'Would Sir Antony have consented?'
'I have little doubt of it. He was hurt at first, but he was always fond of Jane. She is very attentive to him, and I hope makes him quite comfortable. He wrote to ask me to come and see them at Worthbourne, and I am on my way. I see it is getting late. Good-bye.'
Theodora's heart had been bounding all this time. Her first impulse was to rush up to tell Violet; but as this could not be, she snatched up a bulky red volume, and throwing over the leaves till she came to F.—Fotheringham, Sir Antony, of Worthbourne, looked down the list of his children's names, and beheld that the only one not followed by the fatal word "died" was Antony Pelham.
What had they all been doing not to have thought of this before? However, she recollected that it would have seemed as impossible that the half-witted youth should marry as that he should be on the Continent. The escape from the certainty that had so long weighed on her, taught her what the pain had been; and yet, when she came to analyze her gladness, it seemed to melt away.
She dwelt on her period of madness—her wilful, repeated rejection of warning; she thought of the unhappy Derby day—of her own cold 'Very well'—her flirtation with Lord St. Erme. She recollected the passage with Annette Moss: and then, for her present person, it was changed beyond recognition, as had just been proved; nor could she wonder, as, turning to the mirror, she surveyed the figure in black silk and plain cap, beyond which the hair scarcely yet peeped out—the clearness and delicacy of skin destroyed, the face haggard with care and sorrow, the eyelids swollen by watchful nights. She almost smiled at the contrast to the brilliant, flashing-eyed, nut-brown maid in the scarlet-wreathed coronal of raven hair, whom she had seen the last time she cared to cast a look in that glass.
'I am glad I am altered,' said she, sternly. 'It is well that I should not remind him of her on whom he wasted his hope and affection. It is plain that I shall never marry, and this is a mask under which I can meet him with indifference like his own. Yes, it was absolute indifference—nothing but his ordinary kindliness and humanity; neither embarrassment nor confusion—just as he would have met any old woman at Brogden.
If he remembers that time at all, it is as a past delusion, and there is nothing in me to recall what he once liked. He did not know me! Nonsense! I thought I was content only to know him safe from Jane—still his real self. I am. That is joy! All the rest is folly and selfishness. That marriage! How disgusting—and what crooked ways! But what is that to me? Jane may marry the whole world, so that Percy is Percy!'
The children were heard on the stairs, and Helen rushed in, shouting, in spite of the silencing finger, 'Aunt, it is the owl man!' and Johnnie himself, eager and joyous, 'It is the man who came with papa.'
'He met us,' said Helen. 'He knew my name, and he asked Annie's, and carried her to our door.'
'He said he had been into papa's room,' said Johnnie, 'and had seen baby. He is a very good-natured gentleman. Don't you like him, Aunt Theodora?'
'And oh! aunt, he asked me whether we ever went to Brogden; and when he heard that we had been at the parsonage, he said he lived there when he was a little boy, and our nursery was his;' chattered on Helen. 'He asked if we were in the fire; and you know Johnnie can't bear to hear of that; so I told him how funny it was when you came and pulled me out of bed, and we went down the garden with no shoes. And he asked whether that was the way you had grown so ugly, Aunt Theodora.'
'No, Helen, he did not say that; for he was a gentleman,' interposed Johnnie; 'he only said he was afraid our aunt had been a sufferer, and Sarah told—'
'And I told,' again broke in Helen, 'how Cousin Hugh said it was an honour and a glory to be burnt like you; and I told him how I got the water and should have put out the fire, if that horrid Simmonds had not carried me away, and I wish he had not. So long as I had not my curls burnt off,' said Miss Helen, pulling one of the glossy chestnut rings into her sight, like a conscious beauty as she was.
'He asked Sarah all about it,' said Johnnie; 'and he said we had a very good aunt; and, indeed, we have!' climbing carelessly into her lap. 'Then he met grandpapa, and they are walking in the square together.'
So Mr. Fotheringham could be in no real haste to be gone, and had only hurried away to avoid Theodora. However, there was no more musing time, the children's dinner was ready, and she was going down with the little girls, when her father entered. 'How is Arthur?'
It was answered by Johnnie, who was flying down-stairs with joyous though noiseless bounds, his whole person radiant with good tidings. 'Papa is asleep! grandpapa. Papa is fast asleep!'
'Have you been in the room?'
'No; mamma came to the door and told me. Baby is gone up to our nursery, and nobody is to make the least noise, for papa is gone to sleep so comfortably!'
The boy had caught so much gladness from his mother's look, that he almost seemed to understand the importance of that first rest. His grandfather stroked his hair, and in the same breath with Theodora, exclaimed, 'It is owing to Percy!'
'Has he told you about it?' said Theodora.
'So much as that there is a final break with that fellow Gardner—a comfort at least. Percy said they had got their affairs into a mess; Arthur had been trying to free himself, but Gardner had taken advantage of him, and used him shamefully, and his illness had forced him to come away, leaving things more complicated than ever. There was a feeling of revenge, it seems, at Arthur not having consented to some disgraceful scheme of his; but Percy did not give me the particulars. Meeting him in the steamer, ill and desperate—poor fellow—Percy heard the story, took care of him, and saw him home; then, finding next morning what a state he was in, and thinking there might be immediate demands—'
'Oh! that was the terrible dread and anxiety!'
'He did what not one man in a million would have done. He went off, and on his own responsibility adjusted the matter, and brought Gardner to consent. He said it had been a great liberty, and that he was glad to find he had not gone too far, and that Arthur approved.'
'Do you know what it was?'
'No; he assured me all was right, and that there was no occasion to trouble me with the detail. I asked if any advance was needed, and he said no, which is lucky, for I cannot tell how I could have raised it. For the rest, I could ask him no questions. No doubt it is the old story, and, as Arthur's friend, he could not be willing to explain it to me. I am only glad it is in such safe hands. As to its being a liberty, I told him it was one which only a brave thorough-going friend would have taken. I feel as if it might be the saving of his life.'
Theodora bent down to help little Anna, and said, 'You know it is Sir Antony Fotheringham's son that Miss Gardner married?'
'Ay!' said Lord Martindale, so much absorbed in his son as to forget his daughter's interest in Percival Fotheringham. 'He says Arthur's cough did not seem so painful as when he saw him before, and that he even spoke several times. I am frightened to think what the risk has been of letting him in.'
'Arthur insisted,' said Theodora, between disappointment at the want of sympathy, and shame for having expected it, and she explained how the interview had been unavoidable.
'Well, it is well over, and no harm done,' said Lord Martindale, not able to absolve the sister from imprudence. After a space, he added, 'What did you say? The deficient young Fotheringham married?'
'Yes, to Jane Gardner.'
'Why, surely some one said it was Percy himself!'
'So Violet was told at Rickworth.'
Lord Martindale here suddenly recollected all, as his daughter perceived by his beginning to reprove Helen for stirring about the salt. Presently he said, 'Have you heard that the other sister, the widow—what is her name?'
'Is going to be foolish enough to marry that Gardner. She was your friend, was not she?'
'Yes, poor thing. Did you hear much about her?'
'Percy says that she was kind and attentive to the old man, as long as he lived, though she went out a great deal while they lived abroad, and got into a very disreputable style of society there. Old Finch has left everything in her power; and from some words overheard on the quay at Boulogne, Percy understood that Gardner was on his way to pay his court to her at Paris. There was a former attachment it seems, and she is actually engaged to him. One can hardly pity her. She must do it with her eyes open.'
Theodora felt much pity. She had grieved at the entire cessation of intercourse, even by letter, which had ensued when the Finches went to the Continent; and she thought Georgina deserved credit for not having again seen Mark, when, as it now appeared, there had lurked in her heart affection sufficient to induce her to bestow herself, and all her wealth, upon him, spendthrift and profligate as she must know him to be. Miserable must be her future life; and Theodora's heart ached as she thought of wretchedness unaided by that which can alone give support through the trials of life, and bring light out of darkness. She could only pray that the once gay companion of her girlhood, whose thoughtlessness she had encouraged, might yet, even by affliction, be led into the thorny path which Theodora was learning to feel was the way of peace.
Arthur was wakened by the recurring cough, and the look of distress and anxiety returned; but the first word, by which Violet reminded him of Percy's call, brought back the air of relief and tranquillity. Mr. Harding, at his evening visit, was amazed at the amendment; and Johnnie amused his grandfather by asking if the owl man was really a doctor, or whether Sarah was right when she said he had rescued papa and his portmanteau out of a den of thieves.
When Violet left the room at night, the patient resignation of her face was brightening into thankfulness; and while preparing for rest, she could ask questions about the little girls. Theodora knew that she might tell her tale; and sitting in her favourite place on Violet's footstool, with her head bent down, she explained the error between the two cousins.
'How glad I am!' said the soft voice, ever ready to rejoice with her. 'Somehow, I had never recollected it, he is so like what he used to be. I am very glad.'
'Don't treat it as if it was to concern me,' said Theodora. 'I care only as he remains the noblest of men.'
'That he is.'
'Don't wish any more, nor think I do,' said Theodora. 'I never liked stories of young ladies who reform on having the small-pox. It is time nonsense should be out of my head when a man does not know me again.'
'Oh! surely—did he not?'
'Not till I spoke. No wonder, and it is better it should be so. I am unworthy any way. O, Violet, now will you not let me ask your forgiveness?'
'What do you mean, dearest?'
Violet did not shrink from the mention; she kissed Theodora's brow, while the tears, reserved for the time of respite, dropped fast and bright.
'Poor dear,' she said; 'how much you have suffered!'
There was silence for some moments. Theodora striving to keep her tears as quiet as her sister's.
'I think,' said Violet, low and simply, 'that we shall be happy now.'
Then, after another silence, 'Come, if we go on in this way, we shall not be fit for to-morrow, and you have only half a night. Dearest, I wish I could save you the sitting up! If he is better to-morrow, Johnnie shall take you for a walk.'
He was better, though the doctors, dismayed at yesterday's imprudence, preached strenuously on his highly precarious state, and enforced silence and absence of excitement. Indeed, his condition was still such that the improvement could only be seen in occasional gleams; and as the relief from mental anxiety left him more attention to bestow on the suffering from the disorder, he was extremely depressed and desponding, never believing himself at all better.
The experiment of a visit from the little girls was renewed, but without better success; for the last week had increased the horrors of his appearance; and Theodora reported that Johnnie had confided to her, as a shocking secret, that the reason why Helen could not bear to go near papa was, that he looked exactly like Red Ridinghood's wolf.
Violet was grateful for the saying, for it was the first thing that drew a smile from Arthur, and to court the child became a sort of interest and occupation that distracted his thoughts from himself. It was touching to see him watching her, as she ran in and out, trying to catch her eye, stretching out his hand invitingly, holding up fruit to allure her, and looking with fond, proud, yet mournful eyes, on her fresh healthful beauty. She used to try not to see him, and would race past at full speed, and speak to her mamma with her back to him; but gradually some mysterious attraction in that silent figure won sidelong glances from her, and she began to pause, each time with a longer and fuller tip-toe gaze, both hands pressed down on the top of her head, and a look like a wild fawn, till all at once, the wehr-wolf feeling would seize her, and she would turn and dash off as if for her life, while his eager, pleased face relaxed into disappointment, and her mother still said that time would bring her round.
At last, she took them completely by surprise, suddenly launching herself on the bed, and plunging her face into the midst of the black bristles; then, leaping down, and rushing to the door as if expecting to be caught. So violent a proceeding was almost more than Arthur could bear, and Violet, rising to smooth the coverings, began to preach gentleness; but shaken as he was, he was too much gratified to permit the reproof, smiled, and held up a bunch of grapes to invite the little maid back. But this was an offence; she put her hands behind her, and, with a dignified gesture, announced, 'I do not give kisses for grapes. I did it because Johnnie will not let me alone, and said I was unkind.'
'Theodora all over!' said her father, much entertained. It was a great step that he had discovered that the children could afford him diversion, especially now, when nothing else could have served to wile away the tedious hours. He could bear no reading aloud from any one but Johnnie, whom he would not refuse; and to whom he listened with pride in a performance he fancied wonderful, while the little books cost no effort of attention, and yet their simple lessons floated on his thoughts, and perchance sank into his heart. Or when he lay panting and wearied out with oppression, the babe's movements would attract his eye, and the prattlings of the little girls at their mamma's side would excite a languid curiosity that drew him out of himself. Sometimes that childish talk left food for thought. One day when the children had been sent into the next room to share some fruit from the plate by his bed-side, Helen's voice was overheard saying, 'I wish papa would never get well!'
'Helen! Helen, how can you?' pleaded her brother's shocked voice.
'He is so much more good-natured when he is ill,' was Helen's defence. 'I like him now; I don't like him at all when he is well, because then he is always cross. Don't you think so, Johnnie?'
'That is not kind of you when he lies there, and it hurts him so sadly to breathe. You should wish him to be well, Helen.'
'If he would be kind to me.'
'O, you don't know what it feels like to be ill,' said Johnnie. 'I do want to see him strong and able to ride, and go out to his soldiers again. I hope he will be kind still, and not go away and make mamma unhappy—'
'If he would ever lead me by the hand, like the little girl's papa at the house with the parrot, I should like that sort of papa, if he was not a little thin short ugly man. Should not you, Johnnie?'
'No! I never shall like anything so well as my own papa. I do love him with my whole, whole heart! I am so glad he will let us love him now! It seems to come over me in the morning, and make me so glad when I remember it.'
Violet had been on the point of stopping this conversation, but Arthur would not permit her, and listened with his eyes filling with tears.
'What have you done to that boy?' he murmured.
'It is his own loving self,' said Violet.
Arthur pressed her hand to his lips. 'My poor children! If papa ever were to get well—'
And Violet regretted that he had heard, for his emotion threw him back for the rest of the evening.
Then weep not o'er the hour of pain, As those who lose their all; Gather the fragments that remain, They'll prove nor few nor small.
—M. L. DUNCAN
In the meantime Theodora and her father had been brought into contact with visitors from the external world. One morning James brought in a card and message of inquiry from Lord St. Erme, and Lord Martindale desired that he should be admitted. Theodora had just time to think how ridiculous it was of her to consider how she should appear to another old lover, before he came in, colouring deeply, and bending his head low, not prepared to shake hands; but when hers was held out, taking it with an eager yet bashful promptitude.
After a cordial greeting between him and her father, it was explained that he had not entirely recovered what he called his accident, and had come to London for advice; he had brought a parcel from Wrangerton for Mrs. Martindale, and had promised to carry the Moss family the latest news of the Colonel. While this was passing, and Lord Martindale was talking about Arthur, Theodora had time to observe him. The foreign dress and arrangement of hair were entirely done away with, and he looked like an Englishman, or rather an English boy, for the youthfulness of feature and figure was the same; the only difference was that there was a greater briskness of eye, and firmness of mouth, and that now that the blush on entering had faded, his complexion showed the traces of recent illness, and his cheeks and hands were very thin. When Theodora thought of the heroism he had shown, of her own usage of him, and of his remembrance of her in the midst of his worst danger, she could not see him without more emotion than she desired. He was like a witness against her, and his consciousness WOULD infect her! She longed for some of the cool manner that had come so readily with Percy, and with some difficulty brought out a composed inquiry for Lady Lucy; but he disconcerted her again by the rapid eager way in which he turned round at her voice.
'Lucy is very well, thank you; I left her staying with my cousins, the Delavals. It is very hard to get her away from home, and she threatens not to stay a day after my return.' He spoke in a hasty confused way, as if trying to spin everything out of the answer, so as to remain conversing with Theodora as long as possible.
'How long shall you be in town?' she asked, trying to find something she could say without awkwardness.
'I can hardly tell. I have a good deal to do. Pray'—turning to Lord Martindale—'can you tell me which is the best shop to go to for agricultural implements?'
Speed the plough! Farming is a happy sedative for English noblemen of the nineteenth century, thought Theodora, as she heard them discussing subsoil and rocks, and thought of the poet turned high farmer, and forgetting even love and embarrassment! However, she had the satisfaction of hearing, 'No, we cannot carry it out thoroughly there without blowing up the rocks, and I cannot have the responsibility of defacing nature.'
'Then you cannot be a thorough-going farmer.'
'I cannot afford it, and would not if I could. It is only for the sake of showing the tenants that I am not devoid of the spirit of the age.'
Country gentlemen being happier in agricultural implement shops than anywhere else, Lord Martindale offered to accompany his friend and give his counsel. He would go up-stairs to see how Arthur was, and carry the parcel to Violet.
'Pray tell Mrs. Martindale that her mother and sisters sent all manner of kind messages. Very pleasing people they are,' said Lord St. Erme; 'and Mrs. Moss was so very kind to my poor little sister that we hardly know how to be sufficiently grateful.'
'I never saw any of the family but the brother,' said Theodora.
'And he is not the best specimen,' said Lord St. Erme. 'Some of the young ladies are remarkably nice people, very sensible, and Lucy is continually discovering some kindness of theirs among the poor people. Ah! that reminds me, perhaps you could tell me whether you know anything of a school in your neighbourhood, from which a master has been recommended to me—St. Mary's, Whiteford.'
'I don't know much of it; I believe the clergyman takes pains about it.'
'Do you think they would have a superior man there! Our funds are low, and we must not look for great attainments at present. It is easy to cram a man if he is intelligent; I only want a person who can keep up what is taught, and manage the reading-room on nights when we are not there.'
'Have you a reading-room?'
'Only at Wrangerton as yet; I want to set up another at Coalworth.'
'Then you find it answer? How do you arrange?'
'Two nights in the week we read to them, teach singing, or get up a sort of lecture. The other days there are books, prints, newspapers; and you will be surprised to see how much they appreciate them. There's a lad now learning to draw, whose taste is quite wonderful! And if you could have seen their faces when I read them King Henry IV! I want to have the same thing at Coalworth for the winter—not in summer. I could not ask them to spend a minute, they can help, out of the free air and light; but in winter I cannot see those fine young men and boys dozing themselves into stolidity.'
Was this the man who contemned the whole English peasantry, colliers especially? Theodora rejoiced that his hobby had saved her a world of embarrassment, and still more that their tete-a-tete was interrupted. Lady Elizabeth Brandon begged to know whether Miss Martindale could see her.
She was on her way through London; and having just heard of Colonel Martindale's illness, had come to inquire, and offer to be useful. Emma remained at the hotel. After Lord Martindale's cheerful answer and warm thanks, the gentlemen set off together, and Theodora sat down with her good old friend to give the particulars, with all the fulness belonging to the first relief after imminent peril.
After the first, however, Lady Elizabeth's attention wandered; and before the retrograding story had gone quite back to the original Brogden cough, she suddenly asked if Percival Fotheringham was in England.
'Yes, at Worthbourne. You know it was his cousin—'
'I know—it was a mistake,' said Lady Elizabeth, hurrying over the subject, as by no means suited its importance in Theodora's eyes. 'Can you tell me whether he has seen or heard anything of Mr. Mark Gardner?'
'Yes,' said Theodora, surprised.
'I suppose you have not heard him say how he is conducting himself?'
'Have you heard that he is going to be married to Mrs. Finch?'
Theodora was astonished at the effect of this communication on her sober staid old friend. She started, made an incredulous outcry, caused it to be repeated, with its authority, then rose up, exclaiming, 'The wretch! My poor Emma! I never was more rejoiced. But Emma!'
The sight of Theodora's surprise recalled her to herself. 'Ah! you do not know?' she said; and having gone so far, was obliged to explain, with expressions of gratitude to Arthur and Violet for having so well guarded a secret that now might continue hidden for ever.
Theodora was slow in comprehending, so monstrous was the idea of Emma Brandon engaged to Mark Gardner! She put her hands before her eyes, and said she must be dreaming—she could not credit it. When convinced, there was something in her manner that pleased and comforted Lady Elizabeth by the kind feeling and high esteem it showed.
'Let me ask you one question, my dear,' she said, 'just to set my mind at rest. I was told that your brother's affairs were involved with those of that unhappy man. I trust it is no longer so.'
Theodora explained, as far as she understood, how Percy had extricated him.
'Ah!' said Lady Elizabeth, 'I fear we are in some degree the cause. My poor Emma was imprudent enough to quote Colonel Martindale; and she has told me that she was frightened by a pale look of anger that crossed his face, and something which he muttered between his teeth. But he made her believe Arthur his seducer!'
'Poor Arthur! If you knew all!' said Theodora; 'and who—' then breaking off, 'Percy did tell papa that it was all Mr. Gardner's revenge for Arthur's not consenting to some nefarious transaction. Depend upon it, that was it! You asked Violet, you say. Percy said that, among the sentences he overheard on the quay, there was something about a wife who had crossed him, and who should suffer for it. He said it was spoken with a hard-hearted wickedness that, even when he did not know who it was, made him long to crush him like a reptile; and when he had seen Violet and the children, though it might be interference, he said he could as soon have left them in the folds of a serpent!'
'Ah! my poor girl!'
'But this frees her. Oh! she cannot grieve for such a wretch!'
'I fear her attachment is so strong that she will not see it in this light.'
'When he gives her up without a word, she ought to be too angry to grieve.'
'I do not think that is in her nature.'
'So much the better. Anger and comfort cannot go together. Oh, one so good and gentle must be helped! How I wish I could do anything for her; but she will be better at home. It is lucky there are no associations with him there.'
'I wish she was at home. Theresa Marstone is staying with her brother in London, and I left her with Emma at the hotel.'
'Fortunately there cannot be two ways of thinking on this matter,' said Theodora.
Lady Elizabeth was too anxious to break the tidings to her daughter to wait at that time to see Violet; and went, promising to come to-morrow to report how the blow should have been borne.
Theodora was glad when she had a little space in which to think over the events of the day.
Ever since she had embraced the lesson of humility, the once despised Emma Brandon had been rising in her estimation. The lowliness of her manners, and the heart-whole consistency of her self-devotion, had far outweighed her little follies, and, together with remorse for having depreciated and neglected her, had established her claim to respect and admiration.
And now to find the old prediction verified, and Emma led away by so absurd a delusion, might have seemed a triumph, had not Theodora been thoroughly humbled. She only saw a humiliating contrast between the true pure heart that blindly gave its full affections, and that which could pretend to have given itself away, and then, out of mere impatience of restraint, play with and torture the love it had excited, and, still worse, foster an attachment it never meant to requite!
She was the more sensible of this latter delinquency now that Lord St. Erme had just been brought before her, deserving all that man could deserve; having more than achieved all to which she had incited him, and showing a constancy unchecked by the loss of her personal attractions. His blushing homage came almost as a compensating contrast after her severe mortification at Percy's surprise and subsequent cool composure.
While reproaching herself for this feeling, her father came home, and with him the Earl. They had been occupied all the afternoon, and had fallen into conversation on county business. Lord Martindale, finding his young friend was alone at his hotel, thought he had better dine with them, since Violet need not be troubled about it. Theodora wondered whether it had occurred to her father that some one else might be troubled, and that it might seem like a renewal of encouragement; but the fact was, that after ten days of the sick-room, his society was a positive treat to Lord Martindale, and in advising him on magistrate's business, he forgot everything else.
The dinner went off without embarrassment. Lord St. Erme did indeed blush when he offered his arm to her; but with consideration that seemed to understand her, he kept up the conversation chiefly with Lord Martindale on rates, police, and committees.
She thought of the horror he had been wont to express of the English squirearchy, 'whose arena is the quarter sessions;' and she remembered standing up for them, and declaring there was far more honest, sturdy, chivalrous maintenance of right and freedom in their history than in all his beloved Lombardic republics. And now, what was he but a thorough-going country gentleman, full of plans of usefulness, sparing neither thought, time, nor means; and though some of his views were treated by Lord Martindale as wild and theoretical, yet, at any rate, they proved that he had found living men a more interesting study than the Apollo Belvedere.
Theodora was resolved that Violet should see him, and now that the dinner was eaten and beyond anxiety, went up to disclose his presence, and persuade her to go down to tea and leave her with the patient. She found it was well she had kept her counsel; Violet took it quietly enough; but Arthur chose to concern himself as to what wine had been produced, and would have sent a message to James if his sister had not assured him that it was too late.
He insisted on Violet's going down to the drawing-room, and would not hear of Theodora's remaining with him. The nurse was in the outer room, and Johnnie was made supremely happy by being allowed to sit up an hour longer to be his companion; and thus with Lord Martindale and Theodora making frequent expeditions to visit him, Violet was sufficiently tranquil to remain as long in the drawing-room as was worth the fatigue of the transit.
She could enjoy her talk with the Earl; and, indeed, since Annette's visit, she had heard no tidings so full and satisfactory. He knew the name of every one at Wrangerton; he seemed to have learnt to love Helvellyn; he spoke very highly of Olivia's husband, Mr. Hunt, declaring that he liked nothing better than a visit to his most beautiful place, Lassonthwayte, a farm fit for the poets, and had learnt a great deal from him; and of Mrs. Moss he talked with affectionate gratitude that brought the tears into Violet's eyes, especially when he promised to go and call on her immediately on his return, to tell her how Colonel Martindale was going on, and describe to her her grandchildren. He repeated to Violet how kind her mother had been to his sister, and how beautifully she had nursed him. Lord Martindale began to ask questions, which brought out a narration of his adventures in the coal-pit, given very simply, as if his being there had been a mere chance.
He allowed that he knew it to be dangerous, but added, that it was impossible to get things done by deputy, and that he had no choice but to see about it himself, and he dwelt much on the behaviour of the men.
'Did you give up hope?' asked Lord Martindale.
'For myself I did. The confined air oppressed me so much, even before the sense of hunger came on, that it seemed to take away all power of thought and action.'
'Yet you did think?' said Violet.
'I was obliged, for the men were more confounded and helpless at first, though, when once directed, nothing could be more resolute and persevering! Brave fellows! I would not but have had it happen! One seldom has such a chance of seeing the Englishman's gallant heart of obedient endurance. It was curious to observe the instinctive submission. Some were men who would not for worlds have touched their hats to me above ground; yet, as soon as I tried to take the lead, and make them think what could yet be done, they obeyed instantly, though I knew almost nothing compared to them, and while they worked like giants, I could hardly move.'
'Was it very acute suffering?'
'For the last two days it was, but it was worse for those who had to work. I was generally faint and drowsy, and could hardly rouse myself to speak a word of encouragement, which was what they wanted. They fancied it was vain to work towards the old shaft, but I was sure none of them could live to be dug out from above, and that it would be wrong to let them cease. I think, as well as I recollect, that speaking was the worst pain of all. But it is no harm to know what the poor undergo.'
'Hardly to such extremity,' said Violet.
'Well, I know I shall never turn indifferently away again when I hear, "We are starving." A man feels little for what he has not experienced.'
'I suppose,' said Lord Martindale, 'that it has put an extinguisher on Chartism?'
'There are some determined village Hampdens still, but I think the fellow-feeling it has excited has done good. I have not been able to go among them since, but they have indefatigably come to inquire for me. The first Sunday I was able to come down-stairs, I found the hall door beset with them in their best, looking like a synod of Methodist preachers. Poor Lucy shocked my aunt by running about crying, and shaking hands with their great horny fists. I fancy "our young lady," as they call her, is the strongest anti-chartist argument.'
Though talking in this animated manner he was far from strong, and went away early, looking thoroughly tired. Theodora had stitched away throughout the conversation in silence; but Violet knew, by the very fixity of her eye, that she was feeling it deeply and there was consciousness in the absence of word or look, with which she let the Earl bid her good night. It was a strange thing to have been in part the means of forming so noble a character, and yet to regard her share in it with nothing but shame.
Self-reproachful and unhappy, Theodora went to take her turn of watching her brother for the first part of the night. She could not have borne to be told, what was in fact the case, that he was generally more uncomfortable under her care than that of any one else, chiefly because there was not the restraint either of consideration for his wife, or of the authority of his father. Besides, she was too visibly anxious, too grave and sad, to find anything cheerful with which to divert his attention; and he was sure to become restless and exacting, or else depressed, either as to his illness or his affairs.
To-night he had discovered Lady Elizabeth's visit, and was anxious to know whether Gardner had broken with Miss Brandon. Theodora would not encourage his talking; and this teased him, only making him say more till she had told all, adding, 'O Arthur! what a comfort it must be that this is brought upon you by your having tried to save Emma!'
'Not much of that. It was Violet. I would have stopped her writing if I could.'
Perhaps this downfall of the heroism with which she had been endowing his resistance, was one of the most cruel blows of all.
'If he marries Mrs. Finch, he must at least pay off what he owes me;' and he began perplexing himself with reckonings. Theodora saw his brow drawn together, and his lips moving, and begged him to desist and try to sleep.
'You have interrupted me—I have lost it!' and he tried again. 'No, I can't get it right. There is a lot of papers in my writing-case. You'll see to it. It will be something for Violet and the children. Mind the claim is sent in;' and again he strove to explain, while she entreated him to put such things out of his mind; and it ended in such violent coughing, that Lord Martindale heard, came in, and with a look that told her how ill she managed, sent her to bed, where she vexed herself for hours at Arthur's seeming to dwell only on his gaming debts, instead of on what she longed to see occupying his mind. Her elasticity seemed to have been destroyed by her illness, and she had lost the vigour which once would have made her rise against depression. The reappearance of Percy and of Lord St. Erme seemed only to have wearied and perplexed her; and she lay awake, feeling worn, confused, and harassed, and only wishing to hide her head and be at rest.
Arthur had a bad night, and was not so well in the morning, and while Lord Martindale was wondering why Theodora could not have been more cautious, the letters came in—one from Brogden—making it evident that Lady Martindale was so unwell and dispirited, that she ought not to be left alone any longer. Lord Martindale, therefore, decreed that Theodora should return, taking with her the three eldest children. And she could make no objection; she ought to submit to be passively disposed of; and, grievous as it was to leave her brother and Violet, there was compensation in avoiding her former suitors.
Lady Elizabeth came in almost at the same time as Lord Martindale went out, after breakfast. She was in great distress. Poor Emma treated the whole as a calumny; and when shown the absolute certainty that Mark was at Paris, daily calling on Mrs. Finch, remained persuaded that his cousin had perverted him from the first, and was now trying to revive her pernicious influence when he might have been saved; or that perhaps he was driven to an immediate wealthy marriage by his honourable feeling and his necessities. It was all her own fault for not having taken him at once. Lady Elizabeth had hardly been able to prevent her from writing to revoke the year's probation, and offer him all that was needed to satisfy his creditors.
Theodora could not help exclaiming, that she thought Emma would have had more dignity.
'So I told her, my dear; but it seemed to be no consolation. I do not feel secure that, though she has promised me not to write, Theresa Marstone may not.'
'Is Miss Marstone still in his favour?'
'I can still less understand her view,' said Lady Elizabeth, with a grave, sad simplicity, almost like satire; 'she says it only convinces her that the Church of England does not know how to treat penitents.'
Theodora could not help laughing, and Lady Elizabeth nearly joined her, though sighing and saying that such talk gave her other fears for Emma. She dreaded that Miss Marstone was unsettled in her allegiance to her Church, and that her power over Emma was infusing into her her own doubts.
'It is very sad—very strange! I cannot understand it,' said Theodora. 'I had always believed that such innocence and lowliness as Emma and Violet have was a guard against all snares; yet here is Emma led astray by these very excellences!'
'My dear,' said Lady Elizabeth, 'I think it is the want of that lowliness that is at the root with my poor child. It is a dangerous thing for a girl to throw herself into an exclusive friendship, especially when the disapproval of her own family is felt. I tried, but I never could like Theresa Marstone; and now I see that she liked to govern Emma, and depreciated my judgment—very justly, perhaps; but still I was her mother, and it was not kind to teach her to think doing as I wished a condescension.'
'So Emma sold all her senses to her friend?'
'Yes, and Miss Marstone keeps them still. Theresa taught her to think herself wiser than all, and their own way of talking the proof of goodness.'
'Ay! their passwords.'
'Just so, and I do believe it was that kind of vanity that took from her her power of discerning and the instinctive shrinking from evil.'
'It is very easy to make simplicity silliness,' said Theodora. 'I beg your pardon, Lady Elizabeth, I did not mean to blame her, but I was thinking how truly you spoke.'
'And now, may I ask to see Mrs. Martindale; or will it be too much for her?'
'She will be glad, but she was tired with coming down to Lord St. Erme. And now, Arthur's bad night! Oh! Lady Elizabeth, you come from your griefs to ours. It is a shame to make you share them!'
'I do not think so,' said Lady Elizabeth. 'There is a tract of Hannah More's showing that to bear another's burden lightens our own; and all old people will tell you that many troubles together weigh less heavily than a single one.'
Theodora could not think so; each of her cares seemed to make the others worse, till the mere toil and vexation of Helen's lessons became serious; and yet, when the children were dismissed for their walk, she felt unable to profit by her leisure, otherwise than by sighing at the prospect of missing the power of looking in at Arthur from hour to hour. She had not roused herself to occupation, when, to her dismay, Lord St. Erme was admitted. She began to say her father was not at home.
'Yes,' he said, 'I met him.'
He means mischief! thought Theodora.
'He tells me that you are going away!'
'I believe so,' said Theodora. 'My mother is not well, and we cannot both be spared from home.'
'Will you forgive me?' said the Earl, still standing, and with downcast eyes, and heightened complexion. 'I know this is no fit time, but I could not part without one allusion. I would not harass you for worlds. A word from you, and I drop the subject.'
'Oh! pray, then, say no more!' was her breathless entreaty.
He turned in silence, with a mournful gesture of farewell, and laid his hand on the door. She perceived her unkindness to one who had every claim to honour and consideration—one who had remembered her in well-nigh the hour of death.
'Stay,' she said; 'I did not speak as I ought.'
'I know I presumed too far,' said Lord St. Erme, pausing; 'I ask your pardon for disturbing you. It was selfish; but I could not let you go without once adverting to the subject—'
There was a tremor of voice, an eager look, that made her fear that the crushed hope was reviving, and she hastened to say, 'The best thing would be that you should think no more about me.'
'Impossible!' he vehemently cried; then, catching himself up, and speaking in the same deferential tone as at first, 'I owe you far too much to cease to think of you.'
'It is a great pity,' said Theodora; 'I never deserved such feelings, and they make me wish more and more that all could be undone.'
'No! no!' exclaimed Lord St. Erme, his eyes lighting and his cheek glowing, while his fair young features wore a look that was all poet and knight. 'Would I see what is past undone? It was the turning-point of my life—the call to arms. Hitherto, life had been to me a dream in an enchanted garden, with the same secret weariness and dissatisfaction! I dread the thought of the time and means I lavished away, fancying because it was not vice it was not dissipation. It was then that I became unworthy of you. It was you who taught me where lies modern chivalry, and made my folly and conceit cease to despise the practical; showed me—may I quote German to you once more?—that "Das Leben ist keine Lustfahrt sondern theils eine kampfes, theils eine Pilger-weise." I took up my staff, at first, I own, in hopes of winning you—'
'You did not persevere merely for that reason?'
'No; when my eyes were once opened to the festering sin and misery around, when I saw the evil nourished at my own door by my neglect, and perceived that those dependent on me were doomed to degradation and oppression that I might gratify my craving for art,—then, indeed, I was appalled! Those paintings and statues seemed to cry out to me that human souls had been sacrificed to them! The toil and devotion of a life would be too little to atone! Oh! that it were more able and effective. Means and judgment go but a little way!'
'Your heart and happiness are in the work,' said Theodora, seeing how he was carried away by his feelings.
'Yes. There is a sense like the labourer's at his daily task, and though there is the mountain of things undone, there is the hope that all are not wilfully neglected. It is for this that I longed to thank you. When I was in danger, I knew what it would have been to wait for death before I thought of—of the way of peace. I blessed you in my heart then—I thank you now.'
'Thank Him who has brought good out of evil, was all Theodora could say.
He bowed his head gravely, and continued: 'Now, thank you again for having listened. It has been a great satisfaction to me to acknowledge my obligations. Do not suppose I came to London intending to distress you with my pertinacity, or with any idea of having earned your favour. I was obliged to come; and when once near you, I could not bear to separate without, at least, entreating to know whether the former obstacle exists.'
'It does,' said Theodora, looking down; 'I believe it always will. I lament more than I can express, my conduct towards you; and what you have told me grieves me more in one way, though in another it is most consoling. You have the true secret of peace, and I know all must be well with you. If you had done otherwise, it would have been far worse for me. Tell Lucy I have not forgotten her. I am sure she has the true light-hearted sort of happiness.'
'She has, indeed,' said Lord St. Erme; and he entered into a description of his sister's doings; her perfect content with their seclusion, and her influence over the dependants. So eager did he grow in his favourite subject, the welfare of his people, that he seemed to have forgotten what had brought him to Cadogan-place, and Theodora was convinced that though the being brought into contact with her had for the time renewed the former attachment, it was in reality by no means the prominent thought of his life. His duties and the benefit of his colliers were what engrossed his mind; and with his sister to render his home happy, everything else was secondary. When it did occur to him to think of love, it was for Theodora; but he had no more time for such thoughts than most other busy practical men.
He discoursed upon his schools and reading-rooms till the children came in, and then bade her good-bye, quite as if he had talked himself back into an every-day state of feeling.
Was Theodora mortified? She went to her own room to analyze her sensations, but was almost immediately followed by Johnnie, coming to tell her that the owl-man was in the drawing-room.
'Another who is consoled!' thought she. 'Humiliating, indeed, it is to see such complete cures. There is no need to be absurd and conscious at this meeting! But here I do, indeed, need forgiveness—how my heart aches to ask it—his mere pardon for my offences! If I could only have it out with him without compromising womanly proprieties! That can't be; I must bear it!'
On the stairs she heard Helen's voice. 'He came yesterday, to the evening dinner, but I don't like him.'
'Why not?' asked Percy.
'Because he says I am just like Aunt Theodora, and I am not.'
Theodora knew whom she meant. Lord St. Erme had been much struck by her little niece's resemblance, and Helen resented the comparison as an indignity to her beauty. She felt extremely annoyed at Percy's hearing this; then recollected it did not signify to him, and entered just as he was telling little Miss Vanity that she was the silliest child he had ever the honour of meeting.
There was some constraint, on her part, in the short conversation on Arthur's health that ensued, before he went up; and he only returned to the drawing-room for a moment, to assure her that he thought Arthur much better than when he had last seen him.
'He avoids me! he cannot endure me!' she thought, and yet she felt doubly averse to the idea of returning to Brogden.
Lord Martindale came in with a look of expectation on his face which grieved Theodora, for she knew her refusal would be a disappointment to him. He sent the children away, paused for her to begin, and at last asked: 'Well, my dear, has Lord St. Erme been here?'
'Yes papa;' and it was plain enough how it had been. Lord Martindale sighed. The rest being equal, it was not in human nature not to prefer an Earl to an almost penniless author. 'I would not urge you on any account,' he said; 'but I wish it could have been otherwise.'
'So do I, most heartily,' said Theodora.
'It is very different now,' said Lord Martindale. Four years ago I could hardly have wished it. Now, I think most highly of him, and I should have been rejoiced to have seen his constancy rewarded.'
'I am ashamed and grieved,' said Theodora. 'He did, indeed, deserve better things. He is a noble character; and I cannot honour or esteem him enough, nor sufficiently regret the way I treated him. But, indeed, papa, it would not be right. I cannot help it.'
'Well, there is no more to be said,' sighed Lord Martindale. 'I know you will do right.'
Something was won since her former dismissal of the Earl! Her father gave her a look full of confidence and affection; and made happy by it, she rallied her spirits and said, 'Besides, what a pair it would be! We should be taken for a pretty little under-graduate and his mother!'
'That will not last, my dear,' said Lord Martindale, vexed though smiling at her droll manner. 'You are younger than he.'
'In years, but not in mind,' said Theodora. 'No, no, papa; you have me for life, and it is hard you should be so anxious to get rid of me!'
'I only wish to consult your happiness, my dear child.'
'And that always was in fancying myself necessary,' said Theodora, gaily, though there was a trembling in her voice; and when she went up to her own room, she hid her face in her hands, and felt as if life was very dreary and uninteresting, and as if it was a miserable exile to be sent into the country just now, to have to force cheerful conversation for her mother, and to be wearied with Helen's wild spirits. 'But have I not deserved everything? And after my brother has been spared so far, how can I repine at any selfish trouble?'
Herself, almost heartbroken now, Was bent to take the vestal vow, And shroud, within St. Hilda's gloom, Her wasted hopes and withered bloom.
Violet, when called to consult with her father-in-law in the outer room, felt a sort of blank apprehension and consternation at the idea of being separated from her children; and a moment's reflection satisfied her that in one case at least she might rightly follow the dictates of her own heart. She said that she thought Johnnie could not be spared by his papa.
Lord Martindale's eye followed hers, and through the half-closed door saw Johnnie, sitting on the bed, reading to his father, who listened with amused, though languid attention.
'I believe you are right,' he said; 'though I wish I had the boy in the country doing no lessons. He puts me more in mind of his uncle every day.'
'One of the highest compliments Johnnie has ever had,' said Violet, colouring with pleasure; 'but I am afraid to trust him away from me and Mr. Harding in the winter because of his croup.'
'Ah! then it cannot be,' he answered; 'and I do not think I would take him from his father now, but his sisters must come; they would be too much for you without Theodora.'
Violet could only be mournfully thankful, and the project was in time laid before Arthur.
'Send my little girls away!' said he, looking discomfited. 'Oh! if you wish to keep them'—joyfully exclaimed Violet.
'I thought that if Theodora went home, Violet would hardly be able to manage them,' said Lord Martindale.
'If they are in her way,' said Arthur, and his eyes smiled at her, knowing what her decision would be.
'Oh! no, no! It was their grandpapa's kindness.' Johnnie and Helen here peeped into the room; Arthur beckoned to them, and said, 'How should you like to go into the country with Aunt Theodora?'
'To see grandmamma and the peacock?' said Lord Martindale. Johnnie clung to his mother's hand, piteously whispering, 'Oh! don't send me away, mamma—I would try to bear it if I ought.'
Helen climbed the bed, and sturdily seated herself close to her papa. 'I shall not desert my father and mother,' said she, with great dignity, drawing up her head.
'No more you shall, my little heroine!' said Arthur, throwing his arm round her, while she glanced with saucy triumph at her grandfather.
In the silence of night, when Arthur was alone with his father, he said, 'If those little girls go away now, they will never remember me.'
To this plea there could be no reply; for though the danger was no longer imminent, it was still extremely doubtful whether he would ever leave his room again.
His wish to keep the children made Lord Martindale reconsider of sending Theodora home, and he desired Violet to choose between her and himself. She thought Theodora the most effective, and Arthur seemed to prefer her remaining, so that she found herself disposed of according to her wishes, her father only stipulating that she should not neglect rest, air, or exercise, of which she stood in evident need.
Every one observed her haggard looks on the day when they met for the baptism of 'Arthur Fotheringham.' It was a melancholy christening, without the presence of either parent; and so all the little party felt it, and yet, if they could have seen into the recesses of the mother's heart, they would have found there were causes which made this baptism day better to her than any of the former ones.
The godfather came afterwards to see Arthur, who believed him more than all the doctors when he assured him he was making progress. Arthur began to speak of the debt; he wished before his father went to have a settlement of accounts, take steps for selling his commission, and repaying Percy.
'No,' said Percy, 'wait till you are better and can look about you. Sell your commission indeed, and take the bread out of your children's mouths! No, if you did choose to do that, it must in honour and justice be divided among all your creditors.'
Arthur was forced to give up.
Emma Brandon had not joined the christening party. Miss Marstone had actually written to Mark Gardner, and had in reply received an acknowledgment of her 'good offices, which had gone far to enable him to justify the bets that before Christmas he would have a wife with ten thousand pounds a year!' He did not quite venture to insult Miss Brandon, but sent her a cool message of farewell. The rest of the letter, the friends declared, was evidently by Mrs. Finch's dictation. They shut themselves up together; Lady Elizabeth was not allowed to help her daughter, and came to Cadogan-place chiefly that she might talk over her troubles with Theodora, who put her into communication with Percy, and from him she heard a brief sketch of Mr. Gardner's life and adventures, still less disposing her to desire him as a son-in-law.
She was certainly safe from this danger, but her cares were not thus ended. If Emma would have shared her griefs with her, and admitted her attempts at consolation, she would have been more at ease, but as it was, Emma was reserved with her, and attached herself solely to Theresa Marstone, whom she even made a sort of interpreter between her and her mother, so that Lady Elizabeth only knew as much of her mind as her confidante chose to communicate.
Not only was this most painful to her feelings as a mother, but she had serious doubts of the safety of such a companion. The extreme silliness of Theresa's vanity and exclusiveness had long been visible, and as it was the young lady's fashion to imagine the defect anywhere but in her own judgment, there were symptoms of the mischief having been by her attributed to the Church of England. As if to console herself for the shock she had sustained, she was turning to a new fancy, for when a woman once begins to live upon excitement, she will seek for the intoxication anywhere.
This perception made Lady Elizabeth resolve that as long as she was mistress of Rickworth, she would not again invite Miss Marstone thither; while Emma was equally determined not to go home without her only friend. Thus the mother and daughter lingered on in London, Theresa often coming to spend the day with Emma, and Lady Elizabeth having recourse to the Martindale family, and trying to make herself of use by amusing the children, sitting in Arthur's room, or taking Theodora for a walk or drive.
One morning she came in to say that Emma was going to drive to Islington to call upon Miss Marstone, who had gone two days previously to stay with some friends there, and to beg that Theodora would accompany her. Aware that it would be as great a penance to Emma as to herself, Theodora would fain have been excused, but let herself be overruled on Lady Elizabeth's promise to supply her place at home, and assurance that it would be a positive relief that she should be of the party, even if she did not get out of the carriage, as a check upon the length of time Emma would spend with her friend.
The two unwilling companions set forth, each in her own comer of the carriage, Emma leaning back, her thick blue veil hiding her face; Theodora, who always repudiated veils, sitting upright, her face turned, so as to catch the breeze on her hot temples, wishing she could turn herself into Violet, and possess her power of sweet persuasion and consolation. She could think of nothing to say, and began at last to fear that her silence might appear unkind. She tried to interest Emma by speaking of Johnnie, but she only obtained brief replies, and the conversation had dropped before they left the streets and entered on suburban scenery. Theodora exclaimed at a gorgeous Virginian creeper—
'Almost as fine as the one at the Priory,' said she.
Emma looked and sighed.
'Rickworth must be in high glory. I know nothing prettier than the many-coloured woods sloping into the meadow, with the soft mist rising. You will find home beautiful.'
'I cannot bear the thought of it,' said Emma, in an under-tone.
'How glad your little orphans will be! How many have you?'
'There are five.'
Theodora saw she hated the subject, but thought it good for her, and went on to tell her of a case at Whitford, cramming the subject into her ear at first against the stomach of her sense, but it could not but exact attention, a widow sinking in a decline after sorrows which, by comparison, made all young lady troubles shrink into atoms. Emma became interested, and began to ask questions.
'You will go to see the mother? Poor thing, I hope she may be alive to hear of the prospect for her child. I am sorry to be unable to go and see her, and should be so glad to know you near and able to attend to her.'
'We will write to the housekeeper,' said Emma.
'Are you not going back yourself?'
'I don't know; I have no heart to think of it.'
'Emma,' said Theodora, 'we need not go on as if we did not understand each other. Violet can attend to you now; I wish you would talk to her. No one can comfort as she can.'
'I do not wish to tease her with my—'
'She knows, she longs to help you. Don't you know how fond of you she always was? You two appreciated each other from the first.'
'It is of no use. She never entered into my views. She does not understand. It is her situation I blame, not herself. She is a dear creature, and I once had a strong girlish enthusiasm for her.'
'Once!' cried Theodora; 'what has she ever done to lessen enthusiasm for all that is good and lovely?'
Emma hung her head, alarmed; and Theodora more gently insisted, till, by the power which in childhood she had exerted over Emma, she forced out an answer. 'Forgive me, if I must tell you. I have thought her too fond of going out. It was no wonder, so very young as she was. I do not find fault, but it seemed to dispel an illusion that she was superior to other people. Don't you remember one party she would go to against warning, that one where she fainted? I could never feel the same for her afterwards.'
Theodora was silent for a few seconds, then exclaimed, 'O Violet, is there no end to the injuries I have done you? Emma, never judge without seeing behind the curtain. It was my fault. It was when I was crazed with wilfulness. Your mother offered to chaperon me, I was set on going with Mrs. Finch, and as the only means of preventing that, Violet sacrificed herself. I did not know she likewise sacrificed the friendship of the only person, except John, who had been kind to her.'
'I wish Theresa had known this,' said Emma.
'Now YOU know it, will you not turn to Violet for advice and comfort? I know what she can be. If you could guess what she saved me from, you would fly at once to her.'
'I cannot begin now, I cannot look anywhere that recalls past happiness!' said Emma, murmuring low, as though the words, in spite of herself, broke from her oppressed heart. 'Would that I could hide my head! Oh! that I had wings like a dove!'
'Emma, you have them. They may carry you into what seems to be a wilderness, but go bravely on, and you will be at rest at last.'
'What do you mean?'
'The wings of duty.'
'If I only knew where it was.'
'Your mother, your dependants, your orphans, your beautiful old plan.
Emma only groaned, and held up her hand in deprecation.
'I have felt it,' continued Theodora. 'I know how vain, and vapid, and weary everything seems, as if the sap of life was gone, but if we are content to remain in the wilderness, it begins to blossom at last, indeed it does.'
'I thought you had had no troubles,' said Emma, with more interest. 'They could not have been such as mine.'
'In one respect they were worse, for they were entirely my own fault.'
'May I ask, is there no hope for you?'
'No, said Theodora, 'I believe there is none. But a certain peaceful feeling, independent of that, came after the desolateness, and has never gone utterly away, though I have had to reap the harvest of the evil that I sowed. Oh! depend upon it, there is nothing like resolutely facing the day's work.'
Emma made no answer; they had come to the gate of a villa, and Theodora thought she might as well have held her peace, since Theresa would undo the whole.
Miss Marstone was not within, but she had left a note for Miss Brandon. Emma, after reading it, timidly said that Theresa had gone to spend the day with a friend, who was boarding in a convent not far off, and that she wished her to come and make her visit to her there. Then timidly glancing towards her companion, she desired to be driven thither, but Theodora, leaning forward, said, in an authoritative manner, 'Drive on two miles on the road. We will say where next when we come back.'
'I beg your pardon,' she said to Emma, 'but this is not a step to be taken inconsiderately.'
Emma did not reply; Theodora perceived that her decided manner had terrified her. 'I am sorry if I was rude,' she said; 'I did not mean it, but I thought you were acting precipitately, and that you would be glad to have time to reflect before going to this place without your mother's knowledge.'
'It is not precipitately,' said Emma, faintly.
'You don't mean that this was a pre-concerted scheme. If so, pray let me out, and I will go home alone.'
'No, no, I did not mean exactly—don't use such words, Theodora. Only sister Mary Angela—Theresa's great friend—had joined the Roman communion. Theresa wished me to see her and the convent, and said that perhaps I might find her there. If I had told mamma, she would have fancied I should be kidnapped like young ladies in books. I believe you expect it yourself,' said Emma, giggling hysterically.
'I think, and she thinks nothing but what is rational,' said Theodora, coldly, 'that it is a sad thing to see you taught to resort to subterfuges, and that they can lead into no safe course.'
'You do not know Theresa, or you would not accuse her of what she would detest.'
'I speak from what I see. She has arranged in secret that, without your mother's knowledge, you should by stealth go to a place where you both know Lady Elizabeth would be shocked to hear of you.'
'I thought you understood the true Catholic spirit,' said Emma, 'and were interested in these things.'
'The Catholic spirit is anything but such treatment of a mother,' said Theodora. 'Once for all, do you mean to go to this place, or do you not? I see a cab, and if you go I return home in that.'
'Of course then I must give it up.'
'Now, and for ever, unless with your mother's consent, I hope,' said Theodora.
Emma did not answer, and they proceeded for some distance, Theodora wondering what could be her companion's frame of mind, and what she ought to do next. So far, it was the sort of compulsion she had been wont to employ in the unscrupulous hours of childhood; but this was no gain—Emma's reason ought to be convinced, and of this she had little hope. Miss Brandon was the first to break silence. That word subterfuge rankled, as it must in any honourable mind, and she began—'I wish you would do Theresa justice. No one can have a greater contempt than she for anything underhand.'
Theodora tried not to laugh, and could not help pitying the fond affections that were blind to every fault in the beloved object.
'Ah!' said Emma, in answer to her silence, 'you think this bears the appearance of it; but you may be certain that Theresa is absolutely sure to act conscientiously.'
'Some people follow their conscience—some drive it.'
'Now, do let me explain it,' entreated Emma, and talking eagerly and rather mistily, she told in many more words than were needful how Theresa had serious doubts as to what she termed Anglicanism, reckoning against it every laxity in doctrine or in discipline that came to her knowledge, and admiring everything in other branches of the Church. Emma, taking all for granted that Theresa said, was strongly of the same mind, and while both made high professions of attachment to their own communion, they were in a course of dwelling on all the allurements held out in other quarters. By some astonishing train of reasoning, frequent in persons in a state of excitement and self-deception, they had persuaded themselves that Mark Gardner's return to his evil courses had been for want of a monastery to receive him; and their tendency to romance about conventual institutions had been exaggerated by the present state of Emma's spirits, which gave her a desire to retire from the world, as well as a distaste to the projects in which she had lately given her false lover but too large a share. 'Peace dwells in the cloister,' she sighed.
'You have the essentials of such a life in your power,' said Theodora.
'Not the fixed rule—the obedience.'
'Oh! Emma! your mother!'
'I want discipline—Church discipline as in primitive times,' said Emma, impatiently.
'The most primitive discipline of all is, "honour thy father and mother,"' returned Theodora.
There was a silence. Theodora resumed—'I know how one would rather do anything than what is required. Violet taught me then that we must not choose our cross.'
Another space, then Emma said, 'And you call it a subterfuge?'
'Can you honestly call it otherwise? Don't bewilder us with explanations, but simply say what you would have thought of it six years ago.'
For Emma not to send forth a vapour of words was impossible, but they did not satisfy even herself. Those short terse sentences of Theodora's told upon her, and at last she did not deny that she should not have thought it right if Theresa had not prompted it.
'Is she more likely to be right, or is the Catechism?'
'To be TRUE and just in all my dealings.'
'She did not think it wrong.'
'No, of course not, but if it is wrong, and she does not think it so, does that make her a safe guide?'
'You want to set me against her!'
'I want you to cease to give her a power over you, which is unsafe for any human being.'
'You have been talking to mamma.'
'I have been seeing how unhappy she is about you; but since I have talked to yourself I have seen far more danger.'
'May I tell you how your history appears to a looker-on? I know it will be painful, but I think it will be good for you.'
'You began beautifully. It was delightful to see how you and your mother went on in perfect confidence, ready to work at everything good together, and she sympathizing in all your projects, only bringing wise caution to restrain your ardour.'
'Yes, we were very happy then,' sighed Emma; 'but mamma wished me to go into society.'
'And wisely. Remember, in the conventual system, a girl cannot be a novice till she has had six months in which to see the world. It was right that you should count the cost. Besides, society in moderation is the best way to keep one's mind from growing narrow. Well, then, you met Miss Marstone, and she excited your imagination. She is really clever and good, and I don't wonder at your liking her; but I cannot think that she has done right in cultivating your exclusive preference till she has detached you from your mother.'
'She did not always think with her.'
'No, but a sound friend would always place the duty to your mother foremost. You made a Pope of her, believed all she said, did as she pleased, and she was flattered, and absorbed you more and more, till really you both came to treating Lady Elizabeth's opinion as a nonentity. Can you deny it?'
More would have been said, but Theodora would not hear, and went on. 'See the consequence. She made a fearful mistake, and but for your mother and your remaining regard to her authority, where should you have been now? All this misery could not have been if you had been safe under Lady Elizabeth's wing.'
'No!' faintly said Emma.
'And now, when your mother has saved you, and her heart is aching to comfort you, and take you back to the safe old nest where all your duties and schemes lie, Miss Marstone tries to keep you from her; and fancies she is doing the best and most conscientious thing by teaching you to elude her, and go where, to one in your state of mind, is temptation indeed. Oh! Emma, she may think it right; but are you acting kindly by the mother who has only you?'
Theodora was very glad to see tears. 'I cannot bear to go home!' presently said Emma.
'Have you thought how badly all the poor people must be getting on without you? All your children—it is half a year since you saw them!'
'Yes, it is bad enough at first. You have had a heavy trial indeed, poor Emma; but what is a trial but something to try us? Would it not be more manful to face the pain of going home, and to take up your allotted work? Then you would be submitting, not to a self-made rule, but to Heaven's own appointment.'
Was Emma's mind disengaged enough for curiosity, or did she want to quit the subject! She said—'You have had a trial of this kind yourself?'
Theodora had a struggle. To tell the whole seemed to her as uncalled for as painful; and yet there must be reciprocity if there is to be confidence, and she could not bear to advise like one who had never erred. She therefore confessed how her happiness had been wrecked by her own fault, and related the subsequent misery; how Violet had repelled the disposition to exalt her rather than her parents, and had well-nigh forced her abroad, and how there in the dreary waste a well of peace had sprung up, and had been with her ever since.
Short as Theodora tried to make the story she so much disliked, it lasted till they were almost at home. It had its effect. To be thrown over upon Lady Martindale and Mrs. Nesbit at Baden could not but appear to Emma a worse lot than to be left to her own mother and Rickworth, which, after all, she loved so well; and the promise of peace to be won by following appointed paths was a refreshing sound.
She had, this whole time, never thought of her mother's feelings, and the real affection she entertained was once more awake. Besides, to see how Theodora represented their scheme, not only shook her faith in Theresa, but alarmed her sense of right on her own account. In short, though she said no word, there was a warmth in her meeting with Lady Elizabeth, on their return, that gave Theodora hopes.
Next morning came a note.
'My Dear Theodora,—I have decided to go home at once. I could not rest without Theresa's explanation, so I have written to her, and I had rather have it by letter than in person. I talked till two o'clock last night with mamma, and we go home at twelve to-day. Tell Violet we will come in for a few moments to take leave.
'E. E. B.'
'There is one thing to be thankful for!' said Theodora. The visit was very short; Emma hardly spoke or raised her eyes, and Theodora hoped that some of her timidity arose from repentance for her false judgment of Violet. To Theodora, she said—'You shall see Theresa's explanation,' and Theodora deserved credit for not saying it would be a curiosity.
Lady Elizabeth did as she had not done since Theodora was a little child; she put her arm round her neck and kissed her affectionately, murmuring, 'Thank you, my dear.'
This little scene seemed to brace Theodora for the trial of the evening. Percy had offered to sit up that night with Arthur, and she had to receive him, and wait with him in the drawing-room till he should be summoned. It was a hard thing to see him so distant and reserved, and the mere awkwardness was unpleasant enough. She could devise nothing to say that did not touch on old times, and he sat engrossed with a book the reviewal of which was to be his night's employment.
Should this new-blossomed hope be coldly nipped, Then were I desolate indeed.
—Philip van Artevelde—H. TAYLOR
The night was apt to be the worst time with Arthur; and Violet generally found him in the morning in a state of feverish discomfort and despondency that was not easily soothed. Anxious to know how he had fared with his new attendant, she came in as early as possible, and was rejoiced to find that he had passed an unusually comfortable night, had been interested and cheered by Percy's conversation, and had slept some hours.
Percy's occupation, in the meantime, was shown by some sheets of manuscript on the table near the fire.
'I see you have not been losing time,' said Violet.
'I fear—I fear I have,' he answered, as rather nervously he began to gather up some abortive commencements and throw them into the fire.
'Take care, that is mine,' exclaimed she, seeing the words 'Mrs. Martindale,' and thinking he had seized upon a letter which he had written to her from Worthbourne on Arthur's business. She held out her hand for it, and he yielded it, but the next moment she saw it was freshly written; before she could speak she heard the door closed, and Arthur sleepily muttered, 'Gone already.' Dreading some new branch of the Boulogne affair, she sat down, and with a beating heart read by the firelight:—
'I can bear it no longer! Long ago I committed one great folly, and should have been guilty of a greater, if you had not judged more wisely for me than I for myself. You did, indeed, act "kindly as ever"; and I have thanked you for it a thousand times, since I came to my senses in the dismal altitude of my "sixieme etage" at Paris.
'No disrespect to your sister, to whom I did greater injustice than I knew, in asking her to seal my mistake. I threw away a rough diamond because its sharp edges scratched my fingers, and, in my fit of passion, tried to fill up its place with another jewel. Happily you and she knew better! Now I see the diamond sparkling, refined, transcendent, with such chastened lustre as even I scarce dared to expect!
'These solitary years of disappointment have brought me to a sense of the harshness and arrogance of my dealings with the high nature that had so generously intrusted itself to me. There was presumption from the first in undertaking to mould her, rudeness in my attempts to control her, and precipitate passion and jealousy in resenting the displeasure I had provoked; and all was crowned by the absurd notion that pique with her was love of your sister!
'I see it all now, or rather I have seen it ever since it was too late; I have brooded over it till I have been half distracted, night after night! And now I can hardly speak, or raise my head in her presence. I must have her pardon, whether I dare or not to ask one thing more. I never was sure that her heart was mine; my conduct did not deserve it, whatever my feelings did. If she accepted me from romance, I did enough to open her eyes! I am told she accepts Lord St. Erme—fit retribution on me, who used to look down on him in my arrogant folly, and have to own that he has merited her, while I—
'But, at least, I trust to your goodness to obtain some word of forgiveness for me without disturbing her peace of mind. I would not expose her to one distressing scene! She has gone through a great deal, and the traces of grief and care on that noble countenance almost break my heart. I would not give her the useless pain of having to reject me, and of perceiving the pain I should not be able to conceal.
'I commit myself to your kindness, then, and entreat of you, if the feeling for me was a delusion, or if it is extinct, to let me know in the manner least painful to you; and, when she can endure the subject, to tell her how bitterly I have repented of having tried to force humility on her, when I stood in still greater need of the lesson, and of having flown off in anger when she revolted at my dictation. One word of forgiveness would be solace in a life of deserved loneliness and disappointment.'
Trembling with gladness, Violet could hardly refrain from rousing Arthur to hear the good news! She hastily wrote the word 'Try!' twisted it into a note, and sent it down in case Mr. Fotheringham should still be in the house. The missive returned not, and she sat down to enjoy her gladness as a Sunday morning's gift.
For Violet, though weak, anxious, and overworked, was capable of receiving and being cheered by each sunbeam that shone on herself or on her loved ones. Perhaps it was the reward of her resignation and trust, that even the participation (as it might almost be called) of her husband's suffering, and the constantly hearing his despondence, could not deprive her of her hopefulness. Ever since the first two days she had been buoyed up by a persuasion of his recovery, which found food in each token of improvement; and, above all, there was something in Arthur that relieved the secret burden that had so long oppressed her.
She was free to receive solace and rejoice in the joy of others; and when Theodora met her in the morning, eye and lip were beaming with a suppressed smile of congratulation, that hardly suited with the thin, white face.
'Arthur's comfortable night has done you both good,' said Theodora. 'Percy is a better nurse than I.'
'Oh, yes! it is all Percy's doing!' said Violet, there checking herself; but laughing and blushing, so that for a moment she looked quite girlishly pretty.
No more was heard of Mr. Fotheringham till Johnnie came home from the afternoon's service, and reported that the owl-man was in the drawing-room with Aunt Theodora.
At church Johnnie had seen his papa's good-natured friend in the aisle, and with his hand on the door of the seat and his engaging face lifted up, had invited him in.
Innocent Johnnie! he little knew what tumultuous thoughts were set whirling through his aunt's mind. The last time Percy had joined her at church, the whole time of the service had been spent in the conflict between pride and affection. Now there was shame for this fresh swarm of long-forgotten sins, and as the recollection saddened her voice in the confession, foremost was the sense of sacrilege in having there cherished them, and turned her prayer into sin. No wonder she had been for a time yielded up to her pride and self-will!
As silently as usual they walked home from church, and she would at once have gone up-stairs, but he said, in a low, hoarse voice, as her foot was on the step, 'May I speak to you?'
She turned. It was so strangely like that former occasion that she had a curious bewildered feeling of having passed through the same before; and perhaps she had, in her dreams. Scarcely conscious, she walked towards the fire.
'Can you forgive me?' said the same husky voice.
She raised her eyes to his face. 'Oh, Percy!'—but she could say no more, cut short by rising sobs; and she could only hide her face, and burst into tears.
He was perfectly overwhelmed. 'Theodora, dearest! do not! I have been too hasty,' he exclaimed, almost beside himself with distress, and calling her by every affectionate name.
'Never mind! It is only because I have become such a poor creature!' said she, looking up with a smile, lost the next moment in the uncontrollable weeping.
'It is my fault!—my want of consideration! I will go—I will call Mrs. Martindale.'
'No, no, don't, don't go!' said Theodora, eagerly—her tears driven back. 'It was only that I am so foolish now.'
'It was very wrong to be so abrupt—'
'No! Oh! it was the relief!' said Theodora, throwing off her shawl, as if to free herself from oppression. Percy took it from her, placed her in the arm-chair, and rendered her all the little attentions in his power with a sort of trembling eagerness, still silent; for she was very much exhausted,—not so much from present agitation as from the previous strain on mind and body.
It seemed to give a softness and tenderness to their reunion, such as there never had been between them before, as she leant back on the cushions he placed for her, and gazed up in his face as he stood by her, while she rested, as if unwilling to disturb the peace and tranquillity.
At last she said, 'Did I hear you say you had forgiven me?'
'I asked if you could forgive me?'
'I!' she exclaimed, rousing herself and sitting up,—'I have nothing to forgive! What are you thinking of?'
'And is it thus you overlook the presumption and harshness that—'
'Hush!' said Theodora; 'I was unbearable. No man of sense or spirit could be expected to endure such treatment. But, Percy, I have been very unhappy about it, and I do hope I am tamer at last, if you will try me again.'
'Theodora!' cried Percy, hardly knowing what he said. 'Can you mean it? After all that is past, may I believe what I dared not feel assured of even in former days?'
'Did you not?' said Theodora, sorrowfully. 'Then my pride must have been even worse than I supposed.'
'Only let me hear the word from you. You do not know what it would be to me!'
'And did you really think I did not care for you? I, whose affection for you has been a part of my very self! I am more grieved than ever. I would never have tormented you if I had not thought you knew my heart was right all the time.'
'It was my fault; my anger and impatience! And you let me hope that this—this undeserved feeling has survived even my usage!'
'Nay, it was that which taught me its power. Your rejection was the making of me; thanks to Violet, who would not let me harden myself, and ruin all.'
'Violet! I could almost call her our presiding spirit, sent to save us from ourselves!'
'Dear Violet! how glad she will be.'
'Then,' said Percy, as if he had only room for one thought, 'are we indeed to begin anew?'
'I will try to be less unbearable,' was the stifled answer.
'We have both had lessons enough to teach us to be more humble and forbearing,' said Percy, now first venturing to take her hand. 'Let us hope that since this blessing has been granted us, that we shall be aided in our endeavours to help each other.'
There was a grave and chastened tone about the meeting of these two lovers: Theodora almost terrified at realizing that the bliss she had once forfeited was restored to her, and Percy peculiarly respectful—almost diffident in manner, feeling even more guilty towards her than she did towards him. Neither could be content without a full confession of their wrongs towards each other, and the unjust impressions that had actuated them; and in the retrospect time passed so quickly away, that they were taken by surprise when the candles came in.
'I need not go?' entreated Percy.
'No, indeed; but you have had no dinner.'
'Never mind—I want nothing.'
Theodora ran up-stairs. Violet understood the suppressed call in the dressing-room, and met her with outstretched arms.
The children never forgot that evening, so delightful did the owl-man make himself. Helen even offered him a kiss, and wished him good night, saucily calling him Percy; and Johnnie set his aunt's cheeks in a glow by saying, 'It ought to be Uncle Percy, if he belonged to Aunt Helen.'
'What do you know of Aunt Helen?' said Percy, lifting him on his knee, with a sudden change of manner.
Johnnie's face was deeply tinged; he bent down his head and did not answer, till, when the inquiry was repeated, he whispered, 'Mamma said Aunt Helen was so very good. Mamma read to me about the dew-drops, in her written book. She told me about her when I had the blister on, because, she said, her thoughts helped one to be patient and good.'
Percy put his arm round him, and his sigh or movement surprised Johnnie, who uneasily looked at his aunt. 'Ought I not to have said it?'
'Yes, indeed, Johnnie, boy. There is nothing so pleasant to me to hear,' said Percy. 'Good night; I shall like you all the better for caring for my dear sister Helen.'
'Being dead, she yet speaketh,' murmured he, as the children went. 'Strange how one such tranquil, hidden life, which seemed lost and wasted, has told and is telling on so many!'
Even the peace and happiness of that evening could not remove the effects of over-fatigue, and Percy insisted on Theodora's going early to rest, undertaking again to watch by Arthur. She objected, that he had been up all last night.
'I cannot go home to bed. If you sent me away, I should wander in the Square, apostrophizing the gas-lamps, and be found to-morrow in the station, as a disorderly character. You had better make my superfluous energies available in Arthur's service. Ask if I may come in.'
Theodora thought the sick-room had acquired quite a new aspect. A Sunday air pervaded the whole, seeming to radiate from Violet, as she sat by the fire; the baby asleep, in his little pink-lined cradle, by her side. The patient himself partook of the freshened appearance, as the bright glow of firelight played over his white pillows, his hair smooth and shining, and his face where repose and cheerfulness had taken the place of the worn, harassed expression of suffering. Of the welcome there could be no doubt. Arthur's hands were both held out, and did not let her go, after they had drawn her down to kiss him and sit beside him on the bed.
'Well done! Theodora,' he said; 'I am glad it is made up. He is the best fellow living, and well you deserve—'
'O, don't say so!'
'Not that he is the best?' said Arthur, squeezing hard both her hands, as he used to do in fond, teasing schoolboy days. 'I shall not say one without the other. Such a pair is not to be found in a hurry. You only wanted breaking-in to be first-rate, and now you have done it.'
'No, it was your own dear little wife!' was whispered in his ear. He pinched her again, and, still holding her fast, said, 'Is Percy there? Come in,' and, as he entered, 'Percy, I once warned you to kill the cat on the wedding-day. I testify that she is dead. This sister of mine is a good girl now. Ask Violet.'
'Violet—or, rather, our Heartsease'—said Percy, as his grasp nearly crushed Violet's soft fingers: 'thank you; yours was the most admirable note ever composed! Never was more perfect "eloquence du billet!"'
'Eh! what was it?'
Percy held up the little note before Arthur's eyes: he laughed. 'Ay! Violet is the only woman I ever knew who never said more than was to the purpose. But now, Mrs. Heartsease, if that is your name, go and put Theodora to bed; Percy will stay with me.'
'The baby,' objected Violet.
'Never mind, I want you very much,' said Theodora; 'and as Percy says he has so much superfluous energy, he can take care of two Arthurs at once. I am only afraid of his making the great one talk.'
'The great one' was at first as silent as the little one; his countenance became very grave and thoughtful; and at last he said, 'Now, Percy, you must consent to my selling out and paying you.'
'If you do, it must be share and share alike with the rest of the creditors.'
'And that would be no good,' said Arthur, 'with all the harpies to share. I wish you would consent, Percy. Think what it is to me to lie here, feeling that I have ruined not only myself, but all my sister's hopes of happiness!'
'Nay, you have been the means of bringing us together again. And as to your wife—'
'I must not have her good deeds reckoned to me,' said Arthur, sadly. 'But what can you do? My father cannot pay down Theodora's fortune.'
'We must wait,' interrupted Percy, cheerfully.
Arthur proceeded. 'Wait! what for? Now you are cut out of Worthbourne, and my aunt's money might as well be at the bottom of the sea, and—'
'I can hear no croaking on such a day as this,' broke in Percy. 'As to Worthbourne, it is ill waiting for dead men's shoon. I always thought Pelham's as good a life as my own, and I never fancied Mrs. Nesbit's hoards. If I made three thousand pounds in five years, why may I not do so again? I'll turn rapacious—give away no more articles to benighted editors on their last legs. I can finish off my Byzantine history, and coin it into bezants.'
'And these were your hard-earned savings, that should have forwarded your marriage!'
'They have,' said Percy, smiling. 'They will come back some way or other. I shall work with a will now! I am twice the man I was yesterday. It was heartless work before. Now, "some achieve greatness," you know.'
Arthur would have said more, but Percy stopped him. 'If you gave it me to-morrow, we could not marry on it. Let things alone till you are about again, and John comes home. Meantime, trust her and me for being happy. A fico for the world and worldlings base.'
He attained his object in making Arthur smile; and Violet presently returning, they sat on opposite sides of the fire, and held one of the happiest conversations of their lives. Violet told the whole story of the fire, which seemed as new to Arthur as to Percy.
'Why did I never hear this before?' he asked.
'You heard it at the time,' said Violet.
Recollections came across Arthur, and he turned away his head, self-convicted of having thought the women made a tedious history, and that he could not be bored by attending. Percy's way of listening, meanwhile, was with his foot on the fender, his elbow on his knee, his chin resting on his hand, his bright gray eyes fixed full on Violet, with a beaming look of gladness, and now and then a nod of assent, as if no heroism on Theodora's part could surpass his expectations, for he could have told it all beforehand. However, his turn came, when Violet described her last expedition after the chess-board, and the injury it had entailed.
'Now, now, you don't say so!' said he, stammering with eagerness, and starting up.
'Poor dear, she hardly knew what she did,' said Violet.
'I remember,' said Arthur. 'That was the time of the delusion that Percy had taken up with his present cousin-in-law.'
Violet blushed. She was too much ashamed of ever having had the idea to bear to recall it; and when Arthur explained, Percy shuddered, and exclaimed, 'No, I thank you, Violet! you knew enough against me; but you need not have thought me quite come to that!'
On the morrow, Percy came in as the children's lessons were concluded. He studied Theodora's face tenderly, and hoped that she had rested. She laughed, and called herself perfectly well; and, indeed, her eyes were as large and as bright as they ought to me, and she had discovered, that morning, that her black locks would make a much more respectable show if properly managed. He would not have mistaken her if she had looked as she did now three weeks ago.
After they had talked for some time, Theodora said, 'We must not talk away the whole morning; I must write to papa.'
'Yes,' said Percy, 'I came to speak of that. Theodora, perhaps it was wrong to say what I did last night.'
'How?' said she, frightened.
'You ought to have been told how much worse my position is than before.'
'Oh! is that all?'
'It is a very serious all,' he answered. 'When I spoke before, and was cool enough to treat it as if I was conferring a favour on you, it was wonderful that your father consented. Now, you see, Worthbourne is gone—'
'How can you care for that?'
'I did not, till I began to look at it from your father's point of view. Besides, I ought to tell you, that there is no chance even of a legacy. I find that Mrs. Fotheringham rules the house, and has tried to prejudice my uncle against me. On the marriage, there were fresh arrangements; my uncle was to alter his will, and it was on that occasion that Sir Antony sent for me to keep up the balance, and save him from her influence. Mrs. Martindale was right about her. What a mischief-maker she is! My delay gave great offence.'
'Your delay on Arthur's account?'
'Yes, she managed to turn it against me. Imagine her having persuaded them that I reckoned on Pelham's being set aside to make room for me. She says it was named in this house!'
'Yes, by Jane herself.'
'She represented me as so disgusted at the marriage that I would pay no attention to Sir Antony. I saw how it was when she received me, purring and coaxing, and seeming to be making my peace with my uncle. By and by, Pelham, when we grew intimate again, blundered out the whole,—that his father wished to have settled something on me; but that Jane had persuaded him that the whole might be wanted as a provision for their family. I cared not one rush then, but it makes a difference now. As for my former line, I am forgotten or worse. I have said blunt things that there was no call for me to say. No one chooses to have me for an underling, and there is no more chance of my getting an appointment than of being made Khan of Tartary. Authorship is all that is left to me.'
'You have done great things in that way,' said Theodora.
'I had made something, but I was obliged to advance it the other day to get Arthur out of this scrape, and there is no chance of his being able to pay it, poor fellow!'