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THE CUMBERERS.


CHAPTER I.

THE MISSES PERKINS.


SOME years ago, while staying at the sea-side, my parents renewed their acquaintance with some ladies, whom we will call the Misses Perkins.  They were the daughters of a clergyman deceased, and had a slender competence, on which they not only kept up a creditable appearance, but were charitable and useful.

    It happened that, shortly before returning home, my parents remarked, in presence of these ladies, that they had intended to leave me behind for a time, because my health was delicate, but that some change of plan prevented the family with whom I was to have been domesticated from receiving me.

    Hereupon significant looks passed between the sisters, and the next day a note arrived, which set forth, that though the Misses Perkins were not in the habit of receiving boarders—far from it,—yet on this occasion they should be happy to step out of their usual path, and accommodate the daughter of their old friend.

    Accordingly, I was sent to their house, and the ladies—that is, some of them—took care that I should derive all the benefit that care and kindness could secure to me.

    The Misses Perkins covenanted to provide me with sea air, and, besides that, they provided me with many speculations on human life; on the Providence which throws certain characters together; the changes they are intended to work on one another; the place each is fitted to fill in this world; the reason why some are privileged to be almost always helpers, while others are suffered to be uniformly hinderers; and the cause why some, as it seems, are compelled to exert themselves so much, while others, it is evident, are determined to do so little.

    But did the Misses Perkins intend to teach me all this?  Certainly not; they were by no means metaphysical in their turn of mind and conversation.  They were not given to abstract speculation.  They never talked of the object of life, or of their missions.

    They had agreed that I should have sea air, and I had it.

    And now I will just describe to you the Misses Perkins, their characters and occupations; and you shall see whether it was not natural that I should have cogitated on them a little.

    The three elder were the daughters of a first marriage, and appeared to be from forty to forty-five years of age; the two younger were the children of a second marriage: the elder was twenty-five, and the younger twenty-three years of age.

    Miss Perkins was a tall, bony woman, very plain, but with a pleasant cheerfulness and activity about her.  She kept the house; and half its comfort, and nearly all its superfluities, certainly arose from this circumstance.  Assuredly she was not intellectual, but her love of order, economy, and regularity made her a very useful person.  And I saw that if she were to die, her sisters, independently of their affection for her, would miss her sorely from their household.

    She was somewhat garrulous, and fond of describing her day's occupations to me.

    'You see, my dear,' she would begin, 'I always go out directly after breakfast, because I cannot order dinner till I have been to the fishmonger's and the butcher's.  Things vary very much in price, and it behoves me to buy what is both good and cheap.  It would never do to send Mary, who is no judge, and just say, "Buy soles," or "Buy whiting because just that day those particular fish might be both stale and dear, while cod was plentiful.  No; I just look about for myself; and if all is dear, why, I take none, but go off to the butcher, and get a larger joint of meat, and perhaps make up with a fruit pie.  And there again, you know, servants have no discretion.  If I were to say, "Mary, go and buy damsons for a pie," she would get them, though they were scarce and stale, and never think to tell me that apples were plentiful.  No, my dear, depend on it, where the income is as limited as ours is, a great deal depends on seeing after everything one's-self.  It takes up a good deal of time, but I like to have a good and plentiful table.  I don't like any stinting, or to have Amelia complain of the butter or the fruit, or say the tradespeople cheat us.'

    'Certainly, that would not be pleasant,' I would remark.

    'Not at all pleasant, my dear,' she would reply; so you see I have plenty to do; for I always make the pie-crust myself, Mary not being much of a cook.  Indeed, we could not expect her to be, at the wages we give her.  Her crusts are heavy.  Well, all that pretty nearly takes up my morning; for, between ourselves, I very often wash the tea-things, shell peas, and do little things of that kind, so that all may go on quietly, and meals be ready at the right time; for I like them to have everything comfortable.  And but for this kind of help, I assure you we should not be nearly so comfortable as we are.'

    I could easily believe this, and Miss Perkins said it as if it was the most natural thing in the world that she should like these various occupations, as they added to the happiness of others.

    So much for the eldest Miss Perkins.  She might perhaps have been called a twaddler in society, but in her own sphere she was useful and beloved; and moreover, by her economy and good marketing, she saved enough to add greatly to the comfort of several poor old women and sickly children, in whose behoof I often saw very savoury-looking messes carried out, smoking hot, in little tin cans, with slices of bread laid on the top, by way of lids.  Her name was Robina, and her youngest sister called her Bobby.'

    The second sister, Miss Anne, was a particularly ladylike woman.  She had delicate health, and required to be very much in the open air.  She also, as I soon saw, had a decided line of work.  She undertook almost the entire management of the garden.

    It was really a very good-sized garden, and was quite as full of scarlet geraniums, heliotropes, and all the gayer kinds of tender plants, as the gardens of the wealthier neighbours.

    Miss Anne, I understood, took great pains to nurse young plants through the winter, keeping them in sunny windows and in a dry store-room.  And it was surprising to see how, every day, she conscientiously went out, and worked among her flower-beds; regularly setting herself a certain task, and doing it as a duty.  She had no help, excepting that a little boy came once a week to weed the walks.  And I observed that she by no means confined herself to the care of the flowers, but cultivated beetroot, lettuces, and all kinds of vegetables.

    'You see, my dear,' Miss Robina remarked to me, 'we could not afford to keep a man: it would not pay us, but all that Anne can raise is pure gain; for we save seeds, and exchange cuttings with our neighbours.  The flower-garden costs nothing, and besides being a pleasure to us all, it now looks creditable and cheerful; and if Anne did not spend her mornings in it, it would run to waste, for neither Sarah nor I have time to attend to it.  And you know it would be very disheartening to us to live in a wilderness; it would affect our spirits.  Now I say that Providence fits us beautifully for our several spheres: for Anne is able to sit indoors very little; but, by taking the garden under her care, she provides herself with occupation, and prevents herself from thinking that she is of no use.  She keeps us always gay and neat, and besides, without robbing the garden of more flowers than we can well spare, she gives away many every season to a poor orphan girl who sells them, and thus gains money enough to clothe herself.  You must have observed Anne's violet-bed, my dear?'

    'Yes;' I said I had done so, and noticed how carefully they were watered and weeded.

    Miss Robina smiled.  'Annie calls them her charity purse,' she replied.  'Those autumn violets are very much liked by the visitors.  Anne found it rather a burden to her, when first we came here, to spend so much time in the garden, but she was determined to go through with it, and now she likes it very much.  I don't know what we should do without her, I am sure; for I don't know anything more melancholy than living in a garden full of weeds; and Amelia, who is so subject to low spirits, often complains as it is, when Anne goes out, or is ill, so that the place gets a little disorderly.'

    So much for the second sister : let me now introduce you to the third.

    Of Miss Sarah Perkins it might certainly be affirmed, that neither in person, voice, nor manner was she an attractive individual.  Excepting when she took her daily walk, she was almost always seated near a window, at work.  She certainly would have thought it a great hardship to go shopping, or tend flower-beds.  She was never asked to do so: on the contrary, it seemed to be an understood thing that the pleasantest corner of the window belonged to her, and that there her little table and her great work-basket were to stand.  She was to begin to stitch, and no one was to molest her.

    I did not, at first, particularly like Miss Sarah.  She was blunt, and not so much of a gentlewoman as the other sisters; and sometimes when I went out with Miss Perkins, to see her favourite poor people, I used to be surprised at the fervour with which they would inquire after her; and I really could not commend their taste, for I thought her by no means interesting, and perhaps a little snappish sometimes.  But Miss Perkins one day put an end to my wonder.  'You see, my dear,' she began, for every speech of hers had this little exordium; 'you see, my dear, it is a very fortunate thing for us that Sarah is willing to devote herself to her needle as she does; for Anne and I have very little time, and Amelia could never bear work, excepting fancy work.  Now, fancy work, such as crochet and lambs'-wool patterns, are pretty, no doubt, but they are not of much use in a family like ours.  However, Amelia considers it not ladylike to sit turning gowns or darning table-cloths in the drawing-room; and as she never sits anywhere else, she does no work but what is fit for that room.  So, as I was saying, my dear,' she continued, 'it is a most fortunate thing that Sarah is so willing to work for us all.  She does nearly all our plain work, and as to trimming bonnets, making mantles, turning gowns and cloaks, and everything of that kind, she so entirely undertakes it all, that a dressmaker's bill is almost unknown to us.  She has such an eye for a pattern, my dear; and that, you know, is a great advantage.  We should often look very shabby, if it was not for her.  And then, it is surprising how she can cut down gowns and cloaks, and turn them, and make them look decent and creditable for the poor, and with what a little expense she can make warm quilts and wraps for our poor old rheumatic neighbours.  It would be a sad thing for us, and for a good many beside us, if anything were to happen to Sarah.'

    These were the ladies of the first family.

    I now come to the character of her who caused me so many doubts and speculations.  My doubts were (among others) what the mission of Miss Amelia Perkins could possibly be in this world, and my speculations were (among others) as to who would be the worse off if she were taken from it, and who would be the better.

    Miss Amelia Perkins never did anything.

    Let me not, however, be misunderstood.  When I say that she never did anything, I mean that she never did anything that she designed to be for the comfort or assistance of others.  There were no duties that she habitually performed; there was no place that she occupied; no one looked to her, or depended on her for anything; no one seemed to be the better for her; she seemed to have no more to do with the course of that stream of life on which she floated than the least little piece of weed may have, that being detached from its stem, goes sailing down its native brook towards the sea.

    Miss Amelia Perkins was moderately good-looking, and to strangers had rather a pleasing manner.  She thought it unladylike ever to bustle and be in a hurry, as her sisters sometimes were: she often said people could do what they had to do without that.  Accordingly, she was never in a bustle; but then, as I said before, she never had anything particular to do.

    She felt that it was a painful thing to be in straitened circumstances, and soon confided this pain to me.  She said it often weighed on her spirits, and her sisters, being less sensitive, did not so much feel the trial of it.  'And it seems so hard,' she said, 'to have so little to spend on one's clothes; the others, not having much taste in dress, don't mind it.  Besides, being so much older, it matters less to them.'

    'Excepting your sister Bessie,' I observed.

    'O yes, Bessie,' she replied; 'Bessie.'

    'Well,' I remarked, 'is it not natural that Bessie should like to be well dressed?'

    'Oh, Bessie,' she repeated; 'why, Bessie is so very plain, that it would be absurd in her to expect to be admired, even if she were handsomely dressed.'

    I replied that I had always heard it said, that the handsomer people were, the less dependent they were on dress.

    Miss Amelia did not appear to agree with my remark, and when I went on to say that I thought Bessie a remarkably happy person, and one who seemed particularly contented, she replied that she supposed Bessie was satisfied with her lot: she saw no reason why she should be otherwise; and then she said that all her sisters were very fond of Bessie.  'In fact,' she continued, 'every one must see what an unfair difference they make between us.'

    I could not but open my eyes at this, and purposely misunderstanding her, I said, 'You mean, perhaps, that they always ask Bessie to do the errands, and write the letters, and read the newspaper to Miss Sarah, while she is at work; things which they never think of asking you to do.  Yes, that does seem rather unfair.'

    Miss Amelia, on this, fixed her cold grey eyes on me, and not being quite sure whether I spoke in earnest or in irony, sat down to the piano, and never favoured me with any further confidence.  Notwithstanding which, we became so thoroughly aware, Miss Amelia and myself, that we mutually disliked each other, that we shortly made it evident to the other ladies of the family; in consequence of which I received some hints from the excellent Miss Sarah, which I thought it incumbent on me to attend to.

    You must know that Miss Bessie Perkins had a great wish to learn sketching, and I offered to teach her; but as she had a good deal to do in helping her sisters, several days passed before she could take a lesson.  One very clear afternoon, Bessie announced that she could go with me; and we were ready, and just about to start, when she exclaimed, 'Oh, the letter!  I quite forgot it.  How troublesome!'

    'Must it be written today?' I inquired.

    'O yes,' she replied; 'because it is a business letter to our trustees, and Sarah is going to dictate it to me.'

    'Then one person can write it as well as another,' said I, mischievously; 'you had better ask Amelia to do it.'

    'Amelia is just beginning to practise,' said Bessie; and in truth I heard the old cracked piano sounding up-stairs.

    'I will tell her you want to go out,' I exclaimed, and no doubt she will write it, for she has been out.'  So I ran up-stairs, and delivered my message.  Miss Amelia's brow clouded: 'It really is a strange thing,' said she, that Bessie cannot do her own business herself.  I heard her myself, at breakfast-time, offer to write that letter.'

    'But she has been helping Miss Sarah all the morning,' said I, 'and I did not know that the letter was more her business than yours.'

    'Sarah should have released her sooner,' said Amelia, coldly.

    Finding me bent on gaining my point, she at last said that perhaps she might do it when she had done practising; but on my reminding her that that would be too late for the post, she began again at the piano, and as I could obtain no satisfactory answer as to whether she would or would not do it, I was obliged to shut the door, and come down stairs again in no very amiable humour, for I was angry that my favourite Bessie was to be debarred of her walk, and that Amelia should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of all her sisters' labours without contributing anything to them.  Bessie had already taken off her bonnet, and was writing at Miss Sarah's dictation.

    'Miss Sarah,' I began—'I understand, my dear,' she answered, nodding; 'we shall find it less trouble by far to do it ourselves than get it done for us.'

    She did not speak bitterly, but as if it was a matter of course.

    As the affair was no business of mine, it was a pity that I interfered further in it, by saying, 'Miss Sarah, whose gown are you mending?'

    She smiled, as if amused at my remark and my heat in the matter, and replied that it was Amelia's.  'I know Amelia means to go out again and see the steamer come in,' she said; 'and I don't choose she should do it with her gown in this state.'

    'But,' said I, 'if it were not mended, she could not go out, and then she would have time to write the letter.'

    'Yes, my dear, she could,' said Miss Sarah; 'and it would be a discredit to us—I've been ashamed of it some time past—or she could wear her best gown, and that we cannot afford.'

    This explanation was unanswerable.  'Come, my dear,' said Miss Sarah, who just then was in a very good humour, 'suppose you help me a little.'  So saying, she put a sleeve into my hand, and I took it with a very good grace, for I was ashamed of having interfered.  And I sat down quietly, and proceeded to trim it with fresh gimp.

    When the letter was finished, I returned the sleeve, and Miss Sarah asked me if I felt any cooler; she laughed, and I could not forbear saying that there were some things which provoked my temper very much.

    'My dear,' she answered, and hesitated, but presently proceeded, with a sigh, 'you would find this provocation quite beyond your powers to set right.'

    'I am sure if I were you,' I said, 'I should not be so patient.'

    'Sarah,' said Bessie, laughing, 'Miss T. says she cannot think what Amelia's mission is—I told her Amelia had no particular mission.'

    'Did you, child?' said Miss Sarah.  'Well, if Miss T. lived here long, she would find that Amelia had a very decided mission.'

    'What may it be, Miss Sarah?' I inquired.

    'To teach you forbearance and patience, my dear,' she answered, 'and try your temper; for at present I think you are ignorant what sort of a temper you happen to have.  Ah! we none of us know what we are, till we are tried.'

    'But, Miss Sarah,' I replied, 'it seems shocking to think that some people should be sent into the world to teach others forbearance, only by being useless or unaccommodating.'

    'My dear,' she answered, 'far be it from me to say that the Almighty designed any of his creatures for such a purpose; I meant, that if we do not perform the good part that we all have it in our power to take upon us, God will make our evil subservient to the good of others.  God will turn our very faults into blessings, for our neighbours.  But, my dear, poor Amelia is young, and we have no right to judge her; we hope she may improve, and I feel sorry that I have been betrayed into speaking hastily of her.'

    So saying, Miss Sarah rose, and folding up the dress, sent Bessie up-stairs with it.  After which, we went to sketch; and for Miss Amelia's further doings, I must refer you to my next chapter.


 
CHAPTER II.

MISS AMELIA'S HIGH CONNEXIONS.


WHEN an author has no startling novelty in sentiment, no thrilling incident, no forcible argument to present to a reader, is it of any use to inform the reader of the fact, and occupy time in apologies for the same?  Or shall the reader be left to find it out for himself, as he assuredly will do?

    Much may be said on both sides.

    In general I take the second course, for never having any startling novelties of sentiment, or thrilling incidents, or forcible arguments to present, I might always be apologizing.

    But at the present moment I feel inclined to take the first course.  The history of a Cumberer, dear reader, or fair reader, or gentle reader, or whatever else that is complimentary, you expect to be called (according to the deceitful practice of authors, who are too much in the habit of flattering you with ideas of your superiority to themselves!) the history of a Cumberer can only contain accounts of those duties which the said Cumberer did not perform, those incidents in which she took no part, those projects which she hindered, those hours which she wasted, those talents which she did not improve, those acquaintances who wished her away, and those relations who bore with her as with a cross appointed for them.  Such is this history, and I apologize; but I will not again address you, my reader, by any endearing name, or any name which takes for granted imaginary excellences, since for anything I know you may be a Cumberer; and since, if I had not felt morally certain that among my readers were some characters like Miss Amelia Perkins, I never would have set my pen to these pages.

    But what, after all, did Amelia Perkins do, and what did she leave undone, that she is so severely spoken of?  Let me answer the question by an illustration.  If you have a piano, one note of which in the treble is mute, not one tune, even of the simplest kind, can be played on it—no music worth having can be drawn from it, without making this defect manifest; and yet the note is not actively offensive it merely does not sound.  But now suppose your note not mute, but merely out of harmony with them others, would it not spoil your music still?

    Now, call the piano a family, and call the Cumberer a faulty note, and you at once see the harm she does; she makes the tune imperfect when it does not sound, and when it does sound, jars.

    But to return to my story.

    Bessie and I went out to sketch, and sitting on the warm sea-beach we talked together about many things, and among those things, about Amelia.

    'It surprises me to see you all take this so coolly,' I said.

    'How can we help it?' answered Bessie.  'Sometimes Bobby says she thinks it was at school that Amelia learned to be ashamed of making herself useful in the house.'

    'But that does not apply to writing letters.'

    'No; but there are many things that she thinks not proper for a gentlewoman's occupation, and she does not do them.'

    'She went to school, then?'

    'Yes, to be sure.  The elder ones thought we ought to have a good education, for the property we live on is principally theirs.  It was their mother's, and does not come to us when they die.  Bobby blames herself for sending us to such a good school, but then Anne says, if we had gone to an inferior one we should not have learnt accomplishments so well, and as we may have to live by teaching, if we survive our sisters, they thought accomplishments necessary.'

    So, then, it was through the kindness and self-denial of her sisters that Miss Amelia had learnt those accomplishments which gave her now, as she thought, a right to despise them!

    How many mothers there are who are in the same case!  How many parents have toiled to give their children advantages which they principally use in finding out those parents' deficiencies!

    I went on diligently with the sketching, and said nothing, but, unlike the parrot in the fable, 'I thought the more.'

    That night, after I was in bed, I heard a great deal of noise in the street, but it did not hinder me from going to sleep, though it filled my dreams with impressions of jangling bells, rumbling carts, passing footsteps, and great confusion.

    I woke later than usual, and, to my astonishment, was told that scarcely a person in the town had slept but myself, for that a village, not two miles off, was discovered at midnight to be on fire in three places.  The cottages were thatched and closely built, and by sunrise were almost entirely burnt down.

    There was great commotion in the town all that day; the sufferers were lodged in the public library, a soup kitchen was opened, committees were formed, and the ladies of the town set a clothing fund on foot, and to make the money go further, agreed to cut out and make all the garments themselves.

    Now it happened that Amelia, during a visit, had made the acquaintance of a certain Mrs. Blount—the Honourable Mrs. Blount, of G―― Halland had contrived to please her very much.  This lady had just arrived at the place with her family, and Amelia was only waiting till a certain etiquette, peculiar to the place, had been complier with, to call upon her.

    Being charitable and influential, this lady was chosen to canvass a portion of the town for the clothing fund, and when Amelia heard it she became extremely anxious that everything in their house and garden should appear to the best advantage during Mrs. Blount's call.  She dressed early in her best, and was seated in the drawing-room occupied with some elegant piece of fancy work, when Mrs. Blount was announced, with Captain White, her brother.

    They sat a few minutes with Amelia, and then the sisters entered, bringing me with them to contribute my mite.

    Mrs. Blount unfolded her errand, and Miss Anne said that they heartily approved of the cause, and gave most willingly, though they could give but little.

    Mrs. Blount politely remarked, that if all families gave a little, the sufferers would have no reason to complain.

    Miss Bobby then produced the purse, and laid some money on the table.  I saw Amelia colour and look annoyed as her eye dropped on the money.

    Mrs. Blount received it graciously.  'And will you help us to make up some of the clothing?' said she, persuasively.

    'With pleasure,' cried Bobby.

    'With all my heart,' said Miss Ann.

    'I shall be very happy,' said Miss Sarah.  They all spoke at once, and Bessie and I expressed our wish to join.

    'There is nearly a week to do it in,' said Mrs. Blount.  'On Saturday evening it is to be returned finished: how much may I send?'

    'You are reckoning on my assistance of course, dear Mrs. Blount,' said Amelia.

    'O yes,' said Mrs. Blount, smiling, and laying her hand on Amelia's arm, 'that, of course, but don't over-fatigue yourself, my dear.  Miss Perkins, I hope you don't allow Amelia to do too much.'

    There was an awkward silence for an instant, then Miss Anne came to the rescue of Bobby.  'My dear sister is so careful of our comfort,' she said kindly, 'that no one is overworked here when it depends upon her.'

    Miss Sarah then named a certain number of garments, of different kinds.  'We can do so much,' she said, 'and return them punctually.'

    'Is that all?' said Amelia.  And to do her justice she spoke in ignorance, for she knew very little about plain work.

    'Oh, my dear,' said Mrs. Blount, in a low voice, 'you must not measure every one's zeal by your own;' then added aloud, 'I am sure your sister's offer is most liberal.'

    'It is not a question of how much we are willing to do,' said Miss Sarah, 'but how much we can do in the time.  And the case being urgent, I think if we all help, so much can be done in the time, and no more.'

    I thought it seemed rather a pity, when Amelia was so anxious to help, that more was not undertaken.

    As soon as Mrs. Blount had retired, Amelia gave her opinion very freely.  'Such a beggarly subscription!' she exclaimed.  'I'm sure Mrs. Blount will think us so mean.  Why can't Robina give a little more for once, instead of lowering us in the eyes of such fashionable people?'

    'We can but give what we have got,' said Anne, calmly.

    Amelia turned away muttering, 'Then why can't we take more of the work?  I'm sure I could do twice as much and I would, rather than Mrs. Blount should think we care nothing for what she is so zealous about; it looks so mean.'

    'What I have taken I shall divide into seven shares,' said Miss Sarah, 'two for myself, and one for each of you, and if we do that we shall all do well.  I hope Miss T., my dear, you remembered that it would entail some trouble on you when you offered to join.'

    'O yes, Miss Sarah; I shall not go out so much till my share is done.'

    'Excuse me, my dear; you are here on purpose to be out in the air.'

    'How shall I do the work, then, Miss Sarah?'

    'Why, my dear, you spend a good deal of time indoors in reading, and singing, and drying sea-weeds (and very pretty occupations those are for your age, I am sure); I advise you to give up all that for this week, or else there is still time to tell Mrs. Blount not to send so much work.'

    But no, I did not choose to give in; and as Miss Sarah had spoken to me rather as to a child, I was the more resolved to show that I was quite equal to womanly responsibilities.  So I said, rather more decidedly than the occasion called for, that indoors I would touch nothing but a needle till my share was done.

    The work then arrived, and Miss Sarah divided it, taking a double quantity to herself.

    She had just finished the division when Amelia came in, and considering how anxious she had been that more should be taken, it was surprising how she grumbled at the size of the bundles.  She inspected them all, and said they were very unfairly divided, some were far harder than others.

    'I don't think so,' said Miss Sarah; 'but if it is so, the advantage is yours, my dear, you have the first choice.'

    After tumbling them over for some minutes, Amelia chose a bundle for herself, and then one was given to me.

    It certainly was large, and perhaps my face betrayed a little dismay, for Miss Sarah presently put a shirt which she had already fixed into my hand, and said, 'There, go on with that, child, while I fix some of yours for you.'

    Right glad was I of this help; she put as much work in train for me as I could possibly do in one day, and then took back her own.

    I set to work cheerfully: she had removed all my difficulties; but she had no sooner resumed her own needle, than Amelia remarked on the unfairness of her proceedings.

    'There is Miss T. with a much easier bundle than mine, and yet you fix, and fit, and set for her, and expect me to get mine done in the same time.  Why, the fixing is more than half the trouble.'

    'I wonder you are not ashamed to compare yourself to that child,' whispered Miss Sarah, once more throwing down her own work; 'here, give your piece to me.'

    It makes me smile now to remember the mingled indignation and shame with which I heard the words 'that child.'

    Had I finished my education, and was I a head taller than Miss Sarah, and should I be called a child?  I had taken to my heart the comfortable doctrine that a person could but be grown-up, consequently I was as much grown-up as a woman of fifty.  Yet the world would persist in making all sorts of allowances for me that I did not thank them for, because of my years; how very hard!

    I mention this, as in fairness bound, because it urged me on to redoubled diligence; and no dressmaker working for her bread ever gave her mind more entirely to her work than I did mine for that first evening.

    One by one the sisters dropped in, and we were all hard at work and cheerful, excepting Amelia, who occupied a good deal of time in grumbling about her bundle, and arguing with Bessie as to the comparative hardness of linen and calico.

    At length she settled down, worked for an hour, and then declared that she had a pain under her left shoulder.

    'That is very common,' said Miss Sarah, 'with people who are not accustomed to sit at the needle.'

    But Amelia declared she was accustomed to it; and began to argue about that, till she made herself quite cross; and then she said that as things did not seem to go on comfortably, perhaps she had better read aloud, for there was nothing but arguing.

    The sisters agreed.  I suppose they thought it was a good change, for she was doing very little work, and annoying them by her temper.  So Amelia got a book, but it appeared that she had read the first two chapters, and when they said they had not, she opened her cold, grey eyes, and asked if they expected her to begin again.

    'No,' said Bobby, 'go on where you are.'

    So Amelia went on; but the book contained a story, and she read a page or two with several interruptions, such as—'Who is Mrs. Duncan?' 'Why, I told you she was the heroine's mother.'  'Ay, so you did; pass the cotton, Bobby.'  'And who is this paternal friend?'  'Oh, I told you before I began, that she lived with an old uncle.'  'Ah, that's him then; just tell Mary to tell the baker we don't want any cottage bread, Bessie; I see him coming up to the door.  Well, go on, Amelia.'

    'Oh, if you take so little interest, I might as well spare myself the trouble,' said Amelia, in her most morose tones; 'it's very disheartening to go on and nobody attending.'

    'I thought you were reading for us, not yourself,' said Miss Sarah.

    'So I am,' answered Amelia, with asperity.

    'Then we must stop you when it doesn't suit us to listen,' replied Sarah.

    'We can attend now,' said Miss Anne, and the reading went on; evidently teasing the good ladies very much, for the baker sent in a message, and a whispered answer had to be returned by Mary, and there were halfpence wanted to make up the change for his bill; this had to be made known by grimaces to the sisters, and one and another produced pence from her pocket, till the amount was sufficient, and then an odd penny rolled under the table, and Bessie stooped to pick it up, while a whisper went round that the black cotton reel was missing, and Bessie diving once more, bumped her head, upon which they all cried out, 'Bless me!'  This was too much; Amelia shut the book with a sudden jerk, and exclaimed, 'If you're determined not to hear, I may as well read to myself.'

    'Do,' said Miss Sarah; accordingly she did, and so ended the first evening much more pleasantly, I must say, than it had begun.

    Not to make a short story long, on Tuesday evening Amelia was very much behind-hand.  On Wednesday, when walking time came, she asked me to go and call with her on the Blounts.  I could have no objection, and she came up with me to my room, chose what she wished me to wear, and dressed me herself with great attention; then she arrayed herself in her best, and we paid our call.

    I was surprised, and felt rather ashamed of the way in which she spoke of her sisters to Mrs. Blount.  I was sure it would give her friend the impression that they were purposely eccentric, dressed shabbily from mere love of singularity, and for the same reason made their own dresses and cakes themselves.

    It flashed into my mind that she had superintended my toilet and taken me with her because I was better dressed than her excellent sisters would have been.  I was ashamed of myself for suspecting her motive, when I found she was leading me to mention some people of rank in our neighbourhood, with whom I happened to have been staying.  She did it so cleverly that I was a mere tool in her hands, and I thought she wished to exalt her companion by way of raising herself.

    But when we had left the house, it seemed to me that I must have fancied all this, till she took me to pay another call, and there tried to do the same thing; but though I was afraid of her, I had sense enough to thwart her.

    'Bless me, my dear, what a pretty dress!' said the simple-hearted Miss Bobby, when I came in.

    Miss Sarah asked me to approach her, that she might see how the skirt was trimmed; I obeyed, and while displaying it, Amelia went up-stairs, and I discovered to my surprise that the sisters did not know she meant to pay her call that day, and when she did, had fully intended to accompany her.

    That evening I again took my walk, and the other ladies being busy at work, Amelia went with me, stipulating that as she was obliged to go, some one should work at her bundle in the meantime.  I knew as well as her sisters did that she wished to go, though she thus made a merit of it, but neither they nor I supposed that she would remain out till it was dark, that more of her work might be done.

    I knew that it was not customary for two young ladies to be walking about in the dusk among crowds of fine folks, but Amelia took me out so far that I was sure it would be very late when we reached home.  At last she turned, and we began to walk back quickly, but just in the most public part of the beach she heard a voice that she knew, and ashamed of being seen, she seized my hand and hurried me to an empty bathing machine; in an instant she had dragged me up the steps.  'Come in here,' she whispered, 'Mrs. Blount is coming, and I wouldn't have her see me out here at night for a good deal so very unfashionable!'

    I felt heartily ashamed as she pushed me into a corner.  The voices and footsteps approached; unfortunately Mrs. Blount and her companion took it into their heads to sit down on the steps, and we were obliged to overhear their conversation.

    There was nothing but canvas between us, and the voices were quite distinct.  'Her father is Mr. T―― the author of ―― they are a Highland family.'

    'Poor and proud, no doubt, like the rest of the clan,' said another voice.

    Something followed that I did not hear; my cheeks were tingling with shame at this enforced listening, and Mrs. Blount's voice went on still speaking of me.  'Yes, a tall slip of a girl, very insipid, and no companion for her, but a lady, and that's something.'

    'Ah!' rejoined the manly voice, 'I pity that sweet Amelia, condemned to live with those second-rate old quizzes.'

    Mrs. Blount sighed, 'Poor Amelia; I must have her a good deal with me while I'm here;' and then they got up and walked on, saying how late it was, and we sneaked out of the machine and went home; Amelia in a state of the highest elation, and I of the deepest indignation and shame.

    There were the second-rate sisters hard at work, and Amelia, when asked why she was so late, condescended to scarcely any answer, and took up her candle with an air of easy superiority.

    The next day at breakfast a note arrived from Mrs. Blount, asking Amelia to join a yachting party at ten o'clock, and bring her young friend with her.

    'Oh, of course we shall go,' cried Amelia.

    'Let Miss T. speak for herself,' said Bobby.

    As Amelia was to be of the party, it was no self-denial to me to decline, which I did, saying, that if I went I could not finish my share of work.

    But Amelia was determined; it was cruel, she declared, to deprive her of almost the only friend she cared about, the only person that was congenial to her, or sympathized with her, so little society as she had, so little to vary her existence in that dull place.

    At last her sisters were worked upon so far as to ask me to go as a favour to themselves; but the conversation in the bathing-machine was fresh in my mind, and I held back.  And none of themselves could go, for unluckily Mrs. Blount had put in a 'P.S.—If your young friend cannot come, we shall hope to see you both some other day;' thus taking care to exclude those whom she had ignorantly called second-rate people.

    Now I knew the work was almost more than we could do, and besides (potent reason!) I had been called a child; I knew the housekeeping and gardening and exercise had to be set aside for it, and had heard discussions as to how late on Saturday it could with propriety be sent in, so I still said I wished to do my work, and proposed to Amelia that we should wait and both go another time.

    But she was much my senior, and had made me a little afraid of her: she was determined to go, and after a very disagreeable scene, in which she accused her sisters of persuading a delicate young girl to sit indoors sewing to the injury of her health, moping and toiling, which she was sure her parents never intended, she so far prevailed as to make all the family bent upon my accepting the invitation.  I saw they had been touched on a tender point, and were much pained.  I declared that I had taken the work to please myself, but was so sorry to see their flushed faces that I gave way, and went upstairs to dress, but in such an ill-humour, and so indignant, that I took care to let Amelia know that I was only going to please her sisters, and not to please her.

    I will not attempt to describe the events of that miserable day.  Nicely dressed, and rendered a little more good-tempered by our walk in the fresh air, Amelia and I presented ourselves at the appointed place.  We were received with smiling cordiality, and we embarked.

    The sun sparkled on the water, but the wind began to freshen, and our cheeks began to fade, till shortly, with two other miserable girls of the party, we were led down stairs, and shut up in the little cabin, and there we dragged out a wretched existence till it was quite dark night.  The rest of the company, not being ill, enjoyed themselves ; they had music and a splendid collation, and they made a great noise.

    It was ten o'clock when the yacht made the pier, and we crawled out, finding Miss Perkins and Sarah waiting for us in some anxiety, for they thought some accident must have happened to make us so late.

    But I must defer the remainder of my recollections for a future chapter.


 
CHAPTER III.

AMELIA OFFERS HER SERVICES.


IT was quite dark, when, exhausted and faint, Amelia and I were led home by Miss Perkins and Sarah.  They put us to bed, and gave us dry toast and hot wine and water.  Sarah attended to Amelia, and I fell to Miss Bobby's share.  I heard the motherly creature lamenting over me; wishing she had let me stay at home, and declaring that anxiety had made her quite wretched about us both, for she had thought how it would be when the wind began to rise, and (kind-hearted woman!) had been wishing all day that she had been there instead of us, for she couldn't bear young people to be disappointed when they went out expecting to enjoy themselves.

    Miss Robina was still sitting by my bed, consoling and petting, when I fell into a sound sleep, and happily forgot my troubles.

    It is curious how sometimes a little sound heard in sleep will influence and change the current of our dreams.  It was natural that I should dream of the yacht, but odd that I should mingle with this the idea of stitching.  I dreamed that it was dark night, and that, seated on the deck, Bobby and Sarah were hard at work, mending the torn sail of the yacht.  The wind had sunk; it was a dead calm, and the water so still that I could see the reflection of the stars on its black surface; some candles were burning beside us, but hard as the sisters worked, the rent seemed to grow under their hands.  I was trying to help, and had a miserable certainty that till this sail could be put up, we never could reach the land, therefore I was frightened to find fresh holes every moment, and to hear Bobby say, 'How ever this is to be done, I don't know.'  I thought how shocking it would be if we never could reach the land again; but in another instant Sarah said, in such a distinct voice, 'Pass the cotton-reel,' that I sprang up half-awake, exclaiming that I could not find it.

    I saw a candle in my room; Sarah and Robina were sitting hard at work by my table.  I heard the sound of their needles, just as before in my dream, but it was not a sail they were working on, it was one of those bundles of clothes.  Miss Bobby was at my side in an instant.  I exclaimed against this sitting up, said I was quite well, and did not require anything.  She replied, that I was very feverish, and she could not have slept even if she had gone to bed.  'Besides, my dear, I thought you would like a cup of tea; the teapot is kept hot for you, and Amelia has just had some.'

    I could not decline this tempting offer.  Miss Perkins presently brought me some tea; and when I expressed my regret at giving this trouble, she declared that she and Sarah had decided to sit up till four o'clock, to get on with the work, for they knew that Amelia and I would be fit for very little the next day.  'And you see, my dear, when we were up, it was no trouble just to steal down and keep up the kitchen fire.  And neither of you was well enough to be left the first part of the night, so it was fortunate that we had this work to do, wasn't it? it was something to keep us awake.'

    Kind, good creature!

    She and Miss Sarah shortly retired to bed, leaving me, as I thought, quite well; but on coming down the next morning I found I could do very little, and that Amelia was lying on the sofa in a very feverish state of mind, sure that if she could have some beef-tea she should be better, and then, when Bobby had made her some (Mary not being a good hand at it), discovering that if she could have had it earlier in the day it would have done her good, but now she didn't like it.  In short, Amelia was very cross; and but for seeing how unpleasant she was when she gave way to her temper, very likely I should have been cross too.

    The sisters sat all the morning hard at work.  Amelia's bundle was scarcely begun, mine was one whole day behind-hand, yet the work was promised for Saturday, and must not be late, because the poor families were to appear at the different places of worship on Sunday, when some further collections were to be made for them.

    Yet though Amelia knew this, she made several demands upon her sisters' time, and never said a word which seemed to intimate that she was sorry she had been the cause of all this extra work, hurry, and fatigue, or that she was sorry she had been so bent upon the yachting party.  As for me, I believe I could have worked if I had been allowed to do so; but being under their care, these generous women could not bear that there should be the least shadow of cause for Amelia's accusation that I was shut up indoors and induced to work by them; they therefore took advantage of their authority and my youth, to forbid my working at all that day.

    In the afternoon Mrs. Blount called to inquire how we were, and took Amelia and myself for a drive in her pony carriage.  I sat behind, Amelia in front, and I scarcely heard any of the conversation, excepting once when we stopped at a gardener's ground, that Mrs. Blount might buy some fine calceolarias.  While we were waiting for them, I heard her say carelessly, as if referring to a matter of no consequence, 'I suppose you were obliged to give some of the work you took to your servants.'  I did not hear Amelia's answer; but Mrs. Blount's remark was not without its effect, for when Amelia came in and found her sisters hard at work in the hot parlour, she remarked on the folly of their giving themselves all the trouble, and asked why they did not give some of the work to Fanny the housemaid.

    'She has not time for more work than I always expect of her,' said Miss Perkins.

    'She might do this instead, for once,' proceeded Amelia.

    'Then I should have to do herbs,' said Miss Bobby, 'and what would be the good of that?'

    But Amelia was not convinced.  'Other people's servants contrive to find time,' she said.  'Mrs. Blount tells me that her maid and the nurse have done a great deal of that work this week.'

    'Humph,' said Sarah.

    'And then there's Mary,' continued Amelia; 'really I don't know what she finds to do.'

    'You know very little about a cook's work,' said Anne, calmly; 'your saying so is a proof of it.'

    Her dispassionate manner seemed to communicate itself to Miss Perkins, who said, more good-humouredly than before, 'Mary has a good deal to do this week that I generally undertake myself.'

    'But there's the evening, at any rate,' persisted Amelia, who could not bear to be always proved in the wrong.  'When she has washed the dishes, what can she have to do more?'

    'Why, if you really want to know,' said Bessie, with some heat, 'she has to pluck the fowls that we are going to have for dinner to-morrow, and she has an errand to do.'

    'Moreover,' said Bobby, 'she is a very poor hand with her needle, and I should be sorry to trust her with the work, even if she had time.'

    Amelia said it was a very strange thing; and on my remarking, as we walked up-stairs to take off our bonnets, that her sisters all looked flushed and tired, she said, 'Nobody shall ever make me believe that our servants cannot work like other people's.'

    'But only consider,' said I, 'Mrs. Blount's maid has nothing to do but to wait on her personally; and as for the nurse, there is only that one little girl to attend.  She can sit at work for hours on the beach, while the child plays at her side.'

    'A great deal you know about these matters, on doubt,' said Amelia, in a taunting voice.  However, if Robina and all of them CHOOSE to do the work themselves, I have spoken my mind about it, and it is no concern of mine.  The servants can do it if they will tell them, and if they won't, it cannot be helped.'

    To this speech, not having learned much forbearance from the example of the ladies down-stairs, I returned an answer more than sufficiently warm, reminding Amelia that the hurry and trouble we had seen below was solely and exclusively our doing, for we had each lost two days, and if we had done our part, there would have been plenty of time, and taking part with the sisters for their indulgent forbearance.

    It was not to be supposed that the matter would rest there; Amelia answered, and we wrangled and quarrelled for fully half an hour with much ironical civility of speech, but considerable bitterness of feeling, the ground of dispute being shortly forgotten, till in the midst of the contest, and when we were both so much excited that there was danger lest our temper should show itself in heightened voices, as it did already in heightened colour, I heard a step on the stairs, and running to my own room, shut and locked myself in, and refreshed myself with a fit of crying, partly caused by vexation, partly by humiliation.  It did me a great deal of good, and on reflection I felt heartily ashamed of myself, for I knew that it was not my business to interfere with Amelia, and I knew that I had not done so with the most distant hope of reforming her, but only for the sake of speaking my mind.  And all this while I might have done essential good if I had been working down-stairs instead of quarrelling up-stairs, but now my eyes were so red that I was ashamed to go down, and I had to spend another half-hour in cooling my face with my fan, and walking up and down my room with the window open.

    I went down at last, and gave a little help; but when I retired at night, I felt a secret conviction that unless somebody sat up to do it, the work would not be finished in time.

    I lay awake thinking of this till I heard Amelia come up-stairs, and Miss Perkins and Sarah follow at their usual time; but the room over mine remained empty, and I lay listening to the striking of the quarters till it only wanted a quarter to three, and then I heard footsteps.  It was as I had thought, Anne and Bessie were stealing up to their room, and treading so carefully that the stairs creaked, as they perversely do on those occasions, ten times more than under less guarded feet.

    The end of this was that the work was finished, and by three o'clock on Saturday sent in.  No one blamed Sarah for having named too large a quantity, though she herself took it as much to heart as if she had miscalculated their powers on purpose.  No one cared either to find fault with Amelia; they seemed rather to think that they ought to have known better than to depend on her; and as for me, they made the most indulgent allowance for my deficiencies, which was always their habit while I stayed with them.

    On Monday the other sisters were as brisk as usual, but Anne was evidently unwell, and spent the morning on the sofa, unable to go into her garden.  Mrs. Blount called and told Amelia and me (who with Anne were in the drawing-room) how all the committee had remarked on the quantity of work that had come from the Misses Perkins.  'It shows,' said Mrs. Blount, 'how much can be done by combined effort.'  No one spoke.  Amelia did not say anything, and I could not.  She continued, 'It is so pleasant and cheerful when such a large circle is at work at once, and they do it with no trouble to themselves.  I often think of that true proverb, "Many hands make light work."  No doubt it cost you less trouble than the small pieces taken by single people cost them.'

    I glanced at Amelia when this was said, and while explaining to Mrs. Blount that I had not done nearly the whole of my share, having missed two entire days, and that Miss Perkins and Sarah had sat up to do it for me, I saw such a vivid colour rise in Amelia's cheeks, that I knew she was ashamed to appropriate Mrs. Blount's compliments to herself, though she had not the honesty to disavow them.

    'And now, my dears, as you are both still looking a little the worse for that wretched yachting affair, suppose you take a drive with me this afternoon?'

    We were perfectly well, but I suppose she required some reason for excluding the rest of the family, and I thought she might have noticed how pale Miss Anne looked after the confinement and fatigue of the past week.

    Amelia assented with a gentle sweetness of manner, which she never exhibited but to strangers.  She said she often felt languid in hot weather, and was always glad of air.

    I declined; and at the same time, as Mrs. Blount was really very good-natured, I ventured to glance at her and then at Miss Anne.  It seemed to strike her at once that she had not been civil, and she said with a very good grace, 'Perhaps you are not too much engaged to-day to go with us, Miss Perkins,' putting such an emphasis on the word to-day, as seemed to say, 'I should have asked you before if I had not known that you were busy.'

    Anne looked up surprised, but not displeased; she admitted that she should like a drive, and the two sisters withdrew together to dress, leaving me alone with Mrs. Blount.

    I was extremely glad when they shut the door, for I saw she could scarcely refrain from laughing, and the moment they were out of earshot, she exclaimed, 'Now you unconscionable little puss, why have you hampered me with that faded spinster?  Don't you know that she must sit in front in virtue of her seniority, and Amelia behind?'

    'Yes, but she is very interesting, Mrs. Blount.'

    'When my daughter is seventeen, I shall not expect her to dictate to seven-and-thirty.'

    'But, Mrs. Blount—' I began.

    'Pooh, nonsense!  I tell you I am not angry, I am extremely amused.'

    I thought if Miss Anne found out how and why she had been invited to take this drive, it would do her no good, so I continued to tell all I could think of in her favour.  She seemed interested, and called me a female Quixote, and when Anne and Amelia came in, said, to my great confusion, 'Well, good-by, Mentoria, remember you are to drive with me tomorrow.'

    Her affectionate manner, and, perhaps, her taking Anne out, made Amelia tremble for her exclusive possession of this fashionable friend, and she gave me a very black look, which, unfortunately, Mrs. Blount saw, and was thus put into possession of the fact that Amelia would rather her sister had not been invited.

    They were out a long time, and when they returned, Anne seemed little refreshed, and Amelia was out of humour.  Mrs. Blount had scarcely spoken to her all the time.  'In fact,' she said, just as Anne was about to leave the room, 'it must have been equally dull for us both.'

    'Remember that I did not ask her to take me,' said Anne, looking back before she shut the door.

    'No,' muttered Amelia, 'I have to thank somebody else for that.'

    I dreaded lest Anne should hear, and when Amelia went on with sarcastic politeness to say how much she was indebted to me for interfering between her and her friend, I had not a word to answer, and was obliged to be very civil all the evening to avert her further remarks.

    The next morning Anne was too ill to come down, and Bessie told me that she never could sit indoors for long together without suffering for it afterwards.

    This was said before Amelia, who fired up instantly, and said Anne need not have worked unless she had chosen.  'I told Robina at the time, that it could be done easily enough if she would give it to the servants as other people did.'

    Bessie made no answer.  She was pouring out tea for the invalid's breakfast, and she presently carried it up-stairs.  Many times during the day I saw one and another of the sisters running up stairs with the various little things that were wanted for Anne's comfort; but Amelia was never one of them.  In the evening the medical man was called in, and his report evidently made Sarah uneasy.  Miss Perkins was more cheerful, but I noticed that she sat up with Anne that night, and the next day was tired and dispirited.

    I was quite struck then with the position occupied by a Cumberer.  Nothing went on well in the household affairs, because the ladies were withdrawn from their usual occupations, and Amelia did not attempt to throw herself into the vacant place.  She evidently had no idea how to assist her sisters, even if she had wished; and it seemed to be a maxim firmly fixed in her mind that people were not overtasked, not anxious, not in want of help, not glad to be helped, unless they said so.  She remarked to me during the day, that knowing how to nurse and wait on sick people was a gift, not a thing to be learned, and that her elder sisters had it.  In truth, I did not wonder that they did not appeal to her to help them, for I think nothing is so miserable to a sick person as to feel that she has an unwilling nurse, and to be afraid of asking for what she wants.

    Yet Amelia did not wish to appear inactive, for when Sarah came down in a hurry wanting some arrow-root, though Amelia did not know how to make it, she said, 'It's a strange thing when I am anxious to help, that you do not choose to let me.'

    'Well,' said Sarah, as she left the room, there are the letters to post.  I shall be glad if you'll do that.'

    'Post the letters!' said Amelia, in an injured tone, when Sarah was gone; 'why, any servant can do that; it must be evident to the most prejudiced person that they don't choose to let me help.'

    Just then Mary came in.  'Have you anything particular to do just now?' asked Amelia.

    The maid said, 'No, not now, that Miss Sarah had gone up with the arrow-root.'  'Then post these letters,' said Amelia; and she took them, Amelia saying, that willing as she was to help, she did not choose to be turned into an errand-girl to please Sarah's caprice.

    Mary had been gone a long time, when I suddenly fancied that a bell, which had been rung several times, had not been answered, and I ran up to Miss Anne's room to ask about it.

    'No, my dear,' said Miss Bobby, 'I did not ring.'

    I came down; again the bell rang.  I now found it was the door-bell, and answered it myself.

    There stood both the servants, Mary and Fanny.  'Dear Miss,' said Mary, 'I never gave it a thought that Fanny was out, when I said I had nothing to do.  I did not know it, I'm sure, and I thought she would be down directly.'

    'No,' said Fanny, 'Missis sent me out for some sal-volatile, and I went in a hurry.'

    They proceeded to the kitchen, and there was exclaiming and lifting up of hands; the fire was out.  'Deary me!' cried Mary, ready to cry, 'and Miss Anne's pudding spoilt in the oven; I know it'll be as heavy as lead.'

    While they were scratching out the cinders and lighting the fire, I ran up stairs with the sal-volatile.  'My dear,' said Miss Perkins, 'would you kindly ask whether the pudding is ready?  Anne fancies she could eat some.'  I was obliged to tell her that I knew it was not ready; and when at length it came up, Sarah said it looked strange, and the invalid scarcely touched it, and evidently did not relish it at all.

    There was another night of sitting up and anxiety, and in the morning Bessie did nothing but cry and sob all breakfast-time, and Amelia looked grave.  But when the doctor came and spoke cheerfully, though I observed without giving any opinion as to the termination of the illness, Amelia blamed Bessie for being so nervous, and said she wondered at her weakness.

    'You have not been with her as I have,' sobbed Bessie.  'Robina called me up to help her in the night, and Anne—Anne—talked nonsense.'

    'Called you up!  Oh, that accounts for your crying; you are tired, that's all.  I have perfect confidence in Dr. W.  Anne is only feverish.'

    Notwithstanding this philosophical view of the matter, Bessie continued to sob hysterically, till at last I persuaded her to go and lie down, while I went and sat on the stairs to take down messages for Miss Sarah, Robina being gone to bed.

    I could not be of much use; but when I urged Sarah to employ me, she said decidedly, 'My dear, I would not do you such an unkindness as to let you be useless and idle if I can help it; we don't know, my dear, how soon such habits may grow.  You may take this prescription to the chemist's to be made up.'

    So I did that, and then took up my station again on the stairs, and was seldom wanted, though Sarah kindly said she liked to know that some one was there in case she did want anything.

    This was indeed but a slight service, but I have since thought that Miss Sarah accepted it more for my good than for her own; and I have felt grateful for a consideration that would not repulse the most inefficiency assistance.


 
CHAPTER IV.

THE FLOWER-GIRL LOSES A FRIEND.


MISS ANNE continued very unwell, and I was told that her fever increased.  About nine o'clock, Miss Perkins returned to the sick-room, and Sarah went to bed.  She was very tired, and let me help her to undress; then, hearing a ring at the door-bell, she asked me to go and see if it was Anne's medicine.  I ran down with an almost childish wish to be important and useful, which no doubt she saw, though I did not suspect it.

    It was not the medicine that had arrived, but a note from Mrs. Blount to Amelia, asking her to join a picnic party the next day, and, as usual, to bring me with her.

    Amelia, to do her justice, had seen so little of Anne during her illness, that it was no wonder she underrated its importance, and I was too ignorant to undeceive her.  Mrs. Blount knew nothing of it, and the invitation had thrown Amelia into a state of great perplexity; she wished to go, and yet she did not wish to be thought unfeeling.  She therefore accepted, but said that if Anne were worse the following day, Mrs. Blount must excuse her.

    I did not know whether my absence for the day might not be a relief to the sisters, and I went up to Miss Sarah to ascertain what she really wished me to do.

    She seemed to understand that I truly wished to do what was most agreeable to them, and after a moment's thought, said that the last party had turned out so badly, that she and Miss Perkins would be anxious about me, as I was delicate and under their care; for that Mrs. Blount, though kind, would not be prudent or careful as regarded our health; and then she kindly added, that perhaps I might be of use to her, and therefore, on the whole, she did not hesitate to say that she wished me to stay at home.

    Bessie was kept up that night to help Miss Perkins, and the next morning, when Amelia and I met her on the stairs, she said she did not think Anne was any worse.  Amelia, however, thought she had better not go till he had heard her eldest sister's report, and she lingered on the stairs some little time, but Miss Perkins did not come out, and at last she said, 'Well, as Dr. W. had not arrived, and Bessie said Anne was certainly no worse, she supposed she ought to go; at any rate she had better go up and dress.'  So she did, and then Mrs. Blount came and said how strange it would be of Amelia to stay at home because one of her sisters was a little poorly and lying in bed; were there not three at home to take care of her?

    'Anne is really ill,' began Amelia.

    'Oh, well, my dear, do as you like; but I thought from your note, it was most likely a feverish cold, and I quite expected to find her on the sofa to-day.'

    Now, either Amelia must have felt secretly convinced that Anne was much worse than she had said, or she had better feelings than we had given her credit for, and felt deeply ashamed to leave her sisters to another day of toil; certainly she had a severe struggle with herself, before she could decide to leave the better part and go out on a party of pleasure.  It was not till Mrs. Blount remarked what a united family they were, and how sweetly they sympathized with one another, that Amelia yielded herself to go with a friend whose society and flattery were so delightful to her, and who, I fully believe, had no idea of the extent of Anne's illness.

    So Amelia set off, and I sat alone till Sarah came down, and had her breakfast; Miss Perkins joining her, and telling me that she should be very glad if I would order the dinner for her, and cast up the slate.  I was also to pay one or two bills.  These little things being new to me, occupied my mind during the greater part of the morning; and when I had written to my parents, I was surprised to find that it was two o'clock, the usual dinner-hour.  I heard that Dr. W. had paid his visit almost directly after Amelia went away, and as the house was very quiet all the morning, I hoped Anne was asleep.  As I had taken some pains in ordering the dinner, I was a good deal disappointed when a message was sent to me, asking me to sit down alone, and the ladies would come when they were able.  So I dined, and then waited till everything was cold, and till Fanny proposed that the dishes should be taken to the kitchen-fire till the ladies came down.

    I felt very desolate, and did not know what to do with myself.  Bessie was gone to bed, and Miss Sarah had requested me not to sit on the stairs.  At last I took up an amusing book that Amelia had borrowed, and was deep in the story, when I heard a man's step coming down stairs, and Dr. W. came in.  I was surprised, and asked him if he had been up to see Miss Anne again.

    He answered, 'Ma'am, I have,' and then he sat down and looked at me attentively, till I felt rather confused, more especially as he suddenly broke the silence by saying, sententiously, 'Ha! bottled porter!'

    'I am afraid there is none in the house,' said I rising, 'but I'll see.'

    'Pooh!' said the doctor, 'sit down.  Yes—bottled porter.'

    I then understood that he intended to recommend this beverage to me.

    'What's the matter with you?' he next said.

    'Nothing,' I replied, 'but that I have been growing very fast.'

    'Ah! well: have you any friends here, ma'am?' said the old gentleman.

    I answered in the negative.

    'Any acquaintances, ma'am?'

    'Only one, very recently made—Mrs. Blount.

    'Mrs. Blount. I know her: all right.  Suppose you go and spend a day or two with her.'

    Seeing me look up amazed, he said, 'Well, then, suppose you go home.'

    'My parents are travelling in France.'

    'What of that, ma'am?  They have not taken the house with them, I suppose?'

    I could scarcely help laughing, while I answered, No, but that the house was being painted.

    'Painted! people are always painting.  Never was anything known like the luxury of the present day—never.  Well, ma'am, young people are always in the way at these times, and never of any use.'

    I was so surprised and perplexed at this speech, that I did not know what to answer.

    'Well, ma'am,' he continued, after waiting for me to speak, 'I'm sorry you don't see the thing in the light I could have wished, and here's my carriage quite at your service to take you to Mrs. Blount.  You would really be better away, for I shall be surprised if that poor thing lives through the night.'

    My astonishment and terror at hearing these words took away my breath, a film rose before my eyes, and I do not know what I should have done if the old gentleman had not suddenly exclaimed, 'Heyday, ma'am, what's the meaning of this?  We can't have any fainting; come and sit by the window directly.'

    He gave me his hand, and threw up the sash, and though confusion and sorrow kept me silent, I felt no more faintness: Amelia's absence, the necessity of my immediately leaving my hostess, the uncertainty where I ought to go, and pity for the poor invalid, crowded on my mind, till when the old gentleman had given me long enough, as he thought, for consideration, he said, 'Well, ma'am, here's my carriage.  In my opinion, a carpet-bag would take all you require, but ladies'—spreading out his arms, as if to enclose a whole army of boxes—'have such notions of the luggage they must take about with them, for their hats and their flounces, and their pomatums, and their things, that I'm sure I don't know whether you can find room enoughbut there's the rumble!'

    I replied that a carpet-bag would content me, and I stole up the back-stairs, taking Fanny with me, who was weeping, for she had been informed of Miss Anne's danger.

    I was anxious not to keep Dr. W. waiting, for I thought myself very much obliged to him for the considerate way in which he was treating me.  There was no one I could go to but Mrs. Blount; but it would have been much more awkward to go of my own accord than to be taken by him.

    He was pleased at my prompt return, and as he handed me into his carriage with elaborate care, I saw the open-mouthed astonishment of his footman; and though I was in tears, I could not but speculate as to whether any female foot had ever stepped into it before.

    As we went, I told him that Mrs. Blount had gone out for the day, and that Amelia was with her; I then ventured, with a beating heart, to ask whether he thought Miss Anne's illness was owing to her having sat too much indoors lately.

    She had long been in a very critical state, he replied, and, perhaps, if she had been a fine lady, might have led a life of less pain, though no circumstance could have prolonged it.

    It was something, then, to think that a useful life had not been shortened by the wilfulness and inefficiency of some so much inferior to her; but oh, how bitterly did I regret that the last week of her life, before this short illness, had been clouded with anxiety, hurry, and toil, instead of being peacefully spent in those quiet pursuits that she took so much delight in.

    But I had no time to indulge in these reflections and the tears they gave rise to; we were at Mrs. Blount's door, and the doctor had to explain to the surprised footman that he wanted to see Mrs. Blount's maid.  That elegantly dressed personage presently made her appearance, and, evidently in a fright, asked if any accident had happened to her lady.

    'No, ma'am,' replied the old gentleman, addressing her, and bowing to her exactly as he had done to me, 'but a patient of mine in the house where this young lady was staying, or lodging, or something of that sort, is dying, and you'll be so good as to take care of this young lady (I haven't the pleasure of knowing her name) till your lady comes home, when the matter will be explained to her.'

    The maid, charmed at his ceremonious manner, made a gratified curtsey, and replied that she would take care of the young lady.

    The old gentleman, then, walking round me and inspecting me, as if to see that I was delivered over to the keeping of another in a satisfactory state, said slowly, 'All right!' and taking me in one hand and my carpet-bag in the other, led me up to the maid, and, bowing, left me, with a look which plainly said to her, 'You have received these valuable and perishable articles in good preservation, and you will be expected to give them up, on demand, in the same state.'

    He then hobbled down the steps to his carriage, and the maid asked me if I would come up-stairs to her lady's dressing-room and have some tea.  I could not but observe that the old gentleman's ultra care had impressed her greatly with the idea of the responsibility she had undertaken, for she seemed to regard me in the light of a thing that was sure to come to some harm, or receive some injury, if it could possibly find an opportunity.

    When I had taken some tea, I lay on a sofa, feeling very unhappy, wondering whether Anne was sensible, and whether her sisters were apprised of her danger.

    At length, when it was quite dusk, I heard the sound of carriage-wheels crushing the gravel before the house, and when they stopped, Amelia's voice, in its merriest tones, talking to little Miss Blount.

    I heard Mrs. Blount ask Amelia to come in, and, dreading that they would both come up to the room where I was, and Amelia find out the truth too suddenly, I sent down the maid to draw Amelia aside on some pretence, that I might first speak to her friend.

    Mrs. Blount came in, started at the sight of me, but I was so agitated that I could not speak.  She soon contrived to calm me, and draw from me all that it was needful for her to know.

    'Let her come here at once,' she exclaimed; 'the mere sight of you will be a preparation.'

    Amelia came in almost on the instant; in fact, the maid had not been able to detain her long on pretence of brushing her dress.  She was in very high spirits, and so far from taking alarm at the sight of me, thought I was come to see her home.  She supposed I was quite tired of being moped in that dull house, and appealed to Mrs. Blount whether it was not rather a pity that her sisters should turn the house upside down for every little illness.

    Mrs. Blount said not a word; she evidently shrank from the task she had to do; and I ventured, by way of opening, to say, 'I fear, Amelia, we can hardly call this a little illness, for you know Miss Anne has had two of your sisters to sit up with her for three nights past.'

    Mrs. Blount, thrown off her guard, exclaimed, 'Is it possible?' and I instantly felt, that by thus betraying Amelia's neglect to her friend, I had given her great pain, which I would not have done for the world at such a time.  I had only intended to bring her mind to dwell on her sister's illness.

    She looked astonished at my speech, and deeply annoyed, then walked up to the window, where I was standing, and began to draw up the blind, at the same time whispering a few words to me which showed high irritation.

    I was so shocked at the mistake I had made, that full of pity for her, I burst into tears, and at the same moment Mrs. Blount, taking her hand, said gravely, 'My dear Amelia.'  This action, and the sight of our faces, on which she had thrown light (the room being previously dusk), instantly opened her mind, and she cried out that she was sure Anne was dying.  We did not contradict her, but led her down to the carriage, and Mrs. Blount went with her to rejoin her afflicted family.

    She was away more than an hour, and when she returned, told me that Amelia went into hysterics directly she entered the house.  'I was sorry,' she continued, 'that she could not command herself, for the sisters ran down instantly, and entreated her to be calm, and not to let Anne hear the noise, for her life hung on a thread, and the first shock would kill her.  It made a great confusion,' said Mrs. Blount, 'and I felt very sorry that I had been the cause of Amelia's being from home at such a time; but I assured her sisters I had not the slightest idea there was anything more the matter than a feverish cold, or I should never have thought of taking her away, even if she had wished it.  They presently went upstairs again.  Poor things! how sad and worn-out they looked.  I sat with Amelia as she lay on the sofa, and she showed a degree of shrinking from seeing her sister that surprised me very much.  I should have thought affection would have overpowered any weak terrors at being present during painful scenes.'  She then said she had told the youngest of the sisters that I had come under her care; and altogether the sight of sorrow I found had brought out all the real kindness of her nature, and made her receive me, an almost stranger, with such a welcoming hospitality, that I felt quite comfortable and easy with her, and could even tell her how miserable I had felt under the idea of being palmed off upon her in such a way as almost to oblige her to receive me.

    She laughed, and said, 'My dear, you don't understand my nature.  I love all young things, and like to have them depending on me, and, in fact, I do want something to do; something to occupy me.  If I had had a large family, I should have been a different creature.'

    I could not but feel surprised; and wondered that this elegant and high-born woman should talk thus to a girl like me.  Perhaps she perceived this, but instead of checking herself, she explained her meaning further, telling me that her one child was her late husband's heiress, and that he had left so many directions, so many guardians, trustees, etc., that she found herself left with very little power over her child.  'And then, between the governess and the nurse,' she added, in a plaintive tone, 'there never seems to be anything for me to do for my darling, but to play with her.'  I thought I would send away the governess if I were in the mother's place, but of course I did not say so, but went to bed very much relieved to find that Mrs. Blount was delighted to have me under her patronage, and very much pleased with Dr. W. for having placed me there.

    After breakfast the next morning, we went to inquire for Miss Anne.  The shutters were not closed, and a servant told us that she still lived, that Dr. W. had seen her again, and had expressed surprise that she had lasted so long.

    Its was affecting to see the orphan girl whom Anne had befriended sitting crying on the steps, and bemoaning her benefactress.  'I ha'nt time to see after flowers,' said Mary, who looked pale and tired; 'it's not to be expected.'

    'No,' said Mrs. Blount, 'but as the garden is at the back of the house, and not overlooked from the sick-room, I think there would be no harm in our passing through the kitchen and gathering these violets.'

    The servant assented respectfully; and I could not but admire the kindness of Mrs. Blount; she could easily have given the orphan girl the shilling lot which she would have sold these violets, but by this better plan she provided that the dying woman's charity should extend to the last hour of her life.

    We found the leaves of these plants already drooping, and the violets hanging their heads, for they require much care and regular watering; but we gathered all, and made them up under the trees; we then came softly back to the house, and we were met by Fanny, who said Miss Amelia would like to see us.  We found her languid and miserable, her face disfigured by crying.  'They have promised to call me if there is the slightest change,' she said; 'and my feelings are so acute, that I cannot stand by and see her suffer as they can.  I am sure she suffers greatly.  One of them is always fanning her, and another holding up her head.'

    I am sure Amelia was not at all aware that there was any selfishness in this speech; and when Mrs. Blount said gently, 'Don't you think, dear, you could fan your sister for a while, it may be a pleasure to you afterwards to think you have done something for her?' she said, 'You don't know what it is; she—gasps so, poor thing—that it perfectly overcomes me;' and then she covered her face with her hands, and began to weep afresh.

    Mrs. Blount did not say a word; and I inquired how her sisters were.  'They look ready to drop, ma'am,' said Fanny, who just then came in with a note of inquiry, 'but they won't leave the room; they've eaten nothing since last night at supper-time, and then Mary and I carried them up some sandwiches, and begged of them to eat them, and they came out one by one, and ate them on the stairs.'

    'Surely such great exertion and fatigue cannot be needful,' said Mrs. Blount, quite shocked.

    'Poor ladies, they'll soon have rest,' whispered Fanny, 'and poor Miss Anne needs a wonderful deal of waiting on.'

    Hearing a step on the stairs, we then hastily withdrew, and as we went home no comment whatever was made by either, on the things we had witnessed; but Mrs. Blount induced me to tell her all I knew of Miss Anne's charities, and said that when she was gone the poor orphan should not want a friend.

    In the afternoon we again went to look at the house.  The sun was shining full upon it, but not within it, for the shutters were closed.


 
CHAPTER V.

THE STRANGE CLERGYMAN'S SERMON.


NOW as this is the history of a Cumberer, I shall not stay to dilate on the kindness shown to me by Mrs. Blount, the events that took place, or the cogitation I indulged in, excepting when they had reference to my heroine; I pass on therefore to say that the day after Miss Anne's funeral, at which more mourners attended than those of her own family, Miss Perkins sent a message to Mrs. Blount, requesting her to come and see her.

    She complied immediately, and on her return I felt naturally anxious to know what had been decided about me.

    Mrs. Blount did not at first satisfy me, but sitting on an ottoman before the window, continued to look out at the ships passing through the stripes of sunny and shady water, for the sky was streaked with clouds.  I saw that she was vexed, and felt relieved when she at last exclaimed, 'Well, my dear, Miss Perkins wishes you to return this day week.'

    'So soon?' I replied; 'surely I shall be in their way; may I not now go home?—the house must be ready.'

    'My dear, your parents are not here, to be consulted, and as far as I am concerned, I should not like to return you to any hands but those from which I received you; besides, the agreement for you was made for three months; and when you hear that your going back is of some consequence to Miss Perkins, I believe you will be ready to do so.'

    'Of consequence,' I exclaimed, 'dear Mrs. Blount, of what use can I be to them?'

    'I have discovered,' she replied, 'that the sum paid for you will be of great consequence—that good, good woman (I wish I were as good, she has no pride about her, not an atom, and no affectation)—told me she looked on it as a providence that you should have been placed with them, for thus they could cover the expenses of their dear sister's illness and funeral.

    'Are they so poor?' I answered.

    'I had no idea of it,' she replied; 'in fact I have been deceived and led into a great many mistakes: it seems that now this poor lady is dead, one-third of the property they lived upon is withdrawn, and four people have to live on one-third less than five did.'

    I remembered what Bessie had told me, and answered that I knew it was so.

    'Then why didn't you tell me?' she answered suddenly and almost sharply, but instantly she seemed to remember that it was not my business to tell her things that had come to my knowledge in another person's house, for she added more softly, 'I have been completely and intentionally deceived, and no one has tried to set me right; Amelia made me believe that there was plenty of property in their family, but that her sisters had a natural liking for living in that pokey way, and for having no footman.'

    Poor Amelia, she has lost her friend, and if she finds that out, it will be punishment enough, I thought, but I did not say anything.

    Mrs. Blount presently went on, 'Of course the elder sister must naturally feel this death far more than the younger; yet that kind woman, Miss Sarah, sat at her work with a sort of patient sadness about her that interested me very much, while Amelia was idling away her time in the drawing-room, looking more discontented than sorrowful: and being alone with her for a few minutes, she told me what a misfortune it was this property being withdrawn, for now her sisters would be more penurious than ever.  When Miss Perkins told me afterwards what they all had to live on, I was quite amazed; I squander almost as much on dress and gewgaws as they maintain their respectable appearance on.'

    Then looking up and seeing me look grave, she smiled and said, 'What are you thinking of, Mentoria?' for she always called me by this name; perhaps because it amused her as being remarkably inappropriate.

    I replied that I was thinking of what she had said, that she had been deceived, and no one had tried to set her right.

    She laughed (for she was never grave for many minutes together), and said, 'You are too tall to be petted, Mentoria, or I might do without Amelia, and take you; sit down by me and give me a kiss.  Now, tell me whether I have done my duty by you; have you been happy with me?'

    'Very happy indeed.'

    'I really think you have.  Well, you like me, and I think you cannot like Amelia.  Why then did you let her deceive me?'

    'I thought it would be very wrong in me to deprive her of a friend, and besides, you might not have believed me.'

    'Just answer me one question, it can do her no harm; are they aware at home of her real character?'

    'Yes, I cannot but be sure that they are.'

    'Well, Mentoria, I would have been her friend, for I really liked her; but now I have seen her as she is.  Keep my secret; do not tell her that I have ceased to care for her, and to respect her.  I wish she may ever be worthy of those excellent women, whom she affects almost to despise.'

    So ended this conversation.  At the appointed day I returned to my hostesses, who received me very kindly and calmly.

    I saw that Miss Anne was a great loss to her affectionate sisters, and tried to prevent their feeling my presence an intrusion, keeping as much apart as possible, and still walking out with Mrs. Blount, who kindly came for me daily.

    After the first day Amelia accompanied us, and seemed to be trying hard to regain her ascendancy over her friend by that gentle flattery and attention to all she said which had won it for her at first.  She perceived that something was amiss, though far from attributing the change to its right cause; she thought her friend capricious, and fancied she could not please her because she was interested in me.

    Amelia lived for herself, therefore it was not strange that she was neither useful nor happy.  I did not think that when at home she seemed much to feel the death of her sister, yet when walking with Mrs. Blount she spoke affectingly of the sorrow she suffered; and I am not at all sure that she was wilfully deceitful, for it is really easier to deceive one's-self than other people.

    Bessie took charge of the garden, and went out daily just as her sister had done, and again the violet bed bloomed as before, and the orphan girl sat on the steps waiting for the flowers.

    I felt sure that this constant following of her late sister's footsteps was a trial to her feelings, yet when I sat down by her and said, 'Dear Bessie, I am sure this is too much for you,' she answered hurriedly, 'I shall soon be cheerful in the garden, my dear, and mind you do not let Bobby think I do too much, it would make her uneasy.'

    I replied, 'I should not think of such a thing; but I am coming out soon to help.'

    'You will be horridly tanned if you do,' said Amelia; 'the sun tans more than the sea.  I was obliged to come in yesterday when I went out to help in the garden; by tea-time I should have been burnt quite red.'  Amelia had just come in from a walk.

    'It is no worse for us than for Bessie,' I could not help saying.

    'You are quite mistaken,' replied Amelia; 'fair skins like yours and mine tan directly, but nothing hurts that kind of thick complexion that Bessie has.'

    'But in spite of being tanned,' she proceeded, 'I should certainly have thought it right to help in the garden, if Bessie had not particularly given out that she intended to undertake it herself; and as it was not too much for dear Anne, delicate as she was, I suppose Bessie can easily do it.'

    'I undertook the garden,' said Bessie, 'because Sarah was unhappy about it, and said it would make her miserable to see it get into disorder, when our dear sister had been so fond of it.'

    'Well,' said Amelia, 'but you undertook it of your own accord, quite vehemently, and declared that you should feel it a pleasure.  If you are tired of it, you had better say so.'

    'I am not tired of it,' said Bessie.

    'Then I am sure I don't know what the discussion is about,' rejoined Amelia, nor why you put on that injured air.  Since Miss T. came here, she is always putting it into your head that you are a martyr.  You did not consult me when you chose to undertake the garden; what fault of mine is it then that you are tired and tanned?'  At this moment, happily for us all, there was a knock at the door, and we withdrew to our rooms before it was answered.  Perhaps on reflection Amelia felt that she had not behaved amiably to her sister, for as soon as the sun was low, we saw her go into the garden and begin very diligently to weed a little flower-bed.  She seemed so much in earnest that I saw Robina looking at her with pleasure, and Sarah declared that it looked as if Amelia meant to turn over a new leaf.

    Just as the bed was weeded, and all the stones, weeds, and rubbish were raked on to the walk, Fanny came to call her in to tea, and she entered, remarking that she should go out again when the meal was over to finish her work.  But a book was brought in from the club, and Amelia opened it, was interested, and read on till it was too late for any more gardening.  The next day was hot, and the day after that was damp, so the weeds were left till Bessie, who gardened in spite of heat and damp, raked them away, and there, as far as I know, ended Amelia's weeding.

    The day after these weeds were raked away was Sunday.  A strange clergyman preached, and his sermon was so striking that I remember parts of it to this time.  This sermon was from the parable of the barren fig-tree, and the text was, 'Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?'

    We listened to it with unusual seriousness, and talked of it a good deal during the rest of the day, but no one remembered or discussed it so much as Amelia.  She remarked that she had felt particularly edified by it, and that she sincerely hoped it would be a warning to her if ever she should be in danger of becoming a Cumberer.

    The next morning Mrs. Blount walked out with Miss Sarah, Amelia, and myself, and, seated under the shadow of a great cliff, we reverted to the sermon.

    'It was very striking,' said Mrs. Blount; 'but the concluding remarks gave me a thrill that I have hardly recovered to this hour.'

    The preacher in concluding had said, 'But why do I so earnestly entreat you to consider the sin and peril of thus cumbering the Lord's vineyard?  Alas! though there should be but five persons present who are guilty of this sin, and it should be known to me that they alone stood in need of applying these words to themselves, I should feel that though all the rest of my hearers might seriously examine themselves as to their state, and consider whether the lot of the cumberer might not be theirs, yet those five, those fruitless five, easy and unconscious, would pass the warning by, and be the last to think it needed.'

    When these words were referred to I repeated them, adding a striking remark, to the effect that though the tree is represented as blamable for being fruitless, yet being covered with the leaves of a fair profession, it might be thought that those leaves covered and hid even from itself the barrenness of the boughs; it is only the husbandman who acknowledges and bewails its state, and tenderly entreats for it a patience that it does not think it needs.  Nothing but the grace of God, the preacher had said, can open the eyes of those that cumber the ground.

    'There,' said Mrs. Blount, 'that will do, my dear; I should not like to have a memory like yours; if I could recall great pieces of that sermon at will, I should never have any peace.'

    'Still it is a blessing to have a good memory,' observed Miss Sarah; 'and I hope you will never try to forget things because they make you uncomfortable.'

    I answered somewhat childishly, for it made all my hearers laugh, that I was sure I should never forget that sermon, for that the clergyman had looked at me several times so pointedly that I could not but think he considered me likely to be a cumberer; and that I had been afraid ever since that I must be one of those five.

    Amelia laughed with the others, and said quite good-humouredly, 'You felt rather guilty, perhaps, and that was why you fancied he looked at you.'

    Sarah answered very kindly, 'Well, my dear, fears about ourselves are never out of place; as for me, I must own that I felt much humbled, for what fruit is there in my life?—what return have I ever made to the labours of that gracious Husbandman, as an evidence of my gratitude for his care?'

    To my confusion Mrs. Blount then said to Amelia, 'It seems we all applied it to ourselves.  What did you think of it, Amelia? we shall be glad of your confession to add to our own.'

    I wondered to hear her speak lightly, yet I observed that she felt considerable curiosity as to what would be the answer; but nothing could exceed Amelia's unconsciousness, for when I ventured to glance at her, I saw that she was quietly playing with the soft dry sand, and passing her white fingers through it in search of shells.

    'Why,' she said, 'there seems to me a kind of absurdity and false humility in applying things to one's-self that really are not applicable.  If the man had said, "My brethren, I hope those of you are penitent who have committed theft, and those who have committed murder," I should not have felt that perhaps I had committed theft or murder, because I know I have not.  Well, it's just the same in this case; I am willing enough to acknowledge faults that I commit, but not to be morbid and to distress myself about faults that I do not commit.  In fact, you know a member of a large family has no power to be useless, even if she wishes it.'

    'Very true,' said Mrs. Blount; 'but certainly some of us are more useful than others.'

    'No doubt,' replied Amelia complacently.

    'Then do you think it was morbid in us to apply it to ourselves?'

    'I cannot pretend to say,' replied Amelia after a pause; 'I should not have thought it necessary.'

    Here I was so afraid lest Miss Sarah should find out what Mrs. Blount was about in thus drawing out Amelia, that I pinched her hand, and entreated her with my eyes to desist; but she only laughed and said, 'I thought yesterday that in one particular that clergyman was wrong, but now I have come to the conclusion that he was right in all.'

    'What was that one point ?' asked Amelia.

    'Mentoria knows,' she answered.

    'I cannot think why you call her Mentoria,' exclaimed Amelia; 'but I have noticed that she has looked rather guilty for some time, blushing up to the eyes, I declare.  What fearful act of inefficiency, or what remarkable proof of your uselessness, did you give Mrs. Blount during your stay with her, Miss T., that you look so shamefaced?'

    'How do you know that she is blushing for herself?' asked Mrs. Blount suddenly; 'perhaps it is for me?'

    I do not justify this remark, but only record it.  It seemed to interest Amelia, for she said, with that peculiar gentleness of manner which she often assumed with Mrs. Blount, 'I suppose some persons would think me jealous, and I cannot altogether conceal that I have that proof of affection in my feelings towards you; for I do feel a little pain at finding that Miss T. is so much more in your counsels than I am.  You do not care for me as I do for you.'

    Such a remark a short time ago would have brought a warm denial and a shower of kisses.  Now it produced no reply; and after an awkward silence, during which Mrs. Blount was rather out of countenance, she took advantage of a passing cloud to say she thought there was going to be a shower, and that we had better go home; which we accordingly did, all feeling more or less uncomfortable.



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