'Under the circumstances,' said John, 'putting in no water was the best thing he could do.'
'Ay,' said Arthur, 'a pretty fellow you for a West Indian proprietor, to consume neither sugar nor cigars.'
'At this rate,' said John, 'they are the people to consume nothing. There was such an account of the Barbuda property the other day, that my father is thinking of going to see what is to be done with it.'
'No bad plan for your next winter,' said Arthur. 'Now, Violet, to your sofa! You have brewed your female potion in your female fashion, and may surely leave your betters to pour it out.'
'No, indeed! How do I know what you may serve us up?' said she, quite revived with laughing. 'I won't give up my place.'
'Quite right, Violet,' said John, 'don't leave me to his mercy. Last time he made tea for me, it consisted only of the other ingredient, hot water, after which I took the law into my own hands for our mutual benefit. Pray what became of him after I was gone?'
'I was obliged to have him up into my room, and give him his tea properly there, or I believe he would have existed on nothing but cigars.'
'Well, I shall have some opinion of you when you make him leave off cigars.'
'Catch her!' quietly responded Arthur.
'There can't be a worse thing for a man that gets bad coughs.'
'That's all smoke, Violet,' said Arthur. 'Don't tell her so, or I shall never have any peace.'
'At least, I advise you to open the windows of his den before you show my mother and Theodora the house.'
'As to Theodora! what is the matter with her!' said Arthur.
'I don't know,' said John.
'In one of her moods? Well, we shall have her here in ten days' time, and I shall know what to be at with her.'
'I know she likes babies,' said Violet, with confidence. She had quite revived, and was lively and amused; but as soon as tea was over, Arthur insisted on her going to bed.
The loss of her gentle mirth seemed to be felt, for a long silence ensued; Arthur leaning against the mantel-shelf, solacing himself with a low whistle, John sitting in meditation. At last he looked up, saying, 'I wish you would all come and stay with me at Ventnor.'
'Thank you; but you see there's no such thing as my going. Fitzhugh is in Norway, and till he comes back, I can't get away for more than a day or two.'
'Suppose,' said John, rather doubtingly; 'what should you think of putting Violet under my charge, and coming backwards and forwards yourself?'
'Why, Harding did talk of sea air, but she did not take to the notion; and I was not sorry; for, of all things I detest, the chief is sticking up in a sea place, with nothing to do. But it is wretched work going on as we do, though they say there is nothing the matter but weakness. I verily believe it is all that child's eternal noise that regularly wears her out. She is upset in a moment; and whenever she is left alone, she sets to work on some fidget or other about the house, that makes her worse than before.'
'Going from home would be the best cure for that.'
'I suppose it would. I meant her to have gone out with my mother, but that can't be anyway now! The sea would give her a chance; I could run down pretty often; and you would see that she did not tire herself.'
'I would do my best to take care of her, if you would trust her to me.'
'I know you would; and it is very kind in you to think of it.'
'I will find a house, and write as soon as it is ready. Do you think the end of the week would be too soon for her? I am sure London is doing her harm.'
'Whenever you please; and yet I am sorry. I wanted my father to have seen the boy; but perhaps he had better look a little more respectable, and learn to hold his tongue first. Besides, how will it be taken, her going out of town just as they come up?'
'I rather think it would be better for her not to meet them till she is stronger. Her continual anxiety and effort to please would be too much strain.'
'Very likely; and I am sure I won't keep her here to expose her to Miss Martindale's airs. She shall come as soon as you like.'
Arthur was strengthened in his determination by the first sound that met him on going up-stairs—the poor babe's lamentable voice; and by finding Violet, instead of taking the rest she so much needed, vainly trying to still the feeble moaning. He was positively angry; and almost as if the poor little thing had been wilfully persecuting her, declared it would be the death of her, and peremptorily ordered it up-stairs; the nurse only too glad to carry it off, and agreeing with him that it was doing more harm to its mother than she did good to it. Violet, in submissive misery, gave it up, and hid her face. One of her chief subjects for self-torment was an imagination that Arthur did not like the baby, and was displeased with its crying; and she felt utterly wretched, hardly able to bear the cheerful tone in which he spoke! 'Well, Violet, we shall soon set you up. It is all settled. You are to go, at the end of the week, to stay with John in the Isle of Wight.'
'Go away?' said Violet, in an extinguished voice.
'Yes; it is the very thing for you. I shall stay here, and go backwards and forwards. Well, what is it now?'
She was starting up, as the opening of the door let out another scream. 'There he is still! Let me go to him for one minute.'
'Folly!' said Arthur, impatiently. 'There's no peace day or night. I won't stand it any longer. You are half dead already. I will not have it go on. Lie down; go to sleep directly, and don't trouble your head about anything more till morning.'
Like a good child, though choking with tears, she obeyed the first mandate; and presently was rather comforted by his listening at the foot of the stairs, and reporting that the boy seemed to be quiet at last. The rest of the order it was not in her power to obey; she was too much fatigued to sleep soundly, or to understand clearly. Most of the night was spent in broken dreams of being separated from her child and her husband, and wakening to the knowledge that something was going to happen.
At last came sounder slumbers; and she awoke with an aching head, but to clearer perceptions. And when Arthur, before going down to breakfast, asked what she wished him to say to John, she answered: 'It is very kind of him—but you never meant me to go without you?'
'I shall take you there, and run down pretty often; and John has been used to coddling himself all his life, so of course he will know how to take care of you.'
'How kind he is, but I don't'—she broke off, and looked at the little pinched face and shrivelled arms of the tiny creature, which she pressed more closely to her; then, with a hesitating voice, 'Only, if it would do baby good!'
'Of course it would. He can't be well while things go on at this rate. Only ask Harding.'
'I wonder whether Mr. Martindale knew it was what Mr. Harding recommended! But you would be by yourself.'
'As if I had not taken care of myself for three-and-twenty years without your help!'
'And all your party will be in town, so that you will not miss me.'
'I shall be with you very often. Shall I tell John you accept?'
'Tell him it is very kind, and I am so much obliged to him,' said Violet, unable to speak otherwise than disconsolately.
Accordingly the brothers agreed that Arthur should bring her to Ventnor on Saturday, if, as John expected, he could be prepared to receive her; placing much confidence in Brown's savoir faire, though Brown was beyond measure amazed at such a disarrangement of his master's methodical habits; and Arthur himself gave a commiserating shake of the head as he observed that there was no accounting for tastes, but if John chose to shut himself up in a lodging with the most squallingest babby in creation, he was not the man to gainsay him; and further reflected, that if a man must be a younger son, John was a model elder brother.
Poor Violet! Her half-recovered state must be an excuse for her dire consternation on hearing it was definitively settled that she was to be carried off to Ventnor in four days' time! How arrange for Arthur? Where find a nursemaid? What would become of the baby so far from Mr. Harding? The Isle of Wight seemed the ends of the earth—out of England! Helpless and overpowered, she was in despair; it came to Arthur's asking, in displeasure, what she wanted—whether she meant to go or not. She thought of her drooping infant, and said at once she would go.
'Well, then, what's all this about?'
Then came tears, and Arthur went away, declaring she did not know herself what she would be at. He had really borne patiently with much plaintiveness, and she knew it. She accused herself of ingratitude and unreasonableness, and went into a fresh agony on that score; but soon a tap at the door warned her to strive for composure. It was Sarah, and Violet felt sure that the dreaded moment was come of her giving warning; but it was only a message. 'If you please, ma'am, there's a young person wants to see you.'
'Come as a nursery maid?' said Violet, springing up in her nervous agitated way. 'Do you think she will do?'
'I don't think nothing of her,' said Sarah, emphatically. 'Don't you go and be in a way, ma'am; there's no hurry.'
'Yes, but there is, Sarah. Baby and I are to go next Saturday to the Isle of Wight, and I can't take old nurse. I must have some one.'
'You won't get nobody by hurrying,' said Sarah.
'But what's to be done, Sarah? I can't bear giving the dear baby to a stranger, but I can't help it.'
'As for that, said Sarah, gloomily, 'I don't see but I could look after Master John as well as any that is like to offer for the present.'
'You! Oh, that would be nice! But I thought you did not like children?'
'I don't, but I don't mind while he is too little to make a racket, and worrit one out of one's life. It is only for the present, till you can suit yourself, ma'am—just that you may not be lost going into foreign parts with a stranger.'
Sarah had been nursing the baby every leisure moment, and had, during the worst part of Violet's illness, had more to do with him than the regular nurse. This was happily settled, and all at which Violet still demurred was how the house and its master should be provided for in their absence; to which Sarah replied, 'Mary would do well enough for he;' and before Violet knew to which she must suppose the pronoun referred, there was a new-comer, Lady Elizabeth, telling her that Arthur had just been to beg her to come to her, saying he feared he had hurried her and taken her by surprise.
Under such kind soothing Violet's rational mind returned. She ceased to attempt to put herself into a vehement state of preparation, and began to take so cheerful a view of affairs that she met Arthur again in excellent spirits.
Emma Brandon pitied her for being left alone with Mr. Martindale, but this was no subject of dread to her, and she confessed that she was relieved to escape the meeting with the rest of the family. The chief regret was, that the two friends would miss the constant intercourse with which they had flattered themselves—the only thing that made London endurable to poor Emma. She amused Violet with her lamentations over her gaieties, and her piteous accounts of the tedium of parties and balls; whereas Violet declared that she liked them very much.
'It was pleasant to walk about with Arthur and hear his droll remarks, and she liked seeing people look nice and well dressed.'
'Ah! you are better off. You are not obliged to dance, and you are safe, too. Now, whenever any one asks to be introduced to me I am sure he wants the Priory, and feel bound to guard it.'
'And so you don't like any one, and find it stupid?'
'So I do, of course, and I hope I always shall. But oh! Violet, I have not told you that I saw that lady again this morning at the early service. She had still her white dress on, I am sure it is for Whitsuntide; and her face is so striking—so full of thought and earnestness, just like what one would suppose a novice. I shall take her for my romance, and try to guess at her history.'
'To console you for your godson going away?'
'Ah! it won't do that! But it will be something to think of, and I will report to you if I make out any more about her. And mind you give me a full account of the godson.'
Arthur wished the journey well over; he had often felt a sort of superior pity for travellers with a baby in company, and did not relish the prospect; but things turned out well; he found an acquaintance, and travelled with him in a different carriage, and little Johnnie, lulled by the country air, slept so much that Violet had leisure to enjoy the burst into country scenery, and be refreshed by the glowing beauty of the green meadows, the budding woods, and the brilliant feathery broom blossoms that gilded the embankments. At Winchester Arthur came to her window, and asked if she remembered last year.
'It is the longest year of my life,' said she. 'Oh, don't laugh as if I had made a bad compliment, but so much has happened!' There was no time for more; and as she looked out at the cathedral as they moved on, she recollected her resolutions, and blamed herself for her failures, but still in a soothed and happier frame of hope.
The crossing was her delight, her first taste of sea. There was a fresh wind, cold enough to make Arthur put on his great-coat, but to her it brought a delicious sense of renewed health and vigour, as she sat inhaling it, charmed to catch a drop of spray on her face, her eyes and cheeks brightening and her spirits rising.
The sparkling Solent, the ships at Spithead, the hills and wooded banks, growing more defined before her; the town of Ryde and its long pier, were each a new wonder and delight, and she exclaimed with such ecstasy, and laughed so like the joyous girl she used to be, that Arthur felt old times come back; and when he handed her out of the steamer he entirely forgot the baby.
At last she was tired with pleasure, and lay back in the carriage in languid enjoyment; fields, cottages, hawthorns, lilacs, and glimpses of sea flitting past her like pictures in a dream, a sort of waking trance that would have been broken by speaking or positive thinking.
They stopped at a gate: she looked up and gave a cry of delight. Such a cottage as she and Annette had figured in dreams of rural bliss, gable-ends, thatch, verandah overrun with myrtle, rose, and honeysuckle, a little terrace, a steep green slope of lawn shut in with laburnum and lilac, in the flush of the lovely close of May, a view of the sea, a green wicket, bowered over with clematis, and within it John Martindale, his look of welcome overpowering his usual gravity, so as to give him an air of gladness such as she had never seen in him before.
The inmost heart of man if glad Partakes a livelier cheer, And eyes that cannot but be sad Let fall a brightened tear. Since thy return, through days and weeks Of hope that grew by stealth, How many wan and faded cheeks Have kindled into health. —WORDSWORTH'S Ode to May
'I say,' called Arthur, standing half in and half out of the French window, as Sarah paced round the little garden, holding a parasol over her charge, 'if that boy kicks up a row at night, don't mind Mrs. Martindale. Carry him off, and lock the door. D'ye hear?'
'Yes, sir,' said the unmoved Sarah.
'Stern, rugged nurse!' said Arthur, drawing in his head. 'Your boy ought to be virtue itself, Violet. Now for you, John, if you see her at those figures, take them away. Don't let her think what two and two make.'
'You are like one of my little sisters giving her doll to the other to keep,' said Violet.
'Some folks say it is a doll, don't they, John?'
'Well, I will try to take as much care of your doll as she does of hers,' said John, smiling.
'Good-bye, then! I wish I could stay!'
Violet went to the gate with him, while John stood at the window watching the slender girlish figure under the canopy of clematis, as she stood gazing after her husband, then turned and slowly paced back again, her eyes on the ground, and her face rather sad and downcast.
That pretty creature was a strange new charge for him, and he dreaded her pining almost as he would have feared the crying of a child left alone with him.
'Well, Violet,' said he, cheerfully, 'we must do our best. What time would you like to take a drive?'
'Any time, thank you,' said she, gratefully, but somewhat plaintively; 'but do not let me be a trouble to you. Sarah is going to hire a chair for me to go down to the beach. I only want not to be in your way.'
'I have nothing to do. You know I am no great walker, and I am glad of an excuse for setting up my carriage. Shall we dine early, and go out when the sun is not so high?'
'Thank you! that will be delightful. I want to see those beautiful places that I was too tired to look at on Saturday.'
Sarah's rounds again brought her in sight; Violet crossed the grass, and the next moment was under the verandah with the little long-robed chrysalis shape in her arms, declaring he was growing quite good, and getting fat already; and though to John's eyes the face was as much as ever like a very wizened old man, he could not but feel heartfelt pleasure in seeing her for once enjoying a young mother's exultation.
'Poor thing!' said he to himself, as she carried the babe upstairs, 'she has done too much, thought too much, felt too much for her years. Life has begun before she has strength for the heat and burthen of the day. The only hope is in keeping those overtasked spirits at rest, guarding her from care, and letting her return to childhood. And should this work fall on me, broken down in spirits and energy, with these long-standing habits of solitude and silence? If Helen was but here!'
He was relieved by Violet's reappearance at dinner-time, full of smiles, proud of Johnnie's having slept half the morning, and delighted with "Mary Barton", which, on his system of diversion for her mind, he had placed in her way. She was amazed and charmed at finding that he could discuss the tale with interest and admiration.
'Arthur calls such books trash,' said she.
'He reads them, though.'
'Yes, he always reads the third volume while I read the first.'
'The best way. I always begin at the end to judge whether a book is worth reading.'
'I saw a French book on the table; are you reading it?'
'Consulting it. You are welcome to it.'
'I think,' she said, timidly, 'I ought to read some history and French, or I shall never be fit to teach my little boy.'
'I have a good many books at home, entirely at your service.'
'Thank you, thank you! I thought last winter if I could but have read, I should not have minded half so much.'
'And why could you not?'
'I had finished all my own books, and they cost too much to hire, so there was only a great Roman History that Arthur had had at school. I could not read more than thirty pages of that a day, it was so stupid.'
'And you read those as a task! Very wise!'
'Matilda said my education was incomplete, and she feared I should be found deficient; and mamma told me to make a point of reading something improving every day, but I have not begun again.'
'I have some work on my hands,' said John. 'I was with Percy Fotheringham eight years ago in Syria and Asia Minor. He has gone over the same places a second time, and has made the journals up into a book on the Crusaders, which he has sent from Constantinople for me to get ready for publication. I shall come to you for help.'
'Me! How can I?' exclaimed Violet, colouring with astonishment.
'Let us enjoy our holiday first,' he replied, smiling. 'See there.'
A low open carriage and a pair of ponies came to the gate; Violet was enchanted, and stood admiring and patting them, while John looked on amused, telling her he was glad she approved, for he had desired Brown to find something in which Captain Martindale would not be ashamed to see her.
They drove along the Undercliff, and her enjoyment was excessive. To one so long shut up in town, the fresh air, blue sky, and green trees were charms sufficient in themselves, and when to these were added the bright extent of summer sea, the beautiful curving outline of the bay ending in the bold Culver Cliffs, and the wall of rocks above, clothed in part with garland-like shrubs and festoons of creepers, it was to her a perfect vision of delight. There was an alternation of long pauses of happy contemplation, and of smothered exclamations of ecstasy, as if eye and heart were longing to take a still fuller grasp of the beauty of the scene. The expression her face had worn at the cathedral entrance was on it now, and seemed to put a new soul into her features, varied by the beaming smiles as she cried out joyously at each new object-the gliding sails on the water, the curious forms of the crags, or the hawks that poised themselves in the air.
The flowers, too! They came to a lane bordered with copse, blue with wild hyacinth. 'Oh! it was so long since she had seen a wild flower! Would he be so kind as to stop for one moment to let her gather one. She did so much wish to pick a flower for herself once more!'
He drew up, and sat, leaning back, watching her with one of his smiles of melancholy meaning, as she lightly sprang up the bank, and dived between the hazel stems; and there he remained musing till, like a vision of May herself, she reappeared on the bank, the nut-bushes making a bower around her, her hands filled with flowers, her cheek glowing like her wild roses, and the youthful delicacy of her form, and the transient brightness of her sweet face, suiting with the fresh tender colouring of the foliage, chequered with flickering sunshine.
'Oh! I hope I have not kept you waiting too long! but, indeed, I did not know how to turn back. I went after an orchis, and then I saw some Solomon's seal; and oh! such bluebells, and I could not help standing quite still to feel how delicious it was! I hope that it was not long.'
'No, not at all, I am glad.'
There was a moisture around the bright eyes, and perhaps she felt a little childish shame, for she put up her hand to brush it off. 'It is very silly,' she said. 'Beautiful places ought not to make one ready to cry—and yet somehow, when I stood quite still, and it was all so green, and I heard the cuckoo and all the little birds singing, it would come over me! I could not help thinking who made it all so beautiful, and that He gave me my baby too.'—And there, as having said too much, she blushed in confusion, and began to busy herself with her flowers, delighting herself in silence over each many-belled hyacinth, each purple orchis, streaked wood sorrel, or delicate wreath of eglantine, deeming each in turn the most perfect she had ever seen.
John let her alone; he thought the May blossoms more suitable companions for her than himself, and believed that it would only interfere with that full contentment to be recalled to converse with him. It was pleasure enough to watch that childlike gladsomeness, like studying a new life, and the relief it gave him to see her so happy perhaps opened his mind to somewhat of the same serene enjoyment.
That evening, when Brown, on bringing in the tea, gave an anxious glance to judge how his master fared, he augured from his countenance that the change of habits was doing him no harm.
In the evening, Mr. Fotheringham's manuscript was brought out: John could never read aloud, but he handed over the sheets to her, and she enjoyed the vivid descriptions and anecdotes of adventures, further illustrated by comments and details from John, far more entertaining than those designed for the public. This revision was their usual evening occupation, and she soon became so well instructed in those scenes, that she felt as if she had been one of the travellers, and had known the handsome Arab sheik, whose chivalrous honour was only alloyed by desire of backsheesh, the Turkish guard who regularly deserted on the first alarm, and the sharp knavish Greek servant with his contempt for them all, more especially for the grave and correct Mr. Brown, pining to keep up Martindale etiquette in desert, caravanserai, and lazzeretto. She went along with them in the researches for Greek inscription, Byzantine carving, or Frank fortress; she shared the exultation of deciphering the ancient record in the venerable mountain convent, the disappointment when Percy's admirable entrenched camp of Bohemond proved to be a case of 'praetorian here, praetorian there;' she listened earnestly to the history, too deeply felt to have been recorded for the general reader, of the feelings which had gone with the friends to the cedars of Lebanon, the streams of Jordan, the peak of Tabor, the cave of Bethlehem, the hills of Jerusalem. Perhaps she looked up the more to John, when she knew that he had trod that soil, and with so true a pilgrim's heart. Then the narration led her through the purple mountain islets of the Archipelago, and the wondrous scenery of classic Greece, with daring adventures among robber Albanians, such as seemed too strange for the quiet inert John Martindale, although the bold and gay temper of his companion appeared to be in its own element; and in truth it was as if there was nothing that came amiss to Percival Fotheringham, who was equally ready for deep and scholarly dissertation, or for boyish drollery and good-natured tricks. He had a peculiar talent for languages, and had caught almost every dialect of the natives, as well as being an excellent Eastern scholar, and this had led to his becoming attached to the embassy at Constantinople, where John had left him on returning to England. He was there highly esteemed, and in the way of promotion, to the great satisfaction of John, who took a sort of affectionate fatherly pride in his well-doing.
The manuscript evinced so much ability and research, and was so full of beautiful and poetical description, as not only charmed Violet, but surpassed even John's expectations; and great was his delight in dwelling on its perfections, while he touched it up and corrected it with a doubtful, respectful hand, scarcely perceiving how effective were his embellishments and refinements. Violet's remarks and misunderstanding were useful, and as she grew bolder, her criticisms were often much to the point. She was set to search in historical authorities, and to translate from the French for the notes, work which she thought the greatest honour, and which kept her mind happily occupied to the exclusion of her cares.
Fresh air, busy idleness, the daily renewed pleasure of beautiful scenery, the watchful care of her kind brother, and the progressive improvement of her babe, produced the desired effect; and when the promised day arrived, and they walked to the coach-office to meet Arthur, it was a triumph to hear him declare that he had been thinking that for once he saw a pretty girl before he found out it was Violet, grown rosy in her sea-side bonnet.
If the tenor of John's life had been far less agreeable, it would have been sufficiently compensated by the pleasure of seeing how happy he had made the young couple, so joyously engrossed with each other, and full of spirits and merriment.
Violet was gladsome and blithe at meeting her husband again, and Arthur, wholesomely and affectionately gay, appearing to uncommon advantage. He spoke warmly of his father. It seemed that they had been much together, and had understood each other better than ever before. Arthur repeated gratifying things which Lord Martindale had said of Violet, and, indeed, it was evident that interest in her was the way to find out his heart. Of his mother and sister there was less mention, and John began to gather the state of the case as he listened in the twilight of the summer evening, while Arthur and Violet sat together on the sofa, and he leant back in his chair opposite to them, his book held up to catch the fading light; but his attention fixed on their talk over Arthur's news.
'You have not told me about the drawing-room.'
'Do you think I am going there till I am obliged!'
'What! You did not go with Lady Martindale and Theodora? I should like to have seen them dressed. Do tell me how they looked.'
'Splendid, no doubt; but you must take it on trust.'
'You did not see them! What a pity! How disappointed Theodora must have been!'
'Were there not folks enough to look at her?'
'As if they were of any use without you.'
'Little goose! I am not her husband, thank goodness, and wishing him joy that gets her.'
'O, Arthur, don't! I want to hear of Lady Albury's party. You did go to that!'
'Yes, my mother lugged me into it, and a monstrous bore it was. I wish you had been there.'
'Thank you, but if it was so dull—'
'Emma Brandon and I agreed that there was not a woman who would have been looked at twice if you had been there. We wanted you for a specimen of what is worth seeing. Fancy! it was such a dearth of good looks that they were making a star of Mrs. Finch! It was enough to put one in a rage. I told Theodora at last, since she would have it, there was nothing in the woman but impudence.'
John glanced over his book, and perceived that to Arthur there appeared profanation in the implied comparison of that flashy display of beauty with the pure, modest, tender loveliness, whose every blush and smile, as well as the little unwonted decorations assumed to honour his presence, showed, that its only value was the pleasure it gave to him. His last speech made her tone somewhat of reproof. 'Oh! that must have vexed her, I am afraid. She is very fond of Mrs. Finch.'
'Out of opposition,' said Arthur. 'It is too bad, I declare! That Georgina was well enough as a girl, spirited and like Theodora, only Theodora always had sense. She was amusing then, but there is nothing so detestable as a woman who continues "fast" after marriage.'
'Except a man,' observed John, in a tone of soliloquy. 'She has grown so thin, too!' continued Arthur. 'She used to be tolerably handsome when she was a fine plump rosy girl. Now she is all red cheek-bone and long neck! We are come to a pretty pass when we take her for a beauty!'
Oh! but there is your sister,' said Violet. 'Do tell me how she likes going out. She thought it would be such a penance.'
'All I know is, that at home she is as sulky as a Greenland bear, and then goes out and flirts nineteen to the dozen.'
Arthur!' came the remonstrating voice again, 'how you talk—do you mean that she is silent at home? Is she unhappy? What can be the matter with her?'
'How should I know?'
'Has not she said anything about baby?'
'Not she. Not one of them has, except my father.'
'I thought she would have liked to have heard of baby,' said Violet, in a tone of disappointment; 'but if there is anything on her spirits, perhaps she cannot think about him. I wonder what it can be. It cannot be any—any—'
'Any love affair! No! no! Miss Martindale may break hearts enough, but she will take care of her own, if she has one.'
'Is she so much admired?'
'Of course she is. You do not often see her style, and she talks and goes on at no end of a rate.'
'I remember how she grew excited at the ball, after disliking the prospect.'
'Is this mere general admiration,' asked John, 'or anything more serious?'
'Upon my word, I cannot say. There is no earnest on her part. She will rattle on with a poor fellow one night as if she had eyes for no one else, then leave him in the lurch the next. She cares not a rush for any of them, only wants to be run after. As to her followers, some of them are really smitten, I fancy. There was Fitzhugh, but he is an old hand, and can pay her in her own coin, and that sober-faced young Mervyn—it is a bad case with him. In fact, there is a fresh one whenever she goes out—a Jenny Dennison in high life—but the most bitten of all, I take it, is Lord St. Erme.'
'Lord St. Erme!' exclaimed both auditors in a breath.
'Ay. She met him at that breakfast, walked about the gardens with him all the morning, and my mother wrote to my aunt, I believe, that she was booked. Then at this Bryanstone soiree, the next night, Fitzhugh was in the ascendant—poor St. Erme could not so much as gain a look.'
'So he is in London!' said Violet. 'Do tell me what he is like.'
'Like a German music-master,' said Arthur. 'As queer a figure as ever I saw. Keeps his hair parted in the middle, hanging down in long lank rats' tails, meant to curl, moustache ditto, open collar turned down, black ribbon tie.'
'Oh! how amazed the Wrangerton people would be!'
'It is too much to study the picturesque in one's own person in England!' said John, laughing. 'I am sorry he continues that fashion.'
'So, of course,' continued Arthur, 'all the young ladies are raving after him, while he goes mooning after Theodora. How the fair sex must solace itself with abusing "that Miss Martindale!"'
'I wish he would be a little more sensible,' said John. 'He really is capable of something better.'
'Where did you know him?'
'At Naples. I liked him very much till he persecuted me beyond endurance with Tennyson and Browning. He is always going about in raptures with some new-fashioned poet.'
'I suppose he will set up Theodora for his muse. My mother is enchanted; he is exactly one of her own set, music, pictures, and all. The second-hand courtship is a fine chance for her when Miss Martindale is ungracious.'
'But it will not come to anything,' said John. 'In the meantime, her ladyship gets the benefit of a lion, and a very tawny lion, for her soirees.'
'Oh! that soiree will be something pleasant for you,' said Violet.
'I shall cut it. It is the first day I can be here.'
'Not meet that great African traveller?'
'What good would Baron Munchausen himself do me in the crowd my mother is heaping together?'
'I am sure your mother and sister must want you.'
'Want must be their master. I am not going to elbow myself about and be squashed flat for their pleasure. It is a dozen times worse to be in a mob at home, for one has to find chairs for all the ladies. Pah!'
'That is very lazy!' said the wife. 'You will be sorry to have missed it when it is too late, and your home people will be vexed.'
'Who cares? My father does not, and the others take no pains not to vex us.'
'O, Arthur! you know it makes it worse if you always come to me when they want you. I could wait very well. Only one day above all you must come,' said she, with lowered voice, in his ear.
John could not see how, instead of speaking, she guided her husband's hand to her wedding-ring. His reply transpired—'I'll not fail. Which day is it?'
'Friday week. I hope you will be able!'
'I'll manage it. Why, it will be your birthday, too!'
'Yes, I shall be so glad to be seventeen. I shall feel as if baby would respect me more. Oh! I am glad you can come, but you must be good, and go to the soiree. I do think it would not be right always to leave them when they want you. Tell him so, please, Mr. Martindale.'
John did so, but Arthur made no promises, and even when the day came, they were uncertain whether they might think of him at the party, or as smoking cigars at home.
Her scourge is felt, unseen, unheard, Where, though aloud the laughter swells, Her secret in the bosom dwells, There is a sadness in the strain As from a heart o'ercharged with pain. —The Baptistery
Theodora had come to London, hating the idea of gaieties, liking nothing but the early service and chemical lectures, and shrinking from the meeting with her former friend. She enjoyed only the prospect of the comfort her society would afford her brother, depressed by attendance on a nervous wife, in an unsatisfactory home.
No Arthur met them at the station: he had left a message that he was taking Mrs. Martindale to the Isle of Wight, and should return early on Tuesday.
Theodora stayed at home the whole of that day, but in vain. She was busied in sending out cards to canvass for her dumb boy's admission into an asylum, when a message came up to her sitting-room. She started. Was it Arthur? No; Mrs. Finch was in the drawing-room; and at that moment a light step was on the stairs, and a flutter of gay ribbons advanced. 'Ha! Theodora! I knew how to track you. The old place! Dear old school-room, how happy we have been here! Not gone out? Any one would think you had some stern female to shut you up with a tough exercise! But I believe you always broke out.'
'I stayed in to-day, expecting my brother.'
'Captain Martindale? Why, did not I see him riding with your father? Surely I did.'
'Impossible!' exclaimed Theodora.
'Yes, but I did though; I am sure of it, for he bowed. He had that sweet pretty little mare of his. Have you seen her, Theodora? I quite envy her; but I suppose he bought it for his wife; and she deserves all that is sweet and pretty, I am sure, and has it, too.'
Theodora could not recover from the thrill of pain so as to speak, and Mrs. Finch rattled on. 'She was not in good looks when I saw her, poor thing, but she looked so soft and fragile, it quite went to my heart; though Jane will have it she is deep, and gets her own way by being meek and helpless. I don't go along with Jane throughout; I hate seeing holes picked in everybody.'
'Where is Jane?'
'Gone to some charity sermonizing. She will meet some great folks there, and be in her element. I am glad to have you alone. Why, you bonny old Greek empress, you are as jolly a gipsy queen as ever! How you will turn people's heads! I am glad you have all that bright red-brown on your cheeks!'
'No self-preservation like a country life and early rising,' said Theodora, laughing. 'You have not kept yourself as well, Georgina. I am sorry to see you so thin.'
'Me! Oh, I have battered through more seasons than you have dreamt of!' said Mrs. Finch, lightly, but with a sigh. 'And had a fever besides, which disposed of all my fat. I am like a hunter in fine condition, no superfluous flesh, ready for action. And as to action—what are you doing, Theodora?—where are you going?'
'I don't know. Mamma keeps the cards. I don't want to know anything about it.'
Georgina burst into a laugh, rather unnecessarily loud.
'Just like you! Treat it as you used your music! What can't be cured must be endured, you know. Well, you poor victim, are you going to execution to-night?'
'Not that I know of.'
'Famous! Then I'll tell you what: there is going to be a lecture on Mesmerism to-night. Wonderful! Clairvoyante tells you everything, past, present, and to come! You'll detect all the impostures; won't it be fun? I'll call for you at eight precisely.'
Theodora thought of Arthur, and that she should miss the tidings of his child; then recollected that he had not afforded her one minute's greeting. She would show him that she did not care, and therefore made the agreement.
Cold and moody she came down to dinner, but her heart was beating with disappointment at not seeing Arthur, though a place was prepared for him. Mrs. Finch was right; he had been with his father all the afternoon, but had not supposed the ladies to be at home; an explanation which never occurred to Theodora.
He came in a few minutes after they had sat down; he was heated by his hasty walk from his empty house, and his greeting was brief and disconcerted at finding himself late. His mother made her composed inquiries for the party at Ventnor, without direct mention of the child, and he replied in the same tone. His cordial first intelligence had been bestowed upon his father, and he was not disposed to volunteer communications to the sister, whose apparent gloomy indifference mortified him.
He had not sat down ten minutes before word came that Mrs. Finch was waiting for Miss Martindale. Theodora rose, in the midst of her father and brother's amazement. 'I told mamma of my arrangement to go with Georgina Finch to a lecture on Mesmerism,' she said.
'Mesmerism!' was the sotto voce exclamation of Lord Martindale. 'But, my dear, you did not know that Arthur was at home this evening?'
'Yes, I did,' said Theodora, coldly; mentally adding, 'and I knew he had been five hours without coming near me.'
'Who is going with you? Is Mr. Finch?'
'I have not heard. I cannot keep Georgina waiting.'
It was no place for discussion. Lord Martindale only said—
'Arthur, cannot you go with your sister?'
Arthur muttered that 'it would be a great bore, and he was as tired as a dog.' He had no intention of going out of his way to oblige Theodora, while she showed no feeling for what concerned him most nearly; so he kept his place at the table, while Lord Martindale, displeased and perplexed, came out to say a few words to his daughter, under pretext of handing her to the carriage. 'I am surprised, Theodora. It cannot be helped now, but your independent proceedings cannot go on here as at home.'
Theodora vouchsafed no answer. The carriage contained only Mrs. Finch and Miss Gardner. Lord Martindale paused as his daughter stepped in, gravely asking if they were going to take up Mr. Finch. Georgina's laugh was not quite what it would have been to a younger inquirer, but it did not tend to console him. 'Mr. Finch! O no! We left him to the society of his port wine. I mean to test the clairvoyante by asking what he is dreaming about. But there is no fear of our coming to harm. Here's sister Jane for a duenna, and I always find squires wherever I go.'
Lord Martindale sat at home much annoyed, and preparing a lecture for his wilful daughter on her return. Sooth to say, Theodora did not find any great reward in her expedition. The sight was a painful one; and her high principles had doubts whether it was a legitimate subject for encouragement. She longed all the time to be sitting by Arthur's side, and hearing of his little boy. How young and gay he looked to be a father and head of a family! and how satisfying it seemed to have his bright eyes in sight again! She looked so thoughtful that Georgina roused her by threatening to set the poor clairvoyante to read her meditations.
When Theodora came home, she would have gone straight up to her own room, but her father waylaid her, and the first sound of his voice awoke the resolution to defend her freedom of action. Perhaps the perception that he was a little afraid of the rebuke he was about to administer added defiance to her determination.
'Theodora, I wish to speak to you. I do not wish to restrain your reasonable freedom, but I must beg that another time you will not fix your plans without some reference.'
'I told mamma,' she answered.
'I am not satisfied with the subject you have chosen—and I do not quite like what I see of Mrs. Finch. I had rather you made no engagements for the present.'
'I will take care,' said Theodora: 'but when mamma does not go out, I must have some one. I will do nothing worthy of disapproval. Good night.'
She walked off, leaving Lord Martindale baffled. That evening seemed to give its colour to the subsequent weeks. It was a time of much pain to Theodora, estranging herself from her brother, fancying him prejudiced against her, and shutting herself up from her true pleasures to throw herself into what had little charm for her beyond the gratification of her self-will.
She really loved Georgina Finch. There was the bond of old association and girlish friendship, and this could not be set aside, even though the pair had grown far asunder. Perhaps the strongest link had been their likeness in strength of expression and disregard of opinion; but it now seemed as if what in Theodora was vehemence and determination, was in Georgina only exaggeration and recklessness. However, Georgina had a true affection for Theodora, and looked up to her genuine goodness, though without much attempt to imitate it, and the positive enthusiasm she possessed for her friend was very winning to one who was always pining for affection. Therefore Theodora adhered to her intimacy through all the evidences of disapproval, and always carried the day.
Georgina was well-born, and her sphere was naturally in the higher circles, and though her marriage had been beneath her own rank, this was little thought of, as she was rich, and by many considered very handsome, fashionable, and agreeable. Mr. Finch was hardly ever seen, and little regarded when he was; he was a quiet, good-natured old man, who knew nothing but of money matters, and was proud of his gay young wife. She had her own way, and was much admired; sure to be in every party, and certain to be surrounded with gentlemen, to whom she rattled away with lively nonsense, and all of whom were ready to be her obedient squires. Her manners were impetuous, and, as well as her appearance, best to be described as dashing. Some people disliked her extremely; but she was always doing good-natured generous things, and the worst that could be said of her was, that she was careless of appearances, and, as Arthur called her, "fast". Theodora knew there was sincerity and warmth of heart, and was always trusting that these might develop into further excellences; moreover, she was sensible of having some influence for good. More than one wild freak had been relinquished on her remonstrance; and there was enough to justify her, in her own eyes, for continuing Georgina's firm friend and champion.
She had no other friendships; she did not like young ladies, and was still less liked by them; and Jane Gardner was nobody when her sister was by, though now and then her power was felt in double-edged sayings which recurred to mind.
However, Theodora found society more intoxicating than she had expected. Not that her sober sense enjoyed or approved; but in her own county she was used to be the undeniable princess of her circle, and she could not go out without trying to stand first still, and to let her attractions accomplish what her situation effected at home. Her princely deportment, striking countenance, and half-repelling, half-inviting manner, were more effective than the more regular beauty of other girls; for there was something irresistible in the privilege of obtaining a bright look and smile from one whose demeanour was in general so distant; and when she once began to talk, eager, decided, brilliant, original, and bestowing exclusive and flattering attention, for the time, on the favoured individual, no marvel that he was bewitched, and when, the next night, she was haughty and regardless, he only watched the more ardently for a renewal of her smiles. The general homage was no pleasure to her; she took it as her due, and could not have borne to be without it. She had rather been at home with her books, or preparing lessons to send to her school at Brogden; but in company she could not bear not to reign supreme, and put forth every power to maintain her place, though in her grand, careless, indifferent manner, and when it was over, hating and despising her very success.
Arthur had thawed after his second visit to Ventnor; he had brought away too much satisfaction and good humour to be pervious to her moody looks; and his freedom and ease had a corresponding effect upon her. They became more like their usual selves towards each other; and when he yielded, on being again exhorted to stay for the soiree, she deemed it a loosening of the trammels in which he was held. He became available when she wanted him; and avoiding all mention of his family, they were very comfortable until Theodora was inspired with a desire to go to a last appearance of Mademoiselle Rachel, unfortunately on the very evening when Violet had especially begged him to be with her.
If he would have said it was his wedding-day, there could have been no debate; but he was subject to a sort of schoolboy reserve, where he was conscious or ashamed. And there were unpleasant reminiscences connected with that day—that unacknowledged sense of having been entrapped—that impossibility of forgetting his sister's expostulation—that disgust at being conspicuous—that longing for an excuse for flying into a passion—that universal hatred of everything belonging to the Mosses. He could not give a sentimental reason, and rather than let it be conjectured, he adduced every pretext but the true one; professed to hate plays, especially tragedies, and scolded his sister for setting her heart on a French Jewess when there were plenty of English Christians.
'If you would only give me your true reason, I should be satisfied,' said she at last.
'I love my love with a V,' was his answer, in so bright a tone as should surely have appeased her; but far from it; she exclaimed,
'Ventnor! Why, will no other time do for THAT?'
'I have promised,' Arthur answered, vexed at her tone.
'What possible difference can it make to her which day you go?'
'I have said.'
'Come, write and tell her it is important to me. Rachel will not appear again, and papa is engaged. She must see the sense of it. Come, write.'
'Too much trouble.'
'Then I will. I shall say you gave me leave.'
'Indeed,' said Arthur, fully roused, 'you will say no such thing. You have not shown so much attention to Mrs. Martindale, that you need expect her to give way to your convenience.'
He walked away, as he always did when he thought he had provoked a female tongue. She was greatly mortified at having allowed her eagerness to lower her into offering to ask a favour of that wife of his; who, no doubt, had insisted on his coming, after having once failed, and could treat him to plenty of nervous and hysterical scenes.
Him Theodora pitied and forgave!
But by and by her feelings were further excited. She went with her mother to give orders at Storr and Mortimer's, on the setting of some jewels which her aunt had given her, and there encountered Arthur in the act of selecting a blue enamel locket, with a diamond fly perched on it. At the soiree she had heard him point out to Emma Brandon a similar one, on a velvet round a lady's neck, and say that it would look well on Violet's white skin. So he was obliged to propitiate his idol with trinkets far more expensive than he could properly afford!
Theodora little guessed that the gift was received without one thought of the white throat, but with many speculations whether little Johnnie would soon be able to spare a bit of flaxen down to contrast with the black lock cut from his papa's head.
There was nothing for it but to dwell no more on this deluded brother, and Theodora tried every means to stifle the thought. She threw herself into the full whirl of society, rattling on in a way that nothing but high health and great bodily strength could have endured. After her discontented and ungracious commencement, she positively alarmed her parents by the quantity she undertook, with spirits apparently never flagging, though never did she lose that aching void. Books, lectures, conversation, dancing, could not banish that craving for her brother, nothing but the three hours of sleep that she allowed herself. If she exceeded them, there were unfailing dreams of Arthur and his child.
She thought of another cure. There was another kind of affection, not half so valuable in her eyes as fraternal love; it made fools of people, but then they were happy in their blindness, and could keep it to themselves. She would condescend to lay herself open to the infection. It would be satisfying if she could catch it. She examined each of her followers in turn, but each fell short of her standard, and was repelled just as his hopes had been excited. One 'Hollo, Theodora, come along,' would have been worth all the court paid to her by men, to some of whom Arthur could have ill borne a comparison.
Thy precious things, whate'er they be, That haunt and vex thee, heart and brain, Look to the Cross, and thou shall see How thou mayst turn them all to gain. —Christian Year
All went well and smoothly at Ventnor, until a sudden and severe attack of some baby ailment threatened to render fruitless all Mr. Martindale's kind cares.
Violet's misery was extreme, though silent and unobtrusive, and John was surprised to find how much he shared it, and how strong his own personal affection had become for his little nephew; how many hopes he had built on him as the point of interest for his future life; the circumstances also of the baptism giving him a tenderness for him, almost a right in him such as he could feel in no other child.
Their anxiety did not last long enough for Arthur to be sent for; a favourable change soon revived the mother's hopes; and the doctor, on coming down-stairs after his evening's visit, told John that the child was out of danger for the present; but added that he feared there were many more such trials in store for poor Mrs. Martindale; he thought the infant unusually delicate, and feared that it would hardly struggle through the first year.
John was much shocked, and sat in the solitary drawing-room, thinking over the disappointment and loss, severely felt for his own sake, and far more for the poor young mother, threatened with so grievous a trial at an age when sorrow is usually scarcely known, and when she had well-nigh sunk under the ordinary wear and tear of married life. She had been so utterly cast down and wretched at the sight of the child's suffering, that it was fearful to imagine what it would be when there would be no recovery.
'Yes!' he mused with himself; 'Violet has energy, conscientiousness, high principle to act, but she does not know how to apply the same principle to enable her to endure. She knows religion as a guide, not as a comfort. She had not grown up to it, poor thing, before her need came. She wants her mother, and knows not where to rest in her griefs. Helen, my Helen, how you would have loved and cherished her, and led her to your own precious secret of patience and peace! What is to be done for her? Arthur cannot help her; Theodora will not if she could, she is left to me. And can I take Helen's work on myself, and try to lead our poor young sister to what alone can support her? I must try—mere humanity demands it. Yes, Helen, you would tell me I have lived within myself too long. I can only dare to speak through your example. I will strive to overcome my reluctance to utter your dear name.'
He was interrupted by Violet coming down to make tea. She was now happy, congratulating herself on the rapid improvement in the course of the day, and rejoicing that John and the doctor had dissuaded her from sending at once for Arthur.
'You were quite right, she said, 'and I am glad now he was not here. I am afraid I was very fretful; but oh! you don't know what it is to see a baby so ill.'
'Poor little boy—' John would have said more, but she went on, with tearful eyes and agitated voice.
'It does seem very hard that such a little innocent darling should suffer. He is not three months old, and his poor little life has been almost all pain and grief to him. I know it is wrong of me, but I cannot bear it! If it is for my fault, why cannot it be myself? It almost makes me angry.'
'It does seem more than we can understand, said John, mournfully; 'but we are told, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter."'
'When all the other young things—lambs, and birds, and all—are so happy, and rejoicing in the sunshine!' continued Violet; 'and children too!' as some gay young voices floated in on the summer air, and brought the tears in a shower.
'Don't grudge it to them, dear Violet,' said John, in his gentlest tone; 'my dear little godson is more blessed in his gift. It seems to accord with what was in my mind when we took him to church. I do not know whether it was from my hardly ever having been at a christening before, or whether it was the poor little fellow's distressing crying; but the signing him with the cross especially struck me, the token of suffering even to this lamb. The next moment I saw the fitness—the cross given to him to turn the legacy of pain to the honour of partaking of the Passion—how much more for an innocent who has no penalty of his own to bear!'
'I have read things like that, but—I know I am talking wrongly—it always seems hard and stern to tell one not to grieve. You think it very bad in me to say so; but, indeed, I never knew how one must care for a baby.'
'No, indeed, there is no blaming you; but what would comfort you would be to think of the Hand that is laid on him in love, for his highest good.'
'But he wants no good done to him,' cried Violet. 'He has been good and sinless from the time before even his father or I saw him, when you—'
'We cannot tell what he may need. We are sure all he undergoes is sent by One who loves him better than even you do, who may be disciplining him for future life, or fitting him for brighter glory, and certainly giving him a share in the cross that has saved him.'
His gentle tones had calmed her, and she sat listening as if she wished him to say more. 'Do you remember,' he added, 'that picture you described to me this time last year, the Ghirlandajo's Madonna?'
'Oh, yes,' said Violet, pleased and surprised.
'She does not hold her son back from the cross, does she, though the sword was to pierce through her own heart?'
'Yes; but that was for the greatest reason.'
'Indeed, it was; but He who was a Child, the firstborn Son of His mother, does not afflict your baby without cause. He has laid on him as much of His cross as he can bear; and if it be yours also, you know that it is blessed to you both, and will turn to glory.'
'The cross!' said Violet; adding, after some thought, 'Perhaps thinking of that might make one bear one's own troubles better.'
'The most patient person I ever knew found it so,' said John; and with some hesitation and effort, 'You know about her?'
'A little,' she timidly replied; and the tears flowed again as she said, 'I have been so very sorry for you.'
'Thank you,' he answered, in a suppressed tone of grateful emotion, for never was sympathy more refreshing to one who had long mourned in loneliness.
Eager, though almost alarmed, at being thus introduced to the melancholy romance of his history, Violet thought he waited for her to speak. 'It was dreadful,' she said; 'it was so cruel, to sacrifice her to those old people.'
'Was it cruel? Was it wrong?' said John, almost to himself. 'I hope not. I do not think I could have decided otherwise.'
'Oh, have I said anything wrong? I don't properly know about it. I fancied Arthur told me—I beg your pardon.
'I do not think Arthur knew the circumstances; they have never been much talked of. I do not know whether you would care to listen to a long story; but I should like you, as far as may be, to understand her, and consider her as your sister, who would have been very fond of you.'
'And do you like to talk of it?'
'That I do, now,' said John; her delicate, respectful sympathy so opening his heart, that what had been an effort became a relief.
'I should be so glad. Baby is asleep, and I came down to stay with you. It is very kind of you.'
'You are very kind to listen,' said John. 'I must go a long way back, to the time when I lost my little sisters.'
'Had you any more sisters?' said Violet, startled.
'Two; Anna and another Theodora. They died at four and two years old, within two days of each other, while my father and mother were abroad with my aunt.'
'What was their illness, poor little things?' anxiously asked Violet.
'I never knew. We all of us have, more or less, a West Indian constitution; that accounts for anything.'
'How old were you? Do you remember them?'
'I was five. I have no distinct recollection of them, though I was very fond of Anna, and well remember the dreariness afterwards. Indeed, I moped and pined so much, that it was thought that to give me young companions was the only chance for me; and the little Fotheringhams were sent for from the parsonage to play with me.'
'And it really began then!'
'Yes,' said John, more cheerfully. 'She was exactly of my own age, but with all the motherly helpful kindness of an elder sister, and full of pretty, childish compassion for the little wretched solitary being that I was. Her guarding me from the stout riotous Percy—a couple of years younger—was the first bond of union; and I fancy the nurses called her my little wife, I know I believed it then, and ever after. We were a great deal together. I never was so happy as with them; and as I was a frail subject at the best, and Arthur was not born till I was nine years old, I was too great a treasure to be contradicted. The parsonage was the great balance to the home spoiling; Mr. and Mrs. Fotheringham were most kind and judicious; and Helen's character could not but tell on all around.'
'Was she grave?'
'Very merry, full of fun, but with a thoughtful staidness in her highest spirits, even as a girl. I saw no change when we met again'—after a pause: 'No, I cannot describe her. When we go home you shall see her picture. No one ever reminded me of her as you do, though it is not flattering you to say so. If the baby had been a girl, I think I should have asked you to call it by your second name. Well, we seldom spent a day without meeting, even after I had a tutor. The beginning of our troubles was her fifteenth birthday, the 10th of July. I had saved up my money, and bought a coral cross and a chain for her; but Mrs. Fotheringham would not let her keep it; she said it was too costly for me to give to any one but my sister. She tried to treat it lightly; but I was old enough to perceive her reason; and I can feel the tingling in all my veins as I vowed with myself to keep it till I should have a right to offer it.'
'What did she do?'
'I cannot tell; we did not wish to renew the subject. The worst of it was, that my aunt, who hears everything, found this out. She interrogated me, and wanted me to give it to Theodora, a mere baby. I felt as if I was defending Helen's possession, and refused to give it up unless at my father's command.'
'I hope he did not order you.'
'He never said a word to me. But our comfort was over; suspicion was excited; and I am afraid my aunt worried Mrs. Fotheringham. Nothing was said, but there was a check upon us. I was sent to a tutor at a distance; and when I was at home, either she went out on long visits in the holidays, or there was a surveillance on me; and when I did get down to the parsonage it was all formality. She took to calling me Mr. Martindale (by the bye, Violet, I wish you would not), was shy, and shrank from me.'
'Oh! that was the worst,' cried Violet. 'Did not she care?'
'I believe her mother told her we were too old to go on as before. They were all quite right; and I can now see it was very good for me. When Mr. Fotheringham died, and they were about to leave the parish, I spoke to my father. He had the highest esteem for them all, was fond of her, knew they had behaved admirably. I verily believe he would have consented at once—nay, he had half done so, but—'
'Mrs. Nesbit, I am sure,' exclaimed Violet.
'He was persuaded to think I had not had time to know my own mind, and ought not to engage myself till I had seen more of the world.'
'How old were you?'
'Nineteen! If you did not know your own mind then, when could you?'
John smiled, and replied, 'It was better to have such a motive. My position was one of temptation, and this was a safeguard as well as a check on idle prosperity. An incentive to exertion, too; for my father held out a hope that if I continued in the same mind, and deserved his confidence, he would consent in a few years, but on condition I should neither say nor do anything to show my feelings.'
'Then you never told her?'
'I should not have liked that at all. But she must have guessed.'
'She went with her mother to live in Lancashire, with old Mr. and Mrs. Percival, at Elsdale. There she lost her mother.'
'How long did it go on before Lord Martindale consented?' asked Violet, breathlessly.
'Five years, but at last he was most kind. He did fully appreciate her. I went to Elsdale'—and he paused. 'For a little while it was more than I can well bear to remember.'
'You gave her the cross?' said Violet, presently.
'On her next birthday. Well, then came considerations. Old Mrs. Percival was nearly blind, and could hardly move from her chair, the grandfather was very infirm, and becoming imbecile. His mind had never been clear since his daughter's death, and he always took Helen for her. She was everything to them.'
'And they would not spare her?'
'She asked me what was to be done. She put it entirely in my hands, saying she did not know where her duty lay, and she would abide by my decision.'
'Then it was you! I can't think how you could.'
'I trust it was not wrong. So asked, I could not say she ought to leave those poor old people to their helplessness for my sake, and I could not have come to live with them, for it was when I was in Parliament, and there were other reasons. We agreed, then, that she should not leave them in her grandfather's lifetime, and that afterwards Mrs. Percival should come to our home, Brogden, as we thought it would be. Indeed, Violet, it was a piteous thing to hear that good venerable old lady entreating my pardon for letting Helen devote herself, saying, she would never have permitted it but for Mr. Percival, for what would become of him without his granddaughter—hoping they would not long stand in our way, and promising us the blessing that Helen enjoys. We could not regret our decision, and to be allowed to stand on such terms with each other was happiness enough then; yet all the time I had a presentiment that I was giving her up for ever, though I thought it would be the other way; the more when the next year I had the illness that has made me good for nothing ever since. That made it much easier to me, for I should have led her such a life of nursing and anxiety as I would not inflict on any woman.'
'Surely she had the anxiety all the same?'
'There is a good deal spared by not being on the spot.'
'How can he think so! said Violet to herself. I can't imagine how she lived as long as she did. 'Did you not see her at all when you were ill?' she said.
'Yes, we had one great treat that winter when I was at the worst. It was one of my father's especial pieces of kindness; he wrote to her himself, and sent Simmonds to fetch her to Martindale.'
'And were you able to enjoy having her?'
'It was inflammation on the chest, so all my senses were free. She used to sit by me with her sober face, at work, ready to read and talk to me, and left sayings and thoughts that have brought refreshment at every such time. It was indeed a blessing that she could come that first time to teach me how to bear illness.'
'How long did she stay?'
'Only three weeks, for her absence only showed how little she could be spared; but she left an influence on that room of mine that it has never lost.'
'How solitary it must have been when you were recovering.'
'I had her letters. I will show you some of them some day. She used to write almost daily.'
'And it was when you were getting better that you took the great journey in the East?'
'Yes; Percy had just left Cambridge, and was ready to take the care of me on his hands. Those two years went pleasantly by, and what a happy visit it was at Elsdale afterwards! You can't think how this talking over our travels has brought it back. As long as Mrs. Percival lived we did pretty well. She made Helen take care of herself, and I could go and stay there; but after her death the poor old man grew more childish and exacting. I once tried staying at the curate's, but it did not answer. He could not bear to have her out of his sight, and had taken an unhappy aversion to me, fancying me some old admirer of his own daughter, and always warning her against me.'
'How distressing! How wretched! It would have killed me long before! How did she bear it? I know it was patiently, but I cannot understand it!'
'Her letters will best show you. It was the perfect trust that it was good for us; but what she underwent in those last three years we never knew. Her brother was at Constantinople. I could not go to Elsdale, and there was no one to interfere. We could not guess from her cheerful letters how she was wearing herself out, bearing his caprices, giving up sleep and exercise. I knew how it would be the first moment I met her, when I went to Elsdale to the funeral; but it was supposed to be only over-fatigue, and her aunt, Lady Fotheringham, took her home to recover. She grew worse, and went to London for advice. There I met her, and—and there she herself told me she had disease of the heart, and could not live a year.'
Violet gave a sort of sob.
'She held up to me that cross—that first gift—she bade me think of the subjection of wills and affections it betokened. Little had we once thought of that meaning!'
'And then?' asked Violet, with face flushed and hands clasped.
'Lady Fotheringham took her to Worthbourne.'
'Could you be with her?'
'Yes. One of the especial subjects of thankfulness was that I was well enough to stay with her. She was perfectly happy and contented, chiefly concerned to soften it to me. It was as if she had finished her work, and was free to enjoy, as she sank into full repose, sunsets, hoar frosts, spring blossoms, the having me with her, her brother's return—everything was a pleasure. I can hardly call it a time of grief, when she was so placid and happy. All the wishing and scheming was over, and each day that I could look at her in her serenity, was only too precious.'
'Was there much suffering?'
'At times there was, but in general there was only languor. She used to lie by the window, looking so smiling and tranquil, that it was hard to believe how much she had gone through; and so peaceful, that we could not dare to wish to bring her back to care and turmoil. The last time she was able to talk to me, she showed me the cross still round her neck, and said she should like to think it would be as much comfort to any one else as it had been to her. I did not see her again till I was called in for her last look on anything earthly, when the suffering was passed, and there was peaceful sinking.'
Violet was crying too much for words, until at last she managed to say, 'How could you—what could you do?'
'My illness was the best thing that could happen to me.'
'How sorry you must have been to get well.'
'Her wings were grown, To heaven she's flown, 'Cause I had none I'm left.'
'Those lines haunted me when I found myself reviving to the weary useless life I spend here.'
'O how can you call it so?' cried Violet. 'How could Arthur and I do without you?'
There was a sound up-stairs, and she started to the door, ran up, but came down in a few moments. 'He is awake and better,' she said. 'I cannot come down again, for Sarah must go to supper. Good night; thank you for what you have told me;' then, with an earnest look, 'only I can't bear you to say your life is useless. You don't know how we look to you.'
'Thank you for your kind listening,' he answered. 'It has done me a great deal of good; but do not stay,' as he saw her evidently longing to return to her child, yet lingering in the fear of unkindness to him. 'I am glad he is better; you and he must both have a good night.'
John was indeed refreshed by the evening's conversation. It had disclosed to him a new source of comfort, for hitherto his grief had never known the relief of sympathy. His whole soul had been fixed on one object from his boyhood; the hopes of deserving Helen had been his incentive to exertion in his youth, and when disabled by sickness, he had always looked forward to a new commencement of active usefulness with her. It had been a life of waiting: patient, but without present action, and completely wrapped up in a single attachment and hope. When that was taken from him he had not failed in faith and submission, but he had nothing to occupy him or afford present solace and interest; he had no future save lonely waiting still, until he should again rejoin her who had been his all on earth.
However, the effort made to reconcile his brother with the family had produced an unlooked-for influence, and enlarged his sphere of interest. At first came languid amusement in contemplating the pretty young bride, then liking and compassion for her, then the great anxiety in her illness, and afterwards real affection and solicitude for her and her child had filled his mind, and detached him from his own sorrows; and he now became sensible that he had, indeed, while trying to serve her and his brother, done much for his own relief. What she said of their dependence on him was not only a pleasure to him, but it awoke him to the perception that he had not been so utterly debarred from usefulness as he had imagined, and that he had neglected much that might have infinitely benefited his brother, sister, and father. He had lived for himself and Helen alone!
He tried to draw out Helen's example to teach Violet to endure, and in doing so the other side of the lesson came home to himself. Helen's life had been one of exertion as well as of submission. It had not been merely spent in saying, 'Thy will be done,' but in doing it; she had not merely stood still and uncomplaining beneath the cross, but she had borne it onward in the service of others.
Sweeter 'tis to hearken Than to bear a part, Better to look on happiness Than to carry a light heart, Sweeter to walk on cloudy hills, With a sunny plain below, Than to weary of the brightness Where the floods of sunshine flow. —ALFORD
One morning John received a letter from Constantinople, which he had scarcely opened before he exclaimed, 'Ha! what does he mean? Given up his appointment! Coming home! It is just like him. I must read you what he says, it is, so characteristic.'
'You must have been provoked at my leaving you all this time in doubt what to do with our precious tour, but the fact is, that I have been making a fool of myself, and as the Crusaders are the only cover my folly has from the world, I must make the most of them. I give out that my literary affairs require my presence; but you, as the means of putting me into my post, deserve an honest confession. About six weeks ago, my subordinate, Evans, fell sick—an estimable chicken-hearted fellow. In a weak moment, I not only took his work on my hands, but bored myself by nursing him, and thereby found it was a complaint only to be cured by my shoes.'
'Shoes! exclaimed Violet. John read on.
'It was a dismal story of an engagement to a clergyman's daughter; her father just dead, she reduced to go out as a governess, and he having half nothing of his own, mending the matter by working himself into a low fever, and doing his best to rid her of all care on his account. Of course I rowed him well, but I soon found I had the infection—a bad fit of soft-heartedness came over me.'
'Oh!' cried Violet, 'he gives up for this poor man's sake.'
'I thought all peace was over if I was to see poor Evans enacting the enamoured swain every day of my life, for the fellow had not the grace to carry it off like a man—besides having his business to do; or, if he should succeed in dying, I should not only be haunted by his ghost, but have to convey his last words to the disconsolate governess. So, on calculation, I thought trouble would be saved by giving notice that I was going home to publish the Crusaders, and sending him to fetch his bride, on whose arrival I shall bid a long farewell to the Grand Turk. I fancy I shall take an erratic course through Moldavia and some of those out-of-the-way locations, so you need not write to me again here, nor think of me till you see me about the end of August. I suppose about that time Theodora will have finished the course of severe toil reserved for young ladies every spring, so I shall come straight home expecting to see you all.'
'Home; does that mean Martindale?' said Violet.
'Yes. He has never looked on any place but Brogden as his home.'
'You don't think he repents of what he has done?'
'No, certainly not. He has seen what a long engagement is.'
'Yes; I almost wonder at his writing to you in that tone.'
'He banters because he cannot bear to show his real feeling. I am not anxious about him. He has L300 a year of his own, and plenty of resources,—besides, the baronetcy must come to him. He can afford to do as he pleases.'
'What a noble character he must be!' said Violet; 'it is like a story. How old is he?'
'About nine-and-twenty. I am glad you should see him. He is a very amusing fellow.'
'How clever he must be!'
'The cleverest man I know. I hope he will come soon. I should like to have a little time with him before my winter migration. We have not met since he was obliged to return, a fortnight after her death, when I little expected ever to see him again.'
This prospect seemed to set John's mind more than ever on Helen, as if he wanted to talk over her brother's conduct with her, and was imagining her sentiments on it.
He spoke much of her in the day, and in the evening brought down a manuscript-book.
'I should like to read some of this to you,' he said. 'She had so few events in her life at Elsdale that her letters, written to occupy me when I was laid up, became almost a journal of her thoughts. I copied out some parts to carry about with me; and perhaps you would like to hear some of them.'
'Indeed, I should, thank you, if you ought to read aloud.'
He turned over the pages, and seemed to be trying whether he could bear to read different passages; but he gave up one after another, and nearly half-an-hour had passed before he began.
'February 20. It was the winter after her coming to Martindale.'
'This morning was a pattern one for February, and I went out before the brightness was passed, and had several turns in the walled garden. I am afraid you will never be able to understand the pleasantness of such a morning. Perhaps you will say the very description makes you shiver, but I must tell you how beautiful it was. The frost last night was not sharp, but just sufficient to detain the dew till the sun could turn it into diamonds. There were some so brilliant, glancing green or red in different lights, they were quite a study. It is pleasant to think that this pretty frost is not adorning the plants with unwholesome beauty, though the poor little green buds of currant and gooseberry don't like it, and the pairs of woodbine leaves turn in their edges. It is doing them good against their will, keeping them from spreading too soon. I fancied it like early troubles, keeping baptismal dew fresh and bright; and those jewels of living light went on to connect themselves with the radiant coronets of some whom the world might call blighted in—'
It had brought on one of his severe fits of coughing. Violet was going to ring for Brown, but he stopped her by a sign, which he tried to make reassuring. It was worse, and lasted longer than the former one, and exhausted him so much, that he had to rest on the sofa cushions before he could recover breath. At last, in a very low voice, he said,
'There, it is of no use to try.'
'I hope you are better; pray don't speak; only will you have anything?'
'No, thank you; lying still will set me to rights. It is only that these coughs leave a pain—nothing to mind.'
He settled himself on the sofa, not without threatenings of a return of cough, and Violet arranged the cushions, concerned at his trying to thank her. After a silence, he began to breathe more easily, and said,
'Will you read me the rest of that?'
She gave him the book to find the place, and then read—
'The world might call them blighted in their early bloom, and deprived of all that life was bestowed for; but how different is the inner view, and how glorious the thought of the numbers of quiet, commonplace sufferers in homely life, like my currant and gooseberry bushes, who have found their frost has preserved their dewdrops to be diamonds for ever. If this is too fanciful, don't read it, but I go rambling on as the notions come into my head, and if you only get a laugh at my dreamings, they will have been of some use to you.'
'How beautiful!' said Violet; 'how you must have liked receiving such letters!'
'Yes; the greatest blank in the day is post time.'
He held out his hand for the book, and found another passage for her.
'I have been thinking how kindly that sentence is framed: "Casting all your care on Him." All, as if we might have been afraid to lay before Him our petty perplexities. It is the knowing we are cared for in detail, that is the comfort; and that when we have honestly done our best in little things, our Father will bless them, and fill up our shortcomings.
'That dressmaker must have been a happy woman, who never took home her work without praying that it might fit. I always liked that story particularly, as it shows how the practical life in the most trivial round can be united with thus casting all our care upon Him—the being busy in our own station with choosing the good part. I suppose it is as a child may do its own work in a manufactory, not concerning itself for the rest; or a coral-worm make its own cell, not knowing what branches it is helping to form, or what an island it is raising. What a mercy that we have only to try to do right from moment to moment, and not meddle with the future!'
'Like herself,' said John.
'I never thought of such things,' said Violet. 'I never thought little matters seemed worth treating in this way.'
'Everything that is a duty or a grief must be worth it,' said John. 'Consider the worthlessness of what we think most important in That Presence. A kingdom less than an ant's nest in comparison. But, here, I must show you a more everyday bit. It was towards the end, when she hardly ever left her grandfather, and I had been writing to urge her to spare herself.'
'You need not be afraid, dear John; I am quite equal to all I have to do. Fatigue never knocks me up, which is a great blessing; and I can sleep anywhere at the shortest notice. Indeed, I don't know what should tire me, for there is not even any running up and down stairs; and as to spirits, you would not think them in danger if you heard how I talk parish matters to the curate, and gossip with the doctor, till grandpapa brightens, and I have to shout an abstract of the news into his ear. It is such a treat to bring that flash of intelligence on his face—and it has not been so rare lately; he seems now and then to follow one of the Psalms, as I read them to him at intervals through the day. Then for pastime, there is no want of that, with the two windows looking out different ways. I can't think how you could forget my two beautiful windows—one with a view of the back door for my dissipation, and the other with the garden, and the varieties of trees and the ever-changing clouds. I never look out without finding some entertainment; my last sight was a long-tailed titmouse, popping into the yew tree, and setting me to think of the ragged fir tree at Brogden, with you and Percy spying up, questioning whether golden-crest or long-tailed pye lived in the dome above. No, no; don't waste anxiety upon me. I am very happy, and have everything to be thankful for.'
'"My mind to me a kingdom is," she might have said,' observed John.
'She might indeed. How beautiful! How ashamed it does make one of oneself!'
So they continued, he choosing passages, which she read aloud, till the evening was over, when he asked her whether she would like to look through the book?'
'That I should, but you had rather I did not.'
'Yes, I do wish you to read it, and to know Helen. There is nothing there is any objection to your seeing. I wrote them out partly for Percy's sake. Your reading these to me has been very pleasant.'
'It has been so to me, I am sure. I do not know how to thank you; only I am grieved that you have hurt yourself. I hope you are better now.'
'Yes, thank you; I shall be quite right in the morning.'
His voice was, however, so weak, and he seemed so uncomfortable, that Violet was uneasy; and as Brown lighted her candle in the hall, she paused to consult him, and found that, though concerned, he did not apprehend any bad consequences, saying that these attacks were often brought on by a chill, or by any strong excitement; he had no doubt this was occasioned by hearing of Mr. Fotheringham's intended return; indeed, he had thought Mr. Martindale looking flushed and excited all day.
Never did charge appear more precious than those extracts. She had an enthusiastic veneration for Helen, and there was a youthful, personal feeling for her, which made her apply the words and admire them far more than if they had been in print. As she dwelt upon them, the perception grew on her, that not only was it a duty to strive for contentment, but that to look on all trials as crosses to be borne daily, was the only way to obtain it.
Helen's many homely trials and petty difficulties were what came to her chiefly as examples and encouragements, and she began to make resolutions on her own account.
Yet, one day, when Arthur was expected and did not come, she conjured up so many alarms, that it was well that consideration for her companion obliged her to let him divert her mind.
The next day John led her to the beach, and set her to find rare sea-weeds for his mother. The charm of the pursuit, the curling tide, the occasional peeps at Johnnie as he was paraded, serene and sleepy, in Sarah's arms, made time speed so fast that she was taken by surprise when voices hailed them, and she beheld Arthur and his father.
No wedding-day being in the case, Arthur had gladly put off his coming on a proposal from his father to accompany him, see John's menage, and be introduced to his grandson.
Much more warmly than in former times did Lord Martindale greet his daughter-in-law, and quickly he asked for the baby. In spite of the doctor's prognostications, the little fellow had begun to mend, and he looked his best, nearly hidden in hood and mantle, and embellished by his mother's happy face, as she held him in her arms, rejoicing in the welcome bestowed on the first grandson.
Violet had never been so comfortable with Lord Martindale. There was the advantage of being the only lady, and he unbent more than he ever did at home. He had come partly to see what was to be the next arrangement. Five weeks of London had been almost too much for Lady Martindale, with whom it never agreed, and who had found a season with her unmanageable daughter very different from what it had formerly been, when her aunt arranged everything for her; and the family were about to return home. Arthur was to bring his wife to Martindale as soon as his leave began—but this would not be for a month; and his father, concerned to see her still so delicate, advised him not to think of her return to London in the hottest part of the year, and proposed to take her and the baby home with him. John, however, declared that he should prefer staying on at Ventnor with her; the place agreed with him, and he liked the quiet for finishing Percy Fotheringham's work besides, it suited Arthur better to be able to come backwards and forwards. The only doubt was whether she was tired of his dull company.
Arthur answered for her, and she was well satisfied, thinking it a great escape not to have to go to Martindale without him, but afraid John was giving up a great deal to her, when she must be a very tiresome companion; at which Arthur laughed, telling her of John's counter fears, and adding, that he had never seen his brother in such good spirits in all his life—he was now actually like other people.
Lord Martindale also feared that John found his undertaking wearisome, and talked it over with him, saying it was very kind of him, very good for Arthur's wife; but was she society enough? 'Would he not like to have Theodora to relieve him of the charge, and be more of a companion?'
'Thank you,' said John, 'we shall be very glad to have Theodora, if she likes to come. It is a very good opportunity for them to grow intimate.'
'I'll send her next time Arthur comes.'
'But you must not think it an act of compassion, as if Violet was on my hands. She is a particularly agreeable person, and we do very well together. In fact, I have enjoyed this time very much; and Theodora must not think herself obliged to come for my sake, as if I wanted help.'
'I understand,' said his father; 'and of course it will depend on what engagements they have made; but I should be very glad she should be more with you, and if she saw more of Arthur's wife, it might detach her from those friends of hers. I cannot think how it is Theodora is not disgusted with Mrs. Finch! It is a comfort, after all, that Arthur did not marry Miss Gardner!'
'A great one!'
'This girl has simplicity and gentleness at least, poor thing,' continued Lord Martindale; 'and I am quite of your opinion, John, that marriage has improved him greatly. I never saw him so free from nonsense. Strangely as it has come about, this may be the making of him. I only wish I could see her and the poor child looking stronger. I will send your sister, by all means.'
So Lord Martindale returned, and proposed the plan to his daughter. At first, she was flattered at being wanted, and graciously replied, 'Poor John, he must want some variety.'
'Not exactly that,' said her father. 'They are so comfortable together, it is a pleasure to see them. I should like to stay there myself, and it is a very agreeable scheme for you.'
'I was considering my engagements,' said Theodora. 'Of course, if I am really wanted, everything must be put aside.'
'John desired you would not think it an act of charity,' said her father. 'He says he finds her a most agreeable companion, and you need only look upon it as a pleasant scheme for all parties.'
'Oh,' said Theodora, in a different tone.
'He said you were not to put yourself out of the way. He would be very glad of your company, and it will be very good for you all to be together.'
'Oh! then I don't think it is worth while for me to go,' said Theodora. 'I am much obliged to John, but I should only interfere with his course of education.'
'Not go?' said her father.
'No, there is no occasion; and I wish to be at home as soon as I can.'
'Well, my dear, you must decide your own way, but I thought you would be glad of the opportunity of being with John, and I should be glad, too, that you should see more of your sister. She is a very engaging person, and I am sure you would find her a more satisfactory companion than Mrs. Finch.'
After this speech, Theodora would have suffered considerably rather than have gone.
'They will soon be at Martindale,' she said, 'and I cannot stay longer away from the village.'
'I wish at least that you would go down as I did for a day with Arthur. You would enjoy it, and it would give them all pleasure. Indeed, I think it would only be a proper piece of attention on your part.'
She made no answer, but the next time Arthur was going, she instantly stopped all her father's arrangements for her accompanying him, by saying she was going to a lecture on electricity; then, when Lord Martindale began asking if Arthur could not change his day, she majestically said, 'No, Arthur would not disappoint Mrs. Martindale on my account.'
'If you would go, Theodora,' said Arthur, eagerly, 'Violet would not mind waiting. She would be specially pleased to show you the boy. It is very jolly there.'
The first time he had spoken to her of his three months' old son. If she had not been in a dire fit of sullen jealousy, it would have softened as much as it thrilled her, but she had the notion that she was not wanted, except to do homage to the universally-petted Violet.
'I cannot spare a day.'
So Arthur was vexed, and the frost was harder. John had not much expected Theodora, and was more sorry for her sake than his own. The last month was still better than the first, the brother and sister understood each other more fully, and their confidence had become thoroughly confirmed. The baby had taken a start, as Sarah called it, left off unreasonable crying, sat up, laughed and stared about with a sharp look of inquiry in his dark eyes and tiny thin face, so ridiculously like his grandfather, Mr. Moss, that his mother could not help being diverted with the resemblance, except when she tormented herself with the fear that the likeness was unpleasing to Arthur, if perchance he remarked it; but he looked so little at the child, that she often feared he did not care for him personally, though he had a certain pride in him as son and heir.
Violet herself, though still delicate and requiring care, had recovered her looks and spirits, and much of her strength, and John walked and conversed more than he had done for years, did not shrink from the society of the few families they were acquainted with, and seemed to have derived as much benefit from his kind scheme as the objects of it. In fact his hopes and affections were taking a fresh spring—the effects of his kindness to Arthur and Violet had shown him that he could be useful to others, and he thus discovered what he had missed in his indulged life, crossed in but one respect—he saw that he had set himself aside from family duties, as well as from the more active ones that his health prohibited, and with a feeling at once of regret and invigoration, he thought over the course that lay open to him, and soon began to form plans and discuss them with his ever ready listener. His foreign winters need no longer be useless, he proposed to go to Barbuda to look after his mother's estates—indeed, it seemed so obvious that when he once thought of it he could not imagine why it had never occurred to him before; it would save his father the voyage, and when he and Violet began to figure to themselves the good that could be done there, they grew animated and eager in their castles.
That month sped fast away, and their drives were now last visits to the places that had charmed them at first. Their work was prepared for Mr. Fotheringham's inspection, and Violet having copied out her favourite passages of Helen's book, returned it on the last evening. 'I don't think I half understand all she says, though I do admire it so much, and wish I was like it.'
'You will be, you are in the way.'
'You don't know how foolish I am,' said Violet, almost as if he was disrespectful to Helen.
'Helen was once seventeen,' said John, smiling.
'Oh, but I have no patience. I fret and tease myself, and fancy all sorts of things, instead of trusting as she did. I don't know how to do so.'
'I know how weakness brings swarming harassing thoughts,' said John; 'it is well for us that there are so many external helps to patience and confidence.'