have often looked at the pictures, and I liked the poor wounded stag coming down to the water so much, that I read about it, and then I went on. Was it wrong, Claude? no one ever told me not.'

'You are welcome to read it,' said Claude, 'but not now--it is too

Scenes and Characters - 30/54

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