'Percy was much obliged to you.'
'He was very kind not to be angry. I could have wished it exceedingly, but I am so glad that I did not persuade Annette, and particularly glad of this, for she has been out of spirits, and rather wasting her bloom at home, without much definite employment.'
'I understand. And did you never wish that you had influenced her otherwise?'
'If Percy and Theodora had not been reconciled, I thought I might have done so. It did seem a long time to go on in doubt whether I had acted for her happiness.'
'But you acted in faith that the straightforward path was the safest.'
'And now I am so thankful.' She paused, they were passing the drawing-room, and saw Arthur lying asleep on the sofa. She stepped in at the French window, threw a light shawl over him, and closed the door. 'He did not sleep till daylight this morning,' she said, returning to John. 'Any excitement gives him restless nights.'
'So I feared when I saw those two red spots on his cheeks in the evening. I know them well! But how white and thin he looks! I want to hear what you think of him. My father considers him fully recovered. Do you?'
Violet shook her head. 'He is as well as could be hoped after such an illness,' she said; 'and Dr. L. tells him there is no confirmed disease, but that his chest is in a very tender state, and he must take the utmost care. That delightful mountain air at Lassonthwayte entirely took away his cough, and it has not returned, though he is more languid and tired than he was in the north, but he will not allow it, his spirits are so high.'
'I should like you to spend the winter abroad.'
'That cannot be. If he is able in October, he must join, and the regiment is likely to be in London all the winter,' said Violet, with a sigh.
'Then he does not mean to sell out?'
'No, we cannot afford it. We must live as little expensively as we can, to get clear of the difficulties. Indeed, now the horses are gone, it is such a saving that we have paid off some bills already.'
'Has Arthur really parted with his horses?'
'With all of them, even that beautiful mare. I am afraid he will miss her very much, but I cannot say a word against it, for I am sure it is right.'
'ALL the horses?' repeated John. 'What are you to do without a carriage horse?'
'Oh! that is nothing new. We have not had one fit for me to use, since the old bay fell lame three years ago. That does not signify at all, for walking with the children suits me much better.'
John was confounded. He had little notion of existence without carriages and horses.
'I shall have Arthur to walk with now. He promises Johnnie and me delightful walks in the park,' said Violet, cheerfully, 'if he is but well.'
'Ah! I see you dread that winter.'
'I do!' came from the bottom of Violet's heart, spoken under her breath; then, as if regretting her admission, she smiled and said, 'Perhaps there is no need! He has no fears, and it will be only too pleasant to have him at home. I don't think about it,' added she, replying to the anxious eyes that sought to read her fears. 'This summer is too happy to be spoilt with what may be only fancies, and after the great mercies we have received, it would be too bad to distrust and grieve over the future. I have so often thanked you for teaching me the lesson of the lilies.'
'I fear you have had too much occasion to practise it.'
'It could not be too much!' said Violet. 'But often I do not know what would have become of me, if I had not been obliged, as a duty, to put aside fretting thoughts, and been allowed to cast the shadow of the cross on my vexations.'
His eye fell on a few bright links of gold peeping out round her neck—'You have THAT still. May I see it?'
She took off the chain and placed it in his hand. 'Thanks for it, more than ever!' she said. 'My friend and preacher in time of need it has often been, and Johnnie's too.'
'Yes, you know the poor little man has had a great deal of illness. This is the first spring he has been free from croup; and you would hardly believe what a comfort that cross has been to him. He always feels for the chain, that he may squeeze Aunt Helen's cross. At one time I was almost afraid that it was a superstition, he was such a very little fellow; but when I talked to him, he said, "I like it because of our Blessed Saviour. It makes me not mind the pain so much, because you said that was like Him, and would help to make me good if I was patient." Then I remembered what I little understood, when you told me that the cross was his baptismal gift to sweeten his heritage of pain.'
John was much affected. 'Helen's cross has indeed borne abundant fruit!' said he.
'I told you how even I forgot it at first in the fire, and how it was saved by Johnnie's habit of grasping it in his troubles.'
'I am glad it was he!'
'Theodora said that he alone was worthy. But I am afraid to hear such things said of him; I am too ready without them to think too much of my boy.'
'It would be difficult,' began John; then smiling, 'perhaps I ought to take to myself the same caution; the thought of Johnnie has been so much to me, and now I see him he is so unlike my expectations, and yet so far beyond them. I feel as if I wanted a larger share of him than you and his father can afford me.'
'I don't think we shall be jealous,' was the happy answer. 'Arthur is very proud of your admiration of Master Johnnie. You know we have always felt as if you had a right in him.'
Percy and Theodora here returned from the park, rejoicing to find others as tardy in going in as themselves; Arthur, awakened by the voices, came out, and as the others hurried in, asked John what they had been talking about.
'Of many things,' said John; 'much of my godson.'
'Ay!' said Arthur; 'did you not wonder how anything so good can belong to me?'
John smiled, and said, 'His goodness belongs to nothing here.'
'Nay, it is no time to say that after talking to his mother,' said Arthur; 'though I know what you mean, and she would not let me say so. Well, I am glad you are come, for talks with you are the greatest treat to her. She seemed to be gathering them up again at Ventnor, and was always telling me of them. She declares they taught her everything good; though that, of course, I don't believe, you know,' he added, smiling.
'No; there was much in which she needed no teaching, and a few hints here and there do not deserve what she ascribes to them.'
'John,' said Arthur, coming nearer to him, and speaking low, 'she and her boy are more perfect creatures than you can guess, without knowing the worst of me. You warned me that I must make her happy, and you saw how it was the first year. It has been worse since that. I have neglected them, let them deny themselves, ruined them, been positively harsh to that angel of a boy; and how they could love me, and be patient with me throughout, is what I cannot understand, though—though I can feel it.'
'Truly,' thought John, as Arthur hastily quitted him, ashamed of his emotion, 'if Violet be my scholar, she has far surpassed her teacher! Strange that so much should have arisen apparently from my attempt to help and cheer the poor dispirited girl, in that one visit to Ventnor, which I deemed so rash a venture of my own comfort—useless, self-indulgent wretch that I was. She has done the very deeds that I had neglected. My brother and sister, even my mother and Helen's brother, all have come under her power of firm meekness—all, with one voice, are ready to "rise up and call her blessed!" Nay, are not these what Helen would have most wished to effect, and is it not her memorials that have been the instruments of infusing that spirit into Violet? These are among the works that follow her, or, as they sung this evening—
"For seeds are sown of glorious light, A future harvest for the just, And gladness for the heart that's right To recompense its pious trust."'
And in gladness did he stand before the house that had been destined as the scene of his married life, and look forth on the churchyard where Helen slept. He was no longer solitary, since he had begun to bear the burdens of others; for no sooner did he begin to work, than he felt that he worked with her.
That we, whose work commenced in tears, May see our labours thrive, Till finished with success, to make Our drooping hearts revive. Though he despond that sows his grain, Yet, doubtless, he shall come To bind his full-ear'd sheaves, and bring The joyful harvest home.
—Psalm 126. New Version
Business cares soon began. Arthur consented to allow his brother to lay his embarrassments before his father. 'Do as you please,' he said; 'but make him understand that I am not asking him to help me out of the scrape. He does all he can for me, and cannot afford more; or, if he could, Theodora ought to be thought of first. All I wish is, that something should be secured to Violet and the children, and that, if I don't get clear in my lifetime, these debts may not be left for Johnnie.
'That you may rely on,' said John. 'I wish I could help you; but there were many things at Barbuda that seemed so like fancies of my own, that I could not ask my father to pay for them, and I have not much at my disposal just now.'
'It is a good one to hear you apologizing to me!' said Arthur, laughing, but rather sadly, as John carried off the ominous pocket-book to the study, hoping to effect great things for his brother; and, as the best introduction, he began by producing the letter written at Christmas. Lord Martindale was touched by the commencement, but was presently lost in surprise on discovering Percy's advance.
'Why could he not have written to me? Did he think I was not ready to help my own son?'
'It was necessary to act without loss of time.'
'If it were necessary to pay down the sum, why not tell me of it, instead of letting poor Arthur give him a bond that is worth nothing?'
'I fancy, if he had any notion of regaining Theodora, he was unwilling you or she should know the extent of the obligation.'
'It is well I do know it. I thought it unsatisfactory to hear of no profit, after all the talk there has been about his books. I feared it was an empty trade: but this is something like. Five thousand! He is a clever fellow after all!'
'I hope he may soon double it,' said John, amused at this way of estimating Percy's powers.
'Well, it was a friendly act,' continued Lord Martindale. 'A little misjudged in the manner, perhaps; but if you had seen the state Arthur was in—'
'I should have forgiven Percy?' said John, with a slightly ironical smile, that made his father laugh.
'Not that I am blaming him,' he said; 'but it shall be paid him at once if it comes to selling Wyelands. You know one cannot be under an obligation of this sort to a lad whom one has seen grow up in the village.'
'Perhaps he wishes it to be considered as all in the family.'
'So it is. That is the worst of it. It is so much out of what he would have had with Theodora, and little enough there is for her. A dead loss! Could not Arthur have had more sense, at his age, and with all those children! What's all this?' reading on in dismay. 'Seven thousand more at least! I'll have nothing to do with it!'
An hour after, John came out into the verandah, where Percy was reading, and asked if he knew where Arthur was.
'He got into a ferment of anxiety, and Violet persuaded him to walk it off. He is gone out with Johnnie and Helen. Well, how has he fared?'
'Not as well as I could wish. My father will not do more towards the debts than paying you.'
'Ho! I hope he does not think I acted very impertinently towards him?' John laughed, and Percy continued,
'Seriously, I believe it is the impertinence hardest to forgive, and I shall be glad when the subject is done with. That will be so much off Arthur's mind.'
'I wish more was; but I had no idea that there was so little available money amongst us. All I can gain in his favour is, that the estate is to be charged with five hundred pounds a year for Violet in case of his death; and there's his five thousand pounds for the children; but, for the present debts, my father will only say that, perhaps he may help, if he sees that Arthur is exerting himself to economize and pay them off.'
'Quite as much as could reasonably be expected. The discipline will be very good for him.'
'If it does not kill him,' said John, sighing. 'My father does not realize the shock to his health. He is in the state now that I was in when we went abroad, and—'
'And I firmly believe that if you had had anything to do but nurse your cough, you would have been in much better health.'
'But it is not only for Arthur that I am troubled. What can be worse than economizing in London, in their position? What is to become of Violet, without carriage, without—'
Percy laughed. 'Without court-dresses and powdered footmen? No, no, John. Depend upon it, as long as Violet has her husband safe at home, she wants much fewer necessaries of life than you do.'
'Well, I will try to believe it right. I see it cannot be otherwise.'
Arthur was not of this mind. He was grateful for his father's forgiveness and assistance, and doubly so for the provision for his wife, hailing it as an unexpected and undeserved kindness. Lord Martindale was more pleased by his manner in their interview than ever he had been before. Still there were many difficulties: money was to be raised; and the choice between selling, mortgaging, or cutting down timber, seemed to go to Lord Martindale's heart. He had taken such pride in the well-doing of his estate! He wished to make further retrenchments in the stable and garden arrangements; but, as he told John, he knew not how to reduce the enormous expense of the latter without giving more pain to Lady Martindale than he could bear to inflict.
John offered to sound her, and discover whether the notion of dismissing Armstrong and his crew would be really so dreadful. He found that she winced at the mention of her orchids and ferns, they recalled the thought of her aunt's love for them, and she had not been in the conservatories for months. John said a word or two on the cost of keeping them up, and the need of prudence, with a view to providing for Arthur's children. It was the right chord. She looked up, puzzled: her mathematical knowledge had never descended to L.s.d.
'Is there a difficulty? I thought my dear aunt had settled all her property on dear little Johnnie.'
'Yes, but only when he comes to the title; and for the others there is absolutely nothing but Arthur's five thousand pounds to be divided among them all.'
'You don't say so, John? Poor little dears! there is scarcely more than a thousand a-piece. Surely, there is my own property—'
'I am sorry to say it was settled so as to go with the title. The only chance for them is what can be saved—'
'Save everything, then,' exclaimed Lady Martindale. 'I am sure I would give up anything, if I did but know what. We have not had leaders for a long time past, and Theodora's dumb boy does as well as the second footman; Standaloft left me because she could not bear to live in a cottage; Grimes suits me very well; and I do not think I could do quite without a maid.'
'No, indeed, my dear mother,' said John, smiling; 'that is the last thing to be thought of. All my father wished to know was, whether it would grieve you if we gave the care of the gardens to somewhat less of a first-rate genius?'
'Not in the least,' said Lady Martindale, emphatically. 'I shall never bear to return to those botanical pursuits. It was for her sake. Dear little Helen and the rest must be the first consideration. Look here! she really has a very good notion of drawing.'
John perceived that his mother was happier than she had ever been, in waiting upon the children, and enjoying the company of Violet, whose softness exactly suited her; while her decision was a comfortable support to one who had all her life been trained round a stake. They drove and walked together; and Lady Martindale, for the first time, was on foot in the pretty lanes of her own village; she had even stopped at cottage doors, when Violet had undertaken a message while Theodora was out with Percy, and one evening she appeared busy with a small lilac frock that Helen imagined herself to be making. Lady Martindale was much too busy with the four black-eyed living blossoms to set her heart on any griffin-headed or monkey-faced orchids; and her lord found that she was one of those who would least be sensible of his reductions. Theodora was continually surprised to see how much more successful than herself Violet was in interesting her, and keeping her cheerful. Perhaps it was owing to her own vehemence; but with the best intentions she had failed in producing anything like the present contentment. And, somehow, Lord and Lady Martindale seemed so much more at ease together, and to have so much more to say to each other, that their Cousin Hugh one day observed, it was their honeymoon.
'I say, John,' said Percy, one night, as they were walking to the vicarage, 'I wish you could find me something to do in the West Indies.'
'I should be very sorry to export you—'
'I must do something!' exclaimed Percy. 'I was thinking of emigration; but your sister could not go in the present state of things here; and she will not hear of my going and returning when I have built a nest for her.'
'No, indeed!' said John. 'Your powers were not given for the hewing down of forests.'
'Were not they?' said Percy, stretching and clenching a hard muscular wrist and hand.
'"A man's a man for a' that!"
I tell you, John, I am wearying for want of work—hard, downright, substantial work!'
'Well, you have it, have you not?'
'Pshaw! Pegasus won't let himself out on hire. I can't turn my sport into my trade. When I find myself writing for the lucre of gain, the whole spirit leaves me.'
'That is what you have been doing for some time.'
'No such thing. Literature was my holiday friend at first; and if she put a gold piece or two into my pocket, it was not what I sought her for. Then she came to my help to beguile what I thought was an interval of waiting for the serious task of life. I wrote what I thought was wanted. I sent it forth as my way of trying what service I could do in my generation. But now, when I call it my profession, when I think avowedly, what am I to get by it?—Faugh! the Muse is disgusted; and when I go to church, I hang my head at "Lay not up to yourselves treasures upon earth—"'
'A fine way you found of laying them up!'
'It proved the way to get them back.'
'I do not understand your objection. You had laid up that sum—your fair earning.'
'There it was: it had accumulated without positive intention on my part; I mean that I had of course taken my due, and not found occasion to spend it. It is the writing solely for gain, with malice prepense to save it,—that is the stumbling-block. I don't feel as if I was justified in it, nay, I cannot do it; my ideas do not flow even on matters wont to interest me most. It was all very well when waiting on Arthur was an object; but after he was gone, I found it out. I could not turn to writing, and if I did, out came things I was ashamed of. No! an able-bodied man of five-and-thirty is meant for tougher work than review and history-mongering! I have been teaching a ragged school, helping at any charities that needed a hand; but it seems amateur work, and I want to be in the stream of life again!'
'I will not say what most would—it was a pity you resigned your former post.'
'No pity at all. That has made a pair of good folks very happy. If I had kept certain hasty judgments to myself, I should not have been laid on the shelf. It is no more than I deserve, and no doubt it is good for me to be humbled and set aside; but work I will get of some kind! I looked in at a great factory the other day, and longed to apply for a superintendent's place, only I thought it might not be congruous with an Honourable for a wife.'
'You don't mean to give up writing?'
'No, to make it my play. I feel like little Annie, when she called herself puss without a corner. I have serious thoughts of the law. Heigh ho! Good night.'
John grieved over the disappointed tone so unusual in the buoyant Percy, and revolved various devices for finding employment for him; but was obliged to own that a man of his age, whatever his powers, when once set aside from the active world, finds it difficult to make for himself another career. It accounted to John for the degree of depression which he detected in Theodora's manner, which, at all times rather grave, did not often light up into animation, and never into her quaint moods of eccentric determination; she was helpful and kind, but submissive and indifferent to what passed around her.
In fact, Theodora felt the disappointment of which Percy complained, more uniformly than he did himself. He thought no more of it when conversation was going on, when a service was to be done to any living creature, or when he was playing with the children; but the sense of his vexation always hung upon her; perhaps the more because she felt that her own former conduct deserved no happiness, and that his future was involved in hers. She tried to be patient, but she could not be gay.
Her scheme had been for Percy to take a farm, but he answered that he had lived too much abroad, and in towns, to make agriculture succeed in England. In the colonies perhaps,—but her involuntary exclamation of dismay at the idea of letting him go alone, had made him at once abandon the project. When, however, she saw how enforced idleness preyed on him, and with how little spirit he turned to his literary pursuits, she began to think it her duty to persuade him to go; and to this she had on this very night, with a great effort, made up her mind.
'There is space in his composition for more happiness than depends on me,' said she to Violet. 'Exertion, hope, trust in me will make him happy; and he shall not waste his life in loitering here for my sake.'
'Dear Theodora, I fear it will cost you a great deal.'
'Never mind,' said Theodora; 'I am more at peace than I have been for years. Percy has suffered enough through me already.'
Violet looked up affectionately at her fine countenance, and gave one of the mute caresses that Theodora liked from her, though she could have borne them from no one else.
Theodora smiled, sighed, and then, shaking off the dejected tone, said, 'Well, I suppose you will have a letter from Wrangerton to tell you it is settled. I wonder if you will go to the wedding. Oh! Violet, if you had had one particle of selfishness or pettiness, how many unhappy people you would have made!'
Violet's last letter from home had announced that Mr. Fanshawe had come to stay with Mr. Jones, and she was watching eagerly for the next news. She went down-stairs quickly, in the morning, to seek for her own letters among the array spread on the sideboard.
Percy was alone in the room, standing by the window. He started at her entrance, and hardly gave time for a good morning, before he asked where Theodora was.
'I think she is not come in. I have not seen her.'
He made a step to the door as if to go and meet her.
'There is nothing wrong, I hope.'
'I hope not! I hope there is no mistake. Look here.'
He held up, with an agitated grasp, a long envelope with the mighty words, 'On her Majesty's service;' and before Violet's eyes he laid a letter offering him a diplomatic appointment in Italy.
'The very thing above all others I would have chosen. Capital salary! Excellent house! I was staying there a week with the fellow who had it before. A garden of gardens. Orange walks,—fountains,—a view of the Apennines and Mediterranean at once. It is perfection. But what can have led any one to pitch upon me?'
Arthur had come down in the midst, and leant over his rejoicing wife to read the letter, while Percy vehemently shook his hand, exclaiming, 'There! See! There's the good time come! Did you ever see the like, Arthur! But how on earth could they have chosen me? I know nothing of this man—he knows nothing of me.'
'Such compliments to your abilities and classical discoveries,' said Violet.
'Much good they would do without interest! I would give twenty pounds to know who has got me this.'
'Ha! said Arthur, looking at the signature. 'Did not he marry some of the Delaval connection?'
'Yes,' said Violet; 'Lady Mary—Lord St. Erme's aunt. He was Lord St. Erme's guardian.'
'Then that is what it is,' said Arthur, sententiously. 'Did you not tell me that St. Erme had been examining you about Percy?'
'Yes, he asked me about his writings, and how long he had been at Constantinople,' said Violet, rather shyly, almost sorry that her surprise had penetrated and proclaimed what the Earl no doubt meant to be a secret, especially when she saw that Percy's exultation was completely damped. There was no time for answer, for others were entering, and with a gesture to enforce silence, he pocketed the papers, and said nothing on the subject all breakfast-time. Even while Violet regaled herself with Annette's happy letter, she had anxious eyes and thoughts for the other sister, now scarcely less to her than Annette.
She called off the children from dancing round Uncle Percy after breakfast, and watched him walk off with Theodora to the side arcade in the avenue that always had especial charms for them.
'Theodora, here is something for you to decide.'
'Why, Percy!' as she read, 'this is the very thing! What! Is it not a good appointment? Why do you hesitate?'
'It is an excellent appointment, but this is the doubt. Do you see that name? There can be no question that this is owing to Lord St. Erme.'
'I see!' said Theodora, blushing deeply.
'I wish to be guided entirely by your feeling.'
They walked the whole length of the avenue and turned again before she spoke. At last she said—'Lord St. Erme is a generous person, and should be dealt with generously. I have given him pain by my pride and caprice, and I had rather give him no more. No doubt it is his greatest pleasure to make us happy, and I think he ought to be allowed to have it. But let it be as you please.'
'I expected you to speak in this way. You think that he does not deserve to be wounded by my refusing this because it comes from him.'
'That is my feeling, but if you do not like—I believe you do not. Refuse it, then.'
'To say I like the obligation would not be true; but I know it is right that I should conquer the foolish feeling. After all, it is public work that I am to do, and it would be wrong and absurd to refuse it, because it is he who has brought my name forward.'
'You take it, then?'
'Yes, standing reproved, and I might almost say punished, for my past disdain of this generous man.'
'If you say so, what must I?'
Percy resolved that, after consulting Lord Martindale, he would at once set off for London, to signify his acceptance, and make the necessary inquiries. Theodora asked whether he meant to appear conscious of the influence exerted in his favour. 'I will see whether it was directly employed; if so, it would be paltry to seem to appear unconscious. I had rather show that I appreciate his feeling, and if I feel an obligation, acknowledge it.
'I wonder, Theodora,' said Arthur, 'that you allow him to go. He is so fond of giving away whatever any one cries for, that you will find yourself made over to St. Erme.'
In three days' time Percy returned; Theodora went with Arthur and Violet to meet him at the station.
'Well!' said he, as they drove off, 'he is a very fine fellow, after all! I don't know what is to be done for him! I wish we could find a Theodora for him.'
'I told you so, Theodora!' cried Arthur. 'He has presented you.'
'There were two words to that bargain!' said Percy. 'He must be content to wait for Helen.'
'So instead of my sister, you dispose of my daughter,' said Arthur.
'Poor little Helen!' said Violet. 'Imagine the age he will be when she is eighteen!'
'He will never grow old!' said Percy. 'He has the poet's gift of perpetual youth, the spring of life and fancy that keeps men young. He has not grown a day older since this time five years. I found he had taken a great deal of trouble about me, recommended me strenuously, brought forward my papers on foreign policy, and been at much pains to confute that report that was afloat against me. He treated my appointment as a personal favour; and he is a man of weight now. You were right, Theodora; it would have been abominable to sulk in our corner, because we had behaved ill ourselves, and to meet such noble-spirited kindness as an offence.'
'I am very glad that you feel it so,' returned Theodora.
'Now that I have seen him I do so completely. And another thing I have to thank you for, Violet, that you saved me from laying it on any thicker in that criticism of his poetry.'
'I told you how he said that you had done him a great deal of good.'
'A signal instance—almost a single instance of candour. But there is a nobility of mind in him above small resentments and jealousies. Ay! there never will be anybody fit for him but Helen!'
'And Helen brought up to be much better than her aunt,' said Theodora.
'It won't be my mother's fault if she is,' said Arthur. 'I was determined yesterday to see what she would succeed in making her do, and I declare the sprite drove her about like a slave—"Grandmamma, fetch me this," "grandmamma, you must do that," till at last she brought my poor mother down on her knees, stooping under the table to personate an old cow in the stall.'
'Oh! Arthur! Arthur, how could you?' exclaimed Violet. 'What were you about to let it go on?'
'Lying on the sofa, setting a good example,' said Percy.
'No, no, I did not go that length,' said Arthur. 'I was incog. in the next room; but it was too good to interrupt. Besides, Helen has succeeded to my aunt's vacant throne, and my mother is never so hurt as when Violet interferes with any of her vagaries. The other day, when Violet carried her off roaring at not being allowed to turn grandmamma's work-box inside out, her ladyship made a formal remonstrance to me on letting the poor child's spirit be broken by strictness.'
'I hope you told her that some spirits would be glad to have been broken long ago,' said Theodora.
'I only told her I had perfect faith in Violet's management.'
Percy was wanted speedily to set off for his new situation, and the question of the marriage became difficult. His income was fully sufficient, but Theodora had many scruples about leaving her mother, whom the last winter had proved to be unfit to be left without companionship. They doubted and consulted, and agreed that they must be self-denying; but John came to their relief. He shrank with a sort of horror from permitting such a sacrifice as his own had been; held that it would be positively wrong to let their union be delayed any longer, and found his father of the same opinion, though not knowing how Lady Martindale would bear the loss. Perhaps his habit of flinching from saying to her what he expected her to dislike, had been one cause of Mrs. Nesbit's supremacy.
John, therefore, undertook to open her eyes to the necessity of relinquishing her daughter, intending to offer himself as her companion and attendant, ready henceforth to devote himself to her comfort, as the means of setting free those who still had a fair prospect.
As usual, Lady Martindale's reluctance had been overrated. John found that she had never calculated on anything but Theodora's marrying at once; she only observed that she supposed it could not be helped, and she was glad her dear aunt was spared the sight.
'And you will not miss her so much when I am at home.'
'You, my dear; I am never so happy as when you are here; but I do not depend on you. I should like you to spend this winter abroad, and then we must have you in Parliament again.'
'If I were sure that you would be comfortable,' said John; 'but otherwise I could not think of leaving you.'
'I was thinking,' said Lady Martindale, with the slowness of one little wont to originate a scheme, 'how pleasant it would be, if we could keep Arthur and Violet always with us. I cannot bear to part with the dear children, and I am sure they will all be ill again if they go back to London.'
'To live with us! exclaimed John. 'Really, mother, you have found the best plan of all. Nothing could be better!'
'Do you think your father would approve?' said Lady Martindale, eagerly.
'Let us propose it to him,' said John, and without further delay he begged him to join the conference. The plan was so excellent that it only seemed strange that it had occurred to no one before, combining the advantages of giving Arthur's health a better chance; of country air for the children, and of economy. Lord Martindale looked very well pleased, though still a little doubtful, as he pondered, whether there might not be some unseen objection, and to give himself time to think, repeated, in answer to their solicitations, that it was a most important step.
'For instance,' said he, as if glad to have recollected one argument on the side of caution, 'you see, if they live here, we are in a manner treating Johnnie as the acknowledged heir.'
'Exactly so,' replied John; 'and it will be the better for him, and for the people. For my part—'
They were interrupted by Arthur's walking in from the garden. Lady Martindale, too eager to heed that her lord would fain not broach the question till his deliberations were mature, rose up at once, exclaiming, 'Arthur my dear, I am glad you are come. We wish, when Theodora leaves us, that you and your dear wife and children should come and live at home always with us. Will you, my dear?' Arthur looked from one to the other in amaze.
'It is a subject for consideration,' began Lord Martindale. 'I would not act hastily, without knowing the sentiments of all concerned.'
'If you mean mine,' said John, 'I will finish what I was saying,—that, for my part, a home is all that I can ever want; and that for Arthur to afford me a share in his, and in his children's hearts, would be the greatest earthly happiness that I can desire.'
'I am sure'—said Arthur, in a voice which, to their surprise, was broken by a sob—'I am sure, John—you have every right. You have made my home what it is.'
'Then he consents!' exclaimed Lady Martindale; 'I shall have Violet always with me, and Helen.'
'Thank you, thank you, mother; but—' His eye was on his father.
'Your mother does not know what she is asking of you, Arthur,' said Lord Martindale. 'I would not have you engage yourself without consideration. Such arrangements as these must not be made to be broken. For myself, it is only the extreme pleasure the project gives me that makes me balance, lest I should overlook any objection. To have your dear Violet for the daughter of our old age, and your children round us, would, as John says, leave us nothing to wish.'
Arthur could only tremulously repeat his 'Thank you,' but there was a hesitation that alarmed his mother. 'Your father wishes it, too,' she eagerly entreated.
'Do not press him, Anna,' said Lord Martindale. 'I would not have him decide hastily. It is asking a great deal of him to propose his giving up his profession and his establishment.'
'It is not that,' said Arthur, turning gratefully to his father. 'I should be glad to give up the army and live at home—there is nothing I should like better; but the point is, that I must know what Violet thinks of it.'
'Right! Of course, she must be consulted,' said Lord Martindale.
'You see,' said Arthur, speaking fast, as if conscious that he appeared ungracious, 'it seems hard that she should have no house of her own, to receive her family in. I had promised she should have her sisters with her this winter, and I do not quite like to ask her to give it up.'
'When the house is finished, and we have room,' began Lady Martindale, 'the Miss Mosses shall be most welcome.'
'Thank you, thank you,' repeated Arthur. 'But besides, I do not know how she will feel about the children. If we are to be here, it must be on condition that she has the entire management of them to herself.'
'Certainly,' again said his father. She has them in excellent training, and it would be entirely contrary to my principles to interfere.'
'Then, you see how it is,' said Arthur. 'I am quite willing. I know it is what I do not deserve, and I am more obliged than I can say; but all must depend upon Violet.'
He was going in quest of her, when the Rickworth carriage stopped at the gate and prevented him. Poor Lady Martindale, when she had sent her note of invitation to Lady Elizabeth and Emma to spend a long day at Brogden, she little imagined how long the day would be to her suspense. She could not even talk it over with any one but John, and he did not feel secure of Violet's willingness. He said that, at one time, she had been very shy and uncomfortable at Martindale, and that he feared there was reason in what Arthur said about the children. He suspected that Arthur thought that she would not like the scheme, and supposed that he knew best.
'Cannot you try to prevail with her, dear John? You have great influence.'
'I should not think it proper to persuade her. I trust to her judgment to see what is best, and should be sorry to distress her by putting forward my own wishes.'
This conversation took place while the younger ladies were walking in the garden with Lady Elizabeth and her daughter. It was the first time that Emma had been persuaded to come from home, and though she could not be more quiet than formerly, there was less peculiarity in her manner. She positively entered into the general conversation, and showed interest in the farming talk between her mother and Lord Martindale; but the children were her chief resource. And, though affectionate and almost craving pardon from Violet,—drawing out from her every particular about the little ones, and asking much about Arthur's health, and Theodora's prospects,—she left a veil over the matters that had so deeply concerned herself.
It was from Lady Elizabeth that the sisters heard what they wished to know; and Theodora, on her side, imparted the information which Percy had brought from London. He had been trying whether it were possible to obtain payment of Mr. Gardner's heavy debts to Arthur, but had been forced to relinquish the hope. So many creditors had claims on him that, ample as was the fortune which Mrs. Finch's affection had placed entirely in his power, there was little probability that he would ever venture to return to England. No notice had been taken of the demands repeatedly sent in, and Percy had learnt that he was dissipating his wife's property very fast upon the Continent; so that it was likely that, in a few years, Mr. Finch's hoards would be completely gone. Report also spoke of his rewarding his wife's affection with neglect and unkindness; and her sister, Mrs. Fotheringham, declared that, having acted against warning, Georgina must take the consequences, and could expect no assistance from Worthbourne.
Mournfully Theodora spoke. It was a saddening thought in the midst of her happiness, and it pressed the more heavily upon her from the consciousness, that she had been looked up to by Georgina, and had, in her pride and self-will, forfeited the chance of exerting any beneficial influence. She perceived the contrast between the effect of her own character on others, and that of Violet, and could by no means feel herself guiltless of her poor playmate's sad history. Still she cherished a secret hope that it might yet be permitted to her to meet her again, and in the time of trouble to be of service to her.
This, of course, was not for Lady Elizabeth's ears, but enough was told her to make her again marvel over her daughter's past infatuation, and express her thankfulness for the escape.
Emma's mind was gradually becoming tranquillized, though it had suffered another severe shock from the tidings, that Theresa Marstone had actually become a member of the Roman Catholic Church. A few months ago, such intelligence might have unsettled Emma's principles, as well as caused her deep grief; but the conviction of the undutiful and uncandid part which Miss Marstone had led her to act, had shaken her belief in her friend's infallibility; and in the safe and wholesome atmosphere of her home, there had been a gradual disenchantment. She saw Sarah Theresa in a true light, as a person of excellent intentions, and of many right principles, but entirely unconscious of her own foibles, namely, an overweening estimate of self and of her own opinions, and a love of excitement and dominion. These, growing more confirmed with her years, had resulted in the desertion of her mother-church, under the expectation that elsewhere she might find that ideal which existed only in her own imagination; and Emma had been obliged to acknowledge, that had her work at the Priory been hastily begun, according to her wishes, four years ago, little could have resulted but mischief from such a coadjutor.
Emma's sense of folly and instability made her ready to submit to another five years' probation; but to her surprise, her mother, whom Miss Marstone had taught her to imagine averse to anything out of the ordinary routine, was quite ready to promote her plans, and in fact did much to turn her mind into that channel.
The orphans were doubled in numbers, and Emma spent much time in attending to them, an old woman had been rescued from the Union, and lodged in an adjoining room, as a 'granny' to the little girls, giving the whole quite a family air; a homeless governess, in feeble health, was on a visit, which Emma hoped would be prolonged indefinitely, if she could be persuaded to believe herself useful to the orphans. The inhabitants of the house were fast outstripping their space in the parish church, and might soon be numerous enough to necessitate the restoration of the ruin for their lodging. An architect had been commissioned to prepare plans for the rebuilding of the chapel at once, and Lady Elizabeth was on the watch for a chaplain. Thus matters were actually in train for the fulfilment of Emma's aspiration, spoken so long ago, that 'Sunday might come back to Rickworth Priory.' Little had she then imagined that she should see its accomplishment commence with so heavy a heart, and enter on her own share of the toil with so little of hope and joy. Alas! they had been wasted in the dreamy wanderings whither she had been led by blind confidence in her self-chosen guide; and youthfulness and mirth had been lost in her rude awakening and recall, lost never to return. Yet in time the calmer joy of 'patient continuance in well-doing' would surely arise upon her, and while working for her Master, His hand would lighten her load.
So Violet felt comforted with regard to Emma; and as she stood at the garden-gate with her sister-in-law in the clear, lovely summer night, watching the carriage drive off, smiled as she said, 'How well all has turned out! How strange to remember last time I parted with Lady Elizabeth at Brogden, when I was almost equally anxious about Emma, about you and Percy, and about our own affairs—to say nothing of the dreariness for Annette!'
'When the sky is darkest the stars come out,' said Theodora. 'Yes, the tide in the affairs of men has set most happily in our favour of late; though I don't see our own way yet. John and my father both say, that our marriage must be at once; and I have not made out which is the worst, to desert my mother or to have my own way.'
'Which is your own way?' said Violet, archly.
'That is what provokes me! I don't know.'
'And which is Percy's?'
'Whichever mine is, which makes it all the worse. Violet! I wish Helen could be put into the hot-house, and made a woman of at once. Only, then, if Lord St. Erme is to have her, it would be equally troublesome.'
'My dears, pray come in!' said Lady Martindale, in the porch. 'You do not know how late it is.'
Her ladyship was in an unusual hurry to make them wish good night, and come up-stairs. She followed Violet to her room, and in one moment had begun:
'Violet, my dear, has Arthur told you?'
'He has told me nothing. What is it?'
'We all think, now Theodora is going to leave us, that it would be the best way for you all to come and live at home with us. Lord Martindale wishes it, and John, and every one. Will you, my dear?'
'How very kind!' exclaimed Violet. 'What does Arthur say?'
'Arthur says he is willing, but that it must depend on what you like.' Then, perhaps taking Violet's bewildered looks for reluctance, 'I am afraid, my dear, I have not always been as affectionate as you deserved, and have not always tried to make you comfortable.'
'Oh! no, no! Don't say so!'
'It was before I rightly knew you; and indeed it shall never be so again. We are so comfortable now together; do not let us break it up again, and take the poor dear children away to grow pale in London. You shall have all you wish; I will never do anything you don't like with the children; and all your family shall come and stay whenever you please; only don't go away, dear Violet—I cannot spare you.'
'Oh! don't, dear grandmamma! This is too much,' said Violet, almost crying. 'You are so very kind. Oh! I should be so glad for Arthur to be spared the London winter! How happy the children will be! Thank you, indeed.'
'You do consent, then!' cried Lady Martindale, triumphantly. 'John thought we had not made you happy enough!'
'John should know better! It is the greatest relief—if Arthur likes it, I mean.'
'Then you do stay. You will be, as Lord Martindale says, the daughter of our old age—our own dear child!'
'Will I?' Violet threw her arms round Lady Martindale's neck, and shed tears of joy.
Lady Martindale held her in her arms, and murmured caressing words. Arthur's step approached. His mother opened the door and met him. 'She consents! Dear, dear Violet consents! Now we shall be happy.'
Arthur smiled, looked at his wife, understood her face, and replied to his mother with a warm kiss, a thank you, and good night. She went away in perfect satisfaction.
Your last, greatest victory, Violet,' said he. 'You have got at her heart at last, and taught her to use it. But, do you like this plan?'
'Like it? It is too delightful! If you knew how I have been dreading that winter in London for your chest!'
'And saying nothing?'
'Because I thought there was nothing else to be done; but this—'
'Ay! I have told my father that, if we stay here, I hope he will lessen my allowance. Even then, I can pay off something every year of the debts that will be left after what would be cleared by the price of my commission.'
'Oh, yes; we shall have scarcely any expense at all.'
'Don't agree to it, though, because you think I like it, if you do not. Consider how you will get on with grandmamma and the children. She makes promises; but as to trusting her not to spoil Helen—'
'She does not spoil her half as much as her papa does,' said Violet, with a saucy smile. 'I'm not afraid. It is all love, you know, and grandmamma is very kind to me, even when Helen is in disgrace. If we can only be steady with her, I am sure another person to love her can do her no harm in the end. And, oh! think of the children growing up in the free happy country.'
'Ay, my father and John spoke of that,' said Arthur. 'John wishes it very much. He says that all he could desire in this world is a share in our home and in our children's hearts.'
'I don't know how it is that every one is so kind. Oh! it is too much! it overflows!' Violet leant against her husband, shedding tears of happiness.
'You silly little thing!' he said, fondling her: 'don't you know why? You have won all their hearts.'
'I never meant to'—half sobbed Violet.
'No, you only meant to go on in your own sweet, modest way of kindness and goodness; but you have done it, you see. You have won every one of them over; and what is more, gained pardon for me, for your sake. No, don't struggle against my saying so, for it is only the truth. It was bad enough in me to marry you, innocent, unknowing child as you were; but you turned it all to good. When I heard that lesson on Sunday, about the husband and the believing wife, I thought it was meant for you and me; for if ever now I do come to good, it is owing to no one but you and that boy.'
'O, Arthur, I cannot bear such sayings. Would you—would you dislike only just kneeling down with me, that we may give thanks for all this happiness! Oh! what seemed like thorns and crosses have all turned into blessings!'