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to do more than her duty, kept her constant to her promise, and her love of seeing things well done was useful, though sadly counterbalanced by her deficiency in temper and patience.
CHAPTER V--VILLAGE GOSSIP
'The deeds we do, the words we say, Into still air they seem to fleet; We count them past, But they shall last.'
Soon after Easter, Claude went to Oxford. He was much missed by his sisters, who wanted him to carve for them at luncheon, to escort them when they rode or walked, to hear their music, talk over their books, advise respecting their drawings, and criticise Lily's verses. A new subject of interest was, however, arising for them in the neighbours who were shortly expected to arrive at Broom Hill, a house which had lately been built in a hamlet about a mile and a half from the New Court.
These new comers were the family of a barrister of the name of Weston, who had taken the house for the sake of his wife, her health having been much injured by her grief at the loss of two daughters in the scarlet fever. Two still remained, a grown-up young lady, and a girl of eleven years old, and the Miss Mohuns learnt with great delight that they should have near neighbours of their own age. They had never had any young companions as young ladies were scarce among their acquaintance, and they had not seen their cousin, Lady Florence Devereux, since they were children.
It was with great satisfaction that Emily and Lilias set out with their father to make the first visit, and they augured well from their first sight of Mrs. Weston and her daughters. Mrs. Weston was alone, her daughters being out walking, and Lily spent the greater part of the visit in silence, though her mind was made up in the first ten minutes, as she told Emily on leaving the house, 'that Miss Weston's tastes were in complete accordance with her own.'
'Rapid judgment,' said Emily. 'Love before first sight. But Mrs. Weston is a very sweet person.'
'And, Emily, did you see the music-book open at "Angels ever bright and fair?" If Miss Weston sings that as I imagine it!'
'How could you see what was in the music-book at the other end of the room? I only saw it was a beautiful piano. And what handsome furniture! it made me doubly ashamed of our faded carpet and chairs, almost as old as the house itself.'
'Emily!' said Lily, in her most earnest tones, 'I would not change one of those dear old chairs for a king's ransom!'
The visit was in a short time returned, and though it was but a formal morning call, Lilias found her bright expectations realised by the sweetness of Alethea Weston's manners, and the next time they met it was a determined thing in her mind that, as Claude would have said, they had sworn an eternal friendship.
She had the pleasure of lionising the two sisters over the Old Court, telling all she knew and all she imagined about the siege, Sir Maurice Mohun, and his faithful servant, Walter Greenwood. 'Miss Weston,' said she in conclusion, 'have you read Old Mortality?'
'Yes,' said Alethea, amused at the question.
'Because they say I am as bad as Lady Margaret about the king's visit.'
'I have not heard the story often enough to think so,' said Miss Weston, 'I will warn you if I do.'
In the meantime Phyllis and Adeline were equally charmed with Marianne, though shocked at her ignorance of country manners, and, indeed, Alethea was quite diverted with Lily's pity at the discovery that she had never before been in the country in the spring. 'What,' she cried, 'have you never seen the tufts of red on the hazel, nor the fragrant golden palms, and never heard the blackbird rush twittering out of the hedge, nor the first nightingale's note, nor the nightjar's low chirr, nor the chattering of the rooks? O what a store of sweet memories you have lost! Why, how can you understand the beginning of the Allegro?'
Both the Miss Westons had so much pleasure in making acquaintance with 'these delights,' as quite to compensate for their former ignorance, and soon the New Court rang with their praises. Mr. Mohun thought very highly of the whole family, and rejoiced in such society for his daughters, and they speedily became so well acquainted, that it was the ordinary custom of the Westons to take luncheon at the New Court on Sunday. On her side, however, Alethea Weston felt some reluctance to become intimate with the young ladies of the New Court. She was pleased with Emily's manners, interested by Lily's earnestness and simplicity, and thought Jane a clever and amusing little creature, but even their engaging qualities gave her pain, by reminding her of the sisters she had lost, or by making her think how they would have liked them. A country house and neighbours like these had been the objects of many visions of their childhood, and now all the sweet sights and sounds around her only made her think how she should have enjoyed them a year ago. She felt almost jealous of Marianne's liking for her new friends, lest they should steal her heart from Emma and Lucy; but knowing that these were morbid and unthankful feelings, she struggled against them, and though she missed her sisters even more than when her mother and Marianne were in greater need of her attention, she let no sign of her sorrowful feeling appear, and seeing that Marianne was benefited in health and spirits, by intercourse with young companions, she gave no hint of her disinclination to join in the walks and other amusements of the Miss Mohuns.
She also began to take interest in the poor people. By Mrs. Weston's request, Mr. Devereux had pointed out the families which were most in need of assistance, and Alethea made it her business to find out the best way of helping them. She visited the village school with Lilias, and when requested by her and by the Rector to give her aid in teaching, she did not like to refuse what might be a duty, though she felt very diffident of her powers of instruction. Marianne, like Phyllis and Adeline, became a Sunday scholar, and was catechised with the others in church. Both Mr. Mohun and his nephew thought very highly of the family, and the latter was particularly glad that Lily should have some older person to assist her in those parish matters which he left partly in her charge.
Mr. Devereux had been Rector of Beechcroft about a year and a half, and had hitherto been much liked. His parishioners had known him from a boy, and were interested about him, and though very young, there was something about him that gained their respect. Almost all his plans were going on well, and things were, on the whole, in a satisfactory state, though no one but Lilias expected even Cousin Robert to make a Dreamland of Beechcroft, and there were days when he looked worn and anxious, and the girls suspected that some one was behaving ill.
'Have you a headache, Robert?' asked Emily, a few evenings before Whit-Sunday, 'you have not spoken three words this evening.'
'Not at all, thank you,' said Mr. Devereux, smiling, 'you need not think to make me your victim, now you have no Claude to nurse.'
'Then if it is not bodily, it is mental,' said Lily.
'I am in a difficulty about the christening of Mrs. Naylor's child.'
'Naylor the blacksmith?' said Jane. 'I thought it was high time for it to be christened. It must be six weeks old.'
'Is it not to be on Whit-Sunday?' said Lily, disconsolately.
'Oh no! Mrs. Naylor will not hear of bringing the child on a Sunday, and I could hardly make her think it possible to bring it on Whit- Tuesday.'
'Why did you not insist?' said Lily.
'Perhaps I might, if there was no other holy day at hand, or if there was not another difficulty, a point on which I cannot give way.'
'Oh! the godfathers and godmothers,' said Lily, 'does she want that charming brother of hers, Edward Gage?'
'Yes, and what is worse, Edward Gage's dissenting wife, and Dick Rodd, who shows less sense of religion than any one in the parish, and has never been confirmed.'
'Could you make them hear reason?'
'They were inclined to be rather impertinent,' said Mr. Devereux. 'Old Mrs. Gage--'
'Oh!' interrupted Jane, 'there is no hope for you if the sour Gage is in the pie.'
'The sour Gage told me people were not so particular in her younger days, and perhaps they should not have the child christened at all, since I was such a CONTRARY gentleman. Tom Naylor was not at home, I am to see him to-morrow.'
'Well, I do not think Tom Naylor is as bad as the rest,' said Lily; 'he would have been tolerable, if he had married any one but Martha Gage.'
'Yes, he is an open good-natured fellow, and I have hopes of making an impression on him.'
'If not,' said Lily, 'I hope papa will take away his custom.'
'What?' said Mr. Mohun, who always heard any mention of himself. Mr. Devereux repeated his history, and discussed the matter with his uncle, only once interrupted by an inquiry from Jane about the child's name, a point on which she could gain no intelligence. His report the next day was not decidedly unfavourable, though he scarcely hoped the christening would be so soon as Tuesday. He had not seen the father, and suspected he had purposely kept out of the way.
Jane, disappointed that the baby's name remained a mystery, resolved to set out on a voyage of discovery. Accordingly, as soon as her cousin was gone, she asked Emily if she had not been saying that Ada
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