Charlotte M. Yonge. The Daisy Chain, or Aspirations
scanned and proofed by Sandra Laythorpe
No one can be more sensible than is the Author that the present is an overgrown book of a nondescript class, neither the 'tale' for the young, nor the novel for their elders, but a mixture of both.
Begun as a series of conversational sketches, the story outran both the original intention and the limits of the periodical in which it was commenced; and, such as it has become, it is here presented to those who have already made acquaintance with the May family, and may be willing to see more of them. It would beg to be considered merely as what it calls itself, a Family Chronicle--a domestic record of home events, large and small, during those years of early life when the character is chiefly formed, and as an endeavour to trace the effects of those aspirations which are a part of every youthful nature. That the young should take one hint, to think whether their hopes and upward-breathings are truly upwards, and founded in lowliness, may be called the moral of the tale.
For those who may deem the story too long, and the characters too numerous, the Author can only beg their pardon for any tedium that they may have undergone before giving it up. Feb. 22nd, 1856.
PART 1. THE DAISY CHAIN
Si douce est la Marguerite.--CHAUCER.
'Miss Winter, are you busy? Do you want this afternoon? Can you take a good long walk?'
'Ethel, my dear, how often have I told you of your impetuosity--you have forgotten.'
'Very well'--with an impatient twist--'I beg your pardon. Good- morning, Miss Winter,' said a thin, lank, angular, sallow girl, just fifteen, trembling from head to foot with restrained eagerness, as she tried to curb her tone into the requisite civility.
'Good-morning, Ethel, good-morning, Flora,' said the prim, middle- aged daily governess, taking off her bonnet, and arranging the stiff little rolls of curl at the long, narrow looking-glass, the border of which distorted the countenance.
'Good-morning,' properly responded Flora, a pretty, fair girl, nearly two years older than her sister.
'Will you--' began to burst from Etheldred's lips again, but was stifled by Miss Winter's inquiry, 'Is your mamma pretty well to-day?'
'Oh! very well,' said both at once; 'she is coming to the reading.' And Flora added, 'Papa is going to drive her out to-day.'
'I am very glad. And the baby?'
'I do believe she does it on purpose!' whispered Ethel to herself, wriggling fearfully on the wide window-seat on which she had precipitated herself, and kicking at the bar of the table, by which manifestation she of course succeeded in deferring her hopes, by a reproof which caused her to draw herself into a rigid, melancholy attitude, a sort of penance of decorum, but a rapid motion of the eyelids, a tendency to crack the joints of the fingers, and an unquietness at the ends of her shoes, betraying the restlessness of the digits therein contained.
It was such a room as is often to be found in old country town houses, the two large windows looking out on a broad old-fashioned street, through heavy framework, and panes of glass scratched with various names and initials. The walls were painted blue, the skirting almost a third of the height, and so wide at the top as to form a narrow shelf. The fireplace, constructed in the days when fires were made to give as little heat as possible, was ornamented with blue and white Dutch tiles bearing marvellous representations of Scripture history, and was protected by a very tall green guard; the chairs were much of the same date, solid and heavy, the seats in faded carpet-work, but there was a sprinkling of lesser ones and of stools; a piano; a globe; a large table in the middle of the room, with three desks on it; a small one, and a light cane chair by each window; and loaded book-cases. Flora began, 'If you don't want this afternoon to yourself--'
Ethel was on her feet, and open-mouthed. 'Oh, Miss Winter, if you would be so kind as to walk to Cocksmoor with us!'
'To Cocksmoor, my dear!' exclaimed the governess in dismay.
'Yes, yes, but hear,' cried Ethel. 'It is not for nothing. Yesterday--'
'No, the day before,' interposed Flora.
'There was a poor man brought into the hospital. He had been terribly hurt in the quarry, and papa says he'll die. He was in great distress, for his wife has just got twins, and there were lots of children before. They want everything--food and clothes--and we want to walk and take it.'
'We had a collection of clothes ready, luckily,' said Flora; 'and we have a blanket, and some tea and some arrowroot, and a bit of bacon, and mamma says she does not think it too far for us to walk, if you will be so kind as to go with us.'
Miss Winter looked perplexed. 'How could you carry the blanket, my dear?'
'Oh, we have settled that,' said Ethel, 'we mean to make the donkey a sumpter-mule, so, if you are tired, you may ride home on her.'
'But, my dear, has your mamma considered? They are such a set of wild people at Cocksmoor; I don't think we could walk there alone.'
'It is Saturday,' said Ethel, 'we can get the boys.'
'If you would reflect a little! They would be no protection. Harry would be getting into scrapes, and you and Mary running wild.'
'I wish Richard was at home! ' said Flora.
'I know!' cried Ethel. 'Mr. Ernescliffe will come. I am sure he can walk so far now. I'll ask him.'
Ethel had clapped after her the heavy door with its shining brass lock, before Miss Winter well knew what she was about, and the governess seemed annoyed. 'Ethel does not consider,' said she. 'I don't think your mamma will be pleased.'
'Why not?' said Flora.
'My dear--a gentleman walking with you, especially if Margaret is going!'
'I don't think he is strong enough,' said Flora; 'but I can't think why there should be any harm. Papa took us all out walking with him yesterday--little Aubrey and all, and Mr. Ernescliffe went.'
'But, my dear--'
She was interrupted by the entrance of a fine tall blooming girl of eighteen, holding in her hand a pretty little maid of five. 'Good- morning. Miss Winter. I suppose Flora has told you the request we have to make to you?'
'Yes, my dear Margaret, but did your mamma consider what a lawless place Cocksmoor is?'
'That was the doubt,' said Margaret, 'but papa said he would answer for it nothing would happen to us, and mamma said if you would be so kind.'
'It is unlucky,' began the governess, but stopped at the incursion of some new-comers, nearly tumbling over each other, Ethel at the head of them. 'Oh, Harry!' as the gathers of her frock gave way in the rude grasp of a twelve-year-old boy. 'Miss Winter, 'tis all right-- Mr. Ernescliffe says he is quite up to the walk, and will like it very much, and he will undertake to defend you from the quarrymen.'
'Is Miss Winter afraid of the quarrymen?' hallooed Harry. 'Shall I take a club?'
'I'll take my gun and shoot them,' valiantly exclaimed Tom; and while threats were passing among the boys, Margaret asked, in a low voice, 'Did you ask him to come with us?'
'Yes, he said he should like it of all things. Papa was there, and said it was not too far for him--besides, there's the donkey. Papa says it, so we must go, Miss Winter.'
Miss Winter glanced unutterable things at Margaret, and Ethel began to perceive she had done something wrong. Flora was going to speak, when Margaret, trying to appear unconscious of a certain deepening colour in her own cheeks, pressed a hand on her shoulder, and whispering, 'I'll see about it. Don't say any more, please,' glided out of the room.
'What's in the wind?' said Harry. 'Are many of your reefs out there, Ethel?'