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And we pray that to our dearest,
All we love on earth below,
Guarding them through weal or woe.
Ever closer to Thy breast,
H. B. C.
THROUGH DARKNESS TO THE DAY.
A FINE May morning shedding its sweetness over a true old-fashioned English garden, bright with stocks and carnations, heliotrope, sweet-peas and roses; a couple of white ducks pluming themselves in the early sunshine at the edge of the little lake, with its weather-worn boat and rockery island; an inquisitive rabbit advancing with cautious hops across the lawn, where half a dozen thrushes were occupied in pulling up the too-confiding earth-worms by their tails. This was the scene which met Ursula Radley's appreciative eyes as she threw open her bedroom window and leant out.
“Yes, it is a beautiful world,” she thought, as she listened to the chorus of birds in the lime-trees. “How can any one go about seeing all this beauty, and then call the world bleak and hard and thorny, only endurable by constantly looking forward to another existence hereafter ? Heaven cannot be more beautiful than this,--and if I were to believe Mr. Elston's descriptions, it is not half as beautiful. If only I could always be young, and always have Victor with me, I would stay here for ever."
· Ursula, Ursula, look what I've found !" cried a childish voice, and a pale-faced boy came into the room. He looked scarcely nine years old, but was in reality thirteen. He held out a small, wavering hand in which lay a gorgeous beetle.
“He was lying on a stone in the sun, and a number of ants had come to look at him, but he wouldn't speak to them, he was so proud. He only kept staring at the sun, and said quite quietly, 'I won't have anything to say to common brown working insects like you.' So I picked him up, and he was so frightened he tried to run away; then alt
the ants began to laugh at him, the nasty, vain, lazy thing! Sissy, I am going to take my rabbits out to-day and the pigeons,” he added, suddenly wandering off from his subject, in a way to which his sister was far too much accustomed to wonder. The beetle slipped unnoticed through his unsteady fingers, and fell to the ground, whilst the circumstance of its discovery completely passed out of the child's mind.
The good people of Stanmore village were wont to declare that little Victor was “ daft," that is an idiot; but Ursula, though she knew he was different to other boys of thirteen, always maintained to herself that he was merely childish and very delicate. His poetical ideas and close observation of the babits of animals proved conclusively that his mind, though but partially developed, was nevertheless there, and to this theory she clung with all the might of the love which she bore him.
Eve one who looked into the small, pinched face and sunken eyes could see that there was but a meagre chance of the boy attaining to manhood. His body was shrunken, and his awkward movements gave the impression that they were not guided by a healthy mind. Physiognomists are said to judge chiefly by the mouth, and Victor's, though tender and expressive, was painfully weak and unsteady.
So dreadfully sad that he should be the heir,” said all Mr. Radley's friends ; "it would be far better if he were to die, and that fine handsome daughter inherit the old place.”
Perhaps in his heart the father echoed these sentiments. For on the rare occasions that Ursula had been seen by his friends, their praises of her face and figure had awakened a certain amount of paternal pride in her beauty, though he continued as cold and neglectful as before. But in his imbecile son he could feel nothing but shame.
Ursula and Victor were the only surviving children of George Radley, the owner of Stanmore Hall. There had been another son, his father's idol, a fine healthy boy, rather older than Ursula. But just before little Victor's birth, diphtheria had broken out at Stanmore. Mrs. Radley and both her children were laid low, and Ursula alone recovered. The boy succumbed in three days, followed by his mother a week later. She left a tiny babe behind her, so feeble that its death seemed inevitable, and only Ursula, too young to understand the cloud of trouble that had come upon them, welcomed him with childish delight.
From that hour up to the time I write of, Ursula and Victor had been everything to each other. Mr. Radley travelled a great deal, and even when at home, he was constantly preoccupied, frequently spending whole days shut up in his study and laboratory. During the whole of her childhood the girl had no governess. A nursery-maid had nominal charge of the children, and Mrs. Barton, the faithful housekeeper, superintended their management, and taught Ursula all that she herself knew. And as the child grew into a girl, she gradually assumed the entire control over her brother, and became serious beyond
She soon made free use of what little learning Mrs. Barton had given her, reading everything that attracted her in the library. Sometimes she only half understood the books that she devoured in this way; oftener she did not understand at all. But in all such cases her own very fertile imagination supplied the deficiency. In this way she dived into all kinds of subjects,-poetry in great quantities, and not always choice in quality, a little philosophy, some science, a good deal of history, a few old romances, mythology, and some of the ancient classics in translation.
When she reached the age of fifteen, Mr. Radley suddenly awoke to the fact that he had terribly neglected his children. He engaged a governess for Ursula, and took Victor to London for medical advice. His sister begged hard to be allowed to accompany him, but Mr. Radley considered her presence quite unnecessary. As a consequence, the poor little fellow, who had never been separated from her before,
seen under most unfavourable circumstances, and the doctor's verdict was naturally a discouraging one. He pronounced the case almost hopeless. Apart from his imbecility, the boy's whole constitution was so feeble, that any severe shock would inevitably kill him. Great care was his only chance, and even with this, the probabilities were against his being reared.
When Ursula received him back, he was very much shaken by the fright which the expedition had given him, and for several weeks his nerves did not entirely recover. She listened to her father's report of the doctor's words with silent incredulity. What could they know about her boy? She alone had followed all the details of his thoughts, his health, his daily life. She would watch over him so carefully that no fatal shock should come near him.
Meanwhile the governess arrived, and Ursula made great progress under her tuition. She was one of those clever and deeply learned women with whom everything, -body, soul, and outward circumstances, is made subservient to intellect, and she did her best to in
culcate these principles in her pupil. But Ursula's mind inclined towards poetical dreams rather than solid learning. When at the end of two years therefore Miss Emerson left Stanmore, she had succeeded in bringing method into her pupil's reading, but not in destroying her innate veneration for everything noble and good and beautiful, in a world whose deepest and truest life is not reached by science.
And now the girl was once more left her own mistress. A clever, nervous, imaginative, and highly-wrought nature is a heavy charge for a girl of seventeen, and she made many mistakes. But although she had no religious motives to act upon, she had a deep, almost overstrained sense of right and duty, which, though it could not keep her from the blunders of inexperience, yet saved her from serious faults.
The dull, narrow-minded sermons which she heard every Sunday from Mr. Elston, the vicar, were not calculated to inspire her with anything but distaste for religion. In them the Merciful Father was described as a terrible and exacting Master; the loving Saviour as a stern and righteous Judge. It was no wonder therefore that being acutely sensitive to all the beauty which surrounded her in Nature, the girl should form a kind of worship of her own, in which her God was the Creator of these beauties, the Spirit of Nature, and her temple the old-fashioned garden of Stanmore. She did not discourage all the sweet fancies which little Victor entertained of the heaven about which Mrs. Barton bad told him, and she reverenced the child's simple faith and love, but she could not share them.
The two had now been left a whole year to their own devices. They saw their father at breakfast time, when he usually had a book open before him, whilst Victor ate in frightened silence, Ursula occasionally venturing a disjointed remark. Away from strangers, (and Mr. Radley was almost a stranger,) the boy was a veritable little chatterbox. Amongst his peculiarities was the fanciful belief that he could understand the language of animals. He was continually bringing his sister the details of conversations between himself and the placid, softeyed cows, or between a chaffinch and a hedge-sparrow. He would sit for hours listening attentively to all the busy sounds of wood-life around him, now and then making some comment upon the family affairs of his various friends.
Ursula had read of the superstition which attributes to persons of defective intellect a more direct insight into the workings of nature than is granted to ordinary mortals, and at times she was almost ready to believe that Victor possessed this power. He had a wonderful knack of taming animals, and in the summer it was usual to see him sitting under a tree, with a rabbit and hedgehog by his side, a couple of pigeons on his knee, and the wild birds hopping all round him, picking up the food which he scattered for them.
It was thus that Ursula found him on that warm May morning of which we have spoken an hour after breakfast. He dislodged all his pets, and ran to meet her.
“ I've found such a nice place for you to sit, Sissy. Do come and try it. And Mrs. Wagtail has been telling me about her nest. She says it is in the ivy-stump, and that she has got four eggs with lovely speckles. May I go and see it? She says I may. Just look at her running about, and snapping up the poor little flies. Now she is wagging her tail very fast because she has caught a good fat one. What a good plan it is to call animals by their looks—like redbreast and blackbird, and fly, and wagtail. Why don't they call people like that? I would be 'little-weak-boy,' and you 'strong-clever-girl.'”
“Names do have meanings. Ursula means a little bear.'”
“Not a very good name," was the child's comment. 6. What does Victor mean?”
“ Conqueror, some one who fights and gets the best of it,” replied Ursula, unable to suppress the shade of sadness in her voice, as she looked down into the weak face and wistful unintelligent eyes.
“ That is a bad name too,” he said, shaking his head; cannot fight.”
“I read somewhere that there is another kind of conqueror, dear," said Ursula, gravely. “The one who fights against himself and wins -I mean, who fights against his naughtiness,” she added, seeing his look of bewilderment. “ And you can be a real Victor in that way. Do you
understand ?” His eyes were fixed upon hers, and his poor, puzzled head was trying hard to catch her meaning, but she saw she had flown too high for him, and bending down she smothered a sigh with a kiss.
“Now you may go and find Mrs. Wagtail's nest.”
And with that Ursula's spirit soared away to the sunny land of Greece, where it walked dreamily amidst heroes and goddesses, and contemplated Narcissus and weeping Enone.
Presently Victor returned, and nestled down by her side in silence. He looked so grave that Ursula asked : “Could not you find the nest ?"
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