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- Scenes and Characters - 5/54 -


A book was the only chance of interesting her; but very few books took her fancy enough to occupy her long;--those few, however, she read over and over again, and when unusual tranquillity reigned in the drawing-room, she was sure to be found curled up at the top of the library steps, reading one of three books--Robinson Crusoe, Little Jack, or German Popular Tales. Then Emily blamed her ungraceful position, Jane laughed at her uniform taste, and Lily proposed some story about modern children, such as Phyllis never could like, and the constant speech was repeated, 'Only look at Ada!' till Phyllis considered her sister as a perfect model, and sighed over her own naughtiness.

German Popular Tales were a recent introduction of Claude's, for Eleanor had carefully excluded all fairy tales from her sisters' library; so great was her dread of works of fiction, that Emily and Lilias had never been allowed to read any of the Waverley Novels, excepting Guy Mannering, which their brother Henry had insisted upon reading aloud to them the last time he was at home, and that had taken so strong a hold on their imagination, that Eleanor was quite alarmed.

One day Mr. Mohun chanced to refer to some passage in Waverley, and on finding that his daughters did not understand him, he expressed great surprise at their want of taste.

Poor things,' said Claude, 'they cannot help it; do not you know that Eleanor thinks the Waverley Novels a sort of slow poison? They know no more of them than their outsides.'

'Well, the sooner they know the inside the better.'

'Then may we really read them, papa?' cried Lily.

'And welcome,' said her father.

This permission once given, the young ladies had no idea of moderation; Lily's heart and soul were wrapped up in whatever tale she chanced to be reading--she talked of little else, she neglected her daily occupations, and was in a kind of trance for about three weeks. At length she was recalled to her senses by her father's asking her why she had shown him no drawings lately. Lily hesitated for a moment, and then said, 'Papa, I am sorry I was so idle.'

'Take care,' said Mr. Mohun, 'let us be able to give a good account of ourselves when Eleanor comes.'

'I am afraid, papa,' said Lily, 'the truth is, that my head has been so full of Woodstock for the last few days, that I could do nothing.'

'And before that?'

'The Bride of Lammermoor.'

'And last week?'

'Waverley. Oh! papa, I am afraid you must be very angry with me.'

'No, no, Lily, not yet,' said Mr. Mohun, 'I do not think you quite knew what an intoxicating draught you had got hold of; I should have cautioned you. Your negligence has not yet been a serious fault, though remember, that it becomes so after warning.'

'Then,' said Lily, 'I will just finish Peveril at once, and get it out of my head, and then read no more of the dear books,' and she gave a deep sigh.

'Lily would take the temperance pledge, on condition that she might finish her bottle at a draught,' said Mr. Mohun.

Lily laughed, and looked down, feeling quite unable to offer to give up Peveril before she had finished it, but her father relieved her, by saying in his kind voice, 'No, no, Lily, take my advice, read those books, for most of them are very good reading, and very pretty reading, and very useful reading, and you can hardly be called a well-educated person if you do not know them; but read them only after the duties of the day are done--make them your pleasure, but do not make yourself their slave.'

'Lily,' said Claude the next morning, as he saw her prepare her drawing-desk, 'why are you not reading Peveril?'

'You know what papa said yesterday,' was the answer.

'Oh! but I thought your feelings were with poor Julian in the Tower,' said Claude.

'My feelings prompt me to sacrifice my pleasure in reading about him to please papa, after he spoke so kindly.'

'If that is always the effect of your principle, I shall think better of it,' said Claude.

Lily, whether from her new principle, or her old habits of obedience, never ventured to touch one of her tempters till after five o'clock, but, as she was a very rapid reader, she generally contrived to devour more than a sufficient quantity every evening, so that she did not enjoy them as much as she would, had she been less voracious in her appetite, and they made her complain grievously of the dulness of the latter part of Russell's Modern Europe, which was being read in the schoolroom, and yawn nearly as much as Phyllis over the 'Pragmatic Sanction.' However, when that book was concluded, and they began Palgrave's Anglo Saxons, Lily was seized within a sudden historical fever. She could hardly wait till one o'clock, before she settled herself at the schoolroom table with her work, and summoned every one, however occupied, to listen to the reading.

CHAPTER IV--HONEST PHYL

'Multiplication Is a vexation.'

It was a bright and beautiful afternoon in March, the song of the blackbird and thrush, and the loud chirp of the titmouse, came merrily through the schoolroom window, mixed with the sounds of happy voices in the garden; the western sun shone brightly in, and tinged the white wainscoted wall with yellow light; the cat sat in the window-seat, winking at the sun, and sleepily whisking her tail for the amusement of her kitten, which was darting to and fro, and patting her on the head, in the hope of rousing her to some more active sport.

But in the midst of all these joyous sights and sounds, was heard a dolorous voice repeating, 'three and four are--three and four are--oh dear! they are--seven, no, but I do not think it is a four after all, is it not a one? Oh dear!' And on the floor lay Phyllis, her back to the window, kicking her feet slowly up and down, and yawning and groaning over her slate.

Presently the door opened, and Claude looked in, and very nearly departed again instantly, for Phyllis at that moment made a horrible squeaking with her slate-pencil, the sound above all others that he disliked. He, however, stopped, and asked where Emily was.

'Out in the garden,' answered Phyllis, with a tremendous yawn.

'What are you doing here, looking so piteous?' said Claude.

'My sum,' said Phyllis.

'Is this your time of day for arithmetic?' asked he.

'No,' said Phyllis, 'only I had not done it by one o'clock to-day, and Lily said I must finish after learning my lessons for to-morrow, but I do not think I shall ever have done, it is so hard. Oh!' (another stretch and a yawn, verging on a howl), 'and Jane and Ada are sowing the flower-seeds. Oh dear! Oh dear!' and Phyllis's face contracted, in readiness to cry.

'And is that the best position for doing sums?' said Claude.

'I was obliged to lie down here to get out of the way of Ada's sum,' said Phyllis, getting up.

'Get out of the way of Ada's sum?' repeated Claude.

'Yes, she left it on the table where I was sitting, where I could see it, and it is this very one, so I must not look at it; I wish I could do sums as fast as she can.'

'Could you not have turned the other side of the slate upwards?' said Claude, smiling.

'So I could!' said Phyllis, as if a new light had broken in upon her. 'But then I wanted to be out of sight of pussy, for I could not think a bit, while the kitten was at play so prettily, and I kicked my heels to keep from hearing the voices in the garden, for it does make me so unhappy!'

Some good-natured brothers would have told the little girl not to mind, and sent her out to enjoy herself, but Claude respected Phyllis's honesty too much to do so, and he said, 'Well, Phyl, let me see the sum, and we will try if we cannot conquer it between us.'

Phyllis's face cleared up in an instant, as she brought the slate to her brother.

'What is this?' said he; 'I do not understand.'

'Compound Addition,' said Phyllis, 'I did one with Emily yesterday, and this is the second.'

'Oh! these are marks between the pounds, shillings, and pence,' said Claude, 'I took them for elevens; well, I do not wonder at your troubles, I could not do this sum as it is set.'

'Could not you, indeed?' cried Phyllis, quite delighted.

'No, indeed,' said Claude. 'Suppose we set it again, more clearly; but how is this? When I was in the schoolroom we always had a sponge fastened to the slate.'

'Yes,' said Phyllis, 'I had one before Eleanor went, but my string broke, and I lost it, and Emily always forgets to give me another. I will run and wash the slate in the nursery; but how shall we know what the sum is?'


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