Studies for Stories (5)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Off the Skelligs Fated to be Free Sarah De Berenger Don John John Jerome A Moto Changed Stories Told to a Child A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER III.

MAY MERTON FINDS A FRIEND.


I ENTERED Madame's room with no little trepidation, and saw my poor little school-fellow sitting on a stool.  She did not exhibit any violent grief, but there was a painfully forlorn expression about her always wistful face; and though she did not cry, she would neither eat nor take any notice of our caresses.

    When the school-bell rang, Madame sent me down; for I was of no use.  The teachers inquired after the poor child, and one of them said, that though she was very sorry for the poor ayah, she thought her removal was by no means to be regretted on the child's account; because as long as that foreign woman was about her, she would never have thoroughly settled at school, nor attached herself to those who had the responsibility of her teaching.  I could not tell how this might be, but I thought that, even to a child, it must be a terrible thing to lose the only person whom she deeply loved, and with whom she was thoroughly at home.  I hoped she would now begin to attach herself to us, and soon get over the loss of her ayah.

    But from day to day, when I saw her, she was still pining and fretting, sometimes moping on her little stool, sometimes crying in Massey's arms, and constantly becoming thinner and paler, losing her appetite, and refusing to do as she was bid.

    At first Madame hoped she would soon forget her grief, but when three or four weeks had passed away, and still the tiny face grew thin, and the little sorrowful voice was heard wailing in the night, she became seriously unhappy about the child; for she was too young to be reasoned with, too ill to be punished, and too far away from her parents to be sent home.  Sometimes they would take her out for a drive, or think to amuse her by bringing her down into the garden, but after taking a few steps she would put her wasted hand to her side, and say in a piteous voice, 'It hurts here; it always hurts here,' and beg to be taken in again.  Her medical attendant said it was extremely bad for her to fret and cry.  He assured Madame he could do nothing for her unless she was kept calm and cheerful; an easy thing to say, but difficult to accomplish, for every dose of medicine cost a contention and a passion of tears that almost exhausted her feeble frame; and though she was tempted with many dainties, she could hardly eat enough to sustain life.

    Madame was accustomed to be implicitly obeyed, and scarcely knew how to deal with this poor infant, who set her authority utterly at naught, and was not to be flattered or caressed into submission.  She had not been well brought up, and though when in health she had yielded to an influence that kept the boldest spirits in order, she now ceased to care for praise or blame, and all her original wilfulness came back again.

    Madame was evidently quite wretched, and was losing confidence in herself altogether.  She caused each teacher in turn to try her powers with the child, then she called in the elder girls, and encouraged them to exert themselves to make the little sufferer take her medicine.  But all was of no avail; low fever came on, and life seemed actually to depend on a docility that it was quite hopeless to expect from her.

    Yet the wilfulness of a little child does not alienate affection.  There was still something sweet in the baby resentment that blamed 'all the cruel ladies' for taking away her mamma and her nurse.  The little voice, in all its sorrow, was still silvery and touching, and the wistful features were still pretty, though marred by tears and illness.

    It was about this time that Miss Black came among us, but, as I have said before, her coming attracted little attention; our thoughts, when not occupied with the child, were all given to Caroline.  Miss Black always inquired with great interest about the poor little creature, but Madame never thought of asking her to come and see her, because she was a stranger.

    One night, when we were all quite unhappy about our little school-fellow, I was called in to see if I could make her take her food by talking Hindustani to her.  I did not succeed, but as Madame did not desire me to withdraw, I sat by the bed thinking how mournful all this was, and wishing there was something more useful for me to do than snuffing the candle which stood on a small table beside her.

    Poor little child!  I remember her wailing voice as she sat half-upright in her bed, peevishly refusing either to take her supper or to lie down and sleep, when the door into our bedroom was softly pushed open, and Miss Black came in, with a long white dressing-gown on.

    I thought she came to see what she could do to help us, but apparently it was not the case.  Miss Black did not look at us, but at something soft that lay upon her arm, and she swept close up to the bed without saying a word.  Madame, utterly dispirited, was weeping behind the curtain.  The child paused in her low cry, arrested by the sight of the stranger, and said, 'Who's that, with her best frock on?'

    'I've got something so pretty here,' said Miss Black, still looking down upon her arm; 'I don't know whether I shall show it to anybody.'  She seemed to consider, and in the meantime the child regarded her with fixed and wondering attention.

    'If I knew of any very good child, perhaps I should show these little things to her,' said Miss Black, pretending to talk to herself

    'Wee, wee, wee!' cried the things on her arm.

    'But I daresay nobody wants to see them,' she continued.

    'I want to see them,' said the child, checking a long sob.

    'Ah!' said Miss Black, 'they seem very hungry, poor little things!'

    'Wee—wee—wee!'

    'Oh! do show them to me,' sobbed the child; and when Miss Black took up two tiny kittens by the neck, set them on the bed, and let them creep towards her, she was so delighted that she began to laugh, and try to feed them with some of the bread and milk which she had been vainly implored to eat for her supper.

    'Oh! they cannot eat bread,' said Miss Black quietly, 'they are too young; but when we have emptied the saucer, they shall have some milk in it.'

    She sat by the child and supported her feeble frame.  'Now, then,' she said, 'let us eat this,' and she held the spoon to the child's mouth, which was opened half unconsciously; for Miss Black had begun to relate a wonderful story about four white kittens who lived in a hay-loft.  The child listened with rapt attention till the supper was eaten, when the tale came to a sudden conclusion; then some milk was poured into the saucer, and the real kittens were fed.

    When they had lapped every drop of the milk, Miss Black produced a little basket and a piece of flannel, in which she let the child help to place these playthings that had appeared so opportunely.

    'Now then,' she said, let us put them on the table, and you shall sit on my knee, and peep at them, while Miss West shakes up the pillow, and makes the bed all smooth and comfortable.'

    No objection was made to this arrangement, but the little wasted arms were held out, and the child, almost too weak now to rise, tried to creep away from the pillows to her new friend, suffering herself to be nursed and fondled till she could be placed comfortably in her bed again.  Then, indeed, her face changed, and she said in a piteous tone, 'But I don't want you to go away.  I want you to get into my bed.  Will you?'

    Miss Black darted a glance at Madame, who nodded assent.  'O yes!' she said.  'I should like to sleep in your pretty bed very much.'

    'And I may see the kittens to-morrow?'

    'O yes!' repeated Miss Black, lying down beside the child, whose chest still heaved every now and then with a deep sob, but who was so completely wearied and faint for want of sleep, and the comfort-cherishing that children so much require, that now she was with some one who could manage her, she fell at once into a deep sleep, and her little wayward face began to look calm and almost happy.

    Madame had kept completely in the background from the moment of Miss Black's entrance, and when she saw that the child would soon be asleep, she made a sign to me to remain perfectly still.  She looked so happy, when at length she came up to the bed, and shading the candle with her hand, drew back the curtain, and saw her poor little pupil fast asleep.

    'Ah! this has been a terrible anxiety to me,' she murmured, and then she stooped and kissed Miss Black, — a thing I had never seen her do to any pupils but the little ones.  'I am greatly indebted to you, my dear,' I heard her say; 'you have relieved me from great dread for this desolate child.'

    Miss Black cautiously turned her face upon the pillow — the child's long curls were spread somewhat forlornly across her forehead, she parted them with her soft hand; the little creature was in a most healing slumber, and she said, 'I would take the greatest care of her, Madame, if you would take some rest.  Will you trust me?'

    Madame could not make up her mind to leave the room, but she dismissed me to mine, and took possession of the other bed in the nursery.  She was soon asleep, and the door being left ajar, I could see distinctly the little child and her new nurse, and I wondered what it was that had given Miss Black such ascendency.  I do not think anything more transpired than what I have narrated, and all her art seemed to have consisted in first surprising and then amusing.

    But at fifteen one does not reason much, nor spend the precious midnight hours in any abstract speculations.  I fell asleep, and did not wake till we were called, when I found the door shut between us, and was not told anything about the child till after breakfast, when Belle waylaid a maid-servant as she came down stairs, and heard from her that the physician had already paid his visit; that he thought the child better, though extremely weak, and had as usual requested that she might be kept as cheerful as possible.

    But about ten minutes before the first school-bell rang, Miss Quain desired me to carry Miss Black's exercise-book and some ink into the nursery, as 'Madame had given her leave to write her exercise there.  I went up and saw the little patient lying in bed, looking decidedly better, and listening to a story, a story, namely, concerning a young cock-sparrow, of rebellious turn of mind, who would insist upon hopping under a hand glass, which a gardener had propped up with a piece of wood.  His mother, in forcible and affecting language, had entreated him not to enter that dangerous place; but this deluded bird, when she was not looking, went in.  The gardener came and shut the glass, and the sparrow was obliged to sit inside, peeping through the glass and flapping his wings, with nothing to eat, while his good, obedient brothers and sisters had some little ants and some juicy caterpillars for their dinner.

    This story, though it does not sound probable, nor of very absorbing interest, was precisely suited to the infantine listener, who remarked concerning the sparrow, that if he would not do as he was bid, it served him quite right to be shut in there; and then, while I was assisting Miss Black with her toilette, she tried to make further acquaintance with her new friend by asking what her name was.

    'Oh, I have such a long name,' said Miss Black, that I don't think such a little girl as you could say it; my name is Christiana Frances.'

    'Say it again,' asked the child.

    The name was repeated, and, after pondering it silently for awhile, the child said distinctly, in her sweet treble voice, 'Miss Christiana Frances, will you say my little name now?  May Merton is my name.'

    'Little May Merton, I love you very much,' said Miss Black. '

    'And will you sleep in my bed to-night, Miss Christiana Frances?' pleaded the little creature.

    'O yes, if you are good,' replied Miss Black, who well knew that Madame would be too happy to permit it.

    'I am good,' said the child, glancing towards an empty medicine glass; 'and you said you would tell me another story.'  But this other story, my readers, I regret that I cannot lay before you, though it was doubtless of surpassing interest; for the bell rang, and I left little May to the companionship of her benefactress.

    I feel that I have passed over the first appearance of Miss Black among us, as if it had been a matter of very small importance.

    It seemed to be so in the first instance, for though she could easily make her way among children, she was particularly reserved — intentionally reserved — among us; but as she is to play a somewhat important part in the little scenes which I am about to describe, I will try to give a sketch of her appearance and manner.

    She was rather older than most school-girls, being nearly seventeen years of age.  She had only come into the house for the sake of learning accomplishments, and was treated more like a parlour boarder than a mere pupil, though she slept in our room, and took her music and German lessons with us.  Her appearance was elegant and agreeable, perhaps somewhat pretty.  I speak of her as I saw her at first, for afterwards affection clothed her deservedly with many charms.  She was very womanly in manner and character, and looked quite grown up, though she had a slender, girlish figure.  The hair and complexion were extremely fair, yet she had black eyebrows, which met, and gave her sometimes, when she was deep in thought, a severe expression.  There was a certain self-possession and calm about her which was not altogether free from pride, and which made us, from the first, fond of contrasting her character with that of Caroline, who was so winning and engaging, and who could refuse a kindness in a manner more flattering than the simple gravity with which Miss Black would grant it.

    Caroline seemed often bent on pleasing and winning all suffrages for herself.  Miss Black was never trying to please, though she was often trying to do good.  Moreover, she was deeply affectionate; it seemed to be as essential to her happiness to find people on whom she could lavish her care and attentive love, as it was to Caroline to excite and receive the affection of others.

    Caroline was clever, Miss Black was intellectual, and by far the most gifted pupil that Madame had ever received; but in spite of the difference in their age, she was not equal to Caroline in that peculiar tact, and that superior knowledge of character, by which this singular young creature obtained for herself so much power.  Caroline always chose the most acceptable species of flattery to bestow on each school-fellow whom she wished to influence, and found the readiest way to their hearts, without yielding in return one-half of the affection that she received.

    'Oh, what a name!' exclaimed Caroline, when I told her Miss Black's Christian name; for we, school-girl like, had tried to find it out, but had not hitherto succeeded.

    'Christiana reminds me of the Pilgrim's Progress.  I shall always feel inclined to address her in antiquated fashion.  Prithee, good Christiana, lend me thy French Dictionary.'

    'But Frances is a pretty name,' I observed; 'and she says that is the name she is called by.'

    'I shall always call her by both,' said Caroline 'Christiana is a moral name, and Frances is an intellectual name.  She is a perfect mass of morality and cleverness, far too much so for my taste — "stuffed with honourable parts," as that old gentleman says.'

    'You don't mean Shakspere?' I exclaimed.

    'I mean the man whose scenes and things we read sometimes, and whose picture has a turn-down collar — yes, Shakspere, to be sure; I thought at first it was Chaucer, but now I remember it isn't.  Well, if the said Christiana Frances likes to sit up in the nursery with May, telling stories of cock-robins, instead of cultivating the acquaintance of her equals, I have nothing to say against it, I am sure.'

    'No,' I remarked; 'you always said, that as far as you were concerned, any one might patronize May who was willing.'


 
CHAPTER IV.

MISS BLACK.


IN looking back on those days which followed the illness of little May, I can scarcely recall her image without that of Miss Black; 'My Miss Christiana Frances,' as May always called her.

    Madame, at Miss Black's own request, permitted her to take up her abode in the nursery, as her bedroom; and shortly afterwards my bed also was moved there, and a friendship gradually grew between us, which enabled me to appreciate and love her character.

    Those were happy days for May and me.  My old friends, with the exception of Belle, had all left The Willows; and some of the new-comers often made me extremely uncomfortable, by quizzing me, and laughing at me, if ever they found me indulging my love of reading, or secretly studying any subject, by myself.  Frances, on the contrary, used to encourage and help me; and when I complained of the teazing I endured, she used to sympathize with me, though it evidently surprised her that I should care for it.  When she saw me hardly beset by Caroline and the elder girls, she would sometimes enter the lists with me, and turn the tables upon my tormentors; for she had considerable wit, and used to adopt the quaint language which Caroline had sometimes addressed her in, because of her name, and use it much more drolly than any of her companions.

    About this time four of the girls, myself among them, formed a club, which we called, 'Them Mental Improvement Club,' — a childish thing, no doubt, but well meant, and for which we used to write original articles in prose and poetry.  When Caroline discovered this club, she was very merciless upon us, partly, no doubt, pretty dunce, because she could not write well enough (as we were pleased to think) to be worthy of a place in it.

    The club sometimes met in the coach-house, sometimes in a bedroom, in short, anywhere that seemed to offer a safe asylum from the ridicule of those who were not members.  But I am bound, as a faithful historian, to say that the 'mental improvers,' as Caroline called us, were so made game of, and, metaphorically speaking, so hunted down by her, that they were on the point of dissolving, when one day a certain picture was discovered pinned to the head of Caroline's bed.  This picture was duly headed in old English letters, 'Third Meeting of the Mental Improvers, with Miss C. B., as Aquarius, pouring cold water on the concern.'  In the centre of the picture were four girls huddled together, and reading from a paper.  The unknown artist had expended a great deal of trouble in making the figures extremely sweet and pretty.  Standing over them, with a huge watering-pot, was a ludicrous and hideous caricature of Aquarius, with a face so like Caroline's, that it was impossible to mistake it.  A certain air of malice was imparted to the features of Aquarius, as the streams of water came pouring down, which by no means impaired the likeness.

    Poor Caroline was deeply disgusted at the highly unflattering likeness of herself; perhaps she was still more annoyed at the beauty of the four girls seated on the ground.  Their dress and hair were represented as by no means disordered by the shower (for artists will take liberties with nature and possibility); on the contrary, the general air of Aquarius reminded one of the most dirty and common-looking of little maids-of-all-work.  Underneath were these words:—


'C. B. returns thanks to her friends and the public for their distinguished patronage, and hopes, by unwearied efforts to merit its continuance.  N.B. Shower-baths gratis every Wednesday afternoon.'


    Wednesday afternoon was the time when we met.  We all thought in our inmost hearts that there was but one person in the house who was artist enough to have made this really clever drawing.  No one said who she thought it was; and when she whom we suspected, knocked at the door and came through the bedroom of the second class with May in her arms, and a countenance of settled gravity, we were a little puzzled.  However, we never asked for any explanation; for the members of the club would have felt it something like vanity, to take for granted that those lovely young creatures on the ground were meant for them; and as for Caroline, she was much too politic openly to betray any anger; that would have been to admit that she acknowledged the likeness and the character.

    It was soon evident to all the school that Caroline considered Miss Black in the light of a rival, though, as the latter was remarkably independent, and scarcely ever interfered with others, there was for a long time time very little opportunity for showing it.

    In the meantime little May got quite well, and grew plump and rosy, though she was still so extremely small, that the girls used to say they thought all her growth went into her hair; rather an unscientific way, perhaps, of accounting for her infantine proportions.  Her hair was of very unusual length and beauty, and I well remember that when we used to pass our fingers through the loose curls and straighten them, they would reach to the hem of her frock.

    Pretty little May, she was always a pet amongst us, and so light that it required no great strength to carry her about.  Frances spent many an hour that winter in carrying her out in the garden, when the sun shone.  Though cheerful and well now, she was very tender, and easily fatigued; but endowed with a spirit and a will strong enough for a creature five times her size.

    Her improvement, under the care of Frances, was surprising, and there was something extremely pretty and almost touching, in the confiding way in which she gave her whole heart to her.  Her devotion was fully repaid, for we all felt that Frances loved this morsel of a child more than all the rest of the household put together.  She was certainly an engaging and desirable little plaything, and we all, including Caroline, liked to amuse ourselves with her now and then, when she was well and good-tempered; but we always gave her back to Frances when we were tired of her, as the person to whom she naturally belonged, and whose duty it was to attend to her.  Her kindness to May was soon looked upon even by Madame as a kind of duty.  Yet I must do her the justice to say that she did not tire of it.  All the trouble she took in teaching, cherishing, dressing, playing with, and telling stories to 'her child,' seemed to cost her very little effort.  She was systematically good to little May, not only when she was droll and tractable, but when she was naughty, troublesome, and cross, as all children are at times.

    Some of the girls used to wonder how Frances could bestow so much trouble on the child: I never did.  I used to think of a speech made to me a few months before, by a little cousin of mine.  'I think,' said this child, with grave contempt — 'I think I shall dig a hole and bury my doll.'

    'Poor thing!' said I, 'what has she done?'

    'Why,' replied the child, in a sharp tone of injured feeling, 'she's no use at all.  I'm always saying, "How do you do?" to her, and she — she never says, "Very well, thank you."'

    Now little May was a doll that could say, 'Very well, thank you.'  She was by no means a passive plaything.

    If Frances left the door open, she invariably ran out, and had to be brought back laughing and shrieking.  If Frances left her ink in an accessible place, May would dip a pen into it; and if a drawing was at hand, May would put some finishing touches to it; if not, she would wipe the pen on her pinafore.  If she saw Frances at work, she would seat herself beside her, on her mora (stool), and quietly taking a needle and a long thread from the cushion, would lift up some small article, such as a lace collar or a pinafore, and begin to stitch through and through it, drawing up the thread till the whole was one shapeless mass of crumples and tangles, like a particularly bad ball; then she would proudly hand it up to the unconscious Frances, exclaiming, 'There, I've mended him, I want another to do.'

    Frances obtained for herself the privilege, as she considered it, of always being allowed to put May to bed; and before carrying her up-stairs, she used to take off her shoes and socks, and warm the child's tiny feet in her hands by the schoolroom fire.  Oh, the brushing and smoothing that those long, silky curls required; no one but Frances would have found any pleasure in such a task; and then, when she had tucked up her little charge and kissed her, she always told her a story out of the Bible before she went away.  It was astonishing how much of scriptural incident and character the child soon acquired in this way, and how many hymns and texts she learned almost spontaneously.  Indeed, it was not wonderful that Frances should have taught her best that in which she took the deepest interest, religion.  She had none of that false shame which prevents so many school-girls from daring to profess any interest in this most important of all subjects, even when they feel it strongly, and are unhappy at their own want of courage which leads them to conceal it.  The girls became aware that Frances thought a good deal on matters that concerned the soul, just as easily and quickly as they did that Frances wished to be a good German scholar; for though neither fact was announced, both were evident to any one with the slightest observation.

    Little May reaped the benefit of this openness, which had a most salutary effect in the school, and the more so, as it was not inconsistent with that natural reserve which Frances seldom laid aside.  She quietly admitted her religious impressions, but she never enlarged upon them.

    Many a delightful evening in the spring-time, when I have entered our bedroom, I have seen little May lying in her pretty bed, and Frances reclining beside her, with her cheek on the same pillow, telling those evening stories till the child gradually closed her eyes and fell asleep in the broad daylight.

    May had been at school about eight months, when one morning Caroline received a letter by the Indian mail, from Mrs. Merton.  She gave a message to little May from her mamma, but it amounted to little more than her best love, and that of the child's father.  Caroline, however, read the letter with deep interest and a heightened colour, which gave us the impression that there was something more than usual in it.  School-time was at hand, so we could hear nothing about it then; but we did not doubt that Caroline, who was eminently sociable in disposition, and completely unable to keep a secret, would tell us the contents of the letter when she had an opportunity.

    It was as we had expected.  After school, Caroline was walking in the orchard, conning her letter, when she met little Nannette coming out of the hop-garden with an armful of cow-parsley for her rabbits; and she sent her to us, to ask if we would join her.  There were six of us together, and we forthwith went and found Caroline under a great apple-tree, seated upon the moss, reading her letter.  The tree was thick with pink flowers, the sky was very blue above, and the orchard was full of bees that had come out to rifle the blossoms.

    The day, though remarkably clear and sunny, was somewhat cold.  We were all clad in the large shepherd's-plaid shawls, which were our garden wear during the cold months; and as we wished to hear the letter comfortably, we began when we arrived, to make a kind of tent for ourselves, taking off three of these scarf-shawls, and tying one end of each to a long hop-pole, which we then stuck into the ground, making the whole safe and warm by laying stones to steady the ends which were on the ground.  Having thus erected a shelter of the most desirable kind, with its back to the wind, its opening to the sun, a beautiful tree overhead, and a pretty view of the hop-plantation before us, we collected a quantity of dry leaves, and carefully packed ourselves among them like birds in a nest, covering up the whole community with the other four shawls.  Caroline then began her communication in these words: 'Sir Aimias Merton is dead.'

    'Dead!  That old bachelor dead, of whom we had heard such strange things.  Who lived all his days in his own lodge, hoarding his money.  Who made his housekeeper give him half of what she got by showing the house.  Who refused his young brother money enough to buy his commission; and who had been known to make only one present, — a present of an old mourning-ring to the said brother's bride, muttering that he hoped there would not be a large family, to eat him out of house and home!'

    'Yes,' Caroline said, 'he was dead, and his brother had come into the estate, and the whole of his princely fortune.  Sir Aimias had heard that living was remarkably cheap at Smyrna, and he had actually set out and walked the greater part of the way to that somewhat outlandish city, and no doubt done the remainder of the journey with due regard to economy.  He had lived there very comfortably, because very cheaply, for some months, till he was taken ill of a fever, and so died.'

    'But does Mrs. Merton tell you all this?' asked one of the party.

    'Not exactly in the words I have used, my dear,' said Caroline, laughing.  'She says: "Our brother took a pedestrian tour across Europe, and then made his way down to Smyrna;" that is a respectful way of saying that he tramped, as the policemen called it, part of the way, and begged perhaps (who knows?), the remainder.'

    'What a change for Mrs. Merton!'

    'And what a change for the Baronet!  Mrs. Merton says they are both coming back directly, and she hopes they shall reach England by the beginning of the Midsummer holidays.'  Here Caroline paused.

    'And they will go to live in that beautiful house,' said one of us; 'that house which poor Sir Aimias kept in such fine order, but never occupied himself.'

    'Yes,' said Caroline, 'and Mrs. Merton says she shall have May and me to spend the holidays there with her.'

    'May and me!'—it sounded rather odd; I thought, not a customary combination.

    'I wonder whether they will let May return to school,' remarked Belle l'Estrange.

    'Not likely,' said another; 'and what a grief that will be to Frances!'

    'Oh, Frances is going to leave soon herself,' interrupted Caroline hastily; 'she will only stay till Christmas.'

    'Does Mrs. Merton say anything about inviting Frances also to stay with her?' I inquired.

    'How should she,' replied Caroline, incautiously, 'when she never heard her name?'

    'Never heard her name!' I exclaimed; 'why, I thought you wrote often to Mrs. Merton, Caroline.'

    Caroline turned her head till her bright eyes rested upon me.  There was something deliberate in the action; and she conveyed a good deal of tranquil surprise into her survey, which was perhaps intended to punish me for my audacity; and certainly abashed me greatly, and made me blush up to the roots of my hair, and feel that I had not a word to say for myself.

    'I used to write occasionally, just to tell Mrs. Merton that May was well,' said she, speaking slowly, and with an air of distaste and languor.  'It was a trouble, of course, but I did it; sometimes I put in the names of her primers, and the pot-hooks she was doing; but I have not much time for writing, and no talent for it, as you mental improvers have; and of course I cannot give sketches of scenes, and occupations, and characters here, as Sophia can; and besides, I had no reason to think they would be interesting, if I could.'

    It was pretty evident, then, that Caroline, in writing to Mrs. Merton, had never even mentioned the name of Frances; and though we were always inclined to take the very best view we possibly could of everything that Caroline did, there was an awkward silence now, which Belle at length broke, by charitably remarking, 'Of course, Cary, dear, you could not have known how soon Mrs. Merton was coming home.'

    Caroline gladly caught at this straw, and cleverly turned it to her advantage.

    'Of course not,' she said gaily, and with her own fascinating smile; 'but Sophia seems to expect people to have prescience.  Ah! my little presidentess of the "mental improvers," you show a marvellous partisanship; you are quite in the interest of the female pilgrim.  You think I ought to have given the exact pedigree and description of Frances, in person, mind, and manners, just as I should have done, if had known that she was so soon to meet Mrs. Merton.'

    She looked under my hat as she said it, and I do not know how it was, but I certainly felt as if I had done something foolish; and when she laughed and kissed me, I was so much ashamed that I could not help turning away my face.



    I turned it towards the entrance of our little tent, and there I saw in the distance Frances walking between the hop-poles, carrying little May.  She also was enveloped in her scarf of shepherd's plaid, and she had wound it gipsy-like about herself and the child, so that only the merry little face peeped out over her shoulder, for she was carrying her pick-a-pack; and I shall not soon forget how pretty they looked as they came towards us, through the lengthening perspective of the hop-poles.

    May had the sweetest little voice possible; Frances had taught her to sing several simple songs, and used to sing second to her; now her high childish notes, so clear and pretty, sounded like fairy bells in the air, while the deep tones of Frances' contralto voice, though fine, were not so audible at that distance.

    'Pretty little May,' said Caroline, in a regretful tone; 'how seldom one has an opportunity of getting her to play with!  I think Frances really does usurp her rather too much.'

    I cannot describe how much this speech grated upon my feelings.  Frances had never refused to give up the child when any of the girls had wished to play with her; but seldom had Caroline wished for her, for she was not naturally fond of children.

    'I could not think where you all were,' exclaimed Frances, stopping before the opening of our tent.

    'No,' said May, repeating her words; 'we could not tink where you all were.'

    'Comical little parrot,' said Caroline; 'just put her down, Frances, and let her come in here.'

    'Yes; I want to get into that funny little house,' said May.  Accordingly Frances began to unwind herself and the child, and finally set her down in the very midst of us, all warm and rosy after her ride.

    'Take care of her,' said Frances, addressing us generally, 'and mind she does not get her feet damp in coming home.'

    'I'll carry her in,' said Caroline.

    'Very well, if you will undertake her, I shall go,' remarked Frances; 'for I am rather behind-hand with my German.'

    So Frances nodded, and went her way; little May was left with us, and very droll and amusing she was, till she began to grow tired of the tent, and then she said she wanted to go in, — she wanted to find her Miss Christiana Frances.

    'What do you want with her?' said Caroline; 'look at me, — am not I quite as pretty as Frances?'

    May laughed scornfully, as if quite amused at the notion that any one could be so pretty as Frances.  'No,' she said, 'you're not half such a pretty lady.  I want to go.'

    Though she was a mere baby, Caroline was evidently annoyed at this uncomplimentary speech.

    'I hope a certain individual does not try to set this little thing against me,' she said, in a doubtful tone.

    'The idea!' I exclaimed, almost as scornfully as little May had done; 'how can you lend your mind to such a wild fancy, Caroline?  Why should she try to set her against any one; she is quite above it; and besides, the child of course prefers her so infinitely to any of us, that I am sure she never has the slightest cause for any feeling of jealousy.'

    'You are warm, my little Sophia,' said Caroline; but this time I did not feel ashamed.

    'Besides, Caroline,' observed one of our school fellows, who was by no means aware of the dangerous ground she was treading on, 'why, above all people, should she try to set her against you, who never interfere with her by any chance, never want to have the child, and scarcely ever take any notice of her?'

    'Pooh!' said Caroline, impatiently.

    'I want to go,' repeated May, who was now patting Caroline's cheek, by way of attracting her attention.

    'What for?'

    'I want my Miss Christiana Frances; and she said she would open the drawer to-day, and let me look in it.'

    'What drawer?' inquired Caroline.

    Upon this I explained that May had often asked to see her ayah's gowns, bangles, etc., but that Madame had not permitted this hitherto; now her leave had been obtained, and Frances was going to show them to her.

    'Oh,' said Caroline, whose natural disinclination to trouble herself with children was still strong within her, though she evidently wished just now, for obvious reasons, to stand well with little May.  Well, I suppose I must take this child in, as I promised;' and she rose, half reluctantly, saying, with a half-smile, 'What little plagues children are!'

    'And so is ladies great plagues,' exclaimed May; and then, delighted with her repartee, she repeated it with fits of baby laughter; and was carried off by Caroline, vociferating that ladies were great plagues.

    I do not know that she was more droll and shrewd than many children of her age, but as she certainly was not much more than half their size, she seemed incomparably more so; and to hear such a little atom bandy jokes with us, as she often did, was one of the most comical things possible.


 
CHAPTER V.

CAROLINE'S WILFULNESS.


SO little May was carried off by Caroline, and we stayed awhile longer in our tent, the day being a half-holiday.  I remember that we discussed the motives and conduct of Caroline in having avoided the mention of Frances as a friend to May, in writing to the child's mother; and that most of us excused her, or attempted to show that it was purely accidental this silence.  After awhile we dispersed, the others to their birds in the coach-house, and I to my room, still called the nursery; on entering I found Caroline and little May there, and to my surprise saw that the chest of drawers, which contained the ayah's possessions, had been opened, and that the contents were some of them scattered on the chairs, the floor, and the beds.  May, with a wistful expression, which I had not seen on her face for a long time, was gazing earnestly into an open drawer, and Caroline was curiously examining the different articles.

    'How did you get these drawers opened?' I exclaimed.

    'Oh, they are quite common locks,' said Caroline.  'I took a key from one of the drawers of the other chest and put it in, and it opened without any difficulty.'

    'But will Frances like your showing the things while she is away?' I inquired.  'I know that Madame gave her the key, with many directions about showing the things very cautiously, for fear of exciting the child.'

    Caroline looked a little alarmed, but answered, 'Then if Frances expects to be present when they are shown, she should not keep the poor child waiting so long.  Madame gave her the key as soon as morning lessons were over, and she has left the child, and does not come to open the drawers; so as the little creature said she wished to see them—I—I undertook to show them to her.'

    I replied that Frances was in the school-room, doing a German exercise, and probably did not know that May was come in; and I wondered that Caroline should not have called Frances, rather than have at once obeyed the caprice of the child, who was, I observed, though saying nothing, in highest state of excitement, the very state that Madame vas solicitous by all possible means to avoid.

    'I cannot get these things over my hands,' said Caroline, who had taken up the silver bangles that the ayah had worn; what small hands and wrists that woman must have had!'

    I drew near and looked at the white muslin banyans or jackets; the wide paunjammahs, which form part of the dress of her order, and are sometimes made, as they were in this instance, of rich Benares silk, the curious tortoise-shell combs, which she had worn in her hair, and the long scarfs or veils of muslin which she used to throw over her head and shoulders.  I saw also the Soam pebbles, the small silver pawn-box that she had used; for she was very, very fond of chewing pawn, the rosare, or fringed cotton quilt, on which she had sat while engaged in shampooing her little beebee, a purse full of rupees, many strings of cowries, a small six-sided box, made of straw, and ornamented at the top with a representation of the cheel, or Brahminee kite, beautifully wrought on it, also in straw; this box was filled with strange little pieces of metal, of various shapes and sizes, and I supposed them to be charms.

    Besides all these things, and many more, which I have forgotten, there were lying on the beds some beautiful jindilly muslins, gauzes, pieces of striped Benares silk, small Indian scarfs, grass handkerchiefs, Delhi shawls, pieces of kinquab (a superb kind of Indian silk), a Trichinopoly chain, a Bombay workbox, chains, bracelets, agates, and gold and coral ornaments, which had doubtless been given into the care of the faithful ayah, for the child's use as she grew older.

    I know not what visions of infancy, or what distinct recollections of the dead ayah and her distant parents, the sight of these things may have awakened in the breast of little May, but she continued to gaze at them like one fascinated, till Caroline happened to say, 'What a curious smell there is about everything that comes from the East! it is not sandalwood.  What is it?'

    'I do not know,' I replied; 'but I noticed it about all May's clothes at first, and the ayah seemed always to waft it as she walked.  It must be some kind of spice.'

    Caroline had put on a Benares silk slip of widely striped silk, she had drawn round her one of the Indian shawls, — it looked very well on her slender form, — and she was just completing her costume, by fastening a muslin veil on her head, when the child, attracted by our voices, turned round, and starting at the sight of her, laughed at first, and held out her arms, but in another moment she was evidently frightened, and began to scream most violently.

    Caroline, who did not know how thoroughly the child was excited, hoped to quiet her with a few kisses, and when these failed, she first scolded, then entreated, but all to no purpose; then being afraid of being seen by Madame, whose approval of what she had done was doubtful, she ran to the drawers, flung them open, and began to throw in the costly articles which she had so unceremoniously taken from their concealment; but her purpose was not wholly accomplished when Frances, attracted by the screams of her nursling, flew into the room, and breathlessly demanded to know what was the matter.

    Caroline, discovered dressed in this strange costume, in another person's room, and proving herself so unfit for the office she had taken upon herself, was so angry, and so ashamed of her ridiculous position, that she would not say a word, and I was obliged to explain the matter as well as I could in the interval of little May's piercing screams.

    'I did not know you had brought May in,' said Frances, rather coldly, and at the same time drawing the key from her pocket.  Caroline neither looked at her nor made any answer.  'I was perfectly ready to show these drawers to her,' she continued; and then added firmly, 'May, if you are not quiet I shall be exceedingly angry.'

    'Poor little thing!' exclaimed Caroline, indignantly; 'how can you speak so crossly to her? — don't you see that she cannot help sobbing? she has no power to prevent it.'

    'Yes, she has,' said Frances, addressing herself more to the child than to Caroline, and speaking steadily, but not unkindly.  'May can stop, and she must; she will be extremely ill if she goes on screaming in this way.  May, do you hear me?'

    The child, awed by the unusual manner and expression of Frances, tried to do as she was bid, and would no doubt have succeeded, being assisted by her surprise, if Caroline had not murmured some excuses, remarking, most injudiciously, 'She may stop for a moment, but she is sure to begin again.  I know she will.'

    Of course, upon this the child did begin again, and Frances instantly took her up, carried her out of the room, and shut the door behind her.

    There was both indignation and dignity in her manner as she did this, and if Caroline felt herself reproved, it was probably no more than Frances intended.

    'Insolence!' exclaimed Caroline, 'insolence!  What right has she to assume those miserable airs of superiority over me, carrying off May as if my presence was improper for her, and treating me like an ignorant child?  Insolence! — but I will have her yet — I'll have her back again, even if I have to appeal to Madame.  Frances, indeed; what is she that she is to thwart me, and get the upper hand in everything?  I will enter the lists with her, and we shall soon see who will win.  May shall be my child again before she is a fortnight older.'  And, to my great surprise, she burst into a passion of tears, and hurried to little May's bed, laying her head down on the pillow, sobbing and covering her beautiful eyes with the ayah's muslin veil.

    I did not at all suppose that she was serious when she spoke of appealing to Madame, and of having the little May back again, for she was too indolent, I thought, to desire seriously a charge that was sure to be so troublesome; I therefore looked on her speech as an outbreak of mingled indignation, mortification, and passion.  And, when she threw herself on the bed, I could not help feeling amused; for I thought it childish in her to have a fit of crying, and show her temper so openly, because she had been vexed.  Most of the girls, I thought, would have been too proud for such an exhibition; and I looked on very composedly, wondering what would be done next, till presently the pretty way in which she bemoaned herself, wishing she had never come to this place — this sorrowful place — where it was never really warm, and where the people were as cold as the weather; where no one understood her, and no one really loved her; declaring that she was the most unhappy person possible, and that no half-holiday had ever before been so sorrowful, worked on my feelings to such a degree, that before I knew what I was about, I was at her side, begging her to be comforted, and was caressing her, quite forgetting whether she was right or wrong, and was lifting up her face, and entreating her to be comforted.

    'You used to love me before Frances came,' sobbed Caroline, 'but now — now you always take part with her.'

    I was so completely beguiled, that I thought of nothing but how to comfort her, and only answered that I loved both very much, and hoped she would forget this little scene, and be friendly towards Frances.

    Caroline laid her head on my bosom, and, after a great great deal more comforting, caressing, was induced to rise, dry her eyes, and smile again.  She stood up, and with my help, divested herself of the rich silken petticoat, the Indian shawl, and the ayah's veil, which she had fastened on with some long silver pins, probably intended for that purpose.  Then she walked to the glass to arrange her hair, still looking very pensive; but her first remark, on seeing herself therein reflected, struck me as so very irrelevant, and so completely beneath the dignity of such a heroine in distress as she had just been enacting, that I could not help bursting into a sudden laugh.

    'Well, I don't look much worse for my crying fit,' was the remark in question; 'but if I were Frances, I would never cry at all — it really swells up her eyelids, and makes her nose so red, that she looks quite ugly after it.  What can you be laughing at, Sophia?'

    'I cannot help it.'

    'You are not laughing at me, surely? —you are, I believe!  What is the reason?—tell me, this instant, you little quiz.'

    'Because as people are not supposed to cry if they can help it, or unless they are really in sorrow, it seemed so droll to suppose that they consider whether it will be unbecoming or not, and act accordingly.'

    'Ah! one ought to be more cautious what one says to you, presidentess; such a straightforward, simple person as myself cannot get on with you at all; you are always weighing and criticising.  This glass hangs in a very bad light!'

    'Caroline, I want to say something to you.'

    'Well, say it, then.'

    'You think I observe my friends too closely.  I must tell you something that I have observed about you.'

    'If it is an agreeable thing, you may.'

    'But it is not an agreeable thing altogether, yet as it concerns me as well as yourself, I must tell you, because not telling it sometimes makes me feel as if I were deceitful.'

    'Does it make you feel as if you were blushing violently? — because you are.'

    'Well, I do not care; I shall tell you notwithstanding.'

    'I agree with you that you are deceitful, presidentess; for you say you don't care, and you do.  You shan't tell me.'  So saying, Caroline walked up to me, and laying her hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and laughed, repeating, 'You shall not tell me; I dare you to it.'

    'You have a habit,' I began; but Caroline quickly stopped my mouth by clapping her hand upon it, exclaiming, 'Oh, you tiresome girl, I cannot bear your scruples, and your principles, and your things; you must have caught them of Frances; you were such a charming little creature before she came.'

    She would not remove her hand till I ceased to make attempts at speaking, and then she pathetically begged me to help her in putting away the Indian articles, which I accordingly began to do, and they supplied us with conversation till the last shawl was folded, and the last jewel carefully put away.  Then Caroline sat down on the side of the bed with an air of the deepest consideration, and said to me, 'After all, presidentess, I think I have a curiosity to hear what you meant to tell me.'

    'Perhaps it was that you are, in my opinion, a very capricious creature.'

    'Perhaps it was no such thing; come, tell me, for I like you to talk confidentially to me as you used to do before that Frances came.  I think there is no one in the house that I feel so fond of as I do of you.'

    'Oh, but you said that to Belle yesterday, that very same thing; for she repeated it to me in great triumph.'

    Caroline laughed, and answered, not a whit abashed: 'Well, I daresay I felt very fond of her when I said it; but now I want to hear this; tell me, only mind it is not to be anything disagreeable.'

    'In that case, I am to invent something to tell you, I suppose; for I told you what I did mean to say was disagreeable.'

    'It really is very provoking of you to tease me in this way,' said Caroline, earnestly, 'when you know that I never can sleep at night if anything puzzles me.'

    I saw she was determined to be told, but my courage failed me, for I felt more strongly than I had ever done before that Caroline would never forgive me if I really let her see what grave faults I had perceived in her character; strange to say, I also felt more than ever those nameless attractions which had drawn me to her from the first.

    'Come, begin,' she exclaimed, drawing me towards her, and making me sit by her on the little bed.  'I know it is something agreeable after all; and if it is not, I shall be in such a passion.'

    She spoke in joke, but did not think how soon it would be true in earnest.

    'I did not like to tell you,' I began, 'because we have been so affectionate and friendly just now; it was only this, that you have a habit of making out, at least you seem to take for granted, whenever we show you how much we love you — you have a habit, you —'

    'Well, come to the point,' said Caroline, laughing, and don't blush.'

    'Why, you seem to take for granted,' I exclaimed, with a mighty effort, 'that if people love others, they must needs think them perfect; you think when we are affectionate, at least when I am, that I entirely approve of what you may have been doing — that I think you quite in the right.'

    'If you do love me, you must think me right,' said Caroline.  'You must take my part in your mind.  No one can love me, and yet see faults in me.'

    'Do you see no faults in me?' I ventured to inquire.

    'O yes!' was the frank rejoinder, 'but then that's different.  I see faults sometimes, no doubt.'

    'But I, loving you more than you love me, ought not to see any in you; is that it?' I asked.

    Caroline laughed again; but I had, perhaps, come so near to what she had meant, when she made that incautious speech, that she felt embarrassed, and only repeated that she had always accustomed to have people like her, and not see her faults; and she was sure if I loved her I could not see them.

    'But,' I said, 'I beg your pardon, I often see them and yet sometimes for want of courage, and sometimes because you appear to expect it, and often remark that a friend is always short-sighted to defects, — I have let you think I considered you quite right when I have blamed you in my heart; and you are often so affectionate to me that I am sure you do not know what I sometimes think.'

    'If I understand you aright,' said Caroline, 'I suppose this is your way of telling me that you do not care for me as much as you have often pretended to do.'

    'If you think so,' I replied, 'you do not understand me at all.'

    It was one of Caroline's peculiarities to be remarkably sensitive to blame; she could not bear to be found fault with in the most trivial matter.  She now looked surprised, and even coloured, — a thing that rarely occurred with her.  'I don't know what you mean,' she said, 'unless you give me an instance.'

    I answered, in some trepidation, 'I thought it wrong in you to express a determination to get May away from Frances, yet I tried to comfort you when you were so vexed, and you thought, I believe, that I approved.'

    Caroline had pushed me slightly from her, and withdrew her arm as I began to speak; and the moment I was done, — 'Express a determination!' she repeated, passionately.  'Yes, I do express a determination; I will strive with Frances, by all means, open and underhand; she shall not treat me as she has done for nothing.  May, I will have.  Frances may do without her as well as she can.'

    The point in discussion was already lost sight of between us, and the old grievance recurred to.  'Then you will be very wrong, and very unkind,' I exclaimed, in great heat.  'You will be more than unkind, you will be wicked.'

    'Wicked!' cried Caroline, starting up with sparkling eyes.  'What do you dare to say?  What do you mean?  How unkind?  How wicked?'

    'It would be wicked,' I repeated, 'because it would be stealing.'  I said this word in a very low tone.

    Caroline caught it up sarcastically, and repeated it with a bitter laugh.  'Stealing! as if that tiresome, plain, uninteresting child was worth stealing.'

    'The more unkind, then,' I exclaimed, 'if you think so, to steal her from Frances, to whom she is so lovely, so interesting, and so precious.  I say, it will be stealing, and if you do it intentionally, as you say you mean to do, it will be quite as wicked, and quite as mean, as it would be to steal one of those Indian shawls, or to steal May's diamond locket that her papa left for her.'

    'Insolent girl!  Insolent creature!' cried Caroline, drawing herself up to her full height, and looking down on me as I sat nervously on the side of the bed.  'And so, I suppose — indeed I can have no doubt,' she added with ineffable scorn, 'that this conversation — this pleasing and affectionate conversation, will be repeated to Frances — Frances, whom you can esteem — no doubt of it at all.  I hope you will not forget to mention that you yourself confessed to being deceitful, and if you will also say that I quite agree with you, it will add to the obligation.'

    'I shall not mention a word of it,' I replied, swelling with pride and mortification; 'it has been strictly confidential, and I can only wish now, very sincerely, that it might have ended differently.'

    Caroline was walking about the room in such a passion as I had never seen her in, though she was naturally of a very excitable disposition; — her eyes sparkled, her cheeks were suffused with crimson, her whole figure seemed to dilate; and she replied, in a tone of the bitterest contempt, that, for her part, she wondered how such a conversation could end otherwise than by a cessation of all friendliness on the part of the injured party; that she was thankful for this dιnouement, and for the avowal of my sentiments; adding, in a very galling manner, that she had quite long enough nourished a serpent in her bosom; 'and as to this strictly confidential conversation,' she repeated, 'it may be kept to yourself for a time; but I mistake you and your sincerity very much if Frances does not know the whole of it within a week.'

    'I shall not repeat a word of it to her, either now or at any future time,' I repeated, passionately.

    'As you please,' Caroline began, and paused suddenly in her excited pacing of the chamber; presently adding, more calmly, though still in an angry tone, 'I never asked you to make such a solemn and deliberate promise; but since you have thought proper to do so, of your own accord, I suppose you have some reason for it.'

    As she went on with this sentence, she spoke more slowly, and with unusual emphasis, as if she wished fully to impress on my mind that I had made this promise, and also as if its importance to herself unfolded itself more and more.  I was forcibly struck by this change, and this sudden coolness, where there had been so much passion.  I perceived that now she had this promise she was quite at her ease, and it pained me inexpressibly to perceive that no part of her excitement and agitation had arisen from her quarrel with me, and this unceremonious breaking up of our friendship, but only from the fear of my, repeating her words; and I was so vexed, and so heart-sore, at the utter loss of her affection, that though I could now esteem her less than ever, I could not help shedding some very bitter tears when I saw her take up a fan, and walk about near the windows to cool herself, then go to the glass, smooth her hair, and arrange her ribbons with elaborate care, and finally walk out of the room without deigning to bestow on me one look or one word.

    Many sorrowful feelings combined to make me glad to remain alone for awhile after Caroline had left me; I reproached myself for the clumsy way in which I had managed my part in the conversation, and wept with wounded affection, and perhaps also injured pride, and, like Caroline, I thought this was the most miserable half-holiday I had ever passed.  At length, when the redness that Caroline had spoken of was faded from my features, I stole down-stairs, and perceiving, through the staircase window, that most of the girls were still in the garden, I took my way to the schoolroom, that I might be alone, and there I saw — what?  Why, Caroline and Frances sitting together, doing a piece of bead-work, and talking in the most amicable manner possible!

    Remarkable sight!  I was too bashful to come close, but sat down at the first desk.  Caroline had perhaps made some kind of apology to Frances; for the latter looked pleased, and little May sat at her feet, quite happy again, and trying to thread some very large beads, but continually scattering them, and scrambling under the table to pick them up.  At last, taking advantage of a pause in the discourse, she leaned against Frances's knee, and exclaimed, without any preface, 'But when is she to come? — she is such a long time coming.'

    'I told you,' said Frances, 'that she should come whenever you could count a hundred, without making a mistake.'

    'Will she have blue eyes?' proceeded May; 'will she have blue eyes, Miss Christiana Frances?'

    'Blue eyes and flaxen hair,' replied Frances, 'and two little pink shoes that will take on and off.'

    'Oh!  I do want her so much.'

    'What is the child talking of?' asked Caroline.

    'Of a wax doll that I have promised her when she can count a hundred, for she has been very idle lately; and when she has learned this one thing, not before, I shall give her the doll for a reward.'

    'Not before,' sighed little May; 'and her frock is to be a white frock, Miss Christiana Frances?  Oh!  I wish she would come to-night.'

    Frances smiled.  'Well, begin then,' she said, 'one, two, three, and if you go on properly to a hundred she shall come to-night.'  By this she convinced me that the doll was already in her possession, and ready to be given at a moment's notice.  I am very much mistaken if the same idea did not strike Caroline, for she also smiled and said, 'I never should have patience to keep back anything that I was teased for.'  This she said in French, and Frances answered, 'I have passed my word.'

    May began to count, — Frances took her up on her knees; the little creature laid her head on her bosom as on a place of tried security, — and when she reached sixteen she stopped, and had to be prompted, and then Frances discovered that her feet were cold, and took off her shoes to warm them, and a great deal of kissing and caressing went on between them; upon seeing which, a cloud passed over Caroline's brow.

    'Let me warm them for you,' she presently said.

    'Oh, no, thank you!' said Frances; 'I could not think of troubling you.'  She spoke exactly as she might have done if May had been her sister, her natural charge.  Now, May, go on.'

    'Shall she come, then, when I can count up to trenty?' pleaded the child.

    Frances shook her head.

    'But mayn't she come, if I kiss you a great many times?' said May suddenly, as if a bright idea had struck her.

    'She may come when you can count a hundred,' repeated Frances.

    'Then I will do it right, Miss Christiana Frances,' exclaimed May, with a mighty sigh, and she immediately counted up to nineteen without once stopping even to take breath.

    All the remainder of that evening Caroline was particularly friendly to Frances.  The next day Madame, having occasion to drive into the town, invited Caroline and another of the pupils to accompany her.  I happened to hear Madame ask them whether they wished her to buy anything; for, when this was the case, she always chose to know it beforehand.

    I was standing close to Madame at the time, holding her gloves, and therefore I could not fail to hear the answers; one I have forgotten, the other struck me forcibly, it was Caroline's, and given in a particularly low voice: 'She wished to buy a doll,' she said.


 
CHAPTER VI.

CAROLINE'S INTERFERENCE.


I REMARKED, at the conclusion of my last chapter, that Madame drove away in the pony-chaise with Caroline, and I soon forgot my speculations about the doll, which the latter had expressed a wish to purchase.  How did I contrive so easily to forget a thing in its nature so interesting?  Why, my dear readers, I think at this distance of time I can venture to confide to you, that having then reached the ripe age of fifteen, I was deeply engaged in the writing of a grand epic poem, upon which I worked on all holidays and half-holidays.

    Some of my school-fellows gave me their select opinions upon it, when I afterwards read it to them in the hayloft, over the place where our caged birds were kept; they said they thought it very fine; they also said they did not exactly understand it; I am happy to say that I had the strength of mind to burn it shortly after leaving school.

    On this half-holiday, as the pony-chaise disappeared, I crept into the said hayloft, and then taking out my pocket ink glass and my little folio, began to write; and was deep in the distressing scenes of the death of my hero, whom I was causing to die in the most affecting manner, weeping abundantly myself over the cruelty of his enemies, and quite sobbing at the noble courage and resignation that I was making him display, when I thought I heard the least possible creaking behind me, and the least possible soupηon of a gentle titter.

    Perched as I was upon the square-cut blocks of hay, crying piteously, so that the tears blotted my page, my bonnet lying beside me, and the whole loft radiant with dusty sunbeams, could anything be more ridiculous than my position, or, unfortunately, more conspicuous, if any of the girls were watching me from the top of the ladder-like stairs?  To say that I blushed till the very back of my neck was rosy, would but half describe my glowing shame.

    I did not dare to turn round, and was almost wishing that my noble hero had never been invented, when suddenly, 'All hands pass pocket-handkerchiefs?' cried a voice that I knew, 'to dry the Muse's tears.'

    We were reading just then in class the history of the last naval war, and used to adopt its sea phrases as well as we could.

    Instantly a pocket-handkerchief, rolled up like a bail, struck me on the back; another flew over my head; more, more; there were eight of them flying about me; and after this shower the owners rushed in pell-mell, and flung themselves on the hay in convulsions of laughter some had their shoes in their hands, having taken them off below that they might ascend more gently; some kissed and apologized; some with mock gravity wiped my cheeks, and then tried to read the blotted manuscript, adroitly substituting pieces of the Italian grammar where it baffled their efforts at deciphering.

    They were all in ecstasies at my discovered absurdity; and as for me, when the first moments of shame were over, I laughed more than any of them, and was extremely anxious to disavow my poetic fervour, and to make humble apologies for having deserted those gifted spirits, my school-fellows, for the sake of writing verses in a hayloft.

    We went into the garden and amused ourselves in various ways, till the afternoon suddenly clouding, we betook ourselves to the house; the elder girls withdrew to the dining-parlour; the little ones to the schoolroom, and I only of the upper class went with them, for I was helping them to make a tiny grotto, which was to be presented to Madame on her birthday, and the shells for which we sorted on the window-sills of this long room,

    We were all kneeling on the floor, sedulously intent on our sorting, with the exception of little May, whom Frances had just sent in, and who was playing about the room, jumping over the hassocks, when the pony-chaise drove up, and immediately after Caroline came in, with a large silver-paper parcel in her hand.

    Now I have before adverted to the fact that I was at that time remarkably small for my years; consequently, when Caroline glanced round, I can scarcely doubt that she overlooked my individual presence, only thinking that all the little ones were there at their play, for I have since believed that if she had seen me, she would have used more caution in what she said.

    She was blooming with air and exercise, and her lovely hazel eyes sparkled as if she were excited.  'Where is May?' she inquired.

    Several fingers pointed under the table, and presently out crept May, shaking back her extremely long curls, and bearing a hassock in her arms.  The little creature was flushed with the effort.  Caroline smiled pleasantly on her, and said, 'Where do you think I have been, you tiny thing?'

    May answered, in a matter-of-fact way, that she knew.

    'Oh, then, you don't want to hear anything about it?' observed Caroline; 'nor to be told what I have got in this parcel?'

    May, upon this, put down the hassock, and came close to where Caroline had seated herself on a form.

    'You cannot guess what is inside there?' asked Caroline, laying her hand upon the softly rustling paper.

    'I can guess,' cried an eager looker-on from the window-seat.  'And I am sure I know,' exclaimed another.  The folded toy was as lovely a doll as ever enriched the eyes of a little mortal.

    'Look at it,' said Caroline, 'I will just undo a piece of the paper.'  She did so, and displayed a flaxen-haired beauty, with smiling red lips, and gay blue eyes.

    'A doll!' said May, gravely laying one finger on its face, in her own peculiarly infantine manner.

    'She is nearly as tall as you are,' said Caroline; 'I wonder who she is for?'

    'I wonder who she is for?' repeated the fascinated child, looking down on the doll's face.

    'Well, I will tell you,' replied Caroline; 'here, take her, she is for you.'

    May looked at her, and then putting her hands behind her, said wistfully, 'My doll's not coming today, because I didn't count a hundred; perhaps she's coming to-morrow.'

    'This is your doll,' persisted Caroline, laughing; 'is she not a beauty?'

    'But I only did it right up to eighty-one,' said the child; 'and my Miss Christiana Frances said my doll might not come till to-morrow.'

    'You silly little thing,' said Caroline, colouring and laughing; 'look, this is a doll that I am going to give you; it is a present from me; when you can count a hundred, Miss Christiana Frances can give you another doll, if she likes, but this is yours now here, I bought it for you; kiss me and take it.'

    May seemed now to understand, and with a rapturous laugh she sprung to Caroline, and threw her arms about her neck and kissed her.  Caroline took her up and gave her the great doll, and praised it, pointing out its beauty and its good qualities.  The child blushed for joy.  'Are you sure she is my doll?' she exclaimed; 'and what will Miss Christiana Frances say?'

    Caroline made an impatient gesture, and replied Miss Black can give you a doll when she likes, May, and I can give you one when I like: it does not at all matter to me what other people do; and look, here is something more for you: so saying, she produced a paper of sugared almonds.  'There,' she continued, 'these are for you, all for you, because you are the youngest little girl in the school, and you are my little pet.  Kiss me.'

    May readily did as she was desired, and forthwith opened the tempting paper, and began to eat an almond.

    'Nannette has a pocket in her best frock,' she observed to her new friend.

    'Would you like to have one in your frock to keep your almonds in?' asked Caroline.

    'O yes!' replied May, confidingly; 'and I shall ask my Miss Chris-tiana Frances to make me a little pocket, and perhaps she will, if I'm good.'

    'If you're good! — poor little thing,' said Caroline, with ill-timed pity; 'well, May, I will make you a pocket, for little girls cannot always be good.''

    'No,' said May, simply; 'I wasn't good when I sucked the paints.'

    'What paints?' asked Caroline.

    'Those little paints in my Miss Chris-tiana's box; I thought they were chocolates, and I bit them.'

    'Yes, and she made her lips all blue,' said Nannette, breaking into the conversation, 'and when Massey washed her, the soap got into her mouth.'

    This cheering conclusion to the affair being brought forward, May observed, in a deeply reflective tone, 'I shall not suck the paints any more.'

    Caroline laughed.  'Well, May,' she said, 'you may go and fetch my work-box, and I will make you a pocket now.'

    May's delight was very great.  She ran for the box, and a little pocket was set in hand instantly — Caroline talking pleasantly while at work about the doll, and how she would make a frock and a hat for her, while May prattled in a confiding way that she had not shown her before.

    'There,' she said, when the pocket was sewed in, 'now, whenever you want anything, little one, you may come to me, and I daresay I shall be able to do it for you.'

    'Yes,' said May, 'when my Miss Chris-tiana Frances hasn't time:' and then, indicating the kind of thing she generally wanted doing, she said, 'Can you play at Loto, and draw cats and two little kittens, Miss Baker; and can you draw pigs with curly tails?'

    'Oh, I can do a great many things for little girls who love me,' said Caroline.

    'I love you,' responded May.

    'Are you sure you do?' asked Caroline.

    'O yes, I love you very much indeed to-day,' replied the frank little creature, and added, 'I didn't love you any of the other days.'

    'Do you love me as much as Miss Christiana Frances?' asked Caroline.

    May laughed as if she considered the question absurd, but presently said, in a consoling tone, 'I can't yet, but perhaps I will soon.'

    'You small oddity!' said Caroline, 'do you remember seeing that pretty little locket that I wear sometimes?'

    'O yes,' answered the child.  'You mean that one that I opened when I saw it in your box, and you slapped me, and said I wasn't to touch it.'

    This was rather an awkward recollection, but Caroline passed it on, and said, 'If I thought you really did love me, I would put a little piece of your hair in it; would you like that?'

    May replied that she should, qualifying the admission though by stipulating that she was to cut off the lock of hair herself, and she was to see it put behind the little bit of glass!  To this Caroline assented, taking out whatever may have been in the locket before, and tying the shining morsel of May's wavy hair with a piece of gold thread.

    I felt a good deal of indignation throughout this scene, and it never occurred to me that Caroline was unconscious of my presence, till one of the little ones happening to appeal to me by name about a shell, she uttered an exclamation of astonishment and annoyance, and instantly started up and left the room.  She had not been gone two minutes, when Frances entered, and May rushing up to her, with one hand in her new pocket, and her great doll under the other arm, burst forth into a confused speech, with no stops, and very little sense in it, but full of delight and exultation.

    'What is it, my little darling?' said Frances, looking down on the small face which was quite suffused with blushes of delight and pride.

    'I didn't count a hundred,' said May, in a great hurry, 'but Miss Baker gave me my doll, and she said I was to keep it, and she said it was mine, and I've got a pocket that Miss Baker made, and please will you have one of my sugared almonds, Miss Christiana Frances?'

    Frances took the doll, and I have seldom seen a face change more than hers did, when the truth dawned upon her.  She was very keen-sighted and quick-witted, and it seemed (if I am not mistaken) to strike her at once that Caroline was trying to supplant her in the affections of her little favourite.  She coloured exceedingly — her surprise and pain were evident — but little May, who, in the midst of her delighted excitement, seemed to have preserved a kind of suspicion that this doll might possibly be forfeited to the higher powers, and that she had not come quite honestly by it after all, sobbed out in a half crying tone: 'I didn't ask for her; Miss Baker said I might keep her; she said she bought her for me.'  Then Frances controlled herself, and giving back the doll to May, who was stretching up her arms for it, said, 'Yes, she is your doll, and you are to keep her, if Miss Baker gave her to you, my little May.'

    'And will you kiss me, and may I sit on your knee?' said the child, still aware that something was wrong.

    'My little treasure!' said Frances, with a sigh of inexpressible regret; but she sat down and took up the child and her doll, sitting silent and deep in thought, while May descanted on the many perfections of her present, and while she related how Miss Baker had shut up a bit of her hair in that funny little box, and she had looked at it behind the glass.

    Frances was evidently pained and hurt.  She made no reply to the child's prattlings; but when the girls came in, as they shortly did, to tea, Frances turned to Caroline, and said to her in French, 'I thought you were quite aware, Miss Baker, that I had got a doll ready for May; indeed, I believe I had told you so.'  She spoke coldly, and with some hauteur.  Caroline answered with no less, 'No, I was never told so.'

    'But the subject was alluded to, and half explained in your presence,' I could not help saying; 'and you remarked that if you had had such a toy in your possession, you could not have kept it back from a child.'

    'We all know, Sophia, that you have a most excellent memory,' said Caroline, and she said it in such a way as to imply a reproach as if I had been in the habit of using my memory against my schoolfellows.  She continued: 'If Frances is really so much attached to the child as she professes to be, I cannot understand why she is otherwise than pleased at her having a toy given her.  It seems to me selfish to wish that no one but herself should give her anything.'

    'I have no such wish,' said Frances, with some heat.  The other girls looked on surprised.

    'It is not only that I think you might have chosen a present which would not have made mine valueless,' said Frances, but that part of my influence is overthrown by it, and my reward made nothing worth trying for.  Besides,' she continued, 'it is difficult for me to think that your present was accidentally the same as my own.'

    'Indeed,' replied Caroline, with provoking calm; 'well, I hope the poor child at least will be pleased with her doll, for it is evident that other people are not pleased; and, as Madame has given you such unbounded authority over May, you had better mention to her that my being fond of the child endangers your exclusive right, and ask her to forbid my speaking to May, or even looking at her: no doubt she will.'

    'Caroline!' exclaimed Frances, surprised at this strange speech.  Come to me, my pet,' said Caroline to May, who, during this French conversation, had been leaning against Frances; 'did they let her stand all this time, and take no notice of her?'  May readily held out her arms, and seeing the locket hanging round Caroline's neck, began to play with it and to relate to all whom it might concern, how this was her hair, and how Miss Baker said she should always wear it, even when she was grown up to be a lady.

    There was a way in which these little things were said and done that seemed greatly to pain Frances.  Caroline patronized May as if she was the most friendless little creature possible, with no toys to play with, and no one to take pity on her; but the teachers presently coming in to preside at the tea-table, put an end to the conversation; and when I heard Caroline privately whispering to May that she was to sit next her, I slipped into the place by Frances, for I saw that May would not occupy it, and I hoped Frances would not observe Caroline's acts, or at least that I should spare her feelings, by preventing a discussion; but my intention was frustrated by the little creature herself, who, running up to Frances, said, in a supplicatory tone, 'Please may I sit next Miss Baker to-night?  She did ask me; she said I should not be any trouble.'

    'You may sit wherever you please, my dear,' said Frances, gently.  So little May ran round delighted, saying aloud, 'I may, I may, Miss Baker; Miss Chris-tiana Frances says I may sit by you to-night.'

    She was a privileged person, this little May, and allowed to take many liberties of locomotion not permitted to her elders; but I thought the triumph of having her was a little damped for Caroline by the occasional reproofs of the English teacher, a personage who by no means relished change and innovation.  'Miss Baker, I will thank you to cut that crust, it is too hard for Miss Merton's teeth.'  'Miss Baker, Miss Merton is spilling her milk.'  'Pray, Miss Baker, why is Miss Merton without her pinafore?' and so on.

    Poor little May, I must needs pity her, when I remember the siege that was laid to her baby heart, and the deterioration which from day to day ensued in her behaviour from Caroline's unwise and capricious indulgence: for this day proved only a sample of many days that were to follow, and Caroline seemed to take positive delight in doing all she could to destroy the influence of Frances, to thwart her plans, and steal her cherished treasure.

    In all things that gave trouble, May was still left to Frances, and though she did not seem absolutely to fail in her allegiance to her first friend, she was naturally attracted by the presents, caresses, and petting of Caroline; and really it seemed as if Frances herself was less kind than formerly, for if May became tiresome and naughty from over-indulgence, Caroline would have no more to do with her, so that Frances had the reproving of her faults and childish ill-humours, and Caroline the rewarding of her good behaviour.

    Yet it was obvious to the least acute observer, that Caroline was doing this for an object — not for the love of the child; for she was sometimes evidently fretted by the very presence and caresses that she had courted.  But Frances, who so deeply loved the child, was pained to the heart for the slack hold that she now had over her, and which was easily being withdrawn from her — not for May's own good, or even for the good of the withdrawer.

    To Frances might have been applied the words of one of our most celebrated modern writers: 'I was robbed for no one's enrichment, but for the greater desolation of this world.'



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Off the Skelligs] [Fated to be Free] [Sarah De Berenger] [Don John] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Stories Told to a Child] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk