The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations

Contents:
Author: Charlotte Mary Yonge

Chapter XXVII.

And full of hope, day followed day, While that stout ship at anchor lay
Beside the shores of Wight. The May had then made all things green, And floating there, in pomp serene, That ship was goodly to be seen,
His pride and his delight.

Yet then when called ashore, he sought The tender peace of rural thought,
In more than happy mood. To your abodes, bright daisy flowers, He then would steal at leisure hours, And loved you, glittering in your bowers,
A starry multitude.
WORDSWORTH.

Harry’s last home morning was brightened by going to the school to see full justice done to Norman, and enjoying the scene for him. It was indeed a painful ordeal to Norman himself, who could, at the moment, scarcely feel pleasure in his restoration, excepting for the sake of his father, Harry, and his sisters. To find the head-master making apologies to him was positively painful and embarrassing, and his countenance would have been fitter for a culprit receiving a lecture. It was pleasanter when the two other masters shook hands with him, Mr. Harrison with a free confession that he had done him injustice, and Mr. Wilmot with a glad look of congratulation, that convinced Harry he had never believed Norman to blame.

Harry himself was somewhat of a hero; the masters all spoke to him, bade him good speed, and wished him a happy voyage, and all the boys were eager to admire his uniform, and wish themselves already men and officers like Mr. May. He had his long-desired three cheers for "May senior!" shouted with a thorough goodwill by the united lungs of the Whichcote foundation, and a supplementary cheer arose for the good ship Alcestis, while hands were held out on every side; and the boy arrived at such a pitch of benevolence and good humour, as actually to volunteer a friendly shake of the hand to Edward Anderson, whom he encountered skulking apart.

"Never mind, Ned, we have often licked each other before now, and don’t let us bear a grudge now I am going away. We are Stoneborough fellows both, you know, after all."

Edward did not refuse the offered grasp, and though his words were only, "Good-bye, I hope you will have plenty of fun!" Harry went away with a lighter heart.

The rest of the day Harry adhered closely to his father, though chiefly in silence; Dr. May had intended much advice and exhortation for his warm-hearted, wild-spirited son, but words would not come, not even when in the still evening twilight they walked down alone together to the cloister, and stood over the little stone marked M. M. After standing there for some minutes, Harry knelt to collect some of the daisies in the grass.

"Are those to take with you?"

"Margaret is going to make a cross of them for my Prayerbook."

"Ay, they will keep it in your mind—say it all to you, Harry. She may be nearer to you everywhere, though you are far from us. Don’t put yourself from her."

That was all Dr. May contrived to say to his son, nor could Margaret do much more than kiss him, while tears flowed one by one over her cheeks, as she tried to whisper that he must remember and guard himself, and that he was sure of being thought of, at least, in every prayer; and then she fastened into his book the cross, formed of flattened daisies, gummed upon a framework of paper. He begged her to place it at the Baptismal Service, for he said, "I like that about fighting—and I always did like the church being like a ship—don’t you? I only found that prayer out the day poor little Daisy was christened."

Margaret had indeed a thrill of melancholy pleasure in this task, when she saw how it was regarded. Oh, that her boy might not lose these impressions amid the stormy waves he was about to encounter!

That last evening of home good-nights cost Harry many a choking sob ere he could fall asleep; but the morning of departure had more cheerfulness; the pleasure of patronising Jem Jennings was as consoling to his spirits, as was to Mary the necessity of comforting Toby.

Toby’s tastes were in some respects vulgar, as he preferred the stable, and Will Adams, to all Mary’s attentions; but he attached himself vehemently to Dr. May, followed him everywhere, and went into raptures at the slightest notice from him. The doctor said it was all homage to the master of the house. Margaret held that the dog was a physiognomist.

The world was somewhat flat after the loss of Harry—that element of riot and fun; Aubrey was always playing at "poor Harry sailing away," Mary looked staid and sober, and Norman was still graver, and more devoted to books, while Ethel gave herself up more completely to the thickening troubles of Cocksmoor.

Jealousies had arisen there, and these, with some rebukes for failures in sending children to be taught, had led to imputations on the character of Mrs. Green, in whose house the school was kept. Ethel was at first vehement in her defence; then when stronger evidence was adduced of the woman’s dishonesty, she was dreadfully shocked, and wanted to give up all connection with her, and in both moods was equally displeased with Richard for pausing, and not going all lengths with her.

Mr. Wilmot was appealed to, and did his best to investigate, but the only result was to discover that no one interrogated had any notion of truth, except John Taylor, and he knew nothing of the matter. The mass of falsehood, spite, violence, and dishonesty, that became evident, was perfectly appalling, and not a clue was to be found to the truth—scarcely a hope that minds so lost to honourable feeling were open to receive good impressions. It was a great distress to Ethel—it haunted her night and day—she lay awake pondering on the vain hopes for her poor children, and slept to dream of the angry faces and rude accusations. Margaret grew quite anxious about her, and her elders were seriously considering the propriety of her continuing her labours at Cocksmoor.

Mr. Wilmot would not be at Stoneborough after Christmas. His father’s declining health made him be required at home, and since Richard was so often absent, it became matter of doubt whether the Misses May ought to be allowed to persevere, unassisted by older heads, in such a locality.

This doubt put Ethel into an agony. Though she had lately been declaring that it made her very unhappy to go—she could not bear the sight of Mrs. Green, and that she knew all her efforts were vain while the poor children had such homes; she now only implored to be allowed to go on; she said that the badness of the people only made it more needful to do their utmost for them; there were no end to the arguments that she poured forth upon her ever kind listener, Margaret.

"Yes, dear Ethel, yes, but pray be calm; I know papa and Mr. Wilmot would not put a stop to it if they could possibly help it, but if it is not proper—"

"Proper! that is as bad as Miss Winter!"

"Ethel, you and I cannot judge of these things—you must leave them to our elders—"

"And men always are so fanciful about ladies—"

"Indeed, if you speak in that way, I shall think it is really hurting you."

"I did not mean it, dear Margaret," said Ethel, "but if you knew what I feel for poor Cocksmoor, you would not wonder that I cannot bear it."

"I do not wonder, dearest; but if this trial is sent you, perhaps it is to train you for better things."

"Perhaps it is for my fault," said Ethel. "Oh, oh, if it be that I am too unworthy! And it is the only hope; no one will do anything to teach these poor creatures if I give it up. What shall I do, Margaret?"

Margaret drew her down close to her, and whispered, "Trust them Ethel, dear. The decision will be whatever is the will of God. If He thinks fit to give you the work, it will come; if not, He will give you some other, and provide for them."

"If I have been too neglectful of home, too vain of persevering when no one but Richard would!" sighed Ethel.

"I cannot see that you have, dearest," said Margaret fondly, "but your own heart must tell you that. And now, only try to be calm and patient. Getting into these fits of despair is the very thing to make people decide against you."

"I will! I will! I will try to be patient," sobbed Ethel; "I know to be wayward and set on it would only hurt. I might only do more harm—I’ll try. But oh, my poor children!"

Margaret gave a little space for the struggle with herself, then advised her resolutely to fix her attention on something else. It was a Saturday morning, and time was more free than usual, so Margaret was able to persuade her to continue a half-forgotten drawing, while listening to an interesting article in a review, which opened to her that there were too many Cocksmoors in the world.

The dinner-hour sounded too soon, and as she was crossing the hall to put away her drawing materials, the front door gave the click peculiar to Dr. May’s left-handed way of opening it. She paused, and saw him enter, flushed, and with a look that certified her that something had happened.

"Well, Ethel, he is come."

"Oh, papa, Mr. Ernes—"

He held up his finger, drew her into the study, and shut the door. The expression of mystery and amusement gave way to sadness and gravity as he sat down in his arm-chair, and sighed as if much fatigued. She was checked and alarmed, but she could not help asking, "Is he here?"

"At the Swan. He came last night, and watched for me this morning as I came out of the hospital. We have been walking over the meadows to Fordholm."

No wonder Dr. May was hot and tired.

"But is he not coming?" asked Ethel.

"Yes, poor fellow; but hush, stop, say nothing to the others. I must not have her agitated till she has had her dinner in peace, and the house is quiet. You know she cannot run away to her room as you would."

"Then he is really come for that?" cried Ethel breathlessly; and, perceiving the affirmative, added, "But why did he wait so long?"

"He wished to see his way through his affairs, and also wanted to hear of her from Harry. I am afraid poor July’s colours were too bright."

"And why did he come to the Swan instead of to us?"

"That was his fine, noble feeling. He thought it right to see me first, that if I thought the decision too trying for Margaret, in her present state, or if I disapproved of the long engagement, I might spare her all knowledge of his coming."

"Oh, papa, you won’t!"

"I don’t know but that I ought; but yet, the fact is, that I cannot. With that fine young fellow so generously, fondly attached I cannot find it in my heart to send him away for four years without seeing her, and yet, poor things, it might be better for them both. Oh, Ethel, if your mother were but here!"

He rested his forehead on his hands, and Ethel stood aghast at his unexpected reception of the addresses for which she had so long hoped. She did not venture to speak, and presently he roused himself as the dinner-bell rang. "One comfort is," he said, "that Margaret has more composure than I. Do you go to Cocksmoor this afternoon?"

"I wished it."

"Take them all with you. You may tell them why when you are out. I must have the house quiet. I shall get Margaret out into the shade, and prepare her, as best I can, before he comes at three o’clock."

It was not flattering to be thus cleared out of the way, especially when full of excited curiosity, but any such sensation was quite overborne by sympathy in his great anxiety, and Ethel’s only question was, "Had not Flora better stay to keep off company?"

"No, no," said Dr. May impatiently, "the fewer the better;" and hastily passing her, he dashed up to his room, nearly running over the nursery procession, and, in a very few seconds, was seated at table, eating and speaking by snatches, and swallowing endless draughts of cold water.

"You are going to Cocksmoor!" said he, as they were finishing.

"It is the right day," said Richard. "Are you coming, Flora?"

"Not to-day, I have to call on Mrs. Hoxton."

"Never mind Mrs. Hoxton," said the doctor; "you had better go to-day, a fine cool day for a walk."

He did not look as if he had found it so.

"Oh, yes, Flora, you must come," said Ethel, "we want you."

"I have engagements at home," replied Flora.

"And it really is a trying walk," said Miss Winter.

"You must," reiterated Ethel. "Come to our room, and I will tell you why."

"I do not mean to go to Cocksmoor till something positive is settled. I cannot have anything to do with that woman."

"If you would only come upstairs," implored Ethel, at the door, "I have something to tell you alone."

"I shall come up in due time. I thought you had outgrown closetings and foolish secrets," said Flora.

Her movements were quickened, however, by her father, who, finding her with Margaret in the drawing-room, ordered her upstairs in a peremptory manner, which she resented, as treating her like a child, and therefore proceeded in no amiable mood to the room, where Ethel awaited her in wild tumultuous impatience.

"Well, Ethel, what is this grand secret?"

"Oh, Flora! Mr. Ernescliffe is at the Swan! He has been speaking to papa about Margaret."

"Proposing for her, do you mean?" said Flora.

"Yes, he is coming to see her this afternoon, and that is the reason that papa wants us to be all out of the way."

"Did papa tell you this?"

"Yes," said Ethel, beginning to perceive the secret of her displeasure, "but only because I was the first person he met; and Norman guessed it long ago. Do put on your things! I’ll tell you all I know when we are out. Papa is so anxious to have the coast clear."

"I understand," said Flora; "but I shall not go with you. Do not be afraid of my interfering with any one. I shall sit here."

"But papa said you were to go."

"If he had done me the favour of speaking to me himself," said Flora, "I should have shown him that it is not right that Margaret should be left without any one at hand in case she should be overcome. He is of no use in such cases, only makes things worse. I should not feel justified in leaving Margaret with no one else, but he is in one of those hand-over-head moods, when it is not of the least use to say a word to him."

"Flora, how can you, when he expressly ordered you?"

"All he meant was, do not be in the way, and I shall not show myself unless I am needed, when he would be glad enough of me. I am not bound to obey the very letter, like Blanche or Mary."

Ethel looked horrified by the assertion of independence, but Richard called her from below, and, with one more fruitless entreaty, she ran downstairs.

Richard had been hearing all from his father, and it was comfortable to talk the matter over with him, and hear explained the anxiety which frightened her, while she scarcely comprehended it; how Dr. May could not feel certain whether it was right or expedient to promote an engagement which must depend on health so uncertain as poor Margaret’s, and how he dreaded the effect on the happiness of both.

Ethel’s romance seemed to be turning to melancholy, and she walked on gravely and thoughtfully, though repeating that there could be no doubt of Margaret’s perfect recovery by the time of the return from the voyage.

Her lessons were somewhat nervous and flurried, and even the sight of two very nice neat new scholars, of very different appearance from the rest, and of much superior attainments, only half interested her. Mary was enchanted at them as a pair of prodigies, actually able to read! and had made out their names, and their former abodes, and how they had been used to go to school, and had just come to live in the cottage deserted by the lamented Una.

Ethel thought it quite provoking in her brother to accede to Mary’s entreaties that they should go and call on this promising importation. Even the children’s information that they were taught now by "Sister Cherry" failed to attract her; but Richard looked at his watch, and decided that it was too soon to go home, and she had to submit to her fate.

Very different was the aspect of the house from the wild Irish cabin appearance that it had in the M’Carthy days. It was the remains of an old farm-house that had seen better days, somewhat larger than the general run of the Cocksmoor dwellings. Respectable furniture had taken up its abode against the walls, the kitchen was well arranged, and, in spite of the wretched flooring and broken windows, had an air of comfort. A very tidy woman was bustling about, still trying to get rid of the relics of her former tenants, who might, she much feared, have left a legacy of typhus fever. The more interesting person was, however, a young woman of three or four and twenty, pale, and very lame, and with the air of a respectable servant, her manners particularly pleasing. It appeared that she was the daughter of a first wife, and, after the period of schooling, had been at service, but had been lamed by a fall downstairs, and had been obliged to come home, just as scarcity of work had caused her father to leave his native parish, and seek employment at other quarries. She had hoped to obtain plain work, but all the family were dismayed and disappointed at the wild spot to which they had come, and anxiously availed themselves of this introduction to beg that the elder boy and girl might be admitted into the town school, distant as it was. At another time, the thought of Charity Elwood would have engrossed Ethel’s whole mind, now she could hardly attend, and kept looking eagerly at Richard as he talked endlessly with the good mother. When, at last, they did set off, he would not let her gallop home like a steam-engine, but made her take his arm, when he found that she could not otherwise moderate her steps. At the long hill a figure appeared, and, as soon as Richard was certified of its identity, he let her fly, like a bolt from a crossbow, and she stood by Dr. May’s side.

A little ashamed, she blushed instead of speaking, and waited for Richard to come up and begin. Neither did he say anything, and they paused till, the silence disturbing her, she ventured a "Well, papa!"

"Well, poor things. She was quite overcome when first I told her— said it would be hard on him, and begged me to tell him that he would be much happier if he thought no more of her."

"Did Margaret?" cried Ethel. "Oh! could she mean it?"

"She thought she meant it, poor dear, and repeated such things again and again; but when I asked whether I should send him away without seeing her, she cried more than ever, and said, "You are tempting me! It would be selfishness."

"Oh, dear! she surely has seen him!"

"I told her that I would be the last person to wish to tempt her to selfishness, but that I did not think that either could be easy in settling such a matter through a third person."

"It would have been very unkind," said Ethel; "I wonder she did not think so."

"She did at last. I saw it could not be otherwise, and she said, poor darling, that when he had seen her, he would know the impossibility; but she was so agitated that I did not know how it could be."

"Has she?"

"Ay, I told him not to stay too long, and left him under the tuliptree with her. I found her much more composed—he was so gentle and considerate. Ah! he is the very man! Besides, he has convinced her now that affection brings him, not mere generosity, as she fancied."

"Oh, then it is settled!" cried Ethel joyously.

"I wish it were! She has owned that if—if she were in health—but that is all, and he is transported with having gained so much! Poor fellow. So far, I trust, it is better for them to know each other’s minds, but how it is to be—"

"But, papa, you know Sir Matthew Fleet said she was sure to get well; and in three years’ time—"

"Yes, yes, that is the best chance. But it is a dreary lookout for two young things. That is in wiser hands, however! If only I saw what was right to do! My miserable carelessness has undone you all!" he concluded, almost inaudibly.

It was indeed, to him, a time of great distress and perplexity, wishing to act the part of father and mother both towards his daughter, acutely feeling his want of calm decision, and torn to pieces at once by sympathy with the lovers, and by delicacy that held him back from seeming to bind the young man to an uncertain engagement, above all, tortured by self-reproach for the commencement of the attachment, and for the misfortune that had rendered its prosperity doubtful.

Ethel could find no words of comfort in the bewildered glimpse at his sorrow and agitation. Richard spoke with calmness and good sense, and his replies, though brief and commonplace, were not without effect in lessening the excitement and despondency which the poor doctor’s present mood had been aggravating.

At the door, Dr. May asked for Flora, and Ethel explained. If Flora had obtruded herself, he would have been irritated, but, as it was, he had no time to observe the disobedience, and saying that he hoped she was with Margaret, sent Ethel into the drawing-room.

Flora was not there, only Margaret lay on her sofa, and Ethel hesitated, shy, curious, and alarmed; but, as she approached, she was relieved to see the blue eyes more serene even than usual, while a glow of colour spread over her face, making her like the blooming Margaret of old times; her expression was full of peace, but became somewhat amused at Ethel’s timid, awkward pauses, as she held out her hands, and said, "Come, dear Ethel."

"Oh, Margaret, Margaret!"

And Ethel was drawn into her sister’s bosom. Presently she drew back, gazed at her sister inquiringly, and said in an odd, doubtful voice, "Then you are glad?"

Margaret nearly laughed at the strange manner, but spoke with a sorrowful tone, "Glad in one way, dearest, almost too glad, and grateful."

"Oh, I am so glad!" again said Ethel; "I thought it was making everybody unhappy."

"I don’t believe I could be that, now he has come, now I know;" and her voice trembled. "There must be doubt and uncertainty," she added, "but I cannot dwell on them just yet. They will settle what is right, I know, and, happen what may, I have always this to remember."

"Oh, that is right! Papa will be so relieved! He was afraid it had only been distress."

"Poor papa! Yes, I did not command myself at first; I was not sure whether it was right to see him at all."

"Oh, Margaret, that was too bad!"

"It did not seem right to encourage any such—such," the word was lost, "to such a poor helpless thing as I am. I did not know what to do, and I am afraid I behaved like a silly child, and did not think of dear papa’s feelings. But I will try to be good, and leave it all to them."

"And you are going to be happy?" said Ethel wistfully.

"For the present, at least. I cannot help it," said Margaret. "Oh, he is so kind, and so unselfish, and so beautifully gentle—and to think of his still caring! But there, dear Ethel, I am not going to cry; do call papa, or he will think me foolish again. I want him to be quite at ease about me before he comes."

"Then he is coming?"

"Yes, at tea-time—so run, dear Ethel, and tell Jane to get his room ready."

The message quickened Ethel, and after giving it, and reporting consolingly to her father, she went up to Flora, who had been a voluntary prisoner upstairs all this time, and was not peculiarly gratified at such tidings coming only through the medium of Ethel. She had before been sensible that, superior in discretion and effectiveness as she was acknowledged to be, she did not share so much of the confidence and sympathy as some of the others, and she felt mortified and injured, though in this case it was entirely her own fault. The sense of alienation grew upon her.

She dressed quickly, and hurried down, that she might see Margaret alone; but the room was already prepared for tea, and the children were fast assembling. Ethel came down a few minutes after, and found Blanche claiming Alan Ernescliffe as her lawful property, dancing round him, chattering, and looking injured if he addressed a word to any one else.

How did lovers look? was a speculation which had, more than once, occupied Ethel, and when she had satisfied herself that her father was at ease, she began to study it, as soon as a shamefaced consciousness would allow her, after Alan’s warm shake of the hand.

Margaret looked much as usual, only with more glow and brightness— Mr. Ernescliffe, not far otherwise; he was as pale and slight as on his last visit, with the same soft blue eyes, capable, however, of a peculiar, keen, steady glance when he was listening, and which now seemed to be attending to Margaret’s every word or look, through all the delighted uproar which Aubrey, Blanche, and Mary kept up round him, or while taking his share in the general conversation, telling of Harry’s popularity and good conduct on board the Alcestis, or listening to the history of Norman’s school adventures, which he had heard, in part, from Harry, and how young Jennings was entered in the flag-ship, as a boy, though not yet to sail with his father.

After the storm of the day the sky seemed quite clear, and Ethel could not see that being lovers made much difference; to be sure papa displeased Blanche, by calling her away to his side, when she would squeeze her chair in between Alan’s and the sofa; and Alan took all the waiting on Margaret exclusively to himself. Otherwise, there was nothing remarkable, and he was very much the same Mr. Ernescliffe whom they had received a year ago.

In truth, the next ten days were very happy. The future was left to rest, and Alan spent his mornings in the drawing-room alone with Margaret, and looked ever more brightly placid, while, with the rest, he was more than the former kind playfellow, for he now took his place as the affectionate elder brother, entering warmly into all their schemes and pleasures, and winning for himself a full measure of affection from all; even his little god-daughter began to know him, and smile at his presence. Margaret and Ethel especially delighted in the look of enjoyment with which their father sat down to enter on the evening’s conversation after the day’s work; and Flora was well pleased that Mrs. Hoxton should find Alan in the drawing-room, and ask afterwards about his estate; and that Meta Rivers, after being certified that this was their Mr. Ernescliffe, pronounced that her papa thought him particularly pleasing and gentlemanlike. There was something dignified in having a sister on the point of being engaged.

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Chicago: Charlotte Mary Yonge, "Chapter XXVII.," The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Dakyns, H.G. in The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1911), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ3ESELKHKDKHH3.

MLA: Yonge, Charlotte Mary. "Chapter XXVII." The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Dakyns, H.G., in The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations, Boston, John W. Luce and Company, 1911, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ3ESELKHKDKHH3.

Harvard: Yonge, CM, 'Chapter XXVII.' in The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations, ed. and trans. . cited in 1911, The Daisy Chain; or, Aspirations, John W. Luce and Company, Boston. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ3ESELKHKDKHH3.