Charlotte M. Yonge. The Pillars of the House, V1
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THE PILLARS OF THE HOUSE
UNDER WODE, UNDER RODE
CHARLOTTE M. YONGE
ILLUSTRATED BY HERBERT GANDY
CHAPTER I. THE BIRTHDAY GIFT
'O I've got a plum-cake, and a feast let us make,
Come, school-fellows, come at my call;
I assure you 'tis nice, and we'll all have a slice,
Here's more than enough for us all.'
'It is come! Felix, it is come!'
So cried, shouted, shrieked a chorus, as a street door was torn open to admit four boys, with their leathern straps of books over their shoulders. They set up a responsive yell of 'Jolly! Jolly!' which being caught up and re- echoed by at least five voices within, caused a considerable volume of sound in the narrow entry and narrower staircase, up which might be seen a sort of pyramid of children.
'Where is it?' asked the tallest of the four arrivals, as he soberly hung up his hat.
'Mamma has got it in the drawing-room, and Papa has been in ever since dinner,' was the universal cry from two fine-complexioned, handsome girls, from a much smaller girl and boy, and from a creature rolling on the stairs, whose sex and speech seemed as yet uncertain.
'And where's Cherry?' was the further question; 'is she there too?'
'Yes, but-' as he laid his hand on the door-'don't open the letter there. Get Cherry, and we'll settle what to do with it.'
'O Felix, I've a stunning notion!'
'Felix, promise to do what I want!'
'Felix, do pray buy me some Turkish delight!'
'Felix, I do want the big spotty horse.'
Such shouts and insinuations, all deserving the epithet of the first, pursued Felix as he entered a room, small, and with all the contents faded and worn, but with an air of having been once tasteful, and still made the best of. Contents we say advisedly, meaning not merely the furniture but the inmates, namely, the pale wan fragile mother, working, but with the baby on her knee, and looking as if care and toil had brought her to skin and bone, though still with sweet eyes and a lovely smile; the father, tall and picturesque, with straight handsome features, but with a hectic colour, wasted cheek, and lustrous eye, that were sad earnests of the future. He was still under forty, his wife some years less; and elder than either in its expression of wasted suffering was the countenance of the little girl of thirteen years old who lay on the sofa, with pencil, paper, and book, her face with her mother's features exaggerated into a look at once keen and patient, all three forming a sad contrast to the solid exuberant health on the other side the door.
Truly the boy who entered was a picture of sturdy English vigour, stout-limbed, rosy-faced, clear eyed, open, and straight-forward looking, perhaps a little clumsy with the clumsiness of sixteen, especially when conscience required tearing spirits to be subdued to the endurance of the feeble. It was, however, a bright congratulating look that met him from the trio. The little girl started up, 'Your sovereign's come, Felix!'
The father showed his transparent-looking white teeth in a merry laugh. 'Here are the galleons, you boy named in a lucky hour! How many times have you spent them in fancy?'
The mother held up the letter, addressed to Master Felix Chester Underwood, No. 8 St. Oswald's Buildings, Bexley, and smiled as she said, 'Is it all right, my boy?'
'They want me to open it outside, Mamma!-Come, Whiteheart, we want you at the council.'
And putting his arm round his little sister Geraldine's waist, while she took up her small crutch, Felix disappeared with her, the mother looking wistfully after them, the father giving something between a laugh and a sigh.
'Then you decide against speaking to him,' said Mrs. Underwood.
'Poor children, yes. A little happiness will do them a great deal more good than the pound would do to us. The drops that will fill their little cup will but be lost in our sea.'
'Yes, I like what comes from Vale Leston to be still a festive matter,' said Mrs. Underwood; 'and at least we are sure the dear boy will never spend it selfishly. It only struck me whether he would not enjoy finding himself able to throw something into the common stock.'
'He would, honest lad,' said Mr. Underwood; 'but, Mamma, you are very hard-hearted towards the rabble. Even if this one pound would provide all the shoes and port wine that are pressing on the maternal mind, the stimulus of a day's treat would be much more wholesome.'
'But not for you,' said his wife.
'Yes for me. If the boy includes us old folks in his festivity, it will be as good as a week's port wine. You doubt, my sweet Enid. Has not our long honeymoon at Vale Leston helped us all this time?' Her name was Mary, but having once declared her to be a woman made of the same stuff as Enid, he had made it his pet title for her.
Mrs. Underwood's thoughts went far away into the long ago of Vale Leston. She could hardly believe that nine years only had passed since that seven-years' honeymoon. She was a woman of the fewest possible words, and her husband generally answered her face instead of her voice.
Vale Leston had promised to be an ample provision when Edward Underwood had resigned his fellowship to marry the Rector's niece and adopted daughter, his own distant cousin, with the assurance of being presented to the living hereafter, and acting in the meantime as curate. It was a family living, always held conjointly with a tolerably good estate, enough to qualify the owner for the dangerous position of 'squarson,' as no doubt many a clerical Underwood had been ever since their branch had grown out from the stem of the elder line, which had now disappeared. These comfortable quarters had seemed a matter of certainty, until the uncle died suddenly and with a flaw in his will, so that the undesirable nephew and heir-at-law whom he had desired to exclude, a rich dissipated man, son to a brother older than the father of the favourite niece, had stepped in, and differing in toto from Edward Underwood, had made his own son take orders for the sake of the living, and it had been the effort of the young wife ever since not to disobey her husband by showing that it had been to her the being driven out of paradise.
ASSISTANT CURACY.-A Priest of Catholic opinions is needed at a town parish. Resident Rector and three Curates. Daily Prayers. Choral Service on Sundays and Holy-days. Weekly Communion.-Apply to
P. C. B., St. Oswald's Rectory, Bexley.
Every one knows the sort of advertisement which had brought Mr. Underwood to Bexley, as a place which would accord with the doctrines and practices dear to him. Indeed, apart from the advertisement, Bexley had a fame. A great rubrical war had there been fought out by the Rector of St. Oswald's, and when he had become a colonial Bishop, his successor was reported to have carried on his work; and the beauty of the restored church, and the exquisite services, were so generally talked of, that Mr. Underwood thought himself fortunate in obtaining the appointment. Mr. Bevan too, the Rector, was an exceedingly courteous, kindly-mannered man, talking in a soft low voice in the most affectionate and considerate manner, and with good taste and judgment that exceedingly struck and pleased the new curate. It was the more surprise to him to find the congregations thin, and a general languor and indifference about the people who attended the church. There was also a good deal of opposition in the parish, some old sullen seceders who went to a neighbouring proprietary chapel, many more of erratic tastes haunted the places of worship of the numerous sects, who swarmed in the town, and many more were living in a state of town heathenism.