Seldom had she been more gratified, but at that moment a dripping figure burst on them, and Theodora's voice impetuously exclaimed, 'Violet! you must know something of babies! What shall I do for the child at the lodge? She will die if something is not done quickly.'
She was in an agony of breathless agitation; the motherless baby at the lodge had been taken violently ill, the parish doctor was not at home, and she feared that Mr. Legh could not arrive from Whitford in time!
Violet shared in her distress, and gathering from her description that it might be such an attack as Johnnie's at Ventnor, longed to be on the spot, and tried to believe the rain lessening enough for her to go. Theodora seized on her proposal, but Lord Martindale interfered. 'How can you be so thoughtless?' said he, in a far more decided manner than usual.
'The child's life depends on it!' said Theodora, vehemently.
'Pshaw!' said Lord Martindale, 'Violet has her own life and her child's to think of.'
'Then you won't come!'
'I am afraid I ought not,' said Violet, mournfully.
Theodora flung away in passionate despair and contempt, and was rushing off, when Violet pursued her, and implored her to listen one moment, and she could not let go her last hope. Violet offered some medicine that had been prepared for Johnnie—which she was sure could at least do no harm, and she could give some advice. Perhaps she mingled it with too many excuses and lamentations at being forced to stay at home; at least, Theodora thought her fanciful, rejoicing in the self-importance of imaginary ill-health.
'Why! there's the carriage!' she exclaimed, as it drove down the avenue.
'Yes, it is gone for John,' said Theodora, bluntly.
'Where is he?'
'At the Goldingsby turnpike. He took shelter there, and Percy came back to order the carriage to fetch him. Percy is gone on to Whitford for Mr. Legh.'
'What a pity! I could have gone to the lodge in the carriage.'
Theodora was provoked that her impatience had made her miss this chance: so, without answering, she ran down the steps, and was almost whirled along the avenue by the wild wind that roared in the branches, tearing the leaves from the trees, and whirling them round and round. She hardly felt it—her whole soul was set upon the little orphan; the misery of watching the suffering she could not relieve, joined with passionate resentment at her father and sister-in-law, who she fancied made light of it. Only Mr. Fotheringham, when stopping at the lodge on his way, had shown what she thought tolerable humanity. He had shared her concern, consoled her despair, suggested asking counsel of Mrs. Martindale, and finally rode off five miles to Whitford in quest of the doctor.
Violet's advice proved not to be despicable; the measures she recommended relieved the little one, and by the time Percy and the apothecary made their appearance, it was asleep on Theodora's lap, and Mr. Legh pronounced that it was in a fair way to do well. She wished she could have watched it all night, but it was late, and Mr. Fotheringham stood waiting at the door. So she laid it in the cradle, gave her directions to the old woman who had charge of it, and resumed her brown cloak and hood, in which she walked about in all weathers, without umbrella, for which, as for parasols, she had a supreme aversion.
Mr. Legh wished to prevail on her to let him drive her home, but she would not hear of it. Percy put up his umbrella, and offered to shelter her, but she held aloof.
'No, no. Where did you get that elegant cotton machine?'
'I borrowed it at the turnpike.'
'And rode home with it on Arthur's mare?'
'Of course I did. I was not going to get wet through.'
'But how did you get her to let you carry it. She objects to his taking out his handkerchief.'
'I am not going to be beaten by a mare, and she soon found that out.'
'What have you done with her?'
'I took her home, and came back again. I wonder what Arthur will say to me for taking his gallant gray on to Whitford. I must get up a pathetic appeal to the feelings of a father!'
'Well, I did not recollect you had the gray, or I would have told you to take my horse. However, there's no harm done, and it saved time.'
'Whoo—h!' as the gust came roaring down furiously upon them, pelting fiercely with rain, flapping and tearing at Theodora's cloak, like the wind in the fable, trying to whirl her off her feet, and making vehement efforts to wrench the umbrella out of Percy's hand. A buffet with wind and weather was a frolic which she particularly enjoyed, running on before the blast, then turning round to walk backwards and recover breath to laugh at him toiling with the umbrella. Never had she looked brighter, her dark eyes, lately so sad and soft, now sparkling and dancing with mirth, her brown cheek glowing with fresh red from the rain and wind that had loosened her hair, and was sporting with a long black tress that streamed beyond her bonnet, and fluttered over her face—life, strength, and activity in every limb, and her countenance beaming with sportiveness and gaiety, the more charming because so uncommon. It was a rare chance to catch Theodora at play.
'Ha! you'll be beat! You will have to shut up the miserable invention unknown to our forefathers.'
'Not I. I shall not give up the distinction between man and beast in the rain.'
'Man! Why even ants carry parasols.'
'That is in the sun. Parasols belong to an epoch of earlier civilization. Vide Ninevite carvings—Persian satraps!'
'So you reduce yourself to a Persian satrap!'
'No; it was reserved for modern times to discover the true application of the umbrella. Were you rational enough to come back in the carriage?'
'No, indeed. To do justice to Violet, she would have come down in it, if I had not forgotten to tell her of it.'
'I am glad you do her justice for once.'
She would not answer, and took advantage of another combat with the wind to cover her silence.
'Theodora,' said he, abruptly, 'I cannot help it; I must say it!'
'I do not think you feel as you ought towards your brother's wife.'
'John has told you this?'
'No; I have observed it. You had set your affections on Arthur; and thinking he had thrown himself away, you do not resist the common propensity to hate a sister-in-law.'
'You like to provoke me,' said Theodora; 'but,' and her voice trembled, 'it is unkind to bring this up—the pain and grief of my life, when I was happy and forgetful for once.'
'Far, far from unkindness. It is because I cannot bear to see you unhappy.'
'I trusted no one saw that.'
'I have known you too long, and thought of you too much, not to be grieved at the sight of your forced spirits and suppressed sorrow.'
It would have angered her from another; from him it touched her to find how closely and kindly he had watched her.
'I cannot help it,' she said. 'He was my all.'
'Have you striven with it?'
'Of course I have. I have lived in a tumult of occupation, but—'
'But you have not conquered yourself, and grappled with the serpents that poison your life.'
'Pray what do you call those serpents?'
'If you look them in the face, I believe you will find they are pride and jealousy.'
'You like to find generic names,' said Theodora, trying for a cold smile.
'Because it is safer to know and crush a venomous beast than to dally with it.'
'If I find there are such serpents, I will crush them and thank you.'
'No other woman would so have answered,' cried Percy, exultingly.
'Because,' said she, her throat swelling, 'no other man is true and downright friend enough to warn me honestly.'
'Theodora, Theodora, you are a grand creature, nearly thrown away for want of breaking in.'
'Too true,' said she, sadly.
'I must say it. Will you let me? Will you trust yourself and your happiness to me? It has been the vision and hope of my solitude to see you what you might be! the flaws in that noble nature corrected, its grandeur and devotedness shining forth undimmed. Together we would crush the serpents—bring out all that is excellent.'
'I think there might be a chance for me with you,' said she, in an odd sort of tone.
'You mean it?' he exclaimed, trying to see her face, but her hood flapped over it.
'I do. You appreciate me.'
She let him walk beside her, and hold the umbrella over her; but not a word was spoken till they were ascending the steps, when she said, 'Don't tell papa till night. I do not choose to look foolish.'
'Good luck to thee, umbrella!' said Percy, holding it on high, ere closing it. 'Thy sea-green dome has been a canopy of bliss. Honour to thy whalebones!' Then, in a very different manner, 'Oh! Theodora, could you but guess how you have mingled in every scheme or wish of mine; how often I have laughed myself to scorn for dreaming, as if there could be any chance!'
'Ah! what an uproar my aunt will make!' exclaimed Theodora, somewhat exultingly. Some one crossed the hall, and she ran away, but stepped back from the foot of the stairs, laid her hand on his arm, and with a face inexpressibly sweet and brilliant, said, 'We shall get on very well together. We need have no nonsense. But I did not know how happy you had made me.'
She escaped again; she would not have said thus much if she had not known there could be no reply, for Lady Martindale was sailing down the grand staircase.
She met him no more till dinner, when he was silent, and she talkative and flighty, so that Violet suspected there had been a quarrel.
The next morning, the first tidings were that John had a cold and was confined to his bed by cough and pain in the chest; while something too was said of his having been kept up late at night talking. Theodora paid a visit to the sick child in the early morning, and after breakfast accompanied Violet to the lodge, where Violet found the poor little thing nursed with more goodwill than skill by its old aunt and Theodora, took it into her own motherly arms, gave it food and medicine, and hushed it to sleep so successfully, that Theodora respected what she called the feminine element.
The two sisters walked back happily together; but at the door Lord Martindale met them, exclaiming, 'Where have you been, Theodora? Come here.'
Violet wished to be certified that John was not worse, but could find no one but Mr. Fotheringham, who, with a little twist of the corner of his mouth, assured her that there was no cause for uneasiness on that account.
Some time had gone by; she was writing letters, while Percy stood in the deep window, reading the newspapers, and making a great rustling with them. Suddenly Arthur entered, exclaiming,
'Well, Violet, here is a piece of news! Guess!'
'That is the way people always tell wedding news.'
'Right. Now then for the victims.'
'Your sister? What really? And who? Oh, not Lord St. Erme?'
'The very antipodes, as Harrison would say! Guess again.'
'Help me, Mr. Fotheringham,' she began; but Arthur, with a tremendous start, exclaimed, 'Hollo! if that is not a shame! How I wish I had said what a shocking bad match it is!'
'You think so, do you?' said Percy, advancing, and heartily shaking Arthur's ready hand.
'Oh! that is your look-out,' said Arthur, shrugging his shoulders.
'But, do you really mean it?' said Violet, looking from one to the other, as Percy's hand seemed to claim the same welcome from her.
'Indeed, I do,' said Percy, earnestly. 'O, how glad John will be!' was her congratulation.
'So, I must say nothing about the gray,' proceeded Arthur. 'What is it some one says about Cupid's steeds? I vow I will call her Psyche, if it is only to make Theodora savage!'
'Where is your father?' said Percy.
'With John. That was where I heard it.' Then, as Percy was leaving the room, 'Well, you are a bold man! I hope you mean to kill the cat on the wedding-day. That is all.'
'I am obliged for your experience,' said Percy.
'If you make her like this one by the end of a year—'
'O, hush, Arthur!'
Percy hastened from the room. Violet could not recover from her astonishment. 'Could Lord Martindale actually have consented?'
'Makes no difficulty at all. He has grown wiser since poor John's time. I have taught him one may be trusted to choose for oneself.'
'But your aunt?'
'Ah! there is nothing she hates like a Fotheringham; but she has not the power over my father she once had. She will have to take up with us for very spite. But what they are to live on I do not know, unless my father keeps them.'
'I thought he was heir to a baronetcy.'
'Yes; but there is a half-witted son of old Sir Antony in the way, who will keep Percy out of the property for the term of his natural life, as well as if he was a wise man.'
After luncheon, Violet had a message from John to ask for a visit from her. She found him on the sofa in the sitting-room, apparently oppressed and uncomfortable; but he looked brightened by her entrance, and pleased when she offered to stay and read to him.
'The very thing I have been figuring to myself as most agreeable. I don't want to talk or think. I have been overdoing both.'
So she had to repress her curiosity, and give him the repose of her pleasant reading, till he dropped asleep; and after waiting some time, in the fear of awakening him, she gently left the room, and had time for another visit to the lodge, where she fell in with the lovers, and found them disputing about the cotton umbrella. Percy announced that he should give his own in exchange, and retain it for ever, as a trophy of what could be accomplished with both horse and woman. Theodora was a little cross. If he wished to keep it out of sentiment, that was all very well; but to give it the turn of glorying over her was displeasing. He wanted to make her confess that she had submitted to its shelter.
'No, you only walked by me, and held it up.'
'I appeal to you, Mrs. Martindale. Is not that the popular view of being under an umbrella?'
Theodora would not speak, and Violet thought him wrong in teasing her. Silence ensued, but ended in his saying, as they came to the steps, 'Well, Theodora, shall I restore the umbrella as a hated object?'
'No, no,' said she; 'do what you please with it, only don't talk nonsense about it.'
Then, when Violet was gone,—'You must not triumph over me, Percy; I cannot bear it. If it is pride, have patience with me.'
'I should have asked you to forgive me,' said Percy, affected by the tone of humility.
'No, no, indeed!' said Theodora, smiling; 'but I warn you, my serpent is dealt with more safely by treading on it than by irritating it,' and there was an indignant gleam in her dark eye. 'Now I am going to tell my aunt.'
'I would wish you well through it; but I believe you are eager for the battle. Only let me say one thing, Theodora—be forbearing, or you will be fostering the enemy.'
'I can deal with her,' said Theodora.
But she was met in a manner she had not expected. Mrs. Nesbit beckoned her to her side, laid her hand on hers, and peered up in her face with witch-like eyes, that disconcerted her usually ready speech, and called up a blush.
'I see,' said Mrs. Nesbit. 'I do not blame you for the fault of your father and brother. I knew how it would be.'
'Has mamma told you?' said Theodora. 'Papa promised that I should be the first to tell!'
'Your mamma does not know what will mortify her so extremely.'
'Then how have you heard it?'
'I have seen it. I knew what you had to tell from the instant you entered. And your father has given you his consent?' raising her hand, as if to say, 'I give up all hopes of him.'
'Yes, he highly approves.'
Here Lady Martindale came into the room.
'You need not be vexed, my dear,' began Mrs. Nesbit. 'It will not be made public, and there will be no harm done.'
'What will not, dear aunt? you alarm me.'
'This foolish affair into which Lord Martindale and John have drawn this poor child.'
'Aunt! aunt!' cried Theodora, 'you do not know what you say. It is of my own free will—uninfluenced. I would choose him, and hold fast to him through worlds of opposition.'
'Yes, yes; we understand all that,' said Mrs. Nesbit, with a contemptuous accent; 'but as it cannot be at once, you will soon have enough of that overbearing temper. At twenty, there is plenty of time to get over such an affair, and form a more suitable connection.'
'Never!' cried Theodora.
'What, my dear!' said astonished Lady Martindale. 'You engaged, and you have not told me!'
'Only since yesterday, mamma. He spoke to papa only this morning.'
'But who is it? Nothing that your aunt disapproves, I trust, my dear.'
'Percy Fotheringham,' said Theodora, standing firm, and exulting in defiance; but her aunt continued that same provoking disregard.
'Yes, you see it is of no use to oppose her. For my part, I think her papa has acted wisely in permitting the engagement. Contradiction would embellish her hero; while, left to him, she will soon find him out. I do not concern myself, for Miss Martindale can get over a little matter of this kind.'
'It is of no use to make protestations,' said Theodora; and she left the room much more annoyed than she could have been by the violent opposition for which she was prepared. Cool contempt was beyond everything irritating, especially where reply was impossible, and argument undignified.
Mrs. Nesbit continued to behave as if the engagement did not exist, and Violet could not suppose her informed of it. Lady Martindale looked melancholy and distressed, especially after having been with John, whom, however, she declared to be better, and desirous of seeing his sister. Theodora went to him, but remained a very short time.
Violet ventured in with his mother, to wish him good night, and he thanked her warmly for having read him to sleep. 'When I am laid up again, you will know where to find a nurse for me,' added he to his mother; a speech which obtained for Violet a positively cordial and affectionate good night from Lady Martindale.
Though mending, he did not leave his room the next day, as it was damp and chilly; and he again asked for Violet's company in the afternoon, since he supposed she was not thinking of going out.
'O, no; no one does, except Theodora. I saw something brown half-way across the park, which must be either her cloak, or the old cow-man's worst round frock.'
'And Percy not in attendance?'
'No; he and Arthur are lingering at luncheon, talking about the Austrian army. When did you hear about this?'
'As soon as I came in. He marched into my room, sat down, and said, "There! I've done it." I thought he had broken the knees of Arthur's gray, till he explained—"No; I have taken your sister on my hands."'
'So you were watching them all the evening!'
'Yes; I was very anxious as to how my father might view it.'
'I suppose that hurt you more than the rain?'
'Excitement, as Brown would say. Perhaps it might. We talked long and late, and afterwards I fell into the old strain of thought. From what Percy tells me, his sister must have influenced Theodora far more than I thought possible. To her he ascribes her religious tone. If he is right, my mistake in neglecting her has been worse than I supposed.'
'Then this is all the better! Do you remember saying you despaired of a Petruchio?'
'It is on the Petruchio principle that he takes her, and avowedly. None but Katharina was ever so wooed or so won!'
'That is very much to her honour.'
'If she realizes his being in earnest. She would make one doubt whether she has any earnest. Yesterday evening she so treated, the subject that I was on the point of saying, "Reply not to me with a fool-born jest." And how do you think she answered my father, when he asked her if she knew what she undertook? As my namesake said, "I shall wash all day and ride out on the great dog at night."
'Was not that a sort of shyness?'
'I would fain hope so. If I had ever seen anything like deep earnest feeling I should be satisfied. Yet Percy declares, I trust he may be right, that she has the very strongest affections, and much tenderness of character. He says her nature came straight from the tropics, and must not be judged by sober English rules.'
'If you had seen her distress about the child at the lodge!'
'Ah! he said those tears settled the matter, and showed him that she had the woman's heart as well as the candour that would conquer her waywardness. It sounds a little too like a lover's self-justification.'
'Do you think so?' said Violet. 'You do not know what she is with the dumb boy, and with Johnnie.'
'I was just going to have instanced her neglect of Johnnie.'
'I assure you,' cried Violet, eagerly, 'that is only because she does not like me. You cannot think how fond she is of him. When I am out of the way she goes to the nursery and pets him till Sarah is almost jealous of his fondness for her.'
'I have no patience with her,' exclaimed John.
'I thought you would have been glad.'
'I do not like Percy to make a mistake, and get his feelings trifled with. He deserves a wife like himself.'
'Did you hear of Arthur's advice to him?'
'To kill the cat on the wedding-day. That might answer if it were to be at once; but it is a cat with nine lives, and I do not think she will bear to have it killed before the wedding-day.'
'Then it is not to be soon?'
'No, my father thinks her not fit for a poor man's wife, and cannot give her more than L5000, so they must wait till they can begin on an income equal to yours.'
'And I suppose that will be when he gets some appointment.'
'And there is the Worthbourne estate as a provision for the future, so that there is no imprudence. For my part, I regret the delay; Theodora would shine if she had to rough it, provided always she was truly attached to her husband.'
'She would bear poverty beautifully.'
'But it is not a thing to advise. I am accused already of being romantic and imprudent, yet I would urge it on my father if I saw them desirous to hasten it. I do not understand them, and perhaps I am unreasonable. I do not like his happiness to be in such perverse hands, yet I am uneasy at the delay. It suits my aunt's predictions, and they are far too apt to come true. I feel them like a spell. She always foretold that Helen and I should never marry. And it cannot be denied that she has great insight into character, so that I am alarmed at her declaring this will not come to good. If not, I have no hope for Theodora! She will either be hard and unfeminine, or turn to worldliness, and be such another as my aunt. She has it in her.'
'You are taking to horrid predictions yourself.'
'Well, I acknowledge her capabilities, but there has been woful mismanagement, and my father feels it.'
'I was surprised at his consenting so readily.'
'He has once been too much grieved to be led to act against his own judgment again. He thinks very highly of Percy, and is glad Theodora should be in safe keeping; she was so wilful this last season in London as to make him very uneasy.'
Mr. Fotheringham came in, and Violet was going, but was claimed for some more work upon the Crusaders, and told that Arthur was gone out to inspect his gray.
Arthur found the weather better than it appeared from indoors, and strolled into the park to indulge in a cigar. Ere long he perceived the brown waterproof cloak, and throwing away the end of his cigar, called out, 'Halloa! a solitary ramble. Have you given Earl Percy the slip?'
'You do not expect him to be always philandering after me?'
'There's a popular delusion with regard to lovers.'
'We are not such ninnies.'
'But seriously, Theodora, what can induce Fotheringham to have you?'
'I expected you to ask what induced me to have him.'
'That in its own time! Tell me, first, why he takes you.'
'The same reason that you took Violet.'
'As if you and Violet were to be named together!'
'Or you and Percy!'
They laughed, and Theodora then spoke with deep feeling. 'It does surprise me, Arthur, but it is the more pleasure. He has known me all my life, and sees there is less humbug in me than in other women. He knows I have a heart.'
'That scientific discovery is his reason. Now for yours.'
'Because he understands me.'
'So your partnership is founded on a stock of mutual understanding! I devoutly hope it is; for my notion is that Percy will stand no nonsense.'
'Of course not.'
'It remains to be proved how you will like that.'
'I am not given to nonsense.'
'That means that I will not yield when I am not convinced.'
'And he will make you.'
'He will never be unreasonable,' exclaimed Theodora.
'It does not follow that you will not.'
'That is unjust. I yield where duty, good sense, or affection make it needful.'
'Oho! Affection! That is like other people. Now I see some hope of you.'
'Did you think I would have had him without it?'
'Certainly, it is the only explanation. You will not find being wife to a scrub of an attache the same thing as being Miss Martindale.'
'I am glad of it. My mind revolts at the hollowness of my present life.'
'Well done!' ejaculated Arthur.
'I do,' said Theodora, vehemently. 'Ours has never been a home; it was all artificial, and we had separate worlds. You and I amalgamated best; but, oh! Arthur, you never cared for me as I did for you. The misery of my life has been want of affection. Any one who loved me could have guided me at will. You doubt! You don't know what is in me! How I felt as if I would work night and day at my lessons, if they were ever to be heard by mamma! I remember once, after a day's naughtiness, lying awake, sobbing, and saying, again and again, half aloud, "I would be good if they would love me!"'
'No one would have thought such fancies were in a wild colt like you.'
'I would not have had them guessed for worlds. Then came that one gleam of Helen. It was a new life; but it could not last. She went back, and I cannot say things in letters. She told me to talk to John, but he was of no use. He has always despised me.'
'I don't think you are right there.'
'He would help me in trouble, but I am nothing to him. You were all I had, and when you gave yourself away from me I was left alone with the heart-ache, and began to think myself born to live without love.'
'In spite of the lovers you had in London?'
'You know better. That was the Honourable Miss Martindale. What did they know of the real Theodora?'
'Poor critturs, what indeed! They would have run far enough if they had.'
'I knew it. It is the soft, gentle, feminine mould that attracts men.'
'Another curious discovery.'
'I cannot change my nature. But when he comes, superior to them all, understanding my true self, seeing me high-spirited and cold-mannered, but able to look into me, and perceive there is warmth and soundness—oh! is not that a new well-spring of happiness!'
'Yes, he is as much out of the common run of folks as you are. You'll go as well together as Smithson's pair of piebalds. I am satisfied; I only wanted to know whether you cared for him, for you don't "act as sich."'
'I can't talk stuff. I managed pretty well with papa, but I could not bear it with John. He began to praise Percy, which made me ready to cry, and that provoked me: besides, I know he does not believe in me. He cares for Helen's brother far more than for his own sister, and does not think me good enough for him. I saw he thought I should trifle, and meant to give me a lecture; and I could not stand that, you know, so I got away as fast as I could.'
'John does not lecture as you might expect, if you give him his full swing. He is the best and kindest fellow in the world.'
'I know how Percy looks up to him. The only thing I don't like is, that I believe one cause of Percy's attachment is my being his sister.'
'I tell you, Theodora, if you are so outrageously jealous, you will never get through the world in peace.'
'I shall have no reason for jealousy.'
'And for fear he should, had you not better give a hint to Wingfield? You are turning the poor fellow's head with your confabulations over the dirty children, and you'll have him languishing in an unrequited attachment.'
'He understands me too well,' said Theodora.
'You reckon a great deal on understanding! And you put yourselves to the test. Why don't you marry out of hand, and trust to the fates?'
'We have talked it over,' said Theodora. 'As to our income being equal to yours, that is nonsense. We have no expensive habits; but Percy says L450 a year is too little, so we shall wait for the appointment, or till he has made it up to L700. But I own I did not expect such ready consent from papa.'
'Ha! You would have liked a little opposition? You would sing a different song if he had set his face against it. It is very knowing of my aunt to take the line she does.'
'I wish my aunt was twenty years younger!'
'That you might fight it out, eh!'
'One comfort is, she will never leave me her money now! But I must go in, and send Miss Piper for a walk with Harrison. My aunt must be repaying herself on her.'
'Then I shall take another cigar, to get the damp out of my throat.'
'You wretch, you like to boast of it!'
'Ah! you don't know what Percy learnt in Turkey.'
'I know he always abominated smoking.'
'Perhaps he'll let you think so till you are married.'
'For shame, Arthur! That's the way you served your wife.'
'Not I. She is duly grateful to me for only smoking at fit times and places, wherein I don't resemble her precious brother.'
Arthur thus reported this conversation to his wife. 'I met Theodora in the park. She is as remarkable an article as ever I saw.'
'What do you think?—is she really attached to him?'
'I know as little as she does.'
It was determined that the secret should be strictly kept; it was the one point on which Lady Martindale was anxious, being thereto prompted by her aunt. Theodora declared she had no one to tell, and Mr. Fotheringham only desired to inform his uncle and aunt, Sir Antony and Lady Fotheringham. He was now going to pay them a visit before settling in his lodgings in London. Theodora's engagement certainly made her afford to be kinder to Violet, or else it was Percy's influence that in some degree softened her. She was pleased at having one of her favourite head girls taken as housemaid under Sarah's direction, her only doubt being whether Violet was a sufficiently good mistress; but she had much confidence in Sarah, whose love of dominion made her glad of a young assistant.
The party was now breaking up, Violet in high spirits at returning home, and having Arthur all to herself, as well as eager to put her schemes of good management into practice. The sorrow was the parting with John, who was likely to be absent for several years.
Before going he had one last conversation with his sister, apropos to some mention of a book which she wished to send to London to be returned to Miss Gardner.
'Does Violet visit her?' he asked.
'There have been a few calls; Jane Gardner has been very good-natured to her.'
'Is that cousin of theirs, that Gardner, still abroad?'
'Yes, I believe so.'
'I hope he will stay there. He used to have a most baneful influence over Arthur. Theodora, if by any chance it should be in your power, you ought to do your utmost to keep them from coming in contact. It may be a very superfluous fear, but your intimacy with those ladies might be the means of bringing them together, and there is nothing I should so much dread.'
'Surely Arthur may be trusted to choose his own friends.'
'You don't know what happened in their school days! No, you were too young. It was discovered that there was a practice of gambling and drinking wine in the boys' rooms, and Arthur was all but expelled; but it turned out that he had been only weak, and entirely led by this fellow, and so he was spared. Percy could tell you many histories of Gardner's doings at Cambridge. Arthur's worst scrape since he has been in the Guards was entirely owing to him, and it was evident he still had the same power over him.'
'Arthur is no boy now.'
'I doubt,' said John, half smiling.
'No one can make the least charge against him since his marriage.'
'It has done much for him,' answered John, 'and she has improved wonderfully. Theodora, now that I am going away, let me once more tell you that you are throwing away a source of much happiness by disregarding her.'
'Her romantic friendship with Emma Brandon is a proof that she cannot have much in common with me.'
'There is one thing you have not in common with either,' exclaimed John, 'and that is an unassuming temper.'
'Yes, I know you all think me prejudiced. I do not want you to go away misunderstanding me,' answered Theodora. 'She has good principles, she is amiable and affectionate; but there are three points that prevent me from esteeming her as you do. She has a weak fretful temper.'
'I am sure you have seen no sign of it.'
'It is just what is never shown; but I am convinced poor Arthur suffers from it. Next, she thinks a great deal of her appearance; and, lastly, she is fond of power, and tries to govern, if not by coaxing, by weakness, tears, hysterics—all the artillery of the feeble. Now, a woman such as that I can pity, but cannot love, nor think a fit wife for my brother.'
'I can't tell, I don't know,' said John, hesitating in displeasure and perplexity; 'but this once I must try whether it is of any use to talk to you. Her spirits and nerves are not strong, and they were cruelly tried last spring; but Arthur only saw her cheerful, and never guessed at the tears she shed in secret, till we found her papers blistered with them, when her never complaining and letting him go his own way had almost cost her her life! and if you knew her, you would see that the tendency to over-anxiety is the very failing with which she struggles. I wish I could make you see her in her true light.'
'I cannot help it, John,' said Theodora, 'I must speak the truth. I see how it is. Men are not clear-sighted in judging of a pretty woman of engaging manners. They are under a fascination. I don't blame you—it is exactly the same with papa and Percy.'
And for the last time baffled, John parted with his sister in much anxiety and disappointment, such as made it repose to turn to that other gentle, open-hearted, confiding sister, whose helplessness and sympathy had first roused him from despondency and inaction.
He begged her to write to him; an honour and a pleasure indeed; and now there was no fear of her letters being such as that she had sent him at Martindale. He declared the correspondence would be a great pleasure to him—he could not bear to think of hearing of those in whom he took so much interest only at second-hand; and besides, he had been accustomed to pour out his mind so much in his letters to Helen, that he felt the want of full and free confidence. His letters to his mother were not safe from the eye of his aunt, and neither his father nor Mr. Fotheringham could be what a lady correspondent would be to a man of his character, reflective, fond of description, and prone to dwell on the details of what interested him.
So the time of his departure came, whereat Arthur lamented, vowing it was a horrid bore that he could not live in England, and hoping that Barbuda would patch him up for good; while Violet made arrangements for his convenience and pleasure on the voyage, such as no sister had ever supplied for him before.
So she had prayed, and He who hears, Through Seraph songs the sound of tears, From that beloved babe had ta'en The fever and the beating pain, And more and more smiled Isobel To see the baby sleep so well. —E. B. BROWNING (Isobel's Child)
On a bright cold afternoon the next spring, Theodora was setting out for a walk, when she saw a carriage driving up the avenue, and Arthur emerging from it. Joyously she sprang forward—'Arthur! Arthur! this is pleasant. How glad I am. This is like old times.'
'Ay, I thought you would be ready for me. I have had a cold, and I am come home to shake off the end of it.'
'A cold—not a bad one, I hope?'
'Not very. I wanted Violet to come too, but the boy is poorly.'
'Oh! I hope there is not much the matter?'
'Only teeth, I believe. He is desperately fretful, and she can't attend to anything else.'
'Well, I hope you are come for a good long visit.'
'I can stay a week.'
'That's right, it will do you good. I was just going to write to you. I have a great mind to go back with you, if I shall not be in the way.'
'Not at all. It will be famous having you; but what makes you come? To gratify Fotheringham?'
'I have many reasons. I've got Charlie Layton elected to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, and I must take him there.'
'I'm not going to take him! 'Tis enough to have to carry about one's own babies, without other people's.'
'We'll settle that,' said Theodora. 'Will you walk with me! There is no one at home, and I am stupefied with reading French novels to my aunt. Such horrid things! She has lost her taste for the natural, and likes only the extravagant. I have been at it ever since luncheon, and at last, when the wretches had all charcoaled themselves to death, I came out to breathe fresh air and purity.'
'Where's the Piper!'
'Piper no longer. Have you not heard?'
'Not a word since Percy announced that my aunt and Harrison had come to a split about the orchids.'
'You have great things to hear. Harrison got a magnificent appointment, as he calls it—situation is not grand enough—to some botanic gardens; splendid salary. Nothing hindered the wedding but Miss Piper's dread of my aunt. It was not only that she could not tell her, but she could not face her after it was told, though I offered to undertake that. So the upshot was, that for very cowardice she preferred stealing the match and taking French leave. It was a silly piece of business; but I could not help that, and they were accountable to no one. I promised to announce it to my aunt when the deed was done, and satisfied the poor little woman's conscience by undertaking to be my aunt's white nigger till she bought another.'
'If that's not self-devotion, I don't know what is,' said Arthur. 'I trust she has got one.'
'She comes to-morrow.'
'How was the wedding managed?'
'Harrison came with his license from Whitford, and I walked forth with sal volatile in one hand and salts in the other, administering them by turns to the fainting bride. I dragged her all the way by main strength, supported her through the service, and was very near giving her away by mistake, for there was no one else to do it but old Brand. He and I are the witnesses in the register. I received her hysterical farewells, and Harrison's elegant acknowledgments; saw them into their fly, and came home, trusting to Providence that I could inform my aunt without bringing on a fit.'
'After surviving the news of your engagement she may bear anything.'
'Ah! there she takes refuge in incredulity. Now this was a fact. So there was nothing for it but to take a high tone. I gave the history, and told my own share; then, in the style of Richard II, when Wat Tyler was killed, declared I would be her companion; and, after some bandying of words, we settled down peaceably.'
'One thing amazes me. How did you get Wingfield to do it? I had plague enough with the old parson at Wrangerton, and I should have thought Wingfield harder to manage.'
'They had no consent to ask—no one could forbid the banns. He soon saw the rights of it,' said Theodora, unable to prevent herself from blushing.
'You talked him over, eh?'
'Arthur, you are looking at me as if you wanted to put me out of countenance. Well, you shall hear the truth; it is safe with you, and no one else knows it. It is my chief reason for wishing to go to London.'
'Yes, you were right in warning me. He must needs think I worked in the parish for his sake; and one fine day, as I was walking home, he joined company, and before I knew where I was he was making me an offer.'
'And learnt what disdain means, if he did not know before.'
'No,' said Theodora, gravely, and blushing deeply. 'I recollected your warning, and saw that if there had not been something like encouragement he would not have forgotten the distance between us. This wedding has occasioned conferences; besides, Percy was exacting at Christmas, and I had rather tried to tease him. I thought, living close by, Mr. Wingfield must have known the state of the case, and that I need not be on my guard; so that, having so far taken him in, I thought it right to tell him I was afraid he had not been fairly used, for I had trusted to his knowing I was engaged. So we parted amicably; but it is a great bore, for he is much more cut up than I expected, poor man. He went from home the next Monday, and is but just come back, looking disconsolate enough to set people wondering what is on his spirits, and avoids me, so as to show them. It would be the best possible thing for me to get out of the way till it is blown over, for I have no comfort in parish work. It has been a relief to be always shut up with my aunt, since that was a reason for not going into the village.'
'Then you will stay till the family migration?'
'I don't think there will be any this year. Papa talks about bad times, and says the season in London is too expensive; and mamma was worried and tired last year, and did not enjoy it, so she will be glad to avoid it and stay with my aunt.'
'And, you being no longer a subject for speculation, there's no object.'
'Yes; I am glad to have ended that hateful consciousness.'
'Well, Violet will do her best for you.'
'I don't want her to trouble herself; I only want house-room.'
'And a change after a month's white niggering.'
'That's another reason. My aunt has grown so dependent on me, that this new lady will not have a fair chance if I am at home; and if I don't break the habit, I shall never call my time my own again.'
In fact, Theodora had been suffering under a fit of restlessness and dissatisfaction, which made her anxious to change the scene. The school, her great resource, was liable to be a place of awkward meetings. She was going to lose her dumb charge; and with Percy and Arthur both at a distance, there was no excitement nor relief to the tedium of home. The thorough self-sacrificing attendance on her aunt had been the sole means left her of maintaining the sense of fulfilling a duty.
The unexpected arrival of her favourite brother was as a reward. Her spirits rose, and she talked with gaiety and animation, delighted to find him claiming her company for walks and rides to be taken in his holiday week, and feeling as if now the prediction had truly come to pass, that he would be relieved to come to her from the annoyances of his home.
Every one seemed glad to see Arthur—even Mrs. Nesbit. In the course of the evening something was said about a dinner party for the ensuing Saturday, and Lady Martindale asked if he could stay for it.
'Saturday? Yes; I need not go back till Monday.'
'I wish Violet could have come,' said Lord Martindale. 'I am glad you can give us a week; but it is a long time for her to be alone. I hope she has some friend to be with her.'
'Oh, she wants no one,' said Arthur. 'She begged me to go; and I fancy she will be rather glad to have no distraction from the child. I am only in the way of her perpetual walking up and down the room with him whining in her arms.'
'Ah! it is an unlucky affair,' said Mrs. Nesbit, in her sarcastic tone of condolence; 'she will never rear it.'
She seemed, in her triumph, to have forgotten that its father was present, and his impatient speech had certainly not been such as to bring it to mind; but this was too much, and, starting, he hastily exclaimed, 'Children always do make a fuss about their teeth!'
'I do not speak without the authority of medical men,' said Mrs. Nesbit. 'I don't blame your wife, poor thing.'
What do you mean? cried Arthur, colour and voice both rising.
'I am surprised your brother kept it from you,' said she, gratified at torturing him; 'you ought to have been informed.'
'Tell me at once,' said Arthur.
'Only this, Arthur,' said his father, interposing: 'when first the doctor at Ventnor saw him he thought him very delicate, and told John that he would hardly get through the first year without great care.'
'He has all but done that!' said Arthur, breathing more freely; 'he will be a year old on the third.'
'Yes; afterwards the doctor thought much better of him, and John saw no occasion to make you and Violet more anxious.'
'Then it all goes for nothing!' said Arthur, looking full at his aunt with defiance, and moving to the furthest end of the room.
But it did not go for nothing. He could not shake off the impression. The child's illness had never been so alarming as to stir up his feelings, though his comfort had been interfered with; and there were recollections of impatience that came painfully upon him. He knew that Violet thought him more indifferent to his child than he really was; and, though she had never uttered a complaint or reproach, he was sure that he had hurt and distressed her by displeasure at the crying, and by making light of the anxieties, which he now learnt were but too well founded.
Arthur's easiness and selfishness made him slow to take alarm, but when once awakened there was no limit to his anxiety. He knew now what it would be to lose his first-born. He thought of the moment when the babe had been laid on his hand, and of the sad hours when that feeble cry had been like a charm, holding the mother to life; and his heart smote him as he thought of never hearing again the voice of which he had complained. What might not be happening at that moment? As grisly a train of chances rose before him as ever had haunted Violet herself, and he thought of a worse return home than even his last. Yet he had never desired her to let him know whether all was well!
He could not sleep, and in the morning twilight he sought out writing materials, and indited his first letter to his wife:—
'Dear Violet,—I hope you and the boy are well. I have not coughed since I left London. I come home on Monday, if all goes well, and Theodora with me. She has made the place too hot to hold her.
'A. N. MARTINDALE.
'P.S. Write and say how the boy is.'
Having hunted up a servant, and sent him with this missive to the early post, Arthur's paternal conscience was satisfied; and, going to bed again, he slept till breakfast was half over, then good-humouredly listened to exclamations on his tardiness, and loitered about the rest of the morning, to the great pleasure of his sister.
The companion, Mrs. Garth, the highly recommended widow of a marine officer, arrived in the afternoon; and Arthur, meeting her on the stairs, pronounced that she was a forbidding-looking female, and there was no fear that she would not be able to hold her own.
Rejoicing in newly-recovered freedom, Theodora had a long ride with him; and having planned another to a village near a trout-stream, where he wanted to inquire about lodgings for his indefatigable fishing friend, Captain Fitzhugh, she was working hard to dispose of her daily avocations before breakfast the next day, when Arthur knocked at her door. 'Good morning,' he said hastily. 'I must go home. My little boy is very ill.'
'Is he? What is it?'
'A bad fit of croup. He was better when the letter went. My poor Violet! She has called in further advice; but it may come back. Do you like to come with me?'
'If you like to have me.'
'Only be quick. I must be gone by the ten o'clock train. You must be ready to start by nine.'
'I'll be ready at once,' said Theodora, hastily ringing for Pauline, and rushing upon her preparations. She could not bear to part with him in his grief, and thought, in case of the child's severe illness or death, that he would be in need of her comfort when he had his wife on his hands. She would not take Pauline—she would not be dependent, and trouble their small household with another servant; but Charles Layton she could not leave, and having given orders to pack up her things, she flew off down the avenue to desire his aunt to prepare him.
Up and down, backwards and forwards, giving directions to every one, she hurried about till her father summoned her to breakfast.
'I am glad you are going with him, my dear,' he said, as he went down the steps with her. 'We shall depend on you for hearing of the little boy.'
That genuine cordial approbation was so pleasant that the thought crossed her, 'Was she going to be a blessing to her family?'
'Good-bye, Arthur,' said Lord Martindale, warmly pressing his hand. 'I hope you will find him better, and Violet not doing too much. Give my love to her.'
Arthur was moved by his father's unwonted warmth, and leaned back in the carriage in silence. Theodora watched him anxiously, and did not speak for some time.
'Had there been any tendency to croup before?' she asked at last.
'Tender throat, I believe; Violet always was anxious. I wish I had not come away; it is too much for her alone! Ha! what are we stopping for now?'
'To pick up Charles Layton.'
'You'll make us miss the train.'
'No, here he is. He shall be in nobody's way. I'll put him into the housemaid's charge in Belgrave square.'
And with her eyes and fingers she encouraged the poor child as he was lifted up to the box. 'There, I've not stopped you long.'
'What shall you do with him on the railroad!'
'Take him with us, of course.'
'I won't have him going in a first-class with me.'
'Then I shall go in a second-class with him.'
Here it occurred to her that this was a strange way of fulfilling her mission of comfort, and she would fain have recalled her words, but only sat silent till they came to the station, where, without any further question, they were all three lodged in the same carriage, where presently a county neighbour entered, attracted by the sight of Arthur. Theodora was provoked, feeling for Arthur, and thinking it was the stranger's presence that hindered her from resuming the task of cheering him, but she was more annoyed when Arthur plunged into a hunting discussion.
She sat working up the scene which awaited them, the child just expiring, his mother in hysterical agonies, and she herself displaying all her energy and resources, perhaps saving Johnnie's life—at any rate, being her brother's stay and support when his wife gave way.
His silence and anxious looks returned as they drove from the station, and she could think of nothing to say but the old hope that the baby was better. As they stopped, he threw open the carriage-door, and springing out, impatiently rang.
'Child better?' were his hurried words to James.
Before even this brief answer was spoken, Arthur was halfway upstairs. No one was in the drawing room; he dashed up to the bed-room; that, too, was empty; he climbed on where he had never been before, and opened the nursery-door.
There sat Violet on a low chair by the fire, with the little boy on her lap. With a cry of joy she rose; and in another moment was standing, almost unable to speak, as she saw Johnnie, looking much surprised, but well pleased, to find himself in those strong arms, and his soft face scrubbed by the black whiskers.
'He is pleased! He is smiling. You know papa, don't you, my Johnnie?' cried the happy Violet.
'And he is all right again?'
'So much better to-day! We trust the cold is gone. Does he not breathe softly and freely? If only there's no return to-night.'
'Was there last night?'
'Indeed there was. It was too dreadful!' said Violet, leaning against him, and lowering her voice. 'Once Sarah and Mr. Harding both thought it was all over, and I never dared to expect to see those eyes come back to their own dear look at me! O, Arthur, when I thought if I could but once have seen him in your arms! I never thought to be so happy as this!' and she caressed the child to hide the tears of thankfulness. 'I'm glad you weren't there.'
'My Violet, why!'
'You could not have borne to have seen and heard, and now you won't have it to remember. At least, I trust not! Think of their once wanting me to go away, saying it was not fit, and that I was of no use; but you knew better, Johnnie. You held mamma's finger tight, and when you came to yourself, your sweet look and smile were for her! And at last he went to sleep over my shoulder, as he likes best; and I felt each one of his breathings, but they grew soft and smooth at last, and after two good hours he woke up quite himself.'
'And you! Sitting up all night! You are not fit for such things. How did you get through it?'
'I don't know; I hardly remember,' said Violet. 'Your letter was such a pleasure! and oh! I had help.'
'I did not mean that, though he was very kind. No, I meant thoughts—verses in the Bible,' said Violet, hanging her head, and whispering, 'I don't mean at the worst. Then one could only pray he might not suffer so much; but things his uncle had helped me to, did come so comfortably while he was asleep. Don't you remember saying I had no troubles for Helen's cross to comfort me in!'
'And did it?' said Arthur, half smiling.
'Not itself, you know; but it helped to put me in mind to be sure that all he was going through would somehow be a blessing. I could bear it then, and not be angry, as I was last year. Dear little fellow, it is as if he would put me in mind himself, for the only thing like play he has done to-day has been holding it up, and pulling its chain.'
'There! go to your mother, Johnnie,' said Arthur, giving him back. 'She is a rare one, I tell you, and you understand each other. He does not look much amiss either. He really is a very pretty little fellow!'
No wonder Arthur made the discovery, as he for the first time remarked the large wistful dark eyes, the delicately fair skin, which the heat of the fire had tinged with soft pink, on the cheeks, the shapely little head, with its flaxen waves of curl; and the tiny, bare, rosy feet, outstretched to enjoy the warmth. Very small, tender, and fragile he looked, and his features had an almost mournful expression, but there was something peculiarly engaging in this frail little being.
Violet was charmed with the tribute of admiration: indeed, she had hardly known whether she might hope for Arthur's return, though she had felt as if her heart would break if her child should die without his coming. The winter, though cheerful, had been spent in endeavours against her want of faith and hope, and this hard trial in the spring had brought with it a comfort and beginning of resignation that proved that her efforts had not been in vain.
Very happy she was as, Sarah coming up, she prepared to go down with Arthur, who now remembered to inform her of the arrival of 'Theodora and her dummy.'
These two personages were waiting in the drawing-room, Theodora in an excited state of anticipation and energy, prepared for a summons to take care of the baby, while Arthur was supporting his wife in hysterics.
Long she waited and listened; at last there was an opening of doors, then what she fancied the first shriek, and she started, alarmed, in spite of being wound up, but it sounded nearer—much too like a bona fide laugh, the very girlish sound she had condemned—Arthur's voice—Violet's gaily answering! They came in, full of smiles, Violet with outstretched hands, and warm unconstrained welcome. 'How kind of you to come! I'm sorry you have been so long alone, but I did not know it,' said she, kissing her sister-in-law, and giving a kind silent greeting to the dumb boy.
Disconcerted at her waste of preparation, Theodora stood for a moment, fancying Violet triumphant in having spoilt Arthur's holiday by what must have been an exaggerated trifle. She was almost ready to make no inquiry for Johnnie, but 'conventional instinct' prevailed, and his parents were so full of him, and of each other, that it set them off into an eager conversation, such as made her, in her present mood, believe herself neglected for the sake of Arthur's weak, tyrannical, exacting idol. She resolved to take Charles at once to her father's house. If it would not have been an insult to her brother, she would have slept there herself. She surprised the others by rising from her seat, and taking up the boy's cap.
'Oh!' exclaimed Violet, 'I had forgotten him, poor little fellow. I will take him to Susan to have some tea.'
'Thank you, I am going to take him to the maid at our house.'
'O, pray do not,' said Violet, imploringly; 'there's plenty of room here, and we can see about him so much better.'
'I had rather,' persisted Theodora.
'But see, it is getting dark. The lamps are lighted. You can't go now.'
'I shall not lose my way,' said Theodora, taking by the hand the poor boy, who seemed unwilling to leave the fire and Mrs. Martindale's kind looks.
'Now, Arthur! you wont let her go!' said Violet, distressed.
'What's the row?' said Arthur. 'Setting out on your travels again, Theodora!'
'Only to take Charlie to Belgrave-square.'
'I sha'n't come with you.'
'I can go by myself.'
'Nonsense. You have rattled the poor child about enough for one day. Stay at home like a rational woman, and Violet will see to him.'
The dumb child gazed as if he read their faces, and was begging to remain; he gladly allowed Violet to take his hand, and she led him away, inviting Theodora to come and give her own directions about him to Susan, the girl from Brogden.
So sweet was the manner, so kind the welcome, and so pretty the solicitude for her comfort, that pride and prejudice had much difficulty in maintaining themselves. But Theodora thought that she did not like blandishments, and she was angry at the sensation of being in the inferior situation of Violet's guest, at a moment of its being so signally shown that she could not permit Arthur to enjoy himself without her. To get home again as fast as possible was her resolution, as she merely unpacked the articles for immediate use, and after a hasty toilette, returned to the drawing-room.
Arthur and Violet were in earnest conversation. She fancied herself an interruption, and did not second their attempts to make it general. Violet had received a letter from John, and was offering it to Arthur, who only yawned.
'Five sheets! He writes an abominably small hand! You may tell me what it is about. Niggers and humming-birds and such cattle, I suppose.'
'He has been to see the bishop. He wants a chaplain to live in the house with him to teach the negroes, and have the church when it is built.'
'No chance of his coming home, then?'
'No, he is so well and busy. Percy Fotheringham is to send out some plans for the church—and only think! he has told Percy to come and ask me about Mr. Fanshawe—don't you remember him?'
'The curate at the chapel at Wrangerton?'
'I once told John of his wish for missionary work, so Percy is to see about it, and if it will do, send him to Lord Martindale. Percy called yesterday, but I could not see him; indeed, I had not time to read my letter; and oh, Theodora, I am so glad you are come, for he wants all manner of infant school pictures and books for the picaninnies, and it is just the commission you understand.'
The hearing of John's letter read, so far from mollifying Theodora, renewed the other grievance. At home, it was only by chance that she heard of her eldest brother's plans, even when matured and submitted to his father; and she now found that they were discussed from the first with Violet, almost requiring her approval. The confidential ease and flow made it seem unlike John's composition, used as Theodora was to hear only such letters of his as would bear unfriendly inspection, entertaining, but like a book of travels. It was a fresh injury to discover that he had a style from his heart.
Theodora was in a mood to search for subjects of disapproval, but the cheerful rooms, and even the extemporized dinner, afforded her none; the only cause of irritation she could find was Arthur's anxiety when the lamplight revealed Violet's pale exhausted looks. She had forgotten her fatigue as long as there was anything to be done, and the delight of the arrival had driven it away; but it now became evident that Arthur was uneasy. Theodora was gloomy, and not responding to her languid attempts at conversation, thinking there was affectation in her worn-out plaintive voice.
As soon as the tedious dinner was over, Arthur insisted on her going at once to bed, without listening to her entreaties that, as it was Theodora's first evening, she might lie on the sofa and hear them talk. She turned back at the door to tell Theodora that there was a new review on the table, with something in it she would like to read, and then let Arthur take her up-stairs.
'Ah!' thought Theodora, 'tormenting him about the child does not suffice—she must be ill herself! It is even beyond what I expected. When she had brought him home she might have let him have his evening in peace; but I suppose she is displeased at my coming, and won't let him stay with me. She will keep him in attendance all the evening, so I may as well see what books she has got. "The West Indies"; "The Crusaders"—of course! "Geoffroi de Villechardouin"—Percy's name in it. Where's this review? Some puff, I suppose. Yes, now if I was a silly young lady, how much I should make of Percy because he has made a good hit, and is a literary lion; but he shall see the world makes no difference to me. I thought the book good in manuscript; and all the critics in the country won't make me think a bit better of it or of its author. However, I'll just see what nonsense they talk till she chooses to release Arthur.'
What would have been her displeasure if she had known that Arthur was lingering up-stairs giving his wife a ludicrous version of her adventure with Mr. Wingfield!
After a time the drawing-room door opened, but she did not heed it, meaning to be distant and indifferent; but a browner, harder hand than Arthur's was put down on the book before her, and an unexpected voice said, 'Detected!'
'Percy! Oh, how are you?' she exclaimed.
'I am very glad you are come; I came to inquire at the door, and they told me that you were here. How is she, poor thing?'
'She is gone to bed; Arthur thinks her knocked up.'
'It is well he is come; I was much concerned at her being alone yesterday. So little Johnnie is better?'
'Like Mother Hubbard's dog.'
'The croup is no joke,' said Percy, gravely.
'Then you think there was really something in it?'
'Why, what do you mean? Do you think it was humbug?'
'Not at all; but it was such a terrific account, and alarmed poor Arthur so much, that it gave one rather a revulsion of feeling to hear her laughing.'
'I am very glad she could laugh.'
'Well, but don't you think, Percy, that innocently, perhaps, she magnified a little alarm?'
'You would not speak of little alarms if you had seen Harding this morning. I met him just coming away after a fearful night. The child was in the utmost danger, but his mother's calmness and presence of mind never failed. But I'll say no more, for the sound wholesome atmosphere of this house must cure you of your prejudices.'
Arthur came down dispirited; and Percy, who had thought him an indifferent father, was pleased with him, and set himself to cheer his spirits, seconded by Theodora, who was really penitent.
She could not be at peace with herself till she had made some amends; and when she had wished her brother good night, found her way to the nursery, where her old friend Sarah sat, keeping solemn watch over the little cot by the fire. One of her sepulchral whispers assured the aunt that he was doing nicely, but the thin white little face, and spare hand and arm, grieved Theodora's heart, and with no incredulity she listened to Sarah's description of the poor little fellow's troubles and sweet unconscious patience, and that perfect trust in his mother that always soothed and quieted him. It appeared that many nights had been spent in broken rest, and for the last two neither mother nor nurse had undressed. Sarah was extremely concerned for her mistress, who, she said, was far from strong, and she feared would be made as ill as she was last year, and if so, nothing could save her. This made Theodora feel as if she had been positively cruel, and she was the more bent on reparation. She told Sarah she must be over-tired, and was told, as if it was a satisfactory answer, that Mrs. Martindale had wished her to go to bed at six this morning. However, her eyes looked extinguished, and Theodora, by the fascinating manner she often exercised with inferiors, at last persuaded her to lie down in her clothes, and leave her to keep watch.
It was comfortable to hear the deep breathings of the weary servant, and to sit by that little cot, sensible of being for once of substantial use, and meaning that no one ever should know it. But she was again disconcerted; for the stairs creaked, the door was softly opened, and Arthur stood on the threshold. The colour mantled into her face, as if she had been doing wrong.
'The poor maid is worn out; I am come for the first part of the night,' she said, in a would-be cold whisper. But his smile and low-toned 'Thank you,' were so different from all she had ever known from him, that she could hardly maintain her attempt at impassibility.
'I thought Violet would sleep better for the last news,' said he, kneeling on one knee to look at the child, his face so softened and thoughtful that it was hardly like the same; but recovering, he gave a broad careless smile, together with a sigh: 'Little monkey,' he said, 'he gets hold of one somehow—I wish he may have got through it. Theodora, I hope you will have no alarms. Violet will take it very kind of you.'
'Oh, don't tell her.'
'Good night,' and he leaned over her and kissed her forehead, in a grave grateful way that brought the tears into her eyes as he silently departed.
Her vigil was full of thoughts, and not unprofitable ones. Her best feelings were stirred up, and she could not see Arthur, in this new light, without tenderness untainted by jealousy. Percy had brought her to a sense of her injustice—this was the small end of the wedge, and the discovery of the real state of things was another blow. While watching the placid sleep of the child, it was not easy to harden herself against its mother; and after that first relenting and acknowledgment, the flood of honest warm strong feeling was in a way to burst the barrier of haughtiness, and carry her on further than she by any means anticipated. The baby slept quietly, and the clock had struck two before his first turn on the pillow wakened Sarah, though a thunder-clap would not have broken her slumber. She was at his cradle before he had opened his eyes, and feeding and fondling hushed his weak cry before it had disturbed his mother. Theodora went to her room on good terms with herself.
She had never allowed late hours to prevent her from going to the early service, and as she left her room prepared for it, she met Violet coming out of the nursery. Theodora for once did not attempt to disguise her warmth of heart, and eagerly asked for the little boy.
'Quite comfortable—almost merry,' answered Violet, and taking the hand stretched out in a very different way from the formal touch with which it usually paid its morning greeting, and raising her eyes with her gentle earnest look, she said, 'Dear Theodora, I am afraid you don't like it, but you must let me this once thank you.'
Theodora's face was such that Violet ventured to kiss her, then found an arm round her neck, and a warm kiss in return. Theodora ran down-stairs, thinking it a discovery that there was more beauty in those eyes than merely soft brown colour and long black lashes. It was a long time since her heart had been so light. It was as if a cold hard weight was removed. That one softening had been an inexpressible relief, and when she had thrown aside the black veil that had shrouded her view, everything looked so bright and sweet that she could hardly understand it.
The whole scene was new. She had been seldom from home, and only as a visitor in great houses, whither Lady Martindale carried formality; and she had never known the charm of ease in a small family. Here it would have been far more hard to support her cold solitary dignity than in the 'high baronial pride' of Martindale. She was pleased to see how well Arthur looked as master of the house, and both he and his wife were so much delighted to make her welcome now that she would allow them, that it seemed extraordinary that a year and three quarters had passed without her ever having entered their house. Violet was, she owned, a caressing, amiable, lovable creature, needing to be guarded and petted, and she laid herself open to the pleasure of having something to make much of and patronize.
After breakfast, Violet installed her in the back drawing-room, promising that she should there be entirely free from interruption, but she had no desire to shut herself up; she was eager to see little Johnnie, and did not scruple to confess it. He was their chief bond of union, and if she was charmed with him now, when feeble and ailing, how much more as he recovered. Even at his best, he was extremely delicate, very small, thin, and fair, so that face and arms, as well as flaxen hair, were all as white as his frock, and were only enlivened by his dark eyes. He was backward in strength, but almost too forward in intelligence; grave and serious, seldom laughing, and often inclined to be fretful, altogether requiring the most anxious care, but exceedingly engaging and affectionate, and already showing patience and obedience to his mother that was almost affecting. Their mutual fondness was beautiful, and Theodora honoured it when she saw that the tenderness was judicious, obviating whines, but enforcing obedience even when it was pain and grief to cross the weakly child.
Moreover, Theodora was satisfied by finding that she had diligently kept up the Sunday-school teaching of the little Brogden maid; and as to her household management, Theodora set herself to learn it; and soon began to theorize and devise grand plans of economy, which she wanted Violet to put in practice at once, and when told they would not suit Arthur, complacently answered, 'That would not be her hindrance.'
Violet wrote to John that if he could see Theodora and Percy now, he would be completely satisfied as to their attachment and chances of happiness.
I saw her hold Earl Percy at the point With lustier maintenance than I did look for Of such an ungrown warrior.
—King Henry IV
As soon as Violet could leave her little boy without anxiety, the two sisters deposited Charles Layton at the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, with hopes that a few years' training there would enable him to become Miss Martindale's little page, the grand object of his desires.
Their next and merriest excursion was to Percy's lodgings, where he had various Greek curiosities which he wished to show them; and Theodora consented to come with her brother and sister in a simple straightforward way that Violet admired.
His rooms were over a toy-shop in Piccadilly, in such a roar of sounds that the ladies exclaimed, and Arthur asked him how much he paid for noise.
'It is worth having,' said Percy; 'it is cheerful.'
'Do you think so?' exclaimed Violet. 'I think carriages, especially late at night, make a most dismal dreary sound.'
'They remind me of an essay of Miss Talbot's where she speaks of her companions hastening home from the feast of empty shells,' said Theodora.
'Ay! those are your West-end carriages,' said Percy; 'I will allow them a dreary dissatisfied sound. Now mine are honest, business-like market-waggons, or hearty tradesfolk coming home in cabs from treating their children to the play. There is sense in those! I go to sleep thinking what drops of various natures make up the roar of that great human cataract, and wake up dreaming of the Rhine falls.
"Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide, And a river flows down the vale of Cheapside."
Eh, Mrs. Martindale?'
Violet, who always received a quotation of Wordsworth as a compliment to the north, smiled and answered, 'I am afraid with me it would end in,
"The stream will not flow, the hill will not rise."'
'Pish, Violet,' said her husband, 'how can you expect to feel like poets and lovers? And halloo! he is coming it strong! "Poems by A."; "The White Hind and other Poems"; "Gwyneth: a tale in verse"; "Farewell to Pausilippo", by the Earl of St. Erme. Well done, Percy! Are you collecting original serenades for Theodora? I'll never betray where they came from.'
'It is all in the way of trade,' said Percy.
'Reviewing?' said Theodora.
'Yes; there has been such an absurd amount of flattery bestowed on them that it must provoke any reasonable being. It really is time to put forth a little common sense, since the magazines will have it that earls write better than other people.'
'Some of the verses in Lord St. Erme's last volume seem to me very pretty,' said Violet.
'There, she is taking up the cudgels for her countryman,' said Arthur, always pleased when she put herself forward.
'Which do you mean?' said Percy, turning on her incredulously.
'I like those about the Bay of Naples,' she answered.
'You do not mean these?' and he read them in so good-humoured a tone that no one could be vexed, but marking every inconsistent simile and word tortured out of its meaning, and throwing in notes and comments on the unfaithfulness of the description.
'There! it would do as well for the Bay of Naples as for the farm-yard at Martindale—all water and smoke.'
Arthur and Theodora laughed, but Violet stood her ground, blushingly but resolutely.
'Anything so read would sound ill,' she said. 'I dare say it is all right about the faults, but some parts seem to me very pretty. This stanza, about the fishermen's boats at night, like sparks upon the water, is one I like, because it is what John once described to me.'
'You are right, Mrs. Martindale,' said Percy, reading a second time the lines to which she alluded. 'They do recall the evening scene; Mount Vesuvius and its brooding cloud, and the trails of phosphoric light upon the sea. I mark these for approval. But have you anything to say for this Address to the Mediterranean?'
He did not this time mar the poem in the reading, and it was not needed, the compound words and twisted epithets were so extravagant that no one gainsaid Arthur's sentence, 'Stilts and bladders!'
'And all that abuse of the savage north is unpardonable,' said Theodora. 'Sluggish torpid minds, indeed, frozen by skies bound in mist belts! If he would stay at home and mind his own business, he would not have time to talk such nonsense.'
'Now,' said the still undaunted Violet, when the torrent of unsparing jest had expended itself, 'now it is my turn. Let me show you one short piece. This—"To L."'
It was an address evidently to his orphan sister, very beautiful and simple; and speaking so touchingly of their loneliness together and dependence on each other, that Mr. Fotheringham was overcome, and fairly broke down in the reading—to the dismay of Violet, who had little thought his feelings so easily excited.
'Think of the man going and publishing it,' said Theodora. 'If I was Lady Lucy, I should not care a rush for it now.'
'That is what you get by belonging to a poet,' said Arthur. 'He wears his heart outside.'
'This came straight from the heart, at least,' said Percy. 'It is good, very good. I am glad you showed it to me. It would never do not to be candid. I will turn him over again.'
'Well done, councillor,' cried Arthur. 'She has gained a verdict for him.'
'Modified the sentence, and given me some re-writing to do,' said Percy. 'I cannot let him off; the more good there is in him, the more it is incumbent on some one to slash him. Authors are like spaniels, et cetera.'
'Hear, hear, Theodora!' cried Arthur. 'See there, he has the stick ready, I declare.'
For in truth Arthur would hardly have been so patient of hearing so much poetry, if it had not been for the delight he always took in seeing his wife's opinion sought by a clever man, and he was glad to turn for amusement to Percy's curiosities. Over the mantel-piece there was a sort of trophy in imitation of the title-page to Robinson Crusoe, a thick hooked stick set up saltire-wise with the green umbrella, and between them a yataghan, supporting a scarlet blue-tasselled Greek cap. Percy took down the stick, and gave it into Theodora's hand, saying, 'It has been my companion over half Europe and Asia; I cut it at—'
'By the well of St. Keyne?' suggested the malicious brother.
'No, at the source of the Scamander,' said Percy. It served us in good stead when we got into the desert of Engaddi.'
'Oh! was that when the robbers broke into John's tent?' exclaimed Violet. 'Surely you had some better weapon?'
'Not I; the poor rogues were not worth wasting good powder on, and a good English drubbing was a much newer and more effective experiment. I was thenceforth known by the name of Grandfather of Clubs, and Brown always manoeuvred me into sleeping across the entrance of the tent. I do believe we should have left him entombed in the desert sands, if John's dressing-case had been lost!'
'What a capital likeness of John,' said Theodora. 'Mamma would be quite jealous of it.'
'It belonged to my sister,' said Percy. 'He got it done by an Italian, who has made him rather theatrically melancholy; but it is a good picture, and like John when he looked more young-mannish and sentimental than he does now.'
A hiss and cluck made Violet start. In a dark corner, shrouded by the curtain, sat Pallas Athene, the owl of the Parthenon, winking at the light, and testifying great disapproval of Arthur, though when her master took her on his finger, she drew herself up and elevated her pretty little feathery horns with satisfaction, and did not even object to his holding her to a great tabby cat belonging to the landlady, but which was most at home on the hearth-rug of the good-natured lodger.
'I always read my compositions to them,' said Percy. 'Pallas acts sapient judge to admiration, and Puss never commits herself, applauding only her own music—like other critics. We reserve our hisses for others.'
'How do you feed the owl, Percy?'
'A small boy provides her with sparrows and mice for sixpence a dozen. I doubted whether it was cruelty to animals, but decided that it was diverting the spirit of the chase to objects more legitimate than pocket-handkerchiefs.'
'Ho! so there you seek your proteges!'
'He sought me. I seized him fishing in my pocket. I found he had no belongings, and that his most commodious lodging-house was one of the huge worn-out boilers near Nine-Elms—an illustration for Watts's Hymns, Theodora.'
'Poor little creature!' said Violet, horrified. 'What will become of him?'
'He is doing justice to the patronage of the goddess of wisdom,' said Percy. 'He is as sharp as a needle, and gets on in the world—has discarded "conveying," and promoted himself to selling lucifers.'
'A happy family theirs will be,' said Arthur. 'Cat, owl, and two rival pages!'
So, having duly admired all, curious books, potteries, red and black, tiles and lachrymatories, coins, scraps of ancient armour, a stuffed bee-eater, and the bottled remains of a green lizard that had been a pet at Constantinople—and having been instructed in the difference between various Eastern modes of writing—the merry visit closed; and as the two sisters went home they planned a suit of clothes for the owl's provider, Theodora stipulating for all the hard and unusual needlework.
I am ashamed that women are so simple To offer war when they should kneel for peace, Or seek the rule, supremacy, and sway, When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
—Taming of the Shrew
It was an early season, and Theodora had not been a fortnight at her brother's before numerous arrivals necessitated a round of visits, to which she submitted without more than moderate grumbling. The first call was on the Rickworth ladies; but it was not a propitious moment, for other visitors were in the drawing-room, and among them Miss Marstone. Emma came to sit by Violet, and was very anxious to hear whether she had not become intimate with Theresa. Violet could not give a good account of herself in this respect; their hours did not suit, and they had only twice met.
'And is she not delightful?'
'She is a very superior person' said Violet, looking down. 'Do you know her sisters? I liked one of them.'
'We shall have to call on them, but they are mere ordinary girls—no companions to Theresa. She laments it very much, and has had to make a line for herself. I must come and tell you about it some morning. It is nonsense to meet in this way and think of conversation.
Theodora had, in the meantime, had the exclusive attention of Miss Marstone. 'So Emma is constant to the Prae-Raffaelite,' said Theodora, as they drove from the door. 'What is all this about the Priory?'
'Did Miss Marstone talk about that?' said Violet, aghast.
'She said something about a restoration. What! is it a secret?'
'I suppose she thought you must know it, since I did. I was much surprised by her beginning about it to me, for when Emma first mentioned it to me, Lady Elizabeth seemed vexed, and begged me never to hint at it.'
'So Emma wants to make restitution. Well done, little Emma! I did not think it was in her.'
'It has been her darling scheme for years; but Lady Elizabeth has made her promise to wait till she is five-and-twenty, and not to consider herself pledged.'
'How like Lady Elizabeth! One respects her like an institution! I hope Emma may hold out, but she has a firebrand in her counsels. I am glad you are not infatuated.'
'I am sure I don't know what I think of Miss Marstone. I cannot like her; yet I want to admire her—she is so good.'
'Let her be as good as she pleases; why should she be silly?'
'Oh! she is very clever.'
'When good and clever people are silly, they are the biggest simpletons of all.'
'Then I don't think I quite know what you mean by silliness.'
'Not turning one's sense to the best advantage, I suppose,' said Theodora. 'That Miss Marstone provokes me. If her principles were not right I should not care; but when she has sound views, to see her go on talking, with no reserve, only caring for what is out of the way, it makes one feel oneself turned to ridicule. How can Lady Elizabeth endure it?'
'I don't think she likes it, but Emma is so fond of her!'
'Oh! as to Emma, her poor little imagination is dazzled. It is providential that she has four years to wait! Unless, indeed, there is a reaction, and she marries either a broken-down fox-hunter or a popular preacher.'
Violet's horrified protests were cut short by the carriage stopping. In returning, they called at Mrs. Finch's house, to inquire when the family were expected to return from Paris. They had arrived that morning, and Violet said she would make a short visit, and then go home and send the carriage back, but Theodora preferred walking home.
As they were announced, Mrs. Finch started up from a gilded sofa on which she had been reclining, reading a French brochure. Her dress was in the excess of the newest Parisian fashion, such as even to London eyes looked outre, and, as well as her hair, had the disordered look of being just off a journey. Her face had a worn aspect, and the colour looked fixed. Theodora, always either rigidly simple or appropriately splendid, did not like Violet to see her friend in such a condition, and could almost have shrunk from the eager greeting. 'Theodora Martindale! This is delightful! It is a real charity to look in on us to-day! Mrs. Martindale, how are you? You look better than last time I saw you. Let me introduce you to Mr. Finch.'
Mr. Finch was a little dried-up man, whose ceremonious bow put Violet in mind of the Mayor of Wrangerton. Bending low, he politely gave her a chair, and then subsided into oblivion; while Miss Gardner came forward, as usual, the same trim, quiet, easy-mannered person, and began to talk to Violet, while Mrs. Finch was loudly conversing with Theodora.
The apartment was much in the same style as the lady's dress, full of gilding and bright colour, expensive, but not producing a good effect; especially as the sofa had been dragged forward to the fire, and travelling gear and newspapers lay about untidily. Altogether there was something unsatisfactory to the feelings of both Theodora and Violet, though Mrs. Finch was very affectionate in her impetuous way, and Miss Gardner gently kind to Violet, asking many questions about her little boy.
Violet soon took leave, and Mr. Finch went down with her to the carriage.
'That is a fresh complexion that does one good to see!' cried Mrs. Finch, when she was gone. 'I am glad to see her in better looks and spirits.'
'She understands the art of dress,' said Miss Gardner. Theodora was on the point of making a sharp answer. It was the consequence of having once allowed her brother's wife to be freely canvassed, and she was glad that an opening door checked the conversation.
There entered a tall fashionable-looking man, with a glossy brown moustache, and a very hairy chin, but of prepossessing and gentlemanlike appearance. He leant over the sofa, and said a few words in a low voice to Mrs. Finch, who answered with nods, and a display of her white teeth in smiles. Raising himself, as if to go, he said, 'Ah! by the bye, who is that pretty friend of yours that I met Finch escorting down-stairs? A most uncommon style of beauty—'
'That was Mrs. Martindale,' said Miss Gardner, rather in haste.
'Arthur Martindale's village maid? Ha! Jane, there's jealousy; I thought you told me—'
'Georgina!' exclaimed Jane, 'you should have introduced Mark to Miss Martindale.'
As Theodora moved her stately neck she felt as if a thunder-bolt had fallen; but the gentleman's manner was particularly pleasing.
'It is Jane's concern,' said Mrs. Finch, laughing. 'I leave you to infer why she checks his communications.'
'There is nothing more awkward than "You told me so,"' said Mr. Gardner, 'since the days of "Who is your next neighbour, sir?" I may be allowed some interest in the matter, for your brother is an old school-fellow of mine.'
'Come!' exclaimed Georgina, 'if you stay dawdling here, my letter won't be written, and my vases won't come. Fancy, Theodora, such delicious Sevres vases, big enough to hold the Forty Thieves, sky blue, with medallions of Mars and Venus, and Cupids playing tricks—the loveliest things imaginable—came from Versailles—absolutely historical.'
'Lauzun is supposed to have been hidden in one,' said Mr. Gardner.
'I vowed I would have them, and I never fail. Mark has been through fire and water for them.'
'And I suppose they cost—' said Theodora.
'The keep of half-a-dozen starving orphans,' said Mrs. Finch, triumphantly. 'Ay, you may look, Theodora; but they are my trophies.'
'I wish you joy of them,' said Theodora.
'So you shall, when you see them; and that she may, off with you, Mark, or the post will go.'
'My cousin is a despot,' said Mark, moving off, with a bow to Theodora; Mrs. Finch, following, spoke a few words, and then shut him into the other room.
'Poor Mark'' said Jane, in the interval. 'We have brought him home. He has had a little property left him, and means to clear off his debts and make a fresh beginning. His poor mother is so delighted!'
'The coast is clear,' said Mrs. Finch, returning. 'Now, Theodora, is it true that you are going to be married?'
Point blank questions did not excite Theodora's blushes; and she composedly answered,
'Some time or other.'
'There! I knew it could not be true,' cried Jane.
'What is not true?' said Theodora.
'Not that you are going to have the curate!' said Mrs. Finch. 'Jane, Jane, that has brought the rouge! Oh! I hope and trust it is not the curate.'
'Certainly not,' said Theodora, in a grave deliberate voice.
'That's a mercy!' said Mrs. Finch. 'I had not the slightest confidence in you. I always reckoned on your making some wild choice. Oh! by the bye, do tell me where Percy Fotheringham is to be found. I must have him at our first party. What a charming book that is!'
'Even at Paris every one is full of it, already,' said Jane. 'I feel quite jealous of you, Theodora, for knowing him so well, when we, his cousins, never saw him at all.'
'Cousins in royal fashion,' said Theodora, glad that the blush had begun for Mr. Wingfield. 'What is the exact connection?'
'You explain, Jane; it is past me. I am content to count kindred with the royal beast.'
'Lady Fotheringham, his uncle's wife, is sister to Mark's mother, my uncle's wife,' said Jane. 'There! I trust that is lucidly done.'
'That is all, is it?' said Theodora.
'Enough for the sending of a card. Tell me where, if you know.'
Theodora named the place.
'Does he show off well? Mark says he has claws—'
'I have known him too long to tell how he appears to strangers,' said Theodora, as the colour mounted again.
'Do you see much of him?'
'He comes to Arthur's house.'
'You have ventured there?' said Jane. 'It was hard not to be able to come for the season otherwise.'
'I came up to bring the dumb boy to the Asylum. I am staying on because I like it.'
'Do you mean to go out with her?'
'When she goes, I do so too, but I am not come for the season. My brother's regiment is ordered to Windsor, and perhaps I may stay to be with her.'
'She has more manner than last year,' said Jane: 'she is greatly improved in looks. You will believe me, Theodora, all I said to Mark only referred to her paleness.'
'It won't do, Jane,' said her sister; 'you only make it worse. I see how it is; Theodora has found out that her sister-in-law is a pretty little pet of a thing that does her no harm, and you have got into the wrong box by flattering her first dislike. Yes, yes, Theodora, we know Jane of old; and never could get her to see the only safe way is to tell one's mind straight out.'
'I don't see it established that I did not tell Theodora my real mind,' said Jane, quietly; 'I always thought Mrs. Martindale pretty and elegant—'
'Self-evident,' said Georgina; 'but if I had been among you, would not I have told Theodora the poor child was cowed by her dignities, and Mrs. Nesbit and all the rest? Oh, I would have made much of her, and brought her forward. She should have been my queen of Violets: I would have done it last year if that unlucky baby had not come in the way.'