Chapter VI. Home Cars.
Nothing useless is or low,
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest. LONGFELLOW.
OLD Mr. Bryant did not die that night. "Much the same" was the report in the morning, and so it continued. Edward stayed at home for a day or two, to take messages and help his mother about the farm business; but by the Sunday, it was decided that he had better go back to his schooling, as long as there was no change.
Old Barnes had really managed pretty much as he pleased for months past, paying little or no attention to growing orders from his master, and he could go on in the same way as long as the old gentleman was likely to survive.
He could speak after about a week, but so indistinctly that hardly any one could understand him; and he could sit up, though one hand and [66/67] one foot were useless. Poor Mrs. Bryant, it was a terrible time for her, for she had always to be at his call, day or night, and had all the household business on her hands, besides the poultry and the dairy, and only an untrained girl to help her.
They brought in Mrs. Barnes, Tom's wife, a rough, homely dame, as charwoman, and she could manage the patient better than any one; for he never was inclined to submit to his daughter-in-law, and the fractiousness of illness and shattered powers made it harder than ever for her to deal with him, while Mrs. Barnes had no scruple in. ordering him, and scolding him when needful.
"Come now, sir, don't you be cranky and obstreperous; let me sit you up and open your mouth. On my word and honor, if you bain't as bad a handful as ever was my little Bill, when he had the 'electric' fever, and the doctor, he says I never should rear him if he didn't obey orders. So now, be a good lad, and mind me when I tells you what's for your good."
Hopes of "rearing" poor old Mr. Bryant were misplaced; but at any rate he was fairly [67/68] contented under Mrs. Barnes, and Doctor Millar pronounced her to do quite as well for him as a regular nurse, which was a great comfort, as he well knew, considering the expense and inconvenience; and the invalid's helplessness was likely to last for a long time, while poor Mrs. Bryant had to manage money matters as best she could, and as much as old Barnes thought proper to refer to her about the farm. How could wages and food be provided out of the receipts for dairy and poultry, and might she sell the calf, and go so far as to sell the rick of hay without authority, and only Barnes to bargain for her?
Edward was in all her counsels and difficulties, and kept his word about doing his best in odd jobs about the farmyard, and even keeping back murmurs at having to sit in the kitchen on a cold evening to save the parlor fire, and at having to live on suppers to which he would not have liked to bring in an acquaintance. He even proposed to go without a glass of beer, and his mother thought it so good in him that she quite had tears in her eyes when she declared that he was the best son in the world, but she never could consent to his "skimping" himself. [68/69] However, when the little cask was finished, and it came to buying a fresh one, she could not help asking, "Would he mind very much doing without it?"
All this was making him older and more thoughtful; and he intended to get out of the football team because he was needed at the farmyard. But when he found that he was not considered a great loss he was disappointed, and felt discontented with the task of shutting the cows home and locking up the poultry; and a refractory cockerel got hard measure when he and his pullets had to be chased out of the young turnips. Edward even threw a stone at one of the hens, and was relieved that her hysterical cackle proved that she was not hit. It was hard that she should suffer for Ben Jackson's contempt of his activity.
And though it certainly was dull, and there was a dreary sameness in. "Just as usual; only a bit more fretful," and in being always called upon to help to square those endless accounts of his mother's, which really she could do quite as well as he could, though he had begun bookkeeping at school. Only, alas! no arithmetical [69/70] powers would make the incomings sufficient for the outgoings; and to get a check from the shaking hand of the grandfather required the united powers of old Barnes, his wife, Dr. Millar, and Mrs. Bryant; and when he cried afterward, and said they were robbing him, and ruining him, and the boy would be a beggar, Mrs. Bryant declared she would never try again.
But all this was changing Edward, and he not only took more pains at school and in helping his mother, but he thought more gravely of life. On one hand it was a dreary lookout, for he knew that this was only tiding over the time of the old man's decay, and that there would be a great break-up of the home he loved when the end came. But, on the other hand, there came a sense of resolution and strength, and of being the one on whom his mother must rely.
Frances and Aline avoided him at first, with the childish shrinking from one who is under a great misfortune; but Mabel ran up and seized his hand, holding it till they went into church; and all soon grew used to the state of things.
"Not quite alive, but as bad as dead," said Frances; "I wonder where his mind is?"
 "Father says no one can guess what passes in a person's soul when he seems quite gone from us," said Aline, very gravely.
It gave Edward much to think about, all the more because notice of a Confirmation was given out to be held at Cokeham Church for the town and the neighboring parishes. The rector, Mr. Fraser, gave" it out in their own Langbridge Church, and there was no doubt that Frances and Aline should go to be prepared by him. Nor indeed was there any doubt that Edward should. Indeed, he was glad that it should be at his own home, though the masters at Cokeham had classes for their boys; but some of the lads were Dissenters, and others had no inclination to make the promise, which they seemed to think was the chief point; and their mothers said: "Well, they were very young, and they need not be forced." Only one or two laughed about it, but even the more thoughtless silenced them.
Yet hardly any one thought about the Sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit which would be given. Even Mrs. Bryant, though she wished her son to be confirmed, as part of his duty as a churchman, only thought of it as taking his vows [71/72] upon him, and was rather surprised when she had time to listen, or to look at what Edward brought home from the rectory and from church. They all went to classes there, with the other children of the place.
"And," said Frances, "it is quite disgusting to hear how forward that pert Rose Gray is, putting herself out to answer everything."
"Well, she answered lots of things we could not," said Aline.
"So she ought, always going to the Sunday-school," said Frances.
"Yes; it made me wish I had been taught so much--she knew so much better than I do," said Aline.
"That's just what I thought when I saw how that young monitor--what's his name?--took it all in," said Edward. "He was up to it all."
"So he ought to be," again repeated Frances, "being a monitor."
"I do wish I understood as much as some of those girls do!" said Aline.
"Oh, nonsense--it is easy to get up enough to pass," answered her sister.
 "It is not passing. It is for our lives," said Aline.
She fell behind with Edward, who as his mother had read the Bible with him on Sunday evenings, really knew more of Scripture thoughts than either of the girls whose small private school did not attend much to their religious knowledge, and whose mother was too busy to do more than send them to church, and take care that they said prayers--the same prayers as Mabel and Bertie said. It had not occurred to her to give them anything more appropriate to their growth; but the rector offered them- more advanced devotions. Aline was pleased and thankful; but though Frances thanked him, at home she said it took up more time, when she was hurried in the morning and sleepy at night. This was in the private talks that the rector had with each of his candidates. He had one, of course, with Edward Bryant, but nothing was then said about the lad's former aspirations toward missionary work. Not only did it appear evident that his first business in life would be to attend to his mother, but he felt an absolute sense of shame whenever he remembered that old dream, and, with a kind [73/74] of twinge, put it from him as a past and foolish thing.
These young people were all three confirmed. What they thought and felt, they did not tell one another, except, perhaps, that Edward observed that "he was glad he was not a girl, to think about the sit of a veil," and Aline felt rebuked; yet not so much so as when little Mabel told her that now she was sure she was going to be very good.
Edward had to go to the Altar alone the next Sunday, for his mother could not have left the old great-grandfather, and thought it irreverent to make it common "by Communion more than three or four times a year." He went--full of purpose--chiefly to do his duty toward her.
The two girls went with their parents, Dr. Millar having found time. Moreover, Aline was resolved that the little ones should not be so ignorant as she had found herself. Their mother had read a little book on Scripture history, and taught "First Steps" to Frances and Johnnie, till there was a bad illness through the family, and then another baby had been born; the elder children had been sent to Miss Vardon's little [74/75] school, and home instructions had been dropped.
The two elder girls were to go to a boarding-school by-and-by, and Mabel was already at Miss Vardon's; but Aline, in the meantime, determined to teach her and Bertie something of what they ought to know.
"First Steps to the Catechism" was nowhere to be found about the house. Mabel had a pretty little nursery book about Joseph and Moses, and there was a great Family Bible, full of pictures, in which all their names were written, but the children were not allowed to turn this over for fear of damaging it, and it was not possible to her to make a Sunday talk or lesson attractive without more means. She tried to borrow "First Steps" from Rose Gray, but it was a torn and dirty little tract, and the children despised it. Indeed Bertie, after the first day, could not be captured at all, and Frances said he was not to be plagued. His mother, when appealed to, said Mine had right notions, but was taking too much upon her; and Bertie would learn it all fast enough when he went to school.
Mabel was a more thoughtful, religious-minded child, as well as two years older, and she really [75/76] liked her time of reading with Aline, and wanted to know the meaning of words and phrases in the Catechism, more than her sister could clearly explain. One day, when Aline happened to meet the rector alone, and he spoke very kindly to her, she blushed up, and with much shyness asked him to lend her a book, like those the school children had, with which to teach her little sister.
He was pleased with her, took her to his study and gave her two nice fresh books, and presently told her that, in. the absence of one of the teachers, there was a little class at the Sunday-school, and he should be very glad if she would like to take it, if her mother approved.
Mrs. Millar had no objection if Aline liked such work, and there were no infectious disorders in the parish, nor did she mind Mabel's going with her to sit by and hear. It would be one child off her hands and out of mischief.
Teaching because one knew nothing might seem an odd arrangement, but the rector knew what he was doing. The class were very small children, and only needed to be taught what Aline knew or found in her books. She and [76/77] Mabel delighted in the class, and enjoyed their Sundays. Mabel learned all the hymns, and, moreover, thought about them; and Aline made many steps in what she wanted to understand.