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It was a gentle picture which lay outspread before Mabel's eyes; one might have fancied it the visible embodiment of Keble's poetry. There were soft swelling uplands, with lambs, flowers, and children in the foreground, while beyond lay gleaming a pale line of sea, not blue, or green, or sullen toned, or white with crested billows, but mirroring each ethereal tint of the soft sunset clouds which drifted over it in all their changeful loveliness of rose or amber.
The landscape was peculiarly formed to reflect the lights or shadows of the mental medium through which it might chance to be regarded. In itself it was full of simple rural grace, with no marked feature to distinguish it from thousands of like scenes elsewhere in England. The colouring must come from within ; the "hues” be "fresbly-borrowed from the heart," and very pensive was the shade cast over it by Mabel's spirit, as she passed with lingering step upon her way. Poor little May Bird ! it was the first time in her young life, that she had not welcomed the radiant springtide with a joy as blithesome as that of the feathered songster which was even now trilling and carolling upon a bough of the gnarled apple tree beside her path. The sweet lengthening twilight weighed upon
her now more heavily than the chill dun of a November afternoon had ever done in days gone by. The golden eyes of many a tender blossom seemed upraised as though to speak to her of hope and comfort; of the Easter glory close at hand, and nearer too with every hour, the eternal Easter with its praise of reunion and unfading blessedness. Faithfully was the message conveyed to her in the exquisite though mystic symbolism which it is the glory of the Catholic religion to interpret. It seemed whispered in the silent eloquence of the “ low preachers of the field;" wafted with healing like the very balm of Gilead on the breath of every gentle breeze ; illuminated on the petals of the crimsoned daisies she mechanically stooped to gather, and with yet more gorgeous splendour on the wing of the bright butterfly poised airily upon the swaying lilac spray begemmed with polished buds just bursting into green. Already two or three delicate leaflets had unfolded ; they were hastening to array themselves in robes of beauty for the high festival wherein the whole creation should rejoice. Mabel had always dwelt with great delight upon the harmony between the Natural and the Christian year; but now the gladdening signs of the reviving season were to her not harbingers of Easter, but of Geraldine's departure for a distant land.
A shout of merry laughter roused her from her reverie, and soon a
troop of children from the Bungalow came rushing forth, followed by Dr. Lawson, who looked half annoyed, and half diverted as he vainly strove to quell the tumult before it should reach the sick room, where his patient was just sinking into an health-bringing slumber.
“Will you try to conduct yourselves like subjects of her Christian Majesty, and not like a wild troop of royal Bengal tigers from the jungle ?” he exclaimed, addressing himself chiefly to the ringleader, a noble looking boy of ten. “ You shall be locked into my study every afternoon, to learn arithmetic, and construe Latin verses.
have time left for the mischief' which is found for idle hands. I caught you only yesterday first frightening your little sister, and then killing butterflies like any heathen Brahmin. An English lad is an atrocious coward when he rises up against the helpless.”
“I did not mean to be cruel, I am only making a collection,” rejoined Harry indignantly. “There was a gentleman from London at our station, who sent home a box of butterflies and beetles to the British Museum. He was brave at the tiger hunts, and spent whole nights alone among the wild beasts in the jungle. I am sure nobody would have ventured to call him a coward.”
“Science is an outlandish monster," returned the enlightened Doctor, “and she ought to be banished from every Christian kingdom. She can classify the stars, and welcome; they will roll over her head as solemnly and grandly as before. She may have stones and grasses too for playthings, but she must needs lay her finger on the harmless insects that flit in God's sunshine, and slay birds and animals outright, or let them die by inches in captivity. All such amusements I leave to your Brahmins, Master Harry, as I said before,” concluded this foe to the intellectual progress of the nineteenth century.
“But Brahmins never destroy anything," objected Harry, clearing the Doctor's misty notions about India in a way Mabel had longed to do, although restrained by delicacy. “They say 'man may take life, but only God can give it,' so they always spare even the poisonous serpents.”
“Oh, they do not kill, is that it ?" rejoined the Doctor placidly. Well, I knew they had some fixed notion one way or the other.”
" Then as an Englishman you should have taken the more favourable view for granted till the contrary was proved," observed Mabel decisively,
“Except that charity begins at home, and it seemed rather a reflection upon Christians," said the Doctor drily.
“Yes, indeed !” exclaimed Mabel, with a heartiness which showed her full concurrence in the sentiment.
“ Then you would both have praised little Blanche Gilmour whom we left in India," interposed Harry. “Her papa always calls her his Brahmina, because she fishes out half drowned spiders from the tank, and begs the lives of scorpions and centipedes, and frees every poor fly she sees entangled in a web. It was in asking the meaning of her pet name I chanced to learn so much about the Brahmins." “ So she rescues spiders from the water, that she may
let them die of starvation. Far-sighted philanthropy in truth !” said the incorrigible Doctor. “Now pray do not bewilder our ideas,” petitioned Mabel.
Human beings can only do their best ; they cannot reach perfection, even in their efforts at benevolence. Besides, we are now killing moments wholesale, and I cannot tolerate that species of murder at present, for I feel sure Geraldine must be awaiting me at home.”
“I was commissioned to bring you back with me to Content, for some very good reason which I now forget, as I had nearly done the message itself,” said the Doctor, as he offered Mabel his arm, and waved a parting salutation to the children.
Mabel yielded assent without remonstrance or even comment, for such sudden change of plans was of too frequent occurrence to excite surprise, far less uneasiness in her own family, or that of Geraldine. If the friends were not at Content they would be at the vicarage, and vice versá. It was not considered: necessary to announce their coming at the one house, or explain their absence from the other.
The walk was pursued in silence for some distance, and already Mabel's thoughts had wandered far into the future, when the genial voice of her companion recalled her to present realities.
“ That is the way with the whole confraternity of philanthropists,” he began in his bantering tone. “ Some of you wish to go to the ends of the earth to Christianize the Brahmins I suppose to teach them mercy, for example; and others while they bask in sunshine on God's pleasant hillsides, must needs be mentally groping into London alleys, although missionary work lies close beneath the eyes of those who stoop to look for it.”
“ If you mean Geraldine and me,” said Mabel, " I assure you there is not a cottage on the island which we leave unvisited, nor any human being with whom we are not on terms of cordiality."
“I ask pardon," replied the Doctor, "and am willing to leave all personal applications to your conscience. I was only thinking of the little Verneys in connection with objects of charity in the abstract."
“What about them ?” asked Mabel carelessly; "they appear to be thriving specimens of juvenile humanity."
“ Speaking of the mere outward man, agreed; but have you ever thought, Miss May Bird, what a charge of empty lumber-cells those small brains must contain ?"
“ Lilian and I have sometimes wondered why they are without a governess," said Mabel hesitatingly, for idle curiosity was one of the social transgressions most severely dealt with in the Vicar's code of morals.
“ Then I will tell you,” and for once the Doctor's tone grew serious, " although I should not speak so openly, Miss May Bird, did I not well know that gossip dies away before reaching the vicarage. Major Verney is a poor man, so poor indeed that he can barely meet present expenses, and provide a trifle for the future of his family. Now how can the advantages of education be secured to these young people ? Their mother is an infant intellectually, and obliged besides to spend half of her life upon the sofa, while their father can no more afford the luxury of a governess than he could purchase the crown jewels of Russia. He is capable of teaching stout lads of eighteen, but I could upon no account entrust him with the care of growing children. In common with most military men, he fancies the sharp drilling which converts a band of raw recruits into disciplined warriors, is also the best training for the little feeble combatants just straggling from out the fenced camp of infancy to take their stand upon the battlefield of life. Now we physicians seek to furnish the defensive armour of a healthful brain and vigorous nerves, for we had rather a child were crippled in every limb than that his frail organization should be shattered by rude or unskilful hands. The clergy are our able coadjutors; they like us seek to allay excitement, and afford encouragement and soothing amid the turmoil and the strife, thus giving free expansion to the spiritual faculties, as we do to the physical. In fact they often far surpass us even in our own peculiar sphere.”
“The little Verneys should be prodigies of valour under the joint care of Uncle Harland and yourself,” returned Mabel, somewhat amused by the unwonted eagerness of her companion.
“And will you not lend a helping hand, Miss May Bird, in short, will you not accept the post of amateur governess at the Bungalow? You would find virgin soil, which under proper culture might yield goodly harvests to repay your husbandry.”
Mabel did not at once respond, for although charmed by the proposal she felt rightly that her uncle could alone decide upon its wisdom, and she wished besides to ascertain how far her services would be acceptable to the parents of her intended pupils.
“You are sure the Major and his wife would not regard any such offer on my part as an intrusion ?” she inquired anxiously.
“Quite certain. Are there any other conscientious scruples which it is needful I should dispel ?"
“Only that it appears presumptuous to volunteer instruction in the modern languages, music, and drawing, like any accomplished governess, when as yet I have never taught except in village schools,” said Mabel, with a frank humility which revealed a new phase of her character to Dr. Lawson. “Latin, too, and the baby! I am quite unequal to them both,” she added, overpowered by the weighty dignities thus thrust so unexpectedly upon her.
“Take my advice, Miss May Bird,” cried the Doctor cheerily, “and avoid mixing duties even verbally, till they become confused and indistinct to your mind's eye. If you connect Latin with babies, I admit the problem to be none too easy of solution, but it is different where you associate with the classics, a stout urchin clever enough to receive impressions, yet with a head warranted not to retain sufficient knowledge to exhaust the capital his teacher may chance to be able to command.”
Mabel, upon further consideration, felt relieved and confident of her ability to direct Harry's Latin studies for the two ensuing years. Much graver were her doubts respecting her fitness for the sponsorial office, but such thoughts could not be readily expressed to Dr. Lawson, and indeed had she wished it there was then no opportunity, for they had reached the gate of the old-fashioned grey stone cottage which, not alone in name, but in reality, seemed ever basking in the sweetest sunshine of Content.
WHEN Mrs. Verney's proposition with regard to Mabel was submitted to the Vicar, his first emotion was one of surprise, for hitherto